Not All Wines Are Created Equal

Anyone who has known me for awhile knows my mantra: “You can’t drink a label or a price tag, or anyone else’s palate.”  And I do hold these truths to be self-evident to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s first devotee of wine.  Although it should be evident that not everyone shares the same taste in wine (and the same can be said for food, art, or almost anything else for that matter), this realization doesn’t negate the quality factor in wine.  Not all wines are created equal.  And I do believe they are not.

Some wines are endowed with greater body and balance, not to mention longevity and what the French refer to as a certain je ne sais quoi.  Some are made from mature vines, grown under perfect or near perfect conditions, expertly pruned, hand harvested, and their wines crafted by men and women who understand art as well as science.  Other wines spring from less favorable terroir, while still others are mass produced in an industrial mode and hardly receive the care and attention required to make the highest quality wine.  It’s fine to drink such wines, if you enjoy them, but just as there is great, aged beef and then there is tough or overly fatty disappointing beef, the same spectrum of quality exists among wines.  And we are not talking about preferring one cut of beef to another or having a preference for apples over pears.  There is such a thing as good beef and bad beef, better quality apples and lesser quality apples, and most people can tell the difference when presented with the choice.  In fact, the majority of the population could be professional wine or food tasters, given the desire, experience, and money to pursue such an avocation.  Only about 20% of the adult population is estimated to suffer from serious palate or olfactory deficiency that precludes them from fully appreciating various scents and flavors in food and wine.  All others are capable of considerable discernment.  Yet, one person may prefer filet mignon and another hamburger.  Who is to say one is better than another?  Such a choice is truly a matter of preference and experience, not quality.  The question of quality arises when the talk turns to good hamburger as opposed to bad hamburger, good Cabernet versus bad Cabernet, and the spectrum of quality that lay in between.

So in short, it’s good to like what you like, but sample as many wines as you can, and then ask yourself two questions.  What is quality? And what is preference?


A Votre Santé!


Don’s February Collector’s Series Top Picks

It’s time for my monthly confession. Yes, confession is good for the soul.  My top picks this month are both red wines.  I know there may be a special warm place for me in the life hereafter for passing over a truly fine white Burgundy that I must confess I really liked, but in the month of February I believe I can be forgiven without having to suffer a colossal penance.  Why?  It’s cold in February and this month’s Collector Series reds can take the chill out of cold winter nights.

Furthermore, Valenciso makes great Rioja Reserva (their one and only wine) and the 2005 Valenciso Reserva is quite extraordinary.  It is a flawlessly balanced Rioja that is delicious now but will continue to improve in bottle for a decade or more.  My other top pick is Alejandro Fernandez’s 2005 El Vinculo.  Alejandro Fernandez is Spain’s King of Tempranillo and El Vinculo is La Mancha’s greatest old vine Tempranillo. It’s a knockout.  For my penance, I will enjoy Jacques Girardin’s 2009 Les Terrasses de Bievaux Santenay in between drinking this month’s reds.


A Votre Santé!


Don’s February Premier Series Top Picks

There is quality and there is preference.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to ascertain where one begins and the other ends, especially when forced to choose among four high quality wines, all of which I enjoy.  Nonetheless, a choice must be made.  With that in mind, my top wine picks this month belong to Donati Family Vineyard’s 2007 Claret and Gilles Noblet’s 2010 Domaine de la Collonge Macon Fuissé.  Why?  Let’s start with this month’s primary white wine: Nobody makes consistently better Macon-Fuissé and Pouilly-Fuissé than Gilles Noblet, and he does it at a fair price so that savvy consumers can afford to purchase his wines more than once a year.

My other top pick is Donati’s delicious 2007 Claret.  Donati, like so many other small California wineries outside of Napa and Sonoma, has flown under the mainstream wine press’s radar for far too long.  Wines from smaller wineries such as Donati can go un-tasted and therefore un-sung amidst oceans of more commercial brands.  A juicy blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, the 2007 Donati Claret is both immediately satisfying and subtlety complex.  I also believe blends are one of California’s potential growth areas and true strengths, but such blends are often eschewed in favor of varietal bottling.  On the subject of blends, give this month’s Gualbenzu Vierlas a try.  It, too, is an artful blend from a lesser known region of Spain.

A Votre Santé!


Valentine’s Day Cheffin’: Part II

Now for the best part of the meal: dessert.  Nothing is more romantic than a savory, sweet desert shared together on Valentine’s Day.  This recipe is quite simple and you can even prepare it ahead of time that way you’re not struggling to get it together on the day of.

Chocolate Mousse


  • 8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter (no substitutes)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream, whipped



In a microwave or double boiler, heat chocolate, 1/4 cup water and butter until the chocolate and butter are melted. Cool for 10 minutes. In a small heavy saucepan, whisk egg yolks, sugar and remaining water. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees F, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat; whisk in chocolate mixture. Set saucepan in ice and stir until cooled, about 5-10 minutes. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon into a margarita glass or champagne flute for appeal.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  Pairs beautifully with a Bordeaux or Port.  Happy Valentine’s!


Valentine’s Day Cheffin’: Part I

Yup, it’s coming up people and you know what that means; flower stores all over are counting their rose pedals, heart-shaped boxes full of chocolates are selling like hot cakes, and restaurants are getting booked up by the hour.  But you know, with all the hustle and bustle associated with going out on Valentine’s day, the “special” just seems to get lost in it all.  Don’t get me wrong, I love going out for a prepared romantic meal for two, but how romantic can it be when stuffed in a loud, crowded room full of people?  You really want to enjoy that time with just that special someone sitting across from you.

So, why don’t more people just make it a more intimate, romantic setting for two at home?  Well let’s be honest – this is a girl’s holiday and I think I could say pretty confidently that girls usually reign supreme in the kitchen over guys.  Some guys might feel a little lost and overwhelmed at the idea of making a beautiful meal at home that will impress, so they’re quick to just go through the phone book and find a perfect place to have it done for them.  Well, I think I can help guys.  I thought I’d share a recipe that I think would be perfect for this Valentine’s Day, all while keeping it simple, and still getting the romantic satisfaction that you’re truly looking for.  Creamy, savory, delicious Chicken Marsala will definitely put love in the air, and in your tummy.  And don’t be shy ladies; if you feel like switching the tables around, this dish will be sure to please him too:

Chicken Marsala with Angel Hair Pasta


  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging seasoned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, garlic & onion powder
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms, stemmed and halved
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound box of Angel Hair Pasta


Start a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them; pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick. Put some flour in a shallow platter and season with a fair amount of the salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder; mix with a fork to distribute evenly.

Heat the oil over medium-high flame in a large skillet. When the oil is nice and hot, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Slip the cutlets into the pan and fry for 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once – do this in batches if the pieces don’t fit comfortably in the pan. Remove the chicken to a large platter in a single layer to keep warm.

Lower the heat to medium and add the prosciutto to the drippings in the pan, saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat. Now, add the mushrooms and saute until they are nicely browned and their moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Pour the Marsala in the pan and boil down for a few seconds to cook out the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and simmer for a minute to reduce the sauce slightly. Stir in the butter and return the chicken to the pan.  Add pasta to the boiling water; the pasta should take 4-5 minutes to cook.  Simmer gently for 1 minute to heat the chicken through. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley before serving.  I suggest a nice, buttery Chardonnay to pair with.  Hope you enjoy!