Monday, March 13, 2017

Bedell Cellars First Crush Red Wine 2014

Bedell Cellars 'First Crush' Red Wine 2014

I first discovered Bedell Cellars during my visit to the North Fork Long Island, New York winery/cellar visits in the early winter of 2001. At the time, my cellar notes record that I tasted their Bordeaux varietal wines, 1997 Beddell Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and their 1999 vintage Chardonnay and Chardonnay Reserve.

We then tasted Bedell Cellars wines at Murray's Cheese Restaurant and wine bar on Bleeker Street in the Greenwich Village, one of Son Alec's favorite eateries in the City. Again, we tasted Bedell Bordeaux varietal wines there based on Cabernet Franc.

What a fun surprise to find this Bedell Cellars artist series Bordeaux varietal release in our local wine shop, Sav-Way in nearby Hinsdale, IL. I must admit, were it not for the catchy artsy Artist Series label, I may have missed it.

Bedell Cellars are the namesake winery and vineyards of founders Kip & Susan Bedell who planted their first grapevines on their acquired fifty acre former potato farm on eastern Long Island back in 1980. Kip's passion and dedicated work over the next two decades earned him the moniker ”Mr. Merlot” in Wine Spectator magazine.

Bedell cellars was bought in 2000 by Michael Lynne, a New York film executive and art collector. Continued investment in the property and brand propelled Bedell to one of the benchmark wineries in the eastern US producing the best wines of the Long Island appellation.

The acquisition of Bedell allowed Michael to combine lifelong passion for wine and food with his love of the theater, film and art. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he leads an entertainment law firm with a long running association with New Line Cinema one of the world's most successful independent film companies. Today he is Principal of Unique Features, a film production company and an esteemed contemporary art collector and Trustee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

That convergence of his love of art and wine are manifested in the Bedell Artist Series featuring specially commissioned works by world renowned contemporary artists on the labels of special release wines.

This label, Bedell Cellars First Crush Red Wine features the artwork of  Mickalene Thomas, an internationally renowned artist and filmmaker. Her work explores the intricacies of female beauty through painting and collage. Her installation 'Better Days' was featured at Art Basel and her documentary, 'Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman' premiered on HBO. She painted the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.

For Bedell's First Crush labels Mickalene selected a collage from her 2014 series, Tête de Femme, portraying abstracted female faces constructed from abstracted geometric cutouts. In this work, Mickalene combines art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references to comment on notions of beauty and gender in the 21st century.

First Crush is a red blend of young vine Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc (25%) fruits, aged in stainless steel. Dark garnet colored with purple hues, it is medium light bodied with initial aromas of damp wood, leather and dusty rose petals, gripping tannins are pervasive from the initial bright vibrant red berry and cranberry fruits through to the layer of spice, dusty rose and cedar with tones of green bell pepper and tangy black cherries on the lingering finish. The tangy notes of the fruit may be attributable to the youthful vines. The finishing floral aromatics are more desirable than the opening.

The bright tangy fruits go better with forward moderately spiced food.

At the release price of $30 there are better values out there, but at the 'street price' below $20, this provides good value QPR - quality price ratio. 

RM 87 points. Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

For a day outing, taking my folks out for dinner, we traveled to Cedar Lake, Indiana to dine at the Lighthouse Restaurant overlooking the lake. We were hoping to take a nice bottle of wine but Indiana's repressive liquor laws prohibit BYOB. We were pleased to fine suitable wine selections by the bottle and WBTG (by the glass) from their limited but carefully selected wine list. 

This was our first visit to the Lighthouse and it exceeded our expectations in every way. The venue, food, service, atmosphere and overall hospitality were fabulous. I was expecting a small dark cottage from the 40's or 50's. Instead, Lighthouse is bright, vibrant, trendy, quaint and modern, all at the same time. The bar and the hostess' desk are both constructed from the hull of old classic double plank boats. There are dining rooms that are intimate and others bright and airy with large windows offering wonderful panoramic views of the lake. The menu was expansive, the food very good, and the service was extraordinary. 

Keith and Linda has filets of beef, mom had bbq ribs and I had the macadamia crusted Canadian Walleye. All our entrees and sides were very good - carefully prepared, served hot, with appropriate portions. The Walleye was a large portion, heavily encrusted with toasted macadamia nut, served with a tasty beau blanc sauce.  

For wine selections we ordered by the glass Kendall Jackson Sonoma County Chardonnay and Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were ideal accompaniments to the food and were fairly priced with appropriate pours. 

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

I have never heard of this label and was skeptical since it is a 'California' selection, meaning the fruit is sourced from a variety of locations across the state, as opposed to being from one appellation or even region. Often such wines are bulk wines, from fruit sourced from growers who sell grapes or even bulk wine as a commodity. Or, such wines are a melange, comprised of fruit from a disparate sources resulting in non-descript wines lacking character or style since they lack any sense of terroir or sense of place. 

What a pleasant surprise, while this wine is comprised of grapes from vineyards in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County, the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County and the Lodi AVA in San Joaquin County, it is an Estate wine, meaning the grapes are all from producer owned vineyards. The producer's notes cite the integration of flavors from each region. They succeeded as the result is a wine that is well crafted, very flavorful, nicely balanced, even bordering on being polished. 

Dark garnet colored, bold, rich, full-bodied, aromatic, complex bright, nicely integrated dark berry fruits accented with tones of mocha chocolate, spice, hints of nutmeg and vanilla, ending with savory moderate tannins.

Perhaps explaining its harmonious complexity, different sources attribute this to be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, Malbec, Petit Sirah and Cabernet Franc.

RM 90 points.

The winemaker is Sonoma County native Aaron Piotter who has been crafting wines for more than two decades. As their website attests, "Storypoint is a new project in which Aaron releases any restraints of traditional AVA’s, allowing him to express one singular vision: to make interesting wines regardless of their boundaries." 

'A graduate of the University of California at Davis Viticulture & Enology program, Aaron has made wine from all over California, including ZD and Ferrari Carano. Using this knowledge, he plots out a course each vintage to create the layered, complex wines of Storypoint."

Well done, indeed! He has done a remarkable job in this enjoyable, sophisticated but easy drinking wine that offers very great QPR - (quality-price ratio). 

Part of this value is that a 'non-appellation specific' wine avoids or lacks all the cache or snobbery of any particular area, hence not commanding a higher price-point for such wines. Over time, as the brand becomes more established and better known, with consistency and continued high achievement, prices of Storypoint wines may well escalate. Grab them while you can, if you can find them!

More of Lighthouse Restaurant, Cedar Lake, IN ....

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Papillon and Legende at Indigo Springfield

Papillon and Legende at Indigo Springfield

Visiting valued client in Springfield (IL), the account team dined at Indigo Restaurant. Following our tasting of Clio last month, I took another big bold expressive wine, BYOB, Orin Swift Papillon Bordeaux Blend which we matched up against Barons de Rothschild Légende from the wine list to accompany our beef steak dinners.

Indigo with their whimsical fun Blue Dog gallery offers a nice atmosphere for a business dinner, a special occasion or intimate dinner date. As always, the Indigo staff were professional, proficient, accommodating and attentive. The steaks were done to perfection and this evening they served an imaginative gorgonzola laced roasted potatoes accompaniment. The sushi entree left something to be desired and should be avoided in favor of their traditional midwestern faire.

Papillion is a Bordeaux Proprietary Blend from Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift Cellars, producer of a range of imaginative and bold wines that showcase the range and diversity of the best of Napa Valley wines.  Orin Swift perhaps is best known for The Prisoner series of wines which he sold a few years ago. He now focuses on and produces his higher end selections including this bold but polished red blend. 

David Swift Phinney began his wine journey back in 1995 when he traveled to Florence, Italy and discovered and got hooked on wine. After university graduation in 1997 he worked as as temporary harvest worker at Robert Mondavi Winery.  Setting out on his own, in 1998 he founded Orin Swift Cellars named for his father’s middle name Orin and his mother’s maiden name Swift. He spent his early years making wines for others and developing a line of Zinfandel based wines under his own label from fruit sourced from others. 

I've written about how Phinny is one of the more fascinating studies in wine branding. In his Orin Swift line, he shows why he is known for and recognized by his imaginative, creative, if not mysterious, even weird branding with his artistic naming and labeling of his wines. His line-up reads more like a series of mystery novels than a flight of fine wines - Abstract, China Doll, Mannequin, Machete, Mercury Head, Mute, Palermo, Papillon, Slander, Trigger Finger, and Veladora.

Mercury Head is his premium label Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and simply features a US mint original Mercury Head dime affixed to the bottle in place of a label. I've written in these pages about Machete with its series of labels with a dozen different photos of a mysterious woman brandishing a machete in various poses, many featuring a vintage Cadillac Eldorado.

Papillon features on the label (pictured) an image of third generation grape grower Vince Tofanelli's hands taken by the producer's friend and world famous photographer Greg Gorman. 

Papillon is a classic Bordeaux blend, Papillon features all the Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the heavy weight weighs in at 15.1% alcohol. The grapes are sourced from Napa Valleys sub-appellations Oakville, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain, from top vineyards such as Stagecoach and Morisoli.

Robert Parker gave the 2013 release 95 points and this 2014 wine 94 points and noted "forest floor, graphite, blackcurrant, blackberry fruit and spring flowers with a full-bodied, unctuously textured, deep, rich pure wine".

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex, bold, powerful, concentrated, almost jammy with rich black fruits tones - blackberry, black raspberry, hint of black cherry, with a layer of anise, dusty cedar, hints of graphite, mocha and loamy earth with firm textured tannins on a long lingering finish. This probably needs a couple years to settle and will be interesting to watch it age over the next decade.

RM 93 points.

Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) St. Émilion Légende 2013

Légende is a second label from the legendary Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) producer. Of course they're best known for their classic 'first growth' Chateau Lafite Rothschild. But they also produce a wide range of more than a dozen labels for the wider general marketplace consumer - most from across the Bordeaux region.

The Legende family of wines includes more everyday selections from Bordeaux, one blend from the Bordeaux region, two from the left bank Medoc and Pauillac appellations, and this right bank offering from the St. Émilion appellation.

This 2013 may not be a fair representation of the label since it was one of the most difficult weather condition vintages in three decades. A wet spring, two hail storms in July and August that damaged the grape vines, followed by intermittent rains leading up to the harvest made the weather condition among the worst since the frost of 1991.

The challenging conditions of the 2013 season required meticulous work in the vineyards and very strict selection in the winery to produce this release which they considered an over-achievement under the circumstances rendering what they referred to as supple, with a gentle, crisp structure.

This was dark ruby colored, light-medium bodied, somewhat austere with delicate subdued black currant and raspberry fruits with a layer of pain grillé (toast), with hints of floral, tangy spice, smoke, tobacco leaf and leather.  In the style of the 'right bank', this is a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.

RM 87 points.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

OTBN 2017

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2017

Our 'pour boys' wine group gathered for the 2017 17th annual "OTBN" wine celebration. OTBN stands for Open That Bottle Night, the annual wine event for collectors and oenophile wine enthusiasts to pull that special bottle being held in the cellar for an occasion whose time has not yet come. So once a year, what the heck, OTBN - open that bottle (to)night. Typically held on the last Saturday of February, this years bacchanalia was postponed a week due to members' travels. Once again, the event provided a wonderful gathering, great food, fellowship, and of course, some extraordinary wines. We missed regular attendees Bill and Beth and toasted them as they sit down on the South Carolina shore.

We started with a course of artisan cheeses, fresh fruits, crab dip and fresh shrimp cocktail to kick off the evening with a hearty vintage Champagne Celebris Gosset 2002 brought by John. The cheese course consisted of gouda, swiss, Danish Maytag Blue, Bellavitano Merlot, parmigiana, and capped of by a extraordinary 19 year old vintage sharp cheddar, also brought by John. Following was a wonderful Peter Michael Chardonnay brought by Ernie. These also lead in to the salad course.

Celebris Gosset Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2002

Celebris is the flagship prestige cuvée of the Gosset Champagne house named, inspired by Albert Gosset, the 15th generation patriarch (1915-1991) and developed  by cellarmaster Jean-Pierre Mareigner in 1993. The first release of Celebris appeared in 1995, consisting of the 1988 vintage cuvée. The cuvée was designed to stand with the finest high-end champagnes in its class and showcase the best of the Gosset style - great aromatic complexity and beautiful finesse that could be paired with the most elaborate dishes.

The 2002 is 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir from vineyards in Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzy, Chouilly and Cramant. It received 96 points from Vinous who described it as "vinous, fleshy and super-expressive with striking freshness, candied lemon peel, apricot jam, honey, mint, spices and sage in a compelling fabric of flavors and textures in a knock-out Champagne."

Wine Spectator and  James Suckling both gave it 94 points, Suckling noting "a deep, rich and toasty nose that has a wealth of cashewy, nutty aromas and dried lemon pith, nougat and bright dried cherry fruits ...  bold, assertive and full of flavor with really expansive orchard fruits."

Wine Spectator cited its lightly smoky finish.

Jancis Robinson noted it to be 'extremely dense and dry - most impressive, though verging on austere without anything to eat with it."

Jean-Pierre Mareigner, Cellarmaster wrote, “This is a champagne that was difficult to create. I selected contrasting villages in order to blend various personalities. I was looking for structure but also freshness. The final result is an exceptional cuvée.”

Varietal Composition: 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir

Peter Michael La Carrière Sonoma County Knights Valley Chardonnay 2013

This was delightful, a memorable Chardonnay, ranking with the best of breed of this varietal, among the best, as good as any I have every tasted. Part of what makes it extraordinary in its subtlety with its unpretentious silky smooth, creamy texture and refined polished flavors of nut, peach, mineral and hints of butterscotch.

RM 93 points.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave it 98 points calling it "unbelievable".

James Suckling gave it 96 points citing its "concentration of honeysuckle, orange marmalade, white currant, white peach and mineral notes."

Wine Spectator gave it 93 points and called it "Complex and subtle' describing it as 'dried pineapple, apple, lime pie and hints of nuts ... hints of cream ..... full body, dense center palate."

We pivoted to the dinner and red wine flight with this soft smooth elegant Pinot Noir.

Belle Glos Dairyman Vineyard Sonoma County Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2011

Lyle bought this Belle Glos, named for Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, co-founder of legendary Napa Valley Caymus Vineyards and grandmother of Belle Glos owner/winemaker, Joe Wagner, mother of Caymus owner/winemaker Chuck Wagner.

Belle Glos produces four single vineyard designated select Pinot Noirs, each representing the distinctive character and terroir of their disparate locations.

This label features fruit sourced from the Dairyman Vineyard located in the Sonoma County Russian River Valley. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean subjects it to cool morning fog and afternoon coastal breezes that prolong the growing season resulting in small, concentrated and flavorful berries with bright cherry characteristics, brown spices, and a minerality that gives a rich, velvety mouth feel. The vineyard is named for its history as an old dairy farm where the pastureland was planted to Dijon clone Pinot Noir in 2000

This was actually rather full bodied and bold for a Sonoma County Pinot Noir, dark ruby colored, complex, with spicy dark and red berry fruits, dusty rose, hints of cedar and cinnamon on a tangy rather firm finish.
RM 91 points.

Moving to the dinner course, Linda prepared her beef tenderloin (shown below), with roasted potatoes, brussel spouts and green beans. With the entree course we featured three Bordeaux varietal blends, a mini-vertical tasting of two vintages of this unique California label and a left bank Bordeaux. I had already selected and opened this Ridge Monte Bello 1998 when John showed up with the 1993 release of the same wine. We couldn't have planned this any better!

I wrote in depth about the Ridge Monte Bello vineyards and estate in a tasting journal last year

Monte Bello is the unique flagship label of this prolific producer known for a broad line of vineyard select Zinfandels from throughout Northern California  including Sonoma and Napa Counties. Monte Bello is unique not only that it is a Ridge produced Bordeaux blend, but also because it is sourced from fruit from the Monte Bello vineyard, high atop the Santa Cruz mountains that separate Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay to the east and north, from the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay/Peninsula to the west and south.

This is especially notable to us since it is closest to, yet high above the location of our home from when we lived in Saratoga, California, nestled up against the Santa Cruz mountain range down at the bottom of Silicon Valley, near the crease where the road leads up into the mountains and over 'the hill' down to Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast.

This is a contrast in two vintages, from the somewhat maligned and challenged 1998 vintage, while five years younger than the '93 above, it is starting to show its age a bit while the 93 seems vibrant and full of life.

Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 1993

This was amazing in its graceful elegant, almost delicate floral tones, complex yet smooth and polished with layers of soft black raspberry and black currant fruits with subtle tones of vanilla, anise, and hint of  graphite on a silky tannin finish.

The blend is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 7% Petiti Verdot. 

RM 92 points

Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

The 1998 Monte Bello is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Consistent with last tasting notes, two years ago, almost to the date, dark purple garnet colored, medium to full bodied, initially a bit obtuse and acidic, but softened and opened after decanting and sitting for an hour, full, moderately expressive black berry and plum fruits, complex, accented by subtle tones of  pencil shavings, tobacco leaf, violets, and hints of bell pepper and anise with moderate smooth silky tannins on the finish. It would be overstated to characterize it as 'earthy' but there is a layer of complexity that reflects the storied terroir and reveals the care of 47% selection and the rigorous thinning that results in extremely selective, low yields of less than 1 1/2 tons per acre.

RM 90 points.

Château Lanessan Haut-Medoc Bordeaux 1995 

Ernie brought this left bank Bordeaux.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, this was firm and a bit tight with concentrated black berry fruits, a layer of smoke and anise accented by hints of creosote, graphite and black tea on the lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Etienne Gonnet 2004

Dan brought this CDP that comes from the area known as La Crau, also known for the popular Chateau Vieux Telegraph. This is a blend of 65-70% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, and 15% Mourvèdre.

I think it is the Grenache predominance that comes through with its dark berry fruit, black tea notes and meaty tones, dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated spicy black berry fruits with hints of smoke and anise, with acidic tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Transitioning from the main course and entrees to the dessert flight, the perfect transition was this big bold bruising Syrah brought by Ryan. Dessert was Terry's decadent orange cake, Linda's delectable chocolate mousse, fresh whipped cream, fresh berries, and coffees.

Herman Story Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2013

This single vineyard designated label from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the California Central Coast Santa Maria Valley.

This was an ideal pivot from the more complex blends suitable for the dinner entrees, to a narrower, more single dimensional, big violet muscular fruit bomb to accompany the dessert course of orange cake and dark chocolate mousse.

Dark inky purple, full bodied, big forward concentrated tongue coating, almost chewy, jammy berry compote of black and blue fruits, spicy notes, black olive and hints of dark mocha and black pepper on a mouth puckering finish.

RM 93 points.

Dow's Vintage Port 1977

Lyle brought this forty year old hold sipper that is still showing much life yet.
 Dark thick and syrupy, full bodied, essence of cognac laced black currants, stewed prunes, dried fig fruits with tones of expresso, anise and hint of kirsch on a tongue coated finish.

RM 92 points.

Château de Rayne-Vigneau Premier Grand Cru Classé de Sauternes -Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blend 1988 

I initially pulled out a 1998 Sauterne to accompany the '98 tasted earlier but then found down in the cellar this '88 and opted for it instead. 

Château de Rayne-Vigneau is ranked as Premier Cru Classé (French, “First Growth”), 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes. The château lies at the center of a single block vineyard of 207 acres. The vines are an average of 30 years old, divided between 74% Sémillon, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, and 2% Muscadelle.

At almost thirty years of age, this was surprisingly youthful, straw colored, medium-full bodied, tones of tangy citrus with bright acidity, tongue coating sweet fruits, roasted nuts and hints of smoke.

The contributors and their wines ...

Friday, March 3, 2017

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

For a classic 'power' lunch with a strategic partner, we dined at Chicago Cut Steakhouse on LaSalle Street at the river. Having just had prime NY Strip Steak the evening before, I opted for the Dover Sole entree special. It came in two sizes, 18 or 20 oz, and the smaller 18 oz was the perfect portion size. It was better than I expected, but not as good as I hoped.

The sole was prepared perfectly with creamy buttery lemon sauce dusted with crusted almond. The ceremonial table-side preparation, adding the sauces and deboning, during prime-time noon lunch hour, resulted in the entree having cooled to be barely warm by the time it was served. It was delightful none-the-less. (Note that my standard for the best sole experience is the Petrale Sole at Scott's Seafood (my absolute favorite) in the Bay Area, or better yet, the Sand Dabs, aka Rex Sole, at Scoma's in San Francisco and/or Sauselito.)

To accompany the Sole seafood entree, I chose the Far Niente Napa Chardonnay 2014, BTG (by the glass). The Chicago Cut power lunch wine accompaniment comes at a price at $25 per glass ~ 2.5x retail price.

Shown is 2013
Far Niente Chardonnay
Far Niente Chardonnay is sourced from Napa Valley vineyards in the Coombsville sub-region, snuggling up against the foothills each of the city of Napa, and the Carneros appellation, down at the bottom of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Each of these areas are cooler due to the light breezes and night-time fog that roll in off the San Pablo Bay at the bottom of Napa Valley. Each of these areas are considered prime growing areas for the Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Far Niente produces a premium Chardonnay, known for subtle, tropical flavors, complex aromas and uncommon richness.

As written in my review of the 2014 Trefethan Napa Chardonnay the other day, the 2014 growing season was the third consecutive year with drought conditions. Never-the-less, rains in late winter and early spring filled the local reservoirs providing frost protection and irrigation. A warm and windy spring resulted in an earlier than normal growing season, two weeks ahead of normal.

Ideal weather and favorable growing conditions persisted through the summer months allowing the grapes to ripen for the earliest harvest in over a decade. The Far Niente harvest began on August 21st. Just three days later, the area encountered a huge earthquake, but Far Niente was able to continue the harvest, picking at the precise optimal time to realize perfectly ripened Chardonnay fruit.

This 2014 Far Niente Chardonnay was golden, almost honey colored, with medium body, opening with light tropical notes, subtle melon, rich citrus and a layer of creamy toasted oak and mineral, finishing in bright acidity, lingering citrus tones with hints of lightly toasted almond and wet stone.

RM 91 points. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Louis Martini Alexander Valley 14 - Melka CJ 04 Napa Cabs

Louis Martini Alexander Valley 2014 and Melka CJ 2004 Cabernet

For a belated birthday dinner for his mother, son Ryan invited us over for dinner with the kids and grandkids. He served grilled Prime New York strip steaks, asparagus and baked potatoes. With dinner, he served the just released Louis Martini Alexander Valley Cabernet 2014 that got a rave 97 point review from Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate. I brought a Melka CJ Napa Cab 2004.

While such a stratospheric rating is cause for notice and worth checking out, its often in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily consensus opinion. I found the Martini a good wine from a good vintage, offering good (but not extraordinary) value QPR (quality price ratio), not extraordinary in any way.

The Martini was a great accompaniment to the grilled steaks. It had a firm structured backbone core of smooth approachable tannins, but I didn't find it to back it up with the dense, rich full body and concentrated fruits cited by Parker. It was garnet colored, medium full bodied, black currant and black cherry fruits, accented by tones of black tea, tobacco leaf, smoke and glycerin.

I would not say it calls for one to rush out and buy it and try it. With 11000 cases available, it will be available in distribution, and will face competition from many other great wines that roll out from what will be a top rated vintage with many high achievers. A good buyer's market since Bordeaux will also be releasing a highly rated vintage this year as well.

RM 90 points. 

Parker wrote - "... this big, full-bodied, boisterous Cabernet Sauvignon (that) has a dense ruby/purple color, notes of underbrush, forest floor, tobacco leaf and oodles of blackcurrants and black cherries, with a touch of woodsmoke. The full-bodied wine hits the palate with a cascade of glycerin, fruit and purity. This is a beauty – dense, rich, and structured, but capable of lasting 20 or more years."

The Wine Advocate. 97 Points. Robert M. Parker Jr. October 2016

Peter Melka 'CJ' Napa Valley Cabernet 2004

For dinner with the kids and two grandkids, I was drawn to bring this label that is a namesake celebration tribute to Melka's two children, Chloe and Jeremy. Indeed, Melka writes on the rear label, "CJ reflects the balance and harmony that Chloe and Jeremy bring to the Melka family." The messaging and fun branding is reinforced with the 'children's' handprints represented on the label and on the wine capsule (shown below).

The 2004 Melka is dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with subdued but nicely balanced black berry fruits with tones of spicy oak, hints of dark mocha, sweet vanilla, tea and tobacco leaf with moderate lingering tannins on the modest finish. 

Blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 93% and Cabernet Franc 7%.

RM 90 points. 

David Arthur Meritaggio 1997

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio

I took bride Linda out for belated birthday dinner with Pat R, sorority sister and birthday girl, too. We dined at Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. I took this David Arthur Meritaggio 1997 Red Super Tuscan Blend along BYOB. Since we hold few Italian wines in our cellar, this Italian blend based on the Sangiovese varietal in the mix is the next best thing for an Italian dinner. It was a perfect accompaniment to the Artichoke Ravioli with cheese and the butternut squash gnocci entrees, moreso than my cheese ravioli and bolognese sauce which seemed bland and uninspiring against the big bold spicy complex wine.

Our visit to the David Arthur estate and vineyards was a highlight of our Napa Wine Experience in 2013 when we had two of the Long girls along to visit the Long Family, estate (no relation) unfortunately.

This whimsical creative in Meritaggio label is the Long's artwork, a classic Meritage Bordeaux varietal blend composed of the five classic red Napa Valley Estate Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, accented by the addition of the Tuscan varietal Sangiovese, also produced there on the property. The resulting complex but well orchestrated blend is branded “Meritaggio,” in recognition of the combination of French and Italian heritage with all the grand full boldness and expressiveness of Napa Valley fruits.

Sanviovese and Cabernet blends came into fashion in the 1960s and 1970s as producers from Tuscany began to experiment with the Bordeaux varietals. The results become legendary and these Super Tuscans as they came to be known now make up some of Italy's most famous wines.

Wow, I forgot how good this wine was! Looking back, my earlier ratings forecast my favorable impression from this tasting. We're getting down the last couple bottles from a case we purchased back on release. At twenty years of age, this is no doubt as good as ever and showing no signs of diminution.

Consistent with previous tasting notes when I wrote, "this may be at its apex as its showing well - bright and expressive. Deep dark ruby colored with tinge of purple, medium to full bodied, elegant, polished, smooth and delicious full forward sweet black currant, plum and red berry fruits accented by subtle smoke, black tea layer turning to silky smooth tannins on a full long finish." I would only add mention of the complexity and the tone of anise on the finish.

RM 93 points.

Interesting blend of 44% cab, 24% cab franc, 16% merlot, 8% sangiovese, and 8% petite verdot with 14.7% alcohol.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trefethan Napa Valley Oak Knoll Chardonnay

Trefethan Vineyards Napa Valley Oak Knoll District Chardonnay 2014

Enjoying a quiet afternoon at home in front of a movie, Linda prepared succulent lobster tails and lobster bisque. We planned to accompany this with a buttery, silky smooth Chardonnay, so I pulled from the cellar a Trefethan Vineyards Napa Valley Oak Knoll District Chardonnay

We visited Trefethen Vineyards and Estate in southwest Napa Valley during our Napa Wine
Experience in 2013. Trefethen's success with Napa Valley Chardonnay dates back more than thirty years when in 1979, their Trefethen 1976 Chardonnay was named “Best Chardonnay in the World” at the Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in France.

Trefethen attribute much of their success to their Estate vineyards (shown left) in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley with well-drained, loamy soils, and the marine-influenced climate with soft breezes and gentle fog that roll into southwest Napa Valley off of the San Pablo Bay, helping develop Chardonnay grapes with rich, balanced flavors. 

The 2014 vintage in southern Napa Valley was exceptional. Setting aside the severe drought early in the year and the significant earthquake that struck Napa just as harvest began, the 2014 weather during the growing season was close to absolute perfection. This allowed growers to time harvesting the grapes at their optimum peak ripeness which yielded an extraordinary wine. It was  ideal for casual sipping and as an accompaniment to our afternoon dinner.

This was butter colored, medium bodied, buttery and smooth with what the producer describes as "A classic Trefethen Chardonnay, .... with enticing aromas of Granny Smith apple, clover honey, honeysuckle and nutmeg. Clean and bright flavors of tropical fruits, peach and crisp citrus envelop your taste buds".

This is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the Estate Main Ranch Vineyard (shown above) there in the Oak Knoll District Appellation of Napa Valley that is adjoining and across the road from the winery and estate, on Hwy 29 as you enter Napa central valley just north of the town of Napa.

RM 90 points.

Venge Scouts Honor Vieux Telegraph bbq dinner

Venge Scouts Honor, Vieux Telegraph highlight bbq rib dinner

Venge Scout's Honor Napa Valley Red Wine Zinfandel Blend 2013

We were invited to the kid's house for Friday night dinner with the grandkids. Ryan prepared rubbed smoked ribs and served this classic BBQ wine, Venge Scout's Honor Zinfandel Blend. I write in these pages often that every cellar needs some Zinfandel at hand for such an occasion and this one is as good as it gets. I brought along a vintage aged Vieux Telegraph CDP (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) for comparison.

I wrote about the 2013 vintage Venge Scouts Honor in my initial tasting blogpost last year. This is one of the best vintages ever for this label that is a tribute to their late beloved Labrador Retriever, Scout. We actually had the privilege of 'meeting' Scout when we visiting with founder/patriarch Nils Venge at the Penny Lane vineyards property back in the mid-nineties. My notes for this wine go back to the 1998 vintage.

Decades later, the wine is now made by his son Kirk Venge. In the past few vintages they have improved vineyard quality significantly with more “old - vine” plantings of the fruit source for this blend and it has taken the wine to another level resulting in a spectacular full bodied, delicious, hedonistic red wine. The complex blend takes Zinfandel into another dimension over typical Zins, that while being big fruit bombs, tend to be more single dimensional and less sophisticated.

This is a unique blend with a foundation of old-vine Zinfandel (71%), dry-farmed Petite Sirah (15%), old-vine Charbono (10%), and finishing with mountain vineyard Syrah (4%) that packs a wallop at 15.4% alcohol. Robert Parker notes that this may be the best Scout's Honor Venge Vineyards has  made. 

This was even better than when we tasted it last year with the fruit being more balanced and settled predominating more over the other complex notes - dark inky purple colored, full bodied, bold, jammy, chewy, tongue coating, mouth puckering, concentrated, complex yet smooth, polished and balanced, delicious sweet black raspberry, blueberry and black cherry fruits with notes of violets, dark mocha, truffle, anise and spices, with an long finish that almost tastes like candy. 

RM 93 points; Robert Parker gave it 94.

I brought along this aged 1996 vintage CDP to compare and complement the ribs.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 1996

A visit to this legendary producer was one of the highlights of our trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape a few years ago.

This was my last bottle of this vintage for this label and its just as well as it is reaching the end of its drinking window.

Already brownish color tones with heavy bricking on the rim with a cloudiness setting in, medium bodied, the rich berry fruits and spice tones have are overtaken by a preponderance of green vegetal notes of green olive and note of barnyard earthy wet grass.

Perhaps this was a slightly tainted bottle as other Cellartracker reviews don't indicate this level of diminution as yet. It was still drinkable and a bit intriguing, not as bad as it sounds, but nearing end of life none-the-less.

RM 84 points.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Black Diamond Amador Zinfandel 2013

Guadagni Family Black Diamond Amador County Sierra Foothills Zinfandel 2013

I have written several times in these pages about Black Diamond Russian River Valley Pinot Noir  from this same producer. Now they've released a Zinfandel from Amador County up in the Sierra Foothills, an area noted for quality Zins.

I wrote earlier about Guadagni Family wines and stated at the time to expect to see more from them. As featured earlier, "sourced from fruit from GUADAGNI FAMILY WINES, a small family run business that according to records is managed by Donald, Joseph, Mary, William and Breanna at their location on Yokim Bridge Road in Healdsburg. They're reported to produce about 1000 cases a year but views of the property show large tracts of young vines and new plantings so we might expect to see much more of them in the coming vintages."

Well it appears they have expanded their portfolio as their website now features six different varietals, their Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Rose, and this Zinfandel. Only their 2012 release of the Zin is featured and is said to be a blend of Zinfandel and Primitivo.

Either their website is hastily thrown together, or English is the second language of the publisher, or they're just plain careless, as the Winemaker's Notes for this wine contains several spelling errors. Perhaps it was written after a long tasting session (or during).

"Winemaker's Notes: Carfully (sic) selected lots were fermented seperately (sic) in small stainless steel tanks for ten days after a night harvest and four days of cold soaking which added color and depth. The wine was carefully transferred to American oak barrels while in the last stages of fermentation causing an increase in grape extraction. Finally lees were sirred (sic) once a week for eight months imparting a creamy, softer mouth feel. American Oad (sic)aged for 11 months, 1/3rd new oak and then blended to complete our 2012 Zinfandel."

I wrote in an earlier blogpost how they replaced a black diamond on the label with the skier, to bring attention to the skiing metaphor in their branding and naming their wines, the reference to Black Diamond, the designation given to the most difficult and challenging ski slopes. This metaphor works for the boldness of their wines, but doesn't work if considering black diamond slopes are known as Expert slopes, only suitable or applicable to expert skiers - a fun reference never-the-less.

They say their label name "Black Diamond" refers to the 'boldness and courage' of their wines. 'awe inspiring to look at from the rim and personally satisfying in the finish.... with both strength and elegance' symbolic of Black Diamond wines. 

My notes for this Zinfandel: Dark blackish garnet colored, medium bodied, a bit flabby initially with alcohol heat that burns off eventually, brambly black fruits with a layer of cognac tones, hints of kirsch, turning to a sweet mocha caramel tone on the finish. Well suited for BBQ, pasta or a great pizza wine at this price point. 

RM 87 points. 

Like their Pinot Noir, this provides a decent QPR (quality-price-ratio) at $15.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mitolo Reiver Barossa Shiraz 2004

Mitolo "Reiver" Barossa Valley South Australia Shiraz 2004

We took this BYOB to Angelis Italian, our neighborhood Italian Bistro. 

The Mitolo family arrived in Australia in the 1950s bringing with them viticulturist ancestry from the Abruzzo wine region in Italy. Frank Mitolo produces small batch and single vineyard designated wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale South Australia. It all began as a pastime making wine in the 1990’s to share with family and friends. He teamed up with well known winemaker Ben Glaetzer in 2000.

Their first wine is still perhaps their best known, G.A.M. Shiraz, a single vineyard wine, first produced in 2000, named in honour of Frank’s three children Gemma, Alex and Marco. Since then Mitolo have added another 10 wines to the brand. This 100% Shiraz wine is named after the (English/Scottish) Border Rievers.

Mitolo / Glaetzer source much of their fruit from growers, the Loprestis, also Italian immigrants and old friends of the Mitolos. The Lopresti vineyards are situated near the coastal town of Aldinga in McLaren Vale, sitting between the Gulf St Vincent and the nearby Willunga Hills. They have 200 acres of Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache.

At twelve years, this is most likely nearing the end of its prime drinking window and will not improve any further with age. It is dark black crimson colored, full bodied and muscular with concentrated ripe, almost raisin flavored black fruits punctuated by tones of spice, black pepper and kirsch with a layer of vanilla, smoke, cured meat and graphite on a lingering fine grained tannin finish. This is a style Linda likes a lot but the obtuse fruit and non-fruit flavors are a bit overbearing for my preference.

This gets reviews as high as 94 points and a Cellartracker average of 92 but I give it a 90.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bogle Vineyards Phantom Zinfandel Blend 2013

Bogle Vineyards Phantom Zinfandel Blend 2013

Following the fantastic tasting / showing of this wine last weekend, I picked up the latest release to try as a comparison to the 2009. As good as the 2009 was, I think the 2013 is even better! This is as good as the El Nido Clio 2011 we had a short while ago at less than half the price resulting in a tremendous QPR - Quality Price Ratio.

Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, complex and concentrated forward brambly blue and black raspberry fruits with tones of vanilla, and hints of mocha, spicy cinnamon and pepper on a rich full flavorful finish.

This is one of those wines that come along every so often that I say, 'run, don't walk out to buy some', perhaps a half case, and depending on how it ages, you might wish you'd bought more.

Interesting blend of Zinfandel 39%, Petite Sirah 38%, and Cabernet Sauvignon 23% from vineyards in Lodi, Clarksburg, and Amador, California.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bogle Vineyards Phantom Zinfandel Blend 2009

Bogle Vineyards Phantom Zinfandel Blend 2009

For quiet Saturday evening at home after babysitting a grandson, we opened this bold red blend with fresh fruits and cheeses in front of a winter fire and movie.

This is the type of wine that should be held in every cellar for BBQ, pizza, pasta, hearty cheeses or casual but serious sipping. Not for the feint of heart, this is an interesting unique blend of old vine Zinfandel (52%) from Lodi, Petite Sirah (46%) from Clarksburg, with a small amount of Mourvèdre, all from the Central Valley of California.

According to the inscription on the cork (shown below), Bogle is Scottish for a 'friendly spirit, a phantom". 

Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, aromatic, concentrated forward chewy briary ripe blueberry and black raspberry fruits with tones of smoke and hints of vanilla, dark chocolate, graphite, spicy oak and cedar.

RM 90 points. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Freemark Abbey Cuvaison Haut Batailley Flight for Tenderloin Dinner

Freemark Abbey Cuvaison Haut Batailley Flight for Tenderloin Dinner

Wine buddy and fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill back in town, we held a wine dinner with a flight of reds to compliment Linda's beef tenderloin with roasted red potatoes and medley of grilled asparagus and brussel sprouts.

Bill brought a appellation select Mt Veeder Cuvaison Napa Cabernet and a Château Haut-Batailley Bordeaux 2003.

I pulled from the cellar one of our perennial favorite producers that we've enjoyed together on numerous occasions, Freemark Abbey Estate Napa Cab from 1994. I also pulled an aged vintage Cuvaison Napa Cab 1988 for a mini vertical comparison of the 2007. In the end, moderation prevailed and we didn't get that far in our tasting. 

The three wines presented a wonderful comparison of the subtle graduation of three different styles reflecting variations in vintage and terroir - all perfect complements to the dinner courses of cheese, chocolates, entrees and desserts.

 Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac Bordeaux 2003

Bill's Cellartracker notes summed it up well - "Medium garnet with a slight touch of brown at the edges. Earthy nose with the slightest hint of lilac. A bit tight upon opening but within 20 minutes, began to reveal cassis, dark chocolate, a bit of moss and just a hint of mint. Over the course of two hours, the fruit became more pronounced and thus actually began to share some of the same profile notes as the 1994 Freemark Abbey Napa Cab served side by side."

We opened this thinking it might be the starting wine in the progression from light to full and heavier wines in our tasting. Also, as customary in a progressive tasting, start with the Bordeaux Blend with its subtle nuances and greater complexity before moving to the bolder single varietal Cabernets.

It opened with wonderful Bordeaux aromas of earthy leather, dark fruits and floral but was firm and tight with a moderate gripping tannin backbone - yet smooth and polished rather than overbearing. We set it aside and let it open and breath for a bit which it did so very nicely over the course of the evening.

This is probably at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve further with aging. 

Dark garnet colored with some bricking on the edges, medium bodied, complex black fruits with tones of earthy leather, tobacco and oak, hints of spice and graphite with smooth polished dusty tannins on the modest finish.

RM 90 points.

Cuvaison Mt Veeder Napa Cabernet 2007

The label indicates this is Estate bottled meaning they grow their own grapes on their property for this wine. We visited the Mt Veeder appellation during our Napa Wine Experience in 2011.

I didn't know or don't recall knowing Cuvaison had a presence there or we might have included them in our tour, although they may just have vineyards there while their winery is elsewhere in the valley. Further investigation shows Cuvaison also own and produce wines from the Brandlin Vineyard on Mount Veeder while their winery and tasting room are just below the Mt Veeder foothills in nearby Carneros.

Again, Bill sums it up well in his Cellartracker tasting note - "Dark, inky purple. No signs of age. Lots of bright fruit, typical of the Mt Veeder AVA. Not much nose but cassis, eucalyptus and a bit of tobacco box on the finish. I expected this to be the most forward of the evenings selections but this was overshadowed by a 94 Freemark Abbey Napa Cab and an 03 Haut Batailley."

WCC 89 points. 

Bright Ruby colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant black and blue fruits with subtle tones of that classic Mayacamas Mtns eucalyptus and hints of tobacco, floral and oak. Evident are the subtleties of the moderating effects of the nearby San Pablo Bay fog and breezes that waft in over Mt Veeder that soften the tannins and firmer concentrated punctuated fruits more typically found in the upper valley and opposing Napa Valley Vaca range.

RM 89 points. This received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Freemark Abbey Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

What a pleasant surprise in this twenty-three year old. I didn't know what to expect as I still hold some '94 vintage Napa Cabs as it was an excellent vintage that has shown longevity as evidenced by this bottle tonight.Based on this tasting I updated my Cellartracker drinking window to 2018!

Bill and I have enjoyed many Freemark Cabs together over the years including memorable visits to the winery and its wine library. This tasting adds to that legacy with its strong memorable showing tonight.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, initially a bit tight and closed, this evolved to reveal bright vibrant complex black fruits accented by wonderful cigar box and notes of classic Mayacamas Mountain eucalyptus with hints of cassis, spicy oak and cedar that lingered on the long finish.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Robert Mondavi Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

With dinner of grilled filet of beef, boiled potatoes and peas, I opened this twelve year old Robert Mondavi Napa Cab. Robert Mondavi Winery has a dozen labels and it is easy for the neophyte or uninitiated to get confused among them. Setting aside the Opus ultra-premium brand, their joint venture with Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and the top of the line Reserve Napa Cab, next in line is this Oakville appellation specific Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Oakville is not only the small town on Hwy 29 in Napa Valley, it is also an appellation, an American AVA, and it is the site of the Robert Mondavi estate winery. In this case, Oakville refers to the appellation designated wine in which all the fruit is sourced from vineyards within the AVA - American Viticulture Area that specifies the growing region with its distinctive terroir - climate, soil and growing conditions.

In 2004, the Oakville designated Mondavi Cabernet was especially good and I acquired a fair amount of it for cellaring for enjoyment over a period of years. My records indicate I have two bottles left after consuming this one. My Journal of tasting notes for this wine has a half dozen earlier entries dating back to 2007 with the last one being in 2012. My blogpost of that tasting talks more about the Mondavi Oakville label. The label pictured is from that tasting. That evening we dined at Metisse Restaurant on the shore in Belmar, NJ, a melancholy memory as Metisse was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. Such is how wine makes memories that touch our lives.

I was pleasantly surprised in how well this wine is showing after thirteen years as it was as good as I remember. It is showing signs of aging but is developing character, complexity and depth as some of the fruits give way to a tone of earthiness and leather, but taking on a full floral layer on the finish. It was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled steak.

Like the previous tasting, the 2004 presented dark garnet ruby red color, medium to full firm body with intense concentrated but smooth and polished flavors of sweet ripe currant and blackberry, dusty herb, and cedary oak with hints of anise and dark mocha on the sharp moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 91 points, reduced one from earlier tastings. Wine Spectator gave this wine 93 points.