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, May 18, 2014

Italy’s Rising Stars

Natale and Tony Grande
This past Monday I once again hosted a Gourmet Wine dinner to benefit the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey (HANJ).  It had been more than a year since the last event as the wines I wanted to serve took some time to locate and confirm in sufficient quantity. My thanks to Jeff Goldstern of The New York Wine Warehouse for procuring all the wines and providing them at a discounted price for the event.

Great wine is only part of the equation for this event.  The wines must be complemented by exceptional food to be truly appreciated and vice versa.  Thus it is imperative that I extend my sincere thanks once again to Tony Grande (owner), Natale Grande (Executive Chef), Salvatore Le Rose (Maitre'd/Wine Director) and the very professional staff of Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ for once again fulfilling their part of the equation.

This year’s event netted more than $40,000 bringing our total to somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 since my first dinner about 20 years ago.  I want to thank all of my friends, coagulation manufacturers and home care companies whose financial support makes this remarkable event possible.  As for HANJ, I have always said that if I had hemophilia or a child with hemophilia and I did not live in NJ, I would move here to have access to their support.  Led by Executive Director Elena Bostick and her committed staff, HANJ has accomplished more for families that live with hemophilia than any other state in the country.  Once again hats of to you and the hemophilia treatment centers that mange the medical needs of the community.

Since my last dinner featured the wines of perhaps Italy’s greatest winemaker, Giuseppe Quintarelli, this year posed a challenge.  When it comes to wine, especially Italian wine, there is no better person to turn to than Antonio Galloni.  I think it would be fair to say that Antonio has emerged as the world’s most knowledgeable and respected wine writer.  His website, Vinous Media, not quite a year old, has subscribers in more than 50 countries.  The site is loaded with great information and boasts the best bulletin board for members to share ideas and notes with one another.  If you are a wine lover, please check it out.

I am fortunate to be able to call Antonio a friend, so I turned to him for suggestions for this year’s event.  He happily obliged, “why don’t you showcase the wines of Italy’s rising stars?” he suggested.  What a great idea, especially since he was willing to suggest the winemakers.   So that’s what I did.  With the help of Jeff Goldstern as noted above I was able to “make it happen!” (And yes, all the wines are available for purchase from Jeff).  Had Antonio not been hosting his own event in London, England on the same evening, he would have joined us.

Cocktail Hour

Tony and Natale Grande have elevated the very predictable cocktail hour found at most functions to new levels with pristinely fresh ingredients cooked to perfection and served with an Italian flair.   They say a picture is worth 1000 words, so I will allow the pictures taken by Master Photographer, Gene Urban, owner of Impressive Impressions to do the talking.

Linguine with Veal Meatballs
Beef Meatballs
Smoked Salmon Canapés w/Capers
Pollo (chicken) Alceto e Vino Bianco
Rack of Baby Lamb Chops Scottapipa
Gamberi all'Americani
Fried Zucchini Flowers stuffed with fresh Ricotta
Not pictured are Zucchini Fritelle (fried zucchini cakes) and chunks of Parmigianno Reggion Cheese which rounded out this amazing array of appetizers.

With the appetizers we enjoyed Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco 2010 (White label).  This bottling is the estate’s entry level wine and is drawn from barrels that weren't used for the higher-end Studio di Bianco bottling.  A blend of Tocai, Sauvignon, Riseling and a touch of Malvasia, this was a knockout wine. It possessed a fantastic sparkling light yellow hue, enormous bouquet with a pure, focused and fresh palate and magnificent finish.  $38.  New York Wine Warehouse

Located on the hillsides near Gorzia in the DOC Collio area in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, founder and winemaker Nicola Manferrari has been producing some of the most compelling Italian white wines the country has ever seen since 1981.  To highlight the influence of the terroir (marl and sandstone soil) the grapes from each plot are kept separate in the winemaking process. All Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel. Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges of wines; the white labels are considered the entry and mid-tier wines, while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selections.

The red that Antonio suggested with the appetizers was Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino 2010. Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are fermented with natural yeasts in large wooden vats for one month.  The wine was then aged for 21 months in medium-sized oak followed by 7 months in the bottle before release.  About 12,000 bottles are produced.  The wine had a compelling and earthy bouquet with a complex and pure palate.  Tannins are beginning to soften and the wine finished with considerable length. This wine will give many of the more pricey Brunellos a run for the money.  $40.  New York Wine Warehouse.

Stella di Campalto is a recently resuscitated estate in the rolling hills of Brunello di Montalcino, that was purchased by the di Campalto family in 1992.  The estate comprises just under thirteen and a half hectares in total, with five and a half currently committed under vine. The head of the family winery is the lovely Stella di Campalto, who has overseen the winemaking and viticulture since 1992, and has practiced certified organic farming here since 1996. In 2002 the estate went a step further in natural viticultural practices and began practicing biodynamic farming as well.

Dinner - Appetizer

We began the sit down dinner with Insalata di Pesce al Dragoncello, a cold seafood salad of Shrimp, Squid, and fresh Crabmeat with Fresh Tarragon.  I could taste the sea with each tender and delicious bite.  This was paired with Borgo del Tiglio Tocai Ronco della Chiesa 2010 (Green label).  While this may not have been a match made in heaven, it certainly is was a match made for

fresh seafood.  Made from 100% Tocai Friulano grapes, the wine displayed fantastic balance and wonderful, bracing acidity. On the palate it was crisp, pure, focused and evolved with each sip and had a delicious finish.   Selezioni, (the top selection bottling) it is only made in good years.  Only 3000 bottles were produced in 2010. This wine can last for another decade at least.  $60. New York Wine Warehouse.

Dinner - Pasta

The classic Roman pasta dish, Rigatoni all’Amatriciana followed the seafood salad.  Most people believe that “amatriciana” comes from Amatrice, a tiny town in the mountains bordering Abruzzo about 100 miles from Rome.  Some Romans however claim that the dish is truly alla matriciana, developed by Romans and that Amatrice had nothing to do with it.  Whatever one believes, the version from Natale Grande is nothing short of spectacular, consisting of double smoked guanciale (pork jowl) sweet tomatoes, onions, and the sharp, salty kick of pecorino cheese.  The wines we drank were traditionally made Nebbiolo gems from the 2009 vintage.

G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2009.  Situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo, the estate was established in 1972.  This under the radar producer of traditional Barolo makes some of the most consistently high quality and affordable wines produced anywhere.  The wine tonight had a beautiful translucent red hue, huge earthy bouquet, a completely seductive palate of complex, focused and balanced fruit and had a delicate and elegant 45 second finish.  I believe it was the consensus wine of the night, I know it was for me. $30 (amazing value here).  NY Wine Warehouse.

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco Ovello 2009.  Proprietor and winemaker Renato Vacca is to quote Antonio Galloni, “Making some of the most compelling wines in Piedmont today…Vacca is one of the most promising producers among the younger generation in Barbaresco.”  This was my first experience with this producer and it was a good one. Like most of the wines of this vintage it was medium-bodied, but displayed terrific balance, finesse and vibrant fruit.  While this is drinking well, it will only get better with a bit more time in the cellar and represents a great value for the money.  $47.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Dinner - Entrée

Our entrée was a tender and delicious Osso Buco di Maiale (Roasted Pork Shank with Yukon Gold Garlic Mashed Potatoes).  The photo below says it all about this stunning dish. We enjoyed two Tuscan gems with the dish.

Podere Forte Guardavigna 2009.  Located near Sienna in the Val d”Orcia region of Southern Tuscany, Pasquale Forte is crafting some of the region’s most sought after wines.  Biodynamic farming, attention to detail are a hallmark of the estate.  I had an opportunity to taste this wine a couple of week’s prior at a tasting in NYC. This is a full-bodied wine marked by firm tannins, intensified fruit, breadth and a bit of oak, which I believe will become integrated as the wine matures. It is a made from blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  $104.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Pian dell’Orino Brunello di Montalcino 2008.  One of the shining stars in Brunello di Montalcino, the estate is located right next door to the most famous name in Brunello history, Biondi Santi.   The wines ferment on their indigenous yeasts gently and thoroughly before being aged in a combination of barriques and large botti for one to several years prior to bottling, depending on the wine.  I found this to be balanced, full of finesse with a delightful harmonious elegance on the palate.  A very good Brunello for the money.  $78.  NY Wine Warehouse.

We finished this incredible meal with a cheese course of Parmigianno Reggiano & Gorgonzola Dolce and...

...an incredible Pannatone Bread Pudding that was paired with two Amarone wines from the Veneto Rgion of Italy.  

Amarone is a rich Italian dry red wine made from a blend of Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella grapes that are harvested ripe in the first two weeks of October.  The grapes are then allowed to dry, traditionally on straw mats for 120 days, so that they basically become raisins with a highly concentrated sugar content.  A bit higher in alcohol than most Italian red wines, the balance of sweetness and dryness the process yields can be a beguiling experience. 

Marion Amarone della Valpolicella 2008.  Proprietors Stefano and Nicoletta Campedelli tend to their wines in this small family-run business with maniacal passion, and that attention to detail that comes through in spades in these wines.  Celestino Gaspari who was the wine maker at Quintarelli for 20 years is the winemaker here.  This was a delicious Quintarelli-like traditional Amarone with gorgeous ripe fruit, impeccable balance, focus and depth on the palate.  Simply put it is a round and delicious wine that soars from the glass with each sip.  $75.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Roccolo Grassi Amarone della Valpolicella 2008. Bruno Sartori established this relatively new estate, named after its most important vineyard Roccolo Grassi, in 1996. The estate makes their wine with a combination of new and old world techniques, and thus their red wines are more similar in style to Dal Forno Romano than Quintarelli.  The wine is aged carefully in selected large French Barriques and some Slovenian oak casks for 26 months.  While this was a good wine, the oak interferes with its elegance in my opinion.  If you like Dal Forno Romano Amaraone, here it is at about 1/4tr the cost.  $71.  NY Wine Warehouse.

Since we did not consume all the wine at the dinner, I decided to auction off what was left.  The group enthusiastically supported the idea and in less than 10 minutes we raised an additional $2800 fro HANJ.

Executive Director Elena Bostick was the successful bidder for the 2009 Podere Forte Guardavigna .

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to making this event a huge success all around.  See you next year!