Sunday, June 3, 2018

Del Dotto Napa Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve 2002

Del Dotto Napa Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve Sangiovese Blend 2002 at Angeli's Italian Trattoria

For casual Saturday evening dining on the patio at our favorite local Italian Trattoria, Angeli's Italian in Naperville. I took this Del Dotto Vineyards Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve Sangiovese Blend. Our visit to Del Dotto and our private Cave Tour Tasting at the winery in St Helena was one of the highlights of our 2017 Napa Wine Experience. We've been collecting Del Dotto Napa Valley wines since their inaugural release in 1994 and hold a dozen various cases of their labels across twenty vintages.

This label is a unique blend of  blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is named for Giovanni Del Dotto, son of proprietors Dave and Yolanda.

We hold vintages of this label back to what we believe is its inaugural release in 1996. This 2002 release is by the best version of this label I have tasted, being more complex, more polished, sophisticated, yet harmonious than my recollection of any release. Not surprisingly, it is also the sweetest variant of this label I can recall as well, which is much to my liking.

This was a perfect compliment to my two entrees, Italian Sausage and Peppers, and my Cheese Ravioli with Bolognese sauce (shown below).

This tasting exceeded earlier tastings, more complex, smoother and more harmonious; dark garnet color, medium to full body with the full forward, complex tight black berry fruits masked accented by hints of sweet mocha and caramel, with notes of smoke and charcoal before giving way to aromatic floral and bright tangy black cherry fruits with spicy, firm tannins on the aromatic, lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Conn Valley Vineyards Right Bank Cuvee 2005

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Napa Valley Right Bank Cuvee 2005

Celebrating the closing of a record month and our largest deal of the year, and recovering from nearly a week of bronchitis, I pulled from the cellar this dozen year old Right Bank Cuvee (Bordeaux Blend) to complement grilled pork chops and baked sweet potatoes dinner.

Conn Valley Vineyards are located on the eastern slopes of the Vaca Range that abut Napa Valley overlooking the town of St Helena, just south of Howell Mountain. The property has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983 who released their first wine in 1987. They are primarily known for Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a series of Bordeaux Blends in their flagship 'Éloge' and this Right Bank labels, they also produce popular and well known Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines. We own about a half dozen vintages of this label allowing me to select a thirteen year old for tonight's dinner. 

The term Right Bank of course refers to the Right Bank or upper eastern side of the diagonal flowing Gironde River that bisects the City and wine region of Bordeaux in southwest France. Wines produced on that side are generally predominantly Merlot based, while those on the opposing South and Westerly Left Bank are built on a foundation and backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon. In each case the Bordeaux Blend includes the opposing varietal along with accents of Cabernet Franc and in some cases Petit Verdot or Malbec in small portions.

Hence, according to its name, this Right Bank Cuvee is 70% Merlot accented by 30% Cabernet Franc, an ideal blend to accompany the grilled Pork Chop dinner, the Merlot being slightly softer than the more structured and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, which would go better with grilled beef steak.

At thirteen years of age, this was showing no signs of diminution whatsoever with bright tangy vibrant berry and cherry fruits. Still lots of life left in this vintage release. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, smoother and lighter due to the Merlot base, slightly layered and complex, the tangy expressive red berry and cherry fruits were accented by exotic spice from the Cab Franc spice influences, hints of leather and tobacco leaf, with moderate, approachable soft tannins and a smooth sinewy lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Kongsgaard Hudson Ranch Vineyard Syrah 2002

Kongsgaard Hudson Ranch Vineyard Syrah 2002 with smoked ribs

For my birthday dinner with the family, Ryan smoked three racks of ribs and served this Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Ranch Vineyard Syrah. I first tasted this label, the 2007 release, at Grange Restaurant in Sacramento. I wrote in my blogpost at the time that it was the most memorable Shiraz I had ever tasted. Hence I was looking forward to tasting this release with one of my favorite wine / food pairings for this special occasion dinner. Great fun to celebrate with grandkids Marleigh, Reid and new grand-daughter Kinzie.

Prior to dinner, Ryan served Moet Chandon Champagne, also very special as we have great memories of visiting the Chateau in Epernay, Champagne during our trip there in 2006.

Kongsgaard Hudson Ranch Vineyard Syrah 2002

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex and concentrated with notes of what Robert Parker refers to as soy, beef jerky and smoked game tones. There is a layer of bacon fat and graphite overlaying the flavors of black blackberry and raspberry with accents of of licorice and pepper. This was a perfect complement to the smoked ribs as well as Linda's flowerless chocolate cake with fresh berries and whipped cream for dessert.

RM 92 points.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Gala family dinner features vintage Liparita Napa Merlot Magnum

Gala family dinner features vintage Liparita Napa Merlot Magnum

To celebrate Compass Church christening of grandson Miles Thomas Fort, we hosted a gala family dinner with several close church family friends. Linda prepared grilled salmon and beef tenderloin with scalloped potatoes, broccoli and macaroni and cheese, loved by the ten grandkids and peers.

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 1997

I pulled from the cellar this 1997 vintage Napa Valley Merlot from Liparita in a large format magnum. This was an ideal complement to both the Salmon and the tenderloin beef.

This is the earlier generation Liparita that is disconnected from the current era rebranding label that is a negociant business model supplier/producer today.

We tasted this era wines during our wine producer visit at their Napa Valley Oakville custom crush facility back in the late nineties. We later sourced this magnum from an after market auction.

The fruit is a bit subdued in this aged twenty-one year old as it gives way to non-fruit tones of leather and notes of cedar. This remains firm, complex and full bodied with tightly wound tannins but still clings to its blackberry and plum fruits with lingering cherry and hints of mocha, cassis and cedar on the tangy spicy finish. The large format magnum suppresses the impact of aging and lengthens its aging potential.

RM 88 points. 


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Big Syrah duo for wine and cheese evening

Big Syrah horizontal duo for wine and cheese evening

With Sis-in-law Dr Pat visiting for the weekend, I had to pull for her and wife Linda, their High School mascot label wine namesake, 'Oracle' by Killikanoon.

Oracle is the top of the Killikanoon moderate and premium line of almost a dozen Shiraz' save their super ultra-premium special designation labels. Oracle Shiraz has been released each year since 1997 except 2011, crafted from old vine fruit grown along the golden hillside in Leasingham in the Clare Valley in South Central Australia. Oracle is renowned for its opulence, regional character terrior and varietal power for which the valley is known.

Kilikanoon Oracle Clare Valley South Australia Shiraz 2005

Similar tasting notes to my last entry back in 2009 when this wine was only five years old. Now three times that age, it still presents the massive blackberry liqueur accented by full bodied blueberry, notes of kirsch, expresso and hints of cinnamon and clove spices. Dark blackish garnet colored with full body and fine grained approachable well integrated tannins on the long lingering finish.

Over the years since the earlier tasting, the berry fruits are starting to give way to a notes of raisin and hints of leather.

RP and RM 92 points.

For a comparison horizontal tasting, I also opened another South Central Australian Shiraz from the same 2005 vintage.

Marquis Phillips "9" McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz 2005

Marquis Philips is the label of winemakers Sarah and Sparky Philips with their whimsical label of that era featuring the 'Roogle' (shown left), a cross between eagle and kangaroo representing their joint venture with Dan Philips, their American distributor. They disbanded a few years later and started their own label that has become the well known Mollydooker brand.

Like the Oracle above, this too resembles the earlier tasting from a decade ago but this was already a bit of super ripe berry fruit bordering on raisiny.  

Not as polished and integrated as the Oracle, this is more opulent and obtuse with its big rich forward overly ripe dark berry, mineral and graphite, with notes of expresso, cola and hints of dark bitter mocha chocolate.  

Parker loves this stuff! WA 96-98 Pts. - "The 2005 Shiraz 9 (a 4,000-case cuvee that spends 18 months in new and one-year-old American oak) reveals a big, toasty, smoky nose, but the oak is beautifully absorbed by extravagant quantities of blackberry and cassis fruit intermixed with licorice, incense, and spice. This full-bodied, powerful, rich, layered stunner should drink well for a decade."

RM 91 points.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pichon Lalande Gruaud Larose 1985

Pichon Lalande and Gruaud Larose 1985

For a family celebration dinner we opened two birth year wines for son Sean who was starting a new job, and to welcome MacKenzie, or new granddaughter. Linda prepared medallions of lobster with grilled tenderloin steaks, scalloped potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac Bordeaux 1985

Every time I open a vintage Pichon Lalande, I am reminded why this is one of my favorite Bordeaux. At thirty-three years, this is still at full throttle flavorful drinking.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, classic Bordeaux floral bouquet, dark garnet colored, medium bodied, silky smooth polished nicely integrated blackberry and black cherry fruits with accents of cassis, cedar, leather, hints of tobacco, graphite, bell pepper, and earthy mineral. 

RM 92 points.

Château Gruaud Larose St Julien Bordeaux 1985

More austere and lean than the bigger more polished Pauillac Pichon above. Showing its age a bit as the fruit has fallen off a bit and the dark ruby garnet colored is showing a bit of brickish rust color with a bit of opacity - medium bodied, this opened with a hint of that fragrant floral bouquet which is giving way to more earthy leather and tones.

Earthy blackberry fruit is overshadowed by tones of tobacco leaf, truffle, mushroom and spice box, turning to slightly tart black cherry on the long floral full tannin laced finish.

RM 89 points.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trio of Napa Cabs reflect diverse terrior and styles

Trio of Napa Cabs reflect diverse terrior and styles

We hosted a dinner to welcome former client and friend Mike Z and wife Tammy to Chicagoland. Linda grilled ribeye steaks served with brussel sprouts and delicious Chantilly potatoes.

Tammy brought a mixed green salad, and we finished with Linda's chocolate mousse and homemade almond profiteroles, with fresh berries and a selection of assorted chocolates.

Prior to dinner we had a broad selection of artisan cheeses.

 We toured our just finished rebuilt wine cellar and pulled a trio of Napa Valley Cabernets that reflect three appellations and their diverse terroir and styles; Elan Vineyards from Atlas Peak, Paradigm from Oakville, and Constant from Diamond Mountain.

I had initially pulled two 2002 vintage bottles and Mike and Tammy pulled a '94 vintage Elan for their son's birthyear. We also pulled a 2002 vintage Suduiraut Sauterne dessert wine.

Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

We discovered and acquired this wine during a visit to the Monticello Winery where it was produced back in the mid-nineties.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, this tasted remarkably like a vintage Bordeaux with huge floral scents, earthy leather, black fruits, smoke and black cherry with hints of anise and cedar. This wine originally tasted at the winery with producer Richard Elliott-Smith and his lovely wife Linda was true to his Bordeaux roots in flavor, character and apparent age-worthiness as this seventeen year old (now at twenty-four) is holding well and revealing itself more profoundly than earlier tastings.

Now at twenty four years, this is still holding and drinking well, it is showing its age as the berry fruits are giving way to notes of black olive and green pepper. 

RM 91 points.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

We visited Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011. We hold a half dozen vintages of their mountain grown Cabernet and this 2002 vintage release is the best I have tasted to date.

The backbone foundation for this wine release is predominantly Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from their mountain top vineyards sitting at 2000 foot elevation high atop the Mountain with views of Sonoma Valley to the West and Napa Valley to east. it is one of the oldest history wine properties in the region dating back to the 1880's and is one of the very few properties that span both sides of the summit.

The mountain fruit is firmly structured with big but approachable tannins. The 2002 release is a Bordeaux style blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex and fruit forward yet elegantly balanced and nicely polished with a symphony of flavors: ripe black currant and black berry fruits with exotic spices, notes of licorice, hints of sweet mocha tobacco leaf and leather.

RM 93 points.

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
We visited the Harris' Paradigm Oakville winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999. We hold a half dozen vintages of this label dating back to the mid-nineties.

Perhaps an unfair comparative tasting of three diverse Napa cabs, the Paradigm was slightly narrower and single dimensional compared the mountain fruit and complexity of the Bordeaux blends. It was delicious never-the-less and a top performing Napa Cab.

This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright tangy black cherry and black berry fruits accented by notes of anise, tea, spice box and hints of dark mocha, caramel, and leather.

RM 90 points.

With the chocolate mousse and fresh berries dessert we opened this perfectly accompaniment, Suiduraut 2002.

Château Suduiraut 1er Grand Cru Classe' Sauternes Bordeaux 2002

Its great fun to watch these Sauternes wines age and turn from the straw color on release, darkening over time to butter, then honey colored to weak tea colored.

Dark honey colored, medium full bodied, not as sweet and unctuous as some vintages, the fruit is more subdued lacking the apricot nectar and honey of some vintages. This showed plenty of botrytis, with predominate notes of smoke accented by marzipan, almond, ripe apple, and hints of  vanilla on the tongue cloying finish. This was a perfect compliment to the fresh berries, homemade profiteroles and chocolate mousse.

RM 91 points.

Tasted from a 375ml half bottle.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Uriah Spring Mountain Vineyards Red Wine 2005

Uriah Spring Mountain Vineyards Red Wine 2005

For some casual midweek enjoyable sipping we opened this unique Merlot based Bordeaux varietal blend from the Walla Walla Valley in Central Washington.

Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah Walla Walla Red Wine 2005 

Back in 2009 I wrote that this definitely needs some time. Well, its time! This was delightful and a perfect fit for the after dinner cake and chocolates. At that time I wrote, "Definitely needs some time - decant and let breathe. A bit harsh up front with cedar and tar overpowering black currant and black berry fruits - turns to vanilla with creme brulee burnt sugar on the long firm tannin filled finish. Still approachable and enjoyable - just not as smooth as the '03 or the '06."

Well, this has softened and become much more approachable in the five years since.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, smooth polished forward aromatic black currant and black berry fruits give way to hint of nicely integrated oak turning to tones of minerality, black cherry and dark mocha chocolate with hints of anise and tobacco.

RM 93 points.

This is a unique Bordeaux varietal blend of 53% Merlot, 36% Cab franc, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Visiting NYC I visited son Alec at his east side apartment where we opened this Daou Paso Robles Cab before heading out to dinner at tony Il Postino.

I am normally not a fan of Paso Robles wines perhaps due to the heat there in the Central Cal valley that results in intense powerful wines that give off their own element of heat.

This cabernet was indicative of the style from there where there is a punch to the extracted forward black fruit with notes of kirsch, dark mocha, hints of creosote and smokey herbs and pepper.

RM 89 points

Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay at Il Postino NYC

Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay at Il Postino NYC

Visiting NYC on business, I had dinner with son Alec and roomate Dean. We dined at Il Postino on East 49th Street, a favorite neighborhood ristorante, a short walk from the apartment. The ambiance is cosmopolitan and stylish, the menu offers a broad selection of Italian specialties including pesce and pasta favorites. The signature artwork of a 19th century bicyclist rises over a corner table (shown left) and is their branded identity on their business cards and matches.

Their daily specials menu is so extraordinary that Alec had never seen their actual menu. The recitation by the server is worth price of admission. While not necessarily an Italian specialty, I couldn't resist the Dover Sole and it did not disappoint, being as good as any I've ever had.

As a wine geek, I tend typically order the wine to complement and pair with the food, and tonight was no exception.

To pair with my Sole and Alec's shrimp dish I ordered a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay of the wine list.

Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay 2015

Cakebread Chardonnays are  classic Napa Valley Chardonnay, crisp, ripe and round. The style reflects the range of vineyards from the lower Carneros to the central Napa Valley floor.

Straw colored, medium full bodied, aromas of green and golden apples, pear and citrus with notes of citrus spice and mineral.

This is a blend of 90% Carneros district, 10% Napa Valley.

RM 90 points.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 53 Gran Reserva Mendoza Cabernet

 Ninety+ Cellars 53 Gran Reserva Mendoza Argentina Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 

For casual sipping with Saturday Night movie by the fireplace I pulled from the cellar this ten year old aged Mendoza Argentina Cabernet Sauvignon from the cellar. This impressed enough to save over for Sunday grilled steak dinner. Initially, I was thinking 'pizza wine', aka low cost casual drinking for Saturday evening dinner, but this was big, complex and sophisticated enough to hold over for Sunday afternoon dinner.

Another label from negociant private label remarketer Niney-Plus Cellars, this Lot 53 over achieved in delivering a super QPR (quality-price-ratio) new world South American Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Ninety-Plus, this wine is made by a well-respected family-owned winery in Mendoza, Argentina. The grape vines are located more than 800 meters above sea level and are irrigated from the mineral rich water from the Andes mountains. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 6 months in a blend of new and recently used French oak.

I had set this bottle aside in the cellar as 'time to drink', and perhaps 'passed its time'. This vastly exceeded my expectations with high throttle bold fruit forward expressive bright vibrant fruits and obtuse in-your-face accents. This would've been a great 'pizza' wine but it was sufficiently complex and multi-dimensional that it was an ideal compliment to grilled beef steak, mashed potatoes, grilled salmon and asparagus Sunday dinner.

Bright garnet colored, medium fulled bodied, expressive forward sweet dark plum, cherry and berry fruit flavors accented by a layer of anise and high alcohol punctuated tones of eucalyptus and tangy acidity on the tongue puckering finish. The 14.8% alcohol shows but isn't overpowering to be distracting. This is great sophisticated and complex enough to be a great value at under $20.

Binny's Beverage Depot, Chicago's wine merchant super store are showing the 2015 release of this label at under $10. Need to pick some up to try and compare! 

RM 88 points.

Paratus-Spring Mountain Vineyards-vintage Auslese

Paratus, aged Spring Mountain Vineyards Napa Cabs, vintage Auslese - birthyear wines for family birth celebration dinner

Celebrating birth of granddaughter Mackenzie Jean we hosted a family dinner of four generations. I pulled from the cellar Napa Cabs from birthyear vintage wines of new parents Ryan and Michelle from birth years 1982 and 1983. These were in addition to the 1985 vintage release we opened last evening.

Ryan brought from home a 2008 vintage release of Paratus Mt Veeder Cabernet which was an ideal complement and comparison to the other neighboring Cabs.

Spring Mountain Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1982

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

Paratus Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Joh. Seb Adams Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Mosel-Ruhr-Saar Auslese 1983

We toured the Mosel-Ruhr-Saar River Valley region back in the early eighties during the time of this vintage. I don't believe we acquired these wines then even though they are from the region and time period. I found them recently tucked away in the corners of our cellar. They've no doubt been there for decades. I did not have any expectations for these wines being consumable and was pleasantly surprised to find one so.

This is not meant to be a long aged wine and it was not acquired for or intended to be held for long term cellaring. Late harvest TBA - Trockenberen Ausleses may have such aging potential but the Riesling Auslese or Spatliese are not so. I was pleasantly surprised to find this wine intact and approachable.

The fill level was still fine and the cork was intact - further testament and indications of the ideal conditions in our cellar for long term aging.

This was golden light honey colored, slightly cloudy, light medium bodied, notes of subdued green apple and tones of spice and nut with moderate tangy finish.

REM 83 points.

More to come ... 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet 1985

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

For a special intimate family dinner we opened a birth year wine from our cellar for the occasion - Silver Oak from the 1985 vintage.

Linda prepared surf and turf - grilled steaks, mussels, lobster tails and sockeye salmon.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

While showing showing character of age, this is still approachable and luscious with dark garnet color, slight rust colored bricking on the rim, medium bodied, tangy oak predominates from start to finish on the nose and flavors accenting cherry fruit layered over dusty herbal and green pepper notes with black cherry, leather and forest floor, and hints of cassis on a tangy tongue coating oaky finish.

RM 89 points. 

Ninety+ Cellars Super Cuvée Lot 95 Red Bordeaux Blend 2013

Ninety+ Cellars Super Cuvée Lot 95 Red Bordeaux Blend 2013

For mid-week barbecue dinner we opened this bold intense Napa Cabernet blend from Ninety Plus Cellars for the occasion.  I've written often in these pages about Ninety+ Cellars and their Negociant method of procuring and private labeling wine. While many of their releases are hit or miss, every so often they offer a great QPR (quality price ratio) buying opportunity. Oten these will be one-of or once in a lifetime releases, and as such, will not provide the continuity or consistency of dealing direct with the producer and deny the chance to repurchase favored wines. For this particular release, 600 cases were produced, a large enough quantity to reasonably expect to find it available in distribution, at least for the near term anyway.

Such may have been the case with Lot 101 Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 101: Collectors Series Columbia Valley, Washington, Syrah, 2009 which was one of our favorite drinking wines while our supply lasted. We've not seen a recurance of Lot 101 which is the unique identifier for this producer/source of this label, but we remain on the lookout for it every time we see their label or their end-cap displays in wine merchants.

This may also prove true with Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 150 Spring Mtn CabernetNinety Plus Cellars Lot 150 Napa Valley Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon which was a recent or may still be a current release if there remains any left in distribution.

Another recent release that was notable was Ninety Plus Cellars "Lot 94" Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

So it may be with this 2013 release of Ninety+ Cellars Super Cuvée Lot 95 Red Bordeaux Blend, an unusual blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Petite Sirah, that this is a on-off, once in a lifetime buy. I picked up a couple of bottles after the initial tasting but as with these releases, when they're gone, it may be the end of it with no chance to re-purchase that release, or subsequent vintage releases of that wine.

In any event, enjoy it while you can. This Super Cuvée Lot 95 Red Bordeaux Blend is showing well at this time, dark inky purple colored, full bodied, concentrated blackberry, black currant and plum fruits, accented with a layer of expresso and tar, with hints of vanilla, cedar and anise.

RM 91 points.

The Supplier notes sum it well citing, "firm and intense yet well rounded with soft edges and a lively dose of black cherry fruit that unfolds into a smooth, velvety finish".

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Marilyn Merlot welcomes grand-daughter Mackenzie Jean

Marilyn Merlot 2014 highlights family dinner celebrating arrival of grand-daughter Mackenzie Jean

Celebrating another family birth of grand-daughter Mackenzie Jean to son Ryan and daughter-in-law Michele, daughter Erin and grand-daughter Lucy were with us for Sunday Brunch after church so I pulled from the cellar this whimsical Marilyn Monroe Merlot. We hold a vertical collection of over a dozen vintages of this label which each year features a historic photograph of the legendary starlet.

The 2014 release is the thirtieth of this wine and label. This year's label features a photo by photographer Bernard Bruno (Bernard of Hollywood). Bernard took the photo of Marilyn in the 1950’s when Marilyn was producing her own movies.  Marilyn is said to have told Bernard, “Remember, Bernie you started it all —you discovered me!” during the photo shoot for this historic photo.

The 2014 release is a blend of  97% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot, the fruit sourced from Andy Beckstofer’s Napa Valley Missouri Hopper vineyard in the Oakville Appellation.  

This 2014 is dark scarlet colored with hues of purple, medium bodied, concentrated but somewhat subdued black berry and cherry fruit flavors with a firm backbone, tones of spice, dark mocha chocolate, hints of mushrooms, earth and what the winemaker calls 'forest floor', turning to nicely integrated acidity and moderate tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 89 points


Schwa Chicago - a place to experience food as art

Our Pour Boys wine group returned with the girls to dine at Chef Michael Carslon's simple non-descript storefront with the black awning, Schwa Restaurant in Wicker Park, Chicago.

We took a broad diverse flight of fine wines to pair with the nine course artfully crafted haute culinary journey that stimulates all the senses with imaginative dishes that are as artful as they are tasteful.

Schwa provides a perfect BYOB experience as they choreograph an extraordinary culinary course with our extensive wine flight. In retrospect, we learned to bring a more diverse flight of wines rather than three Bordeaux, for example ... A spectacular wine/dine experience in any event. 

Our wine flight:

Fantesca Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009
Sea Smoke Single Barrel One Santa Rita Hills Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
Chateau Pavie Macquin St Emilion Bordeaux 2004
Chateau Troplong Mondot St Emilion Bordeaux 2005
Chateau Leoville Las Cases St Julien Bordeaux 2006
Chateau Suideraut Sauterne Bordeaux 2013
Bricco Luciani Mauro Molino Barolo 2013
Crofts Vintage Port 2003

Friend and colleague Mike S joined us from Conneticut and added a new dimension to our wine group and wine flight with two of his own personally crafted wines - Michael's Amarone 2007 and Michael's Super Tuscan Blend 2007.

The culinary artwork mastery of Schwa ... neither pictures nor words can do justice to the olfactory and sensory experience. The music is loud and the pace is frenetic ... too much so to take in the details and keep up ... Go during the week when there is only one seating so you might have more time. Of course bringing so many wine courses didn't help. The staff do an amazing job parsing through the courses and matching the wines.

Pretzel twig ... shitake mushrooms ...

Peanut butter ... crab medallions ...

Signature dish ... shaved truffel, quail egg filled ravioli ...

Trout Roe ...

Spanish Mackerel ...

Seaweed Sea Smoke ...

Beef braised tip  ... served in incense smoker bowl ...

Foie gras ...

Sorbet ...

For so many wines, one tends to hold to compare each against the previous and following resulting in a wide swatch of glasses ...!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Alpha Mare Napa Cab at IV Chicago

Alpha Mare Napa Valley Cabernet and Argiolas Korem at Italian Village Chicago

For a business dinner we dined at Italian Village Chicago and Wine Director Jared Gelband pulled from their extensive cellar this limited production Alpha Mare Napa Cabernet. To accompany the wine, I selected a favorite dish, simple Italian Sausage and Peppers.

Alpha Mare Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

According to the winemaker, this Classic Napa Cabernet "Alpha Mare is a Limited Production Red Blend Wine that represents the Best of the Best in our cellar".

Dark garnet color, medium full body, complex, concentrated but nicely balanced and integrated bright expressive forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with highlights of mocha chocolate, notes of anise, hints of sweet oak, bright acidity punctuating its whopping Edit15.8% alcohol.

RM 92 points. 

Producer Red Mare Wines sources fruit from very small, well-respected vineyards throughout the Napa Valley. The Cabernet Sauvignon fruit is sourced from the Prichard Hill area of Napa Valley where the  mountain fruit is thick and dense, with tiny berries providing the firm backbone for Alpha Mare, giving it firm tannins, depth and minerality that reflects the unique terroir of the location.

The Red Mare project is a partnership of winemaker Anne Vawter and producer Jim Striegel. An avid
horse woman, Anne named her wine label in honor of her red mare, Paradigm, who was a bonus given to her during her time at Paradigm Winery. The inaugural release of Red Mare Cabernet Sauvignon was in 2007. Only slightly more than 100 cases are produced of this limited release premium label.

As we did with our dinner at Italian Village two weeks ago when we sampled Argiolas wines from Sardinia, we reached back into IV's deep cellar for another label from this producer.

Argiolas Korem Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2007

A more modest selection than the premium Argiolas Nurriga we tasted the other evening, this Korem was a perfect compliment to my Italian Sausage and Peppers entree.

Colleague and dining guest Michael S selected this wine based on personal experiences with the producer and this label and his numerous visits to the region. Michael actually owns an authentic artifact of the ancient coin that adorns the label of this wine.

This is a blend of Sardinian varietals Bovale Sardo, Carignan and Grenache. Resembles a Southern Rhone Gigondas or even a more complex CDP (Chateauneuf du Pape) which also features these varietals.

Bright ruby colored, medium bodied, full forward tangy bright plum, cherry and berry fruits with notes of kirsch, spice and tones of cedar on the long moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Porter Creek Timbervine Ranch RRV Syrah 2014

Porter Creek Timbervine Ranch Russian River Valley Sonoma County Syrah 2014

For mid week wine and cheese tasting, we opened this Sonoma County RRV Syrah. We discovered and acquired this small production label during a drive-by drop-in visit to the winery and vineyards during our travels through the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County last summer. This was the first bottle we've opened from the mixed case we acquired at the Estate.

Dark garnet-blackish colored, medium bodied, black berr, black plum and black cherry fruits punctuated by black pepper, graphite, cassis and hints of floral and smoke with moderate acidity and lingering tannin finish. Linda likes this style more than I do. I prefer more fruit emphasis and less graphite and pepper notes.

RM 89 points.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet 1990

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet 1990

With son Alec home from NYC for a business meeting, I pulled from the cellar one of his birth year wines to celebrate the occasion. We're still holding several cases of various wines from his vintage year for special occasion (s) and at 28, its time to start consuming them. At this stage one has to wonder how such wines are holding up and which ones need to be consumed before they lose their vibrancy.

I've written in these pages about our meeting with Gove Celia, winemaker for this producer back in the mid-nineties, and how the current instantiation of this label is not related to those earlier wines.

We have held this bottle for quite a while as it was not accounted for in our Cellartracker inventory. It was in our older original source hand written 3x5 index cards down in the cellar and was noted in the label notations on the OWC (original wood case) for a 1990 vintage  wine in which it was stored.

This bottle actually exceeded my expectations as I was prepared for, or expecting some signs of diminution due to aging. We held several vintages of this wine from the late nineties and they were not holding as well as this one when we consumed them over the years. This 1990 was holding well and remarkably showed no such signs although it most assuredly will not improve with any further aging.

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, blackberry fruits were accented by notes of leather, smoke, tea and tobacco with hints of anise on a lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cal Wine Flight Highlights St Pats Dinner

Broad California Wine Flight Highlights St Patrick's Day Dinner

With several team members on extended visits to Chicago, we hosted a St Patrick's evening wine dinner to foster team building and to enjoy and showcase a broad cellar selection of fine wines. Linda prepared surf-and-turf lobster tails and beef tenderloin, accompanied by Kerrygold butter mashed potatoes and a medley of roasted  vegetables - yellow, white and purple carrots, beets, golden beets, broccolini and cauliflower.

For dessert Linda prepared a Dark Chocolate Jamieson Irish Whisky cake with fresh whipped creme and fresh blackberries and red raspberries. Tom and Melissa R attended and brought a mixed dinner salad. Mark B brought a selection of Vosges Haut-Chocolat truffles and Dan O' brought assorted cheddar cheeses with chive, herbs and spice.

Prior to dinner we opened a selection of white wines to accompany the assorted cheeses and the salad course. With the dinner courses we opened a diverse selection of California reds.

The white wine flight:

We served a selection of four whites in tasting order from lighter to fuller, bolder and heavier.
This allowed each diner to select their preferred selection and style for the white wine appropriate courses.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Cambria Santa Maria Valley Benchbreak Chardonnay 2014 (not shown)
Fantesca Estate Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008
Château Bastor-Lamontagne Bordeaux Sauterne 2003

The red wine flight:

As with the whites, we served a selection of red wines, for comparison tasting and pairing with the courses. 

Paloma Spring Mountain District Merlot 2003
Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
David Arthur Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 150 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (not shown)
Warre Porto Vintage Quinta da Cavadinha 1995

Selection of Vosges Haut-Chocolat truffles - a perfect complement to dark wines.

Each truffle comes with a fine wine, ale or tea serving suggestion.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Light straw colored, light bodied, this vintage is more subdued and muted than recent vintages with moderate pear flavored fruit punctuated by citrus and grapefruit with only a slight hint of that peach flavor so predominate in some past years that reveals itself after a half hour or so from opening.

RM 88

Fantesca Estate Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008

While the Fantesca Chardonnay was sourced from Sonoma County Russian River Valley, our friends at Fantesca are located on the lower reaches of Spring Mountain there above St Helena. Fantesca specialize in Estate Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon grown on their ten acre vineyard. We served two other Spring Mountain District wines this evening to showcase that appellation.

Fantesca also source grapes from the Sonoma County Russian River Valley to produce this bright crisp full flavored Burgundian Chardonnay, the first ever by Heidi Barrett. Initial 2002-2007 vintages of their cabernet were managed by winemakers Nils and Kirk Venge; then in 2008 they teamed up with legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett. 

As with earlier recent tastings of this label, the fruit in the 2008 was a bit more subdued than earlier tastings in 2010 and 2012 but this is still very tasty. Butter colored, light-medium bodied, nicely integrated, smooth, crisp and clean, subtle buttery flavors of pear, tropical fruits, hints of melon,  lychee and under current of subtle citrus with a pleasant long lingering finish.

This is a favorite of wine buddy, fellow Pour Boy, Bill C who wrote about this vintage release back in 2016: "Medium straw in color. A bit of perfume on the nose. Pear, peach, lemon zest and just a hint of buttery oak on the palate.  When I selected this from the cellar to accompany friend Linda's broiled salmon with dill I was pleasantly surprised to find there was still plenty of freshness left. I don't think this will get any better but it is awfully good right now."

RM 91 points.  

This was a favorite of the whites by Tom, Melissa and some of the others. 

Cambria Benchbreak Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2014

This Benchbreak Chardonnay was golden butter colored, medium bodied with lively bright fruit flavors of citrus, peach, green apple and hints of sweet pineapple with a layer resembling butterscotch on a fresh, clean finish.

RM 88 points.

Château Bastor-Lamontagne Bordeaux Sauterne 2003

Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend that when I wrote four years ago at ten years old this was honey colored, medium to full bodied, rich unctuous full flavors of sweet peach, hint of apricot, citrus, grapefruit and ripe sweet pear on the finish. From a half bottle.

RM 90 points.

Paloma Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Merlot 2003

The Paloma estate sits high atop Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Range on the eastern slope overlooking Napa Valley between 2060 and 2240 feet elevation. The property is five miles northwest of the town of St. Helena. The 20 acres are planted in 15 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paloma gained notoriety when the 2001 vintage of this wine was designated #1 in Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of the year 2003. I last wrote about this wine in these pages back in 2013 when it was in its tenth year. At that time I wrote that it was likely at the apex of its drinking window, showing better than earlier tastings. Now in its fourteenth year, it seems to have turned the corner since then, starting to show its age with the berry fruits starting to give way to raisin and non-fruit smoke and leather flavors. Still this was well received and considered a favorite of some.

My notes from last tasting back in 2013: "I was worried at first when decanted as the color seem a bit dark with a slight brown hue but the aromas were pure berry. Medium bodied, silky smooth, elegant and polished with complex layers of raspberry, sweet current, blue and black berry highlights. This tasting was consistent with my last posted tasting notes from a year ago this week when I wrote, "Medium full bodied, smooth polished, complex harmonious symphony of finely integrated aromas and flavors - predominant sweet black currant, red raspberry, milk chocolate, a hint of ripe plum, sweet oak and a bit of burnt sugar caramel on the long smooth polished finish."'

Thankfully but also regretably, we only have about four bottles left. I extended my drinking window in Cellartracker which was listed as drink by 2011, to 2016.

Reflecting the diminution in fruit I lowered my earlier RM 93 points to 90 points.

Paloma Merlot is a blend of Estate Merlot with some Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that ranges from 12 to 18 percent depending on the vintage. It is aged in a combination of new and used French oak barrels for nineteen months of aging.

Having opened the Paloma Spring Mountain District Merlot, we had some fun opening this mystery bottle.

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 150 Napa Valley Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

I recently wrote in these pages about Ninety Plus Cellars and their Negociant model of wine marketing, buying surplus juice or bulk wine, or bottled product, and then private-label branding it with a anonymized 'Lot' reference number tied to the source of the wine. Such arrangements are typically done under a non-disclosure agreement to shield the original brand/producer. That was not the case or was not followed in the case of this Ninety Plus Cellars, Lot 150, Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lo and behold, when one pulls the cork of these bottles, the cork reveals the true source of the wine, Spring Mountain Vineyards. In this case, apparently, the wine was bottled but not yet labeled for distribution, and apparently sold off to Ninety Plus Cellars who packaged it for retail sale under their negociant general brand that masks the supplier. But, the packaging reveals the original branding of the producer on the original cork in the bottle. According to the Ninety+ Cellars website, the "Source Label Price" for this wine was: $79.99, hence the need or practice of anonymity or not disclosing the original source of the wine. The Ninety+ price is about half of that - providing a high QPR (quality-price-ratio) indeed.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this classic Napa Cabernet dating back to the inaugural vintage in 1994. Our cave cellar barrel tasting at their magnificent Rutherford Estate winery was one of the highlights of our Napa Wine Experience 2017.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, blackberry and tangy black cherry fruits with slightly earthy leather, hints of tobacco leaf, anise and cedar on a moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

David Arthur Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

This is another one of our Napa Valley favorites. Sitting on the opposite side of the Napa Valley from Spring Mountain, above the town of Napa is David Arthur vineyards. 

Our visit to David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery was a highlight of our Napa Wine Experience 2013. The property is situated up at the end of Long Ranch Road up atop Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range. The drive up offers some spectacular vineyard views and vistas of the Napa Valley below. The adjoining vineyards represent some of the premier producers of Napa Valley wines - Brand, Bryant, Colgin, Continuum, Montagna, the new Del Dotto property Villa Del Lago, and Ovid. Not (yet) designated an appellation, never-the-less, it is fast becoming one of the premiere wine growing areas of Napa Valley.  

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex but nicely integrated and polished black berry and black currant fruits accented by notes of tobacco leaf, tea, hints of anise and bit of tar leading to a long silky smooth tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Warre Porto Vintage Quinta da Cavadinha 1995

This was a perfect compliment to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat dark chocolate truffles and Linda's Dark Chocolate Jamieson Irish Whisky cake with fresh whipped creme and fresh blackberries and red raspberries.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes. Dark garnet coffee color - full bodied, a bit of an edge of sweet black fruits, layer of smokey creosote with hint of expresso, cedar and cassis and dark black cherry and notes of cognac on the finish. From a half bottle.

RM 89 points.

More to follow....