About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Las Vegas Food & Wine

Just returned from a week in Vegas where, along with my two son-in-laws, we played in the WSOP (world series of poker).  It was quite an experience.  6800+ entrants registered for the event. It is a long and grueling event, with each day consisting of five, two-hour levels of poker. While we did not reach the “money”, for our first time we did quite well.  The boys made it to day two, while I managed to last until day three before being eliminated.

While we were playing in the event at the Rio Hotel and Casino,  my wife and daughter and her two children (grandchildren), Mia and Nicholas, enjoyed the pool at the Bellagio Hotel.  We all had a terrific time, especially Mia and Nicholas.  The food was quite good, although the wine lists at most of the restaurants at the Bellagio left a bit to be desired.

Todd English’s Olive’s – Bellagio Hotel
Foie Gras
Chilean Sea Bass
Before opening his first Olive’s in Charlestown, Mass. in 1989, Todd English was the chef at Michela's in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I used to travel to Boston quite a bit in the 1980’s and whenever I did I would go to Michela’s.  The food was superb traditional Italian fare.  I still remember my first experience at Olive’s in Charlestown. I had one of those memorable meals that forever stays with you, homemade Papparadelle with rabbit meatballs.    They may well have been the best meatballs I ever had. But that was a long time ago, so let’s fast forward to Olive’s in Vegas.   Our meal consisted of Foie Gras with fresh figs and port wine reduction, Chilean Sea Bass over Creamy Risotto and Brick Roasted Free Range Chicken.  While all were very good, they were not quite up to the food I remember from Michela’s or the original Olive’s.  The children's spaghetti with tomato sauce however was very good and was quickly devoured by both Mia and Nicholas.

As I mentioned earlier, the wine lists here were on the weak side.  I was however pleasantly surprised with a bottle of 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from E. Guigal.  This entry level CdP Is made from purchased juice and is aged two years in foudre prior to release.  It is usually made from 90% old vine Grenache and 10% Mourvedre.  This medium-bodied wine possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue and ripe fruit.  It had excellent balance, a bit of complexity and a rather lengthy finish.  $55.  Wine Searcher.

Michael Mina – Bellagio Hotel
On Tuesday evening (WSOP day off) after we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” at the Aria Hotel, Carol and I took our son-in-law Andy for a birthday dinner at Michael Mina, where we had a very enjoyable meal.  The restaurant also had the best wine list of the restaurants we ate at during our stay at the Bellagio.  I began with a glass of 2013 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio, DOC.  Terlano, a wine cooperative in Alto Adige, Italy makes some of the most amazing white wines I have ever tasted. This wine, like all of their wines, is produced from a manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, and aged on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.  It was crisp, clean with a bracing acidity and a terrific finish.  A great value at under $20 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

With dinner we enjoyed a terrific bottle of 2009 Domaine Des Comtes Lafon Volnay.  Made from young vines in Santenots, the fruit was glorious and danced on the palate before finishing with length and elegance.  $86.  Wine Searcher.  Our dinner choices included, Hamachi Sashimi, Ponzu Glaze, Yuzu Vinaigrette, Micro Shiso; Phyllo Crusted DoverSole, Crab Brandade; Colorado Rack of Lamb, Glazed Ricotta Gnudi, Tagine Vegetables, Lamb Jus and New York Strip Steak with Mashed Potatoes.  Each dish was prepared and presented with exceptional culinary skill.

Phyllo Crusted Dover Sole
Martorano’s – Rio Hotel
My son-in-law Nick and I were still alive on Wednesday, day two of the WSOP, which meant we would have a 90 minute dinner break at the Rio Hotel.   We decided to test the claim made by Steve Martorano, owner/chef of Martorano’s Restaurant, regarding his old-school Italian food and “the best meatball in town.  I must say I was impressed with my Spaghetti and Meatballs. The meatball (enormous in size) was moist, tender and very tasty.  It had the right balance of wet bread to meat making it very good indeed.  The spaghetti was cooked al dente and the tomato sauce was the real deal.  Nick opted for Eggplant Parmesan, every morsel of which he finished.  Since we were still playing poker, I opted for a single glass of a 2010 Dr. Loosen Riesling that I enjoyed very much.  It had a very good balance of alcohol and residual sugar. On the palate it was clean and focused.  An outstanding value at around $12 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

Fix – Bellagio Hotel
On Thursday evening we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio.  A very enjoyable show, although I enjoyed the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” a bit more.  After the show we all went to Fix next door for a light late night dinner.  The restaurant focuses on American classics such as Buffalo wings and Angus Beef Sliders, both of which went great with ice-cold beer.

Jasmine – Bellagio Hotel
Friday, our last evening in Vegas, found us at Jasmine where we had the highlight meal of the week.  This upscale Cantonese, Szechwan and Hunan restaurant offers a spectacular view to the famous Fountains Water Show at the Bellagio as well as some of the most authentic and delicious Chinese food I have ever tasted.  In combination with terrific wine and food service, we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

Hot and Sour Soup.  I believe it was Craig Claiborne who said the indication of a great Chinese restaurant is if they know how to make Hot and Sour Soup.  My experience over the years is consistent with Mr. Claiborne’s claim.  I am a fanatic for this spicy soup and the preparation at Jasmine was equal to any I have had before, a perfect balance of spices and heat.  I knew after just one spoonful that we were in store for a great meal.

My family loves Vegetable Spring Rolls.  Those served at Jasmine, (no photo) were greaseless, crunchy and exuding flavor.  They were served with a Sweet Hawthorn Berry Sauce.  A double order was quickly gone.

Mia and Nicholas thoroughly enjoyed their favorite Chinese dish, Chicken with Broccoli in a brown sauce.  While this was not a menu item, the restaurant quickly accommodated their wish for the dish.  Their dad happily dug into Wok Fried Prime Beef Filet with Black Pepper Sauce and Bok Choy.  A meat and potatoes guy, he did not leave a morsel on his plate.  Sorry no photos of either dish.

Additional main courses we enjoyed included scrumptious Crispy Walnut Prawns.  The giant prawns were prepared with a delicious and crispy coating and topped with Honey-Glazed Walnuts.  The dish was a combination of amazing flavors and textures.

A perfectly cooked Chilian Sea Bass with Shiitake mushrooms in a Ginger Soy and Far Dew Wine sauce.  An order of Vegetable LoMein complemented both dishes to perfection.

For our wine selections I put myself in the very capable hands of sommelier Sarah Pamatat. She did not dissapoint me, beginning with a bottle of 2012 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis. Made with no new oak, this was a light-bodied Chardonnay that was clean, bright, soft and refreshing on the palate.  At under $25 retail (Wine Searcher), the wine offers great value for Chardonnay drinkers.

This historic estate has been making wine from estate fruit and purchased fruit since 1880. Today, Drouhin follows biodynamic principles in the vineyards they own and organic farming is practiced throughout all Drouhin properties. The Moulin de Vaudon property is an 18th Century watermill straddling the Serein River, close to the Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis. Flowing gently past hillsides covered with vineyards, the river has always been closely identified with Chablis and its region.  Because of its unique location at the heart of their 38 hectare vineyard estate (95 acres), this historical mill is the headquarters of the Drouhin Domaine in Chablis. Starting with the vintage 2008, the name "Vaudon" will be associated with Joseph Drouhin for all its Chablis wines as a sign of the firm's allegiance to this historical terroir.  

For the red, Sarah recommend a bottle of 2010 Louis Jadot Pommard, red Burgundy.  Like her white recommendation this was wonderful.  A Villages level wine, it had terrific finesse and exhibited soft, silky fruit on the palate with a lengthy and round finish.  Like Drouhin, Jadot has been making wine since the 1800’s and their wines, both estate and negociant, are wonderful examples of classic Burgundy Pinot Noir.  At $50, also a terrific value for very good red Burgundy.  Wine Searcher.

Viva Las Vegas!!!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

American Chop Suey

As much as I enjoy gourmet cuisine, I have a weakness for “comfort food” like Meatloaf, Pot Roast and one of my all time favorites “American Chop Suey”.  Also known as “Skillet Macaroni and Beef” or “Chili Mac” the dish never fails to please with its simplicity, mélange of flavors and textures.  It was a popular item on diner menus in the 50’s and 60’s, often appearing as the "Blue Plate Special".  Today it appears to be a long forgotten item on these menus. Fortunately my wife Carol’s recipe is “as good as it gets” in my opinion and shows up routinely on our dinner table.  Her version is an adaptation of the recipe “Skillet Macaroni and Beef” from the cookbook, “Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers”.  Carol has a degree in Home Economics and according to her this cookbook goes back to the 1960’s (yes she still owns it). Our grandchildren have also become addicted to the dish, so since we were eating with our daughters and grandchildren on Monday night, she whipped up a big batch for us to enjoy.  Here is her recipe:

1½ lbs freshly ground beef
½ cup each of chopped red bell pepper and onion
2 - 8oz cans Hunt’s tomato sauce
1½ Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1-cup warm water
salt and pepper
1 heaping cup of elbow macaroni (uncooked)

Brown meat in a skillet (she uses no oil or butter).  Add the onion and pepper and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 1-cup warm water and 1 heaping cup of elbow macaroni and cook until elbows are al dente, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and, off the heat, top with shredded American cheese and serve.

I opened a bottle of 2010 Testalonga Bianco Vermentino Dolceacqua.  Made by Antonio Perrino in Liguria from 100% Vermintino grapes, it is a wine lover’s wine, i.e. is not a wine for everyone.  The wine sees extended skin contact, which imparts an almost funky, muted straw hue to the wine.   On the palate it is peppery and complex and seems to evolve forever in the glass as you drink it.  It was the perfect complement to the dish.  The girls preferred to finish the 2011 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco that I opened the day before.  Readers of this blog know of my adoration for the wines of Quintarelli, and this, his only white, is magnificent.  Made from Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin, it drank as well on day two as it did the previous day.

What’s better than being with the family, enjoying a home cooked “comfort” meal and drinking good wine?  Let us not forget the answer, NOTHING!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Carol's Birthday

Last week we celebrated my lovely wife’s xxth birthday with friends and family.

Sunday, June 8: Da Benito Ristorante, Union, NJ.  This is actually the day before her birthday, but it was the perfect time to gather the family and two of our best friends and go to one of our favorite NJ restaurants and celebrate the day with her.  In addition to great food and a good wine list, they have a large private room that is perfect for smaller parties, especially with small children.


Osso Buco
Veal Chop
Orrechiette with Arugula & Tomato
Wild Salmon
Veal Scallopine 
Tomato Papparadelle w/ fava & shrimp

2006 Huet Le Mont Sec Vouvray.  In my opinion Huet makes some of the most compelling white wines in the world, under the direction of winemaker Noel Piguet.  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc the wine had a viscous and stony palate with vibrant fruit and an embracing acidity that will enable this to last for a couple of decades.  Current vintages will cost under $30 a bottle and are widely available. Unfortunately Piguet quit the domain in 2012 after disagreements with new estate owners, the Hwang family.  Time will tell if this has any negative effects on the wine.

1999 Isole e Olena Cepparello from magnum.  As I wrote in my previous post, Tuscany in The City, Paolo De Marchi is credited with elevating the status of the wines in the Chianti Classico region.  Crafted from 100% Sangiovese grapes the wine simply soared from the glass filling the nose with a compelling earthy bouquet.  It danced on the palate like a marvelous choreographed ballet and finished with a soft elegance that lingered for almost a minute.  A magnificent wine with tons of soul.  This vintage will be hard to find, but the 2010 vintage is widely available at $60 per 750ml bottle.

Monday, June 9: Ocha, Caldwell, NJ.  Carol’s actual birthday.  We dined and celebrated quietly at this excellent Japanese-Asian restaurant.

Tempura fried Rock Shrimp with raspberry sauce

Pan Fried Pork Gyoza; Yellowtail with Jalepeno and Wasabi Ponzu Sauce; Tuna and Eel Sushi; Miso Black Cod with sautéed mixed vegetables.

2012 Pascal Cotat Sancerre Chavignol La Grande Cote. Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc this Sancerre had a gorgeous yellow hue, wonderful acidity and a vibrant stony minerality that danced on the palate and finished with considerable length.  $44.  NY Wine Warehouse.

We completed her birthday on Wednesday, June 11 going to the matinee of the fantastic Broadway musical, Beautiful about the legendary Carole King.  This is a must see musical that is on a par with Jersey Boys.  Fantastic music (especially the 50’s music) and spectacular performances by the cast, especially Jessie Mueller who’s performance as Carole King won her this years best performance by a leading actress in a musical.

We dined that evening at Barchetta, the new Italian Seafood restaurant recently opened by David Pasternack of Esca fame.  The menu is similar to that at Esca, focusing on pristinely fresh seafood and homemade pastas.  Carol passed on an appetizer, while I jumped in with both feet for the evening’s selection of six Crudo (raw fish).  David’s Crudo will make you forget Sushi as each piece is impeccably fresh and dressed differently.  A spectacular combination of taste and textures on the palate.  The first three selections consisted of (left to right),  Halibut belly – smoldered bamboo salt; Montauk cod – Muscat grape; Copper River Sockeye salmon – wildflowers.

The second three selections consisted of (left to right), Spanish Mackerel - Riesling poached raisin;   Amberjack - Gaeta Olive aioli; Seatrout – crushed pistachios.  

For main courses we both opted for pasta with lobster.  Carol had the homemade Fettucine tossed with local lobster, English peas, spring onions and sorrel.  A tour de force of perfectly cooked pasta and lobster.

I choose homemade Bucatini with scallops, lobster and house cured bacon in a light and sweet tomato sauce.  Scrupmtous.  Unfortunately photo blurred so I omitted it.

The wine list here is terrific and features a number of wines from lesser known artisan producers.  I consulted with wine director George Hock on a selection for our meal.  He recommended a bottle of 2008 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc from the Provence region of France.  It was a great choice and my first experince with the wine. The wine is based primarily on Clairette and is supplemented with Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and a touch of Muscat Blanc.  I loved the stony minerality and complexity of the wine.  It reminded me of a Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco Riserva with its enticing bouquet, vibrant fruit and luscious finish.  It complemented the meal beautifully.  

After dinner George treated us to a glass of 1988 Chateau d’Arche Sauternes that drank beautifully.  It had a rich lush palate and long finish.

Happy birthday Carol!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tuscany in the City

On April 26, 2014 I attended Antonio Galloni’s Tuscany in the City wine tasting and dinner at Del Posto Ristorante in NYC.  My good friend Emil and I attended the tasting and then our wives joined us for the dinner.  As all of the events Antonio puts on through his Vinous Media, it was a wonderful event.  The format for the tasting had the 15 producers who participated in the event on an elevated platform where each talked about their estate and the wine we were tasting while they spoke.  The wines were poured by some of NYC’s top sommeliers.  The temperature of the wines was perfect, thus maximizing the tasting experience.

Janet, Emil & Mark at tasting
The first seven wines were Sangiovese or Sangiovese based.  Sangiovese gets its name from the Latin sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove".  Sangiovese wines are earthy and fruity.   It is used to produce Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano among others.

The wines we tasted were young, and thus a bit tight due to their youth.  Most of the wines showed great pedigree and promise and will reward the drinker for a few years of patience whilst they mature.

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo DOCG - Giovanni Manetti – What a way to start a tasting.  Truly one of the great Chianti makers in all of Tuscany.  The 2010 vintage has great depth and this wine demonstrated that today.  Chianti Classico must contain a minimum of 80% Sangiovese by law.  This vintage contains 95%, with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon making up the balance.  The first sip shows off the wine’s finesse and pedigree. There is impeccable balance here, ripe fruit, albeit a bit light at the present time, good acidity and elegance. Tannins are still evident.  I really enjoyed this wine and thought it was amongst the best drinking wines of the day.  I would cellar this for another 3 to 4 years before drinking.  The grapes are hand harvested from 30 years old vines and then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts for at least 3 weeks.  Aging takes place in Troncais and Allier barrels, 50% new, for 24 months. $86.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Fattoria di Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia DOCGGiuseppe Mazzocolin – This was perhaps the tightest and most tannic of the wines today, but like the Fontodi there is great pedigree here and a fantastic Chianti in the making.  I kept going back to the wine during the tasting and it began to open and resonate more fruit with each sip.  Patience will be rewarded here.  I would put this away for at least another 5 years.  The Rancia vineyard, once a Benedictine monastery, produces the estates flagship wine.  Felsina grows 100% Sangiovese grapes at their estate.  Meticulous attention is paid to grape selection at the de-stemming stage. Malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, after which the wine is transfered to first or second use, 225-liter French oak barrels for 16-18 months.  The wine is further bottle-aged another 6-8 months.  $44.  Wine-Searcher.  

2008 Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCGPrincess Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa – This was a new wine producer for me. The wine is made of 100% Sangiovese grapes entirely from the estate’s best vineyards. The wine is blended and aged in oak for 2-3 years.  While there was ample ripe fruit, I found the wine to be medium-bodied, tight, tannic and harsh on the palate.  When I came back to the wine about an hour later, it had softened and opened up considerably.  Castell’in Villa was one of the first producers in Chianti to remove Canaiolo from the blend and bottle 100% Sangiovese.  All of the wines are produced from estate grown fruit. Coralia is dedicated to producing traditionally styled; high quality wines, from low yielding vineyards, and releases older vintages only when they are showing their best. $45. Wine-Searcher.

2010 Isole e Olena CepparelloPaolo De Marchi – Probably more than any winemaker in Tuscany, Paolo De Marchi is credited with elevating the status of the wines in the Chianti Classico region. Cepparello, named after a small seasonal stream among the vineyards, was introduced in 1980, prior to a change in DOC regulations that allowed for a one hundred percent Sangiovese; thus, it effectively served as a pioneer of the pure Sangiovese movement. De Marchi sets himself apart by offering one of the finest Chianti Classicos on the market.  The wine is a selection of the estates best fruit. It is aged for 18 to 20 months in French oak 1/3 of which is new, and 2/3 of which is used.  The wine is aged for another 12 months in bottle before release.  Only 1200 cases are produced.  The wine we tasted today was simply gorgeous.  It exhibited pure and balanced fruit, soft tannins, finesse and danced elegantly on the palate.  This is a round and delicious wine, with tons of soul.  $71.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 San Giusto a Rentennano PercarloLuca Martini di Cigala – Made from 100% estate grown Sangiovese grapes, especially selected bunch per bunch, from from vineyards whose soil dates predominately to the Pliocene epoch (that’s a long time). Fermentation with natural yeasts and maceration take place in enameled cement vats and last up to 35 days. The wine is then aged in French oak barriques for 20-22 months, bottled unfiltered and held in bottle for another 18 months before being released.  The wine we drank had a compelling earthy boquet, soft tannins, wonderful vibrant fruit, good acidity for aging, excellent balance and complexity.  The oak from the Barrique was very well integrated and the wine had a very nice finish.  Give this 3 to 4 years in the cellar for the wine to mature.  San Giusto a Rentennano, a name of Etruscan origin, overlooks the upper course of the Arbia River in the farthest south Chianti Classico wine zone.  The estate began life as a medieval monastery of Cistercian nuns and was called San Giusto alle Monache (“of the Nuns”).  $102. Wine-Searcher.

2010 Poggio Scalette Il CarbonaioneJurij Fiore - Made from 100% estate grown Sangiovese.  This showed very well today, beginning with an enticing rocky and fruity bouquet.    On the palate it was rich and powerful, yet elegant.  This too evolved in the glass during the tasting lending a look into the bright future this wine has.  For now, a few years in the cellar are needed.   The grapes, some from vines more than 75 years old, are rare clonal examples of the famous “Sangiovese di Lamole” varietal in the Chianti Classico area. They are fermented in Stainless Steel for 12 days.  They are then aged for 14 months in 350 liter oak Tonneux barrels.  The wine then spends 9 months in bottle before being released.  $60.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Podere Forte PetrucciCristian Cattaneo – Made from 100% Sangiovese, this wine had a lovely translucent hue, good acidity and was nicely balanced.   Despite the relatively high alcohol level (15%) the wine displayed a lovely feminine elegance on the palate and finish.  I would suggest a few more years of cellar aging to give it more time to fully open. The wine is vinified in French oak vats and then aged in French Barrique barrels of 225 and 1500 litres for 16 months. The wine then is further aged in the bottle for 15 months before being released for sale.  The wine does not appear to be available in the US.  $71

2010 Antinori TignanelloMarchese Piero Antinori – Probably one of the most famous and popular of the Super Tuscan wines.  I have never been a big fan of Super Tuscan wines.  I find them to be Italy’s answer to California wines that are made according to the Robert Parker formula for high points; deep dark color, over-extratction of fruit and high alcohol content. The 2010 vintage is a blend of 80% Sangiovesse, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. While this wine did not have the pronounced oak/vanilla palate usually indicative of this wine, I found it to be shallow and lacking finesse.  It was however, if it is your thing, a very powerful and macho wine.   At $97 a bottle, it is in my opinion one of the most overpriced wines on the market.  Wine-Searcher.

2009 Castello dei Rampolla SammarcoMaurizia Di Napoli – I have never been a big fan of this Super Tuscan wine as I find it quite a bit more modern in style, probably due to the use of Barrique in the aging process.  I also am not a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon of which this is 90% with Sangiovese and Merlot each making up an additional 5%. The Sangiovese is aged 18 months in Slavonian oak and the Cabernet and Merlot in barriques. The wine is then blended and bottle refined for eight months. Today’s tasting did little to change my opinion of the wine. While this particular bottle had nice acidity for aging it lacked depth and finesse.  $86.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Agricola Querciabella CamartinaSebastiano Cossia Castiglioni.  A more modern styled wine that is aged in Barrique, 80% of which is new.  The oak from the new wood is however very well integrated yielding a fruity and elegant palate with soft tannins.  Camartina is only made in high quality vintages and is a blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Sangiovese.  The vineyards are located throughout Tuscany’s Chianti Classico and Maremma areas and have been Biodynamic since 1988.  Grapes are destemmed, not crushed, and then placed in temperature controlled stainless steel vats.  The best parcels go into concrete vats.  While still a few years from maturity, I found the wine to have an enticing bouquet and a lively and fruity palate.  There is very good pedigree here.  $110.  Wine-Searcher.  

2010 Castello di Ama L'ApparitaMarco Pallanti.   This estate is considered to be one of the finest in the Chianti Classico region.  One sip of this wine gave me no reason to dispute that claim.  As the wine sat in the glass and began to seductively evolve I became an immediate fan.  While the winemaking methods seem to lean a bit towards the more modern style, on the palate it resonated of a great, traditionally made wine.   The wine, first made in 1985, is crafted from 100% Merlot grapes that come from small parcels in the L’Apparita vineyard.  The grapes are destemmed and then pressed before being fermented in stainless steel tanks, after which they are aged in 50% new Barrique and 50% once Barrique for 18 months.  Today’s wine had a gorgeous nose and on the palate was round and delicious, displaying a seamless integration of finesse, depth and complexity.  This wine is a good 5 years away from really showing its stuff.   My only negative is that a price tag close to $200 a bottle is, in my opinion, much too high for this wine.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Tenuta San Guido SassicaiaPriscilla Incisa della Rocchetta - The first Super Tuscan wine, it debuted in 1968.  The premise behind Super Tuscan wines is to bring Bordeaux to Tuscany, by crafting wines with the grape varieties used to make Bordeaux wines.  The wine quickly attained cult status and as a result it sells for around $200 a bottle. In my opinion they are not worth the hefty price tag.  However if you like massive fruit forward wines, with pronounced oak, tannins and vanilla and that receive high scores, it may well be for you. Today’s wine did not change my mind.  The 2010 is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged in French oak barriques (40% new) for 24 months, then refined for 6 months in bottle before release. It was my least favorite of the tasting.  Sassicaia’s success prompted the Italian government to grant the wine its own appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, beginning with the 1994 vintage. $192.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Le Macchiole Paleo RossoCinzia Merli – Another of the more famous estates in Bolgheri, one of Italy's most prestigious vineyard areas. Its winemaking zone is made up of sloping coastal vineyards at the foot of the hills between the town of Bolgheri, after which this DOC is named, and the southern part of Castagneto. Located in close proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea, it has been described as 'the golden oasis of the Maremma' (an area of south-western Tuscany and northern Lazio).  It is the home of the Super Tuscans. The varieties that put Bolgheri on the wine map are the Bordeaux trio Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Syrah, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot are also used.  Le Macchiole focuses on Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.  The 2010 Paleo is 100% Cabernet Franc.  The wine had excellent depth, balance, finesse and lively fruit.   For a wine that sees 75% new oak, the oak was very well integrated.  I am a huge fan of Cabernet Franc, and while I enjoyed this wine very much I find that it lacked the elegance that one finds in Cab Franc wines from the Chinon and Saumur in France’s Loire Valley.  A couple years patience will be rewarded here.  $84.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia OrnellaiaLeonardo Raspini – Another Super Tuscan cult wine that is made from 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot and dollops of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and aged in 70% new and 30% once-used Barrique for 18 months. The wine sees another year in the bottle before release. Never one of my favorite wines, this was very modern, overpowered by the oak and lacked depth and elegance. This is a cult wine you must pay dearly for, north of $200 in most instances, which is crazy in my opinion.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Tenuta di Trinoro Tenuta di TrinoroAndrea Franchetti – Located in Siena, Andrea Franchetti is another of the cult Super Tuscan wine producers.  The estate grows Bordeaux varietals, in lieu of Sangiovese, at high elevations (500-700m) on the slopes of Mount Aniata.  The 2011 vintage is a blend of 90% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot and came in at a whopping 15.5% alcohol.   As usual his production is very small and only 500 cases of this were made. The wine spent 5-6 months in 100% new oak barrels and then racked into cement, where they finished aging.   I found the wine to have nice fresh fruit, good balance, a bit too much oak and a very rich palate.  Antonio Galloni suggests serving the wine on the cool side, which will help keep the alcohols from being too aggressive.   The wine will benefit from a couple of years in the cellar.   As one might expect this cult wine is very expensive.  $195.  Wine-Searcher.  Mr. Franchetti is also the owner of the Passopisciaro estate in Catania, Sicily, which produces one of my favorite Chardonnay’s, Guradiola which is widely available at $35 - $40.

In the evening our wives joined us for the gala winemakers dinner.  It was quite an affair.  The food was outstanding at the dinner that was preceded by a Champagne reception at which 2004 Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne and Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne NV Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules were poured.  Unfortunately I missed the Bouchard, but the Taittinger was delicious.


Antipasto : Crostini with Olive Tapenade & Tuscan Ceci

Primi: Pasta Wild Boar Ravioli followed by Gigli Verdi al Ragu Bolognese

Secondo: Delmonico Steak with Charred Spring Onions, Parmigiano Puffs and Tomato Raisins

Formaggio: Aged Tuscan Pecorino.

We were seated with Marco Pallanti, owner and winemaker at Castello di Ama.  Marco brought along six vintages of his wines and the rest of us each brought along some bottles to share.  We enjoyed some great wines and for me it was my first time to taste the Bellavista Chianti, which I fell in love with.  We drank:

Wines from Marco:

2006 Vigneto La Casuccia Chianti Classico is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot. A very good wine, albeit a bit on the modern side.  My least favorite of his wines.

2006, 2007, 1990 Bellavista.  This is the flagship Chianti of the estate.  A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Malvasia Nera, they each drank beautifully.  The ’90 was firing on all cylinders and evolved with each sip.  This was a beautifully crafted, round and delicious wine. The ’06 and ‘07 both will benefit from a few more years in the cellar and will in the future perhaps be as profound as the ’90.

2006, 2010 L’Apparita.  Made from 100% Merlot.  Two wines of finesse, depth and focus.  As with all of the wines I kept going back to them to see how they evolved in the glass.  I found no disappointments. 

Wines from table:

1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Emil).  Unfortunately the wine was flawed.

1985 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Magnum (Mark).  I really believe this wine is drinking at its peak right now.  Fantastic expression of terroir and old world style wine making. Vibrant fruit, impeccable balance and a monster finish.

1998 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Steve).  Perhaps a step (short one) behind the ’85.  Lots of years of happy drinking ahead for this wine.  Ditto ‘85 notes.

1995 Castello di Ama Bellavista Chianti Classico (Steve).  The equal to the 1990 that Marco brought along.  Round and delicious.

Poggio Antico ’04 Brunello Riserva (can not recall his name).  Wine however was outstanding.  Great example of a well crafted, traditional Brunello.

Thanks Antonio, Marzia, James and all the wine producers for another terrific Vinous event.   Looking forward to the next one.
With our host, Antonio Galloni

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Italy’s Rising Stars

Natale and Tony Grande
This past Monday I once again hosted a Gourmet Wine dinner to benefit the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey (HANJ).  It had been more than a year since the last event as the wines I wanted to serve took some time to locate and confirm in sufficient quantity. My thanks to Jeff Goldstern of The New York Wine Warehouse for procuring all the wines and providing them at a discounted price for the event.

Great wine is only part of the equation for this event.  The wines must be complemented by exceptional food to be truly appreciated and vice versa.  Thus it is imperative that I extend my sincere thanks once again to Tony Grande (owner), Natale Grande (Executive Chef), Salvatore Le Rose (Maitre'd/Wine Director) and the very professional staff of Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ for once again fulfilling their part of the equation.

This year’s event netted more than $40,000 bringing our total to somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 since my first dinner about 20 years ago.  I want to thank all of my friends, coagulation manufacturers and home care companies whose financial support makes this remarkable event 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 Executive Director Elena Bostick and her 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.

Since my last dinner featured the wines of perhaps Italy’s greatest winemaker, Giuseppe Quintarelli, this year posed a challenge.  When it comes to wine, especially Italian wine, there is no better person to turn to than Antonio Galloni.  I think it would be fair to say that Antonio has emerged as the world’s most knowledgeable and respected wine writer.  His website, Vinous Media, not quite a year old, has subscribers in more than 50 countries.  The site is loaded with great information and boasts the best bulletin board for members to share ideas and notes with one another.  If you are a wine lover, please check it out.

I am fortunate to be able to call Antonio a friend, so I turned to him for suggestions for this year’s event.  He happily obliged, “why don’t you showcase the wines of Italy’s rising stars?” he suggested.  What a great idea, especially since he was willing to suggest the winemakers.   So that’s what I did.  With the help of Jeff Goldstern as noted above I was able to “make it happen!” (And yes, all the wines are available for purchase from Jeff).  Had Antonio not been hosting his own event in London, England on the same evening, he would have joined us.

Cocktail Hour

Tony and Natale Grande have elevated the very predictable cocktail hour found at most functions to new levels with pristinely fresh ingredients cooked to perfection and served with an Italian flair.   They say a picture is worth 1000 words, so I will allow the pictures taken by Master Photographer, Gene Urban, owner of Impressive Impressions to do the talking.

Linguine with Veal Meatballs
Beef Meatballs
Smoked Salmon Canapés w/Capers
Pollo (chicken) Alceto e Vino Bianco
Rack of Baby Lamb Chops Scottapipa
Gamberi all'Americani
Fried Zucchini Flowers stuffed with fresh Ricotta
Not pictured are Zucchini Fritelle (fried zucchini cakes) and chunks of Parmigianno Reggion Cheese which rounded out this amazing array of appetizers.

With the appetizers we enjoyed Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco 2010 (White label).  This bottling is the estate’s entry level wine and is drawn from barrels that weren't used for the higher-end Studio di Bianco bottling.  A blend of Tocai, Sauvignon, Riseling and a touch of Malvasia, this was a knockout wine. It possessed a fantastic sparkling light yellow hue, enormous bouquet with a pure, focused and fresh palate and magnificent finish.  $38.  New York Wine Warehouse

Located on the hillsides near Gorzia in the DOC Collio area in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, founder and winemaker Nicola Manferrari has been producing some of the most compelling Italian white wines the country has ever seen since 1981.  To highlight the influence of the terroir (marl and sandstone soil) the grapes from each plot are kept separate in the winemaking process. All Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel. Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges of wines; the white labels are considered the entry and mid-tier wines, while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selections.

The red that Antonio suggested with the appetizers was Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino 2010. Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are fermented with natural yeasts in large wooden vats for one month.  The wine was then aged for 21 months in medium-sized oak followed by 7 months in the bottle before release.  About 12,000 bottles are produced.  The wine had a compelling and earthy bouquet with a complex and pure palate.  Tannins are beginning to soften and the wine finished with considerable length. This wine will give many of the more pricey Brunellos a run for the money.  $40.  New York Wine Warehouse.

Stella di Campalto is a recently resuscitated estate in the rolling hills of Brunello di Montalcino, that was purchased by the di Campalto family in 1992.  The estate comprises just under thirteen and a half hectares in total, with five and a half currently committed under vine. The head of the family winery is the lovely Stella di Campalto, who has overseen the winemaking and viticulture since 1992, and has practiced certified organic farming here since 1996. In 2002 the estate went a step further in natural viticultural practices and began practicing biodynamic farming as well.

Dinner - Appetizer

We began the sit down dinner with Insalata di Pesce al Dragoncello, a cold seafood salad of Shrimp, Squid, and fresh Crabmeat with Fresh Tarragon.  I could taste the sea with each tender and delicious bite.  This was paired with Borgo del Tiglio Tocai Ronco della Chiesa 2010 (Green label).  While this may not have been a match made in heaven, it certainly is was a match made for

fresh seafood.  Made from 100% Tocai Friulano grapes, the wine displayed fantastic balance and wonderful, bracing acidity. On the palate it was crisp, pure, focused and evolved with each sip and had a delicious finish.   Selezioni, (the top selection bottling) it is only made in good years.  Only 3000 bottles were produced in 2010. This wine can last for another decade at least.  $60. New York Wine Warehouse.

Dinner - Pasta

The classic Roman pasta dish, Rigatoni all’Amatriciana followed the seafood salad.  Most people believe that “amatriciana” comes from Amatrice, a tiny town in the mountains bordering Abruzzo about 100 miles from Rome.  Some Romans however claim that the dish is truly alla matriciana, developed by Romans and that Amatrice had nothing to do with it.  Whatever one believes, the version from Natale Grande is nothing short of spectacular, consisting of double smoked guanciale (pork jowl) sweet tomatoes, onions, and the sharp, salty kick of pecorino cheese.  The wines we drank were traditionally made Nebbiolo gems from the 2009 vintage.

G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2009.  Situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo, the estate was established in 1972.  This under the radar producer of traditional Barolo makes some of the most consistently high quality and affordable wines produced anywhere.  The wine tonight had a beautiful translucent red hue, huge earthy bouquet, a completely seductive palate of complex, focused and balanced fruit and had a delicate and elegant 45 second finish.  I believe it was the consensus wine of the night, I know it was for me. $30 (amazing value here).  NY Wine Warehouse.

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco Ovello 2009.  Proprietor and winemaker Renato Vacca is to quote Antonio Galloni, “Making some of the most compelling wines in Piedmont today…Vacca is one of the most promising producers among the younger generation in Barbaresco.”  This was my first experience with this producer and it was a good one. Like most of the wines of this vintage it was medium-bodied, but displayed terrific balance, finesse and vibrant fruit.  While this is drinking well, it will only get better with a bit more time in the cellar and represents a great value for the money.  $47.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Dinner - Entrée

Our entrée was a tender and delicious Osso Buco di Maiale (Roasted Pork Shank with Yukon Gold Garlic Mashed Potatoes).  The photo below says it all about this stunning dish. We enjoyed two Tuscan gems with the dish.

Podere Forte Guardavigna 2009.  Located near Sienna in the Val d”Orcia region of Southern Tuscany, Pasquale Forte is crafting some of the region’s most sought after wines.  Biodynamic farming, attention to detail are a hallmark of the estate.  I had an opportunity to taste this wine a couple of week’s prior at a tasting in NYC. This is a full-bodied wine marked by firm tannins, intensified fruit, breadth and a bit of oak, which I believe will become integrated as the wine matures. It is a made from blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  $104.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Pian dell’Orino Brunello di Montalcino 2008.  One of the shining stars in Brunello di Montalcino, the estate is located right next door to the most famous name in Brunello history, Biondi Santi.   The wines ferment on their indigenous yeasts gently and thoroughly before being aged in a combination of barriques and large botti for one to several years prior to bottling, depending on the wine.  I found this to be balanced, full of finesse with a delightful harmonious elegance on the palate.  A very good Brunello for the money.  $78.  NY Wine Warehouse.

We finished this incredible meal with a cheese course of Parmigianno Reggiano & Gorgonzola Dolce and...

...an incredible Pannatone Bread Pudding that was paired with two Amarone wines from the Veneto Rgion of Italy.  

Amarone is a rich Italian dry red wine made from a blend of Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella grapes that are harvested ripe in the first two weeks of October.  The grapes are then allowed to dry, traditionally on straw mats for 120 days, so that they basically become raisins with a highly concentrated sugar content.  A bit higher in alcohol than most Italian red wines, the balance of sweetness and dryness the process yields can be a beguiling experience. 

Marion Amarone della Valpolicella 2008.  Proprietors Stefano and Nicoletta Campedelli tend to their wines in this small family-run business with maniacal passion, and that attention to detail that comes through in spades in these wines.  Celestino Gaspari who was the wine maker at Quintarelli for 20 years is the winemaker here.  This was a delicious Quintarelli-like traditional Amarone with gorgeous ripe fruit, impeccable balance, focus and depth on the palate.  Simply put it is a round and delicious wine that soars from the glass with each sip.  $75.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Roccolo Grassi Amarone della Valpolicella 2008. Bruno Sartori established this relatively new estate, named after its most important vineyard Roccolo Grassi, in 1996. The estate makes their wine with a combination of new and old world techniques, and thus their red wines are more similar in style to Dal Forno Romano than Quintarelli.  The wine is aged carefully in selected large French Barriques and some Slovenian oak casks for 26 months.  While this was a good wine, the oak interferes with its elegance in my opinion.  If you like Dal Forno Romano Amaraone, here it is at about 1/4tr the cost.  $71.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Since we did not consume all the wine at the dinner, I decided to auction off what was left.  The group enthusiastically supported the idea and in less than 10 minutes we raised an additional $2800 fro HANJ.

Executive Director Elena Bostick was the successful bidder for the 2009 Podere Forte Guardavigna .

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to making this event a huge success all around.  See you next year!