Sunday, March 19, 2023

Clark Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Clark-Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 1997 

Sunday night dinner, Linda prepared her delectable beef bourgogne so I pulled from the cellar this aged Napa Cabernet for pairing. This is from boutique Napa Valley producer Clark-Claudon.

We hold two decades of vintages of this label going back to their inaugural release in 1994.

Clark-Claudon are estate bottled Cabernets, sourced from their 18 acres of vineyards on the northeast side of Howell Mountain. The total estate covers 115 acres, sited between 800 and 1200 feet elevation, between Ink Grade & Howell Mountain roads.

We met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark (middle couple on left) when we hosted them for a wine producer dinner at then trendy Pinot Blanc in St Helena during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999. I recall friend and wine-buddy Paul McDonald (left) from LA had some association with the restaurant ownership back in the day. (Yes, that's my bride, Linda on the right, circa 1999).

Clark-Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 1997

I selected a 1997 vintage release which is one of the few bottles remaining from a case we acquired back during that trip. The much heralded '97 Napa Cabernets were highly rated and projected to be long lived. Twenty-five years later, we in the late chapters of tasting wines from that vintage release.

As I wrote in a previous tasting of the release back in 2014, "In earlier tastings of this vintage of Clark Claudon, I wondered if it was like Dominus (86) and some Bordeaux (89-90 Pichon Lalande) that I later learned I drank too early when they finally 'awoke' to reveal their true character and fruits years later?'

Back in 2014, "Unlike previous tastings when the Clark Claudon was somewhat closed and a bit flabby with muted fruit upon opening, tonight it seemed to be showing its age, opening to ripe raisiny black cherry and black berry fruit, with subtle tone of cigar box and leather with nicely integrated and balanced silky smooth tannins. After an hour or so the fruit closed down and it became subdued leaving a slight astringency and tones of tobacco and leather.'

Our lasted tasting of this label back in 2020, we encountered issues with the cork, when I wrote, "Due to the wax seal on the top of the bottle, I couldn't easily use my ahso two pronged cork puller, which I would normally use for an aged bottle. Despite using the 'rabbit ear' cork screw with the extra long screw, the cork pretty much disintegrated in a crumble and had to be dug out in crumbly pieces from the bottle, which was then strained and decanted."

That review at that time, :Dark ruby colored, medium bodied, bright lively, nicely balanced structured black berry fruits with notes of black cherry, hints of graphite, leather and earthy tobacco with modest smooth tannins on the finish. - RM 89 points."

Tonight, at twenty-five years, the fill level, wax seal, label, and most importantly, the cork were all in ideal condition, for their age (shown left). The cork was tight but starting to soften only so slightly. There was a significant amount of sediment for the final fifth of the bottle, definitely warranting decanting or filtering.

This was a bit funky on opening starting to show diminution from age, but that burned off after an hour and this opened up to reveal it true character and profile. This certainly will not improve from further aging, its time to consume the remaining bottles for over the next year or so. 
This was a perfect accompaniment to tonight's dinner entree, amplifying the enjoyment of both the food and the wine, as well as the artisan hand crafted toffee and chocolate after diiner treat. 

After tonight's tasting, I shaved a few years off the Cellartracker drinking window from 2018 to 2015 and I reduced my rating from 89 to 88. 

Dark ruby colored, medium bodied, bright lively acidity, balanced, structured black berry fruits with notes of black cherry, notes of graphite, leather and earthy tobacco with firm tongue puckering tannins on the finish.

RM 88 points.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Den Hoed Marie's View Walula Slope Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Den Hoed Marie's View Walula Slope Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Friday night, son Alec prepared grilled Waygu beefsteaks with mashed potatoes and mushrooms to watch together the Big Ten basketball tournament quarterfinals with our beloved alma mater Indiana. 

Besides the remainder of a Robert Craig Affinity that I brought left-over from earlier in the week, I also brought from our cellar this special limited release label from a lot that I acquired at auction, since this wine has a rather disparate lengthy family connection. 

We met the sister of the producer Den Hoed brothers, vintner farmers in Yakima Valley Washington, at the wedding of our niece, Alec's cousin, who married their nephew. Den Hoeds grow grapes for several producers and also produce some some limited release select labels of premium wines. 

We first tasted Den Hoed wines at chic upscale Canlis Restaurant in Lake Union, suburban Seattle, during our Seattle Culinary Wine Weekend.

Den Hoed Andreas Wallula Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

As I wrote at the time. this is named for the patriarch founder, Andreas Den Hoed who married Marie Den Hoed in 1956 and they planted their first vineyard on their property that year. After two years in the Army Andreas returned to the farm. 

In the early years, they paid the bills growing mint. He continued to plant more vineyards as resources allowed, expanding acreage almost every year. In 1988, their two sons Bill and Andy joined the business as partners in a new project, with acreage planted to vineyards. 

The father and sons team continued to expand in the Yakima Valley for the next 5-6 years. After several years of searching, in 1997, they purchased a 550 acre parcel of land bordering the Columbia River in the Wallula Gap. Since then the vineyard has earned a reputation as one of the finest in the region. It is sited in a picturesque growing location nestled high above the mighty Columbia River south of of the town of Kennewick. The wines produced from this vineyard have proven to stand the test of time and can stand up and hold their own against the best wines of the new world. 

Andreas is a limited production estate wine which celebrates their family history and showcases the Wallula Vineyard. It is a robust Cabernet Sauvignon crafted by Gilles Nicault of the notable Long Shadows Vintners Collection of wines that we collect as prime members of their club. We also discovered Long Shadows during that Seattle, Woodinville Wine Weekend. 

Canlis Lake Union night view
That was our first tasting experience of Den Hoed wines, and being priced below the median on the extensive Canlis winelist, we were dubious yet had high expectations. The Andreas met our most lofty hopes and expectations and was a highlight of our extraordinary meal.

So, how fitting it was that that Canlis dinner was a mini family affair as wife Linda and son Ryan joined me at this legendary family restaurant. Moreover, a subplot to the story, our niece Anna Long, married into the Van Hoed family, farmers, wine growers, viticulturists and winemakers from the famed Walula Vineyards in the central Washington wine region.

Tonight we opened another Den Hoed label, Marie's View from a vineyard so named on the Walula Slope in the Horse Heaven Hills Washington State Appellation. This was from the same vintage as that first Den Hoed wine encounter, 2012.

The 2012 Washington red wines vintage follows challenging vintages in 2010 and 2011. Some producers considered 2012 the best in state history - a notable great vintage that stands tall amongst the best in the past 20 years. While 2002 and 2005 may have produced wines a bit richer than 2012 made great wines across the regions, from cooler climate Yakima Valley to the stony Walla Walla Valley. 

Wines made in 2012 might have slightly more acidity,but they are generally balanced red wines that show a good core of fruits, while perhaps not as hedonistic as the big red wines made in 2013, 2014 or 2016. 

At eleven years, these wines are probably at their apex, not likely to improve with further aging, but certain to age gracefully for perhaps another decade.   

Den Hoed Wine Estates is a collaborative effort between the Den Hoed brothers, Bill and Andy, and former Stimson Lane and Chateau St Michelle CEO and Washington wine pioneer, Alan Shoup, to produce great red wines from their jointly owned Wallula Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills. 

We discovered Long Shadows Cellars during that trip and since joining their club, we've acquired a vertical collection of a half dozen vintages of their premier labels of renowned producers crafting world class wines from Washington State fruit.

Notably, I learned and wrote just the week before last that Alan Shoup sadly passed just recently.

The winemaker is the local well known Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars. 

Previous vintages of Marie’s View were blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese with the proportions varying from year to year. This is the first vintage of this wine to be labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon as opposed to a red wine.

Den Hoed Marie’s View Wallula Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2012 

This was a perfect complement, pairing with the grilled beefsteaks and mushrooms. 

This vineyard is named for Marie Van Hoed, wife of founder Andreas, mother of the current generation producers. 

This was awarded 93 points by Owen Bargreen, and 89 points by Wine Enthusiast. Earlier releases consistently earned 92 and 93 points.

This is the first vintage of this wine to be labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon as opposed to a red wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

Den Hoed wines are packaged in an extra heavy bottles with the most incredible deepest punts (that indentation in the bottle around which sediment collects).  

Densely colored inky garnet purple, medium full bodied, concentrated, firmly structured, full round black berry, black currant and plum fruits with notes of creosote, cassis, cedar and hints of pepper with a vibrant acid backbone and firm tannins on a lasting finish. 

RM 92 points.



Thursday, March 9, 2023

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Bianco Costa Toscana

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Bianco Costa Toscana 2019

Son Alec came over to watch the Big Ten basketball tournament and Linda grilled some cod fish filets. I opened this Tuscan blend of traditional white grape varietals for casual dinner wine pairing. 

This is from the Tenuta di Ghizzano (Ghizzano Estate), one of the oldest farms in the area, a small hilltop village, situated at about 200m above sea level in an area referred to as Terre Di Pisa (Pisa  Lands) not far from the Tuscan coast, 40 km from Livorno and 40 km to south of Pisa.

The Venerosi Pesciolini Family settled in the village of Ghizzano towards the end of the 14th century, Their ancestral origins there date back to the Carolingian period with the first documented news of Venerosi from 803. 

The ancient estate country house is a residential villa and also serves as the headquarters of the company. The Garden of the Villa is a typical Italian Garden in the style of classic late Renaissance inspiration.

The Tenuta di Ghizzano estate encompasses about 860 acres of which about 50 are dedicated to vineyards with the remaining 20 to olive groves, 375 acres to farming land yielding mainly wheat and cereals, and about 400 acres left to woodland and poplar groves.  The vineyard is located in Il Mulino at about 180m above sea level. The grapes are picked exclusively by hand and only the most ripe grapes are carefully selected for the blend. 

The terroir consists of gentle landscape and mild climate with sea breezes that moderate extreme temperatures or risk of springtime frosts. The soil is varied and complex, common landscape of the Terre of Pisa, formed by marine sediments of the 'Astiana' geological age, represented by calcareous clay sands, where it is easy find shells fossils.

This Il Ghizzano Bianco label is a white blend made from estate grown traditional Tuscan white grapes: 30% Trebbiano, 50% Vermentino and 20% Malvasia Bianca

The Vermentino grapes are vinified by traditional pressing and fermenting the juice at a low temperature for 1 month with the natural yeasts. The Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca grapes remain in the pressing machine for several hours (7-12 hours) after cooling and then go into a stainless steel tank for fermentation for 3-4 months. When fermentation of each different variety has come to an end, the wine is combined into the final blend. 

Winemaker notes: This Il Ghizzano Bianco is very accessible, soft, fruity (citrus aromas), minerally and has a fine acidity. In the nose we mainly smell acacia, pineapple, pear, yellow peach and white pepper. The wine has nice complex layers and with some time in the glass, attractive aromas and flavors of apple, peach and dried pear are released. Full of phenolic tension and lots of flavors from the long aging on its own yeasts with a delicious long lasting intense aftertaste."

The 2021 edition of the il Golosario guide by Paolo Massobrio and Marco Gatti announced the inclusion of "Il Ghizzano Bianco" Costa Toscana 2019 among the "Top Hundred 2020" selections of the 100 best wines in Italy. 

At about $20, this represents reasonable QPR value - Quality Price Ratio.

Straw colored, medium light bodied, rich vibrant peach and yellow apple fruits with what one pundit refers to as 'iron and leesy, bread dough aromas and flavors', with lingering bright acidity on the finish.

RM 88 points.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Linda prepared a grilled beefsteak dinner that called for a hearty red wine so I pulled from the cellar Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. She finished up the Syrah from earlier in the week while I opened this bottle to enjoy with my grilled steak.

As I've written often in these pages, Robert Craig is one of our favorite Napa Valley producers and represents one of our largest holdings in our cellar. We've held many wine dinners with Robert and Lynn Craig and attended many events at the estate and winery. 

We visited Robert Craig's site high atop Howell Mountain several times with sister Jan and bro-in-law Bill, and Bill and Beth C. One of our memorable trips featured a picnic lunch at the site overlooking the  valley below shown below. It was during that trip that Bill discovered and subsequently sourced Howell Mountain Cabernet, Affinity and Robert Craig Zinfandel which they served at daughter Krista's wedding.

With Robert Craig at the estate high atop Howell Mtn
back in 2008.

We hold as many as two decades of Robert Craig vintages dating back to the inaugural vintage release in 1993. This label, Affinity, represents the Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon based blend of Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals sourced from the various Napa Valley appellations.

Robert Craig flight of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

Robert Craig offers at least five different Cabernet labels from what he used to refer to as 'three mountains and a valley', referring to his appellation designated premium labels from Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn and Spring Mountain. I recall on more than one occasion hearing Robert speak fondly of this label and the QPR - quality price ratio, and how he proudly held the price point of this wine to provide excellent value and be a draw to the Robert Craig brand. The appellation designated labels sold for twenty to thirty percent more. I wrote later about the discontinuation of the Mt Veeder label after two decades of being one of the flagship labels, and was Robert's favorite.

In late years, as Robert and co-owner wife Lynn retired and stepped down from running the daily business, the new owners raised the price point of this label from the high forty dollar range to upper sixty dollars, splitting the difference in the entry level price and the price point of the higher premium price appellation designated labels.

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

I remember that we were in Bloomington, Indiana visiting son Alec at Indiana U, and we dined at Nick's bar, where we used to frequent when we were in college. I was astounded to see them serving this label, especially since as collectors of this producer and members of their club, it wasn't yet generally released. It turned out that a former employee of Craig Wines worked at Nick's in Bloomington and arranged earliest access to latest releases and acquired this wine for their wine selection. 

That was the first time we tasted this label, and we ended up acquiring a collection from the local Big Red liquors where it was already on the store shelves. 

We tasted a posted notes on this wine in 2011 and then again in 2019.

So, it was fun and only fitting perhaps, that I took this wine over to Alec's to drink with grilled Wagu beefsteaks we picked up at Mariano's, for dinner and to watch Indiana play in the quarter-final game of the Big Ten basketball tournament. Alec had also recently tasted this label brought by a friend to their home just the week before so he was eager to share a photo of tonights' selection with that friend. 

Tonight, this was consistent with my earlier tastings when I wrote of this wine back in 2011, "Dark inky color, medium-full bodied, concentrated full round black berry, black cherry, and ripe plum fruits with accents of spice and cedar on smooth moderate tannin lingering finish."

RM 92 points. 

Fellow Cellartracker,  sums up this wine well in his tasting note, "At 10 years of age, this is drinking very nicely right now! Blackberry, wild berry, and black cherry fruit up front. Notes of espresso, dark chocolate, licorice, with subtle spice and minerals on the mid-palate. Still has some firm, supple tannins with a nice long finish. The extra age has really done this wine justice."

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Ex Post Facto Santa Barbara County Syrah 2018

Ex Post Facto Santa Barbara County Syrah 2018

Found and picked this up at local wine shop to try as we've ventured into Santa Barbara County Syrah's since our visit to the region and discovery of some favorable wines last spring. We enjoyed this with artisan cheeses and charcuterie.

This label is from the broad portfolio of Jackson Family Wines that now encompasses more than four dozen brands of California varietal wines. 

This is produced by notable winemaker Greg Brewer, who was recognized as Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year for 2020. Greg Brewer, is also co-owner of Brewer-Clifton winery, an estate with 139 acres of Santa Barbara regions vineyards planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Viognier.

At a 25 shelf price (relative to $45 published and offered prices at other sites), this promised significant QPR - Quality Price Ratio, and certainly delivered. 

Winemaker Notes - Syrah from a cold climate fascinates as it maintains lifted and perfumed aromatics that subsequently usher in tremendous fruit intensity. Fermentation is carried out as whole clusters to further elevate those high tones of blue flowers and white peppers and to corset the fruit by resultant savory tannins. Those tannins provide a tea-like architecture which offers tremendous length and a savory herb character to harmonize with virtually any dish. Coldest climate, sixty days on the skins and stems, most exhausted cooperage, peppercorn, black cherry, raspberry, firm, dry, persistent.

This label release was awarded 94 points by Matt Kettmann of Wine Enthusiast, 93 by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and by Wilford Wong of 

Made by Greg Brewer, the 2018 Syrah from Ex Post Facto was whole-cluster fermented 45-60 days on the skins, followed by 18 months aged in very old barrels. 

Deep ruby-purple color, medium to full-bodied, concentrated, intense blackberry and black plum fruits with notes of cassis, graphite, cracked pepper, crushed rocks and touches of cedar and milk chocolate with fine grained long finish. 

RM 92 points.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Ramey Sonoma County Syrah

Ramey Sonoma Coast Syrah with Sunday Night Pizza
Sunday night, pizza night ... I picked up this recent vintage Sonoma Coast Syrah 2017 for the occasion. 
This is from David Ramey, best known for his work with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, so I was intrigued to find this Syrah from such a notable winemaker/producer and an area becoming known for Syrah. 
David Ramey spent his early career creating benchmark wines for such wineries as Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd leading up to he and his wife Carla founding Ramey Wine Cellars in 1996. They have been producing critically acclaimed, award-winning wines ever since, committed to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as their primary varietals, and, I now see, Syrah.

This Sonoma Coast Syrah is grown on the cooler, western slopes of Sonoma Mountain, sourced from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard that was planted to Ramey’s specifications to take advantage of the cool Pacific winds blowing through the famed Petaluma Gap. This is combined with grapes from the Cole Creek Vineyard in the warmer Russian River Valley. The 2017 vintage is comprised of 50% Cole Creek Vineyard and 50% Rodgers Creek Vineyard, combining terroir of Cole Creek's very gravelly Felta clay loam and Rodgers Creek's volcanic Kidd series gravelly loam.

We toured the area during our Sonoma County Wine Experience back in 2017 and have since collected some other big Syrahs from the area, also known for full hearty cool climate Chardonnays.

Interesting that Ramey captures the style and elegance of Northern Rhone Syrahs, all the while showing the bright ripeness that comes from California - he's crafted a wine that taste like top-flight Hermitage or Cornas from a top-flight vintage, at a fraction of the price.

Like wines produced in the Cote-Rotie, Ramey co-ferments this Syrah with 5% Viognier. The addition of this aromatic white grape adds a floral perfume to the wine, increasing the already seductive powers of the wine! A third of the wine is aged in new oak, with the remainder only used oak, adding a touch of spice and vanilla to the oak tones. 

Ramey Sonoma Coast Syrah 2017

This is an incredibly aromatic Syrah with aromas of wild flowers and herbs, couple with cracked black pepper and blackberries. These characteristics carry over into the flavors, showing the savory side of Syrah, with lots of dark, ripe, black fruit. 

This is a blend of 89% Syrah  co-fermented with 11% Viognier, then aged sur lies for 19 months in 70% new French barrels from François Frères and Demptos.

Winemaker Notes: "The 2017 Syrah Sonoma Coast has a medium purple/ruby hue as well as classic Syrah gaminess and pepperiness. With lots of blackberry fruit, some ground herb, bacon fat, and olive notes as well as medium to full-bodied richness on the palate, it's already drinking nicely and has a supple, approachable style."

This release was awarded 95 points by Virginia Boone of Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points by Wine Advocate, 92 Points  by Wine Spectator and Jeb Dunnuck.

This is the big bold forward concentrated style that we love in a Syrah - ideal for bbq, smoked meats or tangy pizza, such as tonight. 

Medium purple/garnet colored, medium to full-bodied, tightly structured, concentrated full and round blackberry, black currant and blueberry fruits complemented with notes of pepper, bacon fat, black olive and garrigue with floral notes turning to fine grained tannins on a full lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Del Dotto Cave Blend at Angeli's Italian

Del Dotto Cave Blend and Dalila at Angeli's Italian

With D-in-law out of state for a special sister's bachelorette event, son Alec was bach'ing at home so we met for dinner at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, joined by son Sean, Michelle and g-daughter Lavender. 

I took BYOB from our cellar this Del Dotto Cave Blend to accompany my side dish of Angeli's meatballs, and Angeli's Special Salad. 

Tonight's special dish was Sea Bass with asparagus, tomatoes, basil garlic and prosciutto, with mashed potatoes. 

To accompany the seafood entree dish, we ordered from the winelist the Dalila, a perennial favorite high QPR selection. 

Del Dotto Cave Blend Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This Bordeaux Blend from Napa Valley producer Del Dotto is one of our standard selections for such dinners. Readers of these pages know we have been collecting Del Dotto dating back to their inaugural vintage release in 1993 and still hold decades of vintage release of more than a dozen labels - one of the largest producer holdings in our cellar collection.

We tasted and acquired this vintage release during our Del Dotto Winery Caves Tour during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2017.

This Del Dotto Caves Blend label is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot.

At seven years of age, this has improved with some aging and is more integrated and balanced than in its youth and appears to be approaching the apex of its drinking window and profile. Tonight's tasting was the best showing of this wine to date, halfway through a case that we acquired upon release seeming to be more elegant and polished than when younger.

Dark purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright vibrant, nicely integrated and balanced black berry and black raspberry fruits with tangy notes of clove spice and hints of bitter dark chocolate turning to cloying tannins on an lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Winemakers' notes for this release: "Dark garnet color with a bright bouquet of sweet blueberries, wet rock and fresh cut violets & flowers. Earthy flavors with hints of clove and all spice. This wine has a long, balanced finish with a kiss of oak."


Previous tasting notes:

6/2021 - I like this wine: 92 Points 

Even better than earlier tastings, more vibrant and expressive than I remember. Dark purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright vibrant, nicely integrated and balanced black berry and black raspberry fruits with tangy notes of clove spice with a layer of sweet oak and mocha chocolate turning to cloying tannins on an lingering finish.

7/24/2020 - I like this wine: 91 Points 

At five years of age, this has improved with some aging and is more integrated and balanced than in its youth. Dark purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright vibrant, nicely integrated and balanced black berry and black raspberry fruits with tangy notes of clove spice and hints of bitter dark chocolate turning to cloying tannins on an lingering finish.

With the Sea Bass we ordered this Dalila white blend. 

Stemmari Dalila Sicilia Viognier Grillo DOC Blend 2020

This wine finds its way to the Angeli's winelist as a result of owner Tony Angeli having visited the
Feudo Arancio Stemmari winery estate during his visit to the region a couple years ago.

This wine is from the historic Stemmari winery located in the town of Acate in the Ragusa province of Sicily located in south eastern Sicily. The winery has 1,700 acres in two estates along the south coast of Sicily, one in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Agrigento province and the other in Acate in the province of Ragusa.
The vast Stemmari brand has a broad portfolio of wines include single varietals like nero d’avola, chardonnay, pinot grigio, moscato, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and even a sparkling grillo. They offer a few blends including this Dalila wine.
This unique blend is comprised of the Sicilian varietal Grillo and the international Viognier, native to the French Rhone River valley. The local indigenous wine grape "grillo" – which means "cricket" in Italian. This Sicilian white wine is composed of 80 percent Grillo and 20 percent Viognier.  
The interesting branding of music as a metaphor for the harmonizing of the two elegant varietals in the Dalila blend with musical notes on the label and on the bottle foil.

Tonight they were serving the 2020 vintage release label. This is the forth vintage they've served this wine. This continues to be a sensational and a very pleasant surprise discovery. Its available at a price point that provides great QPR - Quality Price Ratio.  We enjoyed this discovery such that we went out and special ordered some from a local merchant to have in our cellar for enjoyable casual sipping.
This release was awarded 90 points by Wine Enthusiast. 

Consistent with earlier releases and tastings. Golden straw colored, medium-full bodied, nicely balanced acidity and smooth mouthfeel with intense, bright vibrant, nicely integrated floral and tropical fruits with notes of pear and hints of peach, mango and citrus with hints of vanilla, floral and stone fruits with bight acidity on a character and profile of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Chateau St Jean Estate Cabernet Franc 2014

Chateau St Jean Estate Cabernet Franc 2014

Midweek casual sipping with a plate of cheeses and honey'd bread we pulled this bold expressive red for enjoyment. 

We tasted and acquired this wine at the Chateau St Jean hospitality center at the beautiful estate and grounds in Sonoma Valley during our Sonoma Chateau St Jean Reserve Private Tasting
Wine Experience

This was a highlight of our Pour Boys 2017 Sonoma Napa Wine Experience. We started on the Sonoma Coast and worked east along the Russian River Valley ending up in Sonoma Valley at one of its crown jewel estates, Chateau St Jean.

We've visited the estate and done tastings there numerous times over the years. Sonoma Harvest '09 - Chateau St Jean and again Sonoma Valley Wine Experience 2009 - Chateau St Jean.

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 sourced from their estate in Sonoma Valley and other estate vineyards up in Alexander Valley, including several vineyard designated wines, and limited production Reserve wines. 

We hold more than a dozen vintages of their flagship Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon - a Bordeaux Blend as well as numerous other labels from this producer.

Chateau St. Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from Wine Spectator Magazine for its 1996 Cinq Cépages, a Bordeaux style blend of “five varieties”,  the crowning achievement cementing their longstanding recognition as a leader in vineyard designated wines. 

Margo Van Staaveren has been Winemaker for more than 30 years and uses her vineyard and winemaking expertise with Chateau St. Jean to continue the tradition of highlighting the best of each vineyard site to produce exceptional wines.

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

As mentioned above, 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 was a bonus pour beyond scope of the planned Reserve tasting at the Chateau and it was a real treat. 

This is a single varietal expression of one of the Bordeaux varietals where Cabernet Franc is typically added to the blend to introduce structure, color, aromatics and sprites of spice to the flavor, and polished tannins. As a standalone bottling its a bright bold expressive wine for enjoyable tasting such as tonight.  

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

The 2014 growing season in Sonoma County was long with mild temperatures resulting in very high quality fruit coming into the winery.  

At nine years this is hitting its stride and probably at the apex of its tasting window and profile, not likely to improve further with aging, but certainly with another a decade of enjoyment ahead. Regretably, this was our last bottle. 

As shown, the label, foil and cork were pristine. The cork was perfect with the bottom stained dark blackish garnet from the rich concentrated wine.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with my tasting notes from that visit to the Chateau when I wrote, "I like this wine: 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.



8/10/2022 - I like this wine: 92 Points

Consistent with my earlier tasting and notes on this label.

7/30/2017 - I like this wine: 92 Points

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.


Saturday, February 25, 2023

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night - 2023

 OTBN - Open That Bottle Night - 2023

The last Saturday in February brings the annual OTBN wine event – Open That Bottle Night – the 24th such event since its creation in 2000 by Dorothy Gaither and John Brecher wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal.

And, for the twelfth straight year, since 2011, members of our Pour Boys (TM) wine group assembled to share and compare special bottles of wine, that have been held in our cellars, waiting for the special occasion to open, so as to eventually succumb to the inevitable, its time, open that bottle (to)night!

As is becoming our custom, we’re starting to follow the seasons, and congregate in the south during the winter, and the north during the other seasons. As such, we gathered again at Bill and Beth C’s in Charleston, SC for this years' gala.

This year’s event was hosted by Bill and Beth C at their home on Seabrook Island, SC. The Saturday night OTBN dinner was held at the Seabrook Island Clubhouse Ashley Room private dining room. 


Several members were not able to attend due to family and other commitments but we'll look forward to having them participate in our other scheduled events this spring, summer and fall, back in Chicago-land.

This year, while we defy any theme other than the spirit of OTBN, we narrowed some of our selections to a couple of vintages, since we all have rather deep and broad cellar collections that offer at times perhaps an overwhelming range of choices.

To that end we brought a couple mini horizontals - multiple labels from the same vintage - a selection of 1995 Napa Cabernets and one of 2015 vintage premium Chardonnays - Mayacamas Napa Valley Mt Veeder and Sea Smoke Santa Barbara County Santa Rita Hills.

The Chardonnays from two of our favorite producers were an ideal comparison tasting of two diverse contrasting styles, and perfect accompaniment to the Seabrook Club Sea Scallops and the Salmon entree selections. 

We tasted the Mayacamas wine at the estate winery with Bill and Beth during our Mayacamas Mt Veeder Napa Valley Winery Visit during our Spring 2011 Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience. Both Bill and Dan are collectors as members of the Sea Smoke wine club and source this iconic premium label.

The Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon Horizontal flight from 1995. 

This year, a few new designations or declarations emerged, perhaps for the future. From our selection of a dozen and a half bottles of wine, to be enjoyed over the course of the weekend, not just limited to the Saturday evening gala, we discovered, or decreed some new notables or mentions from our wine flight.

The Highest Achievement or Achiever award, or recognition went to Freemark Abbey Bosche’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1995. This wine stood our from the other two similarly situated labels – same grape varietal, same vintage, similar or neighboring proximity appellations.

The also rans were Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford appellation Cabernet Sauvignon, and Plumpjack Reserve Oakville Cabernet.

The Del Dotto probably was most predicable, meeting or pretty much living up to expectations, consistent with my earlier recollections. Folks thought it had a mustiness to it that I attributed to Del Dotto's preponderance of oak. 

We visited the estate together during out Del Dotto Rutherford Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2017.

Reading my earlier tasting notes on this label, indeed I cited the preponderance of oak in the tasting profile when I wrote in 2011, "Only starting to show a hint of age but still life left in this sixteen year old - dark garnet color, medium-full bodied, oak predominates the taste accented by spicy black cherry, berry, plum and cedar with hint of leather, cigar box and vanilla with well-integrated tannins on a long complex finish." RM 91 points. 

Like tonight, this was consistent with my previous tasting fifteen months earlier in 2010. "Starting to show a hint of age but lots of life left in this fifteen year old - oak predominates the taste accented by spicy black cherry, berry, plum and hint of vanilla , with smooth polished well-integrated tannins on a long complex finish."

The Plumpjack, being the Reserve single vineyard designated bottling from McWilliams Mt Eden vineyard, probably underachieved, especially when considering the lofty expectations set by the producer at the winery when they pressed to supplement or top up our holdings for a mere $700+ per bottle.

We tasted and acquired this wine during our first visit to the Plumpjack estate back in 1999 when we actually hosted winemaker May Pisor for a winemaker dinner with our wine group at Meadowood Country Club in Napa (right).

The Freemark Abbey Bosche' was full, round, complex, yet polished and elegant, showing no signs of diminution whatsoever after 28 years, and was even better the next evening!  It showed very similar profile and characteristics as the TOR, below. This is not surprising perhaps since the Bosche' vineyard is adjacent to the Beckstoffer ToKalon vineyard

Once again, perhaps this should not have been a surprise. Tonight's tasting notes are remarkably consistent with my previous tasting of this label nine years earlier when I wrote: "At a horizontal tasting of Napa Cabernets, this label proved to be one of, if not the tasting highlight (s) of the evening. My own Cellartracker notes and rating from 9/2/2013, about eleven months ago accurately apply to tonight's tasting - I wrote: "An eye-opening standout of th(at)e evening featuring a horizontal tasting of five 95 vintage Napa Cabs, this was medium to full bodied with bright vibrant forward ripe plum and black raspberry fruits accented by tones of currant, clove, hints of vanilla and sweet oak with smooth polished silky tannins on the finish. Lots of life left in this eighteen year old."

These were great comparisons and accompaniments to the Seabrook Club filets of beef entrees. 

While interesting, and somewhat complex, the Plumpjack was what I will politely call, delicate, subdued in its nuances, certainly a style and profile very different from the boisterous blustery bold fruit bombs we so often favor and enjoy – more akin the style of some of our other highly regarded selections, below.

Perhaps the most highly acclaimed or rated bottle of the evening (WOTN- Wine of the Night) was the Bacchus label by Joseph Phelps, brought by Dan from his wine club vertical collection of this label. Our visit, private tour and Joseph Phelps Napa Spring Valley Winery Tasting was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience together in 2017.

Next in line might be the TOR To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon predominant Cuvee' Bordeaux varietal blend. This is produced by vintner and proprietors Tor and Susan Kenwood, part of a portfolio of a dozen labels of single vineyard designated wines sourced from some of the premier vineyards across Napa Valley and crafted by Winemaker Jeff Ames. 

This label is sourced from six blocks of 83 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and two blocks of Cabernet Franc from the world renowned To Kalon vineyard. To Kalon owned by Andy Beckstoffer provides under grower/producer contracts, fruit for some of the most storied labels in Napa Valley such as Opus One. It is sited across Highway 29, St Helena Highway, from that property, adjacent and behind Robert Mondavi Winery, up against the Mayacamas foothills. It is also source for the Poetic Justice label below.

Here is where the surprise of the evening, or weekend emerges. 'Hooray for Bosche,’ the single vineyard designated label from long-time favored and widely held and collected producer Freemark Abbley. Wine buddy Bill holds an extensive collection of this producer, followed by me, with labels dating back three decades. These pages are filled with comparison tastings of these labels over the years between Bill and me. 

We also made a discovery of a new label (to us), Poetic Justice from the Bounty Hunter, from a collection from the producer that Bill acquired as part of a winning bid at a fund raising charity auction. Lucky us, as this was an exciting new label/producer discovery, perhaps a new category for us for future wine tastings. 

This was released negociant style by Bounty Hunter, notable long time Napa Valley reseller of super premium boutique and bespoke wines. This label release was a collaborative project with legendary winemaker Philip Melka crafted from fruit sourced from the To Kalon vineyard. We've acquired several super labels from him over the years and have attended a couple premier tastings currated by him.

Bill's Cellartracker notes for this tasting that captured this perfectly. "Wow! What a pleasant surprise. This was full of red fruit, raspberry and cherry. Full bodied with well integrated tannins. This was delicious on a pop and pour basis. 73% Cabernet Franc and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the flavor was there and plenty of body. Missing a little complexity and depth but really delicious." WCC 92 points.

Lyle brought from his cellar the Dissident from Mark Ryan. We tasted this and the Poetic Justice in a run up to the dinner. This exceeded expectations, providing a very nice complex but balanced approachable wine for casual sipping in the afternoon with cheeses and fruits.

Mark Ryan wines are the artwork of Mark Ryan McNeilly, a self taught winemaker who learned the craft working with well known producers, acquiring Bordeaux varietal grapes from renowned vineyards in the Columbia Valley Red Mountain appellation. He produces an extensive portfolio of wines from across the region, but is most notably known for several art crafted Bordeaux Blends.

We discovered, tasted and acquired this wine when we visited and conducted a Mark Ryan Columbia Valley Wine Tasting in his Woodinville, Washington tasting room during our Seattle Culinary and Washington Wine Tour in 2018.
Today's tasting was consistent with my notes from that experience: "Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, dark berry, black currant and black cherry fruits are accented with notes of spice, mocha and hints of cedar with subtle tannins on a lingering finish." RM 91 points. 

The closing wine flight for the dinner, and over the weekend, was a collection of dessert wines and a big brawny Aussie shiraz, the premium Clarendon Hills Astrallis label, best suited for the after dinner chocolate course.

The weekend featured several selections of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, fresh fruits and assorted nuts, biscuits and crackers. 


What fun, and how ironic that our long favored cheese purveyor, Murray's Cheese, where we shopped and dined at their wine and cheese shop and restaurant wine and cheese bar in Greenwich Village in NYC numerous times over the years, was subsequently acquired by Kroger, and as such, their artisan cheeses are now available here at home at our local Mariano's, and down in South Carolina and their local Harris Teeter, as well as at specialty wine and cheese shops! 

And the Dow Vintage Port and Astrallis with Chocolate cake! Recognition for Linda's birthday (and my recent retirement).

The wine flight for this year’s events:

Chateau Leoville Barton St Julien Bordeaux 1986 - we'll hold this as part of a vertical or horizontal for an upcoming event.

Mark Ryan Dissident Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

The trio horizontal wine tasting of 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

-        Del Dotto Rutherford Napa Valley Estate

-        Freemark Abbey Bosche' Vineyard from Oakville Appellation

-        Plumpjack Reserve Oakville McWilliams Mt Eden Vineyard

Joseph Phelps Bacchus Oakville Cabernet 2012

A duo of Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignons

Bounty Hunter Poetic Justice 2009
TOR 2009 from magnum

Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cab 2008

And the dessert, cheese, chocolate courses flight:

Clarendon Hills Astrallis Syrah 2011
Alois Kracher Chardonnay TBA Trocken Bereen Auslese #7 Nouvelle Vague 2001
Alois Kracher Chardonnay TBA Trocken Bereen Auslese #9 Nouvelle Vague 2002
Dow Vintage Port 1994

Previous Pour Boys OTBN Events

Pour Boys OTBN 2019 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2018 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2016 - Open That Bottle Night 

Pour Boys OTBN 2015 - Open That Bottle NightBordeaux Anchors OTBN 2015

Pour Boys OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2014

Pour Boys OTBN 2013 - Open That Bottle Night 2013

Pour Boys OTBN 2012 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2011 - Open That Bottle Night.