About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Recent Wines

While I have not been very active in blogging about wine lately, I certainly have been active in enjoying a number of terrific wines so far this month.  Here are some highlights.

2001 Radikon Oslavje.  From Friuli-Venezia at the Slovanian border, Stanislao Radikon is one of Italy’s iconic producers. He pursues a deceptively simple philosophy—the production of wines that are wholly natural. These wines are singly devoted to the grape and the grape alone. His white or “orange wines” such as Ribolla Gialla & Oslavje (white blend) are stunningly pure and balanced on the palate and provide a remarkable drinking experience.  The 2001 Oslavje is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc.  At 11 years of age the wine continues to drink beautifully.  These wines should be drunk like a red wine, i.e. at room temperature, to be properly appreciated and enjoyed.  They exhibit a slight oxidation on the palate and as such you will either love the wine or hate it.  It is a unique drinking experience. The 2005 vintage is currently available at Chambers Street Wines, NYC for $47. The Ribolla Gialla is also delicious and sells for the same price.

Antonio Galloni of The Wine Advocate once told me that Enzo Pontoni, owner/wine maker of Miani Winery in Friuli-Venezia, Italy is a genius when it comes to making both red and white wine.  Pricey and very difficult to acquire, a recent bottle of 2009 Miani Friulano Tocai Buri gave me every cause to agree with Mr. Galloni. The wine was absolutely stunning.  Pure, balanced and focused on the palate with an enticing bit of viscosity.  The wine continued to evolve in the glass with each sip and finished with elegance and soul.  One of the best white wines I have ever tasted.  I was able to locate some a while back at Zachy’s.  

My good friend Gabrio Tosti, owner of De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC, reminded me at a lunch a while back about the problems of the 1997 vintage in Italy.  He especially recommended drinking up all Barolos, Barbarescos and Valpolicellas from the Veneto in short order.  I am glad we had the lunch, as unfortunately he was right.

When first released, the 1997 Barolos were highly praised by most wine critics.  Today, with the exception of Wine Spectator, which scored the vintage 99 points (numbers, ugh), most knowledgeable wine writers and sommeliers will tell you they were wrong about the vintage and that 1996 has in fact turned out to be a much, much better vintage. 

The 1997 growing season in the Barolo region in Piedmont, Italy was hot and dry. As a result of the weather the Nebbiolo grapes had uncharacteristic low acidity and high sugar levels that produced atypical Barolos that are not for long aging. 

I opened close to a dozen bottles of 1997 Italian wines this month from Barolo and the Veneto and was extremely disappointed and unimpressed with all but one of them.  I found that they had become "tired" and had lost their vitality in most cases.  The fruit was waning and the complexity was gone.  These wines were not much fun to drink.

The Barolos I drank were from three of the region’s top producers.  1997 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva (5 bottles); 1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (4 bottles) and 1997 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva Monprivato Ca’ d’Morisso (1 bottle).

While each of the Conterno bottles had that signature Conterno traditional earthy bouquet and purity of fruit, the wine was old, tired and on the boring side.

Of the 4 bottles of Bartolo Mascarello, 3 were undrinkable.  They were oxidized and insipid.  The other bottle while drinkable was similar to the Conterno.  Fortunately the wine shop I purchased them from took back my remaining unopened bottles.

The Ca’ d”Morisso was by far the best of the lot.  Fruit and vitality were still in tact and the wine drank very nicely.  I plan on finishing my last 5 bottles in the near future as I am afraid they will undergo the same fate as the others.

I also opened 3 bottles of 1997 Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore, and while each drank much better than the ’97 Baroli, the fruit in each bottle was starting to decline.  The remarkable balance between sweet and dry, acidity and fruit that gives his wines such a remarkable complexity was not up to other vintages of this wine that I have enjoyed.  It is still a good bottle of wine, but I would drink whatever you have up over the next year as I do not think it is going to last much longer.

The 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is considered by every wine writer I have read to be one of the greatest vintages ever for the appellation and comparable to the fabulous 1990 vintage.  A 2007 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Reserve certainly lived up to the accolades of the critics.  The wine had incredible depth and purity of fruit on the palate, along with a bracing acidity, complexity and roundness.  It finished with unparalleled elegance.  Alas wines of this quality will set you back more than a few dollars and are difficult to find.  Definitely a wine for that special occasion. 

While the 2001 vintage in Chablis in Burgundy is no match for the 2007 vintage in CDP, top producers such as Francois Raveneau managed to turn out superb wines such as his 2001 Raveneau Chablis Valmur.  This was a terrific bottle.  Crisp with a wonderful stony minerality on the palate, it had beautiful balance, long finish and is in its drinking window now.

The 2004 vintage in the Northern Rhone region of France was in the same category of the 2001 Burgundy vintage, good but not the stuff of which legends are made.  Many excellent wines were made in the vintage however.  I am a fan of Norhern Rhone white grapes such as Marsanne, Viognier & Roussanne.  I like their complexity and viscosity on the palate.  The 2004 Chapoutier Ermitage le Meal Blanc made from 100% Marsanne is a perfect example. The wine exhibited great depth & purity on the palate.  Its finish was lush and long.  A wine with soul!

Staying in the Norther Rhone but moving over to red, I opened a bottle of 2009 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Ampodium Classique that I purchased recently. Rostaing's winemaking is a mix of tradition and modernism such as total or partial destemming (100% for the Classique) and the fermentation in roto-fermenters.  A fair amount of new oak is used.

Made from 100% Syrah from 13 different plots, the wine was rich and concentrated, the oak was well integrated and hints of pepper and spice danced on the palate.  It finished a bit short however, suggesting to me that it probably needs a couple more years of cellar aging.  56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ. 

For my money, one of the best Sauternes you can buy is from Chateau La Tour Blanche.  The 2001 La Tour Blanche Sauternes is drinking marvelously at the moment and will continue to do so for many years.  I absolutely love the fruit, coconut and vanilla layers that soar from the glass and delight the palate.  The wine’s impeccable balance and yummy non-medicinal finish make this wine a tour-de-force in my opinion.  At $45 a bottle this is the average guy’s Chateau d’Yquem.  


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Wines of Summer

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy wrote George Gershwin in his classic song about summer.  What better way to enjoy “easy livin” than with easy drinking wines, especially if you are lounging by the pool, on your patio or at a vacation spot.

One of the best things about these easy drinkers is that they are relatively inexpensive.  And there is certainly no shortage of these wines from topnotch producers.  Here are a few that I think would be worthy of your consideration.

The Italian sparkling wine Prosecco has become a very popular wine the past few years, and rightfully so.  Much less expensive than Champagne, Prosecco dances on the palate and goes down very easily.  Valdobbiadene is a town in the province of Treviso, Veneto, Italy. It is a picturesque wine growing area just below the Alpine areas of Veneto.  The climate of the area is ideal for cool varieties of grape such as Prosecco.  The wines are also usually widely available.  Here are three you might want to look for. 

Canella Prosecco $15
Nino Franco Prosecco Valdobbiadene Rustico $30 
Zardetto Prosecco Valdobbiadene $15.  

None of these wines possess the complexity of more expensive Champagnes, but they all are very pleasant and easy to drink and will bring a smile to your face.

NV Fontezoppa Voile Blanche Brut Verdicchio is an absolutely delicious sparkling Verdicchio wine from Marche, Italy.  It is crisp and elegant and the perfect wine for sipping by the pool.  About $14 at 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

Francois Pinon is considered to be one of the finest producers in Vouvray (Loire Valley, France).  I adore his wines and as I write this post I am enjoying a glass of NV Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut. This is a superb sparkling Chenin Blanc.  Crisp, fresh and focused on the palate, it has great acidity that should allow the wine to age for at least another 10 years…that is if you can keep your hands off of it.  $20 a bottle (talk about a steal) at Chambers Street Wines, NYC.

In addition to these sparklers, Rosé wines are perfect accompaniments to the heat and humidity of summer.  I have written about the amazing 2011 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé in a recent post, Nick's Amazing Pizza Oven as well as a number of other Rosés in a post from last year titled Rosé. Chambers Street Wines and 56º Wine usually carry the wine.  $30.

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking with Mahesh Lekkala at his wine shop, Wine Legend in Livingston, NJ. about Rosé wines.  He asked if I had ever tasted Domaine Tempier Rosé.  While I have heard of this producer before, I had not tasted his wines.  Mahesh opened a bottle of 2011 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé for me to taste, and Mahesh's famous words "Oh my God" sprung from my lips.  My description is simple, this was crisp, fresh and delicious.  Salmon in color, it is beautifully balanced and with enough acidity to last for some time.  I quickly purchased a case at about $35 a bottle.  

Additionally, consult your wine guy (or gal) where you purchase your wine from for summer wines.  I am sure they will be able to provide you with some additional reasonably priced gems.

Enjoy the summer!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Notre Dame Wine Dinner

For the past three years I have been involved in our parish’s wine dinner fundraiser.  This year’s event took place at Il Tulipano Ristorante in Cedar Grove, NJ last Friday evening.  Chris Cree, MW, owner of 56º Wine in Bearnardsville, NJ once again put together an amazing selection of wines for the evening, and Gregorio Polimeni and his staff did a terrific job with a delicious menu to compliment the wines. 

With a fantastic assortment of passed antipasti that included delicious homemade pizza, tender & greaseless fried calamari and a host of assorted canapés we enjoyed 2010 Domaine Terrebrune Bandol Rose (from magnum) and 2011 Robert Sinskey Abraxas "Vin de Terroir" Los Carneros.

The Domaine Terrebrune is from the magnificent portfolio of Kermit Lynch, one of the country’s top importers.  From the Bandol (Provence) region of France this terrific wine is a blend of  Mourvedre, Grenache & Cinsault grapes.  The grapes are farmed organically and reside in limestone gravel and brown clay earth.  The resulting wine is delicious, round and well balanced with good acidity for aging.  While a bit pricey for a Rosé, it does define the category.  $80 per magnum.  This is a great wine to enjoy this summer when lounging by the pool or to compliment a meal with grilled vegetables, grilled fish such as Tuna, Salmon, Bronzino or for lunch with a Salad Nicoise.

I am not a fan of California wines, especially the whites as I find them akin to drinking liquid oak, so when Chris suggested the Sinskey Abraxas "Vin de Terroir" Los Carneros my initial reaction was, “Oh no!”, until he explained the wine and winemaker this way; “Ever the contrarian, Robert Sinskey continues to blaze trails in California winemaking searching outside the norm for wines of intrigue and allure.  At a time when most winemakers are trying to grow as much Chardonnay as possible, Sinskey discontinued his delicious Three Amigos Chardonnay and is instead focusing on Alsace varietals.  The Abraxas is a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc raised entirely in stainless steel (NO OAK).  Winemaker Jeff Virnig has created an elegant, yet flavorful offering flowing with floral nectarine goodness, apples and spice.  This extremely aromatic offering is a perfect wine for Thai, sushi, and other Asian cuisine, Mexican dishes, an assortment of cheeses as well as your favorite fresh pan-seared fish simply prepared”.  After tasting the wine I understood what he meant.  The wine was delicious.   Farming is Certified Organic & Biodynamic.  $40.

With our first course, Tilapia Alla Fiorentina we enjoyed a wine from one of the world’s greatest winemakers, Gaston Huet.  The wine was 2010 Domaine Huet Sec Le Haut Lieu Vouvray.  I have written about the wines of Huet in many previous posts, as I drink them quite frequently.  This is world-class juice.  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc and vinified in stainless steel tanks the wine had a magnificent complexity and freshness on the palate with an exquisite elegant finish.  What is amazing about Huet wines is that they will age for decades and evolve into wines that will provide you with a provocative wine experience.    Upon release they are a steal at under $30 a bottle.  30 years from now this will easily be worth 10 times that price.  This bottle is $28 currently.

With the pasta course, Cannelloni Alla Piedmontese, we enjoyed two reds from Italy side by side. In one glass was 2005 Roagna Langhe Rosso.  This is essentially a baby Barolo.  Made from grapes produced on young vines (20 years old) Luca Roagna considers the vines too young to put into his Barolo, so he bottles them as a Langhe Rosso. This wine was stunning with fabulous purity, balance and elegance on the palate and finish.  It will age for years and at $30 a bottle is a steal.  It was for me, the wine of the night.

In the second glass was the 2010 La Crotta di Vegneron “Chambave” Val d’Aosta.  Located northwest of the Piedmont region of Italy this wine is a blend of mostly Petite Rouge with smaller amounts of Mayolet, Fumin, Cornalin & Pinot Noir.  Farmed organically, the wine sees no oak in the vinification process.  This is a friendly and easy drinking wine that goes well with pasta and at $17 a bottle hard to pass up on.  

Entrée choices were Chicken alla Forristierre or Tournedos of Beef Massena.   We enjoyed another two reds here.  The first, from Spain, was 2009 Dominio Pingus PSI Ribera de Duero.  Made from 100% Tempranillo grape, the wine is also farmed organically and biodynamically. The wine had a deep red hue and, in my opinion, highly extracted fruit.  Full-bodied and lush on the palate, it is not my kind of wine.  

Here are Chris Cree’s comments on this wine,  “Peter Sisseck, the rock star of Ribera del Duero, has crafted a gem of a wine that costs just a sliver of what his amazing Pingus does ($42 vs. $800).  All of the fruit is from the high quality vineyards of Valladolid, a sweet spot in Ribera.   Organic and biodynamically farmed vines give birth to great wine, according to Peter.  PSI, named after the 23rd letter in the Greek alphabet, is thoroughly mind-bending stuff.  Broad and rich on the palate, the dark berries, currants, lavender and gravel notes are linked together with silky fine tannins and a hint of oak.  This is clearly the best vintage of this wine I've ever tasted, so detailed and complex.  Very long finishing, this wine can stand up to more cellaring, so best to enjoy now through 2018.”  

The second wine with the entrée was 2008 Domaine de la Grange des Peres Vin de Pays de l’Herault Rouge.  From the Languedoc region of France the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Mourvedre and is also farmed organically. The domaine is considered to be the best in all of the Languedoc-Rousillon area.  Chris comments, “Owner and winemaker Laurent Vaille is a former physiotherapist turned wine wizard.  His tutelage under Gerard Chave and Francois Coche-Dury gave him the tools to become the legendary figure he has now become.  Starting in 1992, this winery has gone from "on the map" to "off the charts", wowing not only the wine press, but also all who taste the wines.  They are that spectacular!  A wine that will age magnificently in a cool cellar but is truly hard to resist right now.  Should be decanted prior to enjoying”.  While a bit young this was great juice and a great wine in the making.  It was rich and pure on the palate and finished with elegance.  Alas, wines like this do not come cheap, $110.

With our dessert of assorted Italian pastries we were treated to 1985 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon.  Another Chenin Blanc sweet white wine gem from the Loire Valley in France, the wine is made without botrytis (noble rot), and is aged a minimum of 10 years before release. The wines have an amazing track record for longevity, and can last 50-100 years in the great vintages. The grapes are handpicked in several stages. The real secret of the Moulin Touchais longevity and charming complexity results from this harvesting strategy: 20% of the grapes are picked around 80 days after flowering while the fruit is still underripe and loaded with acidity, the other 80% is harvested late (one hundred & twenty days after flowering) yielding fruit with high sugar levels and concentrated flavors. High acidity and sugar levels ultimately determine Moulin Touchais' opulent style: smooth and elegant.  This wine sang tonight.  The sweetness was not cloying, instead in was in beautiful harmony with the purity of the grape.  It danced on and tantalized the palate and finished with considerable length.  $65.

All wines are available from 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

My thanks to our wine committee, Chris Cree and Il Tulipano Risotrante for making the evening such a success.