Saturday, February 27, 2016

D'Yquem, Quintessa, Saxum Highlight OTBN 2016 - Three tastings flights

D'Yquem, Quintessa, Saxum Highlight OTBN 2016  - Three tastings flights in one

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, 2016 - the annual wine tasting extravaganza was held according to custom, on the last Saturday night in February.

Attending were all the 'Pour Boys', (left) our regular wine tasting group, so named for our work pouring wines at the UGCB tasting events

Based on the breadth and depth of selected wines brought by the participants, this year's tasting ended up being three different wine tastings - a white flight with the pre-dinner starter course, a Bordeaux (blend) flight with the dinner course, and a dessert flight with the final course.

Ernie preparing
bacon wrapped dates
OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, was conceived on the premise that many of us have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened, yet.

Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle.

OTBN was conceived by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, Wine Columnists for the Wall Street Journal, to say, what the heck, go for it, Open That Bottle (to)Night. They realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it!

Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because amazingly, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not. What the heck, Open That Bottle (To) Night!

Shown left, Lyle decanting the Croft 1991 Vintage Port and John preparing the artisan cheeses.
See our 2011, 20122013, 2014  and 2015 OTBN reports.

According to customary protocol for OTBN, we agreed to not set a theme for the evening, but to adhere to the spirit of bringing select wine (s) for the occasion. Bring a special bottle you're eager to try, and share, and bring along a complimentary side dish or dessert that will showcase the wine selection.

The result was selections that worked out well with complementary or distinguished wines that resulted in the three courses of the evening.

For the starter course, we had a selection of artisan cheeses, shrimp cocktail, a fig pizza, and deviled eggs. The cheese course consisted of two Wisconsin Aged cheeses, a Gouda and an eighteen year aged cheddar, brought by John, and Linda's Baked Brie with toasted almonds and honey drizzle.

To accompany the starter course we had a flight of white wines - listed in tasting order, Grgich Fume Blanc, FogDog Sonoma Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Chardonnay, Sebastian Riffault Sauletas Sancerre, and of course there is always a place for a sparkling wine, John sourced this Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blanc Champagne brut (left).

As a transition to the reds, John served a Saumur Loire Valley Sancerre Reserve Cabernet Franc.

Grgich Napa Estate Valley Fume Blanc Sauvignon Blanc 2010

FogDog Sonoma County Chardonnay 2006

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Estate Sonoma County Chardonnay 2009

Sebastian Riffault Sauletas Sancerre 2010

Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blanc Champagne Brut

The dinner course consist of beef tenderloin, dry rubbed baby back pork ribs, rosemary escalloped au gratin potatoes, hericot verts, and dinner salad with rosemary butter toasted French Bread. The transition from the white to the red course was Saumur Loire Valley Sancerre Reserve Cabernet Franc 2005.

The wine flight to accompany the dinner course was a series of Bordeaux, kicked off by a Napa Cabernet based Red Blend from Quintessa. Bill brought the 2006 vintage Quintessa that stood alone in its bright vibrant symphony of fruits, almost a meal in itself! This big forward Napa Bordeaux Blend anchored and opened the red flight of Bordeaux's.

Quintessa Napa Valley Rutherford Red Wine 2006

The wine flight to accompany the dinner course was a series of Bordeaux, kicked off by a Napa Cabernet based Red Blend from Quintessa. Quintessa refers to the five hills and five disparate terroir and soil types on the estate vineyards in Napa Valley. Our visit to the magnificent Quintessa Estate vineyards and winery was a highlight of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2003

Bill brought the 2006 vintage Quintessa that stood alone in its bright vibrant symphony of fruits, almost a meal in itself! This big forward Napa Bordeaux Blend anchored and opened the red flight of Bordeaux's.

Quintessa 2006 - a standout
in the red flight
From Bill's cellar, his tasting notes from Cellartracker - "The best and most expressive of 3 or 4 vintages of this tasted to date. Deep, opaque color. Rich and full on the palate with layers of fruit (blackberry, cassis and a hint of sour cherry), savory notes of dark chocolate with maybe a hint of fig, with a classic earthy, mineral Bordeaux finish and a huge mouthfeel. This was my contribution to Open That Bottle Night. Still have one bottle left and wish I had more however this was at its best early in the evening and began to flatten after about three hours."

This was the most expressive and vibrant Quintessa I've had. Bright full, forward black raspberry notes with tones of spicy oak, cassis and mocha ...

WCC and RM - 93 points.

Then on to the Bordeaux dinner flight ... 

Château Cos Labory St Estephe 2003

Château Lynch Moussas Pauillac 2003

Château Lafon Rochet St Estephe 1996

Château Léoville Las Cases St Julien 1996

 This 1996 initially overshadowed the more subdued 1986 with far more vibrant, fuller and more expressive fruits. Only after a day did the 1986 open up and reveal its true character and potential. 

 Château Léoville Las Cases St Julien 1986

I was expecting the duo of the twenty and thirty year old Leoville Las Cases to be a highlight of the tasting. Remarkably, the 1986 was initially a bit lean and austere, lacking the big firm backbone structure that was so notable from the vintage, and was actually overshadowed by the bigger, more complete '96.

After thirty years, this needed decanting and settling time, witnessed by the fact, the next evening it had opened and stabilized and was more balanced and polished.

In any event, the tasting profile of the classic 'super second' Estate was apparent in the the mini-horizontal of the two vintage flight.

At thirty years of age, I actually wonder if we drank the 1986 too soon!  Initially closed and a bit flabby, it needed decanting and a minimum of a couple hours to open and settle, it was better the next day, and even better the day after that!

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, beautiful floral bouquet, black berry and black cherry fruits with layers of cassis, bark, spice and earthy, leathery oak, subtle bell pepper with slight tangy bitterness turning to firm lingering tannins with a long long bright floral finish.

RM 93 points.

Robert Parker gave this wine 100 points.

Wine Spectator rated it 97. Perhaps they foretold its aging when they said this in their review .. "Amazingly focused, complex and deep, packed with currant, plum and berry flavors and notes of cedar and chocolate. The structure is tightly reined in and needs considerable cellaring to show what it can do."

The dessert flight ... 

After dinner we retreated to the dining room where we feasted on a dessert wine course, sweet sticky's, port and a big red wine flight that showcased the selection of desserts - Ernie's bacon wrapped figs, a selection of fresh berries - blackberry, red raspberry, and strawberry, fresh pineapple, dried apricots, two cakes - Terry's decadent mandarin orange and Linda's key lime cake - culminating in a selection of sweets including Linda's dark chocolate bark with cherries and pistachios, and chocolate covered pomegranate berries.

The showcase highlight wine for the dessert course was Chateau d'Yquem Sauterne Bordeaux 1986 from Ernie's cellar.

Chateau d'Yquem Sauterne Bordeaux 1986
This is a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blend. The d'Yquem vineyardists make as many as two dozen passes through the vineyard selecting only the perfect grapes at the right picking time in each pass. The ultra selection of the rich ultra ripe grapes results in but one glass of wine per vine in a typical vintage.

Honey golden amber color, full bodied, rich thick, unctuous, concentrated, complex, elegant, smooth, silky polished nectar in a glass. Passion fruit, apricot and honey notes, sweet vanilla and candied fruit tones are accented by a layer of smoky almond nut tones.

This wine is a chameleon - its amazing complexity reflects the many dimensions of the myriad of  fruit, chocolate and fig bacon flavors tasted in concert. The many dimensions of this wine were highlighted by the disparate dessert selections. The triad of blackberry, bacon wrapped figs and the chocolate bark each revealed a different lens into the nuances of the complex Sauterne.

RM 93 points. 

We followed this with a super sweet Kracher Scheurube Trockenbereen Auslese #12 1998.

The chocolate courses provided a transitional pivot from the sticky sweet wines to the vintage port and big red wines. Lyle brought a Croft Vintage Port 1991 and John provided a Saxum Broken Stones Red Blend 2006 from Paso Robles. With its monstrous 16.5% alcohol, it was fitting for the dessert course more than the dinner course and was a suitable finisher at the rear of the tasting.

Alois Kracher Scheurebe TBA #12 Zwischen den Seen 1998

From a half bottle. Brownish orange tea colored, full bodied, thick chewy, rich unctuous, concentrated sweet honey, smoky almonds, lychee, sweet ripe caramel apple, apricot, pear and balanced citrus acidity, the lychee, vanilla, orange blossom finish goes on and on. At 356 g/L of residual sugar, this has over three times the sweetness level of Coca-Cola but its fruit nectar essence makes for sensuous pleasant sipping.

RM 93 points.

Croft Vintage Port 1991

A saturated cork cast wonder at how this would be. Dark  blackish ruby color, full bodied, smooth, rich, concentrated, complex sweet black berry, black cherry, ripe black plum fruits with tobacco leaf and dark mocha tones and hints of cognac ... it tasted young and vibrant ... Lyle was concerned that this has lost is lusture but all concurred it is drinking fine and has decades of life left in the bottle.

RM 92 points.

Saxum Vineyards Broken Stones Red Blend 2006

In the style of a classic GSM, this was a blend of 63% Syrah, 24% Grenache, and 13% Mouvedre but sported a monstrous 16.5% alcohol level.

Dark blackish garnet color, full bodied, forward bold complex, concentrated black and blue berry fruits accented by a layer of spices, grilled meats, toast, tones of smoky tar, camphor, bell pepper and graphite with firm lingering tannins on the full finish.

This wine begs for the darkest mocha chocolate - a perfect accompaniment to the dark chocolate bark with cherries and pistachios.

RM 93

Robert Parker gave this wine 97 points.

We finishing with a transitional return to Bordeaux with a 2003 Cos Labory St Estephe.

More to follow ...

Linda preparing dry rubbed baby backed ribs

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wine and Dine at Trattoria Fiamma MGM LAS

Wine and Dine at Trattoria Fiamma at MGM Grand Las Vegas - Massolino, Keenan and BV Tapestry

For a client dinner in Las Vegas we dined at Trattoria Fiamma at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Diners selected beef and other wine friendly dishes. From the winelist I selected an obligatory Italian, a Massolino Barolo, and then two well known popular Napa reds - BV Tapestry Reserve and Keenan Merlot

Only the largest cities offer the culinary selection of Las Vegas which also commands big city prices. The major hotels and casinos feature the world's greatest chefs' restaurants and the broadest range of dining choices. Each hotel is more sensational than the next. 

The MGM Grand features the incomparable Joël Robuchon French restaurant, Emeril's highly acclaimed New Orleans Fish House (where we dined last year during this same event), Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak (where we dined two years ago at this event), Shibuya swank Japanese sushi restaurant that offers over 125 sakes, and Fiamma Trattoria (left) with sophisticated traditional Italian cuisine.

Each offers impeccable service, knowledgeable wait staffs and sommelier wine service with award winning winelists.

Equally sensational as the surroundings are the architecture and design of the dining rooms and their eye-popping showcase wine cellars.  A stop in Joël Robuchon to view the menu and winelist revealed rare selections such as 1947 Château d'Yquem for $37000 (see our tasting of the fabulous Château d'Yquem 1986 this same week). The major hotel/casinos have upscale restaurant that offer such treasures - (see my blogposts on the fabulous Aureole Restaurant). Such a gathering in such close proximity is truly a Las Vegas sensation making it a culinary destination in its own right.

Our business focused non-wine enthusiast crowd called for a modicum of reasonableness in moderate wine selections. Hence, I chose some carefully selected, moderate priced well known predictably pleasant, easy drinking reds that would appeal to the group. The extensive winelists offer choices in all price ranges and styles. The disparate styles of the three wines suited the range of entree selections. 

I've learned that such encounters often result in a wine discovery for some of the diners who want to note the wine and try to obtain some to repeat the experience back home, hence I selected a couple wines that are generally available that provide repeatable quality enjoyable drinking at reasonable prices. 

We Midwesterners were basically meat and potatoes guys who feasted on a Midwestern style beef faire that was in abundance on the menu despite the Italian cuisine. All were excellent and great accompaniments to the red wine flight.
  • Barolo Braised Short Rib with Orange Gremolata, Yukon Gold Potato Puree, Cipollini Onions, Baby Carrots
  •  Beef Tenderloin Marsala with Tagliatelle Pasta, and Mushroom Marsala Sauce
  • Beef Tenderloin Filet Mignon with Red Wine Garlic Sauce, Yukon Gold Potato Puree, and Garden Vegetables 
The wines ...

 Massolino Serralunga d'Alba Barolo 2008

This is a Nebbiolo varietal based red. Much lighter than I expected - slightly astringent. 

Light brick garnet colored, medium-light bodied, aromas and flavors of  slightly tart cherry, strawberry, herbs, tobacco, clove spice, rose petals with hints of tar with soft, medium tannins on the moderate finish.

RM 87 points. 


Keenan Spring Mountain Merlot 2012

We're big fans of Keenan Spring Mountain Bordeaux varietals. We visited the winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2007.

Nice approachable easy drinking red, even in its youth - could've passed for a Cabernet, perfect for the occasion, cuisine and a reasonable value, even for Las Vegas. 

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, floral aromas, ripe black raspberry and black cherry fruits, hints of mocha, coffee, bell pepper, oak and smoke with a firm Cab like tannin finish.

72% estate grown and 28% Carneros fruit.

RM 89 points.

Beaulieau Vineyards Napa Valley Tapestry Reserve 2011

This is a meritage, meaning it is a Bordeaux Blend - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and some Petit Verdot and Malbec. Another approachable easy drinking red ideal for this setting and cuisine.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry core with tones of cassis, graphite and clove spice and a hint of cedar on the moderate finish.

RM 89 points. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day Dinner and Fantesca Chardonnay

Valentine's Day Dinner and Fantesca Chardonnay

For a gala Valentine's Evening Dinner we dined at trendy, cozy, quaint Chez Joel on Taylor Street in Chicago. From their price fixe holiday dinner we dined on lobster bisque, New York Strip Steak, Canard Confit, Scallops and for dessert, Mousse au Chocolate, Creme Brulee and a medley of sorbets - chocolate, raspberry and mango.

From home, I brought this BYOB special Chardonnay from Fantesca - the first and perhaps still only Heidi Barrett crafted Chardonnay. The Fantesca branding is theme was ideal for the Valentine's Day occasion.

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 to our dinner a few weeks ago 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.

 Château Haut-Pontet St Emilion Grand Cru 2010

From the wine list we selected this St Emilion Grand Cru. This is the second wine from Chateau La Confession.

This was a perfect complement to my duck confit and the others' NY Strip Steaks.

Predominately Merlot fruit with but a touch of Cabernet Franc (5%) to firm up the structure and add depth and some dimension to the perfumed bouquet.

This is a nicely balanced well-made St. Émilion Grand Cru at a high QPR - Quality to Price Ratio.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, nicely balanced and textured, bright elegant fruit filled blackcurrants, blackberries and plum fruits with notes spice, hints of tobacco leaf, floral, earth and anise with round supple nicely integrated soft tannins.

RM 90 points.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz at 10

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2006

Valentine's Day eve dinner - perfect wine with comfort food for relaxed family dinner with kids/grandkids joining. Pulled one of our favorites to accompany the lasagna main course. It also went just as well with the chocolates!

As written numerous times in the past, we love this wine and consider it a benchmark representation of Southern Australian Shiraz at its very best, and at a pricepoint between $25-30 it offers a relative great QPR (Quality to Price ratio). I wish I could find more of it. Not sure what happened to Flinders Run. It appeared on the market selectively and we haven't see it since. We bought all we could find on the market and are still being rewarded for our investment.

This has been a consistent overall hit of many standalone and comparison tastings of varied big reds. Consistent with earlier notes, the 2006 Flinders is still holding its own and showing well at ten years of age. Dark inky purple, full bodied, powerfully scented bouquet of dark berries, smoky minerals and fresh flowers bursting with flavors of thick chewy black raspberry, blueberry and cassis with layers of nut, vanilla and hints of mocha flavors on a tongue coating lingering finish. As much as we like this wine, the 2005 may be even better.

RM 92 points.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Moe's Cuyahoga Falls Features Pride Mountain Merlot

Moe's Cuyahoga Falls Features Pride Mountain Merlot

Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot 2012

For a casual business dinner, we dined at Moe's Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. One side is a quaint tavern setting, adjacent is a trendy white linen tablecloth dining setting, with a shared Monthly Featured Dinner menu.

A short, basic, carefully selected wine list of fifty selections offers a range of price points and wine styles to complement their featured menu. A basic selection of a dozen WBTG - Wines By The Glass, allows for each diner in a group to select an appropriate wine with each dish.

Two of us ordered the Braised Short Ribs with Chipotle orange bbq, cheddar polenta and snap peas, which was delicious, and was much better than it sounds. Our other diners ordered the NY Strip Steak and the Grilled Salmon entrees. All our dinners were excellent.

For the second time this week, the wine list offered one of the few wines that straddle the summit county line between Napa and Sonoma Counties, high atop the Mayacamas Mountain range that separates the two valleys, Napa to the east and Sonoma to the west.

Pride Mountain Vineyards, originally named 'Summit Ranch', befitting its location , is a 235-acre estate with eighty acres of vineyards. Beside the winery building, the crush pad features a brick inlay that marks the Napa/Sonoma County line.

We've collected this wine since the early 90's and still hold in our cellar the 1997 vintage which we tasted and acquired during our Estate visit back in 1999. The 1997 vintage was the first year estate production occurred in the new modern winery built by the Pride family.

Even in its youth, this young wine provides early gratification with very tasty, pleasant drinking. It presents itself like a full bore Napa Cab, but is smooth, balanced and approachable, akin the character of a softer smoother Merlot.

This was bright garnet colored, medium full bodied, nicely balanced full forward black raspberry, black cherry fruits accented by hints of mocha, cedar, spicy oak with full, round smooth supple tannins on a harmonious finish.

RM 91 points.

The 2012 Merlot is composed of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rosewood Grill and UNITY Red Blend

Rosewood Grill and UNITY Red Blend

For a business dinner with colleagues on the road, we dined at Rosewood Grill in Hudson, OH. With our grilled beef steak entrees we ordered Fisher Vineyards 'UNITY' Napa/Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon from their Wine Spectator Award winning wine list.

The Fisher Family have been growing and producing wines in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County since 1973.

UNITY is the brand associated with the second generation of the Fisher Family working together - Fisher founders Fred and Juelle Fisher, and the second generation that includes three siblings Whitney, Robert and Cameron.

The first generation Fisher Vineyards embodies single vineyard sourced wines, made unique by their particular, singular environmental conditions including soil and climate - elements when combined known as terrior.

In contrast, UNITY wines are produced from fruit chosen from multiple sites, estates or appellations, blended together in a tapestry where hopefully the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

This 2013 UNITY Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of fruit sourced 75% from Napa Valley and 25% from Sonoma County from sites in Calistoga, Northern Napa Valley Floor, the Mayacamas Mountains, Eastern Sonoma County, Napa Valley Atlas Peak, and the Vacas Mountains of Eastern Napa.

They blend consists of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot.

It appears the complexity of the blend of this wine will require more aging time to come together. At this early stage it is still disjointed and awkward with some funky non-fruit musty wet wood barnyard tones punctuated by notes of creosote and hints of cedar and earthy leather offsetting the fruit flavors, before starting to burn off after about an hour to reveal black berry fruits and anise - too young or too little decanting preparation time in a restaurant dinner setting.

RM 86 points.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Indigo Springfield offers wonderful fine wine-dine experience

Indigo Springfield offers wonderful wine-dine experience

St Clement Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon BTG complements NY Strip Steak Entree Feature

Visiting Springfield, IL, the options for a wine-dine experience are limited. In fact I consider Indigo the only serious wine-dining experience option - one that offers a selection of fine wines to complement the menu, including their limited but carefully selected list of WBTG - Wine-By-The-Glass offers. On previous trips, when I hosted some special dinners there, they have graciously accommodated my BYOB arrangements.

Tonight, my colleague and I both selected the NY Strip steak, and the knowledgeable waitstaff didn't have to ask what I meant when I ordered it 'Pittsburg' style.

The default entree selection came with au-gratin potatoes, grilled vegetables and a mixed green salad - perfect!

To top it off, they offered several wines by the glass including this selection. Since, my dining partner was not a wine aficionado, WBTG was the appropriate approach and this selection made for a perfect dining outing.

The winelist was up to date and complete, including the recently acquired special limited selection of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir.

The Indigo gallery of dog paintings makes for a unique fun outing - three, four, six dogs ... 

Indigo met all expectations this evening, wonderful service - knowledgeable, attentive, pleasant, professional - a great selection of food and wine, well prepared, tasty, at reasonable value. This trendy, stylish, comfortable setting continues to be my obvious regular choice when I am in the area.

St Clement Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 

We hold several vintages of St Clement' premium Oroppas Napa Cabernet, but are not followers of the standard label. This is not an 'Estate' label, wherein all the grapes would need be to grown in producer owned vineyards on the property.

In a good year, wines such as this sourced from multiple sites from multiple growers can be exceptional, as the saying goes, 'all boats rise with the tide'. In lesser years, they can be mediocre, accordingly. This year proved to be a good one for St Clement. I can't wait to try their 2013!   

This 2012 St. Clement Cabernet is a classic example of Napa Valley, combining valley floor terroir and mountain fruit, sourced from several appellations across Napa Valley, including vineyards in Rutherford, St. Helena, Mt. Veeder, Coombsville and Diamond Mountain.

This Napa Cabernet seemed the best wine for our dinner selection and it turned out to be a perfect choice. This wine exceeded my expectations and proved to be a great tasty, pleasant, sophisticated drinking wine, well suited to the meal, offered by the glass, at a reasonable price.  

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, a symphony of nicely balanced, smooth, polished, almost elegant, well integrated flavors of  blackberry, black raspberry, currant and spicy oak flavors with silky round tannins on a smooth lingering finish.

RM 92 points.