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, September 15, 2012

Two Terrific Wine Dinners

This past Tuesday our wine group met at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, NJ for our monthly wine dinner.  It was Emil’s turn to provide the wine and he did a great job.

We were to begin with 2006 Château-Grillet (Neyret-Gachet) Château-Grillet.  Unfortunately the bottle was corked, which was a shame because I have enjoyed this wine on previous occasions and was looking forward to drinking it again.  Located in the northern Rhône region of France, near Vienne and to the south of the Côte-Rôtie, this gorgeous white wine is made from 100% Viognier grapes. A touch of viscosity on the palate, it always exhibits beautifully balanced minerality and acidity and a divine finish.  $70.

The ensuing wines however more than made up for the corked bottle.  A 1999 Gianfranco Bovio Barbera d'Alba Regiaveja was delightful and showed amazing freshness for a 13 year old Barbera.  Bovio is one of the finest traditional winemakers in all of Piedmont and this wine lived up to his winemaking skills.  $37

1998 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano followed, and it too had amazing youth and freshness for an older Vino Nobile.  Here the Prugnolo Gentile grape, a Sangiovese clone, is used. The wine exhibited great purity and had a soft, velvety finish. $36

The 1996 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Cannubbio was, in the consensus of the group (myself included), the wine of the evening.  From the spectacular 1996 Piedmont vintage, this was a wine with soul.  The unmistakable earthy bouquet of the Nebbiolo grape seduced the palate with the juice we were about to partake of.  When it touched the palate, the wine soared with beautiful acidity, balance and purity.  It had amazing focus and a long elegant finish.  This is a wine that will last for a couple more decades at least.  $85

The final wine of the evening was a 1988 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve.  This is the second tier CDP from owner/winemaker Emmanuel Reynaud of Chateau Rayas and it is spectacular.  Like the iconic Chateau Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Riserve it is made from 100% Grenache.  Reynaud chooses to harvest late so that he has ripe fruit for his wines.  It is a philosophy that produces completely round and delicious wines.   Tonight the bouquet exploded from the glass and on the palate was full-bodied with great balance, ripe fruit and soft tannins.  Absolutely delicious, this wine has many, many more years ahead of it.  Definitely a wine with soul.  $135 .

All of these wines are available at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, N.J.

Chef/owner Mario Carlino prepared a dinner that was the equal of the wines.  We began with a plate of Pasta al Forno.  This traditional Italian dish is usually made at Easter time.  It is composed of Rigatoni, baby meatballs, salami and hard-boiled eggs in a tomato sauce and baked in the oven.  The combination of textures and flavors is incredible.  This was followed by our main course of Veal Holstein.  German in origin, it is a breaded and fried veal cutlet topped with two sunny-side up eggs.  Mario always makes this to perfection.  I love the combination of the runny egg yolks on the crispy-coated veal cutlet.

After dinner, three of us returned to my house for a bottle of 1999 Paolo Bea Sagrantino Passito.  This utterly delicious dessert wine is made by leaving the Sagrantino grapes to dry after the harvest. A white mold forms that balances and concentrates the acid, sugar and tannins. This process usually takes 3 months. The grapes, as raisins, contain approximately 30% sugar at this point and they are then crushed. Fermentation begins and slowly progresses until the sugar level reaches 16% to 18% when pressing takes place with the resulting wine carrying about 90 grams of residual sugar. The wine is then aged in stainless steel and barrel.  The wine exhibited a wonderful palate of figs that is nicely balanced, with a lovely semi-sweet finish.  It is very reminiscent of a fine Recioto.

Two nights later, Carol and I attended a wine dinner at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville, N.J.  Chris Cree, MW and owner of 56º Wine also in Bernardsville hosted the dinner.  Chris always puts on spectacular tastings and this was no exception.  The event featured the wines of Emidio Pepe from the Abruzzo region of Italy.  Emidio’s granddaughter Chiara De Julis was in attendance to speak about the wines.  Talk about traditional wine making, it does not get more traditional than these wines.  I have long been a fan these terroir driven and beautifully crafted wines.  While the earthiness of these wines may not be for everyone, those that like them simply adore them.

We began the evening with a delicious appetizer, Langostino Brasato al Forno, Mediterranean prawns garnished with seasoned breadcrumbs & oven roasted.  The prawns were cooked to perfection and were a perfect compliment to the 2007 Trebbiano D'Abbruzzo that we drank with them.  An earthy white wine made from the Trebbiano grape (most widely planted grape in Italy) the wine had a beautiful golden hue, was complex with terrific focus, balance and earthiness and a seductive finish.  As a staunch traditionalist, Pepe presses the Trebbiano grapes by human feet in wooden tubs in order to avoid the contact between the iron presses and the acids of the fruit. The must is fermented for 8 - 10 days in glass-lined cement. After fermentation the wine is racked into 22-hectoliter glass-lined cement tanks where it ages for roughly six months prior to being bottled$79.

For our pasta course we were served Orecchiette alla FrancescanaOrecchiette pasta with sautéed Crimini mushrooms, Bolognese ragu in a delicate cream reduction.  This plate was equal to the appetizer...perfectly cooked pasta in a balanced and delicious sauce.  We sipped the first two reds of the evening side by side with the pasta.  One glass held 2003 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo while the other held the 2001 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo.  Both wines were bold, focused, full-bodied and terroir driven.  2003 was a warmer vintage than 2001 and you could taste the difference in these two wines.  The 2001 was more elegant and sophisticated than the 2003.  $79 & $110 respectively.  

The braised Veal Ossobuco & Sartorese polenta entrée in my opinion was not up to the first two courses.  The two wines we drank with the course however were spectacular.  The 2000 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo is, according to Chiara, her grandfather’s favorite vintage.  It was delicious.  It was wonderfully complex, beautifully balanced, and earthy with a lush finish.  I have enjoyed this vintage on numerous occasions and it is always a joy to drink.  $145.

The 1985 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo has long been one of my favorite Pepe wines.  It did not disappoint tonight.  The wine soared from the glass, danced on the palate and finished with length and elegance.  A wine with soul.  $159.

Pepe's Montelpuciano grapes are grown biodynamically, hand-harvested, hand-destemmed, crushed by human hands, 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, each bottle is opened and the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled and released to the public.  The estate’s cellar houses over 300,000 bottles of wine going back to the inaugural 1964 vintage.

We finished the meal with very good Chocolate covered profiterrols.

Yes it was a good week. 



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vacation Wines

Well I’m back from a wonderful month at the beach in Lavallette, NJ.  Weather for the most part was great and having our children and grandchildren with us made for a great time.  We did some cooking, visited some good restaurants and drank some good wine.

Of the restaurants we visited, Firefly American Bistro in Manasquan, NJ, a recent addition to the Jersey shore, was absolutely first rate.  Chef Lou Smith has created a terrific menu that is supported by excellent service in a lovely space.  And it is BYOB.  Our plates, each of which was superb, included Wild Mushroom Fricassee, Crab Cakes, Foie Gras, Steak House Wedge Salad, Veal Paillard and Papparadelle with seafood.

For the white wine I brought along a magnum of 2007 Poggio Dei Gorleri Pigato Albium. Pigato is a white grape planted primarily in Liguria and is one of my favorite white wines.  The wine showed great balance and acidity with a bit of viscosity on the palate and possessed a lovely lengthy finish.  Only 700 magnums are produced each year.  The wine is fermented on skins in French oak vats for 3 days, followed by a further period in tonneaux (French barrels). The wine is aged for 3 months in tonneaux, then refined for 7 months in bottle, followed by another 3 months in bottle prior to release. Available at 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.  $55 per magnum.

Another great Pigato is from Bruna. We consumed a couple of bottles of 2005 Bruna Pigato U Baccan during our month at the beach. The U Baccan is produced entirely from late harvest Pigato grapes primarily from the old vines on the Bruna Estate.  It is a sensational wine.  $45 at DeVino Wine Boutique, NYC.  For more about the Pigato grape click here.  For more about the Pigato grape click here.

For the red I bought a magnum of 2003 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape which drank very well.  This estate makes only one red and one white wine.  The wine is a bit on the modern side but has good balance and terroir.  I find it a bit pricy though at about $100 a bottle.

I am a big fan of the Gruner Veltliner white wine grape, so I brought a few bottles along.  Grown primarily in Austria, it is a very food friendly wine that drinks easily and exhibits great balance and purity on the palate, with a lovely finish.  We happily drank a 2005 Franz Hirtzberger Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Rotes Tor; 2004 FX Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Durnsteiner Kellerberg and 2005 FXPichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd M.  Each bottle was superb.  Pichler wines come from single vineyard sites and are made in a traditional style.  If you have never tried Gruner Veltliner, treat yourself and you will be happy you did.  They cost about $40 a bottle.

A few other nice white wines we drank included Jermann Vintage Tunina, a white from Venezia Fruili that is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana and Picolit.  Made in a more modern style, the wine never disappoints.  Widely available, but a bit pricy at about $70. 

At a much more reasonable price is the 2004 Movia Ribolla Gialla at about $30.  Also from Venezia Fruili at the Slovanian border this incredible wine is made by master winemaker Ales Kristancic.  Simply delicious.

Another terrific Italian white wine grape is Trebbiano. This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo.  Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but Trebbiano from producers such as Paolo Bea, Valentini and Emidio Pepe have been known to age for 15+ years. At the shore we drank a couple of bottles of 2004 Paolo Bea Arboreus.  Bea is one of the iconic traditional producers in all of Italy.  Located in Umbria, this is a delicious wine with great purity, balance and focus.  Alas it is not easy to find, but if you do expect to pay about $60.

For red wine I brought along 2000 Bruno Giacosa Riserva; 2000 Roagna Barolo Riserva la Rocca E la Pira;  2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo and 2000 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio.  2000 was a warm vintage in Italy yielding wines of low acidity and therefore not wines that will have a long life.  Happily all of these drank well with the Giacosa, Roagna and Bartolo giving virtuoso performances.  The Voerzio while more modern, drank well, but was not up to the others.

2010 was an exceptional vintage in Burgundy.  The wines are spectacular and will require cellar time to reach peak drinkability. I could not resist trying a wine from this vintage so I brought along a 2010 Domaine Joseph Voillot Bourgogne Rouge Vielle Vignes (old vines) to try.  Bourgogne level wines are meant to be drunk early so I decided to give this a try. While the fruit was pure, soft and balanced on the palate, it was a bit light and thus will benefit from a couple of more years in the cellar.  At $35 a bottle a great wine to add to your cellar.  56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Additional restaurants that we enjoyed and you might want to check out were:

Runners Seafood Restaurant andMarket, Lavallette, NJ.  Fresh seafood, properly cooked.  BYOB

Xina, Toms River, NJ.  A new addition to the shore this is a great spot for sushi, oysters and Chinese food.  Courteous service, reasonable prices and good food.  BYOB

Labrador Lounge, Normandy Beach, NJ.  Eclectic menu featuring Asian, Mexican and American dishes prepared very well.  BYOB

Via Veneto Ristorante, Brick, NJ.  Good Italian food, but service can be a problem.

Mia’s Pizzeria, Ortley Beach,NJ is a great take-out spot (dinning in also available) for pizza, pasta and veal parm.