Friday, November 30, 2018

Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Hilltops Estate Syrah 2011

A couple years ago we were planning a trip to the Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Santa Ynez Valleys' wine districts along the South Central California coast. In preparation for the trip we embarked on exploration of wines from the region and acquired several labels from the various appellations to taste so as to establish a baseline of knowledge and understanding of the varietals, styles and terroir effects of the different areas.

Back at that time, niece Jenna was attending UC Santa Barbara and we were hoping for a dual purpose visit and wine trip. In any event, for various reasons our plans were disrupted and we canceled/postponed our trip. This label is one from that collection. We still hope to visit the area at some point to explore another wine region and it's wines. Stay tuned for such a trip report.

This weekend would've been an ideal time to visit as the Big Ten sends three out of the four teams to the NCAA Final Four College Cup soccer tournament in Santa Barbara. Our Indiana Hoosiers are favored to win their ninth National Championship after they defeated Notre Dame Friday night to advance to their twentieth College Cup. They will play University of Maryland. Tonight, Michigan State advanced to the semi-final to represent a command performance by the Big Ten.

We opened this for casual but serious sipping with some artisan cheeses while watching weekend sports, including the NCAA Soccer Tournament.

This was ideal with ten year old Aged Sharp Cheddar as well as creamy Havarti, with fresh berries and pear fruits. Neutral soda crackers were more suited to reveal the native flavors of the wine, cheese and fruits, as opposed to butter crackers or others with overt tastes.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with our earlier tasting of this label back in 2015.

Dark red-ruby, full bodied, aromas of floral and mocha, complex, concentrated big, forward black and blue fruits, tones of anise/licorice, hints of mocha chocolate and herbs, turning to a very long soft savory fruit filled finish.

RM 91 points.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Montagna Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Montagna Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

As I wrote a while back when we first discovered this label, "We've seen the Montagna Napa Valley label but didn't connect it to the property we passed on Long Ranch Road on our way up to David Arthur vineyards at 1100 feet high atop Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range overlooking Napa Valley from the east. Interesting that Montagna is the project of Bob Long, one of the founders of David Arthur with his brother David.

Pritchard Hill Vineyards at David Arthur
high atop Long Ranch Road
It is said that these vineyards are part of the nine hundred acre parcel purchased by their parents back in the mid-sixties and seventies. We were already big fans of Pritchard Hill Cabernet and our visit to David Arthur was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013. We visited Chappellet Vineyards during our Napa Wine Experience in 2009.

According to published reports, in May 2015, the 80-acre Montagna property on Pritchard Hill owned by Bob Long, with 32 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, was put up for sale for an asking price of $55 million. Included in and contributing to that astronomical price is the fact the property also included more than 20,000 feet of caves, a 50,000-gallon winery permit, a hospitality area and a potential home site. The fact that the vineyard was already planted and the property already has a winery permit are also huge factors in valuing the property given the anti-development sentiments in Napa Valley that challenge any potential development.

Pritchard Hill is becoming one of the most exclusive sub-areas in Napa Valley. It is planted with about 350 acres of vines and is home to some of Napa's most extraordinary premium and super premium labels - Bryant Family, Chappellet, Colgin, Continuum, David Arthur and Ovid.

Montagna proprietor Bob Long and his family have been involved in the development of Pritchard Hill properties since the 1960’s. It is among the best terroir in Napa to not have a sub appellation designation.

Montagna is so named as it means 'mountain' in Italian. Fourteen acres of the Estate are planted in Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. An adjoining 18 acres are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon on the site of original vineyard of David Arthur’s flagship premium label “Elevation”, named for its Elevation at 1147 feet above sea level.

I got this wine from fellow Pour Boy wine buddy Dr Dan who acquired a case. He introduced me to this wine when he brought a bottle BYOB to our dinner at Folklore Argentine Grill steak house in Wicker Park in Chicago before a Hawks game.

This evening's tasting was consistent with earlier tasting notes when I wrote, "This was dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, earth and leather predominate almost like a left bank Bordeaux, giving way to black cherry, black currant and black berry fruits accented by spice, cigar box and hints of cedar with firm lingering tannins".

I held half the bottle and opened it the next evening and found even more pronounced fruits had taken over and the earth and leather were more subdued.

Selecting this as a Ricks Pick in an earlier tasting, I wrote: "This was simply terrific - big and bold with great depth, complexity, richness and concentration. Very much in the style of a traditional Napa cabernet with ripe, rich cassis and other dark fruits, a big, firm structure, full-body, velvety, smooth texture and a long finish. Adds aromas of tobacco and leather, and the fruits turn even darker after about an hour. This is an "in-your-face" style that somehow reminds me of many of the big Napa cabernets of the mid-to late 80's and 90's."

RM 92 points.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Del Dotto Sangiovese and Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve for Angelis Italian Dinner

Del Dotto Sangiovese and Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve for Angelis Italian Dinner

Winding down the holiday weekend, we dined at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. For Italian dining, we took two Del Dotto Sangiovese based wines, Del Dotto Sangiovese and Giovanni's Tuscan Reserve Sangiovese blend. This was a replay of our Sangiovese Italian dinner the day before when we did a Sangiovese and a Sangiovese based blend.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Sangiovese 1998

I wrote yesterday in these pages about Del Dotto Sangiovese. This is the last of our bottles of this label from this era. I've written often about the 1998 Napa vintage releases, how they were panned by the media and pundits as an off vintage, yet they proved to impress and over-perform with pleasurable drinking, even two decades later. The 1998 vintage was overshadowed by the 1997 and 1999, which in retrospect were over-hyped and over-rated. For years, the 1998 has proven to be the top performer for a go-to wine.

Tonight, at twenty years, this 1998 release was holding its own very nicely and showed no signs of diminution from age, whatsoever. This, despite having a partially saturated cork that came apart on removal.

According to Cellartracker, this was the first release of this label. My last tasting note was nine years ago in 2009, the last of nearly a dozen. Interesting that tonight's tasting was consistent with that report:

"Medium bodied, flavorful black cherry, black berry, and currant fruits, with notes of cedar and floral. Getting down to the end of a case and this one definitely more vibrant than earlier tastings. Earlier leather and earthiness gave way to the lively floral and cedar - perhaps age served it well?'

That night I have it a better rating than my previous review a year earlier when I wrote, "Del Dotto's first release of a 100% Sangiovese, grown on the mountains of Calistoga in Napa Valley. Medium bodied, fruity nose with a smoky slightly earthy floral flavor - chunky fruity wine."

RM 90 points.

Del Dotto Giovani's Tuscan Reserve Napa Valley Sangiovese Blend 2002

From my earlier blogpost on this wine. Tonight's tasting was consistent with this earlier experience.

We have about a decade of vintages in our horizontal collection of this label. I've written about Nils Venge and Del Dotto and their venturing into the Italian Sangiovese varietal in Napa Valley. Del Dottto were the featured wine producer of several of our Napa Valley Wine Experiences during the mid to late nineties and after the millenium.

This Sangiovese based blend is named after the Del Dotto's first born son, Giovanni. I remember first discovering this wine and buying it at the Wine Stop wine shop in Burlingame near SFO back in the mid-nineties, and then obtaining more from the producer over the years. I recall the early releases of this label came in 500ml bottles rather than normal 750's.

Del Dotto remain one of our favorite Napa producers whose wines from their early days continue to impress with their longevity and endurance. True to that style, there remains much life in this twelve year old.

This 2002 is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and exhibits dark garnet color, medium to full body with the full forward, complex tight black fruits masked by tones of smoke and charcoal before giving way to aromatic floral and bright tangy black cherry fruits with spicy, firm tannins on the aromatic, lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Big Red Petit Verdot for Serious Sipping

Big Red Petit Verdot for Serious Sipping

Searching for a sipping wine with cheese and fruits and a movie, son Alec was looking through our Cellartracker cellar selections. "Petit Verdot?", he asked. I explained that Petit Verdot is one of the Bordeaux varietals but subordinate to the primary Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and lesser than Cabernet Franc which is used in the blend to add a bit of depth and spiciness. Petit Verdot, I explained is blended in, usually in small amounts, to add color and tannin structure, depth and concentration and flavor. It is characterized as adding intense black and blue fruit flavors and tones of pencil shavings, violet and leather. And some producers will bottle 100% Petit Verdot as a wine with special character. Sounds perfect for such an occasion, so we pulled a bottle of Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Petit Verdot.

Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Petit Verdot 2014

We discovered, tasted and acquired this wine during our Whitehall Lane winery visit and tasting at the Estate on Hwy 29, St Helena Highway just south of St Helena, Napa Valley. Whitehall Lane is the small road that abuts the property. They have 140 acres of vineyards of which just 2.4 acres are planted in this Petit Verdot varietal grapes which is used primarily for blending in the Bordeaux blends and for this special bottling.

Winemaker Jason Moulton says of this wine, "This Petit Verdot is like experiencing the dark side…with concentrated, full-bodied flavors. It is extraordinarily balanced with aromas of black currants, clove, blackberry pie, Agen prunes, cedar, and a hint of earth and dust. Its palate exudes flavors of black cherry cola, crème de cassis, tar, fresh black plums and toasted almond croissant. Its powerful chalky tannin mouthfeel truly lets you know THIS is Petit Verdot."

Dark inky blackish purple, full bodied, structured concentrated rich tongue coating black fruits, hints of clove spice and earth, with tongue puckering chalky tannins that form distinct 'legs' on the glass. This wine begs for hearty cheese, grilled steak or darkest mocha chocolate.

RM 92 points.

To accompany this wine, we pulled out award winning ten year aged sharp cheddar cheese from Fair Oaks Farm in Northern Indiana.

Del Dotto Sangiovese for Family Lasagna Dinner

Del Dotto Sangiovese for Family Lasagna Dinner

With the family gathered for the Holiday weekend, Linda prepared baked Lasagna for a gala dinner and I pulled from the cellar two Italian varietal Sangiovese based wines - Del Dotto Piazza Sangiovese and David Arthur Merritaggio. The comparison illustrated contrasting styles and profiles of two wines based on the same core.

Del Dotto is a family favorite paying tribute to the close knit family there, and our family having 'grown up' with the brand over the years, and many of us having visited Del Dotto during our many visits to Napa Valley.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Sangiovese 1998 - 2016

I have written often in these pages about Del Dotto pioneering Sangiovese in Napa Valley back in the late nineties under the collaboration with legendary winemaker Nils Venge. Del Dotto continues their lineage of Sangiovese wines with this offering under the Piazza label, the recent addition to the growing list of Del Dotto brands.

We discovered the Piazza brand during our Del Dotto Estate Cave Tour and Tasting during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2017. We then targeted the just opened Piazza Winery Delicacies Wine and Food Tasting Experience during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018. It was the highlight of our entire Napa trip. We tasted and acquired this 2015 release during our Cave Tour tasting.

For the record and for reference for anyone tracking such details, the Cellartracker dossier, our inventory management system and normally reliable reference guide, is confused and misguided on this wine. It contains two references to this wine, both partially right and wrong. It lists the wine twice, Del Dotto Piazza Sangiovese and Del Dotto Sangiovese Piazza. For the first, it lists vintages 1999, 2003 (wrong) and 2013, '15 and 2016 (correct). For the latter it correctly lists 2013, '14, '15 and 2016, and errantly lists 1998 and 2003.

Del Dotto offered Napa Valley Sangiovese under the historic flagship 'David' label (shown right) from 1998 through 2003 and also appeared as Rutherford Estate Sangiovese 2013. (The 1998 label is shown here. The 1999 label calls it St Helena Sangiovese. We tasted and acquired these wine during our Del Dotto Napa Estate visit and Del Dotto Wine Producer Dinner back in 1999, and again at our Napa Wine Experience in 2003.

Del Dotto then offered Del Dotto Napa Valley Cave Blend Sangiovese under the Cave Blend brand from 2004 through 2016. I believe Cellartracker references to this label from 2001 are in error and should refer to the 'David' branding. There is no photo evidence of this (Cave Blend 2001) label in the Cellartracker library or in internet searches.

The Piazza brand appeared with the 2013 release and continues to this day.

Del Dotto Vineyards was established in 1990 when David and Yolanda Del Dotto planted vineyards on 17 acres in Rutherford at the homestead Estate on the corner of Highway 29 and Zinfandel Lane in Napa Valley. It truly is a family affair with David's father John being involved in the early days, and daughter Desiree and son Giovanni being involved in the business and having their own labels as well. I had the pleasure of meeting John back in the late nineties and working with Desiree as she took on marketing duties during that era.

Rick and Linda with David Del Dotto circa 2003
The Del Dotto first release vintage was 1993. Since then the estate has grown significantly to 437 acres of vineyards producing 8,000-12,000 cases annually. Around 2010, the Del Dotto brand expanded further with the release of Villa Del Lago, an ultra-premium label from Pritchard Hill.

Indeed, Del Dotto is one of the largest holdings in our cellar dating back to the inaugural vintage release back in 1993. Our association with Del Dotto dates back to our Napa Wine Experiences and wine producer and winemaker dinners back in the mid-nineties.

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2015

This was delicious and everyone loved it making me wish I had more than the single case we acquired last year. I'll be looking for more.

We tasted and acquired this wine during our Del Dotto Estate Cave Tour and Tasting last year. Our first recorded tasting note was just three months ago when we took it took it BYOB to our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria, Angelis Italian. Tonight's tasting experience was consistent with my notes from that evening (caution about the color and slight opaqueness aside, which was not present tonight.)

My notes from previous tasting three months ago. "This was dark garnet colored ((with a slight grayish hue that signaled caution but the wine was fine, we'll monitor the next bottle (s) with interest to see if this is an early warning of trouble ahead) (as noted, this was not present tonight)); medium full bodied, this was delicious with sweet ripe raspberry fruits accented by notes of vanilla and almond with supple smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

We also opened this second wine, a Sangiovese based blend.

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio 2003

David Arthur is typically known for premium Estate Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from vineyards on Pritchard Hill overlooking southeast Napa Valley. We visited the winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013.

This is a serious wine with fun name - Meritaggio is a play on the word Meritage - a US trademarked moniker for a Bordeaux Blend - a red blend of Bordeaux varietals. This is a rendition of a Sangiovese based Bordeaux style blend, with fruit sourced from Napa Valley. As such, this was more complex than the single varietal Sangiovese, and more akin to the traditional Italian Sangiovese based wines - more earthy - leathery and a touch of cedar. This exceeded expectations with vibrant bright flavored dark and red berry fruits with layers of complementary flavors. Complex and sophisticated but easy drinking wine.

Dark garnet color - full bodied - bright, vibrant, rich, mouthful of black raspberry, currant, ripe plum, layer of anise and hint of spice, smoke, cedar and leather with nicely integrated fine tannins.
RM 93 points.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving Feast Features Rhone Wine Flight

Thanksgiving Feast Features Rhone Varietal Blend Wine Flight

Twenty members of immediate family and dear friends gathered for our Thanksgiving feast. . For the occasion we selected a flight of Rhone varietal wines from our cellar and from son Ryan's.

We started with a aged vintage birth year selection celebrating son Alec and partner Viv joining us from NYC, a classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Following the protocol of wine tasting, we moved from lighter wines to larger more complex wines. We progressed to more recent vintage Rhone Blend selections from our recent trip to Washington State Walla Walla and Red Mountain AVA, and then moved to a Rhone varietal Blend from Paso Robles.

Domaine de Beaurenard (Paul Coulon et Fils) Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard 1990

We discovered and acquired this label during our trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape back in 1998.

Nearing thirty years of age, this is nearing the end of its drinking window but still suitable for such an occasion. This is beginning to lose clarity and taking on an slight opaque tone and the garnet color taking on a sight brownish hue. We still hold three bottles from this case acquired decades ago representing son Alec's birth year, holding them for family occasions.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, this was medium to full bodied with slight earthiness and leather fronting layers of herbs, black and green pepper that accompany the slightly subdued black cherry and black berry fruits with a hint of spice, moderate lingering tannins.

Progressing in weight and complexity, this GSM Blend (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape style is from Washington State Red Mountain AVA. We visited the producer Force Majeure during our recent Walla Walla Wine Experience 2018.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI Ciel du Cheval Vineyard 2011

We acquired a collection of Force Majeure wines including this vintage after meeting and hosting Force Majeure winemaker Todd Alexander and marketing, distribution and branding exec Carrie Alexander during their Chicago visit last year.  

Bright vibrant, garnet/purple in color full bodied, concentrated complex Blackberry fruits predominate with tangy red berries, tones of pepper and tar, earth and meat, hints of expresso, anise and smoke accented by nicely integrated smooth lingering dusty tannins. Another CT'er rightly noted this 'benefitted with time and warmer than cellar temps'.

RM 92 points.

The Collaboration Series has ended as Todd has taken over general management and winemaking duties and his handiwork is now coming on line; this historic label was made by James Mantone of Syncline Winery. This is a blend 47% Mourvedre, 42% Syrah and 11% Grenache.

We just received our current release of Force Majeure 'GSM' blend, Parata, that we tasted and acquired during our recent Force Majeure Vineyards and new winery facility site visit and tasting, and were eager to open it and compare but didn't get that far in our consumption. We will look forward to a comparison tasting in the future as we hold several bottles of each.

We continued in our flight to a bigger, heavier, more concentrated Rhone varietal blend from Paso Robles L'Aventura that Ryan brought from his cellar.

L'Aventure Côte-à-Côte Estate Paso Robles 2011

Ryan brought this Rhone Red bruiser vintage 2011 providing a mini-horizontal tasting aside the Force Majeure.

Another GSM blend, very similar in style and taste but bigger and more concentrated with a whopping 15.8% alcohol content. Amazingly approachable considering the high alcohol content.

This is the handiwork of legendary winemaker Stephan Asseo who has been making wine since 1982. After graduating from L'Ecole Oenologique de Macon, in Burgundy, France, he started his wine career when he established Domaine de Courteillac in Bordeaux, then later purchased Chateau Fleur Cardinal and Chateau Robin in the Cotes de Castillion, Bordeaux. Over the next 15 years he honed his winemaking skills there.

In 1996 he embarked on a year long global search of the world's great wine regions for a great terroir when he "fell in love" with the unique terroir of Paso Robles in Central California in the rolling hills  of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. There, Stephan began his adventure, "L'Aventure".
Bright garnet colored, full bodied, rich, concentrated, firmly structured, complex but nicely balanced and integrated forward fruits of ripe blackberry and red berry fruits accented by menthol, bacon fat, tones of black olive, anise and herbs with firm but well behaved silky tannins on the long finish.

RM 93 points.

This is a blend of 40% Syrah, 38% Mourvedre and 22% Grenache, similar to above but more Syrah and less Grenache.

Later after dinner, watching a movie, we opened this big Syrah Blend from Washington State that we discovered and acquired during our Seattle Culinary and Woodinville (Washington) Wine Tour 2018

Long Shadows Wineries Sequel Syrah 2015

As chronicled in my recent blogpost on the Long Shadows Vintner's Collection, this is part of the portfolio of premium wines produced by legendary winemakers from around the world who are masters for their artwork with specific varietal wines.  

This Sequel Syrah is crafted by legendary Syrah winemaker John Duval, known for the leading Syrah label from Australia, Penfold's Grange. We hold a OWC (original wood case) of the 1990 Penfold's Grange, commemorating Alec's birth year. That label was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year for the year 1993. 

Dark inky purple colored, rich, thick concentrated ripe black berry and black raspberry fruits, black pepper, smoked meat, notes of vanilla and caramel. 

RM 93 points.  

This could likely improve with some further aging as it could benefit from some time to settle and should improve with a couple more years to achieve more balance and harmony as it reaches the apex of its drinking window, which clearly will be another decade or more. With our deep cellar, we'd normally hold a bottle like this for a while before consuming but we tried it now since it is available still at Binny's, our local wine super store so we can go get some more to replace this bottle and stock up some more, (even though we're in the highest level of the Long Shadows wine club and will be receiving some in our shipment allocation; but that will be the next 2016 vintage and we'll want to hold the '15, as it is birthyear of two grandkids, Reid and Jessie.). 

Finally, late in the evening we opened this TBA dessert wine. Viv just returned from an extended trip across Europe that include visits to Budapest and Prague in the Danube River Valley. There they visited several wineries. So, I pulled this Kracher dessert wine from the Burgenland wine region in Eastern Austria which I visited back in the early 2000's.

Alois Kracher Chardonnay TrockenBeeren Auslese (TBA) #7 Nouvelle Vague 2001

We hold more than a dozen labels of Kracher wines from this era. Its fun to watch quality dessert wines mature and change color over time, from straw color, to butter, then weak tea, and progressing darker and darker over time. Note this color of tea at seventeen years of age.

At their most desirable (to my taste preference) these wines are rich, thick, unctuous, and voluptuous with apricot marmalade, mango, toffee/brown sugar, and caramel notes. This may have been there at some point and perhaps passed that stage of its aging profile. If so, then it is time to drink although it will no doubt continue to age gracefully for several more years. But the rich, sweet apricot fruits nectar was gone and has turned more to a smokey charcoal layer over the fruits which were more subdued. Delightful never-the-less.

RM 91 points.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spring Valley Vineyards Frederick Red Blend

Spring Valley Vineyards Frederick Red Blend

Following our Walla Walla (Washington) AVA Wine Experience week before last, and our visits to Spring Valley Vineyards vineyards and tasting room, we opened this  Spring Valley Vineyards Frederick Red Bordeaux Blend for a grilled steak dinner.

As written in my Spring Valley Vineyards blogpost, the branding of Spring Valley wines is based on the rich family history and heritage. The wine portfolio is comprised of labels named for family members dating back to Uriah Corkrum, who is the inspiration and namesake of their Uriah label, their Right Bank Bordeaux Blend. Their other Bordeaux Blend, a Cabernet based blend in the Left Bank style is this Frederick, named for Uriah's son, father of current vineyard owner Shari Corkrum Derby.

Meeting Dean Derby, son-in-law of Frederick was one of the highlights of our Walla Walla wine region experience. Dean and Shari Corkrum Derby started planting the first grapes at Spring Valley in 1993 and the first vintage of Estate grown and bottled Spring Valley Vineyard wines were released with the 1999 vintage.

We tasted the latest current release of this label, Frederick Red Wine Blend 2015 in the Spring Valley Vineyards tasting room there downtown Walla Walla. This evening we opened a vintage bottle from our cellar ten years older from the 2005 vintage.

Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Columbia Valley Frederick Red Bordeaux Blend 2005 -

Dark inky color, full bodied, big, firm, complex but balanced, brooding ripe sweet dark berry - blackberry & black raspberry fruit flavors, tones of cassis, spice, lead pencil - firm but smooth nicely integrated polished tannins on a full lingering finish.

As I have been writing in my blogposts on Washington wines, like many of the other high quality labels coming from the region, this represents high QPR (quality price ratio) relative to comparable wines from the stories more established Bordeaux or Napa Valley regions.

RM 92 points.

At thirteen years of age, this wine is likely at the apex of its drinking window and won't likely improve any further with age, but it should last another five years before falling off, and should be consumable for a decade yet. I wish I had more to try over that time. Pick up this label when you get a chance.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Domaine Des Chirats Rockpile Vineyard Syrah 2013

Domaine Des Chirats Sonoma County Rockpile Vineyard Syrah 2013

This is produced by Jeff Cohn, former winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars in collaboration with Yves Cuilleron from the Northern Rhône, third generation proprietor of Cave Cuilleron founeded by his grandfather Claude Cuilleron in 1920. Yves took over in 1987 from his Uncle. The 150 acre estate produces over 430,000 bottles of wine annually. Jeff Cohn and Yes Cuilleron teamed up in 2013 to produce this wine in the historic Northern Rhône style from fruit sourced from Cohn's Rockpile vineyard. Through their collaboration they have crafted this wine in the style of a Northern Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie.

Fruit for this label is sourced from the Rockpile vineyard in the Rockpile appellation in Sonoma. Cohn calls it "a special place for Syrah". Sitting at 2010 ft. elevation, Syrah 20 plus year-old vines are grown above the fog line allowing for plenty of sun to reach full ripeness. The vineyard gets its name from the rocky soil that stresses the grapes resulting in richness and concentration. Jeff began working with the Rockpile Vineyard over fourteen years ago.

While working at Rosenblum Cellars, Jeff Cohn began his own Jeff Cohn Cellars label in 1996. His first vintage was but 75 cases in of 1996 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel. Production at Jeff Cohn Cellars slowly increased to over 5,000 cases annually.  In 2006 Jeff parted ways with Rosenblum to focus exclusively on his own winery, but not before crafting the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, which placed 3rd on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list that year. This was a milestone accomplishment not only for Jeff, but the entire California winemaking industry, the first Zinfandel to appear so high on the list, the first time for a Zinfandel from California to reach the top ten.

Jeff strives to achieve the aspects of terroir and minerality found in France's legendary historic winemaking regions in wines sourced from California fruit. He has traveled across California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, searching for the finest fruit and the best vineyards. Among Jeff's most important discoveries was the Rockpile region in Sonoma where he began sourcing Syrah grapes for a portfolio of wines including this label. He strives for elegant and complex wines and he believes the craggy soil of the aptly named Rockpile produces some of the most complex and distinctive minerality in all of California.

The 2014 vintage of this wine was rated 95 Points by Robert Parker.

Dark purple garnet colored, full bodied, complex and concentrated but polished and elegant, blueberry and blackberry fruits with notes of floral, anise, meaty bacon fat and spice, crisp acidity with firm but approachable tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Family dinner features vintage Napa Cabernets Constant and Snowden

Family dinner features vintage Napa Cabernets Constant and Snowden

Bill and Beth, Bill and Jan, Freddie Constant,
Linda and your's truly
With sister Jan and Bro-in-law Bill visiting from OC, we opened for a grilled tenderloin steak dinner two classic 1995 vintage Napa Valley Cabernets, Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards and Snowden.

We still hold more than a half dozen vintages of each of these wines dating back to these early releases in the mid-nineties.

Jan and Bill were with us when we visited the spectacular Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards (shown below) high atop Diamond Mountain where were hosted by the late Freddie Constant (shown right), owner, during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2011.

Constant tasting room overlooking infinity pool
with vineyards in the background
Constant is one of the oldest producing vineyards in Napa Valley and sits at the top of Diamond Mountain toward the north end of the Mayacamas Range straddling the summit separating Napa Valley to the east and Sonoma Valley to the west. 

We scoured the cellar for a Constant Cabernet to commemorate that visit and pulled this bottle, the oldest vintage in our collection.

To match the vintage for a mini-horizontal tasting we also pulled this 1995 Snowden from the same vintage.

Constant Napa Valley Diamond Mountain Vineyard  Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

This was the last bottle from a three bottle lot of this vintage that we acquired at auction. We acquired more recent vintages of this wine during our winery visit in 2011. Tonight we pulled the oldest vintage in our cellar as part of regular cellar management.

This bottle showed signs of recent seepage and the cork was a bit saturated so it was time to drink. This bottle showed some modest signs of diminution from age and perhaps the seepage exfiltration.

From my previous earlier tasting of this label back in 2013; "Wow, what a surprise, we had tasted this wine previously with uninspiring results. Tonight, this wine overachieved, vastly exceeding expectations. Dark purple color, medium to full bodied, full forward flavors of black berry and black cherry fruits with traces of anise and hints of tobacco, tea and leather on a lingering, moderate, soft tannin finish"

RM 88 points.

 Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

To round out a mini-horizontal tasting, we selected another 1995 Napa Cab to complement and compare with the Constant above.

Like the Constant, we tasted this during a Napa Valley wine visit with the Producer. We tasted and acquired this wine during a Napa Valley visit where we met the producer Randy Snowden during a wine dinner we hosted with him at Brix Restaurant during one of our Napa Valley Wine tours back in the late 1990's.Pre-internet and digital photography, I don't have records or photos to memorialize that event.

This was remarkably holding its own at 28 years of age showing modest signs of diminution from aging, but no serious deterioration, still within its drinking window, albeit past its prime.

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright floral sprites with ripe tangy black cherry and berry fruits accented with notes of leather, tobacco leaf, tea, hints of spice and oak on a moderate tannin finish.

RM 89 points.

Later we pulled another vintage 1995 from the cellar to continue or horizontal tasting, a Rosemount Balmoral Shiraz 1995.

Rosemount Estates Balmoral McLaren Vale Shiraz 1995

Like the Oracle Shiraz pulled last night after dinner, we hold more than a dozen vintages of this Australian Shiraz and as above, we pulled one of the earlier, older vintages to round out this horizontal vintage tasting.

Its been eight years since our last published tasting notes of this vintage release. While still holding its own after 23 years, this too is showing its age as the berry fruits turn to tones of raisin, fig and tobacco.

Dark full flavor, over ripe berry, raisin, notes of blueberry, plum fruit, with spice and anise. Showing age on opening but opened and softened with a long full complex finish.

This frontal assault of raisiny fruits was a bit over the top for Bill, not for the feint of heart, but the blueberry tones still reveal themselves - almost bordering on notes of a Port, this was well suited for after dinner with the dark chocolate deserts and hearty cheeses over the grilled steak.

RM 87 points.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Father-Son Steak Wine Dinner

Father Son Boy's Night Wine Steak Dinner

A wine adventure, we held a 'boy's night' Father-son (s) wine dinner. What a treat and joy to do so with all three sons in attendance. With son Sean just home from the hospital after some major stuff, now on the mend, sibling Alec came in from New York, and brother/son Ryan came over for the gathering. It was Ryan's birthday last week so we ventured down to the cellar to pull a 'birth-year' wine from the few remaining in the collection for his vintage.

We discussed the possibility of doing a 'vertical' tasting, a wine from the same label from each of their birth years. It would be possible from our cellar collection but only in larger format Magnums, obviously too much for as intimate small group tasting as it was. Notably, at some point we could, and need to do a tasting of all the kids birthyears as we have in our collection one from each, magnums of Silver Oak, Chateau Palmer and Gruaud Larose.

For the 1982 vintage we found a time-to-drink Chateau Gloria St Julien. For a near '85 we pulled a 1986 Chateau Clerc Milon Pauillac. We should've pulled a '90 vintage for son Alec's birthyear but opted to stick to just the two bottles. Notably, too, remarkably, or perhaps shamefully, our cellar records show we hold more than 180 bottles in no less than 65 different labels from that vintage! Need a party or special occasion! (I am certain this number is exaggerated and doesn't reflect earlier consumption and numerous bottles 'thinned' and liquidated from the cellar at auctions when their market price points peaked during the last decade.) 

Eventually in a quest for something 'younger', we pulled a Paradigm Napa Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1994 vintage.

Later after I (Dad) went to bed, the boys pulled and tasted one of our favorite Syrah's, Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz 2005. Half of that bottle remains that we'll enjoy with tonight's dinner.

Chateau Gloria St Julian Bordeaux 1982

The cork on this bottle was a challenge as it was saturated and soft but initially intact. ryan used an Ahso (two pronged puller) to extract it and the bottom tip of the extended extra long cork eventually separated and remained deep in the neck. I was able to extract it using a traditional corkscrew, inserting it into the edge between the bottle and the cork and gently wedging it out.

We decanted and aerated the bottle. It was initially closed but opened after about ninety minutes. Initial indications suggested the bottle might be tainted or over the hill, somewhat murky with a brownish rust colored tinge on the dark garnet color. While it never cleared, the cherry and currant fruits revealed themselves and by the time the grilled strip steaks were ready, this was consumable, albeit past its drinking window and just hanging on for remaining drinking life. The fruits had given way to leather, black olive and earth tones. It was a worthwhile and acceptable complement to the steak, baked potato grilled asperagus.

For some reason, this was offensive and repulsive, conflicting with the chocolate silk pie. So be it.

While it was never an expensive or long lived collectable bottle, the fact we found one lurking in the cellar was fun and it contributed to the wine dinner experience. For what its worth, we didn't even have this bottle in our cellar records. We found it searching for another bottle.

RM 85 points.

Chateau Clerc Milon Pauillac 1986

At 32 years this is outside its prescribed drinking window, past its prime but still approachable, remarkably holding its own, but time to drink up. Back in 2002 Parker wrote that "while this wine should age well for another two decades, it has matured faster than many of the 1986 Pauillacs".

The cork started to collapse as soon as I pressed on it but I was able to work it out, slowly rocking the 'Ahso' (two prong cork puller) between opposite sides to extract it fully. It was soft and saturated but intact.

Note the original price still affixed to the bottle, $32.99 on release back in 1989, on sale for $29.99. The pricetag tells me I obtained this at the old legendary Sam's in Chicago.

Decanted and aerated but needed a couple hours to open up, dark garnet colored, medium bodied, plum and cherry fruits initially subdued and overshadowed by leather and black olive, eventually popping with some bright vibrancy with tones of cedar and spicy clove with hints of bacon fat, pepper and anise, turning to some modest tannins on the short finish. This is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

On release this got 97 points from Wine Spectator in 1989 and was Ranked #2 on the Top 100 Wines of 1989. Robert Parker gave it 90 points and Jancis Robinson gave it 17.5/20 points. I gave it 88 which is remarkable at this late stage of life.

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

We tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to the winery during our Napa Wine Experience 1999. This was the or close to the inaugural vintage of this wine and is the last of the bottles we hold in our cellar of this vintage label.

This is showing remarkably well at 24 years of age showing no signs of diminution. This may be at its apex of drinkability and will no doubt not improve with further aging. But there should be no rush to consume these either. We acquired a case of this wine upon release and the remaining bottles are in perfect condition with corks and fill levels still being optimal.

Tonight was consistent with my last tasting of this vintage label date back to 8/30/2009 when I posted this. "Dark inky color. forward fruit flavors of black cherry, with a bit with earth and leather emerging over the subtle currant, ripe plum, cedar and a hint of anise on a moderate finish."

Kilikanoon Oracle Claire Valley Shiraz 2005

The boys opened this after I went to bed but left me some which we enjoyed the next evening.  I am finding these aged Aussie Shiraz's hold up for several days and may be better the day after or the day after that!

This is one of our favorite Shiraz's in our cellar collection. Shiraz is the second highest volume varietal in number of bottles in our collection after Bordeaux varietals (which includes Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc), Merlot, and the 'lesser' varietals Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Our collection of Syrahs aka Shiraz', represent Australia, Washington State, California and the French Rhone River Valley, upper and lower.

This producer, Kilikanoon was awarded Australian Wine Producer of the Year by the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) for the fifth time in eight years that Kilikanoon was internationally recognised as Australian Winery of the Year, (previously by James Halliday in 2013 and Germany’s Mundus Vini in 2010, 2017 and 2018).

This Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz 2005 was awarded best Shiraz in the World at the International Wine Challenge, one of three times to be so recognized, in 2001 and the 2014 Oracle Shiraz was awarded the Shiraz Trophy for best Shiraz in the world. 

Oracle is composed from select old vine fruit grown along the estate-owned Golden Hillside Vineyard in Leasingham in the Clare Valley in South Central Australia. Oracle was the first Shiraz released by Kilikanoon’s Founder and Chief Winemaker Kevin Mitchell in the inaugural 1997 vintage and has been released each year except 2011.

This 2005 was consistent with earlier tasting notes back in May and previous last entry back in 2009 when this wine was only five years old. Now three times that age, it still presents the massive blackberry liqueur accented by full bodied blueberry, notes of kirsch, expresso and hints of cinnamon and clove spices.

Dark blackish garnet colored with full body and fine grained approachable well integrated tannins on the long lingering finish. Over the years since the earlier tasting, the berry fruits are starting to give way to a notes of raisin and hints of leather.