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, November 15, 2015

2001 Brunello

This past Wednesday our monthly wine group met at Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, NJ. where owner/chef Ariane Duarte prepared a fantastic meal to compliment my selection of Brunello di Montalcino wines from the incredible 2001 vintage.  Ariane and her husband ran the immensely popular Culin Ariane in Montclair for a number of years before deciding on opening a slightly more casual spot with a focus on upscale comfort food.  Michael has put together a fantastic and reasonably priced wine list to complement the food.  He was gracious to allow me to bring along the Brunello for the evening.


Vinous founder Antonio Galloni says of the 2001 vintage, “There is much to be excited about as the vintage offers an array of outstanding wines. The best 2001 Brunellos are characterized by rich aromatics and generous, ripe fruit, with excellent structure and fine, elegant tannins. Although many wines are clearly built to age I also tasted quite a few that are drinking beautifully right now”.  

Before indulging in the Brunellos we began the evening with NV Cedric Bouchard Roses Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Val Vilaine.  Michael, our guest for the evening, brought this fantastic grower champagne along. It was made from 2012 fruit and disgorged in April of 2014. The wine was firing on all cylinders.  It possessed a gorgeous yeasty bouquet and palate that evolved with each sip. To really appreciate this Champagne, drink if from a large glass instead of a Champagne flute.  The larger glass will allow you to experience the evolution of the wine.  At about $65 a bottle, this is one of the great bargains in great Champagne.  Wine-Searcher.

All of the Brunellos were made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and were opened 3 ½ hours prior to drinking.  The wines were not decanted but allowed to breathe in their respective bottles.

2001 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Owned by New Yorker Richard Evans, the wine making is in the hands of Enologist Paolo Vagaggini. Vagaggini ages the Il Palazzone Brunello longer than required by DOCG law--up to four years--creating an exquisite wine. Production is limited to 20,000 bottles a year.  Tonight’s wine sported an enticing bouquet of red fruit with lovely balance and focus on a full-bodied and elegant palate.  The wine is drinking at its peak at the moment, and should do so for 3 to 5 more years.  $185.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino. Giulio Salvioni, like Gianfranco Soldera, pursues very unique and highly individualized protocols with respect to the crafting of his Brunello. All the work in the vineyard is carried out by hand, with hard pruning to obtain low yields of fruit and careful selection during the manual harvest. Production is deliberately limited to 10,000 bottles a year, to obtain the very best from his unique terroir. Perhaps Salvioni distinguishes himself most prominently by the fact that he never makes a Riserva.  His 2001, one of the top bottlings of the vintage, saw four years in large Slavonian Oak.  Tonight’s bottle had a bright red translucent hue and a gorgeous earthy bouquet.  The wine possessed an incredible freshness, impeccable balance, finesse and complexity.  In short it was round and delicious with lots of soul.  The lengthy and elegant finish had us all wanting another sip.  For most of us, including myself, it was the wine of the night.  $147.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino.   Another of Monalcino’s top estates, it has been producing Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino since 1989.  (Elisabeth and Piero Palmucci sold the estate to the Grattamacco estate in Bolgheri in 2011).  I have had this wine a few times in the past few years and it was delicious and typical of great traditionally made Brunello on each occasion. The last two bottles have been somewhat of a different story. The wine seems to be in an awkward stage at the moment.  It was closed and tight on the palate upon opening and remained that way for the first 30 minutes or so, after which time it did begin to come around a bit.  Considering my experience with previous bottles of this vintage, it appears the wine is either asleep or napping.  Hopefully it will wake up soon.  $155.  Wine Searcher.

2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello Il Decennale. This Riserva bottling was made to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the estate. The wine spent six years in cask prior to being bottled.  I found this to be more open on the palate than the normale we drank alongside it.  A few in our group detected VA (volatile acidity) but I have to admit I did not.  (According to Antonio Galloni, the wine can have relatively high levels of volatile acidity).  I have very little experience with VA, at least in detecting it.   I thought the wine improved as it sat in the glass and while quite enjoyable, it was not up to the wines that came before or after it.  Not Available.

2001 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  In my humble opinion, Soldera is the gold standard for Brunello di Montalcino.   He employs a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for the natural cultivation of his grapes.  He limits his production to 15,000 bottles a year. The wines spend six years or more in large, very old, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings.  While still quite young the wine was simply a superb expression of old world, natural wine. The balance was impeccable and the fruit emerged more and more with each sip before finishing with incredible length and elegance.  This is truly a wine with soul that will live for many, many years.  A very close runner-up to the wine of the night.  Sodlera’s wines, always expensive, have become even more so recently, the result of a former disgruntled employee who destroyed 60,000 liters of wine in 2012 from vintages 2007 through 2012.  $549. Wine-Searcher.

2004 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino. Unfortunately I was unable to locate a bottle of 2001 from Cerbaiona so I settled on the 2004, a vintage which is shaping up to be very comparable to 2001.  Diego Molinari, a former Alitalia pilot, founded the estate in the early 1980’s and his wines are held in high regard.  Winemaking at Cerbaiona is straight-forward. The grapes are harvested by hand and pressed in a vintage wood-sided press before fermenting in cement tanks. After a period of settling, the Brunello spends 4+ years in cask and at least 6 months in bottle before release. Nothing is added (no yeasts, no enzymes) and nothing is subtracted (no fining or filtration).  Production is limited to 1700 cases, and like Salvioni, I do not think he makes a Riserva.  Antonio Galloni said in his review of the 2004, “If forced to drink only one wine from Montalcino, I might very well choose Diego Molinari’s sumptuous Brunello.”  Tonight's bottle was fantastic.  A completely round and delicious wine that demonstrated beautiful balance and complexity on a silky palate before finishing with substantial length and elegance.  Still very much a baby, it held up well to the wines from the 2001 vintage. The estate was sold to American Venture Capitalist Gary Rieschel in October of 2015.  $190. Wine-Searcher.


Wines of this caliber should be accompanied by food of equal caliber.  Each of the wines we drank tonight were crafted by passionate winemakers who take what Mother Nature gives them and nurtures the elements into remarkable wines.  Ariane is their equivalent on the culinary side. There is no pretense to her food.  High quality, fresh ingredients prepared with passion and skill.  I left the meal in her hands and she performed in spades...as she always does.

She started us off with a couple off hors d'ouveres served family style, which I might add were gobbled up in a heart beat.

Deviled eggs.  Who doesn't like deviled eggs, especially Ariane's.  I could easily make a meal out of them.

Bacon wrapped, Parmesan stuffed Medjool dates.  A fantastic rendition of this European classic comfort appetizer.  Completely addictive.

For our first course she presented us with a bowl of Prince Edward’s Island Mussels, fennel, chorizo, toasted garlic, touch of tomato.  These perfectly cooked crustaceans had just the right amount of spice.  We all made sure to sop up each drop of the broth with house-made Croissants.

For the pasta course I requested Pasta Carbonara.  While Ariane's version of this Roman classic contains cream (a no-no in Italy), it can easily compete with the cream-less versions. In addition to the cream she incorporates peas and apple smoked bacon tossed with perfectly al dente pasta.  It was magnificent and nary a morsel was left on anyone's plate.

Our entrée of Roasted pork loin, butternut squash Brussels sprouts hash, cranberry relish, pork jus was cooked to perfection and enjoyed by all.

 Ariane's signature mini Banana Cream Pie completed an evening of culinary delight.

A terrific evening to say the least.  Great wines, food and conversation as well as the presence of our guest Michael.