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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Better Late Then Never - Super Bowl XLVI

A bit late, but I would be remiss if I did not write about my annual Super Bowl party. It was once again a lot of fun and especially enjoyable to the Giant fans at the party. Unfortunately my Jets didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, but I was happy a local team won.

Like last year each person brings a dish, I pop open multiple bottles of wine and we have a great time. The menu was similar to last year with a couple new additions. Returning from last year were my Meatball Sliders,Gene’s Pulled Pork, Bill’s Cole Slaw, Tina’s remarkable Eggplant Caponata, Mixed Salad (this year prepared by Emil) and the delicious Italian Pastries from Vaniero’s Bakery in NYC, compliments of Peter & Amilia.

New to the table this year was Cosmo’s spectacular Vitello Tonnato and a terrific assortment of Italian sandwiches that Frank brought along from his son’s restaurant Frank Anthony’s, Verona, NJ.

As for the wines there was certainly no shortage. We stayed in Italy with the exception of one of the desert wines. To begin with we enjoyed a 2001 Ronchi di Cialla Ciallabianco from magnum. A blend of Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo Friulano & Picolit, this crisp white is a joy to drink. It has good acidity and balance on the palate and a pure and clean finish and continues to evolve in the glass with each sip. $55 for a 750ml bottle at 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

The other white opened, what else, my wife’s favorite a 2010 Ceretto Arneis Blanghe. This wine never disappoints. Widely available at about $20 a bottle.

We thought we would start the reds in grand style with two of Piedmonts most renowned wine makers, Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa. We began with a 1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. Readers of my blog know how much I love Mascarello’s wines. They are the epitome of old world Barolo. Alas this bottle was a bit of a disappointment. Decanted for 3+ hours, it had a lovely translucent brick red hue and an earthy bouquet in the glass. While there was a bit of oxidation upon opening, which blew off after an hour of decanting, the wine never really fully blossomed. It was flat and dull on the palate and not very enjoyable to drink. The wine seemed very tired. $120. De Vino Wine Boutique, NYC. NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.

Our bad streak continued with the 1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja that we opened next. If the Bartolo was tired, this one was exhausted. The fruit was completely gone and there was no finish at all. It was really undrinkable. It was a shame as I have never before been disappointed with a Giacosa wine. There is always a first time I guess.

We had better luck with the 1996 Eraldo Viberti Barolo. Viberti is a small Barolo producer from La Morra. His wines usually possess a nice elegance on the palate and are relatively inexpensive. This bottle had an earthy bouquet and was nicely balanced. However, it lacked depth and had a weak finish. I did not decant this bottle and I think that I paid a price for not doing so. $57 at De Vino Wine Boutique, NYC.

Next in our glasses was a modern style Barolo from Roberto Voerzio, his 1996 Barolo Brunate. A big Barolo that is dominated by French Oak (Barrique), which I felt masked the fruit quite a bit. The wine is aged in a combination of 1/3 new and 2/3 used French oak barriques for two years, and it is refined for one year in tank before being bottled. If you like California reds and Super Tuscans, you will love this wine. Not cheap. Expect to pay around $200 per bottle if you can find any.

The next wine, 2010 Testalonga Rossese Di Dolceacqua has become a favorite of mine. From Liguria, a coastal region that extends along the Mediterranean coast from Tuscany to the boarder of France, the wine is made from the Rossese grape. It has a gorgeous peppery palate that reminds me of the Poulsard grape from the Jura. Very clean on the palate it finishes with length and elegance. Antonio Perrino is the owner/winemaker and he is considered the best in this region. Production is very small. At about $35 a bottle it is a fantastic bargain. Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

Next up was a Barolo from Luciano Sandrone. The first bottle a 1996 Luciano Sandrone Cannubi Boschis was corked, so I opened a 1999 Cannubi Boschis. I have to say that Sandrone is my favorite modern style Italian winemaker. His wines are not dominated by oak. He only usese 10% new French Oak and uses the larger 500 liter French barrels. As a result I find his wines rounder and purer on the palate. This bottle had wonderful balance and complexity. It was delicious. $150 if you can find it.

We then moved to Tuscany and enjoyed an absolutely mind blowing 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino. You have heard me praise the Brunello of Giancfranco Soldera before and with good reason. His wines are so artfully crafted that they leap from the glass, throw a party on your tongue and warm your esophagus as they descend into your tummy. The 1998 normale (yes he also made a riserva in 98) is an amazing wine. I have had it on 4 occasions over the past 3 years and each time the wine was magnificent. Grapes The Wine Company recently had a special of this wine for $139, which is less than half of what you will pay now. The wine is worth every penny it will cost you to own some.

About 225 miles Southeast of Mantalcino is the town of Torano Nuovo in the Abruzzi region of Italy, home to another of Italy’s top traditional wine makers, Emidio Pepe. Emil was very generous and brought along a bottle of 1974 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for us to enjoy, and did we ever. This was the epitome of an old world, terroir in your face bottle of wine. This is not a wine for everybody. It is pure barnyard earthiness on the nose and palate. As it sits in the glass it transforms and evolves with each sip. Made from 100% Montepulciano grapes, this bottle was just spectacular. $180 at Grapes The Wine Company, NY. BTW, the 2000 and 2001 vintages of this wine are drinking beautifully at the moment and are priced in the $60 range.

One of the few wine makers who can follow Soldera and Pepe is Giuseppe Quintarelli, thus we finished with a 2002 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi and a 2002 Giuseppe Quintarelli Primofiore. As I have written about both of these wines in previous posts I will keep my comments short and sweet. Wow! Wow! Wow! Both drank with elegance and can be found at De Vino Wine Boutique, NYC and The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ. $130 & $42 respectively.

However we were not quite finished yet. For the grand finale we opened two legendary dessert wines and drank them side-by-side. Gino brought along a 2002 Chateau d’Yquem and I opened a 1990 Quintarelli Bianco Amabile del Cere Bandito. Both wines were great, but for me the Amabile blew away the d’Yquem. The fruit of both wines soars on the palate, but the medicinal botrytis finish of d’Yquem comes in a distant second to the fruity, sweet, rich and intoxicating finish of the Amabile as far as I am concerned. The amber beauty on the left is the Amabile.
A perfect ending to a great day.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Les Cinque Arias

The aria is the highlight of any opera. It is a number that is usually performed solo because it stands on its own. This was very much the experience our wine group had with the 5 bottles of wine we drank this past Monday when we gathered at Osteria Giotto in Montclair, N.J. Howard, who was in the cue for the wine, did a magnificent job in his selection of 5 absolutely stunning wines from Italy, each of which had a magnificent aria of its own to sing.

Osteria Giotto is in my opinion one of the top Italian restaurants in all of New Jersey and has been since it opened a number of years ago. Owners/chefs Roberto Pantusa and Luca Valerin met and worked at the Michelin starred San Domenico Ristorante in Imola, Italy. They learned their trade extremely well. Their food is authentic, fresh and prepared with great care and skill. Tonight I cleaned up every morsel of my appetizer of Tripe served over grilled Polenta. I must tell you that I have never been a fan of tripe. I always found the consistency in the mouth to be chewy and very unappetizing until I tried Luca’s tripe a few years ago. His preparation of the dish is the antithesis of my previous experience. Following his mother’s recipe, he cuts the tripe into small pieces and stews it in a delicious tomato sauce that contains a bit of cinnamon until it is meltingly tender. The flavor simply explodes in the mouth.

For my main course I had Cavatelli pasta in a Tomato & Basil sauce. Simplicity itself. The combination of the perfectly made sauce with the freshly made (on the premises) & perfectly cooked Cavatelli must be tasted to be appreciated. Additional dishes that were enjoyed included Tuna Tartare, Veal Milanese alla Holstein (served with 2 friend eggs on top) and the above-mentioned Cavatelli in a sauce of eggplant, crumbled sausage and plum tomatoes. Each dish received applause from the group and were great matches for the wines.

As for the wine we began with a terrific 1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano. We drank this right out of the bottle with no decanting and it really sang. It had a beautiful earthy bouquet with vibrant young fruit. Balanced, complex and pure on the palate, the wine finished with length and elegance. In my opinion the wine has entered it’s drinking window and can be enjoyed for at least another 15 to 20 years. $160 at The Rare Wine Company, Sonoma, CA.

The next bottle to be opened was a 2000 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I am a big fan of Pepe wines, especially the 2000 vintage. I have not had the vintage in couple of years, but will return to it very shortly as this is drinking beautifully at the moment. The wine was full of terroir and is just a beautiful expression of old world style wine making. Great color and balance, with a lush finish, it absolutely soared from the glass. This wine will last for decades, however finding this vintage may be a challenge. The 2003 is available at Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ and DeVino Wine Boutique, NYC for around $55.

Our rhapsodic evening of Italian red wine continued with a 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino. In my opinion there is no better wine maker of Brunello di Montalcino than Gianfranco Soldera. His wines are the essence of what a great wine is all about. I have had this vintage on several occasions and it once again soared. This is a wine to be sipped and enjoyed over a couple of hours. It continues to evolve in the glass with each sip better than the previous one. This is a completely round wine with soul. Its elegance reminds me of a great French Burgundy. Expect to pay upwards of $250 a bottle.

The next wine, a 1999 Giocomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia, is an absolutely stunning wine in the making. The wine exhibited fantastic purity of fruit, was full-bodied with great complexity on the palate and finished with elegeance and length. Still a baby give this another 5 to 10 years in the cellar and you will be amply rewarded. $190. The Rare Wine Company.

The final wine of the evening was our old friend Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi 1999. I wrote about this wine in my post Tony’s Barolo Birthday last month. My comments then are applicable now, “…soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length". As I reported previously, Rosso del 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 calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price. About $130 a bottle. De-Vino Wine Boutique, NY Wine Warehouse, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC.

We concluded a wonderful evening with espresso, cappuccino and Luca’s marvelous Millefoglie. This magnificent dessert is made with delicious vanilla custard layered between 3 layers of puff pastry.

The general consensus was that the wines of the evening were the Emidio Pepe and the Soldera, with the vote for the top one split between the group. However each wine on its own was terrific. This was simply a great tasting.

A final note, these wines are a bit expensive to acquire now, which is why it is wise to purchase wines from these producers upon release when the price tag is much more affordable. Cellar them and then enjoy them as they mature.

Howard, thanks again for a great selection of wines.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another Terrific Dinner at Nick & Caren’s House

I always look forward to being invited to dinner at the Cusano household. Nick is a great chef and along with his wife Caren they always provide for a great evening.

We began with an appetizer array that included incredibly fresh sun-dried tomatoes, Italian cured olives, artichoke hearts, fresh mozzarella and a prosciutto & mozzarella Panini made on Nick’s homemade French Baguette.

We washed these delights down with a 2005 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco Veronese from magnum. The wine still shows amazing freshness. It is the only white wine made by Quintarelli. A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Saorin it is always a joy to drink. The wine possessed a beautiful richness, pure fruit and a lengthy finish. About $40 for a 750ml bottle. DeVino Wine Boutique and NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.

I always look forward to the homemade pasta from Nick’s kitchen. It is one of his many specialties. Tonight we were treated to freshly made fettucine with a rabbit Bolognese sauce. I had this dish a few years ago in Luca, Italy and mentioned it to Nick. He could not resist making it. We were glad he did, as it was delizioso.

For those who do not enjoy the delights of coniglio, he made a traditional Bolognese sauce that also received rave reviews.

With the pasta we drank a 2004 Il Carnasciale Caberlot from magnum. This is very much a cult wine from Tuscany. I purchased a couple of magnums (the only way it is bottled) a few years ago and was not impressed with the initial bottle I opened. Fortunately, this bottle was a different story. I opened it 4 hours before pouring (no decanting) and it drank much better than the bottle of a couple of years ago. In the glass it had a dark purple hue as well as a bouquet reminiscent of a California Cabernet. While I found the fruit to be a bit over extracted ala the more modern style of many super Tuscan wines, it had a very nice peppery finish that made the wine enjoyable. The wine is made from a mysterious clone discovered four decades ago near Verona. Named “Caberlot,” the grape has characteristics of both Cabernet and Merlot—hence its name. Caberlot’s discoverer—agronomist Remigio Bordini— has allowed the vine to be planted just one place outside his nursery: at Wolf and Bettina Rogosky’s Tuscan estate, Il Carnasciale. I am told that only two enotecas (wine bars) in Italy get any. $280 per magnum at DeVino Wine Boutique.

After the pasta we enjoyed a terrific Fennel & Blood Orange Salad studded with black olives that was masterly prepared by Nick's brother-in-law, Adam. It was superb and set the palate for Nick's entrée of chicken with olives and cherry tomatoes in a white wine sauce. Moist and delicious he served this over grilled Polenta.

With this we opened a Jarvis 2006 Lake William Napa Valley Proprietary Red wine that is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Cabernet Franc. If you like big California wines this is a wine for you. Sporting 14.8% alcohol, it has an oaky palate with a pronounced vanilla finish. $100, but from what I understand, not easy to find.

For dessert we enjoyed Caren's homemade Tiramisu, espresso and a short glass of honey Grappa. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Thanks again Nick & Caren


Saturday, March 10, 2012

New & Delicious Wines

This past week I have had some new and absolutely delicious wines that I would like to share with you. For our family Sunday dinner last week my wife made a large pot of Pasta e Fagioli and I made a bunch of Kobe Beef Cheeseburger sliders. Both turned out fabulous.
With these dishes I opened up two new wines that I had purchased the day before from 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ. As I have mentioned before, Master of Wine Chris Cree is forever bringing in wines from small artisanal wine makers, so when I read about his visit to Domaine Breton in the Loire Valley of France I knew I had to try the wines. The red varietal of the Loire is Cabernet Franc, which is a particular favorite of mine. Catherine & Pierre Breton are traditional wine makers who use only indigenous yeasts in their fermentations. The resulting wines are stunning, at least the two I tried were. Prior to sitting down to our meal we enjoyed a 2010 Catherine & Pierre Breton Anjou Rose de Saigne La Ritoumelle. The purity of this Rosé knocked my socks off. Importer Kermit Lynch writes, “Pierre Breton's idea is to make a rosé that approaches the pinnacle of naturalness. It is cold fermented to about 1.5% residual sugar. It is then racked and further chilled to stop the fermentation. It is bottled with approximately 0.5 atmospheres of pressure. There is only a very small addition of sulfur-dioxide just before bottling, so the wine has wonderful purity”. This was absolutely delicious, even my wife, Miss Arneis Blanghe loved the wine. At $25 a bottle it is as good a value as you can find.

With our meal we drank an absolutely perfect bottle of 1986 Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Les Perrieres. 100% Cabernet Franc from one of the most prized hillside parcels in Bourgueil, this was awesome. The wine possessed an intoxicating earthy bouquet on the nose and was pure and rich on the palate with a lengthy and elegant finish. Here is a completely round wine with soul. Fermentation and élevage (aging) is done in large (550L) barrique of which some are new. A bit pricey at $95, but well worth the price. Both wines are available at 56º Wine.

On Monday night Carol and I dined at Fin Rawbar & Kitchen in Montclair, the sister restaurant of Salute located a few doors south on Glenridge Ave. Only open a few months, owner Gerry Cerrigone has a hit on his hands. As the name implies, Fin is about seafood, and in this case pristinely fresh seafood. On this evening Carol began, as she always does here, with Crispy Spring Rolls that are stuffed with lobster and shrimp and served with Asian mustard and & sweet dipping sauces. These are very crisp and tasty spring rolls and always a great starter. I started as I always do with a half dozen of wonderfully fresh East coast oysters.

Carol patiently sipped her 2010 Brovia Rorero Arneis “Sanche di Vezza" while I devoured a bowl of New England Clam Chowder. Studded with Mahogany Clams and Apple Smoked Bacon it was the perfect answer to the chilly night air. The Brovia Arneis is wonderful. From one of Piedmont Italy's top producers, it is crisp and delicious on the palate and a great accompaniment to seafood. $23 at 56º Wine.
While I enjoy the Brovia Arneis I wanted to try the 2009 Olga Raffault Chinon Champ Chenin that I purchased a few months before. Located in the tiny commune of Chinon in the Loire Region of France, Domaine Olga Raffault produces stunning reds from Cabernet Franc and whites from Chenin Blanc. The wine was a terrific compliment to the meal. It was very crisp and pure on the palate with well-balanced acidity. This is still very much a baby and the fruit is not yet at full expression. I would give this wine a few more years of cellar aging. $30 at Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

Our main courses consisted of Crispy Skin Salmon (Carol) served with an Asian glazed radicchio, spinach and napa cabbage sauté, and Fish N Chips (me). Both were delicious; the salmon was moist and full of flavor and my battered codfish was fried to perfection, crunchy and yummy. I substituted mashed potatoes for the chips and they were smooth and creamy. A delightful and tasty meal.

Wednesday found me in NYC for a tasting of the 2010 vintage of Joseph Drouhin Burgundies. I must admit that while I enjoy these wines the fact that the tasting was being held at a private room above Restaurant Benoit was my reason for going. Not long ago while watching a Food Channel episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the French Onion Soup at Benoit was featured. I simply had to try it and boy am I glad that I did.

This is the mother of all onion soups. It takes 5 hours to prepare. (I know this because the recipe was printed in the NY Times on January 27th of this year. Click here for the recipe). While the individual components of the soup, the onions, the Gruyere Cheese, the baguette bread and the broth are all fantastic on their own, in combination they soar to new heights. This is one great crock of soup and that ain't no crock!

The Benoit has a wonderful and reasonably priced wine list. However since we were going to a tasting immediately after lunch we decided to ask for a recommendation for a glass of white wine to accompany our lunch. Chief Sommelier Andre Compeyre suggested 2010 Domaine Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet, a wine from the Languedoc region of France that we were not familiar with.
The wine was beautiful. Its crispness and purity leaped from the glass and danced on the palate. It had wonderful acidity and balance and was perfect match for our raw oysters, lobster salad and onion soup. The Picpoul grape is primarily grown in the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions of France. Its name means "lip-stinger" and refers to the high acidity of the grapes. I fell in love with the wine and a quick visit to Wine Searcher told me it was available at Chambers Street Wines, NYC. At $16 bottle I called Jamie Wolfe at Chambers and ordered a case.

A final note that may be of interest to some. The Benoit wine list offers back vintages of high-end wines by the ounce. For example if you are so inclined and do not mind spending $48 an ounce you can partake of a 1997 Chateau Petrus. For $16 an ounce you can drink 1986 Guigal La Landonne. An interesting idea.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cafe Matisse

One of my favorite restaurants on the planet is Café Matisse in Rutherford, NJ. Chef/owner Peter Loria is a great chef who really enjoys pushing the envelope when it comes to providing a dining experience…and each meal here is a dining experience. Chef Loria puts a lot of ingredients, many in unique combination, on each plate and somehow they really work. Each ingredient is pristinely fresh and cooked to absolute perfection. The resulting dishes are a marvelous combination of flavors and textures that dance on the palate.

Café Matisse is a small intimate space that matches the food with first class service. Maitre’d Larry and his staff provide courteous and professional service from start to finish. The restaurant is BYOB and the wine service is magnificent. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always appropriate glasses to match the wine. Café Matisse also owns a small wine shop that is located at the front entrance where you may also purchase wine to enjoy with your meal.

The only thing I enjoy more than going to a great BYOB restaurant is going with friends who share my passion for wine, as the wines that show up for the night never disappoint. Tonight was no exception and they went beautifully with chef's creative menu options.

The menu concept here is what Peter calls a “grazing menu”. He explains, “…we do not offer traditional appetizer or entrée portions. All of our portions are grazer portions. Grazer portions are larger than an appetizer yet smaller than an entrée. We offer three and four course grazer options.”

On this evening the six of us grazed on the following;

Pan Seared Cajun Spiced Cubed Tuna with Crab, White Bean Pancake and Asian Slaw with Sesame Soy Vinaigrette Topped with Tempura Fried Avocado and Julienned Scallion Drizzled with Wasabi Jus. Cool & a bit spicy on the palate, it was the perfect match for the NV Demiere-Ansiot Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. This is a terrific champagne from a great small producer that produces only 2000 cases a year, and only in years he deems good enough to put his name on the label. 100% Chardonnay, the wine is round and sensuous on the palate. It set the stage for the wines that followed. $50 at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Crispy Panko Crusted Crabcake, Cheddar Glazed Shrimp with Dollop of Guacamole, Sweet Corn Jus, Corn Jalapeno Relish, Chipotle Foam and Cilantro Yogurt also matched nicely with the champagne. This crab cake preparation will redefine crabcakes for you. Kind of crabecakes on steroids.

Rye Toasted Reuben with Fresh Sliced Pork Loin, Spec Ham, Tasso Ham with Smoked Gouda, White Cheddar, Caramelized Onion, Dill Pickle, Hot Mustard Mayo and Side of Braised Green Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds. My absolute favorite “grazer”. I order this whenever it appears on the menu. The combination of 3 types of pork with cheese, etc. is an absolute tour-de-force.

Apricot Chili Glazed Chicken Wing, off the Bone with Gorgonzola Fig Jam Wrapped Scallion Pancake Topped with Cracklin and Pear Celery Relish Drizzled with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette Pear Jus. Did not taste, but my wife gave it a definitive thumbs up.

Grilled Cheese with Oven Roasted Tomato, Endive, and Duck Confit with Side Salad of Heirloom Tomato, Peruvian Sweet Peppers, Burrata Cheese and Arugula Pesto Topped with Crispy Fried Onions Dusted with Smoked Paprika and Drizzled with Tuscan Olive Oil, Pepper Jus Vinaigrette. A new menu item that takes this classic sandwich to new heights. It had me applauding loudly.

The red wines that we began the evening with were a 1994 & 1986 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo Valopolicella . From Quintarelli’s single hilltop vineyard, Ca del Merlo, this wine is aged for a longer period in barrel. It is a Valpolicella that in my opinion is better than any other producer's Amarone. While both bottles were terrific and soared from their glass, the 1986 had more lively fruit than the 1994. Do not know if this was due to bottle variation or the vintage. In any case these were typical of Quintarelli wines, they had a great sense of place and were balanced and pure on the palate with a lengthy finish. $100. The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ.

As good as the Quintarellis were the next wine, a 2001 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino soared even higher from the glass. Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso (per Italian wine law) this is a stunning example of how good traditionally made wines can be when left in the hands of an artisan wine maker. Each sip of this wine transported me to the hilly terrain of Montalcino. The wine had it all, intoxicating earthy bouquet, pure and rich expression of fruit, stunning balance and a lengthy and elegant finish. $155. The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ.

Keeping pace sip for sip with the Salvioni was a 2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. There is really no sense in repeating myself, as everything I said about the Salvioni applies here. The only difference is the Nebbiolo grape in the Mascarello. Maria-Teresa Mascarello, who took over the reins when her father passed away a few years ago, continues to make wine the way her grandfather and father did before her, by blending the grapes from their four vineyards Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue and Rocche into one spectacular Barolo. Fermentation is in old cement tanks with aging in large old Slavonian Oak for 3 1/2 years. The resulting wine seems to be deified as this bottle was on this night. $118. De Vino Wine, NYC.

Finally dessert. Banana Crème Pie With Almond Graham Cracker Crust, Caramelized Bananas and White Chocolate Malted Mousse Topped with Strawberry Ginger Jam and Candied Almonds, Drizzled with Malted Honey Vanilla Jus. As a banana cream pie freak, this did not disappoint.

Another enjoyable evening with friends, food and wine.