Sunday, November 30, 2014

Branson Coach House Barossa Valley Single Vineyard Greenock Block Shiraz 2004

Branson Coach House Barossa Valley Single Vineyard Greenock Block Shiraz 2004 

The 2004 Branson Coach House rare single vineyard bottling label was one of the highlights of our shiraz wine dinner recently.

Dark purple plum colored, full bodied, aromatic with big dense full flavors of black fruits, raspberry and hints of blueberry, tones of sweet spicy oak with graphite & anise on a smooth polished moderate tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dave Phinney Winemaker - Marketing Maven or Madman

Dave Phinney Winemaker - Marketing Maven or Madman

I've written several times in this blog about imaginative and unusual marketing and branding concepts of various wine producers such as Dave Phinney of Orin Swift and the Marilyn Merlot Series from Nova Wines.  So, imagine my surprise when I traced this latest label discovery back to him. In my continuing study of wine labeling and branding, I found perhaps the most unusual wine label yet, Fittings Grenache. I didn't think it could get more bizarre until upon researching the label I discovered it was the work of Dave Phinney. I can't imagine what he was thinking when selecting the artwork for this label. It features a collection of plumbing connecting pipes, and not necessarily new bright and shiny ones. Its nice to see folks who have a sense of humor. You decide.

In fairness to Mr Phinney, it is not apparent that he claims attribution to the wine or the brand. The IGP Cotes Catalanes Rousillion wine is identified as being the product of a rather obscure source, bottled by Sarl H and Co. in Maury, France, in the Pyrenees near the border with Spain. The wine is brought to and distributed in the US by distributor Vanguard Wines of Columbus, Ohio. They distribute many well known labels including some of our favorites such as Lewis Cellars in addition to Orin Swift wines. Several merchants and restaurants attribute this wine to Mr. Phinney. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner with Varied Eclectic Wine Course

Thanksgiving Dinner with Varied Eclectic Wine Course

Thanksgiving is a national holiday that centers on a special celebration dinner feast of classic American cuisine. The traditional menu is uniquely American and is a particular combination of offerings that seldom occurs at any other time - turkey, dressing, cranberry salad, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie...  Even the main course of turkey is rarely featured at any other time during the year. The dinner is based on the original Pilgrim harvest dinner which did not include wine as part of their menu, hence wine selection is based on the modern day food and wine pairing. It is no surprise that the wine tasting selections to accompany the once a year Thanksgiving meal always offers an adventurous wine selection challenge.

The characteristics of turkey and stuffing lends themselves to more neutral, low acidity, non-tannic, clean and crisp fruit filled flavorful wines. Suggested offerings tend towards white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc,  Semillon or a more outgoing forward varietal such as a Riesling or a spicy Gewurztraminer. For red wine lovers, fruit filled moderate bodied earthy spicy reds go well with the dark turkey meat, sweet potatoes and stuffing, robust fruit centered wines, lighter and more moderate to accompany the more delicate neutral white meat.

Finally, there is always a place for Champagne, especially on festive holidays, and most suitably with the white meats, hor d'ovres, appetizers and cheeses.

We started the wine course with the cheese course pairing  .. a sweet 'sticky' accompaniment to compliment the course of artisan cheeses - smoked Gouda, Bellavitano, berry infused goat cheese, and Regianno, with a selection of olives, peppers and pickles.

Tim Smith Barossa Botrytis Sémillon 2005

The Sémillon is a full bodied, heavy, low acidity grape that when held on the vine to full ripeness results in high sugar sweetness for thick syrupy almost oily textured dessert wines that have long aging potential. They are great for sipping with cheese, chocolates, salads or hearty cake desserts. Along with Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle, Sémillon is one of only three approved white wine varieties in the Bordeaux region that is also popular in Australia. The grape is also key to the production of sweet wines such as Sauternes or in this case, Barossa Valley botrytis semillon.

Great accompaniment to the cheese course - apricot colored, full bodied, thick unctuous syrupy sweet nectar of ripe apricot papaya lychee fruit, accented by almond nut with a layer of smoke on the finish.

RM 89

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

Part of our holiday tradition is to serve authentic Champagne as part of the celebration of Thanksgiving for all the blessings that we recognize and for which we give thanks on this day. Of course authentic refers to the fact that only wine produced in the méthode champenoise sourced from grapes from the French Champagne region in northwest France is legally and appropriately labeled Champagne. Like last year, this 1st Cru Champagne is part of a case we acquired several years ago. Sourced from anywhere else, bubbly is simply 'sparkling wine'.  We visited Champagne during our Champagne Wine Experience 2006.

Chateau Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 

Ryan brought this classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) for our celebration dinner. CDP is the wine growing appellation in the southern Rhone River valley in the area between the towns or Orange and Avignon in southeast France, up river, north of Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. The CDP appellation rules that control the wines allow for up to thirteen different grape varietals in the blend which typically feature Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mouvedre and are full, complex, gamy, earthy and spicy. We've collected Chateau Beaucastel going all the way back the 1978 vintage. Our visit to Château Beaucastel was one the highlights of our visit to the southern Rhone River wine region including Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1998. 

The wine evolved over the course of the afternoon and only after an hour or so did it start to open and reveal its native character and style. Dark brownish garnet colored, medium bodied, complex dark berry and spicy black cherry fruits were muted initially but opened up after an hour, accented by pain grillé (toast), smoke, leather, with hints of creosote and licorice on a moderate tannin lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.

Deep Sea Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2009

Translucent bright ruby color, light medium body, dusty rose with dark cherry fruit accented by brown spices, hints of black tea and tobacco leaf on a nicely balanced modest tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Dark ruby colored, medium to full bodied, bright forward blackberry and blackcurrant fruits with spice, hints of vanilla and oak on a long with fine-grained tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Del Dotto Giovani's Tuscan Reserve

Del Dotto Giovani's Tuscan Reserve Napa Valley Sangiovese Blend 2002

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

Readers of this blog know we collect and favor Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot) from the US and France, and to a lesser degree Shiraz. That said, we do not collect or focus on Italian varietals or producers. Hence, for lasagna dinner at home, we pulled from the cellar this Sangiovese (Italian varietal) blend from California Napa Valley.

We have about a decade of vintages in our horizontal collection of this label. I've written about Nils Venge and Del Dotto and their venturing into the Italian Sangiovese varietal in Napa Valley. Del Dottto were the featured wine producer of several of our Napa Valley Wine Experiences during the mid to late nineties and after the millenium.

This Sangiovese based blend is named after the Del Dotto's first born son, Giovanni. I remember first discovering this wine and buying it at the Wine Stop wine shop in Burlingame near SFO back in the mid-nineties, and then obtaining more from the producer over the years. I recall the early releases of this label came in 500ml bottles rather than normal 750's. Del Dotto remain one of our favorite Napa producers whose wines from their early days continue to impress with their longevity and endurance. True to that style, there remains much life in this twelve year old.

This 2002 is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and exhibits dark garnet color, medium to full body with the full forward, complex tight black fruits masked by tones of smoke and charcoal before giving way to aromatic floral and bright tangy black cherry fruits with spicy, firm tannins on the aromatic, lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Constant Cab Franc and Eileen Hardy Shiraz

Constant Cabernet Franc and Eileen Hardy Shiraz

Friday night dinner at Angelis, our favorite neighborhood trattoria featured two BYOB selections from our cellars. Bill and Beth brought a Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Franc and I brought a Eileen Hardy Shiraz. A contrast in styles and states of two upscale labels at two stages of their aging window.

The four of us with J&B and Freddie Constant
While different in style, both wines complemented perfectly my pasta with hearty bolognese sauce and italian sausage. 

We visited the spectacular picturesque Constant Vineyards estate high atop Diamond Mountain during our Diamond Mountain Appellation Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011.

Sadly, Freddie Constant passed away earlier this year so we toasted a tribute to the colorful memorable producer.

Constant Diamond Mountain Estate Vineyards
The Constant estate sits at the peak of Diamond Mountain in the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Constant is the highest and perhaps oldest winery in the region and is the only vineyard that spans both Napa and Sonoma faces.

The Diamond Mountain District appellation, one of the smaller Napa wine districts, sits just south of and above the town of Calistoga in the northwest corner of Napa Valley. The sun drenched slopes with their rocky terrain and volcanic soil produce rich concentrated Bordeaux varietal fruit and are home to some of the most notable and prestigious labels including the namesake label Diamond Mountain vineyards. Our afternoon on the mountaintop retreat was one of the more memorable settings from our many Napa Valley trips.

Constant Diamond Mountain Winery Diamond Mountain District Estate Cabernet Franc 2007

Bright dark ruby/purple colored, medium to full bodied, this was bright vibrant full forward black berry and currant fruit with a bold punch of sweet almost cinnamon spice accented by tones of mocha chocolate, soft sweet oak with dusty lush pleasing tongue coating lingering tannins.

RM 93 points. 

Bill's notes from Cellartacker - "Deep purple color. Light nose of fig and light floral aromas belie a wonderfully flavored Cab Franc. Opens with a bit of sweetness on the front palate, cocoa on the mid palate, silky tannins and a long lingering finish highlighted by cassis and a touch of oak. A wonderful accompaniment to smoky, bacon infused chowder and prosciutto wrapped, stuffed chicken breast in a sweet and spicy pepper sauce.

WCC 92 points.

Hardys "Eileen Hardy" McLaren Vale-Padthaway-Clare South Australia Shiraz 1999

This is literally the signature wine of the legendary historic Hardy brand, bearing the mark of Eileen Hardy, the matriarch of the house of Hardy. The best shiraz from each vintage is released under the Eileen Hardy label.

Hardy have been producing wine in the region since Thomas Hardy purchased the Tintara vineyards and winery in McLaren Vale back in the 1870's. Thomas Hardy wines were the first Australian wines to be awarded prestigious Gold medals at the International Wine Shows in Bordeaux in 1882 and in Paris in 1889.

Tom Mayfield Hardy, Thomas Hardy’s grandson, continued the family business in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When he was tragically killed in a plane crash, his wife, Eileen Hardy, and his cousin, Kenneth Hardy, took over the business. Thomas Walter Hardy, Tom and Eileen Hardy’s eldest son, becomes the fourth generation of the Hardy family to enter the family business. 

To celebrate the 80th birthday of the iconic matriarch, Eileen Hardy, her children created this Eileen Hardy Shiraz label as its flagship shiraz containing the best from each vintage.

I don't know if it was the contrast in style, indication of the vintage, or just a closed period in the aging of this wine, but the Hardy's Eileen Hardy Shiraz was overshadowed by the bold bright vibrant Constant Cab Franc. The metaphor I often use to describe such a contrast is one is a foot wide and four inches deep (Hardy), while the other (Constant) is four inches wide and a foot deep!

The Hardy came across more like a Cabernet than a Shiraz, with its firm complexity, while the Constant was true to the profile of Cabernet Franc, spicy, and bold, showing why it is used as a blending wine to brighten and accent the Bordeaux Blend. At this stage, tonight, this vintage didn't live up to the hype of the label.

Dark garnet colored and medium bodied, the 1999 Hardy showed complex black cherry and black berry fruits accented by spice, earthy leather with hints of tar, cedar, anise and oak with fine grained subtle tannins on the finish.

RM 89 points.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Shiraz 1997

Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah 1997

We still hold several cases (six packs) of this wine from the nineties and early millennium across nine different vintages. It's hard to believe it has been a year and a half since we last opened one of these bottles from that era ... So many wines, so little time!

As I wrote at that time,  "its time to drink up as this '97 is showing its age as the fruit starts to diminish somewhat. Looking at Cellartracker tasting notes, one writer reports this vintage still holding on while another says his is over the hill. While past its prime, this was still very much still inside the drinking window."

At this point I would say its reaching the last chapter of its drinking window. 

Dark purple colour, full aroma of perfume and fruit - the diminution of fruit continues as this wine is showing its age further with ripe concentrated plum and blackberry and black cherry fruits hanging on but giving way to ripe raisin fig tones accented by leather and wet cedar with a touch of vanilla and sweet cherry - tightly wound with a tinge of tight tannins and acid on the long fruit-filled finish.

RM 87 points.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Killikanoon Clare Valley Blocks Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Killikanoon Clare Valley Blocks Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I pulled this from the cellar for dinner thinking it was a Shiraz but realized it was a cab when I was trying to characterize its taste profile of firm, smoky berry fruits with firm tannin finish.

This was unbelievably delicious with Dove cherries dipped in dark chocolate. Better than the pairing with spaghetti and tomato meat sauce.

Inky black color with a dark garnet rim, medium to full bodied, firm vibrant bright complex brambly fruits of black cherry, blackberry and tones of smoky blackberry, hints of dark mocha chocolate, blueberry, vanilla and a layer of cedar on the long lingering floral and tangy dark cherry finish.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2003

Northstar Columbia Valley Washington Merlot 2003

We've  been collecting this label since the early nineties and keep a half dozen or so vintages spanning a decade in the cellar. For Sunday dinner, Linda prepared spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and meat balls, so I pulled the oldest vintage for which I had no published tasting note. Immediately upon opening the room filled with bright berry fruit aromas.

Dark purple/garnet plum colored, bright and vibrant, medium bodied, nicely balanced complex black cherry, accents of blackberry and black raspberry fruits, an initial touch of ripe fig gives way to tones of tobacco with hints of graphite, leather, spice and cedar on a long lingering modest soft tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bogle Zinfandel Blends for Bar-B-Q

Bogle Zinfandel Blends for Bar-B-Q Dinner

For son Ryan's birthday we ordered bar-b-q from Q Bar-b-q in Naperville - slabs of ribs and pulled pork. We prepared our own sides, mac and cheese, corn, and brussel sprouts in a cranberry sauce. To compliment the meal we pulled from the cellar two Bogle Zinfandels - Phantom and Essential Red. Zinfandel was the perfect compliment to the tangy, sweet and spicy bar-b-q variations.

Bogle Vineyards "Phantom" Red Wine Blend 2009 

We rediscovered this wine a couple years ago at the Saturday afternoon tasting at Main Street Liquors in Lagrange, IL. They were serving it because it was the highlight of an earlier tasting they conducted. I was looking for a Zinfandel or Rhone style blend for our Thanksgiving dinner at the time and picked this up. Its always good to have a few Zins in the cellar for bar-b-q. This is a unique blend of Zinfandel and Rhone varietals sourced from the California central valley and Sierra foothills - 52% Zinfandel from Lodi, 46% Petite Sirah from Clarksburg, and 2% Mourvedre from Amador County. This is a lot of wine for the money rendering a high QPR - Quality to Price Ratio for this wine that is available between $15 and $20.

This is dark garnet colored, full-bodied mid palate with a firm finish, the winemaker's notes say this wine showcases the best of these three unique varietals. While it lacks the backbone and tannic structure of a Cabernet, that is why it is approachable easy drinking and suitable for a Thanksgiving dinner offering with Turkey, dressing and so on.

This was complex cacophony of full forward fruits of blackberry, black raspberry and briary boysenberries giving way to layers of black licorice, tones of creosote, black pepper and hints of dark chocolate, juniper and cedar on the finish. It needs a big food to balance its bold forward fruits and lively acidity.

RM 88 points.

Bogle 'Essential Red' Zinfandel Blend 2012

A blend of Old Vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, this wine would be a great blind tasting candidate with its bright, lively forward complex fruits.Dark purple/garnet colored, the fruits are vibrant but nicely balanced, smooth and approachable. I felt the polish and approachability of this wine actually overshadowed the bigger, more complex more expensive Phantom. 

Ripe intense flavors of boysenberries, cherry and black raspberry, with tones of vanilla and mocha, black licorice and spicy pipe tobacco on the moderate oaky tannin finish. This is currently widely available at under $14 and offers fabulous QPR - Quality-to-Price-Ratio. Go out and pick up a bunch for beef, bar-b-que, pasta and pizza. While it has forward fruits, it has a nice polish and balance suitable for many combinations. Great for every day drinking.

RM 89 points.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine 2002

Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine 2002

I remember first being introduced to this wine by a wine broker from whom I bought several bottles. I later bought more of different vintages at auction which was the source of this bottle. For a grilled steak dinner at home, I searched the cellar and found multiple bottles of this vintage label so I pulled it for dinner.

This was ideal for our grilled steak dinner and the best from this label that I can remember. At twelve years of age, this Bordeaux Blend may be at the apex of its drinking window. It was the best I remember and a thoroughly enjoyable bottle of which I wish I had more.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, it tasted like a vibrant expressive Bordeaux, full forward complex berry fruits accented by floral, leather, tobacco leaf, with slightly earthy tones and long lingering tones of cedar with a smooth polished tannin finish that resonates with silky floral cedar mouthfeel long after tasting. This was better than I remember from earlier label and vintage tastings.

RM 93 points.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pollak Vineyards Monticello Meritage 2010

Pollak Vineyards Virginia Monticello Meritage 2010

We tasted this bottle with friends and Eric and Cathy who sourced it at the winery during a family getaway to the Monticello Wine Trail in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Ironically, I just blogged about Meritage this weekend - a blend of Bordeaux varietals sourced from a new world location, and find it interesting to see one from Virginia. Going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, who was a huge fan of Bordeaux, he tried to develop Bordeaux varietals in Virginia, even to the extend of bringing vine cuttings from France to his Monticello estate.

We visited the Virginia wine country a couple years ago when I kept a second residence in Washington DC during the week to support my work there. We visited the western reaches beyond Fairfax, but didn't get down to the Central Virginia region. Even then, we found Cabernet Franc to be the highest achieving Bordeaux varietal in our tastings, which is the core of this selection.

Pollak Vineyards is a family-owned winery in central Virginia west of Charlottesville and Crozet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their 98-acre farm has 27 acres planted in French vinifera from which they strive to produce estate grown wines that represent the authentic characteristics of the traditional French varietals.

The property was acquired in 2003 by current owners Margo and David Pollak. Previously, David was involved in vineyards in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California, followed by the establishment of one of the first wineries in the now famous Carneros region down at the southern tip of  Napa Valley where it meets Sonoma Valley. In Virginia, the Pollaks hope to produce great wines using best practices and lessons learned to realize the potential of what they believe is an ideal site.

The 2010 Meritage is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 41% Merlot, and 18% Petit Verdot in the Bordeaux style. It dark purple colored, medium bodied with moderate acidity, it shows cherry and currant fruits accented by tones of leather, subtle spice, earth and tobacco, with modest tannins. The fruits are slightly austere perhaps revealing the character of the Virginia soil and terroir. Time will tell how this wine settles and perhaps achieves more balance and approachability with a little bit of aging.

RM 87 points.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Caymus 2012 40th Anniversary Bottling Highlights Steak Dinner

Caymus 2012 40th Anniversary Bottling Highlights Steak Dinner 

L and I planned to go out for lunch and do some shopping and ended up at a local wine shop where we picked up a few more bottles of the Caymus 40th Anniversary Special bottle. So we decided to go back home and prepare a special dinner to accompany the wine. Linda prepared pan seared tuna on a bed of cabbage, peas and red wine raspberry vinaigrette, followed by grilled New York Strip steaks, grilled onions and baked potatoes. I scoured the cellar for a suitable special bottle for dinner and stayed with the Caymus. Afterwards she prepared ice cream sundaes with roasted walnuts and chocolate sauce, another spectacular accompaniment to the delicious Caymus.

This is an amazing wine. As I've written here several times, the 2012 vintage of Caymus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is spectacular and was a perfect compliment to our beef steak dinner with dark chocolate dessert. Not only did they release a blockbuster for the vintage, they packaged it in a celebratory bottle and commemorative label, and then they lowered the price! A wine that typically sells at the street price of $65, this has been widely available at ten dollars off the regular price or $55. For drinking now or saving for a couple years, this is a must buy for the price point, and for special occasions or anniversary celebration dinners. And for better value, they also offer a one liter bottle. This is a showcase wine that shows Napa Valley Cabernet at its best.

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

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

Typical legendary Caymus Cabernet style - dark blackish ruby/garnet colored, medium 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 and kirsch, giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

RM 94 points.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hahn Central Coast Meritage 2006

Hahn Central Coast Meritage 2006

I was recommending this as a special best buy back at the time, a complex full bodied fruit forward Meritage for under $20, a rare find indeed. Interestingly, they released it as a Meritage as opposed to a Cabernet or simply Red Wine. The reason this is notable and unique is that as I understand it, the term Meritage, is trademarked by the Meritage Alliance, a consortium of over 350 producers, and hence subject to licensing.

Meritage, oft mispronounced, rhymes with hermitage, and does not carry the 'ahh with a soft 'j''. Meritage is the term applied to a Bordeaux Blend, the combination of Bordeaux varietal grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon and or Merlot predominating with highlights of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot or some other lesser varietals in the blend. But, of course, only wines produced in the French Bordeaux region can carry the Bordeaux moniker, hence Meritage was coined for such wines produced in America (or elsewhere). And to maintain the exclusivity or distinction, the term is only available for use under license. Hence its rare to find a label at this price point since it doesn't allow the margin to carry the additional burden of the license fee. Indeed, even many high priced American Bordeaux Blends avoid the license fee and label their wines as simple 'Red Wine' or 'Red Wine Blend'. Some producers will use the historic term 'Claret' that dates back to the 1700's, the name used by the British for red wines from the Bordeaux region of France, or wines in the Bordeaux style.

According to the Meritage Alliance, "Meritage, pronounced like heritage, first appeared in the late 1980s after a group of American vintners joined forces to create a name for New World wines blended in the tradition of Bordeaux. In wine terms, the traditional historic wine regions such as Italy, France and Portugal, where they've been cultivating varietal grapes and crafting wines for centuries, are referred as the 'Old World', while the 'New World' refers to regions that have started and popularized the practice in the twentieth century, such as America, Australia, South Africa and South America.

The word Meritage was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest. Meritage combines "merit," reflecting the quality of the grapes, with "heritage," which recognizes the centuries-old tradition of blending, long considered to be the highest form of the winemaker's art.

Meritage wines are growing in popularity and are currently the second fastest growing wine category in the industry. They are highly regarded for their aging potential, yet are completely approachable in their youth.
Many Meritage wines have proprietary names in addition to, or rather than, Meritage. In order to obtain a license and use the term Meritage on a label, a wine must meet certain criteria."

According to the Meritage Alliance in reference to the official designation, "A Red Meritage is a blend of two or more of the red "noble" Bordeaux varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the rarer St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère. If the blend includes any other grape variety, it is, by definition, not a Meritage. Also, to qualify as a Meritage, no single grape variety can make up more than 90% of the blend."

We bought a lot of this 2006 vintage release at the time and enjoyed it as our every day drinking red wine. Several friends adopted this wine as well. This is the last remaining bottle from that era and as such it was time to drink, showing its age and clearly being at the mature end of its drinking window. Still it was good tonight with pizza.

Hahn Central Coast Meritage 2006

Hahn Family wines produce a wide range of wines. Hahn is the German term for Rooster which adorns the label, named after the proprieter's ancestry. This is a high QPR - quality price ratio red wine blend of Bordeaux varietal grapes. Showing its age, the dark berry fruit is showing at over ripe with taste of raisins with hints of tobacco and leather as the fruit starts to subside. Still dark blackish purple, medium to full bodied with hints of oak, its time to drink up.

RM 87 points.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sterling Three Palms Merlot with Rib-eye Steak

Sterling Vineyards 'Three Palms' Merlot Compliments Rib-eye Steak 

The fifteen year old single vineyard designated Napa Merlot I took BYOB to dinner at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, was the perfect pairing with the dinner special, boneless rib-eye in a red wine reduction with rosemary sauce with roasted red potatoes and steamed asparagus. Linda had the other dinner special, sea scallops.

Sterling Vineyards was one of the first large commercial wineries in Napa Valley, formed in 1964. We visited Sterling Winery, up in north Napa Valley on the main trail just south of Calistoga, with its amusement park aerial tram that takes visitors up to the visitors center, on our first trip to Napa Valley back in the early eighties.

We're big fans of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, our favorite wine, but we have always associated Sterling with the other Bordeaux varietal, Merlot.

Sterling released the first vintage dated Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux varietals in 1969. Previously, Merlot was primarily considered a blending wine. The first Three Palms Vineyard single vineyard designated select Merlot was released in 1985.

At fifteen years of age, this was still vibrant and expressive, most likely at the apex of its drinking window, but certainly not likely to improve from further aging.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex but well balanced, intense firm core of plum and black cherry, with tones of toasty oak and spice, hints of cedar and vanilla yielding to firm tannins on the tangy spicy finish.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Château La Couspaude St Emilion Grand Cru Classé with Hemingway's Oak Park French Fare

Château La Couspaude St Emilion Grand Cru Classé with Hemingway's Oak Park French Fare

For a dinner outing with friends Bob & Gloria we introduced them to Hemingway's Bistro in Oak Park for French influenced fare. I took along a CDP and a Bordeaux from which to choose to accompany my entree selection.

Bob and Linda chose the Halibut special with a roasted red pepper sauce while Gloria chose the Sea Scallops, all served on a bed a risotto, so we selected a Sancerre Domaine Villaudiere from the wine-list for them.

I chose the New York strip au Poivre with cream spinach and pomme au gratin and had them open my Château La Couspaude St Emilion Grand Cru Classé which I brought BYOB.

For starters, we had the Butternut Squash Bisque, French Onion soup, and I enjoyed the Trio Beet Salad and the superb Foie Gras du jour with raspberry coulee which was a perfect pairing with the La Couspaude.

Hemingway's atmosphere is very cordial and relaxing, the service attentive and professional making for an enjoyable dining experience. Its has the elegance of causal fine dining, is easy to access, just off the Ike midway between the city and the western suburbs, and lacks the crowds, bustle, noise and hassles of parking. And being close to the Frank Lloyd Wright 'district' allows for some historic architectural sight-seeing enroute or afterwards.

Domaine de la Villaudière Sancerre 2011

Straw colored, light bodied, bright, crisp, clean with high acidity, aromas and flavors of green apples predominate with tones of wet limestone, chalk and minerality and hint of citrus.

RM 87 points. 

Château La Couspaude St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005

This is the flagship wine of the Aubert Family portfolio who have been producers in the St. Emilion appellation for almost two centuries. The family operation consists of three Aubert brothers, Alain, Daniel and Jean-Claude, along with their children, Vanessa, Heloïse and Yohann. The family operates several estates spread along the Right Bank in Bordeaux from St. Emilion all the way up to Cotes de Castillon.

The Chateau La Couspaude 7 hectare (14 acre) property with its unique terroir sitting on the limestone plateau on the outskirts of the village of Saint-Emilion is planted in 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The vineyard has been in place for close to 300 years! Today, the vines are planted to a density of 6,500 vines per hectare with the average age of the vines is about thirty years.

They family has worked to upgrade the property over the last several decades and Chateau La Couspaude was promoted to Grand Cru Classé distinction in the new classification of wines of Saint-Emilion in 1996.

Traditionally, the wines tended to show much new oak in the style their Bordeaux wine. Starting with 2006, the Aubert’s reduced the amount of new oak, changed the type of oak and further reduced the amount of oak in the 2011 vintage which allows the wine of La Couspaude to express more complexities. Malolactic fermentation takes place in new 100% new, French oak barrels. the wine is aged in 100% new, French oak barrels for between 18 and 20 months.

Today, Chateau La Couspaude is known for fleshy, flashy, low acid, sensuous, but oaky, early drinking style of St. Emilion wine. Production of Chateau La Couspaude ranges from 2,000 to 2,500 cases at the St. Emilion estate per vintage. They also produce a second wine, Junior de la Couspaude.

The  Château La Couspaude St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005 exhibits dark inky blackish garnet/purple with medium to full body. The firm, rather tight complex concentrated black berry fruits are over taken by mouthful of tea, tobacco, kirsch, tones of pain grille, smoky creosote and hints of sweet oak/spice notes with lingering big but fine tannins. This was a perfect complement to the grilled New York Steak as well as the foie gras. 
RM 89 points.!home-english/c1l8o 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

K Vintners River Rock Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2011

K Vintners River Rock Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2011

The inaugural release of this single vineyard Syrah from Rock River Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley from the team of legendary Charles Smith, teamed up with Andrew Latta and Brennon Leighton.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium to full bodied, opens with forward firm tannins and earthy smoky cedar/camphor tones with a layer of leather predominating over the complex blackish fruits, with a full forest floral and subtle tone of white pepper that fills the mouth and lingers for a long finish. 

RM 88 points.

Robert Parker gave this a 95 while WS gave it a 93.