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, September 26, 2013

Lunch at Esca

I absolutely love Esca.  It is without question my most frequented NYC restaurant. Esca means “bait” in Italian, so as you might well surmise, Esca specializes in fish... very, very, very fresh fish. Part of the Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich empire, it is, in my opinion, their best restaurant. Chef/partner David Pasternack is one of a handful of chefs that really knows how to prepare and cook fish that has been known to bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.  Lunch there last week with good friends Emil and Tony did exactly that.  Words alone would not do justice to the food here.  I hope the following photos can give a sense of how good David's food is. Hopefully they will convey a sense of the magical marriage of ingredients and textures that await you should you venture there.  We began with the following appetizers:

Vongole; Local littleneck clams baked with Cesare's Soppressata, Sungold tomatoes and Basil.  I have no idea who Cesare is, but “Hail Cesare”.  David’s clams have no equal, anywhere, and I have had them everywhere.  Fresh, briny, and cooked to the right degree of doneness, I could eat a few dozen of these and be a very happy man.

Breaded & Grilled Fresh White Anchovies over cold smoked ricotta and topped with an olive tapenade.  It sounds like a crazy and unworkable combination, but in the hands of David Pasternack, it was a remarkable dish.

Crudo (raw) of Razor Clams ceviche with chilies, scallion and mint.  

During the summer months, David makes this incredible salad of roasted corn, chanterelles, walnuts and aged goat cheese, Insalata Di Granoturco.  It is simply magnificent!

Of course no meal at Esca would be complete without one or two of David’s spectacular pasta dishes.  Today there was homemade Scialatelli with Rock Shrimp, Spanish Broccoli, Pepperoncini, Garlic & Oil.  Simply a tour-de-force of flavors and perfectly al dente pasta…

…as well as Spaghetti with a one pound lobster, chilies and mint.  If there is finer version of this dish elsewhere, please let me know.

Our entrée was a stupendous Pan Roasted Trout “Almost Almondine” with pistachio nuts replacing the almonds.  Like all the fish here, it was cooked to a moist perfection.

Esca’s wine list is one of the best and most reasonably priced in the city.  We enjoyed 3 beauties from the list.

2012 Vietti Rorero Arneis.  Vietti is, in my opinion, one of the top producers in Piedmont, Italy, crafting sensational reds and whites at modest prices.  The Arneis was a delightfully crisp and delicious white made from the Arneis grape. Widely available at about $20.  Wine-Searcher.

2009 Nino Negri Sfursat.  From Valtellina Valley in the Lombardy region of Italy, this elegant DOCG wine is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes (called Chiavennasca here) that grow on vines from steep, nearly vertical vineyards of about 3,000 foot elevations.  The Negri estate is considered the premier wine producing estate in the Valtellina. The Sfursat, the estate’s top wine, is made from grapes harvested by trained pickers and dried for 100 days in the cool, dry, alpine air. This winemaking style combines the opulence of Amarone with the elegant complexity of Barolo. Today’s bottle was a perfect example of both.  The wine danced and evolved on the palate with gorgeous fruit, great acidity, impeccable balance and finished with extended length and smoothness.  In the vinification process, the wine rests for a short while in steel and then part of the wine is put for 20 months into 80hl Slavonian oak casks, and part into 32 and 53hl French oak casks. It then ages for some months in glass before release.  Truly a wine with soul!  About $70  Wine-Searcher. 

2009 Nino Negri Inferno.  From the DOCG sub-zone, in the commune of Tresivio in the Valtellina, the wine is made from 90% Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca), Pignola and Merlot.  The wine ages in stainless steel for two months before spending 18 months in Slovanian Oak casks.  It then ages for some months in glass.  While lighter than the Sfursat, the wine had a beautiful translucent red hue, with a medium-bodied and velvety palate.  It was round and delicious.  At around $20 a bottle, a stupendous value.  Wine-Searcher. 

Another fantastic meal at Esca!  Life is always good when you have the opportunity to share great food and wine with great friends.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grammy’s 98th Birthday

This past Monday we celebrated Carol’s mom’s (Grammy as my girls call her) 98th birthday. Yes 98 years young and still going strong.  She has all of her faculties, most important of which is her taste and love of pasta.  Our daughter Lisa & her husband Andy hosted the event at her house, while Carol and I did most of the cooking, save the delicious pepperoni bread Lisa made.  As my mother-in-law’s favorite pasta is Lasagna Napoletana (no meat), I made my Grandma DeRosa’s famous lasagna for her.   I don’t like to brag, but it was, to quote Guy Fieri, “out-of-bounds.”

We began the evening by toasting Grammy with a chilled bottle of 2000 Bellavista Grand Cuvee Pas Opere, a beautifully rich and full-bodied champagne-styled wine from Franciacorta, Italy.  Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes in the classic Methode Champenoise style (a second fermentation occurs in the bottle in which the wine is sold in),  this has long been a favorite with our family.  Not easy to find however.  Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ has the NV Bellavista Franciacorta Cuvee Brut. $32.

To accompany the Bellavista, Carol stuffed Figs that I picked from our fig trees earlier in the day.  She stuffed the sweet and succulent fruits with crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese, slivers of Prosciutto di Parma drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil.  There is nothing like a fresh picked fig and these were incredible.  Fresh Mozzarella slices with tomatoes accompanied the figs on the platter.

The aforementioned Pepperoni Bread (not pictured) complemented the figs and mozzarella, before we settled in at the dinning room table for our sumptuous meal.

We began with the Lasagna with meatballs and sausage.  The beauty of this lasagna is the creaminess of the ricotta cheese filling.   (specifics and the recipe can be found here).

The Lasagna was followed by Carol's Chicken with Sausage, Peppers, Potatoes and Onions. A stand-by Italian favorite at our house for years.  

Of course there was wine to go along with the meal. 

2011 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco Veronese.  A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin, this is one terrific wine.  Crisp, fresh, superbly balanced with finesse and focus on the palate, it is simply delicious.  The 2012 is available at 56 Wine, Bernardsville, NJ for $45.

2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva.  Like all Lopez de Heredia wines, this wine is aged in barrel for a minimum of 6 years before seeing additional bottle age before being released.  From the estate's Bosconia vineyard, the wine contains Tempranillo (80%), Garnacho (15%), with Mazuelo and Graciano making up the remainder.  The wine possessed terrific purity on the palate and was beautifully balanced.  It is still a bit young, and will benefit from a few more years of cellar time.  

2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva.  From the Tondonia vineyard, it is slightly different that the Bosconia with in that it is made up of Tempranillo (75%), Garnacho (15%), with Mazuelo and Graciano making up the remainder.  I was disappointed with this bottle, as it seemed to be very tired, with little happening on the palate and a very weak finish.  An off bottle, or something else? I have been reading about concern from LdH lovers that the quality of their Tondonia reds seems to be declining.  I certainly hope that this is not the case.

Both wines are widely available at around $45, and should age well for decades.  Wine-Searcher.

Ice cream cake and all of us singing Happy Birthday "Grammy" concluded a wonderful evening.

Happy Birthday Grammy.  See you next year for number 99!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Riviera Maya

Carol and I enjoy good Mexican food.  However finding such a place in NJ is not an easy task, so when friends Lynn and David suggested we join them for dinner recently at Riviera Maya in Bogota, NJ we quickly accepted.  This quaint little BYOB lived up to the accolades our friends
handed out about all aspects of the restaurant.  We found the food to be authentic and delicious, the service courteous and professional and the price very, very reasonable.  We will return.

We began the evening with Guacomole prepared fresh at our table side and served with home made chips.  The Guacamole was miles better than the ersatz dip one usually finds in other so-called authentic Mexican restaurants.

David and I followed this with homemade soups, Chicken Noodle & Vegetable Soup for me and Black Bean Soup for him.  They were fresh and delicious.  With these dishes we drank a superb German Riesling from the Mosel-Sarr that David brought along, 2011 Selbach-Oster - Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett.  Kabinett designated wines usually contain the least amount of sugar and therefore are preferred by those, like myself, who prefer a drier wine as opposed to a sweeter one.  This bottle drank with finesse and elegance and had a monster finish. It is available for $22 (ridiculous bargain) at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

The other was 2008 Olivier Horiot Rosé Des Riceys “En Valingrain” a superb Rosé wine from the town of Les Riceys, in the southern-most part of the Champagne region of France, the Côte des Bar in the Aube department.  This is an incredible single-vineyard (Valingrain) Rosé made from 100% Pinot Noir that possessed terrific acidity, balance and complexity on the palate.  A bit pricey for a Rosé at $42 a bottle, it is well worth it.  Crush Wine & Spirits, NYC.

For entrées our wives both ordered one of the evening's specials, Camarones (Shrimp) with Mangoes and Plantains. Both nodded in agreement that the dish was a beautifully prepared and a wonderful combination of ingredients and flavors.

David and I opted for Chile Rellenos.  Mine was the more traditional type, a Polbano Pepper stuffed with Ground Beef, and served with rice, beans, lettuce and guacamole.  It was simply delicious.  The pepper was perfectly cooked and the filling was moist and full of flavor.

David selected the Chili Relleno Special, Chile Relleno Ne Nogada, which on this night was a Poblano pepper, stuffed with pork, nuts and fruits and topped with pomegranate seeds and served with black beans and rice.  He was as enthusiastic with his dish as I was with mine.

I thought that a traditionally made Spanish Rioja wine would complement our meal so I brought along a 2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904. According to Chris Cree, owner of 56º Wine, "the wine was bottled in June of 2006 and has been quietly maturing in the bodega's cellars for the last six and a half years before being released."  It paired beautifully with our food.  Here was a Classic Rioja that showed off a fabulous bouquet and a deep red hue.  This was pure elegance and finesse in the glass, and very reminiscent of Lopez de Heredia. A wine with soul!  $55 at 56º Wine.

A delicious Flan (not pictured) finished a thoroughly enjoyable meal.  Thanks David and Lynn for introducing us to Riviera Maya.