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, February 5, 2012

Tony's Barolo Birthday

On the occasion of my good friend Tony P. Jr.’s 48th birthday, six of us and the birthday boy gathered at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Il Capriccio in Whippany, NJ, to celebrate the day with him. The combination of Tony Grande’s outstanding food, an awesome selection of wines, most of which were older Barolos, and spirited conversation made for a lengthy, but memorable afternoon.

As we waited for our appetizers we started with a bottle of 1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella St. Stefano di Perno, This has always been one of my favorite Barolos, even though the wine is aged in Barrique. The oak is completely integrated into the wine and does not distract from the purity of the fruit. The wine had a gorgeous earthy bouquet and a lengthy finish. $95. DeVino Wine, NYC.

The appetizers began with a spectacular seafood platter that was comprised of pristinely fresh small cubes of raw Pesce Spada (swordfish) drizzled with a fine extra-virgin olive oil, Baccala (dried salt cod) salad and Sarde (sardines) in Soar. The later dish is a specialty of Venice in which fresh sardines are fried and then marinated for a couple of days in a mixture of caramelized onions and pignoli nuts. I had this magnificent dish for the first time number of years ago at Trattoria Alla Madonna, near the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. This version was equal to what I had there.

As the second wave of appetizers came, an assorted hot seafood platter, we reveled in a 1996 Giuseppe Rinald Barolo Brunate La Coste. This incredible Barolo is drinking superb right now and will continue to do so for many years to come. The wine is a beautifully crafted old world gem. It literally soars from the glass, entices your palate with it's lovely purity and richness and finishes with elegance and length. A wine with soul. $195. The Rare Wine Co., San Francisco, CA.

Since the birthday boy was born in 1964, 3 of us including Tony, brought a 1964 Barolo. As I have said in previous blogs these older Barolos are usually a crapshoot, ranging from awesome to undrinkable. On this afternoon we rolled a seven, an eleven and then crapped out.

The seven and eleven rolls belonged to the 1964 Capplellano Barolo and the 1964 Aldo Conterno Barolo. The Cappellano had a nice brick red hue, seemed a bit funky on first pouring, but began to open after about 30 minutes in the glass. This bottle came from my cellar and was the last of 3 bottles that I had purchased a couple of years ago. All came from the same reputable source. The first bottle was spectacular, the second less so and this one was in the middle. I think that given another hour or two it would have become a match for the first bottle. The Conterno was just terrific. It too had a transparent brickish hue similar to the Cappellano, only a bit deeper.

The wine drank extremely well and kept evolving in the glass. This was clearly the best bottle of ’64 on this day. (The Conterno ison the left). The final bottle of the three a 1964 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo came up snake eyes. Unfortunately this bottle was corked, oxidized and undrinkable. Oddly enough on this same birthday occasion a year prior we had the same wine, and it was spectacular. It has been my experience with older Barolos that they can be risky, even when they are purchased from reputable sources. If you do purchase any, be sure to ask what the policy is if the bottle is bad. In most cases you, the purchaser, are taking a risk.

With a perfect plate of Rigatoni alla Amatriciana we drank a 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino. This drank very well. Nice earthy bouquet with well-balanced fruit on the palate and a very nice finish. While this producer uses more modern techniques in the wine making process, he still uses large, old Slovonian Oak in the aging process, which I believe, imparts a nice roundness to the wine. 2001 was a great year for Brunello, so if you can find this expect to pay upwards of $100 a bottle.

The final course arrived, whole oven roasted Bronzino. The fish is covered in a thick layer of Kosher salt and then roasted in the oven. The salt keeps the fish very moist as it cooks while remaining neutral in terms of salting the fish. The crust is then chipped away and the fish filleted tableside. It was served with a delicate lemon and olive oil dressing. The fish was delicious.

To accompany the Branzino we opened the final red, a 1999 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi, which soared from the glass, tantalized the palate with its lush, pure fruit and finished with great length. As I reported on the 2002 Vintage of this wine in a previous blog, Rosso del Bepi is only made in vintages when Giiuseppe feels that the grapes do not meet his strict standards to be labeled Amarone. Thus he declassifies the wine and calls it Rosso di Bepi. It is in fact his Amarone at ½ the price. About $130 a bottle. De-Vino Wine Boutique, NY Wine Warehouse, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC.

With coffee we drank a glass of 1997 & 1988 Chateau d’Yquem from 375ml bottles side by side. D’Yquem is Tony’s favorite wine of all. The wines were very good. Both wines had a citrusy bouquet and were rich and complex on the palate. My only problem with the wine is the finish, which for me is medicinal. Expect to pay upwards of $150 per 375ml bottle.

With the one corked exception all the wines were great. In my opinion the 1996 Rinaldi and the 1999 Quintarelli were the wines of the day, with the 1964 Conterno and 1964 Cappellano finishing 2nd & 3rd respectively. Each of these wines had songs to sing, and did so beautifully.

It was a great lunch. Happy Birthday Tony!


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