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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A couple of lunches with good friends

Believe me when I tell you that most days I prefer a simple bowl of soup and a sandwich, burger or hot dog for lunch. However I am fortunate to have friends that not only share my passion for good food and wine, but also are also very persuasive in enticing me to break from this preference and indulge in a lunch with great food and great wine on occasion. Such was the case when Tony & Jack invited me to Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ in late February. I have lauded the food at Il Capriccio in previous blogs and this lunch was once again superb.

We began with manila clams in spicy white wine broth; perfectly cooked crustaceans in a sauce that demands that you sop up every last drop with good crusty Italian bread. A decanted bottle of 2003 Gravner Anphora Ribolla Gialla drank beautifully with the clams, but then again I have never had a bottle of Gravner that did not drink beautifully with whatever I was eating. Ribolla Gialla is a white grape from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy. Gravner is close to the Slovenian border in Gorzia, Italy. In my opinion he is one of the great winemakers in the world. Talk about Old Word traditional wines, here is one of the masters. His wines go through an extended fermentation in beeswax-lined clay amphorae, which are specially made for him and transported, from Georgia, Russia. The wine is then transferred to large barrels of Slovenian oak where it rests for another three years before bottling. The result is a magnificently pure wine that is a complete expression of nature. To quote the man ““I am convinced that wine is a product of Nature, not of Man, whose role therefore is to accompany its maturation process while avoiding any artificial intervention”. Amen.

His long maceration process of 7 to 8 months on the grape skins produces a wine with an absolutely gorgeous orange/yellow hue and mind-boggling complexity, balance and purity. THIS IS A WHITE WINE THAT IS MEANT TO BE DRUNK AT RED WINE TEMPERATURE. In fact the wine should be decanted for a minimum of 3-4 hours before drinking. If you drink this wine cold, you will miss it. The wine continues to evolve with each sip. It is a true wine experience. If you prefer your white wines very cold, skip this one. But I digress, well a bit any way. Back to the ’03 we drank. Two words describe it: stunning and delicious. Nothing else can or need be said. This is a wine with soul. (Did I just say something else/?)

On a side note, a while ago I met a close friend of Gravner (Joskel is his first name) who comes to the US periodically to promote the wines. He suggested that the next time I opened a bottle and did not finish it to put the cork back in and put it back in the wine cellar for a month, and then try it. Well I did, and I was amazed at how good the wine was. It had lost nothing. The wine was only slightly oxidized and had taken on a bit deeper orange hue, but was still perfectly balanced and delicious on the palate. $85.

Next up on the menu was homemade papparadelle pasta with a sauce of fresh capon. It was amazing. We had two reds with this. First was a 1998 Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Cote-Rotie. 100% Syrah, this bottle was very good. It started out a bit tight, even after an hour of decanting. Began to open in hour 2. Nice pepper and spice and sense of place. Enjoyable now, but will definitely benefit from more cellar time. $95

Alongside this we had a 1996 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio that was just superb. Another traditional winemaker, Francesco’s wines a beautifully crafted. This bottle sang today. Glorious bouquet of the earth and the grape. Pure, complex and balanced on the palate, with a lengthy finish. The essence of old world Barolo. $80

A few weeks later, with friends Emil and Howard, found me having lunch at one of Montclair, NJ newest and hottest dinning spots, Salute Brick Oven Bistro on Glenridge Ave. Baccala cakes, pasta fagioli and rock shrimp arrabiatta are among my favorite items here and we had them all along with 3 fabulous wines.

We began with a 2001 Gravner Breg Anfora. The Breg is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico, Chardonnay & Pinot Grigio. It is made in the same manner as the Ribolla Gialla mentioned above. Again the wine was just superb. Pure and delicious on the palate with a lengthy finish. $85

Next up was a 1967 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. I am not a big fan of Gaja wines. He has become more modern in his methods the past 10 years or so. He adds the Barbera grape (about 5%) to his Barbarescos. Since this does not conform to recent changes in Italian winemaking law in Piedmonte, he cannot put the word Barbaresco on the label. To be labeled a Barbaresco the law states that the wine must contain 100% Nebbiolo. I also find his current wines to be a bit over extracted. Add to this the very high price the Gaja name commands, I pass on his wines. The 1967 however was absolutely terrific. Probably made by Angelo’s father this was a beautiful example of an old world Barbaresco. Brownish red and a bit oxidized upon opening, the wine just kept evolving after being decanted. Within 30 minutes we knew we were in the presence of a spectacular wine and the next hour only confirmed. It showed a great sense of place. A wine with a great deal of soul. If Gaja made his wines today like this wine I would bite the bullet and pay the price. Thanks Emil for bringing this one.

The last wine (thank you Howard), 1994 Quintarelli Alzero is one of the great wines of all time. It is impossible to describe this wine other than to say it is completely round and delicious. The wine is made from predominantly Cabernet Franc and in the same method used to make Amarone, in which the grapes are dried for several months prior to vinification. The resulting wine is unbelievably rich in color and ethereal on the palate. A wine that provides a provocative wine tasting experience. I have had the 1996 and 1997 vintages of this wine and each is superb. Alas greatness does not come without a price. Expect to pay a price in the mid $300 range for this wine.

Allow me to close this blog with an old proverb (I believe Arabian) Emil sent me:

“Good wine praises itself”

Until next time,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dinner at Nick & Caren's House

Nick Cusano and I became friends a number of years ago when I hired him to design our new home. As I got to know him I learned that not only was he a fantastic architect, Cusano Associates, but that we both shared a passion for cooking (and I might add eating). We became good friends. A couple of weeks ago we were invited to one of his many Saturday night dinners at his home along with some of his other friends. It was a great evening of food, wine and lively conversation.

Pre-dinner pickings included mozzarella de bufala, grilled sausage, hot peppers, Nick’s homemade foccia (the man is an incredible baker). Nick’s friend Tommaso is Nick’s equal in the bread-making arena and his baguettes were amazing. The recipe for his bread is from the book “My Bread” for those bakers out there who might be interested.

The pre-dinner wines included a magnum of 2004 William Fevre Chablis Montée de Tonnerre and a bottle of 2006 Riecine La Gioia . In my opinion, the best French Chardonnays come from the Chablis region and along with Raveneau, Fevre is one of the regions most outstanding traditional winemakers. I find the wines from Chablis to be much more elegant than those from Montrachet or Meursault. The Montée de Tonnerre is a Premier Cru wine with amazing freshness, minerality and purity. Absolutely round and delicious on the palate. At $45 per bottle, $110 per magnum, it is an outstanding value.

The Riecine La Giaia is a Super Tuscan, Sangiovese based wine that is blended from various vineyard parcels with different soil types which adds to the complexity of the wine. Dark garnet in color, it is a more modern style wine that drank very nicely, although, at least for me, the oak influence was a bit too pronounced. The wine had good balance and a soft finish, albeit a bit oaky. Around $50 a bottle. 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

Dinner began with Italian Wedding Soup, my contribution to the menu. The recipe is from Lidia Bastianch’s new book “Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy”. It is a delicious soup brimming with flavor. I am happy to report that all enjoyed it. The recipe can also be found on Lidia’s website, Lidia's Italy.

Next up was a terrific pasta dish that Nick had learned from the Contessa Lelia Passi on his last trip to Venice, Italy. The Contessa studied under Mara Martin owner and chef of Da Fiore Ristorante in Venice. I had the pleasure of eating at Da Fiore a few years ago. The restaurant is among my “5 Best Restaurants in the World”. The seafood is pristinely fresh and must me tasted to appreciate. There really are no words for food like Mara Martin prepares. If you are in Venice, it is a must visit. In any case Nick’s pasta echoed the style of Da Fiore, simple and flavorful, it was a wonderful combination of scallops, onion, thyme and broccoli with penne pasta.

This was followed by a prosciutto wrapped filet mignon braised in a sauce of wild mushroom, onion, red wine and tomatoes. It was served over a bed of soft polenta. Cooked to perfection, it was tender and juicy. Simply delicious.

With these dishes we drank a 1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape from magnum and a 2007 Felsina Fontalloro. Beaucastel is one of my top 3 favorite producers of traditionally made CDP (Rayas and Bonneau are the others). I opened it 4 hours prior to drinking, the last 2 in a decanter. The wine was terrific. It showed a great sense of place with an earthy nose, beautiful balance & purity on the palate and a marvelous finish. While CDP laws allow producers to use all 13 grape varieties from the Chateauneuf area, Beaucastel is the only one that I know of that actually does this. A strong percentage of Mourvèdre and Grenache (30% each), Syrah 10%, Counoise 10% Cinsault 5% and the rest divided up amongst the remaining grape varieties: Vaccarèse, Terret noir, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne. (I know if you are counting there are only 12 grapes here). About $90 a bottle, $200 a magnum.

For me the Felsina Fontalloro was a pleasant surprise. I expected a big modern style, over-extracted Super Tuscan wine. Instead the wine was more traditional in style. Nicely balanced and complex on the palate and a soft lingering finish. The only draw back, in my opinion, was the rather pronounced oak that Barrique aging usually imparts on a wine. Based in the Chianti Classico region, Fèlsina only grows Sangiovese grapes. The Fontalloro is a Sangiovese based Vino di Tavola (IGT), with the wine sources from old vines in three top vineyards that straddle the border between two of Chianti’s top regions: “Classico” and “Colli Senesi”. It is produced from vines that are in excess of fifty years of age, and aged in small French oak barrels (Barrique) for fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling. About $36 a bottle.

We finished the evening with a delicious Torta Tres Leches (3 milks cake) made by Leila. It was moist and oh so delicious. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Thank you Nick and Caren.