The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, April 4-7, 2016: Weird, Wild, Wonderful Wines

A look back at the week that was

Gravner's "orange" Ribolla Gialla

Gravner’s “orange” Ribolla Gialla

What do you expect from a week that kicked off with Franciacorta, Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparkling wine? It’s going to be a little weird–and a lot wonderful. Lombardia is often overlooked, but its small Franciacorta region gives you a very good reason to explore it. We take a look at the beauty of Italy’s “Champagne.” Our go-to Tuesday wine bridges the gap between red and white, and it’s flexible enough to drink anytime of year. Sean Collins describes this delicious under $23 Rotberger Rosato. And we finished the week with Crystal’s take on the amber wines of Josko Gravner. She says to drink them with meat. Intrigued? Get to know Gravner!

Like Crystal, Michael Adler loves Josko Gravner, and he puts a special bottle of Breg Anfora in the company of another great orange wine from Paolo Bea; skin-contact rules! John Camacho Vidal looked to Chardonnay–Italian Chardonnay from Angelo Gaja. You really can’t go wrong with wines from this Piemonte maverick. And Francesco Vigorito kept it classic with two warm vintage wines from a pair of traditional Barolo makers, Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi.

Here’s to exploring the weird, the wild, the wonderful–and the tried, true and trusted–in your wine glass.

Expert Picks: Paolo Bea and Josko Gravner

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15At IWM, we love our orange wines (also known as “skin-contact whites”). This robust, textured and complex style of wine is achieved by vinifying white grapes as if they’re red and allowing the juice to macerate on the grape skins, imparting additional color, texture, weight, complexity and tannins. The result is a highly aromatic white wine that drinks like a red, replete with chewy tannins and a dizzyingly complex, kaleidoscopic flavor profile.

These wines are not for the faint of heart, inspiring divisions between wine-lovers who are enamored with their unique characteristics and those who find them confusing. I personally enjoy introducing people to the style because whether or not a person enjoys these wines, they’re sure to be surprised. While orange wines traditionally haven’t really been given much thought by the American wine media, in recent years they have been steadily growing in popularity with young sommeliers in New York and can be found on many of the city’s most exclusive wine lists. Today I’m shining a light on two of our absolute favorite orange wines from two of IWM’s all-star natural winemakers, Paolo Bea in Umbria and Josko Gravner in Friuli.

Paolo Bea 2012 Bianco Santa Chiara $49.99

A dense, chewy blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garganega, the juice for Santa Chiara macerates (think about steeping a tea bag in hot water) on its grape skins for about two weeks, which gives it a dense, weighty mouth-feel, tannic backbone and oxidative characteristics. These sherry-like qualities make it an excellent match for a wide range of dishes that you wouldn’t typically pair with traditional white wines, and Santa Chiara will show you a whole slew of flavors and textures that you never thought you’d find in a white. It’s at once rich and savory, with a pronounced mineral component that borders on salinity and a finish that lasts over a minute. For those of you who are adventurous and love to try new and interesting wines, this is definitely something that should be on your radar!

Gravner 2005 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $89.99

A saffron-tinted blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico, the 2005 Breg Anfora is impressive. The massive ’05 Breg shows heady, concentrated notes of cooked orchard fruits, red tea, stony minerals, spices and a distinct floral note, among many other interwoven characteristics that simply defy words. It is likely that you’ve never tasted anything like this! Textured and tannic in the glass, its glossy texture coats the palate in a wash of dry extract that is balanced by ample acidity that grips your palate on the long, aromatic finish. Aged on the grape skins for twelve months in clay amphorae buried in the ground, the wine then finishes for about six years in casks before bottling. This is a meditative wine for serious enthusiasts and those who like some adventure in their wines!

Inside Umbria, Toscana’s Overlooked Neighbor

There’s more to Umbria than Orvieto–so, so much more

Sagrantino grapes ripening at Paolo Bea

Sagrantino grapes ripening at Paolo Bea

Although Umbria and Toscana abut, Umbria is very much its own region—one that has been coming into its own and attracting the notice of both critic and consumer. Umbria has traditionally privileged products other than wine. Its terroir, however, has always served it well: the collaboration between sea and mountain breezes offer great ripening, while the volcanic soils put the vines under “motivational” stress. These conditions have been behind some of the zone’s most successful wines.

In a general sense, Umbria’s most prolific DOC—Orvieto— captures in microcosm the zone’s efforts to establish a distinct identity. While many examples of this wine tend to be fairly light and acidic, it’s actually open to a diverse stylistic range. Thus, some producers blend with a view to achieving a considerable degree of concentration, limiting the contribution of the neutral Trebbiano Toscana, maximizing the presence of aromatic Grechetto, and sometimes using Chardonnay. Some work with proportions can take these wines outside the DOC, providing a rather striking testimony to what Umbria’s grapes can do—particularly through monovarietal Grechettos, often in production in the Colli Martani and Colli del Trasimeno zones.

The issue of what constitutes the “Umbrian style” is even more complicated when we consider the spectrum of reds, as three main categories comprise Umbria’s red portfolio. For quite some time, however, Lungarotti constituted the sole reference point for red; indeed, it was founder Giorgio Lungarotti who gave Umbria a market presence in traditional style wines. There are several producers, however, who champion of the international style. Occupying the middle ground is the Montefalco DOC, the home of Umbria’s most famous and distinctive red, Sagrantino. Not only is this grape exclusive to the region of Umbria, but also it limits its presence there to a mere 400 acres. A rich and demonstrative wine of ancient origin, Sagrantino was accorded its own DOCG designation in 1992, and has achieved notable acclaim through the work of producers such as Paolo Bea and Arnaldo Caprai. Sagrantino also plays a minor role (minimum of 10%) in wines of the Montefalco DOC (led by Sangiovese at 60%).

Despite Orvieto’s struggles to define itself in the white still genre, it has always distinguished itself in the sweet wine category.  In fact, Orvieto’s sweet side has very little to do with its dry sensibility. Derived primarily from grapes that have realized a considerable degree of concentration and been affected by noble rot, the sweet wines of Orvieto are intense and decadent. Antinori’s Muffato della Sala is regarded as the most accomplished in its class. The reds, however, provide some pretty intense competition, as Montefalco’s sweet wines are vinified from dried grapes (via the appassimento process), rendering them considerably dense and voluptuous.

Umbria has considerable interest in the gourmet market, especially in its black and white truffles and its extra-virgin olive oils. Outside this realm, the region is a prolific producer of legumes and grains. Farro, which has been grown in Umbria since the time of the Etruscans is prominent, as it produces a darker, tastier flour than the more common white version used elsewhere. The celebrated farro di Monteleone di Spoleto, grown in the heart of the central Apennine mountains, appears both as a grain accompanying hearty dishes accompanied by legumes—such as lenticchie di Norcia (lentils)—and as flour for the production of dried and/or egg pasta and breads such as lumachelle—baked bread rolls enriched with pieces of cheese and cured meat. Umbria also excels in meat, offering its own regional prosciutto di Norcia and succulent porchetta(pork roast), much like that produced by the neighboring Lazio. Mazzafegati(piquant liver sausages with orange rinds, pine nuts, and raisins) is one of the region’s most unique and prized dishes.

From the wild, natural wines of Paolo Bea to Antinori’s world-class Umbrian white wines made at Castello della Sala to Sassicaia spin-off Tenuta di Solideo, owned by Marchesa Nerina Corsini Incisa della Rocchetta’s and managed by her sons Giovanni and Piero, to the great Sagrantino wines of Arnaldo Caprai,Umbria has much to offer. It’s one region with no need to hide in the shadows anymore.

Inside IWM, February 29 to March 3, 2016: You Gotta Have Heart

A look back at the week that was

Il Palazzone's olive trees in bloom

Il Palazzone’s olive trees in bloom

We kicked off the week with a look at the other great product from Italy–olive oil. Remembering her time in Italy, Janice Cable talked about why olive oil is good for your heart, both  literally and metaphorically. Sean Collins enjoyed an under $30 Aldo Conterno wine, and you bet your corkscrew it was delicious. And John Camacho Vidal went to Umbria, where he toured the iconic Paolo Bea estate–and got to meet Paolo himself!

Crystal Edgar looked forward to spring with two white Burgundies from Michel Niellon; these Chassagne-Montrachet bottlings will make you feel like flowers in bloom! Garrett Kowalsky also selected white wines to hurry spring’s arrival, but he chose bottles from Antinori’s San Giovanni della Sala and Burgundy’s Bachey-Legros. And Camacho Vidal dove into Chianti Classico, explaining the region’s DOCG laws and picking two favorites, La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla.

Here’s to faith in warm weather and enjoying the wine you love, no matter the season!


Visiting Umbria’s Paolo Bea

A look into the life and the cellar of one of Italy’s great winemakers

unnamedIWM recently offered a quartet of new Paolo Bea releases, which makes it the perfect time to revisit John Camacho Vidal’s visit to this iconic winemaker’s estate.

When I visited Italy in 2014, I planned on attending the 35 Enologica di Sagrantino in Montefalco, a tasting of Sagrantino. I love the wines of Umbria and, wanting to learn more about Sagrantino and the wonderful wines it produces, I took advantage that this tasting was being held during my time visiting to attend. I was also excited of the possibility of seeing the Paolo Bea Estate. Like many people I was introduced to the region and to Sagrantino through his wondrous biodynamic wines.

unnamed-3My friend Barbara, who runs a tour company based in Perugia, was able to call ahead of time for me and arrange a visit. Needles to say my visit to Antica Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea was amazing and unforgettable. We were met by Sergio, who has been working at the winery for over a decade. He was very apologetic because it turned out that on that day the bottling machine, which goes from producer to producer, happened to be available and they were in the process of bottling and corking wine. We got a tour of the new winery, which was planned and designed by Giampiero, Paolo Bea’s son, who is in charge and, according to Paolo Bea, has taken the winery to the next level. All aspects of Giampiero’s design take the wine into consideration and the winery was constructed with materials from the surrounding area that provide natural ventilation, humidity and temperature.

unnamed-2As we went from room to room and stared in awe at the various barrels both wood and steel, we got an opportunity to taste the grapes that were being dried to make Bea’s famous Passito, and as we walked further down to the cellar we heard the clinking of the bottling machine. We were also able to witness the entire family busy reaching for bottles of wine from the assembly belt and quickly but diligently place them in crates where they will rest for another two years or so. When we walked down to the final level, Giampiero greeted us with his son and walked us through the rest of the cellar and the process.

unnamed-5After our tour of the cellar and watching the bottling process in action, we followed Sergio to a tasting room a few yards from the winery. There we sat down and I was able to taste through all of the Paolo Bea wines. All of them were spectacular.

unnamed-4Giampiero stopped in again and we chatted about the wine and his philosophy; after about 10 – 15 minutes Paolo Bea himself walked in. I’m not really the kind of guy that follows sports and I didn’t understand why people would freak out when they saw their favorite athlete, actor or artist, but when I saw Paolo Bea ‎walk in to greet us I felt goosebumps. I stood up to shake his hand and everything I wanted to say to the man just went blank. I mumbled a few words and he gave me a hard handshake and a hug. I presented him with some coffee that I brought from Colombia just for this occasion.

unnamed-6We tasted the rest of his wines together. Both Paolo and Giampiero grabbed a bottle and signed the label for me and gifted it—it felt like getting a rock star’s autograph. When I returned to New York, I nestled these bottles in the back of our wine fridge, where they will stay until I celebrate a very special occasion. I always say that there is no better way to taste a wine than to taste it with the person behind the wine. Not only did I have the opportunity to taste these wines at the source but also I was able to taste them with the people responsible for what’s in the bottle. After our tour and tasting it took me a few hours to come down from the excitement.


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