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 17, 2016

Laurel & Sage

This past Friday evening my wife and I dined with 6 friends at Laurel & Sage in Montclair, NJ. The restaurant is located in the space where Ariane Durate showcased her culinary skills at her Culin Ariane Restaurant for a number of years.  Ariane has since moved on to Verona to open the more casual, Ariane Kitchen and Bar.   Fortunately under the direction and skills of chef/owner Shawn Paul Dalziel and his wife Jenny, the space continues to wow diners with spectacularly prepared and presented food.  Chef Dalziel’s has honed his skills in California, NYC and now Montclair.   This was our second visit to Laurel & Sage and on both occasions the food and service has been fantastic.  A BYOB restaurant, the wine service is on a par with what you would find in any top NYC restaurant.  The servers are knowledgeable and thus provide the appropriate glass to accommodate the wines you bring.  Decanters are also available.

I apologize for taking only one photo of the food on both occasions, but the one I took I am sure will give you a sense of what you can expect from chef Dalziel’s kitchen (there are a number of photos on their website).  This was my entrée, Crispy Jumbo Soft Shell Crab with corn tamale, pudding & salsa & shishito pepper.  This was an OMG dish.  The delicately spiced crab was greaseless, crispy and meaty.  It was a tour-de-force of flavors and textures.  Simply the best soft shell crab I have ever had.

I began the evening splitting two appetizers. Crispy Chilean Seabass Maki  Roll stuffed with papaya, avocado, jalapeño and served with a trio of dipping sauces.  Prepared like a sushi roll, the Nori wrap is lightly battered prior to the roll being flash-fried before being sliced and served. Again textures and flavors throw a party in your mouth.  

Cast-Iron Seared Diver Scallops.  Fresh and perfectly cooked they are served atop kabocha squash gnocchi with chestnut crema.  This amazing dish is also available as a main course.

Fresh poached in-the-shell Lobster cocktail, raw Cherrystone Clams and a salad of Roasted Baby Beets & Field Greens topped with goat cheese, spiced pecans and candied bacon were enjoyed by the rest of the group.

The two other entrées that brought rave reviews were Crispy Stuffed Airline Chicken Breast with chicken sausage, mushroom faro pilaf, whole grain mustard & natural jus and Cast-Iron Seared Long Island Duck Breast with root vegetable medley fries & Madeira-bone sauce seared foie gras.

The wines we chose went beautifully with the meal.  We began with:

2004 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins.  This master of old world Chateauneuf du Pape passed away about 6 weeks ago.  We toasted his life as we enjoyed his wine, which I had given a 90 minute slo-o at home.  At the 2 1/2 hour mark the wine was surprisingly closed and an hour later it had blossomed with the bouquet filling the nose with a rustic earthiness, while the palate took on incredible finesse and elegance as the fruit began to dance on the tongue.  It finished with both length and elegance.  The Celastins is crafted from more than 90% Grenache with small amounts of Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarèse added. His wines are as old world as one can find. They are fermented in cement tanks and then they go into very old barrels from Burgundy. Here the wine stays until Bonneau determines it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years. No wine is ever bottled before 5 years in the barrel. The result is a pure and balanced wine with amazing elegance. The wine spoke to 4 of my 5 senses. A clear translucent red hue that seemed to sparkle before my eyes like glistening snow, a bouquet of the earth that sired the grapes made me appreciate the very nose on my face. On the tongue a balanced harmony that made my taste buds dance with delight. The wine is drop dead delicious.  $275. Wine-Searcher

2005 Massolino Barolo Margheria.  One of my favorite Barolo producers, Massolino’s wines are a phenomenal expression of traditional, old world winemaking. Popped and poured at the restaurant and the wine was great from the first sip to the last.  It showed impeccable balance, depth and complexity on the palate as it evolved with each sip.  The finish was lengthy and elegance.  A round and delicious wine.  $85.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the meal with an Apple Tart with Vanilla ice cream and a bottle of 1997 Dal Forno Romano Nettare that drank beautifully.  The wine displayed a gorgeous amber hue with an absolutely captivating bouquet of caramel that makes you want to keep sniffing the wine.  The caramel soars from the glass with a delicate richness that seduces the palate with floral toned honey.  Lengthy 2 minute plus finish.  A wine with soul.  A white passito desert wine that is made from Garganega and Turbiana grapes that are air-dried on mats before fermentation.  The wine is only made in years when both grapes are at their best.  While I am not the biggest fan of Dal Forno, I have been smitten by this wine. $175, 375ml.  Wine-Searcher.

Good friends, good food and good wine.  Life is good!