Sunday, July 22, 2018

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet 2000-2001

Del Dotto  Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000-2001

Following our Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Winery visit last week on our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 and our tasting the Cabernet Franc last evening, we opened Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 in magnum for a family gathering gala dinner. We tasted the 2000 vintage Napa Cab alongside a Château de Pez St Estephe Leognan Bordeaux of the same vintage. After we finished the 2000, we opened a 2001 for a mini-vertical comparison tasting of the label.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Tasted from magnum, tonight this wine was showing remarkably well, perhaps due to the large format bottle which tends to age better and more gracefully than a standard size bottle. While the fruits were a bit subdued, it showed a solid core framework of tasty oak. This predominant layer of oak was cited by Robert Parker in his review when he wrote: "Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits plenty of new oak and black currant characteristics as well as fine texture and an attractive mid-weight style ...."

Parker did not project this wine to last for eighteen years suggesting it be consumed 'over the next 5-7 years'.

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Our Cellartracker records show we hold a dozen vintages of this wine label.  Our last tasting of the 2001 was almost three years ago when I wrote:

"Tasted alongside the '99, this is drinking at the apex of its drinking window and demonstrates the longevity of Napa Valley Cabernets. While it will not likely improve any further with aging, it still has several years to go at this level.'

'Medium to full bodied , deep dark ruby color - black berry and sweet black cherry fruits accented by clove spice and a hint cassis and whisper of English toffee on the 'Rutherford Dust' moderate silky tannin finish."

RM 91 points.

We compared these Napa wines against a similar vintage Bordeaux.

Château de Pez St Estephe Bordeaux 2000

Son Ryan pulled from the cellar this 2000 vintage Left Bank Bordeaux to taste alongside the same vintage Napa Cab.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, black berry, cherry and plum fruits with bright acidity and notes of leather and tea; more vibrant fruit although not nearly as structured or well balanced as the Napa Cabs above, coming across a bit flabby in comparison.

RM 87 points.

Overall, these wines were a perfect complement to grilled beef tenderloin dinner with haricot vert and scalloped potatoes. They also went with the artisan cheeses before dinner and the varied chocolate desserts, brownies and dark chocolate cake with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Additionally, Linda prepared grilled Sockeye Salmon. With the Salmon, I served a California Sauvignon Blanc 2016. 

Oak Farms Vineyards Central Valley Lodi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

The grapes are grown by Mohr Fry Ranches  in the Mokelumne River Sub AVA or the greater Lodi Appellation. The vines are from the same clone (clone 1) that had help put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the map. The property has 60 acres of estate vineyards with grape varietals grown on the property including: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese and Barbera.

Nice easy every day drinking in this high QPR (quality price ratio) Sauvignon Blanc.

This Sauvignon Blanc is light straw colored with light body, flavors of moderate citrus are accented by delicate tones of tropical fruits with hints of mango and passion fruit with pleasant easy drinking crisp acidity and a lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet Franc 1997

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

Having just returned from our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 where we tasted Del Dotto Seven Rows Estate Napa Cabernet Franc 2015, we pulled this vintage Del Dotto Cab Franc from the cellar to compare and to reminisce about our spectacular trip. The Del Dotto Piazza Winery Delicacies wine and food pairing tasting was a highlight of our trip. It was there we tasted the current release. Looking over our purchase receipts and tasting notes, it must have been one of the favorites of the tasting as we ordered several bottles of this label as part of the numerous mixed cases we purchased.

Del Dotto Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997

This bottle was showing remarkably well at 21 years of age, better that some earlier ones opened, the difference likely due to bottle variation since they were all acquired as a case purchase upon release at the time.

Despite our last tasting notes being from two years ago, tonight's experience was consistent with that last tasting experience when I wrote, "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."

RM 89 points.

Earlier tasting:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Caymus Vineyards Estate Visit and Tasting

Caymus Vineyards Estate Visit and Tasting

Our last tasting appointment of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 was a private tasting at legendary Caymus Vineyards, are one of the most well known and established brands in Napa Valley dating back to 1972. Since then their production has grown from 240 to 65000 cases per year. They're most known for Caymus Cabernet - their two Cabernets Sauvignons; “Napa Valley” and the venerable “Special Selection”. Both are crafted by winemaker, founder and patriarch Chuck Wagner.

Caymus have managed to continue to produce respectable Cabernets despite their large growth in production. Both wines are known for early gratification, drinkability when young, as well as aging ability. We hold many vintages of Caymus Cabernet and Caymus Special Select dating back to the 1990 vintage.

A couple years ago, for their fortieth anniversary, Caymus changed their packaging with a new label design and new foil that prominently featured the number '40'. Each year since, they increment the number representing the number of years that they have been producing Caymus Cabernet. We purchased a collection of that label and every one since, as our wedding anniversary coincides with the same number of years as Caymus. Ever since, we serve Caymus Cabernet as part of our 'shared; anniversary celebration. That first year's celebration is featured in this linked blogspot post. Last year's anniversary celebration was featured in this linked blogspot. 

Caymus Vineyards remains 100% family-owned by the Wagners, elder Charlie, Lorna Belle, and Chuck who are joined by the next generation, Chuck's two sons, Charlie and Joe, and daughter, Jenny. They farm about 350 acres of choice Napa Valley vineyards.

Caymus is named for the historic Mexican land grant known as Rancho Caymus, given to George Yount in 1836, which encompassed what eventually became the town of Rutherford and much of the surrounding area.

The Caymus portfolio has grown with new labels that include the Emmolo and Mer Soleil brands.

The Emmolo brand is named after the mother of Jenny Wagner. Emolo wines are sourced from fruit from the family Estate north of the Caymus property in the Rutherford district of Napa Valley. Jenny’s great grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1923 to settle in Napa Valley and planted vine stock nursery. Her grandfather planted vineyards in the 1950’s and her mother started producing Emmollo wines in 1994.

The Mer Soleil label is the handiwork of Charlie Wagner. He sources grapes from a number of properties from Sonoma to Santa Barbara. Mer Soleil means sea and sun referring to the coastal vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. The brand tends to feature Burgundian grape varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are more suited to such sites.

Like some of our other producer visits this week, we scheduled a private tasting at Caymus to experience some of the brands' labels that are limited production and available only at the winery or directly from the producer.  Of the six wines we tasted, only two are such offerings, the Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Caymus Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel.

In retrospect our tasting visit was a source of major agitation and aggravation when we learned after the fact, reading on their website, that the tasting fee is waived with the purchase of four bottles of wine. We purchased three, one, and would've naturally bought another since it would've essentially been gratis when factoring in the tasting fee. It would've been nice had we been offered this or told of this policy when were there. Our image of the brand will forever be tainted by this shortsightedness as we feel shorted.

Note we purchased the labels not in general or limited in distribution, the Pinot and Zinfandel, and another label not tasted, Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif, all of varietals we don't generally collect for longer term cellaring. The Bordeaux varietals we normally collect and drink that were tasted, are generally available in distribution and at our local merchant, hence there was no need to acquire at the winery to ship home.

Our tasting flight:

Emmolo Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Mer Soleil Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2015
Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2016
This is the first inaugural release of this Pinot Noir label, sourced from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in coastal central California.

This was garnet colored, medium bodied, bright flavors of cherry, strawberry and subtle cranberry accented by a layer of bacon fat, earth and spices with soft tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Caymus Special Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Caymus Special Selection is the flagship wine of the Wagner family and is comprised of the very best barrels of the vintage.

We hold this wine in several vintages including the 1990 release which was Wine Spectator wine of the year and is birth year wine of Son Alec.

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel 2016

The label says this is produced by Caymus in Fairfield, CA. This is a very limited production label available only at the winery that has actually been produced since 1975. According to our server, this is a favorite of Chuck Wagner, personally produced since the earliest days for personal consumption, and available in small quantities from the winery direct.

Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif 2016

We also purchased this wine to try as we're fans of Sirah and Petit Sirah. Fruit for this wine is sourced from the Suisun Valley located in the California Central Valley about forty minutes east of Napa Valley. The fruit for this wine is the Durif grape varietal which is also known as Petite Sirah.

Watch for our tasting experience.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Cakebread Cellars Reserve Tasting

Cakebread Cellars Reserve Tasting

We all know Cakebread Cellars with their wide distribution of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. But, few realize that only three of their 25+ labels actually are in distribution. The rest of their collection of labels are available only at the winery or to wine club members. Hence, Cakebread was one of our shortlist targeted producers for this year's Napa Valley Wine Experience.

After forty years, Cakebread Cellars is still a family owned and operated business. It is one of the early pioneers in the modern era of Napa Valley wines, founded in 1973 by Jack and Dolores Cakebread. The first Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (’74 vintage) was released in 1976 from fruit at the Estate behind the house on Hwy 29 in Rutherford. 

Son Bruce Cakebread joined the family business in 1979 full-time as winemaker after graduating from UC Davis. That year, five fermenters were installed outside the front barn with refrigeration being hooked up the night before the grapes arrived. In 1982, Jack Cakebread purchased the 12 acre ranch adjacent to the original estate site and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Son Dennis Cakebread joined the winery in 1986 and to this day is responsible for finance along with sales and marketing. That year, Julianne Laks’ 1st year as Assistant Winemaker..

Today, Cakebread Cellars has vineyard properties located throughout Napa Valley and a location in the Anderson Valley. The winery ranches surrounding the production facility in Rutherford are where it all began when the first 22 acre parcel was purchased in 1972.

Over the years, the Cakebread family has continued to acquire additional vineyard parcels throughout Napa Valley and the North Coast. Today, the winery owns 15 sites totaling 1617 acres, 584 of which are currently planted, which allows them to be fully vertically integrated, and to provide consumers with consistent supply of product for their growing array of labels, many vineyard and appellation specific offerings, each with their distinctive terrior.

Cakebread offer a range of tastings at the Estate Winery on St Helena Highway 29 in Rutherford. We chose the Reserve tasting so we could sample what they consider their signature, best wines.Notably, these Reserve or Select wines are only available at the winery or to wine club members.

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

In 1998, Cakebread purchased 200 acres on Howell Mountain and commenced development of these hillside vineyards into what becomes Dancing Bear Ranch. The property got its name from Black Bears the roamed the site and 'danced' amonge the vines tearing them up during the night. The first vintage of Dancing Bear Ranch is released in 2002.

Dancing Bear Ranch is located on the upper slopes of Howell Mountain in the Northeastern Napa Valley at upper elevations ranging from 1450’ to over 1600’ above sea level and a near 360 degree exposure. The mountainous site spans 194 acres of which only 29 are planted. The varietals planted there are all Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The vines there are stressed, being rooted in shallow, rocky soils, ideal growing conditions for wine grapes. With its isolated mountainous locations, the site is home to a wide range of wildlife, including: turkeys, mountain lions, bobcats and of course, bear.

This vintage release is a blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot.

Robert Parker gave this wine 96 points.

Dense inky black purple color, full bodied, rich thick concentrated but nicely polished and integrated  flavors of blackberry and black raspberry fruits accented by tones of cassis, hints of tar, dark mocha and a touch of cinnamon spice on the lingering tongue coating finish.

RM 95 points.

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Benchland Select 2014

Cakebread started producing Benchland Select with the 1995 vintage. This is named for the vineyard sources, two gently sloping western 'benchlands' of Rutherford and Oakville in the heart of Napa Valley.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, smooth polished, elegant, nicely integrated fruits of blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry accented by a layer of mocha chocolate, hints of cinnamon spice and sweet, toasty oak turning to supple, polished tannins.

RM 94 points.

Cakebread Cellars Vaca, Red Wine Blend 2014

This was added to tasting flight based on my inquiries about Cabernet Franc in their wines. This is a blend of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon & 4% Cabernet Franc.

This is only the third vintage of Vaca, named for the vineyard sources, two of Cakebread's three Napa Valley hillside estates – Doggwood (52%) and Suscol Springs (48%) – on the western slopes of the Vaca Mountain Range, which forms the eastern boundary of Napa Valley. Both are high-elevation sites with steep, angled slopes that provide much sun exposures, and well-drained, rocky, volcanic soils that yield grapes with deeply concentrated flavors. Some of the fruit comes from their Suscol Springs Vineyard, east of the town of Napa. It is the coolest of our three Vaca Range estates. (Doggwood and Dancing Bear are the others.) Its vines are planted in rocky outcrops overlooking the Napa Valley floor. The Doggwood Vineyard is located further north above Conn Dam near Napa’s eastern ridgeline in a warm, bowl-like valley that provides multiple sun exposures. The elevation and thin, rocky soils of these sites naturally limit grape yields and produce small clusters with intense, powerful flavors.

This was dark inky purple colored , medium full-bodied nicely balanced, rich blackberry, black cherry and plum fruits predominate, notes of leather, tobacco leaf and herbs with hints of soft oak, with fleshy but smooth soft tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2016

Scenes of Cakebread Cellars and Estate, Rutherford ...

Cakebread Tasting Table

Cakebread Cellars Barrel Room

Cakebread  Cellars estate grounds

Jack and Delores Cakebread's original homestead cottage,
on the grounds of the Estate

Whitehall Lane Cellars Winery Visit and Tasting

Whitehall Lane Cellars Rutherford Winery Visit and Tasting

We hold Whitehall Lane Napa Valley wines dating back to the turn of the century - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Estate and Reserve. We've passed by the Estate and Winery on St Helena Highway in Rutherford dozens of times during our trips to Napa Valley so this trip we decided to visit there during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018.
We try to support the family owned and operated producers and Whitehall Lane has been such since Tom Leonardini acquired Whitehall Lane Winery in March of 1993 and has been a hands on active proprietor every since with his wife and their five children. Tom was joined by son Tom Leonardini II in 1994. Tom had the Estate vineyard replanted and bought four additional vineyards including the Leonardini Vineyard. Tom II is responsible for distribution and has been instrumental in increasing sales from 15,000 cases to almost 50,000 cases today. Sister, Katie Leonardini oversees direct sales and hospitality at the winery after college and a career in the financial services industry. They are joined by eldest sibling Kristin who opened the Napa Valley Winery Exchange, a premiere retail wine shop in San Francisco. She assists Katie in public relation and hospitality events at the winery.

Whitehall Lane wines have been recognized in Wine Spectator Magazine's year-end ranking of wines, having been honored an unprecedented three times in five years for producing wines rated among the top five in the world. The winery has also been voted Winery of the Year from the Quarterly Review of Wines and Wine and Spirits Magazine.

The estate and winery in Napa Valley's historic Rutherford appellation consists of approximately 140 acres in seven prime vineyards that include the Whitehall Lane Estate Vineyard, Millenium MM Vineyard and Bommarito Vineyard in the Rutherford Appellation, the Leonardini Vineyard and Fawn Park Vineyard in St. Helena, Oak Glen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District and Rassi Vineyard in Sonoma.

The flagship and main Estate Vineyard at adjacent to the winery is 25 acres of "Rutherford Dust" and is planted in Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Millenium MM Vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon fruit while the Bommarito Vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Leonardini Vineyard is 14 acres of gravely soil yielding powerful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit and elegant yet intense Merlot grapes that go into the "Leonardini Vineyard" vineyard-designated wine. The Fawn Park Vineyard is on a gentle slope of Eastern hillside and produces intense Cabernet Sauvignon. The 25-acre Oak Glen Vineyard produces flavorful Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

We wanted to focus on Estate and Vineyard Designated Select wines so we had a private estate tasting. This also allowed us to taste some of their limited release vineyard designated select wines as well as some of their flagship signature wines.

The Tasting Flight:

Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016
Private tasting, shown left:
Whitehall Lane Las Brisas Carneros Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Merlot 2014
Whitehall Lane Mancino Lanciatore Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Syrah 2014
Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Petit Verdot 2014

Wineflight labels:

Scenes from Whitehall Lane Estate Winery and Vineyards, Rutherford

Whitehall Lane tasting room
Whitehall Lane Barrel Room

REDD Napa Valley Wine Pairing Tasting Dinner

REDD Napa Valley Wine Pairing Tasting Dinner

We dined at REDD in Yountville and had their Pric Fixe tasting dinner with wine pairing. While there
were six courses with six different wines, they prepared a different course with different wine pairings so we go to sample twice as many pairing selections!

REDD is the project of chef Richard Reddington, formerly of Masa’s and Jardiniere in San Francisco, and Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. His dishes feature an what he calls 'wine country cuisine' with influences from Asia, Europe, and Mexico. The atmosphere is contemporary elegant yet casual and relaxing, unpretentious for such sophisticated and serious cuisine. REDD is on Washington Street the main street in Yountville with an outdoor court, bar, the dining room and a semi-private dining room.

Our entree courses are pictured below:

Tuna Tartare

Sishimi Hemachi
Diver Scallops

Duck Confit
Alaskan Halibut

Pork Belly
NY Strip Steak