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, December 21, 2012

Holiday Luncheon

For the past 3 or 4 years a bunch of us wine lovers get together for a holiday lunch at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ.  As in past years this year’s lunch was a great combination of camaraderie, the great food of Tony Grande and the superb wine service provided by Salvatore and his staff.

This is a spirited group of wine lovers with varying palates and openly candid opinions.  As you can imagine it makes for very lively discussion during this 4-hour lunch.

Spaghetti with Bortaga
Tony’s son Natale was in the kitchen today and the food he prepared was superb.  While all the food was good, the highlights were a scrumptious seafood salad, ridiculously tender grilled octopus, meatballs, beef braciole, spaghetti with Bortaga and pork tenderloin, the focus was on the wine.

We began with 2000 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru and 2004 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er Cru.  Domaine Leflaive has been described by many as Burgundy’s greatest white wine domaine.  I certainly will not dispute that claim as I have enjoyed these wines on many occasions, as I did today.  Under the direction of Anne-Claude LeFlaive the domaine shifted all the viticulture to biodynamic in 1997.  The wines are wonderfully pure, with focused acidity and well-integrated oak.  Both wines were crisp, full-bodied, round and delicious.  New York Wine Warehouse, 56º Wine and Wine Legend usually have Leflaive wines.  While these vintages will set you back about $200 a bottle, the Bourgogne level wines are available at about $50 a bottle and are delicious as well.

For reds we began with 2002 Masetto from Ornellaia.  This is a massive Super Tuscan wine made from 100% merlot that has achieved cult status in the wine world. While it is a wine that many in our group are fond of, I am not one of them.  I find it to be one-dimensional with that big fruit bomb; high alcohol (15%) palate that seems to have become the hallmark of highly rated wines today.  I continued to taste the wine over 3 hours at the lunch and it never changed or evolved.  My first sip was the same as my last.  I remain perplexed after tasting the wine again today why someone would pay $500 -$600 for it.  I guess it is the price one must pay to drink a "cult" wine that the critics continue to rate as a "prestigious" wine and routinely score highly, ala first growth Bordeaux.  I know I am definitely a minority amongst our group here, but as I said we are candid in our opinions.  As my good friend Emil says, “that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla”.  One final note, I could not find Masetto on the Ornellaia website.  Perhaps this is a statement as to how big a cult wine it is.

We next moved on to four Bordeaux reds.  Of the 10 attendees at the luncheon I definitely do not share the same enthusiasm for red Bordeaux wines as do many of the others in the group.  The Cabernet and Merlot grapes, which usually make up these wines, are two of my least favorite grapes.   Amongst other things, I prefer the feminine elegance of Burgundy to the more macho style of Bordeaux.

1983 Cheval Blanc followed the Masetto.  Similar in price to the Masetto, this wine tasted of liquid soap.  Perhaps it was just a bad bottle?

This was followed by 1989 and 1985 Chateau Lafite Rothschild side by side.  The 1989 seemed to be fast asleep in contrast to the 1985 which exhibited lively fruit, balance and complexity.  Both of these wines will set you back about $500 a bottle and my humble opinion are not worth it.

All three of these wines have the prestigious Bordeaux first growth designation, which plays a major role in the price of the wine.  These are "prestigious wines".  Famed wine distributor Kermit Lynch says of these wines in his book “Adventures on the Wine Route", “As a Bordeaux proprietor, you do not even need a good winemaker…You need only have been included in the classification of 1855, 130 some years ago.  Your vineyard might now be ten times larger than it was in 1855, your production per acre five times larger, your grape varieties blended in different proportions, your vinification newfangled…No matter…”

The final Bordeaux was 1990 Chateau Montrose, which drank wonderfully.  It possessed a lovely earthy bouquet, was nicely balanced, round and focused on the palate.  I have had this wine on a few occasions and have joyed it very much each time.  It is a wine that truly is an expression of its terroir.  Chateau Montrose has a second growth classification which I would imagine is why it is priced about $200 less than the others.

We finished up with four wines from Italy beginning with 2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva.  In my initial WWN post I wrote “In a year in which most Barolo producers did not make a wine due to poor conditions, Roberto Conterno may have made his best Monfortino Riserva ever. I had this wine in November, shortly after its release and it was fabulous. Terrific purity and roundness on the palate. I think this will become one of the greatest Barolos ever made. Patience in cellaring this beauty will be rewarded”.  While it is still a monumental wine, alas it has begun to close down and patience is definitely going to be required for at least 5 to 10 years.  $400+

This was followed by 1975 Emidio Pepe Montulpulciano d”Abruzzo, which really soared from the glass.  Pepe is as traditional a winemaker as you will find.  His wines, especially older vintages, are not for every one.  They exhibit an unmistakable barnyard bouquet with an initial oxidized palate that requires 4 or more hours to dissipate.  As the wine breathes it evolves into a spectacular wine experience.

With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, his grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, 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, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  $200.  Current vintages are significantly less in price and worth buying.

We finished up with Amarone from Dal Forno Romano (2003) and Giuseppe Quintarelli (1995). Both winemakers, considered by many the top two Amarone and Valpolicella producers in Italy, follow very different winemaking philosophies.  Dal Forno is the modernist, while Quintarelli is the quintessential traditionalist.   It was easy to tell one wine from the other.  The Quintarelli was magnificent with gorgeous fruit, complexity and balance and a wonderful earthy undertone.  Round and delicious here is a wine with soul that one remembers days after drinking it.  The Dal Forno in contrast resonated a dullness that I find is often associated with modern style wines.  Alas, it is a forgettable wine.

My thanks to Tony for putting the luncheon together, Tony & Natale Grande and Salvatore for the wonderful food and service and to all the guys who really make the event special with their spirited attendance.  Special thanks to Emil's wife for capturing us in the Christmas spirit.

Saluté and Merry Christmas to all

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