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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Exquisite Food & Elegant Wines

With friends Tony & Jack, I went to an outstanding wine dinner at Culin Ariane on Wednesday night. The event was the collaboration of Ariane & Michael Duarte, Culin Ariane’s owners, Doug Polaner, president of Polaner Selections and Sharon Sevrens, owner of Amanti Vino in Montclair. This team did an extraordinary job. I have lauded Ariane’s cooking in this space on many previous occasions. Once again she showed why she was a contestant on the popular cooking show “Top Chef” and why reservations at her restaurant are amongst the hottest tickets in town.

Polaner Selections, a wine importer and distributor in NJ & NY (perhaps elsewhere also), sports a prodigious portfolio of traditional style producers. Alongside the better-known giants such as Giuseppe Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno, & Gaston Huet are upcoming stars such as Cedric Bouchard and Lignier-Michelot. Doug himself is a young, articulate, passionate and knowledgeable wine guy.

Sharon Severns, Amanti Vino owner, supplied the wines for last night. Sharon, a customer of Polaner, shares Doug’s passion about wine and her spiffy, well-stocked wine shop in the heart of Montclair was recently voted best wine shop in Suburban Essex County.

The wine theme for the evening centered on Sharon & Doug’s passion for traditionally made Champagne, Burgundy and Barolo. As I share this same passion, I knew I was in for a great tasting. I was not disappointed.

While we found our seats and met other attendees we sipped a 2009 Cedric Bouchard Inforescence “Val Vilaine” Champagne, made from 100% Pinot Noir. This was my first experience with his champagne, and to say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. It was sheer elegance with tiny bubbles. The wine tantalized the palate and nose. The wine was drop dead gorgeous, and kept evolving as the night progressed. This is a Champagne that gets better (bubbles replaced with threads of silk) as it sits in your glass. As Doug explained this young maverick of a wine maker does not follow the usual convention of blending different grapes from different vineyards as well as the juice from different vintages to make champagne. Rather his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote the Polaner web site “Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast and handled meticulously in the cellar to guarantee the finest wines possible”. I understand that this champagne is his entry level offering, so I am looking forward to trying some of his other champagnes. $65

The dinner began with a remarkable dish; Butter Poached Lobster with Corn Flan. I apologize for not taking a picture of this, as it was as spectacular to look at as it was to eat. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, the lobster and corn flan played together in harmony like a piano duet by Ferrante & Teicher. With this we drank 2008 Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet “La Broudriotte. A 1er Cru Chardonnay wine from a great producer. This wine however, in my opinion, needs more cellar time. At the moment it is dominated by oak (on both the palate & nose) and is very acidic. Given a few more years of cellar aging, this should turn out to be an excellent wine. It was my least favorite wine of the evening. $80

The next course was Roasted Forest Mushrooms with Polenta, Truffle Oil, Parmesan Fondue. I am a fan of all these ingredients, and while the dish was a bit rich, it was none the less delicious. The wine chosen to pair with this dish was 2009 Morey St.-Denis “En Rue de Vergy” from Lignier-Michelot, another producer that was new to me. This wine knocked my socks off. The purity, balance and finish of this wine soared on the palate. This wine was a great example of the feminine elegance found in Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy. If it was the only wine I drank all night, I would have been happy… no make that ecstatic. 2009 was a terrific vintage in Burgundy and readers will do well to add wines from the vintage to their cellars. Especially wines of this quality at well under $100 a bottle. The domaine has only been estate bottling and selling their wines for the past 9 years. Yes it is a hidden gem. Currently the wine only qualifies for a Villages level designation, although efforts are underway to get it elevated to 1er cru. The wine is drinking beautifully now and will age well for at least 15 to 20 yeas. $60

The entrée consisted of Seared Duck Breast & Duck Confit with Almond Wild Rice. As I am not a fan of duck, Ariane was kind enough to make me chicken. She has told me about her buttermilk-fried chicken in the past and so she made it for me instead of the duck. Except for a breading that was on the salty side, the chicken was moist, tender and delicious. I enjoyed it immensely. 2005 Domaine Michel Gaunoux Pommard “Rugiens” 1er Cru accompanied the entrées. The terroir of the Cote de Beaune soared from the glass upon sampling its bouquet and continued on the palate with the first sip. Old world purity in spades, its finish was soft and elegant. To really appreciate this wine I would give it at least 5 more years of cellar aging, and then drink it over the next 50 years. $90

We were also treated to a tiny bit of this same wine from the 1999 vintage. It was spectacular. 1999 was a great vintage in Burgundy and this wine certainly attests to that. Again beautifully elegant and pure with a gorgeous earthy bouquet. This too will benefit from cellar time. $120

The final course of the evening was a cheese plate that was comprised of blue cheese, aged Gouda and another cheese, the name of which escapes me at the moment. The wine however I will remember for a long time, 2004 Roagna Barbaresco “Pajè” from Piedmont, Italy. I am a huge fan of Roagna wines and they occupy a fair amount of space in my cellar. This was my first taste of the 2004 and it was spectacular. From the Paje vineyard, Roagna made 3 Barbarescos in 2004. The normale, Pajè, as well as a Pajè Riserva and a Crichët Pajè Riserva, both of which I can not wait to try. For many, myself included, it was the wine of the night. The Nebbiolo grape, like the Pinot Noir grape, produces wines that soar with feminine elegance. I would think that is why Burgundy lovers also love Barolo and Barbaresco. This wine is drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so for many years to come. a bargain at $70.

All the wines are available at Amanti Vino.

Until next time,


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