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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Three Generations of Bartolo Mascarello

Our New York Vinous wine group got together recently for a simply magical evening of the wines of Bartolo Mascarello spanning 1955 to 2009.  The tasting was held at Hearth in the East Village. We were provided with a private room and received gracious service and excellent food.

We began the evening as we usually do with a bottle of bubbly.  Michael treated us to NV Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru VP. V.P. stands for Vieillissement Prolongé, or extended aging.   In this case the wine was aged 84 months on the lees, contributing to its unique character, and was disgorged May 2015. The wine is crafted from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay of which 90% is from Grand Cru Ambonnay with the rest coming from Grand Cru Verzenay and Bouzy and is made up of equal parts from the 2007, 2006, and 2005 harvest. I loved the yeasty bouquet, crisp and complex palate and bright, lengthy finish.  This is my third or fourth bottle of Champagne from Egly-Ouriet and I have been impressed each time.

Each of us brought along a bottle of Bartolo Mascarello Barolo to the tasting.  The wines which were separated into four flights ranging from oldest to more recent vintages.  Although not planned, the wines spanned three generations of winemakers at the estate, Giulio, Bartolo and Maria Teresa.  All the wines were open around noon and allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours before being transported to the restaurant.

The wines of Bartolo Mascarello were my epiphany regarding how good wine can be and the pure elegance of the Nebbiolo grape when put in the hands of a master.  The wine making principals established by Bartolo’s father Giulio have never changed and continues today under the very capable direction of Bartolo’s daughter Maria Teresa.  The estate owns vineyards in four of the most prestigious crus in Barolo…Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué and Rocche dell'Annunziata.  The fruit from these holdings is co-fermented in cement and then racked into large, neutral oak, where the wines are aged for roughly three and a half years before being bottled.  Until 1982 the wines were labeled Cantina Mascarello when Bartolo changed the name to Bartolo Mascarello.  For more comprehensive information regarding the estate, complete with great photos, visit Ken Vastola's blog Visit to Cantina Bartolo Mascarello.

Flight One

1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Cannubi Riserva.  Ken was given this bottle as a gift on his trip to Piedmont last month and he generously brought it along.  We thank you Ken for your generosity. The wine displayed a brackish-red hue in the glass with a smoky old world bouquet. We were all amazed at how youthful the wine was.  It was a joy to drink.

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Cannubi.  Like the ’55 this was made by Giulio and it too was a joy to drink.  It was similar in appearance and character to the ’55 but took a bit more time to open in the glass.  When it did open it was glorious and a match for the ’55.  I enjoyed them both immensely.

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Made by Bartolo, this was pure elegance and finesse in a glass. A darker and more translucent red hue than the ’55 or ’58, the wine soared from the glass with each ship in perfect balance marked by fantastic depth and complexity.  The finish was lengthy and pure feminine elegance.  It was my WOTN and has the stuff to continue to drink well for many years to come.

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Like the ’82 this had a darker and more translucent red hue than the ’55 or ’58.  It too soared from the glass with an amazing youthful energy and tremendous balance and a long elegant finish.  This should easily last for another few decades.

L to R: 1955; 1958; 1982; 1990
Flight Two

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  I have been enjoying this beautiful wine since my first bottle in 2009.  It is a daunting wine possessing a fabulous bouquet; pure fruit on the palate and a lengthy, velvety finish. I thought it was clearly the wine of the flight.

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  From a legendary vintage, the pedigree of this wine is eminently apparent with its deep and enticing bouquet and full-bodied palate.  I found the fruit to still be a bit tight and tannic however.  I’d give this another 4 to 5 years of cellar time.

1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This was the surprise of the night for me.  I gave up on the ’97 vintage of Barolo a few years ago after numerous oxidized bottles.  Tonight’s bottle was really good.  While not in the class of the others in the flight, the fruit was alive, the tannins soft and there was more than a bit of complexity on the palate and finished with elegant notes.  It reminded me of earlier bottles I had the pleasure to drink.

1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Like the others in the group, this bottle was a bit off.  Perhaps a damaged bottle.  A bottle last year was much better.

Flight Three

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This was superb. Classic Bartolo.  Gorgeous translucent red hue with a wonderful bouquet of earth and fruit.  Well balanced and pure on the palate.  The wine evolved with each sip and finished with terrific length and elegance.  Easily the wine of the flight for me.

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This wine, like many of the vintage, is beginning to wake up after being asleep for the past 5 years.  In my opinion it still needs cellar time.

2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Made by Maria Teresa, this is a beautiful wine and drinking beautifully and should continue to do so for another 10+ years. Enticing Piedmont earthy bouquet.  Balanced and focused palate and a monster finish.

Flight Four

2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  A prodigious wine that underscores the amazing wine making talent of Maria Teresa.  Many believe, myself included, that she has taken the estate to a new level of excellence in the world of traditionally made Barolo.  This is a big, powerful wine with fantastic potential.  The wine has all the makings of a great Barolo; depth, complexity, balance, energy and elegance.  My favorite of the flight.  Give this another 4 to 5 years of cellar time and then enjoy it over the ensuing 3 or 4 decades.

2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  I was surprised that this did not show as well as I thought it would, given the excellent vintage.  It possessed a lovely nose and soft palate, but the fruit I felt was hard.  The underlying pedigree is evident, but either it was a slightly off bottle or is simply going to require more cellar time.

2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. I liked this a lot.  The wine had a gorgeous bouquet and a graceful and focused palate with an elegant finish.  I look for this to age gracefully over the next 10+ years.

I brought along a bottle of 1993 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Mollieux 1er Trie to complete the evening.   100% Chenin Blanc dessert wine with a golden hue and big honeycomb nose.  The palate is rich with honey notes and great acidity.

This was truly a remarkable evening.  I am honored to be a part of this NY Vinous group.  A group of generous and knowledgeable guys who's contributions to the experience of great wines is second to none.

Please check out Eric Guido's notes on the tasting at his blog The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Unique Burgundy Experience

Our local wine group met this past Monday evening at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville. Readers of this blog realize by now that Sette has become a regular venue for us (9th visit in the past couple of years).  Needless to say owner/chef Allan Russo prepared another exceptional meal for us. While everything was delicious we were rocked by the Onion Tart, Risotto and Pasta Bolognese.  Alan explained that the tart was his Swiss mother's recipe.  Thank you mom, simply delicious.   The Risotto was ethereal, made with the very small Vialano Nano rice grains, it had a fantastic creamy texture highlighted by the Crimini mushroom béchamel and black truffle shaving.  I have had many a Bolognese sauce, both here and in Bologna, Italy.  This is one of the best versions I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.  Allan explained that his research for real "authentic" Bolognese led him to the recipe he used to prepare the sauce.  All the meats, veal, pork, beef, pancetta and Mortadella were ground in house and incorporated into the sauce with a bit of milk and a touch of tomato passato.  Finished with a bit of Pecorino, the flavors were fantastic.  The final dish was an Australian Lamb Chop with sautéed Broccoli Rabe which I did not eat.  I am not a lamb eater and I was very content after the risotto and pasta.  My friends however raved about the chop.  Profiteroles completed the meal.

Jeff, our Burgundy expert, selected the wines for the evening and as always wowed us with his lineup of aged Burgundies.  With the exception of the Champagne, Montrachet and 1966 Chambertin, he brought along 5 half bottles for us to taste.  An avid auction buyer, all were purchased at auction at exceptional prices.  All wines were opened at dinner.

1996 Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame Champagne.  1996 was an extraordinary vintage in Champagne. The yeasty and peachy nose was intoxicating to inhale.  On the palate the fruit was crisp and vibrant with terrific acidity making for a soulful bubbly that was a joy to experience. Verzenay & Avize are the two dominant crus in a blend of 8 grand crus.

1994 Etienne Sauzet Montrachet Grand Cru. Absolutely fabulous wine.  The wine displayed a viscous palate with great depth and balance and a lengthy and provocative finish. The wine never stopped evolving throughout the course of the dinner.  Montrachet is at the very top of the various Montrachet designations.  Production is very limited and is reflected in the very high prices for the wine.  While 1994 was at best an average year this bottle of wine is another example of how great producers often make exceptional wines in these types of vintages.  This was my WOTN.

1972 Marius Delarche Corton-Renardes Grand Cru, 375ml.  The wine began with an earthy, Burgundian bouquet on the nose before moving to a wonderfully pure and focused palate and velvety finish. 

1972 Pierre Engel Alexis Lichine Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, 375ml.  A négociant is a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name. Négociants buy everything from grapes to grape must to wines in various states of completion.  Alexis Lichine was a major wine Négociant from the mid fifties until the end of the 20th century. According to Jeff, Alexis Lichine wines were actually domaine bottled but sold under the "Alexis Lichine" name.   The Domaine René Engle predominantly dealt with négociants until 1988 when 3rd generation owner and winemaker Philippe began making his own wine in house.  This wine was probably bottled by Engel but sold under the Alexis Lichine label, where his name appears on the lower left side of the label.  In any case the wine was terrific.  Translucent red hue in tact with no browning at the edges and a classic Burgundy palate with the fruit still very much in tact.  

1972 Jean Meo Alexis Lichine Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, 375ml.  Jeff explained that this wine was most likely made by Henri Jayer, the iconic Burgundy producer.  Under a contract with the Meo Camuzet estate, Jayer managed and farmed the land.  He received 50% of the fruit, which he bottled and labeled under his own label, and 50% he bottled under the Meo Camuzet label. Thus this bottle was most likely made by Jayer.  Jayer wines sell for thousands of dollars a bottle at auction today, as they are highly sought after and considered to be the ultimate expression of red Burgundy.  This was lovely.  Big earthy, Burgundian nose with lively fruit.  On the palate it showed great depth and complexity for a 40+-year-old wine.  The finish was quite lengthy and elegant.  This was my runner up to WOTN.

1985 Tollot-Beaut Beaune 1er Cru Clois du Roi, 375ml.  The ’85 vintage in Beaune was an excellent one and this wine was a great example of the vintage.  The wine showed great balance, a hallmark of the vintage.  The wine had ripe fruit, focus and finesse with a lengthy finish. 

1966 Alexis Lichine Newman Latricieres Chambertin Grand Cru, 375ml.  1966 was a magnificent vintage in Burgundy characterized by elegant, balanced wines with terrific purity.  All of these were in evidence here in addition to a lengthy and focused finish.

1964 Domaine Merme Alexis Lichine Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru, 375ml.  Another excellent vintage in Burgundy, which was evident in the wine, which showed excellent concentration of fruit, purity and balance.  This finish was long and elegant.

1971 Vogue Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru 750ml.  Another excellent vintage in Burgundy, this wine showed terrific balance and and complexity with a lengthy and elegant finish.

It was a great evening.  We ate great food, drank wonderful wines (thanks again Jeff) and learned a great deal about Alexis Lichine and his negociant business…and had a chance to taste a wine made by Henri Jayer.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Magnificence of Rayas & Bonneau

At the end of June, 8 fellow Vinous members met at Satis Bistro in Jersey City for a BYOB Henri Bonneau and Chateau Rayas tasting.  As Guy Fieri says on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it was "off the hook".   The event was the idea of Canadian Vinous member Philippe who, like me, is a fanatic for these wines. Philippe also knows more about Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines than most people I know.  Portions of what you will read in this post I have taken from his notes and comments.  Philippe, who was vacationing in NJ with his lovely family, selected the restaurant. None of us had been there before, but I for sure will be back.  It was a great choice.  Satis specializes in homemade Charcuterie, Patés and eclectic Bistro fare.  We enjoyed a full sampling of all of them (sorry no pics, too busy eating and savoring the wine):  The food was delicious and complemented the wines beautifully.

Tuscan Pâté of Soft Chicken Liver Mousse

Duck Rilettes  made from Shredded Duck Con t with Pink Peppercorn and Thyme

Clasic Country Style Pâté

Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy. A Hint of Nutty Fl avor from the Parmigiano Reggiano used in the Pig’s Diet

Soppressata Picante A Coarsely Ground, Dry-cured Spicy Sausage Made with Lean Pork Meat,

Pork Fat and Delicious Spices

Saucisson Sec Dry Cured Peppery Garlic French Sausage

Chorizo Secco Dried Berkshire Pork Sausage seasoned with Smoked Paprika, Garlic and Hot Pepper

Speck Black pepper rubbed and smoked prosciutto

We began the evening with a bottle of  Jacques Selosse V.O.(Version Originale) Champagne that was disgorged on April 9 2014.  When I think of Champagne, Selosse is who I think of.  I am enraptured by the seductive yeasty nose and palate that is a signature of his wines.  Like every other wine I have had by him, the wine evolved with each sip and was completely round and delicious.  It is made from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from the Champagne communes of Avize, Cramant and Oger from three successive vintages.

We followed this with a 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc Reserve that was spectacular and stood toe to toe with the Selosse tonight.  Philippe explained that this was "50-50 mix Grenache Blanc and Clairette, vinified from 100% whole clusters, 30+ year old  vines aged in demi-muids with malolactic not blocked and then 9 months in tank."   In fact in his post on Vinous he said "...Montrachet from the Southern Rhone could well be the nickname of this wine..."  There was no argument from me or the others who enjoyed the wine.  The wine simply soared from the glass and danced on the palate in balance and harmony.  A wine with soul!

Our first flight of reds was 2001 Rayas Réservé, 2004 Pignan Réservé and 2008 Rayas Réservé.  Each of the wines are 100% Grenache (Rayas signature). In the glass they all exhibited a brilliant translucent red hue and an enticing aroma of pepper and spice.  The 2001 was the most evolved of the three.  It displayed wonderful depth and balance.  The '04 Pignan was great with it's vibrant fruit and impeccable balance.  The '08 Rayas was the surprise as the night. Not considered a very good vintage, the wine was the consensus WOTN.  The peppery bouquet was really present here and echoed beautifully on the soft and elegant palate.  The wine is still in its youth and based on the pedigree in the glass this is destined to be a great wine.  When I think about it though, there is really no surprise here.  Great producers are capable of producing great wines even in off vintages. 

2001 Rayas                2004 Pignan         2008 Rayas
We then moved to the wines of Henri Bonneau beginning with the Rouliers NV. This wine is made from a vineyard worked by his son in the Gard (west of Chateauneuf on the western side of the Rhone River). The wine shows all the hallmareks of a great Chateauneuf with astonishing freshness, depth and complexity.  According to Philippe the wine contains some declassified wines from Bonneau's main CDP estate barrels.  Classified as a basic wine, it shows a wonderful earthy nose and peppery palate with nice fruit and balance.  

Next up was Henri Bonneau Reserve des Celestins from 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2009.  Philippe added some excellent information on Bonneau from the Harry Karis book "The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book"..."the regular cuvee "Tradition" is what Bonneau deems "good", the Marie Beurrier what he feels is "very good" and the Celestins is "Grand Vin" status. All wines are made from 90% grenache and 10% from a mix of Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Vaccarese  from 30+ old vines, 100% whole clusters and aged 3-5 years in some very old demi-muids and small oak barrels."  I have had the fortune to taste and own all three and they are, in a word, spectacular.   They possess a darker hue and a more masculine palate than the more feminine elegance of Rayas. Like Rayas they are round and delicious wines that soar from the glass and evolve with each sip.  The '01 was clearly the wine of this flight.  I have had this vintage on many occasions and it has never let me down.  Tonight was no exception.  The earthy bouquet filled the nose in grand expectation of what the palate was about to experience...and then delivered in spades.  Superb balance and complexity with a forever finish.  The '04 began very tight in the glass, but after about 30 minutes came around beautifully.  The '07 and the '09 were much too young to appreciate.  At this point in time I would give the edge to the '09 in terms of approaching its drinking window.
Celestains, left to right: '01;  '04;  '07;  '09

We finished this magnificent evening with Quintarelli's Bianco Amabile del Cere Bandito from the '86 and '90 vintages.  This very rare dessert wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano and Saorin that have been attacked by noble rot like Sauternes.  Quintarelli has only released it a few times in his lifetime.  It is only made in great vintages and is then "banished" as the name "Bandito" suggests.  The wine is marked by a seamless balance of tannins, acidity and sweetness.  A profound wine for sure as both of these attested to.  I have enjoyed the '90 on multiple occasions, but this was my first taste of the '86.  Wow!  This was more evolved and displayed a bit more depth than the '90,  which was no slouch.  In my opinion, Amiable is the greatest sweet wine one can buy.  

Well there you have it, a really remarkable evening thanks to the efforts of Philippe and the attendees who dug into their cellars to provide these provocative wines.  If you are a Vinous member be sure to check out Philippe's notes http://vinous.com/forums/index#/discussion/5414/vinous-friends-chateau-rayas-and-henri-bonneau-grand-tasting

1986 Amabile         1990 Amabile


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.