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, July 27, 2011
Invasion of Normandy...Beach that is. Part One
Our first night, Saturday, was ultra casual and very Jersey Shore. I fired up the grill and made ribeye cheese steaks, kobe beef burgers and Max's Hot Dogs. A little explaining is necessary here. When I was a mere youngster we used to vacation in Long Branch, just a few miles north of Normandy Beach. What a great place, Chelsea pool with its tunnel to the beach, the boardwalk with the penny arcade, game stands and of course a tiny little shack with a few tables, Max's Hot Dogs. As I recall hot dogs were all that he served. The Max's hot dog is a large Shickhaus natural casing griddle frank. Max grilled them along with the bun and served them with mustard and kraut for about 25 cents. Oh, he also had the best hot relish you could find that completed the dog. What a delicious dog. There is simply no dog in its class in my opinion. Max's is still around today in Long Branch and still run by the Maybaum family, only now it is off the boardwalk, located at 25 Matilda Terrace. Fortunately for me these same Shickhaus hot dogs are available in many supermarkets today and I am able to duplicate them at home. Up until a year ago however, I could not find a good hot relish, until I found 20 Pepper Relish made by Red Lion Spicy Foods Co. If you like hot relish, this one is a must.
By the way my good friend and accomplished author Emil Salvini has a blog about the real Jersey Shore. He has more than 250,000 followers. You should really check out Tales of the New Jersey Shore.
As for the Kobe beef burgers, these are available at King's Supermarkets and are only a few cents more expensive than regular burgers. They are amazing, very juicy and delicious and well worth the small price difference.
With hot dogs and burgers nothing goes quite as well as an ice cold beer such as Heinekin or Corona, so we skipped on the wine and tossed back a few frosty brews.
Sunday to an Italian is macaroni (pasta as it is called today) day whether you are at the Jersey Shore or not. I came prepared. On Friday I made 53 meatballs, vacuum sealed them and brought them with us. If you are Italian you will understand what I am about to say, if you are not you probably have a dish that will fit into the same category. The meatball is an icon of Italian cuisine. It is one of the foods that most of the non-Italian world remembers us for. We have a tradition and reputation to live up to. The meatball must be moist, properly seasoned and prior to being immersed in the gravy it MUST BE FRIED IN OLIVE OIL FIRST. Baking it in the oven does not count and no it is not as good, it is not even half as good. If I baked my meatballs, my grandmother would turn over in her grave. At the expense of being boastful, I am very proud of my meatballs. I do not profess that they are the best meatballs you will ever taste, only that they are the best meatballs I have ever tasted. They are a combination of my "Honey Grandma" (my father's mother) and Rao's recipe. They are moist (necessity of any meatball) a wee bit spicy and delicious. Let me also say that I have had many exceptional meatballs made by friends and relatives. The key has been in all cases that the meatballs WERE FRIED FIRST. The bottom line is this, for a meatball to be great it must be FRIED.
On Sunday morning I awake and begin making the gravy (tomato sauce slowly cooked with meat). The additional meat, spare ribs and sausage comes from Check Rite Meat Market and Deli in Normandy. I've been buying meats here for years and they are always fresh and of very high quality. A good local butcher. Next I drive over to Joe Leone's in Point Pleasant for his homemade cheese ravioli. These ravioli are the equal to my grandma DeRosa's. They are light and creamy and addictive. I once ate 43 of grandma's. I was about 15, skinny as a rail with a very high metabolic rate which would probably explain my eating capacity at the time. Since we were having 4 additional guests for dinner, I bought 5 dozen ravioli as well as some rigatoni for the grandkids and my daughters, whom for some reason are not fans of ravioli. The ravioli and meatballs I am happy to report were applauded by all as we stuffed ourselves silly.
I began the meal, as I do each meal at the shore, with an Old Grand Dad Manhattan, straight up. As for white wine we had the ever present Ceretto Arneis Blanghe 2009. As readers of this blog know it is my wife's favorite wine and the wine never disappoints. We also had 3 very good reds, all from Italy. We began with a 2004 Montevetrano from Campania. The wine is a blend of approximately 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Aglianico. It is made for owner Silvia Imparato by one of Italy's most sought after consulting winemakers, Riccardo Cotarella. Mr Cotarella is very much a proponent of new world wine making, especially in the use of new oak. Harvest times vary greatly from Merlot to Aglianico, so the different grape varieties are harvested and vinified separately. The final blend is made before the wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak. The final wine is aged in 50% new oak. I opened the wine 3 hours prior to pouring and it drank very well even though it is still very young and will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Tannins were soft, but the oak was very evident and the wine lacked, in my opinion, the purity of the next two wines. Fans of California and Bordeaux wines will really enjoy this wine. A bit pricey at between $90 - $120 per bottle. DeVino Wine, NYC.
Alongside the Montevetrano, I also opened 3 hours prior to pouring, a 2004 Massolino Barolo. My friend Tony brought along a 2005 Produttori Barbaresco Rabaja (not opened prior to pouring). Both of these wines were wonderful. The Massolino is their normale bottling of Barolo and it is singing now. Such amazing purity and balance on the palate with a lush and lingering finish. This is a beautiful example of a traditionally made wine, and at $60 a bottle an incredible value. Italian Wine Merchants, NYC.
The Produttori was equally magnificent even in its youth. Completely round and delicious, this wine should be cellared for a few more years to fully appreciate it. Originally The Produttori was a cooperative of 9 Barbaresco vineyard owners that was put together in 1894 by Domizio Cavazza, headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and a Barbaresco resident. It was called the "Cantine Sociali". He gathered the 9 together to make wine in the local castle that he owned. The "Cantine Sociali" was forced to close in the 1920'S because of fascist economic rules. Refounded in 1958 The Produttori del Barbaresco now has 56 members and 100 hectares (250 acres) of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area. Each family is in full control of its land, growing Nebbiolo grapes with centuries old skill and dedication. These wines are traditionally made and outstanding examples of old world wine making and at about $50 a bottle for the single vineyard riservas and less for the normale an absolute bargain. They also age very well. Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ & DeVino Wine, NYC.
On Monday night we enjoyed my wife's chicken cutlets. She always fries them perfectly. Never greasy, they are tender and delicious. For side dishes she served sautéed zucchini rounds from our garden and Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco treat. I'd be lying if I said that the Rice-A-Roni was just for the kids, we all love it. One of those comfort foods from childhood days that I will never tire of.
For wine we enjoyed the remains of Produtorri from the night before. It had not lost a beat, in fact was even softer and more elegant on the palate on day two. For the white I selected the Chenin Blanc grape and happily enjoyed a bottle of 2009 Francois Pinon Vouvrey Silex Noir. The first vintage of Silex Noir was 2007. The wine takes its name from a parcel of black soil from which it lives. The wine is crisp, minerally and displays terrific complexity. A delicious wine to drink and an absolute bargain at $20. Unfortunately it is not easy to find.
Tuesday we went Mexican. My wife and daughter Gina whipped up a batch of Beef tacos along with a mountain of red beans and rice. Local Jersey white corn on the cob
followed. Wonderfully sweet it was the perfect end to a good meal. The ladies and guys enjoyed margaritas, mojitos and Corona beers while I opened a bottle of 2005 Domaine du Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Quartz. Mostly Grenache (my guess is that Syrah is the other grape in the wine), I felt the wine was a bit over extracted displaying big bold fruit, dark color and 14.5% alcohol. The wine was good and should appeal to those of you that like fruit forward, macho wines. $60.
On Wednesday the girls and boys took the kids to the Point Pleasant Boardwalk for dinner, while my wife, mother-in-law and I headed to the Shipwreck Grille, in Brielle, NJ. The Shipwreck is one of the better restaurants at the shore serving very fresh seafood. Unfortunately tonight's meal was not up to previous visits largely because I ordered some items that are not, let us say, in their wheelhouse. The highlights of the meal were perfectly cooked and seasoned Coconut Shrimp with sweet chile Pineapple sauce and pristinely fresh oysters from Rhode Island. Not as successful was an appetizer of Tuna Sushi Tempura with Japanese dipping sauces and a main course of a single lobster tail. The tempura was not the lightly fried tuna I had envisioned, rather it was a tuna roll, that was flash fried. My wife's lobster tail was a bit tough and a bit bland.
My mother-in-law both ordered Linguine with clams, pancetta & parsley. This was a huge mistake, and I should have known it. The linguine definitely had been pre-cooked earlier in the evening or afternoon. When it was served it was luke warm and terribly over cooked. A shame because the clam sauce itself was pretty good.
A 2005 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru saved the evening. Elegant and rich on the palate, the wine evolved with each sip. Enjoyable now, but given a couple more years, this will be a beauty. $60
On Thursday my mom, sister and her husband visited us for the day. Pasta and veal were the order of the day. A favorite in our family is pasta putanesca, the spicy Southern Italian (Naples) dish made with lots of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, black italian or greek olives, capers, anchovies, red pepper flakes and good San Marzano tomatoes (I use Colluccio). I add a splash of good red wine to mine before I add the tomatoes.
A bottle of 2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa which I opened 4 hours before pouring drank beautifully with the pasta. This is a traditionally made Barbaresco that spends 20 months in small and medium size oak barrels (old?) and then another 14 months in bottle before being released. It possesses a wonderful earthy nose and on the palate it is soft with a long elegant finish. And at less than $40 a bottle it represents one of the best wine bargains you will ever find. DeVino Wine, NYC & 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.
Veal Scallopini with mushrooms followed the pasta. The key to this dish is purchasing very good veal and having it cut just a bit above paper thin. It turned out great. Chambers Street Wines, NYC and 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.
The other white was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Macon Verze. Leflaive is one of the top old world producers in Burgundy making some of the best grand cru and 1er cru Montrachets and Meursault in the Cote de Beaune. The Macon Verze is a villages level wine that is a delight to drink, crisp and fresh it pleases the palate and at under $30 a bottle very pleasing on the pocketbook.
We concluded our first week in Normandy on Friday evening by having dinner with our two good friends Tony & Anita at Theresa's South in Bayhead, NJ. This was my 3rd visit here in the past 3 years and it was on this occasion similar to the previous visits, so-so. Zuppa du Mussels were plump and tasty, Crab Cakes were very good, while a Stuffed Artichoke was just okay. My main course of Fusilli pasta (small ones this time) in a creamy sausage fennel sauce left a great deal to be desired. The pasta was a bit over cooked and the sauce was rather bland. Other entrées included a Veal Milanese that was inundated with toppings that included roasted potatoes. A rather bizarre and mediocre dish. Talapia and Halibut were the other two main courses and were okay.
For wines we had a 2009 Zenato San Benedetto from the Veneto region of Italy. This terrific white is made from 100% Trebbiano grapes grown on the Zenato estate. It is crisp and delightful on the palate. An absolute steal at about $12 a bottle and it is widely available.
For the red wine I brought a 2001 Bovio Vigna Gattera Barolo, another magnificent wine from the Robert Chadderdon portfolio. Opened 4 hours prior to drinking, it began to blossom in hour 5. Great sense of place on the nose. Pure and elegant on the palate with a stupendous finish...and it is still a baby. This is a wine with soul. $73 at DeVino Wine, NYC.
So concludes our first week at the shore. While temperatures hovered around the 100º mark most of the week, it was a bit cooler near the ocean and very enjoyable.
Stay tuned for part two when I will report on Il Grande Cosmo's famous lobster arriabiata and basil/tomato risotto as well as other delights.