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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My 72nd Birthday

Two weekends ago I celebrated my 72nd birthday with my family at our beach house in Lavallette, NJ. I am very fortunate to have my immediate family close by to celebrate with. Mother Nature provided great beach/pool weather to make it a truly special day.

We began with lunch from Midway Steak House in the center of the Seaside Heights Boardwalk.  For a good part of my 72 years I have been enjoying the incredible Italian Sausage and Pepper sandwiches from Midway.  Last year my sons-in-law had me try their cheese steak.  I was hooked after the first bite. This was as close to Pat’s Cheese Steaks in Philly as I have ever had.  I opted for the Cheese Steak this year (I'm saving the sausage and peppers for my next trip).  Like Pat’s, it is a thinly sliced fresh rib-eye steak (not the paper thin frozen kind), loaded with peppers & onions and smothered with melted cheese sauce.  An ice cold Becks Beer complemented the sandwich to perfection.

For my birthday dinner we went to Charlie’s of Bay Head, the latest addition to the dinning scene in the Point Pleasant to Seaside Heights corridor. I would categorize Charlie’s as a casual American Bistro with good food, courteous service and a better than average wine list.  Located on Twilight Lake, the space is large and handsome and a couple of earlier in the year visits did not disappoint. After perusing their wine list on line, I called the restaurant the day before and spoke to General Manager Mark Bernard regarding my selection.  I requested a couple of bottles of 2010 Roagna Paje Barbaresco to be opened and decanted 3 hours prior to our arrival.  Mark graciously complied.

The name Pajé is derived from the local dialect, which historically were used to name each parcel of land. Pajé is one of the historic vineyards of the village of Barbaresco and it located in the center of the area planted to vines.  It is particularly rich in calcareous marl soil with a high content of active limestone.  The vineyard covers a total of 1.83 Ha (4.52 Acres) with unique soil and microclimate.  Pajé is a small strip of land facing South West.

The vines for this wine are between 25 and 50 years of age and today the average ages of the vines is over forty years old. The roots are sourced by used the massage wood system by using only clippings that we have pruned from the Paje vineyard.

The harvest takes place in October by hand usually in the morning once the fruit has reached perfect ripeness. Before being made into wine we manually select each berry in order to have perfect fruit.

Fermentation takes place exclusively in large wood casks thanks to a pied de cuve created from indigenous yeasts. This lasts for ten days and then the ancient technique of maceration is used by splinting the submerged cap process which lasts for at least two months, (60 – 70 days). The wine is then aged in a neutral oak barrel for approximately 5 years.  The production of bottles is limited to less than ten thousand bottles per vintage and each bottle is numbered on the label.

While the 2010 vintage in Barbaresco does not reach the heights of 2010 in Barolo, this wine made by Luca Roagna was wonderful.  The 3 hour decant allowed the wine to open and it drank beautifully from the first sip. While still young, the wine was round and delicious, displaying a gorgeous earthy bouquet with a complex and velvety palate and a lengthy and elegant finish.  While the 2010 Barolos will require a lot of patience, this is ready now with a few hours of air time.  $90 Wine-Searcher.

For the white wine, I selected a couple of bottles of 2015 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Sec Les Argiles. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the initial sip was a bit acidic, but after 30 minutes in the glass, the pedigree of the wine emerged.  Nice balance and complexity with a clean crisp finish.  A couple of years of patience will be justly rewarded.  $30.  Wine-Searcher.  In my opinion, Francois Chidaine is one of the top producers of reasonably priced Chenin Blanc from Vouvray and Montlouis in the Loire region of France.

Given the size of the restaurant (250+), the food has yet to disappoint.  Today's selections were:

Fried Calamari with Lemon Garlic Aioli

Oysters on the half shell

Buffalo Wings

Vegetable Lasagna

Classic Burger

Pan Seared Halibut

Rib-Eye Steak

Steak Frittes

House Made Donuts

It was a great day, and to reiterate my earlier comment, I am grateful and blessed to have been able to celebrate it with my family.

A couple of good friends also stopped by during the week to wish me happy birthday.  Of course I popped a couple of bottles of wine to celebrate with.  

2003 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino.  Oh how I love this wine.  Made by Diego Molinari, a former Alitalia pilot, Antonio Galloni has commented on an average vintage that "Molinari  has once again crafted what may very well turn out to be the Brunello of the vintage."  I have had this wine on multiple occasions since 2011 and have enjoyed every sip.  The wine displays a fantastic translucent red hue, earthy bouquet and a palate marked by incredible depth, complexity and finesse and a long, elegant finish.  Molinari sold the estate in 2015 American Venture Capitalist Gary Rieschelin.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that the change of ownership will not affect the wines.  This vintage is no longer available in the market.

1999 Domain des Chezeaux Griotte-Chambertin.  From the excellent 1999 vintage, this was awesome and shows no signs of shutting down.  My first bottle in the past 4 years, this is a classic Red Burgundy with an enticing bouquet and a round and velvety palate with a lengthy and elegant finish.  The domaine was formed in 1982 from the holdings of the Mercier family who still run the company. The name Chézeaux refers to the original Mercier family home close to the Chateau of Gevrey within the walls of which are about half a hectare of vines – Clos de Chézeaux. The basis of the holdings date from 1928, but today there are no winemakers in the family, hence, their holdings are all ‘en metayage’ i.e. they are ‘farmed’ by others (Ponsot, Leclerc & Berthaut) who take two thirds of the crop as payment, the balance going to ‘des Chézeaux’. In the case of Chézeaux the ‘metayers’ also do the elevage and bottling.  This bottle was made by Ponsot.  If you are not familiar with Ponsot, his wines are highly sought after by collectors and command a high tariff.  These wines that he makes for des Chezeaux, are the exact same wines and about half the price.  Like the Cerbaiona, the vintage is no longer available in the general market.

Happy Birthday to me...one very lucky guy.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Magnificent Wines of Chateau Rayas

Our local wine group met last evening at a new venue, Roberts Scratch Kitchen, Totowa, NJ.  . Opened last May, this is a cozy, attractive restaurant serving fresh food with a smile.  Owner Robert explained that he has no freezer and that everything is cooked from scratch daily with fresh ingredients.  In lieu of printing or reciting the daily specials, Robert displays them pictorially on an iPad while he describes each.  To begin with, we enjoyed two terrific shrimp dishes

RSK Shrimp (Sautéed Shrimp in Sweet Chili Sauce)
Shrimp Sautéed in Olive Oil, Lemon and  Butter Sauce Over Pieces of Polenta 
Although not pictured we also shared Hand cut Fries with Long Hots and Fresh Mozzarella; lightly Fried Calamari Served with Ginger Sauce; Diced Tuna Sashimi with toast points.  

In addition to all the appetizers being delicious, on Monday evenings they are all priced at $10.

Main courses faired equally well.

1 lb. Veal Chop, pounded thin and served Parmigianno style with pasta.
An enormous serving that was shared by two of us. 
Chilean Sea Bass Risotto
Rigatoni with Lobster & Brocolli Rape 

Emil, our wine host for the evening, treated us to 5 magical Southern Rhone red wines from Chateau Rayas. Many consider the estate, myself included, to be the benchmark for Châteauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone wines, both red and white.  Today the family’s three properties, Château Rayas, Château des Tours and Château de Fonsalette are under the direction Emmanuel Reynaud, nephew of the legendary Jacques Reynaud.  These traditionally made wines are not easy to come by and on the pricey side for their top wines.  In my opinion, they are worth every penny and provide an exciting drinking experience.

Chateau Rayas is a small ten-hectare vineyard, in the heart of the woods, planted in very poor, sandy soil producing wines with great finesse. While CdP laws allow for all 13 grapes in the region to be included in the wine, Chateau Rayas uses only Grenache for the red and Grenache and Clairette for the white CdP.

Chateau Fonsalette is a large property with a dozen or so hectares of vines, woods, agricultural land and olive trees. Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah are used for the red wines.  On occasion the estate will bottle a 100% Syrah.  Grenache, Clairette and Marsanne are used for the white. The grapes are vinified and sold at Rayas.

Chateau Des Tours is a 40-hectare property of vines, a mother plantation, cereals and a plot of olive trees planted in 1997. The grape varieties are as follows: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot and Counoise for red wine.  Grenache and Clairette are used for white wine.

We began the evening with 2011 Rayas La Pialade Cotes Du Rhone.  This amazing wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Cinsault and 5% syrah.  It is made from fruit that didn't make the cut for Rayas, Pignan or Fonsalette and thus sells at a fraction of the price of these wines ($50). This is one of the best Cotes Du Rhone I have ever tasted.  Gorgeous bright red translucent hue with a peppery palate of lovely pure fruit with superb balance, complexity and a lengthy finish.  A wine with soul that evolves with time in the glass.

2006 Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé followed.  Pignan is the second wine of Rayas. However, because much of Pignan comes from their more northern vines, it can also be looked at as a unique brand.  Pignan is produced from almost 100% old vine Grenache and also uses grapes from their young vines. Pignan is aged for 16 months in demi-muids and foudres. Only 650 cases are produced each year.  My first sip gave me a moment of concern as the wine yielded very little.  However a few moments of air and the wine began to soar from the glass. An enticing bouquet of pepper and spice was echoed on a superbly balanced palate that had fantastic depth.  The wine never stopped evolving in the glass and finished with fantastic length. Truly a wine with soul!

2004 Rayas Chateauneuf de Fonsalette Réservé.  A Cotes Du Rhone blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah, the wine was delicious, like those before it.  I loved the pepper palate and lengthy finish.  

2006 Rayas Chateauneuf Du Pape Réservé.   The flagship wine of the estate is made from 100% Grenache and is aged in large, ancient wood vats, or "foudres" that are 80 to 100 years old. What a wine.  While in my opinion it lacks the elegance of the 2005 vintage, it is round and delicious with a pure and beautifully balanced palate and lengthy finish.  This wine should age beautifully for another couple of decades.

1985 Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé.  While the wine lacked a bit of the freshness of the other wines, for its age it had wonderful balance, depth and complexity.  Finished a bit shorter than the others, but a terrific wine and a joy to drink.

Rayas, in my opinion, is amongst the top ten winemakers in the world.  I love his wines and thus am very grateful of Emil’s generosity for treating us to such a magnificent tasting.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Food & Wine Pairing

If you Google “food and wine pairing”, you will get 2,3000,000 hits that include charts, guides, articles etc.  All can be very helpful.  And, while I do think there are certain wine types and foods that pair magically, such as a bright, minerally Muscadet with fresh Oysters, I have always been of the opinion that great food and great wine always go together, be it white wine with meat or red wine with fish. My opinion was reinforced this past Friday when Carol and I dined with good friends Maria and Enzo at our favorite Asian/Sushi restaurant, Wabi Sabi in Bloomfield, NJ.  Chef/owner Nelson Yip is one of the finest Asian/French fusion chef’s I have ever encountered.  The secrets to his success are quite simple; great mentors in both French and Asian cuisine, a fanaticism for fresh ingredients and an unbridled passion for transforming ingredients into simple and at the same time spectacular dishes. He is so fanatical about the quality of his sushi, that he receives 3 shipments of fresh fish from Japan weekly.  There simply is no comparison to the quality and freshness of his sushi and sashimi to most other Japanese restaurants in the area...at least in my opinion.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that the service here is equal to the food.  Alice and company will see to all your needs with a smile and efficiency.

I usually like to drink a dry Riesling with Asian food, but this time I decided to go red and chose instead a bottle of 2005 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge Réservé.  It had been a while, 7 years in fact, since my last bottle of the ’05.  The ’05 vintage is, in my opinion, one of the greatest wines to come from the estate and not far behind their legendary 1995 and 1990 vintages. I opened the wine 2 hours before taking it to the restaurant to give it time to breath and open up. It exhibited a gorgeous translucent red hue and beautiful bouquet of fruit and spice.  The full-bodied palate showed superbly pure and balanced fruit and echoed the spice of the bouquet.  It finished with a lengthy and velvety elegance that is a trademark of Rayas.  Simply put it was a round and delicious bottle with lots of soul that will drink well for a couple more decades.

As for the pairing with the food, what can I say but wow.  Each bite of food, followed by a sip of the wine was sublime.

"Lollypop" Shrimp.  Nelson fashions a large wild shrimp into a circle, adds a bit of crab meat to the center and then encrusts it with Panko bread crumbs, skewers each one with stick and then fries them.  The resulting "lollypop" is crunchy and greaseless and served with a lightly spiced dipping sauce made from chilis, tomatoes, onions and parsley.  OMG, it is amazing and has to be tasted to be appreciated.

Himachi with truffle sauce.  Pristinely fresh Yellowtail is topped with a delicate black truffle sauce.  His judicious use of the truffle does not overpower the fish, rather it compliments it beautifully.

Berkshire Pork Goyoza.  Nelson takes the pan-fried dumpling to new heights in this preparation. The incredibly light dumpling wrappers are made in house and stuffed with a minced pork stuffing made from wild boar.  Lightly pan-fried, they are delicious and a far cry from the thick and doughy versions found at most other spots.  I never asked what he makes the dipping sauce with, but it is the perfect foil for these heavenly pillows of pleasure.

Sushi Sandwich.  For this amazing dish, Nelson stacks a homemade rice cracker with smoked salmon, fresh crab and fried leeks.  He then tops all with a spicy mayonaise sauce . The combination of flavors and textures will have you clamoring for more.

Unagi Don.  Unagi is Japanese for eel.  As a lover of eel, I have had this dish many times, but again Nelson's preparation is far and away the best I have ever tasted.  While I have never asked him how he makes it, I believe he glazes fresh eel with a sauce (miso?) and serves it atop a bowl of sushi rice.  The textures and flavors explode in your mouth.

If you live nearby, grab a great bottle of wine and head over there, you will be very, very happy you did.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Isabel Ferrando Dinner

If the late Henri Bonneau of Domaine Bonneau and Emmanuel Reynaud of Chateau Rayas are the kings of Chateauneuf du Pape, then I would like to nominate Isabel Ferrando, of the joint domains Saint Prefert and Domaine Ferrando, as the queen of the appellation.  I had the good fortune to attend a tasting of her Chateauneuf du Pape whites and reds last night at Tribecca Grill in NYC.  The event was put together and hosted by Tribecca Grill wine director, David Gordon. David is also a VP at David Bowler Wine, the importer of Ferrando wines.  The Tribecca Grill is one of the signature restaurants of restaurateur David Nieporent and Robert De Niro.  David Gordon has a fondness for Châteauneuf du Pape and the restaurant’s excellent wine list contains almost two dozen different Châteauneuf producers.  The food is also quite good.  Tonight we enjoyed:

Passed hor’doeuvres

Einkorn Cavatelli
Rabbit Rgout, Orange, Tarragon

Braised Short Rib 
Shaved Celery, Horseradish, Arugula, Sauce Meurette

Selection of Rhone-Alpes Cheese
Tomme de Savoie, Beaufort d’Eté, Fromager d’Affinois

Nougat Glace
Crepe Dentelle

My experience with the wines of Isabel Ferrando is limited to a few bottles of 2005 Colombis CdP that I had a number of years ago (and liked).  She was mentored by her neighbor, the late Henri Bonneau, and has learned very well from this master.  Her first vintage was in 2003.  Her wines exhibit the purity, balance roundness and elegance one usually finds in traditionally made wines. She uses whole cluster fermentation in all of her wines, mostly old wood barrels and bottles her wines without filtration.  Perhaps the best news is that her wines retail in the $40 to $75 range compared to the $300 plus range one must pay to drink Bonneau or Rayas.

We began the evening with her 2016 Saint Prefert Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc Traditional.  Poured from magnum, this was a young, fresh and utterly delicious blend of 80% Clairette and 20% Roussane. The wine spends 6 months in barrel of which 1/3 is new wood before being bottled without filtration.

This was followed by the 2012, 2014 and 2015 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc “Vieilles Clairettes”.  Bottled only in magnums they are made from 100% Clairettes (80-100 year old vines) from the Quartier des Serres to the south of the village of Châteauneuf du Pape, renowned for being one of the most sun-drenched in the appellation.  Fermentation is in wood, 50% new and then aged for 2 years before being bottled without filtration.  All three wines drank beautifully and should add depth with a few years of cellar age.  The 2015 however stole my heart.  It was delicious with great pedigree.  A monster in the making.  While the new oak was evident at this early age, I would guess it will be very well integrated in a few years.  A wine with soul!  Producer M. Chapoutier says of the (2015) vintage, "...great and exceptional vintage that is destined to become legendary."

Our first flight of the reds were from the 2014 vintage, a vintage that produced fruit forward wines that are for the most part medium-bodied with a soft and elegant texture.

2014 Isabel Ferrando Chateauneuf du Pape “Colombis”.  100% Grenache, aged in 100% large, aged wooden casks.  A delightful wine that fits neatly into the vintage description.  My CdP preference has always been toward those wines made with 100% Grenache, as I enjoy the hint of pepper and spice on the palate Grenache usually offers up.  This was no exception.

2014 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Auguste Favier”.  A blend of 82% Grenache and 10% Cincault, 8% Syrah that is aged for 18 months, 50% in concrete and 50% in aged wood.  A medium-bodied CdP, it drank beautifully with a pure and silky mouth feel and elegant finish.

2014 Saint. Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Charles Giraud”.  A blend of 60% Grenache (80 year old vines) and 35% Mourvedre (60 year old vines) and 5% Syrah (65 year old vines).  Like the Favier, the wine was medium-bodied with bright acidity for aging.  The wine displayed a soft, textured palate and a lengthy and peppery finish.

Our second flight of the reds were from the 2010 vintage, and was my flight of the night.  Josh Reynolds of Vinous says "an exceptional, ageworthy vintage, with many producers making their best wines in years, or even decades. Tannin levels tend toward the high side so patience is advised."  I found them to be full-bodied opulent wines with great aging potential.

2010 Isabel Ferrando Chateauneuf du Pape “Colombis”.  100% Grenache, this was simply gorgeous.  The wine begins with a rich bouquet of spicy and pure Grenache fruit and then coats a balanced palate with richness and elegance.

2010 Saint. Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Auguste Favier”. 85% Grenache and 15% Cincault. A full bodied, lush wine that exhibits velvet tannins and excellent length.  This should drink well for years to come.

2010 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Charles Giraud”.  60% Grenache and 40% Mourvedre. Another superb wine, with lively fruit, depth, balance and elegance.

The final flight of the reds were from the 2005 and 2007 vintages.  

2007 Isabel Ferrando Chateauneuf du Pape “Colombis”.  100% Grenache.  2007 was an extremely hot vintage that yielded very ripe wines. Tonight’s wine was full-bodied and had a deep ruby red hue with a slightly sweet palate.  While the tannins were silky and the palate was nicely balanced, the sweetness, in my opinion, detracted from the wine.

2007 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Auguste Favier”. 85% Grenache and 15% Cincault. While not as sweet as the Colombis, this was a big, California like wine.  More power than elegance here.

2005 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf du Pape “Auguste Favier”.  A blend of 60% Grenache, 35% Mourvedre and 5% Syrah.  2005 was another terrific year for the Rhone. The vintage was shaped by warm, sunny dry days and cool to cold nights and a long growing season which helped to produce rich, ripe, concentrated wines. Tonight’s wine had depth, balance and vibrant acidity to enable it to age and evolve gracefully over time.

My apologies for the somewaht blurred photo. 

To complete the evening, Isabella treated us to NV Saint Prefert Vieux Marc Chateauneuf du Pape Brandy.  Similar to Grappa, it possessed a gorgeous golden hue and it is made from all the grapes (I assume from the must) from her vineyards.  As a huge Grappa fan, and I really enjoyed this.

It was a wonderful evening.  Isabella did a great job in articulating her philosophy and describing here wines.  Color me a fan.

By the way, I am told that the art you see behind us was all done by Robert DeNiro's father.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

An Eclectic Wine Dinner

Our local wine group returned to A Toute Heure in Cranford, NJ. last week.  A farm-to-table restaurant, it is run by husband and wife team, Andrea & Jim Carbine.  The menu is small, and changes for the seasons.  This BYOB provides friendly and attentive service along with decent stemware for your wines. Tonight’s menu choices included:

Chicken Livers on Toast with caramelized onions in a port reduction.  Very tasty.

Garlic Spice Pork, peanut croquettes, scallions.  These thin slices of sautéed pork were magnificent.

Chili Shrimp, roast sweet potato, green cabbage, mint-yogurt, chickpea
Crisps.  Spicy and delicious.

Garlic Zeppole.  Much too doughy in the opinion of all.

Flatbread Pizza, topped with mushrooms and a fried egg.  Quite good.

Veal Schnitzel, quinoa-cabbage slaw, maple-mint vinaigrette, sesame
Cashews.  The slaw topping did not work for me and the schnitzel was too thick.

Pork Belly Roulade, fingerling potatoes, choucroute with lardons &
apples, grainy mustard jus.  Emil enjoyed every bite.

Toffee apple cake, with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.  Delicious!

Marc was responsible for the wines and he opted for an eclectic assortment that would take us on a kind of world tour.  His selections were terrific.

1983 Verwaltung der Staatsweingüter Steinberger Riesling Spätlese (Germany).  Wow was this good.  In fact it was my WOTN. In the glass the dark golden hue glistened while the bouquet heightened my anticipation that I was about to taste something very special.  The viscous palate had great balance, complexity and depth and it finished with great length.  It was a great accompaniment to the appetizers.

As I knew nothing about this producer, I asked my Vinous friend Marius, who lives in Germany, if he could help me out.  Marius is very knowledgeable about many wines, and German Rieslings are one of his fortes.   He commented of the producer, “it's the once famous Hessische Staatsweingüter in Eltville, a huge property blessed with tons of grand crus like Steinberger, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Rauenthaler Baiken and the likes . It belongs to the state "Hessen" (Wiesbaden is the capitol but Frankfurt is the most important town, so geographically we're talking about the Rheingau ).

By the time I started buying my own wine (beginning of the nineties) quality was already very poor and ever since they never managed to produce the premium quality they delivered in the past, so if you're able to find wines from the seventies or maybe even early eighties (1983 was a great year for Spätlese and higher) that have been properly stored, lucky you! Lucky we were with this bottle."

1996 Clos Erasmus Priorat (Spain).  A blend of Garnatxa (Grenache) and  Syrah, fermentation takes place in a combination of oak, concrete egg and clay amphorae.  The wine is then aged 20 months in 228L French oak barrels (2/3 new) and clay amphorae.  This was a big, modern styled wine, but not over the top as I thought before I took a sip.  It was beautifully balanced with the oak very well integrated and made for a very nice glass of wine.

2010 Domaine Alain Hudelot-Noëllat Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru (France).  Unfortunately this bottle was badly corked and undrinkable.

1995 Louis Jadot (Domaine Gagey) Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Estournelles Saint-Jacques (France).  Classical red Burgundy, ripe and nicely layered fruit on an earthy palate.  Elegant finish. Quite good.  Gevrey Chambertin is the northernmost of the great communes of the Côte de Nuits. There are 26 Premiers Crus and 8 Grands Crus. The Estournelles Saint Jacques vineyard is situated on that Southeast facing slope, at the beginning of the "Combe Lavaux", on top of "Lavaux St Jacques" and near "Clos St Jacques". There are similarities in the soil composition between the premiers crus and the grand crus. This wine is fermented in vats for 3-4 weeks and aged 15 months in oak barrels before bottling.

We completed the evening with a couple of fantastic Baroli from one of the all time great vintages from Piedmont, 1989.  Both wines lived up to the reputation of both the vintage and producer.

1989 Ceretto Bricco Rocche Barolo (Italy, Castiglione Falletto).  Typical of wines from this vineyard, the wine displayed vibrant red fruit, with soft, silky tannins and terrific balance and complexity along with a lengthy, elegant finish.  A wine with soul!

1989 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito (Italy, Serralunga).  This started out a bit tight, but after 20 minutes in the glass it began to soar with pure fruit on an earthy and elegant palate.  It displayed considerably more depth than the Ceretto.  A wine with soul...in spades!  It way my runner-up to WOTN.

Another terrific evening with a great group of guys.  Thanks for bringing such great wines Marc.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1999 Barolo - A Magical Vintage

Our NYC Vinous group met at Hearth on Monday evening of last week to enjoy a number of Baroli from the magical 1999 vintage. Each of us brought a bottle or two from the vintage.  All the wines were open in the late morning or early afternoon to give them some air.  Ken, our resident Nebbiolo guru paired the wines with the 5 course meal and did his usual great job.

Antonio Galloni comments on the vintage… “One of the truly epic vintages of the last three decades. These are firm, classically built Barolos that will continue to drink well for another 20+ years. Stylistically, the 1999s are like the 1996s, but with more fruit and mid-palate sweetness/density. This vintage was largely ignored at the outset in favor of 2000, but as Barolo lovers know, 1999 is one of the greats. The best wines will continue to drink well for decades, although many wines are approachable now.”  Our tasting confirmed his comments.  With the exception of a couple of tainted bottles, the wines drank beautifully.

We began the evening with a stunning bottle of 1999 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart.  To paraphrase a Sinatra song, “What a lovely way to begin an evening.”  This exceptional cuvée was created in 1964 as a tribute to the House’s founder. It results from the blending of grand crus from the classified Côte des Blancs vineyards (Chardonnay) and the Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir). Its vinification, partially in traditional oak casks, underpins the generous character of this fine, elegant and rich wine.  The wine showed a wonderful rich palate of delicious ripe fruit and subtle floral notes and a lengthy elegant finish.

Our first course was Hearth Broth made from bone marrow, tumeric and black pepper.  This is a signature creation of chef/owner Marco Canora.  It was a great beginning on a cold, blustery NYC evening.

1999 Marcarini Brunate Barolo.  Based in La Morra, the estate is under the direction of sixth generation owners Luisa Marcarini Marchetti, her husband Manuel Marchetti and their 3 children. The highly regarded Armando Cordero consults with Luisa in the wine making.  Their wines are beautiful expressions of traditionally made Barolo and retail at very reasonable prices. Tonight’s wine was totally seductive…a balanced elegant wine that soared from the glass and finished with great length and finesse.  A contender for WOTN.

1999 G. Mascarello Monprivato Barolo. The wine unfortunately had a slight cork to it.  Although it was drinkable, it was less enjoyable than previous bottles I have had.

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. Classic Bartolo Mascarello.  Gorgeous translucent hue with a classic Barolo bouquet and a pure and balanced palate.  Lengthy and elegant finish.  One of the top wines of the vintage and destined to drink well for many years to come.

Beef Tartare was our second course.  This version was a modern approach to the classic chopped raw beef dish.  It contained cheddar, salsa verde and potato chips.  When will chefs learn not to mess with the classic preparation of simple dishes?  One bite and I was finished.  Thankfully the wines compensated for the dish.

1999 Conterno Granbussia Barolo Riserva.  The initial sip was very tight, but after 10 minutes in the glass the wine really opened up revealing a full-bodied delicious Nebbiolo.

1999 Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell'Annunziata.  Scavino is one of the most modern Barolo wine estates in all of Piedmont.  I find the wines dominated by oak and lacking complexity and balance.  Well, I was very pleasantly surprised when I took my first sip of the wine.  There was no oak in sight, instead there was a soft and nicely focused wine that delighted my palate.  An impressive bottle of wine.

Our pasta course was Whole Grain Rigatoni with pork ragu, kale and whipped ricotta. While the sauce was tasty, a pasta dish is, in my opinion, about the noodle, not the sauce. Call me old fashioned, but I like my pasta made with Semolina and/or Durum flour.

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera Barolo.  Big earthy bouquet with a soft fruity palate.  The finish was a bit short compared to the wine that followed.

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate-Le Coste Barolo.  This wine shows why Rinaldi is one of the great traditional Barolo wine makers in Piedmont.  Completely round and delicious wine that seduces the palate, then finishes with length and elegance.  A wine with soul!

We were then served our entrée, Whole Spatchock Chicken, marsala, mushrooms, with polenta. This was simple and delicious.  The bird was juicy and succulent.  The sauce and polenta were harmonious additions to the dish.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo.  Unfortunately the bottle was corked.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto.  I loved this. Lush bouquet with layers of fruit and earth on a beautifully balanced and complex palate. This has the stuff to last another decade or two.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche.  A wow wine that is still very much a baby as the palate and finish were a bit tight.  The underlying pedigree of the wine is fantastic and this will be gorgeous in a few more years.  I am very happy to have 3 bottles sleeping in the cellar.

For dessert we had 2 year aged Cheddar Cheese; grappa-stewd fruits; candied hazlenuts.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Gorgeous earthy and fruity bouquet and more open than the bottle this group had two years ago, but still very young.  Beginning to show signs of emerging into the great wine it is destined to be.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva.  A prodigious wine that is a joy to drink. Every bit as good as the bottle this group had two years ago.  I echo my notes from that tasting; earthy bouquet, full-bodied, balanced and complex with impeccable purity and a very lengthy, elegant finish.  One of the best Barolos I have ever tasted.  This has the stuff to last for decades. Truly a wine with soul and my WOTN.

All in all another stellar evening with a great group of friendly, knowledgeable and generous Barolo lovers.

Photo courtesy of Ken Vastola


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Le Bernardin

This past Wednesday Carol and I headed into NYC to the see the matinee performance of A Bronx Tale.  Our daughters gave us a pair of incredible orchestra seats for Christmas.

Before leaving for the city, we had a late breakfast at The Corner in Montclair.  This is a tiny breakfast and lunch spot that we have wanted to try since it opened a couple of years ago. Weekend attempts were met with long waiting times, so we deferred until now.  Service was very attentive and the food was great.

Carol ordered an Omelet, which she filled with spinach, ham and goat cheese, while I had a Breakfast Sandwich of house cured bacon and an over easy egg on a house made buttermilk biscuit.  I love fresh biscuits and this was fantastic.  We also shared a monster sized order of matchstick fries which were quite good.  We will be back.

Off to the show.  No traffic today, so we cruised in to the City.  The show was great...every bit as good as the movie.  I highly recommend it.

We had not been to Le Bernardin Restaurant in at least 15 years and felt it was time to change that.  Le Bernardin has held 3 Michelin stars since 2005 when Michelin began rating US restaurants.  Getting a reservation was a challenge, but thanks to a couple of contacts we were able to secure a table.

With an hour to spare before our reservation we settled into the Aldo Sohm Wine Bar directly across the square from the restaurant to pass the time with a glass or two of wine.  Aldo is the head sommelier at Le Bernardin restaurant.

Carol chose a glass of 2015 Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Sorbara.  It displayed a deep rosé hue, with a berry nose.  The palate was fresh and crisp.

For me I began with a glass of 2015 Domaine Aux Moines Becreau Des Fées Chenin Blanc.  Chenin Blanc is a favorite of mine and I found this young vine wine to have terrific purity and was excellent balance.

2013 Sohm & Kracher Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner.  Owner Aldo Sohm makes this wine with Gehard Kracher, son of the late Alois Kracher.  This was a beautifully balanced wine with nice acidity and texture.

Time for dinner, so we headed across the square to the restaurant.  The food, service and overall experience at the restaurant were worthy of the 3 stars and fantastic reputation it has earned.  We were greeted (as are all diners) with a complimentary glass of Champagne.  I didn’t pay close attention to the label, but it was very good.  A brut for sure, it had a yeasty bouquet and palate and excellent balance.

Le Bernardin is primarily a seafood restaurant, serving pristinely fresh fish prepared simply and always perfectly cooked.  For land lubbers there are a limited number of meat selections.  The four course prixe-fixed menu offers an exciting selection dishes.  Our meal began with a complimentary amuse-bouche of Salmon Sashimi, Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio and Lobster Bisque.  Each bite was spectacular and set the stage for the meal to follow

Carol began with Warm Artichoke Panaché; Vegetable Risotto, Black Truffle Vinaigrette. Delicate and delicious is the way I described the forkful I tried.

I opted for Fluke Slivers; Sweet and Sour Plum, Grapefruit-Tea Nage.  Fluke is my favorite Sashimi fish.  It is delicate and full of flavor.  This preparation with the fish swimming in the tea was magnificent.  I could have eaten a few orders of this and been happy to call it a night.

Carol's second plate was Lacquered Lobster Tail; Herb Spring Roll, Lemongrass Consommé. Like the fluke, the consommé bath elevated the dish to new heights.

I was delighted with Seared Langoustine; Fennel Mousseline, Spiced Citrus-Sambal Sauce. Again the magic of the sauce worked in amazing harmony with the fish.

For her entrée Carol stayed with lobster and had Pan Roasted Lobster; Baby Leeks, Sunchoke Purée, Red Wine-Sauce Américaine.  Completely different than her previous dish, it was just as spectacular.

I selected Sautéed Dover Sole; Celeriac Royale, Sauce Veronika.  This was the most unique version of Dover Sole I ever had and like the previous dishes it was delicious.  The delicate fish was perfectly cooked and sat a top another amazing sauce that enhanced each bite of the fish.  

I selected a bottle of 2013 Jean-Charles Abbatucci Cuvée Collection General de La Revolution to drink with our meal.  I am a big fan of Corsican wines, especially those from Abbatucci.  This bottling is a blend from the original plantings of Carcajolu Biancu (25%), Paga Debbiti (25%), Riminese (20%), Rossola Brandica (15%), Biancone (10%), and 5% Vermentinu. The wine had brilliant salinity and impeccable balance while finishing with good length.  A round a delicious with lots of soul that complemented the meal perfectly.

On to dessert.  As you might expect, dessert was as spectacular as the meal.  Carol ordered Slow Roasted Apple, Armagnac Sabayon, Brown Butter Ice Cream.  It is pictured below in the background of the complimentary "Tres Leches" (Crispy Cashew Sponge Cake Sphere, Caramelized Goat’s Milk Mousse, Clementine Sorbet).  

I completed the meal with Red Wine-Hibiscus Poached Pear, Buckwheat Angel’s Food Cake, Olive Oil "Snow”.  A perfect ending to a perfect meal and a perfect day.


While we waited for the check, we nibbled on the complimentary cookie assortment.  Pure decadence.  


Sunday, February 26, 2017

1995 Georges Mungneret-Gibourg Red Burgundy

Our local wine group met recently at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville. If it seems like we frequent Sette a lot you are right.  And why not with the delicious food owner/chef Allan Russo prepares for us on each visit. Tonight’s highlights included:

Onion Tart
Gnocchi di Ricotta w/Speck & Butter Sauce
Risotto w/Sweet Italian Sausage
Roasted Pork Loin

Jeff, our Burgundy expert selected the wines for the evening.  He chose four reds from one of Burgundy’s top estates, Georges Mungneret-Gilbourg.  Since the passing of founder Dr. Georges Mungneret in 1988, the estate has been run by his wife and two daughters.  Their wines are known their finesse and delicacy.  The wines were all from the 1995 vintage. This vintage yielded concentrated, dense, structured wines with substantial firm tannins and average to slightly above average acidity.

Prior to the 2007 vintage the domains’ wines were marketed as either Dr. Georges Mugneret or Mugneret-Gibourg depending on the vineyard.  Starting in 2007 all wines were amalgamated into one label, Dr. Georges Mugneret-Gibourg.

Before getting to the reds, Jeff started us off some bubbles, NV (2009) Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Champagne Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine (disgorged 4/11). Cedric, a young maverick of a wine maker, does not follow the usual convention of blending different grapes from different vineyards as well as the juice from different vintages to make champagne. Rather his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote importer Doug Polaner’s web site, “Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast and handled meticulously in the cellar to guarantee the finest wines possible”. 

While the wine was made with fruit (Pinot Noir) from the 2009 vintage, it did not see 3 years in the barrel, thus the NV classification. This is champagne that needs to be drunk from a standard white wine stem to allow the evolution of the juice to take place.  The wine was seductive on the palate and possessed breathtaking textural elegance and fabulous balance. The more it sat in the glass, the more it soared on the palate.  A wine with soul!  

He then treated us to 2005 Domaine et Selections Coche-Dury Meursault Villages.  This estate is, by any standard, one of the finest producers of White Burgundy.  In fact, many consider Coch-Dury Meursault to be the finest expression of Meursault in all of Burgundy. When asked of his success, he says, “There are no secrets he says, just hard work in the vineyards.” The vines are pruned fairly heavily, and he only uses “green harvest” very rarely. No pesticides are used in the vineyards. The fields are plowed and cultivated very carefully to maintain the ecological balance.

Vinification is fairly traditional, but with quite frequent batonnage. Fermentation takes place in oak cask, and the proportion of new oak varies from year to year, but generally Coche-Dury uses quite a lot new oak. In some years they have used up to 50% new casks on the top wines. The wines are raised in barrel for 15 to 22 months, and are bottled without filtration. Production is sparse, amounting to about 4,200 cases annually, thus finding them is very difficult.  The wines are also very expensive.

Tonight’s wine was bottled under the Domaine et Selections label.  Jeff explained, this is exactly the same wine Coche-Dury markets under their own Meursault label…and at a lower price.  It was simply magnificent, and for me the best Meursault I have ever tasted.  Here the Chardonnay grape seems to take on a combination of power and finesse.  The bouquet is huge and on the palate the wine explodes the taste buds.  The oak was seamlessly integrated into the wine.  I sipped the wine throughout the dinner and enjoyed the evolution of the wine with each sip.  For me it was clearly the WOTN.   

We then moved on to the Mugneret reds. I was surprised however that had this been a blind tasting, I would have said the wines were Nebbiolo from Italy.  To my nose and palate they did not evoke that red Burgundy feel.  But then again I do not have a lot of experience with aged red Burgundy. All the wines drank well and that is all that mattered.

1995 Domaine Georges Mugneret Nuits-St.- Georges Les Chaignots 1er Cru.  I found the tannins to be on the harsh side and the fruit to be in a sleepy state. 

1995 Domaine Georges Mugneret Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes.  Softer tannins here and livelier fruit.  I would have loved to have allowed the wine to sit for a few hours in the glass, as the pedigree was evident.  

1995 Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux Grand Cru.  My least favorite of the reds.  Not a lot going on here.    

1995 Domaine Georges Mugneret Clos Vougeot Grand Cru.  This was my favorite of the reds.  The tannins were soft on a beautifully complex palate.  The wine also had a lingering finish, which the others seemed to lack.

All in all it was another wonderful evening with a great group of guys and wonderful food and wine. Thanks Jeff for our continuing Burgundy education.  And thanks again to Allan Russo for another terrific meal.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

La Festa del Barolo 2017

As we do each year a bunch of us Jersey wine guys, Emil, Michael, Tony, Joe, Jack and Paul attended the La Festa del Barolo dinner held in NYC.  This year it was held at Del Posto. This annual event, orchestrated by Vinous founder Antonio Galloni and his Vinous team, is one of the more spectacular tasting events of the year and it is done with remarkable class.  In addition to the great food and wines, 58 of NYC’s top sommeliers are on hand to open and pour the wines. The format of the dinner calls for all dinner attendees to bring bottles of great Barolo (other wines also are allowed) to share with the others at their table.  As you would imagine, sharing with other tables is another highlight of the evening.  This sharing of great wines is the highlight of the evening, and the remarkable generosity exhibited by attendees to share great wines with others is very special.   One of the winemakers who will be participating in the 2012 Barolo tasting to be held on the following morning is seated at each table. They also bring wine, usually back vintages, from their cellar.  The opportunity to speak with these gracious folks and share their wine is worth the price of admission alone.

Our table was comprised of Vinous members Marc D. and his Jennifer; Iggy M.and his wife Carolyn; Michael Z; Emil S.; Jonathan G. and myself.  Paola Rinaldi of Francesco Rinaldi Winery along with the estate’s winemaker Fabio Gemme joined us at our table.

The Rinaldi winery was founded in 1870 and is a top producer of traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco.  The wines are aged in Slavonia oak barrels of medium and large capacity (20 – 50 Hl) for at least 3 years.  The estate has been in the hands of Paola and Piera Rinaldi, great granddaughters of Giovanni Rinaldi, since the 1990s.  I personally have found that the sisters have turned up the quality of the wines over the past few years.  I am a frequent buyer of their wines.

Prior to the cocktail hour Michael treated Emil and I to a glass of 2014 Radikon Pinot Grigio at the bar. 2 weeks of skin maceration. Aged in barrel one year, then bottled and release. This style utilizes hand-harvesting, extended skin maceration, large, older barrel fermentations without temperature control, no added yeasts or enzymes, and little or no use of sulfur. In short, this is the way wines were made in the area prior to World War II. The resulting wines are usually golden in color, rich with complex fruit aromas, and notable for their length on the palate and their ability to age. The golden orange hue usually associated with “orange” wines was replaced in this wine by a pinkish hue reminiscent of a Rosé.  The palate displayed remarkable character and depth.  A perfect glass of wine to begin the evening with.

Del Posto is the flagship restaurant of the Batali/Bastianch empire.  It is a spacious and upscale restaurant serving great Italian cuisine that is complimented by highly professional service and a world class Italian wine list.  The restaurant was closed all day to prepare for the event and then reserved for the event itself, which began with passed Assagi (little bites).  Four Champagnes were served with the Assagi.

2004 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne.  A terrific vintage for the bubbly and it showed in the first sip.  The wine was young and bright with a full-bodied palate and brilliant focus.  This will drink well for decades.

2002 Pierre Péters Cuvée Spécial Les Chétillons Champagne. Another outstanding vintage for Champagne.  This was medium-bodied and delicious.

2002 Dom Ruinart. Elegance with bubbles.  

NV Cédric Bouchard-Roses de Jeanne La Haute-Lemblé Champagne. Made from the juice of the 2009 vintage, this was my favorite.  Bouchard’s wines have incredible depth, focus and finesse on the palate.  Unlike most Champagne houses who blend vintages, sites and fruit, Bouchard wines are always from a single plot, single vintage and single grape.  

I can recall most, but not all of the wines I tasted during the evening.  Allow me to begin with the wines at our table.

2009 Angelo Gaja Chardonnay Gaia & Rey.  This is the first white wine ever produced by the Gaja family. Named for Angelo's daughter, Gaia, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey.  It’s a big wine for a Chardonnay, with too much oak and vanilla for me.

1997 Angelo Gaja Langhe Nebbiolo Conteisa.  Piedmontese for "quarrel," this wine was named for the historic dispute between the communes of La Morra and Barolo for possession of the Cerequio land. Deep garnet red hue.  Muted earthy bouquet with a bold palate and a bit too much oak for me.

2001 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala (Magnum). Unfortunately this was corked.

1999 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia.  A round and delicious classically made Barolo with a big earthy bouquet and an elegant and refined palate.

2001 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia.  Glorious wine that is entering its peak drinking window.  Gorgeous bouquet with a vibrant fruity palate and lengthy finish

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano.  Stunning wine that is the essence of old world Barolo.  Elegant balance, great complexity with a lengthy velvet finish.

1980 Cappellano Barolo.  Classic Cappellano that is fully mature and drinking with soul!

1997 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. Dark red hue.  While I am not a big fan of Gaja’s wine style, this drank well.  I found the tannins a bit harsher than the Contesia, but the oak was better integrated in my opinion.

2006 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino.  2006 was a great vintage in Barolo, and this wine is one of the very finest examples of the vintage.  Even though the wine is still very young, the pedigree of the wine is apparent with each sip.  Impeccable balance, finesse and elegance soared from the glass with each sip.  In another 5 to 10 years this may well be judged the wine of the vintage.

2007 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  2007 was another terrific vintage in Barolo. Roberto Conterno did not make any Monfortino in 2006, opting instead to use the fruit instead in the CF. More approachable than the 2006 Monfortino, the wine is drinking beautifully and has the balance and acidity to last another 2 to 3 decades at least.

2004 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcinio Riserva (Magnum).  I broke with the theme of the evening by bringing this wine as I thought it would offer a nice contrast to the Baroli.  The wine more than held its own as it drank beautifully.  Gorgeous bouquet of fruit and earth with a beautifully balance palate and a lengthy and elegant finish.

The final two wines were brought by Paola Rinaldi from the winery.

2008 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate.  Another prized Barolo vintage, this was elegant and polished on the palate.  Still very much a baby but will give much drinking pleasure for another couple of decades.

1964 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo.  This wine was in great shape with vibrant fruit and terrific balance and complexity on the palate.

Wines from other tables

1982 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco Magnum.  Best of the Gaja wines I tasted.  No tannins or oak in sight.  Drank very nicely.

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi 1.9 liters.  Terrific and still very much alive.

1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. The hue was rosé-like with a beautiful translucency.  The fruit was vibrant and soared from the glass with each sip.  On the palate it had incredible focus and finesse and a long and elegant finish. 

1990 Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  A totally mesmerizing wine.  Everything one looks for in a great wine.  Wish I had some in my cellar.

???? DRC Montrachet.  Unfortunately I did not get a glimpse of the bottle, but the wine was superb.

There were a few others, but I can not recall what they were.  My only negative comment on the evening is that the amount of wine is really too much to really appreciate these remarkable wines.  I do prefer smaller tastings limited to 8 to 10 bottles, so that each wine can be sipped and enjoyed with the meal.

My thanks to Antonio and his Vinous team and all the generous attendees who shared a number of very special wines.


Friday, January 13, 2017

A Night in the Northern Rhone

Our wine group met earlier this week at Café Matisse in Rutherford, NJ. Café Matisse is a small intimate space with a décor inspired by Henri Matisse. Maitre’d Larry and his staff provide courteous and professional service from start to finish. The restaurant is BYOB and the wine service is what one would expect in a pricey NYC restaurant with an expensive wine list. The combination of fresh ingredients and remarkable creativity of Chef/owner Peter Loria never fails to provide a unique dining experience.

My experience last night included

Hamachi Crudo and Cajun Seared Tuna.  This was one of the best versions of crudo I have ever encountered.  Pristinely fresh raw fish was served atop Grilled Chili Pineapple, Crushed Pineapple, Red Chili Peppers, topped with Tempura Fried Green Beans, Soy Vinaigrette, Wasabi Jus.  The textures and flavors threw a party in my mouth.

Sirloin Taco with Asian BBQ Sauce.  Tender strips of perfectly cooked sirloin strips were topped with a Kimchi‎ Slaw, Thai Chili Vinaigrette, Spicy Orange Glazed Sesame Ginger Shrimp Paste and dusted with White Sesame Seeds.  Simply amazing, it takes the Taco experience to new heights.

"Unbaked" Lobster Mac N Cheese.  Bits of lobster were tossed in a cheese sauce,  over homemade Pappardelle pasta and topped with a jumbo shrimp and cooked apple slices.  This dish did not work for me, too much going on.

Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cheese Cake.  A perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

I was in the wine queue and I settled on Northern Rhone wines for the evening.

1996 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc Cuvée de L’Orée.  Michel Chapoutier is one of the most highly regarded winemakers in France. He combines the modern and the traditional: crusading for biodynamic winemaking, while expanding operations around the globe and experimenting with cutting edge winemaking techniques. Chapoutier is the only producer to own vineyards in all of the major Rhône appellations.  I am a big fan of the white grapes, Marsanne, Roussane and Viogner of the region.  Tonight's wine was crafted from 100% Marsanne.  The wines should be drunk within the first 3 to 5 years and then put away for 10 years.  I prefer them in their early years, as they are crisp, with beautiful acidity and complexity.  When they emerge from their 10 year hibernation they morph into a more viscous, oxidative styled wine, which can be very nice to drink. Unfortunately the oxidation in tonight’s wine was over the top and even with a couple of hours of breathing in the glass, was not very enjoyable.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Robert Michel Cornas La Geynale.  Michel makes very traditional wines from his tiny 5 hectares of vineyards.  Made from 100% Syrah the wine is still on the young side, but shows great promise for the future when the fruit begins to emerge.  It is a nicely balanced, full-bodied wine. $80.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto Rouge.  Produced only in exceptional vintages, the Ermitage Ex-Voto is the estates expression of a sincere desire to produce an exceptional wine which reflects the soul of this prestigious appellation of the Rhône Valley.  Made from 100% Syrah, the wine spends 42 months in new oak.  While it had a terrific nose, and the oak was well integrated, I found it to be a bit short on both the palate and finish.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Guigal Cote Rotie la Mouline.  One of the famous single vineyard La La wines Guigal makes from the Cote Rotie appelation (La Landonne and La Turque are the others).   The wine is crafted from 89% Syrah and 11% Viogner and, like the Ex Voto spends 42 months in new oak. Average vine age is 75 years.  The wine tonight was superb displaying a gorgeous fruity bouquet with an expressive and impressive palate, and nary a hint of oak  Full of depth, complexity and finesse, it was round and delicious and finished with length and elegance.  A wine with soul and the WOTN.  $300.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 J. L. Chave Hermitage Rouge.  Many wine drinkers, myself included, of Northern Rhone wines consider the estate of Jean Louis Chave to be the benchmark producer in the region.  It is certainly one of the most sought after Hermitage wines in the Region.  The estate began buying land on the Hill of Hermitage in 1865.  The Hermitage rouge is made from 100% Syrah.  The grapes come from Bessards, L’Hermite, Peleat, Meal, Beaume, Diognieres and Vercandiered vineyards. The 2 hectares of vines on Bessards is considered by many people to be the heart and soul of the JL Chave wine.  The Bessards has a terroir that is mostly, steep granite hillside soils. They have old vines. On Bessards, the average vine age is 50 years. However, the oldest vines on Bessards are more than 80 years of age. and the parcels on Les Rocoules and Peleat have vines that are even older at over 80 years of age.  Grapes from each vineyard are vinified separately, the wine then run off into 228-litre Burgundian oak pièces for ageing. Blending is an art at which the Chaves excel, and is a major reason for the complexity and depth in their wines.

2005 was an outstanding vintage in the region, producing highly structured, deeply concentrated and energetic wines.  Tonight's wine however appeared to be have a slight taint to it (Jeff thought it was slightly corked).  As the wine sat in the glass the taint vanished and it began to evolve nicely showing underlying depth and complexity.  It, however, fell short to the La Mouline.   In my opinion another 5+ years of cellar time will reveal a spectacular wine.  $360.  Wine-Searcher.

1985 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon.  I decided to bring a dessert wine to complete the evening and since I had none from the Northern Rhone, I selected this wine from the Loire Valley. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, this bottle was superb, exhibiting great depth, balance and complexity with a monster finish.  I particularly like the fact that the cloying palate typical of Sauternes is absent here.  In its place is a wonderful full-bodied and honey-like nectar.  Unlike Sauternes the wine is made without Botrytis (noble rot) and is aged for a minimum of 10 years before being released.  The wine making process is quite unique in that 20% of the grapes are picked around 80 days after flowering while the fruit is still underripe and loaded with acidity, the other 80% is harvested late (one hundred & twenty days after flowering)  yielding fruit with high sugar levels and concentrated flavors.  The wines have an amazing track record for longevity, and can last 50-100 years in the great vintages.  In fact, Moulin Touchais is the only winery in the world that gives a Century Long Guarantee on the longevity of their wines.  At $70 a bottle, it also represents fantastic value.  Wine-Searcher.  The wine was runner-up to WOTN.


Monday, January 2, 2017

9th Annual Gentlemen's Holiday Luncheon

L to R: George U., Jack, Jeff, Tony, George L., Paul, Mark, Gino
kneeling: Joe, Nick
Two days before Christmas fellow wine lover Tony P. once again organized our annual holiday luncheon, our ninth per Jack G.  The usual ten subjects were on hand, each with a bottle or two in hand to aid in celebrating the holidays and our friendship.  As is our custom the event was held at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ. The Grande family not only prepares outstanding regional Italian cuisine, but they are very gracious to allow us to bring our own wine cork-fee free. Another family member, Sal LaRose, oversees the food and wine service to perfection, making sure that the stemware is changed as necessary and deftly pacing each course.

Antipasti of Artichokes, Mozzarella de Bufala & Prosciutto
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp With Shiitake Mushrooms
Seafood Salad

Three Pastas
  Spaghetti alla Carbonara
  Spaghetti con Vongole Bianco
  Spaghetti con sugo di Coniglio (rabbit)

After all of the above I went with a simple, but delicious, Chicken Francaise. I did not pay much attention to the other entrées, which were enjoyed by all.

Tony suggested that the theme be wines from Piedmont, the Veneto or Tuscany with the additional criteria be they come from vintages from 1978 to 2001. Although it did not meet the criteria, Jack brought along a magnum of 1990 Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvée to accompany the large tin of Osetra caviar he recently received from Russia to share with the group.  As I am not a fan of caviar, I did not echo the oohs and ahs of the group over the fish roe.  I did however ooh and ah over the Champagne.  There is something magical about good, aged Champagne, especially when it is aged in large format.  The wine had an intoxicating yeasty bouquet with a nutty palate and elegant finish.

I decided to bring along a couple of bottles of white wine to begin the lunch with and while they did conform to the vintage criteria they did not meet the regional criteria.  The wines have quite a history.  They came from the Fiorano estate of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the Prince of Venosa. The wines are the product of a dedicated and passionate prince whose avant-garde approach was way ahead of its time. His whites took on a phenomenon for their ability to age, but became a true rarity as the prince was elusive and did not care to put the wines in the wrong hands. Luigi Veronelli, the famed Italian wine writer called his white wines the finest ever made. While I do not agree with his comment, I do find the wines unique and a pleasure to drink.

1989 Fiorano Semillon Botte 48.  Made from 100% Semillon, this had a gorgeous yellow-orange hue that exhibited a complex palate marked by depth an focus.

1988 Fiorano Bianco Botte 26.  Made from 100% Malvasia di Candia, this bottle was unfortunately corked.

1982 Nervi Gattinara.  Nervi is the oldest winery in the Gattinara DOCG area of Northern Piedmont.  Like the Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Piedmont, the wine is made from 100% Nebbiolo.  The wine possessed an earthy bouquet and palate with good fruit.  The finish however was a bit short.

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Le Coste Barolo.  The wine was very one dimensional on opening with only a hint of the underlying fruit.  I thought it would emerge after a few hours in the glass, but alas it never did.  We had a bottle of this wine at last year’s luncheon according to my notes and I noted then that the wine “seemed to be a bit off”.  Two off bottles would seem to indicate that perhaps there was a storage or shipping issue, or the wine needs more time.

1993 Giuseppe Mascarello Ca d’Morissio Riserva Barolo.  This bottling is only made in exceptional vintages and the 1993 was the inaugural debut of the wine. It is made from a tiny parcel of Nebbiolo Michét in Monprivato planted in the mid-‘80s after being specially selected from the original 1921 plantings. It is named for Mauro Mascarello’s grandfather, Maurizio (Morissio in Piemontese dialect) who was the first generation to purchase a plot in Monprivato.  A very good wine to be sure that drank nicely, but it lacked the depth and finesse of other 1993 Ca d’Morissios that I have had.  I find a fair amount of inconsistency in the estates wines, both vintage-to-vintage and bottle-to-bottle.

2001 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Santo Stefano di Perno.  The wine had a bit of funk on the nose when first opened which blew off after about 30 minutes.  As with many Baroli from the 2001 vintage, I don’t think the wine is fully awake yet.

1990 Aldo Conterno Barolo.  From the exceptional 1990 Piedmont vintage this was a fantastic example of old world Barolo.  This is the estate’s entry level Barolo and comes from different vineyards in Bussia.  The wine was firing on all cylinders with beautiful depth, complexity, finesse and a long elegant finish.  It was my wine of the day.

2000 Aldo Conterno Riserva Granbussia Barolo.  Granbussia, is a blend of three vineyards; 70% Romirasco, 15% Colonello, 15% Cicala, and is only made in top vintages that present perfect growing conditions in all three sites.  It too was fantastic with vibrant fruit, balance and elegance.  A very close runner-up to the ’90 Conterno Barolo for the wine of the day.

2001 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo Langhe.  Gaja is no longer able to call this single vineyard wine Barbaresco because of the addition of Barbera to the wine.  It really makes no difference to me what he calls the wine, as I simply do not like the wine.  I find it to be one dimensional and lacking finesse. I remain perplexed why anyone would spend more than $400 on this bottle of wine.

1997 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Ornellaia.  There were two bottles of this wine brought by two different attendees.  Readers of WWN know that I am not a fan of the Super Tuscan modern style of wine making, and neither of these did anything to change my opinion.  Both were identically massive fruit bombs with too much oak (50% new).  I also felt that the wines are in decline and would drink up now if you own any.

2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano.   This was another massive, modern-styled wine.  It has a cult following and commands a very high price.  Like most wines of this style it was not to my liking.

2001 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  A great wine that unfortunately was holding back some today.  It gave a glimpse of the underlying fruit and complexity and did improve as it sat in the glass.  I believe the wine would have benefited from a few hours in a decanter.  The pedigree of the wine was imminently apparent and is destined to be a classic in four or five years.

2010 Campi di Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino.  The Padovani sisters were mentored by Soldera and they learned well.  Like the Soldera however, the wine is holding back at the moment, but has a bright future ahead.  Of the three Brunelli we drank, in my humble opinion it was the most open and drank best.

2008 Monte Dall'Ora Stropa Amarone Della Valpolicella.  I did not taste this wine today.  Those that did however did not like it.

1999 Guseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico magnum.  This was a classic Quintarelli possessing a spectacular earthy bouquet with lush, ripe and balanced fruit on the palate.

Jack tallied the WOTD preferences of the group with the outcome; ’90 Conterno 5 votes; ’01 Soldera 3 votes; ’93 Ca d’Morissio and ’99 Quintarelli 1 vote each.

Paul summed it up perfectly: “No matter how good the food and wine are, it is always the company of good people that make the day.” We all echoed his sentiments.  Thanks Tony for organizing the event, the Grandes and Sal for the great food and service and all the attendees for sharing their wines.  Looking forward to next year gentlemen.