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.


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