Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Elderton Command Single Vineyard Barossa Shiraz 2002

Elderton Command Single Vineyard Barossa Shiraz 2002

This is a single vineyard designated, old vine Shiraz from a site planted back around 1894, and was classified as a Barossa Centenarian Vine by the Barossa Old Vine Chapter. The site is on the banks of the North Para River that is surrounded by the growing township of Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley wine region in south central Australia.

The historic name 'Nuriootpa' is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting place’, a tribute to the Aboriginals who once gathered there to trade. It is the commercial centre of the Barossa and ‘Nuri’ is the centre of the region's wine production, with more than 50 wineries in the area including some of the best-known producers including Elderton and the legendary Penfolds.

Elderton is a classic century old wine estate that was purchased by the Ashmead family in 1979 who produced their first release label in 1982. Ashmeads and their Elderton Vineyards wines have become one of the classic Australian premium wines and Command is the signature flagship of their Barossa family of Shiraz labels.

We have a mixed case of several vintages of Command dating back a dozen plus years of this wine. My last tasting of this vintage was back in 2006 when I wrote "this wine was more approachable than the first time we tried it - but it still needs some time to meld and reveal its complex fruit".

Well, nine years later, it is smoother and more polished and is certainly approachable with its delicious melange of black and blue fruits. Reiterating my initial tasting note when I wrote this was "huge, powerful, dense, richly complex, dark", tonight it was big, dense, rich and complex, but now is smoother and more approachable with full forward fruits of ripe plum, candied cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry fruits with tones of black pepper, hints of anise and dark chocolate punched by firm intense tannins on a smooth and long finish.

RM 94 points.

This was a perfect compliment to grilled sirloin steak with twice baked potatoes and peas.



Carmenet Sonoma Valley Moon Mountain Estate Meritage Reserve 1995

Carmenet Sonoma Valley Moon Mountain Estate Meritage Reserve 1995
This is the last of a 'six pack' of half bottles of this label. Unlike several previous tasting notes of this same wine and format (see links below) - this bottle did not show diminution from aging, rather it drank like a gracefully aging Bordeaux, to which it aspires to emulate. Surprising since its the last and therefore oldest tasting at twenty years, and from a half bottle, which tends to hold age less than a regular or larger format bottle. Great accompaniment to grilled pepper steak.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, there was no opening with a slight barnyard funkiness (as one tasting before), rather it opened with vibrant floral and fruits, ripe cherry, black cherry, raspberry and some blue notes, with slightly earthy, leather, cedar and herb with hints of smoke on a moderate tannin finish. 

RM 90 points.

From 375ml (half bottle). Blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.





Other earlier tastings: Sept 4, 2004, Feb 23, 2006, May 3, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ravines Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2013

Ravines Wine Cellars Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2013

We went out of our way and made a point to stop at Ravines Wine Cellars on the south east shore of Keuka Lake in Central New York's Finger Lakes wine region during our 2012 Finger Lakes Wine Experience.  It was a priority visit for us since its one of the few Finger Lake producers and wines available in Chicagoland.

Ravines Wine Cellars (left) is run by the husband wife team, Morten, viticulturalist and winemaker & Lisa Hallgren, self proclaimed 'foodie'. Morten was raised in Provence region of Southern France where the Hallgren family owned Domaine de Castel Roubine, a 270 acre estate with 170 acres of vineyards and where he spent years in the vineyards learning viticulture - tending to the vines.

After earning an advanced degree in Enology and Viticulture at the renowned winemaking school, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, he spent time working at the classic Bordeaux producer, Chateau Cos d’Estournel, under the legendary Bruno Pratts.

He came to America working for a French negociant, then at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina before he was recruited by Willy Frank to be chief winemaker for Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars on the opposite side of Keuka Lake, the early pioneer and most established brand, who is credited with establishing serious wine production in the Finger Lakes region.

After six years at Franks, the Hallgrens purchased the 17 acre Ravines estate in 2000, named for the ravines carved out of the glacier-sculpted hillside on the Eastern slope overlooking Keuka lake (left). They source grapes from three vineyards located on the East side of Seneca Lake.

While they offer a broad line of red and white wines, from many diverse varietals (shown left), like so many Finger Lakes producers, I feel too many Finger Lakes producers are over-extended with too many varietals and labels and should stick with what they do best, that which is most suited to their terroir - climate, soil, exposure, degree days, sun days, length of growing season, rainfall, and so on. Old World producers, after centuries of experimentation and refinements have perfected matching the most suitable wine grape varietals to their unique terroir or sense of place at their locale. Certainly, this is the case in France, Portugal, and Germany - (I don't know what to make of Italy with their 500+ grape varietals - perhaps this is a reason we don't collect and specialize in Italian wines). Several Finger Lakes producers offered more than two dozen different wines.

Several times, we walked into a Finger Lakes winery where they were serving a dozen plus different wines and I asked for simply their flagship signature wine, and they didn't have one, or didn't know which one to feature.

For most of the producer's we visited, they offered almost too broad a selection of as many as a dozen or more different wines, without a highlight or showcase feature label. Ravines seemed to be less guilty of this excess than most of the others. Even then, Ravines produce Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc and a properly licensed Meritage, as well as several white wines including Gewurtraminer and Chardonnay besides the Riesling.

From all the wines, we tasted during the several days traversing the area, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and perhaps Cabernet Franc for the reds, seemed to be the varietal (s) best suited to the cooler more moderate climate of the region. We continue to buy and enjoy Ravines Dry Riesling with each new vintage release.

Tonight, for snacking while watching NCAA March Madness, with crackers and chips, Linda prepared a creative, tasty artichoke dip with chopped spinach, jalapeno, parmigiana, Greek yogurt and garlic seasoned salt, when went very nicely with this tangy Dry Riesling. 

While not elegant or sophisticated, this is a pleasant easy drinking every day white that offers reasonable QPR - quality price ration - at under $14.

I've written a great deal in this blog about wine marketing and branding. I applaud Ravine in this area with their tasteful, creative and decorative label (label) depicting the chateau (pictured top) and terrain of the estate.

Straw colored, medium light bodied, full forward flavors of grapefruit and tones of lemon and mineral with a subtle note of garden hose rubber on the mid-palate through the tart tangy focused acidity on the citrus finish.

RM 86 points.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Venge Napa Valley Penny Lane Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000

Venge Vineyards, Oakville, Napa Valley, Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000

AJ and I with Nil's Venge tasting this wine
at Tra Vigne in St Helena
I've written often in this blog about our fondness for Venge Family Reserve wines and Nil Venge's pioneering with Sangiovese varietal wines in Napa Valley. We don't hold much Sangiovese that isn't the artwork of Venge, whether it be under his label, Del Dotto, or some of the other boutique Napa labels that he crafted as consulting winemaker.

I wrote just last week here in this blog in a review of another Venge label that Nil's has turned over the reigns of the family vineyards and winemaking business to son Kirk. Despite the fact our Cellartracker record shows we're out of this vintage, yet still holding two other vintages, this bottle is the second to last bottle we found in the cellar from that which we tasted and acquired during our Napa Wine Experience 2002 - Venge Vineyards, Rossini Ranch winery visit back in 2002. 

This is the last of the Venge brand Sangioveses that have been the mainstay of many BYOB wine dinners where we've taken bottles to Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria over the last several years. As always, this was a perfect complement to Angeli's fabulous signature pasta and peas with Italian sausage in vodka cream sauce, and eggplant parmigiana.

Unlike the last tasting notes of this wine, fifteen months ago, where it was written to be showing its age, tonight this fifteen year old was at the peak of its drinking window and showed absolutely no diminution from aging. Polished and smooth for a Sangiovese, the 2000 is dark inky garnet color, medium bodied, balanced, with flavorful predominant ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors at its core highlighted, by a layer of herb and anise notes and touch of leather and tobacco. It has a flavorful lush long smooth polished finish.

RM 91 points.




Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Found this in the cooler to go with pepper steak and salad that L prepared for dinner before she ran out for the evening. Besides our subterranean cellar we also have a cooler adjacent to the kitchen for every day or ready to drink wines. It mostly contains white wines but I checked it tonight and pulled out this bottle, so placed for consumption at some point. What a nice surprise! This certainly exceeded expectations.

This is from Nine North Wine Company, another négociant wine supplier that offers a portfolio of small production wines from Napa Valley and other California North Coast appellations. Like most négociants, they strive for high QPR wines - high quality and value relative to price, sourced from small production producers, or others seeking to liquidate (no pun intended) excess inventory or production.

Founded in 2001 by Jim Regusci and James Harder, Nine North Wine Company established a reputation for producing appellation-specific wines that provided good value for the price; their objective to leverage their network of grower producer contacts into a portfolio of négociant wines.

In December of 2012 Nine North Wine Company Nine North was taken over by Chris Nickolopoulos and Elija Pfister who had also established a reputation for producing a portfolio of appellation-specific wines' négociant wines.

Chris Nickolopoulos grew up in the midwest in a restaurant family where he was immersed in the food business. In 1990, Chris moved into a noisy little apartment next to the Addison “el” tracks in Chicago’s Wrigleyville.  He immersed himself in Chicago’s culinary scene tending bar at the swanky Spiaggia, and moved on to various roles in the wine trade. After 10 years, he moved to San Francisco to lead a respected fine wine sales organization where he spent the next seven years traveling the world tasting great wines and helping build some respected wine brands in the country.

Elijah Pfister grew up on a family farm in Northern California. When his family urbanized and moved to the Bay Area, he looked to neighboring Sonoma and Napa to pursue his appreciation of rural life and farming in viticulture and winemaking. Elijah’s uncle owned a large wine and liquor retailer and Elijah followed in his footsteps in the wine trade when after obtaining his MBA from Stanford, he pursued his love for wine in the business.

Teaming up with Chris’s connections, they assembled a portfolio of imports and launched Maritime Wine Trading Collective in January of 2009. They progressed their business parlaying contacts in the Northern California wine industry into a portfolio of négociant wines.

Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley was one of the first wines released by Nine North Wine Company twelve years ago. They like to emphasize many other not-so famous-parcels of land throughout Northern California that yield terrific fruit from sites with land values not as astronomical as Napa, thereby producing fruit at substantially lower cost per ton resulting in excellent wines that are a good value for the variety.

In the fall of 2000, Nine North purchased 20 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a friend's Napa Valley vineyard. Their winemaker, Charles Hendricks, crafted this wine from what the cellar hands called 'Twenty Bench, 'signifying the 20 tons of fruit from the gentle rising bench land vineyard from which they were picked.

When Charles presented barrel samples to the principles, they noticed the name 'Twenty Bench' written in chalk on the side of the barrels. The result was a high QPR wine with the perfect name.

According to the producers, the label design is based on a native petroglyph that pays homage to the Wappo Indians, the first descendants of the Napa Valley. The name Wappo, which means 'brave', was given to this tribe who lived peacefully in the Napa Valley area going back perhaps more than a thousand years. Notably, in 1836 there were more than 8,000 Wappos living in the Napa Valley area. By 1850 there were less than 500. In 1908, less than 40. This wine is a tribute to those early inhabits of the hallowed land today known as Napa Valley.

At a dozen years of age, I didn't know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by a moderately complex, nicely balanced, moderately polished wine with dark garnet color and medium body. An expressive nose with flavors of kirsch, floral, with brambly black raspberry fruits, tones of cola and a hint of mocha taken over in the mid palate turning to predominant spicy tangy acidity with smokey red fruit and candied cherry on the firm tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 89 points.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ridge Monte Bello, Clos du Marquis, Darioush Chardonnay highlight Surf & Turf Dinner

Ridge Monte Bello, Clos du Marquis, Darioush Chardonnay highlight Surf & Turf Dinner

L prepared grilled rib-eye steaks and lobster medallions for a wonderful surf and turf dinner. We pulled from the cellar Ridge Monte Bello Bordeaux Blend and Bill brought a Clos du Marquis. For the lobster medallions we tasted Darioush Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Ridge Vineyards are mostly known for their broad selection of single vineyard select Zinfandels from a dozen vineyards across Northern California Napa and Sonoma Counties, but their flagship premier label is this Bordeaux blend from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (Agricultural Viticultural Area - aka appellation).

 The Monte Bello estate and vineyard sit high above Silicon Valley in the range that separates south San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The historic estate is the site of the legendary vineyard, and an old stone winery built by Dr. Osea Perrone back in 1892, the year of the first vintage release from the property. Today, it houses the production facility and includes a tasting room. The property was purchased in 1959 by four Stanford Research scientists who released their first Ridge Monte Bello label in 1962.  Paul Draper, winemaker to this day, joined Ridge in 1969, took over production of red wines the next year, and became winemaker in 1971.

There are 83.5 acres of vineyards on the property consisting of thirty-three different parcels sitting between 1400 and 2700 feet in elevation, which come as close as fifteen miles from the Pacific Coast, and is therefore one of the coolest Cabernet Sauvignon sites in California. The grapes here typically set, turn color, ripen and are harvested three weeks later than typical Cabernet sites in the hotter Napa, and to a slightly lesser degree, Sonoma counties.

Back in the early eighties, we lived in Silicon Valley and our house was up against the foothills in the tony town of Saratoga, down in the corner of Silicon Valley, below the Santa Cruz viticultural area on the Bay side of the range. Our home sat on what at one time were vineyards, and moreso, apricot orchards, which eventually gave way to the sprawl of development in the bustling high tech region of suburban San Jose.

Monte Bello has been called an American 'first growth' and is known for bold, complex, long lived Bordeaux style wines. While 1998 was considered an 'off' year in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the Santa Cruz AVA, ninety miles to the south was not so afflicted. This was our second to last bottle from a case we purchased on release and based on this tasting, we need not be in a hurry to consume the final bottle.

At seventeen years, this showed no diminution from age and may be at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve any with further aging, but no need to rush to consume remaining bottle (s).

Dark purple garnet colored, medium to full bodied, initially a bit obtuse and acidic, but softened and opened after decanting and sitting for an hour, full, moderately expressive black berry and plum fruits, complex, nicely polished, accented by subtle tones of  pencil shavings, tobacco leaf, violets, and hints of bell pepper and anise with moderate smooth silky tannins on the finish. It would be overstated to characterize it as 'earthy' but there is a layer of complexity that reflects the storied terroir and reveals the care of 47%  selection and the rigorous thinning that results in extremely selective, low yields of less than 1 1/2 tons per acre. In the classic left bank Bordeaux style, the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 24%, Petit Verdot 5%, and Cabernet Franc 1%.

RM 90 points.



Clos du Marquis 2004

This is the second wine of the classic Leoville Las Cases St Julien, Bordeaux, one of my absolute favorite Bordeaux and overall wines.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, moderate black currant/berry and black cherry fruits accented by floral tones give way to tones of leather, tobacco, hints of dried herbs and re-emergence of black cherry with moderate tannins on the finish. Not a fair fight perhaps as it was overshadowed against the more complex and bigger Monte Bello.

RM 88 points.



Darioush Napa Valley Chardonnay 2008

For the lobster medallion accompaniment I pulled this Chardonnay from the cellar. We first discovered Darioush when Bill and Beth hosted us at a wine dinner at Cress Creek Country Club a dozen years ago and we had the Darioush Cabernet. That was the beginning of our extraordinary wine friendship.

Darioush has since been the feature of several wine dinners, a special winery visit with barrel tasting, and a spectacular winemaker dinner at Everest Restaurant in Chicago. So I favored this Darioush selection for our dinner tonight. I normally don't get excited about a white wine but this was one of the highlights of our surf and turf dinner - a perfect accompaniment to lobster medallions and the salad.

We visited the winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2003. Their fabulous winery and tasting facility on Silverado Trail in southern Napa Valley was not yet open but was well under construction at that time

We attended the gala Darioush - Domaine de Chevalier Gala Wine Dinner, a fabulous private dinner hosted by Darius & Shaptar Kaledi of Darioush Winery and Bernard Laborie of Domaine de Chevalier at Everest restaurant in Chicago in the summer of 2004.

The Darioush was butter colored, medium bodied, crisp and clean, initially slightly forward overtly acidic with tones of oak, but after an hour it settled down and was smooth, polished and balanced with pleasant  layers of fruit - subtle pear, lychee, melon and slight hint of citrus and vanilla with just the right accent of soft smooth oak.

RM 91 points.



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Linden Virginia Claret Red Wine 2004

Linden Vineyards Fauquier County, Blue Ridge Mountains,Virginia Claret Red Wine 2004

We tasted and purchased this Claret Bordeaux style blend bottle at the winery back in the summer of 2010 during our Virginia Wine Country Tour 2010. Winemaker and proprietor Jim Law (left) and his Linden portfolio were by far the best in class producer of Bordeaux varietals we found from Virginia, most notably 'Hardscrabble', their flagship single vineyard designated Bordeaux blend label. We also tasted, liked and purchased their Late Harvest Vidal dessert wine.

The term 'Claret' dates back to the 1700's in England, and the colloquial reference to red wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Britons were large consumers of Bordeaux wines, although during the times they were at war with France, they switched to and popularized Port, hardy fortified red wines from Portugal.

Today, Claret refers to red wines blended in the Bordeaux style from the classic Bordeaux varietals - primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Another trademarked term (subject to license from the Meritage Alliance) for these wines from the new world is Meritage, as written in this blog on subject.

The connection between Virginia and Bordeaux Claret dates back to colonial times when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson discovered Bordeaux wine while living in France negotiating support for the American Revolution. Jefferson lived in Paris from August 1784 to September 1789 and traveled extensively through the wine regions of France and northern Italy. He brought back to his Virginia estate Monticello not only French wines but also vines to propagate French varietals in the new world. He spent the rest of his years trying to develop those vines and wines in Virginia.

Linden Vineyards, named for the town of Linden, sitting just 65 miles west of Washington, D.C., produced their first vintage in 1987 and their first release and opening of the winery was in 1988. Law has been honing his craft, working the vines and producing wine in the Virginia Shenandoah Valley since 1981. He purchased the abandoned hardscrabble farm in 1983.

Linden grow their Bordeaux varietals on their eighteen acre premier estate Hardscrabble Vineyard (shown left), and a couple nearby vineyards sitting high up the Blue Ridge Mountains at 1,300 to 1,400 feet with an eastern to southern slope. The vines are from 5 to 25 years of age.

Another vineyard sits high on a bluff above the town of Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley at an elevation of 600 feet, facing west on light, deep, well drained loam soils, planted in 2000.

This Claret is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (48%), Petit Verdot (35%), Merlot (13%), and Cabernet Franc (4%) in the classic Bordeaux style.

We still hold several Linden labels from that trip and based on this bottle, its time to try them, although I expect the Hardscrabble Bordeaux Blend and the Late Harvest Vidal to have longer lives than this label.

At eleven years of age, this is clearly past its prime and nearing the last chapter of its drinking window, but still holding enough to be casual easy drinking with some hearty cheese, dark chocolate and grilled beef. Our first and most recent tasting of this wine from our cellar was in 2008 at which time we gave it 88 points. See Linden Virginia Claret 2004 - April 4, 2008.

Dark blackish garnet colored with an ever so slight tinge of brown setting in, medium bodied, somewhat lean and austere, black berry and black cherry fruit aromatics predominate with tangy fruit flavors giving way to a layer of cedar, black liquor, black creosote/tar tones, and ripe raisin from the diminution of the fruits, with a tangy spicy cherry on the lingering tannin finish.

RM 85 points.



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Vine Cliff Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Vine Cliff Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Vine Cliff Winery was one of the earliest original Napa Valley operating wineries and vineyards dating back to the 1870's. Vine Cliff was one of the first producers to plant Bordeaux varietals in Napa Valley. The 500 acres nestled up against the eastern slope of the Vacas Range of Mountains that form the east boundary of Napa Valley was originally part of the George Yount estate, an early settler in the area and namesake of the village based on his name.

After falling on hard times during the early 20th Century, exacerbated by the challenges of Prohibition, the land sat dormant until it was purchased by Nell Sweeney for her family in 1985.

Today the hundred acre estate remains home to the Sweeney family, Nell Sweeney as Principle and Rob Sweeney as General Manager. The site houses Vine Cliff's winemaking facilities and guest center. The 25 acres planted in vines, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, cling to steep hillside terraces of flat rocky red soil, known as the “Oakville Bench” climbing to 400 feet above the valley floor.

The vineyards are planted and maintained for low yields, sacrificing quantity for quality. This approach gives Vine Cliff Cabernet Sauvignon that famous Oakville terroir character, powerful fruit flavor and low tannins, classic Napa Valley wines, approachable on release, but capable of developing exceptional complexity with bottle age.

When we visited neighboring Darioush Winery during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2003, when they were still building their magnificent winery visitor center and tasting rooms,. we did a private barrel tasting with wnemaker Steve Devitt, formerly wine maker of Vine Cliff. Looking back, it occurs to me this bottle may have been crafted by Steve during those earlier years.

Tonight this was a perfect accompaniment to grilled strip steaks, grilled onions and peas, with dark chocolate souffle dessert.

Dark garnet color, medium bodied, black berry and black cherry fruits with tones of earth, tobacco, cedar, leather and smoke and hints of floral on an oaky tannin finish. The fruits may be diminished somewhat giving way to the non-fruit flavors due to age perhaps suggesting its past the prime of its drinking window.

RM 89 points.  I suspect this warranted a point or so higher earlier when a bit younger.



Saturday, March 14, 2015

Venge Vineyards "Scout's Honor" Napa Valley Red Blend 2013

Venge Vineyards "Scout's Honor" Napa Valley Red Blend 2013

We first discovered Venge wines when we met patriarch and legend Nils Venge back in the mid 1990's. He was consulting winemaker to several of Napa's emerging and established labels and was also producing several labels under the Venge Family brand, mostly Bordeaux varietals, and this proprietary blend based on Zinfandel. He also produced a Sangiovese, which was also released by Del Dotto for whom he was consulting winemaker at the time. We still hold some Venge Penny Lane Family Reserve Sangiovese 1998-2000 that we acquired at the Oakville Winery. We also still hold one remaining bottle of Scout's Honor red blend, named for the family golden lab from the 1998 release. 

Nils Venge left the family wine and spirits business in the 1960's to study viticulture at UC Davis in the early days of the emerging craft before the 'fine' wine business was established in America. In 1976 he managed to purchase 17-acres of vineyards in the Oakville District that was planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Nil's honed his craft as a winemaking pioneer and earned legendary status when he crafted the first California wine to receive a perfect 100 point score from emerging influential reviewer Robert Parker with the 1985 release of Groth Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet. 

With the same care, attention and creativity that Bordeaux and Bordeaux blend Meritage producers apply to Cabernet Sauvignon, Nils applied to Napa Valley Zinfandel in this blend created as a tribute to his faithful k-9 companion, Scout. Scout's Honor is a unique blend of  Zinfandel (71%), Petite Sirah (15%), Charbono (10%), and Syrah (4%). While the blend may vary from year to year, the result is a full bodied, bold expressive fruit forward wine that throttles the Zinfandel bramble fruit with breadth and depth of complementary fruit forward varietals.  

We met with Nil's and son Kirk during our Napa Wine Experience in 2002 when they were developing their Calistoga Rossini Ranch property. They partnered in the family venture as well as in the consulting winemaking business for other Napa producers. Kirk Venge took over the primary winemaking duties and oversite of the family business in 2008, the fourth generation Venge in the wine and spirits industry. Following in the footsteps of his legendary dad, Kirk has emerged as one of the emerging up and coming winemakers in Napa Valley. He has been making wines for several premier wineries including Igneous, Beau Vigne, and B-Cellars.

Venge changed up the vineyards significantly with the 2012 release of Scout's Honor, with more “old-vine” plantings providing the foundation for the blend, accented by Altas Peak mountain Syrah and Calistoga and Yountville fruits. 

The result is full bodied, forward, rich, concentrated bold wine with expressive red and black berry brambly fruits, a firm layer of charcoal/creosote that gives way to tones of sweet mocha chocolate with a dusty floral finish on the smooth balanced gripping tannins. 

RM 92 points.

This is a must wine to keep in the cellar - perfect for bar-b-q ribs!



Friday, March 13, 2015

Black Diamond Pinot Noir 2013

Black Diamond Sonoma County Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2013

I discovered the 2011 release of this wine and thought it provided a good QPR - quality price ratio, a rare find in a sub $20 Pinot Noir, hence I picked up this follow on vintage. The '13 is not as smooth, polished or as flavorful as the '11 but has a similar tasting profile.  Not bad for an every day Pinot but not a best buy selection.

Interesting that their earlier label (below) featured a filled-in solid diamond, the latest release actually shows a skier against a modish starburst backdrop.

Dark garnet colored, slightly opaque, medium light bodied, tones of bing cherry, raspberry, hints of cinnamon spice and vanilla with a slightly tangy oak on the lingering acidic finish.

RM 86 points.

Monday, March 9, 2015

La Sirène de Giscours

La Sirène de Giscours Margaux 2005

L prepared a tantalizing English Pub stew with a beef bourguignon and carrots in breading, which begged for a dark earthy complex Bordeaux. Picked this up and pulled from the cellar following the Giscours off-label last week as a point of comparison.

This lacked the sophistication, complexity and balance of a Grand Cru, but a top year such as 2005 provides the opportunity to dip into the lesser labels for more affordable (QPR - quality price ratio) every day enjoyable drinking. At $35, this is not necessarily an every day wine, (for most of us), and isn't necessarily a great buy at that price-point. I suspect it is less so in lesser vintages.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, huge floral front, firm tightly bound black fruits give way to leathery creosote layer. Initially flabby and lacking balance or polish, after an hour a firm tannic backbone set in and held together the modest black cherry fruit and black olive on a lingering tangy spicy oak finish.

RM 87 points.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Laird Family Estate Flat Rock Ranch Malbec

Laird Family Estate Napa Valley Flat Rock Ranch Malbec 2011

I was not aware of Laird Family wines until Linda brought home this bottle gifted from co-worker Lizzie, who hails from Northern California and enjoys their wines as one of her favorites.

Ken Laird was a third generation tobacco farmer growing up working the fields as a youngster with his grandmother, great uncles and cousins back in South Central Virginia not far from the North Carolina border. After studying to be a mechanical engineer in New York City, Ken returned to his family farming tradition by moving west and buying seventy acres of prune trees in Napa Valley in 1970.

As the story goes, Ken decided to develop the orchard into a grape vineyard. Knowing nothing about viticulture, he called the vintner and producer Robert Mondavi. After walking the property together, the two men discussed soils, vines, yields, irrigation, and proper pruning. Mondavi agreed to finance Ken replanting the property 50% Gamay and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, guaranteeing to pay Ken "the highest harvest price paid in the Valley,” for the Cabernet. With that deal, Ken returned to his passion and his family farming heritage.

Today, Laird Family Estates consist of thirty different properties spanning the length and width of Napa Valley, most sourcing fruit for other Napa winemakers, while fruit from one third of the vineyards go into Laird Family Estate labels, including this estate bottled Malbec.

With Ken Laird is daughter Rebecca who serves as General Manager. Winemaking is overseen by Paul Hobbs, consulting winemaker and Julian Gonzalez, winemaker, who since 1994, has worked for Louis M Martini, Chateau Potelle, Vine Cliff, Paul Hobbs Winery, Mi Sueno Winery and Paul Hobbs Consulting.

In 2000, while working at Chateau Potelle he was promoted to cellar master at Vine Cliff, and four year later, to assistant winemaker at Paul Hobbs Winery. In 2007, he was appointed consulting winemaker at Paul Hobbs Consulting.

Laird Family Estate Napa Valley Flat Rock Ranch Malbec 2011

Winemakers notes:  Deep red-violet appearance gives way to a rich bouquet of black current, cigar box, and blackberry. Rich juicy palate with leathery tannins, notes of roasted coffee beans and red plum with just a hint of eucalyptus.

What a pleasant surprise, we were not expecting this complexity and depth of fruit in a Malbec.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black currant and black berry fruits accented by tones of tobacco leaf, leather, expresso and hints of cedar with moderate lingering tannins.

RM 90 points.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Consistent with earlier blog post. 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. 

Opened for casual wine sipping with cheese but its sophisticated enough to be worthy as a perfect compliment to grilled steak dinner. We left half the bottle and it was even better the next day.

Slightly obtuse upon opening but softened and become more balanced and approachable after about an hour. Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, full fruit forward black raspberry and cherry fruits with a layer of spice and hints of graphite and tea, turning to tones of mocha with nice balance and smooth polished tannin finish.

RM 90 points.