Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving feast features diverse Pinot vs Rhone Wine Approach

Thanksgiving feast features diverse Pinot vs Rhone Approach to Wine Pairing

Thanksgiving dinner was held at son Ryan's and Michelle's for a gala family gathering of seventeen. Ryan and I both sourced some special wines for the event, taking two divergent approaches to accompany the dinner feast. Ryan served two Rhone wines while I brought two California Pinot Noirs. Both were ideal accompaniments to the delicious festive turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy.

From the Northern Rhone, Ryan served Guigal Saint Joseph, and from the Southern Rhone, he served a Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape. From California I brought a Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir and a Ninety Plus Cellars Sonoma Pinot Noir.

Rhone Valley Syrah

I admit we've missed out on Northern Rhone Syrahs which is tragic given our fondness for Syrah/Shiraz, and considering how much we collect and drink this varietal. We do hold a collection of (Southern Rhone) Chateauneuf-du-Papes which include Syrah in the blend, but our focus has been primarily on Australian Syrah/Shiraz with an occasional Californian and once in a while, one from Washington State.

Son Ryan has discovered Northern Rhone labels and has been preaching their virtues and brought them to our attention. These are the original old world Syrahs, after all, and deserve attention of fans of the varietal.

Readers of this blog might recall our visit to the legendary Napa Valley Syrah producer Lagier-Meredith, where Carol Meredith is a plant geneticist. I asked her about the relationship between the Shiraz and Syrah varietals from the Rhone Valley, California and Australia. She indicated that at the end of the day, they're all related and essentially from the same lineage. So differences in labels from the various regions should be attributed generally to terrior, the distinct sense of 'place' from where the grapes are sourced - soil, climate, exposure, etc.

Tonight's Rhone experience showed two remarkable Syrahs or Syrah inclusive blends.

Guigal Saint Joseph Rhone 2009

Of course, knowledgeable wine folks know that old world producers (Italy, France, Germany) name or label their wines after the appellation or place where the grapes in the wine are sourced - Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Burgundy, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, and leave it to the consumer to know what grapes are associated with that growing area. New world producers, on the other hand, name or label their wines after the grape or varietal in the bottle - Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, etc., as well as the locale from where the grapes are sourced. One might argue that this may be due to the fact that New World wine consumers are less knowledgeable, but it could also be argued that there is less correlation between regions and the varietals grown there - such as Sonoma Cabernet (a Bordeaux varietal) as well as Pinot Noir (a Burgundy varietal).

Guigal Saint Joseph Rhone 2009

While not as complex in the blend as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which features Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, (hence the moniker 'GSM' given to some of this blend when from other regions), perhaps Cinsault, and may include several other varietals, this single varietal Syrah based wine still showed notable depth and complexity. This Northern Rhone label provides high QPR (quality to price ratio), especially compared to the CDP's and some of the named label Northern Rhones.

This was dark garnet and purple colored, medium full bodied, aromas and flavors of full, forward ripe black berry and black cherry fruits accented by a layer of cracked pepper, herbs, and tones of smoked meat, hints of creosote and smoke, with medium acidity, gripping but approachable tannins. 

RM 91 points.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2009

A visit to this legendary producer was one of the highlights of our trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape a few years ago.

This was one of the most expressive, vibrant yet balanced and polished Vieux-Telegraphs, or CDP's for that matter, that I recall having in a long time.

Bright garnet colored, medium-full bodied, lively, rich, concentrated, forward red berry fruits predominate, accented by some dark berry flavors with a pleasant flavorful punctuation of tones of white pepper and hints of clove on a long elegant complex but smooth polished finish.

RM 93 points.

Fitting the occasion of son Ryan hosting the holiday, I brought a Ryan Vineyard Calera Mt Harlan Pinot Noir along with a Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 125 Monterey County Pinot Noir for a comparison tasting.

Calera are one of the original Pinot Noir varietal producers in California dating back to the '70's. Their founding and ascent are featured in the entertaining and educational classic wine book "The Heart Break Grape", about the challenges of finding and developing a suitable site for the finicky Pinot Nor grape in the untested California wine regions. Calera, known for vineyard designated Pinots released the Ryan Vineyard label in the last decade with the 2004 vintage release.

Pinot Noir makes up a fraction of our cellar collection as I am not a big fan or collector of Pinot Noir, but we do keep a couple labels for suitable drinking to fit the cuisine and occasion. Hence, I tend to be less discriminating and palate trained in Pinot than I am the Bordeaux varietals, which I favor. Knowing Ryan was opening Rhone wines, I selected and brought Pinot Noir, also suited to traditional Thanksgiving fare cuisine.

Perhaps it is my lack of Pinot discernment that I found a $46 to be almost comparable to one costing less than half the price, however, as I've written often, Ninety-Plus Cellars and the negociant practice often feature quality releases at a fraction of their comparable value due to their sourcing of overstock or excessive inventory from acclaimed producers. Such producers' branding is maintained by their anonymity as they are indicated by their "Lot' designation.

Hence this comparison tasting between these two Pinots.

Calera Ryan Vineyard Mt Harlan Pinot Noir 2011

Translucent ruby red colored, medium light bodied, scent of dusty rose, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with a hint of cola and spice turning to tones of mushroom and smoke with fine grained delicate tannins on the moderate lingering finish.

RM 89 points.


Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 125 Monterey County Pinot Noir 2013

Similar characteristics to the Calera, albeit slightly less complex and less polished. While the Monterey County source for the fruit is unknown, it could come from the area close to or similiar to the Hollister Mt Harlan site of Calera. This provides good QPR (quality price ratio) with similarity to the Calera at a fraction of the price.

Garnet colored, medium light bodied, aromas and flavors of red raspberries and black cherry give way to tones of tangy clove spice and hint of cinnamon on the clinging tannin finish. 

RM 87 points.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Diamond Creek, Dunn, Craig Napa Big Reds Highlight Gala Wedding Celebration Dinner

Napa Big Reds Highlight Gala Carte-Conrad Wedding Celebration Dinner - Diamond Creek, Dunn, Craig, Lamborn

Another gala wedding celebration - Andrew Carte and Krista Conrad - offered an opportunity to indulge in special occasion fine wines. As with a couple earlier events this summer/fall of family weddings within our intimate wine group, Dr Dan's and then Bill and Beth C's, niece Krista's wedding celebration gave Sister Jan and Bro-in-law Bill (shown below) a chance to showcase some special wines. The festive event was held at the tony Mission Viejo Country Club.

This was extra special not just because it was a family wedding, but also because all the wines featured were from Napa winery visits that we had attended together.

Brother Bill is a different Bill C from another wine buddy with same name/initial featured regularly in these pages. Some of our favorite and most memorable winery visits in Napa Valley were with Bill and Jan - Diamond Creek, Dunn Family Vineyards, Lamborn Family Vineyards and Robert Craig Wines. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that when they celebrated their daughter's wedding dinner, the wines served were from those events/prodcers.

Several folks commented about the Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet served at the wedding to which I responded that its one of our favorites. Indeed, we're big fans of Robert Craig and have visited with the producer on numerous occasions. We first met Robert and tasted his wines back at our first visit to Robert Craig during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 1996, and then again at our Robert Craig featured producer wine dinners in Napa Wine Experience 1998, and again in 1999. We tasted his Howell Mountain Zinfandels at the Robert Craig Howell Mountain Harvest Party '09 and during other visits such as our 2008 Robert Craig Vineyards and Winery visit up on Howell Mountain. Needless to say, we're long time fans of Bob and the Craig team and their 'artwork'.

Perhaps my preference for Howell Mountain appellation wines influenced Bill's collecting and subsequent selection of three of the four select wines served. 

I write often here about special occasion wines that add to the joy and enjoyment of the event. The fun was punctuated by being assigned wine steward duties to oversee the preparation and serving of the select wines at the reception dinner. Its what I live for ... but was the very least I could do in consideration of Bill and friend Andy having spent an entire afternoon prepping the wine at our daughter Erin's wedding dinner.

For the family and select guest tables at the dinner, we served the big Napa Cabs, and for another table of proclaimed Zin enthusiasts, Bill served Lamborn Family Vineyards Zinfandel - another producer visited together during one of our Napa Valley excursions.

The wines were all perfect accompaniments to the filet of beef and salmon dinner.

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

This wine was tasted and sourced during our visit to the spectacular Diamond Creek vineyards back in 2010. As a group, we have a long tradition of serving this wine at such occasions. Linda and I served a flight of Diamond Creek magnums at son Ryan's wedding to Michelle Diamond. Bill and Beth C, shown pictured with Bill and Jan and us at that visit to Diamond Creek, served birth-year vintage 1982 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon from double magnum at the wedding of their son Will. Then, this summer, they served Diamond Creek from magnums at son Drew's wedding reception dinner.

Tonight this Diamond Creek ..

Ruby red, medium-full bodied, full forward bright vibrant red and black berry fruit flavors showing a layer of acid on the front before turning to tones of cedar, mineral and dusty earthy leather. I sense this begs for more time to settle and develop a bit more.

RM 93 points.

Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

We also visited Dunn Family Vineyards with Jan and Bill during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2008. Bill sourced these wines from the producer during that visit. Again we've served Dunn Cabernet at numerous such occasions, most recently, when Dr Dan's daughter was married this summer, I served her birth-year Dunn Napa Cabernet at a dinner with the group upon the announcement of their engagement.

What a showing! Randy Dunn's Cabernets are legendary for being long lived wines, especially his Howell Mountain vineyard designated label, while his Napa Valley label is supposed to be approachable earlier.

Based on tonight's tasting, its hard to imagine this Dunn could be any better, drinking very well at eight years of age. It was the most vibrant and expressive of the three legendary Cabernet labels.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex but smooth and balanced, forward black berry and black currant fruits giving way to tones of cedar and graphite, hints of sage and leather and spicy oak on the moderate tannin long lingering finish.

RM 94 points.

Robert Craig Howell Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

We have visited Robert Craig's site high atop Howell Mountain several times with both Jan and Bill, and Bill and Beth C. One of our memorable trips featured a picnic lunch at the site overlooking the  valley below. It was during that trip that Bill discovered and subsequently sourced Howell Mountain Cabernet (and the Zinfandel below) served to several of the tables at Krista's wedding.

As featured often in these pages, Robert Craig has several Napa Valley labels featuring Mt Veeder, Mt George, Spring Mountain and this Howell Mountain appellations. I often cite this as my favorite and tonight showed this label at its best showing characteristics that I favor - dark garnet colored, full bodied, full dark berry and black raspberry fruits accented by a layer of spice, sweet mocha dark chocolate and spicy oak on a full long lingering finish.

RM 94 points

Lamborn Family Vineyards "The Abundant Vintage" Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2009

Lamborn Family Vineyards was another featured producer that we visited up atop Howell Mountain during our 2008 Napa Valley Wine Experience. Today legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett crafts their Estate grown Cabs and Zins. This is classic Howell Mountain Zin with full forward brambly fruit flavors. Bill served this wine to a table of Zin enthusiasts to much fanfare and acclaim.

Dark garnet/purple colored, medium/full bodied, black berry fruits with tones of pepper, hints of creosote and spice on a sweet tinged tangy moderate finish.

RM 91 points.

Still gathering pictures and notes ... More to come ..

Mumm's Napa Valley Sparkling Wine highlights lunch overlooking Dana Point Beach

Mumm's Napa Valley Sparkling Wine highlights lunch overlooking Dana Point Beach

Rejoicing in our family gathering with son Alec, and V, in from NYC to So-Cal for a festive wedding weekend, we dined al fresco lunch at the Ritz Carlton Hotel overlooking Dana Point Beach. The 180 degree view of the Southern Orange County Pacific Coastline, perched high atop the cliff overlooking the surf befits the 180blũ named restaurant.

Basking in the So-Cal almost perpetual sunshine, we toasted on Mumm's Brut Prestige Napa Valley Sparkling Wine, the perfect complement to our lunch selections.

Of course this is deemed sparkling wine since Mumm Brut is from Carneros District at the bottom of Napa Valley where it meets Sonoma Valley. Brut is a blend of  58% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier and 6% Pinot Gris, essentially the same as authentic French Champagne.

We drank this to re-live our visit to the affiliated G. H. Mumm sites in the real Champagne near Reims (shown left) with Alec during our Champagne wine region tour in 2006.

RM 90 points. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Baldacci Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

Baldacci Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

As part of the festivities leading up to the big wedding this weekend, we had a family dinner at Brü Grill & Market in Lake Forest, CA next to Mission Viejo. Sis Jan and Bro-in-law brought some special wines BYOB to accompany the grilled steak dinners. Brü Grill & Market was the first of a couple wine friendly restaurants we discovered over the weekend that features an extensive wine selection sold at retail prices which they then are served BYOB, in this case with an added $10 corkage fee. This is a very wine friendly accommodation for folks like us who place high value on the wine offerings combined with the food selections on the menu.

In what became the beginning of a busy festive weekend featuring several spectacular wines and settings, Bill brought Baldacci Family Vineyards, Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 which was one of the producers visited during Jan's Napa Valley wine weekend last spring, when she discovered and obtained this label. This was a perfect complement to the steak entrees. 

Baldacci Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Tastes like rich concentrated Napa mountain fruit. Deep purple and dark garnet colored, full bodied, rich complex concentrated ripe black berry, black raspberry and plum fruits accented by a layer of mocha chocolate, hints of dusty earth and cedar before turning to spicy oak on the lingering silky tannin finish.

RM 94 points. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Celebrate Grandson Birth with Vintage Birth Year Bordeaux

Celebrating Grandson's Birth with Vintage Birth Year Bordeaux

The Five Forts
Grandson Jesse Robert Fort was born on 17 November to daughter Erin and Son-in-law Johnny, new little brother to Lucy and Richie.

To celebrate this joyous occasion, we opened a bottle of Erin's birthyear Bordeaux at our celebration dinner.

I've written often in these pages about this practice of collecting special vintage wines for such occasions. Amazingly, while 1981 was not a highly rating vintage with prospects for longevity, we still hold about a case of such wines and they're still holding their own after 30 plus years.

Horizontal collection of 1981 Bordeaux
While we continue to be amazed, and pleased with the longevity and drinkability of these aged wines, I am diligently sorting through those remaining to consume those thought to be less age-worthy, such as tonight's Haut Medoc, Grand Cru Classé.

Several of those remaining bottles are higher end labels thought to be more ageworthy such as Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Château Leoville Las Cases, Château Gruaud Larose, Ducru Beaucaillou and the legendary Château Mouton Rothschild, as shown in the picture of our horizontal collection of 1981 Bordeaux from a few years ago (and look at the price tags showing on some - of course those were acquired in the mid-eighties!). I look forward to enjoying each one of these remaining bottles in our collection and intend do so soon as they're understandably reaching their end of life.

At a recent wine group tasting dinner, we opened several vintage bottles including Château Cos d' Estournel 1981 (as well as '88, '89 and '91) and Château Brane Cantenac 1970, 1982 and 2000. One of the diners, a newcomer to our group exclaimed how he could'nt believe we were still holding, and drinking such old wines. I responded that over almost forty years of collecting, I learned we drank many of our Bordeaux too early, especially bottles from classic vintages such as 1982, 1986, 1989 and 1990. Indeed, somewhere in between is the optimum - opening a bottle at the apex of its prime drinking window. We'll continue to enjoy these wines and the adventure and experience of opening an aged bottle of a special vintage for a special occasion.

Château La Lagune Grand Cru Classé Haut Medoc 1981

We opened this at daughter Erin's house, where we were staying with the grandkids whilst E and J were still at the hospital with the new baby. While the cork disintegrated when I tried to extract it, using a cork screw rather than my ahso (two pronged cork puller - which was at home) that I normally use for such situations, the wine was still holding its own.

Dark garnet colored with no evidence of brickish or rust aging signs, medium bodied, the black berry and cherry fruits were a bit muted, giving way to a layer of acidic musty, earthy leather, black olive tapenade, and tobacco leaf, all classic aged Bordeaux characteristics. Time to drink. This was our last bottle of this label, the others having been consumed long ago. Our cellartracker records indicated our remaining bottle (s) are from the more age-worthy 1982 vintage.

RM 86 points.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - a blockbuster release !

For after church Sunday Brunch dinner we opened the just released, highly acclaimed 2013 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon. With daughter Erin past her due date for our new grand-baby, this was likely the last dinner with the 'four-Forts' before baby makes five. 
The 2013 Napa Cab's are coming and all indications are that it is a blockbuster vintage, one of those where all boats rise with the tide, such that all earnest producers should have notable collectible releases, one for the consumer to rejoice and stock up. 
The Clos du Val received spectacular ratings and appears to be one of those rare wines that come along every so often where everything comes together for a high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) highest rated wine at a moderate price point. 

 Since it is still available in distribution, we wanted to try it to determine whether we should buy more while it is still available. All indications are this is a collectible wine that also affords near term gratification at an every day/week price - a $50 wine for $30. 
 Don't be surprised if the Producer and Distribution exploit the notoriety of high ratings to drive up the price as often happens in such circumstances. We've seen over the years such situations where certain producers take the long term view, maintaining their price point for the goodwill of the brand, while others exploit their short lived fame for quick fortune. 
Ideally, there will be several other similarly situated releases in this vintage so as to provide a mother-load for consumers and great windfalls for producers' and their brand and image, despite such exclusivity. 
 This was a delicious perfect complement to our Sunday grilled flank steak dinner. 

Pop and pour this for very pleasurable easy drinking but allow an hour or so for the true character and flavors to begin to reveal themselves. 
Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, a symphony of smooth polished complex flavors - tightly wound blackberry, black cherry, hints of plum and currant fruits accented by tones of black tea, black olive, hints of vanilla, light toast, and tobacco on the finely integrated supple sinewy tannin finish. 

RM 93-94 points. 

Pick some up for drinking now, and for putting some away to try over the coming years.

Vin Chicago describes it this way. "Even more impressive than the flavors is the structure. The tannins are powerful and youthful, yet as nuanced and integrated as you'll find in some of the world's best Cabernet or Bordeaux."
Vinous, Antonio Galloni gave it 95+ Points, (October 2015).

Deep Sea Conway Family Wines - Paso Robles Merlot 2011

Deep Sea Conway Family Wines - Paso Robles Merlot 2011

Another selection from a wine brand seeking identity, or failing to capitalize on its heritage?

Another commentary on my study and observations on wine branding. Traveling for business this week provided the opportunity to stop in a wine shop in a remote city. This always affords a chance to see different producers and labels that don't otherwise show up in our large metropolitan home market. Sometimes smaller producers can only fill the demands of a smaller market, or other reasons. So it was that I found Deep Sea Merlot and Deep Sea Chardonnay from Conway Family Wines in Santa Barbara.

We've seen this label in secondary and tertiary markets from time to time. The rarity of the label may be exacerbated by the fact that some of their labels are no longer being produced, so finds like this are anomalies of the tail of the distribution chain. In some cases these offerings may be Negociant labels, wherein they purchase fruit from growers, or even purchase excess wine from producers, and market them under their own private label (s).

I've written in these pages about the branding challenge faced by a Negociant, that of building affinity for a brand that is associated with terroir, or sense of place, for a particular wine, when the grapes are sourced from various anonymous growers that may change with each vintage.

How stark the contrast with Chateau Laroze, showcased in last week's blog, where the land has been in the family since 1610, producing from the same facility under the same label since 1885. Such is the extent of the difference between 'old world' and 'new world' producers' and their wines.

We have found Deep Sea wines including their Syrah and Cabernet but this was the first time seeing and experiencing their Merlot. I've written in these pages about this producer and those labels from the California Central Coast and one from Napa Valley. Generally, they have provided modest price, good price point QPR (Quality Price Ratio) wines.

Their negociant practice is broadcast in their testament, "We purchase fruit from noteworthy vineyards in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties, and the Napa Valley. We contract with specific blocks, and actively manage the individual vines in that area. We work with growers to formulate viticultural practices and the rows are farmed to our specifications."

But, they also have their own vineyards as indicted by their website, “As with our estate vineyards, we concentrate on quality rather than yield per acre, and we carefully hand pick the grapes when they reach the right balance of flavor, acidity and sugar."

According to the Conway Family Wines website, the Estate is the thirty-five hundred acre Rancho Arroyo Grande in the Central Coast region of California, thirteen miles from the Pacific Ocean, where the coastal range meets the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest.

When I search Cellartracker for Deep Sea Merlot, a pretty good indicator of the marketplace with over a half million collectors and a several million bottles featured, I find this producer, Deep Sea Paso Robles Merlot, as well as Deep Sea Rancho Arroyo Grande Vineyard Merlot, although only one vintage of each. As a consumer of these wines, do I presume one (the first) is a Negociant offering while the latter is Estate Bottled?

As their website indicates, "Deep Sea wines showcase the maritime influence on grapes grown in California’s coastal climate. The grapes for our wine are grown in vineyards close to the Pacific Ocean, (where)Vineyards along the California coastline are cooled by fog and ocean breezes."
So it is with Deep Sea, a collection of labels but a conundrum in branding. I say this because we also hold Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course, the Deep Sea reference to proximity to the Ocean and its effects work for the Central Coast, and would work for the Sonoma Coast, but are a paradox when associated with inland NapaValley.

This leads me to the branding question; if the Conway Family owns spectacular lands with estate vineyards with such a rich heritage, why not leverage such and establish the pedigree and branding associated with terroir for your wines?

The personality of family association is strong for branding and building brand affinity and loyalty. Look at the number of premier labels bearing the family or 'place' name.

Indeed, the Conway Family feature a wonderful photo of their beautiful extended family of seven siblings and offspring.

 So Deep Sea, or Conway Family Wines, is Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon an oxymoron, an anomaly, or a step along the path to establishing an evolving, maturing branding strategy?

I see on their website the inaugural release of another label - Conway Santa Barbara County Cabernet Sauvignon. I will look forward to tasting their signature brand premium label release (s) and will watch their evolution with interest.

Meanwhile, we tasted the Deep Sea Paso Robles Merlot 2009

Dark ruby colored, medium full bodied, bright full aromatics project the flavors to come - full, somewhat forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with tones of cedar, a slight mustiness and hints of creosote and earthy leather on a moderate, soft tannin finish.

RM 86-87 points.

What is the real Deep Sea?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Pour Boys Serve Grands Crus Classes of St Emilion 2015 Chicago Tasting

Pour Boys Serve Grands Crus Classes of St Emilion 2015 Chicago Tasting Event

As with the last couple UGC Bordeaux US Release Tasting Events in Chicago, the 'Pour Boys (TM)' wine group served at the Grands Crus Classes of St Emilion 2015 Chicago Tasting. More than two dozen producers visited Chicago to showcase their 2010 and 2012 vintage releases to the wine community.

The 2010 vintage is a classic vintage - a benchmark vintage worthy for aging. Following the great 2009, it is resembling the 1989-1990 years.

The 2012 vintage was one of extreme conditions early in the year, very cold winter, hot dry March, cold wet April. Once ripening began, conditions resembled the classic 2000 vintage - rain then drought, and good weather through September and early October. From mid-month, heavy rains came, rewarding those that had picked early. It is said that 2012 illustrates the premise that good wine is made in good vineyards by good vignerons. (Whereas in 'ideal' years, all boats rise with the tide.)

Once again the event was organized by Napa based Balzac Communications. The venue for this years event was the spectacular VenueSix10 overlooking Chicago's lakefront and Grant Park.

The Association de Grands Crus Classes de Saint Emilion (AGCCSE) was formed in 1982 by Crus Classes growers to jointly promote their own wines and those of the region, and to collaborate to achieving ever higher quality. Saint Emilion is a medeivel town founded in the 8th century, 40 km northeast of Bordeaux, 8 km from Libourne. There are 13500 acres of vineyards (half the size of Napa Valley) in two appellations, St Emilion and St Emilion Grand Cru

The 'Pour Boys' attending were me, Dr Dan, Ernie and Lyle, from our group of wine collectors who conduct regular wine dinners and special events, named such as a result of our service at these events. Other regulars, #1 Son Ryan, and Bill C were unable to participate.

These wine adventures are much of the basis and content of this unwindwine blog. As written in these pages, this started when East Coast winter snowstorms disrupted flight operations preventing more than a dozen producers from getting to the event a few years ago. The 'Pour Boys' were called in to service to stand in and pour those wines. Then, when it happened again the following year, this tradition was born.

Events such as this give us pedestrian wine collectors a chance to mix with the Producers and members of the wine trade, to learn, and share fine wine passion, experiences and adventures, and for them to talk with serious collectors/consumers. This week's event was fitting as Dr Dan and Lyle just returned from two weeks touring the French Rhone Valley.

What a privilege to meet the representatives from the producers of St Emilion. Kudos to them, Virginie Larramona, (below left) Executive Director, and Alain Moueix, President of the Association, and the Balzac team for orchestrating a wonderful event and an impressive turnout (left) of the member Chateaux.

Thank you all for coming to our fair City, Chicago.

With Virginie Larramona,
Exec Director AGCCSE
This event featuring the Grands Crus Classes of Saint-Emilion provided a  wonderful opportunity to explore and experience a comprehensive and in-depth exposition of the people and their wines across the appellation and the nuances and wonders of its different terroir - the southern slopes, the plateau, northern slopes, and the gravelly areas. This rare glimpse into the geography and distinctive terrior matched with representative wines showcased and highlighted their individual style and character of each area.

Some of the discoveries of this event were Château Jean Faure with its unique blends featuring 54% Cabernet Franc, the unique showing of Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, meeting Charles-Antoine Beyney and tasting their spectacular releases of Château Clos De Sarpe, meeting Guy Meslin owner of Château Laroze and learning of their heritage and legacy, and meeting Sylvie Cazes, the new owner of Château Chauvin, and serving Château Yon-Figeac.

Notable tastings of the day:
  • Château Bellefont-Belcier 
  • Château Chauvin
  • Château Clos de Sarpe
  • Château Corbin
  • Château Cote De Baleau
  • Château Les Grandes Murailles
  • Clos Saint Martin
  • Clos Des Jacobins
  • Château La Commanderie
  • Couvent Des Jacobins
  • Château Dassault
  • Château Faurie De Souchard
  • Château De Ferrand
  • Château De Pressac
  • Château Frombrauge
  • Château Fonplegade
  • Château Fonroque
  • Château Grand Cordin-Despagne
  • Château Grand Pontet
  • Château Guadet
  • Château Jean Faure
  • Château La Dominique
  • Château La Marzelle
  • Château Larose
  • Château Yon Figeac
Guy Meslin of Château Laroze
The wonders of St Emilion are manifested in the rich wonderful heritage of the properties such as Château Laroze, where Guy Meslin of the Meslin family, are direct descendants of the founders, who are recorded as producing wine in St Emilion as far back as 1610. In 1882 ancestors of the family bought and combined 37 acres of three small vineyards, and founded the family estate of Laroze. They built the chateau with its cellars and vat house in 1885.

Successive generations lead to George Meslin who ran and developed the estate for 40 years, organising it under its current name, increased its size, and built its sales network and the quality of a Grand Cru Classé. Building upon the efforts and legacy of him and earlier generations, Château Laroze was awarded Grand Cru Classé status in the 1955 Saint-Emilion classification. On the retirement of his father, Guy Meslin took over the family estate in 1990. Under his leadship, they continued to modernize the estate and expand the facilities.

Today, eighty percent of production is Château Laroze exported as distribution is growing in the US. Watch for it.

Pour Boys at Chez Joel
Afterwards, we dined at Chez Joël Bistro Francais on Taylor Street, Chicago, one of our favorite regular spots, often pregame dining before Hawks' and Bulls' games.

We started with the Fromage de Brie Chaud, warm Brie Cheese with honey, apricot, garlic and almond, Salmon Fume, Scottish Smoked Salmon, capers, cream cheese, toast and Tobikko, and the Pâté de deux Sortes, Duck & Chicken Liver Pâté with traditional garnish & toast points.

For entrees, Dan and I had the Magret et Confit de Canard, Sauce à L’orange, Pan seared Duck Breast & Duck Leg Confit, Served with Wild Mushrooms Fricassée, Potato Galette and Cranberry Orange Sauce (bottom). Lyle and Ernie both had the crab cake special.

With dinner, celebrating the wines of St Emilion, we had Château Laroze Grand Cru Classé and Château Les Grandes Murailles Grand Cru Classé from Saint Emilion Grand Cru.

Charles-Antoine Beyne of
Chateau Clos De Sarpe

Sylvie Cazes, new principle
Chateau Chauvin

Pour Boys Dr Dan & Lyle w/ Chateau Jean Faure
Chez Joël Bistro Francais, Chicago
Chez Joel - Magret et Confit de Canard, Sauce à L’orange