Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sea Smoke Gratis, King Richards, Del Dotto Highlight Beef Tenderloin Dinner

Sea Smoke Gratis, King Richards, Del Dotto Highlight Beef Tenderloin Dinner

Saturday evening wine dinner with Dr Dan, our Lindas, and Beth visiting from SC featured beef tenderloin, haricot verts and scalloped potatoes. I pulled from the cellar this Del Dotto Estate Napa Cabernet 2001 and Fantesca King Richards Reserve Pinot Noir. Dan brought Sea Smoke Gratis Chardonnay and Chassagne Montrachet 1999.

Sea Smoke 'Gratis' Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2010

Dan brought this allocated limited production Chardonnay from his collection. At eight years, this must be at the apex of its drinking window. I cannot imagine it getting or ever being any better. This was the richest and most vibrant flavorful Chardonnay I've ever had. I've certainly never had one more enjoyable or suitable to my pallette.

Gratis Chardonnay is Sea Smoke's way of telling their direct customers 'thank you for your support!' This wine is only available to regular club members as a gift by Sea Smoke Cellars, and was not available for purchase to the general public. 

Golden colored, medium full bodied, this was rich, flavorful, a nice balance between creamy and acidic, a symphony of nicely integrated and harmonious layered flavors of layers of vanilla, toasted almonds, notes of apricot and hints of caramel with a thick mouth puckering finish.

RM 93 points.

Fantesca King Richards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2008

We tasted and acquired this wine at the Fantesca Estate and Winery on Spring Mountain during one of our several visits there with Duane and Susan Hoff, proprietors.

Readers of this site know we're Cab drinkers and not normally into Pinots but this was part of the Club allocation deliveries from Fantesca. King Richard refers to Susan's father who is a Pinot lover so they arranged to acquire a Select barrel of Russian River Valley special product and bottle it under the Fantesca brand.

This was opaque garnet colored, light medium bodied and tastes like red berries, strawberry, raspberry, and notes of cranberry with tones of dusty rose, leather and tobacco.

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 

Since Dan and Linda and Beth were with us at our visit to the Del Dotto Estate for our cave tour and estate wine tasting last year, I chose to pull a vintage Del Dotto Cab from the cellar in remembrance of that event. Also, our Delicacies Tasting at the new Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Winery was a highlight of our Napa Valley trip last month when we acquired several cases of current release Del Dotto wine at that visit so we also need to clear out some room in the cellar and will hence replace some of the older Del Dotto with a more recent vintage release.

Consistent with earlier tastings notes, medium to full bodied, deep dark ruby color - black berry and sweet black cherry fruits accented by clove spice and a hint cassis and whisper of English toffee on the 'Rutherford Dust' moderate silky tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Rick & Bill with Robert at
Robert Craig harvest party
For BBQ rib dinner I pulled this label from the cellar. I was eager to try this after drinking the Marco DiGuilio Mt Veeder Pym Rae Vineyard Cabernet recently, and upon researching that wine, learned it was the same site that provided fruit for this label for two decades. I also learned that the property and estate had been sold to the Tesseron family of France, producers of legendary Bordeaux Chateau Pontet Canet.

The estate was owned by the late Robin Williams, comedian and movie star, who named the vineyard after the middle names of his two kids. Robert Craig managed the property for Robin decades ago and sourced the fruit from there for this label for twenty five years. The final vintage released by Robert Craig was the 2016.

I've written often in these pages about Robert Craig and his portfolio of mountain fruit Napa Valley Cabernets from Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn, Spring Mtn, Mt George, Atlas Peak and of course Napa Valley.

We dined and tasted with Robert and Lynn Craig at the winery, in Chicago, and at numerous Napa Valley events over the years. I recall Robert saying that this label, the Mt Veeder was his favorite. Our records show we still hold over four cases of this label over fifteen vintages dating back to the inaugural vintage in 1993. Our Robert Craig collection of these labels is one of the largest holdings in our cellar collection

From here forward, from this bottle, and those remaining vintage labels in the cellar, we'll drink and savor the passing of a legendary brand/label with fondness and great memories.

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This was still drinking well but likely past the apex of its drinking window, not to improve further with aging, but still holding its own at seventeen years of age.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright forward firm structured backbone of tangy black cherry and blackberry fruits accented by notes of cedar, spicy oak, leather, tobacco leaf and tea with firm but smooth approachable tannins on the finish.

RM 90 point.

Shown left,

Dining with Robert and Lynn Craig, our featured wine producer, special guests at CIA back in 1998.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fleury Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Duo

Fleury Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  Duo

We first met Brian and Claudia Fleury at a Del Dotto Estate Winery event (see below) back in 2002. From that meeting we acquired some Fleury Estate Lauren Bryce Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from what I believe was their inaugural vintage release. How surprising then to hear son Ryan speaking of this wine and about he and some of his buddy's acquiring some of the highly allocated select wine for their cellars. Fleury Estate Napa Cab is a favorite of him and several of his colleagues who have extensive collections of numerous releases of this label. 

With this as a backdrop, Ryan and I were looking for an appropriate occasion to comparison taste our vintage releases of Fleury Napa Cabernets from our collections. A Sunday family dinner was the perfect occasion.

Fleury Estate Winery owns 50 acres of Napa vineyards dispersed in three vineyards in three appellations at three elevations. Their vineyards are located in Rutherford, St. Helena, and Howell Mountain. They have a small Rutherford production facility that produces about 4,000 cases a year that is all sold direct to consumer at the winery or via their on-line allocation membership. 

Ryan spent the day smoking and grilling a prime rib of beef. The Fleury Cab was a perfect complement to the beef, baked potatoes, grilled carrots and peppers and Linda's chocolate cake.
The Lauren Bryce label refers to the names of the two Fleury children.

Fleury Estate Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Lauren Bryce 2000

This was dark garnet colored with medium full body, aromas and flavors of bright vibrant ripe dark berry and currant fruits with notes of cedar, anise, leather, mocha and oak turning to nicely integrated tannins on a lingering finish. This tasted like it was approaching the end of its apex prime drinking window, not likely to improve further with age but not yet showing signs of diminution.

RM 90 points.

Fleury Estate Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Lauren Bryce 2009

This vintage was dark blackish inky colored with full body, rich concentrated bright, vibrant, forward unctuous fruits of sweet ripe dark berry, black raspberry and currant fruits with notes of dark mocha and sweet toasty oak turning to nicely integrated tannins on a full chewy lingering finish.

This was delicious, very much my preferred style and profile, but perhaps too sweet for some folks' palette!

RM 94 points.

Ryan's prime rib shown below. Historic pictures below showing Brian and Claudia Fleury, Dave, Yolanda and Desiree Del Dotto, and Nils and the late Dianne "Candy" Venge.

Brian and Claudia Fleury back in 2002
Brian and Claudia Fleury with Nils Venge, then winemaker and
Dianne "Candy" Venge..

Claudia serving at Del Dotto gala event.

Hosts for the special event,
Dave, Yolanda and Desiree Del Dotto.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Whitehall Lane Syrah 2016

Whitehall Lane Syrah 2016

We tasted and acquired this wine during our recent visit to the Whitehall Lane Napa Valley winery during our recent Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018.

We did a private tasting at the Whitehall Lane Estate Winery on St Helena Hwy just north of the town of Rutherford. This 2016 Syrah was one of the wines we selected from our private tasting and our shipment just arrived and we couldn't resist trying it again. This was ideal for easy casual sipping with some cheese and fresh fruits.

This showed dark inky purple colored and full body with layers of blueberry and currant fruits accented by notes of subdued pepper and hints of cinnamon. I defer to the eloquent and artfully drafted tasting notes from the winemaker below.

"The 2016 Luchtel Vineyard Syrah offers fragrant notes of mixed berry compote, violets, blueberry fritter, white pepper, and baking spices. On the palate, the tannins are soft and supple, while the flavors are showing sweet red currants, stewed black plums, beetroot, rhubarb, and a touch of cinnamon."

RM 90 points.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet 2000-2001

Del Dotto  Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000-2001

Following our Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Winery visit last week on our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 and our tasting the Cabernet Franc last evening, we opened Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 in magnum for a family gathering gala dinner. We tasted the 2000 vintage Napa Cab alongside a Château de Pez St Estephe Leognan Bordeaux of the same vintage. After we finished the 2000, we opened a 2001 for a mini-vertical comparison tasting of the label.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Tasted from magnum, tonight this wine was showing remarkably well, perhaps due to the large format bottle which tends to age better and more gracefully than a standard size bottle. While the fruits were a bit subdued, it showed a solid core framework of tasty oak. This predominant layer of oak was cited by Robert Parker in his review when he wrote: "Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits plenty of new oak and black currant characteristics as well as fine texture and an attractive mid-weight style ...."

Parker did not project this wine to last for eighteen years suggesting it be consumed 'over the next 5-7 years'.

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Our Cellartracker records show we hold a dozen vintages of this wine label.  Our last tasting of the 2001 was almost three years ago when I wrote:

"Tasted alongside the '99, this is drinking at the apex of its drinking window and demonstrates the longevity of Napa Valley Cabernets. While it will not likely improve any further with aging, it still has several years to go at this level.'

'Medium to full bodied , deep dark ruby color - black berry and sweet black cherry fruits accented by clove spice and a hint cassis and whisper of English toffee on the 'Rutherford Dust' moderate silky tannin finish."

RM 91 points.

We compared these Napa wines against a similar vintage Bordeaux.

Château de Pez St Estephe Bordeaux 2000

Son Ryan pulled from the cellar this 2000 vintage Left Bank Bordeaux to taste alongside the same vintage Napa Cab.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry, cherry and plum fruits with bright acidity and notes of leather and tea; more vibrant fruit although not nearly as structured or well balanced as the Napa Cabs above, coming across a bit flabby in comparison.

RM 87 points.

Overall, these wines were a perfect complement to grilled beef tenderloin dinner with haricot vert and scalloped potatoes. They also went with the artisan cheeses before dinner and the varied chocolate desserts, brownies and dark chocolate cake with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Additionally, Linda prepared grilled Sockeye Salmon. With the Salmon, I served a California Sauvignon Blanc 2016. 

Oak Farms Vineyards Central Valley Lodi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

The grapes are grown by Mohr Fry Ranches  in the Mokelumne River Sub AVA or the greater Lodi Appellation. The vines are from the same clone (clone 1) that had help put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the map. The property has 60 acres of estate vineyards with grape varietals grown on the property including: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese and Barbera.

Nice easy every day drinking in this high QPR (quality price ratio) Sauvignon Blanc.

This Sauvignon Blanc is light straw colored with light body, flavors of moderate citrus are accented by delicate tones of tropical fruits with hints of mango and passion fruit with pleasant easy drinking crisp acidity and a lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet Franc 1997

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Having just returned from our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 where we tasted Del Dotto Seven Rows Estate Napa Cabernet Franc 2015, we pulled this vintage Del Dotto Cab Franc from the cellar to compare and to reminisce about our spectacular trip. The Del Dotto Piazza Winery Delicacies wine and food pairing tasting was a highlight of our trip. It was there we tasted the current release. Looking over our purchase receipts and tasting notes, it must have been one of the favorites of the tasting as we ordered several bottles of this label as part of the numerous mixed cases we purchased.

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

This bottle was showing remarkably well at 21 years of age, better that some earlier ones opened, the difference likely due to bottle variation since they were all acquired as a case purchase upon release at the time.

Despite our last tasting notes being from two years ago, tonight's experience was consistent with that last tasting experience when I wrote, "Tonight's tasting was more consistent with notes from a few years ago, dark ruby color, medium to full body, spicy black berry and black currant fruits are still vibrant in this nineteen year old, accented by tones of earthy leather, cedar and tobacco with hints of anise on the smooth tannin finish."

RM 89 points.

Earlier tasting:

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Whitehall Lane Cellars Winery Visit and Tasting

Whitehall Lane Cellars Rutherford Winery Visit and Tasting

We hold Whitehall Lane Napa Valley wines dating back to the turn of the century - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Estate and Reserve. We've passed by the Estate and Winery on St Helena Highway in Rutherford dozens of times during our trips to Napa Valley so this trip we decided to visit there during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018.

We try to support the family owned and operated producers and Whitehall Lane has been such since Tom Leonardini acquired Whitehall Lane Winery in March of 1993 and has been a hands on active proprietor every since with his wife and their five children. Tom was joined by son Tom Leonardini II in 1994. Tom had the Estate vineyard replanted and bought four additional vineyards including the Leonardini Vineyard. Tom II is responsible for distribution and has been instrumental in increasing sales from 15,000 cases to almost 50,000 cases today. Sister, Katie Leonardini oversees direct sales and hospitality at the winery after college and a career in the financial services industry. They are joined by eldest sibling Kristin who opened the Napa Valley Winery Exchange, a premiere retail wine shop in San Francisco. She assists Katie in public relation and hospitality events at the winery.

Whitehall Lane wines have been recognized in Wine Spectator Magazine's year-end ranking of wines, having been honored an unprecedented three times in five years for producing wines rated among the top five in the world. The winery has also been voted Winery of the Year from the Quarterly Review of Wines and Wine and Spirits Magazine.

The estate and winery in Napa Valley's historic Rutherford appellation consists of approximately 140 acres in seven prime vineyards that include the Whitehall Lane Estate Vineyard, Millenium MM Vineyard and Bommarito Vineyard in the Rutherford Appellation, the Leonardini Vineyard and Fawn Park Vineyard in St. Helena, Oak Glen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District and Rassi Vineyard in Sonoma.

The flagship and main Estate Vineyard at adjacent to the winery is 25 acres of "Rutherford Dust" and is planted in Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Millenium MM Vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon fruit while the Bommarito Vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Leonardini Vineyard is 14 acres of gravely soil yielding powerful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit and elegant yet intense Merlot grapes that go into the "Leonardini Vineyard" vineyard-designated wine. The Fawn Park Vineyard is on a gentle slope of Eastern hillside and produces intense Cabernet Sauvignon. The 25-acre Oak Glen Vineyard produces flavorful Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

We wanted to focus on Estate and Vineyard Designated Select wines so we had a private estate tasting. This also allowed us to taste some of their limited release vineyard designated select wines as well as some of their flagship signature wines.

The Tasting Flight:

Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016
Private tasting, shown left:
Whitehall Lane Las Brisas Carneros Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Merlot 2014
Whitehall Lane Mancino Lanciatore Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Syrah 2014
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Petit Verdot 2014

Wineflight labels:


Scenes from Whitehall Lane Estate Winery and Vineyards, Rutherford

Whitehall Lane tasting room
Whitehall Lane Barrel Room

Friday, July 20, 2018

Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience

Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience

We've been fans of Del Dotto wines since their earliest days back in the early nineties. We started acquiring their wines starting with their inaugural release back in 1993. They gained notoriety when they were featured in the Wine Spectator feature, "Twelve Up and Comers to Watch". We met Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto and then winemaker Nils Venge during several of our Napa Valley wine producer events and winery and vineyard visits. From those meetings, we worked with Dave and Yolanda and Desiree in the earliest days in their web marketing launch.

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 for our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018.

Del Dotto has grown remarkably beyond their Rutherford Estate at the corner of St Helena Highway and Zinfandel Lane. Their expansion now encompasses seven other appellations. Today, Del Dotto's footprint consists of 437 acres with 121 acres planted of varietals including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and sangiovese.

Del Dotto are known for extraordinary sensational wine tasting experiences with their Wine Cave tasting as an example. So its no surprise their new Piazza winery culinary experience follows suit. Hence it was our first stop and appointment during this last week's Napa Valley Wine Experience, the Piazza Delicacies wine and food tasting.

The Delicacies food and wine pairing is at the heart of Piazza Del Dotto, embodying Dave Del Dotto’s philosophy that wine tasting should be a complete sensory experience. Delicacies by Del Dotto is a premium tasting of seven wines, 
accompanied by five small plates featuring the very best ingredients from Petrossian caviar and Hudson Valley foie gras, to Snake River Farms beef and vegetables sourced from our Estate garden. The final pairing course of the Delicacies tasting featured Del Dotto port wine with a dessert pairing.

The food at Piazza if crafted by executive chef Joshua Schwartz, formerly of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and Bouley. He has  been with Del Dotto for more than a decade and his inspired cuisine has become one of the focal points of the wide array of wine and food events and offerings of the Del Dotto enterprise. 

Every course of our wine and food experience was spectacular, as was the setting, and of course the wine pairings were exceptional!

Our course as shown right featured:

Spot Prawn Tartare with
Cinghiale Sonoma Coast Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Maine Lobster Roll on Toasted Brioche with 
Piazza Fort Ross Seaview Sonoma Vineyard Chardonnay 2016

 Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Mousse
with Cinghiale Sonoma Coast Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef Piccoburger
with House Cured Bacon with
Piazza American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Raspberry Truffle, Dulcey Semi-Freddo and Garden Berries Buffalo Garden Torte with
Piazza Fort Ross Seaview Sonoma Vineyard Sparkling Brut Rose' 2016

The atmosphere and setting is spectacular, dining out on the veranda looking over the gardens with the vineyards in the distance. 

The extended wines from our tasting flight:

We're VIP members of the Del Dotto Wine Club and holders of a substantial collection of Del Dotto wines. As such we were interested in tasting the latest release vintages of several labels from our collection. Our extended wine tasting flight is shown below:


 More to come ...