Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Interview with Augusto Cardona, Sales Manager, Italian Wine Merchants

Following is an interview with Augusto Cardona, Sales Manager, Italian Wine Merchants:

What was the first wine that made you realize you loved wine?

Damijan Ribolla Gialla 2002 made me change the way I look at white wine, and the first time I had Quintarelli Amarone I knew I’d never tasted anything even close to that before. However I have to say that the wine that did it for me, that truly made me realize that I love wine was Bartolo Mascarello’s 1989 Barolo (out of magnum). Like the Quintarelli it possessed layers and depth that I could draw few comparisons to, and definitely had the "what was that?" impact on me. However the one thing that made this one truly stand out was it’s elegance. To this day if you asked me to describe my idea of “elegance” I would have to say that that wine is an example that I would use.

Describe your perfect meal and the wine you'd pair with it?

Well, since I just got back from Piemonte how could I not mention white truffles on Tajarin with aged Barolo. But there is also something to be said about the simplicity of a white like Verdicchio from Le Marche (look for Sartarelli) that work their magic with the seafood of the Adriatic on a summer day. The zing and citrus nuances bring just about any fish back to life - no sauces needed here - just some grilled fish and lemon. A Rosso di Montalcino with some pici topped with wild boar ragu is also a nice, simple classic pair.

What's the most common misconception that people have about wine?

High Points = Good Wine. That is the exact misconception that we try to dispel everyday here at IWM.
This is only one of the negatives associated with the rating system; in the end the rating system can deter people from establishing or discovering their own individual palate. Part of my responsibility is getting someone the wine that is best for them based on palate preference and understanding - it is an important part of our philosophy at IWM. A great read that captures our position on this is "When 84 Points Is Better Than 100" from our weekly eLetter.

What's your newest find for under $20?

In this range I am looking for wines that are going to match my everyday eating as well as obscure varietals and regions (especially when talking Italian). We just received a number of new, interesting wines in the store that fit this bill. One in particular that I am very fond of is the Frecciarossa Uva Rara. This is 100% Uvarara from the Oltrepo Pavese area of Lombardia in northern Italy. Just an extremely rare varietal from an often underrated region in Italy. There is ~1,500 cases made.

Is there a wine you've always wanted to try, but never had the chance to?

I would be lying to you if I said I wouldn't love to try a 1945 Mouton or 1947 Cheval Blanc. But at the prices they carry and the build up they received, that glass is carrying a lot of pressure to perform. I have read about them and I have clients who keep their mythical status alive. These Bordeaux have such large production, to me if I am going into the priceless realm, I would have to say the 1888 Biondi Santi Brunello Riserva would be up there. Only three remain at the estate, this is the wine that showed the world that Italy has wines that can age.

All three of those are the monuments to wine and would be on many wish lists, but really for me, I am fascinated by the biodynamic accomplishments of the Movia estate which has Ribollas dating back to the 1950s in their cellar. This overshadowed varietal of Friuli (and parts of Slovenia) has the structure to age and dispel a lot of beliefs about Italian whites (it should be noted the estate has vineyards that reside in both Italy and Slovenia as it rests on the border there.) The same is true for Mastroberardino with the varietal he helped rescue from extinction, Fiano. The estate still has bottles that date back to the 1950s – I’d love to try those.

Lastly, there are the mythical whites of the Fiorano estate from Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi - or as Eric Asimov of The New York Times describes puts it, the Prince and His Magic Cellar. The story is as intriguing as the wines. Strangely enough, these wines are from Lazio, not the first region you would think of to experience a dream wine. On top of that the whites are made up of Semillion and Malvasia - not the most exciting grapes. Yet, the wines challenge all convictions with their ability to age thirty years and deliver a flavor profile and experience that challenges the greatest whites in the world. The eccentric Prince, who rarely released his wines, wanted the wines to land in the hands of enthusiasts that would appreciate their complexity and he could only think of only one person. The Prince tore up his vineyards, so that they would not fall into the wrong hands, and left the entire cellar (consisting of thousands of bottles from the 1970s to 'the 1990's) to the great Italian wine journalist and personality Luigi Veronelli. Luigi kept his promise of maintaining the integrity of the wine and shortly before his death he passed the responsibility and wines to Sergio Esposito of IWM. Sergio is keeping that promise now by delivering the wines responsibly - in fact, we sell very few bottles each year. I don't do the story justice, but it is one of those great wines stories that enthusiasts love to read about. It is a story that Sergio has captured in his upcoming book, Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italy

I have had the opportunity to taste four vintages from the Fiorano estate, but there are several vintages I have not yet experienced, which would make them the wine I want to experience most. Italy gets little credit for its whites, but these three have proven that age-worthy whites in Italy do exist.

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