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, June 22, 2011

Carol's Birthday

We had originally planned to celebrate my lovely wife Carol’s birthday by having a barbeque at our home. Unfortunately Mother Nature was not in a very cooperative mood and so we decided to move the celebration to Mei’s Café on Glenridge Ave. in Montclair, NJ. We were joined by our 2 girls, 3 grandchildren and Carol’s mother and brother. As you might imagine, under penalty of death I am not allowed to divulge her age, however if I did you would not believe me, as she looks wonderfully younger than her years. She is the same beauty I married 42 years ago.

Next to Italian food, it is safe to say that our family, especially our girls Gina & Lisa, are immensely fond of Asian cuisine. The newest addition to the Asian scene in Montclair is the above-mentioned Mei’s Café, and what an addition it is. Chef/owner Mei-Mei-La is awing her customers with Pan Asian cuisine specializing in dumplings, noodles, & rice dishes. These are authentic, homemade items that will have you licking your chopsticks. I suggest you start with a selection from the more than 10 dumplings on the menu, including daily specials like Shrimp & Pineapple Dumplings. And what’s more you may order these dumplings fried, pan-fried, steamed or in soup (Bonito broth). Each preparation has its own character, but I must admit that those in soup are my favorites, especially when the soup is the bath for her remarkably light & wonderfully spicy Shrimp & Jalapeno Dumplings.

On this occasion we began with pan-fried Pork & Cabbage Dumplings, Steamed Vegetable Dumplings, Steamed Beef & Jalapeno Dumplings and of course my favorite, Shrimp & Jalapeno Dumplings in soup. The dumplings are served with 3 sauces, mild, medium and a seductively hot Jalapeno sauce. We also savored spiced to perfection Chicken Satay and Wasabi Crab Cakes.

Main courses, which are the equal to the dumplings, consisted of Pad Thai, that my daughter Gina said was the best she ever had; Orange Teriyaki Chicken that my daughter Lisa could not stop raving about. Receiving the same accolades from the rest of our group was Sambal Chicken, a wonderfully spicy chicken dish; Clay Pot Garlic-roasted Cod; Clay Pot Pepper Steak and Basil Fried Rice with Chicken. Even the grandkids got into the act, enjoying Chicken with Mixed Vegetables in a brown sauce.

Mei describes her café’s décor as minimalist & contemporary. It is a large open space with food the star. Less successful is the service, which I am sure will improve with time.

We enjoyed two outstanding and two good wines, which I opened in unison as preferences at the table varied. Since it was Carol’s birthday one of the wines was her favorite, 2009 Ceretto Arneis Blange. Arneis is a white grape variety found in the hills of the Roero in Piedmont, Italy. The Ceretto Arneis is crisp and refreshing on the palate, has a bit of a spritz to it on opening and consistently good. $25. Available at most wine shops.

The two other whites we enjoyed were Vouvrays from the Alsace region of France. Chenin Blanc is the grape in these beautifully crafted wines and I am completely enamored by it, especially when it is made by two of the region’s best producers. We started with a 2005 Philippe Foreau Vouvray Demi Sec Clos Naudin. This is a beautifully made wine. It exhibits elegance and perfect balance. The wine just soars in the glass and has a sumptuously long finish. It is still very young with a long life ahead. Not easy to find, but if you do it will be well worth the $43 price tag.

The other Vouvray was a 1985 Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ere Trie. What a magnificent wine. I wrote about this particular wine in my initial blog about my most memorable wines of last year. This bottle was once again memorable. If you did not know this wine was 26 years old, you would think it was years younger, not unlike my lovely wife Carol. On the nose it is a refined beauty with a marvelous complexity of fruity aromas. On the palate it is completely balanced, round and pure with a slight hint of botrytis and a long and sensual finish. This is a wine that lets you truly experience what wine can be about when made by a master. As we did not finish the bottle, I took it home, re-corked it and put it in my fridge. I finished it 3 days later and it was still crisp and pure. It had lost very little. 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ. $85

My son-in-laws prefer red wine, so I brought a 2003 Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Boisrenard. A nice CDP if you like the more modern style of these wines that many CDP producers have moved towards the past few years. Here they combine tradition with modern techniques that produces a more extracted and higher alcohol (14.9%) wine than the traditionalists. $60

Please note that the wine glasses here are very small, so if you are bringing a good wine that really needs the proper glass to be appreciated you would be wise to bring your own glasses.

Since the kids were getting a bit antsy, we moved the celebration to our house and serenaded Carol with the traditional "Happy Birthday".

Until next time,


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

Mother’s Day dinner this year was spent with family and very good friends at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ. I have lauded the food here in previous blogs and this occasion was equal to previous meals. As my waistline has been expanding lately, I have been eating less these days (8lbs less to date). So I limited myself to Calamari “Affogati”, a magnificent dish in which tender calamari are stewed with spring peas in a tomato and basil sauce. It is light and full of the flavor of the sea.

When I arrived at the restaurant owner/chef Tony Grande was having dinner with his family. As I wished them a happy Mother’s Day I could not help but notice that they were enjoying spaghetti and meatballs. It looked and smelled so good, that my entrée choice was made on the spot. I was glad I did. A beautifully simple dish made with quality ingredients.

Other dishes that were enjoyed that day included Vitello Tonato, a poached loin of veal, thinly sliced and served with a creamy tuna and caper infused mayonnaise; stuffed artichoke hearts; Scrigno di Mare, a wonderful combination of shelled lobster, prawns and day boat scallops with oyster mushrooms in a “Salsa Americaine” and Beef Short Ribs “Stracotto”, slow cooked boneless “Piemontese” beef short rib “Al Vino Rosso” served with risotto alla Parmiggiana with English peas.

Food like this cries out for great wine and I am happy to report that our selections did not disappoint. We began with a 2001 Ronchi di Cialla Ciallabianco from magnum. This is a beautifully crafted white wine made from the native grape varieties and native yeasts of Friuli Venezia. A blend of Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo Friuliano and Picolit, the wine has a wonderful freshness and exhibits an amazing bouquet & palate of candy but without the sweetness. It is beautifully balanced, round and delicious on the palate with an elegant finish. $55/$119. 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ

For reds we began with one of my very favorite wines and in my opinion one of the greatest wines ever made, the 1990 Edoardo Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Valentini’s wines are amongst the most beautifully crafted wines you will ever find. Decanted for 4 hours the wine began to open in the final hour and display its beauty. Completely round and delicious. It is one of those great wines that are hard to explain and must be tasted to appreciate. Sergio Esposito, owner of Italian Wine Merchants in NYC says on their web site, “Edoardo Valentini was known locally as the “Lord of the Vines.” This resolute old-timer disregarded all modern conventions and wrapped his operations in a shroud of mystery, fervently guarding his production techniques from outsiders. His Trebbiano takes on uncommon colors, aromas, depth, complexity, and ability to age. Valentini's wines display a startlingly natural character, their individual quirks only enhancing their profound charm. Taking years to develop their full profile, the wines often need plenty of aeration to blow off the occasional hint of reduction. This all falls perfectly in step with one of Valentini's favorite lines, Natura non facit saltus or “Nature doesn't leap.” Valintini wines do not come cheap and are not easy to find, especially the 1990. If you do find it expect to pay $150 to $200 a bottle.

Next we moved onto a 1990 Quintarelli Amarone. I have lauded Quintarelli wines in previous blogs and this bottle was flat out awesome. Quintarelli’s ability to integrate the underlying sweetness of Amarone in these wines is just amazing. Balanced, pure, complex and with a remarkable finish it is a wine you think about for days after drinking. Round and soulful. Very expensive. Fortunately my good friend Gino who brought the wine had purchased it many years ago for much less than the $700 price tag the wine has now.

Quintarellli again delighted our palate and senses with the next bottle, a 1997 Alzero. I have had this wine on a number of occasions over the past few years and the experience is always memorable. It is made from 100% Cabernet Franc and in the same method as Amarone. As I have said before there are simply no words to explain it. It must be tasted to be experienced and appreciated. $350.

We closed out this terrific day with two great dessert wines, beginning with a 350 ml bottle of Quintarelli 1997 Bianco Amabile del Cere Bandito. The wine is made from grapes (Garganega, Trebbiano & Saorin) that have been "attacked" by "noble rot" ala Sauternes. Very rare, the wine has only been released a few times during Quintarelli’s lifetime. The wine is only produced in great vintages and is then “banished” as the name “Bandito” suggests. It possesses a seamless balance of tannins, acidity and sweetness. In short it is a profound dessert wine. $240. De-Vino Wine Boutique in NYC carries an amazing selection of Quintarelli wines including the Amabile.

The second bottle of dessert wine was a 2003 Chateau Climens Sauternes that was amazing. From a great vintage, the wine showed wonderful balance and a candy-like finish. As good, no as great as this wine was, it was, in my opinion simply no match for the Amabile. $90.

When you drink wines like these you you are rewarded with a remarkable wine experience. They seem to transport you to where they were made.

Until next time,