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, September 13, 2015

Pepe & Valentini: The Icons of Abbruzo

Our monthly wine group met recently at Lorena’s in Maplewood.  Emil, who’s family hails from Abruzzo, Italy selected wines from the top wine producers in the region, Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini.  Both estates are traditional in their winemaking, resulting in wines of depth, complexity and distinction.

Abruzzo is located about 2 ½ hours northeast of Rome. Its immediate neighbors are Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and southwest and Molise to the southeast. Winemaking traditions in Abruzzo date back to the sixth century B.C.  Abruzzo provides a perfect haven for grape growing. Vines flourish thanks to the terroir, the abundance of sunshine, the generous rainfall and a variable climate: warm and dry on the coast and more continental (hot in summer and cold in winter) inland. Furthermore, the high altitudes see dramatic diurnal temperature variations. When combined with cool mountain air currents, they moderate the temperatures in the vineyards situated on the slopes, providing a perfect mesoclimate for the vines. The most favorable growing conditions are found in the low hills of Teramo, the Colline Teramane.

The region produces two white wines; Trebbiano (one of the most widely planted grapes in the world); Pecorino, a white grape that has seen a renaissance in the past 25 years or so; Cersasulo, a full-bodied Rosé of incredible depth; and the flagship red wine, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo made from from 100% Montepulciano grapes.  This full-bodied, earthy red should not be confused with the Tuscan wine Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Emidio Pepe. Emidio Pepe is known for crafting amazingly complex age worthy reds and whites year after year.  With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, 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.  Only after 10 years does he release his wines. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled. An extensive stock of older vintages is kept at the cellar. For his Trebbiano, the grapes are crushed by foot in a wood vat.  Pepe makes Pecorino, Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Valentini. Edward passed away in 2006 and the estate today is in the very capable hands of his son Francesco, who follows in the traditional methods of his father.  Only the very best grapes go into the wines with his name on it.  Based on the regional laws and standards of this wine zone, the Valentini estate could deliver 800,000 bottles annually. However, artisanal craftsmanship relies on selecting the ripest fruit thus limiting their production to approximately 50,000 bottles annually.  The rest is sold off. The estate keeps the details of their traditional winemaking methods a closely guarded secret, and rarely allows anyone to visit their cellars. The estate produces Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Edoardo claimed that his Trebbiano was the best wine he made.  I can tell you from experience, all three are sensational.

The Wines

2010 Emidio Pepe Pecorino.  The Pecorino grape has seen a Renaissance over the past 25 years.  The wine had terrific acidity and reminded me of a Northern Rhone white with a lovely viscous and chewy palate, that finished with considerable length.  $82.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.  The Trebbiano grape accounts for about 1/3 of all white wine in Italy.   Tonight's bottle was just spectacular juice.  It possessed a gorgeous golden yellow hue with a rich and elegant bouquet.  The palate was perfectly balanced and endowed with great focus, finesse and complexity.  Monster finish.  A wine with soul that is drinking at its peak at the moment.  This vintage is no longer available.  Recent vintages are however and priced at about $85.

Pepe (left) and Valentini (right)
2006 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  The pedigree of this wine was eminently apparent, however the fruit is still asleep. I have had the wine twice in the past year and on both occasions it was very tight.  I suggest keeping this in the cellar for a few more years and decanting it for 4 to 5 hours when you do open it. This is not an easy wine to find and when you do expect to pay about $300 for it.

1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This was spectacular.  I have had many vintages of this wine from Pepe, and this ranks amongst the very best.  It possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue that showed no bricking.  It displayed that earthy bouquet that one expects from his wines, especially when they have age on them.  What surprised me was that this was ready to drink immediately upon opening and kept evolving in the glass as we drank it.  A completely round and delicious wine with soul!  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

The Food

Lorena’s is a popular French restaurant offering seasonally fresh cuisine.  With the exception of my steak, which while perfectly cooked, I found very bland, the food and service were very good indeed.

Squid Ink Risotto, Sautéed Florida Sun Shrimp, Leeks, Peas, Saffron Emulsion

Warm Crepe of Lump Crabmeat, Field Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs, White Truffle Oil Beurre Blanc

Barnegat Sea Scallops, Savoy Cabbage, Corn, Peas, Tomato Concasee, Potato Puree,
Mushroom-Truffle Emulsion

Lamb Sirloin, Almond and Dijon Mustard Crust, Organic Red Quinoa, 
Haricot Vert, Bell Pepper Marmalde, Za'atar Yogurt

Pasture Raised Angus Beef N.Y. Strip,Glazed Baby Vegetables, Potato Puree, 
Scallion-Herb Buerre Fondue

Wonderful selection of wines Emil.  Thanks for sharing these with the group.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Our Wine Group Returns to Southern France

A couple of weeks back our monthly wine group met for our August wine dinner at A Toute Heure ("anytime" is the English translation) in Cranford, NJ.  Jim who selected the wines for the evening also picked the venue, which was new to us.  It turned out to be a great tasting with incredible food. You can be sure we will be back.

This farm-to-table restaurant run by Andrea & Jim Carbine turns out some of the best food in NJ or anywhere for that matter. Jack's Run Garden sits on the side and back of the Carbine's Cranford home and provides a bevy of Jersey fresh ingredients that are skillfully used in every dish. Service is courteous, friendly, professional and a compliment to the food that is prepared by executive Chef Robyn Reiss, who is simply a magician in the kitchen.

Our Menu began with a platter of spectacular homemade dinner rolls hot out of the oven.  Give me a half dozen of these and a crock of butter and I could be in heaven.  The appetizers arrived shortly after and brought huge smiles to our faces with each bite we took.

braised bacon, stone fruit mustard, marinated Jack’s Run Garden pole beans & radish, with toasted pepitas.  Sublime decadence on on wood board.  This was over-the-top and is a must order if you go here.

corn spoonbread, grilled Sycamore Farm’s corn, roast poblano peppers, sheep’smilk feta, scallion, and a lime-honey vinaigrette.  A melange of flavors and textures, but simply could not follow the bacon.

pan-roast pizza, house-made dough, chef’s choice of local meats, cheeses + vegetables, and a sunny-side up egg.  While I don't recall the chef's choices tonight, I do recall that it was delicious and amazing.

We expected nothing less spectacular with the main courses and we were not disappointed.

Four in the group ordered the grilled, pounded bone-in pork chop, with a ginger lime glaze, and a Phillips Farm’s corn, peach & garden pepper salad.  While I was not one of them, I did get to taste a bite and had to agree with the comments of those who ordered it..."best damn pork chop I have ever eaten".  Juicy and flavorful.

Mussels are served four different ways here.  I opted for their signature dish, ATH mussel pot: spicy chorizo sausage, saffron cream sauce w frites.  This preparation takes the French classic Moules et Frites to a new level.  Perfectly cooked crustaceans in a spicy broth with incredible hand-cut French Fries.  Superb!.  My only lament is that my dinner mates devoured most of my fries.

seared local scallops, fresh Sycamore Farm’s corn polenta, buttery summer squash, (sorry no photo) received raves from Howard.

A summer cobbler, Phillips Farm’s stone fruit & summer berries, sugar cookie crumble top, and a scoop of sweet cream ice cream (no photo) completed a spectacular meal.

The Wines

I posted about wines from the Southern Rhone Region of France last year, Red Wines of Southern France.  Jim took us back there again tonight.

Chateau Rayas, under the direction and wine making of Emmanuel Reynaud, is considered by many, myself included, as the premier wine estate in the Southern Rhone. In the heart of the southern Rhône Valley appellation vineyards, he offers up his Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wines featuring Châteauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône, Vacqueyras and Côtes du Rhône Village.  Both red and white, these wines are the fruit of the vineyards of a number of different domains: Château Rayas, Château Fonsalette and Château des Tours.  The family has been producing legendary wines since 1880.  Today these wines are matured in the cellars of two estates Château Rayas and Château des Tours. The wines are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.  The signature wine, the Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve is perhaps the ultimate expression of a 100% Grenache based wine.  While it is delicious, it is very expensive.

Chateau des Tours wines on the other hand is much more affordable and a bit easier to locate. A 40-hectare property of vines that include Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot and Counoise for red wine and Grenache and Clairette for white wine. Three wines are made here, Vacqueyras Red; Cotes du Rhone Red and Cotes du Rhone White.  Jim selected two Vacqueyas for the evening.

1998 Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras. Like all Reynaud vineyards, these are tended with the same organic methods, manually plowed, harvested much later than other producers and centered around a reverence for old-vine Grenache.  Tonight’s wine, a blend of Grenache (80%), Syrah (20%) was delightful.  The bouquet was earthy with a mature and nicely balanced palate. The finish was a bit short however, suggesting that the wine has seen its best years.  The wine sells for around $50, but a search of Wine-Searcher lists wines only as far back as 2004.

2001 Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras.  For me this was clearly the wine of the night.   I was not alone in my opinion.  The terroir-laden bouquet soared from the glass creating great anticipation of what was in store.  The palate did not let us down.  It possessed amazing depth, focus, balance and elegance.  Like all great bottles of wine, it evolved with each sip and finished with considerable length.  Truly a wine with soul!

2000 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard Cuvée Boisrenard.  CdP laws allow for all 13 grape varieties from the region to be blended into the wine. Domaine de Beaurenard is one of the few who uses them all, with Grenache (70%) making up the majority.  I found the wine to be very modern with a rather harsh mid-palate and a bit too much alcohol. $80.  Wine-Searcher.

2000 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Cuvée Mon Aieul.  Made from 100% Grenache this was very enjoyable.  The wine had an enticing bouquet of ripe fruit, was nicely balanced on a complex and peppery palate.  The mid-palate exhibited soft tannins and it finished with good length.  $95.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Domaine Gerard Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  I have always liked this producer as I find the wines to be very traditional and made in a style quite similar to Rayas.  The estate uses whole cluster fermentation from a blend of 82% Grenache and the rest Mourvedre, Syrah, and Vaccarese from their vines averaging about 50 years of age.  The wine possessed a deep red hue, pure fruit and a nicely balanced full-bodied, peppery and silky palate.  Alcohol a tad high, but finish was quite nice.  $93.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The estate is another that uses all 13 grapes, with Mourvedre and Grenache leading the way, in its red wines.  Times have changed here at the estate in my opinion.  There appears to be a movement to a more modern style of wine making.  My experience with the wines over the past few years has been disappointing and tonight’s wine did nothing to change that.  I found the wine to lack depth and focus.  It just sat in the glass and never really made a statement.  $116.  Wine-Searcher.

Great job Jim on your selection of wines and the venue.