Sunday, March 30, 2014

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

For a horizontal comparison to the Clark Claudon 1997 Napa Valley Cab from the other night, we tasted this Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 1997. 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 remember taking their wines to a Christmas party back in 2000 and they were the stand-out highlight wines of the evening.

This is another well rated selection from this heralded vintage from a producer from whom we hold a vertical collection of over a dozen vintages. Del Dotto is one of our favorite Napa producers whom we met and starting collecting their wines from their inaugural vintage back in the early nineties. We've been amply rewarded as their wines are proving to be long lived and age-worthy with many early vintages still coming of age.

Like several of the other labels in our horizontal collection from this vintage, this one is proving not to live up to the high expectations set for this much hyped vintage, certainly relative to other near vintage releases. In the case of the Del Dotto, I've written how their release from the much panned 1998 vintage has been drinking very nicely, and we've found their 2001 release to be especially impressive. We brought this along on our getaway weekend and enjoyed this watching the two Michigan's represent our favored Big Ten in the March Madness Elite Eight roundball tournament. 

Having acquired more than a case of this selection, we've been able to comparison taste it's aging over the decade plus. Our last published tasting was three years ago.

My previous tasting notes over the last five years showed this selection coming of age and opening up with more fruit as it matured. Compared to the Clark Claudon tasted Friday evening, this presented bigger, more pronounced and livelier fruits of currant and berry flavors accented by nicely integrated oak before giving way to hints of cedar, leather and tobacco. Dark garnet colored, moderately firm with refined lingering tannins, this '97 still is vibrant and has several years of pleasurable easy drinking left.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Clark Claudon Howell Mtn Napa Cab at Amanda's in Hoboken

Clark Claudon Howell Mtn Napa Cab at Amanda's in Hoboken

For our getaway weekend in New York City, we booked several special dining outings. I grabbed from the cellar several bottles to enjoy sometime over the weekend. Our first night out we returned to Amanda's in Hoboken, a short walk from son Alec's flat, one of the highlights of our last trip. We took BYOB a Clark Claudon Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1997.

Knowing Amanda's menu, we knew what we hoped to order so we brought a big cab to accompany the steak and lamb entrees we were targeting. Linda and I enjoyed the grilled Angus Sirloin with Iowa blue cheese potatoes au gratin, haricots verts and carrots in a red wine sauce. This was prepared perfectly to our directions - hot-pink center Pittsburgh style. Alec and Sean ordered their grilled Rack of Lamb served with red quinoa, roasted garlic yogurt, goat cheese and arugula. They both said it was as good as any Lamb they've ever encountered. The Clark Claudon was a perfect complement to both entrees.

For our starter course we had the roasted beet and arugula salad served with yogurt, sour cherries, candied walnuts and feta cheese, steamed black mussels parsley in a pepper and white wine garlic broth, and creamy polenta in a mushroom ragout an three cheese sauce. All were excellent except I thought I detected a bit of fennel in the beet salad. Several of their entrees feature fennel in the preparation. I am not a fan of fennel and didn't expect it in the salad however it was not  a detraction from the excellent preparation.

Once again when we asked for wine list they presented the pedestrian modest wine list. Only when pressed, did they present what some restaurants might call the Reserve or Captains list. The extended list, five times the size of the basic list offers several very notable special offerings such as Chateau Figeac St Emilion 1982 ($600), Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, Chappellet Pritchard Hill and a selection of single vineyard Nickel & Nickel selections of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. There were a dozen favorites that you'll see featured in my cellar list and on the pages in this blog. There was also a list of large format bottles and offerings by glass. Similar to the Clark Claudon that we brought BYOB, their winelist features 97 and 96 vintages of Snowden, one of the wines in our cellar that I considered bringing along. 

Clark Claudon Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

In earlier tastings of this vintage of Clark Claudon I wondered if it was like Dominus (86) and some Bordeaux (89-90 Pichon Lalande) that I later learned I drank too early when they finally 'awoke' to reveal their true character and fruits years later? Unlike previous tastings when the Clark Claudon was somewhat closed and a bit flabby with muted fruit upon opening, tonight it appeared to be showing its age opening to ripe raisiny black cherry and black berry fruit, with subtle tone of cigar box and leather with nicely integrated and balanced silky smooth tannins. After an hour or so the fruit closed down and it became subdued leaving a slight astringency and tones of tobacco and leather.

After tonight's tasting, I shaved a few years off the Cellartracker drinking window from 2018 to 2015 and I reduced my rating from 89 to 88. 

We first met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark during our Napa Wine Experience 1999 when we hosted them at our wine dinner at Pinot Blanc in St Helena (see picture left). We tasted Clark Claudon 1995-96 against ten year 1989 Bordeaux. We still hold a vertical collection of a dozen Clark Claudon vintages to this day.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot Reserve 1999

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot Reserve 1999

I remember Sterling with its gondola cable car up to its mountain top winery and art gallery was one of the wineries we visited during our first Napa Valley visits back in the eighties. I seem to recall a turbulent era when its ownership passed from Coca-Cola to the Seagram Liquor company and then at one point I think also Heublein liquor company before being sold to private investors. I also recall Sterling Merlot as one of my earliest memorable wines from back then. Recently, I cited recent vintages of Sterling Merlot in this blogsite as having reasonable QPR - Quality Price Ratio.

This Reserve bottling of Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot has been down in our cellar for a while and is one of a few bottles where I have no record or recollection of where I acquired it. Adjacent to a 1999 Sterling Three Palms Vineyard Merlot of similar unknown background, I always think I'll do a mini-vertical tasting of these two bottles in tandem. Casting that notion aside, I pulled the Reserve tonight to enjoy with grilled sirloin steak dinner at home with Linda.

Dark blackish purple colored with medium body, this aged Merlot is showing its age being past its prime drinking window with the diminished black cherry and black berry fruit giving way to ripe raisin and hints of black licorice on a modest finish.

RM 86 points.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Black Diamond Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2011

Black Diamond Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2011

I often lament about how difficult it is to find a high QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Pinot Noir under $20. Called the 'heartbreak grape' (see my review of 
The Heartbreak Grape,  A California Winemakers Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir by Marc de Villiers, 1994, Harper Collins)  for its finicky difficulty to cultivate, it took decades for California producers to get this varietal to come around. Here is a rare California Pinot Noir that offers enjoyable sophisticated Pinot Noir at every day prices. I bought some, drank it, bought some more, and I am going back for more. Hopefully my blog post doesn't empty the shelves before I restock. 

Sourced from fruit from Guadagni Family Wines, a small family run business that according  to records is managed by Donald, Joseph, Mary, William and Breanna at their location on Yokim Bridge Road in Healdsburg. They're reported to produce about 1000 cases a year but views of the property show large tracts of young vines and new plantings so we might expect to see much more of them in the coming vintages.

They say their label name "Black Diamond" refers to the 'boldness and courage' of their wines. 'awe inspiring to look at from the rim and personally satisfying in the finish.... with both strength and elegance' symbolic of Black Diamond wines.

The grapes are selected from the Russian River appellation, renowned specifically for the cool-climate conducive to growing great Pinot Noir. The vineyards for this wine are along the Russian River and within walking distance of the Coastal Mountain Range. Influenced by the marine layer that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean with its moderating effect on morning and later afternoon temperatures, sending cool air through the gorge cut by the river. They cite moderate daytime temperatures as key to retaining the delicate and unique characters of the grapes, while the cool nights encourage the vine to retain acidity through to the harvest. Whatever the cause, the effects are a sophisticated yet pleasant, easy drinking wine that are available at a good value price.

The winemaker's comments sum it up well - "Classic aromas of fresh turned soil, cola, and red cherries. Black raspberry, pink peppercorn spice and caramel add depth. Light in body with creamy, vanilla infused raspberry and baking spice. Balanced, silky tannins for a long smooth finish."

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium light bodied, it exhibits tones of nicely balanced cherry, raspberry, cinnamon and vanilla giving way to a layer of anise and smoky spicy oak on a firm lingering acidic finish.

RM 88 points.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Henschke Keyneton Estate Barossa Valley Red Blend 1996

Henschke Keyneton Estate Barossa Valley Red Blend 1996

I selected this aged 1996 vintage wine from the cellar to complement a quiet dinner at home with wife Linda. We had Top Sirloin steak prepared my favorite 'Pittsburgh' charred style, served with wild rice and asparagus spears (left). Afterwards it went well with a selection of chocolates and cheeses including one of my favorites, Bellavitano with butter crackers.

The Henschke family have been producing wine for six generations starting when Johann Christian Henschke planted a small vineyard on his farming property in Keyneton, about 80 km northeast of Adelaide, South Australia back in 1862. Today the property is run by fifth-generation Stephen Henschke as winemaker and his wife Prue as viticulturist. Henschke boasts a broad portfolio anchored by their ultra-premium single-vineyard labels. Most recently, Henschke was named 2011 Winery of the Year at the inaugural Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide awards. Sixth generation family members Johann, Justine and Andreas, are now actively involved exploring new development in organic and biodynamic programs.

This Keyneton Estate is an interesting  blend of 65% Shiraz, 30% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 5% Merlot.

We've had this bottle in the cellar for more than a decade. The Henschke was medium bodied and dark garnet colored with a slight brownish hue likely indicating its age. I've not had this label before so I don't have a basis for comparison but my sense is the fruit cited by others in their reviews has fallen off and given way since the predominate taste initially is black pepper followed by black licorice before revealing a layer of smoky charcoal turning to accent tones of cedar.

Eventually, over the course of the evening a layer of blackberry and hint of spice emerged beneath the other flavors, with a grip of clinging tannins on the finish.

RM 87 points.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Duo of Contrasting Style Syrahs - Constant Napa Valley vs Deep Sea Santa Barbara

Syrah Syrah - Duo of Contrasting Styles - Constant Napa Valley vs Deep Sea Santa Barbara

For a BYOB dinner outing at Angeli's, our local neighborhood trattoria, Bill C and I both brought Syrahs from different regions of California for an interesting comparison in appellations and terroir resulting in contrasting styles. Bill brought a Constant Diamond Mountain Syrah 2006 which we discovered and obtained during our Constant Diamond Mountain Winery visit at our Napa Wine Experience 2011. I brought the recently discovered  Deep Sea White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara Syrah 2008.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards - Queen of Diamonds Estate - Northern Sonoma Syrah 2006

We picked up this wine during our winery visit to the spectacular Constant Vineyards property at the very top of Diamond Mountain during our 2011 Diamond Mountain Experience. Sitting at the summit at 2100 feet elevation it is the only Sonoma vineyard on Diamond Mountain.

This was smoother, more complex and more polished than the Deep Sea. The Constant exhibited dark inky purple color - medium-full bodied, nicely balanced and polished bright full flavors of blue and black fruits with a layer of ripe plum and sweet clove, hints of tea and cedar on the lingering finish. While this is tasty now, it lacks backbone and structure for longevity.

RM 90 points.



Deep Sea White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara Syrah 2008

As posted recently in this blog, Deep Sea is a producer in Santa Barbara that speaks of their quest to feature wines that represent "maritime influenced vineyards of merit and singularity .... their origins and the impact of California's coastal climate. California's appellations are ideally influenced throughout the growing season by the unique climes created by the Pacific Ocean. The ethereal 'fog-like wave' on the label references the focus of Deep Sea wines showcasing the impact of this natural cooling on some of California's most recognized maritime appellation. 

This was more forward and expressive than the Constant but also lacked Constant's smoothness, polish and sophistication. Also dark inky purple, this was more full bodied and a bit more concentrated with black and blue berry fruits, a layer of alcohol, tones of caramel and vanilla, turning to hints of black pepper and mint on a moderate tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012

Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012

I selected this, a week after we tasted a duo of Belle Glos Pinots from their Las Alturas vineyard, named for the vineyard from the producer named for the Matriarch of the Wagner family, noted for its Napa Valley Caymus Cabernet Sauvignons. When our industry account team gathered for a strategy planning and coordination session, team leader Bernie G graciously hosted us for an evening of wine, libations and snacks. When Bernie generously threw open the wine cooler offering wine selections, I seized upon the Belle Glos inviting comparison to last weeks' tastings.

I wrote last week about Belle Glos Vineyard Select Pinot Noirs from the Wagner family Las Alturas vineyard. This selection is from their Clark & Telephone Vineyard, named for its location near the corner of Clark Avenue and Telephone Road in the Santa Maria Valley. The site is cooled by wind and fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean following the Santa Maria River. The vineyard was planted in 1972 with the Martini clone of Pinot Noir, one of the first to be used along the California coastlands.

Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012

Like the Las Alturas vineyard selection tasted last week, this was bigger, brighter and more expressive than what I recall from earlier vintage tastings from this producer. While not as big, bold or complex as  what I recall from the Las Alturas, this was smoother and more polished allowing for easier more casual drinking. Dark ruby colored, medium to full bodied, smooth and polished with nicely integrated full flavors of black raspberry, with hints of blueberry, subtle strawberry and cherry. There are tones of cinnamon, spice, sweet oak and tea on a lively acidity long finish with supple tannins.

RM 90 points.