Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fantesca Chardonnay Dunham Cellars Robert Craig Howell Cabernets with Steak Salmon Dinner

Fantesca Chardonnay, Dunham Cellars, Robert Craig Howell Mountain and Moffett Reserve Cabernets with Steak and Salmon Dinner

For a Beef Steak and Atlantic Salmon dinner we opened Fantesca Chardonnay, Dunham Cellars and Robert Craig Cabernets. Linda prepared grilled New York strip steaks and Atlantic Salmon filets with a medley of roasted vegetables - brussel sprouts, carrots, asparagus and russet potatoes. Beth prepared a Ceasar Salad and Gloria brought fresh berries to accompany the course selection of artisan cheeses.

The starter course included shrimp cocktail and a cheese selection - Bellavitano, Aged White Cheddar, Aged Blue, Creamy Goat cheese infused with berries, and fresh mixed berries.

For the opening wine we served John Anthony Napa Valley Carneros Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

With the main dinner courses we had Fantesca Sonoma Chardonnay 2008, provided by Bill, and Dunham Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 and 1998. 

The dessert course featured Linda's decadent chocolate mousse, home-made profiteroles and fresh berries. Bill served Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. To follow, I pulled from the cellar a Moffett Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.

John Anthony Napa Valley Carneros Sauvignon Blanc 2013

An up and coming producer in Napa Valley, John Anthony Truchard comes from a family with a long history in wine production going back several generations. Today, he and his wife Michelle produce a line of Cabernet, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc from fruits grown in select leased small vineyard sites from the Oak Knoll District, Carneros and Coombsville across Napa Valley. They operate the Day/Night wine tasting lounge in downtown Napa to showcase their wines.

Back in 1890, John's great Grandfather Jean-Marie Truchard and his family arrived from Leon, France at Ellis Island. Over the ensuing generations, the family settled in Northern California working the land and producing wines.

John Anthony began selling wine commercially for the first time in 2006. The John Anthony Tasting Lounge is opened in Downtown Napa in 2010.

The inaugural release of this label appeared in 2008 and received a 93 point and best value rating from Wine Spectator. This 2013 John Anthony Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from vineyards they planted and farm in Napa Valley. 

Butter/straw colored, light bodied, crisp clean nice balance of fruits and acidity - aromas and flavors of ripe green apples, ripe melon and hints of zesty citrus.

RM 90 points.

Fantesca Vineyards and Winery Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008

I've written often in these pages about Fantesca wines and visiting their spectacular Spring Mountain Estate, winery and vineyards. We visited there with Bill and Beth and tasted and sourced this wine upon release. 

Bill brought this from his cellar. His notes from Cellartracker - "Medium straw in color. A bit of perfume on the nose. Pear, peach, lemon zest and just a hint of buttery oak on the palate. When I selected this from the cellar to accompany friend Linda's broiled salmon with dill I was pleasantly surprised to find there was still plenty of freshness left. I don't think this will get any better but it is awfully good right now."

WCC - 90 points. 

The fruit was a bit more subdued than earlier tastings in 2010 and 2012 but this is still very tasty. Butter colored, light-medium bodied, nicely integrated, smooth, crisp and clean, flavors of tropical fruits, ripe melon, hints of lychee and under current of subtle citrus with a pleasant lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

 Dunham Cellars Columbia Valley Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 and 1998 

This is an example of the perils of having a rather extensive wine cellar. Since we first discovered Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon with this 1997 vintage, we have collected a nine year vertical of this wine. With such a selection, one tends to wait until you can open multiple bottles from multiple vintages to be tasted in one sitting, which of course reduces the opportunities to taste these wines.

Tonight provided the opportunity to open a pair of vintages and I was prepared to open more, but we didn't have a large enough group to consume more wines.

Hence, tonight we opened our two oldest bottles of this collection as aging would dictate drinking the oldest first.

An interesting element of Dunham's branding is that each vintage/ label is adorned with the roman numeral denoting the sequence in the series of vintages for that label, this 1997 being III, their third such release in the line.

Previously, I opened their 2003 release (above), noted as 'IX', their ninth release. We've also tasted and noted their 2000 vintage or VI release. 

Dunham are a family-owned winery with several estate vineyards in prime locations around the Walla Walla Valley Appellation. Dunham grow and produce varietal based wines in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay as well as Trutina, their Bordeaux style blend. Dunham wines are sourced from some of the finest vineyards in Washington State Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valleys.

When Dunham's first vintage, a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon was released, it was deemed one of the finest wines made in Washington by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Subsequent vintages and varietals have consistently earned high marks with both consumers and trade. 

Proprietor Eric Dunham is winemaker and also an artist who creates original artwork that is featured in a series of 'Artist Series' labels for Dunham Cellars vineyard designated and special bottlings.

The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit for this 1997 vintage wine was sourced from the Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Portteus, and Bacchus Vineyards.

This was showing its age and is most likely past its prime, and as such, is entering the late stages of its drinking window.

Dark garnet colored with slight bricking on the edge, an ever so slight tinge of brown rust color starting to set in. This is medium bodied with bright tangy black cherry predominates followed by tones of black raspberry, smoke, tobacco leaf and eucalyptus with hints of cassis and creosote turning to tangy slightly astringent dark cherry, floral and cedar on the moderate tannin lingering finish.

The 1998 vintage is also 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but this is sourced from Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Portteus, Konnawok, Bacchus, Williard, Wauluke, and Vanessa Vineyards.

Upon opening this started as musty, earthy and leathery, but over the course of an hour the tangy cherry fruits emerged and eventually converged to mirror the profile of the earlier '97. By the next day, the '98 was brighter and more lively than the '97 which was somewhat shrouded in the smokey cassis layer.

Time to drink ... RM 87 points.

Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2006

This was ideal following the more subdued Dunham that lined up with the entree course. This aligned with and complimented well the dark chocolate mousse. I sense this is at the apex of its drinking window and while it won't likely improve with further aging, it has several years of life yet at this level.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker - This long time favorite is hitting its stride but will continue to improve and has years of life left. Opaque, indigo in color. Rich, dark berry flavors on the palate, evolving into an earthy finish of slate, pencil shavings and dark chocolate. An amazing accompaniment to a dessert of chocolate mousse, raspberries and especially spectacular chocolate covered cherries.

WCC 92

Moffett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006

This was an ideal follow on to the Robert Craig Howell Mountain having the same tasting profile but being lighter and less complex.

Except as noted, this was consistent with my earlier tasting notes from two previous tastings. 

This is dark garnet colored - medium-full bodied - 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.

Tonight, that trending of the fruit becoming more subdued continued, but consistent in the other traits. There were not other indications of diminution from aging.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

UGC Bordeaux 2013 Release Tour Chicago 2016

UGC Bordeaux 2013 Release Tour Chicago 2016

The UGC Bordeaux' (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB)) producers' annual North American tour descended on Chicago this week to showcase their 2013 vintage release. The UGC is an association of 133 grands crus producers from heralded Gironde estates. My blogpost from last year's tour event talked in more detail about the UGC and the Bordeaux classification.

Once again, the event is organized by Napa based Balzac Communications, under the direction of Founder Paul Walker and CEO/Principle Mike Wangbickler. About 450 members of the trade and media were treated to taste the latest vintage release from eighty-two producers that were scheduled to attend.

Then, about 250 attendees attended the evening session that is open to the general public, hosted and orchestrated by Doug Jeffirs and the wine team from Binny's Beverage Depot, the Chicagoland superstore.

As in recent years, the event is held in the magnificent ballroom (left) of the Drake Hotel on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, overlooking the famous Lake Shore Drive curve and Oak Street Beach.

Its a wonderful event and we're grateful to the producers who participate in this ambitious and rigorous trip across North America.

This year the itinerary has been expanded to eight cities as new stops have been added for public events in collaboration with select merchants in Florida and Canada, such as the Binny's event here in Chicago.

Its a pleasure to meet the Chateau owners, winemakers, commercial and marketing representatives who attend from the Chateaus. I recognize and appreciate the huge investment and commitment of their time and effort to participate.

This year the weather in Chicago was unusually mild and warm, more than offset by the blizzard that hit the Northeast dumping two feet of snow on New York. Lucky for the tour the storm hit over the weekend reducing disruption, unlike the last two years when several producers faced flight delays and some cancellations.

Once again, the Pour Boys wine team participated to assist the attending Paul and Michael of the Balzac Communications Group team who manage the event - setting up, registering participants, and standing in for producers pouring their wines, hence the name Pour Boys, obtained in recent years when many of the producers were no-shows or late arrivals due to winter storms.

The Pour Boys are avid wine collectors, our wine dinner group that meet regularly for wine centered tastings and social events - shown left, Ernie, Dr Dan, with Paul W, Lyle, me and Bill, as the core group. Such an event is great fun, an escape and vast departure from our normal daily duties tending to corporate litigation, dentistry, high tech, and retirement, when not working these events.

Members of the trade may also recall us from last fall's Grands Crus Classes of St Emilion 2015 Chicago tasting.

Son Ryan and I both attended with special interest this year since 2013 was the birth year of his son Richard Reid, as well as my other grandson John Richard (Richie). So, we're looking to invest in a horizontal collection of 2013 wines to commemorate their birth year as is our practice. Indeed, my collection of my kids' birth year wines was the basis for my cellar being featured in the Collector section of Wine Spectator Magazine back in June of 2001.

The next generation represented by Jared Gelband (shown with me, left), Sommellier at the Wine Bar in the Intercontinental Hotel Chicago, special friend of son-in-law Johnnie and daughter Erin.

The 2013 Bordeaux vintage presented some challenges for the winemakers, starting off as one of the coldest and wet starts to a growing season in more than 40 years and a later than expected harvest. One silver lining to the intense cold faced early was that it may have helped hinder potential diseases in the vines. An impact of the difficult year were lower crop yields, which when managed properly can still result in some fine wines from Producers with terroir, care and attention to detail, and a bit of luck. Watch for lower volumes in the premium labels with more volume attributed to the lesser labels.

A benefit for consumers may be a moderation in prices if they properly reflect the challenging 'lesser' vintage. Looking back on some other similar years, perhaps 1991 and 1992 following the spectacular 1990, these releases provided some good values for more moderate priced drinking.

Most likely, these wines will be ones to provide earlier drinking gratification rather than be properly structured for long term aging. This provides collectors a possible chance to enjoy these off year wines while the greater vintages continue to mature.

Bordeaux along with the rest of France endured a cold February and March, and May was especially cold and wet. Things only got worse in June with an early storm as the cool wet weather continued. Finally warm days came in July with early heat spikes, but still excessive moisture persisted with another storm coming late in the month, perhaps the worst storm in a decade or more.

Finally things improved with warmer days and sunshine arriving in August and continued into September, only to be faced with another storm late in the month.

With the shorter season and less heat, along with lower yields, also look for lower and less developed tannins from the lesser ripe fruits, look for highlights of 2013 to be the white Bordeaux, especially the Sauternes and Barsac.

This was evident in the tasting as the Sauternes and Barsac appellation seemed to be the highlight (left) with all labels showing well. I personally especially liked the Latour Blanche which stood out with its apricot punctuated forward fruits.

The St Julien appellation stood out with highlights being Chateaus Talbot and Beyechevelle. It was a surprise to see David Launay, former winemaker for Gruaud Larose attending again this year, but this time representing Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse (and Chateau Meyney, not presented).

I thought the Pauillac standout was Pichon Baron. I sensed it would be when I opened the bottles earlier, in preparation for the opening of the event, when the room burst with aromatics of floral and berry fruits.

Chateau Clinet and Chateau Troplong Mondot were both notable from the right bank.

Canon-le-Gaffeliere was remarkably light, almost delicate, with a layer of sweetness ... ready for early drinking gratification, but not built for long term aging.

The always delightful, Bernard Olivier attended representing Pessac Leognan Domaine Chevallier, but the evangelism duties were attended to by son Hugo while Bernard tended to ambassadorial duties as presiding President of the UGC. I watch and enjoy observing this transition as I enjoy the experience with my own son Ryan in the progression of his wine appreciation and knowledge, as well as his own cellar collecting.

The 2013 vintage should provide some lower priced wines that will provide earlier near term drinking. 

The Chateau represented on this year's tour.

1 Château de Chantegrive Graves
2 Château Carbonnieux Pessac Léognan
3 Château Les Carmes Haut Brion Pessac Léognan
4 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac Léognan
5 Château de Fieuzal Pessac Léognan
6 Château de France Pessac Léognan
7 Chateau La Louviere Pessac Léognan
8 Château Latour Martillac Pessac Léognan
9 Château Malartic Lagravière Pessac Léognan
10 Château Olivier Pessac Léognan
11 Château Pape Clément Pessac Léognan
12 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Léognan
13 Château Canon Saint Emilion Grand Cru
14 Château Canon La Gaffelière Saint Emilion Grand Cru
15 Château La Couspaude Saint Emilion Grand Cru
16 Château La Dominique Saint Emilion Grand Cru
17 Château Troplong Mondot Saint Emilion Grand Cru
18 Château Villemaurine Saint Emilion Grand Cru
19 Château Beauregard Pomerol
20 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol
21 Château La Cabanne Pomerol
22 Château Clinet Pomerol
23 Château Gazin Pomerol
24 Château La Pointe Pomerol
25 Château Clarke Listrac Médoc
26 Château Chasse Spleen Moulis en Médoc
27 Château Maucaillou Moulis en Médoc
29 Château Beaumont Haut Médoc
30 Château de Camensac Haut Médoc
31 Château Cantemerle Haut Médoc
32 Château Citran Haut Médoc
33 Château Coufran Haut Médoc
34 Château La Lagune Haut Médoc
35 Château La Tour Carnet Haut Médoc
36 Château La Tour de By Médoc
37 Château Angludet Margaux
38 Château Brane Cantenac Margaux
39 Château Cantenac Brown Margaux
40 Château Dauzac Margaux
41 Château Giscours Margaux
42 Château Kirwan Margaux
43 Château Lascombes Margaux
44 Chateau Malescot St Exupery Margaux
45 Château Prieuré Lichine Margaux
46 Château Rauzan - Ségla Margaux
47 Château du Tertre Margaux
48 Château Beychevelle Saint Julien
49 Château Branaire Ducru Saint Julien
50 Château Gloria Saint Julien
51 Château Gruaud Larose Saint Julien
52 Château Lagrange Saint Julien
53 Château Langoa Barton Saint Julien
54 Château Léoville Barton Saint Julien
55 Château Léoville Poyferré Saint Julien
56 Château Saint Pierre Saint Julien
57 Château Talbot Saint Julien
58 Château d’Armailhac Pauillac
59 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac
60 Château Grand Puy Ducasse Pauillac
61 Château Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac
62 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac
63 Château Lynch Moussas Pauillac
64 Château Pichon Baron Pauillac
65 Château Lafon - Rochet Saint Estèphe
66 Château Ormes De Pez Saint Estèphe
67 Château de Pez Saint Estèphe
68 Château Phélan Ségur Saint Estèphe
69 Château Coutet Barsac
70 Château Doisy Daëne Barsac
71 Château Bastor - Lamontagne Sauternes
72 Château de Fargues Sauternes
73 Château Guiraud Sauternes
74 Chateau Clos Haut Peyraguey Sauternes
75 Château Lafaurie  Peyraguey Sauternes
76 Château de Rayne Vigneau Sauternes
77 Château Suduiraut Sauternes
78 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 2000

Rosemount Estate Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 2000

For casual sipping by the fire on a cold winter evening, I pulled a classic Aussie Shiraz (aka Syrah) - a single vineyard designated bottling from a well known high volume producer. Rosemount Balmoral Syrah is made from grapes grown in 50-100 year old vineyards. We hold nearly a dozen vintages of this label and still hold six-pack cases from several vintages including this 2000 obtained upon release.

I note regularly in these pages that a key of having a wine cellar collection is to drink a wine over a period of years to witness how that wine ages. This is a testament to that process, for a wine that has longevity and has evolved gracefully over a dozen years or so.

This is a classic Syrah that interestingly is aged two years in American Oak. The winemaker's notes say it should cellar for fifteen or more years. My tasting notes back in 2010 spoke to the full aromatics and flavorful ripe black raspberry, raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar and cedar flavors that turn to an aftertaste of currant and a hint of plum." At ten years of age I noted it was "starting to show age a bit. Drink over next year or so."

In 2012, at twelve years of age, I wrote consistent notes that spoke to revealing the aging effects of this wine... "Dark inky purple color. Medium-full bodied. Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry, raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco that turns to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered. While I gave it a 92 initially on opening, by the end of the night I gave it a 90."

Now, at fifteen years of age, this reveals the same tasting and aging profile, consistent with earlier notes. Bright aromatics fill the room upon opening, the same dark inky purple color and medium body persists.

The notes from 2012 reflect tonight's tasting as this wine seems frozen in time at this stage of its life, still holding its own and showing no further diminution of aging.

This is consistent with other Cellartracker members' where on 1/7/2012 - monkeylug wrote, "drinking well now even though at the end of its window." and then as late as just recently on 11/24/2005 - rkorchid wrote, "there are still slightly dry tannins, so there is plaenty (sic) of life left in this."

At fifteen, this wine is aging gracefully and still holding its own, aging consistent with earlier notes back in 2010 and 2012 ...

Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry fruits that turn to raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco turning to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered.

RM 90 points.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lobster Bisque and Mayacamas Chardonnay

Lobster Bisque and Mayacamas Chardonnay for gala Birthday Celebration Brunch

For a gala family Sunday Brunch to celebrate daughter Erin's birthday, wife Linda prepared Erin's special favorite lobster bisque, complete with medallions of lobster tail. She also prepared crepes with fresh cherries, sausage egg strada, and a plate of fresh berries and fruits. Barb brought baked apple strudel and Michelle brought fresh baked cinnamon buns. To accompany the selection of fruit juices, I opened one of Linda's favorites, Mayacamas Mt Veeder Chardonnay.

We tasted this wine at the historic winery high atop Mt Veeder at the south end of the Mayacamas mountain range that separates Napa and Sonoma valleys during our Mt Veeder Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011 and have kept each vintage in our cellar ever since.

The original historic Mayacamas winery (left) was originally built in 1889 by John Henry Fisher, a German immigrant. The property was acquired by Jack Taylor and his Californian wife in 1941 who re-christened the estate Mayacamas Vineyards and planted Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varietals. 

In the very early 1950’s, the Taylors terraced a steep, south-facing hillside 2,000 feet above the Napa Valley and planted Chardonnay. This vineyard, had a view of San Pablo Bay to the south with occasional views of the San Francisco skyline through the fog. This vineyard was named 'The Terraces' and for the next 60 years provided some of the finest Chardonnay grapes in the Napa Valley.

The property was taken over in 1968 by Robert Travers who had worked at Heitz Cellars. He and his wife Elinor continued to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay striving to make wines of great character, depth, complexity, and longevity.

In July 2013, Mayacamas was purchased by Charles and Ali Banks in partnership with Jay Schottenstein and his son, Joey. Andy Erickson took over the Estate’s winemaking duties, and Phil Coturri took over farming and vineyard development.

The old vines of the Terraces vineyard had been deteriorating, so after a long and productive life, they were retired with the 2013 Harvest being their last. 

The 2013 harvest was small but was of exceptional quality, character, and intensity – a stand-out special release. That is being bottled as a special designated one time bottling for the 2013 vintage year. 

Hence, this 2012 vintage release will be the second to last of the Mayacamas Estate Chardonnay from the old historic vineyards as they have been replanted. 

Mayacamas Mt Veeder Napa Valley Mt Veeder Chardonnay 2012 

We visited the historic old winery and vineyards and tasted this wine at the winery and it was a standout as one of our favorites from that trip.

Straw colored, medium bodied, bracing acidity punctuated by sharp citrus with tones of pear, wet stone and hint of lime.

RM 89 points.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Vintage St Julien trio highlight Hemmingway's Bistro Dinner

Vintage St Julien trio - Château Beychevelle and Gruaud Larose highlight Hemmingway's Bistro Dinner

For a Saturday night dinner at Hemmingway's Bistro in Oak Park, a French inspired cuisine, the site of several of our wine dinners including our gala wine dinner last fall.

I took BYOB three vintage left bank Bordeaux from the St Julien appellation. The combination of two bottles from one producer and two bottles from one vintage, provided the chance for a mini-horizontal and mini-vertical comparison tasting in one.

I pulled two bottles from the 1988 vintage since I feel its less age-worthy and starting to enter the latter stages of its drinking profile, while the 1986 is known for long life so I was less concerned about consuming those bottles soon. All three showed well this evening demonstrating the longevity of quality Bordeaux in a good vintage.

These and some other St Julien wines are some of our favorite holdings in our wine cellar collection. We hold more than a dozen vintages of the Château Gruaud Larose label going back to the eighties. We have enjoyed meeting David Launay, winemaker, during his visits to Chicago as part of the Union Grand Cru Producers of Bordeaux' (UGCB) North American release tour in 2013 and again in 2014. We had the privilege of pouring both of these wine at some of those events when their representatives were detained in New York by snowstorms last year and the year before.

With the UGCB tasting event coming up again in two weeks, we look forward to hosting the producers in Chicago again and tasting their 2013 release. Having had two grand-children in that year, I'll be paying special attention towards acquiring birth-year wines for the grandkids.

These wines were the perfect accompaniment to the Pan Seared Foie Gras with grilled onion and pear (shown left).

It is said that the French are masters at pairing wine with food. This would be a great benchmark as the complement between all these wines and this starter was spectacular.

The wines were also great when paired with the peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin au pouvre and the duck confit with sweet potato gnochi in a brown sauce (shown below) courses with the au gratin potatoes and the creamed spinach.

As would be expected, all there wines evolved over the course of the evening, especially during the first thirty, sixty and ninety minutes. None were opened prior to the meal nor decanted.

While they were basically pop and poured, tonight was a realistic evaluation of these wines' state and provided a meaningful comparison and enjoyable tasting experience.

Château Beychevelle 1986

Amazingly, at thirty years of age, this is probably at the apex of its drinking window - such was the longevity of the 1986 vintage. We still hold a couple cases of various Bordeaux from this vintage that we've been holding as we consume lesser (ageworthy) vintages, which is most.

Like the other two, the cork was slightly saturated and the bottom half crumbled on opening. This one was the most stable and consistent from opening through the course of the evening. 

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, this was complex bright cherry, dark berry fruits with layers of cigar box, tobacco leaf, earthy forest floor and herbal tones, turning to tongue coating tannins on the lingering tangy finish.

RM 89 points.

Château Beychevelle 1988

I bought this case of this wine upon release back at the time. This is the fifth of the last remaining bottles. This blew me away as I was concerned it would be further diminished from age from the previous tasting when it was starting to show diminution ... it was still drinking well.

This was the showing its age more than the other two, but still holding showing consistency with my last published tasting note back in 11/2010.

"Medium bodied, slighly brickish color, nicely balanced soft earthy leather and tobacco tones predominating over the black cherry fruit on moderate, smooth tannin finish. Time to drink." Tonight this was showing a bit of barnyard funkiness on opening that burned off over the course of an hour, but still showing tangy tongue coating notes on the cherry fruit.

RM 88 points.

Château Gruaud Larose 1988

At close to thirty years of age, this is holding up the best of several other St Julien Bordeaux that I hold from this vintage.

Tonight, this cork was slightly partially saturated on the bottom third which separated from the top half on opening.

As written in this blog, tonight's tasting was consistent with my last tasting two years ago when I published this tasting note.

Medium - "full bodied, dark garnet colored, lively acidity with firm core of black berry fruits accented by tobacco, leather and hints of cassis with moderate tannins on the finish."

The bright cherry fruit and a layer of earthy black truffle and smoky meats were offset by the bright floral tones on the tangy lingering smooth tannin finish.

RM 89 points. 

With the dessert course of Mango Grand Marnier Souffles and Creme Brulee, Dan selected from the wine list the Taylor Fladgate Twenty Year Old Tawny Port.

Taylor Fladgate Twenty Year Old Tawny Port NV

This was great with the creme brulee as well as the souffle dessert course.

Essence of sweet Cognac accented by a layer of dried sweet figs, dates, tones of smoky nuts with raisiny fruits and a layer of carmelized nuts on the finish.

RM 91 points.

After dinner, back at our house with fresh fruits, select cheeses and dried fruits we opened this zesty tasty Tokaji (below). 

Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú Eszencia 2000

Great for a soothing nightcap.

Amber orange colored, thick chewy full bodied, zesty unctuous apricot and hint of tangerine fruits accented by and give way to smoky tobacco laced caramelized almond, walnut with hints of fig and toast on a slightly tangy acidic sweet citrus finish.

RM 93 points.

More to come.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Giovannis Tuscan Reserve 1997

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Giovannis Tuscan Reserve 1997

Our exploration of the 1997 Napa Valley vintage continues. We followed the horizontal flight of 1997 Napa Cabernets at the gala New Year's Eve dinner, with a '97 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc we tasted last evening with artisan cheeses and fresh fruit, and roast beef for a casual dinner. So when we went out to dine at Angeli's Italian, our favorite local trattoria, we took BYOB this Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Giovannis Tuscan Reserve from the same vintage.

I've written in these pages often that we don't collect Italian wines in our cellar. The need to focus on a finite number of varietals and regions to develop knowledge and remain current, coupled with the realities of budget and space dictate setting some limits. So, while we don't keep a collection of Italian varietals and labels, this Napa Valley blend based on the Italian varietal Sangiovese is our placeholder and selection when we go out for Italian dining. We've tasted this label at this restaurant numerous times - a good pairing with several menu selections including tonight's Portabella Mushroom Ravioli in brown sauce. 

For another festive Holiday dinner, last month, we did a tasting of several aged Napa Cabernets (shown left) that included a Sangiovese as part of the horizontal comparison (tasting of several wines from the same vintage). The Sangiovese stood out and was a surprise of the tasting with it ending up being the biggest and firmest wine of the evening. So, I was interested to do this comparison against the recent flights of Cabernets from the same vintage. 

I've written often that one of the joy's we get from our cellar is being able to conduct comparison tastings such as this, multiple wines from the same vintage (a horizontal tasting) or the same wine across a range of vintages (a vertical tasting). Another joy is tasting the same wine over time to see how it evolves. To effectively track this requires tasting notes, hence this vehicle to record and track my tasting experiences. I keep a comprehensive log of all my tasting notes which is linked here and above.

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Giovannis Tuscan Reserve 1997

This is one of the last bottles of a case we obtained on release back in the late nineties. 
Just last quarter we tasted this wine when I wrote:

Consistent with earlier tasting notes ... medium bodied - dark blackish ruby color starting to take on a slightly brownish rust color at the rim; aromatics of black berry and woody cedar with a tone of creosote/tar and a slight earthy funkiness showing its age, eventually giving way to slightly tart black cherry fruit with tones of leather and hints of anise and spice turning to moderate silky tannins on a lingering finish of soft oak.

Like the '97 Napa Cab Franc tasted the other night, this too is showing its age and is clearly in the last chapter of its life, still showing fruit and a shadow of it true character, but it is time to drink up.

RM 87 points.

Rick, Linda and Dave Del Dotto - a long time ago
As written often in these pages, Del Dotto are one of our favorite producers whom we've featured several times at our wine producer dinners and have visited them at their various Napa Valley locations over the years. Del Dotto events and winery visits have been the highlight of many of our Napa Experiences and should be on one's shortlist for a Napa Valley trip. 

The Del Dotto Winery and Tasting Cave facility is on Highway 29 at Zinfandel Lane on the south end of St Helena on the edge of the Rutherford Appellation. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Following the horizontal flight of 1997 Napa Cabernets at the gala New Year's Eve dinner, I pulled from the cellar this 1997 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc to taste with artisan cheeses and fresh fruit, and roast beef for a casual dinner.

The other night we tasted four 1997 vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that were still remarkably vibrant and full of life. Tonight I pulled this '97 Cabernet Franc to continue the tasting comparison.

I remember taking a bottle of this label from this same case to a Holiday party when it was young and it was the absolute hit of the evening, showing extraordinary depth and breadth, beyond any of the other wines on offer that evening. We still have close to half of this case we obtained on release during that period.

Del Dotto Wine Caves at old Napa site

The '97 Napa Cab Franc is showing its age and is clearly in the last chapter of its life, still showing fruit and a shadow of it true character, but it is time to drink up.

As written often in these pages, Del Dotto are one of our favorite producers whom we've featured several times at our wine producer dinners and have visited them at their various Napa Valley locations over the years.

Del Dotto events and winery visits have been the highlight of many of our Napa Experiences and should be on one's shortlist for a Napa Valley trip.

The Del Dotto Winery and Tasting Cave facility is on Highway 29 at Zinfandel Lane on the south end of St Helena on the edge of the Rutherford Appellation.

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997 

Dark garnet colored, starting to take on a slight brownish hue reflecting its age, medium bodied, the cherry fruit is giving way to black cherry and black berry fruits turning to non-fruit earthy dusty leather, tobacco and tea tones with hints of cedar on the moderate tangy tannin finish.

RM 87 points.

From 2009 to 2013 I published three tasting notes on this wine, one at 92 points, then two at 90 points. My previous tasting notes revealed this diminution of the fruit as this evolves in the last chapter of its tasting window.

On 4/17/2014 I wrote:

"I acquired a case of this wine on release back in the late nineties but tonight's bottle had been purchased at auction. I mention this as the cork broke in half while opening, and then the wine had a slight discoloration and a slight barnyard funkiness upon opening. These may be indicators of less than appropriate or imperfect provenance, or signs of aging. I lasted tasted this from the cellar a year ago and prior to that it was almost three years to the day back in 2011. I'll pay special attention next time I open an original vintage bottle from my collection. That 2011 tasting note stated, "The Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997 was opaque garnet colored, medium bodied and opened with a earthy leather revealing its age, turning to black cherry, spice and a hint of tobacco (RM 90)." Perhaps tonight's experience was a continuation of that aging as this approaches the end of its (prime) drinking window. If that is the case then its time to drink up.

My tasting notes from a year ago though cites the same dark ruby color, medium to full body, but emphasizes the spicy black berry and black currant fruits are still vibrant in this sixteen year old, accented by tones of cedar and tobacco with hints of anise and leather on the smooth tannin finish. Same tasting profile other than the apparent effects of aging, or poor handling. In any event, tonight's diminution of fruit and slight funkiness rendered a reduced score of 86 points."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Freemark Abbey Cabernets 1997 Vintage Horizontal Tasting Dinner

Freemark Abbey Cabernets 1997 Vintage Horizontal Tasting Highlights Festive Holiday Celebration Dinner

The 1997 vintage was the theme for festive New Year's Eve dinner hosted by friends and fellow 'pour boy' Bill and Beth C, with Freemark Abbey being the headliner. Bill dipped in to his vertical collection to pull 1997 vintage bottles of Freemark Abbey Bosché and Sycamore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons. From our cellar I brought the Estate from the same vintage. And, to round out the horizontal tasting, I also brought a 1997 vintage Cornerstone Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. The results were an amazing tasting experience.

Beth prepared a wonderful delicious dinner of beef tenderloin, cream spinach and onions, wild rice pilaf and corn pudding.

At this point, I should ask forgiveness for my obsessiveness in this analysis of these tasting results. This is what makes wine tasting fun for geeks like me (us), and perhaps so mysterious or annoying for the 'un' or less interested pedestrian bystander. This leads to, and is fed by deep and long experience in tasting these wines over a period of, and of wines from, literally, decades of time and vintages.

We've visited the Freemark Abbey winery and met the winemaker and owners on numerous occasions. Tonight's tasting will add another chapter in our many memorable experiences and stories of tasting Freemark Abbey wines.

The results of our tasting were so consistent, I had to check my palate discrimination to see if perhaps I was impaired from medications I am taking from recent oral surgery.

Remarkably, all four Cabs exhibited a similar tasting flavor profile and signature, aligned serially in a gradation of weight and firmness along the same plane.

Also, interestingly, all four wines exhibited the same aging state or condition relative to the effects of their aging, being from the same vintage, and having had the same provenance. Indeed, upon opening, all four of the corks showed identical near perfection in their condition - still moist, firm, and clear of any diminution or seepage whatsoever - a testament to Bill's and our cellars and handling!

There is also a commentary here on the 1997 vintage and its ageability - all the wines showed 2015 as beyond or nearing the end of their drinking window. Yet, none of the wines were beyond their prime and were well within their drinking window, albeit none will likely improve with further aging at this stage of their life. The much heralded, arguably over-rated vintage is still drinking well at eighteen years, and may just now be revealing its true and native character.

The tasting profile for all four Cabs was remarkably consistent - firm, tight concentrated black currant fruit predominating accented with tones of black raspberry, tea and graphite highlights. Only the Estate Cabernet deviated with tones of bright cherry and red fruit competing with the black currant layer. None of the wines showed any diminution or adverse effects from their eighteen years in bottle aging.

All four Cabernets were concentrated, firm, tightly wound with bright focused fruits with gradations along the plane in terms of firmness, tightness and smoothness or polish. The order from low to high in relative weighting were: Estate, Sycamore, Bosché, then Cornerstone.

Perhaps what is even more remarkable is the fact that while three of the Cabs are from the same producer and label, two are from specific vineyards, the only common element being the vintage. It is possible that some of the same fruit from Bosche and Sycamore are blended into the Estate, but not likely much between the two. But, there is no explanation aside common vintage for the similarity between the Cornerstone and Freemark Abbey offerings.

All that said, paradoxical to the tasting observations was the lack of consistency in the color of the four wines, which was very diverse indeed, from ruby colored to dark garnet to inky black - yet with the same taste profiles as noted, across the range.

As always, I write these notes and set these conclusions based on memory, and our shared perceptions or interpretations expressed during the tasting session, but with no forethought, bias or influence from third party ratings or rankings. Only after I produce this commentary do I go back and review and compare other notes on the wines. Remarkably, my conclusions here are bolstered by and consistent with the community of contributors to Cellartracker and beyond.

The Cabernet flight:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium bodied, deep ruby colored, bright vibrant expressive cherry fruit highlighted by tones of black currant and black raspberry, hints of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of anise and oak on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 89 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium to full bodied, dark garnet colored, tightly wound and firm yet nicely balanced, smooth and polished, concentrated black currant and black raspberry fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, kirsch, graphite and notes of cola, anise and oak on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosché Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium to full bodied, black ink colored, complex, tightly wound, firm and concentrated yet nicely balanced, expressive black berry, black raspberry and currant fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of cola, kirsch, anise and oak with hints of mocha on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

Cornerstone Cellars Cornerstone Vineyard Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

The biggest of the flight, medium to full bodied, dark garnet colored, complex, tightly wound, firm and concentrated yet nicely balanced, expressive black berry, black raspberry and currant fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of anise and oak on the lingering firm tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

There was some interesting confusion regarding this bottle. Based on my cellar records that showed this as Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet 1997, I had advised Bill that was what I would bring to dinner. My records also showed that I had already consumed Cornerstone Vineyard Oakville Cabernet 1997 as well as bottle (s) of Cornerstone Cellars Beatty Ranch Vineyard Cabernet 1997. Since the bottle was wrapped in original packaging tissue paper, I didn't see the actual label until its unveiling at dinner tonight when it turned out to be this Cornerstone Vineyard variant. I have some other Cornerstone 1997 Cabernet (s) in the cellar, also wrapped in tissue. I now wonder which variant they are. 

Leading up to dinner, Bill served two releases, variations of 2012 Sea Smoke Sea Spray Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine - 'standard' label and a follow on LD - 'late disgorged' label. Starter courses included shrimp cocktail and a medley of three artisan cheeses with crackers and biscuits. 

What an interesting comparison in two release variations of this label, revealing much greater diversity than one might expect. Bill's notes on the two offerings. 

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc De Noir L. D. (Late Disgorged) Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine 2012 

"Drank this along side last years original 2012 Sea Spray and the difference was a huge surprise. The LD was drier, more polished and complex, building on the fruit and brightness of the original 2012. Definitely my preferred style."

WC 92 points. 

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc De Noir Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine 2012

"Consistent with earlier notes, this opens with light strawberry and cherry on thepalate with a bit of toast on the finish. What was interesting is that we drank side by side with the newly arrived Sea Spray 2012 Late Disgorged. Surprisingly there was a noticeable difference with the LD showing more polish and complexity. The LD was drier for a start and had an additional yeasty layer that I believe, created the polish. The LD was definitely my preferred style and I was quite surprised by the difference."
WC 89 points. 

Bill is more discerning and discriminating in reviewing these wines. While the difference was certainly discernible, my rating for the standard label would have been only a point, maybe two, less than the LD follow on.

Following dinner, Beth served chocolate cake and chocolate pecan pie. With the dessert course, Lyle brought and served Two Hands Lily's Garden Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2012, a great accompaniment to the course. We love this style of wine and with its full bodied, rich, concentrated thick tongue coating fruit, it can be a meal all in of itself! I would have loved to have tasted this opposite the cheese course and salad, to focus on the intense fruits. But the Sea Smoke was great there too. A wealth of riches tonight in our selection on offer.

 Two Hands Lily's Garden McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012

To say these wines are big is such an understatement, but hyperbole doesn't due justice to this big bruiser with its 16.5% alcohol. From the Two Hands super-premium, single vineyard collection, this classic McLaren Shiraz is named after producer co-owner Michael Welftree's daughter Lily born in August 2001. With our affinity for, and appreciation for such devotion and family orientation, I'll cast a different lens on this label in the future.

Big, full bodied, dark inky purple color, plush, rich, concentrated thick tongue coating, black and blue berry fruit compote and coulis accented by a layer of spice, gravelly mineral, tones of mocha and black pepper with oak on the chewy tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 93 points.