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, December 15, 2014

Ariane Kitchen & Bar

I have praised the food of chef /owner Ariane Duarte served at Culin Ariane in Montclair on 3 previous occasions in WWN.  A few months back she and her husband Michael closed their Culin Ariane Restaurant to focus on a new venue, Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, N.J.  The new restaurant opened about a month ago, and as expected is packing them in nightly. In her new home she has replaced her more classic Continental Cuisine with what I would label as “comfort food” taken to a new level.  The new restaurant has a full liquor license and Ariane’s husband Michael has put together a terrific and very reasonably priced wine list (most of the wines are in the $25 to $50 price range) comprised of wonderful artisan wines from around the world.  BYOB is allowed at a corkage fee of $20 per bottle and limited to one bottle per two people.  Unlike her former place AKB is open 6 nights a week.  The bad news is that reservations can take a couple of weeks to obtain.  The good news is that AKB accommodates walk-ins at the bar and 3 large communal tables in the bar area.  These tables seat 8 people each on backless stools.

While the menu has retained a few of the Culin Ariane classics such as Cornmeal Crusted Oysters, Crab Cakes and Sashimi Tuna Flower, the emphasis is more on casual bistro type food, and as one would expect, it is fantastic.  We have already been there four times since it has opened.  A bar menu, also available in the dinning areas, is composed of homemade snacks as Ariane calls them.  The regular menu is available throughout the restaurant.

On our first visit, friends and family night, we began with a complimentary drink called Pear of Wings, which turned out to be a refreshing cocktail composed of Tito’s Vodka, Pear-sage cordial, lemon juice and sparkling wine.  While it was quite tasty I usually like to begin my meals with a Bourbon Manhattan straight up. Tonight’s was made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and it was excellently prepared.

We began our meal with three starters.

Deviled eggs, espellette.  The Espellete Pepper is a variety of chili pepper that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette.  Here it is lightly ground atop smooth and silky deviled eggs giving it just a hint of heat.  If you are a fan of deviled eggs as I am, you must try these.

“Cuban Sandwich” pork, ham, homemade pickles, grain mustard, served with homemade potato chips.  Without question, this was the best version of this classic I have ever tasted.  My only complaint was that the appetizer sized sandwich disappeared much too quickly.  Ah, but I have the solution…a double order next time!

Forest Mushroom Ragout, Cheesy Grits, Rosemary Oil.  I guess you could call this the American version polenta with mushrooms.  Whatever you call it, color it absolutely delicious. An amazing combination of flavors and textures on the palate.

For entrées Carol enjoyed Braised Short Ribs with Charred Broccoli, Pearl Onions, Whipped Potatoes, braising jus.  Cooked to fork tender perfection, she enjoyed every forkful.

I was equally happy with my crisp and moist "Fish and Chips" made from Atlantic Cod and served with crispy house cut fries and a dill tartar sauce.  Comfort food simply does not get much better than this.

We also shared a classic rendition of that staple of comfort food, Mac & Cheese.  As I said earlier, Ariane is taking comfort food to a new level...and this dish exemplifies that statement.

As I am a big fan of wines, especially whites, from the Languedoc in the South of France, I immediately selected a bottle of 2013 Mas de Daumas Gassac Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Blanc ($28) from the Pays D'Herault appellation of the Languedoc to drink with our meal.  The wine is a white blend consisting of 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Clairette.  The wine was delicious, clean and crisp on the palate with bracing acidity, complexity and finesse and finished with considerable length. Often referred to as the Grand Cru of the Midi (South of France), the Mas de Daumas Gassac top-tier wines have reached international cult status. Located in the majestic Gassac Valley, the estate benefits from the cool microclimate derived from the Gassac River, several natural springs (from which the Guibert family drinks), and the influence of the nearby mountains. The soil that dominates the valley is a rare and still unexplained red, powder-fine glacial soil, which is strikingly similar to that found in the prime areas of Burgundy. This combination of characteristics is quite unique in Southern France. A screw cap wine that retails for about $11, I intend on adding some to my cellar.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the evening with her homemade Banana Cream Pie.

On our three subsequent visits enjoyed the following:

Pretzel bites with beer cheese dipping sauce.  Wow are these homemade soft pretzel morsels delicious.  I can envision an evening in the future when I am dinning alone and doing so at the AKB bar with theses pretzel bites, the Cuban sandwich and one of the artisanal draft beers served there.  Sorry, I was to busy devouring these to take a photo.

AKB Burger made with ½ lb. American Kobe Beef, fried green tomato, pickled shallots, cheddar cheese and harissa aioli.  Cooked to medium rare perfection this was juicy, tender and delicious.  A multi-napkin burger.  I was not crazy about the fried green tomato, but I think a slice of good old red tomato will go perfectly.  Carol had hers with house made French Fries, while I had mine with house made Jalapeño, cheddar tater tots, a grown up version of the classic tater tot.

Each night there is one pasta special and on one of these visits it was homemade Taglierini Carbonara.  Ariane adds some baby peas to her rendition, which is a fantastic interpretation of this Roman classic.  In my opinion it is the best pasta dish she makes and I only wish it were a menu staple.

The wine list turned up 3 more excellent wines at very reasonable prices.

2011 Produttori di Carema Nebbiolo Piedmont ($44).  From Northern Piedmont this is the normale bottling that drinks with the elegance and finesse of a fine Barolo or Barbaresco.  $20 retail. Wine-Searcher.

2012 Cascina Ca'Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont ($39).  We drank this along side the Produttori and it possessed the same elegance and finesse as the Carema, but with a bit more depth on the palate.  Both of the wines finished with good length.

2013 Foret des Dames Sancerre ($36).  This is a delicious, crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France.  A wonderful melange of acidity and wet stones on the palate made for a delicious quaff.  $15 retail.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in the area and have not yet been to AKB, treat yourself.  You will enjoy it.  Oh, tell them Mark and Carol sent you.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Recent Discoveries Under $40 Part 2 – Red & Rosé Wines

Wow, this post, part 2 of Recent Discoveries Under $40 is a bit late.  I hope you find it worth the wait.

If you like Rosé wines, here are four worth seeking out.  If you don’t like Rosé, these could well change your mind.

2012 Cantina Terlano Lagrein Rosé. 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. 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.  This glorious Rosé is an example.  It reminded me of Valentini Cerasuolo ant 1/4th the price tag. The wine has great depth and focus on the palate with a lengthy and seductive finish.  It is made from 100% Lagrein, a native red grape of Alto Adige, Italy.  One of the best Rosé’s I have ever had.  $18 New York Wine Warehouse.

The Cassis region of Provence in Southeastern France is located between Marseilles and Bandol on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and is known for it’s white and Rosé wines.  The wines are full-bodied with balanced acidity and enticing herbal bouquets.  They are inexpensive drink beautifully whether sipping by the pool, or accompanying fish.

2013 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rosé.  This is a grown-up Rosé.  It possesses a Salmon colored hue, intoxicating fruity bouquet and a round and delicious palate marked by superb acidity. The wine is a blend of Grenache (55%), Mourvedre (31%) and Cinsault (14%).  Of the 40,000 bottles produced each year, only 6000 are allocated to the US market.    $24 Wine Searcher.

2012 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé.  If I could only buy one Rosé, it would be this one.  One expects the great and expensive wines such as Barolo and Burgundy to evolve in the glass with each sip and seduce the palate in the process.  To expect this from a $30 Rosé may be asking a bit much, unless it is this wine.  That is what you get here.  It is everything the Bagnol is and then some.  The wine is comprised of the same grapes as the Bagnol, but in different percentages, 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvedre.  If you like Rosé, this is a must. $33 Wine Searcher.

Most people, when the hear Beaujolais usually think of Beaujolais Nouveau (Thanksgiving Wine).  I on the other hand think of Cru Beaujolais made by artisanal producers of the Loire Valley that craft glorious examples of the Gamay grape for a song.  I find them to be easy drinking wines with an earthy and peppery palate, good acidity, balance and the ability to age quite nicely.  Here are a few that I find to be amongst the top Cru Beaujolais produced.

2010 Thierry Puzelat VDT "Le Rouge est Mis"  $30
2010 Domaine des Billards Saint-Amour $20
2012 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie $20
2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py $35 

The commune of Chinon is located in France’s Loire Valley in the AOC appellation of Touraine.  The principal red grape of the area is Cabernet Franc.  Two of the regions’ iconic producers are Bernard Baudry and Olga Raffault.  Their wines are simply ethereal.  They can be approached relatively early upon release or held in the cellar for 2 or 3 decades. They possess a compelling bouquet of spicy laden soil, while on the palate the earthiness is complemented with pure fruit, soft tannins and a long elegant finish.  These are wines with soul at a bargain price.

2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine $17
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot $30
2009 Olga Raffault Chinon Champ Chenin $30
2005 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses $30

Readers of this blog know that I love Barolo and Barbaresco.  The Nebbiolo grape when produced in a traditional style by masters such as Conterno, Mascarello and Rinaldi provides a truly delicious and elegant wine experience.   The only negative(s) with these wines is that they are expensive and require 10+ years of aging on average before they can truly be enjoyed.  While I wait for these to mature I find that I can have my cake and eat it to by drinking Nebbiolo wines from Northern Piedmont.  While these wines do not possess the profound depth of an aged Barolo or Barbaresco, they are round and delicious wines with lots of old world style.  They exhibit purity of fruit, complexity, balance, finesse and a gorgeous finish.  They also represent some of the best values in wine today, im my opinion.  Try these and see for yourself.

2009 Produttori dei Carema $18
2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva $27
2004 Petterino Gattinara $35
2010 Vallana Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana $22
2004 Vallana Gattinara $30

Here are a few from Piedmont that are made by outstanding Barolo producers that are also worth looking into.  Many top Barolo producers make small quantities of Freisa each year.  Indigenous to Piedmont, the Freisa grape has lots of character and is a terrific every day drinking wine.

2010 Cavallotto Langhe Freisa Bricco Boschis $22
2009 G.D. Vajra Freisa Kyé $38
2010 G.D. Vajra di Aldo Langhe 
Rosso $18
2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe $30
2012 Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga $19

Most of these wines are available locally.  I suggest using Wine-Searcher to locate them.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Our monthly wine group met last week at Sette Cucina, in Bernardsville, NJ.  The theme for the evening, selected by Jim, who also brought along the wines, was Sangiovese based wines from Chianti and Montalcino.  The 5 wines Jim selected all showed very well and Sette Owner Allan Russo created a meal that complemented the wines perfectly.

Sangiovese is the primary red grape of Chianti and Chianti Classico in Tuscany, while Sangiovese Grosso, a clone of Sangiovese, is the grape used in making Brunello di Montalcino, also in Tuscany.  Contrary to what “grosso” implies (large) the variety is medium to small in size, and produces wines of exceptional quality and depth.

We began the meal as we always do with chef’s version of Bruschetta and a plate of salumi followed by…

Roasted Shrimp atop Cabbage & Corn Compote
Pumpkin Ravioli w/Sage & Butter
Pork Osso Buco
2004 Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale.   Selvapiana, one of Chianti's historic properties, is a classic Tuscan Fattoria (farm) located in the Chianti Rufina zone east of Florence. The estate has a reputation of producing red wines of considerable terroir laden wines of capable of considerable.  Tonight’s wine had lively, deep hued fruit with a hint of spice. Tannins were soft on the palate, while there was sufficient acidity for another 10 – 15 years drinking.  I liked the finesse-laden finish the wine displayed.   At $35, this represents a spectacular value.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia DOCG.   Antonio Galloni writes, “There is not too much more I can say about the wines of Felsina and proprietor Giuseppe Mazzocolin, except that they are reference point wines for anyone who wants to discover the essence of contemporary Sangiovese from Chianti Classico”. Fèlsina produces one of the finest ranges of age worthy and complex Chianti bottlings in all of Italy. Unlike many of their neighbors, Fèlsina has never succumbed to the temptation to produce “new age” wines, and continues to grow solely Sangiovese here, rather than dabble with international-styled blends that include Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Tonight’s wine definitely backed up Galloni’s statement.   It had a silky, focused and elegant palate with a lengthy old-world earthy finish.  At $40 Rancia also happens to be one of the finest values in wine today. Wine-Searcher.

Approximately 35 miles south of the Chianti region lies Montalcino, where one of Italy's greatest wines is made,  Brunello di Montalcino.  Traditional as well as more modern style Brunellos are made here.  Tonight we tasted both.

1997 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.   The vineyards here are in the enviable position of being on the southern slopes of Montalcino, where some of the most prestigious Brunello comes from.  After the fermentation the wine is transferred to medium size oak barrels, where it remains for four years before being refined in the bottle for another year.

On the nose the wine was compelling, but seemed to feel tired on the palate, reminiscent of a wine that is approaching the last few years of its life.  While a pleasant wine, there was not a lot to get excited about.  $100.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione DOCG.  Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso harvested from the Piaggione and Teatro vineyards. After traditional fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of large French and Slavonian oak casks for 3 years, followed by a year in the bottle before release.

Tonight’s wine possessed an enticing bouquet of red berries with a soft and mildly complex palate.  I believe this would have benefitted from an hour or two of decanting to enable the fruit and finesse of the wine fully emerge.  $110.  Wine-Searcher.

1999 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso DOCG.  The "Pianrosso" Brunello di Montalcino is named after the vineyard of the same name. This single-vineyard bottling is what Ciacci's outstanding reputation was built upon and is only produced in the very best vintages. The wine is aged for 36 months in 20-62 hl Slavonian oak barrels, followed by a minimum of eight months' bottle ageing. Production is limited to 3,500 cases are produced annually!  The most modern of the Brunellos tonight, the estate has managed to bridge the gap between classic and contemporary styles gracefully.

The wine exhibited a ruby red hue in the glass with a complex and intense bouquet, while the palate displayed a full-bodied wine comprised of wonderful purity, complexity and focus. It finished with length and elegance.  Along with the Rancia, it was my favorite of the evening.  $70.  Wine-Searcher.

It was another wonderful evening with our group,  Terrific wines, thank you Jim, and great food, thank you chef Allan and Marc.

Saluté and Merry Christmas