Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day Special Dinner features favorite BBQ Ribs, Syrah and Zin

Father's Day Special Dinner features favorite BBQ Ribs, Lewis Ethan's Syrah and Robert Biale Black Chicken Zin

For Father's Day family dinner, Linda prepared one of my favorite summer dishes, BBQ ribs, with corn on the cob, baked beans, mashed potatos and green beans. I pulled from the cellar a family oriented Lewis Cellars Ethans Syrah, named for producers' grandson.

I've written much in these pages about the fun we have with Lewis Cellars wines and their named labels for grandkids and signature 'L' label. Also, to accompany the ribs, I opened a classic Robert Biale 'Black Chicken' Napa Valley Zinfandel.

Prior to dinner we had a broad selection of artisan cheeses including some favorites - ten year old aged cheddar, havarti, bellavitano merlot, Gruyere, and cheddar, with fresh berries and peaches fruits.

For the cheese course we opened a Chateau St Michelle Rose'.

Chateau St Michelle Washington State Rose 2018

Robert Biale Vineyards Napa Valley Black Chicken Zinfandel 2011

I consider Zinfandel as a go-to wine for zesty tangy BBQ and always keep some on hand for summer barbecues. Robert Biale specialize in Zinfandel with over a dozen different labels. The Biale Family have been growing Zinfandel along with assorted other varieties on their farm just outside the town of Napa since 1937.

This historic whimsical label "Black Chicken" gets its name from founder Aldo Biale, who used the name as a code word when he started making the wine on the sly in the '40s and didn't want other members of his family to know. He obfuscated the activities by referring to his wine as 'Black Chickens' or poultry as an alias and front for the business.

Biale produce several premium and ultra-premium Zins that are famous for a certain breed of intensity and power they obtain by restricting yields to only the best, most concentrated, fully ripe fruit each vintage.

Black Chicken is primarily sourced from Biale's Oak Knoll District ranch estate from the family vineyard that Aldo, Nonna, Bob Biale and the Biale family have farmed their whole lives, with additional grapes from our neighboring winery vineyard in the Oak Knoll winegrowing district. It is aged for fourteen months in 25% new French oak.

We have a half dozen vintages of Biale labels in our cellar and I pulled the oldest for today's dinner as part of rudimentary cellar management as it is most likely ready to drink and certainly not to improve with further aging, and at risk of passing its apex or prime drinking window.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, ripe cherry fruits with brambly blackberry and black raspberry notes accented by cinnamon and brown spices, hints of pepper vanilla and bacon fat with a moderate tannin, tangy finish.

RM 89 points.

Lewis Cellars Ethan's Syrah 2009

Named for Randy and Debbie Lewis' grandson Ethan, we salute the family affiliation and attribution on Father's Day. We also have fun with the 'L' on the label - we dedicate as a tribute to family members, Linda, grand-daughter and her namesake great-grandmother Lucy, and Erin Leigh.

We often serve Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend, named for the producers' oldest grandson, and a fitting tribute to our son.

 Our visit to the Lewis Cellars Estate was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2016.

This Napa Valley Syrah is big, bold, concentrated and complex in the style that we love.

Dark inky purple color, full bodied, concentrated supple tongue coating fruit filled ripe blackberry and black raspberry, ripe plum with tones of vanilla, spice, tar and sweet oak with hints of licorice before yielding to a layer of mineral on the lingering smooth tannin finish.

At ten years, this is starting to show its age a bit with a slight bit of an edge and alcohol heat, hence deducting a point from my previous score. I attribute this to age although it could be a bottle variation but I doubt it.

RM 92 points.

Big Red Wine Flight for Family Super Hero Birthday

Big Red Wine Flight for Gala Family Super Hero Birthday

We had a gala family gathering for Son Ryan and Michelle celebrating son/grandson Reid's birthday, my namesake to the next generation, and the next. For the superhero celebration, Ryan pulled from his cellar a flight of big reds to enjoy with his signature legendary smoked beef brisket.

The flight:

Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Rotie Cellars Washington State Southern Blend GSM 2013
El Nido Clio Jumilla Red Blend 2016
Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz 2010

Cliff Lede Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Cliff Lefe is one of our favorite producers and a visit to the Napa Valley Stag's Leap District estate has been a highlight of several of Napa Valley excursions.

In certain vintages this is our favorite Sauvignon Blanc with its bright expressive fruits - pear, lychee, passion fruit and peach with hints of grapefruit and notes of lemon citrus. This 2017 is one of those vintages - butter colored, medium bodied, crisp clean, full flavorful fruits with nicely balanced acidity.

RM 92 points.

Rotie Cellars Washington State Southern Blend GSM 2013

We tasted this wine at the producer in Walla Walla during our private tasting visit there opening our Walla Walla Wine Experience 2018. The 2016 vintage tasted then showed much better than this 2013 release tasted tonight.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, very green notes of bell pepper predominated over the cherry fruits spice and tobacco notes leaving an unfortunate barnyard funkiness and a bit of alcohol heat; hopefully a bottle variation and not indicative of the vintage and general release but I fear not?

A "GSM" blend of 75 % Grenache, 15 % Syrah and 10 % Mourvèdre.

RM 86 points.

Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio Red Blend 2016

This is the one Spanish wine in our cellar that we collect annually for a vertical collection that we hold for BBQ, bold cheeses and occasionally for tangy pasta. The grapes for this wine are made from 29.65 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and 79 acres of very old Monastrell with a very low yield.

They harvest the grape with small baskets to prevent bruising and then hand select only the best grapes on triage tables. The juice is then held 24 months in French and American new oak barrels for integration, complexity and oak infusion. The result is a bold concentrated extracted fruitiness and complexity that we enjoy in a big red wine.
Winemaker notes - The wine exhibits a glass-coating opaque purple color with an expressive nose of pain grille, underbrush, brier, mineral, blueberry,  and  blackberry  fruit  leading  to  a  plush,  opulent  wine with great density, savory flavors, and a lengthy finish.

This is a blend of 70% Monastrell (akin to French Rhone Mourvedre) and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated, complex, bold black and blue berry fruits with notes of pain grille, brier and mineral, with a moderate tannin laced tangy acidic finish. This vintage lacks the polish and integration of some years where it is more harmonious.

RM 91 points.

Killikanoon Oracle Clare Valley South Australia Shiraz 2010

One of favorite Shiraz's, the 2014 vintage release was awarded the 'Best Shiraz in the World' by the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in the UK.

Dark dense black inky color, full bodied, concentrated, complex, vibrant full black and blue fruits with accents of dark mocha, spice and hints of expresso, smoke and pepper with a long lingering tangy acidic and smooth moderate tannin finish.

RM 93 points.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Snowden Vineyards Lost Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Snowden Vineyards Lost Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - 

Buy/by the case! The challenges, delights, and learnings from tasting/exploring one's investment in one label over time.

With roast beef sandwiches and artisan cheeses, nuts and fruits, I pulled from the cellar this aged 1997 vintage Napa Cab. The 1997 vintage was hailed at the time as a stellar vintage projected to be long lived and age-worthy. It's high accolades and ratings overshadowed the much pooh-poohed 98 vintage so as to drive down prices of that vintage, and escalate prices of the already vaulted '97. 

Paradoxically, for many years to follow, many '98 Napa Cabs offered affordable pleasant drinking, while their more expensive '97 counterparts underwhelmed, were closed and tight. 

Alas, tonight, this 1997 vintage release second label single vineyard designated release from Snowden Vineyards, at 22 years of age, was more impressive, expressive, complex and fruitful than I recall from the many previous tastings of this wine when it was younger, from the case that I acquired upon release. 

My records for this wine record tastings dating back to 2000 with notations in 03, 04, 05, 07, 09 and 2011 - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - May 15, '03. June 30, '00, Nov 14, '04 July 18, 2005, December 25, 2007, January 6, 2009, Nov 12, 2011.

Having been tasting and recording my perceptions and experiences in tasting notes for over two decades, with over 10000 citations published, I am on the record of preferences and perspectives on wines. And, I have a track record of comparisons to calibrate and measure my palate and tasting discrimination, so I have a good sense of my consistency over time. That said, I rated this wine 90 points in the early years, then reduced my rating to 88 points for several years, at which time I started referring to the wine as 'tight' or closed. Notably, not all tastings are recorded and subsequently published.

On July 18, 2005 , I wrote - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - RM 90 - Firm tight subtle smoky earthy leather blends well with dark berry fruit and very subtle mocha on the full fragrant finish. Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot tastes true to form like a lower left bank Bordeaux!  

My January 6, 2009 tasted referred to the return of the fruit from earlier tastings - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - RM 90 - Firm, structured, black raspberry, black cherry and currant on a balanced, finely integrated tannin finish. More fruit and lacking leather and earth of previous tastings. Tasted w/ L at Angeli's Restaurant, our favorite neighborhood bistro.

In 2011 I wrote; "Down to the last few bottles of a case acquired upon release in the late nineties. Consistent with earlier tasting notes taking into account the evolution of this aging wine. Starting to show its age a bit as the dark garnet color starts to take on a slight brownish rust hew and the fruit is starting to fall off a bit and give way to the smoke and leather nose and flavor. Still firm and tight with the smoky leather predominating over the dark berry and black cherry fruit, with forward pronounced cedar and a hint of cassis and a full fragrant firm tannin lingering finish with a bit of tight high alcohol heat. Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot tastes true to form like a lower left bank Bordeaux!"

RM 89 points.

Of course there are also bottle variations from one bottle to another, but this is the truest form of comparison since all these bottles were acquired at the same time and experienced the same storage and handing over the years.  

This is the fun and joy of having a wine cellar, to experience a wine over time and witness its aging effects. I write often in these pages about how a particular label is showing the effects of aging and where it stands in its 'drinking window'. Indeed, a benefit of having multiple bottles of the same wine is to compare them over time. And, the risk of misplacing a bottle, or just overlooking it and keeping it too long so as to miss the prime or apex of its drinkability. Hence effective cellar management is required of one's collection. 

Tonight this wine was delightful, reflecting the best attributes of this wine, without the adverse affects of diminution from its age, exceeding expectations of the the evening's tasting experience, and perhaps also showing what promise this vintage was projected to deliver!

Pizzini Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Pizzini Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi pleasant white wine available BTG at Italian Village Chicago

For antipasta pre-dinner starter at Italian Village Chicago, I had a BTG (One of Wine Director Jared Gelband's By The Glass selections) Verdicchio, a pleasant refreshing grape varietal from central Italy ideal with my caprese mozzarello with heirloom tomatos. I mentioned this wine when I wrote about that dinner a separate blogpost.

Barone Pizzini Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva San Paolo Pievalta DOC 2013

The long name identifying this wine exemplifies a reason many are intimidated or overwhelmed in learning about wines, especially Italian wines. Even I, a fairly knowledgable enophile (wine geek), get wound up trying to parse or decipher all the designations, words and syllables of such, (hence this wine blog to help 'unwindwine'!). The variables of this wine name are parsed and explained below, hopefully making sense of it and providing a basis for better understanding this label, or Italian wines generally. 

Verdicchio is a very popular grape varietal grown throughout central Italy with an estimated 65,000 hectares planted which makes Verdicchio the 15th most planted variety of any grape in the world, ahead of better-known popular varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese. Verdicchio is widely grown throughout the Marche, Umbria and Lazio regions of Italy, mostly in the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata - quality control regulations) wines of Verdicchio di Matelica and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi in the commune of Jesi in the Ancona province. 

The Pievalta winery is located in Maiolati Spontini township, Ancona province, in the Marches (Marche region of central Italy), in the heart of the commune of Castelli di Jesi. The area is known for production of wines made from Verdicchio grapes.

Pievalta was founded in 2002 through the vision of the Barone Pizzini winery of Franciacorta. CEO, Silvano Brescianini, had already recognized the great potential of Verdicchio as one of Italy’s most important indigenous grape varieties. Barone Pizzini tapped enologist, Alessandro Fenino, from Franciacorta to manage the Castelli di Jesi appellation project.

Pievalta farms 26.5 hectares of estate-owned vineyards with two principal growing sites on either end of the Esino River Valley. The vines were originally planted in the 1970s. Another vineyard is on the right bank of the Esino in San Paolo di Jesi in the hamlet of Follonica considered one of the best subzones in Castelli di Jesi which produces wines that are austere, rich in flavor and known for their power.

This label is sourced from the right bank of the Esino River made exclusively with grapes from the San Paolo vineyard. Locals point to San Paolo hamlet as one of the best areas for growing Verdicchio. Winemaker notes: "On the nose, this wine has delicate notes of yellow fruit, aromatic herbs, citrus, and almond. In the mouth, it is multi-layered and intensely mineral".

Straw colored with a gold hue, light medium bodied, 100% Veridcchio at five years, is starting to show a little age, floral aromas, notes of pear, apple, and hints of lime, stone fruit and almonds, dry, with medium to medium acidity, medium alcohol and nice flavor intensity.  

RM 90 points.  

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Italian Village Wine Duo with Dinner

Italian Village features Italian Wine Duo, Amarone and Sangiovese with Dinner

For the second Thursday night in a row I hosted a business dinner at Italian Village Chicago and wine director Jared Gelband (right) served up a duo of Italian varietal wines to showcase our dinner selections, a Amarone della Valpolicella followed by a Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese.

Tonight, we dined in one of the private tables/rooms in the Village, one of the three restaurants on the premises, a perfect setting for an intimate or business dinner.

In my blogpost about our wine and dinners last week, I wrote about Italian Village, Chicago's oldest, longest running continously family operated Italian restaurant in Chicago.

ILatium Morini Campo Leon Amarone della Valpolicella Corvina Blend 2013

Jared served me a taste of this wine last week with my anti-pasta course at my dinner at IV's Vivere and it was delicious, so we ordered it tonight with the anti-pasta course leading into the entree course.

In 1992, the Morini family bought bought a historic farm house from the early 1900's, surrounded by vineyards in the heart of Val di Mezzane.

For over forty years, ILatium Morini have been growing grapes  which they initially delivered to the local Cantina Sociale (cooperative wine cellar), but, eventually for production of own label wines. Seven brothers and cousins inherited the business that they continue to run to this day.

The origins or our village name Ilatium is from the word Latii, "those from Lazio", referring back to the ancient Romans who came in searching for remote lands to conquer. They settled in the area where they found an ideal environment for the cultivation of grapes, olives and fruit trees. The locals called them the Latii, "those from Lazio" who at the time were considered "strangers" or foreigners.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex concentrated sweet ripe dark cherry and black currant fruits with spicy dark mocha notes and hint of tobacco, moderate acids and soft tannins on the flavorful finish.

RM 92 points

Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 2013

For our entree course we ordered Sangiovese and Jared served up this Brunello.

Il Marroneto was purchased in 1974 by Giuseppe Mori, father of  current owner and winemaker Alessandro Mori. The Mori family thus began to make wine in the first two small rooms of Il Marroneto  in a historical building that dates back to 1246. 

The first three thousand meters of Sangiovese vineyards of Il Marroneto 
were planted in 1975, then, as many again in 1979, and another 9000 in 1984. They are sited on the north slope of the hills about 350m elevation in the vicinity of the walls of Montalcino in Siena.

The vines of Il Marroneto are arranged so that each plant has 3.6 square meters, allowing the Sangiovese vines, which feed on the surface, to have optimal spacing for a good rooting. 

This 2013 vintage release was bright ruby colored, medium full bodied, vibrant expressive red fruits, tangy cinnamon spice, earth and floral notes with brisk acidity and tongue puckering tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 for Angelis Italian BYOB Dinner

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 for Angelis Italian BYOB Dinner

We first tasted and then acquired this wine at the Estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018, last summer. The Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience
was one of the highlights of our trip. Del Dotto is one of the largest holdings in our collection. So when they opened their new property, Del Dotto Piazza, it was on the shortlist to visit their new property.

This Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 and the 2015 vintage release have become a 'go-to' wine for our Italian dinners especially with one of my favorites entrees, Portabello Mushroom Ravioli. Our first recorded tasting note for the label was when we took it took it BYOB to Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria.

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016

Consistent with earlier recent tasting notes, this was ruby colored medium full bodied, delicious sweet ripe raspberry fruits accented by a layer of sweet mocha chocolate and notes of vanilla and almond with supple smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Italian Village Wine and Dine features Barolo trio

Italian Village (Chicago) Wine and Dine features WBTG and Barolo trio 

For a midweek dinner respite from hosting my global sales team, I stole away to perennial favorite, Italian Village - Chicago for a relaxing dinner before hosting the group for a team dinner the next evening.

Wine Director and wine buddy Jared (Gelband) (right) served up several wines from the WBTG (Wine By The Glass)  list and Jared's special "Jared's pour of the week" list served in the upscale Vivere Restaurant.

Italian Village, is Chicago's oldest continuously operating Italian Restaurant in the city, operating since 1927.

In its 92nd year, IV actually consists of three restaurants each with its own kitchens, chef and menu's. The three restaurants are on the three levels of the site on Monroe Street between Clark and Dearborn Streets. They share one wine cellar and one wine-list from the main cellar,  with the exception that Jared prepares a premium reserve wine-by-the-glass selection for the upscale Vivere Restaurant on the ground floor. I sampled the offerings from the standard as well as that special list.

Prior to dinner I tasted the house Verdicchio, a pleasant light and refreshing starter. I feature that wine in a separate follow on blogpost where I explain the grape varietal and the complexities of parsing the complex Italian wine label - Barone Pizzini Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva San Paolo Pievalta DOC 2013.

With caprese salad of heirloom tomatos and mozzarella, I tasted the current 'house' Brunello di Montalcino offered from the WBTG (Wines By The Glass) list.

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montacino Sangiovesi 2012

This paired nicely with my pasta course and begs for a robust cheese or bolognese meat sauce.

Ruby colored, medium bodied, bright tangy red fruits with floral and leather notes turning to an acidic moderate tannin finish. 100% Sangiovese varietal.

RM 89 points.

Bergadano Pier Carlo Barolo 2012 

Slightly opaque ruby colored, medium bodied, tangy black cherry and black berry fruits with notes of tar and tobacco leaf with a layer of acidic tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Barolo is a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine produced in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is made from the Nebbiolo grape and is one of Italy's greatest wines. Barolo wines are produced in the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi, Verduno, all in the province of Cuneo, south-west of Alba.

Barolo production codes stipulate that vineyards must be located on hillsides, however a recent revision of the production code released in 2010 goes further to specifically exclude valley floors, humid and flat areas, areas without sufficient sunlight, and areas with full-on northern exposures.

Barolo wines are noted for their ability to age and need to be aged for at least 38 months after the harvest before release, of which at least 18 months must be in wood.

Fontanafredda Lazzarito Barolo Vigna la Delizia DOCG 1996

This is a single vineyard designated bottling of 100% Nebbiolo from the legendary producer. This was a very special offering to be able to sample BTG - By-the-Glass, it was offered as "Jared's pour of the week" on the Vivere Restaurant special offer wine-list.

RM 92

Wine buddy Dr Dan and I tasted this same label last year BYOB from his cellar at a dining outing together.  Dan served the '99 vintage of this at his Big Italian wine dinner last year. At our wine dinner outing, my tasting notes stated. "This '96 showed medium bodied, dark garnet colored, vibrant bright black cherry fruits, tones of acidity, tar, smoke and leather on a moderate tannin lingering finish."

RM 88 points.

Later Jared served up a special Amarone by the glass as well.

The next evening for my team dinner, Jared served another Barolo from the same producer, instead of this single vineyard designated label, according to the 25th anniversary label, this is the first 'single-village' bottling from Serralunga D'Alba, served in magnum as well as several standard size bottles.

Fontanafredda Serralunga D'Alba Barolo DOCG 25th Anniversary Special Edition Bottling Nebbiolo 2013

Medium garnet in colour with a slight rust colored orange hue at the edges, medium-full bodied with nicely balanced complex integrated bright tangy red berry fruits with notes of earth, leather and mushrooms with medium tannins and acidity.

RM 88 points

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Marquis Philips McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

Marquis Philips '9' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

As I wrote in my last review of this wine, last summer, this full-throttle intensely concentrated classic South Australian Shiraz burst on the scene in 2001 with direction from Robert Parker to 'run, don't walk' to your wineshop to buy this wine.  Marquis Philps was the result of a partnership between the highly respected South Australian viticulturists/winemakers, Sarah and Sparky Marquis and their importer, Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate. The Aussie - American partnership produced the whimsical Roogle character - half eagle and half kangaroo (shown on label left). The brand of Marquis Philips inexpensive wines immediately gained enormous success and a faithful following. Of course Sarah and Sparky Marquis went on to form the current follow-on brand/label Mollydooker.

While big, complex and concentrated, their '9' Shiraz has proven to be a wine to be consumed during its first 7-8 years of life as this eleven year old attests. This like others vintages held beyond ten years is showing its age as the intense fruit is giving way to a funkiness of non-fruit wood, leather and earth notes. My review back in 2004 noted the '03 was not as polished or delectable as the earlier vintage releases.

In their youth, they were big vibrant powerful wines with super rich, ripe luscious tongue-coating fruit. This release of  '9' was sourced from McLaren Vale (60%) and Padthaway (40%) in South Central Australia.

This is huge full bodied, deep dark inky color. Almost overpowering forward over ripe black berry, raisin, blue berry fruits, hints of caramel, vanilla, glycerin and cedar. Firm, full chewy unctuous tongue coating tannins that reveal more blueberry, vanilla, mocha on a long alcohol finish. Begs for bar-b-que or like food.

At fifteen years of age this is starting to show a bit of heat from the alcohol as this starts to wane and pass its prime drinking window.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Chez Joel Authentic French Bistro Cuisine

Chez Joel Authentic Bistro Cuisine with High QPR Wine Selections

For pre-(White Sox) game dinner, we dined at one of our favorite eateries in the City (Chicago), Chez Joel on Taylor Street. As usual the service was outstanding, food was delectable and the price was agreeable.

Chez Joel is quaint, artsy, intimate, tasteful, comfortable,  authentic yet unpretentious in its French Bistro setting and faire. We love sitting outside in the adjacent courtyard but tonight we had our favorite front window, corner round table so we opted to each inside.

Fellow 'Pour Boy', Dr. Dan and I had the Duck Confit, Linda A had the strip steak with pomme frits and Linda J had the grouper.

All the entrees were excellent - well prepared, artful presentations, ample portions, served hot, and with appropriate accompaniments.

Chez Joel main dining room offers comfortable,
intimate dining.

For the starter courses, Dan had the frog legs and I had the beet salad.

From the small but carefully crafted winelist, we selected the Mason Les Alexandrins from the Northern Rhone appellation of Crozes-Hermitage which is a 100% Syrah.

The Chez Joel winelist is small and limited but the selections are carefully chosen such that they represent excellent values and appropriate accompaniments to the menu at good moderate price-points. The winelist offers such reasonable values, that we don't feel pressed to BYOB as we do in so many establishments.

Artful presentation of Linda's Grouper

Maison Les Alexandrins Crozes-Hermitage 2017

While not as elegant, concentrated, complex or intense as some of the recent Syrahs featured in these pages, this is a fraction of their price. A fun and fitting comparison that holds its own very nicely against the pair of Croze-Hermitages we tasted in Paris last week (and the second one). 

Crozes Hermitage is the biggest vineyard among the Northern Rhône appellations with 3200 acres. It is spread over 11 different communes situated in the department of La Drôme on the left bank of the Rhône River.

Deep purple ruby colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant black berry and black cherry fruits, notes of smoky, spices and hints of black pepper, nice balance of acidity, turning to smooth silky tannins on a long finish. An outstanding QPR, high quality to price ratio wine.

RM 90 points.

Reviewed by: Jeb Dunnuck - 90 pts
Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate
- 90-92 pts

Chateau Mangot St Emilion Grand Cru 2014

For the entree course we selected this label which ideal with the steak and duck courses. We've had this wine before from the winelist at Chez Joel over the years, in several vintages. It consistently represents great value in a quality appropriate selection at a fair and moderate price-point.

This cru, is from the St Emilion Grand Cru appellation, crafted  from the Estate's 4 terroirs spread between the foot of the slopes, slopes, terraces and plateaux. It is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the 21 different plots that of the Estate vineyards.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, tangy black berry and black currant and plum fruits, spice, floral and notes of anise and cedar, dry with cloying tannins on the long finish.

RM 90 points.

After dinner we had the sorbet, almond gateaux and cappucinos we had from the BTG (by the glass) winelist selections, the Late Harvest Semillon, Château Haut Sarthes, Sauterne, Bordeaux, an ideal combination.
 As can be expected at Chez Joel, a wonderful, relaxing fun wine and dine evening.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Double Diamond (Schrader) Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Range 2003

Double Diamond (Schrader) Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Range 2003

In the tradition of the benchmark Schrader Cellars Cabernets, Double Diamond is the 'second label' produced in the Schrader tradition of excellence with a more affordable offering targeted at a broader audience of wine lovers. The first Double Diamond label release was in 2001. Subsequent releases were sourced from this Mayacamas Range estate vineyard in Sonoma, the Amber Knolls Vineyard in Red Hills across the Vaca range to the northeast if Napa Valley in Lake County, and estate vineyards in Oakville in central Napa Valley. As of 2016, the label is planned to be sourced solely from the Oakville Napa site. 

We hold a half dozen vintages of the range of Double Diamond labels. They provide good QPR (quality price ratio) quality Cabernet Sauvignon from a notable producer at a fraction of the price of their flagship brand.

Like the flagship Shrader brand, Double Diamond is also crafted by acclaimed winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and his team, using the finest techniques and natural resources available. The producer site says of the label: "It provides character-driven expression of America’s premier wine region in the tradition of earning critical acclaim and attracting passionate fans that Fred Shrader has established since 1998 with Schrader Cellars."

Garnet ruby colored, medium full bodied, black berry, black cherry and tangy plum fruits with notes of clove, mocha, smoke, game and baking spices turning to a layer of oak on the dry tannin finish. 

RM 89 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Indy Race Car Driver Wines for Raceday

Indy Race Car Driver Wines for Raceday Barbeque Dinner

The Indianapolis 500, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, I consider it one of the special highlights of the Memorial Day weekend festivities and family activities. Son Ryan hosted a family barbecue featuring beef brisket he smoked over night. I brought two special wines, each produced by a former Indy Race driver - Mario Andretti and Randy Lewis, for the occasion, for watching the race.

We also celebrated my birthday after the fact and I was honored with a cake from all the grandkids!

We've long been fans of Lewis Cellars wines for numerous reasons, the eponymous 'L' label, reminiscent of the 'L' of Laverne and Shirley days, and L for wife Linda, and our two Lucy's, Granddaughter and her namesake Great-Grandmother. And, of course, the series of Lewis Cellars wines named for their grandchildren, and Alec's Blend being the namesake for our son Alec and Lewis's first grandson. For the occasion I brought a Lewis Cellars Ethan's Shiraz (Syrah) 2012.

Today, Mario Andretti was honored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his grandson ran in the race. We visited Andretti Cellars in Napa last summer and have since collected select Andretti premium wines, the Montona Series brand named for his birthplace city in Italy. I brought an Andretti Montona Reserve Gran Vino Cabernet Sauvignon.

Prior to dinner, Ryan opened a Stonestreet Bear Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2012.

Ryan's spent 10 hours smoking the beef brisket on his smoker grill and it was extraordinary, undoubtedly the most succulent tasting beef I've ever encountered. It was perfectly matched with the big bold forward concentrated Lewis Syrah, and only slightly overmatched for the Andretti Cabernet.

Ryan's smoked beef brisket

Lewis Cellars Ethan's Syrah 2012

This is our favorite profile for a Syrah. (Wife) Linda loves this style of big rich chewy black and blue berry fruits.

Lewis Cellars was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2017.

From the winery: " Like a switch hitter, this wine shows Rhone character both North and South. Ripe plum, violet nectar and vanilla, plus pencil lead, loam and crushed flowers. Pure fruit on entry is lithe and athletic picking up power and lean muscle that plays seamlessly to a long clean finish." 

Dark inky purple, full bodied, rich, concentrated thick chewy tongue coasting black and ripe blue berry fruits with layers of accent tones - licorice, brown spice and graphite.

RM 93 points.

Dark garnet purple colored - full bodied - rich moderately concentrated and nicely balanced and polished black and blue fruits are accented by a layer of mocha chocolate and hint of vanilla offset by a somewhat hard tinnish graphite edge that detracts from the firm full finish.

Andretti Cellars Montona Gran Vino Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

We tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to Andretti Cellars Estate in Napa Valley during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2018. Gran Vino is the ultra-premium flagship of the brand being their top of the line Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Named in honor of Mario Andretti’s childhood home of Montona, Italy, the premium Montona Reserve Series wines are crafted exclusively from estate-grown grapes and other stellar vineyards within the famed Napa Valley. Each vintage, Andretti Winemaker Bob Pepi takes the finest hand-selected fruit to create wines for this acclaimed series of labels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and a fabulous Super Tuscan. Produced in very limited quantities, these high demand allocated wines are made available only directly from the producer, first to Andretti Winery Wine Club Members and exclusively through the Napa Valley winery and website. We procure our allocation through our membership in the Wine Club.

The 2014 Gran Vino was dark garnet colored, flavorful, boldly structured, black cherry, dark plum, notes of clove, hints of cedar and black pepper, moderate approachable tannins and hearty oak on the finish. 

RM 90 points.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Domaine Serene Grand Cheval Red Blend 2015

Domaine Serene Grand Cheval Red Blend 2015

During our getaway weekend to Charleston Seabrooke Island visiting friends and fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill and Beth, we dined on the Kiawah Island village green for their Friday night summer concert series. We had an ideally sited table at the 48 Wine Bar which offers a superb selection of fine wines by the pour or by the bottle.

48 Wine Bar on Kiawah Island and 64 Wine Bar here in our hometown Naperville, are of the same owners. Both offer a wide selection of wines from the old and new world - California, Washington, and Oregon, Australia,  Argentina and Italy. They provide the opportunity to taste the wines from the serving stations, or by the bottle, with a selection of wine appropriate foods - starters, salads, sandwiches, select entrees, a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, and desserts - in a casual, trendy wine-food setting. 

From the selection, we were tempted with several selections for our favorites, Alpha Omega, Lewis Cellars, Cade, Cakebread, Caymus, Duckhorn, Mondavi, Odette - numerous ultra premium selections from Bond, Opus and Chateau Margaux, and numerous imaginative offerings for experimentation and discovery. 

We opted for a discovery wine - a new as yet unknown label, from a known trusted favorite producer. We selected this Grand Cheval Red Blend from well known Domain Serene, who are mostly known for their Willamette Valley, Oregon Pinot Noirs. 

Grand Cheval is a signature wine dedicated to Founder Jim Evenstad's grandfather, Carl Michelson, a Norwegian immigrant, and named for his legendary grand work horse that he used to work the fields and pull the sleigh to make his livelihood on the family farm back in Northern Minnesota. 

Grand Cheval is a Red Blend, sourced from select fruit from the Domaine Serene premiere Dundee Hills vineyard and various Oregon Walla Walla Valley Vineyard sites. We visited the Walla Walla appellation last fall and gained great appreciation for their wines. 

As I have written in these pages, the Walla Walla AVA is America's newest and 'most distinct' appellation. Also, it traverses the Oregon and Washington State border, the only American AVA to span two states. 

Notably, the grapes selected for Grand Cheval are sourced from Oregon Walla Walla vineyards. The label is based on some component of Syrah and Pinot Noir varietal grapes. 

Domaine Serene Grand Cheval Oregon Proprietary Red Blend 2015

'Grand Cheval' is a unique proprietary blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir, which is sourced from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, as well as vineyards in the Dundee Hills. Pinot Noir is not generally considered a grape blending but the balance seems to work as neither grape dominates or overpowers the other. 

Garnet colored, full bodied, complex, concentrated expressive black fruits of black berry, black cherries and plums with notes of cassis, coffee and a touch of charred wood and black tea, a bit of heat on the firm tannin laced finish.

RM 92 points.

Cliff Lede Landslide Fire Red Wine 2010

Cliff Lede Landslide Fire Red Wine 2010

During our getaway weekend in Charleston visiting Bill and Beth, Bill pulled from his wine cooler this limited release Cliff Lede Landslide Fire. This is a release from Cliff Lede that showcases the best of vineyard blocks that are named for classic Rock and Roll songs. The Cliff Lede Estate and these vineyards are in the Stag's Leap District appellation of south eastern Napa Valley.
Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Estate and Vineyards
Cliff Lede is one of our favorite producers and we have extensive holding of his wines going back to his earliest releases going on two decades ago. We have visited the estate with Bill and Beth several times including this private tasting - Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Vineyard & Winery Visit - Autumn '2009.

The majority of this fruit was sourced from two distinctive blocks named after the rock songs “Landslide” and “Light My Fire,” located on the estate Twin Peaks Vineyard. The gravelly loam in “Light My Fire” produces opulent Cabernet with ripe, dark fruit and plush tannins. The hillside, terraced vines of Malbec in “Landslide” offer an intense aromatic lift to the blend.

The wine underwent twenty-one months of elevage in 100% new French oak. The final blend is composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec.

Winemaker notes: "This rocking quartet of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec greets the senses with an aromatic prelude of blackberry, blueberry, and violet. The inky dark color of this ripe, voluptuous medley segues into a concentrated palate of cassis and cacao nibs, with harmonious notes of black licorice. The gravelly minerality of the Twin Peaks Vineyard is a finale that begs for an encore."

Bill's notes for this wine: "Medium ruby color. Bright, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, chocolate with a hint of licorice on the palate Full bodied with a long finish. Delicious on its own but would be nicely augmented by chocolate, cheese, pate, all the basic food groups."

WCC 90 points. 

I believe Bill underscored this wine with his 90 points (although its all in the eyes of the beholder and there are no right or wrong answers). I thought this wine was delicious, elegant, smooth, polished and complex - a symphony (pun intended) of nicely balanced and integrated flavors of black raspberry and blackberry fruits highlighted by notes of floral, mocha and hints of anise with a long supple smooth silky tannin finish.

RM 94 points.

Notably, Robert Parker gave this 95 points and Stephen Tanzer gave it 93 points. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Robert Craig Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

During our getaway weekend visiting friends and fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill, and Beth, we had an extraordinary wine dinner with several select wines. Prior to dinner, Bill also served this Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.

We have visited the Robert Craig estate winery high atop Howell Mountain on several occasions with Beth and Bill including the Robert Craig Howell Mountain Harvest Party '09 back in 2009, when we first tasted some of the 2007 vintage release labels from barrel. Robert Craig Napa Valley Cabernets, which are instantiated in at least six different labels including this vineyard designated select Mt Veeder, are one of the largest producer holdings in our cellar collection.

The previous time Bill and I shared this wine together, on his visit to our place, it was poignant tasting and reminiscing over this wine. We recalled tasting this wine with Robert Craig on numerous occasions and he recollecting this is his favorite of the vineyard selections. We talked of the recent end of the supplier relationship for this fruit source as the legendary Pym Rae Vineyard, previously owned by the late Robin Williams, was sold to a major French producer who acquired the sixteen hundred acre estate and plan to enter the Napa Valley marketplace. We recall Robert's reminiscences of Robin for whom he worked and managed the vineyards back in the nineties.

Rick, Linda and Robert Craig
Beth, Robert Craig and Bill

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Bill's Cellartracker notes on this tasting:

"Big full bodied Mt Veeder. Medium garnet in color. Nose musty upon opening but reveals pencil shavings with some light floral notes. Dark cherry, raspberry, mocha and a hint of mint on the finish. Bigger and bolder than most Mt. Veeder. Medium bodied with a long, lingering finish."

WCC 90 points.