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.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Soldera Tasting

Our local wine group met this past Monday evening. It was my turn to bring the wine and select the venue.  I chose Rare, The Steakhouse in Little Falls, NJ as the venue.  For the wine I decided on a Brunello di Montalcino tasting featuring the wines of Gianfranco Soldera.  All wines were given a 3 hour slo-o at home before being transported to the restaurant.

In my humble opinion there is no better producer of Brunello di Montalcino than Gianfranco Soldera.  His wine is the essence of traditionally made, unadulterated wine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Soldera at his Case Basse estate in 2008 and was completely captivated by the man’s passion and convictions. He firmly believes that high quality production requires a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for natural cultivation.  Thus the Case Basse estate pays attention to preserving the stonewalls where birds, small mammals and insects nest and reproduce.  For the same purpose, he creates artificial sanctuaries to attract animals in the hope that they become permanent residents, and also establishes beehives.  What does this have to do with wine?  Well when you taste his wine you will know.  It is pure, round and delicious, a pure product of the grape, soil and climate.

Wine Cellar
Loose stone walls
The cellar itself is highly individual. He commissioned from architect Stefano Lambardi a cellar that was far more in keeping with his vision…a building that would be harmonious in its proportions, as natural as possible, and harmonious in its surroundings. Lambardi has described it as "a kind of grotto [made] using only natural materials, stone and iron." It was dug 46ft (14m) deep and given a stone floor. The walls are metal cages some 3ft (1m) deep, filled with loose stones, beyond which there is a 15.75in (40cm) space in which air can circulate and rise to the surface, then the soil. Soldera wanted to avoid concrete, which he believes has it own smell and does not "breathe" in the way that he wanted the whole building to breathe. The humidity is a fairly constant 85 percent, and the temperature 55.4°F (13°C).

Soldera, and his wife Graziella, an avid botanist who tends to 1500 varieties of roses at the estate, first discovered the then-abandoned Case Basse property in the early 1970s. They set about restoring the estate to full function, following a strict and intriguing philosophy of “enlightened agriculture” to create a singular Brunello of the utmost quality.

He limits his production to 15,000 bottles a year. The wines spend six years or more in large, very old, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings.  Sodera’s wines, always expensive, have become even more so recently, the result of a former disgruntled employee who destroyed 60,000 liters of wine in 2012 from vintages 2007 through 2012.

At a Soldera dinner I attended last year, he spoke about how his bottling techniques and cork quality obviate the need to store his bottles on their side, as is usual for all wines that are aging. He says, “stand them up”.  I have followed his advice.  Who am I do challenge a master.

The food at Rare was a perfect complement to the wines.  Selections that we enjoyed included Lamb Chops; Sirloin Steak; Porterhouse Steak and Lobster Fra Diavolo.

Flight One

1995 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Intistieti.  The wine is a stunning example of Sangiovese made by a master, displayiing impeccable balance and harmony on a complex and velvety palate. Spectacular and delicious, it is a wine with soul!. No doubt of sense of place with Soldera. A beautiful expression of what wine can be when the winemaker does not interfere with what the climate and vineyard has given him. There are few words to describe this wine except to steal some words from importer Terry Theise from his book Reading between the Wines, “this is a wine in which…the spirit of celebration lives”.  My wine of the night.

More information on Intistieti and Casa Basse distinctions can be found here http://www.italianwinemerchantstore.com/investing/landmark_wines/soldera_brunello_intistieti.html

2002 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  2002 was a very difficult vintage in Montalcino.  In fact Gianfranco did not want to pick the grapes, but his wife insisted, so along with her sister, they selected the grapes.  Only 6,000 bottles were made.   The wine turned out to be Gianfranco’s son’s favorite vintage.  The wine, while lighter than the other bottles we drank, had a beautifully freshness on the palate and silky finish.  Proof once again that when a great winemaker chooses to make wine in an off vintage, the results are usually very good.

Flight Two

2003 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  A better year than 2002, but nothing to get excited about.  Soldera, however, once again made a superb wine, showing impeccable balance, lush fruit, focus, finesse and a very long and elegant finish.

2004 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  2004 was an exceptional vintage and Soldera made an exceptional wine. Antonio Galloni, founder of Vinous says of the wine, “...might be the single most elegant wine ever made at the estate. Silky tannins, soaring aromatics and finely sculpted fruit elevate the 2004 into the realm of the truly sublime.”   I could not agree more with his comments. This was elegance in the glass.  The wine soared with each sip and finished with great length.  It was my runner up to the 1995 as the WOTN.

Flight Three

2005 Soldera Case Basse Pegasos Toscana IGT.  The 2005 Pegasos is not a new wine, per se, but rather a barrel of 2005 Brunello-designated juice that Soldera thought was ready to bottle and drink sooner rather than later, but not up to the qualitative standards of his top Brunello labels. The wine displayed a gorgeous clear red hue reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. A light bodied wine with an extremely pure and balanced palate.  In my opinion it is an amazing wine for a “declassified Brunello”, albeit a bit pricey.

2005 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  An average vintage, and again Soldera made a terrific wine that I have enjoyed 3 or 4 times before.  Unfortunately, tonight’s bottle was not a good one.

My good friend Gino, who I invited as a guest to the dinner, brought a 2008 Marco de Bartoli Passito di Pantelleria "Bukkuram" for dessert.  Made at the de Bartoli property on the island of Pantelleria in the Strait of Sicily, it is fashioned from 100% Zibbibo grapes. Half of the grapes are dried in the sun for three weeks on special racks within an area delimited by black stone walls. The remaining grapes are left to mature and partially dry out on the plants. These are picked and vinified; when the fermentation is well advanced, the dried raisins are added to the wine and left to macerate for three months. The wine is aged for 30 months in 225l French oak barrels, then 6 months in steel vats.

The wine has a deep amber color with a palate of raisins and honey that was delicious and the perfect end to a perfect evening.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Polish Easter Dinner

Good health, family and friends are the stuff of a good life.  When you mix in good food and great wine, well you my friend are “living large”.  Carol, her brother and I were invited to our best friends’ Gene and Maureen’s house for dinner last Sunday.  Since they are of Polish descent, he decided to prepare a Polish Easter dinner.  Their son Gino, who is in the wine business, was there with his girlfriend Mary Jo who joined in the festivities.  As you can imagine there was plenty of great wine to be had.

Gene greeted us with an array of delicious Spanish and French cheeses along with the famous Spanish Ham, Patanegra (Black Hoof) Jamon from Joselito.  Aged a minimum 2-1/2 years this ham is only produced from 100% purebred Ibérico pigs that are fed a daily diet of acorns.  Gino, who visits Spain annually, always manages to find a way to sneak some out of the country as it is not available in the United States.

We enjoyed an excellent bottle of 2001 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo with the appetizers. This was a beautiful white wine that is drinking at its peak.  The wine begins with an enticing bouquet of fruit and flowers and exhibits a beautiful golden hue in the glass.  On the palate the fruit, acidity and minerality are in perfect harmony.  The finish is clean and lengthy.

Emidio Pepe is a great believer that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, thus 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, in bottle (usually for about 10 years) for continued development. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled. An extensive stock of older vintages is kept at the cellar.

Dinner began with homemade cabbage soup in which in which gnocchi like potato dumplings floated.  As a cabbage lover, this was fabulous and I readily devoured every delicious drop.

The soup was followed by family style servings of Pirogi, Kielbasa and Stuffed Cabbage.  The Pirogi, stuffed with potato and cheese, were purchased locally and served in a sauce of butter, onions and crumbled bacon.  Gene cooked them perfectly and the sauce was a beautiful complement to the delicious dumplings.  I don’t eat a lot of Pirogi, but I can easily say that these were the best I have ever eaten.

Gene purchases his Kielbasa from an authentic German butcher, Schwind’s, in Rockaway.  Since it is already smoked, he simply boiled it to bring it up to temperature before slicing and serving. Tender, perfectly spiced, it was simply delicious.

Maureen not only gets credit for the stuffed cabbage, but high acclaim as well.  Tender cabbage with a moist meat stuffing in a savory tomato sauce.  One word…outstanding!

I brought along a 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva, which we pared, with a 1988 Gaja Sperss Barolo from Gino’s cellar. I am not a fan of the more modern style of Gaja wines today, but his traditionally made wines of the past are superb, as was this. In 1988, Gaja acquired a vineyard in one of Serralunga’s best areas and named it “Sperss” –  Piedmontese for nostalgia. This was the first year he made Sperss and the wine contained no Barbera (today’s vintages do).  It was round and delicious with a silky, elegant palate and lengthy finish.

The LdH was incredible, and edged out the Gaja in my opinion.  The wine exhibited a gorgeous translucent red hue (no browning at all), enticing earthy bouquet with impeccable balance and a monster finish.  The wine evolved with each sip.  A wine with soul.

Next Gino opened a 2000 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste.  My last bottle of this amazing wine was 5+ years ago.  My notes then apply today. “Extraordinary bottle of wine than drank beautifully upon opening and as you might expect after 45 minutes in a decanter the wine soared from the glass.  Classic earthy bouquet of Piedmont.  The wine had great depth with multiple layers of complexity as it evolved with great length.  Round and delicious.  A wine with soul.”

We didn’t notice it until the bottle was opened, but it had been signed by Giuseppe Rinaldi at the lower left side of the front label.  While that didn’t change the wine, it most likely would have added to its value.

Since we ran out of wine, Gino went to the cellar and brought out a bottle of 2001 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne.  Sandrone’s largest production Barolo, made from a blend of fruit from four vineyards, Vignane (Barolo), Merli (Novello), Conterni & Ceretta  (Monforte d’Alba).  This started off great, with vibrant fruit and terrific depth and that signature Sandrone elegance.  After being open thirty minutes however, the wine went completely flat and never seemed to recover.

With coffee and desert, Gino opened a half bottle of 2001 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes.  This was an exceptional vintage for d’Yquem and this wine is aging beautifully. Apricots, peaches and vanilla on the nose with a lovely tropical fruit palate. 

We capped the evening with a snifter of Carlos 1 Spanish brandy.  A perfect ending to a perfect meal.  

Thanks Gene and Maureen for a great meal and Gino for some amazing wines.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

1998 Barolo & Barbaresco Retrospective

Our NY Vinous Nebbiolo group met a couple of weeks ago at Ai Fiori Ristorante in Manhattan to do a 20-year retrospective of Barolo and Barbaresco from the 1998 vintage.  For this dinner we invited Vinous wine writer Ian D’Agata to join us.  Ian is a respected wine writer and his book “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” was named 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year.  All welcomed his presence and comments.

This was my first visit to Ai Fiori, but not my first experience with restaurants owned by noted chef Michael White.  The food, like my experiences at Marea, Osteria Morini and Ristorante Morini was terrific.  We were given a private room and given two choices for each course.  I selected:

Polipo - octpus allapiastra, sepia, tomato ragu toasted bread, basil.  Fork tender Octopus in a harmonious sauce of tomato and sepia.

Tortelli – ricotta & mascarpone ravioli, sottocenere cheese, red wine glaze.  These handmade and perfectly cooked pasta pillows threw a party in my mouth.  Another dish in perfect balance.

Vitello – amish vial chop “au four”, root vegetable, blanquette.  Simply magnificent.  These dishes complemented the wine beautifully, making this one hell of a dinner.

Before getting to the Barolo & Barbaresco, we started the evening with a bottle of 2010 Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Grand Cru Les Chemins d’Avize. Chemins d'Avize is a blend of fruit from the Chemin de Plivot and Chemin de Flavigny lieux-dits. Disgorged in June 2016. The wine was vinified and aged in oak barrels of various sizes and bottled with 2 grams of dosage (some form of sweetness (sugar, or wine and sugar) added to a Champagne to balance it out). Winemaker Pierre Larmandier uses only indigenous yeasts for alcoholic fermentations, producing the most natural and terroir-specific wine possible. Each cru is vinified separately. This was terrific beginning to the evening.  I loved the yeasty bouquet and full, round and yeasty palate.

Flight 1
Barbaresco & Nieve.  The 4 wines that made up this flight were simply awesome.  It was without question the best flight of wines I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili.  Gorgeous Piedmont bouquet filled my nose in anticipation of what I was about to taste.  I was not let down.  This is classic Giacosa.  Round and delicious with an elegant and lengthy finish.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà.  A bit bigger and earthier than the Asili, but round and delicious as well.  Like the Asili it kept evolving in the glass and had finished with great length.

Ken, who knows more about Giacosa and Nebbiolo than anyone I know, provided some interesting information on these two wines.  He explained that while Giacosa labeled one Asili and the other Rabaja, when the vineyard boundaries were made official, both parcels were classified as Asili. Thus we tasted two wines from different plots in the same vineyard, made by the same great winemaker, in the same way.  Check out Ken’s blog The Fine Wine Geek for an in depth look at Giacosa and his wines.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva and 1998 Roagna Barbaresco Crichet Paje were my wines of the night.  They were simply magnificent.  Impeccable balance, complexity and depth with an soft, elegant palate and finished with the same elegance.

Flight 2
Barolo & La Morra.  This was an interesting flight of 3 wines with varying degrees of modern wine making.

1998 Vietti Barolo Brunate.  This drank beautifully.  The wine had a soft, elegant palate with a lengthy finish.  I was surprised to learn (from Eric’s notes) that wine maker Luca Curado did a bit of experimentation with the vintage and that the wine is considered to be modern-styled.  You could have fooled me.

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. Sandrone is considered a more modern styled wine maker, but it would be unfair to characterize him as a modernist.  His wines are always gorgeous, exhibiting depth, balance, complexity and finesse.  Unfortunately these characteristics fell short in tonight's wine.  It drank ok, but was outdistanced by the Vietti.  

1998 Paolo Scavino Rocche dell’Annunziata Riserva. My least favorite in this flight.  Oak was well integrated, but present.  His wines are just too modern for me.

Flight 3
Monforte.  I did not like this flight at all.

1998 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  While I have enjoyed this wine on many occasions, tonight was not one of them.  The bottle was off.  I was particularly disappointed in that I sold the bottle from my cellar to Michael Z and it was pretty much a disaster.

1998 Domenico Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra.  Much too modern for me.  Oak was dominant.

Flight 4
Serralunga.  Another good flight, with the Falletto starring.

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Terrific bottle of wine.  Silky palate and elegant finish.

1998 Vieti Barolo Lazzarito.  Like the Granbussia, this was an off bottle.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto.  Classic Giacosa.  Simply gorgeous, and one of the top wines of the evening.  Great mouth feel and lengthy and elegant finish.

1998 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva.  Fantastic potential here.  It drank very well, but is still very much a baby and needs more cellar time, in my opinion.

The bottom line is that 1998 is an excellent vintage and will drink well for quite some time.  The only downside is that the price of these wines has escalated in the past decade, so finding them at a reasonable price will be a challenge.  I only wish I had bought more of them years back.

We finished the evening with a cheese course of Caprotto  - Chiriboga Blue – housemade crackers, quince paste.  I brought along a bottle of 1998 Quintarelli Amarone to drink pair with the cheese.  Unfortunately the magic of Quintarelli was not to be found in this bottle. The palate was dull and the finish nonexistent.

Please check out Eric Guido's blog on the evening at The Cellar Table.  

All in all it was a magical evening.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido