Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lewis Cellars Ethan's Syrah 2012

Lewis Cellars Ethan's Napa Valley Syrah 2012

We're big fans of the artwork of Lewis Cellars, partly because they focus on the varietals that we favor most, notably Cabernet, and they also produce this Syrah, another of our favorites. Also, we identify with their Hoosier connection to the Indy 500, and we respect and support their devotion to family, such as their labels named for their grandkids.

Indeed, we've adopted their Alec's Blend as a signature wine for our Son Alec. Lastly, we whimsically have fun with their 'L' labeling which we identify with our Linda, and two generations of Lucys, and we're all about labeled wines for special occasions and birth year wines.

We track the Lewis range of varietal releases from vintage to vintage.  This vintage release just appeared in distribution so we picked up a few bottles to try while it is still generally available. Tonight, for a casual evening at home we pulled from the cellar our favorite profile Syrah to try.

Its not as flavorful or polished as the earlier release (s) I've reviewed due to a the detracting aftertaste from a not-so-subtle metallic graphite tone on the finish. Moreover, the fruits are somewhat subdued relative to earlier brighter, more vibrant vintages.

Dark garnet purple colored - full bodied - rich moderately concentrated and nicely balanced and polished black and blue fruits are accented by a layer of mocha chocolate and vanilla offset by a somewhat hard tinnish graphite edge that detracts from the firm full finish. Still it warrants a high rating and is pleasant tasty sipping.

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meiomi California Chardonnay 2013

Meiomi California Chardonnay 2013

Meiomi gets its name from the native American Indian word for “coast” from the Wappo and Yuki tribes who lived along the central/northern California coasts in the early days. The Meiomi wine label began in 2002 with their release of Pinot Noir, in a quest to deliver reasonably priced good QPR (quality price ratio) easy drinking wines that are approachable and ready to drink while young. I've written often and regularly in this blog about the challenges of finding such a Pinot Noir. I've tasted the label several times but have never been moved to write of the experience, until now.

Now Meiomi has applied such principles striving to produce a respectable high QPR affordable Chardonnay. I think they've come closer to achieving that goal with this Chardonnay than with their Pinots.
Both are blends from reputable vineyard sites in three different California regions - Sonoma County, Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties. Such a blend, lacking a sense of terrior or place, without predominance from one site or another, therefor warrants the 'California' designation for its origin, although they don't use such in their branding.

Meiomi is the handiwork of fifth generation offspring from the legendary Napa Valley winemaking family. Founder and winemaker Joseph Wagner is the son of  Chuck Wagner, winemaker of Caymus Vineyards, who is the son and co-founder with principles Charlie Wagner and Lorna Wagner who started Caymus Vineyards in the early seventies.

Joe's first wine enterprise was Belle Glos, named for Chuck Wagner's great-grandmother who first acquired the Napa Valley estate, followed by this label, Meiomi.

This is our first tasting of this label which is the second vintage release of Meiomi Chardonnay. This is surprisingly flavorful showing the essence of the Chardonnay descriptors of creamy and buttery in a nicely balanced pleasant drinking wine at a good QPR affordable pricepoint.

Butter colored, medium bodied, balanced acidity with tones of oak butter, hints of lychee fruit accented by citrus on a creamy finish. This is a blend of fruits that is 49% from Santa Barbara County, 30% Sonoma County and 21% Monterey County.

RM 87 points.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

BBQ on the deck features medley of Red Wines

Late Spring BBQ on the deck features medley of Red Wines

A pleasant late spring evening on the deck at Bill and Beth's with Bob and Gloria, chargrilled burgers, caprese and summer salads with a medley of wines provided a delightful setting to watch the Blackhawks struggle to a game 4 playoff win in double OT.

Hazy Blur Barossa Shiraz 2004

This is a fun wine, great for easy sipping on the deck with burgers, but its not a simple sipper by any means with its robust full bodied fruit forward profile.

We've enjoyed the various labels from this producer on many occasions including a super New Year's eve (2009) horizontal brand tasting at Bill and Beth's, shown in the link here, and an earlier vintage of this same label just earlier this week. Interesting that this '04 was showing well and still holding its fruit nicely, compared to the '02 which was showing its age.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, rich concentrated black and blue fruits with tones of spice, hints of vanilla, smoke and pepper.

RM 91 points.

Justin Paso Robles Iscosceles 2007

This may have been the best Isosceles I can remember. The hotter Paso Robles clime tends to add a harsh edge to the Bordeaux varietals at times but this release was quite nice - polished and balanced for smooth easy drinking.

Dark ruby colored, medium to full bodied, black berry and black cherry with a red berry tone, hints of sweet mocha and anise and a touch of sweet oak on the back palate with soft tannins provide easy approachable sipping. A blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot.

RM 90 points.

Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

We discovered and acquired this wine with Bill and Beth during our Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Wine Experience back in 2011, at the spectacular winery high atop Diamond Mountain.

Dark garnet colored, the medium body and softer more moderate profile of this wine render it more approachable for casual drinking although it is complex and sophisticated enough to stand up to foods for an elegant dinner. 

Bill's notes from an earlier tasting: "Clove, pepper and smoke on the nose. Medium bodied but the spice carries over on the palate along with plum, cassis and blackberry. Still ample but well integrated tannins. Update: evolved after 2 hours to reveal additional minerality with notes of leather and mocha."

A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 22% Cabernet Franc.

WCC 92 points.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pichon Baron and Viader 'V' 1999 Flight

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron and Viader 'V' Highlight Birthday Surf-n-Turf Dinner

For a family gathering for a gala birthday dinner, L prepared the ultimate feast, lobster tails and filets of beef. To pair with the entree's we served Fritz Sonoma County Chardonnay and Pichon Baron Pauillac, one of my favorite reds. Following the Pichon we pulled from the cellar Viader 'V' Proprietary Red Blend from the same vintage for a mini horizontal comparison. Son Ryan brought from his cellar a Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape. To complete the dinner we had baked potatoes and sweet potatoes and haricut verts. We were joined by Ryan, Michelle, Erin, Johnnie and Marleigh, Lucy and Richie.

After dinner we had celebratory chocolate cake with ice cream. 

Bill and Beth joined later for the second round wines which also included a Groom Shiraz 2004 for the ladies while the men focused on the Bordeaux Blends.

Fritz Winery Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008

Butter colored, medium bodied, slightly tart on opening with layer of acidity, tone of green apple, tropical fruits, hints of lemon and hints nutty almond. Tartness and acidity conflicted with lobster tail and lemon.

RM 86 points.

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron Pauillac Bordeaux 1999

Following the last couple UGC Bordeaux tastings where this wine was one of the standouts, I selected this from the cellar to showcase my birthday dinner. This is classic Bordeaux at its best. Even though we PNP - pop and poured this without decanting, it immediately resonated from the glass with classic Bordeaux bouquet and flavors of dark berry fruits, graphite, violets and hints of smoky tar, tobacco and cassis. Dark ruby  colored, medium bodied, polished and nicely balanced, soft and almost delicate for a Pauillac, the tongue coating fine tannins are silky smooth on the lingering finish. At sixteen, this is likely at its prime drinking now.

RM 91 points.

Viader 'V' Proprietary Red Blend 1999

We acquired a couple vintages of this limited release flagship Bordeaux Blend at the winery during our 2008 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience, and then several more vintages at auctions. We met winemaker and principle Delia Viader at the Viader tasting at the Chicago Lakeview  Binny's.

I recall from the tasting at the winery that this blend features a higher percentage of Petit Verdot accented by Cabernet Franc, to compliment the Cabernet Sauvignon, which manifests itself as more firm, greater backbone and more predominant lead pencil graphite tones propping up the black fruits.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium bodied, this opened with an obtuse acidic edge of black cherry that took a half hour to shed. Over the course of the hour it gained complexity and depth with concentrated black fruits punctuated by pencil lead, creosote and tobacco leaf. The longer it was opened the more it took on a layer of sweetness with tones of dark chocolate/mocha and sweet oak with gripping tannins on the moderate finish. This too is likely at its apex now at fifteen years.

RM 91 points.

Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée 2003

Son Ryan brought this from his cellar for our celebration dinner.

This was tight and a bit closed with the fruits subdued and overtaken by a layer of black tea, tobacco leaf, with hints of creosote over the black berry fruits. This needs bold zesty bar-be-que to offset the tight firm black fruits and non-fruit layer.

RM 87 points.

Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz 2004

Fruit for this wine comes from vineyards directly adjacent to the renowned Penfolds Kalimna vineyard - source for their legendary Grange Shiraz, the Groom Kalimna Bush Block was planted with Shiraz in 1997 and produced its first crop in the 1999 vintage, and from another reputable quality Barossa vineyard, the Fechner Vineyard, which is home to 50 year-old vines.

This was fuller and richer than I remember from other vintages, dark garnet colored, full bodied with concentrated blackberry and black raspberry fruits accented by ripe plum, turning to a layer of caramel/mocha, vanilla and spice with hints of tar and leather on a chewy gritty tannin lingering finish. 

RM 92 points.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hazyblur Baroota South Australia Shiraz 2002

Hazyblur Baroota South Australia Shiraz 2002

Following yesterday's tasting of Hazyblur Adelaide Plains South Australia Shiraz 2002, and the realization it is time to drink these '02's, we pulled this other last remaining bottle to take BYOB to Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. As written before, we're dining there less often since they raised their prices and started charging a $20 corkage fee which we feel is a too high. This is the same fee we paid at Flemings Prime Steakhouse in Chicago recently, for vastly superior wine service - the difference akin to a prop vs a jet.

This is the last vintage that showed the old label packaging/branding (shown below), before switching in 2003 to the new branding with the larger more modernistic stylish larger graphic label scheme - gold for Baroota and McLaren Vale, green for Kangaroo Island, as shown in photo (left) from our New Year's eve horizontal tasting in 2009.

As with the 2002 yesterday, its time to drink as this label too has entered the last phase of its drinking window, with the fruit taking on a more ripe raisiny character and the berry and plum flavors starting to give way to non fruit tones of leather, wood and smoke or tar.

Taking into account the slight diminution of the fruits as described above, tonight this showed consistency with our last tasting which was in 2009. Full bodied, super ripe plum, blackberry and currants with hints of and hint of cedar, leather and licorice on the full firm lingering finish. Still this showed better than the Adelaide Plains from the same vintage last evening.

RM 89 points.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hazyblur South Australia Adelaide Plains Shiraz 2002

Hazyblur South Australia Adelaide Plains Shiraz 2002

We have several vintages of this label, times several labels from this producer, who generally provides high QPR tasty easy drinking.

This is the oldest in our cellar and oldest when tasted. It wasn't as concentrated, smooth, balanced or polished as my earlier rating of the 2001 vintage, or of the 2003 vintage might indicate. Setting aside the fact these are three different vintages, when I analyze those reviews, they were 94 points at 2 years of age, 92 at eight years of age, 91 points at ten years of age, and now 87 points at fourteen years of age. Is there a message or a trend here? I would say so, the tasting window on Cellartracker says drink by 2009 ... drink up ... It was great with pizza in any event.

The 2001 at fourteen is garnet colored, medium bodied with bright cherry and black berry giving way to tones of cedar and leather with hints of green pepper and tar returning to a bit of cedar on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Eyrie Robert Morris Special Dinner and Neiman Cellars Red Blend

Eyrie Robert Morris Special Dinner and Neiman Cellars Red Blend Punctuate Wright Plus Weekend

This weekend was the annual Wright Plus House Walk of historic homes in suburban Chicago. The event is sponsored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust which owns and operates the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, and manages and offers tours of the famous Robie House in Hyde Park, and the Rookery Building and Emil Bach house in Chicago.

The highlight of this years event centered on the showcase Avery Coonley House in Riverside (shown left).

As part of my work as a volunteer docent/interpreter for the Trust, after working the preview night tour at the Coonley house, we headed to Oak Park to visit the FLW Balch house. We made arrangements to dine at Eyrie Restaurant, the outlet of the Robert Morris College Institute of Culinary Arts. Tonight they offered a special price fix four course dinner prepared by two alumni chefs, Brad Hindsley and Rachel Murphy, Owner and Executive Chef and Pastry Chef of Spire Farm-to-Fork Restaurant in LaPorte, Illinois.

We naturally are wine centered in our dining choices so this was the perfect occasion to pull a prized bottle from our cellar since BYOB is the standard at Eyrie. To accompany the filet of boeuf entree we brought a Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Blend 2004.

The Dinner

(Pictured at bottom)
Amuse Bouche 
First - Smoked Trout Pate, Pickled Vegetables, Crusty Bread, Saxony Cheese
Second - Duck Confit Risotto, Spring Peas, Morel Mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese
Third - Porcini Crusted Fillet, Grilled Asparagus, New Potato Hash, Bearnaise
Finale - Rhubarb Sorbet, Polenta Cake, Ginger - Orange Jam, Candied Orange

After - Dark chocolate cookie

The Wine

Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Blend 2004

This exceeded our expectations - this is the best Neiman we have had to date from the half dozen vintages we hold in our cellar. I forgot how good this wine is until I went back and read an earlier review. It is like the 2002 which we reviewed in an earlier blogpost

This wine was a perfect accompaniment to the smoked trout, the duck confit with morel mushroom and the parmesan cheese, the filet of boeuf, and even the sorbet with orange, and finally the chocolate cake.

This comes packaged in a heavy oversized almost magnum weight bottle. 

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, it opened a bit hot, but this burned off (no pun intended) after a third of an hour ... 

This tasted like a vibrant expressive Bordeaux, full forward complex berry fruits accented by floral, leather, tobacco leaf, some slightly earthy tones and long lingering notes of cedar with a smooth polished tannin finish that resonates with silky floral cedar mouthfeel long after tasting. Blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

RM 92 points. 

The special dinner and perfect wine selection provided a delightful evening out and a wonderful wine and dine experience.  Eyrie is a jewel and worth checking out for a BYOB experience. When I can get my hands on Linda's smartphone/camera, I'll post pictures of our dinner courses and restaurant.

The Dinner 
Amuse Bouche - Ginger and berry
First - Smoked Trout Pate, Pickled Vegetables, Crusty Bread, Saxony Cheese
Second - Duck Confit Risotto, Spring Peas, Morel Mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese
Third - Porcini Crusted Fillet, Grilled Asparagus, New Potato Hash, Bearnaise
Finale - Rhubarb Sorbet, Polenta Cake, Ginger - Orange Jam, Candied Orange

After - Dark chocolate cookie 

Amuse Bouche - Ginger and berry
First - Smoked Trout Pate, Pickled Vegetables,
Crusty Bread, Saxony Cheese
Second - Duck Confit Risotto, Spring Peas,
Morel Mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese

Third - Porcini Crusted Fillet, Grilled Asparagus,
New Potato Hash, Bearnaise

Finale - Rhubarb Sorbet, Polenta Cake,
Ginger - Orange Jam, Candied Orange

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers Day Family Dinner Features Lewis Alec's Blend

Mothers Day Family Dinner Features Lewis Alec's Blend

To honor (wife) Linda and the mother's in our family on Mother's Day, we pulled a Lewis Alec's Blend for our gala family dinner featuring four generations of family with Mom (great-grandma), wife (grandma), daughter and daughter-in-law (moms), and two grand-daughters (and grandson).

We have fun with this branding, with its signature 'L' on the label, ala Laverne and Shirley, or Linda, or her mother Lucy, or our daughter Erin Leigh, or her daughter, our first grandchild/daughter Lucy!

Lewis wines are family favorites for such special occasions, punctuated by this namesake Blend for our son Alec. Indeed, Lewis Cabernets are some of favorites and we have a decade long vertical of Alec's as well as their Cabs, dating back to this '97. This blend is dedicated to Randy and Debbie Lewis' first grandson Alec. I believe this may be the, or certainly close to the inaugural vintage of this label/blend - its certainly the oldest I have ever seen (or tasted).

After I posted this blogpost, I went back and read my earlier review of this wine which occurred, ironically, on Mother's Day, fourteen years ago in 2001. According to that note, Lewis' grandson Alec was born on the day of the harvest of the grapes for this wine, hence the namesake!

Linda prepared a fabulous surf and turf dinner with beef tenderloin and crab legs with corn on the cob, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and salad. Erin also brought au gratin potatoes. For the white wine flight, we poured the remaining Brewer Clifton Chardonnay 2007 from the previous night and we opened a Meomi Napa Chardonnay 2011.

The highlight wine, Lewis Alec's Blend 1997 exceeded expectations. I was concerned about its age, the oldest tasting experience for this label, and a bit dubious based on some poor Cellartracker scores.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, it showed full, concentrated complex black raspberry and black berry fruits accented by tones of clove, mocha and hints of black tea and cedar on a spicy oak moderate tannin finish.

After our blockbuster domestic Syrah tasting the night before, it was interesting to taste this vintage Syrah which is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 15% Petit Verdot. The Bordeaux varietals no doubt contribute to its longevity, impressive none-the-less, drinking this well at eighteen years. It leaves less anxious to feel compelled to drink up our vertical collection of this label.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Constant Queen of Diamond Syrahs Highlight BBQ Rib Dinner

Constant Queen of Diamond Syrahs Highlight BBQ Rib Dinner

For a BBQ rib dinner wine buddy Bill brought a Constant Diamond Mountain Syrah 2010 which I matched with a 2006 for a comparison tasting. I wrote about our visit to the Constant Estate high atop Diamond Mountain in northwest Napa Valley in a blogpast last fall when we toasted producer Freddie Constant who had recently passed away unexpectedly. Our estate visit and tasting was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2011. For further comparison tasting we opened a favorite Syrah we've been tasting regularly as a benchmark - 90+ Cellars Lot 101 Columbia Valley Syrah.

Prior to dinner we opened a Brewer Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2007.

Brewer Clifton produce an extensive collection of nine different single vineyard designated Chardonnays each crafted to reflect the distinct terroir of each vineyard site.

Crisp, restrained with lively acidity, kiwi, lemon and lime citrus tones with a layer of flint, hints of melon and peach.

RM 88 points.

Tonight, comparing two vintages of Constant against a benchmark domestic Syrah we know well and have been drinking regularly, was great fun and quite revealing.

Constant Diamond Mountain Queen of Diamonds Northern Sonoma Syrah 2010

We discovered and acquired this label during our Estate visit mentioned above. Bill subsequently acquired this later vintage from the producer/winery through the club allocation. Wow, delicious. This has to be at the apex of its drinking window here at five years of age. I can't imagine this improving any with further aging. Of course, I am partial to and prefer the sweeter tasting profile such as this.

This was reminiscent of and almost as good as another memorable Napa/Sonoma region domestic Syrah, Kongsgaard Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2007, with a similar tasting profile, although it was perhaps not quite as complex or polished.

Its also up there with another favorite Napa Valley Syrah with a similar tasting profile - Arns Melanson Vineyard Syrah 2008 - although Arns is from the opposite side/corner of Napa Valley up near Atlas Peak, Pritchard Hill. Well, the stage is set for a future ultimate Syrah domestic tasting challenge! 

The 2010 Constant was dark inky purple colored, full bodied, full forward flavors of bright expressive black raspberry and blue berry fruits, a layer of sweet dark chocolate, clove and tones of what reviewer Steve Tanzer calls 'bacon fat' and Robert Parker calls 'wild meaty notes'. All I know if its really good and tasting great right now.

RM 93 points.

Constant Diamond Mountain Queen of Diamonds Northern Sonoma Syrah 2006 

Perhaps due to an additional several years of age, and likely also characteristics of the vintage, while tasty and having a similar tasting profile, this was a shadow of the 2010 vintage, less flavorful, less complex or concentrated and less polished. Yet, this was very tasty pleasant drinking. That's how extraordinary the '10 was!

We last tasted this label a year ago when I wrote the review below and tonight's tasting experience was consistent and similar: "The 2006 Constant exhibited dark inky purple color - medium-full bodied, nicely balanced and polished bright full flavors of blue and black fruits with a layer of ripe plum and sweet clove, hints of tea and cedar on the lingering finish. While this is tasty now, it lacks backbone and structure for longevity."

RM 91 points.

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 101 Syrah 2009

Like several earlier tastings against several Shiraz' or Syrahs, this has served as a tasting benchmark. Against several, this came out as the standard bearer. Hence, tonight was a great comparison test and it met its match (es).  

I've raved about this wine several times in this blog, but tonight it came across as simpler, less complex, and less polished than the 2010 Constant. It was less flavorful than the '10 but matched up better against the 2006. 

However, we shouldn't forget that this negociant label is less than half the price of the Constant, so we shouldn't be too disappointed. It still may be one of our favorite drinking wines in our cellar right now, certainly at this price point!

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 90 points.

Grgich Current Release Tasting

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Estate Current Release Flight Tasting

From a well known legendary Napa producer, here are a couple wines that while consistent and reliant labels, don't necessarily distinguish themselves as high QPR, being rather middle of the road achievers at Napa Estate prices.  If you find them on sale, they are mainstays for the cellar for category benchmark every day or weekend drinking, except for occasional exceptional vintages when they can be standouts.

Grgich Estate Dry Fume Blanc 2012

At the retail pricepoint, there are some labels I believe prefer that offer more complexity and variety for the premium retail pricepoint. But if you get it on sale, then this is a standard bearer to keep in the cellar. Straw colored, light bodied, clean crisp citrus, hints of pear and flowers with dry clean acid finish.

RM 88 points.

Grgich Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay 2011

Butter colored, medium bodied, rather simple straightforward Chardonnay, not loaded with butter or oak but tending to predominant tones of citrus over the subtle pear and green apple with a mineral finish.

RM 87 points.

Grgich Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, rather subdued closed and complex but tight dark berry fruits tones of sweet caramel, black tea and cedar with with hints of floral on a moderate tannin finish. Needs to time to settle and to open and reveal its native character. 

RM 90 points.

Grgich Napa Valley Zinfandel 2010

Bright dark Ruby colored, medium-full bodied, zesty brambly flavorful black and dark red berry fruits with tones of vanilla and hints of pepper and smoky creosote on the finish ... begs for some some bar-b-que ribs. North Napa Calistoga Estate Zinfandel with a 3% trace of Petite Sirah.

RM 88 points.

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 2001

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 2001

Following the blockbuster 2001 vintage Diamond Creek Napa Cabernet we tasted the other night, I was inspired to pull a 2001 Napa Bordeaux varietal from the cellar to go with chargrilled beef burgers. This Liparita Merlot bears the same name, but I don't believe is any relation to the current Liparita Napa brand that exists today.

We are nearing the end of the cache of Liparita Napa Cabs and Merlots we acquired during this earlier era, when we visited with and conducted barrel tastings with the then winemaker Gove Celio at the Oakville custom crush facility. (I recall pictures of this tasting event but cant find them - challenges of days before digital photography, and journaling.)  Records show that at one point we had a half dozen (seven) vintages of L:iparita Napa and Howell Mountain Cabs and Merlots. Research shows Gove moved on to Neal Family Vineyards thereafter but I must admit, while having acquired and drinken Neal Family Cabernet, I did not make the connection.

Looking into this further I see he is director of winemaking there and Neal Family Vineyards is on Liparita Road in Angwin high up on Howell Mountain. Somehow we missed this during our numerous trips to Howell Mountain. We'll definitely explore this further for a future Napa trip.

My how time flies, as my last tasting note for this wine was back in 2011... My review from then - "Dark garnet color, medium full bodied - opened with a floral violet aroma, ripe red and black raspberry and blackberry fruits predominate turning to a firm tobacco box with hint of tar on a moderate smooth tannin finish. 89 points."

While still holding on, this is nearing the end of its drinking window as the floral aroma and the dark fruits are starting to give way to the non-fruit tones expressed above, and a layer of  what I might call 'wet musty wood' is starting to set in. Drink up.

RM 86 points.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz 2002

Henry's Drive Padthaway Reserve Shiraz 2002

I wrote about this producer, the Longbottom Family, and the rationale for the name and branding in a blogpost on Henry's Drive last summer. Wines from this producer during this era were crafted by none other than Sara and Sparky Marquis of Marquis Philips fame, and today, producers of the Mollydooker brand of wines, famously known for their cartoonish labels and wine names. This wine seems to be following the same aging trajectory as a 2003 vintage Marquis Philips label tasted a couple of weeks ago from this earlier blog posting.

Another blog posting from around that time indicates that the Henry's Drive Cabernet Sauvignon from this same vintage is aging well and holding very nicely at this same age.

My cellar records indicate we drank all six of our bottles of this wine and that only '04 vintage bottles remain but, alas, here is an '02 from the cellar. Good to find it and consume it before its too late.

This is clearly at the end of its drinking window as the berry fruits are turning to ripe raisin fig tones. My last review was in 2013 which remarked on the diminution of this wine from age relative to earlier consumption notes when it was young. Dark ink color - medium full bodied - lighter and much more subdued than my earlier tasting note record, which was six years ago.

In 2013 I wrote, "This was not the full, thick extracted fruit with huge mouth-feel fruit bomb from that review. It still has the same flavor profile of currant and blackberry, a tone of black cherry giving way to tones of tea and tobacco with a hint of smoky sweet oak and vanilla on the long lingering silky tannin finish. My '90' rating was significantly reduced from my earlier '94' back in 2005 suggesting its time to drink younger and drink remaining bottle (s) in the near term as they are past their prime and not improving."

Tonight this opened with a forward tone of pleasant sweet vanilla oakiness which burned off after a short while turning to the ripe raisin layer that is overtaking the fruits. The rest, as they say, is history. Drink up if you have any left.

RM 85 points.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Celebration dinner features Progressive Red Flight

Celebration dinner features Progressive Red Flight

Following a gala bridal shower Linda gave for friends Bill and Beth's soon to be daughter-in-law Alyssa, they hosted a dinner with an extensive progressive wine flight. Dinner featured beef tenderloin, twice baked potatoes and hericot verts with prosciutto and dinner salad. Pre-dinner featured a selection of artisan cheeses. For the pre-dinner wine flight Bill opened with Freestone Sonoma County, then Sea Smoke Ten Pinot Noirs.

For a midi, transition from the Pinot's to the big Napa Cab's I brought a Fidelitas Optu Columbia Valley red blend. The Main course was highlighted by Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, followed by birth-year vintage wine for son and groom to be, Drew, Duckhorn Napa Cabernet. Following dinner with medley of chocolates, Dan opened a brooding a Brunello di Montalcino.

Freestone (Joseph Phelps) Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2011

Label from 2007 vintage from cellar.
I write often about how difficult it is to find a high QPR Pinot Noir at a lower price point. This is such a find. Bill posted his tasting notes for his hosted wines so I defer to his lead.

"This is usually our "go to" everyday Pinot and it never disappoints. A bit brighter on the fruit than is my preference but still has some earthiness to provide balance. Was a nice opener to the evening but was overwhelmed by the Sea Smoke 10 that followed."

WCC - 88 points.

Sea Smoke Ten Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2009

Bill and Dan love this wine and are both club members and get regular allocations. This is a classic example of that addage, the next best thing to having a great wine cellar is having a wine buddy with a great cellar! I enjoy an occasional Pinot Noir, especially in the summer with lighter food fare but generally trend to the Bordeaux varietals which predominate in our collection.

This was an elegant and polished pre-dinner wine, great witht the artisan cheeses. Bright vibrant cherry, dusty rose with hints of rhubarb and cranberry.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker - "Full disclosure - I am a bigger fan of Sea Smokes Southing than I am 10. I usually find the 10 to be a bit hot and heavy on the alcohol. In retrospect, I likely have been drinking 10 too early. This was delicious. Full bodied, polished, full of ripe cherry and strawberry, balanced by earthy, smoky flavors. This pretty much overwhelmed the 2011 Freestone Pinot that preceded it. An elegant complement to a charcuterie tray to start the evening event."

WCC - 90 points

Fidelitas Optu Columbia Valley Red Wine 2002

The name Fidelitas means "faithful, loyal, true". I thought this was an appropriate wine for celebrating an upcoming betrothal. The producer's mantra cry is "Fidelitas is faithful to Bordeaux grape varieties, loyal to modern craft winemaking techniques, and true to Washington State's Red Mountain terroir."
I remember attending a wine tasting at the local Binny's, the Chicagoland mega-merchant, now with over thirty stores that recently extended downstate to Central Illinois, and hearing a fellow taster rave about this wine. I research it and obtained a six pack from the producer. It was in its infancy then, 2002 being just the third release. 

Today, the current release is their 13th vintage of what is now known as Optu Red Mountain, a big, bold wine red blend. The brand has now grown to 18 red wines and two white wines: all Bordeaux-varietals, 90% sourced from Columbia Valley Red Mountain appellation, with the exception of some "lasting vineyard relationships that are too good to pass up", according to the producer.

The name OPTU appeared with the 2002 vintage, which as the producer recalls, was their most 'most exciting vintage by packaging standards, and the origin of the name OPTU.'  Says, Jess Zander, "I also happen to LOVE this vintage and was lucky enough to hoard some for several years.  A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 9% Malbec.  I believe that this is the first wine we included some Red Mountain fruit with 10% of the make up coming from Red Mountain Vineyard.  We bumped the line up to a total of 6 products in this vintage, most notably with the introduction of Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon."

This was appropriately ordered as a transition from the Pinots to the bigger deeper Napa Cabs. Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, subdued blackberry with hints of blueberry and plum fruits, with tones of tobacco, tea and hints of medium-light oak, appropriately balanced with medium acidity and moderate, soft tannins.

RM 89 points.

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

We visited the Diamond Creek Estate with Bill and Beth and the vineyard tour and tasting experience were clearly one the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011. The Gravelly Meadow vineyard is shown left.

When Bill presented this, I anticipated it would be at the apex of its tasting profile and it certainly seemed to be so. When he opened the bottle and poured a taste, the aromas exploded out of the glass with huge fruit and floral perfume. This was exceptionally full flavored and perfectly balanced, its complexity was  a harmonious symphony of flavors.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker for this tasting - "I cannot imagine this being any better than it was last night and consistent with prior experience indicating that the 2001 Napa Cabs are undoubtedly in their prime right now. Deep, opaque, purple in the glass. Nose very much resembling a St. Estephe with herbal earthy notes. But this explodes on the palate with layer upon layer of dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate and mocha. Also detected some minerality reflecting the soil composition. This really fills the mouth and has a long, long lingering finish. Likely the hit of a gala dinner with friends Rick, Linda, Dan and Linda. Wish I had another bottle."

WCC - 94 points.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1984

We've stopped at the Duckhorn Estate in northeast Napa Valley on many occasions during our Napa trips as it sits at the foot and entrance to Howell Mountain. Its an idyllic setting and also enjoyable tasting. 

To commemorate the day's proceedings, Bill opened this special birth year vintage release Napa Cab. At thirty plus years it showed remarkably well with amazing resilience - still wholly approachable showing the aging potential of hearty Napa Cabs from reputable producers, when cared for and cellared properly. This was a nice complement to the beef tenderloin, the black pepper laced potatoes and the after dinner dark chocolates.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker -

While past prime, this wine is still interesting for someone who has experience with older wines. This still retains its indigo color but is showing some bricking. On the palate, while there's still some fruit present, leather, tobacco and cedar flavors are more apparent. Tannins have given way to glycerine. Still this was very approachable, reasonably priced, better than the last bottle. A fitting birth year wine in recognition of second sons impending wedding and the wedding shower given by friends Rick and Linda.

89 Points

Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino 2007

Dan brought this from his cellar. A fitting finish to the evening. True to the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, this is 100% Sangiovese.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex black berry and black cherry turning to sage, mushroom and earthy forest floor with firm but nicely integrated tannins on the acidic finish.

RM 92 points.