Monday, June 30, 2014

Godspeed Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Godspeed Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Godspeed Vineyard on Mt Veeder
We bought a case of half bottles (375ml) of Godspeed Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 during a visit to the producer high atop Mt Veeder during our 2011 Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience. We knew at the time that it was nearing end of its drinking window but thought it would serve as 'pizza' wine - suitable for casual every day drinking. We didn't drink (all of) it and this is the result as its now beyond its drinking window.

Clearly past its drinking window at this stage and borderline drinkable at all. Rust bricking at the rim and a barnyard funkiness settling in on the nose and overtaking the remaining fruit tones. Tasting with some hearty cheese but likely will pour and open something else. Still consumable but life is too short for wine such as this when I know better. Perhaps some remnant as a cooking wine but caveat emptor. Drinking from a 375 bottle. Perhaps the 750 and larger are not so far gone since larger bottles generally age better than smaller ones.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bombing Range Horse Heaven Hills Red Blend 2010

McKinley Springs Bombing Range Horse Heaven Hills Red Blend 2010 at DOC Yorktown

A new feature wine by the glass (WBTG) at DOC Wine Bar in Yorktown Center vastly exceeded expectations. This is a red blend from the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in the southern Columbia Valley of Washington State.

This offering has a whimsical name and label depicting the WWII P-40 bomber flight training school and range that took place on the vineyard site during the war. The label is intended to serve as a tribute to the heritage of the estate as well as to those who served and are serving our country.

Linda and I tasted this with a small Butcher's Plate selection of Forestier New York pate', two cheeses - four year old aged cheddar and Wisconsin Menage, and caprese fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil bruschetta (shown).

The producer Mckinley Springs, bill themselves as "a small family owned and operated winery', yet they 'tend to 2000 acres of estate vineyards, and strive to craft wines of exceptional balance, flavor and value. (Their) vineyard’s reputation for producing award-winning wines stems from 60 years of farming and 30 years of wine growing excellence."

Today, four members of the fourth generation of the Andrews and Rowell Families grow twenty different varietals and produce ten different wines while also providing grapes to many other well known area producers. Rob Andrews, Grower, tends to the vineyards and Doug Rowell, Winemaker, oversees production.

The blend is estate Syrah (56%), Cabernet Sauvignon (22%),Cabernet Franc (12%), and Mourvedre (10%).

While this was not exceptionally polished or complex or sophisticated, it sure was tasty, a very pleasant easy drinking wine and a delightful accompaniment to our tasting selection.

Medium bodied and dark garnet colored, it was bursting with sweet plum and dark berry fruit flavors giving way to tones of clove and pepper with a hint of mocha on a moderate finish.

This wine presents a great QPR (quality price ratio) value at the release price of $16.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2011

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2011
Label shown from 2010
From the Tuscan Sub-Region of Montepulciano where the primary varietal is Sangiovese. This is the most expressive and flavorful Sangiovese I think I've ever had.  

This wine offers nice QPR (quality-price-ratio) at sub $25 for sophisticated special occasion or everyday drinking. 

Dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied with nice polish and balance presenting full forward black cherry and plum fruits accented by a layer of tobacco leaf and spice turning to tones of earth and smoke on the finish. 

RM 89 points. 


Friday, June 27, 2014

Atalon Napa Valley Merlot 2003

Atalon Napa Valley Merlot 2003

I pulled this ten year old bottle from the cellar for a grilled steak and pasta dinner at home. Atalon Winery’s label depicts an old Howell Mountain winery building built in the late 1800's. When they initially purchased the property, they named it Keyes Vineyard after the original founder General W.S. Keyes. They still maintain the old original building as a tribute to that era. In 2003, Atalon focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which they believe embodied the best of what Napa Valley has to offer. They source fruit from the far reaches of Napa Valley and the surrounding mountains and bottle wines designated either Napa Valley or Mountain Estate.

Its not clear how much if any of this is 'Estate' fruit, that being from vineyards owned by the Producer. Strict appellation originale controllee (AOC) rules in Bordeaux only allow the (winery) Chateau to grace labels of Estate bottled wines. I sense the producer is taking liberties with that practice and taking advantage of the lack of such controls, other than the covenant that Napa Valley designated wine be sourced from (at least 75%) Napa Valley fruit.

The producer states Atalon’s 2003 Napa Valley Merlot is blended from four vineyards, from four different appellations. No sense of terroir here. The Winemaker Tom Peffer attributes the Carneros vineyard fruit with flavors of red cherries and herbal characters, while the hotter Oakville district adds pomegranate and soft textured tannins. He says late-picked Howell Mountain grapes offer deep dark cherry flavors, while the Stagecoach Vineyard, located between Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill supplies minerality and red cherry flavors.

This is our only bottle of this label and the only time I've ever tried it so I have no basis of comparison or what to expect. Medium bodied, slightly opaque dark purple color - its lacks harmonious complexity one would seek from the diverse sources, it presents modest pomegranate, cherry and black cherry fruits with tones of leather, earth and dried herbs accented by hints of anise and mint on a somewhat flabby moderate tannin finish.

RM 87 Points

Blend of 98% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon

Friday, June 20, 2014

Conundrum California Red Wine 2011

Conundrum California Red Wine 2011

Imagine my confusion when the wife called and said she and our daughter were tasting a glass of Conundrum Red. Of course everyone knows Conundrum is a label from the Wagner family known for their legendary Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet. Since 1989 they've produced a unique white wine blend. But, alas, she was (drinking Red Conundrum). Chuck Wagner II, fifth generation Wagner winemaker, named for his grandfather, is the winemaker for this third release of this label that debuted in 2009.

Since the wife and daughter liked it I picked up a bottle during my 'weekly' visit to the local wine shop. There it was, in the red blend aisle, down towards the lower priced bottles in the moderate-low price realm. I usually walk past this section and hang out down at the far end at the high (er) priced offerings. We opened it for tasting with a grilled steak and it was a good pairing. Realistically priced at around twenty dollars, this offers pretty good QPR - (quality-price-ratio).

This is not a wimpy wine! The first hint is the aromatics that fill the room upon opening. Dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied, it punches you in the mouth with big concentrated expressive black and red berry fruit flavors and a rush of 'heat' as if from alcohol but seemingly from a layer of acidic tones that are somewhere between pine, light mint and camphor, before giving way to a medley of sweet anise, kirsch and hints of caramel vanilla flavors.

The next day, the 'heat' had burned off and the wine settled considerably but the result came across a slight bit 'flabby', which perhaps was masked by the initial frontal attack. But then, hey, this is a sub twenty dollar wine, not to be confused with Caymus Cabernet at around $60 plus.

Notably, this is not a Napa Valley blend, but rather a 'California' blend, such that the fruit is sourced from distributed sites around the state, each with its own unique characteristic terroir. As the name implies, Conundrum Red is a 'puzzling blend of varietals'. As I've written on other similar such wines, they tend to lack polish and balance due to the disparity of their individual profiles. Never-the-less, this is a big bold flavorful fruit forward drinker that would go well with hearty foods or bold cheeses or dark chocolate. Wife and daughter liked it, but a bit over the top for my preference.

RM 87

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Waters Walla Walla and Audelssa Sonoma '05 Cabs

Duo of Waters Walla Walla and Audelssa Sonoma '05 Cabs highlight family dinner

With son Alec home for an extended weekend, we dined at our favorite Italian neighborhood bistro, Angeli's and took these two vintage '05 Cabernets for a comparison tasting of contrasting styles from disparate regions and terroir - Waters Walla Walla Valley and Audelssa Sonoma Valley.

Both of these wines were represented to be ageworthy sophisticated Cabs and we dutifully held on for nine years before opening. They both appear to be at the apex of their drinking window and I suspect while they may hold for several more years, I don't expect them to improve further with more age.

Audelssa Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

We discovered and purchased this wine during a Napa/Sonoma trip. Staying at the Renaissance Sonoma Spa they had the producer in for a pre-dinner tasting to showcase his wines. (The producer is now releasing wines under a new label Pangloss Cellars located in a new Tasting Room in downtown Glen Ellen in central Sonoma Valley.)

The fruit comes from the steep, western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain range that separates Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Made from grapes from the winery's estate vineyard, and the Warm Springs Vineyard at the base of Sonoma Mountain, this is an interesting mid-priced Sonoma Valley Cab. About 1,650 cases were produced.  The winemaker is Erich Bradley who learned the craft working under  well known legendary  producers David Ramey and Dick Arrowood.

This was medium bodied, dark ruby colored, it comes off a bit 'hot' initially and shows bright vibrant sweet, dusty, complex ripe cherry notes with a slightly firm backbone and layer of slightly earthy, red and black berry, with hints of smoke, cedar and anise on a short slightly edgy tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Waters Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Waters is an artisanal boutique winery located in Walla Walla, Washington. Since 2005, they've produced a few thousand cases of small lot bottlings each year, seeking to reflect the unique character of each varietal and the unique distinctive terrior of the source vineyard sites.

Waters sources their fruit from various sites in the region. The Cabernet Sauvignon used in their wines comes from two mature vineyards each known for their own vineyard designated labels from known producers. Cold Creek Vineyard near Yakima is owned by Chateau St. Michelle and is one of the oldest vineyards in Washington State (their block was planted in 1978). It is remote from any other vineyards and is more like its own appellation. The other is Pepper Bridge Vineyard, another well known property in the Walla Walla Valley. Water's Block 70 Cabernet was originally planted in 1998.

The winemaker and General Manager at Waters Jamie Brown might be known as a 'rockstar’ in the literal sense, and not just for his winemaking. Hailing from Walla Walla, he is a musician and after college landed in Seattle and opened and operated a successful music store. Some of his clients paid him with wine, in some cases very fine wine. Developing an interest and love for great, “old world” wines, he returned to the Walla Walla Valley to study the art of winemaking alongside winemakers such as Rusty Figgins (Glen Fiona), Eric Dunham, (Dunham Cellars of which we hold a decade vertical of their flagship Cabernet), and Jean François Pellet (Pepper Bridge and Amavi wines).

Like the Audelssa, this likely has benefited from a decade of aging and it likely at its apex of its tasting window. This was medium full bodied with a brownish tone in the dark ruby color that reflects some classic Cabernet aromatics and flavors that are apparent in this wine – tones of tar, leather, spices, and tobacco accent the sweet black berry and plum fruits before turning to some toasty oak and hint of mocha on a short moderate tannin finish.

RM 88 points.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Markham Napa Valley Merlot 2011

Markham Napa Valley Merlot 2011

Label from '07 release.
Markham has been a fixture in our cellar for good QPR (Quality Price Ratio) every day drinking Napa red wines since we began collecting. I particularly remember their '94 vintage Cab of which we especially enjoyed a couple cases, and a couple unique '97 and '01 Petit Syrahs that we drank over a couple years.

Every day wines are an important part of the mix of a cellar collection that comprises wines for special occasions, once a week, once a month, and once in a lifetime wines, since most of us are working with the realities of a finite budget.  

Sitting on the deck over at neighbors Matt and Amy, they served Markham Napa Valley Merlot. Markham's Estate vineyards source the Merlot fruit for this blend from their Oak Knoll site (almost 70%) with the remainder from their Yountville and Calistoga vineyards. There is a blend of 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petite Sirah to add a bit of depth and structure to the 96% Merlot.
This provides good value at under $20 and is a great accompaniement to grilled meats, hearty cheeses and chocolate.

Dark Ruby colored, medium bodied, firm bing and black cherry fruit flavors with a slight edge, tones of smoky roasted nut, hints of anise, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon on a moderate tannin finish.

RM 87

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cal Cab Release Tasting - Caymus 40th, Plumpjack, Silver Oak

Cal Cab Release Tasting - Caymus 40th, Plumpjack, Silver Oak

The special tasting today at Vin Chicago, Naperville offered the opportunity to taste three recent release Cal Cabs of three perennial favorite wines, each with its own classic style. Sharing our 40th anniversary year with Caymus and some special friends, we've been waiting with anticipation to taste the Caymus special 40th label release. Also offered today were Plumpjack Estate and Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernets. The tasting represented three different California Cabernet styles and showing very differently at this stage of their lives.

Caymus Vineyards Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 

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 Caymus Cab style - dark ruby/garnet colored, medium to full 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, giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

RM 94 points.

Plumpjack Estate Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Plumpjack is another one of our favorite Napa Cabernets and one of Linda's favorite winery stops in the Valley. We first discovered Plumpjack back in the early nineties shortly after their inaugural release.

We hosted a wine dinner with Mary Pisor, then Plumpjack associate winemaker under Nils Venge at the time. We did a 1995 horizontal tasting of barrel pulls of the Plumpjack Reserve against Lafite Rothschild, Cos D'Estournel, and Pichon Lalande and Venge Reserve Cab (left). The young Plumpjacks held their own very nicely.

We still hold several vintages of Estate and Reserve Plumpjack including several dating back to those early releases. Somewhere along the way, this label has crept up in price to around $100 and left behind many of its peers from that era who now look like good value in comparison. I think this is an ambitious stretch to justify the Estate at this pricepoint for this wine and its hard to recommend it at this level. There are a lot of great wines in the sub-$100 range.  

The Plumpjack Estate 2011 release has in its blend of Bordeaux Varietals 7% Petit Verdot, which adds structure and color to the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Petit Verdot influence certainly comes through.

It is dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, firm and tight, it needs time to settle and allow its flavors to integrate and open further to reveal their native character. It showed layers of blackberry and ever so slightly astringent black cherry with slight earthiness, cinnamon spice, tobacco, spicebox and hints of cedar on a tight firm tannin lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

This is one of favorite wines that impresses if not amazes us with its longevity as we hold vintages going back to the earliest releases from the early eighties.

To capture its characteristic oak profile, its held in new oak for an extended period extending its release. This emerging 2009 release shows incredible similarity to the aged vintage 1984 Napa Valley Silver Oak Cab we drank last weekend. This release shows that distinctive wood oakiness which certainly predominates in this young wine, somewhat overshadowing the dark berry fruits, spices and vanilla. It shows firm tannin structure backbone that promises for long life but which needs time to settle and allow the fruits to emerge and fully reveal themselves.  

RM 91 points.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Consider this a negociant wine since, according to the wine producer, it is sourced from a "number of the finest, well regarded vineyards within Napa AVA’s of Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, with each one contributing their unique characteristics to our blend".

According to the producer's release, "the dark fruit notes along with distinctive and pleasant chalky sagebrush notes greet your nose at first. This Cabernet has as plush an entry as we’ve seen in a lot of years. A round, soft, mouth filling wine that shows a smooth backbone of tannins and balanced acidity. The finish wraps up nicely with a lingering reminder of the mature dark fruits, ever so slight a hint of new oak, and the ever present palette of flavors that make Cabernet so sought after!"

This has incredible QPR - quality price ratio at its price point below $20. The wine producer lists it at $39. 

This was a perfect compliment to grilled sirloin steak dinner. Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, full fruit forward black raspberry and cherry fruits with a layer of spice, nice balance and smooth polished tannin finish.
RM 91 points.