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.

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.

Gianfranco Soldera, the Man, the Estate, Same Difference

You can’t explain the mysteries of Case Basse; you can only enjoy them

Gianfranco Soldera

If Montalcino is a magical place (and I believe that it is), then Gianfranco Soldera’s Case Basse estate sits at the center of its mystical convergence. Much has been made about how the eco system of the vineyard works to create an insanely perfect spot to grow grapes. The vineyard has been studied by agriculturalists, microbiologists, botanists and enologists. No one can explain why, exactly, it is so ideal.  The estate seems to function as a perfectly balanced organism of water, insects, birds, flowers, trees and, of course, grape vines. It all revolves around one man, Soldera.

It’s almost less important what Soldera said in the few hours that I and my friendEleanor Shannon spent with him. He spoke in streams of Italian uttered in comforting tones and repetitive phrasing. He spoke of opera and how, as in opera, everything in nature must work in concert, and how if there is one discordant note, the entire piece falls flat. He spoke of Italy, the importance of its peninsular shape, the ranges of mountains and how they direct the air currents, and the way that the seas on all sides affect the climate. He spoke of bees and of water and of knowing how many yeast parts per million his wines contain at various stages of development. He spoke about his wine, all wine, wine throughout time, and yet what he said the loudest he didn’t say in words.

In the cellar with Gianfranco Soldera--no spitting!

It happened twice, actually. Soldera bent down, grabbed a handful of soil, and crumbled it through his fingers. He said something in Italian too, something about how the minerals in the soil is what makes the wine taste the way it does, something about how the vines need to suffer to produce good grapes (when he said this about suffering, I got an image of Degas’ ballerinas, their fatigue and their beauty). But I didn’t find the meaning in the words he was saying—though they had import—rather, I found meaning in his old man’s hands, the almost caressing way he held the soil, and the way that he reluctantly let it dribble through his fingers.

And then it came to me: This is a man who doesn’t just know his estate; this is a man who is his estate.

IMG_1033I had the chance Soldera’s cellars, and I got to smell them in all their grape-cardboard-wet-rock-and-wood glory. I got to drink wine out of his botti, wine a few years old, and wine just a few months, and it was bright and beautiful. (In fact, it occurs to me now that I got to taste the 2008 Rosso IGT, just recently offered–would I have tasted it differently had I known then what I know now? Probably.) I got to do things that most Brunello lovers never get to do, but imagine when they look at books of Montalcino or dreamily sip a bottle of Brunello. I got to ask Soldera questions, and as I did, I got to feel inadequate. How often do we have the opportunity to take up the time of a genius? And how can we do it without feeling the pains of our own ordinariness?

Yet what I’ll remember is the magic of Montalcino filling the air, the presence of its greatest magician, and the hush of it all held in this unforgotten moment.

In today’s eLetter, IWM proudly offered the latest release from Gianfranco Soldera, the Casse Basse Soldera 2008 Rosso IGT, called thus because Soldera left the Brunello Consortium in 2012.

Finding Balance in Your Wine

All about harmony between tannins, acidity and alcohol

A balanced mountain of Masseto

A balanced mountain of Masseto

For better or worse, wine professionals often use abstract concepts to describe concrete ideas. Words like “clarity,” “focus” and “balance” find their way into a lot of wine writing, and some wine-lovers may feel mystified by these terms. Today I want to focus on balance to see if I can clear up some industry jargon.

When wine pros talk about balance, we’re looking for harmony among a wine’s primary components. In the context of wine, the three primary “notes” that we’re looking for are tannins, acidity and alcohol. Let’s take a step back and briefly define these terms.

Tannin is an organic compound found in the skins, stems and seeds of the grape that imparts an astringent texture on the corners of your mouth; because more than one tannic compound appears in a bottle of wine, we usually say “tannins.” Found in red wines and skin-contact whites, tannins have a slightly bitter taste and are sometimes confused with the term “dry” because they feel astringent, or dry, in your mouth when you swallow the juice. Think about what it feels like to drink a strongly brewed cup of black tea; you’ll experience a similar sensation when drinking tannic wines.

A wine’s acidity is its brightness and liveliness. Think about squeezing a lemon over your food and the uplifting effect that can have on a dish’s flavor. The same is true for wine. In addition to contributing tartness on the palate, acid causes your mouth to water in a pleasant, refreshing way. Too much acid can cause a wine to be sour, while wines that lack sufficient acid can be dull and flabby.

Alcohol may not need as much of an introduction, but determining how much alcohol a wine contains isn’t always easy. The best way to approximate it is to take a big sip, swish it around in your mouth to coat your palate, swallow it and then exhale deeply. The level of heat you feel in your cheeks and on the roof of your mouth is an excellent indicator of that wine’s degree of alcohol.

For a wine to be considered balanced, these three crucial elements—tannins, acidity and alcohol—must exist symmetrically alongside one another at similar levels of intensity. One way of thinking about balance is to use the musical analogy of a major chord, with three discrete notes being played at once. If one note is played more loudly louder or softly than the others, the chord as a whole sounds wrong and this lack of balance between pitches is distracting to the listener.

Unbalanced wines can often feel disjointed or confused on the palate, and they can be frustratingly difficult to pair with foods. A prime example would be the excessive use of barrique aging in the production of many New World Chardonnays. This protocol can cause those wines to be dominated by notes of vanilla, toast and spice at the expense of acidity, freshness and varietal character. While these qualities may be desirable to some, those wines lack balance and therefore function better during cocktail hour than on the dinner table—among other attributes, acidity makes food taste better.

However, don’t mistake this to mean that all wines with unusually high levels of tannins or alcohol are necessarily unbalanced. Ultra-tannic wines such as Paolo Bea’s Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro require higher levels of acidity to coat the palate and harmonize with the tannins’ textural effect. Conversely, wines bottled with some residual sugar, such as Antinori’s Muffato della Sala, will also contain a higher degree of alcohol, which helps prevent them from being cloying.

Whenever you taste a new wine, ask yourself this question: are the wine’s tannins, acidity and alcohol mingling seamlessly, or does one element stand out or shy away? You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll notice about your wine once you know what to look for. Repeating this one simple practice will improve your tasting and assessment skills while also deepening your understanding of your favorite wines. Report back and let us know what you discover!

Inside IWM, June 22-25, 2015: Pop That Bottle!

A look back at the week that was

millesimatoThis past Sunday was summer solstice, and now that we’ve hit the high point of summer, things are very much heating up. Germane to this excitement is Matt Di Nunzio’s timely take on a $22 bottle of Prosecco–he served it at a summer feast, and all his guests fell in love with Col Vertoraz. We closed the week with tips on keeping your wine cool these summer months (seriously, car trunks are a killer!). In between, we offered up another installment of our Italian white wine grape guide (Inzolia to Nuragus!) and Emery Long detailed his move from IWM NYC to IWM Aspen–in time for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic!

Our Experts kicked off the week in style–David Gwo popped two gorgeous Billecart-Salmon Champagnes for you. John Camacho Vidal looked forward to pouring Brunello this summer, and chose a pair of vintage bottles from Lisini and Altesino. Garrett was reminded by his time at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic of the greatness of Domaine Lamarche. And Francesco Vigorito can’t hide his love for Luciano Sandrone, or the estate’s Barolo Cannubi Boschis.

Cheers to sharing what you love with the people you love, all across the USA!

« go backkeep looking »