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.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Barolo Lovers Delight

Our wine group met recently at Scalini Fedeli Ristorante, Chatham, NJ.  The theme for the evening, chosen by Howard, was Barolo.  I don’t think I have ever met a wine enthusiast who was not smitten by the Nebbiolo grape and the Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from it. Kerin O’Keefe in her recently published and excellent book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, comments on these wines as being…“structured yet elegant and complex wines of remarkable depth from Italy’s noblest grape, Nebbiolo.”

Nebbiolo translates to "little fog" and refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape appears to thrive on. Attempts at growing Nebbiolo outside of Piedmont have proved fruitless.  One of the more interesting points Ms. O’Keefe talks about in her book are the nuances in style that the different soils in the various zones of Barolo produce; such as power, elegance, subtlety, perfume and texture.  These differences combined with the winemaker’s approach provide for some of the most exciting and enjoyable wines to be found on the planet.  For me drinking Barolo is like listening to the music of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin, wherein their individual interpretation of the Great American Songbook standards provides for heightened musical appreciation and hours of enjoyment.  Sipping one of these remarkable wines while listening to their music is one of life’s pleasures for me.  While the music was absent from our dinner, the wines played their own music in beautiful harmony.

1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno DOCG (Monforte d'Alba).  Located in Monforte d’Alba where the soil is composed predominantly of sandstone and clay, the estate produces more modern styled Baroli, opting to use new oak (Barrique) when making its wines.  I find that the use of new Barrique usually produces a Barolo with a palate marked by oak and vanilla.  That is not the case here as the oak was very well integrated.  The fruit was bit quiet to start but began to awaken after 30 minutes in the glass as the wine began to show power and finesse on the palate.  1996 was a great year in Barolo and this wine, like many others from the vintage, still has a long life ahead.  $85.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo DOCG (Barolo).  Owner/wine maker Giovanni Canonica did not start to export his wine to the U.S. until 2004.  Production is small (6,000 bottles of the ’07) of this old world Barolo.  In the opinion of many, myself included, Canonica’s Baroli are in the same class as those of the iconic old world Barolo estates such as Cappellano, Conterno, Rinaldi and Mascarello. The Paiagallo vineyard is situated fairly high on the slope above the town of Barolo. The soil here has less sand and more clay, which tends to produce wines that are more approachable earlier than other Barolos.  Canonica follows super old-fashioned techniques with foot-pressed grapes; indigenous yeast fermentation; no temperature control; very long fermentation in wood; aging in very large old wood barrels (botte) and very minimal sulphur used throughout.  Tonight’s wine displayed impeccable balance, complexity and finesse with a lengthy and elegant finish.  I sipped the wine throughout the evening and it just kept evolving in the glass with each sip.  This clearly had my vote for the wine that drank best for the evening. While this is readily approachable now it will easily last for another 30 to 40 years. A wine with soul!  This will not be easy to find, as allocations are small.  $75 - $100.

1997 Bartolo Mascarello DOCG (Barolo).  While the 1997 Barolo vintage was initially thought to be an extraordinary one, it turned out not to be the case as most of the wines began to fall apart a few years ago.  Such was the case with 3 consecutive bottles of the 1997 Bartolo Mascarello I opened in 2012.  The wine was dead and wound up being poured down the drain. Fortunately I was able to return my remaining bottles.  The bottle we drank tonight was thankfully better than my previous bottles.  While there was not a lot of complexity to the wine, the fruit was more apparent, but did not have a lot of life.  A drinkable wine, but not what one expects from this iconic producer of usually outstanding Barolo.  If you have some in your cellar, I suggest you drink up!

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi S Lorenzo Ravera DOCG (Barolo/La Morra).  In my opinion, Giuseppe Rinaldi is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo, crafting traditional wines marked by succulent fruit, focus and finesse.  While the bouquet of this wine tonight was gorgeous, on the palate the wine was virtually closed.  The pedigree is apparent, but the wine is asleep now, as are most Baroli of this vintage.  The wine did begin to open after about an hour suggesting the need to decant for a few hours if you wish to drink it today.  I would revisit in 2 to 3 years, when it should be "singing".  Alas there does not seem to be any of this vintage available on the market today.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia DOCG (Serralunga d'Alba).  Like Rinaldi, this is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo.  Traditional to the core, the wines are outstanding examples of the elegance and complexity of great Barolo.  This vintage is just beginning to wake up.  After about 30 minutes the wine began to show its stuff and display the fantastic pedigree of the estate’s wines.   It is a wine endowed with wonderful balance, focus and depth and a lengthy finish.   Give this a few more years in the cellar and you will be justly rewarded with a beautiful and stunning wine.  $250.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG (Monforte d'Alba).   Granbusia is only made in years when all three of the estates vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results.  Tonight’s wine was decanted for one hour.  What a glorious wine. One of the best wines of the 2005 vintage I have tasted.  The wine displayed great balance, complexity, finesse and focus and finished with considerable length and elegance.  The wines of the 2005 vintage are not destined for long aging, but like this bottle tonight, many are drinking beautifully now and will provide great drinking for the next decade.  $360.  Wine-Searcher.

Thanks Howard for the terrific selection.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Osteria Lupa Romana

It has been a least a decade since I ate at Osteria Lupa Romana in NYC, which I believe is the second (Babbo was the first) of the Batali/Bastianch restaurants.  Wherever it falls in their hierarchy is of little consequence, what is important is that it is a terrific restaurant in my opinion. It offers the traditional Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed two or three visits when it opened more than a decade ago, which is why two recent visits had me asking myself, “Why have you stayed away so long?”  

A couple of weeks ago, Chambers Street Wines hosted a dinner there that featured the Nebbiolo based wines of Antonio Vallana e Figlio from the Alto Piemonte region of Northern Italy.  Giuseppina Vallana and her children Francis and Marina run the estate today.  Marina was on hand to discuss the wines.

Here Nebbiolo is called Spanna.  I love these wines.  They possess a wonderful terroir-filled bouquet with a beautifully balanced, medium-bodied palate and lengthy elegant finish.   They also represent some of the best bargains in quality wines to be found today.  They drink well early on, thus they can be enjoyed while you wait for your Barolo & Barbaresco to mature.  They also have the ability to age beautifully for many years.  If you are a Nebbiolo lover and have not had Vallana wines, you owe it to yourself to pick up a couple of bottles.  You will be glad you did. It has been said of Vallana that  "...Even if he had the same batches of grapes to work with, no other winemaker would end up with wines quite like his...” - Burton Anderson.

Before I detail the spectacular wines and incredible plates served at the dinner,  I would be remiss if I did not mention the glass of 2012 Morgante Bianco di Morgante I had at the bar before the event began. This is a Sicilian white wine that is vinified from red Nero D’Avolo grapes (this really surprised me).   The estate is located in Grotte in the Province of Agrigento.  The wine exhibited a soft golden yellow hue in the glass, clean fruit, and good acidity on the palate and a lovely finish.  A delicious wine.  Discovering new wines like this really add to the pleasure of enjoying wine.  $16 for this is an absolute steal.  Wine-Searcher.

With our first course, Carne Cruda (raw beef) with Smoked Cauliflower & Crispy Shallots we were served 2007 Vallana Boca DOC.   Terrific pairing.  Boca is a rare wine produced in a very tiny area of Alto Piemonte, around the village of Boca, on the eastern side of the River Sesia.  The wine is a traditional blend of native grape varieties: Nebbiolo (65-70%), Vespolina  and Uva Rara.   Marina explained, “Nebbiolo confers the structure and the aromatic background; Vespolina and Uva Rara add freshness and some interesting varietal notes”.  The varieties are hand picked separately, each one at its perfect ripening time.  Fermentation occurs in large cement tanks and the wines ages for 2 years in medium-large oak barrels. Another 1-2 years in bottle are necessary for the wine to start to develop it's potential.  Tonight’s wine was light-bodied with a most elegant nose and fruity and spicy notes on a smooth palate.  I loved the delicate finish. $28.  Wine-Searcher.

The first of two outstanding past courses, Fontina & Black Truffle Agnolotti, was served next along with 2011 Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna DOC.  The Agnolotti were divine and without some restraint could become quite addictive.  

The Colline Novaresi DOC is 100% Spanna and the grapes come exclusively from the Colline Novaresi DOC, a growing area characterized by old vines and high altitudes. Vinification takes place in cement tanks in order to obtain a wine suitable for medium to long aging. The wine is released after two years of maturation.  Ruby red in color, the wine had an enticing bouquet of earth and soil, with a medium-bodied, focused and complex palate.  It finished with a refined excellence one does not expect in a wine that costs $15.  Wine-Searcher.  Average annual production is 3,000 cases.

The second pasta course, Orrechiette with Lamb Neck Ragu, was served with 2005 and 1998 Gattinara DOCG. The subtle richness of the dish made for an excellent pairing with the wines.  It has been said that Gattinara is the King of Alto Piemonte.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine is produced only in the town of Gattinara, on the western side of the River Sesia.  In my opinion this is as close as one gets to traditional Barolo.  Vallana vinifies the wine in separately in large cement tanks before the final blending process and then ages the wine for at least 2 years in large oak barrels.  The estate recommends a few years additional aging in the bottle for the wine to fully develop its potential.

The 2005 is just beginning to enter its drinking window.  The enticing palate and impeccable balance, blossoming fruit, soft tannins and complexity on the palate provide insight into the pedigree here.  Tannins are soft and fruit is beginning to blossom.  This has all the makings of a blockbuster wine that will age for a few decades…and for the ridiculous price of $28 a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

The 1998 was awesome and hitting on all cylinders.  I could not help but feel that this is what the 2005 will likely grow up to be. Simply put, a round and delicious with tons of soul!  Don’t think you will find this easily and if you do, expect to pay a handsome price.  Wine-Searcher lists a shop in the UK with a price tag of $400.

With the entrée, Braised Rabbit Leg with Green Olives & Swiss Chard, we drank 2010 “Cuvée Bernardo Vallana Spanna DOC.   This new addition to the estate is made in honor Bernardo Vallana, the founder of Vallana.  Spanna was his favorite wine. The wine is a blend from the best selection of Nebbiolo vines in Boca and Gattinara.   The wine exhibits a gorgeous translucent light red hue and a very soft and velvety palate. There is good acidity for aging, but this needs a few more years cellar time before it really shows its stuff.  $25.  Wine-Searcher.  I would be remiss if I did not mention how incredible the Braised Rabbit Leg was.  I really enjoy Rabbit, but this was off the charts.  I thought of the dish for days after.

With an amazing dessert, La Tur with Caramelized Pears, we got to taste the wine of the evening, 1958 “Castello Di Montalbano” Spanna DOC.  Let’s start with the dessert.  La Tur is a delicious soft, almost mousse-like cheese that consists of equal parts cow, goat and sheep milk.  Like the wine it comes from the Alto Piemonte area and is ripened for only 10 days to 2 weeks.  In addition to the pears, it was served with a thin sliced & toasted grain bread of some type.  It was a great combination. As for the wine, wow!  At 63 years of age, it displayed an amazing translucent red hue with nary a hit of bricking. The fruit was fresh and alive and tantalized the palate. Finished with great length and lots of elegance.

My hats off to Chambers Street Wines and Lupa for a wonderful evening of food and wine.

So inspired by the Vallana dinner, I returned last week to Lupa along with a couple of my wine group friends for lunch, one of whom is regular at the restaurant. He has always sung the praises of their pastas, and pehaps the most famous Roman dishes are the pastas.  Lupa offers a Roman Pasta Tasting Menu ($49) that features 5 signature pastas.  The entire table must participate in order to have this tasting, and I am happy to say, we eagerly agreed.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.  Simplicity is the key to most great recipes, and this one is testimony to that premise.  Here homemade square spaghetti is tossed with olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano Cheese and fresh, coarsely ground black pepper.  I had this dish on my first visit to the Eternal City 20 years ago and it instantly rekindled many fond memories.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.  Often called the Italian interpretation of Bacon and Eggs, this is another example of simple, quality ingredients coming together in harmony to provide a dinning experience.  In this dish the preferred cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is combined with sautéed Guanciale (pork jowl) or Pancetta and olive oil and then tossed with the pasta.  Off the heat beaten raw eggs are mixed into the Spaghetti and served.  True Carbonara DOES NOT INCLUDE CREAM. This was the real deal.  My one issue was that I would have preferred the Guanciale to have been cut up smaller and thus more of a part of the dish as to opposed to tending to dominate it.

Saltimbocca Ravioli.  Veal Saltimbocca is a classic Roman dish that combines tender veal scallopine, sage and proscuitto.  In this version, perfectly cooked homemade Ravioli are stuffed with seasoned ground veal and served in a sage butter sauce and topped with crispy fried prosciutto bits.  An absolute tour-de-force.

Pajata Finta.  Another classic Roman pasta, or so I have been told.  I never had this before, but you can bet I will be back at Lupa if for no other reason than to have this pasta.  For me, it was the best of the 5 remarkable pastas.  It is a sauce that is made with diced pieces of veal tripe and lamb sweetbreads. pancetta and tomato.  Rigatoni is added to the sauce, tossed and then served atop a dollop of fresh Ricotta Cheese. You mix it all together, take a bite and you are transported to culinary heaven.  The only thing missing was Dean Martin singing "On an Evening in Roma" as we savored this remarkable dish.

Bucatini All'Amatriciana.  Tomato sauce, pancetta or guanciale, olive oil, garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese combine to make what may be Rome's most famous pasta.  The addition of hot pepper seeds finishes the dish perfectly.  The classic version at Lupa is superb.

This is a remarkable bargain of good sized, perfectly prepared pasta for $49.  You even get lemon sorbet the cleanse the palate at the end of the meal.

As with all Bitali/Bastianch restaurants, Lupa has a good and reasonably priced wine list.  It was our intention to perhaps have a glass or two of wine with lunch.  That quickly evaporated with one sip of 2013 Principe Pallavicini Malvasia Puntinata from the Lazio terroir.  The wine is made from 100% Malvasia del Lazio, also called Malvasia Puntinata, which belongs to the aromatic Malvasia grape family, one the most ancient varieties cultivated in Italy.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20 days at the controlled temperature of 16° C.  The wine is left to refine “on the lees in stainless steel tanks of 50 hl for 4-5 months and 1 month in the bottle before release.  The wine had a golden straw yellow hue with an clean crisp bouquet that was echoed on the palate.  The finish was delicate and quite lengthy.  $15.

We quickly drained the bottle and decided we would have one more bottle, a red this time.  Marc selected a 2001 Petterino Gattinara from the Alto Piedmont region of Italy.  I am very familiar with Petterino wines (have some in the cellar) and this bottle with 14 years of age on it was beautiful.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this is a superb example of traditionally made Nebbiolo. The terroir filled bouquet filled the nose with wonderful anticipation.  The palate was balanced, focused and complex. Tannins were soft as velvet and the wine finished with lengthy elegance.  Simply a round and delicious. $40.  Wine-Searcher.

This bottle went quickly also and so, what the heck, we asked the sommielier (forgot his name) for a recommendation to drink with the Bucatini.  He suggested  2012 Passopisciaro Scinniri IGT from the slopes of Sicily's Mt. Etna.  The wine is crafted by Andrea Franchetti who also owns the Tenuta di Trinoro estate in Tuscany. This wine, a blend of Nerollo Mascalase, Cesanese and Petit Verdot, is aged for 10 months in large oak, before being bottled.  The wine had a rich, masculine palate with good focus and depth.  A very nice wine.  $21.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in or near NYC and have not been to Lupa, I suggest you consider giving a try.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Spectacular Loire Valley Wine Dinner

If you read this blog, then you know that the wines from France’s Loire Valley hold a very special place in my heart (and my cellar).  Our wine group dinner last week was centered on Loire Valley whites and reds. It was Emil’s turn to select the theme, wines and restaurant.  If this were baseball, I would have awarded him the Triple Crown, as he orchestrated an over-the-top event.   While Emil is no slouch when it comes wine, he recruited Matt Tornabene, wine connoisseur and owner of The Manhattan Wine Company to select, pour and talk about the evening’s wines.  He also chose Café Matisse for the venue.  I have extolled the praises of chef/ owner Peter Loria before; http://winewithoutnumbers.blogspot.com/search?q=cafe+matisse. Once again the food was delicious and a perfect compliment to the wines.  The service here, under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, is as spectacular as the food that is served. A BYOB restaurant, the wine service outdistances most restaurants with wine lists. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always appropriate glasses to match the wine.

Lobster, Sushi Tuna “Satay” was composed of Soba Noodle Cake, Spicy Peanut Jus, Thai Cucumber Salad, Creamy Chili Vinaigrette, Caramelized Pineapple, Julienne Scallions

Matisse Burger, Blended Sirloin, Short Ribs and Brisket, Creamy Blue Cheese Mousse, Red Onion Jam, Hickory Smoked Bacon, BBQ Short Ribs, Yukon Gold Shoe String Fries, Spicy Tomato Aioli

Speck Wrapped Veal Tenderloin with Rigatoni w/ Pesto

Emil & Matt
The Loire Valley is often divided into three sections. The Upper Loire includes the Sauvignon Blanc dominated areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The Middle Loire is dominated by Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines found in the regions around Touraine, Saumur, Chinon and Vouvray. The Lower Loire that leads to the mouth of the river's entrance to the Atlantic goes through the Muscadet region which is dominated by wines of the Melon de Bourgogne grape.

Matt selected 5 Chenin Blanc and 2 Cabernet Franc from Middle Loire.  Both of these grapes produce age worth wines of depth, character, balance and soul as was the case with each one tonight.

2010 Eric Morgat Savennières, L'Enclos.  For the past decade Eric Morgat has quietly been producing some of the Loire Valley’s most interesting and complex Chenin Blancs.  It is the only grape he vinifies. The estate is situated along the north bank of the Loire River, in the Anjou-Saumur subregion of Savennieres.  Here the Chenin Blanc grape grows in soils of sand and schist unlike the limestone chalk soil of the Vouvray, 100 miles to the east. A strict manual harvest using small bins with strict selection in the vineyard is adhered too religiously. Fermentation and elevage in 400 liter Foudre for a year, without racking.  Several weeks before the following harvest the Foudres are blended into a cuvée, and the wine remains on the fine lees for another year.  After 22 months of aging the wine is bottled after a light filtration in the summer at the time of the rising moon.  Tonight’s wine was a beautiful expression of Chenin Blanc.  The wine displayed a wonderful crisp and stony palate with great acidity.   A joy to drink, it was the perfect start to the evening.  $40.  Manhattan Wine Company.

2012 Thibaud Boudignon White Anjou à Françoise.  A similar terroir of shallow soils on grey schist, ryholite (volcanic soil) and sand as in Morgat.  Mr. Boudignon crafts his wines using gentle pressing, indigenous yeast fermentation, barrel vinification (new and used French & Austrian oak)  and no malolactic fermentation.  Tonight’s wine had a brilliant fresh floral nose, a crisp & mineral driven palate the displayed intense focus, bracing acidity, with a textured and rather unique, almost tart-like finish that added a lovely dimension to the wine.  I was smitten by this wine. $49. Manhattan Wine Company.

2012 Richard Leroy Les Noels de Montbenault.  Montbenault is a 2 hectare parcel within the appellation Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou, situated on the top of the hill with superb exposure. The soil is volcanic and the vines are 50 years old, making this is one of the great terroirs of the Coteaux.  Bottling occurs one year after the vintage with no chaptalization (added sugar).  Production is limited to 1500 bottles.  Tonight’s wine was round and delicious wine, with crisp, soft elegant palate and lengthy finish. $49.  Manhattan Wine Company.

2011 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc Clos de Guichaux. Romain Guiberteau, a disciple of Dani Foucault (Clos Rougeard), made his first wine in 1997. The Clos de Guichaux vineyard is composed of a shallow clay and limestone topsoil over chalk bedrock. Whole cluster pressing. No chaptalization. Native yeast. VInification and 10 month ageing in two to four year old large 600L barrels. Light filtration. Production is limited to 575 cases.  This is a wine with great pedigree and potential. Tonight’s bottle was tightly closed upon opening.  It began to open a wee bit after 2 hours in the glass. Probably needs 5+ years in the cellar.  $44.  Wine-Searcher.

2008 Montlouis-Sur-Loire, Le Volagré, Stephane Cossais.  Stephane trained under the legendary Foucault brothers.  After tasting a bottle of their 1996 Brézé, Rougeard’s iconic dry Chenin Blanc, he was convinced that his calling was to make a wine of this style, not the reds for which the Foucaults are largely known.  He began making his own wine in 2001, but was not proud of any until 2004.  He was poised to become the greatest winemaker in Montlouis when he passed away unexpectedly in 2009 of a heart attack, leaving his last two vintages still in barrel.  Tonight’s wine, his final wine, and was simply brilliant, possessing an enticing fruity and stony bouquet with a crisp and gloriously fresh palate.  The monster finish was elegant and lengthy.  $50. Manhattan Wine Company.

1985 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.   In my opinion this is one of the finest estates in the Loire.  Their wines are crafted with tons of soul, making for an exciting drinking experience.  Les Picasses is the most classic and age worthy wine from the domaine. It comes from a limestone terroir, where the vines have reached a respectable fifty years of age. The fruit is hand-harvested and fermentation is carried out in stainless steel controlled to less than 30°C, followed by a maceration of 25-30 days.  The resulting wine goes into large foudres where it will rest for between 12 and 14 months before bottling.  Tonight’s wine, 100% Cabernet Franc, was absolutely stunning.  It exhibited a deep earthy bouquet with great length and purity on the palate and on the finish. Round and delicious. A wine with soul! $75.  Manhattan Wine Company.

1989 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.  Matt thought the wine was slightly corked.  You could have fooled me, as I thought it was quite good, albeit not a match on this night for the ’85. I have had the ’89 a couple of years ago and found it to be on that night on a par with the ’85. Bottle variation is something we all learn to live with.  $70 Manhattan Wine Company.

2009 Clos Rougeard Samur-Champigny Les Poyeux.  Clos Rougeard is considered the reference point for Cabernet Franc in Saumur and Saumur-Champigny. These incredible wines, made by the Foucault brothers, are considered a cult wine in France and every 3 star Michelin restaurant there scampers to get a small allocation (rumor has it that only 3 are successful).  US allocations are miniscule, and acquiring the wine takes more than a bit of luck.  I have been fortunate to acquire a mini stash. Charles Joguet, the great winemaker of Chinon, once said: “there are two suns. One shines outside for everybody. The second shines in the Foucaults’ cellar.”

Quite simply these wines are among the best red wines I have ever tasted.  I would put them up against any red wine on the planet.  The vineyards have been farmed organically for generations; with the wines see extended fermentation (18-24 months) in old oak barrels before being bottled unfiltered.

The Saumur-Champigny “Les Poyeux” is one of their signature wines.  “Les Bourg” being the other. Tonight’s wine simply soared from the glass and threw a party for the olfactory and gustatory senses. It began with compelling and enticing earthy aroma, before gracing the palate with impeccable balance, seductive elegance and a long velvety finish.  All of this and still the wine is in its infancy and will reward 5+ years of patience.

We finished the evening with a 1976 Dujac Morey St. Denis, that Jeff brought along.  What a lovely aged burgundy with the bouquet, fruit, balance and finish hitting on all cylinders.  Jeff explained that he did not believe Dujac made a premier cru that year so this wine probably included a mixture of village and premier cru grapes.  Most likely explains why it drank so well despite being a village wine and a difficult vintage.

Our sincere thanks to Emil, Matt, Peter and Larry for a wonderful evening.

A happy and contented group (Emil is taking the photo)


Monday, March 2, 2015

A Very Special Italian Sunday Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Extraordinary 2010 Barolo Vintage

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

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

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

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

Sandrone, E. Pira, Elio Altare

Scavino; La Spinetta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Christmas Holidays 2014

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

Christmas Eve 

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Day

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

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

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

New Year's Day 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all!