Sunday, August 7, 2022

St Jean Cabernet Franc 2014

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Franc St. Jean Estate Vineyard 2014 

I opened this bottle to go with Smoked BBQ Beef Brisket and it was a perfect pairing, amplifying the enjoyment of both the food and the wine. With the brisket we also had chopped wedge salad and baked potato. 

I selected this producer following the Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon and Belle Terre Late Harvest Riesling that I took to our wine dinner the other night.

Founded in 1973 in the Sonoma Valley, Chateau St. Jean is the quintessential Sonoma winery. Chateau St. Jean produces an extensive portfolio of Sonoma County wines as well as vineyard designated wines, limited production Reserve wines, as well as the flagship Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Margo Van Staaveren has been Winemaker for more than 30 years, managing the vineyards as well as the winemaking, applying her expertise to continue the Chateau St. Jean tradition of showcasing the best of each vineyard site to produce exceptional wines. 

Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Valley St. Jean Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014

We discovered, tasted and acquired this wine during at estate visit to the Chateau St Jean estate in Sonoma during our Pour Boys Sonoma County Wine Experience in 2017.  

This is sourced from St Jean Sonoma Valley estate vineyards and was aged for 21 months in American Oak. 

Tonight's tasting was consistent with my tasting notes from that visit to the Chateau when I wrote, "I like this wine: This was a bonus pour beyond scope of our planned Reserve tasting at the Chateau and it was a real treat. Dark inky purplish garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated forward black raspberry and black currant fruits accented by sweet floral tones, spicy acidity and an undercurrent of mocha and hint of clove spice. Loved it! Limited release, available only at the winery."

My rating tonight is the same as that initial tasting experience, 92 points.



Saturday, August 6, 2022

Pour Boys Wine Dinner

Pour Boys Wine Dinner

With my Linda out of town for the weekend, Dr Dan invited me over for Friday night dinner. I pulled from the cellar a vintage Bordeaux Blend for the occasion. 

Dan prepared delicious pork loins with seasoned with hot pepper peach bourbon sauce, roasted potatoes and a medley of grilled vegetables.

Prior to dinner, Dan and Linda served a broad assortment of artisan cheeses, shrimp, olives, charcuterie, nuts and chocolates. 

Pour Boys visiting Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma
I selected a producer that the Pour Boys visited, including Dan and Linda, on our most recent Sonoma County Wine Experience, the last of numerous visits to the estate and Chateau over the years - Chateau St Jean in Sonoma Valley. 

In addition to the legendary flagship label Cinq Cépages - which means five flavors or varieties, I also brought another Chateau St Jean label, Belle Terre, their Late Harvest Riesling dessert wine. 

Chateau St Jean is one of the premier producers in Sonoma County and their winery chateau estate is a showcase highlight of the Sonoma Valley - certainly the most elegant and fashionable tasting experience setting that we've experienced there. We enjoyed visiting there numerous times over the years for a comprehensive tasting experience that offers some of their Reserve and Library selections not available in the as our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience in 2009.

Our private tastings at the 1920's chateau with views of the Grand Lawn and Estate Vineyards and in the Reserve Room have been the highlights of our trips to the region.

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cépages 1997

We've enjoyed the Cinq Cépages label since its release in the late eighties. Chateau St. Jean "Cinq Cépages" was one of the first classic Bordeaux Blend labels from the region and has always represented good value, high QPR relative, to the top Bordeaux labels. 

This was one of the last releases before the 1996 release was annointed Wine Spectator #1 wine in the annual Top 100 list in 1999.  Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from Wine Spectator Magazine. At that time the release price was $28, a remarkable value at the time. From then on, the label exploited its #1 legacy and notoriety and boosted the price point, but it still represents reasonable comparable value at near $100.    

We have a vertical of this up to the recent vintages - this was the oldest release in our cellar so we pulled as part of cellar management, but also to compare to two other 1997 vintage Napa Cabs we opened last weekend.

This release was awarded 96 points by Wine Spectator, 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 90 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

The fill level, foil, label and most importantly, the cork were all in prime condition.  At twenty five years this was at the apex, in its prime drinking window, showing no signs of diminution from aging whatsoever. This exceeded my loftiest expectations and showed even better than the two 1997's we opened last weekend. This was definitely the WOTN - Wine of The Night.

The 1997 Cinq Cepages is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit-Verdot, aged in 50% new and 50% one-year old French barrels. Robert Parker writes, "this is California's answer to a big, rich St-Emilion".

Stephen Tanzer writes: "At once sweet and structured. Finishes with big, dusty tannins and very good length. The most promising vintage to date for this bottling. (ST)"

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, smooth polished, complex but balanced and nicely integrated black berry plum, currant and black cherry fruits with notes of mocha, toffee, spice, cedar, aise and herbs with a smooth finish. 

RM 94 points.

Linda served strawberry shortcakes with fresh fruits and I opened the Late Harvest dessert wine. 

Chateau St. Jean Alexander Valley Belle Terre Vineyard Special Select Late Harvest Riesling 2006  

Château St. Jean has been producing several white wine labels from the Belle Terre Vineyard since the 1975 Chardonnay Belle Terre and 1976 dessert Riesling. The Belle Terre Vineyard is owned by the Dick Family, which over the past three decades, has built a reputation as one of the premier grape-growing families in the region

The vineyard is in the Alexander Valley AVA (American Viticultural) Area just north of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. The Russian River flows through the valley. The region was named for Cyrus Alexander, a 19th century landowner and grape grower. The AVA includes 15,000 vineyard acres, much of it rich, alluvial soil layered on a bed of gravel, similar to many vineyards in Bordeaux. 

Today Alexander Valley is home to some of California’s most admired wineries, including Simi, Stonestreet, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, and of course Chateau St Jean based in Sonoma. 

This Special Select Late Harvest Riesling is produced only in top rated vintages from botrytis-affected fruit that is carefully hand-selected from the Belle Terre Vineyard.

Upon release, this wine is straw colored, and with its high residual sweetness, can be a long lived wine, capable of aging for decades. As it ages, it becomes darker, turning from straw colored to golden, taking on more brown hues resembling weak tea, then stronger darker tea, and eventually dark blackish cola or coffee colored. At fifteen years, this was already blackish colored, like cola, akin more to one that is several decades old. 

Normally this would be predominant ripe ripe apricot, peach and lemon fruits with sweet notes of fruits and honey. This release the sweet fruits were more subdued interlaced with notes of tea, expresso and bitter dark chocolate with bright acidity on the lingering finish. 

RM 89 points.


Over the course of the evening, Dan opened a selection of red wines from his cellar. 

  • Long Shadows Saggi Red Blend - Sanviovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
  • Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
  • Il Valentiano Brunello Di Montalcino Reserva 2015 
  • Entrepreneur Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Long Shadows Saggi Columbia Valley Red Blend - Sanviovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

We're members of the Long Shadows wine club and hence get regular Vault Key Club release allocation shipments of their top labels of which we share our case lot with Dr Dan. We've written in these pages about the Vintners Collection wherein Long Shadows collaborates with world class winemakers to craft varietal compositions from Washington State fruit

This label is inspired by the great wines of Tuscany and father-son winemaking team Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, winemaker Gilles Nicault crafts Saggi in the style of its original winemakers.

The 2018 Saggi is a Columbia Valley Blend: 58% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Syrah. The Sangiovese is sourced from two distinct Washington State Sangiovese vineyards, both planted in 1998. Both sites with have terrior of well-draining soils, important to managing Sangiovese’s vine vigor and controlling berry size. Candy Mountain Vineyard Sangiovese is a warm vineyard that delivers grapes with ripe, black currant aromas and flavors. Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese, grown in the Yakima Valley, is a cooler site that brings brightness and balanced acidity to the blend. 

The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, included to add a silky texture to the wine. The Syrah adds a darker hue and another layer of complexity.
Winemakers' tasting notes: "Easily one of our favorite Saggi bottlings to date, this wine showcases the quality of our vineyard sites and the warmth of the growing season. A brilliant garnet-red, the 2018 Saggi is elaborately fragrant, brimming with red cherries, ripe strawberries and notes of nutmeg. Vibrant and
well-integrated with balanced natural acidity, this is a textured wine with great richness and flavors that linger across a generous finish. Drinking beautifully now, the wine’s concentration and structure also make it an excellent candidate for the cellar."

This is becoming a go-to wine for us for Sangiovese complemented Italian cuisine, but bigger and bolder than your typical Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino. Son Alec, who also shares in our club allocation cites this as one of his favorite wines.

Tonight, this stood out from the others with its big bold style, bright garnet-red colored, full bodied, nicely balanced and well integrated vibrant forward fruits of raspberry, red cherries and ripe strawberries with fragrant floral and notes of nutmeg and clove spices. 

RM 93 points. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Flora Springs "Trilogy" Napa Red

Flora Springs "Trilogy" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2009

I wrote extensively about Flora Springs and the Trilogy Napa Valley Red Blend label (2008) and chronicled their branding history in these pages two years ago.

I wrote at that time, 'This is a Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend that has been around for decades. Its one of the go-to wines in our cellar, one that we collect from vintage to vintage, as it represents a style we like, is reliable, produced in sufficient quantity to be generally available and provides reasonable QPR - quality price ratio, despite the fact the price has crept up precipitously over the years.'

As with that post, again tonight, for midweek dinner at home with grilled steaks, whipped potatoes and haricot verts, I pulled from the cellar this Bordeaux Blend from Napa Valley

We have collected and served Trilogy from Floral Springs for decades and still hold nearly a dozen vintages dating back to 1990 in our cellar.

As mentioned in earlier blog postings: Trilogy is Flora Springs’ flagship wine, dating back to 1984 when they decided to make the finest wine possible sourced from the highest quality wine lots from their estate vineyards in Napa Valley. Back then it was one of Napa Valley’s first proprietary red blends. 

It has long provided sophisticated drinking at good value. Indeed, the name Trilogy refers to the three primary Bordeaux varietal grapes in the blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc although they also grow and sometimes include in the blend the other Bordeaux varietals, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The label adorns three grape leaves on the label.

This Bordeaux-style wine is sourced from the Floral Springs Komes-Garvey estate vineyards that sit just west of St Helena Highway down Zinfandel Lane, in the northwestern corner of the Rutherford Appellation. 

The Komes and Garvey’s have always been farmers first, and over the years the family has acquired 500 acres throughout Napa Valley, 300 of which are planted to vineyard. With estate properties stretching from the cool, rolling hills of Carneros to the famed sub-appellations of Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, Flora Springs produces varietal wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and the other red Bordeaux varietals.

Each year the family selects a small percentage of the yield for their own wines, selling the remaining fruit to neighboring Napa Valley wineries. This selection puts the focus on quality, not quantity, resulting in hand-crafted wines that meet the family’s exacting standards.

We've collected this wine since those early days and still hold bottles dating back to our kids' birthyears in 1990-91. Perhaps whimsically, I latched on to this as a regular favorite partly due to the namesake that wife Linda is a descendant of the Flora family, founders of her hometown Flora, in Indiana, no relation of course to the California Napa Flora (first name) Kombs. but fun and a tribute none-the-less.

To this day, Trilogy is a mainstay go to label in our cellar offering quality sophisticated drinking at reasonable value relative to the premium Napa and Bordeaux Blends. Hence, to fullfil the urge for a Bordeaux with our steak on this evening, we opened this fifteen year old Trilogy.

Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley Red Bordeaux Blend 2009

Perfect complement to grilled steak.  Wine Enthusiast gave this release 92 points.

Winemaker’s Notes: "The 2009 Trilogy possesses all the attributes that make Trilogy so great—ripe berries, allspice, white chocolate, espresso and black currant. Three varietals merge together to form a beautiful balanced lush wine that makes you just want to have one more sip.'

"The Merlot brings out the red fruits, while the Cabernet and Malbec are responsible for the black fruits. We are proud to say that after 33 years of winemaking and 25 years of crafting Trilogy, Flora Springs is still breaking new ground. We credit the consistent organic and sustainable farming practices of our vineyard team as well as the focus and direction of our winemaker, Paul Steinauer." 

As indicated by the three grape leaves on the label, this 2009 Trilogy is a red Bordeaux Blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 5% Malbec. It was aged for 21 months in 100% new French Oak. 

We've enjoyed Trilogy since the 80's and still hold vintages dating back to 1990 and 1991 in our cellar. This one is as forward and flavorful as any I remember however perhaps not as complex as some vintages.

At thirteen years, this is drinking very nicely now, probably at the apex of its drinking profile, and not likely to improve any further with aging. 

With dark inky color, this exhibited medium-full bodied, nicely complex but nicely balanced and well integrated bright vibrant forward blackberry and black currant fruits with notes of cassis, cedar, mocha and hints of sweet oak with  smooth soft tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Boy's Night Out Cellar Tours Wine Tasting

Boy's Night Out Cellar Tours Wine Tasting 

Son Ryan and neighbor Dave M hosted a wine tasting opening their two cellars and a flight of spectacular wines accompanied by artisan cheeses, smoked salmon, charcuterie and assorted eats.

Evening hosts, Ryan M and Dave M

Dave is the principle of Elements, the banquet meeting facility, wine and food service associated with Hotel Indigo in Naperville (IL). We recently hosted our global team summit there for a week, where we met,  and learned he was my son's neighbor and a fellow oenophile and serious wine collector.

Ryan anchored the tasting flight with a couple of ten year old labels and suggested I bring some vintage in five or ten year increments in light of my cellar collection spawning several decades. I pulled from my cellar two twenty-five year old labels from the 1997 vintage to round out the tasting.

What great fun and how special to share a father-son shared interest experience such as this.

Ryan started with three classic Napa Valley labels from his cellar, accompanied by a selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie. 

  • Dominus Napa Valley Proprietary Red 2012
  • Vineyard 29 Napa Valley Aida Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
  • LaJota Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Franc 2018

From my cellar we opened two vintage Napa Cabernets.

  • Lokoya Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
  • Plumpjack Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

My tasting notes of these labels appear in a separate blogpost here

We moved around the corner to Dave's house with his magnificent cellar from which he offered our choice of wines to open.  His home is full of wine themed artwork and artifacts besides the incredible rec room, wine room and cellar. The formal dining room features this spectacular wine art from famous wine paintings artist Eric Christensen. This rare Giclée oil print by America's Watercolor Master is a hyper-realistic oil featuring the Napa Valley producer Duckhorn and their Discussion bottle with many imaginative and intriguing reflections. 

Once down in the cellar - we focused on selecting the continuation of the evening's wine flight. Dave has set the tone having opened the legendary producer Scarecrow and their Napa Valley Red M Etain. 

Ryan pulling down an OWC
(original wood case) from Dave's
cellar collection

We pulled from Dave's extensive cellar collection and tasted a spectacular flight of extraordinary Napa Valley Cabernets.

  • Scarecrow M Etain Napa Valley Red 2017
  • Continuum Napa Valley Red 2014
  • Realm 'The Tempest' Napa Valley Red 2014
  • Hall Vineyards Kathryn Hall 2015  

And from Argentina, Nicolás Catena Zapata, Adrianna Vineyard in the Gualtallary District, Tupungato Alto Region, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina this Malbec,

  • Adrianna Vineyards River Stones Malbec 2015

To end the evening, late into the early morning, we retired to Dave's outdoor patio for closing out the remaining wines, some aperitifs and cigars. 

What a spectacular evening, looking forward to our next Caroline Crew wine event.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Boys Night Out Cellar Tour and Tasting

 Boys Night Out Cellar Tour and Tasting - Lokoya and Plumpjack Napa Cabs

We gathered at son Ryan's and his neighbor Dave's for a gala cellar tour and tasting. I took from our cellar these two aged twenty-five year old vintage classic Napa Cabernets.

Lokoya Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 

This is from winemaker producer Chris Carpenter who besides

"Given the high elevation of the sites, the vineyards demand constant attention. The deep understanding of the vineyard trajectory in each vintage comes from Winemaker Christopher Carpenter’s years of expertise. Intervention is kept to a minimum both in the vineyard and in the cellar, leaving the fruit to express itself as naturally and eloquently as possible."

This is sourced from the W.S. Keyes estate Vineyard at the northeastern side of Napa Valley’s Vaca Range, Howell Mountain Appellation. The estate W.S. Keyes Vineyard was planted in 1888, and has been the exclusive source for the Lokoya Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon since its first vintage in 1995. The vineyard sits at 1,825 feet, high above the fog line, where temperatures are cool but moderate, and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular thrives with extra time to ripen. The vineyard is subjected to a steady breeze and sunlight, surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pine. The lean, quick-draining soils force the vines to struggle, yielding small grapes that possess deep, concentrated flavor with a signature minerality and earthy undertone.

Lokoya Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

At twenty-five years, from a ideal vintage with expected longevity, this was probably at its apex, nearing the end of it prime drinking window, and not likely to improve any further with aging. The fill level, foil, label, and most importantly, the cork, were all in ideal condition. 
Winemaker notes: "Wines from Napa Valley’s mountainous slopes need time to develop and show their full potential. Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon’s profound tannin structure and concentration of flavor provide the optimal profile for aging. These are wines meant to lay down and mature for 30 years or more." 
So, here we are, exhibiting patience and opening this at twenty-five years.

“Our goal is for Lokoya to be something that people in the wine world will recognize forever.”

– Winemaker Christopher Carpenter

This label release was awarded 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points by Wine Spectator and Vinous. Robert Parker notes, "Several 100 point scores from Robert Parker have launched this wine to Cult Status."

Dark inky purple-colored, full bodied, dense rich but balanced and nicely integrated dark berry and black plum fruits, a layer of smoke and leather settling in perhaps due to age at 25 years, with earth, spice, hints of cassis with smooth polished tannins on the long finish.  

RM 93 points.

Plumpjack "Estate" Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon

I also brought this Napa Oakville Estate Cabernet. 

We still hold half a dozen vintages from this era, many Reserve labels, and selected this one based on my tasting notes from historic tastings, and to allow for a mini-horizontal tasting of this vintage in its twenty-fifth year.

This is from the estate attributed to Gavin Newsom, current Governor of California, but its widely known that the history of the estate and label is from the investments and holdings of Gordon Getty, philanthropist and descendant of the legendary J.P. Getty oil tycoon and industrialist. 

Getty and Newson first teamed up to open a simple wine store in 1992 in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. They called it PlumpJack Wines, inspired by one of Shakespeare’s memorable characters, Sir John “PlumpJack” Falstaff, a down-to-earth, fun-loving, irreverent character, rivaled only by his fierce loyalty to Prince Hal (Henry V), with whom he shared many goblets of wine at the local tavern.  

Building on this branding, they acquired a century-old 42-acre vineyard in the Napa Valley, dating back to 1881, one of the oldest operating wineries in the Napa Valley, known originally as Mount Eden Winery, from part of the Fagiani Ranch.  

Proprietors James and Anne McWilliams hired winemaker Nils Venge to restore the vineyard and produce wines under the name of Villa Mt. Eden Winery. In 1986 they sold the brand to Stimson Lane Wine & Spirits, of the U.S. Tobacco Co.  The deal allowed Stimson Lane access to the vineyards but the wine was made offsite.  In 1994 Stimson Lane gave up the lease on the Oakville estate vineyard property and moved the Villa Mt. Eden brand to its current home at Conn Creek Winery.

From there, in 1995, PlumpJack Estate Winery was born when taken over by Newsom and Getty. We've visited the estate on Oakville Cross Road, down from Groth and across from Silver Oak, and acquired those earliest vintages of this label during our numerous Napa Valley wine excursions during the nineties and in the following years. During the nineties it was one of our favorite wineries to visit and was one of our favorite labels - before the political partisanship overtook the persona of the brand. 

Plumpjack "Estate" Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon  1997

This label release was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and 90 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, balanced black berry and black currant fruits with notes of smoke, black tea, tobacco and cedar setting in, perhaps from age, finishing with spice, oak and hints of anise with moderate lingering tannins. 

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard RRV Sonoma Chardonnay

 Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard RRV Chardonnay 2013

Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma Chardonnay 2013

Nickel & Nickel is one of the brands of legendary Napa Valley producer Far Niente. They produce over two dozen single varietal, single vineyard designated wines, sourced from ten different Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley appellations. 

They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays but also produce Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot varietal labels as well. 

We hold a dozen different labels from this producer going back more than two decades, all Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

Linda prepared a roasted pork loin in a delicious savory sauce that was a perfect complement to this wine. I've often written in these pages about how the perfect pairing of food and wine is a force multiplier, amplifying the enjoyment of both. This was certainly the case as indicated by a higher rating for this label than my two earlier tastings. 

We toured the Russian River Valley during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience 2017 year before last. We stayed on the coast in Bodega Bay and traveled the back roads between there and Santa Rosa to witness and experience the climate and topology that comprises the notable terrior of the area.

This is from the Green Valley AVA in Russian River Valley where, the grapes benefit from a cooling coastal influence that helps them ripen slowly and develop complexity.

From the Green Valley AVA site: "Green Valley is one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County. It lies in the southwestern part of the Russian River Valley, bounded by the towns of Sebastopol, Forestville and Occidental. It is very tightly delineated, both geographically and climatically, and is the most consistent and distinctive of any North Coast appellation in terms of soil, climate and flavor. The fog is Green Valley’s trademark."

The 2013 vintage was a fantastic growing season in the Russian River, with dry, moderate temperatures and cool foggy mornings

From the winery: "The 2013 Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Chardonnay is consistent from year to year. Passion fruit and floral aromas offer a mere hint of what’s on the palate: flavors of Muscat and Meyer lemon enhanced by flint and stone. A pleasant oiliness adds suppleness to the mouthfeel, but the vibrant acidity cleanses the palate and adds a succulent quality that makes one eager for another sip."

This was golden butter colored, full bodied, very forward, almost obtuse with its firmness and intense buttery and oaky tones and structure that almost overpowers the fruits - passion fruit, melon, floral, lemon, flint and stone.

Linda liked this a lot, classic (over-the-top) full bodied, rich dense California Chardonnay style, and while I found it a bit much in an earlier tasting with delicate sole meuniere, tonight this was delicious and an ideal pairing with the pork chops in a savory brown sauce. 

RM 91 points.


Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma Chardonnay 


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Groth Napa Oakville Cabernet and Grilled Beefsteak

Groth Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon and Grilled Beefsteak

Sunday night dinner on the deck, Linda grilled one of the special extra thick cut T-Bone beefsteaks from our team dinner last weekend. Served with whipped potatoes and wedge salad, our steak dinner was a perfect setting and pairing for this aged Napa Cabernet from our cellar. 

We hold more than a decade of vintages of this label dating back to the 1990 vintage, birthyear of son Alec. Linda and I first visited the Groth Estate and Winery back in the mid nineties.  

Dennis and Judy Groth grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, eventually to be known as Silicon Valley. Dennis began his career as an accountant earning his  CPA in 1968. In 1978, he became CFO of Atari, the electronic games company, moving up to President in 1984. Atari was eventually sold to Time Warner.

In 1981, Dennis and Judy purchased a 121-acre vineyard parcel in Oakville, Napa Valley, and in 1982, added a second 44 acre vineyard just south of Yountville. 

The Groth Oakville Estate sits on the valley floor in the heart of the Napa Valley in the Oakville AVA, home to the finest Cabernet Sauvignons. The property is adjacent to Opus, Silver Oak and Plumpjack vineyards. The Groth estate 121-acre vineyard was originally planted between 1972 and 1974 by Justin Meyer, who went on to achieve great acclaim with Silver Oak.

The Groths moved with their family to Oakville in 1985 taking up residence on the estate. 

Today, Groth Oakville Estate is run by their daughter Suzanne Groth. Growing up in Napa Valley, living amongst vineyards with an estate winery, she decided early on a career in Wine.

After four years with the Henry Wine Group, a California wine distributor, selling fine wine to restaurants and retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area, she returned to the family business in 1998, working in sales, public relations and marketing before ascending to President and CEO in 2017. 

She says, “It was only after selling other people’s wine that I was able to appreciate how very special Groth Vineyards was.” 

It didn’t take the Groth family long to realize just how special their Oakville Estate was when they gained early recognition when Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate gave their Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon the distinction of being the first 100-point Napa Valley wine.

Since then, Groth wines have been ranked on Wine Spectator’s prestigious Top 100 Wines list eight times in the winery’s history, most recently in 2019, when the 2016 Reserve Cabernet was No. 4.

Groth Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Michael Weiss, winemaker for Groth said: "The 2006 vintage in Napa Valley has, with age, turned into one of the best so far this century." 

This was a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Merlot, aged in French Oak barrels for 20 months, 50% new French Oak. It was awarded 93 points by Wine & Spirits and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast.

At sixteen years this may be at its apex, but certainly has another decade to go at this level. I extended the Cellartracker drinking window from 2018 to 2026.

The fill level, label, foil and cork were in perfect condition.

Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, complex, concentrated, structured yet perfectly balanced, smooth polished black berry fruits are highlighted by notes of cassis, graphite, dark chocolate, black tea and hints of anise with soft velvety tannins on a long lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese

Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese at Angeli's Italian

Midweek Wednesday night dinner, we dined at Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria. I took BYOB from our cellar this aged Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese for the occasion. 

Linda ordered Angeli's Special pizza for take home leftovers while I ordered the Angeli's House Special Lasagna.

Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Sangiovese 2013

Sesta di Sopra is an estate of 108 acres located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, south of Montalcino, a hill town and comune in the province of Siena, Tuscany, central Italy, west of Pienza, close to the Crete Senesi in Val d'Orcia, (42 kilometres from Siena, 110 kilometres from Florence and 150 kilometres from Pisa).

The estate was purchased in 1980 by Ettore Spina with his wife, Enrica. Ettore Spina worked in Turin at the San Paolo bank and purchased the estate as a place away from the city for his family. He selected this estate in Montalcino, partly because he was friends with the father of Paola Gloder (of Poggio Antico fame). At the time of the purchase there were about 100 acres of woodland and grain crops, the house, and only one hectare of vines.

Originally their vacation property in Montalcino, they planted vines in the early 1990s, focusing solely on Sangiovese Grosso vines to keep things simple as they expected to eventually sell off the grapes.

Today they have 6.9 acres of vines, 2.5 acres Brunello, 3 acres Rosso, and 1.5 ha IGT Rosso from which they produce Rosso di Montalcino DOC and this Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 

Ettore Spina serves as owner/winemaker and is assisted by their children, Stefano and Cristina, agronomist Federico Becarelli, oenologist Lorenzo Scotto and Paolo Vaggagini. Krenar Resuli (Albanian) as manager.

There is a small but functional cellar, with 30 hectolitre Slavonian oak casks, French oak barriques and steel barrels. Sesta di Sopra produce a mere 4,000 bottles.

This premium flagship label vintage release Sangiovese ran a serial numerical lineup, awarded 95 points by Wine Enthusiast and Vinous, 94 points by James Suckling, 93 points by Wine Spectator, 92 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points by Decanter. 

Bright Ruby red colored, medium bodied, plum, black cherry, leather, tobacco and tar and exotic spice flavors with tightly wound fine-grained tannins and bright acidity on the finish.

RM 92 points.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Brown Ranch Carneros Chardonnay 2019

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Brown Ranch Carneros Chardonnay 2019 

This is one of our favorite chardonnays in our cellar right now, produced by Kirk Venge, son of Napa historic and legendary winemaker, Nils Venge. We met Kirk during a visit to Venge Vineyards back in 2005. He has since taken over the family business and developed his own portfolio and brands sourced from several properties across Napa and Sonoma Counties. 

I wrote in more detail about Kirk in a post "Visit to Venge Vineyards and Nils Venge" back in 2021.

I also wrote about how the Venge (as well as Viader) label (s) has become a fun signature label for the family, commemorating daughter-in-law Vivianna, and fun with the V (Viader) labels, in earlier posts.

This single vineyard designated label is from the 30 acre Brown Ranch (formerly associated with Saintsbury Winery and formerly a cattle grazing ranch taking its name from the former owner, Nadine Brown). The vineyard is bordered by two well known storied vineyards, HdV’s Hyde Vineyard and Beaulieu’s Vineyard No.9 on Old Sonoma Road. 

Sitting down in the Los Carneros region at the bottom of Napa Valley where it converges with the bottom of Sonoma Valley, near the confluence of San Pablo Bay. The cool and often foggy climate effects of the Bay allows for a slow growing season and optimal ripening. This climate aids in the balancing of acidity and lifting tropical aromas in the fruit and the resulting finished wine.

The property was purchased in 2012 by the Renterias when many of the twenty nine acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines were afflicted with a fungi disease, Eutypa (otherwise known as the Dead-arm Dieback) causing trunks or arms of the vines to essentially rot and die. Rather than pulling all of these vines out, their vineyard management team decided to keep the rootstock, cut off the trunk just above the soil and allow a bud from the varietal to grow, training it into a new trunk and then trellising it when it became of size. The Brown Ranch’s hillside alluvial soils, with Dijon Clone 76 set atop pre-existing rootstock, make a Chardonnay that is worthy of producing under the Venge name.

Notably, we've been long time fans of a Australian McLaren Vale Valley Shiraz from leading producer d'Arenberg called "Dead Arm", produced from fruit from vines that were similarly afflicted decades ago. The resulting vines with but one arm, (lacking their dead arm), produce rich and concentrated fruit for big bold rich wines. We've collected the Dead Arm label Shiraz dating back to the mid-nineties and still hold nearly a decade of vintages.

Similarly, this Brown's Ranch chardonnay produced from uniquely afflicted vines is rich, full, round and forward yet stylish and balanced.

Winemakers notes: "A light, pale straw presence in the glass with a bouquet of fresh orange citrus, toasted pine nuts, mild allspice, rocky flints, and toasted oak. Crisp, savory pineapple, sweet delicious apple, savory stone fruit, and ripe pear lead into mouthwatering deliciousness."
The Dijon Clones are modern strains of Chardonnay carefully isolated from grapevine nursery blocks in France. These strains are selected for their incredible ability to produce the best of what the varietal has to offer and therefore have become quite popular with cool climate growers today.  The vines were carefully hand harvested and delivered cool to the winery.

The wine is produced according to a Burgundian practice of winemaking wherein the grapes are traditionally whole cluster pressed and allowed to cold settle prior to filling once used French Oak barrels. Venge says their 'light handed usage of new French Oak, keeping it to an average of 45% of their Chardonnay, with gentle stirring of the lees in the early stages of ageing, further develops refined richness and length of body, while keeping the wine clean and fresh'. The wine is aged for 15 months. 65% native malolactic fermentation to build complexity and body, without compromising the structural integrity of the wine.

Bottled unfiltered, 395 cases were produced.

Golden straw colored, medium full bodied, rich, round flavorful apple and pear fruits with layers of notes of caramel crème brûlée, mineral and citrus with spicy oak on the finish. 

RM 92 points.


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Family dinner features broad diverse wine flight

Family dinner features broad diverse wine flight - Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Pirouette, Domaine Pegau and Hill Estate 

I wrote in the previous post about sister Jan and Bro-n-law Bill visiting from California with daughters Jenna and Krysta and her new grand-baby to meet the cousins, the family gathered at our house for a family reunion dinner. Linda prepared beef tenderloin and ribs with asparagus, whipped potatoes and mac-n-cheese, salads and desserts.

We opened a broad diverse wine flight to accompany the dinner courses and selections. 

For the beef tenderloin, we opened a series of reds including this family oriented and run Napa Cabernet from Del Dotto Vineyards, followed by Robert Craig, two of the largest selections in our cellar collection spanning three decades. 

We also opened a Long Shadows Pirouette Red Blend, from their Vintner's Collection, another producer label of which we own a broad collection spanning many vintages going back more than a decade.

For the ribs' accompaniment, son Ryan brought a CDP and son Alec brought a Napa Syrah to round out the flight.

A separate post covered the white wine offering I opened - Long Shadows Poet's Leap Riesling. 

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Connoisseurs Series Juppilles Oak 2000

Del Dotto is one of the largest holdings in our cellar dating back to the inaugural vintage release back in 1993. Our association with Del Dotto dates back to several of our Napa Wine Experiences and wine producer and winemaker dinners back to the mid-nineties.

My blogpost features our last visit there during our Napa Valley Del Dotto Estate Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting in 2017.

Tonight, I opened a large format magnum bottle of Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2000 vintage, an Estate and a bottle from their Connoisseur's Series.

Del Dotto produce this unique series featuring a wine aged in different oak barrels with different types of oak sourced from around the world. The premise is that different varieties of oak have specific characteristics that will act upon the wine differently resulting in subtle flavor variations.

The Del Dotto Connoisseur's Series features as many as nine different oaks in which they age the same wine. Oaks barrels are produced with wood sourced from numerous forests around the world including America and France - French Allier, Bertranges, Colbert, this one from Juppilles, Marsannay and Troncas oaks, and American Missouri and Minnesota oaks. As with the whole collection, the resulting differences are subtle and may not be discernible except to the most discriminating oenophile, but they provide a unique and interesting tasting experience. 

Del Dotto Connoisseur Series Cabernet
Sauvignon served at an earlier wine tasting

Still holding its own at two decades plus two years, this is certainly reached its prime and will not improve further with aging but was not showing any diminution from age, perhaps due to large format bottle, which tends to age better. 

Dark garnet purple colored, medium to full bodied, modest structure, black berry fruits, notes of cassis, black tea, leather and hints of creosote on a moderate finish. 

RM 88 points.


Robert Craig Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

We're long time fans of Robert and Marilyn and the Craig team and their 'artwork'. Our friendship with Robert and our 'Affinity' for his wines dates back at our first visit to Robert Craig during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 1996, and then again at our Robert Craig featured producer wine dinners during our Napa Wine Experience 1998, and again in 1999.

We visited Robert Craig's estate high atop Howell Mountain with Jan and Bill back in 2008 (shown right) and we visited Robert Craig during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Appellation Trail together in 2011.  
As I have written in these pages in the past, we've 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 Robert Craig collection of these labels is one of the largest holdings in our cellar collection.
Our records show we still hold over four cases of this label over fifteen vintages dating back to the inaugural vintage in 1993.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with our last one when we opened this label release in August 2018 when I wrote: "I like this wine: 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 Points


We also opened another Long Shadows Vintners Collection label, Pirouette, a red blend crafted by legendary producer/winemakers Phillip Melka and Agustin Huneeus, Sr.

Long Shadows Pirouette Red Wine 2004 

This is the Bordeaux varietal red blend from the Long Shadows Vintners's Collection that features world class winemakers and Washington State Columbia Valley fruit.

Two legendary winemakers, Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus, Sr. teamed to combine the heritage of old world winemaking with the advancements of new world technology, using small lots from Washington State’s finest vineyards to craft this exotic red blend.

Agustin Huneeus entered the wine business in Chile in 1960 to lead Concha y Toro, a company he grew to become Chile’s largest winery. In 1971, he moved to New York, then later to California, continuing in the wine industry before becoming a partner and president of Franciscan Estates in 1985.

In addition to building Franciscan, he also built well-known California wineries Estancia and Mount Veeder and Veramonte Winery in Chile. In 1999, he left Franciscan to establish Huneeus Vintners, a portfolio that includes Napa Valley’s Quintessa where he worked with talented winemaker Phillip Melka. 

Philippe Melka attended the University of Bordeaux earning a master's degree in agronomy and enology, before working at some of the most famous wineries in the world: Château Cheval Blanc, Pétrus and Château Haut-Brion, among others. There he developed a passion for and expertise in cabernet-based blends. 

In 1994, Philippe settled in Napa Valley where he developed his reputation making wines for such celebrated wineries as Hundred Acre, Quintessa, Bryant Family, Seavey, Dana Estates and Vineyard 29 before joining the dream project partnering with Agustin Hunneus from Quintessa and Allen Shoup at Long Shadows. 

The Pirouette Vintners' Collection label collaboration was launched with the inaugural 2003 vintage. This, the second release in 2004 was a unique red blend consisting of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 11% Syrah. 

Seeking to create a wine with complexity and layers, the winemakers chose a diverse selection of Columbia Valley vineyard sites, each contributing unique characteristics to the blend. Grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills vineyards (32%) contributed depth; Wahluke Slope (24%) provided richness, concentration and dark fruit; Columbia Valley (25%) added ripe fruit character; the Yakima Valley (5%) gave the wine its balance and acidity; and Petit Verdot from Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain (14%) further enhanced balance and complexity.

The Winemakers' Tasting Notes for this label release: "A full spectrum of bright aromas and flavors gives the 2004 Pirouette wonderful complexity and style. Cabernet Sauvignon makes for a rich, structured wine; Syrah and Merlot add vibrant, dark fruit and a hint of licorice and spice; Petit Verdot contributes to its balance and liveliness. Lush and concentrated, the flavors continue through a lingering finish."

The wine was aged 21months in 100% all French oak (75% new) barrels.

This release was awarded 93 points by Wine Advocate.

The expressive nose offers up pain grille, scorched earth, blueberry, and blackberry liqueur. This is followed by a thick wine with silky tannins, superb depth and richness, and layers of flavor.

This was consistent with earlier tasting, CT records show we last opened this label and tasted it over the holidays in December 2018 when I wrote: "I like this wine: While it is a blend of Bordeaux varietals Cabernet, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, it also contains a percentage of Syrah. It seems the Syrah almost predominated with a residual sweetness un-befitting the blend. The blend is 49% Cabernet, 37% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 11% Syrah. It is showing no signs of diminution from aging at fourteen (now eighteen) years and seems to still be at the apex of its drinking window.'

"The cork came apart on opening so the server had to decant this and strain it to remove the crumbled cork and residual sediment. Bright ruby colored, medium-full bodied, vibrant, rich concentrated forward black and blue fruits with highlights of black cherry, notes of cassis, spice and hints of cedar and creosote giving way to sweet almost obtuse bing cherry notes on the tangy lingering finish." 

RM 90 points.


For pairing with the baby back ribs, we opened two bottles brought by Ryan and Alec respectively.

Domaine du Pegau "Cuvée Reservée" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003

We drove past the Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate and vineyards during our tour of the area during our Rhone Valley Wine Experience in 2019. Our visit to the estate of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe was the other highlight of our visit to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and then to a visit to Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

We lasted tasted this label when Ryan brought this from his cellar to a family celebration dinner on my birthday back in 2015 when I wrote: "This was tight and a bit closed with the fruits subdued and overtaken by a layer of black tea, tobacco leaf, with hints of creosote over the black berry fruits. This needs bold zesty bar-be-que to offset the tight firm black fruits and non-fruit layer." Tonight's tasting experience was consistent with then. At that time I gave this 87 points. I'd add at least another point perhaps reflecting the complementary pairing with the food.

This blockbuster vintage release got 99 points from Jeb Dunnuck. 98 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 97 points from Wine Spectator. 

Robert Parker wrote about this release in Wine Advocate back in 2010: "The 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reservee stands out as one of the all-time great wines made by Laurence Feraud and her father, Paul." Later in 2014 he wrote, "Starting with the 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Reservée, this wine showed spectacularly on release, closed down for a few years, and has now emerged, at close to full maturity, and is straight-up fabulous."

Parker's tasting notes at that time referred to 'currants, garrigue, pepper and beef blood'.

Wine Spectator in 2006 cited this "Highly Recommended, #5 in Top 100 Wines of 2006" and described it with notes of "bramble, licorice, tar and pain d'épices flavors before a flitter of game and garrigue on the finish."

Its a tough comparison, this old world style compared to the modern era style and more robust, vibrant and expressive fruits from Bordeaux varietals. A wonderful tasting when compared with the BBQ ribs in any event.

Hill Family Estate Napa Valley Clarke Vineyard Syrah 2018

Alec brought this hearty Syrah to pair with the ribs. We've written often in these pages about his discovering this producer and their portfolio during his and Vivianna's Napa Valley honeymoon that was disrupted by the raging fires. They acquired this label as part of their wine club allocation shipment.

Winemaker's notes about this wine: "The Clarke Vineyard in American Canyon has a cool breezy climate that brings out the depth and finesse of the Syrah grape. Clone 877 is used for body and raspberry chocolate fruit, and a little Clone 383 for extra color and smoky complexity. A small amount of Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah to add its exotic appeal. We brought the grapes in on October 23 at 27 Brix. We gave the tank 3 days of cold soak before adding FX10 yeast, then pressed it on November 4. The 2018 Clarke Syrah offers intriguing aromas of dark plum, black cherry, iris flower and wafts of mezcal. The wine glides across the tongue with flavors of raspberry and melted milk chocolate."

Dark purple colored, full bodied, notes of blackberry and black raspberry fruits accented by dark mocha chocolate hints of smoke and black tea. 

RM 91 points.