First Hard Tens Tasting Group – Tuscany

20 July 2014, 13 E 1st Street, Manhattan

We convened our first Hard Tens tasting group at L’Apicio this past weekend for a Tuscan themed dinner and wine tasting.  Attendees included, Cohen, Michelle, Thomas, Joe, Jill, Peoro, Nard, Michelle, Diane and myself.  The service, food and atmosphere couldn’t have been better.  The staff paced the meal and tasting perfectly and expertly switched to clean glassware after each flight.  We had the added benefit of free corkage as we did the tasting on a Sunday!

My thoughts and a brief outline of the meal and tasting:


** 2006 Bellavista Franciacorta Gran Cuvee Extra Brut Pas Opere

We started with two bottles of this Franciacorta at the bar as people were arriving.  A yeasty and citrusy aroma with a clean, medium length finish.  Dry but not biting.  Refreshing and enjoyable but not terribly complex.  89 points.  $55

2006 Bellavista Franciacorta Gran Cuvee Extra Brut Pas Opere

2006 Bellavista Franciacorta Gran Cuvee Extra Brut Pas Opere

Flight #1 (all wines were double decanted 6 hours beforehand)

Served with a strawberry, watercress and pistachio salad; sausage arancini; housemade ricotta and bread; tuna tartare with chickpeas and spring radishes; green bean salad with pesto

* 2011 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico

Tons of sweet red fruit bursting onto the palate.  While this was refreshing and enjoyable to have on a summer day with with the crudo and salad courses in particular, I found it to be too simple for the purposes of a tasting.  I feel the same way about above average Beaujolais.  87 points. $20

*** 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico

In this flight, drinking the best today.  Bold and muscular but well-balanced between the savory elements and the red fruit.  Could still benefit from cellaring but delicious today.  The acidity made this my favorite pairing for the sausage arancini.  90 points (and the red wine we will be serving at our wedding!) $30

*** 2008 Felsina Fontalloro

The most complex wine of the flight and the greatest potential.  Leather and earth on the nose with a lot of red/black fruit and mocha on the palate.  92 points. $40

Flight #1

Flight #1

Flight #2 (all wines were double decanted 4 hours beforehand)

Served with a bucatini with shrimp, garlic and chilies; orecchiette with a spicy sausage ragu and broccoli rabe pesto; pork meatball polenta with tomato, bacon and parmesan

*** 1999 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia

A lot of funk still on the nose, leather, barnyard and wet earth.  Well-integrated tannins at this stage with red cherries and cedar wood on the palate.  Drinking incredibly well right now and wouldn’t wait to drink a good chunk of any bottles that are in storage.  Pairs well with the pasta as the acidity is still noticeable.  94 points. $70

** 1999 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo

Sweet, velvety red fruit with tar and dark chocolate on the palate.  The wine is well structured with smooth tannins but lacks the complexity of the Felsina Rancia – perhaps a bad bottle as I’ve had this before and found this to be somewhat flat.  89 points. $90

*** 1995 Isole e Olena Cepparello

Floral and earthy aroma with a noticeable paler color compared to the other wines in the flight.  Sweet red fruit with spicy leather and decent structure but I think on the declining side of its drinking window.  92 points. $110

Flight #2

Flight #2

Flight #3 (all wines double decanted 4 hours beforehand)

Served with roasted chicken with black pepper, fennel and olives; pork chop with red currants and market greens; hangar steak with tuscan fries and salsa bianco

**** 1996 San Guisto e Rentennano Percarlo

My (and the majority) WOTN.  Wow!  Still very young with tons of structure left for at least 5+ years.  Tons of red fruit, leather and spicy meat resolve into integrated tannins while remaining fresh and lively.  Perfect with the steak.  97 points. $200

*** 2000 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino

In an effort to add some Sangiovese outside of Chianti, we had this Brunello.  I’ve had this before and thought the bottle was slightly off and lacking it’s full depth and complexity.  Sweet red cherries and currants on the palate, significantly lighter bodied than the other wines in the flight.  91 points. $150

*** 1999 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco

We threw in one Cabernet based wine for comparison purposes as well.  At this point, while the wine was thoroughly enjoyable, compared to the older Sangiovese it tasted like typical new world style Cali Cab!  Lots of oak with a rich Harlan/Bond-esque mouthfeel.  Good wine but out of place on this particular night.  92 points. $85

Flight #3

Flight #3


Served with chocolate hazelnut ice cream cake; blueberry crostata; assortment of sorbet and gelato

*** 2004 Felsina Vin Santo (375 mL)

An incredible wine – slightly sweet with a fresh, light mouthfeel and minerality. We had taken votes for WOTN before we had the Vin Santo and two people actually changes their votes to this wine after we tasted it!  95 points. $38 / 375 mL



14 December 2012, 100 Jane Street, West Village

With a newly decorated Christmas tree in our apartment, Diane and I decided to have some friends over for the holidays to celebrate. Nicole, Elliott, Pedro, Christina, and Manoj came over for appetizers and wine:

The Lineup

The Lineup

The food during the night was (in no particular order):

  • Cured meats and cheeses – my favorite cured meat in the world is the Jamon Iberico from Spain. Nearly impossible to find in the US, Murray’s Cheese typically carries some and is where I usually load up. Our favorite cheeses including the clothbound Cabot cheddar and aged manchego also made an appearance.
  • Mini cheese-burgers and portobello-mushroom-burgers – the beef was from our local butcher, Florence Meat market with minimal seasoning and American cheese. The mushrooms were marinated in a balsamic vinegar sauce. Both cooked in the oven broiler.
  • A few assorted desserts  – cookies and ice cream

I spent a fair amount of time planning the progression of wines and thought it worked out fairly well:

  1. *** NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rose – my go-to rose Champagne. Reasonably priced and delicious with food or as an aperitif. Floral and fruity with a lighter body, I like drinking it out of a white wine glass to allow the bubbles to dissipate and wine to warm a bit. It gives me a better sense of the aromatics and freshness. $80
  2. ** 2010 Copain Chardonnay Tous Ensemble – as I mentioned before, the best value wine I had on my trip to California. Completely unoaked and an old-world style wine. This was served at the same time as our next white wine to compare it against. $28
  3. ** 2007 Martinelli Chardonnay Three Sisters Vineyard – a classic example of a well-made California style Chardonnay. Plenty of oak and vanilla and a much heavier mouthfeel than the Copain. While most enjoyed both wines, the majority preferred the Copain (at less than half the price!). $60
  4. *** 1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo – the Azienda Agricola (non-estate) bottling, this was sadly my last bottle of this great value/entry level Giacosa Barolo. Still young and powerful, I decanted the wine for 6 hours and it still had plenty of sweet red fruit and smooth tannins. This wine was served at the same time as the next red to compare. $95
  5. ** 1981 Il Colle Brunello di Montalcino – not as aromatic or open as the last time I tried this wine a few months ago. More tar and leather than fruit in the aroma or palate; I was a bit disappointed compared to what I tasted the first time I had this at dell’anima. The opinion here was split but more people preferred the Giacosa. $85
  6. * 1969 Hugel Traminer “Hugel” Reserve Exceptionelle – a wine we tried more to explore than anything, the bottle was in surprisingly good condition for its age. On the palate a bit disappointing, well past its prime, it was barely clinging on to the fruit and acidity it probably once had and just retained its residual sweetness. $80
  7. ** 2010 Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (375 ml) – great wine for the price. Lots of sweet stone fruit and honey, medium body for the sweetness and well balanced. Great after dinner digestif. $15

Dinner at Anthony and Jennifer’s

16 November 2012, 222 Park Avenue South, Union Square

Before the holiday season got into full swing, Anthony and Jennifer invited Dan, Sul, Diane and I over for dinner at their place. As part of their wedding registry, they had several wines they chose at New York Vintners and they opened several of those bottles they received from us for this meal!

The Lineup

The Lineup

  1. *** NV Krug Champagne Grand Cuvee – a perfect aperitif paired with some cured meats, this champagne was light, floral and crisp. We quickly went through two bottles before sitting down for the meal.
  2. *** 2007 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino – from one of my favorite producers in Tuscany, this wine was drinking surprisingly well at a relatively young age. The wine was decanted for many hours before the meal and had the typical leather and tobacco aromas of a well-made Brunello. Smooth tannins and very strong fruit on the palate. Great to drink now and I think will continue to develop for over a decade.
  3. **** 2001 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque – allegedly the middle child among the three great Guigal wines of Cote Rotie (La Landonne and La Mouline being the others), this wine typically has a small percentage of Viognier for added aromatics. Huge fruit, big body but with a lingering but somehow light finish. Doesn’t leave your mouth coated or blown away like most California Syrahs – much more elegant and refined.
  4. *** 2008 Chateau Rieussec – my first time having this Sauternes, delicious, young, vibrant and a long life ahead. I don’t have much experience with Sauternes but this was the closest in balance – acidity, mouthfeel and sugar – that I’ve ever had when compared to d’Yquem.

As is always the case when they have us over for dinners, the food at Anthony and Jennifer’s was incredible. I took no notes but vividly remember each course today, over two months after the meal:

  • Assorted cured meats: my favorite meats were the jamon and bresaola – an air-dried, salted and aged cured beef.
  • Tagliatelle with white truffles: the most decadent dish of the night, fresh pasta with butter, an egg yolk and shaved white truffles – an unbeatable dish for the Fall/Winter.
  • Roasted leg of lamp: seasoned with garlic and spices, a perfect main for the big red wines we had lined up.
  • Mixed green salad with a mustard vinaigrette
  • Cheese course: I had my first taste of an incredible cheese, Mont d’Or. This rich, creamy cheese (only available in winter months) is held in an oak encasing. Anthony told me you typically leave it on top of the oven to heat up and serve slightly warm. Made from cow’s milk, this  is incredibly rich with a woody taste imparted by the encasing.
  • Assorted cupcakes and banana cream pie from Magnolia

Atlantic City

15 January 2012, The Borgata, Atlantic City

For the MLK long weekend, a group of us decided to go gamble, watch the Giants crush the Packers, and hang out in Atlantic City. Joe, Jill, Pedro, L-train, Manoj, Korean Elvis, Diane and I all drove down Saturday morning – and due to aforementioned thrashing of the Packers along with some fortuitous dice control, we decided to get a few nice bottles with dinner at Fornelletto on Sunday night.

We started with two white Burgundies:

2006 Domaine Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet, Les Caillerets 1er Cru; 2005 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet

We drank these wines for the appetizer courses and were able to compare them side by side. Both were incredible – most at the table preferred the Domaine Leflaive. The Morey  had a bit more oak in it vs. the Leflaive which had a more mineral taste. Both were subtle and complex as you would expect from well made Burgundy – I liked them both.

For the pasta course, we had a great Super-Tuscan produced Mauro Vannucci:

2008 Piaggia Il Sasso

70% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, the wine ages for 20 months in new oak. Very fruity with good acidity to go with food.

For our main courses, we decided to go with a magnum of a 1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. We had the sommelier start decanting it as soon as we ordered and it was still changing when we started out meat courses:

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (Magnum)

The bottle – the restaurant’s last – was in perfect condition and most agreed it was the wine of the night. Tobacco and earthy must on the nose leads to a medium bodied fruit palate with perfect integrated tannins. Best Mascarello Barolo I’ve ever had and since I was ordering the wine, I picked the perfect wine for my osso buco:

Osso buco at Fornelletto

** 2006 Domaine Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet, Les Caillerets 1er Cru, $90

** 2005 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, $100

** 2008 Piaggia Il Sasso, $25

**** 1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (Magnum), $1,000

New Year, New Wines

31 December 2011, 140 W 22nd St, Manhattan

At a holiday party this past December, I informed Cohen, to his surprise, that he would be hosting a New Year’s Eve party at his apartment. I had no plans, had no intention of hosting myself, and made Thomas host once already so I figured it was Cohen’s turn – I offered to send out the Evite on his behalf if he didn’t care to.

Not surprisingly, the party was incredible – 14 people total for a seven course meal with wine pairings and some bubbly left over for the midnight ball drop.  A brief synopsis below:

1. 2008 Fontezoppa Marche Rosso

a. Roasted red pepper puree with a ricotta crostini

b. Roasted beet, apple and shallot salad with a champagne vinaigrette dressing

I lump these two courses together as they were accompanied by this same wine, an Italian IGT.  50% Sangiovese, 40% Cabernet and 10% Merlot, the nose reminded me of a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 3 months followed by a cask for 12 months. Very light bodied, fruity however a bit simple and not the most compelling wine of the night:

2008 Fontezoppa Marche Rosso

2. 2009 Brut Naveran Cava – Shrimp and pineapple wrapped in bacon

I’m not a huge fan of super dry sparkling wines – they remind me of bad champagnes that leave a bad aftertaste in your mouth.  Cavas, I find, tend to avoid this issue but often lack the complexity and depth that good champagnes can develop. This cava was as expected – light, refreshing and crisp – just dry enough to not leave a lingering taste and the bubbles were great with the bacon. The cava is made from Chardonnay and parellada with bottle fermentation and 2 years of aging:

2009 Brut Naveran Cava

3. 2010 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote – Strawberries with vanilla ice cream and balsamic vinegar

For me, the wine of the night. 100% viognier from northern Rhone, the wine was incredibly aromatic and slightly sweet. Went well with this palate cleansing coarse, however, when consumed with salty food, you could easily see the saltiness and fruit. Fermentation is done in oak barrels with natural yeasts. Total annual production is about 24,000 bottles:

2010 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote

4. 2006 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet – Prime rib roast

A delicious main course was the oven roasted prime rib. Cooked perfectly and served with the wine Diane and I brought – a solid Napa Cabernet. What you’d expect – very fruit forward, with sweet, smooth and balanced tannins. Aromas of plums and blackberries – very easy drinking. The blend is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.  Aged for 25 months in 100% new American oak and 20 months in the bottle:

2006 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet

5. 2010 Patrick Piuze Chablis, Terroir de Chablis – assorted cheeses

Pedro and Christina brought the wine for the cheese course. He asked for a suggestion from me earlier in the day and I sent him to NY Vintners. The chablis was perfect – after a long meal with the heavy meat course right behind us, a lighter wine with citrus and minerality was perfect with the various cheeses:

2010 Patrick Piuze Chablis, Terroir de Chablis

6. 2004 Madame Fleur Sauterne – red velvet cake and other assorted desserts

The last course was a full dessert dish with a Sauternes. I have very little experience with sauternes but tend to find that they typically err on the side of being too sweet and syrupy and lack the necessary acidity to balance the wine. I found the same to be true with this – while a pleasant wine with the dessert courses, definitely needed to be taken in a small portion:

2004 Madame Fleur Sauternes

* 2008 Fontezoppa Marche Rosso

** 2009 Brut Naveran Cava

*** 2010 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote

** 2006 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet

** 2010 Patrick Piuze Chablis, Terroir de Chablis

* 2004 Madame Fleur Sauterne

Degustation with a Super Tuscan

30 December 2011, Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar, Manhattan

On this particular Friday night, Diane and I decided to go to a small restaurant in the East Village – Degustation.  There was only seating at one long bar (for about 12-14 people) and the meal was cooked in front of you.  All the dishes were “small plates” so we went for the ten course tasting menu (not all that much food in the end).

They had corkage and we ended up bringing a 1999 Isole e Olena Cepparello. 100% Sangiovese, Cepparello is their flagship wine that’s only produced in the best years:

1999 Isole e Olena Cepparello

A medium ruby color and pronounced nose of leather and spice gave it that unique nose I associate with Sangiovese.  The wine started out extremely tight from what I would expect from a 12 year old wine – bright tannins and good acidity although not entirely balanced.

After about an hour and a half in the decanter, the tannins became much more integrated and it was drinking perfectly.  In retrospect, this probably needed about a full two hour decant but it was interesting to see it develop.

** 1999 Isole e Olena Cepparello, $65