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, July 24, 2016

A Unique Burgundy Experience

Our local wine group met this past Monday evening at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville. Readers of this blog realize by now that Sette has become a regular venue for us (9th visit in the past couple of years).  Needless to say owner/chef Allan Russo prepared another exceptional meal for us. While everything was delicious we were rocked by the Onion Tart, Risotto and Pasta Bolognese.  Alan explained that the tart was his Swiss mother's recipe.  Thank you mom, simply delicious.   The Risotto was ethereal, made with the very small Vialano Nano rice grains, it had a fantastic creamy texture highlighted by the Crimini mushroom béchamel and black truffle shaving.  I have had many a Bolognese sauce, both here and in Bologna, Italy.  This is one of the best versions I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.  Allan explained that his research for real "authentic" Bolognese led him to the recipe he used to prepare the sauce.  All the meats, veal, pork, beef, pancetta and Mortadella were ground in house and incorporated into the sauce with a bit of milk and a touch of tomato passato.  Finished with a bit of Pecorino, the flavors were fantastic.  The final dish was an Australian Lamb Chop with sautéed Broccoli Rabe which I did not eat.  I am not a lamb eater and I was very content after the risotto and pasta.  My friends however raved about the chop.  Profiteroles completed the meal.

Jeff, our Burgundy expert, selected the wines for the evening and as always wowed us with his lineup of aged Burgundies.  With the exception of the Champagne, Montrachet and 1966 Chambertin, he brought along 5 half bottles for us to taste.  An avid auction buyer, all were purchased at auction at exceptional prices.  All wines were opened at dinner.

1996 Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame Champagne.  1996 was an extraordinary vintage in Champagne. The yeasty and peachy nose was intoxicating to inhale.  On the palate the fruit was crisp and vibrant with terrific acidity making for a soulful bubbly that was a joy to experience. Verzenay & Avize are the two dominant crus in a blend of 8 grand crus.

1994 Etienne Sauzet Montrachet Grand Cru. Absolutely fabulous wine.  The wine displayed a viscous palate with great depth and balance and a lengthy and provocative finish. The wine never stopped evolving throughout the course of the dinner.  Montrachet is at the very top of the various Montrachet designations.  Production is very limited and is reflected in the very high prices for the wine.  While 1994 was at best an average year this bottle of wine is another example of how great producers often make exceptional wines in these types of vintages.  This was my WOTN.

1972 Marius Delarche Corton-Renardes Grand Cru, 375ml.  The wine began with an earthy, Burgundian bouquet on the nose before moving to a wonderfully pure and focused palate and velvety finish. 

1972 Pierre Engel Alexis Lichine Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, 375ml.  A négociant is a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name. Négociants buy everything from grapes to grape must to wines in various states of completion.  Alexis Lichine was a major wine Négociant from the mid fifties until the end of the 20th century. According to Jeff, Alexis Lichine wines were actually domaine bottled but sold under the "Alexis Lichine" name.   The Domaine René Engle predominantly dealt with négociants until 1988 when 3rd generation owner and winemaker Philippe began making his own wine in house.  This wine was probably bottled by Engel but sold under the Alexis Lichine label, where his name appears on the lower left side of the label.  In any case the wine was terrific.  Translucent red hue in tact with no browning at the edges and a classic Burgundy palate with the fruit still very much in tact.  

1972 Jean Meo Alexis Lichine Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, 375ml.  Jeff explained that this wine was most likely made by Henri Jayer, the iconic Burgundy producer.  Under a contract with the Meo Camuzet estate, Jayer managed and farmed the land.  He received 50% of the fruit, which he bottled and labeled under his own label, and 50% he bottled under the Meo Camuzet label. Thus this bottle was most likely made by Jayer.  Jayer wines sell for thousands of dollars a bottle at auction today, as they are highly sought after and considered to be the ultimate expression of red Burgundy.  This was lovely.  Big earthy, Burgundian nose with lively fruit.  On the palate it showed great depth and complexity for a 40+-year-old wine.  The finish was quite lengthy and elegant.  This was my runner up to WOTN.

1985 Tollot-Beaut Beaune 1er Cru Clois du Roi, 375ml.  The ’85 vintage in Beaune was an excellent one and this wine was a great example of the vintage.  The wine showed great balance, a hallmark of the vintage.  The wine had ripe fruit, focus and finesse with a lengthy finish. 

1966 Alexis Lichine Newman Latricieres Chambertin Grand Cru, 375ml.  1966 was a magnificent vintage in Burgundy characterized by elegant, balanced wines with terrific purity.  All of these were in evidence here in addition to a lengthy and focused finish.

1964 Domaine Merme Alexis Lichine Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru, 375ml.  Another excellent vintage in Burgundy, which was evident in the wine, which showed excellent concentration of fruit, purity and balance.  This finish was long and elegant.

1971 Vogue Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru 750ml.  Another excellent vintage in Burgundy, this wine showed terrific balance and and complexity with a lengthy and elegant finish.

It was a great evening.  We ate great food, drank wonderful wines (thanks again Jeff) and learned a great deal about Alexis Lichine and his negociant business…and had a chance to taste a wine made by Henri Jayer.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Magnificence of Rayas & Bonneau

At the end of June, 8 fellow Vinous members met at Satis Bistro in Jersey City for a BYOB Henri Bonneau and Chateau Rayas tasting.  As Guy Fieri says on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it was "off the hook".   The event was the idea of Canadian Vinous member Philippe who, like me, is a fanatic for these wines. Philippe also knows more about Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines than most people I know.  Portions of what you will read in this post I have taken from his notes and comments.  Philippe, who was vacationing in NJ with his lovely family, selected the restaurant. None of us had been there before, but I for sure will be back.  It was a great choice.  Satis specializes in homemade Charcuterie, Patés and eclectic Bistro fare.  We enjoyed a full sampling of all of them (sorry no pics, too busy eating and savoring the wine):  The food was delicious and complemented the wines beautifully.

Tuscan Pâté of Soft Chicken Liver Mousse

Duck Rilettes  made from Shredded Duck Con t with Pink Peppercorn and Thyme

Clasic Country Style Pâté

Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy. A Hint of Nutty Fl avor from the Parmigiano Reggiano used in the Pig’s Diet

Soppressata Picante A Coarsely Ground, Dry-cured Spicy Sausage Made with Lean Pork Meat,

Pork Fat and Delicious Spices

Saucisson Sec Dry Cured Peppery Garlic French Sausage

Chorizo Secco Dried Berkshire Pork Sausage seasoned with Smoked Paprika, Garlic and Hot Pepper

Speck Black pepper rubbed and smoked prosciutto

We began the evening with a bottle of  Jacques Selosse V.O.(Version Originale) Champagne that was disgorged on April 9 2014.  When I think of Champagne, Selosse is who I think of.  I am enraptured by the seductive yeasty nose and palate that is a signature of his wines.  Like every other wine I have had by him, the wine evolved with each sip and was completely round and delicious.  It is made from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from the Champagne communes of Avize, Cramant and Oger from three successive vintages.

We followed this with a 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc Reserve that was spectacular and stood toe to toe with the Selosse tonight.  Philippe explained that this was "50-50 mix Grenache Blanc and Clairette, vinified from 100% whole clusters, 30+ year old  vines aged in demi-muids with malolactic not blocked and then 9 months in tank."   In fact in his post on Vinous he said "...Montrachet from the Southern Rhone could well be the nickname of this wine..."  There was no argument from me or the others who enjoyed the wine.  The wine simply soared from the glass and danced on the palate in balance and harmony.  A wine with soul!

Our first flight of reds was 2001 Rayas Réservé, 2004 Pignan Réservé and 2008 Rayas Réservé.  Each of the wines are 100% Grenache (Rayas signature). In the glass they all exhibited a brilliant translucent red hue and an enticing aroma of pepper and spice.  The 2001 was the most evolved of the three.  It displayed wonderful depth and balance.  The '04 Pignan was great with it's vibrant fruit and impeccable balance.  The '08 Rayas was the surprise as the night. Not considered a very good vintage, the wine was the consensus WOTN.  The peppery bouquet was really present here and echoed beautifully on the soft and elegant palate.  The wine is still in its youth and based on the pedigree in the glass this is destined to be a great wine.  When I think about it though, there is really no surprise here.  Great producers are capable of producing great wines even in off vintages. 

2001 Rayas                2004 Pignan         2008 Rayas
We then moved to the wines of Henri Bonneau beginning with the Rouliers NV. This wine is made from a vineyard worked by his son in the Gard (west of Chateauneuf on the western side of the Rhone River). The wine shows all the hallmareks of a great Chateauneuf with astonishing freshness, depth and complexity.  According to Philippe the wine contains some declassified wines from Bonneau's main CDP estate barrels.  Classified as a basic wine, it shows a wonderful earthy nose and peppery palate with nice fruit and balance.  

Next up was Henri Bonneau Reserve des Celestins from 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2009.  Philippe added some excellent information on Bonneau from the Harry Karis book "The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book"..."the regular cuvee "Tradition" is what Bonneau deems "good", the Marie Beurrier what he feels is "very good" and the Celestins is "Grand Vin" status. All wines are made from 90% grenache and 10% from a mix of Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Vaccarese  from 30+ old vines, 100% whole clusters and aged 3-5 years in some very old demi-muids and small oak barrels."  I have had the fortune to taste and own all three and they are, in a word, spectacular.   They possess a darker hue and a more masculine palate than the more feminine elegance of Rayas. Like Rayas they are round and delicious wines that soar from the glass and evolve with each sip.  The '01 was clearly the wine of this flight.  I have had this vintage on many occasions and it has never let me down.  Tonight was no exception.  The earthy bouquet filled the nose in grand expectation of what the palate was about to experience...and then delivered in spades.  Superb balance and complexity with a forever finish.  The '04 began very tight in the glass, but after about 30 minutes came around beautifully.  The '07 and the '09 were much too young to appreciate.  At this point in time I would give the edge to the '09 in terms of approaching its drinking window.
Celestains, left to right: '01;  '04;  '07;  '09

We finished this magnificent evening with Quintarelli's Bianco Amabile del Cere Bandito from the '86 and '90 vintages.  This very rare dessert wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano and Saorin that have been attacked by noble rot like Sauternes.  Quintarelli has only released it a few times in his lifetime.  It is only made in great vintages and is then "banished" as the name "Bandito" suggests.  The wine is marked by a seamless balance of tannins, acidity and sweetness.  A profound wine for sure as both of these attested to.  I have enjoyed the '90 on multiple occasions, but this was my first taste of the '86.  Wow!  This was more evolved and displayed a bit more depth than the '90,  which was no slouch.  In my opinion, Amiable is the greatest sweet wine one can buy.  

Well there you have it, a really remarkable evening thanks to the efforts of Philippe and the attendees who dug into their cellars to provide these provocative wines.  If you are a Vinous member be sure to check out Philippe's notes http://vinous.com/forums/index#/discussion/5414/vinous-friends-chateau-rayas-and-henri-bonneau-grand-tasting

1986 Amabile         1990 Amabile