Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food and Wine in Winter 2011

With a whirlwind of events, tastings and travels, I realized that it’s been quite some time since I sat down and thought about making mention of the food work I’ve had published and some of the killer wines that I’ve tasted in the last few months. February through April brought The V.I.P. Table a heavy workload and there’s much more to come. Also, I’d like to thank all of my readers who have allowed this small website to grow into a 3500+ monthly readership. I’m always open to comments and I welcome any opinions. So please feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you love or hate about The V.I.P. Table.

So on to “Food and Wine in Winter 2011”

Pumpkin Risotto
Nostalgia is a powerful tool in the chef’s arsenal. It’s a direct line to the hearts and minds of your guests. It's that smell from mama’s kitchen. It's that flavor, which will always remind you of home. Or that memory of togetherness around a family table, the food you ate and the happy memories you shared. Would it surprise you to know that nostalgia is a topic taught in culinary school? Well it is, and for very good reason because with nostalgia you can create a dish that will not only taste divine, but also speaks to the diner’s soul. That’s how pumpkin risotto ended up on my menu.

Read the full article and recipe: What’s Cookin’

Braised Pork Shoulder in Chianti Sauce
Braised Pork Shoulder in Chianti Sauces is amazing dish that will thrill your guests. The sauce balances richness with complex woodsy notes and vibrant acidity. It is transcendent, yet elegant and light on its feet. It’s one of those sauces that you feel could be poured over anything and never get boring. The pork is succulent, falls apart on the fork and nearly melts in your mouth.

Read the full article and recipe: What’s Cookin’

Calamari in Zimino
It's amazing how different traditional Italian food is from what most Americans grew up to believe it to be. The Sunday sauces and everything parmigiana that we grew up with are a far stretch from what you find throughout the majority of Italy. From north to south, the cuisine of Italia changes just as much as its geography, traditions and wines.

However, for the most part, one thing remains the same throughout Italy: the cuisine is based on simple recipes made great through the quality of the ingredients and the deft, passionate hand of the person who is making the dish. Calamari in Zimino is a perfect example of this.

Read the full article and recipe: What’s Cookin’

As for the wines, I don’t remember the last time that I had so many fantastic wines to choose from when writing an overview piece such as this. The wines below run the gambit of top shelf crowd pleasers to affordable daily drinkers; from Italy, Chile and the United States. There’s seriously something for everyone.

2009 Casa Silva Carménère Reserva - On the nose, I found blackberry, chalk dust, green bell pepper and manure. On the palate, it was big yet balanced, showing wild berries, more green pepper leading to a cough syrup like finish. Looking back on my notes, I feel as if these descriptors fail to do this wine justice. The fact is, it was highly enjoyable in a gripping and earthy way and an amazing value. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc Estate - The nose showed lemon with fresh cut grass, minerals and a bit of nuttiness. On the palate, this was mouth-filling with sour grapefruit, lime, minerals, and green apple. The finish was long with sour patch citrus fruits. Not only was this Sauvignon Blanc refreshing and full of varietal character, it is also an awesome value. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Larkmead Vineyards Firebelle - The nose showed black currant, cherry liquor, spice, brown sugar and a hint of fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was velvety smooth and luxuriant as it filled the senses with flavors of blackberry jam, cherry wood and spice. The finish was exceptionally long with blackberry and currant fruit, yet fresh and begging for another sip. Larkmead has quickly become one of my favorite producers from the Napa Valley and one sip from these luxurious, yet refined wines will make a believer out of anyone. (94 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

2000 Arnaldo-Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni - The nose showed black cherries with vanilla sugar, cola and Christmas spices. On the palate, it was massive, bold, yet vibrant--balanced with a flavor profile that I could only described as dark chocolate covered cherries in sweet cream, yet bone dry. This wine was luxurious and smooth all the way to the long palate-coating finish. (95 points) Fine it: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Schäfer-Fröhlich Monzinger Halenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs - The nose showed lemon, pear, spice and sage with hints of floral undergrowth. On the palate, this was beautifully balanced with piercing acidity, showing citrus, honey dew, minerals and stone. The finish was remarkably fresh with linger notes of grapefruit and herbs. (94 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

2006 Azienda Agricola Montevertine Le Pergole Torte Toscana IGT - The nose showed dusty bright cherry, leather and cinnamon. On the palate, I found focused red fruit, floral notes and savory roasted meats with impeccable balance and a level of fresh acidity that invites you to take another sip. The finish was fresh and long with sour red fruits. At this time, the Le Pergole Torte remains restrained by its fine structure but should be a dream of a wine in five plus years. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Monday, April 18, 2011

1995: Barolo Retrospective

When speaking of vintage streaks in Barolo circles, most enthusiasts think of 1996 through 2001. However, what is often overlooked is a vintage that was considered excellent upon release by growers and winemakers but quickly overshadowed by the structure of 1996 and the sex appeal of 1997. That vintage is 1995.

After four years of lackluster vintages (‘91 - ’94), Barolo growers were more than happy with the results of 1995. Generally speaking, the weather cooperated, with the exception of two isolated hailstorms, which caused uneven quality for some growers. However, the majority of the Langhe Barolo harvest, although small, produced big wines with the potential for long aging. The problem is that for how good 1995 was, it was quickly forgotten as vintage after excellent vintage flooded international markets.

What does this mean to today’s Barolo drinker? It means that 1995 Barolo can still be found and normally at good prices. The catch is that one must be careful to only buy from trusted sources since these bottles have had over 12 years on the open market, and the chances of having been mis-stored or abused during that time can be high. Luckily, there is a higher emphasis on sourcing well-stored wine among today’s best retailers.

In the end, a little known secret among long time Barolo collectors is that 1995 Barolo is worth the hunt. These are drinking now Baroli that show well-resolved tannins and masses of fruit balanced by a solid core of lively acidity.

Before I move to the wines, special thanks go out to i Trulli Restaurant in NYC for allowing me to host such a large tasting at a single table. The food at i Trulli is excellent and easily stands tall against the best Italian cuisine in NYC. There were 16 bottles in all, served blind, and in the end (with the exception of one corked and one slightly off bottle), all the wines were fabulous.

On to the wines:

1995 Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana - The nose showed an initial burst of sour cranberry, which turned sweeter with air. As time passed in the glass, the cranberry turned to black cherry with a dusting of minerals, dark chocolate and menthol. On the palate, the Pajana lost momentum with its full-bodied, yet one dimensional showing of sour cherry and hints of holiday spice. The finish was staying with tart red fruits that clung to the palate. (88 points)

1995 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e La Pira - Initially, there seemed to be a dirty note to the nose, but with time in glass it came to life, showing undergrowth and floral notes with cinnamon and bright cherry fruit. On the palate, it was lush with sweet ripe strawberry and dusty cherry, minerals, and earth on a structured frame with lifting acidity. The finish showed a hint of drying tannin against focused fruit, giving the impression that this wine may be a few years short of its peak. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

1995 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d'Morissio Riserva Monprivato - On the nose, I found plum with fresh turned soil, floral notes, cherry and savory herbs. On the palate, notes of menthol filled the senses and gave way to red fruits and cedar. It was structured, showing enough balance of tannin and fruit to expect a number of years before it hits its peak. The long finish gave way to sour red fruits and hints of fennel. (92 points)

1995 Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna d'la Roul - The rather expressive nose showed animal musk, menthol, mushrooms, saw dust and savory broth. On the palate, it was lush with a full body giving way to flavors of ripe cherry, herbs and spice. The finish was long and staying, carrying spicy red fruits to the close. (89 points)

1995 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito - The nose showed dusty potpourri with bright cherry, cedar and spice box. The palate was firm, showing masses of structure, as rich cherry fruit countered by earthy clay and dusty minerals swept across the senses. The finish was long and revealed crushed red fruits as the wine’s tannins slowly faded away. It was the utter balance and sheer focus of fruit that truly blew me away when drinking the 1995 Vietti Lazzarito. (92 points)

1995 Conterno Fantino Barolo Sorì Ginestra - On the nose, I found dark spiced fruits with plum and hints of sweet vanilla sugar. The palate showed soft cherry with cedar in a feminine expression of Nebbiolo. The finish tapered off with notes of sweet herbal tea. (89 points)

1995 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc - The nose showed ripe strawberry with clove, sage and hint of vanilla, yet there were some underlying notes of dank wood which marred the experience. On the palate, it was voluptuous, with ripe cherry and sweet tobacco. The finish was medium long, but the fruit took on a hollow feeling and left me wanting a little something more. (88 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala - The nose showed cherry liquor with dusty brown sugar, yet the initial sweet character of this wine was immediately put in check by welcoming notes of fresh earth and broth. On the palate, it was feminine, as dried strawberry and hints of honeyed herbal tea washed across the senses, only to explode into a juicy pure expression of red fruits and minerals on the finish. (93 points)

Even though its not a Barolo, the Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano, was included and showed that Barbaresco from 1995 is also drinking beautifully and showing amazing quality.

1995 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano - The nose showed dusty minerals with floral undergrowth, copper penny and sour, soft cheeses. On the palate, it was soft, yet its balanced acidity kept it fresh with flavors of dark red fruit, licorice and cinnamon. The finish was long with red fruits and hints of cedar. (91 points)

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed dusty potpourri with fresh figs, plum and undergrowth. On the palate, I found cherries and hints of white mushroom, in a pretty but very light expression of Nebbiolo. The finish revealed its drying tannins with very little fruit in balance. (88 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Comm. G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero - The nose showed black olive tapanade with rosemary and sweet cherry. On the palate, it was as soft as velvet with herbs, meaty broth, cherry and black olive washing across the senses. The finish left me satisfied by this wine’s wonderful balance, inner sweetness and remarkably unique profile. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato - The nose showed cranberry, meaty broth, stone, minerals and something I can only describe as blood sausage. On the palate, I found a rich and dark expression of strawberry fruit and mushrooms that turned more angular and structured into the close with earthy notes. The finish was long with staying fruit, yet lacked dimension. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Fratelli Brovia Barolo Rocche dei Brovia - The nose showed stemmed strawberries, cinnamon and roses with a slight vegetal note. On the palate, it was full-bodied with focused black cherry and tobacco. The finish turned to a pretty expression of sour red fruits. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba - The nose showed savory and meaty notes with cherry and hints of acetone. On the palate, it was full-bodied with sweet overripe fruits and notes of green vegetables in butter broth. The finish was long, carrying the same odd flavors of the palate. This bottle was likely off. (reserving score) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1995 Marcarini Barolo Brunate - The nose showed dark red fruits and moist earth with sweet spice and cedar wood. On the palate, I found a full-bodied expression of ripe, sweet cherry, cedar and herbs against a balanced structure of tannin, leading to a pleasant finish that turned the sweet cherries to sour berries. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

For another perspective of this tasting, check out Greg dal Piaz, his review, a and great vintage synopsis at: Snooth!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Value reds from around the boot

I’m always on a quest for new, exciting and affordable Italian wines. Italian wine can be quite a minefield in this price range and I’ve certainly tasted through my share of unremarkable bottles. However, each of the bottles below represents an excellent value for what’s in the glass. Plus, there’s something for everyone, from pure Italian typicity, as in the Burlotto Langhe Freisa, to an internationally styled wine in overdrive, like the Terre di Sava, Luccarelli Pazzia. So read on, and take your pick, as each of these is currently available at retail.


The Veneto
Masi was one of the first Italian wine companies in my vocabulary. After tasting a young 2000 Masi Sergio Alighieri Amarone, I was convinced that this was a producer of the highest quality. Now many years later, and these wines from Verona continue to impress. Just last February, their 2005 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva Costasera wow’d me at the Gambero Rosso tasting in NYC. But one cannot just always drink Amarone, and Masi has the answer; The Campofiorin. Masi Campofiorin consists of a mix of traditional Veronese grapes; but what’s different from this, and a typical Valpolicella, is that Masi double ferments the Campofiorin, with the second fermentation having semi-dried grapes added to the mix. However, this is not just Valpolicella in overdrive. Instead, it is rich, intriguing--yet vibrant and so obviously Italian. It’s a highly enjoyable glass of wine.

2007 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso Veronese IGT - The nose showed black cherry, dusty potpourri and sautéed mushroom with hints of cinnamon and clove. It was soft and enveloping on the palate with wild berries, and spices leading to a juicy sweet finish with red fruits and minerals lingering to the end. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher


Gigi Rosso, a winery in Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, is a new name to me but one that I’ll certainly look for again. Dolcetto has come a long way in recent years, with many producers aiming for more internationally styled wines that, unfortunately, come across as overdone and chewy. Luckily, there are still many producers making Dolcetto in the style I prefer, which is fresh, earthy, easy-drinking and with that textbook Italian acidity that makes them perfect with food… this is one of those wines.

2008 Gigi Rosso Dolcetto Diano d'Alba Moncolombetto – The nose showed woodland aromas with black wild berries, hints of wood and just the right amount of undergrowth. On the palate, I found a soft and juicy expression of blackberry fruit leading to florals and hints of bitters on the finish. This Dolcetto showed just the right amount of fruit bolstered by earth to keep it very interesting and highly drinkable. (90 points) Not yet available on WIne-Searcher!

Comm. G.B. Burlotto produces some of the most unique Baroli on the market today. Bottles that can age effortlessly for decades yet still show their roots and unique terrior. However, this house also produces a number of local varietal bottles, such as Barbera, Dolcetto and Freisa. Freisa is a varietal that we are seeing more and more often on the shelves of American wine shops, and I couldn’t be happier. These are intense wines, sometimes made in a slight fizzante style, but when made in a dry style where proper attention is paid in the vineyard and winery, can produce wines of remarkable depth that are far from just daily drinkers.

2007 Comm. G.B. Burlotto Langhe Freisa - The nose showed a mix of sweet and salty, as brown sugar and dark spice cookie with hints of Pecorino and violets wafted up from the glass. On the palate, acidity battled against bitters and resulted in wonderful fresh expression of brambly black berry and cinnamon. It turned a little bitter again toward the close. This is a very enjoyable wine, but I would suggest opening it with a meal to balance the bitters and acidity. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!


Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was first introduced to me by the affordable and always enjoyable Cantina Zaccagnini (which may very well have been included here had I tasted the most recent vintage). However, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is almost always enjoyable and certainly easily drinkable, but what it usually lacks is character. This wine had character in spades. The La Valentina Montepulciano, when popped and poured, seemed like just another good Italian sipper, but what really impressed me was how it evolved over the course of a few hours. It’s still difficult, in my opinion, to find Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that will thrill you. However, La Valentina proves that you can certainly find wines of the highest quality that will intrigue and impress at an excellent price point.

2005 Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Spelt - The nose showed blueberries, clove, wood barrel and a hint of manure. On the palate, I found juicy cherry with a sour note, dark chocolate and a nice bitter bite that lasted into the finish. At first, this wine was easy-drinking, fun and pleasingly soft on the palate, but what was more interesting was how it picked up nuances and depth with time in the glass. (89 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!


Primitivo, often associated with American Zinfandel, but still in debate as to whether or not they are truly related, certainly makes a case for showing many similar qualities to Zinfandel. This bottle was a perfect example, as it showed the rich and brambly fruit and intensity. What I really enjoyed about it was how fresh the palate became, even after being coating in rich fruit. This is certainly a bottle to look for if your preference is massive, complex and palate-staining wine.

2007 Terre di Sava Primitivo di Manduria Luccarelli Pazzia – The nose on this wine was massive, with dark chocolate, sweet cherry liquor, blueberry syrup, chestnut and hints of caramel. However, on the palate, it managed to play a balancing act between power and finesse as flavors of black cherry with herbs and spice bombarded the taste buds, only to be washed away by balanced acidity. The finish was long in ripe, dark red fruits. I wouldn’t have guessed Italian, but it is certainly an attractive wine that will find many fans in the market of big, internationally styled wines. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher


Avignonesi is an estate that has become synonymous with Vino Nobile and produces a range of wines from easy-drinking Sangiovese to one of the most sought after Vin Santos in production: “Occhio di Pernice”. Of their Vino Nobile line, the houses flagship bottle, the “Riserva Grandi Annate.” is a top-shelf bottle that often receives critical praise and is highly sought after by collectors. However, in my opinion, the real gem is the affordable, easy drinking and entry level Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

2007 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - This wine showed a very internationally styled bouquet, with aromas of cherry, wild berry, cinnamon sugar and cacao powder rising from the glass. With time, the sweetshop aromas backed off and allowed spice and floral undergrowth to come forward. On the palate, I found red berries and clove with a hint of sweetness but very fresh through the long juicy finish. This wine may not have shown its Italian roots very well, but it was enjoyable in a new world kind of way. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Piaggia has quickly become one of my favorite producers in Tuscany. They can be found in the Carmignano growing area, with wines that easily give the best Chianti a run for it’s money. The 2007 Il Sasso was one of my wines of the year in 2010. The 2007, takes all the lush fruit and glamour of the 2006, but adds a brooding structure that will likely allow it to drink well for over a decade. It is a beautiful wine at an amazing price.

2007 Piaggia Carmignano Il Sasso - The nose showed cherry and herbs with undergrowth and a hint of new oak. The palate showed a medium body but with silky elegance and flavors of cherry, pomegranate and dark chocolate, with a slight austerity. The finish was long yet fresh with silky tannin. This bottle was feminine yet muscular and should drink even better after being in the cellar for a few more years. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

What constitutes value? Is it a dollar amount or a comparison of what’s in the glass versus what tariff you pay? I would argue it’s the latter, and in the case of the 2000 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio, I believe its value is absolute. I have always been a fan of Il Poggio, which is a long-lived wine that is periodically released by the winery as a “library wine” and can often command prices of $100 and up (way up). But in the case of the 2000 vintage, this wine is already showing remarkable nuance and soft resolved tannin against plush fruit, and at a price of $42, it’s a remarkable value.

2000 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio – The nose showed dark vibrant red fruits with earth, minerals, spice, cocoa, old wood and a savory baked butter crust quality. On the palate, I found lush ripe strawberry, mushroom and leather with beautiful balance and a full body. The finish was long with red fruit and spice that went on and on. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!