Fresh off the rockin’ “Wines@Summer” Walkaround at ICE this past Friday, I am kicking off a week of Tasting posts. Five tastings I’ve been to or led over the past few weeks that help solidify my contention that we are, right here and now, living in the Golden Age of Wine.
In May, at the organically chic Rouge Tomate in Manhattan, I waded into a trade tasting of the Dalla Terra portfolio, an import stable that has been grown impressively by founder Brian Larky over the course of 20 years.
As tastings go, it was, bottle for bottle among the highest-quality Italian events I’ve attended. In short, Larky’s vision–fully manifested that afternoon–was to assemble an Alps-to-toe group of leading family-owned Italian wineries. The best of Italy, all in one suitcase, so to speak, from Alto Adige to Sicily. Personal favorites which I’ve poured in the past include: Inama Soave Classico; La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Aia Vecchia Lagone (Super Tuscan); Riff Pinot Grigio; Badia a Colitbuono Chiantis; Saracco Moscato d’Asti; and Vietti (just about everything they make from Piedmont). I’ve also long admired the wines of Alois Lageder and Avignonesi, two other Dalla Terra stars.
Credit for all the wines goes to the respective producers, of course. However, it’s worth highlighting Brian Larky’s role as the benevolent entrepreneurial ringleader. He does not make the wine, but it does make it happen for us. Besides enlisting the trust of these leading family-owned Italian wineries, he developed a business model by which American distributors are offered “direct import” pricing, which trickles down to consumers in the form of better value at every price point.
This tasting was one heaping lovefest of great Italian wine. No surprise given the specific context: 15 vintners (out of the 19 estates) were finishing a seven-city 20th-aniversary swing; and the New York finale also represented their debut with a new NY metro distributor, Martin Scott Wines. It was crowded, it was loud, it was joyous. It was a room chock full of tastemakers, from the Dalla Terra winery principals and Martin Scott sales reps on through to the sommeliers and retailers (even a coupla press/bloggers). This was the high end of the modern American wine business at work–celebrating a veritable rebirth of a well-chosen and managed portfolio.
Did I walk away with any must-buy wines to rave about? Not really; nor did I expect to. For me the tasting was more about confirmation than discovery. And the point worth passing along here is a simple one, inspired by but not exclusive to Dalla Terra. Today’s universe of available wine is both vast and getting bigger; one of the best ways to shrink that oeno-cosmos down–to make it both more manageable and enjoyable–is to find importers whose portfolios you can uncork with confidence. Dalla Terra is one of those portfolios that works for me in terms of delivering authentic, well-made Italian wines at fair pricing.
Are there other great Italian portfolios? Of course. Winebow, Frederick Wildman, Skurnik and Neil Empson jump to mind. Dalla Terra is hardly the only great, focused import folio within our grasp; there are dozens, but going in that direction would be to digress. The real revelation I want to share now is that part of the evolution of every wine lover, I believe, involves becoming aware of these simpatico portfolios, these pockets of trust.
And the fact that importers like Dalla Terra are thriving in today’s blossoming American wine scene is proof positive that we are living in the Golden Age of Wine. Just think: I was able to witness how the entirety (give or take a DOC here or there) of Italian wine in one room, in one glorioso afternoon. Granted, I am luckier than most, being able to attend trade events like this. Which is all the more reason I feel a responsibility to share these treasure-laden portfolios with wine lovers of all levels of experience.