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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red Wines of Southern France

Our monthly wine group was treated this month to five different and very nice red wines from three of the wine regions in the South of France.  I find the wines of this area, especially the reds, to be quite distinctive in character and marked by a peppery Mediterranean flair.  Marc selected the wines as well as The Pluckemin Inn to have the tasting at.  As I have praised the food at the Pluckemin in previous posts, I will focus this time on only the wines.  Suffice it to say that the food was excellent as always.  A search of my Blog will provide more info as well as photos of the food from previous posts.

The Rhone wine region is situated in the Rhone River Valley in Southern France.  It is further divided into two sub-regions, The Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.  The Northern Rhone Valley is known for red wines primarily made from the Syrah grape.   French wine law does allow for up to 20% of white wine grapes such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne to be added. Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Saint Joseph are the appellations of Northern Rhode red wines.

The Southern Rhone Valley is principally known for its Châteauneuf du Pape.  While thirteen grapes, eight red and five white, are allowed by law to be blended when making the wine, Grenache and Mourvedre are the primary grapes used by many estates.  Other appellations of note are Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Below the Southern Rhone Valley, at the most Southern tip of France is the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  In addition to the traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are grown here.

Southern Rhone

2009 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape la Bernardine.  Made from 100% Grenache this was decidedly the most modern styled wine of the evening.  I found the fruit to be a bit muted and a bit light on the palate compared to the others, but a good wine for the price.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.  

In the opinion of many, myself included, Chateau Rayas is the iconic producer of wine in the Southern Rhone. The estate is but ten-hectares, and is located in the heart of the woods where the vines are planted in a very poor, sandy soil that produces wines with great finesse.   The wines from the estate are among the most sought after wines from the region, if not the entire world. They are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.   The estate, today run by Jacques Reynaud’s nephew, Emmanuel, also owns Chateau Fonsalette, which is located just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.  

The estate produces three wines, a Blanc, a Rouge and a 100% Syrah, all of which are superb. Marc brought along a 2004 Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve.  While some might consider this a “second” wine to Rayas CdP or Pignan CdP, I do not.  In my opinion this is simply the finest example of a Cotes du Rhone red I have ever tasted.  What a soulful wine it was.  A blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah the wine had a magnificent earthy and herbal bouquet with vibrant fresh fruit and a peppery backend.  The wine was completely round and delicious and at $55 (about 1/4th the price of Rayas and ½ the price of Pignan) it's a sensational bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Chateau Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape.  The grapes for the CdP wines at Rayas come from their three vineyards, Le Couchant, Le Levant and Le Coeur. Like his magnificant Chateau Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Riserve, the wine is made from 100% Grenache.  Rayas chooses to harvest late so that he has ripe fruit for his wines.  It is a philosophy that produces completely round and delicious wines.   The bouquet from tonight’s wine exploded from the glass and on the palate was full-bodied with great balance, ripe fruit and soft tannins.  The wine was stunningly delicious and elegant with a 45+ second finish.  $115.  Wine-Searcher.

Northern Rhone

1999 Francois Villard Cote Rotie la Brocarde.   This Syrah based wine includes 10% Viognier from Cote Brune in the blend.  The wine is aged in 80% new oak for 18 months before being bottled without filtration.  The oak was very well integrated, as I would have guessed for a 15 year old wine.  I found it to be medium-bodied, with a pleasant palate and decent finish, but not worth today’s price of $106.  Wine-Searcher.


1998 Domaine de la Grange des Peres VDP de l’Herault. The wines of Laurent Vaillé have achieved cult wine status. Having spent his early career training under such masters as Jean-François Coche-Dury (Meursault), Gérard Chave (Hermitage), and Eloi Durrbach (Domaine Trévallon, Provence), he settled in the l’Hérault of the Languedoc and purchased his own land in 1989.  

The wine we drank tonight was a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cunoise.  The grapes are harvested and vinified separately and then aged in 228-L barrels separately before Vaillé decides at a later date in what proportions to blend them. Tonight’s wine had a dark red hue and intoxicating earthy bouquet.  The palate was balanced, full-bodied with hints of pepper and herbs and soft tannins that made for a nice finish. $200.  Wine-Searcher.

I believe that the consensus of opinion was that the Rayas wines tonight were the hit of a very, very good tasting.  Thanks for a great selection Marc.


Monday, September 29, 2014

1996 Barolo Dinner

This past Tuesday evening our monthly wine group met at Sette Cucina Italiana, Bernardsville, NJ. It was my turn to bring the wine and I decided on 1996 Barolo.  The '96 vintage has turned out to be one of the best Barolo vintages ever, and according to notes others have posted on-line, many of the wines have entered their drinking window.  Thus I thought it would make for a great tasting.  All the wines showed beautifully and the food chef/owner Alan Russo prepared complemented them beautifully.  It was a wonderful dining and wining experience.

We began the evening with a magnum of 2008 Marc Hebrart Special Club Champagne that was brought along by our guest for the evening Chris Cree, MW. This was a spectacular bubbly fashioned from 60% Pinot Noir (from Mareuil and Aÿ) and 40% Chardonnay (from Oiry and Chouilly).  The wine is made completely in stainless steel and exhibited lovely pure fruit, crispness and spectacular focus while finishing with mouth-watering elegance.  The only way to experience a Champagne of this magnitude is to drink it from large wine glasses as we did. Each sip evolved more than the previous one.  $250 (mag) Wine-Searcher.

I opened each of the red wines at 3 pm, thus giving them a 3-hour slow-oxidation (open bottle, but not decanted).  

1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo S. Stefano di Perno DOCG. The wines of Rocche Dei Manzoni are a complementary marriage of tradition and innovation. The land is farmed biodynamically and grape selection is by hand.  The vineyard of S.Stefano di Perno is considered to be one of the most historically renowned cru for Barolo.  Only 100 cases of this wine are made annually.  Fermentation takes place on the skins under controlled temperature for 12-18 days. The wine is then aged for 36 months in Barrique barrels and 12 months in the bottle prior to being released to the market.  While the Barrique imparts a bit of oak and vanilla in the wine, it is seamlessly integrated yielding a beautifully balanced, elegant and complex wine, as was the case tonight.  $90.  Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1996 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio DOCG.  The great traditionalist estate of Francesco Rinaldi e Figli is one of the great names of Piedmont. Located in the town of Barolo itself, the domaine has a long and illustrious history in the region. The estate was founded in 1870, when Francesco Rinaldi inherited a vineyard and house in Barolo. One hundred and forty-four years later, much of the same techniques are still used in the Francesco Rinaldi cellars to produce some of Barolo’s greatest wines heaped within the great old world traditions of Barolo... no new oak, long macerations and long aging in large Slovenian oak Botti prior to bottling. Tonight’s bottle had a nose that seemed to be set in antiquity and a hue that belonged to recent vintages.  The palate was rustic and terroir laden with superb balance and complexity.  It was a joy to savor each remarkable sip. My only real negative was that I felt it finished a bit short. There does not appear to be anymore of the ’96 available in the USA. For other vintages try Wine-Searcher.

1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste DOCG. Cousin to Francisco Rinaldi, Giuseppe has emerged as my personal favorite maker of traditional Barolo.  Tonight’s wine hit on all cylinders and literally soared from the glass with complexity, balance, elegance and every other adjective one could use when describing an extraordinary wine.  The wine is a blend of grapes from two of his finest vineyards, Brunate and Le Coste.  This wine has long been a favorite of Barolo lovers.  Unfortunately the Italian wine laws have once again reared the foolish heads. Beginning with the 2010 vintage, the law prohibits a wine maker from putting the name of more than one vineyard on the label even though it allows fruit from more than one vineyard.  Go figure. $295.  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato DOCG.  The wine is beginning to enter what should be a long and glorious drinking period.  This is a powerful Barolo that is firing on most, but not all cylinders, at the moment. Still a bit closed as compared to the three previous wines. The fruit is not completely awake.  The wine did however finish with elegance and length. There is phenomenal pedigree here.   This is destined to be a blockbuster.  $295  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato CA’ D’ Morissio Riserva.  Like the regular Monprivato, the Riserva is beginning to stir from its sleep.  While the wine was still a bit tight, the elegant fruit has begun to blossom.  This is a superb wine, balanced, complex and focused and like the regular will be an absolute blockbuster in a couple of years.  Unless you have access to a private cellar, there does not seem to be anymore of this around.

1996 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG.  Ah the beauty of traditionally made Barolo by a master.  This remarkable Barolo is only made in years when the estates’ top three vineyards; Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello produce grapes of outstanding quality.  The blend usually contains 70% Romirasco, 15% Cicala and 15% Colonnello.  The wine is fermented with the skins in large Slovonian oak for 2 months, and then aged in the cellar for at least 8 years before being bottled and released for sale. Like the Rinaldi, the wine was hitting on all cylinders.  The fruit was gorgeous, balanced and focused.  The nose tantalized the senses and the finish was one where you close your eyes and savor its beauty and length.  $275.  The Rare Wine Company.

The consensus of the group was that on this night the wines that showed the best were the Rinaldi and the Conterno.  I look forward to revisiting them again in a couple of years.  My guess is that the Monprivatos will put up quite a challenge.  

We put ourselves in Chef Alan’s hands for the evening, requesting that he prepare a meal worthy of the wines.  He performed beautifully, crafting a number of simple and delicious dishes that any Italian mother would have been proud of.

Chef Alan’s version of Bruschetta.  My mom always made it this way.  A thick slice of ripe tomato atop toasted French bread drizzled with olive oil, garlic, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  She called it “loaves of bread”.  Still a favorite of mine today.

Antipasto Misto – Prosciutto di Parma, sweet Soppressata, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, fresh mozzarella

Salsiccia della Casa – homemade sweet sausage, potatoes, hot chilies.

Gnocchi e Speck - Ricotta pillows, Speck, Parmigiano-Reggiano whip

Saffron Risotto- Arborio Rice, Saffron, Grated squash, Parmesan Cheese

Costatina di Manzo – Braised Short Ribs, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Reduction

Chocoate Covered Perfiteroles

A great evening of food, wine and comraderie.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 - White Wines

A few years back I wrote about a number of great wines I had found that were under $40 a bottle, great-wines-under-40.  I have continued that quest and am happy to say that there is no shortage of wines in this category. Crafted by artisan wine makers they provide glorious drinking experiences. Here are my finds since that last post.  There is certainly no shortage of wonderful white wines in Italy, France, Germany and the United States.

I have a particular fondness for French Chablis.   Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, they rarely see any new wood, if any wood at all.  I love the crisp, clean purity they impart on the palate and the elegance with which they finish.  Grand Cru Chablis from producers like Raveneau, Dauvissat and Fevre to name a few can be very expensive.  The following are much less so, and continue to bring big smiles to my face when I drink them.

Patrick Piuze is one of the rising superstars of Chablis.  He owns no vineyards of his own.   His reputation was established while working for some of the top producers in Chablis.  This reputation has allowed him to enter into a long-term partnership with wine growers.  He purchases his fruit only from top wine growers in Chablis. This enables him to pick the best lots in Chablis, most of them of very old vineyards, to collect high quality grapes.  His first vintage was 2008.  His wines are full of finesse.  They exhibit pure fruit, complexity and a crisp lengthy finish.  NY Wine Warehouse carries the entire Piuze lineup.

2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis La Forets $38
2011 Patrick Piuze Chablis Terroir de Chablis $25

Alice and Olivier De Moor began their estate in 1989 and produced their first vintage five years later in 1994. Their wines are spectacular, especially the Rosette, which they consider to be their best plot.  They also make a delicious white from the Aligote grape.  Very similar to Chardonnay in its crispness and purity, the wines are aged in old oak for 12 months with only a slight addition of sulfur dioxide at the time of bottling.

2010 De Moor Chablis Rosette $37
2010 De Moor Chablis Chablis Bel Air et Clardy $30

2011 De Moor Chablis Aligote Plantation $24
2010 De Moor Bourgogne Aligote $20

Thomas Pico, another of the young phenomenons in Chablis, crafts extraordinary wines marked by pristine purity, a briny minerality and impeccable balance.  A disciple of the De Moor’s he began his estate in 2005. Grapes The Wine Company.

 2011 Pattes Loup Chablis $35

Years ago I remember reading somewhere that Italian white wines were terrible.  As I have learned over the last 20 years, nothing could be further from the truth.  Italy, especially in the Friuli-Venezia and Alto Adige regions, makes some of the most compelling wines I have ever tasted.  Dario Raccaro is a former Italian professional basketball player who abandoned his career in the 80’s to join his grandfather at the estate.  Located in Cormons (Friuli), Italy, Dario is adamant about vinification in steel for his whites in order to retain the purest expression of the fruit and the terroir. Production is very small with 4,000 and 12,000 bottles respectively for the wines listed below.  Both of these wines showed terrific depth on the palate with excellent acidity and a wonderful fruity finish.    The Manhattan Wine Co.

2012 Raccaro Collio Malvasia (100% Malvasia) $33
2012 Raccaro Collio Friulano Vigna del Rolat (100% Tocai Friulano) $34

Located in Brazzano, Italy, less than a mile from Cormons, is the estate of Nicola Manferrari, Borgo del Tiglio.  Nicola allows his wines to undergo a gentle oxidation in winemaking, something that is also seen in Burgundy. All of the Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel. Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges; the white labels are considered the entry and mid-tier wines (under $40), while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selection bottlings that vary from year to year.  His wines are simply superb, exhibiting pure fruit, harmonious balance and wonderful acidity that allow his wines to age gracefully.  They are simply round and delicious wines with a lot of soul.  Not easy to find.  Wine Searcher

2011 Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco (Friulano, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling and Sauvignon blend).  $35  

175 miles slightly Northwest of Friuli is the Province of Trentino-Alto Adige, home of Cantina Terlano Winery.  The winery is now one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in the region, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 165 hectares. The members have long had a strong focus on quality. Terlano compensates their growers for the quality of their grapes, not the quantity. The wines have attracted praise and recognition on the Italian and international wine markets in spite of its relatively small size. The winery produces 30 percent red and 70 percent white wines, all of them of DOC quality (Controlled Designation of Origin).

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, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months produces wines of striking quality. Crisp, pure, round and delicious on the palate with a lengthy finish, they are amongst the best white wines I have had this year.  Wine Searcher.

2012 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Alto Adige $18
2011 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio Classico $22
2011 Cantina Terlano Vorberg Pinot Bianco Riserva $30

At the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily Andrea Franchetti produces a 100% Chardonnay that sees no wood in the vinification process.  The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The wine has a dazzling purity on the palate, with subtle hints of bubble gum and a crisp, clean & lengthy finish.  A beautifully round and delicious wine where you taste the grape instead of the barrel.  Amanti Vino.

2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola.  $40

Piedmont is home to famous wine regions like Barolo and Barbaresco.  A lesser known area, Roero produces a light and refreshing white wine made from the Arneis grape, which is little known outside the region. It has long been my wife’s favorite white wine grape. Roero is a geographical area in the Northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in Piedmont.  This hilly region is known for its wines and for its fruit production: particularly the peaches of Canale and the local variety of pear known as Madernassa.

Top producers of the wine include Bruno Giacosa and Cerreto. The estate of Giovanni Almondo makes perhaps the best Arneis I have tasted.  It is full-bodied, with crisp ripe fruit and a lush minerality on the palate.  Absolutely round and delicious.  Amanti Vino.

2012 Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie Giovanni Almondo $25.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, West of Italy, Southeast of the French mainland, and North of the Italian island of Sardinia.  The island belongs to France.  I have been smitten by the wines that are made here, especially the whites made from the Vermentino grape by producers Comte Abbatucci and Domaine de Gioielli. Old world in style, the grapes are all hand harvested, use indigenous yeasts and stainless steel in the vinification process.  The resulting wines are delicious, crisp with finesse and focus.  They also offer some of the best values in wine today, in my opinion.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Comte Abbatucci Ajaccio Blanc "Cuvée Faustine” $38
2012 Comte Abbatucci Faustine Blanc VV $38
2011 Domaine de Gioielli Cap Corse Blanc $27

I firmly believe that  New York State produces some of the finest and most reasonably priced white wines you will ever find. Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes.  A native of Bernkastel, Germany who emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s, he was uniquely qualified to help establish and create a wine region now known for its Riesling identity. His mother’s family had been making wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for more than 300 years. His winemaking processes pay homage to the ancient winemaking tradition and winemaking history of Hermann’s ancestry while incorporating the best of modern practices. The wines are crafted in very small lots to focus on subtle differences between site blocks within vineyards and even clones within varieties. They utilize up to 25 different fermentation tanks within the winery to isolate vineyard sections and pickings dates to best showcase the varietal’s characteristics. Long fermentation on indigenous yeast is made possible by the ecologically balanced viticultural methods in the vineyards.

2012 Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve is simply delicious juice.  It is a terrific dry Riesling with a delicate, citrus palate and long and glorious finish.  $29.  Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard.

Closer to NYC on the North Fork Peninsula of Suffolk County is the Channing Daughters Winery. At the estate they grow and create wines from the white varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Bianco along with a number of red varietals.  I have been captivated by their whites, especially the Chardonnays, which display crisp, fresh fruit along with impeccable balance and stunning acidity.  The wines remind me of beautiful medium-bodied Chablis from Burgundy, France.  The wines are available for purchase on-line at the winery.  Channing Daughters.

2011 Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay $18
2011 Channing Daughters Brick Kiln Chardonnay $22

Germany has a reputation for making outstanding white wines, especially Riesling, in all price ranges.  The Nahe region of Germany is especially known for producing very high quality wines.  I certainly found this to be the case with Harald Hexamer.  Hexamer holds 7.5 hectares in the Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg, a steep south-east facing slope of red sandstone with deposits of quartzite, which is known for producing especially small berries. Hexamer’s meticulous work in the vineyard is marked by pruning to control yields (“often six to eight bunches per wine”) and hand-harvesting. The grapes are picked exclusively by hand and fermented very cold (below 12 degrees celsius) with cooling utilized only when necessary.  He handles the wine as little as possible, uses only native yeasts, and all wines are whole-cluster pressed.  95% of all Rieslings at Hexamer are made in stainless steel and racked only once, three to six weeks after fermentation is complete.

The wines are just superb. Crisp, clean with beautifully balanced residual sugar and a monster finish, all at a great price.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Hochsgewachs 

Stay tuned for part 2 on Red wines and Rosé wines.


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.