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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aged Red Burgundy

Our monthly wine group returned once again this week to the The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ. for this month’s tasting.  Howard was responsible for the wine and he selected aged red Burgundy Crus for the evening.  He selections, which included one Premier Cru and 4 Grand Crus provided for a most enjoyable tasting.
I am a big collector of both red and white Burgundy.  I find the wines to be very feminine and elegant in style and simply delicious to drink.  Since there are only two grapes in Burgundy, Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white, it would seem that the region would be simple to understand.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  The various plots of vineyards and their location (the terroir) make an enormous difference, both in the quality of the wine and its price.  A matter of a few feet in a vineyard can make a huge difference in both. Along with grape selection, they also determine which of the four possible classifications the wine falls into.

The top appellation in Burgundy is Grand Cru. These vineyards were established and documented by monks centuries ago, and formally recognized in 1861. The combinations of soil, exposure, rain, wind and sun provide exceptional terroir. Only 33 vineyards in Burgundy have this designation. 32 of these vineyards are located in the Cote d’Or, the remaining Grand Cru vineyard is found in Chablis. Of these prestigious vineyards, 24 grow Pinot Noir grapes, and 9 grow Chardonnay grapes.

Grand Cru wines produced by these grapes account for less than 2% of the wine production from Burgundy each year, making these wines rare, highly sought after, and expensive.  Only the name of the vineyard appears on a bottle of Grand Cru wine.  Grand Cru wines command the highest market price.  Rarely will you find a Grand Cru Burgundy for less than 3 figures, and in exceptional vintages 4 figures is quite common.

The Premier Cru appellation identifies single vineyards that have terroirs with the potential for exceptional wines. These vineyards were also established and documented by the monks who, for centuries, made wine from the grapes grown in them. They were officially designed as such in 1935 when the present day AOC system was created.

Widely misunderstood as a measure of quality, the AOC laws are really a guarantee of authenticity. In other words, they ensure that the wine in the bottle actually comes from the place stated on the label, and adheres to a set of winemaking regulations. Often, the best Premier Crus can equal the quality of Grand Crus at a much lesser cost.  Premier Crus account for about 11% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Village wines are produced by grapes grown around the name of the village identified on the label. Village wines are blended from grapes grown in multiple vineyards. While these vineyards do not have the terroir of either the Grand or Premier Cru appellations, and are not as likely to produce grapes that make exceptional wine, the wines are recognized as of consistently superior quality, and are very affordable, usually in the $25 to $40 price range.  There are 44 village (or communal) appellations in Burgundy. These village wines account for 34% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Regional wines (Bourgogne) are made from blends of grapes grown in vineyards within the Burgundy region.  A regional wine can be named after the region that it comes from, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes–Côtes de Nuits. Often these wines are simply labeled Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge and offer amazing value, usually in the $20 to $30 price range.  There are 22 Regional appellations that produce 52% of Burgundy’s total annual production.

Howard’s selections for the evening:

1988 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay “Champans” Grand Cru.  The Rare Wine Co. comments on Volnay thusly, “Nothing demonstrates red Burgundy’s magic like great Volnay, with its enveloping aromatic complexity, silky texture and tremendous aging potential”. Champans is a Premier Cru climat of the Volnay appellation in the Cote de Beaune which yields impressive wines.  This bottle had a pronounced and pleasant barnyard bouquet on the nose and palate. However, the lush fruit typical of Volnay wines never showed up.  I kept wine in the glass throughout the dinner hoping the fruit would appear, but alas in never did. The 2011 vintage is available at around $120. Wine Searcher.

1999 Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos De Beze Grand Cru.  The wines of Domaine Faiveley are widely recognized for being among the finest produced in Burgundy.  Tonight’s bottle lived up to that recognition.  It drank very well, beginning with an enticing bouquet; vibrant fruit, balance, complexity, finesse and an elegant finish.  A good example of Grand Cru Burgundy at its best. $250. NY Wine Warehouse.

1991 Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  Another classy wine from this producer.  Soft tannins and loads of “terroir” enticed the palate with each sip.  Finish was long and elegant.  I felt that this was the wine that drank the best on this night, as well has having the longest future ahead of it.  A great wine that will be very hard to find.  The 2010 vintage however at $230 is available at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1989 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  A new producer for me.  The wine was quite nice with rich, ripe fruit and good focus on the palate.  It lacked however the depth and finesse of the previous wine.  This vintage does not appear to be available, but the 2010 vintage at $168 is available. Wine Searcher

1985 Thomas Freres Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru.  Another new producer for me.  This wine from the famous and highly regarded Grands-Echezeaux climat unfortunately was oxidized and really not drinkable.

Great wines are always enhanced by great food, and I am happy to report that tonight’s meal was outstanding.  We thoroughly enjoyed:

Tortelloni w/ potato, mortadella, parsley, black truffle, parmesan
Niman Ranch Pork, Fingerling Potatoes, broccoli rabe, artichoke, parmesan, vinegar peppers
Veal Scallopine, Anson mills polenta, wax beans, osso bucco, tomato soffrito, escarole

Not pictured, but also very much enjoyed was Pappardelle with wild mushrooms, escarole, chicken oysters, rosemary, fontina cream and Risotto with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, parsley, lemon aioli.

Thanks again Howard for a wonderful evening with older Burgundy Crus.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sette Cucina Italiana

A couple of weeks back I had a fantastic lunch at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville, NJ.  I really wish this place was closer to my home in North Caldwell, because the food is amongst the best in New Jersey, or anywhere for that matter.  Chris Cree, owner of 56º Wine (around the corner) introduced me to this gem at a wine tasting he hosted a couple of years back.  On this occasion, we lunched with Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Pastor of Notre Dame Church, in North Caldwell to discuss the annual Notre Dame wine dinner fundraiser.

I would describe the food of chef/owner Allan Philip Russo (check out his bio on his website) as refined and elegant Italian peasant food.  Every dish I have ever had here has been a combination of fresh ingredients in harmonious balance that create fantastic flavors and textures on the palate.  On this occasion, we put ourselves in his hands regarding the menu.  He did not disappoint us.

Many Italian restaurants start their diners of with a complimentary platter of Bruschetta, sort of a tomato and onion salad atop toasted Italian Crostini.  It is a starter I routinely pass on as it is usually devoid of flavor.  The version served today may well have been the finest example of the dish I have yet to taste.  It is hard to improve on a fresh NJ summer tomato…that is unless chef Russo uses it for his Bruschetta.  Perfectly seasoned and dressed, I found myself wishing more would materialize on the plate.  He followed this with a delicious Antipasto of fresh Burrata, Prosciuto di Parma, grilled Zuccchini & Roasted Peppers bathed in a delicious extra-virgin olive oil.  I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photos.

We sipped a delicious bottle of 2012 Venica Ronco delle Mele Collio Sauvignon that Chris brought along.  13.5% alcohol and crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc it was a great complement to the Bruschetta and Antipasto with its focused crisp acidity, stony minerality and beautiful balance.  While this was a new producer for me, the white wines from the Collio in Friuli are amongst some of the best whites I have tasted and this bottle underscored that claim.  The grapes are macerated (crushed) for the last 12 hours at low temperature then pressed under CO2 to prevent oxidation. 20% of the juice is fermented in big French oak casks (27 hl) and aged there for 6 months. "Batonage" (stirring the wine with a metal rod) once a week for two months improves the body.  $42.50.  56º Wine.

Our antipasto plates were replaced with an appetizer portion of Ricotta Stuffed Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato Sauce.  Light as a feather, these soft pillows were deftly stuffed with fresh Ricotta Cheese, topped with barely cooked cherry tomatoes and served atop a light and ethereal tomato sauce.  It was outrageously good and a dish that would be hard to beat…or so I thought, until the main course arrived.

Keeping with the fresh tomato theme, Chef Russo presented us with Pan Fried Bronzino with diced fresh tomatoes as our entrée.  This dish is testimony to my earlier statement about his food being “refined and elegant Italian peasant food”.  The fish was PERFECTLY, cooked to a tender and moist interior, while the skin provided a magnificent crisp texture to each bite.  The addition of olives and fresh cherry tomatoes added symphonic harmony to each forkful.  Simply magnificent.

Chris choose one of my favorite wines from Northern Piedmont to drink with the Gnocchi and Bronzino, a 2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine reminds me of a young Villages Burgundy in its color, feminine palate, freshness and elegance. It possesses terrific balance and complexity.  Open the wine at least an hour before drinking and you will be amply rewarded. The superb acidity of the wine should enable it to drink well for another 10 years at least.  At $28, this offers great QPR.  $28. 56º Wine.

Fresh made Chocolate Covered Profiteroles with Espresso rounded out the perfect lunch. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Killer BBQ

Francesco, Jack, Anna & Zod with the Foie Gras
I have a number of “wine” friends who love nothing more than to share great wine with one another, especially when it is paired with terrific food. Thus when Carol and I were invited by friends Jack and Anna to their historic residence, The Bond Force House, a couple of weeks ago for what Jack called a “Killer BBQ”, we happily accepted.  We were all asked to bring “killer wines” to complement the food that was being prepared two of NJ’s top chefs, Zod Arifa, chef/owner of Blu and Next Door in Montclair and Francesco Palmieri, chef/owner of The Orange Squirrel in Bloomfield.  No one disappointed. The weather forecast was for rain all day, but I guess the big guy upstairs had second thoughts about “raining on this parade”.  I can only hope this post does justice to the event.  Please check out the links to Blu and the Orange Squirrel to learn more about the chefs and their cuisine. They did a remarkable job.

Jack, Zod and Francesco did a great job in pairing the menu to the wines that were brought. With the exception of an over-eager Bordeaux fan who poured the 1990 Chateau Montrose and 1988 Chateau Grand Vin de Leoville St Julien prior to dinner, the menu and wines followed the chefs pairing order.  I have never been a fan of Bordeaux.  Having said that the 1990 Montrose, which I have had on a few occasions, is a gorgeous wine.  Tonight was no exception. It had a compelling earthy bouquet with vibrant fruit.  Rich and lush on the palate, it finished with considerable length and elegance.  I did not taste the Leoville.

We began the meal with a magnum of 2010 Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Clisson. The bracing acidity and magnificent stony elegance of the wine, in my opinion, was the perfect match to oysters, which chef Francesco prepared, grilled with Spinach Foam and Pancetta dust.  This wine, made from the Melon Bourgogne grape primarily found in the Loire Valley of France also paired beautifully the Spiced Asian Inspired Duck Wings chef Zod also prepared. While I am not a big fan of duck, these were sensational.  Like potato chips I could not stop eating them.

Tender and citrusy Grilled Fresh Jumbo Florida Shrimp were paired with a magnum of 2002 Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques.  This outstanding red Burgundy worked really well with the shrimp.  The wine had a wonderful sense of place on the nose and palate, and possessed impeccable balance and complexity and finished with satiny elegance. A superb wine!

Grilled whole lobsters followed the shrimp and were paired with a magnum of 1995 Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame Champagne.  The wine possessed a toasty nose, with a full-bodied palate of bright acidity and elegant bubbles.  A very nice Champagne on the palate, the finish was a bit short however, in my opinion.

Roasted Foie Gras with Apricots in a Bas Armagnac reduction came next.  This was simply sensational.  I don’t think there is anything more delicious or decadent than Foie Gras.  The chefs really showed their stuff here.  It was a mouth-watering dish.  It was paired with a magnum of 1990 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes.  Considered by many as the finest dessert wine and possibly the finest wine in the world (it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite), I have never been of the same mind.  While I have always enjoyed the fruit and viscosity of the wine, the finish is too often medicinal in my opinion.  Well, that was not the case with the 1990.  A gorgeous aroma of coconuts, pineapples and apricots soared form the glass, danced on the tongue and finished with nary a hint of medicine.  Instead the finish was pure pleasure with its alluring viscosity, finesse and length.  One the best d’Yquem’s I have ever had. 

The final BBQ item was 28-day Dry-aged Prime Ribeye.  As I am not a big steak guy, and still licking my chops from the amazing Foie Gras before it, I passed on this course.  The rest of the group eagerly dove into it however.  I did however sample the wines, all from large format, that were poured with the course, beginning with a 5 liter 1989 Gaja Sperss and a 3 liter 1988 Gaja Sperss.  Angelo Gaja is known for his Barbarescos and follows a more modern approach to wine making. That style was evident in these two wines, both of which are Barolo. As he does with his Barabarescos he adds about 5% Barbera to the wine.  Of the two, the 1989 I felt was clearly the better wine.  From a classic vintage, the wine was full of lush fruit, soft tannins and a lengthy finish.  The 1988, which was the first year Gaja made Barolo, was, in my opinion, a step or two behind the 1989.  The wine drank well, but seemed to lack the finesse and focus of the ‘89.

A magnum of 1999 Aldo Conterno Granbussia Riserva was next poured and it was fantastic. The wine is only made in years when all there of his vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results.  This is classic old world Barolo.  It displayed a huge earthy nose with an elegant and refined palate.  A wine with soul!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic condiments served with the meal.  Roasted Asparagus and Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Harlequin Caps, Grilled Corn and Grilled Potatoes.

The last wine poured with this course there was a magnum of 2005 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino.  For me, this along with the d’Yquem, Mortet and Conterno were the wines that drank the best on this day.  It possessed pristine fruit, balance, focus and complexity.  The tannins were soft and elegant and the wine had a monster finish.  Another wine with soul.

A wonderful assortment of delicious cheeses was up next as were a couple of bottles of 1982 Chateau Margaux. Margaux is one of the first growth wines of Bordeaux, and 1982 is considered one of its classic vintages.  Alas, I am not a fan of this style of wine.  I took only a small sip, so I will refrain from commenting.  The general consensus however was that the 1990 Chateau Montrose at the beginning of the meal was far and away the better wine.

Citrus parfait with Grilled Peaches completed the BBQ.  This refreshing dessert was paired with a superb bottle (magnum) of 2005 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes.  Like the d’Yquem before it, this possessed glorious hints of pineapples, peaches and a touch of vanilla on the palate and a rich, lengthy and viscous finish.

Not your ordinary BBQ by any means.  Thanks Jack and Anna for a great day and kudos once again to Chefs Zod and Francesco for a magnificent meal.