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, September 29, 2014

1996 Barolo Dinner

This past Tuesday evening our monthly wine group met at Sette Cucina Italiana, Bernardsville, NJ. It was my turn to bring the wine and I decided on 1996 Barolo.  The '96 vintage has turned out to be one of the best Barolo vintages ever, and according to notes others have posted on-line, many of the wines have entered their drinking window.  Thus I thought it would make for a great tasting.  All the wines showed beautifully and the food chef/owner Alan Russo prepared complemented them beautifully.  It was a wonderful dining and wining experience.

We began the evening with a magnum of 2008 Marc Hebrart Special Club Champagne that was brought along by our guest for the evening Chris Cree, MW. This was a spectacular bubbly fashioned from 60% Pinot Noir (from Mareuil and Aÿ) and 40% Chardonnay (from Oiry and Chouilly).  The wine is made completely in stainless steel and exhibited lovely pure fruit, crispness and spectacular focus while finishing with mouth-watering elegance.  The only way to experience a Champagne of this magnitude is to drink it from large wine glasses as we did. Each sip evolved more than the previous one.  $250 (mag) Wine-Searcher.

I opened each of the red wines at 3 pm, thus giving them a 3-hour slow-oxidation (open bottle, but not decanted).  

1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo S. Stefano di Perno DOCG. The wines of Rocche Dei Manzoni are a complementary marriage of tradition and innovation. The land is farmed biodynamically and grape selection is by hand.  The vineyard of S.Stefano di Perno is considered to be one of the most historically renowned cru for Barolo.  Only 100 cases of this wine are made annually.  Fermentation takes place on the skins under controlled temperature for 12-18 days. The wine is then aged for 36 months in Barrique barrels and 12 months in the bottle prior to being released to the market.  While the Barrique imparts a bit of oak and vanilla in the wine, it is seamlessly integrated yielding a beautifully balanced, elegant and complex wine, as was the case tonight.  $90.  Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1996 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio DOCG.  The great traditionalist estate of Francesco Rinaldi e Figli is one of the great names of Piedmont. Located in the town of Barolo itself, the domaine has a long and illustrious history in the region. The estate was founded in 1870, when Francesco Rinaldi inherited a vineyard and house in Barolo. One hundred and forty-four years later, much of the same techniques are still used in the Francesco Rinaldi cellars to produce some of Barolo’s greatest wines heaped within the great old world traditions of Barolo... no new oak, long macerations and long aging in large Slovenian oak Botti prior to bottling. Tonight’s bottle had a nose that seemed to be set in antiquity and a hue that belonged to recent vintages.  The palate was rustic and terroir laden with superb balance and complexity.  It was a joy to savor each remarkable sip. My only real negative was that I felt it finished a bit short. There does not appear to be anymore of the ’96 available in the USA. For other vintages try Wine-Searcher.

1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – Le Coste DOCG. Cousin to Francisco Rinaldi, Giuseppe has emerged as my personal favorite maker of traditional Barolo.  Tonight’s wine hit on all cylinders and literally soared from the glass with complexity, balance, elegance and every other adjective one could use when describing an extraordinary wine.  The wine is a blend of grapes from two of his finest vineyards, Brunate and Le Coste.  This wine has long been a favorite of Barolo lovers.  Unfortunately the Italian wine laws have once again reared the foolish heads. Beginning with the 2010 vintage, the law prohibits a wine maker from putting the name of more than one vineyard on the label even though it allows fruit from more than one vineyard.  Go figure. $295.  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato DOCG.  The wine is beginning to enter what should be a long and glorious drinking period.  This is a powerful Barolo that is firing on most, but not all cylinders, at the moment. Still a bit closed as compared to the three previous wines. The fruit is not completely awake.  The wine did however finish with elegance and length. There is phenomenal pedigree here.   This is destined to be a blockbuster.  $295  The Rare Wine Company.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato CA’ D’ Morissio Riserva.  Like the regular Monprivato, the Riserva is beginning to stir from its sleep.  While the wine was still a bit tight, the elegant fruit has begun to blossom.  This is a superb wine, balanced, complex and focused and like the regular will be an absolute blockbuster in a couple of years.  Unless you have access to a private cellar, there does not seem to be anymore of this around.

1996 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG.  Ah the beauty of traditionally made Barolo by a master.  This remarkable Barolo is only made in years when the estates’ top three vineyards; Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello produce grapes of outstanding quality.  The blend usually contains 70% Romirasco, 15% Cicala and 15% Colonnello.  The wine is fermented with the skins in large Slovonian oak for 2 months, and then aged in the cellar for at least 8 years before being bottled and released for sale. Like the Rinaldi, the wine was hitting on all cylinders.  The fruit was gorgeous, balanced and focused.  The nose tantalized the senses and the finish was one where you close your eyes and savor its beauty and length.  $275.  The Rare Wine Company.

The consensus of the group was that on this night the wines that showed the best were the Rinaldi and the Conterno.  I look forward to revisiting them again in a couple of years.  My guess is that the Monprivatos will put up quite a challenge.  

We put ourselves in Chef Alan’s hands for the evening, requesting that he prepare a meal worthy of the wines.  He performed beautifully, crafting a number of simple and delicious dishes that any Italian mother would have been proud of.

Chef Alan’s version of Bruschetta.  My mom always made it this way.  A thick slice of ripe tomato atop toasted French bread drizzled with olive oil, garlic, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  She called it “loaves of bread”.  Still a favorite of mine today.

Antipasto Misto – Prosciutto di Parma, sweet Soppressata, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, fresh mozzarella

Salsiccia della Casa – homemade sweet sausage, potatoes, hot chilies.

Gnocchi e Speck - Ricotta pillows, Speck, Parmigiano-Reggiano whip

Saffron Risotto- Arborio Rice, Saffron, Grated squash, Parmesan Cheese

Costatina di Manzo – Braised Short Ribs, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Reduction

Chocoate Covered Perfiteroles

A great evening of food, wine and comraderie.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 - White Wines

A few years back I wrote about a number of great wines I had found that were under $40 a bottle, great-wines-under-40.  I have continued that quest and am happy to say that there is no shortage of wines in this category. Crafted by artisan wine makers they provide glorious drinking experiences. Here are my finds since that last post.  There is certainly no shortage of wonderful white wines in Italy, France, Germany and the United States.

I have a particular fondness for French Chablis.   Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, they rarely see any new wood, if any wood at all.  I love the crisp, clean purity they impart on the palate and the elegance with which they finish.  Grand Cru Chablis from producers like Raveneau, Dauvissat and Fevre to name a few can be very expensive.  The following are much less so, and continue to bring big smiles to my face when I drink them.

Patrick Piuze is one of the rising superstars of Chablis.  He owns no vineyards of his own.   His reputation was established while working for some of the top producers in Chablis.  This reputation has allowed him to enter into a long-term partnership with wine growers.  He purchases his fruit only from top wine growers in Chablis. This enables him to pick the best lots in Chablis, most of them of very old vineyards, to collect high quality grapes.  His first vintage was 2008.  His wines are full of finesse.  They exhibit pure fruit, complexity and a crisp lengthy finish.  NY Wine Warehouse carries the entire Piuze lineup.

2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis La Forets $38
2011 Patrick Piuze Chablis Terroir de Chablis $25

Alice and Olivier De Moor began their estate in 1989 and produced their first vintage five years later in 1994. Their wines are spectacular, especially the Rosette, which they consider to be their best plot.  They also make a delicious white from the Aligote grape.  Very similar to Chardonnay in its crispness and purity, the wines are aged in old oak for 12 months with only a slight addition of sulfur dioxide at the time of bottling.

2010 De Moor Chablis Rosette $37
2010 De Moor Chablis Chablis Bel Air et Clardy $30

2011 De Moor Chablis Aligote Plantation $24
2010 De Moor Bourgogne Aligote $20

Thomas Pico, another of the young phenomenons in Chablis, crafts extraordinary wines marked by pristine purity, a briny minerality and impeccable balance.  A disciple of the De Moor’s he began his estate in 2005. Grapes The Wine Company.

 2011 Pattes Loup Chablis $35

Years ago I remember reading somewhere that Italian white wines were terrible.  As I have learned over the last 20 years, nothing could be further from the truth.  Italy, especially in the Friuli-Venezia and Alto Adige regions, makes some of the most compelling wines I have ever tasted.  Dario Raccaro is a former Italian professional basketball player who abandoned his career in the 80’s to join his grandfather at the estate.  Located in Cormons (Friuli), Italy, Dario is adamant about vinification in steel for his whites in order to retain the purest expression of the fruit and the terroir. Production is very small with 4,000 and 12,000 bottles respectively for the wines listed below.  Both of these wines showed terrific depth on the palate with excellent acidity and a wonderful fruity finish.    The Manhattan Wine Co.

2012 Raccaro Collio Malvasia (100% Malvasia) $33
2012 Raccaro Collio Friulano Vigna del Rolat (100% Tocai Friulano) $34

Located in Brazzano, Italy, less than a mile from Cormons, is the estate of Nicola Manferrari, Borgo del Tiglio.  Nicola allows his wines to undergo a gentle oxidation in winemaking, something that is also seen in Burgundy. All of the Borgo del Tiglio whites are fermented in barrel. Borgo del Tiglio makes two ranges; the white labels are considered the entry and mid-tier wines (under $40), while the dark green label is reserved for the Selezioni, or the top selection bottlings that vary from year to year.  His wines are simply superb, exhibiting pure fruit, harmonious balance and wonderful acidity that allow his wines to age gracefully.  They are simply round and delicious wines with a lot of soul.  Not easy to find.  Wine Searcher

2011 Borgo del Tiglio Collio Bianco (Friulano, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling and Sauvignon blend).  $35  

175 miles slightly Northwest of Friuli is the Province of Trentino-Alto Adige, home of Cantina Terlano Winery.  The winery is now one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in the region, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 165 hectares. The members have long had a strong focus on quality. Terlano compensates their growers for the quality of their grapes, not the quantity. The wines have attracted praise and recognition on the Italian and international wine markets in spite of its relatively small size. The winery produces 30 percent red and 70 percent white wines, all of them of DOC quality (Controlled Designation of Origin).

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 produces wines of striking quality. Crisp, pure, round and delicious on the palate with a lengthy finish, they are amongst the best white wines I have had this year.  Wine Searcher.

2012 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Alto Adige $18
2011 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio Classico $22
2011 Cantina Terlano Vorberg Pinot Bianco Riserva $30

At the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily Andrea Franchetti produces a 100% Chardonnay that sees no wood in the vinification process.  The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The wine has a dazzling purity on the palate, with subtle hints of bubble gum and a crisp, clean & lengthy finish.  A beautifully round and delicious wine where you taste the grape instead of the barrel.  Amanti Vino.

2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola.  $40

Piedmont is home to famous wine regions like Barolo and Barbaresco.  A lesser known area, Roero produces a light and refreshing white wine made from the Arneis grape, which is little known outside the region. It has long been my wife’s favorite white wine grape. Roero is a geographical area in the Northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in Piedmont.  This hilly region is known for its wines and for its fruit production: particularly the peaches of Canale and the local variety of pear known as Madernassa.

Top producers of the wine include Bruno Giacosa and Cerreto. The estate of Giovanni Almondo makes perhaps the best Arneis I have tasted.  It is full-bodied, with crisp ripe fruit and a lush minerality on the palate.  Absolutely round and delicious.  Amanti Vino.

2012 Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie Giovanni Almondo $25.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, West of Italy, Southeast of the French mainland, and North of the Italian island of Sardinia.  The island belongs to France.  I have been smitten by the wines that are made here, especially the whites made from the Vermentino grape by producers Comte Abbatucci and Domaine de Gioielli. Old world in style, the grapes are all hand harvested, use indigenous yeasts and stainless steel in the vinification process.  The resulting wines are delicious, crisp with finesse and focus.  They also offer some of the best values in wine today, in my opinion.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Comte Abbatucci Ajaccio Blanc "Cuvée Faustine” $38
2012 Comte Abbatucci Faustine Blanc VV $38
2011 Domaine de Gioielli Cap Corse Blanc $27

I firmly believe that  New York State produces some of the finest and most reasonably priced white wines you will ever find. Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes.  A native of Bernkastel, Germany who emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s, he was uniquely qualified to help establish and create a wine region now known for its Riesling identity. His mother’s family had been making wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for more than 300 years. His winemaking processes pay homage to the ancient winemaking tradition and winemaking history of Hermann’s ancestry while incorporating the best of modern practices. The wines are crafted in very small lots to focus on subtle differences between site blocks within vineyards and even clones within varieties. They utilize up to 25 different fermentation tanks within the winery to isolate vineyard sections and pickings dates to best showcase the varietal’s characteristics. Long fermentation on indigenous yeast is made possible by the ecologically balanced viticultural methods in the vineyards.

2012 Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve is simply delicious juice.  It is a terrific dry Riesling with a delicate, citrus palate and long and glorious finish.  $29.  Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard.

Closer to NYC on the North Fork Peninsula of Suffolk County is the Channing Daughters Winery. At the estate they grow and create wines from the white varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Bianco along with a number of red varietals.  I have been captivated by their whites, especially the Chardonnays, which display crisp, fresh fruit along with impeccable balance and stunning acidity.  The wines remind me of beautiful medium-bodied Chablis from Burgundy, France.  The wines are available for purchase on-line at the winery.  Channing Daughters.

2011 Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay $18
2011 Channing Daughters Brick Kiln Chardonnay $22

Germany has a reputation for making outstanding white wines, especially Riesling, in all price ranges.  The Nahe region of Germany is especially known for producing very high quality wines.  I certainly found this to be the case with Harald Hexamer.  Hexamer holds 7.5 hectares in the Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg, a steep south-east facing slope of red sandstone with deposits of quartzite, which is known for producing especially small berries. Hexamer’s meticulous work in the vineyard is marked by pruning to control yields (“often six to eight bunches per wine”) and hand-harvesting. The grapes are picked exclusively by hand and fermented very cold (below 12 degrees celsius) with cooling utilized only when necessary.  He handles the wine as little as possible, uses only native yeasts, and all wines are whole-cluster pressed.  95% of all Rieslings at Hexamer are made in stainless steel and racked only once, three to six weeks after fermentation is complete.

The wines are just superb. Crisp, clean with beautifully balanced residual sugar and a monster finish, all at a great price.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Hochsgewachs 

Stay tuned for part 2 on Red wines and Rosé wines.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Spaghetti with Crab Sauce

One of my favorite pasta dishes is Spaghetti with fresh Crab Sauce.  When I was a kid I have fond memories of my grandmother making this with freshly caught crabs at the Jersey shore. She would cook the crabs in olive oil and garlic for about 30 minutes before she added the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  Then she would simmer the sauce for about 5 hours as I remember.  The sauce would absorb the fresh briny flavor of the crabs and when mixed with the Spaghetti, it was pure heaven.  We would dive in with lots of napkins at the ready to clean our hands as we pulled the crabs apart to suck out the little meat that they contained.

I have not had this dish in many, many years due to the fact that it is hard to find one that came remotely close to hers.  Fortunately my good friend Frank Di Giacomo, who shares my passion for the dish, orchestrated a Spaghetti with Crab Sauce dinner at Luce in Caldwell, NJ this past Wednesday evening.  Executive chef Michael Angelo, under the supervision of owner Joe Capasso, prepared a sauce my grandmother would have said “Bravo” to. The dish rekindled our memories for how good this dish can be when properly prepared.  The essence of the dish is the slow cooking process that allows for the briny crab flavors to permeate the sauce and eventually the Spaghetti.  It’s all about the sauce.  Eleven of us licked our fingers over and over as we dove into the dish with the gusto of someone who had not eaten in days.  Hats off to chef Michael and Joe for a spectacular job.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the terrific appetizers, served family style that preceded the dish.  Sorry, I did not take any photos here.

Eggplant Caponata; String Bean Salad; Seafood Salad and Italian Long Hot Peppers with Fried Potatoes preceded the Spaghetti.  Each dish was terrific, combining great flavors and textures.

An eclectic array of wines complemented the meal beautifully.

iL fauno di Arcanum Toscana 2007, a Super Tuscan blend (similar to a Bordeaux blend) of 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc.  The wine possessed an inky dark hue with a modern-styled toasty and oaky palate.  An hour or two of decanting would have helped the wine.  At about $25 a bottle, this is worth checking out, especially if you like Super Tuscan and Bordeaux blends.

Fisch Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.  Like the il Fauno, this had a deep inky hue.  On the palate I founded in more refined than what I am accustomed to with California Cabs.  It was not the massive, over extracted fruit bomb that often typifies these wines.  This was softer and had a scent of elegance on the palate and finish.  The wine bears the name of the Fisch family, owners of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace with three NJ Locations.  $20

Marchesi di Barolo Barolo 2006.  This bottle really surprised me.  I stopped drinking this producer’s wines a number of years back as I found them very inconsistent.  Happily, this bottle was another story.  2006 was a very good vintage in Barolo, with the wines being compared favorably to the glorious 1999 Vintage.  Tonight’s bottle, the entry level Barolo from the estate, was a modern-styled wine with soft tannins, balance, focus and a fair amount of finesse. $53.

Gavi dei Gavi La Scolca 2010.  Another wine that I have not had in quite a while.  Crafted from 100% Cortese grapes, the Soldati estate is the first producer of quality Gavi and ranks among the most historic white wine producers in Italy. This dry white wine is produced in a restricted area of the Province of Alessandria, Piedmont, close to the Ligurian border. The wine was awarded DOC status in 1974 and was made DOCG in 1998.

Although Cortese had been planted in the region since the late 19th Century, the grape produced low-alcohol, thin and sour wines that quickly oxidized. Consequently, the production was mostly purchased by Cinzano and Martini & Rossi as a base for their sparkling wines. It was the Soldati family, who after the Second World War saved the fate of Cortese from oblivion by focusing entirely on the production of quality Cortese, in a region traditionally known for its reds. They pioneered modern, controlled vinification in stainless steel to preserve the subtle fruit of the Cortese grape, allowing for the creation of wines that retained crisp acidity and aromas and gained structure. 

Tonight’s bottle was as I remembered it, medium-bodied, crisp and clean palate with ample acidity to extended aging.   $46.

Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Mon Aieul 2007, from magnum.  2007 was a spectacular vintage for Chateauneuf du Pape, and this bottle confirmed that in spades. It had a great sense of place, impeccable balance and purity on the palate.  It finished with considerable length and elegance.  Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, it is a wine built for aging and will last for at least another decade.  $400+

A great evening.  Thanks Frankie, Joe and Michael!