Monday, October 11, 2021

Arns Napa Valley Syrah 2010

Arns Napa Valley Syrah 2010 

With Sunday night dinner of grilled tomahawk rib-eye steak on the grill, baked potatoes, haricot vert and caprese tomato salad, Linda asked for a big bold red wine. I pulled this, one of her favorites from the cellar for the occasion. 

I have written in these pages before, we have been long time fans of Arns Winery and their Napa Cabernets so we arranged a visit and private tasting with producer John Arns at the estate on lower Howell Mountain during our 2013 Napa Wine Experience.

John Arns and Sandi Belcher, both UC Davis trained enologists, developed Arns Winery after years of selling grapes to local wineries. John did the viticulture and his partner Sandi was the winemaker. It was during that visit that we discovered and acquired this single vineyard designated Syrah made with fruit sourced from the Melanson Vineyard on Pritchard Hill which I write about in an earlier blogpost.

They primarily produced Cabernets with fruit from their 10-acre vineyard on the hillside of the Eastern hills of Howell Mountain near St. Helena. While it was originally a farmstead in the late 1880's, its modern incarnation began in the late 1950's when the Arns family bought the property. 

Rick, Linda and John Arns

Arns Cabernets are especially precious now because the tiny vineyard that produced them was totally destroyed by the Glass fire that raged through Napa Valley in October 2020. By a stroke of luck before the fire Sandi and John had moved all the wine in barrels to the Fontinella Winery facility on Mount Veeder that was not affected by the fire. 

Though the Arns wine estate is gone, the Arns label will continue with Sandi Belcher purchasing specially selected grapes from prime producers. 

This wine was produced from the Melanson Vineyard on Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley. For years, John managed the vineyards and obtained some of the fruit to bottle this label.

Regrettably, this is our last bottle of this label from what originally we acquired at the winery during our visit, then reordered more from them, and then actually acquired this bottle when we picked up an entire lot on

We need to find out if more will be produced as we have not seen new releases beyond the 2013 which shows sold out on their website. We still hold a few bottles of that vintage.

This is serious juice. The 2010 vintage was aged in one year old French oak for three years. The concentrated extracted fruit is apparent as soon as you pour the dark inky purple juice into the glass.

Winemaker's notes: It is concentrated, yet elegant with full-bodied, ripe, decadent notes of cassis, licorice, herbs, black pepper and violets. It has a perfect kiss of sweet vanilla from aging in French oak and is soft and smooth on the finish.

Tonight this was mostly consistent with our earlier notes for this label although at eleven years, the fruits have fallen off ever so slightly. Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, huge aromatics explode from the bottle as soon as the cork is pulled, thick, concentrated black and blue fruits are accented by a pronounced layer of sweet spicy oak laced caramel that turns to black licorice, pepper and herbs, with smooth sinewy tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

BLANKbottle "B.I.G. SA" Swartland Cabernet Blend 2019

BLANKbottle "B.I.G. SA" Swartland Cabernet Blend 2019

 This was another special buy from VinChicago who find and often offer such limited release labels at good value. This seemed to be good value relative to the market price if you could find it. Being from South Africa, it had lesser distribution and a more limited following that more popular regional wines. Searching for this label, I found it available throughout Europe and in a few locations on the east coast, in all cases at prices ten to thirty percent higher. 

During my South Africa Wine Experience in 2019, I tasted some really good wines from down there, thus was open to try some unknown labels. 

Fun with wine ... as the header of this blog states, I write about "perspectives on wine buying, collecting, tasting, a study in wine marketing & branding; observations, experiences and ruminations of a winegeek & frequent traveler." This post is the epitome of such ruminations.  

This wine is the extreme of the broad spectrum of wines and labels, the polar opposite of the grower producer terroir driven wine labels where one collects and compares the subtleties of variations of the same label from vintage to vintage over time, the same wine sourced from the same 'estate' producer owned vineyard (s).

This is from South African winemaker producer Pieter Walser, who travels the region sourcing a vast wide variety of grapes from numerous growers to produce a broad portfolio of labels, many one-of single vintage offerings, and some that are repeated. There are several American and French producers that employ this negociant method of acquiring grapes to produce a private label or own label brand. I've written in these pages the perils of 'collecting' such wines since they may never appear again. Walser notes, "At the moment, roughly 30% of our wines are once-off wines. If they perform well, they will stay on."

To his credit, he employs expensive quality packaging of these wines with heavier bottles and wax dipped capsules, and imaginative designer labels.

Seeing the producer website sole photo of the winemaker, (shown left), and the way he describes himself and talks about his business and his brand, I am drawn to think this is what it would be like if Crocodile Dundee, the Australian outback movie character, were a winemaker. 

Indeed, he plays on the movie theme metaphor: “It’s our privilege to be the costume designer and screenwriter, to present this time capsule, a catalyst that brings people together, there to de-stress, entertain, – as the star headline act, in the privacy of your home.”

He replays on his website this interview style backgrounder from the producer website:  

"SO YOU HAVE YOUR OWN WINERY BUT NO FARM? Yes, at the moment I can’t afford one but then again owning a farm limits you to the vineyards on your specific farm. I love traveling and experiencing many different areas. I want to convey as many different stories as possible from as many areas as possible – if I can one day have 50 wines in our portfolio I would be happy.'

"HOW MANY VINEYARDS DO YOU BUY GRAPES FROM? In the 2020 harvest we picked 165 tons from about 80 vineyards; 35 different varietals – anything from Fernao Pirez to Cabernet. This year we bottled well over 40 different wines.'

"ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE INVOLVED IN SO MANY VINEYARDS? I work with great farmers and knowledgeable viticulturists. We make wines from almost all the areas in the Western Cape. They all ripen at different times. In the beginning of harvest I only focus on the first, maybe 10, in Wellington and Darling. As we pick through the first 10, I start looking at the next in line to possibly ripen. We carry on like that and 13000 km and 100 days later we normally pick the last vineyard in the Witzenberg.'

I am learning that the Rhone varietals, notably one of favorites, Syrah, and South African varietals such as the most well known, Pinotage, are probably the more consistent and reliable selections than Bordeaux varietals such as this. This producer, Pieter Walser, explains the challenges of South African Cabernet Sauvignon.

"When I first started speaking to the masters of Cabernet here at the Southernmost tip of Africa, the first thing mentioned by most was the dreaded Greenness in Cabernet Sauvignon - a very unwelcome herbaceous / vegetative character. This develops due to high levels of Pyrazines present in the wine - something that's determined by the ripeness level of the grapes. The longer the grape bunches get exposed to sunlight during the growing period, the less Pyrazines - resulting in less greenness in the end product - reducing herbaceousness and amplifying fruit.'

"Here in South Africa we have a unique situation: although we have plenty of sunshine, it is hot and dry. In most instances, by the time the grapes are ripe for picking, it hasn't had long enough sun exposure for the Pyrazines to get to an acceptable level. And if you leave it on the vine for longer, the sugar level gets too high. These sugars are then transformed during fermentation into alcohol resulting in rather high alcoholic wines.'

"So in general, Cabernet creators are in fact chased by the Green Monster. Defended by some, feared by most. What confuses me, though, is that one could argue that this greenness is a stylistic characteristic of wines closer to the ocean, which makes it acceptable. Or does it? Where the exact point lies where herbaceousness turns into greenness - I am not sure." 

This label release is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, sourced from 11 vineyard sites, all of which are mentioned on the label, which explains its busy-ness and complexity. In retrospect, its brilliant, showing the geography and topography, elevation of each of the vineyard sites.

Winemaker producer Walser writes about this label, "The name B.I.G. does not refer to the style of the wine but to the magnitude of the blend. This wine represents Bordeaux from South Africa. The first vintage of this wine was in 2015 and it had six vineyards in the final blend, all Cabernet Sauvignons from different heights above sea level. The blend varies from year to year - the 2019 consists of 9 vineyards - 5 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 Cabernet franc, 1 Merlot and 1 Petit Verdot. Each year I adjust the label accordingly.'

"The label shows a landscape and identifies all the vineyards that went into the final wine. The closest vineyard to the ocean is 3km and the furthest 3 hours drive.'  

There are some wonderful high volume large production wines that are a blend of fruit from a wide variety of sources. I write often how remarkable it is that such labels can consistently produce a high quality product in this way. 

This was the approach and strategy employed by Jess Jackson in his California Reserve Chardonnay, a wine that propelled him to a billionaire legend that changed the landscape of the California wine business. His success and meteoric rise was chronicled in the book A Man and His Mountain, the story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson and his pursuit of his dream to build a brand of premium varietal based wine for the mass market.

This wine is a small production offering, a fraction of the Kendall Jackson Reserve, never-the-less, sourced and blended from a wide range of vineyards across a wide range of geographies and distinctive terroir's, in the same way. 

Winemaker's notes: "With stunning black fruit, sweet peppery spice, fine tannin and good acidity, this is a very drinkable wine that shows complexity and liveliness. A wine where each sip stays as interesting as the first."

I found it rather uninspiring and lacking a definition of a particular profile or character and style - perhaps a cacophony of tastes rather than a symphony, lacking elegance and polish, more appropriate for a casual sipper with pizza or pasta than with elegant French cuisine or grilled steak. 

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, big full flavors of black berry and black raspberry fruits with notes of baking spices, black pepper and black tea with lively acidity on a moderate finish. 

RM 87 points.

We obtained another bottle from this producer, another Bordeaux varietal, Petit Verdot. I'll look forward to tasting and comparing that bottle and will post that experience in these pages when I do.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Birthyear Bordeaux bottle celebrates new grand-daughter

Birthyear Bordeaux bottle celebrates new grand-daughter - welcome Lavender !

First family photo with Lavender
Celebrating the birth of our granddaughter Lavender, to son Sean and daughter-in-law Michelle, we pulled a birthyear bottle for toasting with some artisan cheeses and fruits. 

I pulled from the cellar a St Julien Bordeaux from one of the producers we visited during our trip there back in 2018, Château Gruaud Larose

Those wines we tasted then (from the barrel) are now being released and we've acquired a flight of those labels to commemorate our memorable trip in future tastings. This also extends our vertical collection of these wines.

One of the highlights of that trip was a tour and tasting at the magnificent estate of  Château Gruaud Larose on the outskirts of the village of Beychevelle St Julien

Linda and Rick at
Château Gruaud Larose
We hold more than two dozen vintages of this wine dating back more than three decades including birthyear bottles of our kids' vintages, taking advantage of the long term cellaring age-worthiness of this producer. 

We opened bottles of this label last year celebrating Sean and Michelle's wedding, and three years ago leading up to our trip to Bordeaux. 

Tonight's tasting was consistent with those most recent tastings, showing the progression of aging and the differences between aging in a magnum, standard and split size bottles, the larger bottles aging better and showing slightly better as well. 

This release was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator, 92 points by Neal Martin's Wine Journal, 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 90 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

Tonight we tasted this from a 375ml small format split (shown left), ideal for simple casual sipping with cheeses and snacks, but less than ideal for aging / cellaring. Its time to drink these up, they are still holding on at 36 years, amazingly, but past their prime, showing their age and continuing to diminish from aging. 

The fill level was ideal for its age, to be expected, near the bottom of the neck, the label and foil were in good condition, and the cork was also ideal, especially for its age. 

My notes from last year - tasted from a magnum: "Dark garnet colored, medium to full-bodied, a bit closed and slightly subdued complex, ripe earthy blackberry and black current fruits with tones of tobacco leaf, truffle, hints of cassis and spice box, turning to slightly tart black cherry on the long floral full tannin laced finish."

And, my notes from three years ago, in 2018, tasted from a standard size bottle:

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

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



Dehlinger Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017

Dehlinger Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017

We opened this Chardonnay for dinner with ham and potatoes and haricot verts, then a day or so later for casual sipping with some artisan cheeses, crackers and jelly with olives. 

Founded in 1975 by Tom and Carol Dehlinger, it remains a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery in western Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley

After obtaining his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in biochemistry in the late 1960s, Tom Dehlinger studied Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis when the program was just being established. After jobs at Beringer and Hanzell, he founded Dehlinger Winery in remote Sonoma County in 1975, long before it was recognized as a wine producing area.

Today, two of their daughters Carmen Dehlinger and Eva Dehlinger, oversee day-to-day operation of both the winery and the vineyard.

They have a forty five acre site planted to fourteen acres of Chardonnay, located on Vine Hill Road just north of the town of Sebastopol, west of Santa Rosa, 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Dehlinger produces a single Estate Chardonnay bottling each vintage, sourced from their estate Chardonnay vines planted between 1975 and 1988. They were one of the early pioneers to plant Chardonnay in the cool climate area of western Sonoma County with the cool breezes and fog from the ocean. 

They also produce estate grown Pinot Noir from twenty five acres planted between 1975-1989, and a second site planted between 2011-2014, some Syrah from three acres of vines, and are one of the few vineyards in the coastal Russian River Valley that grows Cabernet Sauvignon, grown on four and a half acres of the variety planted in 1982 and 1983.

We toured the area during our Sonoma County Wine Experience back in 2017.

Dehlinger has been bottling its Chardonnays “Unfiltered” since the late 1990s in order to capture the full flavor potential and most pleasing texture possible. The winemaker's tasting notes refer to "Aromas of lemon custard and white peach, flavors of lime zest and toasted hazel nut. Excellent length, fresh, flavorful."

Very pleasant drinking, with its full boldness it is best with some food rather than standalone. This release got 92 points by Vinous and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Golden colored, medium bodied,  round, rich, full, bright and expressive, Vinous describes it as 'racy and luscious', notes of citrus, apples, and hints of pear fruits with mineral and tropical sprites and lemongrass on the crisp finish. 

RM 91 points.



Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Madame de Beaucaillou Haut-Médoc

Madame de Beaucaillou Haut-Médoc 2018

Local wine merchant Vin Chicago put this label out as a special feature offer and I picked up a case and, oh my, am I glad I did! We're long time fans and collectors of the grand vin Ducru Beaucaillou and were intrigued to try this new label in its inaugural release. 

We visited the famous Château Ducru Beaucaillou during our Bordeaux St Julien wine experience in 2018 and tasted the 2018 release from the barrel. That vintage went on to receive 100 points from Wine Enthusiast and 99 points from just about everyone else. They released this new label for that vintage so we were compelled to pick some up. 

As I have oft written in these pages, in top vintages, 'all boats rise with the tide', meaning great Chateaux will produce great wines even in their second and third labels, such that those labels often provide tremendous QPR - Quality Price Ratios, superb wines at a fraction of the price of the grand vin.

Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck wrote about the 2018 Bordeaux: "In short, 2018 is a thrilling vintage with no shortage of legendary wines and I cannot imagine anyone who purchases these wines will be disappointed...It’s possible to find attractive, well-made, even outstanding, wines that punch well above their price points." 

This is the very first vintage of this new label coming from the cellars of Ducru Beaucaillou. The new wine comes from vineyards located in the Haut-Médoc; plots brought by Madame Eugène-Borie on her marriage and more recently by the acquisition of plots from Madame Fort-Pradère. This wine label was created to pay homage to the woman who chaired the Board from 1998 to today, but also to an attentive and loving mother. Under the Haut Medoc appellation, this wine offers Borie quality at an entry-level price.

In recognition of Ducru's long line of women owners, the chateau released this label noting, “equally inspiring and demanding… all of them had an essential role in the development and renown of Ducru Beaucaillou’s signature style – strength and grace.”

Ducru Beaucaillou is a Bordeaux Second Growth that dates back to 1720 and is named for its terroir – the beautiful stones - ducru beaucaillou ... that are a large part of the composition of the soil of the vineyards adjacent the Gironde River. These stones, and the vineyards planted on them, are part of what gives Ducru Beaucaillou its particular Saint Julien character. Adjacent is a commemorative 'beautiful pebble', engraved with the historic chateau, in a gift box given to guests at to the estate. 

With the 2018 vintage, Ducru Beaucaillou decided to honor it’s 300th birthday and its Chairman [chairwoman] of the Board, Mrs. Eugene Borie, for the past decade by creating a new cuvee from her family’s home vineyards. The cuvee is this one, the Madame de Beaucaillou, released in 2020. 

This is vinified in the cellars by the Ducru-Beaucaillou team, receiving the same care and attention: the technical winemaking process, selective blending, and careful ageing for 12 months in barrel (including 20% new oak). 

In classic Bordeaux style, this is a blend of 39% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.

Deep garnet-colored, medium bodied, bright expressive vibrant blackberries, blueberries and plum fruits, accented by graphite and a touch of clove, hints of coffee tobacco, cigar and cedar with a savoury round finish with firm structured backbone and sturdy, fine-grain cloying tongue coating tannins that are not for the feint of heart but will impress big Bordeaux enthusiasts.

This was delicious already and I can only imagine how this will be with three to five or more years of additional integration and aging. 

RM 91 points. This was also awarded 91 points by James Suckling

Upon tasting this, I quickly got on line and ordered the current release of this label, available through En primeur (futures purchase). Stay tuned as I'll dutifully report on that wine as I soon as obtain some and have the opportunity to try it.