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, July 31, 2013

Piedmont Wines & Pizza Napoletana

I adore the wines of Piedmont, Italy, especially Barolo and Barbaresco.  While these tend to be on the pricey side, Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Langhe Nebbiolo and the white wine of the area, Arneis are enjoyable, pocket friendly and especially good matches for authentic Napoletana pizza.

Last night we went for pizza at Pizza Vita in Summit, NJ with friends Lynn and David. They have been going here for some time and wanted us to see why.  The pizzas here are made in accordance with the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, and they are the real deal and just delicious.  Oh, on Tuesday nights you get two pizzas for the price of one.  Quite a bargain considering the quality of these pizzas.

Tony Pep: Crushed tomato, Soppresata, mozz, carmelized onions

Pizza Margherita w/ Buffalo Mozzarello
Pizza Giambotta

Whenever I see Spaghetti and Meatballs on a menu that makes real deal pizza, I am compelled to try it.  I did, and I liked it a lot.  The spaghetti was al dente and was not drowning in a sea of sauce.  The sauce was fresh and tasty and the meatballs tender and moist.  The only improvement in my opinion would have been if the meatballs had beef fried.

We began the evening with a bottle of 2012 Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco della Ciliegie, a delicious white wine from the Rorero area of the Langhe in Piedmont.  The wine had a fresh, fruity and crisp palate with a vibrant minerality and an excellent finish.  $24 at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Our first red was 2010 Bartolo Mascarello Barbera d’Alba, which I decanted for 2 hours. Known for amazing old world Barolo, this is a top flight Barbera.  Since the passing of Bartolo a few years ago the winemaking is in the very capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa.  Tonight’s bottle had an enticing bouquet, ripe fruit and wonderful balance.  Like all great wines, the wine continued to evolve in the glass and drank beautifully.  A terrific Barbera.  Widely available at around $40 – Wine-Searcher.

Our final wine of the evening was 2006 Ada Nada Barbaresco Cichin.  This is a traditionally made Barbaresco from an excellent producer that drinks with elegance and length as it did this evening.  At about $40 it represents one of the best values in high quality Barbarescos on the market.  Unfortunately it is not easy to find.  David purchased this from 56º Wine, but I think it has long been sold out.

Thank you David and Lynn for introducing us to Pizza Vita and for bringing along the Arneis and Barbaresco.  


Thursday, July 25, 2013

AJ'S First Birthday

I have mentioned in previous blogs how blessed Carol and I are to have two wonderful daughters and sons-in law and four beautiful grandchildren, all of whom live close by.  This past Saturday we celebrated our youngest grandson's (AJ) first birthday around our pool (affectionately dubbed Club Scud by the girls). Mother Nature complied and held back the rain that was forecast for the day. Instead the sun shone brightly on AJ and all who attended and everyone had a grand time.

The Market Basket in Franklin Lakes, NJ, catered the party and did a fantastic job.  I cannot recommend them highly enough.  The chef and server assigned to the event were professional and courteous and did a sensational job.  Burgers and Hot Dogs were grilled to order and served along side finger licking good Spare Ribs, BBQ Chicken, Corn on the Cob and an assortment of salads and condiments.  Ice Cream Sundaes along with Cup Cakes (baked by AJ’s dad Andy) and Fruit Salad completed the feast.
Along with a half keg of beer, there was a delicious white Sangria that Carol made with a white wine from the Basque region of Spain, 2012 Antxiola Getariako-txakoli. This is a terrific white wine by itself and perfect for sipping on hot summer days.  A super bargain at $15 a bottle and available at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.  I also opened 2010 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé (from magnum) and 2010 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc (not pictured). This is one of my favorite producers from the Provence region of France. The wines are crisp, fresh and pure on the palate and drink with delightful ease.  Both are very reasonably priced and are also available at 56º Wine.

My good friend Gene and I also finished the remains of a bottle of 2006 Vodopivec Vitovska Anfora that I opened at dinner the night before.  This is a spectacular “orange” wine that exhibited a gorgeous translucent orange hue with magnificent purity and balance on the palate.  The wine continued to evolve in the glass, even after being opened the night before.  The orange color comes from the skins being left with the juice during the fermentation process.  This is a white wine, which must be drunk at red wine temperature to really appreciate.  It is also a wine that is not for everybody.  $70.  Wine Searcher.

The highlight of the day however was AJ and all the guests who helped celebrate his first birthday.  Thanks to Gene, Impressive Impressions Photography, for capturing the event.  Have a look.

The happy birthday boy!
Carol's mom (98) and my mom (92) were on hand to celebrate the occasion as were the rest of us...
Happy Birthday AJ!!!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

La Cucina di Giorgio

My good friends Cosmo & Giorlamo Cerrigone were responsible for my wine epiphany when they treated Carol and I to dinner at Parioli Romanissimo (now defunct) in NYC in the late 70's and ordered a bottle of 1955 Biondi Santi Brunello Riserva.  It was a dinner and wine that I will never forget.  I can still recall the memory of that evening to this day.  It was the first time I really tasted what wine could be.  Unfortunately at the time I could not afford wine of this caliber.  I did however move up from Gallo Hearty Burgundy and Principato to better wines that I could afford.  .

Over the years I have enjoyed many wonderful bottles of wine and terrific dinners with them. While both can hold their own in the kitchen, especially Cosmo, their older brother Giorgio is the Maestro della Cucina.  Unfortunately Giorgio lives in Treviso, Italy so I only get to enjoy his cooking when I visit him in Italy, or when he visits his brothers and sister here in NJ.  After a six-year hiatus, he is back.  So naturally I invited him to my house to cook a meal for us.  You must understand, Giorgio has no formal training as a chef.  What he does have however, is an understanding and passion for extracting the essence of the food he prepares in the same manner in which a great winemaker crafts his wines.  The results are always magnificent as they were tonight.

Me, Giorlamo, Cosmo & Giorgio
While Giorgio settled into the kitchen and began his preparation I popped a bottle of NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne. What a terrific Champagne this is.  Complex and seductive on the palate with a creamy delicacy and long lush finish.  $75 Readily available – Wine Searcher.

We began the meal with Spaghetti con Vongole Bianco (clams in white wine sauce).  While this is a simple dish to make, in the wrong hands it is a disaster.  In the right hands it evokes the same delight as an Andre Bocelli offering.  We were in the right hands tonight.  Giorgio makes one addition to this dish that takes it to a new level.  He finely dices celery and sautés it along with garlic.  The celery adds another layer of flavor and elevates the dish to a new level.

Salmon is one of my least favorite fishes…unless Giorgio makes it.  I first had his preparation of Salmon al Forno at my home more than 10 years ago.  It was simply amazing then and ditto tonight.  He starts with a large (2 lbs+) piece of salmon which he places skin side down in a shallow baking pan.  He completely covers the top of the fish with a mixture of plain bread crumbs to which he has added minced fresh garlic, parsley, capers, white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Into the oven at 375º until the topping is brown and crisp. The finished fish is moist and bursting with flavor.

Along side the Salmon, he made Mellanzane Ripieni (stuffed eggplants).  
For these he cuts the eggplants in half lengthwise and then cooks them in salted boiling water until the pulp is soft.  The soft pulp is extracted and added to a mixture of beef, pork and veal along with an egg, minced garlic, parsley, parmigano reggiano cheese, one fresh diced tomato, white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper.  This mixture is used to stuff the eggplants, which are then baked for about 30 minutes at 350º.  They are amazing.

Food of this caliber deserves amazing wines.  I choose two of my favorite Brunello producers, beginning with 2003 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino. This is a superb old world Brunello that I opened 3 hours prior to drinking but did not decant.  It possessed wonderful balance and complexity with an elegant soft palate that kept evolving in the glass.  The wine finished with length and elegance.  A wine with soul.  $90.  Wine Searcher.

I followed this wine with a bottle of 2003 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva which I decanted for two hours prior to drinking.  Soldera is my favorite Brunello producer by a long shot.  His wines are the epitome of old world elegance. They soar from the glass.  This was spectacular juice, exhibiting a huge earthy bouquet with a gorgeous translucent red hue.  On the palate it had fantastic pure fruit, impeccable balance and complexity and finished with a sensuous elegance. Completely round and delicious.  A wine with soul!  Unfortunately his wines carry a high tariff.  $329 at Italian Wine Merchants.

With our dessert of Italian pastries (not pictured) and espresso we sipped a botlle of 1999 Sine Qua Non Mr K Semillon Vin de Paille.  In my opinion this is one of the greatest dessert wines ever made. The wine possessed a gorgeous deep yellow hue, was lush, rich and complex on the palate with a lingering killer finish. Nectar of the gods.  Very difficult to find.

A wonderful night indeed.  Grazie Giorgio!


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wine Group at Scalini Fedeli

Our monthly wine group met this past Monday night at Scalini Fedili Ristorante in Chatham.  It was Marc A’s turn to bring the wine and he brought along 6 diverse Italian gems.  Most of the wines were new to us, which was what he was hoping for.  With the exception of one bad bottle, the wines were great and complimented the food very nicely.

As our discussions were lively over these "new" wines, I neglected to pay much attention to what everyone was eating and I took no pictures.  I had a very nice Pan Seared Red Snapper encrusted with bread crumbs and parmigiano and served with lemon flavored gnocchi.  It was quite tasty.

The wines were the stars of the evening.

2006 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Pipparello, made from 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano & 15% Sagrantino.  Bea is the quintessential traditional winemaker.  Paolo says "our approach to winemaking is wholly natural." He pursues a natural, non-interventionalist approach. The wines undergo fermentation without temperature control, using only ambient yeasts. Malolactic fermentation takes place in steel, though here, too, the timing and pace is dictated by nature. The wines are neither fined nor filtered prior to being bottled, and all-important operations are undertaken according to the lunar calendar. To be sure, this is high-risk winemaking. The results can be striking, but they can also be quite variable when nature decides to be capricious.  I find his wines stunning. This bottle was gorgeous, full of terroir, focus, depth and complexity.  He has always been a favorite of mine and I have a few vintages of Sagrantino in my cellar, but this was my first experience with the Pipparello…it shant be my last.  $45. Readily available - Wine Searcher.

2006 Nino Negri Sforzato di Valtellina 5 Stelle.  Nino Negri is the premier estate producing wine in the Valtellina DOCG in Italy’s Lombardy region. The Chiavennasca grape (a Nebbiolo clone) is king in the Valtellina.  The grapes are left to dry for 3 months, similar to Amarone in the Veneto, before being vinified on their skins, yielding wines of elegance and finesse. I knew from the first whiff and taste that this wine needed to be sipped slowly so that it could continue to evolve in the glass. I nursed it through the meal and was rewarded with each sip. The wine soared from the glass with glorious fruit and complexity and finished with length and elegance. Truly a wine with soul!  The 5 Stelle bottling is the flagship wine from the estate and is only made from a selection of the best grapes and only in the best years.  $80 at Tribecca Wine Merchants, NYC.

2004 Ar Pe Pe Valtellina Superiore Grumello Riserva Rocca del Piro.  Ar Pe Pe (short for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego) is another top-flight winery in the Valtellina region of Lombardy.  The slate and limestone composition of the soil in the Grumello terroir yields a mineraly and elegant wine.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this drank wonderfully.  It possessed an earthy and mineral bouquet, had pure fruit and was nicely balanced.   I really like these wines as a nice change of pace from the bigger Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  $42.  Available – Wine Searcher.

1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva. Made from 100% Aglianico, this was superb. The wine is aged in oak for 30 months, with an additional 42 months bottle aging before it is released.  Tonight’s bottle was rich, focused, round and delicious and evolved with each sip.  A joy to drink.  About $50 and readily available – Wine Searcher.

2004 Foradori Granato Vino da Tavola.  Bad bottle.  On to the next one.

The final wine of the evening was 2005 Argiolas Turriga.  From Sardinia, this was a new wine for most of us. A blend of Cannonau (85%), Carignano, Malvasia Nera, and Bovale Sardo, the wine is aged in French oak (barrique) for 24 months and in bottle for 12 months.  The oak was well integrated and on the palate the wine displayed good pedigree, depth and focus.  We all liked it.  $70 - Wine Searcher

Consensus WOTN was Nino Negri Sforzato di Valtellina 5 Stelle.  For me this was followed by the Bea and the Taurasi, although the others in the group flip/flopped these two.

Thanks Marc for introducing us to some new and exciting wines.  Jim thanks for dinner.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Old Burgundy at Culin Ariane

We had dinner with good friends Tony and Fran last Thursday at Culin Ariane in Montclair. Tony shares my enthusiasm and passion for wine and is an avid collector of great wines.  Dinner at Culin Ariane always makes for a wonderful evening of exceptional food and thus the perfect occasion to pop open some great wines from older vintages as we did tonight.

We began with 1969 Camille Giroud Pommard 1er Cru Les Epenots.  I like to open a bottle of this each year in celebration of our wedding anniversary.  The wine has never disappointed me and it did not do so tonight.  It had an earthy bouquet and still possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue. The aged Burgundy palate had nice fruit and balance with a soft and elegant finish.  A terrific wine.

We followed this with a 1989 Joseph Druhin Chambole Musigny Les Amoureuses that Tony brought along.  This too was magnificent and much better than my notes indicate when I last had this wine two years ago.  Perhaps this was due to bottle variation.  This bottle was vibrant and harmonious on the palate with no browning of the hue.  Truly a round and delicious wine.

My wife Carol rarely drinks red wine, so I brought along a bottle of her favorite white, 2011 Ceretto Arneis Blange’.  Here is another wine that rarely disappoints.  Crisp, fresh and with a bit of spritz when uncorked, it goes down very easily.

For dessert I brought along a bottle of 1985 Moulin Touchis, a Chenin Blanc sweet dessert wine from the Loire Valley.  My previous two bottles last year were wonderful, unfortunately I cannot say the same for tonight’s bottle.  It seemed tired, had no body to speak of and a very weak finish.

We enjoyed these wines with a tasty and delectable selection of chef Ariane Duarte’s masterful cuisine.

It is almost impossible not to begin a meal here without her magnificent Cornmeal Crusted Oysters, Horseradish Cream, Micro Greens.  If you are going to cook an Oyster, this is the way to do it.  Sooooo Goood!

Additional appetizers included Sashimi Tuna Flower, Crispy Wontons, Pickled Cucumber, Wasabi Crème Fraiche (not pictured).

Carol and I enjoyed a couple of tasty salads; Roasted Baby Spring Vegetables, Mache, Toasted Hazelnuts, Anise Honey Vinaigrette; Heirloom Tomato Salad, Seedless Watermelon, eta Cheese, 12 Year Aged Balsamic, Herb Sea Salt.

Heirloom Tomato Salad
Spring Vegetables
Since Tony was having a difficult time selecting his entrée from one of two appealing dishes he ordered both, beginning with a Bacon Wrapped Rabbit Loin for his appetizer.  I tasted a piece and it was heavenly.  Perfectly cooked and moist, it melted in your mouth.

Before digging into our entrées, Ariane sent us each a homemade Ravioli stuffed with Broccoli, Burrata and Ricotta cheese in a Pancetta Sauce.  Wow was this good.  The ravioli was delicate, the stuffing creamy and the sauce spectacular.  Thank you Ariane!

Main courses included; Pan Seared Tile Fish, Corn Mango Thai Chile Salad, Creamer Potatoes, Popcorn Butter.

The remaining entrées (not pictured) included a deftly Seared Roasted Garlic Rubbed Painted Hills Sirloin, Braised Beef Cheek Ragout, Broccolini, Tater Tots; Sole Francaise (still watching my waistline) and a special of Mixed greens topped with Tempura Fish.

The ladies opted for dessert; Toasted Coconut Tres Leches Cake with Lime Syrup and Lemon Meringue Martini, Vanilla Wafer Crust, Cherry Surprise (sorry no photos), while  Tony and I opted for Espresso.

It was a very good night indeed!!!