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, July 11, 2011

Blind Tasting at Elements

I had the pleasure of being invited to a BYOB blind tasting at Elements in Princeton, NJ last week. Chris Cree and Joe Bembry of 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ orchestrated the tasting, and what a terrific evening it was. While the wines were excellent, the food really took center stage. This was my first visit to Elements and if the restaurant was not 75 minutes form my home, I would become a regular here. Scott Anderson, whose credits include the Ryland Inn, Les Copains, and Nova Terra, is the chef/owner and one of the most talented chefs I have ever encountered,. The Elements website accurately describes the food as Interpretive American Cuisine. As he says “our dishes are grounded in the essence of the ingredients”. At a time when many chefs are forcibly pushing the envelope with numerous ingredient combinations and unrestrained presentations, here the envelope is gently nudged resulting in a wonderful dinning experience.

Our group gave Mr. Anderson a free hand and he did not disappoint us. We began with two trios of Amuse-bouche. The initial trio consisted of a large ceramic spoonful of cold mushroom soup (superb), a Humus baguette (interesting) and a cheese & kale quiche (delicious).

The next trio began with Big Eye Tuna tartare made with scallion, ginger and white soy sauce. This was “off the chart”. It was so pristinely fresh, clean and tasty on the palate, I felt like asking if the rest of my meal could consist of this dish only. Fortunately sanity prevailed an I was able to enjoy the other two items in this round; Puff pastry with aged Gouda cheese (heavenly); squash stem stuffed with goat cheese (good, but ho-hum compared to everything else.

Raw fish returned with the next course in the form Kindai Madai, which I am told is a Japanese tuna that is entirely fed by humans. It was sliced thin and prepared with a wakame (an edible brown seaweed) puree, borage (salad green), apple and cucumber. The freshness of the perfectly balanced ingredients soared on the palate. A Remarkable dish.

Next came perfectly seared scallops in a chilled yellow squash soup. The combination of flavors, textures and temperatures played together like a Rogers and Hart musical composition. I took it in, sat back and enjoyed each spoonful.

Halibut with macadamia nut purée & carrot appeared next. Perfectly cooked, the fish danced on the tongue and tantalized the taste buds.

From the sea we moved to the land with incredibly juicy slices of Guinea hen served with smoked ham and tarragon. Wows could be heard around the table as this dish was consumed.

The final dish consisted of slices of Waygu beef brisket with a chile pepper puree. The dish was perfectly cooked, artfully presented and delicious on the palate.

We finished the evening with an assortment of cheeses, which I must say were the only weak spot of the evening.

As I mentioned in the opening of this blog this was a BYOB tasting in which the 7 attendees each bought a bottle of red and white wine. I was the only non-wine industry person at the event. Everyone else worked in the industry, so as you might imagine the wines were quite interesting and good. I must mention before going into the wines that I have never been a fan of blind tastings. I really don’t get their purpose. For me wine is meant to be drunk so that it may be enjoyed and experienced, not as some sort of test or guessing game as to grape, year, producer, etc. To quote the well-known and respected wine importer Kermit Lynch, “Blind tastings are to wine what strip poker is to love.” In any case the wines for the most part were quite good. While I was familiar with all the wine varieties, six of the producers were new to me. Getting to taste the wines of new producers is what I enjoy most about tastings, blind or not. I was not disappointed.

The evening began with a magnum of 1993 Vilmart et Cie Coeur de Cuvee, a barrel aged grand cru champagne that was gorgeous. This was not tasted blind. This was my first experience with this producer but it will not be my last. The wine had terrific balance and purity. It had a toasty elegance on the palate with a lengthy finish. One of the best champagnes I have ever had. Current vintages of this wine will cost you about $100 for a 750ml bottle.

The Blind Whites

2004 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords (melon de borgogne). Melon de Bourgogne or Melon is a variety of white grape grown in the Loire Valley region of France and best known through its use in Muscadet. The wine was soft and pure and went wonderfully with the tuna tartare. One of the great things about Muscadet is that they represent a fantastic bargain at about $15 a bottle. This vintage is probably long gone, but current vintages are worth trying, especially with oysters.

2009 Dr Heger Pinot Gris Sonett Trocken from Baden, Germany was next up. This producer was also new to me. The wine was young and crisp on the palate. A good inexpensive white at $24.

2009 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs followed. I am a big fan of Donnhoff Rieslings, especially the dry ones like this one. They are beautifully crafted examples of traditional wine making. I have this particular wine in my cellar and I had a bottle last year and while it was terrific it was still too young to really enjoy. It will benefit from more cellar time. This bottle was less terrific and still in need of cellar time. $68.

The fourth white was a 1995 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay Cuvee LD Sonoma, which I learned is the current release. The wine exhibited a pale yellow hue had good balance and despite the relatively high alcohol content and new French oak (Barrique?) aging it was not the oaky massive fruit bomb one usually gets from California. The wine was quite good, especially for 16 years of age. The wine pleasantly surprised me. $35.

Next came 2006 Jean-Michel Guillon Santenay "Les Bras". Traditionally made this beautiful Chardonnay drank very well. Nice balance and purity. $53.

The final white was a 1997 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc. When it comes to white wine from Hermitage, no one does it better than Jean Louis. If you have never had his wines, they are worth the price to experience perfection in a glass. Made from 100% Marsanne, this Northern Rhone beauty absolutely soared from the glass. A full-bodied wine that was round and delicious and was the consensus wine of the evening. $145.

The Blind Reds

Our first red of the evening was a 2001 Littorai Pinot Noir Thieriot Vineyard, from the Sonoma Coast. A wine for those who like California's modern approach to wine making. Wines like this taste "manufactured" to me as opposed to being an expression of the pureness of the grape. In addition this particular bottle tasted “tired” to me. Not a lot going on here. $55.

A 1996 Domaine Joseph Roty Gevrey Chambertin les Fontenys was next up. This premier cru wine is from one of Burgandy’s top producers. The Roty family have been working their vineyards for more than 300 years, so as you can imagine some of their wines come from some of the oldest vines in all of Burgundy. Production is very small, especially for their Grand Cru wines. This wine exhibited an earthy bouquet and a feminine elegance that I love about wines from this area. The wine would have benefited, in my opinion, had it had been decanted for a couple of hours. $65

One of my favorite Burgundy producers was up next. The 1990 Domaine de Montille Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru was delicious, but in my opinion still a baby that needs more time in the bottle. It possessed all the underlying elements of a great Burgundy, balance, complexity, purity and finish. My guess is that if this too had been decanted it would have been the wine of the evening. I’d love to have some in my cellar, but at $375 a bottle I will make do with the 2006 of this producer’s wine at $92.

For the next wine we remained in France, but traveled to the Loire for a terrific bottle of 1990 Olga Raffault Chinon Picasses. I really enjoy wines from the Chinon area and this was no exception. This is a new producer for me and one I will look to add to my cellar. As with all red wines from the Chinon this is made with 100% Cabbernet Franc. The wine was just superb, exhibiting great purity, complexity and a sense of place. The wine evolved with each sip. $55.

The next wine found us in the Duoro area of Portugal with a 2008 Niepoort Charme Tinto Douro, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca & other grapes. The wine is aged for 16 months in French oak. I did not like this at all. Very modern on the palate. The wine lacked soul and is very pricey at $100.

On to Italy and Piedmont with a 1999 Roagna Barbaresco Riserva Crichet Paje. Luca Roagna is one of my favorite old world wine makers. All his wines are filled with terroir and are wonderful expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. The Riserva Crichet Paje is, I believe, his top wine and this bottle was great. Round, delicious and with a sense of place. A wine with soul. Worth the $185 it will cost you. Of course you can delight your self with less expensive Barolos, Barbarescos, Dolcettos & Barberas from him. You will not be disappointed.

Back to France and the Northern Rhone for another beauty from JL Chave a 1995 Chave Hermitage Rouge. Terroir driven, full of pepper and spice, soft & elegant on the palate with a long, luscious finish. The wine kept evolving in the glass. Unfortunately wines of this caliber do not come cheap. Expect to pay $325 if you can find some.

I have often been asked that if I could have only one producer’s wines in my cellar who would that be? My response is always immediate and it is always Giuseppe Quintarelli. For me he is the master of traditional wine making anywhere. Since he lives in the Veneto, he makes Valpolicella and Amarones. No one des it any better. Our final wine was a 1999 Quintarelli Valpolicella. I have had this wine on many occasions and I marvel at it each time. It is a complete wine experience. Throw out all the adjectives when you drink his wines and suffice it to say they, like this bottle, are round and delicious. $75. BTW this was the only wine I could accurately name in the tasting.

The final wine of the night, not served blind, was 2005 Climens Sauternes that Gino graciously bought. From a terrific vintage the wine shows lots of tropical fruit and has a long candy-like finish. A superb dessert wine. $80.

All in all a great evening.

Until next time,


BTW many of these wines can be purchased at 56º Wine in Bernardsville, NJ if you are interested.


  1. Chave, Raffout, Quintarelli, kalin, Donnhoff and Vilmart...that is an impressive line up...

  2. Great post, Mark! Glad you loved your first (but hopefully not last) experience at Elements. Thanks so much for joining us and bringing such special wines...

  3. Gabrio, they were great and I really enjoyed the Raffout & Vilmart which were new to me.