Saturday, March 30, 2013

Field Stone Estate Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Field Stone Estate Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

This bottle came in a one of those pre-packaged Christmas gift baskets that we received from a business colleague a couple years ago. Such a bottle from a mystery no-name never heard of producer presents a bit of a quandary - re-gifting it will associate it with us with no foresight of what impressive it will leave. Drinking it requires a proper occasion akin to, but quite worthy of OTBN - Open That Bottle Night when our rather deep cellar offers so many worthy alternatives. So, when Linda asked for a late night glass of wine with fruit and cheese, what the heck - OTBN - Open That Bottle (to) Night!

I have to admit when I came up from the cellar, I actually brought up two bottles, this one, and a 'back-up' in the event this one required a 'do over'. What a pleasant surprise! This bottle vastly exceeded expectations and was perfect for the occasion.

Perhaps this was not serendipitous but rather a hidden gem - a diamond in the rough so to speak if we'd researched or knew anything about the label and its history. From the producer's website we learn, "Before our first winery production of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1977, Field Stone's vineyards had acquired an enviable reputation for the outstanding quality of their Cabernet grapes that were sold to Chateau Montelena, Grgich-Hills, Jordan, Simi, and Souverain wineries. From the beginning, André Tchelistcheff, our long-time consultant, emphasized the importance of planting a variety of Cabernet clones instead of just one ("a bouquet of mixed flowers is always more captivating than a vase of one," he said).  Like flowers, clonally distinct Cabernet fruit yields a strikingly broad range of different aromas and flavors. The result is more delightful blending possibilities on the winemaker's artistic palette and a singularly more intriguing, complex wine.  The budwood which we planted in our original vineyards during the sixties and early seventies was from three celebrated Napa vineyard sites:  the BV1 clone, the source of Tchelistcheff's famed Beaulieu "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" Cabernets; the May Vineyard clone, the source of Joe Heitz's acclaimed "Martha's Vineyard" Cabernets; and the Old Niebaum clone of the lionized early Niebaum Cabernets.  These Field Stone heritage clonal blocks make up the old and new Cabernet blocks of our Field Stone estate.  To these classic sources we added two new highly praised Bordeaux clones in our estate planting expansion of the nineties:  Clones 15 and 337.  Now in their full maturity, these vines have provided even further outstanding qualities to our Cabernet."

Quite an impressive pedigree and storied background, indeed. So it should come as no surprise that, while not a blockbuster, this was a very nice easy drinking Cabernet - absolutely perfect for the occasion!

This 2005 vintage release represents a blend of mature fruit from all five of the producer's distinctive estate Cabernet clones.  The producer writes, "In character this ’05 release is a truly complex, expressive, Alexander Valley Cabernet which opens up with seductive, spicy, varietal aromas. Its equally expressive mouth-filling flavors of Bing cherries, plums, and crushed blackberries are bountiful and ripe, with characteristics typical of Field Stone’s definitive “Alexander Valley Style”:  rich, fruit forward, with attractive notes of oak vanillin that never dominate." 

We agree, very true to its heritage, and, to its terroir, this was garnet colored, medium-full bodied, somewhat sophisticated and polished, but not overly complex,  nicely balanced flavors of black cherry, black berry and a layer of tea and moderately sweet black licorice turning to tones of subdued spicy oak on the moderate lingering finish.

This was perfect with truffle infused brie cheese on herb crackers and sliced pears

RM 88 points.

Searching WineSearch or other source sites tells us this is generally available for around $18 which would provide a reasonable QPR - Quality Price Ratio. Two fellow Cellar Tracker Tasting notes are very telling and sum it up well.

Ben C wrote, "Coffee and mocha on the nose with cherry fruit and a seemless palate. This is rather well done. I wish the labels weren't so tacky."

Matt S wrote, "Showing more dark fruit than the last bottle with some cassis and stone traces..... fruits with good acid, and equal oak and spice...... Only one more bottle left. Wish I had bought a case given the QPR."

Great fun in the continued quest to "enjoy, and help unwindWine for greater wine understanding and appreciation.Stay tuned as I seem to recall there was also a bottle of Merlot in that basket!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz 2010

Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz 2010

Sara stopped over for Sunday brunch and we popped and poured this Aussie Shiraz to accompany Linda's Italian roast beef. Sara brought two similar wines to our recent Open That Bottle Night so we served this up as a comparison, as these wines are favorites of both ladies.

Dark black coffee color with a dark garnet hue on the rim, medium-full  bodied, this 2010 Schild is a bit too tight and a bit metallic for my preference with a slight hard edge on the front before opening to forward black berry fruit with a layer of black olive, grilled mushroom, creosote and a sweet cassis liquor tone on a focused spicy finish. Similar to its previous vintage which was more approachable lacking these tight and hard tones. This producer's Schild Reserve was much ,smoother, polished and flavorful providing much better QPR despite being 60% higher priced.

The pundits rated this higher but I give it RM 87 points.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Magnum Highlights Family Wine Dinner

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Magnum Highlights Family Wine Dinner

With son Will laying over amidst trancontinental flights, he and brother Matt came home for a family dinner at Bill and Beth C's and I was included. To celebrate the gathering, Bill opened a magnum of Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 1996. For a comparison tasting I brought a 1996 Arns Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This also provided a preview since Will will be joining us for our upcoming Napa trip where we'll be touring and tasting there.

Following starters of stewed meatballs, breaded macaroni and cheese balls and selection of fresh fruits and artisan cheeses, Beth served dinner featuring grilled steak ternderloin, steamed broccolli spears, twice baked potatoes with a fresh dinner salad. To round out the mix, Bill opened a Ruston Family Vineyards La Maestra Napa Cab 2006 and a birth-year wine Raymond Vineyards Private Reserve Napa Cab 1989. For starters, Matt brought a tasting selection - La Crema Mendocino County Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2009.

To finish, Molly had baked chocolate brownies which she served with french vanilla ice cream. To accompany the final course, Bill opened a Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscat d'Oro 2011 desert wine. 

Diamond Creek Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 

Our tour and dinner tasting at Diamond Creek Winery was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Wine Experience 2011. We served this wine from birthyear magnums at son Ryan's and Michelle's wedding. Bill and I continue to collect this wine for special  vintages and special occasions. The magnum served tonight was such a feature. 

 Opened and decanted for about ninety minutes before serving, it was medium bodied and dark garnet colored. It showed surprisingly vibrant and bright forward black cherry and black currant fruit flavors early.  As these settled over the ensuing two hours, it became more complex and Bordeaux-like with the fruit accented by bright floral tones reminiscent of a Margaux, accented by cassis, hints of dark chocolate, roasted coffee bean and earth tones with a smooth moderate tannin finish

RM 91 points. 

Arns Napa Valley Cabernet Sauivignon 1996 

We have several vintages of this wine in the cellar but our tasting experience is minimal so we were eager to open this and compare against a classic benchmark wine like the Diamond Creek; also since we're scheduled to visit the winery in a few weeks and we want to develop a vocabulary and more knowledge and experience with this wine.  

The Arns was medium to full bodied with dark garnet color. After opening, it still remained a bit closed and tight with subdued black berry and black raspberry fruits offset by a layer of cassis, tea, and baking spice, with subtle tones of spicy oak, with subtle tannins on a moderate short finish, perhaps indicative of its age. 

RM 89 points.  

Ruston Family Vineyards La Maestra Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker - "Medium garnet color. Pepper and spice on the palate with a hint of dark cherry. Medium finish and light tannins. The merlot came through more than the Cabernet. Drank with strawberries and artisan cheeses prior to a gala dinner with the children at home." WCC 86 points.  




Raymond Vineyards Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

Commemorating Matt's birthyear, Bill opened this to celebrate Matt and Molly being with us for the evening, and to see if there is still life left in this aged vintage library bottle. 
Medium bodied, dark purple color, this wine still has life and is acceptable but its certainly passed its prime and is not going to improve any further. The black berry and cherry fruits are a bit muted having given way a bit to a slight funkiness of earthy leather, tea and tobacco, turning to tight lingering tannins on the short moderate finish.

RM 86 


La Crema Mendocino County Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2009

A limited-production Pinot Noir sourced from two small vineyards up in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, adjacent to the last stand of redwoods  before you reach the Pacific. Maggy Hawk Vineyard is subjected to constant cooling from its proximity to the ocean. A small percentage comes from Palmer Vineyard fruit for additional clonal complexity. 

A merchant had a stock of this and asked Matt to weigh in so he picked this up and brought for us to assess. Medium bodied, somewhat opaque ruby colored, the fruit was somewhat subdued cherry and plum fruits giving way to tea, a woody cedar, dust and hints of slightly earthy cinnamon spice on a somewhat subdued tannin finish.

RM 86 points. 


David Arthur, Paratus Napa Mountain Cabs - Sea Smoke Chardonnay

Napa Valley Cabs Prequel to Upcoming Napa Trip

For a elegant beef tenderloin dinner, and as a prequel to our upcoming Napa trip, we served two dueling mountain fruit Cabernet Sauvignons. Bill served Paratus 2007 and I brought a David Arthur 2003. Looking ahead to our upcoming Napa trip and tour we're scheduled for a tasting at David Arthur and will be reaching back to Paratus again.

For the starter course, Beth served crab stuffed mushrooms and Bill opened at Sea Smoke Chardonnay. What an interesting combination/pairing. As expected, the David Arthur was a perfect complement to the grilled beef tenderloin, and the Paratus went very nicely with the wild rice and grilled asparagus.

We finished with Linda's homemade chocolate mousse and homemade crafted pirouettes (shown below).

Sea Smoke California Grand Cru Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2010

Grapes for this Sea Smoke Chardonnay are sourced from their estate vineyard. It was aged in 55% new French oak for 16 months.  This wine was complemented perfectly by the crab stuffed mushrooms which totally neutralized a tanginess to the wine rendering it smoother and more approachable. 

 This was a very interesting contrast in style to the Sea Smoke Gratis Chardonnay we tasted at our Open That Bottle Night - OTBN 2013 night a couple weeks ago. While that was more Burgundian in style, this was very bold, forward, full bodied, dry, crisp, buttery and oaky on the front.Wine Enthusiast calls it a "exotic, candied style ...almost in a class by itself," and refers to "flavors including pineapple, brown sugar, lemon drop, ginger and vanilla cookie, honey, green apple butter and baked pear."

The producers says this is "an elegant Chardonnay with aromas of dusty peach, star fruit, rock dust and honeysuckle--complemented by a focused mid-palate and the refreshing cool climate acidity of our estate vineyard."

RM 91 points.

David Arthur Napa Vally Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

We've been collecting and enjoying David Arthur wines since the late nineties but have been pacing our consumption as we watch this wine age and achieve its true potential. This property owned and operated by Donald and son David Long. sits up on Pritchard Hill near Chappellet. We visited Pritchard Hill during our Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley Experience - Autumn '09 but couldn't schedule them at that time. We're headed back and will be touring and tasting David Arthur next month so we selected this wine to start to build our vocabulary and understanding of their wines.

Pritchard Hill vineyards overlooking
Napa Valley
David Arthur wines represent the unique terroir of the mountain with its rough rocky terrain. They have 21 acres on their Pritchard Hill estate planted in the Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, as well as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo which go into their unique Meritaggio. We first discovered this wine when we purchased a case back of the 1997 vintage release and still hold about half of those bottles, but we quickly turned and became fans of their Cabernet Sauvignon and their flagship wine Elevation 1147, creatively names for the vineyard site situated 1200 feet above the valley floor. All are crafted 100% from estate grown grapes.

According to their website, David Arthur  is a family affair consisting of three generations of the Long family, brothers David and Bob along with Joye Long are co-owners, with David acting as General Manager and his daughter Laura runs the office and daily operations.

Being married to the daughter of Indiana farmer Ned Long, and the fact that we'll be joined on this Napa trip by sister/sister-in-law Pat (Long), it's only fitting we saved our David Arthur visit and this Long reunion for this coming trip. I am looking forward to our return visit to Pritchard Hill and meeting the Long family and learning more about and exploring further David Arthur wines.

This 2003 David Arthur Cabernet Sauvignon presented itself true to its Bordeaux composition exhibiting full bodied complex character, nicely balanced but somewhat subdued dark black berry, currant and cherry fruits, a layer cassis with hints of dark chocolate, earthy tobacco and tea with tones of spicy oak on a silky smooth lingering tannin finish.  As noted above, this was a perfect wine to complement the grilled beef tenderloin.  

 The left bank Bordeaux blend is reported to change slightly with each vintage but is roughly 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot, and 3% Merlot.

RM 91 points.

Paratus Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Paratus is another Napa Valley producer of mountain grown fruit cabernet. We discovered Paratus and acquired their Mt Veeder wines during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Appellation Experience. Our penchant for mountain fruit wines is apparent in our cellar holdings from all the Napa mountain appellations and districts so it was fun to compare wines from the opposing peaks of Pritchard Hill on the eastern slope versus Mt Veeder from the opposing western slope, both at the south ends of the ranges near the bottom of Napa Valley.

While we acquired four vintages from 2004-2007 of Paratus Mt Veeder Cabernets, this was our first venture in tasting their wines from our collection as Bill served up this 2007. His tasting review is below:

"Deep purple color, huge fruit forward profile on the palate. Nicely balanced with ample tannin and notes of chocolate and graphite. A really pleasant surprise. Bought this during our 2009 Napa Wine Experience trip to Mt. Veeder. This is more robust than many other Veeders I have tasted which tend to be a bit more delicate and fruity. This is drinking well now but certainly has the structure and backbone to go another 10 years."

Bill's rating - 90 points. I give it a 91.

Grilled tenderloin, asparagus, wild rice.

Crab stuff mushrooms.
Napa Cab Colors

Chocolate mousse - homemade pirouette.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ladera Two Mountains Napa Valley Premiere Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Ladera Two Mountains Napa Valley Premiere Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

From a barrel sourced from fruits from Howell Mountain and Mt Veeder that went into a special bottling donated to the Napa Valley Premiere charitable auction by Ladera Vineyards and Winery. The fruit was from the 2000 vintage and was bottled and auctioned in the 2002 auction, Lot 64. We served this at home at a gala family dinner celebrating Alec visiting home from the Jersey shore, still recovering from the ravages of last fall's hurricane. This wine was a great accompaniment to char-broiled beef tenderloin dinner.

Ladera Winery was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Appellation Wine Experience 2008.We then hosted them here during their Chicago visit the next summer.

This wine was dark, medium full bodied, expressive and aromatic with full  forward flavors of black cherry, black berry, spice, hint of currant, earth and tea with a subtle tone of eucalyptus on the finely integrated smooth tannin finish. This was more vibrant and expressive and had more fruit than previous tasting fours ago and added the layer of spice and mint tone from earlier tasting.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Club Lucky Bucktown Chicago celebration dinner features special BYOB Flight

Club Lucky Bucktown Chicago celebration dinner features special BYOB Flight

To celebrate Michelle's Ides of March thirtieth birthday, and their expecting daughter, Ryan booked a gala dinner at neighboring Club Lucky in Bucktown, Chicago. They did a great job accommodating our group of 16 and handling our BYOB special selections commemorating Michelle's birthyear, the year they met, and their anniversary year. Service was superb especially considering our large group and our special handling of our wines.

The food was equally spectacular, even including the anti-pasta salad and grilled calamari starters. The chef's selection Tortellini with asparagus and chicken was good but outclassed by the regular feature Tortellinis filled with chicken and herbs with english peas and pinenuts in vodka cream sauce. The Salmon Oregatano was also very good, served Mediterranean style with white wine, oregano, Italian parsley, fresh lemon and potato wedges. I opted for the Rigatoni with veal meatballs baked with escarole, fresh mozzarella cheese, and marinara which went superbly with the Viader Red wine blend.

To celebrate the gathering Ryan brought a 2001 Chateau Gruaud Larose St Julien Bordeaux and a La Dame Montrose St Estephe Bordeuax 2008. I added a 2001 Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend. Later, back at the house with birthday desserts featuring artisan cupcakes and Linda's chocolate mousse, we opened a 1983 Hardy's McLaren Vale South Australian vintage port.

While we've been fans of the Cordier conglomerate's Chateau Gruaud Larose from the St Julien appellation since the early 80's and hold a deep vertical selection of this wine in our cellar dating back to 1978, its been especially rewarding and great fun to be a part of son Ryan's discovering this wine. The highlight and one of the events contributing to this was tasting the 2010 vintage while meeting David Launey the winemaker taste the new release with him at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Chicago 2010 release tour together. Ryan and I are now on a discovery tour of our own discovering/revisiting this wine together. Regrettably I didn't have any 1983's left to bring tonight although we still have magnums or double magnums of 1981, 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990 releases. The 2001 didn't disappoint, in fact was a surprise in its accessibility, suppleness and forward fruits. 

Chateau Gruaud Larose St Julien Bordeaux 2001

Ironically, like the 2010, this was surprisingly expressive and vibrant for a Gruaud Larose, medium full bodied, deep purple color with full forward black and red berry fruits and classic left bank Bordeaux nuances of floral, subtle earth, leather and smoke leading to a layer of cassis, oak and exotic spices, ending in silky smooth polished tannins on a firm lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.

La Dame de Montrose St Estephe 2008

Lacking the pedigree of the almost super second Gruaud Larose, this second wine of St Estephe producer Chateau Montrose, while not as complex, concentrated or polished, presented itself respectably well. The 2008 second label La Dame de Montrose was 28% of the estate’s production. The blend is surprisingly 56% Merlot and 44% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Deep ruby purple colored, medium to full bodied, the focused but somewhat subdued dark berry and currant fruit gives way to a layer of mineral and smooth soft tannins on the finish.  

RM 88 points.  

Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend 2001 

We also enjoyed this wine with the producer at An evening with Delia Viader back in late 2005 in Chicago. We then visited the property up on Howell Mountain during our Napa Howell Moutain Wine Experience - Viader back in 2008. This was my run away favorite of the evening although this might come across a bit sweet for some, it reflects a style that is most suited to my preference - bold, forward, expressive fruits with sweet nuances of oak, mocha and spice - very true to the Howell Mountain terrior. Interestingly, Viader, sitting at an elevation of 1200 on lower Howell Mountain, is designated Napa Valley appellation. The Howell Mountain appellation starts at that level which is the highest elevation point that the overnight and morning fog reaches. 

Dark ruby colored, full bodied, vibrant full forward blackberry fruits are accented by sweet chocolate mocha with tones of cedar and tobacco giving way to sweet spicy oak with lingering smooth silky tannins on the finish.

The blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Cabernet Franc.

 RM 91 points.


Thomas Hardy's Reynella McLaren Vale South Australian Vintage Port 1983

After dinner we retreated to Ryan and Michelle's where we had artisan cheeses and desserts with fresh fruit - Bellavitano with French Bread, artisan cupcakes, and Linda's rich chocolate mousse with fresh berries. To accompany these we opened a Hardy's McLaren Vale South Australian vintage port blended from old vines shiraz.  

Although the cork was very soft and spongy and the fill level was nearing the bottom of the tall neck, the color was ruby colored although it was slightly murky, yet it tasted fine - super ripe red and black berry flavors, hints of dark mocha, almost raisiny fig flavors, blackberry liquor tones, anise, a layer of soft sweet essence of brandy and a sweet aftertaste on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

19% alcohol.    

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chez Joel - QPR Bordeaux bistro francais

Pair of moderate high QPR Bordeaux highlight French Bistro Dinner

For pre-United Center event dinners, Dr Dan and I have established a routine to dine at this stylish, quaint bistro francais, Chez Joël, down Taylor Street from the Little Italy dining district, near the University Illinois at Chicago campus. Several years ago, Linda and I declared the summer of Chicago French bistros and Chez Joël was one of the more memorable from that season. Chef/owner and namesake Joël Kazouini and his brother Ahmed feature an authentic French bistro dining experience with wonderful southern French cuisine, cozy intimate atmosphere, friendly service, and a nice selection of carefully selected wines that complement their menu offerings.

Tonight we both chose the grilled filet of beef with foie gras - yes its allowed in the City again since the stupid ban was lifted (how ridiculous for over-reaching politicians to meddle with restaurant menus - if only they would just do their job... enough of that ... ). We chose two reasonably priced Bordeaux from the winelist to accompany the cheese plate, pate du jour, and the entrees. On this evening, due to a winter storm, we had the restaurant to ourselves! 

Château Haut-Châtain Lalande-De-Pomerol 

The French Bordeaux appellation of Pomerol is known for some of the best, and as such, some of the most expensive examples of Merlot based Bordeaux Blends. Fortunately for the savvy consumer, the surrounding appellation Lalande-de-Pomerol produces some excellent and quite affordable Merlot based wines. On the western edge of the St. Emilion plateau sits the commune of Néac with soil composed of clay and gravel. Château Haut-Châtain has 11-hectares of vineyards planted with Merlot (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) with vines averaging 25 years of age. Martine Rivière is the producer and a trained oenologue.

True to their style and terroir, this wine shows dark garnet color, medium to full body with floral aromas accented by notes of bright cherry with notes of cocoa and subtle flavors of plum and a touch of earthy leather leading to balanced ripe tannins and fruit laced acidity. Aged in all new oak, the wine has nuances of vanilla that highlight the intense and dark fruit with a hint of chocolate flavors on the finish. This was a nice complement to the beef and foie gras. The cherry fruit is a bit too predominant leaving a slight lingering astringency that may mellow with time. 

RM 87 points.

Chateaux Mangot St. Emilion Grand Cru 2009

Up on the opposite corner of the Bordeaux city and region, on the other side of the river, located the St Emilion appellation, in the commune of St. Etienne-de-Lisse, the Chateau Mangot property is situated on outcroppings of limestone that are the same as on the hillsides and plateau of the more famous cru classé wines. Their 28-hectare vineyard is planted with vines of an average of 40 years and composed predominantly of Merlot with both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to round out the blend.

Medium to full bodied, dark garnet colored, the first impression is the big expressive floral front leading to a bright nicely balanced and polished berry, plum and black cherry fruits with accents of cassis and hint of dark mocha finishing with pine forest on a long, rolling dry finish.
Blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

RM 89 points