Friday, December 30, 2016

Silverado Vineyards Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Silverado Vineyards Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

The local independent wine shop, Peterson's, had this Estate Napa Cab blend available in half bottles so I picked up a few to try and to have available for future consumption/tasting. I opened this one to try before buying more. Based on this tasting, I'll opt out of getting any more, let alone a case, content on having a few for suitable drinking.

Often, I hear folks speak of having bought a case of a particular wine, sometimes without having tasted it first. I learned a long time ago that if I am going to buy a case of a wine, I better really enjoy it since life is too short to drink wine you don't enjoy. Moreover, having multiple different wines vs. multiple bottles of an particular wine, affords the option of trying more labels and vintages. This to me is part of the adventure and fun of tasting wine. Hence, I'll most often opt to acquire more, different wines, than larger quantities of a particular wine.

So it was that I acquired four bottles of this to try, to determine if I wish to go get more, and so in any event,  I have a couple half bottles in the cellar for appropriate occasions. I write in here often about the convenience and suitability of a having a 375ml half bottle.

This came across as a bit obtuse, with the pronounced ripe plum and black cherry fruits having a bit of a sharp edge, lacking polish and balance. The concentrated and firm fruits were accented by tones of earth, mineral and hints of anise and a layer of sweet cherry on the moderate tannin lingering finish. Several Cellartracker tasters noted this may benefit from more time in the bottle to settle and perhaps round out that edge.

RM 87 points.

P.S. - I customarily save some wine to taste the next day or even the day thereafter. Two days later, this was indeed smoother and more approachable, warranting another point to 88 score.

This is a blend of  81% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. The fruit is sourced from multiple Estate Napa Valley vineyards from Stag's Leap District (60%),  Mt. George Vineyard (33%) and Oakville Station (7%).

Many visitors to Napa Valley have passed by, or even visited Silverado Vineyards, on the Silverado Trail along the eastern arterial route of Napa Valley. Few realize the land/vineyard holdings of the producer extend far and wide up and down the valley beyond their primary Stag's Leap District site. Indeed, Silverado represent having six different vineyards sites. Some are for the traditional Bordeaux varietals while a couple are dedicated to Chardonnay.

On their website, Jon Emmerich, Winemaker is quoted as saying, "This is a great wine growing property. Each one of the vineyards has its own distinctive flavors and character. We work to make better use of the land, to farm it better, to help each block express exactly what and where it is. I believe that’s how to make wine." Indeed, having such vineyard assets affords a producer greatest control over their sourcing and branding over time.

The term Estate on a wine bottle designates that all (75%?) of the fruit in the bottle was sourced from proprietor owned sites, rather than purchased from contract or independent growers. While this provides the ability for consistency over time and across vintages, the diversity of the vineyard sites in this particular wine, defies this wine having any sense of terroir. Such a designation would be allocated to their premium label (s).

Generally, the rules dictate that for the wine to be labeled a particular varietal, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon, and from a particular location, Napa Valley, 75% of the grapes need to comply with that designation. In other words, at least 75% of the fruit in this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, and 75% of the fruit came from Napa Valley.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ivy Restaurant Wheaton Family Holiday Dinner

Gala Family Holiday Dinner at Ivy Restaurant Wheaton Features BYOB Clark-Claudon Estate Napa Cabernet

For our annual gala family holiday dinner, this year we dined at Ivy Restaurant in Wheaton. We arranged to dine at the balcony table overlooking the restaurant. Ivy, named for the ivy covered exterior walls overlooking the garden dining terrace, is housed in a historic building that was built as a chapel in 1928. The main dining room features stained glass windows and the commanding cathedral ceiling preserved from the original site.

The balcony setting afforded a wonderful view overlooking the restaurant, while providing ample room for our extended group including five grandchildren. It allowed a relaxed casual setting with room to roam for the small children without disturbing other diners.

We ordered the rib-eye steaks, filet medallions, the Chilean Sea Bass special, the Maryland Crab Cakes, the Filet of Beef, and the Filet and Shrimp entrees. The grand-kids were accommodated with appropriate choices from the kids menu.

For the appetizer course, we had the mussels and the coconut shrimp with Piper Heidsieck Brut NV (non-vintage) Champagne from the wine-list.

Ivy's corkage policy accommodated us to bring this BYOB selection from our cellar, Clark-Claudon Estate Napa Cabernet 2000. We met and dined with Clark-Claudon proprietors Tom and Laurie during our Napa Wine Experience winemaker dinners back in 1999. For a family dinner, I felt it appropriate to open a wine from family owned and oriented wine producer.

Since then, we have acquired and still hold thirteen vintages of this Estate Cab in our cellar dating back to the 1994 inaugural release, according to our Cellartracker records. We hold several vintages in magnum including this 2000.

 Clark-Claudon Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

This was a perfect accompaniment to our beef entrees and was probably at the peak of its drinking window, not likely to improve further with age, and ready to drink in its prime. Being a magnum, this likely had aged more gracefully and held its drinking window better or longer than perhaps standard size bottles. We hold several more bottles of this vintage and I don't feel rushed to consume them any time soon.

Dark garnet/purple colored, medium-full bodied, full, complex concentrated forward black berry and black raspberry and currant fruits are accented by a layer of spice, toasty oak, tones of cedar and sweet vanilla with nicely balanced acidity and smooth tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Chronological List of Chateau Mouton Rothschild Label Artists

Chronological List of Chateau Mouton Rothschild Label Artists
From Wine Labels of Mouton Rothschild - the originator and ultimate library of  Art Wine Labels
List of artists with links to Artist's Wikipedia profile where available.
See Mouton Rothschild Artist alphabetical listing. 

Rick's Label Library Main Page

Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon

Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon

With son Alec visiting from NYC for the holiday, we did some day-after shopping wherein I stopped and picked up some special order wines at the local wine shop. We stopped in the local Binny's beverage superstore in Naperville where the GM offered us this one and only remaining bottle of this hard to get, highly allocated, limited production Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon.

Alec knew he was on to something when he later posted the purchase on social media and immediately got a groundswell of responses.

While this blog is typically about wine and has never commented on whisky, it's also about branding, and this label offers a classic study in such.

As with wine, there are certain labels that command an almost cult-like following, where demand vastly exceeds availability. More often, the aura or cache' associated with such a label drives up the price such that it commands a higher price-point than otherwise less noted brands.

Old Rip Van Winkle rides on the coat-tails or in the wake of the producer's flagship premium label, Pappy Van Winkle, which is clearly one of those brands that command a huge following and a robust secondary market. A Washington Post article from 2014 featured the headline, "Pappy Van Winkle’s aged bourbon can’t keep pace with consumer demand" was devoted to the phenomenon.

The article speaks of the secondary market for the label where prices are geometrically inflated, like tickets to a hot concert or finals sporting event. It talks of lotteries set up by certain merchants to fairly distribute their precious highly sought after allocation to patrons. And it speaks of a bottle that sold on e-Bay for $108, an empty bottle! In summation, "The search for Van Winkle has inspired a song, a blog, an app and a delirious secondary market where a bottle has fetched as much as $2,600."

Like many highest revered wine labels, and vintages. the label has received highest acclaim by those that rate such things. In 1996, the 20-year-old Pappy received an unprecedented 99 whiskey rating from the venerable Beverage Tasting Institute. Indeed, all three labels in the brand, this Old Rip Van Winkle (10 year), as well as the Van Winkle Special Reserve (12 year) and Family Reserve Rye (13 year) have collected superb ratings and multiple awards. This only adds to the mystique, as if to legitimatize or rationalize the demand, but what is the cause, becomes the effect.

In the end, the Post article attributes the demand curve to the global demand for things of scarcity and quality. The ultra-premium wine market saw this spike in auction prices a couple years ago. I admit, I unloaded some of my coveted collectable bottles then, in retrospect, at the peak of the irrational exuberance for such, which has since subsided and not been seen since.

The producers are apologetic about the after market pricing effects on their website, "... unfortunately, some retailers choose to use this demand as a reason to increase their pricing. We know it’s often sold for far beyond our suggested retail prices, which you can find on the product pages of this site." Such practices go contrary to the producer's founder's philosophy and mission statement, prominently displayed on their homepage, "We make fine bourbon, At a profit if we can, At a loss if we must, but always, Fine Bourbon."

Such is the aura of this label, that when I visit the local wineshop, where I am a known patron, collector and frequent shopper, the manager takes me aside and with a sense of clandestine acts, shows me a special bottle that he is holding under the desk, behind the counter, and offers it to me as if it is highly coveted contraband. 

Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is perhaps best known for the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkle releases, which are today distilled under contract at Buffalo Trace distillery.

There have been Van Winkles in whiskey since 1893, beginning with the original Julian Van Winkle, known as Pappy, a consummate salesman and character. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle Sr worked as a salesman for the alcohol wholesaler W L Weller and Sons in Louisville, Kentucky. Van Winkle and Alex Farnsley acquired the business along with the Stitzel Distillery. They merged the two businesses to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, producing such bourbons as Old Fitzgerald and W L Weller. Pappy Van Winkle’s son Julian Jr managed the business following his father’s death in 1965.

The Van Winkle label was launched after the family was forced, by stockholder pressure in 1972, to sell the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery, producer of the W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell and Cabin Still labels. In the following years, Van Winkle whiskey has been produced as a joint venture with the Sazerac Co. Since then, the entire range of labels are produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Today, the third-generation Van Winkle sits in the Louisville office that he shares with his son, the firm’s two sole employees, turning down ardent buyers from all over the globe. There have been four generations of Van Winkles working for the brand since Julian Van Winkle III’s son Preston joined in 2001.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of bourbon sold under the Van Winkle label is their extended aging which is more than double the average age of standard bourbon.

According to the producer's notes, "See a rich, copper color. Smell enticingly sweet, spicy, caramel-nut-fudge aromas. Enjoy a fruity, medium-to full-bodied palate with intense dried fruit and toasted nuts notes. Each sip finishes with a very long, bold wave of peppery brown spices, floral honey and charred barrel flavors that balance the weight of the alcohol. It’s a big, bold, aged bourbon that has great balance for its high proof and flavor."

So it was that we had a special father-son experience, a holiday tasting of this special libation. We tasted this neat, (without ice or water). The Rip Van Winkle was incredibly smooth, the sweet caramel tones predominated with hints of coconut, vanilla and nutmeg on the silky sweet finish.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Pride Mountain Cabernet Del Dotto Cab Franc 1997

Gala Christmas Surf and Turf Dinners Features Pride Mountain Cabernet Del Dotto Cab Franc 1997 David Arthur Chardonnay John Anthony Sauvignon Blanc

For our gala family Christmas dinner, Linda prepared surf and turf - beef tenderloin and lobster tails. I pulled from the cellar two 1997 Napa Cabernets - a magnum of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and a Del Dotto Vineyards Cabernet Franc. For the lobster course I pulled a David Arthur Napa Valley Chardonnay and a John Anthony Sauvignon Blanc.

John Anthony Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013 

Tony Truchard practiced medicine in Reno, Nevada before moving his family to Napa Valley where he purchased and developed 180 acres of property in the Carneros region. His sons John Anthony and Michael learned the business from the ground up working the vineyards. Today they own and operate the John Anthony brand sourcing fruit from vineyards they developed on leased land. Their wines feature small vineyard sites from the Oak Knoll District, Carneros and Coombsville regions of Napa.

This Sauvignon Blanc was a great starter with the shrimp cocktail and artisan cheese and meats course leading to the lobster course. This is butter/straw colored, light bodied, crisp balance of fruits and acidity - aromas and flavors of ripe green apples, ripe melon and hints of zesty citrus with a slight layer of smoke on the opening.

RM 89 points.

David Arthur Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012 

We visited the David Arthur estate Vineyards and Winery high atop Atlas Peak during our Napa Wine Experience in 2013. While known for Napa Cabernets, they also produce this Chardonnay, another wine sourced from Napa growers from vineyards. This wine presents a big bold Napa style. The Chardonnay fruit is sourced from from independent growers' sites in the Oak Knoll District and Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa Valley.

A great complement to the lobster medallions in drawn butter, light pale straw color with greenish hues, full bodied with crisp acidity and buttery full firm flavors of apple, pear, figs, and stone fruits with tones of pineapple, guava, and lightly toasted oak and minerality on a full firm long finish.

RM 90 points.

Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We discovered Pride and acquired this magnum of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon at the winery during our Napa Valley trip in 1999.

I wrote recently about the 1997 Napa vintage and how it is now coming of age. This Pride is likely at the peak of its drinking window.

Served from magnum. Blackish purple/garnet, full bodied, firm, tight, complex concentrated black berry and black currant fruits with tones of spice and cedar with hints of smoke, anise and mocha turning to a tangy gripping tannin finish.

100% Cabernet Sauvignon

RM 92 points
94 points Wine Spectator
91-93 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

93 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar
92 points Wine Enthusiast
91 points Connoisseurs Guide

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

We acquired a case of this wine on release back in the late nineties. This bottle better resembles earlier tasting results than some recent bottles that were somewhat diminished from aging.

Tonight's tasting was more consistent with notes from a few years ago, dark ruby color, medium to full body, spicy black berry and black currant fruits are still vibrant in this nineteen year old, accented by tones of earthy leather, cedar and tobacco with hints of anise on the smooth tannin finish.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Château Corbin St. Émilion Grand Cru 2006

Château Corbin St. Émilion Grand Cru 2006

Home alone for the evening, as it protocol, I opened this 375ml half bottle to taste with dinner. Even then, I had one glass, half the half the first evening, and the remainder the following evening. This was a nice complement to some hearty cheeses and French bread.

I wrote about the allure of half bottles a couple times in recent weeks in these pages. 

Château Corbin is one of the oldest estates in Saint-Emilion, dating back to the 15th century.
Built in the middle of the 19th century, Corbin was purchased in 1924 by the great-grandparents of the current owners. Since 1999, the estate has been managed by Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet, a Bordeaux University oenology graduate, who represents the 4th generation of the family. Jean-Philippe Fort, one of Michel Rolland's team of œnologists, has been Corbin’s wine-making consultant since 2006.

The Corbin vineyards cover 13 contiguous hectares (32 acres) in the commune of Saint-Emilion, adjacent to the Pomerol appellation. The grape varieties planted in the tradition of the 'Right Bank', 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, with the average age of the vines being about 30 years. The finest grapes from the best plots and the oldest vines are used for making Château Corbin while grapes from younger vines go into a second label wine (XX de Corbin and DIVIN de Corbin).

I wrote recently about the Right Bank of Bordeaux and the grape varieties and style of wines produced there. 

The producer's website lists sites where the wine can be obtained in the US, a small number of wine shops, including Bassin's MacArthur Wines in WDC, where I recall obtaining this bottle.

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, was a bit tight and closed the first evening, being more open and approachable the second day when the smoke, creosote, black olive and herb layer gave way to the dark berry and tangy black cherry fruits, with notes of cedar, black tea and clove spice turning to fine tannins on the crisp clean moderate finish.

RM 87 points, same as WS.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet - The 1998 Vintage

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet 1998 BYOB at Angelis Italian Naperville

Winter storm warning with light snow and plunging temperatures didn't deter us from venturing out for Friday night dinner at Angelis Italian, our favorite (Naperville) neighborhood Trattoria. We took BYOB this 1998 Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet.

I have written often in these pages about the '98 vintage of Napa Cabs. It was much maligned by the pundits and was generally regarded as a disappointing vintage. The inferiority of the vintage was exacerbated by the fact it was 'surrounded' by stellar vintages. In fact the run-up to the '98 vintage was a run of four years of highest rated seasons, then '98, then another blockbuster year in '99.  Generally, any vintage of the nineties was a collectable highly rated vintage except '98. So it was that this vintage was the one to avoid, there were many great wines available, and the follow on year added to its demise as a non-collectable, non-respectable wine, a vintage to be avoided.

Here are the vintage reviews from Wine Spectator for the period.

Vintage WS Rating Vintage Review
DrinkTremendous depth, concentration and structure from a cool, moderate year; ageworthy
Past peakCool, damp year with mostly green, herbal wines marked by gritty tannins; few memorable bottles
DrinkHuge crop of ripe, opulent, fleshy, concentrated wines, from near-perfect weather; super in Sonoma, too
DrinkA sleeper, with a remarkable number of compelling wines; warm year with fine concentration and depth
DrinkSurprisingly fine year, with wines marked by great flavors, balance and structure
199497DrinkA showy year all around; ripe, complex and fleshy, with excellent depth

The Cellartracker community average rating for this wine is 86.7 (points), vs 91.8 for the '97, and 92 for the '99. I say, buy it up, drink it up, and enjoy!

So why is one vintage better than another? The 1998 vintage was a difficult year for growers due to the effects of the El Niño weather pattern that brought unusually cool weather and rain, both early in the spring and sporadically later in the season. This resulted in a fruit set that was small and late. The cooler temperatures continued on into the summer, with a few periods of heat where growers were concerned with sunburn. The result was uneven ripeness, irregular-sized berries, and an overall sluggish ripening. While September brought more suitable, drier, warmer weather, the harvest was delayed into late October, with some wineries finishing as late as November.

There was a silver lining in this clouded vintage with many great values emerging. Here is another testament to refute the prevailing views. There were many sleepers of the vintage, and because of their tainted lineage, they were and still are great bargains with high QPR (Quality Price Ratio). I've written often that I think the '98 has consistently been more approachable, and more pleasant drinking than the much heralded, revered '97, and could be obtained, in many cases (no pun intended), for half the price.

Note, this is not applicable across the region, we hold some Napa Cabs that live up to the deplorable reputation of the vintage, and are indeed the cause, not the effect. But, we're consistently rewarded for having gone against the prevailing views and stocking up on '98's that have proven wonderful wines with respectable aging potential, despite the belief they would be early gratification but short-lived.

Del Dotto produced such a wine in their Napa Valley Cabernet. This wine, even eighteen years later is delightful, while the '97 is just now starting to open and reveal its potential. Up until recently, I would have preferred the 98 over the 97. Their aging curves may only now be intersecting, and perhaps crossing.

My on-line wine journal shows nine reviews of this wine dating back to our tasting of it at the winery in 2000. The earliest reviews rated it 92 points, indicating that early gratification, but half of them over the last six years were ranked 90 points. Only now is this wine starting to show its age as I deducted a point from my last four consistent reviews of this wine.

Shown left, we're tasting Del Dotto Napa Cab with David and Yolanda Del Dotto at our favorite dining spot/table, at Tra Vigne, in St Helena, during our 1999 Napa Wine Experience Tour

We hold over a dozen vintages of this wine going back to their inaugural vintage in 1993. We are now starting to appreciate its aging potential as some of the vintages are just emerging to reveal their true potential. I recently wrote the same thing, about such a phenomenon, regarding the great, super premium Dominus, Napa Valley Estate Red Wine, that twenty, even thirty years later, it opens to show its true greatness and potential. While perhaps not Dominus' equal, some of the Del Dotto releases are showing some of the same traits.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 

Cellartracker reviewer AlphaWillie wrote of this wine: "This bottle was great and did not have any of the issues that others have reported."

My view: "A sleeper of the vintage, a consistently pleasant, nice drinking wine, belaying and despite its lackluster reviews. Still life left, this was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, still vibrant and lively, nicely balanced, moderately complex black cherry fruits accented by tobacco leaf, leather, tones of tangy spicy oak and modest but pleasant tannins on the finish".

RM 89 points.

My early reviews of this wine attribute to it a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Cab Franc.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lail Vineyards Blueprint Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Lail Vineyards Blueprint Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Home alone for the evening I pulled this 375ml half bottle to taste with the leftover steak from Saturday night dinner.

Lail Vineyards is a legendary Napa Valley producer with roots dating back five generations to the founding of Inglenook Vineyards in 1879 by their great, grand-uncle Gustav Niebaum. Today, Niebaum ancestors continue the tradition making premier Napa wines with this label “Blueprint”, based on Jon Lail’s wine country architectural practice, which dates back to the 2001 vintage release.

Blueprint is a blend of Bordeaux varietals with the 2005 vintage being a cuvee of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The wine is based on the estate's flagship wine, J. Daniel Cuvee, which was a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from 1995 -2000. The grapes are sourced from vineyards in several sub-appellations in Napa Valley including Howell Mountain, Oakville, St. Helena, and Yountville. The wine is crafted by well known winemaker Philippe Melka who has been winemaker at Lail Vineyards since the inaugural vintage in 1995. We have several wines from Melka from several leading producers across Napa Valley including his own private labels.

Melka's notes on this wine, “The 2005 Blueprint is seductive and approachable. The wine reveals dark notes of blackberries intermixed with vanilla, cacao and coconuts. In the mouth it is round with a pure attack and good balance finishing with raspberry and cherry flavors and well-integrated sweet tannins.”

Dark blackish garnet colored with brownish hue setting in, medium full bodied, black fruits are overtaken by licorice and cedar/camphor and tones of smoke and creosote that burn off over time turning to tangy firm, tight black cherry and black raspberry fruits with tongue coating tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Winter Storm Shelter in Place with Wine and Movie

With over six inches of snow on the ground and still coming down, we settled in for the evening in front of the fireplace with a movie, wine and cheese and fruit plate. I had already pulled this big Napa Cab as an option for our holiday dinner the previous night so I opened this Robert Craig Mt Veeder. We watched on-demand, the movie "War Dogs" which we found thoroughly entertaining, perfect for the mood of the occasion.

I wondered about how this wine was holding up based on the lackluster reviews I read on Cellertracker, but was pleasantly surprised when it exceeded my expectations.

Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Our Cellartracker records show we hold at least fifteen vintages of this label dating back to what I believe was the inaugural vintage in 1993. 

 Showing amazing resilience and vibrancy in its seventeenth year, this is what this wine is supposed to taste like, with all the essential characteristics of a Mt.Veeder appellation Cabernet – dense, generous black fruit integrated with fine, sinewy tangy tannins. 

Expansive aromas of bright dark berry fruit emanated from the glass. Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright forward ripe black currant fruit tones accented by black raspberry and black berry, spicy oak and anise. The finish features a solid core of black fruit that lengthens and combines with smooth mocha, cedar and cassis for a plush, long-lived finish. 

Blend: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc

RM 91 points. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kathryn Hall Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Kathryn Hall Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 for Ivy Wheaton Christmas/Birthday Dinner

For our annual dinner outing taking friend Marlene U out to celebrate her birthday and the Christmas season, we dined at Ivy Restaurant in Wheaton, IL. We took BYOB this Kathryn Hall Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a perfect complement to my Rib-eye steak, Linda's petit filet, and Marlene's BBQ ribs. Kathy served us and provided attentive friendly service.

We dined in the side-room overlooking the courtyard (shown below) which was a picture postcard with the heavy falling snow. While its not as picturesque as the main dining room, which is actually the sanctuary of a historic church (shown left), complete with stain glass windows, it's more intimate and quieter, as the sanctuary main dining room tends to be rather noisy, even bordering on boisterous.

For the second time in a row, my Ivy steak entree was laced with Rosemary which I do not favor. Otherwise, our dinners were delightful.

A really cool and interesting part of the Ivy dining experience was their illuminated menus - a great feature in a darkened restaurant. See their illumination in the lower center of the picture above.

Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

This single vineyard designated wine predates the Kathryn label becoming the signature flagship of the Hall brand. This label's demise can perhaps be explained by their expansion to a broad portfolio of labels, many small production boutique or individual labels,  extending the Sacrashe Vineyard fruit more broadly across the brand line-up. The Sacrashe Vineyard (shown right) sits just above the Winery on the estate which lies near the Napa Auberge du Soleil Relaix a Chateau Resort.

We visited the Hall Rutherford estate winery with its magnificent caves art gallery, cellar and tasting room (shown left) during our Napa Wine Experience in 2013.

Its time to drink up this vintage label as its showing it age, revealing its true profile and character, but still drinking nicely. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, the black cherry and black berry fruits are starting to give way to black olive, leather, tobacco leaf and hints of tar and anise, with smooth soft tannins. This is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Merlot.

RM 87 points.

Godspeed Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Godspeed Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

A colleague Stan stopped over to talk business so I pulled this from the cellar to taste with a selection of artisan cheeses.

We discovered and acquired this wine at the vineyard/producer during our Napa Mt Veeder Wine Experience back in 2011. This was drinking very nicely in its twelfth year and may be at its prime, not likely to improve further with more aging. This 2004 was the best showing of this label that I have had to my recollection. This is a small production label from this boutique producer. Ironically, I saw some available just this week at Total Wine in Minnesota. 

Dark blackish purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied, aromatic, black berry and black raspberry fruit flavors, a bit tight and firmly structured with tones of truffle and spice with hints of cedar, tobacco and green pepper, turning to moderate tannins on the long finish.

RM 90 points.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Château de Ferrand St. Émilion Grand Cru 2010

Château de Ferrand St. Émilion Grand Cru 2010 in 375 Half Bottle Format

Traveling on business, I picked up a 375ml half bottle of this Château de Ferrand, St. Émilion Grand Cru at Total Wine to taste with carry-out dinner back at the hotel. 

I've written often about half bottles in these pages; ... as late as last week. Here's another scenario where a small format bottle is in order. For the money spent, while I got half as much wine, I got a much better wine. Since I was dining alone and wouldn't consume a whole bottle anyway, and can't take the remainder on the airplane home (in carry-on luggage), I consider this a useful option, when opting for a higher quality wine. 

The challenge of course is the options are very limited in seeking small format labels. Smaller merchants likely won't offer any, while a beverage super store such as Binny's in Chicagoland, and in this case, Total Wine, will offer a selection of wines in small format. Binny's has close to a hundred labels on offer (their Oak Brook store aisle is shown above) while Total Wine had perhaps a score. 

Note, that a half bottle will cost sightly more than half the price of a standard 750ml format, so there is a bit of an uplift in price for the lower volume unique offering. In the case, a standard bottle cost $39.99, the half bottle was $23.

At six years of age, this was perfect for current drinking now, probably at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve with further aging. It was very pleasant with smoked cheese and a hearty salad.

Immediately upon opening, bright berry fruit and floral aromas erupted from the bottle. Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied with nicely balanced, bright, forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with tones of anise and hints of dark mocha and subtle spicy oak on a lingering polished tannin finish. 

RM 91 points.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Château La Louvière Pessac-Leognan 1994

Château La Louvière Pessac-Leognan 1994

Home alone for the evening, I opened a half bottle from the cellar to enjoy a glass with leftover BBQ rib dinner. I enjoy keeping 375ml small format bottles for such occasions for convenience and for temperate consumption. This is one of a half dozen remaining from a case of 1/2 bottles acquired back on release of this wine, noting that a such a case contains the same amount of wine, in twice as many bottles - 24x375 is 9 liters, the same as a 12x750ml case. I've also written in these pages, that the 375ml, 1/2 bottle format, also allows for tasting two times as many wines if opening multiple bottles for a tasting, with the same consumption.

The last time I reviewed this wine in a 1/2 bottle from this case eighteen months ago, I wrote, "While I lauded that there was life left in the earlier bottle tasting note, tonight, the dark berry fruits are definitely giving way to non-fruit earth, leather, creosote and musty wood notes.

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

That deterioration of this wine approaching the end of its drinking window continues as the fruit continues to fall off with non-fruit tones encroaching. It should be noted that wine ages less gracefully in smaller format bottles. I need to keep this in mind and not wait so long between bottles, and need to consume these remaining soon (er).

PS. Saving half of the bottle until the second night, the funkiness had blown off, replaced by the floral tones of its youth, with the fruit re-emerging to the grandeur of earlier. The lesson: don't be hasty to rush a twenty plus year old... give it some time to open, settle and return to its native character and profile. 

RM 85 points the first evening on opening, 87 points the second evening.

Previous reviews ....

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Red Bordeaux Blend 2003

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Walla Walla Valley Red Bordeaux Blend 2003

After going to see Brad Pitt's new (movie) release, "Allied", (okay, but far from blockbuster, love story, war action, intrigue to the end), we settled in at home with Netflix, some wine and a plate of cheese, fruit and nuts. After the recent tasting of the Columbia Valley Syrah this week, I had a taste for another wine from the region. I wanted something of quality and complexity, so I pulled this Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Red Bordeaux Blend from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington.

I wrote about this producer and label in an earlier blogpost

This has the profile of a 'Right Bank' Pomerol (AOC) Bordeaux, with a blend predominantly of Merlot 77%, with Cabernet Franc 22% and Petit Verdot 1%.

For neophytes, 'Right Bank' refers to areas to the north and east of the Gironde River that runs diagonally through the Bordeaux region, while 'Left Bank' refers to those areas to the west and south. While all Bordeaux (AOC - appellation original controlle wines - subscribe to the rules of the appellation governing such things), consist of 'Bordeaux varietals' - Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, accented by Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, perhaps some Malbec, Left Bank wines are predominantly Merlot, while those from the Right Bank are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon.

The last time I tasted this wine was eighteen months ago when I wrote, "This is the oldest of ten vintages we hold of this wine and is the last bottle from this year. This is a Merlot based Bordeaux blend. At fourteen years its likely at the apex of its tasting window/curve." Well, obviously it wasn't the last bottle, bottle variations aside, it certainly was at its apex as the bright fruits have started to diminish slightly, taking on a sense of overripe, raisin tones, and starting to give way to the non-fruit notes of tea, graphite and cigar box. The spicy tones of the Cabernet Franc are starting to show through.

In a tasting note from the period, I wrote the same thing about the 2004 vintage, "the fruits are starting to subside a bit and give way to non-fruit tones".  All that said, the same profile remains ...

I said above, 'bottle variations aside', but perhaps this bottle represents more the true character of this label, because I've written this about the 2005 vintage, "Definitely needs some time - decant and let breathe. A bit harsh up front with cedar and tar overpowering black currant and black berry fruits - turns to vanilla with creme brulee burnt sugar on the long firm tannin filled finish."

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, bright vibrant flavors (starting to fade) of black berry, cherry and currants with (increasing predominant) tones of tea and cigar box turning to mild tannins and lively acidity on the long, silky, finish.

RM 89 points.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cune Rioja Reserva 2011

Cune Rioja Reserva Tempranillo Blend 2011

I wrote about the 2010 vintage of this wine recently when son Ryan brought it to our family Sunday brunch. I said at the time that while I don't do much Spanish wine and we hold only a few labels in the cellar, I would rate this one a good QPR (quality-price-ratio) value buy and that I would definitely pick some up. When I went to get some, the '10 was replaced by the next vintage release, the 2011 was on offer, and I also have seen the 2012 in some stores. I picked up the '11 and will probably try the '12 at some point too.

Cune is actually named after the initials of the production company, C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), the first wine of this winery to do so. By their testament, this is produced in the style of  "a red ‘clarete’ wine was made as a fine wine in the style of the Bordeaux “Claret” produced by the great chateaux’s of the Medoc."

C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Reserva 2011

I liked the 2010 more than the 2011, which was less structured without the predominant backbone core of dark fruits accentuated by spicy oak. Like the 2010, the 'll was also as noted by the winemaker's notes, "Intense ruby red, bright and deep in colour." I found it similar in style and character, dark berry fruits accented by spice, cassis, oak, and tones of smoke and creosote with long lingering tannins on the bright tangy finish. 

As with the 2010, the 2011 is also a blend of Tempranillo: 85%, Grenacha, Graciano and Mazuelo 15%. 

RM 89 points. I gave the '10 91 points, Robert Parker gave the '11 90 points.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Alexandria Nicole Cellars Jet Black Horse Heaven Hills Syrah 2012

Alexandria Nicole Cellars "Jet Black" Horse Heaven Hills Syrah 2012

Traveling to Madison, WI on business, I dined with a client and took this Columbia Valley Syrah BYOB to dinner. I found this single vineyard designated Syrah at the local Verona Wine Cellars wine shop. Being out of state, and in a small tertiary market presented discovery of small production labels such as this, that I haven't seen in distribution, perhaps because they would not meet the volume demands of our larger wine retailers in the Chicago metro marketplace.

This small production boutique bottling is from small family run Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser, Washington. Their Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard is in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, located high on the bluffs overlooking the Columbia River. This label offers good value QPR (quality price ratio).

The owner/producers of Alexandria Nicole Cellars are winemaker Jarrod and wife Ali (Alexandria Nicole) Boyle, who produce small lots of hand-crafted estate wines, meaning wines sourced from their own 327 acre property. They planted their vineyard's first vines in the fall of 1998, and built their winery in the fall of  2004.

Jet Black is an apt name for this blackish garnet ink colored, full bodied Syrah. It's dense, thick, complex, concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits are accented by lavender floral notes, tongue coating layers of mocha, black olive and espresso, with tones of toffee, cedar, and spicy oak with approachable acidity, turning to fine, silky and sleek tannins on the smooth finish.

Garnet color. Aromas of chocolate toffee, blueberry tart, and floral honey with a satiny, tangy, fruity medium-to-full body and a polished, complex, medium-long delicate spice, plum skin, and wet cedar finish with fine, well-integrated tannins and light oak. A supple, succulent syrah that is sure to satisfy. - See more at:
Garnet color. Aromas of chocolate toffee, blueberry tart, and floral honey with a satiny, tangy, fruity medium-to-full body and a polished, complex, medium-long delicate spice, plum skin, and wet cedar finish with fine, well-integrated tannins and light oak. A supple, succulent syrah that is sure to satisfy. - See more at:
RM 91 points.

Venge Vineyards Merlot, Mr Riggs for BBQ Rib Dinner

Venge Vineyards Merlot, Mr Riggs for BBQ Rib Dinner

With son Alec and Viv home for a post-holiday dinner, I pulled a 'V' bottle for Viv, Venge Merlot for her request for a Bordeaux varietal. I also pulled a bottle of Mr Riggs McLaren Vale Shiraz of the same vintage, 2004, to accompany Linda's dinner featuring Ditka's BBQ ribs, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, asparagus (shown left) and her delectable baked brie pastry with fresh berries, roasted pecan nuts and honey (shown below).

Venge Vineyards Oakville Estate Merlot 2004

I must admit, this bottle exceeded my expectations.  Wow, I wish I had more of this. At a dozen years of age, it seemed to be at its prime, the apex of its drinking window. Winemaker Kirk Venge was prescient when he said back upon release, "This wine will drink well now through 2016."

Normally for BBQ ribs, I would select a hearty zinfandel or big rich shiraz, which was our second wine, but this was delicious with our opening course of artisan cheeses, Swiss, Bellavitano and a big bold Blue which served as the transition to the BBQ. 

Kirk, Nils and Andy
at Rossini Ranch
We visited the Venge Vineyards estate in Oakville several times starting back in the nineties when legendary patriarch Nils Venge was working the vineyards and operations, and up at their new Rossini Ranch in 2002 when he was working with son Kirk setting up new vineyards, cave and operations in the eastern foothills of the Palisades Mountain range up in Calistoga (shown right).

Nils Venge purchased the 7-hectare (17-acre) vineyard in Oakville in 1976 and planted it in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Kirk continued his father's legacy, taking over ownership of Venge Vineyards in 2008. He purchased and developed the vineyard in Calistoga, where the winery stands today. 

We visited the new site during the time they were digging the cave out of the side of the mountain in 2002. Venge's family run operation now involves three generations and has grown to produce a large range of wines sourced from multiple vineyards around Napa Valley and Sonoma. Venge's main focus is full-bodied red blends such as their Zinfandel-based blend Scout's Honor, named for the family vineyard dog, and the powerful flagship Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve, sourced from the Oakville Estate.

This 100% merlot was sourced from Oakville. It is dark blackish garnet and purple colored, medium to full bodied, refined, polished and elegant, bursting with floral perfume and sweet candied red and black fruits, accented by flavors of cola, dark cherry and hints of cocoa and vanilla, almost approaching caramel. Kirk compares this wine to a fine Pomerol (right bank Merlot based Bordeaux). This is structured, yet silky and seamlessly balanced, turning to ripe gripping but smooth tannins, modest acidity and rich texture on a lingering polished finish.

RM 92 points. Wine Advocate gave this 92 points.