Friday, July 26, 2013

Mt Veeder Appellation Tasting Replays Napa Tour

Mt Veeder Appellation Tasting Replays Napa Tour

When Beth and Bill (joining later just off the late flight from LHR) joined us for dinner with sister Jan visiting from California, we pulled from the cellar a selection of Napa Mt Veeder wines to replay our wine tour there together. This was one of our numerous Napa trips where we focused on but one appellation and its wines to gain appreciation for the nuances of all the elements that represent that appellation and its distinctive terroir. Moreover, sticking to one appellation simplifies logistics and scheduling. This is especially useful or beneficial on Mt Veeder which is the largest and most geographically spread of all Napa appellations. 

Our Napa Valley Mt Veeder appellation trip with Bill and Beth and Jan and Bill featured visits to producers Godspeed, Yates and Rubissow, among others, so for our reunion gathering we selected those producers' wines to reminisce the trip. We tasted Yates Fleur de Veeder Merlot and Cheval 2007, Rubissow Merlot 2006, and Godspeed Trinity 2006. These were accompaniment to our dinner of grilled sirloin, sweet corn, fresh bruschetta and a medley of chocolates. 

Yates Family Vineyards Mt Veeder Fleur de Veeder Merlot 2007

We opened the dinner wine flight with this Merlot from Yates Family Vineyards which was also the first stop on our 2011 Napa Valley Mt Veeder weekend. What a nice surprise. This was dark inky purple colored and full bodied with full, forward, flavorful rich fruit of black raspberry, a layer of spice and dark mocha with a hint of cassis on a big long lingering finish. In a blind tasting this might have passed as a big Aussie shiraz!. What an opening! In retrospect we should've opened this last or next to last as it overpowered and overshadowed the wines to follow.

RM 90 points.

Godspeed Vineyards Napa Valley Trinity 2006

We tasted this wine during our visit to Godspeed on our Mt Veeder Appellation trip.  This is listed in CellarTracker as a Bordeaux Blend but Trinity is a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (42%), Shiraz (33%) and Malbec (25%). I am not aware of this combination blend from any wine producing region around the world. The 'old world' wine producers have been doing this for hundreds of years while the 'new world' producers in the emerging wine countries have been doing this for decades. Over five centuries, Bordeaux (producers) have become masterful at blending a primary varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) and then complementing it with lesser amounts of other varietals to add breadth (Merlot), depth (Cabernet Franc), color and structure (Petiti Verdot) to the final blend. The result is a symphony of flavors that round out the wine. I don't see this becoming a popular blend of these three otherwise primary varietals listed above that typically are stand-alone or anchor varietals. Rather than being complementary and harmonious to each other, I sense they're competing to be the 'lead' or predominant varietal in this blend. 

This was medium to full bodied, moderately complex from black berry and black cherry fruit flavors that give way to a layer of cassis, tobacco leaf and charcoal on a moderate tannin finish.

Linda likes big bold full throttle wines and she liked this. I couldn't get my arms around it.
RM 88 points.

Rubissow Mt Veeder Merlot 2006

We tasted and procured this wine at Rubissow high atop Mt Veeder during our Mt Veeder Appellation tour. My recollection of this wine was the profile of the Yates Fleur de Veeder that we tasted next to this as reviewed above - full bodied with rich extracted fruit. Tonight this was leaner and lighter than I remembered and hence expected. I am looking ahead to trying this again as we still have a half case in the cellar.

Tonight this showed dark garnet purple color, medium body with black berry fruits, slightly tart black cherry with a hints of spice, tobacco, touch of mocha and coffee bean.

RM 87 points.

Yates Family Vineyards Cheval Mt Veeder Cabernet Franc 2007 

Another Yates selection that we tasted and obtained during our visit to the Yates Winery and Vineyards high atop Mt Veeder. This is 100% Cabernet Franc which in Bordeaux is used in the blend to add breadth and depth with its spicy tones. Standalone as a single varietal bottling this is very pleasant drinking.

Full bodied - forward black berry, black raspberry and spicy clove with a hint of cassis and bitter dark chocolate with a lingering tannin flavorful finish. 

RM 90 points.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

I opened this half bottle from the cellar to enjoy with a grilled steak, baked potato and steamed snow peas for which it was a perfect complement. It was consistent with my earlier tasting notes but this time I gave it a slightly better rating. This is interesting given this was from a half bottle which would tend to age less gracefully than a standard size. My recent blogpost about bottle sizes and their effect on aging. As noted, the half bottle (375 ml) was ideal for occasions such as tonight when I was the only person drinking wine with dinner. Also, note that Grgich features large format bottles in magnum, three (double magnum), five and six liters, in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon on their website from recent vintages dating back to 2005. This is worth checking out if you have one a key fun celebration event or a commemorative year you'll want to celebrate down the road. 

Grgich and its heritage is a Napa classic that gets overlooked in all the hype and some of the sensationalism of some of the newer labels. Mike Grgich is a legend in Napa Valley. He helped put Napa Valley wines on the map as the when the  1976 Chardonnay he crafted for Chateau Montelena beat the very best wines in France in a now famous blind tasting in Paris. This event was memorialized in the wonderful book "Judgement of Paris" and the entertaining movie "Bottle Shock". This tasting is a simple testament to the longevity of this label. Grich Hills winery reflects Napa as it was in the eighties (or even seventies) as opposed to the glitz of the millenium.

There was no sign of diminution from age in this seventeen year old Napa cab.

Slightly opaque garnet color, medium bodied, this exhibited moderate nose with flavors of dark berry fruit, a slight cherry tartness detracts from the fruit somewhat, there are hints of cedar and herb on the moderate tannin finish.

RM 87 points. 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

David Arthur 1147 Biale Zin Beaucastel Highlight Rib Dinner

David Arthur 'Elevation 1147', Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel, Chateau Beaucastel CDP Highlight Rib Dinner

Another summer barbecue rib dinner offers chance to sample a flight of big reds. Bill and Beth C hosted the dinner and featured Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley Zinfandel and David Arthur 1147 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I brought a Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1996.

Mike Rijken pouring
Château Beaucastel
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1996

I first tasted this vintage of this wine in a cellar tasting at the Chateau (shown left) during my visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1998. The picturesque Domains Perrin Beaucastel estate and vineyards was one of the highlights of that trip. There is more on Beaucastel and that visit on an earlier blogpost.

I still hold a half case of this wine and it appears to be time to drink up as it seems to be at the apex of its tasting/aging curve. It will be interesting to do a horizontal tasting of the other wines that I still hold that were featured and collected from that trip, notably, Chateau La Nerthe and Vieux Telegraph.

My tasting notes and score are consistent with earlier tasting which was posted in 2010. The color is opaque dark ruby, the nose is subdued, this is medium bodied and shows layers of rather austere black berry and black cherry fruits accented by subtle black pepper giving way to slightly earthy leathery red fruit on a meaty acidic tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley Zinfandel 2011

This is another big Napa Zinfandel from Robert Biale vineyards that was featured in a recent earlier blogpost highlighting a rib dinner at Bill and Beth's at the beginning of the summer.

Not quite as big or polished as the 2011 Party Line Zinfandel we had a few weeks ago, this was still a big, forward black fruit filled Zinfandel with brambly, zesty black pepper tones and a spicy leathery finish.

RM 89 points.

David Arthur Elevation 1147 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This is the flagship wine of David Arthur, named for the elevation of the vineyards up on the eastern slope overlooking the Napa Valley floor (shown left) from up on Pritchard Hill.

Our visit to the David Arthur winery was a highlight of our Napa Wine Experience 2013 featured in an earlier blogpost in April of this year.

With dark inky purple color and full body, this opened with big, concentrated, complex, rich, chewy, tongue coating forward ripe black berry and black raspberry fruits. Then something happened and it shut down and closed up somewhat about an hour and some after opening and decanting. It still had a layer of sugary sweetness with tones of mocha and black licorice and a whisper of black pepper on a silky smooth tannin finish.

I'd like to see how this reveals itself a day later but we finished  it last night! While this should be considered a perfect complement to a hearty grilled steak - it stood up and was well suited to the barbecue ribs.

This started out as a blockbuster 95 pointer before it retreated as noted above, yet still warrants a most respectable 94 points.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wine Bottle Sizes - Bigger is Better

Wine Bottle Sizes - Bigger (Sometimes Smaller) is Better

Millenium Vintage Release
Salmanazar served at
daughter Erin's wedding.
Republished from my Winesite. Big bottles are fun! They're great for parties, gala dinners, and of course especially for celebrating special occasions.  There are 13 different bottle sizes. The larger sized bottles are produced in less quantity than the standard size bottle, and are typically worth more than just the proportionate incremental size price of the regular size bottle. 

Champagne* is most popular and common in using larger bottles. We've all seen champions such as Formula 1 Race winners shaking and spraying the large bottles of Champagne from the winner's podium, the World Series and NBA locker rooms, and so on.... Moreso, we've seen the smaller format bottles which provide the convenience of portion size packaging such as for use on airplanes or as available in wine shops for individual dining or such as for picnics. Another great use of small format bottles is when conducting a tasting of several wines, smaller bottles allow for more choices. Our friend Andy M has been known to show up at a wine tasting with a six pack corrugated carton containing half-bottles (375ml) of quality vintage wines.

The magnum is a double sized bottle (1.5 liters) and is one of the best selling sized bottles for Champagne. Many California Cabernet Sauvignons, Red Bordeaux, and Red Burgundies are produced and collected in large (r) formats. It is generally accepted that wine will age better - longer, more gracefully and uniformly in a large format bottle - hence their popularity with collectors. There is also great novelty and fun in opening and serving a large bottle. Often for special occasions, one will have all the quests sign the label of a large bottle as the labels are proportionately larger with the large bottles allowing room for such celebratory signings. Look for large format bottles in the wine rooms and special bottle rack in quality wine shops.

The novelty of our Rick's large format bottles and labels from the vintage years of our kid's birth years was the basis for our feature in Wine Spectator Magazine. This provides a great combination of birth year wines and large formats for gala celebrations. (We're now monitoring the recent vintages, birth years of our new grandchildren).
Horizontal Selection of 1981 Bordeaux and California large format bottles from Rick's Cellar
Served at daughter Erin and Johnny's wedding
Not shown: 1981 Chateau Palmer, Lynch Bages, Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos' d_Estournel, Chateau Beaucatel
and Silver Oak large format bottles.

Large format bottles in legendary chef's restaurant cellar in Chicago.

The 13 Standard Bordeaux/California Bottle Sizes

Made only for Sparkling Wine.
187 ml.
1/4 of a standard bottle
375 ml.
1/2 of a standard bottle
750 ml.
1 standard bottle
MAGNUM 1.5 liters Equal to 2 standard bottles.
DOUBLE MAGNUM 3 liters Equal to 4 standard bottles.
JEROBOAM - This is what Champagne and Burgundy call their 3 liter bottles. Equal to 4 standard bottles.
REHOBOAM About 4.5 liters. Equal to 6 standard bottles.
JEROBOAM 5 liters Equal to about 6 3/4 standard bottles.
IMPERIAL 6 liters Equal to 8 standard bottles.
METHUSALEM - This is what they call an "Imperial" in Champagne and Burgundy.
This one is a case of wine in one bottle.
9 liters
12 standard bottles.
12 liters.
Equal to 16 standard bottles.
12 to 16 liters
Depending on the country of origin this will be from 16 to 20 standard bottles. 
50 liters
67 standard bottles.

rd Champagne Bottle Sizes
The Standard Champagne* Bottle Sizes

Bottle Name Bottle Equivalency Capacity
1/4 bottle
18.7 cl
1/2 bottle
37.5 cl
1 bottle
750 ml
2 bottles
1.5 l
4 bottles
3 l
6 bottles
4.5 l
8 bottles
6 l
12 bottles
9 l
16 bottles
12 l
20 bottles
15 l

Display of range of bottles offered at Moet Chandon Champagne House in
Epernay, Champagne, France

* Of course Champagne refers to the wine region in the northeast corner of France known for its world famous sparkling wines. Only wines produced in this geographic area bear the trademarked Champagne designation and label. All others are 'sparkling wine'. Some now claim to be produced using the  méthode champenoise reflecting the traditional method developed in the Champagne region over the centuries for applying secondary fermentation to gain the effervescence or 'sparkling' or bubbles in such wines. 

Calera Mt Harlan Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir 1993

Calera Mt Harlan Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir 1993

As featured previously in this blog, Josh Jensen and his legendary Calera Vineyards were featured in Marq Devillier's wonderful 1994 book - "The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir". The story tells the tale of Josh's quest to grow the very finnicky Pinot Noir grape in California in the early days before Pinot was cultivated here. In pursuit of his dream to create authentic Burgundian style wines, he sought to find the place in California suitable to achieve that goal. It tells of his research to find the right terrior - all the attributes of the right location, soil, climate, drainage, and other nuances of 'place' that make up the character and personality of a wine from grapes of a particular site. Josh chose Mt. Harlan, an area not then know for grapes or winemaking. The rest, as they say, is history. While it is a human interest tale, it also provides a rich insight into the challenges and travails of setting up a winery, and a business, and achieving one's dream to make noteworthy wines. 

Calera’s Mt. Harlan Vineyards are located in Hollister, California, in the Gavilan Mountains, 25 miles east of the Monterey Bay. The site was chosen for its limestone soils and ideal climate. At an average elevation of 2,200 feet it is among the highest and coolest vineyard sites in California.

Calera Pinot Noirs are single vineyard designated meaning they are each named for and produced from fruit sourced from one vineyard each. Their five vineyards planted in Pinot Noir are named for Josh's father (Jenson), Mills, a neighbor who mentored Josh in his early years, Reed, for one of Josh's dear friends and early investors, and in this case Selleck, for a family friend whom Josh attributes to introducing him to wine. In 2002, the Ryan label appeared, named for Calera's vineyard manager since 1979. We've had fun with this wine collecting it for our #1 Ryan, serving it in celebration of his wedding a few years ago, and holding it in our cellar for special Ryan oriented occasions! The vineyards are enumerated and featured on the rear bottle label as shown left.

As in the great region of Burgundy which inspired Josh to pursue his dream of making great wines in the old world authentic style, he planted the varietals of Burgundy, Pinot Nor and Chardonnay. Calera states that wines produced from their Mt. Harlan Selleck Vineyard are concentrated and complex with aromatic perfume and minerality in the Burgundian style to meeting Josh's objective of creating wines in the style of the old world classics.

 Found this 1993 Selleck in the back of the wine cooler, where it would have been staged, removed from the cellar for immediate drinking at some point. Thankfully, this is our last bottle of this vintage/label. Our tasting notes for this wine go back every other year to 2003, indicating we started drinking this wine in its tenth year. It is definitely beyond its drinking window, perhaps exacerbated by the fact it's a half (375ml) bottle (which likely aged less gracefully than regular or large format bottles. See my blogs about bottle sizes and aging.)

This '93 was light bodied, opaque slight rust colored, concentrated, slightly harsh, rather hard, raisiny black fruit that overtakes the black pepper, spice, hints of coffee and layer of leather. Still drinkable but not for the feint of heart. Drink it soon. Full size bottles may be less diminished from their aging.

RM 80 points.
Enjoy Calera wine, and the book!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kay Brothers Hillside Amery Vineyards McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

Kay Brothers Hillside Amery Vineyards McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

For a casual pleasant setting of wine, artisan cheese, chocolate and fruit, we pulled this Shiraz from the cellar. Bordering St.Vincent's Gulf, 25 miles south of Adelaide in the rolling foothills of the Southern Mt.Lofty Ranges lies Kay Brothers McLaren Vale Amery Vineyards. Established in 1890 by Australian born brothers Herbert and Frederick Kay and conducting its first grape crush in 1895, Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards is the oldest McLaren Vale winery still in founding family hands. Today, third generation Colin Kay continues the family winemaking tradition. A few miles from McLaren Vale Township sits part of the original winery complex atop a hill with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding picturesque valleys and hillsides. 

Kay's produce traditional red wines from grapes grown on their 45 acre Amery Vineyard from grape varieties Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre (Mataro) and Muscat Blanc. Colin Kay strives to make rich full-bodied fruit-driven wines (using the original Open Fermenters and Basket Press) with small oak cask maturation.

The Hillside vineyard was initially planted in 1892 and was replanted in 1992 using cuttings taken from the 100 year old Block 6 Shiraz vines. Sitting on an Easterly facing slope, Hillside Shiraz is graced with complex geology, cooling summer breezes and warm summer sun that develop intense flavors, balanced structure and good palate weight representing what McLaren Vale is famous for. 

From 6- to 34-year-old vines, the 2004 Hillside Shiraz is full bodied with inky/ruby/purple-color,  large mouthfeel, full body with acidity from blackberries, black cherries, with a layer of cassis, pepper, truffle and briary notes with a bitter chocolate and dried herb finish turning to moderate tannins and alcohol.  

I've never had this label before but this seemed to be a bit past its prime coming across a bit flabby, lacking the finesse or polish of more some balanced shiraz' but it could just be the style or tones of the vintage.

RM 88 points. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lancasters Steak & Seafood with Benton Lane Pinot Noir

Benton Lane Pinot Noir with Salmon at Lancasters Bloomington

For a dinner on the road last week in downstate Bloomington, IL, I settled in Lancaster's Steak and Seafood restaurant downtown. Dining alone is one of the worst parts of traveling on the road so I usually select fast food or a place to get it over with quickly. If I do venture on sit down dining, I'll be adventurous and seek a place that might prove distinguishable. Laying over in Bloomington, I chose Lancaster's thinking I'd do classic, safe midwest fare.

Dining alone allows but one glass of wine which makes the selection typically challenging to find something worthwhile let alone notable. I'll also seek the best pairing of food and wine available which is difficult when limited to the by-the-glass selection. My foray was further daunting when I opted for a baked salmon entree tempting fate for seafood in a rural inland tertiary city. What a delightful surprise in this pairing choice - baked salmon and an Oregon Pinot Noir - a real winner!

Lancaster's Baked Salmon entree featured honey, Dijon and toasted almond crusted, maple-soy glaze, roasted asparagus and a choice of side dish - mashed roasted potatoes.

For the wine selection I chose a by-the-glass selection from the wine list, Benton Lane Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010.

The pinot was nicely structured and bold enough to stand up and nicely complement the sweet maple and forward soy glaze. Medium bodied, slightly opaque ruby colored, it presented red berry and strawberry fruits giving way to a layer of spice accented by smoke and pepper with hints of mocha on the moderate finish.

The wine was such a hit I bought a bottle at Binny's upon arrival home and we enjoyed it with artisan cheeses and fruits later in the week. It provides a nice QPR - quality price ratio at $22. We drink very few Pinot's because our favorites are all in the $60 range - not realistic for our daily drinking budget. This is a nice discovery.

I've seen the Benton Lane label (or lack thereof) many times but this was the first time I'd ever tasted it. Their packaging features a painted bottle featuring a postage stamp facsimile label - very creative, stylish and memorable. I'll definitely revisit it and keep some on hand for casual easy drinking at a reasonable price point.  

RM 89 points.

The baked salmon entree selection.

Lancaster's was tastefully decorated, comfortable, stylish, almost cosmopolitan in a historic rustic building with tin-type ceilings and brick walls. The  selection was good, prices acceptable and service personable, folksy and friendly. Most notably, the tempting food and wine pairings were numerous and my first adventure, despite being a bit daring, was a hit. I'll be back for more and look forward to my next trip downstate!

The Benton Lane imaginative and fun packaging design.