Friday, July 12, 2024

Cerbaia Brunello di Montalcino BYOB at Angeli’s Italian

Cerbaia Brunello di Montalcino BYOB at Angeli’s Italian 

We dined at  Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria and I took this Brunello di Montalcino BYOB for the occasion.

Readers of these pages know we don't do a lot of Italian wines but we do keep a selection in our cellar for Italian cuisine and dining at Angelis Italian which we do fairly frequently.

Tonight, we took this new arrival Limited Production Brunello di Montalcino which I just picked up at Binny's, our beverage super store at the suggestion of the wine advisor there, based on its stellar 98 point rating, and was eager to try. While I didn't give it such stellar ratings, we enjoyed it a lot and I went back to pick up a few more bottles. It was a perfect pairing with Linda's eggplant and my cheese ravioli with bolognese sauce and meatballs.

We love Sangiovese and most of our Italian cellar selections are that varietal, which we love paired with Italian cuisine. The Brunello di Montalcino label is tightly regulated and can only be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in the Montalcino region of Tuscany, Italy. 

Appellation regulations also limit the quantity of wine produced each year and mandate a Long Aging Process which stipulate Brunello must be aged for a minimum of four years, with at least two years spent in oak barrels. This lengthy aging process that ties up resources and increases production costs contributes to the higher price point of the label.

The rigorous production regulations set by the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium ensure that only the highest quality wines bear the Brunello label. This commitment to quality often requires additional investment in vineyard management, winemaking techniques, and quality control.

Brunello has gained a reputation as one of Italy's finest wines, prized for its complexity, depth, and ability to age gracefully. Its prestigious status and limited availability contribute to high demand and, consequently, higher prices.

This is from Cerbaia, a boutique winery that produces wines from some of the finest vineyards in Montalcino that are a true expression of a unique and distinctive place. 

The Cerbaia property has belonged to the Pellegrini family since the 1950s, with the family beginning to make wine in the 1970’s. The estate covers of a total of 35 acres of land, 11 of which are under the Brunello appellation controls, located on the highly regarded Montosoli Hill, known as the Grand Cru of Montosoli — some of the most coveted land in Tuscany.

In 2014, Elena Pellegrini gave up a promising career in corporate finance to devote herself to her family estate, striving to craft elegant, balanced wines in the traditional Montalcino style as her father Fabio did, applying minimal intervention and sustainable practices. She is advised by notable consulting enologist G.Gorelli, Italy’s first Master of Wine.

Their 2019 release was awarded 98-points by James Suckling who declared it “one of the best I have had from here” in his  review. Kerin O`Keefe of gave it 94 Points.

The 2019 is emerging as an all-time great year in Montalcino: Vinous called it “the vintage we’ve all been waiting for.” Kerin O’Keefe, who wrote THE book on Brunello, said “I’ve never tasted so many drop-dead-gorgeous young Brunellos from a single vintage.” Wine Advocate called the vintage “uniformly easy” for vintners.

The release was aged three years in large oak casks ensured that it would be polished and beautiful from day one.

Winemaker Notes - Intense ruby red in color, garnet with aging. Rich and intense bouquet of violets, undergrowth, red fruits, eucalyptus, and blackberry. Very long persistence, fresh, and elegant but complex.

Bright ruby garnet colored, medium full bodied, vibrant blackberry and black cherry fruits with notes of dusty rose, tobacco, dried herbs and leather with hints of truffle with bright acidity on a smooth polished tannin finish. 

RM 93 points.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Family 4th of July gathering features red wines

Family 4th of July gathering features medley of red wines 

The family gathered at daughter Erin and Johnny’s for a gala 4th of July celebration pool party and cookout. Ryan brought from his home cellar (shown below) two big reds and I took a red and sparkling white. 

R&L and eleven grandchildren … 

Ryan and Alec both acquired this label at auction and I featured it in a recent blogpost here - 

This was very good as discussed last week in the linked blogpost, when we had it with son Alec and D-in-law Vivianna’s, with pizza. 

As I wrote in that post, this Proprietary Red Blend, an introduction to a relatively new label from one of our long timer favored producers. 

Our CellarTracker records show we hold more than three cases of 20 different labels from David Arthur. We visited the estate up on Pritchard Hill Atlas Peak during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2013 as featured in these pages in this blogpost - David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery.

Tonight, that was very good, but was overshadowed by this full throttle Big Red, also brought by Ryan.

Ryan shared this ultra-premium Napa Cab from one of our favorite producers. We've visited the Cliff Lede estate on several of our Napa Valley wine trips and several of our wine buddies including son Ryan source allocated wines as members of their club. 

Ryan discovered this wine at a tasting at the winery and declared it the favorite WOTN (wine-of-the-night) and acquired it as part of his wine club allocation. 

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This is from the spectacular 2016 vintage continued a series of exceptional vintages in Napa Valley. 

This is sourced from the Diamond Mountain vineyards - exceptional, low-yielding vineyards with volcanic ash and gravelly loam soils in the Diamond Mountain appellation, nestled in the Mayacamas Range on the northwest side of Napa Valley. There the sun-drenched mountain vineyards have late afternoon breezes that ripen the fruit slowly and evenly. The winemaker notes that both Lede vineyard sites are planted to extraordinary old vines on a steep incline with historic Napa field selections and produce age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon with dark fruit, intense structure, minerality, and perfume.

The fruit was hand harvested and subjected to rigorous selection by a three-tiered sorting process, including high tech cutting edge optical sorting that works to eliminate less-than-perfect berries so that only finest fruit makes it into the wine. 

Crop levels were slightly below average due to a dry late spring and a cool weather spell during flowering which, when combined with the drought impacted dry soils led to small berries, creating very concentrated fruit. Ideal summer weather allowed the grapes to be harvested at optimal ripeness so that the resulting wines had intense and vibrant fruits.

The wine underwent twenty-one months of élevage in French oak, 78% of which were new.

Winemaker Notes - “The amazing 2016 Diamond Mountain’s bouquet is resplendent with cool wild blackberry jam scented with subtle notes of bay leaf, cardamom, clove and talc. There’s an interplay of rocks and loam in the nose as well.”

“Spiced fig, chocolate ganache, and blueberry flavors unfold on the palate underscored by blackberry and graphite notes. Like all of our 2016 wines, this wine has an expansive, mouth coating texture that is lush and joyfully persistent. The crescendo of the finish is a wash of savory cumin power, cedar, and violet flavors and aromas completing this wine of contemplation.” – Christopher Tynan, Winemaker

The Composition is a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc that adds spiciness and structure, and 1% Merlot for roundness and highlights of softness.

Production was 750 Cases.

This release was awarded 93 points by James Suckling.

Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, this exhibited dense, concentrated, rich extracted chewy tongue coating dark berry fruits with notes of spice, tobacco and hints of tar with a full round but soft and polished long tannin laced finish. Delicious! 

RM 94 points.


Domaine les Pallières “Terrasse du Diable” Gigondas 2018

I brought this Southern Rhône Valley blend that was an appropriate pairing for grilled burgers. 

I brought this in remembrance of our having discovered and were first introduced to this label while visiting the producer, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery estate with Alec and Vivianna during our Rhone Wine Experience back in 2018, so I took this for memorable casual sipping, ideally paired with burgers and hot dogs. 

Vivianna, Alec & Philippe with Daniel Brunier
Tasting this wine at the Chateau

This is from a joint venture between notable legends of Southern Rhône Valley wines, Daniel and Frederic Brunier of the iconic Vieux Télégraphe, and American distributor importer Kermit Lynch. They acquired the estate back in 1998 when long time owners, the Roux family, having no successor heirs, decided to sell the property.

Domaine Les Pallières was one of the greatest, longest-running properties of the Southern Rhône, having been within the same family since the 15th century. 

The Roux family decided to sell the jewel Les Pallières to the Bruniers and Kermit Lynch, with their focus and knowledge of Rhône terroir, they recognized their ability to realize its full potential. Domaine Les Pallières became a partnership among friends, and a creative collaboration of three leading, passionate experts on the wines of the Rhône. 

Frédéric and Daniel took over the destiny of the Brunier family business, also founded several generations earlier, by their ancestor Henri Brunier who founded the Domaine in 1891, in a partnership in the late 1980s. Their family involvement continued in 2015 and 2016 with Nicolas son of Frédéric and Edouard, son of Daniel, joining the ‘Old Telegraph’ business in key positions and, Manon, daughter of Frédéric, joining them in 2018.

This release was crafted by brothers Daniel & Frédéric Brunier, co-proprietors of Domaine Vieux Telegraph who collaborated as winemakers.

The Les Pallières 25 acre estate is terraced vineyards on the eastern side of the historic town of Gigondas in the Gigondas Appellation above and to the east and north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, beneath the Dentelles de Montmirail landmark.

I visited Gigondas and the village of Segurat (shown below) up the hill overlooking the region during my visit to the area back in 1998. 

From the estate, Domaine Les Pallières produces two Gigondas cuvées each year, Les Racines from the plateau around the winery which includes the property's oldest vines, and this Terrasse du Diable from the higher-altitude, cooler parcels. Of the two, the Diable is usually the more powerful yet it manages to maintain a level of elegance. 

Map courtesy of Domaine Vieux Telegraph

This 2018 Gigondas Terrasse Du Diable release is a blend of Chateauneuf du Pape varietals - 90% Grenache from 50 year old vines, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% Clairette. It comes from yields that ended up being approximately half of the average for the estate (only 11 hectoliters per hectare).

The wine was aged in cuves for 10 months, then in foudres for 12 months.

This was awarded 95 points by Wine Advocate, 92-93 points by James Suckling, and 92 points by Jeb Dunnuck.

Bright Ruby colored, medium to full bodied, bright ripe cherry, plum and red raspberry fruits with notes of mineral, tangy clove spice, bitter dark chocolate and licorice with a long chalky tannin punctuated finish

RM 91 points.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Zaca Mesa Eight Barrel Syrah 2017

Zaca Mesa Eight Barrel Syrah 2017

Hosting grandson Miles for the day, Linda grilled a pizza on the deck and wanted a big bold Syrah for a 'pizza' wine.

It’s ironic how often we open a wine under circumstances that are a repeat of an earlier similarly situated tasting. Such was the case tonight when this was an almost identical re-occurance nearly two years to the day/date of this blogpost excerpted below - .

Zaca Mesa Eight Barrel Syrah 2017

Linda grilled a pizza on the deck and wanted a big bold Syrah for a 'pizza' wine. 

I pulled from the cellar this Santa Ynez Valley Syrah we discovered, tasted and acquired during our Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards Visit during our Santa Barbara County Wine Experience earlier that spring. We joined their wine club and received this as part of our inaugural wine club shipment of a select mixed case from that visit. 

Eight Barrel Syrah derives its name from an anomalous practice employed during its first vintage back in 1993. As part of an experiment from the inquisitive nature of then winemaker, Daniel Gehrs, rather than crushing the grapes, allowing fermentation, pressing the grape skins and stems – or pomace – to extract all juice, and then moving the wine into barrel for aging, that Eight Barrel Syrah was crafted by first allowing the wine juice to freely run out of the fermentation tanks off the grape skins and stems without pressing the pomace to release trapped wine. He then allowed the remaining trapped juice to slowly drain overnight into a separate collection, gradually extracting deep color and flavor from the grape skins. The collected volume of wine from that first vintage filled just eight barrels, and so it was christened “Eight Barrel”, a new and distinct bottling of Syrah. 

That wine’s opulent style created somewhat of a cult following that grew each year, the demand quickly and vastly exceeding a mere eight barrels. Hence, they no longer limit production to just eight barrels of the label. They do retain the branding in remembrance of the eight barrels of wine that started the tradition. Eight Barrel today, is one of our Zaca Mesa's most sought after wines, which they work to  craft a more hedonistic style to round out their portfolio of Syrah offerings.

Zaca Mesa Eight Barrel Syrah 2017

This is 100% Shiraz sourced from Santa Ynez appellation estate vineyards, Mesa vineyard Blocks B & A and Chapel vineyard Block G. 

It was aged 19 months in 8% new French Oak.

Winemaker notes for the 2017 Eight Barrel Syrah: "The aromatics (of the 2017 Eight Barrel Syrah) are lifted by tones of juicy plum and caramelized cinnamon, followed by an underlying element of seasoned firewood. The burly personality of this wine is evident upon the first sip, broadly covering the palate and offering an abundance of both red and blue fruits. The texture evolves as opulent tannins settle into a persistent finish of cured meats and dried cranberry."

This release was rated 92 points by Wine Enthusiast.  

Dark inky purple colored, medium-full bodied, black raspberry and plum fruits accented by spice, sage, black tea and tobacco notes.

RM 89 points.

Zaca Mesa Winery Twitter - @ZacaMesa_Wine

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Sarget de Gruaud 2006

Château Gruaud Larose Sarget de Gruaud Larose

Settling in to watch the Presidential Debates I pulled from the cellar a vintage Bordeaux to sip with a collection of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, fresh berries, nuts and roasted beets.

Château Gruaud Larose is one of the most historic estates in the Médoc and was on our select set of St Julien producers we targeted to visit during our trip to the region.

This is the second label of a producer we know well with the flagship premiere label being one of the key holdings in our cellar collection consisting of more than a dozen vintages spanning three decades dating back to 1980 including the birth year vintages of each of our kids, 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1990. 

We hold many vintages in large format bottles including 3 liter double magnums and a five liter Jeroboam that we served at daughter Erin's and son-in-law Johnny's wedding in this label’s vintage year 2006.

Indeed, our collection of large format bottles was one of the keys to our cellar collection being featured in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Collector section back in June of 2001.

Our visit to Chateau was one of the highlights our visit to the St Julien region of Bordeaux back in 2019. I wrote about that visit and featured this producer in detail in these pages in this blogpost at that time - 

This label is the second wine of Gruaud Larose, named for the Sarget family, historic early ancestral owners of the estate. It  provides value and near-term drinkability for those looking for a classic though ripe St-Julien. Named after Baron Jean Auguste Sarget, one of the men who purchased the Gruaud-Larose property in 1812 and whose family managed the estate for the following fifty years. 

Over the next century, the estate would be divided, with a portion being controlled by the Sarget family. The estate has since been reunited and the château that Sarget built stands as the centerpiece of the property. The estate introduced the second wine in 1979.

Label from vintage tasted
at the Chateau,
This, the second wine of Gruaud Larose, provides value and near-term drinkability for those looking for a classic though ripe St-Julien. Named after Baron Jean Auguste Sarget, one of the men who purchased the Gruaud-Larose property in 1812 and whose family managed the estate for the following fifty years.

Over the next century, the estate would be divided, with a portion being controlled by the Sarget family. The estate has since been reunited and the château that Sarget built stands as the centerpiece of the property. The estate introduced the second wine in 1979.

This is a classic Left Bank Bordeaux Blend of predominant Cabernet Sauvignon, 60%, Merlot, 30%, Cabernet Franc 5.5%, Petit Verdot 3% and Malbec 1.5%.

Tonight, this was a bit disappointing and didn’t meet my expectations. At eighteen years, the label, foil and importantly the cork and fill level were all perfect. This showed no diminution of age whatsoever and I thought it would be at the apex of its drinking profile and window, and perhaps it was. 

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, somewhat flabby and disjointed black currant fruit were overshadowed by notes of tobacco, cedar, leather, earth and smoke with a modest somewhat muted fruit finish. 

RM 87 points.

A Visit to Château Gruaud-Larose

Monday, June 24, 2024

David Arthur DAV Proprietary Red Blend 2016

David Arthur “DAV” Proprietary Red Blend 2016

Monday night dining at son Alec and D-in-law Vivianna’s, we ordered pizza’s from Pizza Monday Nights at Gia Mia in Naperville. 

Alec opened up his cellar for a red wine and I selected this Proprietary Red Blend, an introduction to a relatively new label from one of our long timer favored producers. 

Our CellarTracker records show we hold more than three cases of 20 different labels from David Arthur. We visited the estate up on Pritchard Hill Atlas Peak during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2013 as featured in these pages in this blogpost - David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery.

I got to share with Alec how it is that we have fun with this label since David Arthur is actually named for the grandfather of the owner/producer Long Family - a family affair consisting of three generations of the Long family, who over the years acquired the mountain land to raise cattle. 

Today it is co-owned and operated by brothers David and Bob along with Joye Long, with David acting as General Manager and his daughter Laura runs the office and daily operations.

Not coincidentally, we were joined that trip by Sister and Bro-in-law Pat and Rodger, so wife Linda (nee) Long and Pat (nee) Long, daughters of Indiana cattle farmer Ned Long would be with us on this trip.

In addition to wife Linda and I being joined on this Napa trip by sister/sister-in-law Pat (Long), so it was only fitting we saved our David Arthur visit until this Long reunion trip together. The family reunion continued with a visit from Pat and Linda's niece Becky (nee) Long who lived near Napa and brought her family down to join us for a day in the region.

Farmer (in-law) Ned Long's daughters, Pat and
Linda at David Arthur Long Ranch
In addition to wife Linda and I being joined on this Napa trip by sister/sister-in-law Pat (Long), so it was only fitting we saved our David Arthur visit until this Long reunion trip together. The family reunion continued with a visit from Pat and Linda's niece Becky (nee) Long who lived near Napa and brought her family down to join us for a day in the region.

During that estate visit and tasting, we tasted the portfolio of David Arthur Bordeaux varietal labels. This label, a Bordeaux Blend, was not released until three years later in 2016, however. 

Since Alec acquired a case of this label, he shared with me two bottles for our David Arthur collection, which I’ll exchange for like kind labels of equal value from our cellar. 

David Arthur DAV Proprietary Red Blend 2016

David Arthur’s website writes about this label. “ After nearly forty years of farming grapes on our Pritchard Hill Estate, we are pleased to announce the launch of the Next Generation of David Arthur Vineyards wine ~ DAV. We have created a new, modern wine that represents the bold personality found in each and every bottle of our Estate wines. This Bordeaux-style blend allows us to weave together the rich, concentrated elegance and power of our mountain-grown Bordeaux varietals as well as the best of surrounding vineyards within the Napa Valley. The wine is aged an average of 20 months in French oak barrels, blended with meticulous care and bottled at our vineyard estate. The result is a complex array of aromas and flavors that deliver plush, mouth-filling structure with soft, elegant tannins.” 

David Arthur’s brilliant winemaker Nile Zacherle crafts this new Proprietary Red which is available for a fraction of their iconic ultra-premium labels such as the 2007 Elevation 1147 Cabernet (Parker’s top 1147 vintage), which sells for $275 and up, yet rivals them in ratings!

Wine Spectator called Pritchard Hill “the Rodeo Drive of Napa Valley” and Wine Enthusiast says the area is “producing among the most profound wines in Napa Valley”. David Arthur sits in proximity to legendary neighbors Chappellet, Dalla Valle, Ovid, Bryant Family, and Colgin – labels often selling for a $1,000 or more. What a great value wine at less than $100!

Winemakers notes for this release - “A dark cerise color offering an array of fruit and spice aromas; bright cherry, red raspberry, baked cassis, and plum followed by notes of anise, baking spices, garrigue and cherry cola. The palate is soft and plush with fine-grained tannins offering beautiful acidity and structure. The finish is long and silky with flavors of candied plum, tamarind, brown sugar and molasses. Best 2018 to 2027.”

This release is from powerful 2016 vintage, rated a record high 98-point harvest according to Wine Advocate. It is an interesting and intriguing blend of Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and Italian grapes Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. David Arthur creatively crafted their Meritaggio Brand/label combining Sangiovese with the Bordeaux grapes. We’ve collected and still hold several vintages of that label dating back to 1997.

This was a great compliment to the pasta and pizza and begs for a grilled beefsteak. 

This label release was rated 94 Points by James Suckling, 90 points by Vinous and International Wine Cellar, and 89-92 points by Jeb Dunnuck

Dark ruby garnet colored, medium to full bodied, complex, nicely balanced and integrated, full, round, bright vibrant lively ripe sweet black and red fruit flavors accented by notes of cassis, spice and tobacco with a long and flavorful finish.

RM 93 points. 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tensley Santa Barbara Syrah 2022

Tensley Santa Barbara Syrah 2022

Saturday night, we babysat for grandkids as the kids attended cooking class at Sur La Table. We took carry-out dinners from Mariano’s and a favored producer latest release wine. 

We first discovered and wrote about this producer, Tensley, and the then release of this wine in this blogpost in these pages back in the Spring of 2022 - Tensley Santa Barbara County Wines.

While we are members of their wine club and receive periodic allocation shipments, we found this release and acquired it at our local Binny’s Beverage superstore. 

This exceeded my expectations, was much better than expected, a perfect compliment to bbq ribs and roasted corn, so I went back and picked up several more bottles. We have an extensive collection of Tensley wines from our wine club shipments, and we tend to clean them out of all the available Tensley Colson Canyon label when we visit Total Wine stores in Nora, (Indy) and Pensacola. 

This is their basic standard label, a blend sourced from their five different vineyard sites, it provides enjoyable drinking and good value for this quality Syrah - a profile and style that we love. A perfect compliment to BBQ or robust pasta or hearty cheeses. 

Winemaker notes - “The Santa Barbara County Syrah is a beautiful representation of the diverse vineyards all around the appellation. These grapes are coming from five unique vineyards, in which some are cool and fog-influenced, while others are dry and windy. The resulting wine celebrates all that each microclimate and soils has to offer creating a big, juicy, up-front, and full-bodied style carrying blue fruits, lots of peppery herb nuances, sweet tannins, and a great finish.” 

In 2020, the winemaker wrote about this label - 2020 Winemaker Notes: "Every year the vineyard percentages change, yet the style remains the same. In 2020 we introduced Laird Vineyard to the blend. By adding this vineyard we continue to work with sandy cool sites to add freshness and savory notes to the final blend.'

"We add complexity and power by including all of our single vineyard Syrah sources. At the end of the day, this wine is both powerful and fresh. It beams with bright acidy and saline notes, rounding out with blue and black fruits to make it generous, juicy and easy to drink. It will age 7-10 years, but do not hesitate to open and enjoy its freshness today."

Decanter gave this 94 points & "Top Buy: America's 30 Best Syrahs", and says, “it's an accessibly priced introduction to the diversity of Santa Barbara County.” It also received 92-94 points by Jeb Dunnuck who said, “A year-in, year-out smoking wine”, and 93 points Erin Brooks of Wine Advocate.

Dark inky ruby purple colored, full bodied, rich thick ripe concentrated unctuous yet nicely balanced and approachable, black and blue fruits with savoury black pepper, olives, cassis and dark chocolate with smooth tannins and texture on a long finish. 

RM 92 points. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Woman’s Social Group Argentine Wine Tasting

Woman’s Social Group Wine Tasting Features Argentine Wines

Linda’s social organization’ s wine group held a wine tasting focused on Argentine wines and I was invited to curate the evening. 

Hostess Linda S prepared an extensive selection of charcuterie for pairing with the wines - cheese, chocolates, sliced beef, chicken wings and fresh berries, mixed nuts and vegetables.

Each of the ladies brought a bottle to share and compare and Julie also brought a couple of Argentine White Wines to set the stage and open the evening. 

The red wine flight
The ladies and their wines

The main wine flight featured an interesting selection that included the signature Argentine varietal Malbec as well as a couple of Bordeaux varietal blends. 

Argentina has emerged as a major wine producing region in the ‘new world’ due to its remarkable combination and wide range of natural resources and landscapes suited for wine production.

The primary and most important wine producing province of Argentina is Mendoza. The proximity to the Andes mountain range defines the climate in the area, which is ideal for viticulture. The lack of humid winds, blocked by the Andes mountains , the altitude, the continental climate, the heterogeneity of the soils and the snowmelt are determining factors in the production of premium wines.

Malbec is the predominant grape varietal grown in Argentina although all of the Bordeaux varietals are grown there - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, as well as Syrah and some limited amounts of Burgundian varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and, some lesser known unique varietals such as Ancellotta, Caladoc and Torrontes, featured below, that are well suited to the locale and terroir.  

We had a spectacular ultra-premium Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Malbec last year, a project of an American producer, that rivaled the best American and French wines, so I was open to high expectations, albeit being mindful and realistic of the price points of these more standard selections. I wrote about that top rated wine - Viña Cobos, Vineyard Designate Malbec, Marchiori Estate, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, 2019 in this blogpost in these pages.

Several major French Bordeaux, as well as American producers have invested in the region. As they gain more experience and learn from research and results, watch for quality and sophistication of these wines to continue to improve. In the meantime, they provide some great wines with generally high QPR - quality to price ratios.

We started with two diverse white wines.

Zolo Torrontes 2021

This Argentinian white wine is comprised of Torrontes, an Argentine varietal white grape.  This winery is owned by Argentine wine luminary Patricia Ortiz, owner of three Argentine wineries, one of Mendoza’s top ambassadors to the world and in 2019, she was the first female President of Bodegas de Argentina, the leading trade association. She is profiled further as part of the review of her Wapisa Winery below.

Winemaker Notes - “Pale yellow with green hues. Delicate aromas of floral and citrus notes. On the palate is fresh, sweet and balanced. An excellent example of Torrontes.”

This was rated 90 points by reviewer James Suckling. 

I found this a slight bit off-putting with aromas of tennis ball rubber and a rather flabby character. Light straw colored, light medium bodied, notes of lychee and citrus fruits with hints of peach and pineapple with a crisp acidic finish. 

RM 87 points. 

We then moved to this interesting White instantiation of the traditional varietal of Argentina, Malbec.

Artesano de Argento Mendoza Agrelo White Malbec 2023

Julie brought this interesting white Malbec to try with the focus on Argentina and their predominance of the grape varietal Malbec. 

This is a white Malbec from the Agrelo Vineyard in the area of the same name in the subregion of Lujan de Cuyo in the Mendoza region.

It was rated 90 points by James Suckling and 89 points by Vinous. 

Pale straw and light green colored, light medium bodied, notes of green apple with hints of lime citrus and peach with crisp dry finish. 

RM 88 points.

Moving to the reds, we started with the two  Bordeaux Blends since their increased breadth and complexity required more discernment than the bigger, deeper and bolder single varietal labels. 

Clos de los Sieti Valle di Ucca Mendoza by Michel Rolland 

This was a delightful discovery brought by Treva and I was eager to try this wine crafted by Michael Rolland. It was recommended to her by a friend who knows the region and its wines well having visited and worked in wineries in the region as part of a personal sabbatical. 

This is a collaboration project of seven producers, friends and investors, spearheaded by legendary iconic Global wine expert Michael Rolland. It was founded in 1998 when Rolland and members of seven prominent French wine families purchased Campo Vista Flores and began producing wine at four distinct wineries there— Bodega Diamandes, Bodega Monteviejo, Mariflor, and Cuvelier los Andes. The original investors included Laurent Dassault, Benjamin de Rothschild, Edmond de Rothschild, Philippe Schell, Jean-Michel Arcaute, Catherine Pere-Verge, and the d’Aulan and Cuvelier families.

Michel Rolland is known globally as the "flying winemaker" due to his extensive travels as a consultant working for more than 150 wineries in fourteen countries on four continents in the northern and southern hemispheres. We love and collect his wines through his involvement with several producers including the Long Shadows Collector Series where he is contributing winemaker with the Pedestal, Merlot label. It was the showcase feature of this blogpost - Long Shadows Cellars feature world class winemakers and Columbia Valley fruit.

Born into a wine family in Bordeaux, Rolland grew up at Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. He graduated in 1972 with a degree in enology at the University of Bordeaux, where he met his wife and future partner, Dany. They established a wine laboratory and began consulting in 1985 serving far-flung notable clients such as Château l’Evangile, Château Figeac and Château La Conseillante in France, Harlan, Staglin, Screaming Eagle and Bond in the US, Italian producers Campo di Sasso, Ornellaia, and  Monteverro, and others in South Africa, Spain, India, and Casa Lapostolle in Chile and this project in Argentina.

Michel Rolland first went to Argentina in 1988 and fell in love with the country, convinced that all the conditions were right in Argentina to grow premier grapes from which to produce great wine.

Along with Jean Michel Arcaute, another Bordeau winegrower from Pomerol, they found an ideal plot of land about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Mendoza, the last city before reaching the Andes. Sitting at an altitude of 1,100 meters (3,600 feet), with soils made up of pebbles, clay and sand, which provides natural drainage with water from springs fed by melting snow and glaciers up in the Andes Mountains.

There they developed 2100 acres of vines where the roots penetrate the meter deep bed of gravel at the foot of the Andes Mountains, in the Uco Valley near Mendoza. 

The two originators were joined by winegrower friends to set out to producing one single wine under Michel Rolland’s supervision. They built four bodegas and shared production from each to make and blend the shared wine “Clos de los Siete”, the name and label recognize and commemorate the seven partners. The remaining production goes into the wines of their own respective ranges: Monteviejo, Cuvelier los Andes, DiamAndes and Bodega Rolland.

We’ve had the wines of Cuvelier los Andes, being fans of their classified premiere Bordeau Chateau Leoville Poyferre. We toured Château Leoville Poyferré in St Julien Bordeaux during our visit to the region, hence we were eager to taste this label from this producer collaboration.
Malbec, which is the king of all grape varieties in Argentina, has been found to be best suited and therefore an obvious choice for these soil types. It occupies more than half the total area of the estate and is planted at an unusual density of 5,500 vines per hectare which provide rich concentrated fruit. To add complexity to the blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a little less Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are used alongside the Malbec. Each variety contributes its characteristic personality to the final blend.

This release of the estate wine Clos de Los Siete is composed or 55% Malbec, 16% Merlat, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Syrah, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. 800,000 bottles were made.

Winemaker Notes - “Clos de los Siete's extraordinary terroir, with well-drained sandy-clay soil complemented by a good density of pebbles, has the particularity of containing the vines' growth and ensuring perfect maturity. The 2020 vintage has a deep ruby-red color and aromas of black fruit and plums combined with delicate floral notes. The palate is pleasantly powerful, with good length and elegant, silky tannins.”

This release was awarded 94 points by James Suckling and 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

This was bright Ruby colored, medium bodied, complex but nicely balanced and harmonious, ripe currant and blackberry fruits with notes of mineral, glycerin, herbs, creosote and dark bitter mocha chocolate, hints of pepper, cinnamon and vanilla, with soft smooth polished tannings on the moderate finish. 

RM 91 points.

We then tasted the other Bordeau blend comprised of three varietals. 

Mascato Mendoza Unánime Gran Vino Tinto 2018 

Julie brought this Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux Blend from Mascota Vineyards in the San Carlos zone toward the southern end of the Uco ValleyMendoza, Argentina at the foot of the Andes Mountain range. Proprietor Rodolfo Sadler launched Mascota in Mendoza and has been crafting wines for nearly 30 years. 

Rodolfo “Opi” Sadler is a third generation Argentine winemaking pioneer known for his expertise in Cabernet Sauvignon in a country renowned for the quality of its Malbec. In 2018, Opi´s La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 was named World’s Best Red Wine in the French competition Vinalies Internationales.

In addition to his award-winning highly rated Cabernet master winemaker Opi also produces a portfolio that includes Malbec, the leading varietal of Argentina, Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The Unánime label is his signature Cabernet, named for his “vision to produce wines that seek complete harmony and excellence, with an unbeatable quality reflected in each and every bottle. When this vision is shared by our team of winemakers, and endorsed by critics and consumers, the decision is Unanimous (Unánime).”

This release is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec and 15% Cabernet Franc and was aged fifteen months in oak barrels. . 

James Suckling gave this wine 95 points and 91 points from Wine Enthusiast. 
Dark ruby colored, medium full bodied, bold, expressive, complex, concentrated black berry fruits with notes of vanilla, spices, pepper, tobacco and chocolate with hints of cassis and toasted oak, silky tannins and crisp acidity on the lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.

Familia Zuccardi “Concreto” Malbec Mendoza 2021 

This is from the Zuccardi Family Winery in MaipúMendoza, Argentina. Today it is run by winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi whose grandfather planted the first grapevines in 1963 and has grown to become a leader in Argentine wine production.

From his father, José Alberto Zuccardi, Sebastián inherited the determination and desire to constantly strive for excellence.

Sebastián, third generation of the family, follows his father, José Alberto Zuccardi, leading a team of agricultural engineers and enologists, in producing some of the the highest quality wines in the Uco Valley.

The winery has had a research and development area since 2008, dedicated to studying the terroir and the diverse variables that affect wine quality. The goal, in Sebastián’s own words, is “not to strive for perfect wines, but wines that express the place, the region.”

The Zuccardi family have been exploring and experimenting with the potential of Malbec in the winery with new fermentation and aging vessels, and in the vineyard by challenging the accepted wisdom of the limits of viticulture and have moved their vines (and winery) closer to the Andes. 

This label, Concreto is named for their method of fermenting and aging the wine in Concrete (Concreto) and Amphora vessels in which they strive to express Malbec and their vineyards. They see it as a true expression of the limestone rich vineyards in the Paraje Altamira subregion with its distinctive “terroir”, that combination of elevation, sun exposure and the poor uniquely mineral soils. 

This is 100% Malbec, sourced from a 140 acre vineyard located next to their Piedra Infinita winery in Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Valle de Uco at an altitude of 3000 feet. The area has been cultivated for more than eighty years and irrigated with waters from the Uco Channel, in the northern part of Paraje Altamira. In addition to Malbec it is also planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Ancellotta and Caladoc, other regional varietals. 

It was rated 95 by James Suckling, Vinous and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 92 by Wine Spectator and was wine #43 of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2022.

They produced 47,000 bottles in this vintage. 

I don’t understand the huge ratings for this wine unless they are highlighting its purity. I was expecting more fruit. 

Deep purple and garnet colored, medium full bodied, smooth polished textured layers of ripe blue and black berry fruits accented by spice, herbs, mineral, black pepper notes with soft chalky tannins and acidity on the moderate finish. 

RM 90 points. 

Luca Uco Valley Mendoza Old Vine Malbec 2019

This is produced by Laura Catena, a fourth generation winemaker, daughter of legendary Argentine winermaker Nicolás Catena. In 1997 Laura, a Harvard and Stanford trained Biologist and Physician, joined Bodega Catena Zapata as Research Director. She learned there was a site with 80 year old vines from which the fruit that were being sold for bulk wine. In 1999, Laura Catena founded Luca Winery to explore the quality potential of small Old Vine family owned vineyards in the Uco Valley region of Mendoza.

She produces small quantity artisan, quality wines that are true to their individual terroirs. She works with some of Argentina's best fruit from low-yield, high elevation vineyards, applies state-of-the-art winemaking and oak aging, primarily French.  She applies rigorous vineyard management, viticultural experimentation, and strict irrigation controls to seek highest quality achievable. 

As a scientist she is devoted to the handicrafts of enology and viticulture. The rear label of her bottles set out her vision and quest - “Championing Argentine Wine, Studying High Altitude Wine-making, Discovering Mountain Terroir and the Quality of Light, Preserving Nature and Culture, Understanding Soil down to each Rock, insect, microbe, and Malbec Vine - Making Extraordinary Wines - Making History.”

She also produces Syrah, Beso de Dante, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

This label, Luca, is named after Laura Catena's son. The branding on the label is the family crest of her husband, Dan’s McDermott family. 

Winemaker Notes - This is a great example of Mendoza Malbec. Incredible deep purple red color. Loads of spice and black and red cherry aromas with notes of chocolate. The berry flavors really pop on the palate as the wine has both a full mid palate and lively acidity that leads to an incredibly long finish. A bottom note of freshly brewed espresso keeps the mouth watering too.

This was rated 95 points by James Suckling, 93 points by Wine Spectator, 92 by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. 

It was #21 Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2021.
Dark ruby garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich, round, deep and intense ripe unctuous blackberry fruits reflect the old vine character with notes of licorice, pepper, spice and bitter dark chocolate with hints of espresso with refined plush tannins and vibrant acidity on the finish. 

RM 91 points. 

Antigal Uno Malbec 2020 

Antigal is one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza in production, tracing its roots as far back as 1897 when the original facilities were established in the historic colonial architecture.

The winery was completely refurbished in 2000 changing the producing profile from bulk to high quality premium wines by the current proprietors with the establishment of what is now Antigal winery and vineyards. The vineyards were planted in 2000 to 2003.

The winery’s first vintage was released in 2005, what has become its signature wine, branded number One or Uno in recognition of its Single Vineyard production. 

The company started exporting to the US market in 2007 and has established itself as a recognized brand for high QPR - Quality Price Ratio, quality Argentina grown Malbec, with its distinctive, characteristic metal number 1 affixed to the painted bottle. 

This is 100% Malbec sourced from the estate vineyard in Gualtallary, Tupungato in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. Sitting at an altitude of 3900 feet, the light, deep soils retain what little moisture they can, aided by drip irrigation from wells fed by the snow melt from the Andes Mountains. Average annual rainfall in the area is only about 7 inches.

This release was aged 8-10 months in French and American oak..

Winemaker Notes - “The 2020 vintage of Antigal UNO Malbec offers delicious plum, strawberry, and blackberry flavors with enticing hints of violets, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Brightened by carefully protected natural acidity, this violet-red wine has a silky texture and provides an agreeably persistent finish.”

“The exceptionally soft winemaking of hand-selected Malbec grapes from Antigal’s Uco Valley vineyards was made possible by the winery’s gravity-flow system. The care taken through all stages of the process from initial cluster-chilling through sorting, maceration, fermentation, and barrel aging — produced an unusually elegant Malbec with great balance and supple tannins.”

This release was rated  89 points by Wine Spectator.

Garnet colored, medium-bodied, plum and blackberry fruits are highlighted by violet floral notes with  subtle vanilla, mineral and rich dark chocolate notes on the firm finish.

RM 89 points. 

We closed out with this unique label.

Wapiso Rio Negro Patagonia Malbec 2022

This Argentine Malbec is from Patagonia, the village of  San Javier in the Rio Negro sub-region of Patagonia, in southern Argentina, just 25 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Patagonia’s wine regions are so far south, they’re the southernmost regions in the world. 

Patagonia is home to three important sub-regions, Rio Negro, Neuquén and La Pampa. Since the 1990s, there’s been an explosion of investment in the region that has attracted some of the biggest names in international premium winemaking. Río Negro is the only one that had any viticultural history before the 1990s. While its vineyard area is declining as growers swap quality for quantity, the vineyard land increased by 82 percent in the Neuquén subregion and by 73 percent in the La Pampa subregion between 2002 and 2012. 

The producer Wapisa is the only Coastal Winery that exists in this unique coastal terroir and is the only winery in Argentina to age wines under the sea inspired coastal influences. 

Wapisa is owned by Argentine entrepreneur Patricia Ortiz who is the owner and President of three wineries (Tapiz, Zolo (featured above), and Wapisa), and nine sustainably-farmed vineyards in different parts of Argentina. She was the first female president of Bodegas de Argentina, the industry trade group.

Patricia is also the owner of Mendoza's top lodging and spa destination: Club Tapiz. Club Tapiz is located in an estate built in 1890 surrounded by 22 acres of vineyards.

Patricia, who lived many years in the U.S. and speaks fluent English, is one of Mendoza’s top ambassadors to the world. In 2019 she became the first female President of Bodegas de Argentina and in 2023 she was nominated by Wine Enthusiast as Executive of the Year.

With Wapisa and its close proximity to the sea, Patricia Ortiz decided to incorporate the ocean into the aging process taking advantage of the pressurized atmosphere with its moderated constant temperatures that provide perfect conditions for aging wines.

The Wapisa estate vineyard “Finca Los Acantilados” stands out for its lime clay soils, good acidity and little organic matter. The terroir is complemented by the outstanding thermal amplitude, highlighted by cool maritime breezes that sweep over the vineyards at night, leading to balanced and fruity wines with a touch of salinity and a delicate varietal expression. Master of Wine Tim Atkin calls this “the new Argentina.”

The region’s best vineyards are in High Valley, one of three valleys formed by the Colorado River. They’re planted on Andean foothill slopes between 300 and 500 meters (985 to 1,640 feet) above sea level, which allows the grapes to be cooled by Andean winds rather than altitude. Patagonia’s wide diurnal temperature swings also make it an inviting region for white varieties as well.

The popular white varieties are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay with a distinct regional flair. While Patagonia’s predominant grape is Malbec, Argentina’s signature red grape, comprising about 40 percent of the more than 11,000 acres of cultivated vineyards, in Río Negro, Malbec is less than a quarter of its total production, with the rest being the white varietals.

“Wapisa” is the indigenous Patagonian word for “whale.” Not only do whales frequent the nearby coast of our vineyards, but local legend talks of a Wapisa that actually lived on land. Living the legend, Wapisa wines are an expression not just of their soils but of the nearby ocean and its coastal marine influences.

In addition to their primary label, Malbec, Wapisa also produce Cabernet Sauvignon, some Pinot Noir and white wine Sauvignon Blanc. 

Their 2022 Malbec was rated 94 points by James Suckling.

Winemaker Notes - “Bright red color with intense violet tints. Aromas of fruits such as black plums and blackberries stand out. The aging in oak provides spicy and chocolate aromas. The palate is complex and tasty with ripe tannins and a balanced acidity.”

Bright Ruby colored, medium bodied, round and vibrant yet smooth and delicately balanced black and blue berry fruits are accented by cassis, pepper, lavender and notes of mocha chocolate and spice with hints of mint on a moderate fine tannin laced finish. 

RM 91 points. 

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.