Saturday, June 27, 2015

Big Cab Napa/Sonoma Trio Key Surf & Turf Dinner

Big Cab Napa/Sonoma Trio Key Surf & Turf Dinner

For an end of week Friday night surf & turf dinner, Linda prepared Sockeye Salmon and NY Strip steaks accented by rice pilaf, bacon wrapped green beans and baked potatoes and Beth brought a dinner salad. I pulled two 1995 Napa Valley Cabernets and Bill brought a Sonoma Reserve Cab to round out the big red flight.

The mini horizontal tasting staged Snowden and Pride Mountain Napa Valley Cabernets alongside a Chateau St Jean Reserve Sonoma Cabernet from Bill's cellar. We have visited each of these producer's over the years during our Napa/Sonoma Wine Experiences.

We were joined by son Ryan who snuck out of the to come over for an impromptu tasting.

We met with Scott Snowden as a featured producer at a dinner we hosted at Brix in St Helena back shortly after they were 'outed' by Wine Spectator Magazine in their feature 'An Undiscovered Dozen' about several emerging hot producers of Napa Cabs. Over the ensuing years, we met with and acquired each of the twelve labels of which we still hold many yet today. We hold a half dozen vintages of each of these labels opened tonight. They seem to be aging the same following the same aging profile.

After dinner fresh baked dark chocolate brownies with fresh berries and Beth's chocolate and crunchy butter toffee highlighted the red wines as much as the beef and pre-dinner artisan cheeses.

With the Salmon course we tasted:

Fritz 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 nutty almond.

We tasted this a month ago when the tartness and acidity conflicted with lobster tail and lemon, but tonight it complimented the sockeye salmon nicely.

RM 87 points.

Snowden Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

We still hold more than a half dozen vintages of this label from their early days through their first decade, and including some recent releases as well. 

Surprisingly, this was the most expressive of the three wines tasted tonight. There seemed to be a role reversal between the Snowden and the Pride from what I would have expected. Our tasting experience of the Snowden this night was consistent with my tasting notes of the previous tastings back in 2005 and 2007. 

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, aromatic black berry and black cherry fruits accented by tones of earthy leather, graphite, tea and herbs turning to anise on the lingering tannin laced finish.

Tonight, the Snowden had the same profile as before except that after a couple hours it opened to reveal a sweet Bing Cherry tone that lingered through the evening. The next day, this returned to black fruits with smokey black tea and anise the following day, with a slight mustiness set in, and it seemed to lose its balance and come across a bit flabby while maintaining its firm backbone .

RM 91 points. WS gave it 93 back on release.

Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 

We visited the winery high up at the top of Spring Mountain and acquired this wine back during our Napa Wine Experience 1999 and again in 2003. We also most recently featured this wine at our 95 Horizontal Cab tasting two years ago. Tonight's tasting experience of the Pride fit my tasting notes of the previous tasting back in 2013.

While my inventory says this is my last bottle, I found a mixed case with four more up on the top rack of the cellar. Nice discovery since this is aging well and promises to hold on for a few more years. 

Dark, full bodied, firm, initially closed and tight - decanted and set aside, after an hour and half it started to open up to reveal full complex dark blackberry and black currant fruits accented by anise, with hints of spice, dusty cedar, and a subtle dark mocha on the full firm lingering tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

We visited the elegant Chateau and Estate in Sonoma Valley with Bill and Beth during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience back in 2009 when we tasted and Bill acquired this label. Chateau St Jean is one of the classiest producers and wineries in Sonoma Valley with its expansive grounds of stylish gardens and old world style Chateau and accompanying buildings - one of the most picturesque and authentic old world style sites in the region. Its one of our favorite producers in Sonoma that we've visited on numerous occasions including that visit.

This was dark garnet colored with medium body. It was the most polished and smoothest of the three wines, partly due to the Sonoma Cabernets being a bit softer and perhaps also because this is a Reserve blend rather than a firmer narrower Napa Cab, and as such had less backbone and structure than the other two wines but was more complex. Dark berry fruits and predominated with tones of black berry, black raspberry and touch of black cherry turning to tones of subtle mocha, hints of leather and cedar, and smooth soft tannins on the moderate finish.

RM 90 points.

Good Grief.

Linda noted this the next morning as she unloaded the dish washer. Even for a seemingly simple tasting, five of us and four wines tasted .... we still managed to use a large selection of wine glasses, and this doesn't count or show the water glasses!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jonata Todo Santa Ynez Red Wine 2010

Jonata Todo Santa Ynez Red Wine 2010

Celebrating birth of son Ryan's son Reid, on the day he came home from the hospital, we stopped in to see the new grandson and Ryan opened this Jonata special sipper for the occasion.

This is my first tasting of this producer. I see their labels at the wine shop for $90 plus so they must be making some good juice to justify such price points. Jonata were established as a 'cousin' winery to Napa’s ultra-premium cult classic Screaming Eagle. They released their first vintage in 2004. Robert Parker called them “one of California’s most exciting new wineries” in a review and the lid was blown off.

According to their website, they call this their 'Everything Blend', and when you see the composition you see why. The winemaker's notes say the 2011 blend is 75% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Grenache, 4% Sangiovese, 2% Viognier, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot. Wine reviewer Antonio Galloni says this 2010 release is "78% Syrah, 8% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a dollop of another half-dozen or so grapes."

Only Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone Valley sanctions such a diverse and extensive set of varietals in the mix with thirteen different varietals authorized. But this complex and diverse blend of varietals transcends both Bordeaux regional varietals in addition to those from the Rhone appellation. I often say that since the French have been doing this for over five hundred years, so they've pretty well figured out and refined, if not perfected the right combinations of grapes that are optimal for their terroir of their regions.

It seems Jonata need to figure out what this wine is supposed to be. We're big Syrah drinkers, probably the third most popular varietal in our cellar, but I had a hard time characterizing this blend. Perhaps it needs time to settle. It seems this wine may be a bit over-the-top with all these nuances in the blend. Drinking mostly Aussie Shiraz' or Syrah's we're accustomed to less complexity, more single dimensional with forward fruit sweetness.

Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, complex, concentrated forward black raspberry and blackberry fruits accented with layers of berry fruits with tones of dark chocolate and what the winemaker aptly calls 'charred steak, and a hint of jasmine from the Viognier'. I get the charred steak, I don't know what to make of the jasmine ... I might cal ll it a floral tone before turning to the creosote like cracked peppar on the tannin finish. It definitely calls for some bold cheese or better, bar-b-que to offset the boldness and the acidity. Perhaps it will settle with more time and find itself to reveal its true character ... find it what it wants to be when it grows up!  Can't wait to try this again in five and ten years.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Robert Craig 1998 Duo - Paso Robles Syrah, Amador County Zinfandel

Robert Craig 1998 Duo - Paso Robles Syrah, Amador County Zinfandel

Pulled a couple of 1998 Robert Craigs to consume this weekend as they're reaching their last chapter of their drinking window so its time.  We took the Syrah to Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria BYOB. We then took the Zin to the kid's house for Father's Day bar-b-q rib dinner.

Of course Robert Craig is known for his portfolio of Napa Valley Appellation designated Cabernets - Howell Mountain, Mt Veeder, Spring Mtn, Mt George and 'Affinity' his blend that also includes various Napa Valley sources. He also produces a Zinfandel sourced from Howell Mtn. Back in the earlier days, he sourced fruits of other non-Napa sources such as these. We hold more than a dozen vintages of his various Cabs, and every single release since 1993 of his flagship inaugural releases, and a few various bottles of his other selections.

We've visited Robert Craig's Howell Mountain top estate on numerous occasions and host him at a couple of wine producer dinners back in the nineties during our Napa Wine Experience 98 and 99. We may likely own more Craig bottles than any other producer in our extensive cellar. Records show we acquired at the winery and subsequently consumed three vintages of this same Amador County label from vintages near the 1998, and the '97 release of this Syrah.

Robert Craig Amador Country Zinfandel 2001 - Nov 25, 2011

Robert Craig Amador Country Zinfandel 2000 - Nov 27, 2003
Robert Craig Amador County Zinfandel 1997 - Nov 22, 2001
Robert Craig Paso Robles Syrah 1997 - August 2, 2001, May 8, 2001

Interesting how they behaved alike upon opening and over the course of the next hour. Both were a bit funky and flabby initially with a slight black cherry tartness and earthy leather mustiness. Dark garnet colored and medium bodied, the Zin was starting to take on a rust bricking on the edges. Over the course of the next hour each opened to reveal black berry fruits and a similar tone of sweet vanilla mocha with a moderate tannin, acidic finish. Give them an hour, but then consume them in one sitting. We held back part of the Syrah to finish the next evening and the funk started to set in again.

RM 86 points each.

Syrah -

Zinfandel -

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fantesca King Richard's Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

Fantesca King Richard's Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

What a rare and special treat for me, Richard, to celebrate the birth of grandson Richard Reid with son Richard Ryan, and how exciting and fitting to open a bottle dedicated to Richard, King Richard's Reserve, namesake wine named for another Richard. This special wine was made in honor of Richard, the father of Susan Hoff of Fantesca Estate and Winery.

They produce this wine for family patriarch, Susan’s father Richard, who loves his Pinot Noir. He pressed Susan and Duane Hoff to produce a Pinot just for him. They promised that if they produced a Pinot, they would at least name it after him, and they did!

We're huge fans of Fantesca Cabernets and Chardonnay and have visited Duane and Susan Hoff at their spectacular mountainside Fantesca Spring Mountain Estate and Winery overlooking St Helena during our Napa Wine Experiences in 2007 and in 2009With their elegant etched glass bottles, we enjoy serving their wines for special occasions, and we love their sophisticated and elegant wines too.

This release is sourced from fruit from the Sonoma County Russian River Valley. Initial tasting of this wine upon release indicated it wasn't yet ready. Now, at eight years, it is much improved and may be at or nearing the apex of its drinking window. Black/Garnet colored, medium bodied, flavorful, classic Burgundian aromas of earthy, dusty rose floral, with smooth, polished, silky, balanced elegant red and black berry fruits, subtle cola, dark cherry and spice notes with an accent layer of smoke that is pleasant and not the least bit offsetting. This has emerged as one of the best Pinot's I can recall. Certainly fitting for the memorable occasion.

RM 92 points.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Marquis Philips '9' Shiraz 2003

Marquis Philips '9' McLaren Vale/Padthaway  Shiraz 2003

For a Friday night bar-b-que rib dinner at home I pulled this Marquis Philips '9' Shiraz 2003, one of a few remaining from the oldest of a half dozen vintages we still hold of this wine crafted by Sparky and Sarah Marquis before they moved to Mollydooker fame. This bold expressive forward wine begs for the tangy spicy bar-b-cue and vica versa!

 As I wrote in my last review of this wine, last summer, this full-throttle intensely concentrated classic South Australian Shiraz burst on the scene in 2001 with direction from Robert Parker to 'run, don't walk' to your wineshop to buy this wine.  Marquis Philps was the result of a partnership between the highly respected South Australian viticulturists/winemakers, Sarah and Sparky Marquis and their importer, Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate. The Aussie - American partnership produced the whimsical Roogle character - half eagle and half kangaroo (shown on label left). The brand of Marquis Philips inexpensive wines immediately gained enormous success and a faithful following. Of course Sarah and Sparky Marquis went on to form the current follow-on brand/label Mollydooker.

While big, complex and concentrated, their '9' Shiraz has proven to be a wine to be consumed during its first 7-8 years of life as this eleven year old attests. This like others vintages held beyond ten years is showing its age as the intense fruit is giving way to a funkiness of non-fruit wood, leather and earth notes. My review back in 2004 noted the '03 was not as polished or delectable as the earlier vintage releases.

In their youth, they were big vibrant powerful wines with super rich, ripe luscious tongue-coating fruit. This release of  '9' was sourced from McLaren Vale (60%) and Padthaway (40%) in South Central Australia.

The 2003 Shiraz 9 at show the same at a dozen years as it did at eleven, still opaque dark garnet inky purple colored, full-bodied, complex,  intensely concentrated tongue coating notes of super ripe black currants and plum but the aging fruits are taking on notes of raisin and fig with tones of espresso roast, smoked meats and leather on the layer of mocha, burnt sugar with hints of anise and a finish of black and white pepper with a leathery texture on the lingering finish.

While Robert Parker and I gave this 93 points on release and in 2004, I give it 88 points at this stage of life and advise to drink it up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chateau La Louviere Pessac-Leognan 1994

Château La Louvière Pessac-Leognan Graves Bordeaux 1994

I last tasted and wrote about this wine about eighteen months ago when I wrote, "There is still life left in this nineteen year old. We still have half a dozen half bottles of this original case we purchased upon release. The original wood cases of 375ml small format half bottles contained 24 bottles equaling the same amount of wine as twelve regular 750ml bottles."  

That OWC - Original Wood Case, shown left, was buried in a double stack of cases in the corner of the cellar. When I moved the stack to gain access to our well tank recently, which provides passive cooling in our subterranean cellar, I pulled out this case and realized, that while its a half case, its twelve bottles remaining, since a case of 375 half bottles actually contains twice as many bottles, (but the same amount of wine (as a standard case of 12 bottles of 750ml each, as noted above.))

So we still have ten or eleven bottles of this left, and based on tonight's tasting, its time to drink up! Still not bad since the smaller 375 ml format bottles tend to age less gracefully and not hold as long as standard or larger format bottles. Our Tasting Journal Index for this wine shows a half dozen tasting notes going back seven years. (I suspect I have earlier tasting notes not indexed. I'll look into this at some point.)

While I lauded that there was life left in the earlier bottle tasting note, tonight, the dark berry fruits are definitely giving way to non-fruit earth, leather, creosote and musty wood notes. 

Dark ruby color with a brownish tinge starting to set in. Medium bodied, leathery and smoky creosote tones predominate over the black cherry and black berry fruits, accented by cedar and tangy and slightly tart cinnamon spice that gives way to a big full floral note that fills the mouth and lingers for minutes with the tongue coating moderate tannins.

This wine provides a good QPR - Quality Price Ratio with its pleasant early drinkability coupled with its longevity.

RM 86 points, (diminished from 89 at last tasting).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Elan Vineyards Atlas Peak Merlot 1995

Elan Vineyards Atlas Peak Merlot 1995 

With son Alec back home from NYC, in Chicago for business this week, it prompted a gala family dinner. Linda prepared flank steak, potatoes, asparagus, french bread, salad, bacon wrapped dates, and Erin brought chocolate mousse which we had with fresh mixed berries.

I pulled this aged Bordeaux varietal from the cellar for the occasion which mapped perfectly with dinner especially the steak, bacon wrapped dates, chocolate and berries.

We discovered and acquired this Elan Napa Merlot during one of producer dinner winery tastings with Elan Vineyards Patrick & Linda Elliott-Smith during our Napa Valley Wine Experiences back in the nineties. We still hold a half dozen vintages of their Cabernet but this is our last Merlot from that era.

Consistent with and still close to last review five years ago. At that time I wrote "Surprisingly lots of life in this 14 year old!" That still holds at twenty but its showing its age and beginning to enter a later chapter of its tasting window. The profile and character show much the same. Blackish garnet colored with tinge of purple hues, medium bodied, bright tangy spicy black fruits, tones of floral and cedar, hints of leather, eucalyptus and moderate tannic creosote and hint of anise on the long lingering finish.

RM 89 points.