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.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Campi di Fonterenza

On the first of April I hosted my annual Hemophilia Association of New Jersey Gourmet Wine Dinner fundraiser.  The event was once again held at Il Tulipano Ristorante, Cedar Grove, NJ. This year I featured the wines of Campi di Fonterenza from Montalcino, in the Poggio San Polo area in the southeastern part of Montalcino (Tuscany), Italy.  Twin sisters Francesca and Margherita Padovani started the vineyard in 1997 and its reputation for making traditional Brunello di Montalcino continues to grow, a fact that is not surprising as Gianfranco Soldera, considered to be the greatest winemaker of Brunello in the region, mentored the sisters.  One taste of their Brunello di Montalcino will demonstrate that they have learned very well from their mentor. I had the pleasure, along with my family and a couple of good friends to visit with the Padovani sisters last year at their estate.  My good friend Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines (importer for Fonterenza wines), provided the wines and also arranged for Margherita to be in attendance to discuss their wines.

Margherita Padovani
Once again we began with a magnificent cocktail hour before sitting down to dinner.  Each of the wines we drank showed beautifully tonight.  While the italicized comments are from the Padovani sisters, Margherita’s passion for making truly great wine was evident as she spoke about each wine.  The attendees loved her and her wines.  The comment, “this was the best Hemophilia dinner of all” was heard numerous times around the room.

During the cocktail hour we drank Fonterenza 2017 Petit Rosso Vino Rosso 
“The first vintage of this wine was 2011, replacing the production of our SANGIOVESE I.G.T. TOSCANA. The bottle shape already declares our intention to make a different kind of Sangiovese than what is most commonly associated with Montalcino. Inspired by our friendship with French vignerons and their culture of thirst-quenching wines, conceived to satisfy the needs of everyday drinking and convivial sharing, our idea was to make an Italian vin de soif. It is made from a selection of grapes from our vineyards in San Polo and some Sangiovese from the old vineyards on Monte Amiata. In some vintages we also use autochthonous grapes (ciliegoiolo, canaiolo, colorino, malvasia nera). We hope to plant a mountain vineyard specifically for the production of this wine in the near future.”

This is the estate’s entry-level red wine, medium-bodied wine with a translucent red hue, fruity palate and soft, but short finish.  A terrific every day wine for under $25.00

Our first course was paired with the estate's two "Orange" wines served side by side.

Goat Cheese Medallions over baby Greens with candied fruits and dried walnuts

2016 Biancospino Vino Bianco
“This wine is inspired by our 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 of 70% Trebbiano 30% Malvasia made by macerating the varietals with their skins for one month. The wine is aged in barrel for 6 months.  The first vintage produced was 2010. We have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that we currently rent for the production of this wine.”

The wine was delicious.  A white wine, made like a red wine and drunk at red wine temperature, it has a slightly oxidized palate, with considerable depth.  $30.00

2017 La Ragazze Vino Bianco 
“Like the Biancospino it is an old-style peasant blend made by macerating indigenous varietals, in this case they are 50% Vermintino, with Trebbiano, Malvasia and Grechetto making up the rest. Skin contact is limited to one week. The wine is aged in barrel for 6 months.  The first vintage produced was 2010. We have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that we currently rent for the production of this wine.”

This was even more delicious than the Biancospino and was clearly the favorite of the crowd.  Gorgeous yellow hue, medium-bodied and a lengthy and elegant finish.  $35.00

For the pasta course featured the estate's two Rosso di Montalcino poured side by side.

Spinach Lasagna Classic Bolognese Style

2016 Rosso di Montalcino 
“We do not consider this wine as a second tier wine or a lesser Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. Our vineyards are all in an area historically renowned for the production of Brunello and are ideal for the production of structured wines. Our Rosso di Montalcino is merely a different interpretation of Sangiovese, characterized by a great potential for cellar evolution but aged for a shorter period in wood (22 months in oak barrels), preserving characteristics of rustic youth, fruity exuberance and a distinctive saline and earthy profile that is typical of all our Sangiovese. It is mostly from our three plots; Bosco, Alberello and Strada, vinified separately before a final blending. The first vintage produced was 2003.”

Young and like the whites, simply delicious.  The wine showed great complexity and depth even at this early point in its life.  This will add on depth and elegance over the next 3 to 5 years.  As it sat in the glass throughout the dinner, it continued to evolve and display more fruit and elegance.  $40.00

2015 Rosso di Montalcino Alberello 
“100% Sangiovese Grosso. 2015 is the first vintage in which the Padovanis bottled this single-parcel Rosso di Montalcino. Normally, it is part of the "regular" Rosso di Montalcino bottling. But since having grafted new Sangiovese vines in this particular plot in 2005 and trained them alberello style, the Fonterenza sisters have felt that it is a unique expression of Sangiovese from the same clay-limestone galestro soils and same northern exposure. Like the other Rosso plots, it is farmed organically and worked and harvested by hand; the fruit is fermented with native yeasts in steel tank with a 15-20-day maceration. Like the Rosso, the Alberello was aged for about 20 months in steel and Slavonian oak botti but spent a longer portion of its elevage in steel. It was bottled without filtration in September 2017. Only 4000 bottles made.”  $45.00

This single vineyard Rosso showed more structure and complexity than it's counterpart.   It was also a bit tighter, but as it evolved in the glass over the next 90 minutes the pedigree began to shine through.  This, like the Rosso, will age gracefully for  decade or more.  $45.00

With our main course we enjoyed two vintages, once again side by side, of their flagship wine, Brunello di Montalcino.  To say it was the coup de grâce to a magnificent tasting would be a bit of a understatement.

Sliced Medallions of Filet; Mushroom Gravy; Potato Croquette

2010 & 2012 Brunello di Montalcino 
“Ten long years passed between planting our vineyard and releasing the first bottles of this wine. We think of Brunello as a paean to Montalcino, a synthesis of everything that makes this part of the world so special; its unique combination of soils, sea breezes and woodlands. These elements find their expression in our Brunello; sun-baked saline notes, meaty aromas, heady Mediterranean herbs and fresh minerality. 

It is a wine that requires time and patience. We have learned to take care of it during its aging period, coaxing youthful characteristics to full maturity and nursing the potential for complexity. In present times, where everything is based on the concept of right here, right now, this is an old-fashioned wine. It is made exclusively from the estate Cru, Vigna del Bosco.  Our first vintage of Brunello was 2004.”

Both wines were beautiful examples of how good Brunello di Montalcino can be. The 2010 ($125.00) was without question the WOTN, while the 2012 ($100.00) was on its own a stunning wine.  2010 was a magnificent year in Brunello, and as Margherita commented it was an “easy” wine to make, as Mother Nature gave them perfection in the vineyard, while the warm, dry growing season of 2012 gave winemakers more of a challenge.  A challenge, in my opinion, that Fonterenza sisters met with great success.

Desserts are always special at Il Tulipano and are left up to the creation of the chef.  They never disappoint as you can see below.

Fonterenza does not make any dessert wines, so I turned to the La Stoppa estate for their 2009 La Stoppa Vigna Della Volta Passito (Malvasia). The wine, a blend of 95% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica and 5% Moscato, is made from sun-dried grapes that are pressed in a vertical press, fermented naturally, and put into old French oak barrique for 10 months. After bottling, the wine is held for an additional two years before release.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

La Stoppa is an historic estate in the province of Piacenza in the Emilia region of Italy. There are 32 hectares of vines, along with almost as much forest, plus the ruins of a medieval tower. The property was founded and planted first in the late 19th century by a lawyer named Giancarlo Ageno, whose main interest was Bordeaux varieties. In 1973, current owner Elena Pantaleoni's printer father, with no winegrowing experience, purchased the property; Elena joined him to work at the winery full-time in 1991. By 1996, a decision was made to let the non-native varietals like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Tokay, Pinot Gris, Grechetto and Pinot Noir go, as they were not suited for the warm climate and clay soils of the area. They were replaced with local grapes Barbera, Bonarda and Malvasia (with Bordeaux varieties remaining until 2005, when those too were replaced).

The farming has been organic since the early 1990's; certification came in 2008.  Elena Pantaleoni, a dedicated, intelligent and passionate grower, works closely with her enologist Giulio Armani to craft wines expressive of place and grape. Work in the cellar is minimal. Fermentation is entirely with native yeasts; maceration with skins is lengthy; little to no sulfur is used; wines are aged in a range of  Slavonian oak botti and used French barriques; reds are not filtered before bottling; and bottle aging is extended. Elena eschews any DOC classifications, choosing the IGT path instead; she feels that the DOC regulations are too broad in terms of permitted varieties, geographical bounds and production techniques, and not conducive to thoughtul, artisanal winegrowing and winemaking, the priority at the La Stoppa estate.

I mentioned in the second paragraph above the comment, “this was the best Hemophilia dinner of all” was heard numerous times around the room.  Having done 25 or more of these events over the years I have to concur with the comment, and that is saying a lot as many of the great wines of Italy and France have been featured at this dinner in the past.  None however had the completeness and electricity of this tasting, beginning with the presence, charisma and passion of Margherita Padovani.  A gifted and natural speaker, who simply lets her passions and wines speak for her and her sister.  She wowed the crowd as much as her wines did.  And speaking of the wines, each one showed beautifully from the first sip to the last.  In fact experiencing the evolution of each wine in the glass really made the tasting special.  

Fonternza wines are not in the well know...currently that is.  But I think serious wine drinkers will be hearing about them and drinking them in the years to come.

Thank you so much Margherita and Francesca for the passion you bring to wine and thank you Margherita for making this fund raiser such a success.  We raised $28,000+ from the event for the Hemophilia Association of NJ.

My thanks also to my dear friend Gino Urban of David Bowler wines who brought Margherita and her wines to the event.  To my dear friend Gene Urban, owner of Impressive Impressions, who took all the photos in this blog, and to Gregorio Polimeni, Jr. and the staff at Il Tulipano for another outstanding job.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

1999 Barolo Dinner

Two weeks ago our NY Vinous wine group met at DeGrazia Ristorante in NYC.  The theme of this dinner was a 20-year Barolo retrospective, thus we all brought along bottles from the 1999 vintage.  1999 was an epic vintage in Barolo, offering many amazing wines that are drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so for another couple of decades at least.  The bad news is that while many of these wines are available the price to acquire them has soared.  As is our custom Ken, the group’s most knowledgeable Nebbiolo member divided the wines into separate flights.  All the wines were double decanted around noon and were served blind.  It turned out to be another great tasting.  The wines showed well, with one exception, and as you might expect from a group like this there were some differences of opinion, but overall, when finished we all wished we had lots more of the vintage in our respective cellars.


Once again DeGrazia accommodated us with a private dinning room and served excellent food.  I began with Animelle ai Funghi; Calfs Sweetbreads pan seared with wild mushroom, marsala wine, granny smith apples, and fresh Thyme.  The sweetbreads were tender and perfectly sauced.  One of the better versions of this dish that I have ever had.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara; Creamy egg yolk sauce with crispy pancetta, parmigiano cheese and black pepper.  DeGrazia makes the traditional Roman pasta dish to perfection, with perfectly cooked pasta and sauced with just the ingredients noted…no cream, which I find ruins the dish.

Polletto al Mattone; Farm raised whole baby chicken marinated in a spicy white wine mixture, flattened and charred grilled, sautéed escarole and beans, mushroom polenta, completed my meal.  The chicken was moist and delicious with enough sauce to soak up with the polenta.


Flight 1

1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Santo Stefano Di Perno.  Lovely bouquet of red fruit with a medium-bodied and nicely balanced palate.  Considerable length to the finish.

1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Villero.  The laggard of the flight in my opinion.  I felt the wine had very little focus or depth and a rather weak finish.

1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato.  I have stopped buying Monprivato as I find too much inconsistency from bottle to bottle and vintage to vintage.  Fortunately that was not the case with this bottle, which drank with a lot of soul tonight.  The wine evolved with each sip, danced on the palate and finished with a lovely velvet length.

1999 Vietti Barolo Rocche.  A wow wine.  Most thought it to be a Giacosa Riserva.  Since I am not a fan of blind tastings (nor am I very good at it) I refrained from guessing what it was.  In my opinion wines this good only need the simple description of "round and delicious."  Each sip was better than the one before it.  My WOTN…an opinion shared by most at the table.  I wish I some of this in my cellar.

Flight 2

1999 Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi.  I must confess that I am not a fan of the very modern styled wines from Scavino and this did nothing to change that.  When I drink them I don’t feel like I am drinking Barolo as was the case here.

1999 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc.  Decidedly better than the Cannubi.  More of a Barolo nose and palate, but also a bit oaky.

1999 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunizata. Best of the flight, but still too modern for me.

Flight 3

1999 Massoliono Barolo La Vigna Rionda.  Fantastic bottle of wine.  Great structure, purity and bouquet. Constantly evolves in the glass and then tantalizes the palate with great finesse.  Finishes soft and lush.  One of my WOTN.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche.  Gorgeous and exotic bouquet with a beautifully balanced and round palate that showed considerable depth and finesse, while the finish was lengthy and elegant.  Another of my WOTN.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia. Unfortunately this bottle was flawed.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. The wine showed extremely well.  Earthy bouquet, full-bodied, balanced and complex with impeccable purity and a very lengthy, elegant finish.  The best is yet to come for this wine and should really blossom in a few more years and continue to drink well for a couple of decades at least.

Another great evening with a great group of guys.

3 happy campers, Myself, Ken V. and Marc D.
For a more in depth accounting of the wines, visit Eric Guido's Blog, The Cellar Table.

Wine photos courtesy of Eric Guido.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Giuseppe Rinaldi Dinner

At the beginning of the month our NY Vinous wine group met at Hearth Restaurant in NYC for an evening of great food and many top vintages of the Brunate Le Coste Barolo wines of Giuseppe Rinaldi. Making this evening extra special was the attendance of Vinous members Alice and Rob who travelled all the way from Hong Kong to join us.  Additionally group founder Tony, who recently moved to London, England, was in town and also joined us.  It was great to meet Alice and Rob and to see Tony again.

The evening turned out to be fantastic with the help of group member Marc who did a fantastic job coordinating the evening with general manager and wine director Christine Wright.  This was my third visit here and like the others the food and service were top notch.

Mediterranean Salad
Grass-Fed Beef Tartare with Salsa Verde, Raw Cheddar and Potato Chips
Maccheroni with Pork Ragu and Ricotta
Braised Rabbit Leg with Mushrooms and Leeks
The final courses were a Roasted Ribeye with Creamed Greens and cheese plate.  Sorry no photos.


In my opinion this was our best tasting to date as all the wines, with one exception, displayed brilliant pedigree.  What was very interesting, although not at all surprising, was that this very experienced and Nebbiolo knowledgeable group had some very different opinions regarding the wines.

"Beppe", as he was known, was an icon of traditionally made Barolo.   It was Beppe’s belief, in the true traditional style, that the greatest heights to which Barolo could reach could only come through blending. Although this was not a popular belief during the ‘90s, as the modern movement swept through Piedmont, Beppe held fast and refused to change.  His tope wines were blends from his estate's 4 vineyards.  Perhaps his top wine was the Brunate Le Coste (10,000 bottles), a blend of the Brunate and Le Coste vineyards, followed by his Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera (3,500 bottles), a blend of these two vineyards in Novello.  Barolo wine laws changed in 2010 making it illegal to put the names of more than one vineyard on the label.  Today, he makes Barolo Brunate, which contains 15% fruit from the Le Coste Vineyard and Tre Tine, which is a blend of the vineyards Ravera (50%), Cannubi (30%) and Le Coste (20%).  The wines continue to be top expressions of traditionally made Barolo.

Sadly, Beppe passed away at age 70 in September of 2018, leaving the estate and winemaking in the hands of his very capable daughters Marta and Carlotta.

All wines we drank tonight were double decanted around 1 pm before being brought to the restaurant. For this tasting Ken arranged the wines into 4 flights from oldest to youngest.

Before we began the Rinaldi tasting we enjoyed a bottle of 2008 Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Champagne Cuvée Spéciale Blanc de Blancs Brut brought along by Alice. The Pierre Péters estate, situated in the heart of the "Côte des Blancs" in the village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, has been a family house for six generations and has produced Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagnes since 1919. A Champagne grower-producer, the wines come exclusively from their own vineyards. They farm just over 19 hectares of Chardonnay, mainly located in the communes of Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant.

I was not familiar with this producer or his Champagne, but I was delighted with my first experience.  It had an enticing yeasty bouquet with a slightly saline and yeast palate and superb lengthy finish.  The bubbles provided an excellent start to the evening.

Flight 1

1985 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Riserva Selezionata Brunate.  A wow wine. I was smitten with the first sip of this incredible wine.  The wine possessed a gorgeous earthy and fruity bouquet with a round, delicious, harmonious palate and lengthy elegant finish.  About as perfect a wine as you will find.  This slightly nosed out the ’96 as my WOTN.

1993 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  This was a difficult vintage in Barolo, although probably the best vintage of the early 90s.  It took a while to open up and when it did it lacked the depth and complexity of the other wines in the flight.

1994 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  Another difficult vintage that showed a bit better than the ’93.

1995 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  Another tough vintage, although this showed a little more depth than either the ’93 or ’94 but far behind the ’85.

Flight 2

1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  A wine I have enjoyed on numerous occasions, and tonight was no exception.  The wine evolved with each sip showing beautiful complexity and balance and a lengthy elegant finish.  My runner-up to wine of the night.

1997 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  Originally thought to be a great vintage that quickly went south.  I found this to be totally flat and over the hill.

1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste, Magnum. I felt the wine was hitting on all cylinders and literally soared from the glass with complexity, balance and lengthy and elegant finish. One of the top wines of the evening in my opinion.

Flight 3

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  Great potential here.  Very good tonight, but give more time in the cellar this will be evolve into a classic wine.

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  A beautiful bottle of wine that showed good complexity, depth and elegance.  Many happy years of drinking are ahead for this wine.

2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera, Magnum. While young this was quite good with fantastic potential.  Glad to have a stash in the cellar.

Flight 4

2005 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste. Like the ’04 Lorenzo, this shows terrific potential.  

2006 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste. Similar to the ’04 and “05 in this flight, young and delicious with great potential.

2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste. This was superb!  While young like the others in this flight I found more depth and finesses in the wine at this young age.  Destined to be a prodigious wine.


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.


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

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.


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.  

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.