Thursday, May 16, 2024

Pour Boy lunch Venge Brown Bear Chardonnay

Pour Boys gather for FLW weekend and gala BYOB French Bistro Dinner - kick off with Pour Boys lunch with Venge Brown Bear Chardonnay

Our Pour Boys wine group gathered in Chicagoland for a gala weekend centered on the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Wright Plus Housewalk, culminating in a wine dinner at Hemingway’s French Bistro featuring some wine list selections and special BYOB bottles. 

As out of towners arrived for the weekend, wine buddy and fellow Pour Boy Bill C came over Thursday afternoon to visit and plan the weekend activities. We picked up Tuna Poke Bowls and Caesar Salads at Marianos to enjoy for lunch on the deck. I pulled from the cellar one of our favorite and currently best tasting Chardonnays for an ideal wine pairing. I think this bottle is perhaps the best tasting one in our cellar right now, irregardless of the price point.  

We first tasted this label and I wrote about Venge Vineyards and this limited release label in a these pages earlier, excerpted here back in December 2021 when we served it at a special holiday dinner - Venge Brown Ranch Chardonnay.

Venge Vineyards Brown Ranch Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay 2018

This is a single vineyard designated label sourced from the 30 acre Brown Ranch Vineyard in Carneros, named for the previous cattle rancher owner Nadine Brown. The vineyard is bordered by HdV’s Hyde Vineyard and Beaulieu’s Vineyard No.9 on Old Sonoma Road in the Carneros district, straddling the rolling hills in the southernmost parts of both Sonoma and Napa counties. The cooling winds from the nearby San Pablo Bay, combined with the abundant midday California sunshine, create an ideal environment for producing elegant wines that combine power and finesse, with a perfect balance of crisp acidity and well-ripened fruit.

The property, formerly associated with Saintsbury Winery, was purchased in 2012 by the Renterias.

The property was planted with twenty nine acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but most of
the vines were afflicted with Eutypa, a fungi disease also known as the Dead-arm Dieback, which causes trunks or arms of the vines to essentially rot and die. Like the famous Dead-Arm Shiraz label from McLaren Vale, Australia, rather than pulling the vines out, the vineyard managers kept the rootstock, cut off the trunk just above the soil and nurtured a bud to grow into a new trunk. Like the Dead-Arm label, focusing all the mature rootstock energy into one vine branch resulted in rich, full, concentrated fruits.

The Brown Ranch’s hillside alluvial soils, with Dijon Clone 76 set into the pre-existing rootstock, produces this rich full round Chardonnay, worthy of the iconic Venge name.Winemaker's notes: The Dijon Clones are modern strains of Chardonnay carefully isolated from grapevine nursery blocks in France. These strains are selected for their incredible ability to produce the best of what the varietal has to offer and therefore have become quite popular with cool climate growers today. The cool and often foggy climate of the Brown Ranch Vineyard, located in central Carneros, Napa, allows for a slow growing season and optimal ripening. This climate aids in the balancing of acidity and lifting tropical aromas in the fruit and thus, in the finished wine. The vines were carefully hand harvested and delivered cool to the winery.

Winemaker's Notes: "This wine is stylish and freshly balanced, featuring a light, pale straw presence in the glass with a bouquet of fresh orange citrus, toasted pine nuts, mild allspice, rocky flints, and toasted oak. Crisp, savory pineapple, sweet delicious apple, savory stone fruit, and ripe pear lead into mouthwatering deliciousness.

The grapes are blended into used French Oak barrels according to a Burgundian style of winemaking, light handed on the usage of new French Oak keeping it to an average of 45%.

495 Cases were Produced

This release was rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast and Jeb Dunnuck and 92 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

Golden lemon colored, medium full-bodied, full, round, concentrated, complex opulent fruits with a layer almost bordering on butterscotch, accented by notes of baking spice, hints of lemon, grapefruit, ginger and a touch of peach and almond nut cream, with bright acidity, depth and balance on a full long finish.

RM 93 points.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Snowden Rutherford Cabernet w/ ribeye steak

Snowden Rutherford Cabernet w/ ribeye steak

With ribeye steak leftover from our gala Mother’s Day dinner, Linda prepared the chopped up baked potatoes with corn, peas and asparagus as a delicious side. Following the extraordinary Rutherford and Oakville Napa Cabernets recently, and on Sunday, I pulled from the cellar this aged vintage label from the appellation.

Seeking the closest geographical source for a comparison tasting, I pulled from the cellar a 2001 Snowden estate bottled cab. Snowden is from the lower southern end of Oakville district in the foothills about 700 feet elevation. The wines ended up being in stark contrast in terroir and style - but both well suited to the grilled steak.

I wrote about Snowden Vineyards in a blogpost back in 2015, excerpted here, when we tasted an earlier vintage release.

From October, 2015

Snowden Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We first discovered Snowden Vineyards during their inaugural release back in the early nineties. We hosted co-owner Scott Snowden at one of our wine producer dinners at Brix in Napa Valley back then. I recall we enjoyed hearing his reminiscences about his family living down in Oakland and visiting Napa Valley and eventually settling there, and him and his brother taking over and developing the property after his father's death.

Today, Scott is a managing director for Snowden Vineyards. An interesting side note, he has also appeared as a visiting judge in Craig Johnson's fascinating "Longmire" mysteries, one of our favorite streaming series! 

Snowden's parents scoured Napa Valley and the adjoining hills looking for a suitable parcel that they could afford. Eventually they found and acquired a remote parcel in the hills on the east side of the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Rutherford in the spring of 1955, a 160 acre ranch that had been in the Albert and Jane Eisan family since 1895. 

Along the south boundary of the property, Albert's uncle, Ward Eisan, owned a comparably sized parcel which was even more remote than Albert's -- access to Ward Eisan's property was through Albert's. Today, Ward Eisan's ranch is the site of Rutherford Hill Winery, Auberge du Soliel Hotel and Restaurant, Katheryn Hall Winery, and Sloan Winery.

According to their website at the time - "Following Wayne Snowden’s death in 1977, Wayne and Virginia’s sons, Scott and Randy Snowden, assumed responsibility for the property. In 1981, they removed all of the then-producing vineyards and orchards and replanted them to Cabernet Sauvignon utilizing budwood from Jordan Vineyard near Healdsburg.  Through the 1980s, they sold grapes from the resulting 11 acre vineyard -- today called "The Brothers Vineyard" -- to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  During that period, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski, owner of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and his viticultural consultant, Danny Schuester, to optimize trellising, training, and cropping of the vineyard, track cultural variables and correlate these to wine quality'.

"Beginning in the 1990s, grapes from the property went to a number of other vintners, including Silver Oak Wine Cellars, Frank Family Vineyard, David Ramey, Viader, and Caymus Vineyards. Commencing with the 1993 harvest, Scott and Randy began to retain a portion of each harvest for the production of estate-specific family wines. Gradually, an increasing amount of the grapes produced from the property were used in Snowden wines."

Linda recalled tonight, that the artistic label on this bottle was designed by Scott’s wife. We recalled he shared that she was also involved in designing the Marilyn Merlot labels that are so popular amongst collectors, and of which we hold more than two dozen vintages. Today, Joann Ortega Snowden is a partner in Ortega Design Studio in St. Helena where she and her twin sister, Susann, design wine labels and other graphics for wineries in the United States and Europe. 

Today, the fourth generation of Snowden’s are involved in helping manage Snowden Vineyards producing Snowden wines. According to the current website, the current winemaker is Diana Snowden Seysses, a Napa Valley native and the eldest of the four third-generation-Snowdens active in the family’s vineyard and wine endeavor. Diana graduated from the Viticulture and Enology program at the University of California at Davis in 2001. 

During and after her studies, she worked at wineries in California and France, including Robert Mondavi Winery, Mumm Napa Valley, the Araujo Estate, Ramey Wine Cellars, Fleur de Boüard, and Domaine Leflaive. In January, 2003, Diana became oenologist at Domain Dujac in Burgundy. Diana became winemaker at Snowden commencing with the 2005 harvest and since then has divided her professional time between California and Burgundy, where she lives with her husband Jeremy and their sons, Aubert and Blaise. 

We acquired our first Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet in the 1993 vintage and every vintage thereafter through the nineties, and off and on since. According to our Cellartracker records, we still hold ten vintages of this wine.

Like another tasting when we opened a 1997 vintage release, tonight, the 2001 release was still showing well. Back then I wrote, “This '97 is a testament to the vintage, considered a top vintage with longevity for Napa Cabernet, which took several years to finally open and reveal its true potential, even to the point of being outscored by the sleeper '98, considered inferior in the early years after release but showed well in intermediate years while the '97 was still closed and 'lying low'.”

“Now, at eighteen years of age, this '97 is most likely at its peak, will not improve any further with aging, but is not showing any diminution either. It showed dark blackish garnet color, medium body, firm, a bit tight, slightly astringent the first evening upon opening, but notably, this astringency was totally gone the next evening, black berry and black cherry fruits with tones of cedar, black olives, oak, and tangy tannins on the long lingering tongue puckering finish.”

As noted, we have held a dozen vintages dating of Snowden dating back to their inaugural releases in 1993-94. We still hold a half dozen and pulled this 2001 release hoping it would be a ‘Goldilocks’ tasting - not too young, but not too old. It proved to be so, just right!

Tonight, the 2001, at twenty three years, the important fill level and cork were still perfect, as was the foil and the label. I have to say this exceeded my expectations, still seeming to be at the apex of its drinking window, showing well, and likely still to have several years yet of enjoyable quality drinking. Some of this is attributable to the 2001 vintage, for sure.

My records show we lasted tasted this vintage release of this label back in 2014 as covered in this blogpost - 2001 Vintage Napa Cab Comparison Reveals Contrasts in Terroir

Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

We discovered Snowden shortly after their inaugural release in the early nineties and still hold several vintages dating back to then. We met Scott and Randy Snowden during our early Napa Wine Experience events from that era.

Tonight this was completely consistent with that earlier tasting back in 2015. In fact this bottle seemed to be holding up better than that earlier bottle, perhaps due to bottle variation and did not have the symptoms  of diminution or deterioration
experienced earlier.  I gave this bottle a 91 rating, better than that earlier tasting. 

The '01 was dark garnet colored with a subtle rust on the rim, full bodied, firm and a bit tight, forward black cherry, black currant and black cherry fruits, accented by tones of black tea, black olive, herb, cedar and spice, finishing with a gripping lingering tannins.  

RM 91 points. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Radio Coteau Sonoma Coast Los Colinas Syrah 2019

Radio Coteau Sonoma Coast Los Colinas Syrah 2019

For casual mid-week sipping some wine with a cheese plate and fresh fruit, I pulled from the cellar this recently acquired Sonoma Coast Syrah. We love big round concentrated fruit forward wines. I picked up a six pack of this label and wanted to try it to see its tasting profile and determine what my cellaring aging plan should be. 

Radio-Coteau Las Colinas Syrah

The moniker Radio-Coteau (rā’ dē ō – kō tō’) is a French colloquial expression suggesting “word of mouth” , which literally translated means “broadcasting from the hillside”. Ironically, the origin of use of the term is from the French Northern Rhone wine region. The odd name is reminiscent of one of our favorite producer, Vieux Telegraph, ironically from the Rhône River Valley, but deriving its name for a different historical reason

Originally named Joseph Morelli & Sons before Prohibition, the Lemorel winery (as it was later known) dates back to 1892, when the first vines were planted. The current owners acquired the  Radio-Coteau historic 42-acre Estate vineyard and ranch located on a ridgetop above the town of Occidental in 2012. 

Eric Sussman is winegrower and proprietor of the the property going back to the early 2000s. While scouting vineyard sites for the first Radio-Coteau vintage, he met and began a relationship with Robert Von Weidlich, the owner of the property at that time. The 2002 Radio-Coteau Von Weidlich Zinfandel was the first product of that collaboration.

Eric, a New York State native, developed his passion for winegrowing while studying agriculture at Cornell University. After spending several years in Washington’s Yakima Valley, he worked in France as an apprentice working the 1995 vintage in Bordeaux at Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Pauillac, and 1996 in Burgundy at Domaine Comte Armand of Pommard and Domaine Jacques Prieur of Meursault. There he gained respect and appreciation for the intrinsic connection between land, people and the wine they produce.

Returning to the US, he spent a year at Bonny Doon Winery in Santa Cruz, before settling in Western Sonoma County where he spent four years as the associate winemaker for Dehlinger.

Eric established Radio-Coteau in 2002, focusing on the north coast vineyards of western Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley. 

The estate lies ten miles from the ocean on a ridgetop above Occidental, situated 800 feet above sea level, the property is a diverse agroecosystem, or terroir, with beneficial Goldridge soil.  The benchland location
is comprised of the fine sandy loam Goldridge soil, remnants of an ancient seabed, which provides excellent drainage and moderate fertility.

As part of the Sonoma Coast AVA, the site borders the Green Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs. The area experiences moderate rainfall seasonally through the winter months, and overall cool, coastal climate due to the marine air and fog, which provides for extended ripening and good flavor development in the grapes. 

Radio-Coteau has established blocks of Syrah and old-vine Zinfandel, and recently replanted existing acreage to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The estate has three vineyards.  

Radio-Coteau Las Colinas Sonoma Coast Syrah 2019

This Las Colinas Syrah is a single vineyard designated label showcasing the cool-climate site, the essence of the western Sonoma Coast appellation Las Colinas vineyard.

Winemaker notes for this release - “Medium garnet in color with an alluring ruby core, the 2019 Las Colinas Syrah fills the glass with fresh blueberry and crushed violet notes interwoven with hints of sweet clove, earthy sous bois, and dried bay leaf. Gliding tannins seamlessly pull together bright traces of huckleberry and spicy black peppercorn, leading into a long and compelling finish.”

There is similarity to the following release which is worth noting. 

Winemaker notes for the 2020 vintage release - “The 2020 Las Colinas Sonoma Coast Syrah opens with darker fruit notes of boysenberry, blueberry, and black cherry that charmingly balance a seductive underlying sauvage character. A sweet whisper of smoked cherry wood bacon follows the fruit, alongside hints of leather, espresso, and black olives. Slightly dusty, chewy tannins complement a lively acid backbone, making the 2020 Las Colinas ready for immediate enjoyment while also poised for graceful aging.”

Our experience tasting with this wine is expressed perfectly by fellow Cellartracker KINGSLEYZISSOU 93 Points who like the wine and rated it 93 points. He wrote “I may have opened this a touch too early, but delicious regardless and a great example of Radio-Coteau’s more old world sensibility. The nose shows incredible concentration of rustic, savory fruit, notably lush black olive, dried tomato with considerable spice underlining it — herbs de Provence and black pepper. Consider cellaring this for another 2 years at least — needs some more time to develop the tertiary complexity it’s capable of.”

We gave it 92 points, but that reflects personal taste perhaps and I don’t disagree with his rating at 93 fore those that prefer the old world style. 

Antonio Galloni of Vinous gave it 91 points.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Mother’s Day Surf ‘n Turf dinner paired with ultra-premium wines

Mother’s Day Surf ‘n Turf dinner paired with spectacular flight of ultra-premium wines

We were blessed to have all four of our children drop in for Mother’s Day. Some had to move on to mother-in-laws for dinner but Ryan and Alec were able to stay. 

After some spirited blistering pickleball on the driveway court we settled in to a fabulous dinner with some spectacular wines. 

For a very special Mother’s Day dinner we dined on the deck and Linda prepared surf ‘n turf lobster tails and ribeye beefsteak served with grilled asparagus and baked potatoes. Son’s Ryan and Alec brought over from their cellars some ultra-premium wines, which I supplemented with some labels from our cellar.

Our initial wine flight included these labels plus a couple others … 

Kistler Durrell Vineyard Sonoma County Chardonnay 2019 

Ryan brought from his cellar this classic, legendary producer single vineyard select Chardonnay. Kistler produce one heritage Californian selection Chardonnay based clone planted across fifteen select vineyards, from Carneros to Sonoma Valley, to the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. From those sites they produce eleven vineyard designate Chardonnays, each representing the unique terroir of the site.

This label, Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, has been bottled since 1986, sourced from a vineyard at the bottom of Sonoma Valley where it meets the Sonoma Coast and Carneros appellations. The site contains loamy soil that is heavily influenced by a vein of stone that runs through the blocks that are dedicated to this label. 

Winemaker notes for this release - “Pale yellow. Luxurious perfumes lift high, pinned by the marine-earthen tones of the lower reaches of Sonoma Valley/Carneros. Fully ripe yellow and orange citrus flesh and blooms, and a golden fruited body lead to a silken-weighted middle, sparked by natural acids and a lengthy finish that persists with hints of herbed nut oils. The weightiest of our fall release wines but so driven by its well-integrated acidity, that it belies its own density and sits perfectly balanced.”

This release was awarded 97 points by Lisa Perrotti-Brown of The Wine Independent and James Suckling, and 95 points by Vinous, Antonio Galloni.

Golden straw colored with light green hue, medium-full bodied, polished nicely integrated and balanced, expressive vibrant notes of lime, lemon and grapefruit citrus with notes of stone fruit and minerality with smooth acidity on the long finish.

RM 93 points,

Cuvée 'L' Veuve Doussot Champagne NV 

This Pinot Noir Chardonnay blend Champagne comes from the southern Aube region, the vineyards surrounding the village of Noé-les-Mallets in the Côte-des-Bar, situated near the house of general Degaulle and its memorial, opposite the village of Troyes. The area is closer to Chablis than the center of the Champagne region, with a warmer microclimate ideal for Pinot Noir. 

The Champagne house of Veuve Doussot has been home to several generations of winegrowers, involved in all aspects of growing and producing wines since 1746. Today it is run by third generation Stephane Joly.

The Joly family have been winegrowers and producers in the heart of the Champagne region for over a century. In 1970, Georges Joly and his sons created the first Veuve Doussot brand, continuing the family winemaking history set by his grandfather, father and uncles. 

Stephane Joly took over after the death of his father. He restructured the vineyard taking over parts from his cousins, and took over all aspects of  winemaking, marketing and distribution. He is a member of the commandery of “Saulte bouchon Champenois” and local member of the general winegrowers union.

The vineyards are 90% planted to Pinot Noir, best suited to area for its soil rich with clay and limestone. To add fresh and floral flavours to the Champagne they also grow Chardonnay; creating a smell and a taste unique to the distinctive terroir. Because of the proximity to Chablis, you often find similar veins of the chalky Kimmeridgian soil, interspersed with red clay and limestone.

The Veuve Doussot portfolio includes 10 different Champagne cuvees, a few still wines, and an excellent Ratafia (an aperitif made from distilled Champagne grapes).

This cuvee is primarily composed of Pinot Noir, blended with 15% chardonnay, and aged in the classical Champagne tradition, on the lees in bottles for a minimum of 18 months. The dosage level here is designated as Brut.  

This was rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast. 

Golden straw colored, medium bodied, rich and textured, intense bright pear, melon, green apple and citrus fruit flavors with toasty pain grille notes accentuated with dusty rose, white flowers and chalky minerals ending with a bright, crisp finish.

RM 91 points. 

Viña Cobos, Vineyard Designate Malbec, Marchiori Estate, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, 2019

Ryan brought the remains of this bottle from his cellar. We first tasted this wine when Ryan served it at a family gathering about a year ago, which I wrote about in detail in pages at that time, excerpted below. 

Viña Cobos is the Argentine project of legendary California winemaker/producer Paul Hobbs. 

In addition to his global consulting career, Paul Hobbs has navigated producing wines globally, engaging annually in two harvests across nine countries.  Today, Paul is the owner and winemaker for Sebastopol, California based wineries Paul Hobbs Winery and Crossbarn, as well as his international partnerships: Viña Cobos of Argentina, Crocus of Cahors, France, Yacoubian-Hobbs of Armenia and his two latest projects in development: Hillick & Hobbs, focusing on Finger Lakes riesling, and Alvaredos-Hobbs in Galicia, Spain.

Paul Hobbs visited Mendoza in Argentina in 1989 and started working with Malbec, exploring different terroirs of Mendoza, looking for the most distinguished regions in Luján de Cuyo and the Valle de Uco, to produce wines that uniquely express their origins.

He established Viña Cobos in 1998, After twenty years of experimenting, development, innovation and improvement, Viña Cobos has evolved to become internationally recognized for producing luxury-class wines and a world quality leader for Malbec based wines. Viña Cobos creates extraordinary wines of outstanding quality, highlighting Malbec as the emblematic variety of Mendoza.

With the inaugural vintage of Cobos Malbec in 1999, Viña Cobos marked a milestone in viticulture, defying existing standards and firmly positioned Malbec and Argentina on the international wine scene.

Viña Cobos, Vineyard Designate Malbec, Marchiori Estate, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, 2018  

The winery’s elegant and balanced wines are a result of meticulous vineyard farming and utmost attention to showcasing the specific terroir of the region. This Malbec is sourced from Estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The Marchiori Estate is the cornerstone of Viña Cobos. Malbec grapes grown in block C2 have been the key source since the inaugural vintage release, Cobos Malbec 1999. 

Luján de Cuyo is the premier growing region of Mendoza, fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River. High altitudes range from 945 - 1,100 m (2,624 - 3,608 ft). The soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock.

Valle de Uco with proximity to the Andes Mountains characterizes this cool, high altitude region. Vineyards sites range from 900 - 1,400 m (2,950 - 4,600 ft) in elevation. The soils are alluvial, sandy and rocky, and in some areas, limestone.

In addition to Malbec, Viña Cobos grows and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.

The 2015 Cobos Marchiori Estate Malbec was awarded 98 points by JS. This release was awarded 97 points by James Suckling and 95 by Wine Spectator.

Winemaker Notes - “Cobos Marchiori seduces with its extraordinary aromatic richness, it is an intense and elegant wine, in which its great freshness stands out. It shows an intense red color with violet tones. We find red fruit, cassis, plum, spices, blond tobacco, coconut, white pepper, chocolate and subtle notes of cardamom. The richness on the nose is repeated in the mouth in an exquisite way. It is long and sweet, with soft tannins. A meaty and complex wine, with a long finish on the palate.”

“This is really dynamic and focused with blueberry, blackberry and mineral character. Hints of lavender and sandalwood. Full body, yet so tight and lifting. The palate just grows at the finish which goes on and on. Juicy, meaty and dried herb flavors at the end,” writes James Suckling..

The first release of this wine was 2018, under the 'Viña Cobos Vineyard Designate' label. The Viña Cobos Vineyard Designate line captures the richness and power of exceptional vineyards and estates within Valle de Uco and Luján de Cuyo. 

This was dark inky purple colored, full bodied, rich, concentrated extracted black and blue fruits with notes of bacon, tobacco, black tea, spice and herbs with a full lingering finish. 

RM 94 points.

Stalworth Rutherford Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Ryan also brought this recently acquired limited release label to try to determine his cellaring strategy and expected drinking profile. 

This is the Rutherford Bench label from co-owner and general manager of the Stalworth project Tim Persson who, with his wife, Sabrina, took over his father-in-law's wine business, Hess Family Wine Estates, which today is called Hess Persson Estates

Tim took over running the wine estates after spending time with his father-in-law, Donald Hess, during the post-financial crisis in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Tim and his wife moved to Napa Valley to oversee the estate and family wine business.

Tim has a unique background being raised in one of the smallest African countries, Eswatini – Africa's last absolute monarchy, previously known as Swaziland. After attending university in Europe, he became a corporate lawyer and practiced in New York and London before meeting his wife Sabrina.

Tim oversees and leads the wine business as Sabrina tends to her psychotherapy practice. Together they managed to navigate a series of setbacks and natural disasters including the 2014 earthquake that destroyed one of their main wine cellars, the landslides in 2016 that cut off power and access to the winery, wildfires in 2017 causing the winery only being able to make a small fraction of its high-end wines due to the wildfires and the smoke, and wildfires agin in 2020 forcing them to make no Napa wine at all.

Yet, Tim's initial mission to "reestablish" the credentials of Hess with regards to making high-end Cabernet Sauvignon wines was never deterred. As he thought about the 30th anniversary of Hess Family Wine Estates, celebrated in 2011, it was now his responsibility to make sure that the winery stayed relevant for the next 30 years and that is where Stalworth comes in. 

For the Stalworth project, Tim searched for a great Napa winemaker who would oversee creating an iconic wine from the Rutherford Bench, raising the bar when it came to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines. 

He as able to sign Celia Welch, an expert in making iconic Rutherford wines including the hard to obtain Scarecrow. They found the ideal vineyard in the Rutherford Bench in 2015 but the back-to-back unfortunate events of extreme accumulation of drought from 2012 to 2015 as well as all the disasters suffered from 2014 to 2017, put off the first vintage of Stalworth until 2018 - considered a "spectacular year" that is "terroir-driven" according to Wine Spectator. 

Celia said that they used that delay time to learn the vineyard and to experiment in the winery with the wines in building up to and preparing for the inaugural vintage. During that time, they also had to rebuild the original historic antique stone winery, built in 1903, that had been destroyed by an earthquake, allowing them to build a state-of-the-art facility setting the stage to reach greater heights.

This 2019 Stalworth, Rutherford Bench, NapaValley is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a minuscule amount of Malbec and Petit Verdot. 

Winemaker notes - “Delicious cassis flavor to this wine that has lots of juiciness with blackberry preserves and baking spice with sweet tobacco leaf and crushed rocks all wrapped up in lush tannins and a superb length of flavor.”

Adding a slight amount of Malbec and Petit Verdot, according to Celia, was more about "balancing the texture" as there might be either a dip in the mid-palate that needs to be filled in or maybe some rounding out as she always wants the last sip to be tasty as she wants to avoid any astringency. 

This was dark ruby colored, full bodied with elegant polished blackberry and black cherry fruits with notes of black tea, floral and anise with smooth polished tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 92 points. 

Only 167 cases were made of their inaugural release in 2018.

Del Dotto ‘Vineyard 887’ Connoisseur Series Colbert French Oak St Helena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

I pulled from the cellar this special limited release label from Del Dotto Vineyards, a family-owned winery which focuses on small production, premium wines. Since our introduction to Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto back in the 90’s they have gone on to acquire several more vineyards across the top Napa Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) including Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain, as well as out on the Sonoma Coast. 

Through our wine club allocations and purchases at the various Del Dotto wineries over the years, including the St Helena Winery and Caves, and the Piazza Del Dotto Winery in Oakville, this producer represents one of the largest holdings in our cellar collection, dating back to their inaugural releases in 1993-94. 

We’ve visited three of the Del Dotto winery estates including one of the most memorable wine tasting events we have had in Napa - the delicacies culinary wine pairing at Piazza Del Dotto during our Napa Wine Experience 2018

We’ve featured Del Dotto tasting and site visits many times in these pages including  our Del Dotto Winery and Caves tasting tour the year earlier, when we acquired this bottle. 
With small production counts and a dedicated team, they produce luxurious, high-quality wines. This is from their Rutherford estate, which consists of 12 acres of Bordeaux varietals. Robert Parker has praised the producer: "Don’t dare miss a tasting at Del Dotto’s cellars... Dave Del Dotto has put together an impressive team of winemakers and spent a fortune securing some of the best vineyard sites money can buy. All things considered, his wines, which he calls “silk juice,” are exceptional in quality, along with his charcuterie, which really could be sold for a small fortune, given the amazing quality it exhibits.”
  • In the unique, almost excessive Connoisseur Series, Del Dotto uses over 50 barrel types from cooperages around the world including France, USA, Russia, Hungary and Italy. Bottles are labelled with the oak type. For this single vineyard release the Del Dotto website lists no less than 37 different wines featuring different specific oak barrel and vintage combinations.

    Our Pour Boys wine group tour the Del Dotto
    St Helena Winery and Caves 
    I pulled from our cellar this ultra-premium single-vineyard designated select Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This was especially fun to taste this label as it represents some pleasant memories of our Napa Valley wine tours. We tasted and then procured this wine during our Napa Valley, Del Dotto Winery and Caves Tasting and Tour in 2018.

    This single vineyard designated select label is crafted from fruit from the Del Dotto 887 St Helena Vineyard. 

  • The vineyard is named for the address, 887 St Helena Highway, on the south approaches into the town, the picturesque vineyard sits just north of Zinfandel Lane nestled against the foothill along St Helena highway. It consists of nine acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, planted in 2000. 

    Rick & Linda with David Del Dotto, 2003

    Located on the south end of the St. Helena Appellation, Vineyard 887 is one of the highest rated vineyards in Napa Valley. It is purported to be the favorite vineyard of the producer.

    This vineyard shows the typical St. Helena characteristics of lush, fruity berries, with easily accessible tannins on the palate. 

    The inaugural vintage of an 887 Vineyard single vineyard designated wine/label was in 2004. By 2012 it was receiving 96-98 point ratings from Robert Parker. 

    The property also is the site of a guest cottage, amidst the vineyard surrounded by the vines. Linda and I had the pleasure of staying in the cottage during a memorable weekend at the Napa Valley Del Dotto winery, estate, vineyards and cave tour back in 2003 (left).

    The single vineyard designated label didn't exist back then, it came along the next year, but we didn't discover the label until our 2018 estate and winery visit and tour. We purchased this label at that time, much in remembrance of that earlier visit, and had great anticipation of tasting this wine again, which we finally did tonight. 

    Del Dotto Napa Valley Vineyard 887 St. Helena Connoiseur's Series Colbert French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

    This is a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon, crafted in the unique Del Dotto method, it is part of the Del Dotto Connoisseur's Series where the same wine will be aged in different oak barrels of different oaks for the ultimate comparison tasting experience. We once did a horizontal tasting of the same wine aged in several different French and American Oak barrels. I recall this oak, was my favorite from that tasting, although many of the differences are very slight and nuanced. 

    This version was aged in Colbert French Oak. Robert Parker gives this wine 95 points and an aging window of 2018 out to 2040. 

    We have hosted wine dinners where we served a selection the Connoisseur Series of the same wine aged in different oaks. Only the discriminating experienced enophiles appreciated and discerned the differences. 

Winemaker notes - “This is a very unique and dense Vineyard 887 Cabernet Sauvignon bouquet.  Powerful aromatics of leather, cedar, tobacco and blueberry and boysenberry fruits.  As the nose opens up, nuances of purple rose pedals and sweet Tahitian vanilla bean develop. The mouthfeel is very balanced and soft, yet rich from the mid to back palate. This lovely Reserve Cab showcases cassis, black currants and raspberry with an undertone of dark chocolate covered strawberries. The 2015 887 is drinking beautifully right now and will continue to unfold layers of flavors for the next 10+ years.”

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex, concentrated, forward, structured black berry and tangy black currant fruits with notes of pipe tobacco, black tea, graphite and hints of milk chocolate, anise and spicy cinnamon turning to firm but silky smooth approachable tannins on the long tangy acidic lingering finish. This is getting better every year. In 2020 I wrote, this needs a few more years to settle, soften and integrate further. It’s working as this was delicious and likely will continue to improve with some more aging over the next several years. I wish I had more. 

RM 94

Beau Vigne “Cult” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Alec brought this ultra-premium Napa Valley Cabernet. 

This producer first caught our attention when buddy Bob brought one of their wines to our Pour Boys OTBN - "Open-That-Bottle-Night" 2022 in Charleston and I pegged it as WOTN - Wine of the Night, my personal favorite. Bob picked up the bottle at his local Total Wine beverage superstore in Boca Raton Town Center. I saw the label when there and also at the new Total Wine in Indy. 

Soon thereafter, son Ryan got their wine club promotional mailing and shared it and Alec and I picked up a mixed case of their Signature Series Bordeaux varietals including this aged vintage release from their library close-out. Since then we’ve continued to collect various labels and releases from their collection. 

I’ve written about Beau Vigne in several blogposts in these pages, (pronounced bo-veenya), Beau Vigne was founded by Ed and Trish Snider with their first vintage release in 2002. Translated from French it means beautiful vineyard in French.

Ed’s family has a long history in Napa Valley dating back to his Swiss Italian grandfather Martin Garzoli who arrived in Napa in 1913. He grew up on a ranch in Carneros and worked on farms in Napa and Sonoma. Martin made his own wines at home in the evenings. His son John Garzoli played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1955 and went on to coach football at St. Helena High School in the center of Napa Valley where children of many vintners attended school. A number of Ed’s former students are now in the wine industry.

In 2018, they sold Beau Vigne to Don Dady and Jason Kyle from Arizona. Jason was a former NFL football player, a long snapper for five different teams including the San Francisco 49ers. In addition to his wine interests, Jason is co-owner of Press Coffee Roasters with locations in Arizona.  Partner Dady is co-founder of Annexus, a financial company in Scottsdale and also owns Seven Apart Winery in Napa Valley just north of the city of Napa. 

Beau Vigne sourced fruit for their estate wines from their 10 acre Stags Ridge Vineyard at the top of Soda Canyon Road on the slopes of Atlas Peak at about 1650 feet elevation. The site was planted to 8 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and an acre each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Ed sold the vineyard and it is now a part of Seven Apart Winery’s estate. Beau Vigne continues to source grapes from there and other premium vineyards in Napa Valley. 

Since 2019, Beau Vigne has partnered with Appellation Trading Company to distribute Beau Vigne as part of their portfolio of brands. 

Over the years, Beau Vigne has been crafted by several highly regarded Napa Valley winemakers. Their founding winemaker was Dave Phinney who went on to develop several successful brands, most notably, Orin Swift Cellars and the Prisoner portfolio of wines. One of our favorite winemakers, Kirk Venge of Venge Vineyards has also crafted Beau Vigne wines. Today the winemaker is Julien Fayard.

Originally from France, Julien began his career as a winemaker producing quality rosé at his family’s winery in Provence. He worked at legendary Chateaux Lafite Rothschild and Smith Haut Laffite in Bordeaux before relocating to Napa Valley where he was Philippe Melka’s director of winemaking for a few years before setting out on his own.

Julien earned his Master in Agri-Business from ESA France and his Master in Winemaking from Toulouse France. In 2011, he received his MBA from UC Davis. 

Recently, Beau Vigne became part of a select collection of vintners represented at Vintner’s Collective, the city of Napa’s oldest collective tasting room. They showcase wines from an elite group of premier Napa Valley producers who do not have their own tasting rooms. Select bottlings and vintages of Beau Vigne are available for tasting and purchased there. 

Beau Vigne bottles wines under three different brands; the Legacy Series, the Signature Series and the Discovery Series.

Beau Vigne “CULT” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

First released in 2008 and is culled solely from barrels selected with complex aromatics, voluptuous texture and purity as well as depth. CULT is produced to “convey a pure expression of climate and soil with winemaker Julien Fayard nurturing its creation,” according to the producer. ‘

This label is a bit of an enigma, Release priced at $150, some sellers play on the ‘Cult’ label and market dynamics and sell it for $200. Yet, it can be found discounted at $99, and often for less. 

The 2020 Cult is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and a dash of Petit Verdot magic.

Winemaker notes - Crushed black currant and bing cherry aromas. Among these scents are black licorice, clove, and melted dark chocolate. Flavors of shortbread, blackberry, and plum hit the palate. Loamy black truffle elements add layers of savoriness to the long finish.

Garnet colored, medium full bodied, tightly structured, ripe black currant and blackberry fruits with notes of anise, clove spice and bitter dark chocolate and cedar with moderate tannnins on a lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet with flank steak

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet with grilled flank steak 

Wife Linda had several lady friends over for a cookout to visit with a friend returning from Florida having relocated there. She prepared flank steak and salmon with grilled vegetables. I set out a Sonoma Chardonnay for the ladies, then I dined separately and snuck a plate and opened a Napa Cabernet for my dinner wine pairing.  

Mount Veeder Winery Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 

This is from Mount Veeder Winery, named for the site of their estate and vineyards sitting at 1000 to 1600 feet elevation, high in the Mayacamas Mountains at the southern end of the range at the southwest corner of Napa Valley.

Owners and producers Michael and Arlene Bernstein were the first to plant grapevines on Mount Veeder in 1970. Encouraged by their friend and Napa legend Robert Mondavi, the Bernsteins established the first winery on Mount Veeder.

Back before the Mount Veeder AVA was established they were the first vintners in Napa Valley to plant Petit Verdot, and the first to plant all five of the classic Bordeaux varietals on the same property.

Mount Veeder Winery has three vineyard ranches and vineyards high up the Mayacamas Mountain where they produce powerful concentrated flavorful wines that express the mountain terroir. The mountain terroir microclimate is above the fog bank, exposed to the soft morning sun and protected from the afternoon heat by the surrounding mountains, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Late in the autumn growing season, the mountain's cool days and warm nights mean extra hang time.

Mount Veeder Winery Winemaker is John Giannini learned his craft over 15 years collaborating on several 100-point bottlings working under the tutelage of renowned winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown.

 My CellarTracker records show that this is the last bottle of a six pack I bought upon release nearly a dozen years ago. This is the estate label, from a long time producer, entry level priced for offering good QPR - quality price ratio, for a Napa Cabernet. They also produce some ultra-premium labels including one with fruit from the famous legendary ToKalon Vineyard. 

At a dozen years of age, the fill level, foil, label and most importantly the cork were all in pristine condition, This wine is probably at the apex of its drinking profile, and won’t improve with further aging. It is most likely entering the end of its drinking window and will start diminishing from age going forward, but still has a couple years left of acceptable drinking. Wine Enthusiast advised to hold it till 2015 or 2016, but not beyond that. Robert Parker advised to hold it for a decade, or more. Wine Spectator advised to drink it through 2022. 

This is the estate label, from a long time producer, budget priced for basic every day consumption, offering good QPR - quality price ratio, for a Napa Cabernet. 

This release is a Bordeaux (varietals) blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and a small amount of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

This release was awarded 90 points by Wine & Spirits and Wine Advocate who also tagged it a ‘Cellar Selection’.

Tonight’s tasting was largely consistent with my posting back in 2013 when I wrote, “I like this wine”, and gave it 90 Points - “This is a complex wine that changed its focus and revealed itself differently from initial opening to an hour later and moreso the next day. Its bold but lacks smoothness or polish. Deep, dark inky purple and garnet colored, medium-full bodied. An initial layer of intense slightly tart black cherry and ripe black currant fruits give way to full forward flavors of ripe plum with hints of caramel and with tones of anise and mocha. The lingering finish boasts vibrant complex layers of sweet oak, and tobacco with a touch of black olive on a firm tannin backbone.” 

Ten years later, the fruit was a bit more subdued giving way to black tea, pepper and cedar notes. 

RM 89 points. 

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Q39 BBQ KC and Altocedro Malbec

Q39 BBQ Kansas City and Altodecro Malbec for a perfect lunch food and wine pairing 

Visiting Kansas City, we sought authentic BBQ and were directed to Q39 BBQ, trendy BBQ eaterie on 39th Street in Kansas City’s Midtown, between the historic Westport neighborhood and the vibrant Crossroads arts district. 

Q39 Midtown features a rustic-urban style with an energetic bustling dining area, and friendly full-service bar. This is what BBQ in Kansas City is supposed to look like.

Q39 is Kansas City BBQ offers fresh ingredients, sliced-to-order brisket straight from the smoker, Certified Angus Beef burgers ground in-house daily, and wood-fired grill plates served from flame to table. 

Founded in 2014 by the late Rob Magee, who found a passion for cooking at an early age and went on to acquire the highest level culinary skills with a degree from the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America. Chef Rob went on to work in some of the finest kitchens across the country and sought to showcase the tastes of whatever region he was in. 

In 2000, Chef Rob moved to Kansas City to work as an Executive Chef for Hilton Hotels. He became obsessed with mastering the art of KC barbeque and in his spare time, assembled a competition barbeque team. Over the following decade, they ascended to the highest level of competitive barbeque in events across the country winning dozens of local competitions and national championships receiving numerous award and honors. There is a trophy case in the dining room that holds many of their ribbons and trophies from such competitions. 

Magee passed on in 2021 after a long battle with cancer but his legacy is continues, spearheaded by Executive Chef Philip Thompson, who brings the same determination, leadership and culinary skills, having worked for years abroad in some of the finest restaurants. Like Chef Rob, Chef Philip is a classically trained chef and spent 15 years as an executive chef at Hilton Hotels.

I ordered the Certified Angus Beef® Brisket - sliced smoked brisket and burnt ends with classic BBQ sauce with a side of baked potatoes. It was delicious, perhaps the best beef brisket I’ve ever had, or as good as. We also ordered a side of the string onion rings. 

For a wine accompaniment I ordered WBTG - Wine-By-the-Glass - an Argentinian Malbec. It was a fantastic pairing. 

Altocedro "Año Cero" Malbec, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina

Altocedro was founded in 1999 by visionary Karim Mussi. Third generation Lebanese immigrant, Karim and his family pioneered La Consulta, Uco Valley as a special place to make “born and raised” wines. 

Twenty years later, in 2019, Karim’s crazy idea became conventional wisdom when La Consulta was classified as one of Argentina’s few Geographic Indication (GI) Appellations. Altocedro is synonymous with outstanding La Consulta wine. Original old vine rootstocks, indigenous yeasts, hundred year-old concrete fermentation tanks, and Karim’s minimalist winemaking create true terroir-driven wines. 

Altocedro a family-owned and operated winery founded in 1999 by visionary Karim Mussi, a third generation Lebanese immigrant, Karim and his family pioneered La Consulta, Uco Valley as a special place to make “born and raised” wines. Located in the heart of what has emerged as the best place in Argentina to grow Malbec the Altocedro winery and vineyards are located in the growing region of La Consulta, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, one of the premier Argentine growing zones. La Consulta is located in the high altitudes of Mendoza sitting at 3300 feet elevation with long, warm summer days and incredibly cool nights that help Malbec vines build gorgeously pure, deeply ripe, and intense fruit flavors. 

Twenty years later, in 2019, Karim’s vision and pursuit was realized when La Consulta was classified as one of Argentina’s few Geographic Indication (GI) Appellations. Altocedro has become synonymous with outstanding La Consulta wine. 

Winemaker strived for this terroir-driven Malbec to be fresh, fruit-forward, and easy to drink. Altocedro means “tall cedar,” and represents both winemaker and owner Karim Mussi Saffie’s Lebanese-Argentine heritage, and a cedar tree which towers over the winery.  The name Altocedro pays homage to Karim’s roots. Cedar trees are considered sacred in the Lebanese culture, and they surround the Altocedro winery and estate vineyard. Altocedro branding features wine labels with a cedar tree on each label. 

Owner producer and winemaker Karim Mussi Saffie focuses on producing terroir-driven wines. Limiting production with sustainable growing practices and superb terroir has made Altocedro’ wines a cult-type wine in Argentina. 

La Consulta’s original old vine rootstocks today range up to 100 years of age! Using grapes from different subzones, indigenous yeasts, hundred year-old concrete fermentation tanks, and Karim’s minimalist winemaking create true terroir-driven wines. The name Altocedro pays homage to Karim’s roots. Cedar trees are considered sacred in the Lebanese culture, and they surround the Altocedro winery and estate vineyard.

The 2022 Altocedro 'Ano Cero' Malbec is 100% Malbec from vines that are over 30 years old. The farming is sustainably done by hand with all fermentations by native yeast. 30% of the wine was aged in French oak for 12 months and the wine was bottled unfiltered. 

All harvesting, sorting, and crushing are done in individual batches by hand using no machinery in the process. The vines range up to 70 years of age, with only 1,600 plants per acre, and strict harvesting of only 1.2 kg of grapes per vine. The extract is done with a gravity flow system developed at the winery over 100 years ago. One-third of the volume was matured in French and American oak barrels for 10 months.

Winemaker notes - “The nose opens up with a whole array of fresh summer berries; blueberry and raspberry with ripe plum and macerated strawberry. The aromatics show expressive hints of savory cracked pepper and flowers layered with hints of fresh herb, a touch of chocolate, and toasted vanilla. This wine is absolutely juicy with a balance between the rich fruit and zippy acidity!”

The 2022 vintage release was awarded 95 Points & Gold Medal at the 2023 Decanter World Wine Awards, 91 points by James Suckling and 90 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

This was a spectacular wine representing extraordinary QPR - an excellent WBTG (Wine-by-the-glass) winelist offering, a perfect pairing with the hearty robust BBQ!

Dark purple colored, full bodied, concentrated, full, round, forward extracted juicy blackberry and black cherry and plum fruits with notes of floral, earthy cedar and pepper with chewy tannins on a full long finish. 

RM 92 points.  

Returning home, I checked Binny’s, our local beverage superstore, and they have three bottles of the 20 vintage of this label in stock which I intend to go grab today.