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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gino's Birthday

Another week, another birthday and more great wine. This time the birthday boy was my good friend Gino who turned 39 last week. So the usual cast of wine characters, along with Gino's dad met once again at Il Capriccio in Whippany to wish Gino happy birthday. The nine bottles we drank ranged from ok to spectacular. The food, with one exception, was up to Capriccio's usual high standard.

First the wines in the order in which we drank them. The (number) at the end of each wine description is my, not necessarily the consensus, ranking of the wines. I ranked the dinner wines 1 through 7, and dessert wines are ranked 1 & 2.

1997 Louis Jadot Echézeaux. Jadot has made some very good wines, unfortunately the 1997 Echézeaux is not one of them. The wine was past its prime and the fact that the bottle was too warm upon opening did not help matters. Not a lot to say about this bottle except that it was my least favorite of the wines. $45. (7)

1979 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe This was the bottle I brought and decanted for 3 hours. It is a classic old world Barolo with lots of earth on the nose and palate and nice complexity. Production is small with only 1500 case made each year. The grapes are macerated on the skins in steel vats for 26 days; the wine is then aged in Slovenian oak casks of different capacity for 4 years. This bottle however seemed to be a bit tired. Perhaps the wine is in its decline or it just may be this bottle. I am learning that when you buy older vintages of good wines it is always going to involve some risk. Since I have had some magnificent older vintages, I for one will continue to take the risk. $140. (4)

1997 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe Upon opening, this bottle had harsh tannins on the back palate, but after about 30 minutes the wine began to blossom beautifully. Like the 1979 it possessed an enticing earthy bouquet, but was much more elegant on the palate than the 1979. In short this is a terrific wine with lots of soul. I wish I had more than 3 bottles in my cellar. $90. (3)

2000 Armando Parusso Barolo Riserva. This was my first time tasting this wine and it had more oak on the palate than either of the Cavallottos. I have since learned that Parusso ages his wines in small oak barrels for 24 months. The type and age of the barrels I have been unable to determine. The wine showed good complexity and balance, but the finish was very short. I think the $100 price tag for this wine is a bit much. (6)

1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. If you recall I wrote about this wine in my last blog Birthday Food & Wines. Last week's bottle was softer and more elegant on the palate than this one, although it was by no means an inferior wine. However against the other wines we drank it did not fair as well as it did last week. (5)

1986 Giuseppi Quintarelli Amarone Riserva. For me the wine of the day. First a story about this wine. About 15 years ago was the first time I tasted a Quintarelli wine and it happened to be this exact wine. Once again it was Gino who brought it. Gino had just begun his career in the wine industry and he wanted me to taste "this amazing wine". I did, and I did not like it. I commented that it was much to sweet to be good. This was at a time when I drank wines based on the points Robert Parker or The Wine Spectator gave them. My cellar at the time was loaded with California & Australian reds because they got "big" points. When my epiphany regarding what made a wine truly great came about 10 years later I began to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the wines Quintarelli made and I began to acquire them . Today they are the single largest selection of wines in my cellar.

There is only one way to describe a wine like the '86 Amarone Riserva, it is the wine equivalent to the mesmerizing music of Andre LLoyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera. Just as this music transforms one to a whole new level of experiencing musical greatness, so does this wine. The power and harmony of the wine on the palate must be experienced to appreciate. It is a wine you think about for days after drinking it. The wine, if you can find it, will set you back about $1800 a bottle. When Gino had me taste it I could have bought it from the store he was working at for about $100 a bottle. While I have had few regrets in my life, not listening to him on this wine back then is one of them.

1986 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino A Brunello that is in the class of Soldera in my opinion. This wine, only the second year Giulio Salvioni, began to bottle and sell his wine was seductive. It had a wonderful earthy bouquet, purity on the palate and good length on the finish. A wine with soul. This vintage does not seem to be available anywhere. (2)

For dessert we tasted side by side a 2001 Chateau Climens Sauternes and a 2003 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes. Both wines were great but my favorite was the d'Yquem. 2003 is my favorite vintage of this wine. It is like drinking liquid candy and does not have the medicinal finish I usually experience with other d'Yquem vintages. The finish here is lengthy and delicious. A truly amazing wine. The Climens was also fantastic, but it did not possess the finish of the d'Yquem. Both of these wines will set you back about $300 for a 750ml. New York Wine Warehouse in NYC usually has these very sought after wines.

As for the luncheon itself, we began with a platter of fresh figs (from my own fig trees), Pata Negra Hame and Chorizo that the birthday boy brought from his private stash. The figs were ripe and delicious while the meats were tender, spicy and downright fabulous.

Next came a platter that contained deliciously fresh Tuna Tartar and fork tender Grilled Octopus Salad.

This was followed by tomato and onion salad fresh from Tony Grande's farm, which in turn was followed by a plate of roasted seafood that contained a couple of baby scallops in their shell, a large sea scallop and prawn served with an eggplant mousse. Delicious. Pasta was next with most having a combination plate of Spaghetti with the baby scallops in their shell, lobster and tomato on one side and Spaghetti Chitara with oil garlic & Bortaga on the other. I opted for a half portion of the Spaghetti Chitara with Bortaga. Always a great dish here, but on this day it was just so-so. It was no match for the same dish I had here two weeks before. Just as some bottles of wine from the same vintage are better than others, such was the case here. While others moved on to a main course, I was content to have an espresso and enjoy the Sauternes.

A great day, with great food, wine and friends. Happy Birthday Gino!!

Gino and his dad.

Until next time,


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Birthday Food and Wines

On Friday, August 5, I turned 66 years of age. On each of my birthdays I recall the words of baseball immortal Satchel Paige who said "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" I can happily say I feel many years younger and hope this feeling continues for a few more decades at least.

In any case for me there was no better way to celebrate my birthday week (why limit it to a day) than with my family, friends, good food and great wine.

Birthday Food & Wines (In order of their appearance)

My birthday festivities began with a family dinner at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany on Friday night. I have lauded Il Capriccio’s great food and service on many occasions before, and this evening’s meal was no exception. We enjoyed:

Fresh Burrata Cheese with Jersey tomatoes (Italian cheese in which the outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains both mozzarella & cream. It is creamy and sensuous on the palate.

Sepia Affogati (cuttlefish stewed with tomatoes and peas). A bit spicy, but ooh so good.

Vitello Tonnato (poached loin of veal., thinly sliced and served over a creamy tuna and caper infused mayonnaise). This delicious dish is the perfect summer appetizer or lunch plate.

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Bottarga (homemade, guitar string formed pasta in “Aglio e Olio” with grated gray mullet roe and spicy peperoncino) could not have been better. The dish was amazing. Perfectly cooked al dente pasta that combined the freshness of the land with the brininess of the sea.

Main courses included Center Cut Swordfish “Con Mollica” (Oven Roasted Swordfish topped with breadcrumbs and wild Calabrese oregano in a tangy lemon sauce); Penne Primavera (pasta with fresh garden vegetables in a light tomato sauce); Beef Short Ribs “Stracotto” (slow cooked boneless “Piemontese” beef short rib “Al Vino Rosso” served with risotto alla Parmiggiana & English peas); Medallions of Veal “Con Porcini” (tender, milk fed veal prepared in a creamy Porcini mushroom sauce); Lemon Sole “Crosta di Noci Miste” (filet of lemon sole encrusted with almonds, walnuts and pistachios nuts); sliced Filet Mignon in a Balsamic reduction.

The evenings wines:

2007 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco. From my favorite producer, this superb white is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate with a lingering finish, and at about $44 a bottle, it is a fantastic value. DeVino Wine, NYC, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC, New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato from magnum. I decanted the wine for 6 hours and wow did it respond. This was without question one of the greatest Barolo’s I have ever tasted. Inhaling the bouquet was akin to inhaling the earth and air of Piedmont Italy. This was a sense of place in spades and a portent to what would take place on the palate. On the palate the elegance of the wine soared and became even more elegant with each sip. This is a wine that can not be explained in words, it must be experienced to appreciate it. I have written in the past of he difference between enjoying a wine and experiencing it. This wine was a perfect example of that difference. It was round and delicious with a monster finish. My son-in-law Nick commented, “Wow! I have never tasted a wine like this. It is the best wine I have ever drunk!” If you can find it expect to pay about $350 a magnum and about $200 a bottle.

Espresso and Il Poggione Grappa de Brunello completed a great evening.

The celebration continued on Saturday evening with dinner at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell. Divina is one of our favorite restaurants in NJ. We have been regulars there for the 17+ years it has been open. I'd venture to say that we have had more than 1500 meals there and never a bad one. Consistent food of very high quality has been Mario Carlino’s trademark from day one. Mario hails from Calabria, Italy and his food is representative of great Southern Italian cuisine, with many of the recipes, such as Veal Valdostanna and Pasta al Forno (Rigatoni pasta that is combined with baby meatballs, sopresatta, hard boiled eggs, tomato & bechemel) inspired by his mother. A friendly and highly competent staff ensures that each dinning experience is an enjoyable one. Wine service is excellent with appropriate glasses for both red and white wines.

On this occasion we began with fresh stuffed baby eggplants and spaghetti al pesto. The eggplants were tender and stuffed with a mixture of eggplant, breadcrumbs & mozzarella and topped with a delicate tomato sauce. All pastas are cooked to order, as was my spaghetti. Perfectly al dente, each forkful was sublime.

For my main course I strayed a bit from traditional Italian an opted for Veal Holstein, a German dish that is comprised of a breaded veal cutlet topped with two sunny-side up eggs. The combination of flavors and textures is wonderful, especially with veal as tender as Divina’s. My wife had the same breaded veal cutlet, but hers was topped with a fresh Jersey tomato salad, while my mother-in-law enjoyed a perfectly cooked Risotto Bologonese.

While Carol had her favorite Ceretto Arneis Blanghe, I had a bottle of 2003 Damijan Collio Bianco Kaplja. This wine falls into the category of an “orange wine”. It is fermented on the skins (thus giving it its orange hue) with natural yeasts. While a white wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Tocai and Malvasia), the wine is meant to be drunk at red wine temperature to fully appreciate and experience the purity and complexity of the wine. Damijan Podversic, a disciple of Josko Gravner, bottles the wine in December under a waning moon.

I must add that the wine is not to the liking of everyone as it is a bit oxidized on the nose & palate. For me it is a great expression of a pure wine with soul. $40. De-Vino Wine, NYC.

Sunday found Carol and I babysitting our grandchildren Mia and Nicholas as their mom & dad were celebrating their 8th wedding anniversary at a resort. While Carol watched the kids I was home making a fresh batch of meatballs to bring over for a simple meal of Ziti and meatballs, which was delicious.

A bottle of 1993 Camille Giroud Vosne Romanee Les Chaumes Premier Cru was my choice to go with the Zitti. I am a big fan of this producer and have a number of vintages going back to 1969 in my cellar. The wines are classic examples of red Burgundy. They are elegant and pure on the palate and are built for longevity. Unfortunately this bottle was not up to the one I had 2 years prior. While very drinkable and good, tt was a bit reserved on the palate and light on the finish. The wine, even after 2 hours of decanting, never seemed to blossom into the bottle I had 2 years before. It was a wine I could enjoy, but not really experience. $130, if you can find it. I would look instead for the 2006 vintage, especially the Marsannay Les Longeroles. While this is an entry level wine, it is drinking divinely at the moment and for $25 represents a fantastic bargain.

In 2002 the California cult wine producer Ann Colgin and her husband, Burgundy guru Joe Wender, headed a group that purchased Camille Giroud. The job of winemaker was given to David Croix who arrived with a stellar recommendation from Benjamin Leroux of the Domaine du Clos des Epeneaux. As Becky Wasserman says on her website, David Croix is “representative of his generation: clarity of terroir rather than a house style, and an intuitive feeling for both appellations and the nature of individual vintages”.

On Wednesday of the following week my friends Gino, Emil, Tony & Carlos treated me to lunch at Il Cinghiale Trattoria in Little Ferry, NJ. Owner Nicola Moncada is a good friend and we all used to eat regularly at his previous restaurant Due Nicola in Little Falls, NJ which he sold about a year ago. After a brief hiatus, he opened Il Cinghiale (wild boar in Italian) a few months ago. The food is as good as ever and we had a great lunch to go along with the wines we brought.

Highlights from the lunch included, Sausage, potatoes and hot peppers; baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce; stewed tripe in tomato sauce; risotto with red wine and my favorite spaghetti ala carbonara, Italy's answer to bacon and eggs.

There was certainly no shortage of wine as each person brought a terrific bottle of wine. The wines included a 1979 Giovannini Moresco Barbaresco Podere del Pajore. This was the fifth bottle of this wine I opened over the past three years and bottle variation, as can be the case in older vintages was most evident. Three were magnificent, one was terribly flawed and this bottle, which came around a bit after 4 hours, was drinkable, but not memorable. The wine suffered from some oxidation and lacked the vibrancy of the three good bottles. Still it displayed good complexity and earthiness. Moresco was revered by Piedmontese winemakers in the 1960's and 1970's. A traditionalist, the good bottles of this wine were beautiful examples of traditionally made wine. Earthy on the nose and palate, with great purity and a long finish. 1979 was the last year he made wine before selling the vineyard to Angelo Gaja.

1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. One of my 3 favorite CDP producers (Rayas & Bonneau are the others), this vintage is drinking beautifully at the moment and this bottle was no exception. It possessed good balance with a peppery palate and velvet finish. Owned by the Perrin family since 1909 they are one of the few CDP producers that use all 13 allowed grape varieties in their wine. The skins of the grapes are heated briefly to 80 °C / 176 °F and then cooled to 20 °C /6O °F before the bunches drop into enamel tiled vats for twelve days' maceration. The free-run juice is then drained off and the must in the vat pressed in a pneumatic wine-press. To my knowledge they are the only producer to follow this practice. $90. Widely available.

1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. Rocche dei Manzoni was one of the first producers to adopt the more modern wine making methods, especially in the use of barrique to age the wine. As readers of this blog know I usually do not like wines made this way, but this beauty is an exception. The oak is completely integrated into the wine. If I did not know better, I would think this is an old world Barolo. It has complexity, superb balance and a wonderful sense of place. The wine is fermented on the skins for three weeks in temperature-controlled stainless steel, followed by threeyear’s aging in oak barriques and 12 months’ aging in bottle. $95. DeVino Wine, NYC.

1996 Rocche Costamagna Bricco Francesco Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata. This was a new wine to me and it was good. Had it been decanted for a couple of hours it would have been very good. Old world in style, I have since learned that it is aged for twenty-four months in Slavonian oak casks, and at least one year in the bottle. It is from one of the historic single vineyards in La Morra, Rocche dell"Annunziata. A good value at $45.

2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. One of my favorite Barolo producers, these wines, now under the direction of Barolo's daughter Maria Teresa, are gorgeous examples of how good a wine can be. While this bottle drank very well, had it been decanted for a few hours it would have really showed its mettle. The wine is still a baby and should last another 20 years or so. $120. DeVino Wine, NYC & NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.

As you can see I ate and drank very well for my birthday. However just when I thought it was over until next year, Gino & Cosmo twisted my arm and took me to Esca in NYC for lunch this past Monday. Esca (Italian for bait) is my absolute favorite restaurant in the city. David Pasternack and sous chef Katy do magical things with seafood and pasta here. On this Monday Katy was in the kitchen and at the top of her game.

Cosmo & Gino began with Crudo (3 daily selections of raw fish in various preparations), while I enjoyed a half dozen pristinely fresh oysters with fresh shaved horseradish. We also shared baked clams and grilled octopus with giant corona beans. The baked clams at Esca simply have no peer. The breadcrumbs always contain different ingredients and on this occasion they were spiked with pancetta. They are never overcooked and always briny and delicious. The octopus here is fork tender and melts in your mouth.

With these appetizers we enjoyed a bottle of 2009 Laura Aschero Pigato. An Italian white grape, Pigato is primarily found in Liguria. Along the cost of Liguria lies Cinque Terre a small area of five villages. It is here that the Laura Aschero Pigato grapes are farmed on dry stone wall terraces with minimal mechanisation. The grapes undergo a 24 hour period of cold maceration prior to pneumatic pressing. Fermentation occurs with natural yeasts at around 18-20C, followed by cold stabilisation, filtration and bottling. The resulting wine has a marvelous balance between minerality and acidity. Crisp, clean and pure on the palate, it is simply a delicious wine. Not easy to find. If you do expect to pay about $45. There are a couple of other terrific Pigatos available. DeVino Wine, NYC has a couple of Pigatos from a terrific producer, Bruna, while 56º Wine carries Poggio dei Gorleri. Both are reasonably priced and delicious.

For our main course Cosmo and I opted for two half portions of pasta. We began with Spaghettini with oil, garlic and Bortaga. Bortaga is a dried fish roe that is made from either tuna or red mullet. Today it was tuna. The Bortaga, briny & salty, is grated on top of the finished pasta dish. It is spectacular. It is spaghetti Alio e Olio taken to a new level. The other pasta we absolutely lapped up was Spaghetti Neri, a house made squid ink spaghetti with cuttlefish, scallion and green chilies. This is a tour de force. Super tender cuttlefish in a spicy and briny tomato sauce that teases the palate.

Gino enjoyed local yellowfin tuna with eggplant caponata and sungold tomatoes.

With the main courses we were captivated by a 2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola. This 100% Chardonnay from vineyards at the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily sees no wood in the vinification process. The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The final product is crisp and delicious with a unique bubble-gum palate and lingering finish. A beautifully round wine. Owner/winemaker Andrea Franchetti also owns Tenuto di Trinoro in Tuscany. $40. Also at DeVino wine, NYC.

I want to thank my family and friends for making this another terrific birthday experience.

Until next time,


Monday, August 1, 2011

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

Our second Saturday night at Normandy Beach was all seafood. I began as usual with an Old Grand Dad Manhattan, only this time I sipped it while I enjoyed a half dozen oysters. A terrific combination.

For appetizers I made Clams Oreganata, and served them along side a couple of dozen Coconut Shrimp that I purchased from Runners Fish Market & Restaurant in Lavalette. The clams were moist and tasted of the sea, while the shrimp were lightly fried and delicious. Runners is one of our favorite places at the shore. The seafood is always fresh and the service very friendly. No reservations are accepted, so get there before 6 or after 9 if you don't want to have a long wait.

For me no seafood meal is complete without Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce, so I purchased a few dozen little neck clams from Runners and cooked up a bowlful.

This simple dish reaches its heights when it is made with fresh clams. Al dente pasta & briny clams, what more can one ask for. I followed that with Grilled Wild Salmon & Grilled Mahi Mahi, also purchased at Runners. I basted both with a store brought Ginger Teriyaki sauce. Delicious.

With these dishes we drank another bottle of 2008 Huet Molleux Premiere Trie Vouvray. As I mentioned in part one of this post, this wine soars from the glass. It was a great compliment to the spaghetti. For the red I opened my remaining bottle of 2005 Domaine du Caillou Les Quartz Chateauneuf-du-Pape. See part one of this blog for my comments on these wines.

On Sunday we welcomed our good friends Cosmo, his wife Jane, and Gino. During the more than 40 years I have been going to Cosmo's barber shop, Via Veneto, I have become good friends with him and his brother Jerry. In addition to being a great hair stylist, Cosmo is quite adept in the kitchen, thus it is my pleasure to have him down each year to cook some of his signature dishes such as Lobster Arrabiatta, and Risotto. Gino, who I have known since he was 2 years old, is in the wine business and always brings great wine to these get togethers. Also joining us were good friends Tony and Anita. Anita is also a great cook and her assignment for the evening was the pasta course & dessert. While Tony doesn't cook he enjoys good food and wine and always contributes a good wine or two on these occasions.

While Cosmo began preparing his famous lobster and other dishes, Gino uncorked a magnum of 1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo, a single vineyard Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (bird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside.
It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique. Readers of this blog know that Quintarelli is at the very top of my list of wine producers. His wines are to me, the finest expressions of how great wine can be. I read somewhere, I think on the Italian Wine Merchants web site, that Quintarelli wines can change your life. I don't know about them changing your life, but they will certainly change you appreciation of how good wine can be. This bottle lived up to the Quintarelli reputation. Pure, balanced and round. It is an amazing wine, it has so much soul. About $70 a bottle, more for the magnum. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC; DeVino Wine, NYC.

Tony also opened a bottle he brought, a 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. A wonderfully elegant wine that comes from 4 vineyards in Sant’Angelo in Colle. The wine was nicely balanced, had good purity and a soft finish. This wine will benefit from about 5 more years in the cellar before one can really appreciate its beauty. About $50 and should be widely available.

The whites opened simultaneously with the Quintarelli came from Gino's company's Spanish portfolio. They included a Nora da Neve, a white wine made from the Albarino grape. For me it was like drinking liquid oak. Not my kind of wine at all. The ladies seemed to love it however. Another white he brought was Herencia del Capricho, a white wine that is fermented and aged on the lees in the barrel. It is a blend of Bierzo Godello 80% / 20% Doña Blanca and is aged 13 months in new French oak barrels. While these grapes were new to me, the oak in the wine was overpowering. I remain befuddled as to why wines with such pronounced oak are so popular. They mask the essence of the grape and eliminate any chance of elegance. I believe both were from the 2010 vintage. As they were sample bottles, the vintage was not shown.

A 2009 La Crema Chardonnay from Sonoma also made an appearance, but I did not taste it so I have no comments on it. While enjoying the Quintarelli, Cosmo's first dish of the evening appeared,
Calamari Luciano. In this dish he sautées the calamari bodies and tentacles in olive oil, garlic, white wine, red pepper and paprika. The resulting dish is tender, a bit spicy and oh so delicious. A seafood lover's delight.

Pasta time. We all sat down at the table and marveled at Anita's pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata. What a great summer pasta.
She roasts the tomatoes in the oven with garlic and olive oil for about 1/2 hour, cooks & dranins the pasta, in this case Rottini, and then tosses it with the tomatoes, fresh parsley, fresh basil and parigianno cheese She then shaves Ricotta Salata cheese on top of each serving. Adults and grandkids enjoyed every bite as it was delicious. Thank you Anita!

With the pasta Gino opened two bottles of 2006 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. One was their regular bottling, the other was their Riserva. These wines were once again from the impressive portfolio of Robert Chadderdon. They are made from 100% Prugnolo Gentile (a particular clone of the Sangiovese grape) and are aged in large Slovanian oak barrels and in French barrique. The resulting wine is almost Bordeaux like on the palate. It has good balance and a soft, lush finish. Both, especially the riserva, are still very young and in need of a few more years in the cellar. About $45 for the regular and $70 for the Riserva. DeVino Wine, NYC.

Main course time and Cosmo's famous Lobster Arrabiata. Here he cuts the lobster in the shell in
pieces and then sautées them in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Wine and pasta water also play a role in the completion of the dish as does a generous helping of chopped, fresh parsley. The lobster is tender, moist, a bit fiery (arrabiata) and incredibly delicious.

In addition to the lobster, Cosmo made Shrimp sautéed with Panta Negra. Panta Negra is a cured ham from Spain or Portugal. This particular one Gino acquired directly from Spain's top producer of the ham and is virtually impossible to get. Even he will not divulge the details of how he gets it. Suffice to say it is an amazing, sort of an over the top prosciutto. The dish was superb.

The last wine opened was a 2003 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul. This is a big, macho Chateauneuf-du-Pape made from 95% Grenache and the rest Cinsault and Syrah. Very high points from Parker for those of you who like points.

For dessert Anita made a delicious peach and blueberry pie. Flaky crust, it was the perfect end, along with a couple of cigars, to a perfect meal. A grand time was had by all, especially by I Quatro Amici.

On Monday a bunch of us went to 709 in Point Pleasant for lunch. This is a great new spot with a trendy decor, friendly staff and good food, including pristinely fresh clams, oysters, crab and sushi. Oh, and you must order the house made German pretzels served with 3 different mustards. The Tuna Sliders are also remarkable as are the salads. Good spot.

Dinner time and Cosmo is back in the kitchen and making one (actually two) of his signature risottos, Risotto w/ basil & tomato.
This is what the ladies and kids ate, the guys on the other hand had the same risotto, only with the addition of diced grilled hot Italian sausage. Both dishes are a tour du force of flavor and textures. The rice was perfectly cooked al dente and perfectly seasoned.

We served buffet style tonight so along with the risotto Cosmo made a salad of mozzarella & tomatoes with fresh basil, string bean (from my garden), tomato and onion salad, grilled hot & sweet sausage with grilled hot peppers.

For white wine we finished the wines from Sunday evening. For red we were blown away by a 2001 Giovanni Rosso Barolo Ceretta. It was the first time any of us had tasted this wine and we was really impressed with its purity and old worldliness. It danced on the palate and finished long and big. I am grateful to my friend Gabrio Tosti, owner of DeVino Wine, NYC for recommending the wine to me. In fact I called Gabrio the next day and ordered another case of the wine. $83.

A 2004 Ceretto Bricco Asili Barbaresco was opened alongside the Barolo and it did not appear right, so we place it aside and replaced it with a 2007 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-lès-Beaune. The Drouhin is a villages red from a great vintage and is just a beautiful expression of a young Pinot Noir from Burgundy. It possesses a great nose of young fruit and is pure, light and soft on the palate. I have tasted the spectacular premier and grand cru wines from Drouhin and have them in my cellar, and while I wait for them to reach drinking age I can enjoy this beauty. Best of all at $15 a bottle it is hard to beat. This is one of the greatest wine values I have ever discovered. New York Wine Warehouse, NY and Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.

For the white I opened my last bottle of 2009 Francois Pinon Cuvée Tradition Vouvray. See my notes in part one of this blog on the phenomenal wine.

I tasted the Ceretto today, 4 days later, and it is drinking fine. What appeared to be a slight corked palate was completely gone. Not a perfect bottle but drinkable.

On Tuesday we met our good friends George & Jeanette and their son Jason at Shogun Legends in Wall, NJ. This is a great Asian spot that my family and I really enjoy. A large and very attractive restaurant, the second floor features Habachi style dinning, while the lower level is dedicated to Japanese and Chinese fare. The menu is extensive and sure to please the most discriminating diner. We dined downstairs and began with a bevy of appetizers that included pristinely Fresh Kumamoto Oysters; Chicken Soon, (diced white meat chicken with brown sauce wrapped in lettuce); Vegetable Dumplings; Spicy Peppered Tuna Tataki, (seared peppered tuna sashimi, daikon finished with ponzu sauce).

For entrées most had sushi but a couple of us went Chinese. My mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her Legends Duo, a dish that combines filet mignon and scallops served in a brown butter sauce with seasoned vegetables. For me, I opted for flounder. I love flounder, but the Shogun Flouner served here is a remarkable dish.
A whole founder filet is cut into pieces and lightly fried with chinese spices and Jalapenos and served served in a flounder basket. It is an incredible dish. The flounder morsels are fresh and bursting with flavor and the two dipping sauces compliment the fish perfectly.

Joseph Drouhin made another appearance at our table tonight, this time as a couple of bottles of 2008 Joseph Drouhin Meursault Villages White. This is a beautifully balanced & rich Chardonnay that is fresh on the palate. This wine is drinking very nicely now. Both bottles went down easily with our meal. $38. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.

On Wednesday we loaded the kids into two cars and headed for Dinino's Pizza in Brick. This place is a real find (thanks Tony P.), the pizza is thin crusted and the real deal. The original Denino's is on Staten Island, NY, and has been there since 1937. Denino's opened a location at the Jersey shore a few years ago. I had an absolutely delicious pasta e fagioli to begin with and my wife had a delicious Italian wedding soup. The Ceasar Salad was excellent and the pizza's, one plain and one half pepperoni and half sausage were cooked well done, crispy and delicious.

I am told that 5 gallons of water is transported from Staten Island each day to make the pizza, because the Jersey shore water is not good for pizza making. Heinekin Nips were the perfect accompaniment for the pizza. Oh, we also tried the meatball sandwich...stick with the pizza.

Thursday evening found us dinning out with friends Tony, Anita, Lou & Lynn. Our destination was Daniel's Bistro in Point Pleasant. I am told that this is the hottest spot in town and any hope of obtaining a reservation requires calling weeks in advance, as we had done. I browsed the internet for reviews prior to going and found a mixed bag. Comments ranged from best restaurant I have ever been to, to rude & indifferent service and okay food. Our friends had been there before and said the food is very good and service can be a bit rude, especially from the chef/owner's wife. We were looking forward to trying it and forming our own opinion.

We arrived at our designated time and promptly seated, good sign. Since it is BYOB our wine was opened in short order, another good sign. Then the wine glasses arrived. They were made to be a water glasses, but often they double as a white wine glass in far too many restaurants. Not a good sign. When I asked if they had red wine glasses our waiter responded quickly that it would be to expensive, due to breakage, to buy Riedel wine glasses. When I mentioned that there are numerous, less expensive glasses available, he simply shrugged. Wine does not appear to be a priority here or should I say providing good wine service to the customers doesn't seem to be a high priority.

On to the food, which overall was very good with a few misses. Hudson Valley Foie Gras (pan seared, poached pear, fresh strawberry, raspberry sauce) was very good while a special appetizer of Black Mission Figs, halved and baked with gorgonzola cheese were so-so at best. Pera Salad (Baby field greens, poached pears, strawberries, honey roasted walnuts, goat cheese, hazelnut vinaigrette) was given a thumbs down by Lynn & Lou as the poached pears and goat cheese seemed to have been away on vacation as they made no appearance in the salad. Additionally, the vinaigrette was lacking vinegar and had to be added at the table. Fresh Burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes and 40 year old Balsamic Vinegar was a much better choice.

A 2007 Francois Mikulski Meursault Villages White went perfectly with the foie gras. A Becky Wasserman selection, this is a lovely rich, straw colored Chardonnay that finishes with length and elegance. $60. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC. Ms. Wasserman has been in the wine business for a long time and has a remarkable palate. She lives in France and represents a number of small domaines and negoçiants that produce beautifully crafted wines. If you should see the words "A Becky Wasserman Selection" on the wine label, you can be sure it will be a very good bottle of wine.

Berkshire Double Cut Loin of Pork (dusted with cracked peppercorn, grappa, oven dried tomatoes, golden raisins, roasted pignoli nuts) was the highlight entrée of the meal. Although I did not have it, after one taste of Tony's, I wish I would have ordered it. it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and was oh so tender and juicy. This will be my choice should I visit here again. Second place went to the Osso Buco served with saffron risotto. Although I did not taste this, the dish looked mouth watering and received high praise from Lou. I opted for a the Soft Shell Crab special. The crabs were pan seared with oil and garlic, white wine and lemon. While the crabs were nice and meaty, I neglected to ask that the lemon be eliminated as I am not a fan of citrus based fish dishes. My bad as the dish was overpowered with lemon. The accompanying saffron risotto on the other hand was delicious. Hudson Valley Duck Breast (Pan roasted, seared foie gras, black currants, Pinot Noir) was more to Anita's liking than the pan seared Grouper Special served over broccoli rabe and white beans was to Lyn and Carol's. They complained of its saltiness.

We had 3 reds with our meal. A 2005 Rufino Chianti Ducale Riserva (Gold Label). Never a great wine, but usually a consistent one although I think that for $40+ you can find much better wine.

Next was a bottle of 2007 Renato Ratti Barbera d'Alba Torriglione. Renato Ratti is one of the top producers in Piedmont. While he is best known for his Barolos, he makes a very nice Dolcetto and Barbera. I have not had a Ratti wine in a while, but the pronounced oak in the wine suggests to me that the wines are being made in the more modern style that unfortunately seems to sweeping the wine world. The wine started out nice on the palate, but the finish was quite harsh. $20.

The final red was a 1999 Alessandro E Gian Natale Fantino Barolo Vigna Dei Dardi Riserva. Another wine from the Robert Chadderdon porfolio, this wine filled the glass like an opera singer's voice fills the auditorium with harmonic resonance and soul. I opened and decanted the wine 4 hours prior to pouring and it paid off in spades. The wine evolved in the glass with each sip. A completely round wine, made in a very traditional style. It sees no new oak. If you like old world style Barolos, this is one to get. $75. DeVino Wine, NYC.

Ok, so how did my experience compare to the mixed reviews I read. I have to say the reviews paint a realistic picture of Daniel's Bistro. For example as I sat with my entrée plate in front of me at the end of the meal with one uneaten soft shell crab on it, the owner's wife came up to me. She looked at the dish then at me and queried if I wanted to take it home. I told her no and why to which she replied with complete indifference, "Oh well" and took my plate away. Will I go back. Probably, if only to have the pork chop and if I do you can rest assured that I will bring along my own wine glasses with my wine.

On Friday, our last night in Normandy, Carol and I drove through torrential rains to the Ohana Grill , a relatively new eclectic bistro in Lavalette where we had a pretty good meal. My Spicy Tortilla Soup was delicious. However two appetizers, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Panko and Wasabi Encrusted Shrimp were very greasy. It appeared that the oil they were fried in had not been changed for some time. Main courses of Pomegranate Glazed Grilled Chicken Breast served with coconut rice & seasonal vegetables and Grilled Ahi Mignons with sticky rice cakes and a ponzu sauce were much better.

With dinner we drank a 2006 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Cote De Beaune. Another Burgundy Villages red that is drinking beautifully right now. For the $28 a bottle, this wine is always on the money. Wonderfully pure on the palate and soft on the finish. While the wine does not exhibit the elegance of a premier cru or grand cru, it possesses ripe fruit and is extremely fresh on the palate. A joy to drink. Chorey-les-Beaune is one of the wine communes of the Côte de Beaune. The wines of Chorey-les-Beaune grow on the relatively flat land of the Saone plain rather than on the slopes of the Côte d'Or, and for this reason the commune has no Premier Cru (or Grand Cru) vineyards.

Well that's it. The 2 weeks flew by. Our grandkids had a ball, and we enjoyed having friends and family visit with us.

Until next time,