Sunday, October 30, 2016

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Angelis Pasta

As we've done many times before, we dined at Angeli's, our favorite neighborhood trattoria, with son Alec, home for the World Series weekend from NYC. Again, as many times before, we took Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon BYOB, since its hearty earthy Rutherford style goes so well with the hearty pasta and these meat and other dishes there. We ordered from our usual favorites, Linda and Alec got the Mussels in white wine sauce, Butternut Squash Gnochi, and I ordered one of the simplest but most hearty dishes, Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce with Italian Sausage and Veal Meatballs.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This 2001 has been drinking wonderfully, certainly at the apex of its drinking window, for several years now. This demonstrates the longevity of quality Napa Valley Cabernets. While it will not likely improve any further with aging, it still has several years to go at this level.

Consistent with earlier tastings notes, medium to full bodied , deep dark ruby color - black berry and sweet black cherry fruits accented by clove spice and a hint cassis and whisper of English toffee on the 'Rutherford Dust' moderate silky tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

This same wine is featured in their extraordinary Connoisseurs Series in which they age the same wine in a variety of oak cooperages to highlight the different oak influences on the wine. We featured a horizontal tasting of the 2001 Del Dotto Connoisseur Series last year as listed on site

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Nino Negri 5 Stelle Sfursat 2004

Nino Negri 5 Stelle Sfursat 2004 - big bold Italian Red for pizza pasta dinner

Our exploration of non-conventional wines (for us) continues with this Italian Nebbiolo pullled from the cellar to enjoy with Suparossa pizza watching the Cubs in game four of the world series. We ordered out for premium pizza and I scoured the cellar for a premium Italian wine suitable for the occasion. 

As written in earlier blogposts, readers of this blog know we don't do a lot of Italian wines. Less than 1% of our cellar is in Italian labels. There are so many appellations and varietals and producers across all the regions, I advise folks to find one you like and focus on a few to develop knowledge and understanding of that area, and then move on. We focus on Bordeaux and Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot...) and Rhone and its varietals (which includes Syrah/Shiraz and thus includes Australia's popular varietal).

I admit, I am not well versed in Italian wine regions and their associated grape varietals. I've written before that in the 'new world', we name or label our wines based on the primary grape varietal in the bottle. In the 'old world', they, (the French, Italians, Germans), name the wine for the region or appellation, and its up to the consumer to understand the applicable wine grape varietal associated with that area. For example, Left Bank Bordeaux appellations (growing areas) such as St Julien and Paulliac are Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, while Right Bank Bordeaux such as St Emilion and Pomerol are Merlot based blends.

In this case of Italy and Lombardia, the wines are based on the Nebbiolo grape varietal.  Perhaps this is obvious, but the neophyte, or even learned wine geeks who don't know Italian wines, don't necessarily know the association of Sangiovese or Nebbiolo varietals and their regions and appellations, Lombardia, Barolo, Piedmont, Tuscany etc.

Skip ahead if this is known and basic, or bear with me if you're interested in learning these fundamentals of Lombardia Valtellina Superiore, and Sforzato di Valtellina which are two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (aka appellation in France or AVA (American (Agriculture) Viticultural Area) in America) in the northern Italian region of Lombardia. Stella Sfursat are red wines made primarily from the Nebbiolo grape varietal.

This is like in the Piedmont Barolo DOCG with its communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d'Alba, and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi and Verduno. These sub-appellations as they might be called in America, are mentioned on the label, but are secondary to the region name. To many, me included, this adds to the confusion of interpreting or parsing an Italian wine label.

Nebbiolo based wines tend to be bold, full bodied, tannic, firm, concentrated and long lived with tasting characteristics of black fruits, tar, rose petals and smoke which made this ideal for the tangy spicy pizza tomato sauces.

5 Stelle Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG

This is Nino Negri’s flagship wine, made from the most select very best grapes, only in the best vintage years. The fruit for this wine is 100% Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca) grapes, hand picked in the most acclaimed parcels of Valtellina Superiore. The grape are dried naturally for 3 months in their skins.

The Valtellina appellation lies north of Lake Como in the province of Sondrio. It is sheltered from the cold northern winds by the Rhaetian Alps mountain range. The Valley, runs 40 kms from east to west and faces the south where it is exposed to the sun all day. The Valley is divided into four sub-zones that each are named for the different types of wine produced there: Grumello, Sassella, Inferno and Valgella. The territory has two DOCGs, the more widely known Valtellina Superiore, and Sforzato di Valtellina.

CellarTracker Drinking Window indicates this is not yet at but nearing the end of its peak drinking window.

It is brick red color and starting to show some brisking separation of its body, medium bodied, nose and flavors of black fruits with layer of tangy cinnamon spice predominating, subdued floral and nose, the black berry and black cherry fruits predominant with tones of black olive, tar, soy and hint of baking spices with supple dry tannins.

This was perfect accompaniment to the spicy tomato sauces of the Suparossa carry-out pizzas. 

RM 90 points.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Conway Wines Deep Sea Cabernet Sauvignon

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

About a year ago this week, I wrote in these pages about Conway Family Wines and got a kind note from them about my post. At that time, I had just opened their wine for a casual weekend evening of wine, fruit and cheese. This week, we opened it as our second wine for a beef tenderloin dinner and it tuned out to be the highlighter of the evening.

As I have written before in these pages, I found this wine downstate and tasted it, then went back and bought more. Previously, I found their Syrah and went back and bought more, twice, ending up buying out their entire stock. After buying out this Cabernet, I returned to the same retailer again later and discovered they had another case on the shelves. I had just been questioned about wines for a holiday party by a colleague and in our discussion I spoke of this wine. As it happened another colleague was downstate and we reached out to him prompting him to go by and buy out the remaining stock from the merchant, which we split between us. Such it is with these wine finds.

Like before, we only consumed half the bottle the first evening we opened it and found the remainder of the bottle when revisited the next evening was as good or even better than it was initially. Such it is with hearty well structured wines of a half dozen years of age. This was the same as the notes from my earlier tasting experience, when we opened re-opened it, it improved upon revisiting the following day!

Here are my notes from the previous but similar tasting of this wine, earlier this year.

Consider this a Negociant wine since, according to the wine producer, it is sourced from a "number of the finest, well regarded vineyards within Napa AVA’s of Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, with each one contributing their unique characteristics to our blend".

According to the producer's release, "the dark fruit notes along with distinctive and pleasant chalky sagebrush notes greet your nose at first. This Cabernet has as plush an entry as we’ve seen in a lot of years. A round, soft, mouth filling wine that shows a smooth backbone of tannins and balanced acidity. The finish wraps up nicely with a lingering reminder of the mature dark fruits, ever so slight a hint of new oak, and the ever present palette of flavors that make Cabernet so sought after!"

This has incredible QPR - quality price ratio, at its price point below $20. The wine producer lists it at $39. 

Compared to last year when I last wrote about this wine, tonight it presented a layer of sweetness, moreso than I recall or reported on earlier. Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, full fruit forward black raspberry and cherry fruits with a layer of spice and hints of graphite and tea, turning to tones of sweet mocha, almost caramel like, with nice balance and smooth polished tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Bodegas y Viñedos Castro Ventosa Mencía Bierzo El Castro de Valtuille

Bodegas y Viñedos Castro Ventosa Mencía Bierzo El Castro de Valtuille 2005 - Parsing Spanish wines and labels

I remember I bought this highly recommended and rated Spanish wine at a wine shop in McLean, VA while on a trip to WDC several years ago. I've kept it to share with friends Bob and Gloria who have Latin ancestry and heritage. So it was that I pulled this out for dinner with them last evening with son Alec visiting home from NYC for the weekend to partake in the Cub's World Series regalia. It was a fitting accompaniment to Linda's beef tenderloin dinner.

Aside Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio which we collect and hold a vertical of a half dozen vintages, this is one of very few Spanish wines we hold in our cellar. I realize I know very little about Spanish wines. Hence, I took some time to parse the full name of this wine with all its names and syllables, as shown above. I see why folks can be bewildered if not overwhelmed by the complexities or intricacies of wines in general, or in this case, Spanish wines. It doesn't help that its a Spanish wine with Spanish terms and names, which exacerbates the situation in light of me being totally ignorant and non-literal in Spanish. I see why, and suppose folks can get equally tangled up in Italian and French wines and labels accordingly.

Few people realize that Spain has over 1.17 million hectares (~2 acres per hectare) of vineyards making it the most widely grape varietal planted country in the world. However. Spain is the 3rd producing country after Italy and France, due to the very low yields and wide spacing of old vines planted in the dry and infertile soils found in many Spanish regions.

Like Italy, Spain has an abundance of over 600 indigenous grape varieties, although most of their production comes from about 20 grapes including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Palomino, Arien, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel.lo, Cariñena and Monastrell.

The source grape for this wine is Mencía, a Spanish red grape varietal found primarily in the northwestern part of the country. Most wines produced from Mencía have characteristics of being light, pale, relatively fragrant and appropriate for early consumption.

Mencía is indigenous from the Bierzo DO appellation and some suspect that it is an ancient clone from Cabernet Franc.

Bierzo is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO), or appellation, known for wines located in the northwest of the province of León (Castile and León, Spain). The Bierzo D.O. is located in the northwest of the Province of Castilla y León, just above Portugal. Bierzo covers about 3,000 km² and borders the provinces of Ourense, Lugo and Oviedo in the north and in the south on areas of La Montaña, la Cabrera and La Meseta, in Léon. 

The producer Castro Ventosa was founded by the Perez family in 1752 and has been in the family ever since. They have 75 hectares of Mencía vineyards in the appellation of Bierzo, making them the biggest owners of this varietal within the Bierzo D.O. (Denominación de origen). The Bierzo appellation is made of 5000 hectares (ha) with 2500 planted with white varietals and 2500 ha planted with Mencía. Interestingly, there are 5000 landowners within the appellation.

Rear label
The current proprietor of Castro Ventoza is Raúl Pérez, who runs the winery and has become a figurehead for Bierzo wines in Spain. Castro Ventosa produces three different Mencía; Valtuille, El Castro de Valtuille and El Castro de Valtuille “Joven Mencia”.

So then, lets parse this wine based on its label information -
Bodegas y Viñedos Castro Ventosa Mencía Bierzo El Castro de Valtuille 2005.

Bodegas y Viñedos is Spanish for wineries and vineyards.

Castro Ventosa is the name of the producer.

El Castro de Valtuille is the name of this particular wine.

Bierzo is the Spanish DO (Denominación de Origen) or appellation.

Mencía is the Spanish grape variety in the wine. Note the only reference to Mencia is on the rear label (shown left).

2005 - the vintage release of this bottle - all the grapes were harvested during this vintage year.

Tonight this wine was dark bright ruby colored, medium bodied, firm, tight, somewhat concentrated and coming across as a bit flabby, with black fruits with tones of spice, black olive, hints of cresote and tangy black cherry on the finish.

RM 87 points.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Elderton Command Shiraz Single Vineyard Shiraz

Elderton Command Shiraz Single Vineyard Shiraz (Syrah) 2002 to celebrate Cubs in the World Series

For game one of the World Series featuring my beloved Cubs, I pulled from the cellar a special premium bottle to celebrate the occasion - Elderton Command. Linda prepared grilled steak and loaded baked potatoes for pre-game dinner. As is typical, we consumed about a third of the bottle for dinner and retained the rest for the following night. Coming across as bolder and more forward, we enjoyed it the second night to celebrate the Cub's win in game two. About a 1/4 remains to taste tonight, or perhaps I'll wait till tomorrow to toast game 3, the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in my lifetime.

This is a single vineyard designated bottling from one of the top Shiraz producers in Australia which was first released in 1984. Twice in recent years, Elderton wines have been named in Top 100 Wines in the World by Wine Spectator. Sourced from vines planted in the early 1900’s, Elderton Command Shiraz has a reputation as one of Australia’s best and most sought after shiraz. Previous vintages have won awards from around the world including the World’s Best Shiraz Trophy, International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2000. The wine consistently gets high ratings from wine critics Robert Parker & Wine Spectator. Like many storied labels, this one needs time to reveal its true character and full potential.

I remember tasting this wine back on release at a restaurant and it was closed and tight with the bold concentrated fruits bottled up. (I was surprised to find this premium shiraz on the winelist at Biaggi's restaurant in Champaign, Ill. I couldn't resist at $80 which while expensive, is a wine list bargain at slightly more than retail price.) I recall tasting it again when it was about five years old and it was big and powerful, but still a bit closed and tight, almost obtuse.

Like my last previous tasting back in 2006 when I wrote "this wine was more approachable than the first time we tried it - but it still needs some time to meld and reveal its complex fruit". Well nine years later, it is smoother and more polished and is certainly approachable with its delicious melange of black and blue fruits. Reiterating my initial tasting note when I wrote this was "huge, powerful, dense, richly complex, dark", tonight it was big, dense, rich and complex, but now is a bit smoother and approachable with full forward fruits of ripe plum, blueberry, candied cherry, and black raspberry fruits with tones of camphor, black pepper, hints of anise and dark chocolate punched by firm intense tannins on a long finish.

This was perfect with the grilled steak and potato, and cheese and chocolates after dinner.

RM 93 points. This label got 95 points from James Halliday and Robert Parker and  93 points from Wine Spectator.

Monday, October 24, 2016

NYC Restaurant Row offers wine - dine - entertainment options ...

NYC Restaurant Row offers widest range of wine - dine - entertainment options ... Don't Tell Mama!

One of the stops during our NYC getaway weekend was a short stopover visit to Restaurant Row near the theatre district. Linda discovered this by accident with the kids on a previous trip and it was on our visit list to see and experience this weekend. A drop in snack and wine tasting turned out to be one of the highlights of our weekend.

Our kids who are Manhattan residents had heard about but never been there - what a surprise when we discovered it was near one of their offices and they were in the nearby neighborhood almost daily.

Restaurant Row is simply two blocks of 46th Street, between Broadway and 9th Streets - a neighborhood with over twenty restaurants - one after the other, adjacent to the Theatre District.

There is an amazing wide variety of cuisine from all around the world, according to their promotional website, the range is: American (New), American (Traditional), Asian Fusion, Brazilian, Breakfast, Brunch, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinese, French, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Pizza, Russian, Seafood, Soul Food, Spanish/Basque, Sushi Bars, Tapas Bars, Thai, Turkish, Vegetarian and Vietnamese. There is a choice of a half dozen Italian eateries, and a couple each American, Latin, French, Spanish and so on.

Legendary Restaurant Row is an authentic Times Square and New York institution where you can choose from cuisine from all over the world, sample the styles of celebrity chefs, and join Broadway stars at some of their favorite haunts.

In between meals, we dropped in for a mid-afternoon respite for some small plates and wine. We stopped at "Don't Tell (your) Mama", which has a bar, a restaurant, a piano bar, two separate cabarets, and outside alfresco dining in one small compact site (see gallery, below).

According to their website, luminaries that have come through their doors include "Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Joan Rivers, Bette Midler, Rosie O'Donnell, Chita Rivera, Kathy Griffin, Audra MacDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Mario Cantone, & Cuba Gooding Jr., to name but a few!"

We selected four wines by the glass (WBTG) and three small plates, shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, and a salad. It was a perfect setting for enjoyable, casual food and wine tasting in a picturesque, cosmopolitan, fun setting.

From my seat, I was able to watch the cabaret rehearsal in the club to the rear.

For our Wine Flight, we selected a Russian River Valley (RRV) Sonoma Chardonnay, a RRV Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blancs from Sonoma and Napa Carneros.  Unlike usual custom in this blog, I don't have the label specifics of the different wines and hence don't offer a review. You'll have to visit Don't Tell Mama for your own tasting flight. We'll be back, our next trip to NYC!

My Gallery of Don't Tell Mama NYC ...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Eataly New York Wine Dine Options

Eataly New York offers Wine Dine Options

One of our checklist items for our getaway weekend in New York was to dine at Eataly. Even though we have one in Chicago, there are seafood specials (shown below) and options available in New York that don't make their way inland, such as my favored choice, Flounder (shown right).

Its not necessarily haute cuisine fine dining but its a fun adventure that captures the vibrancy and energy of New York, with fresh Atlantic seafood options. Of course they also have a pasta restaurant, and several other dining options.

So we dined at the bustling Eataly Il Pesce restaurant and selected a Riserva wine from their Reserve list. I chose the Flounder, Linda and Viv the sea scallops and Alec the calamari and then the Octopus. The sea scallops were especially delectable and earned the highest marks.

Rather than waiting for a table, we chose to sit at the bar which turned out to be a real treat. It was like getting a front row seat for a show as we watched the chef prepare the entrees. Working in closed quarters, the culinary staff are a well choreographed team, each with his/her specialty/role in the orchestrated process.

Sitting at the bar, we had front row seats watching Chef Lady, and then Chef Eric prepare sushi and several of the dishes right in front of us.

For our seafood meal, we chose this Reserve Frescobaldi Benfizio Tuscan Chardonnay.

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi Pomino Castello di Pomino Bianco Riserva Benefizio 2014 

Light straw colored, medium light bodied, crisp clean citrus and lychee fruits with wet stone and hints of spice, floral and wood on the moderate citrus toned finish.

RM 89 points.

Eataly Vino NYC

Since we were last at Eataly, New York, they have moved their wine shop to a dedicated storefront next door. Eataly Vino NYC includes the basic selection of wines offered in the store along with a Reserve room of several premium vintage selections (shown below).

Inexcusably and inexplicably, they do not offer for sale all the wines available in the restaurants next door, such as the wine we drank with dinner, above. This should be an obvious merchandising offering. Isn't this what a retail with restaurant site like Eataly is all about?

Eataly Il Pesce Octopus entree

Rosemount McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah

Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah 1998

For Sunday dinner after church the family gathered for a gala beef roast dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, cooked carrots and, brussel sprouts. I pulled from the cellar this vintage Balmoral Syrah for the occasion.

We hold several cases of a dozen vintages of this label dating back to the 1992 vintage.

Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah 1998

The room filled with ripe berry fruit aromas as soon as I pulled the cork. Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, thick, chewy powerful concentrated ripe blueberry fruits are accented by tones of blackberry, game and bacon fat with a slight metallic graphite finish. This begs for hearty cheese, lamb, beef roast or the like. Still going strong in its 18th year.  I have to believe this is nearing the end of its prime drinking window as the fruit flavors give way to the non-fruit metallic tones. There was more than two teaspoons of sediment in the last pour from the bottle.

RM 92 points.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

DOC serves winning casual wine-dine experience

DOC serves winning casual wine-dine experience

Wife Linda often works at Yorktown in Lombard on Friday evenings so we regularly meet there for a casual date night wine and dine encounter at DOC. They regularly feature a selection of wine flights - three different wines of the same style for sharing/comparing. Their menu offers mostly small plates and sides suitable for wine pairing vs an extensive selection of entrees. So it was tonight that we chose the premium Reserve Flight to accompany my selection of sushi grade Ahi Tuna and Linda's pulled pork 'sliders', with a side of our favored polenta fries. All the foods were excellent and the service was attentive, friendly and effective.

The DOC folks actually have nine different locations around Chicagoland, four of those being operated under the DOC brand. 

Note for those so interested, their name is actually D.O.C. and stands for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" (DOC) ("Controlled Denomination of Origin") which is Italy's equivalent of France's AOC - Appellation  D'Origine Controlee or America's AVA's for American Viticultural Area. The Italian DOC, like the other Appellation designations, are a defined geographic area and its designated production for wines produced from grapes grown in that area and includes specifications for the varieties that can be used, the minimum alcohol content, the maximum yield, and the specifications for aging.

The Reserve wine flight featured three bold expressive concentrated wines at the top of the range of styles from light to big and bold. Two of three of the wines were our favorite and most oft selected wines, Syrah and Cabernet, while the third was a Tempranillo, in which we rarely imbibe.

We've dined there often and tonight's experience rated as the most enjoyable ever. My Ahi tuna was wonderful and the wine flight scored highest over our previous encounters, even with one gaining lower marks. Lastly, during the summer months we will dine outside and always before we dined in the main dining room which tends to be dark. Tonight we dined in their 'Tasting Room' adjacent to the main dining room, behind the bar. This casual setting with the large fireplace and couches, and our table adjacent the large windows was most comfortable and pleasant.

The American centric wine selection is extensive with the actual wine list spanning ten pages - more than twenty each of American Pinot Noirs, California Chardonnays and Cabernets including popular and favored selections Robert Craig, Caymus, Silver Oak, David Arthur Elevation, Keenan, Cakebread, Darioush and Lakoya. They also offer half bottles and an extensive selection of wines BTG - by the glass. The wine prices tend to be a bit expensive, slightly more than 2x retail for bottle selections, and by the glass, and the Wine Flights are too, based on the amount of wine served for the price point. These are price points of elegant fine dining restaurants and one would hope to find more value in a casual bistro wine bar. Never-the-less, it does allow a broad selection of choices, BTG, and a series of wine flights, three different wines for about the cost of one and a half glasses, so its a good choice if one's objective is a tasting experience over a single glass of wine.

Tonight's flight -

For precision and the record, note that since we were pressed for time, I didn't inspect the labels of these featured selections and I know the producer's offer several labels of each of these wines. I did search for the bottles in their display case but didn't see any of these that we selected.

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

While not a 'premium' label based on the plethora and range of high end Napa cabs these day, the Montelena Napa selection is certainly a legendary highest quality label for the category. Most notably, its rare to find such a quality offering BTG - by the glass, except in the most serious or high end wine bars or wine oriented restaurants. Note there are two different Montelena Napa labels, one 'Estate' and one designated 'Calistoga'. I admit I didn't ask to see the label so I am not certain which one this was but I suspect it is the 'non-estate' label. (The term 'Estate' means that all the grapes in the product were sourced from the producer's property. The lack of the term, allows for grapes purchased from other growers to be included.)

Blend: 85.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 0.5% Petit Verdot.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, smooth and polished so approachable and ready to drink now for enjoyable casual sipping, almost sophisticated and complex enough for serious dining, black cherry and dark plum fruits with tones of smoke, tobacco, licorice and hint of cedar.

RM 89 points.

Basel Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2013

Once again I didn't ask to see the label (which I normally do) so I am attributing my notes to their estate label. While their winelist and flight card specify Walla Walla, Oregon, I believe this is in error and they mean Walla Walla Valley in Washington. 

Garnet colored, medium bodied, blackberry fruits with tones of leather and cured meat, hints of pepper, smoke, earth and floral.

RM 88 points.

Martinez Bujanda Viña Bujanda Crianza Rioja, Spain

Once again, since we were pressed for time, I didn't inspect the label of this feature and I know they offer several labels of this varietal.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, more modest less expressive blackberry fruits with a layer of tobacco, smoke, tar and hints of clove spice.

RM 87 points.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Elan Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon

Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

This is one of the last bottles of a case we acquired from the producer upon release. At twenty years of age, while showing its age, this wine is drinking well and showing a character and profile that I favor.

This was a deliciously perfect compliment to Linda's dinner preparation of teriyaki marinated grilled flank steak with sweet potato mashed and peas (pictured below). It might have even better with her chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries and fresh whipped cream (also shown below).

We met the winemaker and producer Patrick and his wife Linda Elliott-Smith at their host winery crush facility during our Napa Wine Experience trip back in 1998 (shown pictured above with us - all at and looking twenty years younger!).

Elan was one of the 'Undiscovered Dozen' producers featured in a Wine Spectator article of the time featuring the hot merging California Cabs (Wine Spectator, December 15, 1997, "An Undiscovered Dozen - New names in Cabernet to try before they're too hot"). We sought out and met with many of them and collected the foundation of our cellar collection of Napa Cabernets during numerous Napa trips between 95 and 2k - Elan, Del Dotto, Robert Craig, Clark-Claudon, and Snowden, to mention a few.

According to my Wine Journal Index, I have published twelve tasting notes of this release going back to when I started in 2003, and our Cellartracker inventory shows we still hold five remaining bottles.

We acquired more about a dozen vintages of this wine during the era and still hold several bottles each vintages from '92 through 2001 to 2004. At five years younger, I would say the '01's are at their prime, the apex of their drinking window now. At twenty, the black berry fruits of the '96 are starting to give way to tobacco leaf and cigar box, leaving a tantalizing enjoyable after taste of a fine cigar.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, starting to show its age, but not suffering from the diminution, flavors of black berry, black currant, and black cheery turn to tones of spice, leather and smoky oak, and that tobacco leaf cigar box with moderate fine tannins on a long finish.

RM 91 points.

Grilled flank steak - teriyaki marinate,
sweet potato mash and peas.

Chocolate mousse, fresh raspberries, whipped cream.

Cliff Lede Napa Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc 2009
We took this with us to New York and enjoyed it in the hotel room for easy casual sipping. At seven years of age, this reminds me why this label is one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs - a varietal that is most true to its origins, and least subject to adulteration or enhancement in the wine making. This is still bright and vibrant at an age that would nominally be considered at the end of the drinking window for most wines from this varietal.
Our visit and tasting at the Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Vineyard & Winery was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2009.

Golden straw colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced acidity with amazing aromas and flavors of peach predominate with tones of citrus, hints of passion fruit and mango on a tangy moderate finish. 

RM 90 points.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Murray's Cheese - and wine too

Cheese, Murray's Cheese ... and some wine too ...

Enjoying a get-away weekend with son Ryan and daughter-in-law Michelle, visiting son Alec in NYC, we dined at Murray's Cheese Bar in Greenwich Village, one of his favorite haunts. The eatery is a few doors down Bleecker Street, from the legendary cheese retailer and wholesaler. As in earlier adventures there, we left it to the 'Cheese Monger' to select our cheese flight - one of five and one of eight different cheeses or meats.

Each cheese meat combination is paired with a sauce, spread or associated delectable accompaniment such as a orange marmelaide or a pistachio paste, both shown below.

The presentation of the cheese plates by the Cheese Mavin servers was masterful, poetic, professional and informative, a performance deserving of more attention and respect and worthy of an ovation! Following the cheese meat plates came Mussels in white wine broth, grilled Kale sprouts, and Lamb meatballs in a tomato fennel sauce and feta cheese.

For pairing, we selected three wines from Murray's winelist, one white and two reds. For the white, there's always room for a bubbly, a sparkling wine, we selected Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant, a Chenin Blanc based wine from the Vouvray in the Loire Valley in Northern France.

Chenin Blanc is not normally associated with sparkling wine, the specialty and province of Champagne in France, rather the incredibly versatile grape is used across the range of dry whites, to semi-sweet to luscious sweet wines.

This version of sparkling wine is considerably less expensive than a Champagne of equivalent quality.

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant Cuvée Huet Brut 2010

This was light, straw colored, crisp and minerally with a bouquet and flavors of floral, peach, ripe pear and sweet spice giving way to almond and a layer of yeast that came across as a bit pasty that diminished the fruits.

RM 87 points.

Laurent Betton Saint-Joseph Syrah 2013, Rhone Valley, France

The tangy acid was a nice accompaniment to the hearty bold cheeses and meats.

Son Ryan favors and drinks a lot of these Northern Rhone Valley Syrahs. This was much lighter than those we are accustomed to drinking, from the Rhone Valley, or Syrahs we get from Australia or even California.

This was ruby colored, medium light bodied, crisp bright acidity with black berry fruits, tones of black pepper and a layer of graphite creosote with a tangy spicy finish.

RM 88 points.

La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 2010, Tuscany, Italy 

This bigger bolder more complex and concentrated wine rounded out our flight with a different style and character that matched the boldest and most forward cheeses, and the meats in the tasting.

This was ideally paired with the Lamb meatballs in tomato fennel sauce. 

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium full bodied,  complex, concentrated layers of rather subdued dried blackberry and black cherry, tones of smoke, leather, tobacco and hints of cedar spicy oak and graphite on a smooth polished moderate tannin finish.

This was so good, we ordered a second bottle! 

RM 91 points.

A highlight of the weekend was seeing Alec's new apartment with its spectacular views from Midtown to the financial district, shown below.

Murray Cheese Selection

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ben Schild Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz

Schild Estate Ben Schild Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz (Syrah) 2008

For a hearty big bold wine to accompany left over grilled steak and some hearty cheese to watch the Cubs play game four of the baseball NLDS (and their miraculous ninth inning comeback!), I pulled this Ben Schild Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz.

Earlier I had run to the store to pick up some Smoked Gouda Cheese which was perfect for the occasion and set the stage for the grilled steak, both perfectly complemented by this wine. I write often in these pages about the synergy of effectively pairing food with wine for optimal enjoyment and tonight was such the case.

There was a reason I picked up a case of this wine upon release and its profile and suitability for this type of drinking was it. While we enjoy big bold concentrated forward fruit, many such Syrahs (aka Shiraz) also have tones of metallic graphite or camphor. While I find this is not my preference, the body weight and big fruit matched with meat, cheese or chocolate is one of my favorite wine tasting experiences.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes. The colour of the Reserve was deep dark Ruby Red and inky purple. Huge aromas of black and blue fruits and violets give way to bright vibrant concentrated tongue coating flavors bursting with blueberry, black raspberry, ripe plum and chocolate, with tones of cedar, camphor, black pepper, spice, a bit of graphite, turning to nicely integrated oak on a long lingering tannin finish.

I would rate this higher were it not for that somewhat obtuse layer of non-fruit graphite, cedar and camphor.
RM 92 points.

When writing about this wine, I feel compelled to digress to talk about the producer and some of his past marketing practices.

This wine is dedicated to the producer patriarch Ben Schild who has been farming the Schild Estate Three Springs property in Rowland Flat Barossa since 1952. Today the property is farmed by second and third generation Schilds. Fruit for this wine is sourced from a single vineyard in the Hills overlooking Lyndoch where the elevated location and cooling winds helped temper the effects of a warm year resulting in earlier ripening thereby avoiding a late season heat wave that afflicted other growers in the Southern Barossa.

The remarkable interesting side note about Schild; this is not the same wine but it is the same producer and vintage as the Schild Barossa Shiraz that after receiving high reviews, 94 points, and placing in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of the Year in 2010, naturally subsequently quickly sold out. Schild then proceeded to purchase, blend and bottle additional wine from other producers, but still market such under the 'same' label. Extraordinary, unethical, deceptive, conniving, creative, but legal, none-the-less.

(Imagine buying a new Ford but finding out Ford ran low on engines and purchased and provided alternative replacement engines from some other supplier. (See Bait and Switch?; Schild Estate: Questionable Bottling Practices in 2008 Shiraz; What Makes a Wine a Wine?).

Only after being challenged by reporters did the winery affix an extra label to the secondary bottlings identifying them as a second blend.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2004

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2004

The question I get asked most often about wine is, what are good values in quality wines? Northstar Merlot is such a value. While many $20-25 wines of the millenium have since doubled or even tripled in price,  Northstar have maintained their price point resulting in a high QPR (quality price ratio) Bordeaux varietal.

I pulled this twelve year old from the cellar to taste with grilled steak dinner. As soon as I pulled the cork the room filled with bright berry fruit and floral aromas. Our Cellartracker records show we hold seven different vintages of this label from the era so it was a great surprise and joy when this greatly exceeded my expectations, rewarding me for the investment, and promising more pleasant drinking to come.

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot 2004

Its hard to believe its been five years since my previous tasting of this wine was back in 2011 when I wrote, "Deep dark purple color - medium-full bodied - may be the most expressive Northstar I have had with full burst of black berry, plum and red currant flavors giving way to sweet oak, spice and subtle vanilla with nicely integrated firm but silky smooth tannins. Lots of fine sediment coats the empty bottle. Consistent notes with earlier tastings."

Such it was again tonight except I would add the floral aromatics perfume, the complexity was enhanced by nice balance and smooth silky tannins, highlighted by tones of anise and hints of mocha, much like a left bank Bordeaux, that was not recorded in earlier tastings.  It says a lot about the curve of the drinking window for this wine that seems to be outstanding in its twelfth year.

My 92 point rating for this wine is the highest on record for this label, and a great value at under $30 for a Bordeaux varietal. It also speaks much to the quality of such wines coming from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

For a weekend of wine, cheese, grilled steaks and sports on the TV, I pulled a casual sipping serious drinking vintage Napa Cabernet. We discovered Liparita wines during our mid-nineties trips to Napa when we attended barrel tastings at the Oakville crush and storage facility with Gove Celia, winemaker at the time. I think that that Liparita is totally unrelated to the current era label of the same name. This is one of the last remaining bottles that we hold from that era. This was ideal with grilled steak dinner with mashed potatoes and brie cheese plate.

At sixteen years of age, this bottle is likely nearing the end of its prime drinking window although it isn't showing any serious diminution yet. Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, black fruits are overtaken by a layer of earth, creosote and smoke with hints of black olive, intermixed with tones of black cherry turning to a tangy layer of tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 87 points.


Home-made Michael Schwartz wines highlight wine dinner

Home-made Michael Schwartz wines highlight wine dinner

For a customer/business partner dinner, we hosted a special dinner at Vinifera Wine Bistro at the Westin Hotel in Reston, VA. Business partner and colleague Michael Schwartz brought two bottles of special home vinted wine from his private cellar to serve BYOB at the dinner. As a wine aficionado and wine snob extraordinaire I was intrigued by the prospects of trying Mike's wine, but I admit my expectations were very low. I couldn't imagine a home produced wine with grapes or juice sourced from a commercial supplier being any good, let alone being sophisticated serious wine! Wow, what a surprise. Well done, Mike! Both wines were hits of the evening, actually overshadowing a special reserve Napa Valley Bordeaux varietal that I brought from home for the occasion.  

For the opening wine in the flight, Mike served his own Pinot Noir.  I write often in these pages about how difficult it is to find a moderately priced high QPR Pinot Noir. This was an amazing wine discovery! 

Odd Couple Winery, Michael Schwartz Home-vinted Lodi, Ca (Bottled at Lewisboro Valley New York) Pinot Noir 2010

This wine was produced by Mike in collaboration with fellow winemaker John Vuolo who has since gone on to found South Salem Winery, in South Salem, NY.

Ruby colored, moderately opaque, light bodied, this was a full forward brilliant vibrant fruit bomb with full flavored dusty rose, cranberry and red berry fruit flavors, bursting with tangy cinnamon spice - nicely balanced, polished, concentrated and complex, turning to a tangy tongue coating tannin finish. 

RM 91 points.

Michael Schwartz Home-vinted Chateau Schwartz Italian Corvina (Bottled at Lewisboro Valley New York) Amarone 2008 

Like the Pinot above, this wine also blew me away with its relative balance and polish. This was the favorite of several of the diners at our dinner. 

Dark inky colored, full bodied, full concentrated black berry and black raspberry fruits flavors with tones of raisin, black cherry, smoke, creosote and hints of fig with a modest tannin finish. Lacking a core or structured backbone, otherwise this might have been as much a blockbuster surprise as the Pinot, impressive none-the-less.

RM 87 points.

Robert Keenan Winery Mailbox Vineyard Special Reserve Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Merlot 2004

For fun and to honor friend and business associate and one of our dinner guests, I brought this special namesake wine, a vineyard designated Napa Valley Reserve Merlot from Robert Keenan Winery, high atop Spring Mountain.

This wine had special significance for the evening, being the namesake for one of our guests, and it was discovered and sourced at the winery during  our 2007 visit there with colleague, business partner and friend AJ during one of our many Napa Wine Experiences together. I served one of these labels at a special holiday dinner a few years back, and gifted one to this friend as well. All the bottles mentioned, including tonight's bottle were in Magnum format.

Served last, this was appropriate in the tasting order as it was big forward concentrated fruit, even for a Merlot. At a dozen years of age, this bottle is just hitting its stride.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, smooth polished and nicely balance, blackberry and black raspberry fruits accented by tangy cherry notes, tones of cinnamon spice, cedar, tea and tobacco leaf with hints of anise, creosote and smoke.

RM 92 points.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pride Mountain Cabernet 1997 and Cantenac Brown Margaux 2000

Pride Mountain Cabernet 1997 and Cantenac Brown Margaux 2000

Tasting vintage wines with properly paired food accentuates the whole tasting experience. Comparing two wines enhances the experience even further where such a comparison illuminates and highlights the subtle nuances of the character and, style of diverse wines. Such was the case when I was invited over to son Ryan's for Friday night grilled steak dinner. I took a '97 vintage Pride Mountain Napa Cabernet to pair and compare with the 2k Cantenac Brown Margaux he pulled from his cellar.

Château Cantenac Brown Margaux Bordeaux 2000 

Stark contrast in the diverse styles as this Margaux was more moderate, subdued and polished than the obtuse, more forward, brighter and bolder Napa Cab. Both were ideal complements to the grilled beef steaks, asparagus and squash.

Decanted for an hour before it started to open and reveal floral tones and dark berry fruits. Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, smooth polished and nicely balanced in its moderately subdued black berry fruits accented by floral, earth, tones of creosote, tea, tobacco and hint of smoke on a long soft silky tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Pride Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 

We first tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to the estate vineyards and winery high atop Spring Mountain during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999. Since that time, after tasting in the early ensuing years, we've held on to those wines waiting for them to age, open and mature to the optimum time to reveal their full potential. 

The 1997 Napa Cabernet vintage was much heralded at the time but struggled to live up to the hype in those early years when compared to adjacent vintages, until recently. In following years the much maligned 1998 vintage often outshone the '97 with their early drinkability. With time, now approaching its twentieth year, many of the 97 vintage wines are emerging to reveal their true potential. Such was the case tonight where this '97 Pride Napa Cab really shined. 

My tasting notes from back in '04 rated this an 89 relative to the Wine Spectator rating of 94 because it was tight and closed when I wrote, "Dark, firm and full bodied with forward currant, black cherry, and a hint of cedar. Big wine that needs more time to settle." 

Tonight, this shown similar characteristics, blackish garnet, full bodied, more open, complex, bright and vibrant than as described in earlier tastings, showing tones of leather, graphite, anise and spice with hints of mocha before turning to a tangy gripping tannin finish. 

RM 92 points.