Q: Why do you import so many wines made from grapes I've never heard of?
A: Italy has more kinds of wine grape under cultivation than any other country. This breadth of raw material means that distinctive, different wines are grown all over the peninsula, and it gives Italian wine amazing variety. It can be a bit confusing, but it's worth it. Both Falanghina and Arneis make interesting dry white wine, but they are very different, and it's great to have the choice.
Q: How are Italian wines named?
A: Almost all Italian wines are named the same way most California wines are named, by the grape variety and the place where it's grown. Roero Arneis, for example, is the Arneis grape grown in the part of Piedmont called the Roero, just as Dry Creek Zinfandel identifies itself by place and variety. (The only catch is that there are a few exceptions, and they're famous: Barolo should be called 'Nebbiolo di Barolo' (Barolo the town, Nebbiolo the grape), and Chianti, the most famous of all, is named only for the area in which it's grown. You might think that Brunello was another exception, but in fact Brunello is the local name for Sangiovese, so Brunello di Montalcino abides by the convention.
Q: Is it true that the Italians keep all of the good stuff for themselves?
A: No, thank heavens. It’s actually more likely that the reverse is true, more of the best wines are exported than drunk locally.
Q: What is Prosecco?
A: Prosecco, the famous Venetian aperitif, is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region, around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It is also the former name of the grape used to make the wine; Prosecco (the wine) must be made of at least 80% Glera (formerly called Prosecco) grapes.
Some grape varieties make good wine in a variety of styles, some seem to have just one style that shines. The Prosecco grape tastes wonderful when made into an Extra Dry sparkling wine, and only OK when made into other kinds of wine. (Brut Prosecco is mostly exported, rarely drunk in Italy, and still Prosecco is like kissing your sister (it's all very well, but...).) I love Prosecco as an aperitif, but it also goes with a number of appetisers, particularly with seafood. Great wedding wine, too.
Q: What have you got against small oak barrels?
A: The aroma and flavor of oak can dominate wines aged in small barrels, particularly if the barrels are new. We prefer the individual flavors that come from particular grapes grown in a particular place to the flavor of oak from France. We do however love big red wines aged in larger barrels ('botti'), such as the Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno.
Q: What is more important to you, quality or value?
A: Quality is the main thing, but value is important too, particularly when the economy is uncertain. We buy every single wine that we sell directly from the producer, with no middleman, no agents, no other importers, and no commissions. We bring in whole containers, so we don't pay too much for shipping. This allows us to give you values at every level of our selection, from Barolo to the everyday wines such as the Vallevò Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and our new Isola d'Oro wines from Sicily.
Q: What is a Corked Wine? Why are more and more wines closed with non-bark corks or screwcaps?
Probably one bottle in twenty that you drink is affected to some extent by 'corkiness,' or 'cork taint.' This is when the bark cork becomes contaminated with various substances, most often a smelly (but harmless) chemical called TCA (2-4-6 trichloroanisole), and the wine becomes affected by this taint. At higher levels it smells like moldy basement, at low levels the wine just won't taste very interesting. For this reason a number of producers all over the world are switching to non-bark corks or screwcaps, which for most wines this is a vast improvement over bark corks. I applaud the producers who are making this change. (Screwcaps are probably the best solution, but it costs the winery quite a bit to make the change to their bottling line, which is hard for smaller producers.)
Q: My family eats a lot of fish. What kind of wine goes well with it?
Most Italian white wines are made without the influence of oak, which can be a bit of a transition for the American wine drinker brought up on oaky Chardonnay. But the bright, clean flavors you get from fermentation in stainless-steel tanks are perfect with many seafood dishes. (To my taste oak would just get in the way.) In my selection, the Vermentino from the island of Sardinia would be an obvious choice, with the Colle Stefano Verdicchio and the Porello Arneis a close second. Both of these wines are flavorful, dry, crisp and a good match for most seafood dishes.
Q: How do I buy the wines you import if I don't live in California?
A: Many of the retailers we do business with can ship to most states. Here's a partial list of our online retail colleagues:
Beltramo’s - 888-710-WINE (9463)
Hi-Times - 800-331-3005
K & L Wine Merchants - 877-KLWines (559-4637)
The Wine House, Los Angeles - 800-626-9463
Woodland Hills Wine Merchant - 800-678-9463
Q: How important is temperature when storing wine?
A: All of our wines are shipped in refrigerated containers (57°F), stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse and delivered in temperature controlled trucks. Just as you wouldn’t leave a carton of milk in your trunk in 80 degree weather, you should not do so with wine. It is important to find a cool spot in your house that stays within the range of 45 - 65 degrees all year round. If you live in an area of the country where this is not feasible, you might consider a temperature controlled storage unit.