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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Quintessential Quintarelli

It had been a couple of months since our wine group met for dinner.  We rectified that last evening with a delightful dinner and some spectacular wines at one of our favorite stops, The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ.  The wine service, under the direction of Wine Director Brian Hider, is always superb.  Brian maintains one of the best and most reasonably priced wine cellars of any restaurant in New Jersey.  He is also accommodating to wine groups such as ours by allowing us to bring in our own wines for these type dinners.  Brian we all thank you once again.

It was Emil's  turn to provide the wine, and boy did he do it in spades with five bottles of wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli.  There is a reason the photo on the right side of this page is of me with Quintarelli.  In my opinion his wines are simply in a class by themselves.  They are my “dessert island” wines.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Quintarelli estate and meeting the man himself in March of 2007 along with three wine loving friends. It remains one of my fondest wine memories. I was in awe of the humble and gentle nature of the man and the simplicity of his estate. He set his standards very high and rigidly adhered to them and as a result all of the wines he put his name on provide an incredible wine tasting experience. He was emphatic about the art of wine and that it cannot be manufactured in a lab. He was quoted as saying, “The fundamental problem in wine today is that too many producers ‘hurry’ to make their wines: they hurry the fruit in the vineyard and they hurry the vinification and rush to bottle. They rush to sell their product without allowing it the proper time to age. Patience – this is the most important attribute in winemaking. Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.” This is the essence of Quintarelli. While there was concern about the estate after he passed away in January of 2012, the estate is back on track and in what appears to be the very capable hands of his grandson Francesco.

The wines of Quintarelli do not come cheaply, but then very few things of exceptional quality do. Drinking these wines is always an experience, and for someone trying them for the first time, it may very well seem like a life changing experience, at least as it relates to wine.  Every wine they make is impeccably balanced and focused.  They are completely round and delicious.

2011 Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco Veronese.  The only white wine Quintarelli makes, it is an artful blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect).  The wine leaped from the glass with an enticing floral bouquet and a brisk and round palate.  Like all Quintarelli wines, it continued to evolve in the glass and it finished with considerable length.  $48.  Wine Searcher.

1994 Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo Rosso.  Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (or house of the blackbird) relies upon the same varietal composition as the Valpolicella (Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella) made through the ripasso method. One difference is the Ca’ del Merlo is aged longer in large wood vessels and comes from a hilltop single vineyard. While balanced, complex and pure on the palate, the fruit has begun to wane.  In my opinion it is time to drink this up.

2002 Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi.  This wine is only made in vintages when Giuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price.  It is an amazing wine, lacking only some of the richness one finds in his Amarone.  This bottle was outstanding with a gorgeous earthy bouquet that flowed from the glass energizing the senses to what you were about to taste.  On the palate it displayed that impeccable balance of alcohol and pure fruit that is the trademark of Quintarelli wines.  Its 45 second finish left me smacking my lips.  Truly a wine with soul!  $190.  Wine Searcher.

2003 Quintarelli Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico.  While I have this vintage in my cellar, this was my first taste of the wine.  It was classic Quintarelli Amarone.  The fruit soared from the glass with great finesse and focus.  It is very hard to describe these wines other than to say they are delicious and an unbelievable wine drinking experience. In my opinion the Quintarelli Amarone, both the classico and riserva, set the standard for this type of wine. $340.  Wine Searcher.

2001 Quintarelli Alzero.  Made from predominantly Cabernet Franc in the “Amarone” style, this is quite simply one of the greatest wine accomplishments of the world.  I have been fortunate to taste a number of vintages of the wine, and each one leaves me breathless as this one did tonight.  It is impossible to describe the magnificence of this wine.  Each sip evolves and soars from the glass and then dances on the palate before finishing with ridiculous length and elegance.  It must be tasted to appreciate it.  I guarantee that one sip will dazzle your senses.  The only negative is the $400+ price tag.   Wine Searcher.

Thank you again Emil for your generosity in bringing these remarkable wines to dinner.  It was a most memorable evening.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Las Vegas Food & Wine

Just returned from a week in Vegas where, along with my two son-in-laws, we played in the WSOP (world series of poker).  It was quite an experience.  6800+ entrants registered for the event. It is a long and grueling event, with each day consisting of five, two-hour levels of poker. While we did not reach the “money”, for our first time we did quite well.  The boys made it to day two, while I managed to last until day three before being eliminated.

While we were playing in the event at the Rio Hotel and Casino,  my wife and daughter and her two children (grandchildren), Mia and Nicholas, enjoyed the pool at the Bellagio Hotel.  We all had a terrific time, especially Mia and Nicholas.  The food was quite good, although the wine lists at most of the restaurants at the Bellagio left a bit to be desired.

Todd English’s Olive’s – Bellagio Hotel
Foie Gras
Chilean Sea Bass
Before opening his first Olive’s in Charlestown, Mass. in 1989, Todd English was the chef at Michela's in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I used to travel to Boston quite a bit in the 1980’s and whenever I did I would go to Michela’s.  The food was superb traditional Italian fare.  I still remember my first experience at Olive’s in Charlestown. I had one of those memorable meals that forever stays with you, homemade Papparadelle with rabbit meatballs.    They may well have been the best meatballs I ever had. But that was a long time ago, so let’s fast forward to Olive’s in Vegas.   Our meal consisted of Foie Gras with fresh figs and port wine reduction, Chilean Sea Bass over Creamy Risotto and Brick Roasted Free Range Chicken.  While all were very good, they were not quite up to the food I remember from Michela’s or the original Olive’s.  The children's spaghetti with tomato sauce however was very good and was quickly devoured by both Mia and Nicholas.

As I mentioned earlier, the wine lists here were on the weak side.  I was however pleasantly surprised with a bottle of 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from E. Guigal.  This entry level CdP Is made from purchased juice and is aged two years in foudre prior to release.  It is usually made from 90% old vine Grenache and 10% Mourvedre.  This medium-bodied wine possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue and ripe fruit.  It had excellent balance, a bit of complexity and a rather lengthy finish.  $55.  Wine Searcher.

Michael Mina – Bellagio Hotel
On Tuesday evening (WSOP day off) after we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” at the Aria Hotel, Carol and I took our son-in-law Andy for a birthday dinner at Michael Mina, where we had a very enjoyable meal.  The restaurant also had the best wine list of the restaurants we ate at during our stay at the Bellagio.  I began with a glass of 2013 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio, DOC.  Terlano, a wine cooperative in Alto Adige, Italy makes some of the most amazing white wines I have ever tasted. This wine, like all of their wines, is produced from a 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, and aged on the lees in steel tanks for 5-7 months.  It was crisp, clean with a bracing acidity and a terrific finish.  A great value at under $20 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

With dinner we enjoyed a terrific bottle of 2009 Domaine Des Comtes Lafon Volnay.  Made from young vines in Santenots, the fruit was glorious and danced on the palate before finishing with length and elegance.  $86.  Wine Searcher.  Our dinner choices included, Hamachi Sashimi, Ponzu Glaze, Yuzu Vinaigrette, Micro Shiso; Phyllo Crusted DoverSole, Crab Brandade; Colorado Rack of Lamb, Glazed Ricotta Gnudi, Tagine Vegetables, Lamb Jus and New York Strip Steak with Mashed Potatoes.  Each dish was prepared and presented with exceptional culinary skill.

Phyllo Crusted Dover Sole
Martorano’s – Rio Hotel
My son-in-law Nick and I were still alive on Wednesday, day two of the WSOP, which meant we would have a 90 minute dinner break at the Rio Hotel.   We decided to test the claim made by Steve Martorano, owner/chef of Martorano’s Restaurant, regarding his old-school Italian food and “the best meatball in town.  I must say I was impressed with my Spaghetti and Meatballs. The meatball (enormous in size) was moist, tender and very tasty.  It had the right balance of wet bread to meat making it very good indeed.  The spaghetti was cooked al dente and the tomato sauce was the real deal.  Nick opted for Eggplant Parmesan, every morsel of which he finished.  Since we were still playing poker, I opted for a single glass of a 2010 Dr. Loosen Riesling that I enjoyed very much.  It had a very good balance of alcohol and residual sugar. On the palate it was clean and focused.  An outstanding value at around $12 a bottle.  Wine Searcher.

Fix – Bellagio Hotel
On Thursday evening we all went to the Cirque Du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio.  A very enjoyable show, although I enjoyed the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zarkana” a bit more.  After the show we all went to Fix next door for a light late night dinner.  The restaurant focuses on American classics such as Buffalo wings and Angus Beef Sliders, both of which went great with ice-cold beer.

Jasmine – Bellagio Hotel
Friday, our last evening in Vegas, found us at Jasmine where we had the highlight meal of the week.  This upscale Cantonese, Szechwan and Hunan restaurant offers a spectacular view to the famous Fountains Water Show at the Bellagio as well as some of the most authentic and delicious Chinese food I have ever tasted.  In combination with terrific wine and food service, we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

Hot and Sour Soup.  I believe it was Craig Claiborne who said the indication of a great Chinese restaurant is if they know how to make Hot and Sour Soup.  My experience over the years is consistent with Mr. Claiborne’s claim.  I am a fanatic for this spicy soup and the preparation at Jasmine was equal to any I have had before, a perfect balance of spices and heat.  I knew after just one spoonful that we were in store for a great meal.

My family loves Vegetable Spring Rolls.  Those served at Jasmine, (no photo) were greaseless, crunchy and exuding flavor.  They were served with a Sweet Hawthorn Berry Sauce.  A double order was quickly gone.

Mia and Nicholas thoroughly enjoyed their favorite Chinese dish, Chicken with Broccoli in a brown sauce.  While this was not a menu item, the restaurant quickly accommodated their wish for the dish.  Their dad happily dug into Wok Fried Prime Beef Filet with Black Pepper Sauce and Bok Choy.  A meat and potatoes guy, he did not leave a morsel on his plate.  Sorry no photos of either dish.

Additional main courses we enjoyed included scrumptious Crispy Walnut Prawns.  The giant prawns were prepared with a delicious and crispy coating and topped with Honey-Glazed Walnuts.  The dish was a combination of amazing flavors and textures.

A perfectly cooked Chilian Sea Bass with Shiitake mushrooms in a Ginger Soy and Far Dew Wine sauce.  An order of Vegetable LoMein complemented both dishes to perfection.

For our wine selections I put myself in the very capable hands of sommelier Sarah Pamatat. She did not dissapoint me, beginning with a bottle of 2012 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis. Made with no new oak, this was a light-bodied Chardonnay that was clean, bright, soft and refreshing on the palate.  At under $25 retail (Wine Searcher), the wine offers great value for Chardonnay drinkers.

This historic estate has been making wine from estate fruit and purchased fruit since 1880. Today, Drouhin follows biodynamic principles in the vineyards they own and organic farming is practiced throughout all Drouhin properties. The Moulin de Vaudon property is an 18th Century watermill straddling the Serein River, close to the Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis. Flowing gently past hillsides covered with vineyards, the river has always been closely identified with Chablis and its region.  Because of its unique location at the heart of their 38 hectare vineyard estate (95 acres), this historical mill is the headquarters of the Drouhin Domaine in Chablis. Starting with the vintage 2008, the name "Vaudon" will be associated with Joseph Drouhin for all its Chablis wines as a sign of the firm's allegiance to this historical terroir.  

For the red, Sarah recommend a bottle of 2010 Louis Jadot Pommard, red Burgundy.  Like her white recommendation this was wonderful.  A Villages level wine, it had terrific finesse and exhibited soft, silky fruit on the palate with a lengthy and round finish.  Like Drouhin, Jadot has been making wine since the 1800’s and their wines, both estate and negociant, are wonderful examples of classic Burgundy Pinot Noir.  At $50, also a terrific value for very good red Burgundy.  Wine Searcher.

Viva Las Vegas!!!