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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Old Nebbiolo

Our local wine group met a couple of weeks ago at 100 Steps Supper Club & Raw Bar in Cranford, NJ. Eclectic farm to table cuisine is served at this attractive spot. 

Broccoli and Goat Cheese Soup
Cerviche of the Day
Fried Calamari Salad
Radish, Jalapeno, Pickled Ginger Aioli
Puttanesca Clam Pot
Eggplant, Bread Crumbs, Puttanesca Sauce, Grilled Sour Dough
Veal Flank Steak
Crispy potatoes, Cippollini Onions, Swiss Chard, Black Garlic
Braised Lamb ShankPickled Apple, Brussel Sprouts, Hazelnuts, Celery Root Romesco
Duck Liver MousseGrilled Sweet Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, Pomegranate Seeds, Grilled Sour Dough
Marc was in the queue to select and bring the wine.  He treated us to an evening of old Nebbiolo from both Alto Piemonte and Piedmont.  All the bottles were in great shape and made for a terrific evening.

We began the evening with 1964 Nervi Gattinara.  Nervi is the oldest winery in the Gattinara DOCG area. It was founded by Luigi Nervi in 1906 and covers 24 hectares of Nebbiolo vines in the Casacce, Garavoglie, Molsino and Valferana vineyards. The Molsino vineyard is one of Piedmont's finest South facing amphitheatres. The Valferana vineyard can be traced back to 1242 as Valferane in Gattinara's municipal deeds. At the foothills of Monterosa, Europe's second highest mountain protects from northerly winds, ensures sufficient precipitation and provides a steady termic breeze through the vines. With plenty of volcanic gravel and high clay content in the soil, Nervi's vineyards are unique in an Italian oenological context.

Harvesting is by hand and large oak casks are used for both fermentation and aging. Chief oenologist Enrico Fileppo ensures adherence to traditional wine making.  The ownership of Nervi moved from Italian to Norwegian hands in 2011. The Astrup family acquired a majority of the estate, with the Moestue, Wicklund and Skjelbred families as partners. 

Tonight the wine had a brickish red hue, with a slightly maderized palate but remarkably lively fruit for a wine this old.  Like all great wines, it evolved beautifully in the glass with each sip adding more depth and complexity.

1967 G.B. Burlotto Barolo.  I discovered the wines of Burlotto a few years back and have been smitten by them since, especially his Monvigliero bottlings.  This is old world Barolo at its best. This bottle I believe is a blend of Monvigliero and Cannubi fruit.  The estate, located in Verduno, and the winemaking today is in the hands of Giovan Battista Burlotto’s great-great-grandson Fabio Alessandria. Like his ancestors, Fabio approaches Monvigliero in a way that is both classical and idiosyncratic-to extract the vineyard's essential greatness. At the core of this technique is a gentle crushing of all the grapes by foot, an incredible 60-day maceration on the skins and, of course, long aging in large wood botte. It's an approach virtually unheard of today, yet its brilliance is revealed in every glass of this unique Barolo.

Tonight’s wine was certainly proof of that.  Upon opening it displayed an oxidized bouquet that blew off quickly. It possessed a beautiful transparency, with a soft mid palate that had terrific balance and focus.

1967 Cavallotto Barolo.   The Cavallotto family claims sole ownership of the beautiful Bricco Boschis cru in the Castiglione Falletto district (also home to Azelia), where they have been growing Nebbiolo since 1929 and bottling their own wine since 1948. These richly structured wines place emphasis on elegance and longevity, attributable to excellent vineyards in the Bricco Boschis and Vignolo crus and traditional long maturation periods in large Slovenian-oak casks.

Steadfast devotion to tradition combined with a high regard and respect for modern viticultural and winemaking techniques result in complex and elegant Baroli that are released for sale only when they have acquired perfect maturity. The estate produces three Baroli: two riservas and their anything but “regular” Bricco Boschis. The Vignolo cru, sloping 60-80 meters lower in altitude than the adjacent Bricco Boschis holding, shows a “creamy” flesh. 

The estate’s selection of the finest vineyard within the Bricco Boschis cru is San Giuseppe, the epitome of Castiglione Falletto: a powerful, majestic wine of absolute authority whose sweetness comes with time.

Alfio, Giuseppe and Laura Cavallotto successfully continue the family tradition started five generations ago, expertly transforming the grapes grown exclusively from their holdings into the most classic expressions of Castiglione Falletto!

Tonights’s wine was fantastic.  Dark translucent red, it had a beautiful old Nebbiolo bouquet with in tact fruit and wonderful balance and depth.

1971 Ceretto Barolo Grignore.   The estate’s wine production covers seven separate estates, while an eighth (I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano) is co-owned along with two other growers. The first estate to be established was the Azienda Bricco Asili. These 8.5 hectares lie in the Barbaresco communes of Bricco Asili, Bernardot, and Faset, and a cru Barbaresco is produced from each of these three sites. The other principal estate is the Azienda Bricco Rocche, located in the heart of Barolo and comprising 11 hectares in La Morra, Serralunga, and Castiglione Falletto. Only Barolo is made here: Brunate and Prapò are made in most vintages (the vintners pass grapes from difficult vintages to the central estate, where the Zonchera is made) and exceptional harvests brew the Bricco Rocche. 

Tonight’s bottling was their "cru" from the "Grignore" supposedly is sold only to ristorantes in Italy. Their website does not list the vineyard any more, so I don’t know if it still exists, which is a shame as this was the WOTN for me.  The wine was simply gorgeous.  A round and delicious wine with great balance and a lengthy and elegant finish.

1971 Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata.  Located in the town of La Morra, Ratti consistently produces several top Barolos, including single-vineyard wines that have received acclaim from many wine critics. Founded by the late Renato Ratti in 1965, it’s now run by his son Pietro. LUX Wines, a Gallo luxury wine group, began importing the wines and distributing Ratti’s Barolo Marcenasco, Barolo Conca, Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barbera d’Asti in 2016.

This was a close runner up to the Ceretto.  It too possessed lively fruit, impeccable balance and a seductive mid palate.  It finished with considerable length and elegance.

In sum a great evening, with 5 very good wines, especially the two 1971s.  Thank you Marc.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

1999 Burgundy

Our local wine group met last week at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville, NJ. Jeff, our resident Burgundy expert, was in the queue to select and bring the wine.  His knowledge and immense cellar of Burgandy always makes for a fantastic evening.  He selected the 1999 vintage, a superb vintage throughout Europe, especially in Burgundy and Piedmont.  His knowledge is not limited to the various appellations of Burgundy, but extends to knowledge of under the radar producers who produce traditionally styled magnificent wines.  Once again he wowed us.

Like the Barolos of Piedmont, these gorgeous Burgundies are just beginning to enter their drinking window.  Enjoyable now, they will age gracefully for decades to come.  Both the Cote de Nuits and Côte de Beaune produced excellent wines in 1999.

Chef/owner Allan Philip Russo prepared a pasta tasting menu that paired beautifully with the wines.  The meal began with Allan’s version of Bruschetta.  This version is similar to my mom’s, where freshly sliced tomato placed atop slices of French bread, seasoned with oil, vinegar, oregano, Parmigianino Reggiano and Basil before being placed under the broiler for a few minutes.  It is the essence of Italian peasant food.

After an antipasto of Prosciutto, Mozzarella di Bufalo, Asparagus and Reggiano chunks (no photo) we enjoyed the following:

Butternut Squash Risotto
Orichette with Pignoli
Sirloin Ravioli in butter and white wine sauce

1999 Leroy Montagny Premier Cru.  100% Chardonnay, this got the evening started in grand style.  The wine exhibited an enticing bouquet and a bit of oxidation on the palate.  As the wine warmed in the glass the underlying fruit began to emerge.  A lovely wine.

The story of the Leroy family’s dominance in the wine world began more than a century ago, in 1868, when François Leroy founded Maison Leroy in Auxey-Duresses, a small village near Meursault. When Lalou’s father, Henri, joined the family business in 1919, the firm was already established as one of the greatest in Burgundy. Lalou joined her father in 1955, taking over the house in 1971.

Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy is unrelenting in every way, from her personality to how she runs her business to the quality of the wine in the bottle. The Leroy family’s 50% ownership of Domaine Romanée- Conti gave Lalou ample ability to amass the deepest and most revered cellar in Burgundy during the past six decades. Speculation is rampant about its size and holdings; only one person knows for sure. Today, Lalou is the force behind three domaines: Maison Leroy, Domaine Leroy and Domaine d’Auvenay.

Maison Leroy is the heart of the Leroy empire, a négociant house through which Lalou purchases and distributes wines from most appellations in Burgundy. With her legendary palate and relentless standards, she unearths some of the most thrilling wines of each vintage, then ages or finishes the wines herself, only releasing them to the market when she knows they are at their peak. Lalou never fails to impress with her unparalleled depth and understanding of the most hidden corners of Burgundy’s terroir.

1999 Nicolas Rossignol Pernand Vergelesses Les Fichots Premier Cru.  This had a wonderful elegant Burgundian nose with a nicely balanced palate with emerging, ripe fruit.  Approachable now, this can be great in a few more years.

Nicolas Rossignol is one of the best examples of a new generation of Burgundy wine makers whose great wines lie in the future rather than the past, entering the fray in 1994. Born in 1974, he represents the 5th generation of vine growers on the soils of Volnay. After completing his technical formation at enology school in Beaune, Nicolas put his knowledge into practice, staging at Domaine Joseph Voillot in Volnay, Domaine Louis Latour in Ardeche and Domaine Vieux Telegraphe in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Anxious to learn other farming and winemaking techniques, he went to work in South Africa at Domaine Boschendal Stellenbosch in 1995, followed by Château Cardonne, owned by Château Lafite-Rothchild in Bordeaux. Upon his return home to his family’s Domaine (Rossignol-Jeanniard) Nicolas began vinifying in 1994. However, it was not long before he started his own Estate. In 1997, he acquired approximately 7.5 acres spread over the communes of Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, Aloxe-Corton and Pernand- Vergelesses. In 1998, he increased his vineyard holdings by about 3.5 acres. The Domaine is located in Volnay, between Meursault and Pommard. Today, Nicolas makes wine from his own 17 acre estate, as well as from his father’s vineyards. Nicolas is now buying all the fruit from his family’s Domaine, thus everything is bottled under the name Nicolas Rossignol (either with or without the word Domaine.) Since all the vineyards under his sole control throughout the year, it really does not make any difference which is which.

1999 Nicolas Potel Volnay Pitures Premier Cru.   This was the tightest wine of the night and difficult to evaluate as the fruit was muted.  The wine probably would have benefited from a few hours in a decanter.

In a relatively short space of time Nicolas Potel has established himself as one of the leading red wine negociants in Burgundy. He’s young-ish, personable and is apparently very well connected, with a good supply of growers who are in possession of some excellent vineyard sites.

Potel owns no vineyards, buys in from some 40 growers, and for three estates he is in full control of viticulture. The son of Gérard Potel of the Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, as well as his considerable experience in Burgundy Nicolas has worked in California and Australia. He told me that he’s very keen on biodynamics, and of the growers he works with many work organically. His vinification depends on the year, and he says that his decisions are made when the grapes are on the sorting table in front of him. Nicolas asserts that the key to quality is time in the vineyard. The natural approach extends to the winemaking: ‘I’m against every oenological product’, says Potel, although for the moment he has been unable to replace sulphur dioxide, used almost universally in winemaking to help prevent oxidation and any untoward microbial growth. However, he uses much lower SO2 levels than many.

1999 Annick Parent Pommard Rugiens Premier Cru.   I really liked this wine.  While still quite young, it was oh so good. The wine began with a complex and lovely nose of ripe red fruit.  The palate shows excellent balance and elegance.  This could be a blockbuster in a few years.

Annick Parent's small size  (5 hectares) winery is in Monthelie.  She made her first harvest in 1987. The Domaine is a woman's story since her mother took the reins here in the 1960’s.  She has witnessed herself considerable cultural change in the way people work around here, she remembers everything was so different even 10 or 20 years ago. She still works a very traditional way.

She has no fixed philosophy on the winemaking process. She looks first to have nice healthy grapes. They are sorted on the vines and parts of the clusters are taken off if necessary. She adds a rigorous check over the de-stemming machine for another selection there. The goal is to make a wine resulting from the grapes, with the possible irregularities brought by the weather into the wine every year.  She looks much more for elegance and complexity in the wine than extraction and tannins.  Local people do harvest by hand. No herbicides at all in her vineyard, where she occasionally plows between the rows.

1999 S.C. Guillard Gevrey Chambertin Les Corbeaux Premier Cru.  The consensus WOTN. Simply gorgeous nose and beautifully balanced and complex palate with a lengthy and elegant finish.  A wine with soul with a long and delicious future ahead.  I love finding small producers like this who quitely do their own thing in magnificent style.

Domaine Guillard is definitely under the radar. The owner, Michel does not own a computer. He does not have a cellar door and rarely opens his door, that is if you manage to find his winery. He has a fax machine but admits with a grin that he often does not put paper in it.

The domaine was created by Michel's Grand-mother, Jeanne Lyonnet    Born in 1882, she lived and worked in Gevrey as a maid.  She married in 1909 but soon after her wedding, her new husband Auguste had to go to war. She worked hard and saved enough money to buy her first few vines in 1913. When Auguste nicknamed Henri IV came back from the war, he worked as a laborer for some big Gevrey Domaines.   In 1937 after much sacrifice, they bought their first piece of premier cru; Les Corbeaux.

In 1958 their only daughter and her husband André Guillard took over the Domaine adding to the few vineyards already purchased. However, they still had to maintain a second job as laborers to sustain the family business.  Michel and his sister Odette took over leadership of the estate upon the retirement of their parents took in 1979.

Both generations added slowly to the estate, but Michel speaks with great admiration and devotion about his dedicated grandmother who has been able, by pure hard work and determination to be a landowner, in what would of been an unusual occurrence in those days, a house cleaner buying a vineyard in one of the most sought after village of Burgundy!

1999 Jean Grivot Vosne Roanee Les Beaux Monts Premier Cru.  The bouquet here was the best part of this wine.  While the palate was soft, the fruit remained in the background.  I would like to try this again in 5 years.

Domaine Jean Grivot is among the great names in Burgundian wine. Étienne Grivot and his wife Marielle (Patrick Bize's sister) took over from Étienne’s father Jean Grivot in 1987. The cellar is in Vosne-Romanée where most of their vineyards are located. The domaine has been assembled over several generations to its current size of 15.5 hectares and includes holdings in three grand crus: Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Richebourg. Étienne’s approach is to constantly improve the quality of the wines and he has been willing to experiment and evolve his work in the vineyard and cellar over the years. Today, the vineyards are densely planted and farmed organically “sans certification,” while the aim in the cellar is for balance and clear expression of terroir.

Vosne-Romanée is the home of many great domaines and lays claim to six of the Côte de Nuits’ 24 grand crus. The commune and its vineyards sit between Vougeot to its north and Nuits-Saint-Georges to its south, with the grand crus at mid-slope directly behind the village. Domaine Jean Grivot’s 15.5 hectares spread across 22 appellations with vineyards in the communes of Vosne-Romanée, Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, and Nuits-Saint-Georges. Besides the three grand crus, there are 8 premier crus including the much lauded Les Beaux Monts and Suchots in Vosne-Romanée. Étienne believes in farming with minimal impact to the environment and eschews the use of chemicals in the vineyard. He’s also hired a horse, Pirate, to plough his holdings in Richebourg, Echézeaux, Beau Monts, and Suchots to minimize the impact on the soil.  

Since taking over in 1987, Étienne has evolved his winemaking style, at first wanting to get more concentration into the wines, and later to achieve greater balance and clarity of site. Today, the grapes are entirely destemmed and maceration à froid usually lasts just a day or two. The fermentation starts naturally, with a little punching down before this fermentation begins. There is no more pigeage after fermentation begins, “I don’t like to mix the physical (punching down) with the spiritual (fermentation),” said Étienne. After fermentation, the wines are pumped over once a day before going to barrel. Depending on the vintage, the proportion of new oak is around 25% for the villages appellations, 30-60% for the premier crus and 40-70% percent for the grands crus.

Thanks Jeff for sharing these wines as well as the information about the estates with us.


Friday, November 17, 2017

2004 Barolo

Last week our local wine group convened at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, NJ for our monthly dinner.  It was my turn to bring the wine, so chef/owner Mario Carlino and I discussed a menu that would complement the theme I choose, 2004 Barolo.  Unfortunately I did not take any photos of the food, but suffice it to say we cleaned each and every plate he served us:

Bruschetta and Homemade Mozzarella
Calamari Fritti
Tre Mare
Risotto with Sausage and Asparagus
Veal Valdostana
Zuppa Inglese

I began the tasting with a bottle of 1992 Fiorano Bianco Botte 26.  Fiorano was the wine estate of the late Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the prince of Venosa.  The estate is located in the region of Latium of Lazio. The rare and highly regarded wines come from the international varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the Rosso and Malvasia di Candia and Semillon for the Bianco. 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.

The aging prince continued to make his wines until 1995, although he had stopped selling the bottles. After the '95 harvest he pulled out all the vines in his vineyard, except for a small plot of cabernet and merlot. He offered no explanation, and at the time none was asked.

The prince had one daughter, Francesca, who married Piero Antinori, the eminent Tuscan winemaker, at the Fiorano estate in 1966. Mr. Antinori suggests today that the prince was unable to bear the thought of anybody else making his wines when he could no longer do it.  His daughter has resurrected the estate in the past few years.  I have had both the Malvasia and the Semillon and always found the Malvasia to be the better wine.

1992 Fiorano Bianco Botte 26.  100% Malvasia di Candia.  The wine was superb tonight with a beautiful golden hue and a nutty bouquet and palate.  As the wine warmed in the glass it improved considerably.  One of the better bottles of Fiorano I have had.

The 2004 Barolo vintage is lauded by wine critics and collectors alike.  It is an exceptional vintage. Famed wine critic Antonio Galloni says"…These are wines of extraordinary elegance, balance and finesse."   He further commented “the 2004 Barolos combines the sweetness of 2000 with the classicism, perfume and freshness of 2001.”

I have been drinking quite a bit of the vintage over the past 6 months and I am in complete agreement with Mr. Galloni.

I gave each of the Barolo a 3 hour slo-o at home before bringing to the restaurant.

2004 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva.  Lead off wine in our group's 2004 Barolo tasting and it set the stage beautifully.  The wine is aged in Rovere botte (Italian oak) for 36-42 months followed by 18-24 months in bottle before being released.  It is the estate's flagship wine.  While the tannins were a bit tight, the balance and finesse of the vintage were evident.  Destined to a long and enjoyable life.

The Cappellano estate in Seralunga is among the best of the best for traditionally mad Barolo. The estate was under the direction of Teobaldo (Baldo) Cappellano until his passing in early 2009. Today it is under the capeable direction of his son Augusto and continues to make one of Italy's most sought after Barolo's.  While Baldo allowed wine critics to visit, taste and write about his wines, he was adament they the do not score the wines.  Cappellano makes fewer than 800 cases of Barolo per year, all vinified traditionally: a fermentation of 14 to 21 days with indigenous yeasts and aging in well-seasoned botti for at least three years.

2004 Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo Pie Rupestris.  Superb Barolo.  Great wine that is a small step behind the Pie Franco from the same vintage.

2004 Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo Pie Franco.  What a wine.  A wine with lots of soul.  One of the best wines from an exceptional vintage.  Glorious all around, bouquet, depth, balance, elegance, etc., etc., etc.   “Piè Franco,” is from a parcel planted on its own roots with Nebbiolo’s “Michet” clone in 1989. The ethereal delicacy of this great wine makes Cappellano wonder if it tells us what Barolo tasted like before Phylloxera.

2004 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.  Another of Italy's most sought after traditionally made Barolo. The estate does not make any single vineyard wines, preferring to blend the fruit from its ancient hilltop vines in Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue and Rocche.  The resulting wines, like tonight's are simply gorgeous, round and delicious with a complex and elegant palate and lengthy finish.  The 2004 is one of the wines of the vintage.  Bartolo passed away in 2005, but the estate continues under the direction of his daughter, Maria Teresa.  Many feel, myself included, that she is taking the wines to new heights.

2004 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto.  Perhaps my biggest lament as a wine collector is that I did not learn of  Giacosa wines early enough.  His wines, traditional to the core, are magnificent. Tonight's bottle may have been the wine of the evening, with a gorgeous earthy nose and palate and lengthy and elegant finish.

It was another great evening with a great bunch of wine loving friends.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1990 Nebbiolo

Our NY Vinous wine group met recently at the North End Grill in lower Manhattan.  Our theme for this dinner/tasting was the 1990 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco.  The North End Grill is a Danny Meyer restaurant that showcases Chef Eric Korsh's rustic, French inspired cuisine.  The menu is not extensive but the food, as one would expect, was excellent.  I began with a delicious Country Pate, Confit Onion, House Mustard, Grilled Miche.    Served with toasted rustic bread to spread the pate on, I enjoyed each bite.  I have always heard that Danny Meyer restaurants do great justice to the Hamburger, so I ordered the Short Rib Beef Burger, Grilled Onions, Spicy Mayo on a Brioche Bun.  This was served up with a side of Duck Fat Fries.  While the burger was good, it did not make it into my top ten.

We kicked off the tasting with a bottle of 2014 Domaine Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé De Pouilly.  Lauded by many as the world’s best producer (and probably the most expensive also) of Sauvignon Blanc wines, this cuvée had a crisp, fresh palate, but was a bit tight.  Great pedigree here, but could use a year of two in the cellar.  Using the techniques favored by the old-timers of the village, the yields are kept low at 45 hl/ha, only 75% of that of his neighbors. They employ twice the number of workers than a conventional winery to give extra attention to the vineyards, and they use a horse to plow certain parcels where they feel that the compacting of the soil by the tractor’s wheels would hurt the vines. Weather posts are placed strategically throughout the vineyards to help determine the best treatments and minimize the usage of copper sulfate, ideally less than is permitted in both organic and biodynamic farming. All the grapes are picked manually and completely de-stemmed.

Along with the 1989 vintage, the 1990 Nebbiolo vintage is an extraordinary vintage in both Barolo and Barbaresco. The hot weather yielded rich, sometimes-opulent wines. Flowering and crop set were much more even than in 1989, and consequently yields were quite a bit higher. While my experience with the vintage is limited, I have liked what I have tasted.  Antonio Galloni wrote a terrific article on the vintages in 2010. If you are a member of his Vinous web site you can access the report here 1989/1990 Piedmont.  The eleven wines for the evening were organized into four flights

Flight One

1990 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc.  I am not a buyer of Scavino wines as I find them very oaky and modern.  While the oak was in check in this bottle, to me the wine lacked freshness.

1990 Paolo Scavino Rocche Annunziata Barolo Riserva.  I found the fruit to be fresher and the palate softer than in the BdF, but other than that not a style that excites me.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
Flight Two

1990 Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Barolo Brunate.  While the bouquet was glorious on the nose, the palate was dead.  In my opinion this wine has past its prime.

1990 Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina.  A more modern styled Barolo, this showed very well. The wine started with a lovely nose of cherries that were echoed on a soft palate.  I liked this more than I thought I would.

1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  I love Sandrone wines.  They lie somewhere between traditional and modern, but they are magnificent expressions of Nebbiolo.  This was one of the wines of the night in my opinion.  It was firing on all cylinders.  Earthy bouquet, complex, balanced and elegant palate with a monster finish.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido

Flight Three

1990 Gaja Sperss Barolo.  While I am not a Gaja fan, this was very good indeed, starting with a tantalizing earthy Piedmont bouquet and a soft beautifully balanced palate and lengthy finish,.  For a few in the group it was the WOTN.

1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  There was something amiss with this bottle.  It wasn’t anything like previous bottles I have had.

1990 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia.  A wine I have had on two previous occasions and once again it did not disappoint. Another terrific showing for this wine.  Silky palate with terrific balance and a lengthy and elegant finish.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
Flight Four

1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Gallina di Neive. What a superb Barbaresco.  Silky palate with beautiful fruit, balance and elegance and a lengthy and spectacular finish.  One of the wines of the night.

1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora.  Another one of my wines of the night.  Simply spectacular showing.  Terrific structure and balance and a long and elegant finish.

1990 Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi.  While this drank nicely it was completely out classed by the Giacosa and the Produttori.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
As you can see it was a terrific evening.  Sharing great wines with this very generous group of knowledgeable guys is one of the highlights of my wine drinking experience.

Thanks so much to Eric Guido for organizing the flights and the dinner.  Please be sure to check out his notes on the wines in his report Prelude to the Modern Vintage.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Cru Beaujolais

A couple of weeks ago I hosted my annual (I think this was #25) Hemophilia Association of New Jersey Gourmet Wine Dinner fundraiser.  Thanks to the support of the attendees and sponsors we raised $40,000 for the association.  The theme this year was “The Other Red Wine of Burgundy: Cru Beaujolais”.  The venue was Il Tulipano Ristorante, Cedar Grove, NJ.

Beaujolais is a wine region of eastern France, famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay grapes. It is the most southerly region of Burgundy, rather confusingly in the Rhône department, and this micro-region is just to the north of Lyon. The climate has some warming influence from the Mediterranean, but also has some continental influence with cold winters and hot summers. This is an area of rolling hills with vineyards facing mainly south or east. Soils vary from north to south. To the north of Villefranche, the characteristic granite or schist so beloved of the Gamay grape is found on the upper slopes, with stony clay soils lower down. Further south, the soils become heavier clay and limestone (known in this area as ‘Pierres Dorées’ - golden stones), sometimes with sandstone producing lighter wines.  Although best known for its red wines, the region also produces white Beaujolais Blanc, from Chardonnay and Aligote.  Since these wines get very little attention from wine critics prices remain very low.   In my opinion they represent some of the most affordable and delicious wines on the planet.

With the help of Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines, we selected Cru Beaujolais from 4 of the top vintages of the past decade, including the remarkable 2015 vintage that is being hailed as the greatest vintage since 1947.  The region's highest-quality wines are those of the ten Beaujolais 'crus' – ten vineyard areas long recognized as the finest in the area. Each of these ten (Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour) has its own appellation title.

Josh Reynolds (Vinous Media) says of the 2015 vintage of these Crus. “The last three vintages for Beaujolais have been a string of home runs, but 2015 is likely to be the one that delivers the greatest impact and pleasure for most wine lovers. Two thousand fifteen has plenty of candidates for wine of the year; wines that deliver concentration and energy, with opulent fruit character and the classic core of acidity that gives Beaujolais its trademark vivacity. These wines are also built to age but at the same time display an exuberance that makes many of them pretty irresistible now.”

Antonio Galloni (Vinous Media) says of the 2009 vintage of these Crus. “Big, broad, weighty and age worthy wines that demand patience. Not youth typical Beaujolais because of the wines' power and heft but there's no lack of energy either. To cellar and savor.”  He also lauds the 2013 and 2014 vintages as “outstanding” and “excellent” respectively.

The food and service were simply magnificent.  Il Tulipano is known for their incredible cocktail hour buffet.  This year they completely outdid themselves.  The room was a buzz with comments like “did you taste the …” throughout the hour.  Below are but 3 of the more than 25 selections on display.  Another dozen or more hors d'oeuvre were passed by the wait staff.  Each item seemed better than the previous one.

Homemade Soppressata
Octopus Salad
Pizza Assortment

The cocktail hour wines were all from Domaine Terres Dorées, A 40-acre estate owned and run by Jean-Paul Brun.  The estate is located in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyons in a beautiful area known as the "Region of the Golden Stones". Brun has attracted the attention of the French and American press for the wonderfully fruity and delicate wines he produces; he wants to make "old-style" Beaujolais. Brun's wines are made to be pleasurable- light, fruity and delicious- not artificially inflated wines that shine at tasting competitions.

He believes that the charm of the Gamay's fruit is best expressed by the grapes' indigenous yeast, rather than by adding industrial yeast. Brun's view is that Beaujolais drinks best at a lower degree of alcohol, and so there is no need to systematically add sugar to the must (chaptalize) to reach alcohol levels of 12 to 13 degrees. With that in mind, he chaptalizes minimally or, depending on the vintage and the cuvée, not at all. The reds are a traditional Burgundy vinification and the grapes de-stemmed– no carbonic maceration here. All of Jean-Paul Brun's red wines use open cement tanks for pigeage (grape crushing), and all natural yeasts are used, with only a minimum amount of SO2 used at bottling in order to keep the wine fresh and "headache-free." Filtration is also minimal so that the wine keeps its original fruit and aromas. For the white wines, fermentation starts spontaneously.

Brun's wines are not "blockbusters" in the sense of being "big." The emphasis is not on weight, but on fruit; this is Beaujolais as it once was, and as it should be. Brun's methods– to make Beaujolais from natural yeasts, to not chaptalize, and to work at low yields- are all part of his effort to restore the Gamay of the Beaujolais as a light, delicate and silky drink. This attitude separates him from most other winemakers of the area.

(2015) NV Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) FRV Rosé.

The name FRV100 is a play on the word “effervescent” (which becomes more apparent when you sound/spell it out letter by letter by number in French) and is indicative of the playfulness of the sweet sparkling rosé in the bottle.  It is made from Gamay vinified with the méthode ancestrale (like the classic example of this style of rosé, the Cerdon de Bugey of the Savoie region). The grapes are chilled down and fermented in vat until the alcohol reaches about 6%. After a light filtration, the still-fermenting wine is bottled and continues along naturally with the remaining yeasts until they wind down at 7.5-8%. The result is a light-bodied, gently sparkling, refreshingly red-berried and sweet quaffer.   The vintage will never appear on the label, as there is no allowance for sparkling Gamay in Beaujolais, though the wine is always single-vintage.  Light pink in color, wine was easy drinking and delicious and drew oos and ahs from the crowd.  $18.

2015 Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay.

In the early 1990's, Jean-Paul Brun planted several hectares of Chardonnay on limestone soil. As demand increased, he expanded his holdings and began contracting for grapes with other local vignerons with limestone soils (which is perfect for Chardonnay, especially in warmer climates.) The warm climate allows Jean-Paul to produce a rich wine with lots of character, while the soils preserve a fresh, mineral component. Fermented in stainless steel tanks that are laid on their side for more lees contact.  The wine is bottled without any oak, and sports a fresh and fruity bouquet, a rich full palate and a lengthy mineral finish. I am told that the wine ages bequfiully and becomes more honeyed as it matures.  This wine was considered by many as the WOTN.  My first Beaujolais Blanc, I was very impressed by how well this drank.  $17.

2015 Terres Dorées L’Ancien Vieilles Vignes

Made from Jean-Paul's oldest vines, which grow in tighter bunches with fewer and smaller, thicker-skinned berries, yielding more concentrated flavor. The grapes are harvested late with a naturally high sugar level. The wine is vinified using traditional Burgundy techniques. Deeply colored with rich red-fruit aroma and flavor and soft tannins.  This is a gorgeous entry level Cru Beaujolais.  While not fully open yet, the underlying pedigree is apparent.   Give this a couple of years in the cellar. At $16 a bottle, this represents great value in an everyday drinking wine.  According to Josh Raynolds, Vinousmedia, “This wine is consistently among the best values from Beaujolais."

The Dinner & The Wines

We began with a salad of Medaglioni di Caprino Su Letto di Insalatina Tenera con Frutta Candida e Noce Secche (Goat Cheese Medallions over baby Greens with candied fruits and dried walnuts).  A nice, refreshing compliment to the appetizers.   The wines served with this course were the aforementioned 2015 Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay and…

2015 Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee Les Ambassades

Cote de Brouilly has a special terroir: “blue” granite is laced with volcanic porphyry, or crystallized mineral deposits. This mixture, combined with the elevation (AOC Côte de Brouilly is confined to the upper vineyards; AOC Brouilly is lower, and far larger), largely accounts for Côte de Brouilly’s highly scented and finely concentrated wines.  Winemaking at Chavannes is traditional and simple, with little extraction in the modern sense (Pavillon’s wine could well be labeled the antithesis of modern extracted power). The alcoholic fermentation is done in cement vats, after which the wine goes into foudre for aging.

Tonights wine, Ambassades, comes from 12 acres of estates best parcels, and is purchased by the Quai d’Orsay for use in French embassies around the world. It is the last to be bottled and it is the most age-worthy. The wine showed a light red hue, with a bouquet of fresh red berries and a hint of pepper and spice.  It showed great depth and evolution in the glass and finished with elegance and length.  One of my favorites of the evening.  $20.

For the pasta course there was Lasagna Verde Pasticciata  Alla Bolognese (Spinach Lasagna Classic Bolognese Style).  Delicious, but hard to eat more than one or two bites after all the appetizers and the main course still to come.  Sorry, no photo was taken of the lasagna.

Domaine Grand Moulin comes from a four-hectares spread over several parcels - Champs de Cour, La Roche, le Moulin, le Clos, Perreins and Brouilleres. The grapes are mostly destemmed and fermentation happens in large conical-shaped (tronconique) wooden fermenters and some are placed in cement tronconique tanks. The tronconique shape gives more skin contact for a long and slow extraction. Fermentation lasts 7-10 days and is followed by a maceration totalling four weeks. Next the wines go by gravity into barrels and demi-muids, new to eight years old for aging. Moulin a Vent is considered to be the richest Cru in Beaujolais and the longest lived.

2013 Grand Moulin Moulin-à-Vent Vieilles Vignes (Xavier et Nicolas Barbet)

Known locally as the ‘King of Beaujolais’ for its power, structure and longevity, Moulin-à-Vent is actually atypical of the Beaujolais Crus; its style is the antithesis of what most people think of when they think of Beaujolais wines, and when fully mature (often at 10 years old or more) it resembles more a fine Burgundy, or even a Rhône, than Beaujolais. Named after the local windmill (which translates as moulin-à-vent in French,) Moulin-à-Vent is a real vindication of the principle of ‘terroir’.  I found this to be a deep, full-bodied wine that is just entering it's drinking window, which should last 10 to 20 years.  $16.

2009 Domaine Des Billards Saint-Amour Réserve

Situated at the mid-point of the sloping vineyards of Saint Amour, the Domaine des Billards belongs to the Barbet and Teissier families. This domaine has a long and storied history: an ancient parchment order book still in the family’s possession shows a number of prestigious customers in Paris in the 18th Century, among them a sale, in 1774, of 10 barrels to Marquis Turgot, Louis XVI’s Finance Minister. Today, they produce around 6,000 cases annually from their 5.26 hectares.
The soil is composed of sandstone pebbles underlying granite outcroppings at a depth of 50cm to 1 meter and beneath that, layers of clay. Farming is very traditional and natural, with no use of herbicides. The soil is regularly ploughed to develop the biodiversity: the Domaine des Billards is today a paradise for worms and beetles!

The traditional vinification lasts between 12 to 15 days; they use a weighted grill to keep the “crust” submerged in the fermenting juices leads to a more effective extraction of tannins. Aged an additional 5 years before release.  This was my WOTN.  Gorgeous red translucent hue, with lots of structure, depth and finesse.  Round and delicious wine with elegance and soul!  $32.

Our entrée consisted of Costate di Bue Brasate con Puea di Patate Profumate All’Aglio Fresco (Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs with Garlic Mashed Potatoes).  Tender and delicious and a great compliment to the final two red wines.

2014 Louis-Claude Desvignes Morgon Javerniéres les Impenitents

The Desvignes family has been making Morgon for generations. The vineyards are on the Montagne de Py in the center of Morgon, the fruit of which is of far superior quality to that produced in the outlying areas of the appellation. If there were a classification of vineyards in Morgon, Côte-de-Py would be a premier cru and Javernières a grand cru. They are located on the best exposition of the hill, with soil of decomposed schist, and Javernières is a plot within the Côte-de-Py with a little more clay.  The wine is vinified by the traditional cru Beaujolais method with a grille to keep the cap submerged. Recently, the fermentation has been longer and more controlled than in the past in order to extract the color and material that are the most obvious virtues of this wine.

Morgon is, along with Moulin-à-Vent, the most age worthy of the Cru Beaujolais and Desvignes wines are fine examples. The wines age terrifically well and take on the character of Pinot Noir, or pinotize (the term used in Beaujolais). When young, the character is of dark cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant. With age, the wines become more earthy, velvety with cocoa and coffee tones. At the request of the importer, Louis/Dressner, the wines are bottled unfiltered some years or at most lightly fined.

Tonight's wine, the Javernieres les Impenitents, comes from a remarkable old vineyard, planted between 1912 and 1914. Located midway up the Cote de Py. The parcel is only one hectare and consists of sand anc clay. There are only 1000 bottles produced in a good year. The Impenitents is typically lower in alchol than the Côte du Py bottling from Desvignes. Impenitents means unrepentant. This is typically the most structured and deepest colored of all the Desvignes bottling but not, paradoxically, the highest in alcohol. The 2014 cuvee is 12.5% alc.

No barrels and no foudre are used here. Only concrete and a little bit of steel just before bottling.  The wine is made using a pneumatic horizontal press. Best with fine lees. Open at bottom. Allows for some oxidation. Natural yeast fermentation.  

This wine had a deep ruby color with a big nose of cherries and blueberries.  Tannins were supple and the palate was pure and complex.  The wine drank very much like a Burgundy.  This will age beautifully.  My second WOTN.  $45.

2015 Chateau de Fleurie Fleurie

Built in the 18th century, the Château de Fleurie dominates a beautiful vineyard situated in the heart of the village itself, with views of Mont Blanc in the east. The current owners- the Boisen and the Barbet families- are direct descendants of the original owner. The property covers 4.5 hectares stretching over the best sites in Fleurie- les Grands Fers, la Madone and le Point du Jour- on the middle slopes facing southeast. The soil is of a very pure granite, ideal for a good drainage, with a pink color called “le gore”. Farming is very traditional and free of pesticides and herbicides. The winemaking process is traditional "Burgundian" method with extended fermentation of 12-15 days, in vats covered by a weighted grill, to extract color and flavor. Under the winery a vaulted cellar holds an impressive store of old, traditional large oak barrels which are still in use. Fleurie is locally known as the "Queen of the Beaujolais" for its elegant style of Gamay.

Tonight's wine is aged for six months in cask and can age up to 10 to 15 years in good vintages.  It sports a bright magenta hue with a fresh bouquet of red fruits and asian spice. The palate had good balance with excellent acidity.  The wine finished with great length.  $17.

No great dinner and tasting would be complete without dessert.  I forgot what the chef called this, but to the Chocolate lovers (I am not one), it was sublime decadence.

Since I am not aware of any dessert wines made in Beaujolais I travelled to the France's Loire Valley and the estate of Francois Pinon.  The wines of François Pinon are considered among the finest of Vouvray. François, a former child psychologist, took over the estate from his father in 1987, and has steadily made a name for the estate since then. He is a serious winemaker whose main focus is "to keep the typicity of both the appellation and the vintage" in all his wines.

2005 Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Botrytis Limited Release

100% Chenin Blanc. This cuvée comes from vines averaging 45 years old in several Pinon sites (Déronnières, Fosses Rouges, Terné and Mortier) on soils of clay and black flint over tuffeau (the classic Loire limestone). The fermentation lasted between 3 and 4 months and involved only indigenous yeasts. The wine was aged on its lees in old barrel for 5 months and gently filtered before bottling. The yield in 2005 was 8 hl/ha. 11.6% alcohol with 103 g/l residual sugar and 4 g/l acidity.

Tonight's wine offered up plenty noble rot (Botrytis) in its aromatic blend of on a palate of tropical fruits and honey. The wine is deep, full-bodied and still quite young.  It displayed a great core, bright acidy and outstanding focus and balance on the long, complex and zesty and non-medicinal finish.   While superb now, this will be a great, great wine in another 20+ years.  If you can find it expect to pay about $60 for 500ml.

 It was a great evening that I felt really demonstrated that there are great wines available for less than $30.  If you have not yet discovered Cru Beaujolais, you owe it to yourself to check it.

All photos are compliments of my great friend Gene, owner of Impressive Impressions Photography.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Over the top Jersey City Wine Tasting

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining some fellow Vinous members for a delightful dinner and wine tasting in Jersey City, NJ.  The evening was hosted by Canadian Vinous member Philippe and 4 of his fellow Canadian wine loving friends.  Philippe did the cooking and we each brought along a couple of bottles to share.  In addition to demonstrating his considerable culinary talents, his arrangement of the flights was perfect and a glorious time was had by all.

We began the evening with 2010 Cedric Brouchard Roses de Jeanne Presle. Cédric Bouchard is one of the fastest rising stars in Champagne.  He began producing his own wines in 2000, and is very quickly garnering a reputation as Champagne’s most talented new wine producer.  He was awarded the title as Champagne’s finest winemaker for the year 2008 by the Gault Millau. His philosophy borders on the revolutionary in Champagne, as he insists on bottling single vineyard, single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), and single vintage cuvees rather than blending different sources to make a single cuvée. This is a highly unique concept in Champagne, where so many of the top producers have made their reputations for many centuries by blending various wines and various vintages to make a consistently excellent bottle of bubbly year in and year out. However, blending is anathema to Cédric Bouchard, who seeks to create individual wines of great character each year from his single vineyard bottlings. 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.

The Presle we drank comes from 15 rows (0.25 hectare) of 10 different Burgundian Pinot clones planted in 2007, all of which are massale selection.  1st press juice only, hand harvested and crushed by foot and fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel. The wine is aged 36 months sur lie before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.  It was glorious.  The wine exhibited a light golden hue and offered up huge yeasty bouquet.  On the palate it was creamy, yeasty and lively and endowed with fantastic complexity and elegance.  It is a Champagne that must not be confined to a Champagne flute, but rather a large quality wine glass so that one can experience the evolution of the wine as it evolves in the glass.

We then moved onto 2004 Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve. Here is a wine that shows the magnificence of Rayas.  The 2004 vintage on the whole was nothing special, but the Rayas entry was just marvelous, proving once again that great wine makers make great wine, even in lesser vintages.

The wine had a beautiful translucent red hue with hints of cherries, raspberries and pepper on a seductive and beautifully balanced palate.  Like every Rayas I have ever had (and I have had a bunch) each sip exuded elegance before finishing with fantastic length.  A round and delicious wine with lots of soul!

We were then seated for our first course of seared tuna, 48 month aged prosciutto ages, black truffle, micro green, roasted pecan and balsamic.  The tuna was perfectly seared and danced in harmony with the other ingredients on the plate.  Hats off to Philippe who really showed off his culinary talents.

Philippe paired the dish with what he called a “once in a life time flight...just Abruzzo".  The fight consisted of two whites, 1999 Eduardo Valentini Trebbiano and 2010 Emidio Pepe Pecorino and three reds, 1990 Eduardo Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2003 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 2003 Stefania Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  Valentini and Pepe are the benchmarks for the region, producing wines of incredible character.

The Valentini estate has been under the direction of Eduardo’s son Francesco Paolo since he passed away in 2006.  Thankfully, Francesco has not changed a thing and continues to produce the family wines to the same exacting standards that were set by his father.  The wines are not cheap and are extremely hard to find. Based on the regional laws and standards of this wine zone, the Valentini estate could deliver 800,000 bottles annually. However, artisanal craftsmanship relies on selecting the ripest fruit, which limits their production to approximately 50,000 bottles. Eduardo considers his Trebbiano to be his finest wine. I personally love all three of his wines (red and rosé also).  The wine displays a startlingly natural character, freshness, complexity and depth. To be truly appreciated, they need 10+ years of aging.  This all falls perfectly in step with one of Valentini's favorite lines, Natura non facit saltus or “Nature doesn't leap.”  Tonight’s wine was simply glorious with a round and delicious palate and lengthy finish.

The Emidio Pepe estate, like Valentini, has a very traditional approach to wine making and takes the fruit that Mother Nature provides and turns it into great wine. The grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar for another 8 years in bottle. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled.  2010 was the initial vintage for his Pecorino.  It is very different than Trebbiano, exhibiting an orange hue and slightly oxidized style.  I much prefer his Trebbiano.

The 1990 Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is quite simply one of the greatest red wines I have ever tasted.  The style is very different than Emidio Pepe, closer in fact to Quinterelli in my opinion.  The wine was just amazing.  Very dark in color and absolutely pure and complex on the palate with a lush finish.  One of the best wines I have ever had.

2003 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  What a beautiful wine that was perhaps one short step behind the Valentini.  Deep red hue, with fantastic concentration, impeccable balance and depth.  This wine will live on for a few more decades at the very least.

2003 Stefania Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  This was my first taste of this wine made by Emidio’s daughter Stefania.  The wine was vey good, but much tighter than her father’s.  The Pepe pedigree is quite evident, and my guess is that with 5 to 10 years cellar time this will equal her father’s.  According to Philippe the wine is only available in the Italy and Canada.

'99 Trebbiano; 2010 Pecorino
"90 Valentini (front); '03 E. Pepe behind; '03 S. Pepe far right

Our main course consisted of grass fed steak (aged 48 days), seared mini potatoes and Chanterelles in a foie gras and Armagnac sauce.  I admit to not being a big steak fan, but this dish could easily change that.  Perfectly cooked, it was just sublime  as were the two wine flights Philippe paired the dish with.

The first steak flight belonged to Côte-Rôtie, while the second featured Tuscany and Piedmont. Côte-Rôtie is a French wine Appellation (AOC) in the northern Rhône wine region of France. The vineyards are unique because of the steep slopes facing the river and their stonewalls. Côte-Rôtie can be rendered in English as "the roasted slope" and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these steep slopes receive.

1999 René Rostaing Cuvée Classique. This cuvée is usually a blend of 13 different lieux-dits other than Landonne and Côte Blonde.  The wine is made from 100% Syrah. Rostaing's winemaking is a mix of tradition and modernism such as total or partial destemming and the fermentation in roto-fermenters. The two-year ageing process is carried out in 228 liter Burgundy barrels and in demi-muids (600 liters). The part of new wood remains minimal so that it does not interfere with the terroir nor alter the fruit purity.  On the palate the wine showed pure fruit and good balance, but lacked the depth of the Jamet.

1998 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie.  The Jamet brothers, Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc, have 25 plots spread across 17 lieux-dits.” Every year the Jamet brothers carefully select from these sites to craft a highly nuanced wine silky in texture and endowed with depth, elegance and finesse. Jamet is a traditional Cote Rotie producer that retains a large portion of stems for use during the vinification. The percentage of stems used differs, depending on the vintage. On average, 30% of the stems are removed. Vinification takes place in stainless steel vats. The destemmed grapes get cap punching, while the whole bunch fruit is pumped over. Jamet Cote Rotie is aged in 20% new, French oak barrels. The remaining wine is aged in oak barrels and large oak casks ranging from 3 to 10 years of age for close to 22 months.  I have not had a lot of experience with Jamet, but I liked this a lot.  At 19 years of age, the wine was a bit tighter although more youthful than the Rostaing, and appears to be entering its drinking window, which should last for a few decades.

For the final flight we returned to Italy with 3 wines, that like the Côte-Rôtie, complemented the steak beautifully.  For the final flight we returned to Italy for the final three wines, that like the Côte-Rôtie, complemented the steak beautifully.

1999 Montevetrano. This Super Tuscan (Italy’s version of French Bordeaux) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Aglianico.  Like Bordeaux, I am not a fan of these more modern styled wines.

The 2008 Le Pergole Torte, from Montevertine is 100% Sangiovese and more in my wheelhouse.  It drank beautifully and will for years to come.

2004 Bartolo Mascarello.  Oh how I love this wine.  2004 was an extraordinary vintage in Barolo and this is one of the wines of the vintage.  A blockbuster wine that is just entering its drinking window.  The wine exhibits absolute purity on the palate, soft tannins and is beautifully balanced. This wine will drink well for many years to come.

My thanks to Philippe and the others for making it a truly remarkable evening.


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.