Monday, August 28, 2017

Jayson Neiman Mini-Horizontal Tasting Flight

Jayson Neiman Mini-Horizontal Comparison Tasting Flight

Dear friends, 'brother' Bob and Gloria visiting from South Florida, Linda prepared grilled tenderloin steaks and roasted potatoes and asparagus spears. I pulled from the cellar two special wines, Pahlmeyer Jayson Napa Valley 2004 and an accompanying horizontal Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red Blend.

We often serve Jayson label wine with Bob and Gloria in tribute to their oldest namesake son. This afforded the opportunity for a mini-horizontal comparison tasting of two similar wines, each with distinctive terroir and styles. Indeed, the last time we served this wine was with Bob and Gloria during our 'last supper' together on the eve of them moving to Florida last winter.

This was an interesting comparison of two wines where the Pahlmeyer overshadowed the Neiman by a fairly wide margin. I am not sure the disparity would have been as apparent if they weren't tasted side by side. Too bad for the Neiman, which against the Jayson, didn't live up to my recollections or expectations.

Pahlmayer Jayson Red Wine 2004

The Cellartracker tasting window lists the wine tasting window for this wine through 2013. While we often tend to hold and drink our wines long into or even past their tasting window, in this case, this wine seemed still be at its apex, while not likely to improve further with more age. I updated Cellartracker to 2018.

Like the previous tasting, "Upon opening, sweet floral and berry aromas burst forth and filled the room. Dark garnet purple colored, medium full bodied, bright vibrant full forward flavors of black raspberry with tones of blueberry, sweet currants, tangy spice and hints of sweet caramel and whisper of tobacco leaf with nicely integrated sweet tangy oak on the lingering finish."

RM 93 points.

This is Pahlmeyer's Right Bank Bordeaux style Blend (meaning predominantly Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon) -  60% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Perhaps the predominant Merlot in the mix attributed to the softer more approachable style.

Neiman Cellars Red Wine 2004

Similar to my earlier tasting notes, this tasted more like a Bordeaux than a Napa Red Blend, with slightly more subdued fruit with more non-fruit accents such as leather, cedar and tobacco. As written earlier, "This tasted like a vibrant expressive Bordeaux, full forward complex berry fruits accented by floral, leather, tobacco leaf, some slightly earthy tones and long lingering notes of cedar with a smooth polished tannin finish that resonates with silky floral cedar mouthfeel long after tasting."

Tonight I gave this 91 points, one less than the previous 'stand-alone' tasting, perhaps due to the positioning vis a vis the bigger,brighter, more robust and sweeter Jayson. Notably, this wine is 1/3 less expensive than the Pahlmeyer, thereby perhaps delivering equivalent QPR (quality price ratio).

RM 91 points.

According to the rear label, only 230 cases were produced of this release.

Constant Diamond Mountain Syrah 2006

 Constant Diamond Mountain Syrah 2006

During our recent visit to Diamond Creek Vineyards up on Diamond Mountain in northwestern Napa Valley, we reminisced about our trip up to the top of the mountain to visit Constant Winery and Vineyards and considered reaching out to them to arrange a follow up visit.

For a casual grilled steak dinner at home, I pulled this Constant Diamond Mountain Syrah in remembrance of our just completed trip and as a tribute to the departed producer Freddie Constant.

This was consistent with earlier tasting notes - The 2006 Constant exhibited dark inky purple color - medium-full bodied, nicely balanced and polished bright full flavors of blue and black fruits with a layer of ripe plum and sweet clove, hints of tea and cedar on the lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience 2017

Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience 2017

We just returned from a week touring the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country. This year we broke from the tradition and routine we adopted years ago of focusing on one 'AVA' (American Viticultural Area) or appellation per trip. We adopted this approach years ago for several reasons: the immersion in one appellation provided a comparative tasting of producers' styles and terrior effects, it simplified and limited transit travel from one wine stop to the next, and, in retrospect, its much easier to recall specifics of a trip as we recount experiences from our trip that focused on 'Atlas Peak', 'Diamond Mtn',  'Howell Mtn', 'Mt Veeder', and/or 'Spring Mtn' appellations.

Notably, we started this model when we were focusing on 'mountain' appellations where travel is much more challenging in the remote mountain regions. We adopted an approach of starting at the top of the mountain and working our way down. This worked out well and allowed efficiency, enjoyment, and perspective on the whole wine and travel experience.

This trip was the first time for one of our travelers so we were showcasing certain favored producers. We were also visiting or revisiting select targeted favorite producers rather than selecting based on geography.

This was also our first trip to focus on exploring and discovering the more remote appellations of Sonoma County, as a discovery and learning trip, setting the stage for further in-depth immersive studies in the future. We stayed the first few days in the Pacific coastal town of Bodega Bay.

Sonoma County is vast, covering almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, with a broad diverse range of terrior and microclimates. Sonoma County, reaches all the way to the Pacific Coast from the west side of the Mayacamas Mountain range that forms the eastern boundary of the Sonoma Valley and separates Sonoma Valley from Napa Valley. Sonoma County consists of 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations) – each with its own distinctive characteristics. There are more than 400 wineries in the region.
The western Sonoma County Sonoma Coast area is emerging as the source of 'cool climate' Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
This week we focused on, visited and toured the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Dry Creek Valley appellations, as well as Sonoma Valley. This set the stage, so watch for more immersive studies on these areas in the future, now that we have the big picture and understanding of navigating the region.

This trip targeted and featured several of our favorite and well known producers whose wines we hold and drink regularly as featured in this blog: Diamond Creek, Lewis Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Hall Rutherford Estate, Del Dotto, Darioush and Cliff Lede, and a few others.

We also discovered some new producers or producer's sites in the remote Sonoma areas - Gary Farrell and Porter Creek Vineyards and Winery. Lastly, we also visited Krug in Sonoma County, and  Chateau St Jean and Kunde in Sonoma Valley, and Trefethen in Napa.

Watch for and follow my winery visit reports and tasting notes and purchase and tasting 'Tweets' on @unwindwine on Twitter and in this blog in the coming days and weeks as I draft and publish my experiences and findings.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cave Tour Barrel Tasting

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cave Tour Barrel Tasting

We've been fans of Del Dotto Vineyards and their Estate wines since the early nineties dating back to their inaugural release in 1993. We still hold a vertical collection of their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to those earliest vintages. We visited and featured Del Dotto during several of our Napa Valley Wine Experiences in 1998 through 2008.

In recent years we focused on targeting specific appellations in the Napa Valley region, notably the Mountain appellations: Howell Mtn, Mt Veeder, Spring Mtn, Diamond Mtn and Pritchard Hill. So it is that returning to Napa Valley, we saved Del Dotto for our last producer visit private tasting to wind up this year's Sonoma/NapaValley Wine Experience tour.

Remarkably, Del Dotto have expanded their operations significantly (shown on their vineyards and Napa appellations map, right) since those early days and now have properties and Vineyards up on the Sonoma Coast in northwestern Sonoma County, where they source their Pinot Noir and Chardonnays, on Howell Mtn, St. Helena Mtn, and Pritchard Hill, as well as their Napa Valley Rutherford, St Helena and Oakville valley floor locations. They've opened Villa Del Lago up on Pritchard Hill overlooking the southeast Napa Valley, featuring ultra premium wines, and soon will be opening Piazza Del Dotto Winery and Caves in Oakville, which will eventually feature a culinary experience as well.

So, on our just completed 'Pour Boys'  Sonoma/NapaValley Wine Experience we revisited or visited some of our old favorite producers in Napa Valley including Del Dotto. This was the first time we've done a formal cave tour and barrel tasting since they built their new magnificent cave facility on the site of the Estate on Hwy 29 at Zinfandel Lane, just south of St Helena (shown left).

I've written before that the Del Dotto Cave Experience and Barrel Tasting is one of the most spectacular experiences in Napa Valley. This has been acknowledged by many to whom I recommended such, that it was the highlight of their Napa trip. Indeed, our group were reserved in their expectations in indulging me to visit this long-time favorite producer, but in the end, they all agreed it was a spectacular tasting experience.

Of course, those in our wine group are all very familiar with Del Dotto wines, having tasting them many times from our cellar. This immersive experience exceeded all expectations in the tour and tasting of their expanding portfolio of labels, as well as revisiting many old favorites.

I am not aware of any other wine producer or wine tour that features and highlights barrel tastings from their wine caves to the extent that Del Dotto does. Its great fun as well as a great tasting adventure, especially for discriminating wine aficionados (wine geeks). As they have done since the early days, they focus much on their cooperage (barrels) and their effects on their wines.

Del Dotto craft selective wines specifically based on special barrel oak selections in their Connoisseurs' Series of special labels. In the example shown at the left, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon featuring a vineyard designated (887), specific (vineyard) block (North/Front), special Cobert French Oak barrel select label.

They also now offer a selection of Bordeaux varietal blends including their 'David' Proprietary Blend from two different appellations, and their 'Cave Blend' label.

The flight of wines we tasted from barrel were:

Villa Del Lago Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Del Dotto Napa Valley St. Helena Mountain Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Del Dotto Napa Valley 'The David' Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Del Dotto Napa Valley 'The David' Howell Mountain (Cabernet Sauvignon) Proprietary Blend 2015

Del Dotto Napa Valley 'Vineyard 887' Connoisseurs' Series St Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Colbert French Oak North/Front 2015

Del Dotto Napa Valley 'Cave Blend' Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Del Dotto Cinghiale Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2016

The Del Dotto wines we tasted from bottle were:

Piazza Napa Valley Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Del Dotto Napa Valley St. Helena Mountain Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Del Dotto Napa Valley Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve 2014

Del Dotto 'Delores' Red Dessert Wine

More to follow ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lewis Cellars Napa Chateau Tasting

A private tasting at Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Chateau

One of the most anticipated wine producer visit tastings at our just completed Pour Boys 2017 Napa Wine Experience was a visit to the Chateau of Lewis Cellars. 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 Cabernets, 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 learned at our tasting that this is the inaugural vintage of this label/blend of which we still hold two bottles, and every vintage bottle since.

When I mentioned at our tasting that we still hold a couple bottles of the 1997 Alec's Blend, I was told to 'drink up', but based on recent tastings, I am not in a hurry, they still have some time left!

At the time of the writing of this blogpost, the blog search shows twelve postings of Lewis wines (Lewis Cellars (12)). Scrolling through those tastings are posts tied to many memorable family and friend wine tastings and dinners. 

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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015 - Mothers Day Family Dinner Features Lewis Alec's Blend

Sunday, August 17, 2014 - Family Celebration Dinner - Favorite Wines & Foods
Family Celebration Dinner - Favorite Wines & Foods for our anniversary celebration family dinner featuring Lewis Cellars Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Friday, December 25, 2015 - Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Alec's Blend 2003 - Son Alec's Signature Namesake Label for Family Holiday Celebration Dinner

Thursday, August 30, 2012 - Alec's Blend, Robert Craig Affinity, Penn Shore Diamond
Celebration Family Dinner - Alec's Blend, Robert Craig Affinity, Penn Shore Diamond
For son Alec's last night home before setting off for the east coast embarking on his post college professional career, we gathered for a gala family farewell dinner. Linda served up tenderloin beef skewers, twice baked potatoes, green beans almondine, grilled lobster tails, and for desert her decadent flowerless chocolate cake with fresh berries and whipped cream. For the special occasion and gathering, to complement the tenderloin beef skewers of the surf and turf. we naturally served up some of our favorite wines - Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend, 2005,

Saturday, August 27, 2016 - Super Second Bordeaux vs. Napa's Finest Bordeaux Blends. For a wine dinner at Dr Dan's, he prepared a wonderful meal of grilled T-bone steaks with grilled vegetables and an extraordinary selection of top ranked super second Bordeaux and Napa blends including Lewis Cellars Cabernet 

Thursday, November 28, 2013 - Thanksgiving Celebration Dinner - A wine-tasting adventure diverts from usual fare.

Saturday, May 5, 2012 - Graduation celebration wine tasting flight featuring 1990 vintage birthyear wines. Gala celebration of son Alec and his roommates' graduation from Indiana U, Kelly School of Business, featuring specially selected wine flight of namesake or other memorable wines saved for the occasion.

So it was that we have some experience with Lewis wines going back two decades, we thought we knew their wines and history. Never-the-less, we learned a great deal at the Chateau tasting and the connections and earlier experiences are even more numerous.

We learned from our host David Gibson (shown left preparing our order) at the wine tasting that our paths have crossed Randy Lewis' at several times during our 'wine' adventures and careers. From 1989-93 we learned Randy was associated with Oakville Ranch wine. We collected and tasted that label and still hold several vintages dating back to that era. We learned Joe Cafaro was the early winemaker sourcing fruits and producing wines from up on Pritchard Hill in 92 and 93 leading up to the Lewis 'launch' in '94. We hold many wines from this area during that time and probably hold some that contain the same fruit sources as those early pre-Lewis vintage labels. We learned Helen Turley was winemaker in '94. Once again we hold many Helen Turley wines from the last three decades dating back to those days.

So it is that we have strong affinity for and affection for Lewis wines.

Randy was a professional race car driver for 23 years. In addition to driving Formula Three in Europe, where he fell in love with local wines and lifestyles, Randy returned to the States to compete in Formula 5000, Can Am, and finally Indy Cars from 1983 to 1991. He ran in five Indy 500's where he qualified on the 4th row three times with a best finish of 13th. His Indy career came to an end during a horrific crash in 1991. As Hoosiers with a lifelong Indy connection, we've followed every Indy race for the last five decades. After that incident, Randy set up his alternative career in wine making, having always been Randy's second love after racing, and he feels fortunate to be making a living doing what he loves.

While Lewis don't own their own vineyards, they have long term contracts with many grower sources, some for terms as long as thirty years. We collect and drink some other wines similarly situated such as Freemark Abbey and their long term affiliation with the Bosche' vineyard, source for their vineyard designated select Cabernet which we own going back to the '92 vintage.

Obviously, whatever they are doing, it is working, witnessed by the fact their 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was selected Top #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator Magazine for 2016. That vintage also received a 100 point Robert Parker rating, the first wine to accomplish both accolades in the same year. My reaction to this was mixed ... it was strong affirmation of one of my favorite wines, but it also meant that wine would be harder to obtain due to stronger demand, and command higher prices in the marketplace from that point forward.

Lewis source the finest fruit from Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford and Oak Knoll for our their varietals. Chardonnay comes from Oak Knoll and Russian River Valley. Each site was selected for a specific varietal character, with many of the vineyards being planted exclusively for them. They choose low vigor rootstocks and clone selections that give balanced vines and modest yields, producing maximum flavors.

Today, Lewis'  winemaker is Josh Widaman who holds a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology from UC Davis. Josh brings 15 years of winemaking experience to Lewis, coming from Pahlmeyer, and previous experience of 4 years as assistant winemaker at Chimney Rock Winery and multiple roles at Stags' Leap Winery, Gloria Ferrer, and Viña Tarapaca in Chile.

The last Napa wine trip we did, Lewis had not opened their Chateau tasting room, so this was our first experience to visit, meet and taste Lewis Cellars.

Our tasting flight at Lewis consisted of the follow wines:

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2015 

Alec's Blend Napa Valley Red Blend 2014

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Merlot 2014 

Lewis Cellars Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 

The tasting experience:

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2015  

The winemaker notes say; "Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" best captures the character of our rocking 2015 Reserve Chardonnay. Ripe succulent D'Anjou pear, gardenia blossom, sweet mineral spice and toasty brioche aromas come singing through. Broad shouldered with creamy textured leesy flavors, the wine reaches great depth while maintaining precision and serious structure."

Butter colored, medium full bodied, very pleasant bright vibrant crisp notes of citrus laced pear with notes of floral, soft sweet oak and hints of lychee fruits.

RM 92 points.

 Alec's Blend Napa Valley Red Blend 2014

We already own this wine and hold more than a dozen vintages so we know this label well. This is a unique label - a blend of Syrah and Bordeaux varietals, a rare combination and style that we like very much.

Winemaker notes: With one year of college completed, (Their Alec is a seven years junior to our Alec.) Alec's wine is both boy and man in this boundary-pushing blend of Syrah 50%, Merlot 34% and Cabernet 6%. Asserting his independence through explosively ripe blackberry and huckleberry fruits, there's also kirsch-like cherry cola, spicy oak, supple tannin and a trace of s'mores that closer to home. Tremendously youthful and seriously good fund, Alec's Blend remains a kid at heart.

Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated black and blue fruits with notes of cola, spicy oak, hints of caramel and mocha on the chewy tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Merlot 2014

Winemaker notes: "In his '56 recording of "Blueberry Hill", Fats Domino could have been singing about our 2014 Merlot - a a dream girl of perfumey fruits and cedary-oak spices. Fleshy, polished and ripe with plenty of youthful drive the wine is beautifully balanced, finishing with long supple legs.

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, nicely balanced full black raspberry fruits with notes of sweet spicy oak, hints of mocha and cedar on a long smooth silky tannin finish.

RM 92

Lewis Cellars Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 

Winemaker notes: "The best qualities from our past two vintages come together like yin and yang in our singular 2014 Reserve Cabernet. Radiant color and souring aromas of ripe blackberry, toasty oak spices, black truffle and cappucino make an expressive entree. Fleshy and supply at first, the wine expands into deeper, more concentrated fruit layers wiht chocolaty, fine grained tannins.

Dark inky purple color, full bodied, rich concentrated complex black raspberry and blackberry fruits accented by notes of spice, sweet oak, expresso and hints of cedar on the long silky smooth tannin laced finish.

RM 93 points.

More to come ... 

Darioush Napa Valley Estate Winery Visit & Tasting

Darioush Napa Valley Estate Winery Visit & Tasting

During our recent 'Pour Boys'  Sonoma/NapaValley Wine Experience this month, we visited several longstanding favorite producers including Darioush. This was fitting since we first discovered and tasted Darioush at CCCC with Bill and Beth C on our first wine event together more than a decade ago. And, Dr Dan was our guest at a special Darioush wine dinner at Everest in Chicago, shortly after Linda and I visited the winery and did a barrel tasting with winemaker Steve Devitt during the construction of their magnificent hospitality center.

The Darioush facility sitting against the Vaca Moutain range on the east side of Silverado Trail in southeast Napa Valley, is one of the most architecturally unique, impressive and stylish wine facilities in the valley. The building design is a tribute to the history and culture of the ancient city of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the First Persian Empire which is situated near the Persian city of Shiraz, in southwestern Iran, which happens to be the birthplace of founder Khaledi Darioush. Persepolis is the Latinized version of the Old Persian name, "Parsa" which means the "city of Persians."

The striking architecture features a stand of columns from the great capital each featuring a pair of lamassus, bulls with the heads of bearded men and a pair with wings. Persepolis was discovered in the early 1930s. It is believed that king Darius I built the terrace and the palaces.

Darioush pay tribute to King Darius in their ultra-premium flagship label Cabernet which is packaged in stylish, ornate, elegant etched bottles (shown left in magnum and double-magnum).

The magnificent facility surrounded by fountains and grounds is filled with artwork and architectural artifacts attributable to Darioush's heritage, the Persian history, culture and architecture.

In retrospect, perhaps we should've scheduled a private tasting of Darioush wines since we're familiar with their wines that are found in distribution. Our history with Darius and Shahpar dessert wine date back to wines we acquired during a visit to the winery. Such a tasting would've been more comparable to some of the tastings we did at other producers during our trip this week. In any event, another key objective of our tours this week was to introduce Napa and some of the notable producers' and winery sites to members of our group who were new to the whole experience.

We tasted the Darioush Wine 'Portfolio Tasting' shown below, which featured an introduction to the
range of their popular labels and varietal offerings. We did discover a new here-to-fore unknown label "Duel", Darioush' unique proprietary blend of Cabernet and Shiraz.

2015 Signature Chardonnay, Napa Valley from the southern Napa Valley estate and renowned Chardonnay vineyards of the Los Carneros district where the Napa and Sonoma Valleys come meet. 

2014 Duel Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon

Grown from two distinct blocks on the Darioush estate in Napa Valley and the Oak Knoll appellations, Duel is the a unique proprietary blend of two distinguished varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

2014 Signature Shiraz, Napa Valley from Darioush Estate Vineyards in Napa Valley and the Oak Knoll District appellation.

2013 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

 More to follow ...