Sunday, June 16, 2024

Robert Craig Affinity Bordeaux Blend with grilled tenderloin beefsteak

Vintage aged Robert Craig Affinity Bordeaux Blend for Great QPR - ideal pairing with grilled tenderloin beefsteak and chocolate caramel sundae 

Monday night dinner - grilled filets of beef from a section carved full beef tenderloin, with baked potato and grilled asparagus. I pulled from the cellar this aged, twenty year old Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Blend

It’s been four years and a couple weeks since we last tasted this vintage release of this label. We know this producer and label well and look to this Bordeaux Blend as ideal for pairing with grilled beefsteaks

Excerpts from that last tasting blogpost … 

Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Blend 2004.

As I have written numerous times in these pages, we've been collecting this wine since its' inaugural vintage in 1993 and we still hold several cases spread across almost two dozen vintages. 

Crafted to provide a sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price with early gratification, Affinity defies this approach with its age worthiness, as this tasting testifies. 

This label was also understated in another way, it is actually a Bordeaux Blend and contains the other Bordeaux varietals. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Craig vineyards and contract sources throughout Napa Valley. Robert used to refer to it as "three mountains and a Valley", referring to their vineyards and sources on Howell Mountain, Mt Veeder, Atlas Peak, Mt George, and the valley floor. According to the rear label, this 2004 Affinity release was 'sourced from the Tulocay estate in southern Napa Valley, blended with Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from exceptional vineyards in Napa Valley'. As was often the case, the specifics of blend was not specified. 

R & L with Robert Craig 
at Harvest Party
We may hold more Robert Craig wine in our cellar than any other producer. We've been fans of Robert Craig since the early nineties. We've been to many events at the winery as well as several private functions with Robert, his wife Lynn, and former hospitality and wine club ambassador, Rachel, and various members of the Craig team.   

I remember Robert Craig exclaiming his love for this label and how proud he was to hold it to an affordable pricepoint to introduce consumers to Robert Craig wines. I've written recently that in recent years, as Robert and Lynn turned over the reigns to new management, and the recent passing of Robert, this label has crept up in price significantly and is now priced where their premium labels used to be. Never-the-less, it provides good value and quality (QPR) drinking both early and yet also stands up to aging. 

Sadly, Robert passed in 2019 - we posted a Robert Craig Tribute in these pages at that time.


Tonight showed this label at its absolute best, at twenty years, showing sophistication and elegance and complexity - great QPR - quality price ratio. 

Six years ago I wrote, "This ten year old 2004 remains consistent with earlier tasting notes, deep dark purple inky color, the ripe berry fruit aromatics, full body, ripe berry fruit, accented by a undercurrent of caramel are starting to give way to a layer of anise, tobacco, leather and firm full tannins on the long fruit filled finish."  

Previously, last tasted at sixteen years of age, this release may be at the apex of its drinking window and is as good as ever.  In an earlier tasting when I wrote, "Tasted from a 375 ml split. In this smaller format, it may be starting to show its age," I attribute that to perhaps a combination of bottle variation and the smaller format which ages less gracefully.

Tonight, at twenty years of age, the important fill level and cork were pristine, testament to the provenance of our cellar for long term aging. 

This release was a blend of Bordeaux varietals - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Wine Advocate says this is sourced from the Tulocay estate in southern Napa Valley.

This was delicious, showing exceedingly well, better than expected and than earlier tastings, ideally paired with the grilled beefsteak, still drinking at the apex of its drinking window and showing no signs whatsoever of diminution from aging. It should have a half dozen years yet in its prime drinking. 

Winemaker Notes - “Heady perfume of ripe black cherry and currant, with black tea, spice and violet notes. Bright and abundant dark fruit and black currant liqueur are intertwined with sweet spice box, licorice and violets. Opulent black cherry drives the lively, long-lived finish.’

“A rich, multi-layered Cabernet that balances power with finesse. The 2004 vintage Affinity is a Cabernet-driven Bordeaux blend that showcases the power and richness of Napa Valley hillside fruit backed by an underlying band of round, ripe tannins. Luscious fruit flavors of great depth and purity are hallmarks of Affinity along with integrated tannin structure for long-term aging.’

"When ready to blend, we assess the relative strengths and merits of every wine, tasting through barrel samples. The aroma, flavor and texture profile of each wine lot has been influenced by the distinctive soil and weather characteristics of the source vineyard, the dictates of the growing season, and our winemaking regimen. After lengthy discussion and evaluation, we prepare the trial blends. In orchestrating these blends, we not only focuses on the quality and character of each wine, but also its "affinity" with the other blending components. This process is more intuitive than scientific. The ideal balance of flavors, aromas, textures, and concentration gradually emerges to create the master blend for that vintage."

"Consistent excellence from year to year is our ultimate goal for Affinity. The wine is known for its juicy, fruit-forward aromas and flavors, elegance in balance and structure, a silky texture, and approachable tannins." -- Chad Alexander, Winemaker.

To top things off even further, Linda prepared a fabulous sundae dessert of sautéed nuts in butter, with melted chocolate and caramel over vanilla bean ice cream. It was remarkable and spectacular with the remains of the Affinity. 

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, firm, structured, yet ideally harmoniously balanced,  nicely integrated black fruits accented by notes of black tea, spice box, hints of creosote, licorice, graphite and oak with firm yet approachable tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 92 points - better than earlier tastings when I gave it 90 points, increased a point from past tastings.

https://unwindwine.blogspot.com/search?q=Robert+Craig+Affinity

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Duo of ultra premium Napa Cabs for family celebrations

Duo of ultra premium Napa Cabs for family celebrations … 

For Grandson Reid’s birthday we were invited over for a family gathering and combination birthday and Fathers’ Day celebration dinner. Ryan and Michelle ordered in pasta and pizza and Ryan pulled from his cellar a couple of birthyear ultra-premium red wines. I took from our cellar a matching label to share and compare. 

Hall Exzellenz Rutherford Sacrashe Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

We served this at Christmas last year - certainly one of the best drinking bottles from our cellar - worthy of a special occasion. I featured it in this blogpost at the time, excerpted below:

We discovered, tasted and acquired this label at the magnificent Rutherford Estate Winery during our Napa Wine Experience in 2017. This is sourced from the Sacrashe Vineyard that lies just above the winery adjacent to the estate residence. We hold and have had some of the earlier single vineyard designated wines from this vineyard dating back to 1998. Who knew this would evolve and progress to such heights? Not often does one get to taste a 'perfect' wine. of course perfection is in the eyes ('eyze') of the beholder. The 2013 vintage of this label that we tasted that day in their magnificent tasting room in the cave at the Rutherford Sacrashe estate (shown below) got 100 points from  Robert Parker.

Parker wrote of this wine; "This hails from the foothills of Rutherford and refers to Kathryn Hall’s ambassadorship to Austria between 1997 and 2001. A prodigious wine with beautiful floral notes intermingled with blueberry, blackberry, black raspberry and graphite, the wine hits the palate with a full-bodied force, but nothing seems pushed, cloying or out of sync. Gorgeously pure blue and black fruits cascade over the palate, a full-bodied presentation with remarkable purity and complexity. The finish is a good 45-50 seconds, and while there is significant tannin, the extravagance of the fruit and glycerin generally conceal it. This is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind, world class Cabernet Sauvignon that should prove compelling for at least another 30-40+ years."

Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate. 100 Points.

Sacrashe Vineyard at Hall Rutherford Estate

Hall Exzellenz Rutherford Sacrashe Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

As explained on the rear label, shown below, the name Exzellenz is German for Ambassador, in commemoration of Kathyn Hall's service as US Ambassador to Austria from 1997 to 2001. 

The bricks in the magnificent tasting room in the cave at the Rutherford Sacrashe estate (shown right and above) and featured in a separate blogpost at this link)  are recovered and repurposed from a former royal castle in Austria.  

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Sacrashe Vineyard (shown above) at the Hall Rutherford Estate on the lower slopes of the Vaca Range overlooking Rutherford, Napa Valley.  

While this release didn't get 100 points, it came as close as possible, 99 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 97 points from Owen Bargreen of owenbargreen.com, and 93 points by Wine Enthusiast.

Parker wrote about this wine: "Composed of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and sporting a very deep purple-black color, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Exzellenz unfurls slowly, tantalizingly out of the glass to reveal powerful, intense scents of crème de cassis, Black Forest cake, blueberry compote and preserved plums with an undercurrent of Chinese five spice, molten chocolate, licorice and Marmite toast with wafts of garrigue and camphor. Very rich, full-bodied and concentrated on the palate, it coats the mouth with black and blue fruit preserves plus tons of spice and savory accents, held together by a rock-solid, grainy frame and finishing with epic persistence."

Consistent with our earlier tastings of this label - Spectacular! Delicious! Enchanting! Deep dark garnet colored, full bodied, rich, concentrated, round, rich, complex but elegant and seductive smooth blackberry and black currant fruits accented by savory clove/cinnamon spices, tones of crème de cassis, mocha chocolate, tobacco leaf and black tea, with a tongue coating dusty gripping but silky smooth tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 97 points. 

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=2508301

https://twitter.com/HALLWines

@HALLWines 


For the special family occasion, I brought this ultra-premium label from our cellar and it proved a perfect match comparison. The Exzellenz and the Del Dotto Family Reserve had remarkably similar tasting profiles albeit the Del Dotto being strikingly more bold and assertive but on the same tasting curve.   

Del Dotto St Helena Mountain Family Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

We tasted and acquired this bottle at the Del Dotto Winery Cave Tour Tasting in St Helena during our Napa Wine Experience in 2017. That tasting was from the barrel. This is another spectacular memorable Napa Valley tasting destination experience.

We've been collecting Del Dotto Family Wine for over twenty-five years, since their inaugural release of this Napa Cabernet in 1993. The Del Dotto brand, holdings, portfolio and presence have grown substantially over those years, yet they still maintain their focus on small production, premium wines. 

Over that time Dave Del Dotto has acquired vineyards in some of the best American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) including Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena, Howell Mountain, and Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma Coast. The portfolio and brand has grown proportionally as well. 

Today Del Dotto produce wines based on cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, sangiovese and sauvignon blanc from their Napa Valley vineyards, as well as pinot noir, chardonnay and limited amounts of syrah, sauvignon blanc, sparkling grenache and mourvedre from their Cinghiale (wild boar) Vineyard in the King Ridge region of the Sonoma Coast.

We still hold nearly two decades of Del Dotto wines dating back to that 1993 inaugural vintage release. 

Over the years we've held Del Dotto wine dinners with Dave and Yolanda such as our Napa Wine Experience back in 1999, and attended numerous Del Dotto hosted special events. More recently, our Pour Boys wine group did the Del Dotto Napa Valley Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting at the magnificent St Helena estate winery and caves. And, our Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience at the then new Piazza Del Dotto estate and winery (and now caves) was one of the memorable highlights of our Napa Wine Experience in 2018. 

Its hard to believe that with published tasting notes of no less than sixty-five different labels and vintage releases - and countless iterations thereof, I have not tasted, or published a tasting note or blogpost of this particular label vintage release.

Our collection of Del Dotto family wines remains one of the largest holdings in our cellar with both vertical and horizontal collections of favorite labels. Hence it was only fitting for a special occasion family dinner that I took a Del Dotto Family Reserve estate label.

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Del Dotto St. Helena Mountain Vineyard​. This is the same fruit that is used in their super ultra-premium label The Beast. I wish we had more of this to experience over the years as it ages but it was spectacular tonight in its 9th year - clearly at the apex of its tasting window, not likely to improve with further aging, but assuredly will hold and drink well for a couple decades to come!

Winemaker’s notes for this label - “The St. Helena Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has immense power and body with enough integration to achieve 100-point status in previous vintages. The color is an opaque purple and visually viscous. This particular selection is the finest combination of French Oaks along with the best blocks from the 12-acre estate along the base of the Mayacamas mountain range. The bouquet is dense with notes of black plum, molasses, allspice and marmalade. The mouthfeel is velvety with a hint of boysenberry, mocha, roasted walnut and dark chocolate. The tannins are firm and well balanced.”

Bright ruby colored, full bodied, huge, dense, powerful, firm structured, rich, concentrated, black berry and black currant fruits with notes of cognac, clove cinnamon spice, layers of oak, tobacco, black tea and black olive notes with hints of dark bitter chocolate and crème d’cassis with tongue coating sweet oaky tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 95 points. 



@deldottowines

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot St Emilion Premiere Grand Cru Classe 2015

Another top label from Reid’s birthyear vintage, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is a fantastic example of a full, round, flavorful, powerful expression of Saint-Émilion terroir. Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is owned by the Becot family who has overseen the property for several generations. It is designated a Saint-Émilion Grand Crus Classés estate. 

The estate lies on the St Martin de Mazerat plateau, immediately to the west of the old town, Beau-Séjour Bécot lies in the very heart of the Saint-Emilion appellation area just outside the commune of St Emilion very near some of our favorite producers, Châteaux Canon and Le Gaffeliere. 

The Becot family hired the legendary oenologist and consultant Michel Rolland to establish and maintain the estate’s classification.

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot has a long storied history in the Right Bank. The vines on the grounds were first cultivated by the ancient Romans who recognized the promise of the terroir centuries ago. The grounds of this property still hold stone ruins scattered amongst from those early days. At one point, the property was owned by the Monks of the Saint Martin Abbey in Saint-Émilion, who also owned and tended the vines of Château Canon. 

The monks of Saint-Martin de Mazerat were followed by the Gères, lords of Camarsac. In 1722 one of their descendants, Jeanne de Gères, brought the Domaine de Peycoucou into the estate of the Carles de Figeac family on her marriage. In 1787 General Jacques de Carles de Figeac renamed the estate Château Beau-Séjour, which means “beautiful resting place.” 

General Jacques de Carles was without successors - Beau-Séjour eventually came into the possession in 1924 of Doctor Jean Fagouet, who enlarged the vineyard, increasing its surface area to 10.5 hectares (26 acres). Michel Bécot, born into a wine growing family who had lived in Saint-Emilion since 1760 and owner of the neighbouring Château La Carte since 1929, purchased the estate in 1969. 

In 1979, the Bécot family further enlarged the estate with the purchase of 4.5 hectares (11 acres) on the Trois Moulins plateau. The estate, which then became known as Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, is today a
substantial 16.6-hectare (41-acre) holding on a perfectly uniform terroir. Michel Bécot retired in 1985, turning over the management of the Château to his two sons Gérard and Dominique.

The vines at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot are typically 45 years old primarily planted to the appellation specific Merlot, interspersed with the customary varietal Cabernet Franc for added dimension and complexity.

The 2015 Beau-Sejour Becot is composed in a somewhat traditional or customary St Emilion blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged in 85% new and 15% one-year-old French oak for 17 months.

It was rated 96 points by Wine Enthusiast, 95 points by Wine Spectator, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and James Suckling, and 94 points by Decanter. It was #55 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2018 and a ‘Cellar Selection’.

This was not exactly a fair fight, or comparison with the rich almost obtuse forward vibrant single varietal Cabernet Sauvignons. A Right Bank Bordeaux Blend, predominantly Merlot based it was more complex yet nicely balanced and integrated. It begs for a filet of beef pairing. 

Dark garnet colored medium to full bodied, complex round, full ripe plum and blackberry and black cherry fruits with touches of spice box, tobacco, lavender and cedar with rich, firm but silky smooth polished tannins on the long floral finish.

RM 94 points.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Father’s Day Dinner at Angeli’s Italian

Father’s Day Dinner at Angeli’s Italian

Son Alec and D-in-law Vivianna and their girls took Linda and me to Angelis Italian in Naperville, our favorite neighborhood trattoria for an early Father’s Day dinner. 


I took from our cellar one of our favorite Italian varietal wines for the occasion, for an ideal food - wine pairing. 

For a starter I had their Angeli’s Special Salad and we ordered their delectable Baby Black Mussels sautéed in white wine sauce.

Alec ordered the daily special, Veal Margherita - veal with capers, lemon and parmigana cheese with  white wine sauce over angel hair pasta.

I ordered the Veal Joey from the menu, breaded veal with tomatoes, capers, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts topped with a white wine sauce and finished with shaved parmesan cheese. Served over a bed of arugula.

Linda ordered the Angeli's Salmon Salad - Fresh spring lettuce with caramelized walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, and sliced apples & pears, topped with fresh grilled salmon and finished with our sweet raspberry dressing.


And, Vivianna ordered the Shrimp salad over pasta. 
 

From our home cellar we brought this Piazza Del Dotto Napa Valley Sangiovese 2015. 

Del Dotto is a family favorite paying tribute to the close knit family there, and our family having 'grown up' with the brand over the years, and many of us having visited Del Dotto during our many visits to Napa Valley. Alec and Vivianna visited the Piazza estate during their wildfire smoke shortened honeymoon trip to Napa Valley back in 2020.  

We’ve written often in these pages about Del Dotto wines and the Piazza Del Dotto labels. We featured Del Dotto Piazza and this label in a more detailed blogpost excerpted below.



Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2015

This was delicious and everyone loved it making me glad we were able to acquire more. I wrote back then that “I wish I had more than the single case we acquired last year. I'll be looking for more.”

We tasted and acquired this wine during our Del Dotto Estate Cave Tour and Tasting back in 2018. We featured this wine soon thereafter and in several posts to follow including this one when we took it took it BYOB to our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria, Angelis Italian

After we consumed all the bottles we acquired during that visit, we reordered more and finished that too. We tried to order more and it was no longer offered on the Del Dotto shopping site (s). Then, we received an email from Del Dotto clearing out numerous vintage labels and we acquired a mixed case of favorites including several vintages of this label. 

Tonight's tasting experience was consistent with my notes from earlier tastings except this bottle, acquired from the recent Del Dotto clearance sale, showed some signs of diminution with slight rust hue color on the edges and a slight burnt taste. Never-the-less, we love this wine and it was still delicious. We’ll plan to consume those bottles sooner than later in the event they’re on the backside of their drinking window. 

My notes from the initial tasting soon after receipt of our initial acquisition - "This was dark garnet colored ((with a slight grayish hue that signaled caution but the wine was fine, we'll monitor the next bottle (s) with interest to see if this is an early warning of trouble ahead) (as noted, there was a slight discoloration setting in tonight)); medium full bodied, this was delicious with sweet ripe raspberry fruits accented by notes of vanilla and almond with supple smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points, reduced by a point for this bottle relative to earlier tastings, attributed to bottle variation.

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=2579868

http://www.deldottovineyards.com/






Monday, June 10, 2024

Arns Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Melanson Vineyard Syrah with Gia Mia Pizza

Arns Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Melanson Vineyard Syrah with Gia Mia Pizza

Monday night dinner, we ordered wood fired pizzas from Gia Mia in Naperville. Located in the old historic public library downtown, the trendy restaurant offers casual fine dining in a lively vibrant atmosphere. While I don’t necessarily like the somewhat noisy ambiance, I love their meatballs and polenta entree, except for the fact that often they add too much spice heat to the mix.

Such was the case tonight, I was looking forward to a pizza and big wine pairing for dinner, the Mia Gia pizza was excessively hot with spice that it overpowered even the big unctuous red wine, undermining the whole food-wine experience. 

Shame on me for not noticing till after the fact that “The Bruno” pizza includes, besides the sausage, pepperoni and meatballs … spicy soppressata!

That aside, this was the same profile as earlier vintages of this extremely limited release label that we enjoyed so much. 

We first discovered and acquired this label at the winery and were able to reacquire some at auction last winter, which we saved for an occasion such as tonight.   

We wrote about Arns Winery and this limited release Napa Valley Syrah and that estate visit in an earlier blogpost in these pages, excerpted below.  

Arns Melanson Napa Syrah 08

Arns Melanson Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah 2012

John Arns, Rick, Linda and fellow Pour Boy 
Bill C at Arns Estate on lower Howell Mtn.
We first discovered Arns wines at Andy Bassin's McArthur Wines in Washinton DC during my several years being based there. The presence of Arns there was due to the heritage of the winemaker Sandi Belcher Arns being from Virginia and distributing wines to her home marketplace when visiting back there. 

We visited John Arns at the Arns Estate on Howell Mountain during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2013. We first discovered and acquired this varietal offering during that visit. 

This wine is indicative of one of our favorite wine styles with its rich, concentrated, full bodied, forward fruits.  As my tasting notes from that period stated. "Tasted at the winery, shipped some home, drank a bottle upon arrival, need to go buy more."

This is a very limited production bottling from this boutique producer so when we saw it on-line, we snatched up the entire lot. Of course, Arns primarily specialize in Cabernet Sauvignons, which we also love from this producer, which makes this Syrah label all the more rare and cherished. For the 2012 vintage, only 85 cases were produced. It was aged three years in one year old French oak.

While Arns Estate Vineyards are located up on lower Howell Mountain, hence the Napa Valley appellation designation*, I recall from or discussions with the producer that the fruit for this label is actually sourced from the Melanson Vineyard down at the southern end of the Vaca Mountain range down on the slope area known as Pritchard Hill.

The Melanson Vineyard sits on Pritchard Hill on the rugged eastern ridges above the town of Rutherford overlooking the Napa Valley below with views of Lake Hennessey. The distinctive terroir of the site consists of rich Sobrante Loam soils loaded with volcanic rock at elevations averaging 1,400 feet and distinct southern and western exposures produces better than average fruit due to its exposure, clones, soils  and most of all, care.  The elevation places the vineyards above the fog line and allowing maximum sun exposure throughout the day providing even ripening.

Arns Syrah comes from a small corner of this vineyard and sits in a major rock pile.  There was soil added so a vine could be planted in something other than boulders. Syrah berries are large, about the size of a quarter and their skins are tough and can endure sometimes even the most unfavorable conditions.  John Arns notes that "with above average sunshine, (this site is above the fog line) it truly demonstrates that terroir really matters." 

* Interestingly, it is at the 1200 foot elevation, the level of the fog line, that is also the line of demarcation between the Napa Valley appellation below, and the Howell Mountain appellation above, up on Howell Mountain. 

My notes from 2013 - "Dark inky garnet color, full bodied, powerful but polished forward flavors of black berry and hints of blue fruits, layers of cassis and mocha, hints of clove, violets, leather and olive with a long lingering firm but silky tannin finish. Much like a big Southern Aussie Shiraz.'

Tasted at the winery, shipped some home, drank a bottle upon arrival, need to go buy more." 

At going on twelve years of age, this wine is still very much in its peak drinking window and not showing any sign of diminution with hint of raisin and whisper of menthol. While it will not likely improve or benefit from further aging, it certainly has another half dozen years of life left at the apex of its profile. We love this wine and were eager to obtain this lot ant auction, and taste and compare it to earlier releases. We consumed all the product we acquired over the years from from the Estate.

RM 93 points.



Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sepia Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago

 Sepia Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago for a spectacular food and wine dining experience

Son Sean and D-in-law Michelle invited us to dinner at Michelin Star Sepia Restaurant in Chicago. For the occasion, I pulled from our home wine cellar this ultra-premium birthyear vintage wine for Sean’s birth year. We took this BYOB wine despite the fact we also did the Wine Pairing option with the Price Fixe dinner. 

Sepia in the trendy west loop neighborhood on Jefferson Street is recognized with the coveted Michelin Star. We were fortunate enough to be seated in one of the private dining alcoves off the main dining room, a stylish warm intimate setting with a heavy curtain wall, brick wall, and photo galley wall adorned with Sepia photographs. 


The exclusive price fixe menu offers four courses of four diner’s choice options each, plus additional optional caviar and/or cheese courses. 


The wine pairing serves a select wine for each course selection from their Best of Award Wine Spectator wine list. Even the starter course matched three different carefully and thoughtfully selected sparkling wines with our three different starter selections. 

Prior to the starter first course we were served a delectable amuse-bouche of tartare on brioche with a sweet jam spread.

The First Course selection offerings:

Kanpachi Crudo, toasted rye chili crisp, pickled ramp,smoked cream cheese,

Caramelized Onion Consommé, delice de Bourgogne, sourdough selected by Linda,

Steak tartare toad in a hole, horseradish, brioche, dill, and, chosen by Michelle,

Roasted Foie Gras, ginger consommé, peanut, snow pea selected by Sean and Me.

The wine pairings for this course selections were distinctively different, matching the food selections.

Paired with the Foie Gras was Le Quattro Terre Franciacorte Brut

This is from the Franciacorte appellation in the Lombardy wine region in northern Italy, the Italian ‘Champagne’ district. It is made in the methods champonaise French style from traditional grape varieties Chardonnay 65% and Pinot Noir 35%. 

This label is sourced from five Chardonnay vineyards located in the municipalities of Adro, Corte Franca, Passirano and Ome and one Pinot Noir vineyard located in the municipality of Cazzago San Martino.

https://www.quattroterre.it/en-us/


The pairing with Linda’s Consommé selection was Michel Arnould "Réserve" Grand Cru Verzenay Brut Champagne.

This is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, entirely from estate vineyards in the Grand Cru of Verzenay. The hazelnut Pinot character, so unique to the village of Verzenay, is pronounced in this wine. The texture is full and the bead is refined. 

The Brut Reserve Grand Cru owes the strength of its aromas and its affirmed body to the Pinot Noir from Verzenay, and owes its delicacy to the Chardonnay.

Winemaker notes - Hints of soft fruits (peach, apricot, plum) accompanied by a sensation of exotic fruits. A sharp attack on the palate and then transpires an impression of harmony and stability. Once again we find these hints of soft fruits but no longer crystalised, to which we can add flavours of almonds and hazelnuts. 

The Second Course

Lightly Smoked Ocean Trout, kohlrabi, mussel emulsion, selected by Sean,

Gai Yang Chicken Wing Zampone, blood orange, cilantro, smoked chicken jus,

Crispy Ricotta Gnudi, celery root giardiniera, belper knolle, sunflower seed, selected by Michelle, and,

Roasted Scallop, green curry custard, finger lime, english pea, selected by Linda and me.

Sean loved and raved about the Smoked Trout, one of the highlights of the evening, and the best such dish he says he had ever tasted!


The trout was an ideally paired with this crisp white from the Vinho Verde appellation from the Minho River area, close to the Atlantic in Northern Portugal. Known for concentration and depth, both mouth-filling and refreshing, these wines have depth and textures that are both elegant and energetic. The nose carries an airy effervescence with blossoms and fresh ginger, while the mouthfeel is like juicy white-fleshed stone fruits with a long wash of grippy mineral sensations. The only Vinho Verde that could be 100% Alvarinho had to come from Quinta do Santiago's specific area of Menção e Melgaço.


Michelle chose the Ricotta Gnudi for her second course.


It was paired with this Italian varietal Nebbiolo, native grape from the Italian Piedmont wine region. This was an ideal old world classic style with rich earthy notes of Piedmont soil, tar, savory herbs and Shittake mushroom with elegant, refined fruit. Written to be Ghemme at its best, elegant yet powerful. 

Linda and I both selected the Roasted Scallop.


The Scallop was minimally cooked and we both would have preferred pan seared, or, cooked slightly more. The highlight of the dish may have been the English pea, green curry custard with lime. 

The wine pairing with the scallop was a German Riesling Kabinett - Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mönchhof 2021. 

This is produced from grapes harvested from the steepest vineyards along the Mosel River in northwest Germany. The Mönchhof estate has is known for expressing ripe stone fruit and slate flavors that represent the unique terroir of the area. We visited the Mosel River Valley during our trip back in the mid-1980’s. Our tastes in wines have evolved significantly from those days. 

Rather than a sweet full wine such as this, I would’ve preferred a more delicate crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Linda would’ve preferred a round buttery Chardonnay. In any event, part of the culinary journey is experiencing the Chef’s and Sommelier’s interpretation of the wine pairing. 

The third, main course:

Grilled short rib, morel mushroom crab rangoon, smoked béarnaise, crispy nori. This was selected by Linda, Sean and me.

Michelle selected the Lamb Loin, cauliflower, pistachio dukkah, curried jus, lamb belly doughnut,


The Chef’s, Sommelier’s wine pairing with the lamb was a Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Frog’s Leap Rutherford Vineyards from the historic 2020 vintage.

Frog's Leap "Estate" Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 

This is from the iconic Frog's Leap winery estate in Rutherford that has been farmed by John Williams since 1981, now in concert with his son Rory.

Frog’s Leap were fortunate to release full production of their flagship wine during the chaotic vintage of 2020. After a very dry winter over 2019-2020 with only half normal rainfall, the deep-rooted vines compensated by naturally producing a light crop, about 25% below average. Major heat waves set in during harvest in mid-August and early September. Vineyard practices helped protect the vines during the high heat. 

The bulk of their Cabernet harvest was complete and ready to be picked when the tragic historic Glass fire broke out on September 28th, just six miles to the north. The remaining five blocks to be picked were harvested within the next two mornings. The fire’s smoke stayed to the north on the 28th and through the the 29th, as they finished picking. 

Unlike many Napa producers, Frog’s Leap 2020 Cabernet was unaffected by the fires. Due to smoke damage from the fires, many producers were not able to produce any crop, or were severely limited to what they were able to pick before the fires erupted. 

The fruit for this release was sourced from Frog’s Leap estate Rutherford vineyards - 34% Red Barn vineyard, Rutherford, 40% Chevez-Leeds vineyard, Rutherford, and 26% from the Williams-Rossi vineyard, Rutherford. It is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc.

It was aged 20 months in new to 5-year-old French oak barrels, 10% new.

Relieved and confident that they had produced a fine wine for the vintage, Rory said about this release, “I intend to be opening bottles of the 2020 vintage 40 years from now with my daughter Alma, who was born in 2020.”

This release was awarded 94 points by Decanter and 91 points by James Suckling.

Bright garnet colored, medium full-bodied with classic rustic Rutherford dusty tannins, brambly black currant, raspberry, and black cherry fruits with notes of tobacco, spices and black tea.

RM 91 points.  

The other entree course offerings were: 

Roasted Monkfish, little neck clams, white asparagus, horseradish-hidden valle, and,

Potato and Gruyère Agnolotti, lamb bacon, crispy potato, parmesan butter.

With the Short Rib, we had two fabulous wine pairings, the Chef’s and Sommelier’s selection, a Spanish Rioja Tempranillo Reserva ….

Señorío de P. Peciña Tinto Reserva is from the La Rioja designation of origin produced by Bodegas Hermanos Peciña. It is a blend predominantly made up of Tempranillo (95%), with a small amount of Graciano and Garnacha (5%).

The grapes come from various selected vineyards in the San Vicente de la Sonsierra region. The soils there are predominantly clay-limestone, and the planting density is high to produce rich concentrated wines. 

It was aged for 36 months in American oak barrels with an average age of four to five years, then it was aged another year and a half in the bottle before release.

Luis Gutierrez of RobertParker.com gave this 93 Points.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant full concentrated ripe spicy fruits, with notes of earth, leather and vanilla and a touch of smoke and dusty rose, with polished chalky tannins. 

RM 93 points. 

And of course, our BYOB special birth year vintage bottle from our home cellar, 1985 Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases, St-Julien, Bordeaux. The classic wine from the legendary producer is considered a crown jewel of the St Julien appellation. Many consider it on par with the iconic first growths, it is known as one of the ‘super seconds.’

The estate is the largest and highest regarded of the three Léovilles, the greatest in quality and, in the opinion of many, it should be among the first growths. 

This is one of my absolute favorite, revered wines. Our visit to the Chateau was one of the highlights of our trip to St Julien Bordeaux back in 2019. We acquired a case of this wine upon release back in the mid-eighties and have still hold a couple bottles.

At going on forty years, the fill level was high neck, the foil and label were pristine, and the cork was intact but a bit soft and spongy. 

In 2020, Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider wrote, “One of the stars of the vintage, this is drinking perfectly today.” In March 2022 Robert Parker wrote, “My favorite vintage from this château to drink today is the 1985 Léoville Las Cases. More giving than the brooding 1986, and more complex than the 1982, the 1985 is in its prime today.”

Tonight’s tasting was consistent with my last review in 2019 when I wrote:

Deep garnet colored, medium-full bodied, elegant, complex but nicely integrated dark berry and black cherry fruits with notes of floral violets, tobacco, oak and hints of graphite, cigar box and leather on a tangy black cherry lingering finish of supple smooth, polished tannins. Over the course of the evening, it opened more to reveal layers of floral and fruits and accents.

https://unwindwine.blogspot.com/2019/07/chateau-leoville-las-cases-1985.html

This release was awarded 98 points Vinous and 98 points by Wine Spectator, and 95 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Decanter and the Wine Cellar Insider. 

In their 98 point review, Vinous wrote, “The 1985 Léoville–Las Cases is not just one of the finest vintages from this Second Growth, but one of the high points for the entirety of Bordeaux in this decade. Here it eclipses the 1985 Lafite-Rothschild with ease. A perfect marriage of structure and a degree of elegance that maybe the property has not matched before or since.”

This is a classic Left Bank Bordeaux blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. 

https://www.cellartracker.com/w?4819


We then chose the optional additional cheese course.

Tête de Moine, corn financier, huckleberry chutney, thyme.

This was an incredible, imaginative artful creation, the thinly and delicately sliced cheese was amazingly formed to resemble a flower.


The pairing was this Italian Moscato d’Asti from Lombardy.


Stefano Perrone is one of the region's large producers. Souring grapes from north-facing sites, limiting yields, annd strict grape selection, he makes wines delicate and balanced.

We then turned to the dessert course. 

I chose the Cannelé de Bordeaux, buttered rum diplomat cream, roasted pineapple sherbet, tarragon, a burst of flavors!


Cloud Cake, frozen sheep’s milk yogurt, rhubarb, chamomile was Michelle’s selection.

Sweet Pea Pavlova, white chocolate, coriander, meyer lemon sorbet was Sean’s selection.

And finally, Linda chose the Manjari Chocolate Torte, buckwheat, caramelized banana, coffee cocoa nib ice cream.


The dessert course wine pairings …





The Sepia team … professional, attentive, accomplished, and in the pursuit of perfection.

executive chef andrew zimmerman
chef de cuisine kyle cottle
sous chef brian daley & jayme cannava
pastry chef erin kobler
pastry sous chef melissa santiago
sommelier alex ring