The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, November 16-19, 2015: Holiday Horizon

A look back at the week that was

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 2.07.52 PMAs we swing around the corner into the holiday season, IWM finds it hard to contain our enthusiasm. Crystal finds wine pairings for all of your Thanksgiving Day needs, from cheese-ball to green-bean casserole, all the way to dessert! Out at IWM Aspen, Emery Long pops open a $20 bottle of delicious Rosso di Montepulciano for his apres-ski pasta dinner. Janice Cable expresses her passion for orange wines, the overlooked, food-friendly option for holiday drinking.

Speaking of orange wines, Crystal picks a pair from Josko Gravner for her expert selections. Michael Adler confesses his affection for family-owned domaines, and provides a pair of Alain Burguet Burgundies to prove his love. And John Camacho Vidal has room in his heart for bottles of both vintage and new release Barolo; his picks give you a pair to try at home.

Speaking of holidays on the horizon, don’t miss IWM NYC’s Black Friday tasting event. It’s complimentary, amazing, and a whole lot of fun. Take a shopping break and enjoy more than twenty wines from around the world–but reserve your spot! This event is filling up fast.

IWM NYC’s Black Friday Tasting!

Our yearly must-attend complimentary event!

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How To Use Your Senses in Wine Tasting

One-two-three-four senses working overtime

Spitting_1-300x225Tasting wine and learning to verbalize that experience is no different than anything else in life; the only way to get better at it is to practice.  Whether you are tasting wine on a more formal level or just enjoying it with some friends, it’s always important to take a couple of seconds and describe to yourself what you have in front of you. Especially when blind tasting, your ability to recall previously tasted wines is a huge factor, so writing notes and going over them the next day are extremely helpful. Tasting is just like learning to exercise any other “muscle”: the more you work it the bigger it gets.

When you are done, you should be able to tell the type of the wine you tasted by just reading what you have written. Here is how I like to compose my notes (I’m looking specifically at red wine because it’s kind of the default setting for red wine. The process, though not the details, is mostly the same for white wines):

Sight: This might be the least helpful of them all, but it will still give you some clues as to what grape it could be and how old the wine is, especially when tasting red wine. Look at the wine in the glass; then swirl it and see how the legs, or the rivulets that run down the side of the glass look. Red wine starts our purple, then moves to ruby, red, brick and finally brown as it gets older. Also take note of the viscosity as this will help make confirmation of the weight on the palate. Don’t get too hung up on the legs, just take note on how prominent they are.

Smell: This sense is perhaps the most important. We have the ability to distinguish over a thousand aromatic compounds, and certain grapes show specific aromatics, making smell wildly helpful. I always check for the ripeness of the aromatics in every glass that comes close to my nose.  Riper aromas will give a good indication of warmer climates and vice versa. Also, it is important to note the maturity of the fruit.  Are the aromas still primary?  Or have they evolved secondary and tertiary characteristics? Secondary and tertiary characteristics—notes such as leather, cigar tobacco and tar—can indicate an older vintage or a wine that’s mature despite its chronological age.

Spitting_2-300x225Taste: This sense is smell’s conjoined twin. What you taste in your mouth is more or less an extension of what you smell, but despite that closeness in physical processes, the aroma of a wine and the taste of a wine can be very different–or very much the same. See what aromatics get replicated, amplified, or excluded from the wine’s taste. See also whether the taste changes. Many wines start out fruity and end dry, or build from woody to flowery, or undergo some other transformation. Note too how “clean” the flavors are, whether they seem to unfold in the glass or over time, and how long they last.

Feel:  This part, when assessed correctly, is the most helpful part in describing a wine to someone. In your mouth, does it feel more like water or more like cream?  Does the wine feel angular on the palate or round and smooth?  Also take note on how dry the wine is and how much you can feel the alcohol, as these will both give indication as to origin and variety. Now it’s time to look at the structure as this will determine how long a wine can last.  Tannins can either be very prominent or very light.  Are they rough or silky? Green or ripe? Harsh green tannins are never good, but round silky tannins are a sign of balance and maturity.

Conclusion:  The finish of wine might be the most important quality. After all, if you are drinking a $100 bottle, you should let that delicious flavor linger for a while!  You also want to take what you have written down qualitatively and transform it into a brief tasting note.  This is what you will ultimately remember, and it can help you buy wine that you suspect you’ll like even when you’ve never had it before. It’s also fun to impress your friends with your newfound skills.

Join us for one of our wine events to help hone your palate. There’s nothing like experience–delicious, delicious experience.

Making the Most of Your Wine Tasting

How to get the most out of your tastings

Fiorano_Dinner_Alessia_AntinoriAlmost every Saturday, IWM hosts wine tasting events, and just about every day, we have informal tastings for the staff. We introduce a lot of people to tasting wine for fun and profit, and we taste a lot ourselves. When you go to a tasting, you want to get the most out of it by experiencing it fully and by recalling what you’ve smelled, swallowed and spit.

Rules are for the Weak: We believe there are no real rules.  Wine snobs will tell you that you are doing something wrong or right.  This is false. Wine is an incredibly customizable, very personal experience.  The following tips are just loose guidelines, like the pirate code.  It’s very easy to have a great time at a tasting—and we just want to help you have the best time you can while retaining what you experienced.

Foundation is Key: It is important for perseverance that you have something in your stomach.  The perfect casual meal the morning of a tasting is an egg and cheese on a bagel.  It sounds silly, but it really is a great combination: the eggs keep your body’s metabolism going, and the bagel is a needed boost of carbohydrates. Avoid consuming spicy foods because that will certainly alter the palate. Try not to drink coffee, brush your teeth, drink orange juice, or drink anything but water an hour before the beginning of the tasting. It’s hard, but do your best.

Go with Greige: Preparation is simple, and the mouth and nose should be as neutral as possible–the nose is equally important to the mouth.  Try to avoid smoking at least 30-60 minutes prior to the tasting, and try to avoid any strong smells, as you want your nose to pick up on the subtleties and complexities of the wine.  Also, avoid all perfumes because you—and everyone around you—will smell them and not the wine.  If you find yourself at a tasting having just drunk a shot of espresso, drink a lot of water and eat bread before your first glass. Barring that, rinse your mouth with the lightest, most innocuous wine the event is pouring. Your sommelier will help you out; we’ve all been there.

Embrace Your Inner Gandhi: To maximize the learning experience it is important to approach the wines and judge equally.  Let go of prejudice. You may find that this is the day you find a Riesling you like. It could happen, but only if you free your mind. But it is best to go from fizzy to white to red, and within those categories, from light-bodied to full-bodied wines. If you’re confused, ask your sommelier for direction.

It’s All in the Wrist (and the Schnozz): Start simple with a solid swirl around the glass for a few seconds.  If you’re new to swirling, try doing it with the glass on a flat surface like a coffee table. Swirl, then stick your nose in and take your first whiff.  This is not a make it or break it moment; it’s only a small introduction.  Of course, you can tell whether or not you like the wine immediately, but really understanding takes a little digging. Try taking a sip and suck in a little oxygen so that the wine interacts with a little blast of oxygen on your taste buds.  It is best to swirl, sniff, sip a few times to really pick up on the important subtleties that describe the wines.

Try, Try Again: Challenge yourself to really whiff a little deeper, think a little harder, as it will be easy to imagine yourself in that vineyard, standing on the terroir that defines the liquid in that glass.

It’s Not the MTA: Spitting is fine. Just use the spittoons, and keep napkins handy. Everyone dribbles.

Make Like George Costanza and Do It With Food: Snacks are great when tasting, especially cheeses. Our favorite saying is “If it grows together, it goes together.” Cured meats can be glorious with medium-to-full reds.   Avoid cheeses too high in acidity (like goat cheeses) as it throws off lots of reds.

Imagine All the Questions: Wine tasting is not only a chance to socialize and have fun, but it is the opportunity to directly enjoy the often very painstaking work of an entire wine making team.  Imagine the people you’d drink the wines with  and with what foods you would pair it with.  The person pouring the wines is always full of expert level information about the wines.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot more this way. Everyone was a beginner once, even that person standing in front of you answering the questions so confidently.

Documents, Please: Every tasting you go to will give you a little booklet for notes. Write down your thoughts. If you find yourself tasting a wine without a booklet, take a picture with your cellphone, jot notes on a smartphone app, or just ask for something to write with. When you write things down—including your impressions—you’ll recall them later.

Take It Home: Don’t just remember what you enjoyed best; experiment with similar wines in the future.  Wine is a living, ever-changing tapestry, and discovering it is an extremely rewarding experience.

Upcoming events include not just IWM NYC’s regular Saturday tastings, but also a very special dinner honoring The Wine Bible and its author, Karen MacNeil, on October 8, 2015.

Rocky Mountain High IWM

A virtual tour of IWM Aspen

photo (2) Aspen, Colorado has a reputation for its skiing but it’s most well known as a destination for high-powered professionals, actors, celebrity chefs, directors, hikers, bikers, rafters, and cowboys, who visit in the summer months to escape the heat of the summer. I have found Aspen’s mild weather, breathtaking scenery, and endless outdoor activities make this town special. Moreover, the incredible weather, scenery, local food scene, and remote location set the stage for enjoying the perfect glass of wine.

Italian Wine Merchant Aspen’s high-altitude location in Colorado is a wine aficionado’s dream. The store opened in 2010, and since then, it has been stunning residents and guests alike. The store is located at the base of Aspen Mountain Resort in the famed Little Nell Hotel, next to the main entrance right behind the concierge’s desk. There is an endless number of Ferarris, Maserattis, Rolls Royces, and Bentlys waiting alongside various futuristic electric cars for valet service, making the store impossible to miss.

photo 1Our location is a small but mighty store that offers an experience similar to the New York City location, yet IWM Aspen focuses on offering rare vintages and exclusively high-end labels. As in NYC, our showroom has wine professionals to help you make your selection or assist with any wine need here in Aspen or abroad. We feature a public tasting series that’s like New York’s, but instead of Saturday at 1:00, ours takes place every Friday at 5pm. It has been quickly building a devout following of wine enthusiasts. We also offer private off-site tastings for wine-lovers who would like to have a tailored Italian wine experience in their own homes. As a personal chef who is fanatical about flavor, I am always looking forward to meeting new clients and sharing my passion for food and wine.

photo 2We carry the same iconic and legendary Italian wine labels as our New York Cellar in addition to displaying French, Spanish, and new world wines. IWM Aspen holds its the wines behind a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door, which keeps the wines in a controlled setting and ideal cellar temperature. The high-powered inventory here is almost hedonistic; we carry a potent yet refined selection of wines like Antinori’s Tignanello, Ornellaia, Bruno Giacosa, Giacomo Conterno, Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Angelo Gaja, Giuseppe Rinaldi, and Aldo Conterno. We also display a selection of French wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and most notably a Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1978 Richebourg. All the wines on our shelves are for sale and, should you desire more than our inventory holds, we can always order more to be picked up in our Aspen store or delivered to wherever you might be.

Here at our high alpine location we run into a number of Italian Wine Merchants members from all over the world! When you find yourself in Aspen or are longing for another vacation don’t hesitate to stop in. We’ll open something nice, and you can toast to our Aspen home.

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