Italian Wine Merchants, located on East 16th Street near Union Square in New York City, is the top destination in the city and, really, the country for exclusive Italian wines sourced and curated by a team of experts and aficionados who probably know more about Italian wine than most any other resource we’ve ever seen.
Italian Wine Merchants operates a stunning showroom and event space in the same location that truly immerses their customers and buyers in a 360 degree wine experience. This is no wine store, but instead, a place to learn, buy, taste and enjoy the best in wine that the country of Italy has to offer.
Entering into the space you’ll notice a wall with what looks like the most delicately categorized and presented wine bottles (not pictured). There is a reception area with a host or hostess there to help guide your wine experience. Many collectors come here to soak-in the location’s latest finds, but, even so, novices are welcome as it’s a place to learn. Someone will advise you on what to get and how to enjoy it once you take it home. Many people buy in cases, some purchase by bottle – but most are here because they know the offering is stellar.
Italian Wine Merchants host numerous tastings and events for their followers and customers. Inviting wine makers from around Italy, chefs and experts – the space turns into a hub for learning and eating, tasting and enjoying some of the most hard-to-find bottles you might imagine. You will find countless varieties here that come from the tiniest of producers; some that you might never know existed if it weren’t for the hard work of the advisors and curators that work here.
We worked with Italian Wine Merchants to select seven bottles that they believed represented a snapshot of their expertise, and what they have to offer.
The bottles were unique, interesting and provocative – all telling a story all their own of the location in which they were produced, and the wine makers behind them.
Of course, a customer or collector can find bottles here that date back to the 1960s, rare varieties that price in the several thousands per bottle – but they truly have something for everyone. Attending one of their dinners or events will provide greater insight into Italian Wine Merchants’ process.
We sampled the following wines and, after doing so, realized just how special Italian Wine Merchants is and why they’ve earned the reputation they have.
Barone Pizzini Animante Brut Franciacorta Chardonnay
Vintage Notes: Bursting with tongue-tingling acidity and piquant minerality, Barone Pizzini’s Animante Brut Franciacorta is a bewitching, food-friendly sparkling wine that layers its citrus and orchard fruits with white flowers, Christmas spices, and crushed river rocks. Persistent fine perlage tickles the palate until its lingering, creamy finish. This blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco derive from the estate’s organically tended 25 vineyard parcels that range across Franciacorta; the grapes ferment in temperature-controlled stainless steel for about 12 days, and, using Champagne protocol, the wine ages in stainless steel for six months, followed by eighteen to thirty months of bottle aging.
Producer Notes: The wine producing region of Franciacorta is a result of glacial action that has taken place over the last several thousand years. Rolling green foothills and bedrock of limestone and gravel remain home to one of the fastest growing Italian wine regions in Northern Italy. Unquestionably best known for the method champenoise wines, Franciacorta is produced using Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero fruit. Unlike most other Italian sparklers, Franciacorta undergoes carbonic fermentation in bottle. This process contributes to smaller, more plentiful bubbles and a more subtle taste. According to Italian wine law, Franciacorta must be aged for at least 18 months—vintage Franciacorta for 30 months. Barone Pizzini is the result of an Italian serviceman’s fortitude who was dedicated to the development of Northern Italy as a quality wine producing region. Founded in 1870 the estate remains one of the oldest wineries in the region.
Antinori Cervaro della Sala Chardonnay 2016
Vintage Notes: Made in a Burgundian style that is reminiscent of a traditional Meursault, the ’16 Cervaro marries intense aromatics with a nicely full-bodied palate that’s studded with salty minerals. 2016 saw a cool growing year marked by a warm summer, and this wine reflects its vintage in its classic, elegant lines and its oscillation between sweet, ripe fruits and spicy, savory notes. White wildflowers, warm baking spices, orange zest and caramel frame the wine’s juicy orchard and succulent stone fruits; these flavors echo on the palate whose vibrant acidity propels a lingering, mineral-inflected finish. A blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Grechetto, grapes vinify separately; wine remains on the less for five months in oak barrels, after which it is racked, blended and bottled, resting for ten months in the cellar before release. Sporting soils of clay, volcanic sediment and Pliocene fossils, the rolling land at Castello della Sala imparts a mineral inflection to its long-aging, world-class white.
Producer Notes: While the world-famous Antinori estate is headquartered in the heart of Chianti Classico, the ancient winemaking family has long had roots in Umbria. Antinori founded its Umbrian estate, Castello della Sala, located where Umbria abuts Toscana in the northwest corner of Orvieto in 1985, although the extended family had bought buying the land in 1940. These 1,300 acres (about 400 under vine) are under the guidance of Marchese Piero Antinori, his three daughters, and renowned enologist Renzo Cotarella, an Umbrian native. Sporting soils of clay, volcanic sediment and Pliocene fossils, the rolling land at Castello della Sala, named after its beautiful medieval fortress, grows several indigenous grapes, particularly Procanico and Grechetto, as well as some international varietals, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. One of the finest Italian Chardonnays, Cervaro della Sala, comes from this Italian estate, as do very compelling bottlings of Orvieto (bottled as San Giovanni della Sala), Pinot Nero, and Muffato della Sala, a world-class dessert wine.
Paolo Bea Sagrantino Secco Vigneto Cerrete 2010
Vintage Notes: Bea debuted its Sagrantino Secco Vigneto Cerrete with the 2007 vintage, and the estate crafts this lush, complex and terroir-driven wine only in the best vintages. The 2010 is an explosive yet nuanced big red, layering its brambly red and brooding blue fruits with tarry earth, potpourri, pencil lead, exotic spices, and telltale Bea terroir. The wine’s transparent Sagrantino fruit seamlessly marries with its chewy, polished tannins, while savory minerals provide a seductive counterweight. Structured and glorious, this wine will drink for decades. Grapes derive from the estate’s high altitude Cerrete vineyard and ferment for about 45 days; the wine ages for a year in stainless steel, two years in botti, and a year in bottle before release. About 1,500 cases made.
Producer Notes: Situated in the heart of Umbrian wine country, Paolo Bea is the quintessential artisanal producer. Bea’s credo is “Nature should be observed, listened to and integrated, not dominated. Wine is not made by man but generated by nature!” An estate founded more than 400 years ago, family owned-and-operated Paolo Bea dedicates itself to indigenous Umbrian grapes–Grechetto, Malvasia, Gargenega and Trebbiano for its whites, and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Sagrantino for its reds. A guiding force in Vini Veri, or in English the “True Wine Group”, Italy’s natural wine consortium, the estate nurtures its grapes with organic, non-interventionist agriculture, and it continues that reliance on nature in the cellar, crafting its wines without temperature control and without any additives, additional yeasts, fining or filtration. Bea purposefully keeps its production low–so low that demand for its exceptional reds and outrageous whites always exceed supply.
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna Del Sorbo 1998
Vintage Notes: Upon release, this cru Chianti Classico Riserva was praised for its generous fruit, open-knit profile, and alluring aromatics. Now with two decades of maturity, Fontodi’s ’98 Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna Del Sorbo is truly hitting its stride, revealing tertiary notes of mushroom, tar and tea that underscore its remarkably vibrant red and blue fruits, warm earth, black licorice, and cigar wrapper. Exquisitely balanced and extremely elegant, this Chianti Classico Riserva shows a Burgundian profile to the wine; it’s structured yet nuanced, wrapping the palate with a symphony of textures and flavors as it glides to a lingering finish. Sourced from the southwest facing Vigna del Sorbo vineyards, Fontodi adds about 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to its Sangiovese to make this Chianti Classico Riserva.
Producer Notes: Tenuta Fontodi is Chianti’s class act: Her renowned crus are the Super Tuscan Flaccianello and the Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon favorite Vigna del Sorbo, while her Chianti Classico is unflinchingly reliable. Winemaking in the timeless land of Chianti Classico dates back to the 8th century, and the term “Chianti” was applied to wine as far back as 1398: Tenuta Fontodi is one of many existing estates that can trace their lineage back to these historic times. Fontodi is an all-time favorite of IWM and any Tuscan wine enthusiast.
Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala 2013
Vintage Notes: Layered and complex, the ’13 Barolo Cicala embraces its opposites. Succulent red and blue fruits find their complements in savory minerals; elegant, chewy tannins are matched with substantial alcohol and copious dry extract; and vibrant acidity marries with a sweet fruits. Licorice, blue flowers, truffles, crushed river rocks and herbs frame the fruits on this wine, propel its inner perfume, and linger on its sustained, intricate finish. The second “cru” from Bussia Soprana, Cicala is the most fruit-driven, but also the most tannic and most age-worthy of the estate’s trio of single-vineyard Barolos. Deriving from vines between 40-45 years old grown in soils that are a mix of clay and limestone, this wine spends 28 months in Slavonian oak casks before bottling. Let this Barolo cellar for a couple of years before drinking it for a decade or two.
Producer Notes: Aldo Conterno is known as the “King of Barolo” in Italy. Poderi Aldo Conterno is situated in Monforte d’Alba on the prized Bussia Soprano vineyard, in the heart of the Barolo region. The Conterno family has been producing and aging the great Piemontese wines for more than five generations. Aldo left his legendary brother at his father’s cellar (the Giacomo Conterno estate) in 1969 to pursue his own winemaking interests and reputation, creating the wines of Poderi Aldo Conterno in the “Favot” cellar. The estate exclusively vinifies its own 25 hectacres of grapes.
Valdicava Brunello de Montalcino 2013
Vintage Notes: Vibrant, structured, and luminous, the ’13 Brunello from Valdicava is destined to become a hotly coveted vintage of this collector wine. Layering its pure red and blue fruits over a framework of telltale Montalcino terroir, this wine unfurls on the palate with silkiness, exquisite balance, and sheer sophistication–it’s a Brunello to buy by the case so that you can enjoy it for decades to come. Vincenzo Abbruzzese, owner and operator of Valdicava, works passionately, growing his grapes without pesticides, coaxing very high quality, very low yielding berries from his vines, which he then vinifies very traditionally with minimal use of barriques and almost entirely in large neutral oak botti.
Producer Notes: In his youth Vincenzo Abbruzzese spent summers working at Valdicava, his grandparents’ winery in northern Montalcino. His grandmother bought these gentle slopes in 1953 and with her husband planted the first vines here. However, her son left home for Siena, where Vincenzo was born and raised. Abbruzzese cultivated an avid interest in science and chose an engineering track when he began his university studies in Florence. Graduation was finally approaching in 1987 when his grandfather announced the intention to sell Valdicava; Vincenzo’s eyes opened to a new future, and when he left Florence for Montalcino he did not look back. Abbruzzese was well aware of the challenges that faced him. The property was pleading for drastic improvements and the young man had hardly any capital of his own; but he was a dedicated worker and promptly began a series of improvements that would shape Valdicava into the top quality winery he envisioned. Vincenzo’s systematic changes have earned Valdicava a place among the elite producers of Brunello di Montalcino. With just 10 hectares in the coldest part of the Brunello zone, he is probably the most exacting grower in the area, managing vegetation so that each grape will enjoy the perfect amount of sun and mercilessly expunging tightly packed grapes to avoid rot and diseases. He has also rebuilt the cellar, where he replaced his grandparents’ botti with stainless steel and oak fermenters and new wood casks for ageing. Abbruzzese’s Brunello and Brunello Riserva are truly outstanding, while the Rosso di Montalcino is one of the best available; and all of his bottlings consistently demonstrate richness and excellent structure.
Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi 2008
Vintage Notes: Rich, textured, racy and complex, the ’08 Rosso del Bepi wafts from the glass with an explosion of berries, cherries, and figs, all complemented by incense, tobacco, cigar wrapper, umami and earth. This is an intense, hedonistic wine that earns the Quintarelli name–in fact, it’s so good, we don’t quite understand why the estate chose to declassify its ’08 Amarone and bottle the Rosso del Bepi instead! Silky, layered, mineral-laden and nicely weighty, this wine glides across the palate with the brocade-like texture that has made Quintarelli’s Amarone so beloved. A blend of 55% Corvina and Corvinone, 30% Rondinella, and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, Croatina, and Sangiovese, the grapes for this wine ferment with natural yeasts for 45 days, and the wine ages in oak barrels for about seven years before bottling. Quintarelli produced its rare and delicious Rosso del Bepi in only five previous vintages: 1994, 1996 1999, 2002, and 2005.
Producer Notes: Known as “the Master of the Veneto,” Quintarelli makes some of the world’s most sought-after wines, and their releases always create commensurate fervor. Quintarelli’s limited production Amarones, Reciotos, and Valpolicellas are the benchmark for excellence. Their greatness stems from the inherent quality of the terroir and the natural talent of this master, whose concept of vintage standards and strict grape selection rivals the great Chateau of Sauternes. Quintarelli puts his wines on the market when he deems them ready, sometimes cellaring them for decades until the right moment arrives. True thinking wines that slow the pace and teach the drinker to be silent, Quintarelli’s wines are unlike any other in the world.
Any wine lover should visit Italian Wine Merchants, immediately. It’s a little slice of Italy’s wine offering as nearby as 16th Street.
All wine producer and tasting notes provided by IWM