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.


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