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, October 24, 2016

Wining and Dining with Franco Massolino and Franco Conterno

I had the opportunity to once again break bread and sip wine with two icons of Barolo, Franco Massolino and Franco Conterno.  My friend Tony has been a friend with both since he visited their estates a few years ago, so when they are in the United States he likes to host them and a few of his wine geek friends at his home.  Such was the case this past Saturday. Tony’s mom and wife are both exceptional cooks and prepared a fantastic lunch to go with the wines we all brought. Since they drink lots of Barolo, it was taboo at the luncheon.  Each of us brought along a bottle or two of wines we thought they would enjoy.

Unfortunately I did not take photos of the food, but suffice it so say that it was excellent.  Since my wife and I would be attending a wine dinner featuring the wines of Franco Massolino's later in the evening, I paced myself accordingly and made an early exit but not before enjoying a bit of:

Assorted Cheeses 
Homemade (Tony’s mom) dry sausage & sopresatta
Mozzarella di Bufala 
Roasted Baby Peppers 
Sautéed Mushrooms 
Homemade pasta (Tony’s mom again) with sausage and meatballs (Tony’s wife) 
Roasted Prime Ribs of Beef 
Italian Salad


Unfortunately a few of the wines were undrinkable.

1975 Chateau Musar: Corked
1985 Chateau Soldera Brunello di Montalcino: Oxidized and flawed.
1953 Chateau Lafite: I did not taste this wine, but was told later in the evening that the wine suffered from the same fate as the Soldera.

1996 Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon. This bubbly is drinking beautifully and should do so for some time.  Great depth and focus.

2010 Dominique Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Les Poruzots. Superb wine that showed fantastic depth with bracing acidity, stony minerality and a lengthy, almost bubblegum like finish.  I preferred it to the Dom.

1993 Domain Maillard Pere et Fils Alex Corton 1er Cru.   Big barnyard bouquet and brownish hue upon opening.  Many felt the wine was bad, but I liked the smokey bacon bouquet and thought that given time the palate would evolve.  I turned out to be right (happens once in a while) as the wine really blossomed after about an hour in the glass.  The brownish hue became more ruby red and transparent and the barnyard funk blew off completely, leaving a delicious Burgundy.

2005 Bouchard Pere et Fils Beaune Greves L’Enfant Jesus.  The first bottle opened was corked, but the second was awesome.  I find that the 2005 Burgundies from top producers like Bouchard to be  classic Burgundy style wines that are drinking beautifully now.  One of the best wines of the luncheon.

1999 Soldera Brunello di Montacino.   Easily the wine of the luncheon.  This was classic Soldera, a wine with great balance, depth, focus and elegance.

2005 Opus One and 2005 Masseto.   Two very young wines that have never been my cup of tea. I find them over extracted and ridiculously overpriced.

2004 Quintarelli Alzero.   A magnificent wine that had it been given a few hours in a decanter probably would have nudged the Soldera as wine of the day.  Everything was here, just a bit asleep upon opening.

At 7PM Carol and I attended the aforementioned Massolino dinner hosted by Mahesh Lekkela, owner of the Wine Legend stores.  This event was held in his West Orange location, which has a bar and dining area to accommodate such events.  Chef Bryan Gregg of Think Local Foods is on hand Thursday, Friday, & Saturday evenings to prepare the food.  Chef Bryan is a proponent of farm-to-table cuisine and is very adept in his preparations.  Tonight’s plates were outstanding.

Foccacia with Fall Flavors.  Kale, mushrooms and grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese was paired with 2014 Massolino Langhe DOC Chardonnay.  This turned out to be a terrific pairing. This was my first experience with a Massolino Chardonnay.  Crisp fruit and a Burgundian palate made for a very nice glass of wine.

Lomo and Plum Aguadolce was was paired with 2014 Massolino Dolcetto d’Alba DOC.  Lomo is the Spanish word for tenderloin.  This plate was composed of a couple of slices of thinly sliced ham topped with Arugula in a sweet/sour sauce.  It was delicious, pure and simple.  Like the ham, the Dolcetto was delicious with lively pure fruit on a medium-bodied round palate.  This was one of the best Dolcetto’s I have ever had.  Franco explained that on day two of the fermentation process, 75% of the seeds are removed which leads to the roundness of the wine.

Lobster Risotto with Black Truffles was paired with 2012 Massolino Barolo Seralunga DOCG. Perfectly cooked risotto is al dente and creamy and this was just that…perfect.  All the elements of the dish were in perfect harmony with each other…and with the Barolo.  This bottling, the estate’s entry level, had fantastic freshness and ripe fruit that danced with elegance on the palate before finishing with very nice length.

The final wine of the evening was 2009 Massolio Barolo DOCG Parafada and was paired with Roasted Veal Saddle, Charred Cauliflower and Alluims (onions).  How chef Bryan turns out dishes of this quality in what is basically a kitchen-less facility is amazing. The Parafada vineyard benefits from Southern expoure and consists of marly lime soil.  These conditions yield a complex Barolo built for aging.  The ’09 is drinking beautifully today and should do so for another 20+ years. The wine possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue, earthy nose and a focused and beautifully balanced palate.  The wine finished with length and elegance.  

It was great to see both Franco's again.  Thank you Tony and Mahesh for making it possible.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

An Italian Wine Tour

Our local wine group met last night at Fascino in Montclair.   Chef/owner Ryan DePersio describes his style of cooking as Italian Without Borders.  It takes talent to succeed when you push the culinary envelope.  And while there is no denying his talent, not all dishes succeed at the same level.  Highlights from our meal included Mascarpone Polenta Fries with a Gorgonzola Fonduta (no photo).  The Polenta was perfectly cooked, while the Gorgonzola fonduta was much too watery for my liking.

Foie Gras receives a different preparation on most nights.  Tonight it was pan-seared with sautéed apples and served atop crostini.  It was a perfectly prepared dish that really did not need the crostini.

The star pasta of the evening was Bucatini sauced with a little neck clam ragu and sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs and chilies.  Pasta was cooked perfectly and sauce was balanced with a hint of the briny sea.

Jim was our wine guide for the evening and he escorted us on a terrific tour of Italy, beginning in the Veneto region of Northern Italy.  There are many estates in the area, but none, in the opinion of many, better than Giuseppe Quintarelli.  The essence of his wines is captured in his own words. “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.”  One can taste the patience that is given to each wine with each sip taken.

Quintarelli wines, especially the Amarone and dessert wines do not come cheap.  However he makes two wines that allow wine lovers to enjoy his talents at a very reasonable price.  Jim began the evening with both of them.

2014 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco Veronese. This stunning white wine is an artful 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 showed a round and delicious palate accentuated by great balance and bracing acidity.  $43.  Wine-Searcher.

1999 Quintarelli Primofiore.  Primofiore (first flower) is the only red wine at Quintarelli that does not employ dried grapes or the ripasso technique. It is also the youngest red wine released by the estate every year.  The wine is a blend of 50% Corvina and Corvinone, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.   After harvest, the grapes are left in wooden boxes to continue ripening, then after pressing and fermentation, the wine is aged for several years in Slavonian oak barrels.  While tonight’s wine is getting on in age, it still showed wonderful fruit and complexity.  $60.  Wine-Searcher.

From the Veneto we traveled south to the Campania region and two wines from Feudi di San Gregorio.  The estate is located in Sorbo Serpico, a commune in the province of Avellino. Under the winemaking of renowned winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, the more stylistically modern wines have a tremendous following

2001 Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Irpina.  The wine is made from 100% Aglianico, the indigenous red grape of the area.  Fermentation and maceration take place in stainless steel tanks for about 3-4 weeks before spending a minimum 18 months in small barrique barrels.  The wines are then aged for a minimum 12 months in bottle before being released.  I was pleasantly surprised with how well the oak was integrated into the wine, which had a soft palate, nice fruit but little depth and a short finish.  $73.  Wine-Searcher.

1999 Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi Piano di Montevergine.  Also 100% Aglianico. Fermentation is similar to the Irpina, while the aging in barrique and bottle is about 12 months longer.  Here too, the oak was very well integrated and the wine showed considerably more depth than the 2001.  $68.  Wine-Searcher.

We completed our journey in Montepulciano (Abruzzo) in the heart of Tuscany with a bottle 2000 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  The consensus wine of the night.  Full of terroir and a bit of funk that is the hallmark of Pepe’s attention to old world style wine making.  The wine kept evolving with each sip and finished with amazing length and focus.  This is a wine built to last for decades.  $145.  Wine-Searcher.

What a lovely way to spend an evening, touring Italy.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Belmont Tavern

Every couple of months I join a group of friends for a Monday night dinner at The Belmont Tavern on the Newark/Bellville boarder.  The Belmont Tavern is more than just a bar/restaurant; it is an “institution”, and has been for the past half century. This cash only spot has separate owners, the Cuomo family owns the bar concession, while Annette Wroblewski maintains and owns the kitchen since Stretch passed away in 1989.

I will do my best to provide an historical glimpse of the Belmont.  If any one has any corrections or additional information please leave them in the comments section.

The Cuomo family took over the tavern in 1965.  Tommy Cuomo aka "Cowboy" and his brother John ran the bar in those early days.  They were later joined in 1969 by John’s son, Jimmy, who runs the bar today.   Two years later they brought in Charles "Stretch" Verdicchio, to cook for the regulars. Stretch introduced the Verdicchio family recipe for Chicken Savoy to the Belmont and it has been the main attraction ever since. A relatively simple dish, in which chicken is cut up, rubbed with spices and herbs and then roasted in a extremely-hot oven and splashed with red wine vinegar before being served. While the dish is often imitated throughout all of northern New Jersey, it has never been duplicated.

Stretch with Joe DiMaggio
While the perception is that the Belmont is a “wise guys” spot, the food and aura of the Belmont attracts movie stars and professional athletes in addition to the loyal crowd (predominantly Italian) of local regulars.

In addition to the “Savoy” most items on the small menu are standouts on their own.  These include Clams Oreganata; Scungilli Salad; Shrimp Beeps (shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce); Cavatelli with Pot Cheese (Ricotta) and Pork Scallopine Francese.  The Belmont serves no dessert, unless you bring your own.

If you are looking for fine wine, “fugget-about-it”.  The list ranges from red to white.  Opici is poured from gallon bottles. Bottle selections consist of  Corvo Red (cold or warm), Corvo White, Ruffino and Travaglini Gattinara.

Reservations are not accepted.  Unless you get there very early, be prepared to wait.  Service, once on the blatantly un-courteous side, is now quite good and friendly.

The food is consistently good here.  No fancy preparations, just the dishes they are known for.  We began with a basic salad of Iceberg lettuce, onions and tomatoes perfectly seasoned with vinegar and oil.  It is the salad that graced our table at home every night while growing up.  I loved it then and I love it now, especially compared to the fancier limpy mesculan concoctions served today.

Clams Oreganata are perfectly cooked as always, crunch crispy breadcrumbs cover a barely cooked, briny clam beneath.  I could eat dozens of these.

Italian Long Hot Peppers (no pic) sautéed in olive oil are not lethal tonight, so I had a couple and enjoyed them very much.

The Belmont serves 3 pasta dishes, Cavatelli with Ricotta, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (oil and garlic) and Spaghetti with Shrimp Beeps.  While all are great, our favorite is the Beeps. The shrimp is never overcooked and is dressed in a delicious and slightly spicy tomato sauce.

In addition to the famous Chicken Savoy, we ordered Mad Chicken (Oven Roasted without the addition of the Vinegar) and Pork Scallopine Francese.

Chicken Savoy
Mad Chicken
Pork Scallopine

A few bottles of 2013 Corvo Red, served at room temperature, complimented the food nicely.

A cup of Espresso brewed and served from a Maganette ended a delightful evening.

If you have never been to the Belmont, make it a bucket list item...and tell Jimmy that Mark sent you.  You will be glad you went.


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.