Sunday, November 19, 2017

Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015

Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015

Ryan, Rick, Linda - Liana Vintners Red Blend
Nephew Chris, on leave from his tour in Central Asia, visited Napa/Sonoma wine country and shipped several bottles back to me, Uncle Rick, and cousin (son) Ryan. In tribute to Chris we opened one, this Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015 which he tasted and obtained at the winery during his recent visit and tasting/tour. Thanks for thinking of us Chris!

We served this while we were all gathered for a family pizza dinner following the gala birthday party for grandkids Lucy and Jessie. 

We thought this would be a fitting 'pizza wine' and we were right.  Ryan noted it tasted like a Coonawara Cabernet with its ultra-ripe rich concentrated raisiny fruit. Garnet colored, medium-full bodied, the pronounced ripe raisiny black fruits were accented by notes of creosote, tar, peppercorn, smoke and tobacco leaf. It was well suited for pizzas for the birthday celebration dinner and begged for some (bitter dark) chocolate afterwards. 

RM 87 points.  

According to the rear label, this wine was cellared and bottled by Liana Estates, hence they sourced (Napa Valley) juice from an unnamed Napa Valley supplier. 

On further investigation, Liana Estates is named for sisters Lisa and Ariana, the second-generation of the long established Napa Valley Peju winemaking family. Liana Estate was established in 2016 as a family owned and operated winery in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, down at the bottom of the Mayacamas Mountain range that separates Napa from Sonoma overlooking the San Pablo Bay. 

Liana Estates sits on the site of the former Acacia Vineyard in the Carneros AVA, on 100 acres of land, of which 40 of are currently planted in the Carneros classic varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They cite that they will also focus on 'fun and unique varietals that may vary year-to-year', such as this release.

The Liana winemaker (at Liana but not necessarily for this wine) is Sara Fowler, who indicates "a passion for finding “forgotten” or “lost” varietals and bringing them to life in Carneros". She joined Liana Estates with decades of winemaking experience, most recently as winemaker of the parent company, legendary Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley.

The new winery reportedly consists of the first-floor contemporary designed tasting room with walls of wood reclaimed from the nostalgic Peju family’s Pope Valley property. They cite a second floor Wine Club Lounge, and private tasting rooms including a porch on the third floor provide panoramic views of San Pablo Bay to the south.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Arns Melanson Napa Syrah 08

Arns Melanson Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah 2008

For a midweek grilled steak dinner at home, following a milestone family transaction achievement, we opened a 'special' bottle for dinner. We just acquired a 1/3 dozen bottles of this wine from auction so in essence we already replaced this bottle with a newer vintage.

John Arns, Rick, Linda, Bill C
We first discovered Arns wines at Andy Bassin's McArthur Wines in WDC during my several years being based there. The presence of Arns there is due on the heritage of the winemaker Sandi Belcher Arns being from Virginia and distributing wines to her home marketplace back there. We visited John Arns at the Estate on Howell Mountain during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2013. We discovered and acquired this varietal offering during that visit.

This wine is indicative of one of our favorite wine styles with its rich, concentrated, full bodied, forward fruits.  As my tasting notes from that period stated. "Tasted at the winery, shipped some home, drank a bottle upon arrival, need to go buy more."

This is a very limited production bottling from this boutique producer so when we saw it on-line, we snatched up the entire lot. Of course, Arns primarily specialize in Cabernet Sauvignons, which we also love from this producer, which makes this Syrah label all the more rare and cherished. For the 2012 vintage, 127 cases were produced.

While Arns Estate Vineyards are located up on lower Howell Mountain, hence the Napa Valley appellation designation*, I recall from or discussions with the producer that the fruit for this label is actually sourced from the Melanson Vineyard down south end of the Vaca Mountain range down on the slope area known as Pritchard Hill.

The Melanson Vineyard sits on Pritchard Hill on the rugged eastern ridges above the town of Rutherford overlooking the Napa Valley below with views of Lake Hennessey. The distinctive terroir of the site consists of rich Sobrante Loam soils loaded with volcanic rock at elevations averaging 1,400 feet and distinct southern and western exposures produces better than average fruit due to its exposure, clones, soils  and most of all, care.  The elevation places the vineyards above the fog line and allowing maximum sun exposure throughout the day providing even ripening.

Arns Syrah comes from a small corner of this vineyard and sits in a major rock pile.  There was soil added so a vine could be planted in something other than boulders. Syrah berries are large, about the size of a quarter and their skins are tough and can endure sometimes even the most unfavorable conditions.  John Arns notes that "with above average sunshine, (this site is above the fog line) it truly demonstrates that terroir really matters."

* Interestingly, it is at the 1200 foot elevation, the level of the fog line, that is also the line of demarcation between the Napa Valley appellation below, and the Howell Mountain appellation above, up on Howell Mountain.

My notes from 2013 - "Dark inky garnet color, full bodied, powerful but polished forward flavors of black berry and hints of blue fruits, layers of cassis and mocha, hints of clove, violets, leather and olive with a long lingering firm but silky tannin finish. Much like a big Southern Aussie Shiraz.'

Tasted at the winery, shipped some home, drank a bottle upon arrival, need to go buy more."

At going on ten years of age, this wine is still very much in its peak drinking window and only beginning to show a slight sign of diminution with hint of raisin and whisper of menthol. While it will not likely improve or benefit from further aging, it certainly has another half dozen years of life left at the apex of its profile. We love this wine and are eager to obtain our recently acquired allocation, and taste and compare it to this bottle, second to last one of our lot acquired at the Estate.

RM 92 points.

Arns Estate Visit on Rick's WineSite ...

Monday, November 6, 2017

Blind Comparison Vintage Cabs

Blind Tasting Comparison of Premier Vintage Cabs

Beth &Bill and new wine 'cellar'
Visiting wine buddy and fellow 'Pour Boy'' Bill, and Beth C, Bill pulled from his wine cellar a couple bottles that he served blind for us to evaluate and review prior to our wine dinner.

For a comparison tasting challenge, Bill presented two bottles, one in a classic brown paper bag for a tasting test. The first bottle glass was from an old favorite standby of our tastings, Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2003 vintage. The other wine presented blind provided an interesting comparison challenge.

Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied with a slight coloration on the miniscus rim, forward, bright, expressive black cherry fruits that showed some sign of age as the fruit highlights were beginning to fall off a bit, accented by a layer of non-fruit flavors, nutmeg spice with hints of tobacco leaf, leather and subtle notes of dark mocha with gripping but approachable tannins on the lingering finish.

Here are Bill's Cellartracker notes for this wine for this evening; " Garnet color with a ruby rim. Fruit forward with black raspberry, cherry and a hint of nutmeg on the palate. Full bodied and mature but still evidence of some grippy tannins still remain. This is a terrific example of a mature Cabernet at the peak of its drinking window."

WCC's rating 92-93 points.
REM rating for this evening, 90 points.

With the Sycamore serving as a benchmark the second wine showed more signs of diminution of fruit from aging indicative first by slight bricking on the rim, dark blackish garnet color and a slight brownish hue. This wine lacked the complexity, structure and backbone of the Sycamore, its black berry fruits were starting to fall off, turning slightly raisiny with tones of non-fruit flavors of leather and tobacco, and a moderate layer of tannins on the earthy finish.

When the second wine was unmasked, it turned out to be the same varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the same vintage, 2003. The similarities ended there as indicated in the tasting notes above. The second wine turned out to be another premium label, Cherryblock Reserve, from Sebastiani from the Sonoma Valley. The smaller profile of less structure and backbone, and subsequent less aging potential may have been attributable to the Sonoma fruit compared to Napa fruit, which benefits from more heat, slightly more sunshine and lower rainfall.

Bill's Cellartracker notes from this evening: "Would have given 2 more points if this had not been trending down hill. Still a fascinating taste. Medium garnet color with a bit of brick at the rim. Nose a bit musty. Nutmeg, raisin, cassis and as Eric noted, a bit of orange peel the n the palate... not sweet but similar to bitters. Still a delightful and interesting taste."

WCC rating - 89 points.
REM rating - 88 points. 

A fun, interesting tasting, indeed. Thanks for sharing and comparing, Bill.

As a transition, served with the pre-dinner hor d'oervres, shrimp and artisan cheeses, Bill served the Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne shown above.

Classic Diamond Mountain Cabs Steak Wine Dinner

Classic Diamond Mountain Cabs - Diamond Creek and Constant anchor grilled steak Wine Dinner

Visiting wine buddy fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill, and Beth in their new paradise on Seabrook Island in SC, we were treated to an elegant wine dinner featuring two classic Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Cabernets. Our estate tastings at Diamond Creek Vineyards and Constant Diamond Mountain Estate Vineyards up on Diamond Mountain were highlights of our Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Wine Experience together back in 2011.

Following our tasting or the 2006 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon recently where it was showing so well at the apex of its drinking window, it was exciting to do this comparison tasting of two such extraordinary wines from this vintage.

This horizontal tasting of these two wines from the the same vintage and same Diamond Mountain appellation illustrates two dimensions of this wine growing district - mountain fruit from the top tier of the mountain near the summit, and fruit from the lower reaches of the mountain where the cool mountain breezes wafting over from the Pacific and the Sonoma side of the hill collide with the heat of the Napa Valley down below.

Diamond Mountain District AVA is located in towards the North end of the Mayacamas Mountain Range that separates Napa Valley to the east from Sonoma Valley to the west in the northwest corner of Napa Valley above the town of Calistoga. The location to the north end of the valley and its higher elevation than most of Napa Valley, renders it less susceptible to the cool fog that rolls up from the San Pablo Bay at the bottom of the valley, and more direct exposure to sunlight.

One of the most distinctive characteristics that make the Diamond Mountain AVA unique is its soil or range of soils. Much of the areas is comprised of highly porous volcanic rock, while the Diamond Creek that flows down the mountainside and carves out the basin that forms Diamond Creek Vineyards has the a variety of soil types. Indeed Diamond Creek is famous for its legendary single vineyard designated bottlings from four different vineyards, each with its distinctive soil type. Aptly named are the vineyard labels, Red Rock Terrace, Volcanic Hill, and this Gravelly Meadow (shown below).

The porous volcanic soil of Diamond Mountain contains minute particles of volcanic glass that give the area its name. It also allows the surface to cool down quickly despite the increased sunlight, gently soothing the grapes overnight. The elevation of the AVA at over 400 feet also keeps it cool relative to the hotter valley floor below.

The AVA is defined by the Napa-Sonoma county line on the west at the summit of the hill, Petrified Forest Road on the north, the 400 foot line of altitude running parallel to Route 29 down below to the east, and the adjacent Spring Mountain District to the south.

We visited Diamond Creek Vineyards back in 2011 and then again recently during their release open house during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience 2017 at the end of summer, the month before last.

Interesting fun facts about Diamond Mountain AVA

When the AVA was proposed in 1999, and was undergoing public review and comment, one property, Diamond Mountain Vineyards, objected to the western border being on the Napa-Sonoma county line, since it would split their property in half. This debate dragged on for
several months culminating in the decision was to keep the boundary on the Napa-Sonoma line. The controversy continued since the proposed  "Diamond Mountain AVA," actually would have been primarily sited in Sonoma County since much of Diamond Mountain including the peak. Ultimately a compromise was reached and it was called Diamond Mountain District AVA since it is a sub-appellation to Napa Valley. 

 Diamond Creek Vineyards Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Bill's Cellartracker tasting notes for this wine this evening: "The hit of the evening out of strong flight of Cabernet. Indigo in color. Floral nose with a hint of damp leaves. Black raspberry, tea and a bit of oak on the palate. The signature Bordeaux like earthy, mineral quality that is so typical of the Gravelly Meadow vineyard is very much in evidence. Deep, delicate, layered and complex." 

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 

The Constant estate sits high atop Diamond Mountain overlooking Sonoma to the West and Napa to east. It is one of but a handful of properties that traverse both sides of the summit with vineyards in each. We were fortunate enough to be hosted by Freddie Constant (shown left) during our tasting visit there back in 2011, before Freddie's untimely and unfortunate passing.

The higher elevation with its glass diamond reflective soil, high drainage and sun exposure gives Constant rich, concentrated highly extracted fruit - more obtuse than the more sophisticated elegance of the Diamond Creek below.

Bill's Cellartracker notes for this wine this evening- "Deep indigo in color. Nose of ripe raisin, bramble and a hint of creosote. Huge, bold and full bodied. Black and blue fruit, cola and tea on the palate with a long, lingering finish. Strong, grippy tannins and lots of life left. Need to check back in another two years."


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sea Smoke - Cliff Lede highlight FLW Tour Picnic

Sea Smoke and Cliff Lede Highlight Historic Architectural Sites Tailgate Picnic

We traveled to Charlestown, SC for a getaway weekend to visit recently transplanted dear friends, fellow 'Pour Boy' wine buddy Bill and Beth C. We did an immersion in their new city to explore the history, culture, architecture and cuisine (see posting of our Charlestown Culinary Tour). We chose this weekend to take advantage of the special event, opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Auldbrass Plantation over in Yemassee, SC.

After touring the magnificent FLW property we enjoyed a secluded tailgate lunch at a nearby park at the site of the old historic Old Sheldon Church, originally known as Prince William's Parish Church. The church was built between 1745 and 1753 and was burned by the British in 1779 during the Revolutionary War, rebuilt in 1826, and then burned again in 1865 during the Civil War.

Bill and Beth prepared a picnic lunch and Bill brought a selection of some of our favorite wines for the occasion to accompany sandwiches, salads, snacks and dessert under the Spanish moss draped majestic towering oaks trees. 

Cliff Lede Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

This is the latest release of one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs which I consider among the best representations of this varietal, which typically is the truest expression of a grape varietal fruit.

As written in an earlier blogpost in these pages, this vintage release is actually a blend composed of 82% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Sémillon, 3% Sauvignon Vert, and 1% Muscat Canelli varietals. The result is a complex wine with layers of fruit flavors that blend together in a harmonious pleasant drinking wine.

The fruit for the Lede label is sourced from vineyards in the eastern Rutherford appellation (old vine Musqué clone and Sémillon), a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley, grapes from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, and some old vines of Sauvignon Vert from the Chiles Valley in eastern Napa County.

Light straw colored, medium-light bodied, harmonious nicely balanced layers of subdued citrus, peach, pear and lychee fruit with a refreshing crisp clean, smooth acidity finish.

RM 90 points.

Sea Smoke Southing Cenral Coast Santa Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2009

This is a classic California Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills appellation on the Central Coast. The branding name 'Sea Smoke' depicts the fog that rolls in from the ocean to then burn off as the day warms up from the interior valley heat. The effect of this daytime sun and heating, and subsequent night time cooling gently soothes the grapes, only to start the cycle again the next day. The result, like the Las Alturas Pinot we had with dinner the evening before is a full bodied, bright, vibrant expressive Pinot Noir, concentrated and complex but nicely balanced and polished with forward fruit flavors.

This 2009 vintage got high marks from all the critics, 92 points from James Suckling, 91 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. Wine Spectator said this wine should drink well out to 2021. 

The winemaker's tasting notes describe the "goal for Southing is to create the ideal marriage of complexity and elegance. The seductive nose of the 2009 Southing exhibits fresh leather, rose water, black cherry, violets and hint of macerated cherry. The fine tannins and minerality are enhanced by our estate vineyard’s  characteristic cool climate acidity."

Bill's Cellartracker notes on this wine; "Wow, this has really hit its stride. Dark garnet color. Dark, sour cherry, smoke and a bit of pepper on the palate. Medium bodied with a dry, mineral finish. Apparently I have been drinking my Southing too early."

Auldbrass Plantation with Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 2014

Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2014 at Burwell's Charlestown

We spent a getaway weekend in Charlestown, SC, where we discovered the city, took in a rare tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Auldbrass Plantation estate, and then escaped to Seabrook Island to visit friends for the weekend.

While in town we took in the 2 1/2 hour Charlestown Culinary Tour that highlights Charleston's Historic French Quarter. The walking tour traverses the historical neighborhoods dropping in to a collection of the city's hottest and historic restaurants showcasing food creations that make up Charlestown's history and culinary scene from traditional favorites to recent innovations. The tour highlights cuisine of favorite locally-owned and operated restaurants, conducted by Glen - a former chef, foodie and evangelist for the food scene of the Holy City. This is a great introduction to the culture, history, personalities and attitudes of all things food in this vibrant city.

Glen leads the tour through the streets with a half dozen stops revealing background, insights and perspectives of the Charlestown food scene with the chance to sample a variation of the spectrum of food offerings - barbecue, shrimp skewers, oysters, shrimp and grits, blueberry shakes, BLT, and decadent dessert. All the while Glen shares the latest happenings of the cityscape, chef's, sommeliers, and restaurants.

One of the many tips he offered was Burwell's Stone Fire Grill that features steaks and seafood selections cooked over a 1,400 degree, wood-fire oven, or 700 degree stonewood fired grill in the open kitchen adjacent to the bustling dining room (above). We dined at Burwell's that evening and had a great dinner validating his recommendation was a great choice.

We selected from Burwell's wine cellar (shown left) wine list this Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir to accompany our steak dinners. Normally, we'd order a Cabernet Sauvignon to go with a hearty grilled steak but the selective wine list offered two of our favorite Pinots at reasonable prices.

We're not normally Pinot Noir drinkers, favoring bigger more robust, more forward wines with concentrated fruit. Yet, I selected this Pinot for our dinner and it did not disappoint, standing up nicely to the steaks as well as seafood entrees. If one blind tasted this wine, they might think it is a Petit Sirah with its deep color and firm but refined approachable tannins. While it still maintains some of the flavor profile of a Pinot with that dusty rose tone, this is big and complex with tasty concentrated forward fruit.

Belle Glos is the brand developed by Joe Wagner, son of the legendary Chuck Wagner, owner of the well known Caymus brand and producer of the ultra-premium "Special Selection" Cabernet. Joe has also launched the popular moderately priced Meiomi brand. The Belle Glos brand is devoted entirely to distinctive, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs sourced from properties in Sonoma County, the Sonoma Coast and this one down in the central coast Santa Lucia Highlands.

With the emphasis on single vineyard designated labels, its all about terroir, that sense of place associated with vineyard with its distinctive soil, climate or micro-climate, elevation, terrain, location relative to coast, mountains or other influences - all those elements that contribute to a particular wine. And since they are based on factors associated with a location, climatic and seasonal variations aside, they will be relatively consistent from year to year, vintage to vintage, thereby becoming part of the brand and identity for that label.

The vineyard notes say of this wine: "The Spanish term ‘Las Alturas’ means ‘the heights’, a fitting name for this vineyard located on one of the highest grape-growing benches in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. The vineyard sits at an elevation between 540 and 1210 feet where the sunny but very cool climate creates a wine bearing all the hallmarks of this coastal region: robust, expressive, full bodied and balanced by a firm acidity.

Nestled between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the western side of Salinas Valley, Las Alturas benefits from early morning fog which rolls in most days from Monterey Bay then burns off within a few hours. Gusty winds funnel in from the bay throughout the afternoon, moderating the overall temperature and contributing to one of the longest growing seasons in California. The high winds also result in smaller berries with very thick skins, giving us more color concentration. Another attractive characteristic of this vineyard is the low-vigor, free-draining sub-soil made up of a calcareous base underneath a layer of sandy loam. This complements our farming techniques to further reduce our yields per vine and augment the fruit’s intensity."

Belle Glos "Las Alturas" Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Monterey County Pinot Noir 2014

This was deep ruby red in color with intriguing aromas of sun-warmed blackberries, ripe plums, with hints of black licorice. A complexity of dark berry fruits unfold on the palate; blackberries and bing cherries along with dark chocolate flavors. Vanilla and cedar oak undertones on the mid-palate further enhance the wine. The overall impression is rich with refined tannins, firm acidity and explosive layers of ripe fruit.

RM 91 points.
92 points Wine Spectator

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Freemark Abbey has been one of our favorite Napa Cabs for over three decades. Since the seventies, Freemark Abbey have consistently produced quality wines with a positive QPR (quality price ratio). Wine buddy Bill C and I used to regularly compare different labels and vintages of this producer in our tastings.

We've visited the winery numerous times and have purchased special bottles from their library for special occasion dinners. One memorable escapade was when we convinced Barry Dodd, Cellarmaster, to release two library selections, from 1974 and 1978, which we enjoyed that night at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) to toast our wedding anniversary years.

So, when our local merchant Vin Chicago featured the current release Freemark Cabernet as their top wine for their regular Saturday tasting, I not only wanted to support such behavior, but I picked up several bottles as well to add to our vertical collection of this label.

When Bill and I became wine buddies back around the millenium, we quickly learned of our shared interest in and fondness for Freemark Abbey Cabernet. We would share and compare this Napa label as well as their single vineyard designated offerings from the Sycamore and Bosche vineyards - Bill having a vertical collection emphasizing Sycamore, and me holding Bosche. I still recall and have written about acquiring a case of the 1991 Bosche' after tasting it with Jeff Jaegar, one of the Freemark owners, at a Binny's tasting back at the time. We enjoyed this case over the next two decades having only recently recently consumed the last bottle, still drinking very nicely at 25 years of age.

Freemark Abbey gained notoriety at the famous Judgement of Paris Wine Tasting back in 1976. This was the legendary comparison wine tasting competition between top-ranked French vs. California labels - one for Chardonnays and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California). Of course, the wine world presumed this would be no contest stacking upstart California producers' labels against the classic historic French labels. Lo and behold, the shock and awe when not only did the Californians show respectably, but actually received the top ranking best in each category. Freemark Abbey was represented in both categories with it's 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1972 Chardonnay.

The story is retold in the book Judgement of Paris, by George Taber, the only reporter in attendance to cover and record the event. It was also the basis of the wildly entertaining 2006 movie Bottle Shock. I highly recommend both for general audiences, and a must read/watch for wine geeks and oenophiles.

The 2013 is a Bordeaux style blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and the rest Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

Its a testament to Ted Edwards and the team at Freemark Abbey, as well as the overall quality of the 2013 Napa Valley vintage, that they can produce over 24,000 cases of a 92+ Wine Advocate rated wine. And, kudo's too for keeping the price point reasonable to provide a high QPR (quality price ratio).

This was dark opaque purple in color, full bodied, with complex, concentrated, rich but nicely integrated blackberry and blackcurrant fruit accented by a layer of mocha chocolate with tones of allspice and tobacco leaf with firm but approachable tannins on the big finish. This is drinkable now but will last a couple decades or more of cellaring. It has a bit of an edge that will likely smooth and become more polished with a few more years of aging.

RM 91 points.

I picked up this wine to enjoy now and also to hold as part of our horizontal collection of 2013 wines to commemorate the birth year of two of our grand-kids, Richie and Marleigh.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

High Valley Vineyards High Valley Petit Sirah 2014

High Valley Vineyards High Valley Lake County Petit Sirah 2014

Traveling to a valued client site, I planned to grab dinner and go back to the hotel to watch the NLCS. I ordered a pizza and went to Friar Tuck's to select an accompanying wine. I found this Petit Sirah from High Valley Vineyards from the High Valley Appellation up in Lake County which is over the hill north and east of Napa Valley. 

The High Valley sits at an elevation that ranges from 1,600 to 3,000 ft. and is one of the coolest appellations in Lake County due to cool breezes that blow across and off the oldest lake in North America. The terroir of the appellation consists of red, rocky volcanic soils that produce intensely flavored grapes.

The High Valley brand is the collection of single vineyard designated wines of producer Shannon Ridge. They are sourced from the 75 acre Betsy Vineyard on North Slope of their Home Ranch in the High Valley AVA, named for the mother of owner/producer Clay Shannon.  

The first indication this wine might exceed my expectations was its dark inky black color that looked more like coffee than red wine. It was rich, full bodied, intense, concentrated yet nicely balanced with wild berry bold fruit flavors of blue and black berry and black cherry with notes of vanilla and hints of clove spice with full well rounded tannins and a long tongue coating elegant finish.

I enjoyed this so much with my pizza I went back the next day and picked up a couple more bottles, and I plan to pick up several more my first opportunity. This provides some great QPR - Quality Price Ratio, and I look forward to trying some of the other labels from this brand.

RM 91 points.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Branson Coach House Shiraz Single Vineyard Greenock Block 2004

Branson Coach House Shiraz Single Vineyard Greenock Block 2004

We pulled this Branson Coach House Barossa Valley Shiraz for a full flavored but smooth casual sipper with some cheese and biscuits. I bought everything they had in stock when I tasted this at Binny's Glen Ellyn wine desk upon release many years ago. Wish I had more as this is aging and drinking quite nicely at a dozen years of age.

This property was taken over by Two Hands after the passing of proprietor Malcolm Asden, the result being these wines are now made alongside Two Hands by their winemaker Matt Wenk. The acquisition was made possible by capital from outside foreign investors.

Along with the winery and brand came eighteen acres of Greenock vineyards planted in mature high quality shiraz which will continue to be produced under the BCH label. Subsequently, Two Hands wine production is also done at the BCH Greenock facility.

Two Hands developed a range of premium Shiraz sourced from high quality fruit they acquired from top growers' prime locations, eventually growing and branching out to acquire their own vineyard in Barossa and now their own winery.

They'll continue to produce BCH premium single vineyard designated labels Coach House Block Rare Single Vineyard and Greenock Block Single Vineyard sourced from the vineyards that surround the winery.

 Dark inky purple color, full bodied, thick, chewy layers of aromatic flavors of tangy black fruits, raspberry, black cherry and notes of blueberry, accented by tones of clove spice, graphite & hints of creme de cassis on a smooth polished moderate tannin finish.

 RM 92 points.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Robert Craig Affinity 2004

Robert Craig Affinity 2004

For a grilled tenderloin steak dinner with baked potato we pulled from the cellar this Robert Craig

Picnic lunch tasting with Robert at the Howell Mtn estate.

Affinity Cabernet Sauvignon. Our Cellartracker records indicate we hold eighteen vintages of this wine so this is a wine we know well. We may hold more Robert Craig in our cellar than any other producer. We've had many fond memories of tasting dinners and special events with Robert and Lynn Craig, and their staff at events at the estate high atop Howell Mountain.

Notes indicate the last tasting of this vintage was four years ago when it was a decade old. Three years later, this is showing its age a bit as the dark berry fruits are starting to give way slightly to non-fruit flavors of tea, olive cedar and spice.

Robert Craig produce a portfolio of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon labels from the different mountain appellations - Howell Mountain, Mt Veeder, Spring Mountain, and this blend that was based on Napa Valley Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals.

When Robert Craig was proprietor producer, he prided himself on crafting quality high QPR (quality price ratio) Cabernet that was affordable and consumable early at a young age. Recently, in the last couple of years, this wine has crept up in price from about $50 the $70-75 range that used to be the province reserved for his single appellation designated labels. The $50 price point has been taken over by the Robert Craig Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon label. These labels are still produced in sufficient quantity to be readily available in distribution at many leading wine retailers - nearly 4000 cases were produced of this vintage label.

The is a Bordeaux Blend composed primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Robert Craig’s Affinity estate vineyard and an adjoining property to the south of the Stag’s Leap district, in the southeastern foothills of Napa Valley. Being at the southern end of Napa Valley with exposure to the breezes and fog off of San Pablo Bay, the area known as Tulocay, produces a Cabernet Sauvignon that is similar to the Bordeaux-region of France. Added to the blend is Cabernet from the warmer hillsides near St. Helena, which contribute structure and complexity.

Dark Ruby colored, medium full bodied, this has a firm structure ripe black berry, black cherry and black currant fruits with black tea, spice with notes of black olive, cedar and hints of tar and anise on a tight lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Blend 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Belle Glos Pinot Blue Point Duck NC

Belle Glos Clark and Tellephone Pinot Noir at Blue Point Restaurant in Duck, Outer Banks (OBX) NC

For Saturday lunch we dined at Blue Point Restaurant in Duck, NC on the Sound waterfront of the Outer Banks (OBX) island. For entrees we had the daily fresh catch - seared tuna steak with cherry tomatos and chick peas in a sweet and very slightly spicy tomato ragu. For a wine pairing we selected from the wine list Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2015, a perfect accompaniment. 

Blue Point have an outstanding wine selection of mostly American wines reasonably priced from modest entry level to many premium and several ultra-premium labels. The winelist was carefully and creatively selected with many of our favorite producers' labels such as Kongsgaard, Dunn Vineyards, Robert Craig, Spottswood, Joseph Phelps. Domaine Serene and Venge. The list includes a very small selection of European wines of well known premium labels such as Vieux Telegraph Chateauneuf du Pape and Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Tuscany, Italy. There is also an acceptable selection of wines by the glass, again carefully selected and reasonably priced. 

I've written often in these pages about the frustration of mediocre or substandard wine lists and poor inadequate wine service. This might be forgiven if prices are reasonable or moderately priced, but this is inexcusable and intolerable when wines are expensively priced. So it was a pleasure and notable that Blue Point not only offer an outstanding selection at reasonable prices, but their wine service was exceptional as well with proper glassware and wine served at the ideal temperature. The host attributed this to having the only certified sommelier in the Outer Banks. It is also the result of care and attention being paid details of the fundamentals with excellent execution! Well done Blue Point! 

That said, the tuna entrees, while delicious, were slightly overcooked beyond the medium rare prescribed preparation.

Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Santa Barbera Pinot Noir 2015

This is the wine of owner winemaker Joseph Wagner, son of Chuck Wagner of Napa Valley Caymus notoriety. Belle Glos was the name of his grandmother, Chuck's mother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, Matriarch and co-founder of Caymus Vineyards, original land and vineyard owner. Joe focuses on single vineyard designated Pinot Noirs including this Clark and Telephone Vineyard from down in Santa Barbara County in the Santa Maria Valley.

This was a big bold forward full bodied wine, more like a Syrah or even a Zinfandel than a Pinot, very, much in the style that we favor.  Dark deep scarlet colored, full bodied, rich, complex, concentrated layers blackberry, black raspberry and notes of black currant fruits accented by vanilla, nutmeg, tones of sweet caramel and strawberry, with hints of smoked meat, and pain grillé, yet this is nicely balanced, smooth and polished with refreshing acidity, velvety tannins and a hint of toffee lingering on the long finish.

This was the most enjoyable and best drinking Belle Glos I recall every tasting.

RM 92 points.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc & OBX Seafood

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc & Outer Banks, NC (OBX) Seafood

Another family evening dinner at our Outer Banks, NC (OBX) beach house, tonight featured local seafood faire - flounder with shrimp and crabcakes. For such a meal we brought from home Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, one of our favorite labels of this varietal, which provided a perfect accompaniment.

Our visit to Cliff Lede Vineyards has been a highlight of several of our Napa Valley Wine Experience trips. 

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Light straw colored, medium-light bodied, harmonious nicely balanced layers of subdued citrus, peach, pear and lychee fruit with a refreshing crisp clean, smooth acidity finish.

I admit my discrimination and tasting vocabulary is not as sophisticated or complete with white wines as it is for reds. Hence, I include the Winemaker's Notes for this label: The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is loaded with aromas of Meyer lemon and candle wax atop layers of honeysuckle, ginger, and tangerine.  Spring blossoms of wisteria, lupin, and California buckeye abound in the upper register of  the seductive  perfume.   The  full-bodied, coating mouthfeel  expands out  on  the palate  with  a  rich crème brûlée like texture as unctuous notes of bosc pear, orange marmalade, and lavender honey coalesce along the long, satisfying finish.

Composition 82% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Sémillon, 3% Sauvignon Vert, 1% Muscat Canelli

RM 90 points.

Here are the kids watching the sunrise this morning on the beach deck.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Forts Latour Quilceda Red Wine

Forts de Latour, Quilceda Creek, Pommery for Outer Banks beachhouse deck beef tenderloin dinner

We're spending the week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina (OBX) at a beach house and brought a case of wine to enjoy with our prepared meals. The featured wine of the mid-week dinner was Les Forts de Latour, a tribute to son-in-law Johnnie Fort and daughter Erin. Les Forts is the second label to the flagship Grand Vin Latour, which we served from a 6 liter Imperial at their wedding, but that wine is over the top price wise for even special occasion serving such as this for most of us.

The Grand Vin Latour 1990 was rated 100 points and was anointed Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 1993, which only adds further to its lofty heights and associated prices. We hold a few bottles of the Grand Vin which at prices approaching $1000 each I call 'once in a lifetime' event wines, as opposed to 'once a year', 'once a month/week', and 'everyday' wines.

The 1990 vintage was so highly regarded globally, this was the first of three years and wines from the vintage to receive Wine of the Year acclaim - the Latour from Bordeaux, one from California (Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 1990, in 1994). and one from Australia (Penfolds Shiraz South Australia Grange 1990, in 1995).

This bottle was from our collection of birth year wines from the 1990 vintage commemorating son Alec's vintage, a fitting tribute for a special family dinner, to serve such a selection. As the second label of a 'perfect' wine, it lived up to lofty expectations.

Before dinner, Ryan opened a bottle of Pommery Champagne that he brought from his home cellar. An ideal starter for a festive dinner on the deck.

Our second bottle of the evening, to fill out the flight and compare opposite the Latour was an American Meritage (a Bordeaux style blend) from producer Quilceda Creek in Washington State. This was from the 2006 vintage, the wedding anniversary year of Erin and Johnnie.

Our feature dinner preparation for the evening was beef tenderloin with twice baked potatos and brussel sprouts. The Les Forts and Quilceda Red were idea matches for the food and were each extraordinary.

Dining on the beach house deck looking out on the dunes and the roaring ocean surf below provided a spectacular and memorable setting. During dinner we witnessed a fox crossing the property and an overflight of military helicopter and formation of fighter jets.

Chateau Les Forts de Latour 1990

As stated, this is the second label wine from the prestigious First Growth Chateau Latour which dates back to the 16th century. The Latour vineyards cover 80 hectares (2.2 acres per hectare), 48 of which are adjacent to the chateau, known as the "Enclos." The Enclos consists of a ridge that peaks at 16 meters above the level of the Gironde River which makes up the Bordeaux valley region. The grape varietals planted on the estate, typical of the Medoc (The Right Bank of the Bordeaux region),  are comprised of  75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The first vintage of Forts de Latour was in 1966 and constant work in the vineyard and in the cellars has resulted in achieving the level of a top Medoc classified growth.

An extraordinary wine from an extraordinary vintage, the Forts de Latour was a perfect accompaniment to the superb preparation of the beef tenderloin that one could cut with a fork.

Opaque, ruby colored, medium bodied, a full bouquet of violets floral perfume and forest floor that holds on the breath in the mouth long after sipping, silky smooth, sinewy, polished notes of black currant fruit seamlessly integrated with notes of tobacco, leather, hints of cassis and touch of cedar and spice on the almost delicate tannin finish.

At 27 years, this resembles a mature Bordeaux that seems to be at the latter stage of its drinking window, not likely to improve further with aging, but not to be rushed to consumption either. Indeed, we still hold a half case of this wine acquired en premier (as futures prior to release) to commemorate son Alec's birth year, holding and anticipating for more special occasions or family events.

RM 93 points.
Quilceda Creek Red Wine 2006
Like the Forts de Latour, this is also a second label wine of a prestigious producer, from the Washington State Columbia Valley producer Quilceda Creek, known for Cabernets and other Bordeaux varietal wines, including this proprietary Red Wine blend of Bordeaux varietals. The blend of this vintage is similar to that of the blend in Forts de Latour, in the Right Bank style - 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% each Cabernet Franc and Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. 

Even at 11 years, this was half the age of the Forts de Latour. While similar in the blend of Bordeaux varietals, this was more in the American style at a walloping 15.2% alcohol as compared to more subdued 12.5% of the Bordeaux.  

This was dark inky garnet colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated structured forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with notes of kirsch, almost cherry cola like with dark mocha chocolate, hints of cedar, tones of tobacco and leather on the structured tannin lingering finish. 

RM 92 points. 

After dinner dessert included chocolate cake, red velvet cake and ice cream - chocolate, strawberry and vanilla (below). 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hall Estate Napa Cabernet 06-13

Hall Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 vs 2013

For a family dinner during our week in our Corolla vacation home, we had pasta with meat sauce and a pair of Hall Estate Napa Cabernets. Son Ryan brought a 2013 vintage and I brought a 2006 for a comparison tasting.

The visit and Appellation Tasting at the Hall Rutherford Estate was a highlight of both of our Napa Valley wine trips earlier this year.

Hall Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Here is a great example of deeper insights and appreciation of a pair of wines or vintages of the same wine through a comparison tasting. This revealed subtle but marked differences, perhaps attributable to the different vintages, and/or perhaps somewhat attributable to seven years of additional aging.

While both vintages exhibited the same dark garnet color, medium full body and firm intense blackberry core, the 2013 was more obtuse with an edge to it with notes of alcohol heat with notes of camphor and graphite, that may soften over time. In comparison, the 2006 was smooth, more polished and more approachable. The '13 was accented by a layer of black cherry fruit with hints of the black raspberry tones more predominant in the '06. Both exhibited tones of spicy cinnamon with hints of dark mocha, turning to firm lingering tannins on the finish.

RM 90 points.

Hall Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

My Cellartracker records indicated we've consumed eight of the baker's dozen we acquired of this vintage of this wine and shows five tasting notes to date. It was revealing and interesting to taste aside the younger more recent '13 vintage of this same wine - a mini-horizontal* tasting.

Same as earlier tasting note: Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, a symphony of flavors accented by bold expressive black berry and black raspberry fruits with highlights of anise and mocha with tones of cedar, sweet toasty oak and clove spice and hints of earthy leather turning to a smooth polished lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

* Horizontal tasting - a comparison tasting of multiple vintages of the same wine or wine having the same characteristics.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cabernet Franc Duo Accompany Steak Fajitas

Cabernet Franc Duo Accompany Steak Fajitas Family Dinner

Ocean side of our beach house in Corolla
We spent a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with the kids and grand-kids. Son Ryan and I brought along a mixed case of wine to accompany our family dinners.

With hurricane Jose stirring offshore (see wave action to the right), we hunkered down inside the beach house for the opening family dinner of our family vacation.

We had steak fajitas and opened two bright, bold and spicy Cabernet Franc Bordeaux varietal based wines as accompaniment - Ryan brought a Justin Justification from Paso Robles, and I brought a Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc to compare.

The spicy character of these Cabernet Franc wines was appropriately suited to the bolder fajita preparation.

'Justification' is the 'Right Bank' Bordeaux varietal based Red Blend from Justin Winery and Vineyards.

'Right Bank' refers to the style or blend of grape varietals indigenous to the Right or north or east side of the diagonally flowing Gironde River that runs through the Bordeaux region of southwestern France. Wines from that side tend to be predominantly Merlot with high (er) percentages of Cabernet Franc. Wines from the 'left bank' or south and west side of the river tend to favor Cabernet Sauvignon.

Justin Justification Paso Robles Red Wine 2014

This is Justin's Right Bank Red Blend which features 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot.

Deep ruby colored, full bodied, concentrated core of firm black current and black cherry fruits accented by graphite and cedar with notes of anise, cinnamon spice and hints of dark cocoa with moderate full tannins on a long lingering finish.

RM 89 points

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1999

Our winery visit and cellar tasting tour at the Del Dotto Cellars in Rutherford just south of St Helena was a highlight of our recent 2017 trip to Napa Valley.

This is nearing the end of our 1999 collection of Del Dotto Napa Valley Bordeaux varietals which is part of our vertical collection dating back to that era.

At eighteen years, this is showing its age as the berry fruits are starting to give way to non fruit flavors of game, earth, leather and cedar. dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, the black berry and bright black cherry fruits are offset by the non-fruit flavors. Time to drink up as this is in its late stages of its drinking window.

RM 87 points.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Castello d'Albola Acciaiolo Toscana IGT

Castello d'Albola Acciaiolo Toscana IGT Sangiovese Blend 2004

We don't have a large collection of Italian wines in our cellar but when daughter Erin announced she was bringing lasagna over for a family dinner I pulled this Toscana Sangiovese blend for the occasion.

This is a blend of 2/3 Sangiovese and 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon - the popular favored notable blend of new age Italian wines from Tuscany known as IGT designated wines (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). This designation was introduced in 1992 to allow use of Bordeaux varietal grapes in the blend which were previously not allowed under the Italian DOC or DOCG appellation rules. Shortly thereafter, in 1994, Bolgheri DOC was established as an official DOC classification for Cabernet – Sangiovese blend wines. IGT designated wines are classified based on their region of origin, rather than their grape varieties or wine styles.

Toscana IGT is the most famous and most popular IGT designation for wines produced in Tuscany where there are actually 10 different provinces where the wine could be produced - Arezzo, Firenze, Grosseto, Livorno, Lucca, Massa Carrara, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena. These names are often associated with the producer in labeling the wine indicating its geographic origin within the region of Tuscany.

The blend balances the distinctive black-cherry and wild-berry flavors of Sangiovese with the structure and power of Cabernet Sauvignon.   Cabernet – Sangiovese wines are produced extensively as IGTs in Tuscany, and are known under the famous (if unofficial) title of Super Tuscans. These wines combines two of the most popular wines styles of Northern Italy and Bordeaux varietal based wines from that popular French region as well as California, and increasingly from Washington State and even Australia.

Tuscan IGTs are the basis of what have become highly popular and iconic Super Tuscan labels such as Marchesi Antinori Tignanello, Solaia, Sassicaia, Querciabell, and Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco to name a few.

Castello d'Albola Acciaiolo Toscana IGT Sangiovese Blend 2004

This was dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied with firm structure and complex concentrated blackberry and tangy black cherry fruits accented by black tea, tobacco, and hints of smoke with mouth puckering firm tannins and tangy acidity on a lingering finish. This begs for the spicy meat and tomato sauce and cheeses of the lasagna and garlic bread - a perfect accompaniment.

RM 92 points.