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 15, 2012

Great Friends and Great Old Wine

There are many things I enjoy and that I am thankful for in life. High up on that list is the opportunity to share great old wines with great friends at a great dinner. A couple of weeks ago we were fortunate to experience all three. Our very dear friends of 37 years Gene & Maureen invited Carol & I along with our girls and grandkids to dinner at their house. Gene, who is a certified master professional photographer (you really need to check out his website Impressive Impressions), is also an excellent cook with a passion for the cuisine of Spain. Gino, his eldest son and my very good friend, is in the wine business and selected the wines for the evening. I knew we were in for a big treat. The theme of the evening was “A visit to Espana”

Upon arrival we nibbled on a variety of assorted Imported cheeses, Pepperoni Bread from Buono’s Prime Meats and Deli in Little falls, Pata Negra Ham and homemade pork liver paté. Buono’s pepperoni bread must contain a pound of pepperoni and a pound of mozzarella. It is scrumptious. Pata Negra is an Iberian Ham that is very expensive and very hard to come by.
This one came from Gino’s private stash. The ham came from Joselito, who is considered the best producer of the ham in all of Spain. The ham is delicious and can make one forget about Proscuitto di Parma. My good friend & restranteur Gregorio (Rare The Steak House Il Tulipano) made the pork liver paté. Gregory farm raises a couple of pigs each year and along with his friends and restaurant staff makes a number of fresh pork items for his restaurant and friends. They are all delicious, this year the pork liver was over the top. It was creamy and full of flavor and very hard to stop eating. It can currently be enjoyed at Rare The Steak House in Little Falls.

With the appetizers Gene opened his only bottle of 1964 Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Vintage Dry Sherry. This was fantastic. Without question the finest Sherry I have ever had. It displayed a gorgeous clear amber color in the glass and possessed a bouquet that was both seductive and intoxicating.
On the palate it was refined, lush and compelling with a monster finish. It is made by the Solera method, which is a blending of multiple vintages over time. This method yields a consistent quality from year to year and allows for some amazing older wines to continue to be released in small quantities. These Sherries are typically made for the family and friends to enjoy over time and are rarely seen on the market. In 1995 Gonzalez Byass released only 2920 bottles of this single vintage 1964 Oloroso. It really doesn't get much rarer than this. Gene purchased this bottle about 15 years ago at the vineyard when he was visiting Spain. It is made from 100% Palomino grape. Extremely rare and expensive. I found one bottle at The Spanish Table in Berkley California.

Our first course (courses I should say as Gene never does things in a small way) included Andalucia Pescado Frito al Estilo, an Andalusian style fried white fish in a cornmeal crust served with Andalusian sauce (mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, garlic, Italian dried herbs and a dash of cayenne pepper) The perfectly fried fish was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. When dipped in the sauce the textures and temperatures delighted the palate. I guess you could say this is Spain’s take on England’s Fish N Chips.

Huevos de Huevo Duro. These delicious beauties are Spanish style hard boiled eggs served with a sour cream sauce infused with herbs of Provence. Sort of like deviled eggs only with the devil on the side. Calamares Fritos, perfectly fried Calamari that melted in your mouth. Gambas Alajillo, tender Shrimp cooked in a piquant garlic sauce. Almejes Rellenas, clams oreganato Spanish style. The clams were moist and tender and full of flavor. And to sop up the various sauces he made Brindis de Oliva Frito , which is a fried olive toast. Sort of like garlic bread.

With this course we started with a 1976 Leroy Pommard Les Vignots, Villages Red. This was my first taste of a wine from Domaine Leroy. The domaine has a reputation for making classic Burgundies and has been cultivating their vines under biodynamic conditions since 1989. Unfortunately this bottle was flawed. The wine is available at Wine Library in Springfield, NJ for about $180.

In perfect shape however was the 1976 Cune Vina Real Gran Riserva Rijoa. One of finest Spanish wines I have ever had. I first tasted this wine in 2008 and I was blown away by it. Complex, full-bodied, pure and elegant, the wine soars from the glass.

Tannins are soft and the wine has a long and velvety finish. Drinking wines like this gives one a true wine experience. I originally paid $80 a bottle in 2008, but today it will set you back about $175 a bottle. The Spanish Table, Berkley, CA.

Prior to our entrée Gene served up Ensalada Creasers (Creasers Salad) and Ensalada de la Casa Espanola, a Spanish House Salad made with Argil, Romaine, Spinach,Tomato and Onion

For our main course Gene’s signature Piela Ultima (Ultimate Paella) brought smiles to our faces. Gene makes this remarkable dish with Spanish rice, peas, chicken, shrimp, Spanish sausage, clams, mussels, & lobster claws. It is a beautiful blend of ingredients and flavors that in combination throw a party in your mouth. Just delicious.
To enjoy with the main course Gino brought along a 1986 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Riserva. This Gran Reserva wine is the signature wine of Vega Sicilia and is usually released 10 years after the vintage, though some bottlings may not be released for up to 15 years or even longer.

Taken from some of the oldest vines in the Ribera del Duero, the wine is mostly Tempranillo (approximately 80% but depending on vintage) and Cabernet Sauvignon (approximately 20%).

Vega Sicialia used to be in my opinion one Spain’s greatest wine producers. Alas a number of years ago the winery moved to the more modern style of wine making which embraces aging in 100% new oak, which in my opinion has ruined a great wine. This bottle however was made in the old world style and it was magnificent. It was pure, round and complex. It was a joy to drink. The wine had soul. This vintage will not be easy to find and will be quite expensive if you do.

Finally dessert. Holiday cookies and Cakes & Spanish Cheese Cake along with espresso were enjoyed alongside a 2001 Chateau Climens Barsac.
From an extraordinary vintage this is simply a magnificent Sauternes. It is full of candy and pineapples with a very long non-medicinal finish that is just gorgeous. For me this outclasses d’Yquem by a lot. Not cheap. Expect to pay upwards of $250 a bottle.

A great evening. Thanks again Gene, Maureen & Gino


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