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, April 24, 2016

Rockin’ & Rhonen’

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

Food Highlights

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Laurel & Sage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Return to the Loire

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

The Food

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

Fresh Raw Oysters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

warm baked chocolate chip cookie
all on its own

homemade triple chocolate ice cream

The Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, March 4, 2016

Aged Burgundy

Our local wine group returned again to Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville for our monthly tasting. As expected Chef/Owner Allan Russo performed his culinary magic making for yet another night of great food paired with some remarkable wines.  Jeff, our Burgundy expert, was in the queue for the wine, and thus our anticipation level was quite high.  He didn't let us down with his wonderful selections of aged Burgundies.

The Food

Bruschetta of Radish; Roasted Pepper & Olives

Bresaola (air-cured beef) with Arugula and shaved Parmigianino Reggiano 

Prince Edward Island Mussels and Grilled Bay Octopus in a light tomato broth 

Arugula Fritters topped with Bagna Cauda

Spaghetti Bolognese 

Pork Scaloppini topped with Prosciuto in a pork-wine reduction sauce

Perfiteroles (no photo)

The Wines

Jeff not only has a deep knowledge of Burgundy but a cellar to match as well.  A savvy buyer at auctions, his cellar contains many aged Burgundy gems, which he happily shares with fellow wine enthusiasts.  With exception of a bottle of 1975, he treated us to red Burgundy 1er Crus from the excellent 1976 vintage.  The wines all showed very well for 40 years of age.  This is really no surprise since the Pinot Noir grown in Burgundy, especially under the direction of top winemakers, produces some of the most elegant and age worthy wines in the world.  None of the reds showed any bricking around the edges.  In most cases they displayed an aged, slightly musty bouquet with nicely balanced palates of varying degrees of complexity.  Each had a slightly different expression that related to the individual terroirs of the wine.  As has been my experience with older Burgundy, the fruit was somewhat muted and lacked the vibrancy and sheer feminine elegance that I find and prefer in younger Burgundies.

Before getting into the reds Jeff started us off with a Grand Cru white Burgundy, 1995 Paul Pernot et Fils Bienvenues Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru. We crossed our fingers that the wine would not suffer from premature oxidation (an all to routine condition that hit Burgundy in the mid 90’s) and thankfully it did not.  Instead it was glorious from the first sip and just kept getting better.  The viscous palate had pure fruit with density and complexity and finished with an incredible length.  This was a great wine to begin the evening with.  It was my wine of the night.

1976 Louis Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules 1er Cru. Maison Louis Jadot has been an icon of excellence in Burgundy since 1859. 1976 was an outstanding vintage marked by low yields but exceptional concentration.  The wine displayed a nice terroir-laden bouquet with a soft palate.   While there was not a lot of depth left and the finish was rather short it drank very nicely.

1976 Bouchard Pere & Fils Gevrey-Chambertain Aux Combottes 1er Cru.  This top estate has been making terrific red and white Burgundy for almost 3 centuries.  I found the fruit here much more vibrant than in the Jadot.  It possessed great balance and considerable depth for its age.  One of the wines of the night in my opinion.

1976 Robert Arnoux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots.  One of the flagship wines from the estate, this was a match to the Bouchard.  It began with a lovely Burgundian nose of cherries, while on the palate it demonstrated amazing complexity.  It’s polished and concentrated fruit evolved with each sip before finishing with length and elegance.  One of the wines of the night.

1975 George Roumier Morey Saint-Denis Clos de la Bussiere. I am a huge fan of Roumier wines.  His Grand Cru Bonnes Mares is one of the finest examples of traditionally made Burgundy I have ever tasted. This 1er Cru was a step or two behind the Bouchard and the Arnoux, but was a wonderful wine that showed nice balance and focus.  The fruit however was a bit faded and the finish was short.

Thanks Jeff for sharing these beauties with us.


Monday, February 15, 2016

La Festa Del Barolo 2016

Last Friday friends Emil and Michael joined me at the 2016 La Festa del Barolo dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC, where we met up with many wine friends who, like us, are huge Barolo fans.  This annual event, orchestrated by Vinous founder Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team is, in my opinion, the epitome of a great wine tasting. The format of the dinner calls for all dinner attendees to bring bottles of great Barolo to share with the others at their table.  As you would imagine, sharing with other tables is another highlight of the evening.  Seated at each table is one of the winemakers who will be participating in the 2011 Barolo tasting to be held on the following morning.  They also bring wines, usually back vintages, from their cellar.  The opportunity to speak with these gracious folks and share their wine is worth the price of admission alone.

Emil, Antonio, Michael, Mark
As good as the wine and food was the big winner of the evening was The Mount Sinai Hospital. A charity auction of some amazing wines donated by Antonio and the winemakers raised in the neighborhood of $200,000 (my estimate) for The Zone, a state-of-the art facility within the hospital that helps seriously ill children and their families cope with hospitalization.

The evening began with passed hors d’oeuvres and champagne, compliments of Vinous.

2008 Cédric Bouchard-Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Béchalin.  100% Pinot Noir, a stunning bubbly.  I loved the yeasty nose and palate that was refined, complex and balanced. The grapes are hand harvested and crushed by foot and fermented using indigenous yeast before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.  Only first pressed juice is used. Disgorged: April 2015.

NV Egly-Ouriet Extra Brut Grand Cru Vieillissement Prolongé.  Every bit the equal to the Cedric Bouchard.  Stunning. Disgorged November 2014.

2011 Ultramarine Blanc de Blancs Charles Heintz Vineyard.  A pleasant surprise here for me as I drink very little California wine. The wine had a wonderful texture, but lacked the complexity of the Bouchard and Egly in my opinion.

2002 Dom Pérignon. Did not taste.  Gone by the time I got to it.

We then adjourned to the dining area and our assigned tables for a nice dinner comprised of Duck Broth with dumplings; Risotto with Black Truffles and Braised Short Ribs.


1995 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dam.  Very nice bubbly with some age on it.   I have to admit to being bubbled out at the reception so only had a small sip.

2004 Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra Barolo.  Decidedly modern styled Barolo with harsh tannins and too much oak for my palate.

1996 Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo.  This was very good.  I expected more oak given the fact that the wine sees 3 years in 75% new Barrique barrels.  Fortunately that was not the case as the wood was beautifully integrated into a seamless and delicious round wine with a velvety palate and finish.

2000 Aldo Conterno Riserva Granbussia Barolo.  Unfortunately this bottle was corked, which is a shame as I have had the wine before and it is terrific.

1997 Aldo Conterno Riserva Granbussia Barolo.  Another pleasant surprise for me as I have found most of the ’97 Baroli to be long gone.  Alas, that was not the case here.  It possessed lively fruit, wonderful balance and finesse and a lengthy finish.

1967 Cappellano Barolo.  Fantastic!  A bit of a brownish translucent hue, the wine had a glorious earthy bouquet with a wonderful smoky palate.  A fantastic old Barolo.

1997 Sandrone Boschis Barolo (magnum).  Like Pio Cesare, Luciano Sandrone wines are a combination of traditional and modern techniques.  His results are always terrific as was the case with this bottle.  While the wine is from the ’97 vintage, which I am not a fan of, Sandrone wove his magic here.  The wine had a silky and beautifully balance palate with an elegant finish.

Alex Sanchez, owner of Brovia was seated at our table.  Until this time my only experience with Brovia wines was a delightful bottle of their white, Arneis a few years back.  Vinous members have been praising his Barolo routinely on the site and so I purchased some for my cellar, but had yet to taste one.  That was about to change as Alex brought along a couple of bottles from his estate.  Color me very impressed.  The wines are beautiful expressions of traditionally made Barolo.

1998 Brovia Barolo Brea Vigna Ca'Mia .  A round and delicious wine with great balance and complexity that is at the beginning of a 20+ year drinking window.

2004 Brovia Barolo Villero.  From the extraordinary and soon to be legendary 2004 vintage, this was a medium-bodied tour de force in the making, as patience of 5+ years will be rewarded. While the bouquet is enticing and tannins are soft, the wine only give a slight glimpse  of the underlying pedigree at this moment in time.

2003 Bruno Giacosa Falletto di Serralunga Barbera (magnum).  A gift from our host Antonio Galloni.  My first ever Giacosa Barbera, and it was magnificent.  Rich and focused palate with a long finish.  Thank you Antonio.

2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  While the 2005 vintage takes a small back seat to the  highly ’04 vintage, the wines are marvelous.  I had this particular wine twice in the past year and It has be superb on both occasions. In fact it is one of the best wines of the 2005 vintage I have tasted.  It displayed great balance, complexity, finesse and focus and finished with considerable length and elegance.  The wine is drinking beautifully now and should provide great drinking for the next decade.

Photo Courtesy of Eric Guido
2010 Sergio Barale Barolo.  Even thought the Barale family has been making traditionally styled Barolo for almost 150 years, this was my first experience with the wine.  One would expect that a traditionally made Barolo from the epic 2010 vintage would be tremendous, and this certainly did not disappoint anyone at our table.  It drank beautifully with great balance and complexity.  At $47 a bottle, Chambers Street Wines, this is worth adding to your cellar.

1971 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo.  From the epic 1971vintage, this was sensational.  The wine lingered on the palate in glorious harmony before finishing with a captivating length.  Thanks Eric for sharing a bit with me.

1990 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo.  What do you get when you taste a Barolo made by a great winemaker from a fantastic vintage, simply an incredible experience.  The wine soared from the glass with brilliance, focus and finesse.  Thank you Tony and Marta for sharing some with me. Wish I had some in my cellar.

1966 Cappellano Barolo 2.1 liters, Troglio bottling. The wine was brought by Vinous member Ken Vastola.  As you can see the bottle has a very weird shape.  According to Ken, Giovanni Troglia was a wine merchant in Turin who bottled a wide range of Northern Italian wines under his own label. Check out Ken’s blog, The Fine Wine Geek, for information on this bottling.  The wine itself was simply magnificent.  The fruit was still very much intact on a beautifully round and soft palate.  A memorable drinking experience.  My wine of the night.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Vastola

It was a great evening.  I look forward to next year's event.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Armonia Italiano

Last night our monthly wine group returned to Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville. Chef/Owner Allan Russo never fails to prepare a meal that is in harmony, in this case Armonia Italiano, with the wines.  The wine selection fell on the shoulders of Marc last night, who flexed them admirably with a memorable selection of older Nebbiolos.

The Food

We began the evening as we did when we visited in October with Allan’s version of Bruschetta; Antipasto of fresh Burrata Cheese, Speck. Soprasatta, marinated Zucchini and Asparagus drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil; and Arugola Fritters topped with Bagna Cauda.

Our pasta course this time was Risotto with sweet Italian Sausage that transported us back to Italy.  Risotto needs to be creamy to be fully appreciated as this was tonight.  It was a dish in which all the ingredients and textures came together in perfect harmony.  It was nothing short of culinary bliss.  In fact, it was so good that I asked to have it repeated as my entrée.

While I was enjoying every grain of my risotto, my fellow wine lovers were savoring every morsel of Brised Short Ribs served in a lush red wine reduction

Millefoglie, Italy’s answer to the French Napoleon, completed the meal.  Light as a feather, yet decadent as any great dessert, it quickly disappeared from our collective plates.

If you are a reader of this blog and live in NJ and have not been to Sette, I suggest you plan a visit soon.  You will be glad you did.

The Wines

All the wines were opened about 4 hours prior to serving.

We began the evening with two Baroli side-by-side from the 1967 vintage, a fantastic vintage in Piedmont.  1967 Prunotto Barolo & 1967 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo.  I was surprised and amazed by the gorgeous translucent red hue of the Prunoto.  Color like this is rare in a 38 year old wine.  On the nose it had a big earthy bouquet with a soft and balanced palate.  With each sip the wine evolved a bit more and finished with elegance.  It was delicious. Unavailable at retail.

The Rinaldi took a back seat to the Prunotto.  In a striking contrast to the Prunotto, the Rinaldi possessed an inky and opaque hue.  On the nose the bouquet had more red fruit, but less earth than the Prunotto.  The palate echoed the fruity bouquet.  That and the deep color caused Jeff to comment that "some Barbera may have been added to the wine", a technique often used by Angelo Gaja to enhance the color.  While a pleasant wine, it was simply outclassed by the Rinaldi.  Unavailable at retail.

     Prunotto                    Rinaldi

1985 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria.  Like 1967, 1985 was a great vintage in Piedmont and according to Antonio Galloni, “…this remains a reference point vintage for the 1980’s second half to the last century.”  I became a fan of this producer a couple of years back when I first tasted his Barolo Castiglione, a traditional Barolo loaded with soul.  This was my first taste of their Barbaresco and it likely will not be my last.  The wine was glorious.  The wine soared from the glass enticing the nose with an intoxicating bouquet of fruit and the soil that produced it.  I loved the fruity and harmonious palate that showed great balance and complexity before finishing with length and elegance. Has the stuff to last another 20 years. Unavailable at retail.  

1985 Paolo Scavino Cannubi Barolo. I have never been a fan of Paolo Scavino wines as I find them too modern for my palate.  Tonight’s wine I believe was made prior to his change over to the more modern style, and as such was quite nice.  It didn’t show the presence of oak that his modern wines display, but, in my opinion, lacked the depth and finesse of the others we drank. It was my least favorite of the evening.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto.  What a beautiful bottle of wine.  Intoxicating bouquet of earth and fruit with a polished and complex palate.  The wine soared from the glass and evolved with each sip before finishing with a sublime elegance.  Many years of drinking pleasure remain here if you are lucky enough to have some.  This and the Vietti were my wines of the night, with the Prunotto a short step behind.  The estate seemed to have a set back after Bruno had a stroke a few years back, but once again seems to be getting back on track with the return of winemaker Dante Scaglione.  $180.  Wine-Searcher.

Just another magical evening with this great group of guys.  Very well done Marc!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gentlemen’s Holiday Lunch - 2015

This past Thursday a bunch of wine-loving friends gathered at Il Capriccio Ristorante, Whippany, NJ for our annual holiday lunch.  Every one brings a bottle to drink as we enjoy Natale Grande’s excellent Northern Italian Cuisine.  This year Tony, who originally organized the event, decided that the theme would be Barolo or Barbaresco from 1978 to 2001.  I thought all the wines showed well.

Flight One

1985 Cavallotto Barolo Vigna San Giuseppe.  As this was my bottle, I gave it a 1-hour slo-o at home. The wine had a brickish and somewhat cloudy hue and a nice earthy nose that was reflected on the palate. The first couple of sips however showed very little as the wine was pretty much closed. As it sat in the glass (30 minutes) the fruit began to evolve nicely and the presence of an aged old world Barolo was evident. Tannins were soft and the finish had good length.

1989 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco. Upon opening the wine seemed to be a bit oxidized, which turned out not to be the case.  Within 15 minutes any hint of oxidation blew off and was replaced by good fruit and balance.  30 minutes later however the wine seemed to shut down.  ???

Flight Two

2000 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva Barolo.   Superb bottle of wine that is entering its drinking window.  Everything one expects of the estate’s flagship wine.  The wine was round and delicious with impeccable balance, focus, finesse and a lengthy and elegant finish.

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Barolo.   This bottle seemed a bit off.  Perhaps a storage or shipping issue.  In any case, in my opinion, it is way to young and needs at least another 5 years in the cellar.

Flight Three

2000 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  Superb showing of this wine today.  Enticing bouquet with an intense, rich palate of ripe fruit that kept evolving with each sip.  Magnificent finish.

2001 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  A couple steps behind the 2000 at this stage in its life, but a terrific wine for sure with a bright future. Lovely fruit, balance and complexity.  Would have definitely benefitted from a few hours in the decanter.

Flight Four

1988 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia. Another superb wine.  Bright, elegant fruit that evolved with every sip and finished with lengthy elegance.

1996 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  Even better than the 1988, which is saying something.  This is simply a round a delicious wine with a couple of decades of enjoyment ahead of it.  The wine hit on all cylinders. The fruit was gorgeous, balanced and focused.  The nose tantalized the senses and the finish was one where you close your eyes and enjoy.  The essence of traditionally made old world Barolo.  My wine of the day.

Flight Five

2001 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala Magnum.  A wine of great pedigree and a bright future as it comes of age.  Enjoyable wine now, but will benefit from cellar time.

Flight Six

1997 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate La Coste Magnum.  As a huge fan of Giuseppe Rinaldi, I was ready to be disappointed, as so many 1997 Barolos have proven to be.  There was no disappointment today, just a huge smile as I savored this delicious wine.  The magic of Rinaldi was present in each sip.  Gorgeous Piedmontese nose with vibrant fruit, complex palate and lengthy finish.  Old world Barolo at its best!.

Flight Seven

1996 Angelo Gaja Sori Tildin.  Not my kind of wine.  Fruit is over extracted.  Gaja all the way, and I am not a fan.

1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva.  A most welcomed deviation from the theme.  LdH wines are the epitome of old world craftsmanship as this one was.  What a magnificent old world wine that possessed an earthy bouquet and gorgeous translucent hue reminiscent of a wine 30 years younger.  On the palate it had vibrant fruit, complexity, finesse and elegance.  A terrific wine.


1963 Sandeman Vintage Port.  From the legendary 1963 vintage, this was as good a vintage port as I have ever had.  Round, delicious and elegant with a monster finish.  I was amazed in that the color was more like that of a Tawny Port.  I only wish I had a couple of cases in my cellar.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all!