Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Italian Wine Merchants Tasting

Recently, a small group of wine enthusiasts gathered at the home of WineORL to be introduced to the portfolio of Italian Wine Merchants (IWM). IWM is based in New York, and is the brainchild of long-time wine professional Sergio Esposito, with partners Chef Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich (son of Chef Lidia Bastianich). IWM also has sister companies in Hong Kong, as well as IWM Cellars, specializing in cellar management services.

Representing IWM at the tasting were Ms. Tina Rusiecki, IWM's Florida representative, and Mr. Chris Deas, Vice President of IWM. The tasting began with introductions, a bit about IWM (as noted above), and a framework for the tasting to follow.

The first wine was the Roger Coulon Premier Cru Brut Champagne. Situated in Montagne de Reims and covering 10 hectares (22 acres), the estate consists of 70 distinct parcels, all of which are Premier Cru. The wine was bright and crisp, with aromas and flavors of green and red apple, roasted pear, and some yeasty, nutty notes. Somewhat of an oddity, this wine is composed of equal parts of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir.

The next wine, a 2000 Gravner Ribolla Gialla, piqued my interest when I saw it in the tasting line-up. Josko Gravner is a winemaker in the Fruili region of northern Italy. Ever the innovator, Gravner has stood white wine making on its ear utilizing first stainless steel fermentations, then abandoning that for long-term barrique fermentation and aging, and in 2001, fermentation and aging in clay amphorae. The wine we tasted was the last of the "barrique period," spending up to seven (7) months fermenting with skin contact. The wine is almost orange in the glass, with notes of lime zest and cooked fruit, and what I likened to the aroma of Coca-cola syrup. The wine was not really showing well early in the tasting, and I stashed a glass for later. After several hours, there was dried apricot, butterscotch, and caramel to complement the citrusy notes.

Switching to red wines, we moved onto the 2006 Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir from Patagonia, Argentina. The wine is the project of Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, the grandson of Mario Incisa of Sassicaia fame, and the founder of the Super-Tuscan movement in Italy. Piero Incisa della Rocchetta purchased the first of his holdings in Argentina in 2004, with a then-abandoned Pinot Noir vineyard originally planted in 1932 on its own rootstock. The wine is very New World in style, and masculine in structure. The nose is dominated by aromas of smoked meat, black fruits, and cola notes from the barrels, and these aromas follow through to the palate.

Next up was the 2006 Aldo Conterno 'Cicala' Barolo. Regarded as the "King of Barolo," Aldo Conterno continues a tradition that extends back more than five generations in the Piemonte region of Italy. A relative baby, and from an outstanding vintage, this wine probably needs 10 years of evolution in the cellar. This wine showed a great nose of roses, red fruit, and just an ever so slight hint of menthol green-ness. I would look forward to an opportunity to re-visit this wine when it was really ready to be enjoyed.

From the Piemonte, we moved south into Tuscany for the next two wines, both Brunelli di Montalcino. The first of two was the 2000 Case Basse di Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. Soldera, a former insurance broker from Milan, planted the 2 hectare Case Basse vineyard in 1972, and produced his first Brunello from the vineyard in 1990, when Soldera deemed it to finally be worthy. From a hot vintage, this wine was garnet in the glass with a hint of bricking. The wine is dominated by red fruit aromas and flavors, with a note of mint or basil, as well as extreme acidity and high levels of tannins. The second Brunello was the 2004 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino. The estate was founded in 1980 by Pierluigi Talenti, long-time winemaker at Tenuta il Poggione, and consists of 20 hectares of vines. The nose on this wine showed brighter, sweeter red fruit, leather, and an earthy, mushroom note. On the palate, the wine is softer and broader than the first, with flavors of cherries, berries, and baking spices like cinnamon and cardamom. There are granular tannins reminscent of "Rutherford Dust," and the wine seems to float across the tongue and take forever to dissipate.

We then moved on to a study in the expression of Bordeaux-style wines. First up was the 1995 Chateau Musar Rouge from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The work of Gaston Hochar, and then his sons Serge and Ronald, is nothing short of amazing given the turbulent history of the region. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan, this wine is often hit or miss, as there have often been issues with storage and shipping conditions on the way to market. This wine had a hint of tomato on the nose (something I typically associate with Rioja and Chianti), and a nice assortment of red fruits. There was also a hint of Volatile Acidity; not enough to be off-putting, but enough to elevate some of the aromas of the wine.

Next to be tasted was the 2008 Guidalberto from Tenuta San Guida (home of Sassicaia) in the Tuscany region of Italy. Based on a different model than Sassicaia, the Guidalberto is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, separately fermented and then aged for twelve months in French and American oak barriques. The wine was an opaque purple in the glass, and exhibited a massive amount of black fruit on the nose, balanced with some spice, vanilla, and cedar. On the palate the wine also shows some red fruit, and a pleasant balance of acid and tannin leading to a supple finish.

We then progressed to the 2007 Chateau Latour a Pomerol. The vineyards, which cover several parcels totaling 8 hectares in Pomerol (including one surrounding the commune's church), are composed of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc (although only one taster professed to sense any presence of Franc in the wine). The Chateau is run by the Moueix family (Petrus, among others) and the quality shows in this wine from a less than stellar vintage. Red and black fruit dominte the nose and the palate, with hints of earth, eucalyptus, and cedar. There was a moderate amount of acid, and the tannins were well disguised. It would be interesting to see how this wine progresses over then next 10 years, which is the usual amount of time for most vintages of Latour a Pomerol to reach their optimum.

The final offering in this category was the 2006 Rudd Estate Oakville Red Wine. Produced by Leslie Rudd (owner of the specialty food and lifestyle purveyor Dean and Deluca), this wine resulted in a considerable amount of animated discussion. The wine presented a massive amount of sweet vanilla, blackberry, black cherry, and spicy aromas on the nose, followed by black and red fruit flavors with hints of dark chocolate and roasted espresso on the palate, and satiny tannins and a moderate dose of acidity leading to a long, pronounced finish. Given the ripeness of the fruit and the structure of the wine, this could easily have been slowly sipped after dinner with some bits of dark chocolate as a substitute for dessert.

The final two wines of the afternoon were from the Veneto region of Italy. The first was the 2001 Valpolicella Superiore from legendary producer Giuseppe Quintarelli. Aged for six (6) years in Slovenian oak, this wine did not reach the marketplace until eight (8) years post-harvest, a massive amount of time for a Valpolicella. The wine is made in the Ripasso style, where the finished Valpolicella wine is passed through the pomace (crushed grapes, skins, etc.) from the production of Amarone. The wine was phenomenal, presenting a nose of flowers, dried fruit, dark caramel, and figs. The aromas carried over to the palate, with some hints of earth and licorice added for good measure.

The final wine of the event was the 2003 Nicolis 'Ambrosan' Amarone. The wine is 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and, rather than the typical third grape Molinara, 10% Croatina. The grapes are harvested, placed in wooden drawers that provide air circulation, and then are allowed to dessicate in special dry, well-ventilated areas for 3-5 months, after which they are pressed and vinified. The wine presented itself as the classic Amarone, with a nose of dried red fruit, prune, leather, and red berry, followed by a sweetness on the palate that seemed to persist for more than a minute.

It appeared that the wines and the knowledgeable and affable staff of IWM were well-received by the attendees. IWM has a unique portfolio of wines for wine enthusiasts of all levels but the company's offerings and programs are especially focused at the avid collector.

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