Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mouton Rothschild's Wine Label Artist Series Releases

Mouton Rothschild's Wine Label Artist Series 2010 Release and 2012 Unveiling 

As we turn the calendar to a new year, we start the clock on a new vintage year for wines produced that are harvested from grapes during this calendar year.  I wrote this week about this milestone and the release of new labels with the vintage designation and the special attention afforded the new release of collector's labels. As part of my continued fun with, and study of wines, and the branding and packaging of such, see my blog on the annual release of Marilyn Merlot featuring an exclusive label photograph of the starlet actress Marilyn Monroe.

We're holding 1990
Mouton -
birth year wine of our
youngest son

No producer in the world captures the imagination or attention of wine collectors more than the premier first growth designated Chateau Mouton Rothschild with their annual series of artist and art inspired labels

There are a number of producers from around the world that have created an artist series of labels - one with images of the producer, one with artwork by the producer, ones with flowers, ducks, artist renderings of their winery and vineyards, or just collections of art in various forms. The is only one Mouton Rothschild who are the standard bearer extraordinaire for the practice.

Each year a renowned artist is commissioned to do the artwork for that vintage label. The featured artist is said to be paid ten cases of various vintages of the classic Chateau Mouton Rothschild for their work, which is significant since the wine can command close to a thousand dollars per bottle in top vintages.  

Many a collector can only dream of collecting a 'vertical' collection of the line of Mouton releases each with the unique release of a featured artist' dedicated work of art to adorn that vintage release of the wine. 

Mouton Rothschild labels have been produced by the world's most famous contemporary artists, Chagall (1970), Dali (1958), Picasso (1973), Miro (1969), Andy Warhol (1975), as well as other luminaries such as Prince Charles (2004) and Hollywood director John Huston (1982). Many other producers have established artist series, but there is only one Mouton Rothschild.

In 1945, Mouton patriarch Baron Philippe de Rothschild conceived the original idea of crowning the Mouton label with a work of art created for this purpose by famous artists: These have included paintings by Miró, Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Warhol, Bacon, Balthus, amongst others. Only 4 vintages have not had Artist's labels: 1953 which celebrated the initial purchase of the Mouton property, 1977 when the British Queen Mother stayed at Mouton and the Baron dedicated that year's vintage to her, 2000 where the label is enameled in gold with a reproduction of Jakob Schenauer's Augsburg Ram (see library), and 2003 which is devoted to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild depicted in a period photograph celebrating the 150th anniversary of 1853 acquisition of the Mouton estate by the family (see library). 

Another interesting anomaly in the annual release occurred in 1993. The label by Balthus depicted a charcoal on parchment drawing of a young girl reclining in the nude. Since it is a frontal view, the label was considered inappropriate and was withdrawn from the US marketplace, replaced by a blank label variation with the  image removed against the background. I acquired and hold both versions in our collection. 

In my continued study of the art of Mouton label artists, I've created in my label library collection on my WineSite, comparative works of art showing the label art relative to other works of art by the featured artist. Shown in the collection at The Art Institute of Chicago is a print by Balthus featuring a young girl fully clad but in a highly seductive naughty pose. There is also a charcoal sketch by Balthus shown in the collection very similar to the label art that was removed - see Seated Girl, 1966 

Latest 2010 Mouton

We've just recently seen arrival of bottles of the 2010 release and its artistic label designed by American artist Jeff Koons (see left). This label is of interest since this vintage year is the birth year of our first grandchild and we're acquiring and assembling a special horizontal collection of select bottles from the year. 

In the coming months, we should see the arrival of Chateau Mouton Rothschild from the 2011 vintage with its artist inspired label. The latency in the release of the wine is due to the aging of the wine in barrels for an extended period of time before it is bottled and subsequently released, two to three years after the actual harvest. 

The 2011 label features brightly colored "sinuous, random" undulating shapes, in a style attributable to French artist Guy de Rougemont. Chateau Mouton Rothschild says the artwork encompasses "the clarity of vines in sunshine to the darkness of the cellars – all the stages of the birth of a great wine."

And with the new year also comes the recent announcement by the producer of their selection of the artist and art to adorn the 2012 vintage release label. So it is that the heralded Chateau recently announced the unveiling of the next vintage label with its special artwork.  

They recently revealed that the 2012 label (see below) was designed by Spanish abstract artist Miquel Barceló who used the château’s emblem, the ram, as a highlight and focal point for the work. The label features a watercolour abstract representation of two rutting rams standing on their hind legs set against a muted background of a green pasture amidst a blue sky and white clouds.  

1981 Mouton - our
daughter's birth year wine
Considered one of the most influential living Spanish artists, born in Felanitx, Majorca, the 57-year-old has had his work exhibited at the Paris Museum of Modern Art and the Louvre. He also works in sculpture, drawing, ceramics and cast iron, in addition to painting.

One of his most noted works, is the Miquel Barceló decorated ceiling of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, used by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the Palace of Nations in Geneva. 

The work of art is a massive sculptural installation in the domed ceiling, officially presented to the United Nations by the Spanish government. The chamber was inaugurated by the King and Queen of Spain, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey, and Swiss president Pascal Couchepin. The massive 16,000 ft ² (1,500 m²) project used 100 tons of paint, took a year to produce and cost $23 million.

Our wine budget doesn't allow for acquiring Mouton with each vintage, only special years as 'special occasion' wines. Most wine consumers are limited to normal conventions of wine acquisition - every day wines, once a week or once a month wines, once a year wines, and once in a lifetime or special occasion wines. 

As the top first growth wines have escalated exorbinantly in price in recent years, they're exclusivity is limited to the well heeled few, or those acquiring special bottles for very special occasions. 

Such is the case of our collection of Mouton releases for special years such as the birth years of our kids. Even then, as those prices escalated upwards to $1000 or more per bottle, I thinned those collections to but a mere few single digit bottles. 

Shown left is the 1982 Mouton Rothschild, commemorative bottle of #1 son Ryan's birthyear! 

Shown herein are the labels of some of those special bottles. 

See my complete Mouton Label Library collection and study at .

Happy New Year!

Mouton 2012 label featuring
art by Miquel Barceló
Mouton 2011 label featuring
art by Guy de Rougemont
1993 Mouton 'blank' label
with inappropriate image

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hice Cellars Paso Robles Cabernet Franc 2006

Hice Cellars Paso Robles Cabernet Franc 2006

For a simple wine fruit and cheese setting at home, we opened this obscure small boutique producer offering from Paso Robles. While simple easy drinking juice, it actually exceeded my modest expectations.  We picked this up at auction in a caveat emptor purchase which turned out to be a high QPR acquisition.

Ruby colored, medium bodied, rather simple, single dimensional but pleasant easy drinking black cherry and loganberry fruits with a moderate earthy tone of tobacco leaf and tree bark on a moderate tannin finish.

RM 87 points.

Marilyn Merlot 2012 Label Unveiling / Release

Marilyn Merlot 2012 Label Unveiling / Release

The turn of the calendar each year starts a new vintage year for wines and unveils new releases for each label. For collectors interested in maintaining a 'vertical' collection of a wine - sequential or multiple vintages of the same label, its another vintage selection to add to the line. Awaiting the new vintage label of a collector's series, such as an artist series or a photo series, is a special happening. See my blog "Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jean Wines - (Now That's) A Study in Branding". The anticipation of one such new release was met this week with the arrival of the 2012 vintage release of Nova Wines' Marilyn Merlot in local stores.

I've written about the branding phenomenon of this quirky label that has taken on much fanfare and for some an almost cult following. The 2012 label represents the 28th release of the Napa Valley Merlot featuring a label adorning the famous starlet actress. I admit I've fallen for the scheme and pick up a bottle each year to add to my 'vertical' collection that now spans more than a dozen years. And we continue to have fun gifting these bottles for special occasions and appropriate recipients.

This year's label is stylish and elegant with its black background showcasing the starlet's platinum hair, fair skin and luscious red lips, matching the red Marilyn signature.

According to the producer, this year's label photograph is from “The Black Cape Sitting” by Milton Greene.  It was shot in New York, 1955. Marilyn spent that whole year out of public view, living with the Greene family."

Nova Wines with their Marilyn series hold the exclusive license to Marilyn Monroe photography for such use.

The producer's tasting notes for the wines are: "Deep rich, youthful, purple hues are evidenced in the glass with aromas that have pleasing intensity.  Hints of cassis, raspberry, spice, and rhubarb are well integrated in the nose.  From entry to finish this wine has an even, alluring presence on the palate with a nicely balanced medium body.  The flavors follow the aromas with added nuances of red currants and oak nicely integrated with the vinous fruit and a moderately lingering finish augmented by a touch of chili pepper"

We'll review this wine in an upcoming tasting journal post.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Del Dotto Giovani's Tuscan Reserve Napa Valley Sangiovese Blend 1997

Del Dotto Giovani's Tuscan Reserve Napa Valley Sangiovese Blend 1997

Excerpts repeated from earlier blog postings - People often ask me how one learns about tasting wines with all its variations, and I jokingly reply, practice, practice, practice (See my Wine Tasting 101). More seriously, perhaps I should say focus, focus, focus. Since most folks, like us, have limited resources, time, money, and opportunities to taste wines, focusing on one country, region or even varietal will help develop a vocabulary and familiarity with a particular wine type, style, region, varietal and even vintage. Learn one, then a couple, then expand.

Readers of this blog know we collect and favor Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot) from the US and France, and to a lesser degree Shiraz. That said, we do not collect or focus on Italian varietals or producers. We find it a particularly challenging endeavor with the myriad or varietals, regions and producers. Our Italian collection is extremely limited, so when we visited our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria, Angelis Italian, for a casual dinner, we pulled from the cellar this Sangiovese (Italian varietal) blend from California Napa Valley.

We have about a decade of vintages in our vertical collection of this label and we're starting to wind down those from the nineties, including this 1997, a much heralded vintage that was supposed to be long-lived.

I've written about Nils Venge and Del Dotto and their venturing into the Italian Sangiovese varietal in Napa Valley. Del Dotto, working with then winemaker, legendary Nils Venge were one of the first producers to experiment with Sangiovese in Napa Valley. Indeed, their first plantings were at the Estate along the Highway 29 at Zinfandel Lane just south of the town of St Helena. Today, Del Dotto have a magnificent cellar tasting facility at that location in the heart of Napa Valley that is a must visit for those wanting an immersion tasting and tour experience.

This is a Sangiovese based blend, named after Giovanni Del Dotto, son of the Del Dottos. David and Yolanda Del Dotto were featured producers at several of our winemaker dinners at our Napa Valley Wine Experiences during the mid to late nineties and after the millenium,  including those in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003. Del Dotto was one of the Up and Coming Napa Producers featured back in "The Undiscovered Dozen" 1994 Wine Spectator article. We discovered them then and started collecting their flagship Napa Cabernet and eventually adding this Tuscan Reserve and their Cabernet Franc. Del Dotto remain one of our favorite Napa producers whose wines from their early days continue to impress with their longevity and endurance. We still collect and hold a vertical of Del Dotto Cabernets going back to their 1992 inaugural vintage.

I remember first discovering this wine and buying it at the Wine Stop wine shop in Burlingame near SFO back in the mid-nineties, and then obtaining more from the producer over the years. I recall the early releases of this label came in 500ml bottles rather than normal 750's.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes ... but showing its age further, medium body, but the bright ruby color is starting to take on a tinge of rust brown on the rim as it starts to reach the end of its aging drinking window - aromatics of black berry and woody cedar, slight earthiness starting to show age but a couple years life left - slightly tart black cherry fruit with tones of anise and spice turning to moderate silky tannins on a pleasant lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mayacamas Mt Veeder Napa Valley Chardonnay 2007

Mayacamas Mt Veeder Napa Valley Chardonnay 2007

For Christmas dinner Linda and Alec prepared surf and turf - beef tenderloin and lobster tails, which we paired with Mayacamas Chardonnay.  We tasted and obtained this wine at the winery during our Mt Veeder Appellation trip Napa Valley Wine Experience 2011. It was Linda's favorite Chardonnay of the trip and this is the last bottle acquired then. With their rather limited production, when we do see this wine in distribution it doesn't last long. The current 2012 release is currently available here around Chicago at Binny's, the wine mega merchant superstore so we've been able to replenish our cellar stock of this wine.

The medium bodied Mayacamas was clean and crisp and displayed an interesting vanilla like sweet cashew nut tone, the producer calls it almond, and fig, with nice balance and acidity ... both the producer and K&L refer to melon or cantaloupe, with a tone of stoniness and subtle French oak.

RM 88 points.

Bill C's notes on this wine from our tasting last Spring - "Medium, golden, straw color. Light nose of pear and a hint of citrus. A really delicious, nicely balanced but somewhat unconventional Chardonnay. We struggled a bit to identify the flavor profile, ultimately settling on notes of pecan or maybe cashew. Certainly there was some fruit as well, a bit of apple or pear. Really enjoyed this and tasted side by side with a 2007 Brewer Clifton Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills. Another somewhat unconventional Chardonnay with citrus overtones.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Livingston Moffett Napa Cab with Beef Wellington

Livingston Moffett Napa Cab with Beef Wellington

For a family Christmas dinner Linda prepared a beef tenderloin Wellington, just like a week ago at our festive holiday wine dinner. For this occasion I opened a vintage 1997 Napa Cabernet from magnum.

Livingston Moffet Stanley's Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We have several bottles from several vintages of Moffett Howell Mountain Cabernet which we love. While this is the same producer, today's Moffett wines are sourced from a different Howell Mountain property. John and Diane Livingston sold the property they worked for two decades and purchased another property which is now run by their son Trent Moffett. Moffett Vineyard consists of 20 Acres of prime Howell Mountain land and sits at 1,500 feet elevation, high above the Napa Valley floor.

The “Stanley” in Stanley's Selection is a family name in the Livingston clan. John Livingston is a geologist and is adept at finding vineyards suitable for Stanley's Selection. Working the Howell Mountain slopes overlooking Napa Valley, he seeks the optimum combination of stony hillside soils, eastern exposures and unique microclimates - all the elements of what the French call terroir. The vineyards selected are only a few acres in size, too small for big wineries but ideal for this boutique selection. 

We have two bottles of this left - one 750 and one in magnum. Based on how this has aged since last tasting, its probably time to drink the 750 soon as it may have aged less gracefully than this magnum.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black cherry and currant fruits, medium to firm tannins and acid balanced with cherry, a bit leather, spice and plum with tone of cedar on the finish.

RM 89 points.

Once again, Linda prepared her fabulous beef tenderloin wellington.

See the transformation below. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Festive '14 Holiday Dinner Features Extensive Wine Flight

Festive Holiday Dinner Features Beef Tenderloin Wellington with Extensive Wine Flight

Our 'pour boys' wine team gathered for a festive holiday dinner that featured an extensive wine flight to pair and compare. We were joined by Bob L, Mark and Shirley. Linda prepared a spectacular Beef Wellington Tenderloin dinner.

To kick off the evening Bill brought a Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir based sparkling wine. I pulled a Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs to compare. These were paired with fresh Driscolls raspberries and strawberries, shrimp cocktail and a selection of artisan cheeses, and deviled eggs, meatballs, and shrimp brought by Lyle and Terry.

The white wine flight continued with Mollydooker 'The Violinist' Verdelho 2008. The cheeses included Stilton with Cranberries, Floralie Goat Cheese with Cranberries and Cinnamon, Smoked Gouda, and Expresso laced Bellavitano.

We kicked off the red wine flight with Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve 2004, followed by Caymus Estate 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 for the pre-dinner pairing flight.

For dinner, following caprese salad, Linda prepared extraordinary individual beef wellington tenderloins accompanied by roasted carrots, asparagus and twice baked potatoes.

With dinner we opened the elegantly packaged etched glass bottle of Fantesca Estate Spring Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 which set the stage perfectly for Chateau Lascombs Margaux 2000 with their similar central core of bright black raspberry fruit.

Following the Bordeaux blend, Lyle had brought a Chateau St Michelle Cinq Cepages 2010, but we pulled from the cellar an aged 1997 release to compare with the aged Lascombs instead.

Following dinner, with coffee, Linda served Turtle Cheesecake and a carrot cake roll, with Chocolate Caramel Truffles with sea salt brought by Bill and Beth. With the dessert course, we opened a dessert wine flight of three aged disparate varietals and styles from three different regions - Austrian Herbert Triebaumer Ruster Ausbruch 1996/97, Italian Cavalchina Passito Veneto IGT 2004, and Hungarian Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Birsalmás 2000.

The wines:

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir 2011
NV Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuis 1er Cru
Mollydooker 'The Violinist' Verdelho 2008
Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve 2004
Caymus Estate 40th Anniversary 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Fantesca Estate Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Chateau Lascombs Margaux 2000
Chateau St Michelle Cinq Cepages 2010
Herbert Triebaumer Ruster Ausbruch 1996/97
Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Birsalmás 2000
Cavalchina Passito Veneto IGT 2004

Sparkling wine flight - 

Part of holiday tradition is to serve sparkly bubbly wines as part of the festive holiday celebration. Bill's vintage Sea Smoke Sea Spray set the bar for this Sparkling White Wine flight. Of course authentic refers to the fact that only wine produced in the méthode champenoise sourced from grapes from the French Champagne region in northwest France is legally and appropriately labeled Champagne. Champagne is typically sourced from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Bill's Blanc de Noir is named such since it is sourced from Pinot Noir while this Blanc de Blanc is name for its Chardonnay sourced varietal. This provided a great comparison tasting to two varietals from two sides of the world.

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir 2011

The name Sea Smoke refers to the fog that drifts inland from the nearby ocean that graces the vines and cools them at night providing some relief of the midday sun and heat. The producer Sea Smoke and the Santa Rita Hills appellation on the south central California Coast are both known for Champagne and Burgundy varietals, premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker - "A delicious complement to quiche, ham and biscuits for Christmas morning brunch. A beautiful blush color, this Pinot Noir based sparkler from Sea Smoke is rapidly becoming one of our favorites. Crisp and clean with a medium body, there is a hint of grapefruit on the palate which is nicely balanced by notes of yeast. A bit pricey but delicious."

WCC 95 points.

NV Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuis 1er Cru

Like last year, this 1st Cru Champagne is part of a case we acquired several years ago. Sourced from anywhere else, bubbly is simply 'sparkling wine'. This Champagne is NV, non-vintage, or a blend of fruit sourced from multiple years or vintagers. Champagne producers do this to maintain a more consistent branding in their wines, moderating the effects of variations from vintage to vintage. Only the most premium selections are 'declared' a vintage designated specific bottling.  We visited Champagne during our Champagne Wine Experience 2006.

RM 88 points.

Mollydooker 'The Violinist' Verdelho 2008

Verdelho is a white grape varietal that has been grown in Portugal for centuries and is
one of the most popular grapes planted on the small island of Madeira where vines were first planted in the 15th century. The variety produces highly acidity wine if they are aged, but when drunk young they provide some of the most fruit filled flavorful wines of the Madeiras. It is now a popular grape being widely planted in the new world wine regions from Argentina to South Australia.

No wimpy white wine here. Medium bodied, a cross between the body of a chardonnay and the crispness of a sauvignon blanc - full essence of pear predominates with subtle citrus, melon and tropical fruits on a mildly acidic full mineral finish.

RM 88 points.

Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2004

Linda and I discovered this wine at a memorable outing during one of our get-away weekends to Chicago,  at Smith & Wollensky sitting outside overlooking the river for a summer afternoon wine, salad and cheese interlude. 

One of our perennial favorites although if you read this blog you'll know we don't do a lot of Pinot Noir compared to other varietals.
Domaine Serene produce at least three ultra premium priced Pinots above this one, none of which have I tasted. I look forward to doing so at some point as I love this wine. I am not a fan, however of their lower priced entry level offerings including Yamhill Cuvee. But then I've often written how elusive is a low priced high QPR Pinot Noir.

The fruit was more subdued than I remember. At ten years old, I wonder if this is past it prime drinking window or just a more subtle vintage release. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, the black cherry and black raspberry fruits are a bit subdued and compete with tones of leather, earth, anise, spicy cinnamon with a touch of smoke and oak on the moderate tannin finish. 

RM 89 points.  

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 - Special 40th Anniversary Bottling

If you read this blog often, you've probably already seen me praising this amazing wine. As I've written here several times, the 2012 vintage of Caymus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is spectacular and was a perfect compliment to our cheeses, tenderloin beef steak dinner and dark chocolate truffles dessert. Not only did they release a blockbuster for the vintage, they packaged it in a celebratory bottle and commemorative label, and then they lowered the price! A wine that typically sells at the street price of $65, this was widely available at ten dollars off the regular price or $55 at release. The street price has now crept up to $59. For drinking now or saving for a couple years, this is a great buy for the price point, and for special occasions or anniversary celebration dinners. And for better value, they also offer a one liter bottle. This is a showcase wine that shows Napa Valley Cabernet at its best with consistency, early gratification and moderate aging potential.

As featured in my recent earlier blog journal tasting reports on this wine, this is the 40th release of this legendary label and it features a special 40th Anniversary release label for the occasion. The 2012 vintage release also  shows the classic characteristics of Caymus Estate Cabernet at its best - early approachability and drinkability as a young wine.

Typical legendary Caymus Cabernet style - dark blackish ruby/garnet colored, medium bodied, nicely structured, complex but smooth, well balanced and polished, it opens with sweet ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors highlighted by layers of milk chocolate, subtle tones of cinnamon, vanilla and hints of caramel and kirsch, giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish. Against the more elegant and complex Fantesca and the sophisticated blends, this appeared much more one dimensional that when consumed standalone.

RM 92 points.

Fantesca Estate and Winery, Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

To compare against the Caymus Napa Cabernet and to set the stage for the Chateau Lascombs we opened this 2004 Fantesca Spring Mountain Napa Cab. We visited Duane and Susan Hoff at their spectacular mountainside estate of Fantesca Spring Mountain Estate and Winery during our Napa Wine Experiences in 2007 and in 2009With their elegant etched glass bottles, we enjoy serving this wine at special occasions, and we love their sophisticated and elegant wines too. This was the first vintage release under their ownership. 

Fantesca Napa Valley,
Spring Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon
Etched glass, painted bottle.
(2006 shown)
Returning to the '04 Cabernet, the Fantesca was medium-full bodied, dark garnet colored, complex but smooth and polished with bright forward fruits of black currant, dark berry and black raspberry, accented by sweet dark chocolate, a hint of cassis, and a tone of spice on the lingering refined tannin finish.

RM 93 points.

Château Lascombes Margaux 2000

Bill shared this classic aged Bordeaux Margaux from a classic vintage from his cellar. At fourteen years, this exhibited more subdued fruits and floral than earlier tasting two years ago. I wonder if its just entering an 'closed' period in its aging or perhaps we didn't allow it enough time to open.

Often, such sophisticated and complex wines need a whole day to open to truly reveal their native character and profile. Decanted but aged for about and hour to ninety minutes, this showed medium-body, deep ruby/purple-color, opening  to a classic Margaux bouquet of earthy floral with flavors of earthy, leathery firm blackberry, black currant, and black cherry fruits with a layer of tar, vanilla and moderate tannins on a long, berry, soft oak finish.

RM 90 points.

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 

We debated about what to open next following the Lascombes to pair with the tenderloin and compare with the Bordeaux Blend. This mating dance of flight selection that we go through at such dinners is a great part of the fun. Having a deep cellar with lots of choices allows us the option to design the flight based on what the guests happen to bring.

Lyle brought the most recent 2010 release of Cinq Cepages California Bordeaux blend. We considered pulling from the cellar another younger vintage of the Lascombes, but following the 2000 Lascombes blend, we opted to open an older 1997 Cinq Cepages release instead. We pulled this from our vertical collection that spans ten vintages of this classic wine that was wine of the year with its 1996 release.  Cinq Cepages means 'five flavors' ala a Bordeaux style Meritage blend.

There was still much life left in this seventeen year old - medium bodied, vibrant bright black raspberry, red currants and kirsch flavors highlighted by a layer of tea and hint of caramel and touch of spice on a moderate short light polished tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Dessert wine flight - 

We finished with three dessert wines from different regions with contrasting styles and profiles. These were no doubt straw colored upon release, over time they darkened to butter color, then weak tea colored, eventually darkening to the dark orange rust color they possesses now. Allowed to continue to age, they will likely eventually darken to dark strong tea color, and then maple syrup color, although I suspect none will necessarily improve the flavor and suitability of the wine.

Some classic dessert wines are built to last decades, I suspect none of these will improve further and the Ruster Ausbruch and Cavalchina Veneto Passito are likely at or even past their peak drinking window. All were moderately priced high QPR values enabling a triple treat comparison tasting such as tonight.

Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Birsalmás 2000

Burnt orange colored, medium full bodied, sweet apricot with tones of peach turning to pink grapefruit citrus on a tongue coating smoky almond finish.

RM 91 points.

Herbert Triebaumer Ruster Ausbruch 1996/97

We still have a case of this wine, so stay tuned as we monitor this over the coming months and years.
This is a Chardonnay blend. The thick almost syrupy extracted sweet fruit was offset by a smoky roasted almond nut flavor. Rather than the highly desirable apricot or peach flavors, this tended to be more citrus focused this tended to be more citrus focused with a tone of tangerine predominating.

RM 87

Cavalchina Passito Veneto IGT 2004 

Medium-full bodied and thick - apple fruits, subtle tangerine, hint of apricot and peach flavors are overtaken by wet wood, smoke and nut on a full flavorful lingering finish.

RM 87 points.

The Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad
Preparing the Beef Wellington -

Friday, December 12, 2014

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 1997

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 1997

We first tasted this from the barrel with winemaker Gove Celia at the custom crush facility in Oakville back during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 1998. We acquired several bottles upon release and several more at auction over the years. We're down to the a couple bottles as this wine approaches the end of its drinking window. Drank with colleague Gary M who came over to for an end of week wind down and debrief.  Tasted with assortment of artisan cheeses and chocolates. I had open a remaining half bottle of Cabernet listed below from tasting earlier in the week afforded the opportunity to comparison taste two Bordeaux varietals, this Merlot alongside a Cabernet. Gary was so enthralled with the Liparita Merlot, compared to a Cabernet, that we pulled from the cellar a Liparita 1997 Napa Cab to taste, which he ended up taking home for another time.

Dark blackish/garnet coloured, earthiness bleeds off to reveal black cherry, ripe black raspberry and cassis with a hint of mocha blackberry and smoke on the finish.

 RM 88 points.

Henry's Drive Padthaway South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

As noted, I still had half of this bottle remaining from tasting earlier in the week, so it afforded a comparison tasting of two Bordeaux varietals, a Cabernet alongside a Merlot. As I wrote earlier this week, I wrote about this wine in this blog back in July. Following our Penfold's tasting last week of several South Australia Cabernets or Cabernet/Shiraz', I pulled this aged twelve year old from the cellar for a comparison tasting. While we have literally hundreds of aged Napa Cabernets and Bordeaux in our cellar, we only have a few aged Australian Cabernets, so I was interested to taste one and see how they are aging.

This bottle had aged very nicely and was still holding its fruit and accents with no sign of diminution, contrary to earlier tasting of this release. This was nicely balanced, smooth and complex and could have passed for a left bank Bordeaux in a blind tasting. Dark blackish purple colored, medium bodied, black berry and black raspberry fruits were accented by layers of earthy leather, spice and cedar with moderately firm tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Henry's Drive Padthaway South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Henry's Drive Padthaway South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

I wrote about this wine in this blog back in July. Following our Penfold's tasting last week of several South Australia Cabernets or Cabernet/Shiraz', I pulled this aged twelve year old from the cellar for a comparison tasting. While we have literally hundreds of aged Napa Cabernets and Bordeaux in our cellar, we only have a few aged Australian Cabernets, so I was interested to taste one and see how they are aging.

This bottle had aged very nicely and was still holding its fruit and accents with no sign of diminution, contrary to earlier tasting of this release. This was nicely balanced, smooth and complex and could have passed for a left bank Bordeaux in a blind tasting. Dark blackish purple colored, medium bodied, black berry and black raspberry fruits were accented by layers of earthy leather, spice and cedar with moderately firm tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mr. Riggs McLaren Vale vs 90+ Cellars Lot 101 Shiraz

Mr. Riggs McLaren Vale Shiraz 2003 

Ironically, just like tonight, we last tasted a 2004 vintage of this wine BYOB at Angeli's Restaurant, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, which was also just like our earlier tasting of the 2002 vintage of this same wine, and an additional Shiraz, with L and  same friends Gayle and Mark B at the same restaurant.

This was strikingly similar to earlier tasting notes of the 2002 release. In early 2009 I wrote about the '02, "Ink color, immense, intense full bodied fruit forward - almost over ripe rich thick extracted fruit, almost Amarone like. Black berry, raisiny black cherry, graphite, black licorice. The Mr Riggs needs a big accompaniment to offset its ripe full forward fruit - perhaps dark chocolate or an English stilton!" I stand on those words, however, five years later, the black berry fruits are giving way a bit showing their age and becoming a slight bit flabby.

Like the earlier vintages, this release also comes in the overweight thick glass bottle packaging. 

Back in 2009, I gave the earlier vintage 91 points. Tonight, five years later I give the '03 88 points.

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 101 Syrah 2009

Like the earlier tasting, we brought another Shiraz that presented a contrast in styles and regions, and age, of the same varietal. Tonight, we brought a 2009 vintage Shiraz from Columbia Valley, Washington. I've raved about this wine several times in this blog and tonight, like before, it didn't disappoint. I've stated that this may be one of our favorite drinking wines in our cellar right now, certainly at this price point!

Compared to the forward, obtuse Mr Riggs, the Lot 101 Shiraz came across as smooth, polished and elegant.

Dark inky garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this full throttle Syrah reveals layers of blackberry and black currants fruits with tones of sweet vanilla, caramel and spice with hints of black pepper on a lingering smooth silky tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Montagna Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Montagna Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

We've seen the Montagna Napa Valley label but didn't connect it to the property we passed on Long Ranch Road on our way up to David Arthur vineyards at 1100 feet high atop Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range overlooking Napa Valley from the east. Interesting that Montagna is the project of Bob Long, one of the founders of David Arthur with his brother David. These vineyards are part of the nine hundred acre parcel purchased by their parents back in the mid-sixties and seventies. We were already big fans of Pritchard Hill Cabernet and our visit to David Arthur was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013. We visited Chappellet Vineyards during our Napa Wine Experience in 2009.

Bob and David Long grew up down on the peninsula in Palo Alto California and spending time working in the family's super market in nearby Portola Valley. Bob graduated from the University of Denver and attended law school at the University of the Pacific. After a short time practicing law and working in real estate development in Chicago, Bob and his brother David started David Arthur Vineyards in 1984.

The Montagna vineyards sit just a mile down Long Ranch Road from David Arthur amongst other notable Pritchard Hill producers such as Chappellet, Colgin Cellars, Continuum, David Arthur, Ovid Napa Valley and, BRAND.

Dr Dan picked up a case of this aged Montagna at auction and brought a bottle BYOB to our dinner at Folklore Argentine Grill steak house in Wicker Park in Chicago before the Hawks game.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, earth and leather predominate almost like a left bank Bordeaux, giving way to black cherry, black currant and black berry fruits accented by spice, cigar box and hints of cedar with firm lingering tannins. I took the remaining half bottle home and opened it the next evening to find even more pronounced fruits had taken over and the earth and leather were an after thought.

RM 92 points.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Penfolds Legendary Grange Highlights Tasting Flight

Penfolds Legendary Grange Highlights Tasting Flight

We attended a tasting event of the Penfolds line-up including legendary Grange held at Binny's new wine superstore in Oak Brook, IL.  At 170 years of age, Penfolds is one of the oldest producers in Australia. They were named Australian Wine Producer of the Year 2014 by the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC). Their  flagship wine ultra-premium Grange is one of the most prestigious labels in the world as well as from Australia.

The 1995 Wine Spectator wine of the year was the 1990 vintage Penfold's Grange. We still hold an original wood case of 1990 Grange to commemorate son Alec's birth year. Hence, the chance to taste Grange is a special treat, as is the opportunity to learn more about this classic wine. Our collection of birth year wines of our kids, including our large format bottles was the basis for our cellar being featured in the Collecting section of the June 2001 issue.

The extensive Penfolds portfolio consists of entry level, select, special vineyard selections and is headed by The Penfolds Collection, consisting of fifteen different labels featuring special selections of Shiraz, then Cabernet Sauvignon, and also including Mouvedre, another Rhone blend, Chardonnay and a Riesling. They also offer a line of fortified wines which are their original heritage.

Tonight's tasting flight featured nine different wines culminating in two vintages of the classic Grange. The program was currated by Penfolds Ambassador and Education Director DLynn Proctor. What fun to meet DLynn in person having enjoyed watching his pursuit of his Master Sommelier Certification in the entertaining documentary movie SOMM which is a feature on Netflix.

The wine flights were accompanied by an assortment of cheeses, prosciutto, olives, and French bread.

The flight included:
  • Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2013
  • Bin 8 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011
  • Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011
  • Bin 28 Shiraz Kalimna 2011
  • Bin 128 Shiraz 2012
  • Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  • Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2010
  • Penfolds Grange 2009
  • Penfolds Grange 2010
The wines were poured in an informal setting from three tables but the group was small allowing for engaging discussion, access to pours, ability to ask questions and have informed discourse.

The event was staffed and supported by Team Binny's, Southern Wine and Spirits and the Prestige group which is the parent company of Penfolds.

The wines:

Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2013

The author with DLynne Proctor
From Eden Valley, with its high altitude and cool climate, this is a white wine that can be enjoyed upon release or held for long term cellaring. The winemaker suggests optimal drinking window through 2020.

The winemaker cites "floral, spicy jasmine, mandarin blossom and underlying French marigold amongst perfumed bath salts and an intriguing wet slate minerality accented bylime zest.

Fine, long and linear natural acid encompassing the entire length of the palate – talc, slate, mineral - Citrus bursts with lime juice. Fine, long and linear natural acid encompassing the entire length of the palate – talc, slate, mineral. One for the ages - classic Australian bone dry Riesling."

Straw colored, light bodied, crisp, clean, nicely balanced acidity.

RM 88 points.

Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011

A totally different experience than the Grange, but understandable at a fraction of the price, this is more in the style of the big dense chewy Shiraz' that we love and enjoy regularly.

Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011 - This is known as 'poor man's Grange' or DLynne called it 'baby Grange'. It is sourced from some of the same blocks as Grange and is produced in the same style - a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet from multiple districts - South Australia. Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Clare Valley. Also, perhaps most notably, components of the wine are matured in the same barrels that held the previous vintage of Grange!

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, dense, concentrated, complex black berry fruits accented by tones of spicy mocha, coffee, hints of tar and vanilla oak on a lingering moderate tannin finish. A slight off tone of metallic detracts from the accent tones on the finish.

A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz.

RM 91 points.

Bin 28 Shiraz Kalimna 2011
Bin 128 Shiraz 2012
Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010

Penfolds RWT Shiraz is named for ‘Red Winemaking Trial’, the name given initially to an internal project to develop this wine back in 1995. No longer a ‘Trial’ RWT Shiraz was launched in May 2000 with the release of the 1997 vintage. 

Dark inky blackish purple color, medium to full bodied, complex black berry fruits, with soft subtle tones of blueberry, boysenberry and plum, accented by nicely integrated sweet oak, floral spice, hints of earth and anise with silky fine tannins on a smooth long finish.

RM 92 points.

Penfolds Grange 2009

Grange is the ultra-premium flagship of the brand that is blended from the finest picking of the most select fruit sourced from vineyards from several appellations across South Australia from Penfolds and several  growers with long term relationships with the company. The pickers make as many as ten passes through the vineyards selecting the finest bunches of grapes. The wine is aged in 100% new American Oak for about seventeen months. 

Dark garnet inky purple colored, medium to full bodied, a symphony of elegant complex balanced black berry, black raspberry and black cherry fruits accented by sweet spicy oak, hints of anise and subtle tone of sweet mocha chocolate turning to silky smooth polished lingering tannins. Delicious.

RM 96 points. 

The 2009 Grange Shiraz is a blend of 84% Barossa, 8% McLaren, and a bit of Clare Valley and Magill fruits with a touch of 2% of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Penfolds Grange 2010
The 2010 release is the 60th consecutive vintage release of Grange. The core is Barossa Valley Shiraz (85%) the remaining 15% shiraz (and 4% cabernet sauvignon) from the Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Magill Estate.

The vintage got 100 points from James Suckling, 99 points from James Halliday and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 98 points from Wine Spectator.
Dark inky purple colored, medium to full bodied, powerful, concentrated but balanced and polished black berry and black cherry fruits hint of blue berry with dark spices, tones of smoke, anise, hints of tar and cedar with complex firm but smooth and polished lingering tannin finish. Needs some time to settle.

RM 95 points.