About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Spaghetti with Crab Sauce

One of my favorite pasta dishes is Spaghetti with fresh Crab Sauce.  When I was a kid I have fond memories of my grandmother making this with freshly caught crabs at the Jersey shore. She would cook the crabs in olive oil and garlic for about 30 minutes before she added the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  Then she would simmer the sauce for about 5 hours as I remember.  The sauce would absorb the fresh briny flavor of the crabs and when mixed with the Spaghetti, it was pure heaven.  We would dive in with lots of napkins at the ready to clean our hands as we pulled the crabs apart to suck out the little meat that they contained.

I have not had this dish in many, many years due to the fact that it is hard to find one that came remotely close to hers.  Fortunately my good friend Frank Di Giacomo, who shares my passion for the dish, orchestrated a Spaghetti with Crab Sauce dinner at Luce in Caldwell, NJ this past Wednesday evening.  Executive chef Michael Angelo, under the supervision of owner Joe Capasso, prepared a sauce my grandmother would have said “Bravo” to. The dish rekindled our memories for how good this dish can be when properly prepared.  The essence of the dish is the slow cooking process that allows for the briny crab flavors to permeate the sauce and eventually the Spaghetti.  It’s all about the sauce.  Eleven of us licked our fingers over and over as we dove into the dish with the gusto of someone who had not eaten in days.  Hats off to chef Michael and Joe for a spectacular job.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the terrific appetizers, served family style that preceded the dish.  Sorry, I did not take any photos here.

Eggplant Caponata; String Bean Salad; Seafood Salad and Italian Long Hot Peppers with Fried Potatoes preceded the Spaghetti.  Each dish was terrific, combining great flavors and textures.

An eclectic array of wines complemented the meal beautifully.

iL fauno di Arcanum Toscana 2007, a Super Tuscan blend (similar to a Bordeaux blend) of 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc.  The wine possessed an inky dark hue with a modern-styled toasty and oaky palate.  An hour or two of decanting would have helped the wine.  At about $25 a bottle, this is worth checking out, especially if you like Super Tuscan and Bordeaux blends.

Fisch Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.  Like the il Fauno, this had a deep inky hue.  On the palate I founded in more refined than what I am accustomed to with California Cabs.  It was not the massive, over extracted fruit bomb that often typifies these wines.  This was softer and had a scent of elegance on the palate and finish.  The wine bears the name of the Fisch family, owners of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace with three NJ Locations.  $20

Marchesi di Barolo Barolo 2006.  This bottle really surprised me.  I stopped drinking this producer’s wines a number of years back as I found them very inconsistent.  Happily, this bottle was another story.  2006 was a very good vintage in Barolo, with the wines being compared favorably to the glorious 1999 Vintage.  Tonight’s bottle, the entry level Barolo from the estate, was a modern-styled wine with soft tannins, balance, focus and a fair amount of finesse. $53.

Gavi dei Gavi La Scolca 2010.  Another wine that I have not had in quite a while.  Crafted from 100% Cortese grapes, the Soldati estate is the first producer of quality Gavi and ranks among the most historic white wine producers in Italy. This dry white wine is produced in a restricted area of the Province of Alessandria, Piedmont, close to the Ligurian border. The wine was awarded DOC status in 1974 and was made DOCG in 1998.

Although Cortese had been planted in the region since the late 19th Century, the grape produced low-alcohol, thin and sour wines that quickly oxidized. Consequently, the production was mostly purchased by Cinzano and Martini & Rossi as a base for their sparkling wines. It was the Soldati family, who after the Second World War saved the fate of Cortese from oblivion by focusing entirely on the production of quality Cortese, in a region traditionally known for its reds. They pioneered modern, controlled vinification in stainless steel to preserve the subtle fruit of the Cortese grape, allowing for the creation of wines that retained crisp acidity and aromas and gained structure. 

Tonight’s bottle was as I remembered it, medium-bodied, crisp and clean palate with ample acidity to extended aging.   $46.

Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Mon Aieul 2007, from magnum.  2007 was a spectacular vintage for Chateauneuf du Pape, and this bottle confirmed that in spades. It had a great sense of place, impeccable balance and purity on the palate.  It finished with considerable length and elegance.  Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, it is a wine built for aging and will last for at least another decade.  $400+

A great evening.  Thanks Frankie, Joe and Michael!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aged Red Burgundy

Our monthly wine group returned once again this week to the The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ. for this month’s tasting.  Howard was responsible for the wine and he selected aged red Burgundy Crus for the evening.  He selections, which included one Premier Cru and 4 Grand Crus provided for a most enjoyable tasting.
I am a big collector of both red and white Burgundy.  I find the wines to be very feminine and elegant in style and simply delicious to drink.  Since there are only two grapes in Burgundy, Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white, it would seem that the region would be simple to understand.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  The various plots of vineyards and their location (the terroir) make an enormous difference, both in the quality of the wine and its price.  A matter of a few feet in a vineyard can make a huge difference in both. Along with grape selection, they also determine which of the four possible classifications the wine falls into.

The top appellation in Burgundy is Grand Cru. These vineyards were established and documented by monks centuries ago, and formally recognized in 1861. The combinations of soil, exposure, rain, wind and sun provide exceptional terroir. Only 33 vineyards in Burgundy have this designation. 32 of these vineyards are located in the Cote d’Or, the remaining Grand Cru vineyard is found in Chablis. Of these prestigious vineyards, 24 grow Pinot Noir grapes, and 9 grow Chardonnay grapes.

Grand Cru wines produced by these grapes account for less than 2% of the wine production from Burgundy each year, making these wines rare, highly sought after, and expensive.  Only the name of the vineyard appears on a bottle of Grand Cru wine.  Grand Cru wines command the highest market price.  Rarely will you find a Grand Cru Burgundy for less than 3 figures, and in exceptional vintages 4 figures is quite common.

The Premier Cru appellation identifies single vineyards that have terroirs with the potential for exceptional wines. These vineyards were also established and documented by the monks who, for centuries, made wine from the grapes grown in them. They were officially designed as such in 1935 when the present day AOC system was created.

Widely misunderstood as a measure of quality, the AOC laws are really a guarantee of authenticity. In other words, they ensure that the wine in the bottle actually comes from the place stated on the label, and adheres to a set of winemaking regulations. Often, the best Premier Crus can equal the quality of Grand Crus at a much lesser cost.  Premier Crus account for about 11% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Village wines are produced by grapes grown around the name of the village identified on the label. Village wines are blended from grapes grown in multiple vineyards. While these vineyards do not have the terroir of either the Grand or Premier Cru appellations, and are not as likely to produce grapes that make exceptional wine, the wines are recognized as of consistently superior quality, and are very affordable, usually in the $25 to $40 price range.  There are 44 village (or communal) appellations in Burgundy. These village wines account for 34% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Regional wines (Bourgogne) are made from blends of grapes grown in vineyards within the Burgundy region.  A regional wine can be named after the region that it comes from, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes–Côtes de Nuits. Often these wines are simply labeled Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge and offer amazing value, usually in the $20 to $30 price range.  There are 22 Regional appellations that produce 52% of Burgundy’s total annual production.

Howard’s selections for the evening:

1988 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay “Champans” Grand Cru.  The Rare Wine Co. comments on Volnay thusly, “Nothing demonstrates red Burgundy’s magic like great Volnay, with its enveloping aromatic complexity, silky texture and tremendous aging potential”. Champans is a Premier Cru climat of the Volnay appellation in the Cote de Beaune which yields impressive wines.  This bottle had a pronounced and pleasant barnyard bouquet on the nose and palate. However, the lush fruit typical of Volnay wines never showed up.  I kept wine in the glass throughout the dinner hoping the fruit would appear, but alas in never did. The 2011 vintage is available at around $120. Wine Searcher.

1999 Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos De Beze Grand Cru.  The wines of Domaine Faiveley are widely recognized for being among the finest produced in Burgundy.  Tonight’s bottle lived up to that recognition.  It drank very well, beginning with an enticing bouquet; vibrant fruit, balance, complexity, finesse and an elegant finish.  A good example of Grand Cru Burgundy at its best. $250. NY Wine Warehouse.

1991 Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  Another classy wine from this producer.  Soft tannins and loads of “terroir” enticed the palate with each sip.  Finish was long and elegant.  I felt that this was the wine that drank the best on this night, as well has having the longest future ahead of it.  A great wine that will be very hard to find.  The 2010 vintage however at $230 is available at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1989 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  A new producer for me.  The wine was quite nice with rich, ripe fruit and good focus on the palate.  It lacked however the depth and finesse of the previous wine.  This vintage does not appear to be available, but the 2010 vintage at $168 is available. Wine Searcher

1985 Thomas Freres Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru.  Another new producer for me.  This wine from the famous and highly regarded Grands-Echezeaux climat unfortunately was oxidized and really not drinkable.

Great wines are always enhanced by great food, and I am happy to report that tonight’s meal was outstanding.  We thoroughly enjoyed:

Tortelloni w/ potato, mortadella, parsley, black truffle, parmesan
Niman Ranch Pork, Fingerling Potatoes, broccoli rabe, artichoke, parmesan, vinegar peppers
Veal Scallopine, Anson mills polenta, wax beans, osso bucco, tomato soffrito, escarole

Not pictured, but also very much enjoyed was Pappardelle with wild mushrooms, escarole, chicken oysters, rosemary, fontina cream and Risotto with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, parsley, lemon aioli.

Thanks again Howard for a wonderful evening with older Burgundy Crus.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sette Cucina Italiana

A couple of weeks back I had a fantastic lunch at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville, NJ.  I really wish this place was closer to my home in North Caldwell, because the food is amongst the best in New Jersey, or anywhere for that matter.  Chris Cree, owner of 56º Wine (around the corner) introduced me to this gem at a wine tasting he hosted a couple of years back.  On this occasion, we lunched with Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Pastor of Notre Dame Church, in North Caldwell to discuss the annual Notre Dame wine dinner fundraiser.

I would describe the food of chef/owner Allan Philip Russo (check out his bio on his website) as refined and elegant Italian peasant food.  Every dish I have ever had here has been a combination of fresh ingredients in harmonious balance that create fantastic flavors and textures on the palate.  On this occasion, we put ourselves in his hands regarding the menu.  He did not disappoint us.

Many Italian restaurants start their diners of with a complimentary platter of Bruschetta, sort of a tomato and onion salad atop toasted Italian Crostini.  It is a starter I routinely pass on as it is usually devoid of flavor.  The version served today may well have been the finest example of the dish I have yet to taste.  It is hard to improve on a fresh NJ summer tomato…that is unless chef Russo uses it for his Bruschetta.  Perfectly seasoned and dressed, I found myself wishing more would materialize on the plate.  He followed this with a delicious Antipasto of fresh Burrata, Prosciuto di Parma, grilled Zuccchini & Roasted Peppers bathed in a delicious extra-virgin olive oil.  I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photos.

We sipped a delicious bottle of 2012 Venica Ronco delle Mele Collio Sauvignon that Chris brought along.  13.5% alcohol and crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc it was a great complement to the Bruschetta and Antipasto with its focused crisp acidity, stony minerality and beautiful balance.  While this was a new producer for me, the white wines from the Collio in Friuli are amongst some of the best whites I have tasted and this bottle underscored that claim.  The grapes are macerated (crushed) for the last 12 hours at low temperature then pressed under CO2 to prevent oxidation. 20% of the juice is fermented in big French oak casks (27 hl) and aged there for 6 months. "Batonage" (stirring the wine with a metal rod) once a week for two months improves the body.  $42.50.  56º Wine.

Our antipasto plates were replaced with an appetizer portion of Ricotta Stuffed Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato Sauce.  Light as a feather, these soft pillows were deftly stuffed with fresh Ricotta Cheese, topped with barely cooked cherry tomatoes and served atop a light and ethereal tomato sauce.  It was outrageously good and a dish that would be hard to beat…or so I thought, until the main course arrived.

Keeping with the fresh tomato theme, Chef Russo presented us with Pan Fried Bronzino with diced fresh tomatoes as our entrée.  This dish is testimony to my earlier statement about his food being “refined and elegant Italian peasant food”.  The fish was PERFECTLY, cooked to a tender and moist interior, while the skin provided a magnificent crisp texture to each bite.  The addition of olives and fresh cherry tomatoes added symphonic harmony to each forkful.  Simply magnificent.

Chris choose one of my favorite wines from Northern Piedmont to drink with the Gnocchi and Bronzino, a 2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine reminds me of a young Villages Burgundy in its color, feminine palate, freshness and elegance. It possesses terrific balance and complexity.  Open the wine at least an hour before drinking and you will be amply rewarded. The superb acidity of the wine should enable it to drink well for another 10 years at least.  At $28, this offers great QPR.  $28. 56º Wine.

Fresh made Chocolate Covered Profiteroles with Espresso rounded out the perfect lunch. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Killer BBQ

Francesco, Jack, Anna & Zod with the Foie Gras
I have a number of “wine” friends who love nothing more than to share great wine with one another, especially when it is paired with terrific food. Thus when Carol and I were invited by friends Jack and Anna to their historic residence, The Bond Force House, a couple of weeks ago for what Jack called a “Killer BBQ”, we happily accepted.  We were all asked to bring “killer wines” to complement the food that was being prepared two of NJ’s top chefs, Zod Arifa, chef/owner of Blu and Next Door in Montclair and Francesco Palmieri, chef/owner of The Orange Squirrel in Bloomfield.  No one disappointed. The weather forecast was for rain all day, but I guess the big guy upstairs had second thoughts about “raining on this parade”.  I can only hope this post does justice to the event.  Please check out the links to Blu and the Orange Squirrel to learn more about the chefs and their cuisine. They did a remarkable job.

Jack, Zod and Francesco did a great job in pairing the menu to the wines that were brought. With the exception of an over-eager Bordeaux fan who poured the 1990 Chateau Montrose and 1988 Chateau Grand Vin de Leoville St Julien prior to dinner, the menu and wines followed the chefs pairing order.  I have never been a fan of Bordeaux.  Having said that the 1990 Montrose, which I have had on a few occasions, is a gorgeous wine.  Tonight was no exception. It had a compelling earthy bouquet with vibrant fruit.  Rich and lush on the palate, it finished with considerable length and elegance.  I did not taste the Leoville.

We began the meal with a magnum of 2010 Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Clisson. The bracing acidity and magnificent stony elegance of the wine, in my opinion, was the perfect match to oysters, which chef Francesco prepared, grilled with Spinach Foam and Pancetta dust.  This wine, made from the Melon Bourgogne grape primarily found in the Loire Valley of France also paired beautifully the Spiced Asian Inspired Duck Wings chef Zod also prepared. While I am not a big fan of duck, these were sensational.  Like potato chips I could not stop eating them.

Tender and citrusy Grilled Fresh Jumbo Florida Shrimp were paired with a magnum of 2002 Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques.  This outstanding red Burgundy worked really well with the shrimp.  The wine had a wonderful sense of place on the nose and palate, and possessed impeccable balance and complexity and finished with satiny elegance. A superb wine!

Grilled whole lobsters followed the shrimp and were paired with a magnum of 1995 Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame Champagne.  The wine possessed a toasty nose, with a full-bodied palate of bright acidity and elegant bubbles.  A very nice Champagne on the palate, the finish was a bit short however, in my opinion.

Roasted Foie Gras with Apricots in a Bas Armagnac reduction came next.  This was simply sensational.  I don’t think there is anything more delicious or decadent than Foie Gras.  The chefs really showed their stuff here.  It was a mouth-watering dish.  It was paired with a magnum of 1990 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes.  Considered by many as the finest dessert wine and possibly the finest wine in the world (it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite), I have never been of the same mind.  While I have always enjoyed the fruit and viscosity of the wine, the finish is too often medicinal in my opinion.  Well, that was not the case with the 1990.  A gorgeous aroma of coconuts, pineapples and apricots soared form the glass, danced on the tongue and finished with nary a hint of medicine.  Instead the finish was pure pleasure with its alluring viscosity, finesse and length.  One the best d’Yquem’s I have ever had. 

The final BBQ item was 28-day Dry-aged Prime Ribeye.  As I am not a big steak guy, and still licking my chops from the amazing Foie Gras before it, I passed on this course.  The rest of the group eagerly dove into it however.  I did however sample the wines, all from large format, that were poured with the course, beginning with a 5 liter 1989 Gaja Sperss and a 3 liter 1988 Gaja Sperss.  Angelo Gaja is known for his Barbarescos and follows a more modern approach to wine making. That style was evident in these two wines, both of which are Barolo. As he does with his Barabarescos he adds about 5% Barbera to the wine.  Of the two, the 1989 I felt was clearly the better wine.  From a classic vintage, the wine was full of lush fruit, soft tannins and a lengthy finish.  The 1988, which was the first year Gaja made Barolo, was, in my opinion, a step or two behind the 1989.  The wine drank well, but seemed to lack the finesse and focus of the ‘89.

A magnum of 1999 Aldo Conterno Granbussia Riserva was next poured and it was fantastic. The wine is only made in years when all there of his vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results.  This is classic old world Barolo.  It displayed a huge earthy nose with an elegant and refined palate.  A wine with soul!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic condiments served with the meal.  Roasted Asparagus and Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Harlequin Caps, Grilled Corn and Grilled Potatoes.

The last wine poured with this course there was a magnum of 2005 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino.  For me, this along with the d’Yquem, Mortet and Conterno were the wines that drank the best on this day.  It possessed pristine fruit, balance, focus and complexity.  The tannins were soft and elegant and the wine had a monster finish.  Another wine with soul.

A wonderful assortment of delicious cheeses was up next as were a couple of bottles of 1982 Chateau Margaux. Margaux is one of the first growth wines of Bordeaux, and 1982 is considered one of its classic vintages.  Alas, I am not a fan of this style of wine.  I took only a small sip, so I will refrain from commenting.  The general consensus however was that the 1990 Chateau Montrose at the beginning of the meal was far and away the better wine.

Citrus parfait with Grilled Peaches completed the BBQ.  This refreshing dessert was paired with a superb bottle (magnum) of 2005 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes.  Like the d’Yquem before it, this possessed glorious hints of pineapples, peaches and a touch of vanilla on the palate and a rich, lengthy and viscous finish.

Not your ordinary BBQ by any means.  Thanks Jack and Anna for a great day and kudos once again to Chefs Zod and Francesco for a magnificent meal.  


Friday, July 25, 2014

Quintessential Quintarelli

It had been a couple of months since our wine group met for dinner.  We rectified that last evening with a delightful dinner and some spectacular wines at one of our favorite stops, The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ.  The wine service, under the direction of Wine Director Brian Hider, is always superb.  Brian maintains one of the best and most reasonably priced wine cellars of any restaurant in New Jersey.  He is also accommodating to wine groups such as ours by allowing us to bring in our own wines for these type dinners.  Brian we all thank you once again.

It was Emil's  turn to provide the wine, and boy did he do it in spades with five bottles of wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli.  There is a reason the photo on the right side of this page is of me with Quintarelli.  In my opinion his wines are simply in a class by themselves.  They are my “dessert island” wines.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Quintarelli estate and meeting the man himself in March of 2007 along with three wine loving friends. It remains one of my fondest wine memories. I was in awe of the humble and gentle nature of the man and the simplicity of his estate. He set his standards very high and rigidly adhered to them and as a result all of the wines he put his name on provide an incredible wine tasting experience. He was emphatic about the art of wine and that it cannot be manufactured in a lab. He was quoted as saying, “The fundamental problem in wine today is that too many producers ‘hurry’ to make their wines: they hurry the fruit in the vineyard and they hurry the vinification and rush to bottle. They rush to sell their product without allowing it the proper time to age. Patience – this is the most important attribute in winemaking. Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.” This is the essence of Quintarelli. While there was concern about the estate after he passed away in January of 2012, the estate is back on track and in what appears to be the very capable hands of his grandson Francesco.

The wines of Quintarelli do not come cheaply, but then very few things of exceptional quality do. Drinking these wines is always an experience, and for someone trying them for the first time, it may very well seem like a life changing experience, at least as it relates to wine.  Every wine they make is impeccably balanced and focused.  They are completely round and delicious.

2011 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco Veronese.  The only white wine Quintarelli makes, it is an artful blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect).  The wine leaped from the glass with an enticing floral bouquet and a brisk and round palate.  Like all Quintarelli wines, it continued to evolve in the glass and it finished with considerable length.  $48.  Wine Searcher.

1994 Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo Rosso.  Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (or house of the blackbird) relies upon the same varietal composition as the Valpolicella (Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella) made through the ripasso method. One difference is the Ca’ del Merlo is aged longer in large wood vessels and comes from a hilltop single vineyard. While balanced, complex and pure on the palate, the fruit has begun to wane.  In my opinion it is time to drink this up.

2002 Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi.  This wine is only made in vintages when Giuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price.  It is an amazing wine, lacking only some of the richness one finds in his Amarone.  This bottle was outstanding with a gorgeous earthy bouquet that flowed from the glass energizing the senses to what you were about to taste.  On the palate it displayed that impeccable balance of alcohol and pure fruit that is the trademark of Quintarelli wines.  Its 45 second finish left me smacking my lips.  Truly a wine with soul!  $190.  Wine Searcher.

2003 Quintarelli Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico.  While I have this vintage in my cellar, this was my first taste of the wine.  It was classic Quintarelli Amarone.  The fruit soared from the glass with great finesse and focus.  It is very hard to describe these wines other than to say they are delicious and an unbelievable wine drinking experience. In my opinion the Quintarelli Amarone, both the classico and riserva, set the standard for this type of wine. $340.  Wine Searcher.

2001 Quintarelli Alzero.  Made from predominantly Cabernet Franc in the “Amarone” style, this is quite simply one of the greatest wine accomplishments of the world.  I have been fortunate to taste a number of vintages of the wine, and each one leaves me breathless as this one did tonight.  It is impossible to describe the magnificence of this wine.  Each sip evolves and soars from the glass and then dances on the palate before finishing with ridiculous length and elegance.  It must be tasted to appreciate it.  I guarantee that one sip will dazzle your senses.  The only negative is the $400+ price tag.   Wine Searcher.

Thank you again Emil for your generosity in bringing these remarkable wines to dinner.  It was a most memorable evening.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Las Vegas Food & Wine

Just returned from a week in Vegas where, along with my two son-in-laws, we played in the WSOP (world series of poker).  It was quite an experience.  6800+ entrants registered for the event. It is a long and grueling event, with each day consisting of five, two-hour levels of poker. While we did not reach the “money”, for our first time we did quite well.  The boys made it to day two, while I managed to last until day three before being eliminated.

While we were playing in the event at the Rio Hotel and Casino,  my wife and daughter and her two children (grandchildren), Mia and Nicholas, enjoyed the pool at the Bellagio Hotel.  We all had a terrific time, especially Mia and Nicholas.  The food was quite good, although the wine lists at most of the restaurants at the Bellagio left a bit to be desired.

Todd English’s Olive’s – Bellagio Hotel
Foie Gras
Chilean Sea Bass
Before opening his first Olive’s in Charlestown, Mass. in 1989, Todd English was the chef at Michela's in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I used to travel to Boston quite a bit in the 1980’s and whenever I did I would go to Michela’s.  The food was superb traditional Italian fare.  I still remember my first experience at Olive’s in Charlestown. I had one of those memorable meals that forever stays with you, homemade Papparadelle with rabbit meatballs.    They may well have been the best meatballs I ever had. But that was a long time ago, so let’s fast forward to Olive’s in Vegas.   Our meal consisted of Foie Gras with fresh figs and port wine reduction, Chilean Sea Bass over Creamy Risotto and Brick Roasted Free Range Chicken.  While all were very good, they were not quite up to the food I remember from Michela’s or the original Olive’s.  The children's spaghetti with tomato sauce however was very good and was quickly devoured by both Mia and Nicholas.

As I mentioned earlier, the wine lists here were on the weak side.  I was however pleasantly surprised with a bottle of 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from E. Guigal.  This entry level CdP Is made from purchased juice and is aged two years in foudre prior to release.  It is usually made from 90% old vine Grenache and 10% Mourvedre.  This medium-bodied wine possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue and ripe fruit.  It had excellent balance, a bit of complexity and a rather lengthy finish.  $55.  Wine Searcher.

Michael Mina – Bellagio Hotel
On Tuesday evening (WSOP day off) after we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” at the Aria Hotel, Carol and I took our son-in-law Andy for a birthday dinner at Michael Mina, where we had a very enjoyable meal.  The restaurant also had the best wine list of the restaurants we ate at during our stay at the Bellagio.  I began with a glass of 2013 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio, DOC.  Terlano, a wine cooperative in Alto Adige, Italy makes some of the most amazing white wines I have ever tasted. This wine, like all of their wines, is produced from a manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, and aged on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.  It was crisp, clean with a bracing acidity and a terrific finish.  A great value at under $20 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

With dinner we enjoyed a terrific bottle of 2009 Domaine Des Comtes Lafon Volnay.  Made from young vines in Santenots, the fruit was glorious and danced on the palate before finishing with length and elegance.  $86.  Wine Searcher.  Our dinner choices included, Hamachi Sashimi, Ponzu Glaze, Yuzu Vinaigrette, Micro Shiso; Phyllo Crusted DoverSole, Crab Brandade; Colorado Rack of Lamb, Glazed Ricotta Gnudi, Tagine Vegetables, Lamb Jus and New York Strip Steak with Mashed Potatoes.  Each dish was prepared and presented with exceptional culinary skill.

Phyllo Crusted Dover Sole
Martorano’s – Rio Hotel
My son-in-law Nick and I were still alive on Wednesday, day two of the WSOP, which meant we would have a 90 minute dinner break at the Rio Hotel.   We decided to test the claim made by Steve Martorano, owner/chef of Martorano’s Restaurant, regarding his old-school Italian food and “the best meatball in town.  I must say I was impressed with my Spaghetti and Meatballs. The meatball (enormous in size) was moist, tender and very tasty.  It had the right balance of wet bread to meat making it very good indeed.  The spaghetti was cooked al dente and the tomato sauce was the real deal.  Nick opted for Eggplant Parmesan, every morsel of which he finished.  Since we were still playing poker, I opted for a single glass of a 2010 Dr. Loosen Riesling that I enjoyed very much.  It had a very good balance of alcohol and residual sugar. On the palate it was clean and focused.  An outstanding value at around $12 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

Fix – Bellagio Hotel
On Thursday evening we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio.  A very enjoyable show, although I enjoyed the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” a bit more.  After the show we all went to Fix next door for a light late night dinner.  The restaurant focuses on American classics such as Buffalo wings and Angus Beef Sliders, both of which went great with ice-cold beer.

Jasmine – Bellagio Hotel
Friday, our last evening in Vegas, found us at Jasmine where we had the highlight meal of the week.  This upscale Cantonese, Szechwan and Hunan restaurant offers a spectacular view to the famous Fountains Water Show at the Bellagio as well as some of the most authentic and delicious Chinese food I have ever tasted.  In combination with terrific wine and food service, we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

Hot and Sour Soup.  I believe it was Craig Claiborne who said the indication of a great Chinese restaurant is if they know how to make Hot and Sour Soup.  My experience over the years is consistent with Mr. Claiborne’s claim.  I am a fanatic for this spicy soup and the preparation at Jasmine was equal to any I have had before, a perfect balance of spices and heat.  I knew after just one spoonful that we were in store for a great meal.

My family loves Vegetable Spring Rolls.  Those served at Jasmine, (no photo) were greaseless, crunchy and exuding flavor.  They were served with a Sweet Hawthorn Berry Sauce.  A double order was quickly gone.

Mia and Nicholas thoroughly enjoyed their favorite Chinese dish, Chicken with Broccoli in a brown sauce.  While this was not a menu item, the restaurant quickly accommodated their wish for the dish.  Their dad happily dug into Wok Fried Prime Beef Filet with Black Pepper Sauce and Bok Choy.  A meat and potatoes guy, he did not leave a morsel on his plate.  Sorry no photos of either dish.

Additional main courses we enjoyed included scrumptious Crispy Walnut Prawns.  The giant prawns were prepared with a delicious and crispy coating and topped with Honey-Glazed Walnuts.  The dish was a combination of amazing flavors and textures.

A perfectly cooked Chilian Sea Bass with Shiitake mushrooms in a Ginger Soy and Far Dew Wine sauce.  An order of Vegetable LoMein complemented both dishes to perfection.

For our wine selections I put myself in the very capable hands of sommelier Sarah Pamatat. She did not dissapoint me, beginning with a bottle of 2012 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis. Made with no new oak, this was a light-bodied Chardonnay that was clean, bright, soft and refreshing on the palate.  At under $25 retail (Wine Searcher), the wine offers great value for Chardonnay drinkers.

This historic estate has been making wine from estate fruit and purchased fruit since 1880. Today, Drouhin follows biodynamic principles in the vineyards they own and organic farming is practiced throughout all Drouhin properties. The Moulin de Vaudon property is an 18th Century watermill straddling the Serein River, close to the Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis. Flowing gently past hillsides covered with vineyards, the river has always been closely identified with Chablis and its region.  Because of its unique location at the heart of their 38 hectare vineyard estate (95 acres), this historical mill is the headquarters of the Drouhin Domaine in Chablis. Starting with the vintage 2008, the name "Vaudon" will be associated with Joseph Drouhin for all its Chablis wines as a sign of the firm's allegiance to this historical terroir.  

For the red, Sarah recommend a bottle of 2010 Louis Jadot Pommard, red Burgundy.  Like her white recommendation this was wonderful.  A Villages level wine, it had terrific finesse and exhibited soft, silky fruit on the palate with a lengthy and round finish.  Like Drouhin, Jadot has been making wine since the 1800’s and their wines, both estate and negociant, are wonderful examples of classic Burgundy Pinot Noir.  At $50, also a terrific value for very good red Burgundy.  Wine Searcher.

Viva Las Vegas!!!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

American Chop Suey

As much as I enjoy gourmet cuisine, I have a weakness for “comfort food” like Meatloaf, Pot Roast and one of my all time favorites “American Chop Suey”.  Also known as “Skillet Macaroni and Beef” or “Chili Mac” the dish never fails to please with its simplicity, mélange of flavors and textures.  It was a popular item on diner menus in the 50’s and 60’s, often appearing as the "Blue Plate Special".  Today it appears to be a long forgotten item on these menus. Fortunately my wife Carol’s recipe is “as good as it gets” in my opinion and shows up routinely on our dinner table.  Her version is an adaptation of the recipe “Skillet Macaroni and Beef” from the cookbook, “Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers”.  Carol has a degree in Home Economics and according to her this cookbook goes back to the 1960’s (yes she still owns it). Our grandchildren have also become addicted to the dish, so since we were eating with our daughters and grandchildren on Monday night, she whipped up a big batch for us to enjoy.  Here is her recipe:

1½ lbs freshly ground beef
½ cup each of chopped red bell pepper and onion
2 - 8oz cans Hunt’s tomato sauce
1½ Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1-cup warm water
salt and pepper
1 heaping cup of elbow macaroni (uncooked)

Brown meat in a skillet (she uses no oil or butter).  Add the onion and pepper and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 1-cup warm water and 1 heaping cup of elbow macaroni and cook until elbows are al dente, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and, off the heat, top with shredded American cheese and serve.

I opened a bottle of 2010 Testalonga Bianco Vermentino Dolceacqua.  Made by Antonio Perrino in Liguria from 100% Vermintino grapes, it is a wine lover’s wine, i.e. is not a wine for everyone.  The wine sees extended skin contact, which imparts an almost funky, muted straw hue to the wine.   On the palate it is peppery and complex and seems to evolve forever in the glass as you drink it.  It was the perfect complement to the dish.  The girls preferred to finish the 2011 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco that I opened the day before.  Readers of this blog know of my adoration for the wines of Quintarelli, and this, his only white, is magnificent.  Made from Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin, it drank as well on day two as it did the previous day.

What’s better than being with the family, enjoying a home cooked “comfort” meal and drinking good wine?  Let us not forget the answer, NOTHING!