Monday, May 27, 2013

Big Zinfandels and Shiraz with BBQ kick off summer

Big Zinfandels and Shiraz and barbecue kick off summer

For a Memorial Day summer kick off barbecue Bill and Beth prepared rubbed apple smoked and wet BBQ ribs. And what goes with barbecue? Zinfandel, of course, as well as big hearty Shiraz/Syrah, which oft-times manifests itself in southern Rhones blends from Chateauneuf-du-Pape or lesser appellations (which will  provide great QPR - quality price ratio), Gigondas, or Vayqueras. Of course the Aussie's have their's with 'Barbie'. So, to accompany this hearty barbecue we hoisted big zesty Napa Valley Zinfandels and a pair of big bold Barossa Valley Shiraz's.

Robert Craig Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2006

From Robert Craig, the legendary producer known for his family of Cabernets from 'three mountains and a valley' comes this big Zinfandel.  This full throttled Zinfandel fruit is sourced from the Black Sears Ranch Vineyard at the end of the road high atop Howell Mountain. We tasted and obtained this big bruiser Zin during a winery visit up on Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2008, (shown below left).

I first discovered Howell Mountain Zinfandel fruit with the Howell Mountain Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 1999.  This was was served at a gala state dinner back in 2008 that I had the privilege to attend at the Taiwanese Twin Oaks Estates mansion and Consulate in WDC, just down the hill behind the Washington Cathedral - formerly the estate home of Alexander Graham Bell's descendents. Not until our Robert Craig visit did I learn that the fruit for this wine was sourced from a vineyard near Robert Craig's Howell Mountain property. We conducted a comparison tasting of these two wines back in 2009 (shown top left). 

This time this wine presented itself as heavy, full bodied, concentrated and focused black pepper predominates overpowering the black fruits. Could this be the same Zin we tasted earlier where the black pepper was just a modifier? The black pepper was amazingly intense and forward only begrudgingly giving way to tones of blackberry fruits and bramble. Thick full bodied, almost chewy. Dark garnet color with a brownish tone. 

RM 90 points.
Robert Biale 'Party Line' California Zinfandel 2010

Robert Biale Vineyards is a historic legendary Napa Valley producer dating back back to when Aldo Biale immigrated from Northern Italy settled and began growing grapes in the 1930’s. He planted Zinfandel which was widely planted by immigrants throughout the state’s history as a highly flavorful red grape well-suited for its expansive range of arid climates and diverse soils. His inaugural production of 400 cases was produced from 8 acres of old non-irrigated low-yielding vines called “Aldo’s Vineyard.” 
In 1991, Aldo Biale and son Robert partnered with marketer Dave Pramuk to focus on producing world-class wine from the oldest Zinfandel vines on the Biale ranch in Napa’s Oak Knoll District.  

Today, under the direction of Bob Biale, Dave Pramuk, and winemaker Steve Hall, Biale specializes in twenty different Zinfandels including single vineyard designated Zinfandels sourced from thirteen different vineyards spread across Napa Valley, each expressing the terrior, sense of place of that location's unique terrain, soil, micro-climate and exposure. 

While Zinfandel is ideally suited to the area, it comprises only 2% of Napa Valley’s grapes. Biale consider their Zinfandel to be an ideal expression of California and the sites where it is grown. They contend that Zinfandel shows distinct differences in character from site to site like no other grape variety and the fact that the old vines themselves are deeply rooted in original vineyards make them among the greatest expressions of terroir in the world. Their intensive hand-farming, extreme thinning and careful selection of only the fully ripe “black” clusters make for very small yields per vine and give their Zinfandels their distinct personalities and rich, hedonistic style.
In the 1940’s Aldo Biale sold bottles of illicit homemade Zinfandel known as “Black Chickens” over his party line phone service. This wine commemorates and is named for Aldo Biale's taking orders on the local party line, this Biale 'Party Line' Zin is a blend selected from the family's Zin vineyards across Napa.

This Zinfandel was dark ruby colored, full bodied, with complexity of big forward concentrated briary black fruits nicely integrated into a symphony of well orchestrated flavors. 

RM 92 points.

Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2009

A neighbor of Robert Craig high atop Howell Mountain, just across the road from  Lamborn Vineyards, one passes Outpost on the way to the end of road to the Craig estate. We visited these producers during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2008. All are known for their Cabernets but they all also produce Howell Mountain Zinfandels. It just occurred to me I could've also brought a Lamborn Howell Mountain Zinfandel for a true neighborhood tasting for this event.

Compared to the big concentrated Robert Craig Zinfandel, the Outpost actually came across as smooth, polished and medium-full  bodied. It certainly was more approachable than the full-throttle powerful Craig, which was the favorite of Linda. The Outpost was dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied, nicely balanced, smooth and polished with brambly black fruits, a layer of white pepper and hints of vanilla on the finish.

RM 91 points.

Chateau Tanunda 'The Chateau' 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz 2008

This classic Shiraz was the discovery of the Wine Spectator Grand Tour Chicago 2010 where we met the producer, orchestrated procurement and cornered the Midwest market obtaining all nine cases allocated and shipped here. These were divided amongst our OTBN team Bill, Dan, Eric and Ernie and me.  

Bill C's notes tasting notes from the dinner: 'Still big, round and delicious. Deep inky purple in the glass. Fruit forward, layered with soft, integrated tannins. Maybe the best Shiraz I have had. This is softening somewhat and I will not hold remaining bottles for more than another 3 years. Drinking exceptionally well.'

WCC 96 points. 

 Branson Coach House Greenock Block Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz 2002

Another full throttle shiraz from Barossa Valley, this 2002 is still big bold and fruit filled at thirteen years of age. I love this style of tongue coating rich concentrated complex fruit accented with a bit of vanilla and spice. We drank ours  a few years ago but this was still vibrant.

Bill's notes on this wine as posted on Cellartracker:

"Medium garnet in color. Fruit has faded somewhat but has been replaced with some layers of minerality, coffee and cola. Still a bit of blackberry on the finish. Should drink now." 

WCC 88 points. 
RM 90 points. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

For a special wine to celebrate my birthday dinner I selected a 2004 vintage release David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Having just recently visited the winery up on Pritchard Hill during our recent Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013, I was eager to try another vintage release from our cellar collection of this wine which spans a half dozen vintages. This was a great accompaniment to grilled New York strip steaks that Linda artfully prepared my favorite Pittsburgh style. 

David Arthur Vineyards have twenty-one acres atop Pritchard Hill overlooking the famous Rutherford Bench viticultural area known for producing some of the finest Cabernet. They are  surrounded by vineyards of notable and iconic producers such as Chappellet, Dalla Valle, Harrison, Colgin and Bryant.

This is as expressive as any David Arthur Cabernet I have tasted to date. It explodes with sweet ripe plum and berry fruits, accented with tones of dark chocolate and a layer of caramel turning to hints of anise, spice notes of tobacco and sweet spicy oak and moderate tannins on the lingering finish. This was even more aromatic and expressive when re-opened two evenings later.

RM 92 points.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hall and Keenan Napa Cabernet Duo - Haan Prestige Shiraz

Hall and Keenan Napa Cabernet Duo - Haan Prestige Barossa Shiraz

Three big reds compliment steak dinner at favorite local bistro

For a hearty dinner with friends Gayle and Mark at Angelis Italian, our favorite local bistro we tasted two big Napa Cabernets against a vintage Australian Shiraz - Hall 2006 and Keenan 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, and Haan Prestige Barossa Shiraz 2003. We recently visited Hall Vineyards' magnificent Rutherford Estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013 so I wanted to revisit  one of my personally highest rated Hall Cabernets that we're holding in our cellar. The Keenan is currently available at Wine Discount Center so I wanted to taste it against a benchmark wine contemplating further purchases. In earlier tasting notes I likened it to a big juicy fruit forward Australian shiraz so a comparison tasting was in order.

Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The Hall stood up to earlier accolades and indeed compared most favorably with the big bold Aussie Shiraz, and provided a comparison benchmark to stand up aside the Keenan.

From my earlier notes, the Hall presented "Dark inky color, rich, dense, concentrated, style, full-bodied, fruit forward ripe sweet currant, ripe black raspberry, plum, black cherry fruits, mocha and hints of black licorice with a long soft tannin finish.Has the rich thick jammy fruit of a south Australian Shiraz."  I would emphasize big, full, concentrated fruits with a firm tannic backbone. In this evening's tasting it met my highest expectations and stood over the Shiraz, the other Cab and was indeed a perfect complement to the New York strip steak dinner.

RM 93 points.

Keenan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Some of our favorite Napa Cabernets come from Spring Mountain District above the town of St Helena in the Mayacamas Range on the western slope of Napa Valley - Fantesca, Pride, Lail, and of course Paloma with their award winning Merlots. We visited Keenan Winery up on Spring Mountain during our Napa Wine Experience 2007.
We've had fun serving this wine with friend Jim Keenan.

Medium bodied, forward fruit flavors of blackberry and cherry, floral with a layer of licorice and hints of spice and coffee with moderate, soft tannins.

100% Cabernet Sauvignon - 73% from Spring Mountain, 27% from Pope Valley. 

RM 90 points.

Photo from our 2007 Keenan Vineyards visit high up Spring Mountain.

Keenan vineyard high up Spring Mountain

Haan Prestige Barossa Valley Shiraz 2003

The ladies preferred this more approachable wine with its full flavorful fruits to the firmer, tighter more structured and concentrated Cabernets.

Medium bodied, spicy, earthy leathery super ripe black berry fruit, touch of menthol, hint of vanilla on a long spice finish.

RM 89 points. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Dinner Wine - Ducru Beaucaillou - Del Dotto - Liparita

Mother's Day Dinner Wine (s)

A gala family dinner celebrating son Ryan's & Michelle's baby shower, our season opening family golf outing and of course, Mother's Day, featured beef tenderloin and a flight of paired wines.

Ryan handled wine steward duties and pulled the following wines from the cellar -  Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 1989, Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997, and Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997. This provided an interesting comparison of Bordeaux blend varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a classic Bordeaux blend, as well as a look into the stage of two top rated vintages - 1989 Bordeaux and this mini-horizontal of 1997 Napa Valley Cabernets.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 1989

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou is a wine of interest for several reasons. This was one of Ryan's 'signature' wines that we purchased in large format in his birthyear vintage, which we served at his wedding, and of which we still hold for special occasions. (This collection of large format birth-year wines was the basis for our cellar being featured in the Collecting section of Wine Spectator back in June, 2001. We still hold a double magnum of 1982 Ducru Beaucaillou that somehow survived several such occasions including weddings of Ryan and Michelle and Will and Kate C). While not Ryan's birth year, we still hold almost a case of this top rated 1989 vintage of this wine, since it is one year removed from son Alec's birthyear, and the year of dear friends and wine our OTBN group members Bill and Beth C, who are regularly featured in this blog.

The cork was perfect in this twenty-four year old, continued reminder and evidence that our cellar' conditions are ideal for aging. Decanted for about ninety minutes, this wine opened with a funky barnyard tone and Ryan was concerned it was tainted or beyond its drinking window. I preached patience and over the course of the evening it did burn off and turn into a emphatic floral tone that punctuated the finish and goes on and on and on.

Never-the-less, this wine may be showing its age as the berry and black cherry fruit has turned slightly astringent and a layer of tea, leather and tobacco seems to have emerged more predominantly. The tannins are moderate. The color remains intact with an opaque ruby color perhaps starting to take on an ever-so-slight brownish tone, while the body remains medium to light.

The slight astringency aside, as I look back, this tasting profile is consistent with my last tasting' note for this wine from October, 2011. 

PS. Alas, the next morning, even the astringency had gone away and this wine was consistent with and reminiscent of earlier tastings albeit the slight leathery tobacco tone may be becoming more predominant over the fruit. Take note, this needs several hours of decanting.

RM 89 points.

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

This was a limited production upon release. This was one of our discoveries during our Napa Valley Wine Experience trips back in 1998 and 1999.and again in 2001 and 2003. I still remember we took this wine to a Christmas party back in 2000 and it was the stand-out highlight wine of the evening.

Dark ruby colored, medium to full bodied, the spicy black berry and black currant fruits are still vibrant in this sixteen year old, accented by tones of cedar and tobacco with hints of creme de cassis and leather on the smooth tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We have been drinking the 1996, 2000 and 2001 vintages of this wine from the cellar when we Ryan found a couple bottles of this '97 release. What a nice surprise as this is one more appealing and better drinking releases along with the 2001.

We discovered this wine during our Napa Valley Wine Experiences back in the late nineties highlighted by a barrel tasting at the custom crush facility down in Oakville with the then wine maker Gove Celia.  

Dark black garnet color - medium-full bodied with black berry and black cherry fruits accented by anise with tones of leather, wood, cedar and hints of black olive tapenade with floral lingering on the smooth moderate tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ben Schild Barossa Valley Reserve Shiraz 2008

Ben Schild Barossa Valley Reserve Shiraz 2008

Another tasting of a much enjoyed wine from earlier in the year - tasted with L and Pat in town visiting for Michelle's shower - great accompaniment to artisan cheeses and fresh fruit. This wine is dedicated to the producer patriarch Ben Schild who has been farming the Schild Estate Three Springs property in Rowland Flat Barossa since 1952. Today the property is farmed by second and third generation Schilds. Fruit for this wine is sourced from a single vineyard in the Hills overlooking Lyndoch where the elevated location and cooling winds helped temper the effects of a warm year resulting in earlier ripening thereby avoiding a late season heat wave that afflicted other growers in the Southern Barossa.

By the way, it is worth noting again this remarkable interesting side note; this is not the same wine but it is the same producer and vintage as the Schild Barossa Shiraz that after receiving high reviews, 94 points, and placing in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of the Year in 2010, naturally subsequently sold out. Schild then proceeded to purchase, blend and bottle additional wine from other producers, but still market such under the 'same' label. Extraordinary, unethical, deceptive, conniving, but legal, none-the-less.

(Imagine buying a new Ford but finding out Ford ran low on engines and purchased and provided alternative replacement engines from some other supplier. (See Bait and Switch?; Schild Estate: Questionable Bottling Practices in 2008 Shiraz; What Makes a Wine a Wine?).
Only after being challenged by reporters did the winery affix an extra label to the secondary bottlings identifying them as a second blend.

The colour of the Reserve was deep dark Ruby Red and inky purple. Huge aromas of blue fruits and violets give way to bright vibrant concentrated tongue coating flavors bursting with blueberry, black raspberry, ripe plum and chocolate, with hints of black pepper, spice and nicely integrated oak on a long lingering soft tannin finish.

My earlier review gave this 93 points (with a footnote of possibly warranting a 94) ... this time there emerged a bit of a graphite tone which detracted somewhat from the fruit so I took off a point. .

RM 92 points .

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Enchanted Path 2007 Flight - Marquis Phillips 9 - Affinity

Enchanted Path 2007 Flight - Marquis Phillips 9 - Affinity

For a gala family & friends dinner celebrating son Alec's visit home we did a 2007 vintage horizontal comparison of Aussie Shiraz' and a Napa Cab - two McLaren Vale Shiraz' by the same winemaker from two different era - Mollydooker Enchanted Path Cabernet Shiraz blend 2007, Marquis Phillips '9' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007, and Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2007.

Drank at  Angeli's Restaurant. - our favorite local Italian Trattoria.

Mollydooker Enchanted Path Cabernet Shiraz blend 2007

From Sparky and Sarah Marquis' Mollydooker venture with their whimsical cartoon label, this is a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. This unique blend really works with the Cabernet adding breadth and depth to the big black inky purple colored full bodied Shiraz. The result is a powerful full bodied complex wine with concentrated forward chewy tongue coating black berry and black cherry fruits accented by ripe plum and spice, a layer of leather and hints of anise with fine silky tannins on the long finish.

RM 92 points.

Marquis Phillips '9' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007

From the earlier Sparky and Sarah Marquis from their earlier Marquis Phillips venture, 9 was their McLaren Vale Shiraz from the same vintage. Its not clear if there is any overlap here since their breakup of the venture may cloud the details of the sourcing of their labels. This could be some of the same fruit in two different labels. In any event, the 2007 vintage '9' is also dark, big, full bodied and concentrated. It is not as complex or polished as the Enchanted Path blend. In addition to the black berry fruits accented by mocha, tobacco and leather, there is a layer of graphite in this that has an edge that tends to detract from the fruit.

RM 89 points.

Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2007

A bit tight and slightly closed but after an hour opened up to show wonderful black and blue berry fruits, red currant and slight hint of mocha - complex, polished, velvety well integrated smooth silky tannins on a nice lingering soft finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Grand Tour 2013 Chicago

Grand Tour 2013 Chicago

Admittedly, we were a bit disappointed when we saw the final roster and floorplan for Wine Spectator's Grand Tour Chicago. Absent were any first growth, super second or other premiere Bordeaux producers which tend to be the feature highlights of our interest. As customary, we select our target tasting preferences ahead of time and then lay out our plan of attack according to the floor layout. Our consensus target list featured twenty five wines with another dozen possible entries. Naturally this is about our limit anyway, both in terms of timing and in the tolerance of our pallets before they succumb to 'fatigue' or overload. Never-the-less, as always, Grand Tour was a resounding success based on a cadre of returning favorites, new discoveries of emerging labels from known producers as well as discovery of some here-to-for unknown producers.

Father, son tasting team -
Rick & Ryan
Our wine crew consisted of the usual suspects, members of our OTBN group, sans Ernie and Eric, both of whom were in California for separate conflicts - Eric and Cathy's first grand-daughter, JJ, and Ernie's business conflict. So, helping me hold down the fort were Bill C, Dr. Dan, #1 son Ryan, Lyle and John B.

We met beforehand at Flemings Steakhouse in Chicago's River North neighborhood to review our tasting route and solicit any last minute targets. Indeed, a couple such entries turned out to be some of the surprise discoveries of the evening.

With small plates dinner at Flemings, we drank a bottle of Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.

We discovered this wine during our visit to the winery during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience - Ladera back in 2008

Label from 2007 vintage.
Fruit for Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Ladera estate vineyard blocks on their historic Howell Mountain property, a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petite Verdot that was aged in 40% new French oak for 20 months.

As Bill C noted, this is a benchmark favorite Napa Cabernet that can be found many restaurant winelists at a very reasonable QPR. The 2009 Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is easy drinking, nicely balanced, medium to full bodied with full flavors of black berry, black cherry and ripe plum fruits with notes of cedar, anise, sweet oak spice and ripe tannins that linger on a long velvety finish.
RM 90 points. 

At the Grand Tour, our approach allows us a basis for comparison on known benchmark wines against new discoveries, as well providing a background for our vintage tasting reviews. We allow room for experimentation and exploration, but our view is that without adherence to a plan, the vast selection and diversity of the overall event, can be overwhelming and lead to getting lost and leave the potential for missing some key target selections.

This year, the slimmer list of targets allowed for more wandering and exploration, but our adherence to our plan ensured that we did indeed get through and address our priority list. The result was a typical Grand Tour with spectacular wines, a vast selection and numerous new discoveries, expanding our horizons and wine knowledge and pallet 'vocabulary'.

Initial stream of consciousness from memory before I refer back to my notes. 

Based on the composition of our cellar collections and purchase profiles, we focused on Napa Valley Cabernets, Bordeaux, then Australian Shiraz. We also ventured into and explored emerging new world entries entries mostly from Argentina and Chile and tapped into the Italian aisle which culminated in Ryan discovering Amarone - one of the highlights of the evening. We closed the evening checking in to the 'stickies', desert wines from Sauterne and Tokaji. Lyle, who is our conscious and sentry for ports waved us off the Port aisle citing uninspiring results from his advanced foray there.

Caymus Napa Valley Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 

A regular at recent Grand Tours, this year's 2010 release was a blockbuster highlight of the evening - awesome, big, full bodied, firm gripping backbone yet superbly balanced symphony of complex fruit flavors. Picture from the 2011 Grand Tour Chicago report. Naturally on our wine budgets, these are not every day or even once a month drinking wines, but we do collect Special Selection in our cellar for special occasion wines - most notably from the 1990 vintage from son Alec's birth year - which was also Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year, hence this is a must have in our collection. Results of tonight's tasting suggest the 2010 is a must purchase as we're looking for this vintage collectables to commemorate Lucy, our first grand-daughter's birth year. Indeed our large format collection of birth year wines was the subject when our cellar was featured in the Collector column of Wine Spectator back in June 2001

RM 95 points.

Cliff Lede Poetry Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

We discovered Cliff Lede and Poetry at the Grand Tour Chicago 2009 when it was one of the standouts of that event. We followed with a visit to the winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience, Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Vineyard & Winery Visit - Autumn '09 and Cliff Lede has been a staple of our cellars ever since. 

This Poetry was big. firm forward fruit with backbone of firm tannins - brambly black fruits with charcoal turning to mocha on a long lingering finish. 

RM 93 points. 

Provenance Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard TK2 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Surprise discovery from this well known and popular producer - only 175 were cases produced of this special vineyard designated bottling. Of the eighteen tons of grapes harvested from the prestigious Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, the most select two tons were used in this premiere blend.

Smooth, polished, superbly balanced with moderate tannin backbone, black fruits turn to layer of mocha, mineral and floral on the smooth finish. Bill and Dan loved this and till take what they can obtain!
RM 93 points

Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Benchmark perfection from this perennial premium offering - superbly balanced, polished, complex, approachable already but firm tannin backbone ensures long life and cellaring improvement.
RM 94 points.

Chateau St. Michelle Columbia Valley Ethos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Another undiscovered label from a well known producer this Reserve is sourced from low yields from old vines planted back in 1972 and 5% Merlot, both from their Cold Creek Vineyard, with 6% Cabernet from their Canoe Ridge Vineyard, also well known due its single vineyard designated labels.Full bodied, firm well extracted complex fruit flavors with nicely integrated polished tannins.
RM 92 points. 

Hall Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Consistent with recent tasting at the winery just two weeks ago during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013. A bit lighter and less complex than recent vintages leaving a bit to be desired in this flagship from this high profile producers.
RM 90 points.

Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages Sonoma Valley Red 2008
Not as big as the blockbusters above, a bit less complex but nicely polished and balanced stable cab.
RM 90 points.

Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Less weight and complexity than the big dawgs above, nicely balanced and polished but lacking the grip and muscle of the big hitters.
RM 91 points.

Round Pond Estate Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

A surprise discovery of the evening - we had this on our target tasting list. We learned of the work going on at Round Pond during our visit to neighboring Honig Vineyards during our recent Napa Valley Experience 2013. It lived up to expectations or more, none were disappointed. Full bodied, nicely structured with firm backbone, black berry fruits with layer of mocha, anise and hints of olive and faint eucalyptus on the finish. Great QPR in this high-achieving previously overlooked label. RM 91 points.

Louis Martini Lot No. 1 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauivignon

From property owned by legendary E&J Gallo, crafted by winemaker Louis Martini, another surprise discovery of the evening with an interesting blend from Pritchard Hill,  Atlas Peak Stagecoach vineyard and Napa Valley fruit.

A big complex dark wine, lacking the polish and balance of some of the others, but a high achievement from this well known but here-to-for underachieving or overlooked producer.
RM 91 points.

Hess Collection Mt Veeder Caberrnet Sauvignon 2008

We did a drive-by during our Mt Veeder Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011 as we focused on meeting new boutique producers on the mountain. That was was the decision since this 2008.release Cabernet would've likely been on the tasting menu. This actually exceeded my expectations with nicely integrated tannins on the smooth drinking balanced black fruits. This probably provides reasonable QPR for the area.
RM 88 points. 

Kathryn Kennedy Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
A bit less polished and balanced relative to some earlier highlights, this was a bit awkward and obtuse with some forward black fruits and some gripping tannins, but lacking balance or polish of some of the high achieving efforts.
RM 88 points.

Mission Hill Family Estate Oculus Okanagan Valley Red Wine 2009

Hard to believe this is from Canada. The producer says their latitude results in long summer sun days providing ideal conditions for Bordeaux varietal grapes. From the Canadian region known for desert wines, Oculus is Mission Hill Family Estate's Bordeaux inspired flagship wine from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Blended from select clusters of designated blocks in the estate Osoyoos and Oliver vineyards; 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.

Medium to full bodied, dark inky color, black berry and black currant and plum fruits, anise and coffee bean with tight tannins on the finish.
RM 89 points.

The Bordeaux selection: 

Pontet-Canet Pauillac Bordeaux 2010
Cos d'Estournel St Estephe Bordeaux 2008
Brane Cantenac Margaux Bordeaux 2006
Chateau Lynch Bages Paulliac Bordeaux 2009
Chateau Giscours Margaux 2009


Aussie shiraz:

D'Arenberg 'The Dead Arm' Barossa Valley Shiraz 2008
We discovered Dead Arm back in the nineties and have collected and sourced this regularly for our cellar and for friends. We hold a vertical wine that goes back to the 1994 vintage so we're big fans of this label. It seems that they've lost their way at times as this vintage release seemed uninspiring and lacked the rich concentrated fruit that we've come to expect in Aussie Shiraz' at this pricepoint. Perhaps its pallet fatigue as we reached here at the end of a long evening.

When I read the winemaker's notes on this release, it opens with "notes of fennel",  and continues '".... purple flowers and blossom mingling with ripe, varietal purple fruits and black pepper, dried herbs, game and spice. The palate opens with anise, black pepper, graphite and restrained dark cherries before it gives way to seductive mulberry, plum, licorice and spice. It has great power, depth and length with very vibrant, gritty fruit tannins providing immense structure." I read into that fennel, opens with pepper, graphite and anise, and then it refers to 'restrained' dark cherries, "before it gives way" to seductive plum.

These wine reviews are cryptic and confusing enough but over time one learns to decode and translate them to recognize the vocabulary that matches one's personal tastes and preferences. When I read this one, its logical and consistent with my personal perception - more subdued fruit accompanied by several tones that I personally don't favor that end up competing with and therefore detracting from the fruit. Perhaps this warrants another tasting, standalone, and without the inevitable pallet fatigue of the end of Grand Tour event.
RM 88 points.

Glaetzer Bishop Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010
Our discussion with the supplier cleared up some of our label confusion with these wines. The flagship top of the line label remains Amon Ra which has received blockbuster high marks for the 2010 vintage. We hold several vintages of the Glaetzer Godolphin label but we have not seen it in recent releases. We learned tonight this label was discontinued due to trademark issues and has been replaced by this 'Bishop' label, named for Colin Glaetzer's wife Judith's family. Their Anneparena rounds out the Shiraz family. The Wallace label is their Grenache varietal offering. These continue to represent full-throttle flavorful Shiraz offerings.

The 2010 Bishop was full bodied, inky purple colored, forward tongue-coating blackberry and mulberry fruits turning to a layer of anise and floral on the full lingering tanning finish.
RM 92 points.

Mollydooker Enchanted Path Shiraz 2011
My favorite and vote for best in show of the four Shiraz, also the most expensive price-point so not necessarily the best value selection. This remains one of  the mainstays of our cellar for special occasion wines. (Label picture taken from 2010 release.)

Dense, full bodied, deep concentrated complex black and blue berry and cherry flavors accented by spice, well integrated, soft silky nicely polished tannins on a long finish.

RM 93 points. 

Two Hands Lilly's Garden Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010
Two Hands is a bit of an enigma here in Chicago. While we have occasional varied labels from the Two Hands brand  in our cellar, their plethora of single vineyard designated labels can be intimidating if not overwhelming. If a passionate Shiraz zealot like me feels it, the average 'normal' consumer surely must do so as well. This condition is perhaps exacerbated by their premium pricepoint since we've found may high quality highly rated options that offer high value QPR. Perhaps the fact that they lack distribution here in Chicagoland, or are not apparent in the stores we shop, we've not become familiar or knowledgeable in their brand. Our exposure to Two Hands is at Total Wine on the east coast when we travel there. That said, they're most likely available in our market somewhere but we haven't seen it - and we do a lot of wine shopping. But then, that's what the Grand Tour is all about - to gain exposure to new brands and labels in the marketplace. So many wines, so little time (and money), Two Hands offers a ripe field for further discovery.

This 2010 Lily's Garden was full bodied, forward black berry fruits with tones of mocha, spice and hint of pepper on the lingering finish.
RM 92 points. 


Allegrini AmaroneDella Valpolicella 2008
Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Stickies ('Aussie' for sweet desert wines):

Chateau Suiduraut Sauterne 2005 

Golden honey colored, full bodied, thick heavy sweet nectar of apricot, hint of peach and layer of creme caramel on the tongue coating finish.
RM 92 

Two expected parents, each due
about the same time.
DisznokoTokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2005

The Disznoko estate is situated at the south-west entrance of the Tokaj region, about 250km from Budapest. Although Disznoko produces a number of wines, the aszu harvest is considered the most important. The most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of the vintage is the hand-harvesting of the aszu grapes, which are the shriveled grapes affected by noble rot that have dried on the vine-stock.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos is a blend of Furmint, Harslevelu and Zeta aszu grapes. This golden colored with full body and forward fruit flavors of peach and lemon with tones of honey, tropical fruit and mineral on the long finish.

RM 92 points.

Hétszölö Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos 2004

Golden orange weak tea colored, medium full bodied, modest apricot fruit accented by a layer of smoke and nut with hints of honey on the lingering finish.   
RM 90 points.

 From  South America:

Cheval Des Andes Mendoza Argentina 2007

Medium bodied, moderate black berry and black cherry fruit with a layer of cedar, tobacco, leather and spice with a moderate oak finish.

This 2007 Cheval des Andes is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot, aged for 18 months in oak.

RM 88 points.

Riglos Mendoza Las Divas Vineyard Gran Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Riglos is named after the Argentinean town from which producers' Dario Werthein’s and Fabian Suffern’s grandparents came. All the fruit is sourced from the estate in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. 

Dark purple colored, full bodied, intense and firmly structured with earthy blackberry, hints of licorice, pepper, cedar and graphite detract from the fruit leaving it a bit obtuse. 100% Cabernet that spent 20 months in new French oak. 15.4% alcohol.
RM 87 points 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kilikanoon and Arns - Big Shiraz Duel For Celebration Dinner

Big Shiraz Duel For Celebration Dinner - Arns and Kilikanoon

What fun!. For a personal celebration dinner, I chose two favorite best drinking bottles from the cellar - an interesting comparison of Shiraz/Syrah from Australia and Napa Valley. When we think of Syrah, aka Shiraz, we think of south central Australia. When we think of Napa Valley, we think of Cabernet Sauvignon.

One of the discoveries of our recent Napa Wine Experience 2013 was this Syrah from Napa Valley Pritchard Hill. More surprising was that we found this Syrah at a classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon producer, Arns. Further irony of this is that while we found this Pritchard Hill Syrah at Arns Estate on Howell Mountain, a focus of this trip was our visit to Pritchard Hill  with our visit to David Arthur the next day.We tasted these wines, BYOB at Angelis Italian, our favorite local trattoria.This is the second blockbuster Napa Valley Syrah we've found recently, the other being the spectacular Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007.

Arns Syrah Melanson Vineyard 2008

The husband wife team of John Arns and Sandi Belcher produce hand crafted full artisan Estate bottled Cabernet Sauvignon from their 10 acres of vineyards on lower Howell Mountain just east of St Helena. We met John at the estate as the first stop of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013. We weren't expecting to taste a Syrah but we're glad we did. John sources the grapes for this wine from the Melanson Vineyard up on Pritchard Hill where he and his team manage the viticulture. It did not disappoint.

This full throttle Syrah ended up being one of the highlights of our Napa extended weekend. So for a special celebration dinner this evening, I wanted to compare this Napa sensation against a benchmark Aussie Shiraz.

From my tasting at the winery, the Arns exhibited dark inky garnet color, full bodied, powerful but polished forward flavors of black berry and hints of blue fruits, layers of cassis and mocha, hints of clove, violets, leather and olive with a long lingering firm but silky tannin finish. Much like a big Southern Aussie Shiraz. 14.8%.

RM 93 points.

Kilikanoon Barossa Valley 'R' Shiraz 2002

What better benchmark Shiraz to compare our new-found Napa discovery than the flagship label from Kilikanoon, the Australian Winery of the Year for 2013. Their Reserve 'R' label is their top label, their finest Barossa Shiraz cuvee from selected single parcels of tiny yielding old vines Shiraz from the Greenock, Vine Vale and Ebenezer sub regions. It is matured for 28 months in small 100% new French oak casks striving for a wine of 'great varietal strength, poise and ageing potential'.

I love their 'Oracle' label full throttle Shiraz, but for this special tasting, I chose their 'R' label, whimsically for my namesake initial wine, in the same way I choose Lewis with their 'L' label for special dinners celebrating Linda and Lucy.

From the winemaker's notes - "Powerfully built yet elegantly restrained, a compelling mix of riper fruit flavours, dark chocolate and fine French oak spice, with outstanding persistence and complexity. Full bodied, rich, ripe plum, black raspberry, subtle blueberry, hints of tar, vanilla, pepper, and graphite on a flavorful finish.

RM 92 points.