About this Blog

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

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wine Group @ Scalini Fedeli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Luncheon

For the past 3 or 4 years a bunch of us wine lovers get together for a holiday lunch at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ.  As in past years this year’s lunch was a great combination of camaraderie, the great food of Tony Grande and the superb wine service provided by Salvatore and his staff.

This is a spirited group of wine lovers with varying palates and openly candid opinions.  As you can imagine it makes for very lively discussion during this 4-hour lunch.

Spaghetti with Bortaga
Tony’s son Natale was in the kitchen today and the food he prepared was superb.  While all the food was good, the highlights were a scrumptious seafood salad, ridiculously tender grilled octopus, meatballs, beef braciole, spaghetti with Bortaga and pork tenderloin, the focus was on the wine.

We began with 2000 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru and 2004 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er Cru.  Domaine Leflaive has been described by many as Burgundy’s greatest white wine domaine.  I certainly will not dispute that claim as I have enjoyed these wines on many occasions, as I did today.  Under the direction of Anne-Claude LeFlaive the domaine shifted all the viticulture to biodynamic in 1997.  The wines are wonderfully pure, with focused acidity and well-integrated oak.  Both wines were crisp, full-bodied, round and delicious.  New York Wine Warehouse, 56º Wine and Wine Legend usually have Leflaive wines.  While these vintages will set you back about $200 a bottle, the Bourgogne level wines are available at about $50 a bottle and are delicious as well.

For reds we began with 2002 Masetto from Ornellaia.  This is a massive Super Tuscan wine made from 100% merlot that has achieved cult status in the wine world. While it is a wine that many in our group are fond of, I am not one of them.  I find it to be one-dimensional with that big fruit bomb; high alcohol (15%) palate that seems to have become the hallmark of highly rated wines today.  I continued to taste the wine over 3 hours at the lunch and it never changed or evolved.  My first sip was the same as my last.  I remain perplexed after tasting the wine again today why someone would pay $500 -$600 for it.  I guess it is the price one must pay to drink a "cult" wine that the critics continue to rate as a "prestigious" wine and routinely score highly, ala first growth Bordeaux.  I know I am definitely a minority amongst our group here, but as I said we are candid in our opinions.  As my good friend Emil says, “that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla”.  One final note, I could not find Masetto on the Ornellaia website.  Perhaps this is a statement as to how big a cult wine it is.

We next moved on to four Bordeaux reds.  Of the 10 attendees at the luncheon I definitely do not share the same enthusiasm for red Bordeaux wines as do many of the others in the group.  The Cabernet and Merlot grapes, which usually make up these wines, are two of my least favorite grapes.   Amongst other things, I prefer the feminine elegance of Burgundy to the more macho style of Bordeaux.

1983 Cheval Blanc followed the Masetto.  Similar in price to the Masetto, this wine tasted of liquid soap.  Perhaps it was just a bad bottle?

This was followed by 1989 and 1985 Chateau Lafite Rothschild side by side.  The 1989 seemed to be fast asleep in contrast to the 1985 which exhibited lively fruit, balance and complexity.  Both of these wines will set you back about $500 a bottle and my humble opinion are not worth it.

All three of these wines have the prestigious Bordeaux first growth designation, which plays a major role in the price of the wine.  These are "prestigious wines".  Famed wine distributor Kermit Lynch says of these wines in his book “Adventures on the Wine Route", “As a Bordeaux proprietor, you do not even need a good winemaker…You need only have been included in the classification of 1855, 130 some years ago.  Your vineyard might now be ten times larger than it was in 1855, your production per acre five times larger, your grape varieties blended in different proportions, your vinification newfangled…No matter…”

The final Bordeaux was 1990 Chateau Montrose, which drank wonderfully.  It possessed a lovely earthy bouquet, was nicely balanced, round and focused on the palate.  I have had this wine on a few occasions and have joyed it very much each time.  It is a wine that truly is an expression of its terroir.  Chateau Montrose has a second growth classification which I would imagine is why it is priced about $200 less than the others.

We finished up with four wines from Italy beginning with 2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva.  In my initial WWN post I wrote “In a year in which most Barolo producers did not make a wine due to poor conditions, Roberto Conterno may have made his best Monfortino Riserva ever. I had this wine in November, shortly after its release and it was fabulous. Terrific purity and roundness on the palate. I think this will become one of the greatest Barolos ever made. Patience in cellaring this beauty will be rewarded”.  While it is still a monumental wine, alas it has begun to close down and patience is definitely going to be required for at least 5 to 10 years.  $400+

This was followed by 1975 Emidio Pepe Montulpulciano d”Abruzzo, which really soared from the glass.  Pepe is as traditional a winemaker as you will find.  His wines, especially older vintages, are not for every one.  They exhibit an unmistakable barnyard bouquet with an initial oxidized palate that requires 4 or more hours to dissipate.  As the wine breathes it evolves into a spectacular wine experience.

With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, his grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  $200.  Current vintages are significantly less in price and worth buying.

We finished up with Amarone from Dal Forno Romano (2003) and Giuseppe Quintarelli (1995). Both winemakers, considered by many the top two Amarone and Valpolicella producers in Italy, follow very different winemaking philosophies.  Dal Forno is the modernist, while Quintarelli is the quintessential traditionalist.   It was easy to tell one wine from the other.  The Quintarelli was magnificent with gorgeous fruit, complexity and balance and a wonderful earthy undertone.  Round and delicious here is a wine with soul that one remembers days after drinking it.  The Dal Forno in contrast resonated a dullness that I find is often associated with modern style wines.  Alas, it is a forgettable wine.

My thanks to Tony for putting the luncheon together, Tony & Natale Grande and Salvatore for the wonderful food and service and to all the guys who really make the event special with their spirited attendance.  Special thanks to Emil's wife for capturing us in the Christmas spirit.

Saluté and Merry Christmas to all

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dinner at Home

I don’t cook at home as often as I used to, but when I do I really enjoy it, especially when it's for good friends who enjoy good food and wine.  A couple of weeks ago, Carol and I had four friends over for a dinner originally planned on the night Sandy decided to visit us.  It was a wonderful evening.

The evening began sitting before a crackling fire and starting with 2010 Cedric Bouchard Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Champagne and nibbling on paté de foie gras with figs (from my trees) and apples and Gorgonzola Cheese drizzled with Chestnut Honey atop thin slices of French Bagguette bread.

They made a delicious accompaniment to the Bouchard Champagne.  Made from 100% Pinot Noir this is an insanely delicious wine.  It is a champagne that needs to be drunk from a large Burgundy or Claret glass to appreciate its complexity and vibrancy.  Like any great wine, it evolves in the glass so that each sip is a new and breathtaking experience. This young maverick of a wine maker does not follow the usual convention of blending different grapes from different vineyards as well as the juice from different vintages to make champagne.  Instead his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote importer Polaner’s web site “Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast and handled meticulously in the cellar to guarantee the finest wines possible”.  Treat yourself to a bottle. About $65 at Amanti Vino, Montclair, NJ; Chambers Street Wines, NYC, and 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

As our glasses emptied and I had not yet prepared the Shrimp with Herbs appetizer, I uncorked a 2002 Huet Petillant Reserve ( a great year for Hute wines) for our guests to enjoy while I got busy in the kitchen.   This sparkling wine, one of two made by Huet, was brilliant and stood up well to the Bouchard.  The wine was rich and displayed great focus and a vibrant acidity.   We did not finish the bottle, so I put the cork in and put it in the refrigerator and promptly forgot it was there.  I noticed it 7 days layer and decided to try it.  Upon removing the cork it had a slight pop and when I poured it into the glass, it was loaded tiny effervescing bubbles.  I tasted it...wow!  It was still vibrant and wonderful. Considering the quality of Huet wines and how well they age, I was not surprised.  I selfishly finished the bottle.

Winemaker, Noel Pinguet, makes two Champagne style wines with the Chenin Blanc grape. There is a Mousseux bottling made in the méthode traditionelle, i.e. a bottling made à la Champagne, a vin clair bottled with yeast and sugar for the second fermentation.  In the other method, methode ancestrale, the wine is bottled before the primary fermentation is finished, the result being a lower pressure sparkling wine - the pétillant style - because only a portion of the fermentation occurs within the bottle. Although it is not strictly necessary to add anything when bottling, winemaker Noel Pinguet favors the addition of yeast to ensure the fermentation progresses smoothly.  This wine should age for decades.  The 2002 should be available and will cost you about $40.  The 2007 vintage (normal, not the reserve) can be found at Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ for under $30 a bottle.

With our appetizer I opened my only bottle of 1959 Le Huet Lieu Vouvray Demi Sec and immediately wished I had more bottles. It possessed a gorgeous translucent yellow hue and absolutely soared from the glass. It was pristine and pure on the palate with a long elegant finish. At 53 years of age, this wine still has many years in front of it.  It will be very hard to find and on the expensive side.  However 56º Wine, Bearnardsville has the 2002 and 2009 at about $40 a bottle.

Weeds & Sausage
For our entrée I made one of my favorite pasta dishes, Weeds with Sausage, from a recipe by Mario Batali.  For me it is the essence of simple country style Italian cuisine where the flavors and textures throw a party in your mouth.  With the pasta I served, side by side, 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino and 1998 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  In my humble opinion there is no better producer of Brunello di Montalcino than Gianfranco Soldera.  His wine is the essence of traditionally made, unadulterated wine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Soldera at his Case Basse estate in 2008 and was completely captivated by the man’s passion and convictions. He firmly believes that high quality production requires a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for natural cultivation.  Thus the Case Basse estate pays attention to preserving the stonewalls where birds, small mammals and insects nest and reproduce.  For the same purpose, he creates artificial sanctuaries to attract animals in the hope that they become permanent residents, and also establishes beehives.  What does this have to do with wine?  Well when you taste his wine you will know.  It is pure, round and delicious, a pure product of the grape, soil and climate. We first sipped the non-riserva and we all sang its praise in unison.  It was a beautifully vibrant expression of the grape with focus, purity and elegance.  It finished with great length.  The Riserva, while very, very good, and a pleasure to drink seemed either a bit tired or still asleep.  It lacked the youthful vibrancy of the normale.  I intend to give it at least another year before retrying. Pricey stuff, but worth it.

Just last week the Soldera wine cellar was vandalized and 6 vintages (2007 thru 2012) were completely drained from their large Slovanian oak barrels.  While the wine was insured, the wine world has been deprived of these vintages.  I would imagine that current vintages, already expensive, will soar in value.

For dessert there was a delicious homemade (not mine) Zuppa Inglese (English Trifle), which we enjoyed with 2006 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos.  This wine from Hungry is one of the great dessert wines of the world. The primary grape variety used in a Tokaji blend is Furmint, which account for around two-thirds of the Tokaj region’s total vineyard area. It is a high-quality grape, with plenty of natural acidity, which helps ensure the longevity of Tokaji wines. It is also very susceptible to the all-important botrytis rot that is responsible for producing Aszu (dried grapes) for use in the prized sweet wines of the region.   A round and delicious dessert wine that exhibited a terrific light golden hue, was full-bodied with wonderful complexity.   At $60 a bottle, it would make a great addition to anyone’s cellar.