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, October 26, 2011

Lunch at Maialino

I love Maialino. It is another fantastic dinning spot by Danny Meyer (Union Square Café, 11 Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, etc.), Maialino is a Roman-style trattoria located in the Gramercy Park Hotel on Lexington Ave. in NYC. Executive Chef Nick Anderer prepares wonderful classic Roman dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To compliment the food there is a fantastic and very reasonably priced Italian wine list to enhance your dinning experience.

Along with good friends Cosmo and Gabrio I had another memorable meal there a couple of weeks ago. We began with Fried Baccala (Cod) and Trippa alla Trasteverina. I cannot go to Maialino without ordering the Baccala. Lightly battered and fried to perfection it is simply delicious. While I am not a fan of tripe, I tried a bit of Gabrio’s and I must admit it was very good. Made with Pecorino and mint, Gabrio enjoyed every morsel of it. BTW, when in season the fried artichokes ala Judea with anchovy sauce are an absolute must.

For pasta we licked our chops over the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe and Malfatti al Maialino.
Calcio e Pepe is a very traditional Roman pasta dish made simply with Pecorino cheese and coarse black pepper. The texture and spiciness of this pasta is incredible. Each bite threw a party in our mouths. A link to chef Anderer's recipe for this great dish is an the bottom of this post.

The party continued with the Malfatti, large homemade pasta squares, sauced with braised suckling pig (from the leg) and Arugula. This was magnificent. Perfectly sauced with perfectly al dente Malfatti, this is a pasta I will never forget and will be sure to return to it when I next visit Maiailino. No description can do it the justice it deserves; it must be tasted to be appreciated. I have yet to be disappointed by a pasta dish here. In the past I have enjoyed such Roman classics as Spaghetti Carbonara (Italian version of bacon and eggs) and Bucatini alla Amatriciana.

Gabrio, owner of DeVino Wine Boutique in NYC, is one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know and so we deferred to his selections. To accompany the pasta dishes he selected a 2006 Marion Valpociella. Gabrio had introduced me to Marion Amarones a few years ago (the 2001 is simply magnificent) and I was impressed with their purity, balance and elegance. This was my first taste of Marion Vapolicella and I was equally impressed. The wine was terrific. A traditionally made wine with great balance and purity. Like their Amarone, it was a wine with soul. I guess this is not surprising when you consider that Celestino Gaspari who was the wine maker at Quintarelli for 20 years makes the Marion wines. It is the closest to a Quintarelli Amarone and Valpolicella than any other Amarone or Valpolicella I have tasted. And it sells for a fraction of the price. $64 on the wine list. An absolute bargain. Available at DeVino.

Onward to our main courses which we also shared (after all we are trying to mind our waistlines, well at least Gabrio and I are). We devoured a Porchetta Panino. Succulent and tender pork, served on a freshly made Ciabatta roll along with a bowl of pork Jus to dip it in, man oh man oh man it just does not get better than this. From the Jus to the mouth to cries of ecstasy around the table, this was decadently moist and delicious.

We also shared a plate of Pollo alla Diavola (Peppered Chicken, Arugula & Chili Vinaigrette). Another simple yet divine preparation, the chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and had just the right amount of spice on the palate. We enjoyed a delicious side dish of sautéed Italian Broad Beans with the chicken.

For these entrées Gabrio selected a 1995 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva. Located in the heart of Chianti Classico, I have always enjoyed the wines of this legendary producter. I had not tasted the wine in a few years and so this was a treat. The wine soared from the glass, danced on the palate and finished with a velvet elegance. It is drinking beautifully right now and should continue to do so for at least 5 years. It was round and delicious. $86 on the wine list, another great bargain. Available at DeVino, NYC.

We finished with espresso and drove home with a huge smile on our faces.

For a copy of chef Anderer’s Cacio e Pepe recipe click here.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Louie's Lunch, New Haven, Ct.

A couple of years ago the Travel Channel had a 2-hour segment on, if my memory is correct, the 100 best fast food restaurants in America. Louie’s Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut was declared #1. Louie's claim is that Louie’s Lunch is the birthplace of the hamburger. According to their web site, “One day in 1900, a gentleman hurriedly walked into Louis' Lunch and told proprietor Louis Lassen he was in a rush and wanted something he could eat on the run. In an instant, Louis placed his own blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast and sent the gentleman on his way. And so, the most recognizable American sandwich was born”.

Since the Internet reviews I read ranged from bad to amazing I knew I had to drive up to New Haven and check this out for myself. My good friend Mario and I made the 90 minute drive on Thursday to check it out.

Before I tell you my experience some additional information is necessary. The only option at Louie’s is a hamburger or cheeseburger. The only toppings available are a slice of tomato and/or cooked onion. NO KETCHSUP OR MUSTARD OR MAYO IS PROVIDED OR ALLOWED. The burgers are made from a blend of beef that is freshly ground daily on the premises.
They are cooked in cast iron vertical ovens that date back to 1900. The same ovens used then are used today. The cheese used for the cheeseburger is a cheese spread that is applied to the toast the burgers are served on. That’s right I said toast. Good old-fashioned white bread toast. Remember this is the birthplace of the hamburger, when it was created there was no such thing as a hamburger bun, all that was available was white bread, and Louie toasted it. The burgers are cooked medium rare, but you can order them to any cooked wellness you desire. We had ours as Louie suggests, medium with cheese, tomato & onions (the works as it is known). The only sides available are potato chips or potato salad.

So how were they? Drum roll please!!! THE BEST CHEESEBURGER I HAVE EVER HAD, AND I HAVE HAD SOME GREAT CHEESEBURGERS IN MY TIME!!! The burger was thick, incredibly juicy and greaseless.
The white toast was the perfect compliment. And while I always eat my burgers with ketchup, this burger did not need it. We opted for the potato salad and again I was blown away. This was my mother’s potato salad, not some store bought, mass produced goo. It was made with chopped hard-boiled eggs just like mom did. Potatoes were perfectly cooked and the salad was perfectly seasoned. It was the perfect compliment to the burger. While I would have loved an ice cold Becks Beer to wash the burger down with, I had to settle for diet birch beer. Icy cold, it filled the bill.

Louie’s is a very, very small place (300 – 400 square ft. would be my guess) with only two employees. One takes your order and collects your money while Louie’s grandson, the current proprietor, makes the burgers. Since there are only 3 burger ovens be prepared to wait about 30 minutes to get your burger. But the wait is worth it. Nibble on your potato salad while you wait and you will be happy as a lark.

For a video of Louie’s Lunch click here.

By the way, readers of this blog know that I do not pay attention to point or star ratings so I will not give one. I will however tell you that the most coveted rating in the world a restaurant can receive is a 3 star Michelin rating. A 3 star Michelin rating, according to Michelin, means that the dining experience is worth buying an airline ticket to go to the restaurant. Now I am not suggesting this, but if you are in the New Haven area it is definitely worth a detour. And if you are like me a 90-minute trip for an incredible burger experience is well worth it.

Bon Apetito,


Friday, October 14, 2011

Exquisite Food & Elegant Wines

With friends Tony & Jack, I went to an outstanding wine dinner at Culin Ariane on Wednesday night. The event was the collaboration of Ariane & Michael Duarte, Culin Ariane’s owners, Doug Polaner, president of Polaner Selections and Sharon Sevrens, owner of Amanti Vino in Montclair. This team did an extraordinary job. I have lauded Ariane’s cooking in this space on many previous occasions. Once again she showed why she was a contestant on the popular cooking show “Top Chef” and why reservations at her restaurant are amongst the hottest tickets in town.

Polaner Selections, a wine importer and distributor in NJ & NY (perhaps elsewhere also), sports a prodigious portfolio of traditional style producers. Alongside the better-known giants such as Giuseppe Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno, & Gaston Huet are upcoming stars such as Cedric Bouchard and Lignier-Michelot. Doug himself is a young, articulate, passionate and knowledgeable wine guy.

Sharon Severns, Amanti Vino owner, supplied the wines for last night. Sharon, a customer of Polaner, shares Doug’s passion about wine and her spiffy, well-stocked wine shop in the heart of Montclair was recently voted best wine shop in Suburban Essex County.

The wine theme for the evening centered on Sharon & Doug’s passion for traditionally made Champagne, Burgundy and Barolo. As I share this same passion, I knew I was in for a great tasting. I was not disappointed.

While we found our seats and met other attendees we sipped a 2009 Cedric Bouchard Inforescence “Val Vilaine” Champagne, made from 100% Pinot Noir. This was my first experience with his champagne, and to say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. It was sheer elegance with tiny bubbles. The wine tantalized the palate and nose. The wine was drop dead gorgeous, and kept evolving as the night progressed. This is a Champagne that gets better (bubbles replaced with threads of silk) as it sits in your glass. As Doug explained this young maverick of a wine maker does not follow the usual convention of blending different grapes from different vineyards as well as the juice from different vintages to make champagne. Rather his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote the Polaner web site “Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast and handled meticulously in the cellar to guarantee the finest wines possible”. I understand that this champagne is his entry level offering, so I am looking forward to trying some of his other champagnes. $65

The dinner began with a remarkable dish; Butter Poached Lobster with Corn Flan. I apologize for not taking a picture of this, as it was as spectacular to look at as it was to eat. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, the lobster and corn flan played together in harmony like a piano duet by Ferrante & Teicher. With this we drank 2008 Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet “La Broudriotte. A 1er Cru Chardonnay wine from a great producer. This wine however, in my opinion, needs more cellar time. At the moment it is dominated by oak (on both the palate & nose) and is very acidic. Given a few more years of cellar aging, this should turn out to be an excellent wine. It was my least favorite wine of the evening. $80

The next course was Roasted Forest Mushrooms with Polenta, Truffle Oil, Parmesan Fondue. I am a fan of all these ingredients, and while the dish was a bit rich, it was none the less delicious. The wine chosen to pair with this dish was 2009 Morey St.-Denis “En Rue de Vergy” from Lignier-Michelot, another producer that was new to me. This wine knocked my socks off. The purity, balance and finish of this wine soared on the palate. This wine was a great example of the feminine elegance found in Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy. If it was the only wine I drank all night, I would have been happy… no make that ecstatic. 2009 was a terrific vintage in Burgundy and readers will do well to add wines from the vintage to their cellars. Especially wines of this quality at well under $100 a bottle. The domaine has only been estate bottling and selling their wines for the past 9 years. Yes it is a hidden gem. Currently the wine only qualifies for a Villages level designation, although efforts are underway to get it elevated to 1er cru. The wine is drinking beautifully now and will age well for at least 15 to 20 yeas. $60

The entrée consisted of Seared Duck Breast & Duck Confit with Almond Wild Rice. As I am not a fan of duck, Ariane was kind enough to make me chicken. She has told me about her buttermilk-fried chicken in the past and so she made it for me instead of the duck. Except for a breading that was on the salty side, the chicken was moist, tender and delicious. I enjoyed it immensely. 2005 Domaine Michel Gaunoux Pommard “Rugiens” 1er Cru accompanied the entrées. The terroir of the Cote de Beaune soared from the glass upon sampling its bouquet and continued on the palate with the first sip. Old world purity in spades, its finish was soft and elegant. To really appreciate this wine I would give it at least 5 more years of cellar aging, and then drink it over the next 50 years. $90

We were also treated to a tiny bit of this same wine from the 1999 vintage. It was spectacular. 1999 was a great vintage in Burgundy and this wine certainly attests to that. Again beautifully elegant and pure with a gorgeous earthy bouquet. This too will benefit from cellar time. $120

The final course of the evening was a cheese plate that was comprised of blue cheese, aged Gouda and another cheese, the name of which escapes me at the moment. The wine however I will remember for a long time, 2004 Roagna Barbaresco “Pajè” from Piedmont, Italy. I am a huge fan of Roagna wines and they occupy a fair amount of space in my cellar. This was my first taste of the 2004 and it was spectacular. From the Paje vineyard, Roagna made 3 Barbarescos in 2004. The normale, Pajè, as well as a Pajè Riserva and a Crichët Pajè Riserva, both of which I can not wait to try. For many, myself included, it was the wine of the night. The Nebbiolo grape, like the Pinot Noir grape, produces wines that soar with feminine elegance. I would think that is why Burgundy lovers also love Barolo and Barbaresco. This wine is drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so for many years to come. a bargain at $70.

All the wines are available at Amanti Vino.

Until next time,


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Northern Rhone Tasting

A couple of my good wine drinking friends, Emil & Howard, are part of a small (5 guys) wine group. They meet once a month at a BYOB restaurant with one of the members in charge of bringing the evening’s wines. I have been graciously invited a few times over the past year, but alas I was unable to attend until last night, and I am glad I did.

Howard was in charge of the wines last night and brought 5 wines from the Northern Rhone. We enjoyed these wines over dinner at Scalini Fideli Ristorante in Chatham, NJ. The restaurant does have a full bar and wine list, but as I understand it they allow customers to bring their own wine during the week. As I was a guest, I don't know if there is a corkage fee assed per bottle. I suggest you check with them to get the facts about bringing your own wine.

I have not been to Scalini in many years as I found the food, while good, to be a bit rich for my taste. I was glad to give it another try last night. For my appetizer I had a terrific pan-seared foie gras over roasted apples. It was delicious and went very well with the 1999 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc. JL Chave is an icon in the Northern Rhone and his wines are superbly crafted. This Marsanne (80%) & Roussanne (20%) blend was delicious. Chave uses only old oak or stainless steel for aging and as a result the wine possessed great purity and balance and finished with power and elegance. This wine, in my opinion, has another 20 years of enjoyable drinking. This was my first experience with the 1999. I am glad I have a few bottles in my cellar. At between $120 - $150 a bottle, while a bit pricey, it is well worth the indulgence. I rated this the #2 wine of the evening.

A 1993 Chapoutier Ermitage le Pavillon also went superbly with my foie gras. Crafted by yet another great Northern Rhone wine maker, this 100% Syrah comes from a small granite soiled 4-hectare plot. Yields are tiny and typically only about 600 cases are made annually. The nose upon opening would have made any farmer smile broadly as it was pure barnyard. On the palate it was soft, complex and balanced. The wine kept evolving in the glass over the next hour with the barnyard bouquet retiring and replaced by an enticing earthiness, while on the palate the wine took on a soaring elegance with a gorgeous finish. I rated this the #3 wine of the evening. This will also hit your pocketbook for about $120, a bargain in my opinion for an 18-year-old beauty.

For my main course I had Papparadelle pasta with a veal osso buco ragu, which was good but the addition of Mascarpone cheese, unneeded in my opinion, took the richness of the dish over the top. With our main courses we had 3 more Northern Rhone Syrahs. The next wine was a 1999 Guigal Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis. This wine is made from grapes from six hillside vineyards of the d”Ampuis property. (La Garde, La Clos, La Grande Plantee, La Pommiere, Pavillon Rouge, and Le Moulin). The wine is aged in both barrel and large foudre for 30 months prior to bottling. There are approximately 3,000 cases produced annually. While the wine is aged in new oak for 42 months, the oak is very well integrated. The wine had good balance and nice complexity, but in my opinion not worth the $200 price tag. I rated this the #4 wine of the evening.

The next wine of the evening was 2003 Delas Freres Cote Rotie la Landonne. This was definitely more modern in style with oak dominating the wine. Perhaps the reason can be found on their importer’s website which states that Delas wines are made by “a panel of experts headed by winemaker Jacques Grange . Together, the team makes wines that have been heralded for their intensity of flavor and excellent value." Perhaps there are too many cooks in the kitchen? At about $200 a bottle I think the team needs to reconsider the words “excellent value”. The wine was overshadowed by the other wines. Everyone was of the opinion that it was the #5 wine of the evening.

The final wine of the evening was a 1997 JL Chave Hermitage. Wow! Consensus had it as the wine of the evening. This wine absolutely soared from the glass. Nothing more to say than it was full of terroir, balanced and outright delicious. As Jeff so aptly put it, this was a wine with soul. This will set you back about $200. A small price to pay for such soul.

Howard you did a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Drinking great wines with friends, old and new, is surely one of life’s finer moments. Thanks again for inviting me.

Until next time,