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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Caymus Estate Cab Anniversary

Caymus Estate Cab Anniversary Branding Caps Day in the City Outing and Celebration Dinner

A couple years ago, in 2014, the well know Napa Valley producer Caymus changed their longstanding label branding and associated packaging to commemorate their 40th anniversary. One of the notable packaging elements was a prominent '40' on the top of the foil. It just so happens that Caymus' anniversary aligns with our wedding anniversary so we served the 40th commemorative bottle at several family dinners including a gala family celebration dinner in honor of our 40th.

So it was only fitting that Linda and I selected a Caymus '43' Cabernet for a special anniversary dinner outing together. We ventured into Chicago for the day to celebrate the end of summer and it turned into an all day outing, culminating in a upscale dinner at Chicago Cut Steakhouse on the Chicago River.

The plan was to head into the city, have lunch and then take in the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of our favorite city destinations.  We are long time members and make it a point to take in all the special exhibits. We get much joy from, appreciate and take advantage of our proximity to AIC which is truly a world class attraction, having been selected as the #1 museum in the world by Tripadvisor, a major travel site.

We ventured in looking for a place we could eat al fresco enroute or downtown. We researched and explored 'Little Italy' which we used to enjoy decades ago but had lost track of it. We've determined that the Little Italy as we used to know it doesn't exist any more having given way to the influx of Latinos taking over the near southwest side which has become Little village, Mexico of the Midwest, and the growth and spread of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the emergence of the hip new University Village area, and the expansion of the Illinois Medical District on the near west south side.

Seeking a new adventure, we sidestepped several of our usual favorites in the area such as Chez Joel on Taylor Street, and May Street Cafe down in Pilsen. We ended up at Lagunitas Brewery north of the Little Village Neighborhood in what is actually Douglas Park neighborhood, tucked away above the BNSF railroad, in the industrial district to the east of the Douglas Park.

We had the address and set out for the site from University Village area and wandered through Little Village meadering back and forth across the railroad line a couple times as we headed west.

We had no idea what to expect and were amazed at the size of the facility and operations and hospitality areas that included of the Brewhouse Tap Restaurant overlooking the brewery and bottling packaging operations below.

Amazingly, this has become a destination in its own right. The anticipation of what is to come is heightened by the spectacle of the long access hallways, the second with long velvet ropes set up to accompany large crowds. We took in lunch and then opted for a self guided tour rather than the formal guided affair.

After the Gauguin exhibit we walked the new River Walk along the south bank of the Chicago River. The energy of the crowds, boat traffic, revelers, and multiple wedding parties was amazing as the city has clearly taken to this new attraction, from the water as well as by land. Clearly both feed on each other creating a vibrant spectacle. Not wanting it to end, we ventured across the river to Chicago Cut Steakhouse for a riverside table view wine and dine experience overlooking the river from the upper level.

The parade of boat traffic seemed to be endless as the tour boats were each completely full with folks taking in the scenery of the spectacular architecture and the whole river scene on the last holiday weekend of summer.

Its was with a sense of great pride and fun to share our wonderful city with visitors from around the world as we noted that it almost seemed that English was a second language among the throngs of people taking in the scene. At dinner we sat adjacent to French speaking visitors from Montreal as well as folks from neighboring Indiana and Michigan.

Caymus Estate '43' Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

The Caymus was dark garnet/purple colored, full bodied, with rich concentrated dense vibrant blackberry, black raspberry and blue berry fruits; initial alcohol heat that burns off with decanting and some settling time, notes of cassis and hint of sweet vanilla with silky smooth tannins on the long lingering finish.

RM 93 points.

The Caymas cab was a perfect accompaniment to our Chicago Cut prime filet steaks, perfectly prepared in my favorite 'Pittsburgh style', with sides of creamed spinach and whipped potatoes. The Kale and Quinoa salad with candied nuts and fruits was fabulous.

Caymus is one of our favorite Napa Cabs with it smooth polished but bold vibrant style. Caymus is known for early accessible drinking but also can be aged for further maturation in the bottle. While not known for its aging potential, we've held Caymus for close to twenty years for mature fine drinking enjoyment.

As is tooo often the case, Chicago Cut served our wine too warm, such that we actually had them put our red wine in an ice bucket to bring it down to appropriate serving temperature. When you're paying 2x plus times retail for a wine, its not unreasonable to expect ideal service with appropriate glassware, decanting and proper serving temperature. I don't know why this is so difficult for so many restaurants. Its unacceptable when paying $175 for a bottle of 'moderate' priced wine on the wine list to expect it at appropriate temperature for consumption, but it happens much too often.

We enjoy drinking our wine at proper cellar temperature which at 58-63 degrees is ten to fifteen degrees below room temperature, not room temp or above. We keep our home cellar even cooler at about 53 degrees and find it ideal for our drinking pleasure as well as for long term storage. Amazingly, more than once we've been served expensive bottles of fine wine, that were brought from a storage area adjacent to the kitchen, well above room temperature. Restaurants serious about their wine service (and expecting high price points and associated margins) should be held accountable, and should know better.

A great memorable special day in our beloved Chicago.