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.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Celebrating Mom

Mother’s Day is always a special day, especially for our family since we have mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers to celebrate with  After all where would we be if it were not for our moms? Carol’s mom, Grammy as we call her, is 96 and still going strong was in attendance.  Unfortunately my mom, Nanny as she is known, and is 90 years young, was a bit under the weather and did not join us this year.  We missed her presence but the grandkids called her and made her day. 

My daughter Lisa and son-in-law Andy started a tradition a few years ago of hosting a Mother’s Day Brunch followed by dinner at their home in Florham Park, NJ.   It has become a great tradition that Carol and I look forward to every year.   We deviated last year from the tradition (can’t remember why) but we got back on track this year.  Lisa and Andy are wonderful hosts and they do a great job in making the day a special one for family and a few special friends who attend.
Uovo in Purgatorio
Andy and I man the stove and cook fresh eggs to order for everyoneThe egg choices include scrambled, sunny-side up, over easy, make-your-own omelets and Uova in Purgatorio (Italian Eggs).   A bit more on Uova in Purgatorio.  This is a classic Italian peasant dish.  Eggs cooked sunny-side up in a spicy fresh tomato sauce and served with toasted Italian Panella bread.  I usually make it with duck eggs, but alas this year we settled on regular chicken eggs.  This is good as eggs can get.  Two of my favorite foods on the planet are eggs and fresh tomato sauce.  When combined in the same dish it is orgasmic.  One taste and I am sure you will agree.
Zucchini & Tomato Pie

Bacon, breakfast sausages, hash browns, & Gene's cornocoppia fruit salad accompany the eggs.  This year my lovely wife Carol made a delicious Zucchini & Tomato Pie (sort of a quiche) to add to the offerings.  It was delicious and you can bet it will become staple at future Mother's Day brunches.

To drink with this great brunch I brought three white wines from Italy for us to enjoy.  Everyone began with  2000 Bellavista Grand Cuvée Pas Opere, a dry sparkling white made from 100% Chardonnay grapes.  This is a beautifully rich and full-bodied champagne-styled wine from Franciacorta, Italy.  I love it by itself, while my ladies prefer it as a Mimosa mixed with fresh orange juice.  In either case it was delicious.  Bellavista also makes a gorgeous Brut Rosé.  I paid about $40 a bottle 5 years ago.  Probably more today and unfortunately not easy to find, but if you can find some, I am sure you will enjoy the wine.

For those who did not want to stay with the Bellavista there was a wonderful 2010 Testalonga Bianco Vermentino Dolceacqua.  Made by Antonio Perrino in Liguria from the Vermintino grape, it is a wine lover’s wine, i.e. is not a wine for everyone..  The wine sees extended skin contact, which imparts an almost funky, muted straw hue to the wine.   On the palate it is peppery and complex and seems to evolve forever in the glass as you drink it.  I find it to be a wine that is hard to stop drinking.     $27 at Chambers Street Wines, NYC.   From this same producer is Rossese Di Dolceacqua, a red wine made with the Rossese grape.  Like the white it is peppery on the palate and reminds one of a Poulsard from the Jura.  $30 and also at Chambers Street Wines.

The third white was the ever-present 2010 Ceretto Arneis Blanghe, Carol’s favorite wine.  The 2010 vintage drinks beautifully.  A little spritz on the first sip, the wine is pure, clean and delightful on the palate.  A much better option in my opinion that Pinot Grigo.  $20 and widely available.

Brunch Wines

Bivio Manicotti
After brunch we took advantage of the gorgeous day Mother Nature provided us and sat outside to digest our food and sip our wine while we engaged in idle conversation and relaxation until dinnertime.  Dinner of course was macaroni (know as pasta today) and gravy (sauce today) with meatballs, spareribs and sausage.  For the macaroni this year we had remarkably light (if you did not eat them quickly they would have floated off your plate) and tasty Manicotti.    I wish I could say that I made them as they were absolutely off the chart, but alas I did not.  They were made by Tommaso Colao, owner of Bivio Pizzeria in Little Falls, NJ.  I was very fortunate to get them as they are not a menu item at Bivio.  I had the opportunity to taste them twice before when Tom had made them for special occasions.  I asked him, begged might be the more appropriate word, if he would make a batch for me for Mother’s Day.  You can imagine my joy when he agreed…and I wish you could have seen the joy on the faces of everyone who ate them that day.  They were simply magnificent.  I hope to convince Tom to add them to his menu at some time in the future.  BTW, if you did not read my post Bivio e Brovio in November of last year, click here  to check it out as his Pizza is the best this side of Naples, Italy.

Pasta this good needs a great red wine and fortunately we had two of them.  I brought a magnum of 1997 Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo Pie Rupestris which I decanted for 6 hours. This was truly a classic old world Barolo with a nostalgic earthy bouquet, soft tannins and gloriously pure fruit on the palate. The wine was round and delicious with a lengthy and elegant finish. Definitely a wine with soul.   My only lament is that it was my last bottle and I have been unable to locate any more anywhere.  

My good friend Gino brought along another fabulous Barolo, this one a 2003 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo Cannubio.   Even though 2003 was a slightly lesser vintage in Piedmonte, this bottle was superb and is a great example of what a great winemaker can do is lesser vintages.  The wine was very similar to the Cappellano with soft tannins and wonderful purity on the palate.  While it finished nicely, it lacked the elegance of the Cappellano.  $58 at the Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ.

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms who may read this post.  We love you.



Monday, May 14, 2012

HANJ Wine Dinner

For the past 15 or 20 years I have hosted a Gourmet Wine dinner to benefit the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey.  They are a remarkable group of people who do an awesome job in supporting the hemophilia community of NJ.  This year’s event netted more than $40,000.00 for the association.  The event was held at Il Capriccio Ristorante, Whippany, NJ on Monday evening, May 7, 2012.  Eighty-three people enjoyed the great food prepared by Tony Grande and his son Natale, and enjoyed the magnificent wines of Giuseppe Quintarelli.  Readers of this blog know how I feel about these wines.  I always have wanted to do a wine dinner that featured all of his wines and since he passed away in January of this year I felt that now was the time to honor the man and his legacy.  I served every wine he makes, with the exception of the dessert wine Amabile, which I served last year.

Tuna Tartare
Cappellini w/ Meatball 
We began as always with a cocktail hour that featured an amazing assortment of hot & cold appetizers served butler style. The appetizers, which seemed to never stop, were comprised of a of pristinely fresh Tuna Tartare, scrumptious Tomato Bruschetta, Mozzarello di Buffula tomato skewers drizzled with fresh Italian Olive Oil, Arancini di Riso (fried risotto balls), succulent Baby Lamb Chops, wonderfully moist mini Meatloaf with mashed potatoes,  Mini “Flying Meatballs” with Cappellini, tender and flavorful mini medallions of Chicken Parmigianno, and superb mini Mac N Cheese.

Pared with the appetizers were two gorgeous wines, 2009 Huet Clos du Bourg Sec and 2007 Quintarelli Primofiore.  Huet is in a class with Quintarelli, producing absolutely stunning Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley of France.   This wine, still very much in its infancy, had remarkable balance, was full-bodied with a subdued oily richness that tantalized the palate and finished with an earthy elegance.  While it is hard not to drink now, 3-5 years of cellaring will be rewarded.  Beyond that it should last for another 50 years at least.   $30. 

Primofiore & Clos du Bourg Sec
One might say that Primofiore is Quintarelli’s entry-level wine.  Whatever class you put it in it is a terrific wine at a very reasonable price.  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. The wine was full of young fresh fruit that was beautifully balanced, and had a nice muted peppery palate and a clean finish. About $40.

Once seated we enjoyed our first course, Gamberetti, Calamari e Cannellini.  This was a harmonic combination of shrimp, squid & cannellini beans in a brandy cream sauce.  With this course we enjoyed Quintarelli’s only white wine; 2008 Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco.  Many of the attendees were unfamiliar with this wine, but were oh so delighted to learn of it and partake of it. It is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape). Garganega is the 5th most widely planted white grape in Italy and the main grape used in the production of Soave (it constitutes 70-100% of the blend).   The wine was very elegant and soft on the palate with hints of citrus.  It finished rich and clean.  $35.

Next up was the pasta course, fresh Orecchietta Pasta al Passato di Pomodoro con Melenzane e Ricotta (homemade “little ears” with a sauce of tomatoes, eggplant and Ricotta cheese).  The dish similar to the Sicilian pasta, Penne alla Norma, was simply wonderful.  We enjoyed Quintarelli’s two Valpolicellas with the pasta.  In one glass there was the 2002 Quintarelli Valpolicella.  Made from a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes this vintage is classic Quintarelli.  A gorgeous dark garnet hue with an almost indescribable dry/sweet balance, the wine simply mesmerizes the palate.  The wine soars with pure and harmoniously balanced fruit and finishes with a candied elegance.  What a wine.  $65.  Alongside this beauty was the 1986 Quintarelli Ca del Merlo Rosso, a single vineyard Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (bird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside. It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique.  Tonight this bottle took a back seat to the 2002 Valpolicella.  It tasted old and tired compared to the 2002 and to the bottle I had and wrote about in March.  It was the most controversial wine of the evening, with many adoring it and many less than enthusiastic.  As I have some in my cellar, I will report on this vintage in upcoming posts.  $100.

Our entrée on this gala evening consisted of Costoletta di Maiale Biologico Arrosto (Berkshrie Pork Chop oven roasted with rosemary & Santa Teresa lemon in a light demi-glaze).   This was paired with a flight of three of Quintarelli’s finest wines, 2002 Rosso del Bepi; 2000 Amarone; and 1998 Alzero.  It is not often that you will find three glasses of world class wines sitting in front of you simultaneously as we had tonight.  There are but three words for these wines, “Oh My God”. 

L to R, Rosso di Bepi, Amarone, Alzero
Let me begin with the  Rosso di Bepi.  This is a wine that 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.  The bouquet that flowed from the glass energized the senses to what you were about to taste.  Rich, balanced and pure on the palate, the wine soared from the glass and prepared your palate for the Amarone that sat waiting in an adjacent glass.   

On to the 2000 Amarone.  Wow.  If there is such thing as a perfect wine this may be it.   This was just spectacular, exploding on palate with an incredible rich and balanced sweetness.   The wine continued to evolve with every sip.  It was round, lush and delicious with a finish that almost brought tears to my eyes.  Opened 7 hours prior to drinking (as were all the wines except the whites), this was a memorable wine.  Quintarelli also made a riserva Amarone “Selizone” in 2000 that I have had and while very good, at the moment is not really a match for this “normale” wine.  $300.

The final wine in this flight, also memorable and perhaps also perfect, was the 1998 Alzero.  Made in the Amarone-style, it is mostly Cabernet Franc with a small bit of Merlot.  It has incredible balance with amazing length.  Like the Amarone it soars from the glass and evolves with each sip.  The wine is only made in exceptional vintages and is a wine every serious wine drinker should experience.

Before we enjoyed our dessert and dessert wine we refreshed our palate with Insalatine di Campo all’Aroma di Tartufo, a salad of field greens in a truffle vinaigrette. 

1997 Guiseppe Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella was the final wine of the evening.  The wine brought new meaning to the adage “going out in style”.  This amazing sweet dessert wine paired magnificently with the homemade Cannoli alle Mandorle (Almond Tuille Cannolli).  Recioto refers to the extending lobes of a grape cluster that appear as "ears" at the top of the cluster. The exposed grapes on the "ears" usually receive the most direct sunlight and become the ripest grapes on the cluster.  What Quintarelli does with these grapes is magical.  The initial sip reminds you of a great vintage port.  Subsequent sips tell you that you are being transported to another dimension of sweet dessert wines.  The wine was simply profound with an understated complexity, impeccable balance and a long and sensuous finish.  $175 per 350ml bottle.

It was simply a fantastic evening with the wines showing beautifully.  My sincere thanks to Tony and Natale Grande and the Il Capriccio staff for their great food and service, to Brian Hider, Wine Director for the Pluckemin Inn for getting me the wines at a very reasonable price & for and adding his comments & knowledge about the wines, to Chris Cree, MW for his comments & knowledge also and to Gene Urban, Mater of Photography, for memorializing the evening on camera.  To view this incredible evening, Gene uploaded an incredible slide show of the event.  Please click here to view it. Thanks also to my wine loving friends for their support.
Me, Brian Hider & Chris Cree
Tony & Natale Grande
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not give a very special thanks to Giuseppi Quintarelli and his wines.  He was a special person who took an enormous amount of pride in what he did.  Had you been present tonight and tasted these wines, you would understand that these are not just idle words.  Speaking of words, In his own words Giuseppe says, ""Our traditional methods and savors must not be abandoned or forgotten. More than anything else, one can never force nature. One must be calm, have the right method, and have a lot of passion." -Giuseppe Quintarelli 
Finding Quintarelli wines can be a challenge.  Three very reliable sources for his wines are   The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ., De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC, and NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Family, Food & Wine...Life is Very Good

I really look forward to the weekend because Carol and I usually get to have dinner with our family.  This past Saturday night my girls and their families joined Carol, Carol’s mother and I for a very good meal at Rare, The Steakhouse, Little Falls, NJ. Rare is owned by Gregorio Polimeni who is also the owner of Il Tulipano, the wedding and banquet facility in Cedar Grove, NJ. Rare specializes in steaks and chops but also includes some of the Italian classics from Il Tulipano when it was an ala carte restaurant. I began with a half dozen pristinely fresh oysters from British Columbia. These fresh and briny crustaceans went very well with a 2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis Montée de Tonnerre. This is a spectacular Chablis from this new and up and coming producer. The wine is clean and fresh on the palate with wonderful acidity and purity. 2009 was a great vintage in Burgundy and the wines will age well for years to come. According to Mr. Piuze, his main intention is to make a real difference between "wine grower" and "winemaker". He doesn’t own any vineyard but has a strong influence as a counselor for the wine growers. He established a trust building approach and a long-term partnership towards wine growers. This philosophy enables him to pick the best lots in Chablis, most of them of very old vineyards, to collect high quality grapes.  I have had a few of his wines and each has been spectacular.  These are very high quality and affordable wines that are worthy of purchase if you are a Chablis fan.  $45. NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.

I am not a big steak eater, meatloaf is more up my alley, but I must admit the NY Sirloin at Rare is a dish I look forward to a few times a year.  It is always cooked the way I like it, medium rare.  When combined with some of the fantastic side dishes such as Mac N Cheese, Craime Freche Mashed Potatoes and frizzled Onion Rings you cannot go wrong.  Other entrées included Filet Mignon, Short Ribs of Beef and Penne alla Vodka.  No one was disappointed.  I brought along a magnum of 2007 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Mon Aieul which drank beautifully.  2007 was a monumental vintage in CDP and Usseglio ia a great producer.  This bottle had a great sense of place, was balanced and pure on the palate with a lengthy finish.  My son-in-laws could not stop raving about (or drinking) the wine.  According to RP it is a perfect wine to which he awarded 100 points.  Alas I do not agree. $90 for a 750ml.  NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.  

On Sunday night, Carol and I tried a new spot, Anthony David’s in Hoboken, NJ.  I had read about this very popular BYOB Italian restaurant a few years ago and so we decided to try it.  We were glad we did.  The food, with the exception of one dish, was of very good and skillfully prepared.  The appetizer choices here are interesting.  You can build an antipasto platter of 4, 5 or 6 choices from lists of artisan cheeses, vegetables and cured meats.  We selected Deceaur du Jura, a soft cheese from the Jura region of France, roasted zucchini, stuffed peppers, roasted peppers and grilled artichokes for our antipasto.  We complimented this with Grilled Asparagus with a sunny side up egg, prosciutto, grana and truffles.  While all were good, the  highlights were the zucchini, cheese and asparagus.  

With the appetizers we enjoyed another Chablis Montee de Tonnere, this one a 2005 Raveneau bottling.  Many consider Raveneau, myself included, to be the finest producer of Chablis in all of Burgundy.  The Montee de Tonnerre, their largest Premier Cru vineyard, is a wine that tantalizes the nose with apples and citrus while imparting a balanced minerality and wonderful purity on the palate.   The finish is elegant but a bit short due to its youth.  This is a great wine in the making that should last for another 10 to 15 years.  $155. NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.  

We both decided on pasta for our main course.  Carol had a lovely dish of Rigatoni with an Eggplant Bolognese & ricotta cheese.  Sort of like the Sicilian pasta dish, penne all a Norma.  She enjoyed every morsel.   I ordered Cavatelli with Braised Spring Rabbit, olives and capers.  The dish sounded great and looked terrific, but alas the sauce tasted old.  Our eager to please waiter quickly replaced that dish with a very nice dish of Bucatini with chills, pancetta & fresh mozzarella.  The Bucatini were cooked perfectly al dente and the tomato based sauce was sweet and delicious.

With the pasta I drank a 1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo that was superb, thankfully.  I say thankfully because myself and others have been finding a lot of inconsistencies with this vintage lately.  On 3 previous occaisions in the past few weeks each bottle was badly oxidized.  This bottle however had a great sense of place, complexity and balance and a lengthy  and elegant finish.  I recently opened a bottle of the 1998 vintage of this wine and I am happy to report that it too drank very well.  Finding these vintages will be a challenge and expensive.  The 2005 vintage which is available and can be found at DeVino Wine, NYC, The Pluckemin Inn, Bedminster, NJ and the NY Wine Warehouse for around $100.

We finished our meal with Homemade Bourbon Glazed Donuts, sort of like Zeppole.  They were yummy.