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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Aozora and Riesling

This past month I had the opportunity to try a couple of terrific new wines from the Mosel region of Germany along with some great food.

One of Christmas presents I received was the book “reading between the wines”, by Terry Theise. Mr. Theise “is an importer of boutique wines from Germany, Austria and Champagne.” As I have long been a big fan of the Riesling grape, I devoured the book in short order. It is a terrific book with great insight into experiencing the wine of artisanal wine makers. Two of the wines I tried were from the cellars of Alfred Merkelbach and Willi Schaefer, both in Germany.

I can think of no better restaurant to compliment Riesling wines than Aozora in Montclair, NJ. Aozora is billed as a French/Japanese restaurant. The multi-page menu has an extensive selection of both cuisines as well as pristinely fresh sushi and sashimi. Ah, but Aozora is much more. Chef/owner Nelson Zip is one of the most talented chefs I have ever encountered, especially when it comes to traditional Chinese food (Nelson is Chinese), which is not on the menu. However, during the week, with advance notice of a day or two, he will prepare authentic dishes from his native China for you such as General Tsao’s Chicken and Moo Shoo Pork; the likes of which you have never before experienced. These are not the humdrum, starchy dishes that are staples in Chinese fast food restaurants. Rather they are spectacular culinary dishes that transport you to mainland China.

Armed with my Riesling, my wife and I and our regular Friday night group of foodies headed over to Aozora. We began with sushi & sashimi. Amberjack sashimi with basil oil; sushi sandwich which consists of smoked salmon, kanikama, spicy sauce & fried leek served on a homemade rice cracker. The combination of flavors and textures will have you clamoring for more. Hamachi roll with Jalapeño peppers; grilled octopus in a sesame Japanese sauce, delicate spring rolls and homemade dumplings in a peanut butter sauce rounded out the appetizers. A 2009 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett, citrusy and pure on the palate, dry with beautifully balanced residual sugar, was a perfect compliment to both the sushi and prepared appetizers. Each sip of the wine lingered until the next one. Round and delicious. Oh, and by the way this bottle is Willi Schaefer’s entry level Riesling. It comes with a screw cap and costs all of $17 a bottle. Rarely will you find a wine this good at such a price. 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Main courses included the aforementioned General Tso’s Chicken (pre-ordered). Incredibly light and served over rice noodles, it tantalizes the palate. Whole lobsters (pre-ordered) in a spicy ginger & scallion sauce were perfectly cooked and oozed with flavor. Alas, the pièce de résistance was an amazing preparation of sliced beef with a Japanese curry sauce served in an edible Japanese pumpkin (pre-ordered). The combination of the sweetness of the pumpkin meat with the spiciness of the curry and fork tender beef was simply amazing. Bring Kleenex because you may find tears of joy rolling down your cheeks with each bite you savor. With these dishes we enjoyed a 2008 Alfred Merkelbach Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett #9 #10. Enticing citrus bouquet and feminine elegance and balance on the palate. Wow, what a wine. The essence of a sense of place and traditional wine making. Price? Hold on to your hat, $12. Wine Legend, Livingson, NJ. I was absolutely floored by this wine. Both of these wines are from the portfolio of Terry Thiese. Says Mr. Thiese of Merkelbach, “The clearest imaginable look into pure Mosel. Vivid, toe-curling clarity of fruit and terroir make this my most beloved Mosel agency”.

While writing this blog I had lunch with my friend Emil at Aozora. Since it was his first time there, I introduced him to a few of the pre-mentioned items. For wine we had a 2005 Kistler Chardonnay, Vine Hill Vineyard that drank very nicely. It was nicely balanced and only a hint of oak. It tasted more like a French Montrachet than the usual over oaked, over extracted California Chardonnay. Kistler wines are not easy to come by unless you are on their mailing list. And they are pricey, usually in the $80 - $150 range.

Next we had one of my all time favorite wines, 1995 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune. The Trimbach estate, located in Alsace region of France, has been producing world-class wines for more than 400 years. Clos Ste Hune, a tiny 1.38 hectre vineyard, is the crown jewel of Trimbach. Wines from Clos Ste Hune are built for cellaring. Today’s bottle, while 16 years old, is just beginning to come of age and should last another 25 years at least. The wine possessed a gorgeous hue of golden straw. It displayed amazing purity, balance and depth on the palate. A round and stunning wine, which just kept evolving in the glass. Unfortunately this wine does not come cheaply. Current market prices are above $200 per bottle.

Aozora does not have a web site. It is located at 407 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair N.J. 973.233.9400