Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1996

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1996

Took this bottle to friends Bob and Gloria's for New Years Eve, Eve dinner party. Many threads here. I tasted this wine and this vintage at the Chateau during my Rhone/Provence/CDP trip back in '99. The elegant, picturesque and historic Chateau (below) was one of the highlights of a memorable week there.

Château La Nerthe sits on the brow of the hill on the outskirts of the village of  Châteauneuf-du-Pape surrounded by 225 acres of vineyards overlooking the small country road that heads down to the city of Avignon.

The cave cellars under the Chateau were occupied by the German Nazis during WWII as their command center for the southern Rhone Valley.

The Chateau, vineyards, country lane and cellars are shown on my travelogue page.

Adjacent to the property is the equally picturesque and historic Les Caves du Château Des Fines Roche, winery, hotel and fine dining restaurant situated in a classic old castle resplendent with turrets and all (shown left). One of the castle tower turrets was my guest bedroom when we stayed there. We walked down the rustic lane over to Château La Nerthe for our tasting appointment there.

I took a bottle of this vintage to Bob's and Gloria's for a celebration dinner for Bob's father, George's birthday, back around that time. George raved about this wine and it was a memorable evening. George passed on since and just recently Bob's mother passed on as well. So, tonight was a bit of a tribute and remembrance to them as we close out the year.

This La Nerthe overachieved and exceeded expectations tonight. Coming upon twenty years of age, I was expecting it to show its age and be in the last chapter of its aging profile.

We still hold and have served several bottles of '96 Chateau Beaucastel which also came from that trip, and it's fruit is quite suppressed and is showing its age a bit, hence, I used it as a barometer of what to expect.

When I opened the bottle, there was a slight bit of cloudiness and grey tinge to the color that I feared did not bode well for what was to come. Despite that, the fruit was vibrant, the body well composed and balanced and overall, it presented itself remarkably well, indeed.

Deep ruby colored with a bit of cloudiness and grayish hue, medium bodied, nice balance and soft finesse, floral highlights and the black cherry a red berry fruits were bright and vibrant, turning to tones of tapenade, baking spices, and hints of leather, with medium, soft tannins and decent medium acidity.

RM 89 points.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Brack Mountain Wine Co - Cyprus Sonoma County Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Brack Mountain Wine Company - Cyprus Sonoma County Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

At the local Binny's, the Chicagoland beverage mega merchant, this weekend, the distributor was promoting / introducing this moderate priced Cyprus Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The branding of this wine is interesting if not mind-boggling. According to their website, the producer is Brack Mountain Wine Company. They work with growers dedicated to sustainable practices, sourcing from Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands. Since their launch in 2008, they have introduced more than fifteen small production, fine wine brands.

I suspect this approach provides a value added opportunity to provide winemaking and marketing services as an accommodation to the growers to get higher value from their product allowing them to focus on growing/farming - a win-win for all parties. And, if it provides quality wines targeted at appropriate price-points with economies of scale, then it should result in high QPR - quality price ratio brands/labels for the consumer as well.
 They describe their approach saying - "Brack Mountain doesn’t follow the pack. We look at things differently, and we’re not afraid to break with convention. We challenge assumptions and turn constraints into solutions. We value hard work and intellectual nimbleness, and we love a challenge."

They profess to be "a thriving winery with more than fifteen fine wine brands", with a mission to "produce age-worthy, handcrafted wines — wines that we love to drink—at every price tier". They are "Three generations. Two growers. One winemaker. Three friends." This team that shares a passion for wine has assembled to build this collection of varied brands and labels, sourced from the varied numerous sites from their locale Sebastapol in the Russian River Valley. Their plethora of brands is based on the varied sources of the grapes used in the product (s) - each brand and label associated with the source or grower of the fruit. Some of their featured brands:

  • Their most popular label, Bench wines are sourced from benchland vineyards.
  • The L’Oliveto brand is sourced from legendary vineyards in the heart of Sonoma County.
  • Barrique brand is sourced from select, low-yielding vineyard sites, these handcrafted, terroir-driven Sonoma County wines reflect the character of its cool-climate origins. Barrique Pinot Noir was featured in this blog earlier.
  • The Boatman brand is from carefully selected vineyard sites.
  • The Daniel brand "is an in-depth collaboration between winemaker and grower, each of these small production wines is carefully crafted to capture the nuanced character of these great vineyard sites. Each bottle bears the signature of the winemaker and the winegrower."
  • The ENOS brand features four different Cabernet Sauvignon labels from Napa Valley, Knights Valley, an Estate bottling from Dry Creek Valley, and a premium label from Dry Creek Valley.
  • The Fable label is "handcrafted, small production wines of rare and hard-to-find varieties sourced from passionate, devoted growers who strive to preserve the distinctive character of interesting wines".
  • Matias brand is five different labels from the Santa Lucia Highlands - "focused, elegant wines showcasing signature low-yielding vineyards and sustainable micro-viticulture from California’s cool-coastal wine regions." 
  • And this Cyprus brand provides "wines ... handcrafted in small lots from legendary vineyard sites especially designated for Cyprus wines". 
Brack Mountain offer five different varietal wines from under the Cyprus label from Alexander Valley, Knights Valley and the Russian River Valley.

This label and wine reminded me of Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its same appellation, varietal and price point, and subsequent wine profile, which in good years can provide high QPR. 

Cyprus Sonoma County Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

The 2012 Cyprus Cabernet was dark garnet colored, medium bodied with bright tangy black berry, currant, and plum flavors with tones of cassis, cedar and graphite, turning to moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 88 points.

 The published price for this wine direct from the producer is $45. It is available through distribution at wine mega-merchants such as Binny's for $25, probably a more appropriate but reasonable value price for this wine.

Many folks purchase wines at the winery thinking they're getting a deal only to realize the winery sets the price to establish and support that price-point to establish a value point for their wine in the marketplace. Many, if not a majority of wines are typically available in distribution for less than the established published retail price, except for allocated wines, or wines that gain extraordinary ratings, both of which can command high demand for their finite supply.

As a student and practitioner in marketing and distribution, this is on one hand fascinating, on another mind-boggling. This team has done a remarkable job assembling this portfolio of wines, providing the means for growers to offer their own branding and labels for their product that otherwise might be sold in bulk or bottled anonymously, or under someone else' brand, or sold as negociant private labels.

Brack closes in saying, "At the end of the day, we produce age-worthy, handcrafted wines—wines that we love to drink—at every price tier. This is the idea behind Brack Mountain and the measure of our success."

If this wine is a indicative of their handiwork, then they have succeeded and are on target. I'll look forward to exploring some more of their brands including their premium selections.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Heathcote II Heathcote Victoria Australia Shiraz 2004

Heathcote II, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia Shiraz 2004

Snuggling up in front of the fireplace to watch a movie, Linda prepared her delectable baked brie with toasted almonds, berry puree and honey (shown left), and I pulled a favorite profile big hearty Shiraz from the cellar. We love this style for tasty casual sipping.

I recall tasting this Heathcote II Shiraz at the wine desk with the segment  buyer at Binny's and ended up buying their entire allocation. We're still being rewarded as we hold a few bottles yet and they're as good as ever, and even better than I recall from our last tasting.

Inky/purple color, full bodied, huge full beautiful aromas of fruit that permeate the room upon opening, thick chewy mouthfeel, rich, structured, full forward flavors of concentrated ripe blackberries, black raspberries, chewy currant, with hints of anise, mocha, mineral and tones of graphite. The graphite was less pronounced than what I recall from the previous tasting allowing the fruits to predominate - more like initial tastings of this wine, and returning my rating back to 93 points.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 2003

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 2003 - Son Alec's Signature Namesake Label for Family Holiday Celebration Dinner

I wrote last night about the fun we have with this brand - Lewis Cellars with their Laverne and Shirley like 'L' that signifies two of our family members, Linda and Lucy, coupled with their Hoosier heritage of Randy Lewis, Indy 500 race driver from our native Indiana, and, their affinity to family, naming labels after their grandkids - Alec, Ethan and Mason. So we adopted Alec's Blend as a signature label for son Alec and feature it at family celebrations such as when he is home visiting. Such it was that we opened Lewis Cellar's Alec's Blend for our family holiday dinner with Alec home visiting for the holiday from NYC.

It should not be a surprise that we love this wine with its blend of our favorite varietals - Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, from our favorite region Napa Valley.

This was a great accompaniment to Linda's home made lasagna dinner.

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 2003

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this label dating back to 1997. At a dozen years of age, this is showing no signs of diminution of age.

As soon as you pull the cork the room fills with powerful berry aromatics. Like the Ethan's Syrah last evening, this is full bodied, fruit forward with rich concentrated berry fruits. Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, complex nicely integrated and polished layers of black berry, ripe black cherry and blueberry with layers of licorice, mocha and tangy spice and a layer of soft tannins on the long lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

The blend for this vintage is 60% Syrah, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Aged Liparita Merlot Magnum for Christmas Tenderloin Dinner

Aged Liparita Merlot Magnum for Christmas Tenderloin Dinner

Christmas surf & turf dinner classic whites and medley of reds

Ryan and Linda took lobster tails to complement Erin's beef tenderloin (left) for a surf and turf Christmas eve dinner and the large family gathering offered a chance to open a large format Magnum and open some classic and favored whites.

I took an aged 1996 Liparita Howell Mountain Merlot in 1.5 liter magnum and Ryan brought Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2008. I added a Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc while Ryan brought remains of previously opened Chateau Canon-le-Gaffeliere and Lewis Cellars Family Ethan's Syrah to round out the flights.

Large gatherings call for large bottles as there is much fun in opening large format bottles for such occasions. Vintage wines tend to age better - longer and more gracefully in large format bottles, and this may have contributed to the approachability of this aged 1996 Napa Merlot.

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mountain Merlot 1996

While it isn't chronicled on my Winesite, I recall we visited Liparita and tasted this with winemaker Gove Celia from barrel at the Oakville crush facility during one of our Napa trips back in the late nineties.

My previous note for this wine was in 2011 and cited subdued fruit that was still holding. Remarkably, tonight the fruit was bright, vibrant and forward, continuing to hold, accented by aromas and flavors of anise/licorice.- dark inky purple color - medium bodied - aroma's and tastes of floral, flavors of slightly flabby but pronounced cherry and plum fruits with subtle spice, tobacco leaf, leather and anise on a tannic cherry laced short finish.

RM 89 points.

Note, while it is the same branding, this is not the same producer or wine team as the current Liparita label. 

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc 2011 

This remains one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs - a varietal that is most true to its origins, and least subject to adulteration or enhancement in the winemaking. 

Our visit and tasting at the Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Vineyard & Winery  was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2009.

This was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled lobster tails with drawn butter. Light straw colored, crisp and clean bright acidity with smooth nicely balanced complex aromas and flavors of pear, peach, lychee fruit, with a layer of lime zest with a flinty minerality on a lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Ethan's Syrah 2012 

I love featuring Lewis family wines, named for family members, at family events with the classic 'L' on the label for Linda and Lucy, and with the Lewis Indy 500 racing heritage back in our home state of Indiana. So, I was delighted that Ryan had this open from the previous evening and saved some for us to taste with the dinner.

This is our favorite profile for a Syrah. Linda loves this style of big rich chewy black and blue berry fruits.

Dark inky purple, full bodied, rich, concentrated thick chewy tongue coasting black and ripe blue berry fruits with layers of accent tones - licorice, brown spice and graphite. We hold this in the cellar and can't wait to feature this in a tasting all its own.

RM 93 points.

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière 2006

Label from 2005
We've enjoyed meeting the producer and tasting this wine at the UGC US release tour tasting events in Chicago over the years and appreciate them coming to Chicago to showcase their label.

This is one of Ryan's favorites and he is collecting a vertical of this wine in his cellar. He had this open from the previous evening and he saved some of this to bring to comparison taste with our dinner.

This bottle did not hold up well the following day and hence this may not be a fair evaluation. The fruit was quite subdued, almost suppressed - dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry and black cherry fruit giving way to tones of anise, herbs, tobacco leaf, leather, and graphite. I'll withhold rating as neither of us believe this was a representative example of this label.

50% Merlot
45% Cab Franc
5% Cab Sauv

More to come ...

Del Dotto Cabs Stolpman Syrah for Beef Tenderloin Holiday Dinner

Del Dotto Cabs and Stolpman Syrah for Beef Tenderloin Holiday Dinner

For our family holiday dinner, son Ryan went down in the cellar and pulled two producer family wines from two vintages commemorating anniversaries for him and daughter/sister Erin, 1999 and 2001. These two big bold Napa Cabs were ideal to taste with Linda's beef tenderloin dinner. I was eager to try this comparison tasting and expected the 2001 Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to be at or near its apex, but I had forgotten about and was pleasantly surprised at the resilience shown by the '99. Ryan brought a big bold Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Syrah to share.

For the starter course I had pulled one of our favorite Napa whites, a vintage Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, but Ryan pulled a current release Hanna Sauvignon Blanc to try first. This is currently on offer at our local wine shops and we wanted to try it see if we should buy more.

Del Dotto is one of our favorite Napa producers and represents the distinctive Rutherford appellation terroir. We hold more than a dozen vintages of Del Dotto going back to their earliest inaugural vintages in the early nineties. We've visited Del Dotto many times in our Napa trips and have featured Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto at several of our wine producer dinners. We got to know the next generation of Del Dottos, and their son Giovanni, for whom their Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve is named, also attended IU, the alma mater for no fewer than thirteen degrees conferred on members of our extended family. See our Del Dotto features on including Del Dotto - Napa Valley Napa Wine Experience 2003 and Napa Wine Experience 99 to mention a few. 

Del Dotto's cave tours remain one of the most colorful and entertaining of all Napa Valley tasting excursions. Our kids cite Del Dotto as one of the highlights of their Napa Valley wine trips as well. Their spectacular winery and cellar tour right on Route 29 at Zinfandel Lane as you enter St Helena from the south are a must see during a visit to Napa Valley. So it is fitting to enjoy this wine together at a family gathering.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

This wine opened with bright racy tones and 'settled' over the course of an hour and a half to be more approachable and polished. This was consistent with my tasting notes from a special dinner back in January of this year. "This 1999 vintage was the artwork of legendary winemaker Nils Venge crafted from Rutherford appellation fruit. At sixteen years, this is a testament to the aging potential of this label as it is still full, firm and vibrant and is just starting to show its age as tones of earth, leather, and tobacco are starting to set in. These tones turned to bright floral note after being open an hour.'

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, firm gripping forward black berry fruits laced with that classic Rutherford dust, complex but nicely balanced with intense dark cherry, black currant and blackberry fruits, a layer of cedar and spicy tangy oak on a lingering finish of tight structured tannins. This was a great complement to the beef tenderloin that matched well with the wine's complexity."

RM 92 points.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Like the '99, this is drinking at the apex of its drinking window and demonstrates the longevity of Napa Valley Cabernets. While it will not likely improve any further with aging, it still has several years to go at this level. This was actually more subdued than the more vibrant '99.

Medium to full bodied , deep dark ruby color - black berry and sweet black cherry fruits accented by clove spice and a hint cassis and whisper of English toffee on the 'Rutherford Dust' moderate silky tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

This same wine is featured in their extraordinary Connoisseurs Series in which they age the same wine in a variety of oak cooperages to highlight the different oak influences on the wine. We featured a horizontal tasting of the 2001 Del Dotto Connoisseur Series last year as listed on site

Stolpman Vineyards "Hilltops" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2011

Ryan brought this over, the remains of a bottle he had opened earlier. A totally different style and tasting profile from the more elegant and complex Cabernet Sauvignons, this was narrower but deeper, bolder and bigger, in your face fruit forward style. We love this style of wine but normally reserve these for barbecue, bold bright pasta dishes or hearty cheeses.

Dark red-ruby, full bodied, aromas of floral and mocha, complex, concentrated big, forward black and blue fruits, tones of anise/licorice, tones of mocha chocolate and herbs, turning to a very long soft savory fruit filled finish.

RM 92 points.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reignac Bordeaux Supérieur 2005

Reignac Bordeaux Supérieur 2005 with Beef Roast Dinner

Another holiday dinner feast featuring beef roast and mashed potatoes (below) calls for another mid aged Bordeaux. The benefit of having a wine cellar is the ability to pull and pop a ten year old for such an occasion. This is a lesser appellation label that offers high QPR - Quality Price Ratio, over the more popular high profile Bordeaux labels. It was the perfect accompaniment to the beef and potato dinner.

Garnet colored, medium to full bodied, firm texture and structure, bright vibrant cherry and blackberry fruits accented by classic Bordeaux notes of cassis, leather, earth and oak turning to a lingering tangy fruit filled moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

O'Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

O'Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Featured wine at recent Vin Chicago tasting, this Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon would typically be my favorite profile wine with forward concentrated mountain fruits, but this was surprisingly modest and subdued for this appellation. 

Supposedly, winemaker Sean Capiaux used all seven Bordeaux varietals in this blend so perhaps it needs time to settle, although it is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, then primarily Malbec with the remainder the other varietals. 

This 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain was somewhat opaque purple color, medium bodied, with subdued black berry fruits turning to tones of tea, leather, tobacco, an accent of clove spice and hint of mocha on the smooth, soft finish. Time will tell how this evolves to reveal its terroir and true character and profile.

RM 91 points.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mascota Unánime Gran Vino Tinto Red 2011

Mascota Unánime Gran Vino Tinto Red 2011

From the Uco Valley in the Mendoza region in Argentina at the foot of the Andes, this is from Mascota who has been a producer in the area for three decades.  

Traveling on business, I ventured in to Total Wine to find an interesting wine for dinner. A high QPR moderately priced wine was on order since I had an important meeting the next day and hence would only drink half the bottle or less. They offering a small selection of 1/2 bottles which included a couple interesting Bordeaux but I opted for this for its instant gratification approachability while still so young. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cab Franc was recommended by a staffer as a favorite, that fit the target profile I requested, bold, big, fruit forward, ready to drink. This is one of their Winery Direct features, interesting, since it comes from Argentina.

When I selected it I thought it was $23 but at check-out it was $25. Not used to shopping there, I fell for their pick-six price point. This is a decent value at $23 but at $27 with tax, I'd opt for the higher quality but lower cost of the 1/2 bottle of Bordeaux.

The fact it would live up to its billing was immediately apparent on opening with its deep color, full body and aromatics that filled the room on opening. It was a great accompaniment to carry-out lasagna which exceeded expectations, from nearby Davanni's pizza-Italian restaurant.

Deep, dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, bold, forward, vibrant slightly obtuse with aromas and flavors of blackberry and black plum fruits accented by a layer of cassis, with tones of creosote and hints of expresso and dark bitter chocolate on the sharp abrupt finish.

RM 89 points.

The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec & 15% Cabernet Franc. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Festive Holiday Dinner Showcases Premier Napa Reds

Festive Holiday Dinner Showcases Premier Napa Reds - Quintessa, Fantesca, Clark-Claudon, David Arthur

Three mountains and five hills of Napa Valley sourced the fruit for a flight of top Napa big reds.The greatest joy of having a wine cellar collection is to pull special bottles for a special occasion such as a festive holiday dinner. Tonight provided the opportunity to showcase a line-up of favorite Napa Reds with beef tenderloin. Linda prepared her delectable beef tenderloin and imaginative twice baked potatoes, brussel sprouts, hericot verts and fresh dinner rolls. I pulled decade plus one year old Napa big reds to highlight the meal. Showcasing our favored Napa mountain fruits profile, we tasted wines from three corners of Napa Valley.

I wrote recently about the distinctive Howell Mountain terroir. We featured Howell Mountain Clark Claudon, Fantesca Estate from the opposing Spring Mountain District, and a pair of David Arthur wines from Pritchard Hill in the southeast corner of the valley. To round out the flight, Bill brought from his cellar Quintessa from the geographic center of that triangle featuring its five hills estate, and David Arthur Elevation 1147. To accompany the flight, Bob brought a St Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux.

Visits to the estate wineries of Fantesca, David Arthur and Quintessa have been highlights of several of our Napa Valley Wine Experience excursions, and Tom and Laurie Clark-Claudon were featured producers at one of Napa wine producer dinners. Indeed, we hold close to a dozen vintages of each of these producers - certainly of Clark Claudon and David Arthur, both in about their 25th year or so of production. For Fantesca, they've just finished their first decade since their 2004 inaugural release, when Duane and Susan Hoff took over the estate.

Prior to dinner, we featured a selection of artisan cheeses and Linda prepared her baked brie with toasted nuts and berry puree, accompanied by an Austrian Riesling and Italian aperitif wine.

The 2004 dinner entree flight ....

Fantesca Estate Winery Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

As mentioned, our visits to the spectacular Spring Mountain Estate of Duane and Susan Hoff have been highlights of our Napa wine excursions in 2007 and 2009. We hosted Duane at our home on one of his first release tours when he was traveling the country building the Fantesca brand. Their classic packaging with their etched glass bottles provide a festive bottle for such a gala dinner.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, at eleven years, the complex Spring Mountain bright forward fruit flavors of cherry, black berry and black currant are giving way to a layer of cassis, tobacco, black tea and hints of dark chocolate and dried herbs with a refined tannin finish.

RM 91 points. 

Clark Claudon Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this wine going back to their early releases in the mid-nineties.

Deep inky garnet colored, full bodied - aromas of ripe dark berry fruits, big mouth-full of forward complex but balanced, smooth, spicy black cherry and black currant and edge of red berry fruits, tones of cassis and dark mocha and turning to a predominant forward accent of sweet smooth sweet spicy oak on the smooth tannin finish.

RM 92 points. 

David Arthur Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Meritaggio 2004

As I have written in these pages, Meritage is the trademarked/licensed label attached to American releases of Bordeaux varietal blend wines. David Arthur uses creative license with this play on words to bring us 'Meritaggio', an Italian influenced Napa Valley blend of Bordeaux varietals accented by the Italian varietal Sangiovese - that associated with 'Super Tuscan' wines.

I thought this would provide an interesting comparison to the other Napa cabs, perhaps more approachable easier drinking early in the wine flight. Wow, what a surprise as this presented a big firm tight profile that ended up being the culmination (end) of the flight, with its firmness and complexity overpowering the rest of the wines.

As I update my records of this wine tasting depletion from our cellar, I realize we have a half dozen vintages of this label. I'll be mindful how to position this wine in future tastings.

This wine, a super Tuscan style blend anchored by Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Sauvignon (68%) with 12% Sangiovese made for an interesting diversion in the flight. The big full black berry and black raspberry fruits gave way to a layer of creosote with tones of dark mocha, black tea and leather with hints of vanilla and smoke on the firm gripping tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Bill punctuated the tasting with these two bold flavorful premium Napa Cabs....

Quintessa Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The name Quintessa refers to the five hills on the Rutherford estate property. Our tasting at the stylish winery estate on Silverado Trail was a highlight of our Napa Wine Experience 2003.

This was lighter than expected and ended up being our opening red wine providing the transition from the pre-dinner whites to the big reds.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, smooth, elegant and polished with bright vibrant dark berry fruit flavors accented by huge floral bouquet, tones of violet, cola and hint of clove spice with tangy bright acidity on the smokey tannin laced finish.

RM 93 points.

Bill's notes from Cellartracker:

"Excellent transition wine from pre dinner whites to the heavier Napa cabs served with beef tenderloin. This was lather than I remembered. Still the same characteristics though. A hint of clove and spice on the nose. Bright plum, cassis and a bit of cherry on the palate with a medium finish. This needs at least 30 minutes of air to reveal the fruit and complexity. Was a but surprised that this did not have the same weight or body of the '04 Fantesca or Clark Claudon that followed."

WCC - 90 points.

David Arthur Cabernet Sauvignon Elevation 1147 2003 

Of course the name refers to the topographical elevation of the vineyard from which this single vineyard designated fruit is sourced.

This was our last tasting of the evening so I saved some for the next day to taste again. The huge bouquet and powerful big forward blue fruits accented by licorice stood out and punctuated this. This was summed up and consistent with my tasting notes from last year for this label:

"Elevation is flawless, extraordinary in its refined elegance and harmonious balance. While full bodied it has no sense of weight in its symphony of seamlessly integrated flavors, silky smooth and polished balance of floral, dark fruit and accent tones from start to finish - lavender, sweet ripe black and blue berry fruits, whispers of cinnamon, clove, exotic spices and tobacco leaf on the soft lingering finish. At eleven years of age it seemed to be at its apex as I can't imagine it getting any better. It was delightful and delicious. I sense I drank my earlier Elevations too early to allow them to come together so nicely."

RM 95 points. 

Bill's tasting note on Cellartracker - "Love the depth and complexity of this wine. Earthy Bordeaux like nose of moss and forest floor. Blackberry, cola and tobacco on the palate. Deep indigo color. Full bodied with a long lingering finish. I have the sense that this will not improve with more age. Tannins are fully integrated."
WCC - 92 points.

Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 76 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France, 2011

Bob brought this to contribute to the flight. I've written often herein about Ninety-Plus cellars negociant practice of obtaining surplus wine for private labeling. After pouring at the St Emilion Grand Cru producer's release event in Chicago last month, its hard to imagine a private label version of any of their wines. 

Deep inky garnet, medium bodied, rather subdued aromas and flavors of blackberries with under currant of purple/blue berry fruits accented by a layer of woody pain grille, earthy cedar with tight firm gripping tannins on the finish.
RM 88 points.

Prior to dinner, we tasted a selection of whites with artisan cheeses, fresh fruit, holiday cookies and chocolates, and salad.


Freie Weingärtner Wachau / Domäne Wachau Riesling Federspiel Terrassen 2007

Straw colored, light-medium bodied, crisp clean, slightly tart citrus apple with stone fruit with bright acid finish.

RM 87 points.

Cavalchina Passito Veneto IGT 2004

Originally straw colored, this has turned to tea color, medium bodied, the apple fruits, subtle tangerine and hint of apricot and peach flavors have given way, overtaken by tones of burnt caramel, smoke and nut on a flavorful lingering finish.

RM 87 points.

Deck the Halls with Hall's Napa Cab

Deck the Halls with Hall's Napa Cab

Its always a great joy to indulge in good food and wine with friends and family. Tis the season to engage in special wines as part of the holiday festivities. One such brand I enjoy is a play on words, Hall Napa Valley wines to 'Deck the Halls' for seasonal fun. So it was that another Sunday after church dinner with family provided the occasion to open Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Linda's beef roast dinner.

We visited Hall's tasting room in St Helena in the old days (2003), before they opened their spectacular Rutherford Estate winery site adjacent to the vineyards on the lower slopes of the Vaca Range that form the eastern boundary of Napa Valley.

Our special tasting in the caves and tasting room there (shown left) was a highlight of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013.

We hold Hall Napa Cabernets as well as their Sauvigon Blanc as staples in our cellar for festive wine occasions, as well as their signature Kathryn label for special vintages such as grand-kids' birth year wines (since this label didn't exist for our kid's birthyears) for related special occasions.

Hall Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

We hold the remains of a case of this wine and savor every bottle as one of favorites in the style and character that we enjoy so much with our favorite foods.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, a symphony of flavors accented by bold expressive black berry and black raspberry fruits with highlights of anise and mocha with tones of cedar, sweet toasty oak and clove spice and hints of earthy leather turning to a smooth polished lingering finish.

RM 93 points.  

Consistent with my last tasting of this wine replayed below ... can't believe I waited this long to try it again!

Dark inky color, rich, dense, concentrated, style, full-bodied, fruit forward ripe sweet currant, ripe black raspberry, plum, black cherry fruits, mocha and hints of black licorice with a long soft tannin finish. Has the rich thick jammy fruit of a south Australian Shiraz." I would emphasize big, full, concentrated fruits with a firm tannic backbone. In this evening's tasting it met my highest expectations and stood over a Barossa Shiraz and Keenan Cab, was a perfect complement to New York strip steak dinner.

Parker's Grill Provides Crossbarn Paul Hobbs WBTG Tasting

Parker's Grill Provides Crossbarn Paul Hobbs WBTG Tasting

We've recently discovered and written in this blog about Crossbarn Paul Hobbs wines, an interesting study in branding with a storied background, and heard from them about our blogpost. They contacted me to correct me on the branding nomenclature - Crossbarn Paul Hobbs, not the reverse as I wrote. We dined at Parker's Grill in Downers Grove to celebrate the holiday as well as a friend's birthday, which afforded the opportunity to taste a flight of Crossbarn, their featured producer, on offer BTG, by-the-glass. Parker's has a nice selection of WTBG - Wines By The Glass which they offer in both 3 and 6 oz pours - nice for Linda and me to have suitable portions. This affords the opportunity to taste a selection of wines as opposed to having just one when ordered by the bottle. This is of course also especially useful when a bottle is too much for one or one and a half consumers.

While Parker's website showed Crossbarn Cabernet on offer, what was available was a mini-horizontal of CrossBarn (by) Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012's - Sonoma Valley and Anderson Valley, and a CrossBarn Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, Sonoma County (sic) 2014.

Paul Hobbs Crossbarn is the somewhat more affordable branded label offering from Paul Hobbs, the acclaimed producer known for premium quality Napa Valley wines. Crossbarn wines are produced down the road about a mile from the Paul Hobbs estate winery, in a former apple processing facility that's is the operations center for their Sonoma Coast wines.  I have found that Crossbarn provides moderate priced well crafted wines that generally provide quality tasting at reasonable value.

I selected Parker's hoping for a delicate seafood dinner but ended up ordering the Braised Boneless Shortribs with red wine sauce and mashed sweet potato, which I matched with the pair of Pinots.

Linda ordered the Mahi Mahi, and I had the Polenta fries as a side, both which we matched with the Crossbarn Chardonnay.

Our guest, special friend Marlene U who was having a birthday, ordered the herb roasted double chicken breast. All our entrees were delicious.

Following dinner, we closed with the deliciously decadent Bittersweet Chocolate Flourless Cake with Mocha Mousse and Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. This was worth the trip all by itself. Too bad it came with the gelato already melted. And, it amazes me how difficult it is get coffee WITH your dessert in restaurants. Their procedures seem to too often offer and serve these serially as two separate courses. In this case, we were never offered or given the chance to even order coffee with our dessert.

Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County 2014

The Chardonnay was golden strawed colored with medium-light body with tones of stone fruit, apple, pear and brioche with hints of lemon citrus with pleasant balanced acidity and subtle mineral on the finish.

RM 89 points.

Note - the winelist stated Sonoma County which is not listed on the producer's website, nor on Cellartracker. I suspect this may have been the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Having tasted BTG - by the glass, I did not see the label. The servers were pressed to keep up with the dinner and wine service so I didn't press to see the label. Nearly 12,400 cases were made of the 2013 Chardonnay CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, all from the Sonoma Coast.
P.S. The morning after, I went to Binny's, the wine mega-merchant and found the Crossbarn Paul Hobbs Chardonnay. Indeed, the label reads "Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County"! See left.

CrossBarn (by) Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012 - Sonoma Valley and Anderson Valley

The Pinot's were similar in many respects, both garnet colored and medium bodied with black cherry, raspberry and pomegranate fruit flavors with hints of black tea and cedar. The Sonoma Valley showed more pronounced dark berry fruit flavors with a slight hint of sweet mocha on the mid-palate turning to soft smooth tannins on the finish.

Anderson Valley - RM 88 points.

Sonoma Valley - RM 90 points.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I wrote in depth about Conway Family Wines recently in this blog and got a kind note from them about my post. For a casual weekend evening of wine, fruit and cheese, we opened Deep Sea Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009.

As I have written, I found this wine downstate and tasted it, then went back and bought more. I was recently there again and discovered they had another case on the shelves. I was questioned about wines for a holiday party by a colleague and in our discussion I spoke of this wine. As it happened another colleague was downstate and we reached out to him prompting him to go by and buy out the remaining stock from the merchant, which we will split between us. Such it is with these wine finds.

Having only consumed half the bottle several days ago, the remainder of the bottle was open in our wine cooler. When I revisited it tonight, it was as good or even better than it was late last week. Such it is with hearty well structured wines of a half dozen years of age. Interesting, that upon review of my earlier tasting experience, the same thing happened the last time we opened this wine, that it improved upon revisiting the following day!

Here are my notes from the previous but similar tasting of this wine, earlier this year.

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Consistent with earlier blog post. Consider this a Negociant wine since, according to the wine producer, it is sourced from a "number of the finest, well regarded vineyards within Napa AVA’s of Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, with each one contributing their unique characteristics to our blend".

According to the producer's release, "the dark fruit notes along with distinctive and pleasant chalky sagebrush notes greet your nose at first. This Cabernet has as plush an entry as we’ve seen in a lot of years. A round, soft, mouth filling wine that shows a smooth backbone of tannins and balanced acidity. The finish wraps up nicely with a lingering reminder of the mature dark fruits, ever so slight a hint of new oak, and the ever present palette of flavors that make Cabernet so sought after!"

This has incredible QPR - quality price ratio, at its price point below $20. The wine producer lists it at $39. 

Opened for casual wine sipping with cheese but its sophisticated enough to be worthy as a perfect compliment to grilled steak dinner. We left half the bottle and it was even better the next day.

Slightly obtuse upon opening but softened and become more balanced and approachable after about an hour. Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, full fruit forward black raspberry and cherry fruits with a layer of spice and hints of graphite and tea, turning to tones of mocha with nice balance and smooth polished tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate Napa Cab 05 - Grand Merrain Haut Medoc 10

Grgich Hills Estate Napa Cab '05 - Grand Merrain Haut Medoc '10

For the last of our family and friends' weddings in this event filled 2015, we attended the festivities of Ross and Stephanie, son of dearest lifelong friends Eric and Cathy, and daughter of new wine buddies George and Leslie. Prior to the reception, Dr Dan opened these two diverse reds in the hotel suite for casual sipping before we headed to the venue.

Château Grand Merrain Haut-Médoc Bordeaux 2010

This lesser label provided for casual sipping but would likely show better for a more serious tasting with food given the complexity of the Bordeaux blend.  It's more modest profile was overshadowed by the more fruit forward and polish of the more expressive Napa Cab.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, moderately complex aromas and flavors of blackberries and cherries were accented by a tones of tobacco, leather, and baking spices with a hint of cedar with moderate chewy tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The harmony, balance and polish of this wine make it tempting for casual enjoyable sipping, but like the Bordeaux, this too would have been paired well with food for even greater enjoyment.

At ten years of age, this is likely at the apex of its drinking profile and will not likely improve further with more aging, but don't be in a hurry as it will hold for several more years.  Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied,  full blackberry and black cherry fruits were accented by tones of cassis, mocha, leather, and hints of graphite and smoke with smooth supple tannins on the finish.

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Moffett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006

Moffett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006

This wine is from Moffett Vineyard, a 20 acre site sitting 1500 feet up on Howell Mountain on the eastern slopes at the northern end of the range overlooking Napa Valley. The producer, Trent Moffett carries on the tradition started by his parents John and Diane Livingston, growing grapes and producing Napa Valley wines for over thirty five years.

I first acquired and tried this wine back in 2011. When I discovered it, after tasting it, I went back and bought the remaining stock at the local Binny's.

Approaching its 10th year, this wine seems to be at its apex and it appears it won't improve further with more aging based on this and my earlier tastings.

Representing those Howell Mountain terroir characteristics that I tend to favor in Napa wines, this is dark inky purple color - full bodied - concentrated yet polished and smooth with full flavors of blackberries, ripe plum and currants - with the fruit seeming to trend down somewhat from my recollection of earlier tastings, highlighted by a layer of mocha chocolate, anise, and tones of black tea with a touch of oak and spice - the wine shows great balance of toasted oak and acidity.

RM 92 points.