Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bogle Phantom Red Blend

Bogle Vineyards "Phantom" Red Wine Blend 2009 

Every year I take on a personal challenge to select the right wine for the Thanksgiving dinner table - a Champagne, a hearty fruity red and a crisp clean white. With a full cellar downstairs I invariably have a list of candidates in mind. I rediscovered this when I stopped in at the Saturday afternoon tasting at Main Street Liquors in Lagrange, IL. They were serving it because it was the highlight of an earlier tasting they conducted. I was looking for a Zinfandel or Rhone style blend for our Thanksgiving feast and this appeared. I look forward to serving this with our family dinner. This is a unique blend of Zinfandel and Rhone varietals sourced from the California central valley and Sierra foothills - 52% Zinfandel from Lodi, 46% Petite Sirah from Clarksburg, and 2% Mourvedre from Amador County. This is a lot of wine for the money rendering a high QPR - Quality to Price Ratio for this wine that is available between $15 and $20. .

This is dark garnet colored, full-bodied mid palate with a firm finish, the winemaker's notes say this wine showcases the best of these three unique varietals. While it lacks the backbone and tannic structure of a Cabernet, that is why it is approachable easy drinking and suitable for a Thanksgiving dinner offering with Turkey, dressing and so on. We'll see how this plays out.

Full forward fruits of blackberry, black  raspberry and briary boysenberries give way to mocha, hints of pomegranate, juniper and cedar finish with a touch of black pepper on a zesty finish.   

RM 89 points.





Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vintage 81-82 Birthyear Bordeaux Highlight Gala Family Dinner

Vintage 81-82 Birthyear Bordeaux Highlight Gala Family Dinner

For a gala family celebration dinner we dug into the cellar for some vintage Bordeaux for #1 son Ryan's and daughter Erin's birth years - Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 1981 and Chateau Clerc Milon Pauillac Bordeaux 1982. Our collection of the kid's birthyear wines were the key feature of their weddings which we served from large format bottles and were highlighted in the Collecting section in Wine Spectator when our cellar was the feature back in June of 2001.

For a California comparison we pulled a vintage Bordeaux blend, Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages 1994. We also opened a more 'recent' Marco Deguilio Hidden Ridge 55 Degree Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (this is currently available at the Cosco in Oak Brook - a great find and great QPR value!). For dinner we had grilled beef tenderloins, twice baked potatoes and steamed veggies. Sans son Alec, whom we briefly included by speaker phone, while he is still recovering out on the Jersey shore from Super Storm Sandy, exacerbated by his car being totaled, the rest of the family was there; L and I were joined by Erin and Johnny with Lucy, Ryan and Michelle, Sean, and friend Ann.We celebrated two birthdays, a new job and a couple other recent family blessings and triumphs.

We started the festivities with Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle "La Cuvée" Brut Champagne which we visited during our Champagne tour a couple years ago.


We aerated and decanted the wines about ninety minutes before serving and this made a noticeable difference as they settled and opened to reveal themselves during that time. They didn't change markedly further into the evening but did the next day. The Clerc Milon was less expressive, more elegant and polished than the slightly more obtuse Ducru upon opening, The Clerc Milon showed better upon opening and throughout the evening but fell off a bit compared to the Ducru which showed bigger and more full the next day. I would rate the Clerc Milon a point higher upon opening and the initial evening and the Ducru a point higher the day after.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 1981

While this wine reached maturity in the nineties and has passed beyond the end of its purported optimal drinking window, it showed only very slight signs of diminution of body, color and flavors. I've continually been pleased and surprised at the longevity of the 1981 Bordeaux, exceeding my expectations considering the lackluster harvest and modest outcomes from that vintage.We still have about two cases of 1981 Bordeaux and while its time to drink, I'm not feeling anxious about having to consume it readily. This cork was moist and dark from saturation but completely intact. This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, very expressive floral notes throughout that linger long beyond tasting; initial slight dark cherry astringency gave way to black berry fruits, hints of cinnamon spice, leather, tea and violets lingering on a soft smooth polished tannin finish.While great with the steak tenderloin, the remains of this were even better the next day with pasta shells stuffed with ricotta cheese and tomato bolanaise sauce.

RM 89 points.



Chateau Clerc Milon Pauillac Bordeaux 1982

This is the second label of the iconic Chateau Mouton Rothschild. There were no signs of diminution whatsoever in this 30 year old aside the spongy saturated cork that needed care to be removed but came out intact using an Ahso. Dark inky garnet purple colored, medium bodied, smooth and polished, moderate black berry fruits accented by earthy leather, tea and hints of tobacco with silky tannins on the moderate finish.

RM 89 points.



Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Cinq Cepages 1994

Chateau St Jean is one of the crown jewels of the Sonoma Valley - certainly the most elegant and fashionable tasting experience setting that we've experienced there. We enjoyed visiting there numerous times over the years for a comprehensive tasting experience that offers some of their Reserve and Library selections not available in the marketplace, most recently during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience in 2009.

We've enjoyed the Cinq Cepages label since its release in the late eighties. This was one of the last releases before the 1996 release was annointed #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator. We have a vertical of this up to the recent vintages - this was the oldest release in our cellar so we pulled it to compare to the vintage Bordeaux above. Cinq Cepages means 'five flavors' - a blend of five varietals used in Bordeaux wines. While primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (76%) , this also contains 14% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot. 

The resulting blend is dark ruby colored, medium to full bodied, smooth, polished, flavorful and complex - slightly earthy, leathery, anise, black fruit, black cherry, plum and berry with a oaky finish. This still has lots of life in it and compared very favorably with the older Bordeaux - full forward fruit with a firmer backbone and more structure than both yet still softer and more polished and approachable than the initial opening of the Ducru, but not as aromatic or as long on the finish.

RM 90 points.



Hidden Ridge 55 Degree Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

This is a product of winemaker Marco DiGuilio. According to the (rear) label, this vintage selection was blended from two exceptional barrel lots from 3 blocks of the Hidden Ridge Vineyard. Nicknamed, the "Impassable Mountain" because it took ten years to develop due to the 55% slope of the ridgetops. The Hidden Ridge Vineyards consist of 21 blocks of cabernet sauvignon in some of the most isolated areas of the Mayacamas Mountain Range along the Napa-Sonoma County line - located at 38 29'50.95 N, 122 34'09.40 W.

I first discovered this wine at Morton's Steakhouse in Crystal City, Arlington, near Washington DC where it was available by bottle or by the glass. During the ensuing year we enjoyed the 05, 06 and now the '07 vintages there. We also picked up the '05 at BRIX in Napa and tasted at dinner during our Mt Veeder appellation trip in the Napa and Sonoma Mt Veeder area.

Medium to full bodied - dark inky color - flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, and plum with tones of mocha, anise, tea and a hint of tobacco box with spicy chocolate, clove and vanilla on a moderate firm tannin finish. The 2007 follows the 2005 and 06 for three blockbuster releases in a row. They're a bit tight and slightly tart upon opening, this needed an hour to settle and soften and will be even more approachable the second day.  

RM 90 points.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Black Stallion Napa Cabernet - Pahlmeyer Jayson

I met up with dear friend Colonel Don Z for dinner at the Fat Canary Restaurant in the heart of historic Williamsburg, VA with colleague Danny A. When the ships sailed from the Old World to the New, they stopped in the Canary Islands for supplies. One of the important provisions brought aboard was wine, referred to as “Canary.” This fine dining restaurant is named after a reference in the Colonial Era playwright John Lyly's poem, "Oh for a Fat Canary - rich Palermo sherry ....".  A pleasant setting with great selection of starters, salads, supple soup, seafood and meat entrees with a carefully selected wine list of favorites and tempting offerings.

I saw Don's fast pace gait as he approach and soon learned he was excited and eager to meet and to share this wine discovery that he brought for our dinner - Black Stallion Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. He had this recently up in Oregon and promptly ordered some to be shipped in for our dinner. It was a worthwhile effort as this wine was indeed a great discovery and highlight for a wonderful dinner. I ordered a bottle of a favorite - Pahlmeyer Jayson Red Wine to compare and complement the dinner tasting. These were great accompaniment and perfect pairing with the Foie Gras, Braised Ribs and Oyster starters, and then the Grilled Beef Tenderloin entrees. Don also brought along a Cakebread Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010 for the soup salad course and his entree.    

Black Stallion Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The Black Stallion continued our week long series of tastings of Cabernet Sauvignons from the Oak Knoll District, the wine grape growing Appellation in the southern end of the Napa Valley, following the Blackbird Vineyards Proprietary Red and then the Trefethen Cabernet from earlier in the week. Along with the Pahlmeyer Jayson, this continued in the style of Bordeaux style Cabernet and Merlot based blends. 
Founded in 2007 and located on the Silverdao Trail along the eastern Napa Valley floor on the grounds of a historic equestrian center, the suitably named Black Stallion Winery is another recent addition to the collection of wineries in the Oak Knoll District down at the bottom of Napa Valley. The old equestrian center's indoor track now houses the winemaking production facilities with remnants of the original 36 horse stalls still visible today.

The winery was purchased in May 2010 by the Indelicato Family, well known family-owned wine producers spanning three generations and more than 85 years of grape growing and wine making in the region. The family is now involved in all aspects of Black Stallion and their participation is evident both in the wines and the “family feel” of the winery.

Each of the varietals produced is handcrafted and blended from small vineyard lots. Each lot is fermented and aged separately until just prior to bottling when the lots are blended together to achieve wines of balance but layers of complex flavors. Black Stallion Winery strives for high quality wines that are elegant and distinctive yet approachable. This is a big league Napa Cab at an affordable price rendering a great QPR (quality price ratio).

The 2010 release is dark purple colored, full bodied with full forward aromas and flavors of  predominate cherry and black cherry fruits turning to blackberry and black raspberry with hints of cassis, mocha and spice followed by a mouth feel of fine grain tannins.
 The blend is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Franc.
Alcohol by volume: 14.5%
RM 90 points. 



Pahlmeyer Jayson Red Wine 2009

This is one of my perennial favorites offering a consistently great value from top drawer Napa Valley producer Jayson Pahlmeyer's rendition of a Bordeaux blend offering.

Dark purple and garnet colored - full bodied - smooth and polished but dense tongue coating silky texture with full forward black currant and black berry fruit flavors highlighted by cassis and spicy oak with hints of cedar, tobacco, tea and leather turning to a long lingering silky smooth well integrated tannins.

Blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Malbec.

RM 91 points.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Soft Red Wines for surf and turf

Pair of soft red wines complement surf and turf dinner

Tonight we dined at The Warehouse seafood and steakhouse in trendy downtown Old Town Alexandria just south of Washington DC Reagan Airport. Colleagues Danny A and James S and I dined with Rod R a business associate in DoD related IT projects. To complement the surf and turf selections of oysters, crab, haddock and filets of beef we started with a young Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon followed by a Napa Valley Merlot from the Oak Knoll District.

Trefethen Napa Valley Merlot 2009

Label from 2005 vintage
Like the Merlot based Blackbird Vineyards Proprietary Red Wine we tasted Monday night at dinner, tonight we tasted another Napa Valley Red wine based on Merlot from the Oak Knoll District in southwest Napa Valley. The cooler climate there due to gentle breezes and fog that creeps in off of nearby San Pablo Bay to the south combined with the more moist and richer soil are well suited to the Merlot grape varietal. Blended with other Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec results in a red wine blend in the style of the Pomerol appellation on the Right Bank of the Gironde River Estuary in Bordeaux region in southern France.

The 2009 Trefethen Merlot was dark purple colored, medium to full bodied and rich in ripe forward concentrated fruits, tart cherry and blackberry on opening, it soon softened and opened to give way to complex yet smooth and polished aromas and flavors of nicely integrated ripe black raspberry, ripe plum, black cherry with a subtle layer of chocolate and soft spicy oak and hints of pepper on a lingering soft tannin finish. This was a perfect complement to the grilled fillet of beef. Very similar to the profile of the Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine from Blackbird last night, indicative of the blend of Bordeaux varietals - 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.

RM 91 points.



Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010
Since 1979 Adelsheim has been producing quality wines that pair well with the food, blended from diverse flavors and textures of multiple vineyards, clones and elevations, they produce wines typifical of the northern Willamette Valley, what they call a reference standard for the “Oregon style.”

Seventy-six percent of the grapes used in this wine were sourced from their 12 estate vineyards: 58% from the Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), 12% from the Yamhill Carlton AVA and 6% from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The remaining 24% is derived from sixteen other non-estate vineyards located in various sub-regions within the Willamette Valley.

Light bodied, opaque garnet colored, tart cherry gives way to aromas and flavors of candied cherry, pomegranate and raspberry with subtle accents of brown spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, and all-spice, finishing with smooth polished soft tannins.

RM 86 points.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blackbird Vineyards ARISE Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine 2009

The ten acre Blackbird Vineyard sits on the Napa Valley floor nestled at the foot of Mount Veeder in the Oak Knoll District appellation in the southwest part of the valley. A former walnut orchard that was planted with Merlot vines in 1997 providing fruit to many of Napa's finest winemakers in notable labels. Michael Polenske purchased the property in 2003 and now produces the Blackbird Vineyards proprietary label crafted by Winemaker Aaron Pott in the style of the Pomerol appellation right bank Bordeaux wines - Merlot based wines blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The Blackbird moniker reflects this devotion to Merlot and is derived from the word 'Merlot' which is French patois for 'little blackbird.'
We've driven past the Blackbird Oak Knoll District vineyard near the corner of Oak Knoll Avenue and Big Ranch Road down the road from Trefethen and Lewis Cellars Chateau.  

The former walnut orchard was first planted with Merlot vines in 1997, hence the name is derived from the French patois for 'Merlot' is 'little blackbird.'

Fruit from the property received early recognition when Mia Klein of Dalla Valle fame featured the juice in her highly acclaimed Blackbird Vineyard designated 1999 Selene Merlot (where no less than 95% of the fruit in the bottle must be from the named vineyard). That released received 90+ raitings from three of the top wine critics - Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, and Wine Spectator's James Laube.

Blackbird's inaugural release was in 2003 with a Merlot bottling from a small crush of grapes that weren't already otherwise committed under contract to other vintners. That release received 98 points by Vinfolio, proclaiming it, "the best Merlot nobody had ever heard of." The Blackbird 2003 Merlot was also given a score of 95 points by Vintrust citing its complexity and richness, proclaiming it, "hedonistic in length."

The Oak Knoll District is similar to the Pomerol region of Bordeaux in its terroir - soil composition and microclimate. It is one of the coolest regions in the valley - second only to Carneros, adjacent to the south which collects the cool fog that rolls up from nearby San Pablo Bay - and like Pomerol, has gravelly, clay loam soils - ideal growing conditions for Merlot.

We first tasted this wine with the 2006 vintage. Tonight we tasted it as it best should be - alongside grilled steak, at Del Frisco's Grille in Atlanta Buckhead dining with colleague Tom L and client and partners Victoria, Dave W, and Jim Z. This wine was just received by the restaurant and wasn't yet posted on their winelist which is predominantly California with a nice collection of our favorites and some new discoveries - Cabernets, Merlots, US Pinots and modest but carefully chosen selections from Australia, France and Italy. The extensive list features a very nice selection offered at moderate, fair prices. They should take credit and promote their wine offering exposing it on their website which has no mention of wine whatsoever.

The 2009 Blackbird Vineyards ARISE Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine is medium full bodied - dark inky color - and shows smooth polished nicely integrated flavors of black raspberry and black cherry, a layer of chocolate with hints of cassis, cola and spicy oak on a soft lingering moderate tannin finish.

The profile reflects the blend of 53% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is generally soft, velvety and smooth, with structure, backbone and tannins provided by the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Cabernet Franc contributing spice, depth, backbone and breadth complexity. 

RM 90 points. 


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mollydooker Shiraz and Shiraz Blend 2005

We've been fans of the 'artwork' of Sparky and Sarah Marquis since their earliest releases of the Marquis Phillips branded wines when they gained notoriety in 1999 as Australian Winemakers of the Year.and their flagship 'Integrity' Shiraz was awarded 99 points by Robert Parker. On his recommendation to ‘run, don't walk and secure as much as you can of these wines!’, they became immediate blockbuster successes growing from 8000 to 120,000 cases in four years. We're fortunate to still have a vertical selection of  their '9' Shiraz going back to those days.

Following our tasting of the big and powerful Mollydooker "Carnival of Love" the other night, we did this comparison tasting of two 2005 vintage Mollydooker Shiraz' - "The Boxer" Shiraz and "Two Left Feet" Shiraz Blend.  Testament to the Aussie sense of humour are the cartoonish labels that Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate says "resemble Broadway vaudeville acts from the mid-thirties". Like the whimsical name 'Mollydooker', which is Aussie for 'left handed', the rest of line-up from Sparky and Sarah Marquis has fun comical names. They live by the motto, “We make wines that make people go wow - through attention to detail and commitment to excellence.”  Indeed Sarah's auto license plate reads "HAVEFUN". To that end, see my page of WINPL8S on my WineSite.

We tasted these with neighbor Shirley over grilled beef tenderloin, grilled salmon, kale, green bean casserole, baked Idaho and sweet potatoes, artisan cheeses, and chocolates. Of course, Linda would say everything goes with a full throttled full forward fruit filled Shiraz!

Mollydooker "The Boxer" McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005

Another big bold fruit forward shiraz, naturally not as big, complex, smooth and/or polished as the high end "Carnival of Love" we tasted the other night, but similar tasting profile at a fraction of the price results in a good value high QPR (quality to price ratio). 

In line with my tasting notes from back on November 24, 2006 - Mollydooker's "The Boxer" McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 provides incredible value in this new release from Sparky and Sara Marquis. Deep purple - full rich plum, currant, and mocha. RP says it best in his review -  "The 2005 The Boxer Shiraz (primarily from McLaren Vale, followed by Langhorne Creek and Padthaway) exhibits a black/blue/purple color, an incredible density of fruit along with that tell-tale purity, blackberries, white flowers, melted chocolate, sweet licorice, and subtle wood. Full-bodied, beautifully textured and layered with an awesome finish, it should drink well for 4-6+ years. 

RM 91 points; RP 95 points.  


Mollydooker "Two Left Feet" McLaren Vale Red Blend 2005

Not normally considered a blending wine, this interesting rendition of Shiraz does indeed appear to benefit from the addition of 19% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is most evident when compared side-by-side to the same vintage of 'straight' 100% Shiraz. Fruit for this blend is  from McLaren Vale, Padthaway, and Langhorne Creek.  

Like "Sarah's Blend" from the old Marquis Phillips label from Sparky and Sarah Marquis, this is another high QPR value in this new release, although at a higher price-point. According to my records, this was on offer at $20. I think the price of this wine has crept up since this 2005 release perhaps as this label has gained more notoriety and achieved consistent high ratings. It's still positioned at a fraction of their premium high end Shiraz blend label "Enchanted Path"

The  Mollydooker "Two Left Feet" McLaren Vale Shiraz Blend 2005 is naturally more complex, smoother, softer and polished than the standalone "Boxer" Shiraz. Its deep dark inky purple colored and full bodied with complex array of aromas and flavors of dark black berry, sweet plum and blue berry fruits with a layer of spice and dark mocha and hints of mineral and vanilla. The winemaker notes say, "The palate is round and filling and has concentrated sweet fruits with layers of chocolate and cream. It is such a wonderful example of how Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot can be blended together to fully complement each other. Two Left Feet has always been a stand out for me and this vintage is exceptional." - Candice

Robert Parker summed up this offering best writing..."It boasts an inky/purple color, superb intensity, a big, sweet, full-bodied nose of creme de cassis, graphite, white chocolate, black olives, blackberry liqueur, and spice, and a spectacular, voluptuous, even unctuous texture. This is a big, powerful, classic southern Australian red made with no compromises."

RM 93 points; RP 94 points.