Monday, July 30, 2012

Elderton Ashmead Family Barossa Shiraz 2004

Elderton Ashmead Family Barossa Shiraz 2004

Bottle/label shown
from 2003 vintage
Fruit for Elderton Shiraz is grown exclusively on the Elderton Estate Vineyards situated on the banks of the North Para River, Nuriootpa, Barossa Valley, South Australia. The 2004 was an ideal vintage for Shiraz in the Barossa with a wonderful cool growing season allowing physiological ripeness. This Estate Shiraz has become a "benchmark" wine for the Barossa Valley.

Fabulous complement to hearty blue cheeses on simple crackers, the 2004 Elderton Ashmead Family Barossa Shiraz exhibits dark purple/black in color with dark garnet rim, medium-full bodied, moderately complex, nicely balanced wine that predominates with a lively mineral tin flavor accented by flavorful blackberry, ripe plum, cherry and blueberry fruits with hints of mocha, tobacco and cedar on a flavorful finish. Approachable and drinkable now, consider this the poor man's little brother to the more expensive Elderton 'Command' Shiraz which received 98 points from Robert Parker for this vintage but which remains closed and subdued needing more time to reveal itself. Tasted from 375ml half bottle.

RM 90 points.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Art Institute Garden Summer Lunch Wines

Art Institute Garden Summer Lunch Wines

One of Linda's favorite eateries in the whole world, sitting by the fountain under summer sun in the McKinlock Garden Court Restaurant at the Art Institute of Chicago. Long-time members, we frequent this idyllic setting several times a year. They have a delightful summer menu with an imaginative, modest but appropriate wine pairing menu selection. Today's visit to the Art Institute was for the Roy Lichtenstein special exhibit.

To accompany L's Chicken Curry Salad she had a 2010 Spanish Albarino from Martín Códax from the Rias Baixas Salnés Valley Spain. I had a grilled pork loin with chantarelle mushrooms, leeks, carmelized onions and arugula accompanied by Chateau Mont-Redon Cotes-du-Rhone 2010.


Martín Códax Rias Baixas Salnés Valley Spain Albarino 2010 

Round, medium-full bodied, light pale straw-yellow green colour with a touch of ripe lemon. Bright and slightly sparkling color. Full  elegant aromas and flavors of green apples, citrus, grapefruit, a hint of peach with a tangy outgoing freshness.

RM 87 points.

Château Mont-Redon Côtes du Rhône 2010

We visited Chateau Mont Redon during our Rhone Valley Wine Experience. It sits in the slopes overlooking the Rhone River Valley adjacent to their Chateauneuf-du-Papes estate on the route from the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Roquenauer up to l'Orange heading north from town.

The rocky river terrain with its classic stony, limestone-clay plains produces dense intense dark fruit coaxed to maturity and ripeness by the persistent sun.

The 2010 Cotes-du-Rhone is typically aromatic, simple easy drinking medium-full bodied, garnet colored, dark cherry and red berry fruits, with a layer of spice, smoke and anise with a hint of black pepper.

RM 86 points.
Mont Redon vineyard - note the rocky soil and low cut
vines to help them withstand the mistral winds.

Art Institute Garden Court Roast Pork Loin

Art Institute of Chicago - Lichtenstein Banners
Art Institute of Chicago - Modern Wing

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Perennial favorite high QPR (quality to price ratio) wine - we own this label going back to the inaugural vintage in 1993. We've featured Robert Craig at numerous tasting events and have visited the Napa town tasting room and the winery atop Howell Mountain for harvest parties and special tastings. See our winery visits at Robert Craig Napa Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008, and Robert Craig Howell Mountain Harvest Party '09, See our Robert Craig featured wine producer dinners during our Napa Wine Experience 1998 and Napa Wine Experience 1999.

While the 1998 vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons was panned at the time and then substantially overshadowed by the blockbuster 1997, we're finding the 1998 to be more fun and interesting to drink these days. The 1997's tend to be more subdued and even closed, the 1998's regularly surprise and exceed expectations, except for those of us who have grown accustomed to this paradox. This was the case again with this 1998 which was brighter, more lively and much more expressive than earlier tastings and than expected. 

Medium to full bodied, dark garnet color, big forward flavors of black cherry, cherry, raspberry and currant with a tinge of alcohol, layer of anise and graphite on a slightly astringent moderate tannin finish. Amazing life left in this fourteen year old from a modest and unappreciated vintage.

RM 90 points. Legacy ratings - RP and WA 91 and WS 87. 

Tasted BYOB with L at Angeli's Italian Restaurant in Naperville, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio 2009

Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio 2009

I came home from a long day of windshield time and L was preparing beef skewers on the grill. I asked what kind of wine she wanted and she said, "Something Big!!". So, I served up a surprise. What? A tasty, full bodied, serious drinking wine from where? Jumilla, Spain? Just because my expectations were so low doesnt diminish the results of this blockbuster tasting. As noted in an earlier blog, we're huge fans of big fruit filled Syrahs and this stood with the best of them, with none of that metallic, mineral or creosote that I expected of a Spanish Red. A blend of  70% Monastrell (and 30% cabernet sauvignon) which I now know is aka Mouvedre which is the M in GSM - Genache, Mouvedre and Syrah, a popular blend in the Rhone River Valley as well as South Central Australia. Now I learn that the chief winemaker for this wine is Chris Ringland of R Wines as in big fruity Aussie Shiraz. - is there a pattern emerging here? 

The 2009 Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio, much like the 2004, is another in a series of show stoppers, consistently over-achieving, full-bodied reds. Look at this track record (all scores from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate): 2003 - 96 points; 2004 - 97 points; 2005 - 95 points; 2006 - 95 points; 2007 - 94 points, 2008 -94 points. 

While I found this to be not as fruit filled and oppulant as the earlier tasting of the 2004 (see my earlier blog of the 2004 Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio), the 2009 gets high marks and glowing reviews indeed. Glass-coating opaque purple color, full bodied with a full bouquet of black fruits - black berry, black currant and black cherry, a layer of smoke, anise and expresso with a long lingering subtle oak moderate tannin finish. Give it time to open. It was more approachable ninety minutes later... but we were finished by then. While not inexpensive at $40, it does pack a lot for that pricepoint and delivers a reasonable QPR (quality price ratio) even at that level. and it lists for more in a lot of places. 

RM 91 points. 

See the Rhone Report who gives it a 95+:
"Possibly my favorite vintage of this to date, the brilliant 2009 Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio, mostly old vine Monastrell that?s aged in new French oak, boasts awesome aromatics of smoky blackberry and creme de cassis that?s intermixed with notions of roasted coffee, chocolate, mineral, and sweet spice on the nose. Full-bodied, impeccably balanced, and awesomely fresh and focused, this blockbuster has layers of sweet fruit and texture, ripe tannin, and a detailed, clean finish. While no doubt a seriously fruited wine that carries a shine of classy oak, it has real depth, character, and structure. It's beautiful now with a decant, but should be even better with 2-3 years of bottle age, and drink well for a decade or longer. I'm a huge fan and this is all around impressive!"

International Wine Report 92+

"The 2009 Clio is made in a very modern style. The color on this is deep purple almost black, it is packed tightly with blackberry jam, blueberry, sweet currant, spice, citrus peel, toasty oak, espresso and crushed floral. This is deeply layered, dense and racy with polished tannins that explode on your palate. This finish doses out more black fruit and chocolaty espresso notes that linger. This is delicious and hard to resist, so give this a few hours of air-time if drinking now."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chateau Tanunda "Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Barossa Shiraz

Chateau Tanunda "The Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Eden Valley Barossa Shiraz 

Full bodied, complex, concentrated, full lingering tannins predominate the dense, black and blue berry fruits with hints of liquorice, plum and spice and spicy oak.

RM 93 points.

The Barossa is home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines and the grapes for this wine come from hundred year old vines from a high altitude, one acre single vineyard in the Eden Valley.

We discovered this wine at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Chicago when it was being poured by Chateau Tanunda's Dagmar O'Neill. Only 100 cases were produced. We orchestrated a purchase of nine three packs in OWC's (shown below) which we split amongst the wine team, pictured below.

Tasted with/at Eric & Cathy's - a perfect combination with bar-b-que'd boneless pork loin ribs and roast with Shoup's famous Indiana Bar-B-Que sauce.

Shown at left are the three pack OWC (Original Wood Cases of
Chateau Tanunda "The Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Eden Valley Barossa Shiraz.

OTB - Open That Bottle! Wine team at Grand Tour Chicago -
(L-R) Rick, Ernie, Bill, Dan, Eric and Lyle.

Here are Bill's notes from Cellartracker.

"WOW! A real heavyweight and a spectacular bottle of wine. Deep indigo color. Clings to the glass. Full of fruit as expected but rounder and better balanced than most Aussie Shiraz. Does not express the tangy almost medicinal taste associated with the better Shiraz."

Bill C - 96 points. 


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mitolo G.A.M. McLaren Vale Shiraz 2003

Mitolo G.A.M. McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz 2003

We love Aussie Shiraz and we drink a lot of it. This one is classic example of how it at times is over-hyped. Its a big complex, fruity wine with long lingering tannins, but in my opinion, it lacks the breadth, depth, concentration and complexity implied by its stupendous reviews.

The 2003 Mitolo G.A.M. is named for the initials of producer Frank Mitolo's three children: Gemma, Alexander and Marco, a notable tribute indeed. The family owned winery of Frank and Simone Mitolo was joined in partnership by Winemaker Ben Glaetzer in 2001. Fruit for this label is sourced from the single Chinese Block vineyard in the Willunga District at the southern end of McLaren Vale, an hour south of Adelaide. The 2003 growing season had almost perfect ripening conditions from veraison through to harvest that yielded limited quantities of incredibly full flavoured and deep coloured fruit.

The juice was aged in fine grained French oak (70% new plus 30% one and two year old French/American oak). The product resulted in a dense ruby purple color, full bodied, complex flavors of blackberries, black currant, leather, hints of blueberry, cassis, licorice and a layer of spicy oak on a lingering gripping tannin finish. 

Robert Parker gave this wine a rating of  96-100 points and said, "This complex 2003 comes across as a hypothetical blend of a great La Mission-Haut-Brion from Bordeaux and a Rhone Valley Hermitage such as Chapoutier’s Pavillon. Everything is seamlessly integrated into this tour de force in winemaking"

K&L say of this wine - "Winemaker Mitolo delivers wines that express purity of varietal flavour, show elegance of structure with soft tannins whilst being rich, powerful and complex. All the grapes are picked on flavour ripeness which contributes to the soft, ripe tannins and vibrant fruit which is a key characteristic of all Mitolo wines. G.A.M. is opulent and robust, with a focus on finesse and multilayered complexity. It exhibits typical Mitolo softness and richness."

I found the wine to be polished, full bodied, fruit forward with gripping body and tannins, but more subdued than and not a big as the grand rating suggest, or than other labels of near vintages.

Tasted BYOB with L at Angeli's Italian Restaurant in Naperville, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria. 

I give it 91 points.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lail Blueprint Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Upon perusing the winelist at Woodmont Grill/Houston's Steak House in Bethesda, this wine popped out as an obvious choice that I wanted to try, and to compare to an earlier vintage of which I had a positive memory. I must admit I was disappointed. I realize now I was comparing this 'second' label with their flagship Daniel Cuvee which is named in a tribute to third generation patriarch and producer dating back to the original Inglenook Vineyards.

Lail Vineyard’s have a rich Napa history reaching back five generations to Gustav Niebaum founder of Inglenook. John Daniel who ran Inglenook which evolved over the generations to the present Lail Vineyards is third generation great granduncle of current generation owner/producer Robin Daniel Lail.

Lail have teamed with legendary winemaker Phillipe Melka who holds degrees in geology, agronomy and enology and 15 years of experience in France, Australia, Italy, and is known to produce a mix of old and new world style wines expressing the 'terrior' or sense of place of the vineyards - the relationship between the terrain, climate, soil, and the wine - crafted to achieve the highest quality the source site can offer.

I'm a big fan of winemaker Phillipe Melka and always welcome a chance to sample his handywork.

This Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon is made from fruit purchased from four separate vineyards in addition to Lail estate. It strives to provide classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon at a more approachable price.

The 2008 Blueprint exhibits medium to full body, dark ruby/purple color, somewhat subdued black current and black cherry fruits accented with hints of licorice and roasted herbs with soft delicate tannins on a modest finish. The blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot.

RM 88 points. 

Landing in DC suburb Bethesda, we were waiting for our dinner table at Woodmont Grill who offered a selection of various wines by the glass. We were able to continue our Zinfandel 'flight' from the previous evening with two more Napa Valley Zinfandel based blends.

Brown Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel 2010

From the Chiles Valley, this is Brown's Estate Zinfandel, an expression of their house style. Medium-full bodied, moderately spicy black raspberry, black cherry and black currant fruits, flavors accented by dusty earth, briary asphalt, a touch spice, and toasty oak. A little too earthy with creosote overtaking the berry fruits for my taste.
RM 87 points. Robert Parker 91 points. Connoisseurs Guide 91 points.


Duckhorn Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine 2008

Medium to full bodied, dark and brambly, with black raspberry and black cherry fruits, cedar, dried sage, tobacco leaf and hints of dark chocolate and subtle hints of pepper, cinnamon, and clove spice.

RM 88 points. 

Blend of 68% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc

Tasted w/  Danny, George, and Nelson.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ravenswood Zin Pair and Phelps Napa Cab

Ravenswood Zin Pair and Phelps Napa Cab

I believe every wine cellar needs a selection of Zinfandels for pairing with hearty cheeses, tangy pasta sauses and bar-b-que. Ravenswood with their motto "No Wimpy Wines', is a staple for every cellar, especially more modest cellars, given their range of selection and offering of high QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines. Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, the 'Godfather of Zin' is arguably the world's leading Zin producer.

Tonight we comparison tasted two Ravenswood Zinfandels, a 'County' selection from Napa Valley and a Single Vineyard designated selection from Sonoma County Tedelschi Vineyard. After this experience, I will expand that recommendation to also include some single vineyard designated Zins in addition to basic or standard label offerings. Of course other Zinfandel producers noted for single vineyard designated selections with such quality and breadth and depth of Zinfandel selections are Ridge Vineyards and, no discussion of Zinfandel collections would be complete without mentioning Helen Turley wines, although she lacks the modest lower price entry level offerings available from the others.

Not a fair fight. This pairing posed a bit of a challenge - a single vineyard designated bottling versus a standard label blend. Which one do you do first? This experience was an object lesson to taste the pedestrian basic wine first as the conventions spelled out in my Wine Tasting 101 rules of wine tasting dictate - lighter, simpler to heavier and more complex.  In this case we tasted the higher quality designated label which completely outperformed and outshined the lesser label rendering it lackluster and uninspiring. Had we started with the lesser wine it might have had a chance - we might've enjoyed and appreciated it for what it was, and then be pleasantly surprised and treated to the more complex, polished and distinguishable designate. Indeed, on the producer's website they list the Single Vineyard designated wines in tasting order and even there, the Teldeschi is listed sixth out of seven in rank order. All the more reason to have a tasting strategy - even at a basic dinner experience. In this instance, I jumped on the Teldeschi - eager to try it, without considering what might follow. After tasting and finishing the first bottle, I then selected the second as a basis for comparison. I am glad I did, but in retrospect, we should've done them in reverse order. Only we wine-geeks consider or obsess over such detail! I'll hold on to my 'day' job and continue to do this for recreation!

Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Sonoma County Dry Creek Zinfandel 2008

The mostly old vines that of the Sonoma County Teldeschi vineyard are Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. The three varieties are fermented separately and blended to taste.

Consistent with what the winemaker's notes indicate, the 2008 Teldeschi is nearly black in color, complex, smooth and polished with big forward aromas of black cherry, coffee, hints of caramel, and dark chocolate with full flavors of sweet cherry liqueur, vanilla and smoke leading to a ripe, dense, gently tannic, long and bright fruit finish.

Blend - 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouschet

RM 91 points.

Ravenswood Napa Valley Old Vine Zinfandel 2010

From the Ravenswood 'County' series.

Full-bodied, aromas and flavors of blackberry and black cherry with notes of cocoa and baking spices, finishing with jammy fruit, dark chocolate, and lively acidity. A bit flat and single dimensional compared to the Teldeschi above.

RM 87 points.

The Blend: 76% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignane
Source of fruit: 44% Napa Valley, 27% Oakville, 23% St. Helena, 6% Sonoma County

To finish the flight, George selected a traditionally classic Napa Cab.

Joseph Phelps, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

The grapes are sourced from five (of seven) different Phelps estate vineyards: the Home Ranch in St. Helena, Suscol in South Napa, Yountville in the Oak Knoll District, Banca Dorada in Rutherford and Las Rocas in the Stags Leap District.

Full bodied, complex, nicely balanced, smooth and polished with aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, ripe plum with notes of chocolate mocha and anise, and hints of espresso and spicy oak on a long silky tannin finish. 

Blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.

 RM 91 points. 

Tasted at Seasons 52 restaurant in Tyson's Corner w/ Danny A, James S, George N and David I.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tasting Flight Tanbark Hill - Northstar-Freemark Abbey Verticals

Tasting Flight Tanbark Hill - Northstar-Freemark Abbey Verticals

For a gala family reunion dinner celebrating sister Jan's visit from So-Cal and Alec's visit home from Real-Whirled, Ryan and Michelle brought a Philip Togni Tanbark Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Bill and Beth dropped in with a Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard 1997, so we trolled the cellar and pulled out a Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard 1999 to match and compare. All this whilst we were doing a comparison tasting of the Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2007 and 2008. We also opened and tried a Sean Minor Napa Valley Red Wine 2009.

I chronicled the Northstar Columbia Valley Merlots 2007 and 2008 in my preceding wine journal posts of Friday night and earlier tonight.

A highlight of the flight was the Philip Togni Tanbark Hill Vineyard Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. 

Philip Togni second wine selected from the barrels that don't go into the flagship Estate wine.

Philip Togni has an impressive track record with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons dating back to 1969 at Chappellet. He has a reputation for consistently producing high quality wines at reasonable prices. Phillip Togni, his wife Birgitta and daughter Lisa produce Margaux-type wines consisting of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Petit Verdot. 

A remarkable major recent tasting achievement occurred in Brussels where a most noted professional panel in the country ranked Phillip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 above eleven other Bordeaux and California Cabernets of 1990 including Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild.

The Philip Togni Tanbark Hill Vineyard Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 was full-bodied, bright, vibrant, tasteful focused wine of full forward expressive black and red fruits with tones of creme de cassis, currants, anise and hints of cedar and sweet spice.

RM 93 points. Robert Parker Wine Advocate 93 points. 

Exploring a new discovery, we tasted Sean Minor Napa Valley Red Wine 2009 from American Canyon down at the bottom of Napa Valley below the City of Napa on the eastern side, opposite Carneros on the West. 

Interesting wine from upstart emerging producer Sean Minor who followed his dream and love of wine into the business with wife Nicole after they discovered, as newlyweds, their second largest expense was wine!

Dark purple inky color, medium to full bodied; a bit of an edge takes away from the black berry fruits adding a slight astringent tone, hints of oak, spice and cassis give way to a moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 87 points. 

Blend of 30% Merlot, 23% Petit Verdot, 17% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 10% Syrah, 4% Malbec.

Mini vertical of two vintages of Freemark Abbey Napa Valley, Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 and 1999. We pretty much predicted the outcome of this tasting before we started but it was an enjoyable and worthwhile experience in any event. Freemark Abbey partners with Sycamore Vineyard  to source the fruit for this wine from vineyards located at the foot of the Mayacamas Range at the cusp of Rutherford and Oakville. 

We visited Freemark Abbey over the years with our most recent visit in 2009, with Bill and Beth, highlighted by a cellar library tour and tasting. We purchased library bottlings of the '74 and '78 vintages, our anniversary years, that we took to a gala anniversary celebration dinner at CIA Greystoke Manner.  

The 1997 rear label cites a remarkable three years aging in French Oak and it shows from the outset. The Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot for complexity and balance.  

The '97 had a base color of garnet with a slight rust hue while the '99 was more deep dark purple as its base color. 

This evening, the 1997 started out a slight bit closed and tight yet revealed from the beginning a leathery tone and predominant layer of oak that increased during the evening. An initial edge burned off giving way to the predominant oak with blackberry and black cherry fruits, tobacco, clove spice and hints of what some call 'forest floor' and a hint of dark mocha on a moderate tannin finish. 

The 1999 shows a new packaging design with a painted bottle as opposed to the traditional paper label, as shown. Like the '97 it also displayed slightly subdued fruits although not as tight as the '97 and the oak was less pronounced, although also sharing the hints of tobacco and spice. 

Both wines softened and revealed more complexity and depth over the course of the evening with the '97 being more pronounced in each frame.

I give the '97 vintage 89 points and the '99 vintage 88 points. 

The tasting jury
 Bill has another '97 and I have another '99, and Bill also has a  bottle of the '98, so stay tuned for our next vertical tasting when we'll compare all three vintages together! 

Still in production - preview posting - watch for updates. 

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2008

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2008

Following yesterday's tasting of the 2007 Northstar Coumbia Valley Merlot, I went back to Binny's (the Chicagoland beverage super store) to buy more of this closeout vintage. Not until I got up to the checkout did I realize I had the 2008 release.This afforded the opportunity to extend our vertical another year (Northstar Journal Notes Index), but more fortuitously, to conduct a comparison tasting since I still had half a bottle remaining from the previous evening.

The Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2008 exhibited much the same consistent  characteristics of the earlier vintages - inky purple color, forward black fruits, full bodied, firm tannins,  and it also had a tone of slight astringency indicative of its youth. The 2008 did not possess that sweetness of the tones of the toffee chocolate layer of the 2007, but it did finish with the layer of lingering oak and spice. I give the '08 a rating of 91 points, consistent with many years, but falling off one point from what I considered the exception 2007.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2007

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2007

We've been enjoying Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot since the 1995 vintage (see Journal Notes Index), it is one of our consistent perennial favorite wines, the 2007 Columbia Valley Northstar Merlot does it again and is among the best we've tasted.

Inky purple color, full bodied, concentrated, bright and vibrant, aromas and flavors of plum and black fruits accented by a predominant layer of chocolate and toffee. A slight astringency that will likely burn off with some age gives way to firm tannins on a lingering finish of oak and spice.

Winemaker's notes sum it up well - "Concentrated yet elegant, transparent dark ruby color; lovely nose of dark fruit, some vanilla, and chocolate; rich, concentrated but controlled dark fruit (blackberries, purple plums), a savory note, a touch of spearmint, lots of sweet chocolate, and seriously crunchy tannins for balance; long, tangy, tannic finish, with tobacco, ending finally with blackberries and plums."

This could easily pass for a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with its complexity, big forward fruit and firm backbone of tannins - this is not a wimpy merlot. wine. Reminiscent of earlier Northstars at their best. Perfect compliment and stood up very well indeed to a beef tenderloin au poivre dinner with sweet corn, twice baked potato and a double chocolate desert.

This wine used to be priced in the $40 range and in recent years has been available at $30 resulting in this wine being a good value with a high QPR (quality to price ratio).

Blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot.  

RM 92 points.  Wine Advocate 92 points, Wine Spectator 91 points.

P.S. This was so good I went back to buy more and found the 2008 vintage in its place. Check out the follow-on comparison tasting of the Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2008 compared to this 2007.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Summer grilled steak cookout highlights 2k Bordeaux flight, Napa Bordeaux Blends and Select Whites

Terry and Lyle hosted our mid-summer wine dinner at their pied-à-terre in Chicago west loop. Lyle grilled steaks on the deck and Terry fixed an assortment of dishes including salads and potato casserole.  The antipasto included selected artisan cheeses and olives including tapenade and a crab dip salad with assorted biscuits and breads.

The wine theme featured a flight of 2000 vintage Bordeaux complimented by California Napa Valley Meritage (Bordeaux-like) Cabernet Sauvignon blends. The evening was kicked off with a pair of Champagnes and closed with a pair of Graham Vintage Ports to accompany chocolate cake, fresh berries and whipped cream topping.

A selection of artisan cheeses included an aged Gouda, Bellavitano with pepper, and three fine aged cheddars - one, three and five years old from Fair Oaks Farms in Northern Indiana.

The cheeses were complimented by the a selection of white wines - vintage Brut Champagne, a Vouvray and a Dry Riesling from Finger Lakes region in New York.

John brought two Champagnes, a Paul Bara Grand Cru Spécial Club Brut Bouzy Champagne 2002 and Henri Giraud Esprit Brut Rose NV.

The Paul Bara was initally yeasty but this melted off to reveal nut, apple, pear and peach flavors with medium bodied, medium acidity. Thirteen Cellartracker reviews averaged 91 points with a medium 90.  

The Henri Giraud Esprit was dark salmon, almost copper colored, started a slight bit yeasty and this too melted off to reveal a hint of smoke accenting the strawberry and hint of citrus notes with medium body and medium acidity. This received average 90 and medium of 89 points from seven Cellartracker reviewers.

Two other whites were tasted to accompany the first course - Ernie brought  a Chateau Moncontour Vouvray 2002 and L & I brought Ravines Finger Lakes New York Dry Riesling 2010.  We'll be touring the Finger Lakes region in early August so I sought out a selection from there that could be sourced locally.  
The Moncontour was light lemon colored, medium bodied with hint of citrus, peach and pear notes.

The Finger Lakes region is not well known beyond the East Coast but this Dry Riesling 2009 label made Wine Spectator's list of Top 100 exciting wines for 2011 (Nov. 21, 2011).

This tasted almost like a Viognier with weak tea color, medium body - mineral and crushed stone character with subdued citrus, pear and apple notes on a very dry pronounced acid finish. Medium and Average review of 89 points from sixteen Cellartracker reviewers including me.

Prior to the Bordeaux flight we tasted Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley Red Blend 2008. With dark inky color, this exhibited full bodied forward black and blue berry and black currant fruits with a layer of mocha and hints of sweet oak - a pleasant, very tasty, simple easy drinking wine. As indicated by the three grape leaves on the label, Trilogy is a blend of  79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 2.5% Petit Verdot. It was aged for 22 months in 100% new French Oak.

RM 91 points.

We've enjoyed Trilogy since the 80's and still hold vintages dating back to 1990 and 1991 in our cellar. This one is as forward and flavorful as any I remember however perhaps not as complex as some vintages.

 The flight of 2000 vintage Bordeaux was poured during dinner, consisted of St Emilion, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, and St. Julian appellations, tasted in that order.

Clos de L'Oratoire St Emilion Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe 2000

Full-bodied, round, ripe black currants, blackberry and black cherry fruits with hints of herbs and spice on a silky smooth tannin finish.

92 points Robert Parker; 92 points Wine Spectator; 90 points Stephen Tanzer; RM 90 points.

Chateau Lascombs Margaux Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe 2000

Medium-bodied, deep ruby/purple-colored,  upon opening a huge bouquet of floral and perfume permeate the air -  flavors of violet, blackberry, black currant, and black cherry fruits with a layer of vanilla and smooth polished tannins on a a long, berry, vanilla soft oak finish.

90 points Robert Parker:  89 Wine Spectator; Steven Tanzer 87-90; RM 91 points.

 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe 2000

We discovered this wine through their collaboration with Napa Valley's Darioush. We were honored to attend a gala wine dinner at Everest Room in Chicago co-hosted by proprieter Dominic Laborie of Domaine Chevalier and  Darius and Shaptar Khaledi of Darioush. We hold a vertical of this wine starting with the 94 vintage through the 2000 which we presented here.

This was the most subdued of the reds, perhaps in a closed period. classic Bordeaux character with musty earthy leather and tobacco notes that masked the black berry fruit, cassis and spice notes with a moderate firm tannin finish.

Average of 90.8 points with a medium 92 points in 42 Cellartracker reviews - my rating - RM 88 points - perhaps more indication that this bottle was shut down at this time.  .

Chateau Langoa Barton St Julien Bordeaux Cru Classe 2000

This wine was Number 24 of the Spectator's top 100 wines of 2003!

Legendary Anthony Barton owns this and the more renouned Léoville Barton but Langoa Barton sells for a fraction of the price - this is a great investment wine from this vintage.

This Langoa is big and intense with dense, rich, aromas and flavors of  earthy black and blue berry and black currant fruits with a layer of anise and hint of leather with structured lingering full tannins and acidity on the finish.

94 points Wine Spectator: 91 points from Robert Parker; 90 points RM - average and median of 91 points in 50 Cellartracker reviews.

  Still in process .... More to come ...

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

If you love Silver Oak, you'll like this release; if you think Silver Oak is over the top over-oaked, then you won't!

Complex, full bodied with dark ruby red color, aromas and flavors of floral, ripe plum and blackberry with a layer of that signature predominant sweet spicy oak, undercurrents of spice, black olive, mocha and vanilla with supple, integrated fine grained tannins and a long finish.

Like the Trilogy above, Silver Oak Napa 2004 is also a meritage blend but even moreso (Bordeaux like) with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot 2%, 1% Malbec.

90 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar; RM 91 points.

Celler Vall Llach Priorat IDUS Catalunya Spain 2005

John brought and served a 2005 Proriat Idus from Celler Vall Llach. Dark inky colored, full bodied it exhibit black fruits, creosote tar notes, licorice, black cherry and spice with a hints of smoke and tobacco on the finish.

Cellartracker reviewers rated this an average 90.9 points with a median of 91 pts. in 37 notes. RM 87 points.

Grahams Vintage Port 2000 and 1991  

To finish, with chocolate cake, fresh berries and whipped cream, we Lyle served Grahams Vintage Port 2000 and 1991.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trio of value priced summer chardonnays

Trio of value priced chardonnays for summer - Rutherford Hill, Toad Hollow, Sonoma-Cutrer - One each from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay 2009 

Tasted at Norman's Bistro in Kenwood District, Chicago.

Light straw color. Aromas of lemon, honey, vanilla with hint of orange blossom. Full-bodied with crisp acidity of citrus, vanilla bean and flinty mineral accents.

RM 89 points.

Horinzontal selection of large format 1981 vintage wines for our
daughter Erin's birthyear - served at her wedding
I have fond memories of Rutherford Hill wines and I try to support their efforts. Nestled in the foothills on the eastern slope overlooking central Napa Valley, Rutherford Hill is part of the Terlato Wine Group of Illinois portfolio of wineries, who purchased this winery in 1996. I met one of the principles of the previous ownership group, Jeff Jaegar at a winetasting in Naperville in the early nineties. He was representing Freemark Abbey at the time and helped me procure a case of Freemark Abbey Bosche' Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Upon learning of my collection of large format bottles commemorating my kid's birthyears (the basis of my feature in Collecting section of Wine Spectator) he sent me a Imperial of Jaegar Vineyards Merlot 1981, and I was able to obtain another of Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, both of which we served at our daughter Erin's wedding.

Toad Hollow Mendocino County Chardonnay 2009

This is the seventeenth vintage for Toad Hollow, named by actor owner Robbin Williams for his brother Todd as a remembrance of when he was a toddler and couldn't pronounce his name hence calling him Toad!

Our friend and favored producer Robert Craig of Robert Craig Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons fame was consulting winemaker for them for many years when he was crafting his expertise up on Mt Veeder.

Fruity, crisp, clean, steely, peaches, grapefruit, and citrus, melon and green apple. A bit too flinty to my preference, but the lowest price of the three too.

RM 85 points.

Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2009

This is a popular producer with a selection of chardonnays that are common wine list selections in many restaurants that are a safe bet as they tend to be consistent with high QPR - Quality Price Ratio. The 2009 vintage was the first release of this wine under new winemaker Terry Adams. The fruit was sourced from select lots of some of the finest vineyards in Sonoma, including the Cutrer Vineyard and Vine Hill, as well as Kent, Shiloh, and Owsley. The wine was barrel-fermented (90% of the wine went through maloactic fermentation) and aged for six to eight months sur lie in 20% new French oak. The resulting wine is full-bodied with a bright gold color, a rich, creamy mid-palate, and aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, puff pastry, toffee, and baking spice. The acidity that comes from the cool-climate Cutrer fruit results in a wine that shows nice balance with hints of minerals and toasty oak.
Winemaker's notes:
Rich and intense aromas of honey, apple pie, butterscotch and roasted hazelnuts are complimented with citrus notes of lemon blossom and lemon curd. This wine fills the mouth with rich texture, a round and creamy mid-palate is supported by that signature Sonoma-Cutrer clean, citrus-laced acidity that creates an excellent balance. Fruit flavors of baked apple, lemon curd, pear and melon are accented with a complimentary bit of toasty oak.

RM 90 points.