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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Most Enjoyable Dinner & Tasting

I was recently invited to join a small but long-standing wine group comprised of 5 personable and knowledgeable wine guys. The group meets monthly at a local BYOB restaurant. One member is responsible for the wine and another for the dinner tab. Notes on the wines are provided. This month the tasting and dinner took place at Fascino in Montclair, NJ. Owner/chef Ryan DePersio's menu tends to focus on what I would categorize as Nouveau Italian Cuisine. The restaurant has received rave reviews. As I prefer more rustic traditional Italian food, I am not a regular here. I did discover that on Tuesday nights (the night we met) chef DePersio has a selection of more traditional Italian dishes. Right up my alley. I thoroughly enjoyed an appetizer of seared Foie Gras and a main course of perfectly al dente Rigatoni in a tomato fennel sauce. The others had similar comments about their selections, however I did not pay close enough attention to them to report on them.

Emil was responsible for the wines on this evening and his selection of four red Burgundies and one Chateauneuf-du-Pape made for a great tasting. The wines in the order we enjoyed them were:

1983 P. Dubreuil –Fontaine Pere & Fils Corton Bressandes Grand Cru
This was a new producer for me. Funky barnyard nose upon opening the bottle that never really left. I have not had much experience with older Burgundies, so not sure what to make of it. It did not have the classic Burgundy nose or palate that the ensuing wines possessed. For me the wine had passed its prime and was in decline. $140

2006 Denis Bachelet Gevry Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru
While the bouquet upon opening was distinctly Pinot Noir, it possessed, as Jeff commented, a distinct California Pinot Noir nose. On the palate however there was no mistake that it was from Burgundy. I have always enjoyed the purity that Bachelet wines have and this was no exception. A rich and lush wine with a lengthy finish that should age beautifully for many years. $77

1995 Francois Gaunoux Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chenes
I thought this was a very nice Volnay especially when considering the difficulty of the 1995 vintage in the Cote de Beaune. As with be Bachelet this was wonderfully pure and balanced on the palate. I thought the finish was a bit short however. $90.

1999 Meo Camuzet Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Aux Boudots
This bottle from a top Cote de Nuits producer drank very well. It was completely round and elegant on the palate with a lengthy finish. $180

2001 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
This was to be the back up wine in case any of the primary wines were corked or otherwise flawed. We opened it anyway and as I might have guessed it was the wine of the evening. I have had many vintages of this wine and they always leave me speechless. There really are no words to describe the CDP wines of Rayas other than they are completely round and delicious. $200.

All of the wines for the evening were purchased from The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop in Bedminster, N.J. The Pluckemin Inn is one of NJ’s top restaurants with a great wine list. They also have a very well stocked wine shop of great wines at reasonable prices.

All in all it was a terrific evening. Thanks fellows for inviting me into your group.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Numbers Game

Readers of this blog know that I do not subscribe to point rating systems, including the most revered system on the planet; Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Mr. Parker is well known and revered and his rating system has had a tremendous affect (unfortunately) on the wine world, especially in the making of wine. Today far too many producers all over the world have begun to make wine in the style (high alcohol, dark color and lots of oak) that Parker likes in hopes of receiving a high score from him. These high alcohol fruit bombs are replacing wines of character and elegance. Look at what has happened in Spain. With the exception of Lopez de Heredia and a few other old wine producers, Spanish wines are a far cry from what they used to be 30 years ago.

Journalist Gary Rivlin wrote in a 2006 NY Times article, "Some fear that the worldwide influence of Mr. Parker, who has been described as the planet's most powerful critic, will eventually mean a homogenization of wines." Unfortunately this seems to be what is happening today. California, Australia, Italy (Super Tuscans), Spain, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, with a few exceptions, make wines to please Parker. The only thing that distinguishes these wines from one another is the grape variety. They are all high in alcohol, over extracted and oaky. In my opinion they lack character, elegance and soul. I find them very boring.

Some friends recently attended a wine dinner consisting of wines from Mr. Parker's cellar. He himself was in attendance. During the conversation about wines and his rating system he indicated that people who don’t believe in the system (me for one) just do not have enough wine knowledge to understand what goes into it. I am the first to admit that my knowledge of wine pales by comparison to Mr. Parker’s, but his statement is about the most inane thing I have ever heard. Hugh Johnson is one of the world’s most widely recognized wine writers and has been since 1960. My friend Chris Cree holds one of only 29 Master of Wine degrees in the USA. Neither of these gentlemen subscribes to any point system, and I think it is safe to say they are, at the very least, every bit as knowledgeable on the subject as Mr. Parker.

As for his system, I believe that I do understand what goes into it and probably more so than the people who employ it to buy their wines. In my opinion it is in fact “what goes into it” that makes it so ridiculous. The system uses a 100-point scale. Allow me to explain how the system works. A wine earns 50 points for being wine and showing up in the glass. I find this interesting and puzzling. Perhaps prior to the start of a football game each team should be given 7 points just for being a football team and showing up.

The system continues with a wine receiving up to 5 points for color. What color has to do with the quality of a wine escapes me. Is darker better than lighter? Is an opaque wine that is a deep crimson red like a California Cabernet better than a translucent red Burgundy? I recently had a couple of bottles of 2010 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Pineau D'Aunis Rosé. It's color is best described as cloudy pink, not very appealing, but oh what a marvelous wine. I wonder If this component of the rating system were applied to art would the rather muted color of the Mona Lisa lose points when compared to the vibrant colors of a work by Peter Max?

Next the system rates the nose (bouquet) of the wine with up to 15 points being awarded. Call me naïve, but a wine either smells good or it doesn’t. If a wine received 7 points in this category, does that mean it smells half bad or does it mean it smells half good. I'm curious, how would you score the bouquet of these 3 items? A fresh white truffle, a fresh red rose and a freshly opened can of anchovies? 3 very different and distinct noses here and each has its own characteristics. Is one better than the other? I happen to like the smell of all three. Assigning a rating to each of them would be preposterous.

I feel the same about the palate, which is worth 20 points per Mr. Parker. Each wine is its own wine. You may prefer one wine’s palate more than another’s just as you may prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate ice cream. All that counts is what you like. There are no in betweens or absolutes.

The final 10 points in this system are for overall impression. Isn’t that all that really matters. You like the wine, you hate the wine, you love the wine, etc. Also if you scored the wine high in all other categories I would think your overall impression would be good. Then what is the purpose of the other categories?

Having said all of this, what is the most amazing aspect of his system is that he tastes (spits actually) up to 125 wines twice a week and claims that he can “precisely assess the worth of every single wine that passes his lips”. I personally find this very hard to believe. Apparently others do also. See the article on this by Tony Hendra by clicking here.

So what is the bottom line with these number systems? As far as I am concerned they completely cast aside the intrinsic qualities of the wine. There appears to be no consideration given to what they are paired with, how the wine will evolve in the glass while you drink it or how it will develop over time. It is simply pour, sip, spit and score. Amazing…no check that I think bizarre is a more appropriate word.

Consider the following review of the 1998 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza Rioja Reserva (Spain) from John Gilman (traditionalist) and Parker (modernist).

To the best of my recollection, this is the first wine I have ever tasted from Remírez de Ganuza, which I found decisively mediocre in quality. The deep, modern and boring nose offers up scents of roasted cherries, leather, a bit of barnyard, salty soil tones, spice and a generous blast of new wood. On the palate the wine is medium-full and a bit “pinched” by its new wood, with tangy acids, respectable depth and a fair bit of uncovered wood tannins drying out the finish. Is this really supposed to be cutting edge Rioja these days? Wow, I am unimpressed. (Drink between 2011-2020). 81 points. Tasted 2011”.

The 1998 Remírez de Ganuza Rioja Reserva was diminished a bit by late harvest rainfall. Even so, it is an elegant, savory, complex wine that has good depth and concentration. It should drink nicely for another decade. 93 points. Tasted 2010”.

These reviews could not be further apart. Here are 2 very knowledgeable wine guys with very different palates and these differences are reflected in their comments and scores. Chocolate and vanilla my friends. The message is clear to me, drink wine that tastes good to you for your reasons, not someone else’s. And when you do I promise you that a world of incredible wines from places like the Jura and Loire in France, and Liguria, the Val Dosta and Friuli Venizia in Italy await you.

So what is the point (did I say point)? It is simply this. I think there is value in the writings of wine critics, but it lies not in the scores they give to wines but rather in the information they provide about the wine and its pedigree. When I read about a wine that appears to have the characteristics I enjoy, I try it and then decide for myself if I like it or not. Points simply do not enter into the picture.

For those who are interested in learning more about Parker’s rating system and what goes into it, etc, I suggest you check out Elin Mccoy’s book, The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tony's Barolo Birthday

On the occasion of my good friend Tony P. Jr.’s 48th birthday, six of us and the birthday boy gathered at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Il Capriccio in Whippany, NJ, to celebrate the day with him. The combination of Tony Grande’s outstanding food, an awesome selection of wines, most of which were older Barolos, and spirited conversation made for a lengthy, but memorable afternoon.

As we waited for our appetizers we started with a bottle of 1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella St. Stefano di Perno, This has always been one of my favorite Barolos, even though the wine is aged in Barrique. The oak is completely integrated into the wine and does not distract from the purity of the fruit. The wine had a gorgeous earthy bouquet and a lengthy finish. $95. DeVino Wine, NYC.

The appetizers began with a spectacular seafood platter that was comprised of pristinely fresh small cubes of raw Pesce Spada (swordfish) drizzled with a fine extra-virgin olive oil, Baccala (dried salt cod) salad and Sarde (sardines) in Soar. The later dish is a specialty of Venice in which fresh sardines are fried and then marinated for a couple of days in a mixture of caramelized onions and pignoli nuts. I had this magnificent dish for the first time number of years ago at Trattoria Alla Madonna, near the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. This version was equal to what I had there.

As the second wave of appetizers came, an assorted hot seafood platter, we reveled in a 1996 Giuseppe Rinald Barolo Brunate La Coste. This incredible Barolo is drinking superb right now and will continue to do so for many years to come. The wine is a beautifully crafted old world gem. It literally soars from the glass, entices your palate with it's lovely purity and richness and finishes with elegance and length. A wine with soul. $195. The Rare Wine Co., San Francisco, CA.

Since the birthday boy was born in 1964, 3 of us including Tony, brought a 1964 Barolo. As I have said in previous blogs these older Barolos are usually a crapshoot, ranging from awesome to undrinkable. On this afternoon we rolled a seven, an eleven and then crapped out.

The seven and eleven rolls belonged to the 1964 Capplellano Barolo and the 1964 Aldo Conterno Barolo. The Cappellano had a nice brick red hue, seemed a bit funky on first pouring, but began to open after about 30 minutes in the glass. This bottle came from my cellar and was the last of 3 bottles that I had purchased a couple of years ago. All came from the same reputable source. The first bottle was spectacular, the second less so and this one was in the middle. I think that given another hour or two it would have become a match for the first bottle. The Conterno was just terrific. It too had a transparent brickish hue similar to the Cappellano, only a bit deeper.

The wine drank extremely well and kept evolving in the glass. This was clearly the best bottle of ’64 on this day. (The Conterno ison the left). The final bottle of the three a 1964 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo came up snake eyes. Unfortunately this bottle was corked, oxidized and undrinkable. Oddly enough on this same birthday occasion a year prior we had the same wine, and it was spectacular. It has been my experience with older Barolos that they can be risky, even when they are purchased from reputable sources. If you do purchase any, be sure to ask what the policy is if the bottle is bad. In most cases you, the purchaser, are taking a risk.

With a perfect plate of Rigatoni alla Amatriciana we drank a 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino. This drank very well. Nice earthy bouquet with well-balanced fruit on the palate and a very nice finish. While this producer uses more modern techniques in the wine making process, he still uses large, old Slovonian Oak in the aging process, which I believe, imparts a nice roundness to the wine. 2001 was a great year for Brunello, so if you can find this expect to pay upwards of $100 a bottle.

The final course arrived, whole oven roasted Bronzino. The fish is covered in a thick layer of Kosher salt and then roasted in the oven. The salt keeps the fish very moist as it cooks while remaining neutral in terms of salting the fish. The crust is then chipped away and the fish filleted tableside. It was served with a delicate lemon and olive oil dressing. The fish was delicious.

To accompany the Branzino we opened the final red, a 1999 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi, which soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length. As I reported on the 2002 Vintage of this wine in a previous blog, Rosso del Bepi is only made in vintages when Giiuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price. About $130 a bottle. De-Vino Wine Boutique, NY Wine Warehouse, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC.

With coffee we drank a glass of 1997 & 1988 Chateau d’Yquem from 375ml bottles side by side. D’Yquem is Tony’s favorite wine of all. The wines were very good. Both wines had a citrusy bouquet and were rich and complex on the palate. My only problem with the wine is the finish, which for me is medicinal. Expect to pay upwards of $150 per 375ml bottle.

With the one corked exception all the wines were great. In my opinion the 1996 Rinaldi and the 1999 Quintarelli were the wines of the day, with the 1964 Conterno and 1964 Cappellano finishing 2nd & 3rd respectively. Each of these wines had songs to sing, and did so beautifully.

It was a great lunch. Happy Birthday Tony!