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, March 2, 2015

A Very Special Italian Sunday Dinner

The traditional Italian Sunday dinner that my generation grew up with always consisted of "macaroni" and "gravy" with meatballs, sausage and braciole.  The meal usually began promptly at 1:30 in the afternoon and lasted a good 3 to 4 hours.  Today many restaurants in the NY/NJ metro area attempt to recreate the tradition by serving "Pasta with Sunday Sauce" as a special on Sundays.  Perhaps the new name is justified, because it usually is a far cry from the macaroni and gravy that I grew up with.  I am very thankful that the tradition continues with the current generation of Italian Americans in their home kitchens and dinning rooms on most Sunday afternoons.

A couple of weeks ago, our friends Tony and Fran, invited us and a few other friends to their home for a very special Sunday macaroni dinner.  It was special for a couple of reasons.  The guests of honor were two two of Italy’s top producers of Barolo, Franco Conterno (Aldo Conterno Estate) and Franco Massolino (Massolino Estate).  Tony befriended both of them on a trip to Italy a few years ago.  Since both were in town for the La Festa del Barolo tasting that we attended the day before, they graciously accepted Tony's invitation to a traditional Sunday Italian dinner at his house.   I had met both men before and they are very gracious, friendly and easy to talk with, which made for a most enjoyable afternoon.

The other reason it was so special is that Tony’s mother Elisabetta, who hails from Alberona, Italy, made homemade Cavatelli pasta that literally brought a tear to my eye. The lightness and freshness of the macaroni brought back memories of eating Sunday dinner at my Grandma DeRosa’s house.  Tony, no slouch in the kitchen himself, made a large pot of delicious ”gravy, meatballs, sausage & braciole” to compliment his mom’s Cavatelli.  We were all so busing devouring the "macaroni" that no one remembered to take a picture of it.  Of course no Italian Sunday dinner would be complete without beginning with a large antipasto of cheeses and salamis.  After the “macaroni” we enjoyed a delicious roast of Filet Mignon and of course finished with a bevy of Italian Pastries and other assorted goodies.

Franco M., Mom Elisabetta, Franco C., Tony

The two Francos had one request, “NO BAROLO!”  They wanted to drink other wines.  We raided our cellars and accommodated them with following selection.


NV Krug Rosé Champagne.  A great way to begin the dinner.  This was wonderful with its pinkish hue, yeasty and rich palate and sublime finish.  It is a blend of 59% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier and spent six years aging on the lees prior to disgorgement.  $300.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese.  I am a huge fan of Riesling and of J.J. Prum.  I find their wines have outstanding complexity and balance. The harvest at Prüm is always extremely late. The 2007, which we drank today, harvest was not finished before December. Late picking allows the Riesling grapes in the cool Middle Mosel climate to be picked at ideal ripening conditions, the basis to produce wines of superb quality.  Today’s bottle was superb, with just a hint of sweetness on a long and elegant palate.  I find that Prum wines need a minimum of 5 years of cellar time before they can really be appreciated.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Manni Nössing Kerner.  The Alto Adige region of Northern Italy lies adjacent to the Austrian border.  The region produces a number of delicious white and red wines.  This delicious white is made from the Kerner grape and this particular bottle is from vineyards in the Valle Isarco (to the northeast of Bolzano), Manni Nössing is a brilliant young artisan wine maker who has only been bottling his wines since 2000.  He produces only 2,500 cases of wine in total. Prior to that he sold off his juice.  Following traditional wine making methods, he hand harvests his fruit, ferments it in stainless steel and ages in stainless steel on the lees for eight months. Today’s wine was crisp and pure on the palate, with a lovely stony minerality and hints of flowers.  It was delicious.  $34.
Wine-Searcher.

2001 Henri Boillot Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru. A brilliant expression of the Chardonnay grape in this remarkable wine.  A rich, pure and elegant wine that dances on the tongue with vibrant fruit, acidity, depth and complexity before finishing with serious length and elegance.  The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Geantet-Pansiot - Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (Magnum). 1993 was a very good year In Burgundy, which yielded a rather small crop of rich, concentrated and velvety red wines. Today’s bottle had a lovely fragrant and elegant nose and a full-bodied, complex rich palate that showed considerable depth. The finish was long and elegant.  I think that this wine is a good example of the absurdity of numbers.  His eminence RP gave the ’93 vintage a score of 80. $550.  New York Wine Warehouse.

1989 Chateau LaFleur DeGay (Magnum).  A Bordeaux blend from the highly respected Pomerol appellation in Bordeaux.  Readers of this blog know I do not drink much Bordeaux.  I find the wines, blends for the most part, to be very one-dimensional and lack the elegance of Barolo and Burgundy.  At least for me they do.  This wine did nothing to change my opinion. Yours (not mine) for only $330+ a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

1989 Chateau Margaux.  More of the same in my opinion, except for the price, which is twice the previous Bordeaux.  Why, you may ask?  Simple, this is one of the classified first growths, thus very much a "status" wine and if you want to drink a first growth you must ante up big bucks like the Chinese do.  $650.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, Soldera, in the opinion of many (myself included) is the master of Brunello wines.  The bouquet of this wine filled the nose with great anticipation of what we were about to drink.  The wine soared on the palate with dazzling purity, complexity and balance and finished with a clean and pristine elegance.  I believe that most of us felt this way about the wine.  Franco Conterno, however, had a different opinion.  He felt the wine was suffering from reduction.  Reduction in wine is thought of as the opposite of oxidation, i.e. not enough oxygen was introduced into the wine, thus imparting an acrid aroma (sort of like corked wine) to the wine.  When the wine is exposed to air the reduction can, although not always, dissipate.  Franco thought that the case here initially.  He did say the wine got better with air, but he did not seem as excited about the wine as the rest of us were.  As an interesting aside, this was the first time he ever drank a Soldera wine.  $500.  Wine-Spectator.

1998 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva.  My favorite Spanish producer and one of the few real traditionalists left in Spain.  The wines of LdH rarely disappoint.  Today’s bottle had a bit of bricking on the edge but it did not deter from the amazing purity of fruit and earthy palate that evolved in the glass with each sip.  At $40+, this is a ridiculous bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

Paul, Emil, Franco M., Tony, Jack, Franco C., Mark, Vincenzo

With espresso and dessert Tony broke out a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac and a couple of bottles of Grappa.  The Louis XIII is an excellent cognac for sure, but the cost is way off base, in my opinion. In any case it was a great ending to a dinner.  It is not everyday that one gets to converse with two of Italy's iconic wine producers while eating great food and drinking great wine.  Thanks to Tony, Fran and Tony's mom Elisabetta for their gracious hospitality and outstanding food.


Saluté





Monday, February 23, 2015

The Extraordinary 2010 Barolo Vintage

Two weeks ago, along with friends Emil and Tony, I attended the 2015 La Festa del Barolo that Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team hosted at the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC. Tastings of this type have become one of Vinous’ hallmarks and provide a great opportunity to taste wines from excellent vintages. 15 of Barolo’s finest producers were present to discuss their 2010 Baroli as we tasted them.  2010 has been heralded as one of the greatest Barolo vintages ever.  As Antonio writes, “The cool growing season produced transparent, vibrant Barolos that pulsate with tension, crystalline purity and site-specific nuance.  The 2010s are vibrant, finely sculpted Barolos built on power and intensity”.  The tasting confirmed his comments.  This is a remarkable vintage.  The wines display wonderful depth, finesse and elegance.  To really appreciate them, patience of 5+ years is recommended.  Most of these wines will not come cheaply, but if you are Barolo lover, the indulgence will be well worth it.

With the exception of Scavino and La Spinetta, wines I have never liked and nothing here changed my feeling, I thought all of the wines showed very well.  Since these wines are in their infancy, it would not be appropriate to attempt to pick the best.   I have listed below, however, those wines that I felt drank the best today.

G. Conterno; G.Rinaldi; Massolino; Vietti; Cordero di Montezemolo 

Vajra; A. Conterno; Burlotto; Ceretto; Cogno, 

Sandrone, E. Pira, Elio Altare

Scavino; La Spinetta

At lunch (delicious cheeseburger) the wines were closer to drinking temperature and really accentuated the magnificence of the vintage.  Our table drank Burlotto, A. Conterno, Massolino and Vajra.  When you get to sip wines of this caliber with good food, you move from tasting the wine to experiencing it.  It was quite and experience.


2010 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche (Alessandro Ceretto). Located in the village of Castiglione Falletto, this hill top vineyard has been producing single vineyard Barolo since 1982. The more modern winemaking approach that uses a combination of new (barrique) and old (5 years) oak is used in the aging process.  The wine is aged for 30 months in barrel and then 12 months in the bottle prior to being released for sale.  The oak was well integrated here resulting in a palate that was fruity and nicely balanced.  I found this to be much better than previous vintages from the estate.



2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole (Aldo Vajra). The Vajra estate is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo, was established in 1972.  The Barolo Bricco delle Viole, is their flagship wine.  This was gorgeous, full of feminine elegance with a wonderful fruity and earthy palate.  This is old-world Barolo at its best and at a modest price compared to other top Baroli.  Also worth checking out is his Langhe Rosso ($18).  Terrific wine at an even more terrific price.


2010 Elio Altare Barolo Alborina (Silvia Altare).  Altare was at the forefront of the Barolo revolution of a more modern style Barolo, with the use of rotary fermenters, a short maceration period, and the use of small barriques for aging.  I found the tannins to be a bit harsher with this wine than any of the others.  The wine also lacked the soul of most of the others.  Not one I will add to my cellar.

2010 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata (Enrico Scavino).  Not for me.  See my comment in paragraph two.  Dull palate with too much oak for me.

2010 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Enrico VI (Alberto Cordero). This was my first time tasting this producer’s wine, and I was very impressed.  It had an enticing bouquet of earth and fruit and drank with a soft elegance.  I was quite surprised to learn, after doing some research, that the wine is aged in French Barrique.  My experience with wines aged this way is that they are very oaky and full of vanilla on the palate.  Fortunately that was not the case here. I hope to add some to my cellar.

2010 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala (Franco Conterno).   I loved this.  Like all Aldo Conterno wines the pedigree was very much in evidence with the first sip.  The wine was elegant and beautifully balanced.  I would expect this to be a tour de force in time.  I was fortunate to have this as one of the Barolos served at our table at lunch.  A shining example of traditional Barolo (aged 2+ years in large Slovonian Oak) that will emerge in a few years and provide a couple of decades of enjoyment at the very least.

2001 La Spinetta Barolo Campé (Giorgio Rivetti).  IMO, not even close to the other wines tasted today.  Did not like this at all.  Like the Scavino, it lacked soul.

2010 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cerretta (Roberto Conterno).
My have been my favorite wine of the tasting.  In my opinion, Roberto Conterno is one of the finest makers of traditional wines on the planet.  His Cascina Francia and Monfortino Riserva are two of the most sought after wines in all of Barolo.  They embody the essence of the Piedmont terroir, climate and Nebbiolo grape.  Today's wine, Barolo Ceretto, is the first Barolo from the Ceretta vineyard since Roberto took it over in 2008.  It simply soared from the glass.  It was round and delicious and the essence of traditional Barolo. Only 3000 magnums were produced. Roberto surprised us all when he said that his 2010 reminded him of his 1985.

2010 G.B. Burlotto Barolo Vigneto Monvigliero (Fabio Allesandria). I first tried the wines from this estate about a year ago. The Barolo Monvigliero is the estate's flagship wine, and is one of the few Barolos made with 100% whole clusters.  It was delicious. The bouquet was gloriously aromatic while the palate was pure and beautifully balanced. A staunch traditionalist, the making of the wine begins with a gentle crushing of all the grapes by foot, an incredible 60-day maceration on the skins and long aging in large Slovanian oak. I had the pleasure of sitting at Fabio’s table at lunch and got to enjoy speaking with him while I enjoyed this beautifully made wine with lunch.

2010 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne (Luciano Sandrone).  When I first tasted this wine last April I was mesmerized by its finesse, elegance, depth and balance.  Sandrone is neither a traditionalist or modernist, rather he is somewhere in the middle.  Whatever he is, he makes fantastic Barolo.  The LeVigne is a blend  of fruit from four vineyards, Vignane (Barolo), Merli (Novello), Conterni & Ceretta  (Monforte d’Alba).  Unfortunately, the bottle we tasted today did not drink as well as well as when I tasted it last April.  I think it was either an off bottle or perhaps it was served too cold. In any case it is a wine to put in your cellar, as I believe it should be stunning in a few years.

2010 E. Pira (Chiara Boschis) Barolo Via Nuova (Chiara Boschis). A more modern styled Barolo that sees 1/3 new oak, it was more impressive than other vintages of the wine I have had.  With this vintage Chiara explained that instead of a single vinyard wine, it is a blend of 6 small vineyards.

2010 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate (Marta Rinaldi).
This may very well compete with the Conterno Ceretta as the wine of the vintage.  This was a breathtaking wine that is the essence of traditional wine making, i.e. taking what Mother Nature gives and nurturing it.  Due to the insane new Barolo labeling laws, only one vineyard can appear on the label.  Thus what was previously bottled as Barolo Brunate Le Coste is now bottled as Barolo Brunate.  The wine contains 15% fruit from the Le Coste vineyard. The remaining Le Coste fruit goes into the former Cannubi/San Lorenzo-Ravera and is now called Tre Tine (3 vats).  It too is an awesome Barolo.  To quote Antonio Galloni, "Beppe Rinaldi's 2010 Barolos will go down as some of the most epic wines of this historic vintage".  

2010 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda (Franco Massolino).  This was right up there with the Conterno and Rinaldi.  Simply round and delicious traditional Barolo that is still aging and will not be released until 2016.  The bouquet was enticing and the palate was pure and silky. The finesse and pedigree of this wine is magnificent and will provide a couple of decades at least of drinking splendor.  I was fortunate to have this poured at our lunch table where I had the chance to experience it evolve in the glass.  Can’t wait to get my hands on some.  Franco compared the 2010 to his 2004, another magnificent wine.

2010 Elvio Cogno Barolo Bricco Pernice (Valter Fissore).  My first experience with any Cogno wines. This was a solid, harmonious Barolo with an enticing bouquet that gave way to a soft earthy palate.  It was quite good.  The wine is aged for 24 months in large Slavonian oak barrels of 25-30 hl and then an additional 18 months in bottle. Production is limited to 5,000 bottles.




2010 Vietti Barolo Ravera (Luca Currado).  This is going to be another fantastic, info monumental, wine from Vietti.  Like the Cogno it is made from a single vineyard in Novello. The wine is aged for 32 months in Slovenian oak casks and bottled unfiltered.  The wine is embodied with poise, finesse, balance and elegance. Production of this wine is very, very small.



Quite a tasting to say the least.  If you like Barolo, this is a vintage that you want to put in your cellar.  Once again kudos to Antonio Galloni and the Vinous team for putting together another great wine experience.

Saluté

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Wines

While the weather forecast called for a winter storm starting during the Super Bowl, our usual party attendees opted to brave the potential storm and join Carol and I for some good eats and wine. The menu remained the same as last year from the same contributors (Super Bowl XLVIII).  Once again they all did a terrific job.  The wines, with one exception, were different and all drank beautifully.

We began, as it seems we always do, with NV Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale Rosé from magnum.  The Bugey, one of the tiniest and most obscure wine areas in France, is located halfway between Lyons and Geneva.  A semi-dry, pink bubbly wine made by spontaneous, but incomplete, fermentation is crafted from Gamay and Poulsard grapes by Alain Renardat, resulting in a crisp and round delicious wine, that is delightful to drink.  $23. Wine-Searcher.

2013 Dominique et Janine Crochet Sancerre.  Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, this is a mineral infused pale yellow wine with hints of nectarine and peaches on the palate.  The refreshing acidity is harmoniously balanced with the stony minerality and the finish leaves one wanting more.  An absolute bargain at $25.  Moore Brothers.

2005 Bouchard Pere et Fils Beaune Greves L’Enfant Jesus 1er Cru. 2005 was an exceptional vintage in the Cote de Beaune as is apparent in this elegant Burgundian Pinot Noir from the estate’s famous monopole vineyard.  The wine exhibits lots of terroir on both the nose and palate.  The tannins are well integrated, adding to the terrific balance and complexity of the wine.  The wine finished with harmonious elegance. $130. Wine-Searcher.

2005 Bouchard Pere et Fils Beaune Teurons 1er Cru.  Just south of Les Greves lies Les Teurons, one of Beaune's most highly-respected Premier Cru vineyards.  We drank this alongside the ‘05 L’Enfant and it held its own beautifully, especially considering it sells for less than half the price of the L’Enfant.  This is a superb entry level Burgundy.  The terroir laden and delicate palate exhibited excellent depth and weight.  A delicious wine and a great value at $50. Wine-Searcher.

2003 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Chateau D'Ampuis.  I gave this wine a 90 minute slo-o.  Fruit was alive, tannins soft and finish was lengthy.  It lacked however the depth and focus of the 2001 we drank immediately after this bottle.  $150.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Chateau D'Ampuis.  Right out of the bottle it had more depth, complexity and balance than the 2003.  Fruit was vibrant on a slightly peppery palate and the finish was long and elegant.  This was a terrific bottle of wine.  $150.  Wine-Searcher.

The wines of Chateau D’Ampuis are produced from ancient plots which are amongst some of the finest of the Guigal domaine.

1989 Hans Kramp Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett Troken.  Gino brought along this delicious dry, bright, balanced and mineraly Riesling from Kramp’s prime vineyard, Ayler Kupp, located in the Saar River region of Germany. The wine had a lovely nose of petrol and evolved and opened more with each sip.  $30…if you can find it.

2009 G.D. Vajra Freisa Kyé.  Another superb showing of this wine.  Gorgeous translucent hue, earthy, chewy and balanced palate with a lengthy and elegant finish.

2005 Quintarelli Ca del Merlo Rosso. Emil brought along this recent release from Quintarelli. A blend of Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella grapes, this was a classic Quintarelli Valpolicella with fantastic balance, depth and finesse.  The finish was long and lush.  I had read that the difference between the Ca del Merlo bottling and regular Valpolicella bottling is that this is aged longer in large wood vessels and comes from a hilltop single vineyard.  I have also been told there is no separate vineyard and that Ca del Merlo was produced for an old US importer, to show a distinction with what the rest of the world was buying and what he was getting. Whatever the case it is a round and delicious wine that will provide years of drinking pleasure.  $92.  Wine-Searcher.

One of my favorite Producers is Paolo Bea from Umbria, Italy. Paolo is a quintessential artisanal producer who presides over a classic family-owned estate that makes handcrafted wines.  His approach to winemaking is wholly natural and follows the traditional, old world wine making style that has been the family hallmark since the 1500s. The two wines we drank, 2001 and 2003 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco were both stunning examples of this. Both wines exhibited magnificent earthiness, purity, complexity and balance with a refined excellence.  Wines with soul!  The wines are then aged for one year in stainless steel, another two years in large Slavonian oak barrels and, finally, one more year in bottle and like all Bea wines, is unfiltered before release.  Annual production is 15,000 to 20,000 bottles.  Current vintages are available for around $83.  Wine-Searcher.

With coffee and dessert we drank 2000 Ezio Voyat Ambrato Le Muraglie. Located in the town of Chambave in the Valle d’Aosta region of Northwestern Italy, the wine, made from Moscato Bianco grapes, had a beautiful amber color, with a bouquet and taste of figs on the nose and palate.  The finish was sweet and oh so seductive.  As far as I can tell, this vineyard is no more, which is a shame as I have enjoyed, along with this wine, their white and red wines in the past.



An exciting game, great wines, food and good friends made for a perfect afternoon and evening in spite of the weather.

Saluté

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Christmas Holidays 2014

Once again Carol and I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas season with our family and close friends. While the food and wines were great, it is the smiles and excitement on the faces of our grandkids that makes the season so enjoyable and memorable.

Christmas Eve 

As has been our custom form many, many years, Carol and I host a traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner at our house.  Fortunately we receive a lot of help in the preparation and serving of the meal.  This year’s sumptuous meal consisted of

Pizza: Tony D’s Pizza, Caldwell, NJ.
Antipasto: Me, Gino, Divina Ristorante
Arancini (rice balls)
Mom’s Stuffed Italian Long Peppers
Eggplant Capponata:  Divina Ristorante
Seafood Salad:  Gene
Gamberoni alla Griglia (breaded and broiled jumbo shrimp).
Clams Oreganata: Divina Ristorante
Polpo Luciano, baby octopus braised in a spicy tomato sauce.
Crab Cakes with Caper Mustard Sauce: Ariane Kitchen & Bar
Fedillini with Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy).
Penne ala Vodka: Divina Ristorante
Eggplant Rollatini: Divina Ristorante
Pan Fried Flounder
Carol's homemade Biscotti & cookies are always the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Photos and descriptions of most of these dishes can be found in my blog from last Christmas. http://winewithoutnumbers.blogspot.com/2013/12/christmas-2013.html

The Wine

I began in late afternoon by opening a 2011 Domaine de Gioielli Cap Corse Blanc to sip while I put the finishing touches on the meal for the evening. I love the pure, crisp clean palate of this Vermentino from Corsica.  It was the perfect start for me. Old world in style, the grapes are all hand harvested, use indigenous yeasts and stainless steel in the vinification process.  A Kermit Lynch Selection.  $27.

As our family and friends arrived and nibbled on pizza bites, I opened a magnum (by request of my daughters & wife) of NV Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale Rosé.  I have posted about this wine previously.  It is a huge favorite at our gatherings. Great bubbles, lively sweet fruit that throws a party in the mouth. You would be hard pressed to find a better sparkling wine for the money anywhere.  It is simply delicious. I had to open another bottle of this as the magnum went quickly.  $22 at Chambers Street Wines, this is one of the best wine bargains ever.

We drank three Italian reds with some age on them and I am happy to report all three were in great shape beginning with 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano D’Abruzzo.  The wine had that earthy bouquet that one expects from Pepe's wines, especially when they have some age on them.  What surprised me was that previous experience with his older wines that are popped & poured is that they take a couple of hours to come around.  That was not the case here; it was ready to drink immediately upon opening and kept evolving in the glass as we drank it.  The earthiness of the wine was also reflected on the palate, which possessed balance, focus and finesse. A wine with soul!  $187.  Wine-Searcher.

1958 Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo and 1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo graced the table as we sat down to dinner.  Both of them were given a 90 minute decant.  The Cappellano had a fabulous nose of a grand old Barolo.  Unlike my previous bottle a couple of years ago, the hue of this bottles was reminiscent of a rosé and showed no bricking at the edges.  On the palate it had great complexity, terrific balance and fantastic focus.  The fruit was very much alive and it finished with lengthy elegance.  A remarkable wine but not readily available.

The Conterno, like the Cappellano possessed a rosé-like translucent hue.  The fruit was vibrant, even more so than the Cappellano, and soared from the glass with each sip.  On the palate it had incredible focus and finesse and a long and elegant finish.  One of the best old Barolo’s I have yet to taste.  Wine-Searcher.


We finished the evening with a 1976 Château d'Yquem that my friend Gino brought along. While I like d'Yquem, I have never been completely in love with the somewhat pronounced medicinal finish if often exhibits. This however was not the case tonight.  The wine was simply glorious. A lush, viscous wine with tons of tropical fruits and coconut on the palate and a sweet and decadent finish. Wine-Searcher.

Christmas Day

Christmas day now begins at my daughter Gina’s house where my son-in-law Nick whips up a batch of Mimosas, scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage for us to feast on.  Our daughter Lisa and her family, who live next door join, us for breakfast.  After breakfast, we are most fortunate to be able to have the entire family together to gather around the tree and watch our grandkids tear open their gifts, the highlight of the day.

We celebrate a simple Christmas dinner at Lisa and Andy’s house.  Everyone looks forward to Lisa’s homemade Pepperoni Bread, the highlight of the antipasto, prior to the meal.   As for wine, we began with a Christmas Champagne toast of NV Jacques Selosse Brut Initial (digorged 4/12).  This is simply stunning juice and is my favorite Champagne.  The wine possesses a gorgeous golden hue when poured into the glass.  Lift the glass to your nose and the bouquet fills it with an enticing yeasty aroma that stimulates the palate for the sheer brilliance it is about to experience.  This is Champagne that must be drunk from a fine white wine glass to be fully appreciated.  The wine continues to evolve and soar from the glass with each sip before finishing with great length and finesse.

With the pasta, Fusilli with Meatballs and Sausage, I opened 2001 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia.  I gave the wine a 2 hour slo-o followed by 90 minutes in the decanter.  The wine needed every bit of the time to begin to open.  As it began to blossom, the underlying pedigree was apparent.  Like many 2001 Barolos, this is still a bit asleep, but beginning to wake up.  Tannins were soft, palate had good balance and acidity, but I must agree with Antonio Galloni, 2001 Baroli need a bit more cellar time.

New Year's Day 

On New Year’s Day Carol roasted a Filet of Beef in the oven and served it with Potatoes and Broccoli.  I wanted to toast the New Year with a sparkling wine.  I pulled a 2000 Movia Puro Rosato from the cellar.  From Friuli, near the border of Slovania, this is delicious and inexpensive sparking wine made from 100% Pinot Nero. This wine comes bottled undisgorged, meaning that it has a plug of yeast in the neck of the bottle which must be removed before drinking. This involves icing the bottle upside down and then opening the bottle upside down, underwater, which pushes the yeast plug out but keeps the wine in. While it lacks the deep complexity of some of the best Champagnes, this is a fantastic and quite unique sparkling wine. Unfortunately this bottle was severely flawed and completely undrinkable and so I popped the back up I had on ice…

Francois Pinon NV Touraine Brut NV Rose
From a plot of very old Chenin Blanc vines, the Brut NV is kept on the lees for 18 months before bottling. It had pretty apple and toasty flavors with good acidity balancing the fruit. A great alternative to Champagne, it was delicious and at $21 a great value.  Wine-Searcher.

With our main course, I opened a bottle of 2010 Louis Barruol Cote Rotie Les Roses, a lovely 100% Syrah from the Kermit Lynch Portfolio of producers.  From the Shist soils of the steep slope of Cote Rotie, this is a beautiful example of an old world Northern Rhone Syrah.  Deep, dark inky hue with a bit of spice on the nose, seductive complex earthy palate with wonderful balance and acidity. Fnished with length and elegance.   Louis Barruol has incredibly old cellars in Gigondas in the southern Rhone where he makes his own Domaine's wines. He also works with importer Kermit Lynch to blend selections of terrific wines, such as this one, from some of the best terroirs in the Northern Rhone as well.  $70.

We capped the evening with a snifter of Domaine Charbay Whiskey (Single Malt Scotch). Located on Spring Mountain above St. Helena in Napa Valley, Miles Karakasevic and his son Marko are the current master distillers from a family that counts 11 previous family member master distillers.  I had the opportunity to visit the estate in the early 2004 and was simply awed by the quality of their spirits, especially their Scotch, which is made from distilling bottle-ready beer into whiskey.  Since it is not distilled in Scotland, they cannot call it Scotch.  132.4% proof, this is the third release of this remarkable spirit.  It is the smoothest (absolutely no burn) single malt scotch I have ever tasted.

Charbay Whiskey was made from European Two-Row Barley, grown and malted in British Columbia, which has much more concentrated flavors than the more mainstream 6-row barley. Made into beer by professional brewers. Choice hops were added just before distillation to create the floral and spice notes that Marko envisioned in his mind. No peat was used during malting; the brewers, as well as Marko and Miles, the distillers, prefer to focus on the pure grain and hops flavors.

It takes 3.5 weeks of distilling 24/7 in the family's classic 1000-gallon Alambic Charentais Pot Still to distill 20,000 gallons of great Pilsner into just 1000 gallons (24 barrels) of Whiskey.

Aged 6 years in new American White Oak barrels (charred #3 'Gator skin') and an additional 8 years in neutral vessels to continue evolving without additional oak extraction.  Only 2173 bottles were made.  Available for purchase on their website.  While this is very pricey stuff, if you like aged Single Malt Scotch, you may want to indulge.

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all!




Monday, December 15, 2014

Ariane Kitchen & Bar

I have praised the food of chef /owner Ariane Duarte served at Culin Ariane in Montclair on 3 previous occasions in WWN.  A few months back she and her husband Michael closed their Culin Ariane Restaurant to focus on a new venue, Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, N.J.  The new restaurant opened about a month ago, and as expected is packing them in nightly. In her new home she has replaced her more classic Continental Cuisine with what I would label as “comfort food” taken to a new level.  The new restaurant has a full liquor license and Ariane’s husband Michael has put together a terrific and very reasonably priced wine list (most of the wines are in the $25 to $50 price range) comprised of wonderful artisan wines from around the world.  BYOB is allowed at a corkage fee of $20 per bottle and limited to one bottle per two people.  Unlike her former place AKB is open 6 nights a week.  The bad news is that reservations can take a couple of weeks to obtain.  The good news is that AKB accommodates walk-ins at the bar and 3 large communal tables in the bar area.  These tables seat 8 people each on backless stools.

While the menu has retained a few of the Culin Ariane classics such as Cornmeal Crusted Oysters, Crab Cakes and Sashimi Tuna Flower, the emphasis is more on casual bistro type food, and as one would expect, it is fantastic.  We have already been there four times since it has opened.  A bar menu, also available in the dinning areas, is composed of homemade snacks as Ariane calls them.  The regular menu is available throughout the restaurant.

On our first visit, friends and family night, we began with a complimentary drink called Pear of Wings, which turned out to be a refreshing cocktail composed of Tito’s Vodka, Pear-sage cordial, lemon juice and sparkling wine.  While it was quite tasty I usually like to begin my meals with a Bourbon Manhattan straight up. Tonight’s was made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and it was excellently prepared.

We began our meal with three starters.

Deviled eggs, espellette.  The Espellete Pepper is a variety of chili pepper that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette.  Here it is lightly ground atop smooth and silky deviled eggs giving it just a hint of heat.  If you are a fan of deviled eggs as I am, you must try these.


“Cuban Sandwich” pork, ham, homemade pickles, grain mustard, served with homemade potato chips.  Without question, this was the best version of this classic I have ever tasted.  My only complaint was that the appetizer sized sandwich disappeared much too quickly.  Ah, but I have the solution…a double order next time!



Forest Mushroom Ragout, Cheesy Grits, Rosemary Oil.  I guess you could call this the American version polenta with mushrooms.  Whatever you call it, color it absolutely delicious. An amazing combination of flavors and textures on the palate.


For entrées Carol enjoyed Braised Short Ribs with Charred Broccoli, Pearl Onions, Whipped Potatoes, braising jus.  Cooked to fork tender perfection, she enjoyed every forkful.


I was equally happy with my crisp and moist "Fish and Chips" made from Atlantic Cod and served with crispy house cut fries and a dill tartar sauce.  Comfort food simply does not get much better than this.

We also shared a classic rendition of that staple of comfort food, Mac & Cheese.  As I said earlier, Ariane is taking comfort food to a new level...and this dish exemplifies that statement.


As I am a big fan of wines, especially whites, from the Languedoc in the South of France, I immediately selected a bottle of 2013 Mas de Daumas Gassac Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Blanc ($28) from the Pays D'Herault appellation of the Languedoc to drink with our meal.  The wine is a white blend consisting of 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Clairette.  The wine was delicious, clean and crisp on the palate with bracing acidity, complexity and finesse and finished with considerable length. Often referred to as the Grand Cru of the Midi (South of France), the Mas de Daumas Gassac top-tier wines have reached international cult status. Located in the majestic Gassac Valley, the estate benefits from the cool microclimate derived from the Gassac River, several natural springs (from which the Guibert family drinks), and the influence of the nearby mountains. The soil that dominates the valley is a rare and still unexplained red, powder-fine glacial soil, which is strikingly similar to that found in the prime areas of Burgundy. This combination of characteristics is quite unique in Southern France. A screw cap wine that retails for about $11, I intend on adding some to my cellar.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the evening with her homemade Banana Cream Pie.

On our three subsequent visits enjoyed the following:

Pretzel bites with beer cheese dipping sauce.  Wow are these homemade soft pretzel morsels delicious.  I can envision an evening in the future when I am dinning alone and doing so at the AKB bar with theses pretzel bites, the Cuban sandwich and one of the artisanal draft beers served there.  Sorry, I was to busy devouring these to take a photo.

AKB Burger made with ½ lb. American Kobe Beef, fried green tomato, pickled shallots, cheddar cheese and harissa aioli.  Cooked to medium rare perfection this was juicy, tender and delicious.  A multi-napkin burger.  I was not crazy about the fried green tomato, but I think a slice of good old red tomato will go perfectly.  Carol had hers with house made French Fries, while I had mine with house made Jalapeño, cheddar tater tots, a grown up version of the classic tater tot.


Each night there is one pasta special and on one of these visits it was homemade Taglierini Carbonara.  Ariane adds some baby peas to her rendition, which is a fantastic interpretation of this Roman classic.  In my opinion it is the best pasta dish she makes and I only wish it were a menu staple.

The wine list turned up 3 more excellent wines at very reasonable prices.

2011 Produttori di Carema Nebbiolo Piedmont ($44).  From Northern Piedmont this is the normale bottling that drinks with the elegance and finesse of a fine Barolo or Barbaresco.  $20 retail. Wine-Searcher.

2012 Cascina Ca'Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont ($39).  We drank this along side the Produttori and it possessed the same elegance and finesse as the Carema, but with a bit more depth on the palate.  Both of the wines finished with good length.

2013 Foret des Dames Sancerre ($36).  This is a delicious, crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France.  A wonderful melange of acidity and wet stones on the palate made for a delicious quaff.  $15 retail.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in the area and have not yet been to AKB, treat yourself.  You will enjoy it.  Oh, tell them Mark and Carol sent you.

Saluté

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 Part 2 – Red & Rosé Wines

Wow, this post, part 2 of Recent Discoveries Under $40 is a bit late.  I hope you find it worth the wait.

If you like Rosé wines, here are four worth seeking out.  If you don’t like Rosé, these could well change your mind.

2012 Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé. A 24-grower cooperative located in the Alto Adige region of Italy, with a primary focus on white wine, the winemaking tradition at Terlano dates back more than 2,000 years. Located in the Dolomite Mountains, in the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive location and extraordinary terroir are the keys to the development of these stunning wines.  This glorious Rosé is an example.  It reminded me of Valentini Cerasuolo ant 1/4th the price tag. The wine has great depth and focus on the palate with a lengthy and seductive finish.  It is made from 100% Lagrein, a native red grape of Alto Adige, Italy.  One of the best Rosé’s I have ever had.  $18 New York Wine Warehouse.



The Cassis region of Provence in Southeastern France is located between Marseilles and Bandol on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and is known for it’s white and Rosé wines.  The wines are full-bodied with balanced acidity and enticing herbal bouquets.  They are inexpensive drink beautifully whether sipping by the pool, or accompanying fish.

2013 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rosé.  This is a grown-up Rosé.  It possesses a Salmon colored hue, intoxicating fruity bouquet and a round and delicious palate marked by superb acidity. The wine is a blend of Grenache (55%), Mourvedre (31%) and Cinsault (14%).  Of the 40,000 bottles produced each year, only 6000 are allocated to the US market.    $24 Wine Searcher.


2012 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé.  If I could only buy one Rosé, it would be this one.  One expects the great and expensive wines such as Barolo and Burgundy to evolve in the glass with each sip and seduce the palate in the process.  To expect this from a $30 Rosé may be asking a bit much, unless it is this wine.  That is what you get here.  It is everything the Bagnol is and then some.  The wine is comprised of the same grapes as the Bagnol, but in different percentages, 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvedre.  If you like Rosé, this is a must. $33 Wine Searcher.



Most people, when the hear Beaujolais usually think of Beaujolais Nouveau (Thanksgiving Wine).  I on the other hand think of Cru Beaujolais made by artisanal producers of the Loire Valley that craft glorious examples of the Gamay grape for a song.  I find them to be easy drinking wines with an earthy and peppery palate, good acidity, balance and the ability to age quite nicely.  Here are a few that I find to be amongst the top Cru Beaujolais produced.

2010 Thierry Puzelat VDT "Le Rouge est Mis"  $30
2010 Domaine des Billards Saint-Amour $20
2012 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie $20
2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py $35 


The commune of Chinon is located in France’s Loire Valley in the AOC appellation of Touraine.  The principal red grape of the area is Cabernet Franc.  Two of the regions’ iconic producers are Bernard Baudry and Olga Raffault.  Their wines are simply ethereal.  They can be approached relatively early upon release or held in the cellar for 2 or 3 decades. They possess a compelling bouquet of spicy laden soil, while on the palate the earthiness is complemented with pure fruit, soft tannins and a long elegant finish.  These are wines with soul at a bargain price.



2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine $17
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot $30
2009 Olga Raffault Chinon Champ Chenin $30
2005 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses $30


Readers of this blog know that I love Barolo and Barbaresco.  The Nebbiolo grape when produced in a traditional style by masters such as Conterno, Mascarello and Rinaldi provides a truly delicious and elegant wine experience.   The only negative(s) with these wines is that they are expensive and require 10+ years of aging on average before they can truly be enjoyed.  While I wait for these to mature I find that I can have my cake and eat it to by drinking Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  While these wines do not possess the profound depth of an aged Barolo or Barbaresco, they are round and delicious wines with lots of old world style.  They exhibit purity of fruit, complexity, balance, finesse and a gorgeous finish.  They also represent some of the best values in wine today, im my opinion.  Try these and see for yourself.

2009 Produttori dei Carema $18
2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva $27
2004 Petterino Gattinara $35
2010 Vallana Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana $22
2004 Vallana Gattinara $30

Here are a few from Piedmont that are made by outstanding Barolo producers that are also worth looking into.  Many top Barolo producers make small quantities of Freisa each year.  Indigenous to Piedmont, the Freisa grape has lots of character and is a terrific every day drinking wine.



2010 Cavallotto Langhe Freisa Bricco Boschis $22
2009 G.D. Vajra Freisa Kyé $38
2010 G.D. Vajra di Aldo Langhe 
Rosso $18
2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe $30
2012 Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga $19




Most of these wines are available locally.  I suggest using Wine-Searcher to locate them.

Saluté

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sangiovese

Our monthly wine group met last week at Sette Cucina, in Bernardsville, NJ.  The theme for the evening, selected by Jim, who also brought along the wines, was Sangiovese based wines from Chianti and Montalcino.  The 5 wines Jim selected all showed very well and Sette Owner Allan Russo created a meal that complemented the wines perfectly.

Sangiovese is the primary red grape of Chianti and Chianti Classico in Tuscany, while Sangiovese Grosso, a clone of Sangiovese, is the grape used in making Brunello di Montalcino, also in Tuscany.  Contrary to what “grosso” implies (large) the variety is medium to small in size, and produces wines of exceptional quality and depth.

We began the meal as we always do with chef’s version of Bruschetta and a plate of salumi followed by…

Roasted Shrimp atop Cabbage & Corn Compote
Pumpkin Ravioli w/Sage & Butter
Pork Osso Buco
2004 Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale.   Selvapiana, one of Chianti's historic properties, is a classic Tuscan Fattoria (farm) located in the Chianti Rufina zone east of Florence. The estate has a reputation of producing red wines of considerable terroir laden wines of capable of considerable.  Tonight’s wine had lively, deep hued fruit with a hint of spice. Tannins were soft on the palate, while there was sufficient acidity for another 10 – 15 years drinking.  I liked the finesse-laden finish the wine displayed.   At $35, this represents a spectacular value.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia DOCG.   Antonio Galloni writes, “There is not too much more I can say about the wines of Felsina and proprietor Giuseppe Mazzocolin, except that they are reference point wines for anyone who wants to discover the essence of contemporary Sangiovese from Chianti Classico”. Fèlsina produces one of the finest ranges of age worthy and complex Chianti bottlings in all of Italy. Unlike many of their neighbors, Fèlsina has never succumbed to the temptation to produce “new age” wines, and continues to grow solely Sangiovese here, rather than dabble with international-styled blends that include Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Tonight’s wine definitely backed up Galloni’s statement.   It had a silky, focused and elegant palate with a lengthy old-world earthy finish.  At $40 Rancia also happens to be one of the finest values in wine today. Wine-Searcher.

Approximately 35 miles south of the Chianti region lies Montalcino, where one of Italy's greatest wines is made,  Brunello di Montalcino.  Traditional as well as more modern style Brunellos are made here.  Tonight we tasted both.

1997 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.   The vineyards here are in the enviable position of being on the southern slopes of Montalcino, where some of the most prestigious Brunello comes from.  After the fermentation the wine is transferred to medium size oak barrels, where it remains for four years before being refined in the bottle for another year.

On the nose the wine was compelling, but seemed to feel tired on the palate, reminiscent of a wine that is approaching the last few years of its life.  While a pleasant wine, there was not a lot to get excited about.  $100.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione DOCG.  Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso harvested from the Piaggione and Teatro vineyards. After traditional fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of large French and Slavonian oak casks for 3 years, followed by a year in the bottle before release.

Tonight’s wine possessed an enticing bouquet of red berries with a soft and mildly complex palate.  I believe this would have benefitted from an hour or two of decanting to enable the fruit and finesse of the wine fully emerge.  $110.  Wine-Searcher.

1999 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso DOCG.  The "Pianrosso" Brunello di Montalcino is named after the vineyard of the same name. This single-vineyard bottling is what Ciacci's outstanding reputation was built upon and is only produced in the very best vintages. The wine is aged for 36 months in 20-62 hl Slavonian oak barrels, followed by a minimum of eight months' bottle ageing. Production is limited to 3,500 cases are produced annually!  The most modern of the Brunellos tonight, the estate has managed to bridge the gap between classic and contemporary styles gracefully.

The wine exhibited a ruby red hue in the glass with a complex and intense bouquet, while the palate displayed a full-bodied wine comprised of wonderful purity, complexity and focus. It finished with length and elegance.  Along with the Rancia, it was my favorite of the evening.  $70.  Wine-Searcher.



It was another wonderful evening with our group,  Terrific wines, thank you Jim, and great food, thank you chef Allan and Marc.

Saluté and Merry Christmas