Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ladera Howell Mountain Malbec 2006

Ladera Howell Mountain Malbec 2006

We discovered and acquired this wine during our visit to the winery back in 2008. Ladera specialize in Bordeaux varietal wines, most notably Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also offer this lesser known, more obscure Malbec varietal based wine. In Bordeaux Malbec is blended to introduce dark color and full body into the wine.

The Malbec grape is a thin-skinned grape that requires more sun and heat than the leading Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to mature. Hence it is well suited to the more consistent, warm and sunny climate of Napa Valley. It is used in the blend to introduce deep color, full body associated with ample tannin, and a fruity plum-like flavor to add complexity to Bordeaux based blends.

We took this to Angeli's, our favorite local Italian trattoria, BYOB for a mid-week dinner.

Tonights tasting was consistent with an earlier tasting note when I wrote, "Dark color - full bodied - full firm forward fruits - a bit flabby on opening but overcame the funkiness to reveal black berry and cherry fruit flavors, a layer of spice, hints of leather and a touch of cedar on a long finish." This was a good complement to our hearty Italian fare.

RM 90 points.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Todd Alexander joins Force Majeure Winery

Force Majeure Red Mountain Vineyard and Winery - An emerging tour de force in premium Washington State Columbia Valley wines ...

We had the pleasure of meeting Todd Alexander, Head Winemaker and General Manager of Force Majeure, the highly-acclaimed winery from Washington State’s Red Mountain AVA, and his wife Carrie, during their recent marketing trip to Chicago. 

We met with Todd and Carrie to learn about Force Majeure and their work there to produce and market highest quality wines representing the rich and diverse terroir of the Red Mountain appellation. Todd gained notoriety at cult winery Bryant on Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley where his wines earned high ratings and critical praise. There he learned the craft under legendary viticulturist David Abreu and winemaking consultant Michel Rolland, following in the footsteps there of such notable producers such as Peter Melka. He also spent time learning the craft at Plumpjack/Cade. Joining Todd was wife Carrie, who will be working in marketing of Force Majeure.

They join proprietors Susan and Paul McBride, who purchased the undeveloped land, that is now Force Majeure Vineyard, in 2004, and since then have developed the Force Majeure brand with their devotion and commitment to meticulous viticulture and exemplary winemaking. They have been sourcing Red Mountain fruit from the finest lots from the well known Ciel du Cheval vineyard, marketing under the branding Grand Reve Vintners. During this time they have been increasingly shifting focus to Force Majeure, highlighting fruit from the estate Force Majeure Vineyard as more and more plots come online. Up to now they produced the Collaboration Series featuring Washington’s leading winemakers and one of Red Mountain’s greatest vineyards, Ciel du Cheval. Now, with Todd at the healm of winemaking duties, they will focus on their estate vineyards starting with the Force Majeure vineyard.

Todd and Carrie moved with their their family from Napa Valley to the Columbia Valley to purse this extraordinary opportunity. Todd joined Force Majeure in 2014 so this year's release will be the first reflecting his craftmanship from the vineyards to the glass.

Force Majeure is growing production from 2,000 cases per year to 4,000 cases as their second 20-acre parcel comes into production. The winery’s focus has been on red Bordeaux varietals with acreage planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and Rhone varietals Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre with new plantings in Cinsault, Counoise, Viognier and others. This will allow Todd to explore developing product with both Northern and Southern Rhone style wines as well those reflecting the Bordeaux Left and Right Banks. Such is the diversity and of the terroir of the property.

The Force Majeure estate vineyard is in Washington state's Red Mountain AVA (appellation - agriculture viticulturual area. The original vineyard was planted in 13 acres, and an additional 10 acres planted in 2015. Force Majeure Vineyard is up against the hillside abutting Red Mountain.

Todd seeks to emulate the great labels of Pomerol, St Julien, Hermitage, Priorat, Côte-Rôtie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape - such labels as Lalande-de-Pomerol, Chateau Latour, La Ladone, and Chateau Beaucastel as benchmark wines. We're excited to watch the evolution and growth of his work as Force Majeure as he seeks to pursue his vision and realize the potential of this great property, and for him to express and develop his capabilities in a broad portfolio of premium wines.

Todd told of us the unique diversity, and superior terroir and great potential of the property, in the foothill butted up against the Red Mountain range overlooking the Yakima River basin. The diverse property has nine different soil types in a change of elevation from 900 to 1200 feet. The rocky upper part of the property has as much as a 40% slope, well-suited for the Rhone varietals, while the lower elevations of the vineyard's well-drained soils are more ideally suited to Bordeaux varietals, all with a Southwestern exposure to capture the afternoon sun, ideal for ripening the grapes.

The Yakima Valley AVA was the first AVA created in Washington State in 1983. The valley covers 600,000 acres in south central Washington, twice the size of the greater Bordeaux region, and fifteen times the size of Napa Valley. Yakima Valley is home to the largest concentration of vineyards and wineries in the state with more than 60 wineries and 16,000 vineyard acres. Nearly 40% of Washington wines are made with Yakima Valley grapes.

In 1984 Columbia Valley was given AVA status, and Yakima Valley was enclosed within the Columbia Valley AVA. Since that time, several new appellations have been added including Red Mountain AVA and Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which are both contained within Yakima Valley.

Force Majeure currently has a winery facility in Woodinville, WA but will also be developing their own world class winery facility, renovating a historic rustic 11,000 schoolhouse from around 1900. 

Todd left us the Force Majeure Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and Force Majeure Red Mountain Syrah 2013, both sourced from the Force Majeure vineyard. Watch for my update with our upcoming tasting of these wines.

We met with Todd and Carrie at the famous Chicago landmark Italian Village Restaurant with their historic award winning wine cellar, now run by Wine Director Sommelier Jared Gelband who gave us a tour of the cellar featuring in my separate blogpost.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

For a casual mid-week dinner at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian trattoria, we took BYOB this limited release bottle of Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002. This follows our recent tasting of the 1997 vintage release of this same label. The 2002 vintage was much more presentable lacking the diminution of the fruit in the older vintage, a surprising difference considering only five years separation, and the much heralded reputation of the '97.

This showed similarly to my previous tasting notes for this label from six years earlier when I wrote: "Dark garnet color, full bodied, bright cinnamon spice, raspberry, hint of cedar and mocha on a big, long silky smooth tannin finish."

The only difference (from my earlier 93 point rating) might be the reduction of a couple points for slightly expressive and less vibrant fruits, but still exceptional and impressive at 91 points.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

d'Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon The Coppermine Road 2002

 d'Arenberg South Australia McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon The Coppermine Road 2002

Saturday evening dinner at home watching Copa America Soccer on TV, Linda prepared grilled steak and baked potatoes with peas and corn. I pulled from the cellar an older big Cabernet that I felt was ready to drink or needing to be consumed, and one of which I had multiple bottles - hence this d'Arenberg Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. This also was selected since we drank an older similar aged d'Arenberg shiraz last weekend for our special dinner. We have several vintages of this wine including a couple older single bottles, yet, I don't recall drinking this label before so tonight's tasting was a new discovery adventure.

The Coppermine Road by d'Arenberg is named for the road that runs parallel to the winery's top Cabernet vineyard which sourced the fruit for this vintage release. The 2002 Cabernet season was a warm vintage which resulted in this super ripe concentrated fruit. 

d'Arenberg were riding high during this period, as noted on the supplemental labels (shown left), they had just been awarded Australia’s Winery Of The Year, and the Most Successful Winery in 2003

Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied with classic 'legs' coating the sides of the glass. Upon opening, aromas of black fruits filled the room. On tasting they were accented by ripe raisin and floral violets. Slightly musty, concentrated, firm structured firm black fruits were accented by tobacco, leathery creosote, raisin eucalyptus notes with mouth puckering tongue coating tannins on the ripe black cherry fruit laced finish.

After dinner I tasted this with moderately dark, then dark chocolates and the darker the better to complement the raisin laced earthy black fruits. 

RM 91 points.

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011 

Traveling, I picked up this everyday wine for carry out dinner back at the hotel. This provides great QPR - quality price ratio, affordable for every day drinking, but well rounded for many occasions. Would be suitable for parties where you need to serve many and not break the bank, and provide a easy drinking wine that will appeal to many. A great pizza wine.

This wine is produced using an innovative Ripasso method. The grapes Corvina Veronese (70%), Rondinella (25%), and Sangiovese (5%) are from the Palazzo della Torre vineyard in the town of Fumane near Verona. They are harvested and then vinified in two different methods: 70% of the grapes are vinified immediately after the harvest, the remaining percentage is dried until the end of December to a raisin characteristic. At this point, the wine ferments again with the dried grapes.

While not complex, this is nicely balanced for smooth easy sipping, supple with deep ruby red in colour, a berry perfume, ripe black berry and black cherry fruits with an underlying tone of leather, mocha, hints of vanilla and oak with modest finish.

RM 88 points.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Château Larmande St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005

Château Larmande St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005

Tasted with a mid-week dinner of leftover grilled steak, baked potato, green beans, sweet corn and brussel sprouts. Tasted from a 375 ml half bottle. At eleven years of age, I sense this is approaching the end of its prime drinking window as the fruits seem to have given way slightly to the emergence of the non-fruit flavors based on earlier tasting notes from three and five years ago.  Knowing the small format half bottle will age less gracefully that full size or larger bottles makes me wonder if that affected this tasting - will find out when I open a standard format bottle of this label.

Château Larmande lies north of the town of St. Emilion, close to Soutard and Cadet-Piola. It consists of 25 hectares of vineyards planted with Merlot (65%), Cabernet Franc (25%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). In 1991 Larmande was sold to the French insurance conglomerate, La Mondiale.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, aromatic blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by tones of tar, smoke, earthy leather, hints of cedar, spice and whisper of mocha on a firm lingering tongue puckering tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Backus Sassicaia Dead Arm Highlight Grilled Steak Dinner

Backus, Sassicaia, Dead Arm - Diverse Big Reds Highlight Grilled Steak Dinner

Dr Dan hosted us for grilled steak dinner and opened a diverse pair of premium Bordeaux varietal reds - Joseph Phelps Napa Backus and Super Tuscan Sassicaia. I brought a Dead Arm and Shafer premium Chardonnay to round out the dinner wine flight.

Before dinner Dan served shrimp cocktail and a cheese course of swiss and sharp cheddar with an assortment of olives. For this course I brought and served Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay as a starter.
With grilled New York Strip steaks, Dan served twice baked potatoes, grilled asparagus and portabello mushrooms.

The diverse Reds each complimented features of the meal. The grilled steak were an ideal highlight with the Backus while the portabello mushrooms were a perfect match to the Sassicaia.

Shafer Napa Valley Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2011

This single vineyard grown Chardonnay is from Red Shoulder Ranch vineyard, located on 68 acres in the Carneros district at the top of San Fransisco Bay where Napa and Sonoma come together at the bottom of Mt Veeder at the foot of the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa from Sonoma. Unlike Napa Valley which is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines, the Carneros appellation, with its cool breezes and fog that rolls in off the Bay, is more suited to Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The vineyard is named for the the Red-shouldered Hawks who, along with other birds of prey, help protect the vineyard from vine damaging gophers who feed upon the rootstock of the vines.

This was straw colored, medium bodied, subtle lemon and citrus accented by tones of apple and pear with nice, well balanced crisp acidity and a clean structured lingering finish.

RM 90 points. 

With grilled New York Strip steaks, Dan served twice baked potatoes, grilled asparagus and portabello mushrooms. The diverse Reds each complimented features of the meal. The grilled steak were an ideal highlight with the Bachus while the portabello mushrooms were a perfect match to the Sassicaia.

Joseph Phelps Backus Napa Valley Red Wine 2007

Notably, Joseph Phelps premium labels were the highlight feature wines of Dan's father of the bride celebration dinner - Backus and a vertical selection of Phelps Insignia. This wine is from the single designated Backus Vineyard in the Napa Oakville appellation, located south of Oakville Cross Road on the east side of Silverado Trail. The vineyard is planted in 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 acre of Petit Verdot, and 1 acre of Malbec.

Elegant, silky smooth, polished, a symphony of perfectly balanced flavors, this was the ideal opening red for the dinner course. Dark garnet/purple colored, medium-full bodied, aromatic nose and flavors of a medley of sweet ripe berry fruits accented by slight subtle tones of vanilla, and sweet oak with a whisper of cassis and mocha that are so nicely integrated they're almost indistinguishable in isolation, turning to supple full but silky smooth tannins.

RM 94 points.

Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia Super Tuscan Red Wine 2006

Despite being an Italian wine, this Super Tuscan is a Bordeaux Blend - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. In fact, the rootstock for the Cabernet was actually sourced from vines from the innumerable Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

A very different character and style in contrast to the silky smooth smooth polished Backus. This wine begged for hearty food to balance its firm forward concentrated taste profile. It was best paired with the grilled portabello mushrooms.

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, firm, tight, complex and concentrated black berry fruits accented by a layer of cassis, graphite, smokey creosote and dark expresso, turning to firm tannins on the firm, long, lingering finish.

RM 93 points.

d'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2000

We hold close to a dozen vintages of this label and this vintage is one of the bigger, more vibrant and expressive of many our vintages of Dead Arm.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, rich, thick concentrated, almost chewy, floral, spicy tones of ripe blackberry, black raspberry, with more subtle blueberries and plums, with hints of black pepper and spices turning to structured nicely balanced tannins on a long full finish.

RM 92 points. 

While this could stood in for any course of the dinner, the bright vibrant expressive fruit was best suited for the dessert course that Linda brought with dark chocolates, dried cherries, and fruit tarts with kiwi, strawberry, and grapes.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Robert Craig Napa Mt Veeder Cabernet 1999

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Robert Craig is known for his portfolio of  Napa Valley Cabernets representing "three mountains and a valley" - from Mt Veeder, Howell Mtn and Spring Mtn, three corners of Napa Valley.

Robert Craig has special affection for Mt Veeder being the place where he started his storied career producing fine wines. We've heard him say more than once that Mt Veeder is his favorite of his various labels. With that backdrop, I considered several Robert Craig labels for an intimate steak and rib dinner before settling on this one. We focused on the Mt Veeder appellation during out Napa Valley Wine Experience - Mt Veeder back in 2011.

These pages of full of reviews of his wines and remembrances of numerous visits to the Howell Mountain Estate, and other locations dating back to the early nineties. We hold more than a dozen vintages of several of his labels - one vertical dates back to his inaugural 1993 vintage, perhaps the most deeply held producer in our cellar.

Upon opening, pop and pouring, the room filled with aromas of bright berry fruit. Initial tastes were a bit funky with musty earthiness overtaking the fruit, but this burned off over the course of a half hour or so to reveal bright expressive black and red berry fruits, slightly tart but full bodied, dark garnet colored with a hint of brownish rust color starting to show on the edges, the most apparent indication of its 17 years of age.

The wine eventually revealed itself similar to our last tasting of this release six years ago, the fruit accented by tones of spice and hints of tobacco, tea, earthy leather and cedar, the lingering slight tartness overtaking the residual mocha sweetness of earlier, turning to moderate tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 90 points. This is a point less than my previous tasting review in 2010.