Friday, October 30, 2015

Theos steak dinner Lazzarito Barolo Moulin-Tacussel CDP BYOB

Theos steak dinner Fontanafredda Lazzarito Barolo Moulin-Tacussel CDP BYOB

For a impromptu Friday evening dinner, we dined at Theo's Steak and Seafood in Highland (IN) with Dr Dan and Linda, just returned from their Rhone River wine cruise. This was our first return to Theo's following our gala family reunion celebration dinner there this summer. Tonight's dinner introduced Dan to Theo's and provided a valued discovery since its in his neighborhood where there are limited options for fine dining with the chance to bring special cellar selections BYOB.

Dan brought two wines - one from his cellar, Fontanafredda Lazzarito Barolo 1996, and one that he and Linda tasted and acquired just three days earlier at the producer on their visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone River Valley, Domaine Moulin-Tacussel 2013.

Dan said he also has and meant to bring the 2012 which he said is bigger and more settled and approachable providing a bit better drinking enjoyment.

Petit Filet w/ Crabcake
This provided a rare tasting opportunity of this small boutique producer who only markets wine to 'friends and family' and the community in the Southern France commune. He admonished Dan with this point when Dan suggested to him that he could easily get a higher price for his wine.

The two Lindas each had the petit filet mignon, my L enjoying the special with crab cake and asparagus on mashed potatoes (shown left).

Bone-in Ribeye
Dan and I each dove into the 26 oz. Bone-in Ribeye selection, both prepared and served to perfection including my 'Pittsburgh' preparation - medium inside and charred on the outside (shown left).

As before, Theo's staff provided professional, attentive,cordial service including attending to and serving our BYOB wine. Now that our 'Pour Boy' wine buddy Dan is indoctrinated, we'll no doubt look forward to returning again for a wine and dine experience.

Domaine Moulin-Tacussel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013

Medium light bodied, slightly opaque, ruby colored, crisp and bright, vibrant slightly tart black cherry fruit with tones of tapenade and tea notes on the modest slightly astringent tannin finish.

RM 87 points.

Fontanafredda Barolo Lazzarito Vigna la Delizia 1996

Dan served the '99 vintage of this at his Big Italian wine dinner last year. This '96 showed medium bodied, dark garnet colored, vibrant bright black cherry fruits, tones of acidity, tar, smoke and leather on a moderate tannin lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2005

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2005

This continues to be one of our absolute favorite and most enjoyable drinking wines in our cellar with a huge QPR (Quality Price Ratio). Each time I pull a bottle I wonder if it will be good as I remember and the answer is always, yes. I remember discovering this wine downstate and picking up a bottle to try, then going back for more, and more, eventually buying out the store. I then found it on-line and purchased more, then convinced our local merchant Binny's to pick it up, and I bought them out too.

My Cellartracker records show I have acquired more than seven cases of this, sharing much of it with my wine buddies over the years. I still hold a couple cases and pull each bottle guardedly, savoring each tasting. Tonight was no different, still holding its own in its tenth year, seeming as good as ever, and pleasing as much as any time before. It reminds me a lot of the Kilikanoon Oracle, another favorite, but at almost twice the price, that was best of the evening, at our recent gala Syrah tasting last month. Regretably, I haven't seen this offered since these earlier discoveries. You can see my posts of previous tastings of Flinders here.

While I tasted this with the left over bone-in rib-eye steak from last weekend, it was superb with simple dark chocolate baking chips and the decadent Dove bar dark chocolate covered blueberries. It is great with food but this wine is so flavorful, its a meal all by itself, with any accompaniment.

Consistent with my last two tasting notes over the last two years ...
Dark inky colour - full bodied, elegant rich thick chewy - symphony of flavors of sweet currant, ripe plum, red raspberry, blueberry, a layer of mocha accented by hints of pepper, vanilla, and spice, and a lingering essence of creme brulee' and cedar on the long full soft finish. Now seven years old with a bit of age, this wine is smoother, more polished and more approachable than earlier tastings when young.

While more subdued than the bigger '06, it retains all the nuances and character it exhibited in its youth - nicely balanced, polished, and flavorful. While the fruit is not as big and bold as its follow on vintage, the '05 still holds full, dense, complex layers of blue and black berry fruits, accented by licorice, hints of black pepper, and tones of black tea and what Parker refers to as 'pain grillé' which is the French word for 'toast'.

RM 93 points.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wright Now Tour culminates in Le Bouchon Dinner

Wright Now Tour culminates in Le Bouchon Chicago Dinner

This is starting to appear like the Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) wine site with this being our fifth FLW tour event capped by a wine-dine dinner outing in recent months.  Here is the posting on my FLW Prairie Architecture WebSite on our Wright Now Tour, which we finished with a dinner at Le Bouchon French Bistro in tony Bucktown in Chicago, walking distance from our kid's condo there. L and I have dined at their sister restaurant La Sardine, opposite the (former) Harpo Studio, several times but this was our first visit to Le Bouchon. Bill and Beth celebrated their anniversary there.

As part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial festivities, SC Johnson, the Johnson's Floorwax company, is offering Wright Now shuttle bus tours to Racine, Wisconsin, to explore the SC Johnson corporate headquarters designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Tours include the Administration Building (opened in 1939), the Research Tower (opened in 1950), and Wingspread, the iconic, Prairie-style home Wright designed for H. F. Johnson Jr. in the late 1930s.

This was a particularly special outing since our friend Bill C's grandfather was an executive with SC Johnson during the time the company was engaged with Mr Wright to develop the project. He had many opportunities to meet with the legendary Wright during that time. Bill holds a library of memorabilia from those encounters. What a wonderful surprise when we discovered during the tour of the SC Johnson HQ research tower, a display of a vintage Life Magazine article featuring the building. Featured in the displayed magazine is a picture of Bill's grandfather, W C Connolly, advertising executive of SC Johnson, standing in the Wright designed building with Herbert Fiske Johnson, then President of SC Johnson.

Our follow on tour of the spectacular Wingspread was punctuated by reminiscences of Bill recalling visiting there as a child. 

Bill and Beth took a BYOB wine to enjoy with our picnic lunch on the tour, and I took a couple BYOB selections for dinner afterwards. We dined at Le Bouchon Bisto, boisterous and crowded yet cozy and chic, as authentic as it could be, as if one were transported to Paris or a Provencal village.

While we found their $50 corkage fee prohibitive to open our carry-in, we enjoyed an authentic haute cuisine dinner with a couple selections from their French centric wine list, two diverse styles that each complimented the courses of our dinner perfectly. I normally might rail about such an exorbitant fee, but I won't. With their small venue and its limited seating, they don't have high volume to offer BYOB, thereby reducing their revenue per diner. Moreover, they offer an appropriate thoughtful selection of reasonably priced wines to compliment their extensive menu selections.

Bill selected the 2008 Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Dominique Mugneret which went well with the salad and starter courses - the Mousse of Duck & Rabbit Livers with Fig Jam on Sourdough, the apple salad, French Onion and seafood bisque soups.

I selected the 2010 Château Coutet, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru which fit our hearty bone-in ribeye and pomme frittes entree.

Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Dominique Mugneret 2008

Opaque medium-light bodied, ruby colored, moderately tart cherry and cranberry fruits with hints of  pepper spice and some dusty earth. This was favored by Bill and the ladies. 

RM 88 points. 

Château Coutet, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010

We've enjoyed Château Coutet at the UGC vintage release tastings as well as an aged vintage of their dessert wine at our wine dinner tastings. This is a right bank wine with a left bank character and feel with its dark garnet color, medium body. smooth polished but rustic gripping mouthfeel, dark berry and cherry fruit with crushed rocks, graphite, dusty leather and pepper on the nose and palate finishing with smooth soft tannins. I prefer this bigger, more robust style, especially with our beef entree.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Andrew Murray Tous les Jours Santa Ynez Valley Syrah

Andrew Murray "Tous les Jours" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2014

Once again this year, Open House Chicago, put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation opened the doors to 200 iconic buildings to the public this past weekend. This offers a rare opportunity to see inside many buildings not often open to the public, and many that we pass regularly, perhaps wondering what is inside.

As a docent interpreter for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, I presided over tours at the famous Robie House in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago. This Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style masterpiece was designated one of the most influential buildings of the 20th Century by the American Institute of Architects and represents one of the best examples of the works of FLW and his prairie architecture.

Better half, Linda and friends Bill and Beth came in for the tour and then we dined in Hyde Park at Medici Cafe. We took a couple wines BYOB for the occasion. From the local Treasure Island, I picked up this Santa Ynez Valley Shiraz from Andrew Murray. We're visiting the area next month and we're trying to preview wines from the region in preparation for our visit.

Readers of this column have read about my collecting guidance for 'once a week', 'once a month', 'once in a lifetime', and 'every day' wines. Andrew Murray Vineyards offer this label as their “everyday”, easy-drinking Syrah. “Tous les Jours”, which translates to 'everyday', a red wine blend of Syrah from Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley vineyards, has been touted as one of the best wines under $20 by Food & Wine Magazine.

Recent vintages of this wine have been available under $15 and have gained 90+ ratings providing great QPR - Quality Price Ratio.

Andrew Murray "Tous les Jours" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2014 

This 2014 is dark inky purple colored, full bodied with black cherry and black raspberry fruits with tones of black pepper and spice, a subtle layer of graphite metallic detracts from its smooth approachability for my preference but Linda likes this style, with its full forward fruits and smooth moderate tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hemingway's Bistro Wine Dinner Highlights FLW Architecture Tours

Hemingway's Bistro Wine Dinner Highlights FLW Architecture Tours

Our 'pour boys' wine group toured the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, followed by the neighborhood walking tour featuring iconic Wright homes. As a docent/interpreter for the FLW Trust, I arranged and presided over our group tour. Our custom tour focused on Wright's nearby 'bootleg' homes, the classic prairie style Heurtley House, the Nathan Moore and adjacent Hills House, the Beachy House, FLW's first complete prairie style home, the Frank Thomas House, and the Laura Gale House.

Afterwards we dined at Hemingway's Bistro Restaurant in the quaint Wright Inn, a few blocks away, near Hemingway's boyhood home, across the street from the Hemingway Museum. Their semi-private room in the back overlooking the restaurant provided the perfect comfortable intimate setting for our dinner group assemblage.

The Hemingway's Bistro French inspired cuisine provided an ideal accompaniment and setting for our BYOB French centric wine flight. The staff, lead by our server Aron, did a spectacular job attending to our group of twenty, serving dinner and accommodating the preparation and service of our wines, making for a wonderful delightful dinner evening. They set an adjacent table for showcasing and preparing our wines and provided fine wine glassware for reds, whites and champagne.

Our group has no less than five current period weddings to celebrate and we'll have two grandchildren born this year so there was much to toast and commemorate with our wines. To that end, our wine flight selections featured several notable vintage years with wines from 1970, 1976, 1981,1982, 1988, 1989, 1991 and notable wine vintages such as 2000. We also got a first look at some recent releases. Recent posts in these pages have highlighted our wine tastings at Bill and Beth's, and Dan's recent wedding celebrations.

The wines:

For a starter, I brought a magnum of Moët & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne, 1976. Regretably, the cork of this bottle had failed recently and this bottle was corked.

From our cellar I sourced a vertical flight of Cos d' Estournal St Estephe Bordeaux for Eric & Cathy, Kay, and Linda and I to offer. George was amazed we were holding these wines this long. I stated that's the fun of special anniversary/birth year vintage bottles. Moreover, I explained how we learned over time that we drank many of our Bordeaux, especially from the eighties, too early! Look how these old Bordeaux held up and showed well, even those at ages supposedly past their drinking windows! Every one met or exceeded expectations.

Cos d' Estournal St Estephe Bordeaux 1981 - our daughter Erin's birth year who is expecting a child in the coming month. Deemed a modest vintage with moderate aging potential, this wine showed amazing resilience and showed well. Medium bodied, bright ruby colored, earthy leathery dark cherry and firm blackberry with hints of creosote on the tannic berry finish. Amazing life yet in this cellar selection. Recent tastings showing lot's of life left in the remaining 81's in large format. RM 89 points.

Cos d' Estournal St Estephe Bordeaux 1988 - George and Leslie's daughter's birth year - whose wedding to Eric & Cathy's son Ross is next month. Last time I reviewed this wine I noted the disparity between the Parker (86) and WS (95) ratings. You decide! Once again, supposedly outside its drinking window, this showed well with little of no diminution from age. Medium bodied, bright ruby colored, classic Bordeaux floral perfume, blackberry, spice, tar, a moderate finish. Bigger and more firm than the others. RM 90

Cos d' Estournal St Estephe Bordeaux 1989 - Bill and Beth's son Matt's birth year who is engaged and will wed in the coming year.

Cos d' Estournal St Estephe Bordeaux 1991 - Kay's daughter Becka's birth year - who is getting married next weekend. Like the '81, another modest vintage overachieved and surpassed expectations. While lacking the structure and backbone of some of the 'bigger' vintages this showed surprisingly bright lively fruit and was very enjoyable. Full floral nose with flavors of dark berry, black cherry, layers of earthy tobacco, hints of cassis and spice. There was still life in this, very much in its drinking window. RM 89 points.

We also had a vertical flight of Brane Cantenac Margaux Bordeaux.

Brane Cantenac Margaux Bordeaux 1970 - brought by Ryan, graduation year for many of us. Another amazing showing for a wine incredibly 45 years old ... testament to the stamina and aging potential of quality Bordeaux, still holding vibrant fruit, amazing floral tones and no signs of serious diminution.
Brane Cantenac Margaux Bordeaux - 1982 - brought by Bill - commemorating son Will's and our son Ryan's birth year, and,
Brane Cantenac Margaux Bordeaux 2000 - a legendary Bordeaux vintage, brought by son Ryan. Two classic showings from two classic vintages, the '82 appearing much lighter than expected.

Bill also brought another 2000 Bordeaux, Chateau Haut Batailly Pauillac 2000.
Both 2000's showed their breadth and depth of fruit accented by classic Bordeaux floral, earthiness and tobacco leaf with muscular but approachable sinewy polished tannins.

Dan, Ernie and George each brought a red and a white including -

Le Secret des Georges Sabon Chateauneuf-du-Pape - 2011 - One of the highlights of the tasting, showing its big bold forward complex fruits, almost overpowering the sophisticated but comparatively more delicate Bordeaux's.

Château Vignot St. Émilion Grand Cru - 2007
George brought:
Jacques Puffeney Arbois Pinot Noir 2009
Marcassin Marcassin Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 - Smooth, polished, rich, consensus accolades as one of the best Chardonnay tasting experience ever!

John brought:

In Florescense Blanc de Noir Brut Champagne and
Charles Smith Lawrence Vineyard Viognier 2011

Lyle brought two Napa Valley big reds that stood out with their bold expressiveness:
Schafer One Point Five Stag's Leap District Red Wine 2012
Nils Venge Senecleaux Napa Valley Red Wine 2013, just released and tasted for the first time. This was a huge hit. We're long time friends of Nils Venge and have much experience with his wines. We've collected several vintages of this label but this was our first tasting of such. A great showing with big forward berry fruits accented by sweet vanilla oak.

Apologies to anyone if I missed or mis-atributed any wine (s).

The food:

For starter courses when seated, Chef Ala prepared and served his Baked Brie in puffed pastry with almond and honey which was perfect with the starter champagne and white wines, and his chicken liver pate on toasted baguette. Several folks had the roasted beet salad while Dan and I feasted on the foie gras.

From the menu, many folks had Chef Ala's Saturday Night Special Beef Wellington. Dan had the Mixed Grill, I had the New York Strip au poivre with creamed spinach, George had the Prawns.  Many of the entree's featured Chef Ala's signature pommes au gratin.

After dinner several folks had the special Souffle, and others had the Creme Caramel, the Warm Apple Tart, and I had the decadent Mousse au Chocolate with raspberry coulis that was a chocoholic's delight.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Snowden Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Snowden Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We first discovered Snowden Vineyards during their inaugural release back in the early nineties. We hosted co-owner Scott Snowden at one of our wine producer dinners at Brix in Napa Valley back then. I recall we enjoyed hearing his reminiscences about his family living down in Oakland and visiting Napa Valley and eventually settling there, and him and his brother taking over and developing the property after his father's death.

Snowden's parents scoured Napa Valley and the adjoining hills looking for a suitable parcel that they could afford. Eventually the found and acquired a remote parcel in the hills on the east side of the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Rutherford in the spring of 1955, a 160 acre ranch that had been in the Albert and Jane Eisan family since 1895.  Along the south boundary of the property, Albert's uncle, Ward Eisan, owned a comparably sized parcel which was even more remote than Albert's -- access to Ward Eisan's property was through Albert's.  Today, Ward Eisan's ranch is the site of Rutherford Hill Winery, Auberge du Soliel Hotel and Restaurant, Katheryn Hall Winery, and Sloan Winery. 

According to their website - "Following Wayne Snowden’s death in 1977, Wayne and Virginia’s sons, Scott and Randy Snowden, assumed responsibility for the property.  In 1981, they removed all of the then-producing vineyards and orchards and replanted them to Cabernet Sauvignon utilizing budwood from Jordan Vineyard near Healdsburg.  Through the 1980s, they sold grapes from the resulting 11 acre vineyard -- today called "The Brothers Vineyard" -- to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  During that period, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski, owner of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and his viticultural consultant, Danny Schuester, to optimize trellising, training, and cropping of the vineyard, track cultural variables and correlate these to wine quality'.

"Beginning in the 1990s, grapes from the property went to a number of other vintners, including Silver Oak Wine Cellars, Frank Family Vineyard, David Ramey, Viader, and Caymus Vineyards.  Commencing with the 1993 harvest, Scott and Randy began to retain a portion of each harvest for the production of estate-specific family wines.  Gradually, an increasing amount of the grapes produced from the property were used in Snowden wines."

We acquired our first Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet in the 1993 vintage and every vintage thereafter through the nineties, and off and on since. According to our Cellartracker records, we still hold ten vintages of this wine.

This '97 is a testament to the vintage, considered a top vintage with longevity for Napa Cabernet, which took several years to finally open and reveal its true potential, even to the point of being outscored by the sleeper '98, considered inferior in the early years after release but showed well in intermediate years while the '97 was still closed and 'lying low'.

Now, at eighteen years of age, this '97 is most likely at its peak, will not improve any further with aging, but is not showing any diminution either. It showed dark blackish garnet color, medium body, firm, a bit tight, slightly astringent the first evening upon opening, but notably, this astringency was totally gone the next evening, black berry and black cherry fruits with tones of cedar, black olives, oak, and tangy tannins on the long lingering tongue puckering finish.

This was a perfect accompaniment tonight to cheese ravioli. 

RM 91 points.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Cab 1997

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Cab (1997) for early gratification, longevity, sophisticated drinking, yet value.

We've been fans of Robert Craig since his inaugural release back in 93-94, as witnessed by the fact he has no less than 26 mentions in these pages. We hosted Robert and Lynn Craig at several of our wine producer dinners back in the nineties and thereafter and we've attended several private tastings (below) and release or harvest parties (left) at the Craig estate high atop Howell Mountain.

Robert is a master craftsman of Napa Valley Cabernets with distinct designated label bottlings from Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mt Veeder and Mt George, the four corners of Napa Valley. And then there is Affinity, his signature blend of Napa Cab that he calls 'three mountains and a valley' when referring to the source sites. I seem to recall our first meeting with him was at a winery up on Atlas Peak.

Robert has said that Mt Veeder is his favorite, perhaps revealing his sentimentality to his heritage that he started up there. My favorite was always Howell Mountain, however with their release of Spring Mountain Cabernet, its vied for being my favorite. 

Often such a blend is the flagship premium label for a producer, but Robert takes pride in this label holding the price point to be more affordable, well below his premium appellation specific designated labels, while at the same time crafting a wine approachable for early drinking gratification.

Tasting w/ Robert Craig at the estate
high atop Howell Mountain
So it is that its amazing and rewarding that such a wine also demonstrates stamina and grace for aging as this eighteen year old 1997 vintage release shows. We still hold a half case of this highly lauded vintage noted for its longevity. Indeed, my records show we still hold an Affinity vertical of no less than seventeen vintages going back to the inaugural release of 1993. including this '97 which we obtained up release!

Don't confuse that fact that while Robert Craig specializes in several labels of Cabernet designated as sourced from different appellations, that Affinity is a blend of different Cabernets, while Craig's Cabernets are notably Cabernet, this Affinity blend is also a Bordeaux style blend with 82% Cabernet Sauvignon mixed with 15% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Such is the backdrop when I pulled a bottle from the cellar to accompany Linda's pasta and Italian sausage and pepper dish. The '97 not only paired well but still shows vibrancy and resiliency at this stage of life. While it likely will not improve further with age, it seems to still stand at the apex of its drinking window and shows no sign of diminution whatsoever.

My previous tasting note back in 2012 cited 'this wine is more expressive than early in life showing lingering fruit and staying power'. According to those notes, this showed even better tonight with more balance and polish than that tasting. At this stage of life, that could be an indication of bottle variation but no so likely since the bottles share the same provenance.

 Dark purple garnet colored, medium bodied, forward bright vibrant black berry and black raspberry fruits with a layer of cedar, tones of black tea and hints of cassis and smoke on a smooth moderate lingering tannin finish.

RM 91 points.