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, July 27, 2011

Invasion of Normandy...Beach that is. Part One

The Scudiery clan, well 10 of us, arrived at the beach house we rented in Normandy Beach, NJ on Saturday for two weeks of fun in the sun. I have been coming to the Jersey Shore all my life and I love it. There is no place like it in my opinion. The beaches and the ocean are clean and spacious. Lying on the beach working up a sweat in the hot sun followed by a refreshing dip in the ocean is invigorating. We were fortunate to find a spacious house right on the beach. Adding to my excitement, the kitchen is equipped with two 4 burner stoves which enables me to cook up a storm. This is an important consideration since restaurants in the area, with a few exceptions, leave a lot to be desired. Additionally the bar area in the living room is equipped with a 20 bin temperature controlled wine storage unit, allowing me to bring wine from my cellar and store it properly. This blog will report each day's food and wine.

Our first night, Saturday, was ultra casual and very Jersey Shore. I fired up the grill and made ribeye cheese steaks, kobe beef burgers and Max's Hot Dogs. A little explaining is necessary here. When I was a mere youngster we used to vacation in Long Branch, just a few miles north of Normandy Beach. What a great place, Chelsea pool with its tunnel to the beach, the boardwalk with the penny arcade, game stands and of course a tiny little shack with a few tables, Max's Hot Dogs. As I recall hot dogs were all that he served. The Max's hot dog is a large Shickhaus natural casing griddle frank. Max grilled them along with the bun and served them with mustard and kraut for about 25 cents. Oh, he also had the best hot relish you could find that completed the dog. What a delicious dog. There is simply no dog in its class in my opinion. Max's is still around today in Long Branch and still run by the Maybaum family, only now it is off the boardwalk, located at 25 Matilda Terrace. Fortunately for me these same Shickhaus hot dogs are available in many supermarkets today and I am able to duplicate them at home. Up until a year ago however, I could not find a good hot relish, until I found 20 Pepper Relish made by Red Lion Spicy Foods Co. If you like hot relish, this one is a must.

Original Max's Hot Dog stand circa 1940 & his delicious hot dog.

By the way my good friend and accomplished author Emil Salvini has a blog about the real Jersey Shore. He has more than 250,000 followers. You should really check out Tales of the New Jersey Shore.

As for the Kobe beef burgers, these are available at King's Supermarkets and are only a few cents more expensive than regular burgers. They are amazing, very juicy and delicious and well worth the small price difference.

With hot dogs and burgers nothing goes quite as well as an ice cold beer such as Heinekin or Corona, so we skipped on the wine and tossed back a few frosty brews.

Sunday to an Italian is macaroni (pasta as it is called today) day whether you are at the Jersey Shore or not. I came prepared. On Friday I made 53 meatballs, vacuum sealed them and brought them with us. If you are Italian you will understand what I am about to say, if you are not you probably have a dish that will fit into the same category. The meatball is an icon of Italian cuisine. It is one of the foods that most of the non-Italian world remembers us for. We have a tradition and reputation to live up to. The meatball must be moist, properly seasoned and prior to being immersed in the gravy it MUST BE FRIED IN OLIVE OIL FIRST. Baking it in the oven does not count and no it is not as good, it is not even half as good. If I baked my meatballs, my grandmother would turn over in her grave. At the expense of being boastful, I am very proud of my meatballs. I do not profess that they are the best meatballs you will ever taste, only that they are the best meatballs I have ever tasted. They are a combination of my "Honey Grandma" (my father's mother) and Rao's recipe. They are moist (necessity of any meatball) a wee bit spicy and delicious. Let me also say that I have had many exceptional meatballs made by friends and relatives. The key has been in all cases that the meatballs WERE FRIED FIRST. The bottom line is this, for a meatball to be great it must be FRIED.

On Sunday morning I awake and begin making the gravy (tomato sauce slowly cooked with meat). The additional meat, spare ribs and sausage comes from Check Rite Meat Market and Deli in Normandy. I've been buying meats here for years and they are always fresh and of very high quality. A good local butcher. Next I drive over to Joe Leone's in Point Pleasant for his homemade cheese ravioli. These ravioli are the equal to my grandma DeRosa's. They are light and creamy and addictive. I once ate 43 of grandma's. I was about 15, skinny as a rail with a very high metabolic rate which would probably explain my eating capacity at the time. Since we were having 4 additional guests for dinner, I bought 5 dozen ravioli as well as some rigatoni for the grandkids and my daughters, whom for some reason are not fans of ravioli. The ravioli and meatballs I am happy to report were applauded by all as we stuffed ourselves silly.

I began the meal, as I do each meal at the shore, with an Old Grand Dad Manhattan, straight up. As for white wine we had the ever present Ceretto Arneis Blanghe 2009. As readers of this blog know it is my wife's favorite wine and the wine never disappoints. We also had 3 very good reds, all from Italy. We began with a 2004 Montevetrano from Campania. The wine is a blend of approximately 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Aglianico. It is made for owner Silvia Imparato by one of Italy's most sought after consulting winemakers, Riccardo Cotarella. Mr Cotarella is very much a proponent of new world wine making, especially in the use of new oak. Harvest times vary greatly from Merlot to Aglianico, so the different grape varieties are harvested and vinified separately. The final blend is made before the wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak. The final wine is aged in 50% new oak. I opened the wine 3 hours prior to pouring and it drank very well even though it is still very young and will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Tannins were soft, but the oak was very evident and the wine lacked, in my opinion, the purity of the next two wines. Fans of California and Bordeaux wines will really enjoy this wine. A bit pricey at between $90 - $120 per bottle. DeVino Wine, NYC.

Alongside the Montevetrano, I also opened 3 hours prior to pouring, a 2004 Massolino Barolo. My friend Tony brought along a 2005 Produttori Barbaresco Rabaja (not opened prior to pouring). Both of these wines were wonderful. The Massolino is their normale bottling of Barolo and it is singing now. Such amazing purity and balance on the palate with a lush and lingering finish. This is a beautiful example of a traditionally made wine, and at $60 a bottle an incredible value. Italian Wine Merchants, NYC.

The Produttori was equally magnificent even in its youth. Completely round and delicious, this wine should be cellared for a few more years to fully appreciate it. Originally The Produttori was a cooperative of 9 Barbaresco vineyard owners that was put together in 1894 by Domizio Cavazza, headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and a Barbaresco resident. It was called the "Cantine Sociali". He gathered the 9 together to make wine in the local castle that he owned. The "Cantine Sociali" was forced to close in the 1920'S because of fascist economic rules. Refounded in 1958 The Produttori del Barbaresco now has 56 members and 100 hectares (250 acres) of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area. Each family is in full control of its land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with centuries old skill and dedication. These wines are traditionally made and outstanding examples of old world wine making and at about $50 a bottle for the single vineyard riservas and less for the normale an absolute bargain. They also age very well. Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ & DeVino Wine, NYC.

On Monday night we enjoyed my wife's chicken cutlets. She always fries them perfectly. Never greasy, they are tender and delicious. For side dishes she served sautéed zucchini rounds from our garden and Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco treat. I'd be lying if I said that the Rice-A-Roni was just for the kids, we all love it. One of those comfort foods from childhood days that I will never tire of.

For wine we enjoyed the remains of Produtorri from the night before. It had not lost a beat, in fact was even softer and more elegant on the palate on day two. For the white I selected the Chenin Blanc grape and happily enjoyed a bottle of 2009 Francois Pinon Vouvrey Silex Noir. The first vintage of Silex Noir was 2007. The wine takes its name from a parcel of black soil from which it lives. The wine is crisp, minerally and displays terrific complexity. A delicious wine to drink and an absolute bargain at $20. Unfortunately it is not easy to find.

Tuesday we went Mexican. My wife and daughter Gina whipped up a batch of Beef tacos along with a mountain of red beans and rice. Local Jersey white corn on the cob

followed. Wonderfully sweet it was the perfect end to a good meal. The ladies and guys enjoyed margaritas, mojitos and Corona beers while I opened a bottle of 2005 Domaine du Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Quartz. Mostly Grenache (my guess is that Syrah is the other grape in the wine), I felt the wine was a bit over extracted displaying big bold fruit, dark color and 14.5% alcohol. The wine was good and should appeal to those of you that like fruit forward, macho wines. $60.

On Wednesday the girls and boys took the kids to the Point Pleasant Boardwalk for dinner, while my wife, mother-in-law and I headed to the Shipwreck Grille, in Brielle, NJ. The Shipwreck is one of the better restaurants at the shore serving very fresh seafood. Unfortunately tonight's meal was not up to previous visits largely because I ordered some items that are not, let us say, in their wheelhouse. The highlights of the meal were perfectly cooked and seasoned Coconut Shrimp with sweet chile Pineapple sauce and pristinely fresh oysters from Rhode Island. Not as successful was an appetizer of Tuna Sushi Tempura with Japanese dipping sauces and a main course of a single lobster tail. The tempura was not the lightly fried tuna I had envisioned, rather it was a tuna roll, that was flash fried. My wife's lobster tail was a bit tough and a bit bland.

My mother-in-law both ordered Linguine with clams, pancetta & parsley. This was a huge mistake, and I should have known it. The linguine definitely had been pre-cooked earlier in the evening or afternoon. When it was served it was luke warm and terribly over cooked. A shame because the clam sauce itself was pretty good.

A 2005 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru saved the evening. Elegant and rich on the palate, the wine evolved with each sip. Enjoyable now, but given a couple more years, this will be a beauty. $60

On Thursday my mom, sister and her husband visited us for the day. Pasta and veal were the order of the day. A favorite in our family is pasta putanesca, the spicy Southern Italian (Naples) dish made with lots of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, black italian or greek olives, capers, anchovies, red pepper flakes and good San Marzano tomatoes (I use Colluccio). I add a splash of good red wine to mine before I add the tomatoes.
I find it adds another layer of flavors to the dish. As I am sure you know putanesca translates to "whore" in Italian, and tradition has it that since it could be made quickly the "putanas" would whip it up between "clients". Don't know if that is true or not, but in any case it is a great pasta dish. While it can be made with any pasta, we prefer it with either spaghetti or in this case the long Fusilli col Bucco. This is a long curly noodle, with a hole running through it ala buccatini. The pasta's texture is the perfect compliment to the spicy sauce.

A bottle of 2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa which I opened 4 hours before pouring drank beautifully with the pasta. This is a traditionally made Barbaresco that spends 20 months in small and medium size oak barrels (old?) and then another 14 months in bottle before being released. It possesses a wonderful earthy nose and on the palate it is soft with a long elegant finish. And at less than $40 a bottle it represents one of the best wine bargains you will ever find. DeVino Wine, NYC & 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

Veal Scallopini with mushrooms followed the pasta. The key to this dish is purchasing very good veal and having it cut just a bit above paper thin. It turned out great.
Along with this I popped open a couple of whites. The first, a 2008 Huet Volnay Moelleux Premiere Trie Le Mont. What a beautiful wine. The wine just soars from the glass and dances on your tongue. Sweetness, minerality and acidity are in perfect balance. A remarkable wine that should really be cellared for about 4-5 years to really appreciate the wine. $70. Chambers Street Wines, NYC and 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

The other white was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Macon Verze. Leflaive is one of the top old world producers in Burgundy making some of the best grand cru and 1er cru Montrachets and Meursault in the Cote de Beaune. The Macon Verze is a villages level wine that is a delight to drink, crisp and fresh it pleases the palate and at under $30 a bottle very pleasing on the pocketbook.

We concluded our first week in Normandy on Friday evening by having dinner with our two good friends Tony & Anita at Theresa's South in Bayhead, NJ. This was my 3rd visit here in the past 3 years and it was on this occasion similar to the previous visits, so-so. Zuppa du Mussels were plump and tasty, Crab Cakes were very good, while a Stuffed Artichoke was just okay. My main course of Fusilli pasta (small ones this time) in a creamy sausage fennel sauce left a great deal to be desired. The pasta was a bit over cooked and the sauce was rather bland. Other entrées included a Veal Milanese that was inundated with toppings that included roasted potatoes. A rather bizarre and mediocre dish. Talapia and Halibut were the other two main courses and were okay.

For wines we had a 2009 Zenato San Benedetto from the Veneto region of Italy. This terrific white is made from 100% Trebbiano grapes grown on the Zenato estate. It is crisp and delightful on the palate. An absolute steal at about $12 a bottle and it is widely available.

For the red wine I brought a 2001 Bovio Vigna Gattera Barolo, another magnificent wine from the Robert Chadderdon portfolio. Opened 4 hours prior to drinking, it began to blossom in hour 5. Great sense of place on the nose. Pure and elegant on the palate with a stupendous finish...and it is still a baby. This is a wine with soul. $73 at DeVino Wine, NYC.

So concludes our first week at the shore. While temperatures hovered around the 100º mark most of the week, it was a bit cooler near the ocean and very enjoyable.

Stay tuned for part two when I will report on Il Grande Cosmo's famous lobster arriabiata and basil/tomato risotto as well as other delights.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Blind Tasting at Elements

I had the pleasure of being invited to a BYOB blind tasting at Elements in Princeton, NJ last week. Chris Cree and Joe Bembry of 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ orchestrated the tasting, and what a terrific evening it was. While the wines were excellent, the food really took center stage. This was my first visit to Elements and if the restaurant was not 75 minutes form my home, I would become a regular here. Scott Anderson, whose credits include the Ryland Inn, Les Copains, and Nova Terra, is the chef/owner and one of the most talented chefs I have ever encountered,. The Elements website accurately describes the food as Interpretive American Cuisine. As he says “our dishes are grounded in the essence of the ingredients”. At a time when many chefs are forcibly pushing the envelope with numerous ingredient combinations and unrestrained presentations, here the envelope is gently nudged resulting in a wonderful dinning experience.

Our group gave Mr. Anderson a free hand and he did not disappoint us. We began with two trios of Amuse-bouche. The initial trio consisted of a large ceramic spoonful of cold mushroom soup (superb), a Humus baguette (interesting) and a cheese & kale quiche (delicious).

The next trio began with Big Eye Tuna tartare made with scallion, ginger and white soy sauce. This was “off the chart”. It was so pristinely fresh, clean and tasty on the palate, I felt like asking if the rest of my meal could consist of this dish only. Fortunately sanity prevailed an I was able to enjoy the other two items in this round; Puff pastry with aged Gouda cheese (heavenly); squash stem stuffed with goat cheese (good, but ho-hum compared to everything else.

Raw fish returned with the next course in the form Kindai Madai, which I am told is a Japanese tuna that is entirely fed by humans. It was sliced thin and prepared with a wakame (an edible brown seaweed) puree, borage (salad green), apple and cucumber. The freshness of the perfectly balanced ingredients soared on the palate. A Remarkable dish.

Next came perfectly seared scallops in a chilled yellow squash soup. The combination of flavors, textures and temperatures played together like a Rogers and Hart musical composition. I took it in, sat back and enjoyed each spoonful.

Halibut with macadamia nut purée & carrot appeared next. Perfectly cooked, the fish danced on the tongue and tantalized the taste buds.

From the sea we moved to the land with incredibly juicy slices of Guinea hen served with smoked ham and tarragon. Wows could be heard around the table as this dish was consumed.

The final dish consisted of slices of Waygu beef brisket with a chile pepper puree. The dish was perfectly cooked, artfully presented and delicious on the palate.

We finished the evening with an assortment of cheeses, which I must say were the only weak spot of the evening.

As I mentioned in the opening of this blog this was a BYOB tasting in which the 7 attendees each bought a bottle of red and white wine. I was the only non-wine industry person at the event. Everyone else worked in the industry, so as you might imagine the wines were quite interesting and good. I must mention before going into the wines that I have never been a fan of blind tastings. I really don’t get their purpose. For me wine is meant to be drunk so that it may be enjoyed and experienced, not as some sort of test or guessing game as to grape, year, producer, etc. To quote the well-known and respected wine importer Kermit Lynch, “Blind tastings are to wine what strip poker is to love.” In any case the wines for the most part were quite good. While I was familiar with all the wine varieties, six of the producers were new to me. Getting to taste the wines of new producers is what I enjoy most about tastings, blind or not. I was not disappointed.

The evening began with a magnum of 1993 Vilmart et Cie Coeur de Cuvee, a barrel aged grand cru champagne that was gorgeous. This was not tasted blind. This was my first experience with this producer but it will not be my last. The wine had terrific balance and purity. It had a toasty elegance on the palate with a lengthy finish. One of the best champagnes I have ever had. Current vintages of this wine will cost you about $100 for a 750ml bottle.

The Blind Whites

2004 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords (melon de borgogne). Melon de Bourgogne or Melon is a variety of white grape grown in the Loire Valley region of France and best known through its use in Muscadet. The wine was soft and pure and went wonderfully with the tuna tartare. One of the great things about Muscadet is that they represent a fantastic bargain at about $15 a bottle. This vintage is probably long gone, but current vintages are worth trying, especially with oysters.

2009 Dr Heger Pinot Gris Sonett Trocken from Baden, Germany was next up. This producer was also new to me. The wine was young and crisp on the palate. A good inexpensive white at $24.

2009 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs followed. I am a big fan of Donnhoff Rieslings, especially the dry ones like this one. They are beautifully crafted examples of traditional wine making. I have this particular wine in my cellar and I had a bottle last year and while it was terrific it was still too young to really enjoy. It will benefit from more cellar time. This bottle was less terrific and still in need of cellar time. $68.

The fourth white was a 1995 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay Cuvee LD Sonoma, which I learned is the current release. The wine exhibited a pale yellow hue had good balance and despite the relatively high alcohol content and new French oak (Barrique?) aging it was not the oaky massive fruit bomb one usually gets from California. The wine was quite good, especially for 16 years of age. The wine pleasantly surprised me. $35.

Next came 2006 Jean-Michel Guillon Santenay "Les Bras". Traditionally made this beautiful Chardonnay drank very well. Nice balance and purity. $53.

The final white was a 1997 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc. When it comes to white wine from Hermitage, no one does it better than Jean Louis. If you have never had his wines, they are worth the price to experience perfection in a glass. Made from 100% Marsanne, this Northern Rhone beauty absolutely soared from the glass. A full-bodied wine that was round and delicious and was the consensus wine of the evening. $145.

The Blind Reds

Our first red of the evening was a 2001 Littorai Pinot Noir Thieriot Vineyard, from the Sonoma Coast. A wine for those who like California's modern approach to wine making. Wines like this taste "manufactured" to me as opposed to being an expression of the pureness of the grape. In addition this particular bottle tasted “tired” to me. Not a lot going on here. $55.

A 1996 Domaine Joseph Roty Gevrey Chambertin les Fontenys was next up. This premier cru wine is from one of Burgandy’s top producers. The Roty family have been working their vineyards for more than 300 years, so as you can imagine some of their wines come from some of the oldest vines in all of Burgundy. Production is very small, especially for their Grand Cru wines. This wine exhibited an earthy bouquet and a feminine elegance that I love about wines from this area. The wine would have benefited, in my opinion, had it had been decanted for a couple of hours. $65

One of my favorite Burgundy producers was up next. The 1990 Domaine de Montille Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru was delicious, but in my opinion still a baby that needs more time in the bottle. It possessed all the underlying elements of a great Burgundy, balance, complexity, purity and finish. My guess is that if this too had been decanted it would have been the wine of the evening. I’d love to have some in my cellar, but at $375 a bottle I will make do with the 2006 of this producer’s wine at $92.

For the next wine we remained in France, but traveled to the Loire for a terrific bottle of 1990 Olga Raffault Chinon Picasses. I really enjoy wines from the Chinon area and this was no exception. This is a new producer for me and one I will look to add to my cellar. As with all red wines from the Chinon this is made with 100% Cabbernet Franc. The wine was just superb, exhibiting great purity, complexity and a sense of place. The wine evolved with each sip. $55.

The next wine found us in the Duoro area of Portugal with a 2008 Niepoort Charme Tinto Douro, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca & other grapes. The wine is aged for 16 months in French oak. I did not like this at all. Very modern on the palate. The wine lacked soul and is very pricey at $100.

On to Italy and Piedmont with a 1999 Roagna Barbaresco Riserva Crichet Paje. Luca Roagna is one of my favorite old world wine makers. All his wines are filled with terroir and are wonderful expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. The Riserva Crichet Paje is, I believe, his top wine and this bottle was great. Round, delicious and with a sense of place. A wine with soul. Worth the $185 it will cost you. Of course you can delight your self with less expensive Barolos, Barbarescos, Dolcettos & Barberas from him. You will not be disappointed.

Back to France and the Northern Rhone for another beauty from JL Chave a 1995 Chave Hermitage Rouge. Terroir driven, full of pepper and spice, soft & elegant on the palate with a long, luscious finish. The wine kept evolving in the glass. Unfortunately wines of this caliber do not come cheap. Expect to pay $325 if you can find some.

I have often been asked that if I could have only one producer’s wines in my cellar who would that be? My response is always immediate and it is always Giuseppe Quintarelli. For me he is the master of traditional wine making anywhere. Since he lives in the Veneto, he makes Valpolicella and Amarones. No one des it any better. Our final wine was a 1999 Quintarelli Valpolicella. I have had this wine on many occasions and I marvel at it each time. It is a complete wine experience. Throw out all the adjectives when you drink his wines and suffice it to say they, like this bottle, are round and delicious. $75. BTW this was the only wine I could accurately name in the tasting.

The final wine of the night, not served blind, was 2005 Climens Sauternes that Gino graciously bought. From a terrific vintage the wine shows lots of tropical fruit and has a long candy-like finish. A superb dessert wine. $80.

All in all a great evening.

Until next time,


BTW many of these wines can be purchased at 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ if you are interested.