The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, February 1-4, 2016: Red, Red Wine

Posted on | February 5, 2016 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Ripening Lagrein

Ripening Lagrein

This week was all about red wine. It’s always the right time to learn more about grapes, those squishy, round things responsible for your favorite wines, and this week we published part four of our guide to the red wine grapes of Italy. Reflecting on some quality time spent with friends and a delicious $22 Frappato, Sean Collins illustrated how knowing more about wine helps you enjoy it better!

Will Di Nunzio enjoys cult producers, big or small, and he picked two of his recent favorites from Italy’s North (Quintarelli) and its South (Raffaele Palma). Michael Adler turned his attention to Burgundy, being very impressed by the recent bottles from Anne & Sébastian Bidault. Antinori is a name familiar to most Italian wine-lovers, and Garrett chose a pair of bottles from this aristocratic winemaking family. And John Camacho Vidal looks forward to Valentine’s Day, picking two wines that will make your chocolate–and your beloved–sing.

Cheers to educating your palate the best way we know–by drinking a wide variety of beautifully made wine!

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Italian Red Wine Grapes: Lagrein to Moscato Rosa!

Posted on | February 4, 2016 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Last summer, we took a look at Italian white grape varietals (here’s the final installment of the white grape series with links to each part), so it feels right to take a wander through red grapes this winter. Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll been detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. Here is the first installment, Abbuoto to Brachetto, the second, Cabernet Franc to Croatina, and the third, Dolcetto to Grignolino, in case you missed them!

Ripening Lagrein

Ripening Lagrein

Lagrein (lah-GRYNE)

Cultivated in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, Lagrein makes both well-structured reds and delightful rosés. A rare grape that has flourished in relative obscurity, Lagrein has of late begun to come out of the shadows. Although this varietal can make quite astringent wines, when grown carefully, it can be the foundation for a deep ruby wine with a chocolaty palate and notes of dark plums, cherries and hay.

Lambrusco (lam-BREWS-coh)

After enduring a terrible reputation since the 1970’s, Emilia-Romagna’s Lambrusco has recently been undergoing a rediscovery. This grape comes in three related varieties, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino, and Lambrusco Grasparossa. The lightest is di Sorbara, which makes wine of a strawberry and palate; Salamino is darker and violet in nose; Grasparossa sits in the middle with a cherry-like color and a broader, more undefined palate. All three wines make frizzante (or effervescent) wines that pair wonderfully with summer food. The best of Emilia-Romagna’s Lambruscos are hard to come by because so few of them are exported, but they are worth the trouble.

Malvasia Nera (mahl-VAH-zyah NEH-rah) and Malvasia Bianca (mahl-VAH-zyah bee-AHN-kah)

Malvasia Nera flourishes throughout Italy and, indeed, throughout the entire Mediterranean. More than a single varietal, Malvasia is a family of grapes that includes Malvasia Bianca, Malvasia Nero, Malvasia del Chianti, two clones of Malvasia Dianco di Candia B., and four other clones localized to specific regions (Malvasia del Lazio, Malvasia Istriana, Malvasia de Sardegna, and Malvasia di Lipari). A grape with this many identities is open to multiple interpretations. The winemakers of the north and west of Italy predominantly uses the Malvasia Nero clones, while those of south of Italy employ the various Malvasia Bianca version. Malvasia is instrumental in making Chianti in Toscana, Frascati in Emilia-Romagna, and many wines in other regions that range from red to white, dry to sweet, and flat to sparkling. Most oenologists agree that the grape entered Italy from Byzantium, but where it entered is up to dispute; some argue the Veneto, while others make a case for Sardegna. In any case, the grape, red or white, is known for making a deeply aromatic, often highly alcoholic and intensely colored wine.

A bunch of Mammolo grapes

A bunch of Mammolo grapes

Mammolo (MAHM-moh-loh)

The rare Mammolo, or Mammolino, gets its name from mammale, the Italian word for violets. This varietal is grown almost exclusively in Toscana, where it lends its light-bodied violet-scented character to Chianti and, very occasionally, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Although very limited in its viticulture, there are ten clones of Mammolo growing in Toscana.

Marzemino (mahr-tseh-MEE-noh)

The varietal with the reputation of being Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s favorite–his opera Don Giovanni provides a reference to the “excellent Marzemino”–grows primarily in the Veneto, though it also is cultivated in Lombardia, Trentino, Friuli and Emilia-Romagna. The fact that this grape grows almost exclusively in northern regions may account for its relative obscurity, for Marzemino needs a long summer to ripen and is vulnerable to mold. These characteristics make the North largely, if ironically, inhospitable. This grape makes a perfumy wine with a soft feel and a tangy palate of blackberries, nuts and vanilla. Used to make dry, sweet, and passito wines, Marzemino is often served at the end of a meal.

Merlot grapes, soon to be wine

Merlot grapes, soon to be wine

Merlot (MAIR-loh)

The fifth most cultivated grape in Italy, Merlot originally comes from France, where it is the grape best known for making Pomerol wines. This thin-skinned, intensely blue-black grape makes a wine with light tannins, low acidity, and dark fruit flavors that are often inflected with hints of mint, vanilla, and other herbs and spices. Although much maligned for vintages that take advantage of this grape’s easy drinkability, serious Merlots are made in Friuli, the Veneto and especially Toscana, where in addition to monovarietal appellations, Merlot also sometimes joins Sangiovese, its soft, round character balancing out Sangiovese’s often rambunctious nature.

Molinara (mo-lee-NAH-rah)

This acidic grape is known for its bright red fruit such as currants and tart cherries, floral perfume and medium body. Molinara is hardly seen outside of the Veneto, where it often joins Corvina and Rondinella to add its acidic sassiness in making Valpolicella and Bardolino.

Monica (MOH-ni-kah)

Grown exclusively in Sardegna, Monica came to the island from Spain in the eleventh century. This grape makes a medium to full-bodied wine of dark ruby color, notes of plums, cherries, and black pepper. Monica is the primary grape in two DOC appellations, Monica di Sardegna and Monica di Cagliari; the former is a round, full, rustic drinking wine, while the latter has a higher alcohol level and, marginally sweeter, is produced as an after-dinner wine.

Montepulciano grapes

Montepulciano grapes

Montepulciano (mon-tai-pull-chee-AH-noh)

Despite the name, this grape has nothing to do with the town of the same name in Toscana, nor does it have any relationship with the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which comes from Toscana. Rather, Montepulciano, the grape, is cultivated throughout Central Italy, from Le Marche to Apulia and most specifically in Abruzzo. Montepulciano is a varietal that makes a tremendously pleasing wine characterized by low acidity, manageable tannins, and a combination of the roundness of Merlot with the pepper and black fruit of Syrah. Known best for its DOC appellation Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this grape varietal is said to have originated in Abruzzo, but it also appears in several other DOC wines throughout central Italy.

Moscato Rosa (mos-KAH-toh ROH-zha)

One member of the large and ancient family of Moscato grapes, this Moscato clone grows primarily in Trentino-Alto Adige, where it also goes by the name Rosenmuskateller, though it is also cultivated in Friuli and Piemonte. Generally vinified in passito or fortified vintages, Moscato Rosa is customarily used to make desert wines. Bright red with a cherry surface, Moscato Rosa has a nose of roses, a palate of stone fruits like peaches, and often an aftertaste of toasted almonds.

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Expert Picks: Raffaele Palma and Giuseppe Quintarelli

Posted on | February 4, 2016 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | No Comments

will expertThe cult producers are always the ones we keep going back to, not just because they make great wines, but because we want to better understand their glorious, moving wines. One beloved, well-known cult winemaker is Quintarelli. Giuseppe Quintarelli was one of the first in the modern age to master Amarone and Valpolicella, and he took the market by storm making his wines his way—unmatched and leaving everyone in the dust. Contrast Quintarelli’s renown with the relative obscurity of cult winemaker Raffaele Palma, a producer you probably never heard of until IWM started talking about him. From the early 2000s, Palma made his organic wines, three of them, his way, and has no intention of changing his methods any time soon. Right off the Amalfi Coast, Palma makes some of the most impressive wines of Campania, and we at IWM all agree will be the next big thing in Campania. I’ve chosen two wines from cult producers that will make you think differently about cult wines—and almost certainly will bring you back to them again and again.

Raffaele Palma 2011 Salicerchi $74.99

What is this wine and why do we keep talking about it? It was likely one of the best kept secrets of the Amalfi Coast—until Sergio let the cat out of the bag. Raffaele Palma is small producer right on the Costa Amalfitana, and its home sits atop a ridge 450 meters high with vineyards that plummet all the way down to the sea. With only one row of vines per step, it takes you several hours to navigate the windy footpath down to the water, and yet the team at this estate does this everyday. Of the three wines Raffaele makes, Salicerchi is my favorite; it’s one of the most interesting Rosatos I have ever had—only Edoardo Valentini can challenge it. Big, structured yet holding true to its rosé beauty, the Salicerchi is perfect year-round bottle to accompany antipasti, fish and white meats.

Giuseppe Quintarelli 2007 Valpolicella $84.99

This ’07 Valpolicella is another great vintage from the Quintarelli family and it’s an unequivocal masterpiece from the cellars of the Master of the Veneto. Even with its warm weather, the 2007 produced a Valpolicella that offers balanced acidity, glorious elegance, and a crowd-pleasing personality; it doesn’t surprise me that we sell out of every allocation we get. Last week, I had the pleasure of enjoying this wine and once more I was blown away by its on-point balance and velvetiness. What an incredible bottle of wine to enjoy with a little cheese and a lot of friends!

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Expert Picks: Ca dei Mandorli and Paolo Bea

Posted on | February 3, 2016 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

CamachoWith Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been focusing on wines to pour at the end of that special romantic meal. I wanted to showcase two different wines that will lend to a sweet ending to a great meal—and perhaps something more. While the origin of Valentine’s Day remains up for debate, today, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are the custom. This is mostly due to chocolate having a reputation for having aphrodisiac qualities and the genius marketing of the chocolate industry. In the mid-1800s, Cadbury began producing chocolate boxes with popular sentimental images as well as red heart-shaped boxes and the rest has been history. Today’s wines will help you and your beloved enjoy those chocolates in style!

Ca dei Mandorli 2014 Brachetto d’Acqui $22.00

Brachetto d’Acqui is a red DOCG wine named for the Brachetto grape, a variety that is native to Piedmont and the Acqui district in southern Piedmont. It has a long history often mentioned in Italian theater, and legend also tells that Julius Caesar and Marc Antony gave this wine to Cleopatra. Bursting with a floral nose full of rose and violets followed by raspberry, cherry and strawberries, this wine is bright and almost refreshing with a slight fizz to get you in the romantic mood. The palate is pleasant not overly sweet with a good acidity in the background and an elegant, fizzy finish. The combination of a moderate degree of alcohol along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and slight carbonation make for a wine that is perfect with chocolate and fresh strawberries.

Paolo Bea 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito $94.99

There are two things that make this wine special for Valentine’s Day. The first is that it is from Umbria, the putative home of St Valentine himself, and the second is that this Sagrantino wine is made in a passito style, which consist of harvesting the grapes late in the season and then drying them out on straw mats until 40% of the moisture has evaporated. As the grapes dry and almost become raisins, they concentrate their sugars and flavors. The semi-dried grapes are then gently pressed and the juice fermented until it reaches the desired level of sweetness and alcohol the producer wants making a wine that is intense, aromatic, and rich. I love to pair this wine with chocolates or enjoy it with a nice aged cheese. Deep, dense, thick, ruby red, this wine’s nose is Port-like with hints of cedar wood mingled with loads of black fruit, blackberry and plum, opening up to some lovely chocolate and slight smoky herbal notes. The palate is sweet and almost savory at the same time with a freshness that leads to a decadent finish that you wish would never end. Drink now to 2023.

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Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Valle dell’Acate 2014 Frappato Vittoria

Posted on | February 2, 2016 | Written by Sean Collins | No Comments

RD8758-2It was great to enjoy beautiful weather last weekend after being caged indoors from the blizzard the week before. The unseasonable warmth put me in a mood for something inexpensive, fruity, and good with a light meal. After doing a little research, I found this terrific catch, the Valle dell’Acate 2014 Frappato Vittoria. For a $22 bottle, this wine features noticeable depth and layers. Once I got past the smoothness, I was hit by a wave of red fruit and herbs, followed by a rush of juicy cherries.

Valle dell’Acate can trace its roots back to the nineteenth century; however that does not mean they’re afraid to embrace technology. Using a combination of classical winemaking and modern systems, this estate stresses eco-friendly sustainability, while also striving to use whatever means available to better its product. Rather than catering to market demands, the estate sticks to tradition and almost exclusively grows grapes native to Sicily. This vineyard uses Sicily’s indigenous Frappato grapes to create a velvety, yet distinctly fruity wine that is spectacular for its price range, and the result is an aromatic and velvety wine perfect for warm and light jacket weather.

My roommates and I were inspired me to forget last week’s blizzard and go exploring in the city for some of New York’s own indigenous plant life, so we visited Inwood Hill Park for its indigenous vegetation and spectacularly preserved Native American caves. Seeing New York’s natural side really helped further my appreciation of Valle dell’Acate’s commitment to sustainability and the pride this estate has in its heritage. After a long afternoon of exploring northern Manhattan, we returned home and enjoy some Sicilian history in a bottle. Just as we had hoped, a healthy meal of grilled chicken and green vegetables went perfectly with Valle dell’Acate’s Frappato Vittoria. This is an easy go-to wine choice for anyone looking for a touch of adventure, or just a day outside with friends.

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