Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vindicated Tre Leoni Napa Reds with DOC Butcher's Cheese Plate

Vindicated Tre Leoni Napa Reds with DOC Butcher's Cheese Plate

For a casual impromptu wine tasting experience, Linda and I stopped in at DOC Wine Bar and Restaurant at Yorktown in Lombard. We selected two new release Napa Reds BTG (by the glass) from the dozen plus offerings, to accompany the Butcher's Platter cheese and meat plate - Vindicated Napa Cabernet and Whitehall Lane Tre Leoni Red Blend. We selected the blue cheese, Old Amsterdam Dutch cows cheese, aged cheddar, brie with pear and  Nueske's Wisconsin Smoked Duck Breast, with fresh bread.

Vindicated Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #4 2012 

The stylish branding features an interesting artistic label that provides attribution on their published trade targeted tasting notes download, but not on their front or rear labels (shown below). Is the grecian angelic figure pencil sketch figure seeking to mimic or follow the super premium Harlan Estate 'Maiden' red wine label (shown below)? According to their web download, the label art is attributed to a lithograph from the Thomas Addis Emmet Collection of illustrations at the New York Public Library, (1828 -1919).

There is little information provided about the source of the fruit other than the "Lot #4" designation on the rear label. A major large production, highly prolific negociant uses the 'lot' designation to identify the source of the product so that subsequent releases from the same source can be so associated.

There is also similar lack of information provided on the producer who according to the rear label 'vinted and bottled' the product, other than their website url and city of origin, Healdsburg.

I suspect this is a negociant produced wine with its vagueness and anonymity of attribution and lack of 'estate' designation, which would indicate the fruit being sourced from the producer's property.

As I have written in the past, subsequent releases of this label may be from the same source, or not, hence the lack of terrior, or sense of place of the site should be considered. It will be interesting to compare such releases, if they appear.

This 2012 release has dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, ripe black cherry and black raspberry fruits with tones of cassis and hint of cedar and spicy oak on the tangy moderate tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Whitehall Lane Tre Leoni (Three Lions) Napa Valley Red Wine 2012

A newly discovered label that offers a pleasant easy drinking wine that is also complex and sophisticated enough for food from this long time popular producer, that provides great QPR - quality price ratio if you can find it.

The name Tre Leoni refers to three generations of the Leonardini Family, proprietors of Whitehall Lane. This is an interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This is the third release of this label.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, smooth and nicely balanced black berry and raspberry fruits with layers of sweet spicy oak and mocha on a moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mitolo G.A.M. McLaren Vale Shiraz 2003

Mitolo G.A.M. McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz 2003

In my last review of this label, I wrote, "We love Aussie Shiraz and we drink a lot of it. This one is classic example of how it at times is over-hyped. Its a big complex, fruity wine with long lingering tannins, but in my opinion, it lacks the breadth, depth, concentration and complexity implied by its stupendous reviews.'

"The 2003 Mitolo G.A.M. is named for the initials of producer Frank Mitolo's three children: Gemma, Alexander and Marco, a notable tribute indeed. The family owned winery of Frank and Simone Mitolo was joined in partnership by Winemaker Ben Glaetzer in 2001. Fruit for this label is sourced from the single Chinese Block vineyard in the Willunga District at the southern end of McLaren Vale, an hour south of Adelaide. The 2003 growing season had almost perfect ripening conditions from veraison through to harvest that yielded limited quantities of incredibly full flavoured and deep coloured fruit.'

The juice was aged in fine grained French oak (70% new plus 30% one and two year old French/American oak).

In July, 2012 I wrote, "This one is classic example of how Aussie Shiraz at times is over-hyped. Its a big complex, fruity wine with long lingering tannins, but in my opinion, it lacks the breadth, depth, concentration and complexity implied by its stupendous reviews (RP 96). The product is a dense ruby purple color, full bodied, complex flavors of blackberries, black currant, leather, hints of blueberry, cassis, licorice and a layer of spicy oak on a lingering gripping tannin finish, but more subdued than and not a big as the grand rating suggest, or than other labels of near vintages. I give it 91 points."

Robert Parker gave this wine a rating of  96-100 points and said, "This complex 2003 comes across as a hypothetical blend of a great La Mission-Haut-Brion from Bordeaux and a Rhone Valley Hermitage such as Chapoutier’s Pavillon. Everything is seamlessly integrated into this tour de force in winemaking"

K&L, a leading San Francisco Bay merchant from whom we've purchased many cases of wine over the years says of this wine - "Winemaker Mitolo delivers wines that express purity of varietal flavour, show elegance of structure with soft tannins whilst being rich, powerful and complex. All the grapes are picked on flavour ripeness which contributes to the soft, ripe tannins and vibrant fruit which is a key characteristic of all Mitolo wines. G.A.M. is opulent and robust, with a focus on finesse and multi-layered complexity. It exhibits typical Mitolo softness and richness."

Three years since my last review of this wine, I find it has diminished quite a bit, probably from age, indicating it has passed its prime and is reaching the end of its drinking window. The black and blue berry fruits are starting to fall off and come across as uber ripe and raisiny fig accented black cherry, whereas previously I found the wine to be polished, full bodied, fruit forward with gripping body and tannins. This time, upon opening it was obtuse and a bit over the top with tones of smoke, tar and cassis overtaking the ripe berry fruits. It was most approachable two evenings after opening and started to subside the third evening, giving way to gripping firm tongue puckering tannins. At no time have I found this wine to be polished and balanced and harmonious or as pleasantly fruit forward as the grand ratings suggest, or as with other highly rated labels of near vintages.

Before I this 91 points, at this stage I give it 88 points.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Desperada Big Red Blend at Paris Bistro Cafe

Desperada Big Red Blend at Paris Bistro Cafe

This complex big bold expressive red blend was featured at the Saturday afternoon tasting at our local wine shop, Vin Chicago in our Chicago suburb of Naperville. We grabbed a bottle and took it BYOB to lunch with L and friends Bill and Beth at Paris Bistro Cafe which we've featured before in this blog.

This complex wine was best with food and was a great when accompanied by the country cheese and meats/pate' plate (shown below left) and our entrees. 

Desparada is the artwork of owner/winemaker Vailia Esh who is married to Russel P. Fromm of Herman Story wines. In her words, she has been a 'wine importer, broker, retailer, cellar rat, harvester, and now vintner'.

This label from her collection of wines, is bold, expressive, and imaginative, sourced from numerous sites on California's Central Coast. She draws inspiration from the finest wines from famous classic wine areas such as Pauillac, Chateauneuf and Montalcino, but she is not inhibited or constrained to confine herself and her wines to those varietals and styles. 

Vailia writes that she 'seeks to discover and explore new horizons, guided not by relying on old maps but more by spirit than style with each wine representing a particular vision, in each vintage, using new knowledge, varietals and vineyards to bring that vision into sharper focus'. 

Her approach may be summed up in the quotes featured on her website from Virginia Wolfe or this adaptation from Henry David Thoreau: “If a woman does not keep pace with her companions, perhaps it is because she hears a different drummer. Let her step to the music which she hears, however measured or far away.” 

Esh's Desperada branding is imaginative and quite distinctive with a collection of wines with unique names with label featuring vintage historic looking tintype or daguerreotypes photographs (left) of Victorian maidens in various random settings clad in nothing but a layer of line scribbling on the image.

Desparada "Sackcloth & Ashes" Central Coast Proprietary Red 2013

 This 2013 "Sackcloth & Ashes" is a complex melange, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Cabernet Franc (17%),  Petit Verdot (16%), Malbec (14%), Merlot (7%), and Sangiovese (17%). Eight hundred cases were produced.

The fruit is sourced from numerous vineyards from several areas across the region - Chelle Mountain, Coghlan, D'ambino, Luna Matta, Santa Barbara Highlands, Vogelzang and White Hawk. The range is so diverse that the appellation designation is simply and broadly stated as 'California'. 

Winemaker's notes - This is the memory of the abandoned abbey you discovered when in lithe summer nights, when you were young and alone. Crushed violet, ripped jeans, quarter sawn spruce, blueberry cake, warmed sage, buckwheat honey, anisette, chocolate brownie batter, ancient incense, cherry-skin cigar, palo santo smudge and sassafras bark.

This is the most tasty, smoothest and most complex wine I recall ever tasting from the Paso Robles Central Coast region.  With such a broad blend of so many diverse varietals this might have come across as disjointed or even schizophrenic but it was nicely balanced and very approachable even at this young age. This is remarkable too given the 15.2 alcohol content.  I look forward to obtaining more, and to trying more labels from this producer. 

Dark garnet purple colored, full bodied, complex, rich bright, expressive but smooth and nicely polished with ripe blue berry fruits accented by a layer of sweet soft mocha, hints of vanilla, violet and cinnamon spice with sweet oak on the moderate finish. 

RM 92 points.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Taken Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine 2012

Taken Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine 2012 Replay

I discovered and wrote about this Taken Napa Valley Red Wine after a recent trip to New York, when 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 wine making 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).

I went back to Buy Rite Wines and Liquors in Jersey City where they had a few bottles left of the 2012 vintage, which I picked up for a BYOB dinner with son Alec and friends Liz and Ryan, a short walk from his flat in Hoboken at Cafe Michelina Italian Restaurant.

As I wrote last month, 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.

From a packaging / branding perspective, readers of this blog know I buy, collect and drink a lot of wine, and this Taken release is packaged in a heavy oversize bottle that has the biggest 'punt' I have ever seen - seemingly larger than the size of a shot glass.

The "punt" is the concave indentation in the bottom base of the bottle. In old days, glass bottles were made by hand and this was a result of the glass making process. Today, glass bottles are mass produced using molds, so the punt is no longer a function of the historic primitive process, but rather part of the bottle design.

Most white wine bottles are produced with flat or mostly flat bottoms, while most red wine bottles are still made with punts. It is generally believed that the punt helps separate and collect the sediment down in the bottle ring, so that it doesn't pour out with the wine into the serving glass or decanter. 

This Taken release was a great accompaniment to Cafe Michelina's hearty pasta dishes - the crab and lobster stuffed pasta in vodka cream sauce, and the rigatoni with meat sauce and ricotta cheese.

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, April 19, 2015

Arns, Rusbissow, Cantenac Brown Highlight Flemings Prime Beefsteak Dinner

Arns, Rusbissow, Cantenac Brown Highlight Flemings Prime Beefsteak Dinner

A gathering of the original 'pour boys'. Saturday night dinner in bustling Chicago following afternoon at the theatre for the ladies, was the setting for tasting this trio of fine wines. The ladies took in a musical at Lyric Opera and then we gathered at Lyle and Terry's at their nearby west loop pied-a-tere turned permanent residence for a pre-dinner tasting. Bill and Beth brought an Arn's Napa Valley Cabernet which we enjoyed with cheese, olives, proscuitto and crackers. We then proceeded to Flemings Prime Steakhouse Chicago for dinner.

To celebrate Bill and Beth's son Matt's recent engagement announcement to Molly, I took a birthyear Bordeaux befitting the occasion - Cantenac Brown Margaux 1989. We ordered from the winelist a Rubissow Mt Veeder Merlot to round out the pairing.

Arns Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Bill brought this bottle which he acquired at the winery/estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013 - Arns Estate (Blog post at As I write in that visit blogpost report, Arns Estate Vineyards and Winery is a small artisan boutique producer of handcrafted Arns Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The estate consists of 160 acres of which just eleven are planted in vineyards situated on the lower tier of Howell Mountain on the eastern slope above the town of St. Helena.

Arns' wines bear a Napa Valley designation since the Howell Mountain appellation demarcation point is 1200 feet elevation, determined by the level the fog rises up the hill. Never-the-less, the Howell Mountain terroir is clearly evident in Arns Cabernet.

John Arns, Rick, Linda, Bill
We love this wine which I first discovered at Andy Bassin's MacArthur Wine Shop in WDC where I acquired this label over the years dating back to the 1996 vintage.

Bill's note from this CT - "Medium garnet color. A bit of a musty nose on opening but this blew off in 5 or 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, this opened to reveal bright red fruit, mocha and a bit of sweetness that I would typically associate with Mt Veeder. However this winery located on Howell Mtn below the fog line produces something much more layered and complex. A delicious bottle drinking very well right now."

WCC - 90 points.

I give it a 92, I love this ripe berry sweetness with tones of sweet mocha. This has an amazingly similar profile to the Merlot below with its elegant approachable Merlot like smooth softness.

Rubissow Napa Valley Mount Veeder Merlot 2004

A rare find from the Fleming's winelist, since only 130 cases were produced of this wine. We discovered and acquired this wine during a winery/estate visit during our Napa Wine Experience Mt Veeder excursion in 2011 - Rubissow Mt Veeder Napa Valley Vineyards

The artisan boutique producer estate of 45 acres sits high atop the south end of Mt Veeder with views of San Pablo Bay in the distance. Eighteen acres are planted in Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and some Syrah. 

Today the winery is operated by second generation, Peter Rubissow who has taken over the main operations duties from his father, founder and patriarch George Rubissow.

This is another favorite Napa Valley Bordeaux varietal that we've enjoyed visiting at the estate. We acquired later vintages of this wine during the visit and ordered more of this varietal and joined their wine club, but we have never heard anything more or received and further wines from the producer. Tasting this earlier vintage raises the anticipation of opening selections from our cellar, and raises the disappointment of not obtaining more (despite having placed hard orders.) 

Rick and Linda with George Rubissow
This was amazingly similar to the Arns Cabernet that we tasted earlier with its full body, bright vibrant sweet raspberry fruits and predominant layer of mocha accent. Even more amazing since the two wines come from opposite corners of Napa Valley, and one is a Merlot and the other a Cabernet Sauvignon! 

Never-the-less, this Estate Merlot could pass for a Cabernet in a blind tasting, raspberry fruits, smooth, polished, elegant, sweet, tones of mocha, sweet spicy oak, hints of dusty rose floral, and black tea on a smooth firm but silky smooth tannin finish. This must be at its prime right now - I can't imagine it being better in its youth or with more age. 

RM 92 points. 

Château Cantenac Brown Grand Cru Classe Margaux 1989

As I wrote above, Bill and Beth just announced the engagement of their son Matt to Molly, so I brought this birth year 1989 vintage Bordeaux which I have been holding for such an occasion, to highlight our dinner. 

Opened and decanted about an hour before we turned to this as part of the main course with our entrees. It needed this time to 'settle' and burn off an earthy leather essence and reveal its true fruit and floral character. 

The cork was moist and saturated but was intact and in good condition. Dark garnet color, classic nose of Margaux perfume with floral, hints of leather, earth and cassis. Medium bodied, nicely balanced concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits accented by earth, leather, tobacco leaf and hints of tea, turning to a smooth polished moderate tannin finish. This is likely at its apex or the end of its optimal drinking window and probably will start to diminish from here forward, so it was suitably aged and time to drink. 

RM 89 points. 


 'Pour boys', Lyle, Bill, and Rick with UCG Oliver Bernard
and Frank Kronthal at the UGC Tasting Chicago 2014

Saturday, April 18, 2015

High QPR Casual Summer Sippers

High QPR Casual Summer Sippers

After conducting a public tour at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, in Oak Park, as a volunteer docent interpreter, I joined the staff in a member's after closing birthday celebration on the patio. Happy Birthday, Mark! A casual light hearted affair under the unseasonably warm spring late afternoon sun, we tasted a trio of well selected easy drinking, high QPR (quality to price ratio) sippers ideally suited for such an occasion.

It is worth mentioning and featuring these three selections for summer every day drinking, as they also qualify as respectable selections for dining or even special occasions.

Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Campo de Borja 2013

We don't normally drink Grenache varietal wines, or Garnacha as their Spanish selections are called, especially at this price point, since it is such a rarity to find this quality and enjoyable drinking in this class. Even the eponymous Robert Parker says, “If you have not yet discovered the great values of Bodegas Borsao, it´s about time you do”.  Wine Spectator cites them as “One of the Top 100 wineries of the world”. Voila! Its was news to me! Grenache tends to have bold forward characteristics that I normally prefer as part of a blend such as in a Chateauneuf du Pape, rather than as the 'main course'.

This is the second label of Tres Picos, which is the producer's flagship old vine Grenache, but at a fraction of the price. While not complex, polished or sophisticated, this is great value for keeping at hand in the cellar for everyday drinking with pizza, barbecue ribs, perhaps riccota cheese and pasta. Its not for the feint of heart, its a bold wine which will go best with food for the more timid red wine drinker. This blend of 75% Garnacha and 25% Tempranillo is not for cellaring or aging, but instant gratification pop and pour drinking.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium to full bodied, bold, concentrated deep flavors of black berries accented by smoke, creosote and tobacco, with earthy spice tones and a modest dry finish. 

RM 88 points.

Domaine Lafage Novellum VDP (Vin de Pays) des Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay 2013

"Novellum" is Latin for "fresh" and is aptly named for youthful early drinking. From the Languedoc Roussillon region in the south of France, this is another incredible value that at around $10-12 is a great buy for keeping around for casual easy sipping, yet worthy for respectable serious pairing with food.

Straw colored, medium to full bodied, not necessarily complex but what Wine Advocate calls 'exotic', with predominant forward bright vibrant white peach fruit flavor with floral, creme, brioche and almond nut flavors with bright acidity, soft smooth finish.

RM 89 points.

Matetic "EQ" Coastal Casablanca Valley (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Another nice selection for casual enjoyable every day drinking at a great QPR value. There is always a place for Sauvignon Blanc since it is the grape varietal that is the most true to its sense of place and source, a simple basic wine that is not subject to adulteration or extreme notes, hence approachable and acceptable to all comers.

This comes from the Casablanca Valley in Chile, an emerging wine region adjacent to the coast so that the cool moderate coastal breezes make for ideal conditions for moderate white wines. The grapes for this wine come from estate vineyards in the area of “Valle Hermoso,” (beautiful valley) located about 8 miles from the Pacific.

Straw colored, light to medium bodied, ripe green apple predominates with tones of lime and passion fruits and melon with creamy notes and bright crisp acidity on the clean finish.

RM 89 points.

Azelia San Rocco Barolo 2001

Azelia di Luigi Scavino San Rocco Barolo (Nebbiolo) 2001

Readers of this blog know we don't do a lot of Italian wines. Less than 1% of our cellar is in Italian labels. There are so many appellations and varietals and producers across all the regions, I advise folks to find one you like and focus on a few to develop knowledge and understanding of that area, and then move on. We focus on Bordeaux and Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot...) and Rhone and its varietals (which includes Syrah/Shiraz and thus includes Australia's popular varietal).

I admit, I am not well versed in Italian wine regions and their associated grape varietals. I've written before that in the 'new world', we name or label our wines based on the primary grape varietal in the bottle. In the 'old world', they, (the French, Italians, Germans), name the wine for the region or appellation, and its up to the consumer to understand the applicable wine grape varietal associated with that area. For example, Left Bank Bordeaux appellations (growing areas) such as St Julien and Paulliac are Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, while Right Bank Bordeaux such as St Emilion and Pomerol are Merlot based blends.

In this case of Italy and Barolo, the wines are based on the Nebbiolo grape varietal.  Perhaps this is obvious, but the neophyte, or even learned wine geeks who don't know Italian wines, don't necessarily know the association of Sangiovese or Nebbiolo varietals and their regions and appellations, Barolo, Piedmont, Tuscany etc.

Skip ahead if this is known and basic, or bear with me if you're interested in learning these fundamentals of Barolo which is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (aka appellation in France or AVA (American (Agriculture) Viticultural Area) in America) in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. Barolos are red wines made primarily from the Nebbiolo grape varietal. Within the Piedmont Barolo DOCG are the communes of Barolo, (in this case) Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d'Alba, and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi and Verduno. These sub-appellations as they might be called in America, are mentioned on the label, but are secondary to the region name. To many, me included, this adds to the confusion of interpreting or parsing an Italian wine label.

Barolo wines tend to be bold, full bodied, tannic, firm, concentrated and long lived with tasting characteristics of black fruits, tar, rose petals and smoke.
Readers of this blog will also know that we dine regularly at Angeli's Italian, our local trattoria, and when we do, we're limited in our Italian focused BYOB selections if we want to stay true to the native food wine pairing.

Tonight, for a casual mid-week dinner, I pulled this bottle from our limited Italian selection in the cellar with little foresight or understanding on what to expect in this fourteen year old. Wow, what a nice surprise. This Barolo was a blockbuster, a perfect accompaniment to our entree selections, Portabella Mushroom Ravioli with ricotta cheese, sauteed in marsala wine cream sauce, and the daily special, Asparagus Ravioli.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, expressive complex concentrated but nicely integrated fruits of blackberry and black currant fruits highlighted by tones of tar, anise and smoke, and subdued earth and tobacco leaf notes, turning to firm but smooth polished tannins on the lingering tongue puckering finish.

I will look forward to exploring and adding more Barolo including this label to our wine acquisitions and selections in the future.

RM 92 points.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dunham Cellars 'VI' Walla Walla Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Dunham Cellars 'VI' Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

We hold a over a decade of vintages of this label. mostly acquired at auction until recent vintages which have appeared at certain Chicagoland merchants. We've also discovered and enjoyed their Trutina label which is a Bordeaux Blend, which at a reduced price point offers good QPR - Quality Price Ratio.

Dunham are a family-owned winery with several estate vineyards in prime locations around the Walla Walla Valley Appellation. Dunham grow and produce varietal based wines in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay as well as Trutina, their Bordeaux style blend. Proprietor Eric Dunham is winemaker and also an artist who creates original artwork that is featured in a series of 'Artist Series' labels for Dunham Cellars vineyard designated and special bottlings.

I pulled this fifteen year old 2000 vintage release to compare with vintage releases of our recent tasting last week. Thankfully, this showed well and is still well within its drinking window showing very little diminution with age.

Dunham employ an interesting and unique branding methodology numbering each release of this wine with a Roman Numeral dating back to I with their 1995 release. Hence this 2000, their sixth release is labeled 'VI' for the sixth release.

This is their flagship label which we opened with great interest since we hold a vertical collection going back to their 1997 vintage, which we have not yet tried, so we weren't sure what to expect. This is from the Walla Walla winery with fruit sourced from numerous locations in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys in Central West Washington State - an area not normally associated with Bordeaux varietals. Yet, looking at the geography and latitude, the region is relatively near that of the French Bordeaux region.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant black raspberry and black cherry fruit flavors accented with a subtle layer of cedar and hints of eucalyptus, turning to tones of tar, black tea and hints of leather and spice on the smooth soft modest tannin finish.

RM 89 points. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Château Sansonnet - Grand Cru Classé St Emilion 2005

Château Sansonnet - Grand Cru Classé St Emilion 2005

Château Sansonnet is a smaller producer by Bordeaux Grand Cru standards with 7 hectares (about 14 acres) of vineyards, mostly Merlot (85%) and the balance is Cabernet Franc for blending.

At ten years, this bottle may have been mishandled in distribution as it is showing significant diminution from such, or from aging in the small 375ml (half bottle) format, which doesn't age as well as standard size. But '05 was a highly rated vintage which should be showing better, so I suspect this bottle may be flawed. I have several bottles and this is the first one I've tried so I'll have to check another soon.

Dark blackish garnet with a slight brownish hue on the rim which is a sign this may not be right, medium bodied, the layers of dark fruits are offset by detracting funky aroma and flavors of damp earth, grass and rotting/wood, overshadowing ripe raisin and fig tones accented by smokey anise and hints of mocha and cedar, with a clinging tannic finish. It was slightly less offsetting and more approachable day two but still showing the same profile.

RM 83 but may be flawed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Napa vs Sonoma 2k Cabernet Duo

Napa vs Sonoma 2k Cabernet Duo

Sister Jan visiting from So-Cal prompted a mini-family reunion so we pulled a pair of 2k cabs - a Napa Valley Robert Craig Affinity, and a Sonoma Valley Arrowood for a comparison tasting with our Italian Beef dinner. Jan and bro-in-law Bill have joined us in some of our memorable visits to the Robert Craig estate high atop Howell Mountain and thus are fans and collectors of Craig Cabs, so we naturally started with a Craig Cab. Son Ryan had just recently had a vintage Arrowood Cab and wanted to try a different vintage from my vertical collection in the cellar. Hence the intersection of these two choices with these two wines. Two adjacent valleys and one varietal reveals diverse terrior and styles in this mini-horizontal tasting.

We write often here about Robert Craig Cabernets and his Affinity label representing 'three mountains and a valley,' for good QPR (quality-price-ratio) in a sophisticated Cab - Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn, Napa Valley, and Spring Mountain, or occasionally some Mount George. I might call Affinity Craig's 'flagship' or signature blend, but its priced to be more affordable than his single vineyard or single mountain designated labels from the three Mountains above. We hold or have held every vintage of this wine dating back to the inaugural release in 1993 including this fifteen year 2000 release which according to records is one of our last few remaining from this vintage.

Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

This showed more fruit, balance and complexity than recent earlier tastings. Dark purple/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this initially opened to a slight funkiness that revealed its age, which soon burned off to a complex, polished, nicely balanced sophisticated Cabernet with forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with a layer of pleasant, sweet, spicy oak accented by hint of tobacco leaf, black tea and leather, turning to tones of black cherry on the lingering moderate tannin finish.

Still holding its own, and while it won't improve further, its probably at the end of its apex, but still well within the acceptable drinking window, again showing the age-ability of Robert Craig Cabernets.

RM 90 points.

Arrowood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

While, as I wrote above, we hold the Robert Craig Affinity going back to 1993, we actually still hold this label going back to the 1991 vintage - the last bottle or two from a case acquired upon release back then. Records show we still hold ten vintages from that range of years.

To that end, we've enjoyed Arrowood cabs for a couple decades and consider it a benchmark best in class Sonoma Valley Cabernet, especially in this Sonoma County label which affords high QPR in a sophisticated quality Sonoma Cabernet. Like Craig above, we've enjoyed visiting the Arrowood estate in south east Sonoma Valley just north of the town of Sonoma, during our visits to the region.

Like the Craig above, this too was holding its own, and while it won't improve further, its probably at the end of its apex, but still well within the acceptable drinking window, again showing the age-ability of Arrowood Cabernets.

We find that Sonoma Cabernets generally tend to be softer, 'smaller' or lighter, and less complex that their counterparts in Napa Valley - traits that I attribute to the slightly cooler climate as part of the Sonoma terrior. This is due in part to the fact that Sonoma Valley lies to the west of Napa Valley, closer to, and a mountain range less removed from the Pacific Ocean.

This Arrowood was dark garnet colored with bright vibrant cherry, black cherry and plum fruits, with a layer of cedar (a tone that some might refer to a 'mint'), some slightly earthy leather and spice on a tangy spicy modest subdued oak, lingering tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Benton Lane Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for Easter Dinner

Benton Lane Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011 for Easter Dinner

I write often here about wine marketing and branding. Benton Lane have done a masterful job establishing an identity with their unique creative postage stamp styled labels. The metaphor works in creating an identity for the brand as well as allowing for multiple varietal offerings via the multi-color selections, as well as for the classification of vintages. The metaphor also works well for premium labels with the 'First Class' designation for select labels.

The Benton Lane family of labels as shown in their 'stamp' collection:

Benton-Lane derives its name from its location straddling the border between Benton and Lane counties in North-western Oregon. Lane is one of two counties to extend from the Pacific coast to the Cascade Mountain range. The Benton-Lane Estate is known as Sunnymount Ranch, named such since is is sunnier than the surrounding area due to its proximity in the shadow of some of the highest peaks in the coastal range, which tend to catch the marine cloud layer that flows in from the Pacific Ocean, in what climatologists call the “rain shadow”. The sunny slopes allow for earlier ripening of grapes increasing the chances of a complete harvest before the fall rains set in.

Steve and Carol Girard founded Benton-Lane when they purchased the property in 1988 and began planting Pinot Noir in 1989. Today the property comprises 138 acres in twenty-two different vineyard blocks predominantly planted to Pinot Noir of 7 different clones suitably matched to each sections terroir.

Benton-Lane’s first vintage was in 1992 and they produced Pinot Noir exclusively until 2003, when they expanded into small quantities of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

Benton Lane offer the distinction of a high QPR - quality price ratio in a modest/moderate priced Pinot Noir, a rare find, as I often write in this blog. I first discovered Benton Lane in a fine dining restaurant and have been a fan since.

Today we opened Benton Lane Pinot Noir 2011 for our Easter baked ham dinner.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied with predominant dusty rose and spicy black cherry, tones of rhubarb, strawberry and hints cranberry with tones of cassis and red licorice, with a smooth tangy modest tannin finish.

This was a perfect complement to our Easter dinner of baked ham with cherry compote, potatoes au-gratin, potato egg fritata with sweet and  jalapeno  peppers and scallions, and chocolate cheese blintzes with fresh berries, baked rolls and a fresh fruit plate.

RM 88 points.

Herbert Triebaumer Ruster Ausbruch Burgenland Neusiedlersee-Hügelland Rust 1996/1997

This is a Chardonnay blend of Fürmint and Gelber Muskatellier (Furmint and Gold Muscatel grape varieties). Tonight this was tea colored, while it was likely straw or butter colored upon release, over time it darkened to butter color, then weak tea colored, eventually darkening to the dark orange rust color it possesses now. Allowed to continue to age, this will likely eventually darken to dark strong tea color, although I suspect it won't necessarily improve the flavor and suitability of the wine. Some classic dessert wines are built to last decades, I suspect this Ruster Ausbruch nearing twenty years is at or even past its peak drinking window. We still have a case of this wine, so watch this blog as we monitor this over the coming months and years.

The thick almost syrupy extracted sweet fruit has been offset by a smoky almond nut flavor. Rather than the highly desirable apricot or peach flavors, this tended to be more cirtus focused. This was also a nice complement to Baked Ham and the Chocolate Cheese Blintzes.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

La Jota Howell Mtn Napa Cab Highlights Vin Chicago Holiday Tasting

La Jota Howell Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Highlights Vin Chicago Holiday Tasting

Our local wine merchant Vin Chicago (formerly Wine Discount Center) hosts a hospitable tasting of a selection of whites and reds each Saturday at their Chicagoland locations. While son Ryan and I are regulars there, I don't necessarily go out of my way to stop, sip and shop except when they feature a special wine that I want to try, as was the case today with the La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet which was the highlight of the tasting.

La Jota Howell Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

La Jota is descended from the historic La Jota Vineyard Company founded in the 1890's by Swiss immigrant Frederick Hess, who purchased 327 acres of the Mexican land grant Rancho La Jota that was founded when Napa pioneer settler George Yount obtained 4000 acres of Howell Mountain forest lands from the Mexican state proprietors in the 1840's.

Howell Mountain, forming the north end of the eastern mountain range that borders Napa Valley, was named the first official sub-appellation (American Viticultural Area (AVA)) of Napa Valley in 1983, and is considered to be one of the most distinctive terroirs, or sense of place, of the seventeen Napa appellations

 Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, complex and concentrated but balanced and approachable, showing some of that classic Howell Mountain sweet black raspberry bramble fruits, with tones of dark mocha and hints of black currant, floral, spice, earth and creosote with subdued sweet spicy oak on the firm but silky smooth polished tannin finish.

RM 93 points. 

This is my style of Cabernet, big, bold, fruity, dry, slightly sweet, tones of mocha ... characteristics of Howell Mountain which is why its one of my favorite appellations/styles ... but this was a bit too earthy for Linda. 

Aldo Conterno Langhe Rosso 2011

Piedmont based Aldo Conterno, known for stylish, high end Barolo wines, also produces this moderate priced Langhe Rosso, made primarily from the obscure Fresia grape varietal, with smaller quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. The result tastes like what Vin called a 'Barbera-meets-a-Barolo with a sense of  Bordeaux!'

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant flavors of black berry and black cherry with tones of floral, smoke, cedar, earth and dried herbs.

RM 88 points.

Anaba Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012
I was also looking forward to trying to well rated Sonoma Coast Pinot. I often write here the challenges to finding a good, high QPR Pinot. 

Vin Chicago gave this 92 points, and The Pinot Report gave this 94 points and wrote of this wine and it's "bright cherry flavors with earth and forest floor notes". 

I agree with their assessment of its medium deep ruby color and rich ripe cherry. Unfortunately the tones that they referred to as 'earthy' and 'forest floor', were a bit too predominant and came across as a sense of 'green' or dried wet grass overshadowing the bright cherry fruit flavors. 

RM 87 points.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Del Dotto Caves Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Del Dotto Caves Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

This is the last of a selection of this label that we acquired during one of our several visits to the Del Dotto properties around the millennium. This somewhat obscure label was a tribute to the Caves at the old historic winery facility (left) over on Atlas Peak Road on the northern edge of Napa town that they took over around that time and which they still inhabit and operate as a tasting room to this day.

Since then, they have built and opened their magnificent 'Venetian Estate Winery and Caves on the Del Dotto Rutherford Estate where Zinfandel Lane meets Hwy 29 just south of St Helena. Both locations conduct the spectacular Del Dotto cave tours (left) which  remain a highlight of many visitor's trips to Napa Valley.

Caves was a 'second' label from their flagship branding, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. I've written here about them being a pioneer with Napa Valley Sangiovese during this time. It was likely their secondary selections that didn't make it into the flagship blend, or excess remaining bulk from the primary production, although this is less likely since this was a more value based price point relative to the flagship labels offering greater QPR - Quality Price Ratio. Even then, this is holding and showing remarkably well after fifteen years, another testament to the age worthiness of the Del Dotto line.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, this still shows big floral and perfume bouquet, huge full forward fruit accented by sweet currant - with a predominant almost cognac flavor, dark ripe cherry, spice, and tones of smoke, anise and licorice on the long moderate tannin tangy finish. Again, as before, even bigger and brighter than earlier tastings. 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 8% Sangiovese

RM 89 points.