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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our Wine Group Goes Blind

I have been telling our wine group about the sensational and authentic Neopolitan pizza at Bivio Pizzeria Napoletana in Little Falls, NJ for quite some time.  As you might imagine the group could not wait to try it.  Since this evening would be in addition to our regular monthly gathering, we thought it would be fun if each of us brought an inexpensive bottle of wine to enjoy with the pizza. We also decided, much to my chagrin, to make it a blind tasting event.  I am very much opposed to blind tastings as they inadvertently lead to attempting to pick winners as opposed to appreciating each wine in the context of the occasion.   Terry Thiese, the highly regarded importer of Alsacian, German and Champagne wines, says “Blind tasting is to wine what strip poker is to love.  I could not agree more.  But as I am only one of 6 and blind tasting was agreed upon, I put aside my prejudice and eagerly participated.  In addition to drinking each wine blind, the other criteria were that the wine could not cost more than $30 and we would score the wines on a 10-point scale.  You know my feelings about assigning numbers to wine. Thus I decided that as opposed to attempting to rate each wine per the Parker scale which considers bouquet, color, palate and overall impression, I would give the wine 9 points if I would purchase it and 6 points if I would not.

Pizza Margherita
I have sung the praises of Bivio in my blog Bivio e Bovio in November of 2011.  In addition to his remarkable pizza, on occasion owner/chef Tom Colao makes Manicotti as a special for the evening.  My request to have it made for us to enjoy prior to the pizza was cheerfully met by Tom.  His Manicotti are the real deal, an incredibly light crepe stuffed with a creamy & perfectly seasoned Ricotta cheese filling.  They are as good as I have ever had.  Marc A. says he judges all Manicotti against his aunt Tessie’s and these he put in the same league as hers.  As for the pizza, the praise was unanimous, amongst the best pizza this side of Naples.  It is the perfect balance of dough, San Marzano tomatoes, homemade mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil.

Okay, lets get to the wines.  The first wine was poured blind into our glasses.  This was without question a modern styled wine with an oaky palate and somewhat tannic back end.  I did not try to guess the grape or origin of the wine.  After 10 minutes in the glass the tannins softened and the wine improved quite a bit.  While the wine was not bad, It was definitely not my style and I would not buy it.  Thus I rated it a 6.  The group was in agreement and the wine received a total score of 34.5 points out of a possible 60.  The wine was 2005 Lamborghini (La Fiorita) Campoleone Umbria IGT.  This is a decidedly modern style Super Tuscan blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot.  It is also the estate's top wine. The estate uses famed Italian winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, known for his love of modern style wines, to make their wines.  Malolactic fermentation takes place completely in new French barrique, and then is allowed to rest another twelve months in the same barrique, keeping the two grape varieties completely separate prior to blending.   If you like modern wines this is a wine for you.  Oh, in case you are wondering, yes this is the same Lamborghini of the Lamborghini car family.  In fact I have heard that if you purchase a new Lamborghini, they will include a case of this wine.

The second wine, which appeared to me to be a Burgundy, possessed a lovely earthy bouquet with a pure and elegant palate that I find to be characteristic of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy.  The wine was full bodied and finished with considerable length.  It was in fact a 1993 Daniel Bocquenet Nuit St. Georges Aux St. Julien, a basic village red from Burgundy.  At 20 years of age it once again demonstrated that estate level, inexpensive wines can age very nicely.  This wine, the 1993 vintage, can probably only be found at auction which is where Jeff got it.  An experienced auction buyer he was able to “steal” this wine for under $30, when in fact it usually goes for twice that much at auction.  Not only did I like the wine, but I would buy it if I could find it, so I scored it 9 points.  The group score totaled 46 points out of 60.

Our third wine for the evening was very, very good and was definitely made by an artisan.  While the wine reminded me of Nebbiolo it also had hints of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  It possessed a gorgeous transparent red hue, and was fresh, with lively and harmonious fruit on the palate.  It also had a soft elegant finish.  It was definitely a wine with soul. The wine was 2009 Ar. Pe. Pe Rosso Di Valtellina.  It was in fact 100% Nebbiolo, but not from Piedmont, rather from the Valtellina region of Lombardy, Italy near the Swiss border.  I scored it a 9, as I would definitely purchase it (in fact I plan on it).  It was the perfect compliment to the Manicotti.  Our group was in agreement and scored it 45 points out of 60.

The fourth wine was in our collective opinion a return to modern style winemaking. Unfortunately this bottle was closed and never really opened up, suggesting that the bottle itself was off, which impacted the scoring and true experience of the wine. There was no bouquet to speak of and and was rather flat and nondescript on the palate.  The wine was 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva, which is one of the better known and respected Chiantis of Tuscany. It is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes and spent 16 months in French oak, 40% of which was new, before being aged in the bottle for 3 to 6 months.  It is a wine I would not purchase, thus I scored it a 6.  The group scored it 36 out of 60 points.

Wine number five was unmistakably a Nebbiolo from Piedmont as it had that Piedmontese earthy bouquet and soft, elegant palate.  It was young, possessed gorgeous young fruit and was extremely well balanced.  A wine with great pedigree.  It evolved in the glass and finished with good length.  It was in fact a 2009 Guido Porro Langhe Nebbiolo from Piedmont.  Importer Kermit Lynch says of Guido Porro, “Reviews and notes on Guido Porro regularly refer to him as “under the radar”: the wines he makes are worthy of a stellar reputation, but he is too easygoing and unassuming to worry about whether the general wine-drinking public recognizes his name. He rarely bothers to send samples to wine writers”.  Here is an entry-level wine that can hold it’s own with may Barolos and Barbarescos that sell for two to three times the price.  A wine I would buy, I scored it a 9.  The group scored it 44 out of 60 points.

The sixth and final wine of the evening was also unmistakably a Nebbiolo from Piedmont.  Like the Guido Porro before it, this had great pedigree also.  On the nose the earthy bouquet was intoxicating, while on the palate the fruit was pure, focused and elegant.  A round and delicious wine.  When it was revealed to be 2008 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco I was not surprised.  The Produttori del Barbaresco, a cooperative of 56 Barbaresco owners of Nebbiolo vineyards was put together in 1894 by Domizio Cavazza, headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and a Barbaresco resident. Each family is in full control of its land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with centuries old skill and dedication. These wines are traditionally made and outstanding examples of old world wine making and represent one of the greatest wine values in the world today for both their entry level wine, as this one was, and their riservas.  Again a wine that I would buy (I have many bottles in my cellar) so I scored it 9 points.  The group scored it 48 points out of 60, making it the highest scoring wine of the evening.

With the exception of the 1993 Daniel Bocquenet Nuit St. Georges Aux St. Julien, these wines can be found on Wine-Searcher.com at or near $30 a bottle.  For those number guys out there here is the scoring of the six wines.

2008 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco - 48 points
1993 Daniel Bocquenet Nuit St. Georges Aux St. Julien – 46 points
2009 Ar. Pe. Pe Rosso Di Valtellina – 45 Points
2009 Guido Porro Langhe Nebbiolo – 44 points
2006 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva – 36 points
2005 Lamborghini Campoleone Umbria IGT - 34.5 points

The scores really are secondary as we had lively and insightful discussions about all of the wines. Our group definitely leans towards old-world, traditionally made wines, thus it was really no surprise that those wines outscored the more modern styled wines.  In reality we all won. Great food, wine and friendship.  It is what life, my friends, is all about!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lunch at SD26

San Domenico Ristorante on Central Park South was for 20 years considered one of NYC’s premier restaurants.  Under the direction of owner Tony May, one of the nation’s most respected restaurateurs, it was one of the cities hardest tables to obtain a reservation at.  I, however, was not a big fan of the restaurant.  It was a bit stuffy and formal for my taste.  Thus I was a bit skeptical when my friend Gabrio Tosti, owner of DeVino Wine Boutique, suggested we have lunch at SD26, the new iteration of San Domenico on East 26th St.  As I have a great respect for Gabrio's knowledge of restaurants and wine, along with friends Emil and Alan, I went their for lunch last week.  We were simply awed by the food.

NV Ca' del Bosco
The restaurant itself is chic, energetic and warmly inviting with a magnificent open kitchen under the direction of executive chef Matteo Bergamini (32 years young) who hails from Lake Garda, Italy.  Gabrio suggested that we put ourselves in the very capable and lovely hands of Marisa May, who along with her father Tony runs the house.   It was yet another great suggestion as Marisa orchestrated a meal that was the equal to the musical orchestral direction of the great Arturo Toscanini.  Gabrio, who consented to being sommelier for our lunch, started us with a perfectly chilled NV Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut, a wonderful entry-level sparkler from Franciacorta, Italy with a creamy richness that was oh so easy and delicious to drink.   I have enjoyed the wines of Ca del Bosco for years.  I find them to be delicious and very reasonably priced. This one should be widely available at about $32.

Marisa started us with Vignarola, a Roman Spring Vegetable Stew with White Wine and Shavings of Pecorino Romano.   A bit of research told me that this dish is only available for a few short weeks in April.  It was a wonderful combination of artichokes, fava beans & peas in a light brodo that whispered to me, “you are in for an incredible lunch.”

Menaica Anchovy Bruschetta
Tuna Duo
Incredible it was as Marisa next presented us with 4 magnificent appetizers to share.  The flavors and textures of each soared on the palate, beginning with Menaica Anchovy Fillets with Herb Cured Lardo on Bruschetta; This is bruschetta on steroids.  I must admit that while lardo may push your cholesterol limits, on occasions such as this one it would be a sin not to indulge.

Duo of Tuna: Carpaccio alla Pizzaiola: Green Olives & Spicy Tomato Vinaigrette; Tartare with Fresh English Peas & Smoked Sea Salt. What a remarkable combination.  The tuna was pristinely fresh and the pairing was a match made in the depths of the sea.
Grilled Octopus

Diver Scallops
Grilled Baby Octopus over Cicerchie (wild Chick Peas) Puree, Sun-dried Tomato & Rosemary Gremolata.  Fork tender, briny and delicious, the octopus melted in your mouth and threw a party for your taste buds.

Seared Diver Sea Scallops with Purple Potatoes, Sugar Snap Peas & Prosciutto Crisps.  Cooked to perfection this is a dish I could easily indulge in daily.

With these appetizers Gabrio selected 2009 Colterenzio Schreckbichl Blauburgunder Riserva St. Daniel Pinot Noir.  This was a delicious Pinot Noir from the Alto Adige region of Italy.  The unmistakeable feminine character of the wine reminded me of a good Villages level Burgundy.  It had an enticing earthy bouquet, pure fruit and a soft finish.  A wine to be drunk young and enjoyed.  A bargain at $20.

"Uovo" Raviol
Okay what follows appetizers at an Italian restaurant?  Pasta of course. Once again Marisa captivated us with 4 pastas from talented chef Matteo, including San Domenico's signature “Uovo” Soft Egg Yolk Filled Raviolo with Truffled Butter.  I will make no attempt to describe this remarkable dish, you simply have to taste it to experience it.

On a smaller scale were ethereal Sea Urchin filled Ravioli with Sauteed Piennolo Tomatoes and Fresh Peperoncino.  These tiny pillows of homemade pasta transported me back to Sicily where I first had sea urchin with pasta.

Linguine di Gragnan
The Linguine di Gragnano with Clams, Grape Tomatoes & Parsley, Smoked with Applewood took linguine with clam sauce to new heights as the flavor exploded with each al dente forkful.

For the final pasta we returned to land with an awesome Fettuccine with Wild Boar Ragu’ in Agrodolce Pickled Raisins & Cocoa Nibs.  Sublime.

Marchesi Di Gresy

I would have been a happy camper if we stopped here but the unsinkable Marisa May was by no means through.  Two main course tasters were arriving at the table.  Sautéed Veal Loin “Bergese”; Cipolline Onions and Asparagus with a Smoked Pancetta Cream Sauce and Barolo Wine Braised Beef Cheeks with Cardamom – Carrot Puree, Spring Onion & Grilled Polenta.  OMG!  These plates sung with pure flavors derived from great ingredients cooked simply.  The veal may have been the best piece I have yet to taste.  Along with these great entrees, Gabrio selected a 2008 Marchesi Di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga.   While still young the wine had great fruit and balance and drank very well at this young age and will for many years to come.  $46.

Despite my cries of "uncle" Marisa presented us with 4 decadent and delicious desserts to conclude our meal.   They included Tiramisu with Espresso Sauce; Pannacotta with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction & Strawberries; Extra Bitter Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Gelato and, my favorite, Babà au Rhum with Whipped Cream and Orange Sauce.  Gabrio selected a bottle of Colutta Verduzzo Friulano Colli Orientali DOC from Friuli Vezezia Giulia.  Made from 100% Verduzzo grapes this was a fruity & delicious sweet white wine with undertones of apples and pears.  It went perfect with our dolci and espresso.

It was truly a great lunch and I hope to return to SD26 soon.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Magnificent Wines of the Loire Valley

Our monthly wine group met last week at The Pluckemin Inn, Bedminster, NJ.  The food here is terrific.  Highlights of the evening included Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with sea beans, hearts of palm, grapefruit, avocado, yuzu koshu paste; Day Boat Scallops with caper, raisin, pine-nut, arugula, crispy shallots, brown butter; Risotto with artichoke, parmesan, black truffle, pancetta, pea shoots; Neiman Ranch Pork Chop.

The real highlight of the evening was the wines that Emil, with some assistance from Pluckemin Inn wine director Brian Hider, chose for the evening.  Emil transported us to the Loire region of France, which in my opinion produces some of the most remarkable and reasonably priced wines on the planet.  Wine critics such as Robert Parker rarely focus on these wines and therefore many are not assigned points, which helps to keep the price down.  The primary grapes of the Loire are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc & Melon de Bourgone (whites) and Cabernet Franc (red).  They produce wines of depth, character, balance and soul and in the case of Chenin Blanc and Cab. Franc they can last for ages.

We began the evening with three stunning whites.

2011 Gerard Boulay Sancerre La Comtesse Monts Damnes.  Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes come from the oldest vines in Mr. Boulay’s section of the Monts Damnés (fifty to seventy five years of age) and are barrel-fermented in old wood and bottled unfiltered.  The wine possessed a stony minerality, wonderful purity, richness and balance and a lengthy and perfumed finish.  $50

2004 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg.  I have written about the Vouvrays of Domaine Huet more than any other wine in WWN (16 times to be exact).   Of the many estates in the Loire Valley who's wines I have tasted,  Huet in my opinion has no peer.   In a word the wines are simply awesome.  The Clos du Bourg vineyard is acknowledged to be one of the greatest vineyard sites in all of Vouvray.  Tonight’s bottle did nothing to alter that statement. The wine was impeccably balanced, full-bodied & seductive on the palate and finished with a lengthy and earthy elegance.  This wine, as good as it was, is still about 5 – 6 years from entering its peak drinking winedow,  Price, $27.  Unbelievable.

2002 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant.  Located about 100 miles due west of Vouvray is the Savennieres.  Here the Chenin Blanc grape grows in a stony slate-like soil, compared to the gravel and clay soil of Vouvray.  Like Vouvray it is high in acidity with wonderful depth and complexity. The top enclave of Savennières, Coulée de Serrant, consists of a single estate run by Nicolas Joly, one of the leading proponents of biodynamic viticulture.  One sip of this wine was all I needed to appreciate the accolades that are lauded on Mr. Joly.  The wine had a beautiful transparent golden hue, a seductive and addictive viscosity on the palate with great focus and balance and a monster finish.  Liquid soul!  Very hard to find I am told. $85

As I mentioned above Cabernet Franc is the primary red grape of the Loire. Saumur-Champigny is a red wine appellation of Saumur in the central Loire Valley wine region of France.  We had three spectacular wines from the Saumur.

2004 Domaine de Nerleux Saumur Champigny – Les Loups Noirs.  Located just below Saumur, in the central Loire Valley, Domaine de Nerleux (Old French for “Black Wolves’) dates from the 17th century and has been in the same family for eight generations.  This wine was stunning.  It possessed a big earthy bouquet, ripe and focused fruit on the palate and finished with length and elegance.  This wine should last from many more years.  At $35 a bottle this is a profound bargain.

Clos Rougeard is considered the reference point for Cabernet Franc in Saumur and Saumur-Champigny. These incredible wines, made by the Foucault brothers, are considered a cult wine in France and every 3 star Michelin restaurant there scampers to get a small allocation. The wine is practically unheard of in the states, however 56º Wine and the Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop usually get some each year.

Quite simply these wines are some of the best red wines I have ever tasted.  The vineyards have been farmed organically for generations. The wines see extended fermentation (18-24 months) in oak before being bottled unfiltered. Tonight we drank the 2008 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny ($50), the estates entry level Cab Franc, and 2008 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny “Les Poyeux” ($100), one of their signature wines.   Both wines were a stunning preview of what these wines will be given 5 to 10 years of cellar time.  I have read that 2008 was a difficult vintage in the Loire Valley, however these two wines give credence to the claim that great producers produce great wine even in difficult years.  Both wines possessed a compelling earthy bouquet with glorious fruit and on the palate were full-bodied, round, focused and elegant from start to finish.  The “Les Poyeux” (my wine of the night) simply soared from the glass and threw a party for the olfactory and gustatory senses. Charles Joguet, the great winemaker of Chinon, once said: “there are two suns. One shines outside for everybody. The second shines in the Foucaults’ cellar.”

Great job Emil!