Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Father's Day Grilled Steak Wine Dinner

 Early Father's Day Grilled Steak Wine Dinner 

Son Alec and Vivianna will be out of town this weekend so we were invited over for an early Father's Day dinner. 

Alec prepared grilled rib-eye steaks and sweet corn and Viv prepared fabulous sour mashed potatoes. Alec pulled from his cellar a Napa Bordeaux Blend for the occasion. 

To celebrate family events including Alec and Viv returning to Illinois from New York, and Father's Day, I brought an Alec birthyear vintage bottle of Champagne.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé Champagne 1990

It is a bit frustrating that I have no inventory record of this bottle in my cellar data, especially for a designated birthyear vintage collector's bottle (s). I have no less than six bottles of this label in the cellar and no record of acquiring them, or drinking any either. The bottles are not marked as having come from an auction. This does not happen often but indicates perhaps that my acquisition of these bottles predates my electronic record keeping. Indeed, they are 31 years old! 

Sharing and enjoying this bottle tonight with son Alec, was especially memorable as he was with us when we visited the Champagne wine region in northeast France back in 2006, shown adjacent, and below at Champagne house Moet Chandon.

This vintage release was awarded 97 points from Wine Spectator and 94 points from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. 

The last time I opened an aged vintage bottle of Champagne, it was a magnum of 1976 Moët & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne. Regretably, the cork of that bottle had failed earlier and the bottle was corked, due to an aged and failing cork. 

Tonight, this was a delightful surprise showing and drinking well, meeting all my expectations for this bottle. I was a bit concerned when upon opening and releasing the cork under pressure, the seeming pressure and resulting 'pop' were less than expected. Never-the-less, as hoped, the foil, cork, label, fill level and resulting wine were all ideal, showing no signs of diminution from aging. 

Amazing, impressive life left in this 31 year old vintage Champagne. 

The color was dark gold colored with intense, complex, dry, finely integrated layers of zesty citrus fruits accented by notes of roasted almonds and paine grille with hints of fresh dough, smoke, and pineapple with a long bright vibrant finish. 

RM 92 points.


With the grilled steak dinner, Alec served this Napa Valley Red Blend. 

Hill Family Red Door Estate Napa Valley Red Wine 2017

This is a special limited release premium label available to Hill Family Diamond Club members that Alec acquired as part of his club allocation. Alec and Vivianna tasted and subsequently acquired this wine during their visit to the Hill Family estate winery and tasting room in downtown Yountville during their fire shortened honeymoon trip to Napa Valley. I wrote about their Hill Family visit and in an earlier blogpost.

This is the Hill Family premium label red blend comprised of Bordeaux, Rhone and Napa varietals from across the Napa Valley. 

It is a blend of  78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Petite Sirah and 2% Merlot. 

It is sourced from Hill Family Estate vineyards across the Napa Valley AVA:  Windy Flats, Baker, Apallas, Beau Terroir & Knubis Vineyards.

This label release was awarded 94 Points by Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate.
The winemaker's notes for this label from an earlier vintage release: Winemaker’s Notes, "Red Door is a wine blended to take advantage of our best small lots that work together in the most rich and flavorful way, regardless of variety or appellation.'
"In 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon was once again rich and elegant, with the new Windy Flats vineyard pulling in the intense flavors, and Baker (vineyard) providing the mountain structure. But Apallas, Beau Terroir, and Knubis (vineyards) have wonderful individuality that would be lost in a big blend, so the Red Door can give them a place to show off. “Inky bluish/purple with notes of blueberry liqueur, black raspberry, licorice and incense, this full-bodied opulent wine hits all the sweet spots on the palate, but is dry and full bodied with voluptuous texture, terrific palate presence and complexity.” - Winemaker Alison Doran

Robert Parker's Wine Advocated wrote, “The 2013 Proprietary Red Estate is another big-time winner, tipping the scales at 15.5% alcohol. This is the blockbuster of the entire portfolio and a sensational effort. Yes, it’s the most expensive, but is also the most promising for long-term development of, say 10-12 years. This is a beauty and another top-flight effort. The color is opaque purple and the wine is just explosive in the mouth with its richness.”

This was dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied, bold, rich concentrated, bright, vibrant, ripe black berry and black raspberry fruits with sweet floral, notes of perfume and a layer of cassis on a lingering tongue puckering tangy acidity silky tannin laced finish. 

RM 93 points. 

A perfect complement to the grilled rib-eye beefsteak and grilled corn.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Family 'Reveal' Dinner calls for Birthyear Vintage Wine

 Gala Family 'Reveal' Dinner calls for Birthyear Vintage Wine (s) 

We hosted a family dinner for son Sean and daughter-in-law Michelle for a momentous family gathering for them to announce/reveal the gender of their expected baby. In recognition of the special event I opened a couple of special bottling labels and birth-year vintage wines for the occasion, in addition to a medley of other wines. 

For the dinner, Linda prepared hamburgers, grilled chicken, grilled pork loins, and grilled sausages. Family members brought fruits, salads, chips and desserts, wines and a broad selection of craft beers. 

In tribute to Michelle, we opened a magnum of Chateau St Michelle 50th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. And, in tribute to son Sean, I opened two vintage birthyear bottles from our cellar collection.

Son Ryan brought two wines he had open from earlier, a Cakebread Pinot Noir and a Cliff Lede Napa Claret. 

We also opened some chilled white wines and a broad selection of craft beers.

The highlight of the evening, of course, came at dusk when Sean conducted a fireworks display culminating in a rocket launched starburst of pink and whites and reds signaling/revealing the gender of their expected baby daughter! 

 Chateau St Michelle 50th Anniversary Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

We picked up all the available large format magnum bottles of this special tribute bottling upon release as we knew we would serve them on special occasions such as this. We also served this as part of our big bottle selections at their wedding rehearsal dinner

This was the 50th Anniversary Special commemorative bottling of this wine. 

This is a Bordeaux Blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 4% Syrah, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot 

Winemaker Notes: "We craft our Columbia Valley Cabernet to highlight concentrated Washington red fruit in an accessible style. This is an inviting Cab with plenty of complexity and structure with silky tannins. It’s also very versatile with food."

Decanter gave this release a 93 rating. The Tasting Panel gave it 90 points.
Decanter - "A 50th anniversary special bottling, this has a touch of Napa Valley about it in the rich palate, balanced with Left Bank structure, tannins and restrained oak influence."
Tasting Panel - "Creamy and plummy with generous, tangy style; an exceptional bargain packaged with a retro label."
RM 90 points.
I opened two vintage release labels from Sean's birthyear.
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1985 

At 36 years, this was holding up well, still within its drinking window, a testament to the ageworthiness of this single vineyard designated label. As shown in the photo (right), the fill level was as to be expected, an acceptable bottom of the neck, the label and foil were perfect, and the cork, while starting to dry at the top half, was moist and starting to become a bit soft on the bottom half. The cork extracted okay using a regular corkscrew although I was prepared to use the Ahso two pronged cork puller. 
We've been collecting this single vineyard designated label going back three decades and this 1985 release was the oldest in our collection. I first discovered this wine when I met producer Jeff Jaeger, one of the Freemark Abbey partners at a producer wine tasting at the predecessor to Binny's in Naperville in the mid-nineties. At that tasting I was introduced to, tasted and subsequently acquired a case of Freemark Abbey Bosché Vineyard Napa Cabernet 1992. 
Wine buddy, Bill and Beth, and Linda and I have visited the Freemark Abbey Napa Valley winery together on numerous visits, and acquired bottles from the library collection there for special occasions. In 2009 we toured the library and acquired 1974 and 1978 vintage labels for a special anniversary celebration dinner that night across the road at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), Greystoke Mansion.  

This legendary label is named for its source, the Bosché Vineyard, a small 22-acre vineyard located west of Hwy. 29, on the famed Rutherford Bench. Freemark Abbey has been sourcing fruit from this property for this label since 1970 based on a handshake deal with vineyard owner John Bosché, a San Francisco attorney. 
The Freemark Abbey Bosché Cabernet is 100% from the vineyard and was one of Napa's first vineyard-designated wines. Located in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, it continues year after year to produce one of the most distinctive wines in Rutherford, and remains one of Freemark's most sought-after releases. 
The Bosché Vineyard has very deep gravelly soils. A seasonal creek crosses the vineyard which indicates the water table to be high in the spring, providing water and nutrients for new shoot growth. As veraison approaches the water table drops, stressing the wines and intensifying the dark velvety fruit flavors. This is a natural area to grow Bordeaux varietals with dry farming or minimal drip irrigation.
Freemark cites this wine to have a life span in a proper cellar of 20-30 years and tonight's experience was certainly a testament to that.
This vintage release was awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator. 
The recent remarkable 2015 vintage of this label was awarded 97 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

This is typically a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot.

Reviewed recently in 2018, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate wrote of the 2015, "the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosche Vineyard has a deep garnet-purple color and is scented of earthy nuances of truffles, dusty soil and underbrush with a core of crème de cassis, black cherry compote and blueberry pie plus hints of camphor and scorched earth. Full, concentrated, rich and densely packed with loads of earth and black fruit layers, it has a firm, ripe, grainy frame and oodles of freshness, finishing long."

Winemaker Notes for the 2105 release: "Dark ruby in color, the 2015 Cabernet Bosché has aromas of dark cherry, brambly blackberry, and cassis, with immense depth and complexity. The sweet oak spice is prominent with spice nuances of cinnamon, clove, aromatic cedar, cigar box, and dark cocoa powder. The flavor is big, voluptuous, and elegant, with rich great depth of dark cherry and Santa Rosa plum. With balanced acidity, good body and texture, the tannins are substantial but integrated, providing a very long, fruitful finish."
WS on the 1985 - Lean, tight and concentrated with firm black cherry, plum, currant, earth and cedar flavors that are intense and lively with a narrow, focused finish. Plenty of flavor on the aftertaste.
While initially musty and funky, this quickly opened to reveal its true native character and tasting profile. Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex but nicely integrated black berry and black cherry fruits were highlighted with notes of spicy cinnamon and clove with tones of cedar, cigar box, and dark mocha turning to long supple tannin laced tongue coating finish. 
RM 90 
Two years ago when I last opened this label, I wrote, "Incredible, amazing life left in this 33 year old, showing little sign of diminution, even at this age! Dark purplish garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich concentrated complex black berry and black cherry fruits with a subdued layer of soft cedar/camphor with cigar box and moderate acidity on the moderate tannin lingering finish."

Cakebread Cellars Sonoma County Annahala Ranch Pinot Noir 2017
Ryan brought the remains of this bottle from the previous evening dinner to share. We visited Cakebread Cellars Napa estate and winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2018
While known for Napa wines, this Cakebread Pinot is from their Annahala Ranch in coastal Mendocino County, a 60 acre site near the small town of Boonville in southern Anderson Valley. Annahala is the sister ranch to their nearby Apple Barn Vineyard — both are former apple orchards along the banks of Anderson Creek. The Annahala site, with its closer proximity to the Pacific Ocean, spends more time in fog. The coastal climate and loamy soils are suited and recognized for producing world-class pinot noir wines with bright aromatics, vivid varietal flavors, and silky tannins. 
Dijon clone vines are selected to
impart perfume and intense black cherry characters, while another clone contributes elegant texture and a hint of dried rose petals. 

Winemaker notes: "The finished wine offers aromas and flavors of lush black cherry, raspberry and blackberry, fine-grained tannins, notes of spice, and a flinty vein of minerality."
"Our tree-lined Annahala Ranch sits on the banks of Anderson Creek in Anderson Valley, not far from the ocean. Grapes here are protected from hot sun for a delicately articulated, lighter-style Anderson Valley pinot noir," says Vineyard Director Lise Asimont 

I am not normally a Pinot drinker, favoring the bigger more fruit forward Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, but I liked this a lot. It was impressive and even better the next day with some toasted brioche, red pepper and cream cheese. 

Ruby colored, light medium bodied, black rapsberry, black cherry and pomegranate fruits with classic pinot dusty rose and tangy spice with soft fine grained lingering tannins. 

RM 91

Spring Mountain Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1985
This is from the historic estate that gained fame for being the location where the TV series Falcon Crest was filmed, high up Spring Mountain above the Napa town of St Helena. 
While typically known for long-lived wines with its mountain fruit and low yields, this particular bottle and vintage release of this label had not faired as well as the Bosché, above. The fill level was normal, at lower neck, and the label, foil and cork were in good condition. After extracting the Bosché cork with a traditional normal corkscrew puller, Ryan tempted fate with the bottle and it's stiff and drying cork, which ultimately separated in half.
The color was starting to take on a slight brownish hue, the concentrated forward black berry and currant fruits were hanging on but starting to give way to a musty funkiness, which did burn off after an hour, but starting to take over were non-fruit flavors of tea, smoke, wood, wet earth and leather with a tart tangy acidic finish. This bottle was past its prime drinking window and was succumbing to diminution from aging, still drinkable never-the-less, but for those with an affinity or a taste or tolerance for aged Cabernet.
RM 87
Cliff Lede Napa Valley Claret 2018
Ryan had opened this for dinner the night before and held back a partial serving to share and compare this evening. While we are big fans of Cliff Lede cabernets, and have visited the estate in Napa Valley Stag's Leap District several times, this more modest entry level release is uninteresting and uninspiring, certainly when compared to the rest of the higher end portfolio. Of course its also priced at the low end as an entry point to the portfolio at a price point of around $50. Ryan acquired this as part of his Lede wine club allocation and hence obtains the lesser wine as part of his getting access to and obtaining some of the highly allocated much sought after premium labels.

As the name Claret indicates, this is a blend of the Bordeaux varietals - 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. 

Producer's notes on the sourcing for this wine: "The Bordeaux varietal grapes in our Claret blend are sourced from our estate Twin Peaks Vineyard in the Stags Leap District and a few of our valued grower partners within Napa Valley. The wine is composed of small batches from a variety of blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected rootstocks and clones. Yields are maintained at sparse levels, with a focus on canopy management and vine balance. The resulting blend boasts remarkable depth and complexity."

Winemaker's notes: "The 2018 Claret showcases all the deep, lush accessibility of the vintage. Its attractive perfume scents the glass with violets, blueberries and warm marionberries. The entry is full of appetizing and concentrated black cherries, warm red licorice, and wild raspberries. The lovely balance inherent in this claret is framed by lavender, cinnamon, cumin, and talc notes. Coating and long, this beauty of a wine finishes with a succulent display of red apple tart, puff pastry, and lingonberry jam". – Christopher Tynan, Winemaker. "This dark ruby colored wine is laden with chocolate covered cherries, powered cocoa, and cassis aromas. Summer raspberry and blackberry flavors coat the palate and luxurious blueberry jam flesh out on the long, expansive finish. This lovely Claret is lithe and playful, but manages to maintain a weighty seriousness. The black licorice, allspice, and plum notes persist on the finish tempting the taster for another glass."
Garnet colored, this was a bit closed and tight and was probably consumed too early at too young an age and hopefully will benefit from three to five years or more of bottle aging before revealing its true character profile and potential. 
RM 89 points.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pichon Lalande and Steak at Janko's Little Zagreb Bloomington

Pichon Lalande and Steak at Janko's Little Zagreb in Bloomington, Indiana

Continuing our sojourn to Bloomington, Indiana for a college reunion gathering, we dined at the local legendary steak house Janko's Little Zagreb

Not fancy or pretentious, sited in a rustic old building just off the courthouse square, its boisterous dining room with the red and white checkerboard table clothes and Indiana sports memorabilia on the walls, (as well as their near decade of Wine Spectator Awards), Zagreb's is just good steak (and seafood) with a surprisingly intriguing and respectable wine list. They offer about 100 carefully selected bottles and a dozen wines by the glass - W-B-T-G. 

Very seldom will I find a winelist that offers no less than a half dozen choices that I am eager to try, that are also good winelist values.

Our two dinners in town, we hit both notable winelist dining establishments in Bloomington, Truffles Restaurant & Wine Bar, last night, and then tonight. 

A Bloomington institution since 1973, Janko's is an ideal reunion gathering place that we strive to dine at  every time we return to Bloomington, and it never disappoints. 

Mark S and I ordered Rib-eye steaks, which were served classic Pittsburgh style, Jane had lobster tail, and Linda ordered the grilled salmon. Everyone's entree was high quality and perfectly prepared. 

Prior to dinner we had the featured dinner salads. Afterwards we had both of the two available desserts, their regular Creamy 'New York Style' Cheesecake, and their Cheesecake 'Special', a decadent Ghirardelli Chocolate Cheesecake.

To accompany our steak course I ordered from the winelist this legendary Bordeaux, one of my favorite labels, and a repeat, mini-vertical of sorts of the bottle we had a few days earlier at our spectacular gala Pour Boys Wine Dinner at Del Ray Beach Wine Kitchen. I should note this was my third choice from the winelist but when my first two selections were sold out, I opted for this special bottle. 

As I wrote the other night, we toured the estate grounds and vineyards during our Bordeaux trip year before last. 

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 2006

This wine is capable of being so long lived and goes through such a transformation over the decades, it is an adventure tasting at so many different stages of its life. 

At fifteen years years, the fill level, label and cork were perfect, this is likely at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve further, but will certainly age gracefully and transform with character as it is capable of cellaring for another two decades or more. 

This is a classic Pauillac, Bordeaux, a standout in a somewhat challenging vintage - a real delight to taste, especially with a superbly prepared steak and baked potato. 

This is my favorite and most memorable Pauillac over the ages. I still remember my first Pichon, a gift from business colleague, Jerry G from Southfield, MI, when he presented me with a bottle of the 1978 vintage back upon release during one of my trips there. I didn't fully appreciate then how classic and thoughtful that gift was! 

This release was awarded 95 points by Vinous, 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, 93 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and Decanter, and 92 points by Wine Spectator

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, powerful and intense yet nicely balanced and superbly integrated blackberry and black cherry fruits with sprites of anise, smoke, dark chocolate,  clove spice and notes of violets, tobacco leaf and hints of truffles, with round full dusty fine grained tannins on a long polished finish. 

RM 94 points.

@LittleZagreb - 





Sunday, June 6, 2021

Truffles Restaurant & Wine Bar B-Town Wine Dinner

Truffles Restaurant and  56° Wine Bar Bloomingon, Indiana Wine Dinner

We traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for a Indiana University sororiety college reunion gathering. Arriving a day early to meet with long time friends, we dined at Truffles Restaurant and  56° Wine Bar. This sells itself as a "chef-driven eaterie serving a range of foods from classic Steakhouse to International fare". They offer an extensive diversified wine list that is unique on the Bloomington dining scene.

The 56 Degrees Bar Wine Cellar is an ambitious venture for the Truffles family owner Mark Kiang who shares his extensive wine collection, with many selections B-T-G (by the glass), by the bottle, or via an online ordering system, with an option for delivery.

He caters to local wine aficionados with a program to sign up for a monthly wine bundle subscription, and receive bottles of wines selected by the owner himself (or bottles to personal choice). Truffles will then provide recipes and pairing suggestions in the wine package and via e-newsletter.

Remarkably, on the front porch of the restaurant was a display of several (consumed) bottles of extraordinary wines that we hold in our cellar, including one very rare label, indeed. The first that got my attention was the current release of Chateau Pichon Lalande, a label we just had the other evening at our gala Pour Boys Wine Dinner.

 The other bottle that really got my attention was a very rare 'red stripe' label of David Arthur 'Elevation 1157' Napa Cabernet (shown right from our cellar). This particular bottling ran to the end of the spool of labels, to the point that there was a red stripe across the label, indicating to the bottling, labeling machine operator that it was time to add a new spool of labels. Several bottles were labeled with these errant labels in the process before the machine was stopped. The producer went ahead and sold these bottles anyway as a novelty in their portfolio selection. 

We visited the David Arthur Estate and Vineyards, at the elevation of 1157 feet, high above the Valley floor on the eastern slope of the Vaca Range. We hold several of those bottles (shown) in our cellar waiting for an suitable occasion to serve a unique novel bottle. Suffice to say, that bottle had been consumed and none were on offer this evening. (David Arthur visit -

I took advantage of the offering of the latest current release Caymus Estate Napa Cabernet B-T-G. Interestingly, I had considered the same label earlier over the weekend at the Del Ray Beach Wine Bar from their extensive B-T-G selection. Notably, the price of both offers was within $1. 

Truffles offered a charcuterie and wine selection as well as several wine friendly small plates. I sampled the Pate' with my selection.

Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

I admit the glass of wine I was served was a slight bit 'skunked' from having been open a bit too long or not handled properly such as by a dispenser system. Not wanting to make a scene or disrupt the mood of the evening, I accepted the glass and factored in the state condition into my tasting. 

Caymus generally does an incredible job crafting a consistent signature style in large volume, vintage after vintage. The Caymus profile provides early gratification with approachable easy drinking at an early age, yet is ageworthy for a couple decades, or more in exceptional vintages. The style is dark in color, round with full rich fruit and ripe, velvety tannins. 

We hold a decade of Caymus vintages in our cellar as an easy to please, popular, dependable, and mainstay label for special occasion as well as special guest servings.

We visited the Caymus estate and winery during ou r our Napa Valley Wine Experience in the summer of 2018

Caymus sources and blends Cabernet fruit from eight of Napa’s 16 sub-appellations, taking advantage of such diversification to enable them to select the best grapes so as to make the best possible wine in any given year. 

Typical of the Caymus profile, tonight's wine that was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, (setting aside a slight funk most assuredly from the bottle being open and not handled ideally), the ripe black berry and black cherry fruits were accented tones of mocha cocoa, cassis and notes of tobacco and tea with soft smooth lingering finish. 

RM 89 points.

Next I sampled another current release Napa Cab. 

Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

This is the another label that is from the owners/winemakers associated with Quintessa, from the producer Faust, whose property is adjacent to the west of the estate on Silverado Trail.

Some call this label “Baby Quintessa”, since it has common ownership and geographically is from the adjacent Faust property.

We visited the Quintessa Estate and Vineyards during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2003. It was about this time that Quintessa founder Agustin Huneeus and his wife Valeria, were planning and assembling their family portfolio of wines that represent the finest vineyard estates in California and Oregon, that was announced and launched i 2005.

In addition to the Quintessa estate, the family’s vineyard and winery projects include Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Illumination by Quintessa, an aromatic white wine. In 2009, the Huneeus family forged a partnership with Joan and Walt Flowers of Flowers Vineyards & Winery, pioneering vintners who in 1989, established two extraordinary vineyards dedicated to world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the extreme Sonoma Coast.

In 2017, Andy Erickson, former winemaker for Screaming Eagle, joined as partners on his red blend project Leviathan, which began in 2004, thereby joining the broader winemaking team. 

The winemaking team at Faust is similar to the team at Quintessa (Michel Rolland/Andy Erickson) minus Rebekah Wineburg but with Charles Thomas (Opus One) and David Jelinek (Copain/Prisoner/Groth). The vineyard sources are from the foothills of Atlas Peak in Coombsville. The wine is aged and bottled at Quintessa’s state-of-the-art winemaking facility, taking advantage of the vineyard pedigree and winemaking prowess of the Quintessa team. This received the big score of 94pts.

This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet colored, medium full-bodied, highly expressive black berry and black current fruits with notes with mocha, leather, oak, hints of vanilla with a pleasant moderate lingering finish.

RM 90
Rombauer Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2018
Label from 2014
Prior to dinner, with the starter course, and with her entree, Linda ordered, B-T-G, this Rombauer Napa Chardonnay. We know this label well, hold several vintages in our cellar, but had not yet tasted this current latest release vintage. Hence, like the two bottles above, we had not yet had the opportunity to taste the latest vintage, and were able to do so via the B-T-G offering, rather than having to procure a full bottle. Such is the fun, and convenience of such offerings. 

This release was awarded 90 points by both Wilfred Wong and James Suckling. 

The fruit for this wine comes from vineyards in the Carneros region owned by the Rombauer family, as well as that from select growers including the Sangiacomo family, long-term grower partners who have farmed this land for three generations.  The Carneros region has a cool climate with fog and breezes off San Pablo Bay, at the southern end of Napa and Sonoma Valleys where they converge near there. The San Pablo Bay provides ideal conditions for Chardonnay, consistently resulting in beautiful, fresh acidity and the key sense of balance for this ever popular Chardonnay. Rombauer has been producing Carneros-specific Chardonnay since 1990. This 2018 is another example of this classic style balancing bold fruit and lively acidity. 
We met the Rombauer National Sales Manager at a producer dinner Vin Chicago Rombauer Wine Dinner at Adelle's Restaurant in Wheaton, IL a couple years ago. 
This was pale light yellow with a green hue with notes of peach, hints of pear, honeydew, lychee fruit intertwined nicely with vanilla and spice, turning to soft buttery and subtly spicy acidity on the finish. 
RM 90 points.





Friday, June 4, 2021

Pour Boys Wine Dinner at Del Ray Beach Wine Kitchen

Pour Boys Wine Dinner at Wine Kitchen Wine Cellar in Del Ray Beach

The Pour Boys descended upon Del Ray Beach to visit Bob & Gloria in their sunshine state home for a mini-reunion. We held a wine dinner in the private cellar dining room at Wine Kitchen in Del Ray Beach. We dined there on our previous trips to the area and planned a dinner in their cellar private dining room on our next trip into town. 

I first wrote about the Delray Beach Wine Room Kitchen Wine and Cheese Bar after our first visit back in 2019. They boast to have "The World's Largest Selection of Wine by the Glass!"  with over 200 hand-selected wines available through their Enomatic wine dispensing machines. Bill and I visited there again when we were in town later in the year and had a Spectacular Wine Cheese Pairing featuring Cliff Lede Poetry 2004.

Rick & Bob with Wine Director Ron Mitchell
in the cellar during our winter visit last year

A major attraction of the venue for serious wine aficionados is their extensive wine cellar of fine wines with a Reserve List of top vintage wines dating back several decades. Most importantly, they offer such wines at close to retail prices rather than marking them up 1.5, 2 or two and a half times retail or more.

The Reserve Wine List includes extraordinary vintage selections of premium and super premium wines including First Growth classified Bordeaux that are also offered at fair market price or current retail prices for such wines, a fraction of what most other restaurants would charge.

With this enticement, we reserved the private dining room for our gathering. Dr Dan and our two Lindas and I flew in from Chicago, and Bill and Beth C drove down from Charleston. 

We selected a flight of extraordinary wines, perfectly paired with the selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie, our pre-entree selections, our entrees and the dessert courses. 

One of the showcase highlights of the Del Ray Wine Kitchen, beyond the wine BTG (By-The-Glass) selections and the Fine and Rare Cellar Collections, is their Cheese program. The Cheese program is designed and developed by world-renowned Maître Fromager and James Beard award-winner Max McCalman. He was America's first restaurant-based Maître Fromager. Max was honored by L'Esprit Alimentaire (French Food Spirit Awards) in NYC. 

Max is the author of Mastering Cheese which received the World's Best Book on Cheese award in Paris at the 16th Annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and was designated a finalist by the prestigious International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Max has also written two more books on cheese - "The Cheese Plate" (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2002), which was nominated for awards by the James Beard Foundation and by the International Association of Cooking Professionals, and Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best (Clarkson Potter, 2005), an expansive reference on the world's finest cheeses and their wine pairings, which won a 2006 James Beard Award. 

Max personally currated our cheese and charcuterie plates from the incredible selection of over 80 cheeses and a broad variety of charcuterie meats in a Mix & Match offering. In addition to the cheeses were olives, almonds and artichoke hearts. 

Max was so into the cheeses and the whole culinary experience, he made no effort to leverage the opportunity to promote or commercialize his brand. Earlier in the day I asked that he come in and meet us and bring and sign copies of his book which we looked forward to purchasing. We never got around to it. A missed opportunity for all.

The Wine selected was guided by Wine Director Ron Mitchell. 

Our wine flight journey started with this extraordinary white with the cheese and charcuterie selections. 

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2016

John Kongsgaard and his wife Maggy are fith-generation Napa natives. They began their Napa Valley wine experience in the 1970s planting The Judge vineyard on the Kongsgaard estate family land near Napa. The inaugural Kongsgaard wines came in 1996. 

Today, in addition to their legendary signature estate The Judge labels, they produce a portfolio of Napa Valley varietal wines - Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño. They craft their wines in their underground winery — a cave dug into the volcanic rock, high on the eastern rim of the Napa Valley where they have also planted their spectacular mountain vineyard. 

My son's and I had the Kongsgaard Carneros Hudson Ranch Syrah for my father-son birthday celebration dinner just a couple weeks ago. This is sourced from the same vineyard as tonight's Chardonnay. 

Kongsgaards source the fruit for this label as well as their Syrah from several perfect acres in the Napa Carneros, of which they direct the farming under long-term contracts. They also source fruit from several sites near the winery. They write that "these intensely farmed, shy-bearing vineyards and their traditional low-intervention winemaking produce powerful, graceful wines—vivid expressions of vineyard and variety". Production is limited to what they, along with their son Alex, hand craft in their own proprietary labels. 

This release was awarded 97 points by The Wine Advocate and 95 points by Vinous / IWC (International Wine Cellar). It should be noted that the 2016 Kongsgaard "The Judge" Napa Valley Chardonnay was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

Golden colored, medium full bodied, rich, focused, complex, round, decadent fruits of what Wine Advocate calls "nectarine, spiced pears and apple pie... and candied ginger", with stunning sprites of what I struggled to describe as nutty almond and nutmeg with a long smooth sumptuous finish. 

RM 95 points.

We then moved to a flight of red Bordeaux blends wines that were a perfect pairing with our next courses. This provided a nicely diverse but balanced trio to compare.

From the charcuterie we shared a 56 ounce tomahawk ribeye steak sliced for sharing by the group. 

Château Beychevelle St Julien Bordeaux 2010

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this label in our cellar dating back to the eighties. We visited Château Beychevelle and had a private tour and tasting during our visit to Beychevelle St Julien, Bordeaux in 2019. 

As usual, we were attentive to the tasting order of the wines based on our experience and knowledge of their character, profiles and the vintages. We tasted this first in our flight of three reds. In the end, we were correct in our approach in all respects. 

The Chateau Beychevelle 2010 blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (38%), Cabernet Franc (5%) and Petit Verdot (3%).

This release was awarded 95 points by James Suckling,  94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, 93 points by  Wine Spectator, and 91 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

Suckling summed this up well, "Beautiful aromas of blackberries, currants and flowers. Very aromatic. Full body, with ultra-fine tannins and gorgeous fruit. It's polished and very refined. One of the best Beychevelles in years."  

Wine Enthusiast also captures the style and approach, "Beychevelle's style privileges elegance over weight, and such is the case with the 2010. It's a pure-fruited, ripe and lightly tannic wine, emphasizing a blackberry note."

This was the lightest, and most approachable of the three labels. Ruby colored, medium bodied, soft, nicely balanced, initially slightly astringent on opening (what Stephen Tanzer referred to as 'medicinal'), it opened up and that blew off after 1/2 hour to reveal pleasant black currant and black berry fruits, notes of floral, earthy leather, herbs and hints of plum on the smooth moderate finish. 
RM 91 points.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 2011

We toured the estate and grounds of the Pichons, Chateau Pichon Baron and the adjacent Chateau Pichon Lalande (shown left), during our Bordeaux trip to the Medoc, the same trip we visited Château Beychevelle. 

This is another one of our favorite labels that we hold going back more than three decades, including our kids' birth-year vintages, several in large formats. 

Next in the tasting order, despite being from a lesser, lighter vintage, this was bigger and more complex than the Beychevelle. 

Classic Pauillac in its profile and character, dark garnet colored, full bodied, more tight and firm with its structured backbone, complex black berry fruits with notes of smoke, anise and graphite with a firm long tannin laced finish.

This was a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 12% Cabernet France, and 2% Petit Verdot.

This was awarded 95 points and a *Cellar Selection* by Wine Enthusiast,  93 points James Suckling, 92 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Dark garnet purple colored, full bodied, concentrated with weight and power, rich black fruits with blackberry, dark-chocolate, cassis, spice, tobacco and hints of cedar with firm tannins on a long, intense finish. 

RM 93

Peter Michael Les Pavots Sonoma County Knights Valley Red Wine 

Fellow Pour Boy Ernie was not with us tonight. but we toasted him with this super premium Sonoma County Bordeaux Blend that he collects as a member of their club. In retrospect, as I research and write this blog, I see Ernie served this same label to us at our OTBN wine gathering tasting in 2014

We hold a few bottles of this in our cellar. 

The 2005 Les Pavots is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot.

This was awarded 95 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 93 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, and 92 points by Wine Spectator.

While this was last in our tasting order it might've been best placed in the middle but it was great to compare the Bordeaux and then move to the Californian. 

This was the most elegant, polished and refined of the three wines, more complex, fuller, more round than the Beychevelle, but more approachable than the more powerful brutish Pichon. 

Parker likened this wine more to a Right Bank Merlot based blend, "a sensational wine, with a style that suggests a hypothetical blend of a great St.-Emilion and Pomerol". 

Ruby colored, medium full bodied, smooth and harmonious layers of black berry, black raspberry and currant fruits with notes of tobacco, mocha and hints of anise and graphite on a soft silky tannin laced lingering finish. 

Consistent with my earlier tasting six years ago, "Dark ruby colored, elegant and polished, full bodied with full complex concentrated layers of blackberry, black raspberry and blackcurrant with tones of black tea, cigar box and hint of dark mocha and cedar on a silky smooth finish." At that time I gave this 95 points. 

RM 94 points.

 After dinner we had dessert selections, Parisian Beignets, Crispy Pâté à Choux, Cinnamon & Sugar, Salted Caramel, Spiced Ganache, Passionfruit Curd and decadent Double Dark Chocolate Cake, Coconut Dulce de Leche, Sweet Shiraz Jam, Dried Blueberries, Hazelnut Crumble.

With the delicious dessert course we took advantage of the BTG program and tasted two perfect accompaniment dessert wines. 

Dolce Napa Valley Late Harvest 2013

This Dolce Late Harvest White dessert wine is a meal course in itself! Dolce is one the most notable late harvest wines in America, first crafted in 1985 by the partners of Far Niente. Dolce stands as standard bearer. Wine Enthusiast lovingly calls it "one of the greatest sweet California wines in memory". 

Dolce’s 20-acre vineyards are located in Coombsville, east of the city of Napa, and are situated at the base of the Vaca Mountains, which define the eastern border of the valley. The volcanic soil is loose and well drained, and the west-facing vineyard is protected from the prevailing winds so that the damp, morning fog of autumn—a very important factor in the development of Botrytis cinerea—hangs longer amongst the vines, often until midday. A combination of high humidity followed by drying conditions encourages, but does not guarantee, the growth of Botrytis. As the mold develops, its coverage is seemingly random with individual berries succumbing to Botrytis at different rates, if at all. 

With a classic blend of late harvest Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc varietals in the style of a classic Bordeaux Sauterne, Dolce is the only American winery dedicated to producing a single late harvest wine. 

Dolce has produced a wine in every vintage, yet in small, unpredictable quantities; testament to the incredible difficulties presented every year in the effort to make Dolce. "Dolce is an extraordinary wine bred from a combination of sunshine, soil, fog, expertise and dedication; a wondrous luxury, limited by nature to always being a gift of absurd rarity." 

Dolce is a blend of 89% Semillon and 11% Sauvignon Blanc.

Winemaker's Notes: "The 2013 Dolce offers lifted and youthful aromas of orange zest, vanilla bean and butterscotch with subtle notes of minerality and oak-derived spices. The entry is juicy, and Dolce’s signature texture is lively and enduring on the palate leading to a mouthwatering finish. Flavors of orange, pear and dried apricot mingle together with rich caramel notes and hints of minerals that make this vintage a delicious expression of the season’s exceptional ripeness." 

After nearly three years in French oak, this luxurious vintage shows bright stone-fruit aromatics and flavors, elegant caramel undertones and has a texture like silk.

RM 94 points.

Fonseca Vintage Port 2016

Winemaker's Notes: "Dense purple black with a narrow purple rim. The nose opens with very fine pure black fruit, a fusion of black cherry, cassis and blackberry jam aromas, with notes of crushed mint, an ethereal fragrance of violets and undertones of ripe tropical fruit. The year has added an additional layer of purity and refinement to the subtle, complex Fonseca fruit character, as well as an attractive minerality. The palate is supported by a vibrant acidity and taut, wiry tannins that provide structure but also texture and volume. The fresh berry flavours carry into the long finish A finely crafted and perfectly balanced Vintage Port."

This was awarded 98 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and James Suckling, and an extraordinary consensus 97 points by Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Decanter and the Tasting Panel.

Parker said, " Don't even think of buying it if you aren't prepared to cellar it. The 2030 start date that I have will not be even close to late enough if you want harmony and complexity. To me, this is the best of the three 2016's from the Fladgate Group this issue (Croft and Taylor being the other two), thanks to its pure intensity, but time will tell if it becomes as sexy as I'm sure Taylor's will be. In the meanwhile, Fonseca looks like one of the greats of this vintage."

We're holding in our cellar releases of this label dating back to the eighties, most notably the 1985 vintage, birthyear of son Sean. 

Dark ruby colored, full bodied, dense, mildly sweet with notes of figs, sweet cassis, vanilla, hints of creosote and toast with tongue puckering gripping sweet tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 93

Max McCalman's works available at DelRay Kitchen Wine and Cheese Bar:

Monday, May 31, 2021

Grilled Ribs and a unique Big Red Zin

Grilled Ribs and a unique Big Red Zinfandel wine 

For Memorial Day dinner Linda and son Alec (still bach'ing it for another day) grilled ribs with asparagus and sweet corn. We were joined by son Sean and wife Michelle. 

I pulled from the cellar this interesting unique bottling of Zinfandel aged in Bourbon Barrel. I wrote about this last year when we discovered this and served it last winter in a similar setting and wrote about it in this blogpost: Carpenter Creek Cellars Bourbon Barrel Zinfandel.

This was fun and interesting to compare with the unique Dueling Pistols Zin-Syrah Blend that we had left over from the previous evening. The Zinfandel wasn't as big or bold as the Zinfandel which was more focused than the blend was, as I wrote, a bit obtuse and angular. The Zin provided easier sipping, more harmonious with the balanced dinner.

Carpenter Creek Cellars Bourbon Barrel Zinfandel 2017

I featured Carpenter Creek Cellars from north central Indiana in an earlier post in these pages when we visited the winery and discovered their wines. They acquire grapes from growers throughout the midwest, California, and also grow some of their own. 

For this Zinfandel varietal selection, they obtained grapes from northern California sources, and aged the wine in used Bourbon Barrels. As I wrote that winter, the result was infusing an exotic smokiness and liquor layer that when combined with the full forward Zinfandel fruits accentuated and highlighted the tangy barbecue wonderfully. 

This label release from Carpenter Creek Cellars features a striking gold label packaging, the first indication that there is something special going on here.

Garnet colored, slightly opaque, medium-full-bodied, black fruits accented by clove spice, smoke, caramel, vanilla, and hints of black pepper and cocoa. An extraordinary pairing with with the BBQ.

RM 91 points.




A Vineyard In Napa by Doug Shafer

A Vineyard In Napa chronicles the founding and history of Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley 

I spent my Memorial Day immersed in the book A Vineyard In Napa by Doug Shafer. I had purchased it a while back but saved it for when I could devote a block of time to sit back, relax and enjoy, as I tend to do when I immerse myself in a book - I read it in the one sitting. It was that good, worthy of the invested time.

This is about the life of John Shafer, a Chicago businessman, and his pursuit of a dream when he decided to pursue a second career by buying a plot of land that included a vineyard in Napa Valley back in the early seventies. He moved his family from their comfortable suburban lifestyle in an adjacent suburb from here, to a remote mountainside farmstead in rural northern California, and set upon developing vineyards, and ultimately, building a winery, a business and a brand.

With no prior experience or knowledge of farming, viticulture or winemaking, over the next forty years, he rode the roller coaster of the evolving Napa Valley wine business, and built an incredibly successful brand and business, one that distinguished wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. called “one of the world’s greatest wineries.” 

The book, narrated by Shafer’s son Doug, follows their dual careers as they lived the history of Napa Valley and the American California wine business. Through it they learned the challenges, travails, science, technology and handicraft of planting and growing grapes, crafting wines, and building a brand and wine business- the three legs of the stool, as they called it.

It follows the history of Napa Valley and the Shafers and the myriad of friendships and collaboration of the many farmers, growers, producers, winemakers, critics, distributors, restaurateurs and others in the trade they encountered along the way and that made the journey with them. 

Its a history book, a human interest story as well as a business book, and a journal of winemaking and marketing, balancing and folding all together in an enjoyable intriguing well paced story.

The only thing missing is a companion parallel wine tasting of the many Shafer wines in the portfolio that are chronicled in the book, ones that we hold in our cellar. The insights and background will add immeasurably to the enjoyment of these wines when and as we explore them.