Words with the Wine Guy

Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

Sommelier, educator, and World Wide Wine LLC founder John Cressman—also known as “The Wine Guy”—has built his career in food and wine over the past 25 years. A sommelier diplomat with the Association of Italian Sommeliers and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Cressman is lauded for his contributions to Italy’s wine industry. With a reverence and passion for the grape, John continues to import and distribute fine wines while also consulting, speaking, collecting, and educating about how to have fun drinking wine.

When you meet novice wine drinkers, what advice do you have for them?

1) Drink what you like. 2) Experiment with as many wines as you can, to learn what makes you say, “Wow, I really like the taste of that.” 3) Expensive wines are not always the best. 4) Be an adventurer, try different things, and don’t be afraid to say “That’s not for me.” 5) Ask your server, sommelier, or wine sales person for advice or guidance with a wine list, or recommendations for food and wine pairings. Don’t be intimidated. Have fun!

What makes Italian wines unique or especially appealing to you?

Italy is home to the oldest wine producing regions in the world. With 20 very different regions from Friuli to Sicily and Tuscany to Puglia, different soils, climates, and indigenous grapes make all the difference. Today, there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation in Italy, representing one third of the global production. As an importer/distributor of Italian wines, I learn and experience something new on every trip to Italy.

What appeals to me about Italian wine is the heart and soul that Italian farmers and winemakers put into growing their grapes. I also appreciate that it’s a family affair. Most producers include grandpa, father, and son, with calloused purple-stained hands and big smiles, working side-by-side with a common goal: to make wines that taste good, feel good in your mouth, are exciting, and are full of character and soul—and of course, pair well with foods of their region.

This time of year, what types of wines do you gravitate toward?

When it’s cold outside, I often choose to drink big red wines. I find myself gravitating toward Chianti Classico Riserva, Barbaresco, Barolo, Amarone—and of course Brunello di Montalcino. I can’t slight Italy’s “winter whites,” either, although I enjoy them all year: Arneis (the “white Barolo” in Piemonte) as well as some nicely aged Gavi di Gavi or a special Soave Superiore like Fasoli Gino’s Pieve Vecchia made from 100-percent Garganega grapes. All of these wines can be enjoyed winter through spring.

What types of food and wine pairings do you think work especially well this time of year?

Italy strives to showcase its seasonal dishes alongside its wines. This is the time of year for comfort food and wine, and gnocchi is the ultimate Italian comfort food. These traditional potato dumplings are simple, easy to prepare, and can be made in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Enjoy them dressed in a myriad of sauces and gravies, from light vegetable sautés to hearty meat ragùs. I like Strangolapreti Gnocchi with mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano, paired with a 2005 Massimo Rivetti Barbaresco “Froi” D.O.C.G. Prefer a pasta? I love Pappardelle con Cinghiale (wide, flat pasta smothered in wild boar ragù). The 2008 Podere Le Ripi “Amore e Magia” Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C.G., aged for 34 months in new French oak, makes a perfect companion for the wild boar ragù. And let’s not forget the meat! Rosticciana (slow-cooked, braised short ribs, served over a squash purée) is lovely with a 2009 single-vineyard Barolo “Bricco Ambrogio” from Lodali.

These dishes (and most of Cressman’s wines) can be found locally at PROSECCO and Piccolo Sogno Ristorante.


What wines are you particularly excited about in 2014?

One of the greatest things about my job is traveling to Italy to find new and exciting wines! All of the wines I import and distribute are produced by sustainable, biodynamic, and organic vineyards, most with a production of fewer than 10,000 bottles. Here are a few of my 2014 special selections:

2009 Barolo Lodali "Lorense." This is a 100-percent nebbiolo, single-vineyard with a 20-year aging potential. Big, bold, and beautiful don’t say enough about this wine. I can taste it just thinking about it.
2008 Sagrantino Cru “Vitruvio” and 2010 Montelfalco Rosso. With special thanks to my dear friend, Italian food and wine writer/publisher Bruno Petronilli from Perugia, who guided me to this outstanding umbrian producer, Briziarelli.
2009 Tegolaro Rosso Tegolaro Rosso and 2011 Oscano. Keep an eye out for these jewels from a small family producer of umbrian Red wine blends, Carlo and Marco Carini.
2007 Massimo Rivetti "Duemilasette Brut Rose" V.S.Q. Metodo Classico. This is my sparkling star from Piemonte: a smooth blend of nebbiolo and Pinot noir. Their organic Barbera d’ Alba and single-vineyard Barbaresco also will not disappoint.

Finally, ring in spring with a glass of Frascati, a white wine from the heart of the Alban Hills south of Rome. Salute!