About this Blog

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

2001 Brunello

This past Wednesday our monthly wine group met at Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, NJ. where owner/chef Ariane Duarte prepared a fantastic meal to compliment my selection of Brunello di Montalcino wines from the incredible 2001 vintage.  Ariane and her husband ran the immensely popular Culin Ariane in Montclair for a number of years before deciding on opening a slightly more casual spot with a focus on upscale comfort food.  Michael has put together a fantastic and reasonably priced wine list to complement the food.  He was gracious to allow me to bring along the Brunello for the evening.


Vinous founder Antonio Galloni says of the 2001 vintage, “There is much to be excited about as the vintage offers an array of outstanding wines. The best 2001 Brunellos are characterized by rich aromatics and generous, ripe fruit, with excellent structure and fine, elegant tannins. Although many wines are clearly built to age I also tasted quite a few that are drinking beautifully right now”.  

Before indulging in the Brunellos we began the evening with NV Cedric Bouchard Roses Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Val Vilaine.  Michael, our guest for the evening, brought this fantastic grower champagne along. It was made from 2012 fruit and disgorged in April of 2014. The wine was firing on all cylinders.  It possessed a gorgeous yeasty bouquet and palate that evolved with each sip. To really appreciate this Champagne, drink if from a large glass instead of a Champagne flute.  The larger glass will allow you to experience the evolution of the wine.  At about $65 a bottle, this is one of the great bargains in great Champagne.  Wine-Searcher.

All of the Brunellos were made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and were opened 3 ½ hours prior to drinking.  The wines were not decanted but allowed to breathe in their respective bottles.

2001 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Owned by New Yorker Richard Evans, the wine making is in the hands of Enologist Paolo Vagaggini. Vagaggini ages the Il Palazzone Brunello longer than required by DOCG law--up to four years--creating an exquisite wine. Production is limited to 20,000 bottles a year.  Tonight’s wine sported an enticing bouquet of red fruit with lovely balance and focus on a full-bodied and elegant palate.  The wine is drinking at its peak at the moment, and should do so for 3 to 5 more years.  $185.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino. Giulio Salvioni, like Gianfranco Soldera, pursues very unique and highly individualized protocols with respect to the crafting of his Brunello. All the work in the vineyard is carried out by hand, with hard pruning to obtain low yields of fruit and careful selection during the manual harvest. Production is deliberately limited to 10,000 bottles a year, to obtain the very best from his unique terroir. Perhaps Salvioni distinguishes himself most prominently by the fact that he never makes a Riserva.  His 2001, one of the top bottlings of the vintage, saw four years in large Slavonian Oak.  Tonight’s bottle had a bright red translucent hue and a gorgeous earthy bouquet.  The wine possessed an incredible freshness, impeccable balance, finesse and complexity.  In short it was round and delicious with lots of soul.  The lengthy and elegant finish had us all wanting another sip.  For most of us, including myself, it was the wine of the night.  $147.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino.   Another of Monalcino’s top estates, it has been producing Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino since 1989.  (Elisabeth and Piero Palmucci sold the estate to the Grattamacco estate in Bolgheri in 2011).  I have had this wine a few times in the past few years and it was delicious and typical of great traditionally made Brunello on each occasion. The last two bottles have been somewhat of a different story. The wine seems to be in an awkward stage at the moment.  It was closed and tight on the palate upon opening and remained that way for the first 30 minutes or so, after which time it did begin to come around a bit.  Considering my experience with previous bottles of this vintage, it appears the wine is either asleep or napping.  Hopefully it will wake up soon.  $155.  Wine Searcher.

2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello Il Decennale. This Riserva bottling was made to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the estate. The wine spent six years in cask prior to being bottled.  I found this to be more open on the palate than the normale we drank alongside it.  A few in our group detected VA (volatile acidity) but I have to admit I did not.  (According to Antonio Galloni, the wine can have relatively high levels of volatile acidity).  I have very little experience with VA, at least in detecting it.   I thought the wine improved as it sat in the glass and while quite enjoyable, it was not up to the wines that came before or after it.  Not Available.

2001 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  In my humble opinion, Soldera is the gold standard for Brunello di Montalcino.   He employs a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for the natural cultivation of his grapes.  He limits his production to 15,000 bottles a year. The wines spend six years or more in large, very old, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings.  While still quite young the wine was simply a superb expression of old world, natural wine. The balance was impeccable and the fruit emerged more and more with each sip before finishing with incredible length and elegance.  This is truly a wine with soul that will live for many, many years.  A very close runner-up to the wine of the night.  Sodlera’s wines, always expensive, have become even more so recently, the result of a former disgruntled employee who destroyed 60,000 liters of wine in 2012 from vintages 2007 through 2012.  $549. Wine-Searcher.

2004 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino. Unfortunately I was unable to locate a bottle of 2001 from Cerbaiona so I settled on the 2004, a vintage which is shaping up to be very comparable to 2001.  Diego Molinari, a former Alitalia pilot, founded the estate in the early 1980’s and his wines are held in high regard.  Winemaking at Cerbaiona is straight-forward. The grapes are harvested by hand and pressed in a vintage wood-sided press before fermenting in cement tanks. After a period of settling, the Brunello spends 4+ years in cask and at least 6 months in bottle before release. Nothing is added (no yeasts, no enzymes) and nothing is subtracted (no fining or filtration).  Production is limited to 1700 cases, and like Salvioni, I do not think he makes a Riserva.  Antonio Galloni said in his review of the 2004, “If forced to drink only one wine from Montalcino, I might very well choose Diego Molinari’s sumptuous Brunello.”  Tonight's bottle was fantastic.  A completely round and delicious wine that demonstrated beautiful balance and complexity on a silky palate before finishing with substantial length and elegance.  Still very much a baby, it held up well to the wines from the 2001 vintage. The estate was sold to American Venture Capitalist Gary Rieschel in October of 2015.  $190. Wine-Searcher.


Wines of this caliber should be accompanied by food of equal caliber.  Each of the wines we drank tonight were crafted by passionate winemakers who take what Mother Nature gives them and nurtures the elements into remarkable wines.  Ariane is their equivalent on the culinary side. There is no pretense to her food.  High quality, fresh ingredients prepared with passion and skill.  I left the meal in her hands and she performed in spades...as she always does.

She started us off with a couple off hors d'ouveres served family style, which I might add were gobbled up in a heart beat.

Deviled eggs.  Who doesn't like deviled eggs, especially Ariane's.  I could easily make a meal out of them.

Bacon wrapped, Parmesan stuffed Medjool dates.  A fantastic rendition of this European classic comfort appetizer.  Completely addictive.

For our first course she presented us with a bowl of Prince Edward’s Island Mussels, fennel, chorizo, toasted garlic, touch of tomato.  These perfectly cooked crustaceans had just the right amount of spice.  We all made sure to sop up each drop of the broth with house-made Croissants.

For the pasta course I requested Pasta Carbonara.  While Ariane's version of this Roman classic contains cream (a no-no in Italy), it can easily compete with the cream-less versions. In addition to the cream she incorporates peas and apple smoked bacon tossed with perfectly al dente pasta.  It was magnificent and nary a morsel was left on anyone's plate.

Our entrée of Roasted pork loin, butternut squash Brussels sprouts hash, cranberry relish, pork jus was cooked to perfection and enjoyed by all.

 Ariane's signature mini Banana Cream Pie completed an evening of culinary delight.

A terrific evening to say the least.  Great wines, food and conversation as well as the presence of our guest Michael.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

2005 Barolo

This past Monday 6 Nebbiolo-loving Vinous members met at Via Emilia Ristorante in NYC where owner/chef William Matiello has been preparing and serving the traditional dishes from his hometown of Modena in the Emilia-Romangna region Italy for the past 15 years.  I have been here on multiple occasions and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time.   On this evening we put ourselves in his hands and he did not let us down.



Gnocco Fritto: puffy fritters with prosciutto di parma, sopressata, coppa & mortadella
Tigelle:  little tile-bake mountain bread  served with soft cheese, cold cuts and pancetta spread
Borlengo:  Thin broad-pan bread with pancetta spread, rosemary & Parmigianno Reggiano


Modena style Lasagna
Homemade Tortellini in a country meat sauce
Caramelle di Castelvetro.  Candy-shaped pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta & prosciutto, served with butter and arugula sauce.


Scallopini of veal with asparagus and shaved pargmigiano.

I neglected to take any photos but if you click here it will take you to my previous post with plenty of pictures and descriptions of most of the food we had tonight.


We decided on the 2005 Barolo vintage for our tasting.  As is our custom we each bring one or two bottles to share.  Iggy graciously orchestrated the wines into 3 flights for the evening.  All wines were open a few hours prior to drinking.

According to Vinous founder Antonio Galloni, “…this (2005) is a medium-bodied style of Barolo, with about 1% less alcohol than has become common over recent years.”  He goes on to state that " ...wines should peak at around 15 years of age and possibly continue to hold for sometime considering their slightly higher than normal acidity levels.”

Before imbibing on the Barolo, we began the evening with NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru (disgorged July 2014) that Tony brought along.  I have only had this Egly bubbly a couple of times and I have enjoyed it immensely each time.  I love its yeasty and rustic palate.  A great start to any evening.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.

First Flight

2005 Giovani Canonica Barolo Paiagallo (Barolo).  The Paiagallo vineyard is a fairly small hillside vineyard about 300-400 meters up the slope above the town of Barolo.  I believe that the only other producer to bottle a Paiagallo is Fontanafredda.  Canonica did not begin to export his Barolo until 2004.  I have enjoyed the soft tannins, balance and complexity of this old world-style Barolo on may occasions over the past 4 years. Tonight's wine unfortunately did not fare as well as it appeared to be a bit off with a musty palate that distracted from the fruit and the finish. From previous experience I would think (hope) that this is a problem for this particular bottle.   2011 available.  Wine-Searcher. $81

2005 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato (Castiglione).  Outstanding bottle.  Tannins have begun to soften.  Medium-bodied at the moment, this should take on some weight and additional finesse in the coming years.  Marc, took the remainder of the bottle home and reported that the next night the wine showed even better. on day two.  Not surprising as my recent experiences with younger Nebbiolo are leading me to the conclusion that they really benefit from extended airing time.  $228 (Magnum).   NY Wine Warehouse.

Second Flight

2005 Domenico Clerico Barolo Percristina (Monforte).  The only modern wine of the group and it showed, at least for me.  While the wine is not difficult to drink with its soft tannins and balance, for me it lacked the depth, elegance and finesse of tonight's counterparts.  $127. Wine-Searcher.

2005 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito (Serralunga).  Terrific old world Barolo. Round and delicious wine with terrific balance, complexity, focus and a lengthy and elegant finish.   This will age beautifully over the next couple of decades.   $148.  Wine-Searcher.

Third Flight

2005 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia (Serralunga).  Very young and still very tight.  Pedigree is eminently evident here, but patience of another few years at least is needed. $153  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto (Serralunga)  OMG was this good even at this very early age. Round and delicious wine that soared from the glass with the complexity, balance and focus in perfect harmony and finished with elegance and length.  Easily the wine of the night in my opinion and the consensus of the group.   $210.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda (Serralunga).  Like the Casino Francia, still a bit tight, but the fruit began to open as it sat in the glass.  Medium-bodied at the moment, it may take on some additional weight with time.  Very enjoyable Barolo.  $118.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the evening with 1985 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon (Loire).  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the wine had a beautiful golden straw hue and a pleasant viscous-honeyed palate medium body.  Finish was considerably shorter than my previous bottle of a year ago.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.

I really enjoy drinking wine with Vinous board members.  No pretense here, just camaraderie, good wine and lots of fun.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tis The Season…Again

The only good thing about the end of summer is that it marks the beginning of the fall season and the arrival of fresh White Truffles from Alba, Italy to a number of NYC restaurants.  While this year’s prices are significantly higher ($2500/lb) than last year, it is hard to pass up the orgasmic dishes they create, especially when in the hands of chef David Pasternack at Esca.   My good friend Emil and I made our customary trip there yesterday for soft scrambled eggs with truffles followed by homemade Tagliolini with truffles.  We were joined later in the meal by another friend, Cosmo, who had been at a steak house for lunch, and decided to come here for a “dessert” of the aforementioned Tagliolini.

In addition to great food, Esca has a superb and reasonably priced Italian wine list, thus selecting a wine to compliment the food is a pleasure instead of an adventure.  I selected two whites from Brazzano, Friuli Venezia Giulia.  Nicola Manferrari founded Borgo del Tiglio in 1981 on the marl and sandstone hillsides in the DOC Collio area.  He produces mostly white wines and to highlight the influence of the terroir the grapes from each plot are kept separate in the winemaking process. The wines are fermented in barrel.  The wines are produced from vines of different ages, harvested by hand, lightly pressed and fermented in small French oak barrels for 9 – 14 months during which time they are tasted frequently until the definitive cuvee is decided upon.  Quite a large part of the wine originally destined for the cuvee is rejected.  Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges; the white labels, which we drank today, are considered the entry and mid-tier wines, while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selections, bottlings that vary from year to year.  Both "levels" are delicious and represent pure expressions of terroir and fruit.

2013 Borgo del Tiglio Chardonnay.  While I own quite a few of his wines, this was my first time with the Chardonnay.  This bottling, his entry level Chardonnay, had excellent depth and a fresh, clean palate of ripe fruit.  It has the stuff to age for another 5 years or so.  $46.  Wine-Searcher.

2014 Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco.  Another entry-level wine in which Nicola blends Tocai Friulano, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon.  Like the Chardonnay it drank with a youthful precision and finished with nice length. $35.

We began the meal with an order of Tuna Meatballs.  David fashions the classic Italian Meatball out of fresh ground tuna and serves them in a classic tomato sauce.  Simply delicious.  On this day David's preparation of “Clams Oreganata” contained Bay Scallops and Prosciutto.  Briny and moist, there is simply no finer version of this classic anywhere!

David is a master of the soft-scrambled egg, and when it is topped with a generous shaving of truffles it is Nirvana.

What better to follow up this dish than he homemade Taglioni with another generous shaving of truffles.

Cosmo enjoys his "dessert"
I have said it before, and I will say it again...life is good...very good!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Our monthly wine group met this past Monday at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville.  Sette has become one of our most frequented restaurants for our tastings.  In addition to the great food and service we love the fact that we can tell Chef/Owner Allan Russo what wines we will be drinking and he prepares a meal to compliment the wines.  He never fails to please and awe us as he did again on this visit.  As the title of this post suggests the wines and food were in glorious harmony.

The Food

Allan’s version of Bruschetta eschews the usual mix of chopped fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil atop toasted bread.  Instead he places thick slices of fresh tomato atop sliced Italian Bread.  He then drizzles them with extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic and grated Parmigianno Reggiano cheese.  He then bakes this in the oven for a brief time before topping with strands of fresh basil.  It is a very addictive dish and the perfect start to any meal.

An antipasto of fresh Burrata Cheese, Speck. Soprasatta, marinated Zucchini and Asparagus drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil followed.  Fresh ingredients, simply prepared are the hallmark of this dish.

As good as the first two plates were the Arugola Fritters that followed stole the show.  Here he batters fresh Arugola, gently fries each fritter in extra-virgin olive oil and tops each with Bagna Cauda, a Piedmontese sauce similar to a fondue.   It is made with garlic, anchovies, oil and butter.  A light sprinkling to toasted bread crumbs completes the dish.  Fantastic mélange of textures and flavors.  I would have been happy with this as a main course.

Our pasta course, Pasta alla Norma, is regarded as one of Sicily’s most popular dishes. Small quills of Penne pasta are tossed with a savory fresh tomato sauce and fried eggplant and topped with shaved Parmigianno Reggiano cheese.  Allan’s preparation is as good as I have had in Sicily.

As full as I was, I made the necessary effort to partake of the oven roasted Porchetta stuffed with Pancetta, Juniper Berries and Parmigianno Cheese.  The silky pork sauce, which I assume was made from the pan drippings, added depth and precision to the plate.

Homemade Profiteroles drizzled with Chocolate Sauce completed another magnificent meal.

The Wines

It was Howard’s turn to select and bring the wines and he did a great job bringing along aged Burgundies from five different villages that Jeff (our Burgundy expert) noted, “were true to their terroir”. 

1996 Louis Jadot Vosne Romanee Les Suchots 1er Cru. Located in Beaune, Maison Louis Jadot has been making excellent expressions of classic red and white Burgundy since 1859. Vosne Romanée is situated just to the north of Nuits-Saint-Georges and produces the region’s most celebrated wines. The A.C. of Vosne Romanée has an average vineyard size of 105 ha (13 in Flagey Echezeaux). There are 14 Premiers Crus and 7 Grands Crus, including Romanée-Conti and La Tache to name a couple.

"Les Suchots" consists of two continuous parcels between Romanée St Vivant and Richebourg on the South side, and "Les Echezeaux" on the North side.  This wine is fermented in vats for 3-4 weeks and aged 15 months in oak barrels before bottling.

I was at first surprised at how youthful this was.  It had a wonderful earthy bouquet with great texture and balanced fruit on the palate.  An outstanding negociant wine that will has plenty of time ahead of it.  $100. Wine Searcher.

1996 Meo-Camuzet Nuits St Georges les Boudots 1er Cru.  The estate as has been producing wine under its own label since 1985.  Today it is under the direction of Jean-Nicholas Meo.  The legendary Henri Jayer spent 40 years farming parcels from Meo-Camuzet under his own label.  For three years, he mentored Jean-Nicolas during the transition of the winery to Meo before retiring in 1988.  Jayer’s wines are amongst the most expensive (thousands of dollars a bottle) and sought after wines in the world.  While I have never had a Jayer wine, and at these prices never will, I have had Meo-Camuzet before.  I find the wines to be a bit on the modern side, probably reflective the large amount of new oak used in making the wines.  I thought that tonight’s bottle was completely closed down or past its prime.  There was very little fruit, depth or complexity on the palate in my opinion.  While others did not necessarily agree, a few felt that after their initial sip the wine seemed to shut down.  As far as I am concerned it is not worth the $400 price tag this will cost you.  Wine-Searcher.

1991 Faiveley Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru.  The wines of Domaine Faiveley are widely recognized for being among the finest produced in Burgundy and Domaine Faiveley among the finest wine producers in the world.  Tonight’s wine, my favorite of the evening, underscored these claims.  A completely round and delicious wine with vibrant fruit, depth, focus, finesse and balance.  The great acidity of the wine will ensure that this wine will drink well for decades.  Truly a wine with soul!  $350.  Wine-Searcher.

1988 Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Champans 1er Cru. To quote The Rare Wine Company, “Nothing demonstrates red Burgundy’s magic like great Volnay, with its enveloping aromatic complexity, silky texture and tremendous aging potential. And for a half century, the name “Jacques d’Angerville” was synonomous with the greatest Volnays”.   Jacques, who passed away in 2003, was, according to Allen Meadows, “minimalist in the extreme.”  He told Meadows, “I want to do as little as possible to the wine. I want low yields and no signature.” Relying on great sites and old vines of a unique clone, "Pinot d’Angerville", he proved that great wines are made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.

After complete de-stemming, fermentation lasts for 10 to 12 days, with a 12 to 18-month élévage in largely used barrels.  To extract fine tannins, the cap is kept moist by twice-daily pump overs. Such methods not only bring out the crus’ inherent nobility; they create wines of perfect balance and great aging ability.

Tonight’s wine substantiated the above comments.  What a lovely wine.  It possessed a classic Burgundian earthy bouquet, while on the palate the fruit was very much in tact and the mid-palate showed nice depth and focus.  The finish was long and elegant.  In a nutshell, it drank beautifully.  This was my second favorite wine of the night.  This vintage appears to be long gone in the U.S., but current vintages will cost about $140.

1985 Domaine de Courcel Pommard 1er Cru Grand Clos des Epenots.  A new producer for me.  The wine displayed a medium-bodied and soft palate. While it did improve a bit as it sat in the glass I felt it lacked the complexity and depth of the previous wines.  Current vintages will run about $150.

It was another magical evening thanks to Howard's great selection and Allan's food.  Life is good...very good!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pepe & Valentini: The Icons of Abbruzo

Our monthly wine group met recently at Lorena’s in Maplewood.  Emil, who’s family hails from Abruzzo, Italy selected wines from the top wine producers in the region, Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini.  Both estates are traditional in their winemaking, resulting in wines of depth, complexity and distinction.

Abruzzo is located about 2 ½ hours northeast of Rome. Its immediate neighbors are Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and southwest and Molise to the southeast. Winemaking traditions in Abruzzo date back to the sixth century B.C.  Abruzzo provides a perfect haven for grape growing. Vines flourish thanks to the terroir, the abundance of sunshine, the generous rainfall and a variable climate: warm and dry on the coast and more continental (hot in summer and cold in winter) inland. Furthermore, the high altitudes see dramatic diurnal temperature variations. When combined with cool mountain air currents, they moderate the temperatures in the vineyards situated on the slopes, providing a perfect mesoclimate for the vines. The most favorable growing conditions are found in the low hills of Teramo, the Colline Teramane.

The region produces two white wines; Trebbiano (one of the most widely planted grapes in the world); Pecorino, a white grape that has seen a renaissance in the past 25 years or so; Cersasulo, a full-bodied Rosé of incredible depth; and the flagship red wine, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo made from from 100% Montepulciano grapes.  This full-bodied, earthy red should not be confused with the Tuscan wine Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Emidio Pepe. Emidio Pepe is known for crafting amazingly complex age worthy reds and whites year after year.  With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development.  Only after 10 years does he release his wines. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled. An extensive stock of older vintages is kept at the cellar. For his Trebbiano, the grapes are crushed by foot in a wood vat.  Pepe makes Pecorino, Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Valentini. Edward passed away in 2006 and the estate today is in the very capable hands of his son Francesco, who follows in the traditional methods of his father.  Only the very best grapes go into the wines with his name on it.  Based on the regional laws and standards of this wine zone, the Valentini estate could deliver 800,000 bottles annually. However, artisanal craftsmanship relies on selecting the ripest fruit thus limiting their production to approximately 50,000 bottles annually.  The rest is sold off. The estate keeps the details of their traditional winemaking methods a closely guarded secret, and rarely allows anyone to visit their cellars. The estate produces Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Edoardo claimed that his Trebbiano was the best wine he made.  I can tell you from experience, all three are sensational.

The Wines

2010 Emidio Pepe Pecorino.  The Pecorino grape has seen a Renaissance over the past 25 years.  The wine had terrific acidity and reminded me of a Northern Rhone white with a lovely viscous and chewy palate, that finished with considerable length.  $82.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.  The Trebbiano grape accounts for about 1/3 of all white wine in Italy.   Tonight's bottle was just spectacular juice.  It possessed a gorgeous golden yellow hue with a rich and elegant bouquet.  The palate was perfectly balanced and endowed with great focus, finesse and complexity.  Monster finish.  A wine with soul that is drinking at its peak at the moment.  This vintage is no longer available.  Recent vintages are however and priced at about $85.

Pepe (left) and Valentini (right)
2006 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  The pedigree of this wine was eminently apparent, however the fruit is still asleep. I have had the wine twice in the past year and on both occasions it was very tight.  I suggest keeping this in the cellar for a few more years and decanting it for 4 to 5 hours when you do open it. This is not an easy wine to find and when you do expect to pay about $300 for it.

1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This was spectacular.  I have had many vintages of this wine from Pepe, and this ranks amongst the very best.  It possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue that showed no bricking.  It displayed that earthy bouquet that one expects from his wines, especially when they have age on them.  What surprised me was that this was ready to drink immediately upon opening and kept evolving in the glass as we drank it.  A completely round and delicious wine with soul!  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

The Food

Lorena’s is a popular French restaurant offering seasonally fresh cuisine.  With the exception of my steak, which while perfectly cooked, I found very bland, the food and service were very good indeed.

Squid Ink Risotto, Sautéed Florida Sun Shrimp, Leeks, Peas, Saffron Emulsion

Warm Crepe of Lump Crabmeat, Field Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs, White Truffle Oil Beurre Blanc

Barnegat Sea Scallops, Savoy Cabbage, Corn, Peas, Tomato Concasee, Potato Puree,
Mushroom-Truffle Emulsion

Lamb Sirloin, Almond and Dijon Mustard Crust, Organic Red Quinoa, 
Haricot Vert, Bell Pepper Marmalde, Za'atar Yogurt

Pasture Raised Angus Beef N.Y. Strip,Glazed Baby Vegetables, Potato Puree, 
Scallion-Herb Buerre Fondue

Wonderful selection of wines Emil.  Thanks for sharing these with the group.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Our Wine Group Returns to Southern France

A couple of weeks back our monthly wine group met for our August wine dinner at A Toute Heure ("anytime" is the English translation) in Cranford, NJ.  Jim who selected the wines for the evening also picked the venue, which was new to us.  It turned out to be a great tasting with incredible food. You can be sure we will be back.

This farm-to-table restaurant run by Andrea & Jim Carbine turns out some of the best food in NJ or anywhere for that matter. Jack's Run Garden sits on the side and back of the Carbine's Cranford home and provides a bevy of Jersey fresh ingredients that are skillfully used in every dish. Service is courteous, friendly, professional and a compliment to the food that is prepared by executive Chef Robyn Reiss, who is simply a magician in the kitchen.

Our Menu began with a platter of spectacular homemade dinner rolls hot out of the oven.  Give me a half dozen of these and a crock of butter and I could be in heaven.  The appetizers arrived shortly after and brought huge smiles to our faces with each bite we took.

braised bacon, stone fruit mustard, marinated Jack’s Run Garden pole beans & radish, with toasted pepitas.  Sublime decadence on on wood board.  This was over-the-top and is a must order if you go here.

corn spoonbread, grilled Sycamore Farm’s corn, roast poblano peppers, sheep’smilk feta, scallion, and a lime-honey vinaigrette.  A melange of flavors and textures, but simply could not follow the bacon.

pan-roast pizza, house-made dough, chef’s choice of local meats, cheeses + vegetables, and a sunny-side up egg.  While I don't recall the chef's choices tonight, I do recall that it was delicious and amazing.

We expected nothing less spectacular with the main courses and we were not disappointed.

Four in the group ordered the grilled, pounded bone-in pork chop, with a ginger lime glaze, and a Phillips Farm’s corn, peach & garden pepper salad.  While I was not one of them, I did get to taste a bite and had to agree with the comments of those who ordered it..."best damn pork chop I have ever eaten".  Juicy and flavorful.

Mussels are served four different ways here.  I opted for their signature dish, ATH mussel pot: spicy chorizo sausage, saffron cream sauce w frites.  This preparation takes the French classic Moules et Frites to a new level.  Perfectly cooked crustaceans in a spicy broth with incredible hand-cut French Fries.  Superb!.  My only lament is that my dinner mates devoured most of my fries.

seared local scallops, fresh Sycamore Farm’s corn polenta, buttery summer squash, (sorry no photo) received raves from Howard.

A summer cobbler, Phillips Farm’s stone fruit & summer berries, sugar cookie crumble top, and a scoop of sweet cream ice cream (no photo) completed a spectacular meal.

The Wines

I posted about wines from the Southern Rhone Region of France last year, Red Wines of Southern France.  Jim took us back there again tonight.

Chateau Rayas, under the direction and wine making of Emmanuel Reynaud, is considered by many, myself included, as the premier wine estate in the Southern Rhone. In the heart of the southern Rhône Valley appellation vineyards, he offers up his Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wines featuring Châteauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône, Vacqueyras and Côtes du Rhône Village.  Both red and white, these wines are the fruit of the vineyards of a number of different domains: Château Rayas, Château Fonsalette and Château des Tours.  The family has been producing legendary wines since 1880.  Today these wines are matured in the cellars of two estates Château Rayas and Château des Tours. The wines are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.  The signature wine, the Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve is perhaps the ultimate expression of a 100% Grenache based wine.  While it is delicious, it is very expensive.

Chateau des Tours wines on the other hand is much more affordable and a bit easier to locate. A 40-hectare property of vines that include Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot and Counoise for red wine and Grenache and Clairette for white wine. Three wines are made here, Vacqueyras Red; Cotes du Rhone Red and Cotes du Rhone White.  Jim selected two Vacqueyas for the evening.

1998 Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras. Like all Reynaud vineyards, these are tended with the same organic methods, manually plowed, harvested much later than other producers and centered around a reverence for old-vine Grenache.  Tonight’s wine, a blend of Grenache (80%), Syrah (20%) was delightful.  The bouquet was earthy with a mature and nicely balanced palate. The finish was a bit short however, suggesting that the wine has seen its best years.  The wine sells for around $50, but a search of Wine-Searcher lists wines only as far back as 2004.

2001 Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras.  For me this was clearly the wine of the night.   I was not alone in my opinion.  The terroir-laden bouquet soared from the glass creating great anticipation of what was in store.  The palate did not let us down.  It possessed amazing depth, focus, balance and elegance.  Like all great bottles of wine, it evolved with each sip and finished with considerable length.  Truly a wine with soul!

2000 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard Cuvée Boisrenard.  CdP laws allow for all 13 grape varieties from the region to be blended into the wine. Domaine de Beaurenard is one of the few who uses them all, with Grenache (70%) making up the majority.  I found the wine to be very modern with a rather harsh mid-palate and a bit too much alcohol. $80.  Wine-Searcher.

2000 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Cuvée Mon Aieul.  Made from 100% Grenache this was very enjoyable.  The wine had an enticing bouquet of ripe fruit, was nicely balanced on a complex and peppery palate.  The mid-palate exhibited soft tannins and it finished with good length.  $95.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Domaine Gerard Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  I have always liked this producer as I find the wines to be very traditional and made in a style quite similar to Rayas.  The estate uses whole cluster fermentation from a blend of 82% Grenache and the rest Mourvedre, Syrah, and Vaccarese from their vines averaging about 50 years of age.  The wine possessed a deep red hue, pure fruit and a nicely balanced full-bodied, peppery and silky palate.  Alcohol a tad high, but finish was quite nice.  $93.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The estate is another that uses all 13 grapes, with Mourvedre and Grenache leading the way, in its red wines.  Times have changed here at the estate in my opinion.  There appears to be a movement to a more modern style of wine making.  My experience with the wines over the past few years has been disappointing and tonight’s wine did nothing to change that.  I found the wine to lack depth and focus.  It just sat in the glass and never really made a statement.  $116.  Wine-Searcher.

Great job Jim on your selection of wines and the venue.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beppe Rinaldi

A couple of weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure to once again participate in a Vinous Members wine tasting.  This group was more or less created by Tony a while back.   I was honored and delighted to be invited when the group was formed.  Tony, along with Eric Guido once again orchestrated the venue, I Trulli Ristorante, and the wine theme, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo.

In my opinion two of the finest wine makers in Italy (perhaps the world for that matter) are often referred to as “Beppe”; Giuseppe Quintarelli (Veneto) and Giuseppe Rinaldi (Piedmont). Both of these producers are at the very top of my “favorites” list.  Their wines are the ultimate expression of traditionally made wines that provide for memorable drinking experiences.

Beppe Rinaldi took over the winery after the death of his father Battista in 1992 and runs it today with his daughter Marta.  The only change he made was regarding the blending of the vineyards in the two Barolo his father made.  Eric Guido’s write up of this dinner includes an in depth history of the estate and I would encourage you to read it.  The Cellar Table at Morrell Bar & Café.

Since 2010 the Barolo Consortium’s ever changing wine label laws preclude producers from using more than one vineyard name on the label. The wines we drank tonight Brunate Le Coste and Cannubi San Lorenzo, have been replaced since 2010 with Brunate and Tre Tine. Eric’s write up explains this in detail.

Before settling down to the 5 Rinaldi flights Tony brought along a bottle of NV Jacques Selosse Initial Champagne that we all thoroughly enjoyed.  We drank this from large glasses to enjoy the yeasty bouquet and evolution this remarkable wine goes through as it sits in the glass.  In my opinion, Selosse is king when it comes to bubbly.  The only downside is the wines are highly allocated, thus hard to find and expensive.

Flight 1

1956 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo.  What a pleasant surprise this was.  If I had to guess the age of the wine by the color, I would have added at least 40 years to it as it possessed a surprisingly translucent red hue.  The bottle was brought along by Jamie Wolfe of Chamber Street Wines. Jamie, who is extremely knowledgeable about Nebbiolo, especially older vintages, informed us that up to 20% Barbera was added to the wine in 1956.  While the wine lacked the vibrancy of the younger vintages, it drank very well for its age.

1985 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Riserva.  Made by Giuseppe’s father the color of this wine was a bit cloudier than the 1985 and lacked the body and depth of the 1956.  While the wine was no slouch, I found it to be a few large steps behind the 1956.

1985 (left) - 1956 (right)
Flight 2

1993 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravera.  I had hoped for more from this, but alas that was not the case.  Not a bad wine, but compared to many of the others I felt it lacked depth and focus.

1997 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  In my opinion the 1997 Barolo vintage, once thought to be the vintage of the century, has long faded into the horizon.  This bottle did nothing to change that.  I had it at the bottom of the list.

1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  A vintage that seems to be overlooked by many, I have yet to be disappointed by any Barolo from the vintage.  The bouquet and palate were very youthful, the fruit was pure and balanced and it finished with considerable elegance. It was easily the best wine of the flight.

Flight 3

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Easily the wine of the night for me.  This was a completely round and delicious wine that is a beautiful example of how good Nebbiolo can be when made by a master. The wine is in perfect harmony with the terroir of Piedmont and just keeps evolving with each sip.  This will last for decades.  Decant for at least 3 hours to give it time to open up.  My only regret is that I have none of this in my cellar.

2000 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Another vintage that is often overlooked by many and one that I have enjoyed on a number of occasions. Tonight’s bottle was not up to previous bottles I have had, nor is it in the class of the other two in the flight, but I enjoyed every sip.

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  The pedigree of this wine is incredible. At the moment it offers up hints of the great wine lurking inside the bottle.  This is destined to be a blockbuster in another 5 years.

Flight 4

2003 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  2003 was a scorching hot year that produced wines of varying quality throughout the region.  Not so for Beppe.  This was an absolutely gorgeous surprise to all of us. It was incredibly alive with fresh fruit, focus, complexity and depth and a lengthy finish.  It is easily one of the best 2003 Barolos I have had…and I believe it will only get better with bottle age.

2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Like the 2001, the pedigree here is eminently evident.  It possessed a silky and harmonious palate with a gorgeous bouquet of fresh fruit and earth.  The finish is elegant and will lengthen with bottle aging.

2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi - San Lorenzo – Ravera.  Like Eric and Ken, I felt this bottle was really off.  Perhaps storage during shipping affected the wine.  I will know soon enough as I have 6 of these in my cellar.  I hope they fare better than this bottle did.

Flight 5

2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi - San Lorenzo – Ravera.  Very nice wine, but overshadowed by the BLC.

2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  Simply gorgeous.  What I like to call a round and delicious wine (it has it all).  The wine was very much alive and soaring in the glass with each sip.  The long and elegant finish made me want another sip immediately.

2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste.  A great year for Barolo, and this offering is one of the reasons why.  Oh, what a wine.  It should be allowed at least 5 years in the cellar, but it is so delicious it is hard to keep your hands off it.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido

The opportunity to share and discuss wines of this caliber with friends of equal caliber is something I cherish more than all the wine in my cellar.  Of course nights like this have a tendency to entice one to add more wine to the cellar.  Thanks again to Anthony and Eric for making happen.  I look forward to our next dinner.

I did not take any pictures of food and attendees, but fret not I'm sure they will soon be available when Ken Vastola posts his notes at http://www.finewinegeek.com.  Be on the lookout for it.