Sunday, April 27, 2014

Deep Sea Central Coast Red Wine Blend

Deep Sea Central Coast Red Wine Blend

I've often said that wine ratings are over-rated. Another tasting experience.

Following my recent discovery of Deep Sea Central Coast Syrah, I was intrigued when Deep Sea appeared at vin Chicago our local wine discount wine outlet. I cleaned out the remaining partial case on the possibility that it was a similar high QPR discovery.

When I got home I proceeded to enter the purchase into my Cellartracker inventory and read through the tasting notes. I  noted that the average rating was 87.9 and the median was similar and most reviews were absent of comments except one which was especially caustic. It said, "I have been collecting wine for 40 years. Have taken wine tasting classes with certified teachers. To say that this wine is underwhelming is an understatement. My husband bought it for $12.99 at a state store as an everyday wine. Not good enough for that. I MIGHT cook with it. Gave it a 50 because I had to."

When I buy a wine of which I have high anticipation for tasting, I often avoid reading other's notes so as not to be influenced by other's comments. But having read the review above I couldn't get it out of my  mind all weekend thinking, why would someone write such a thing? How bad can this wine be?

So, tonight, against that backdrop I opened this non-specified varietal Red Blend with modest expectations. Okay, it cost less than $16 a bottle but I had invested and had 'at risk' about $100. I cut some fresh French Bread and a plate of three different profile cheeses and dove in.

Immediately upon opening, the room burst with full aromas of black and blue berry fruits. As I started to pour the wine the dark inky garnet color and thick full body were apparent. As soon as I sipped my first taste, I went to the merchant's website to see if they had any more available and it didn't come up - apparently I had cleaned them out.

This was big, full bodied, complex and flavorful with aromas and tastes of blackberry and nutmeg with a layer of blueberry, spice, tones of sweet caramel, mocha and hints of cinnamon and anise on the finish. Over the course of the next hour it became more polished and better balanced and I raised my score from 90 to 91 and considered 92 points. Wow, what a nice surprise.

Wait till I buy more, then find it, buy it, drink it, enjoy it.

RM 91 points.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Napa Cab '04 Horizontal overshadows Tignanello and '97 Cab Franc over Italian Dinner

Napa Cab '04 Horizontal overshadows Tignanello and '97 Cab Franc over Italian Dinner

For a gathering with wine buddies Tom R and Don K, me doing a little cellar thinning to source a couple of cases of wine for Don's cellar, we held a wine tasting dinner featuring a Napa Cab 2004 horizontal along side a couple diverse wines. Adding to the special occasion was son Alec being in town from NYC to join us. Don presented me with a special select bottle of Dunn Howell Mountain 2010. Tom brought an Antinori Tignanello 1999 for our Italian dinner. I pulled a Del Dotto Cabernet Franc 1997 and a Fantesca Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 for the occasion.

Before dinner we tasted a Clark Claudon Napa Valley Howell Mountain 2004 and a Robert Craig Affinity 2004 from 375ml half bottles with artisan cheeses - aged Maytag blue, fresh Parmesan and my favored Bellavitano.

We dined at Angeli's Italian our favorite local neighborhood trattoria. Don chose the Veal Piccatta, Tom the Veal Saltimboca, Alec the Ravioli and I chose their spaghetti with Bolognese sauce with a veal meatball and italian sausage.

Prior to dinner we feasted on a selection of their superb appetizer courses to accompany our wines, Angeli's spectacular steamed mussels in white wine sauce, fried artichoke hearts, grilled calimari and their sinfully decadent butternut squash gnocchi, potato dumplings stuffed with butternut squash served in a sweet brown sugar cream sauce.

Don and I shared the always outstanding 'Angelis' Special' salad; Baby Sprig Lettuce with Caramelized Walnuts, Blue Cheese, Apples and Pear Slices with a Sweet Raspberry Dressing.

The flight:

Clark Claudon Howell Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

We've been collecting this Howell Mtn classic since our Napa Valley Wine Experience 1999. We have a vertical collection back to their inaugural 1993 vintage and have tasted this in Napa Cab wine flights with the same outcome as earlier Big Cab tastings - the concensus favorite of the group ...

Deep dark purple - full bodied - explosive aromas of ripe dark berry fruits, big mouth-full of forward complex but polished spicy black and edge of red berry fruits, violets, layers of mocha and oak with a long lingering tannin finish.

The 2004 Napa growing season was condensed with early bud break, warm days, cool nights and one challenging heat spike. The result was a small harvest of intense, flavor packed fruit from an unusual, but exceptional year that is showing and drinking well and should last another decade.

RM 92 points.

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Robert Craig produces this blend of Napa Valley Cabernets from his various vineyard sources on Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn and Napa Valley. He also sources fruit from Mt George and Spring Mtn distict for his wines. He calls Affinity 'three mountains and a valley cabernet'. Its produced for early enjoyment but we continue to find it ages well too. Like the Del Dotto and Clark Claudon wines, we continue to hold a vertical of this wine dating back to the inaugural 1993 vintage.

This is the second tasting of this label this week. This ten year old 2004 remains consistent with earlier tasting notes, deep dark purple inky color, the ripe berry fruit aromatics, full body, ripe berry fruit, accented by a undercurrent of caramel are starting to give way to a layer of anise, tobacco, leather and firm full tannins on the long fruit filled finish. Tasted from a 375 ml split. In this smaller format, this bottle was starting to show its age.

RM 89 points.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

I acquired a case of this wine on release back in the late nineties but tonight's bottle had been purchased at auction. I mention this as the cork broke in half while opening, and then the wine had a slight discoloration and a slight barnyard funkiness upon opening. These may be indicators of less than appropriate or imperfect provenance, or signs of aging. I lasted tasted this from the cellar a year ago and prior to that it was almost three years to the day back in 2011. I'll pay special attention next time I open an original vintage bottle from my collection. That 2011 tasting note stated, "The Del Dotto Cabernet Franc 1997 was opaque garnet colored, medium bodied and opened with a earthy leather revealing its age, turning to black cherry, spice and a hint of tobacco (RM 90, WS 91 points)." Perhaps tonight's experience was a continuation of that aging as this approaches the end of its (prime) drinking window. If that is the case then its time to drink up. 

My tasting notes from a year ago though cites the same dark ruby color, medium to full body,  but emphasizes 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 anise and leather on the smooth tannin finish. Same tasting profile other than the apparent effects of aging, or poor handling. In any event,  tonight's diminution of fruit and slight funkiness rendered a reduced score of 86 points. 

RM 86 points.

Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT, Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT 1999

Tom brought this classic Super-Tuscan from his cellar sourced from my cellar, from the same lot in my cellar that I took to our Italian tasting last winter. We have fun with this citing a memorable dining experience years ago when dining at Tomaso's in Tempe they were offing this label at below retail and I tried to buy (or drink) their entire stock.

This is a Sangiovese based blend consisting of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. This wine kicked off the 'Super-Tuscan' style back in the seventies which rose to prominence in the eighties. It is produced exclusively from it's namesake Tignanello Vineyard, 116 southwest-facing acres sitting at about 1200 feet elevation at Antinori's Tignanello Estate.

According to Antinori, "It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels, the first red wine in modern times to use a non-traditional grape variety, Cabernet, in the blend, and among the first red wines made in Chianti with no white grapes." In all three instances, it set the example for a new breed of exceptional top-of-the-line Italian wine. It first was released under the Tignanello label with the 1971 when the wine became a Vino da Tavola della Toscana.

Deep Ruby colored, huge floral bouquet, medium-full bodied, forward bright vibrant mouthful of black cherry predominates with notes of currant, spice, and hints of tobacco and leather on a lingering silky tannin finish. That evening against a flight of Italian wines this showed well and received RM 92 points. Tonight against the Napa Cabs, it presented more modest fruit and appeared to be a bit flabby rendering a reduced score of RM 88 points.

Perhaps its not a fair fight to stand this Sangiovese based blend up against a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes from a earlier similar tasting back in 2003 reflected the same state of being overshadowed by a bolder bigger and more fruit forward Napa Cab. "Antinori Tignanello Toscana 1999 was totally overshadowed and blown away by the breadth and depth of the Elan (Napa Valley Cabernet) - so much so I'll hold off notes until the next tasting."

Fantesca Estate and Winery, Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

To compare against the two '04 Napa Cabernets tasting earlier we took to dinner this 2004 Fantesca Napa Cab. We visited Duane and Susan Hoff and 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 cherry, accented by sweet dark chocolate, a hint of cassis, and a tone of spice on the lingering refined tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Inovasi for Superb Wine & Food Pairings

Inovasi for Superb Wine & Food Pairings

An evening outing landed us at Inovasi Restaurant in tony Lake Bluff. We discovered a vibrant atmosphere in a chic stylish setting with fine-crafted dinner plates and perfect wine-by-the-glass pairings. It was a perfect getaway from a hectic stressful day in the pleasant comfortable setting. A half dozen entree selections include Steak Frites, Shepherds Pie, Baked Haddock, Wild Sockeye Salmon and Crispy Chicken Thigh or Grilled Chicken. There's a larger selection of imaginative small plates and appetizers. A carefully and thoughtfully selected wine list also offers a dozen red and white wines by-the-glass. The result was two great value wine finds that perfectly complemented our meal for a delightful and memorable dining experience.

Inovasi roasted beet salad (half)
We started with the Roasted Beet salad that was delicious with fried onion, goat cheese and a spicy peanut vinaigrette. My Steak Frites was perfectly prepared and nicely presented in a tasty butter au jus reduction. Linda chose the Haddock served on a bed of smoked lentils with a bit of spice.

With my steak I tasted Aviary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 from the By-The-Glass (B-T-G) list. It was a perfect pairing complementing the beef and the au jus reduction. It was also spectacular with the roasted beet salad with feta cheese and peanut ragu.

Aviary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

This was a pleasant surprise, exceeding my modest expectations for a B-T-G selection. I am not familiar with this producer or label and upon researching it further found it in distribution throughout the northeast US. Perhaps the setting and an ideal food pairing taints my perspective but I'd say at the $20 retail price point on offer, this is an exceptional QPR (Quality Price Ratio) and I'd say go get a case for every day as well as special occasion drinking. Its a perfect blind tasting candidate!

According to their website, Aviary source grapes from 'nearly a dozen distinct vineyards from Calistoga... to Coombsville'.  Gregory Ahn the Executive Winemaker/GM works with a team of consulting winemakers and a cellar crew to craft the grapes and wines to his specifications.

This is serendipity as it provides a wonderful wine find and dining experience such as this evening. But for lack of terroir or consistent sourcing, one can't infer anything from one label to the next label or even vintage to the next which may be totally different. This the the state of non-estate bottled or broker negotiant labels. Enjoy it while you can .. but caveat emptor with each label. One time you might get premium or ultra premium grapes in a 'private label', the next it may be excess production, or sub-standard product not suitable for the primary flagship label. There's fun in the hunt and great reward when it turns out to be winner at a great price such as tonight. There were 4900 cases of this produced so you should be able to find it.

This was dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, moderately complex but nicely balanced, the muted aromas deceive the burst of Blackberry fruit on the front pallet followed by a layer of black currant, cassis with a hint of dark chocolate and tones of tobacco and tea on the smooth moderate tannin finish.

The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon 88%, Merlot 8% and Petit Syrah 4%.

RM 91

Barrique Sonoma County Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012

With Linda's entree we chose this Barrique Sonoma County Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012. Once again, this was an unknown label or producer. This wine is produced by Brack Mountain Wine Company, made from hand-selected blocks from one of the oldest vineyards on the Sonoma coast. A recent earlier vintage of this label was offered by K&L in the Bay Area, one of our favorite wine merchants for their value, selection and expertise, for under $15. Even at the suggested retail $20 price it represents great value.

This was magenta colored, light bodied, flavors of dusty rose with notes of red fruits accented by a layer of rhubarb, hints of black tea, earth and a touch of tangy white pepper.

RM 88 points.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2004

Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2004

From one of our favorite producers, with a perfectly prepared Pittsburgh style strip steak prepared by Linda at home, I pulled from the cellar this long time favorite, Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2004.

Indeed, we've been collecting this wine since its' inaugural vintage in 1993 and we still hold more than a dozen vintages. Crafted to provide a sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price with early gratification, Affinity defies this approach with its age worthiness.

R&L with Robert at Harvest Party
We may hold more Robert Craig wine in our cellar than any other producer. We've been fans of Robert Craig since the early nineties. We've been to many events at the winery as well as several private functions with Robert, his wife Lynn, and Rachel and various members of the Craig team.  

This ten year old 2004 remains consistent with earlier tasting notes, deep dark purple inky color, the ripe berry fruit aromatics, full body, ripe berry fruit, accented by a undercurrent of caramel are starting to give way to a layer of anise, tobacco, leather and firm full tannins on the long fruit filled finish. Tasted from a 375 ml split. In this smaller format, it may be starting to show its age.

RM 89 points.

Hidden Ridge 55 Degree Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Hidden Ridge 55 Degree Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Since its emergence in 2001, this label has been produced by noted winemaker Marco DiGuilio, whose wines we own under his own and several other labels dating back to that timeframe. The property is owned by entrepreneurs, Oklahoma natives, husband and wife team Lynn Hofacket and Casidy Ward, who bought the remote and wild property in 1991. They began clearing the 55 acres for vineyards in 1996, designing and developing the terraces and planting rootstock grafted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

As DiGiulio’s responsibilities as managing partner of Bin to Bottle and as winemaker for several other luxury brands grew, he handed over primary winemaker duties at Hidden Ridge Vineyard to Timothy Milos as consulting winemaker.

A fifth generation Californian, Timothy was born and raised in the Bay Area. He attended U.C. Berkeley and Sonoma State studying Cell Biology, then Molecular Plant Pathology at Cornell University graduate school. While at Cornell, he was introduced to the art and science of winemaking. After a period working in the Finger Lakes region he went on to the Masters program at the University of California at Davis in 1997.

He has worked for Stags Leap, Opus One, Anderson Vineyard, and Cliff Lede Vineyards. He works with Marco DiGiulio on projects in Napa and Sonoma counties, making wine for several luxury brands, many of which specialize in mountain Cabernet. In addition to Hidden Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma County, he also works for one of our favorite Mayacamas Mountain-top discoveries, Rubissow Wines, whom we visited during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience in the Spring of 2011.

Hidden Ridge Vineyard is nicknamed, the "Impassable Mountain" because it took ten years to develop due to the 55% slope of the ridgetops. The Hidden Ridge Vineyards consist of 21 blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon in some of the most isolated areas of the Mayacamas Mountain Range along the Napa-Sonoma County line - located at 38 29'50.95 N, 122 34'09.40 W.

In an enclosed valley on steep mountainside slopes with eastern, southern and northern exposures. The terraced slopes and lean soils challenge and stress the vines resulting in small - berried intense fruit.

I first discovered this wine at Morton's Steakhouse in Crystal City, Arlington, near Washington DC where it was available by bottle or by the glass. During the ensuing years we enjoyed the 05, 06 and then the '07 vintages there. We also picked up the '05 at BRIX in Napa and tasted at dinner during our Mt Veeder appellation trip in the Napa and Sonoma Mt Veeder area.

Like the earlier vintages this is dark garnet colored,  full bodied and concentrated rich with layers of dark berry fruits with notes of anise, mocha and tones of that Mayacamas signature cedar and camphor or eucalyptus before turning to dried herb, tobacco and tea on the lingering silky tannin finish. 
RM 91 points.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Neiman Napa Valley Red Wine 2000

Neiman Napa Valley Caldwell Vineyard Red Wine 2000

With son Ryan visiting, we opened this for an impromptu tasting with artisan cheese and crackers. We've held these wines for a decade and aside four or five vintages I picked up at auction, I am not sure where I initially discovered this label. We have a half dozen vintages of this wine in the cellar and I selected one we've not yet tried from a vintage I thought would be the least age-worthy that needed to be consumed. Learn more about the Caldwell Vineyard in my earlier post of this label.
Pulling the 2000 vintage, I was imagining a wine where the fruit would be subdued and overtaken by leather, tobacco and perhaps tea. Wow, what a nice surprise as this vastly exceeded my expectations. There's still life left in this and there should be no hurry to drink up.

As soon as Ryan opened this, the kitchen exploded with full aromas of ripe berry fruits and floral.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, there was a huge berry fruit and forest floral nose on opening. Pleasant, balanced and modestly polished with tangy mouth puckering acid and smooth tannin texture, it opens to slightly astringent plum, dark berries, slight hints of caramel, mocha and a touch of cassis with a layer of smooth oak on an acidic clove tannin finish that lingers for many minutes.

RM 90-91 points.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012

Banshee Wines Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012

Another episode in the ongoing quest for a high QPR (Quality-Price-Ratio) Pinot Noir presented this selection from this emerging producer, suggested by Ron B at Binny's Willowbrook. We've known Ron for about two dozen years in his service at no less than four or five wineshops that we frequent. We were in the store to pick up more of the Black Diamond Pinot Noir that we featured recently here, which served as our benchmark for comparison. While a notable interesting and flavorful selection, this Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir did not stand out as did the Black Diamond. This is a new label discovery and an interesting and pleasurable wine that, while not a blockbuster, is fairly priced at $20. This emerging producer has developed relationships to source grapes from noted vineyards throughout Sonoma County from the Sonoma Coast to the river valleys, to the mountains and is worth watching as this producer and their artwork evolve.

Banshee is the product of three friends and fellow wine-geeks who followed their dreams in a quest to produce quality good value Pinot Noir in California. Noah Dorrance who serves as Winemaker began his wine interest as a freshman at the University of Missouri where he would host wine tastings in his dorm room. After college, he spent two years in Paris with where he explored French, Italian and Spanish wine regions on the weekends in his exploration into the world of wine. He then spent time at San Francisco-based Crushpad, where he assisted customers in making and marketing wine. It was there he made the initial version of Banshee. The economic downturn around 2009 gave Noah and his friends Baron Ziegler and Steve Graf the opportunity to purchase grapes from several high-end vineyards and Banshee Wines was officially born. Noah now serves as head winemaker at Banshee Wines, Baron and Steve do sales, marketing and operations.

Baron Ziegler, a native of Minnesota, began buying Bordeaux futures at the age of 15, attended Boston University during which time he worked in retail for Food & Wine Magazine’s 2012 “Top Sommelier” Peter Eastlake. He moved from there to a wine importer and moved to California where he met up with Banshee co-founders.

Steve Graf, attended the University of Pennsylvania and discovered his love for wine while studying abroad. After graduation he worked for notable Manhattan wine merchant Sherry-Lehmann. He moved to California with stints at E.&J. Gallo Winery and Vintage Berkeley, a boutique wine shop, and worked for a couple of importers.  He joined up with Baron who happens to be his brother-in-law and Noah to found Banshee where Steve now runs West Coast sales operations.

This 2012 release of Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir shows garnet color and light body; the fruit is overtaken by that classic Pinot dusty rose signature, overshadowed further by an interesting but somewhat strange and slightly distracting layer of green pepper with a tone of alcohol and hint of camphor. I struggled a bit to describe this and then went to the winemaker's notes who described it as "forest floor .... and between just ripe raspberries and boysenberry against a frame of rhubarb and pine." Interestingly similar if you interchange my green pepper with rhubarb, and my camphor with pine, you get the idea.

Never-the-less this was balanced and approachable and Linda liked it.

RM 87