The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, February 22-26, 2016: Whaddaya Know?

A look back at the week that was

IMG_1647What do you know? Or, more accurately, what do you think you know? This week the blog challenged expectations. First, IWM’s writer tells about landing in Italy only to find that what she’d expected was even, somehow, better. Janice Cable on visiting Italy and drinking Italian wines with their makers. It’s no surprise to our blog’s readers that Stephane Menard is a wiz in the kitchen–his recipes are legend–but Stephane was pleasantly surprised by a delicious $23 Vermentino, which he paired with a simple Turbot recipe. You can read a wine’s label, but do you understand it? John Camacho Vidal shows you how to get the most from what’s on your bottle. And what do you really know about wines from the Veneto? From Amarone to Prosecco, we offer a quick tour.

Our experts relied on what they know to choose wines they’re sure you’ll love. Garrett Kowalsky spotlighted a delicious Super-Tuscan pair from an under-the-radar Antinori estate, Le Mortelle. Looking forward to the exceptional 2014 Burgundies, Crystal Edgar reflected on two wines she’s loved this year, both from Arnoux-Lachaux. And Michael Adler knows that everyone doesn’t have the patience to let their 2010 Brunellos age, so he picked two Sangiovese Grosso bottles you can enjoy right now.

Here’s to what you know, what you don’t, and enjoying delicious wine with people.

Visiting the Veneto, from Amarone to Prosecco

The many, splendored, and often appassimento wines of the Veneto

Venice at night

Venice at night

The setting of several Shakespearian works, the Veneto also delivers great performances in its vineyards, offering a range of wines that star in both casual and refined settings. In each of the three principal wine categories, the Veneto provides a fairly famous offering that essentially defines its respective genre. The leading sparkler (Prosecco) and red (Amarone) of the Veneto region provide a consummate study in contrast, with the distance between the two placing them at opposite ends of a broad stylistic spectrum. The dominant presence in the sparkling category is Prosecco, a light and simple Charmat-method sparkler derived from the eponymous grape. While mass produced, the DOC status for the crafting of Prosecco, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, is well suited to the production of sparkling wine. Simplicity is, perhaps, its hallmark virtue, though more substantive versions are produced in the prime vineyard areas of Cartizze.

The Veneto’s most well-known still white wine is Soave, a designation that has been compromised through both viticultural and vinification methods and the enlargement of the zone. While Soave is not the only white DOC, the others, Lugana and Gambellara, primarily involve the same varietals. The former (which is shared with Lombardia), privileges Trebbiano di Soave, and some bottlings realize a substantive aromatic presence. With respect to the latter, Garganega exercises its dominance, as it represents a minimum of 80% of the blend. The category also includes several varietally labeled wines that are fairly simple in character.

Valpolicella is, in many respects, the red counterpart to Soave, as its image has suffered from mass production. However, unlike Soave, it operates a stylistic hierarchy: Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore and/or Ripasso, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella generally comprise the grape trio of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Valpolicella Classico (Classico denoting a wine made in the inner, superior Valpolicella zone) is the simplest expression of the Valpolicella quartet. At the Superiore level, Valpolicella must achieve higher alcohol content, receive longer aging, and display more body and structure than the simple Valpolicella. To realize these qualities, many Superiore are treated via one of two techniques: “governo alla Toscana” or ripasso. Under the “governo alla Toscana” method, producers blend the finished Valpolicella with a small percentage of Amarone remaining from a previous batch. Others employ the ripasso method, enriching the Valpolicella wine through direct contact with (or passing through) the Amarone’s lees.

Whatever the degree of extraction realized, however, a Valpolicella Superiore offers but a modest suggestion of Amarone, the intensity and depth of which is achieved through the appassimento process. During this regimen, during which winemakers spread out carefully selected grapes in single layers to dry on straw or plastic mats for 60 to 100 days. During this time, the grapes lose a substantive amount of water weight, dramatically concentrating their sugars. Thereafter, the raisined grapes are crushed and fully fermented into a dry, full-bodied wine marked by high alcohol. The Veneto’s drama is at its most intense in Recioto della Valpolicella, the sweet member of the Valpolicella quartet that dates back to the Romans, who are credited with having developed theappassimento process. The sweetness derives from an arrested fermentation, a procedure that stops the conversion of sugar into alcohol, thereby leaving residual sugar. It is in this mode that the unexceptional Soave finds an empathetic medium, achieving a substantive upgrade in a reserved sweetness.

While Valpolicella may seem to dominate the red wine landscape, winemakers outside Verona are achieving notable success without relying on Italy’s own, privileging Bordeaux’s famed triumvirate of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. In fact, it is believed that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot actually hold a fairly traditional place in zones such as the Colli Berici and Colli Euganei.

Inside IWM, January 25-28, 2016: Learning is FUNdamental

A look back at the week that was

A pretty illustration of Freisa

A pretty illustration of Freisa

We kicked off the week with a new post in our series on Italian red wine grapes, this one looking at grapes from Dolcetto (the “little sweet one”) to Grignolino (“many pips”). Learn more than you thought you would by checking in on this multi-post extravaganza. On Tuesday, Stephane Menard explained why every day is a good day for Prosecco, and he explores an authentic $22 bottle from Col Vetoraz to show why. And Francesco Vigorito talked tannins–what they are, how they work, and why wines with sturdy tannins are his favorites.

Crystal Edgar chose her expert selections of Alain Burguet Burgundies because Burgundy is like Manhattan–it’s all about location, location, location. John Camacho Vidal looked to southern Italy for his expert picks inspiration, and he selected two wines from Campania that are insanely good. Michael Adler looked even farther afield; journeying to Argentina’s Patagonia region, Michael picked out a pair of Bodega Chacra old-vine Pinot Noirs that proves Francesco right and poses a challenge to Crystal.

However you do it, learning is fundamental, and learning about wine is the most fun of all. Cheers to you and what’s in your glass this weekend!

Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Col Vetoraz Prosecco

A balanced, bright, delicious Prosecco that’s under $22!


Picture 717The holiday season is over, but it’s always time for more bubbly! My favorite pick for aperitivi, brunches, and parties is Col Vetoraz Prosecco, which we also have in the impressive magnum format. The 750ml bottle is under $22, so it’s easy to pop this Prosecco any night of the week.

Many Prosecco wines on the market are in my opinion too sweet and aromatic, almost peach candy flavored, but the Col Vetoraz is dry and shows perfect balance between its aromas of succulent orchard fruits and pointed acidity. Col Vetoraz’s vineyards overlook the mountains are situated in an immense amphitheater, sheltered from the west winds. Founders of the original estate, the Miotto family settled down in the Veneto in 1838 and started growing vines. In 1993 Francesco, a direct descendant of Miotto family, together with Paolo De Bortoli and Loris da’Acqua established the current Col Vetoraz. In the few last years, Col Vetoraz has gained renown and won several Italian winemaking awards.

We know of the origins of the Prosecco grape (formerly called Glera) from Roman writings in the second century BCE. In writing on the main wines of ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder lauded Prosecco’s forbearer as one of the great wines served at the tables of Roman dignitaries, and he added that it could make people live longer. The wife of Emperor Augustus, credited for her longevity, said, “No other wine is better for medicinal purposes.” I don’t know whether or not Prosecco adds years to your life, but it surely can’t hurt.

Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG sits in the area from from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano in the Veneto region. Prosecco, unlike Champagne, undergoes secondary fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle, and is then disgorged and bottled tightly to capture its magic bubbles. Col Vetoraz makes a Prosecco that’s one of the best values out there. I like to enjoy it with family and friends, and you should try it the next time you want to celebrate life and all its every day joys!


Toasting the New Year with Prosecco

What will be in your glass tomorrow night?

Prosecco_Flutes jpegProsecco seems to be hitting its stride. In fact, as New Year’s Eve arrives, lots of sparkling wine drinkers are reaching for this Italian bubbly, and for many reasons. One of the main reasons is Prosecco’s price point; you can get really fantastic, organic bottles priced in the $20 and under range. This means it’s easy to afford wine for you and your guests to enjoy, and given that Prosecco clocks in at around 11% alcohol—less than Champagne—you can drink more of it.

Sales of Prosecco have shot up in recent years as consumers discover the value-oriented alternative to champagne; in fact, Prosecco’s sales have outstripped those of Champagne. Prosecco’s light body and citrus flavor profile makes it easy to drink at any time, and that’s just one reason why Prosecco has gained popularity of late. The other reason is that Prosecco has definitely upped its quality in the past twenty years, in part because of changes in DOC regulations.

Since April 1, 2010, when the current DOC regulations became effective, the term “Prosecco” refers to a specific place—the Veneto and parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeastern corner of Italy. These two regions, along with nine other specific provinces, geographically define the Prosecco DOC. While Prosecco is actually the name of a town near the city of Trieste in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the wine’s major grape, commonly known as Prosecco, also goes by the ancient name of Glera, a name unfamiliar even to the people within the region. However, only the name has changed; Italian Prosecco has always been made with Glera, though lesser known varieties have figured into the wine’s composition in rather negligible amounts over time.

The incorporation of the new DOCG classification, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, ensures that wines from the two most prominent zones will face stricter controls and be given the highest guarantee. Composed of fifteen communes (or townships), the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene zone is a hilly region with very steep slopes that require vineyard operations to be performed by hand, a practice that has been in place for over three centuries. In addition to the general designation, wines that derive from a single hillside will, in conjunction with standard DOCG labeling, include the term rive, which refers to the finest vineyards and those receiving favorable exposure.

A wine that dates back to ancient times, Prosecco is Italy’s most emblematic sparkling wine. Made with the Charmat method that, unlike in Cava and Champagne, has its secondary fermentation takes place in a vat, Prosecco is beloved for its refreshing acidity, pleasant aromatics and delicate flavors of peach and green apple. It’s a lovely alternative to Champagne, whether on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day brunch, or any time a sparkling wine seems to fit the festivities.

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