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.

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.