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December 27, 2006
How To Really Open Sparkling Wine and More....


In This Issue

A Note from Sergio
A month ago, during a trip through Friuli, I crossed the Slovenian border and drove five minutes to Ales Kristancic's La Movia Estate, a collection of pink stucco houses overlooking slopes blanketed in cherry and fig trees, rose bushes, and vines. Ales met me outside-tall and broad, with his head shaved, wearing his requisite black kitchen clogs, and smiling wickedly.

Every time I hang out with Ales, I leave a little exhausted, mildly hungover, and completely content. Ales, a semi- professional ballroom dancer and professional partier, is not interested in moderation of any sort, but he is interested in purity, so I always end up eating an enormous amount of fresh-picked vegetables, farm- raised meat, artisanal cheeses, home-baked bread. And then I end up drinking bottle after bottle of his biodynamic whites.

Ales' wines are unique and wild, just like him. He produces them painstakingly, reading lunar cycles, using old farming methods, eschewing chemicals completely. After he picks his grapes from vines planted by his ancestors, he brings them-or according to him, "escorts" them gently-to his winery, where he presses them and puts them in tanks for fermentation. While most winemakers throw store- bought yeasts into the liquid to speed things up, Ales allows his juice to ferment naturally. With manufactured yeasts, you can cause fermentation in a week, and you don't leave yourself vulnerable to all the risks inherent in making wine naturally. But for Ales, whose fermentation lasts at least a month, this misses the point.

"If the thing that makes a wine unique is its terroir, then the wine must taste like the earth from which it came," he once told me. "And if you add anything- anything-to corrupt that, to cause what is natural to die at the hand of what is unnatural, congratulations: You've made an alcoholic grape- based beverage, but you haven't made wine." His philosophy is evident in his wines: impossibly fresh, clear, crisp, and clean.

And then there is his sparkling wine, Puro. When I was at his house, in the dining room full of paintings by local artists, he brought out a bottle, and his wife Vesna served us tiny pieces of bread, each with a slab of butter and a dollop of caviar. The Puro- Italian for pure-is true to its name. Each bottle contains about a half- inch of naturally-occurring sediment. This sediment, in almost all other bubbly drinks, is sucked out and replaced with a mix of sweet new alcohol-cognac or older wine, so that buyers don't drink solid bits of dead yeasts when they buy a bottle. But Ales doesn't like this artificiality and ease.

"The sommelier used to be a person who linked the farmer and the customer, whose role it was to protect both," Ales explained as Vesna set a deep bowl in front of him. "The sommelier was someone who understood good cork, bad cork, good wine, bad wine. Now he understands numbers, not the reality of wine."

Ales dunked the neck of his Puro beneath the surface of the water (pictured here below). "Puro is a game, you see. I'm giving this contemporary sommelier work." He wanted industry professionals to fit their behavior to his product, rather than vice versa. He wanted them to see that there was more than the status quo; Puro was his statement. He took a cloth napkin and wrapped it around the submerged cork and jimmied it. In one fluid movement, he released the cork within the bowl. A flush of fizzy sediment rushed out into the water, and Ales pulled the bottle out. He held it up: It was now clear champagne. He poured us each a glass of the transparent champagne: Confusing, immaculate, complicated, and alive. It was, as always, a thing unto itself. And as always, we drank it for hours, and it seemed always more intriguing.

This New Year's eve, I'm serving Puro first and foremost. It will allow me to celebrate a natural wine made in an ancient tradition, and to serve my guests something totally different. And I hope that the seeming magic of the opening-the bottle dunked in water, the rush of foam, the newfound clarity of the drink-will spark a conversation and will help me and my friends discover something new about wine. But as we all know, one type of bubbly is not sufficient for the night. So in addition to offering Ales' Puro, I'm offering a selection of my other favorite sparkling wines, each of which should help to make the new year a little more festive.

Buon anno,
Sergio

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Movia 2000 Puro
(Friuli/Slovenia - Pinot Nero)

The Kristancic family purchased the Movia estate in 1820, and production is currently under the direction of Ales Kristancic, who is widely regarded as one of the best winemakers in Italy's Northeast region. Dually trained in French and Italian viticultural methodologies, Ales pursues a historically minded but radical approach to winemaking that includes aging the whites in 600-liter Slovenian oak casks and allowing them to remain on the lees without stirring for over two years. Students and winemakers around the globe study his techniques, and many visit him to observe and learn firsthand. His vinification and viticultural philosophy cannot be construed as either traditional or even purely natural. Terms that have been rendered virtually meaningless in the wine world due to gratuitous usage-green harvest, 100 percent new French barrique, and low yields-are not part of Movia's viticultural frame of reference. Production is informed by fine-tuned biodynamic principles that reflect a thorough understanding of vine and root management.

By virtue of its protected identity, Champagne is regarded as the most genuine and serious of the sparkling wines, a bubbly operating in a class unto itself. Many countries, however, employ the rigorous méthode champenoise that accounts, in part, for Champagne's gravitas, and Movia takes it a little further, requiring its audience to actually engage in the process. As the Puro is bottled undisgorged, the yeast sediment plug must necessarily be removed under water prior to its being served.

Opening Procedure for Movia Puro:
1. Fill a large bucket or bowl with water. The preferred medium is a large glass bowl, as it enables one to view the process and observe the sediment's release.

2. Position the wine upside down or at a downward-facing angle just prior to icing the bottle's tip, in order to facilitate the sediment's movement towards the neck.

3. Place the bottle upside down in ice for at least 20 minutes (to effect the sediment's freezing in the neck of the bottle).

4. Place the bottle in the bucket of water in a downward position (as is illustrated by Ales in the enclosed image at his Movia estate). After the sediment is released following the cork's removal (under water), quickly cover the bottle's opening with your thumb, returning it to an upright position. As pressure releases the cork and sediment, the water is precluded from entering the bottle prior to its being covered.

Note: If you attempt to open it via the conventional approach, the bottle will explode.

Sourced from 130-year-old Pinot Nero vines and aged for two years in French barriques, this limited production sparkler delivers a savory element on the nose and juxtaposes honey tones with minerality.

Movia 2000 Puro $46.20
Col Vetoraz NV Prosecco
(Veneto - Prosecco)

Prosecco is nothing if not pretentious, and the terminology used to describe it comprises a range of descriptors that position it in an airy realm, below the heights of the elite champenoise. The holidays, however, provide a context that elevates this standard and always reliable bubbly, as it commences the festivities with casual grace, prepping the palate for its more substantive successors.

While Proseccos are mass produced and derived primarily from the cost-efficient charmat method, there is far more to them than their modest origin suggests. Of greatest significance, perhaps, is the fact that the region accorded DOC status for the production of Prosecco-Conegliano-Valdobbiadene- is particularly conducive to the production of sparkling wine. (Thus, Prosecco is hardly a superfluous bubbly, but rather, a genuine expression of an area's features.)

The beneficent interaction between cool mountain breezes and warm ocean influences creates a unique environment that enables the Prosecco grapes to retain both their acidity and aromatic expression. The latter is particularly significant in the case of the Prosecco grape, which typically lacks a pronounced flavor profile. This natural source of quality control is supported and enhanced by the Veneto's School of Viticulture and Enology, which has been one of Italy's touchstones with regard to viticultural advancement since its establishment in 1876. Although vineyards within the Cartizze area are considered to produce the DOC's premier Proseccos, achieving a more pronounced expression, in the opinion of many, Prosecco really represents a case wherein simple is best.

Dedication and tradition are the essential elements informing Col Vetoraz's current status as a top producer of sparkling wine. This effusively fruity, light-bodied offering gives off terrific floral notes and persistent effervescence, complemented by hints of pears, white wildflowers, and juicy peaches. Green melons and citrus entice the palate; the finish is clean and delicate, making this an ideal aperitif.

Col Vetoraz NV Prosecco $16.89
Villa Sparina NV Brut
(Piemonte - Cortese)

Piemonte legend has it that Princess Gavia married Frankish king Clodomiro against the wishes of her father. She and her bridegroom fled across Lombardia to the land ruled by the Goths, but a local innkeeper revealed their whereabouts to soldiers under commission to find her. As the king subsequently approved of the marriage, the couple settled in this territory, ruling as vassals to Queen Amalasunta of the Goths. The area was named for the princess, and the yellow-gold wine produced here was named in her honor as well, in tribute to her beautiful tresses. Historians of less romantic persuasions hold that Val Lemme was inhabited almost 2000 years ago by the Cavaturini tribe, whose name derives from the tribe members' caves. The land was called Cavium and subsequently Gavium, eventually being christened Gavi.

Gavi is made from the native white grape Cortese, a vigorous vine that thrives in southeastern Piemonte's Monferrato Hills, producing fresh wines of high acidity with subtle flavors of apple, citrus, and honeysuckle. Gavi earned DOC status in 1974, becoming Italy's second DOCG white wine in 1998; it is now among the region's top wines and overshadows Arneis and Erbaluce, its neighboring whites. A sparkling version of Gavi is also popular, as Cortese's profile is particularly conducive to this expression.

The Villa Sparina estate is situated in the heart of the Gavi district, and its Gavi di Gavi consistently merits a place in IWM's portfolio. As harvest at Villa Sparina is delayed as long as possible, the grapes develop significant concentration while maintaining Cortese's hallmark acidity.

Villa Sparina NV Brut $26.40
Tenuta Castellino 1999 Franciacorta Brut
(Lombardia - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, & Pinot Blanc)

While the majority of Italy's sparklers are crafted through metodo charmat, a process that expedites production by eliminating secondary fermentation in bottle, the Franciacorta DOCG of the Lombardia region is a prolific producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wines crafted from Chardonnay (the most planted), Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco. In fact, the traditional paradigm is the only one permitted, an affiliation that its practitioners extend by employing French terms on the labels. The cooling breezes issuing from Lake Iseo modify the ripening of the grapes, enabling them to maintain desirable acidity while realizing greater aromatic complexity.

Castellino's castle sits at the foot of Monte Orfano, and the estate possesses 24 hectares (13 planted to vines) in Coccaglio, one of Franciacorta's most prized sites. This southern area enjoys a unique terroir, marked by better exposures and hotter temperatures than those of other zones. Experts and students from the University of Milan routinely inspect and marvel at Castellino's vines, which benefit from nearly ideal ripening patterns. Owners Marino, Sandro, and Fausto Bonomi have directed the estate's evolution, enabling it to realize positioning as one of the region's leading producers.

Castellino 1999 Franciacorta Brut $30.31
Bruno Giacosa 2001 Spumante Brut
(Lombardia - Pinot Noir)

Piemonte's Langhe hills also feature some notable champenoise sparklers, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay serving as the principal varietal bases of the region's dry sparkling wines. As the soil of the Langhe is rich in limestone, the principal constituent of the Champagne region's soil, it is particularly conducive to the growth of Chardonnay.

Although Giacosa is one of Piemonte's foremost producers (of Barolo and Barbaresco), he elects to produce this 100 percent Pinot Noir champenoise in Piemonte's neighboring region of Lombardia-formerly a part of the official Piemonte zone-specifically in the Oltrepò Pavese zone. While many styles of wine are permitted in this region, the DOC regulations specifically provide for a méthode champenoise spumante composed of 70 percent Pinot Noir. In recent years, this region has attracted the notice of Italian wine connoisseurs and its terroir-marked by slopes rich in limestone- supports the contention that the area is suited to the production of wines of substance. Oltrepò Pavese's local varieties include Riesling Renano, Riesling Italico, and Uva Rara.

First bottled in 1983, the initial fermentation is carried out in stainless steel. Following secondary fermentation in bottle and hand riddling, the wine ages on the lees for a period of 24 to 30 months prior to release. Subtly delineated by scents of fruit and yeast, Giacosa's Brut is elegant and marked by a persistent perlage.

Bruno Giacosa 2001 Spumante Brut $36.95
Bruno Giacosa 2001 Spumante Brut $79.95 (1.5L)

Valentino 1999 Brut Zero
(Piemonte - Chardonnay)

Situated in the Manzoni Soprani area of Monforte d'Alba, Rocche dei Manzoni was originally established in the 1700s, commencing its modern era in 1974, when Valentino Migliorini and his wife, Jolanda, purchased the old winery and its prized vineyards. Hailing from Emilia, neither spoke the local dialect and were intially regarded as outsiders. Valentino's viticultural accomplishments, however, eventually earned him rare positioning in Barolo's patriarchy. Initial production included Dolcetto, Barbera, and Barolo, yet Valentino did not adhere to either the area's traditional varietal constituency nor practices. He was the first to plant Chardonnay (for his barrel- fermented L'Angelica) and produced the Langhe's premiere blend-Bricco Manzoni (80 percent Nebbiolo and 20 percent Barbera)- in 1976, for which he employed small French oak barrels. The current portfolio also includes Pinot Noir, several blends featuring both local and international varieties, a late-harvest wine, and two sparkling wines.

Crafted in a crisp, dry style via the méthode Champenoise, Brut Zero is Valentino's take on vintage Champagne. This particular version was aged over 36 months after bottling and then refined in bottle for six months prior to being released; it offers buttery aromas and a generous perlage.

Valentino 1999 Brut Zero $41.25
Murgo Brut
(Sicilia - Nerello Mascalese)

The co-op era of Sicilia ended some time ago, enabling this province to pursue a quality wine regime in lieu of a bulk production agenda. In fact, it is fair to say that Sicilia, like Toscana's Maremma, is inaugurating a new phase in Italian winemaking.

Both the consistent weather conditions of the South-low rainfall, intense heat, and sunlight-and plantings of international varietals have earned Sicilia's wines comparison to New World favorites. Old vineyards have been restored and new ones planted, with many producers selecting Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon in order to acquire international recognition and support the introduction of indigenous grapes-such as Nero d'Avola-to enthusiasts. The celebrity-like status of wineries such as Planeta has brought more attention to the island, and producers like Palari, Rapitalà, Santa Anastasia, Donnafugata, and Murgo are bringing the indigenous varietals of Sicilia (Nero d'Avola and Nerello Mascalese) to the forefront.

The Murgo estate, which has been producing wines since 1850, enjoys a privileged position southeast of Mount Etna, thereby avoiding the fine sands that typify the Etna province's terroir. Rather, the soils relevant to Murgo include a high proportion of volcanic sands, which impart a distinct minerality to the wine, as well as aromatic complexity and unusual finesse. In 1981 Baron Emanuele Scammacca del Murgo modernized the estate in order to maximize the qualitative integrity of his wines, and his sons Michele, Pietro, and Matteo pursue the same objective in their viticultural regime. This méthode champenoise sparkler is made wholly from Sicilia's Nerello Mascalese grape, and offers a delicate mélange of flowers, crisp apples, and yeast, exhibiting a fine perlage.

Murgo Brut $27.48
Forteto della Luja Moscato Passito
(Piemonte - Moscato)

In addition to Piemontese spumante (illustrated by the Valentino bottling above), the Asti DOCG designation applies to Moscato d'Asti, a frizzante (by virtue of its lower CO2 pressure) sparkler that is slightly lower in alcohol than spumante. Moscato is generally a vibrant off-dry or sweet wine that exudes fresh fruit within the context of a moderately creamy texture. It is ideal as either a refreshing aperitif or accompaniment to cookies or biscotti.

Forteto della Luja, situated between the communes of Canelli and Loazzolo in the Asti wine zone, is renowned for its Moscato. This property has been dedicated to vines for centuries, claiming a prominent position on the market only in 1985, when neighbor and friend Giacomo Bologna encouraged the owners to bottle a Moscato passito (vinified from dried grapes). In 2005, Forteto received marked attention, becoming the first Piemontese winery to run exclusively on solar energy.

Giancarlo Scaglione, a professor at the Enological School of Alba and a practicing enologist at several estates, crafts the wine at Forteto della Luja. His son, Giovanni, cares for the vineyards while his daughter, Silvia, manages the business. Their highly respected line of wines includes cult favorites Le Grive, a Barbera- Pinot Nero blend, and a Brachetto passito.

Forteto della Luja Moscato Passito (Moscato) $44.69
Italian Sparklers Sampler

While many look to France for sparkling selections given the cachet of its signature bottlings, Italy nurtures a notable rapport with sparklers, as they as they feature in everyday affairs. Thus, it offers several value options in this requisite celebration category that will have you toasting (Cin- Cin).

In fact, nearly all of Italy's regions produce sparkling wine, offering a vast array of styles testifying to the Boot's facility with bubbles. Lombardia and Piemonte craft méthode champenoise bottlings (with the profiled Tenuta Castellino offering an exceptional example from the former's Franciacorta zone); the Veneto delivers its signature Prosecco, the traditional opening to an Italian meal; and other areas, such as Sicilia, employ their indigenous varietals, adding their signature to Italy's starry set.

Italian Sparklers Sampler
1. Col Vetoraz NV Prosecco
2. Murgo NV Brut
3. Tenuta Castellino 1999 Franciacorta
4. Movia 2000 Puro
5. Villa Sparina NV Brut
6. Valentino 1999 Brut Zero

Italian Sparklers Six-Pack (6) $188.53
Italian Sparklers Tasting Case (12-two of each) $346.90

Shipping Note: IWM recommends placing your Italian Sparklers Sampler order by 3:00 p.m. EST Wednesday, December 27, and selecting two-day shipping in order to ensure arrival before New Year's Eve.
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