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, January 1, 2012

Christmas Eve 2011

Christmas Eve is a special day for many people, but for Italians it is THE DAY of the year. Some of my fondest memories go back to this night at Grandma DeRosa’s house on Garside St. in Newark. The entire family would gather together, eat for hours, open presents and then play Michigan Rummy. Homemade Zeppole, Spaghettini with Alio e Olio and fried flounder were my favorites when I was a kid. I stuffed myself with copious quantities of each. (It was not until years later that I would begin to enjoy Baccala, shrimp, octopus and all the other fishes). I never wanted the evening to end. It was tradition in spades. While many traditions in this modern world have seemed to fade away, I am glad that this is one tradition that passes from generation to generation and continues on as strong as ever. For the past 15 or 20 years my wife Carol and I have hosted the meal. I prepare the appetizers, fish and pasta, while Carol does all the baking. We were blessed to have both of our moms, our immediate family, 3 gorgeous grandchildren and 6 very good friends join us this year.

As the crowd gathered we nibbled on Old Fashion Pan Pizza from Tony D’s Pizza in Caldwell. Made in a large square like a Sicilian Pizza, but thinner crusted it is made with a savory tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano cheese and then finished with fresh basil leaves. It is crispy and delicious.

Along with the pizza we sipped a few bottles of 2000 Bellavista Brut Rosé. This is a gorgeous sparkling wine from the Franciacorta section of Lombardy, Italy. Made from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay grapes it is beautifully balanced and simply delicious on the palate. About $50.

There was also 2007 Chateau Rayas Blanc Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In my opinion Rayas is the quintessential producer of both red and white CDP. While the 2007 CDP vintage is superb, this bottle lacked the balance of the 2006 vintage. I hope this is limited to just this bottle. A bit pricey at $175, but it is a special wine. For the red I popped open a 2003 Quintarelli Primofiore. While this may be the least expensive wine from Quintarelli, it is superb. The wine is made by gently pressing the remaining grape matter after the free-run juice is siphoned off for the higher end wines such as Valpolicella and Amarone. It is like drinking a baby Amarone. Great balance and purity. Pepper & spice on the palate and a lengthy finish. At $40 a bottle this is truly a bargain. Both the Rayas and Primofiore are available at De-Vino Wine Boutique in NYC.

We then moved into the dinning room where we sat down for a bevy of appetizers that included:

Fresh roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, Caciocavallo cheese and sliced fresh tomatoes & assorted olives.

Mom’s stuffed Italian frying peppers. The stuffing is made from a mixture of wet bread, anchovies, walnuts, raisins and parsley. A peasant dish that tantalizes the palate and warms the soul.

Roasted pepper and fried eggplant salad mixed with roasted pignoli nuts, topped with crushed pistachio nuts and served on crisp endive leaves. I created this dish about 20 years ago and it has been a mainstay every Christmas Eve. It is simple to make and the melding of flavors and textures is a delight on the palate.

New to the table this year, in place of my usual seafood salad, was a salad of home cured olives, celery and scungilli. The olive salad was made by my good friend Gregorio Polomeni, the owner of Il Tulipano Ristorante and Rare, The Steak House. I simply added the scungilli.

It would not be Christmas Eve at our house if I did not make Arancini. I stuff these deep fried rice balls (made with risotto) with baby peas and fresh mozzarella and serve them with a fresh homemade tomato sauce. While these are always good, this year they were over the top and were consumed in record time.

Of course there has to be a Baccala course. For the past 3 years I have made them in codfish cake form, i.e. mixed with mashed potatoes and deep-fried and served with homemade tomato sauce. Delicious.

Polpo Luciano. Baby octopus braised in a spicy tomato sauce. I cook the octopus slowly for about 50 minutes and they come out mouth-watering tender. The secret to this dish is to put a wine cork in the pan during the cooking process. The enzymes from the cork, I am told, aid in tenderizing the octopus. The spicy fish continues with Rock Shrimp Arrabiatta. I love the crunchiness of rock shrimp and this preparation never fails to please.

One of the best shrimp dishes I have ever had is Gamberoni alla Griglia (braised shrimp) from Lidia Bastianch. This amazing dish is comprised of butterflied jumbo shrimp that are seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and then dredged in homemade breadcrumbs. The shrimp are then roasted in the oven for 5 minutes. Served with a homemade tomato-mustard sauce they are always a huge hit. The recipe can be found in her cookbook, La Cucina Di Lidia.

Clams Oreganta. I make these myself with a homemade breadcrumb recipe that I learned from David Pasternak at Esca Restaurant in NYC. They always come out moist and delicious. Unfortunately on this occasion when I bit into the first couple of clams they did not taste right, so this dish got deep-sixed.

After a 30-minute or so respite, it is time for the pasta. Our tradition ever since I can remember is Fedillini (thin pasta between Cappellini and Spaghettini) with Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy). For me, this is the highlight of the meal. I make this dish very wet so that the sauce can be soaked up with good Italian bread. It just does not get better than this.

For those who do not eat this dish (fools that they are) my daughter Gina made a delicious penne ala vodka.

Another brief respite and then it is time for the main course, if you have any room that is.

With the exception of the Christmas Broccoli (broccoli cooked with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and anchovy) that I make the two main courses I have made for us by two of my favorite restaurants. Osteria Giotto in Montclair & Divina Ristorante in Caldwell.

Owner/chefs Roberto and Luca of Giotto both trained at one of Italy’s Michelin starred restaurants, San Domenica in Imola, Italy. The lobster oreganata from there is the best I have ever had. The accompaniment to the lobster is a sauce made with imported Italian cherry tomatoes and long hot green peppers. The lobster sits atop the sauce so that you can dredge each forkful of the incredibly tender lobster in the sauce before popping into your mouth. It is a dish that must be tasted to be appreciated. Unfortunately this is not a menu item at Giotto, but upon request and with a few days notice it can be enjoyed.

For the non-fish eaters a a tray of Divina’s incredible eggplant parmigiano fits the bill perfectly. This is Eggplant like grandma used to make.

The celebration of Christmas Eve is very special and so the wines need to be also. It is a time to break out those special bottles to share with friends and family. This year was no exception. Here is the lineup.

1964 Cappellano Barolo. What a wine. The essence of old world Barolo the wine continues to drink well although not as good as the bottle of this wine I reported on in my blog A memorable old wine & a terrific young one back in May.

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. Unfortunately this bottle was corked and oxidized. As I mentioned in my May blog, these old Barolos can be a crapshoot and I am becoming a bit leery of purchasing them. A previous bottle that I opened a year before was wonderful. When you buy these old vintages be prepared to roll the dice. I suggest you ask the store you are buying them from what the policy is if the wine is bad. Most reputable stores will provide some form of compensation.
1990 Aldo Conterno Granbussia Riserva. Spectacular Barolo. Everything is here, earthy bouquet, purity and complexity on the palate with a lengthy elegant finish. An incredible wine experience.
1994 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. This was fabulous. A wine with soul. The wine had a gorgeous earthy bouquet and was wonderfully pure and balanced on the palate with a long and sensuous finish.
1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste. I opened this to replace the Bartolo, so I did not have a chance to decant it for a few hours and it still drank beautifully. The wine soared from the glass. The more I drink Giuseppe Rinaldi wines, the more impressed I am. His wines are superbly crafted and just gorgeous expressions of old world wine making.

1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone. Along with the Granbussia the wine of the evening for me. Quinarelli’s wines have to be tasted to appreciate. Balanced, complex, lengthy, and elegant. There are no words to describe them.

Last, but not least there was dessert. My wife Carol is a terrific baker and her Biscotti & homemade cookies are always the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

A 2001 Chateau d”Yquem capped the evening. This bottle was classic d’Yquem, with apricots, peaches and vanilla on the nose. Lovely on the palate. While I like this wine on the palate, the finish is always a bit disappointing to me as I find it to be somewhat medicinal.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all

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