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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Belmont Tavern

Every couple of months I join a group of friends for a Monday night dinner at The Belmont Tavern on the Newark/Bellville boarder.  The Belmont Tavern is more than just a bar/restaurant; it is an “institution”, and has been for the past half century. This cash only spot has separate owners, the Cuomo family owns the bar concession, while Annette Wroblewski maintains and owns the kitchen since Stretch passed away in 1989.

I will do my best to provide an historical glimpse of the Belmont.  If any one has any corrections or additional information please leave them in the comments section.

The Cuomo family took over the tavern in 1965.  Tommy Cuomo aka "Cowboy" and his brother John ran the bar in those early days.  They were later joined in 1969 by John’s son, Jimmy, who runs the bar today.   Two years later they brought in Charles "Stretch" Verdicchio, to cook for the regulars. Stretch introduced the Verdicchio family recipe for Chicken Savoy to the Belmont and it has been the main attraction ever since. A relatively simple dish, in which chicken is cut up, rubbed with spices and herbs and then roasted in a extremely-hot oven and splashed with red wine vinegar before being served. While the dish is often imitated throughout all of northern New Jersey, it has never been duplicated.

Stretch with Joe DiMaggio
While the perception is that the Belmont is a “wise guys” spot, the food and aura of the Belmont attracts movie stars and professional athletes in addition to the loyal crowd (predominantly Italian) of local regulars.

In addition to the “Savoy” most items on the small menu are standouts on their own.  These include Clams Oreganata; Scungilli Salad; Shrimp Beeps (shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce); Cavatelli with Pot Cheese (Ricotta) and Pork Scallopine Francese.  The Belmont serves no dessert, unless you bring your own.

If you are looking for fine wine, “fugget-about-it”.  The list ranges from red to white.  Opici is poured from gallon bottles. Bottle selections consist of  Corvo Red (cold or warm), Corvo White, Ruffino and Travaglini Gattinara.

Reservations are not accepted.  Unless you get there very early, be prepared to wait.  Service, once on the blatantly un-courteous side, is now quite good and friendly.

The food is consistently good here.  No fancy preparations, just the dishes they are known for.  We began with a basic salad of Iceberg lettuce, onions and tomatoes perfectly seasoned with vinegar and oil.  It is the salad that graced our table at home every night while growing up.  I loved it then and I love it now, especially compared to the fancier limpy mesculan concoctions served today.

Clams Oreganata are perfectly cooked as always, crunch crispy breadcrumbs cover a barely cooked, briny clam beneath.  I could eat dozens of these.

Italian Long Hot Peppers (no pic) sautéed in olive oil are not lethal tonight, so I had a couple and enjoyed them very much.

The Belmont serves 3 pasta dishes, Cavatelli with Ricotta, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (oil and garlic) and Spaghetti with Shrimp Beeps.  While all are great, our favorite is the Beeps. The shrimp is never overcooked and is dressed in a delicious and slightly spicy tomato sauce.

In addition to the famous Chicken Savoy, we ordered Mad Chicken (Oven Roasted without the addition of the Vinegar) and Pork Scallopine Francese.

Chicken Savoy
Mad Chicken
Pork Scallopine

A few bottles of 2013 Corvo Red, served at room temperature, complimented the food nicely.

A cup of Espresso brewed and served from a Maganette ended a delightful evening.

If you have never been to the Belmont, make it a bucket list item...and tell Jimmy that Mark sent you.  You will be glad you went.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Three Generations of Bartolo Mascarello

Our New York Vinous wine group got together recently for a simply magical evening of the wines of Bartolo Mascarello spanning 1955 to 2009.  The tasting was held at Hearth in the East Village. We were provided with a private room and received gracious service and excellent food.

We began the evening as we usually do with a bottle of bubbly.  Michael treated us to NV Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru VP. V.P. stands for Vieillissement Prolongé, or extended aging.   In this case the wine was aged 84 months on the lees, contributing to its unique character, and was disgorged May 2015. The wine is crafted from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay of which 90% is from Grand Cru Ambonnay with the rest coming from Grand Cru Verzenay and Bouzy and is made up of equal parts from the 2007, 2006, and 2005 harvest. I loved the yeasty bouquet, crisp and complex palate and bright, lengthy finish.  This is my third or fourth bottle of Champagne from Egly-Ouriet and I have been impressed each time.

Each of us brought along a bottle of Bartolo Mascarello Barolo to the tasting.  The wines which were separated into four flights ranging from oldest to more recent vintages.  Although not planned, the wines spanned three generations of winemakers at the estate, Giulio, Bartolo and Maria Teresa.  All the wines were open around noon and allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours before being transported to the restaurant.

The wines of Bartolo Mascarello were my epiphany regarding how good wine can be and the pure elegance of the Nebbiolo grape when put in the hands of a master.  The wine making principals established by Bartolo’s father Giulio have never changed and continues today under the very capable direction of Bartolo’s daughter Maria Teresa.  The estate owns vineyards in four of the most prestigious crus in Barolo…Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué and Rocche dell'Annunziata.  The fruit from these holdings is co-fermented in cement and then racked into large, neutral oak, where the wines are aged for roughly three and a half years before being bottled.  Until 1982 the wines were labeled Cantina Mascarello when Bartolo changed the name to Bartolo Mascarello.  For more comprehensive information regarding the estate, complete with great photos, visit Ken Vastola's blog Visit to Cantina Bartolo Mascarello.

Flight One

1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Cannubi Riserva.  Ken was given this bottle as a gift on his trip to Piedmont last month and he generously brought it along.  We thank you Ken for your generosity. The wine displayed a brackish-red hue in the glass with a smoky old world bouquet. We were all amazed at how youthful the wine was.  It was a joy to drink.

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Cannubi.  Like the ’55 this was made by Giulio and it too was a joy to drink.  It was similar in appearance and character to the ’55 but took a bit more time to open in the glass.  When it did open it was glorious and a match for the ’55.  I enjoyed them both immensely.

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Made by Bartolo, this was pure elegance and finesse in a glass. A darker and more translucent red hue than the ’55 or ’58, the wine soared from the glass with each ship in perfect balance marked by fantastic depth and complexity.  The finish was lengthy and pure feminine elegance.  It was my WOTN and has the stuff to continue to drink well for many years to come.

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Like the ’82 this had a darker and more translucent red hue than the ’55 or ’58.  It too soared from the glass with an amazing youthful energy and tremendous balance and a long elegant finish.  This should easily last for another few decades.

L to R: 1955; 1958; 1982; 1990
Flight Two

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  I have been enjoying this beautiful wine since my first bottle in 2009.  It is a daunting wine possessing a fabulous bouquet; pure fruit on the palate and a lengthy, velvety finish. I thought it was clearly the wine of the flight.

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  From a legendary vintage, the pedigree of this wine is eminently apparent with its deep and enticing bouquet and full-bodied palate.  I found the fruit to still be a bit tight and tannic however.  I’d give this another 4 to 5 years of cellar time.

1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This was the surprise of the night for me.  I gave up on the ’97 vintage of Barolo a few years ago after numerous oxidized bottles.  Tonight’s bottle was really good.  While not in the class of the others in the flight, the fruit was alive, the tannins soft and there was more than a bit of complexity on the palate and finished with elegant notes.  It reminded me of earlier bottles I had the pleasure to drink.

1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Like the others in the group, this bottle was a bit off.  Perhaps a damaged bottle.  A bottle last year was much better.

Flight Three

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This was superb. Classic Bartolo.  Gorgeous translucent red hue with a wonderful bouquet of earth and fruit.  Well balanced and pure on the palate.  The wine evolved with each sip and finished with terrific length and elegance.  Easily the wine of the flight for me.

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  This wine, like many of the vintage, is beginning to wake up after being asleep for the past 5 years.  In my opinion it still needs cellar time.

2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Made by Maria Teresa, this is a beautiful wine and drinking beautifully and should continue to do so for another 10+ years. Enticing Piedmont earthy bouquet.  Balanced and focused palate and a monster finish.

Flight Four

2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  A prodigious wine that underscores the amazing wine making talent of Maria Teresa.  Many believe, myself included, that she has taken the estate to a new level of excellence in the world of traditionally made Barolo.  This is a big, powerful wine with fantastic potential.  The wine has all the makings of a great Barolo; depth, complexity, balance, energy and elegance.  My favorite of the flight.  Give this another 4 to 5 years of cellar time and then enjoy it over the ensuing 3 or 4 decades.

2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  I was surprised that this did not show as well as I thought it would, given the excellent vintage.  It possessed a lovely nose and soft palate, but the fruit I felt was hard.  The underlying pedigree is evident, but either it was a slightly off bottle or is simply going to require more cellar time.

2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. I liked this a lot.  The wine had a gorgeous bouquet and a graceful and focused palate with an elegant finish.  I look for this to age gracefully over the next 10+ years.

I brought along a bottle of 1993 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Mollieux 1er Trie to complete the evening.   100% Chenin Blanc dessert wine with a golden hue and big honeycomb nose.  The palate is rich with honey notes and great acidity.

This was truly a remarkable evening.  I am honored to be a part of this NY Vinous group.  A group of generous and knowledgeable guys who's contributions to the experience of great wines is second to none.

Please check out Eric Guido's notes on the tasting at his blog The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine.