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, May 22, 2016

Master of the Veneto – Giuseppe Quintarelli

Our monthly wine group met earlier this week at Da Nico in Millburn, NJ.  A new venue for our group, this intimate Italian Restaurant was chosen by Howard, who had responsibility for the evening’s wine selections.  With the exception of a bit of a heavy hand with Oregano the dishes were quite tasty and enjoyed by all.  Sorry we neglected to take any pictures.

Polenta Alla Griglia
Grilled polenta, topped with sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallots in a white wine sauce

Carpaccio di Manzo e Scaglie di Parmigiano
Raw filet mignon topped with arugula and shaved parmigiano cheese

Pappardelle Nico
Homemade pappardelle in a veal ragu bolognese sauce

Pollo Taggiasca
Pan-seared chicken breast medallions with artichokes, shallots & sun dried Tomato

Petto Di Pollo Luna
Stuffed chicken breast with dry figs & mascarpone in a balsamic reduction

We applauded Howard’s selection of wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli when he unveiled them. After drinking them we gave him a well-deserved ovation.

The Quintarelli estate produces only 40,000 bottles of wine annually from 35 acres of estate vines and bought-in grapes and dates back to 1924.  The late, great Maestro del Veneto, Giuseppe Quintarelli, began working his father’s estate in 1950 and succeeded in establishing a legendary estate during his sixty-year career.  Sadly he passed away in 2012.  Today the estate continues under the direction of Giuseppe’s daughter Fiorenza, his son-in-law Giampaolo, and his grandsons Francesco and Lorenzo.   Quintarelli wines are quite special and have always reflected his philosophy of never hurrying the wine making process.  He was quoted,  “The fundamental problem in wine today is that too many producers ‘hurry’ to make their wines: they hurry the fruit in the vineyard and they hurry the vinification and rush to bottle. They rush to sell their product without allowing it the proper time to age. Patience – this is the most important attribute in winemaking. Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.”  

Nothing is hurried at the estate.  All the wines are aged up to seven years or more in large Slavonian oak casks before bottling.  Each wine displays impeccable purity, balance and depth on the palate.  To drink them is to experience how good wine can be when made by a true master.

2014 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca’ del Merlo Bianco.   The only white Quintarelli makes at it is superb.  The wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate. The mid-palate displayed wonderful complexity before finishing with considerable length.  $45.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore.  I have had many bottles of Valpolicella from numerous vintages and each has been classic Quintarelli, displaying a spectacular and enticing earthy bouquet on the nose.  On the palate the fruit was bright yielding a lush, ripe and balanced palate.  The wine finished with elegance and finesse.  $90.  This vintage does not appear to be available.  Other vintages are if you check Wine-Searcher.

1986 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (House of the Blackbird).  While information as to why the wine is called Rosso Ca’ del Merlo seems to be a bit unclear, rest assured it is a fantastic Valpolicella from the estate.  I have been told from a reliable source it is the same Valpolicella from the same vineyard he produces his Valpolicella from.  According to him the Rosso Ca' Del Merlo labeling is to signify that it was produced for an old US importer, to show a distinction with what the rest of the world was buying and what he was getting.  $120.  Wine-Searcher.

Another source says that it is a Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (blackbird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside. It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique.  According to current importer Kermit Lynch, he writes on his website of the wine:

• A single vineyard bottling
• Grapes are pressed immediately after harvest
• After 3-4 days of maceration, primary fermentation starts with indigenous yeasts
• Wine is racked and then sits until February
• Wine is racked onto the lees of the Amarone, which starts a second alcoholic fermentation (this process is called ripasso)
• after this fermentation, the wine is racked into large Slavonian oak barrels for seven years

Whatever the case this bottle was singing tonight. It possessed a beautiful pureness, balance and complexity on the palate marked by lush fruit.  The lengthy finish echoed the palate.

1999 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi.   Rosso del Bepi is only made in vintages when Giuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price.  The wine soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length.  $170.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico.  A simply round and delicious wine with lots of soul.  Quintarelli’s ability to integrate the underlying sweetness of Amarone in these wines is just amazing. Balanced, pure, complex and with a remarkable finish it is a wine you think about for days after drinking.  $395.  Wine-Searcher.

1994 Giuseppe Quintarelli Alzero.   This final wine of the evening is, in my opinion, one of the great wines of all time. It is impossible to describe this wine other than to say it is completely round and delicious. The wine is made from predominantly Cabernet Franc and in the same method used to make Amarone, in which the grapes are dried for several months prior to vinification. The resulting wine is unbelievably rich in color and ethereal on the palate. It is a wine that provides a provocative wine tasting experience. I have had the 1996 and 1997 vintages of this wine and each is superb. Alas greatness does not come without a price. $395.  Wine-Searcher.

Howard, you outdid yourself and we are all grateful that you did.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Soldera Dinner @ Ristorante Morini

Last week, along with a few good friends, I attended a dinner featuring four vintages of Gianfranco Soldera Brunello.  The event was hosted by Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Company and held at Ristorante Morini in NYC.

Cosmo, Mark, Paul, Tony, Joe

2008 Case Basse Visit
I have long been a big fan of Soldera’s wines and had the pleasure, along with my family, of spending 2 ½ hours with him at his Case Basse estate in 2008.  Along with my visit to Giuseppe Quintarelli, it remains my most fondest vineyard visit.  The estate is a testament to Mother Nature, with its more than 1500 varieties of roses and numerous insect and animal sanctuaries.  The wines are a pure expression of what Mother Nature gives him to work with.  He limits production to 15,000 bottles annually, thus assuring excellence in every vintage and every bottle.  Such excellence does not come cheap.  The wines today will cost you about $500 a bottle.

Soldera,and his wife Graziella, an avid botanist, first discovered the then-abandoned Case Basse property in the early 1970s. They set about restoring the estate to full function, following a strict and intriguing philosophy of “enlightened agriculture” to create a singular Brunello of the utmost quality.

The estate vineyards, subject of continuous study by the agriculture faculties of various leading universities, are planted within a complex ecosystem ideal for natural cultivation, where fertilization is organic and no herbicides are permitted. The vineyards are small in size in order to permit manual cultivation at all stages, followed by a short harvest.  The wines spend six years or more in large, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings before bottling.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of the evening was when Soldera, through his interpreter, spoke about how his bottling techniques and cork quality obviate the need to store his bottles on their side, as is usual for all wines that are aging.  He says, “stand them up”.  I found this to be very, very interesting.

We were served the 4 wines side by side, thus enabling us to move back and forth between them and assess the wines over the course of the dinner.  Dinner was good, but took a back seat to the wines.

2000 Soldera Case Base Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  A difficult year in Tuscany marked by very uneven growing conditions, but in the hands of master like Soldera, he turned out the wine of the vintage.  The wine soared from the glass initially, but after an hour it began to run out of gas.  A remarkable effort given the vintage, but it lacked the pedigree of the others tonight and will never, in my opinion, reach the heights they are destined to attain.

2006 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese. A man of very strong conviction and principals, Soldera resigned from the local Brunello Consorzio over their policies.  Beginning with this vintage he now bottles his wine as Toscano Sangiovese, but it is still the same glorious Case Basse Brunello he has always made.  This was the tightest wine of the group displaying green notes and somewhat harsh tannins.  Ah but the pedigree is fantastic.  This is destined to be a marvelous wine.  It did begin to show some of its underlying beauty after two hours in the glass.  If you open one now, I would definitely decant it for about 4 hours, but I suggest giving it a few more years in the cellar.

2008 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese.  This is classic Soldera that is still a bit young.  Excellent depth and focus that will be enhanced as the fruit begins to fully emerge in a couple more years.  I found the finish to be soft, lengthy and elegant.  According to Antonio Galloni, “2008 spent 18 months in cask and finished its aging in steel, so it is quite different from virtually every other wine made at Case Basse, but it is drop-dead gorgeous just the same”.

2009 Soldera Case Basse Toscano Sangiovese.  While all the wines were great, I fell in love with the 2009.  It was simply glorious. The bright, ripe fruit danced on the tongue with soft tannins and wonderful complexity.  Delicious now, this is destined to be a monster wine in a year or two. According to Soldera, ‘09 was a difficult vintage.  He says he prefers these types of vintages because the wines turn out to be sensational as they take on weight and age.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Great Female Wine Makers

A couple of weeks ago I once again hosted a Gourmet Wine dinner to benefit the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey (HANJ).  This year I decided to focus on wines made by a few of the great female winemakers from Italy and France.  My sincere thanks to Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines for procuring all the wines for the event.

Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany once again provided the venue for a wonderful evening. Tony Grande (owner), Natale Grande (Executive Chef), Salvatore Le Rose (Maitre'd/Wine Director) and the very professional staff of Il Capriccio Ristorante saw to it that the event was orchestrated like the NY Philarmonic.

I am most delighted to report that the event netted more than $49,000 for the evening.  I want to thank all of my friends, coagulation manufacturers and home care companies whose financial support made it all possible.  As for HANJ, I have always said that if I had hemophilia or a child with hemophilia and I did not live in NJ, I would move here to have access to their support.  Led by outgoing Executive Director Elena Bostick and new Executive Director, Stephanie Lapidow and their committed staff, HANJ has accomplished more for families that live with hemophilia than any other state in the country.  Once again hats of to you and the hemophilia treatment centers that mange the medical needs of the community.

Stephanie Lapidow & Elena Bostick

The festivities began with an hour of passed assorted hors d'oeuvres that were enjoyed by all

Prosciutto & Melon                 Mozzarella di Bufala   
Stuffed Zucchini Flowers         Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
Baby Polpettini                  Baby Lamb Chops

With these delicious bites we enjoyed:

 2012 Ariana Occhipinti Nero d’Avolo Siccagno.  The young and extremely talented Ariana Occhipinti has been making extraordinary “natural” wines in Vittoria, Sicily since 2004 at the ripe old age of 24. Tonight’s wine, crafted from 100% Nero d’Avolo, was a beautiful example of turning Mother Nature’s fruit into a compelling and delicious wine.  The ashy & earthy bouquet is complemented by an elegant and pure fruity palate that displays considerable depth.  The finish is both delicious and lengthy.  A tour de force of natural winemaking!  $42.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Olga Raffault Champ Chenin.  I remain both confused and grateful that the wines from the Loire Valley of France get very little press. My confusion stems from the fact that while the red (Cabernet Franc) and white (Chenin Blanc) grapes produce delicious and age-worthy wines year after year, they play second and third fiddle to the wines that receive high scores from critics.  On the other hand, I am grateful, make that very grateful, that because of this the wines are very reasonable and offer great value to the drinker.   This Chenin Blanc is of the grape variety "Pineau de la Loire".  23 years old and the wine displayed both youthful fruit and incredible depth on a complex palate with enough acidity to keep this beauty drinking for at least another decade, if not longer.  The finish was monstrous both in length and flavor.  This wine was made by Olga Raffault who sadly passed away a few years ago.  Her granddaughter Sylvie is at the helm today and has continued to produce great wines in the tradition of her grandmother.  $54. Wine-Searcher.

We then sat down to our pasta course of Trofie Al Ragu d’Anatra Al Barolo (Quill Pasta in a sauce of Duck and Barolo Wine).  While Il Capriccio does everything well, chef Natale Grande really shines with his pastas, as he did tonight.  Generous plates were served and more than a few said yes when second helpings were offered.

We had three wines with the pasta.

2006 Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses Blanc.  Since 1988 Claude de Nicolay took over from her mother as winemaker at this top estate. This wine was a great example how a great wine maker usually makes an outstanding wine in a so-so vintage.  At age 10 the wine is just coming into its drinking window.  The nose displayed rich fruit while the slightly mineral palate revealed a delicious, beautifully balanced wine with an excellent finish. Expect to pay about $60 should you be able to find it.

2012 Foradori Morei Teroldego delle Dolomiti (Magnum).  Teroldego is a native grape variety of the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy. Located in the foothills of the Dolomites, it is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir.  Elisabetta Foradori is referred to as the “undisputed top producer of Teroldego”.  For the Morei she vinifies in amphorae (tiñaja from Villarobledo, Spain); She finds that the shape of the vessels and the porosity of the clay lends exceptional purity and balance to the wine. The winemaking process is non-interventionistic, so that only the character of the land and the variety shows through.

A compelling wine, it boasts a dark hue with an enticing nose of spice and stone. A host of intensely savory/mineral notes meld into a core of dense dark red and black stone fruits.  A bit tannic on a wonderful complex palate, the wine finishes great length.  $45. Wine-Searcher.

2010 Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino (Magnum).   Mentored by the great Gianfranco Soldera, twin sisters Margarita and Francesca Padovani founded the estate in 1997 and produced their first vintage in 2004 if I recall correctly.  Biodynamic farming and natural wine making are followed religiously resulting in stunning wines marked by both purity and complexity.  What an elegant Brunello this is.  If one were to taste this blind, I would not be surprised if they guessed Soldera.  While still a bit young, the pedigree shines through as each sip evolved and opened a bit more thus giving a peek into the impeccable balance, finesse and elegance that is waiting to be released after a few more years of cellar time.  This is definitely a wine with soul!  $100.  Wine-Searcher.  Since this is a bit pricey, I suggest looking for their Rosso di Montalcino and about 1/3 the price.

The main course was an expertly prepared Stinco d’Agnello con Risotto Milanese (Roasted Lamb Shank with Risotto). I will let the photo below speak for the dish.

We drank two French reds, one from the Loire and one from Burgundy with the entrée.  Both were awesome.

2006 Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes Grand Cru.  This was simply magnificent, and for we the wine of the night.  As I mentioned earlier, 2006 was a rather average vintage, but this wine was anything but average and in fact bordered on the extraordinary. The enticing Burgundian nose soared from the glass and immediately seduced the senses, wetting the palate in glorious anticipation of what is was about to experience.  There was no let down when it hit the palate with elegantly ripe, yet soft, fruit that danced in harmony with the velvet tannins before exiting with a fantastic and lengthy elegance.  $112.  Wine-Searcher.  

2002 Olga Raffaut Les Picasses.  100% Cabernet Franc, this beautiful wine is just entering its peak drinking window.  The wine begins with a deep earthy bouquet that like the previous wine created high expectations for the palate.  On the palate the wine was full-bodied, with remarkable balance and complexity.  Like all great wines it kept evolving with each sip and finished with considerable length.  At $37, one is hard pressed to find a better value.  Wine-Searcher.
Gorgonzo Dolce, Purée di Fichi           Chocolate Lava Cake  
2013 Occhipinti Passito Passo Nero 500 ml accompanied the cheese and dessert courses which followed. I couldn’t really get excited about this. The wine seemed to be very one-dimensional, with sweetness dominating the palate.  I think that a few years in the cellar will help this wine a lot.  $60.  Wine-Searcher.

Thanks again to all that made this evening the success it was.  Special thanks to Gene Urban, Master Photographer, Impressive Impressions for donating his time and talent for the evening.