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, February 21, 2014


It was the summer of 1970 when, as a young sailor in the United States Navy, I tasted my first Chateauneuf-du-Pape while on a 3-day pass to Paris (I knew very little of wine back then. Lancer’s, Mateus, and Gallo Hearty Burgundy not only fit my budget, but tasted good to me). Along with two shipmates, we settled into our seats in an outdoor café on the Champs-Elysées for lunch and to do what most Parisians do on a gorgeous day, “regarder les dames” (watch the ladies). It was a magical moment for me that I remember clearly to this day.  I ordered a Hot Dog Fromage (melted cheese) served on fresh French bread with a side of Pomme Frites. The waiter suggested a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (no idea of the producer) at $0.90 for the bottle.  He explained that the name meant “New House of the Pope”.  At that price, under these conditions and a name like that, we said “bring it on”.  Wow was it good!  It was unquestionably the best wine I ever had at that point in my life.  I'll never forgot it and have been a fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape ever since.

At our monthly wine group dinner a couple of weeks ago Howard brought along 5 CdPs with some age on them to pair with the exquisite cuisine at Culin Ariane in Montclair.  Both Howard and Ariane brought huge smiles to our faces with the wine and the food.

2003 Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape  Cuvee Reserve.  A good choice to begin the evening with, the wine had a pleasant earthy bouquet with a nice clean, peppery balanced palate.  A blend of mostly Grenache (80%) the estate follows traditional wine making methods and consistently produces age worthy wines.  $65.  Wine Searcher.

1998 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Many people, myself included, feel that along with Chateau Rayas, the estate of Henri Bonneau makes the finest Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the world. This is old world winemaking to the nth degree. All his wines are made of 90% Grenache, with the balance being  Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Vaccarese.  Not one barrel of what he produces will see the inside of a bottle before its fifth birthday. It will then be sold under one of three names – “Celestin”, “Marie Burrier”, or just plain “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”. “Which name?” is a question he often struggles for the entire five years, sometimes longer.  This bottle, the Cuvée Marie is his 2nd level Chateauneuf-du-Pape and is thus the juice from the vintage that does not meet his standards for his flagship Cuvée des Celestains. In my opinion, with the exception of Rayas, it is better than the flagship bottlings of other CdP producers.  This bottle was gorgeous.  The bouquet intoxicated the nose and the palate savored the balance and complexity of the fruit.  While this was bottle number two of the night, I nursed this wine throughout the dinner and revelled as it just kept evolving with each sip.  Production of these wines is small, so finding them is difficult.  About $200.

1998 Domaine de la Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape  Cuvee de la Reine des Bois.  Made mostly from Grenache (80%) with Mouvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Vaccarese making up the rest of the blend, this drank beautifully with glorious fruit and a light peppery palate.  It finished with finesse and elegance.  The average age of the vines here is 60 years old.  $225.  Wine Searcher.

1989 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape.  From the great 1989 vintage this is a wine I have enjoyed on many occasions in past years.  Tonight’s bottle however, never seemed to open up. While it was pleasant enough to drink, the fruit was muted as opposed to its usual vibrancy and the finish was the shortest of the 5 bottles we drank. $200.  New York Wine Warehouse.

2001 Henri Bonneau Cuvée des Celestains.  I remember reading on a website a while back, “ …if the question is posed as to what is the quintessential Châteauneuf du Pape at the highest quality level, the answer can only be Henri Bonneau’s Réserve des Célestins.”  You will get no argument from me on this.  I have had the 2001 on many occasions and have been completely blown away by it as I was again tonight.  It is simply one of the greatest wines I have ever had. The wine has such a sense of grace, poise and finesse that there is little more to say other than it is round and delicious.  Truly a wine with soul!  Difficult to find and pricey, but worth every cent. New York Wine Warehouse.

My ranking of the wines this evening:

2001 Henri Bonneau Cuvée des Celestains
1998 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier Chateauneuf-du-Pape
1998 Domaine de la Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape  Cuvee de la Reine des Bois
2006 Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape  Cuvee Reserve
1989 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape

I would be remiss if I did not add that once again we had a superb meal at Culin Ariane.  One of Ariane's signature dishes is her Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Micro Greens.  If I have eaten one of them, I have eaten a few hundred over the years.  The barely cooked briny oyster rests in a delicate Cornmeal Crust which sits atop an impeccably balanced Horseradish Cram.  Pop it in your mouth and the flavors and textures provide for a culinary orgasmic explosion .  The Micro Greens are more than just a garnish, as they add a refreshing component that brings it all together.

As I have had the oysters hundred’s of times, I opted tonight for the salad special of the evening that included Tempura Battered Rock Shrimp.  Here again textures and flavors rang in harmony like the words and music of Cole Porter song. I think that harmony on the plate is what makes Ariane such an extraordinary chef.

Seared Filet of Beef with Caramelized Onions and Jalapeño Cheddar Tater Tots, Spinach and Veal Jus (sorry photo blurred) was the entrée choice for 4 of us. What can I say that I have not said above?  Delicious and a perfect match to the wines.

Coriander Cured Venison with Butternut Squash, King Oyster Mushroom Cranberry Compote and Black Garlic Butter was the other selection and received rave reviews from Howard.

In addition to the superb cuisine and A+++ service, Ariane’s husband Michael provides wine service par excellence.   For a BYOB restaurant the stemware, decanters and overall wine service far surpasses many restaurants with wine lists.  Thus it is no mystery why are group dines here frequently.


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