The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi 2008

When I talk to friends and clients about the wine market, I always put the search for a great house wine in a hunter-gatherer context. There is a predatory reward that comes from savoring the finding of a pleasing wine that doesn’t make you go broke. Although nothing can fully replace a Valpolicella Superiore, Gaja Darmagi, or Giacosa Barolo Faletto, when you capture a peak experience on the cheap, you feel a sense of accomplishment—as well as one of pleasure.

This past week I picked up a bottle from our store—Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi. The producer is one of the best Barolo makers alive, and the wine derives from the deliciously food friendly Dolcetto grape.  I decided that this would be the centerpiece to meal I was putting together that evening, and for under $20 how could I refuse?

Surprisingly, the Domenico Clerico 2008 Dolcetto Vsadii was far more than a structure of sweet fruit and supple acidity. I found there was a particularly noticeable tannic structure that complemented my meal of tomato basil over Fusilli pasta and seasoned beef. The blending of high notes from red fresh cherries, rose, pomegranate, and plum blended incredibly with my sautéed mushrooms, olive oil, and garlic. Although my Montreal seasoning wasn’t traditionally Italian, I found Clerico’s Dolcetto production held with this slight twist. The tannic structure provided greater complexity and range to what is typical with a less full-bodied Dolcetto. Without a doubt, the acidity of this wine ultimately made the meal. I would recommend putting this bottling in your arsenal of solid beats for nights in. The meal reinforced that the Dolcetto, or “little sweet one,” is a rewardingly approachable food friendly wine.

When you want build a meal around Italian flavors but need a wine that can handle a few alternative deviations, understand that Domenico Clerico’s slightly modernist Dolcetto wine will allow you to take more international flavor risks without forcing your meal off of the Italian boot. And the pride of announcing that it’s under $20 a bottle only adds to the sweetness.

Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

a treat for chocolate (and rum) lovers

My roommate’s birthday was in April.  She doesn’t love her birthday, which is understandable. In hopes of cheering her up about her birthday, I told her I would bake any cake she wanted. Her eyes lit up as she yelled, “Rum cake!” I laughed and said, “Ok, rum cake it is.”

I don’t like rum and had never made rum cake, so I immediately started searching cookbooks and various websites. While at work later that week, I was looking through Scott Conant’s book New Italian Cooking and came upon his Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Cake.  I stared at the picture thinking, yum, that looks good! While reading the recipe, I saw that it called for ¼ cup of rum, and I thought, well, it has rum in it; it’s rum cake!

I copied the page, and when I got home that night, I baked what would become the most delicious chocolate cake I’d ever had. When my roommate got home, I presented her with the cake and made her blow out a candle. We sat down on the couch and proceeded to eat the cake and sip glasses of a 2009 Brachetto d’Acqui Donne Dei Boschi. It was so delicious that we took almost two weeks to finish that cake.

I have since made Conant’s cake twice and have tried different toppings such as hazelnuts or puréed raspberries. It has always been a knockout.  Whether you’re looking for something to make for a special occasion dessert or you’re just craving chocolate, this cake will not let you down.

Old Grapes, New Tech

a brief guide to wine apps and other fun wine technology

I love my iPhone so much that I’d have it surgically implanted if I could, and my passion for my iPad makes me shameful. I am an unabashed tech-head who collects wine, beer and cocktail apps like my grandma collected swizzle sticks. I also believe that good wine apps are like good wine: you get more enjoyment when you share with others. To that end, I’ve compiled a few of my favorites, along with one super-cool use of the iPad, to share with you. Hello Vino: This free app is like a clearinghouse for wine information. Providing wine reviews from magazines and bloggers, offering wine pairings, allowing for a variety of searches, Hello Vino takes a buckshot approach to wine buying. While the app does provide a ton of information, it’s a bit limited when you’re looking at more obscure varietals and regions. For example, neither my beloved Frappato nor my adored Ribolla show up at all. This is sad; however, the app is free, which is not. Pair It! Food and Wine Guide: If you’ve ever scratched your head about pairing perfectly with  Pad Thai, Pancetta-Wrapped Quail with Pignoli, or Cheese Blintzes with Applesauce, you might want to invest $4.99 in this app. Not only does Pair It! provide a variety of wines for a stunning array of dishes, but it also gives neat descriptions for wine types (though not individual estates or years, which is too bad) and offers links to recipes. The “shake and swirl” feature gives you a fun interface for stumbling upon new, unexpected coupling suggestions. Fromage: Sometimes cheese makes life worth living, and Fromage ($2.99) offers a searchable guide to over 750 cheeses from 18 countries in the palm of your hand. With the capability to save your own cheese notes and even cheese photos, Fromage offers a customizable cheese library. One downside, however, is the app’s unapologetic Francophile bent; however, the Italian cheese section is nothing to sniff at. Drync Wine Pro: Sometimes it’s worth it to pony up and pay the cash. While you can download a free version of Drync Wine, you want to spend the $4.99 for the pro version—just foregoing the advertisements is worth it. Drync Wine Pro offers on-the-spot access to ratings and reviews of a stunning array of wines. While it’s true that more recent wines are absent (for example, while the app links the 2008 Movia’s Ribolla Giallo, there are no reviews or ratings), you’ll find the app to be amazingly comprehensive. Plus, the virtual cellar and social media options make this wine management app a winner. Finally, I was excited to read about Bone’s, a restaurant in Atlanta, who is using iPads for their wine list. The restaurant created a lovely, searchable database of their 1,350 wines for their customers. While sommeliers might feel miffed, this use of technology appeals to independent tech-heads like me—and I’m not alone. Wine sales have reportedly jumped over 11%, which says something about how much people love a happy marriage between wine and technology. I’m curious, have any of you found apps you use and love? If so, please share. You can never have too much wine or too many virtual ways to keep track of it.

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Wine Fit for the Barbie

Readers of Inside IWM know that I—and other IWM colleagues—are using this blog to write about our ongoing journey of wine discovery, especially finding tasty wine pairings for unusual foods. This weekend, I found inspiration in the beautiful weather.  There is nothing like a good, old-fashioned barbeque to kick off the summer, and to most Americans, that means popping open an ice cold beer to accompany that hot dog or cheeseburger.  While I don’t believe that this earnest American tradition necessarily needs changing, I was curious how a glass of wine might work with the quintessential summer meal. Not only was I wondering about the taste of the wine-and-BBQ combo, but I also was curious about how this divergence from the norm would affect the over all mood of the cook-out.

My test-tasting menu consisted of your traditional barbeque staples: hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian sausage, and grilled chicken, with all the anticipated accouterments of potato salad, corn on the cob, and my mother’s famous baked beans (whose recipe she generously let me share below).  I thought that this lighthearted dining experience called for a simple yet wallet friendly wine.  Therefore, I figured it would be a great weekend to try the Quattro Mani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 (one of IWM’s best everyday drinking sellers, which I have been dying to try).

Being a red, the wine went really nicely with my hamburger, and it complimented the baked beans quite well.  I admit that it failed to give me that great thirst quenching “ahh” feeling an ice cold beer usually provides. However, everyone noted the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s versatility and agreed that it complimented the meat and sausage very well. All in all, serving wine with the BBQ seemed to have a neutral effect on the summery mood. Put one check in the wine plus column, one in the minus, and a note to myself that there’s no reason why I can’t serve both beer and wine to cover all my gustatory bases.

My mom’s basic baked beans:

1- 40 oz. can Hanover Baked Beans

½ cup butter

1/3 cup ketchup

¼ cup molasses

1 onion

Sautee onion in butter until tender.  Add cooked onion and remaining ingredients to slow cooker, cook 3-5 hours on high.

**Adjust the flavorings as you like, and for those folks who aren’t watching their cholesterol, add 1 lb. cooked bacon because it’s delicious.

IWM Client Interview: Richard Reich

A straight shooter who tells it how he tastes it

The role of a wine portfolio manager at IWM is to assist each client with his or her wine desires. What I love most about my job as a wine portfolio manager is the relationships I build with each client. It’s great to help select wines and to recommend food, but I enjoy the conversations the most.

Every Saturday we host tastings in our Studio del Gusto and highlight a different region in Italy. A few months back I received a phone call from a wonderful man named Richard Reich from Conway, South Carolina. He told me that he just read Sergio Esposito’s book Passion on the Vine and that he was interested in coming up for a tasting. A few Saturdays later I had the pleasure of meeting Richard at a tasting focused on Veneto. He and I ended up spending the entire afternoon chatting about wine, food and wine regions he’s seen. There are many oenophiles around the world who are followed and admired because they write books or have a rich background on the topic that I enjoy following. However, I enjoy people like Richard Reich the most because they have been drinking wine as aregular consumer. His views are not skewed by advertising or relationships with importers. He is a straight shooter who just tells it how he tastes it.

A few weeks back I conducted a series of questions with Richard and would like to share them with the rest of the wine world.

When did you start drinking wine and what was the wine that got you hooked?

I was introduced to wine in 1955 when stationed with the U.S. Army at Bussac, France, as a registered pharmacist in charge of a military pharmacy at the American army base located there. Arriving in January1955 and full of curiosity about French culture, I was quite interested to learn about all things French, most especially about wine. I began studying French, which led to weekend trips to Bordeaux,about 30 kilometers south, to try out my new language skills. I was like a sponge in water, eager to soak up everything I could learn about this marvelous sensation unfolding before my very eyes.With each succeeding weekend bus ride between Bussac and Bordeaux, I witnessed the emergence and growth of grape leaves and clusters of grapes covering the landscape everywhere I looked.

On one such occasion, during the summer of 1955, I made my customary bus trip to Bordeaux and decided to have lunch at an outdoor cafe on amain plaza downtown at the bus drop-off point. Once seated, I began looking for an opportunity to practice my French on the waiter when I heard English being spoken at the next table. There were about a half-dozen people seated there engaged in French/English conversation, and by their demeanor it became apparent to me they were French students working on their English. What a golden opportunity for me to make some English speaking French contacts! Setting aside any inhibitions I may have had, I introduced myself in “Frenglish,” and soon a very animated discussion got underway. It turned out my new acquaintances were all French locals enrolled as English majors at the University in Bordeaux, and they were quite anxious to help me with my French, acquaint me with locals, and immerse me in the world of Bordeaux wines. My learning curve shifted into high gear as the group and I made plans for me to be included in their local activities since they, too, were very much interested in the”Bordeaux wine experience.”

Through this chance encounter, I had the amazing experience in observing, first hand, the Bordeaux grape harvests of 1955 and 1956 atpublic wine tasting events taking place in the city. To experience the adventure of being on the scene in the heart of Bordeaux at two harvests was an eye-opening, life-changing event for me. The wine ran in the streets and I was hooked.

In your 50-plus years of wine drinking what has changed the most?

In my 55 years of “sipping, swishing and swallowing,” what I believe has changed the most is the wide acceptance of wine as the preferred drink with meals, worldwide, due to the enormous expansion of new geographic areas of the world producing top quality, affordable wines.The educated wine palette of consumers has benefited immensely due to wine producing entrepreneurs recognizing wine consumption trends. This has prompted winery development and distribution of crafted wines to meet the discerning tastes of many seeking wines to enhance their quality of life.

What is the single most important aspect of a wine for you? Color,body, taste, ageability?

Wine is comprised of multiple characteristics, each of which can have an important bearing on the drinkability of a wine. Whether it is color, body, taste, smell, shelf life, viscosity, terroir, price, it all adds up to one thing and one thing only. When tasting a wine, ask yourself this key question: do I like it? That single question covers the entire gamut of wine characteristics and considerations, and takes into account every element about the wine.

What are a few of your favorite wines or the greatest of your lifetime and why?

A few favorites for too many reasons to enumerate:1983 Giuseppe Quintarelli–Cabernet Franc1977 Tommasi–Amarone Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico1995 Casanova di Neri–Tenuto Nuova Brunello di Montalcino 1997 Staglin Family Vineyard–Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 Patriglione Brindisi.

What does drinking wine mean to you?

To me, wine drinking represents a glorious opportunity to share something of great value with those you love and hold dear. I remember an incident that occurred shortly after I first met John Lester, who became my very dear friend through our mutual appreciation for wine. John, who had been invited to my home for dinner, was quite interested in wines and quickly accepted my invitation to see our wine collection. In perusing the wine cellar, I asked John if therewas any particular wine of interest to him. He responded by expressing his liking for fine Piemonte wines. I showed John a few Barolos, but his eyes gleamed when I pulled out a 1983 Giuseppe Quintarelli Alzero. As we completed our wine room tour, John expressed his passion for such a fine, hard-to-find wine.

When we sat down to dinner, I produced the admired bottle of wine to my new friend’s startled amazement. After decanting, I offered John the first taste. When he put the Riedel glass to his nose, the tears came to his eyes! John exclaimed astonishment at the sensation his nose had experienced. When John sipped the wine and allowed it to swirl about in his mouth, I felt certain he would cry. A glow came to his face as he slowly allowed the wine to ease down his throat. John’s emotional response to this wine brought tears to my eyes in sympathy for the way I knew John felt. I thought to myself: here’s a person who feels as strongly and spiritually about this wine as I do. In an instant we became soul brothers. How incredible is life! As Sergio Esposito so eloquently stated when he autographed my copy of Passion on the Vine, “Richard, Wine is Love.”

Was wine just a beverage or did you always take it seriously?

To me, wine was never just a beverage and I always took wine seriously, to the extent that in 1989 some friends and I organized a guy’s wine tasting group in New Jersey.The group meets every Thursday night at a different BYOW restaurant for the purpose of wine/food pairing and to enjoy each other’scompany. Our group has met more than 1,000 times to date, and now numbers about thirty men. That’s taking wine seriously!

If you could change one thing about the wine industry what would it be?

Most restaurants know more about food than they do about wine, and the wine selection choices in many restaurants don’t compare to the quality of the foods presented to the customer. I would like to see the wine industry make a concerted effort to encourage restaurant owners to upgrade their wine lists, conduct wine/food dinner pairings, and permit customers to bring their own wine, even if it means the customer has to pay a corkage fee. If state laws or regulations need to be changed, so be it. The intended consequences will definitely be worth the effort!

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