Monday, November 27, 2017

Duo Napa Cabs - Del Dotto - Digiulio

Duo of Napa Cabernets Cabernet Sauvignon - Del Dotto 2002 and Marco Di Giulio Mt Veeder Progeny Vineyard 2001

With friend Mike in from NYC, we dined at Angelis Italian, our favorite local trattoria. I pulled from the cellar two Napa Valley Cabernets from Italian namesake producers - Del Dotto and Marco Di Giulio for the occasion.

We tasted the Marco Di Giulio Mt Veeder Progeny Vineyard 2001 with artisan cheeses at the house beforehand.

Marco DiGiulio unique hand-crafted wines minimalist style wines were available under the winemakers' label and branding in limited quantities during the 2001 through 2004 vintages. They could be found in the boutique and specialist wineshops in Napa Valley or in the 'after market' via wine auctions. They were classic vineyard expressions of terrior, that unique expression of each vineyards distinctive character, produced in very small quantities of 200 to 300 cases. His approach to winemaking is fairly minimal, rather letting the vineyard and each vintage speak for itself. As he says, he wants to “taste” each vineyard.

Marco produced his wines at Bin to Bottle, a high quality custom crush facility for a number of small Napa Vintners in South Napa where he is a partner.

Winemaker Marco DiGiulio was born and raised in San Francisco soon after his parents parents emigrated from Tuscany. They become successful Bay Area restaurateurs and Marco grew up exposed to wonderful Italian meals and wine as part of everyday life growing up in the city's trendy North Beach.

Marco developed an in-depth knowledge of winemaking and viticulture through education and experience in the industry. He graduated with a degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis in 1985.

He spent two years at Buena Vista, then worked as cellar master at Pine Ridge Winery for more than four years before moving on to production manager for Atlas Peak Vineyards. He was appointed as winemaker for Pezzi King Vineyards in 1994. He became the winemaker at Pepi Winery in Oakville in '95. During this time he took charge of the Lokoya brand after the death of celebrated winemaker and mentor Greg Upton. At Lokoya, Marco earned his reputation for making world class Cabernet Sauvignon. Today Marco is no longer is entirely employed by one winery, rather he is a consulting winemaker for a number of high end boutique producers in the Napa area.

Marco also devotes attention to his personal projects: Vintage Wine Estates, Bin to Bottle, Lookout Ridge and Marco DiGiulio Wines where he strives to produce wines that reflect the rugged landscapes of the vineyard sources.

Marco Di Giulio Napa Valley Mount Veeder Progeny Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Progeny Vineyard owned by Betty O'Shaughnessy of the family with the winery bearing their name on Howell Mountain producing wines made primarily from vineyards on that site. The Mt. Veeder vineyard is laid out with steep terraced blocks that cling to a northeastern facing hillside at about 1,400 ft.

The 2001 vintage is considered one of the all time classics in the Napa Valley with a long mild summer, and ideal weather leading up to the harvest that produced wines with optimum intensity and character.

Marco Di Giulio Napa Valley Mount Veeder Progeny Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 -  
Dark inky color. Big floral nose. Mouthful of black berry, cedar, spicy oak and finely integrated polished tannins on a long flavorful finish. 

RM 92 

Winemaker's Notes: "This wine is all about power.  From its inky deep purple color to its broad shouldered tannins, this is a big wine. On the nose, the first impression is one of blackberry and blueberry fruit with an underlying biscuity note from the oak.  Think berry cobbler in a glass.  On the palate, the wine is mouthfilling and explodes with fruit.  The tannins, while quite evident, are well tamed and there's enough fruit richness to balance them out.  The finish is long and complex, with more black fruit and spice. As for ultimate aging potential, with proper cellaring, I would guess 15 to 20 years wouldn't be too much of a stretch."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Varied vintage wine flight complements beef brisket dinner

Varied vintage wine flight complements beef brisket dinner

For an impromptu post Thanksgiving dinner, we hosted Dr Dan and Linda over for beef brisket and a broad flight of accompanying wines. This was our first get-together since our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience. One of the highlights of our Napa trip was the barrel tasting in the caves at the Del Dotto estate in Rutherford. Our cases of wine purchased during that trip are shipping this week so we featured a couple of Del Dotto Napa Bordeaux varietals to commemorate that tasting, and to make room for the Del Dotto due to arrive this week.

We enjoyed a broad flight of five wines that maintained a consistent theme of bold, bright expressive tangy spice fruits accented by cedar and eucalyptus notes that perfectly matched the tangy barbecue dinner, and pecan and pumpkin pie desserts. The progressive flight built in intensity, then complexity, then closing on the consistent harmonious theme.

We started the evening with Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve with artisan cheeses and transitioning to opening with the smoked beef brisket. As we got into the medley of Original, Sweet, and Spicy barbecue sauces, we drank a big  concentrated spicy Clarendon Hills Bakers Gully Shiraz. We following with a spicy Del Dotto Cabernet Franc, a perfect transition from the barbecue to rest of the accompaniments and transition to the dessert course. Next we served a Del Dotto "David", signature flagship and namesake wine of the producer. Finally, we closed out with an aged vintage Silver Oak to match the signature oak profile with the pronounced spicy cedar notes of the David.

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2005

This was the initial vintage of this wine that we discovered eventually culminating in this being one of our favorite Pinots that we keep in the cellar for suitable pairing and enjoyable casual sipping.

Dark garnet opaque color, medium bodied, black berry, black raspberry and black cherry fruits with notes of violet, dusty rose, hints of earthy leather, spice, clove and whisper of white pepper, medium to tart acidity, moderate tannins on the medium finish. Still holding at a dozen years but slight bricking on the edges indicates this is at the end of just beyond its prime drinking window and will continue to decline here forward.

RM 91 points.

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Shiraz 2003

Its hard to believe its been a half dozen years since we last opened this label when I wrote this tasting note that still holds true. While this is past its prime and starting to show its age, it is still drinking very well; "Dark garnet inky color, full bodied, concentrated thick chewy, almost coating the tongue - forward black and blue fruits, ripe black raspberry turns to a tone of spice, hint of cedar and kirsch with a slight metallic/mineral undertone - ends with a full, moderate soft chewy tannin finish."

RM 91

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

Del Dotto were one of the first producers to bottle Cabernet Franc as a standalone bottling. This is a great wine to keep on hand for special pairing with food highlighting the distinctive characteristics of this varietal.

Like the other wines tasted, this one too at fifteen year is aging very nicely and still holding well within its drinking window. Consistent with earlier tasting notes, dark garnet color, full bodied, bright cinnamon spice, raspberry, hint of cedar and mocha on a big, long silky smooth tannin finish.

RM 92

 Del Dotto "The David" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2002

On initial opening, this was closed and muted, lackluster in all respects, then after about a half hour it seem to explode with a bright expressive nose and burst of fruit and spice flavors. The  tones of eucalyptus and cedar almost made one's eyes water they were so pronounced from the glass.

Consistent with my tasting notes five years ago, now in its fifteenth year, this was still vibrant and lively but will likely not improve further with age. Dark garnet colored, full bodied and bold, complex and concentrated, the Rutherford fruit shows through as the expressive full forward black berry and black cherry fruits predominating with accents of cassis, spice box and Mayacamas cedar / eucalyptus tones. That Del Dotto craftsmanship of layered oak and hints of mocha are apparent on a long soft, plush, layered fine tannin finish.

RM 93 points.

Robert Parker gave this 94 points in his 02/05 review of this wine when he wrote: "The flagship wine, the 2002 David, is a 400-case blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 19% Cabernet Franc. The wine has tremendous density and a gorgeously perfumed nose of cedar, spice box, black cherries, and cassis. Opaquely colored, deeply flavored, and rich, with chocolatey ,currant flavors, a savory texture, and a persistent palate, it will drink well for 7-8 years."

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

As the third label from this legendary producer, following the flagship Bonny's Vineyard that was discontinued in the early nineties, then the Napa label, the Alexander Valley bottling shows amazing longevity and staying power. Few people hold this wine for three decades but we enjoy it new and aged.

This bottle actually showed and tasted better than my earlier review a couple years ago. Like the other wines, this one showed the same consistent style and profile as with my earlier tasting notes, when I wrote, "At twenty six years, this was showing its age in the rust brickish color showing on the edges. Muted upon opening, the expressive signature layers of 'silver' oak emerged and amplified over the course of the evening. The slightly astringent acidic black berry fruit was punctuated by a layer of leather, earthy tobacco leaf and black tea before giving way to the layer of oak that permeated the finish. This was a special bottle that showed its heritage and terroir well."

RM 90 points.

Notable too is that Dr Dan brought two exquisite bottles for our dinner - Joseph Phelps Backus 2010 and a Sea Smoke Sea Spray 2012, anticipating a grilled steak dinner, which was the original plan. We cellared these and we'll enjoy them together at a future tasting dinner.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Palmaz Gastón Napa Cabernet 2001

Palmaz Vineyards Gastón Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Celebrating a personal milestone achievement this week, I wanted to pull a special bottle from the cellar for a Sunday afternoon grilled steak dinner. With many from which to choose, I selected this Palmaz Vineyards Gastón Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. As noted on the Palmaz website, this limited release label is only produced in top vintages. It is named for Amalia and Julio’s Palmaz' son, Christian Gastón, and "comes from the best lots of Cabernet on the vineyard, and is made and released only when the family feels that the wine will live up to its special designation. Generally this wine features a focused intensity along with a rich texture, with notes of cocoa and blackberries cradled in lush oak-driven aromas. Whatever the year, one constant remains: This wine represents the estate’s best."

Julio and Amalia Palmaz along with their children, Florencia and Christian Gastón (and Christian’s wife, Jessica Louise), have created a winery that leverages tradition and technology in the service of crafting great vintages, a 600-acre estate with 64 acres of vineyards that produce premium and ultra-premium wines among the finest from Napa Valley.

The property was originally developed by Henry Hagen who arrived on the West Coast in in 1852 during the height of continental expansion and the Gold Rush. He initially settled in San Francisco then in 1881 headed north, purchasing a parcel of land in the southern end of nearby Napa Valley, against the forested ridges of Mount George above what is now the town of Napa. There he founded Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery, where the Palmaz Vineyards and family reside today, just off what’s now known as Hagen Road.

Hagen became one of the pioneers of the Napa Valley producing noteworthy wines that were featured at the San Francisco Opera House and wining a silver medal for his brandy at L’Exposition Universelle de Paris 1889 World’s Fair.

Hagen died in 1895, leaving behind 450 acres of “fine vineland.” While Cedar Knoll was lauded for its wines (and spirits), Hagen’s descendants did not pursue the business and with the arrival of Prohibition in 1919, the property’s winemaking endeavors were abandoned until the Palmaz family purchased the property in the late 1990s to set about restoring its former glory.

Palmaz Vineyards Gaston Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This label is named for Amalia and Julio’s son, Christian Gastón, and consists of the best lots of Cabernet on the vineyard. It is made and released only when the family feels that the wine will live up to its special designation, this wine represents the estate’s best.

This 2001 release was the premier inaugural release of Gaston Cabernet Sauvignon and was the first wine release from the Palmaz family beginning an endeavor in single varietal expression. It was produced by none other than the legendary winemaker Randy Dunn at his Howell Mountain winery in the hallmark of the Dunn style with its firm structured expressive fruits.

A visit to the Dunn estate and vineyards to meet Randy was a highlight of our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience back in 2008 (shown right).

The winemaker noted, "The 2001 vintage exhibits aromas of dried rose petal and cranberries, with undertones of leather. The acid bursts onto the palate and carries through to a refreshing finish. This Cabernet Sauvignon is reminiscent of classic Bordeaux, featuring firm tannins and alluring brown flavors."

According to Stephen Tanzer in his Jan/Feb '05 International Wine Cellar review: "Dark ruby-red. Medicinal black cherry and a whiff of band-aid on the nose. Then juicy and primary on the palate, with fruit-driven flavors of tart redcurrant and pomegranate, along with a suggestion of berry skin. Firmly structured if a bit youthfully rigid. I would have picked this as cabernet franc. Finishes with firm, dusty tannins. A rare beast: a Napa cabernet from a ripe year with less than 14% alcohol."

This was dark ruby colored, medium full bodied with complex, bright expressive slightly tart black cherry and currant fruits accented by a layer of what Steve Tanzer referred to a medicinal "band-aid" note, with tones of menthol, earthy leather, hints of creosote tar with dark spices turning to firm but approachable dusty tannins on the moderate finish.

RM 90 points.

This is a Bordeaux style blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% Merlot 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015

Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015

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

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

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

RM 87 points.  

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Arns Melanson Napa Syrah 08

Arns Melanson Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RM 92 points.

Arns Estate Visit on Rick's WineSite ...

Monday, November 6, 2017

Blind Comparison Vintage Cabs

Blind Tasting Comparison of Premier Vintage Cabs

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

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

Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Diamond Mountain Cabs Steak Wine Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting fun facts about Diamond Mountain AVA

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

 Diamond Creek Vineyards Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

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

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 

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

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

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


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sea Smoke - Cliff Lede highlight FLW Tour Picnic

Sea Smoke and Cliff Lede Highlight Historic Architectural Sites Tailgate Picnic

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

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

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

Cliff Lede Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

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

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

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

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

RM 90 points.

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

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

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

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

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

Auldbrass Plantation with Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RM 91 points.
92 points Wine Spectator