The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: La Rioja Alta and Gianfranco Soldera

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco_1One of the best things about working at IWM is to experience we get to share with our clients. Magic happens in our Vintage Tasting Room when food, wine and conversation come together. Today I want to tell you about two wines that blew me away during recent client dinners.

La Rioja Alta Ardanza Reserva 2004 $35.99

With just two hours of bottle aeration, this wine was perfectly primed to give me might be the best $35 drinking experience I ever had! The assault of aromas was absolutely stunning—they were ripe, concentrated and very intense, indicating that there is lots of development ahead. The palate was velvety and rich with an underlying vein of freshness that allowed all of the flavors to simply pop. This Rioja has enough structure to let this develop over the next 10-15 years or so, and for around $35 (less on a case), this wine should be bought in bulk.

Gianfranco Soldera 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva $649.00

Simply said, this is the best new Brunello I have tasted. There was a little bit of funk upon opening, but that blew off with three hours of bottle aeration. What was revealed was a true tour de force of winemaking. Sweet, perfumed fruit with a backdrop of tobacco, flowers, herbs and earth came to the forefront. Pale red in the glass, this Brunello looks very unassuming, but when it hits your palate you know you are drinking something truly magical. Silky as can be, this wine has unrivaled, unmatched equilibrium—Gianfranco Soldera has no equal. There are no hard edges and the wine just kept on getting better and better in the glass. All Brunello lovers need to have a bottle, no question.

Expert Picks: Seghesio and Soldera

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_1Today I wish to share with you two wines that I experienced very recently. They come from names that I am sure you’re familiar with, but that should come as no surprise. We select wines and producers that touch us on a personal level, and wines that we are sure will do the same for you. That is why time and time again you will see familiar names: because we feel it’s important for you to experience these peak moments just as we do.

Here are two very different but very delicious wines, one from Piemonte’s Renzo Seghesio and one from Montalcino’s Gianfranco Soldera.

Drinking for today:

Renzo Seghesio Ruri Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 $39.50

This pick was inspired by a line-up I enjoyed last night, a dinner that included a wonderful range of wines from Renzo Seghesio, a recent addition to the IWM Piemontese Portfolio. I felt lucky to be able to enjoy Barolos from ’07, ’04, ’98 and ’96, but one of the most surprising wines of the evening was not a Barolo; rather, it was the 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo. I have written about this wine in the past because I had enjoyed it, but I’d never experienced it in the same company as its Barolo brethren. It showered bright cherries, and it was vibrant, approachable and altogether exceptional. While it might not have the age ability as its Barolo family, this wine that derives from the younger vines on the property was a wonderful way to “peek behind the curtain” of Nebbiolo and see what it has to offer in its youth. Drink now and for five years.

For the Cellar:

Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 $649

Here is another producer that I highlighted recently, but I have to tell you, when wine “moves” you, you can’t ignore it. When Gianfranco Soldera travelled across Italy in the ‘70s looking for the perfect piece of property to place his vineyard, he was attracted to Montalcino for the sole reason that he believed nowhere in the world was there a more perfect marriage between land and grape (Montalcino’s soil and the Sangiovese Grosso grape). The 2004 and 2006 vintages are often regarded as the pinnacle vintages of Gianfranco’s long career, but I had yet to try either—until last week. The 2004 Brunello from Soldera is like being kissed by an angel. Yes, that does sound ridiculous, but only if you have not had the wine. It dances like a ballerina across your palate, taking care not to neglect a single taste bud. It’s soft yet firm, caressing, and sweet, and the finish goes on for minutes. I had picked up the glass nonchalantly, expecting a great wine. What I got was something much more. Drink now and for twenty years.

Happy Wineries Are All Alike (Except for When They’re Not)

The convergence between wines and their makers

 

Gianfranco Soldera in front of his botti

Gianfranco Soldera in front of his botti

Writing about the new Antinori Cantina and the estate’s debut of its2010 Solaia, I was reminded of my own visits to Italian producers. Thinking of them, I offer a cantina version of the Anna Karenina principle: Happy wineries are all alike; every happy winery is happy in its own way. I lost count of how many wineries I visited during my two stays in Italy. So many giant wooden vats, so much red tile, so many labeling machines, so many endless vines stretching off as far as my sometimes tired eyes could see. In many ways, every winery is exactly like every other winery. They all have that winey-dark smell and that winey-dark dark. They all have vats and hoses. They all have some large, always wooden, often rustic, tasting table. They all have plaques and awards, and their owners are almost always happy to point out their label maker.

Wine producers, or those giving the tours, have a tendency to offer up the same kinds of facts in the same order. Visit enough wineries, and you start to assemble a checklist of factoids that you can tick off in your head. There’s a lot of talk about green harvests and vine yields, of rootstock and treatments. Barriques come up often, and passionately. There’s history and there’s the ubiquitous platitude of how this wine is made on the vines—and not in the cellar.

Vats and amphora at Castello dei Rampolla

Vats and amphora at Castello dei Rampolla

There’s a lot of pride that circulates around the use of technology—or the abjuring of it. The technology changes, as does its sophistication, but the pride is a constant. There’s often olive trees and talk of olive oil. Maceration comes up a lot. So do “pumping over,” “punching down,” “disgorgement,” and other vaguely pornographic terms.

And yet somehow the sheer number of similarities among wineries does a surprising thing: it serves to highlight the differences. Because if there is one lesson I gleaned from visiting all these wineries and meeting so many producers it would be that each one has its own individual animus. The spirit that animates Valdicava is not the spirit that animates is not the spirit that animates Il Palazzone is not the spirit that animates Poggio di Sotto—even if they’re all making Brunellos of similar gravitas. Likewise any other winemakers; they’re all beautiful snowflakes no less different from one another than they are different.

Barrels and barrels and barrels at Fontodi

Barrels and barrels and barrels at Fontodi

Often the zeitgeist of a winery is apparent in its wines. Tua Rita, for example, has a charming ramshackle serendipity about it, a kind of “oh gosh, we’re successful!” feel, and the estate’s wines reflect that exuberance and glee. Castello dei Rampolla’s thoughtful biodynamic approach appears in its complex, rich and so-vibrant-they’re-nearly-vibrating wines. Grattamacco and Montevertine share a geeky sensibility, and the estates both make wines that embody this gleeful, unassuming eggheadery (and I say this as a compliment; I’m a former Ph.D. candidate). Bartolo Mascarello has a warm, iconoclastic feel, and the estate’s Barolos seem to shine with familial pride.

Vines at Il Palazzone

Vines at Il Palazzone

Other times, the zeitgeist is absent in the wines. Poggio di Sotto has a cellar so clean you could eat off it (except for the floors they keep wet to maintain proper humidity; these you could slurp off of). It’s a wonder of organization, color-coded hoses curled with naval precision, and tanks so bright and shiny you could use their reflection to line your lips. After touring the cellar, I expected a wine with military corners, something architectural and linear, meticulous and mathematic. I could not have been more wrong. If anything, all that cleaning makes the wine more aromatic and ferally pretty.

Giacomo Conterno's big botti

Giacomo Conterno’s big botti

I’m only sad that I didn’t get to visit some of my very favorite wineries—I had to save Paolo Bea, Gravner, Movia and COS for another visit. There’s always next year. And I’m sure between now and then, I’ll add to the list. Antinori’s new home is definitely on it.

Expert Picks: San Giuliano and Case Basse di Soldera

Two expert selections from Will Di Nunzio

Will_2Piemonte and Toscana, the two main wine regions of Italy, boast everyday wines and impressive collectibles alike from hundreds of producers. There are often too many wines to choose from, and each year new wines come out; one can get lost in the shuffle. Fortunately we’re always here to help and today I chose two wines that I love—a Barbera for the everyday and a Soldera, because let’s face it, it’s Soldera!

San Giuliano Barbera Fiore di Marcorino 2010 $20.99

Deriving from a tiny 1-acre vineyard and grown at an altitude of 900 feet, San Giuliano makes only 330 cases of its Barbera Fiore di Macorino each year. The Fiore di Macorino is an easy wine to open on a summer evening, pairing perfectly with all kinds of meats and aged, dry cheeses; its elegance and balance are impressive.

Case Basse di Soldera Pegasos 2005 $229

It’s no secret how much IWM loves this producer and his incredible wines. Along the same concept as Quintarelli’s Rosso del Bepi, a declassified Amarone, Soldera’s Pegasos is what we could easily call a declassified Brunello. This particular wine was simply pulled a little earlier than his 2005 Brunello Riserva, and the result is a light and elegant “Brunello” that is simply incredible. This is easily Soldera’s best value and highly recommend by this wine lover! Enjoy next to a lean grilled steak with roasted vegetables.

Expert Picks: Begali and Case Basse di Soldera

Two selections from expert Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett Kowalsky

The great wine regions of Italy have been established for millennia. The wines of Piemonte, Tuscany, and the Veneto long ago found homes in the hearts and the cellars of the world’s wine-lovers. Sometimes unfamiliar regions show us something special, but it’s hard not to return to the original pillars of Italian wine. Today I look to two of those stalwarts of tradition, the Veneto and Toscana–but even a traditional producers like Montalcino’s Gianfranco Soldera will sometimes throw in a twist, such as the wine I pick below.

Begali Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2010 
Wine can be bright, airy and altogether vibrant–and that’s lovely. However, sometimes you want something a touch deeper, more velvety and more seductive. That is when I often turn to the wines of the Veneto in northeast Italy and, most commonly, Valpolicella. A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, this Valpolicella shows unique detail that stems from the winemaking process. Not only does the estate use appassimento, where it dries out the grapes on straw mats to trap residual sugar, but it also uses “ripasso,” where it adds leftover Amarone  juice to the mix. Both are labor intensive and expensive processes, so it’s nearly impossible to find an everyday wine that employs them. Drink now and over the next five years.

Case Basse di Soldera Pegasos 2005
One of the most sought-after wines in the world are the Brunello di Montalcinos from Gianfranco Soldera. Always focused on quality, Soldera limits yields and production. On top of the already limited amount out there, you may have heard that the winery was the victim of vandalism recently and lost every vintage from 2007-2012. That makes anything out there extremely hard toget your hands on. Take his 2005 Pegasos, for example. While the barrels of his illustrious wine were in the cellar, he noted a few barrels that were matured at a slightly quicker rate. He could have held them and released them as Brunello, but as always his intent is to provide his wines to the public in their most pristine form. This is an opportunity to put some of this incredible winemakers wine away in your cellar for much less than his other Brunellos out on the market. Drink now or for the next 10-15 years.

As an IWM Portfolio Manager, Garrett Kowalsky has married his love of wine with his background in finance and economics. A lover of many of the world’s wine-growing regions, Garrett acknowledges that Burgundy and Barolo hold a special place in his heart.

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