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, 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.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Barolo Lovers Delight

Our wine group met recently at Scalini Fedeli Ristorante, Chatham, NJ.  The theme for the evening, chosen by Howard, was Barolo.  I don’t think I have ever met a wine enthusiast who was not smitten by the Nebbiolo grape and the Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from it. Kerin O’Keefe in her recently published and excellent book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, comments on these wines as being…“structured yet elegant and complex wines of remarkable depth from Italy’s noblest grape, Nebbiolo.”

Nebbiolo translates to "little fog" and refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape appears to thrive on. Attempts at growing Nebbiolo outside of Piedmont have proved fruitless.  One of the more interesting points Ms. O’Keefe talks about in her book are the nuances in style that the different soils in the various zones of Barolo produce; such as power, elegance, subtlety, perfume and texture.  These differences combined with the winemaker’s approach provide for some of the most exciting and enjoyable wines to be found on the planet.  For me drinking Barolo is like listening to the music of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin, wherein their individual interpretation of the Great American Songbook standards provides for heightened musical appreciation and hours of enjoyment.  Sipping one of these remarkable wines while listening to their music is one of life’s pleasures for me.  While the music was absent from our dinner, the wines played their own music in beautiful harmony.

1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno DOCG (Monforte d'Alba).  Located in Monforte d’Alba where the soil is composed predominantly of sandstone and clay, the estate produces more modern styled Baroli, opting to use new oak (Barrique) when making its wines.  I find that the use of new Barrique usually produces a Barolo with a palate marked by oak and vanilla.  That is not the case here as the oak was very well integrated.  The fruit was bit quiet to start but began to awaken after 30 minutes in the glass as the wine began to show power and finesse on the palate.  1996 was a great year in Barolo and this wine, like many others from the vintage, still has a long life ahead.  $85.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo DOCG (Barolo).  Owner/wine maker Giovanni Canonica did not start to export his wine to the U.S. until 2004.  Production is small (6,000 bottles of the ’07) of this old world Barolo.  In the opinion of many, myself included, Canonica’s Baroli are in the same class as those of the iconic old world Barolo estates such as Cappellano, Conterno, Rinaldi and Mascarello. The Paiagallo vineyard is situated fairly high on the slope above the town of Barolo. The soil here has less sand and more clay, which tends to produce wines that are more approachable earlier than other Barolos.  Canonica follows super old-fashioned techniques with foot-pressed grapes; indigenous yeast fermentation; no temperature control; very long fermentation in wood; aging in very large old wood barrels (botte) and very minimal sulphur used throughout.  Tonight’s wine displayed impeccable balance, complexity and finesse with a lengthy and elegant finish.  I sipped the wine throughout the evening and it just kept evolving in the glass with each sip.  This clearly had my vote for the wine that drank best for the evening. While this is readily approachable now it will easily last for another 30 to 40 years. A wine with soul!  This will not be easy to find, as allocations are small.  $75 - $100.

1997 Bartolo Mascarello DOCG (Barolo).  While the 1997 Barolo vintage was initially thought to be an extraordinary one, it turned out not to be the case as most of the wines began to fall apart a few years ago.  Such was the case with 3 consecutive bottles of the 1997 Bartolo Mascarello I opened in 2012.  The wine was dead and wound up being poured down the drain. Fortunately I was able to return my remaining bottles.  The bottle we drank tonight was thankfully better than my previous bottles.  While there was not a lot of complexity to the wine, the fruit was more apparent, but did not have a lot of life.  A drinkable wine, but not what one expects from this iconic producer of usually outstanding Barolo.  If you have some in your cellar, I suggest you drink up!

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi S Lorenzo Ravera DOCG (Barolo/La Morra).  In my opinion, Giuseppe Rinaldi is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo, crafting traditional wines marked by succulent fruit, focus and finesse.  While the bouquet of this wine tonight was gorgeous, on the palate the wine was virtually closed.  The pedigree is apparent, but the wine is asleep now, as are most Baroli of this vintage.  The wine did begin to open after about an hour suggesting the need to decant for a few hours if you wish to drink it today.  I would revisit in 2 to 3 years, when it should be "singing".  Alas there does not seem to be any of this vintage available on the market today.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia DOCG (Serralunga d'Alba).  Like Rinaldi, this is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo.  Traditional to the core, the wines are outstanding examples of the elegance and complexity of great Barolo.  This vintage is just beginning to wake up.  After about 30 minutes the wine began to show its stuff and display the fantastic pedigree of the estate’s wines.   It is a wine endowed with wonderful balance, focus and depth and a lengthy finish.   Give this a few more years in the cellar and you will be justly rewarded with a beautiful and stunning wine.  $250.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG (Monforte d'Alba).   Granbusia is only made in years when all three of the estates vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results.  Tonight’s wine was decanted for one hour.  What a glorious wine. One of the best wines of the 2005 vintage I have tasted.  The wine displayed great balance, complexity, finesse and focus and finished with considerable length and elegance.  The wines of the 2005 vintage are not destined for long aging, but like this bottle tonight, many are drinking beautifully now and will provide great drinking for the next decade.  $360.  Wine-Searcher.

Thanks Howard for the terrific selection.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Osteria Lupa Romana

It has been a least a decade since I ate at Osteria Lupa Romana in NYC, which I believe is the second (Babbo was the first) of the Batali/Bastianch restaurants.  Wherever it falls in their hierarchy is of little consequence, what is important is that it is a terrific restaurant in my opinion. It offers the traditional Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed two or three visits when it opened more than a decade ago, which is why two recent visits had me asking myself, “Why have you stayed away so long?”  

A couple of weeks ago, Chambers Street Wines hosted a dinner there that featured the Nebbiolo based wines of Antonio Vallana e Figlio from the Alto Piemonte region of Northern Italy.  Giuseppina Vallana and her children Francis and Marina run the estate today.  Marina was on hand to discuss the wines.

Here Nebbiolo is called Spanna.  I love these wines.  They possess a wonderful terroir-filled bouquet with a beautifully balanced, medium-bodied palate and lengthy elegant finish.   They also represent some of the best bargains in quality wines to be found today.  They drink well early on, thus they can be enjoyed while you wait for your Barolo & Barbaresco to mature.  They also have the ability to age beautifully for many years.  If you are a Nebbiolo lover and have not had Vallana wines, you owe it to yourself to pick up a couple of bottles.  You will be glad you did. It has been said of Vallana that  "...Even if he had the same batches of grapes to work with, no other winemaker would end up with wines quite like his...” - Burton Anderson.

Before I detail the spectacular wines and incredible plates served at the dinner,  I would be remiss if I did not mention the glass of 2012 Morgante Bianco di Morgante I had at the bar before the event began. This is a Sicilian white wine that is vinified from red Nero D’Avolo grapes (this really surprised me).   The estate is located in Grotte in the Province of Agrigento.  The wine exhibited a soft golden yellow hue in the glass, clean fruit, and good acidity on the palate and a lovely finish.  A delicious wine.  Discovering new wines like this really add to the pleasure of enjoying wine.  $16 for this is an absolute steal.  Wine-Searcher.

With our first course, Carne Cruda (raw beef) with Smoked Cauliflower & Crispy Shallots we were served 2007 Vallana Boca DOC.   Terrific pairing.  Boca is a rare wine produced in a very tiny area of Alto Piemonte, around the village of Boca, on the eastern side of the River Sesia.  The wine is a traditional blend of native grape varieties: Nebbiolo (65-70%), Vespolina  and Uva Rara.   Marina explained, “Nebbiolo confers the structure and the aromatic background; Vespolina and Uva Rara add freshness and some interesting varietal notes”.  The varieties are hand picked separately, each one at its perfect ripening time.  Fermentation occurs in large cement tanks and the wines ages for 2 years in medium-large oak barrels. Another 1-2 years in bottle are necessary for the wine to start to develop it's potential.  Tonight’s wine was light-bodied with a most elegant nose and fruity and spicy notes on a smooth palate.  I loved the delicate finish. $28.  Wine-Searcher.

The first of two outstanding past courses, Fontina & Black Truffle Agnolotti, was served next along with 2011 Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna DOC.  The Agnolotti were divine and without some restraint could become quite addictive.  

The Colline Novaresi DOC is 100% Spanna and the grapes come exclusively from the Colline Novaresi DOC, a growing area characterized by old vines and high altitudes. Vinification takes place in cement tanks in order to obtain a wine suitable for medium to long aging. The wine is released after two years of maturation.  Ruby red in color, the wine had an enticing bouquet of earth and soil, with a medium-bodied, focused and complex palate.  It finished with a refined excellence one does not expect in a wine that costs $15.  Wine-Searcher.  Average annual production is 3,000 cases.

The second pasta course, Orrechiette with Lamb Neck Ragu, was served with 2005 and 1998 Gattinara DOCG. The subtle richness of the dish made for an excellent pairing with the wines.  It has been said that Gattinara is the King of Alto Piemonte.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine is produced only in the town of Gattinara, on the western side of the River Sesia.  In my opinion this is as close as one gets to traditional Barolo.  Vallana vinifies the wine in separately in large cement tanks before the final blending process and then ages the wine for at least 2 years in large oak barrels.  The estate recommends a few years additional aging in the bottle for the wine to fully develop its potential.

The 2005 is just beginning to enter its drinking window.  The enticing palate and impeccable balance, blossoming fruit, soft tannins and complexity on the palate provide insight into the pedigree here.  Tannins are soft and fruit is beginning to blossom.  This has all the makings of a blockbuster wine that will age for a few decades…and for the ridiculous price of $28 a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

The 1998 was awesome and hitting on all cylinders.  I could not help but feel that this is what the 2005 will likely grow up to be. Simply put, a round and delicious with tons of soul!  Don’t think you will find this easily and if you do, expect to pay a handsome price.  Wine-Searcher lists a shop in the UK with a price tag of $400.

With the entrée, Braised Rabbit Leg with Green Olives & Swiss Chard, we drank 2010 “Cuvée Bernardo Vallana Spanna DOC.   This new addition to the estate is made in honor Bernardo Vallana, the founder of Vallana.  Spanna was his favorite wine. The wine is a blend from the best selection of Nebbiolo vines in Boca and Gattinara.   The wine exhibits a gorgeous translucent light red hue and a very soft and velvety palate. There is good acidity for aging, but this needs a few more years cellar time before it really shows its stuff.  $25.  Wine-Searcher.  I would be remiss if I did not mention how incredible the Braised Rabbit Leg was.  I really enjoy Rabbit, but this was off the charts.  I thought of the dish for days after.

With an amazing dessert, La Tur with Caramelized Pears, we got to taste the wine of the evening, 1958 “Castello Di Montalbano” Spanna DOC.  Let’s start with the dessert.  La Tur is a delicious soft, almost mousse-like cheese that consists of equal parts cow, goat and sheep milk.  Like the wine it comes from the Alto Piemonte area and is ripened for only 10 days to 2 weeks.  In addition to the pears, it was served with a thin sliced & toasted grain bread of some type.  It was a great combination. As for the wine, wow!  At 63 years of age, it displayed an amazing translucent red hue with nary a hit of bricking. The fruit was fresh and alive and tantalized the palate. Finished with great length and lots of elegance.

My hats off to Chambers Street Wines and Lupa for a wonderful evening of food and wine.

So inspired by the Vallana dinner, I returned last week to Lupa along with a couple of my wine group friends for lunch, one of whom is regular at the restaurant. He has always sung the praises of their pastas, and pehaps the most famous Roman dishes are the pastas.  Lupa offers a Roman Pasta Tasting Menu ($49) that features 5 signature pastas.  The entire table must participate in order to have this tasting, and I am happy to say, we eagerly agreed.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.  Simplicity is the key to most great recipes, and this one is testimony to that premise.  Here homemade square spaghetti is tossed with olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano Cheese and fresh, coarsely ground black pepper.  I had this dish on my first visit to the Eternal City 20 years ago and it instantly rekindled many fond memories.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.  Often called the Italian interpretation of Bacon and Eggs, this is another example of simple, quality ingredients coming together in harmony to provide a dinning experience.  In this dish the preferred cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is combined with sautéed Guanciale (pork jowl) or Pancetta and olive oil and then tossed with the pasta.  Off the heat beaten raw eggs are mixed into the Spaghetti and served.  True Carbonara DOES NOT INCLUDE CREAM. This was the real deal.  My one issue was that I would have preferred the Guanciale to have been cut up smaller and thus more of a part of the dish as to opposed to tending to dominate it.

Saltimbocca Ravioli.  Veal Saltimbocca is a classic Roman dish that combines tender veal scallopine, sage and proscuitto.  In this version, perfectly cooked homemade Ravioli are stuffed with seasoned ground veal and served in a sage butter sauce and topped with crispy fried prosciutto bits.  An absolute tour-de-force.

Pajata Finta.  Another classic Roman pasta, or so I have been told.  I never had this before, but you can bet I will be back at Lupa if for no other reason than to have this pasta.  For me, it was the best of the 5 remarkable pastas.  It is a sauce that is made with diced pieces of veal tripe and lamb sweetbreads. pancetta and tomato.  Rigatoni is added to the sauce, tossed and then served atop a dollop of fresh Ricotta Cheese. You mix it all together, take a bite and you are transported to culinary heaven.  The only thing missing was Dean Martin singing "On an Evening in Roma" as we savored this remarkable dish.

Bucatini All'Amatriciana.  Tomato sauce, pancetta or guanciale, olive oil, garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese combine to make what may be Rome's most famous pasta.  The addition of hot pepper seeds finishes the dish perfectly.  The classic version at Lupa is superb.

This is a remarkable bargain of good sized, perfectly prepared pasta for $49.  You even get lemon sorbet the cleanse the palate at the end of the meal.

As with all Bitali/Bastianch restaurants, Lupa has a good and reasonably priced wine list.  It was our intention to perhaps have a glass or two of wine with lunch.  That quickly evaporated with one sip of 2013 Principe Pallavicini Malvasia Puntinata from the Lazio terroir.  The wine is made from 100% Malvasia del Lazio, also called Malvasia Puntinata, which belongs to the aromatic Malvasia grape family, one the most ancient varieties cultivated in Italy.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20 days at the controlled temperature of 16° C.  The wine is left to refine “on the lees in stainless steel tanks of 50 hl for 4-5 months and 1 month in the bottle before release.  The wine had a golden straw yellow hue with an clean crisp bouquet that was echoed on the palate.  The finish was delicate and quite lengthy.  $15.

We quickly drained the bottle and decided we would have one more bottle, a red this time.  Marc selected a 2001 Petterino Gattinara from the Alto Piedmont region of Italy.  I am very familiar with Petterino wines (have some in the cellar) and this bottle with 14 years of age on it was beautiful.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this is a superb example of traditionally made Nebbiolo. The terroir filled bouquet filled the nose with wonderful anticipation.  The palate was balanced, focused and complex. Tannins were soft as velvet and the wine finished with lengthy elegance.  Simply a round and delicious. $40.  Wine-Searcher.

This bottle went quickly also and so, what the heck, we asked the sommielier (forgot his name) for a recommendation to drink with the Bucatini.  He suggested  2012 Passopisciaro Scinniri IGT from the slopes of Sicily's Mt. Etna.  The wine is crafted by Andrea Franchetti who also owns the Tenuta di Trinoro estate in Tuscany. This wine, a blend of Nerollo Mascalase, Cesanese and Petit Verdot, is aged for 10 months in large oak, before being bottled.  The wine had a rich, masculine palate with good focus and depth.  A very nice wine.  $21.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in or near NYC and have not been to Lupa, I suggest you consider giving a try.