Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bordeaux Anchors OTBN 2015

OTBN 2015 - Bordeaux Dominus Dominance

For our annual gathering for OTBN, a Bordeaux theme emerged when Bill brought a Pichon Lalande, and I pulled from the cellar two more vintages for a mini-vertical. Ernie brought a Duhart Milon Rothschild and a Dominus, Lyle brought a Lynch Moussas, Ryan brought a Bahans-Haut Brion, and the flight was on. A couple '97's in the mix also provided a mini-horizontal tasting of that vintage as well.

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night ...

The OTBN (Open That Bottle Night) tradition calls for the event to occur the last Saturday night in February. See our 2011, 20122013 and 2014 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!

Aside the Bordeaux varietals, Dan and Bob both brought Barolo's and a Ribeuro Duero which highlighted the middle courses.

Prior to dinner we opened with a white flight - Lanson Champagne to start, then, Kistler Chardonnay to accompany Dan's shrimp scampi entree. A selection of artisan cheeses, olive and cheese plate, artichoke dip, vegetables in dill, olive oil accompanied the starter course. The cheeses included Prime Reserve aged five year old cheddar, Drunken Goat red wine infused semi-soft goat cheese, Bellavitano, and aged Parmesan.

Linda's spectacular dinner featured beef tenderloin, pork loin roast, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables and brussel sprouts (shown left). 

Wines are listed in order of the tasting course.

Lanson Champagne Brut Rose NV,  to start, then,  

I pulled this from the cellar buried in a case ... its either the last bottle or second to last bottle of a case acquired a while ago. Records say there is one more left in there somewhere. Another OTBN candidate.

A nice start to the evening ... great starter with the starter courses of shrimp scampi, artisan cheeses, fruits and berries.

RM 89 points.

Kistler Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay 1996

This bottle was a gift from Paul H at Pti back around the millennium... a classic OTBN bottle... its time! A grand accompaniment to Dr Dan's classic shrimp scampi dish.

Who said a Chardonnay won't last twenty years? At close to 20 it was time to drink, still within its drinking window, but assuredly past its prime.

Straw or butter colored, medium bodied, crisp and clean in the Burgundian style, a layer of citrus is accented by tones of green apple, hints of almond nut, lychee fruit and pear on a nicely balanced mild acidic finish.

RM 89 points.

Nova Wines Marilyn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blonde 2013

A fun wine to serve at such occasions is the Nova Wines Marilyn Monroe collection of artist or photo art inspired series wines featuring artwork of photographs of the famous Hollywood movie starlet adorning every bottle that I wrote about in a recent blogpost - Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jean Wines - A Study in Branding. Bob is not able to drink Reds so we pulled this to get him through the evening... both oogling at the label, and for sipping.

These wines, with their sexy and fun labels have become a collector series with an almost cult like following. The producers have done an extraordinary job with their branding of the Marilyn lines associated with the Marilyn Merlot flagship namesake label, and others. The fun of buying their wines is indicated in this whimsical label Sauvignon Blonde - a play on words of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal, and the Platinum Blonde bombshell that was Marilyn Monroe.

This 2013 release, the sixth in this series of wines based on Sauvignon Blanc, that began in 2008, features a picture of Marilyn, taken by Sam Shaw, while she was spending time with him and his family that the producer says "has an intimacy and realness that is rarely seen in her more posed photographs".

Producer's winemakers notes - "Aromas are a combination of fresh violets and a typical herbaceous note that is expected with Sauvignon Blanc wines. Flavors of Meyer lemons and pears abound. This wine explains why we say Marilyn Sauvignon Blonde is the wine we drink daily!"

They say that Sauvignon Blanc is the grape varietal that manifests itself most naturally in its wines, succumbing to less adulteration or alteration than other varietals. This contributes to the consistency in Sauvignon Blanc wines across the spectrum including the price range.

Rear label
I find Sauvignon Blanc to be an ideal wine for the less discriminating or less sophisticated wine drinker with its simplicity and easy drinkability for every day as well as special occasion drinking. Notably, open this bottle, enjoy a glass, put it in fridge, and enjoy another glass again, and again, up to a week or even ten days later. Its good with white cheeses, seafoods, berries and other fruits, and salads.
This was a great accompaniment to Dan's scampi and the artisan cheeses and salads.

Nova Wines Marilyn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blonde Sauvignon Blanc 2013

This 2013 release Sauvignon Blonde is light straw colored, light bodied, crisp, clean, and flavorful with lemon citrus tones turning to pear and stone with a tangy lingering finish.

RM 88 points. 


Fontanafredda Barolo Lazzarito Riserva Vigna la Delizia 1999

Dan brought this Langhe Nebbiolo Barolo from his cellar.

Dark inky colored, full bodied, black raspberry fruit with  flavors of leather, brown spice, truffle/mushroom hints of tar and earth with firm but nicely integrated tannins.

RM 92 points.

Bodegas Arrocal Ribera del Duero Maximo Tempranillo 2005

I am not typically a fan of these wines that reflect their hot climate origins with intense somewhat masculine forward non-fruit flavors. Never-the-less, this was approachable and more polished than many.

Dark inky color, medium-full bodied, black berry fruits accented by notes of tobacco, tar, and a smoky creosote, with bright vibrant acidity and firm tannins.

One reviewer cites tones of 'reduced balsamic vinegar' which I find descriptive and appropriate, but I would not have picked up on. From here on, I can add that to my wine 'vocabulary', as written about in my Wine Tasting 101 blog.

Producer's notes - notably bright, with an abundant acidity one would not expect to find in a wine of such sweetness and density. The aromas and flavours show black cherry and the classic notes of dark berries predominating in tempranillo grown in Ribera del Duero, which gets very hot in summer but which has a very good (although frankly cold) climate most nights. There are a lot of spices and smoked oak among the fruit signatures, and great complexity

RM 90 points.

Grace Family Vineyards Vineyard 29 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Bill brought this from his cellar. Better than I what remember from earlier tasting, and notes of the 1993 vintage, dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated vibrant expressive spicy black berry and black currant fruits, but the '95 tonight has a wonderful tone of nicely balanced, subtle sweet red berry fruit that predominates over a subtle layer of spice, mocha, and anise,with smooth nicely integrated fine-grained tannins on the finish.

RM 93

Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild Pauillac 2000

This wine was included in a mixed case we gave Dr Dan in a rack for his wedding gift back thirty plus years ago. Our shared interest in and joint pursuit of fine wine grew from there. Brought by Ernie from his cellar.

This resembled a Margaux as much a Pauillac with its refined, polished elegance and sophistication. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, well balanced, full foward aromatics broadcast its full floral and dark berry flavors, accented by tones of anise, cedar, tobacco and soft oak, hints of graphite, earth and tar, turning to smooth polished fine grained tannins on the long lingering finish. This presented well, perhaps at the apex of its drinking window.

RM 93 points.

Château Bahans Haut-Brion 1995

This wine was brought by son Ryan.  This is the second wine of legendary top growth Haut-Brion.

Dark garnet color, medium bodied, the black berry and black cherry fruits were somewhat subdued being overtaken by notes of cedar, cigar box, slight earthiness turning to tones of anise, smoke, graphite and creosote on a modest tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1997, 1991, 1992

Bill started this Pichon vertical bringing the '97 to our tasting, and I supplemented it with the two other vintage releases, '91 and '92. All three exhibited classic Pichon terroir characteristics - full elegant floral, dark blackberry and raspberry fruits, earthy leather and tobacco / tea leaf notes, while each showed vintage effects from the three disparate vintages.

Bill's tasting note posting on Cellartracker - "This was one of my offerings for OTBN 2015. Our host provided a '91 and '92 Comtesse for a fascinating vertical comparison of one of our favorite Bordeaux. Given the poor reputation of the '97 vintage, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of this wine. Color was a slightly opaque garnet. Nose was floral but with some savory herbal notes. There was ample fruit on the palate in addition to some tea and cola. The '97 is certainly not as complex as offerings from better vintages. It is more one dimensional but compared very favorably to the '91 and '92 which while bigger and a tad more complex were showing some age."

WCC 92 points.

I too thought the '97 showed less structure, fewer tannins and less complexity than the others releases. I sense it is at its peak and won't improve any further. Pichon's tend to be long lived and hang on much longer than one would expect, ala my experience with the 1981 vintage, and subsequent release notes, so don't rush to clear this out just yet.

RM 90 points.

Consistent with earlier tasting five years ago, the '91 vintage initially showed greater complexity, bigger floral, more concentrated fruit, and the most sophistication and balance of the three vintages. The next day, the '92 and '91 seemed to trade places, overtaking the 91 with greater concentration, structure and backbone, however the '91 retained the most polish and greatest balance.

RM 91 and 92 points.

Lynch Moussas 2003

Dominus Estate Napa Valley Proprietary Red 1997

After tasting five different premier Bordeaux, this stands tall as the standard bearer of what they are all striving to achieve. This was the class of the evening, perhaps the best Dominus I've ever had, due in part perhaps to the fact it might be at the peak of its drinking window.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied but with no sensation of weight - complex and concentrated yet nicely balanced and polished, a symphony of flavors, huge aromatics project the flavors of floral and berry fruits accented by sensuous oak, spice, cassis, and touch of dusty rose earthiness and tobacco, but so nicely balanced and polished that no flavors stand out to detract or take away from the harmonious whole.

RM 96 points.

Ninety Plus Cellars Columbia Valley Lot 101 Syrah 2009

Like earlier tastings, I opened this Shiraz to show a contrast in styles and regions, and age, of the same varietal. I've raved about this wine several times in this blog, and tonight, like before, it didn't disappoint, standing up to the other Big Reds. I've stated that this may be one of our favorite drinking wines in our cellar right now, certainly at this price point! Amidst the flight of Bordeaux's Linda begged for this flavorful fruit forward easy drinking favorite. It was a huge hit with the ladies who drank two!

Dark inky garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this full throttle Syrah reveals layers of blackberry and black currants fruits with tones of sweet vanilla, caramel and spice with hints of black pepper on a lingering smooth silky tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

For the transition and desert course I served two whites, - remarkable Didier Dagueneau Jurançon Les Jardins de Babylone which served as a transition to the sweet desert course wine, Kracher Welschreisling TBA #8. We love this wine and consider it a standard bearer for sweet desert wines, akin to a quality ice wine or top ranked Sauterne in a good year. Our continued persistence in serving such a wine at dinners has made it a regular expectation that the group looks forward to.

Desert featured Linda's decadent chocolate mousse with homemade profiteroles, Gloria's creme brulee, and Marlene's lemon pound bundt cake, with fresh berries, assorted chocolate truffles, and chocolate caramels with sea salt.

Didier Dagueneau Jurançon Les Jardins de Babylone 2009 

If you can imagine a transition wine course as a palette cleanser ala a lemon sorbet, this was it.

Straw colored, medium bodied, polished, stunning, refreshing, crisp, clean, spirited acidity, a symphony of balanced flavors with touch of sweetness, tones of lemon accented by hints of peach, orange peel, pineapple and lychee fruits and wet stones.

RM 94 points.

Kracher Zwischen Den Seen Welschreisling Trockenberen Auslese (TBA) #8 2001

Classic Kracher nectar-of-the-gods mouth full of sweet fruit flavors. Its fun and interesting to watch these wines darken over time. Starting as straw or butter colored, they then turn to a rust color, then weak tea, then darker tea colored, even to coffee colored if left long enough. Not all are sufficiently long lived.

Deep orange/amber almost rust color, full bodied, thick unctuous nectar of ripe apricot, mango, lychee fruits with tones of peach, citrus, honey and hints of smoke on the tongue coating lingering finish.

RM 95 points.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Haut-Medoc Giscours - Le Petite Vice at Aureole

Wine Dinner Features Haut-Medoc Giscours and Le Petite Vice at Aureole Restaurant Las Vegas

For a special client elegant wine and dine dinner we went to the fabulous Charlie Palmer restaurant Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino with its spectacular wine tower and wine angels who actually suspend from cables in the four story glass enclosed wine cellar to pull selected bottles (shown left), the avante garde menu and elegant chic setting.

A consistent winner of the highly acclaimed Wine Spectator Grand Award winning wine list, the collection features over 50000 bottles of the world's best wines, sourced from several private collections.

A visit to Aureole to see the wine tower and to peruse the extensive wine list is a must for the wine lover - classical Las Vegas sensationalism.

Dining at Aureole is a special priority for me when I am in town since I had the chance to collaborate with the Wine Director in their early days of building out the cellar, and developing their then innovative high tech tablet based on-line wine list. 

Their extraordinary wine list features the best of my (or anyone's for that matter) wine cellar, but offering deep vertical selections in addition to the breadth and depth of offering - top vintages of the top ranked producers - from Bordeaux, the first growths, Palmer, Leoville Las Cases, Pichons, my favorite Napa Valley Cabernets - Caymus, Dunn, Silver Oak - to special labels such as Penfold’s Grange and Chateau d’Yquem. 

Being a business client dinner, I had to adhere to my company expense policy realities, so more modest wines than the exclusive entra-ordinary premium selections, but the extensive list offered much from which to choose.

Before dinner we had BTG - by the glass, the Le Haut-Medoc de Giscours. It was so tasty that I started with that for our opening dinner wine with entrees. We then turned to a larger, more intense Napa Valley Cabernet from an here-to-for undiscovered boutique producer, Vice Versa, that resulted in great comparison tasting with similar tasting profiles albeit different styles.

The wines were great accompaniments to our extraordinary haut cuisine dinner selections - bone-in filet, crusted filet with foie gras, bone-in ribeye, and porkchop.

Le Haut-Médoc de Giscours Grande Réserve 2009

The 2009 vintage of Bordeaux was so good that the second or even third wine of quality producers were great drinking wines. This modest priced wine, relatively speaking to the Aureole upscale ultra-premium wine list, provided good QPR - quality price ratio, worthy of the dinner for our casual wine drinking guests.

This blend of  50% Cabernet, 50% Merlot was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry and black raspberry fruits with hints of spicy cinnamon and clove, on a smooth polished moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Le Petit Vice Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This quality proprietary red is the second label from an emerging premium producer, with fruit blended from some of Napa Valley's top vineyards - Beckstoffer, Las Padres and Dr Crain.

Vintner's Notes: Le Petit Vice 2010 exhibits beautiful complex aromas and rich intense flavors suggesting red and blue berries, sweet spices, coconut and Valrhona chocolate. Extraordinary balance, superb weight and silky tannins.

My notes: Dark garnet/purple colored, full bodied, forward, black berry and black raspberry fruits with tones of anise, black tea, dusty earth and hint of flinty leather on a clinging tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Robert Craig Howell Mtn Zinfandel 2011

Robert Craig Howell Mountain Sears Black Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 at Emiril's New Orlean's Seafood Restaurant in MGM Grand Las Vegas

We're big fans of Robert Craig Cabernets in all their manifestations - 'three mountains and a valley' - Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mt Veeder, and Napa Valley. Perched high atop Howell Mountain the Craig estate also grows some Zinfandel and sources some Zinfandel fruit from the nearby Sears Ranch Vineyard. I first tasted this wine under the original Howell Mountain Sears Ranch Estate/Producer label. One such memorable tasting was in Washington DC at the Taiwanese Consulate at a gala State Dinner. This was an interesting connection of the Taiwan State and a National Citizen who was an investor/owner in the Napa Howell Mountain estate property.

We first met Robert and tasted his wines back at our first visit to Robert Craig during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 1996, and then again at our Robert Craig featured producer wine dinners in Napa Wine Experience 1998, and again in 1999. We tasted his Howell Mountain Zinfandels at the Robert Craig Howell Mountain Harvest Party '09 and during other visits such as our 2008 Robert Craig Vineyards and Winery visit up on Howell Mountain. Needless to say, we're long time fans of Bob and the Craig team and their 'artwork'.

Tonight, we had the 2011 vintage Robert Craig release of the Sears Ranch Zinfandel at Emiril's New Orleans Seafood Restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. It was a great accompaniment to the beef tenderloin dinner selection on our specially prepared menu. I wanted to try this wine and selected it from the winelist. Interestingly, it was their one and only, last bottle.

The Emiril's wine list holds the distinction of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence award, based on its extensive selection of California and French labels, as well as Italy and Germany - over 9000 bottles from 1300 labels - including many Napa favorites, including the normal widely distributed labels as well as some boutique producers such as Clark Claudon, a popular favorite from or cellar. The Wine Director there is Scott McSimov, shown left,  in one of the three on-site showcase cellars.

Emiril's is one of eleven restaurants at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Notable for wine lovers, the combined wine lists from those sites received more awards from Wine Spectator than any other property in the world, for a second year in a row. They combine for a total nineteen glasses in the popular restaurant winelist award rating system that is based on the scale of one to three wine glasses. 

Robert Craig Howell Mountain Sears Black Vineyard Zinfandel 2011

I couldn't help but pick this limited release unique label from the extensive Emiril's wine list. I have an respectable Robert Craig vertical collection and I'd not had this vintage. Also, I knew the bold, robust, fruit filled Howell Mountain Zinfandel would be popular with our group of casual wine drinkers.

One of my colleagues was drinking a 'lesser' wine and I suggested this. She said, "anything but a Zinfandel". Undaunted I smiled and said, trust me... She liked it!

 Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this was classic Howell Mountain brambly fruit with black raspberry and blackberry fruits accented by black tea, smoke, and vanilla with a spicy oak moderate tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

French Dine and Wine in Hyde Park

French Dine and Wine in Hyde Park

We've been wanting to visit La Petit Folie in Hyde Park (Chicago) for a while and used the occasion to meet with friends Dr Dan and Linda since its about a mid-point between us. Hyde Park is the enclave on Chicago's South lakefront known for the Science and Industry Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks, and of course the University of Chicago. Soon we'll know if it is home to the Barak Obama Presidential Library, whom also happens to have his family residence nearby.

One of the neighborhood attractions to be found in a community full of culture and academia is the French Restaurant La Petit Folie. Even on a cold Chicago winter night it was a wonderful dining experience, meeting or exceeding our expectations in all respects - food, atmosphere, ambiance, value, ease of access and parking, and their hospitable BYOB wine policy.

All the starters, entrees and desserts were delicious, creative and thoughtfully prepared, presented well, and with large portions. Three of us ordered off the price fix offerings, but also supplemented our course with a additional first course from an list of enticing and delectable choices.

They have a carefully selected full wine list - all French appropriately, with 28 reds, nineteen whites and a half dozen sparkling wines and rose. They also offer a dozen and half wines by the glass to fit all categories and tastes. Their prices are reasonable with a bottle of authentic champagne available at slightly more than the four glass price at a total price of about 1.5 times retail price - the appropriate pricepoint, fair and at good value (many restaurants are at 2 or even 2.5x, sometimes more).

I called ahead to validate the BYOB corkage policy, then to accompany our dinner, I actually brought three different French selections from which to choose, for a proper pairing with our entree selections - A Right Bank and a Left Bank Bordeaux and a Chateauneuf du Pape - each bottle was twenty plus years of age.

Les Entrees

Dan and I both indulged in the pan-seared foie gras with  roasted pear, brioche toast and Belgian endive salad; Port shallot sauce. Linda (M) had the casolette of shellfish with lobster - shellfish and wild mushrooms with lobster medallions served warm over pasta al nero. Linda (A) had the goat's cheese tart with ratatouille; small salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes.

For the main course Linda A and I both had the Boeuf en Carbonnade a la Flamande - beef braised with onions, tomato and pale ale; red cabbage braised with apples, baby peas and parsley potatoes. I had preselected this from the web menu and it happened to be available from the price fixe offerings. Linda M had the Salmon Choucroute - salmon wrapped in brick pastry and served with Alsatian sauerkraut and Brussels sprouts; double mustard cream sauce.

Dr Dan had the Pork Chop Alsacienne - boneless center-cut pork chop with sauerkraut, roasted baby potatoes and warm salad of broccoli and broccoli rabi; double mustard sauce.


Our dessert course was the Apple Tart Tatin - the Tatin sisters' upside-down caramel apple French vanilla ice cream and three of us had the Chocolate Bombe - chocolate mousse on chocolate hazelnut torte draped in dark Belgian chocolate.

Phelan Segur Saint Estephe Bordeaux 1996 

I have enjoyed meeting the producer and tasting the recent releases of this Grand Cru at the UGC tastings in Chicago the last three years. This twenty year old is hitting its stride and may be at the peak of its drinking window, was a perfect accompaniment to the foie gras, the mushrooms and the beef flamande, not to mention the dark chocolate desert. 

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry and black cherry fruits accented by floral aromas of dusty rose and violets that increased over the course of the evening, with tones of spicy black tea, smoke, and hints of graphite, tobacco leaf and hints of leather on a dark red berry fruit and floral lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Davis Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel

Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel 2002

Thin crust pizza with sausage, pepperoni and spicy sauce and a plate of hearty cheese calls for fruit forward bold expressive pizza wine. Davis Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley answers the call - not complex or sophisticated but easy drinking, single dimensional and focused.

The fact this was a small format 375ml bottle may have contributed to its aging to the point of being in the last stage of its drinking window for this twelve year old. Lasting that long speaks well for this label, indicates a pretty robust and stable wine, and appropriate cellar conditions. Glad I pulled this from the cellar and caught it in time, appropriately for a weeknight wine and pizza experience.

Dark inky purple colored, medium bodied, at twelve years of age the fruit has turned to bramble black berry accented raisin tones with a layer of leather and tobacco.

RM 87 points.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Red Wine 1997

Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Red Wine 1997

For a quiet mid-week solemn dinner at home with L, I pulled a time-to-drink wine that I remember we've had together on a memorable occasion - dining al fresco at Meritage French Bistro in Chicago a dozen years ago.

Consistent with last tasting in 2010 but with continuation of the effects of aging. Ruby colored, medium bodied, big floral tones predominate as the black cherry and red currant fruits are starting to give way to tones of cedar, leather and mushroom with hints of almond, vanilla, sweet spice and soft oak on a lingering smooth firm dusty tannin finish, as age is taking effect, reaching the last chapter of its aging profile.

Blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc.

RM 90 points.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Eataly Il Pesce for Great Seafood sans Fanfare

Eataly Il Pesce for Great Seafood sans Fanfare

Eataly Chicago Shown Above
On our getaway weekend in NYC, for lunch, we dined at Il Pesce at Eataly on 23rd St across from the spectacular picturesque historic Flatiron building, just a short walk from the Path.

Eataly, with locations beyond Italy and New York in Chicago, Dubai, Turkey and Japan, is a sensation - a conglomeration of all things Italian food and drink - wine, cheese, gellato, pasta, bread, meats, fish, and did I say pasta? ... all in one bustling location.

Each location features several restaurants, a wine bar, an expresso bar, gellato counter, cheese station, breads, fresh meat and fresh fish counters... like being in an Italian Village in a high energy bustling city setting. Its not intimate or conducive to conversation, but the food is good and the service rapid and past paced, friendly and responsive.

Flatiron Building, New York
One of the daily feature specials posted on the chalkboard was pan seared Flounder with roasted potatoes and cucumber salad. It was spectacular.  

From the menu we also had the Capesante con Indivia e Arance - Pan Seared Scallops with Orange Braised Endive, Thyme and Breadcrumbs. It was equally delectable.

To accompany lunch we order two wines (Italian, naturally) BTG (by the glass), Mirafiore Langhe Nebbiolo 2011, and Le Vigne di Zamò Friulano, 2013.

Mirafiore Langhe Nebbiolo 2011

According to Eataly, this wine has antique origins dating back to Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiore, a legitimate son of King Vittorio Emanuele II and Rosa Vercellana. The Count of Mirafiore was the first to have the idea of transforming his farm into a winemaking house. The result was a line of extremely high quality wines that are inspired by the great tradition of Piedmontese wines, and which today still have the original historical label of  “Casa E. di Mirafiore”.

Dark purple garnet colored, medium to full bodied, ripe plum and blackberry fruits were accented by tones of mocha, hint of licorice with spicy nutmeg and tobacco turning to soft smooth tannins on a long lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Le Vigne di Zamò Friulano 2013

Straw colored, light bodied, green apples, hints of citrus and pear on a crisp clean acidic finish.
RM 88 points.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Murrays Cheese - Ultimate Wine Cheese Experience

Cheese Murray Cheese - Ultimate Wine Cheese Experience

For the ultimate cheese and wine experience, Murray's Cheese Bar on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village offers an extensive cheese selection from Murray's Cheese shop a few doors down. Artisan cheeses are selected and served as learned and imaginative pairings with meats, beer, wine or even aperitifs- select your own or let their 'Cheesemonger' prepare a flight for you. Visiting son Alec for a NYC getaway weekend, he took us to Murray's, one of his favorite haunts for dinner.

Cheese and or meat selections are available ala carte, in pairs of three, four, five or eight different selections. All this in combination with an imaginative list of wines or craft beers, the cheese course can be the pre-dinner starter, the dinner main course, or the after dinner option. Tonight, thirty four cheeses and eight meats were available from which to choose on the daily menu.

Murray's Cheese, name for founder Murray Greenberg, has been a fixture on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village since 1940. In the early ‘90s, Rob Kaufelt bought Murray’s and transformed the downtown flagship store into a destination for food lovers. He sourced rare cheeses from around the world, built cheese caves to age and ripen them, and started cheese classes for foodies and professional alike in Murray's own classroom.  

Today,  Murray’s ships cheese across the nation to chefs and supermarkets through an extensive wholesale business. In 2012, Murray’s Cheese Bar opened nearby serving brunch, lunch, and dinner featuring the broad selection of cheeses from the cheese caves beneath Bleecker Street. 

On this evening, two flights of meat and cheese, paired with two wines, a white and a red, were our dinner, if you add in a bowl of the tomato bisque soup. We also had their Burrata Crispy artichoke & grilled bread plate.

For the wines, since we're in New York, I selected a New York State, Long Island wine, Cabernet Franc from Bedell Cellars. For the white, we had a Loire Valley Sancerre Chenin Blanc. In retrospect the white was too timid to stand up to some of the hearty cheeses and meats so next time, I'll select a heavier more robust expressive white wine - Vionier, Chardonnay, an Alsatian, or even a Riesling.

We selected two 4X4 flights (shown) - two plates of four meats and four cheeses, each accompanied by a garnish highlight such as a pistachio nut paste, a blueberry compote, natural honey paste, or cranberry glaze. Of the eight cheeses we selected, five were notable and worth repeating: my favorites were:

La Tur, from the notable Italian wine region of Piemonte, described by Murray's as "a dense, creamy blend of pasteurized cow, goat and sheep milk. Runny and oozing around the perimeter with a moist, cakey, palette-coating paste, its flavor is earthy and full, with a lingering lactic tang."

From the Vermont Cellars of Jasper Hill comes 'bacony and creamy Bayley Hazen Blue, (below right) named for a Revolutionary War road in Vermont’s Northeast Region, a raw milk, farmhouse blue. Produced by the Kehler brothers, this is a like an English Stilton with its 'dry yet dense paste, full of balanced chocolate, hazelnut, and licorice flavors".

From France comes Selles-sur-Cher (left, leftmost) goat cheese. While traditionally, fresh cheeses were dusted in wood ash to encourage the development of a molded rind with patches of blue and gray mold, Murray's imports unaged rounds so they can control the development of a perfect rind: thin and cohesive in their own aging cave. The result is "a tiny, oozing creamline atop a fluffy interior paste with the pleasant texture of damp clay. The rind delivers insistent mineral notes, while the center is all briny, goaty tang and new-mown grass."

Another French cheese, La Tremblaye Persille de Rambouillet, "an incredibly smooth, creamy goat’s milk blue from La Tremblaye dairy in the countryside surrounding Paris. Originally a grain farm, it now boasts a herd of 150 cows and 600 Alpine goats and is located on picturesque farmland, surrounded by ponds and fields, lying adjacent to Rambouillet forest. From its ashy exterior to its “parsley veined” interior, the cheese’s supple texture melts on the tongue and fully coats the mouth with nuanced, terroir-driven flavors like clean lactic notes, white pepper and sweet cream. Simple companions, such as walnuts and honey add complementary and contrasting textures".

Lastly, St Stephen from New York Hudson Valley creamery/producer, Four Fat Fowl, a cow cheese named for the "colonial rental fee charged by the last landlord of Rensselaerswyck (what’s now Rensselaer county”), which amounted to a day’s labor, including ten to twenty bushels of wheat. Their small, bloomy rounds are delicately buttery, with hints of sun-dried wheat and sweet cream beneath its pillowy rind, making St. Stephen a true expression of local terroir." This was served with local, NY honey and fresh berry compote. 

Bedell Cellars North Fork Long Island Cabernet Franc 2013

Bedell Cellars produce a range of hand-crafted wines that get the most out of the unique North Fork maritime terroir - sandy soil, warm summers moderated by sea breeze cooled nights. I visited Bedell Cellars back in 2001 and thought they were one of the highest quality producers in the area, especially of red wines.

Slight opaque ruby colored, medium bodied, smokey, slightly earthy black cherry fruits with a hint of leather and cigar box on a slightly astringent tangy finish.

RM 87 points.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Taken Napa Red Blend

Taken Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine Blend 2012

Visiting New York this week, I found this high QPR Big Napa Red in several wine merchants. Taken is a joint venture between  Josh Phelps and Carlo Trinchero, two well known family names in the world of wine, next generation producers from at least one winemaking family known for Swanson Vineyards and Trinchero Family Estates, which is one of the largest wine producers in the US. (Its not certain that Josh is related to that Phelps).

Josh and Carlo grew up together in the wine centered town of St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley.  With a tagline, "great wine made by great friends", the mission of Taken Wine is to produce wines they and their friends and other young people from the millenial generation would enjoy. This release of Taken certainly hits the mark, and appeals to wine geeks from the boomer generation too!

I picked up a bottle for dinner at Warehouse Wine & Liquor in Danbury, Ct. I then picked up another at Buy Rite in Jersey City who have both the 2011 and the 2012 vintages in stock at under $30. 

Taken Wine Company was launched in 2009 and their first release was Taken Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010.  They subsequently released two other branding labels, Complicated which has a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay and a Red Blend, and Available.

As they write on their website, their branding reflects the steps they have "taken" on their journey, a whimsical, fun-spirited, wordplay venture that whether taken, complicated, or available, provide their handicraft of wines. Their wines are available as part of the portfolio of the large established Trinchero Family Estates.

The aim is that the Taken names, Taken, Complicated, and Available, all tie into social media and are relevant to their generation.

This 2012 Red Blend reflects the much heralded vintage in Napa Valley, which benefited from an ideal growing season - rainfall in the spring, optimal temperatures in the early summer with warm days followed by cool nights, through to an early October harvest. Yields were high and the fruit was high quality. It was a great year to be in the wine business, and to be a consumer, since high quality wines should be in abundance that should result in some great value high QPR - Quality to Price Ratio wines. Taken Red Blend emerges as such a find! It is a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot of Napa Valley fruit, aged in French Oak Barrels.

Dark inky purple colored, medium to full bodied, intense concentrated forward ripe blackberry and blueberry fruits accented by layers of dark chocolate, anise and expresso with tones of graphite, earthy notes, and hints of vanilla and sweet spicy French oak. Only a bit of heat from the 14.5% alcohol and the graphite tone detract from the balance and polish of this wine.

RM 92 points. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Del Dotto Gio Tuscan Reserve - Spring Valley Uriah Highlight Angeli's Italian Dinner

Del Dotto Gio Tuscan Reserve - Spring Valley Uriah Highlight Angeli's Italian Dinner

For a Saturday evening dinner outing with Gary and Laurie M. at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, we took two mature vintage reds BYOB from the cellar - 1997 Del Dotto Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve and 2003 Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah red wine. As usual the carefully prepared with fresh ingredients and homemade pasta was great featuring seasonal favorites Pasta and Peas with Italian Sausage in Vodka Cream Sauce, Clam Chowder and Angelis Special Salad. Angelis has raised their  corkage fee to $20 which we feel is too high and will detract from and reduce the frequency of the dining experience.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve 1997

We don't collect Italian wines and they represent perhaps a mere 1% of our cellar. This Sangiovese based blend is the closest we come to an Italian accompaniment so it is a lead wine we take to Italian dinners. I have written often in this bog about Del Dotto pioneering efforts with Sangiovese in Napa Valley and this wine.

These is the second to last bottle from a case of this vintage. Initially, upon opening this was consistent with earlier tasting notes ... medium bodied - ruby color starting to take on a slightly brownish rust color at the rim; aromatics of black berry and woody cedar and a slight earthy funkiness showing its age, eventually giving way to slightly tart black cherry fruit with tones of leather, anise and spice turning to moderate silky tannins on a pleasant lingering finish of soft oak. We saved a third of the bottle and the next evening the tangy dark fruits were accented by cedar and floral tones with a smokey oak tannin on the finish.

RM 88 points.


Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Uriah Red Wine 2003

This is the oldest of ten vintages we hold of this wine and is the last bottle from this year. This is a Merlot based Bordeaux blend. At fourteen years its likely at the apex of its tasting window/curve.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, bright vibrant flavors of black berry, cherry and currants with tones of tea and cigar box turning to mild tannins and  lively acidity on the long, silky, finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Big Red Wine Flight with Pizza on Boys' Night Out

Big Red Wine Flight with Pizza on Boys' Night Out

When wine buddy and colleague Gary M brought his son Brett over to tour our cellar, they showed up with a couple of pizzas on an evening we were all bach'ing it. I was hoping (my) #1 Son Ryan could also join us but it turned out he was traveling.

We pulled (from the cellar), popped and poured some big hearty pizza wines. I wanted to show off one of my favorite Big Reds, Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz, compared to another similar vintage and site selection Kaesler Bogan 2005, and another favorite high QPR favorite Shiraz Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 101.

I've written in this blog about the producer Flinders Run Emanuel Skorpos and the Southern Flinders Range's site and their winemaking heritage.

We hold two vintages of this wine, the 2005 and the 2006 which was bigger, more brooding and bold, but less slightly polished or elegant than the '05. That said, I wanted to see how the '06 would match up alongside the Kaesler which has a similar style and character but is even moreso the traits of the '06 relative to the '05, Flinders, forward, slightly aggressive, less polished.

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2006

We love this wine and consider it a benchmark representation of Southern Australian Shiraz at its very best, and at a pricepoint between $25-35 it offers a relative great QPR (Quality to Price ratio). I wish I could find more of it. Not sure what happened to Flinders Run. It appeared on the market selectively for these vintages and we haven't see it since.

Like earlier comparison tasting of varied big reds, this was the hit of the evening. Consistent with earlier notes, the 2006 Flinders is dark inky purple, full bodied, powerfully scented bouquet of dark berries, smoky minerals and fresh flowers bursting with flavors of thick chewy black raspberry, blueberry and cassis with layers of nut, vanilla and hints of mocha flavors on a tongue coating lingering finish with tones of black tea and what Parker refers to as 'pain grillé' which is the French word for 'toast'. As much as we like this wine, the 2005 may be even better, being more polished, smoother and more balanced.

RM 93 points.

Kaesler The Bogan Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

Like the Flinders, this is not for the feint of heart. This is another big bold forward wine that demands a food pairing to balance its aggressiveness. While this label tends to be popular and highly rated, it is not a style I favor, as I find it to have non-fruit characteristics predominating that detract from its appeal. Before we tasted this, I warned the guys it would be similar in style with its big bold forward approach, but the fruit would be diminished by a layer of tea, tobacco leaf and creosote. It revealed itself exactly as I predicted.

Read through the long litany of Cellartracker reviews and see the preponderance of earth, pepper, coffee, smoked meat, leather and mint, eucalyptus and  you'll see what I mean. While these are all acceptable descriptors and tones in a big forward wine, I prefer they be accents rather than the mainstream headliner tones, which has been my experience with the lesser and mid tier Kaesler labels (Oct 10, 2002, April 20, 2008,  Sept 22, 2005, February 28, 2007). Only at the high end with their ulta-premium 'Old Bastard' label (March 11, 2002, May 22, 2004, February 23, 2013), at $100+, have I experienced the fruit to predominate in their wines.

As with earlier tastings, dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied with nose of earth, pepper and spices before revealing fruit flavors. Tones of blackberry, black cherry are overtaken by alcohol, smoke, creosote, tobacco leaf and black tea with hints of cedar and mint on the firm lengthy finish.

RM 88 points. 

Ninety Plus Cellars Columbia Valley Lot 101 Syrah 2009

Like earlier tastings, I opened this Shiraz to show a contrast in styles and regions, and age, of the same varietal. I've raved about this wine several times in this blog, and tonight, like before, it didn't disappoint, standing up to the other Big Reds. I've stated that this may be one of our favorite drinking wines in our cellar right now, certainly at this price point!

Compared to the forward, obtuse Kaeslar, the Lot 101 Shiraz came across as smooth, polished and elegant, although not as much so as the Flinders.

Dark inky garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this full throttle Syrah reveals layers of blackberry and black currants fruits with tones of sweet vanilla, caramel and spice with hints of black pepper on a lingering smooth silky tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 91 Rutherford Napa Valley Zinfandel 2012

For a last comparison tasting of another Big Red, I pulled this Napa Valley Rutherford Zinfandel. The rep for this was pouring it when I stopped in Sav-Way Hinsdale the other evening and it presented itself as a big forward fruit filled easy sipper that should go well with pizza - and a good QPR at $17. When I opened it tonight against the other Big Reds, it met its match and was put in its place. When compared to the big Aussie Shiraz', this came across as lean and even a bit flabby with moderate fruit and body. By itself, it would've probably been fine for a casual easy sipping pizza wine, as prescribed, but against the big bold Barossa Shiraz', it wasn't a fair fight. 

I've written often in this blog about Ninety-Plus Cellars with their high QPR negociant offerings

Here is their listing on this Napa Valley Rutherford Zinfandel.

"Story - This winery has been harvesting Zinfandel in the heart of the Napa Valley since way back when big hair and parachute pants were popular. It's a totally righteous red made from Zinfandel ripened to perfection under the Napa Sunshine. Straight up, this is one totally awesome Zin that you'll never want to give up.'

"Tasting Notes - Inky purple with aromas of raspberries, wildflowers, and toffee that rain down upon a foundation of ripe plum, and sweet spice. A magical celebration of flavor hits you like a sledgehammer, beckoning you to give it one more try all night long. Time after time, it pairs perfectly with a grilled ribeye with or without bleu cheese. Show your true colors by sharing it with others because that's what friends are for."

Dark purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied, blackberry and black raspberry fruits with a bit of leather and spice. 

RM 87 points.