The Viennese Dessert Table, 25 Alston Ave

Now that I have gone to Walt Disney World for 4 consecutive years, I am willing to admit that I am out-of-step with many Disney goers.  I am now referring to those amongst the throng who stay “on campus” at a Disney Resort and revel in the at-hand dinning opportunities, more specifically to indulge in the insane desserts that are offered.  Regardless of whether the eateries are at a Resort, at a theme park or at the gastronome’s ultimate: Disney Springs… one thing is for sure, desserts… nay, fancy desserts are well covered.

I wish that I could say that this is also a pleasure for me.  But it’s not!  I have lost my desire for dessert years ago — glorious flavor and eye-appealing presentation notwithstanding.  I would rather have a tasty and savory first course, with a superbly chilled dry martini, and forego that after entrée sweet. As I say, I am out of step with many who would forego their entire meal to delight in something as wonderful as this artistic gem offered at Albert & Victoria’s at the Grand Floridian:

But there was a time that I truly did love the concluding course to a meal.  And that love could even extend to a late night raiding of the fridge to “steal” an extra slice of pie or a wedge of cake that had lovingly been prepared by Mom.

And nowhere was this love of baking on greater display than on Thanksgiving, when Mom made sure that each of us had his or her favorite dessert on the table.  The turkey & stuffing portion of the evening done, Mom would set a perimeter of pies and cakes before her, and she would then distribute the requested slices around to each of us.  Paul had Lemon Meringue pie.  Lynn, the Chocolate Cream Pie.  I loved the Chocolate Cream, too.  But I may have taken a slice of the Pumpkin or the Mince.  OR, as the case maybe, I may have circled back and enjoyed a slice of each.  She also made an admirable banana cream pie… but that may have been an “in-the-summer-pie.”

Stretching my memory, I’m trying to remember if Mom also made cakes for Thanksgiving, and while I can’t remember a cake attached to the Thanksgiving feast (maybe the Banana Cake w/Mary Oliver Frosting?  More on this later), there would be other occasions, beyond the Thanksgiving repast, when Mom would trot out an impressive collection of cakes/pies.  I am thinking of the many gatherings of the “Boopies” (the Lewis’, the Grants, the Deckers, the Jacobs, the Shures et al.).

These occasions could have been on a random Saturday night when the group would convene after the dinner hour for coffee, dessert and conversation.  OR, possibly for an elegant dinner party.  Mom’s signature dessert was her Chocolate Mousse Cake – smooth chocolate richness, spiked with bits of walnut, encased in lady fingers and topped with a blanket of proper whipped cream.  She also made a divine Vanilla Coconut Cake (I will return to this in a moment), and the aforementioned Banana Cake with Mary Oliver Frosting.

About the latter, I guess I was in my early teens when Mom asked me what I would like for my “birthday cake.”  And I chose the Banana Cake.  And so a brief tradition was created.  Mom or Bessie would make that cake for me on February 2… even thru my college years, and beyond.  When I turned 21, Ellen organized a surprise birthday party for me up at Union.  She and Gary drove up from New Haven, and brought up the “sacred” cake to add legitimacy to the celebration!

The Vanilla Coconut Cake, as brilliant as it was, is also connected to a deeply traumatic and life scarring episode in my life.  I was probably 8 or 9 (how do I know this?  Because I was still wearing pajama’s at the time, and at age 10 I switched to boxer shorts & a t-shirt for my sleeping attire), and Mom & Dad hosted a dinner party that extended beyond the regular “Boopies”, and of the night that I am thinking, it included at least the Al Small’s.  And I know that Al Small was seated to Mom’s immediate right.

I was invited to come down to say good night to everyone at about the time that the “Viennese Dessert Table” arrived.  So there I was in my PJs ready for bed, and there was Mom’s eye-popping “mile high” Vanilla Coconut Cake (amongst the several cakes presented) and positioned at the corner of the table between Al and Mom. Al must have taken note how impressed I was with the sight of all the cakes, and he said, “Jimmy, smell how good that vanilla cake is!”  I unhesitatingly leaned in to absorb the aroma, and Al, taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, pushed my face into the cake! I picked my face up coated with coconut frosting, and the entire table burst into outrageous laughter.

It may have appeared as if this was some vaudeville stage act, but to me it was a source of humiliation; and crying, I quickly retreated back upstairs. {see post script below}

There was another dessert that Mom made, in a non-cake/pie category, that I also loved.  It was her Jell-O mold.  She produced it two or three times a year?  Thanksgiving?  I think so.  Maybe when Mom & Dad hosted a “Before-the-Harvard-or-Princeton-Game” Party?  Or at a summer cook-out gathering?  I loved how she put different fruits into each of the Jell-O flavors that were layered into the mold. I can remember that pineapple went into the lime Jell-O, and cherries went into the grape.  Well, there you are: “There’s always room for Jell-O!!”

And since we are on the subject of Jell-O, I have to give a shout out to a “guest appearance” to the dessert offerings… Sadie’s “Cracked Iced Cake”!  A sinful concoction of tiny cubes of multi flavored Jell-O suspended in a vanilla cream! Off-the-charts great!

Desserts, desserts, desserts…. Wonderful to recall the memories; but as previously noted, no longer an active interest of mine. On the other hand, give me:

Charcuterie! At the California Grill

And of course, a Tanqueray Martini!

P.S. The cake “incident” at the table continued in the memory for both Al Small and me.  Whenever our paths crossed (at Racebrook, for example), Al would ask, “Jimmy, do you forgive me?”  And I would shake my head no!  And then he would laugh. By the time I reached mid-teens, I would fake my sustained indignation. By then I knew that Al was a wonderful and kind man. Regardless, our “set piece” would continue. Al never failed to ask my forgiveness, I always pretended to withhold it.  I learned of Al’s passing when I was at Union.  I asked Mom to send me his address so that I could write to Mrs. Small.  I shared the memory of that Saturday Night, and I told Mrs. Small that I never thought that God would take away Al until I forgave him.  Forgive him?  Why would I do something that would hasten his departure? 

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Top Ten Disney Animated Films, Revisited

Maybe it was just a break from our usual “convos” about sports or music, but there came a day when Zack and I got to considering the canon of Disney animated films. What were our favorites? Favorite characters? Best music?

From the post in 2006, “I rattle off my top 3, thinking mainly music: Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty… He counters: Jungle Book, Aladdin, and The Lion King… although the music is key for me, Zack feels it’s secondary… Then he tosses down the gauntlet to me, “and my Parrot (Aladdin) trumps your Crab (Little Mermaid)!”

Then I upped the ante: “In an unprecedented move I have decided to list my 10 favorite Disney’s in a specific order (as opposed to an alphabetic listing of the Top Ten)… each film listed is accompanied with a few articulate observations and enlightening details. Bear in mind, I’m not a movie critic… and who knows, next year I might change my mind, and besides, you can never tell what new magic Disney may produce”.

OK. I have seen any number of Disney films over the last 13 years, both in the theatre and on DVD; and after reading through my list from 2006, I thought that a repositioning of my Top Ten Favorites was in order. Yes, changes abound. Five titles have been dropped, and there has been some internal shuffling on the remaining five.

My List from 2006

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. The Little Mermaid
  4. Lion King
  5. Aladdin
  6. Winnie the Pooh
  7. The Jungle Book
  8. Fantasia
  9. Pinocchio
  10. Robin Hood

My List, Updated 2019

  1. Beauty & the Beast (1991)

    Beauty and the Beast

    I think I have seen this film more times than Casablanca, and that alone is reason to secure this Disney in my top spot. From the opening sequence when David Ogden Stiers intones the “backfill” to the story, to the ending credits when Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson sing their version of the title track, I am in my glory.

    Above all, I love the music… and in particular the staging of the initial musical number with Belle walking into town… interacting with the locals. And then, more spectacular, the waltz scene has a “state of the art” 3D quality and plays to Angela Lansbury’s more vulnerable version of the title track… a version I actually prefer to the ending track. There is more, also memorable is the ensemble rendition of “Something There” which is well presented with the music simply backing the sequence when Belle’s tenderness for the Beast emerges.

    Other Disney story lines maybe superior… but this is simply my favorite… and when I need 40 winks, I will seek out a couch, get comfy and wait for the music to ease me… tale as old as time…

  2. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

    Sleeping Beauty

    When “Disney naps” became a feature of my life, this film got its major boost into a top 10 slot. Unlike other Disney’s that feature original songs and scoring (songs, by the by, that often are Academy Award winners), Sleeping Beauty’s score is predominately adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suite of the same name. And I love Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. I have never tired of their main themes.

    And as much as I love the music, Sleeping Beauty features one of my favorite “bad guys” (but in this case the “bad guy” is a lady): the powerful sorceress Maleficent.

    And for humor, I love the scene in the cottage when Fauna, Flora, and Merryweather get busy making a cake and special dress for the Princess Aurora’s Birthday.

    But when all is said and done… for me, it’s about the music.

  3. Tangled (2010)

    Rapunzel

    I love the color palette used in this film. Softer tones… more like pastel rather than oil. This effect is well seen in the outdoor settings around Rapunzel’s Tower, as well as in the dance scene in the town. The story line is one of Disney’s best, supported with very clever dialogue. Funny, rich with sarcasm and a touch of smart-ass.

    The assembled thugs at the Snuggly Duckling Tavern are brilliantly drawn, and are turned into a rogue’s band of “merry men” who contribute to the developing mayhem in the plot.

    I never tire of the scene when Flynn first meets the frying-pan-wielding Rapunzel in the tower. It is hysterical, loaded with classic rapid fire slapstick sequences.

    But the prize in this film has to go Mother Gothel, as evil a looking crone if ever there was one, but who we see predominantly as a rather chic-looking-diva-Cher wannabe. A splendid “bad guy” in the best of Disney tradition. She has show piece songs, and wonderful lines: “Rapunzel, look in that mirror. Do you know what I see? I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady…. Oh look, you’re here too!”

  4. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

    Alice with caterpillarI don’t recall seeing this film in a theatrical release. And truth be told, I only picked it up in the DVD a couple of years ago. In short time it has become one of my Disney favorites. This movie has more songs and characters than any other Disney animated film. And while I usually place highest stock in music, my love of this film is based on the “hodge-podge” of characters that populate the film’s vignettes.

    Each sequence has its featured performer. There is a talking door knob, the Mad Hatter (superbly voiced by Ed Wynn), the Cheshire Cat (Sterling Holloway of Winnie the Pooh fame), the March Hare, the oyster-eating Walrus, the White Rabbit and the highly irritable Queen of Hearts.

    But my favorite character is the hookah-smoking caterpillar. Although the film offers an excellent collection of unconnected scenes, the caterpillar scene is my favorite. The caterpillar draws a puff from his hookah, sends a ring of smoke in the air, and corrects Alice’s recitation, “That is not spoken correctically. It goes: How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail. And pour the waters of the Nile, on every golden scale. How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws. And welcomes little fishes in with gently smiling jaws.”

  5. The Little Mermaid (1989)

    Little Mermaid

    I love the opening sequence showing the wooden ship pitching in the rolling sea… we listen to Fathoms Below and then follow the path of a fish that escaped from the deck of the ship to the undersea world of Triton, King of the Mer-people, Ariel his daughter, and a terrific villainess, Ursula the Sea Witch (wonderfully drawn with a fabulous voice over by Pat Carroll).

    But the character who steals the show is Sebastian the Crab. His lilting “island accent” sets the tropical tone of the film… and I don’t whether Samuel E. Wright, Sebastian’s voice, sounds like that naturally or if the accent is staged. No matter, he is a perfect and he leads two songs that both get nominations for the Academy’s Best Song Award: Kiss the Girl and Under the Sea… which is why the “crab” takes Aladdin’s “parrot” hands down.

  6. The Jungle Book (1967)

    The Jungle Book

    This Disney has a real good story line and another all star cast of voices. My favorite voice is George Sanders as the Tiger Shere Khan. I have a real soft spot for Sanders… his role as the supreme cad Addison DeWitt in All About Eve combined the elegant sophisticate with the low gutter snipe. In Shere Khan he brings that lofty patrician Lloyd Harbor tone combined with the menacing sense of evil.

    Then there is Sterling Holloway, one of my Disney favorites (Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat), this time in the role of Kaa the Snake. Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear is lovable and hugable… I just have a hard time squaring the Disney image with his public persona of the hard boozing, heavy smoking reprobate of Vegas lounge acts. Louie Prima as King Louis is top stuff, too. As is Sebastian Cabot’s Bagheera.

    But my favorite character is Pat O’Malley’s Colonel Hathi of the Elephant Dawn Patrol. He executes a near perfect parody of the aging British Officer serving out his time is some Colonial backwater, reliving memories and glories of “Chinese” Gordon and Khartoum.

  7. Peter Pan (1953)

    Peter Pan

    This is not only a terrific Disney “classic” film, Peter Pan is also a terrific attraction at Disney World! And what’s the best part of the ride? It’s when your pirate ship flies above the City of London and circles Big Ben. The illusion is perfect! A superb rendition of the scene from the film.

    Yes, Peter Pan has an engaging story line, but I watch this film as often as I do because of Hans Conried! He, the voice of both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. If there was a contest for Best Disney Voice characterization, Hans Conried would be a finalist (and favored to win!).

    Captain Hook is Disney’s most lovable villain. More bumbling than truly evil, yet skilled in the art of intrigue. And besides, he was a snappy dresser!

  8. Moana (2016)

    Moana

    Great characters, good story, funny lines, a tropical beach setting and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music. Need I say more? This is the most recent Disney release to make my Top Ten!

    Once again we meet an outrageous scene stealer: “Do you know who Maui is? Only the greatest demi-god of all the Pacific Islands, with his magical fish hook he slowed down the sun, pulled islands out of the sea, battled monsters! And I should know, because I’m Maui.”

    Maui, oversized and with a penchant for perfectly timed side-splitting sarcasm! And he has a show-stopping tune “Thank You” that dips into some clever rap:

    Well, come to think of it, kid, honestly I can go on and on
    I can explain every natural phenomenon
    The tide, the grass, the ground, oh
    That was Maui just messing around

    I killed an eel
    I buried its guts
    Sprouted a tree, now you got coconuts
    What’s the lesson?
    What is the take-away?
    Don’t mess with Maui when he’s on the break-away

    But by far the best and most clever song (“Shiny”) is reserved for the giant crab Tamatoa. And it certainly sounds like Lin-Manuel Miranda was channeling David Bowie with the tune.

    Did your granny say listen to your heart
    Be who you are on the inside
    I need three words to tear her argument apart
    Your granny lied!

    I’d rather be shiny
    Like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck
    Scrub the deck and make it look
    Shiny

    Shiny indeed. And this film shines on all levels. From charm, to funny, to poignant, to scary and back again!

  9. Pinocchio (1940)

    Pinocchio

    This is one of my favorite Disney story lines, and more than anything I love how the characters are drawn… I don’t like cats but Figaro is a cat you want to cuddle, only Disney artists could create a flirt in the form of Cleo the goldfish, and Monstro as the whale frightened me when I was a kid… but my favorites in the cast were Stromboli the “impresario” and Lampwick the juvenile delinquent.

    The opening scenes in Geppetto’s work shop remains one of my favorite sequences. Jiminy warming his tush by the log fire, the clocks, and the merry dancing after the Blue Fairy converts the lifeless marionette into a wooden boy.

    And yes, I have a soft spot for Jiminy Cricket, too. You got to love “small folk”. And his rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” garnered an Academy Award for the Best Song.

    n.b. The voice for Honest John’s side kick Gideon is Mel Blanc — he of Warner Bros. cartoon fame.

  10. Hercules (1997)

    Hercules

    This is the long shot, or the surprise from left field, or I have only seen it fully thru once! Then, you may ask, how did this happen? If blame is to be cast, look to Zack. Hercules was completely off my radar. I didn’t see the theatrical release, nor did I see it in DVD. Until. Until Zack told me that the drawing of Hades, and his voice characterization (James Woods), was beyond Mars.

    Zack underprojected! I loved the film. And I have an interest in antiquity that touches on Greek mythology. Disney spins the classical muses into a Motown singing group. Thumbs up on that!

    But that’s not why Zack pointed me to this film. It was James Woods’ portrayal of Hades.

    Hard to believe that based off of one viewing of this film, it would make my Top Ten. That speaks to how fabulous Hades is!

    And it’s not only me who thinks highly of Hades —

    “The role of Hades is one of James Woods’ all-time favorite characters. So much so, any time Disney needs him to reprise the character for any cartoon show and video game, such as Hercules: The Series or Kingdom Hearts, he has agreed to do so. When this film was about to go over-budget, he offered to refund his salary and finish the film for free. Disney decided against this, and finished the film anyway.”

The Afterword

Fun for me to review my choices from 13 years ago. As I predicted in my original post, things can change. What we love today, we might not love as much tomorrow. And who knows when something new will catch our eye and heart. From my original Top Ten, the loss that troubles me most is “Fantasia.” I love the music in the film so much, that I can enjoy the variety of pieces with my eyes closed. Yet the animation adds a special dimension to the music that should never be kicked to the curb.

Maybe the problem is limiting what you love to a Top Ten format?
The Lion King and Aladdin are both missing here. So is Lilo and Stich, and Frozen. And more can be mentioned.

Sometimes you just have to go thru the discipline of picking “win-place-and-show”. Which is what I have done… just expanded it to: Win, Place, Show… yadda, dadda, dah — to ten.

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Church on Fire

I so admired you both for the wonderful friendships that you had. Even for me, 11 & 9 years your junior, I loved that you had friends that felt that 25 Alston Avenue was a welcoming place. And while I was far removed from your social activities, there were brief episodes when I could revel in the joy of that camaraderie, while still being very junior in your company.

Was there a better place for spending time with friends than our kitchen? Maybe. But of the night that I am thinking, it was the kitchen that was the “stage” on which an epic event occurred – and to which I now relate (to the best of my ability… remembering, that I was quite “junior”).

I assume the day was a weekend. A weekend night. Other than you, the only person who I can remember that was there: Jeff Gordon. Although I am sure others were involved. Judy Poverman? “Hangin’ out” was an expression that was not in vogue then, but it describes what you were doing. If memory serves, folks were standing around, and maybe one or two of you were perched up on the counters that framed the kitchen space. Why was Jeff Gordon stretched out on to the floor, I can’t say. Not enough room on the counters? No comfortable place to lean up against? Maybe just looking to take a load off his feet?

Regardless. There he was, a step or two before the refrigerator. Hands comfortably clasped below his head and sharing in with the conversation.

Enter Dad. He surveyed the scene of young people in the kitchen. And then made his way to the fridge looking to have a cold beverage to relieve a thirst. He steps over Jeff… and it is my assumption that he in no way wished to distract from the conversation at hand… but he definitely was aware that Jeff was an impediment to accessing his route to the fridge.

Notwithstanding, Dad takes a seltzer bottle from the fridge, and I am confident that his original intent was to drink a good sized glass of seltzer, and then he paused. Why?

Why? Well… let’s just say it was “Dad being Dad.”

He paused, he sniffed the air. And then announced, “I think I smell a church on fire!” And with this, he shot a healthy stream of seltzer into Jeff’s snoot.” Jeff, innocent Jeff, unsuspecting Jeff, defenseless Jeff, Jeff lying on the floor with hands clasped behind his head.

As a result, Dad had “unleashed the beast”, and I think a more typical “teenaged water fight” ensued. It may have spread to other rooms in the house. But for sure, shrieks and laughter abounded & 25 Alston Avenue suffered no serious damage.

Ultimately, cooler minds prevailed. Perhaps sadly.

Over the years, there have been occasions when the “Church on Fire” story has been illuminated in our shared stories. Or, invoked as a possible activity… as in: “Shall we do puzzles tonight, or play Church on Fire?”

How could we not feel the warmth from that weekend night? There is nothing that surpasses a beautiful memory that produced such joy, laughter & mayhem.

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2018, A Year in Wine Tastings: Top Ten Wines

In 2018 I led 63 Wine Tastings, mostly in the Grapes Bordeaux Room, a few in private homes. Over the course of the year there was a high degree of diversity to the themes. From modest wines that we enjoy with “comfort foods” on an everyday basis, to exclusive Grand Cru wines of Burgundy that are meant for the cellar. We covered wines regionally — Rioja, Sicily, Napa, to name a few. We looked at varietal comparison — including Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Riesling.

From last year’s Tastings I have put together my Top Ten Wines tasted. {SPOILER ALERT: the wines selected are not necessarily the best wines tasted — although some are — rather each of these wines simply declared: “look at me!” Wines in each case raised an eyebrow and were wonderfully satisfying.} Before we head to the listing there are four additional points to make.

  1. The wines are listed alphabetically, so give no weight to the order.
  2. There are actually 16 Wines in the Top Ten. The “rough cut” number was 31, so as you can see, I did some serious pruning.
  3. I love tasting wines that are unfamiliar to me. Part of knowing a “little bit” about wine is that it can cloud our judgment when we critically examine what’s in the glass. A wine from a known producer, or a wine that we have tasted in previous vintages can predispose us to liking or not liking a wine. It’s human nature! Therefore, it’s understandable (at least to me) that my Top Ten is populated almost entirely of wines that were completely new to me – with the following exceptions: the two Châteauneufs, Pierre Gimonnet, Clos Henri and Dal Forno.
  4. I wanted to resist putting in two wines of the same type/region into my list. This proved impossible to do. Why? Because we had two “monster” vintages from Châteauneuf available to taste: 2015 and 2016. And it would have been a crime against wine not to have each vintage represented in my Top Ten.

Aia Vecchia Bolgheri Superiore Sor Ugo ’14 (Tuscany, Italy)

Aia Vecchia is the name of an old building which is today the centre of a company deep in the Tuscany countryside between Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci. The property consists of 69ha, 30 of which are under vine. The 2014 Sor Ugo is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Aged for 18 months in new Allier barriques. In the glass, the wine shows colors of red garnet accompanied by a bouquet of cherries, menthol and a hint of rosemary. On the palate, the wine is round and rich without being overpowering. It is spicy on the mid-palate and lively on the back-end, with flavors of black current, licorice and coffee, followed by a long-lasting finish that is slightly minty and boasts a juicy mouth-watering sensation.

Best’s Great Western Riesling ’17 (Victoria, Australia)

Great Western is part of Central Victoria’s Grampians wine region – one of Australia’s most historic and highly regarded wine regions. The first grapes were planted at Great Western during the 1850s as the gold mining boom receded and people looked for a more permanent means of livelihood. Another floral riesling showing lots of acacia, honeysuckle and cherry blossoms. Medium-bodied with some fleshy tropical and stone fruit, which are delivered in quite a friendly manner across a bed of steely acidity and right through to the tangy finish. 93pts James Suckling

Celler Cecilio Gratallops Black Slate ’15 (Priorat, Spain)

The Black Slate series wines are produced by different producers from different villages of Priorat for US importer Eric Solomon, as is the case of the 2015 Black Slate Gratallops from Celler Cecilio. They want to show the character of the Priorat grapes in the different villages. It’s a blend of Cariñena, Garnacha and Syrah from (guess what?) slate soils that fermented separately with indigenous yeasts and with 20% of the volume being raised in oak barrels for some eight or nine months. I noticed the Syrah here, combined with classical Gratallops sweet Garnacha and a pinch of spices. The palate is medium-bodied, with the fine slate texture, generous, warm and showy, but without excess, with the graphite holding it together. This is a Gratallops Vi de Villa. 90pts Wine Advocate

Ch. Doisy-Védrines ’15 (Barsac, Bordeaux)

The 2015 Doisy-Védrines might very well be one of the best values in all of Bordeaux. Aromatic intensity is mirrored on the palate, where the wine reveals remarkable depth and richness. A host of apricot jam, wild flowers, honey and hazelnut notes flesh out in the glass. Creamy, unctuous and incredibly inviting, the Doisy-Védrines hits all the right spots. This is a superb showing from the Castèja family. 95pts Vinous; 95pts Wine Advocate; 94pts Wine Spectator

Clos Henri Pinot Noir ’14 (Marlborough, NZ)

The 2014 Pinot Noir has a pale ruby color and slowly evolving nose of warm cranberries, mulberries and kirsch with underlying notes of black earth, truffles and mossy bark. It packs a lot of red berry and earth flavor layers into an elegant, medium-bodied palate, with firm, chewy tannins and a refreshing acid line to support, finishing with lingering savory notes. 91+pts Wine Advocate; 93pts James Suckling

Clos St. Antonin Châteauneuf du Pape ’15 (Southern Rhône, France)

The Sabons of Domaine de la Janasse purchased this sizable estate in the Côtes du Rhône in 2015, making this the first vintage for them under this label. To complete the Clos Saint Antonin range of wines, the family selected two parcels that previously went into Domaine de la Janasse to create a Châteauneuf du Pape for Clos Saint Antonin. It’s an overnight success. “The gem of the collection is the 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape. Selected from two lots that used to go into Domaine de la Janasse’s bottling, this is redolent of ripe berries and stone fruit, with a lush, silky, nearly weightless feel on the palate. It’s a lovely example of the delicate, elegant style of Grenache increasingly being produced from Châteauneuf’s sandy soils. Aged in a combination of concrete vats and foudres, it should drink well for 10 years or more.” 94pts Wine Advocate

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ’14 (Sicily, Italy)

A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico reveals beautiful integrity and elegance with wild raspberry, blue flower and raw pistachio nut that is a bit sweet and salty at the same time. Buoyant and bright berry fruit takes center stage and although there are some post-fermentation aromas that might stick out to some experts, I embrace them as an integral part of this unique wine’s distinctive personality. The bouquet is almost electric. It has many elements that recall a young Nebbiolo with powdered licorice, cola and dried ginger. I tasted this wine from vat and tasted it again as a finished product. The label has been restyled to boast one of the most distinctive and contemporary designs I have even seen in Italian wine. 94+pts Wine Advocate

Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta ’10 (Veneto, Italy)

The 2010 Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta is more precise and focused compared to the 2011 edition that I tasted at the estate at the same time. This was not an easy vintage in Valpolicella compared to other parts of Italy that enjoyed a classic growing season. Instead, this Northern corner of Italy suffered from heavy rains and some hail damage. Overall yields were lower as a result. But the wine sings in terms of its brightness and aromatic intensity today. The expressive bouquet covers all the bases from black fruit to spice to drying mineral or flint. All of these elements conspire to bring robust flavors together with smooth and seamless transitions. 95pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Faiveley Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin ’12 (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy)

The 2012 Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru from Faiveley has a beguiling nose with brambly red berry fruit, damp earth, cold flagstone and just a faint smear of marmalade. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, supple tannin matched with assiduous acidity that lends tension and poise. It is quite backward, even compared to other grand cru 2012s, but there is the substance and the breeding here to suggest a seriously long and pleasurable evolution. This is one of the standouts of the Côte de Nuits. 97pts Wine Advocate; 95pts Burghound; 94+pts Vinous

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape ’16
(Southern Rhône, France)

Third-generation Guillaume Gonnet is firmly in charge of winemaking at this family domaine, situated just up the road from Vieux Télégraphe. I tasted a number of lots that will go into the 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape, including a Grenache out of vat that included nearly 10% white varieties. This was ripe and pure, with lovely fruit and spice. A Syrah from 800-liter new oak was rich, velvety and warm, while a blend of Grenache and Counoise was more pomegranate-like and tart but with silky tannins. A prospective blend Gonnet prepared was creamy and lush, with no obvious oak and just a slight bit of warmth on the lengthy finish. 94pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ’14 (Alsace, France)

Growing vines since 1620, the Blanck family founded their Domaine in Kientzheim only in 1921. Lead today by Philippe (sales) and Frédéric (winemaking) Blanck, the family company cultivates a total of 35 hectares of vines, of which 50% are situated in the prestigious Grand Crus Schlossberg, Fürstentum, Mambourg, Sommerberg and Wineck-Schlossberg. The 2014 Riesling Schlossberg has a very deep, rich and mineral, as well as herbal bouquet of ripe Riesling and lemon aromas. Full-bodied, rich and intense on the palate, this is a very elegant, complex and concentrated, stimulatingly piquant and persistent Riesling. It has an explosive and very juicy fruit, with firm yet fine tannins. A great Schlossberg! 94pts Wine Advocate. DRINK DATE: 2022 -2034

Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils Panorama ’16 (Vin de France)

From vineyards on the banks of the Rhône River just south of Châteauneuf, the 2016 Vin de France Panorama is a blend of Merlot, Marselan, Grenache and Syrah made and aged entirely in stainless steel. This medium-bodied wine is loaded with jammy raspberry fruit and supple tannins. Impressively ripe without going over the top, and will drinking beautifully for the next few years.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé ’15 (Sicily, Italy)

Ben Ryé is made from late-harvest Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes, Bright dark golden-yellow with orange tinges. Enticing aromas of very ripe tangerine jelly, orange oil, white flowers, raisins, figs, marzapan and honey. Rich, dense and suave, with a creamy almost unctuous mouthfeel and flavors that are very similar to the aromas. Closes long and extremely dense, with repeating caramel apple, honey and peach flavors. One of the richest, creamiest Ben Ryés in memory, but a touch more acidity might have provided better lift and in that case I would have scored this even higher. Still, this is an absolute knockout, and you’ll never guess it has 14.5% alcohol. 95pts Vinous

Pierre Gimonnet Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay ‘12 (Champagne, France)

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, directed by Olivier and Didier Gimonnet, cultivates 28ha of 1er and Grand Crus in the Côte des Blancs, namely in Cuis (14ha), Cramant and Chouilly (11ha), Vertus (2ha) and Oger (1ha). Most of the vines are older than 40 years, with the oldest vines planted in 1911 and 1913. The 2012 Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay is sourced only from old vines, mostly in Cramant which makes 60% of the cuvée. 55% of the vines harvested in the Grand Cru village of Cramant were planted in 1911 and 1913, but also the 58-year-old vines in the Montaigu plot in Chouilly Grand Cru (which makes 24% of the cuvée, next to the 16% from the Croix-Blance parcel in Cuis) are exclusively picked for the Special Club. Expressive orchard fruit, lemon confit, white flower and vanillin notes, along with gentle contours, all give the 2012 its considerable near and medium-term appeal. There is a lovely sense of radiance to the 2012. 90pts Vinous

Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional ’14 (Lisboa, Portugal)

The Lisboa wine region stretches from Lisbon along the Atlantic coast to the Bairrada DOC. Touriga Nacional is a variety of red wine grape, considered by many to be Portugal’s finest. Despite the low yields from its small grapes, it plays a big part in the blends used for Ports, and is increasingly being used for table wine. Touriga Nacional provides structure and body to wine, with high tannins and concentrated flavors of black fruit. The Sanguinhal is aged 12 months in French oak, this wine is rich and spicy. It has concentration as well as juicy blackberry fruits. With its edge of tannin and smooth texture, it is ripe, perfumed and ready to drink

Sequum MIXT’13 (Napa, CA)

Most of the fruit for MIXT is from the 1½-acre Kidd Ranch in Napa Valley. This 32-year-old, dry farmed vineyard is located on the valley floor within St. Helena. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts: the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah confirms this axiom. Discover how the grapes’ separate identities become uniquely integrated once MIXT or thoroughly co-mingled. This is a hearty coming-together of our Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. It dances in baked plum and raisins as a tartness of cherry and savory dried herb counterbalances the ripeness and sizable tannin.

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