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, July 24, 2016
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Café Matisse is a small intimate space inspired by the Impressionist Henri Matisse. The whimsical theme is echoed in the visually appealing plates, unique pairings of fresh ingredients resulting in a dining experience that stimulates the senses. The menu format is what Peter calls “grazing”. Please are between appetizer and entrée size enabling, diners to graze the menu at their leisure with 3, 4 or 5 courses. Under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, this BYOB mecca provides world class food and wine service. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always ample and appropriate glasses to match the wine.
Octopus and Tasso Ham Carpaccio
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe, Broccoli Rabe Pesto Linguini, Lemon Olive Oil Chili Pepper Flake Emulsion, with Manchego Cheese Shards
For wine I selected aged bottles of Lopez de Heredia, the legendary estate from Rioja, Spain. The estate was founded in 1877 by Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia. Today the estate and wine making is in the very capable hands of his great granddaughter Marie José Lopez de Heredia. In my opinion, Lopez de Heredia wines embody the essence of what great wine is all about. They are consistently delicious. For my money there is no better producer of traditionally made Spanish wines in all of Spain. The wines are aged a minimum of 4-6 years in 100 year old large oak barrels, followed by at least another 4 years in the bottle before being released (no wine is released before its tenth birthday). They last seemingly forever. Maria José does not recommend decanting any of her wines. “You will miss them if you do”, she says. In fact the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.
I brought along wines from both the Tondonia and Bosconia vineyards. Both have similar soils, but it is the altitudes and exposures that are different. Says Maria José, “...Tondonia is a large plot so it has many different exposures, but in general the wines from Tondonia are riper owing to the lower altitude of the vines and the higher percentage of Garnacha. The Viña Bosconia is made from vines planted at a higher altitude and contains a larger percentage of Tempranillo. These two elements combine to produce wines that are more structured, with livelier color, higher acidity and greater aging potential. Because the fruit ripens later at Bosconia the harvest there typically takes place a week or two later than in Tondonia.”
Heeding the advice of Maria José, all the wines were opened at the restaurant as opposed to lengthy decanting. I was amazed that each of the reds, despite their age, still possesed a gorgeous translucent red hue and showed no browning at the edges at all (see photos below). I was ecstatic how all the wines showed. They all were endowed with great balance, complexity and elegance and paired beautifully with the food. This was truly a wining and dining experience.
1989 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Riserva. This magnificent white was a perfect way to begin the evening as we selected our courses. This is a full-bodied wine that is a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. The wine possessed a lovely golden yellow hue, while the palate was fresh and displayed fantastic acidity and balance and finished with good length. 27 years old with no signs of slowing down.
1964 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva. Only 20,000 bottles of this incredible wine were made. A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%. It as hard to believe that this wine is 52 years old as it drinks like a youngster. The wine begins with that translucent hue mentioned earlier, muted fruit bouquet and a dazzling complex and magnificently balanced palate and ends with a soft and elegant finish. A fantastic wine! My one complaint is that I only purchased 1 bottle 7 years ago. Since then the wine has more than tripled in price and is not in large supply.
1973 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Risera. 15,000 bottles of this were made. A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%. This was a sensational and perfect bottle of wine. I think for all it was the wine of the night. A big earthy bouquet filled the nose. I found the palate to be delicate and at the same time display wonderful depth and finesse. The wine absolutely soared from the glass with each sip evolving more than the previous one. This wine is a perfect example of the validity of Maria José’s comment “…the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.” The blockbuster finish made me wish that my glass would never run dry.
1978 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva. And the hits just keep on coming. On a par with the ‘64 and ‘73 drunk prior, another example why the wines from the estate are held in such high regard. The ’78 vintage in Rioja was legendary with wines of great concentration and structure with the ability to age for many years to come. The only difference between this and the previous two was that it seemed to lack the evolution in the glass of the others. Perhaps it is still a bit young or perhaps we drank it too quickly and thus did not give it time to evolve.
1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva. Antonio Galloni classified the vintage as “another outstanding vintage, producing wines that were concentrated as well as elegant and that aged extremely well.” Only 5,000 bottles of this were produced. Like the wines before it had an enticing earthy bouquet, elegant and velvety texture with great depth,focus and purity and a long velvety finish. This should continue to age and drink beautifully for another 2 or 3 decades.
One of the interesting things about the estate is that despite the fact that they make a lot of wine across their different bottlings, quality is never sacrificed and all their wines can age for decades. The bad news is the wines tasted tonight will not be easy to find and will be a bit pricey if you can find them since their value increases dramatically over time. The good news is that their wines upon release average about $25 to $30 a bottle and thus represent tremendous value as well as good drinkability upon release. As time goes on their value will increase as well as the depth and complexity of the wine.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Polenta Alla Griglia
Grilled polenta, topped with sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallots in a white wine sauce
We applauded Howard’s selection of wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli when he unveiled them. After drinking them we gave him a well-deserved ovation.
The Quintarelli estate produces only 40,000 bottles of wine annually from 35 acres of estate vines and bought-in grapes and dates back to 1924. The late, great Maestro del Veneto, Giuseppe Quintarelli, began working his father’s estate in 1950 and succeeded in establishing a legendary estate during his sixty-year career. Sadly he passed away in 2012. Today the estate continues under the direction of Giuseppe’s daughter Fiorenza, his son-in-law Giampaolo, and his grandsons Francesco and Lorenzo. Quintarelli wines are quite special and have always reflected his philosophy of never hurrying the wine making process. He was quoted, “The fundamental problem in wine today is that too many producers ‘hurry’ to make their wines: they hurry the fruit in the vineyard and they hurry the vinification and rush to bottle. They rush to sell their product without allowing it the proper time to age. Patience – this is the most important attribute in winemaking. Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.”
2014 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca’ del Merlo Bianco. The only white Quintarelli makes at it is superb. The wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate. The mid-palate displayed wonderful complexity before finishing with considerable length. $45. Wine-Searcher.
2001 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore. I have had many bottles of Valpolicella from numerous vintages and each has been classic Quintarelli, displaying a spectacular and enticing earthy bouquet on the nose. On the palate the fruit was bright yielding a lush, ripe and balanced palate. The wine finished with elegance and finesse. $90. This vintage does not appear to be available. Other vintages are if you check Wine-Searcher.
1986 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (House of the Blackbird). While information as to why the wine is called Rosso Ca’ del Merlo seems to be a bit unclear, rest assured it is a fantastic Valpolicella from the estate. I have been told from a reliable source it is the same Valpolicella from the same vineyard he produces his Valpolicella from. According to him the Rosso Ca' Del Merlo labeling is to signify that it 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. $120. Wine-Searcher.
Another source says that it is a Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (blackbird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside. It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique. According to current importer Kermit Lynch, he writes on his website of the wine:
• A single vineyard bottling
• Grapes are pressed immediately after harvest
• After 3-4 days of maceration, primary fermentation starts with indigenous yeasts
• Wine is racked and then sits until February
• Wine is racked onto the lees of the Amarone, which starts a second alcoholic fermentation (this process is called ripasso)
• after this fermentation, the wine is racked into large Slavonian oak barrels for seven years
Whatever the case this bottle was singing tonight. It possessed a beautiful pureness, balance and complexity on the palate marked by lush fruit. The lengthy finish echoed the palate.
1999 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi. Rosso del Bepi is only made in vintages when Giuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price. The wine soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length. $170. Wine-Searcher.
1993 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. A simply round and delicious wine with lots of soul. Quintarelli’s ability to integrate the underlying sweetness of Amarone in these wines is just amazing. Balanced, pure, complex and with a remarkable finish it is a wine you think about for days after drinking. $395. Wine-Searcher.
1994 Giuseppe Quintarelli Alzero. This final wine of the evening is, in my opinion, one of the great wines of all time. It is impossible to describe this wine other than to say it is completely round and delicious. The wine is made from predominantly Cabernet Franc and in the same method used to make Amarone, in which the grapes are dried for several months prior to vinification. The resulting wine is unbelievably rich in color and ethereal on the palate. It is a wine that provides a provocative wine tasting experience. I have had the 1996 and 1997 vintages of this wine and each is superb. Alas greatness does not come without a price. $395. Wine-Searcher.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
|Cosmo, Mark, Paul, Tony, Joe|
|2008 Case Basse Visit|
Soldera,and his wife Graziella, an avid botanist, first discovered the then-abandoned Case Basse property in the early 1970s. They set about restoring the estate to full function, following a strict and intriguing philosophy of “enlightened agriculture” to create a singular Brunello of the utmost quality.
The estate vineyards, subject of continuous study by the agriculture faculties of various leading universities, are planted within a complex ecosystem ideal for natural cultivation, where fertilization is organic and no herbicides are permitted. The vineyards are small in size in order to permit manual cultivation at all stages, followed by a short harvest. The wines spend six years or more in large, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings before bottling.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of the evening was when Soldera, through his interpreter, spoke about how his bottling techniques and cork quality obviate the need to store his bottles on their side, as is usual for all wines that are aging. He says, “stand them up”. I found this to be very, very interesting.
We were served the 4 wines side by side, thus enabling us to move back and forth between them and assess the wines over the course of the dinner. Dinner was good, but took a back seat to the wines.
2000 Soldera Case Base Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. A difficult year in Tuscany marked by very uneven growing conditions, but in the hands of master like Soldera, he turned out the wine of the vintage. The wine soared from the glass initially, but after an hour it began to run out of gas. A remarkable effort given the vintage, but it lacked the pedigree of the others tonight and will never, in my opinion, reach the heights they are destined to attain.
2006 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese. A man of very strong conviction and principals, Soldera resigned from the local Brunello Consorzio over their policies. Beginning with this vintage he now bottles his wine as Toscano Sangiovese, but it is still the same glorious Case Basse Brunello he has always made. This was the tightest wine of the group displaying green notes and somewhat harsh tannins. Ah but the pedigree is fantastic. This is destined to be a marvelous wine. It did begin to show some of its underlying beauty after two hours in the glass. If you open one now, I would definitely decant it for about 4 hours, but I suggest giving it a few more years in the cellar.
2008 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese. This is classic Soldera that is still a bit young. Excellent depth and focus that will be enhanced as the fruit begins to fully emerge in a couple more years. I found the finish to be soft, lengthy and elegant. According to Antonio Galloni, “2008 spent 18 months in cask and finished its aging in steel, so it is quite different from virtually every other wine made at Case Basse, but it is drop-dead gorgeous just the same”.
2009 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese. While all the wines were great, I fell in love with the 2009. It was simply glorious. The bright, ripe fruit danced on the tongue with soft tannins and wonderful complexity. Delicious now, this is destined to be a monster wine in a year or two. According to Soldera, ‘09 was a difficult vintage. He says he prefers these types of vintages because the wines turn out to be sensational as they take on weight and age.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany once again provided the venue for a wonderful evening. Tony Grande (owner), Natale Grande (Executive Chef), Salvatore Le Rose (Maitre'd/Wine Director) and the very professional staff of Il Capriccio Ristorante saw to it that the event was orchestrated like the NY Philarmonic.
I am most delighted to report that the event netted more than $49,000 for the evening. I want to thank all of my friends, coagulation manufacturers and home care companies whose financial support made it all possible. As for HANJ, I have always said that if I had hemophilia or a child with hemophilia and I did not live in NJ, I would move here to have access to their support. Led by outgoing Executive Director Elena Bostick and new Executive Director, Stephanie Lapidow and their committed staff, HANJ has accomplished more for families that live with hemophilia than any other state in the country. Once again hats of to you and the hemophilia treatment centers that mange the medical needs of the community.
|Stephanie Lapidow & Elena Bostick|
The festivities began with an hour of passed assorted hors d'oeuvres that were enjoyed by all
|Prosciutto & Melon Mozzarella di Bufala|
|Stuffed Zucchini Flowers Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail|
|Baby Polpettini Baby Lamb Chops|
With these delicious bites we enjoyed:
2012 Ariana Occhipinti Nero d’Avolo Siccagno. The young and extremely talented Ariana Occhipinti has been making extraordinary “natural” wines in Vittoria, Sicily since 2004 at the ripe old age of 24. Tonight’s wine, crafted from 100% Nero d’Avolo, was a beautiful example of turning Mother Nature’s fruit into a compelling and delicious wine. The ashy & earthy bouquet is complemented by an elegant and pure fruity palate that displays considerable depth. The finish is both delicious and lengthy. A tour de force of natural winemaking! $42. Wine-Searcher.
1993 Olga Raffault Champ Chenin. I remain both confused and grateful that the wines from the Loire Valley of France get very little press. My confusion stems from the fact that while the red (Cabernet Franc) and white (Chenin Blanc) grapes produce delicious and age-worthy wines year after year, they play second and third fiddle to the wines that receive high scores from critics. On the other hand, I am grateful, make that very grateful, that because of this the wines are very reasonable and offer great value to the drinker. This Chenin Blanc is of the grape variety "Pineau de la Loire". 23 years old and the wine displayed both youthful fruit and incredible depth on a complex palate with enough acidity to keep this beauty drinking for at least another decade, if not longer. The finish was monstrous both in length and flavor. This wine was made by Olga Raffault who sadly passed away a few years ago. Her granddaughter Sylvie is at the helm today and has continued to produce great wines in the tradition of her grandmother. $54. Wine-Searcher.
We then sat down to our pasta course of Trofie Al Ragu d’Anatra Al Barolo (Quill Pasta in a sauce of Duck and Barolo Wine). While Il Capriccio does everything well, chef Natale Grande really shines with his pastas, as he did tonight. Generous plates were served and more than a few said yes when second helpings were offered.
We had three wines with the pasta.
2006 Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses Blanc. Since 1988 Claude de Nicolay took over from her mother as winemaker at this top estate. This wine was a great example how a great wine maker usually makes an outstanding wine in a so-so vintage. At age 10 the wine is just coming into its drinking window. The nose displayed rich fruit while the slightly mineral palate revealed a delicious, beautifully balanced wine with an excellent finish. Expect to pay about $60 should you be able to find it.
2012 Foradori Morei Teroldego delle Dolomiti (Magnum). Teroldego is a native grape variety of the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy. Located in the foothills of the Dolomites, it is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir. Elisabetta Foradori is referred to as the “undisputed top producer of Teroldego”. For the Morei she vinifies in amphorae (tiñaja from Villarobledo, Spain); She finds that the shape of the vessels and the porosity of the clay lends exceptional purity and balance to the wine. The winemaking process is non-interventionistic, so that only the character of the land and the variety shows through.
A compelling wine, it boasts a dark hue with an enticing nose of spice and stone. A host of intensely savory/mineral notes meld into a core of dense dark red and black stone fruits. A bit tannic on a wonderful complex palate, the wine finishes great length. $45. Wine-Searcher.
2010 Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino (Magnum). Mentored by the great Gianfranco Soldera, twin sisters Margarita and Francesca Padovani founded the estate in 1997 and produced their first vintage in 2004 if I recall correctly. Biodynamic farming and natural wine making are followed religiously resulting in stunning wines marked by both purity and complexity. What an elegant Brunello this is. If one were to taste this blind, I would not be surprised if they guessed Soldera. While still a bit young, the pedigree shines through as each sip evolved and opened a bit more thus giving a peek into the impeccable balance, finesse and elegance that is waiting to be released after a few more years of cellar time. This is definitely a wine with soul! $100. Wine-Searcher. Since this is a bit pricey, I suggest looking for their Rosso di Montalcino and about 1/3 the price.
The main course was an expertly prepared Stinco d’Agnello con Risotto Milanese (Roasted Lamb Shank with Risotto). I will let the photo below speak for the dish.
|Gorgonzo Dolce, Purée di Fichi Chocolate Lava Cake|
Sunday, April 24, 2016
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.