Tuesday, February 28, 2012

St. Hallet Gamekeeper's Reserve Barossa Shiraz Grenache 2009

St. Hallet Gamekeeper's Reserve Barossa Shiraz Grenache 2009

Another discovery of a great value over-achiever from this Barossa Valley South Australia producer. See recent review of their St. Hallett Faith South Australia Barossa Shiraz 2006.

Dark black purple color, full  bodied. Full forward flavorful black berry, black cherry and a layer of red berry fruits accented by pepper, spice, hint of floral, with a slight metallic note which I associate with the Grenache. Moderate to full tannins on the lingering finish.Great value Barossa Shiraz that is somewhat complex but pleasant for easy drinking.

This was available by the glass at Seasons 58 Restaurant in Atlanta/Dunwoody. Great compliment to the beet salad, cheeses, and the chocolate mousse desert. Blend of 56% Shiraz, 35% Grenache, and 9% Touriga Nacional.

RM 88 points. 



Saturday, February 25, 2012

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2012

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2012

Still gathering pics - more to follow.

Its that time of year again - a highly anticipated annual event in the life of a wine-geek.No, its not the vintage viticulture milestones, the bud break, grape vine pruning, harvest picking, crush, blending, or the release party. Its OTBN - Open That Bottle Night. Great fun, food, friends and of course, great wine in our OTBN 2012! See feature from OTBN 2011.

Credit (or blame) for this annual wine bachanalia goes to Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, was 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 Gaiter and Brecher to say, what the heck, go for it, Open That Bottle (to)Night. 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 even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because amazingly, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not. What the heck, Open That Bottle (To) Night!. Let the fun begin. 

Linda did her usual masterful job of preparing a spectacular dinner - a selection of artisan cheeses including blue, 2 and 5 year aged cheddar, cranberry cheddar, cranberry almond cheddar, french baguette, assorted biscuits and crackers. Alongside were an assortment of cheese stuffed olives, pickles and medley of vegetables and fruits. Dinner began with caprese salad featuring beef-steak tomatoes, beef tenderloin, her unique baked corn casserole, twice baked potatoes, green beans followed by her sensational flowerless chocolate case with whipped cream and an assortment of fresh berries.  

Yikes, we woke up this morning and found all the lemon sorbet dishes in the freezer that we forgot to serve last night between courses.

I started the gala by revealing a gift wrapped box given to me fifteen years ago by a fellow wine aficionado that I summarily tucked away in the cellar. With much anticipation, I opened it tonight to reveal a  magnum of Bollinger Special Cuvee Champagne. Thankfully it wasn't cheese!

Dr Dan presented three wines, Iron Horse Sonoma County Green Valley Thomas Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998, Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, and a 'mystery 'bottle - the inaugural release of a special Italian varietal production by a personal friend. It was surprisingly good for something bottled just three weeks ago!

Bill and Beth brought the spectacular Wine Spectator Wine of the Year for 1999, the 1996 vintage Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon. He also provided a Tobin James "Liquid Love" Late Harvest Zinfandel Paso Robles 2005 desert wine. Beth brought some additional artisan cheeses befitting the medley of dessert wines as well as the big cabs and cab based Bordeaux.

I chipped in a Cinq Cepages 1994 to taste off against the legendary 1996 for comparison.

Ernie presented two left Bank Bordeaux - 1996 Chateau Lafon Rochet St Estephe and Chateau Les Fort Latour, Pauillac from the spectacular 2000 vintage.

Ryan & Michelle brought 2008 Bordeaux commemorating their anniversary year - Chateau Brane Cantenac Margaux and Chateau Pichon Baron Pauillac. They also brought a Robert Craig Affinity Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 for us to taste and extend our horizontal collection that dates back to the inaugural release 2003.

Lyle and Terry brought a legendary 98 point port - Niepoort Porto 1997, and an accompanying ever popular and one of Linda's favorites, Thorne Clark Shotfire Shiraz 2006. To complement the port, Terry provided artisan gorgonzola and cranberry stilton cheeses and fine dark chocolates.  

Sara added a chocolate infused desert wine from Vienna, Illinois, "Voyage into Night" from Shawnee Wines from near the Shawnee National Forest down near Carbondale.

I opened two of the classic and ever-popular TBA - Trockenberenauslese Austrian wines from Kracher, from the 1998 vintage, the classic Kracher Scheurebe TBA #12 Zwischen den Seen 1998   and  Alois Kracher Chardonnay/Welschriesling TBA #7 Nouvelle Vague 1998

Matt C (posing behind magnum below) opened a wonderful Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1996.

Two other 'what-the-heck, Open That Bottle (To)Night wines were ... 

Also attending were Johnny, Erin, Lucy and Jared G, and dropping in, passing through were Sean and Megan. 

Finally, this was the first gathering of the Chicago Wine Spectator Grand Tour group since that event last spring, excepting Eric who unfortunately could not attend due to a Board meeting commitment in Las Vegas. However, to attend and participate in spirit, Eric sent in a very special commemorative bottle as the ultimate artifact befitting the OTBN occasion, a non-vintage select bottle of Monto Rosso that he was able to acquire at a special benefit fund raising auction. Since Eric and Cathy could not attend in person and share in this special selection, we're saving for a future time when we can all gather together and partake of this special bottle. 
Stay tuned for more highlights and postings from OTBN 2012. Share your experience below.

See Bill's report at http://billswines.blogspot.com/2012/02/open-that-bottle-night-2012.html 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Italian - 1997 Vintage Cal-Ital, Cal-Cab Taste-off

Italian - 1997 Vintage Cal-Ital, Cal-Cab Taste-off

Gala Italian business dinner tasting featuring two Italian classics, a Lombardia Nebiolo and a 1997 vintage Sangiovese from Napa Valley against two 1997 vintage California Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, served in that order, lightest and brightest to tightest and firmest. Wines from cellar taken to our favorite cantina, Angeli's Italian Restaurant in Naperville. The artichoke in dill dip and mussels appetizers were typically incredible. The veal and pasta dishes were their customary tasty - great backdrop to showcase this wine flight.   

Venge Oakville Napa Valley Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 1997

Nino Negri Valtellina Sfursat 5 Stelle, Lombardia, Valtellina, Italy 2004

Cornerstone Cellars Cornerstone Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Venge Oakville Napa Valley Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 1997

Dark purple - medium - full bodied, this was the most expressive of the flight, bright lively forward fruits, red berry, ripe plum and spicy cherry with hints of cedar aroma and taste and a touch of anise on a lingering smooth tannin finish. Still life in this fifteen year old. More expressive than earlier tasting. 

This went well with the salads as well as the pasta entrees.

RM 89 points.


From our Venge vertical collection that is highlighted regularly in this blog. Another of Venge's Sangioveses that we discovered, first tasted and purchased this wine during our winery visit and at a lunch tasting with winemaker Nils Venge as part of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2002. In earlier blog posts I've written about that visit and previous tasting notesother vintage tasting notes, and Nils Venge, his work with the Sangiovese grape varietal and its history. .Click on the Venge link for more features. 

Nino Negri Valtellina Sfursat 5 Stelle, Lombardia, Valtellina, Italy 2004

Brick red color, medium bodied, nose black fruits, wood and hint of floral. Slightly subdued black berry and black cherry fruits predominant with undertone of black tea, leather and hint of baking spices with supple tannins that are smooth and well integrated.

RM 88  points. 


Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Rich medium full bodied. A bit tight, fruit filled with black currant, black berry, raspberry, cassis with a slight bit of astringency, hints of black pepper and smoke with silky tannins on the finish. (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc). This wine is more expressive than early in life showing lingering fruit and staying power.This is Robert Craig's Cabernet Blend from his three mountains (Mt Veeder, Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain) and a (Napa) Valley collection. Known for its good value and early drinking ability, this fifteen year old is holding up well. We have these wines dating back to the inaugural 1993 vintage in our cellar.

RM 91 points.


From our Robert Craig vertical collection that is highlighted regularly in this blog. Click on the Robert Craig link for more features.

Cornerstone Cellars Cornerstone Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Dark purple color, medium-full bodied; a bit tight, predominant black berry and black raspberry fruits with a layer of tea, tobacco, leather and hint of smoke; nicely integrated smooth tannins with hint of cassis, oak and earth on a lingering finish.

RM 90 points.


The two Cabernets were spectacular with the dark brown sauce of the portabella mushroom ravioli.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bon Soiree Chicago French-Asian Fusion Dining and Wine Experience

Bon Soiree Chicago French-Asian Fusion Dining and Wine Experience

Gala birthday celebration at this trendy Logan Square neighborhood French-Asian Fusion sensation - walking distance from the kid's Bucktown domicile - a Michelin One Star award winner. A classic food and wine pairing opportunity where this evening the wine stars were the whites over a usual favorite classic super second Bordeaux.

The venue:

The courses:

Fresh Sardine in Flash Pickle with Thai Basil Sformato, Charred Radish & Japanese Cucumber Terrine, Sweet Soy Marinated Shimeji, and Mushroom Aioli.

Assiette of Foie, Honey, Black Truffle, Stout, and Brioche

 Kona Kampachi Crudo, Geoduck Clam, Housemade Tofu, Okara, Bonito, Ponzu, and Scallion


    Seared Scallop, Bacon, Pulled Salsify, Mirin Sauce, and Fried Yuba.

    Roasted Wagyu Ribeye, Ginger-Tarragon Emulsion, Purslane, Fermented Back Bean, Mini Parsnip & Purple Potato Pearls.

     Coconut Bavarian, White Miso Cake, Lemon Sorbet, and Shiso Crema.

The wines:

Fantesca Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008

Crisp, clean, rich, well balanced; bright golden light straw in color with aromas of classic chardonnay - green apple, pear, citrus, honeysuckle and lemon meringue pie. Flavors of tropical fruit, lychee, and subtle lemon custard resonate through the broad mid-palate The oak is very subtle and delicate highlighting the fruit.This is the first Chardonnay produced by the legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett whose Napa Valley resume includes winemaking stints at Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, and her own La Sirena.

This classic Burgundian style chardonnay was the highlight and perfect complement to the three seafood courses above.
RM 91 points.

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Grand Cru Classe Pauillac Bordeaux 2001

95 points and a 'Cellar Selection' from Wine Enthusiast: "The high proportion of Merlot in Pichon Lalande is a good reason why this wine, among the great wines of Pauillac, is always so seductive. This is no exception; it charms as well as excites with vibrant fruits as well as serious, dense tannins and acidity that promise good aging. Give it 7-9 years for full maturity to begin." (11/07) 93 points Robert Parker: "A distinctive bouquet of violets, soy, pepper, blackberries, cassis, and tree bark gives this 2001 a singular style. This dense ruby/purple-colored blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and a whopping 14% Petit Verdot exhibits plenty of structure, wonderful sweetness, a closed style, but a rich, textured, persistent character. The unusually large percentage of Petit Verdot gives the wine more structure and less initial charm. This beauty needs some time in the cellar. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2018." (06/04) 92 points Wine Spectator: "Plenty of tobacco, berry and cedar aromas and flavors. Medium- to full-bodied, with sweet fruit and refined tannins. Long and ripe fruit on the finish. Not quite as exciting as from barrel. Best after 2007." (03/04) 92 points Stephen Tanzer: "Red-ruby. Enticing aromas of plum, woodsmoke and Cuban tobacco. Lush, silky and suave, with intriguing hints of mocha and cedar. A wonderfully sweet, impeccably balanced claret without any rough edges. Finishes long and firmly tannic."

Blend - Cabernet Sauvignon: 50%, Merlot: 36%, Petit Verdot: 14%

Tasting Notes - Thomas Dô-Chi-Nam (winemaker)
Exhibiting a dark ruby colour, this Grand Vin develops aromas of rose petal, violets, cassis, and stone fruits.
On the palate; it is both clean and silky, which develops and intensifies through the mid palate and is well sustained by a certain overall smoothness. By the nature of this wine, it sustains a flavoursome and well developed body. With an aromatic finish, it is subtly spiced, showing hints of cinnamon, liquorice, and cherry, all helping to accompany a very notable length in mouth. This is a well structured vintage, both elegant and distinguished and is indeed characteristic of Pichon.

My notes -
Medium-full bodied, dark purple color. Full bouquet and flavors of floral, violets, cigar box and leather that are pervasive from the beginning through the lingering finish, with complex layers of blackberry and a hint of cedar and moderate silky tannins. A high achievement from a modest vintage.
RM 92 points.


Inniskillin Niagara  Peninsula VQA Oak Aged Vidal Eiswein 2004

Aromas of apple blossoms, apricot with hint of cinnamon-raison bread. On the palate, this beautifully rich dessert wine follows through nicely with mix of apricot, mango and a strong honeyed fig component. The overall finish has good length with tantalizing flashes of exotic fruit and spice.

RM 92 points.


More to follow ...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Angelis Italian Dinner with Vintage California Cabs matched with a Tuscan Blend

Angelis Italian Dinner with Vintage California Cabs matched with a Tuscan Blend

Birthday celebration continues with dinner at Angeli's Italian - our  favorite local trattoria featuring a special vintage California Cabernet Sauvignon selection against a Tuscan blend. As always, the Angeli's Portabello Mushroom Ravioli and Lasagna are great accompaniments to big wines. For this special occasion dinner we pulled out a favorite Lewis Reserve Cabernet 1998 while Bill C brought a Seavey Napa Cab from the same vintage. These were matched against an interesting Merlot Sangiovese Tuscan blend Castello di Gabbiano Alleanza Toscana IGT 2006.

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1998

Dark, full bodied, full forward complex mouthful of ripe rich almost sweet black currant, plum, black raspberry, with a layer of black cherry, anise, a hint of mocha on a long firm finish of big firm but smooth polished and nicely integrated tannins.

WS 91, RM 92, Bill C 92 points. 

Bill C notes - Very much a new world style, huge with dark fruit. Deep purple in the glass, with, herbs, spice and oak on the nose. A fruit bomb on the palate, evidencing blackberry, plum, cassis and surprisingly almost no oak. The Lewis offers a mouth filling, palate coating finish that goes on an on. As enjoyable as it is now, the Lewis seems to have plenty of time left. One can only imagine what this will be like in 10 years.

 Seavey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 

Bill brought this from his cellar and posted his review on Cellartracker.

The Seavey is drinking very well and in the sweet spot of its drinking window. The nose provides a combination of floral, moss and mineral notes. The Seavey reveals red fruit, spice, a bit of vanilla and oak on the palate. It also required a full 90 minutes to reveal its complexity. This is a traditional cab, stylistically much like a left bank Bordeaux.

Bill C 90 points.


Castello di Gabbiano Alleanza Toscana IGT 2006

Bill's notes on the Alleanza. What a pleasant surprise! I am partial to super Tuscans with a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Alleanza is 70% Merlot and 30% Sangiovese and was bigger and more fruit forward than the blend implies. Bright red in the glass with an unimpressive nose, the wine opened to reveal bright fruits, cherry, raspberry on the front palate evolving to earthy, leather and mocha on the finish. It was smooth, well balanced and the Merlot softened the acidity I usually associate with Sangiovese.  

Bills rating - 87 points. 

 My earlier notes - Dark color, full bodied, nice tapestry of flavors - dark cherry, black berry, hints of violets and vanilla nicely integrated silky tannins and soft oak. 

RM rating 88 points.


Dinner with L, Bill and Beth C and Bob and Gloria. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Le Petit Cafe - Country French Cuisine and Wine Experience in B-Town

Le Petit Cafe - Country French Cuisine and Wine Experience in B-Town

An evening at the Le Petit Cafe in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, another visit to this unique dining site that offers authentic Provencal country French cuisine and an opportunity for a French wine flight. As their website says, "Our flair comes from our quirkiness," sums it up well! '.... do not expect expensive silverware, costly and ostentatious embellishments, or, ridiculously overpriced wines. Instead, expect generous servings, warm and unaffected atmosphere, sensible pricing, and hearty, wholesome food." A perfect setting for college visit w./ L, Erin and Lucy to see Alec and friends David and Nate, Shaunik and Reesha..

We dined on steak with herbs and garlic, boneless pork with grapes, sauteed white fish, and chicken in a white gravy like sauce. Steak Aromates, Poulet à l'estragon, Lapin à la moutarde, and Saumon sauce Antiboise. The  entrées came with a potato and leek soup, roasted and potatoes and a heart of beet.

Our wine flight consisted of a range of French selections from the Borgogne, lower Rhone, and a vintege right bank Pomerol Bordeaux.

The wines:

Domaine Santa Duc, Prestige des Hautes Garrigues Gigondas 1998

Louis Latour, Fleurie Les Garans Cote-D'Or 2000

Clos Rene Pomerol Bordeaux 1994

Domaine Santa Duc, Prestige des Hautes Garrigues Gigondas 1998 - 
This was the biggest of the four wines, even moreso than the Chateauneuf-du-Pape - and was a perfect accompaniment to the pate and the steaks. Dark color - medium - full bodied. As we work through this case in its 12th year, this wine seems to be more subdued but more balanced, integrated and polished than when younger. Still exhibiting full forward black berry, black cherry and hints of anise, slight earthy leather on a moderate firm tannin finish.

RM 90 points. 


Louis Latour, Fleurie Les Garans Cote-D'Or 2000

From the vineyard of Les Garans, situated to the north-east of the village of Fleurie, acknowledged as one of the finest sites for growing top quality grapes because of its combination of unique soil composition and specific microclimate. This wine is deliciously floral on the nose and possesses great smoothness on the palate with a wonderful balancing acidity. Deep red in colour with a clean and rounded bouquet of ripe red fruits. Structured, balanced and quite sinewy on the finish.  This was a nice balance to the bigger Gigondas and Bordeaux and a accompaniment to the rabbit with brown sauce, yet sufficiently delicate to pair nicely with the chicken. 

RM 87 points.


Clos Rene Pomerol Bordeaux 1994

Dark inky purple, medium-full bodied. Complex black cherry and black berry with a layer of anise, leather and a hint of tobacco and smoke on the finish with lingering slightly dry tannins.

RM 88 points.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

What a nice surprise to find the 2000 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon on the winelist at Truffles Restaurant and 56 Degree Bar in Bloomington, Indiana during campus visit to son Alec. Tasted with Dennis and Bev M. This wine has all the essential characteristics of a Mt.Veeder appellation Cabernet – dense, generous black fruit integrated with fine, ripe tannins.

Expansive aromas of dark black fruit, dusty cedar, chocolate and mint, which deepen over time. Extra-rich, concentrated flavors of ripe black fruit, currant, and cassis, finished with a touch of mint, cream and spice. The finish features a solid, thick core of black fruit that lengthens and combines with silky chocolate, cedar and cassis for a plush, long-lived finish. 

Blend: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc

RM 91 points. 


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000

We discovered, first tasted and purchased this wine during our winery visit and at a lunch tasting with winemaker Nils Venge as part of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2002. In earlier blog posts I've written about that visit and previous tasting notesother vintage tasting notes, and Nils Venge, his work with the Sangiovese grape varietal and its history. .

As with earlier tasting notes, the 2000 Venge Vineyards Sangiovese is grown on the Venge Family Estate Penny Lane Vineyard in Oakville. Ripe and smooth for a Sangiovese, the 2000 is dark inky color but starting to show a tinge of rust and brown edges at this stage of life. Medium bodied, it still presents pretty, ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors at its core highlighted by a layer of herb and anise notes and touch of leather and tobacco. It has a flavorful lush long finish. 
RM 90 points.

Tasted with L and Sean celebrating his birthday at Angelis, our favorite neighborhood Italian trattorria.  


Tasting with Nils Venge at Tra Vigne
in St Helena, Napa Valley
Venge Vineyards Family Reserve
Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese

Friday, February 3, 2012

Darioush Napa Valley Shiraz 2003

Darioush Napa Valley Shiraz 2003

Continuing recent exploration of California Napa Valley Shiraz' that began with the spectacular standard bearer Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007.

Rick with Olivier Bernard and
Darioush Khaledi
We discovered Darioush wines at Cress Creek Country Club.We then visited the winery and first tasted this wine during during our Napa Wine Experience 2003 winery visit and cellar tasting with winemaker Steve McDevitt. We enjoyed an elegant Darioush Winemaker dinner at Everest Restaurant in Chicago hosted by owner producer Darioush and Shaptar Khaledi celebrating their collaboration with Olivier Bernard and Domaine de Chevalier in Pesaac Leognan Bordeaux. Chef Joho prepared a special dinner featuring and complementing their wines poured by winemaker Steve McDevitt.

The magnificent Darioush Winery sitting at the bottom of Silverado Trail as you depart the town of Napa heading north into the eastern Napa Valley, is a key attraction when visiting wine region. They feature private tours and cellar tastings or there is an elegant wine bar where you can taste Darioush wines without a reservation.

This 2003 Darioush Shiraz exhibited dark purple color - medium-full bodied. Polished and complex, the pundits refer to pomegranate fruit which I admit I can't characterize. This wine has predominant black berry fruits highlighted by vanilla, a layer of sweet caramel, and tones of  spice and nut flavors- polished and smooth with a layer of lingering red fruits on a long finish.  The fruit is from the Ashley Vineyard over near Oak Knoll on the western ridge of Nape combined with Estate Vineyard fruit. This was tasted at home with L, a great companion to aged rib-eye beef tenderloin dinner with hearty cheese au-gratin potatoes and capise salad. 

RM 91 points. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Interesting evidence and example showing how timing is such a vital part of a tasting experience - especially for a late life mature wine. Dark black purple color - medium-full bodied.Initially, upon opening the fruit was subdued and muted, overtaken by a leather, wood cedar warranting an 87 rating. The next evening the character changed with full floral aromatics and tastes lingering throughout, highlighted by black cherry, black berry, anise and hints of black olive tapenade with the floral lingering on the moderate tannin finish, increasing the rating to an 89

This was a great accompaniment to beef steak roast, roasted potatoes and cooked carrots.