The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Five Questions with Monica Soldera

From Toscana to New York and Back


Daughter of wine legend Gianfranco Soldera, Monica Soldera has been raised with the heart and soul of Toscana. The Soldera family’s home sits in the middle of the idyllic Case Basse estate in Montalcino, a spot as known for Monica’s father’s Sangiovese Brunello as her mother’s rose garden. After obtaining a degree in Economics, Monica received a Master’s Degree in Communications from Bocconi University and pursued a career in marketing in the food industry until she was lured from Milan back to her family home. These days, Monica and her husband both work at the vineyard, alongside her parents, with her four children nearby. Wine is a family affair, and what a glorious affair it is at Soldera.

1. What one aspect of Italian culture did you witness in NY that made you feel at home?

New York is always fascinating to me! One reason is that I spent part of my honeymoon here many years ago. I always feel at home in New York; I appreciate the hospitality and also the smiles I see on many faces; I feel safe. Of course, I also experienced the signs of the economic difficulties, but at the same time I felt a lot of hope. Everybody seems to do his or her best for getting over the crisis.

2. Where did you eat in New York and what were some of your favorite dishes?

I eat in different restaurants—all of them great restaurants with high level of quality not only in food but also in service. The wines lists were amazing and I drank so many very nice wines. I met sommeliers with high professionalism. I appreciate all the restaurants where I eat, the fact that each of them was different in their style of cooking and the dishes they offer to guests. I also enjoyed the differences in the places, like the different architectural style.

3. What one thing that you can’t fit into your suitcase would you most like to bring home from New York to Toscana?

The smiling faces of the customers tasting our wines!

4. What is your best (or first) memory of Sergio Esposito?

Sergio has always surprised me for his knowledge and passion for fine wines. In addition, he deeply expresses the positive, sweet soul of people from South Italy. Most of all, I appreciate his respect and admiration for my father.

5. What one story from your trip would put a smile on your father’s face?

The congratulations everybody expressed to me for the greatness of the 2002 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino, its finesse and elegance, and its Sangiovese purity.

Winebar, Burger, and Recent Wines of the Night (WOTN)

Plus, New York Wine Tips

At the recommendation of Melissa, our Creative Director, and in the service of finding  Manhattan’s next amazing wine bar, I stumbled onto an even more elusive find: a great burger and an incredible red.   It was an “OMG,”  “WOTN” and “w00t” discovery, all rolled into one.

I experienced what many of us wine enthusiasts look for –that moment when a little patience is rewarded, and that time when the primary and secondary flavors of a wine have evolved and meshed to create a spectrum of tastes.  The wine in question was a 1996 Sociando-Mallet, and thanks to Bar Henry’s new Marketplace approach, you don’t have to pay the full bottle price to have a glass of vintage wine.  Typically, it’s prohibitive to enjoy a respectable thirteen-year-old Bordeaux by the glass at a restaurant. However, when you order half of a bottle of the Sociando-Mallet, Bar Henry opens a fresh bottle, pours half to satisfy your order and then places the remaining half on their “Marketplace” board for others to enjoy. In essence, you are sharing the cost of buying a full bottle of wine. It’s not a bad idea, especially if you are coming in to retrieve the second half after it has had a little time to breathe and open up.

Wine and burgers at Bar Henry

Wine and burgers at Bar Henry

To accompany this unclassified and often unsung wine of Bordeaux’s Left bank, we ordered the La Frieda Burger (named after Patrick La Frieda, the meat master behind some of Manhattan’s landmark burgers at joints such as Shake Shack, Minetta Tavern, among others).  Bar Henry provided a tasty and sizeable burger:  fresh, juicy, perfect for some vino, and a welcomed change from the 2:00AM Corner Bistro-Bud combo. From the Sociando-Mallet, we moved on to the 2006 Tempier Bandol, which could use a decade of aging, some German beers and more. However, this night belonged to Sociando-Mallet; it’s a wine that’s currently peaking and joins my list of value performers or “WOTN” for the month.

The WOTN List:  Value Wines of the Night (December)

1. The 1999 Fontodi Flaccianello: While everyone is focused on buying the 2006s from this Tuscan estate—and with good reason—I have been pouring the 1999. With ten years of age, the wine can be better described as a masculine Brunello. I poured this wine in the company of aged Barolos and single vineyard Pinots for a group of eight enthusiasts two weeks ago.  On tasting the Flaccianello, three of the eight stopped what they were saying, stared backed down in their glass for a second take, and then returned their attention to me to say, “I will take a case of that.” This wine is simply on.

2. The 2001 Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Riserva: It’s the little wine that’s capable of changing the perception of Chianti. While most of us consume the Tuscan red within five years of the vintage date, this is a great example of a Chianti Classico showing maturity and providing tertiary notes of mushroom, underbrush, and cherry.  We poured this wine at a tasting event for 100 guests outside of Philly, with emphatic responses like “what is that?” and “that’s Chianti?” I completely recommend this wine.

3. The 1996 Chateau Sociando-Mallet: Thanks to Bar Henry, I was able to share a half bottle of this with a friend without a premium, and I am now in the process of asking our Wine Acquisitions Director Christy for some bottles to enjoy at home.  This is a classic Bordeaux blend and one of the great values in the overpriced region. I also think this 1996 is great example of how the rating and point system can dissuade enthusiasts from experiencing a great bottle.  This wine over-delivers in price and reviews.  Visit Bar Henry and try this wine while it’s in its moment, and be sure to ask Patric the bartender-sommelier for his well-prepared and seasonally appropriate Tom and Jerry cocktail. It’s the perfect ending for an evening of wine and burgers.

My First Apartment

On Disaster, Paint and Moscato d’Asti

I just moved into my apartment and could barely find my bed through the sea of boxes. The first night I even had to sleep on my futon couch, because I couldn’t make the trek to my bedroom. To say it was messy is an understatement…it was a disaster that I couldn’t envision as being my new home. But day by day of unpacking, the pile slowly dwindled, and I actually saw my parquet flooring for the first time.

Once all my things were neatly put away, I started to decorate and make this place my own. I hung some framed pictures, arranged flowers in vases, and got cable television. But when I came home from work everyday and plopped my keys in the green bowl on the side table by the door, it didn’t feel complete. That night I spent countless hours researching budget design ideas online until I found what I thought of at the time to be the answer: a green accent wall.

That weekend, I made a trip to the Home Depot to prepare myself for battle, and returned home with a gallon of “New Green” paint, rollers, and blue tape (to help me color in between the lines). My boyfriend and I fanatically painted all afternoon, and managed to put on two coats before our arms were ready to fall off. To celebrate, we opened a bottle of Massolino Moscato d’Asti from IWM that was sitting in the refrigerator just waiting to be opened. When it was in my glass, the beautiful small bubbles rising to the surface lured me in, and the aromas of honey and apricot sealed the deal. The wine was wonderfully succulent and refreshing at the same time. We sat there silently, sipping our moscato while staring at our great accomplishment.

That day we transformed the apartment into our home, thanks to a little paint, a lot of hard work, and a glass of Massolino.

A Lucky Man

For the love of wine

Most people have a part of their job that they don’t like or, at the very least, find frustrating. Many people have something about their job that they like enough to keep on going back day after day. But not everybody has some part of their job that they love passionately. I’m a lucky man: I have job  that I love, and that’s talking to people about wine.  And what is even luckier is that it’s not very hard to find people to talk to, because it seems like everybody else also loves to talk about wine.

When I meet friends of friends, I often hear upon introduction, “Oh, you’re Rob, the wine guy!” as if I’m some kind of minor celebrity. If my reputation hasn’t preceded me, I announce my occupation and I hear, “You’re in the wine business?  That’s awesome!” And then I spend the majority of the evening spinning like Jeter and fielding questions about wine.  I certainly don’t mind, since I love talking about wine.  But I also love learning about people and would like to hear about their jobs as city planner, NFL coach, explosive demolition manager, CGI animator, or bank CEO. However, any questions about them are waved away, and the topic is steered back to wine.

Living in New York City, I cross paths with a multiplicity of people, but wine so often offers a meaningful connection between disparate individuals. I should stop being surprised. The skinny, grease-covered bike mechanic with dreadlocks down to the middle of his back laughs as he tells me how he broke his bike’s water bottle cage trying to fit one of his favorite Barolos in it.  The Chinese acupuncturist working on my back doesn’t speak much English, but she lights up when discussing the Chianti she brought to dinner with friends. The IT consultant takes a break from project work and speaks passionately about making wine in his Tribeca apartment and how it compares to the Cabernet Franc wines of Friuli.

There are plenty of mythological, mystical, and religious explanations that circulate like incense about how we are all interconnected. But I like to keep it simple, and just offer up a bottle of wine. Wine—or love of it—may be the universal language.