The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Looking to Montepulciano, the Region and the DOCG

Posted on | July 21, 2014 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Picture of Montepulciano taken from Il Conventino's website

Picture of Montepulciano taken from Il Conventino’s website

Today’s eLetter presents a really lovely rosato from Il Conventino, an organic producer in Montepulciano in Toscana. We’ve written previously on Montepulicano, the grape, and thought that this winsome $20 Sangiovese rosé was as good a reason as any to discuss Montepulicano, the region, and in specific, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG.

As is the case with many wine regions, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano enjoyed great renown in past centuries only to suffer the pangs of mediocrity in modern times. Of course, with a name like Vino Nobile, if the wine didn’t have a long and illustrious history of being sung paeans by poets, praised by popes, and embraced by kings, it would just be a misnomer. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has the historical reputation to back up the name; what it lacks, sadly, is much of a presence in the present.

Geographically, Montepulciano sits smack between its two more famous viticultural relatives, Chianti and Brunello de Montalcino. A diminutive 2,500 acres, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is much smaller both in stature and in status than its two neighbors; its soil tends to the sandier and more alluvial, and while the vineyards stand at an elevation of about 250-600 feet; and the land is much more uniform and less rolling than much of either Chianti or Montalcino. And all three areas utilize Sangiovese clones for their wines, though it’s called the Prugnolo in Montepulciano (and Brunello in Montalcino). What this set of geographical and enological comparisons suggests is that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano resembles both Chianti and Brunello–but it also does not.

The Prugnolo Gentile strain of Sangiovese presents difficulties because of its tendency toward high acidity and substantive, even austere, tannins. Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, producers have been mindfully trying to tame the Prugnolo to make a more accessible, fruit-forward wine through tinkering with clones and vinification techniques. In an ideal world, Vino de Montepulciano has the structure and balance of Brunello combined with the jaunty acidity of Chianti; in the best of all possible worlds, the wine is tinged with violets, but redolent of fruit, and Vino de Montepulciano embodies the best of both Brunello and Chianti. It just doesn’t always work out that way, and not merely because there doesn’t seem to be the kind of understanding on the part of producers of precisely what a Vino de Montepulciano should be, but also because the DOCG regulations reinforce that ambiguity.

Vino de Montepulciano received DOC status in 1966 and DOCG in 1980 (it was one of the first four DOCG wines). Sadly, DOCG regulations prescribe the producers’ ambivalence over the identity of Vino de Montepulciano as much as reflect it, for there is wide latitude in the DOCG rules for the wine. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has traditionally been produced with Prugnolo Gentile (at least 70%), Canaiolo Nero (at most 20%) and other permitted varietals, such as Trebbiano Toscana (20% maximum), as well as limited quantities of Pulcinculo (Grechetto Bianco) and Mammolo (5% maximum). However in 1999, permitted allowances of Prugnolo Gentile were increased to 100%, while still allowing for other grapes if desired. Additional provisions were outlined that lessened the ageing requirements in cask. Producers now have several options which allow for a combination of cask and container and/or bottle treatment: (I) 24 months in wood; (2) eighteen months minimum in wood, remainder in other container; (3) twelve months minimum in wood plus six months in bottle, remainder in another container. That’s a lot of flexibility.

What this means to wine-lovers is that the producer of the bottle of wine says a lot about what’s inside, and that you probably haven’t tried Vino de Montepulciano until you’ve tried them all. On the other hand, it can be a lot of fun trying.


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Expert Picks: Barone Pizzini and…Barone Pizzini!

Posted on | July 21, 2014 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | No Comments

unnamedOne thing you don’t really think about when you think Italian wine is bubblies. Other than Prosecco, which when made correctly is one of the most enjoyable glasses of sparkling wine around, there isn’t much the average wine drinker will be able to come up with in dry Italian sparkling wines. I wanted to fill this gap, hence my selection of Franciacorta today.

Since 1870, Barone Pizzini, the first to become an organic grower in the Franciacorta DOCG, has been making some of the best wines in the region. Its long history is a testament to the quality that this estate can deliver, and today’s selections show you just what Barone Pizzini can do with Franciacorta Brut and Rosé—two ideal wines for the rest of the summer. I would jump in and enjoy the fun bubblies that Italy has to offer.

​​Barone Pizzini Brut Franciacorta NV $37.20

​​Lombardia – Chardonnay (90%), Pinot Nero (10%)

Elegant, spicy, with notes of flowers and ripe fruit, the Brut is creamy, persistent and complex with a beautiful perlage. While perfect for any raw bar selections, this sparkler can be enjoyed next to any main of fish, white meats and even various hard cheeses—serve it very chilled.

​​Barone Pizzini Rosé Franciacorta NV $49.50

​​Lombardia – Pinot Nero

The Barone Pizzini always makes it Franciacorta Rosé in very limited quantities, so you’ll be hard pressed to find a great deal of it. This beauty has sweet notes of dried fruits and is mouth watering on the palate. Like the Brut, it is ideal with seafood and grilled fish.


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Inside IWM, July 14-17, 2014: Shocks, Surprise and Rarities!

Posted on | July 18, 2014 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

avocado-cilantro-lime-popsicle-300x300This week began with some cool things to do with alcoholic beverages in hot weather: make popsicles. Dust off that blender, keep the alcohol to less than 30%, and your favorite cocktail can become your new favorite icy treat! The week ended with things to do with your leftover summertime wines–don’t miss John Camacho Vidal’s recipe for a sparkling Mojito! In between, Anthony sang the praises of Moscato d’Asti, the Italian wine that all the cool kids are drinking, and Garrett found a lot of pleasure in a $20 Langhe Nebbiolo that drinks like a Barbaresco three times its price.

Our Experts were similarly surprising. Justin finished the week with two lesser-known Burgundies that bring a big bang for the buck. David Gwo took a quick trip to Campania and offered a pair of wines that deliver a great experience for little money. Robin Kelley O’Connor fell in love with two Volnay, and who can blame him? And Will Di Nunzio kicked the week off with a salute to Nebbiolo, but don’t expect the usual suspects in his two expert selections.

Wishing you a weekend filled with lots of serendipity!


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Sangria Sparkles, so do Mojitos!

Posted on | July 17, 2014 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

Summer is in full swing and the sultry weather dictates refreshing cold and fruity drinks. Strange to say, sometimes I’m simply not in the mood for wine. Believe it or not, this happened to me recently. We had a great dinner with friends and lots of wine the night before we were invited to a picnic. The next day I was wined out, but at the same time I didn’t want to drink beer. As I contemplated what I was going to drink, I saw that there were a few bottles with wine still in them from the night before. I remember reading that Ernest Hemingway was a fan of Champagne Mojitos. Using this as inspiration I decided to liven up my leftover wine and make some wine-based cocktails.

Wine cocktails are a fun way to blend your favorite sparkling, white and red wines with whatever your imagination concocts. All you need is a little creativity and inspiration.

Sangria is the obvious and easiest way to save your leftovers. Just make your Sangria as you normally do but add some Prosecco or Champagne to make it more refreshing and lively. Sparkling wines are versatile and blend well with many different flavors such as fruits, herbs and infusions and adding bubbles to any drink makes it refreshing and exciting—I’ve found that citrus and fresh herbs work particularly well with wine based libations and lend for endless mixing possibilities. One of the good things about Sangria is that you can prepare it ahead of time, but I recommend adding the sparkling when you arrive to the picnic or just before you serve it.

They say that the oldest-known recipe for the mojito appeared as the Mojo de Ron in a 1929 Cuban guide called Libro de Cocktail (The Cocktail Book); it calls for sugar, lime, mint leaves and white rum. I ran down to the corner fruit stand and picked up a bunch of limes and mint, and I was very happy with the results. This is by far my new favorite way of making a Mojito. It’s a refreshing, tasty, and good-looking cocktail.

Look at this link from for inspiration for wine-based summer cocktails, and if you come up with some interesting combinations, please let me know so I can try them out.

Camacho’s Mojito

Mint leaves (I like to use a good amount to really get the aromatics)
White rum (to taste)
Sugar or simple syrup (I prefer plain old-fashioned sugar)
Champagne or Prosecco
In a large pitcher combine the sugar mint leaves and lime.

Muddle them well with a wooden spoon

Add rum and stir well.

Strain into another pitcher to get rid of the gook

When ready to pour use a tall glass full of crushed ice and full it ¾ of the way then top off with sparkling wine.


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Expert Picks: Alain Gras and Chateau du la Maltroye

Posted on | July 17, 2014 | Written by Justin Kowalsky | No Comments

Justin_1With all the big appellations in Burgundy—Gevrey, Chambolle, Nuits-St Georges, Volnay, Pommard, and so forth—it’s easy to overlook the other great appellations in the Cote d’Or. These lesser-known appellations either directly abut these appellations or have unique locations, and they can produce truly profound wines that usually are a fraction of the price of a similar quality wine from the well-known villages.

I’m pleased to present two wines that you might have overlooked. Two estates that have gown immensely loyal followings at IWM are Alain Gras and his insanely old-vine Auxey Duresses and Domaine Maltroye and its intense and cellar-worthy Chassagne Montrachet Rouge Clos du Chateau 1er Cru. Alain Gras and Jean-Pierre Cournut at Maltroye are the respective “kings” of these two appellations, Auxey Duresses and Chassagne Montrachet Rouge. No one makes it better, and the wines these two producers do make are simply sublime.

This is the first opportunity to latch onto the 2012 Alain Gras Auxey-Duresses Tres Vieilles Vignes, but it’s also probably the last time to get your hands on the sensory-overloading 2010 Chassagne Montrachet Clos du Chateau 1er Cru rouge from Maltroye.

Alain Gras 2011 Auxey-Duresses Tres Vieilles Vignes $47.99

We introduced this tiny estate based in St. Romain back with the 2009 vintage, and ever since this wine has become one of the hottest wines in the under $100 price point. Loaded with deep, dense purple and blue fruits, this mini-masterpiece comes from gnarled 125-year-old vines that give up only one or two clusters per vine. The 2012 is deeply colored due to the high solid-to-liquid ratio, giving up loads of blackberry and cherry flavors that combine with notes of fresh blueberry coulis. The palate-staining flavors go on for over a minute, and the ripe, supple tannins along with the bright acidity give a vibrant freshness that make this beauty dance across the palate. Only 218 cases made.

Ch. du Maltroye 2010 Chassagne Montrachet Rouge Clos du Chateau 1er Cru $59.99

Although nearly 50% of Chassagne Montrachet is planted to Pinot Noir, for some reason, Chardonnay has taken the spotlight for years. However, when it comes to Chassagne Montrachet rouge, one domaine stands on the podium alone: Chateau du Maltroye.    Made from 50-plus-year-old vines, Chateau du Maltroye’s 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet Clos du Chateau Rouge (a monopole vineyard of the domaine) produces a profoundly aromatic and detailed Chassagne-Montrachet. With hints of violets, spice, wet stone, blueberries, and kirsch, the wine’s ample fruit easily buffers the tannins as it coats the palate, which make this beauty easily approachable in its youth, althought it has the legs to go for a decade or more. This wine would sell for $100 or more from many other appellations—bravo to another great effort from Jean-Pierre. A must-have wine for any serious Burgundy lover.


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