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.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beppe Rinaldi

A couple of weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure to once again participate in a Vinous Members wine tasting.  This group was more or less created by Tony a while back.   I was honored and delighted to be invited when the group was formed.  Tony, along with Eric Guido once again orchestrated the venue, I Trulli Ristorante, and the wine theme, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo.

In my opinion two of the finest wine makers in Italy (perhaps the world for that matter) are often referred to as “Beppe”; Giuseppe Quintarelli (Veneto) and Giuseppe Rinaldi (Piedmont). Both of these producers are at the very top of my “favorites” list.  Their wines are the ultimate expression of traditionally made wines that provide for memorable drinking experiences.

Beppe Rinaldi took over the winery after the death of his father Battista in 1992 and runs it today with his daughter Marta.  The only change he made was regarding the blending of the vineyards in the two Barolo his father made.  Eric Guido’s write up of this dinner includes an in depth history of the estate and I would encourage you to read it.  The Cellar Table at Morrell Bar & Café.

Since 2010 the Barolo Consortium’s ever changing wine label laws preclude producers from using more than one vineyard name on the label. The wines we drank tonight Brunate Le Coste and Cannubi San Lorenzo, have been replaced since 2010 with Brunate and Tre Tine. Eric’s write up explains this in detail.

Before settling down to the 5 Rinaldi flights Tony brought along a bottle of NV Jacques Selosse Initial Champagne that we all thoroughly enjoyed.  We drank this from large glasses to enjoy the yeasty bouquet and evolution this remarkable wine goes through as it sits in the glass.  In my opinion, Selosse is king when it comes to bubbly.  The only downside is the wines are highly allocated, thus hard to find and expensive.

Flight 1

1956 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo.  What a pleasant surprise this was.  If I had to guess the age of the wine by the color, I would have added at least 40 years to it as it possessed a surprisingly translucent red hue.  The bottle was brought along by Jamie Wolfe of Chamber Street Wines. Jamie, who is extremely knowledgeable about Nebbiolo, especially older vintages, informed us that up to 20% Barbera was added to the wine in 1956.  While the wine lacked the vibrancy of the younger vintages, it drank very well for its age.

1985 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Riserva.  Made by Giuseppe’s father the color of this wine was a bit cloudier than the 1985 and lacked the body and depth of the 1956.  While the wine was no slouch, I found it to be a few large steps behind the 1956.

1985 (left) - 1956 (right)
Flight 2

1993 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravera.  I had hoped for more from this, but alas that was not the case.  Not a bad wine, but compared to many of the others I felt it lacked depth and focus.

1997 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  In my opinion the 1997 Barolo vintage, once thought to be the vintage of the century, has long faded into the horizon.  This bottle did nothing to change that.  I had it at the bottom of the list.

1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  A vintage that seems to be overlooked by many, I have yet to be disappointed by any Barolo from the vintage.  The bouquet and palate were very youthful, the fruit was pure and balanced and it finished with considerable elegance. It was easily the best wine of the flight.

Flight 3

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Easily the wine of the night for me.  This was a completely round and delicious wine that is a beautiful example of how good Nebbiolo can be when made by a master. The wine is in perfect harmony with the terroir of Piedmont and just keeps evolving with each sip.  This will last for decades.  Decant for at least 3 hours to give it time to open up.  My only regret is that I have none of this in my cellar.

2000 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Another vintage that is often overlooked by many and one that I have enjoyed on a number of occasions. Tonight’s bottle was not up to previous bottles I have had, nor is it in the class of the other two in the flight, but I enjoyed every sip.

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  The pedigree of this wine is incredible. At the moment it offers up hints of the great wine lurking inside the bottle.  This is destined to be a blockbuster in another 5 years.

Flight 4

2003 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  2003 was a scorching hot year that produced wines of varying quality throughout the region.  Not so for Beppe.  This was an absolutely gorgeous surprise to all of us. It was incredibly alive with fresh fruit, focus, complexity and depth and a lengthy finish.  It is easily one of the best 2003 Barolos I have had…and I believe it will only get better with bottle age.

2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Like the 2001, the pedigree here is eminently evident.  It possessed a silky and harmonious palate with a gorgeous bouquet of fresh fruit and earth.  The finish is elegant and will lengthen with bottle aging.

2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi - San Lorenzo – Ravera.  Like Eric and Ken, I felt this bottle was really off.  Perhaps storage during shipping affected the wine.  I will know soon enough as I have 6 of these in my cellar.  I hope they fare better than this bottle did.

Flight 5

2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi - San Lorenzo – Ravera.  Very nice wine, but overshadowed by the BLC.

2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Simply gorgeous.  What I like to call a round and delicious wine (it has it all).  The wine was very much alive and soaring in the glass with each sip.  The long and elegant finish made me want another sip immediately.

2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  A great year for Barolo, and this offering is one of the reasons why.  Oh, what a wine.  It should be allowed at least 5 years in the cellar, but it is so delicious it is hard to keep your hands off it.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido

The opportunity to share and discuss wines of this caliber with friends of equal caliber is something I cherish more than all the wine in my cellar.  Of course nights like this have a tendency to entice one to add more wine to the cellar.  Thanks again to Anthony and Eric for making happen.  I look forward to our next dinner.

I did not take any pictures of food and attendees, but fret not I'm sure they will soon be available when Ken Vastola posts his notes at http://www.finewinegeek.com.  Be on the lookout for it.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Oh What a Night!

My previous post was about some incredible bottles of aged Nebbiolo wines.  This one moves to Pinot Noir and some incredible red Burgundies with lots of age on them.

Monday our wine group met at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville for our monthly dinner. Jeff was in the queue to provide the wine and so our collective anticipation was very high.  Jeff has been collecting wine longer than anyone in our group.  His cellar and knowledge, especially of Burgundy, is very deep.  His selections are always exciting as they were tonight.  He decided on wines from Burgundy with considerable age on them.  It was a multiple WOW evening.

Sette Cucina has become a regular stop for us.  We tell chef/owner Allan Philip Russo what wines we will be drinking and leave the menu in his hands.  He never fails to knock the ball out of the park.  Tonight’s menu:

Caponata Bruschetta

Buffula Mozzerella, Figs, Speck

Batter Fried Zucchini,  Bagna Cauda Piedmont fondue garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter

Nano Vallano Risotto, saffron, crumbled sausage, hint of truffle oil

Tagliatelle Bolognese

Grilled Australian Lamb


We began the evening with 1985 Jacquesson & Fils Signature Brut Champagne.  I have very little experienced with aged Champagne, but after this bottle I may have to change that.  This was a superb bubbly blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a yeasty and slight bacony (is there such a word) bouquet.  On the palate it displayed vibrant fruit and finished with length and elegance.  The wines are vinified in old oak casks.  We drank this in white wine glasses instead of Champagne Flutes which don’t allow the wine to evolve and show its stuff.

1996 Jacques Prieur Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru.  This prestigious domaine is alone in owning vines in each of the five most prestigious vineyards in Burgundy; Chambertin, Musigny, Clos Vouget, Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet.

Tonight the wine drank magnificently.  Not a hint of premature oxidation.  It possessed a wonderful and what I would call mature bouquet that heightened expectations that were fulfilled with the first sip.  The palate was deep, rich, and complex with harmonious acidity and minerality.  The finish was long and elegant.   One of the best Montrachet’s I have ever tasted.  

For the reds, Jeff brought along three Volnays, two from the same vineyard with a gap of 42 years between youngest and oldest. The commune of Volnay is in Côte de Beaune of Burgundy. There are no Grand Cru vineyards within Volnay, but several highly regarded Premier Cru vineyards such as the three we drank.  As Jeff explained, "all the wines were tasting correct for the Volnay terroir and very similar.  This is why in Burgundy people always talk first about the terroir and second the winemaker."

1979 Michel Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chenes 1er Cru.  The wine exhibited a translucent red hue with very little bricking. An amazing color for a wine of this age. The palate was medium-bodied with excellent fruit, purity and focus.  I can only imagine what this wine was like 10 or 15 years ago.  After 36 years it continues to drink with lots of soul.

1952 Potinet-Ampeau Volnay Clos des Chenes 1er Cru. I was initially blown away by the gorgeous translucent red hue. There was virtually no bricking. The fruit was very much in tact on a harmonious and focused palate. Quite and enjoyable experience.

1937 Camile Giroud Hospices de Beaune Volnay Cuvée Blondeau 1er Cru.  Like the previous two bottles, the hue here was gorgeous with no bricking.  The wine had quite a bit of life to it and probably will for another ten years or so I would think.  The bouquet was earthy and fresh.  On the palate it was full-bodied with amazing complexity and balance for its age.  The oldest red Burgundy I have ever had and it was a joy to experience.

Jeff, thanks again for your generosity in sharing amazing wine experiences with the group.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aged Nebbiolo Lunch at I Trulli

For the past 20 years I have been on an incredible wine journey.  Not only have I learned a great deal about wine, but I have also experienced first hand the passion and generosity of producers and fellow wine enthusiasts alike.  Recently I had the pleasure of participating in an old Nebbiolo lunch at I Trulli Ristorante, NYC.  The lunch was organized by Ken Vastola, who’s passion and knowledge of Nebbiolo may well have no peer. (If you want to learn about Nebbiolo you must visit his blog The Fine Wine Geek).  I met Ken through Antonio Galloni’s website, Vinous Media.  Ken invited me along with fellow Vinous members, Iggy, Ben and Carl to join him and Jeremy Parzen for this incredible tasting.  Each of us brought along a bottle or two of Nebbiolo based wine.  Jeremy is a food and wine historian, Italian translator and former rock musician who created a blog, Do Bianchi (Two White Wines) a number of years ago.  As he says on his website, “Do Bianchi’s mission is to offer non-Italian speakers otherwise inaccessible insights into Italian gastronomic culture. For Italophiles and Italians, Do Bianchi provides cogent historical perspective into wines and foods whose cultural value is often taken for granted”.  

As a daily reader, I find it to be incredibly insightful and a fantastic source for many amazing Italian wines.  Jeremy was in town representing the Franciacorta Wine Consortium. Franciacorta is a small wine-producing area in Lombardy, northern Italy. It is famous for its high-quality sparkling wines, which are made very much in the image of Champagne. I have enjoyed many wines, especially Bellavista, from the region.

I always find the food at I Trulli to be really good, as it was today.

Beef Meatballs in tomato sauce

Grilled baby octopus with potatoes, pickled beans and black olives

Buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers, arugula

Malloreddus, saffron dumplings of Sardinia with pork sausage and tomato

Homemade Lasagna

Malloreddus                                     Homemade Lasagna

We began with 2012 SoloUva Franciacorta.  From Franciacorta, this was a lively sparkler made with 100% Chardonnay that displayed nice balance and acidity.  What is different here is that SoloUva (which I believe translates to only grape) does not add sugar to the secondary fermentation of the wine. Instead they freeze the grape must after the pressing.  The frozen must is added to the wine prior to the second fermentation.  I believe it will sell for around $25 a bottle when it reaches the U.S. market.

Pic courtesy of Jeremy Parzen
2010 Borgo Del Tiglio Studio Di Bianco.  This was the only non Nebbiolo wine.  I brought it along. I first learned of the wine in one of Jeremy's blogs.  It has become one of my favorite white wines and I thought Jeremy would enjoy having it again. The wine is a blend of 50% Friulano, 25% Sauvignon and 25% Riesling.  It is a stunning.  Upon pouring into the glass the gorgeous crystalline yellow hue and stony bouquet set high expectations, which are fulfilled with each sip. On the palate it showed great complexity with lush, pure fruit and soft minerality. The wine evolved with each sip. This has the acidity to last at least another decade. It finished with great length.  A wine with soul!

1967 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco.  Reddish brown, this wine was past its prime, but nevertheless it was fun to drink as a bit of fruit was still evident.  I can only imagine what this wine was like at its peak.

1978 Oddero Barolo.  Brownish-red hue and an enticing, earthy aroma.  This was very much alive and kept opening in the glass.  The palate displayed great depth, complexity and focus and finished with considerable length.  A great old bottle of wine.

1979 Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche di Castiglione Falletto.  This was simply stunning.  Slight bricking but for the most part a beautiful clear and transparent red hue that emitted the essence of the Piedmontese terroir on the nose.  A round and delicious wine that showed no signs of decline.

      '67 Bruno Giacosa                                      '78 Oddero                            '79 Bruno Giacosa

1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora Barbaresco.  Another stunning wine that is drinking at or near its peak, with no signs of letting up any time soon.  Lots of earth and vibrant fruit on a balanced and focused palate.  I am always amazed at the incredibly high quality of wines that comes from this co-operative.

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.   This was just as glorious as the bottle I had at a Vinous group tasting a short while ago.  As I said then and repeat now this is a round and delicious wine with fantastic purity, balance, finesse and focus.  The finish was lengthy and elegant.  A wine with soul!

1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato.  I have found many Monprivato to be hit and miss lately.  My last bottle of this was in 2010 and it was pretty much shut down.  Today however was a different story.  The wine was back on track.  Earthy bouquet and nicely balanced palate with a long and elegant finish.

 '90 Produttori Poro                                      '98 Cascina Francia                      '99 Monprivato

It was a great pleasure for me to get to meet Jeremy and share these great wines with fellow Vinous members.   Jeremy's post on this remarkable lunch can be found here.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Back to Burgundy

Our wine group met this past week for dinner at The Pluckemin Inn, in Bedminster, NJ.   The Pluckemin Inn is a routine venue for us. The food is always excellent and the wine service, under the direction of Wine Director Brian Hider, is first class. A few of the plates we enjoyed tonight were Vitello Tonato; Ricotta Gnocchi, Risotto, Pork Chop and Scottish Salmon.

It was Marc’s turn to choose and bring the wine.  For the first time since I have been in the group, Marc did not bring Italian wines, instead he made his first venture into Burgundy.  His selections were excellent and made for good drinking and lively conversation.  Group member Jeff has an extensive Burgundy collection and is the most knowledgeable person I know regarding the wines from there.  The opportunity to learn about the vintage and producer specifics of the wines we drank is greatly appreciated by all of us.

2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis Montee de Tonnerre 1er Cru.  Unfortunately tonight’s bottle suffered from premature oxidation.  While the wine was drinkable, it was not very enjoyable.  It lacked the crisp, pure fruit and vibrant acidity of previous bottles I have had of this wine.  Patrick Piuze is one of the upcoming stars in Chablis. While he owns no vineyards, he has access to fruit from the very best plots in Chablis.  His wines are delicious and very reasonably priced. $50.  New York Wine Warehouse.

2009 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin, Villages.  This estate is one of the largest in all of Burgundy.  In addition to making wine from their own fruit they also source fruit from other vineyard owners.  This Villages wine is made from sourced fruit.  This is a delightful entry level wine and a great way to experience the magic of classic Burgundy Pinot Noir at a very reasonable price.  The wine possessed a bright ruby red color with a fruity and delicate nose.  On the palate it was harmonious, balanced with considerable character and finesse.  The wine is vinified with indigenous yeasts under temperature control.  It is aged in oak barrels (20% new) for 14 to 18 months.  $50. Wine-Searcher.

1997 Comte Armand Pommard Clos des Epeneaux 1er Cru.  A bit tight on the first sip, but it opened nicely over the next hour.  The fruit became more vibrant (typical of the vintage) and refined with each sip.  I found the finish to be a bit short.  Like the 1997 vintage in Barolo, I think the best years for this vintage are behind it and in my opinion should be consumed now.  $156. Wine-Searcher.

2003 Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques 1er Cru.  The Jadot estate has been making classic red and white Burgundy wines since 1859.    The wine is fermented in vats for 3 to 4 weeks and then aged in 228 litre oak barrels (made by the estate) for 18 to 20 months before bottling.  Tonight's wine was full-bodied and complex on the palate.  Fruit was alive and focused and it finished with a lingering elegance.  A terrific wine from a hot vintage.  $127. Wine-Searcher.

2007 Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits St. Georges Les Chaignots 1er Cru.  Marc purchased this from the Pluckemin wine list as the 1996 Domaine Jean Grivot Nuits St Georges les Boudots he intended to serve was corked.  The wine possessed a classic red Burgundian nose. The complex palate was marked by lively fruit, soft tannins and excellent balance while the finish was lengthy and elegant.  A terrific wine at the beginning of its drinking window that will provide pleasure for many years to come.  $102.  The US market appears to be out of this vintage.

Great job Marc.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

A "Retired" Lunch

The other day I had lunch with two members of our wine group who recently joined me in the ranks of retirement.  They came up with the idea that we should do a "retirees" luncheon from time to time.  Great ideas should always be pursued and we did.   We kicked it off with 3 fantastic white whites that drank beautifully.  Lunch was at the Pluckemin Inn, in Bedminster, NJ.   The food is always good here, especially the Onion Soup and Burgers.

2010 Borgo del Tiglio Studio di Bianco, 14% abv.  The estate produces mostly white wines.  In my opinion owner/winemaker Nicola Manferrari is at the very top of the list of great producers of Italian white wines. To highlight the influence of the terroir the grapes from each plot are kept separate in the winemaking process. All of the Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel.

The wine we drank today, the estate's top wine was simply stunning.  A blend of Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, this is a compelling round and delicious wine.  It boasts fully developed fruit, complexity, balance and brilliant acidity.  Production is small making the wines a bit hard to find.  I have had success in finding them at New York Wine Warehouse.  While the Studio di Bianco is a bit pricey at $75, the entry-level wine, Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco (Friulano, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling and Sauvignon blend) is about $35. While it lacks the complexity and depth of the Studio, it is a fantastic wine.

2006 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos De La Mouchere 1er Cru.  This estate has been producing red and white Burgundy since 1885.  The Clos De La Mouchere we drank today is from their Les Moucheres monopole. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed and vinified without any batonnage (stirring). After fermentation the wine goes to barrel, either new or one year old barrel, and is bottled after 18 months. No racking, fining or filtering. It was excellent with a rich bouquet of flowers and fruit. Oak is beautifully integrated on a balanced and slightly viscous palate. The wine evolved with each sip and finished with length and finesse  $136.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Eric Morgat Savennières, L'Enclos. 14% abv.  I posted about this wine a couple of months back,  http://winewithoutnumbers.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-spectacular-loire-valley-wine-dinner.html.  Another stunning example of Chenin Blanc, the wine exhibited a rich, balanced, stony and complex palate with a long finish.  This is a remarkable effort and great value wine. Lots of soul here.  $40.  Manhattan Wine Company.

Needless to say we had a most relaxing and enjoyable lunch.  Life is good.


Friday, May 22, 2015

A Memorable Barolo Tasting

Our Vinous group met recently at Morrell Wine Bar and Café for a fantastic Barolo tasting.  I don’t recall exactly who’s idea it was (brilliant as it was) but it was decided we would taste the wines of Giacomo Conterno and Luciano Sandrone.  Eric Guido, who organized the flights for the evening, entitled the tasting “The Icon vs. The Iconoclast: An Epic Barolo Tasting”. What a perfect title for it captures the essence of the differences and approaches of these two different, but incredible wine makers.  Giacomo Conterno is at or near the top of just about everyone’s list of traditional wine makers.  Sandrone on the other hand respects tradition but incorporates aspects of modern technology and technique in his winemaking.  To characterize him as a modernist would be a mistake.  To characterize him, as Eric does, as an Iconoclast who makes fantastic wine would be much more appropriate.  Eric’s write up, complete with photos can be found here at The Cellar Table.

There were 10 of us who participated and brought along the wine (14 bottles) for the evening. Most of the bottles were opened and given some aeration prior to the event.  The tasting was both blind and non-blind.  For those of us, like myself, who preferred non-blind we knew the wines we were drinking in each flight.  Those in the blind group knew the wines in the flight, but not the order.  My preference for non-blind revolves around the fact that since I usually have had previous experience with the wine maker, I am able to obtain a much better assessment and appreciation of the wine compared to other bottles or vintages I have had.  In lieu of guessing (blind) I’d rather assess (non-blind) the wine. It came as no surprise to me that while each participant is an experienced Barolo drinker, opinions varied on many of the wines.  Since our palates are different, our experience with each wine is different.  IMO that is the beauty of wine and events like this, sharing wine and opinions.  At the end of the day no one is more right than anyone else.  Everyone wins.

Executive Chef Juan Carlos Mendoza prepared a wonderful meal to compliment the tasting.

Spiced Walnuts, Olives, Artisanal Cheese Selection, Domestic and Imported Charcuterie.  

Gnocchi, Wine Reduction, Herbs, Tomato Sauce with Melted Pecorino & Crispy Potato Straws.

Herb Marinated Beef Tenderloin, Oven Roasted Potatoes & Brussels Sprouts with Barolo Sauce.

Chocolate Truffles.

Eric organized the wines into 5 flights, with each flight containing at least one wine from each producer.

Before diving into the flights we prepped our palates with a bottle of 1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Vintage Cave Privée, that Tony brought along.  A wonderful yeasty bubbly to begin the evening with.  Wonderful balance on the palate and a lengthy elegant finish.

Flight 1

1997 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia. The 1997 Barolo vintage was originally acclaimed to be one of the best ever.  Alas that did not turn out to be true.  With a few exceptions, I found that the wines began to fall apart a few years ago.  Tonight’s wine was no exception.  The wine had a dark brown hue and a musty bouquet.  It had a palate of old dried raisins and nothing more.  IMO, this wine has passed on.  Some felt differently.  Hey that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla.

2000 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. This was the only wine opened at the tasting.  While not a knock-out, I liked it a lot.  While it took some time to open, I felt it was a round and delicious wine, with an enticing bouquet, vibrant fruit and a wonderful finish. I Wish I had some in my cellar.

Flight 2

While I have not had many Baroli from the 1998 vintage, what I have had I liked.  All three wines in this flight all drank beautifully.  

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne.  This bottling is made from a blend of fruit from four vineyards, Vignane (Barolo), Merli (Novello), Conterni & Ceretta  (Monforte d’Alba).  The wine exhibited a nice expression of the terroir of Piedmont, with and earthy bouquet, round fruit, complexity, focus and finesse on the palate and a soft finish.  

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.   This was stunning, and my favorite of the flight.  A round and delicious wine with fantastic purity, balance, finesse and focus.  The finish was lengthy and elegant.  A wine with soul!  

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  A nice wine, however it lacked the depth of the other two and finished rather short.  

Flight 3

1999 was a fantastic vintage in Barolo.  It produced some of the most vibrant and energetic wines I have tasted from Piedomont.  These are wines that for the most part are drinking gloriously now and will for many years to come.  IMO, the flight of the evening.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. A stunning wine with an intense, fruity bouquet that seduced the palate for what lied ahead.  Full-bodied, balanced and complex with impeccable purity and a very lengthy, elegant finish.  One of the best Monfortinos I have ever tasted.  This has the stuff to last for decades.  Truly a wine with soul!

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Surprisingly this was tighter than the Monfortino. The wine had a lovely earthy bouquet like the Monfortino, but the fruit was not as prominent at this stage of its life.  While it did drink well I think its best years are still ahead.  I will definitely decant my next bottle for at least 4 hours prior to drinking.  

1999 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne.  Another stunning wine that was a few short steps behind the Monfortino.  The wine danced on the palate with the fruit and tannins in wonderful harmony before finishing with a velvety elegance.  Lots of soul here also. 

Flight 4

The 1996 Barolo vintage is one of my favorite vintages.  The wines show great promise and pedigree.  While I have enjoyed a number of bottles over the past few years, the wines are still very much in their infancy and really should be given another 3 to 5 years in the cellar.

1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  More approachable than the Conternos in this flight at this stage.  I like the purity of fruit, but it sort of sat rather than danced on the palate. Finish was a bit short.

1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Aside from a gorgeous fruity bouquet , like the Monfortino the wine is still quite tight and will require patience to unmask the pedigree locked within. 

1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva.  Gorgeous red hue, but still very tight on the palate.  There is great pedigree here, but it is going to take a few years for it to emerge.

Flight 5

This flight rivaled the ’99 flight.  All three of the wines were in impeccable condition and displayed how good aged Nebbiolo can be when crafted by a master, or in this case a couple of them.

1985 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Wow!  The seductive earthy bouquet is the drum roll prior to the flawless performance this beautiful wine performs on the palate.  Soft, refined, elegant, inviting…oh hell this was simply a round a delicious wine.

1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  I was amazed at how youthful this wine was.  It had a tantalizing aroma and seemed to simply soar from the glass with each sip.  This wine underscores how great mature Nebbiolo can be.  I wish I had some in my cellar.

1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  I think most of us were in agreement that this was the best Sandrone of the evening.   If found it to be soft and elegant with wonderfully pure fruit and a lengthy finish.

Conclusion:  While styles may vary some, great wine makers make great wines that provide extraordinary drinking experiences, especially as their wines age and mature.  My thanks to all who shared their wines and participated in this remarkable evening.  Special thanks to Anthony for orchestrating the event, to Eric for organizing the flights and the dinner and to Ignatius for bringing along a couple of stellar dessert wines to end the evening with. 

1998 Chateau Coutet Sauternes.  My first experience with this producer and it was quite good. Floral bouquet and tropical fruit palate that finished with length and finesse.  The wine is a blend of 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Muscadelle.  The wine is aged for 18 months in 70% to100% new oak barrels. 

2001 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito.  Delicious dessert wine.  The balanced palate is alive with dried figs and finishes with a lush and refined sweetness.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Alto Piemonte

Our wine group met this week at Divina Ristorante, Caldwell, NJ.  It was my turn to choose and bring the wine.  I stayed in Piedmont, Italy as we did last month, only this time I took us up north to the Northern Piedmont region known as Alto Piemonte.   The major red grape here is also Nebbiolo, although it is often called by the local names, Spanna or Chiavennasca.  The region is about an hour from Milan, in the foothills of the Alps. It is home to one of the most interesting terroirs in Italy.  It lies on the borderline between the Mediterranean climate, typical of the rest of Italy, and the temperate climate of continental Europe. The soil is rich in iron and other microelements essential to the growth of the grapevine. Viticulture goes back to the ancient Roman Empire and it is said to be one of the best wine and food paradises in Italy.

I find these wines to be beautiful and inexpensive expressions of Nebbiolo. While they age gracefully, they also can be enjoyed early in their life while the bigger Barolo and Barbaresco wines mature in the cellar.

Chef/owner Mario Carlino prepared a fantastic dinner for us to enjoy with the wines.

Soft Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragu.  I love this rustic peasant dish.  The creamy Polenta is the perfect setting for the tender mushrooms that lie atop it.  Nary a morsel was left on anyone’s plate.

Rigatoni Al Forno.  This is the traditional pasta dish made in Italy for La Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter.  Rigatoni pasta is mixed with tiny meatballs, salami, hard-boiled eggs and tomato sauce and then topped with bits of fresh Mozzarella and baked in the oven.  Mario’s preparation of this classic is spectacular.

While German in origin, Mario’s version of Veal Holstein had all of us licking our chops.  The combination of the runny egg yolks atop the fried Veal Cutlet is a remarkable combination.

We began the evening with two wines from the Carema.  Although not technically in Alto Piemonte, Carema is in the Canavese, bordering the Vallee d’Aoste. Its close proximity is apparent in the stylistic similarities of the wines, which are bright, acidic and wonderful to drink early on and yet have the ability to age effortlessly for decades.

All the wines I served tonight were opened at least 90 minutes prior to serving and double decanted.

2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva DOC (Carema).  I have written about this terrific wine in a previous post, Wines of Cooperation.  This wine is aged for not less than 4 years of which at least 30 months is in large oak barrels and one year in bottle before release.  The initial sip displayed remarkable freshness and elegance with each subsequent sip taking on depth and focus.  It was a wonderful wine to begin the tasting with and at $27 a bottle is an incredible value.  Be sure and allow this wine at least an hour to breathe before drinking to really appreciate it.  56º Wine.

1964 Rosotto Carema Riserva DOC (Carema).  I found two bottles of this wine at Chambers Street Wines a couple of months ago.  I thought it would be a good addition to the tasting, especially to verify how well wines from the Carema age.  I am happy to report that they age very well.  At 51 years of age this is doing just fine.  While the wine has browned a bit, it had a nice translucency and the fruit was still apparent.  Bouquet and palate of worn leather and smoke that I find in many old Nebbiolo wines.  The wine improved over the evening and was quite enjoyable.  Unfortunately, I could not find out any information on the estate and am fairly certain that it no longer exists, which is a shame given the quality here.  

2008 Proprieta Sperino "Lessona" DOC (Lessona).  While Paolo de Marchi’s family origins are from Northern Piedmont, Paolo founded Isole é Olena in the 1970s in Tuscany. The estate produces some of Italy’s most exciting Chiantis.  His single vineyard Chianti, Cepparello, is one of Italy’s most widely regarded wines.

In 1999, along with his son Luca, he decided to return to Lessona and make wines from Nebbiolo. Lessona is located just to the west of Gattinara, in soils that are much more iron-rich and gravelly. Here he took the reins of the historic family estate, at the Castle of Lessona that was originally owned by de Marchi relatives, the Sperino family.  The estate stopped producing wine in the 1960’s for a number of economic & labor reasons.  The first vintage of Proprieta Sperino "Lessona" was 2004.  The 2008 we drank tonight was gorgeous.  On the palate it was pure with wonderfully ripe fruit, smooth and well integrated tannins, lending energy and finesse to each sip.  The wine finished with great length and elegance.  A wine with lots of soul.  It vied for wine of the evening. $74.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Vallana Gattinara DOCG (Gattinara).  Gattinara is the best known of the Alto Piemonte wines.  Its warmer climate than the other Alto Piemonte areas produces bigger wines.  It is often called the “Barolo” of Alto Piemonte.  It is more accessible than Barolo when young, yet it is capable of long and graceful aging.  Previous bottles of the 2004 that I have had displayed a beautiful expression of fruit and soil with great complexity, acidity and elegance.  Unfortunately that was not the case tonight, as the wine was extremely tight. It began to wake up after an hour in the glass suggesting the wine, at least at the moment, needs 3+ hours in the decanter to really appreciate.   The grapes are handpicked and vinified in large cement tanks. The wine is then aged for at least 2 years in large oak barrels. It takes a few years in the bottle to fully develop its potential. At $30 a bottle this is a stunning bargain for lovers of old-world Nebbiolo wines.  Wine-Searcher.

2006 Ar.Pe.Pe. Grumello Rocca De Piro DOCG (Valtellina/Grumello). Ar.Pe.Pe is an historic and well-regarded traditional cooperative estate in the Valtellina, a mountainous region of northwestern Italy that borders Switzerland. A beautifully restrained style of Nebbiolo, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged in old chestnut barrels for 2 years, followed by 6 months in the bottle before release.  While more open than the Vallana, a bit more breathing time would have helped this also.   After 30 minutes in the glass, this medium-bodied Nebbiolo began to exhibit a delicate, earthy and graceful palate. $50.  Wine-Searcher.

The evening’s final wine, 2005 Ferrando Carema Etichetta Nera DOC (Carema) is one of the most sought after wines in Carema.   Luigi Ferrando has long been the leading winemaker of the Canvese, where his family's winemaking tradition goes back to 1900. His Nebbiolo wines, Etichetta Bianca (white label) and Etichetta Nera (black label), are renown for their finesse, complexity and longevity. The wines are aged for a minimum of four years, of which at least two are spent in barrel (a combination of large and small). The Carema "Etichetta Nera" is vinified and aged in similar fashion, but is only produced in exceptional years, and is exposed to a touch more small barrel aging (some new).

Tonight’s wine lived up to its reputation in spades.  It was clearly the WON for all of us.  It was a superb expression of Nebbiolo on the nose and the palate.  It was harmony in a glass with pure and focused fruit, impeccable finish and a monster finish. A simply a round and delicious wine with a long life ahead.  As production is small, the wine is highly allocated and very difficult to find.  $98.  Wine-Searcher.