Sunday, December 30, 2018

Festive Holiday Dinner at Hemingway's Bistro Oak Park

Festive Holiday Dinner at Hemingway's Bistro Oak Park

For son Alec's last night at home for the holidays before returning to NYC, we normally would've dined out at his 'alma mater' restaurant where he worked through high school and college, Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria. Instead, we opted for another favorite Hemingway's Bistro in Oak Park. We were accompanied by Sean and Michelle.

To accompany our authentic Provencal cuisine, I took a Bordeaux Blend from the cellar, Pirouette from Washington State Long Shadows, crafted by Frenchman turned California and subsequently Washington State winemaker, Philip Melka.

We're long time fans of the work of Philip Melka, named one of the top nine winemakers in the world by Robert Parker. He collaborates with Long Shadows to craft this label from small lots sourced from Washington State's finest vineyards. We visited Long Shadows during our Woodinville, Washington Wine Experience this summer where we tasted and acquired the current release of this label. Tonight we drank a fourteen year old 2004 vintage release.

Long Shadows Vintners is a collection of seven ultra-premium Columbia Valley wines showcasing the viticulture of the growing region and features internationally acclaimed winemakers who inspired them.

Founded in 2003 by Washington State wine visionary Allen Shoup, the Long Shadows project is based on the collaboration of notable winemakers from around the world, each known for a particular varietal based wine. Each vintner was given access to Washington State's best grapes and a winery to accommodate their exacting cellar specifications. The imaginative project has been an immense success and the wines have received critical acclaim vintage after vintage. Long Shadows has collectively  won numerous awards, including recognition as Food & Wine magazine's "Winery of the Year."

Philippe Melka is the creator of Pirouette, his first wine from Washington State, as he normally hails from Napa Valley where he is involved in cult favorites Hundred Acre, Seavey Vineyard, Dana Estates and Vineyard 29, as well as his own branded namesake labeled wines. Robert Parker Jr. wrote in the March 2013 issue of Food and Wine magazine, "Anything associated with (his) name is of undeniably high, high quality."

Melka had worked with Quintessa owner Agustin Huneeus, Sr. who introduced him to Allen Shoup and Long Shadows. Huneeus was a longtime friend of Shoup and became the first vintner to embrace Allen's vision for Long Shadows. He introduced Philippe as the perfect winemaker to craft the Bordeaux blend both he and Allen envisioned.

Philippe was born and educated in Bordeaux, earning a master's degree in agronomy and enology. He learned the trade and honed his skills at some of the world's most famous wineries including Château Cheval Blanc, Petrus and Château Haut-Brion, where he developed his passion for cabernet-based blends, like Pirouette. 

For our first course selections we drank from the winelist Louis Roederer NV Champagne with the Lobster Bisque, Foie Gras du jour and salads.

Hemingway's is known for a selection of fresh seafoods and most of us followed suit. Linda ordered the Striped Sea Bass, Alec had the diver sea scallops, Sean and Michelle had the crusted whitefish and I had the strip steak au poivre' entrees.

For dessert, Linda shared the chocolate souffle and I had the trio of sorbets, black raspberry, mango and strawberry. 

Long Shadows Pirouette Red Wine Blend 2004

I brought this Bordeaux Blend to accompany my Strip Steak aux poivre'.  While it is a blend of Bordeaux varietals Cabernet, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, it also contains a percentage of Syrah. It seems the Syrah almost predominated with a residual sweetness un-befitting the blend. The blend is 49% Cabernet, 37% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 11% Syrah. It is showing no signs of diminution from aging at fourteen years and seems to still be at the apex of its drinking window.

The cork came apart on opening so the server had to decant this and strain it to remove the crumbled cork and residual sediment. Bright ruby colored, medium-full bodied, vibrant, rich concentrated forward black and blue fruits with highlights of black cherry, notes of cassis, spice and hints of cedar and creosote giving way to sweet almost obtuse bing cherry notes on the tangy lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Maison L’Envoyé Attaché Pinot Noir

Maison L’Envoyé Attaché Pinot Noir 2012

Ryan brought this Pinot Noir over for Christmas dinner to accompany baked ham, candied yams, zuchini and cauliflower casserole.

This label, Maison L’Envoye Attaché is a project of film producer turned vintner, Mark Tarlov, founder, who was recently written up as one of the 9 People You Need To Know In American Wine Right Now. He gained notoriety in the Pinot Noir wine world with the success of Evening Land, which he co-founded and launched in 2007.

Now, Mark’s latest project, Maison L’Envoye is crafting Burgundian varietal wines focused on regional identities sourced from growers in proximity to some of the world's great producers.

Originating in Burgundy, Maison L’Envoyé crafts wines of Burgundian varietals - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Terroir-driven Pinot Noir is the flagship. Searching the world’s finest Pinot Noir sites around the globe, Maison L’Envoyé sources fruit from Burgundy, Willamette Valley in Oregon, Otaga Valley in New Zealand and Tasmania. They work with family owned growers who have farmed their vineyards for decades or generations, some in proximity to illustrious neighbors. Maison L’Envoyé was launched in 2014 and was immediately cited by Wine & Spirits naming it a ‘Winery To Watch’ in 2015. 

Maison L’Envoyé Attaché Pinot Noir 2012
This label was crafted by Consulting Winemaker Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, it is comprised of 100% Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley. The valley formed by the Willamette River is sheltered from inclement weather by the western Coastal Range and the eastern Cascade Range. The grapes are sourced primarily from Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge and the Eola-Amity Hills appellations.

The Attaché release is a barrel selection culled from both alluvial and volcanic vineyard sites. The wine was matured for ten months in French oak barriques, 20% of which were new.

Readers of this blog know I am not a Pinot guy, but I loved this wine. It's a Pinot for Pinot-philes as well as non-Pinot drinkers. Perhaps it was the ideal match with the baked ham and candied yams that I liked this so much. In any event it was delicious.

Garnet colored, light medium bodied, sprites of black cherry, bright raspberry and black currant fruits accented by mineral, dusty rose, vibrant spices and what the winemaker cites as 'hints of sassafras and gravel' turning to a silky smooth lingering finish with notes of sweet oak.

REM 93 points; this label was awarded 94 points by Wine Spectator, 94 points from Wine & Spirits, and 92 points by Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Taken Wine Co Taken Napa Red

Taken Wine Co. Taken Napa Valley Red Wine 2011

Looking for a casual sipping wine with Alec, visiting from NYC for the holiday, he asked for a Cab so we pulled this hearty Cabernet from the cellar. This was a fitting selection as I first discovered and acquired this wine when visiting Alec in Hoboken a couple summers ago.

This label Taken from Taken Wine Co., is the project of two friends,  next generation wine producers raised in Napa Valley in well known wine families - Josh Phelps and Carlo Trinchero. This is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot from  unnamed sources in non-specified proportions. It is packaged in a large heavy bottle with etched circle logo on the front and painted text befitting an expensive premium offering, offered at a moderate $30 range price-point representing appropriate QPR - quality price ratio. Acording to the rear painted information, "The circle (logo branding) represents the path we have Taken back home."

While the 2011 release doesn't measure up to the 2012, it is still a nice drinking wine and is a great value at this price point. Not as polished, full, concentrated or balanced as the '12. Its not the '11 is bad, that's how good or better the '12 is.

This is a big forward obtuse wine that begs for hearty bar-b-cue, pasta, pizza or cheese.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium full bodied, bright vibrant tangy cherry and plum fruits offset by a layer of dusty leather and tangy clove spice with a moderate subtle tannin on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Gala Holiday Dinner features Napa Cab Pairings

Gala Holiday Dinner features Napa Cab Pairings

 We hosted a holiday dinner with 'Pour Boy' wine buddy Dr Dan and Linda, neighbors Mark and Shirley and colleague Rick and wife Debbie. Linda prepared her classic beef tenderloin with scalloped potatoes and haricot verts and a dinner salad and fresh baked bread. We were joined later with Sean and Michelle.

Dan brought this one of a kind Special Barrel Selection 25th Anniversary release Cabernet Sauvignon from Saddleback Cellars aptly named 'Nils' for founder, patriarch and Napa winemaker legend Nils Venge. He also brought a 1996 vintage Brunello Montalcino. Ironically I had just been down in the cellar seaching for tonight's dinner wines and came across and considered a 1996 Saddleback Cellars Oakville Cabernet, essentially the same wine  as the Nils. So, this bottle provided both a vertical (multiple vintages of the same wine) comparison tasting of this label, and a mini-horizontal comparison(multiple wines from the same vintage) tasting of two same aged vintage wines, 1996.

For a further horizontal and near vertical comparison tasting, I also pulled a 1996 release of Paradigm Napa Cabernet, another Oakville appellation wine. Extending the vertical theme / approach, we later also opened a 2004 release of the Paradigm (albeit a 2006 would've completed the symmetrical comparisons).

Rick and Debbie noticed my extensive collection of Del Dotto wines and commented on their memorable visit to the Del Dotto Estate Cellar Tour and Barrel tasting. Hence, we pulled a couple of Del Dotto wines to complete our tasting flight for the evening, a vintage 1997 Cabernet Franc, and a Piazza Del Dotto Petit Verdot. 

For the appetizer course, Mark brought a selection of artisan cheeses and shrimp cocktail hors d'oeuvres, We served a vintage Champagne and pair of Sauvignon Blancs including our favorite, Cliff Lede.

Somewhere during our wine talk over dinner the conversation turned to Negociant wines and private labels. Dan and Linda were just returned from Thanksgiving weekend and wine tasting at the Inn at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. They talked of their two million bottle wine sales, the majority sourced from Northern California fruit and juice. I pulled a Ninety+ Cellars Lot 150 Cabernet Sauvignon as a classic fun example of such wines. More below.

Wines w/ shrimp cocktail hors d'oeuvres course -
Michel Gonet Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2009

Wines with artisan cheeses and salad course:
Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Whitehaven Winemakers Select Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018

Red wines flight:
Saddleback Cellars Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Nils Special Barrel Selection 25th Anniversary 2006
Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Ninety+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 150 2013
Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Franc 1997 
Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Rutherford Petit Verdot 2015
Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello de Montalcino 1996 

Michel Gonet Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2009

This is a vintage Champagne, as opposed to a common NV (non-vintage) blend of several vintages. 

The Michel Gonet family have been producing wine for 7 generations, since 1802. Michel Gonet expanded and improved the winery in 1973. He has since retired and turned winemaking over to daughter Sophie Signolle who manages Champagne production. She is President of Women Winegrowers of Champagne and also "l' Universe du Gout en Champagne."

The family owns 40 hectares (about 80 acres) of vineyards stretching south from the city of Epernay on the Côte des Blancs, part of which is the finest classified Grand Cru vines located in Avize, Mesnil sur Oger and Oger, the most renowned terroirs of Champagne. The vineyards' are of the finest terroir in Champagne with exceptional climate, protected by the mountain of Reims from the cold North winds and rainfalls in the Marne valley. The characteristically chalky sub-soil combines with ideal exposure to the sun. This Blanc de Blanc is composed of Chardonnay which is 80% of Gonet production. The remaining is Pinot Noir used to produce Blanc de Noir Champagne.

We visited the area during our Champagne Wine Experience back in 2006

Cliff Lede Estate Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

This is the latest release of one my favorite Sauvignon Blancs. 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.

Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Nils Special Barrel Selection 25th Anniversary 2006

We first met Nils Venge back in the mid-nineties when he was winemaker for Del Dotto Vineyards and Winery. We visited Nils at the Penny Lane Estate and vineyard back in 2001 when we acquired a selection of Venge Vineyards and Saddleback wines.

I was not aware of this label and was delighted that Dan discovered this and acquired some to bring and share for our dinner.

This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied with full forward black berry and black cherry fruits accented by notes of spice, black tea, leather, and dusty rose with full smooth silky tannins on the finish.

RM 93 points.

Saddleback Cellars Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

To compare with the Nils 2006 special release above, we opened this 1996 Saddleback Oakville Napa Cabernet. Initially a bit tight and closed, we decanted and aerated this bottle and it opened a bit more and reveal its native character and fruits over the course of the next hour.

The two Saddleback wines had remarkable similarity, being potentially the same wine but ten years removed. They showed the same basic profile and character but the '96 showed darker blackish garnet with slight hints of gray color, the same fruit profile albeit slightly subdued, accented by the same notes above of smoke, dusty leather, earth and tea.

RM 89 points.  

To compare with the '96 Oakville Napa Cab above, we also opened this Paradigm Cabernet from the same appellation and same vintage.

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

This provided an interesting comparison with the other '96 Oakville Cabernet sitting side by side. This wine had the same color and body as above. We also decanted and aerated this bottle which accentuated its bouquet and flavors which emerged further after about thirty minutes. The Paradigm showed fewer aromatics and more subdued fruit than the Saddleback above, but opened a bit more over the next hour. 

We tasted and acquired this wine during a winery visit back in 1999.

My wine tasting notes for this label from back in 2009. "This wine is showing its age, probably beyond its apex, or any chance for improvement, but still within the drinking window. Showing some diminution of fruit, giving way to non-fruit charcoal and earth tones, yet, revealed some of its native fruit character at some point during the evening.'

"I opened, decanted and then rebottled and recorked this wine an hour before setting out for the restaurant. Upon decanting it released huge aroma's of berry fruits and some floral. After opening for serving the fruit was a bit muted for almost an hour before revealing black berry and hints of sweet black raspberry, giving way to a layer of charcoal, anise and spice. Tannins were moderate on the lingering finish. This wine is still showing okay but should be consumed over the next few years."
Ninety+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 150 2013

Dan and Linda spent Thanksgiving weekend visiting the Inn at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina where they tasted Estate and other private labeled wines. They produce two million bottles per year although only a fraction are from grapes grown locally. The remaining majority are sourced from Northern California fruit and juice. 

We talked about Ninety+ Cellars who produce a large portfolio of wines, sourced from numerous producers and growners from around the globe. Each label is named with a unique 'Lot' number indicating the source and vintage release. This is done to anonymize the source typically acquired under non-disclosure agreements to maintain their secrecy, since they don't want to be revealed and thereby conflict with their brands. 

In this particular case, Lot 150 Cabernet Sauvignon, 'sparklers' were acquired, the name given for bottles of wine already filled but not yet labeled. The labels are applied last to avoid them being torn, stained or soiled during storage or shipping. In this case, labels were not yet applied as the wine as sold to a third party private label marketer who applied their own labels accordingly. The issue was that they had already corked the bottles with branded corks identifying the source producer, undermining their quest for secrecy or confidentiality. Only upon opening the wine is the originator source revealed! One of the reasons for seeking anonymity is that often, as in this case, the private label wine is half the price of the original source producer label, providing great QPR (quality price ratio).

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, firm structured backbone, complex concentrated blackberry and black currant fruits with layers of firm bone dry tannins with notes of oak, spice, hints of dark mocha, anise, leather and dust. Needs a bit more time to settle and not for the feint of heart with the rock hard tannins but if you like that style (which I do) then this is a great find at a good QPR (quality price ratio) value. This is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot aged 22 monthsin French Oak. As noted by others, and in my blogpost (url below), and my label/cork picture submission, the source for this wine is Spring Mountain Vineyards.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Franc 1997 

We served this Cabernet Franc to compare against similarly aged Cabernet Sauvignons to contrast the different character of the Bordeaux varietals where Cab Franc is introduced into the Blend for spice, breadth and depth alongside the firmer Cabernet Sauvignon and the softer Merlot. We chose Del Dotto that Rick and Debbie visited during their trip to Napa Valley. This is one of the last remaining bottles we acquired on release back in the late nineties.

Consistent with tasting notes from two years ago, "Tonight's tasting was more consistent with notes from a few years ago, dark ruby color, medium to full body, spicy black berry and black currant fruits are still vibrant in this nineteen year old, accented by tones of earthy leather, cedar and tobacco with hints of anise on the smooth tannin finish."

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Rutherford Petit Verdot 2015

We tasted and acquired this wine as part of the during our Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience Tasting at the winery during our Napa Wine Experience this summer. 

Like the Del Dotto Cabernet Franc above, we served this Petit Verdot to compare against similarly aged Cabernet Sauvignons to contrast the different character of the Bordeaux varietals where Petitot Verdot is introduced into the Blend for backbone, structure and color, as well as further breadth and depth, alongside the primary core Cabernet Sauvignon and or  softer Merlot.

Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, nicely balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits, with notes of mocha, spice and hints of pepper spice with smooth lingering tannins. 

Later Dan and Sean and the girls opened this vintage release '96 Brunello which rounded out our horizontal tasting of that release.

Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello de Montalcino 1996 

Dan brought this to our wine tasting this summer too. This is 100% Sangiovese for very pleasant easy drinking - ideal for food or hearty cheeses.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry and black cherry fruits with notes of earth tones, tobacco box and sweet brown spices with a tangy long spicy finish.

More to follow ...

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Culinary Chef's Dinner Featuring Zubair Mohajir

Culinary Chef's Dinner Featuring Zubair Mohajir

Colleague, Matt D. hosted a gala dinner at his City residence to introduce Chef Zubair Mohajir and his unique and masterful culinary artwork. We took a selection of wines to accompany the meal.

This was a unique opportunity to meet an up-and-coming emerging big chef on the Chicago culinary scene who is already making a name for himself serving public / private supper club dinners featuring his unique style cuisine and masterful creations.

The evening came together when Matt met Zubair and he proposed hosting a private supper club dinner serving an exclusive extensive course tasting. He has been doing so under the name Wazwan Supper Club.

Zubair Mohajir was born and raised in Chicago and pursued his passion for cooking after an initial career in finance. He started his culinary career as Sous Chef at the legendary Pump Room in Chicago. After 2 years, he went on to learn and refine his craft at some of the most prestigious restaurants: Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Napa, and then Gaggan in Bangkok, rated the No. 5 restaurant in the world at the time.

To hone and refine his artwork, and to break into the Chicago market, he has been serving private / public super club dinners. He is joined in these events by staffers who are otherwise engaged at Michelin restaurants.

He is developing his cuisine featuring French technique cooking with the flavors he has intimately experienced during his tours in California and southeast Asia.

This was an extraordinary opportunity to meet Zubair up close, to taste his food, and explore his vision for bringing his cuisine to market. In addition to preparing and serving a great meal, Zubair shared his vision of taking his star dish, Tandoori Fried Chicken to a scalable fast casual type restaurant concept. For the event we were joined by several well known restauranteurs from Chicago, and Cleveland and New York, who flew in for the occasion, including Matt's father Mike.

Dinner Menu by Zubair Mohajir:

1st Course :
Salmon | Tom Kha Gai | Sesame | Crisp

Interim Course
Taco | Chick Peas | Feta Cheese | Florals | Radish | Sauce

2nd Course :
Rigatoni | Brown Butter Emulsion | Proscuitto | Quail Yolk

3rd Course:
Scallop | Green Thai Curry | Crimini 

4th Course :
New York Strip | Guajillo | Peruvian Fingerling 

5th Course:
Tandoori Fried Chicken | Som Tam | Scallion Corn Cake 

6th Course :
Dawlat Ki Chaat ( Saffron Dessert )

 The wine flight:

Belle Glos Santa Lucia Highliands Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015

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 92 points.

Chateau Rauzan Segla Margaux Grand Cru Classe 2003

Garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex but smooth and polished nicely integrated black cherry, plum and red berry fruits accented by notes of cigar box, tobacco leaf and leather with polished smooth fine grained tannins on the silky finish.

RM 92 points.

Opus One Napa Valley Red Blend 2015

Dark inky purple colored, medium-full bodied, forward rich ripe concentrated sweet black raspberry and blue berry fruits with subtle hints of floral, tea, spice and vanilla with soft fine-grained tannins on the lingering finish.

This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 81%, Cabernet Franc 7%, Merlot 6%, Petit Verdot 4%, and Malbec 2%.

RM 91 points.

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2005

Dark inky purple colour - full bodied, rich thick concentrated and chewy, complex symphony of flavors of sweet currant, ripe plum, red raspberry and blueberry, a layer of mocha accented by hints of pepper, vanilla, and spice, and a lingering essence of creme brulee' and cedar on the long full smooth tongue coated finish.

RM 91 points.

Casa Lapostolle BOROBO Colchagua Valley Red Blend 2008

Tom R brought this from his cellar. He acquired this bottle during his visit to the producer when he and family stayed at the Estate during their trip to Argentina last summer.

Dark Ruby colored with purple tones, medium-full bodied, black berry and black cherry fruits accented by notes of tobacco leaf, tea and leather, hints of mocha and spice, ending with firm tannins on a moderate finish.

RM 89 points. 

This is a blend of 50% Carmenère from Apalta Vineyard, 18% Pinot Noir from Atalayas Vineyard, 16% Merlot from Apalta Vineyard, in the Casablanca Valley and 13% Syrah from Las Kuras Vineyard and 3% of Petit Verdot from Apalta Vineyard in the Cachapoal Rapel Valley.