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.

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.