Saturday, September 26, 2015

Gala celebration dinner features Phelps Backus - Insignia Napa Cabernets

Gala celebration dinner features Phelps Backus and Insignia Napa Cabernets - a 'once (or twice) in a lifetime' tasting flight!

I've written often in these pages about various and customary investment strategies for building a wine cellar. Pick a varietal, a region/appellation profile that you like, determine key vintages that reflect the best of that wine, and pick key vintages you wish to commemorate for birth or anniversary years or other special occasions, all according to an acceptable budget. The result should be a selection of wines for all occasions - every day wines, once a week and once a month wines, and once a year or once in a lifetime special occasion wines.

Saturday was one of those special occasions warranting special wines... Attending Dr Dan's daughter Hillary's wedding, he gathered and served two very special wines for our reception dinner - Joseph Phelps Bachus and Phelps Insignia, from various vintages, showcase highlights from Dan's cellar collection.

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Oakville Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

You know its a special wine when each bottle label has its own serial number. This is the premier selection of the Joseph Phelps collection.

This 2005 release tasting was a bit closed and tight, at ten years old this has many years of life yet and may not even have reached its peak drinking window.

Dark inky garnet purple colored, smooth polished nicely balanced black berry and black raspberry fruits, tones of anise and cedar turning to a hints of dark mocha on the long lingering silky smooth tannin finish.

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with 24 months in new oak.

Tasted alongside several Insignias its hard to pick a favorite. More on that below as we parsed the various vintages of Insignia.

Joseph Phelps Insignia vertical selection/collection - 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

What a treat to parse these different vintages. While the venue didn't allow for a technical tasting, since the bottles were dispersed across the select tables, and brought out serially by the servers, the selection of the flight was extraordinary and a very special treat indeed. And being a gala celebration, it didn't allow for discrimination of one glass to the next, hence, I won't endeavor to try to handicap or comment on each vintage, rather some comments and remembrance notes.

While Backus may be the ultra-premium label, Insignia is the flagship of the Joseph Phelps brand. It is a Cabernet based blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with highlights of Bordeaux varietals and an occasional Malbec, that vary from vintage to vintage. Annual production is around a thousand cases plus.

Phelps Insignia 2008
rear label
Phelps Insignia 2010
rear label
As I review my photo's of the labels. which is a great way to capture the tasting flight order, I note that the while the rear labels of Insignia cites the blend for that vintage, it does not reference the vintage (shown left)! What a shame since its impossible to match the blend to the vintage unless one pairs the photo of the front label with the rear label.

I cant imagine why they do this and find it hard to believe it is done on purpose, as much as I find it hard to believe that it is an oversight, being the flagship of such a sophisticated label, with so many years history. Frankly, its unfortunate and bit irritating when trying to recreate a tasting experience and learn from and critically review the various vintage reflections.

We started with the 2006 and that set a benchmark for the evening. Moving to the 2008, Bill cited that as his preference, while I favored the 2004. The '06 was tight and a bit closed while the '08 came across as more approachable and open.

More approachable still was the '04 which was not as firm, bold or concentrated, but tended to have more sweet tones which I tend to favor. Linda liked the more approachable '04 as well. Then the '10 was presented and it seemed to eclipse all the others in a symphony of refined polished perfectly balanced flavors.

Tonight's experience was consistent with my earlier tasting notes for this (2004) release: Dark ruby and inky purple color, full bodied, this required about an hour to open and reveal its true character and fruits - complex but elegant and polished rich deep concentrated notes of blackberries, cassis, with hints of rich, crème caramel, sweet oak and cedar with smooth polished finely integrated tannins on the long finish.

My photo log indicates we tasted the '07 in the series and I admit I don't have recollection or reflection on that release. Imagine that! Since it doesn't stand out one way or the other, then the fact is it was fine refined quality drinking and fit the occasion. 

All the releases showcased classic Insignia characteristics - complex concentrated full bodied jammy black berry, black raspberry and plum fruits with full gripping but smooth polished tannins on long lingering silky finishes.

Thanks, Danny for sharing a splendid flight - the best of the best ... from your cellar with us pour boys wine aficionados! I'd be remiss to not post a picture of our host, the father of the bride!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Daglia Canyon Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Daglia Canyon Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

The 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets are starting to arrive in and through distribution to your/our local wine shops. It was a ideal growing season and the wines should be very good. As one of our favorite producers said about an earlier similar vintage, 'if you can't produce good wine in this vintage you should be doing something different'. In great vintage years such as this, we consumers can benefit from the simple point that even the lesser wines, or second or lower labels of the key producers are potentially great wines. In such vintages, the difference between the top label and lesser labels often is miniscule, such that there is great value in the lesser labels.

So it was that I went into a wine shop to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner on the road, I could pick from lesser labels or modest price points and realistically seek a nice enjoyable wine. In the last couple days, I have had such a two other such wines that were a benchmark for tonight's selection. My benchmark for tonight's selection was the 2013 B-Side Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. On the recommendation of two different wine advisors at Total Wine in suburban Minneapolis, I chose from several similar wine recommendations. From those choices I picked this wine. Full disclosure, this is a 'Winery Direct' where this is sourced directly from the producer by this large multi-regional wine superstore retailer.

Having selected this wine, I sought and received a consensus recommendation on carry out dinner, ribs from Rib Shack in nearby suburban Burnley, MN, halfway between the wineshop and my hotel.

Daglia Canyon Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Crafted by winemaker David Elliot, this is not a wimpy wine for the feint of heart in any respect! This demands some food, hearty cheese or dark chocolate. As such it was great with the grilled bbq ribs I picked up carry out to enjoy with this back at the hotel. Dark inky blackish garnet colored, full bodied, tightly wound concentrated blackberry fruit overtaken by and accented by a layer of creosote and leather giving way to firm gripping tannins on the long finish. 

RM 89 points.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

B-Side Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at Mécénat Bistro

B-Side Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 at Mécénat Bistro in Western Springs

For an impromptu weeknight family dinner outing, I got off the Metra train at the Western Springs station, near the kid's house and walked across the street to Mécénat Bistro & Wine Store. Linda and daughter Erin joined me with the grandkids for al fresco dinner. The kids love watching the trains which are frequent during the rush hour, sometimes double or triple at a time on the triple tracks. This made for a great family fun-filled dinner outing, enjoyed by grand-kids and grandparents alike.

Unfortunately it wasn't Wednesday when they offer 1/2 off Wine Bottles $50 and under (bottles over $50 are $25 off per bottle), never-the-less we selected this B Side Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 -B-T-G - By-The-Glass.

I've had earlier vintages of this wine, but as I wrote in these pages recently, the 2013 Napa Valley vintage is so good that lesser labels or otherwise more modest wines are great drinking, and offer great QPR (Quality Price Ratio) values.

According to the B Side winemaker's notes, "Winemakers have heralded the 2013 harvest’s outstanding quality, using words like “early, even and excellent” to describe this year’s growing season." This B Side is such an offering. It was great with our dinner and should be a must buy for every day quality drinking Cabernet.

The branding and name "B Side" are a play on words that refer to the "flip-side" (as in the 'B' Side of an old vinyl record - hence the recording tape on the label) of Napa Valley. Their website speaks of the 'B Side' - "In the early 1950s record companies introduced the two-sided 45. The "A" side played the song the record companies hoped would become a hit. But the "B" side was often the real find, frequently revealing an undiscovered gem."

So the metaphor for wine finds refers to the B Side or flip side of Napa Valley as in the rural areas and rolling hills along the eastern edge of the valley, vineyards that are just a few miles from the glamorous, high-priced wineries featured along Highway 29. The eastern side of Napa Valley includes areas such as Pope Valley, Chiles Valley, Wooden Valley, Stags Leap District and lower Calistoga. Vines in these areas are grown in thin volcanic soils, which yield smaller, more concentrated fruit.

When I was in Minneapolis last week and went out to select a bottle for dinner, this was my benchmark find and, indeed, Total Wine had it for just $18 per bottle. Had I not faced the TSA embargo for carrying liquids in carry-on luggage, I would've grabbed several to bring home. Meanwhile I opted to try a new and unique selection I could not otherwise get here in the Chicago market.

This 2013 B Side Red is a somewhat unique blend of five different Napa Valley varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Set aside the Malbec and this is a Bordeaux Blend.

Dark garnet purple color, medium to full bodied, full bore, forward concentrated blackberry, black cherry and black currant fruits with  tones of herbs, coffee and toasty oak with hints of vanilla, turning to smooth silky gripping tannins on the finish. This drinks like a $45 wine for half the price.

RM 91 points. 

The Blend: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

The producer's notes say the Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from "Oak Knoll, Chiles Valley and Napa Valley, creating a harmony of fruitier favors from longer hang time and sun exposure with dark color, tannins and depth. The balance of the varieties, from lakeside vineyards, add softness and complexity to the wine. Grown just north of Mount George in the rolling valleys between Napa and Suisun Valley, the Merlot and Malbec contribute fruity richness attributed to good elevation, while a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot add depth, color and structure."

This is a fun and unique blend that brings everything together hitting on all cylinders in this great vintage year! 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 95 Super Cuvee Cabernet Petit Sirah 2013

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 95 Super Cuvee Cabernet Petit Sirah 2013

I have written often in these pages about the negociant practice and Ninety Plus Cellars. When they get it right, they offer great wines of outstanding value. This unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah appears to be such a find. Babysitting for the grandkids offered the opportunity to sample this from son Ryan's cellar, a selection he picked up earlier in the day at Vin Chicago, who featured this in their weekly tasting. It was immediately apparent this is one of those rare high QPR exciting quality wines. 

According to Cellartracker, this is the third release of this wine under this label. We've reported that the Lot 95 designation refers to the source supplier of this wine to the negociant 90+ Cellars. This ranks up there with 90+ Lot 101 that we enjoyed so much that I wrote about in several blogposts. 

Also, this is an indication of the quality of the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets which are appearing in the marketplace and are presenting themselves as great wines at great values. 

According to the supplier, this offbeat blend comes from a small winery whose wines regularly achieve scores in the mid-90s. They were able to obtain several barrels from what they call 'this superstar producer'. They cite the reference 'source price', the applicable price of the original Cuvée under its original brand and label from the producer at $75. In any event its a great find at their release price of $30. Vin Chicago is offering it at $24. I'll be heading over to pick up a case. Good news that the label indicates 600 cases being available.

90+ Cellars "Lot 95 - Super Cuvee" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah 2013

Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, the concentrated blackberry, black currant and plum fruits are accented with a layer of expresso and tar, with hints of vanilla, cedar and anise. Supplier notes sum it well citing, "firm and intense yet well rounded with soft edges and a lively dose of black cherry fruit that unfolds into a smooth, velvety finish".

RM 92 points.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cityscape Syrah Zin BBQ Ribs Wine Dinner 2015

2015 Cityscape Wine on the deck Features Syrah Zinfandel with BBQ Ribs Dinner

Our 'pour boys' wine group dinner was hosted by Lyle and Terry for their third wine night on the deck with cityscape views.

The theme for the evening was set for Syrah and Zinfandel to accompany their bar-b-cue rib dinner preparation. Their west loop residence features an extraordinary deck with cityscape views of the Willis (Sears) Tower (looming in background as shown left) and the west loop neighborhood.

The spectacular mid-September evening provided a perfect clear cloudless sky and comfortable evening. This was a replay of the success of last years event of the same theme. As usual, like the previous two years, Terry and prepared an wonderful dinner ideally suited for the wine theme - bar-b-cue ribs, potatoes, green beans, salad, cornbread, corn, followed by home-made profiteroles with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauces.

Before dinner there was a selection of artisan cheeses, shrimp, grilled scallops, dips, nuts and olive trays. These complimented several champagne, sparkling and other white wine selections.

The main dinner wine flight ... (pictured below):

As usual we went through our ritual of placing the flight tasting order based on the anticipated weight, sweetness and complexity of the wines. Once set, the wines are opened and tasted to calibrate their appropriate tasting order. For me, this is almost the highlight of such evenings, determining the tasting order, but also testing knowledge and perceptions of the wines and vintages and their respective tasting profiles. As usual we had the basic order generally correct, but made a few modifications based on the tasting results. Shown above is the original expected order. 

Surprisingly, as a result of the tasting, the Killikanoon Oracle moved to the farthest right most position - signifying it as being the biggest and most complex wine, subsequently to be tasted last, so as to overpower a 'lesser' (lighter, less complex) wine. This was remarkable considering the previous tasting experiences of the other four 'big syrahs'.

Surprisingly, the Chateau Tanunda 100 year old vines Shiraz moved a couple places to the left although it compared favorably with the others. 

The wine flight in tasting order:

Domaine Marc Colin Chassagne Montrachet 1999
Niner Wine Estate Boot Jack Ranch Paso Robles Syrah 2006
Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley Zinfandel 2011
Regusci Napa Valley Stags Leap District Zinfandel 2010
Outpost Napa Valley Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2012

The Big Shiraz flight ...

Two Hands  Bella's Garden Barossa Shiraz 2012
Chateau Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz 2008
Clarendon Hills  Astralas Shiraz 2007
Clarendon Hills Piggot Ranges Shiraz 2004 
Killikanoon Clare Valley Oracle Shiraz 2004

And after dinner with dessert and for casual sipping:

Antoine Alard Chateau Theulet Monbazzilac 1998
Chateau Breustet Saunterne Bordeaux 2001
Grahams Vintage Port 1991, 2000
The Zinfandel flight also included the Niner Paso Robles Syrah which exhibited a profile more aligned with those wines. The Regusci and Biale compared similarly while, not surprisingly, the Outpost stood out with its Howell Mountain terroir showing bigger forward mountain fruit with that classic bramble tight firmness with a creosote anise layer. 

The standout of the evening for me was the Killikanoon Oracle, which I expected to show well as it is one of my favorite wines. It showed dark inky purple, intense, rich, thick, full bodied, forward fruit of blueberry, ripe plum and blackberry, violet floral, and a hint of anise on the finish.

Big Aussie Syrah flight ...
I brought the Oracle to compare in a mini-horizontal 2004 against the Clarendon Hills Piggott Range Clarendon Syrah which I expected to mirror the profile but perhaps exhibit even bigger, more forward firm concentrated fruits, which it did, but less so than the Oracle.

The Piggot Range exhibited a rich dark purple color, full bodied, and full smooth polished aromas and flavors of raspberries, blueberry, blueberries and smoked meat with notes of spice and floral elements with hints of oak with nicely integrated silky tannins on the lingering finish. It was more lean than the full throttle thick rich version I tasted a couple vintages back. It's certainly ready to drink, and doesn't appear it will improve any with age.. probably certainly at its apex and needs to be consumed .. but I'd say no need to hurry .. has a couple years left ....

Dan brought the ultra-premium Clarendon Hills Astralis also provided an interesting comparison between the two Clarendon Hills' labels since they no doubt contain fruit sourced from the same sites.

Ernie brought Chateau Tanunda from his cellar. I've written herein about us capturing nine OWC three packs of this wine - the entire allocation of this wine for midwest America during the Wine Spectator Grand Tour a few years ago. This wine continues to be a staple of our big syrah tastings that we all enjoy. 

Chateau Tanunda "The Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Eden Valley Barossa Shiraz

We discovered this wine at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Chicago when it was being poured by Chateau Tanunda's Dagmar O'Neill. Only 100 cases were produced. We orchestrated a purchase of nine three packs in OWC's (shown below) which we split amongst the 'pour boys' wine team, pictured below.

The Barossa is home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines and the grapes for this wine come from hundred year old vines from a high altitude, one acre single vineyard in the Eden Valley.

The 'pour boys' sighted at WS
Grand Tour
Full bodied, complex, concentrated, full lingering tannins predominate the dense, black and blue berry fruits with hints of licorice, plum, spice and spicy oak.

RM 93 points.

Grahams Vintage Port 1991, 2000
Lyle was concerned that his beloved Grahams Vintage Port 1991 was diminished and entering the later stage of its drinking window. He acquired a case of this wine and has been enjoying it over the decades but was concerned about its recent change in its profile. The consensus of the group was that is was fine, aging normally and gracefully, simply showing it natural aging maturation. We're all getting older!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Taken Napa Valley Red Wine Blend 2013

Taken Napa Valley Red Wine Blend 2013

After finding and tasting this wine out on the East Coast a couple times, I was surprised to find this new vintage release at the corner grocery store. Planning a stormy evening in at home with some bar-b-cue ribs, I ran out to fetch a bottle to taste this wine I saw in the store earlier in the week whilst shopping.

I wrote in earlier blog posts about discovering this wine out east, and then finding end of bin release at a local big box store. So I was interested to try this new vintage release especially with bbq rib dinner.

Taken Napa Valley Red Wine Blend 2013

Like the previous two releases I had, the 2012 and the 2011, this is also packaged in an oversize heavy bottle with an oversize 'punt'. In fact the punt is the largest I think I've ever seen in any wine at any level. This is a good value at $25. The 2012 was a great value at $30. I am not driven to run out and buy more at $30 for this release, despite the fact I see it offered at $39 from several merchants.

Like the previous vintages, this exhibited dark purple color and medium to full body. I had high expectations for the 2013 release given the vintage notes and the initial impression of color and body. It ended there as the fruit was a bit subdued and disjointed lacking cohesion or balance. The winemaker notes cite the purple hue and speaks to crushed graphite and expresso notes, both which I found to overtake the muted black and blue berry fruit notes, the graphite on the front and the expresso on the midpalate. They speak further about the higher than normal yields at the harvest which I equate with somewhat flabby and less then concentrated fruits. The high expectations unfortunately climaxed with the packaging and the deep rich color. We saved half the bottle so we'll see how it fares tomorrow.

RM 88 points.

This is a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot sourced from the Napa Valley appellation. I think of Napa as being a region consisting of more than a dozen AVA appellations. Citing Napa could indicate fruit sourced from throughout the region.

Wine Spectator gives this 90 points


Monday, September 7, 2015

Del Dotto Giovannis Tuscan Reserve Angelis Italian

Del Dotto Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve 1997 BYOB at Angeli's Italian

For a holiday weekend Sunday night late dinner at Angeli's Italian, our local neighborhood trattoria, we took this 'Cal-Ital' 'Tuscan Reserve' from Del Dotto Vineyards BYOB. At eighteen years of age, this Napa Valley Blend is showing its age but still holding its own for pleasurable drinking matched with food.

Readers of this blog know we don't collect or drink very many Italian wines. This 'Cal-Ital' (California wine based on Sangiovese, a Italian varietal grape) is one our staples in the cellar for taking to our local Italian diner for Italian eating. It was a nice complement to Linda's bruschetta and my Veal Pesto special, and the chocolate and seasalt caramel gelato after dinner.

Del Dotto Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve 1997

Named for Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto's #1 son, Giovanni,  this is a limited release blend of Sangiovese, and lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

This is one of the last bottles of a case we obtained on release back in the late nineties. Consistent with earlier tasting notes ... medium bodied - dark blackish ruby color starting to take on a slightly brownish rust color at the rim; aromatics of black berry and woody cedar with a tone of creosote/tar and a slight earthy funkiness showing its age, eventually giving way to slightly tart black cherry fruit with tones of leather and hints of dark chocolate and spice turning to moderate silky tannins on a pleasant lingering finish of soft oak.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Barnett Vineyards Spring Mountain District Merlot 2010

Barnett Vineyards Spring Mountain District Merlot 2010

Invited to a family celebration dinner noting Lucy's first day of (pre) school, I stopped and picked this up at the Prestige Countryside Wineshop enroute from the train station to accompany the grilled rib and steak dinner.

We've passed by Barnett Vineyards high atop Spring Mountain up above St Helena but have not visited there.

Home to some of our favorite producers, Spring Mountain District may be our favorite area for producing quality Bordeaux varietal wines. We hold Spring Mountain Cabernets and Merlots from Fantesca, Paloma, Pride, Robert Craig and Keenan, to name a few. Recall Paloma Merlot was Wine Spectator's Wine of the year back around the milenium. We still hold a half dozen bottles of Paloma and some prized bottles of Mailbox Vineyard Reserve Merlot from Keenan which we've gifted to and served with friends Jim and Monica Keenan. 

Barnett have been producing Estate and single vineyard designated wines sourced from their steep hilltop vineyards since 1989, most notably, Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser quantities of Merlot. They also produce limited quantities of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc sourced from other select appellations. We've had their Napa Valley Sleepy Hollow Pinot and their Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, which interestingly also shows the pencil drawing of the Napa Valley Estate (below) on the label, in accordance with marketing and branding conventions.  

Barnett Vineyards Spring Mountain District Merlot 2010

We may have drinken this too young but it was good to find a five year old at the Prestige Liquors Countryside wine store near the kids' house.

This was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled beef steak, grilled ribs and sweet corn.

Dark garnet/purple color, medium to full bodied, somewhat subdued black raspberry and blackberry fruits give way to tones of dark mocha and hints of vanilla, leather and tobacco leaf, turning to smooth dusty tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 89 points.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Neiman Cellars Napa Red Caldwell Vineyard BYOB at Eyrie

Neiman Cellars Red Wine Caldwell Vineyard Napa Valley 2001 BYOB at Eyrie Restaurant

After presiding over a public tour including friends and family at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, we did a walking tour of the historic district viewing several of Wrights iconic buildings, ending at Eyrie Restaurant, the culinary school learning center of Robert Morris College.

Being wine centered in our dining choices, this was an opportunity to pull a prized bottle from our cellar since BYOB is the standard at Eyrie. To accompany dinner we brought a Neiman Cellars Red Wine Caldwell Vineyard Napa Valley 2001.

Part of the fun and logic of this selection was that when we last dined at Eyrie back in May, following another Frank Lloyd Wright event, we took a Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Blend 2004 which was sensational with our dinner that evening.  

Unlike our previous dining experience there, a visiting chef's feature evening, tonight was a bit of a challenge. Considering the entree selections, I inquired about the Ancho Chili Rubbed Hanger Steak, concerned that the chili would be spicy and offsetting or overpowering of our fine wine. We were assured it was subtle, and offset by some cinnamon which added sweetness and countered any heat of the chili. Unfortunately, this was not the case and one bite almost tainted my palette for discrimination of the wine for the rest of the evening. Exacerbating the situation, while part of the allure of this entree selection was the side of polenta, but when I commented on the mis-representation of my entree, they awkwardly seized by plate and left me sitting with nothing, waiting for a replacement, while the others dined. When my replacement pork chop arrived it was a small portion, much smaller than Mark's and was slightly undercooked.

Jane and Linda had the Salmon entree and Jane's too was undercooked. 

For the dessert course, there was no chocolate choice, which for me, is almost a main course, and the strawberry shortcake was woefully short of strawberry (s). Once again, to exacerbate the situation, coffee never arrived to accompany the course.

Tonight's dinner was a celebration of two anniversaries and longstanding friendship with Jane and Mark, whom we've known for more than a couple decades going back to college and high school.  

Neiman Cellars Red Wine Caldwell Vineyard Napa Valley 2001

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

Consistent with our last tasting of this wine, it was a perfect complement to the beef and the pork chop entrees, dark garnet/purple colored, medium-full bodied, smooth, polished, complex full flavors of spicy blackberry and subtle red raspberry with tones of clove and sweet dark mocha turning to finely integrated tannins on the smooth lingering finish. 

This limited production (148 cases produced) wine was crafted by Drew Neiman, assistant to the legendary producer/winemaker John Kongsgaard.

RM 92 points. 


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nova Wines Norma Jean Merlot 2014

Nova Wines Norma Jean Paso Robles Merlot 2014

I wrote last year about this time of the release of Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jeane wines from Nova Wines.  As I wrote earlier, Nova play on the name of the famous cinema starlet, Marilyn Monroe, and have built the brand on an annual release of moderate priced Merlot varietal wines featuring an authentic Marilyn Monroe photo on the label. What might have started out as a whimsical or even corny idea has turned into a fun wine that has an almost cult following in some precincts of collectors. Vintage bottles of the label fetch high prices that far exceed the pedigree of the wine, explicable only due to the marketing/branding of the label collection. I know of one reputable wine shop in a mid-size midwestern city that holds a 1985 Marilyn Merlot that they're offering at $3500.

As I write about this marketing strategy and phenomenon in detail in my earlier blogposts, I wrote that Norma Jeane is the low end, budget priced label in the portfolio which continues to grow in a range of varietal offerings and price points. The family has grown to also include Marilyn Cabernet and a recently released premium priced ($100+) Velvet Collection. According to their marketing, "Norma Jeane wines have captured the imagination of collectors and as well as those who simply enjoy the exuberance of young and delicious Merlot." Indeed, its more marketing than viticulture and winecraft as the wine's appeal exceeds its wine pedigree.

This wine at $11 retail ($13 release price from the producer) is the entry level wine in the range, produced for early drinking upon release, or when young. As such, it is whimsically marketed as a 'young Marilyn Merlot' (wine) and features pictures of the starlet early in her career at a young age.

Similar to last year's release, the rear label notes this is the 17th edition of this wine and cites, "Before Marilyn, before Hollywood, there was Norma Jean, referring to the actual name of the starlet. The Marilyn Wines website describes the photo adorning this year's release label and that early photo of the starlet and . "Marilyn appears on the cover of the magazine Personal Romance wearing a red striped blouse and a ship captain’s hat in this photo taken by Bruno Bernard. Marilyn once remarked "Remember Bruno, everything started with you!" as he took some of the earliest photos of Marilyn."

Despite the producers' winemakers notes about the wine, this is a modest lackluster wine, lacking charm or appeal, consistent with earlier releases. 

The producer's notes, "Making a young Merlot requires a coordinated eff ort on the part of the vineyard staff and the winemaker, to grow the grapes and make wine with the knowledge that the wine is slated for early release. One is immediately struck with the rich, deep, purple color of the 2014 Merlot. There is nice intensity of aromas with raspberries, red currants, and plums and hints of spice and cedar weight on the palate . We really love this one and it’s time to say, “I’ll have a glass of 2014 Norma Jeane.”

Similar profile to recent earlier releases, garnet colored, opaque, lean, somewhat flabby and austere, vegetal green pepper and black olive character overshadows any berry fruit, turning to tangy spice with tone of wet wood and hints of grass. Like previous years, buy it for fun and the label, not the contents. Indeed, people will.

RM 84 points.