The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Peter Dipoli and Peter Dipoli

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014As much as I love wines from the popular regions of Piedmont and Tuscany, I am always on the hunt for delicious wines from other “shadow” regions. Today I am focusing on a talented pioneer winemaker from Italy’s northern region of Alto Adige, Peter Dipoli.

Peter Dipoli represents one of Italy’s top talents, producing wines on a level beyond what anyone thought possible in the mountainous region of Alto Adige. Going against the grain in regards to tradition , Peter discovered that the steep, high-altitude slopes near Bolzano are ideal for the production of complex, age-worthy white and red wine, something for which Alto Adige is not necessarily well known. He began by replacing the local native grapes with French varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvginon Blanc) that are better suited to the climate and able to enjoy a longer growing season. In doing this his crops attain impressive ripeness while retaining the acidity that would allow it to age in bottle. To enjoy Peter’s wines is to experience the unique artistry of one of northern Italy’s best rising stars, a secret somewhat guarded within Italy’s borders….until now!

Peter Dipoli Sauvignon Voglar 2009 $34.99

Peter’s comprehensive study of terroir has clearly paid off, as his Voglar bottling is beautifully poised and pure. Volgar is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown on limestone cliffs and fermented and aged in acacia casks. The wine offers gorgeous exotic fruit, white florals with impressive precision minerality – a lovely alternative to whites of the Loire and Bordeaux and the perfect match to fresh seafood.

Peter Dipoli Iugum 2007 $59.99

Peter’s research also led him to identify another plot of land with a milder climate and soils of clay and limestone, perfectly suited to grow Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Similar to his findings for the Sauvignon Blanc, he can achieve longer hang time lending for optimal maturity of the fruit while avoiding those unpleasant vegetal flavors that can be found in some of the indigenous local reds. After four years of age, two in barrel and two in the bottle, Iugum is released. Peter’s goal is to make an age-worthy, complex red from Alto Adige that simultaneously reflects its terroir and Iugum is just that! This cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon oozes with class and is surprisingly approachable at a young age while offering exceptional cellaring potential. Broadly useful at table, this is a great match to a number of hearty dishes.

Snowy Days and Winter Whites

Why one writer is pouring orange wines this winter

gravnerLike Olivia Pope, I do not stow my whites as winter comes. I may enjoy curling up on the couch with a glass of Brunello and a plate of cinghiale salami, but I have a hard time letting go of white wines. Winter, however, calls for a heftier white than what I’ll pour on a hot summer night. This is when skin-contact wines, or orange wines, make their entrance.

Stay with me here. “Skin contact” even sounds warm, and “orange” conjure the toasty glow of a fire. Orange wine is a style that I’m very fond of for myriad reasons. These wines sit in an unusual position; they come about when winemakers treat white wine grapes with the same kind of protocol that they treat red wine grapes. In this, they’re the inverse of rosé wines, which treat red grapes like white.

It’s not merely the weirdness of so-called orange wines that draws me to them, however. Weirdness is a factor; I’m drawn to the unusual and strange and the unconventional. It’s also that orange wines confound expectations. Everything about drinking a white wine tells you to expect a certain prescriptive set of sensations and flavors—even leaving room for a range of producer styles, grape varieties, vintage variations and regional differences.

Orange wines confound those expectations. There’s white wine freshness and red wine tannins. There’s white wine fruit—citrus, tropical, white-flesh or otherwise—and there’s red wine thrumming of earth, underbrush and wildness. There’s white wine scent and red wine weight. And on top of all of that sensory confusion, there are aspects that only orange wines have, a strange oxidative, sometimes caramelly, often funky-dirty-woodsy quality.

My very favorite skin-contact wines come from Josko Gravner. His Ribolla Anfora and Anfora Breg drink like liquid kaleidoscopes, shifting at every turn to reveal unexpected nuances of spice, of wood, of wildflowers, of seawater, or of ripe fruit. I’m also deeply fond of Radikon, who makes wines that hang in the mouth with a velvety heaviness. I’ve long been a fan of Paolo Bea and Giampiero Bea’s project Monestero Suore, and both of these Umbrian producers do great work with orange wines. And I’m very excited to try the Loire Valley’s Nicolas Joly, whose super-natural Chenin Blancs approach the holy grail standard: whites that drink like reds. All these wines show best when they’re decanted, just below room temperature, and served with food—qualities that make them perform very much like red wines.

And like red wines, these skin-contact wines warm you from the inside, help conversation sparkle, and make you linger before leaving to go into the cold.

A Look At Bordeaux, Part 2: Bordeaux’s Dry White Wines

A look into Bordeaux’s terroir and unsung dry whites

unnamedFor part one of this series, go here:

What are the circumstances that have allowed the Bordeaux wine region to produce such outstanding wines for centuries? The short answer is the terroir. Bordeaux vineyards sit on the 45th parallel in Southwest France, right up against the Atlantic Ocean, giving Bordeaux a mild oceanic temperate climate. The same Gulf Stream that goes up the entire East Coast of the United States and the Maritime Provinces of Canada wanders across the Northern Atlantic and eventually makes its way to the Atlantic coast of France and, eventually, Bordeaux, where it warms and regulates the region’s temperatures. Just off Bordeaux’s coastline is a pine forest that acts as barrier protecting the vineyards against the sometimes harsh weather of the Bay of Biscay, a site known to have some of the Atlantic’s fiercest weather.

The winters in Bordeaux have a low risk of frost; the springs are wet with occasional frost scares; summers are warm; and the autumns have been reliably for optimal grape ripening over the last 30 years. Along with the weather, the soils and geology is a great asset to Bordeaux’s wine-growing success, contributing to the diversity of characteristics in the wines. On Bordeaux’s Left Bank, which covers the areas of the greater Médoc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Barsac and Graves, the well drained soils consist of gravel, sand and some clay. Bordeaux’s Right Bank, which covers a wide range of appellations including most of the Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Côte de Bordeaux, and Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac, has soils composed of wet limestone, moist clay, and smaller amounts of sand and gravel. Above all, the Bordelaise have figured out of long periods of time what grape varieties to plant in the right soils.

unnamed-1Although best known for its red wines, Bordeaux has been making dry white wines for centuries. Interestingly enough, in the 1950s 60% of Bordeaux production was white wine. Today red wine dominates, accounting for 89% of the total production. In 2013, the total planting of vines dedicated to making dry white only represents 8% of the vineyard area.

There are two main styles of whites that Bordeaux produces. One is well structured, complex, highly aromatic whites that have the ability for eight or more years of aging, particularly the white wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. The other style is those whites that are fresh, fruity with lively acidity and made for immediate drinking.

unnamed-3At the core of the Bordeaux whites are the major grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with a supporting role coming from the Muscadelle grape. Sauvignon Blanc generally leads the charge for the Bordeaux white wine blend. The first reference of Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux dates back to 1736, which suggests it’s an indigenous grape. Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant, fresh, and flavorful, with wonderful aromas of citrus, fresh cut grass and hay, along with hints of dry herbs. It can make powerful and complex wines, as well as wines that are early drinking and fresh.

The wonderful Sémillon grape brings beautiful color to the wine, and it also offers finesse and smoothness. Sémillon makes up 52% of all white variety plantings in Bordeaux, and the region’s producers use Sémillon to produce both dry white and sweet white wines. When young, a Sémillon wine’s aromas are subtle and restrained, with notes of peach, acacia, nuttiness, but with some age, this wine develops roundness, opulence, texture, and complexity with a bouquet of honey, wax, apricots, pear and mango. Sémillon makes a white with amazing aging potential.

Bordeaux dry whites are some of the greatest wines produced on earth, but for some unknown reason, they remain a hidden secret. As a Bordeaux authority, a Certified Wine Educator, and a big fan of these wines, I take it as my mission to spread the word about these incredible evocations of Bordeaux’s unusual, extraordinary terroir.

To continue to learn more about this fascinating wine region, check back for further installments.

Inside IWM, November 24-27, 2014: Giving Thanks!

A look back at the week that was

308276_10150404094157746_1607559015_nWe hope your Thanksgiving Day was absolutely wonderful, and you’re enjoying your holiday weekend. Our minds were a collective hive of Thanksgiving love this week, beginning with one writer’s remembrance of her “Festa del Tacchino” in Montalcino, Italy. You haven’t really spread the love of Thanksgiving until you’ve indoctrinated a group of skeptical Italians into the cult of Turkey Day. We finished the week with turkey tips–David Bertot’s tried-and-true ways to make your turkey juicy and delicious. In between, John Camacho Vidal enjoyed a bottle of $25 Rosso di Montalcino and fell more deeply in love with Talenti.

Our Experts chose from the viscera, picking wines they love with abandon. Crystal opted for a pair of Loire Valley gems from the great Didier Dagueneau estate. Like Crystal, Robin Kelley O’Connor kept his selections to a single producer, choosing two beautiful Brunellos from Col d’Orcia. Will Di Nunzio chose to spread his love across two producers, Chionetti and Antinori, suggesting that holiday wines should include the beloved and the unknown.

Happy leftovers, shopping, company and wine!

Expert Picks: Didier Dagueneau and…Didier Dagueneau!

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014Although I adore white wines from the “golden slopes” in Burgundy, I also share great admiration for the lovely wines of the Loire Valley. When asked about leading producers, a certain legend immediately comes to mind—Didier Dagueneau.

Didier Dagueneau was known as the “wild man of Pouilly,” not only for his passion for car racing and for his shaggy appearance (long curly hair and a dramatic beard) but also for his ideas and determination. He was recognized as a brilliant winemaker and the best producer in the appellation. In 2008 he was in an airplane accident, leaving the reins of the estate to his children Benjamin and Charlotte. There were questions about whether or not they could carry on their father’s legacy, passion, and fervor; to the surprise of some, they have surpassed expectations in carrying the family torch.

The Dagueneau estate (not to be confused with Serge Dagueneau) makes a range of dry white wines, all Pouilly-Fumé, all biodynamic. The classic Pouilly-Fumé Blanc, deriving from a blend of several vineyards, is bright and soft. The Buisson Renard is more flinty in style, but still round, and more age-worthy. The remaining two wines are both barrel fermented single-vineyard superstars that derive from slate soils: Silex and Pur Sang (the French term for “thoroughbred,” a reference to horse tilling, which is common in biodynamic farming). We have been fortunate to secure some special allocations from the estate and are delighted to share what we believe to be some of the greatest expressions of Sauvignon Blanc. Although we currently carry a full range of the wines, I chose to highlight two of my favorites today:

Didier Dagueneau 2009 Blanc Pouilly-Fumé $74.99

This lovely Pouilly-Fumé offers bright aromas of chalk and white flowers followed by flavors of green mango, Meyer lemon, kiwi and almond. The wine finishes with vibratory intensity that pulls you back to the glass for more.

Didier Dagueneau 2009 Pouilly-Fumé Buisson Renard $109.99

This dense wine is flinty and exhibits grapefruits, passionfruit and wood. This cuvée comes from one perfect clay-and-flint parcel located mid-slope on the southwest side of Saint Andelain, the highest village in the Pouilly-Fume appellation, and the only one to possess soil containing the perfect balance of clay and flint. This wine is barrel fermented and aged in mostly neutral barrels to create a rich, opulent wine that still maintains a classic flinty streak with a firm backbone.

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