About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Loire Valley

This past Wednesday evening our monthly wine group gathered for dinner at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ. This month I was in the cue to supply the wines for the evening. I think I mentioned previously that each month one member is responsible for the wine and another is responsible for the dinner. With the exception of the last wine I selected the Loire Valley for the wines. I am a huge fan of wines from this region of France. The principal grapes of the region are Chenin Blanc (white) and Cabernet Franc (red). Each wine showed beautifully which made for a great tasting.

A few in the group were not very familiar with Loire Valley wines, thus I was very happy that they really enjoyed them and I am happy to report that the next day some of them went out and purchased some of the wines we drank.

Loire Valley wines do not receive a lot of ink from most of the top wine critics and as a result they are not as well known and therefore they remain very reasonably priced. I for one hope this trend continues as I have many delicious wines in my cellar from the region that are under $30 a bottle.

Chenin Blanc is probably my favorite white grape and Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite reds. The Chenin Blanc grape possesses high acidity, which means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to stunning dessert wines.

Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and in my opinion results in a more feminine and elegant wine than the latter.

We began with 2006 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé Chenin Blanc from the small commune of Saumur in the Loire Valley. What a terrific wine that is just entering its peak drinking window. It has a gorgeous crystal clear yellow hue along with a pure citrus bouquet that is deep and complex. On the palate the wine has a sensuous viscosity, is beautifully balanced and full-bodied. The wine keeps evolving with each sip and has a long finish. Built for age this wine will last for another 25 years.

Clos Rougeard is owned by the Foucault brothers. The estate has attained cult status. Every Michelin three-star restaurant in France hustles to get a small allocation. While it is rarely found in America, you can get it at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ for about $70 a bottle.

On to the Chinon, another small commune in the Loire Valley, for 2007 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux, Cabernet Franc . Bernard Baudry is one of the newer stars of the Chinon. Les Grezeaux is his top cuvee. The vines for this wine are up to sixty years old, Baudry's oldest, and are hand harvested at a yield of 40 hl/ha. They are fermented in cement, but then sees typically a year of barrel ageing, in wood which is between one and five years old.

This bottle had a gorgeous nose of berries that soared from the glass. On the palate it displayed an earthiness that encompassed ripe fruit and wonderful complexity. Like the Breze, the wine kept evolving in the glass. Tannins were soft and allowed for a lengthy elegant finish. This wine will benefit from a few more years in the cellar and last for another 20. The price, hold on to your hat, $25. An amazing value. Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

Back to Clos Rougeard for the 2005 Clos Rougeard Samur-Champigny, Les Poyeux Cabernet Franc. This is a stunning wine in the making. While it drank beautifully tonight it will benefit immensely from another 3 or 4 years in the cellar. Aged in older barrels, the oak is beautifully integrated. The earthy bouquet soars from the glass. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, with great fruit and a long elegant finish. $80 at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

We then returned to the Chinon, this time for 1989 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses Cabernet Franc. Another absolutely stunning wine with a deep earthy bouquet, a full-bodied, complex and focused palate. The finish is long, elegant and earthy. A Round and delicious wine with a great deal of soul that is drinking beautifully at the moment and should continue to do so for some time.

Les Picasses, is the most classic and age worthy wine from the domaine. It comes from a limestone terroir, where the vines have reached a respectable fifty years of age. The fruit is hand-harvested and the final yield is typically in the order of 30 hl/ha and after fermentation, which is carried out in stainless steel controlled to less than 30°C, followed by a maceration of 25-30 days, the wine that results goes into large foudres where it will rest for between 12 and 14 months before bottling. The 1990 vintage of the Les Picasses is available at $60 a bottle at Amanti Vino, Montclair. NJ. While I have not tasted this vintage yet, it does reside in my cellar. I did however have a bottle of the 2005 Les Picasses yesterday and it was superb. $25 a bottle at 56º Wine.

The final Loire Valley Cabernet Franc was 1986 Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Les Perrieres, another absolutely gorgeous wine which hails from the Bourgueil commune in the Loire Valley. The wine drank fabulously. Fully mature on the palate, the wine simply soared from the glass. Rich and complex, it was earthy an elegant with a gorgeous velvety finish. I wrote about this wine in my “New & Delicous Wines” post last month. It was my favorite of the Loire Valley wines of the evening, which is quite a statement considering how well they all drank. $85 at 56º Wine.

My wine of the evening though was the 1997 Quintarelli Alzero Vino da Tavola Cabernet Franc from the Veneto region of Italy. I have had this wine on numerous occasions over the past 5 years and it always blows me away. It is simply one of the most memorable wines I have ever tasted and probably will ever experience. It embodies purity, balance, depth, richness, etc. etc. etc. The wine keeps evolving and soaring from the glass as you drink it. Round, complete and delicious is perhaps the best description of the wine. This is wine that loves to be decanted. I decanted this bottle for 7 hours and it continued to evolve as we drank it. In fact I would venture to say that if you opened this a day before drinking you will be richly rewarded. I was fortunate to pick this up a few years ago for less than one-half the $350 - $400 price you will have to pay today. Yes it is expensive, but if you wish a special wine for a special occasion, this is it. De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC. You may also find it at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Italian Wine Merchants or NY Wine Warehouse, although their web sites did not show the wine in stock at the moment.

Let me not forget the food, which complimented these great wines perfectly. Tony Grande’s son Natale was at the helm in the kitchen this evening and he performed at a level that was the equal of the wines. .

Chef Natale prepared two homemade pastas. Jim and I had the Cavatelli in a sauce of Stracciatella di Bufala (a cheese produced from the milk of water buffalo) with crumbled Italian Sausage. This was a tour de force. The cheese is almost like a cream cheese and in combination with the sweet sausage and perfectly cooked pasta the dish was devine.

The others opted for Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Bottarga. Homemade, guitar string formed pasta in light “Aglio e Olio” with gray mullet roe, Calabrese peperoncino & pistachios. I have had this dish on many occasions and can attest to its deliciousness.

Main courses consisted of Rack of Lamb “in Salsa Balsamica”. The lamb is prepared in a tangy Balsamic vinegar reduction, sprinkled with pink peppercorns, and served with stuffed roasted tomato and carrot puree.

Lolly Pop Beef Short Ribs “Stracotto”. Slow cooked bone-in “Piemontese” beef short rib “Al Vino Rosso” served with risotto alla Parmigiana with English peas.

Ahi Tuna “Tre Pepi”. Rare cooked peppercorn encrusted Ahi tuna in a creamy brandy sauce over sautéed seasonal vegetables.

All were equally delicious. Espresso finished a perfect evening.

In closing I’d like to encourage you to try the wines of the Loire Valley if you have not had any in the past. Along with the producers mentioned here additional favorites that are very reasonably priced are Gaston Huet, Francois Pinon and Phillipe Foreau.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lunch at the Pluckemin Inn

This past Thursday, along with good friends Emil & Gino, I had lunch with Brian Hider, Wine Director at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminister, NJ. Emil introduced me to Brian about a month ago when I was searching for Giuseppi Quintarelli wines for my annual Hemophilia Association of New Jersey gourmet wine dinner fundraiser. I have had the pleasure of working with this incredible organization for more than 20 years and they do a phenomenal job supporting New Jersey's hemophilia population.

I have always wanted to do a wine dinner that featured the wines of Giuseppi Quintarelli. Finding the wines is not always easy. As you know from a previous post, Giuseppi passed away in January, so I felt this was the perfect time and the perfect occasion to honor the man, his legacy and his wines and raise money for an incredible organization. Thanks to Brian I was able to find the wines I wanted and at a good price. The dinner will take place on May 7th, 2012 at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany.

Brian not only oversees the restaurant’s wine list, but he is also responsible for the inventory for the Pluckemin Inn’s retail wine shop. Both lists are extensive, well thought out and reasonably priced. In my opinion both the restaurant list and the retail shop inventory are amongst the finest you will find not only in New Jersey but in all of the USA.

I found Brian to be a very articulate, knowledgeable wine person with a very warm demeanor. His passion for wine is evident from the onset and is evident in both his wine by the glass selections as well as bottle selections. On this day he was a most graceful host who treated us to three spectacular wines to enjoy with our lunch.

2000 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino. In my opinion Poggio di Sotto is in the same league with Gianfranco Soldera when it comes to traditionally crafted Brunello di Montalcino. Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes this vintage is drinking very nicely at the moment. It is nicely balanced on the palate with an enticing bouquet and a round and elegant finish. $100

2001 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. I wrote about this fantastic wine in a previous post. This bottle was equally as stunning as the previous bottle. I initially thought the bouquet was a Burgunday but as the wine opened there was no mistake that it was an elegant CDP. As the wine evolved in the glass the bouquet became intoxicating. On the palate it was pure, complex and completely round with a monster finish. While CDP law allows for the use of all 13 grapes indigenous to the region, Rayas is made from 100% Grenache. This wine is what CDP is all about. $150.

The final bottle Brian treated us to was a 2003 Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ere Trie. From the Loire Valley this 100% Chenin Blanc white was stupendous. Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Huet wines and the Chenin Blanc grape. I have many vintages in my cellar. Alas I had not had this vintage of the Moelleux 1ere Trie. The wine was pristinely pure on the palate with a delicious mid-level sweetness and a ripe, rich finish. 2003 was not a very good year in the Loire Valley, but wine maker Noel Pinguet turned out just magnificent wines including this gem. Huet wines seem to age forever. And the more they age, the better they get and the more valuable they become. Upon release they are very inexpensive. I recently purchased some of the 2010 vintage (terrific vintage) for under $30 a bottle. This wine will last for many decades. The 2003 is priced at $48. BTW, Brian will be happy to sell you the 1921 vintage of this wine for a mere $1,160 a bottle. See what I mean about increasing in value.

Along with these great wines we enjoyed a couple of pizza thin crusted pizzas, Margherita and a white pie with mozzarella and prosciutto.. We then all opted for the Plucky Burger, juicy and cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with fresh cut fries, they had us licking our chops. We also decided to sample a Porchetta sandwich, which we had cut into three pieces. It was comprised of thin sliced Italian roast pork, broccoli rabe and aged provolone. It was delicious.

If you have never been to the Pluckemin Inn for Dinner, put it on your bucket list. And for wine allow Brian to pair your dinner choices with the wine. You will be glad you did.