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, August 28, 2013

Pushing the Culinary Envelope

There are a number of adjectives I could use to describe Peter Loria, chef/owner of Café Matisse in Rutherford, N.J.  Simple, however would not be one of them.  Creative, inspired, innovative and passionate are a few that quickly come to mind.  To apply these adjectives to his food would be an understatement.  To say his food is straightforward and simple would be grossly inaccurate.    To say he pushes the culinary envelope with each dish with a combination of ingredients that few would ever consider would be an understatement.  To say he succeeds where most others have failed in this regard would be an understatement as well.  To say his food is absolutely delicious would also be an understatement.  While the menu description of each dish is a paragraph of ingredients as opposed to a few words, the combination of flavors and textures he creates becomes a celebration in your mouth.  To say his food is amazing would simply not capture this man’s ability in the kitchen.  It is for these reasons that one does not just eat at Café Matisse, one partakes of a unique and often extraordinary dinning experience. Simply put, Peter is among the very best chefs I have ever encountered and Cafe Maisse is amongst the finest restaurants in the country in my humble opinion..  I am also extremely proud to be able to call him my friend.

The service here, under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, is as spectacular as the food that is served. A BYOB restaurant, the wine service outdistances most restaurants with wine lists. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always appropriate glasses to match the wine. (Café Matisse also owns a small wine shop that is located at the front entrance where you may also purchase wine to enjoy with your meal).

I have many extraordinary meals here over the years, but this one seemed to soar to new heights. While any or all of the adjectives delicious, amazing, incredible, etc. could be used to describe these dishes; they in fact could not fully communicate the level of this dinning experience.  We each had two savory and one sweet course from the unique "grazing menu" Peter has created.

Fresh Mozzarella wrapped in Spec Ham, rolled in Panko and Lightly Toasted Dollop of Robiola Cheese with Truffled Tomato Jam, Heirloom Tomatoes, Olive Salsa and Spanish Red Peppers Topped with Fried Zuccini Batons, Drizzled with creamy Basil Garlic Yogurt Sauce, Dusted with Basil Crystals.

Hot And Spicy Panko Crusted Crabcake Over Spicy Grilled Corn Pepper Relish, Dollop of Spicy Crab Relish with Guacamole Fritter and Tabasco Cheddar Glazed Shrimp, Drizzled with Chipotle Vinegar and Hickory Barbeque Demi-Glace. (Hands down the best Crab Cake I have ever had).

Carol had a marvelous Swordfish that was a special of the evening and I neglected to record the ingredients.  Suffice it to say that she enjoyed every bit.

Hoison Glazed Beef Short Ribs with Spiced Orange Glazed Shrimp, Soba Noodles with Lobster, Smashed White Bean, Green Onion Rolled in a Soy Butter Topped with Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms and Tempura Green Beans with Peanut Jus.  An utterly sublime meeting of Eastern & Western cuisine.

Ginger Lemon Spiked Shortcake Biscuit with Fresh Strawberries, Almond Vanilla Strawberry Crème, Dollop of Wild Blueberry Candied Ginger Jam with Banana Brown Sugar Marshmallow Jus, Topped with Candied Almonds

Banana Crème Pie With Almond Graham Cracker Crust, Caramelized Bananas and White Chocolate Mousse Topped with Cherry Ginger Jam and Cherry Marshmallow Crème

Red Burgundy wines pair very well with food here so I brought along a bottle of 1999 Hubert Lignier Morey St. Denis La Riotte 1er Cru.  Lignier is very much a traditional wine maker and his wines always possess purity, balance and elegance. This was my first bottle in 4 years.  The wine had a lovely earthy bouquet, sparkling translucent red hue and soft velvety palate, but finished a bit short.  In my opinion the wine is leaving its peak-drinking window and it would be best to drink it up in the next couple of years.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wonderful Wine Week

This past week has been one filled with lots of fun, family, friends, food and fantastic wines.

Hot & Sour Soup
Chengdu Cold Noodles
Saturday:  My daughter Gina, grandkids Mia and Nicholas along with Carol, her mom and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Chengdu 46, Clifton, NJ for dinner.  There is simply no better authentic Chinese food in NJ.  For starters we stuffed ourselves with Chicken Soon, Chengdu Cold Noodles, Pan-Fried Dumplings and Hot & Sour Soup.  Each of these dishes are explosions of flavors and textures on the palate.  Our main courses were a continuation of our Asian feast with Chicken with Mixed Vegetables in Brown Sauce, Three Delights with Sizzling Rice (shrimp, pork & chicken sautéed with fresh snow peas, tomatoes and water chestnuts over sizzling rice) and Sichuan Style Lobster.

I enjoy either a crisp Riesling or a silky red Burgundy with the food here.  Tonight my choice was 1999 Domaine Chezeaux Griotte Chambertin. Made by famed winemaker Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot, this is a beautiful classic Burgundy with an enticing bouquet, a round and velvety palate that finishes with finesse and elegance.  Ponsot makes the wines for Domaine Chezeaux as the result of a 1982 metayage agreement which provides for the cultivation of land for a proprietor by one who receives a proportion of the produce, as a kind of sharecropping.   Thus these are the same wines from the same fruit that are bottled by Ponsont at his Domaine Ponsot, only at half the price.  While not inexpensive at about $150 a bottle, they represent a great value.  New York Winewarehouse, NYC

Sunday: Our entire immediate family (14 of us) gathered at Rare The Steakhouse in Little Falls to celebrate my birthday (I know again) and our grandson Nicholas upcoming 4th birthday.  Our appetizers consisted of deftly Fried Zucchini Flowers, Chilled Alaskan King Crab Legs, and Fresh Jersey Tomato and Onion Salad.  The tomatoes were from owner Gregorio Polimeni’s garden and were ripe and delicious.

Our entrées included a mammoth 28 oz Cowboy Steak that brother-in-law Ed diligently and with great gusto did justice to.  Prime NY Sirloins, juicy and tender, were the choice of son-in-laws Nick and Andy.  A moist Grilled Swordfish caught the attention of my sister and my wife Carol. The kids and my girls selected Penne with Basil and Tomato and Penne ala Vodka respectively, while Carol’s mom and I enjoyed a delicious homemade Lasagna.
I selected a magnum of 2006 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fumé Silex for the white wine.  Didier sought to make the best Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world.   A feat that most people will tell you he achieved.  His Sauvignon Blanc is like no other I have ever tasted.  This bottle was crisp, round and
Fumé Silex
delicious on the palate with a lengthy and superb finish.  It is a wine with considerable soul, however it comes with a very hefty price tag, and as much as I like the wine, I find it hard to justify stocking up on it.  Didier met with an untimely death in 2008 in a light airplane crash.  His son, Louis-Benjamin continues he legacy.  The wines are available at Amanti Vino, Montclair, NJ.
Giacosa Riserva 2000

For red I brought along a magnum of 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche Riserva Falletto.  Giacosa, as I have mentioned in the past is one of the icons of traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  This bottle, which I decanted for 3+ hours, was a classic Barolo with an enticing earthy nose, a balanced and pure palate with ripe, vibrant fruit and a lengthy & elegant finish.  Truly a wine with soul, this was round and delicious and soared from the glass with each sip.  On a sad note, this estate seems to faltering lately and with the exception of the 2007 vintage, recent vintages have been sub par.  

Monday:  Along with friends Cosmo, Jerry, Giorgio and Gregorio I made my first visit to the Jersey shore since the devastation of hurricane Sandy.  It was quite a sight to see so much destruction on one hand, but invigorating to see the rebuilding that is taking place.  My good friend Tony P has a home on the beach in Normandy Beach, and was among the fortunate ones who did not loose his house.  He had some damage, but it has been repaired and so we visited him for the day.  I brought along a magnum of 2001 Ronchi di Cialla Ciallabianco for us to sip as we sat on his deck and enjoyed the beautiful day.  This delicious white is a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo Friulano and Picolit.  It is crisp with a terrific focus, finesse and elegance.  It went down very nicely as we munched on the appetizers Tony set out for us.  While this vintage will be hard to find, 56º Wine has the 2010 for $35 in stock.

For lunch we went to one of my, and Tony P’s, favorite places at the shore, Runner’s Seafood Restaurant and Market in Lavallette.  The seafood here is fresh, and cooked with love and simplicity.  I enjoyed a delicious New England Clam Chowder followed by a Fried Filet of Sole Sandwich, while the others all opted for fresh caught Lobsters.  Tony P brought along a couple bottles of 2012 Zenato Lugana San Benedetto that were crisp, cold and delicious and complimented the lunch beautifully.  Made from 100% Trebbiano at about $15 a bottle, this has a great QPR (quality/price ratio).  Wine-Searcher.

Tuesday:  Dinner with friends at Divina Ristorante, Caldwell.  I have written about the great food here on numerous occasions previously and tonight was no exception.  Alas I did not take any photos and I do not recall what anyone else had, but I enjoyed a Fresh Jersey Tomato & Onion Salad followed by one of my favorite specials, Shell Pasta with Hot Sausage Ragu.  This is a great dish with just the right amount of heat, perfectly cooked pasta that is not over sauced. Unfortunately the photos I took all came out to blurry to post.  Sorry Mario.

As for wines my friend, who is a wine writer and has a great palate, brought along a bottle of 2011
François Chidaine Vouvray Sec Les Argiles.  As you know if you read my posts, I am a huge fan of the Chenin Blanc white grape from the Vouvray in the Loire Valley of France.  This was a new producer for me and I really enjoyed the wine. It was clean, crisp, and possessed terrific acidity.  As with all Chenin Blancs this will age gracefully for at least another decade.  A fantastic bargain at $20, Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.
For red I brought along 1999 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve.  In my opinion, along with Hernri Bonneau, there is no finer producer of this wine.   Made from 100% Grenache as opposed to all 13 varieties of the region, this wine is always magnificent and memorable.  The wine exhibited a compelling and enticing bouquet that you want to just continue to take in.  On the palate it was completely round and delicious with a long elegant finish.  A wine with tons of soul and that has to be tasted to appreciate, as words are inadequate to describe it.  Not easy to find and very pricey.

Wednesday: Our grandson Nicholas turned four this day and his parents hosted a small party at our house.  Cheeseburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches along with Carol’s amazing homemade macaroni salad made up the menu.  Beer is the best beverage to go with this menu, but as the sun began to set I opened a bottle of 1999 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I found this bottle to be a couple of steps back from previous bottles I have had with the fruit in decline.  I think it is time to drink this vintage up.  I also find that Beaucastel wines are not what they used to be.  The newer vintages appear to be more modern in style and, in my opinion, lack the finesse that they once possessed.

Thursday:  We were in the mood for fish, so we headed over to Fin Raw Bar and Kitchen in Montclair.   The fish here is always fresh and expertly prepared by executive chef Michael Juliano.  A new summer menu has replaced the standard menu and I am happy to say that while I missed the excellent New England Clam Chowder the new items brought smiling nods to our faces as we partook of them.  I began with my usual ½ dozen of pristinely fresh and briny Naked Cowboy Oysters.  Along with this we tried Fish Tacos made with Mahi/Mahi that were marvelous...

...and a delicious grilled cheese that was comprised of Gruyere Cheese, tomato, bacon and slices of boiled lobster.  A different combination for sure, but it was finger lickin' good.

Our main courses consisted of a Grilled Shrimp and Lobster Combination (not pictured) and 7 Spiced Big Eye Tuna with Soba Noodles, a very addictive dish.

A bottle of 2001 Eduardo Valentini Trebbiano was the perfect accompaniment to the food.  It possessed gorgeous golden hue, earthy bouquet and spectacular focused fruit on the palate. The wine kept evolving with each sip and finished with finesse and elegance.  A wine with soul!

Friday:  La Cucina di Giorgio: Due.  In July I posted La Cucina di Giorgio, in which I wrote of the wonderful meal he prepared at my house.  On this Friday, his brother Jerry invited Carol and I to his house for another superb meal prepared by Giorgio.  Not only was it another spectacular meal but, in addition to Jerry and I, charter "C" Team member Louie C. joined us making it a truly special evening.   I will not bore readers of this blog with the histrionics of the "C" team, but suffice it to say that we were not members of the exclusive "A" Team that was prevalent a number of years back.  While the "A" Team has long since vanished into the past, the "C" Team is still very much in tact, and for good reason.  While many felt that "A" and "C" stood for a position on some status scale, in reality "C" stood for and still stands to this day, for "Camaraderie" as was evident in spades on this evening.  What then did "A" stand for?  I will leave that up to the reader's imagination.
The "C" Team: Jimmy, Rob, Jerry, Bucky, Me, Louie

Sorry if I digress.  Let's get back to Giorgio's magic.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few such as delicious, fantastic, rustic, amazing, etc., etc., etc.

Melanzane (Eggplant) with tomatoes
Spaghetti con Vongole
Pollo al Forno (Oven baked chicken w/ Potatoes)
Coniglio - Pan Fried Rabbit
Everything was delicious.  I brought along a magnum of 1985 Emidio Pepe Montelpulciano D’Abruzzo to drink with the dinner.  The essence of old world wine, this showed incredibly young fruit with a luxurious earthy palate and superb finish.  Along with our dessert of Italian Pastries from Palazzone 1960, Wayne, NJ we enjoyed espresso and a seductive 1999 Paolo Bea Sagrantino Passito dessert wine.  Wonderfully balanced, it was the perfect close to a great evening.

Saturday:  Time for Pizza and a couple of new wines, so Carol, her mom and I headed over to Bivio Pizzeria Napoletano in Little Falls for their authentic and fabulous pizza.  Earlier in the day I picked up a couple of new wines from 56º Wine in Bernardsville that owner Chris Cree suggested.  Chris knows my palate, and he assured me not only would I like them, but also that they would go well with the pizza we were having that evening.

The white was a crisp and delicious 2011 Filippi Castelcerino Soave.  From the Veneto region of Italy and made from the indigenous white grape of the region, Garganega, it was crisp with fresh fruit on the palate with a very pleasant finish.  At $15 a bottle this represents a fantastic bargain.

The red he suggested was 2011 Domaine Comte Abbatucci Ajaccio Rouge "Cuvée Faustine” from the island of Corsica.  I love discovering wines and grapes that I have never tried, especially when they turn out to be as good as this was.  Biodynamically made by owner Jean-Charles Abbatucci from the indigenous grapes Sciaccarellu (70%) and Niellucciu (30%), this was a wine with lots of soul.  In the glass the gorgeous translucent red hue sparkled while the pristine fruit danced on the palate in harmony and balance before finishing with length and elegance.   The $38 tariff is proof that one need not spend a lot of money for good wine.  Both are available from 56º Wine. Oh, and by the way,  both went magically with the pizza.

Pizza Margharita

Yes, it was a very good week!


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!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Simply Delicious!!!

While Carol and I enjoy going out to good restaurants, we also enjoy the opportunity to have a simple meal at home.  Carol is a great cook and everything she makes is wonderful. Her secret is to use quality ingredients and prepare them simply and with passion.  (A philosophy that is applicable in all that we do in life!).  One of her signature dishes is her Chicken Soup.  A staple in Italian and Jewish households, it is sure to make my last meal requests list.  We like it served piping hot over a generous scoop of Acini di Pepe pasta.

We like to follow a hearty bowl of the soup with either a BLT, Potato & Egg Sandwich, or an Eggplant Parm Sandwich.  Since it is the summer and our garden is producing lots of lovely white eggplants, Carol used them to make the parm.  After breading them she pops them into the oven as opposed to the frying pan, a healthier and less caloric procedure.  She finishes them with a homemade tomato sauce and a moderate sprinkling of small cuts of fresh mozzarella.  The key is that the mozzarella does not blanket the eggplant and thus compliments it, rather than dominating it.  The result is a tender, balanced and uncommonly good Eggplant Parmigiano.

Ah, what to drink with such a simple meal.  Easy, a great wine that embodies the same elements of quality ingredients and passion in its production and can work with both the soup and the eggplant.  Such a wine is 2000 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot.  In my opinion there is no better maker of Chablis than Raveneau.  His wines demonstrate what the Chardonnay grape is capable of producing when in the hands of a true craftsman.  The wines are fermented in stainless steel and see no new oak.  The result is a lush, round and delicious wine like this one was tonight.  It soared from the glass with each sip.  This is truly a wine with soul.  This vintage will be hard to find but 2009 is on the market and a bit pricey at $200+ for the Blanchot. However his regular Chablis is much less expensive and absolutely as delicious and available. Wine-Searcher.

Like I said, simple food cooked with quality ingredients & passion and a great bottle of wine yields a SIMPLY DELICIOUS MEAL.

I am a lucky guy!!!