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, August 1, 2011

Invasion of Normandy...Beach that is. Part Two

Our second Saturday night at Normandy Beach was all seafood. I began as usual with an Old Grand Dad Manhattan, only this time I sipped it while I enjoyed a half dozen oysters. A terrific combination.

For appetizers I made Clams Oreganata, and served them along side a couple of dozen Coconut Shrimp that I purchased from Runners Fish Market & Restaurant in Lavalette. The clams were moist and tasted of the sea, while the shrimp were lightly fried and delicious. Runners is one of our favorite places at the shore. The seafood is always fresh and the service very friendly. No reservations are accepted, so get there before 6 or after 9 if you don't want to have a long wait.

For me no seafood meal is complete without Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce, so I purchased a few dozen little neck clams from Runners and cooked up a bowlful.

This simple dish reaches its heights when it is made with fresh clams. Al dente pasta & briny clams, what more can one ask for. I followed that with Grilled Wild Salmon & Grilled Mahi Mahi, also purchased at Runners. I basted both with a store brought Ginger Teriyaki sauce. Delicious.

With these dishes we drank another bottle of 2008 Huet Molleux Premiere Trie Vouvray. As I mentioned in part one of this post, this wine soars from the glass. It was a great compliment to the spaghetti. For the red I opened my remaining bottle of 2005 Domaine du Caillou Les Quartz Chateauneuf-du-Pape. See part one of this blog for my comments on these wines.

On Sunday we welcomed our good friends Cosmo, his wife Jane, and Gino. During the more than 40 years I have been going to Cosmo's barber shop, Via Veneto, I have become good friends with him and his brother Jerry. In addition to being a great hair stylist, Cosmo is quite adept in the kitchen, thus it is my pleasure to have him down each year to cook some of his signature dishes such as Lobster Arrabiatta, and Risotto. Gino, who I have known since he was 2 years old, is in the wine business and always brings great wine to these get togethers. Also joining us were good friends Tony and Anita. Anita is also a great cook and her assignment for the evening was the pasta course & dessert. While Tony doesn't cook he enjoys good food and wine and always contributes a good wine or two on these occasions.

While Cosmo began preparing his famous lobster and other dishes, Gino uncorked a magnum of 1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo, a single vineyard Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (bird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside.
It differs from the regular Valpolicella only in that the grapes come from this one specific site and thus the terroir and its influence on the wine are unique. Readers of this blog know that Quintarelli is at the very top of my list of wine producers. His wines are to me, the finest expressions of how great wine can be. I read somewhere, I think on the Italian Wine Merchants web site, that Quintarelli wines can change your life. I don't know about them changing your life, but they will certainly change you appreciation of how good wine can be. This bottle lived up to the Quintarelli reputation. Pure, balanced and round. It is an amazing wine, it has so much soul. About $70 a bottle, more for the magnum. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC; DeVino Wine, NYC.

Tony also opened a bottle he brought, a 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. A wonderfully elegant wine that comes from 4 vineyards in Sant’Angelo in Colle. The wine was nicely balanced, had good purity and a soft finish. This wine will benefit from about 5 more years in the cellar before one can really appreciate its beauty. About $50 and should be widely available.

The whites opened simultaneously with the Quintarelli came from Gino's company's Spanish portfolio. They included a Nora da Neve, a white wine made from the Albarino grape. For me it was like drinking liquid oak. Not my kind of wine at all. The ladies seemed to love it however. Another white he brought was Herencia del Capricho, a white wine that is fermented and aged on the lees in the barrel. It is a blend of Bierzo Godello 80% / 20% Doña Blanca and is aged 13 months in new French oak barrels. While these grapes were new to me, the oak in the wine was overpowering. I remain befuddled as to why wines with such pronounced oak are so popular. They mask the essence of the grape and eliminate any chance of elegance. I believe both were from the 2010 vintage. As they were sample bottles, the vintage was not shown.

A 2009 La Crema Chardonnay from Sonoma also made an appearance, but I did not taste it so I have no comments on it. While enjoying the Quintarelli, Cosmo's first dish of the evening appeared,
Calamari Luciano. In this dish he sautées the calamari bodies and tentacles in olive oil, garlic, white wine, red pepper and paprika. The resulting dish is tender, a bit spicy and oh so delicious. A seafood lover's delight.

Pasta time. We all sat down at the table and marveled at Anita's pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata. What a great summer pasta.
She roasts the tomatoes in the oven with garlic and olive oil for about 1/2 hour, cooks & dranins the pasta, in this case Rottini, and then tosses it with the tomatoes, fresh parsley, fresh basil and parigianno cheese She then shaves Ricotta Salata cheese on top of each serving. Adults and grandkids enjoyed every bite as it was delicious. Thank you Anita!

With the pasta Gino opened two bottles of 2006 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. One was their regular bottling, the other was their Riserva. These wines were once again from the impressive portfolio of Robert Chadderdon. They are made from 100% Prugnolo Gentile (a particular clone of the Sangiovese grape) and are aged in large Slovanian oak barrels and in French barrique. The resulting wine is almost Bordeaux like on the palate. It has good balance and a soft, lush finish. Both, especially the riserva, are still very young and in need of a few more years in the cellar. About $45 for the regular and $70 for the Riserva. DeVino Wine, NYC.

Main course time and Cosmo's famous Lobster Arrabiata. Here he cuts the lobster in the shell in
pieces and then sautées them in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Wine and pasta water also play a role in the completion of the dish as does a generous helping of chopped, fresh parsley. The lobster is tender, moist, a bit fiery (arrabiata) and incredibly delicious.

In addition to the lobster, Cosmo made Shrimp sautéed with Panta Negra. Panta Negra is a cured ham from Spain or Portugal. This particular one Gino acquired directly from Spain's top producer of the ham and is virtually impossible to get. Even he will not divulge the details of how he gets it. Suffice to say it is an amazing, sort of an over the top prosciutto. The dish was superb.

The last wine opened was a 2003 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul. This is a big, macho Chateauneuf-du-Pape made from 95% Grenache and the rest Cinsault and Syrah. Very high points from Parker for those of you who like points.

For dessert Anita made a delicious peach and blueberry pie. Flaky crust, it was the perfect end, along with a couple of cigars, to a perfect meal. A grand time was had by all, especially by I Quatro Amici.

On Monday a bunch of us went to 709 in Point Pleasant for lunch. This is a great new spot with a trendy decor, friendly staff and good food, including pristinely fresh clams, oysters, crab and sushi. Oh, and you must order the house made German pretzels served with 3 different mustards. The Tuna Sliders are also remarkable as are the salads. Good spot.

Dinner time and Cosmo is back in the kitchen and making one (actually two) of his signature risottos, Risotto w/ basil & tomato.
This is what the ladies and kids ate, the guys on the other hand had the same risotto, only with the addition of diced grilled hot Italian sausage. Both dishes are a tour du force of flavor and textures. The rice was perfectly cooked al dente and perfectly seasoned.

We served buffet style tonight so along with the risotto Cosmo made a salad of mozzarella & tomatoes with fresh basil, string bean (from my garden), tomato and onion salad, grilled hot & sweet sausage with grilled hot peppers.

For white wine we finished the wines from Sunday evening. For red we were blown away by a 2001 Giovanni Rosso Barolo Ceretta. It was the first time any of us had tasted this wine and we was really impressed with its purity and old worldliness. It danced on the palate and finished long and big. I am grateful to my friend Gabrio Tosti, owner of DeVino Wine, NYC for recommending the wine to me. In fact I called Gabrio the next day and ordered another case of the wine. $83.

A 2004 Ceretto Bricco Asili Barbaresco was opened alongside the Barolo and it did not appear right, so we place it aside and replaced it with a 2007 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-lès-Beaune. The Drouhin is a villages red from a great vintage and is just a beautiful expression of a young Pinot Noir from Burgundy. It possesses a great nose of young fruit and is pure, light and soft on the palate. I have tasted the spectacular premier and grand cru wines from Drouhin and have them in my cellar, and while I wait for them to reach drinking age I can enjoy this beauty. Best of all at $15 a bottle it is hard to beat. This is one of the greatest wine values I have ever discovered. New York Wine Warehouse, NY and Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.

For the white I opened my last bottle of 2009 Francois Pinon Cuvée Tradition Vouvray. See my notes in part one of this blog on the phenomenal wine.

I tasted the Ceretto today, 4 days later, and it is drinking fine. What appeared to be a slight corked palate was completely gone. Not a perfect bottle but drinkable.

On Tuesday we met our good friends George & Jeanette and their son Jason at Shogun Legends in Wall, NJ. This is a great Asian spot that my family and I really enjoy. A large and very attractive restaurant, the second floor features Habachi style dinning, while the lower level is dedicated to Japanese and Chinese fare. The menu is extensive and sure to please the most discriminating diner. We dined downstairs and began with a bevy of appetizers that included pristinely Fresh Kumamoto Oysters; Chicken Soon, (diced white meat chicken with brown sauce wrapped in lettuce); Vegetable Dumplings; Spicy Peppered Tuna Tataki, (seared peppered tuna sashimi, daikon finished with ponzu sauce).

For entrées most had sushi but a couple of us went Chinese. My mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her Legends Duo, a dish that combines filet mignon and scallops served in a brown butter sauce with seasoned vegetables. For me, I opted for flounder. I love flounder, but the Shogun Flouner served here is a remarkable dish.
A whole founder filet is cut into pieces and lightly fried with chinese spices and Jalapenos and served served in a flounder basket. It is an incredible dish. The flounder morsels are fresh and bursting with flavor and the two dipping sauces compliment the fish perfectly.

Joseph Drouhin made another appearance at our table tonight, this time as a couple of bottles of 2008 Joseph Drouhin Meursault Villages White. This is a beautifully balanced & rich Chardonnay that is fresh on the palate. This wine is drinking very nicely now. Both bottles went down easily with our meal. $38. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.

On Wednesday we loaded the kids into two cars and headed for Dinino's Pizza in Brick. This place is a real find (thanks Tony P.), the pizza is thin crusted and the real deal. The original Denino's is on Staten Island, NY, and has been there since 1937. Denino's opened a location at the Jersey shore a few years ago. I had an absolutely delicious pasta e fagioli to begin with and my wife had a delicious Italian wedding soup. The Ceasar Salad was excellent and the pizza's, one plain and one half pepperoni and half sausage were cooked well done, crispy and delicious.

I am told that 5 gallons of water is transported from Staten Island each day to make the pizza, because the Jersey shore water is not good for pizza making. Heinekin Nips were the perfect accompaniment for the pizza. Oh, we also tried the meatball sandwich...stick with the pizza.

Thursday evening found us dinning out with friends Tony, Anita, Lou & Lynn. Our destination was Daniel's Bistro in Point Pleasant. I am told that this is the hottest spot in town and any hope of obtaining a reservation requires calling weeks in advance, as we had done. I browsed the internet for reviews prior to going and found a mixed bag. Comments ranged from best restaurant I have ever been to, to rude & indifferent service and okay food. Our friends had been there before and said the food is very good and service can be a bit rude, especially from the chef/owner's wife. We were looking forward to trying it and forming our own opinion.

We arrived at our designated time and promptly seated, good sign. Since it is BYOB our wine was opened in short order, another good sign. Then the wine glasses arrived. They were made to be a water glasses, but often they double as a white wine glass in far too many restaurants. Not a good sign. When I asked if they had red wine glasses our waiter responded quickly that it would be to expensive, due to breakage, to buy Riedel wine glasses. When I mentioned that there are numerous, less expensive glasses available, he simply shrugged. Wine does not appear to be a priority here or should I say providing good wine service to the customers doesn't seem to be a high priority.

On to the food, which overall was very good with a few misses. Hudson Valley Foie Gras (pan seared, poached pear, fresh strawberry, raspberry sauce) was very good while a special appetizer of Black Mission Figs, halved and baked with gorgonzola cheese were so-so at best. Pera Salad (Baby field greens, poached pears, strawberries, honey roasted walnuts, goat cheese, hazelnut vinaigrette) was given a thumbs down by Lynn & Lou as the poached pears and goat cheese seemed to have been away on vacation as they made no appearance in the salad. Additionally, the vinaigrette was lacking vinegar and had to be added at the table. Fresh Burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes and 40 year old Balsamic Vinegar was a much better choice.

A 2007 Francois Mikulski Meursault Villages White went perfectly with the foie gras. A Becky Wasserman selection, this is a lovely rich, straw colored Chardonnay that finishes with length and elegance. $60. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC. Ms. Wasserman has been in the wine business for a long time and has a remarkable palate. She lives in France and represents a number of small domaines and negoçiants that produce beautifully crafted wines. If you should see the words "A Becky Wasserman Selection" on the wine label, you can be sure it will be a very good bottle of wine.

Berkshire Double Cut Loin of Pork (dusted with cracked peppercorn, grappa, oven dried tomatoes, golden raisins, roasted pignoli nuts) was the highlight entrée of the meal. Although I did not have it, after one taste of Tony's, I wish I would have ordered it. it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and was oh so tender and juicy. This will be my choice should I visit here again. Second place went to the Osso Buco served with saffron risotto. Although I did not taste this, the dish looked mouth watering and received high praise from Lou. I opted for a the Soft Shell Crab special. The crabs were pan seared with oil and garlic, white wine and lemon. While the crabs were nice and meaty, I neglected to ask that the lemon be eliminated as I am not a fan of citrus based fish dishes. My bad as the dish was overpowered with lemon. The accompanying saffron risotto on the other hand was delicious. Hudson Valley Duck Breast (Pan roasted, seared foie gras, black currants, Pinot Noir) was more to Anita's liking than the pan seared Grouper Special served over broccoli rabe and white beans was to Lyn and Carol's. They complained of its saltiness.

We had 3 reds with our meal. A 2005 Rufino Chianti Ducale Riserva (Gold Label). Never a great wine, but usually a consistent one although I think that for $40+ you can find much better wine.

Next was a bottle of 2007 Renato Ratti Barbera d'Alba Torriglione. Renato Ratti is one of the top producers in Piedmont. While he is best known for his Barolos, he makes a very nice Dolcetto and Barbera. I have not had a Ratti wine in a while, but the pronounced oak in the wine suggests to me that the wines are being made in the more modern style that unfortunately seems to sweeping the wine world. The wine started out nice on the palate, but the finish was quite harsh. $20.

The final red was a 1999 Alessandro E Gian Natale Fantino Barolo Vigna Dei Dardi Riserva. Another wine from the Robert Chadderdon porfolio, this wine filled the glass like an opera singer's voice fills the auditorium with harmonic resonance and soul. I opened and decanted the wine 4 hours prior to pouring and it paid off in spades. The wine evolved in the glass with each sip. A completely round wine, made in a very traditional style. It sees no new oak. If you like old world style Barolos, this is one to get. $75. DeVino Wine, NYC.

Ok, so how did my experience compare to the mixed reviews I read. I have to say the reviews paint a realistic picture of Daniel's Bistro. For example as I sat with my entrée plate in front of me at the end of the meal with one uneaten soft shell crab on it, the owner's wife came up to me. She looked at the dish then at me and queried if I wanted to take it home. I told her no and why to which she replied with complete indifference, "Oh well" and took my plate away. Will I go back. Probably, if only to have the pork chop and if I do you can rest assured that I will bring along my own wine glasses with my wine.

On Friday, our last night in Normandy, Carol and I drove through torrential rains to the Ohana Grill , a relatively new eclectic bistro in Lavalette where we had a pretty good meal. My Spicy Tortilla Soup was delicious. However two appetizers, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Panko and Wasabi Encrusted Shrimp were very greasy. It appeared that the oil they were fried in had not been changed for some time. Main courses of Pomegranate Glazed Grilled Chicken Breast served with coconut rice & seasonal vegetables and Grilled Ahi Mignons with sticky rice cakes and a ponzu sauce were much better.

With dinner we drank a 2006 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Cote De Beaune. Another Burgundy Villages red that is drinking beautifully right now. For the $28 a bottle, this wine is always on the money. Wonderfully pure on the palate and soft on the finish. While the wine does not exhibit the elegance of a premier cru or grand cru, it possesses ripe fruit and is extremely fresh on the palate. A joy to drink. Chorey-les-Beaune is one of the wine communes of the Côte de Beaune. The wines of Chorey-les-Beaune grow on the relatively flat land of the Saone plain rather than on the slopes of the Côte d'Or, and for this reason the commune has no Premier Cru (or Grand Cru) vineyards.

Well that's it. The 2 weeks flew by. Our grandkids had a ball, and we enjoyed having friends and family visit with us.

Until next time,


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