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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hart Davis Hart BYOB Tasting

This past Tuesday evening I was invited to a BYOB wine tasting and dinner at The Dutch, a 10 month old restaurant located at 131 Sullivan St. NYC. Hart Davis Hart Wine Company, a leader in wine auctions as well as retail wines located in Chicago, hosted the event. And what an event it was. While there were only 14 of us present, each brought a great bottle of wine to enjoy with chef Andrew Carmellini’s (formerly of A Voce and Locanda Verde in NYC) terrific “fun” food. It was a great evening.

Since Gino, Tony & I arrived early, we settled in at the bar and ordered a Huet Vouvray 'Le Haut Lieu' Sec 2010 Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley to drink with a dozen of pristinely fresh East Coast oysters, spicy octopus, tripe and little oyster sandwiches. The oyster sandwiches were plump, fried oysters served on a homemade tiny sesame bun with a upscale tartar sauce. I could have eaten a dozen. I have lauded the wines of Huet many times as I have never had a bad one. They are expertly crafted and are a beautiful expression of how good the Chenin Blanc grape can be when placed in the hands of a master. This wine, which will live on for many years, had a wonderful fresh complexity with a lengthy and elegant finish. Wine Legend in Livingston, NJ is currently offering this wine for under $30, an absolute steal.

As we gathered in the private downstairs dinning room we began with a NV Demiere-Ansiot Blanc de Noir Grand Cru, Oger. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this grower-producer wine had wonderful balance with and a delicious citrous finish. With production limited to about 200 cases a year, this is a sparkler to pay attention to and seek out. Very reasonably priced at about $50. I just picked some up from 56º Wine, Berdardsville, NJ.

We then moved on to a four remarkable French whites, 2 from Burgundy and 2 from the Northern Rhone. The first to be poured was Francois Raveneau Grand Cru 'Blanchots' 2000. If there is a better producer of white wine in Chablis I do not know who it is. This wine was completely round, elegant with a long and seductive finish. Unfortunately wines like this do not come cheaply. However they are worth it, especially for that special occasion. $200

Next in the glass was Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru 'Pucelles' 2004. I began buying Leflaive wines three years ago and only wish I had known of them earlier, as they are amongst the best white Burgundies you can find. The wine exhibited a lovely yellow gold hue, lemony bouquet and soared from the glass. A beautifully pure and round wine. $200

With these wines we nibbled on what I believe was tempura fried rock shrimp with a spicy salsa dipping sauce. A great choice with the wines.

As we settled into our seats our glasses were filled with Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc 2004. Considered by many as the finest producer of wines in the Northern Rhone, this beauty, made from 100% Marsanne grapes, would definitely support that belief. While I have this vintage in my cellar, I had yet to open a bottle, an oversight that will soon be corrected. The wine had an intoxicating citrus bouquet, a sensuous oily and viscous texture on the palate and a glorious round finish. Delicious. $200

Along side this we were poured a glass of M. Chapoutier, Ermitage Blanc, Le Meal, 2001, another 100% Marsanne wine. Another spectacular Norther Rhone white from yet another highly regarded Northern Rhone winemaker that drank beautifully; the wine had very nice minerality, however the high acidity was a bit of a distraction. It was not a match for the Chave on this evening. $150

As we tasted these wines our family style dinner began with a terrific salad of Beets, Smoked Egg, Apples & Horseradish; Octopus a la Barca, a delicately spiced dish that was tender and delicious; Fried Chicken Wings that were so off the chart, they will make you forget “Buffalo Wings”. These had a delicate sweet and spicy taste and were incredibly crispy. I could have made a meal of them and the delectable house made French Fries that made up our final first course.

We then moved on to the reds. I am not sure of the exact order but I believe we started with Château de Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2004. This is one of the great wines from CDP. It is only made in exceptional vintages from very old Mourvedre vines yielding tiny quantities of intensely ripe, concentrated fruit. The Hommage contains a higher percentage of this varietal than their normal bottlings. On this evening the wine, even after a few hours of decanting, never really blossomed and was surpassed in my opinion by the Chateau Rayas 2004 we drank alongside it. This was a classic Rayas with incredible purity and roundness on the palate and long velvety & elegant finish. Beaucastel $450, Rayas $160.

Next in our glasses was Chateau Figeac 2000. What was interesting is that in one glass we had the wine after being decanted for 3 hours, while in another glass the wine was opened 30 minutes prior to being poured. The decanted wine was much better. It was riper and more complex on the palate. Alas I am not a big fan of Bordeaux and this wine did not change my mind. $160

The second Bordeaux was Chateau Ausone 1962. I guess if your are a Bordeaux fan you would like this highly touted and very expensive wine. It had nice complexity but lacked the roundness and elegance of the Burgundies that followed. $500 - $800

We then moved onto Burgundy, beginning I believe with Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot 2005. A classic red Burgundy with terrific purity and complexity. I would like to revisit this wine in about 5 years when I think it will begin to peak. $174 This was followed by Joseph Drouhin Chambertin 2002, which drank very well even at a very young age. Pure and complex on the palate with a velvet finish. This wine, in my opinion, needs another few years in the cellar for it really be appreciated. $245

The next wine, Domaine Leroy Romanee St Vivant 2000, was the wine of the evening for most of us, myself included. Domaine Leroy is one of the top producers in Burgundy and this wine certainly lived up that claim. The earthy bouquet soared from the glass. On the palate it was delicate, round and pure with a sensous finish. Definitely a wine with soul. I could not track this beauty down, but if you are able to find it expect it to be pricey.

Alongside this wine we tasted Domaine Leroy Romanee Chapelle Chambertin 1980. Made prior to 1989 when the domaine moved to biodynamic wine making, this wine, while good, was no match for the 2000. I was unable to find this wine's availability or price. Like the Romanee, these are collector wines that are usually only found at auction.

The final red was Altesino Brunello di Montalcino, Montosoli 1997. For me this was just okay. It was not very exciting on the palate and had a somewhat bitter finish. I think this wine has passed its prime. $160

With the reds we were served four entrées family style. The dishes included a marvelous Steak Tartare served with Romaine lettuce and a Ceasar dressing. It was perfectly seasoned, pristinely fresh and just outright delicious. Sea Scallops served over Saffron Rice with a spicy Gumbo sauce. The rice and sauce were the stars of this dish. Farfalle (bowtie shaped pasta) with Black Kale Carbonara and a farm egg. Not a lot of flavor here. In fact the dish was really ho-hum. The 4th plate was Pecan Duck with Celery and organic dirty rice. As I am not a duck fan, I passed on this, but the others at the table raved about the dish.

With dessert we enjoyed Chateau Climens 1971. This was wonderful, full of honey, pineapple and apples. It enticed the palate and had a monster finish. A terrific Sauternes that I prefer to d’Yquem. This wine has many more years ahead of it. $400

I don’t recall the two desserts served with the Climens as I had requested one of the desserts on special that evening, Banana Cream Pie. One of my all time favorite desserts, and this was superb and went perfectly with the Climens.

If you are interested you can find where to purchase most of these wines on Wine-Searcher.com. You can also contact Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. as they may have access to them.

My sincere thanks to the folks of Hart Davis Hart for making this event happen and for inviting me to it.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

What WWN Readers Drank for the Holidays

I thought it would be fun if the readers of WWN emailed me with what they drank over the Christmas holidays. I want to thank those of you who replied. As you can see a number of terrific wines were enjoyed.

The first to report in was Geore U. He writes, “I started Christmas Eve afternoon with a Macallan 25 & a 25 year old Cuban Dunhill & a nap. Now we are getting ready for some food & wine. Starting the weekend with some Ornellaia, Masseto & Valdicava." George went Italian with two well-known Italian producers.

Ornellaia is a Super-Tuscan cult wine, very modern in style, that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (Bordeaux style) made by Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. It is aged in 70% new French oak barrels (barrique). It is a big wine and sought after by those that like this style. Not cheap, expect to pay upwards of $125 a bottle, depending on the year.

Masseto, also made by Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, is also a modern style wine that is made with 100% Merlot and one of Italy’s biggest cult wines. I must admit to not being a fan of the wine as I do not like the Merlot grape and modern style wines and I think the price tag of several hundred dollars a bottle is well beyond the caliber of the wine. However since the wine routinely is given high numbers (scores) many feel justified in anteing up the cash required to purchase a bottle.

Valdicava is a very good Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The wine is consistently good and made in the more traditional, old world style that uses old large Slovonian oak botti (barrels) to age the wine. The top wine from this producer is Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano. 2001 was an exceptionally good year for both wines and the prices reflect it.

Erik B. enjoyed a 2005 Francesco Borgogno Barolo. I am not familiar with this wine, however after doing some research it sounds like my kind of old world wine. It is aged in Slovonian oak for 3 years followed by a year in the bottle. About $40. For information on the winery click here.

Joe B. is the wine director for 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ. He has one of the best palates in the business as well as being one of the most knowledgeable wine guys I know. I was delighted that he shared his wines for us. He reports that for Christmas Eve began wirh Tuna Tartare & Leg of Lamb w/ Harissa (a hot sauce or paste used in North African cuisine, made from chili peppers, paprika, and olive oil), Apricots and Olives. With the Tuna he drank a NV Jacques Selosse Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs "Initial". I tasted this champagne once with Joe and it blew me away. Anselme Selosse is considered the most original winemakers in Champagne. His Champagnes do not come cheap, but wine like this never does. I remember that on the night I drank it with Joe that the wine kept evolving in the glass and an hour after being poured it was soaring from the glass. Not the typical experience one has with Champagne. About $150 a bottle. To read more about Selosse, click here.

With the Lamb he drank a 2001 Schiavenza Barolo Bricco Ceretta. I am not familiar with this wine and I was unable to find out much information about it. I am sure if it was on Joe’s table it was a great bottle. $50.

For Christmas Day there was more Tuna Tartare, Wild Mushroom Risotto and Dry Aged Rib Eye Steak. As you can see, Joe knows how to eat well also. For the meal he began with NV Demiere-Ansiot Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne. While I am not familiar with this Champagne producer, a little research has told me that Demiere-Ansiot is a Becky Wasserman Selection. Mrs. Wasserman, known by many as Mother Burgundy, is an exporter of exceptional French wines. Her portfolio of wines is considered one of the best in the business. The wines I have in my cellar from her portfolio are some of my best treasures. $54 a bottle at 56º Wine.

This was followed by a 2010 Donnhoff Riesling Grosses Gewachs "Felsenberg" from magnum. From the Nahe region of Germlany, Donnhoff is one of the finest producers of Riesling wines in the entire world. While I have not had this particular wine, I have a number of Donnhoff wines in my cellar. They are simply delicious as I can imagine this one was. $58 a 750ml bottle at 56º Wine.

Next up was a wine I am not only familiar with, but a big fan of, 2004 Roagna Langhe Rosso. Roagna is one of Piedmont’s top producers of Barolo and Barbaresco. The grapes that do not make it into the Barolo or Barbaresco go into the Langhe Rosso. The result is a wine that while it lacks the depth and complexity of their Barolos or Barbarescos, it has great purity, balance and elegance on the palate. $30. Amanti Vino, Montclair.

Staying in Italy, but moving to Chianti in Tuscany for a 1995 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva. I reported on this wine in my blog, Lunch at Maialino. I hope Joe’s bottle was as good as the one we had on that October day. Some additional information. This wine did not receive a high rating from Parker. In fact according to him it is well past its drinking time. The wine, in my opinion, is at its peak at the moment. So much for numbers. $50.

For his final bottle Joe chose a 1973 CVNE Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Real from Spain. If you recall I reported on the 1976 vintage of this wine a couple of weeks ago. Talk about old world elegance, CVNE wines from before 1990 were amongst the best in Spain. Unfortunately they have since succumbed to more modern wine making and the wines just do not have the soul they used to have. $199 at The Spanish Table, Berkley, CA.

The last to report was my friend Bucky. Here is what he drank along with his notes. 2004 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva. “Was not decanted and probably a little young but after a half hour difference was amazing. Dark fruity and smooth.” One of my favorite producers, Massolino’s wines are a phenomenal expression of traditional, old world winemaking. I tasted this wine at a tasting in NYC a few months ago and it showed great depth, complexity and balance. Finish was pure and elegant. Alas, Bucky you are right it is too young to drink. Put it away for at least 5 years. $125.

2004 Roagna Barbaresco Asili "Very surprised this wine on this night was better than the Massolino. Again this was young but smooth and the fruit not as dark." Another one of my favorite old world producers. While I have not had the Asili from this vintage, I have no doubt of its pedigree. Again, this will benefit from 4-5 years of cellar age. $90.

2009 Aubert Chardonnay "A strong Chard and I know not one of Mark’s favorites. Went great with a couple appetizers". Bucky's right I am not a big fan of California Chardonnay as I find them very oaky in most instances. Marc Aubert, who was the wine maker at Peter Michael before starting his vineyard, makes very good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The Chardonnays that I have had from him in the past have had well integrated oak and were drinkable for me. Not easy to find and not cheap. Expect to pay about $100 a bottle if you can find them.

2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo "Decanted for 3 hours. Surprisingly to me this wine tasted like it is at its peak. Ruby and light in color went perfectly with dinner". World class Barolo here. The essence of terroir and purity in wine. I have had this vintage on numerous occasions and have enjoyed each bottle. Since I have not had it though in 2 years, based on Bucky's comments I need to open a bottle soon and give it a taste.

Thanks again for each of you who shared your holiday wines with us.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Giuseppe Quintarelli 1927 - 2012

Giuseppe Quintarelli passed away on Sunday at the age of 84, losing his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The wine world has lost its biggest giant. There is a reason why the photo I chose for my blog is with Giuseppe Quintarelli; he was my hero. His wines are simply the best I have ever tasted. They defy description. For me they are the ultimate expression of a master wine maker taking the fruit that God has given him and giving it full expression. If I were to be exiled to a remote island and could take only one producers’ wines with me it would be Quintarelli’s.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Quintarelli estate and meeting the man himself in March of 2007 along with three wine loving friends, Gino, Tony & George. It remains one of my fondest wine memories. I was in awe of the humble and gentle nature of the man and the simplicity of his estate. He set his standards very high and rigidly adhered to them and as a result all of the wines he put his name on provide an incredible wine tasting experience. I only hope that his family continues on with his philosophy and continues to live up to the high standards he set.

At our visit in 2007 we were able to purchase 4 bottles of wine from his cellar. He sold us a bottle each of 1986 Amarone, 1990 Amarone Riserva, 1988 Amarone Riserva and a 1983 Ricioto della Valpolicella Gran Riserva. We took the wines to Ristorante Greppia in Verona, Italy where they gladly allowed us to drink them with their excellent food. Each Amarone was an amazing experience. Incredible purity, balance, complexity and a lengthy finish across the board. And as for the Ricioto, I can easily say it was the greatest bottle of dessert wine I have ever tasted and probably will ever taste. Words cannot describe it, so I will not even try.

While I am a big fan of Quintarelli, there are others who knew him well and spent time with him and are much more qualified than I to speak about him and his legacy. Here are some links to their comments and remembrances. Click on the links to read what they have to say, it is well worth the time.

Polish Wine Guide
Do Bianchi
Palate Press

If you have any of his wines in your cellar, open a bottle and toast life and his legacy. If not, please go out and buy one and discover what you have been missing.

Giuseppe you will be missed but long remembered. Rest in peace.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Great Friends and Great Old Wine

There are many things I enjoy and that I am thankful for in life. High up on that list is the opportunity to share great old wines with great friends at a great dinner. A couple of weeks ago we were fortunate to experience all three. Our very dear friends of 37 years Gene & Maureen invited Carol & I along with our girls and grandkids to dinner at their house. Gene, who is a certified master professional photographer (you really need to check out his website Impressive Impressions), is also an excellent cook with a passion for the cuisine of Spain. Gino, his eldest son and my very good friend, is in the wine business and selected the wines for the evening. I knew we were in for a big treat. The theme of the evening was “A visit to Espana”

Upon arrival we nibbled on a variety of assorted Imported cheeses, Pepperoni Bread from Buono’s Prime Meats and Deli in Little falls, Pata Negra Ham and homemade pork liver paté. Buono’s pepperoni bread must contain a pound of pepperoni and a pound of mozzarella. It is scrumptious. Pata Negra is an Iberian Ham that is very expensive and very hard to come by.
This one came from Gino’s private stash. The ham came from Joselito, who is considered the best producer of the ham in all of Spain. The ham is delicious and can make one forget about Proscuitto di Parma. My good friend & restranteur Gregorio (Rare The Steak House Il Tulipano) made the pork liver paté. Gregory farm raises a couple of pigs each year and along with his friends and restaurant staff makes a number of fresh pork items for his restaurant and friends. They are all delicious, this year the pork liver was over the top. It was creamy and full of flavor and very hard to stop eating. It can currently be enjoyed at Rare The Steak House in Little Falls.

With the appetizers Gene opened his only bottle of 1964 Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Vintage Dry Sherry. This was fantastic. Without question the finest Sherry I have ever had. It displayed a gorgeous clear amber color in the glass and possessed a bouquet that was both seductive and intoxicating.
On the palate it was refined, lush and compelling with a monster finish. It is made by the Solera method, which is a blending of multiple vintages over time. This method yields a consistent quality from year to year and allows for some amazing older wines to continue to be released in small quantities. These Sherries are typically made for the family and friends to enjoy over time and are rarely seen on the market. In 1995 Gonzalez Byass released only 2920 bottles of this single vintage 1964 Oloroso. It really doesn't get much rarer than this. Gene purchased this bottle about 15 years ago at the vineyard when he was visiting Spain. It is made from 100% Palomino grape. Extremely rare and expensive. I found one bottle at The Spanish Table in Berkley California.

Our first course (courses I should say as Gene never does things in a small way) included Andalucia Pescado Frito al Estilo, an Andalusian style fried white fish in a cornmeal crust served with Andalusian sauce (mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, garlic, Italian dried herbs and a dash of cayenne pepper) The perfectly fried fish was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. When dipped in the sauce the textures and temperatures delighted the palate. I guess you could say this is Spain’s take on England’s Fish N Chips.

Huevos de Huevo Duro. These delicious beauties are Spanish style hard boiled eggs served with a sour cream sauce infused with herbs of Provence. Sort of like deviled eggs only with the devil on the side. Calamares Fritos, perfectly fried Calamari that melted in your mouth. Gambas Alajillo, tender Shrimp cooked in a piquant garlic sauce. Almejes Rellenas, clams oreganato Spanish style. The clams were moist and tender and full of flavor. And to sop up the various sauces he made Brindis de Oliva Frito , which is a fried olive toast. Sort of like garlic bread.

With this course we started with a 1976 Leroy Pommard Les Vignots, Villages Red. This was my first taste of a wine from Domaine Leroy. The domaine has a reputation for making classic Burgundies and has been cultivating their vines under biodynamic conditions since 1989. Unfortunately this bottle was flawed. The wine is available at Wine Library in Springfield, NJ for about $180.

In perfect shape however was the 1976 Cune Vina Real Gran Riserva Rijoa. One of finest Spanish wines I have ever had. I first tasted this wine in 2008 and I was blown away by it. Complex, full-bodied, pure and elegant, the wine soars from the glass.

Tannins are soft and the wine has a long and velvety finish. Drinking wines like this gives one a true wine experience. I originally paid $80 a bottle in 2008, but today it will set you back about $175 a bottle. The Spanish Table, Berkley, CA.

Prior to our entrée Gene served up Ensalada Creasers (Creasers Salad) and Ensalada de la Casa Espanola, a Spanish House Salad made with Argil, Romaine, Spinach,Tomato and Onion

For our main course Gene’s signature Piela Ultima (Ultimate Paella) brought smiles to our faces. Gene makes this remarkable dish with Spanish rice, peas, chicken, shrimp, Spanish sausage, clams, mussels, & lobster claws. It is a beautiful blend of ingredients and flavors that in combination throw a party in your mouth. Just delicious.
To enjoy with the main course Gino brought along a 1986 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Riserva. This Gran Reserva wine is the signature wine of Vega Sicilia and is usually released 10 years after the vintage, though some bottlings may not be released for up to 15 years or even longer.

Taken from some of the oldest vines in the Ribera del Duero, the wine is mostly Tempranillo (approximately 80% but depending on vintage) and Cabernet Sauvignon (approximately 20%).

Vega Sicialia used to be in my opinion one Spain’s greatest wine producers. Alas a number of years ago the winery moved to the more modern style of wine making which embraces aging in 100% new oak, which in my opinion has ruined a great wine. This bottle however was made in the old world style and it was magnificent. It was pure, round and complex. It was a joy to drink. The wine had soul. This vintage will not be easy to find and will be quite expensive if you do.

Finally dessert. Holiday cookies and Cakes & Spanish Cheese Cake along with espresso were enjoyed alongside a 2001 Chateau Climens Barsac.
From an extraordinary vintage this is simply a magnificent Sauternes. It is full of candy and pineapples with a very long non-medicinal finish that is just gorgeous. For me this outclasses d’Yquem by a lot. Not cheap. Expect to pay upwards of $250 a bottle.

A great evening. Thanks again Gene, Maureen & Gino


Saturday, January 7, 2012

A New and a Continuing Christmas Tradition

A number of years ago I began a tradition on Christmas day of inviting good friends over to my house for a lunch of Christmas Eve leftovers. Everyone would bring a great bottle of wine and we would enjoy the previous night's leftovers, sip the wine and have lively conversation. As much as I enjoyed this tradition, this year when my oldest daughter Gina informed us that she wanted to start a new tradition of having Carol and I over to her house for a Christmas breakfast and the exchange of gifts with the family we quickly accepted the start of this new tradition. My younger daughter Lisa, as has been her custom the past few years has us over to her house (they live next door to each other) for a simple Christmas dinner of macaroni with meatballs, etc. Thus it would seem that the tradition of Christmas Eve leftovers on Christmas day had come to an end. But being a somewhat resourceful guy and not one inclined to stop my “leftovers” tradition (after all what was I going to do with all that food), I moved “leftovers” lunch to December 26th. This year friends Gino, Louie, Cosmo, Emil, Tony and Jack showed up, each with a terrific bottle of wine and our tradition continued in grand style. In addition to my leftovers, Tony brought along his oven roasted wild sea bass that was moist and delicious. The wines were superb. We enjoyed:

2001 Patrick Lesec Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru. This was a stunning Montrachet, beautifully balanced and pure on the palate. The oak was well integrated into the wine and it finished with elegance and length. Patric Lesec Selections is both a wine broker and negociant and offers a full range of top quality wines from the finest wine producing regions of France: Alsace, Burgundy, the northern and southern Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bordeaux and the Loire. Their wines are all estate bottled, and either produced directly by Patrick Lesec Selections or very carefully selected, after painstaking research, as excellent examples of their appellation. Jack who brought the wine has provided this information, which he in turn learned from Chris Cree at 56º Wine. “Patrick Lesec is a very successful negociant who deals mainly with wines from the Rhone. He also is a good friend of Michel Caillot of Domaine Caillot, who as it just so happens, has tremendous old vines in Les Pucelles. Patrick asked Michel to bottle some wine under his label and the rest is history. I acquired the wine as a library release directly from the cellar for $70 a bottle. This is the normally $120 per bottle Domaine Caillot Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er cru. Same exact wine. Unfortunately the wine is no longer available". What a shame.

2010 Testalonga Rossese Di Dolceaqua. This wine was new to all of us and none of us initially got excited about it. About a half bottle was left, so I put back the cork and put it in the refrigerator. A week later I noticed it, took it out and let it warm up a bit and poured myself a glass. Wow! Wow! Wow! The wine was amazing. It exhibited a gorgeous peppery palate that reminded me of the Poulsard grape from the Jura. It was clean and pure with a wonderful finish.

The wine comes from the hills of Dolceacqua in the far western corner of Liguria just before one crosses over into France and is made by Antonio Perrino whose estate is one of the legendary ones in the Dolceqcqua. Yields are very low and the wine is very limited. A Louis Dressner Selection (of course). At $35 a bottle the wine is an unbelievable bargain. I just ordered some from Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

2005 Cappellano Pie Rupertis Barolo. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know my feelings about Cappellano Barolos, they are just a beautiful and honest expression of old world Barolo displaying fabulous purity and elegance. This bottle was no exception and is drinking very well right now and will continue to do so for many more years to come. $75 at New York Wine Warehouse and Chambers Street Wines.

2007 Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato. Another beautifully made old world Barolo from one of Barolo’s top producers. The wine's earthy bouquet soars from the glass, while the wine is wonderfully pure and elegant on the palate. Alas, as the wine is still in its youth the finish is lacking. A wine of enormous potential that needs at least another 5 to 10 years of cellar time. $100 a bottle at Wine Legend, Livingston and 56º Wine, Bearnardsville.

1985 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Poured from magnum and decanted for 3 hours. This is a great vintage for Pepe, however this bottle was not up to a bottle I had a few weeks before, which is surprising since it was from magnum. Don’t get me wrong the wine was very good but this bottle seemed to finish a bit short. $135 per 750ml at Wine Legend.

2002 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso di Bepi. Ah the master. Rosso di Bepi is only made in vintages when Giiuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calles it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price. This bottle drank superbly. Rich, balanced and pure on the palate, the wine of the day in my opinion. About $130 a bottle. De-Vino Wine Boutique, NY Wine Warehouse, Italian Wine Merchants.

2003 Le Salette Recioto Pergole Vece. While not a recioto in the class of Quintarelli, this is a reasonably priced Recioto that is drinking very nicely at the moment. It has a nice balance between sweet and dry and finishes softly and elegantly. $55. Wine Legend.

I would be remiss if I did not report on the new tradition. First and foremost we got to watch the excited expressions of our grandchildren as they opened their presents. For Christmas breakfast at Gina’s house Mimosa’s were the perfect accompaniment to scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausages that our son-in-law Nick prepared. Later at Lisa’s house we enjoyed fresh Pastosa Ravioli from Brooklyn along with Ziti with ricotta, meatballs, sausage and braciole. A bottle of 1997 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva was my choice here and it turned out to be a good one. Monfortino is Conterno’s top wine. First made in 1920, it is the epitome of old world Barolo and it is crafted to age for decades. I decanted the wine for 3 hours and it began to show its enormous potential in hour four. It exhibited a beautiful earthy bouquet and was pure and elegant on the palate. It would have benefited from a few more hours in the decanter. In my opinion this wine needs about another 5 years of cellar time.

Traditions with family, grandchildren, friends, great food and wine. What more can anyone ask for at Christmas time? We should all be thankful of friends and family.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Eve 2011

Christmas Eve is a special day for many people, but for Italians it is THE DAY of the year. Some of my fondest memories go back to this night at Grandma DeRosa’s house on Garside St. in Newark. The entire family would gather together, eat for hours, open presents and then play Michigan Rummy. Homemade Zeppole, Spaghettini with Alio e Olio and fried flounder were my favorites when I was a kid. I stuffed myself with copious quantities of each. (It was not until years later that I would begin to enjoy Baccala, shrimp, octopus and all the other fishes). I never wanted the evening to end. It was tradition in spades. While many traditions in this modern world have seemed to fade away, I am glad that this is one tradition that passes from generation to generation and continues on as strong as ever. For the past 15 or 20 years my wife Carol and I have hosted the meal. I prepare the appetizers, fish and pasta, while Carol does all the baking. We were blessed to have both of our moms, our immediate family, 3 gorgeous grandchildren and 6 very good friends join us this year.

As the crowd gathered we nibbled on Old Fashion Pan Pizza from Tony D’s Pizza in Caldwell. Made in a large square like a Sicilian Pizza, but thinner crusted it is made with a savory tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano cheese and then finished with fresh basil leaves. It is crispy and delicious.

Along with the pizza we sipped a few bottles of 2000 Bellavista Brut Rosé. This is a gorgeous sparkling wine from the Franciacorta section of Lombardy, Italy. Made from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay grapes it is beautifully balanced and simply delicious on the palate. About $50.

There was also 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In my opinion Rayas is the quintessential producer of both red and white CDP. While the 2007 CDP vintage is superb, this bottle lacked the balance of the 2006 vintage. I hope this is limited to just this bottle. A bit pricey at $175, but it is a special wine. For the red I popped open a 2003 Quintarelli Primofiore. While this may be the least expensive wine from Quintarelli, it is superb. The wine is made by gently pressing the remaining grape matter after the free-run juice is siphoned off for the higher end wines such as Valpolicella and Amarone. It is like drinking a baby Amarone. Great balance and purity. Pepper & spice on the palate and a lengthy finish. At $40 a bottle this is truly a bargain. Both the Rayas and Primofiore are available at De-Vino Wine Boutique in NYC.

We then moved into the dinning room where we sat down for a bevy of appetizers that included:

Fresh roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, Caciocavallo cheese and sliced fresh tomatoes & assorted olives.

Mom’s stuffed Italian frying peppers. The stuffing is made from a mixture of wet bread, anchovies, walnuts, raisins and parsley. A peasant dish that tantalizes the palate and warms the soul.

Roasted pepper and fried eggplant salad mixed with roasted pignoli nuts, topped with crushed pistachio nuts and served on crisp endive leaves. I created this dish about 20 years ago and it has been a mainstay every Christmas Eve. It is simple to make and the melding of flavors and textures is a delight on the palate.

New to the table this year, in place of my usual seafood salad, was a salad of home cured olives, celery and scungilli. The olive salad was made by my good friend Gregorio Polomeni, the owner of Il Tulipano Ristorante and Rare, The Steak House. I simply added the scungilli.

It would not be Christmas Eve at our house if I did not make Arancini. I stuff these deep fried rice balls (made with risotto) with baby peas and fresh mozzarella and serve them with a fresh homemade tomato sauce. While these are always good, this year they were over the top and were consumed in record time.

Of course there has to be a Baccala course. For the past 3 years I have made them in codfish cake form, i.e. mixed with mashed potatoes and deep-fried and served with homemade tomato sauce. Delicious.

Polpo Luciano. Baby octopus braised in a spicy tomato sauce. I cook the octopus slowly for about 50 minutes and they come out mouth-watering tender. The secret to this dish is to put a wine cork in the pan during the cooking process. The enzymes from the cork, I am told, aid in tenderizing the octopus. The spicy fish continues with Rock Shrimp Arrabiatta. I love the crunchiness of rock shrimp and this preparation never fails to please.

One of the best shrimp dishes I have ever had is Gamberoni alla Griglia (braised shrimp) from Lidia Bastianch. This amazing dish is comprised of butterflied jumbo shrimp that are seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and then dredged in homemade breadcrumbs. The shrimp are then roasted in the oven for 5 minutes. Served with a homemade tomato-mustard sauce they are always a huge hit. The recipe can be found in her cookbook, La Cucina Di Lidia.

Clams Oreganta. I make these myself with a homemade breadcrumb recipe that I learned from David Pasternak at Esca Restaurant in NYC. They always come out moist and delicious. Unfortunately on this occasion when I bit into the first couple of clams they did not taste right, so this dish got deep-sixed.

After a 30-minute or so respite, it is time for the pasta. Our tradition ever since I can remember is Fedillini (thin pasta between Cappellini and Spaghettini) with Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy). For me, this is the highlight of the meal. I make this dish very wet so that the sauce can be soaked up with good Italian bread. It just does not get better than this.

For those who do not eat this dish (fools that they are) my daughter Gina made a delicious penne ala vodka.

Another brief respite and then it is time for the main course, if you have any room that is.

With the exception of the Christmas Broccoli (broccoli cooked with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and anchovy) that I make the two main courses I have made for us by two of my favorite restaurants. Osteria Giotto in Montclair & Divina Ristorante in Caldwell.

Owner/chefs Roberto and Luca of Giotto both trained at one of Italy’s Michelin starred restaurants, San Domenica in Imola, Italy. The lobster oreganata from there is the best I have ever had. The accompaniment to the lobster is a sauce made with imported Italian cherry tomatoes and long hot green peppers. The lobster sits atop the sauce so that you can dredge each forkful of the incredibly tender lobster in the sauce before popping into your mouth. It is a dish that must be tasted to be appreciated. Unfortunately this is not a menu item at Giotto, but upon request and with a few days notice it can be enjoyed.

For the non-fish eaters a a tray of Divina’s incredible eggplant parmigiano fits the bill perfectly. This is Eggplant like grandma used to make.

The celebration of Christmas Eve is very special and so the wines need to be also. It is a time to break out those special bottles to share with friends and family. This year was no exception. Here is the lineup.

1964 Cappellano Barolo. What a wine. The essence of old world Barolo the wine continues to drink well although not as good as the bottle of this wine I reported on in my blog A memorable old wine & a terrific young one back in May.

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. Unfortunately this bottle was corked and oxidized. As I mentioned in my May blog, these old Barolos can be a crapshoot and I am becoming a bit leery of purchasing them. A previous bottle that I opened a year before was wonderful. When you buy these old vintages be prepared to roll the dice. I suggest you ask the store you are buying them from what the policy is if the wine is bad. Most reputable stores will provide some form of compensation.
1990 Aldo Conterno Granbussia Riserva. Spectacular Barolo. Everything is here, earthy bouquet, purity and complexity on the palate with a lengthy elegant finish. An incredible wine experience.
1994 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. This was fabulous. A wine with soul. The wine had a gorgeous earthy bouquet and was wonderfully pure and balanced on the palate with a long and sensuous finish.
1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste. I opened this to replace the Bartolo, so I did not have a chance to decant it for a few hours and it still drank beautifully. The wine soared from the glass. The more I drink Giuseppe Rinaldi wines, the more impressed I am. His wines are superbly crafted and just gorgeous expressions of old world wine making.

1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone. Along with the Granbussia the wine of the evening for me. Quinarelli’s wines have to be tasted to appreciate. Balanced, complex, lengthy, and elegant. There are no words to describe them.

Last, but not least there was dessert. My wife Carol is a terrific baker and her Biscotti & homemade cookies are always the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

A 2001 Chateau d”Yquem capped the evening. This bottle was classic d’Yquem, with apricots, peaches and vanilla on the nose. Lovely on the palate. While I like this wine on the palate, the finish is always a bit disappointing to me as I find it to be somewhat medicinal.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all