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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ariane Kitchen & Bar

I have praised the food of chef /owner Ariane Duarte served at Culin Ariane in Montclair on 3 previous occasions in WWN.  A few months back she and her husband Michael closed their Culin Ariane Restaurant to focus on a new venue, Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, N.J.  The new restaurant opened about a month ago, and as expected is packing them in nightly. In her new home she has replaced her more classic Continental Cuisine with what I would label as “comfort food” taken to a new level.  The new restaurant has a full liquor license and Ariane’s husband Michael has put together a terrific and very reasonably priced wine list (most of the wines are in the $25 to $50 price range) comprised of wonderful artisan wines from around the world.  BYOB is allowed at a corkage fee of $20 per bottle and limited to one bottle per two people.  Unlike her former place AKB is open 6 nights a week.  The bad news is that reservations can take a couple of weeks to obtain.  The good news is that AKB accommodates walk-ins at the bar and 3 large communal tables in the bar area.  These tables seat 8 people each on backless stools.

While the menu has retained a few of the Culin Ariane classics such as Cornmeal Crusted Oysters, Crab Cakes and Sashimi Tuna Flower, the emphasis is more on casual bistro type food, and as one would expect, it is fantastic.  We have already been there four times since it has opened.  A bar menu, also available in the dinning areas, is composed of homemade snacks as Ariane calls them.  The regular menu is available throughout the restaurant.

On our first visit, friends and family night, we began with a complimentary drink called Pear of Wings, which turned out to be a refreshing cocktail composed of Tito’s Vodka, Pear-sage cordial, lemon juice and sparkling wine.  While it was quite tasty I usually like to begin my meals with a Bourbon Manhattan straight up. Tonight’s was made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and it was excellently prepared.

We began our meal with three starters.

Deviled eggs, espellette.  The Espellete Pepper is a variety of chili pepper that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette.  Here it is lightly ground atop smooth and silky deviled eggs giving it just a hint of heat.  If you are a fan of deviled eggs as I am, you must try these.

“Cuban Sandwich” pork, ham, homemade pickles, grain mustard, served with homemade potato chips.  Without question, this was the best version of this classic I have ever tasted.  My only complaint was that the appetizer sized sandwich disappeared much too quickly.  Ah, but I have the solution…a double order next time!

Forest Mushroom Ragout, Cheesy Grits, Rosemary Oil.  I guess you could call this the American version polenta with mushrooms.  Whatever you call it, color it absolutely delicious. An amazing combination of flavors and textures on the palate.

For entrées Carol enjoyed Braised Short Ribs with Charred Broccoli, Pearl Onions, Whipped Potatoes, braising jus.  Cooked to fork tender perfection, she enjoyed every forkful.

I was equally happy with my crisp and moist "Fish and Chips" made from Atlantic Cod and served with crispy house cut fries and a dill tartar sauce.  Comfort food simply does not get much better than this.

We also shared a classic rendition of that staple of comfort food, Mac & Cheese.  As I said earlier, Ariane is taking comfort food to a new level...and this dish exemplifies that statement.

As I am a big fan of wines, especially whites, from the Languedoc in the South of France, I immediately selected a bottle of 2013 Mas de Daumas Gassac Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Blanc ($28) from the Pays D'Herault appellation of the Languedoc to drink with our meal.  The wine is a white blend consisting of 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Clairette.  The wine was delicious, clean and crisp on the palate with bracing acidity, complexity and finesse and finished with considerable length. Often referred to as the Grand Cru of the Midi (South of France), the Mas de Daumas Gassac top-tier wines have reached international cult status. Located in the majestic Gassac Valley, the estate benefits from the cool microclimate derived from the Gassac River, several natural springs (from which the Guibert family drinks), and the influence of the nearby mountains. The soil that dominates the valley is a rare and still unexplained red, powder-fine glacial soil, which is strikingly similar to that found in the prime areas of Burgundy. This combination of characteristics is quite unique in Southern France. A screw cap wine that retails for about $11, I intend on adding some to my cellar.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the evening with her homemade Banana Cream Pie.

On our three subsequent visits enjoyed the following:

Pretzel bites with beer cheese dipping sauce.  Wow are these homemade soft pretzel morsels delicious.  I can envision an evening in the future when I am dinning alone and doing so at the AKB bar with theses pretzel bites, the Cuban sandwich and one of the artisanal draft beers served there.  Sorry, I was to busy devouring these to take a photo.

AKB Burger made with ½ lb. American Kobe Beef, fried green tomato, pickled shallots, cheddar cheese and harissa aioli.  Cooked to medium rare perfection this was juicy, tender and delicious.  A multi-napkin burger.  I was not crazy about the fried green tomato, but I think a slice of good old red tomato will go perfectly.  Carol had hers with house made French Fries, while I had mine with house made Jalapeño, cheddar tater tots, a grown up version of the classic tater tot.

Each night there is one pasta special and on one of these visits it was homemade Taglierini Carbonara.  Ariane adds some baby peas to her rendition, which is a fantastic interpretation of this Roman classic.  In my opinion it is the best pasta dish she makes and I only wish it were a menu staple.

The wine list turned up 3 more excellent wines at very reasonable prices.

2011 Produttori di Carema Nebbiolo Piedmont ($44).  From Northern Piedmont this is the normale bottling that drinks with the elegance and finesse of a fine Barolo or Barbaresco.  $20 retail. Wine-Searcher.

2012 Cascina Ca'Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont ($39).  We drank this along side the Produttori and it possessed the same elegance and finesse as the Carema, but with a bit more depth on the palate.  Both of the wines finished with good length.

2013 Foret des Dames Sancerre ($36).  This is a delicious, crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France.  A wonderful melange of acidity and wet stones on the palate made for a delicious quaff.  $15 retail.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in the area and have not yet been to AKB, treat yourself.  You will enjoy it.  Oh, tell them Mark and Carol sent you.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 Part 2 – Red & Rosé Wines

Wow, this post, part 2 of Recent Discoveries Under $40 is a bit late.  I hope you find it worth the wait.

If you like Rosé wines, here are four worth seeking out.  If you don’t like Rosé, these could well change your mind.

2012 Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé. A 24-grower cooperative located in the Alto Adige region of Italy, with a primary focus on white wine, the winemaking tradition at Terlano dates back more than 2,000 years. Located in the Dolomite Mountains, in the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive location and extraordinary terroir are the keys to the development of these stunning wines.  This glorious Rosé is an example.  It reminded me of Valentini Cerasuolo ant 1/4th the price tag. The wine has great depth and focus on the palate with a lengthy and seductive finish.  It is made from 100% Lagrein, a native red grape of Alto Adige, Italy.  One of the best Rosé’s I have ever had.  $18 New York Wine Warehouse.

The Cassis region of Provence in Southeastern France is located between Marseilles and Bandol on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and is known for it’s white and Rosé wines.  The wines are full-bodied with balanced acidity and enticing herbal bouquets.  They are inexpensive drink beautifully whether sipping by the pool, or accompanying fish.

2013 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rosé.  This is a grown-up Rosé.  It possesses a Salmon colored hue, intoxicating fruity bouquet and a round and delicious palate marked by superb acidity. The wine is a blend of Grenache (55%), Mourvedre (31%) and Cinsault (14%).  Of the 40,000 bottles produced each year, only 6000 are allocated to the US market.    $24 Wine Searcher.

2012 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé.  If I could only buy one Rosé, it would be this one.  One expects the great and expensive wines such as Barolo and Burgundy to evolve in the glass with each sip and seduce the palate in the process.  To expect this from a $30 Rosé may be asking a bit much, unless it is this wine.  That is what you get here.  It is everything the Bagnol is and then some.  The wine is comprised of the same grapes as the Bagnol, but in different percentages, 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvedre.  If you like Rosé, this is a must. $33 Wine Searcher.

Most people, when the hear Beaujolais usually think of Beaujolais Nouveau (Thanksgiving Wine).  I on the other hand think of Cru Beaujolais made by artisanal producers of the Loire Valley that craft glorious examples of the Gamay grape for a song.  I find them to be easy drinking wines with an earthy and peppery palate, good acidity, balance and the ability to age quite nicely.  Here are a few that I find to be amongst the top Cru Beaujolais produced.

2010 Thierry Puzelat VDT "Le Rouge est Mis"  $30
2010 Domaine des Billards Saint-Amour $20
2012 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie $20
2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py $35 

The commune of Chinon is located in France’s Loire Valley in the AOC appellation of Touraine.  The principal red grape of the area is Cabernet Franc.  Two of the regions’ iconic producers are Bernard Baudry and Olga Raffault.  Their wines are simply ethereal.  They can be approached relatively early upon release or held in the cellar for 2 or 3 decades. They possess a compelling bouquet of spicy laden soil, while on the palate the earthiness is complemented with pure fruit, soft tannins and a long elegant finish.  These are wines with soul at a bargain price.

2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine $17
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot $30
2009 Olga Raffault Chinon Champ Chenin $30
2005 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses $30

Readers of this blog know that I love Barolo and Barbaresco.  The Nebbiolo grape when produced in a traditional style by masters such as Conterno, Mascarello and Rinaldi provides a truly delicious and elegant wine experience.   The only negative(s) with these wines is that they are expensive and require 10+ years of aging on average before they can truly be enjoyed.  While I wait for these to mature I find that I can have my cake and eat it to by drinking Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  While these wines do not possess the profound depth of an aged Barolo or Barbaresco, they are round and delicious wines with lots of old world style.  They exhibit purity of fruit, complexity, balance, finesse and a gorgeous finish.  They also represent some of the best values in wine today, im my opinion.  Try these and see for yourself.

2009 Produttori dei Carema $18
2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva $27
2004 Petterino Gattinara $35
2010 Vallana Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana $22
2004 Vallana Gattinara $30

Here are a few from Piedmont that are made by outstanding Barolo producers that are also worth looking into.  Many top Barolo producers make small quantities of Freisa each year.  Indigenous to Piedmont, the Freisa grape has lots of character and is a terrific every day drinking wine.

2010 Cavallotto Langhe Freisa Bricco Boschis $22
2009 G.D. Vajra Freisa Kyé $38
2010 G.D. Vajra di Aldo Langhe 
Rosso $18
2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe $30
2012 Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga $19

Most of these wines are available locally.  I suggest using Wine-Searcher to locate them.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Our monthly wine group met last week at Sette Cucina, in Bernardsville, NJ.  The theme for the evening, selected by Jim, who also brought along the wines, was Sangiovese based wines from Chianti and Montalcino.  The 5 wines Jim selected all showed very well and Sette Owner Allan Russo created a meal that complemented the wines perfectly.

Sangiovese is the primary red grape of Chianti and Chianti Classico in Tuscany, while Sangiovese Grosso, a clone of Sangiovese, is the grape used in making Brunello di Montalcino, also in Tuscany.  Contrary to what “grosso” implies (large) the variety is medium to small in size, and produces wines of exceptional quality and depth.

We began the meal as we always do with chef’s version of Bruschetta and a plate of salumi followed by…

Roasted Shrimp atop Cabbage & Corn Compote
Pumpkin Ravioli w/Sage & Butter
Pork Osso Buco
2004 Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale.   Selvapiana, one of Chianti's historic properties, is a classic Tuscan Fattoria (farm) located in the Chianti Rufina zone east of Florence. The estate has a reputation of producing red wines of considerable terroir laden wines of capable of considerable.  Tonight’s wine had lively, deep hued fruit with a hint of spice. Tannins were soft on the palate, while there was sufficient acidity for another 10 – 15 years drinking.  I liked the finesse-laden finish the wine displayed.   At $35, this represents a spectacular value.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia DOCG.   Antonio Galloni writes, “There is not too much more I can say about the wines of Felsina and proprietor Giuseppe Mazzocolin, except that they are reference point wines for anyone who wants to discover the essence of contemporary Sangiovese from Chianti Classico”. Fèlsina produces one of the finest ranges of age worthy and complex Chianti bottlings in all of Italy. Unlike many of their neighbors, Fèlsina has never succumbed to the temptation to produce “new age” wines, and continues to grow solely Sangiovese here, rather than dabble with international-styled blends that include Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Tonight’s wine definitely backed up Galloni’s statement.   It had a silky, focused and elegant palate with a lengthy old-world earthy finish.  At $40 Rancia also happens to be one of the finest values in wine today. Wine-Searcher.

Approximately 35 miles south of the Chianti region lies Montalcino, where one of Italy's greatest wines is made,  Brunello di Montalcino.  Traditional as well as more modern style Brunellos are made here.  Tonight we tasted both.

1997 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.   The vineyards here are in the enviable position of being on the southern slopes of Montalcino, where some of the most prestigious Brunello comes from.  After the fermentation the wine is transferred to medium size oak barrels, where it remains for four years before being refined in the bottle for another year.

On the nose the wine was compelling, but seemed to feel tired on the palate, reminiscent of a wine that is approaching the last few years of its life.  While a pleasant wine, there was not a lot to get excited about.  $100.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione DOCG.  Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso harvested from the Piaggione and Teatro vineyards. After traditional fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of large French and Slavonian oak casks for 3 years, followed by a year in the bottle before release.

Tonight’s wine possessed an enticing bouquet of red berries with a soft and mildly complex palate.  I believe this would have benefitted from an hour or two of decanting to enable the fruit and finesse of the wine fully emerge.  $110.  Wine-Searcher.

1999 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso DOCG.  The "Pianrosso" Brunello di Montalcino is named after the vineyard of the same name. This single-vineyard bottling is what Ciacci's outstanding reputation was built upon and is only produced in the very best vintages. The wine is aged for 36 months in 20-62 hl Slavonian oak barrels, followed by a minimum of eight months' bottle ageing. Production is limited to 3,500 cases are produced annually!  The most modern of the Brunellos tonight, the estate has managed to bridge the gap between classic and contemporary styles gracefully.

The wine exhibited a ruby red hue in the glass with a complex and intense bouquet, while the palate displayed a full-bodied wine comprised of wonderful purity, complexity and focus. It finished with length and elegance.  Along with the Rancia, it was my favorite of the evening.  $70.  Wine-Searcher.

It was another wonderful evening with our group,  Terrific wines, thank you Jim, and great food, thank you chef Allan and Marc.

Saluté and Merry Christmas

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2008 Barolo

A couple of weeks ago my friend Emil and I joined 30+ Vinous premium subscribers for the Terroirs of Barolo - Masterclass Tasting & Dinner held at Bar Boulud in NYC. Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team put on the event.  As with previous events, it was a first class, high quality tasting that focused on 12 Baroli from the 2008 vintage.  A late harvest in 2008 produced a number of gracious, medium-bodied wines that are gorgeous examples of the feminine elegance the Nebbiolo grape embodies.  While many of the wines are approachable today, they have excellent acidity that will allow them to age gracefully for a couple of decades.

Before getting to the Baroli we began with 2012 Pattes Loup Chablis at the pre-dinner cocktail reception.  This as been one of my favorite Chablis' since I first tasted it last year.  The wine was pristinely pure with impeccable balance and acidity on the palate.  This is a great Chablis at a remarkable price ($40).  The only problem is that it is a highly allocated wine, and therefore not easy to come by.  Grapes The Wine Company.

Flight One

Squash Soup, Burnt Rosemary Cream, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole
G.B. Burlotto Barolo Cannubi
Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio

For my palate, the Vajra and Burlotto were where it was at.  Both were superb examples of traditional Barolo at its finest.  Both displayed great focus and finesse and the longer they sat in the glass, the more they continued to evolve. The finish for both was long and elegant.  While these can be enjoyed now,  I plan on letting mine sleep for 3 or 4 more years in the cellar.

Scavino and Voerzio have never been favorites of mine.  I found both to be too oaky and too modern on the palate.

Flight Two

Roasted Duck Breast Braised Leg, House Made Gnocchi, Root Vegetables

G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
Vietti Barolo Rocche
Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala
Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Mate

With the exception of the Cicala each of these wines drank with elegance, finesse and focus. The Vietti & the Grasso were, IMO, more open for business than the others in this flight.  The Cicala was closed and stayed that way throughout the evening.  The Monprivato had nice fruit, but it never fully blossomed.

Flight Three

Roasted Lamb Leg, Stuffed Lamb Belly, Confit Potato, Baby Leek, Hen of the Wood

Brovia Barolo Ca’Mia
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate-Le Coste

For me this was clearly the flight of the night.  Each of these wines drank with that old world elegance that places Barolo amongst the great wines of the world.  It is enough to say that these were simply round and delicious wines with tons of soul that will provide enjoyable drinking for a few decades.

I thought that the Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi were the absolute stars of the evening.   The interesting thing is that both of these wines were the only two that are made from the blending of fruit from different vineyards, while the others were single vineyard wines.

In addition to the wines it was great to meet fellow Barolo enthusiasts and Vinous subscribers. They, along with Antonio, are a great resource, especially if you like Barolo and Barbaresco.  Do yourself a favor and check out the Vinous site and add some 2008 Baroli to your cellar.  You will be happy you did!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wines of Cooperation

The theme for this year’s annual Notre Dame Church (North Caldwell, NJ) wine dinner fundraiser was Wines of Cooperation. The wines chosen for the evening were all made by Cooperatives, wineries that are comprised of small, artisan winemakers who own small plots of land, usually less than 1 hectare.  The small size of their estates precludes them from producing enough wine on their own to sustain themselves.   However, by “cooperating” with similar estates, they are able to pool their fruit and in turn produce remarkable wines.  Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Notre Dame's Pastor, chose the theme to emphasize that cooperation and respect for each other results in peace and harmony, something our world could use more of today.  The wines were selected by myself and Chris Cree, MW and provided by 56º Wine in Bearnardsville, NJ.  Once again the event was held at Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, NJ where Gregorio Polimeni and his staff did a terrific job with a delicious array of food to compliment the wines.

As is our custom, we began with the Tulipano superlative “Antipasti Hour”.   Fried Calamari, Baby Meatballs; Mini Bacon Cheeseburgers; Tuna Tartare; various cheeses, salamis and canapés were but a few of the highlights.

With the Antipasti we selected a white and a red from two cooperatives in the Vallée d’Aoste region of Northern Italy.

Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi 2013
La Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative started by the state government of Vallée d’Aoste in 1983.  It is located at the very foot of Mont Blanc.  The Vini Estremi, the estate's flagship wine, is made from 100% Prié Blanc from the oldest, ungrafted vines (40-100 years old) grown on the rocky mountain hillsides near Morgex.  The grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and aged in stainless steel tanks for 6 months.  Reminiscent of un-oaked Chardonnay, the wine possessed excellent depth, complexity and a lovely minerality on the palate.  At  $19 a bottle, this represents great value.

La Crotta di Vegneron Chambave Rosso 2013
Located 30 miles east of Morgex et de La Salle is the small, 10 grower cooperative La Crotta di Vegneron in the village of Chambave.  This co-op emphasizes classic and stunning expressions of the individual terroirs of tiny sub-appellations (Chambave and Nus) that would otherwise be left undiscovered due to the tiny patchwork of vineyard holdings in these villages. Although there is a history of grape growing in this region since the 1200’s, many of the vineyards were abandoned in the decades after WWII. They risked total extinction until the 1970’s, when the Italian government stepped in to help rebuild many of these small cooperative wineries to preserve the heritage of these vineyards.

The winemaking philosophy is one that respects the underlying terroirs and indigenous varietals of the region. Although there is some barrel aging used on some of the wines, new oak is kept to a bare minimum. The grapes are all hand-harvested, and all the red wines are fermented with natural yeasts to help emphasize their individual expression.  Tonight’s Chambave Rosso was a blend of Petite Rouge, Gamay  and Pinot Noir.  The wine fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then spends 6 months on the lees in steel with frequent batonnage (stirring). The wine is aged in stainless steel.  Tonight’s wine had a ruby red hue, earthy and spicy bouquet, good complexity on the palate with a terrific balanced acidity that will allow this to drink well for at least another decade.  $20.  

Our sit down dinner began with Shrimp Scampi with Spinach Mashed Potatoes, paired with a delicious Italian Chardonnay and Italian Rosé from Cantina Terlano.

Cantina Terlano Chardonnay 2013
Cantina Terlano is a 24 grower cooperative located in the Alto Adige region of Italy, with a primary focus on white wine. The winemaking tradition at Terlano dates back more than 2,000 years. Mild, Mediterranean type microclimatic conditions impart unique characteristics to the wines. Located in the Dolomite Mountains, in the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive location and extraordinary terroir are the keys to the development of these stunning wines.  Manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.

Tonight’s wine drank very well. It began with a sparkling straw yellow hue, and a bouquet of exotic fruits and citrus.  The palate was fresh and harmonious and the finish had a wonderful stony elegance.  $19.

Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé 2013

This spectacular deep pink-hued Rosé is crafted from the indigenous Lagrein grape. The crafting of the wine includes manual harvest and selection of the grapes; gentle whole cluster pressing and clarification of the must by natural sedimentation; slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks, aging on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.  The resulting wine is a full-bodied Rosé with aromas of raspberries and strawberries and a harmonious fruity palate marked by splendid acidity.  $18.

Two perfectly cooked pastas (sorry no pics), Fusilli with Garlic, Oil, Anchovy, Parsley and Penne with Tomato, Eggplant, &, Fontina Cheese, were served in tandem following the scampi, and paired with two Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  Over the past couple of years I have become a big fan of these wines.  They are very approachable early in their life and exhibit the same elegant palate as their Barolo and Barbaresco big brothers and sell for a fraction of the price.  So while I wait for my Barolo and Barbaresco to mature, I often enjoy these wines.

Produttori dei Carema Reserve 2009
This producer of top quality Nebbiolo is located in Torino in the utmost northwestern region of Piedmont. Created in 1960, they are a small cooperative divided amongst 45 growers in this small, remote region. Each grower rarely owns more than 1 hectare, most having only ½ hectare. The D.O.C. Carema, established in 1967, sits on an incredibly mountainous swath of land bordering the Valle d’Aosta. The climate is cold and quite windy here, resulting in grapes that are slow to ripen, and wines that are light garnet in color.  The wines are 100% Nebbiolo from the local clones nebbiolo spanna, picutener, meaning “tender stem” and pugnet, meaning “fist-like,” a reference to the compact shape of the bunches. The minimum aging requirement for these wines is 4 years, of which two years have to pass in large oak or chestnut botti.   The 2009 is reminiscent of a young Villages Burgundy in color, femininity, freshness and elegance. The wine exhibited terrific balance, perfume and complexity on the palate, and will drink well for another 10 years at least. The reserve is subjected to an aging period of not less than 4 years of which at least 30 months in large oak barrels and one year in bottle.  An absolutely stunning value at $27.

Ar.Pe.Pe Valtellina Superiore Grumello Riserva “Rocca de Piro”  DOCG 2006
Ar.Pe.Pe. (short for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, founder of the estate) is an historic and well-regarded traditional cooperative estate in the Valtellina, a mountainous region of northwestern Italy that borders Switzerland. These steep, south facing mountain vineyards produce beautifully restrained styles of Nebbiolo that are aged in old chestnut barrels and released when the wines are ready to drink.  Tonight’s wine needed a bit more breathing time, but provided a wonderful example of the finesse and precision the Nebbiolo grape is capable of attaining. A delicious medium-bodied Nebbiolo with a delicate and graceful palate and lengthy, elegant finish. The wine is aged for a number of years in large, old oak followed by a number of years in bottle before release. It displayed good acidity that should allow it to age and improve for at least another 5 – 6 years.  $50.

Entrée choices included:

Fresh Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Chicken Foresteria, French cut chicken breast, Swiss Cheese, Proscuitto, Mushroom Sauce

Vitello Pizziola, Escallop of Veal, Tomatoes, White Wine 

The dinner wines were two Barbaresco Riserva bottlings from Produttori Del Barbaresco – Piedmont, Italy

Founded in 1958, the priest of the village of Barbaresco, recognizing that the only way small properties could survive was by joining their efforts, gathered together nineteen small growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco. From its humble beginnings making the first three vintages in the church basement, Produttori del Barbaresco has grown to a 56 member co-operative with 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation and an annual production of over 500,000 bottles. Its vineyards amount to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area. Each member is in full control of their land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with the skill and dedication they have honed over generations.  In a good vintage they are divided between Barbaresco blend (40%), single vineyard Barbarescos (40%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

The grapes are grown in clay soil at 200 to 400 meters above sea level (650-1300 feet) on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills in southern Piedmont. Clay soil is rich in limestone. Varying concentrations of limestone and sandy veins in the soil of each slope give different characteristics (or cause variations in) to each different crop.

The must ferments at 28°C (80°F) in stainless steel vats for two to three weeks before it is racked and kept in vats until next September. The wine is then barrel aged for one to two years and rests in bottles for six months before release.  Wine enthusiasts all agree that Prudottori wines are simply one of the best values for high quality wine, especially Barbaresco, available anywhere in the world.  $50. 

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora  DOCG 2009
The consensus wine of the night, it possessed fantastic depth and richness on the palate with a long, seductive and elegant finish.  As I like to say, this was a completely round and delicious wine with lots of soul!

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo  DOCG 2009
A slight step behind was the Rio Sordo.  Dark cherries soared on the palate.  This was a voluptuous wine with great focus and intensity that is probably a year or two away from matching the beauty of the Riserva Pora.

The final wine of the evening, Isole e Olena Vin Santo 2005, was served with assorted Italian Desserts, Espresso, Coffee, Tea. This spectacular Tuscan dessert wine is a blend of 65% Malvasia Bianca and 35% Trebbiano that is aged 6 years in French and Chestnut barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Only 200 cases of the wine are made annually.  It is one of the greatest examples of Vin Santo wine produced today.  The estate, run by Paolo De Marchi and his family, is not a cooperative.  However,  since Vin Santo means “holy wine”, it seemed a great choice to conclude the evening with.

The production of real Vin Santo is a painstaking and costly procedure. Individual bunches of grapes are hand selected prior to the general harvest. Each bunch must be loosely formed and be of excellent quality in order to avoid the formation of mold during the long drying process. The bunches are hung to dry either on wooden poles or reed trays locally known as “cannicci”. They are stored in a dry, well-ventilated spot until the sugar level of the grapes reaches a minimum of 35°Brix.  The must, which is almost as thick as honey, is placed in oak and chestnut barrels of varying size. The barrels are filled 3⁄4 full and are then sealed with wax. A small deposit of Vin Santo, affectionately called “mother”, which remains from previous vintages triggers the beginning of fermentation. The barrels are left unopened for 6 years preferably in attic rooms where the room temperature is allowed to follow the cycle of the seasons. The summer heat favors fermentation while the winter cold slows the fermentation and allows the Vin Santo to naturally clarify itself.  The yield of wine from the grapes is exceptionally low due to the drying process and the long fermentation period. A common yield can be as low as 25 liters from 100 kilos of grapes as compared to 70 liters for a normal still wine.

Amber in color, the wine exhibited great complexity on the palate and finished with a nectar-like viscous elegance.  Truly an amazing wine and a great value at $40 for a 375ml bottle.

Fr. Anthony Randazzo
While it was a fantastic evening, it was also a bit of a sad one for those of us who are parishioners of Notre Dame, as Fr. Anthony's tenure at Notre Dame will conclude in February of next year.  We will all miss his leadership, genuineness and compassion.  We wish him well when he is assigned a new parish.  Our loss will be their gain. 

I would like to thank Fr. Anthony for his inspiration and friendship over the past 18 years; the wine dinner committee (pictured below) who worked hard to make this our most successful fund raiser of the four we did; Gregorio Polimeni and staff at Il Tulipano for terrific food and service; Gene Urban, Impressive Impressions, for capturing the event with his fantastic photography; The Scudiery Family Foundation for donating the wines and to all those who attended the event.

Wine Committee Members Angelos, Fiores, Loffredos, Perinis, Violas, Wilcomes
Arlene Catanzano (standing at left)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Tis The Season…for White Truffles

This is the time of year that White Truffles from Alba, Italy make their appearance at many of the better restaurants in NYC and NJ.  According to Wikipedia a truffle is “the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus.”  Now I must admit that does not sound inviting or appetizing...at least not until you take one whiff of this most expensive culinary delight (about $175 an ounce this year).  The aroma is orgasmic, and when shaved atop the right foods, the dish is elevated to a whole new culinary level.   The right foods for me are fresh eggs, fresh pasta such as Tagliolini, Risotto, potatoes and soft polenta.

Every year, along with a friend or two, I head for lunch at Esca in NYC, as I did with Emil on Monday to indulge in a couple of my favorite preparations. We began with soft scrambled eggs with copious amounts of shaved truffles. Chef/co-owner David Pasternack (Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich are the other owners) is THE MASTER of this dish.  I spent the first minute just inhaling the aroma of the truffles before diving into this perfectly prepared dish.  Eggs with truffles are my favorite way of enjoying this sublime decadence.

For our main course, more truffles of course. This time we had them atop fresh, homemade Tagliolini pasta, sauced simply with a bit of butter and Parmigianno Reggiano cheese. Another brilliant combination and perfect example of the magnificence of a few fresh ingredients simply prepared to perfection.  

While many wines, such as Barolo, Barbaresco or White Burgundy would have paired beautifully with these dishes, we selected a bottle of 2009 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano from the Abruzzo region of Italy. This earthy white wine, made from the Trebbiano grape (Italy's most widely planted grape), thad a beautiful light orange hue, a delicate nose, excellent complexity with terrific focus, balance and earthiness on the palate and a long, seductive finish.  We decanted the bottle and it evolved beautifully throughout the lunch.  I suggest you decant this wine for an hour or two as it is still quite young.  It should provide enjoyment for a couple of decades to come.

A staunch traditionalist, Pepe, crushes the grapes in wooden tubs by foot in order to avoid the contact between the iron presses and the acids of the fruit.  The grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  $72.  Wine Searcher.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red Wines of Southern France

Our monthly wine group was treated this month to five different and very nice red wines from three of the wine regions in the South of France.  I find the wines of this area, especially the reds, to be quite distinctive in character and marked by a peppery Mediterranean flair.  Marc selected the wines as well as The Pluckemin Inn to have the tasting at.  As I have praised the food at the Pluckemin in previous posts, I will focus this time on only the wines.  Suffice it to say that the food was excellent as always.  A search of my Blog will provide more info as well as photos of the food from previous posts.

The Rhone wine region is situated in the Rhone River Valley in Southern France.  It is further divided into two sub-regions, The Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.  The Northern Rhone Valley is known for red wines primarily made from the Syrah grape.   French wine law does allow for up to 20% of white wine grapes such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne to be added. Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Saint Joseph are the appellations of Northern Rhode red wines.

The Southern Rhone Valley is principally known for its Châteauneuf du Pape.  While thirteen grapes, eight red and five white, are allowed by law to be blended when making the wine, Grenache and Mourvedre are the primary grapes used by many estates.  Other appellations of note are Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Below the Southern Rhone Valley, at the most Southern tip of France is the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  In addition to the traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are grown here.

Southern Rhone

2009 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape la Bernardine.  Made from 100% Grenache this was decidedly the most modern styled wine of the evening.  I found the fruit to be a bit muted and a bit light on the palate compared to the others, but a good wine for the price.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.  

In the opinion of many, myself included, Chateau Rayas is the iconic producer of wine in the Southern Rhone. The estate is but ten-hectares, and is located in the heart of the woods where the vines are planted in a very poor, sandy soil that produces wines with great finesse.   The wines from the estate are among the most sought after wines from the region, if not the entire world. They are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.   The estate, today run by Jacques Reynaud’s nephew, Emmanuel, also owns Chateau Fonsalette, which is located just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.  

The estate produces three wines, a Blanc, a Rouge and a 100% Syrah, all of which are superb. Marc brought along a 2004 Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve.  While some might consider this a “second” wine to Rayas CdP or Pignan CdP, I do not.  In my opinion this is simply the finest example of a Cotes du Rhone red I have ever tasted.  What a soulful wine it was.  A blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah the wine had a magnificent earthy and herbal bouquet with vibrant fresh fruit and a peppery backend.  The wine was completely round and delicious and at $55 (about 1/4th the price of Rayas and ½ the price of Pignan) it's a sensational bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Chateau Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape.  The grapes for the CdP wines at Rayas come from their three vineyards, Le Couchant, Le Levant and Le Coeur. Like his magnificant Chateau Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Riserve, the wine is made from 100% Grenache.  Rayas chooses to harvest late so that he has ripe fruit for his wines.  It is a philosophy that produces completely round and delicious wines.   The bouquet from tonight’s wine exploded from the glass and on the palate was full-bodied with great balance, ripe fruit and soft tannins.  The wine was stunningly delicious and elegant with a 45+ second finish.  $115.  Wine-Searcher.

Northern Rhone

1999 Francois Villard Cote Rotie la Brocarde.   This Syrah based wine includes 10% Viognier from Cote Brune in the blend.  The wine is aged in 80% new oak for 18 months before being bottled without filtration.  The oak was very well integrated, as I would have guessed for a 15 year old wine.  I found it to be medium-bodied, with a pleasant palate and decent finish, but not worth today’s price of $106.  Wine-Searcher.


1998 Domaine de la Grange des Peres VDP de l’Herault. The wines of Laurent Vaillé have achieved cult wine status. Having spent his early career training under such masters as Jean-François Coche-Dury (Meursault), Gérard Chave (Hermitage), and Eloi Durrbach (Domaine Trévallon, Provence), he settled in the l’Hérault of the Languedoc and purchased his own land in 1989.  

The wine we drank tonight was a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cunoise.  The grapes are harvested and vinified separately and then aged in 228-L barrels separately before Vaillé decides at a later date in what proportions to blend them. Tonight’s wine had a dark red hue and intoxicating earthy bouquet.  The palate was balanced, full-bodied with hints of pepper and herbs and soft tannins that made for a nice finish. $200.  Wine-Searcher.

I believe that the consensus of opinion was that the Rayas wines tonight were the hit of a very, very good tasting.  Thanks for a great selection Marc.