Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dinner Features Judgement of Paris Wines

Dinner Features Judgement of Paris Wines to Commemorate the Tasting event's Anniversary

For a holiday weekend dinner, we selected wines that were featured in the famous Judgement of Paris tasting event on the week of its anniversary - Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and a pair of Freemark Abbey Bosché Cabernets,  contenders in the original tasting. That tasting event was chronicled in Time Magazine in the June 1976 issue.

Linda prepared grilled marinated flank steak and tuna steaks on the grill, served with roasted potatoes and vegetables and sweet corn on the cob.

Prior to dinner we served Sauvignon Blanc with the mixed greens salad brought by Bill & Beth, and with artisan cheese and spinach cheese puff hor d'oeuvres brought by Bob & Gloria.

After dinner I served a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc with Linda's desert, pound cake with creme fraiche and mixed berries.

John Anthony Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012

John Anthony wines are the product of John Anthony Truchard, who has been exposed to the vineyards and wine production his whole life having growing up in Carneros immersed in the industry learning from many legends of the industry including his father Tony Truchard of the Napa Valley wine label of that name. 

The opening wine served with the cheese and hors d' ovres course. 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.

Chateau Monetelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

Aficionados of wine must watch the entertaining classic movie "Bottle Shock" that chronicles the early days of Napa Valley, early winemakers, and Chateau Montelena, and its legendary finishing first in the epic competition tasting between American and French wines back in 1976. This descendant of that winning wine is the fortieth anniversary release of the label.

Paying tribute to that legendary wine, this vintage release is a reflection of, but makes the best of a challenging vintage in Napa, its a bit disjointed lacking the balance and polish of better years, never-the-less, the heritage and potential is apparent.

Straw colored, medium bodied, mineral and stone fruit predominate over the citrus, pear and slightly tart apple tones, turning to the long crisp rounded finish.

RM 89 points.

  The highlight of the evening tasting were these two showcase reds that were perfect accompaniment to the grilled marinated flank steak and roasted vegetables and potatoes. This is another memorable tasting of these wines that Bill and I have shared over the years, including our vist to Freemark Abbey Winery during our Napa 2009 wine experience. 

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard 1992 

I discovered this wine and acquired a case when I met the producer at a tasting in Binny's Naperville in the early nineties. At twenty-four years, this is our second to last bottle from that case. Only fitting that we open this on the anniversary of the famed blind tasting that put American and California wines on the map.

This tasting was consistent with similar to the previous tasting in 2012. Still vibrant with life left, while nearing the end of its drinking window this has a few years left and shows only slight signs of diminution with the fruit starting to give way to earthy leather tones, resulting in dropping a point in my rating of this wine. Dark garnet colored and medium bodied yet with distinctive 'legs' (or 'curtains' as my British friends call them), this exhibited polished and balanced concentrated black berry fruits with layer of spice, hint of smoke, earthy leather, tobacco and spice box on a moderate smooth, integrated moderate tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

To compliment the Bosche, Bill brought a decade younger vintage 2002 for a mini-horizontal comparison tasting.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard 2002

Not surprising, this is similar to its older brother, and as the night wore on, the two vintages became more indistinguishable. with the same profile and characteristics, the fruit being slightly more bright and vibrant in the more recent release.

Like the earlier release, dark garnet colored and medium bodied yet with distinctive 'legs' (or 'curtains' as my British friends call them), this exhibited polished and balanced concentrated black berry fruits with layer of spice, hint of smoke, earthy leather, tobacco and spice box on a moderate smooth, integrated moderate tannin finish. The still bright and vibrant fruits warrants the higher rating.

RM 90 points.

De Lorimier Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest Lace 2002

For the after dinner dessert course I pulled from the cooler this Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from the same 2002 vintage as the earlier tasted Montelena and the same varietal as the opening Sauv Blanc.

Part of the Ken and Diane Wilson, Wilson Artisan Wineries portfolio, this estate winery and vineyards specializes in Bordeaux varietals up in the Alexander Valley. The estate's dessert late harvest wines go back to the mid-eighties. Founded in 1986 by Al deLorimier the winery and vineyard were planted and developed into the Estate it is today. The production facility is set up for the blending and aging of many small lots. Ken and and co-owner/winemaker Diane Wilson, and winemaker Antoine Favero combine their talents to produce award winning artisan wines at deLorimier. 

In special years when the weather allows for a small harvest of Botrytised grapes late in the fall, they make dessert wine from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, or a blend of the two. Botrytis Cineria, the "noble mold", creates a wine of naturally high sweetness and intensity of flavor, while maintaining the fresh fruit character.

This was weak tea colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced with sweet and smokey flavors of apricot, citrus and hints of brown sugar.

RM 87 points.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 1997

Liparita Napa Valley Merlot 1997

We pulled this from the cellar for a perfect accompaniment with grilled steak and salmon dinner on the deck.

This is one of the last few remaining bottles from our collection that signals closing in on the end of an era... As written in these pages, back in the mid-late nineties, we met with then winemaker Gove Celia and tasted this wine at the custom crush facility in central Napa, either Rutherford or Oakville as I recall.

We've held numerous labels from that era, most notably Liparita Napa Valley and Howell Mountain Cabernets and this Napa Valley Merlot.

The brand and label disappeared from the market around the millennium until it was acquired under new ownership in 2006, bringing back the legendary name under new branding and packaging/labeling.

We're getting down to the last few remaining bottles of this label and the Cabernet. Consistent with tasting notes from earlier tastings in 2010 and most recently 2014, this is still holding its own and remains well within its drinking window, albeit it won't improve any further with age. This is notable since those were tasted from magnum and this from a standard 750 ml bottle.

Dark garnet coloured, earthiness bleeds off to reveal black cherry, ripe black raspberry and cassis with a hint of mocha blackberry and smoke on the finish.

RM 87 points.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Robert Craig Amador County Zinfandel 2004

Robert Craig Amador County Zinfandel 2004 with BBQ After Family Day at Sox Park

I write often herein that BBQ ribs and Zinfandel are an ideal food-wine pairing. Everyone should keep a few bottles of hearty Zin in the cellar for such occasions.

After our annual family White Sox baseball outing, we brought home bar-be-cue ribs, served with baked potatoes and a caprese salad, along with Linda's decadent baked brie cheese in filo dough puffs with puree'd berries, toasted almonds and drizzled honey - a perfect setting for Zinfandel. So, we pulled from the cellar Robert Craig Amador County Zin.

We're huge fans of Robert Craig wines. His extensive portfolio provides quality wines for almost all occasions. While he's known for his broad selection of Napa Valley Cabernets, he typically also offers a hearty Zinfandel, whether it be from his estate domicile on Howell Mountain, from the Central Coast Paso Robles region, or from the notable Zinfandel appellation Amador County in the Sierra Foothills.
This is from the 24-acre Bowman Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley of the Sierra Foothills, an area known for exceptional Zinfandel fruit. The rocky, well-drained soil stresses the vines to produce small, flavor-packed concentrated berries. Sitting at 1500-foot elevation provides ideal sun exposure, while the eastern mountains deliver cool evening breezes. This fruit is from 30-year-old vines. 

Winemaker Tasting Notes: The 2004 vintage produced an intense, robust Zinfandel with distinctive 'Amador' qualities of dusty spice, pepper and fresh, ripe berries. Picked in small lots, the berries were fully ripe and deeply flavored, creating a wine with generous mouthfeel. Aging in French oak added further complexity and layers of flavors.

This was dark garnet colored, up-front pepper and spice flavors lead with mouth-filling cherry and plum, turning to a zesty, broad-based finish of cherry-raspberry, interwoven with tobacco and cream. There was a layer of heat from the high alcohol content that detracted from the harmony of the fruit. 

RM 88 points.  

Family outing at the ballpark .... 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Dining at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, we took a BYOB Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997 which went perfectly with their Portabella Mushroom Ravioli and its marsala wine cream sauce. Tonight they had a special beet salad and their spectacular customary Boston clam chowder.

Del Dotto were a featured producer from several of our wine producer dinners during that era. Today, the magnificent Del Dotto winey and cave facility on the edge of the Rutherford appellation at the south entry to St Helena is one of the highlights of visits to Napa Valley.

We have but a few remaining bottles of our case of the Del Dotto Cab Franc from the limited release of 240 cases produced.  I recall taking this to a holiday party back in the day and it was the highlight of the evening. At this stage, this is showing its age and reaching the last chapter of its drinking window.

The Del Dotto was dark garnet colored, starting to show a slight bit of a rust hue and haziness from its age, medium to full bodied, a bit tart cherry and black raspberry on opening, giving way to a layer of sweet berry turning to leather, tobacco leaf and damp earth on the slightly musty finish. As cited in tasting notes last year, time to drink up.

RM 86 points.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Edgewood Estate St Helena Triangle Premiere Lot 54 Napa Valley Malbec 2002

Edgewood Estate Vineyards St Helena Triangle Premiere Lot 54 Napa Valley Malbec 2002

With the kids and grandkids over for after church Sunday dinner, grand-daughter Lucy accompanied me down to the cellar to select the dinner wine. She chose this bottle sitting in the rack at her eye level, for its purple foil, her favorite color, and it turned out to be an excellent choice!

Purchased at auction, this Napa Valley Premiere label is a limited special release bottling for the famous Napa Valley charitable auction. This was ideally suited for our beef tenderloin Sunday dinner. Upon opening, the room filled with fruit and floral aromas. While initially a bit closed, the wine opened gradually, progressively over the course of the hour, and as it was being finished, we were all wishing we had more. This was even better than a previous bottle and recollections as per earlier tasting notes. At fourteen years of age, I sense this is drinking at the apex of its drinking window now, better than back in 2011, not likely to improve further with age, but certainly having several years of pleasurable drinking yet, if only we had more. This may have been the most memorable Malbec I've tasted to date.

This is a one of a kind - one time special selection Lot 54, from the 2002 vintage bottled for the 2004 Napa Valley Vintners annual Premiere wine tasting and auction. Its an eye opener to be on the lookout and pay attention to Napa Valley Malbec as a robust tasty food friendly wine.

One of the traditional “Bordeaux varietals”, Malbec has characteristics that fall somewhere between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, used to add deep color and tannin based structure, backbone and complexity to the blend. These characteristics make for a delicious savoury and hearty wine that goes well with hearty cheeses and beef. This was delicious with our Sunday beef tenderloin dinner.

Full bodied - dark inky purple color. Big full fruit and floral aromas, huge full, nicely balanced and polished forward flavors of supple blackberry, black raspberry and ripe plum, accented by a layer of dark chocolate and spice turning to smooth tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Heartland Stickleback South Australia Red Blend 2006

Heartland Stickleback South Australia Red Blend 2006

An Australian blend of red varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon (52%), Shiraz (33%), and Grenache (15%) - from Ben Glaetzer wines. A $10 red blend that meets expectations and tastes like a $10 red. I would not cite this as having exceptional QPR (quality-price ratio) but rather okay drinking for an every day pizza wine, which is exactly what we were trying it as, but lacking any inspiration or excitement.

The Grenache seems to predominate over the Cabernet and Shiraz fruit flavors.

Dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied, lacking balance or polish with a hard edged tight backbone and layer of spicy black fruits - raspberry, currant and dark cherry with tones of pommegranate, leather, and tones of metallic graphite on a rather hard tannin finish.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Soléna Grande Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012

Soléna Grande Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012

Tasted from 375 half bottle with grilled burgers on the patio. Not enough meat on the bone of this lighter Pinot for beef-burgers. Should've saved this for a lighter fare, perhaps. Consistent with previous quests in search for a moderate priced high QPR (quality price ratio) Pinot Noir - the search continues. This is my first encounter with this producer who boasts a broad portfolio of labels.

Ruby colored, light medium body, a bit awkward flabby structure, black cherry, strawberry and cherry cola tones with slight tangental non fruit tones of herbs, grass and leather turning to a slightly acidic moderate tannin finish.

RM 87 points.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Clark Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Clark Claudon Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

For Mother's Day eve dinner, we took Clark Claudon Napa Cab BYOB to Wildwood Restaurant in Geneva with John and Kath McM... Wildwood has a Wine Spectator Award winning winelist for five years running with a broad selection of choices that include many favorites, several at good value prices. Still, the rewards of a deep cellar are to enjoy favorite wines at their prime on such occasions, aside sourcing a second wine from the list. Clark Claudon was a fitting selection for Mother's Day given their strong family centered wine business.

As I've written before in this blog about this wine, we've been collecting this Howell Mountain classic since our Napa Valley Wine Experience 1999 when we first met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark and hosted them at one of our wine producer dinners.

Clark Claudon are located halfway up Howell Mountain, the northeastern pillar of the dual ranges that make Napa Valley. The mountain fruit produced from the steep terraces, rocky soil and warm dry climate is full, rich, concentrated and firm, our favorite style in a Cabernet. 

Clark-Claudon typifies the Howell Mountain terroir of its heritage and origins. Their vineyard sits back on the north east side a bit more than half way up Howell Mountain between 800 ft and 1,000 ft elevation. Vineyards above 1200 feet elevation are designated Howell Mountain appellation, while those below 1200 ft are designated Napa Valley. This is because the fog level rises up to that level thereby establishing two different terroir effects above and below that point. 

Clark-Claudon have 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and a bit of Petit Verdot vines, 'carved out', as they say, of their 117 acre hillside property. The shallow, rocky, mountain soils, consistent sun exposure tempered by the cool evening breezes just about level with the fog line hovering over the valley below provide ideal conditions to produce intense extracted mountain fruit with that characteristic Howell Mountain spice and firm solid core of smooth tannins.

The 2004 Napa growing season was condensed with early bud break, warm days, cool nights and one challenging heat spike. The result was a small harvest of intense, flavor packed fruit from an unusual, but exceptional year that is showing and drinking well and should last another decade.

Deep dark ruby colored - full bodied - explosive aromas of ripe dark berry fruits fill the room as the wine is being decanted, big mouth-full of forward complex but polished spicy black and edge of red berry fruits, violets, layers of mocha and oak with a long lingering tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

During our Napa Wine Experience visits of 1997 through 2000 we hosted gala tasting dinners with the 'Undisccovered Dozen', emerging new wine producers to watch, featured in an article in Wine Spectator Magazine. Many of these producers released their inaugural vintage releases in or about the 1994 vintage. Those producers and winery visits included Plumpjack, David Arthur, Clark-Claudon, Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Elan, Paradigm, Pride Vineyards, Snowden, Nils Venge and White Cottage and are featured on my winesite An complete index of my tasting notes of these wines over the years is on the site at this link to California Producers Index. These producers make up a foundation of our wine cellar collection even today. In many of these wines, we still have vertical selections of these wines, some dating back to those early release vintages. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005

We hold close to a dozen vintages of this wine in our cellar dating back to their early releases back around the milenium.

We first visited Hall at their St Helena site during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2003. Then, a decade later, our tasting at the new spectacular Hall Rutherford Estate vineyards, winery and cellars (shown left) in 2013 was one of the highlights of that trip.

Hall have grown their portfolio of labels to several varietals and numerous single vineyard and other designated releases, many of which are only available at the winery or from their club. This label is their basic Napa estate release which has been a mainstay of the brand since the early days. At close to a dozen years of age, its holding well, but it certainly won't improve with further cellaring/aging.

This was the right accompaniment to grilled beefsteak with dinner, and was especially good with after dinner dark chocolate and dried cherries with dessert.

Similar tasting to earlier tasting notes in 2010, this was dark ruby colored, medium full bodied, with a tight backbone to the bright vivid red berry and black berry and cherry fruits that give way to tar, smoke, a hint of mocha on a firm, slightly hard edged finish with a subtle whiskey or cognac tone on the finish.

RM 87 points.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Robert Craig Central Coast Syrah 2004

Robert Craig Central Coast Syrah 2004

We pulled this Robert Craig Syrah from the cellar for a casual sipper with mid-week light dinner. Readers of these pages know we have a significant collection of Robert Craig Cabernets from the range of labels across a wider range of vintages. We also hold a collection of various Craig labels of other varietals from a range of vintages such as this one.

Robert Craig is known for a range of Napa Cabernets, but he ventures off the reservation occasionally to source occasional fruit for smaller production labels from other areas such as Chardonnay from Sonoma, Zinfandel from the Sierra foothills, and this Syrah from the California Central Coast region - sourced from a 20 acre vineyard in Ranchita Canyon, north of Paso Robles. We've typically sourced these other wines from many visits to the winery as well as occasionally from auction.

I think the berry fruit flavors have been affected by age to reveal tones of metallic graphite and ripe raisiny fruits.

Dark blackish garnet colored, full-bodied, this Syrah offers a complex concentrated ultra ripe black and blue berry fruits that come across as raisin or dried cherries giving way to tones of graphite, licorice and creosote with hints of black pepper, cardamom and clove spice - the off-fruit flavors perhaps attributable to age.

This was best accompanied by dark chocolate and dried cherries. 

RM 87 points.