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 28, 2011

Dinner with friends at Culin Ariane

Had a wonderful dinner with friends at Culin Ariane in Montclair, NJ this week. Culin Ariane, one of my favorite restaurants in all of New Jersey, has been acclaimed by reviewers from Zagat to local Jersey publications. Ariane Duarte, a contestant on Top Chef a couple of years ago, is an extremely talented chef. Her food is honest and clean. Her husband Michael runs the front of the house in a most professional manner. Service, like the food, is top notch.

Like most NJ restaurants, Culin Ariane is a BYOB restaurant. However, unlike most NJ BYOB restaurants, wine service here is as good as it is in a top restaurant with a top-flight wine list. Glasses appropriate for the wine you are drinking as well as decanters are readily available to ensure you enjoy your wine.

Last nights meal started with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon with mango salsa. Appetizers included Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Horseradish Cream & Micro Greens. Oysters never had it so good. The combination of the briny oysters with the horseradish cream is ethereal. Main courses, all of which were superb, included Tortilla Crusted Monkfish, Black Bean Cake, Lime Radish, Poblano Cream; Lobster Risotto, Sun Chokes, Lobster Reduction, Crispy Leeks; Sautéed cornmeal crusted Victoria Perch, Mediterranean orzo lemon beurre blanc.

For wine we started with 1999 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc that was wonderful. My first bottle of this wine was in January of 2002 and it was amazing. Crisp and clean on the palate, it was simply delicious. A year later the wine shut down completely and stayed that way for the next 3 years. Nothing at all. Like drinking flat water. According to Robert Parker this is typical of the wine and he wrote that it would reemerge 5-10 years later as a different animal. So I waited until last year to try the wine again, and son-of-a-gun Parker was on the money. While still clean on the palate, it was now a bit oxidized and oily, but oh so pure and balanced. The color was now that of yellow straw with a bouquet of honey and caramel. The lengthy finish made you want to hurry up and take another sip. Serve this wine slightly chilled and I recommend that you do not put it in an ice bucket after opening.

The next wine was a 1985 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. 1985 was a fantastic year for Barolo and Barbaresco and Gaja is an icon in the winemaking world. Unfortunately this bottle was flawed. Completely oxidized and undrinkable. Like all living things, sometimes they leave us much too early. Alas, there was a silver lining, my friend who brought the Gaja had a back-up, and what a back up it was, a 2000 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella that did its job in consoling us for the misfortune of the Gaja. One is always rewarded with greatness when drinking Quintarelli and this bottle was no exception.

Next up was a side-by-side tasting of two legendary Chateaunuf-du-Papes, 2005 Clos Saint-Jean Chateauneuf du Pape Deus Ex Machina and 2001 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins. While both drank well the Clos Saint Jean was simply no match for the Bonneau in my opinion. My two friends at the table did not agree, they gave the nod to Clos Saint Jean. As one of them says “That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla”. These two wines really speak to differences in winemaking style and the preference of the individual palate. The Clos Saint Jean tends toward the more modern style that produces huge, fruit forward wines. These are macho wines that give instant gratification in taste, but little in terms of a moving wine experience. There is nothing wrong with this style. In fact I could probably safely say it is the style most wine drinkers gravitate towards. Renowned wine critic/writer Robert Parker is one of them. In his opinion this wine merits a perfect score. The Clos Saint Jean is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mouvedre. The Grenache sees no ageing in wood while the Mouvedre is aged in new or one-year-old barrels for about 12 months. The wine is released at a rather young age.

The Henri Bonneau Celastins is more than 90% Grenache with small amounts of Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarèse added. His wines are as old world as one can find. They are fermented in cement tanks and then they go into very old barrels from Burgundy. Here the wine stays until Bonneau determines it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years. No wine is ever bottled before 5 years in the barrel. The result is a pure and balanced wine with amazing elegance. The wine spoke to 4 of my 5 senses. A clear translucent red hue that seemed to sparkle before my eyes like glistening snow, a bouquet of the earth that sired the grapes made me appreciate the very nose on my face. On the tongue a balanced harmony that made my taste buds dance with delight. The wine is drop dead delicious. Ah, the sense of hearing. When I drink this wine the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, to name a few, played softly in my ears. To drink this wine is to understand the difference between enjoying a wine and experiencing a wine.

And for dessert a 2001 Sine Qua Non The NobleMan (Chardonnay). Manfred Krankl (USA) and the late Alois Kracher (Austria) teamed up and made extraordinary dessert wines from California (see I am not completely against California wines) for many years. This 2001, made from the Chardonnay grape is awesome. Reminiscent of the great Trokenbeerenauslese wines of Austria and Germany. What a lovely way to end an evening.

All in all a wonderful evening of great food, spectacular wine and most important good friends to experience it with.

Saluté until next time.

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