The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Damilano and Giuseppe Mascarello

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoAs my palate evolves and my understanding of wine increases, I have grown to appreciate the secondary and third flavors that a bottle of mature wine can provide. I’m amazed that in some cases after 60 or 80 years in a bottle a wine can still smell and taste like the fruit that made it. It’s as if the wine is expressing itself at sublime levels. Whenever possible I try to include a wine with some age in our Saturday tasting series so that our clients are able to experience old vintages.

Nowhere in Italian winemaking is mature wine more important than in Barolo. Over the past three decades, a new wave of Barolo producers has worked to show different, non-traditional characteristics and to make more modern expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. Some of these winemakers have made Barolo more approachable through more modern vinification methods, but Barolo remains a wine of patience, and there is a division between modernist winemakers and those who protect the traditional way of making Barolo. I’ve chosen mature wines from two producers who make wines that are traditional, age-worthy, and great. Both of these mature bottles are unique expressions of a time that we’ll never see again.

Damilano 1978 Barolo $199.99

Making wine since 1890, the Damilano estate is one of the oldest wineries in Barolo; run by the fourth generation, Damilano continues to make excellent Barolos. This 1978 Barolo is a perfect example of perfectly mature Nebbiolo. The palate has just enough fruit that the wine is elegant, but the secondary and tertiary notes of orange peel, leather, earth, wet leaves slight tobacco and minerals make it very interesting. The palate is silky with some bitter notes that give way to sweet tannins and a nicely acidic finish that lingers with its secondary flavors. Drink now.

Giuseppe Mascarello 1968 Barolo $425.00

Giuseppe Mascarello was a vine-grower before he started the family estate in 1881 in the village of Monforte d’Alba. This 1968 Barolo is a traditionally made Barolo with grapes sourced from three vineyards, each one imprinting specific aromatics, structure and fruit. At this stage, this wine is ethereal showing a nose full of secondary aromas—loads of truffle mingled with remnants of dark red and black fruit flavors, some spice and wet leaves with notes of tobacco. The palate is very elegant with silky tannins that lead way to a soft mineral finish. Drink now.

Expert Picks: Paolo Bea and Josko Gravner

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15At IWM, we love our orange wines (also known as “skin-contact whites”). This robust, textured and complex style of wine is achieved by vinifying white grapes as if they’re red and allowing the juice to macerate on the grape skins, imparting additional color, texture, weight, complexity and tannins. The result is a highly aromatic white wine that drinks like a red, replete with chewy tannins and a dizzyingly complex, kaleidoscopic flavor profile.

These wines are not for the faint of heart, inspiring divisions between wine-lovers who are enamored with their unique characteristics and those who find them confusing. I personally enjoy introducing people to the style because whether or not a person enjoys these wines, they’re sure to be surprised. While orange wines traditionally haven’t really been given much thought by the American wine media, in recent years they have been steadily growing in popularity with young sommeliers in New York and can be found on many of the city’s most exclusive wine lists. Today I’m shining a light on two of our absolute favorite orange wines from two of IWM’s all-star natural winemakers, Paolo Bea in Umbria and Josko Gravner in Friuli.

Paolo Bea 2012 Bianco Santa Chiara $49.99

A dense, chewy blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garganega, the juice for Santa Chiara macerates (think about steeping a tea bag in hot water) on its grape skins for about two weeks, which gives it a dense, weighty mouth-feel, tannic backbone and oxidative characteristics. These sherry-like qualities make it an excellent match for a wide range of dishes that you wouldn’t typically pair with traditional white wines, and Santa Chiara will show you a whole slew of flavors and textures that you never thought you’d find in a white. It’s at once rich and savory, with a pronounced mineral component that borders on salinity and a finish that lasts over a minute. For those of you who are adventurous and love to try new and interesting wines, this is definitely something that should be on your radar!

Gravner 2005 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $89.99

A saffron-tinted blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico, the 2005 Breg Anfora is impressive. The massive ’05 Breg shows heady, concentrated notes of cooked orchard fruits, red tea, stony minerals, spices and a distinct floral note, among many other interwoven characteristics that simply defy words. It is likely that you’ve never tasted anything like this! Textured and tannic in the glass, its glossy texture coats the palate in a wash of dry extract that is balanced by ample acidity that grips your palate on the long, aromatic finish. Aged on the grape skins for twelve months in clay amphorae buried in the ground, the wine then finishes for about six years in casks before bottling. This is a meditative wine for serious enthusiasts and those who like some adventure in their wines!

Pythagoras and the Geometry of Wine Politeness

It’s not all acute angles and dusty geometry

From the Wikipedia page on the Pythagorean Cup

From the Wikipedia page on the Pythagorean Cup

The name Pythagoras likely brings to mind geometry class. After all, this Greek mystic, philosopher and mathematician devised the theorem that holds his name, the Pythagorean theorem that states the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. But the teaching of Pythagoras the Samian, 570-494 BCE, wasn’t limited to just math.

He was also keen to teach people proper etiquette—wine etiquette, in fact. To this end, Pythagoras likely also invented a drinking vessel that bears his name, the Pythagorean cup. Shaped more or less like a bundt pan with a central spoke, the Pythagorean cup has an ingenious design that enforces wine politesse. If you’re greedy and pour too high, past the central spoke that leads from the foot of the cup to just below the cup’s rim, wine fills the two channels in the cup and spills onto the lap of the unsuspecting glutton. (Click here to see the Pythagorean cup in action.)

It might be simple physics—hydrostatic pressure creates a siphon that draws the wine continually out of the cup and out the hole in the foot of the glass—but it’s also ingenious. While there’s not a lot of historical writing that directly connects Pythagoras with the vessel, cups showing this ingenious design date back more than 2,500 years, and location suggests a strong correlation between Pythagoras and the cup that bears his name.

While enterprising souvenir sellers in Greece continue to replicate and sell the cup to tourists, you can actually fashion your own from a plastic wine glass, a straw, silicone glue, a plastic test tube and a box cutter. While IWM doesn’t condone the spillage of fine wine, we also believe in pouring wine to a polite level—and one that allows the wine to breathe. If, however, education through practical jokes is not your thing, you probably want to invest in some basic Brunello or Burgundy glasses for your wine consumption. You can always choose to educate through a superlative example.

Visiting Umbria’s Paolo Bea

A look into the life and the cellar of one of Italy’s great winemakers

unnamedIWM recently offered a quartet of new Paolo Bea releases, which makes it the perfect time to revisit John Camacho Vidal’s visit to this iconic winemaker’s estate.

When I visited Italy in 2014, I planned on attending the 35 Enologica di Sagrantino in Montefalco, a tasting of Sagrantino. I love the wines of Umbria and, wanting to learn more about Sagrantino and the wonderful wines it produces, I took advantage that this tasting was being held during my time visiting to attend. I was also excited of the possibility of seeing the Paolo Bea Estate. Like many people I was introduced to the region and to Sagrantino through his wondrous biodynamic wines.

unnamed-3My friend Barbara, who runs a tour company based in Perugia, was able to call ahead of time for me and arrange a visit. Needles to say my visit to Antica Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea was amazing and unforgettable. We were met by Sergio, who has been working at the winery for over a decade. He was very apologetic because it turned out that on that day the bottling machine, which goes from producer to producer, happened to be available and they were in the process of bottling and corking wine. We got a tour of the new winery, which was planned and designed by Giampiero, Paolo Bea’s son, who is in charge and, according to Paolo Bea, has taken the winery to the next level. All aspects of Giampiero’s design take the wine into consideration and the winery was constructed with materials from the surrounding area that provide natural ventilation, humidity and temperature.

unnamed-2As we went from room to room and stared in awe at the various barrels both wood and steel, we got an opportunity to taste the grapes that were being dried to make Bea’s famous Passito, and as we walked further down to the cellar we heard the clinking of the bottling machine. We were also able to witness the entire family busy reaching for bottles of wine from the assembly belt and quickly but diligently place them in crates where they will rest for another two years or so. When we walked down to the final level, Giampiero greeted us with his son and walked us through the rest of the cellar and the process.

unnamed-5After our tour of the cellar and watching the bottling process in action, we followed Sergio to a tasting room a few yards from the winery. There we sat down and I was able to taste through all of the Paolo Bea wines. All of them were spectacular.

unnamed-4Giampiero stopped in again and we chatted about the wine and his philosophy; after about 10 – 15 minutes Paolo Bea himself walked in. I’m not really the kind of guy that follows sports and I didn’t understand why people would freak out when they saw their favorite athlete, actor or artist, but when I saw Paolo Bea ‎walk in to greet us I felt goosebumps. I stood up to shake his hand and everything I wanted to say to the man just went blank. I mumbled a few words and he gave me a hard handshake and a hug. I presented him with some coffee that I brought from Colombia just for this occasion.

unnamed-6We tasted the rest of his wines together. Both Paolo and Giampiero grabbed a bottle and signed the label for me and gifted it—it felt like getting a rock star’s autograph. When I returned to New York, I nestled these bottles in the back of our wine fridge, where they will stay until I celebrate a very special occasion. I always say that there is no better way to taste a wine than to taste it with the person behind the wine. Not only did I have the opportunity to taste these wines at the source but also I was able to taste them with the people responsible for what’s in the bottle. After our tour and tasting it took me a few hours to come down from the excitement.


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.

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