Monthly Archives: April 2013

Challenges Facing Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello has been facing many challenges recently.   It all began when members of the Brunello Consortium considered a proposal to permit the addition of grapes other than Sangiovese to make Brunello.  Though the proposal was defeated, an anonymous letter surfaced accusing some Brunello producers of using other grapes, creating a lot of animosity among the members and an investigation by the authorities.

Another challenge has been the loss of one of the staunchest advocates for the traditional, all-Sangiovese Brunello, the legendary Franco Biondi Santi who passed away recently at age 91.  He prided himself on making wine the way his grandfather did and used his influence to make sure that Brunello would only be made from Sangiovese.  His loss has been deeply felt by those who believe in the traditional Brunello.

As if there this was not enough, there is also the strange case of Gianfranco Soldera, owner of Cassa Basse.  An ex-employee of the winery who did not like the way he had been treated entered the winery one night and destroyed over 60,000 liters of wine by simply opening the valves.  Most of the 2006 vintage had already been bottled but almost all of the wine from 2007 to 2012 has been lost.  This was a considerable loss since Soldera Brunello sells for over $200 a bottle.  Mr. Soldera may have had insurance, however.

The Brunello Consortium offered to give Mr. Soldera wine.  He thanked them but refused the offer.  Later, he made statements to the press about this offer that the Brunello Consortium did not like, so now they are suing him for libel.

Following is the press release by the Consortium and its Chairman Frabrizio Bindocci.  I think it makes for very interesting reading!

The Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino, considering the statements made by Gianfranco Soldera and published by the Corriere della Sera of 26th March last to be highly injurious, has decided to bring an action for libel against Mr Soldera. The suit, which will be filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Milan, refers to the part of the interview given by the owner of the Case Basse Estate where he defined the proposal of the Consortium to give him the “wine of solidarity”, with a different bottle and label, after an employee had drained the contents of his barrels down the drain, as “inadmissible and offensive, a fraud to the consumers”.

As underlined by Fabrizio Bindocci, Chairman of the Consortium, “we consider the lawsuit a necessary course of action to safeguard the image of the winemakers, of Brunello wine and of the entire territory of Montalcino. We feel deeply offended and damaged by these and other negative statements on the Consortium and the winemakers made by Mr Soldera following the event that struck him. Our decision was made as a result of the request voiced in unison by the winemakers to take a strong measure against someone who offends the reputation and work of each one of them. This is the only reason behind our decision, and we are very firm in underlining it, once and for all”.

Pursuant to the lawsuit, the Board of the Consortium has also decided to immediately expel Gianfranco Soldera, as set forth in the articles of association. Despite his being a resigning member, Mr Soldera would have been part of the Consortium until 2015 – but his highly improper behaviour has determined the incompatibility of his participation in the Consortium.

Focusing on the motivation of the lawsuit, Chairman Bindocci wishes to stress “how incomprehensible it is to label as fraud a gesture that Mr Soldera himself, in a press release, had ‘highly appreciated’ ”. The entire phrase spoken by Gianfranco Soldera is: “They wanted to give me their wine: I would have had to bottle it as if it were my own, not knowing where it came from. An inadmissible and offensive proposal, a real fraud to the consumers”. The Consortium stresses that its proposal was meant as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, given that his wine estate had suffered great damage due to the act of vandalism.

“We consider it important to point out,” concludes Chairman Bindocci “that the statement reported by Corriere della Sera, as well as the tone adopted by him and his groundless inferences made during that interview, have considerably damaged the image of Brunello and its territory, one of Italy’s expressions of excellence worldwide”.

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Eating and Drinking in Paris

There is something about Paris that makes it special, even in the snow. Our flight landed at 8:20 AM the day after the snowstorm and we did not leave the airport until 11:00 AM. Turns out they were unprepared for snow. The taxi driver got lost trying to find the hotel, not because of the snow but because he did not his way around Paris. By the time we got to the hotel we were tired and cold and the streets were full of slush and ice.

Croque Madame

Croque Madame

 But it was Paris, so we made our way to Café de Flore, 26 rue Benoit/Sain Germain-Des-Pres. I had the La Jockey (Croque Madame) and Michele had quiche.  This is a very popular place both with the French and tourists and there are so many interesting people to watch.

By the next day the snow was gone and we went for a walk toward Les Halles. We passed a small restaurant that resembled an old Parisian Bistro and I looked in the window. The décor was old fashioned and kind of shabby and the menu on the chalkboard outside looked great, plus it was inexpensive. We kept it in mind and a few days later we went for lunch. Le Gros Minet 1Rue Prouvaires (+33 1 42 33) is a family run restaurant.  The food is simple in the style of Southwest France but very good and the bread is excellent. The staff is friendly and the service is attentive. There is a choice of house wines. I ordered a Cote Du Rhone and I could not believe how good it was, though I never did find out the name!  I had kidneys in a mustard sauce and Michele had a salad with foie gras.IMG_2921

When the taxi arrived at Taillevent, 15 rue Lamennais (, two men opened the doors and  escorted us into the restaurant. Inside there was a gracious welcome.  We were escorted to a very comfortable table and settled in with a glass of champagne. I do not have any pictures because one does not take pictures at Taillevent! The food was excellent as was the wine and the service.  The menu at lunch changes every two weeks, so I will not write about what we ate. But for dessert it was Paris Brest, basically a cream puff pastry with hazelnut filling.  It was so delicious. The meal ended with a glass of Armagnac.  The meal was expensive but I have paid more in restaurants in NYC that were not as good.  This was a very special experience.

Confit of Duck

Confit of Duck

One chilly and rainy night we made our way to Restaurant Chez Paul at 13 rue de Charonne.(+33 1 47 00 34 57). This is a traditional Bistro, very cozy and very crowded. Michele had made a reservation on line but when we got there the gentleman at the desk said they did not have the reservation. After a few awkward moments, he smiled and seated us at a table close to the bar. From now on we will always confirm our reservation that we make on line by phone when we arrive in Paris. I had an excellent confit of duck with apples and garlic and Michele had Steak au Poivre. For dessert Dèlicieuse poire au vin èpice et vanillè. It was, as it name says, delicious and it is the house specialty.IMG_2934 We drank the Domaine Milan Les Baux de Provence Clos Milan Rouge 2005 made from 75% Grenache, 20% Shiraz (Syrah) and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from vines that are at least 40 years old that grow in quaternary sands and gravels. The grapes are destemmed and fermented in cement tanks for about three weeks and then aged in old barriques for a further 12 months.



La Regalade now has two locations. The original at– 49 Jean Moulin and the other at 123 Rue Saint Honore (+33 1 42 21 92 40).   Both locations start you off with a large terrine of pate de campagne and a crock of cornichons with bread that is toasted and crunchy. It is almost a meal in itself and delicious.

Pate de Champagne

Pate de Champagne

The first night we went to the one on Rue Saint Honore because it was close to the hotel. The food was good but the pigeon I ordered was covered with FOAM. This was completely unnecessary, did not add anything to the dish, in fact it distracted from it. We had a nice bottle of Cahors 2009 Château du Cadre.Made from 90% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Tannat Fermentation is between 30 and 35 days with with pumping down at the beginning of fermentation. Malolactic fermentation takes place in barrels. Aging for 22 months in oak barrels (Troncais) of different ages. The wine is not filtered.  It has black fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of spice.

Pigeon with Foam

Pigeon with Foam

We went to the original La Regalade a few nights later with a French friend who lives in NYC but is working in Paris for the next six months. We went by Metro and she carried her dog in a cloth basket on the train and brought it  into the restaurant. The dog was very well behaved and was given some water by the waitress. The food was good but again the FOAM, this time on my pork.

Egg on a Bed of Asparagus

Egg on a Bed of Asparagus

Michele had a perfectly cooked egg on a bed of asparagus topped with a thin slice of cheese wich she really liked.IMG_2925

We drank a bottle of Bandol 2006 Domaine Ray-Jane.  I believe the principal grape is Mourevdre and it went very well with the food.

We stayed at the Hotel Molière, 21 Rue Molière(+33 1 42 96 22 01) on the right bank. This is a quiet family run establishment with very nice rooms. The highlight however was the bathroom; it had a large walk in shower, a big bathtub, a long trough-like sink and more light than any bathroom I have ever been in before. The hotel was in a good location because it was in walking distance of many of our favorite restaurants.

Just a few blocks away was Chez Georges- located at 1 Rue du Mail (01 42 60 07 11)

Calf's Liver

Calf’s Liver

Michele really enjoys the atmosphere of this classic Parisian bistro.  Usually we order the same dishes each time we go but this time we ordered foie gras to start instead of the Salade Frisee aux Lardons we usually get.  Once again we ordered calf’s liver al anglaise fried in butter with a big thick slab of bacon on top, and frites. Since it was our last night we added a cheese course. For dessert, as usual we ordered the Tarte Tartin, an upside down apple tart accompanied by a large bowl of extra thick crème fraiche.

Crozes- Hermitage 2010Domaine Saint-Clair 100% Syrah. This was a lovely red wine that went very well with the food.

Chestnut Souffle

Chestnut Souffle

L’Ardoise 28 Rue due Mont Thabor (+33 I 42 96 28 18) We had a very nice meal here but the food came out too quickly and the place is small and cramped. The most memorable dishes were the desserts, a chestnut soufflé and a lemon meringue tartlet.  IMG_2931

Jaques Genin 133 Rue Turenne.   It was cold in Paris and what better way to spend part of the afternoon than in a beautiful place enjoying a hot chocolate. We drank hot chocolate and munched on bite sized chocolates and caramels. The caramels are expensive but well worth it-they are indescribably delicious!


Filed under Cafe de Flore, Chez Georges, Chez Paul, French Red, French Wine, Jaques Genin, L'Ardoise, La Regalade, Le Gros Minet, Paris, Paris Hotels, Paris Restaurants, Taillevent

“The Wine Regions of Rioja” – A Comprehensive Book

Red wines from the Rioja region of Spain have always been great bargains.  Both current vintages and older vintages that can age well.  When the Wine Media Guild organized a tasting and lunch featuring Rioja, I decided to attend in order to learn more about the wines.

The speaker was Ana Fabiano, a leading authority on the wines of Rioja and the author of a very comprehensive book, The Wine Regions Of Rioja.  Ms. Fabiano told us that the Rioja wine region extends out of the La Rioja area and into Álava in the Basque country in the northwest and Navarre in the northeast. There are three subdivisions:  Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Each has its own geography and characteristics, but the terrain, including rivers, valleys and mountains, unites the overlapping regions and subregions.IMG_3009

All of Rioja’s vineyards are in the Ebro River Valley or one of its tributaries, but the soil and character vary greatly. Some vineyards are on terraced slopes of the alluvial plains and others on the iron-rich soil of the mountains. The Ebro is the longest river in Spain and Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland.IMG_3002

In the last 15 years more new Bodegas have been founded in Rioja than in the last 150. It was the tradition to use American oak in Rioja but many of these new producers along with some older established ones prefer to use a combination of American and French oak.  Ms Fabiano divided these producers into two groups which she calls “Classics” and “Modern Classics.”  Ms. Fabiano said that by law all the barrels used in Rioja must be 225 liters (barriques) and some bodegas still employ coopers on site.

Rioja law also requires that only indigenous grapes are planted in the vineyards of Rioja. The red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Graciano, Mazuela and Maturana Tinta.

For more information on Rioja I recommend Ms. Fabiano’s book The Wine Region of Rioja.

The WinesIMG_2994

Dinastia Vivanco Crianza 2008   Vineyards are located throughout the Rioja Alta area. They are 500 meters above sea level and the soil is mostly ferrous clay and marl. There are 3,000 to 3,600 vines/hectare and the training is bush and wire method. The manual harvest is carried out in October using small crates, which are stored in cooling chambers for a minimum of 30 hours. Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats for 13 days. Malolactic fermentation is in large French oak vats. The wine is aged in French and American oak barriques that range in age from 2 to 5 years for 16 months. After 6 months in bottle the wine is released. The wine has nice red berry aromas and flavors, with a touch of toast and a long finish. This is a wine that can be drunk now but could last at least five years or more. $18

By law Crianza must be aged in oak for at least one year and must be two years old before it is releasedIMG_2982

Muriel Reserva Bodegas Muriel 2005  Hand selected, the grapes come from vineyards in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. The soil is a a mixture of chalk, sand and clay. The vines have a medium age of 40 years and are grown using the traditional gobelet (bush) system. The 20-day fermentation and maceration take place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with daily pumping over in order to achieve optimum color and tannin extraction. Malolactic fermentation is conducted in stainless steel tanks and the wine is racked twice before going into oak barrels. The wine is aged in American and French oak barrels for 24 months with three rackings. There is further bottle aging for two years prior to release.  The wine has red and blackberry aromas and flavors with a touch of spice $22IMG_2983

Rioja Bordón Reserva 2007 Franco- Españonias made from 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo.
After the selection of the fruit, there is a soft crushing of the berries. After completion of the alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation, the wine is put into American white oak (Ohio and Missouri) with a light to medium toast. The wine remains in barrels for 18 months and every six months there is the traditional racking barrel to barrel and then 2 years in bottle before release.  It has nice red fruit, sweet spices and a hint of toffee. I had this wine a few weeks previously and liked it.  It was showing even better at the tasting. A bargain at  $15

By law Reserva must be aged in oak for one year and two years in the bottle before release.IMG_2985

Bodegas Ontañón Gran Reserva 2001 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano. The grapes were delivered in old comportillos (grape baskets), carried down the mountain slopes from the vineyards on the backs of mules. This tradition primarily evolved as a practical measure so that neither the winemakers nor their mules had to carry the year’s harvest up the backbreaking steep cliffs, but it also mirrored early gravity-flow systems. Iron and mineral rich soil with calcareous deposits. The wine spends 36 months in American and French oak and 24 months in bottle before release.  $34IMG_2984

Bodegas Faustino Gran Reserva 2000 made from 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. Maceration lasts for 27 days. The wine spends 28 months in casks, 80% American oak from West Virginia and 20% French oak from the Vosges. This wine was drinking very well with hints of spice, toast, leather and subtle fruit.  $38

By Law Gran Reserva must be aged two years in oak and three years in bottle before release.IMG_3006

Bodegas F. Paternina “Conde de los Andes” Grand Reserva 1982   Made from Tempranillo and Mazuelo and spends 30 months or more in wood. This is a wine that is aging very well. It is a complex with hints of spice, leather a long finish and pleasing aftertaste.  $84

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Easter Dinner with Friends

Easter 2013

Every year for Easter dinner, Michele makes roast leg of lamb.  This year, however, she decided to make chicken because one of our guests does not eat red meat.  The Pat La Frieda chickens that we buy at Eataly in NYC are expensive but very flavorful and perfect for the way Michele prepares them.  She stuffed them with herbs and roasted them on slices of garlic-rubbed ciabatta bread to catch the chicken juices.  The chicken and the crunchy bread are eaten together.  For an appetizer, there was a salmon mousse, perfect with the Champagne.IMG_2970

The first course was a timbale of rice and eggplant.IMG_2969

The WinesIMG_2976

Cuvee Dom Perignon 1988 made from equal amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The grapes come from five Grand Cru villages and one Premier Cru village. Ed Mc Carthy supplied the wine and this is what he says about it in his book Champagne for Dummies – the wine’s “…trademarks are its exquisite balance, its creaminess, its elegance, its very fine tiny bubbles and it complex flavors.” He was also right on the mark when he said, “With age, Cuvee Dom Perignon develops aromas and flavors of toast, coffee and honey.” He said that 1988 was a great vintage.IMG_2975

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rose 2000 Made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay. It was light salmon like in color, light bodied for a Rosè , fresh, delicate and elegant. I should have served the Billecart before the Dom Perignon, as the Dom was a bigger wine.IMG_2973

Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1988 (Graves) 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc  The wine spends 18 t0 22 months in oak barrels of which 80% are new. Classic Bordeaux and could have used a few more years of bottle age.IMG_2977

Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 1971 100% Pinot Noir Domaine Louis Remy. This was classic Burgundy showing no signs of age and went very well with the chicken.IMG_2972

Barolo Riserva 1967 Borgogno 100%  Nebbiolo -the wine was decanted and topped from the same vintage and recorked in 2005. This wine was beginning to show some age but was still showing very well. It is interesting to note that Sheldon Wasserman in his book Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1985) gives the 1967 vintage 2 stars and says,  “For the most part there is no reason to hold them any longer.”

A few days earlier I had a 1958 Borgogno that was in perfect condition and even seemed young and had not been recorked. There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine. This was served with the timbalo of eggplant and rice.IMG_2971

Rioja “Viña Tondonia” Rioja Alta 1947 R Lopez De Heredia 75% Temparillo, 15% Mazuelo and 10% Giaciano all from their own vineyards. The soil is alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone.  Harvesting takes place in October and is by hand. They use French barriques along with barrels ranging in size from 60hl to 240hl. The oak comes from the Appalachian mountains in the U.S.A. This is one of a handful of wineries that make their own barrels. They use oak casks to ferment the wine as they use completely natural traditional methods of wine making. The wine is aged in barrels for 10 years, racked twice a year and fined with egg whites. The winery is over 136 years old.

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Pure Chablis- Only From France

A piece of stone had been placed in the middle of the table at the Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City where I was attending a Chablis tasting.  It looked like a piece of limestone with tiny pieces of white shells imbedded.  I guessed that it was a chunk of the famous soil of Chablis, which gives the wine its unique minerality.IMG_2895

The two speakers at the tasting were introduced as “Chablis Ambassadors” Jean-Francois Bordet, President of the Chablis Wine Board.  He is the 13th generation of his family to run the Séguinot-Bordet Winery, and Christian Moreau, a leading producer of Chablis and a man that I have heard speak over the years.  I have great respect for his knowledge of Chablis.  There were only 4 journalists at the lunch so we were able to really get to understand Chablis.

Christian Moreau

Christian Moreau

I asked Jean-Francois what was their attitude toward the rest of Burgundy and he said that they were the Corsica of Burgundy–meaning that they had a certain independent attitude.  As Rosemary George in her book The Wines of Chablis states, “Chablis is Chardonnay but not every Chardonnay is Chablis”

Jean-Francois Bordet

Jean-Francois Bordet

Domaine des Malandes Chablis 2010 The soil is rich Kimmeridgian, clay of the upper Jurassic geological period. The average age of the vines is 35 years and they are on a gentle slope at an altitude of 150 to 250 meters. Harvesting takes place by machine. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged 6 to 8 months in stainless steel tanks. Cold stabilization is at -5 degrees C for one week. The wine is bottled every month from April 2012 to March 15, 2013 . This is a wine with fresh fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of peaches and good minerality.  $20IMG_2902

Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru “Fourchaume” 2011. The soil is Kimmeridgian limestone and the age of the vines is 30 to 45 years old with a south/ southwest exposure. The harvest is both manual and mechanical. Vinification is according to the domain’s own special quality charter. The wine spends 2 to 4 months on the lees. Aging takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. $29IMG_2900

Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru “Vau de Vay” 2010. The soil is clay and limestone of the type and the vines are 35 years old. The harvest is manual due to the steep hillside pitch. Pneumatic pressing of the grapes and fermentation with indigenous yeast at controlled temperatures in stainless steel tanks. 100% of the wine undergoes malolatic fermentation. The wine is aged on the lees in stainless steel vats. The winery is in the process of becoming organic. $30

Both Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru are a very good value for the money.IMG_2909

Domaine Christian Moreau Pére et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, Clos des Hospices 2010. The soil is Kimmeridgian marl-calcium carbonate (upper Jurassic) and is rocky with white dense clay. The vines are 29 years old.  Harvesting is by hand, carried by small trailers which unload the grapes by vibration to avoid crushing. A sorting table is used to eliminate unripe or damaged grapes. Vinification takes place in stainless steel tanks and fermentation is with indigenous yeast. Aging is for 12 months in barrel–90% that are 1, 2, and 3 years of age- 10% in new and 1-year-old barrels. There is natural tartaric stabilization after 8 months of ageing. 100% of the wine goes under malolactic fermentation. $105

Chablis Grand Cru is a bigger, richer, rounder wine with more depth but even at $100 a bottle it is worth the money.IMG_2910

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru 2009. The soil is chalky clay, marl and Marley limestone from the Kimmeridgan era. The vines are 40 years old. Harvesting is manual and the grapes are put into small cases, holding up to a maximum of 13kg to avoid compressing the grapes and bursting the berries. There is a systematic use of a sorting table.  They use the principle of gravity to avoid all pumping. There is a brief 1-½ to 2 hour pneumatic pressing to obtain a gentle separation of the solids and liquids of the grape. Very light static settling of the juice to preserve enough fine lees so that the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation can occur naturally. The must is then run into French oak barrels. Ageing takes place for 12-15 months, on fine lees, in French oak barrels. The stirring of the lees depends on the vintage. $99  See”More Chablis Please” for more information on Chablis

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