Saturday, April 29, 2017

Italian Village Chicago Wine Dinner

Italian Village Chicago Wine Dinner

For our team bootcamp gathering in Chicago, I arranged a wine dinner at legendary Italian Village nearby in the center of Chicago's Loop. Wine Director Jared Gelband, and Liz Ramirez, Event Director, arranged for a price fixe dinner with a selection of five wines, two reds and two whites plus a dessert wine, matched accordingly to entree choices and the courses.

Third generation Gina Capitanini
and Jared Gelband Wine Director
As I've written in these pages, Italian Village is Chicago's classic oldest Italian Restaurant, continuously operated by the Capitanini family since 1927, now in its 90th year, with the largest wine cellar in the Midwest that holds over 45,000 bottles.

There are actually three restaurants on premise, each with their own kitchen, chef and waitstaff, all served by the Wine Spectator Best of Award Wine Cellar/Wine List with over 1200 selections. The vast collection, mostly Italian, also features French, American and other regions, with many vintage releases, still at vintage prices for some extraordinary values.

On the day of our dinner, The Wall Street Journal featured Italian Village in their "7 Insider Wine Bars That Sommeliers Belly Up To". 'Lettie Teague asked seven sommeliers in seven cities where they like to drink on their days off. Follow their lead to the best under-the-radar wine bars, deepest cellars, most daring lists and savviest crowds to drink with across the country."

 We dined in the lower level, La Cantina Enoteca, in one of the numerous private dining rooms in the three restaurants on the property, one perfectly suited for our group of twenty.

After soup/salad course, the dinner entree choices were:
Chicken Piccata
Sauteed chicken breast with lemon capers in white wine butter sauce. 
Veal Marsala
Veal medallions sauteed in Marsala wine with fresh mushrooms. 
Three Cheese Tortelli
Pillow shaped pasta filled with Mascarpone, Mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses in a cherry tomato-garlic-basil broth. 
Salmon Puttanesca
Broiled Atlantic salmon topped with olives, capers, tomato, garlic, basil and white wine.

The accompanying wine selections were:

Castella di Farnetella, Chianti Colli Senesi, DOCG 2014
Paitin di Pasquero-Elia, "Elisa" Rosero Arnies, DOC 2015
Maculan, "Brentino," IGT (Cabernet/Merlot) 2014
Piazzo, Chardonnay, DOC 2015

And with the dessert course, Jared served
Maculan, "Dindarello," Moscato IGT, Veneto

Throughout the evening, small groups were taken on tours of the extraordinary wine cellar featuring over ten thousand bottles on the premises from 1200 different labels.

Maitre-d Hans presided and Mark served our group with superior service in an extraordinary setting for an ideal evening of wine, food, team building collaboration and commraderie.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Silver Oak Alexander Valley 1993

Silver Oak Alexander Valley 1993

Bob and Gloria visiting from Florida came for dinner and Linda prepared grilled beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. I pulled from the cellar a vintage '93 Silver Oak Alexander Valley.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley has been somewhat of a special memorable tribute wine with them ever since we tasted it together when they treated us to a special 35th anniversary celebration at Morton's in Naperville. That night I took a 1990 vintage bottle commemorating our sons' Alec's and Bryan's birth year. For a mini-horizontal tasting that evening, we compared it with a '04 from the Morton's wine-list.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 labelSeptember 4, 2009 - Silver Oak Alexander Valley 1990 and 2004 - Contrast of vintages, young and old. The 1990 was tight, dark, and exhibited black cherry, black berry, slight astringency, leather and cedar on the oaky tannin finish. (RM89) The 04 was much lighter, simpler with accents of sweet red currant and hint of chocolate with sweet oak on the finish (RM88)

Tonight, we pulled this '93 from the cellar which was tasting very nicely, still near its prime in its twenty-fourth year, consistent with my earlier tastings of this vintage back in April, 2003 and then again in December 2008. 

April 93 - Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 1993 $75 RM/WS (CS) 90 That classic SO oak flavor predominates with berry, plum and currant - dark with medium body. 12/23/2008 - I wrote:  90 Points. 

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry fruits with tones of ripe plum and black currants, accented with a layer of oak, with hints of tobacco leaf and creosote on the lingering finish. 
RM 90 points.

Afterwards with chocolate cake and fresh berries, I poured the remains of this vintage port and dessert wine. 

Chateau Guiraud Sauterne 1er Grand Cru Classe 2006

Croft Vintage Port 1994

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pride Mtn Napa Cab 1997

Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

For a quiet Saturday evening dinner at home, Linda prepared grilled NY Strip steaks, roasted beets and roasted potatoes. I pulled from the cellar a 20 year old vintage Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Cabernet.

Wow! I've written often in these pages about how the much heralded '97 Cabernets were not living up to their lofty expectations, often being closed and subdued, as if still sleeping, not yet awakened to their potential greatness. Well perhaps its time has come. This was the best '97 Cab I recall having experienced, showing all the characteristics of a spectacular vintage, twenty years hence. This was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled steak dinner.

We tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to the winery high atop Spring Mountain during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999.  

As shown in the picture below, at twenty years, the cork was perfect, as was the fill level, indicating our cellar conditions are ideal for aging fine wines.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes in its profile, it seemed to show more polish and balance than I remember. Previous reviews I have given over the last several years have been increasing by a point indicating this vintage release is hitting its stride, at the peak of its drinking window.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, a firm structured backbone props up the vibrant complex black berry and black currant fruits showing tones of spice, cedar and hints of smoke, anise, leather and subtle mocha turning to a tangy gripping tannin finish.

RM 93 points.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rombauer Carneros Merlot 2010

Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Merlot 2010

We tasted, enjoyed and acquired the then current 2012 release of this Rombauer Carneros Merlot at a winemaker dinner at Adelle's Restaurant in Wheaton just about a year ago, so I was delighted to see the 2010 vintage on closeout at the local wineshop last week. I picked it up to enjoy with beef tenderloin dinner back at the hotel and then at home the following evening.

The fruit for this label is sourced from Rombauer and contract grower vineyards in the Carneros region, down south and west of Napa where the San Pablo Bay meets the southern end of Napa and Sonoma valleys. Perhaps it is the slightly cooler and milder climate there that contributes to the rich concentrated fruit of this wine. 

With its bright full forward concentrated bramble black berry and black cherry fruits, this tasted more like a Zinfandel than a Merlot, with tones of sweet vanilla, cedar, oak, leather and tobacco leaf. It begs for bbq, sharp cheese or bitter dark chocolate.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rivetti La Spinetta Nebbiolo

Train Day Adventure culminates in lunch at Italian Village featuring wine selection Rivetti La Spinetta Nebbiolo

We took the grand-kids into the City of Chicago for a 'train day' adventure riding all forms of trains around the city to some landmark locations. Our train adventure included Metra into the city, boarding the Elevated CTA at historic Quincy Station, riding the Pink Line to switchback via the overhead bridge on the Green Line, riding around the loop, connecting to the Red Line at Roosevelt/McCormack Place, riding through Chinatown, and switching back in the middle of the Dan Ryan at landmark Sox Park, ending on the Red Line Subway at Monroe Street station, a short walk to legendary Italian Village restaurant, where we dined for lunch.

I've featured Italian Village often in these pages including their historic wine cellar. We visited the wine cellar and met with Wine Director Jared Gelband where he was busy updating the volumnous wine-list with recent acquisitions (shown pictured) - almost a full time job in of itself.

We discussed his planning for an upcoming wine dinner, and planning for a business dinner I am hosting there at the end of this month.

Like a kid in a candy store, I scoured the cellar for a wine selection to accompany today's lunch, for my upcoming business dinner, as well as to spot some legendary wines and favorite selections for future visits.

With such an extraordinary extensive selection, its not hard to find spectacular wines and special finds for any occasion. My short list of such wines for my ultimate wine tasting for the ultimate special occasions might be:
  • Grange Hermitage 1990 - special birthyear wine
  • Romani Conti St Vivant 1991 - another special birthyear wine
  • Konigsgaard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - one of my all time favorite, memorable wines
  • Azienda Agricola Montevertine Le Pergole Torte Toscana IGT 1997 - a classic
  • La Tenuta Ornellaia Masseto 2003 - another classic - featured in an earlier IV wine dinner
These wines are pictured below at the bottom of this post.

But back to reality and the task at hand, to select wine for today's lunch to accompany our entrees of my Veal Parmigiana, and Linda and Erin's Eggplant Parmigiana. I chose a La Spinetta Nebbiolo.

We dined in one of their private alcove tables offering a unique intimate dining experience. 

Rivetti La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo 2011.

The winemaker's notes for this wine ... "typical light red of Nebbiolo musky aromas of strawberry, tobacco and wild herbs sweet and spicy in the mouth, with good grip and firm acidity to the flavors of strawberry and mint, aromatic and elegant" ...

I found this dark garnet colored, medium bodied, black currant and black berry fruits accented by tones of tobacco, herbs and spice with hints of eucalyptus on a firm acidic gripping tannin finish.

RM 88 points.

Italian Village -

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Social Table Wine Dinner

Social Table Lincoln Park, Chicago Wine Dinner

Dr Dan arranged a special dinner at the Social Table in Lincoln Park, Chicago, a venue where your group, lead by a Chef/instructor prepares your own dinner, then dines in a private dining room.

It's a perfect setting for an extraordinary wine/dine adventure, allowing wine aficionado diners to conduct a self paced wine tasting and wine/food paring of BYOB wines in a relaxed comfortable setting.

Our Chef/instructor this evening was Alysa, who trained at the CIA - Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY.

The dinner menu was Beef Wellington with red wine mushroom reduction sauce, roasted beet salad with goat cheese, pine nuts and greens, garlic mashed potatoes and Chocolate Pots de Crème dessert.

The wine flight was primarily Bordeaux for the evening as our Pour Boys wine group, Dan, Lyle and I all brought Bordeaux wines to accompany the beef entree dinner.

The Theulet Monbazillac was superb with the goat cheese salad. The Bordeaux paired ideally with the Beef Wellington main extree, especially the pate' layer. The chocolate dessert was highlighted perfectly with the Croft Port and the Giuraud Sauterne. 

The main dinner course wine flight in order of tasting ...

Sea Smoke 'Gratis' Santa Rita Hills California Grand Cru Chardonnay 2009
Château  Theulet Antoine Alard Monbazillac 1998
Château  Figeac St Emilion Grand Cru Classe' 2009
Château  Lanessan Haut Medoc 1995
Château  Lafon Rochet St Estephe 2003
Château  Gruaud Larose St Julien 1989
Château  Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien 1989
Château  Pontet Canet Paulliac 2009
Château Guiraud 1er Grand Cru Classe' Sauterne 2006
Crofts Vintage Port 1994

Other wines to complement and fill out the wine flight ...

Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2014
Decoy Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Dinner group

Pour boys (& girls)

more to come ...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lewis Alec's Blend 1997

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 1997 - Son Alec's Signature Namesake Label selection for his birthday eve dinner

On the eve of son Alec's birthday, we pulled a Lewis Alec's Blend from the cellar for dinner.

I've often written in these pages about the fun we have with this branding, with its signature 'L' on the label, ala Laverne and Shirley, or wife Linda, or her mother Lucy, or our daughter Erin Leigh, or her daughter, our first grandchild/daughter Lucy! That coupled with the Hoosier heritage of Randy Lewis, Indy 500 race driver from our native Indiana, and, their affinity to family, naming labels after their grandkids - Alec, Ethan and Mason,  we adopted Alec's Blend as a signature label for son Alec and feature it at family celebrations.

Lewis wines are family favorites for such special occasions, punctuated by this namesake Blend for son Alec. Lewis Cabernets are some of our favorites and we have a decade long vertical of Alec's as well as their Cabs, dating back to this '97. This blend is dedicated to Randy and Debbie Lewis' first grandson Alec who was born on the day of the harvest of the grapes for this wine leading to the name. I believe this may be the, or certainly close to the inaugural vintage of this label/blend - its certainly the oldest I have ever seen (or tasted).

It should not be a surprise that we love this wine with its blend of our favorite varietals - Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, from our favorite region Napa Valley.

This was a great accompaniment to Linda's grilled marinated beef flank steak and twice baked potatoes dinner.

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 1997

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this label dating back to this 1997, our last bottle of the oldest vintage in our vertical collection. Now at twenty years of age, this is just starting to show any signs of aging with the bright fruits starting to give way to tobacco and leather non-fruit flavors.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, it showed full, concentrated complex black raspberry and black berry fruits accented by tones of clove, hints of black tea and cedar starting to give way to notes of tobacco leaf and leather on a spicy oak moderate firm but smooth tannin finish.

This vintage blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 15% Petit Verdot. The Bordeaux varietals no doubt contribute to its longevity, impressive none-the-less, drinking this well at twenty years. As I've noted before, tastings like this leave me confident to be patient with our vertical collection of this label.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

90+Cellars Lot 94 Napa Cab

Ninety Plus Cellars "Lot 94" Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

I wrote a feature on Ninety Plus Cellars and their negociant business where they buy excess fruit from growers, or bulk wine, or in some cases bottled but unlabeled wine from producers, and bottle or release it under their own private label series. Once in a while this results in an extraordinary value in a wine offered at a fraction of the original producer's or grower's offering price, hence the need to keep the source secret and release under their own or private label. This Lot 94 may be such a wine.

The challenge of course is that you can't get too attached to a wine because there may not be a follow on vintage, or there may be sporadic intermittent releases every couple of years, or perhaps only in lesser years when the quality of the product is not up the standards for the primary label. Or, you may get lucky, and the producer has excess inventory or product available and is eager to release it to a trusted outlet. 

Ninety Plus Cellars have built an extensive brand with an extensive selection of wines from around the world, released under their own label. Their nomenclature of the Lot number for any particular wine indicates the source of the product so consumers can identify such from one vintage to the next. The challenge of course is that true identity of the source is not revealed, although there are times when it can be determined, either through mis-steps in the packaging (once the bottles had already been filled and corked with corks branded by the original producer), or there have been times when the original wine can be determined by the unique blend of the vintage.

There have been several Ninety Plus wines that I have discovered where I acquired all that I could obtain to keep for enjoyment and value over time, Lot 101, Washington State, Columbia Valley Syrah was one such example.

Ninety Plus Cellars "Lot 94" Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

According to Ninety Plus Cellars, "This distinguished Cabernet Sauvignon was made from fruit picked from vines situated on the east side of the valley in a vineyard that was first planted in the 1890s. Upon alluvial and volcanic soils these densely planted vines produce Cabernet Sauvignon that makes some of the best wine in Napa. This is an all-star Cabernet with a pedigree that's unrivaled by anything we've put in a bottle."

They assert that the offering price for the wine under the source producer's label is double the price of the discounted private label. That may indeed be the case. In any event, I'll testify that this is a high QPR - quality price ratio, great value wine that is comparable to product twice its price.

This was one of the wines of the week, featured at the Saturday tasting of local Vin Chicago outlet. So it was, that after tasting at the Vin Chicago Saturday tasting, I grabbed a couple bottles to bring home and try again with different foods or accompaniments. I expect I'll be going back to buy more for great value high quality every day drinking, as well as for special occasions.

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex sweet black currant and berry fruits, with notes of mocha, herbs, tobacco and hints of spicy oak and vanilla with a smooth polished finish.
I look forward to opening a bottle to taste with a savory meal.

RM 91 points.

Cune Rioja Reserva 2010

Cune Rioja Reserva 2010

I first wrote about this wine after tasting it at Son Ryan's and then buying some for our consumption. This Cune Rioja Reserva is a Tempranillo based blend.  As I wrote in my review of this wine back at the time,  Cune is actually named after the initials of the production company, C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España). By their testament, this is produced in the style of "a red ‘clarete’ wine was made as a fine wine in the style of the Bordeaux “Claret” produced by the great chateaux’s of the Medoc." While we picked up the initial bottles of this 2010 vintage release at Binny's, our local beverage superstore, this is now on the floor at Vin Chicago, our other local discount wine merchant.

 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Reserva 2010

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, well balanced acidic backbone, smooth and polished, nicely integrated oak flavors predominate, forward dark berry fruits and soft floral accentuate the classic Rioja smoky creosote with hints of vanilla on a lingering finish.

This is a blend of Tempranillo: 85%, Grenacha, Graciano and Mazuelo 15%.

RM 90 points.