The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Casa Vinicola Giacosa and Bruno Giacosa!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiToday we go back to basics. Indeed, we visit the producer who started my love affair with Italian wine—Bruno Giacosa. For more than three decades the world has marveled at the magical wines that this estate produces. Collectors are no doubt familiar with Giacosa’s “Red Label” Barolo and Barbaresco Riservas, and the vino being produced here is celestial from top to bottom. However, Giacosa’s beauty doesn’t begin and end with the expensive and incredible Red Label bottlings. There’s a lot more Giacosa to love. I’ve chosen two of my favorite bottles and while these wines bring a little less clout, they still bring a whole lot of awesome.

Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa 2014 Roero Arneis $29.99

When people think of Italian white wines, their minds often drift to Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Friulano and Vermentino. I am here to tell you there is another grape to consider, one we almost lost to extinction: Arneis. Piemonte’s Arneis and was almost completely wiped out before a small group of producers (Giacosa included) realized that it needed saving. This Arneis bottling from Giacosa is rich and straw colored, but it still provides a mouthwatering acidity that allows it to pair with almost anything you could imagine during an antipasti or fish course. Drink until 2019.

Bruno Giacosa 2012 Barbaresco Asili $149.99

Asili is one of Barbaresco’s most prestigious vineyards, and perhaps nobody does it justice like Giacosa. The soil, grape, vine, and terroir marry to give elegance and delicacy in Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili. Giacosa has come to be known for crafting wines of ethereal elegance that seem to live forever. 2012 was a year that had its challenges, but the estate triumphed by making the hard decisions when it came to fruit selection. The result is another stunner that is sure to be enjoyed now and a generation from now. Drink 2017 to 2030.

Giving the Traditional Gift of Barolo

Why a bottle of Barolo is a fitting holiday gift


The hills of Barolo

The traditional gift of respect between Italians, Barolo is a metaphor of elegance, longevity and excellent taste. One grape–Nebbiolo–interpreted multiple ways within a narrow perimeter of vinification makes Barolo, the wine often hyperbolically referred to as the “King of Wines and the Wine of Kings.” Magically evocative of tar and roses, flavored by dried red fruits, haughty and thoughtful, and requiring  protracted aging, Barolo is arguably the most famous, most collectable and most celebrated of all the Italian vintages. Situated in the Langhe Hills, just southwest of the town of Alba, Barolo DOCG covers a surface area of 4,285 acres or an area approximately five-by-seven miles. Although this geographical area is relatively small, it holds multiple microclimates that create variations in quality and style of Barolo, and its many individual producers extend Barolo’s range of expressions even further.

The Barolo district comprises 11 communes; the five most famous—La Morra, Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, and Monforte d’Alba—produce 87% of the wine. These communes form the larger Central and Serralunga Valleys, where differing soil types lend varied characteristics to the wine. To the east is the Central Valley where the communes of La Morra and Barolo are situated. The Central Valley is comprised of compact Tortonian soil with calcareous marl, and it creates soft, elegant, approachable wines with exceptional fruit character and aromatics. To the west is the Serralunga Valley, where lie the Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, and Montforte d’Alba communes. This area consists of the poorer, chalkier Helvetian soil, and it creates long-lived, powerfully concentrated and structured wines. Of course, all of these generalities are problematized by the range of ways that producers themselves craft their wines.

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her cellar

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her cellar

Arguably more than any other wine (the exception possibly being Chianti and the Super-Tuscan movement), Barolo epitomizes the changes that the twentieth century has wrought on winemaking. In early Barolo production, all winemakers blended grapes from various vineyard sites. To a certain extent, necessity demanded this choice because vineyard ownership was extremely fragmented, and négociants, or wine merchants, created the majority of Barolos. However, people also believed that the “perfect Barolo” derived from multiple sources because the varied influences modified and enhanced one another: for example, La Morra (for fragrance, softness), Barolo (for grace and earthiness), Castiglione Falletto (for boldness and richness), Serralunga (for depth and power), Monforte (for concentration and structure). This ideal served Barolo producers until the early 1970s, when single-vineyard bottlings or crus began to appear from single producers, replacing the blends of the more dominant négociant houses. This development brought brand recognition to individual producer estates, and this change nudged Barolo into the modern era.

As Barolo production met the wine-drinking world of the mid-to-late twentieth century, changes in vinification techniques came to disrupt the previously peaceful–and staunchly traditional–Langhe Hills. To employ an essentialist split, and a divide that has become increasingly inaccurate as time has passed, traditional producers held on to traditional methods that made a Barolo more reflective of its specific terroir, while so-called modernists embraced technology that would make the often austere Nebbiolo conform to contemporary palates.

To be classed as Barolo DOCG, wines must be monovarietal bottlings made from Nebbiolo, a grape requiring high altitude, exceptional exposure, unique soil composition, and a cool climate. Outside Piemonte, the difficult Nebbiolo rarely finds its identity, for it truly is a vine of terroir: the Langhe’s growing conditions seem to be the ideal place for this thin skinned, late-ripener that is capable of delivering wines of exceptional power, intensity, complexity, and longevity. To obtain optimal ripeness in Barolo, harvest often takes place in mid-October or even November, when the nebbia, or fog, has begun to settle on the valley floor. By law the minimum ageing requirement for Barolo Superiore is three years, with at least two years in cask. Barolo Riserva, possessing stricter regulations, requires a minimum of four years aging, with at least three years treatment in cask.

Botti at Giacomo Conterno

Botti at Giacomo Conterno

Traditional-style producers like Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, and Giacomo Conterno use extended maceration periods and aging in large oak casks to emphasize the leaner, more tannic side of Nebbiolo. However, other producers looked outside of Italy for inspiration, and these innovators—for example, Clerico, Sandrone,  Scavino, and Voerzio—adopted new production techniques such as shorter maceration periods, aging in new French oak barriques, and individual cru bottlings to create more approachable wines that were easier for many foreign consumers to understand and appreciate. This school quickly established a highly respected following, and its methodology is now accepted as a legitimate alternative to, or accompaniment of, traditional production. Whether modern or traditional, Barolo is the epitome of a “thinking wine,” one that privileges finesse and complexity.

IWM’s 2015 holiday gift guide has beautifully presented bottles of Barolo–along with many other fine gift selections.

Expert Picks: Antinori and Gaja

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15Let’s face it: Italy isn’t the first place that comes to mind when we think of world-class Chardonnay. It can be easy to overlook Italian Chardonnays in favor of white Burgundy; however, you shouldn’t. Italy’s winemakers make more than a few outstanding Chardonnays, and I urge you to approach them with an open mind—I promise you won’t regret it. Today I’m focusing on a pair of Italy’s most outstanding Chardonnays that are crafted by two of Italy’s most legendary winemakers, Angelo Gaja and Antinori.

Inspired by the wines of Meursault, Antinori’s Cervaro della Sala Chardonnay is a perennial IWM client favorite, and it’s one of Italy’s finest collector whites. Coming from Castello della Sala, the Antinori family’s estate in Umbria, every vintage of this wine impresses with its balance, structure, and stunning evocation of Umbrian terroir. Like the ancient winemaking family of Antinori, Angelo Gaja has had an enormous impact on the development, evolution and modernization of winemaking in Piemonte, and Gaja used his Chardonnay to introduce the region to unfamiliar palates in the ‘70s. It’s no surprise that these two winemakers are responsible for two of Italy’s most prized and collected white wines, and if you haven’t yet tried them, here are two bottles to enjoy.

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2013 Chardonnay $54.99

Antinori makes this wine in a Burgundian style that is reminiscent of a traditional Meursault, and the ‘13 Cervaro is texturally stunning; crisp and clean while at the same time round, lush and luxurious. 2013 was a relatively cool growing season, ideal for Chardonnay grapes, and this beautiful wine coats the palate in waves of citrus, orchard fruit, herbs and stony minerals. While Cervaro is immensely enjoyable when young, this bottling will also benefit from some additional time in bottle and continue to evolve for another 8 to 10 years.

Gaja 2011 Chardonnay Gaia & Rey $239.00

Angelo Gaja is a towering figure in modern Italian winemaking. Gaja’s wines are unapologetically modern, seeing time in new barrique and receiving temperature-controlled fermentation, yet they are still highly representative of their respective terroirs, and this improbable balancing act makes them so astonishingly good. Gaja’s top-of-the-line Chardonnay is always an impressive effort; this ‘11 Gaia & Rey Chardonnay is a concentrated, opulent wine that’s seen some time in wood. 2011 was a ripe vintage and this wine is more accessible in its youth than other recent bottlings, yet it has the necessary structure to age another 10 to15 years.

Why Nebbiolo is Autumn’s Wine

A case for Nebbiolo and a bonus risotto recipe!

A bunch of ripe Nebbiolo

A bunch of ripe Nebbiolo

Fall has the most magical look in Aspen. The groves of shimmering green trees turn to yellow and set the mountains ablaze with color. And this color change means that it’s time to drink red wine. Fall reds are tricky; I feel the need to keep summer alive, but I also have the desire to embrace winter. For me, autumn usually means Nebbiolo wines. I consider the Nebbiolo grape the most interesting of Italian red grapes and I associate it with the autumnal season—for one thing, the grape gets it name from the dense October fog that settles over the vineyards!

Picking Nebbiolo

Picking Nebbiolo

I’ve long loved the Nebbiolo grape, not only for its earthy nose, but also for its robust characteristics. Before I had any formal wine education, I had the privilege to travel to Piemonte multiple times. I’ve seen the rolling hills and the nebulous fog. I’ve drunk the different Barolo and Barbaresco vintages and I smelled the centuries-old cellars. Without any knowledge about the grape or the wine, I was able to appreciate Nebbiolo with an innocent palate. My most recent trip was with my sister; we were driving a badass sports car from Umbria to Milan and decided a detour into Piemonte was in order. We drove into the hills of Alba in the afternoon with no place to stay and no understanding of the language. We parked and began walking the cobbled streets. As we passed a restaurant before it opened, the chef called out to us, and after a confused conversation, we had an amazing place to stay and a fantastic meal. Later that night in a small restaurant with wooden benches and walls cluttered with years of wine bottles, the chef brought us a Barolo Risotto that literally changed the course of my life.

Winemaker Maria Teresa Mascarello and Sergio Esposito

Winemaker Maria Teresa Mascarello and Sergio Esposito

The beauty of Nebbiolo is that it is so terroir-driven and so expressive that it changes drastically depending on where it is grown and what winemaking techniques the producer uses. However flexible, Nebbiolo has a very distinctive quality so that it can easily be distinguished from any other grape on the planet. Whether it’s a Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe Rosso or a Nebbiolo blend, wine made with Nebbiolo is distinctive because of its nose of tar and flowers, its slight medicinal note, its light color, and its deep fruit and tobacco finish. Additionally, Nebbiolo has an uncanny ability to age. A young Nebbiolo wine is drinkable, of course, but the nuances that it will develop over time are incomparable. Nebbiolo’s tannin and acidity are the backbone of its aging ability and a reason why this wine is such a fall affair.

The pairing of Nebbiolo to fall is a perfect one because the dark fruit flavors and earthy tones remind me of decaying leaves and the smell of the chill in the air. The thick skins of the Nebbiolo grape create a tannic structure that pairs well with the heavier fall foods such as ragu, braised meats, pastas and, of course, risotto. Risotto was one of the first Italian dished I learned how to make and it still influences my Mediterranean culinary style. To toast to the new fall season, open a bottle of Nebbiolo and drink it while experimenting with my Barolo Risotto Recipe.

Julia’s Barolo Risotto


3 tbs good quality olive oil

1 clove garlic

¼ cup dry vermouth

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups veggie stock

2 cups Barolo wine

1 tbs butter

Salt and pepper


Heat the stock in a separate pan or kettle so that it’s simmering when you’re ready for it.

Put the olive oil in a thick-bottomed risotto pan, on medium-low heat. Mince the garlic and add to the oil. One soft, add the rice and stir to coat each grain with the oil. This protects the rice grain and allows for the starch to generate slowly.

Once the rice has been coated deglaze with the vermouth. Some people use wine at this point, but I like the herbaceous quality that the vermouth creates. Let the vermouth reduce with a simmer at medium-high heat. Season with salt, but not too much.

Pour a cup of simmering stock onto the rice; stirring slowly and constantly, let the stock become absorbed by the rice. Before the bottom of the pan goes dry add another cup of stock. Continue to stir constantly. The consistent agitation of the rice allows the starch to come out and create the creamy texture so desired in risotto. One the second cup of stock has been absorbed, add a cup of wine. Continue to add cups of stock and wine until the rice is al dente, but always end on the wine. Turn off the heat and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Add the tablespoon of butter to mount the rice. Serve immediately.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: De Forville 2013 Barbera Cascina Buc

Delicious, unpretentious, and under $17 Barbera!

barbera_asti_resWhen we think of Piemonte, we usually think of Barolo and the Nebbiolo grape, but there’s another important grape: Barbera. More widely planted than Nebbiolo and more often on the dinner table of Piemontese locals, Barbera is often made into simple wines for simple meals, but there are a handful of producers who take on the task of crafting seriously delicious and complex wines from the grape. As you might expect, many of the leading estates in Barolo and Barbaresco also produce a Barbera, and as a hopeless wine geek, I think it’s a lot of fun to compare and contrast the different styles and expressions of the grape across producers and terroirs. And while Barbera is not usually a wine capable of serious aging, it is always delicious and easy to enjoy in any season, and with just about any meal.

Today’s go-to wine comes from the De Forville estate in Barbaresco, and I love it for its juicy yet delicate fruit, cheerful personality and outstanding quality-to-price ratio. It’s not meant to be a complex or serious wine; it’s made to be enjoyed early and often, and without pretension. The family-owned-and-operated De Forville estate has been bottling wines in Barbaresco since 1940, and it uses a mix of modern and traditional practices in the vineyard and cellar, harvesting all its fruit by hand, fermenting in stainless steel with temperature control, then transferring the juice to large oak barrels for the ensuing malolactic fermentation.

My girlfriend and I enjoyed De Forville’s 2013 Barbera Cascina Buc on Sunday night with a nice fall meal of local Delicata squash that we rubbed with olive oil and spices, baked for a while, stuffed with a mixture of crumbled sausage and sautéed kale, topped with grated cheese, and then baked some more. Not surprisingly, the stuffed squash was perfect foil for the Barbera; its mouth-watering acidity cut through the spice and the richness of the melted cheese, and its lovely balance of bright red fruits and soft tannins provided a great counterpoint to the meal’s savory, meaty components. We finished the wine quickly, and my only regret was that I hadn’t picked up a second bottle.

De Forville’s Barbera is the perfect wine to keep at home by the case for everyday drinking, and at under $17, it won’t put a strain on your budget. If you’ve been searching for a new house wine that’s delicious, look no further than this Barbera!

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