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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dinner at Nick & Caren's House

Nick Cusano and I became friends a number of years ago when I hired him to design our new home. As I got to know him I learned that not only was he a fantastic architect, Cusano Associates, but that we both shared a passion for cooking (and I might add eating). We became good friends. A couple of weeks ago we were invited to one of his many Saturday night dinners at his home along with some of his other friends. It was a great evening of food, wine and lively conversation.

Pre-dinner pickings included mozzarella de bufala, grilled sausage, hot peppers, Nick’s homemade foccia (the man is an incredible baker). Nick’s friend Tommaso is Nick’s equal in the bread-making arena and his baguettes were amazing. The recipe for his bread is from the book “My Bread” for those bakers out there who might be interested.

The pre-dinner wines included a magnum of 2004 William Fevre Chablis Montée de Tonnerre and a bottle of 2006 Riecine La Gioia . In my opinion, the best French Chardonnays come from the Chablis region and along with Raveneau, Fevre is one of the regions most outstanding traditional winemakers. I find the wines from Chablis to be much more elegant than those from Montrachet or Meursault. The Montée de Tonnerre is a Premier Cru wine with amazing freshness, minerality and purity. Absolutely round and delicious on the palate. At $45 per bottle, $110 per magnum, it is an outstanding value.

The Riecine La Giaia is a Super Tuscan, Sangiovese based wine that is blended from various vineyard parcels with different soil types which adds to the complexity of the wine. Dark garnet in color, it is a more modern style wine that drank very nicely, although, at least for me, the oak influence was a bit too pronounced. The wine had good balance and a soft finish, albeit a bit oaky. Around $50 a bottle. 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.

Dinner began with Italian Wedding Soup, my contribution to the menu. The recipe is from Lidia Bastianch’s new book “Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy”. It is a delicious soup brimming with flavor. I am happy to report that all enjoyed it. The recipe can also be found on Lidia’s website, Lidia's Italy.

Next up was a terrific pasta dish that Nick had learned from the Contessa Lelia Passi on his last trip to Venice, Italy. The Contessa studied under Mara Martin owner and chef of Da Fiore Ristorante in Venice. I had the pleasure of eating at Da Fiore a few years ago. The restaurant is among my “5 Best Restaurants in the World”. The seafood is pristinely fresh and must me tasted to appreciate. There really are no words for food like Mara Martin prepares. If you are in Venice, it is a must visit. In any case Nick’s pasta echoed the style of Da Fiore, simple and flavorful, it was a wonderful combination of scallops, onion, thyme and broccoli with penne pasta.

This was followed by a prosciutto wrapped filet mignon braised in a sauce of wild mushroom, onion, red wine and tomatoes. It was served over a bed of soft polenta. Cooked to perfection, it was tender and juicy. Simply delicious.

With these dishes we drank a 1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape from magnum and a 2007 Felsina Fontalloro. Beaucastel is one of my top 3 favorite producers of traditionally made CDP (Rayas and Bonneau are the others). I opened it 4 hours prior to drinking, the last 2 in a decanter. The wine was terrific. It showed a great sense of place with an earthy nose, beautiful balance & purity on the palate and a marvelous finish. While CDP laws allow producers to use all 13 grape varieties from the Chateauneuf area, Beaucastel is the only one that I know of that actually does this. A strong percentage of Mourvèdre and Grenache (30% each), Syrah 10%, Counoise 10% Cinsault 5% and the rest divided up amongst the remaining grape varieties: Vaccarèse, Terret noir, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne. (I know if you are counting there are only 12 grapes here). About $90 a bottle, $200 a magnum.

For me the Felsina Fontalloro was a pleasant surprise. I expected a big modern style, over-extracted Super Tuscan wine. Instead the wine was more traditional in style. Nicely balanced and complex on the palate and a soft lingering finish. The only draw back, in my opinion, was the rather pronounced oak that Barrique aging usually imparts on a wine. Based in the Chianti Classico region, Fèlsina only grows Sangiovese grapes. The Fontalloro is a Sangiovese based Vino di Tavola (IGT), with the wine sources from old vines in three top vineyards that straddle the border between two of Chianti’s top regions: “Classico” and “Colli Senesi”. It is produced from vines that are in excess of fifty years of age, and aged in small French oak barrels (Barrique) for fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling. About $36 a bottle.

We finished the evening with a delicious Torta Tres Leches (3 milks cake) made by Leila. It was moist and oh so delicious. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Thank you Nick and Caren.


  1. Great line up Mark as usual... Fontalloro is an IGT which is different from a Vino da Tavola (the difference is that IGT has a number of grapes approved and different rules about yield and the labeling from the Vino da Tavola), as you said it's entirely made of Sangiovese from old vines and it does see small barrique during the aging (hence you detected the typical wood flavors) but those will integrate completely with age. You probably remember the empty 18 liters bottle I have in my store window; that 1997 Fontalloro was emptied out watching the world cup's final game in 2006, the wine was still young but drinking beautifully after had breath in the bottle for 24 Hrs. Lot's of peppery notes, fresh cherries firm tannins and echoes of dark fruit and rubber...delicious!!!!
    Ciao Mark

  2. Gabrio,
    Thanks for your comments. According to the Polaner website, my source for the information, it says "In addition to their distinct bottlings of Chianti Classico, Fèlsina also produces one of Italy’s top Vino di Tavola’s (or IGTs), called Fontalloro". I did not realize that the window bottle was the Fontalloro. As I said I enjoyed it very much and am glad to learn that the oak will become integrated with bottle age.