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, April 27, 2014

Wine Group at Home

Chefs Nick & Mark
Our monthly wine group met recently at my house. Usually we go to a local BYOB restaurant, but this month I suggested we meet at my house where my friend Nick Cusano and I would prepare the meal.  Nick and I both enjoy cooking. In addition to being a world-class architect (Cusano Associates), Nick is a fantastic cook and bread maker, and I always enjoy cooking with him.  Marc was in the queue for the wines, and his selection of Sagrantino wines from Umbria were top-notch and made for a fantastic evening.

The menu for the evening:

Nick’s homemade Rosemary Foccia and Italian bread

I have to say that living in NJ and with NYC a few miles away there is no shortage of great Italian bread, and Nick's will hold its own with the best of these. Taste, texture and density are amazing.

 Mozzarella di Bufala • Roasted Peppers • Vinegar Peppers

Zuppa di Vongole
Nick and I collaborated on this delicious Italian classic made with little neck clams, garlic, onion, celery, basil, white wine and a touch of red pepper flakes.  Sopping up the juice with Nick's bread is as good, if not better, than the clams themselves.

Weeds and Sausage
This is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time.  The recipe is from Mario Batali’s book, Molto Italiano.  The tomato in the dish comes completely from tomato paste.  The tomato paste I use, Stratto, is very concentrated and comes from Sicily.  It elevates dishes to a new dimension.

Fricasseed Chicken with Bay Leaves
Sensational dish!  According to Nick, the secret is fast browning and slow braising. Fresh bay leaves are a must.  We licked our fingers clean.  The recipe can be found here.

Steak Florentine
Nick dry ages a thick Porterhouse Steak for three days and then applies a dry rub of garlic, pepper, and herbs.  He flash sears it in a pan than finishes it under the broiler.  It was incredibly tender and juicy.


The Sagrantino grape is unique to Umbria, Italy.  It is a deeply colored grape variety that produces one of Central Italy’s most tannic red wines.  The grape’s nature is most famously displayed in the Sagrantino di Montefalco region, where wines must be produced from at least 95% Sagrantino. The clay soils of Montefalco are dusted with sand and limestone pockets, which Sagrantino responds well to. Blends are permitted in the greater Montefalco DOC region.

Because of its high tannins, Sagrantino local law stipulates that it cannot be released until it has aged for at least 30 months.   The wine is produced by only a handful of producers in Montefalco and hardly grown outside Italy at all.

Even rarer than the dry red wine crafted from Sagrantino and its blends are the varietal passito wines of Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. These concentrated wines, made from semi-dried grapes, are comparable to Vintage Port in their intensity and longevity.

2000 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano.  Along with Paolo Bea, Arnaldo Caprai is one of the icons of Sagrantino di Montefalco.  Caprai’s approach is to embrace modern winemaking techniques while Bea is a staunch traditionalist.  This wine is aged for 24-26 months in French oak barrique followed by a minimum of 6 months additional bottle aging. The wine had a deep ruby red hue and a big fruity nose.  The palate however had much too much oak for me, the result of the use of the new French oak it is aged in.  While this method produces a wine with softer tannins and thus can be drunk earlier than traditionally made wines, I find the oak overpowers the wine, making it very one-dimensional.  $97.  Wine Searcher

2000 Colpetrone Sagrantino di Montefalco Gold is made from the estate’s oldest vines in the Santa Maria del Fico and San Marco vineyards by famed consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella.  The wine was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels followed by 24 months in bottle.   Like Caprai, Cotarella embraces modern techniques.  The oak here however was much better integrated than in the Caprai and did not overpower the wonderful fruit the wine possessed. It had nice balance and acidity and finished with some length.  At one-half the price of the Caprai, this is a very good value.  $47. Wine Searcher

2006 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro.  Made from 100% Sagrantino grapes, this was a superb bottle of wine with an enticing earthy bouquet, round and delicious palate and a lengthy, soft finish.  The wine soared from the glass with each sip.  A wine with soul!  $65. Chambers Street Wines

In my opinion when you talk about Sagrantino, Paolo Bea is at the top of the summit. He pursues a natural, non-interventionalist approach to crafting his wines. The wines undergo fermentation without temperature control, using only ambient yeasts. Malolactic fermentation takes place in steel, though here, too, the timing and pace is dictated by nature.  The wines see 12 months in steel, followed by 24 months in large Slovanian oak barrels and 9 months of bottle age before being released for sale.  The wines are neither fined nor filtered prior to being bottled, and all-important operations are undertaken according to the lunar calendar.

Bea is a founding member of Gruppo ViniVeri, a loose organization of Italian wine producers who are part of the growing natural wine movement. They are an interesting group of winemakers–not all are organic, nor even Biodynamic–but they are keen to respect the traditions of their zones and maintain a character in their wines that is unique and expressive. Eschewing international varieties in favor of indigenous grapes, working with the yeasts native to their vineyards and wineries, and a commitment to a minimal use of sulphur are among the tenets of their ViniVeri manifesto.

2001 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni.  The 25 Anni is made from a selection of the best fruit and like the Collepiano sees 24-26 months in French oak barrique and minimum of 6 months aging in the bottle.  The wine was first produced in 1993.  This bottle was bigger and richer than the Collepian, and while the oak was better integrated, its presence was still there. Those who like big, modern wines, will surely enjoy this.  $105.  Wine Searcher

2000 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni.  I liked this the best of the three Caprai wines.  The oak was much better integrated here, but it was still too modern to my liking.  $121. Wine Searcher.

2003 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro.  Bea prefers hot vintages such as 2003 and 2007, and this bottle was an example of why he does. It exhibited a full fruity bouquet with great balance and purity on the palate.  Like the 2006 we drank before it, the wine evolved with every sip.  It displayed an almost Amarone like feel on the palate and the finish was lengthy and elegant.  Here again a wine with soul from a remarkable winemaker.  Unfortunately, this vintage does not appear to available any longer.

We concluded the meal with my wife Carol’s homemade Biscotti, assorted Italian pastries Cappuccino and Espresso.  I pulled a half bottle of 2001 Marion Passito Bianco from my cellar do drink along with the dessert.  A blend of 40% Garganega and 60% Trebbiano, it is made in a slightly oxidized style. The wine had a gorgeous amber hue, wonderful balance and a lush viscosity on the palate with a lengthy sweet Apricot finish.  $58.  Wine Searcher

Great selection of wines by Marc, and much thanks to Nick for his culinary skills.


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