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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Very Special Italian Sunday Dinner

The traditional Italian Sunday dinner that my generation grew up with always consisted of "macaroni" and "gravy" with meatballs, sausage and braciole.  The meal usually began promptly at 1:30 in the afternoon and lasted a good 3 to 4 hours.  Today many restaurants in the NY/NJ metro area attempt to recreate the tradition by serving "Pasta with Sunday Sauce" as a special on Sundays.  Perhaps the new name is justified, because it usually is a far cry from the macaroni and gravy that I grew up with.  I am very thankful that the tradition continues with the current generation of Italian Americans in their home kitchens and dinning rooms on most Sunday afternoons.

A couple of weeks ago, our friends Tony and Fran, invited us and a few other friends to their home for a very special Sunday macaroni dinner.  It was special for a couple of reasons.  The guests of honor were two two of Italy’s top producers of Barolo, Franco Conterno (Aldo Conterno Estate) and Franco Massolino (Massolino Estate).  Tony befriended both of them on a trip to Italy a few years ago.  Since both were in town for the La Festa del Barolo tasting that we attended the day before, they graciously accepted Tony's invitation to a traditional Sunday Italian dinner at his house.   I had met both men before and they are very gracious, friendly and easy to talk with, which made for a most enjoyable afternoon.

The other reason it was so special is that Tony’s mother Elisabetta, who hails from Alberona, Italy, made homemade Cavatelli pasta that literally brought a tear to my eye. The lightness and freshness of the macaroni brought back memories of eating Sunday dinner at my Grandma DeRosa’s house.  Tony, no slouch in the kitchen himself, made a large pot of delicious ”gravy, meatballs, sausage & braciole” to compliment his mom’s Cavatelli.  We were all so busing devouring the "macaroni" that no one remembered to take a picture of it.  Of course no Italian Sunday dinner would be complete without beginning with a large antipasto of cheeses and salamis.  After the “macaroni” we enjoyed a delicious roast of Filet Mignon and of course finished with a bevy of Italian Pastries and other assorted goodies.

Franco M., Mom Elisabetta, Franco C., Tony

The two Francos had one request, “NO BAROLO!”  They wanted to drink other wines.  We raided our cellars and accommodated them with following selection.

NV Krug Rosé Champagne.  A great way to begin the dinner.  This was wonderful with its pinkish hue, yeasty and rich palate and sublime finish.  It is a blend of 59% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier and spent six years aging on the lees prior to disgorgement.  $300.  Wine-Searcher.

2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese.  I am a huge fan of Riesling and of J.J. Prum.  I find their wines have outstanding complexity and balance. The harvest at Prüm is always extremely late. The 2007, which we drank today, harvest was not finished before December. Late picking allows the Riesling grapes in the cool Middle Mosel climate to be picked at ideal ripening conditions, the basis to produce wines of superb quality.  Today’s bottle was superb, with just a hint of sweetness on a long and elegant palate.  I find that Prum wines need a minimum of 5 years of cellar time before they can really be appreciated.  $35.  Wine-Searcher.

2011 Manni Nössing Kerner.  The Alto Adige region of Northern Italy lies adjacent to the Austrian border.  The region produces a number of delicious white and red wines.  This delicious white is made from the Kerner grape and this particular bottle is from vineyards in the Valle Isarco (to the northeast of Bolzano), Manni Nössing is a brilliant young artisan wine maker who has only been bottling his wines since 2000.  He produces only 2,500 cases of wine in total. Prior to that he sold off his juice.  Following traditional wine making methods, he hand harvests his fruit, ferments it in stainless steel and ages in stainless steel on the lees for eight months. Today’s wine was crisp and pure on the palate, with a lovely stony minerality and hints of flowers.  It was delicious.  $34.

2001 Henri Boillot Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru. A brilliant expression of the Chardonnay grape in this remarkable wine.  A rich, pure and elegant wine that dances on the tongue with vibrant fruit, acidity, depth and complexity before finishing with serious length and elegance.  The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel.  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

1993 Geantet-Pansiot - Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (Magnum). 1993 was a very good year In Burgundy, which yielded a rather small crop of rich, concentrated and velvety red wines. Today’s bottle had a lovely fragrant and elegant nose and a full-bodied, complex rich palate that showed considerable depth. The finish was long and elegant.  I think that this wine is a good example of the absurdity of numbers.  His eminence RP gave the ’93 vintage a score of 80. $550.  New York Wine Warehouse.

1989 Chateau LaFleur DeGay (Magnum).  A Bordeaux blend from the highly respected Pomerol appellation in Bordeaux.  Readers of this blog know I do not drink much Bordeaux.  I find the wines, blends for the most part, to be very one-dimensional and lack the elegance of Barolo and Burgundy.  At least for me they do.  This wine did nothing to change my opinion. Yours (not mine) for only $330+ a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

1989 Chateau Margaux.  More of the same in my opinion, except for the price, which is twice the previous Bordeaux.  Why, you may ask?  Simple, this is one of the classified first growths, thus very much a "status" wine and if you want to drink a first growth you must ante up big bucks like the Chinese do.  $650.  Wine-Searcher.

2004 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, Soldera, in the opinion of many (myself included) is the master of Brunello wines.  The bouquet of this wine filled the nose with great anticipation of what we were about to drink.  The wine soared on the palate with dazzling purity, complexity and balance and finished with a clean and pristine elegance.  I believe that most of us felt this way about the wine.  Franco Conterno, however, had a different opinion.  He felt the wine was suffering from reduction.  Reduction in wine is thought of as the opposite of oxidation, i.e. not enough oxygen was introduced into the wine, thus imparting an acrid aroma (sort of like corked wine) to the wine.  When the wine is exposed to air the reduction can, although not always, dissipate.  Franco thought that the case here initially.  He did say the wine got better with air, but he did not seem as excited about the wine as the rest of us were.  As an interesting aside, this was the first time he ever drank a Soldera wine.  $500.  Wine-Spectator.

1998 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva.  My favorite Spanish producer and one of the few real traditionalists left in Spain.  The wines of LdH rarely disappoint.  Today’s bottle had a bit of bricking on the edge but it did not deter from the amazing purity of fruit and earthy palate that evolved in the glass with each sip.  At $40+, this is a ridiculous bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

Paul, Emil, Franco M., Tony, Jack, Franco C., Mark, Vincenzo

With espresso and dessert Tony broke out a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac and a couple of bottles of Grappa.  The Louis XIII is an excellent cognac for sure, but the cost is way off base, in my opinion. In any case it was a great ending to a dinner.  It is not everyday that one gets to converse with two of Italy's iconic wine producers while eating great food and drinking great wine.  Thanks to Tony, Fran and Tony's mom Elisabetta for their gracious hospitality and outstanding food.


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