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 7, 2018

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco

In July our NY Vinous group gathered at DeGrezia Ristorante in Manhattan for an evening dedicated to the Barbaresco wines of Bruno Giacosa.  This group is comprised of Nebbiolo lovers, and thus our tastings are predominantly Barolo and/or Barbaresco from Piedmont.  Group member Ken Vastola is one of the most knowledgeable individuals around when it comes to Nebbiolo that I have ever met.  Ken also has a cellar that is very deep in Giacosa wines.  His blog, The Fine Wine Geek, contains a wealth of information on Giacosa wines.  If you are a Nebbiolo or Giacosa fan, check it out.

The Giacosa estate has long been considered one of the most respected producers of traditional Barolo and Barbaresco. Giacosa was not an oenologist.  Those duties were handled by Dante Scaglione, a strict tradtionalist, from 1992 until he resigned in 2008.  Many felt that his departure greatly affected the quality of the wines.  He returned in 2011 as consulting oenologist and the wines have begun to show a marked improvement. The jury however is still out as to whether or not the estate will return to its peak when Bruno was alive and Dante was the winemaker.  Bruno Giacosa passed away in January of this year.  His daughter Bruna is in charge of the estate today.

In addition to serving excellent Northern Italian cuisine, the excellent service and private wine room fit the bill perfectly for our group.

Food

Fresh Burrata Cheese with Roasted Peppers and Tomatoes
Polenta with Sausage and Porcini Mushroom Ragu
Pappardelle Sul Cinghiale
Sausage Stuffed Quail

Potato & Spinach Gnocchi Bolognese
Wine

For this tasting Ken arranged the wines into 5 flights with the first three comprised of wines from the Asilli vineyard and the final two from the Santo Stefano vineyard.All wines we drank tonight were double decanted around 1 pm before being brought to the restaurant.

Flight 1

1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili.  Aroma of cough syrup, murky color, flat palate. The 1997 vintage was originally hailed as one of the great vintages of Piedmont.  Alas, the wines began to fall apart after about 10 years.  This bottle certainly was well past its time, in my opinion.

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili.  A wine I have enjoyed on multiple occasions, but not so much tonight.  Muted bouquet with a green mid-palate.

2005 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili. Best wine of the flight.  This was classic Giacosa.  Still very young, with great pedigree and aging potential.



Flight 2

1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva.  An OMG wine.  A classic Nebbiolo nose wafts from the glass setting up great expectations of what the palate will soon experience.  There is no let down as the wine has exquisite balance, finesse and complexity with a 45+ second elegant finish.  My WOTN.

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva. Another outstanding bottle of this wine that I have been fortunate to have on a number of occasions.  A round and delicious wine that never stops evolving as you sip it.  Very close runner-up to the 1990 for WOTN.

2000 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva.  This started out with no bouquet and a flat palate.  After 30 minutes in the glass it blossomed displaying a fresh, fruity and velvet palate. While very good, it lacked the depth and elegance of the ’90 & ’96.



Flight 3

2004 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva.   This wine may very well surpass the ’90 and ’96 Riserva in a few more years.  The wine soared from the glass with each sip.  Fantastic pedigree here.

2007 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva.  I found this to be a bit one dimensional for the first 20 minutes before it began to open and take on some depth.  I think there is a lot of potential here.


Flight 4

1974 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano. In my opinion this was an off bottle.  Palate was dull and there was little finish.

1985 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva.  A nice bottle, but it got lost among the stellar Asili Riservas..

1988 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva.  This wine has seen its better days.



Flight 5

1993 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano. Faded bottle that was well past its drinking window..

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano.  Very good bottle of wine but not in the same league as the 1996 Asili Riserva.

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano.  I enjoyed this a lot and in fact had it ahead of the 2001 Asili.  Terrific depth and elegance here.



While we were all in agreement that the Asili wines outdistanced those from Santo Stefano, it was another great evening with a group of wonderful and knowledgeable Nebbiolo geeks.

All photos courtesy of Ken Vastola.

Saluté

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Riesling Dinner

Our local wine group met this past Monday for our monthly dinner/tasting.  It was my turn to bring the wine and select the venue.  I selected Riesling for the wine and Ariane Kitchen and Bar, Verona, NJ as the venue.  I have known chef/owner Ariane Duarte and her husband Michael for more than a decade and have always been captivated by her food.  She is truly one of the top chefs in the area.  We tossed around some ideas for a menu for the tasting and came up with a meal that pleased all and worked with all the wines.

Cornmeal crusted oysters, horseradish cream.  
This is one of Ariane's signature dishes.  Pristinely fresh oysters are fried to perfection and served on a bed of fresh horseradish cream.  I’m not sure if the tears they bring to my eyes come from the heat of the horseradish or the party they hold in my mouth.


Foie Gras, caramelized pears, hazelnuts, brioche toast.  
One word, SPECTACULAR!


With both of these courses we drank 2012 Albert Boxler Grand Cru Sommeberg Dudenstein Riesling from the Haut Rhine area of the Alsace region in France. The wine drank beautifully, possessing a light yellow hue, slightly viscous palate marked by vibrant fruit and good acidity.  The finish was lengthy and delicious.  From 65 year old vines, the grapes are picked by hand and bottled without fining.  It was a runner up to WOTN.

Boxler is a small vineyard in France that works traditionally using techniques and finesse passed down across multiple generations. Owner/wine maker Jean vinifies most of his wines parcel by parcel, not necessarily together. This technique preserves the most rigorous specificity of each region.

Soft scrambled eggs with shaved white Italian truffles.  
This dish is my favorite way to enjoy white truffles.  Ariane’s touch of perfectly salted homemade potato chips, which served as the platform for the truffles was a wonderful touch.  This was my first truffle of the season and it was great.  My understanding is that both quality and quantity are high this year.


2008 Alfred Merkelbach Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett #9 #10.  From the Mosel Saar Ruwer region of Germany, this is one of my favorite Reisling wines. The wine was wonderfully balanced with a feminine elegance on the palate, and a superb finish. Each parcel is vinified separately.  Because of their tiny cellar, their wines will never be a blend of any more than 2 parcels together, indicated by the numbers on the label’s AP code.

Importer Terry Theise says the Merkelbachs are one of the stars of his portfolio.  “The clearest imaginable look into pure Mosel. Vivid, toe-curling clarity of fruit and terroir make this my most beloved Mosel agency. These are just some of the keenest, spiciest, most helplessly beautiful wines you can ever drink. The iciest blade of electric, splashing acidity supports a fruit so clear, so sharply rendered that the entire experience is so vivid it makes your toenails laugh!”

Porcini dusted pan roasted cod, forest mushrooms, potato zucchini pancake, mushroom syrup.
A culinary work of art combing textures and technique...and oh that pancake. 


1994 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling.  Also from the Mosel Saar Ruwer region of Germany, Prum has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest Riesling producers in Germany.  Their wines age beautifully and should not be approached for at least 5 years. The 55 acre estate consists of about 90% ungrafted, old vines and are planted 100% Riesling. Average annual production is 15,000 cases. The harvest at J.J. Prüm is always extremely late allowing the grapes in the cool Middle Mosel climate to be picked at ideal ripening conditions, the basis to produce wines of superb quality. 

WOTN for me, it possessed a gorgeous yellow hue with an zesty bouquet and lengthy, viscous palate that finished with great length.  A wow of a wine!

Stuffed chicken breast, Mediterranean fonio pinenut stuffing, spaghetti squash, chicken jus.
A superb, moist chicken dish that the under-the-skin stuffing kicks up a couple of notches. 


I had selected a 1976 Weingut Josef Fries Honingberg Riesling Auslese to pair with the dish. A prodigious wine that I have enjoyed on previous occasions that unfortunately was corked tonight.

Fortunately I had a 2008 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #10 as a back up.  This small 4 hectares estate has an annual production of less than 3,000 cases and is considered by many to be the Ne Plus Ultra of Mosel wine, and as such they have attracted an almost religious following.  While tonight’s wine performed well, displaying a light yellow hue with a crisp, soft and balanced palate and vibrant acidity, the fruit was hanging in the background.

We were on our own for dessert.  For me it the Warm apple butter cake with spiced apple compote and vanilla bean ice cream filled the bill beautifully.

 
I went to the Finger Lakes region of New York State for a 2008 Wiemer Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling to enjoy with dessert. Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes.  As 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.

The estate’s winemaking processes pays 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. The small lot production allows for more control of the final product and is extremely labor intensive.

Long fermentation on indigenous yeast is made possible by the ecologically balanced viticultural methods in the vineyards. The estate seeks lower and balanced yields per vine, ensuring healthy vines that reflect the character of the soils in which they are deeply rooted.

Tonight’s wine had a gorgeous translucent Amber hue with an intoxicating bouquet.  It possessed a fantastic mouth feel of botrytis affected grapes, with a palate of tropical fruits and caramel.  A fantastic wine and also a runner up to WOTN.


My thanks to Ariane and Michael for making the evening a great success.

Saluté 


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lunch with Franco Conterno

My friend Tony befriended Franco Conterno of Aldo Conterno wines on a trip to Italy a few years back.  They have become close friends and each year when Franco comes to the U.S. to show his wines at the NY Wine Experience, Tony invites him and a few of his friends over to his house for lunch on Saturday.  Every one brings a bottle of wine with the stipulation that the wine cannot be Barolo as Franco prefers to drink Burgundy and other wines when travelling.  Tony’s wife Fran and his mother, Elisabetta, prepared a spectacular meal for us to go along with a great selections of wines.

Food

Assorted antipasti of homemade sausages, soppressata, roasted artichoke hearts, Italian cheeses and olives.


Homemade Pasta Al Forno.  A spectacular dish that mamma Elisabetta makes from scratch.  It consists of handmade mini rigatoni-like pasta mixed with baby meatballs, artichoke hearts and cheese and baked in the oven.  Of course there was also traditional gravy meats of sausage and meatballs served after the pasta. Fantstic!



The pasta course was followed by fork tender Sliced Filet Mignon served with mashed potatoes, asparagus au gratin, string beans almandine and salad.  Of course there was a bevy of excellent desserts from lunch attendee Pasquale, owner of Sorrento Bakery.


Wine

We began the lunch with 2008 Vazart-Coquart Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Special Club Brut.  This grower Champagne is made from 100% Chardonnay.  It possessed a terrific yeasty nose and palate, with amazing depth and finesse.  Like all great champagnes, it got better as it warmed a bit in the glass.   It was brought by Ben from importer Massonais who imports Conterno wines.  Ben explained that the "Club"cuvée is a tribute to the "Club Trésor of Champagne," an association of independent wine growers who are constantly striving for excellence. Vazart-Coquart is a house of growers that has worked their vineyards in Chouilly since 1785.

1985 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Magnum.  A wine that I have had on numerous occasions and continues to drink beautifully.  Big earthy bouquet and impeccable balance and a long, delicious finish.  

1990 Dujac Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru.  A prodigious Burgundy with the bouquet edging out the palate by a hair.  The wine showed finesse and complexity on the palate, but I felt the finish was a bit short.

2006 Eduardo Vaentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  This wine is beginning to enter its drinking window.  A tad tight, the underlying pedigree is apparent and this should blossom in a couple of more years.

2008 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino.  Not my kind of wine, ultra modern and not for me.  The wine is overpowered by oak.  I was in the minority on this as the rest loved it.

1996 Clos de Tart Grand Cru. This was my third bottle of this wine in the past 30 days and while the others was good, this one soared from the glass.  The wine showed impeccable balance, complexity, depth and finesse.  Consensus WOTN by the group.

2007 Clos de Tart Grand Cru.  A couple of steps behind the 1996, but a beautiful glass of wine that has a bright future.

1965 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Selección.  This dessert wine is made from 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes.  Dark brown in color and viscous on the palate it is like drinking liquid figs.  

2001 Château Rieussec Sauternes.  From the great 2001 vintage, it displayed layers of tropical fruit.  Like most Sauternes however, I found the finish to be medicinal.



After lunch we adjourned to the outdoor porch where the group enjoyed 2008 Cohiba cigars brought by George.  I gave up smoking a while ago and thus passed on the cigars but did enjoy the conversation.  It was a great day all around.  Thanks Tony, Fran and mamma Elisabetta for including me.

Saluté 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

White Night

Our local wine group met last week at Wabi Sabi in Bloomfied, NJ for a dinner featuring white wines from Italy and France and the magnificent Sushi and cooked Japanese entrées from chef/owner Nelson Yip.  Emil was in the queue and did great job with an eclectic selection white wines that complemented the food perfectly.

I have praised the food prepared by chef/owner Nelson Yip on previous occasions and for good reason…he is a class all to himself.  He is fanatical about procuring only the freshest and highest quality ingredients available.  To that end he receives 3 shipments of fresh fish from Japan weekly and is equally stern about the quality of all other ingredients he purchases locally.  His wild mushroom soup is easily the finest and most flavorful version I have ever had.  I used to order it on almost every visit, but that stopped about 6 months ago when he removed the soup from the menu due to the fact that his supplier was mixing poor quality mushrooms in with the case of the high quality varieties he expects.  Rather than substitute inferior quality ingredients, he has removed the soup from the menu.  The man is serious about the quality of what he serves.  The food and wine service, under the direction of Alice and company is first glass.  Highlights from our meal included.

Clam Sake Soup.  Tender little nick clams swim in a jalapeño pepper based broth that is perfectly balanced between the brininess of the fish broth and heat of the jalapeños.  An amazing dish.



Hamachi Yuzu with Summer Truffle.  The freshness of the fish and subtlety of the flavors make this as addictive as any sashimi I have ever had.



"Lollypop" Shrimp.  Large wild shrimp are fashioned into a circle, the center of which holds a bit of crab meat to the center before being coated with Panko bread crumbs, skewered and deep friedThe resulting "lollypop" is crunchy and greaseless and served with a lightly spiced dipping sauce made from chilis, tomatoes, onions and parsley.  In combination, the sauce and shrimp throw a party in your mouth.



Berkshire Pork Goyoza.  Nelson takes the pan-fried dumplings to new heights in this preparation. The incredibly light dumpling wrappers are made in house and stuffed with a minced pork stuffing made from wild boar procured from Berkshire Farms. Lightly pan-fried, they are delicious and a far cry from the thick and doughy versions found at most other spots.  I never asked what he makes the dipping sauce with, but it is the perfect foil for these heavenly pillows of pleasure.


Wabi Sabi Chicken.  Nelson’s version of General Tso Chicken will open your eyes as to how good this dish can be.  He only uses white meat, which he soaks in ice water overnight before doing his magic in the Wok.  The chicken is cooked to a moist and greaseless perfection that will have you applauding the dish with your chopsticks.




Sushi and Sashimi Platter.


Not pictured, but also enjoyed

Truffle French Fries.  I am not a fan of truffle oil being added to any dish.  Here Nelson takes fresh cut French Fries and lightly salts them with truffle salt.  This I am a huge fan of.  By the way his truffled edamame are addictive.

Chicken Fried Rice.  Large pieces of fresh and deftly sautéed chicken are tossed in this classic Chinese dish.

Fried Spicy Rock Shrimp.  These amazing crustaceans are lightly fried and served in a spice mayo-based sauce.

Emil started us with a 375 ml bottle of 2002 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec Vouvry. Since 1928 Vouvray’s Domaine Huet has set the standard year after year for great age-worthy Chenin Blanc. The estate produces some of the world’s most compelling white wines in a remarkable range that spans sparkling, dry, semi-dry, and breathtaking dessert styles.  The Le Haut-Lieu vineyard was Victor Huet’s first vineyard around which the domaine has grown, but in the 21st century.  Initially just 3 hectares, the vineyard saw more planting, broadening out so that today it covers 9 hectares. The estate also acquired Le Mont, an 8 hectare vineyard in 1957, and the Clos du Bourg, a 6 hectare site was purchased not long afterwards, in 1963.  These three vineyards are the core of the Huet domaine, each yielding rich fruit and an array of styles, from sec and demi-sec to moelleux and moelleux premier trie.

Since 1989, the estate has also produced this magical, botrytized dessert wine selected from one, two or all three vineyards. When made, the Cuvée Constance (named for Gaston’s mother) ranks among the world’s greatest dessert wines.

Tonight’s wine displayed a very expressive nose of white fruits and a full rich palate.  It is a beautiful wine that is drinking very well at the present time and should continue to do so for at least another decade.

2014 Quintarelli Secco Ca’ Del Merlo.  Quintarelli is known for his stunning Valpolicella, Amarone and Ricotto red wines.  Less known, but as compelling as his reds, is this white wine blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Saorin grapes.  The wine exhibited terrific depth and balance and finished with considerable length. 

2009 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  Made from 100% Trebbiano grapes, the wine shows brilliant complexity and balance.  Crisp and full-bodied, the wine evolved with each sip taking on elegance and depth.

2015 Maison Lucien Le Moine Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru. Lucien Le Moine is one the most exciting Burgundy producers to come along in the last few years. Mounir Saouma and Rotem Brakin bottled the first wines of their negociant firm in 1999 and are already receiving rave reviews from the top critics. They do not grow any of their own grapes but have managed to earn the favor of excellent growers in the best Premiers and Grands Crus.

Both reds and whites are aged on 100% of their lees, with a gentle batonnage (stirring) three or four times a month. Their cellar is naturally cold and they are able to extend malolactic fermentation late into summer. They use CO2 whenever possible to minimize the use of SO2. After the malolactic fermentation is complete, they taste each barrel twice a month until it is ready to be bottled. The wine is then racked and bottled without either fining or filtration in order to preserve the character of the wine.

Tonight’s wine, the consensus WOTN of the group, was refined and classy with terrific acidity and minerality.  The wine at this young age drinks beautifully and has the pedigree to age effortlessly for a couple of decades.

2014 Bruno Colin Puligny Montrachet La Truffiere Premier Cru. I found this to be very young with a fair amount of oak on the palate.  At the moment several large steps behind the Le Moine.  Perhaps with cellar time the oak will become better integrated.

Great job by Emil on his wine selection and Nelson on the food.

Saluté


Friday, September 7, 2018

2006 Sangiovese

Last month our local wine group met at Viaggio Ristorante in Wayne, NJ for a dinner featuring the 2006 vintage of Sangiovese based wines from Tuscany. All the wines were provided by group member Jim. Viaggio is a farm to table restaurant with a Tuscan flare.  The food is creative and well prepared, but a bit too rich for my palate.

I think the comments from the Vinous website on the 2006 vintage are well stated:

Chianti

“Consistently stunning, full-bodied wines loaded with super-ripe fruit, but with plenty of stuffing underneath. In many cases the wines were made in the last month or so of the growing season, particularly in Chianti Classico, where warm daytime temperatures alternated with cool evenings. These conditions extended the grapes’ hang time and allowed the fruit to reach full phenolic ripeness while achieving maximum development of aromatics, acidity and structure. Growers had the luxury and peace of mind to harvest without being rushed. In a few spots producers reported harvesting into October, particularly for the Sangioveses. The 2006s will be tempting to drink young for their opulent fruit, but the best wines have the potential to age gracefully for many years. Since their initial release, many of the higher-end 2006s have begun to close down, so readers will want to approach these wines with caution. If the vintage has a weak spot it is the dry tannins that show up in a few wines where the warm conditions did not allow growers to achieve the level of sweetness and ripeness in the tannins that was evident in 2004.”

Brunello di Montalcino

“The 2006 Brunellos are big, powerful wines with beautifully delineated aromatics, great concentration of fruit and plenty of structure. There are significant differences between the northern and southern parts of the zone, once again demonstrating that Montalcino really must be considered as a group of smaller appellations. The wines of the north are generally more linear, focused and aromatic, while the wines of the south tend to favor a riper, warmer expression of fruit. The summer was hot, but temperatures did not reach the extremes of years such as 2003. Spells of rain in late August and early September refreshed the grapes and slowed down their maturation cycle, always a positive for Montalcino. Growers picked under gorgeous fall weather. Once again, very few Riservas are worth the money. In fact, in most cases, the regular bottlings are aging more gracefully than the Riservas.”

Jim started us off with a white wine from Angelo Gaja, 2016 Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare Toscana IGT. A blend of 60% Vermentino and 40% Viognier, fermented separately. The Vermentino is aged in stainless steel tanks while the Viognier is aged in oak (Barrique?) casks for 6 months.  Typical of Gaja wines I found this on the modern side with a fair amount of oak on the palate.  Not my cup of tea. 

2006 Felsina Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva.  100% Sangiovese. After the quality-selected clusters are de-stemmed and pressed, the must is fermented and macerated in stainless steel for 16-20 days at 28°C and 30°C, with programmed punch downs and daily pumpovers. In March-April, the new wine goes into new French oak barrels; after 18-20 months of maturation, the final blend is assembled, bottled, and ages in glass a minimum of 6-8 months.  Felsina wines, while aged in new oak barrels, integrates the oak very well and as a result it never dominates the palate. The wine was fantastic, with bright ripe fruit, great acidity and balance and a lengthy, delicious finish.  This was my WOTN and pretty much the consensus WOTN of the group.

2006 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino. 100% Sangiovese Grosso.  Ultra modern wine with oak dominating the palate.  A far cry from the Rancia.  I have never been a fan of this producer.

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino. 100% Sangiovese Grosso that was fermented in cement and aged for three years in Slavonian oak casks.  Runner up to the Rancia, in my opinion. Nice balance and complexity here with a lengthy and elegant finish.

2006 Conti Constanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. 100% Sangiovese Grosso.  48 months. 18 months in tonneaux, 18 months in Slavonian oak wooden barrels and 12 months in bottle.  A nice wine that I felt was a bit tight and should benefit from an additional few years in the cellar.


Another wonderful evening with great guys.  Thanks Jim for the wines and dinner.

Saluté

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tuscan Family Vacation

Carol and I recently returned from a spectacular family vacation in Italy.  Spending time with family is always special, but when you get a chance to do it Italy, it is really special.  In addition to my daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren I invited our good friends Gino and Mary Jo to join us. We spent the first seven days at Villa San Luigi in Buonconvento, Italy.  Our final three days were spent at the Cavalieri Hotel in Rome.

The Villa

The Villa San Luigi is a spectacular 15th century designed farmhouse that was renovated by owners by Affie Hussein and his Joanna from 2010 to 2015.  It is located about 15 miles south of Siena. It is equipped with every amenity you can imagine. Our hosts were most gracious and made our visit memorable.  Affie welcomed us to the villa with a couple of bottles of chilled Prosecco, a welcomed quaff after the 3-hour transport from Rome.  The kids had a fantastic time exploring the grounds and frolicking in the pool.

Isabell, Nicholas, Mia, AJ

The Food & Wine

It is very difficult to find a bad meal in Italy and this trip was no exception whether we ate at the villa or in one of the many local restaurants, we always came away feeling happy, content and perhaps a bit stuffed.

One of the many services Villa San Luigi offers is in villa chef services for dinner.  We opted for this service on our first night and last night at the villa.  The menus for the meals were preselected by us prior to our trip and prepared by top local chefs.

On Saturday evening, chef Alfonso of the local Buonconvento Ristorante Da Mario prepared the meal.  He was assisted in the kitchen by Gabriella, his wife and villa housekeeper, and owner Affie.  We began the meal with tender pan-fried calamari topped with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and grilled eggplant with smoked mozzarella.


We all love spaghetti and meatballs, especially the grandkids, and Alponso's preparation hit the nail on the head!


What else to you have in Tuscany for a main course but Bistecca Fiorentina.  Tender and delicious with a salad of arugula and tomato, it was delicious.


My children selected Tiramisu for dessert.  This is a dessert that I have never been overly fond of until this evening.  It was simply magnificent.  Moist and delicious, I had two pieces, as did most of the others.


With this meal we drank a 2016 Tormaresco Chardonnay from Puglia that I picked up when we stopped for lunch on the Auto Strada.  While it will never challenge the great whites of the world, it was oak-free, crisp and delicious.  Affie was kind enough to sell me two bottles of 2010 Baricci Brunello Di Montalcino Reserve Nello from the villa's cellar.  I was unfamiliar with this under the radar producer of Brunello Di Montalcino.  Affie explained that the 2010 Reserve Nello (named after founder Nello Baricci) is the first Reserva made in the 60 year history of the winery.  The wines is an old world masterpiece that displayed fantastic, depth and pedigree.  Enjoyable now, it needs a good 10+ years in the cellar to appreciate how good this can be.  I put the wine in the same category as Soldera.

Nello Baricci is one of the 26 founding members of the Brunello di Montalcino Association, established in 1967. He was, for many years, the voice of the small producers who greatly contributed to increasing this prestigious appellation’s reputation. It is for this reason that Baricci today remains the only producer who can put a drawing of the town of Montalcino on its wine labels. The estate, now run by Nello’s son Pietro Buffi and grandson Federico Buffi, is located in Colombaio Montosli, an area considered one  of Brunello’s best vineyards. The Baricci family never followed the trend towards an international, more extracted and woody style. Rather, their wines are made following the purest regional traditions, with precision and great elegance. Soil, sun exposure, serious farming without chemical herbicides or products, and a traditional winemaking process, are the main reasons for these Brunello wines’ authenticity and unpretentiousness. The Baricci family’s wines are simply fine, beautiful, and elegant. They beautifully illustrate the intrinsic properties of the Montalcino terroir.

Montosoli, a unique terroir north of Montalcino, is located between the mountains and the plains of Valdarbia. The five-hectare Colombaio de Montosoli vineyard, owned by the Baricci family, is located in a privileged area of the ​​Brunello di Montalcino appellation. Here, the Montalcino hills protect the vineyard from the sirocco. The light north-eastern winds quickly dry the rain and help maintain optimum levels of acidity in the berries. The soil is a complex mixture of marl, shale, quartz, clay, and marine deposits dating from the Pliocene era. This soil composition ensures good drainage in rainy vintages.

The wine is aged 36 months in Slavonian oak barrels of 40 Hl, plus 6 months in the bottle before the release.  Only 6,000 bottles were made and numbered.

After quickly disposing of two bottles of the Baricci, we opened a 2013 Prunotto Barolo that I also picked up on the Auto Strada.  While not in the same class as the Baricci this medium-bodied Nebbiolo had a nice fruity bouquet and a soft, if unexciting palate.

We relaxed by the pool on Sunday and Monday and ate in Buonconvento for dinner both nights.

Ristorante Da Mario.  The restaurant is owned by chef Alfonso's family and he serves as the chef.  We dined al fresco under pleasant Italian skies.



Highlights of the meal included:

Tartare di Vitello
Homemade Pici w/ Calcio e Pepe

One of the things I love about drinking wine in Italy is the abundance of local wine that never seems to make it into the states.  We began the meal with two bottles 2015 Muzic Collio Sauvignon.  This was simply delicious and at 12 €, a fantastic bargain.  Straw colored with a greenish tinge, the fruity bouquet was most inviting.  The first sip reveals a beautifully structured wine with a clean palate of fresh fruit, a crisp mouth feel lengthy finish.  The winery is at a crossroad between the road going from Gorizia to the summit of San Floriano del Collio and the one that goes down to the Preval. It is owned Ivan and Orieta Muzic and their children Elija and Fabijan.



For the red we were delighted with a couple of bottles of 2013 ForteMasso Barolo Castelletto.  Located in Castelletto, this was a medium-bodied Barolo that had plenty of character balance and complexity for a 35 € wine.  After 30 minutes in the glass the wine began to take on more depth and the finish became more refined.  All harvesting is done by hand, de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel vats. The wine is aged in wood for an average of 30 months followed by a further 8 to 10 months in bottle before release.


Ristorante Le Antiche Mura.  Acclaimed for their pizza, Antiche Mura is more than a pizzeria.  In fact it is said that it is the best pizza in all of Tuscany.  Ciro, who hails from Gragnano, a small village in the province of Naples, mans the ovens, while his wife Carmella is the chef. We tried several pizza selections, including a Nutella pizza that the kids really enjoyed.  A salad of Baccala and fennel; Pici Bolognese and a superb Fritto Misto of Calamari, Shrimp and Scallops were the standouts of the evening from the kitchen.



We began the meal with 2015 Società Agricola Nativ Fiano di Avellino. Made from 100% Fiano grapes, it was the WOTN. Pale yellow in color the wine was fruity, pleasant and light, nicely balanced with good acidity.   The wine is made by light pressing of whole clusters, cold static clearing and fermentation with selected yeasts.

Founded in 2008, the company is dedicated to the production of typical wines of the territory, in particular, Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico and Aglianico of Taurasi. The vines are grown on soils of property, that are well known for their particular fertility thanks to their volcanic origin. The vineyards spread for about 15 hectares, between Paternopoli and Taurasi.



For red we started with 2016 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura.  100% Sangiovese and aged in French Barrique for 12 months, the wine was very modern in style, with too much oak at this early stage of drinking. Made from vines that were planted in 1992 at an altitude: 210-220 meters above sea level.  The wine is an attempt to isolate the optimal selection of clones from the hillside.


We then tried a bottle of 2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino.  Nice transparent red hue and enticing bouquet, and considerably better than the Banfi but much to young and oaky.

Francesca Padovani
Tuesday morning we paid a visit to Campi di Fonterenza in Montalcino.  The wines are imported by Louis Dressner and some are distributed by David Bowler Wines.  My friend Gino who is a rep for Bowler set up the appointment. Fonteranza is a young estate that was started by twin sisters Francesca and Margarita Padovani in 1997.  A neighbor of the legendary Brunello producer Gianfranco Soldera, who has been a mentor to them, the first vines were planted in 1999, then again in 2002 and the last bit was planted in 2005. The estate is now at 4 hectares of high-altitude Sangiovese, surrounded by woods and olive groves. Of their vines, only 1 hectare is used for their Brunello di Montalcino; the rest goes into their Rosso di Montalcino and a younger-vine, stainless steel version called Pettirosso.  The farming has been organic from the beginning, and the sisters, who do everything themselves, now work biodynamically. The cellar work is as minimal as possible. Fermentations are natural in large, mainly Slavonian oak casks; use of sulfur is minimal; aging takes place in a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques. Production is very small for this under the radar producer of superb wines..

They currently make five red cuvées: a Sangiovese rosé (Rosa), a younger Sangiovese from Brunello and Santasimo classified grapes (Pettitrosso Vino Rosso), a Rosso de Montalcino, a single vineyard Rosso Di Montalcino (Alberello) as well as a Brunello (2004 was the first vintage) that is released after five years.  They also make a white wine, Biancospino. The wine is inspired by the sister’s love of white wines and of Monte Amiata, a place that abounds with small old vineyards planted with unrenowned grapes. It is an old-style peasant blend made by macerating indigenous varietals such as Trebbiano Toscano, Procanico, Malvasia and Ansonaca with their skins. The first vintage produced was 2010. They have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that they currently rent for the production of this wine.


Since the first time I tasted the Rosso and Brunello about 5 years ago I have been captivated by their purity, balance, complexity and elegance.  Today we tasted the 2015 and 2016 Rosso and the 2014 & 2015 Brunello.  Each wine was a joy to drink with the Rossos, as one would expect, much more approachable today.  The Brunellos showed great pedigree and are destined to be terrific in 8 to 10 years.  At about $35 and $80 a bottle respectively, the wines are a must for lovers of traditionally made Brunello.  Speaking of great QPR, the Rosé at $20 is simply amazing. 

The 2015 Pettirosso Vino Rosso is a blend of 80% Sangiovese/20% Ciliegiolo. Pettirosso is named for the "red-breasted"  finches inhabiting the vineyard and was first bottled in 2011, as the Padovani sisters' version of a vin de soif. The fruit comes mainly from a rented vineyard of old vines and varieties in the wooded, hilly Monte Amiata zone of Tuscany, west of Montalcino (one of the main sources of white Biancospino fruit too). The vines are organically farmed and harvested by hand. The Sangiovese is destemmed, crushed and fermented in tank with native yeasts; the Ciliegiolo is whole-cluster-pressed and carbonically fermented. The wine is blended and aged in botti for 7-8 months before being bottled unfiltered. Pettirosso is classified simply as Vino Rosso (the vintage is found as a lot number in tiny print on bottom right of label).  An interesting wine, but lacks the purity and depth of the other two.

The white Biancospino metioned above was not tasted at the winery, but we did buy a bottle later in the week.  The burnt yellow hue and slight oxidation reminded me of an orange wine from Friuli. The wine had great balance and acidity and evolved nicely in the glass.

On the recommendation of Francesca, we ate lunch at Trattoria il Leccio in Sant'Angelo, a small village a couple of miles from her estate. She also had the restaurant open a bottle of 2007 and 2010 Fonterenza Rosso Di Montalcino as she wanted us to see how well her wines age. Both wines were beautiful examples of how good Rosso Di Montalcino can be.  While the 2010 was lovely, it did not match the depth and complexity of the 2007.  My guess is that given a couple more years, it will.

We began lunch with two bottles of 2017 Col D’Orcia Toscana Vermentino.  The wine exhibited a brilliant straw yellow hue, vibrant fruit, terrific acidity and a delicious finish.  A beautiful Vermentino. Highlights of the lunch included delicious ricotta stuffed Zucchini Flowers in a deliciously sweet tomato sauce...


…homemade Ricotta stuffed Ravioli in tomato sauce that were almost as good as my grandmother's.


…Fried Chicken Cutlets with fresh local vegetables flawlessly fried in a tempura-like batter.  I don’t think I have ever tasted chicken cutlets or fried veggies as good as this before.  Simply off the chart!!!


… not pictured, but equally as delicious were the homemade Pici with meat ragu.

On the recommendation of our waiter at lunch we had dinner at Taverna Del Grappolo Blu in Montalcino.  The restaurant is not very easy to find but is well worth finding if you are in Montalcino. This great little restaurant offers a range of delicious regional dishes such as Soft Polenta with Eggplant and Mushroom Ragu


…and Sausage with beans


The restaurant has an exceptionally fine and reasonably priced wine list with many local specialties as well as many classics.

We began the evening with 2017 Gualdo del Re Valentina Vermentino which like the other local whites we drank was fresh, crisp and a delight to drink.

2013 Castello Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino. The wine is still very young, and will never be a great wine, but at 30 € a bottle it was easy to drink.

1990 Cal D'Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino.  This was gorgeous, a beautifully mature wine with soft tannins and a magnificently balanced and elegant palate and equally elegant and lengthy finish.  The wine soared from the glass with each sip.  A wine with plenty of soul…and for the unheard of price of 70 €.

This was my first experience with this producer and I was very impressed. Col d'Orcia wines are estate produced and bottled, with grapes grown mostly on the estate and partly in surrounding farms whose vineyards are supervised by Col d’Orcia during the whole productive cycle. The high density of planting, the choice of the rootstock suitable for the characteristics of each piece of land, the use of highly selected clones and an overall attention to the characteristics of each single vineyard ensure a limited production per plant aimed at achieving high quality grapes, healthy, concentrated and rich in colour and tannins. Farming techniques include grass mulching, cluster thinning at the “veraison” and perfect ripening of the grapes on the plant.

Attention to detail characterizes the wine making process at Col d'Orcia , the same given to every other step of the production cycle. The harvest, carried out exclusively by hand, is regulated by precise analysis in order to ensure the optimal phenolic maturation of every bunch collected: a sorting table at the entrance of the cellar allows an even more detailed selection.

Fermentation is conducted in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks shaped so that the surface of contact between juice and skins ensures optimal delicate extraction of the high quality ingredients such as polyphenols and colouring matters. Ageing in wood takes place in Slavonian and selected French oaks. The size of the barrels and the time of ageing vary according to the characteristics of each batch. For some wines ageing in wood can take as long as 4 years. Finally the bottles are kept for further ageing on the estate until their refinement is completed.

The winemaking cellar, made out of the original premises of the farm, has steel tanks with controlled temperature and capacity of 8.400 hectolitres. The ageing cellar, built in the year 1990 and perfectly included in the surrounding Mediterranean environment, has Slavonian and Allier oak barrels whose capacity is 25,50,75,150 hectolitres for a total amount of 7000 hectolitres and no. 800 barriques for a total amount of 1.800 hectolitres.

On Wednesday we spent the day in Florence.  We arrived at lunchtime and choose to eat at an outdoor table of Ristorante Buca San Giovani in the Duomo Square.  The service was courteous and professional and the food was delicious.  We enjoyed, Eggplant Strudel with Mozzarella di Buffalo, Risotto, Bisteca, Veal Milanese and Minestrone Soup.  As it was a hot day I decided on a couple of ice cold Peroni Birras.  I don’t recall the white wine, but the girls loved it.

After lunch we met our tour guide and began our tour with a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David.  The kids were mesmerized by the statue and asked our guide tons of questions.  In fact they enjoyed every part of the tour which included the Duomo, the old section of town and of course the Rialto Bridge.


After the tour we headed for the Florencetown Diadema Cooking School where we participated in a pizza and gelato making class.  The kids had a ball, and as you might expect, made the best pizzas.

Isabella making pizza
Thursday and Friday Carol and I relaxed by the pool all day before heading to Trattoria Fonte Giusta in Siena.  My good friend Mario, who owns Divina Ristorante in NJ, is a good friend with Fonte Giusta owner, Pino, who greeted us warmly and filled our bellies with too much food, some of it complimentary.    We enjoyed Bruschetta with Tomato, Bruschetta with Lardo, vegetables in an outrageous tomato sauce, Risotto with Aspargus, Chicken with vegetables, Pici al ragù di Cinghiale (wild boar); Sliced Steak and Rabbit.

The wine list was soft, but on their recommendation for a traditionally made Brunello we tried a 2013 Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino.  The wine exhibited good balance and acidity but was still a work in progress.  I think this will be quite good in 5 to 10 yeas.




Friday, our last evening at the Villa, our meal was prepared by Chef Hiro, who as the name would suggest is from Japan.  He has been cooking in Italy for the past 25 years and according to Villa owner Affie, he earned 1 Michelin star when he was chef at Poggio Antico Ristorante.  Today he is a private chef.  After our meal, we all felt that 1 Michelin star was 2 short of what he deserves.  It was way, way over the top.  Like the first night, we pre-selected the menu.  We began with a Polenta duo topped with Mozzarella and Pecorino in as flavorful a tomato sauce as anyone of us has ever experienced.  This simple dish was simply amazing with textures and flavors dancing on the palate in exquisite harmony.



As good as the polenta was, the Risotto Primavera that followed was ethereal.  Risotto is about the rice, with the sauce playing a supportive and complimentary role.  This preparation nailed it. Again the balance of texture and flavors elevated the perfectly cooked rice to sublime perfection.


The main course was Chicken Cacciatore for the adults and chicken cutlets for the kids.  Like the other courses, the Cacciatore was fantastic.  Juicy and full of flavor, we licked our plates clean.


Dessert was another home run.  I forget what Hiro called it, but it was somewhere between a cheesecake and a tart and fantastic.


I have had many extraordinary meals in my time, and this one is right up there with the best of them.  Thank you Hiro, you are definitely our hero!


With this meal we drank:

2016 Col D’Orcia Vermentino.  Like the bottle of 2017 we drank at lunch a few days before, this was crisp, with fresh fruit and pleasing palate.

2008 Fonterenza Rosso Di Montalcino.  Terrific RdM.  Beautifully structured, with terrific balance and complexity.  Better than many other producers Brunello.

2015 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte & 2013 Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino.  Both of these remarkable wines are much too young to fully appreciate, but a superb wines in the making that should be classics in about 10 to 15 years.

Some of the other wines we enjoyed while lounging and snacking at the villa included:

2015 Montevertine Rosso di Toscana. Made with Sangioveto, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes, the wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for about 24 months.  A beautifully made wine that is drinking beautifully.

2012 Biondi Santi Rosé.  Gino found this in a local wine shop and it was wonderful.  Crisp with considerable depth and complexity.  Top notch!

2016 Castellare Ginestre Bianco.  A blend of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Sauvignon Blanc.  A simple and easy drinking white.

2015 Querciabella Chianti Classico.  100% Sangiovese  from 3 different vineyards that emerges after about 30 minutes in the glass.  Nice balance and finish.

2008 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Riserva Castello di Monna Lisa.  I did not care for this.  I think the wine has seen its better days.

2015 Barone Ricasoli Torricella Bianco. A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  Did not taste, but the girls loved it.

2012 Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva il Poggio.  Excellent Chianti that is beginning to wake up. 


We said good-bye to Villa San Luigi and headed to the Cavalieri Hotel in Rome for a few days before returning home.


Gino, Mary Jo, Carol and I dined our first night at the three Michelin star restaurant La Pergola that is located on the rooftop of the hotel.  The restaurant is under the direction of chef Heinz Beck and boasts a 60,000-bottle wine cellar and innovative cuisine.  This was our second time here and Carol and I both feel that while some dishes are excellent, others are average at best. 

Char-grill scented veal sweetbreads on celeriac and black cabbage were tender but the char-grill distracted from the subtle flavor of the sweetbreads in my opinion.


Duck foie gras with peach and mushroom.  A very different preparation than the classic in which the fois gras is pan seared.  Tasty, but, in my opinion, lacked the texture of the classic.  


Deep-fried zucchini flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron consommé.  Not a fan of caviar, so I did not taste this in its entirety.  I did however taste a Zucchini flower, which had very little flavor on its own.  Gino, however liked it a lot.



Risotto with olive oil and grana padano, vegetables and scampi “in pinzimonio”.  This was as good as it looks in the photo below.  Perfectly al dente rice in a delicate sauce.  


Fagottelli “La Pergola”.  Small ravioli pockets stuffed with carbonara sauce in a sage butter sauce sprinkled with fried prosciutto.  Great textures and flavors here.  My favorite of the entire meal.


Pigeon with peanut-crusted black salsify and port-scented snow.  Gino loved it.  


Fillet of sea bass with fennel, orange and olives.  Three of us ordered this and we all had the same reaction…it looked better than it tasted.  We found the flavors to be very bland.


Cream filled sponge cake with ice cream, a incredible selection of cheeses and La Pergola’s famous (& complimentary) Stainless Steel chest of drawers containing various homemade chocolate delights completed the meal.

The stars of the evening were the wines we selected.  We began with 2013 Cantina Terlano Winkl Sauvignon from Trentino, Italy.  This is one of the greatest Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted.  The wine exhibited a straw yellow hue, with an enticing citric aroma.  On the palate the wine had impeccable balance and depth with terrific acidity.  The finish was long, elegant and delicious. 

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.

Located in Alto Adige’s Dolomite Mountains, in the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive location and extraordinary terroir are the key to the development of these stunning wines. Situated in a sheltered hollow, Terlano benefits from an ideal south facing exposure.

For the red the sommelier recommended a 1998 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria that drank beautifully.  I am a big fan of Vietti’s Barolos. This was only the second time I have had the Barbaresco Masseria and like the first time it was glorious.  The wine had a gorgeous translucent red hue with a big fruity and earthy bouquet.  The palate was marked by depth, finesse and balance.  The wine never stopped evolving in the glass. The finish was long an elegant.  Link the Terlano, a wine with soul!

My notes indicate that the Masseria is vinified and aged like Vietti's single-vineyard Barolos, which is to say long fermentations, six months in Barrique and two-plus years in Slavonian cask.  Priced at about half the level of Vietti's vineyard designate Barolos, the Masseria is a fabulous value relative to other wines of this pedigree.

While the rest of the group went on a walking tour of Rome on Sunday, Carol and I slept in and then lounged by the pool for the rest of the day before heading to Emma Pizzeria for dinner.  The restaurant was recommended by a number of members of the Vinous website.  It was a terrific recommendation as the pizza, food and wine were terrific, especially the L’uovo di San Bartolomeo Bio, a soft cooked egg on a potato cake with parmesan and asparagus.  If you are a fan of eggs like I am, this will bring a big smile to your face.


For wine we had two more bottles of the 2013 Cantina Terlano Winkl Sauvignon that we had at La Pergola the previous night.  The wine was as good as previous, only, as you might expect, ⅓ the price.  For the red we had a couple of bottles of 2012 Massolino Barolo Margheria.  For the red we had a couple of bottles of 2012 Massolino Barolo Margheria.  What a gorgeous Barolo.  This may well be the wine of the vintage. While it is still in its infancy the wine drank with finesse, depth and balance.  In my opinion this was almost as good as the 2010 vintage.


Our last day in Italy began with a tour of the Vatican and St. Peters Cathedral.   The crowds were unbelievably large, the lines long and slow,  and as enjoyable as it was it was a very tiring 4 hours.  We went back to the hotel and had a leisurely lunch of good old American hamburgers, which were delicious.  We drank a few bottles 2017 Leone de Castris 1665 Five Roses 74 Anniversario Salento IGT.  This delicious Rosé is made from 100% Negroamoro grapes from vines that average 50 years of age.  The wine had good structure and drank very easily. The Five Roses Anniversario was created for the first time with the vintage ’93, in the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Five Roses.

We concluded our trip with a spectacular evening tour of the Coliseum at night before getting a night’s sleep before returning home.  It was quite a trip, and as I said in the first paragraph, doing with my family was very special.  Carol and I are very lucky and blessed to have such a great family and friends to share our lives with.  I did not think anything could make the trip better until my daughters, Gina and Lisa, presented me with a photo book they made of the vacation for my birthday this past Sunday.  It was magnificent, and brought tears to my eyes.   Love you guys!


Saluté