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, 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.