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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas 2013

Carol and I once again celebrated a delightful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our family and close friends.  Ever since I was a child growing up in Newark, NJ, Christmas Eve was a joyous celebration of food and family.  We have been blessed to be able to continue that tradition these many years later.  Since there is always too much to eat, I cut back a bit this year. As I did last year, I collaborated with my daughters, friends and restaurant chefs for the food.  It was once again a terrific team effort.

Christmas Eve 

Italian Christmas Eve dinners are a bounty of fish, vegetables, pasta, good bread, wine and lots of cookies.  Each family have their own "traditional" favorites.  It is the adherence to tradition and passing it along that makes the evening so special in my opinion.

The Food

Pizza from Tony D’s Pizza, Caldwell, NJ. Square in style like a Sicilian Pizza, but thinner crusted, it is made with a savory tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano cheese and then finished with fresh basil leaves. It is crispy and delicious and a great way to begin the evening while people wish each other Merry Christmas.

Antipasto of fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, fresh fennel, tomatoes and olives.  My daughter Gina made fresh oven roasted tomatoes with oil and garlic that was a great addition to the antipasto.

Arancini (rice balls).  Made by my good friend Louie C. and I, we stuff them with fresh mozzarella, peas and a dash of tomato sauce.  They are served with a fresh tomato sauce.

My mom’s Stuffed Italian Long Peppers.  As mom and my sister who usually makes these, were unable to join us this year, I made the peppers.  The stuffing is made from wet Italian bread, chopped walnuts, raisins and anchovies and then baked in the oven.  A delicious peasant dish.

Eggplant & Roasted Pepper Salad is a dish I came up with years ago that I continued to evolve over the years to where it is today.  It is kind of like a Capponata, only without the tomatoes.  I serve it on crispy Endive leaves.  Always a big hit, and it will last for days.

Rao’s Seafood Salad which consists of shrimp, crab, lobster and squid is the best version of this Italian classic that I have ever tasted.  One of the secrets to the dish is how it is assembled. My dear friend Gene does a fantastic job making this salad each year.  He has become a master of the dish.  Again this year each morsel was tender and perfectly seasoned.  The recipe can be found on page 21 of Rao's Cookbook: Over 100 Years of Italian Home Cooking.  Gene, who is also one of the country’s top photographers, took the photos in this post.  Check out his site Impressive Impressions.

Gamberoni alla Griglia (breaded and broiled jumbo shrimp) from Lidia Bastianich has also been a staple at our Christmas Eve table.  It is simple to make and when served with a light, fresh tomato sauce, simply delicious.  The recipe can be found in La Cucina Di Lidia.

Clams Oreganata and Rock Shrimp Arrabiatta were prepared for me this year by Mario Carlino, chef/owner of Divina Ristorante, Caldwell, NJ.  Both were superb.  The clams were moist, tender and yummy, while the Shrimp were spicy and crunchy.   Mario prepares the clams at the restaurant, but does not cook them.  They are cooked just before serving at my house. 

Polpo Luciano, baby octopus braised in a spicy tomato sauce. I cook the octopus slowly for about 75 minutes in a tomato sauce of San Marzano tomatoes. The secret to this dish is to put a couple of wine corks in the pan during the cooking process. The enzymes from the cork, I am told, aid in tenderizing the octopus.  With good Italian bread to sop up the sauce, this dish is hard to top.

Crab Cakes with caper mustard sauce were a new addition to the table this year and they were magnificent…and why not as they were prepared for me by “Top Chef” Ariane Duarte of Culin Ariane Restaurant, Montclair.  They will be back next year for sure.  Sorry no photo.

After taking a break to digest a bit and open gifts we returned to the table for the salad course and final three dishes.  Gino made a delicious Romaine Lettuce Salad that was the perfect intermezzo before the pastas.  Our pasta tradition ever since I can remember is Fedillini (thin pasta between Cappellini and Spaghettini) with Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy). For me, this is the highlight of the meal. I make this dish very wet so that the sauce can be soaked up with good Italian bread. It just does not get better than this.

There is also a delicious penne ala vodka that my daughter Gina makes for the kids and landlubbers who do not eat the Agili e Olio.  The truth is most have some of both pastas.

Eggplant Rollatini, prepared for us by Mario from Divina, is served with the pasta.  As always the ricotta filling was moist and silky.  I am way to full by this time to eat this, but those that do love it.

Last, but not least there was dessert. My wife Carol is a terrific baker and her Biscotti & homemade cookies are always the perfect ending to a perfect meal. 

The Wine

NV Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale Rosé from magnum.  Once again it was a huge hit with the ladies.  I must admit to really enjoying this also.  I do not think there is a better sparkling wine for $20 anywhere.  It is simply delicious.  I had to open another bottle of this as the magnum went quickly.  $22 & $50 at 56º Wine.  This is one of the best wine bargains ever.   After an enjoyable taste of the Bugey, the wine drinkers in the group smiled broadly as I poured each a glass of 1979 Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Vintage Dry Sherry. Our smiles were rewarded as we sipped this glorious wine.  It had a huge earthy nose and a sophisticated and dense palate, with a warm and lengthy finish.  It was the perfect way to begin the evening. While this vintage appears to no longer available, The Spanish Table would be your best place to inquire.

1961 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo.  What a shame as this bottle was completely gone. Cloudy ugly rosé like color.  No bouquet and no taste at all.  A very bad bottle.  Something happened to this bottle during storage over the years would be my guess.

1961 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi.  This was, in a word, magnificent.  What a difference between bottles (both purchased from the same reliable shop).  Amazing translucent red color.  Virtually no browning for a 52 year old wine.  Fruit was vibrant and in tact.  Earthy bouquet, round and pure on the palate.  A lengthy and elegant finish. Many years ahead for this wine. "Beppe" Rinaldi is in my opinion one of the top 3 producers of traditionally made Barolo in all of Piedmont.  If you are a Barolo fan, I encourage you to purchase his wines.  The 2008 and 2009 vintages are currently available at around $120.  Chambers Street Wines, and The Manhattan Wine Company.

1979 Giovannini Moresco Barbaresco Podere del Pajore.  I opened this to replace the F. Rinaldi and it may have been the wine of the night.  1979 was the last year Giovannini Moresco made wine before Angelo Gaja took over the vineyard.  This was the last of 6 bottles I purchased a number of years ago from The Rare Wine Company.  One bottle was flawed, 4 were superb, but this, the last one was phenomenal.  It possessed a seductive earthy bouquet, with gorgeous pure and balanced fruit and a monster finish.  This was as elegant a Barbaresco as I have ever had and was in the class of the Giacosa red labels. I wish I had more of this.

1990 Aldo Conterno Granbussia.    Gino brought this along from his cellar.  It was a very, very good wine, full-bodied with wonderful balance but quite a few steps behind the Rinaldi and the Moresco and far behind the legendary 1989 Granbussia.

1997 Dal Forno Romano Recioto della Valpolicella (375ml) and 1997 Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella (375ml).  A terrific way to end an evening.  While the Dal Forno was a nice expression of this style of wine, it was completely blown away by the Quintarelli, which displayed glorious fruit and magnificent balance between sweet and dry on the palate with a 60+ second finish.  A wine with soul!   I think these two bottles clearly show the difference between modern (Dal Forno) and traditionally made wines.

It was a terrific evening and Carol and I are able to enjoy it thanks to Mario and Wendy.  Both work for Divinia Ristorante as waiter and waitress respectively.  I have been fortunate to hire them to help out with final preparations, serving and clean up of the meal for the past 5 or 6 years.  We do not know what we would do without them.  They do a spectacular job.  Thank you both!!!

Christmas Day 

As has become our new tradition the past few years, after a good night’s sleep, Carol and I have a delightful Christmas breakfast of Mimosas, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits with our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren at Gina & Nick’s house.  After breakfast we get to watch in delight as Mia, Isabella, Nicholas and AJ enthusiastically tear open their gifts.  Watching the joy they get from this is one of the highlights of the holiday.

Christmas dinner is across the driveway at our other daughter Lisa and Andy’s house (it is truly a blessing to have both your daughters and grandchildren next to each other and just a few miles away from us).  Since we eat so much the night before, we keep it simple on Christmas Day.  The highlight of the antipasto, as it its every year, is Andy’s homemade Pepperoni Bread. For pasta this year I made my grandmother DeRosa’s Lasagna.  This is meatless Neopolitan Lasagna in which the ricotta filling and gravy (red sauce) are the stars.  It is served with meatballs, braciole and hot and sweet sausage.  I posted grandma’s recipe for the dish a couple of years ago.  You can find it here.

On Christmas day, by request we drank a couple more bottles of the NV Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale Rosé along with two terrific red Burgundies.

2003 Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru.  The extraordinary terroir of this site yieds a wine with a seductive nose, silky palate and lengthy and elegant finish.  $125.

2002 Dupont-Tisserandot Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux Saint Jacques 1er Cru.  Classic Burgundy. Gorgeous nose with lovely pure balanced fruit on the palate and a lovely finish.  Good value at $80.

Buon Anno e Saluté

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