Saturday, February 26, 2011

OTBN - Winners and Losers - Everybody Win(e)s

Its that time again... OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, conceived for those that have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened.  Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle. OTBN was conceived by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall St. Journal ( They realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it! Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or with a group. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because amazingly, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning. Let the fun begin. 

So I spent the morning digging around in the cellar and found many candidates. So I decided to set aside those anniversary year bottles - those of the birth-years of the kids, and other special anniversary years. Those bottles have a reason for opening and their circumstances are set.Tonight is for that bottle lacking a reason - but for its own reason its special in some way. 

Here is a selection of bottles I found that were candidates - according to the criteria that they are getting old, need to be consumed and since I've been holding them for so long, they must be worthwhile and be for waiting for a reason. Why else would there be twenty, thirty-five (41 actually) year old bottles languishing down in the cellar!?! Several Bordeaux - two from 1982 - okay set those aside - birth year of #1 son, a 1975, and a 1970 - okay high school graduation year.. tonight?

Okay, so here is my runner-up for OTBN 2011 - a 1978 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon - it certainly must be time to drink this, ya? Fill level looks good, there is hope... 

Here is my selection for OTBN 2011 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1978 .

More to follow as the saga/evening unfolds and the OTBN selection (s) is unveiled - er uncorked !

 Final Flight - OTBN Selection -  Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1978, Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, Cliff Lede Howell Mtn Chardonnay 2004, Freemark Abbey Edelwein Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest Gold 1999 Domaine Bruco Clair Cazetiers Premiere Cru Gevrey Chambertin Borgnogne 1993 and Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 (brought by Bill), Redheads Studio Return of the Living Red Cabernet Touriga NV (brought by Dan), and Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Vineyard Clarendon Syrah 2003.

The wines accompanied a dinner of beef tenderloin, medallions of lobster, twice baked potato, and salad, followed by fresh fruits and chocolate fondue. Starters included artisan cheeses - Fair Oaks Farm five year old aged sharp cheddar,  blueberry infused goat cheese, and a selection of olives. Attendees were Rick & Linda, Bill & Beth, Dr Dan & Linda, and Lyle and Terry.

Most Interesting Bottle - Redheads Studio - Return of the Living Red N.V. - RM 91 points
Interesting blend of NV (non-vintage) Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Touriga, a 'lost' varietal - hence the name. Dark garnet color, full bodied, thick chewy, almost shiraz like coating the tongue - forward black and blue fruits, ripe black raspberry turns to a tone of spice, hint of cedar and kirsch on a full, moderate soft chewy tannin finish. Brought by Dr Dan. The bottle was a gift from his brother. 

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Vineyard Clarendon Syrah 2003 - RM 91 points: Dark garnet inky color. Full bodied, thick chewy, almost coating the tongue - forward black and blue fruits, ripe black raspberry turns to a tone of spice, hint of cedar and kirsch with a slight metallic/mineral undertone - ends with a full, moderate soft chewy tannin finish.

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1978  - RM 88 Points - Medium bodied - slight opaciity - garnet color - subdued black cherry fruit was overtaken by leather and a subtle tone of cigar box tobacco turning to anise on the moderate finish. Surprisingly moderate in density, color, fruit and finish. I remember buying this bottle on release (for $11.99) I have one more bottle left - the fill level was good and the cork fine although starting to be a bit soft. Still life left but I don't see long longevity in this wine

Jordan Vineyard & Winery Estate Bottled Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 - RM 88 Points.Opened two hours and it wasn't ready to drink although was approachable - it needed four or five hours to open and truly reveal itself ... fill level was good - low neck - cork was firm and tight - moderate garnet and slightly brownish color with slight opacity - medium bodied. After the funk wore off the subdued fruit of black berry and black cherry started to show - offset by leather, tobacco, hints of anise and tar on a modest finish. Nearing if not at end of life but not yet deteriorated. Still bears the original price tag of $19.95 although I don't remember purchasing this bottle. A perfect selection fitting the occasion OTBN. Given its age I was surprised it held up as well as it did. Another testament to the provenance and suitability of our cellar to age wines for decades. Lyle picked this as his favorite!

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard 1986 - RM 90 points. Dark purple color - medium - full bodied. Surprising vibrancy, breadth and depth to this 25 year old! Full forward fruit of black raspberry, black berry, and black cherry with a subtle tart tone, hints of leather and anise with moderate well integrated tannins on a lingering finish. Perhaps the surprise of the OTBN evening.  

Domaine Bruco Clair Cazetiers Premiere Cru Gevrey Chambertin Borgnogne 1993

Freemark Abbey Edelwein Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest Gold 1999 - RM 90 - Weak tea colored, medium-full bodied honey citrus flavors - slightly more subdued than last tasting two years ago, with a slight smokey finish.

Wine and Dine Virginia - Corkage Fee Bill Passed - Hooray

In a time when it seems government is becoming more and more obtrusive its refreshing to read that the Virginia State legislature just passed a corkage fee bill to allow BYOB in restaurants. Hooray for Virginia and its legislators - presuming the governor has the good sense to sign it! Isn't it fitting or at least ironic that I read this on OTBN day as I troll the cellar looking for a special bottle for this evening.

A Corkage Fee is charged by a restaurant for serving a customer's BYOB (bring your own bottle) wine. A corkage fee will reflect the restaurant's policy and willingness to accommodate such practices. Naturally restaurants rely on beverage revenues to support their business so it is reasonable and customary to charge for the handling of BYOB wines. My strong and emotionally charged opinion is that proper protocol dictates that restaurants should honor and accommodate collectors who bring special bottles from their cellars - aged, hard to find, or notable wines, or vertical or horizontal selections for special dinners. It is reasonable for them to discourage BYOB customers who simply reduce their cost of dinner by buying 'retail' and offsetting the restaurant margins on the wine. Reasonable corkage fees should range from $10 to $25 for a moderate to upscale restaurant. Reasonable margins on wine would render this practice unnecessary except where the wine-list does not offer sufficient breadth or depth or selections for one's preference or taste. Naturally we frequent restaurants proportionately to their reasonableness and liberalness of their corkage policy. Many restaurants allow BYOB with a very modest or no fee. This should be taken into account and factored into the tip and or patronage loyalty. Read my Wine Journal on and see how we seek out and support restaurants that offer BYOB with liberal (fair) corkage fees. Usually restaurants are reasonable in these matters. Those that are not should be avoided as there are many alternatives in the marketplace. 

Of course with the privilege of bringing your own wine comes obligations of proper BYOB corkage fee etiquette. See

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sommelier Wines - Tasting

FernandoBetetaIts not every day you're served your wine by a Master Sommelier - especially at your local neighborhood wine shop. Well done, and nice touch by James and Charlene  Pontrelli of the local Wine Styles at Seven Bridges in nearby Woodridge (IL). 

At their weekly Thursday evening wine tasting they featured an imaginative selection of wines - produced, influenced or inspired by Master Sommeliers - and they brought in a Master Sommelier to present and serve the wines. Chicago's own Fernando Beteta, notably and formerly sommelier at NoMI was on hand representing the Sommelier inspired wines. He worked with James who also was Sommelier at NoMI.

A native of Guatemala, Beteta is the son of a restaurateur and great-grandson of Italian winemakers. He speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish and basic German. After attending hotel school in Switzerland, he worked in Rome, Florence, Sardinia and Thailand. Prior to arriving at NOMI in 2005, he was manager and sommelier of The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton Chicago.

ccCabernet Sauvignon and ccChardonnay were sourced from top quality fruit from some of California's most prestigious vineyards. We are able to take advantage of the availability and abundance of quality fruit that is released under this private label in these economical offerings. 

2007 cc: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Second time tasted with consistent notes - a bit tart and hard on initial opening - much softer and more approachable the next day. Full bodied - dark garnet color. Complex, slightly restrained blackberry fruits, spice, layer of cassis, hint of cedar with tones of mocha on a full lingering soft tannin finish.Full bodied - dark garnet color. RM - 91 points.

2007 Once Wines "The Table" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

"The Table" - a Napa Valley Bordeaux blended by sommeliers to be ready to accompany good food was the idea behind Once Wines' Sommelier Series - a contest in which a group of America's finest sommeliers competed in a friendly 'spirited' blending competition to create the perfect wine to serve with food. The wine rumoured to be for Tom Colicchio's Craft restaurants was sourced from four highly acclaimed Napa Valley vineyards. The 2007 "The Table" Cabernet Sauvignon was the winning blend - 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot - from last year's contest at San Francisco's Le Paulee, judged by one Master Sommelier and two French winemakers.RM - 90 points.

 "Young, but accessible, it's velvety and bright, the fruit tightly woven into the structure. Barely kissed with oak, it is a blend of Cabernet with 18% Cab Franc and a wee bit of Petit Verdot (barely 4%). All this, and it's just $28? I'd say it's a gift. Enjoy a bottle with steak frites, a standing rib roast or a nice stew." (LA Times, Wine of the Week, 3/11/10)

Dark garnet color - full bodied - black cherry fruits, slight tart red berry flavors with a hint cola and mocha on a moderate tannin lingering finish. RM 90.

2006 Añoro Malbec, Mendoza Argentina 

2006 Añoro Malbec is made from an average of 22 year old vines. It is composed of predominately Malbec but also has a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The wine is aged 30% in new oak and 70% in one year old barrels.This wine is bright with white floral notes and fresh with intense blue and black berries. The wine is rich with texture and moderately high in acidity.

Anoro Malbec is a product from Master Sommelier Kenneth Fredrickson who selected the fruit for this release. He has owned several restaurants and wine retail stores.In 2002 he started Nevada Wine Agents a boutique wine and spirit wholesaler in Las Vegas which he sold to the Wirtz Beverage group in 2005.Today Ken is Vice President of Fine Wine and Business Development for the Wirtz Beverage Company in Chicago. He spends a good deal of time traveling internationally selecting brands, aligning brands and securing the product for distribution. 
Rated: 90 by Stephen Tanzer, Jan/Feb 10-Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar - Good medium ruby. Pure aromas of black raspberry, bitter chocolate and violet; much more perfumed than the comparatively wild and slightly funky 2006 example. Silky, very ripe malbec, with very good lift and precision to the sweet cherry, mocha and truffle flavors. Finishes with a sexy note of baking chocolate and surprising grip. Roberto de la Mota, who also makes the Mendel wines, took over winemaking here with the 2008 vintage.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate: 91 points
Rick's rating - 89 points.

2005 Tour St Bonnet Medoc AOC Bordeaux 
The 2005 vintage was so good that even lesser class wines were very good. Parker called the Tour St Bonnet a sleeper of the vintage. This production has been in the same family for over a century. The wine exhibits a big floral essence with black cherry, slight leather and cigar box tones with moderate lingering tannins on the finish. A good value at less than $20.
 RM 88 points. 

Wine Styles Seven Bridges Sommelier Flight - 2-24-2011

The selection at Seven Bridges Wine Styles reflects careful and attentive discrimination of a sommelier and James and Charlene Pontrelli offer a diverse imaginative and quality selection. I was pleasantly surprised to see some favored boutique producers such as White Cottage and Venge, alongside favorite long time reliable producers such as Robert Craig, new emerging producers such as the new Liparita, Ladera, and Robert Carr. Its not just for the value shopper, you'll find serious wines for the collector and oenephile with premium product from producers such as AltaMira, Carter, Continuum and Dominus. Its not just a California set either, there were top shelf producers Mouton Rothschild and Sassicaia, too. But the most fun might be in the interesting rare hidden value gems selections such as Stratton Lummis, CC, and The Table, featured here. 

 I look forward to discovering more creative selections from these folks and to more imaginative and creative tastings there in the future. It may say Wine Styles on the sign, but Pontrelli's Seven Bridges' store offers some distinctive and interesting well sourced product beyond a franchise site. Its worth a visit. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2006 Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz

2006 Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz

(Australia, South Australia, Far North, Southern Flinders Ranges)

RM 92 points: Dark garnet inky color - full bodied. Mouthful of forward chewy spicy ripe plum, blackberry, blueberry and notes of licorice coat the tongue, toasty oak and a layer of vanilla almond on the full long, pure finish. Slight heat and mineral edge is subsiding but detracts from the fruit a bit. Not quite as smooth as the 2005 vintage but delicious none-the-less.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Montelena, Hall, Trefethen - Fleming's Steak House - By the Glass Offerings

Three current release Napa cabs available by the glass at Fleming's Steak House, Tyson's Corner, Mclean, VA.

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 - RM 91 points: Very approachable for being so young - drinking great right now - deep purple-garnet color - medium-full bodied. Full forward flavors of black raspberry, black cherry, currant, hints of spice and dark chocolate. Great complement to the Portobello Mushroom Ravioli. This wine represents a good value. -

Chateau Montelena Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 - RM 89 points: Dark, full bodied - firm, complex black berry, black cherry fruits with hint of tobacco, tar and anise. Somewhat tight and closed - needs time. This would no doubt go well with a juicy steak. Parker gave this wine a 94 indicating its potential in a few years, noting it should be cellared for five years and should last for thirty years. -

Trefethen Double T Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - RM 87 points: Medium bodied - cherry and berry fruit flavors, hint of spice - a bit austere/lean on the structure.  -

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Collecting and Aging Wine - Buy the Case

Collecting and aging wine - case lot periodic tasting over time

There are two risks to buying a full case of a wine... that you drink it too young, or, that you hang on it too long. (Some might say that you get it home and don't like it. As my teenager used to say, "Duh, Dad." You try it before you buy it. If and when you can't - the wine market has become incredibly 'liquid' with auctions to market and sell your wine. Worst case (you make the call whether pun intended ;>) ) you give it away as gifts, serve it, or hold it and one day find out its really really good after all!) The point is, if you don't taste a wine multiple times at various stages of its life - how will you know? Part of the fun and experience of tasting wine is to witness a wine's maturation and transformation over time. I have heard that the Italian's drink their wine too young, and the French drink it too old. Alas, its all in the eye's of the beholder. I purchased a case of Dominus Napa Proprietary Red Wine 1986 back upon release in the mid-eighties. I dutifully put it aside but succumbed to temptation to open a bottle every couple of years ... Invariably I was disappointed and underwhelmed by a rather flat uninspiring 'closed' wine. Finally, a couple of years ago in 2007 - I noted in my tasting notes (published on - "The Dominus now 20 years old continues to reveal its character through floral bouquet and flavors of violet and rose petals reminding me again that I drank most of this case way too young - year after year waiting for it to open and reveal itself." (The previous tasting note posted in 2002 should have been an indicator - "Dominus took three hours to open but when it did, it exploded with floral fruit.") 

Indeed, having purchased a lot of Bordeaux wines during their magnificent run in the eighties, I eventually learned, like the Dominus, I drank them too early. C'est la vie. I am now more patient with such wines. That's how or why you end up with a thousand (s) plus bottles in your cellar!    

Diverse Cabernet - Bordeaux Blend Comparison Tasting - Aging Wine

Son Alec's brief visit home from university - spur-of-the-moment (yes, my bride is amazing) celebratory dinner - serving favorite surf & turf - poses wine opportunity/challenge. Go with it and have fun... three diverse aged vintage Cabernet - Cabernet blends to compliment the beef tenderloin and Riesling Spatlese highlights the broiled lobster. 

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 - - Bought a case of this big Napa Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon following a winery visit during our 1999 Napa Wine Experience.   This is one of the joys of a wine cellar - to conduct periodic comparison tastings over the years to see how a wine ages. (More on that in another unwindwine blogpost). My last tasting notes were three years ago but are totally consistent with this time. Needed an hour to open and shed an initial slight tart cherry edge, which it did. Dark inky color - medium to full bodied. Full forward black cherry and black raspberry fruit flavors starting to show its age a bit with earth and leather emerging over the subtle currant, ripe plum, cedar and a hint of anise on a full firm finish. Earlier notes talk of a milk chocolate layer which was very subtle. I would say the aging of this bottle seemed no more-so than the previous tasting as it is holding its fruit quite well. RM 91 - WS 92. 

Chateau Calon-Ségur Grand Cru Classe St. Estephe Bordeaux 1995 - Had to pull out this Valentine wine - noted as such due to the heart on the label (below) since this turns out to double as our Valentine's dinner too. Once again we have a case of this wine and look forward to periodic tastings in the years to come. Notably reflecting the age-worthiness of this wine (compared to the Napa Cab above), we're only a couple bottles in to this case while only a few bottles remain of the Napa. No signs of age whatsoever here with a long life ahead - Classic Bordeaux with earthy, leathery black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by a long smooth floral finish - this exhibited a bit more fruit and floral the next day at the expense of the firm full but smooth tannin structure.  RM 90; WS 96; RP 92

Matthews Cellars Yakima Valley Red Wine 1999 - A Bordeaux mix blend 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. Dark inky color - medium - full bodied - spice from the Cab Franc comes through, firm black berry and black raspberry fruits are giving way to a tar, leather, cassis and hint of tobacco as this wine is passing its prime. RM 88.
Dr Heidemanns-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese 2006 - Paired with the broiled lobster.

Guenoc, Guenoc Valley Vintage Port 2000 - Paired with cheese cake, fresh strawberry and chocolate fondue dessert. Full bodied - black and deep purple color - taste of brandy, black berry, black raspberry, deep blueberry, dark chocolate, cassis and black cherry, sweetness a nice complement to the dessert - would be great with a stilton cheese - nice close to a great meal. RM 88

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coopers Hawk - Wine and Dine

Okay its not really a winery by many standards - Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant buy grapes or they buy grape juice from producers and then put it in bottles with their own label. All are non vintage selections. They serve a purpose educating many about wine - witnessed by the crowds in their popular eateries and wine bars. They provide a broad wine list all at reasonable modest prices with an extensive menu. For those (of us) that may be more discriminating and wish to bring our own wine to enjoy with their food - they are graciously accommodating and inviting with reasonable corkage fees. So you can have it both ways. We selected Coopers Hawk at Burr Ridge Village Center as it's a favorite of our kids who live nearby. They're also CH Wine Club members, and, for their Wine Cellar private dining room that provided a fabulous atmosphere for our gala family and friends multi, three birthday party celebration. Good food, good wine  - some our own BYOB - great selection of both at fair prices, decent service. They serve over forty different wines of all styles and varietals. They offer five different wine flights - for each type, and a Design Your Own Flight. Whats not to like? 

Coopers Hawk Petit Syrah - definitely consensus favorite of the group (of the Coopers Hawk selections) - great value at $26/bottle. RM 88 points - Medium-full bodied, dark inky color; flavors of black berry, black raspberry fruits - slight mocha and spicy oak - hint of cedar and earthiness on a smooth moderate tannin finish.

Coopers Hawk Shiraz - medium bodied - red and dark berry fruits, hint of sweet mocha. $26/bottle. RM 86 points.

Coopers Hawk Cabernet Sauvignon - The only selection they offer in large formats - all the way up to a nine liter Salmanazar (great fun for a special occasion - $219). Medium-full bodied - black cherry and black berry fruits, turning to subtle tone of vanilla on the lingering moderate tannin finish. $26/bottle. RM 85 points.

Coopers Hawk Merlot - Medium body - black cherry, spice and hint of cedar - a slightly tart edge detracts from the fruit - with a lingering modest tannin finish.  $25/bottle. RM 84 points.

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mountain Merlot 1995 - BYOB from our cellar in magnum. Great benchmark wine against which to compare the CH wines - it was definitely a stand-out. Dark color - medium-full bodied - black cherry, black berry fruits still holding for this fifteen year old - perhaps aided by larger format magnum, tones of cedar, spicy oak, subtle leather and earth - moderate smooth well integrated tannins on a lingering finish. $66 at Dean & Deluca in Napa (upon release) RM 89 points.  

Not pictured/taken by Will C.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Columbia Valley 2004 Horizontal Red Wine Tasting

Perfect example of a horizontal tasting - three varied but complementary wines from the same region and same vintage - each mapping and highlighted perfectly with artisan cheeses and a dinner course. Listed in tasting order from lightest and simplest to heavier, more complex.Tasted at home w/ L, Mark & Shirley.

Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley 2004 - - RM 91 points: Deep dark purple color - medium-full bodied - may be the most expressive Northstar I have had with full burst of black berry, plum and red currant flavors giving way to sweet oak, spice and subtle vanilla with nicely integrated firm but silky smooth tannins. Lots of fine sediment coats the empty bottle. Consistent notes with earlier tastings.

Mapped well w/ soft cows milk cheese and the twiced baked potato.

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Walla Walla Columbia Valley Red Wine blend 2004 - - RM 89 points: Slightly brownish color, perfect cork, medium bodied - initial front of black pepper disappeared after twenty minutes - subtle black cherry and red berry fruits were diminished from last tasting a year ago giving way to hint of anise, slight mocha and leather with a moderate tannin finish.
Blend of 60% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot.

Mapped well with the Madam Chevre cheese course, and bacon infused green beans.

 Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Columbia Valley Frederick red Bordeaux blend 2004 -  RM 92 points - Better than earlier vintages (2002-03) I have tasted of this wine - full bodied, dark inky color - big, firm, complex, brooding dark berry - blackberry & black raspberry fruit flavors, tones of cassis, spice, lead pencil - firm but smooth polished tannins on a full lingering finish. Blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot.

Perfect complement to hearty blue cheese, toasted herb bread and the steak course.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mountain Merlot 1996

The black fruits were subdued but still holding - dark inky purple color - medium bodied - aroma's and tastes of floral, tastes of black berry, black raspberry with subtle spice, leather and anise on a moderate soft tannin finish. 88 Points.