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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Domaine Chandon des Briailles

2010 is a much heralded vintage in Burgundy for both red and white wines.   This past Thursday I was invited by Brian Hider, Wine Director for The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ to attend a small and informal tasting of the 2010 wines from Domaine Chandon de Briailles. While I own some bottles of the 2009 vintage of these wines, I had yet to taste them.  They came highly recommended to me last year by Jamie Wolfe, one of the owners of Chambers Street Wines in NYC.  Thus the opportunity to finally taste these wines, especially the 2010 vintage, was a real treat for me.

Domaine Chandon de Briailles is located in the commune of Savigny-les-Beaunne in the Cote de Beaune of Burgundy and is owned and run by Claude de Nicolay, (she took over from her mother as winemaker in 1988), and her brother Francois de Nicolay.  Mom is still present and is available to share her experience and wisdom to her daughter.

Completely organic since 1995 & biodynamic since 2005, Claude produces wines that are the essence of old-world traditionally styled, terroir-driven wine making.  The majority of the wines are 1er Cru or Grand Cru and they are amongst the most elegant Burgundies I have ever tasted.

The winemaking often includes a large percentage of whole clusters in the fermentation of reds.  The wines may average between 20 and 70% whole clusters, depending on the vintage.  Claude feels that the tannins present in the stems add a level of complexity and softness to her wines.  

Very little new oak (less than 10%) is used in her winemaking.  The new oak barrels are 600 liters so as to reduce the impact of oak on the wine.  Most of her barrels are purchased used (average age, 15 years old) from two of Burgundies legendary Domaines; Clos des Lambrays and Domaine Dujac.

We began with 2009 Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 1er Cru “Ile de Vergelesses.  The wine had a beautiful nose and on the palate possessed a lovely focused balance with nice acidity and body and a round elegant finish.  A lovely wine and a phenomenal bargain at $37.50

Next was 2009 Chandon de Briailles Corton Blanc Grand Cru.  This was pure seduction on the nose and elegance on the palate.  There was a sparkling acidity that will allow this wine to age for another 20 years and as in the Vergelesses,  a long and round finish.  While at $90 a bottle a bit pricey, but an absolute bargain when compared to Grand Crus from better-known domains.

The first red was the 2010 Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les-Beaune 1er cru “aux Fourneaux".  The wine had an enticing bouquet with wonderfully purity of fruit on the palate.  It was full-bodied, with modest tannins and a developing complexity (give it 5 years) and finished with an emerging elegance.  An absolute steal at $35.

Next we tasted the 2010 Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru “Les Vergelesses”.  From vines at the bottom of the vineyard slope this was gorgeous.  A fruity and earthy bouquet on the nose with pristinely pure fruit and a rich complexity on the palate.  Tannins were soft and the finish was long and elegant.  Hard to believe that this is also only $35 a bottle.

Next Brian brought out a 2006 Domaine Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Vergelesses from the restaurant’s wine cellar as a comparison to the 2010.  The additional bottle age was apparent from the first sip, which was a bit more full-bodied and complex on the palate with a seductive back end and elegant finish.  Also $35 a bottle.  I would give both of these wines another couple of years of cellar time as they are gorgeous wines in the making.

We next tasted the 2010 Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru “Ile de Vergelesses”.  This wine comes from vines on the mid-slope of this hillside vineyard.  It possessed silky tannins with terrific acidity and balance.  It finished pure and with great length.  A wine with great potential.  $45.

The final wine of the afternoon was a 2010 Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes Grand Cru.  This is another great wine in the making.  Made with sixty percent whole clusters, the bouquet leaps from the glass with a glorious earthy essence.  On the palate it has amazing purity, soft tannins and a long and elegant finish.  $94.

Claude’s passion for excellence in extracting a pure expression of her grapes and terroir was present in all of these wines.  Readers would do well to add them to their cellars.  All wines are available from The Pluckemin Inn Wine shop.

Claude de Nicolay

While I enjoyed these wines immensely, I sipped them sparingly as this day also marked my 43rd wedding anniversary, which my lovely bride Carol and I celebrated with a great meal and great wines at Culin Ariane Restaurant in Montclair, NJ.  

We began toasting each other with an absolutely superb bottle of NV Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne.  This was terrific.  It possessed loads of complexity, with a brilliant balance and a creamy delicacy that danced on the tongue before finishing long and lush.  Non-vintage champagne simply does get much better than this.  Widely available at about $90 a bottle, $45 for a half bottle.

If you did the math you know that 1969 was the year in which we were married.  I only own one wine from this vintage, but it is a great one, 1969 Camille Giroud Pommard Les Epenots 1er Cru and I open a bottle on our anniversary each year.  I have never been disappointed. The wine is still young and vibrant on the nose and palate and has retained the gorgeous translucent red hue of a great young Burgundy.  It had beautifully balanced fruit with a long and elegant finish.  A truly round and delicious wine filled with soul. 

Thanks again Brian for inviting me to taste these magnificent wines and thank you Carol for 43 wonderful years together.  May we continue to drink great wine together for another 43 years.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Glorious Old Burgundy

This past Tuesday evening our wine group met at The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ for our monthly wine dinner.  Jeff was in the queue for the wine this evening and he absolutely wowed us.  Jeff, probably the most knowledgeable member of the group, has been collecting wine for quite a while.  He is also rather adept at finding amazing bargains at wine auctions.  For this evening's tasting he selected 5 older Burgundies starting with the 1978 vintage for us to enjoy.   Each wine was amazing and a real testimony to how well Burgundy wines, at all levels, can age and how glorious they can be in their later years.

We began with 1978 Prince Florent de Merode Pommard Clos de la Platière.  A Villages level red, the wine showed beautifully.  I was impressed that a wine at this level with 30+ years if age on it could drink so well, but alas it did.  It was still vibrant with a great sense of place and should continue to drink well for another 5 - 10 years. 

We followed this with a wine from one of my favorite Burgundy producers, Camille Giroud.  The wine was 1969 Camille Giroud Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens. The wonderful earthy bouquet on the nose was echoed on the palate with an earthy purity and layers of complexity.  The wine continued to evolve over the course of the dinner and finished with length and elegance.  A wine that should continue to drink well for many years.

Cult California wine producer Ann Colgin and her husband, Burgundy guru Joe Wender, headed a group that purchased Camille Giroud in 2002.   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”.  David also has his own vineyard, Domaine des Croix, which produces top-notch Burgundies ala Camille Giroud at a lower price point.  Usually available from 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Wine number three was 1964 Domaine Parent Pommard 1er Cru Les Épenots. This old world Burgudy had lots of terroir and complexity on the nose and palate, balanced fruit, soft tannins and a lengthy and elegant finish.  A terrific wine.

We then moved on to 1961 Michel Gaunoux Corton-Renardes Grand Cru. This was drop-dead gorgeous.  Incredibly young for a 50 year old wine, it possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue and a very seductive bouquet.  On the palate it was full-bodied with a brilliant focus and balance along with a monster finish.  A wine with soul.  The consensus wine of the evening and a wine that has many more years of life ahead.

The final wine of the evening was a 1959 Bouchard Père et Fils Charmes-Chambertin. Tons of terroir here with an impeccable balance.  While there is very good purity and complexity on the palate, the finish was a bit short suggesting that the wine may be in its waning years, but it is immensely enjoyable now.
Left to right, '78; '69; '61; '64; '59

Some of the wonderful dishes we ate with these stunning wines included Tempura battered softshell crab with a zucchini Gremolata.

Homemade Maccheroni Pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms (from Minnessota), favas, pecorino & rosemary.

A perfectly cooked Niman Ranch Pork Chop with favas, peas, guanciale, spring onion, romaine.  

While I am not a fan of duck, three of the guys raved about the Muscovy Duck Breast with organic grains, pistachio, Swiss Chard and Bing cherries.  In fact they all said it was the best duck they had ever eaten.

Final thoughts.  This was my first experience with a line up of older Burgundies and I was very impressed by how well all the wines fared.  All were drinking very well, especially the 1961.  Recent experiences with older vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco have not been as impressive, in fact most were a bit disappointing.   Does Pinot Noir age better than Nebbiolo?  I am not ready to make that statement; rather I am ready to keep trying these older vintages from both regions in search of the answer.

Alas the only downside to the wines is that their availability will be a challenge.  On the plus side, the next night I had a gorgeous bottle of a 2009 Domaine Dujac Morey St. Denis at Union Square Café.  For a Villages wine this was gorgeous.  It possessed a fantastic translucent hue, with ripe and elegant fruit and a 45 second finish.  2009 is a superb vintage in Burgundy with many of the Bourgogne and Village level wines drinking very well in their youth.  Much more readily available at about $70 retail. 

I’d like to extend a special thanks to Brian Hider, Wine Director of the Pluckemin Inn for tending to the evenings wines with the professionalism that he is know for.

Finally, thanks again to Jeff for just an awesome selection of wines.



Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nick's Amazing Pizza Oven

Nick Cusano is a very good friend, a world-class architect and a fantastic cook.  His architectural projects combine the elements of location, terroir, and living style to produce magnificent residences.  Check them out at the Cusano Associates website. It is with the same passion, attention and respect for the ingredients he uses that he approaches his cooking. 

Nick's Pizza Oven

When it comes to pizza in addition to the best and freshest ingredients (yes he makes his own pizza dough and pizza sauce) he wanted to emulate the heat and flavor of a brick oven without having to wait 6 hours for the oven to come up to heat.  He wanted an oven that from the time he lit it to the time he was eating his pizza would be less than one hour.  So he built his own with a dual heat source, wood below and hot coal on top.  The result is amazing.  The oven heats up to 900º in no time and cooks a perfect pizza in about 2 minutes.  In fact, he lit the oven at 12:45 and by 1:15 he had cooked 3 pizzas that we devoured with gusto.  He tops his pizza with an uncooked pizza sauce made with San Marzano Tomatoes, Mpzzarella di Bufala, Sea Salt, fresh Basil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Click here for a video of Nick and the oven in action.
Nick's Pizza
2011 Clos Ste Magdeleine
With the pizza I brought along a bottle of 2011 Clos Ste Magdeleine Rosé from from Cassis, a commune located in Provence, France just east of Marseille.  I learned of the wine from Lettie Teague, wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal.  As I had never heard of it, let alone experienced it, I searched and found 11 bottles at Chambers Street Wines, NYC.  I am glad I did, as the wine was fantastic.  
Traditionally made, the wine is aged for 7 – 12 months in stainless steel tanks, it was clean, crisp, and pure on the palate with great complexity and balance and finished with a delicate elegance.  This is a stunning rosé, and while a bit pricey at $30, it is the perfect summer wine.  I also found some magnums of the 2010 vintage for $59 at 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.  Check out my blog on Rosé from last year as well as Lettie’s latest WSJ article, Pluck a Summer Rosé for some other worthy rosés to add to your cellar for the summer.

Carol's Pasta e Fagioli
Simple and delicious food and terrific wine continued at dinnertime.  I love Pasta e Fagioli and my wife Carol makes a great one.  We enjoyed it, along with some pork tenderloin sandwiches, with another bottle of 2011 Clos Ste Magdeleine Rosé and a bottle of 2001 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montifalco.  Located in Umbria, Italy, Paolo Bea crafts wines that are the essence of old world magnificence.  Made from 100% Sagrantino grapes, the wine sees 12 months in steel, followed by 24 months in large Slovanian oak barrels and 9 months of bottle age before being released for sale. This bottle was magnificent. Decanted it for 2 hours, the wine was earthy on the nose and palate with incredible purity and balance.  It soared from the glass and danced on the tongue, with each sip seemingly better than the previous one.  The finish was lengthy with a magnificent roundness and elegance.  Talk about a wine with soul, it was here in spades.  A couple of days later I had a bottle of the 2004 vintage and it too was magnificent.  The 2001 may be difficult to find, but the 2004 is available at DeVino Wine Boutique, NYC and Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ at abour $100.  

I had a few other wines last week that are also worth mentioning. 2008 Passopisciaro Guardiola made by Andrea Franchetti is a delicious Chardonnay from Sicily that sees no oak in the vinification process. The wine has a dazzling purity on the palate, with subtle hints of bubble gum and a clean & lengthy finish.  This is a Chardonnay where you taste the grape instead of the barrel.  The 2010 is currently available at $40 from DeVino.

2006 Bornard Arbois Pupillin Melon le Rouge Queue.  I have mentioned this wine crafted by Philippe Bornard in a previous post. From the Jura region of France this beauty is a blend of Melon and Malbec grapes that together produce a stunning wine that has wonderful complexity and balance and continues to evolve in the glass during the course of sipping it.  The wine is drinking beautifully at the moment and is a bargain at $30.  Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

2004 La Stoppa Ageno is not a wine for everyone.  From the Emilia Romangna region of Italy, it falls into the orange wine category due to its yellow/orange hue.  This wine, a blend of Malvasia, Ortrugo and Trebbiano grapes.  Winemaker Elena Pantaleoni lets the juice macerate with the grape skins for an extended period (about one year). The resulting wine is intensely flavored and fragrant, rich in color and taste.  To be appreciated this is a white wine that should be drunk at red wine temperature.   This bottle, which is still drinking very well, had nice acidity with a wonderful metallically finish. A wine with lots of soul.  $35 at Vino Italian Wine, NYC.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Recent Food & Wine

I thought I’d share some of the wines I drank and food I ate over the past week beginning with Memorial Day weekend.  The weekend began on Friday evening with most of the family going to Tina Louise Restaurant in Carlstadt, N.  This is a terrific Chinese restaurant that my good friend Emil introduced me to a couple of months ago.  Small & cozy (30+ seats), the food is authentic and cooked fresh each day.   On my few visits to date, I have enjoyed an incredible Hot and Sour Soup, Peking Ravioli (pot stickers), Wonton in Spicy Sauce, Soft Shell Crabs in Ginger Sauce and various noodle dishes.  Portions are ample and prices are very reasonable.
I prefer white wines, especially Reislings and Gruner Veltliners with Asian food, so I brought along a 2004 F X Pichler Gruner Veltliner Kellerberg Smaragd.  From the Wachau region of Austria this was an absolutely stunning bottle of wine.  It possessed wonderful balance and acidity while imparting an interesting hint of pepper on the palate.  The finish was clean and lengthy.  A wine with soul.  All Pichler wines come from one of their single vineyard sites.  $65.

My son-in-laws both are red wine only kinda guys, so I brought a 2001 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas les Ruchets.  While the style appears a bit modern to me (70% new oak) the wine had a wonderful peppery palate, was medium-bodided and nicely balanced.  It drank nicely, however, I would drink up any remaining bottles as I think the wine is nearing its end.  $75.  Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ. 

Weeds & Sausage
The absolutely gorgeous weekend weather made for a perfect three days with all of us, especially the grandkids, lounging by and enjoying the pool.  In addition to traditional Memorial Day fare of burgers, cheese steak sandwiches and hot dogs I made a couple of pasta dishes and some homemade Zeppole (Italian doughnuts). 

Valentini Cerasuolo
Hot, sunny days call for crisp white and rosé wines in my opinion.  I especially like rosé and near the top of my most favorites list is Edoardo Valentini Cerasuolo Rosato.  We drank the 2005 vintage.  Deep pink in color, with layers of pure fruit, the wine soars from the glass with each sip and has a sensational finish. It drinks more like a light red than a rosé.  It is a wine that one can drink all day long.   Not easy to find and a bit pricey at $85.

The whites that accompanied the rosé were a 2010 Testalonga Bianco Vermentino Dolceacqua, which I wrote about in my last post, and a 2005 Ezio Voyat La Gazella.   Voyat is a terrific producer from the Valle d’Aosta region of Emilia Romangna in Northern Italy.  This is a delicious white wine made from the Moscato grape.  While Moscato is usually used to make sweet dessert wines, here it is used to produce a crisp, pure and elegant dry white wine.  $38. 

With the pasta, Weeds & Sausage (Fusilli col Buco in a sauce of sausage and tomato paste) I opened a bottle of 2006 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino.   Led by Stella di Campalto, the family began making wine in 1992 after acquiring the property.  She only makes Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and Grappa.  Her Brunello is in a class with Soldera.  Farmed biodynamically, the wine exhibits a wonderful old world purity, earthiness, balance and elegance.  2004 was her first Brunello bottling.  I decanted the 2006 for 3+ hours and while still a bit tight its pedigree was evident.  This is a round wine with soul.  Give it an additional 5 years of cellar time and it should reach the “awesome” stage.   An absolute bargain at $75.  ShopRite Liquors, Caldwell, NJ.

A 1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo was the perfect accompaniment for Spaghetti Puttanesca on Memorial Day evening.  My last few bottles of Bartolo's wines have been a bit disappointing, but this one did not disappoint.  Decanted for 6 hours the wine soared.   Here again was the old world essence of Barolo that led me to Bartolo's wines a number of years ago.  Two words for this wine, round and delicious.  $90.  This vintage may be a bit hard to find.  Check with DeVino Wine Boutique, NYC, The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ or NY Wine Warehouse, NYC

On Thursday evening Carol and I had the pleasure of having dinner with Wall Street Journal Wine Columnist Lettie Teague and her husband.  I was introduced to Lettie a a few months ago at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, NJ, by owner Mario Carlino.  Occasionally we shared a glass of wine if we ran into each other at Divina before finally getting together for dinner.  As we are both huge fans of Mario's cooking, what better place to meet and share some great wine together than his restaurant.  Incredibly light gnocchi, Sole Livornese and Veal Holstein (breaded veal cutlet with two sunny-side up eggs on top) made up the menu.  Lettie brought two whites and I brought a red and a dessert wine.  We started with a lovely NV Valentin Zusslin Cremant d'Alsace Brut Zero.  A sparkling wine made with 95% Pinot Auxerrois (Pinot Noir clone) and a splash of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  This wine was new to me and I loved it.  It had amazing purity and clarity on the palate and finished with a bit of elegance.  About $25.  Appellation Wine & Spirits, NYC.

The second white was a 2010(?) Chateau Lynch-Bages Blanc.  I have had very few Bordeaux white wines so I looked forward to the opportunity to try this.  A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion and Muscadelle the wine exhibited nice balance and complexity, but was not in my wheelhouse.  About $40.

For the red I chose a 1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva.  Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Lopez de Heredia.  They are amongst the finest old world wines made and they seem to age forever.  This bottle was gorgeous.  It had a rusty hue, earthy bouquet with dazzling purity on the palate.  The wine kept evolving in the glass with each sip.  I did find this vintage a little less vibrant than the 1987, suggesting that the drinking window on this vintage may be beginning to reach its end in five or so years.  I did not decant the wine as I was told by Maria Lopez de Heredia, owner and winemaker, that "if you decant my wines you will miss their evolution in the glass".  Expect to pay $100+ if you can find the vintage.

The dessert wine was 2003 Giuseppe Quintarelli Bianco Amabile de Cere Bandito and it was fabulous.  This wine is only made in years when  the grapes have been "attacked" by botrytis or "noble rot," which is to say that they are somewhat in the classic Sauternes style.   This bottle had a gorgeous caramel hue with a sensous bouquet of candied fruit. On the palate it was seamless with great purity and a marathon finish.  And this is still a baby.  This will last for decades.  Amabile is my absolute favorite dessert wine.  A couple of weeks ago when out to dinner with friends David and Lynn, they brought along a bottle of the 1986 vintage of this remarkable wine.  A bit more mature than the 2003, it was utterly superb.

Check out Lettie's columns in the WSJ on Friday and Saturday or click here to read them on line.