Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gala Dinner - Awesome Reds Wine Tasting

Gala Dinner - Awesome Reds Wine Tasting

Almost like the alignment of the sun, moon and stars for a celestial event, our autumn gala dinner tasting get-together at Dr Dan's featured an awesome line-up of memorable reds and a spectacular aged vintage white. What might have been billed as a battle of dueling reds turned surprisingly harmonious with intriguing complements and smooth transitions across a tasting of disparate styles of master class selections. One had to pay attention for fear of missing a spectacular wine in the mix! Ironically, this also provided an unplanned almost mini-horizontal of dozen year old disparate Napa Valley Reds from 1998 and 1999. Even the vintage selections proved to be well matched as the mid-flight included 2003, a pair of nicely 2004's and recent releases.

Joining L & I at Dan's with Linda were Bill and Beth, Bobbie, Ernie and Gina. Dan and Linda prepared a marvelous dinner of grilled beef tenderloin, marinated pork tenderloin, butternut squash with creme fraisch, artisan cheeses, and chocolate cakes and truffles to finish.

Awesome Reds Flight minus the Sea Smoke (not shown)

The line-up included, listed in order of tasting after thoughtful assessment and lively discussion, explained further in the discourse below:

  • Sea Smoke 'Ten' Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2009
  • Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Red 1998
  • Joseph Phelps Backus Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
  • Peter Michael 'Les Pavots' 1999
  • Freddie Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
  • Barbour Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
  • La Spinetta (Rivetti) Barbaresco Riserva Vürsù Vigneto Starderi 2008
  • d'Arenberg 'The Dead Arm' Shiraz 2002
  • Mollydooker 'Carnival of Love' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010
  • Coutet-Barzac 1959
  • Joseph Phelps Eisrebe 2004

Sea Smoke 'Ten' Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2009

The name 'Ten' is from the clones on which this Pinot Noir varietal is based.

 Ruby colored, medium bodied - silky, polished - a symphony of nicely balanced delicate fruit flavors, nice tart acidic, expressive elegant aromatics, nice floral scents turn to strawberries, plum and black cherry, hints of cola, nut and dusty rose with a touch of soft oak on the smooth finish.

Winemakers' notes - "A brooding and intense wine. The aromas begin with notes of chocolate cake, dried blueberry and lavender, then cassis and dusty black berries. Firm, mature tannins—evidence of Ten’s ageability—are followed by a long, velvety finish.

RM 93 points.

Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Red 1998

It would have been easy for this to be overshadowed by the full forward concentrated fruit bombs except that we staged this as the transition between the Pinot and the 'big' Cal cabs to follow, before closing with the Aussie Shiraz'.

Garnet colored, medium bodied,  this was a symphony of smooth polished nicely integrated black berry and black cherry fruit flavors accented by a layer of tobacco, hints of leather, a bit of earthiness with a finish of moderate oak. After about two hours delicate floral notes emerged as a highlight like a lower left bank Bordeaux. This wine has held up well and was very Bordeaux like in showing well despite its pedigree of a modest vintage - more like the challenging years more often found in Bordeaux than the more consistent seasons of Northern California all seemingly make more Bordeaux like than Napa-esque.

RM 89 points.

Joseph Phelps Backus Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

A wonderful transition and progression adding weight and structure at each step in the flight. Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, this was silky smooth, nicely balanced, polished and elegant with black berry and black raspberry fruits with hints of currant, chocolate truffle and touch of vanilla bean with a layer of soft oak and silky smooth tannins. Dan likened it to a refined St Julien Bordeaux.

RM 94 points.

Peter Michael 'Les Pavots' 1999

This was my favorite of the tasting flight. I still remember my first encounter with this wine back around 1990 when we had it at dinner dinner at Cab's Restaurant and Wine Bar in Glen Ellyn, IL, one of our then favorite dining places.

Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, a backbone core of concentrated but smooth polished and balanced black currant, blackberry, more subtle black cherry  and hints of blueberry fruits with nicely integrated layers of mocha, soft oak and hints vanilla, cassis and tea on a lingering silky tannin finish. This was a delicious balance of a full throttle Cal-Cab and a Pauillac Bordeaux.

RM 94 points.

There is remarkable irony here as the principle Sir Peter Michael happens to be in the technology business, like me. He is also owner of two lodging properties located in Newbury, Berkshire, England. That was the home to Micro Focus, the software company that brought the Cobol programming language to the PC, and eventually to over six hundred platforms. I was with Micro Focus during those formative years from 1983 to 1996 during which time it grew from $3.5 to $140m becoming the 20th largest software company in the world, and largest in the UK at that time.  During those years, as a Group VP, I visited Newbury almost two hundred times. I've not yet had the opportunity to meet Sr Michael but look forward to doing so one day, either in Newbury, or at the Winery Estate in California. .

Freddie Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

L, Bill and me with Freddie at
Constant Diamond Mtn Vineyards

We refer to it as Freddie Constant Wine based on our adventure having met the producer Freddie Constant during our visit to the magnificent winery high atop Diamond Mountain during our Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Wine Experience in 2011.

What an amazing pairing with the Les Pavots above! On initial opening and decanting, it was almost as if this were the core central component of the blend, this exhibited the same profile of  full bodied backbone core of concentrated but smooth polished and balanced black currant, blackberry, more subtle black cherry fruits with hints of blueberry fruits but lacking the moderating tones of the blend. After about two hours, this opened up even more to reveal more concentrated and forward black fruits with a hints of black pepper and olive - separating itself from the moderating effects of the more elegant and polished blend.

Bill's tasting notes from CellarTracker - "Inky purple in the glass. Full of dark fruit, pencil lead and coffee. Opened after 2 hour to reveal notes of pepper and spice. Very unexpected and absolutely outstanding."

RM 93 points.

Barbour Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

If we did this flight again, I think this would better fit between the Bacchus and the Peter Michel. It was narrower (than the Les Pavots) and more modest than the Constant and others to follow and hence overshadowed such that it probably didn't show nearly as well as it likely would if held up stand-alone or against more similarly situated peers. Not bad company to be compared against indeed, it suffers from damning with faint praise in this comparison flight of blockbuster wines! 

All in all this is a dark inky purple full bodied smooth polished cab with forward black berry fruits, accents of dark chocolate and sweet oak with nicely integrated fine silky tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.

La Spinetta (Rivetti) Barbaresco Riserva Vürsù Vigneto Starderi 2008

Forgive the repetition but I'll reiterate my comments above about the Barbour, if we did this flight again, I think this would better fit between the Bacchus and the Peter Michel. It was narrower (than the Les Pavots) and more modest than the Constant and others to follow and hence overshadowed such that it probably didnt show nearly as well as it likely would if held up stand-alone or against more similarly situated peers. Not bad company to be compared against indeed, it suffers from damning with faint praise in this comparison flight of blockbuster wines!  Perhaps too, these both were consumed too young and would reveal themselves more fully after a couple years in the cellar.

How can you not take seriously a wine with a Rhinocerus on the label!?!  Its either farcical or to be taken very deliberately - this is another blockbuster wine that is caught in between the more polished elegance of the blends and the bigger full-throttle varietal Cabernets.

First we should parse the wine label to explain this wine. From the producer La Spinetta, the grower and winemaker is George Rivetti; fruit for this wine are sourced from the single vineyard Vigneto Starderi in the Barbaresco appellation in the Langhe district in the Piedmont region. The varietal is the Nebbiolo grape.

The Nebbiolo black-skinned Italian variety is the basis for some of the best and longest lived red wines of Italy, however, despite the preeminence Nebbiolo has in its native Piedmont region in northern Italy its is relatively unknown beyond. Because of its success in DOCGs of Barolo and Barbaresco, it has begun to be planted in the new world in the Central Coast near Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley, and in drier regions of the Pacific North West, such as Washington’s Columbia Valley and Oregon’s Rogue Valley, in South America, and Australia.

The name derives from nebbia, the Italian word for ‘fog’, which regularly enshrouds the foothill vineyards of the region. Benchmarks for Nebbiolo wines are Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmontese wines known for  powerful tannic structures, finesse, intense, earthy, dark noses, and hints of floral. Aroma of classic Barolo are characterized to reflect tar, tobacco or smoke, combined with violets and rose petals. Neighboring Barbaresco Nebbiolos tend to be slightly more feminine. While Barbaresco can be more approachable when young than Barolo, it should not be consider light in weight or structure, both Barolo and Barbaresco Nebbiolos can possess muscular tannins and high acidity requiring extensive cellaring to fully show off the grape’s more subtle fruit character.  

This selection exhibited dark purple color, medium full body, black berry fruits with hints of smoke, tar and touch of leather on a lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.  

As of this date, the CellarTracker community has not yet discovered or encountered his wine, hence the most recent listing is the 2007 vintage.

Still a work in progress - more to follow ! Stay tuned for the Mollydooker Shake!

d'Arenberg "The Dead Arm" Shiraz 2002

Dead Arm refers to the (one armed) vines that when afflicted in the early days of the last century were spared from being turned under and emerged to produce highly concentrated fruit from the single remaining arm that survived after the loss of the other side of the vine. Always a big fruit forward complex wine, the 2003 is true to form with its big forwardness but what was an off-tone of minerality. It has uber ripe almost raisin-fig with a layer of cedar predominating over complex black berry fruits with tones of pepper, spice, and cassis and hint of vanilla with a big long bold finish that has a slight tone of tangy cherry. Linda likes this ripe boldness but its a bit too much to my liking it needs to be tasted with hearty meats, even bar-b-que, or artisan cheeses, such as tonight when it complemented the beef tenderloin, marinated pork tenderloin and then the course of dark chocolate deserts.

RM 89 points.

Mollydooker "Carnival of Love" McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010

From Sarah and Sparky Marquis, these left-handed winemakers so named their label 'Mollydooker' which is Aussie for what we call a 'south-paw'.  Their wit and sense of humour is further indicated by their cartoon-esque labels and whimsical names of their wines such as this 'Carnival of Love' their high end Shiraz. Just reading their winelist and looking over their labels is like a journey through the Sunday comics, but rest assured there is nothing funny about this big bold intense Shiraz that  is not for the feint of heart. .

Being a recent release, Bill had to conduct the 'Mollydooker shake' to this bottle. You had to be there!

Building up to this crescendo indicated by its 15.5% alcohol content, this boasts dark opaque inky purple color - full bodied, huge bursts of dense syrupy ripe black berry and dark plum fruits, layers of cassis, spice, sweet dark chocolate, cedar, black pepper and spicy oak with huge but mercifully balanced tannins, that go on and on and on.

RM 94 points.

Château Coutet a Barzac 1'er Grand Cru Sauterne 1959

What a rare treat to indulge in a 50+ year old vintage wine. This Sauterne brought by Ernie (along with the Les Pavots) would have been straw or butter colored upon release, then turn darker to weak tea color and eventually to a maple syrup color. Amazingly, as 53 years of age, it is rusty brownish orange colored with life still although not likely to improve from further aging. It showed a slight citrus edge on the nut flavors with a subtle layer of smokiness, I wonder if it held more sweet fruit at one stage that bled off with age.  

From the producer's website: "Tasting Notes - The year was marked by an early spring and flowering took place at the beginning of June. The summer was very hot and sunny. On September 24th and 25th, strong rains accelerated the development of Noble Rot in the vineyard that required a team of 150 harvesters. These conditions contributed to the making of a great Sauternes. The harvest took places from September 20th to November 2nd.  The wine is of a dark yellow amber color. Its well-developed nose is rich and complex, an experience that is shared by the palate."

RM 87 points.

The CellarTracker community had not encountered and hence not entered this vintage selection however they list the two adjoining vintages from 1958 and 1960 as noted below respectively:

What fun to enter the 1959 vintage selection along with my tasting notes and bottle and label photos!

Joseph Phelps Eisrebe Napa Valley Scheurebe Ice Wine 2004

This is consistently one of California's very best dessert wines from a region not known for such. It's vinified from the relatively obscure Scheurebe grape grown in a the small Spring Valley vineyard near the St. Helena estate. Unlike German or Canadian ice wines (see recent post in Inniskillin Ice Wine), where the grapes are left on the vines until they freeze, Phelps uses commercial refrigeration to freeze the grapes before pressing. This results in low yields as the water in the grape freezes leaving the remaining resulting must high in sugar such that the wine ends up with about 8% alcohol and 25% residual sugar. Full bodied, thick and chewy with intense apricot aromas and flavors. A deliciously sweet, unctuous wine, which still has enough acidity to avoid cloying on the palate.

RM 92 points.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Varied Red Tasting - Carr - Flinders - Northstar

Former co-coach Mike G invited me to tourney quarterfinals so he and Chris came over for an impromptu wine tasting afterwards. We pulled a selection of varied big reds and a desert wine to accompany an assortment of artisan cheeses, smoked salmon, mixed nuts, mixed fruit and hearty biscuits and breads.

Joseph Carr Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 

From the Carneros District down at the bottom of Napa Valley near where it meets Sonoma. Not as smooth or polished as the 2007 release but a great value none-the-less. A respectable Napa cab, with a great QPR (Quality Price Ratio) especially at a price point of about $17. The 2009 is a blend of Cabernet with small amount of Merlot and Cabernet Franc aged for 16-18 months in a combination of one- and two-year-old French and American oak barrels. Medium bodied, dark garnet colored, aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and black currant fruits, a layer of smoke and leather scents open to a focused core of cassis, black cherry and plum fruit with hints of vanilla bean, clove and cocoa powder. Moderately firm tannins with supporting acidity gives the wine freshness not often seen in wines at this price.  

RM 87 points.

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2006

We love this wine and consider it a benchmark representation of Southern Australian Shiraz at its very best, and at a pricepoint between $25-30 it offers a relative great QPR (Quality to Price ratio).

Overall hit of this comparison tasting of varied big reds. Consistent with earlier notes, the 2006 Flinders is dark inky purple, full bodied, powerfully scented bouquet of dark berries, smoky minerals and fresh flowers bursting with flavors of thick chewy black raspberry, blueberry and cassis with layers of nut, vanilla and hints of mocha flavors on a tongue coating lingering finish. As much as we like this wine, the 2005 is even better.

RM 93 points.

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2008

One of our perennial favorite Merlots is this blend from fruit sourced from over 14 separate vineyards and 18 different blocks  from vines averaging 15 years old yielding grapes with concentrated varietal flavors of cherry and plum with elegant tannins.

This 2008 is a bit tight and closed, not as smooth, polished and fruit filled as some earlier vintages of this wine that I remember - perhaps due to its age or period in its aging profile. This is medium to full bodied, with dark inky color, this is a bright, balanced wine with notes of black cherry, tobacco, spice box and nut leading to a long, smoky moderate tannin finish.

 RM 88 points.

Cavalchina Bianco Del Veneto Passito 2004

Full bodied and thick - the butter color has turned to an orange rust color already, the muted fruit flavors of apple, subtle tangerine, apricot and peach are overtaken by smoke, leather, nut and lemon peel on a moderate flavorful lingering finish.

RM 84 points.

Deep Reds - Del Dotto Cab - Kalleske Shiraz

Two Big 'Deep' Reds with Italian Dinner

In planning our wine selections for our dinner outing with Dennis 'Woz' and Rosie, I asked Dennis what type wines they preferred. He replied that they like big "deep" reds so I selected the 1999 vintage Del Dotto Napa Cabernet and Kalleske Greenock Barossa Shiraz 2005. They both lived up to expectations according to earlier tasting experience notes. These were great accompaniment to the spicy and cheesy pasta dishes, as well as the brown sage sauce on the halibut entree at Angelis, our favorite local Italian trattoria. 

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Dining with Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto in the
garden court at Tra Vigne in St Helena
We're long time fans of Del Dotto wines going back to their inaugural vintage in 1993 when they were featured in the Wine Spectator feature of up and coming new producers to watch. We've attended many Del Dotto events and hosted them numerous times at our Napa wine producer dinners during our Napa Wine Experiences.

R & L with Dave Del Dotto in the caves.
We first tasted this vintage selection from the barrel in the Del Dotto cave tour at the old caves over by Silverado Trail. Today, of course they have a magnificent new winery and cave on the estate on Highway 29 and Zinfandel Lane in St Helena, Napa. Everyone to whom we've recommended the Del Dotto Cave Experience during their Napa visit have said it was a highlight of their trip. (It was especially memorable for our good friends Rick and Wendy when Del Dotto arranged an exclusive intimate tasting there where Rick popped 'the question' and proposed.) 

This 1999 vintage selection was featured at their gala festival  Barrels and Beef Extravaganza at the estate which we attended during our Napa Wine Experience in 2002. Later that same year, Del Dotto served this wine at the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting where it was a standout. That winter we took this wine along on our holiday in the Caribbean where it was the center of several memorable dinner experiences. 

The fruit for this selection was sourced from the Del Dotto estate in the Rutherford appellation. My earliest notes of this wine from that time said that "this may be the best ever Cab from our friends Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto - and winemaker Nils Venge". Of course they have since followed up with many spectacular vintages many of which are drinking very nicely such as their 2001 which is showing especially complex, smooth and polished these days and gives the 1999 a run. Suffice to say, this is one of our favorite Napa cabs, a centerpiece of our cellar collection that we continue to enjoy on special occasions and showcase with friends. We're still holding a vertical back to that 1993 release and we continue to be amazed and pleased with their longevity! 

The 1999 Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby colored, full bodied, complex but nicely balanced with intense dark cherry, black currant and blackberry fruits, a spicy tangy oak layer on a lingering finish of tight structured tannins. This wine cries for a big juicy steak or bold cheese or dark chocolate accompaniment. 

RM 92 points.

Kalleske Greenock Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

Intense, full bodied, inky colour, thick chewy tongue-coating ripe black cherry, plum, creme de cassis with a layer of mineral and a hint of raisin, vanilla and black pepper on the smooth polished finish.

RM 90 points 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Haut-Carles Fronsac

Haut-Carles Fronsac Bordeaux 2005

Taken BYOB to our local Italian Bistro Angeli's Italian Restaurant in Naperville, the Haut-Carles Bordeaux was a great accompaniment to their hearty Gorgonzola Veal dish.

Dark inky purple color - full bodied - surprisingly vibrant and bright blackberry and black currant fruits up front give way to cedar, charcoal and crushed rock with hints of nutty vanilla and slight mocha turning to mineral and touch of leather and spice on the acidic finish. Great QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) showing off a great vintage that presents itself well even at modest sub $20 price point. This is ready to drink now and doesn't appear likely to improve further. 

RM 88 points.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc 2011

We discovered this wine at the winery during our visit Napa Valley Wine Experience in the fall of 2009. Located in the heart of Napa Valley in the Stags Leap District along Silverado Trail, Cliff Lede Vineyards are known for their collection of Cabernet Sauvignons, including their classic Poetry, unique Moon Symphony, and Estate labels.

Additionally, the Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc has become perhaps our favorite Sauvignon Blanc which should be a mainstay of any cellar as it is so versatile for so many occasions from causal sipping to apres dinner to spicy entrees. Its hearty enough for the breadth of Italian dishes for white wine lovers. 

 The 2011 Cliff Lede Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is light straw colored, crisp and clean with complex aromas and flavors of  pear, peach, lychee fruit, with a layer of lime zest, and apricot blossom with a flinty minerality on a lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir 2009

Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir 2009

Grapes for this wine, as in previous years, were sourced from throughout the Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue and Walla Walla Valleys, creating a truly Oregon blend.

Tasted w. James at Chez Andres in Alexandria, VA, where Monday and Tuesday nights feature wine specials. Too light for the filets of beef this was a great compliment to the chocolate mousse cake. 

Garnet in color, light bodied and a bit flabby but acceptable at the low QPR (Quality Price Ratio) price-point - aromas of dusty rose, raspberries, cedar, leather and spice; berry and slightly tart cherry flavors give way to tannin through the modest lingering finish.  

RM 85 points.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon - 90+ Wines Shiraz

For a gala dinner celebration while visiting son Alec in New Jersey, we dined at Matisse Restaurant on the Beach in Belmar, NJ and took two big reds BYOB to accompany dinner - Robert Mondavi Oakville Cab 2004 and 90+ Wines Shiraz. 

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

From the collection of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon selections, the Oakville (appellation) label represents the Oakville AVA or Appellation - one of seventeen in Napa Valley. Located in the heart of Napa Valley the AVA (Agricultural Viticultural Area) extends the width of Napa Valley nestled between the Vaca Mountains to the East and the Mayacamas Range to the west, rising from the valley floor to an elevation of 600 feet.

Oakville is home to some of the premier producers of Bordeaux varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon being predominant as it is perfectly suited to the distinctive Oakville terroir - that combination of soil and micro-climate - just the right number hot sunny days and modest amounts of moisture at the right times of the season. Oakville is home to all the traditional Bordeaux varietals in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon  - Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc white wine grapes.

Oakville is also home to many of the most storied, renouned and famous growers and producers of Cabernet Sauginon wines as shown on the interactive map of Oakville Appellation producers and growers and list of Appellation Members.

 The Mondavi Oakville may represent the best QPR - Quality to Price Ratio in the Mondavi line as it often equals or beats the Reserve flagship label for a fraction of the price. While almost double the price of the Estate Napa Cab, the Oakville consistently is distinctive and represents the best that the appellation has to offer in this price range and is generally available based on production of over 10,000 bottles. In good years, Mondavi does a great job obtaining this quality in such a quantity production.

The 2004 presented dark garnet ruby red color, medium to full firm body with intense concentrated flavors of sweet ripe currant and blackberry, dusty herb, and cedary oak with hints of anise and dark mocha on the sharp moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Robert Craig Howell Mtn Cab 2005

Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wine tasting with Robert Craig atop Howell Mtn
We're long time huge fans of Robert Craig and his selection of Napa Valley Cabernets from 'three mountains and a valley' - Howell Mtn, Mt Veeder, Spring Mtn and his Bordeaux style blend Affinity. We've been collecting his wines since his inaugural release in 1993. 
Typically, over the years, our favorite is his Howell Mtn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

 We first tasted this 2005 vintage at the winery up on the top of  Howell Mountain at a wonderful lunch tasting during our Napa Wine Experience in 2008Joining us on that trip were my sister Jan and bro-in-law Bill. So it was great fun to experience this bottle with them at their house over dinner during my recent trip to Orange County.
This Cabernet Sauvignon is dark purple colored, full bodied, concentrated with smooth velvety texture,  bright, intense black and wild berry fruits, tones of soft mocha, cedar, spice and soft oak, a whisper of cedar and herbal notes on a polished smooth finish.
RM 92 points.