Saturday, March 17, 2018

Paradigm Napa Valley Cabernet 1994

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

For a midweek grilled steak dinner we pulled from the cellar this aged 1994 vintage Napa Cabernet from Paradigm Winery in Oakville.

At 24 years of age, this was showing remarkably well showing no signs of diminution. This may be at its apex of drinkability and will no doubt not improve with further aging. But there should be no rush to consume these either. We acquired a case of this wine upon release and the remaining bottles are in perfect condition with corks and fill levels still being optimal. This is further reinforcement of our cellar conditions being ideal for long term aging of suitable wines.

R&L and friend Liat with Producer
Ren Harris back in 1999
We acquired this case when we visited the winery and met producers Ren and Marilyn Harris during Napa Wine Experience back in 1999.

Today, Paradigm is crafted by legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett. Below are her notes on the most recent 2013 release which resembles this vintage release.  Note her comments on this label being age worthy. Tonight's tasting is further testimony to that claim.

Winemaker, Heidi Barrett's Notes for the most recent release: "Another great vintage with the 2013 for Napa Valley Cab! Dark ruby red color with aromas of sweet, toasty oak, cedar, ripe black cherry, currants and spice. Absolutely delicious across the palate. Flavors are big and mouth coating yet so well balanced and silky across the palate. Dense chewy refined tannins in the mid palate with great length and persistent flavors. This is a beauty that will be delicious at release but is also age worthy. Enjoy!" 

Tonight was consistent with my last tasting of this vintage label date back to 8/30/2009 when I posed this. "Dark inky color. forward fruit flavors of black cherry, with a bit with earth and leather emerging over the subtle currant, ripe plum, cedar and a hint of anise on a moderate finish. RM -  89 Points"

I would give it 91 points at this stage as it is showing quite nicely.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

03 and 13 Argiolas Turriga M Coz

Duo vintage comparison of  2003 and 2013 Argiolas Turriga - Old World vs New World 97 M Coz Meritage

For a special business dinner we dined at Italian Village in the City Centre Chicago for a classic Italian wine and dine experience. Wine Director Jared Gelband pulled from the IV extensive wine cellar two vintages of this unique Italian varietal label for a mini-comparison tasting - 2003 and 2013 Argiolas Turriga.

For an old world vs. new world comparison tasting Jared pulled a 1997 vintage Napa Valley Meritage Bordeaux Blend from Napa Valley, Consentino M. Coz.

Both labels were great complements to our varied selections of classic Italian cuisine.

The Argiolas brand consisting of ten different labels  is one of the most popular and widely distributed brands from the Island of Sardinia. Turriga is a blend of native Sardinian varietals - Cannonau, Malvasia Nera, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo, and is considered a benchmark red wine showcasing the best of Sardinia. It has been produced by the Argiolas Family and Giacomo Tachis since 1988.

The brand is named for the family patriarch Antonio Argiolas, who was born in 1906. He was the first to plant vine rows to join vineyards together, and strived for the highest possible quality in his winemaking in this label. His two sons, Franco and Giuseppe took over the business with their wives, Pina and Marianna, and then with their own children. Today, the Winery is run by the third Argiolas generation: Antonio’s grandchildren.

The impetus for this flagship label was to create a great Sardinian wine capable of long aging using only Sardinian varietals. It is aged two years in French barriques. It is named for The Venus or "Turriga" that graces the label that was found in the vineyards of Argiolas back in 1935.

The estate is on the Island of Sardinia in the middle of the Western Mediterranean, facing south looking across to Africa. The total Serdiana estate has about 40 acres of vines in the Sibiola countryside, in the Municipality of Serdiana with another 90 acres of vineyards in the Parteolla area, on hilly land at an elevation of about 1000 feet above sea level.

The Turriga vineyard is comprised of 15 acres of wines sitting at an elevation of 750 feet overlooking the Mediterranean to the southeast towards Africa. It was first planted in 1970 and was used in the first release of this wine in 1988. Today 50,000 bottles are produced per year. 

Tonight we compared the 2003 and the 2013 vintages of Argiolas Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

Turriga is a blend of Sardinian grape varietals Cannonau, Malvasia Nera, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo. It is a powerful fruit forward red wine that requires time in bottle to show its full complexity. Upon release, Turriga is densely packed with powerful tannins and tightly wound fruit, thus decanting is recommended. With time in bottle, Turriga reveals multiple layers of Mediterranean herbs, roasted coffee, spices, and licorice with a generous core of black and red fruit.

Both were bright ruby colored, medium full bodied with bright, vibrant, bold and expressive forward sweet cherry and black currant fruits. The 2003 was a bit more subdued, more polished and balanced, more complex with the fruit less obtuse and more integrated with notes of earthy spice, herbs and leather, bright acidity but moderately smooth tannins.

RM 89 (2013) and 90 (2003) points.

Cosentino Winery M. Coz Napa Valley Meritage Red 1997

For a comparison of old world vs new world, Jared presented this Cosentino Winery M. Coz Napa Valley Meritage Red from the classic 1997 vintage. Meritage (rhymes with heritage) is the name given to a US wine comprised of the Bordeaux varietals, hence a Bordeaux Blend. Meritage is a trademarked name and accordingly licensed from the Meritage Society.

The 1997 vintage of Napa Valley Cabernets was much heralded and expected to be long lived vintage of highest quality. Many of the '97's have been confounding being closed and subdued in revealing their true potential. Some believe its still aging gracefully, yet to emerge to reveal its true greatness. I'm holding off judgement, standing the belief that perhaps the vintage was over-hyped and may be just so. I've been wrong in such matters before and look forward to being proven so if my extensive collection of '97's start to awaken.

Tonight this '97 was showing well revealing bright, vibrant black berry and black current fruits. Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, the fruit was accented with tones of cedar, tobacco leaf and hints of sweet oak and dark mocha, turning to a moderate, soft tanning finish.

RM 92 points. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Gala Family Celebration dinner brings out classic birth year vintage wines

This week grandson Miles Thomas Fort came into the world. To celebrate, we hosted a gala family dinner (see below) and I pulled from the cellar several classic wines from daughter Erin's and son-in-law Johnny's birth years. Linda fixed sirloin steak, escalloped potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, dinner salad and an assortment of appetizers and desserts. The dinner brought together four generations of the McNees family.

Two of the wines we opened from Erin's birth year were featured at her and Johnny's wedding when we served them from large format Jeroboams or Imperials. Tonight we opened standard format 750ml bottles of each -  Château Grand Vin Latour and Château Leoville Las Cases from 1981.

To honor Johnny's birth year we opened a Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1980. With our daughter Erin taking on the Fort name, it was especially fitting that we selected for her 'signature wine', wines from Chateau Latour since the Chateau Grand Vin de Latour label features the Latour castle fortress, and their second wine is called 'Les Fort' Latour.

Interestingly, these two wines served today, Latour and Leoville Las Cases, while from different appellations, actually are neighbors, sited near each other there on the Left Bank in the Medoc. Family Fort shown above left.

Collecting birth year wines of our kids, kids-in-laws, and friends' kids is part of the great joy and fun of having a wine cellar. I talk and have written often about building out a collection to include 'every day' wines, 'once a week' and 'once a month' wines, and 'special occasion', 'once a year' or even 'once in a lifetime wines'. Tonight these were special occasion, few times in a lifetime wines. Of course, this can be taken to the next level by collecting such special wines in large format bottles. Indeed, it was my collection of large format birth year bottles that was the basis for my cellar being featured in the Collecting section of Wine Spectator Magazine back in June of 2001!

It helps, of course if your kids are born in 'collectable' worthy vintages. All not vintages are created equal and some are more age-worthy or collectable than others. Look far and wide enough and most any vintage ought to have suitable wines that year somewhere in the world!

The 1981 vintage of Bordeaux was rather modest, not considered a long lived age-worthy one. I thought we were pushing the edge of the envelope for the year holding them and serving them in our daughter's wedding year at 25 years. We're really pushing them here at 37 years. As to be expected, the super premium first growth Chateau Latour is proving to be more ageworthy than the Super Second growth premium Leoville Las Cases. Never-the-less, they were both worthy bottles for such a celebration dinner. As was the 38 year old 1980 vintage Dom Perignon!

Note also the price stickers still on both aged bottles reflecting their purchase prices back in the mid-eighties, a fraction of their eventual value. 

Château Grand Vin Latour Pauillac Bordeaux 1981

Rare among my cellar collection, this bottle had a Top Shoulder fill. Only a handful of bottles from my cellar over the years were so. The cork was totally saturated and spongy but will still intact. I wrestled with the cork using an 'ahso' two pronge cork puller and it eventually relented, albeit it pulled apart at the bottom quarter. I'm certain a traditional corkscrew would've pushed it into the bottle, or caused it to pretty much disintegrate. Opened and decanted for two hours prior to tasting.

The color was garnet colored with slight brownish and rust colored bricking. Medium bodied, still showing berry fruit, slightly astringent with modest aromatics and flavors of bell pepper and notes of cedar and leather on the moderate finish. Still nicely polished and holding together impressively given the lackluster '81 vintage, but time to drink as its clearly in the last chapter of its drinking window.

RM 89 points.

Château Léoville Las Cases St Julien Bordeaux 1981

Like the Chateau Latour above, this cork was also saturated and spongy. It was almost identical in condition and offered essentially the same removal experience. The fill level for this bottle was surprisingly good at mid-neck level.

Almost consistent with my last tasting post fourteen months ago, tonight this bottle showed a bit more astringency than when I wrote, "While the fruits may have started to subside somewhat, starting to give way to non-fruit tones, very aromatic and flavorful, classic elegant Bordeaux notes, dark ruby brick colored, medium full bodied, black berry fruits accented by truffle, spicy cedar, tobacco, cigar box, silky smooth, concentrated and superbly balanced, with long lingering nicely integrated tannins on the spicy aromatic finish."

I gave it 89 points last year, tonight I would give it an 87 due to further deterioration or perhaps bottle variation after 37 years.

Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1980

A visit to the temple of Champagne, Moët & Chandon was one of the highlights of our Champagne Wine Experience back in 2006It is a benchmark for classic super premium ageworthy sparkling wines in the world.

It was time to drink this aged bottle. It was probably ideal up until perhaps five years ago as this was past its prime but was still an experience and a joy. Consistent with some others' experience postings, perhaps in between those that were still holding on with effervescence and bubbles, and those that were clearly over the hill. This had little pop and fizz on opening, but was still a positive experience showing its age but revealing some modest fruits and nice balance of its heritage.  Interestingly complex, tea or toffee colored, this showed a bit of leather, nut, and slightly astringent citrus, apple and dark cherry fruits.

RM 87 points

Clan McNees and Fort

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Guidalberto Super Tuscan

Guidalberto Super Tuscan for Italian Village Chicago Team Wine Dinner

For our Sales Kick Off meeting we brought in the global sales team and held a team dinner at legendary Italian Village in Chicago. Working with the IV team we arranged for a private dining room and worked with Wine Director Jared Gelband  to stage the wine course so we could do pre-dinner tasting upon arrival, two reds and a white.

Knowing several of us would likely choose the beef tenderloin special we arranged for some Bordeaux varietal wines that ideally complement the hearty beef with mushroom and marsala wine reduction sauce.

The wine flight:

Parry Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGT 2006
2003 Sottimano Barbaresco Currá Nebbiolo
2015 Monchiero Carbone Roero Arneis Cecu Arneis

I wrote about the Parry Cellars Napa Cabernet in a separate blogpost feature.

Following the Parry we tasted this Super Tuscan from the legendary Sassicaia line which is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGT 2006

Guidalberto is a second wine from the producers of the legendary Sassicaia. The grapes are harvested and processed in a separate independent cellar facility. The wine is aged in French and American oak barrels and refined in bottle before release.

This was a full-bodied wine with intense red fruit flavor and and elegantly supple texture supported by ripe, silky tannins. The Merlot in the blend is expressed in sweet black fruit with overall aromas of ripe, concentrated berries offset by restrained spicy oak notes. 

The wine is named for Guidalberto della Gherardesca, the great great great grandfather of Nicolò Incisa (pictured below), director of Tenuta San Guido for forty years, son of Mario Incisa, creator of Sassicaia.

Guidalberto lived in the early nineteenth century in Bolgheri. He was a pioneer of modern agriculture, and was famous for having planted the cypress alley that inspired the poet Giosuè Carducci.

The wine was created in 2000 in an experimental use of the Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and a large percentage of Merlot, that had not previously been used much in the area. The objective was also to make a wine that would provide early gratification from being approachable not long after release, at a younger age compared to the flagship Sassicaia.

The fruit for Guidalberto is grown on the Tenuta San Guido estate which consists of 4,500 acres, on 80 acres of vines spread across 8 separate parcels. The two main vineyards are Castiglioncello and Sassicaia, planted between 1965 and 1985, and a 20-acre parcel Aia Nuova. A more recent vineyard, Quercione, was planted from cuttings from the Sassicaia parcel in 1989 and 1990. It is sited on a stony ridge high above the winery.

The blend is reported to be 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Sangiovese.
This was dark garnet colored with medium full body and ripe black berry and black cherry fruits accented by smoke, tar and anise with smooth soft tannins on the finish.

RM 90 points.

This was awarded 92 Points by Wine Spectator James Suckling and 94 Points by Wine Advocate Antonio Galloni.

Marston Petit Sirah 1984

Pour Boy Reunion and a classic 1984 Marston Petit Sirah

Bill & Beth C returned from their transplant home down on Seabrook Island SC to attend our annual OTBN Pour Boys wine group wine tasting and dinner. They came by for a pre-dinner tasting the next day before heading to their son Drew's to see the new grand-baby. To commemorate the events, I pulled from the cellar this vintage bottle from Drew's birth year.

Marston Vineyard Spring Mountain District Petit Syrah 1984

My notes from an earlier review of this wine back in 2004 on this label's vintage twentieth anniversary.  

"Dec 31 - Marston (Family) Vineyard Napa Valley Petit Syrah 1984 (Bottle 790 of 812) - RM 90 - Today, 'Family' is part of the name and the winery provides cabernet fruit for Beringer Private Reserve. Not many 20 year olds down in the cellar (since the 84 Bordeaux's are long gone being a short lived vintage) but pulled this one out on the last day of 04... Surprising body, structure and backbone with inky purple colour. Intense currant, black cherry, cedar anise and plum with a firm tight long full finish. Amazing staying power and life left - thankfully I have at least one more ... 2014?

From the Marston (Family) Vineyard website - Over the last 25 years, the Marston Vineyard has produced numerous award winning wines.Andre Tchelistcheff helped craft small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel in the early 1980’s. Sean Thackery produced legindary Petite Sirahs from the Marston Vineyard in the early 1990’s winning Best Red Wine in the world. For the last decade Beringer has been responsible for the vineyard. Cabernet Sauvignon from Marston Vineyard is in the Beringer Private reserve Cabernet. Marston Vineyard designated Cabernet is also made by Beringer. The year 1998 marked the beginning of a new era for Marston Family Vineyard. The first Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was made by noted winemaker Philippe Melka."

Well, we missed pulling this wine in its thirtieth anniversary year, 2014, but here we are four years later. At thirty-four this is still holding its own showing surprising vibrancy and resilience and no signs of diminution from age. And my earlier notes indicating we still held a bottle missed the fact we were holding two. Hence, after drinking this one, we still hold one more. As shown on the rear label of this wine, released from library in 1998, it was built for long term cellaring. It is standing up to that objective indeed!

According to the Marston Family website today regarding their wines, each vintage will remain “forever limited” to 600 cases and is produced from selected blocks on the property. According to the handwritten serial numbers on these bottles, exactly 812 bottles were produced of this wine.

Marston Family Vineyards dates back to Michael and Alexandra Marston purchasing the property back in 1969 as part of a consortium. then acquiring the remaining ownership in 1976. Back in 1969, many of the original vineyards dating back to the turn of the century were still in production.

Our last remaining bottle
Over the next four decades, Marston Family Vineyard had a line of legendary winemakers who produced numerous award winning wines. In the early 1980’s, Philip Togni and the late Andre Tchelistcheff crafted small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Rhone (this Petite Sirah) and Zinfandel.

This vintage was among the vintages from 1982 – 1986 that were overseen by legendary André Tchelistcheff, who was considered America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker, and was notable for his contributions toward defining the style of California’s best wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon. Called the “Dean of American winemakers”, industry giants such as Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini considered him their mentor.

Noted winemaker Sean Thackery produced legendary Petite Sirahs from the Marston Vineyard under his Sirius label through the early 1990’s including winning “Best Red Wine in the World” with the 1992 (some records say 93) vintage.

Noted winemaker Philippe Melka and his team managed the property and winemaking for a dozen vintages up until 2010. During this time they began replanting certain blocks of the vineyard, and in 1998 released the first vintage under the current label.

The release of the 2010 vintage marked the first release of current winemaker, Marbue Marke who continues to this day.

Marston Family Vineyards sit on the most southern slopes of Spring Mountain on the western slopes of Napa Valley above the town of St Helena. The original vineyards date back to the late 1800s and over the years were planted with as many as eleven different varietals, including Johannesburg Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This 1984 vintage of the Marston Petite Sirah was sourced from a small 3-acre plot on the property where some of those first plantings were done back as early as 1890.

The bottle from our
2004 tasting
Previous owner Al Menasco became a pioneer in developing new vineyard practices. He experimented with different types of vineyard spacing and planted a dozen varieties of grapes in different soil types and micro climates on the property. He kept meticulous records to discover the optimum growing conditions for these varietals.

Over the years, the family whittled the vineyard’s focus from eleven varietals to one, and the Pettit Sirah vines, like the others were replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon which is the sole focus of property today.

Today the vineyards comprise about 10 percent of the 500 acres of heavily forested land on terraced hillsides that range in elevation from 700 to 1,100 feet just above the fogline resulting in extended hours of sunlight. The additional sunshine coupled with the lower temperatures allow the fruit to ripen more slowly and uniformly, which ultimately enhances the wine’s concentration, complexity and texture. Furthermore, the rocky, mountain soils limit the vigor of the vines contributing to their fruit's richness and concentration.

We have one remaining bottle of this 1984 vintage release. Based on its storied history and amazing stamina and longevity, we'll look forward to a suitable and appropriate occasion to open it - clearly an OTBN candidate in the next few years!


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Parry Napa St Helena Cab featured at Italian Village Chicago

Parry Napa St Helena Cab featured at Italian Village Chicago 

Parry Cellars Napa Valley St Helena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Entertaining members of my new team from around the globe, I took them to legendary Chicago trattoria Italian Village for a special dinner. Wine Director Jared Gelband obtained a case of this limited production release, only 225 cases were produced, through personal connections to evaluate for the wine list.

Knowing this is a style of wine we love, being regular wine diners, he offered us a bottle for our special private dinner. We loved it and  then returned the next night for a team dinner and had several more of his limited few bottles.

Finally, we returned last night again for a private dinner and we had a bottle with our wine loving guests. Based on those tastings Jared is reaching back to source more, and introducing us to the producer to hopefully obtain some for our private cellar too.

Dark garnet inky purple colored, full bodied, rich concentrated by highly focused ripe black berry fruits are layered with sweet mocha chocolate and subtle hints of mint accented blue fruits on a silky tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Parry Cellars is the dream project of owners Stephen and Sue Parry who acquired and 'retired' to the Estate. They report they are Napa Valley's smallest single vineyard winery. a family owned half-acre vineyard on the east side of the Silverado Trail, north of the town of St. Helena. The vineyard was planted with 1200 100% Cabernet Sauvignon vines by legendary Napa producer Dave Abreu in 1990, in rocky obsidian studded soil. Sustainably farmed and managed to produce about three tons of grapes each year provides about 200 cases of limited release production. The special bottling single vineyard production is available to wine club members and can be found at a number of select restaurants.

Parry's winemaker is Andy Schweiger. His tasting notes for the 2013 "... aromas of ripe plum with layers of blackberry, black cherry and hints of mint and eucalyptus. It has a velvet entry with a complex fruit profile leading to a well-balanced mid-palate of intense blueberry, cocoa, berry components and integrated tannins. It has a lingering finish balanced with elegant dark fruit and tannins."

The wine was aged for 19 months in 100% French oak barrels (44% new / 56% once-used). 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

OTBN 2018

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2018

The last Saturday in February brings OTBN - (Open That Bottle Night), our ritualistic gathering of Pour Boys wine group. Lyle and Terry hosted this year, christening their new kitchen with a spectacular beef tenderloin dinner.

Readers of these pages know that OTBN stands for Open That Bottle Night, the annual wine event for collectors and oenophile wine enthusiasts, the night set aside to pull that special bottle being held in the cellar for an occasion whose time has not yet come. So once a year, what the heck, OTBN - open that bottle (to)night.

As always, the event provided a wonderful gathering, great food, fellowship, and of course, some extraordinary wines.

For before dinner appetizers, Lyle and Terry served an extensive selection of artisan cheeses, vegetables and charcuterie; Smoked Salmon w/capers, horseradish sauce & red onion, Pickled mushrooms w/capers, Bloomin’ onion bread, selections of cheeses, pickled beans & asparagus, olives, assortment of breads and crackers.

With the initial courses there was a wine flight of two champagnes and a Gratis Sea Smoke Chardonnay from Santa Barbara Santa Rita Hills, 2008.

The dinner feast included salad, Hoppin John’s Good Luck Soup w/Cornbread, Beef Tenderloin, Scalloped Potatoes and Broccoli – Ginger stir fry.

The wine flight featured a broad selection of Bordeaux from Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux and a flight of Napa Cabernets.

  • Cantenac Brown Margaux 2012
  • Château Haut Batailley Pauillac 2000 
  • Château Pichon Lalande 2009
  • Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien 1989 and 2009 

Château Pichon (Longueville Comtesse de) Lalande Grande Cru Classe' Pauillac Bordeaux 2009

Like the Ducru Beaucaillou, Pichon Lalande is often noted as one of the 'super seconds' - or second growths that often rival the premiere 'First Growths', as they are specified according to the great 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

This is typically one of my favorite Bordeaux labels.  Typically I am drinking this wine after a decade or more of aging such that this 2009 at this stage seems young to me even at nine years.

Not nearly as big, dense and structured as the Ducru from the same vintage, this is more polished and almost elegant in comparison.

Deep purple, dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, bright expressive floral notes with ripe sweet black berry and black plum fruits with notes of mocha, cassis, graphite, and hints of leather. This is a classic Bordeaux style blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.

RM 93 points. 

96 points James Suckling, 95 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 94 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

I called Dan in preparation for this evening's festivities to compare and coordinate wine selections. When he told me he was bringing a Ducru 2009, I went down in the cellar and pulled this 1989 to share and compare.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou Grande Cru Classe' St Julien Bordeaux 2009

This highly acclaimed release of this top ranked Chateau, the 2009 Ducru was definitely one of the highlights of the evening with its opulent full bodied, rich concentrated complex fruit. Like the Pichon Lalande, this was one of the 'signature' wines I served from large format bottles at my kid's wedding (s).

We no doubt drank this too early as it will most assuredly age well for decades to come. Never-the-less, this was approachable and delivering early gratification with its full throttle intense, layered fruit. Robert Parker gave this wine 100 points and projects it will last 40-50 years.

This is a massive wine that could likely benefit from several years of aging to round out and smooth off the edges. Dark garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated complex firm backbone of black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by layers of graphite, creme de cassis, dark mocha chocolate, expresso and smokey tannins on a lingering firm finish.

This is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot.

RM 95 points.

100 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 96 points James Suckling and Wine Spectator, 95 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 1989

I acquired a case (OWC - original wood case) of this wine upon release years ago and still hold several remaining bottles. This showed very well tonight standing up better to its age than in some previous tastings. Amazingly resilient and presentable at nearly thirty years. 

Tonight was consistent with my notes from a decade ago. Garnet color - medium-light delicate body; floral perfume, black cherry and berry fruits with layers of anise, tobacco and black tea and a hint of leather, with floral continuing on a modest tannin finish. An interesting comparison to the 2009, very different profile between the two vintages, but showing some signs of similarity in the terroir character of the label. Based on tonights experience, I pushed the drinking window out from 2017 to 2019.

RM 90 points.

Château Haut Batailley Grand Cru Classe' Pauillac Bordeaux 2000

The 2000 vintage Bordeaux was highly acclaimed. As often stated in top vintages, 'all boats rise with the tide', so that, less heralded labels often produce extraordinary wines in such years. The 2000 Haut Batailley was noted by Wine Spectator to be "the best wine from this estate in decades" (92 points). Robert Parker said it was "one of the finest Haut-Batailleys ever made (it certainly rivals the 1996)".

This was dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, with dark berry and currant flavors accented by mocha chocolate, hints of cassis, classic Pauillac graphite and tobacco notes, and toasty oak with smooth soft tannins on a pleasant lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

The flight of Napa Valley Cabernets:
  • Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard 1985
  • Del Dotto Vineyards Estate Rutherford 1997 and 1998
  • Fantesca Estate Vineyards from Spring Mountain District, 2006

Some notes - more to follow.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

Bill brought this from his cellar back in South Carolina. He has been collecting this wine for several decades and this is remarkable testimony to this wines ageability.

We visited the winery and explored the library and acquired some aged vintages for special commemorative anniversary dinners during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2009.

Incredible, amazing life left in this 33 year old, showing no signs of diminution, even at this age! Dark purplish garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich concentrated complex black berry and black cherry fruits with a subdued layer of soft cedar/camphor with cigar box and moderate acidity on the moderate tannin lingering finish. RM 90 points.
Fantesca Estate Vineyards, Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

Fantesca is one of our favorite Napa Cabs. We tasted as pre-release and Bill acquired this during one of our visits to the estate on lower Spring Mountain overlooking St Helena on the valley floor below.

This was the youngest Napa Cab tasted yet was a dozen years of age. As such, it was the most vibrant, forward, and concentrated of those featured, yet it was very approachable, nicely integrated, balanced, smooth and polished, clearly the favorite of some of the ladies.

Bill's Cellartracker notes - "Elegant, fruit forward offering from Spring Mountain. Deep, dark, cherry color in the glass. Dark, black and blue fruit on the palate."

WCC and I both give this 92 points.

Del Dotto Estate Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 1997-1998

Our Del Dotto Cave Tour and tasting at the Rutherford Estate was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience this summer. Several of us purchased Del Dotto wines for our cellars, so it was fitting I bring a couple of vintage Del Dotto to OTBN. Bill expressed interest in such to see how they are aging, and it was an interesting comparison to the aged Freemark that he brought for the event.

I've written several times in these pages about the Napa Valley 1998 vintage, how it was panned and overshadowed by the much heralded 1997 and 1999 vintages. So it was an interesting and fun comparison to taste this duo.

These are 100% Estate grown from the Rutherford Estate there at Hwy 29 and Zinfandel Lane, the 1997 and '98 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon were blended with some estate grown Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Del Dotto Napa Cab 1998 - Consistent with earlier tasting notes, this vintage continues to please, even here in its twentieth year! "A sleeper of the vintage, a consistently pleasant, nice drinking wine, belaying and despite its lackluster reviews. Still life left, this was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, still vibrant and lively, nicely balanced, moderately complex black cherry fruits accented by tobacco leaf, leather, tones of tangy spicy oak and modest but pleasant tannins on the finish."

Del Dotto Napa Cab 1997 - An interesting comparison to the '97, also showing well, as written and consistent with earlier tasting notes:

"My previous tasting notes over the last five years showed this selection coming of age and opening up with more fruit as it matured. This presented big pronounced and lively fruits of currant and berry flavors accented by nicely integrated oak before giving way to hints of cedar, leather and tobacco. Dark garnet colored, moderately firm with refined lingering tannins, this '97 still is vibrant and has several years of pleasurable easy drinking left."

For the dessert course Terry prepared Molten Lava Cake and her fabulous signature Mandarin Orange Cake, both served with fresh berries and fresh whipped cream.

With the dessert course, Lyle served Grahams Vintage Port 2000 and a Chateau Broustet Barsac Sauterne 2001.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Murrays Cheese Wine Dinner

Cheese Murray's Cheese ! Wine Dinner

During our NYC getaway weekend, we dined on Saturday night at one of son Alec's favorite eateries Murray's Cheese Bar on Bleaker Street down in Greenwich Village.

Legendary Murrays Cheese Shop has been at the same site on Bleecker Street since 1940. The Cheese Bar opened in 2012 to feature their selection of fine cheeses selected and arranged by expert Cheesemongers, or cooked into heir imaginative dishes by a team of seasoned chefs.

As usual, Murray's was packed, lively, bordering on boisterous, serving up imaginative cheese centered combination plates and dishes.

We chose wines from Murray's simple but succinct winelist, with its carefully selected cross section of wines to accompany the range of menu options. This time, they did not offer any New York or Long Island wines which we customarily would order for the occasion. 

We started with a Proseco Sparkling wine to sip with Murray's Kale Ceasar salad with Parmigiana-Reggiano, Radish, Anchovy and Crutons. 

Transitioning to the main courses we had Brussel Sprouts with Lardons, Pomegranate Molasses, and Smoky Bleu (cheese), and Mussels and Fries with Coconut Red Curry in a Lemonbroth sauce. 

With these courses we had a Merlot based St Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux from Clos de la Cure.

We then dined on Murray's Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce, Fennel, and Sheep Feta (cheese) (shown left).

With these hearty courses, we drank a 2013 Perbacco Vietti Nebbiolo from Langhe Piedmonte, Italy.

As is customary, we let the Murray's Cheesemonger prepare for us a selection of cheese and meats, each accompanied by a complementing fruit, puree, sauce or jam. This went well with the Nebbiolo, and from there we moved on to a Jam Jar Australian Shiraz 2016.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Following our Hemingway's Bistro dinner Saturday which featured seafood entrees wherein we bought white wines BTG - by-the-glass, we corked this bottle and brought it home to taste another day. Tonight we reopened the bottle to enjoy with grilled strip steak and baked potatoes.

This wine was produced by Linda and Leighton Taylor with fruit sourced from their Cloud View estate on Pritchard Hill (also home to Bryant Family Vineyards) that sits overlooking south eastern Napa Valley from its perch high above the Silverado Trail. Five hundred and fifty cases were produced of this limited release boutique offering. We visited the neighboring David Arthur Vineyards during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2013

Winemaker Karen Turjanis crafted this proprietary red blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Merlot and aged it for 22 months in new French oak.

We hold a half dozen vintages of this label from 2000 to 2006. The 2006 was the last vintage bottled by Cloud View from its Pritchard Hill vineyard, as the property was purchased by Tim Mondavi, who proceeded to start building the winery for his ultra-premium Continuum project there.

This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with firm concentrated structured core of brambley earthy black currant and black berry fruits with a layer of sweet caramel and dark mocha accented by tones of cassis, sweet spicy tangy oak and silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Château La Tour Haut-Brion 1999

Château La Tour Haut-Brion Cru Classé Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux 1999

For mid-week grilled tenderloin dinner we served this vintage Bordeaux Cru Classé from Château La Tour Haut Brion from the Pessac-Léognan appellation in Graves. The estate was located in the commune of Talence on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux, adjacent to Château La Mission Haut-Brion. The label used to be a separate château under the same ownership as Châteaux Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. The 5.05 hectares (12.47 acres) of vineyards were planted with 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 23% Merlot, a mix similar to Haut Brion. Production was about 2,000 to 2,500 cases per year.

Prior to 1983, Ch. la Tour Haut-Brion was the second wine of La Mission Haut-Brion, but after the La Mission and La Tour properties were taken over by the Domaine Clarence Dillon, La Tour gained its own branding identity. Château La Tour Haut-Brion was the smallest of the classed growths of red Graves producers and the label was discontinued after its final vintage in 2005. Since then, the fruit of La Tour Haut-Brion has been included in the production blend of Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied with complex structure with black berry and black plum fruits with bright lively floral aromatics, accented by notes of cigar box, cedar, leather and subtle tones of dark mocha. This was an ideal complement to the grilled tenderloin steak.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hemingway's Oak Park BYOB BTG Dinner

Hemingway's Oak Park BYOB BTG Dinner

Culminating an event filled week with Valentine's Day, Linda's birthday and starting a new job, we celebrated with Saturday evening dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Hemingway's Bistro in Oak Park, located in the Write Inn, a euro boutique hotel. Fittingly, Hemingway's was still decorated for Valentine's Day.

As I've written in these pages, I conduct tours as a docent interpreter at the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, so this is a convenient dining spot following my tours.

Tonight's special was Alaskan Halibut with a mango pepper relish, rice and asparagus (shown left) which we both opted for as our entrees.

We both started with one of our favorite dishes, and draws to Hemingways - I had the Foie Gras du jour and Linda has the Tuna Tartar with avocado, cucumber and spicy aioli. The Foie Gras alone was worth the trip, absolutely delicious served with puree' of parsnip and peaches.

For the occasion, I brought BYOB from our home cellar a California Cabernet Bordeaux blend from Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill. In the end it was great with the Foie Gras but too much for the Halibut entrees and we opted for BTG (by-the-glass) selections from the wine list, a Lake Sonoma Russian River Valley Sonoma Chardonnay, and a Lemelson Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.

Hemingway's offers an authentic Provencal or Parisan dining experience in all respects. As always, everything was spectacular for an intimate, dining experience - food, services, atmosphere and ambiance.

Lemelson Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2015

Bright golden butter colored, light-medium bodied, tangy crisp acidic backbone, bright pear, peach, hints of apple and melon with notes of mineral and citrus. An ideal complement to the tuna tartar and the Alaskan Hailbut.

RM 87 points.

Lake Sonoma Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2015

According to the producer, the Russian River Valley is ideal for Chardonnay due to its cool climate, from the regular infiltration of Pacific Coast fog that ebbs and flows through the Petaluma Wind Gap and up the Russian River, making the Russian River Valley one of the world’s most celebrated Chardonnay growing regions. This natural air-conditioning allows Chardonnay grapes to develop full flavor over an extended growing season while maintaining their life-giving natural acidity.  The result is a chardonnay of both character and depth.

We visited the Russian River Valley Sonoma County appellation during our wine region visit last summer.

I believe this producer sources grapes from numerous growers in the region producing a region or appellation specific, but not Estate (produced from grapes grown on the property).

This Chardonnay from Hemingway's BTG (by-the-glass) winelist was straw colored, medium bodied, with notes of citrus, hints of creme brulee, vanilla, and honey with moderate acidity and depth.

RM 88 points.