Sunday, January 29, 2012

Viader Napa Valley Syrah 2002

Viader Napa Valley Syrah 2002

Winter Sunday of FA Cup Soccer, Bulls - Heat NBA and IU Big Ten b-ball with this Napa Syrah, artisan cheese plate, fresh berry fruit and smoked salmon, caper cream cheese. Cheeses included five year old Fair Oaks Farm aged cheddar, aged white cheddar, blue and parmigiana - all nice accompaniments to the big Syrah.

I was drawn to taste this Napa Valley Syrah from our cellar after tasting the spectacular Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007 last week at Grange Restaurant in Sacramento.

We tasted this wine with winemaker and producer Delia Viader during her visit to Chicago at a Binny's tasting - see An evening with Delia Viader. We then tasted later vintages of this wine at the winery during our Napa Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008 - Viader.

Tasting at the Viader Vineyards
on Howell Mtn

The Viader Syrah is a unique clone of old world French Rhone River Valley Syrah and new world Australian Shiraz. The Viader property sits high up above Silverado Trail on mid-level Howell Mountain at 1300 foot elevation which is the demarcation line between the Napa and Howell Mountain appellations since it is the highest level reached by the night-time and early morning fog.

This wine showed better than earlier tastings when it was still tight and closed. It exhibited dark garnet colored and medium body with mushroom scents and flavors, musty leather, white pepper, and spicy cedar overpowering the black berry fruit. This wine was closed and unapproachable for a while and has probably opened to give as much as its going to - better than it was earlier. Tasted w/ L.

RM 88 points

Reopened the next day and the wine had awakened to display more complexity with more vibrant fruit and more polish for easier and more enjoyable drinking. Needs time to open and reveal its true potential so open it early in the day for an evening tasting, or even the night before!

RM 90 points the next day.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Markham Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2007

Markham Vineyards Napa Valley Estate Merlot 2007

Dark garnet color, medium bodied. Initial dark cherry tartness wears off and gives way to black berry and black cherry fruits with subdued layer of tea and leather and hint of mocha, a bit of spice, oak and smoke with a moderate finish. Often producers of high achieving good value wines, there is decent value in this soft easy drinking Merlot, selected as a Top Ten of 2011 by BevMo's Wilfred Wong and if you believe the pundits, the 2008 is even better for a greater value. Nice selection to go with varied entree selections from Salmon to steak to pasta at 800 West in Western Springs - family birthday dinner with L, Johnny and Erin with Lucy, and Ryan - celebrating Erin and L b-days. Nice atmosphere, so-so food, the Merlot was one of the few bright spots on a rather sparse and un-inspiring wine-list with no chance of redemption for lack of BYOB.

RM 88 points.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Dark inky purple and garnet color. Full bodied, full forward flavor of  blackberry, and black cherry with a layer of cassis and licorice, with hints of  leather, cedar, and smoke. Nicely balanced and smooth tannins on the lingering finish.Still life left in this thirteen year old that shows its maturity but is not past its prime.

RM 91 points.

The grey barnlike structure of the Corison winery sits right on the west side of Rt 29 just past Zinfandel Lane as one enters St Helena from the south, just past Del Dotto Vineyards and Winery.

Tasted at home w/ L with Beef Filet dinner.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowden 'Ranch' Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Snowden 'The Ranch' Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Andy brought this wine to dinner at Aria Restaurant in Cupertino. As posted in earlier notes, we first met Randy Snowden at one of our winemaker dinners at Brix Restaurant in Napa back in 1998 and have been collecting Snowden Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ever since. "The Ranch" label has been added in recent years. Randy and his brother Scott, both attorneys, preside over the property that sits 450 to 850 feet above the Silverado Trail. The property was acquired by their parents back in the fifties. My recollection from that meeting was that their father Wayne Snowden was a professor at UC Berkeley when he acquired the property in 1955. After he passed away in 1977 the brothers took over in 1981. They produced their first Snowden label vintage in 1993. Most of their production is sold to Silver Oak, Frank Family Vineyards, Viader and in recent years, David Ramey. 

During these Napa Wine Experience visits of 1997 through 2000 we hosted gala tasting dinners with the 'Undisccovered Dozen' "emerging new wine producers to watch", featured in an article in Wine Spectator Magazine. Many of these producers released their inaugural vintage releases in or about the 1994 vintage.  Those producers and winery visits included Plumpjack, David Arthur, Clark-Claudon, Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Elan,  Paradigm, Pride Vineyards, Snowden, Nils Venge and White Cottage. They are featured on my winesite A complete index of my tasting notes of these wines over the years is on the site at this link to California Producers Index. These producers make up a foundation of our wine cellar collection even today. In many of these wines, we still have vertical selections of these wines, some dating back to those early release vintages.Another of these tasting events is featured in my unwindwine blog

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon The Ranch is dark purple colored and medium to full bodied. It boasts complex flavors of berry, dark red fruit with a layer of tea and tobacco, with hints of licorice and cassis. This represents good value at $40 for a blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 75%, Cabernet Franc 18.2%, and Petit Verdot 6.8%.

RM 91 points.

Cal Cab Classics - Karl Lawrence Reserve Morisoli Vineyard 2005 - Spring Mtn Elivette 2003

Cal Cab Classics - Karl Lawrence Reserve Morisoli Vineyard 2005 - Spring Mtn Elivette 2003

With AJ and Lori, Saturday afternoon at Vintages on Santana Row in San Jose, bought and poured two class premium California Cabernet Sauvignons with cheese, olives and pasta salad from the neighborhood gourmet deli.It doesn't get much better.

Karl Lawrence Reserve Gary Morisoli Vineyard 2005 - Dark purple color - medium-full bodied. Complex, polished and smooth but somewhat subdued nose and fruit flavors of black currant, black berry and black cherry fruits with hints of tobacco and anise on a well balanced lingering finish. Perhaps needs more time to open and fully reveal itself.

RM 92 points.

Spring Mountain Elivette Napa Valley Red Wine 2003

A Bordeaux style blend. Dark purple color, full-bodied - complex and polished but a bit closed and tight with subdued full forward flavors of black berry and black cherry fruit with hints of spice, cedar, and touch of coffee flavors, This one too will evolve for a few more years to further reveal itself.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007 

Tasted with Allan B over dinner at Grange Restaurant in Sacramento. This wine is from the Hudson Ranch Vineyard down in the Carneros Appellation in Napa Valley, my second such wine in as many weeks after just tasting the Ramey Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay at a gala dinner recently and posted on this blog - Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons flight and Carneros Chardonnay. The area with its cooler weather from fog rolling in from the nearby San Pablo Bay, the north end of San Francisco Bay is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. What a remarkable find in this Syrah from the Hudson Ranch property just north of the Napa Sonoma Road above Domaine Chandon.  

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007 -
This is the most memorable and extraordinary Syrah I can recall ever having. While not as big or forward as some of the powerful, concentrated, forward fruit filled South Australian Shiraz' I have had, this cousin Syrah was the most complex and and polished.  While Robert Parker describes the 2007 as “a huge, massive force, which combines chocolate, crème de cassis, blackberries", I get lost in his references to "soy, beef jerky, smoked game, and Peking duck". I agree with his characterization of "thick, juicy personality - full-bodied with amazing purity and a stunning finish.” I also concur and relate to Stephen Tanzer' comments, “Knockout aromas and flavors of black raspberry, mocha, animal fur, licorice and pepper. Suave on entry, then almost shockingly energetic in the middle, combining superb density with an almost magically light touch. This very pure wine delivers outstanding syrah character." Did he say animal fur? Okay, I don't get that either, but the rest is spot on.

While this is the most extraordinary Syrah I've ever had, certainly so for any from California, or the French Rhone River Valley for that matter, which includes Chateauneuf du Pape and surrounding appellations, it is also one of the most expensive I've had. At $150 per bottle retail price, its listed on the Grange Wine-list for $275, only a very select few Syrah or Shiraz wines are found at that price-point. Its an adventure and a memorable wine and is worth trying if you can find it, and afford it. It should be available since at that price and with 450 cases produced it should be around.

I concur with the above mentioned reviews and ratings of the others:

RM 94, RP 94 -96 points, ST 94 WA 94 WA 94-96

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fifty-Row and Franciscan Estate Napa Cabs

Fifty-Row and Franciscan Estate Napa Cabs

Pair of Napa Cabs provided by AJ to accompany steak dinner at Forbes Mill Steak house in Los Gatos, CA w/ Mike L, David H and Allan B.

Fifty-Row Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The second vintage of a wine from proprietor Paul Johnson made by winemaker Gary Galleron of former winemaking efforts at Grace Family, Vineyard 29 and Winehall Lane, Del Dotto, Hartwell and Seavey. The grapes are sourced 50% each from two well-known Napa vineyards from which Gary made great wine with in the past, the Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford and the Lewelling Vineyard in the St Helena foothills.

This wine exhibits dark purple color, medium-full bodied; firm tight concentrated blackberry and black cherry with a layer of tea, tobacco, subtle mocha and mineral on a lingering tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Dark purple color, full bodied, firm silky tannins with forward concentrated dark black cherry, black berry with a layer of cassis, hint of tobacco and touch of spicy vanilla and toasty oak.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

St. Hallett Faith South Australia Barossa Shiraz 2006

St. Hallett Faith South Australia Barossa Shiraz 2006 

Dark inky black purple color - dense full bodied and chewy; initially tart cherry quickly burns off and gives way to black berry, tar, spicy cedar, hints of tobacco, white pepper, anise, charcoal and smoke on a lingering moderate tannin oaky berry finish. Slightly obtuse and lacking polish but an amazing value at $12.99.

RM 88 points.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons flight and Carneros Chardonnay

Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons flight and Carneros Chardonnay

For a gala dinner to celebrate Beth's birthday, we opened a flight of Napa Valley Howell Mountain big Cabernet Sauvignons to go with NY Strip steaks from the farm. Starting with caprese salad, lobster medallions were featured with a Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay and Champagne. Artisan cheeses included Fair Oaks Farms aged cheddar cheeses - 2, 3 and 5 years old.We finished with Linda's fabulous flowerless dark chocolate cake and Eiswein.

Main course big cabs flight ... 

Clark Claudon Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

This was the consensus favorite of the tasting.

Deep dark purple - full bodied - big mouth-full of forward complex but polished spicy black and edge of red berry fruits, violets, layers of mocha and oak with a long lingering tannin finish.

The 2004 Napa growing season was condensed with early bud break, warm days, cool nights and one challenging heat spike. The result was a small harvest of intense, flavor packed fruit from an unusual, but exceptional year that is showing and drinking well and should last another decade.

RM 93 points.

We first met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark during our Napa Wine Experience 1999 when we hosted them at our wine dinner at Pinot Blanc in St Helena (see picture left). We tasted Clark Claudon 1995-96 against ten year 1989 Bordeaux. Our vertical collection of  Clark Claudon continues to this day.


O'Shaughnessy Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Dark inky color, full bodied, the black berry, black currant and black raspberry fruit predominate but are a bit flabby lacking the more typical depth and concentration of greater vintages, a layer of lead pencil and a slight herbaceous tone, hints of tobacco and charcoal linger on the firm tight tannins indicative of Howell Mountain terroir. 

RM 89 points.

La Jota Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Dark inky purple, full bodied, notes of blackberry, black raspberry and black currant, turning to cedar,  leather, then oak and silky smooth tannins on the finish.

RM 90 points.

Legendary winery on Howell Mountain since the turn of the last century released wines as early as the late 1890's.

Blue Hall Vineyards Camiana Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Blue Hall Vineyard sits 1700 feet above the valley floor atop Howell Mountain. Its three acres are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and is the used to produce one Estate bottled single vineyard wine, Camiana, named for Juliane and Camille, the two daughters of Vintner and owner, Dr. Andrew Zolopa, is a world-renowned researcher and the director of Stanford University's HIV/AIDS program. Zolopa spends most of his time researching HIV, but his second passion is wine; and his spare time is dedicated to fine-tuning Blue Hall Vineyard.Cabernet Sauvignon. They built a get-away weekend retreat high up on Howell Mountain and eventually planted three acres of Cabernet vines. The first limited vintage was in 2004, increasing production with the subsequent releases. 

The wine is full bodied and dark inky purple color, the nose is perfumed with violets, cedar box and dusty earth, The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon flavors are complex, tight and dry, with big firm tannins masking the intense concentrated black berry and black cherry fruit accented with tobacco, hints of cassis and sweet oak. This wine is great now but should be laid down for five to 10 years.

RM 91 points.

 Before dinner, with the artisan cheeses ...    

FogDog Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2006 

Medium bodied, ruby colored, bing cherries, raspberries, cedar, spice box, and hints of anise and mocha.

RM 88 points.

A Joseph Phelps project, Freestone Vineyards are a 100-acre, cool climate site on the Sonoma Coast now coming into production, with a selection of  Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs under the Freestone and this FogDog labels.

Ramey Napa Valley Carneros Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2005

This was highly praised by everyone. Medium bodied with  golden yellow color; full forward creamy flavors of pear, lychee and baked apple with hints of nut, caramel, and touch of citrus - nice structure and depth with a well balanced clean and crisp lingering aftertaste. 

RM 91 points.  

 Situated in the rolling hills of Carneros in the southern Napa Valley on the road to Sonoma sits Hudson Ranch whose Hudson Vineyards source grapes to over 32 wineries throughout Napa and Sonoma counties.Carneros is one of the nations finest grape growing regions where the cool breezes off north San Francisco Bay allow the grapes a longer hang time in which to develop flavor and intensity, without sacrificing acidity and balance. The Hudson site was originally known as Talcoa Vineyards, an Indian name meaning ‘laughing land.’ It was on these lands in the 1880’s that the first American successful scientific experiments were carried out to overcome phylloxera, which was devastating the vineyards of Europe.

Hudson Vineyards produces 10 different grape varietals in the Los Carneros AVA of Napa, California on 160 acres.Only a select few producers that source their grapes from Hudson produce wines that bear the ‘Hudson Vineyards’ designation. These producers are those whom Hudson Vineyards has established long term contracts to for specific blocks of the vineyards. Those wines are of great importance and interest as those are sites of intense, interesting, varietal the grower and the winemakers.

The vineyards north of the Carneros Highway, but further west, have terrain that is more rolling with lighter more  friable soil. This year’s bottling is the second to come entirely from B-block, planted in 2001 to a Wente selection from the Hyde Vineyard, so the vines were eight years old this vintage and further developing their maturity resulting in Hudson Vineyard wines being more muscular and masculine broad-shouldered character.

Finis w/ flowerless dark chocolate cake and fresh berries ... 

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Eisrebe 2010

100% estate-grown Scheurebe from a Spring Valley Vineyards outside of St. Helena. The Scheurebe grapes are picked late in the season and then frozen, thereby concentrating their already high sugar levels resulting in a wine viscous and smooth, with good acidity levels to balance the sweetness, and luscious flavors of citrus and apricot.The grapes are left to shrivel on the vines. They must reach the same level of sugar concentration
as Beerenauslese.

Pale gold, full  bodied. Predominant full concentrated Peach flavor with hints of apricot, orange oil and clove on the luscious long lingering finish and aftertaste.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sangiovese - Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Oakville Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve 2002

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Oakville Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2002

Wow, this is a totally different, much better wine than earlier tasting last year. Similar to the 2000 vintage journal review with its dark garnet color and medium bodied, this was bursting with full forward flavors of dark berry, hints of red berry fruits, with subtle tones of herb and anise notes and touch of leather and tobacco.on a moderate tannin lingering finish. 

RM 91 points.

Nils Venge was one of the pioneers and champions of the Italian Sangiovese varietal in Napa Valley. He was winemaker for Del Dotto when they planted the front acre at the estate on Hwy 29 at Zinfandel and released the Del Dotto Sangiovese back around 1998 which we featured in our tasting journal from that era. We first tried and then purchased this Venge Family Vineyards Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese at the winery during our Napa Wine Experience 2002  - Venge Vineyards, Rossini Ranch (picture below). See our Venge Wines Tasting Journal of Venge wines. Contrary to our most previous tasting notes for this vintage release which were lackluster, this time the wine burst with berry fruit aromas and flavors.

Rick & AJ tasting with Nils at Tra Vigne in St Helena

The Sangiovese grape varietal hails from Italy and is best known blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to craft the popular Italian wines known as "Super Tuscans." Sangiovese is a fairly delicate variety in terms of the fragrances and flavors it offers. In the hotter, drier parts of Southern Tuscany it produces bigger fleshier wines than those made in Chianti and other cooler, higher areas. Sangiovese can produce highly aromatic, fragrant wines with nicely integrated tannic structure.

If you are looking for wines that are 100% Sangiovese, you'll find it in Italian wines from Montalcino, where wines are made from the Brunello grape, also known as Sangiovese. Grosso, an especially high quality clone of the Sangiovese grape produces full-bodied and powerful wines labeled Brunello di Montalcino which rank with Barolo as Italy's most-ageworthy wines. Rosso di Montalcino, grown in the same area is also 100% Brunello, but results in a softer, fruitier wine that requires much less aging. Popular producers for both Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino include Altesino, Caparzo, and Val di Suga.

Sangiovese remains rare in Napa Valley where Cabernet Sauvignon is king. Look for Del Dotto and Venge Sangiovese and you'll be rewarded with a the perfect natural complement to Italian fare. As in our previous tasting journal on Venge Penny Lane Family Reserve Sangiovese, we took this to our favorite local Italian bistro Angelis Italian in Naperville.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lobster Tail dinner and Catherine & Pascal Rollet Domaine de la Chapelle Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2007 and Liparita Napa Valley Yountville Chardonnay 2006.

Catherine & Pascal Rollet Domaine de la Chapelle Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2007 and Liparita Napa Valley Yountville 2006 and Liparita Napa Valley Yountville 2006.

For our lobster tail dinner we served Catherine & Pascal Rollet Domaine de la Chapelle 2007 from Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes Burgundy and Liparita Napa Valley Yountville Chardonnay 2006. 

Linda preferred the lighter, citrus forward, non-oaked French Burgundian Chardonnay while I preferred the fuller, sweet oak, caramel and nut laced Napa Chardonnay. 

Pouilly-Fuissé is the appellation in the Maconnais region in southern Burgundy known for most renowned  white wines produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes grown in the communes of Chaintre, Fuisse, Solutre-Pouilly and Vergisson.

The Pouilly-Fuissé appellation officially dates back to 1936 although the boundaries were drawn up as early as 1922. It covers around 2000 acres (800ha) of hillside vineyards, planted on limestone-rich clay soil atop a granitic base. The 1600 foot (500-m) limestone escarpment known as the Roche de Solutre is located at the heart of the appellation's vine-growing area and towers over the vineyards below.

The Pouilly-Fuissé title on a wine label may be completed by the name of the specific vineyard where the grapes were grown. The most commonly cited are La Roche, Les Vignes Blanches, Aux Chailloux and Les Crays. There is no Premier Cru system within the appellation, so quality is indicated through the reputations of producers and their vineyards.

Pouilly-Fuissé wines are typically full-bodied, ripe and relatively elegant, with the best examples rivaling the finer wines of the Cote de Beaune.

Light-medium bodied, straw colored, the nose is full and forward with lemon and grapefruit;.flavors of toasty pear and tropical fruits are accented with hints of caramel apple and toffee, with a mineral-driven long, lemon-scented finish.

RM 88 points.

Liparita Napa Valley Yountville Chardonnay 2006

Butter colored, medium bodied, sweet oak, sweet nut and pear flavors laced with a layer of caramel and hint of vanilla on a tangy finish.  

RM 89 points.