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.

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.