A look back at the week that was on Inside IWM
This past week on Inside IWM has been a celebration of place, beginning with this educational tour of Toscana, one of Italy’s most beloved winemaking regions. When people fall in love with Italy, they often fall in love with Toscana first, and it’s easy to see why!
Garrett celebrated a dinner at home with mom with a bottle of Burgundy that’s both great and a great value at less than $30.
David Bertot got us back in an Italian frame of mind with his Tuscan-inspired recipe for Short Rib Ragout (which he paired with a nice bottle of Brunello).
And RKO spun us around and landed us somewhere between New York City and Burgundy with his reportage of La Paulée de New York, the recent Burgundy bacchanalia held here in Gotham.
Our Experts chose some very fine wines too.
On Monday, Perry opted for two bottles that he’d shared with IWM clients (only to find everyone drinking more than they’d expected): Seghesio and Gaja.
On Tuesday, Will used geography as his guide and chose one bottle from Italy’s North and one from its South: Scavino and COS.
On Wednesday, Brian just went flat-out for one of IWM’s favorite producers, the natural winemaker Paolo Bea from Umbria, one scintillating white and one powerful red.
And on Thursday, Francesco used something he calls the “interesting factor” to select two unique wines, one from Gravner and one from Antico Broilo.
In praise of Sangiovese
Sangiovese is the greatest grape in the world. I realize that’s a pretty bold statement. In Italy alone there are thousands of different grape varieties, not to mention everything that’s growing in France, Spain, Germany, North and South America, the various lands down under, and everywhere else. Still, I stand behind my assertion. Sangiovese is a remarkably flexible grape. It can be made into precocious styles like Chianti (though one of my favorite wineslast year was a serious vintage Chianti) or more cellar-worthy wines like Brunello. Some of the best vintage wine I have had has been made with the Sangiovese grape, and this variety can hang with the best. Let’s take a look at some popular varieties and see why they aren’t as special as Sangiovese. Cab, Merlot, Pinot, Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Chenin Blanc can essentially be planted anywhere. From New Zealand to Cali, Germany, and South Africa, these varieties exist abundantly. Even though these grapes find their homeland in France, they can grow very well in many different countries–these grapes essentially act as blank canvases so that the winemaker can paint his or her picture. This is not the case for Sangiovese. Sangiovese, like many other indigenous Italian grape varieties, can really only be grown in their place of origin; for Sangiovese that would be Tuscany. Unlike Cab and Merlot and other popular grapes, Sangiovese is an extremely difficult grape to grow correctly. It grows prolifically, buds early, ripens late, and it possesses a thin skin, a light body, rough tannins and high acidity. This will normally spell disaster for most wines. Trying to manage all of these deficiencies is quite difficult—for the winemaker, it’s like juggling a kitten, a chainsaw, a raw egg and a bowling ball and not ending up with a mess.
Not only do you need an accomplished winemaker, you also need the right terroir. Somewhere with nice elevation, poor soils and ventilation combined with a variances between day and night temperatures is ideal. Elevation provides warm days and cool nights and higher climes will also mean more breeze. A good breeze both gives good air circulation and prevents mold and rot. Poor soils work to counteract the fecundity of Sangiovese, and they lend character to the fruit. Sunshine gives enough heat for the tannins never ripen and the sugars to develop, while the acidity remains high. It’s tough to find all of these points holding hands and working together—except in Tuscany. Now don’t get me wrong; you can find outcrops of Sangiovese in America, but they are few and far between. The climate isn’t the same (too hot) and the soils just don’t do this grape justice. You will never see Sangiovese grown in France, Germany, Spain and the rest, which is why it is so special. That and the fact that it makes an incredibly delicious wine that marries fruit with structure, age-worthiness with immediate satisfaction, and fun with finesse. Here are some Sangiovese varietal wines that I’m really enjoying right now: 2008 Fontodi Chianti Classico 2006 San Giusto a Rentanano Chianti Classico “Baroncole” 2004 Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2006 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
On the power and the pleasure of wine
Today on our Facebook page, I tossed out a question to our many fans: “What’s your most recent wine discovery that has reignited your passion for wine?” The conversation was bustling, and people tossed a variety of wines into the mix—Pinot Noir by Movia, Dolcettos, Salice Salento, and El Nogal del Pagos de los Capellanes, to name a few. I hope the conversation continues. It’s always fascinating to see what wines make people renew their love.
Looking at the tortured syntax of that Facebook query now, I’d probably edit it for elegance, but the meaning still signifies. Some wine experiences are simply better than others. It’s not always the greatness of the wine, though of course sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the alchemical combination of wine and company, that evanescent moment that sparks a magical transformation and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Those moments make it difficult to tease out the wine from the time, and really, sometimes it’s pointless to try.
Other times, it is the wine. Last night I enjoyed Chateau Musar’s Hochar 2004. I was out on a date that was, shall we say, neither a meeting of the minds nor one of other parts. It was a dud date, as some dates are. But this wine was spectacular. Vibrant, it shimmied across my palate scattering roses and cherries in its wake. I kept getting this image of an al fresco dinner party, little lanterns glowing in the purple night, the conversation tinkling like silver bells in the background. It was fantastic, and I wished I could go there, even as each sip transported me.
I’ve had similar experiences with other wines—La Stoppa’s weird, wild, gum-tingling Ageno; Castello dei Rampolla’s aromatic, pure Trebianco Vendemia Tardive Bianco, which I sipped with its maker on the estate’s piazza; Badia a Coltibuono’s Chianti, which I drank in Piemonte and found myself instantly immersed in a Tuscan meadow; and that nameless, faceless ‘70s Barolo that even in its faintly oxidated state made me realize that wine was worth knowing and enjoying well.
All of these wines—and others—changed my relationship to wine itself. They altered my perception, deepened my knowledge, moved my experience and my passion somewhere deeper inside my being. All of them ignited a passion. And that’s one beautiful transcendent thing about wine. It can always, ever, eternally surprise you and teach you something you never knew about yourself.
How there’s no place like home cooking
Anyone who has ever reached for the Ben & Jerry’s after a break-up, watched a toddler stop weeping at the exact moment her fingers clutched a cookie, celebrated an anniversary with the exact same meal at the exact same restaurant every year, or argued over the primacy of one region’s BBQ over another knows that food is more than just nourishment. It’s tied to emotion, to states of mind, to time and to place. Though a rose is a rose is a rose, even Gertrude Stein would have to admit the same is not true for a cheeseburger.
Last spring when I came to Italy for four months, I suffered a cavalcade of food longings. The first thing I wanted was a cheeseburger. Oddly, you can’t really get a cheeseburger in Italy. You can get something that is cheeseburger-like, something that has beef and cheese and possibly sliced tomatoes and lettuce that is served on bread, possibly a roll. It is not, however, strictly speaking a cheeseburger. You’d think it’d be easy—even amazing. There are all the components of a cheeseburger readily available in Italy, and yet that alchemical change wherein ground beef and applied flame becomes a cheeseburger escapes Italian cuisine.
By turns, I missed a painful array of foodstuffs: matzoh ball soup, burritos, eggs benedict, Pad Thai, brownies, and Waldorf salad. I don’t even remember the last time I ate a Waldorf salad, but living in Italy for four months made me want one. I did have some of these things—Mexican food one night, “cheeseburgers” on others—but the experience always left me unfulfilled. It was as if the cooks had played an extended game of gustatory Chinese telephone, and what I got was a garbled version of what had started on the other end.
Which is all to explain how it was that last night I found myself at La Bandita, an American-owned restaurant-hotel in Tuscany with a Scottish chef, eating Indian food. I was there with a group of Italian and/or British women celebrating the birthday of Il Palazzone Estate Manager Laura Gray and, well, my own. We were both born on 6 November, so Laura had arranged this party in our collective honor. And Laura, also a Scott, did not want to eat pici with cinghiale ragu, a traditional Tuscan dish, on her birthday. In fact, she wanted anything that wasn’t Tuscan. Apparently, Italian food, as fantastic, varied and maniacally crafted as it is can get tiresome.
And this is the funny thing about being a world traveler, a transplant or an immigrant: you can take the human out of the home country, but you can’t take the desire for home’s cooking out of the human. In some ways, the meal I shared with these six other women was a tour-de-force of post-colonialism. There might not be a more conquered—or conquering—nation than Italy. Except perhaps for England in specific or Great Britain in general. That we’d be perched at the tippy top of a Tuscan hill in a traditional stone villa done up in beautiful and assertively modern style eating curry follows a historical trajectory.
The food was lovely, the company lovelier, and the wine, well, it was Italian. You can only wrench the culture so far, and when it comes to Sesti and Cerbaiona, there’s really no point in fixing what isn’t broken.
Baricci Rosso di Montalcino 2008
Of all the Italian regions, one of the most successful in the last twenty years has been Montalcino in Southern Tuscany. The principle varietal grown here is Sangiovese-Grosso, and it’s used to make both the full-bodied Brunello and the gentler, more subtle “little brother,” Rosso di Montalcino. Recently, I’ve opened a new arrival to our cellar at IWM, Baricci 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, and found a bottle that deserves praise. Rarely do Rosso di Montalcinos retain spice along with ripe fruit. Typically this spice generally shows in Brunello, where extended maceration and aging programs lead to great extraction and concentration of flavors. This Rosso is undoubtedly, and delightfully, spicy.
Rosso di Montalcino’s style, for those unfamiliar, makes it phenomenal with food because it offers a tangy acidity that seamlessly pairs with nearly any pasta or meat dishes, light or filling. I drank this last night with eggplant risotto and found it is one of the better Rosso di Montalcino I’ve tasted since Talenti’s 2008 work. And at under $23, it’s pretty much the epitome of a value wine.
Pinot Noir lovers might find Rosso di Montalcino would be a great Italian bottle to experiment with because it’s lightweight, but also because the rolling landscape of Montalcino is dotted with particular micro-climates that yield different terroir and thus a variety of expressions. In many ways the Sangioveses of Montalcino parallels the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy because they share subtleness and terroir specificity.
The Baricci 2008 Rosso di Montalcino is no different. Coated with raspberry and deep cherry, this wine derives from a year that is reflective of classic Montalcino wine. IWM is one of a small handful of US purveyors of Baricci, a family organization so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it.
Don’t. Baricci may be small, but it’s worth keeping an eye open for it.keep looking »