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, December 29, 2012

Wine Group @ Scalini Fedeli

Risotto w/ mushrooms & peas
Last Thursday evening our wine group met for our monthly wine dinner at Scalini Fedeli Ristorante in Chatam, NJ.  The restaurant, housed in a converted 260-year-old New Jersey farmhouse, has a warm, cozy and elegant feeling about it.  Their website describes their food as modern Italian with a distinct French flare.  The food is quite good as was my appetizer of Risotto with mushrooms and petit peas from Porvence with crispy Zucchini.  The flavors were delicious.  Some of the food can be a bit rich, as was the case with this dish and the very popular Soft Egg Yolk Raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta & topped with Parmigiano and melted truffle butter which most of the group orders routinely.  Other favorites included a perfectly cooked Veal Chop Milanese with Arugula salad, Braised Short Ribs and thinly sliced breast of duck in a port and truffle reduction.

Scalini Fedeli offers a fixed price 3-course menu at $54 that is very reasonable, especially for food of this caliber.  While the restaurant does have a liquor license and wine list, they accommodate our group by allowing us to bring in our own wine, for which we are very grateful.

Marc was in charge of the wine for the evening and as usual he did a great job.  He transported us to the foggy terroir and climate of Piedmont, Italy with a wonderful selection of Nebbiolo wines. Nebbia in fact is the Italian word for fog.  I simply adore this grape as I find it very close to Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  Like Burgundy Pinots, Nebbiolo exhibits a gorgeous feminine elegance in its bouquet and on the palate.  It is amongst my most favorite grape.  As you might expect there is no shortage of great winemakers in the region.  Marc treated us four of the very best.

We began with 2008 Giacomo Conterno “Cerreta” Langhe Nebbiolo. In 2008 Roberto Conterno, owner and winemaker purchased land in Serralunga's prized Cerretta vineyard, and this Nebbiolo is one of the first Conterno wines to be produced from this vineyard.  It drank beautifully demonstrating complexity and depth, and has the structure to last for at least 5 to 10 more years. Like all of Conterno’s wines, this was traditionally crafted and exhibited profound purity and elegance on the palate.   While Conterno’s Barolos are wonderful, they are also pricey.  Here is an opportunity to enjoy the magnificence of the Nebbiolo grape crafted by a master for about $50.

Giacomo Conterno’s Barolos are really something special and if you have never tried them, you might want to reconsider.  His Barolo Cascina Francia and Barolo Monfortino are two of the world’s greatest red wines in the opinion of many, mine included.  While they are expensive they are truly great expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. The Conterno commitment to quality does not stop with Barolo, as their Barbera is one of the most age-worthy and brilliant examples of this other grape to be found in Piedmont.   And if you are lucky to find a bottle of Conterno Nebbiolo d’Alba, which he makes when he declassifies his Barolo, don’t pass it up, as it will far surpass many another producer’s Barolo.

The Conterno was followed by one of my favorite Barolos ever, the 1998 Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca.  While this amazing wine is made in a bit more modern style that includes aging in new French Barriques, it is a delicious drinking experience.  I have had many bottles in the past and the one tonight was as good as previous bottles.  It had a wonderful earthy, Piedmont bouquet and was completely round and delicious.  It finished with lengthy elegance.  It was may favorite of the evening. $75.

Ceretto is one of the older Piedmont vineyards that today makes a more modern style wine that, in my opinion, is an unfortunate departure from their roots. The 1985 Ceretto Barbaresco Brico Assili (regarded as one of the best vineyards in the Barbaresco region) that Marc opened next was made when the estate crafted more classically inspired wines.  While its age was beginning to show, the underlying beauty still remained.  It had lovely fruit and a terrific earthy bouquet and palate.  It was great.

The final two wines of the evening were also from Conterno, but from brother Aldo Conterno this time, who left the fold in 1969 to start his own winery.  While Aldo was not the strict traditionalist that Giacomo was, his wines are fine examples of the Nebbiolo grape, and although they differ in style from those of his brother, it would be wrong to describe them as anything other than traditional Barolo.

Tonight we were treated to Conterno’s Bussia Soprano Barolo.  This entry-level Barolo is the estate’s most widely produced wine, and it comes from sites other than the three cru vineyards, with vines aged at least 20 years.  It is a wonderful wine.  We drank the 1982 as well as the 1989 Bussia Soprano.  Both vintages are legendary in Piedmont and both of these wines showed it. While both still possessed vibrant fruit, the ’82 was a bit more open and elegant on the palate. The ’89 needed more time to breathe and began to come around after an hour in the glass.  Both of these wines will set you back about $300.  Current vintages 2001 & 2005 are priced around $100.

I own a couple of bottles of the 1989 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia, the estate's flagship wine.  This is one of the most memorable bottles of wine I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.  The wine is only made in years when the estate feels that their three cru vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello have produced fruit good enough to make the wine.  The Romirasco vineyard makes up the majority of the blend (about 70%).  The cru vineyard grapes are fermented and aged in wood separately, before blending in stainless steel where the wine is held for up to two years before bottling. It will then be held back in the cellar for six years before release.  This is truly special juice.

It was another terrific evening of food, wine and conversation.  Thanks again Marc for the wonderful wine and thanks Jim for a great dinner.


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