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.