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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2008 Barolo

A couple of weeks ago my friend Emil and I joined 30+ Vinous premium subscribers for the Terroirs of Barolo - Masterclass Tasting & Dinner held at Bar Boulud in NYC. Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team put on the event.  As with previous events, it was a first class, high quality tasting that focused on 12 Baroli from the 2008 vintage.  A late harvest in 2008 produced a number of gracious, medium-bodied wines that are gorgeous examples of the feminine elegance the Nebbiolo grape embodies.  While many of the wines are approachable today, they have excellent acidity that will allow them to age gracefully for a couple of decades.

Before getting to the Baroli we began with 2012 Pattes Loup Chablis at the pre-dinner cocktail reception.  This as been one of my favorite Chablis' since I first tasted it last year.  The wine was pristinely pure with impeccable balance and acidity on the palate.  This is a great Chablis at a remarkable price ($40).  The only problem is that it is a highly allocated wine, and therefore not easy to come by.  Grapes The Wine Company.

Flight One

Squash Soup, Burnt Rosemary Cream, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole
G.B. Burlotto Barolo Cannubi
Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio

For my palate, the Vajra and Burlotto were where it was at.  Both were superb examples of traditional Barolo at its finest.  Both displayed great focus and finesse and the longer they sat in the glass, the more they continued to evolve. The finish for both was long and elegant.  While these can be enjoyed now,  I plan on letting mine sleep for 3 or 4 more years in the cellar.

Scavino and Voerzio have never been favorites of mine.  I found both to be too oaky and too modern on the palate.

Flight Two

Roasted Duck Breast Braised Leg, House Made Gnocchi, Root Vegetables

G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
Vietti Barolo Rocche
Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala
Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Mate

With the exception of the Cicala each of these wines drank with elegance, finesse and focus. The Vietti & the Grasso were, IMO, more open for business than the others in this flight.  The Cicala was closed and stayed that way throughout the evening.  The Monprivato had nice fruit, but it never fully blossomed.

Flight Three

Roasted Lamb Leg, Stuffed Lamb Belly, Confit Potato, Baby Leek, Hen of the Wood

Brovia Barolo Ca’Mia
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate-Le Coste

For me this was clearly the flight of the night.  Each of these wines drank with that old world elegance that places Barolo amongst the great wines of the world.  It is enough to say that these were simply round and delicious wines with tons of soul that will provide enjoyable drinking for a few decades.

I thought that the Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi were the absolute stars of the evening.   The interesting thing is that both of these wines were the only two that are made from the blending of fruit from different vineyards, while the others were single vineyard wines.

In addition to the wines it was great to meet fellow Barolo enthusiasts and Vinous subscribers. They, along with Antonio, are a great resource, especially if you like Barolo and Barbaresco.  Do yourself a favor and check out the Vinous site and add some 2008 Baroli to your cellar.  You will be happy you did!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wines of Cooperation

The theme for this year’s annual Notre Dame Church (North Caldwell, NJ) wine dinner fundraiser was Wines of Cooperation. The wines chosen for the evening were all made by Cooperatives, wineries that are comprised of small, artisan winemakers who own small plots of land, usually less than 1 hectare.  The small size of their estates precludes them from producing enough wine on their own to sustain themselves.   However, by “cooperating” with similar estates, they are able to pool their fruit and in turn produce remarkable wines.  Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Notre Dame's Pastor, chose the theme to emphasize that cooperation and respect for each other results in peace and harmony, something our world could use more of today.  The wines were selected by myself and Chris Cree, MW and provided by 56º Wine in Bearnardsville, NJ.  Once again the event was held at Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, NJ where Gregorio Polimeni and his staff did a terrific job with a delicious array of food to compliment the wines.

As is our custom, we began with the Tulipano superlative “Antipasti Hour”.   Fried Calamari, Baby Meatballs; Mini Bacon Cheeseburgers; Tuna Tartare; various cheeses, salamis and canapés were but a few of the highlights.

With the Antipasti we selected a white and a red from two cooperatives in the Vallée d’Aoste region of Northern Italy.

Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi 2013
La Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative started by the state government of Vallée d’Aoste in 1983.  It is located at the very foot of Mont Blanc.  The Vini Estremi, the estate's flagship wine, is made from 100% Prié Blanc from the oldest, ungrafted vines (40-100 years old) grown on the rocky mountain hillsides near Morgex.  The grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and aged in stainless steel tanks for 6 months.  Reminiscent of un-oaked Chardonnay, the wine possessed excellent depth, complexity and a lovely minerality on the palate.  At  $19 a bottle, this represents great value.

La Crotta di Vegneron Chambave Rosso 2013
Located 30 miles east of Morgex et de La Salle is the small, 10 grower cooperative La Crotta di Vegneron in the village of Chambave.  This co-op emphasizes classic and stunning expressions of the individual terroirs of tiny sub-appellations (Chambave and Nus) that would otherwise be left undiscovered due to the tiny patchwork of vineyard holdings in these villages. Although there is a history of grape growing in this region since the 1200’s, many of the vineyards were abandoned in the decades after WWII. They risked total extinction until the 1970’s, when the Italian government stepped in to help rebuild many of these small cooperative wineries to preserve the heritage of these vineyards.

The winemaking philosophy is one that respects the underlying terroirs and indigenous varietals of the region. Although there is some barrel aging used on some of the wines, new oak is kept to a bare minimum. The grapes are all hand-harvested, and all the red wines are fermented with natural yeasts to help emphasize their individual expression.  Tonight’s Chambave Rosso was a blend of Petite Rouge, Gamay  and Pinot Noir.  The wine fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then spends 6 months on the lees in steel with frequent batonnage (stirring). The wine is aged in stainless steel.  Tonight’s wine had a ruby red hue, earthy and spicy bouquet, good complexity on the palate with a terrific balanced acidity that will allow this to drink well for at least another decade.  $20.  

Our sit down dinner began with Shrimp Scampi with Spinach Mashed Potatoes, paired with a delicious Italian Chardonnay and Italian Rosé from Cantina Terlano.

Cantina Terlano Chardonnay 2013
Cantina Terlano is a 24 grower cooperative located in the Alto Adige region of Italy, with a primary focus on white wine. The winemaking tradition at Terlano dates back more than 2,000 years. Mild, Mediterranean type microclimatic conditions impart unique characteristics to the wines. Located in the Dolomite Mountains, in the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive location and extraordinary terroir are the keys to the development of these stunning wines.  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.

Tonight’s wine drank very well. It began with a sparkling straw yellow hue, and a bouquet of exotic fruits and citrus.  The palate was fresh and harmonious and the finish had a wonderful stony elegance.  $19.

Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé 2013

This spectacular deep pink-hued Rosé is crafted from the indigenous Lagrein grape. The crafting of the wine includes 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.  The resulting wine is a full-bodied Rosé with aromas of raspberries and strawberries and a harmonious fruity palate marked by splendid acidity.  $18.

Two perfectly cooked pastas (sorry no pics), Fusilli with Garlic, Oil, Anchovy, Parsley and Penne with Tomato, Eggplant, &, Fontina Cheese, were served in tandem following the scampi, and paired with two Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  Over the past couple of years I have become a big fan of these wines.  They are very approachable early in their life and exhibit the same elegant palate as their Barolo and Barbaresco big brothers and sell for a fraction of the price.  So while I wait for my Barolo and Barbaresco to mature, I often enjoy these wines.

Produttori dei Carema Reserve 2009
This producer of top quality Nebbiolo is located in Torino in the utmost northwestern region of Piedmont. Created in 1960, they are a small cooperative divided amongst 45 growers in this small, remote region. Each grower rarely owns more than 1 hectare, most having only ½ hectare. The D.O.C. Carema, established in 1967, sits on an incredibly mountainous swath of land bordering the Valle d’Aosta. The climate is cold and quite windy here, resulting in grapes that are slow to ripen, and wines that are light garnet in color.  The wines are 100% Nebbiolo from the local clones nebbiolo spanna, picutener, meaning “tender stem” and pugnet, meaning “fist-like,” a reference to the compact shape of the bunches. The minimum aging requirement for these wines is 4 years, of which two years have to pass in large oak or chestnut botti.   The 2009 is reminiscent of a young Villages Burgundy in color, femininity, freshness and elegance. The wine exhibited terrific balance, perfume and complexity on the palate, and will drink well for another 10 years at least. The reserve is subjected to an aging period of not less than 4 years of which at least 30 months in large oak barrels and one year in bottle.  An absolutely stunning value at $27.

Ar.Pe.Pe Valtellina Superiore Grumello Riserva “Rocca de Piro”  DOCG 2006
Ar.Pe.Pe. (short for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, founder of the estate) is an historic and well-regarded traditional cooperative estate in the Valtellina, a mountainous region of northwestern Italy that borders Switzerland. These steep, south facing mountain vineyards produce beautifully restrained styles of Nebbiolo that are aged in old chestnut barrels and released when the wines are ready to drink.  Tonight’s wine needed a bit more breathing time, but provided a wonderful example of the finesse and precision the Nebbiolo grape is capable of attaining. A delicious medium-bodied Nebbiolo with a delicate and graceful palate and lengthy, elegant finish. The wine is aged for a number of years in large, old oak followed by a number of years in bottle before release. It displayed good acidity that should allow it to age and improve for at least another 5 – 6 years.  $50.

Entrée choices included:

Fresh Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Chicken Foresteria, French cut chicken breast, Swiss Cheese, Proscuitto, Mushroom Sauce

Vitello Pizziola, Escallop of Veal, Tomatoes, White Wine 

The dinner wines were two Barbaresco Riserva bottlings from Produttori Del Barbaresco – Piedmont, Italy

Founded in 1958, the priest of the village of Barbaresco, recognizing that the only way small properties could survive was by joining their efforts, gathered together nineteen small growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco. From its humble beginnings making the first three vintages in the church basement, Produttori del Barbaresco has grown to a 56 member co-operative with 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation and an annual production of over 500,000 bottles. Its vineyards amount to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area. Each member is in full control of their land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with the skill and dedication they have honed over generations.  In a good vintage they are divided between Barbaresco blend (40%), single vineyard Barbarescos (40%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

The grapes are grown in clay soil at 200 to 400 meters above sea level (650-1300 feet) on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills in southern Piedmont. Clay soil is rich in limestone. Varying concentrations of limestone and sandy veins in the soil of each slope give different characteristics (or cause variations in) to each different crop.

The must ferments at 28°C (80°F) in stainless steel vats for two to three weeks before it is racked and kept in vats until next September. The wine is then barrel aged for one to two years and rests in bottles for six months before release.  Wine enthusiasts all agree that Prudottori wines are simply one of the best values for high quality wine, especially Barbaresco, available anywhere in the world.  $50. 

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora  DOCG 2009
The consensus wine of the night, it possessed fantastic depth and richness on the palate with a long, seductive and elegant finish.  As I like to say, this was a completely round and delicious wine with lots of soul!

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo  DOCG 2009
A slight step behind was the Rio Sordo.  Dark cherries soared on the palate.  This was a voluptuous wine with great focus and intensity that is probably a year or two away from matching the beauty of the Riserva Pora.

The final wine of the evening, Isole e Olena Vin Santo 2005, was served with assorted Italian Desserts, Espresso, Coffee, Tea. This spectacular Tuscan dessert wine is a blend of 65% Malvasia Bianca and 35% Trebbiano that is aged 6 years in French and Chestnut barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Only 200 cases of the wine are made annually.  It is one of the greatest examples of Vin Santo wine produced today.  The estate, run by Paolo De Marchi and his family, is not a cooperative.  However,  since Vin Santo means “holy wine”, it seemed a great choice to conclude the evening with.

The production of real Vin Santo is a painstaking and costly procedure. Individual bunches of grapes are hand selected prior to the general harvest. Each bunch must be loosely formed and be of excellent quality in order to avoid the formation of mold during the long drying process. The bunches are hung to dry either on wooden poles or reed trays locally known as “cannicci”. They are stored in a dry, well-ventilated spot until the sugar level of the grapes reaches a minimum of 35°Brix.  The must, which is almost as thick as honey, is placed in oak and chestnut barrels of varying size. The barrels are filled 3⁄4 full and are then sealed with wax. A small deposit of Vin Santo, affectionately called “mother”, which remains from previous vintages triggers the beginning of fermentation. The barrels are left unopened for 6 years preferably in attic rooms where the room temperature is allowed to follow the cycle of the seasons. The summer heat favors fermentation while the winter cold slows the fermentation and allows the Vin Santo to naturally clarify itself.  The yield of wine from the grapes is exceptionally low due to the drying process and the long fermentation period. A common yield can be as low as 25 liters from 100 kilos of grapes as compared to 70 liters for a normal still wine.

Amber in color, the wine exhibited great complexity on the palate and finished with a nectar-like viscous elegance.  Truly an amazing wine and a great value at $40 for a 375ml bottle.

Fr. Anthony Randazzo
While it was a fantastic evening, it was also a bit of a sad one for those of us who are parishioners of Notre Dame, as Fr. Anthony's tenure at Notre Dame will conclude in February of next year.  We will all miss his leadership, genuineness and compassion.  We wish him well when he is assigned a new parish.  Our loss will be their gain. 

I would like to thank Fr. Anthony for his inspiration and friendship over the past 18 years; the wine dinner committee (pictured below) who worked hard to make this our most successful fund raiser of the four we did; Gregorio Polimeni and staff at Il Tulipano for terrific food and service; Gene Urban, Impressive Impressions, for capturing the event with his fantastic photography; The Scudiery Family Foundation for donating the wines and to all those who attended the event.

Wine Committee Members Angelos, Fiores, Loffredos, Perinis, Violas, Wilcomes
Arlene Catanzano (standing at left)