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, June 30, 2013

Two Terrific Local BYOB Restaurants

There a lot of things I love about living in New Jersey.  The finest beaches in the country (Sandy tried to take them away, but they are coming back strong), Jersey tomatoes in the summer, proximity to NYC and more BYOB restaurants than any state in the country.

This week Carol and I visited two of our favorite BYOBs.  Ichiban Sushi Restaurant in West Caldwell is usually a weekly dinner stop for us.  Located in a strip mall, Ichiban serves pristinely fresh sushi and sashimi as well as a number of authentic Japanese dishes, my favorite being tempura fried shrimp with Japanese curry.  I usually bring an Alsatian or German Riesling to enjoy with the food here.  I find a dry Riesling to be a beautiful compliment to Asian food.  On this visit I brought a bottle of 2009 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs (Grosses Gewachs mean Grand Cru in Germany).  The wine possessed a gorgeous translucent hue and a bracing acidity, impeccable balance and pristine focus.  A bit young, it nevertheless drank beautifully.  A couple of more years cellar time will definitely benefit the wine. Weingut Hermann Donnhoff is a legend in Nahe region of Germany.  His wines are considered legendary.  Importer Michael Skurnik says of his wines, “…these are the greatest Rieslings on earth. No other wine, anywhere, exceeds the clarity, polish, complexity and sheer beauty of flavor of this grower’s finest wines. “  $60.  I picked this up at 56º Wine a couple of years ago.  I don’t believe this vintage is available, but a number of others are.  If you like dry Riesling, these are great and at very reasonable prices.

On this visit we began with Pork Goyoza (not pictured).  These are delicate and light as a feather dumplings as compared to the thick varieties found in most Japanese restaurants.  The Cucumber Salad topped with crab meat in a soy dressing is another of my favorite appetizers here.  It is always fresh, crisp and delicious.

Carol enjoyed one of her favorite plates here, BBQ Salmon.  The fish is never overcooked and the Japanese BBQ sauce takes the dish to new heights.  

I went for a combination platter of Sashimi and Eel Sushi, with an order of Curry Rice.  As I mentioned earlier the fish here is pristinely fresh, but the Curry is amazing.  It is really a brown gravy with a hint of spice that is magical with rice or tempura shrimp and vegetables.  I cannot go here and not order it.  I guess this is what they call addiction.   I usually order the Curry dish with Tempura shrimp and vegetables.

Shrimp Tempura w/ Curry (Ebi Curry)

During the day Capo’s Grill, Woodland Park, NJ (formerly West Paterson) serves breakfast and lunch in what is best described as a small, no frills luncheonette operated by Anthony Capo, Sr. At night however the luncheonette is transformed into a wonderful Italian Ristorante.  Son Anthony, Jr. spent 5 years in Tuscany cooking authentic Italian dishes and learning from some of Italy’s top chefs.  He even spent some time with Mario Batali.  He learned his trade very well and his dishes are prepared with skill and are expressions of authentic Italian cuisine.  He is especially deft with fish and pasta dishes.  So with a bottle of 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo in hand Carol and I headed over to see Anthony, Jr. the other night.

While not up to 2004 or 2006 vintage, 2005 was another good year in Piedmont. The year produced a medium-bodied style of Barolo, with about 1% less alcohol than recent years. Most importantly, it is ready to drink now while we wait for the 2004 and 2006 to mature in the cellar.  Maria Teresa Mascarello can be counted out to produce spectacular wines in any vintage she makes wine, as is the case here.   This bottle was simply gorgeous. I decanted it for 3 hours at home before drinking. It possessed an enticing and characteristic Piedmont earthy bouquet.  The pure, perfectly balanced and focused fruit danced on the palate before finishing with elegance.  Here is a wine with soul that should last for another 10 to 15 years.  It went beautifully with both our appetizers and pasta dishes.  About $100 a bottle from various sellers; NY Wine Warehouse; Italian Wine Merchants; Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.  

We began our meal with a salad of fresh mozzarella and tomato (not pictured) and Cozze al Vino Bianco (mussels in white wine).  The briny fresh mussels were bathed in an ethereal broth of diced fresh tomatoes, white wine and spices.  It was one of the best versions of the dish I have had in a long time.  I only wish that I could have sopped up every last drop of the broth with the crostini the dish came with, but I am really trying to pay attention to my waist line.

Spaghetti Putanesca is one of my all time favorite pasta dishes.  Simple as it is to make, many restaurants over sauce the dish with excess tomatoes.  Properly made it consists of oil, garlic, anchovies, capers and a couple of diced FRESH TOMATOES.  Whoever taught Anthony how to make this dish in Italy certainly did a great job.  The spaghetti was perfectly al dente and the balance of the ingredients, especially the tomatoes was as harmonious as a Manhattan Transfer song.

Carol had the pasta special of the evening, which was Spaghetti with red and yellow peppers, capers, garlic and olive oil.  Another perfectly cooked, balanced and harmonious dish.  We both dug in with huge smiles on our faces.

Spaghetti w/ Red & Yellow Peppers

Capo’s space is very small, so reservations are strongly suggested on the weekends.  Wine glasses are tiny, so in addition to your wine, you may also want to consider bringing your own stemware. Both restaurants are very, very reasonably priced.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Anniversary Dinner

This past Friday my wife and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary.  Seems like it was yesterday when we said our vows at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark, NJ.  I am happy and proud to say that 44 years later we are still going strong.

We celebrated the occasion with a romantic dinner at Restaurant Serenade, Chatham, NJ. Serenade has always been a favorite of ours.  The food of owner/chef James Laird is amongst the best in the state.  Ditto for the wine list under the direction of co-owner and host, Nancy Laird. The extensive list highlights traditional and modern producers and is fairly priced.  A number of very good wines are available by the glass as well.  Along with the terrific food and wine list, the service is top notch.  We had a terrific evening.

Carol began her meal with Corn Soup that was comprised of a creamless purée, diced potatoes, cherry tomatoes and local chives.  I snuck a taste.  It was delicate and delicious.

I began my meal with a plate of incredibly tender pieces of Grilled Octopus, potatoes, preserved lemon, Niçoise olives dressed in a fresh extra virgin olive oil.  The combination of textures and flavors worked to perfection.  I enjoyed every morsel.

For our entrées Carol chose the roasted Nova Scotia Lobster, shelled and served with fava beans, pea shoots, sweet corn coulis, and Aleppo pepper.  This is a wow dish.  The lobster is cooked to perfection and in lieu of cracking shells, you will find yourself smacking your lips with each tasty forkful.

I opted for the grilled sushi-grade Tuna accompanied by coconut sticky rice, fried avocado, shiitake mushrooms, ginger vinaigrette.  This Asian inspired dish was sublime, with all the players on the plate playing a strong supporting role to the perfectly seared tuna.

I selected a 2010 Christian Moreau Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru to compliment our meal.  The Moreau estate is one of the top properties in Chablis.  Their wines are very traditional in style and are beautiful examples of the purity of the Chardonnay grape when made without new oak.  As for this bottle, it was good and there is great potential here, but it is still a few years away from hitting on all cylinders. It just is not singing yet. Patience will be rewarded.  Available at NY Wine Warehouse, $70.

For dessert we shared a decadently delicious Strawberry Roulade with homemade lemon ice cream along with espresso and a glass of 1997 Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray, Loire France.  I have written about Huet wines in the past.  They are a beautiful expression of the elegance and finesse of the Chenin Blanc grape, as was this glass tonight.

Needless to say Carol and I had a wonderful evening.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Emil's B-Day Lunch

Our good friend Emil had a birthday this past week, so Tony and I took him to lunch at Benissimo Ristorante in Madison, NJ.  Benissimo is the latest restaurant of Nicola Moncada, who previously owned Due Nicola in Little Falls, NJ and Il Cinghiale in Little Ferry, NJ.  Good, honest Italian food, with an emphasis on Sicily, has always been Nicola's trademark.  I have had many wonderful meals at his previous restaurants and our lunch at Benissimo was up to the same excellent level as the others were.

For lunch we enjoyed Pizza with Grilled Vegetables.  While I am a traditionalist and prefer pizza with mozzarella and tomatoes, this was delicious.  Nicola explained that pizzas are new to the menu and he is awaiting a brick oven from Italy to be delivered.  While he awaits the delivery, he is making them in his regular oven with wonderful results.

Caesars Salad, Spaghetti with Botarga (tuna roe) and my favorite, Spaghetti con Lentiche (lentils) followed the pizza.  Unfortunately I was too busing stuffing my face and neglected to take photos of these dishes.   Suffice it to say they were terrific.

As I am closely watching my growing waistline, I stopped here and sipped my wine while Emil and Tony dug into roasted medallions of Wild Boar in a port wine and fig reduction.  The huge grins on their faces displayed their approval of the dish.

All of us, including our host Nicola, are huge fans of good Amarone, especially those made by Giuseppe Quintarelli.  Thus it was only appropriate that we drank a couple of fantastic bottles with our lunch.

2001 Marion Amarone della Valpolicella.  The Campedelli family acquired the Marion estate in 1988 but did not produce its first Amarone under its own label until 1999.  The wines here are made by Celestino Gaspari who was the wine maker at Quintarelli for 20 years.  The wine is a blend of 45% Corvinone, 25% Corvina Gentile, 20% Rondinella, 10% Croatina. 2001 was a superb vintage for Marion and it showed once again today.  A deep dark, garnet color, with a somewhat smoky bouquet, the wine possessed vibrant fruit, finesse, complexity and soul.   At $75 a bottle this is a steal compared to the $300-$500 dollars you must dole out for Amarones in this class.  The bad news, it is very difficult to find.

1996 Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi.  This is Quintarelli’s de-classified Amarone.  In vintages where the juice of the grapes does not meet his high standards to be called Amarone, he de-classifies the wine and bottles it as Rosso del Bepi and sells it for less than half of what a bottle of his Amarone would cost.  1996 was the second time he did this, 1994 being the first. While still drinking very nicely, the wine is beginning to fade a bit. Color, bouquet and complexity are intact, however the fruit and finish are beginning to ebb. Time to drink up.  This will be very difficult to find, however the 2002 vintage, which is a gorgeous wine, is available at about $175 a bottle at 56º Wine.  BTW "Bepi" is what Giuseppe was called.  It is in fact short for "Giuseppe".

We concluded the meal with espresso, Grappa Tiganello and Nicola’s signature dessert, Pistachio Sponge Cake.

Happy Birthday Emil and thanks Nicola for your great and generous hospitality.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Carol's Birthday

Two Sundays ago we celebrated my beautiful wife Carol’s xxth birthday.  If I told you her age you would not believe me because, like fine wine she ages beautifully.  The celebration took place at our home with our immediate family and two of our best friends and their wives.  Mother Nature cooperated so we got to enjoy the day in an around the pool and enjoy food catered by Divina Ristorante and pizza from Frank Anthony’s.  I have lauded the food from Divina in numerous previous posts and it was once again terrific.  Frank Anthony's is a small Italian Deli/Restaurant in Verona, NJ. serving great Italian sandwiches and traditional Italian entrées. The pizza is like grandma used to make.  A spot well worth checking out.

Happy Birthday Grandma

The wines we had included:

NV Equipo Navazos - La Bota de Fino 35 Sherry.  Dry sherry, served chilled always works well on warm days.  Alas this particular one, my first encounter with this producer, left a lot to be desired. It was completely flat palate.  The wine was devoid of flavor and had no soul whatsoever.  At $55, a waste of money.

2010 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc.  Kermit Lynch, importer of the wines, calls Cassis an “earthy paradise, and the vineyards of Clos Sainte Magdeleine are particularly stunning. They jut out on a private cape to meet majestic limestone cliffs, poised spectacularly above the sparkling, azure Mediterranean. The wine is available at 56º Wine, Bernardsville for $30.
Clos Sainte Magdeleine
Now we were talking, as this was a delight to drink.  This is a fresh, clean, crisp, round and delicious wine from a remarkable producer.  While I have had the Rosé on numerous occasions (a mainstay in my cellar) this was my first experience with this wine.

1996 Roagna Barolo Riserva la Rocca E la Pira from magnum.  A great vintage plus a great winemaker and the wine was as you would expect, great.  It possessed that intoxicating and earthy Piedmont bouquet, soft tannins, balance, complexity and elegance.  Probably not a lot of this vintage around, but current vintages are available at reasonable prices at  Wine Legend, Livingson, NJ and 56º Wine.

The food we enjoyed with the wines was great.  Served family style we enjoyed Pizza Margharita; Assorted Antipasti; Manicotti w/ Meatballs; Penne Marinara; Chicken with mixed vegetables, Veal Parmigiano and Primavera Salad.

Frank Anthony's Pizza Margharita
Manicotti w/Meatballs
Birthdays with friends and families are always special, and today was no exception.  We had a great day.  Happy birthday my dear.  XXXOOO
With best friends RosAnn and Maureen


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Via Emilia

This past Wednesday I had lunch with my good friend Gabrio.  Gabrio is the former owner of De-Vino Wine in NYC and is one of the most knowledgeable wine guys I know.  He also knows many, if not all, the great little Italian restaurants in the city.  As a result I usually leave it up to him to pick the spot when we get together for lunch.  This week he suggested we visit the city of Modena (Ferrari & Lamborghini fame) in the Italian region of Emilia-Romangna by way of Via Emilia Ristorante Modenese on East 21st in NYC. Owner/chef William Matiello has been preparing and serving the traditional dishes of his hometown for the past 15 years.  Oh what I have been missing all these years.  I cannot wait to get back here (probably next week) and make up for lost time.

2011 Rambela from Randi Vini
As I waited for Gabrio to arrive I settled in at the bar and ordered a glass of 2011 Randi Vini Rambela as I approvingly took in the restaurant's modern and trendy décor.  Rambela is a clean, crisp white wine that is made from the Famoso grape in the province of Ravenna in Emilia-Romangna.  Famoso, also called “Uva Rambela”, is a grape first documented in Romagna around 1800 and that, after being abandoned for a while, was reconsidered over the last decade by growers such as Azienda Randi. Vines are strong, adapting easily to rough soils and bearing cold weather. In spite of its strength, yield is quite low. This was my first encounter with the Famoso grape and it was lovely.  A very easy wine to drink, especially by the pool on a hot day.  About $15 a bottle.

Gabrio arrived and I put myself in his hands with both the wine and the food.  While I am familiar with the Lambrusco grape that is indigenous to the region, the cuisine is new to me.  Gabrio ordered a bottle of 2010 Vittorio Graziano, Emilia Lambrusco "Fontana dei Boschi" that he said would compliment the food magically.  He ordered two specialties of Modena to begin with.  The first was called Gnocco Fritto.  Kind of like a Zeppole, it was a fried puffy fritter that was accompanied by Mortadella, Prosciutto and Salumi.  The Idea is to take a piece of the salumi and place it atop the Gnocco, fold it sandwich style and enjoy.  I must tell you this was off the chart.  This is an Italian sandwich or Panini taken to another level.  See for yourself.  Gnocco Fritto with Salumi below.
The second is called Tigelle, which is Modena’s little tile-baked mountain bread, served with soft cheese, cold cuts and pancetta spread.  Kind of like and Italian English muffin, these were also magnificent.  It is impossible to explain how good these two Salumi/Bread plates were. They need to be tasted to be appreciated.

Gabrio was again right on with the Vittorio Graziano Lambrusco.   I am told he is widely known as one of the true artisans in the region who makes his Lambrusco the old fashioned way without additives, and with the fermentation finishing in bottle. The wine possessed an earthy bouquet, a chewy and earthy palate with layers of complexity and finesse. It was a wine with lots and lots of soul.  I have never had a Lambrusco quite like it.  It was the perfect compliment to the appetizers and the entrées that followed.   I liked it so much that I ordered 4 bottles from Chambers Street Wines as soon as I got home.  $27.  This wine should be served chilled and in the same type of glass you would drink scotch on the rocks in.

Continuing to follow Gabrio’s recommendation, I ordered Tortellini in Brodo.  He explained that this was a signature dish of Modena (I learn something new every day) and that in spite of the fact that it is a soup I have had many times, he promised this one would be an epiphany.  Oh my God!  It was an epiphany. I don’t think I can ever have the ersatz versions served in most other restaurants any more.   The homemade Tortellini dumplings are filled with pork, prosciutto di parma and parmigiano reggiano and served in an ethereal broth made from Guinea Hen.  Each spoonful was sublime.  I think a tear came to my eye when I finished the last Tortellini and the last sip of broth.
Tortellini in Brodo
Gabrio had a pasta dish, Caramelle di Castelvetro a specialty of the house and of Modena. Kind of like ravioli, these were candy shaped pasta dumplings stuffed w/ pork, spinach, ricotta in olive oil/butter sauce with arugula and prosciutto.  He shared one with me and it threw a party for my mouth.  The homemade pasta was light; the stuffing moist and delicious and the sauce complimented rather than overpowered the dish.  When I next visit Via Emilia you can be sure I will order a full portion and savor each bite.
Caramelle di Castelvetro
What a superb restaurant with great food at very reasonable prices.  This is a place to check out! Thanks Gabrio.  


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lopez de Heredia

This month our wine group met at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, NJ.  It was my turn to bring the wine and I selected wines from Lopez de Heredia of Rioja, Spain.  I also included a wine from CUNE, also from Rioja.  Emil was in the queue for dinner.

In my opinion, Lopez de Heredia wines embody the essence of what great wine is all about. They are consistently delicious. I do not believe there is a better producer of traditionally made Spanish wines in all of Spain. The wines are aged a minimum of 4-6 years in 100 year old large oak barrels, followed by at least another 4 years in the bottle before being released (no wine is released before its tenth birthday). They last seemingly forever. Maria Jose de Heredia the cellar master does not recommend decanting any of her wines. “You will miss them if you do”, she says.  In fact the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass. We missed nothing tonight as each wine showed beautifully as they kept evolving and soaring from the glass with each sip.

With appetizers that consisted of greaseless and tender Fried Calamari, Clams Oreganata and fresh Burrata Cheese with Roasted Peppers and Prosciutto, I poured 1997 Vina Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva and 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Riserva.

The Rosé is a blend of Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho (60%) and Viura (10%) and was aged in old barrels for 4 years and then for another 6 years in the bottle before being released. This is not like most Rosés you have ever had. The pedigree of the estate is present in each sip.  It is superbly balanced and complex on the palate. In short it is a round and delicious wine. It is hard to believe that this wine costs about $25 a bottle. The ’97 will be hard to find, but the 2000 is readily available at the same price.

The Blanco is a blend of 85% Viura and 15% Malvasia.  At 37 years of age this was a magnificent and compelling wine. The wine possessed a beautifully developed bouquet and had tons of vibrant fruit and complexity on the palate and finished with considerable length.  A truly remarkable wine! While available, it will set you back about $200.  The 1991 is available at about $70 and the 1998 at about $35.

With our pasta course of Mario’s lighter-than-air Gnocchi with a light Bologenese Ragu, I poured 1998 Vina Tondonia Reserva Rioja and 1976 CVNE (pronounced Cune) Vina Real Gran Reserva Rioja.
Gnocchi Bolognese
The Tondonia is a blend of 75% Temranillo, 15% Garnacho and 10% Graciano and Mazuelo. This too was superb with an enticing earthy bouquet, amazing purity and complexity on the palate. The wine also evolved in the glass with each sip.  $35.

The CVNE Real is one of the top selections from one of Rioja’s oldest wine producers.  While today’s wines have begun to follow the more modern approach to wine making and lack the elegance and finesse of days past, the 1976 is steeped in tradition and is a spectacular bottle of wine.   It was remarkably young for a thirty-seven year-old wine.  It possessed a spectacular earthy bouquet, a full-bodied and complex palate, soft tannins and a lengthy and gorgeous finish. This wine has at least another 15 years of life left.  $200.

Veal Holstein
With main courses that included Veal Holstein (German style breaded veal cutlet topped with two sunny-side up eggs) and Lobster in white wine sauce oreganata, I poured 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva and 1970 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Riserva.

The Tondonia and Bosconia vineyards are the estates two most important vineyards.  The blend is slightly different in the Bosconia vineyard wines with Tempranillo making up 80% of the blend and Garnacho, Graciano and Mazuelo comprising the remainder.

The Bosconia was life changing.  The consensus wine of the evening, it had everything one can ask for in a wine; terroir, pure fruit, complexity, balance, elegance and finesse.  It was deliriously delicious.  The wine soared from the glass and evolved with each sip.  $350.

Lobster in White Wine Sauce
The 1970 Tondonia Gran Reserva was almost its equal on this night. Another superb bottling from Lopez de Heredia, it fell a bit short with respect to the vibrancy and elegance of the Bosconia.  $650.

One of the most amazing aspects of all the red wines was the gorgeous red hue each possessed.  The browning or bricking usually found in older wines was not to be found here.

I think it is worthy of note that while these older wines can be quite expensive, I paid a fraction of these prices when I purchased them.  Upon release, and for some time subsequent, these wines are very affordable.  They just age forever, become scarcer over time, and as a result the prices increase. Current vintages of all these wines are in the $25 to $40 range.  If you have never tried them, I encourage you to do so.

Emil thanks for dinner.  Until next time.