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.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wine Group at Home

Chefs Nick & Mark
Our monthly wine group met recently at my house. Usually we go to a local BYOB restaurant, but this month I suggested we meet at my house where my friend Nick Cusano and I would prepare the meal.  Nick and I both enjoy cooking. In addition to being a world-class architect (Cusano Associates), Nick is a fantastic cook and bread maker, and I always enjoy cooking with him.  Marc was in the queue for the wines, and his selection of Sagrantino wines from Umbria were top-notch and made for a fantastic evening.

The menu for the evening:

Nick’s homemade Rosemary Foccia and Italian bread

I have to say that living in NJ and with NYC a few miles away there is no shortage of great Italian bread, and Nick's will hold its own with the best of these. Taste, texture and density are amazing.

 Mozzarella di Bufala • Roasted Peppers • Vinegar Peppers

Zuppa di Vongole
Nick and I collaborated on this delicious Italian classic made with little neck clams, garlic, onion, celery, basil, white wine and a touch of red pepper flakes.  Sopping up the juice with Nick's bread is as good, if not better, than the clams themselves.

Weeds and Sausage
This is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time.  The recipe is from Mario Batali’s book, Molto Italiano.  The tomato in the dish comes completely from tomato paste.  The tomato paste I use, Stratto, is very concentrated and comes from Sicily.  It elevates dishes to a new dimension.

Fricasseed Chicken with Bay Leaves
Sensational dish!  According to Nick, the secret is fast browning and slow braising. Fresh bay leaves are a must.  We licked our fingers clean.  The recipe can be found here.

Steak Florentine
Nick dry ages a thick Porterhouse Steak for three days and then applies a dry rub of garlic, pepper, and herbs.  He flash sears it in a pan than finishes it under the broiler.  It was incredibly tender and juicy.


The Sagrantino grape is unique to Umbria, Italy.  It is a deeply colored grape variety that produces one of Central Italy’s most tannic red wines.  The grape’s nature is most famously displayed in the Sagrantino di Montefalco region, where wines must be produced from at least 95% Sagrantino. The clay soils of Montefalco are dusted with sand and limestone pockets, which Sagrantino responds well to. Blends are permitted in the greater Montefalco DOC region.

Because of its high tannins, Sagrantino local law stipulates that it cannot be released until it has aged for at least 30 months.   The wine is produced by only a handful of producers in Montefalco and hardly grown outside Italy at all.

Even rarer than the dry red wine crafted from Sagrantino and its blends are the varietal passito wines of Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. These concentrated wines, made from semi-dried grapes, are comparable to Vintage Port in their intensity and longevity.

2000 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano.  Along with Paolo Bea, Arnaldo Caprai is one of the icons of Sagrantino di Montefalco.  Caprai’s approach is to embrace modern winemaking techniques while Bea is a staunch traditionalist.  This wine is aged for 24-26 months in French oak barrique followed by a minimum of 6 months additional bottle aging. The wine had a deep ruby red hue and a big fruity nose.  The palate however had much too much oak for me, the result of the use of the new French oak it is aged in.  While this method produces a wine with softer tannins and thus can be drunk earlier than traditionally made wines, I find the oak overpowers the wine, making it very one-dimensional.  $97.  Wine Searcher

2000 Colpetrone Sagrantino di Montefalco Gold is made from the estate’s oldest vines in the Santa Maria del Fico and San Marco vineyards by famed consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella.  The wine was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels followed by 24 months in bottle.   Like Caprai, Cotarella embraces modern techniques.  The oak here however was much better integrated than in the Caprai and did not overpower the wonderful fruit the wine possessed. It had nice balance and acidity and finished with some length.  At one-half the price of the Caprai, this is a very good value.  $47. Wine Searcher

2006 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro.  Made from 100% Sagrantino grapes, this was a superb bottle of wine with an enticing earthy bouquet, round and delicious palate and a lengthy, soft finish.  The wine soared from the glass with each sip.  A wine with soul!  $65. Chambers Street Wines

In my opinion when you talk about Sagrantino, Paolo Bea is at the top of the summit. He pursues a natural, non-interventionalist approach to crafting his wines. The wines undergo fermentation without temperature control, using only ambient yeasts. Malolactic fermentation takes place in steel, though here, too, the timing and pace is dictated by nature.  The wines see 12 months in steel, followed by 24 months in large Slovanian oak barrels and 9 months of bottle age before being released for sale.  The wines are neither fined nor filtered prior to being bottled, and all-important operations are undertaken according to the lunar calendar.

Bea is a founding member of Gruppo ViniVeri, a loose organization of Italian wine producers who are part of the growing natural wine movement. They are an interesting group of winemakers–not all are organic, nor even Biodynamic–but they are keen to respect the traditions of their zones and maintain a character in their wines that is unique and expressive. Eschewing international varieties in favor of indigenous grapes, working with the yeasts native to their vineyards and wineries, and a commitment to a minimal use of sulphur are among the tenets of their ViniVeri manifesto.

2001 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni.  The 25 Anni is made from a selection of the best fruit and like the Collepiano sees 24-26 months in French oak barrique and minimum of 6 months aging in the bottle.  The wine was first produced in 1993.  This bottle was bigger and richer than the Collepian, and while the oak was better integrated, its presence was still there. Those who like big, modern wines, will surely enjoy this.  $105.  Wine Searcher

2000 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni.  I liked this the best of the three Caprai wines.  The oak was much better integrated here, but it was still too modern to my liking.  $121. Wine Searcher.

2003 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro.  Bea prefers hot vintages such as 2003 and 2007, and this bottle was an example of why he does. It exhibited a full fruity bouquet with great balance and purity on the palate.  Like the 2006 we drank before it, the wine evolved with every sip.  It displayed an almost Amarone like feel on the palate and the finish was lengthy and elegant.  Here again a wine with soul from a remarkable winemaker.  Unfortunately, this vintage does not appear to available any longer.

We concluded the meal with my wife Carol’s homemade Biscotti, assorted Italian pastries Cappuccino and Espresso.  I pulled a half bottle of 2001 Marion Passito Bianco from my cellar do drink along with the dessert.  A blend of 40% Garganega and 60% Trebbiano, it is made in a slightly oxidized style. The wine had a gorgeous amber hue, wonderful balance and a lush viscosity on the palate with a lengthy sweet Apricot finish.  $58.  Wine Searcher

Great selection of wines by Marc, and much thanks to Nick for his culinary skills.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Insane Italian Wine Dinner

Last Tuesday night I had the good fortune, along with my friend Emil, to be invited to the  “Insane Italian Wine Dinner” hosted by Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Company.  The dinner was held at Sfoglia Restaurant in NYC.

The dinner was inspired by a trip Matt and his fiancé Kerrie took last year to Piedmont and Modena, Italy.  Having had the opportunity to visit and taste the wines of Giuseppe Rinaldi and G.B Burlotto while in Piedmont, and than the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva of Gianfranco Soldera while dinning in Modena (where he proposed to Kerri…she said yes.), they decided to “recreate the magic with our own little Baroli/Soldera tasting here in NYC”.  Matt goes on to say about this event, “I’m more convinced than ever that traditional wine-making is the key to making the most profound wines.  Manipulating the process and slapping the lipstick of new wood and modern wine-making techniques only hides the terroir and tricks you into thinking you are tasting something great.  Gianfranco Soldera said it best, “Striving for quality: that’s the point. There was a time when great care was taken in the search for beauty and excellence. Then the masses came to prefer the façade to what lies behind it.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ll take tradition and the least amount of intervention as possible over more modern techniques that may yield high scores with Parker and the like any time.  In the end, these traditional wines will stand the test of time.  They always have, and they always will.  " It was a great event.

As Emil and I arrived an hour early we settled in at the bar and perused the wine list, which is under the direction of Sfoglia Sommelier Maria Rust.  I was very impressed by her selections that included some of Italy’s most artisanal wine producers.  We selected a glass of 2011 Zidarich Vitoska to sip while we waited for the dinner to start.  It was a great way to begin the evening. This “orange wine” (skins remain in contact with the juice during fermentation to impart the color) is one of the few I had yet to taste.  As a big fan of these type wines, I jumped at the chance to try it.  Made with the Vitoska grape by Friulian winemaker and owner Beniamino Zidarich, it had a deep golden hue, as opposed to the more orange color of Gravner or Vodipovec wines.  On the palate it displayed a pleasant stony minerality and pure fruit, but was a bit too cold to really appreciate.  As it warmed it took on a bit more depth and finesse.  These type wines should always be drunk at red wine temperature to fully appreciate them.  This wine will benefit from a year or two of cellar time in my opinion.  $30.  Wine Searcher.


Antipasti della Casa
Clams, Chilis & Tomato 
Burrata, Radishes, Sesame

Pappardelle alla Bolognese
Polenta Bianca, Spicy Sausage, Celery Root
Chicken al Mattone
Lamb chops, White Beans, Carrots, Lavender

Caramel Bread Pudding
Italian Cookies

TThe food was a terrific complement to the wines Matt selected and brought along. We began with two Italian whites from the Sfoglia cellar and selected by sommelier Maria.

2012 SP68 Bianco, Arianna Occhipinti.   This Sicilian white is made from a blend of Albanello and Moscato di Allesandria.  The wine is aged for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and then bottled unfiltered where it ages for a further month before being released.  SP68 refers to the road she must cross to reach her vineyards.  The wine had very good acidity and balanced fruit but had much too much perfume for me on both the nose and palate.  The perfume did begin to settle down after 30 minutes in the glass.  $30.  Wine Searcher.

2009 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Emidio Pepe.  I am a huge fan of Pepe’s wines.  He never fails to create amazingly complex age worthy reds and whites, that along with Eduardo Valentini are the standard of the region.  The vineyards are located in the northern province of Teramo, with siliceous soil rich in lime and iron. The Trebbiano is foot trodden in wooden tubs in order to avoid the contact between the iron presses and the acids of the fruit. The resulting white wines are slightly golden hued, well balanced and complex.

The grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.

Tonight’s bottle was classic Pepe Trebbiano, rich, focused and full of finesse, however it did finish a bit short.  In my opinion it is still too young to drink and needs a few more years cellar time.  $70.  Wine Searcher.

The large format reds that Matt brought along were very much the stars of the evenings.

1985 Barolo, Bartolo Mascarello (Magnum).  This bottle was a lot more tired than the magnum I had last November.  The fruit on the palate lacked the vibrancy of the November bottle. 

1995 Barolo, Monvigliero, Comm G. B. Burlotto (Double Magnum).  Wow was this good.  I am new to Burlotto’s wines, having only tried them a couple of times.  That is changing, as these are magnificent examples of traditionally made Barolo.  This exhibited a terroir-laden bouquet with superbly balanced and focused fruit on the palate. Completely round and delicious with a 30+ second finish.  Simply a magnificent wine.

1999 Barolo, Brunate Le Coste, Giuseppe Rinaldi (Magnum). Every inch the equal to the Burlotto with a bit more richness on the palate.  Another monster finish here.

Emil admires the Burlotto
2005 Brunello di Montalcino, Casse Basse Riserva, Gianfranco Soldera (Magnum).  WOTN for me.   Soldera is THE master craftsman.  In my opinion his Case Basse is the epitome of traditionally made Brunello.  Tonight’s wine had it all beginning with an enticing earthy bouquet that dazzled the senses.  Soldera wines always exhibit a gorgeous translucent red cryttal-like hue.  He believes that one should be able to see one’s finger through the wine after it is poured into the glass as was the case tonight.  On the palate the wine soared with lush and vibrant fruit, had impeccable balance and complexity and finished with elegance an length. Truly a wine with soul!

These wines will not be easy to find and will be very expensive if you do.  I thank Matt for pulling them together and sharing them with an intimate group of his friends and clients. 

NV Barolo Chinato, Cappellano.  A digestivo wine that is made from a blend of herbs, spices and essential oils that are steeped in Barolo wine. I have never been a fan of this or any digestivo for that matter, but I learned tonight that by putting a single ice cube in a dessert wine glass with the Chinato results is a very pleasant after dinner drink.  $85.  Chambers Street Wines, Amanti Vino.

It was a fantastic evening.   Thanks Matt for including me.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

1989 Barolo - Blind Tasting

The 1989 vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco is amongst the very best vintages ever.  If you are a lover of Nebbiolo and classic old world wine making, then it is a vintage you must try.  Yes it will be a bit pricey, but worth the indulgence to experience the vintage.

I had the privilege to be invited to a BYOB dinner of 1989 Barolo in NYC a couple of months ago. Eric Guido, a private chef and wine writer from NYC, organized the event.  I met Eric, along with the other attendees at the dinner, on Antonio Galloni’s Vinous website.  We met at I Truli Ristorante in NYC.  The food was delicious and complemented the wines beautifully.  Not only did Eric do a terrific job in organizing the evening, he captured the event beautifully in his blog on The VIP Table.  Ken Vastola, who I finally had the opportunity to meet, is one of the most knowledgeable Nebbiolo people in on the planet; also did a fantastic job in capturing the event with sensational photos as well as insightful comments.   Check out his blog, Fine Wine Geek.  As both did such a great job I will only include a photo of the wine line-up.

It was decided by the group to conduct this tasting blind.  I believe I was the only one who voted against doing the tasting blind.  In my opinion blind tastings distract from tasting and more importantly experiencing the wine.  In the end they always seem to devolve into comparing wines to one another and picking the wine or wines of the night.  Supporters of blind tasting say that by not knowing the wine you preclude the possibility of someone being prejudice, especially with the wine her or she brought.  The idea of being prejudice is absurd in my opinion, especially at a tasting like this where everyone present is obviously prejudice to the Nebbiolo grape.

Let’s get to what I consider the nitty-gritty.  Wines are dynamic and living.  It is rare that two bottles from the same vintage are going to taste exactly alike, especially if time has elapsed between tastings.  We have all had bottles of wine that were magnificent on one occasion, and yet on another occasion, it was “off”.  It is the nature of the beast.  However when one knows what one is drinking, it is possible to compare it to a previous bottle, be it a week, month, year or years before that the same wine/vintage was tasted.  It provides the information I want, which is about this wine, not how it compares to other wines. 

Famed wine importer and renowned wine writer, Kermit Lynch says of blind tasting, “Blind tastings are to wine what strip poker is to love”.  Okay I have had my say so let me get on to the food and wine.  

All of the wines were opened at about 1 PM and allowed to slow-ox for 5 to 6 hours.

Our antipasti consisted of 4 small and spectacular plates of Antipasti Misti, Carne Crudo, Polenta with Wild Mushrooms and Vitello Tonnato. 

First Flight

1989 Pruduttori Ovello Barbaresco –  I am a big fan of the Produttori Riservas, and this certainly did not disappoint.   The fruit was still quite young and the palate had that wonderful feminine elegance and balance so typical of these wines.

1989 Roagna Riserva Barbaresco – Great earthy bouquet, but alas the wine was corked.

1989 Bartollo Mascarello – Classic old world Barolo.  As much as I enjoyed this, it lacked the vibrant fruit, complexity and elegance of a bottle I had a few months before, which was simply magnificent.   This bottle brought to mind the Hugh Johnson quote, "There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine."
1989 Cavallotto San Giuseppe – Corked.

Second Flight

1989 Aldo Conterno Cicala - Beautiful translucent red hue, sensual bouquet, young vibrant fruit, tons of complexity and impeccable balance.  Finish was long and elegant.  A wine with real soul!

1989 Elio Grasso Gavarini – Earthy, with dark, ripe fruit.  Excellent balance and nice lengthy finish.

1989 Aldo Conterno Colonnello – While a terrific bottle of wine, on this night it was not, in my opinion, up to the Cicala, although most thought it the other way around. 

1989 Rocche dei Manzoni Riserva – Another classic old world Barolo that drank beautifully.

For our entrée there was a magnificently prepared Brasato al Barolo: Short Rib of Beef Braised in Barolo Wine. 

Third Flight

1989 Brovia Rocche – Corked

1989 Vietti Rocche – This was superb.  By far the most youthful wine of the evening.  The wine simply soared from the glass.

1989 Vietti Villero – A small step behind the Rocche on this night.  Gorgeous bouquet, color and balance.  Finished with considerable length.

1989 Giacosa Villero – corked

Dessert consisted of Fontina and Toma cheese, with Maraschino Mostarda.

Fourth Flight

1989 G. Conterno Cascina Francia – Absolutely gorgeous from the translucent red hue to the youthful, complex and balanced palate. From a great winemaker, a classic wine from a classic vintage. 

1989 Cascini Bruni Vigna Batistot – New producer for most of us.  It was delicious and had a soft, velvet finish.

1989 Prunotto Cannubi – This drank beautifully.  I don’t have a lot of experience with this producer, but based on this, I would buy some in a heartbeat.

1989 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Riserva – Drank on a par with the G. Conterno.  A simply round and delicious wine and another great example of a great wine in a great vintage from a great winemaker.

In my opinion, I thought that the Cascina Francia, Rinaldi Brunate Riserva, Vietti Rocche and A. Conterno Ciacala were the wines that delivered the best experience of this great vintage, at least to my palate.  In reality it really did not make a difference to me that the tasting was blind. The evening was spectacular.  I got to make some new wine friends, eat great food and drink great wine.  Thanks again Eric for coordinating the evening.

Photo compliments of Eric Guido
One final comment, if you love Nebbiolo, like those of us who attended this dinner and you do not own any 1989s, seek them out asap.  You will be glad you did.