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, August 21, 2011

Birthday Food and Wines

On Friday, August 5, I turned 66 years of age. On each of my birthdays I recall the words of baseball immortal Satchel Paige who said "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" I can happily say I feel many years younger and hope this feeling continues for a few more decades at least.

In any case for me there was no better way to celebrate my birthday week (why limit it to a day) than with my family, friends, good food and great wine.

Birthday Food & Wines (In order of their appearance)

My birthday festivities began with a family dinner at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany on Friday night. I have lauded Il Capriccio’s great food and service on many occasions before, and this evening’s meal was no exception. We enjoyed:

Fresh Burrata Cheese with Jersey tomatoes (Italian cheese in which the outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains both mozzarella & cream. It is creamy and sensuous on the palate.

Sepia Affogati (cuttlefish stewed with tomatoes and peas). A bit spicy, but ooh so good.

Vitello Tonnato (poached loin of veal., thinly sliced and served over a creamy tuna and caper infused mayonnaise). This delicious dish is the perfect summer appetizer or lunch plate.

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Bottarga (homemade, guitar string formed pasta in “Aglio e Olio” with grated gray mullet roe and spicy peperoncino) could not have been better. The dish was amazing. Perfectly cooked al dente pasta that combined the freshness of the land with the brininess of the sea.

Main courses included Center Cut Swordfish “Con Mollica” (Oven Roasted Swordfish topped with breadcrumbs and wild Calabrese oregano in a tangy lemon sauce); Penne Primavera (pasta with fresh garden vegetables in a light tomato sauce); Beef Short Ribs “Stracotto” (slow cooked boneless “Piemontese” beef short rib “Al Vino Rosso” served with risotto alla Parmiggiana & English peas); Medallions of Veal “Con Porcini” (tender, milk fed veal prepared in a creamy Porcini mushroom sauce); Lemon Sole “Crosta di Noci Miste” (filet of lemon sole encrusted with almonds, walnuts and pistachios nuts); sliced Filet Mignon in a Balsamic reduction.

The evenings wines:

2007 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco. From my favorite producer, this superb white is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate with a lingering finish, and at about $44 a bottle, it is a fantastic value. DeVino Wine, NYC, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC, New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.

1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato from magnum. I decanted the wine for 6 hours and wow did it respond. This was without question one of the greatest Barolo’s I have ever tasted. Inhaling the bouquet was akin to inhaling the earth and air of Piedmont Italy. This was a sense of place in spades and a portent to what would take place on the palate. On the palate the elegance of the wine soared and became even more elegant with each sip. This is a wine that can not be explained in words, it must be experienced to appreciate it. I have written in the past of he difference between enjoying a wine and experiencing it. This wine was a perfect example of that difference. It was round and delicious with a monster finish. My son-in-law Nick commented, “Wow! I have never tasted a wine like this. It is the best wine I have ever drunk!” If you can find it expect to pay about $350 a magnum and about $200 a bottle.

Espresso and Il Poggione Grappa de Brunello completed a great evening.

The celebration continued on Saturday evening with dinner at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell. Divina is one of our favorite restaurants in NJ. We have been regulars there for the 17+ years it has been open. I'd venture to say that we have had more than 1500 meals there and never a bad one. Consistent food of very high quality has been Mario Carlino’s trademark from day one. Mario hails from Calabria, Italy and his food is representative of great Southern Italian cuisine, with many of the recipes, such as Veal Valdostanna and Pasta al Forno (Rigatoni pasta that is combined with baby meatballs, sopresatta, hard boiled eggs, tomato & bechemel) inspired by his mother. A friendly and highly competent staff ensures that each dinning experience is an enjoyable one. Wine service is excellent with appropriate glasses for both red and white wines.

On this occasion we began with fresh stuffed baby eggplants and spaghetti al pesto. The eggplants were tender and stuffed with a mixture of eggplant, breadcrumbs & mozzarella and topped with a delicate tomato sauce. All pastas are cooked to order, as was my spaghetti. Perfectly al dente, each forkful was sublime.

For my main course I strayed a bit from traditional Italian an opted for Veal Holstein, a German dish that is comprised of a breaded veal cutlet topped with two sunny-side up eggs. The combination of flavors and textures is wonderful, especially with veal as tender as Divina’s. My wife had the same breaded veal cutlet, but hers was topped with a fresh Jersey tomato salad, while my mother-in-law enjoyed a perfectly cooked Risotto Bologonese.

While Carol had her favorite Ceretto Arneis Blanghe, I had a bottle of 2003 Damijan Collio Bianco Kaplja. This wine falls into the category of an “orange wine”. It is fermented on the skins (thus giving it its orange hue) with natural yeasts. While a white wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Tocai and Malvasia), the wine is meant to be drunk at red wine temperature to fully appreciate and experience the purity and complexity of the wine. Damijan Podversic, a disciple of Josko Gravner, bottles the wine in December under a waning moon.

I must add that the wine is not to the liking of everyone as it is a bit oxidized on the nose & palate. For me it is a great expression of a pure wine with soul. $40. De-Vino Wine, NYC.

Sunday found Carol and I babysitting our grandchildren Mia and Nicholas as their mom & dad were celebrating their 8th wedding anniversary at a resort. While Carol watched the kids I was home making a fresh batch of meatballs to bring over for a simple meal of Ziti and meatballs, which was delicious.

A bottle of 1993 Camille Giroud Vosne Romanee Les Chaumes Premier Cru was my choice to go with the Zitti. I am a big fan of this producer and have a number of vintages going back to 1969 in my cellar. The wines are classic examples of red Burgundy. They are elegant and pure on the palate and are built for longevity. Unfortunately this bottle was not up to the one I had 2 years prior. While very drinkable and good, tt was a bit reserved on the palate and light on the finish. The wine, even after 2 hours of decanting, never seemed to blossom into the bottle I had 2 years before. It was a wine I could enjoy, but not really experience. $130, if you can find it. I would look instead for the 2006 vintage, especially the Marsannay Les Longeroles. While this is an entry level wine, it is drinking divinely at the moment and for $25 represents a fantastic bargain.

In 2002 the California cult wine producer Ann Colgin and her husband, Burgundy guru Joe Wender, headed a group that purchased Camille Giroud. The job of winemaker was given to David Croix who arrived with a stellar recommendation from Benjamin Leroux of the Domaine du Clos des Epeneaux. As Becky Wasserman says on her website, David Croix is “representative of his generation: clarity of terroir rather than a house style, and an intuitive feeling for both appellations and the nature of individual vintages”.

On Wednesday of the following week my friends Gino, Emil, Tony & Carlos treated me to lunch at Il Cinghiale Trattoria in Little Ferry, NJ. Owner Nicola Moncada is a good friend and we all used to eat regularly at his previous restaurant Due Nicola in Little Falls, NJ which he sold about a year ago. After a brief hiatus, he opened Il Cinghiale (wild boar in Italian) a few months ago. The food is as good as ever and we had a great lunch to go along with the wines we brought.

Highlights from the lunch included, Sausage, potatoes and hot peppers; baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce; stewed tripe in tomato sauce; risotto with red wine and my favorite spaghetti ala carbonara, Italy's answer to bacon and eggs.

There was certainly no shortage of wine as each person brought a terrific bottle of wine. The wines included a 1979 Giovannini Moresco Barbaresco Podere del Pajore. This was the fifth bottle of this wine I opened over the past three years and bottle variation, as can be the case in older vintages was most evident. Three were magnificent, one was terribly flawed and this bottle, which came around a bit after 4 hours, was drinkable, but not memorable. The wine suffered from some oxidation and lacked the vibrancy of the three good bottles. Still it displayed good complexity and earthiness. Moresco was revered by Piedmontese winemakers in the 1960's and 1970's. A traditionalist, the good bottles of this wine were beautiful examples of traditionally made wine. Earthy on the nose and palate, with great purity and a long finish. 1979 was the last year he made wine before selling the vineyard to Angelo Gaja.

1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. One of my 3 favorite CDP producers (Rayas & Bonneau are the others), this vintage is drinking beautifully at the moment and this bottle was no exception. It possessed good balance with a peppery palate and velvet finish. Owned by the Perrin family since 1909 they are one of the few CDP producers that use all 13 allowed grape varieties in their wine. The skins of the grapes are heated briefly to 80 °C / 176 °F and then cooled to 20 °C /6O °F before the bunches drop into enamel tiled vats for twelve days' maceration. The free-run juice is then drained off and the must in the vat pressed in a pneumatic wine-press. To my knowledge they are the only producer to follow this practice. $90. Widely available.

1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. Rocche dei Manzoni was one of the first producers to adopt the more modern wine making methods, especially in the use of barrique to age the wine. As readers of this blog know I usually do not like wines made this way, but this beauty is an exception. The oak is completely integrated into the wine. If I did not know better, I would think this is an old world Barolo. It has complexity, superb balance and a wonderful sense of place. The wine is fermented on the skins for three weeks in temperature-controlled stainless steel, followed by threeyear’s aging in oak barriques and 12 months’ aging in bottle. $95. DeVino Wine, NYC.

1996 Rocche Costamagna Bricco Francesco Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata. This was a new wine to me and it was good. Had it been decanted for a couple of hours it would have been very good. Old world in style, I have since learned that it is aged for twenty-four months in Slavonian oak casks, and at least one year in the bottle. It is from one of the historic single vineyards in La Morra, Rocche dell"Annunziata. A good value at $45.

2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. One of my favorite Barolo producers, these wines, now under the direction of Barolo's daughter Maria Teresa, are gorgeous examples of how good a wine can be. While this bottle drank very well, had it been decanted for a few hours it would have really showed its mettle. The wine is still a baby and should last another 20 years or so. $120. DeVino Wine, NYC & NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.

As you can see I ate and drank very well for my birthday. However just when I thought it was over until next year, Gino & Cosmo twisted my arm and took me to Esca in NYC for lunch this past Monday. Esca (Italian for bait) is my absolute favorite restaurant in the city. David Pasternack and sous chef Katy do magical things with seafood and pasta here. On this Monday Katy was in the kitchen and at the top of her game.

Cosmo & Gino began with Crudo (3 daily selections of raw fish in various preparations), while I enjoyed a half dozen pristinely fresh oysters with fresh shaved horseradish. We also shared baked clams and grilled octopus with giant corona beans. The baked clams at Esca simply have no peer. The breadcrumbs always contain different ingredients and on this occasion they were spiked with pancetta. They are never overcooked and always briny and delicious. The octopus here is fork tender and melts in your mouth.

With these appetizers we enjoyed a bottle of 2009 Laura Aschero Pigato. An Italian white grape, Pigato is primarily found in Liguria. Along the cost of Liguria lies Cinque Terre a small area of five villages. It is here that the Laura Aschero Pigato grapes are farmed on dry stone wall terraces with minimal mechanisation. The grapes undergo a 24 hour period of cold maceration prior to pneumatic pressing. Fermentation occurs with natural yeasts at around 18-20C, followed by cold stabilisation, filtration and bottling. The resulting wine has a marvelous balance between minerality and acidity. Crisp, clean and pure on the palate, it is simply a delicious wine. Not easy to find. If you do expect to pay about $45. There are a couple of other terrific Pigatos available. DeVino Wine, NYC has a couple of Pigatos from a terrific producer, Bruna, while 56º Wine carries Poggio dei Gorleri. Both are reasonably priced and delicious.

For our main course Cosmo and I opted for two half portions of pasta. We began with Spaghettini with oil, garlic and Bortaga. Bortaga is a dried fish roe that is made from either tuna or red mullet. Today it was tuna. The Bortaga, briny & salty, is grated on top of the finished pasta dish. It is spectacular. It is spaghetti Alio e Olio taken to a new level. The other pasta we absolutely lapped up was Spaghetti Neri, a house made squid ink spaghetti with cuttlefish, scallion and green chilies. This is a tour de force. Super tender cuttlefish in a spicy and briny tomato sauce that teases the palate.

Gino enjoyed local yellowfin tuna with eggplant caponata and sungold tomatoes.

With the main courses we were captivated by a 2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola. This 100% Chardonnay from vineyards at the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily sees no wood in the vinification process. The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The final product is crisp and delicious with a unique bubble-gum palate and lingering finish. A beautifully round wine. Owner/winemaker Andrea Franchetti also owns Tenuto di Trinoro in Tuscany. $40. Also at DeVino wine, NYC.

I want to thank my family and friends for making this another terrific birthday experience.

Until next time,


1 comment:

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