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, August 9, 2013

Another Year Older

My birthday again…already.  Seems like it was yesterday that we celebrated my 67th birthday at the Jersey shore.  While the shore recovers from hurricane Sandy, we celebrated my 68th over the course of two days at our home in North Caldwell.

On Sunday, the eve of my birthday, we had available family members over for a simple birthday meal.  I made a tomato, onion and cucumber salad with cucumbers from our garden. Unfortunately my tomatoes are not fairing well, so I had to purchase them.  For pasta I made my original recipe for Rigatoni with a Sausage Ragu.  This has become a favorite of the entire family.  The sauce has a mild kick to it that will warm your soul.  The key is the ingredients. Tomato paste, tomato puree, pasta and porcini all came from Italy. As I know some of you who read my blog are excellent cooks, I am including my recipe below.

1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic,
1 lb Sweet Italian sausage (5-6 links)
1/4 lb Hot Italian sausage (1 - 2 links)
1 or 2 packages (depending on size) dried porcini mushrooms
3 bottles of imported Italian Passato (pureed san marzano tomatoes)
2 Tablespoons imported Italian Tomato Paste (Stratto)
1 onion
1 carrot
fresh basil leaves
chopped fresh Italian parsley
red or white wine
1 lb rigatoni or other tubular pasta
Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Cheese
Salt & pepper

Soak dried porcini in about 4 oz. of warm water for 30 minutes.  Remove, reserving liquid, and chop coarsely.  Set aside.  Put onion, carrot and garlic in food processor and process coarsely. In a pan large enough to hold the finished sauce brown all the sausage in extra virgin olive oil, then set aside. Add onion mixture into pan along with some salt and pepper and sauté, deglazing the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add porcini and tomato paste.  Cook tomato paste for a couple of minutes and then add the reserved porcini liquid.  BE SURE TO STRAIN LIQUID THROUGH A FINE MESHED COLLANDER WHEN ADDING IT TO THE PAN.  Cook for about two minutes, turn heat up to high and add a glass of wine.  Reduce wine by one half.  Add the 3 bottles of Pasatto and then fill each passatto bottle half way with water, and add to sauce.  Add sprigs of fresh basil and fresh parsley and the reserved sausage.  Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for two hours.  

Remove sausage and dice it into small cubes. return it to the sauce and continue to cook for another hour.  Serve over al dente Rigatoni with pecorino or parmigiano cheese. (If you want the sauce on the hot size, use more hot links and less sweet links).

Stratto is a highly concentrated tomato paste from Sicily that imparts an amazing level of flavor and complexity to any sauce.  It can be purchased on line at Gustiamo.

For wine I opened up two bottles that drank with lots of soul.  As my daughter Lisa was joining us, I opened up her favorite wine from her favorite vintage, 1985 Huet Le Mont Moelleux.  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, at 28 years of age this wine is soaring at the moment with no hint of coming down to earth any time soon. It possessed a gorgeous golden straw hue, vibrant and young fruit, impeccable balance, stunning acidity and a long elegant finish.

Lisa's comment, “Oh my God, can you get me this for my birthday present”.  Fortunately I have a fair supply to last us a while.  This was a library release from the vineyard, so it is no longer available.  The 2011 at Wine Legend in Livingston for the remarkable price of $30.

For red I opened and decanted for 3+ hours a bottle of 2001 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino that is also soaring at the moment.  This had a deep ruby-red hue, big earthy bouquet, while on the palate it had sensational focus and a monster finish.  A wine with soul!  The 2001 will not be easy to find.  Current vintages are available at about $140.

After my grandchildren sang Happy Birthday to me, I finished the meal with an espresso, a glass of Il Poggione Grappa di Brunello and a mini Banana Cream Pie (my favorite) that my wife Carol made for me.  It was a great prelude to my birthday.

Happy Birthday Pop Pop!!!

The following night on my official birthday, Carol and I dined at Lunello’s Ristorante in Cedar Grove, N.J.  Chef/owner Lou Segal is a master in the kitchen and along with his eclectic regular menu he offers up a bevy of remarkable and seasonably fresh specials each evening.  The service staff is knowledgeable, courteous and attentive, assuring that you will have a memorable dinning experience as opposed to just a meal.

Carol began her meal with a salad special of Watermelon and Lump Crabmeat.  It was a beautiful combination of flavors and textures that were harmony on the palate.  Yes I did sneak a taste.
Waternelon/Crab Salad
Foie Gras

I adore Foie Gras, especially seared fresh Foie Gras.  A menu staple, the preparation of which varies, it is always perfection and hard for me to pass by.  Last night the preparation was “Hudson Valley grade A foie gras pan roasted, top with smoke sea salt, with guanciale and onion strudel, fig marmalade”.  It was a tour de force as the textures and flavors played beautifully off one another.

We both opted for two of the fish specials of the evening.  Both were fantastic and redolent of the ocean from which they were living just a few hours prior to appearing on our plates.  Chef Segal did them the justice they deserved.
Carol's entrée - Grilled Bronzino
Grilled Tuna w/ Wasabi Dressing

Carol enjoyed a glass of Prosecco with her meal while I savored a 1989 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses.  In the glass it had a nice translucent red hue with no browning around the edges and drank like a classic older vintage Burgundy with intact but less than vibrant fruit.   It was soft on the palate but the complexity is beginning to wane.  While this is drinking well now, I wouldn’t push my luck with this for too many more years.

For dessert we shared a delicious Peach and Blueberry Cobbler in an Oatmeal Streusel Topping.  Along with the dessert,  Maitre'd Chris treated me to a glass of his homemade Pear Grappa.  Served chilled, it had ripe fruit and was soft on the palate with a lovely lingering finish.

It was another wonderful birthday.  However, since my daughter Gina and her husband were away celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and my mom and sister were unable to attend the Sunday dinner, we will all convene this Sunday to celebrate with the entire family.  Since it is also the occasion of our grandson Nicholas' 4th birthday, it promises to be the highlight of all the events.

As I have said before, I am a lucky guy!


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