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, January 24, 2013

Old Barolo Lunch

Yesterday four of us celebrated our friend Tony’s 49th birthday at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany NJ.  We brought along three very old Baroloi to drink with our meal.  Older wines, especially from Piedmonte, can be a hit or miss, which is why it is essential to know the provenance of these older wines when purchasing them.  If they have been with one owner since acquisition and properly stored, there is a very good chance the wine will be very good.  If not, my advice is to pass on the wine.  I am happy to say that all three wines drank very well, suggesting excellent provenance.  We drank them side-by-side to compare, not rate, them.

The 1958 Cappellano Barolo had that wonderful Piedmont earthy bouquet that tantalized our expectations.  While there was some bricking in the color, the hue retained the gorgeous transparency of a much younger wine.  On the palate the wine was pure, elegant, round and delicious.  I believe with proper cellaring, this wine will last another couple of decades.

The 1964 Barolo Borgogno had quite a bit of sediment that yielded a bit of cloudiness to the brick red hue of the wine.  On the palate however, the wine had great purity and a sense of place and was comparable to the Cappellano.   While there was nice fruit here also, it was less so than the Cappellano.  I would drink this wine up in the next couple of years.

1961 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Gia Opera Pia had an unbelievable deep red hue that was more reminiscent of a 10-year-old Barolo, not a 52 year old one.  The bouquet was heavenly and reminiscent of a great old Barolo.  While enjoyable, it lacked the fruit of the other two and had a shorter finish.

L to R, "61 Marchesi; 1964 Borgogno; 1958 Cappellano
Risotto Fragollini
Wines like this are enhanced by great food, which is why we keep going back to Il Capriccio and the superb food prepared by Natale Grande.  After an appetizer of Tuna & Red Snapper crudo (raw fish) we each sampled Risotto Fraggolini and we were very glad we did.  This is the kind of different and creative dish that Natale is always coming up with. In this dish he makes the risotto with berries (strawberries, raspberries & blue berries) and mascarpone cheese.  It is a perfectly balanced dish that will seduce your palate.

Spaghetti & Meatballs
In 2008 I had the pleasure of visiting Baldo Cappellano at his winery in Serralunga, Italy.  I commented to him on how good his wines were.  They were pure, simple and delicious.  He said to me "Quality comes from great ingredients prepared simply, like a plate of Spaghetti with a simple sauce."  In honor of Baldo (he passed away a couple of years ago) I ordered Spaghetti & Meatballs to go along with his wine.  Natale's "Flying Meatballs" as he calls them were moist, tender and delicious and the spaghetti was perfectly al dente. Baldo would have been impressed.

Spaghetti with mixed seafood, Trofie pasta with rabbit ragu and Dover Sole were the main courses enjoyed by my friends before we popped open a bottle of 2001 Chateau Climens Sauternes to enjoy with our coffee.  2001 was a superb year in Sauternes and this wine is testimony to that fact.  It has a lush fruity bouquet with a palate of tropical fruit.  My only problem with Sauternes is that the Botrytis (noble rot) that creates the wine imparts a medicinal finish that distracts from my complete enjoyment of the wine.
Happy birthday Tony, we enjoyed sharing it with you.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Perfect Wine

Webster defines "perfection" as “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects”.  In "Delta of the Metaphysics”, Aristotle distinguished three meanings of the term.
“That is perfect:
1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
3. which has attained its purpose.”

1997 Alzero
While all of the above apply to the term, perhaps Aristotle’s second definition “so good that nothing of the kind could be better” was written after he had a bottle of 1997 Quintarelli Alzero.  I am sure that if it would have been possible for him to taste this wine, he may very well have moved this definition to the number one spot.  Fortunately for me, I have had the wine on close to a dozen occasions and each time I have been mesmerized by it. Last night at dinner at Il Capriccio Ristorante, Whippany, NJ was my most recent mesmerization (I think I just created a new word).  What a wine!  If there is such a thing as a perfect wine, the 1997 Alzero is it.  The wine is made in the traditional Ripasso method from 100% Cabernet Franc grapes.  This wine has it all, sensual bouquet, impeccable balance, lush fruit, and what I like to call sweet elegance on the palate and finish. There is no cloying sweetness here, just a round and delicious wine.  It is the ultimate expression of what wine can be. Words can not do the wine justice, it must be tasted to be experienced.  Il Capriccio Sommelier Salvatore Le Rose, who is as big a fan of this wine as I am, is in agreement on the perfection of this wine.

While this is not cheap, $400+,  if you are serious about good wine, you must pick up bottle for that special occasion.  You will be glad you did.  DeVino, NYC. and New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.

Calamari Affogati
A wine this good begs for great food.  Fortunately one does not have to beg for it at Il Capriccio.  One simply needs to ask and you shall receive.  Last night my wife Carol, her mother and I enjoyed Stuffed Artichoke Hearts and Spaghettini with Calamari Affogati (fork tender squid stewed in San Marzano Tomatoes) as our appetizers. Our main courses consisted of Tagliatelle Bolognese, Spaghettini with Lobster, Pachino Tomatoes and Porcini, and Vitello di Scalopini con Funghi.  

Espresso, fresh fruit tart and a Grappa completed the "perfect" evening.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dinner at the Pluckemin Inn

Last Wednesday evening our wine group met at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminister, NJ for our monthly wine dinner.  It was Jeff’s turn to provide the wine.  I knew we were in for a treat as Jeff has a wonderful wine collection, especially of Burgundies.  In fact he is our resident guru when it comes to Burgundy.  Tonight he treated us six terrific bottles from the excellent 1985 vintage. They were a perfect match to the food at the Pluckemin, highlights which included Parmesan Risotto with shaved Black Truffles, Beef Filet Medallions with Foie Gras, Cavatelli with Tuscan Kale & Duck Ragout and Muscovy Duck Breast.  I can not say enough about The Pluckemin Inn.  The food and service never fail to bring a huge smile to one's face.  The wine service, under the direction of Wine Director Brian Hider, is always superb.  Brian maintains one of the best and most reasonably priced wine cellars of any restaurant in New Jersey.  He is also accommodating to wine groups such as ours by allowing us to bring in our own wines for these type dinners.  Brian we all thank you.

We began with 1985 Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru.  This was quite impressive.  It was round and elegant on the palate and finished with considerable length.  Maison Jadot has been making wine in Burgundy since 1859.  While they make wines from their own vineyards, they are also in the negociant business, which means they buy grapes or juice from other vineyards and then make the wine under their label.  Both methods turn our lovely and reasonably priced wines.

The second wine of the evening was 1985 Protheau Beaune Hospice de Beaune Cuvee Rousseau-Deslandes.  This is a producer that I was not familiar with, so I did a bit of Internet research.  The wine is made from grapes from premiere cru vineyards in the Côte de Beaune which are owned by or leased to the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable organization in the town of Beaune that produces a set of wines under its own name each year and then auctions them off for charity.  It possessed an earthy Burgundian nose but tasted a tad oxidized to me.  Current vintages sell for about $35

1985 A. Chopin & Fils Nuits St. Georges Les Murgers 1er Cru was poured alongside 1985 Jacques Prieur Clos Vougeot Grand Cru.  Both of these were wonderful.  Pure elegant Burgundy, both wines were round and delicious.  About $150 a bottle for current vintage of the Prieur, and half that for the Chopin.

The final two Grand Cru Burgundies were 1985 Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux and 1985 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin were also poured side by side.  Both were marvelous.  There really is not a lot to say about wines of this caliber other than they are beautiful examples of great Burgundy and I am glad I had the opportunity to taste them.  Round and delicious both kept evolving in the glass as we drank them.  Current vintages of these wines will be in the $100 - $200 per bottle area.

We concluded the evening with a bottle of 2003 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Mollieux 1er Trie.   This is another superb dessert wine from Huet that begins with a gorgeous golden hue as it is poured into the glass.  On the palate it possesses an impeccable balance of alcohol to residual sugar, with a long & lush finish.   This is just a stunning wine that is absolutely delicious.  At $50 a bottle there is no need to spend hundreds on expensive Sauternes such as d'Yquem.

Thanks Jeff for a great selection of wines.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Christmas 2012

Another holiday season has come and gone but not before we had the good fortune once again to spend it with family and friends.  We all eat too much, probably drink too much but you can never get too much of family especially when you have 4 grandkids to share the season with.

The festivities began with a traditional Italian Christmas Eve meal centered on fish.  Each family has their own traditional menu.  Our menu was very similar to last year (for photos click here), my daughters Gina and Lisa, my sister Diane and my good friend Gene gratefully assisted me with the cooking this year.  As I am not getting any younger their help was much appreciated.   They did such a good job that they are now a permanent part of the tradition.  Gina made a delicious Penne with Vodka Sauce while Lisa did a great job with Fresh Roasted Peppers.  Diane made my mom’s Taralli biscuits and mom’s Stuffed Peppers.  She makes these dishes as well as mom does.  Gene, a great cook in his own right, stepped up to the plate with terrific Codfish Cakes and a delectable Seafood Salad.

Stuffed Calamari, Eggplant Rollitini, Clams Oreganata & Primavera Salad were provided by Divina Ristorante and Lobster Oreganata with a spicy tomato and hot green pepper sauce was made by Osteria Giotto.  These are two of our favorite restaurants and their additions to the meal are always welcome.

I did my part with Octopus Luciano, Arancini (rice balls), Eggplant & Roasted Pepper salad, and of course the highlight of the meal, for me at least, Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy).  I would be remiss if I did not mention that my good friend Louie joins me each year to make the Arancini.  We split the production.

The wines of the evening consisted of 2000 Bellavista Brut Rosé which we also drank last Christmas Eve.  This was one of my last bottles of this terrific Italian sparkler and it was as good as the first bottle I drank in 2007. This is a gorgeous sparkling wine from the Franciacorta section of Lombardy, Italy.  Made from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay grapes its vibrant bubbles danced on the palate in harmony with the holiday.  Simply delicious. About $50

1996 Verget Chassagne Montrachet la Romanee 1er Cru from the excellent 1996 vintage still possessed fresh, focused fruit and had a wonderful balance with layers of complexity.  It drank very, very well.  I do not think it is available any longer.  However Marc Olivier’s sensational 2011 Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords is widely avaialbe at at the unbelieveable price of $15 (Chambers Street Wines, NYC). This is Ollivier's most recognised cuvée. The wine comes from grapes from a small vineyard populated with Pépière's oldest vines planted in 1930.  It is comprised of deep clay and sand laid over a friable granite subsoil; this combination tends to moderate soil moisture, giving a smoother development of the vine and ripening of the fruit throughout the season. Thereafter there are eight or nine months on the lees in steel before bottling. Pure and clean it has a perfect balance of acidity and minerality.  it is a delicious wine to drink.  I highly recommend getting this wine.  It is the perfect accompaniment to chilled oysters on the half shell.

I find that Quintarelli’s Primofiore is a great red wine to begin this evening with.  While this may be the least expensive wine from Quintarelli, it is superb, as was the bottle of the 2003 that I opened. 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 fruit is pure and focused on the palate.  A simply delicious wine.  NY Wine Warehouse or DeVino Wine Boutique usually have the wine at around $45.

As we took our seats at the table it was time for the big boy reds.  We began with 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo and 1999 Roagna Barolo Riserva la Rocca E la Pira, both from magnum and both decanted for 4 hours.  Both of these were perfect examples how good wine can be when made by a master in the traditional old world Piedmont style.  Both had a captivating bouquet that filled us with high expectations.  Our expectations were not let down.  Like a Manhattan Transfer song, the wines sung with spectacular harmony and soul.  Here was pure fruit, perfect acidity, well-integrated tannins and a lengthy, elegant finish.  The Roagna may be difficult to find but the 2005 Bartolo can be found at NY Wine Warehouse, DeVino Wine Boutique and The Pluckemin Inn Wine shop.  About $100 for a 750ml.

For the second Christmas Eve in a row Gino brought along a bottle of 1990 Aldo Conterno Granbussia Riserva. On the nose there was that unmistakable Barolo earthy bouquet, while on the palate it was elegant, round and delicious.  One need not say more about wines of this quality, they need to be tasted to be appreciated.  While the wine is available, it is quite pricey right now.

Alongside the Conterno I opened a bottle of 1961 Giuseppi Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi that was magnificent. Because of its age, I did not decant the wine.  I opened it and poured.  It possessed an amazing translucent red hue with just a hint of browning at the edge.  Amazing for a 51 year old bottle of wine. That intoxicating Nebbiolo bouquet leapt from the glass and was matched on the palate with vibrant fruit and elegance. It finished with considerable length.  This wine can last another couple of decades.  This will be impossible to find, but the 2006, which I have tasted and have in my cellar, is magnificent and available.  At about $100 this is worth buying.  2006 was a spectacular year in Barolo, and this wine will become legendary in my opinion,

We concluded the evening with Chateau d’Yquem from the fantastic 2001 vintage that drank beautifully with a nose and palate of fruit and candy.  My only problem with this wine is I find the finish to be somewhat medicinal.  Very pricey.

Rinaldi & Conterno bottles missing from photo.

After a good night’s sleep, Carol & I joined our daughters Gina and Lisa and their families at Gina’s house for a Christmas breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits, expertly prepared by Gina’s husband Nick.  I brought along my last bottle of Bellavista for Mimosas to enjoy with breakfast.  

Christmas dinner is across the driveway at Lisa and Andy’s house.  As is our tradition we stay simple with antipasto, pasta, meatballs, sausage and braciole.  The highlight of the antipasto this year was Andy’s homemade Pepperoni Bread.  Our pasta this year was homemade Manicotti that were made for me by Tomasso Colao owner of Bivio Pizzeria Napoletano in Little Falls, NJ.  Tom is a master at this pasta.  They are incredibly light and creamy and oh so delicious.

Another bottle of 2011 Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords and 2001 La Fuga Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Le Due Sorelle got us started with the antipasto.  The Pepiere was a match for the bottle the night before and the La Fuga drank very nicely.  It had big bold fruit and was a bit tannic, compared to the silky elegance of the 2004 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino Pian di Conte Riserva I opened at dinner.  This wine possessed terrific structure and body along with a gorgeous earthy bouquet.  A round and delicious wine.  About $80.  

For white at dinner I opened a bottle of Lisa’s favorite wine, 1985 Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux. I have written about this fantastic wine in two previous blogs.  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc it is a wine that will turn the heads of those “who do not drink white wine”.   The nose is refined and intoxicating, with a marvelous complexity of fruity aromas. On the palate it is completely balanced, round and pure with a slight hint of botrytis and a long and sensual finish. This is a wine that lets you truly experience what wine can be about when made by a master.  The 1985 will be hard to find, but check out The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop or 56º Wine for more recent vintages.

Boun Anno e Saluté