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, January 28, 2011
Like most NJ restaurants, Culin Ariane is a BYOB restaurant. However, unlike most NJ BYOB restaurants, wine service here is as good as it is in a top restaurant with a top-flight wine list. Glasses appropriate for the wine you are drinking as well as decanters are readily available to ensure you enjoy your wine.
Last nights meal started with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon with mango salsa. Appetizers included Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Horseradish Cream & Micro Greens. Oysters never had it so good. The combination of the briny oysters with the horseradish cream is ethereal. Main courses, all of which were superb, included Tortilla Crusted Monkfish, Black Bean Cake, Lime Radish, Poblano Cream; Lobster Risotto, Sun Chokes, Lobster Reduction, Crispy Leeks; Sautéed cornmeal crusted Victoria Perch, Mediterranean orzo lemon beurre blanc.
For wine we started with 1999 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc that was wonderful. My first bottle of this wine was in January of 2002 and it was amazing. Crisp and clean on the palate, it was simply delicious. A year later the wine shut down completely and stayed that way for the next 3 years. Nothing at all. Like drinking flat water. According to Robert Parker this is typical of the wine and he wrote that it would reemerge 5-10 years later as a different animal. So I waited until last year to try the wine again, and son-of-a-gun Parker was on the money. While still clean on the palate, it was now a bit oxidized and oily, but oh so pure and balanced. The color was now that of yellow straw with a bouquet of honey and caramel. The lengthy finish made you want to hurry up and take another sip. Serve this wine slightly chilled and I recommend that you do not put it in an ice bucket after opening.
The next wine was a 1985 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. 1985 was a fantastic year for Barolo and Barbaresco and Gaja is an icon in the winemaking world. Unfortunately this bottle was flawed. Completely oxidized and undrinkable. Like all living things, sometimes they leave us much too early. Alas, there was a silver lining, my friend who brought the Gaja had a back-up, and what a back up it was, a 2000 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella that did its job in consoling us for the misfortune of the Gaja. One is always rewarded with greatness when drinking Quintarelli and this bottle was no exception.
Next up was a side-by-side tasting of two legendary Chateaunuf-du-Papes, 2005 Clos Saint-Jean Chateauneuf du Pape Deus Ex Machina and 2001 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins. While both drank well the Clos Saint Jean was simply no match for the Bonneau in my opinion. My two friends at the table did not agree, they gave the nod to Clos Saint Jean. As one of them says “That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla”. These two wines really speak to differences in winemaking style and the preference of the individual palate. The Clos Saint Jean tends toward the more modern style that produces huge, fruit forward wines. These are macho wines that give instant gratification in taste, but little in terms of a moving wine experience. There is nothing wrong with this style. In fact I could probably safely say it is the style most wine drinkers gravitate towards. Renowned wine critic/writer Robert Parker is one of them. In his opinion this wine merits a perfect score. The Clos Saint Jean is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mouvedre. The Grenache sees no ageing in wood while the Mouvedre is aged in new or one-year-old barrels for about 12 months. The wine is released at a rather young age.
The Henri Bonneau Celastins is more than 90% Grenache with small amounts of Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarèse added. His wines are as old world as one can find. They are fermented in cement tanks and then they go into very old barrels from Burgundy. Here the wine stays until Bonneau determines it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years. No wine is ever bottled before 5 years in the barrel. The result is a pure and balanced wine with amazing elegance. The wine spoke to 4 of my 5 senses. A clear translucent red hue that seemed to sparkle before my eyes like glistening snow, a bouquet of the earth that sired the grapes made me appreciate the very nose on my face. On the tongue a balanced harmony that made my taste buds dance with delight. The wine is drop dead delicious. Ah, the sense of hearing. When I drink this wine the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, to name a few, played softly in my ears. To drink this wine is to understand the difference between enjoying a wine and experiencing a wine.
And for dessert a 2001 Sine Qua Non The NobleMan (Chardonnay). Manfred Krankl (USA) and the late Alois Kracher (Austria) teamed up and made extraordinary dessert wines from California (see I am not completely against California wines) for many years. This 2001, made from the Chardonnay grape is awesome. Reminiscent of the great Trokenbeerenauslese wines of Austria and Germany. What a lovely way to end an evening.
All in all a wonderful evening of great food, spectacular wine and most important good friends to experience it with.
Saluté until next time.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I have long been a fan of Rosé wines and I drink them year round. Many top vineyards make Rosé wines and they possess the same great character and complexity of their whites and/or reds. One of the wines Eric mentions is the 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosado from López de Heredia I had this wine recently and it was magnificent. A Blend of Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho (60%) andViura (10%) the wine is aged in old barrels for 4 years and then for another 6 years in the bottle before being released. This is not like most Rosés you have ever had. It is superbly balanced and complex on the palate. In short it is a round and delicious wine. It is hard to believe that this wine costs about $25 a bottle. An absolute steal.
Then there is the remarkable Cerasulo Rosato from Edoardo Valentini (also mentioned in Eric's column) one of Italy’s greatest producers. This wine, which sports a pricey $80 tag, is well worth the money. The only way to describe wine is to say it is delicious. The wine evolves in the glass, making each sip a joy to experience.
Even though I am not a fan of California wines I must admit that I can drink Boony Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare all day long. A blend of Grenache noir, Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Cinsault it is also delicious. I always serve this wine when someone asks me if I have any White Zinfandel (what is it exactly?) and watch their expression as they take a sip. The comment, “What is this, it’s delicious” is often heard. Oh, it costs about $15 a bottle.
Then there is Cantalupo’s Nebbiolo Il Mimo Rosé. A terrific, easy drinking wine at about $12 a bottle.
In the mood for a sparkling rosé wine, let me suggest Erpacrife Brut Rosé. A sparkling Nebbiolo that is quite good. Made in the classic methode champagne it will bring smiles to the faces of those who drink it. Goes great with homemade pizza.
We’ve come a long way from Lancer’s and Mateus baby.
Corrections to the last blog.
The 1964 Bartolo Mascarello was in fact 47 years old, not 57 years old. Thank you Jack. The d’Yquem was a 1996 not 1998. Thank you Gino.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Il Capriccio is at the top of their game. The food under the direction of Tony Grande and his son Natale is amongst the best in the state. Food and wine service under the direction of Tony’s nephew Salvatore is impeccable. If you live in northern NJ and have not yet visited Il Capriccio, I suggest putting it on your list of restaurants to try in 2011.
As for the wines we started with a 1964 Cantina Mascarello that the birthday boy received as a gift by one of the lunch attendees. I thank both for their generosity in sharing this remarkable wine. Cantina Barolo, which since 1982 has gone under the name Bartolo Mascarello (when Bartolo took over for his father Giulio), is my favorite Barolo producer. The estate and winemaking today are under the direction of Bartolo's daughter, Maria Teresa Mascarello, who continues the tradition of great winemaking. The wine was simply amazing and remarkably young for 57 years in the bottle. The only sign of its age was the rusty brown hue that wines with this much age usually take on. The wine exhibited a classic old world Barolo nose of the earth and climate of the region. The wine was balanced, fresh and pure on the palate with a lengthy finish. As I sipped the wine and closed my eyes I was transported back to Piedmonte. Definitely a wine with soul.
Next up was a 1998 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Lucien and Andre Brunel. Decanted for about an hour. Another wine with soul. A classic traditionally made wine. Since 1989 the wine is only made in good vintages. A blend of 80% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre and 8% Syrah, the wine tantalized the palate with pepper and spice and finished with elegance. Delicious!
This was followed by a 1999 Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella and a 1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo Rosso, his single vineyard Valpolicella. There was simply no comparison of these two wines. The Dal Forno was insipid & mute on the palate, while the Quintarelli was majestic and sang to me like a classic Sinatra song. Unbelievably the Dal Forno sells for 30 – 50% more than the Quintarelli. To each his own I guess.
We finished the lunch with a half bottle of 1998 Chateau d'Yquem. Another superb vintage from one of the most acclaimed properties in the world. Complex and balanced with a long and wonderful finish. Delicious!
Life is good, no life is very good!!!
Thursday, January 6, 2011
A bunch of us wine crazy guys (10 to be exact) got together for a wine lunch this week at Il Capriccio Ristorante ilcapriccio.com in Whippany, NJ. As usual it was an afternoon of great camaraderie, food and wine. First the food. Tony Grande, owner and executive chef, is a man with unparalleled passion for food. His staff shares his same passion. Appetizers began with mozzarella di bufala, proscuitto, parmigiano reggiano cheese, roasted peppers, tomatoes and marinated eggplant. They continued, first with perfectly grilled scampi (head in tact) with shiitake mushrooms, followed by baked oysters with crabmeat in a champagne sauce, and stuffed fresh artichoke hearts. After a romaine salad, I enjoyed paccheri pasta with a ragu of pork ribs. Absolutely delicious. If you have never eaten here, you are missing some of the best food in NJ. Now on to the wines.
We started with a NV Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle "La Cuvee". Rich and crisp with some complexity. A nice champagne but a bit pricey. We then proceeded onto 5 flights of reds.
2002 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques. From magnum. Simply awesome, Sense of place on nose and palate. Elegant. Best description I can think of is it is round and delicious. I kept my glass of this wine throughout the lunch and enjoyed each sip as the wine kept evolving and speaking to me “I am what wine is all about”. For me the wine of the lunch along with the Soldera.
1989 Joseph Droughin Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses. Wine seemed very tired and perhaps in its waning years. Brown hue, earthy bouquet, but the wine just sat on the palate and never really expressed itself. According to our Burgundy expert (JG) at the table, the wine is typical of older Burgundies. As I do not have his experience, I will defer to him…at least for the moment and since I have two bottles of this wine in my cellar I will get two more cracks at it.
1994 Sassicaia. I am not a fan of Super Tuscan wines since I don’t particularly care for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends and the modern techniques employed to make most of them. I have always felt this particular wine to be overrated and ridiculously over priced; this bottle did not change my opinion. There was nothing there. No sense of place, as the other JG said “wine is very thin” and it was. The wine had no soul.
2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino. Probably the best of the modern style wines today (due to use of large Slovenian oak???).
2006 Llanos del Almendro, Ribero del Duro. Did not like this at all. Very modern in style. Inky black hue and over extracted fruit. Perhaps it needs time.
1990 Montrose. I am not a big fan of Bordeaux wines because of my dislike of Cabernet Sauvignon, but this wine was flat out delicious. Full expression of place and wonderful balance and complexity. Very pure on the palate with a lengthy finish. This wine taught me something. Traditionally made wines, even Cab. Sauvignon based can rock your boat. For me, the number 3 wine of the lunch. A wine with soul.
1990 Masetto. Another Super Tuscan modern wine and another wine that I could never get excited over. No sense of place. No soul. Wine sits on the palate and never talks to you. And wow $700 - $1000 a bottle. One has to ask why? Ratings I guess.
1996 Gaja Costa Russi. A wine I bought to the tasting for my modern wine loving friends. In fact two of them voted it wine of the lunch I believe. This wine, in my opinion, is a great example of wine, with a big name and even bigger price tag, that is made or more accurately processed to appeal to wine critics and consumers enamored with ratings. Gaja can no longer call it a Barbaresco because of the addition of Barbera to the wine. I was told by his daughter, Gaia Gaja (wow I love the alliteration), that he adds it for color. What does color have to do with wine? Apparently a lot if you are appealing to consumers (as opposed to wine enthusiasts) and critics. Wine is also aged in Barrique, a standard modern technique. No sense of place or soul.
1995 Soldera Intistieti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. Ah, now we are talking wine and the wine was talking to me. Spectacular and delicious. No doubt of sense of place with Soldera. A beautiful expression of what wine can be when the winemaker does not interfere with what the climate and vineyard has given him. There are few words to describe this wine except to quote Terry Theise from is book “Reading between the Wines”, this is a wine in which “…the spirit of celebration lives”. Initially I felt the number 2 wine of the lunch, but I have moved it into a dead heat with the Montet. Both wines touched my soul.
2001 Solaia. By now you know my feelings on Super Tuscans. This wine only reinforced it. Not a lot going on here…and at a hefty price.
2000 Clos du Caillou Reserve. Excellent CDP. Sense of place evident on nose and palate. Balanced and pure. Drank very well. Lengthy finish. I liked it a lot. My number 4 wine of the afternoon.
2003 Climens. Terrific wine from a great vintage. Wonderful balance with a beautiful candy filled finish.
2003 d'Yquem. My favorite d’Yquem vintage. Simply delicious. I could drink this over and over and never get tired of it. Another wine "in which the spirit of celebration lives".
Wow! That's a lot of wine. But also it was great fun. My sincere thanks to all participants for their wine and more importantly for making the lunch tremendous fun.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
1985 Domaine Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ere Trie. An absolutely delicious wine. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc. The Huet family are masters of traditionally made wine with soul. Here is a 25-year-old white wine that is just coming into its own. My guess is that this wine will last for another 20 to 30 years. Beautifully balanced and round on the palate with a lush clean finish. Available at 56º Wine, Bernardsville.
2006 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc. An absolutely compelling wine. Gorgeous bouquet of flowers and melons. Dazzling purity on the palate with a knockout finish.
1997 Quintarelli Alzero Vino da Tavola Cabernet Franc. Incredible wine that is made from Cabernet Franc in the classic repasso method. Round and delicious on the palate. Continued to evolve in the glass. The only accurate description of this wine is that it is delicious. Quintarelli is an absolute master of making wines from what nature gives him. He says “"Our traditional methods and savors must not be abandoned or forgotten. More than anything else, one can never force nature. One must be calm, have the right method, and have a lot of passion." Aavailable at De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC.
1946 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rioja Gran Riserva. In my opinion Lopez de Heredia is the finest producer of traditionally made Spanish wines in all of Spain. The wines are aged a minimum of 6 years in 100 year old large oak barrels, followed by 4 years in the bottle before being released. They last seemingly forever. The 1946 is an example. The color in the glass would lend one to believe that the wine is from a current vintage such as 2001. The hue is a gorgeous clear red, with no browning evident at all. Round and pure on the palate. Maria Jose de Heredia the cellar master does not recommend decanting any of her wines. “You will miss them if you do”, she says. Available at Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.
1969 Camille Giroud Pommard Les Epenots. Have had this wine the past two years on my wedding anniversary. The wine is amazingly youthful for a 40 year old wine. The essence of terroir in wine. Unfortunately it is not easy to find.
1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. Bartolo Mascarello is my favorite Barolo producer and the 1995 is one of the reasons why. It is the essence of a great Barolo. Fabulous bouquet, pure on the palate and long on the finish. This is also a reason why I shun ratings, as this wine got 86 points from a major reviewer. AvailableAvailable at NY Winewarehouse in NYC.
and De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC.
1995 J.L. Chave Hermitage. From magnum this bottle was magnificent. Terroir driven. Full of pepper and spice. Soft on the palate and lush on the finish. The wine kept evolving in the glass. A simply delicious wine. Available at NY Winewarehouse in NYC.
2002 Giaccomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. I had the pleasure of tasting this wine from the barrel when I visited the Conterno estate in July of 2008. In a year in which most Barolo producers did not make a wine due to poor conditions, Roberto Conterno may have made his best Monfortino Riserva ever. I had this wine in November, shortly after its release and it was fabulous. Terrific purity and roundness on the palate. I think this will become one of the greatest Barolos ever made. Patience in cellaring this beauty will be rewarded. Available at Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.
I was fortunate to drink a number of great wines in 2010. The above however stood out amongst the rest.