Sunday, December 30, 2012

Arrowood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Arrowood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Anyone thinking Sonoma Cabs are a step down from the king of cabs, Napa, haven't had Arrowood Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignons. We've been fans of this Arrowood Cab for a long time and have selections in our cellar dating back to the 1991 vintage. This 2008 release is another in the series of fruit forward, flavorful wines and is as good as any in memory.   

I was a bit dubious when I picked this up at Wine Discount Center for under $25. The label was redesigned and gone was the long standing yellow-gold foil top, replaced by one burgundy colored but still bearing the Arrowood logo on the crown. 

'Traditional' Arrowood
Furthermore, I noted that this label cites Sonoma County versus Sonoma Valley as the source of fruit, meaning they've reached beyond the Vally to outskirts north in Sonoma County. Unlike Napa Valley where most of its appellations are in the valley bowl or in the mountain districts that overlook the valley from both sides, adjoining Sonoma Valley, straddling Napa on the opposite western slope of the Mayacamas Range, has several appellations in the Sonoma County up north and reaching all the way out to the Pacific Coast. A view of my Arrowood label library shows this is typically County but shifted to Valley in the 2007 release.

These upper reaches of Sonoma have much more varied topographies and climates as they reach north and to the west to approach the coast. This provides for much more variation and different characteristics in the fruit due to distinctively different 'terrior'. Indeed, some such appellations such as Sonoma Coast are known for Pinot Noir rather  than Cabernet Sauvignon based on its suitability to such a different grape varietal. 

The point is that Cabernets from the northern and western Sonoma appellations will vary widely with softer, less structure and lower tannins due to the cooler climes. They produce fine wines, just ones with a different profile. An prime example of such differences can be seen in the wildly popular Silver Oak brand with its Napa Valley and Alexander Valley labelings. Hence I was cautious in approaching this Sonoma County Cabernet, wondering if perhaps it was a 'lesser' offering than the traditional Sonoma Valley release. 

This confusion or wonderment is exacerbated by the fact that the Arrowood website features only its single vineyard designated wines and its Cabernet Sauvignon, Réserve Spéciale  wines from the 2005 and 2006 vintages. They cite on their website, "The 2007 vintage was one of exceptional quality. We were so impressed we decided to single out small lots of four Sonoma Valley vineyards and show them off on their own. Available in limited quantities are Arrowood vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon's from Lasseter Vineyards, Smothers-Remick Ridge Vineyards, and Murray Ranch Vineyard. We invite you to indulge in the nuances of these individual Cabernet's from some of Sonoma's finest vineyards." There is no mention of the 2008 vintage release on their website whatsoever

Lastly,  the mystery deepens as Arrowood Cabernet has disappeared from the shelves of Chicagoland wine superstore Binny's, our usual merchant due to their broad and deep offering at discount prices, and vast number of locations as they have expanded dramatically in recent years. They show it as 'discontinued' meaning its no longer offered by their distributor. Never-the-less, it is available at Wine Disccount Center for the bargain price under $24. In the past we have paid as much as $35-40 and sometimes up to $45 for 'this' wine.  

I believe the variation in labeling may be due to the fact that  they source their fruits from varied lots in the Valley and up in the County, and determine which go into the mix with each release according to what that year's harvest yields as they might have done in 2007? This is a common practice with all producers - although many carry multiple labels for the different offerings - see Mondavi, Beringer and Sterling where I explain these variations, as examples. Then this is coupled with a simple re-design of the label and change in foil for this 2008 release

In any event, this wine did not disappoint and was a wonderful pop and pour drinker - especially at this reduced price-point! I'll keep you posted as this unfolds further.

We enjoyed this wine with Alec and Sean at Angeli's Italian - our favorite local Naperville Italian Trattoria.  
We've enjoyed visiting the Arrowood Vineyards & Winery sitting in the rolling hills overlooking the serene valley on several of our Sonoma Valley visits. Its one of the highlights wine destinations when visiting the valley. 

Arrowood Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from fruits from the vineyards neighboring the winery from a mix of mountain and hillside vineyard sites. The Sonoma Valley hillside vineyards give structure to the intense and concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend of Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County fruit in this release is undetermined. It drinks like traditional  Sonoma Valley releases.

This wine was medium-full bodied, dark garnet/purple color, this Cabernet is very expressive with full forward rich aromas and flavors of layers of spicy fruits - raspberry, ripe currant and black cherries with a layer of cola and hints of sweet oak, tobacco and chocolate in the background with lingering soft round tannins on the smooth finish. 

Arrowood cabernet continues to be a high achiever at a reasonable price resulting a great value high QPR at around $25.

RM 91 points.

Notably, this wine has a very similar profile and was reviewed very much like the 2007 which I reviewed in these pages last spring - see 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas wine dinner feast

Christmas wine dinner feast and associated wine flight - a family affair

For a festive Christmas holiday family dinner we opened some festive and some classic wines to accompany a grand surf and turf menu. The main course featured broiled lobster tails and beef tenderloin steak Diane with mashed potatoes and green beans. Pre-dinner included a selection of artisan cheeses and fruits, and dessert was a velvet chocolate cake and holiday sweets.

Shots of our holiday dinner preparation ... 

Michelle preparing cheeses
Alec preparing mushroom sauce

Ryan preparing brandy sauce for
steak Diane

Ryan & L with steak Diane
L preparing lobster tails

The selection of artisan cheeses included my favorite Belavitano Merlot, Danish Blue and Mango Fire Cheddar. 
Chocolate velvet cake

Selection of white wines shown left. The wines listed below in order of tasting, the whites were tasted with the salad course, pre-dinner cheese selection and then lobster. 

Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuis 1er Cru N.V. 

Looking back when updating my wine tasting journal index of tasting notes, I realize we last tasted this wine last year with our Christmas dinner. Watch for more as we still have most of this case purchase remaining.

Light gold color - Bright vibrant expressive, smooth silky polished nice drinking - touch of sweetness,crisp acidity, tangy lengthy finish.

RM  90 points.

Domaine de Roally Mâconnais Viré-Clessé 'Tradition' Grand Vin White Burgundy 2007

Domaine De Roally Vire Clesse Grand Vin de Borgnogne 2007
This is an example for folks who find Burgundy wines confusing or mystifying - a reasonably priced white that provides good QPR - quality to  price ratio. Wine geeks know one reason Burgundy is hard to decipher partly because it is so fragmented with many small producers and labels - some representing but a few hecatres (acres) of vines. Note that White Burgundy represents Chardonnay varietal wines in the old world custom of naming the wine after the geography rather than the grape as we do here in the new world. (And of course, red Burgundy is notably Pinot Noir).

Straw colored, medium bodied, floral notes with hints of citrus and buttery tones and hint of stone, clean and crisp with a smooth pleasant lingering finish. Very nice complement to the broiled lobster.

RM 88 points.

The Reds; 

Nova Wines Marilyn Merlot Napa Valley 2006

A gimmicky but fun wine that has become somewhat of a cult collectors label with outrageous high prices sought for aged bottles. Each vintage features a classic image of the starlet. The 2006 label photo shows Marilyn in a alluring low-cut dress, taken in 1958, believed to be the one she wore at the debut announcement of "Some Like It Hot".

Fruit for the producer is sourced from longtime contract growers' vineyards from Yountville to St. Helena in central Napa Valley. This vintage release is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

We first tried the 2006 Marilyn Merlot Napa when we did a vertical tasting of the 06, 07 and 08 vintages. The 06 was the concensus favorite of that tasting.

Today it was medium bodied, dark ruby color, pleasant easy drinking black berry fruits with tones of spicy oak on a moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Hollywood & Vine Cellars "2480" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Hollywood & Vine Cellars are the creation of two guys from the entertainment industry that joined forces  to make hand crafted, ultra-premium Napa Valley wines. Actor turned director and screenwriter, Doug Barr, relocated to the Napa Valley from Hollywood in the early 1990’s. With Doug's longtime pal, Bruce Orosz, together, they created Hollywood &Vine Cellars releasing their first vintage in 1998. The “2480” refers to the address of the property they purchased for their wine venture from the estate of Maynard Amerine, a pioneer in the California wine industry. An author and professor at UC Davis, he taught many of the noteable names in the American wine business and impacted the art of winemaking world wide.The numbers on the bottle pay homage to Maynard Amerine for his contributions to the art and science of fine winemaking and for his inspirational role in the creation of Hollywood & Vine.

We first tasted the initial releases of Hollywood & Vine from the Cantina while dining out int the courtyard at Tra Vigne in St Helena during our Napa Wine Experiences in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and our Napa Wine Experience 2003.

We decanted this an hour before serving - it was full bodied, dark garnet color, flavorful forward complex black currant and raspberry fruits softened and mellowed to give way to sweet vanilla, hints of clove, milk chocolate and sweet oaks with a smooth lingering tannin finish.

RM 92 points. 

Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

AJ, R & L with producer Randy Dunn
We're long-time huge fans of the artistry of Howell Mountain winemaker Randy Dunn. Our index of tasting notes for Dunn Vineyards cabernets doesn't reflect the fact that we have a vertical collection of Randy Dunn's wines going back to the 1980 vintage.We have many great memories of introducing friends and family to Dunn Howell Mtn cabs at special occasions and special events over the years - many before we started our on-line wine journal back around 1998.

The fact that these are known for being long lived wines, we have kept many since we have vintage selections for the kid's birth years as well as a selection of large format bottles. This collection of our kid's birth year wines and large bottles was the highlight of the feature of our cellar in the Collecting section of Wine Spectator back in June of 2001. So it was not surprising, #1 son Ryan wanted to pull out a Dunn when trolling the cellar selecting wines for our festive Christmas dinner.

Selection of Dunn cab vertical from our cellar
dating back to 1980
We first discovered Dunn Cabernets during our Napa visits going back to the eighties. We last met legendary Randy and his daughter Kristina during our winery and cellar tour/visit during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience back in  2008.

The Dunn visit was a highlight of our Howell Mountain trip where we focused on but one appellation as is our practice. Its true after many trips, we've learned less is more and we focus on one AVA per trip. We start at the top of the mountain and work our way down the hill when visiting the Mountain appellations. Visit our wine country travel pages on to see our chronicles of Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn, Diamond Mtn, Spring Mountain District, and Atlas Peak Napa Valley appellations.

I keep thinking we'll drink them as part of a vertical tastings or for a special birthday, anniversary or other family celebrations. It was fitting that Ryan pulled a 2000 Napa to enjoy with our Christmas family dinner, and to see how this particular vintage release was aging since it is not know for its longevity.

We decanted the 2000 Napa Dunn an hour ahead of serving. It showed medium body, dark inky color, floral violets and aromas and flavors of subtle earthy wet grass or green pepper that was more approachable than it sounds, with accents of eucalyptus and spearmint masking the black currant and black berry fruits with a firm tight tannin finish.

We pledged to drink another bottle in ten years when we're together for another holiday dinner to compare with the memories of this tasting experience.

RM 88 points.

Long story - never mind

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Following the Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 tasting the other evening, I picked up the 2010 release and lo and behold it's even better. This offers good value (high QPR - quality to price ratio) at the release price of $25, but its a great buy on sale at the local Dominic's grocery retailer for $19 ($17 with a six bottle purchase). While it didn't go well with Manchego, it was a perfect complement to Bellavitano artisan cheese. When we served it up with char-broiled beef tenderloin with mushrooms and spinach, you might've thought it was an Estate Howell Mountain cab - heaven in a glass.

Sterling has numerous labels from their Vintners Collection to their single vineyard designated releases to their Reserve. This is their 'Varietal' series, Napa Valley designated Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Estate (producer owned properties) and purchased grower fruits from various appellations throughout the Napa Valley.

Dark inky purple color, medium to full bodied, the Sterling Napa Cab 2010 is bursting with forward black berry, black raspberry and ripe plum fruits, accented by a layer of mocha and hint of cedar and spicy oak. While not overly complex or structured, this had better balance and more polish than the 2009. This wine is set up for affordable, approachable, easy, enjoyable drinking now. Get some and enjoy.

RM 91 points.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2005 vintage - high achievement values

2005 vintage for high achievement values

The year 2005 was a good one for wine lovers, from casual sippers to collectors. Ideal conditions throughout the season resulted in an exceptional year in Bordeaux and Napa Valley for Bordeaux varietal lovers. One Napa producer told us that if you couldn't make good wine in 2005, you never would. In Bordeaux, basically everyone had a good year such that the second labels of the top producers were outstanding. Notably, one could also find some great finds and values from the lesser and lower priced wines, still providing the buyer many quality drinking opportunities at extraordinary value or QPR - quality price ratio. 

The 2005 Bordeaux was a robust vintage with very full bodied and ripe fruits with very high tannins and the acids were high. The fruit was so ripe and round that the young harsh qualities of a new vintage were completely masked by the enormous fruit content. The quality wines had extraordinary high concentration.The great Bordeaux vintage was among the best in the last 40 years such that it was easy to find exceptionally good wines throughout all the regions and types of Bordeaux.

 The 2005 Bordeaux season was marked by low rainfall, with precipitation during the preceding winter, following the 2004 harvest through the 2005 growing season to the harvest that year totalling less than 50% of what is usual, based on an average figure for the preceding three decades. Fortunately, vines with deep roots from mature vineyards can cope well with low levels of rainfall. The drought of 2003 encouraged the vines to search deep for water, setting them up very nicely for dry 2005. The 2005 precipitation was light and came interspersed nicely throughout the year. The weather remained warm but not overly hot throughout, with temperatures generally just above average.

As a result of great years in Bordeaux and Napa, we stocked some lesser labels for future drinking than we would otherwise obtain in normal years. Tonight we pulled two such labels for a BYOB family dinner at our favorite local trattoria, Angelis Italian. Both showed well while presenting contrasting styles to complement our dinner. 

Chateau de Reignac Bordeaux Superiere 2005

Dark ruby purple color, full bodied, tight concentrated blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by smoke, cassis and lead pencil with firm tannins on the moderate finish. Simple blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot.

RM 90 points - 91-93 points, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate January 2007

Geyser Peak Winery, Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Easy simple drinking with medium body, round ripe berry, black raspberry and plum fruits with moderate to high tannins on a short finish. Blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Shiraz; 4% Petit Verdot.

RM 88 points.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Tasted w/ Matt M from the winelist at Andolino's Italian Restaurant in Sterling Heights, IL. A long time historic Napa Valley producer, Sterling Vineyards' winery sits on an outcropping opposite the mountains on the valley side of Highway 29 south of Calistoga, north of St Helena in northern Napa Valley. The stylish Spanish mission style building is accessed by a gondola from the valley floor. Sterling produces a wide variety of labels sourcing grapes from numerous growers and Estate vineyards from all the reaches of Napa Valley.    
Dark ruby colored, medium bodied, this is a vibrant, complex fruit forward wine bursting with a range of flavors of black berry, currant and raspberry fruits, with a layer of spice, oak and hints of mocha and cedar with moderate fine integrated tannins on a lingering finish. What a pleasant surprise in this high achieving red wine blend that provides a high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) in this moderate priced label.
RM 91 points.    
Winemaker's notes:
With intense fruit and well-integrated oak, this wine is a powerful expression of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Spectators review:
"Smooth, refined and sophisticated, with ripe currant, blackberry, touches of mocha and cedar, and ending with fleshy, fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2020."
88 Points Wine Spectator

The Bordeaux style blend for this release is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot, 3% Petite Sirah, 2% Malbec and 1% Syrah.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Freemark Abbey Cab Vintage Horizontal Selection

Freemark Abbey Cab Vintage Horizontal Selection

For a festive holiday dinner at Bill & Beth C's, Bill pulled a selection of aged vintage Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignons from his new expanded cellar which now includes magnum racks. I added a Freemark Abbey Bosche 1992 to match with his 1991 which we compared with the Estate 1986 selection. For starters Bill opened at Freemark Abbey 'Bootleg' Cabernet Sauvignon Blend 2003 which we enjoyed with aged sharp cheddar and aged gouda artisan cheeses and mixed fresh berries.

Freemark Abbey has a long storied history in Napa Valley dating back to 1886 at its location on Rt 29 just above St Helena. Its modern day name dates back to 1939, when the three owners – Charles Freeman, Markquand Foster and Abbey Ahem – combined their names to form the moniker “Freemark Abbey.”

The Bosché vineyard designated selection dating back to the 1970 vintage was one of the first designated Cabernets in Napa Valley, following the legendary Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard first gaining such status in 1966. The fruit is sourced from the historic John Bosché 23-acre vineyard on the Rutherford Bench which Freemark Abbey procures and bottles exclusively.

In 1976, when wine expert Steven Spurrier conducted the now legendary 'Judgement of Paris' blind tasting made famous by the book of that name by George Taber, and then the recent popular movie "Bottle Shock", that pitted the upstart wines of California against the establishment of France; of the 12 American wineries chosen to compete, only Freemark Abbey had two wines represented – a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. In an upset that shocked the wine world, California wines won every category of the tasting, putting Napa Valley firmly on the world stage.

We're longtime fans of Freemark Abbey, witness by the fact we're opening bottles going back to the mid-eighties. Our Freemark Abbey experience highlights include our visit to the winery during our Napa Wine Experience 2009, when Bill and I had a fun time touring their library cellar with Cellar Manager Barry Dodd (Bill and Barry, left). That day, we purchased two aged vintage selections - 1974 and 1978 commemorating our anniversary years, which we tasted that evening across the road at Graystoke Manor at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in St Helena.

The '92 Bosche that I brought last evening is one of the remaining bottles that I arranged to obtain through winery partner Jeff Jaegar whom I met at a another Freemark Abbey event, a tasting at Binny's in Naperville, back in the early nineties. Upon learning of our collection of large format bottles commemorating our kid's birth-years, Jeff sent us an Imperial of 1981 Jaegar Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot which we served at daughter Erin's wedding.

This evening we enjoyed the Freemark Abbey cabernet sauvignons over dinner of stewed beef bourguignon on toast points with pearl onions, carrots, fresh mushrooms and spinach raggout. The  wines were further enhanced with a desert selection of fresh  berries and pecan caramel squares.

The flight:  
  • Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1986
  • Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1991
  • Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1992
  • Freemark Abbey Napa Valley 'Bootleg' Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley 'Bootleg' Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

 This rare limited release label is only available from the winery. It derives it name from the fateful miscue (or perhaps not?) in the barrel house when the wrong wines were blended together during the 2003 vintage. We discovered and tasted this wine during our winery visit in 2009. The resulting Blend was set-aside and bottled under this special 'Bootleg' label. 

The character and profile of this wine rendered it almost as an aperitif served with the predinner cheeses.

Dark purple garnet colored, medium bodied this exhibited super ripe almost raisiny black fruits and high alcohol essence of bourbon nose and tastes - layers of ripe dark berries, plum and prune, accented by high acid, oak, pepper and hints of 'Rutherford dust', eucalyptus and menthol. A bit over done for my preference but engaging none-the-less.

RM 86 points. 

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1986

What a surprise in this 25 year old. Who would expect this longevity in an Estate Napa cab? Like a wine of this age, upon opening and decanting this was closed and subdued with slightly tart black cherry fruit masked by leather, tobacco, tea and a slight earthiness. Over the ensuing three hours it mellowed and softened as the fruit exhibited more polish and balance with a surprising highlight of floral bouquet increasing throughout the evening. Eventually this could have passed as a vintage lower left bank Bordeaux save the modest tannins.

RM 87 points.
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1991

This bottle was suprisingly lean and austere, not what I recall from this Napa vintage generally, but revealed such against the '92 which showed markedly differently. Garnet colored with a brickish rim, this was light bodied with properly balanced but slightly tart black cherry and black berry fruits accented by tobacco, tea, cigar box and leather on a short modest short finish.

RM 86 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 highlight of the evening made for an interesting and fun vertical comparison. Still vibrant with life left, while nearing the end of its drinking window this has a fews years left and shows no signs of diminution. Dark garnet colored and medium bodied yet with distinctive 'legs' (or 'curtains' as my British friends call them), this exhibited polished and balanced concentrated black berry fruits with layer of spice, hint of smoke, eucalyptus, tobacco and spice box on a moderate smooth, integrated moderate tannin finish. 

RM 89 points.