Friday, March 31, 2017

Hahn Meritage Central Coast Red Table Wine 2006

Hahn Meritage Central Coast Red Table Wine 2006

We bought a lot of this 2006 vintage Central Coast Red Table Wine label back upon release and enjoyed it as our every day drinking red wine and recommended it to others. I wrote back in 2014 that this was the last remaining bottle from that era and as such it was time to drink, showing its age and clearly being at the mature end of its drinking window. Still it was good that night with pizza. In that wineblog post, I chronicled the terminology and licensing and branding details of the phenomenon of the 'Meritage' term.

Well it wasn't our last bottle as I found two more languishing down in the cellar so I pulled one to sip with cheese, chocolates and Italian beef sandwiches this weekend. It was still holding its own after eleven years, although past its prime drinking window. The fruit is still bold and vibrant, taking on a bit of a raisin notes showing its age. 

My earlier review, "This is a high QPR - quality price ratio red wine blend of Bordeaux varietal grapes. Showing its age, the dark berry fruit is showing at over ripe with taste of raisins with hints of tobacco and leather as the fruit starts to subside. Still dark blackish purple, medium to full bodied with hints of oak, its time to drink up".

My rating at this stage of its life - RM 85 points.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chateau St Jean Robert Young Chardonnay

Chateau St Jean Robert Young Vineyard Alexander Valley Chardonnay 2012

With Will and Sarah visiting from LA, Linda prepared shrimp scampi with garlic, lemon butter and breadcrumbs, so I pulled from the cellar this Sonoma Alexander Valley Chardonnay. There is good QPR - quality price ratio in this single vineyard designated label that can be found discounted in stores, perhaps due to availability from large production, and perhaps also because of its simpler lighter profile and character.

Our visits to Chateau St Jean have been highlights of several of our trips to Sonoma Valley wine country such as the feature of our 2009 visit on or winesite. It is the most authentic wine Chateau setting and experience in Sonoma. We know Chateau St Jean for their Chardonnays, dessert wines, and their well known flagship Cinq Cepage, 'five flavors' bordeaux varietal cabernet sauvignon blend, and their premium reserve label wines. This is one of a series of several labels of single vineyard designated Chardonnays from this producer.

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Alexander Valley Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Pale yellow colored, light bodied, lemon citrus and stone fruit tones give way to notes of pear and peach with nice balanced acidity on a tangy lemon laced smooth finish.

RM 89 points.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Zinfandel Flight Anchors Family Dinner

Ridge Vertical and 1990 Vintage Horizontal Zinfandels Anchor Family Dinner

With son Alec visiting laying over on a cross country trip, the family gathered for a gala dinner to celebrate his return and his birthday. Son Ryan brought a highly rated Ridge Zinfandel, so I pulled from the cellar two vintage Zins from Alec's birthyear - two Howell Mountain labels from Ridge and Lamborn. This provided a vertical tasting of two Ridge vintages, and a horizontal tasting of two 1990 vintage labels.

Linda prepared her delectable beef tenderloin (shown right) with fried onions, twice baked potatoes, broccoli, and mac-n-cheese for the kids (and some adults (me)). Ryan brought a dinner salad and Erin brought a fruit plate. Before dinner included shrimp cocktail and afterwards we had a chocolate birthday cake and cupcakes.

We visited Lamborn Vineyards high atop Howell Mountain during our Napa Howell Mountain Wine Experience  back in 2008. I am not sure where Ridge sourced their Howell Mountain fruit for this label and find it conceivable that both these bottles were from the same source. Even at 27 years of age, they were very similar, almost identical, in condition and profile.

Ironically, the last time I tasted either of these wines, I drank them both together at the same time back in November, 2009.

Tonight, both the 1990 Ridge and Lamborn were garnet colored with a brownish rust hue and a bit of murkiness setting in - the predominant sign of diminution from aging. Both were clearly nearing the end of their drinking window, but were still holding their fruit. There were accents of leather and tobacco leaf but no funkiness that one might expect from wines this age. Setting the clarity and color aside, one might not know how old they were.

Both wines warranted a rating of 86 points. 

Lamborn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Howell Mountain Zinfandel 1990 

My last review of this Lamborn label was back in 2009 when I wrote, "Dark inky color with a tinge of separation on the rim... predominantly earthy, leathery, black bramble fruit accented with black pepper and an edge of creosote."

Ridge California Howell Mountain Zinfandel 1990 

My last review of this wine was also back in 2009 when I wrote "Dark inly color - earthy leathery, black cherry and black berry fruits accented with black pepper and hint of black olive."

Ridge Vineyards "Lytton Springs" Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2013

This recent release got rave reviews with a 95 and 92 point rating from Vinous and Robert Parker. Compared to the subdued aged fruit of the vintage Zins, this was over the top and almost overbearing, more suited to tangy bbq or rich foods than the beef tenderloin. This needs several years to settle and come together.

Bright garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex, rich concentrated forward black raspberry and blue bramble fruits accented by clove spice, Kirsch, floral, anise and hints of tangy oak (aged fourteen months in American Oak). There is 16% Petite Sirah in the blend and it is apparent in adding breadth and depth complexity and a backbone of a firm but not overbearing tannin finish.

This is a blend of 74% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignan and 2% Mataro (Mourvèdre).

This received 95 points from Vinous and 92 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.
RM 92 points.

Twice baked potatoes, mac-n-cheese, broccoli.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hazyblur Baroota Shiraz 2002

Hazyblur South Australia Baroota Shiraz 2002

Sunday afternoon in front of March Madness basketball, Linda prepared a hearty pizza and I pulled from the cellar a big bruising 'pizza wine', hazyblur South Australia Baroota Shiraz from 2002.

Last time we tasted this, two years ago, I wrote "its time to drink as this vintage release has entered the last phase of its drinking window, with the fruit taking on a more ripe raisiny character and the berry and plum flavors starting to give way to non fruit tones of leather, wood and smoke or tar."

Fortunately, this is drinking very nicely, still, and is showing some very nice floral aromatics to compliment the remaining fruits.

Taking into account the slight diminution of the fruits as described above, tonight this showed consistency with our last tasting which was in 2009.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated, nicely integrated ripe plum, blackberry and black currant fruits with tones of cedar, hints of leather, licorice and dark mocha with a slight bit of heat on the full firm lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rivea Restaurant Best Award Wine Cellar Tour

Rivea Restaurant Best Award Wine Cellar Tour

For our annual bootcamp and academy, to be followed by our international conference hosting over 20000 guests in Las Vegas, we held a gala reception at the Skyline Lounge and Rivea Restaurant atop the Delano Hotel / Mandalay Bay.

I took the opportunity to tour the magnificent Rivea wine cellar. There are so many extraordinary highly rated wine cellars in Las Vegas that each is overshadowed by the next. No less than 77 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence awarded winelist restaurants are in metro Las Vegas with 46 holding the prestigious Best of Award of Excellence. This ranks with the 78 in Los Angeles, 79 in San Francisco and 83 in Chicago.

An Award winning designation is a mark of distinction and such a wine cellar is one of the crown jewels of awarded restaurants. Of course, I'm a wine geek oenophile and I start with the wine list awards as a requisite criteria when I'm searching for a restaurant for a fine dining outing.

Rivea is the highly acclaimed Las Vegas restaurant, of international super-star chef Alain Ducasse, following his legendary venues in Saint-Tropez and London, with French and Italian influenced cuisine.

Rivea and the Skyline lounge sport direct express access via private elevator, a vibrant elegant, chic but laid back atmosphere, and arguably the best views of the Las Vegas skyline from high atop the Delano Hotel, hence the namesake Skyline Lounge.

The atmosphere controlled working showcase wine cellar adorns the interior wall of the main dining room. Its divided into three separate sections with appropriate temperature controls for whites, reds and special collectable selections. The wine collection and winelist features 8500 bottles of 1700 different label selections.

The high end prestigious labels is predominant with the best First Growth Bordeaux, Burgundy and premium and super premium California wines, as well as mid-tier labels and a selection of carefully chosen more modest entree level labels for those not wanting to part with a car or house payment for a bottle of wine.

The high end First Growth Bordeaux selections included the most expensive bottle on the list I found, Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $17000, several Chateau Mouton Rothschilds dating back to 1982, and an extensive selection of Chateau d'YQuem vintages (shown left).

Some of the other highlights include some of my favorite super second Bordeaux including a double magnum of Chateau Leoville Las Cases 1989 and several vintages of numerous other Bordeaux such as Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.
From California, they hold several of my favorite wines which I hold in my cellar including Clark Claudon and Dunn Vineyards from Howell Mountain and Napa Valley.

They also hold some imaginative selections such as the large format five liter Imperial of Washington State Columbia Valley La Sorella 1999 (shown right), and rare Sadie Family Columella Castro Bonae Spei Syrah from South Africa.

I was graciously hosted by Sommelier Matthew George, pictured, who works under the leadership of Wine Director Harley Carbery, who is also assisted by Sommeliers Coltin Short and Norman Acosta.

George, a Las Vegas native, has been working on his wine tradecraft for close to a dozen years. He's in pursuit of his Advanced Sommelier certification having passed parts of the certification exams in each of the last two years.

We enjoyed sharing numerous vintage reviews and tasting encounters, restaurant and cellar reviews, as well as wine stories such as our mutual acquaintance encounters with SOMM sommelier DLynn Proctor, global ambassador for Penfold's legendary Grange.

Watch for our wine dinner reviews of Rivea and plan an evening there for a notable wine dining experience. Tell them you read about them here!

Delano Hotel Las Vegas Skyline Lounge
and Rivea Restaurant

One of three cellar compartments

Chateau Leoville Las Cases
Double Magnum

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Baus Family Vineyards Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Baus Family Vineyards Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 2014

Seconded to Las Vegas for a week of bootcamp, I picked up this Sonoma County California Cabernet to take back to the hotel for dinner with carry out bbq ribs. This was a pleasant surprise exceeding my expectations for a every day 'pizza wine' picked up at an off-strip liquor store. It actually was a good value QPR at under $20 and was ideal for the occasion.

Baus Family Vineyards must be an independent grower who sells bulk grapes to producers. According to the rear label, this is vinted and bottled by Great Domains and Estates in Hopland, CA. Hopland is a small rural town further north in Mendocino County on the Russian River, southeast of Ukiah.

This was dark ruby colored, medium-full bodied, nicely balanced, moderately firm structure, aromatic rich blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by spicy clove and hints of oak with moderate tannins on a smooth long finish.

RM 87 points.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Edna Valley Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay 2014

Edna Valley Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay 2014

For a casual team dinner outing at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, Las Vegas, we ordered this pleasant easy drinking Chardonnay that complemented our seafood plates and salad entrees.

Edna Valley sits five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in the Central Coast roughly midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This entry level label is a blend of fruit from vineyards in Monterey County in the North and from the Edna Valley estate vineyards near San Luis Obispo in the South Central Coast regions, (shown on the rear label above).

The diversity of fruit results in a moderately complex full flavored Chardonnay with a range of flavors that come together in a nicely integrated and balanced blend.

Good value, high QPR in this pleasant easy drinking sipper that is complex enough to accompany a light dinner.

Bright yellow-golden colored, light-medium bodied with full mouthfeel, rich tangy acidity from lemon citrus tones accented by tropical fruits, notes of pear and white peach with hints of green apple, pineapple and brown spices.

RM 87 points.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bedell Cellars First Crush Red Wine 2014

Bedell Cellars 'First Crush' Red Wine 2014

I first discovered Bedell Cellars during my visit to the North Fork Long Island, New York winery/cellar visits in the early winter of 2001. At the time, my cellar notes record that I tasted their Bordeaux varietal wines, 1997 Beddell Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and their 1999 vintage Chardonnay and Chardonnay Reserve.

We then tasted Bedell Cellars wines at Murray's Cheese Restaurant and wine bar on Bleeker Street in the Greenwich Village, one of Son Alec's favorite eateries in the City. Again, we tasted Bedell Bordeaux varietal wines there based on Cabernet Franc.

What a fun surprise to find this Bedell Cellars artist series Bordeaux varietal release in our local wine shop, Sav-Way in nearby Hinsdale, IL. I must admit, were it not for the catchy artsy Artist Series label, I may have missed it.

Bedell Cellars are the namesake winery and vineyards of founders Kip & Susan Bedell who planted their first grapevines on their acquired fifty acre former potato farm on eastern Long Island back in 1980. Kip's passion and dedicated work over the next two decades earned him the moniker ”Mr. Merlot” in Wine Spectator magazine.

Bedell cellars was bought in 2000 by Michael Lynne, a New York film executive and art collector. Continued investment in the property and brand propelled Bedell to one of the benchmark wineries in the eastern US producing the best wines of the Long Island appellation.

The acquisition of Bedell allowed Michael to combine lifelong passion for wine and food with his love of the theater, film and art. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he leads an entertainment law firm with a long running association with New Line Cinema one of the world's most successful independent film companies. Today he is Principal of Unique Features, a film production company and an esteemed contemporary art collector and Trustee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

That convergence of his love of art and wine are manifested in the Bedell Artist Series featuring specially commissioned works by world renowned contemporary artists on the labels of special release wines.

This label, Bedell Cellars First Crush Red Wine features the artwork of  Mickalene Thomas, an internationally renowned artist and filmmaker. Her work explores the intricacies of female beauty through painting and collage. Her installation 'Better Days' was featured at Art Basel and her documentary, 'Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman' premiered on HBO. She painted the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.

For Bedell's First Crush labels Mickalene selected a collage from her 2014 series, Tête de Femme, portraying abstracted female faces constructed from abstracted geometric cutouts. In this work, Mickalene combines art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references to comment on notions of beauty and gender in the 21st century.

Is it coincidence or inspired that this label has similar design and color schemes of this legendary premium Italian label? In any event its a fun and interesting comparison in style and design between Mickalene Thomas' work and the Azienda Agricola Montevertine Le Pergole Torte Toscana IGT Italian Sangiovese.

First Crush is a red blend of young vine Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc (25%) fruits, aged in stainless steel. Dark garnet colored with purple hues, it is medium light bodied with initial aromas of damp wood, leather and dusty rose petals, gripping tannins are pervasive from the initial bright vibrant red berry and cranberry fruits through to the layer of spice, dusty rose and cedar with tones of green bell pepper and tangy black cherries on the lingering finish. The tangy notes of the fruit may be attributable to the youthful vines. The finishing floral aromatics are more desirable than the opening.

The bright tangy fruits go better with forward moderately spiced food.

At the release price of $30 there are better values out there, but at the 'street price' below $20, this provides good value QPR - quality price ratio. 

RM 87 points. Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

For a day outing, taking my folks out for dinner, we traveled to Cedar Lake, Indiana to dine at the Lighthouse Restaurant overlooking the lake. We were hoping to take a nice bottle of wine but Indiana's repressive liquor laws prohibit BYOB. We were pleased to fine suitable wine selections by the bottle and WBTG (by the glass) from their limited but carefully selected wine list. 

This was our first visit to the Lighthouse and it exceeded our expectations in every way. The venue, food, service, atmosphere and overall hospitality were fabulous. I was expecting a small dark cottage from the 40's or 50's. Instead, Lighthouse is bright, vibrant, trendy, quaint and modern, all at the same time. The bar and the hostess' desk are both constructed from the hull of old classic double plank boats. There are dining rooms that are intimate and others bright and airy with large windows offering wonderful panoramic views of the lake. The menu was expansive, the food very good, and the service was extraordinary. 

Keith and Linda has filets of beef, mom had bbq ribs and I had the macadamia crusted Canadian Walleye. All our entrees and sides were very good - carefully prepared, served hot, with appropriate portions. The Walleye was a large portion, heavily encrusted with toasted macadamia nut, served with a tasty beau blanc sauce.  

For wine selections we ordered by the glass Kendall Jackson Sonoma County Chardonnay and Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were ideal accompaniments to the food and were fairly priced with appropriate pours. 

Storypoint Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

I have never heard of this label and was skeptical since it is a 'California' selection, meaning the fruit is sourced from a variety of locations across the state, as opposed to being from one appellation or even region. Often such wines are bulk wines, from fruit sourced from growers who sell grapes or even bulk wine as a commodity. Or, such wines are a melange, comprised of fruit from a disparate sources resulting in non-descript wines lacking character or style since they lack any sense of terroir or sense of place. 

What a pleasant surprise, while this wine is comprised of grapes from vineyards in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County, the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County and the Lodi AVA in San Joaquin County, it is an Estate wine, meaning the grapes are all from producer owned vineyards. The producer's notes cite the integration of flavors from each region. They succeeded as the result is a wine that is well crafted, very flavorful, nicely balanced, even bordering on being polished. 

Dark garnet colored, bold, rich, full-bodied, aromatic, complex bright, nicely integrated dark berry fruits accented with tones of mocha chocolate, spice, hints of nutmeg and vanilla, ending with savory moderate tannins.

Perhaps explaining its harmonious complexity, different sources attribute this to be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, Malbec, Petit Sirah and Cabernet Franc.

RM 90 points.

The winemaker is Sonoma County native Aaron Piotter who has been crafting wines for more than two decades. As their website attests, "Storypoint is a new project in which Aaron releases any restraints of traditional AVA’s, allowing him to express one singular vision: to make interesting wines regardless of their boundaries." 

'A graduate of the University of California at Davis Viticulture & Enology program, Aaron has made wine from all over California, including ZD and Ferrari Carano. Using this knowledge, he plots out a course each vintage to create the layered, complex wines of Storypoint."

Well done, indeed! He has done a remarkable job in this enjoyable, sophisticated but easy drinking wine that offers very great QPR - (quality-price ratio). 

Part of this value is that a 'non-appellation specific' wine avoids or lacks all the cache or snobbery of any particular area, hence not commanding a higher price-point for such wines. Over time, as the brand becomes more established and better known, with consistency and continued high achievement, prices of Storypoint wines may well escalate. Grab them while you can, if you can find them!

More of Lighthouse Restaurant, Cedar Lake, IN ....

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Papillon and Legende at Indigo Springfield

Papillon and Legende at Indigo Springfield

Visiting valued client in Springfield (IL), the account team dined at Indigo Restaurant. Following our tasting of Clio last month, I took another big bold expressive wine, BYOB, Orin Swift Papillon Bordeaux Blend which we matched up against Barons de Rothschild Légende from the wine list to accompany our beef steak dinners.

Indigo with their whimsical fun Blue Dog gallery offers a nice atmosphere for a business dinner, a special occasion or intimate dinner date. As always, the Indigo staff were professional, proficient, accommodating and attentive. The steaks were done to perfection and this evening they served an imaginative gorgonzola laced roasted potatoes accompaniment. The sushi entree left something to be desired and should be avoided in favor of their traditional midwestern faire.

Papillion is a Bordeaux Proprietary Blend from Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift Cellars, producer of a range of imaginative and bold wines that showcase the range and diversity of the best of Napa Valley wines.  Orin Swift perhaps is best known for The Prisoner series of wines which he sold a few years ago. He now focuses on and produces his higher end selections including this bold but polished red blend. 

David Swift Phinney began his wine journey back in 1995 when he traveled to Florence, Italy and discovered and got hooked on wine. After university graduation in 1997 he worked as as temporary harvest worker at Robert Mondavi Winery.  Setting out on his own, in 1998 he founded Orin Swift Cellars named for his father’s middle name Orin and his mother’s maiden name Swift. He spent his early years making wines for others and developing a line of Zinfandel based wines under his own label from fruit sourced from others. 

I've written about how Phinny is one of the more fascinating studies in wine branding. In his Orin Swift line, he shows why he is known for and recognized by his imaginative, creative, if not mysterious, even weird branding with his artistic naming and labeling of his wines. His line-up reads more like a series of mystery novels than a flight of fine wines - Abstract, China Doll, Mannequin, Machete, Mercury Head, Mute, Palermo, Papillon, Slander, Trigger Finger, and Veladora.

Mercury Head is his premium label Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and simply features a US mint original Mercury Head dime affixed to the bottle in place of a label. I've written in these pages about Machete with its series of labels with a dozen different photos of a mysterious woman brandishing a machete in various poses, many featuring a vintage Cadillac Eldorado.

Papillon features on the label (pictured) an image of third generation grape grower Vince Tofanelli's hands taken by the producer's friend and world famous photographer Greg Gorman. 

Papillon is a classic Bordeaux blend, Papillon features all the Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the heavy weight weighs in at 15.1% alcohol. The grapes are sourced from Napa Valleys sub-appellations Oakville, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain, from top vineyards such as Stagecoach and Morisoli.

Robert Parker gave the 2013 release 95 points and this 2014 wine 94 points and noted "forest floor, graphite, blackcurrant, blackberry fruit and spring flowers with a full-bodied, unctuously textured, deep, rich pure wine".

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex, bold, powerful, concentrated, almost jammy with rich black fruits tones - blackberry, black raspberry, hint of black cherry, with a layer of anise, dusty cedar, hints of graphite, mocha and loamy earth with firm textured tannins on a long lingering finish. This probably needs a couple years to settle and will be interesting to watch it age over the next decade.

RM 93 points.

Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) St. Émilion Légende 2013

Légende is a second label from the legendary Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) producer. Of course they're best known for their classic 'first growth' Chateau Lafite Rothschild. But they also produce a wide range of more than a dozen labels for the wider general marketplace consumer - most from across the Bordeaux region.

The Legende family of wines includes more everyday selections from Bordeaux, one blend from the Bordeaux region, two from the left bank Medoc and Pauillac appellations, and this right bank offering from the St. Émilion appellation.

This 2013 may not be a fair representation of the label since it was one of the most difficult weather condition vintages in three decades. A wet spring, two hail storms in July and August that damaged the grape vines, followed by intermittent rains leading up to the harvest made the weather condition among the worst since the frost of 1991.

The challenging conditions of the 2013 season required meticulous work in the vineyards and very strict selection in the winery to produce this release which they considered an over-achievement under the circumstances rendering what they referred to as supple, with a gentle, crisp structure.

This was dark ruby colored, light-medium bodied, somewhat austere with delicate subdued black currant and raspberry fruits with a layer of pain grillé (toast), with hints of floral, tangy spice, smoke, tobacco leaf and leather.  In the style of the 'right bank', this is a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.

RM 87 points.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

OTBN 2017

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2017

Our 'pour boys' wine group gathered for the 2017 17th annual "OTBN" wine celebration. OTBN stands for Open That Bottle Night, the annual wine event for collectors and oenophile wine enthusiasts to pull that special bottle being held in the cellar for an occasion whose time has not yet come. So once a year, what the heck, OTBN - open that bottle (to)night. Typically held on the last Saturday of February, this years bacchanalia was postponed a week due to members' travels. Once again, the event provided a wonderful gathering, great food, fellowship, and of course, some extraordinary wines. We missed regular attendees Bill and Beth and toasted them as they sit down on the South Carolina shore.

We started with a course of artisan cheeses, fresh fruits, crab dip and fresh shrimp cocktail to kick off the evening with a hearty vintage Champagne Celebris Gosset 2002 brought by John. The cheese course consisted of gouda, swiss, Danish Maytag Blue, Bellavitano Merlot, parmigiana, and capped of by a extraordinary 19 year old vintage sharp cheddar, also brought by John. Following was a wonderful Peter Michael Chardonnay brought by Ernie. These also lead in to the salad course.

Celebris Gosset Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2002

Celebris is the flagship prestige cuvée of the Gosset Champagne house named, inspired by Albert Gosset, the 15th generation patriarch (1915-1991) and developed  by cellarmaster Jean-Pierre Mareigner in 1993. The first release of Celebris appeared in 1995, consisting of the 1988 vintage cuvée. The cuvée was designed to stand with the finest high-end champagnes in its class and showcase the best of the Gosset style - great aromatic complexity and beautiful finesse that could be paired with the most elaborate dishes.

The 2002 is 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir from vineyards in Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzy, Chouilly and Cramant. It received 96 points from Vinous who described it as "vinous, fleshy and super-expressive with striking freshness, candied lemon peel, apricot jam, honey, mint, spices and sage in a compelling fabric of flavors and textures in a knock-out Champagne."

Wine Spectator and  James Suckling both gave it 94 points, Suckling noting "a deep, rich and toasty nose that has a wealth of cashewy, nutty aromas and dried lemon pith, nougat and bright dried cherry fruits ...  bold, assertive and full of flavor with really expansive orchard fruits."

Wine Spectator cited its lightly smoky finish.

Jancis Robinson noted it to be 'extremely dense and dry - most impressive, though verging on austere without anything to eat with it."

Jean-Pierre Mareigner, Cellarmaster wrote, “This is a champagne that was difficult to create. I selected contrasting villages in order to blend various personalities. I was looking for structure but also freshness. The final result is an exceptional cuvée.”

Varietal Composition: 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir

Peter Michael La Carrière Sonoma County Knights Valley Chardonnay 2013

This was delightful, a memorable Chardonnay, ranking with the best of breed of this varietal, among the best, as good as any I have every tasted. Part of what makes it extraordinary in its subtlety with its unpretentious silky smooth, creamy texture and refined polished flavors of nut, peach, mineral and hints of butterscotch.

RM 93 points.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave it 98 points calling it "unbelievable".

James Suckling gave it 96 points citing its "concentration of honeysuckle, orange marmalade, white currant, white peach and mineral notes."

Wine Spectator gave it 93 points and called it "Complex and subtle' describing it as 'dried pineapple, apple, lime pie and hints of nuts ... hints of cream ..... full body, dense center palate."

We pivoted to the dinner and red wine flight with this soft smooth elegant Pinot Noir.

Belle Glos Dairyman Vineyard Sonoma County Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2011

Lyle bought this Belle Glos, named for Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, co-founder of legendary Napa Valley Caymus Vineyards and grandmother of Belle Glos owner/winemaker, Joe Wagner, mother of Caymus owner/winemaker Chuck Wagner.

Belle Glos produces four single vineyard designated select Pinot Noirs, each representing the distinctive character and terroir of their disparate locations.

This label features fruit sourced from the Dairyman Vineyard located in the Sonoma County Russian River Valley. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean subjects it to cool morning fog and afternoon coastal breezes that prolong the growing season resulting in small, concentrated and flavorful berries with bright cherry characteristics, brown spices, and a minerality that gives a rich, velvety mouth feel. The vineyard is named for its history as an old dairy farm where the pastureland was planted to Dijon clone Pinot Noir in 2000

This was actually rather full bodied and bold for a Sonoma County Pinot Noir, dark ruby colored, complex, with spicy dark and red berry fruits, dusty rose, hints of cedar and cinnamon on a tangy rather firm finish.
RM 91 points.

Moving to the dinner course, Linda prepared her beef tenderloin (shown below), with roasted potatoes, brussel spouts and green beans. With the entree course we featured three Bordeaux varietal blends, a mini-vertical tasting of two vintages of this unique California label and a left bank Bordeaux. I had already selected and opened this Ridge Monte Bello 1998 when John showed up with the 1993 release of the same wine. We couldn't have planned this any better!

I wrote in depth about the Ridge Monte Bello vineyards and estate in a tasting journal last year

Monte Bello is the unique flagship label of this prolific producer known for a broad line of vineyard select Zinfandels from throughout Northern California  including Sonoma and Napa Counties. Monte Bello is unique not only that it is a Ridge produced Bordeaux blend, but also because it is sourced from fruit from the Monte Bello vineyard, high atop the Santa Cruz mountains that separate Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay to the east and north, from the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay/Peninsula to the west and south.

This is especially notable to us since it is closest to, yet high above the location of our home from when we lived in Saratoga, California, nestled up against the Santa Cruz mountain range down at the bottom of Silicon Valley, near the crease where the road leads up into the mountains and over 'the hill' down to Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast.

This is a contrast in two vintages, from the somewhat maligned and challenged 1998 vintage, while five years younger than the '93 above, it is starting to show its age a bit while the 93 seems vibrant and full of life.

Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 1993

This was amazing in its graceful elegant, almost delicate floral tones, complex yet smooth and polished with layers of soft black raspberry and black currant fruits with subtle tones of vanilla, anise, and hint of  graphite on a silky tannin finish.

The blend is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 7% Petiti Verdot. 

RM 92 points

Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

The 1998 Monte Bello is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Consistent with last tasting notes, two years ago, almost to the date, dark purple garnet colored, medium to full bodied, initially a bit obtuse and acidic, but softened and opened after decanting and sitting for an hour, full, moderately expressive black berry and plum fruits, complex, accented by subtle tones of  pencil shavings, tobacco leaf, violets, and hints of bell pepper and anise with moderate smooth silky tannins on the finish. It would be overstated to characterize it as 'earthy' but there is a layer of complexity that reflects the storied terroir and reveals the care of 47% selection and the rigorous thinning that results in extremely selective, low yields of less than 1 1/2 tons per acre.

RM 90 points.

Château Lanessan Haut-Medoc Bordeaux 1995 

Ernie brought this left bank Bordeaux.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, this was firm and a bit tight with concentrated black berry fruits, a layer of smoke and anise accented by hints of creosote, graphite and black tea on the lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Etienne Gonnet 2004

Dan brought this CDP that comes from the area known as La Crau, also known for the popular Chateau Vieux Telegraph. This is a blend of 65-70% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, and 15% Mourvèdre.

I think it is the Grenache predominance that comes through with its dark berry fruit, black tea notes and meaty tones, dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated spicy black berry fruits with hints of smoke and anise, with acidic tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Transitioning from the main course and entrees to the dessert flight, the perfect transition was this big bold bruising Syrah brought by Ryan. Dessert was Terry's decadent orange cake, Linda's delectable chocolate mousse, fresh whipped cream, fresh berries, and coffees.

Herman Story Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2013

This single vineyard designated label from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the California Central Coast Santa Maria Valley.

This was an ideal pivot from the more complex blends suitable for the dinner entrees, to a narrower, more single dimensional, big violet muscular fruit bomb to accompany the dessert course of orange cake and dark chocolate mousse.

Dark inky purple, full bodied, big forward concentrated tongue coating, almost chewy, jammy berry compote of black and blue fruits, spicy notes, black olive and hints of dark mocha and black pepper on a mouth puckering finish.

RM 93 points.

Dow's Vintage Port 1977

Lyle brought this forty year old hold sipper that is still showing much life yet.
 Dark thick and syrupy, full bodied, essence of cognac laced black currants, stewed prunes, dried fig fruits with tones of expresso, anise and hint of kirsch on a tongue coated finish.

RM 92 points.

Château de Rayne-Vigneau Premier Grand Cru Classé de Sauternes -Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blend 1988 

I initially pulled out a 1998 Sauterne to accompany the '98 tasted earlier but then found down in the cellar this '88 and opted for it instead. 

Château de Rayne-Vigneau is ranked as Premier Cru Classé (French, “First Growth”), 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes. The château lies at the center of a single block vineyard of 207 acres. The vines are an average of 30 years old, divided between 74% Sémillon, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, and 2% Muscadelle.

At almost thirty years of age, this was surprisingly youthful, straw colored, medium-full bodied, tones of tangy citrus with bright acidity, tongue coating sweet fruits, roasted nuts and hints of smoke.

The contributors and their wines ...

Friday, March 3, 2017

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

For a classic 'power' lunch with a strategic partner, we dined at Chicago Cut Steakhouse on LaSalle Street at the river. Having just had prime NY Strip Steak the evening before, I opted for the Dover Sole entree special. It came in two sizes, 18 or 20 oz, and the smaller 18 oz was the perfect portion size. It was better than I expected, but not as good as I hoped.

The sole was prepared perfectly with creamy buttery lemon sauce dusted with crusted almond. The ceremonial table-side preparation, adding the sauces and deboning, during prime-time noon lunch hour, resulted in the entree having cooled to be barely warm by the time it was served. It was delightful none-the-less. (Note that my standard for the best sole experience is the Petrale Sole at Scott's Seafood (my absolute favorite) in the Bay Area, or better yet, the Sand Dabs, aka Rex Sole, at Scoma's in San Francisco and/or Sauselito.)

To accompany the Sole seafood entree, I chose the Far Niente Napa Chardonnay 2014, BTG (by the glass). The Chicago Cut power lunch wine accompaniment comes at a price at $25 per glass ~ 2.5x retail price.

Shown is 2013
Far Niente Chardonnay
Far Niente Chardonnay is sourced from Napa Valley vineyards in the Coombsville sub-region, snuggling up against the foothills each of the city of Napa, and the Carneros appellation, down at the bottom of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Each of these areas are cooler due to the light breezes and night-time fog that roll in off the San Pablo Bay at the bottom of Napa Valley. Each of these areas are considered prime growing areas for the Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Far Niente produces a premium Chardonnay, known for subtle, tropical flavors, complex aromas and uncommon richness.

As written in my review of the 2014 Trefethan Napa Chardonnay the other day, the 2014 growing season was the third consecutive year with drought conditions. Never-the-less, rains in late winter and early spring filled the local reservoirs providing frost protection and irrigation. A warm and windy spring resulted in an earlier than normal growing season, two weeks ahead of normal.

Ideal weather and favorable growing conditions persisted through the summer months allowing the grapes to ripen for the earliest harvest in over a decade. The Far Niente harvest began on August 21st. Just three days later, the area encountered a huge earthquake, but Far Niente was able to continue the harvest, picking at the precise optimal time to realize perfectly ripened Chardonnay fruit.

This 2014 Far Niente Chardonnay was golden, almost honey colored, with medium body, opening with light tropical notes, subtle melon, rich citrus and a layer of creamy toasted oak and mineral, finishing in bright acidity, lingering citrus tones with hints of lightly toasted almond and wet stone.

RM 91 points.