About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Grandma DeRosa's Lasagna

Along with my passion for good wine is my passion for pasta, or macaroni as we called in when I was growing up in Newark, NJ. My preference for old world traditionally made wine is extended to my preference for food, especially pasta. Simple dishes made with fresh, quality ingredients ring my bell every time. And for me there was no better traditionally made macaroni than my grandmother’s homemade ravioli and lasagna (I once at 43 of her ravioli in one sitting).

My grandparents, like most of the Italians in our neighborhood, came from the Provence of Avellino, Italy and grandma’s cooking was steeped in the tradition of Avellino, especially for holidays like Easter Sunday. The aforementioned ravioli or lasagna were the center of the meal on these occasions. In my opinion these two pastas did not have then, nor now any peer. They were and still are tops amongst my favorite pastas. Typical of Neapolitan cooking these pastas had no meat filling. They were about the ricotta filling and the gravy (Sunday Sauce as it is known today). The gravy meat was served after the lasagna. Easter Sunday usually meant Lasagna, meatballs, sausage, braciole and salad.

I still remember with great fondness and anticipation watching grandma prepare the ricotta filling after she made the pasta. I was always rewarded with being able to scrape the bowl and finish every bit of the ricotta mixture when the lasagna was complete. The flavor and texture will always be amongst my fondest memories. My mother gave me grandma's recipe and I have been making the lasagna for years, especially for Easter Sunday. And keeping with tradition the entire family comes to our house for the sumptuous repast. In addition to the great food and wine, we are now blessed with 3 beautiful grandchildren to share the celebration with.

Grandma DeRosa's Lasagna Recipe

3 lb. ricotta, drained over night
shredded fresh mozzarella
a lot of Italian parsley, minced
grated pecorino romano cheese
6 large eggs
salt & pepper to taste
homemade lasagna noodles (preferred)

It is essential to drain the ricotta in a colander overnight to remove the excess water. If you do not the lasagna will be messy and runny. I have not given quantities of parsley and pecorino cheese. My guide is my memory of what the mixture should taste like from all of my bowl lickings. If I were to measure I would say about 1 1/2 cups of cheese and 4 or 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley. I suggest you taste the mixture as you make it and decide when you feel it is right.

Place ricotta in a colander and allow it to drain it’s water over 3 to 6 hours, or preferably over night. Mix ricotta, eggs, parsley, pecorino, salt and pepper until well incorporated. Adjust flavoring to your taste by adding more pecorino, salt and pepper as needed. Blanch lasagna noodles in boiling water for 1 minute and then remove to an ice bath. Using a 9 by 13 pan, put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of lasagna on top of the sauce. Cover the lasagna with a layer of ricotta mixture and a sprinkle of the shredded mozzarella. ladle more sauce on top of this layer. Repeat with 5 or 6 more layers. Ladle tomato sauce on top of the top lasagna noodle, sprinkle with romano cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When done, allow lasagna to sit for 30 minutes so that it may set. It is essential to let the lasagna rest for 30 minutes so that it is nice and firm when you serve it. Serve with meat and additional tomato sauce.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the antipasto, another holiday tradition. In addition to the usual suspects such as roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, provolone, grilled artichokes, etc. Pizzagaina, the traditional Easter Pie, makes an appearance. I purchased the Pizzagaina this year at Buono’s Prime Meats and Deli in Little Falls NJ. Owner Jimmy told me it is made in Brooklyn and he has been purchasing it for more than 15 years. It was truly outstanding…one of the best I have ever had. It had a great moist texture and the meat and cheeses complimented each other beautifully. A bit rich, but OOH so good. This year I also included Rock Shrimp Arrabiatta, easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. Thanks to Mario Carlino, chef/owner of Divina Ristorante, North Caldwell, NJ for the recipe.

Rock Shrimp Arrabiata (Divina Ristorante)

1 lb rock shrimp
sliced fresh garlic
olive oil
vegetable oil for frying
Clam juice
chicken broth
red pepper flakes
chopped fresh parsley
white wine
salt and pepper

Make sauce in a large skillet. Sauté garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes, add white wine and reduce by 1/2. Depending on how many shrimp you have, add enough clam juice to make a sauce when fried shrimp are added. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth, oregano, salt and pepper.

Coat shrimp with flour, shaking off excess. Pre-heat a deep fryer set at 375º (if you have no fryer, heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan). Fry shrimp for 60 seconds in fryer, remove, shake off excess oil and add to skillet with sauce. Incorporate over medium heat for 30 seconds, add parsley and serve.

With the appetizers we had Non Vintage Parigot & Richard Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé. Since it is from Burgundy and not Champagne, the wine can not be called Champagne even though it is made in the traditional methode champagne manner. No matter what it's called, the wine is terrific. Lively and balanced on the palate it entices your taste buds. The finish is clean and pure, and at $17 a bottle an absolute steal. 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

The main course consisted of the aforementioned lasagna with homemade gravy (called Sunday Sauce these days) meatballs, sausage and braciole. The white I choose here was a 2003 Roagna Langhe Bianco Solea. Roagna’s wines are steeped in traditional style wine making. While they are known for their incredible Barbarescos and Barolos, this white is an example of how delicious white wine can be. A blend of about 70% Chardonnay and white Nebbiolo that sees no skin contact during fermentation, it exhibits incredible purity on the palate with an elegant feminine finish. $26. Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ. Oh, one more thing, this is another Louis Dressner selection who I mentioned in my last blog.

For the red wines I opted for a comparison of old and new world. The new was represented by Domenico Clerico Barolo Per Cristina 2001, while the old was represented by 1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. Both wines were decanted for 3-4 hours.

Clerico pleasantly surprised me. I expected it to have a lot of oak due to Barrique aging, however the oak was well integrated and the wine was pleasant to drink. It was nicely balanced, showed layers of complexity and had a lengthy finish. What it did not have is the sense of place that a traditional Barolo has. It had no soul and at a hefty $150 - $200, dramatically over priced in my opinion.

The Valentino Rocche Dei Manzonni on the other hand was a beautiful crafted old world Barolo that exhibits an enticing bouquet on the nose with a lengthy finish. The wine is balanced, complex an wonderfully pure & elegant on the palate. The wine has soul and is delicious. It is drinking really well right now. $95. de-vino boutique, NYC.

For dessert I opened a 2003 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes. While d’Yquem is not my favorite dessert wine, the 2003 is magnificent. I have had this wine on 3 occasions now and it has been spectacular each time. In fact, it may be the best d’Yquem I’ve tasted. It is full of tropical fruit such as bananas & pineapple and vanilla, and most importantly for me it lacks the medicinal finish as I usually experience with these wines, A simply delicious wine. Wines like this unfortunately do not come cheap. Expect to pay around $300.

Until next time,


Friday, May 6, 2011

A memorable old wine & a terrific young one

Teobaldo Cappellano was a gentle giant (He passed away in 2010 at much to early an age). I had the pleasure of meeting him when my wife and I visited his estate in 2008. A friend and terrific wine writer, Alice Feiring, first told me about “Baldo” and suggested that I visit him. She said I would love his wines as they are traditional and amongst the best Baroli you can find in Italy. She was right. I tasted his 2004 & 2005 from the barrel and they were wonderful expressions of old world wine making. The wines displayed incredible purity, balance and earthiness on the palate. They had soul. While I was very impressed with the wines, I was even more impressed by Baldo, a striking figure, well over 6 feet tall with a very mild, gentile and as I perceived sagacious manner. He spoke of the importance of quality ingredients prepared with simplicity, i.e. don’t mess with what Mother Nature has given us, rather help her to express it. His wines certainly underscored his comments. So I began to buy his wines and enjoy them. A few months ago I had an opportunity to purchase a few bottles of his 1964 Barolo from Chambers Street Wines. As providence would have it the day the wine arrived, my good friend Gino (who is in the wine business and is very knowledgeable regarding wine, especially old vintages) stopped by. The 1964 Cappellano Barolo was all I needed to convince him to join my wife and I at dinner that evening. Older bottles of wine are often a crapshoot. Well if this were craps, we kept rolling sevens and elevens. Upon opening, the wine had a rust brown hue as one expects from older wines. The nose and first sip enticed our senses. Within an hour, the rust brown was now a strawberry red that deepened as time passed, something neither of us have ever experienced before. In the second hour the wine became more translucent in color and on the palate it just soared. We were swooped up and transported to Piedmonte. Here was Mother Nature preserved for 47 years. The wine was simply delicious and awesome. It was easily the best old Barolo either of us has ever drunk. The wine continued to evolve with each sip bringing a new delight. This was truly a magnificent wine experience. I only wish I had purchased more than 3 bottles as there appear to me no more around. Fortunately his current wines are available and if you like the wines of Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Aldo Conterno, Giacomo Contero and Bruno Giacosa you would do well to add Cappellano to your cellar as his wines are of the same caliber.

Louis Dressner an importer of traditionally made wines is the importer of Cappellano wines. He also is the importer of the wines of Alice and Olivier de Moor from the Chablis region of Burgundy in France. Their wines are terrific and a great value. Prior to dinner we drank a 2007 De Moor Chablis Bel Air et Clardy. The wine showed a wonderful balance and purity on the palate with a lengthy citrus finish. $22. Available at Chambers Street Wines.

BTW, if you have not read Alice’s book The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It is a must read for any wine lover.

Until next time,