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, March 29, 2015

Osteria Lupa Romana

It has been a least a decade since I ate at Osteria Lupa Romana in NYC, which I believe is the second (Babbo was the first) of the Batali/Bastianch restaurants.  Wherever it falls in their hierarchy is of little consequence, what is important is that it is a terrific restaurant in my opinion. It offers the traditional Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed two or three visits when it opened more than a decade ago, which is why two recent visits had me asking myself, “Why have you stayed away so long?”  

A couple of weeks ago, Chambers Street Wines hosted a dinner there that featured the Nebbiolo based wines of Antonio Vallana e Figlio from the Alto Piemonte region of Northern Italy.  Giuseppina Vallana and her children Francis and Marina run the estate today.  Marina was on hand to discuss the wines.

Here Nebbiolo is called Spanna.  I love these wines.  They possess a wonderful terroir-filled bouquet with a beautifully balanced, medium-bodied palate and lengthy elegant finish.   They also represent some of the best bargains in quality wines to be found today.  They drink well early on, thus they can be enjoyed while you wait for your Barolo & Barbaresco to mature.  They also have the ability to age beautifully for many years.  If you are a Nebbiolo lover and have not had Vallana wines, you owe it to yourself to pick up a couple of bottles.  You will be glad you did. It has been said of Vallana that  "...Even if he had the same batches of grapes to work with, no other winemaker would end up with wines quite like his...” - Burton Anderson.

Before I detail the spectacular wines and incredible plates served at the dinner,  I would be remiss if I did not mention the glass of 2012 Morgante Bianco di Morgante I had at the bar before the event began. This is a Sicilian white wine that is vinified from red Nero D’Avolo grapes (this really surprised me).   The estate is located in Grotte in the Province of Agrigento.  The wine exhibited a soft golden yellow hue in the glass, clean fruit, and good acidity on the palate and a lovely finish.  A delicious wine.  Discovering new wines like this really add to the pleasure of enjoying wine.  $16 for this is an absolute steal.  Wine-Searcher.

With our first course, Carne Cruda (raw beef) with Smoked Cauliflower & Crispy Shallots we were served 2007 Vallana Boca DOC.   Terrific pairing.  Boca is a rare wine produced in a very tiny area of Alto Piemonte, around the village of Boca, on the eastern side of the River Sesia.  The wine is a traditional blend of native grape varieties: Nebbiolo (65-70%), Vespolina  and Uva Rara.   Marina explained, “Nebbiolo confers the structure and the aromatic background; Vespolina and Uva Rara add freshness and some interesting varietal notes”.  The varieties are hand picked separately, each one at its perfect ripening time.  Fermentation occurs in large cement tanks and the wines ages for 2 years in medium-large oak barrels. Another 1-2 years in bottle are necessary for the wine to start to develop it's potential.  Tonight’s wine was light-bodied with a most elegant nose and fruity and spicy notes on a smooth palate.  I loved the delicate finish. $28.  Wine-Searcher.

The first of two outstanding past courses, Fontina & Black Truffle Agnolotti, was served next along with 2011 Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna DOC.  The Agnolotti were divine and without some restraint could become quite addictive.  

The Colline Novaresi DOC is 100% Spanna and the grapes come exclusively from the Colline Novaresi DOC, a growing area characterized by old vines and high altitudes. Vinification takes place in cement tanks in order to obtain a wine suitable for medium to long aging. The wine is released after two years of maturation.  Ruby red in color, the wine had an enticing bouquet of earth and soil, with a medium-bodied, focused and complex palate.  It finished with a refined excellence one does not expect in a wine that costs $15.  Wine-Searcher.  Average annual production is 3,000 cases.

The second pasta course, Orrechiette with Lamb Neck Ragu, was served with 2005 and 1998 Gattinara DOCG. The subtle richness of the dish made for an excellent pairing with the wines.  It has been said that Gattinara is the King of Alto Piemonte.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine is produced only in the town of Gattinara, on the western side of the River Sesia.  In my opinion this is as close as one gets to traditional Barolo.  Vallana vinifies the wine in separately in large cement tanks before the final blending process and then ages the wine for at least 2 years in large oak barrels.  The estate recommends a few years additional aging in the bottle for the wine to fully develop its potential.

The 2005 is just beginning to enter its drinking window.  The enticing palate and impeccable balance, blossoming fruit, soft tannins and complexity on the palate provide insight into the pedigree here.  Tannins are soft and fruit is beginning to blossom.  This has all the makings of a blockbuster wine that will age for a few decades…and for the ridiculous price of $28 a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

The 1998 was awesome and hitting on all cylinders.  I could not help but feel that this is what the 2005 will likely grow up to be. Simply put, a round and delicious with tons of soul!  Don’t think you will find this easily and if you do, expect to pay a handsome price.  Wine-Searcher lists a shop in the UK with a price tag of $400.

With the entrée, Braised Rabbit Leg with Green Olives & Swiss Chard, we drank 2010 “Cuvée Bernardo Vallana Spanna DOC.   This new addition to the estate is made in honor Bernardo Vallana, the founder of Vallana.  Spanna was his favorite wine. The wine is a blend from the best selection of Nebbiolo vines in Boca and Gattinara.   The wine exhibits a gorgeous translucent light red hue and a very soft and velvety palate. There is good acidity for aging, but this needs a few more years cellar time before it really shows its stuff.  $25.  Wine-Searcher.  I would be remiss if I did not mention how incredible the Braised Rabbit Leg was.  I really enjoy Rabbit, but this was off the charts.  I thought of the dish for days after.

With an amazing dessert, La Tur with Caramelized Pears, we got to taste the wine of the evening, 1958 “Castello Di Montalbano” Spanna DOC.  Let’s start with the dessert.  La Tur is a delicious soft, almost mousse-like cheese that consists of equal parts cow, goat and sheep milk.  Like the wine it comes from the Alto Piemonte area and is ripened for only 10 days to 2 weeks.  In addition to the pears, it was served with a thin sliced & toasted grain bread of some type.  It was a great combination. As for the wine, wow!  At 63 years of age, it displayed an amazing translucent red hue with nary a hit of bricking. The fruit was fresh and alive and tantalized the palate. Finished with great length and lots of elegance.

My hats off to Chambers Street Wines and Lupa for a wonderful evening of food and wine.

So inspired by the Vallana dinner, I returned last week to Lupa along with a couple of my wine group friends for lunch, one of whom is regular at the restaurant. He has always sung the praises of their pastas, and pehaps the most famous Roman dishes are the pastas.  Lupa offers a Roman Pasta Tasting Menu ($49) that features 5 signature pastas.  The entire table must participate in order to have this tasting, and I am happy to say, we eagerly agreed.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.  Simplicity is the key to most great recipes, and this one is testimony to that premise.  Here homemade square spaghetti is tossed with olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano Cheese and fresh, coarsely ground black pepper.  I had this dish on my first visit to the Eternal City 20 years ago and it instantly rekindled many fond memories.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.  Often called the Italian interpretation of Bacon and Eggs, this is another example of simple, quality ingredients coming together in harmony to provide a dinning experience.  In this dish the preferred cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is combined with sautéed Guanciale (pork jowl) or Pancetta and olive oil and then tossed with the pasta.  Off the heat beaten raw eggs are mixed into the Spaghetti and served.  True Carbonara DOES NOT INCLUDE CREAM. This was the real deal.  My one issue was that I would have preferred the Guanciale to have been cut up smaller and thus more of a part of the dish as to opposed to tending to dominate it.

Saltimbocca Ravioli.  Veal Saltimbocca is a classic Roman dish that combines tender veal scallopine, sage and proscuitto.  In this version, perfectly cooked homemade Ravioli are stuffed with seasoned ground veal and served in a sage butter sauce and topped with crispy fried prosciutto bits.  An absolute tour-de-force.

Pajata Finta.  Another classic Roman pasta, or so I have been told.  I never had this before, but you can bet I will be back at Lupa if for no other reason than to have this pasta.  For me, it was the best of the 5 remarkable pastas.  It is a sauce that is made with diced pieces of veal tripe and lamb sweetbreads. pancetta and tomato.  Rigatoni is added to the sauce, tossed and then served atop a dollop of fresh Ricotta Cheese. You mix it all together, take a bite and you are transported to culinary heaven.  The only thing missing was Dean Martin singing "On an Evening in Roma" as we savored this remarkable dish.

Bucatini All'Amatriciana.  Tomato sauce, pancetta or guanciale, olive oil, garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese combine to make what may be Rome's most famous pasta.  The addition of hot pepper seeds finishes the dish perfectly.  The classic version at Lupa is superb.

This is a remarkable bargain of good sized, perfectly prepared pasta for $49.  You even get lemon sorbet the cleanse the palate at the end of the meal.

As with all Bitali/Bastianch restaurants, Lupa has a good and reasonably priced wine list.  It was our intention to perhaps have a glass or two of wine with lunch.  That quickly evaporated with one sip of 2013 Principe Pallavicini Malvasia Puntinata from the Lazio terroir.  The wine is made from 100% Malvasia del Lazio, also called Malvasia Puntinata, which belongs to the aromatic Malvasia grape family, one the most ancient varieties cultivated in Italy.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20 days at the controlled temperature of 16° C.  The wine is left to refine “on the lees in stainless steel tanks of 50 hl for 4-5 months and 1 month in the bottle before release.  The wine had a golden straw yellow hue with an clean crisp bouquet that was echoed on the palate.  The finish was delicate and quite lengthy.  $15.

We quickly drained the bottle and decided we would have one more bottle, a red this time.  Marc selected a 2001 Petterino Gattinara from the Alto Piedmont region of Italy.  I am very familiar with Petterino wines (have some in the cellar) and this bottle with 14 years of age on it was beautiful.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this is a superb example of traditionally made Nebbiolo. The terroir filled bouquet filled the nose with wonderful anticipation.  The palate was balanced, focused and complex. Tannins were soft as velvet and the wine finished with lengthy elegance.  Simply a round and delicious. $40.  Wine-Searcher.

This bottle went quickly also and so, what the heck, we asked the sommielier (forgot his name) for a recommendation to drink with the Bucatini.  He suggested  2012 Passopisciaro Scinniri IGT from the slopes of Sicily's Mt. Etna.  The wine is crafted by Andrea Franchetti who also owns the Tenuta di Trinoro estate in Tuscany. This wine, a blend of Nerollo Mascalase, Cesanese and Petit Verdot, is aged for 10 months in large oak, before being bottled.  The wine had a rich, masculine palate with good focus and depth.  A very nice wine.  $21.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in or near NYC and have not been to Lupa, I suggest you consider giving a try.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Spectacular Loire Valley Wine Dinner

If you read this blog, then you know that the wines from France’s Loire Valley hold a very special place in my heart (and my cellar).  Our wine group dinner last week was centered on Loire Valley whites and reds. It was Emil’s turn to select the theme, wines and restaurant.  If this were baseball, I would have awarded him the Triple Crown, as he orchestrated an over-the-top event.   While Emil is no slouch when it comes wine, he recruited Matt Tornabene, wine connoisseur and owner of The Manhattan Wine Company to select, pour and talk about the evening’s wines.  He also chose Café Matisse for the venue.  I have extolled the praises of chef/ owner Peter Loria before; http://winewithoutnumbers.blogspot.com/search?q=cafe+matisse. Once again the food was delicious and a perfect compliment to the wines.  The service here, under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, is as spectacular as the food that is served. A BYOB restaurant, the wine service outdistances most restaurants with wine lists. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always appropriate glasses to match the wine.

Lobster, Sushi Tuna “Satay” was composed of Soba Noodle Cake, Spicy Peanut Jus, Thai Cucumber Salad, Creamy Chili Vinaigrette, Caramelized Pineapple, Julienne Scallions

Matisse Burger, Blended Sirloin, Short Ribs and Brisket, Creamy Blue Cheese Mousse, Red Onion Jam, Hickory Smoked Bacon, BBQ Short Ribs, Yukon Gold Shoe String Fries, Spicy Tomato Aioli

Speck Wrapped Veal Tenderloin with Rigatoni w/ Pesto

Emil & Matt
The Loire Valley is often divided into three sections. The Upper Loire includes the Sauvignon Blanc dominated areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The Middle Loire is dominated by Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines found in the regions around Touraine, Saumur, Chinon and Vouvray. The Lower Loire that leads to the mouth of the river's entrance to the Atlantic goes through the Muscadet region which is dominated by wines of the Melon de Bourgogne grape.

Matt selected 5 Chenin Blanc and 2 Cabernet Franc from Middle Loire.  Both of these grapes produce age worth wines of depth, character, balance and soul as was the case with each one tonight.

2010 Eric Morgat Savennières, L'Enclos.  For the past decade Eric Morgat has quietly been producing some of the Loire Valley’s most interesting and complex Chenin Blancs.  It is the only grape he vinifies. The estate is situated along the north bank of the Loire River, in the Anjou-Saumur subregion of Savennieres.  Here the Chenin Blanc grape grows in soils of sand and schist unlike the limestone chalk soil of the Vouvray, 100 miles to the east. A strict manual harvest using small bins with strict selection in the vineyard is adhered too religiously. Fermentation and elevage in 400 liter Foudre for a year, without racking.  Several weeks before the following harvest the Foudres are blended into a cuvée, and the wine remains on the fine lees for another year.  After 22 months of aging the wine is bottled after a light filtration in the summer at the time of the rising moon.  Tonight’s wine was a beautiful expression of Chenin Blanc.  The wine displayed a wonderful crisp and stony palate with great acidity.   A joy to drink, it was the perfect start to the evening.  $40.  Manhattan Wine Company.

2012 Thibaud Boudignon White Anjou à Françoise.  A similar terroir of shallow soils on grey schist, ryholite (volcanic soil) and sand as in Morgat.  Mr. Boudignon crafts his wines using gentle pressing, indigenous yeast fermentation, barrel vinification (new and used French & Austrian oak)  and no malolactic fermentation.  Tonight’s wine had a brilliant fresh floral nose, a crisp & mineral driven palate the displayed intense focus, bracing acidity, with a textured and rather unique, almost tart-like finish that added a lovely dimension to the wine.  I was smitten by this wine. $49. Manhattan Wine Company.

2012 Richard Leroy Les Noels de Montbenault.  Montbenault is a 2 hectare parcel within the appellation Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou, situated on the top of the hill with superb exposure. The soil is volcanic and the vines are 50 years old, making this is one of the great terroirs of the Coteaux.  Bottling occurs one year after the vintage with no chaptalization (added sugar).  Production is limited to 1500 bottles.  Tonight’s wine was round and delicious wine, with crisp, soft elegant palate and lengthy finish. $49.  Manhattan Wine Company.

2011 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc Clos de Guichaux. Romain Guiberteau, a disciple of Dani Foucault (Clos Rougeard), made his first wine in 1997. The Clos de Guichaux vineyard is composed of a shallow clay and limestone topsoil over chalk bedrock. Whole cluster pressing. No chaptalization. Native yeast. VInification and 10 month ageing in two to four year old large 600L barrels. Light filtration. Production is limited to 575 cases.  This is a wine with great pedigree and potential. Tonight’s bottle was tightly closed upon opening.  It began to open a wee bit after 2 hours in the glass. Probably needs 5+ years in the cellar.  $44.  Wine-Searcher.

2008 Montlouis-Sur-Loire, Le Volagré, Stephane Cossais.  Stephane trained under the legendary Foucault brothers.  After tasting a bottle of their 1996 Brézé, Rougeard’s iconic dry Chenin Blanc, he was convinced that his calling was to make a wine of this style, not the reds for which the Foucaults are largely known.  He began making his own wine in 2001, but was not proud of any until 2004.  He was poised to become the greatest winemaker in Montlouis when he passed away unexpectedly in 2009 of a heart attack, leaving his last two vintages still in barrel.  Tonight’s wine, his final wine, and was simply brilliant, possessing an enticing fruity and stony bouquet with a crisp and gloriously fresh palate.  The monster finish was elegant and lengthy.  $50. Manhattan Wine Company.

1985 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.   In my opinion this is one of the finest estates in the Loire.  Their wines are crafted with tons of soul, making for an exciting drinking experience.  Les Picasses is the most classic and age worthy wine from the domaine. It comes from a limestone terroir, where the vines have reached a respectable fifty years of age. The fruit is hand-harvested and fermentation is carried out in stainless steel controlled to less than 30°C, followed by a maceration of 25-30 days.  The resulting wine goes into large foudres where it will rest for between 12 and 14 months before bottling.  Tonight’s wine, 100% Cabernet Franc, was absolutely stunning.  It exhibited a deep earthy bouquet with great length and purity on the palate and on the finish. Round and delicious. A wine with soul! $75.  Manhattan Wine Company.

1989 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses.  Matt thought the wine was slightly corked.  You could have fooled me, as I thought it was quite good, albeit not a match on this night for the ’85. I have had the ’89 a couple of years ago and found it to be on that night on a par with the ’85. Bottle variation is something we all learn to live with.  $70 Manhattan Wine Company.

2009 Clos Rougeard Samur-Champigny Les Poyeux.  Clos Rougeard is considered the reference point for Cabernet Franc in Saumur and Saumur-Champigny. These incredible wines, made by the Foucault brothers, are considered a cult wine in France and every 3 star Michelin restaurant there scampers to get a small allocation (rumor has it that only 3 are successful).  US allocations are miniscule, and acquiring the wine takes more than a bit of luck.  I have been fortunate to acquire a mini stash. Charles Joguet, the great winemaker of Chinon, once said: “there are two suns. One shines outside for everybody. The second shines in the Foucaults’ cellar.”

Quite simply these wines are among the best red wines I have ever tasted.  I would put them up against any red wine on the planet.  The vineyards have been farmed organically for generations; with the wines see extended fermentation (18-24 months) in old oak barrels before being bottled unfiltered.

The Saumur-Champigny “Les Poyeux” is one of their signature wines.  “Les Bourg” being the other. Tonight’s wine simply soared from the glass and threw a party for the olfactory and gustatory senses. It began with compelling and enticing earthy aroma, before gracing the palate with impeccable balance, seductive elegance and a long velvety finish.  All of this and still the wine is in its infancy and will reward 5+ years of patience.

We finished the evening with a 1976 Dujac Morey St. Denis, that Jeff brought along.  What a lovely aged burgundy with the bouquet, fruit, balance and finish hitting on all cylinders.  Jeff explained that he did not believe Dujac made a premier cru that year so this wine probably included a mixture of village and premier cru grapes.  Most likely explains why it drank so well despite being a village wine and a difficult vintage.

Our sincere thanks to Emil, Matt, Peter and Larry for a wonderful evening.

A happy and contented group (Emil is taking the photo)


Monday, March 2, 2015

A Very Special Italian Sunday Dinner

The traditional Italian Sunday dinner that my generation grew up with always consisted of "macaroni" and "gravy" with meatballs, sausage and braciole.  The meal usually began promptly at 1:30 in the afternoon and lasted a good 3 to 4 hours.  Today many restaurants in the NY/NJ metro area attempt to recreate the tradition by serving "Pasta with Sunday Sauce" as a special on Sundays.  Perhaps the new name is justified, because it usually is a far cry from the macaroni and gravy that I grew up with.  I am very thankful that the tradition continues with the current generation of Italian Americans in their home kitchens and dinning rooms on most Sunday afternoons.

A couple of weeks ago, our friends Tony and Fran, invited us and a few other friends to their home for a very special Sunday macaroni dinner.  It was special for a couple of reasons.  The guests of honor were two two of Italy’s top producers of Barolo, Franco Conterno (Aldo Conterno Estate) and Franco Massolino (Massolino Estate).  Tony befriended both of them on a trip to Italy a few years ago.  Since both were in town for the La Festa del Barolo tasting that we attended the day before, they graciously accepted Tony's invitation to a traditional Sunday Italian dinner at his house.   I had met both men before and they are very gracious, friendly and easy to talk with, which made for a most enjoyable afternoon.

The other reason it was so special is that Tony’s mother Elisabetta, who hails from Alberona, Italy, made homemade Cavatelli pasta that literally brought a tear to my eye. The lightness and freshness of the macaroni brought back memories of eating Sunday dinner at my Grandma DeRosa’s house.  Tony, no slouch in the kitchen himself, made a large pot of delicious ”gravy, meatballs, sausage & braciole” to compliment his mom’s Cavatelli.  We were all so busing devouring the "macaroni" that no one remembered to take a picture of it.  Of course no Italian Sunday dinner would be complete without beginning with a large antipasto of cheeses and salamis.  After the “macaroni” we enjoyed a delicious roast of Filet Mignon and of course finished with a bevy of Italian Pastries and other assorted goodies.

Franco M., Mom Elisabetta, Franco C., Tony

The two Francos had one request, “NO BAROLO!”  They wanted to drink other wines.  We raided our cellars and accommodated them with following selection.

NV Krug Rosé Champagne.  A great way to begin the dinner.  This was wonderful with its pinkish hue, yeasty and rich palate and sublime finish.  It is a blend of 59% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier and spent six years aging on the lees prior to disgorgement.  $300.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese.  I am a huge fan of Riesling and of J.J. Prum.  I find their wines have outstanding complexity and balance. The harvest at Prüm is always extremely late. The 2007, which we drank today, harvest was not finished before December. Late picking allows the Riesling grapes in the cool Middle Mosel climate to be picked at ideal ripening conditions, the basis to produce wines of superb quality.  Today’s bottle was superb, with just a hint of sweetness on a long and elegant palate.  I find that Prum wines need a minimum of 5 years of cellar time before they can really be appreciated.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Manni Nössing Kerner.  The Alto Adige region of Northern Italy lies adjacent to the Austrian border.  The region produces a number of delicious white and red wines.  This delicious white is made from the Kerner grape and this particular bottle is from vineyards in the Valle Isarco (to the northeast of Bolzano), Manni Nössing is a brilliant young artisan wine maker who has only been bottling his wines since 2000.  He produces only 2,500 cases of wine in total. Prior to that he sold off his juice.  Following traditional wine making methods, he hand harvests his fruit, ferments it in stainless steel and ages in stainless steel on the lees for eight months. Today’s wine was crisp and pure on the palate, with a lovely stony minerality and hints of flowers.  It was delicious.  $34.

2001 Henri Boillot Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru. A brilliant expression of the Chardonnay grape in this remarkable wine.  A rich, pure and elegant wine that dances on the tongue with vibrant fruit, acidity, depth and complexity before finishing with serious length and elegance.  The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Geantet-Pansiot - Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (Magnum). 1993 was a very good year In Burgundy, which yielded a rather small crop of rich, concentrated and velvety red wines. Today’s bottle had a lovely fragrant and elegant nose and a full-bodied, complex rich palate that showed considerable depth. The finish was long and elegant.  I think that this wine is a good example of the absurdity of numbers.  His eminence RP gave the ’93 vintage a score of 80. $550.  New York Wine Warehouse.

1989 Chateau LaFleur DeGay (Magnum).  A Bordeaux blend from the highly respected Pomerol appellation in Bordeaux.  Readers of this blog know I do not drink much Bordeaux.  I find the wines, blends for the most part, to be very one-dimensional and lack the elegance of Barolo and Burgundy.  At least for me they do.  This wine did nothing to change my opinion. Yours (not mine) for only $330+ a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

1989 Chateau Margaux.  More of the same in my opinion, except for the price, which is twice the previous Bordeaux.  Why, you may ask?  Simple, this is one of the classified first growths, thus very much a "status" wine and if you want to drink a first growth you must ante up big bucks like the Chinese do.  $650.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, Soldera, in the opinion of many (myself included) is the master of Brunello wines.  The bouquet of this wine filled the nose with great anticipation of what we were about to drink.  The wine soared on the palate with dazzling purity, complexity and balance and finished with a clean and pristine elegance.  I believe that most of us felt this way about the wine.  Franco Conterno, however, had a different opinion.  He felt the wine was suffering from reduction.  Reduction in wine is thought of as the opposite of oxidation, i.e. not enough oxygen was introduced into the wine, thus imparting an acrid aroma (sort of like corked wine) to the wine.  When the wine is exposed to air the reduction can, although not always, dissipate.  Franco thought that the case here initially.  He did say the wine got better with air, but he did not seem as excited about the wine as the rest of us were.  As an interesting aside, this was the first time he ever drank a Soldera wine.  $500.  Wine-Spectator.

1998 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva.  My favorite Spanish producer and one of the few real traditionalists left in Spain.  The wines of LdH rarely disappoint.  Today’s bottle had a bit of bricking on the edge but it did not deter from the amazing purity of fruit and earthy palate that evolved in the glass with each sip.  At $40+, this is a ridiculous bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

Paul, Emil, Franco M., Tony, Jack, Franco C., Mark, Vincenzo

With espresso and dessert Tony broke out a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac and a couple of bottles of Grappa.  The Louis XIII is an excellent cognac for sure, but the cost is way off base, in my opinion. In any case it was a great ending to a dinner.  It is not everyday that one gets to converse with two of Italy's iconic wine producers while eating great food and drinking great wine.  Thanks to Tony, Fran and Tony's mom Elisabetta for their gracious hospitality and outstanding food.