Saturday, May 31, 2014

OTBN 2014

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2014

This night's tasting featured a varied selection of wines following a couple themes. One  commemorating this year being the 4th decade for Linda and me featured the four decade anniversary vintages of '74, '84, '94 and '04. The others reflected the spirit of OTBN, to bring whatever label was desired for drinking that night. As is always the case, the occasion produced a great tasting event of fabulous and interesting wines, great wine and food pairings, fellowship, friendship and fun.

Bill and Beth hosted and prepared a great wine friendly dinner of beef tenderloin, duck breast, scalloped potatoes, haricot verts, green salad, caprese salad and a desert course. Before dinner there was a selection of artisan cheeses, and shrimp cocktail.  A mixed green salad was accompanied by a cold tomato based soup.

The 'line-up'.

The OTBN (Open That Bottle Night) tradition calls for the event to occur the last Saturday night in February. This year's event was postponed twice, initially due to an outbreak of the flu and then for another conflict. So we declared tonight's tasting to effectively became our fourth OTBN in this column. See our 2011, 2012 and 2013 OTBN reports.

As written in this blog to explain previous OTBN's, here's the story. Credit (or blame) for this annual wine bachanalia goes to Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, was conceived for those that have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened.  

Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle. OTBN was conceived by Gaiter and Brecher to say, what the heck, go for it, Open That Bottle (to)Night. They realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it! Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because amazingly, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not. What the heck, Open That Bottle (To) Night!. Let the fun begin.   

The ritual for all our tasting events starts with the 'lineup', the exercise of lining up the bottles in the planned order of tasting. This is a fun debate that by default conforms to the prescribed tasting conventions - starting with the lighter and simpler wines first since a heavier or heartier wine will overpower lesser wines and you'll lose all sense of discrimination or calibration for them.

More precision on tasting order is:

Dry before sweet: This is probably the most important of the following rules, so if in doubt - opt for the "dry before sweet" rule. Sweet wines typically carry a long finish - drinking a dry wine with a short finish following a sweet wine with a long finish will almost always leave the dry wine tasting sour.

Old before young: Mature wines tend to provide the most subtle, elegant, and finessed nuances and should be sipped first to honor the complexity of the flavors that aging provides. Younger wines bear more tannin and fruit and will often wipe out some of the subtle qualities of older wines if tasted first.

White usually before Red: White wines are usually more delicate than reds - which is why many presume that red should always follow white. However, in some cases (ex. light Pinot Noir vs. full-flavored Voigners) sweeter wines pack a longer finish than dry wines, so save your sweet syrupy whites to follow drier reds for optimum flavor.

Light-bodied before full-bodied: The delicate flavors and aromas found in light-bodied wines will be missed entirely if consumed following tannic, robust reds.

Once the initial tasting order is set, part of the fun is testing it to see if we got it right based on the actual tasting results. Most often we get it right with just a few tweeks along the way. Again on this night, this was the case. 

Before we ventured into the flight, Bill served a pair of chardonnays with the pre-meal shrimp and assorted cheeses - Sancerre 2012 and Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2009.

We started the red wine flight with two 1984 California Cabernet Sauvignons - Guenoc Lake County, and Silver Oak Napa Valley.

Guenoc Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 1984

The story behind this bottle goes back to a tasting that occurred in July 1998 when I served a large format six liter bottle of this wine to colleagues from around the world at a global country managers meeting. Colleague Pete F and I entertained the group and I hosted a special wine tasting featuring 16 different wines from their respective countries from my cellar. One of the highlights of the tasting culminated with the 6 liter bottle the label of which we all signed (left). 

My notes from that event - "What do you expect from a 14 year old Lake County Cab? What a pleasant surprise to find this one full of berry, plum, cherry and an earthy mocha chocolate. This was tasted from a six liter bottle which no doubt held the fruit." 

The story about tonight's bottle resulted from our visit to the winery in the early 90's seeking a bottle of 1984 from their library. They said there weren't any for sale. When I told them I was holding this 6 liter bottle in my cellar for a special occasion and I wanted some from that vintage to 'test' before serving, they kindly obliged with a couple bottles. This is the last remaining bottle from that purchase. Read more about large format bottles.

I was prepared to dump this and move on to the next bottle, expecting that I had held onto this thirty year old for too long. Not to be as we were pleasantly surprised to find it was still holding was eminently drinkable, albeit with diminished color, structure and fruit being whispers of what they once were as noted above.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1984

Notice (above) the Silver Oak '84 bears the old historic 'silver' label that today is used only for the Alexander Valley release while Napa Valley is now adorned by an upscale painted bottle branding and packaging.

As with the Guenoc above, this was still drinkable although it had diminished color and fruit. That Silver Oak signature oakiness still predominated and stood out over the subdued earthy berry and cedar leathery finish. 

RM 84 points.

Leoville Barton St Julien Bordeaux 1994

From Bill's cellar. From a more modest Bordeaux vintage, this still showed classic left bank complexity of earthy leather and notes of cedar with smooth polished subdued blackberry fruit accent with a hint of anise on a nicely refined lingering tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Château Malescot St. Exupéry Margaux Bordeaux 2004

Bill had open this magnum of this savory Bordeaux to start the evening. 

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied with huge floral perfume aromatics that typify the best of Margaux. They give way to pleasant, nicely balanced black raspberry and black currant fruits with tones of anise, expresso, and hints of spicy mocha on a leathery tobacco finish. 

RM 90 points.

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004

Lyle brought this Tempranillo based Rioja Reserva.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, black fruits give way to earthy, tobacco, spice, smoke and leather with a long balanced finish.

RM 90

Peter Michael Les Pavots Sonoma County Knights Valley Red Wine 2005

Ernie brought these two Peter Michael selections from his cellar.

Les Pavots is an estate bottled Bordeaux blend from the slopes of Mt Helena above the eastern Knights Valley in Sonoma County.

Dark ruby colored, elegant and polished, full bodied with full complex concentrated layers of blackberry, black raspberry and blackcurrant with tones of black tea, cigar box and hint of dark mocha and cedar on a silky smooth finish.

Blend: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot & 2% Petit Verdot

This got huge reviews and scores - 95 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator
and 93 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

RM 95 points.

Peter Michael Esprit Des Pavots 2004

’Esprit des Pavots' literally means “The Spirit of the Poppies.” This wine is sourced from the original Les Pavots vineyard blocks recently replanted with the rarest and best clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Dark ruby colored, full bodied, bright vibrant expressive full forward concentrated rich berry and plum fruits, smooth and polished despite complexity from hints of mocha, anise and black tea with full tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 93 points.

Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Red Wine 2004

Dan brought this and the Dominus Estate from his cellar - two napa Valley Bordeaux Blends. This may have been my favorite of the evening although the Les Pavots was a close second.

A blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec

Another huge point scorer with  97 points from Wine Enthusiast, 94 from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.

Dark ruby and inky purple color, full bodied, this required about an hour to open and reveal its true charachter and fruits - complex but elegant, balanced and polished, rich deep concentrated notes of blackberries, cassis, with hints of rich, crème caramel, sweet oak and cedar with smooth polished finely integrated tannins on the long finish.

RM 95 points.

Dominus Estate Napa Valley Red Wine 2010 

While this got a 100 point rating from Robert Parker, the most noted major reviewers, like so many Dominus releases, it may take a decade or more for it to reveal its full potential.

While clearly a spectacular wine, at this young age, its a bit closed and tight suppressing its fruits and other nuances.

Blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, firm, dense concentrated complex layers of black fruits, black tea, creosote and anise with hints cedar of spice and dark chocolate with firm tight but well integrated tannins on the finish.

RM 94 points.

d'Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

Ernie also brought this from his cellar. The '04 is as big and dense as Dead Arm gets but was not as sweet as some vintages.

Dark inky black purple color, full bodied, thick, dense, tongue-coating unctuous layer of ripe plum, black raspberry, ripe blueberry and a layer of anise and black cherry with a spicy long firm tannin lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Taylor (Fladgate) Vintage Port Quinta de Vargellas 1974

I acquired this bottle at the legendary British wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd at their shop at 3 St James's Street London back in the early eighties. Back then of course you carry it in your hand luggage on the airplane.

Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP) is a title given to Port wines produced from a single vineyard (quinta) and from in a single vintage.

This is regarded by many as the most exciting category of port wine, since it offers the winemaker the opportunity to explore a more terroir-driven approach to fortified winemaking. An emerging style, SQVP started to gain popularity after 1986 when transportation restrictions were raised and smaller estates started to enter the market.

Single-quinta, or single-vineyard, vintage Porto is produced only in exceptional years in which a general vintage is not declared. Quinta de Vargellas vineyard has been part of the Taylor Fladgate estate for more than a century. It is known as one of the top 100 vineyards in the world with the highest percentage of old vines of any quinta in the Douro, with 60% over 75 years old. 

The 1974 vintage was a moderate year that was not declared by the major port houses. Some excellent single harvest colheitas were produced. For the vintage ports, despite a huge crop, very few vintage port-wines were bottled from this year and the bottles are very rare.

Quinta de Vargellas is the flagship of Taylor Fladgate's declared vintage Portos. In the best undeclared years, Quinta de Vargellas is produced on its own as a single-quinta vintage Porto.

While top vintage Vintage Ports often age for several decades, these SQVP's tend to last a decade or two so at forty years of age, this was pushing the limits of its aging window. Furthermore, the bottle and cork showed some signs of seepage although I don't recall ever noticing this in the cellar. Lastly, upon decanting, there was no less than a half a cup of sediment resembling coffee grounds in the bottom of the bottle. 

This was a bit lean in body and the color was a bit opaque and showed tones of rust color with an orangish hue. It had a big aromatic nose and flavors of intense concentrated black berries, black raspberry, and anise, with tones of cloves, cedar and touch of smoke with a big strong layer of high alcohol. It open immediately and continued to soften throughout the evening. It was drinkable and a tribute to our 1974 anniversary celebration but clearly nearing its end of life.  

Two nights later this was smooth and nicely balanced and resembled a moderate cognac which we enjoyed with some caramel, chocolate and berries. 

RM 85 points.

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto Quinta de Vargellas 1995

Lyle is a big port enthusiast and he matched my Taylor Fladgate with this vintage selection. 

Dark ruby colored, medium bodied, intense berry, dried raisins, fig with layers of cedar and anise with a long fruity, alcohol laced finish. 

RM 88 points.

The OTBN crew and their wine contributions to the flight are pictured below.

The hosts - Bill and Beth. 

 The author/blogger of unwindwine blogspot.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz 2005

Clarendon Hills Astralis McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005

Son Ryan opened this to celebrate the first week in their new home and his first day on the new job. And he invited Dad over for a taste. While this is the flagship of the extensive  Clarendon Hills line which includes eight different Shiraz labels, I prefer the style of their Piggott Range more. This has more of the tasting profile of the incredible Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz we tasted last weekend, not surprising, since this too is sourced from old vines, from their first vineyard planted in 1920. Like the Tanunda, Astralis has limited production of only 150 cases.

At a release and market price of $180, this is in the super ultra-premium stratosphere, even more than the Tanunda at a release price of $125. This is a classic example where taste is in the eyes of the beholder and all that matters is one's personal pallet preference. I much prefer any one of several of my favorite Shiraz labels that are all in the $70 to $90 range and a select few at even less. Of course, as I often write in this blog, the thrill of the hunt and ultimate quest is to find that high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) wine that offers the same satisfaction at a fraction of the (premium) price.

This is the first bottle we have tasted from a case Ryan purchased and split with me recently. As part of its premium price-point, Astralis (like the Tanunda) comes with premium packaging in its own branded OWC, Original Wood Case (pictured left).

McLaren Vale is in south central Australia on the north-west of the Fleurieu Peninsula about 25 miles south of Adelaide. It is one of the oldest and highly regarded wine producing areas in the country. It was granted its appellation status, in Australia known as GI or Geographical Indication in 1997.

The climatic and geographical diversity of McLaren Vale is suitable for a wide array of grape varieties which are grown there including Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre, which, together with Shiraz, make up some of the most acclaimed 'GSM' blends. Other varietals grown in the region in lesser amounts are Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo,  Sangiovese and Viognier.
McLaren Vale is also the source of white wine varietals, most notably Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Shiraz leads the region's list of award-winning wines with the best wines coming from very old vines, some planted more than 100 years ago.

This wine got huge reviews and scores from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate (99 points) and Wine Spectator (96 points) and  Stephen Tanzer's IWC (95 points). Either our bottle was slightly tainted (which I don't believe), the cork showed ever so slight signs of seepage (shown right), or, at nine years old it is in a somewhat closed period in its aging profile. I found it a bit closed and its aromatics suppressed. Never-the-less, this is a big unctuous, tongue-coating complex wine, deep dark inky purple colored wine with layers of concentrated ripe black and blue berry fruits with a layer of graphite and mineral, which in my opinion detracts from the fruit and other complementary tones of expresso, tobacco and spice box, leading to a smooth silky polished tannin lingering finish. It did not seem to have a firm structure and backbone built for longer term aging.

RM 92 points.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chez Joel for simple wines and small plates bistro food

Chez Joël Bistro Francais in Chicago Little Italy For Simple Hi-QPR Wine and Authentic French Plates

Following our annual family ball game outing, we stopped in one of our favorite bistros, Chez Joël, that actually sits in Little Italy, Chicago, for some wine and food before heading back out to the 'burbs. The quest for authenticity in the menu, atmosphere and setting carries over to the wine list which is unpretentious and inviting with good value modest French selections. One can almost imagine sitting in a small ville in France.

I ordered the Pâté de deux Sortes duck & chicken liver pâté and the Fromage de Brie Chaud warm brie cheese with honey, apricot, garlic and almond to accompany the wine.  Ryan and Michelle split the grilled Angus NY Strip Steak with Roquefort Cheese Sauce and Mashed Potatoes and the roasted beet and arugula salad with goat cheese.

Having drunken one of the top Graves' producers, Chateau Pape Clement the other night, we settled on the Graves as a basis for comparison, good value, and a perfect accompaniment to the food.

The Graves appellation, named for the small pebbles that predominate in the gravelly clay soils, is the southernmost appellation in the Bordeaux region. It is well known more for it's crisp white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, but it also offers some top reds including first growth Haut Brion, as well as others that tend to be less well known yet offer good QPR - Quality Price Ratios.

Graves wines are known for character, structure and fruit, typically at prices less expensive than wines of similar quality from the nearby Médoc.

 Château du Maine Graves Bordeaux 2009

Château du Maine is a 25 acre vineyard planted in vines with average age of 25 yrs. in 55% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% combined of Petit-Verdot and Malbec.

The winemaker producer is Jean-Pierre Duprat.

The château sits atop a hill, composed mainly of gravel and coarse sand with a gravel-clay subsoil, that offers excellent drainage for the property. Hence his wines are less affected by late season or harvest time rains. 

Not overly complex or elegant but pleasant easy drinking, ruby colored and medium bodied, this bright vibrant flavorful red wine boasts lots of cherry and berry fruits accented by cinnamon spice and a layer and slight harsh edge of iodine and cedar tones. Aged in oak barrels (about 30% new) for about 18 months gives a slight oak tone to the terroir structure that has modest fine tannins on the finish.

RM 85 points.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tanunda 100 Year Shiraz - De la Gardine CDP for Barbecue Rib Dinner

Tanunda 100 Year Shiraz - De La Gardine CDP for Barbecue Rib Dinner

For barbecue rib dinner we pulled a California Syrah and a vintage Chateauneuf du Pape and friend Bill brought a classic Tanunda 100 year old vines Shiraz. Son Sean prepared a starter of classic Coquilles St-Jacques (Gratinéed Scallops). Coquilles St-Jacques simply means "scallops" in French.

For the scallops starter, Bill brought a Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Kabinett.

Dr. H. Thanisch Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Kabinett 1999

What a surprise in the vibrant bright fruit of this fifteen year old Riesling. The flavor profile was predominate sweet green apple turning to a layer of pear with bright nicely balanced acidity. It drank more like a spatlese with its full body and just the right amount of pleasurable sweetness.

RM 89 points.

Chateau Tanunda 100 Year Vines Shiraz 2008

Bill was generous to bring a bottle of this select wine from his cellar. We discovered this wine at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Chicago when it was being poured by Chateau Tanunda's Dagmar O'Neill. Only 100 cases were produced. We orchestrated a purchase of eight three packs in OWC's which we split amongst the wine team, pictured in this blogspot feature.

Bill's notes - "Still the best Shiraz I have tasted and there is a great deal of separation from number 2. Layered and complex with spice, granite, minerals on the palate with a touch of softness not usually expected in a Shiraz. Drinking beautifully now but will last for years."

WCC 96 points.

This is a huge thick chewy Shiraz. I can only think of a few that have been this dense and each of them are memorable tastings. It begs for a thick juicy steak or tangy barbecue. Full bodied, complex, concentrated, full lingering tannins predominate the dense, black and blue berry fruits with hints of liquorice, plum and spice and spicy oak.

RM 93 points.

Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998

Working through aged bottles in my cellar, I pulled this sixteen year old CDP with it flattened side almost squarish shaped bottle to accompany the ribs. This is the last and final bottle of a case I purchased upon release following my trip to CDP and the Rhone River Valley back in 1999. This property is one of the biggest private owned estates in Chateauneuf du Pape.

It took an hour for this to open and reveal its fruits. Of course tasting it alongside the big Tanunda Old Vines exacerbated the difference. This was more old world style with greater complexity and breadth reflecting the blend.

This was medium bodied and dark garnet colored - complex slightly tart black and red fruits, hints of earthy, leather, pepper, with berry, mineral, spice nose; it was very tasty, balanced, slightly tart berry, blackberry, black cherry with mineral  palate, hints of earthy tobacco and cassis and a medium-plus finish. The blend is old world Southern Rhone CDP style with 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah and 5% Muscardin.

RM 88 points. Consistent notes w/ earlier tastings.

It got 92 points from Wine Spectator who cited its "Beautiful. Black color, thick texture, with delicious ripe fruit and silky, sweet tannins." Robert Parker gave it 90 Points and enphasized its "dense, saturated purple color, .... enticing, sweet nose of black fruits, licorice, and violets." He pegged the drinking window between 2003-2016.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Duo of 1995 Bordeaux Blends Château Pape Clément and Elan

Duo of 1995 Bordeaux Blends Château Pape Clément and Elan

For my birthday celebration birthday dinner Ryan and I pulled two special '95's - a Bordeaux and a Bordeaux inspired Napa blend for an interesting comparison tasting with the grilled steak dinner - Château Pape Clément and Elan Atlas Peak Cabernet. We only dented each bottle which were both held over to a follow on barbecue rib dinner.

Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan Bordeaux 1995

Pessac-Léognan is one of the top appellations within Graves, and home to its only first growth designated producer from the 1855 Médoc classification – Chateau Haut-Brion. Historic Haut Brion dates back to when then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson visited the chateau in 1787 and bought 125 bottles for his cellar in Virginia.

We know Pessac-Léognan best for Domaine de Chevalier which we also collect. We have enjoyed meeting owner producer and President of the UGC (Union des Grand Crus Bordeaux) Olivier Bernard on several occasions here in Chicago including the recent UGC tour 2014 and UGC Chicago 2103 and his gala wine dinner Everest with joint venture partner Darius Khaledi of Darioush.

Château Pape-Clément underwent upgrading and modernization during teh 1980's and can now be considered the quality equivalent to a Médoc second growth. Characterized by it classic terroir rich earthy Graves bouquet of black fruits, minerals, and "cigar box" tobacco. Château Pape-Clément is drinkable at an earlier age than many red Bordeaux with its relatively high proportion of 30% Merlot, it is usually ready to drink by five years after the vintage. Top vintages should improves for over twenty years.

Château Pape Clément is named for historic illustrious owner, a man of the cloth born in 1264, Bertrand de Goth became Bishop of Comminges, in the Pyrenees Mountains, at the age of 31; he later became Archbishop of Bordeaux in 1299.

He was gifted the property in Pessac, the Vineyard de La Mothe. With his passion for wine, he personally took part equipping, organizing and managing the domain according to modern practices of the era.

In June 1305 he was appointed to succeed Pope Benedict XI, who had passed away prematurely after only eleven months of reign. Bertrand de Goth took the name of Clement V. Supported by Philip IV, he moved the papal court to Avignon in 1309, thus giving the area the name Chateauneuf du Pape. The weight of his responsibilities led him to relinquish the property, giving it to the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Henceforward, the vineyard was to be known under the name of this enlightened pope. 

The connection to Chateauneuf du Pape and the papacy are shown in the Pape Clement bottle and label crossed-keys that adorn Chateauneuf-du-pape (CDP) bottles and labels, and the papal crown on the Pape Clement label (left).

The grateful Church perpetuated Pope Clement's work as each archbishop applied his approach of modernity and technical progress such that the wine estate was a model vineyard. Known for especially early harvests, which remain one of its special characteristics, Château Pape Clément was the first vineyard in France to align vine stock to facilitate labour.

After the revolution at the end of the 18th century, the Archbishop of Bordeaux was dispossessed of the property and the papal vineyard became part of the public domain.

In June 1937,  a violent hailstorm virtually destroyed the entire estate. It was taken over in 1939 by Paul Montagne who bought it and gradually brought it back to its former rank. His descendents, Léo Montagne and Bernard Magrez, continue the tradition to this day.

This was medium bodied, deep ruby/purple colored with a full aromatic floral scent. Classic Bordeaux earthiness accents the complex, elegant black currants and black berry fruits with herb-tinged graphite and smoke on a layer of sweet vanilla on a long leathery tobacco finish. It seems to still be in its prime drinking window not yet showing any diminution of age. We saved half the bottle for a follow on rib dinner when the floral tones gave way to a funky barnyard tone that is cited in reviews of several others.

Upon opening 91 points, after two days, 87 points.

Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Linda and Rick with Patrick and Linda Elliott Smith of Elan
with Phil and AJ
We discovered this label from French inspired producer Patrick and wife Linda Elliott-Smith from the Wine Spectator feature of the 'Undiscoverd Dozen' after their 1995 opening and release of their inaugural 1992 vintage. We tasted this wine during a winery visit during our 1998 Napa Wine Experience (shown left). We still hold a bottle of the '92 in our vertical collection of Elan.

Wine Spectator acclaimed Elan Vineyards as one of the " New names in Cabernet to try before they are too hot!" which helped launch Elan and put them on the map! That article also showcased Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Clark Claudon and several other producers which we started following and continue to collect to this day.

Elan Vineyards' owner and winemaker, Patrick Elliott-Smith, was born in the US to a French mother and an American father. He acquired his appreciate for fine wines at a young age from his grandfather Rene´ who had an extensive wine cellar, with many pre World War II Bordeaux wines.

In 1979, Patrick found his dream parcel high up Atlas Peak Road at approximately 2,100 feet elevation. Patrick perfected his viticulture craft working developing vineyards for wineries such as Hess Collection, Liparita, Dominus, and Beaulieu Vineyards. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon on a French-style trellis, uncommon in California at the time. For the first seven years Patrick sold the fruit to Caymus Vineyards.

Over the years, Patrick planted additional acreage and currently farms eleven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, one acre of Merlot, and half an acre of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Patrick believes that great wines are made in the vineyards.

When he made a small amount of wine in 1991 for family and friends, met rave reviews that he decided to launch the Elan Vineyards label.

There was tremendous irony in the artwork on the Elan label (shown left). We were visiting Patrick and Linda at their Napa crush facility of the time with dear friends Andy (AJ) and Liat whose Vinehill estate and wine cellar have been featured in my wine writings.

As I recall, Liat recognized the artwork on the label from artglass that hung in their home. When inquiring how it ended up on the Elan label, they found the photograph of the artwork was taken at the source, in the artist studio in Brazil. Indeed Liat had acquired the art piece from that studio a couple years earlier.

I worked with Patrick and Linda to set up their first website back in those early days of the internet and received some wine for the effort. I recall purchasing a couple cases over the ensuing years at the Wine Stop in Burlingame near SFO and the price tags on the bottles show I paid $38 at the time.

Unlike my tasting experience last year when this was showing its age with diminution of fruits, this wine showed it is aging gracefully and is drinking very well as it approaches twenty years of age. Dark purple colored, medium to full bodied, it shows full forward complex concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits with tones of spice, a layer of cedar and hints sweet caramel on a silky smooth tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ironside Cellars California Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Ironside Cellars California Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I discovered this wine when shopping Binny's, the mega-wine merchant with thirty stores around Chicago-land. The expensive packaging and presentation with the OWC (original wood case) and heavy thick glass bottles belayed the price-point at $15.

We also had fun with the 'I' foil capsule since three of our kids went to U of I and two of them went to IU!

The back label testimony boasted this was a 'cab drinker's kind of wine .... full bodied but focused, like a firm handshake that leads into a big hug,"

It cites a 'blend from some of California's best vineyards made by some seriously talented winemakers'. Well, its what I live for to discover serious wines at killer QPR (quality price ratio) price-points. The quest continues as this is not one.   

The first indication of caveat emptor was the lack of terrior .... 'sense of place'. Notably, wine labeled as Napa Valley must contain 75% of its contents being from Napa Valley. Labeled  'California' Cabernet Sauvignon carries the same covenant, the proportion of contents being from the state, with its vast diversity of climates and terrains and soil types .... all those elements of a place.

This 2012 vintage of Ironside Cabernet Sauvignon is made from fruit grown in vineyards in the Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Paso Robles. This is quite a diversity of locales with varied conditions for growing varietal grapes.

Upon opening the bottle, I immediately noticed the cork was labeled '90+ Cellars', the negociant whom I've written about several times in these pages. This seemed strangely backwards - normally, the Negociant buys surplus juice or wine from producers and 'private labels' it under their general negociant brand. Here was an apparent producer branding a wine label sourced from numerous sources and then 'cellared and bottled by (a negociant) 90+ Cellars', as stated on their website.

Such is the topsy turvey oftimes convoluted state of the wine industry.

The final indication of a wine to watch (out) for was the blend. The final blend consists of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon plus 4% each of Malbec, Petit Verdot & Petite Sirah rounded out with 3% Merlot.   

While the label (emphasis theirs) says "each of these grapes adds layers of aroma and texture to the Cabernet. Malbec adds richness, the Petit Verdot lends spice, Petite Syrah supplies power, and the Merlot a layer of earthiness."

Old world wine producers have been blending wines for more than two hundred years and have learned the optimal blends such as the Bordeaux combination of Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. New world experimentation with other combinations is an adventure, as is this combination of grapes from such diverse and varied regions with their disparate terrior (s).  

This is a $15 cab that is selling at an appropriate price point with reasonable value. For those of us with more discerning or discriminating pallets, its probably not a wine to buy except as a 'pizza wine' ... every day drinking with pizza but not wine oriented foods. 

The producer's tasting notes cite "hearty aromas of black cherries, plums and tobacco leaf with traces of fresh pepper and sweet spice". I found the wine a bit disjointed and awkward, a bit 'hot' with a sense of metallic graphite and lacking polish and finesse.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wine BTG with small plates at Hemingway's Oak Park

Wine BTG with small plates at Hemingway's Oak Park

For a short simple wine tasting outing before our Wright-Plus Preview Night, we stopped at our favored Hemingway's Bistro in Oak Park for a wine By-The-Glass (BTG) tasting with small plates dinner.

I chose the Chicken Liver Pate plate with toast points, mustard and cornichons and a glass of Domaine Saint-Martin Marsannay Les Grands Vignes Burgundy Pinot Noir 2009.

Imported by Wine Warehouse, Los Angeles, CA, a Patrick Le Sec Selection. The proprietor is Martin Bart, whose father started the domaine in 1955. · Dark reddish-purple color, medium-light bodied, dark plum, dark chocolate and oak char on the nose. Thick black and blue fruits tasting of mu shu plum sauce, citrus, mineral and marzipan. Big and intense, with some tannin to shed. Plenty of wine for $20. Score: 87.

A darker Pinot Noir with distinct plum, nut and oak flavors blended into the silky texture. It is a fruity Marsannay with the right amount of earthiness.

Linda chose the steamed mussels in white wine sauce with a glass of Domaine Georges Verney
De Mirbaudie Syrah 2011

Bright ruby colored, medium bodied....  black raspberry, peppery spices and minerals on the nose; smells a lot like a pinot.  Juicy, spicy and fruity, offering vibrant red fruit flavors and a touch of candied violet.  This precise, minerally syrah, which was raised entirely in stainless steel, shows good energy and cut on the tannin-free finish.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Marquis Philips S2 South Australian McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Marquis Philips 'S2' South Australian McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

This wine has improved since last tasted three years ago and three years before that. I noticed this as it evolved over the evening revealing smooth polished and complex fruits surpassing my recollections from earlier tastings. This sentiment is reflected in a few others' tasting notes on Cellartracker as well.

At twelve years of age there was absolutely no sign of diminution, rather it seems to be just entering its prime drinking window which should hold for several years. Regrettably, according to my cellar records, I think this is my last bottle of this vintage.

From the partnership of Australian winemaker Chris Ringland and US Importer Dan Philips - hence the creative Austral-American 'Roogle', part kangaroo-part eagle character logo.

The 2002 exhibited medium - full bodied - dark garnet color - full forward black and blue berry fruit flavors, a layer of anise and hint of mocha, cedar and black cherry on a full lingering flavorful finish of smooth polished tannins. There was no sense of being a bit hot with alcohol on opening before giving way to the full forward fruit, as indicated in earlier tasting notes.

This was a perfect complement to a grilled steak dinner.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Intersecting Lafon-Rochet Quintessa Wine Flight for Grilled Surf & Turf Dinner

Intersecting Lafon-Rochet Quintessa Wine Flight for Grilled Surf & Turf  Dinner

What a treat to be invited to Bill and Beth's to watch the Derby with native Kentuckian Beth, and to kick off the summer outdoor grilling barbecue season. Bill and Beth hosted dinner with grilled sirloin steaks and Linda took a pair of lobster tails for a surf and turf combination.

As is our custom, I called Bill for guidance on his strategy for the wine selection. He had pulled from the cellar a Château Lafon-Rochet 1995 and a Quintessa Napa Valley 2003. Sorting through my cellar database I selected a bottle to intersect Bill's two bottles. I pulled from the cellar a Lafon-Rochet 2003 vintage to compare with the 1995 and to match the Quintessa vintage release.

To accompany the lobster, I took at Brewer Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2007. When we arrived, lo and behold, Bill was serving a 2007 vintage California Chardonnay - Mayacamas Mt Veeder Chardonnay. We tasted and acquired this wine together at the winery during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder experience in 2011. This chardonnay was a highlight of our discoveries that week and we both agree we wish we had acquired more. From a mixed case we split, we hold two bottles of this while Bill has one left. The two California Chardonnays presented a interesting contrast in styles perhaps reflecting their disparate terroir.

The chardonnay's were enjoyed with a cheese plate and mixed nuts before the lobster medallions with drawn butter.

All the red Bordeaux blends were perfect complement to the sirloin steak along with green beans with bacon and shallots, baked potatoes and a dinner salad.  

After dinner Beth served delicious Derby chocolate and pecan pie with ice cream and coffee.

Mayacamas Mt Veeder Chardonnay 2007

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

RM 88 points.

Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2007 

This is the first wine from Brewer-Clifton that isn't vineyard-designated. It combines fruit from four premium vineyard sites situated along Highway 246, in the heart of this extremely cool appellation.

It was crisp, restrained with lively acidity, showing lemon and lime citrus tones with a layer of flint, hints of melon and peach.

RM 88 points.

Château Lafon-Rochet St Estephe Bordeaux 1995 and 2003

The lineage of these two vintage releases was more apparent over the course of the evening as the two bottle settled and opened to reveal their native character. They both displayed dark purple/ruby color although the '95 was starting to show its age with a brickish hue starting to form.

As shown in the picture at the left, notice the Lafon-Rochet label design and capsule changed between the '95 and the '03. 

Both were medium-full bodied with slightly opacity and showing the same distinctive tasting soft smooth profile. The '03 opened with more vibrant and expressive fruit and floral tones but the two wines converged to be more similar over the evening.

Both showed full forward blackberry fruit with tones of cassis, earth and hints of tobacco, low acidity and a somewhat subdued finish.

Parker said the drinking window for the '95 is 2003-2018 and I think that is trending true as this was starting to show its age probably indicating the end of its prime drinking window. Drink up over the coming three to five years before it begins to diminish.

2003 - RM 89; 1995 RM 88

1995 -
2003 -

Quintessa Napa Valley Red Wine 2003

This eleven year old showed similar aging to '03 Lafon-Rochet with its tones of tobacco and leather lurking behind the vibrant and expressive fruit. It showed an interesting similarity in color and body as the Bordeaux however was more complex and rounded with a wider range of fruit flavors.

As is typically the case, the California Cabernet was bolder and brighter and more forward than the Bordeaux, however in this case, the Quintessa is a Bordeaux style blend. Indeed, it showed and presented itself very much like a Bordeaux in style and character.

We visited the spectacular Quintessa winery in Napa during our Napa Wine Experience 2003.

Medium-full bodied, dark purple ruby colored, complex but nicely balanced full forward vibrant ripe blackberry fruit predominates with tones of mocha and cassis, hints of tobacco, tea and oak with silky smooth well integrated tannins.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 53 Gran Reserva Mendoza Cabernet

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 53 Gran Reserva Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

I've written a couple times about this Negotiant - Broker and some of the extraordinary values that occasionally appear. Recently we've featured finds such as Lot 101 Columbia Valley Syrah and Lot 500 Cabernet from another like vendor (Cameron Hughs). This wine is not of that caliber or discovery, but it is notable none-the-less. One anomaly that belies their model of maintaining secrecy to 'protect' the source, this particular bottling reveals the producer source on the cork when extracted from the bottle. How does that happen? They likely purchased bottled product that had not yet been labeled. This is a common practice of producers to bottle the wine but not affix the labels till later. This makes sense when small lot producers lack the high volume automated lines that would combine these steps in one operation. Another reason for doing this is that if the bottles are going to be stored for some period of time, it prevents the labels from being worn, torn, soiled or otherwise diminished in handling, until which time they're ready to go to market.

Again, the reason this is an anomaly is that the producer is usually anonymous since they're selling their wine through this 'alternate' channel, often at a reduced price. Hence they don't want to diminish the value associated with their brand. According to the Ninety Plus Cellars, 8000 cases were produced of this wine and the producer's release price was $18 and they sell it for $12. We know this producer's label of this wine to be available at various merchants in the range of $20 to $24.

In this case, the cork reveals the producer to be Bodega Navarro Correas. This label is widely available in distribution and is can be found for the same price point as offered by Ninety-Plus cellars. This is likely the result of the producer thinning inventories of excess product, or simply seeking a parallel channel of distribution for their product. Never-the-less, this was an interesting wine that provided pleasurable drinking and good value QPR (Quality Price Ratio). It calls for seeking this out in the regular producer label for comparison as it should be readily available, with 8000 cases being produced.

About the producer

The Navarro Correas family is an historic and prestigious name with a long history of producing quality wines. The Correas family history dates back to 1798, when Sir Juan de Dios Correas planted the first vine seeds in the lands of Mendoza at the foot of the Andes ridge. Sir Juan De Dios also played an active role in the public life of Mendoza, where he served as Municipal Councillor in the year 1814 and as governor in 1824. For more than a century starting in the mid 1800's, the family sold grapes and wines to other producers. Finally, in 1974 Sir Edmundo Navarro Correas, a direct descendant of Juan de Dios Correas, started to release wines under the family name.

Navarro Correas grows grapes in selected micro-climates in Mendoza, located at 2400 feet elevation. They grow various wine varietal grapes in areas such as Tunuyan, Tupungato, Maipu, Ugarteche, Pedriel and Agrelo.  They are are irrigated with the melted snows from the Andes slopes. Their Cabernet Sauvignon comes primarily from the regions of Tunuyan and Tupungato in the Uco Valley.

According to the merchant site, they say, "An aromatic melody of black currant, cherry and cassis rises above a harmonious backdrop of tobacco, mocha and toasty oak.  On the palate, juicy, dark berry fruit cascades across your tongue followed by a trickle of sweet spice and savory plums."

My comments - Deep dark purple color, medium-full bodied with huge floral and fruit aromas and flavors of black berry and blue berry fruits, a layer of sweet caramel, mocha chocolate and tones of oak, tobacco and spice. It opened with a hot layer of alcohol but this burned off over an hour but left a big strong layer of tangy tannin and acid that lingers on the pallet.

This was a perfect complement to a grilled steak with savory mashed potatoes and gravy.

RM 88