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, June 26, 2016

An Evening With Aged Lopez de Heredia

Our wine group met earlier this week at Café Matisse in Rutherford, NJ.  It was my turn to bring the wine and select the venue.  I have always been smitten by the eclectic combination of deftly prepared dishes created by chef/owner Peter Loria.  Peter took the night off, but his sous-chef (forgot to get her name) stepped in and delighted us with each dish.

Café Matisse is a small intimate space inspired by the Impressionist Henri Matisse.  The whimsical theme is echoed in the visually appealing plates, unique pairings of fresh ingredients resulting in a dining experience that stimulates the senses.  The menu format is what Peter calls “grazing”.  Please are between appetizer and entrée size enabling, diners to graze the menu at their leisure with 3, 4 or 5 courses.  Under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, this BYOB mecca provides world class food and wine service. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always ample and appropriate glasses to match the wine.


Octopus and Tasso Ham Carpaccio
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe, Broccoli Rabe Pesto Linguini, Lemon Olive Oil Chili Pepper Flake Emulsion, with Manchego Cheese Shards

Cuban Reuben Taco
Shredded‎ Braised Pork, Grated Swiss Cheese, Grilled Country Ham, Sauerkraut with Caraway Seeds, Hot Mustard Mayo, Julienne Pickle, Green Onion, Baby Greens

Pan Seared Halibut with Taso Ham and Fried Egg

Pan Seared Veal Loin Medallion 
Crab Filled Fried Wonton, Sun Choke Puree, Asparagus Spears, Lemon Zested Asparagus Crème, Grilled Julienne Country Ham, Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette


For wine I selected aged bottles of Lopez de Heredia, the legendary estate from Rioja, Spain. The estate was founded in 1877 by Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia.  Today the estate and wine making is in the very capable hands of his great granddaughter Marie José Lopez de Heredia. In my opinion, Lopez de Heredia wines embody the essence of what great wine is all about. They are consistently delicious. For my money there is no better producer of traditionally made Spanish wines in all of Spain. The wines are aged a minimum of 4-6 years in 100 year old large oak barrels, followed by at least another 4 years in the bottle before being released (no wine is released before its tenth birthday). They last seemingly forever. Maria José does not recommend decanting any of her wines. “You will miss them if you do”, she says.  In fact the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.

I brought along wines from both the Tondonia and Bosconia vineyards. Both have similar soils, but it is the altitudes and exposures that are different.  Says Maria José, “...Tondonia is a large plot so it has many different exposures, but in general the wines from Tondonia are riper owing to the lower altitude of the vines and the higher percentage of Garnacha. The Viña Bosconia is made from vines planted at a higher altitude and contains a larger percentage of Tempranillo. These two elements combine to produce wines that are more structured, with livelier color, higher acidity and greater aging potential. Because the fruit ripens later at Bosconia the harvest there typically takes place a week or two later than in Tondonia.”

Heeding the advice of Maria José, all the wines were opened at the restaurant as opposed to lengthy decanting.  I was amazed that each of the reds, despite their age, still possesed a gorgeous translucent red hue and showed no browning at the edges at all (see photos below).  I was ecstatic how all the wines showed.  They all were endowed with great balance, complexity and elegance and paired beautifully with the food.  This was truly a wining and dining experience.

1989 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Riserva.   This magnificent white was a perfect way to begin the evening as we selected our courses.  This is a full-bodied wine that is a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. The wine possessed a lovely golden yellow hue, while the palate was fresh and displayed fantastic acidity and balance and finished with good length.   27 years old with no signs of slowing down.

1964 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva.  Only 20,000 bottles of this incredible wine were made.  A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%. It as hard to believe that this wine is 52 years old as it drinks like a youngster.  The wine begins with that translucent hue mentioned earlier, muted fruit bouquet and a dazzling complex and magnificently balanced palate and ends with a soft and elegant finish.  A fantastic wine!  My one complaint is that I only purchased 1 bottle 7 years ago.  Since then the wine has more than tripled in price and is not in large supply.

1973 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Risera.  15,000 bottles of this were made.  A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%.  This was a sensational and perfect bottle of wine.  I think for all it was the wine of the night.  A big earthy bouquet filled the nose.  I found the palate to be delicate and at the same time display wonderful depth and finesse.  The wine absolutely soared from the glass with each sip evolving more than the previous one.  This wine is a perfect example of the validity of Maria José’s comment “…the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.”  The blockbuster finish made me wish that my glass would never run dry.

1978 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva.   And the hits just keep on coming.  On a par with the ‘64 and ‘73 drunk prior, another example why the wines from the estate are held in such high regard.  The ’78 vintage in Rioja was legendary with wines of great concentration and structure with the ability to age for many years to come.  The only difference between this and the previous two was that it seemed to lack the evolution in the glass of the others.  Perhaps it is still a bit young or perhaps we drank it too quickly and thus did not give it time to evolve.

1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva.  Antonio Galloni classified the vintage as “another outstanding vintage, producing wines that were concentrated as well as elegant and that aged extremely well.” Only 5,000 bottles of this were produced.  Like the wines before it had an enticing earthy bouquet, elegant and velvety texture with great depth,focus  and purity and a long velvety finish.  This should continue to age and drink beautifully for another 2 or 3 decades.

One of the interesting things about the estate is that despite the fact that they make a lot of wine across their different bottlings, quality is never sacrificed and all their wines can age for decades. The  bad news is the wines tasted tonight will not be easy to find and will be a bit pricey if you can find them since their value increases dramatically over time.  The good news is that their wines upon release average about $25 to $30 a bottle and thus represent tremendous value as well as good drinkability upon release.   As time goes on their value will increase as well as the depth and complexity of the wine.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Master of the Veneto – Giuseppe Quintarelli

Our monthly wine group met earlier this week at Da Nico in Millburn, NJ.  A new venue for our group, this intimate Italian Restaurant was chosen by Howard, who had responsibility for the evening’s wine selections.  With the exception of a bit of a heavy hand with Oregano the dishes were quite tasty and enjoyed by all.  Sorry we neglected to take any pictures.

Polenta Alla Griglia
Grilled polenta, topped with sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallots in a white wine sauce

Carpaccio di Manzo e Scaglie di Parmigiano
Raw filet mignon topped with arugula and shaved parmigiano cheese

Pappardelle Nico
Homemade pappardelle in a veal ragu bolognese sauce

Pollo Taggiasca
Pan-seared chicken breast medallions with artichokes, shallots & sun dried Tomato

Petto Di Pollo Luna
Stuffed chicken breast with dry figs & mascarpone in a balsamic reduction

We applauded Howard’s selection of wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli when he unveiled them. After drinking them we gave him a well-deserved ovation.

The Quintarelli estate produces only 40,000 bottles of wine annually from 35 acres of estate vines and bought-in grapes and dates back to 1924.  The late, great Maestro del Veneto, Giuseppe Quintarelli, began working his father’s estate in 1950 and succeeded in establishing a legendary estate during his sixty-year career.  Sadly he passed away in 2012.  Today the estate continues under the direction of Giuseppe’s daughter Fiorenza, his son-in-law Giampaolo, and his grandsons Francesco and Lorenzo.   Quintarelli wines are quite special and have always reflected his philosophy of never hurrying the wine making process.  He was quoted,  “The fundamental problem in wine today is that too many producers ‘hurry’ to make their wines: they hurry the fruit in the vineyard and they hurry the vinification and rush to bottle. They rush to sell their product without allowing it the proper time to age. Patience – this is the most important attribute in winemaking. Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.”  

Nothing is hurried at the estate.  All the wines are aged up to seven years or more in large Slavonian oak casks before bottling.  Each wine displays impeccable purity, balance and depth on the palate.  To drink them is to experience how good wine can be when made by a true master.

2014 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca’ del Merlo Bianco.   The only white Quintarelli makes at it is superb.  The wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate. The mid-palate displayed wonderful complexity before finishing with considerable length.  $45.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore.  I have had many bottles of Valpolicella from numerous vintages and each has been classic Quintarelli, displaying a spectacular and enticing earthy bouquet on the nose.  On the palate the fruit was bright yielding a lush, ripe and balanced palate.  The wine finished with elegance and finesse.  $90.  This vintage does not appear to be available.  Other vintages are if you check Wine-Searcher.

1986 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (House of the Blackbird).  While information as to why the wine is called Rosso Ca’ del Merlo seems to be a bit unclear, rest assured it is a fantastic Valpolicella from the estate.  I have been told from a reliable source it is the same Valpolicella from the same vineyard he produces his Valpolicella from.  According to him the Rosso Ca' Del Merlo labeling is to signify that it was produced for an old US importer, to show a distinction with what the rest of the world was buying and what he was getting.  $120.  Wine-Searcher.

Another source says that it is a Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (blackbird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside. It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique.  According to current importer Kermit Lynch, he writes on his website of the wine:

• A single vineyard bottling
• Grapes are pressed immediately after harvest
• After 3-4 days of maceration, primary fermentation starts with indigenous yeasts
• Wine is racked and then sits until February
• Wine is racked onto the lees of the Amarone, which starts a second alcoholic fermentation (this process is called ripasso)
• after this fermentation, the wine is racked into large Slavonian oak barrels for seven years

Whatever the case this bottle was singing tonight. It possessed a beautiful pureness, balance and complexity on the palate marked by lush fruit.  The lengthy finish echoed the palate.

1999 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi.   Rosso del Bepi is only made in vintages when Giuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price.  The wine soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length.  $170.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico.  A simply round and delicious wine with lots of soul.  Quintarelli’s ability to integrate the underlying sweetness of Amarone in these wines is just amazing. Balanced, pure, complex and with a remarkable finish it is a wine you think about for days after drinking.  $395.  Wine-Searcher.

1994 Giuseppe Quintarelli Alzero.   This final wine of the evening is, in my opinion, one of the great wines of all time. It is impossible to describe this wine other than to say it is completely round and delicious. The wine is made from predominantly Cabernet Franc and in the same method used to make Amarone, in which the grapes are dried for several months prior to vinification. The resulting wine is unbelievably rich in color and ethereal on the palate. It is a wine that provides a provocative wine tasting experience. I have had the 1996 and 1997 vintages of this wine and each is superb. Alas greatness does not come without a price. $395.  Wine-Searcher.

Howard, you outdid yourself and we are all grateful that you did.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Soldera Dinner @ Ristorante Morini

Last week, along with a few good friends, I attended a dinner featuring four vintages of Gianfranco Soldera Brunello.  The event was hosted by Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Company and held at Ristorante Morini in NYC.

Cosmo, Mark, Paul, Tony, Joe

2008 Case Basse Visit
I have long been a big fan of Soldera’s wines and had the pleasure, along with my family, of spending 2 ½ hours with him at his Case Basse estate in 2008.  Along with my visit to Giuseppe Quintarelli, it remains my most fondest vineyard visit.  The estate is a testament to Mother Nature, with its more than 1500 varieties of roses and numerous insect and animal sanctuaries.  The wines are a pure expression of what Mother Nature gives him to work with.  He limits production to 15,000 bottles annually, thus assuring excellence in every vintage and every bottle.  Such excellence does not come cheap.  The wines today will cost you about $500 a bottle.

Soldera,and his wife Graziella, an avid botanist, first discovered the then-abandoned Case Basse property in the early 1970s. They set about restoring the estate to full function, following a strict and intriguing philosophy of “enlightened agriculture” to create a singular Brunello of the utmost quality.

The estate vineyards, subject of continuous study by the agriculture faculties of various leading universities, are planted within a complex ecosystem ideal for natural cultivation, where fertilization is organic and no herbicides are permitted. The vineyards are small in size in order to permit manual cultivation at all stages, followed by a short harvest.  The wines spend six years or more in large, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings before bottling.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of the evening was when Soldera, through his interpreter, spoke about how his bottling techniques and cork quality obviate the need to store his bottles on their side, as is usual for all wines that are aging.  He says, “stand them up”.  I found this to be very, very interesting.

We were served the 4 wines side by side, thus enabling us to move back and forth between them and assess the wines over the course of the dinner.  Dinner was good, but took a back seat to the wines.

2000 Soldera Case Base Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  A difficult year in Tuscany marked by very uneven growing conditions, but in the hands of master like Soldera, he turned out the wine of the vintage.  The wine soared from the glass initially, but after an hour it began to run out of gas.  A remarkable effort given the vintage, but it lacked the pedigree of the others tonight and will never, in my opinion, reach the heights they are destined to attain.

2006 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese. A man of very strong conviction and principals, Soldera resigned from the local Brunello Consorzio over their policies.  Beginning with this vintage he now bottles his wine as Toscano Sangiovese, but it is still the same glorious Case Basse Brunello he has always made.  This was the tightest wine of the group displaying green notes and somewhat harsh tannins.  Ah but the pedigree is fantastic.  This is destined to be a marvelous wine.  It did begin to show some of its underlying beauty after two hours in the glass.  If you open one now, I would definitely decant it for about 4 hours, but I suggest giving it a few more years in the cellar.

2008 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese.  This is classic Soldera that is still a bit young.  Excellent depth and focus that will be enhanced as the fruit begins to fully emerge in a couple more years.  I found the finish to be soft, lengthy and elegant.  According to Antonio Galloni, “2008 spent 18 months in cask and finished its aging in steel, so it is quite different from virtually every other wine made at Case Basse, but it is drop-dead gorgeous just the same”.

2009 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese.  While all the wines were great, I fell in love with the 2009.  It was simply glorious. The bright, ripe fruit danced on the tongue with soft tannins and wonderful complexity.  Delicious now, this is destined to be a monster wine in a year or two. According to Soldera, ‘09 was a difficult vintage.  He says he prefers these types of vintages because the wines turn out to be sensational as they take on weight and age.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Great Female Wine Makers

A couple of weeks ago I once again hosted a Gourmet Wine dinner to benefit the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey (HANJ).  This year I decided to focus on wines made by a few of the great female winemakers from Italy and France.  My sincere thanks to Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines for procuring all the wines for the event.

Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany once again provided the venue for a wonderful evening. Tony Grande (owner), Natale Grande (Executive Chef), Salvatore Le Rose (Maitre'd/Wine Director) and the very professional staff of Il Capriccio Ristorante saw to it that the event was orchestrated like the NY Philarmonic.

I am most delighted to report that the event netted more than $49,000 for the evening.  I want to thank all of my friends, coagulation manufacturers and home care companies whose financial support made it all possible.  As for HANJ, I have always said that if I had hemophilia or a child with hemophilia and I did not live in NJ, I would move here to have access to their support.  Led by outgoing Executive Director Elena Bostick and new Executive Director, Stephanie Lapidow and their committed staff, HANJ has accomplished more for families that live with hemophilia than any other state in the country.  Once again hats of to you and the hemophilia treatment centers that mange the medical needs of the community.

Stephanie Lapidow & Elena Bostick

The festivities began with an hour of passed assorted hors d'oeuvres that were enjoyed by all

Prosciutto & Melon                 Mozzarella di Bufala   
Stuffed Zucchini Flowers         Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
Baby Polpettini                  Baby Lamb Chops

With these delicious bites we enjoyed:

 2012 Ariana Occhipinti Nero d’Avolo Siccagno.  The young and extremely talented Ariana Occhipinti has been making extraordinary “natural” wines in Vittoria, Sicily since 2004 at the ripe old age of 24. Tonight’s wine, crafted from 100% Nero d’Avolo, was a beautiful example of turning Mother Nature’s fruit into a compelling and delicious wine.  The ashy & earthy bouquet is complemented by an elegant and pure fruity palate that displays considerable depth.  The finish is both delicious and lengthy.  A tour de force of natural winemaking!  $42.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Olga Raffault Champ Chenin.  I remain both confused and grateful that the wines from the Loire Valley of France get very little press. My confusion stems from the fact that while the red (Cabernet Franc) and white (Chenin Blanc) grapes produce delicious and age-worthy wines year after year, they play second and third fiddle to the wines that receive high scores from critics.  On the other hand, I am grateful, make that very grateful, that because of this the wines are very reasonable and offer great value to the drinker.   This Chenin Blanc is of the grape variety "Pineau de la Loire".  23 years old and the wine displayed both youthful fruit and incredible depth on a complex palate with enough acidity to keep this beauty drinking for at least another decade, if not longer.  The finish was monstrous both in length and flavor.  This wine was made by Olga Raffault who sadly passed away a few years ago.  Her granddaughter Sylvie is at the helm today and has continued to produce great wines in the tradition of her grandmother.  $54. Wine-Searcher.

We then sat down to our pasta course of Trofie Al Ragu d’Anatra Al Barolo (Quill Pasta in a sauce of Duck and Barolo Wine).  While Il Capriccio does everything well, chef Natale Grande really shines with his pastas, as he did tonight.  Generous plates were served and more than a few said yes when second helpings were offered.

We had three wines with the pasta.

2006 Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses Blanc.  Since 1988 Claude de Nicolay took over from her mother as winemaker at this top estate. This wine was a great example how a great wine maker usually makes an outstanding wine in a so-so vintage.  At age 10 the wine is just coming into its drinking window.  The nose displayed rich fruit while the slightly mineral palate revealed a delicious, beautifully balanced wine with an excellent finish. Expect to pay about $60 should you be able to find it.

2012 Foradori Morei Teroldego delle Dolomiti (Magnum).  Teroldego is a native grape variety of the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy. Located in the foothills of the Dolomites, it is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir.  Elisabetta Foradori is referred to as the “undisputed top producer of Teroldego”.  For the Morei she vinifies in amphorae (tiñaja from Villarobledo, Spain); She finds that the shape of the vessels and the porosity of the clay lends exceptional purity and balance to the wine. The winemaking process is non-interventionistic, so that only the character of the land and the variety shows through.

A compelling wine, it boasts a dark hue with an enticing nose of spice and stone. A host of intensely savory/mineral notes meld into a core of dense dark red and black stone fruits.  A bit tannic on a wonderful complex palate, the wine finishes great length.  $45. Wine-Searcher.

2010 Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino (Magnum).   Mentored by the great Gianfranco Soldera, twin sisters Margarita and Francesca Padovani founded the estate in 1997 and produced their first vintage in 2004 if I recall correctly.  Biodynamic farming and natural wine making are followed religiously resulting in stunning wines marked by both purity and complexity.  What an elegant Brunello this is.  If one were to taste this blind, I would not be surprised if they guessed Soldera.  While still a bit young, the pedigree shines through as each sip evolved and opened a bit more thus giving a peek into the impeccable balance, finesse and elegance that is waiting to be released after a few more years of cellar time.  This is definitely a wine with soul!  $100.  Wine-Searcher.  Since this is a bit pricey, I suggest looking for their Rosso di Montalcino and about 1/3 the price.

The main course was an expertly prepared Stinco d’Agnello con Risotto Milanese (Roasted Lamb Shank with Risotto). I will let the photo below speak for the dish.

We drank two French reds, one from the Loire and one from Burgundy with the entrée.  Both were awesome.

2006 Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes Grand Cru.  This was simply magnificent, and for we the wine of the night.  As I mentioned earlier, 2006 was a rather average vintage, but this wine was anything but average and in fact bordered on the extraordinary. The enticing Burgundian nose soared from the glass and immediately seduced the senses, wetting the palate in glorious anticipation of what is was about to experience.  There was no let down when it hit the palate with elegantly ripe, yet soft, fruit that danced in harmony with the velvet tannins before exiting with a fantastic and lengthy elegance.  $112.  Wine-Searcher.  

2002 Olga Raffaut Les Picasses.  100% Cabernet Franc, this beautiful wine is just entering its peak drinking window.  The wine begins with a deep earthy bouquet that like the previous wine created high expectations for the palate.  On the palate the wine was full-bodied, with remarkable balance and complexity.  Like all great wines it kept evolving with each sip and finished with considerable length.  At $37, one is hard pressed to find a better value.  Wine-Searcher.
Gorgonzo Dolce, Purée di Fichi           Chocolate Lava Cake  
2013 Occhipinti Passito Passo Nero 500 ml accompanied the cheese and dessert courses which followed. I couldn’t really get excited about this. The wine seemed to be very one-dimensional, with sweetness dominating the palate.  I think that a few years in the cellar will help this wine a lot.  $60.  Wine-Searcher.

Thanks again to all that made this evening the success it was.  Special thanks to Gene Urban, Master Photographer, Impressive Impressions for donating his time and talent for the evening.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rockin’ & Rhonen’

Our local wine group met this past Wednesday evening.  The venue was once again Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville.  Regular readers of my posts know that we frequent the restaurant quite frequently, and why not as owner/chef Allan Russo never fails to delight us with his simply prepared dishes made from high quality ingredients.  This night was no exception.

Food Highlights

Saffron Cream Mussels - In my opinion mussels can only be great or terrible.  When overcooked it's like eating cardboard.  Properly cooked, they are plump and briny crustaceans that take you back to the sea with each bite, as these were tonight.

Homemade Sweet Italian Sausage w/Broccoli Rape - An Italian classic, the dish was prepared with a touch of red pepper flakes and fresh Reggiano Parmigianno cheese.  The fork tender broccoli was a perfect foil for the delicious and expertly prepared sausage.

Homemade Tagliatelle Bolognese - On our last visit here Allan made us Spaghetti Bolognese that we raved about.  Tonight's version with a homemade and thicker pasta was lightly bathed in a delicate meat sauce was simply magical.

Short Ribs of Beef - Served boneless in a red wine sauce, they literally fell apart in the mouth. Simply delicious.

Millefoglie - Pure decadence...and oh so good with a properly made Espresso.


Emil was in the queue to select and bring the wine.  He chose wines from France’s Rhone Valley, two reds from the Northern Rhone and 3 reds from the Southern Rhone.  His selections blew us away.  More about them momentarily after a bit of history regarding the Rhone Valley.  

The reds of the Northern Rhone are all made from 100% Syrah grapes.  Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are perhaps the most familiar of the eight appellations that make up the region.  The climate here is quite different than the Southern Rhone. The average temperatures are much cooler. There is more rain. The growing season is shorter and the region often experiences changes in each of the 4 seasons. That unique Mediterranean climate and steep hillside terroir, with its rocky soils are perfect for growing the grapes allowed in the region. The natural moisture added to the vines from the Rhone river is an essential part of the regions micro climates and terroir. Temperatures in Hermitage and Cornas are slightly warmer than the rest of the region and Cote Rotie, being the furthest north, will have the coolest temperatures.

The Southern Rhone Valley is a much larger area than the Northern Rhone. Close to 95% of all wines in the Rhone come from the Southern Rhone.  Wines from the Southern Rhone are generally speaking, lighter, sweeter, more open, and more alcoholic than wines from the Northern Rhone. Chateauneuf du Pape is the undisputed King of the Southern Rhone Valley. CdP laws allow for the use of all 15 different grape varietals in the wine.  While there are a couple of producers, Beaucastel of note, who utilize all 15, most use the Grenache grape predominantly or exclusively.  

Emil started off with two amazing wines from the Northern Rhone.  Jean Louis Chave and E. Guigal are two of the most famous producers in the region.  Their wines are fantastic expressions of how good Syrah can be, but alas they are very, very expensive.  Emil selected two wines from the heretofore unknown to us producer, Pierre Gonon.  While I have enjoyed both Chave and Guigal in the past, these wines would easily hold their own if drunk alongside either or both.
Today Pierre’s sons Jean and Pierre run the estate. In 2004 they purchased vineyards from the legendary Raymond Trollat, who retired in 2005.  The brothers farm and ferment their grapes in the old-school style…all vines are from sélection massale (best of the best), low yields, hand harvested grapes and only indigenous yeasts.  They work their nine hectares of land without any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, using all-natural composts.  Once in the cellar, they ferment the wines traditionally in open, oak vats, with regular punch-downs by foot.  The good news is that these are reasonably priced wines.  The bad news is they are rare and extremely hard to find.

2014 Domaine Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l’Ardecje “Les Iles Feray.  Vin de Pays translates to “country wine”, which is above table wine, but below AOC designate wine.  While still considered within the Saint Joseph appellation, the brothers choose to bottle this younger vine Syrah separately from their flagship appellation cuvée.  They feel the vineyard location on flatland close to the bank of the Rhône does not posses the same granite base as is typical of the hillside sites and thus while a wonderful Syrah in its own right, the brothers do not consider it of the same caliber as the wine born of the hillside parcels.  While they may not consider it of the same caliber, we considered it a terrific wine.  The wine possessed a deep purple hue, earthy bouquet and a light, velvety palate.  It was a wine marked more by freshness than depth and complexity. It was delicious, and unfortunately virtually impossible to find.  If you can find it expect to pay around $40.  A great value. 

The Saint-Joseph appellation is the largest in the Northern Rhone Valley with more than 100 different growers. While the wines don’t enjoy the glamour of those from Hermitage and Cote-Rotie they do not command the high prices either.  They are beautiful expressions of the Syrah grape and do not require as much aging as the big boys do.

2012 Domaine Pierre Gonon Saint-Joseph Rouge.  We drank this alongside the Vin de Pays. Like the Vin de pays the wine is made from selection massale from 6 vineyards, old and new. The grapes are partially de-stemmed with vinification taking place in large open vats.  The wine ages for 14 to 16 months and is racked twice during this time.  Like the wine before it only 35,000 bottles are produced annually.  Similar to the Vin de Pays, the wine it had a deep purple hue with an enticing earthy bouquet of ripe fruit.  The wine showed amazing depth, balance and complexity.  The finish was long and elegant.  It was the best Saint-Joseph Syrah I have ever had…and I have had the JL Chave.  Unfortunately it will be impossible to find.  If you can find it expect to pay $75+.

For the Southern Rhone wines Emil selected 3 from the iconic Chateau Rayas.  Along with Henri Bonneau, Rayas is considered by most collectors, myself included, to be the finest producer of traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape.  Importer Martine Saunier says of Rayas CdP, "It is a truly unusual wine that demands to be aged at least five to 15 years.  Personally, I describe it as the Montrachet of the Rhône Valley."

2003 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Pignan Reserve.  The “second” wine of Rayas CdP.  As I understand it, fruit that does not meet the standards to be bottled as Rayas Reserve CdP, is bottled separately as Pignan Reserve.  A remarkable CdP, made from 100% Grenache, it is, in my opinion, better than most other highly acclaimed CdP Reserves.  2003 was an extremely hot year resulting in wines of high alcohol and low acidity.  Despite these conditions, and the somewhat high alcohol level, Rayas made a terrific wine.  Tonight’s wine had a bit of barnyard on the nose when first poured into the glass that quickly dissipated with a few minutes of air.  The peppery palate was beautifully balanced with sublime focus and complexity.  The high alcohol was seamlessly integrated and the wine finished with length and elegance.  Rayas wines are highly allocated and very difficult to find as this vintage is. 

1999 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve and 1998 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve completed the evening.  What glorious wines.  I find it hard to find the right adjectives to describe Rayas CdP other than to say the wines are always round and delicious and finish with unbelievable length and elegance. That was the case with both of these wines. We did agree that the ’98 possessed a bit more depth than the ’99. These wines are available, but expect to pay upwards of $450 a bottle. Wine-Searcher.

Emil, what can I say but thank you so much for your generosity and treating us to 5 fantastic wines.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Laurel & Sage

This past Friday evening my wife and I dined with 6 friends at Laurel & Sage in Montclair, NJ. The restaurant is located in the space where Ariane Durate showcased her culinary skills at her Culin Ariane Restaurant for a number of years.  Ariane has since moved on to Verona to open the more casual, Ariane Kitchen and Bar.   Fortunately under the direction and skills of chef/owner Shawn Paul Dalziel and his wife Jenny, the space continues to wow diners with spectacularly prepared and presented food.  Chef Dalziel’s has honed his skills in California, NYC and now Montclair.   This was our second visit to Laurel & Sage and on both occasions the food and service has been fantastic.  A BYOB restaurant, the wine service is on a par with what you would find in any top NYC restaurant.  The servers are knowledgeable and thus provide the appropriate glass to accommodate the wines you bring.  Decanters are also available.

I apologize for taking only one photo of the food on both occasions, but the one I took I am sure will give you a sense of what you can expect from chef Dalziel’s kitchen (there are a number of photos on their website).  This was my entrée, Crispy Jumbo Soft Shell Crab with corn tamale, pudding & salsa & shishito pepper.  This was an OMG dish.  The delicately spiced crab was greaseless, crispy and meaty.  It was a tour-de-force of flavors and textures.  Simply the best soft shell crab I have ever had.

I began the evening splitting two appetizers. Crispy Chilean Seabass Maki  Roll stuffed with papaya, avocado, jalapeño and served with a trio of dipping sauces.  Prepared like a sushi roll, the Nori wrap is lightly battered prior to the roll being flash-fried before being sliced and served. Again textures and flavors throw a party in your mouth.  

Cast-Iron Seared Diver Scallops.  Fresh and perfectly cooked they are served atop kabocha squash gnocchi with chestnut crema.  This amazing dish is also available as a main course.

Fresh poached in-the-shell Lobster cocktail, raw Cherrystone Clams and a salad of Roasted Baby Beets & Field Greens topped with goat cheese, spiced pecans and candied bacon were enjoyed by the rest of the group.

The two other entrées that brought rave reviews were Crispy Stuffed Airline Chicken Breast with chicken sausage, mushroom faro pilaf, whole grain mustard & natural jus and Cast-Iron Seared Long Island Duck Breast with root vegetable medley fries & Madeira-bone sauce seared foie gras.

The wines we chose went beautifully with the meal.  We began with:

2004 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins.  This master of old world Chateauneuf du Pape passed away about 6 weeks ago.  We toasted his life as we enjoyed his wine, which I had given a 90 minute slo-o at home.  At the 2 1/2 hour mark the wine was surprisingly closed and an hour later it had blossomed with the bouquet filling the nose with a rustic earthiness, while the palate took on incredible finesse and elegance as the fruit began to dance on the tongue.  It finished with both length and elegance.  The Celastins is crafted from more than 90% Grenache with small amounts of Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarèse added. His wines are as old world as one can find. They are fermented in cement tanks and then they go into very old barrels from Burgundy. Here the wine stays until Bonneau determines it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years. No wine is ever bottled before 5 years in the barrel. The result is a pure and balanced wine with amazing elegance. The wine spoke to 4 of my 5 senses. A clear translucent red hue that seemed to sparkle before my eyes like glistening snow, a bouquet of the earth that sired the grapes made me appreciate the very nose on my face. On the tongue a balanced harmony that made my taste buds dance with delight. The wine is drop dead delicious.  $275. Wine-Searcher

2005 Massolino Barolo Margheria.  One of my favorite Barolo producers, Massolino’s wines are a phenomenal expression of traditional, old world winemaking. Popped and poured at the restaurant and the wine was great from the first sip to the last.  It showed impeccable balance, depth and complexity on the palate as it evolved with each sip.  The finish was lengthy and elegance.  A round and delicious wine.  $85.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the meal with an Apple Tart with Vanilla ice cream and a bottle of 1997 Dal Forno Romano Nettare that drank beautifully.  The wine displayed a gorgeous amber hue with an absolutely captivating bouquet of caramel that makes you want to keep sniffing the wine.  The caramel soars from the glass with a delicate richness that seduces the palate with floral toned honey.  Lengthy 2 minute plus finish.  A wine with soul.  A white passito desert wine that is made from Garganega and Turbiana grapes that are air-dried on mats before fermentation.  The wine is only made in years when both grapes are at their best.  While I am not the biggest fan of Dal Forno, I have been smitten by this wine. $175, 375ml.  Wine-Searcher.

Good friends, good food and good wine.  Life is good!   


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Return to the Loire

Our wine group returned once again to A Toute Heure ("anytime" is the English translation) in Cranford, NJ. for our monthly wine dinner. It was Jim’s turn to select and bring the wines.  His selection of white and reds from the Loire Region of France paired beautifully to the eclectic food served up at this excellent farm-to-table restaurant.

The Food

pan-roasted pizza, crumbled lemon goat cheese, crumbled potatoes, sunny-side up egg

Fresh Raw Oysters

roasted pork belly, fried pickles, pickled watermelon rind, spiced peanuts, and sweet and sour sauce (front below)

roast cauliflower, with stracchiatella, poached duck egg, sherry crema, fried bread crumbs, fresh horseradish, and crispy capers (back left)

spiced chickpea patty, crispy shrimp, mezcal glaze, harissa yogurt, pickled red onions, and cilantro (back right)

spinach and tuscan kale salad, shaved mushrooms, parsnip, porcini and roast garlic dressing, aged goat cheese, toasted walnuts (no photo)

seafood chowder pot pie: root vegetable “new england” style chowder base, with clams, oysters, and shrimp, with a puff pastry crust

duck leg confit, with goat cheese and duck pierogies, frisee greens with crispy duck skin, grapes, pickled beets, and a duck vinaigrette

Happy Valley Meat’s 18 oz. ribeye steak, prime PA pasture raised beef, paired with sauteed brussels sprouts, ATH frites with parmesan, and watercress butter

toffee apple and pear cake, with Phillips Farm’s fruit, with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream

warm baked chocolate chip cookie
all on its own

homemade triple chocolate ice cream

The Wines

1998 Huet Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg. One of my favorite producers of Chenin Blanc, Huet wines rarely disappoint.   Tonight was no exception.  The wine began with a gorgeous golden yellow hue and an enticing citrus bouquet.  The viscous palate had terrific depth and finesse and the wine finishes with considerable length.  Unfortunately this vintage does not appear to be available in the U.S. market.  But fear not as many current vintages are available at around $35 a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

2008 Stephane Cossais Montlouis-sur-Loire Le Volagré.   We had this wine last August at one of our group dinners and it was once again and outstanding an example of Chenin Blanc.  I mentioned in a previous post that Stephane trained under the legendary Foucault brothers and did not begin making his own wine until 2001, but was not proud of any until 2004.  Unfortunately he passed away suddenly, and this vintage was his final and unquestionably his greatest accomplishment.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Catherine & Pierre Breton Nuits d’Ivresse Bourgueil.  Wines like this bring a huge smile to my face.  They are simply delicious and offer fantastic value.  Breton is another of the many under the radar estates in the Borurguiel, an AOC appellation in the Loire Valley region, which produces primarily red wine from Cabernet Franc grapes. Nuits d’Ivresse “Drunken Nights” is the name of a special cuvée of selected old vines from top clay and limestone sites in Bourgueil.

This bottling is crafted from a selection of old vines, vinified and aged without sulphur to preserve its fruity flavors. Tonight’s wine displayed a terrific balance of fruit and tannins and a fruity and focused palate.  At $37, it is hard to find better QPR anywhere.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.  It is hard for me to fathom why this incredible producer flies under the radar as her wines are simply remarkable.  I won’t complain though as the low price is even more remarkable.  Les Picasses is the most classic and age worthy wine from the domaine. It comes from a limestone terroir, where the vines have reached a respectable fifty years of age. The fruit is hand-harvested and fermentation is carried out in stainless steel controlled to less than 30°C, followed by a maceration of 25-30 days.  The resulting wine goes into large foudres where it will rest for between 12 and 14 months before bottling. 

The 2007 is at the beginning of it’s drinking window and offers a great expression of traditionally made Cabernet Franc.  The wine began with a very earthy, and funky nose, while the palate displayed the outstanding pedigree of complexity, balance, focus and finesse of Raffault wines. While the wine will last for another two decades at least, at the moment it will definitely benefit from a couple of hours of slo-o or decanting. $27.  Wine-Searcher.

1985 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.  Decanted at the restaurant.  The waiter who opened the wine thought it was a bad bottle.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  He mistook that deep earthy and funky bouquet for a corked wine.  An hour in the decanter and the wine had blossomed and displayed vibrant and balanced fruit on a pure and complex palate before finishing with considerable length.  WOTN.  $73.  Wine-Searcher.

Yes it was another wonderful evening with a great group of guys, great food and great wine. Thanks Jim for the excellent selections.