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, December 29, 2012

Wine Group @ Scalini Fedeli

Risotto w/ mushrooms & peas
Last Thursday evening our wine group met for our monthly wine dinner at Scalini Fedeli Ristorante in Chatam, NJ.  The restaurant, housed in a converted 260-year-old New Jersey farmhouse, has a warm, cozy and elegant feeling about it.  Their website describes their food as modern Italian with a distinct French flare.  The food is quite good as was my appetizer of Risotto with mushrooms and petit peas from Porvence with crispy Zucchini.  The flavors were delicious.  Some of the food can be a bit rich, as was the case with this dish and the very popular Soft Egg Yolk Raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta & topped with Parmigiano and melted truffle butter which most of the group orders routinely.  Other favorites included a perfectly cooked Veal Chop Milanese with Arugula salad, Braised Short Ribs and thinly sliced breast of duck in a port and truffle reduction.

Scalini Fedeli offers a fixed price 3-course menu at $54 that is very reasonable, especially for food of this caliber.  While the restaurant does have a liquor license and wine list, they accommodate our group by allowing us to bring in our own wine, for which we are very grateful.

Marc was in charge of the wine for the evening and as usual he did a great job.  He transported us to the foggy terroir and climate of Piedmont, Italy with a wonderful selection of Nebbiolo wines. Nebbia in fact is the Italian word for fog.  I simply adore this grape as I find it very close to Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  Like Burgundy Pinots, Nebbiolo exhibits a gorgeous feminine elegance in its bouquet and on the palate.  It is amongst my most favorite grape.  As you might expect there is no shortage of great winemakers in the region.  Marc treated us four of the very best.

We began with 2008 Giacomo Conterno “Cerreta” Langhe Nebbiolo. In 2008 Roberto Conterno, owner and winemaker purchased land in Serralunga's prized Cerretta vineyard, and this Nebbiolo is one of the first Conterno wines to be produced from this vineyard.  It drank beautifully demonstrating complexity and depth, and has the structure to last for at least 5 to 10 more years. Like all of Conterno’s wines, this was traditionally crafted and exhibited profound purity and elegance on the palate.   While Conterno’s Barolos are wonderful, they are also pricey.  Here is an opportunity to enjoy the magnificence of the Nebbiolo grape crafted by a master for about $50.

Giacomo Conterno’s Barolos are really something special and if you have never tried them, you might want to reconsider.  His Barolo Cascina Francia and Barolo Monfortino are two of the world’s greatest red wines in the opinion of many, mine included.  While they are expensive they are truly great expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. The Conterno commitment to quality does not stop with Barolo, as their Barbera is one of the most age-worthy and brilliant examples of this other grape to be found in Piedmont.   And if you are lucky to find a bottle of Conterno Nebbiolo d’Alba, which he makes when he declassifies his Barolo, don’t pass it up, as it will far surpass many another producer’s Barolo.

The Conterno was followed by one of my favorite Barolos ever, the 1998 Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca.  While this amazing wine is made in a bit more modern style that includes aging in new French Barriques, it is a delicious drinking experience.  I have had many bottles in the past and the one tonight was as good as previous bottles.  It had a wonderful earthy, Piedmont bouquet and was completely round and delicious.  It finished with lengthy elegance.  It was may favorite of the evening. $75.

Ceretto is one of the older Piedmont vineyards that today makes a more modern style wine that, in my opinion, is an unfortunate departure from their roots. The 1985 Ceretto Barbaresco Brico Assili (regarded as one of the best vineyards in the Barbaresco region) that Marc opened next was made when the estate crafted more classically inspired wines.  While its age was beginning to show, the underlying beauty still remained.  It had lovely fruit and a terrific earthy bouquet and palate.  It was great.

The final two wines of the evening were also from Conterno, but from brother Aldo Conterno this time, who left the fold in 1969 to start his own winery.  While Aldo was not the strict traditionalist that Giacomo was, his wines are fine examples of the Nebbiolo grape, and although they differ in style from those of his brother, it would be wrong to describe them as anything other than traditional Barolo.

Tonight we were treated to Conterno’s Bussia Soprano Barolo.  This entry-level Barolo is the estate’s most widely produced wine, and it comes from sites other than the three cru vineyards, with vines aged at least 20 years.  It is a wonderful wine.  We drank the 1982 as well as the 1989 Bussia Soprano.  Both vintages are legendary in Piedmont and both of these wines showed it. While both still possessed vibrant fruit, the ’82 was a bit more open and elegant on the palate. The ’89 needed more time to breathe and began to come around after an hour in the glass.  Both of these wines will set you back about $300.  Current vintages 2001 & 2005 are priced around $100.

I own a couple of bottles of the 1989 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia, the estate's flagship wine.  This is one of the most memorable bottles of wine I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.  The wine is only made in years when the estate feels that their three cru vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello have produced fruit good enough to make the wine.  The Romirasco vineyard makes up the majority of the blend (about 70%).  The cru vineyard grapes are fermented and aged in wood separately, before blending in stainless steel where the wine is held for up to two years before bottling. It will then be held back in the cellar for six years before release.  This is truly special juice.

It was another terrific evening of food, wine and conversation.  Thanks again Marc for the wonderful wine and thanks Jim for a great dinner.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Luncheon

For the past 3 or 4 years a bunch of us wine lovers get together for a holiday lunch at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ.  As in past years this year’s lunch was a great combination of camaraderie, the great food of Tony Grande and the superb wine service provided by Salvatore and his staff.

This is a spirited group of wine lovers with varying palates and openly candid opinions.  As you can imagine it makes for very lively discussion during this 4-hour lunch.

Spaghetti with Bortaga
Tony’s son Natale was in the kitchen today and the food he prepared was superb.  While all the food was good, the highlights were a scrumptious seafood salad, ridiculously tender grilled octopus, meatballs, beef braciole, spaghetti with Bortaga and pork tenderloin, the focus was on the wine.

We began with 2000 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru and 2004 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er Cru.  Domaine Leflaive has been described by many as Burgundy’s greatest white wine domaine.  I certainly will not dispute that claim as I have enjoyed these wines on many occasions, as I did today.  Under the direction of Anne-Claude LeFlaive the domaine shifted all the viticulture to biodynamic in 1997.  The wines are wonderfully pure, with focused acidity and well-integrated oak.  Both wines were crisp, full-bodied, round and delicious.  New York Wine Warehouse, 56º Wine and Wine Legend usually have Leflaive wines.  While these vintages will set you back about $200 a bottle, the Bourgogne level wines are available at about $50 a bottle and are delicious as well.

For reds we began with 2002 Masetto from Ornellaia.  This is a massive Super Tuscan wine made from 100% merlot that has achieved cult status in the wine world. While it is a wine that many in our group are fond of, I am not one of them.  I find it to be one-dimensional with that big fruit bomb; high alcohol (15%) palate that seems to have become the hallmark of highly rated wines today.  I continued to taste the wine over 3 hours at the lunch and it never changed or evolved.  My first sip was the same as my last.  I remain perplexed after tasting the wine again today why someone would pay $500 -$600 for it.  I guess it is the price one must pay to drink a "cult" wine that the critics continue to rate as a "prestigious" wine and routinely score highly, ala first growth Bordeaux.  I know I am definitely a minority amongst our group here, but as I said we are candid in our opinions.  As my good friend Emil says, “that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla”.  One final note, I could not find Masetto on the Ornellaia website.  Perhaps this is a statement as to how big a cult wine it is.

We next moved on to four Bordeaux reds.  Of the 10 attendees at the luncheon I definitely do not share the same enthusiasm for red Bordeaux wines as do many of the others in the group.  The Cabernet and Merlot grapes, which usually make up these wines, are two of my least favorite grapes.   Amongst other things, I prefer the feminine elegance of Burgundy to the more macho style of Bordeaux.

1983 Cheval Blanc followed the Masetto.  Similar in price to the Masetto, this wine tasted of liquid soap.  Perhaps it was just a bad bottle?

This was followed by 1989 and 1985 Chateau Lafite Rothschild side by side.  The 1989 seemed to be fast asleep in contrast to the 1985 which exhibited lively fruit, balance and complexity.  Both of these wines will set you back about $500 a bottle and my humble opinion are not worth it.

All three of these wines have the prestigious Bordeaux first growth designation, which plays a major role in the price of the wine.  These are "prestigious wines".  Famed wine distributor Kermit Lynch says of these wines in his book “Adventures on the Wine Route", “As a Bordeaux proprietor, you do not even need a good winemaker…You need only have been included in the classification of 1855, 130 some years ago.  Your vineyard might now be ten times larger than it was in 1855, your production per acre five times larger, your grape varieties blended in different proportions, your vinification newfangled…No matter…”

The final Bordeaux was 1990 Chateau Montrose, which drank wonderfully.  It possessed a lovely earthy bouquet, was nicely balanced, round and focused on the palate.  I have had this wine on a few occasions and have joyed it very much each time.  It is a wine that truly is an expression of its terroir.  Chateau Montrose has a second growth classification which I would imagine is why it is priced about $200 less than the others.

We finished up with four wines from Italy beginning with 2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva.  In my initial WWN post I wrote “In a year in which most Barolo producers did not make a wine due to poor conditions, Roberto Conterno may have made his best Monfortino Riserva ever. I had this wine in November, shortly after its release and it was fabulous. Terrific purity and roundness on the palate. I think this will become one of the greatest Barolos ever made. Patience in cellaring this beauty will be rewarded”.  While it is still a monumental wine, alas it has begun to close down and patience is definitely going to be required for at least 5 to 10 years.  $400+

This was followed by 1975 Emidio Pepe Montulpulciano d”Abruzzo, which really soared from the glass.  Pepe is as traditional a winemaker as you will find.  His wines, especially older vintages, are not for every one.  They exhibit an unmistakable barnyard bouquet with an initial oxidized palate that requires 4 or more hours to dissipate.  As the wine breathes it evolves into a spectacular wine experience.

With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, his grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  $200.  Current vintages are significantly less in price and worth buying.

We finished up with Amarone from Dal Forno Romano (2003) and Giuseppe Quintarelli (1995). Both winemakers, considered by many the top two Amarone and Valpolicella producers in Italy, follow very different winemaking philosophies.  Dal Forno is the modernist, while Quintarelli is the quintessential traditionalist.   It was easy to tell one wine from the other.  The Quintarelli was magnificent with gorgeous fruit, complexity and balance and a wonderful earthy undertone.  Round and delicious here is a wine with soul that one remembers days after drinking it.  The Dal Forno in contrast resonated a dullness that I find is often associated with modern style wines.  Alas, it is a forgettable wine.

My thanks to Tony for putting the luncheon together, Tony & Natale Grande and Salvatore for the wonderful food and service and to all the guys who really make the event special with their spirited attendance.  Special thanks to Emil's wife for capturing us in the Christmas spirit.

Saluté and Merry Christmas to all

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dinner at Home

I don’t cook at home as often as I used to, but when I do I really enjoy it, especially when it's for good friends who enjoy good food and wine.  A couple of weeks ago, Carol and I had four friends over for a dinner originally planned on the night Sandy decided to visit us.  It was a wonderful evening.

The evening began sitting before a crackling fire and starting with 2010 Cedric Bouchard Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Champagne and nibbling on paté de foie gras with figs (from my trees) and apples and Gorgonzola Cheese drizzled with Chestnut Honey atop thin slices of French Bagguette bread.

They made a delicious accompaniment to the Bouchard Champagne.  Made from 100% Pinot Noir this is an insanely delicious wine.  It is a champagne that needs to be drunk from a large Burgundy or Claret glass to appreciate its complexity and vibrancy.  Like any great wine, it evolves in the glass so that each sip is a new and breathtaking experience. 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.  Instead his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote importer Polaner’s 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”.  Treat yourself to a bottle. About $65 at Amanti Vino, Montclair, NJ; Chambers Street Wines, NYC, and 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

As our glasses emptied and I had not yet prepared the Shrimp with Herbs appetizer, I uncorked a 2002 Huet Petillant Reserve ( a great year for Hute wines) for our guests to enjoy while I got busy in the kitchen.   This sparkling wine, one of two made by Huet, was brilliant and stood up well to the Bouchard.  The wine was rich and displayed great focus and a vibrant acidity.   We did not finish the bottle, so I put the cork in and put it in the refrigerator and promptly forgot it was there.  I noticed it 7 days layer and decided to try it.  Upon removing the cork it had a slight pop and when I poured it into the glass, it was loaded tiny effervescing bubbles.  I tasted it...wow!  It was still vibrant and wonderful. Considering the quality of Huet wines and how well they age, I was not surprised.  I selfishly finished the bottle.

Winemaker, Noel Pinguet, makes two Champagne style wines with the Chenin Blanc grape. There is a Mousseux bottling made in the méthode traditionelle, i.e. a bottling made à la Champagne, a vin clair bottled with yeast and sugar for the second fermentation.  In the other method, methode ancestrale, the wine is bottled before the primary fermentation is finished, the result being a lower pressure sparkling wine - the pétillant style - because only a portion of the fermentation occurs within the bottle. Although it is not strictly necessary to add anything when bottling, winemaker Noel Pinguet favors the addition of yeast to ensure the fermentation progresses smoothly.  This wine should age for decades.  The 2002 should be available and will cost you about $40.  The 2007 vintage (normal, not the reserve) can be found at Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ for under $30 a bottle.

With our appetizer I opened my only bottle of 1959 Le Huet Lieu Vouvray Demi Sec and immediately wished I had more bottles. It possessed a gorgeous translucent yellow hue and absolutely soared from the glass. It was pristine and pure on the palate with a long elegant finish. At 53 years of age, this wine still has many years in front of it.  It will be very hard to find and on the expensive side.  However 56º Wine, Bearnardsville has the 2002 and 2009 at about $40 a bottle.

Weeds & Sausage
For our entrée I made one of my favorite pasta dishes, Weeds with Sausage, from a recipe by Mario Batali.  For me it is the essence of simple country style Italian cuisine where the flavors and textures throw a party in your mouth.  With the pasta I served, side by side, 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino and 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  In my humble opinion there is no better producer of Brunello di Montalcino than Gianfranco Soldera.  His wine is the essence of traditionally made, unadulterated wine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Soldera at his Case Basse estate in 2008 and was completely captivated by the man’s passion and convictions. He firmly believes that high quality production requires a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for natural cultivation.  Thus the Case Basse estate pays attention to preserving the stonewalls where birds, small mammals and insects nest and reproduce.  For the same purpose, he creates artificial sanctuaries to attract animals in the hope that they become permanent residents, and also establishes beehives.  What does this have to do with wine?  Well when you taste his wine you will know.  It is pure, round and delicious, a pure product of the grape, soil and climate. We first sipped the non-riserva and we all sang its praise in unison.  It was a beautifully vibrant expression of the grape with focus, purity and elegance.  It finished with great length.  The Riserva, while very, very good, and a pleasure to drink seemed either a bit tired or still asleep.  It lacked the youthful vibrancy of the normale.  I intend to give it at least another year before retrying. Pricey stuff, but worth it.

Just last week the Soldera wine cellar was vandalized and 6 vintages (2007 thru 2012) were completely drained from their large Slovanian oak barrels.  While the wine was insured, the wine world has been deprived of these vintages.  I would imagine that current vintages, already expensive, will soar in value.

For dessert there was a delicious homemade (not mine) Zuppa Inglese (English Trifle), which we enjoyed with 2006 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos.  This wine from Hungry is one of the great dessert wines of the world. The primary grape variety used in a Tokaji blend is Furmint, which account for around two-thirds of the Tokaj region’s total vineyard area. It is a high-quality grape, with plenty of natural acidity, which helps ensure the longevity of Tokaji wines. It is also very susceptible to the all-important botrytis rot that is responsible for producing Aszu (dried grapes) for use in the prized sweet wines of the region.   A round and delicious dessert wine that exhibited a terrific light golden hue, was full-bodied with wonderful complexity.   At $60 a bottle, it would make a great addition to anyone’s cellar.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Great Deal to be Thankful For!

Thanksgiving Napkin made by Mia
Skewered fruit
Thanksgiving is a day for all of us to be thankful for what we have, especially when it comes to family and health. Carol and I are most fortunate to be able to spend each Thanksgiving, as well as each holiday, with our immediate family.  The fact that we are all together and can all actively participate in the celebration is what makes the day so special.  While the food and wine are always good, it is really secondary to being with each other and thoroughly enjoying the day together.

However, food and wine do help to raise the level of any occasion or celebration.  While roast turkey is not one of my go to dishes, I do enjoy having it on Thanksgiving.  For the past half dozen or so years our oldest daughter Gina and her husband Nick have hosted the day at their home.  Gina is a terrific cook and always turns out a great meal.  We began the meal buffet style by partaking of a delicious antipasto, compliments of her father-in-law Vinny.  Nuts, homemade corn muffins and fruit skewers also rounded out the buffet.   A wonderfully crisp and elegant 2004 Bzikot Puligny Montrachet les Foliatieres Premier Cru was the perfect white for both the appetizers and dinner.  It was crisp, clean, unoaked and focused with a long delicious finish.  Current vintages available are the 2008 & 2009, both at $90.  56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

Appetizer reds included a 2010 BioVio U Bastio Rossese di Albenga.  From the Liguria region of Italy, the winery is largely unknown here in the US.  The minuscule production comes from some of the best plots in the entire Albenga area, with vines of up to 40 years of age.  This is a fun wine to drink as it is young, fruity, fresh and very easy to sip.   $20.  ChambersStreet Wines, NYC.

The other red was 2011 Michel Guignier Beaujolais Villages La Bonne Pioche drank superbly.  The wine is an example of how well the Gamay grape can be when it is tended to by a top producer.  This is a beautifully made wine with pure earthy fruit and only 11.5% alcohol.  Another very easy and pleasing wine to drink while conversing and picking at the antipasto.  $15 @ Chambers Street Wines, NYC.
Pumpkin Soup

Next we sat down to a bowl of Gina’s creamy Pumpkin Soup.  I must say that while I would prefer a pasta course before the bird, this soup is really delicious and sets the stage for the bird, the mashed potatoes, stuffing and veggies that follow.  As always we did an admirable job stuffing our tummies.

Along with more 2004 Bzikot Puligny Montrachet les Foliatieres Premier Cru I opened another Beaujolais, 2011 Christian Ducroux Regnie.  This was my first taste of wine from Ducroux and I can promise it will not be my last, that is if I can find more.  What a wine.  The wine had gorgeous pure fruit that was focused and compelling and finished with considerable length.  I am talking about a $16 bottle of wine that was round and delicious and the perfect compliment to roast turkey.  Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

Both of my son-in-laws Nick and Andy have both become big fans of Sauternes dessert wines. Knowing this I brought along a bottle, however Nick surprised me by purchasing a bottle of 2005 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes to be enjoyed our array of desserts.  He made a great choice.  While still a baby it drank very well.  The underlying balance and complexity were evident in each sip.  The bouquet was gorgeous and enticing.  This wine will provide wonderful drinking for many more years to come.   $40.  Wine Legend, Livingston,  NJ. 

Another wonderful Thanksgiving.  Thank you Nick & Gina.

Just 5 days prior to Thanksgiving, along with friends and extended family we all gathered at Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, NJ to celebrate our grandson Andy John (AJ) Rossi's christening.  Of all that Carol and I have to be grateful for, I'd have to say that our grandchildren top the list.  Gina & Nick (Mia & Nicholas) and Lisa & Andy (Isabella & AJ) have given us four adorable grandkids to share our life with.  Their close proximity to us makes us even more greatful as it means we get to be with them a lot.

Il Tulipano did it's usually excellent job with the affair.  The food was plentiful and delicious. The white wine I selected was 2011 Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie from Domaine de la Pepiere.  From the Loire region of France this is a crisp, clean & briny white wine with great acidity and impeccable balance.  The grape here is Melon Bourgogne and the wine is made by  one of the wine world's top producers, Marc Ollivier, in a very traditional style.  Ollivier hand harvests the grapes (a rarity in the region), uses natural yeasts and bottles with a very light filtration. The vineyards are in old vines (40 years and older) with a particularly good exposition on a plateau overlooking the river Sèvre. All the vineyards are from original stock: Ollivier is the only grower in the Muscadet who does not have a single clonal selection in his vineyards.  The wines are so well made that they will last 10 to 15 years.  It is hard to believe that this wine is only $15.  Treat yourself to Ollivier's wines.  You will be glad you did.  Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

For red I served 2003 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape which drank beautifully and brought praise from all those who tasted it.  The earthy bouquet built high expectations of the taste to come, and we were not disappointed.  On the palate it was rich, vibrant and balanced.  It had a wonderful focus and finished with considerable length.  $60.

It is the occasional bumps in the road that serve to remind us how thankful we need to be of what we have.  So open a bottle of wine with family and/or friends and say thanks that you are able to do so.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Masters of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

As you probably know my wine preference is strongly anchored in traditionally made wines, i.e. wines that see no manipulation in the cellar, and are instead an expression of the place and grape from which they were born.  Fortunately there are great winemakers in various countries that make these types of wines.  France’s  Southern Rhone Valley is home to the appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, one of my favorites.  And, in my opinion, the three top winemakers here are Chateau Beaucastel, Chateau Rayas, and Henri Bonneau.   Each make stunning traditional wines that provide for the drinker an extraordinary wine experience.  Their wines are alive and change and evolve in the glass with each sip.  They are wines that stimulate conversation amongst wine drinkers.   They are wines that also bring broad smiles to the faces of those who partake of them.

With this in mind, and my turn to provide the wine, I thought an evening with these wine makers and our wine group was in order. Thus this past Monday evening we met at Rare The Steakhouse in Little Falls, NJ.  The restaurant is owned by Il Tulipano owner Gregorio Polomeni and serves excellent steaks, chops and accompaniments.  There are also a number of menu choices, such as Rigatoni Amatriciana, carried over from Il Tulipano.  On this evening we enjoyed perfectly cooked steaks and veal along with Mac n Cheese, Mashed Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach.  

Chateau du Beaucastel

Chateau du Breaucastel has 70 hectares (173 acres) of vines planted with red grape varieties.  Diluvial alpine deposits with rolled pebbles over a former molasse sea-bed of the miocene epoch make up the soil. 

CdP wine making rules allows for producers to use up to 13 different grape varietals in making red CdP.  Beaucastel is one of the few producers that blends all 13 permitted grape varietals into its red CdPs.  Mourvedre 30%, Grenache 30%, Syrah 10%, Counoise 10%, Cinsault 5%. The other varieties (Vaccarese, Terret noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne) add up to 15%. 

The grapes are hand picked & vinified separately with just the Syrah undergoing new oak maturation. Beaucastel is an unorthodox CdP, because it eschews the common Grenache in favor of Mouvedre, which usually makes up 30% of the blend. The skins of the whole berries are first heated to 80°C (176°F), to destroy bacteria that might lead to early oxidation, and then cooled down to 20°C (68°F). Maceration is classic, in open-topped wooden vats for syrah and Mouvedre and in concrete tanks for the other varieties.  After the varietals are blended the wine is matured in large oak foudre for one year, after which bottling takes place without filtration (just fining with egg whites.)

If ever two winemakers could honestly be said to have become legends in their own time, then they would be Henri Bonneau and the late Jacques Reynaud (of Château Rayas).

The vinification and ageing of the Bonneau wines is in fact very simple. When the fermentation in cement tanks is finished the wine goes into very old barrels from Burgundy. Here it stays until Bonneau finds it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years.  Unlike Beaucastel, Bonneau uses more than 90% Grenache along with small amounts of Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarese in his CdP.

Not one barrel of his wine is ever going to see the inside of a bottle before its fifth birthday. It will then be sold under one of three names – “Celestin”, “Marie Burrier”, or just plain “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”, representing diminishing prowess. “Which name?” is a question to answer which Bonneau often struggles for the entire five years, sometimes longer. And if he doesn’t think a given wine fits one of these pigeon holes, then he creates a new and mysterious name to go with it! In his winemaking, Bonneau has done more than any other grower in the world to set an example of “less is more”. In his approach to harvest – as late and as ripe as possible and damn the risks – he has proven to be a man truly ahead of his time. Nowadays, wine growers the world over talk the talk of “hang to the max” and have the port-like, 15+% alcohol wines to prove it, whether or not they or their customers fall on their faces attempting to walk the walk. The truth is, there ought to be a large placard in Bonneau’s cave that reads “Don’t try this in your cellar!” It might not discourage the most determined young growers … but only those few ever stand a chance of emulating his success. To understand Bonneau’s wines – insofar as anyone can fathom such mysterious depths – one has to appreciate old, pre-clonal vines and the effect of cropping them at very low levels. Only in this way will resulting wines have sufficient extract to buffer their alcohol, not to mention withstand years in old barrels and then improve for additional decades in bottle.

Many feel that if the question is posed as to what is the quintessential Châteauneuf du Pape at the highest quality level, the answer can only be Henri Bonneau’s Réserve des Célestins.”

Chateau Rayas is a small ten-hectare vineyard, in the heart of the woods, planted in very poor, sandy soil producing wines with great finesse. The grape varieties there are: Grenache for red wine Grenache and Clairette for white.

Château Rayas is a winery that seems frozen in time. Wooden staircases leading to different areas and floors inside the "chai" are worn, steep and rocky. However, Emmanuel did make a concession to modernity when he lined the inside of the cement fermentation vats with epoxy, a durable, corrosion-resistant coating. The wine is matured, however, in large, ancient wood vats, or "foudres" that are 80 to 100 years old. 

Rayas' rustic look not only reflects the owners' dislike for the trendy, it advertises their commitment to tradition. This philosophy comes through in the wine: In bad or good vintages, it tastes genuine. In a world of sameness, the Reynaud family makes a wine that's idiosyncratic even by the local standards of Châteauneuf. Rayas is unusual because its vineyards face mostly north (less heat, thus more finesse). It's also unusual because the wine is 100% Grenache. (Rayas has 27 acres planted to this varietal.) It helps that the vines are relatively old -- between 15 and 60 years, according to Emmanuel.

Finally, Rayas harvests late, sometimes very late. "That's the game we've always played in the family: We want ripe fruit, and we'll pick late if necessary," said Emmanuel. "You must know how to take risks. To win, you must be ready to lose."

We began with 1999 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc alongside 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc.  

When I first purchased the 1999 Beaucastel Blanc (2002) the Wine Advocate had these comments, “It takes on an oxidized mid-life crisis between 5-10 years of age, and re-emerges as a completely different animal around age ten. Of course, each vintage has its own track record, but it is a fascinating wine to drink young, as well as an impressive one to have after ten years. Thick and unctuously-textured, but supported by excellent acidity, it can be drunk over the next 4-5 years, and then ignored for a decade. It will keep for 20 years.”   This turned out to be a very accurate description.  The wine was gorgeous in 2002 and then completely shut down until 2010 when it emerged as a completely different wine.  The wine possessed then, as it did tonight, a gorgeous translucent golden-honey hue with an absolutely intoxicating sweet bouquet.  On the palate it was a bit oxidized, nicely balanced, but lacked the freshness of white Cdps in their youth.  An interesting wine for sure.  The Beaucastel is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picardan, Clairette, Bourboulenc.

The 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc, a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Clairette on the other hand had remarkable purity, balance and focus.  It was crisp and sexy on the palate with a long and delicious finish.  A wine that needs to be tasted to appreciate.

L to R, '99 Beaucastel, '07 Rayas

The first red CdP we drankd was 2004 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin.  This remarkable wine is made only in exceptional vintages, which according to the family means only when the Mourvedre reaches sufficient ripeness to merit a special bottling. Hommage contains a higher proportion of Mourvedre than the regular bottling and this varietal did extremely well in the 2004 vintage.  20% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Counoise make up the balance of the blend.  The wine has only been made in In 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005. 

Unfortunately tonight’s bottle was very tight and despite 3+ hours of decanting, the wine never really emerged.  I had a bottle of this vintage in January of this year and it too never opened.  It would appear that the wine has gone to sleep for a while.  It was a shame as I have had other vintages that were ethereal.  

Fortunately the 2001 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins that followed made up for the first bottle.  This was downright gorgeous.  The great wine writer Hugh Johnson has said, “Great wines don’t make statements, they pose questions.”  Amen to that!  When I drink this wine I always ask myself “How can a wine be this good?”  One sip of this wine and the same question will jump from your lips.  To quote Eric Asimov, Chief Wine Critic for the NY Times, from his Latest book “how to love wine”, “great wine is best experienced by the sense of wonder and intrigue it provokes.”  This wine certainly evoked both of the above comments.  

The final two red Cdps were 1995 and 2007 Chateau Rayas Reserve.  Next to the 1990 vintage, these two vintages are considered to be amongst the finest wines to come out of Rayas.  Made from 100% Grenache both were spectacular.  I have always been partial to the 1995.  In fact it is one of the most memorable wines that I have ever tasted.  It is round, pure and delicious.  It was again tonight, but alas played second fiddle to the 2007 which was stunning, even in its youth.  This wine can use 4 to 5 more years of cellar aging and then it may even surpass the legendary 1990.  The wine has an impeccable balance, purity of fruit and a lengthy elegant finish.  The wine flat out seduces you.  Once again the comments of Johnson and Asimov came to mind as I drank these wines. 

The consensus wine of the evening was the 2001 Bonneau and rightfully so.  It is drinking at its peak at the moment.  The 2007 Rayas red was a close second.  I look forward to comparing these two wines in the future.  It was a great evening, shared with 5 guys who truly appreciate good food and great wines.

These wines are not easy to come buy and are very pricey, but worth the indulgence on occasion.  

Thanks Emil for dinner.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Culin Ariane

A couple of weeks ago our wine group met at Culin Ariane in Montclair, NJ for our monthly wine dinner.  It was Howard’s turn to provide the wines and he did a superb job with his selection of red Burgundies with some age on them.  The marvelous cuisine of chef Ariane Duarte was a perfect compliment to these glorious wines.

Fried Oysters w/ Horseradish Cream
Our appetizers consisted of Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Horseradish Cream & Micro Greens.  Anyone who eats here with any regularity has become addicted to these perfectly fried crustaceans.  The combination of the brininess of the oysters with the "bite" of the horseradish cream works to perfection in this amazing dish.

Manila Clams with Spanish Chorizo, Cherry Tomatoes and an olive Olive Oil Herbed Crouton and Sashimi Tuna Flower with Crispy Wontons, Pickled Cucumber & Wasabi Crème Fraiche rounded out the appetizers.  As with the oysters, both dishes were a magnificent explosion of textures and tastes on the palate.  As always we also consumed way too many of the ethereal buttery homemade croissants that were served with the appetizers.

We began the evening with a 1978 Camille Giroud Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 1er Cru.  While the nose had an enticing and earthy bouquet, the palate at first lacked fruit.  As the wine sat in the glass the fruit began to evolve nicely.  As I have this wine in my personal cellar, I opened another bottle a few nights later and decanted it for 3 hours and the wine really responded.  The earthy bouquet really soared from the glass and the fruit was much more vibrant.  While I don’t think this wine has a lot of time left, it should be enjoyable for another 3-5 years.  While the 1978 will not be easy to find and will be pricey, more recent vintages from this producer are highly recommended.

We followed this with a 1989 Joseph Drouhin Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru, which like the Giroud drank very nicely.  I found the wine to have a terrific feminine elegance with good fruit and a very nice finish.  Joseph Drouhin is a terrific producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  He owns three wineries: one in Beaune (his headquarters), one in Chablis, and, since 1988, a third in Oregon's Willamette Valley.  Drouhin follows biodynamic principles all of vineyards and organic farming is being practiced throughout all Drouhin properties. Annual production of Drouhin's Burgundy wines range from 300,000 to 400,000 cases per year, depending on the vintage.  You can pay as little as $25 a bottle or as much as several hundred dollars a bottle for his wines.  They are superb at all levels.  Since the wine we drank will be very difficult to find, allow me to suggest the 2010 Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune Villages Red at around $23 a bottle.  From the fantastic 2010 vintage, this wine, while not a Grand Cru, is an incredible value and should be widely available.

Fettuccine w/ Wild Boar Ragu

Main course choices included Thai Chile Garlic Seasoned Monkfish Osso Bucco with Quinoa “Fried Rice,” Summer Vegetables, Ginger Thai Basil Beurre Blanc; braised Short Ribs of Beef; homemade Fettuccine with Wild Boar Ragu and the same homemade Fettucine served Carbonara Style.  The Fettucine with the Wild Boar was fantastic, the Carbonara, while very tasty, lacked the textural component of the Carbonara I had here a week previously.  This was through no fault of Ariane.  The previous week she made the dish with Spaghettini and it was so good I asked her if she would make it again.  Alas, she had only Fettuccine and I gave it a try.  The dish needs Spaghetti or similar type pasta to get the textural component that makes the dish so special, especially at Culin Ariane.

The first wine we tasted with our entrées was 1990 Domaine Alain Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Villages.  As with the first two wines this wine had an enticing earthy bouquet, however the fruit lacked focus and it finished a bit short.

The next wine, 1996 Domaine Bertagna Clos St. Denis Grand Cru, was terrific.  On the palate the lively fruit was soft and pure and it finished with length, complexity and elegance.  A terrific bottle of wine.  Will not be easy to find.  If you do expect to pay around $100.

The final wine, 1997 Domaine Joseph Roty Mazy-Chambertin Grand Cru, was an equal match to the Bertagna.  In fact it was the consensus of the group that these two wines were the wines of the evening.  The wine had a beautiful translucent red hue and the unmistakable bouquet of great Burgundy.  On the palate it displayed wonderful ripe fruit and finished with considerable length.

It was a great evening of food & wine.  Thank you Howard and Ariane. 

A week prior to this Carol and I were joined by good friends Tony and Fran at Culin Ariane for another wonderful meal paired with a terrific selection of eclectic wines.  We began with a 2007 Scarbolo My Time.  A blend of Chardonnay, Friulano and Sauvignon Blanc, this white from Friuli Venezia, Italy had great focus and lush fruit.  Rich and pure on the palate it had a wonderfully long and soft finish.  About $35 a bottle, however it will not be easy to find.  The wine is imported by Soilair, NYC.

We visted the Northern Rhone Valley of France for two extraordinary wines that we drank side-by-side.  2003 René Rostaing Cote-Rotie La Landonne.  This single vineyard Syrah showed beautifully. On the palate the fruit was fresh and concentrated and tannins were soft and well integrated.  It finished with a lengthy richness.  The 1999 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage, also 100% Syrah, we drank alongside also showed beautifully.  It possessed a magnificent nose and on the palate it had pure, focused fruit and considerable complexity.  As with the Rostaing, the tannins were soft and well integrated, and it finished with a lengthy, soft elegance.  These were simply two round and delicious wines with considerable soul.   

The final wine of the evening was 2005 Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance.  This is a magnificent dessert wine that is graceful with an impeccable balance of residual sugar and fruit.  The wine soars on the palate, has a long rich finish and will last for decades.  

Culin Ariane and great wine is an unbeatable combination.