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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2008 Barolo

A couple of weeks ago my friend Emil and I joined 30+ Vinous premium subscribers for the Terroirs of Barolo - Masterclass Tasting & Dinner held at Bar Boulud in NYC. Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team put on the event.  As with previous events, it was a first class, high quality tasting that focused on 12 Baroli from the 2008 vintage.  A late harvest in 2008 produced a number of gracious, medium-bodied wines that are gorgeous examples of the feminine elegance the Nebbiolo grape embodies.  While many of the wines are approachable today, they have excellent acidity that will allow them to age gracefully for a couple of decades.

Before getting to the Baroli we began with 2012 Pattes Loup Chablis at the pre-dinner cocktail reception.  This as been one of my favorite Chablis' since I first tasted it last year.  The wine was pristinely pure with impeccable balance and acidity on the palate.  This is a great Chablis at a remarkable price ($40).  The only problem is that it is a highly allocated wine, and therefore not easy to come by.  Grapes The Wine Company.

Flight One

Squash Soup, Burnt Rosemary Cream, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole
G.B. Burlotto Barolo Cannubi
Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio

For my palate, the Vajra and Burlotto were where it was at.  Both were superb examples of traditional Barolo at its finest.  Both displayed great focus and finesse and the longer they sat in the glass, the more they continued to evolve. The finish for both was long and elegant.  While these can be enjoyed now,  I plan on letting mine sleep for 3 or 4 more years in the cellar.

Scavino and Voerzio have never been favorites of mine.  I found both to be too oaky and too modern on the palate.

Flight Two

Roasted Duck Breast Braised Leg, House Made Gnocchi, Root Vegetables

G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
Vietti Barolo Rocche
Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala
Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Mate

With the exception of the Cicala each of these wines drank with elegance, finesse and focus. The Vietti & the Grasso were, IMO, more open for business than the others in this flight.  The Cicala was closed and stayed that way throughout the evening.  The Monprivato had nice fruit, but it never fully blossomed.

Flight Three

Roasted Lamb Leg, Stuffed Lamb Belly, Confit Potato, Baby Leek, Hen of the Wood

Brovia Barolo Ca’Mia
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate-Le Coste

For me this was clearly the flight of the night.  Each of these wines drank with that old world elegance that places Barolo amongst the great wines of the world.  It is enough to say that these were simply round and delicious wines with tons of soul that will provide enjoyable drinking for a few decades.

I thought that the Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi were the absolute stars of the evening.   The interesting thing is that both of these wines were the only two that are made from the blending of fruit from different vineyards, while the others were single vineyard wines.

In addition to the wines it was great to meet fellow Barolo enthusiasts and Vinous subscribers. They, along with Antonio, are a great resource, especially if you like Barolo and Barbaresco.  Do yourself a favor and check out the Vinous site and add some 2008 Baroli to your cellar.  You will be happy you did!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wines of Cooperation

The theme for this year’s annual Notre Dame Church (North Caldwell, NJ) wine dinner fundraiser was Wines of Cooperation. The wines chosen for the evening were all made by Cooperatives, wineries that are comprised of small, artisan winemakers who own small plots of land, usually less than 1 hectare.  The small size of their estates precludes them from producing enough wine on their own to sustain themselves.   However, by “cooperating” with similar estates, they are able to pool their fruit and in turn produce remarkable wines.  Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Notre Dame's Pastor, chose the theme to emphasize that cooperation and respect for each other results in peace and harmony, something our world could use more of today.  The wines were selected by myself and Chris Cree, MW and provided by 56º Wine in Bearnardsville, NJ.  Once again the event was held at Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, NJ where Gregorio Polimeni and his staff did a terrific job with a delicious array of food to compliment the wines.

As is our custom, we began with the Tulipano superlative “Antipasti Hour”.   Fried Calamari, Baby Meatballs; Mini Bacon Cheeseburgers; Tuna Tartare; various cheeses, salamis and canapés were but a few of the highlights.

With the Antipasti we selected a white and a red from two cooperatives in the Vallée d’Aoste region of Northern Italy.

Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi 2013
La Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative started by the state government of Vallée d’Aoste in 1983.  It is located at the very foot of Mont Blanc.  The Vini Estremi, the estate's flagship wine, is made from 100% Prié Blanc from the oldest, ungrafted vines (40-100 years old) grown on the rocky mountain hillsides near Morgex.  The grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and aged in stainless steel tanks for 6 months.  Reminiscent of un-oaked Chardonnay, the wine possessed excellent depth, complexity and a lovely minerality on the palate.  At  $19 a bottle, this represents great value.

La Crotta di Vegneron Chambave Rosso 2013
Located 30 miles east of Morgex et de La Salle is the small, 10 grower cooperative La Crotta di Vegneron in the village of Chambave.  This co-op emphasizes classic and stunning expressions of the individual terroirs of tiny sub-appellations (Chambave and Nus) that would otherwise be left undiscovered due to the tiny patchwork of vineyard holdings in these villages. Although there is a history of grape growing in this region since the 1200’s, many of the vineyards were abandoned in the decades after WWII. They risked total extinction until the 1970’s, when the Italian government stepped in to help rebuild many of these small cooperative wineries to preserve the heritage of these vineyards.

The winemaking philosophy is one that respects the underlying terroirs and indigenous varietals of the region. Although there is some barrel aging used on some of the wines, new oak is kept to a bare minimum. The grapes are all hand-harvested, and all the red wines are fermented with natural yeasts to help emphasize their individual expression.  Tonight’s Chambave Rosso was a blend of Petite Rouge, Gamay  and Pinot Noir.  The wine fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then spends 6 months on the lees in steel with frequent batonnage (stirring). The wine is aged in stainless steel.  Tonight’s wine had a ruby red hue, earthy and spicy bouquet, good complexity on the palate with a terrific balanced acidity that will allow this to drink well for at least another decade.  $20.  

Our sit down dinner began with Shrimp Scampi with Spinach Mashed Potatoes, paired with a delicious Italian Chardonnay and Italian Rosé from Cantina Terlano.

Cantina Terlano Chardonnay 2013
Cantina Terlano is 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. Mild, Mediterranean type microclimatic conditions impart unique characteristics to the wines. 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.  Manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.

Tonight’s wine drank very well. It began with a sparkling straw yellow hue, and a bouquet of exotic fruits and citrus.  The palate was fresh and harmonious and the finish had a wonderful stony elegance.  $19.

Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé 2013

This spectacular deep pink-hued Rosé is crafted from the indigenous Lagrein grape. The crafting of the wine includes manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.  The resulting wine is a full-bodied Rosé with aromas of raspberries and strawberries and a harmonious fruity palate marked by splendid acidity.  $18.

Two perfectly cooked pastas (sorry no pics), Fusilli with Garlic, Oil, Anchovy, Parsley and Penne with Tomato, Eggplant, &, Fontina Cheese, were served in tandem following the scampi, and paired with two Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  Over the past couple of years I have become a big fan of these wines.  They are very approachable early in their life and exhibit the same elegant palate as their Barolo and Barbaresco big brothers and sell for a fraction of the price.  So while I wait for my Barolo and Barbaresco to mature, I often enjoy these wines.

Produttori dei Carema Reserve 2009
This producer of top quality Nebbiolo is located in Torino in the utmost northwestern region of Piedmont. Created in 1960, they are a small cooperative divided amongst 45 growers in this small, remote region. Each grower rarely owns more than 1 hectare, most having only ½ hectare. The D.O.C. Carema, established in 1967, sits on an incredibly mountainous swath of land bordering the Valle d’Aosta. The climate is cold and quite windy here, resulting in grapes that are slow to ripen, and wines that are light garnet in color.  The wines are 100% Nebbiolo from the local clones nebbiolo spanna, picutener, meaning “tender stem” and pugnet, meaning “fist-like,” a reference to the compact shape of the bunches. The minimum aging requirement for these wines is 4 years, of which two years have to pass in large oak or chestnut botti.   The 2009 is reminiscent of a young Villages Burgundy in color, femininity, freshness and elegance. The wine exhibited terrific balance, perfume and complexity on the palate, and will drink well for another 10 years at least. The reserve is subjected to an aging period of not less than 4 years of which at least 30 months in large oak barrels and one year in bottle.  An absolutely stunning value at $27.

Ar.Pe.Pe Valtellina Superiore Grumello Riserva “Rocca de Piro”  DOCG 2006
Ar.Pe.Pe. (short for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, founder of the estate) is an historic and well-regarded traditional cooperative estate in the Valtellina, a mountainous region of northwestern Italy that borders Switzerland. These steep, south facing mountain vineyards produce beautifully restrained styles of Nebbiolo that are aged in old chestnut barrels and released when the wines are ready to drink.  Tonight’s wine needed a bit more breathing time, but provided a wonderful example of the finesse and precision the Nebbiolo grape is capable of attaining. A delicious medium-bodied Nebbiolo with a delicate and graceful palate and lengthy, elegant finish. The wine is aged for a number of years in large, old oak followed by a number of years in bottle before release. It displayed good acidity that should allow it to age and improve for at least another 5 – 6 years.  $50.

Entrée choices included:

Fresh Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Chicken Foresteria, French cut chicken breast, Swiss Cheese, Proscuitto, Mushroom Sauce

Vitello Pizziola, Escallop of Veal, Tomatoes, White Wine 

The dinner wines were two Barbaresco Riserva bottlings from Produttori Del Barbaresco – Piedmont, Italy

Founded in 1958, the priest of the village of Barbaresco, recognizing that the only way small properties could survive was by joining their efforts, gathered together nineteen small growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco. From its humble beginnings making the first three vintages in the church basement, Produttori del Barbaresco has grown to a 56 member co-operative with 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation and an annual production of over 500,000 bottles. Its vineyards amount to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area. Each member is in full control of their land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with the skill and dedication they have honed over generations.  In a good vintage they are divided between Barbaresco blend (40%), single vineyard Barbarescos (40%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

The grapes are grown in clay soil at 200 to 400 meters above sea level (650-1300 feet) on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills in southern Piedmont. Clay soil is rich in limestone. Varying concentrations of limestone and sandy veins in the soil of each slope give different characteristics (or cause variations in) to each different crop.

The must ferments at 28°C (80°F) in stainless steel vats for two to three weeks before it is racked and kept in vats until next September. The wine is then barrel aged for one to two years and rests in bottles for six months before release.  Wine enthusiasts all agree that Prudottori wines are simply one of the best values for high quality wine, especially Barbaresco, available anywhere in the world.  $50. 

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora  DOCG 2009
The consensus wine of the night, it possessed fantastic depth and richness on the palate with a long, seductive and elegant finish.  As I like to say, this was a completely round and delicious wine with lots of soul!

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo  DOCG 2009
A slight step behind was the Rio Sordo.  Dark cherries soared on the palate.  This was a voluptuous wine with great focus and intensity that is probably a year or two away from matching the beauty of the Riserva Pora.

The final wine of the evening, Isole e Olena Vin Santo 2005, was served with assorted Italian Desserts, Espresso, Coffee, Tea. This spectacular Tuscan dessert wine is a blend of 65% Malvasia Bianca and 35% Trebbiano that is aged 6 years in French and Chestnut barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Only 200 cases of the wine are made annually.  It is one of the greatest examples of Vin Santo wine produced today.  The estate, run by Paolo De Marchi and his family, is not a cooperative.  However,  since Vin Santo means “holy wine”, it seemed a great choice to conclude the evening with.

The production of real Vin Santo is a painstaking and costly procedure. Individual bunches of grapes are hand selected prior to the general harvest. Each bunch must be loosely formed and be of excellent quality in order to avoid the formation of mold during the long drying process. The bunches are hung to dry either on wooden poles or reed trays locally known as “cannicci”. They are stored in a dry, well-ventilated spot until the sugar level of the grapes reaches a minimum of 35°Brix.  The must, which is almost as thick as honey, is placed in oak and chestnut barrels of varying size. The barrels are filled 3⁄4 full and are then sealed with wax. A small deposit of Vin Santo, affectionately called “mother”, which remains from previous vintages triggers the beginning of fermentation. The barrels are left unopened for 6 years preferably in attic rooms where the room temperature is allowed to follow the cycle of the seasons. The summer heat favors fermentation while the winter cold slows the fermentation and allows the Vin Santo to naturally clarify itself.  The yield of wine from the grapes is exceptionally low due to the drying process and the long fermentation period. A common yield can be as low as 25 liters from 100 kilos of grapes as compared to 70 liters for a normal still wine.

Amber in color, the wine exhibited great complexity on the palate and finished with a nectar-like viscous elegance.  Truly an amazing wine and a great value at $40 for a 375ml bottle.

Fr. Anthony Randazzo
While it was a fantastic evening, it was also a bit of a sad one for those of us who are parishioners of Notre Dame, as Fr. Anthony's tenure at Notre Dame will conclude in February of next year.  We will all miss his leadership, genuineness and compassion.  We wish him well when he is assigned a new parish.  Our loss will be their gain. 

I would like to thank Fr. Anthony for his inspiration and friendship over the past 18 years; the wine dinner committee (pictured below) who worked hard to make this our most successful fund raiser of the four we did; Gregorio Polimeni and staff at Il Tulipano for terrific food and service; Gene Urban, Impressive Impressions, for capturing the event with his fantastic photography; The Scudiery Family Foundation for donating the wines and to all those who attended the event.

Wine Committee Members Angelos, Fiores, Loffredos, Perinis, Violas, Wilcomes
Arlene Catanzano (standing at left)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Tis The Season…for White Truffles

This is the time of year that White Truffles from Alba, Italy make their appearance at many of the better restaurants in NYC and NJ.  According to Wikipedia a truffle is “the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus.”  Now I must admit that does not sound inviting or appetizing...at least not until you take one whiff of this most expensive culinary delight (about $175 an ounce this year).  The aroma is orgasmic, and when shaved atop the right foods, the dish is elevated to a whole new culinary level.   The right foods for me are fresh eggs, fresh pasta such as Tagliolini, Risotto, potatoes and soft polenta.

Every year, along with a friend or two, I head for lunch at Esca in NYC, as I did with Emil on Monday to indulge in a couple of my favorite preparations. We began with soft scrambled eggs with copious amounts of shaved truffles. Chef/co-owner David Pasternack (Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich are the other owners) is THE MASTER of this dish.  I spent the first minute just inhaling the aroma of the truffles before diving into this perfectly prepared dish.  Eggs with truffles are my favorite way of enjoying this sublime decadence.

For our main course, more truffles of course. This time we had them atop fresh, homemade Tagliolini pasta, sauced simply with a bit of butter and Parmigianno Reggiano cheese. Another brilliant combination and perfect example of the magnificence of a few fresh ingredients simply prepared to perfection.  

While many wines, such as Barolo, Barbaresco or White Burgundy would have paired beautifully with these dishes, we selected a bottle of 2009 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano from the Abruzzo region of Italy. This earthy white wine, made from the Trebbiano grape (Italy's most widely planted grape), thad a beautiful light orange hue, a delicate nose, excellent complexity with terrific focus, balance and earthiness on the palate and a long, seductive finish.  We decanted the bottle and it evolved beautifully throughout the lunch.  I suggest you decant this wine for an hour or two as it is still quite young.  It should provide enjoyment for a couple of decades to come.

A staunch traditionalist, Pepe, crushes the grapes in wooden tubs by foot in order to avoid the contact between the iron presses and the acids of the fruit.  The grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  $72.  Wine Searcher.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red Wines of Southern France

Our monthly wine group was treated this month to five different and very nice red wines from three of the wine regions in the South of France.  I find the wines of this area, especially the reds, to be quite distinctive in character and marked by a peppery Mediterranean flair.  Marc selected the wines as well as The Pluckemin Inn to have the tasting at.  As I have praised the food at the Pluckemin in previous posts, I will focus this time on only the wines.  Suffice it to say that the food was excellent as always.  A search of my Blog will provide more info as well as photos of the food from previous posts.

The Rhone wine region is situated in the Rhone River Valley in Southern France.  It is further divided into two sub-regions, The Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.  The Northern Rhone Valley is known for red wines primarily made from the Syrah grape.   French wine law does allow for up to 20% of white wine grapes such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne to be added. Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Saint Joseph are the appellations of Northern Rhode red wines.

The Southern Rhone Valley is principally known for its Châteauneuf du Pape.  While thirteen grapes, eight red and five white, are allowed by law to be blended when making the wine, Grenache and Mourvedre are the primary grapes used by many estates.  Other appellations of note are Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Below the Southern Rhone Valley, at the most Southern tip of France is the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  In addition to the traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are grown here.

Southern Rhone

2009 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape la Bernardine.  Made from 100% Grenache this was decidedly the most modern styled wine of the evening.  I found the fruit to be a bit muted and a bit light on the palate compared to the others, but a good wine for the price.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.  

In the opinion of many, myself included, Chateau Rayas is the iconic producer of wine in the Southern Rhone. The estate is but ten-hectares, and is located in the heart of the woods where the vines are planted in a very poor, sandy soil that produces wines with great finesse.   The wines from the estate are among the most sought after wines from the region, if not the entire world. They are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.   The estate, today run by Jacques Reynaud’s nephew, Emmanuel, also owns Chateau Fonsalette, which is located just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.  

The estate produces three wines, a Blanc, a Rouge and a 100% Syrah, all of which are superb. Marc brought along a 2004 Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve.  While some might consider this a “second” wine to Rayas CdP or Pignan CdP, I do not.  In my opinion this is simply the finest example of a Cotes du Rhone red I have ever tasted.  What a soulful wine it was.  A blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah the wine had a magnificent earthy and herbal bouquet with vibrant fresh fruit and a peppery backend.  The wine was completely round and delicious and at $55 (about 1/4th the price of Rayas and ½ the price of Pignan) it's a sensational bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Chateau Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape.  The grapes for the CdP wines at Rayas come from their three vineyards, Le Couchant, Le Levant and Le Coeur. Like his magnificant Chateau Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Riserve, the wine is made from 100% Grenache.  Rayas chooses to harvest late so that he has ripe fruit for his wines.  It is a philosophy that produces completely round and delicious wines.   The bouquet from tonight’s wine exploded from the glass and on the palate was full-bodied with great balance, ripe fruit and soft tannins.  The wine was stunningly delicious and elegant with a 45+ second finish.  $115.  Wine-Searcher.

Northern Rhone

1999 Francois Villard Cote Rotie la Brocarde.   This Syrah based wine includes 10% Viognier from Cote Brune in the blend.  The wine is aged in 80% new oak for 18 months before being bottled without filtration.  The oak was very well integrated, as I would have guessed for a 15 year old wine.  I found it to be medium-bodied, with a pleasant palate and decent finish, but not worth today’s price of $106.  Wine-Searcher.


1998 Domaine de la Grange des Peres VDP de l’Herault. The wines of Laurent Vaillé have achieved cult wine status. Having spent his early career training under such masters as Jean-François Coche-Dury (Meursault), Gérard Chave (Hermitage), and Eloi Durrbach (Domaine Trévallon, Provence), he settled in the l’Hérault of the Languedoc and purchased his own land in 1989.  

The wine we drank tonight was a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cunoise.  The grapes are harvested and vinified separately and then aged in 228-L barrels separately before Vaillé decides at a later date in what proportions to blend them. Tonight’s wine had a dark red hue and intoxicating earthy bouquet.  The palate was balanced, full-bodied with hints of pepper and herbs and soft tannins that made for a nice finish. $200.  Wine-Searcher.

I believe that the consensus of opinion was that the Rayas wines tonight were the hit of a very, very good tasting.  Thanks for a great selection Marc.


Monday, September 29, 2014

1996 Barolo Dinner

This past Tuesday evening our monthly wine group met at Sette Cucina Italiana, Bernardsville, NJ. It was my turn to bring the wine and I decided on 1996 Barolo.  The '96 vintage has turned out to be one of the best Barolo vintages ever, and according to notes others have posted on-line, many of the wines have entered their drinking window.  Thus I thought it would make for a great tasting.  All the wines showed beautifully and the food chef/owner Alan Russo prepared complemented them beautifully.  It was a wonderful dining and wining experience.

We began the evening with a magnum of 2008 Marc Hebrart Special Club Champagne that was brought along by our guest for the evening Chris Cree, MW. This was a spectacular bubbly fashioned from 60% Pinot Noir (from Mareuil and Aÿ) and 40% Chardonnay (from Oiry and Chouilly).  The wine is made completely in stainless steel and exhibited lovely pure fruit, crispness and spectacular focus while finishing with mouth-watering elegance.  The only way to experience a Champagne of this magnitude is to drink it from large wine glasses as we did. Each sip evolved more than the previous one.  $250 (mag) Wine-Searcher.

I opened each of the red wines at 3 pm, thus giving them a 3-hour slow-oxidation (open bottle, but not decanted).  

1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo S. Stefano di Perno DOCG. The wines of Rocche Dei Manzoni are a complementary marriage of tradition and innovation. The land is farmed biodynamically and grape selection is by hand.  The vineyard of S.Stefano di Perno is considered to be one of the most historically renowned cru for Barolo.  Only 100 cases of this wine are made annually.  Fermentation takes place on the skins under controlled temperature for 12-18 days. The wine is then aged for 36 months in Barrique barrels and 12 months in the bottle prior to being released to the market.  While the Barrique imparts a bit of oak and vanilla in the wine, it is seamlessly integrated yielding a beautifully balanced, elegant and complex wine, as was the case tonight.  $90.  Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1996 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio DOCG.  The great traditionalist estate of Francesco Rinaldi e Figli is one of the great names of Piedmont. Located in the town of Barolo itself, the domaine has a long and illustrious history in the region. The estate was founded in 1870, when Francesco Rinaldi inherited a vineyard and house in Barolo. One hundred and forty-four years later, much of the same techniques are still used in the Francesco Rinaldi cellars to produce some of Barolo’s greatest wines heaped within the great old world traditions of Barolo... no new oak, long macerations and long aging in large Slovenian oak Botti prior to bottling. Tonight’s bottle had a nose that seemed to be set in antiquity and a hue that belonged to recent vintages.  The palate was rustic and terroir laden with superb balance and complexity.  It was a joy to savor each remarkable sip. My only real negative was that I felt it finished a bit short. There does not appear to be anymore of the ’96 available in the USA. For other vintages try Wine-Searcher.

1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste DOCG. Cousin to Francisco Rinaldi, Giuseppe has emerged as my personal favorite maker of traditional Barolo.  Tonight’s wine hit on all cylinders and literally soared from the glass with complexity, balance, elegance and every other adjective one could use when describing an extraordinary wine.  The wine is a blend of grapes from two of his finest vineyards, Brunate and Le Coste.  This wine has long been a favorite of Barolo lovers.  Unfortunately the Italian wine laws have once again reared the foolish heads. Beginning with the 2010 vintage, the law prohibits a wine maker from putting the name of more than one vineyard on the label even though it allows fruit from more than one vineyard.  Go figure. $295.  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato DOCG.  The wine is beginning to enter what should be a long and glorious drinking period.  This is a powerful Barolo that is firing on most, but not all cylinders, at the moment. Still a bit closed as compared to the three previous wines. The fruit is not completely awake.  The wine did however finish with elegance and length. There is phenomenal pedigree here.   This is destined to be a blockbuster.  $295  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato CA’ D’ Morissio Riserva.  Like the regular Monprivato, the Riserva is beginning to stir from its sleep.  While the wine was still a bit tight, the elegant fruit has begun to blossom.  This is a superb wine, balanced, complex and focused and like the regular will be an absolute blockbuster in a couple of years.  Unless you have access to a private cellar, there does not seem to be anymore of this around.

1996 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG.  Ah the beauty of traditionally made Barolo by a master.  This remarkable Barolo is only made in years when the estates’ top three vineyards; Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello produce grapes of outstanding quality.  The blend usually contains 70% Romirasco, 15% Cicala and 15% Colonnello.  The wine is fermented with the skins in large Slovonian oak for 2 months, and then aged in the cellar for at least 8 years before being bottled and released for sale. Like the Rinaldi, the wine was hitting 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 savor its beauty and length.  $275.  The Rare Wine Company.

The consensus of the group was that on this night the wines that showed the best were the Rinaldi and the Conterno.  I look forward to revisiting them again in a couple of years.  My guess is that the Monprivatos will put up quite a challenge.  

We put ourselves in Chef Alan’s hands for the evening, requesting that he prepare a meal worthy of the wines.  He performed beautifully, crafting a number of simple and delicious dishes that any Italian mother would have been proud of.

Chef Alan’s version of Bruschetta.  My mom always made it this way.  A thick slice of ripe tomato atop toasted French bread drizzled with olive oil, garlic, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  She called it “loaves of bread”.  Still a favorite of mine today.

Antipasto Misto – Prosciutto di Parma, sweet Soppressata, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, fresh mozzarella

Salsiccia della Casa – homemade sweet sausage, potatoes, hot chilies.

Gnocchi e Speck - Ricotta pillows, Speck, Parmigiano-Reggiano whip

Saffron Risotto- Arborio Rice, Saffron, Grated squash, Parmesan Cheese

Costatina di Manzo – Braised Short Ribs, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Reduction

Chocoate Covered Perfiteroles

A great evening of food, wine and comraderie.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 - White Wines

A few years back I wrote about a number of great wines I had found that were under $40 a bottle, great-wines-under-40.  I have continued that quest and am happy to say that there is no shortage of wines in this category. Crafted by artisan wine makers they provide glorious drinking experiences. Here are my finds since that last post.  There is certainly no shortage of wonderful white wines in Italy, France, Germany and the United States.

I have a particular fondness for French Chablis.   Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, they rarely see any new wood, if any wood at all.  I love the crisp, clean purity they impart on the palate and the elegance with which they finish.  Grand Cru Chablis from producers like Raveneau, Dauvissat and Fevre to name a few can be very expensive.  The following are much less so, and continue to bring big smiles to my face when I drink them.

Patrick Piuze is one of the rising superstars of Chablis.  He owns no vineyards of his own.   His reputation was established while working for some of the top producers in Chablis.  This reputation has allowed him to enter into a long-term partnership with wine growers.  He purchases his fruit only from top wine growers in Chablis. This enables him to pick the best lots in Chablis, most of them of very old vineyards, to collect high quality grapes.  His first vintage was 2008.  His wines are full of finesse.  They exhibit pure fruit, complexity and a crisp lengthy finish.  NY Wine Warehouse carries the entire Piuze lineup.

2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis La Forets $38
2011 Patrick Piuze Chablis Terroir de Chablis $25

Alice and Olivier De Moor began their estate in 1989 and produced their first vintage five years later in 1994. Their wines are spectacular, especially the Rosette, which they consider to be their best plot.  They also make a delicious white from the Aligote grape.  Very similar to Chardonnay in its crispness and purity, the wines are aged in old oak for 12 months with only a slight addition of sulfur dioxide at the time of bottling.

2010 De Moor Chablis Rosette $37
2010 De Moor Chablis Chablis Bel Air et Clardy $30

2011 De Moor Chablis Aligote Plantation $24
2010 De Moor Bourgogne Aligote $20

Thomas Pico, another of the young phenomenons in Chablis, crafts extraordinary wines marked by pristine purity, a briny minerality and impeccable balance.  A disciple of the De Moor’s he began his estate in 2005. Grapes The Wine Company.

 2011 Pattes Loup Chablis $35

Years ago I remember reading somewhere that Italian white wines were terrible.  As I have learned over the last 20 years, nothing could be further from the truth.  Italy, especially in the Friuli-Venezia and Alto Adige regions, makes some of the most compelling wines I have ever tasted.  Dario Raccaro is a former Italian professional basketball player who abandoned his career in the 80’s to join his grandfather at the estate.  Located in Cormons (Friuli), Italy, Dario is adamant about vinification in steel for his whites in order to retain the purest expression of the fruit and the terroir. Production is very small with 4,000 and 12,000 bottles respectively for the wines listed below.  Both of these wines showed terrific depth on the palate with excellent acidity and a wonderful fruity finish.    The Manhattan Wine Co.

2012 Raccaro Collio Malvasia (100% Malvasia) $33
2012 Raccaro Collio Friulano Vigna del Rolat (100% Tocai Friulano) $34

Located in Brazzano, Italy, less than a mile from Cormons, is the estate of Nicola Manferrari, Borgo del Tiglio.  Nicola allows his wines to undergo a gentle oxidation in winemaking, something that is also seen in Burgundy. All of the Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel. Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges; the white labels are considered the entry and mid-tier wines (under $40), while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selection bottlings that vary from year to year.  His wines are simply superb, exhibiting pure fruit, harmonious balance and wonderful acidity that allow his wines to age gracefully.  They are simply round and delicious wines with a lot of soul.  Not easy to find.  Wine Searcher

2011 Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco (Friulano, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling and Sauvignon blend).  $35  

175 miles slightly Northwest of Friuli is the Province of Trentino-Alto Adige, home of Cantina Terlano Winery.  The winery is now one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in the region, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 165 hectares. The members have long had a strong focus on quality. Terlano compensates their growers for the quality of their grapes, not the quantity. The wines have attracted praise and recognition on the Italian and international wine markets in spite of its relatively small size. The winery produces 30 percent red and 70 percent white wines, all of them of DOC quality (Controlled Designation of Origin).

Manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months produces wines of striking quality. Crisp, pure, round and delicious on the palate with a lengthy finish, they are amongst the best white wines I have had this year.  Wine Searcher.

2012 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Alto Adige $18
2011 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio Classico $22
2011 Cantina Terlano Vorberg Pinot Bianco Riserva $30

At the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily Andrea Franchetti produces a 100% Chardonnay that sees no wood in the vinification process.  The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The wine has a dazzling purity on the palate, with subtle hints of bubble gum and a crisp, clean & lengthy finish.  A beautifully round and delicious wine where you taste the grape instead of the barrel.  Amanti Vino.

2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola.  $40

Piedmont is home to famous wine regions like Barolo and Barbaresco.  A lesser known area, Roero produces a light and refreshing white wine made from the Arneis grape, which is little known outside the region. It has long been my wife’s favorite white wine grape. Roero is a geographical area in the Northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in Piedmont.  This hilly region is known for its wines and for its fruit production: particularly the peaches of Canale and the local variety of pear known as Madernassa.

Top producers of the wine include Bruno Giacosa and Cerreto. The estate of Giovanni Almondo makes perhaps the best Arneis I have tasted.  It is full-bodied, with crisp ripe fruit and a lush minerality on the palate.  Absolutely round and delicious.  Amanti Vino.

2012 Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie Giovanni Almondo $25.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, West of Italy, Southeast of the French mainland, and North of the Italian island of Sardinia.  The island belongs to France.  I have been smitten by the wines that are made here, especially the whites made from the Vermentino grape by producers Comte Abbatucci and Domaine de Gioielli. Old world in style, the grapes are all hand harvested, use indigenous yeasts and stainless steel in the vinification process.  The resulting wines are delicious, crisp with finesse and focus.  They also offer some of the best values in wine today, in my opinion.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Comte Abbatucci Ajaccio Blanc "Cuvée Faustine” $38
2012 Comte Abbatucci Faustine Blanc VV $38
2011 Domaine de Gioielli Cap Corse Blanc $27

I firmly believe that  New York State produces some of the finest and most reasonably priced white wines you will ever find. Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes.  A native of Bernkastel, Germany who emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s, he was uniquely qualified to help establish and create a wine region now known for its Riesling identity. His mother’s family had been making wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for more than 300 years. His winemaking processes pay homage to the ancient winemaking tradition and winemaking history of Hermann’s ancestry while incorporating the best of modern practices. The wines are crafted in very small lots to focus on subtle differences between site blocks within vineyards and even clones within varieties. They utilize up to 25 different fermentation tanks within the winery to isolate vineyard sections and pickings dates to best showcase the varietal’s characteristics. Long fermentation on indigenous yeast is made possible by the ecologically balanced viticultural methods in the vineyards.

2012 Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve is simply delicious juice.  It is a terrific dry Riesling with a delicate, citrus palate and long and glorious finish.  $29.  Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard.

Closer to NYC on the North Fork Peninsula of Suffolk County is the Channing Daughters Winery. At the estate they grow and create wines from the white varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Bianco along with a number of red varietals.  I have been captivated by their whites, especially the Chardonnays, which display crisp, fresh fruit along with impeccable balance and stunning acidity.  The wines remind me of beautiful medium-bodied Chablis from Burgundy, France.  The wines are available for purchase on-line at the winery.  Channing Daughters.

2011 Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay $18
2011 Channing Daughters Brick Kiln Chardonnay $22

Germany has a reputation for making outstanding white wines, especially Riesling, in all price ranges.  The Nahe region of Germany is especially known for producing very high quality wines.  I certainly found this to be the case with Harald Hexamer.  Hexamer holds 7.5 hectares in the Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg, a steep south-east facing slope of red sandstone with deposits of quartzite, which is known for producing especially small berries. Hexamer’s meticulous work in the vineyard is marked by pruning to control yields (“often six to eight bunches per wine”) and hand-harvesting. The grapes are picked exclusively by hand and fermented very cold (below 12 degrees celsius) with cooling utilized only when necessary.  He handles the wine as little as possible, uses only native yeasts, and all wines are whole-cluster pressed.  95% of all Rieslings at Hexamer are made in stainless steel and racked only once, three to six weeks after fermentation is complete.

The wines are just superb. Crisp, clean with beautifully balanced residual sugar and a monster finish, all at a great price.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Hochsgewachs 

Stay tuned for part 2 on Red wines and Rosé wines.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Spaghetti with Crab Sauce

One of my favorite pasta dishes is Spaghetti with fresh Crab Sauce.  When I was a kid I have fond memories of my grandmother making this with freshly caught crabs at the Jersey shore. She would cook the crabs in olive oil and garlic for about 30 minutes before she added the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  Then she would simmer the sauce for about 5 hours as I remember.  The sauce would absorb the fresh briny flavor of the crabs and when mixed with the Spaghetti, it was pure heaven.  We would dive in with lots of napkins at the ready to clean our hands as we pulled the crabs apart to suck out the little meat that they contained.

I have not had this dish in many, many years due to the fact that it is hard to find one that came remotely close to hers.  Fortunately my good friend Frank Di Giacomo, who shares my passion for the dish, orchestrated a Spaghetti with Crab Sauce dinner at Luce in Caldwell, NJ this past Wednesday evening.  Executive chef Michael Angelo, under the supervision of owner Joe Capasso, prepared a sauce my grandmother would have said “Bravo” to. The dish rekindled our memories for how good this dish can be when properly prepared.  The essence of the dish is the slow cooking process that allows for the briny crab flavors to permeate the sauce and eventually the Spaghetti.  It’s all about the sauce.  Eleven of us licked our fingers over and over as we dove into the dish with the gusto of someone who had not eaten in days.  Hats off to chef Michael and Joe for a spectacular job.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the terrific appetizers, served family style that preceded the dish.  Sorry, I did not take any photos here.

Eggplant Caponata; String Bean Salad; Seafood Salad and Italian Long Hot Peppers with Fried Potatoes preceded the Spaghetti.  Each dish was terrific, combining great flavors and textures.

An eclectic array of wines complemented the meal beautifully.

iL fauno di Arcanum Toscana 2007, a Super Tuscan blend (similar to a Bordeaux blend) of 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc.  The wine possessed an inky dark hue with a modern-styled toasty and oaky palate.  An hour or two of decanting would have helped the wine.  At about $25 a bottle, this is worth checking out, especially if you like Super Tuscan and Bordeaux blends.

Fisch Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.  Like the il Fauno, this had a deep inky hue.  On the palate I founded in more refined than what I am accustomed to with California Cabs.  It was not the massive, over extracted fruit bomb that often typifies these wines.  This was softer and had a scent of elegance on the palate and finish.  The wine bears the name of the Fisch family, owners of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace with three NJ Locations.  $20

Marchesi di Barolo Barolo 2006.  This bottle really surprised me.  I stopped drinking this producer’s wines a number of years back as I found them very inconsistent.  Happily, this bottle was another story.  2006 was a very good vintage in Barolo, with the wines being compared favorably to the glorious 1999 Vintage.  Tonight’s bottle, the entry level Barolo from the estate, was a modern-styled wine with soft tannins, balance, focus and a fair amount of finesse. $53.

Gavi dei Gavi La Scolca 2010.  Another wine that I have not had in quite a while.  Crafted from 100% Cortese grapes, the Soldati estate is the first producer of quality Gavi and ranks among the most historic white wine producers in Italy. This dry white wine is produced in a restricted area of the Province of Alessandria, Piedmont, close to the Ligurian border. The wine was awarded DOC status in 1974 and was made DOCG in 1998.

Although Cortese had been planted in the region since the late 19th Century, the grape produced low-alcohol, thin and sour wines that quickly oxidized. Consequently, the production was mostly purchased by Cinzano and Martini & Rossi as a base for their sparkling wines. It was the Soldati family, who after the Second World War saved the fate of Cortese from oblivion by focusing entirely on the production of quality Cortese, in a region traditionally known for its reds. They pioneered modern, controlled vinification in stainless steel to preserve the subtle fruit of the Cortese grape, allowing for the creation of wines that retained crisp acidity and aromas and gained structure. 

Tonight’s bottle was as I remembered it, medium-bodied, crisp and clean palate with ample acidity to extended aging.   $46.

Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Mon Aieul 2007, from magnum.  2007 was a spectacular vintage for Chateauneuf du Pape, and this bottle confirmed that in spades. It had a great sense of place, impeccable balance and purity on the palate.  It finished with considerable length and elegance.  Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, it is a wine built for aging and will last for at least another decade.  $400+

A great evening.  Thanks Frankie, Joe and Michael!