Sunday, September 22, 2019

AXΩ Reunion Wine Flight

White Wine Flight for Sisters' Gala Reunion Dinner

Linda hosted her Alpha Chi Omega (AXΩ) sisters' reunion dinner and I put together a flight of white wines for the occasion.

The sisters gathered in Naperville as their destination reunion site and stayed at the Indigo Hotel downtown, and dined in town Friday night.

Tonight, Linda hosted them at our house and served grilled salmon and beef tenderloin with grilled cauliflower.

Before dinner I served a selection of artisan cheeses with biscuits including creamy Harvarti, Brie, Gorgonzola, Blue, Parmesan and a hearty Camembert.

The wine flight:

Twomey Napa Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Hungry Blonde Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2016
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017
Raymond Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017

Château Doisy-Védrines Sauterne 2006

For reds I opened a whimsical Marilyn Merlot 2014 and a Andretti Montona Reserve Merlot 2015.

Twomey Napa / Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Twomey's estate Sauvignon Blanc is the quintessential California expression of this varietal. Sourced from four estate-owned vineyards, 52% from two in Napa Valley, Calistoga and Oakville, and 48% from two in Sonoma Russian River Valley Merino Vineyard and Healdsburg, the wine is aged for five months, about 46% in wood and the rest in tank or concrete.

Light golden butter and straw color, light bodied, nicely balanced, bright aromatics of tropical fruits - mango, guava, a hint of ginger, apple and peach aromas, bright vibrant citrus opening turning to hints of lime, Meyer lemon, grapefruit and grassy herbal notes. Nicely balanced acidity on a crisp refreshing finish. 

RM 90 points.

Hungry Blonde Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2016

What a fun wine to serve for such an occasion. The joys of having a broad cellar selection from which to source for a special setting. This was a big hit with the ladies with the cheese, salad and dinner courses.

Winemaker notes for the 2016, "Our Hungry Blonde Chardonnay is the perfect expression of cool-climate Napa Valley Chardonnay from the Carneros region. Inviting aromas of lemon zest and white flowers make way for waves of bosc pear, Tahitian vanilla, and baked apple tart. All held together with fresh acidity and a supple texture inviting another sip."

As I reported in my earlier blogpost on this wine, "according to Wine Country Connection, Hungry Blonde is made by the well known Napa producer Cary Gott. The fruit comes from the Poe Vineyard, which sits adjacent to the world renowned Hyde Vineyard. Larry Hyde’s HDV Chardonnay, sells for $60."

Freemark Abbey Chardonnay Napa Valley 2017

From one of our favorite and widely held producers, we own or have consumed Freemark Abbey Napa Valley wines going back three decades - most their portfolio of Cabernet Sauvignons.

I picked this up a couple weeks ago and we served it a family dinner. I like it so much, I went out and purchased more. 

This is their standard estate Napa Valley Chardonnay. It is sourced from five different vineyards: Huichica Hills  (37.9%), Rancho Sarco (29.6%), Ahmann Vineyard-Carneros (24.3%), Keyes Vineyard-Howell Mountain (6.7%), and Spring Mtn AVA (1.5%).

The Freemark Abbey premium Chardonnays are single vineyard or single AVA designated selections while this is sourced from all their vineyards to meet the large quantity of the offering. Still it is excellent and offers very good QPR - (Quality Price Ratio).

This is 85% aged in oak barrels with roughly 19% new French oak.

Winemaker's Notes for this release: "Light greenish straw in color, our chardonnay expresses fruit aroma of ripe pineapple, ripe banana, guava, apricot, peach and tropical fruit cocktail. Adding to the complexity, the oak aging is fairly integrated adding spice like nutmeg, light toast, and the nuance of angel food cake. This wine has great viscosity, depth and an intriguing long finish. The flavors are lively on the palate with pear, citrus, lemonlime, green apple and fleshy peach. This wine shows great complexity, creaminess, and elegance to compliment many foods."

I give this 91 points.

This was rated 94+ by WA and 91 by JS.

Raymond Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017

This is a bit of branding tomfoolery calling this a 'Reserve' bottling. Usually, a 'Reserve' wine is a selection of the finest batches or lots, or selected from the finest blocks in the vineyard, or even the finest grapes set aside for a special bottling. Antics like this lead to branding confusion, and confusion about wine in general, and is the basis or the premise of this blog unwindwine - making sense of wine.

Like the Freemark Abbey Chardonnay above, this is the 'standard' estate bottled large volume Chardonnay, from this long time Napa producer. The Raymond estate is situated just off Highway 29 on Zinfandel Lane just south of the town of St Helena.

Winemaker notes for this release: "Aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossoms followed by lemon, lime and pear notes amid toasted almond and honey. A rich, full, mouth feel with balanced acidity and bright lemon, pear, lime and passion fruit flavors followed by a smooth vanilla and toasted oak finish."

RM 88 points.

Château Doisy-Védrines Sauterne 2006

This is a Second Cru Classé (French, “Second Growth”) classic Sauterne, ideal for salad, cheese or dessert. This is one of the regular producer's that show this wine at the annual UGCB release tour.

This was a nice complement to the fresh berries and flowerless chocolate cake with creme fraisch.

Wine Spectator notes on this release: "Shows a solid core of fruit, with spice, honey, lemon and lime. Full-bodied and medium sweet. Spicy and very minerally. Long and balanced. Almost 92-94."

Neal Martin for Robert Parker wrote: "Very expressive nose, tropical fruits, honey, well-integrated new oak, good definition. Gets better with aeration. A crisp, well defined palate with attractive honeyed fruits, orange zest and a nice citrus kick towards the finish. Just lacks the depth of flavour compared to Doisy Daene, but there is still an attractive joie-de-vivre, plus the strict selection of grapes has rid the wine of any rot. Very fine effort, very pretty and elegant. Tasted March 2007.
Score: 91/93"

K&L's notes - At Joanne-spicy aromas and flavor. Fine balance. At UGC-a fatter style with fine depth and length. Clean acidity. Very good as usual.

My notes - Weak tea colored, medium bodied, the sweet nectar tones were overtaken by a slight layer of smokiness and mineral detracting from the normal desired experience - tasty none-the-less.

We still hold about a half case of this release and its probably time to drink up as it will not likely improve with any further aging.

RM 89 points.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Robert Craig Affinity

Tribute to Robert Craig - Affinity Cabernet 2011 - Lot 95 2017

For the end of a tumultuous week, we treated ourselves to a dinner outing at our local neighborhood trattoria, Angeli's Italian. We took BYOB two bottle from our cellar, a latest vintage release of Lot 94 Ninety Plus Cellars Rutherford Cabernet to taste upon release, and an old reliable perennial favorite Robert Craig Affinity Napa Cabernet.

I write about our experience with Ninety Plus Lot 94 in a separate blogpost.

The Robert Craig brand is one of the largest holdings in our wine cellar dating back to the inaugural vintage of their first release in 1993. We hold several dozen bottles of several Robert Craig labels dating back to then across the portfolio of Napa Cabernets. We actually hold a bottle of this label from the first release that actually appeared in 1993.

Over the next two decades Robert Craig expanded the portfolio and added at least five more Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons sourced from different vineyard sites from the two mountain ranges that line and form the two boundaries of Napa Valley.

We've enjoyed many visits to the Robert Craig estate and vineyards high atop Howell Mountain, and the early production facility up on Atlas Peak in the early early days. We've hosted Robert and Lynn Craig for several producer wine dinners over the decades.

As I write this I was reading the Craig blog on the Robert Craig website and just learned that Robert passed away last Sunday at his home in Tuscon with Lynn at his side. We're deeply saddened by this news and he will be missed. He was a wonderful, delightful man and a legend in Napa Valley since his emergence there back in 1990.  We have many fond memories of Robert going back to the mid-nineties.

Robert Craig estate visit 2008
Robert Craig Harvest Party 2009

Robert and Lynn Craig Producer Dinner at CIA in 1999
The 2011 vintage of certain Napa Valley appellations was marginal and some producers shunned the vintage altogether, or combined what would normally go into their grand vin with their standard estate bottling. The result was that some of the labels were actually extraordinary from an otherwise modest or lackluster vintage.

The 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet vintage was rated 86 points, the lowest rating in a decade and the only such rating in a span of a dozen years that averaged about 95 points or spectacular. The primary reason for the decline of the vintage was a rare rainy harvest that spared few producers resulting in modest or variable quality generally.

Robert Craig "Affinity" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Blend 2011

Robert Craig was always most proud of this label and strove to maintain it at a fairly priced affordable, high QPR - quality price ratio. As I have written in these pages, he has recently stepped down from stewardship and day to day duties of the brand that bears his name, and the new owners/managers have let the price of Affinity creep up precipitously.

Despite the lackluster vintage harvest across the region, this was quite good and exceeded my expectations. I wrote recently about the delights and great fortunes of often investing in lesser vintage releases. This may be another such case.

While generally considered a Cabernet due to its predominance in the blend, Affinity is actually a Bordeaux Blend comprised of the traditional Bordeaux varietals. The 2011 release is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec.

Robert Craig's classic Affinity Bordeaux Blend is based on Cabernet Sauvignon grown at the Robert Craig estate in the foothills of Mount Geroge in Napa's Vaca Range. The firm backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon is augmented and enhanced with the small additions of Petit Verdot which adds a bit of color, Malbec which provides some weight, Cabernet Franc for structure,) and Merlot to soften and smooth the blend with a its more approachable mouthfeel. The blend is aged for 18 months in new and second-fill French oak, the resulting wine is powerful and ripe.

This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied,  very nicely balanced and integrated for easy pleasant drinking, a vibrant bright core of sweet blackberry, black raspberry and black currant fruits, with highlights of graphite, floral and toasty oak with moderate smooth tannins on a long tangy soft acidity finish.

RM 91 points.  

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave it 90 points.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

90+ Lot 94 2017

Ninety+ Cellars Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 94 2017

After drinking our last bottle of the 2015 vintage release of this label, and being surprised at how good it was at its price point, we were eager to see if we could acquire any more. Alas, the vintages had moved on and the 2017 release was available in local wine shops. I rushed out to purchase some to see if the current release matched the high QPR (quality price ratio) of its earlier vintage. After tasting the 2017, I went back to our local merchant and purchase every bottle available on the shelf.

I've written before, and reiterated recently on the negociant practice of Ninety Plus Cellars and how they acquire excess or un-allocated inventory from growers or producers and market it under their private label. Each source is anonymized and identified only according to its 'Lot' number to track the same wine from vintage to vintage. Here, below is what they wrote about "Lot 94 Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet".

"Lot 94 is our most popular Collector's Series wine. A full-bodied Napa Cab from highly-regarded vineyard sites in the distinguished Rutherford AVA. This is real deal Napa Cab at an incredible price.'

"Rutherford is home to many of Napa Valley's most sought-after Cabernets. In contrast to the Cabs of Oakville, those of Rutherford tend to display brighter fruit and an iconic earthy flavor that is often described as Rutherford "dust."'

"This distinguished Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was made from fruit picked from vines situated on the east side of the valley in a vineyard that was first planted in the 1890s. Upon alluvial and volcanic soils these densely planted vines produce Cabernet Sauvignon that makes some of the best wine in Napa. This is an all-star Cabernet with an elite pedigree.'

"Sitting in the middle of the St. Helena AVA to the northwest and Oakville AVA to the southeast, Rutherford is the home of many of Napa Valleys sought after bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast to the Cabs of Oakville, those of Rutherford tend to display brighter fruit flavors and an iconic earthy flavor that is often described as Rutherford “dust”. We acquired this wine because of the way it stands true to these characteristics and the fact that it can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of most other Rutherford Cabs.'

Upon tasting the 2017 release I found it to be near, but not equal the 2015 in QPR which was a bit better integrated and polished. Although having aged two years in bottle might have made the difference, and the 2017 could perhaps improve and benefit from some bottle aging as well.

In any event, the 2017 is a top flight Cabernet, sophisticated, complex and enjoyable for early gratification, drinking now, and may likely improve further with 2 to 5 years of aging or more. Hence I bought a case plus, all that was available, and will look forward to drinking over the next couple of years. 

The negociant's (Ninety Plus Cellars) tasting notes on this release: "Deep crimson in color with lavish aromas of black currant, mocha, and savory herbs with trailing notes of tobacco and vanilla. Full-bodied and well-rounded with soft edges and a lively dose of bright cherry fruit that unfolds into a smooth finish."

I give it 90 points and look for it to add a point with some bottle aging.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

90+ Cellars Lot 94 Napa Cab

Ninety Plus Cellars "Lot 94" Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Tonight, I opened the last remaining bottle of this high QPR (quality price ratio) value special wine that I acquired a year ago. I wrote a feature at the time about Ninety Plus Cellars and their negociant business where they buy excess fruit from growers, or bulk wine, or in some cases bottled but unlabeled wine from producers, and bottle or release it under their own private label series.

Once in a while this results in an extraordinary value in a wine offered at a fraction of the original producer's or grower's offering price, hence the need to keep the source secret and release under their own or private label. This Lot 94 is such a wine.

The challenge of course is that you can't get too attached to a wine because there may not be a follow on vintage, or there may be sporadic intermittent releases every couple of years, or perhaps only in lesser years when the quality of the product is not up the standards for the primary label. Or, you may get lucky, and the producer has excess inventory or product available and is eager to release it to a trusted outlet. 

Ninety Plus Cellars have built an extensive brand with an extensive selection of wines from around the world, released under their own label. Their nomenclature of the Lot number for any particular wine indicates the source of the product so consumers can identify such from one vintage to the next. 
The challenge of course is that true identity of the source is not revealed, although there are times when it can be determined, either through mis-steps in the packaging (once the bottles had already been filled and corked with corks branded by the original producer), or there have been times when the original wine can be determined by the unique blend of the vintage. 

Their Lot 150 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon label is a case where the identity of the source of the wine is not revealed, until one pulls the cork from the bottle to see it was corked by the original producer using their branded imprinted corks. In that case, the wine available through 90+ is about 1/2 the price of the 'secret' producer's grand vin.

There have been several Ninety Plus wines that I have discovered where I acquired all that I could obtain to keep for enjoyment and value over time, Lot 101, Washington State, Columbia Valley Syrah was one such example.

To replace this consumed bottle of this wine, I had to obtain the latest release of this label, still available as 'Lot 94' from 90+, albeit from the 2017 vintage. Following this tasting I went out and acquired a case of the latest release of the label. Watch for my review of that vintage release.

A replay of my review of Lot 94. Tonight's tasting was consistent with that earlier experience.

Ninety Plus Cellars "Lot 94" Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

According to Ninety Plus Cellars, "This distinguished Cabernet Sauvignon was made from fruit picked from vines situated on the east side of the valley in a vineyard that was first planted in the 1890s. Upon alluvial and volcanic soils these densely planted vines produce Cabernet Sauvignon that makes some of the best wine in Napa. This is an all-star Cabernet with a pedigree that's unrivaled by anything we've put in a bottle."

They assert that the offering price for the wine under the source producer's label is double the price of the discounted private label. That may indeed be the case. In any event, I'll testify that this is a high QPR - quality price ratio, great value wine that is comparable to product twice its price.

I originally acquired this when it was one of the wines of the week, featured at the Saturday tasting of the local Vin Chicago outlet (since closed as they succumb to the competition of on-line retailers). So it was, that after tasting at the Vin Chicago Saturday tasting, I grabbed a couple bottles to bring home and try again with different foods or accompaniments. I expect I'll be going back to buy more for great value high quality every day drinking, as well as for special occasions.

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex sweet black currant and berry fruits, with notes of mocha, tangy clove spice, herbs, tobacco and hints of spicy oak and vanilla with a smooth polished finish.

RM 91 points.

Terlato Chapoutier - St Michelle Cab - Lalande-Borie

Terlato & Chapoutier - St Michelle 50th Anniversary Cab - Lalande-Borie for BBQ Dinner

We were invited to Sean and Michelle's for a gala dinner of BBQ ribs and tenderloin. They also served grilled asparagus, brussel sprouts and baked potatoes. The tenderloin was in a marsala sauce and with a horseradish sour creme sauce on the side.

For the occasion we took a couple wines to match with the dinner. For the barbecue ribs I took this Australian Shiraz from a Southern Rhone producer, in partnership with a Chicago distributor, producer importer. For the grilled tenderloin I took a California Cabernet and a Bordeaux from our recent trip there.

Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz Lieu dit Malakoff 2013

Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier is a partnership between Anthony Terlato, founder of importer and marketer Terlato Wines International and Napa Valley vintner, and Michel Chapoutier, the esteemed Rhône grower and vintner whose wines are highly acclaimed and recognized by critics around the world.
 The origin of the Terlato & Chapoutier partnership in Australia dates back to 1998, when Chapoutier told Terlato about a top vineyard site that was available in Australia. The 500 acre site was in the Pyrenees Hills in western Central Victoria. It contained the 50 acre Malakoff Vineyard located on the southern edge of an eastern-facing slope with soils destined to produce “great wines,” according to Chapoutier. The soil profile of the Malakoff vineyard is remarkably similar to that of France's northern Rhône Valley where he produced world class Shiraz/Syrahs and the climate is ideal for growing superior quality Shiraz.

Terlato could not say 'no' to the legendary Michel Chapoutier. They formed a partnership in the Malakoff Vineyard to produce estate wines from the 'lieu dit Malakoff' from Shiraz planted there. The spectacular Malakoff fruit was grown and tended to produce low-yielding (less than 1 ton per acre), high-concentration Shiraz. The wine was made in the Chapoutier tradition and style: unfiltered and unfined and represented what Australian Shiraz can be when made by one of the great winemakers of Syrah.

When wine critic Robert M. Parker tasted the first release, the 2004 vintage, he called it a “lusty Australian blockbuster,” and awarded it 90-92 points. 

The wine was awarded 95 points from Jeff Dunnuck, 92 points by James Suckling, 91 points and a "Cellar Selection" by Wine Enthusiast, and 90 points by Wine & Spirits.

This 2013 release is bright ruby colored, medium bodied, smooth easy drinking, somewhat sweet black berry, sweet cherry with hints of blue berry fruits with some moderate astringency, hints of tea, anise, mocha, notes of  leather, and pepper with a long finish of modest tannins and acidity.

RM 89 points.

The second wine I opened was this whimsical tribute to Michelle in this St Michelle anniversary special bottling label Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau Ste. Michelle "50th Anniversary Edition" Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

This received 93 points from Decanter Magazine. 

This is a complex Bordeaux style blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 4% Syrah, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot crafted from fruit sourced from Columbia Valley vineyards in eastern Washington including the Cold Creek, Canoe Ridge Estate, and Indian Wells vineyards.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, rich extracted complex concentrated black and red berry fruits, tightly would with a firm structure that is accessible style and approachable with moderate smooth tannins on a lingering finish. A great complement to the beef tenderloin with brown marsala sauce or the horseradish creme sauce.

RM 88 points.

Lalande-Borie St Julien Bordeaux 2016

We tasted the 2014 release of this second label wine while at the magnificent Ducru Beaucaillou estate in St Julien Bordeaux last month. We also tasted barrel samples of the 2016 Grand Vin along with some of the other top rated Chateau and the Saint-Julien 2016 vintage promises to be spectacular.

This second label from Bruno Borie and Ducru Beaucaillou is a blend is 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon raised in 30% new French oak sourced from vineyards further inland from the Gironde estuary and the estate vineyards adjacent to the Chateau. While tight and closed, it needs a couple years to settle and open, it should prove to also be a wonderful wine with great value (QPR - Quality Price Ratio) in time.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, intense, concentrated, tightly structured, blackberries, black-currant and black raspberry fruits are accented by a graphite stony edge, notes of black tea, bramble, tobacco leaf and hints of spicy clove and cassis with silky fine grained tannins.

RM 91 points. 

James Suckling Wine Spectator gave this 93 points, Jeb Dunnuck and Wine Enthusiast 92 points, and 91 points from Decanter and Vinous.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Glaetzer Godolphin 2004

Glaetzer "Godolphin" Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley South Australia 2004
A quiet evening at home, Linda prepared a platter of artisan cheeses, sliced fresh fruit, toasted almonds and honey to accompany a bottle of highly rated Aussie Shiraz Cabernet. 

I acquired several bottles of this release a dozen years ago and served it more than once at some gala business dinners with some key strategic partners. I still hold a couple bottles from a series of vintages and pulled the oldest vintage to manage the cellar. 

Shortly thereafter, Godolphin Shiraz Cabernet had it's name changed to 'Anaperena' due to a dispute or confusion of the name with another label from another producer. Anaperena is the same wine from the same sources produced by the same winemaker, with the same branding and symbol on the label as its predecessor from the same renowned Barossa vineyards.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this label 96-98 points and called it a "nearly perfect wine", citing its "extraordinary equilibrium, precision, and purity". Jeb Dunnuck gave it 97 points and said, "I love this wine' and speaks of its 'amazing balance and stunning mouthfeel", while James Halliday gave it 95 points and called it "supple and luxuriant".

Glaetzer Godolphin 2004 is a blend of 70% Shiraz sourced from 105- to 115-year-old vines, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon from 60- to 90-year-old vines. It was rigorously selected to only the best fruit and was aged 15 months in French oak.

While we love large fruit forward robust Assie Shiraz, Linda actually didn't think much of this wine. The first evening upon opening, it presented a slight bit of a sharp edge that Parker called crushed rocks and minerals that detracted from the fruit flavors. After setting it aside for two nights, the edge had dissipated and the fruits were more predominate albeit subdued.

Dark blackish inky purple color, full bodied, complex, the moderately sweet black currant and black raspberry fruits were moderate, balanced and nicely integrated, accented by notes of earth and black tea with hints of white pepper, cassis and oak on a slightly sharp tangy lingering finish.

I wish I could ride the crest of lofty ratings but perhaps at a baker's dozen years it has lost some of its elegance, polish and luster. In any event, I gave it a more down to earth 92 points, still superbly good. 

Château Larmande 2005

Château Larmande St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005 

Following our recent trip to Bordeaux, I am still in the groove enjoying fine Bordeaux wines. Tonight, I pulled from the cellar this Right Bank Grand Cru Classé to enjoy with grilled beef steak and mashed potatoes.

Like several of the Left Bank producers that we visited last month, the wines of Saint-Émilion in the wine-growing region of Bordeaux were classified in 1855. However, unlike the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 covering wines from the Left Bank Médoc and Graves regions, the Saint-Émilion list is updated every 10 years or so. Following the initial classification, the list was updated in 1969, 1986, 1996 and most recently in 2006.

According to my Cellartracker cellar records for this label, we hold six bottle remaining from two cases purchased on release a dozen years ago. Having purchased two cases at the time, it is clear that I enjoyed this wine and thought it was a great value.

My tasting note records indicated I last tasted this label three years ago in June, 2016.

Château Larmande St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2005

A Right Bank Bordeaux means the estate from where the grapes are sourced, sits on the east and north side of the diagonal flowing Gironde River that bisects the Bordeaux wine region, surrounding and named for the city of Bordeaux in southeast France. 

Wines from the Right Bank are predominantly Merlot in the Blend of Bordeaux sanctioned varietal gapes. 

Alternatively, wines produced in the Médoc, on the the Left Bank, that lies on the western and southern side of the river, are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.

Both Left and Right Bank Bordeaux wines are based on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively, with the percentages flipped, accented by small amounts of Cabernet Franc and perhaps Petit Verdot.

Château Larmande lies north of the town of St. Emilion, close to Soutard and Cadet-Piola. It consists of 60 acres of vineyards planted with Merlot (65%), Cabernet Franc (25%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%).

Château Larmande was sold to the French insurance conglomerate, La Mondiale in 1991.

Tonight, this 2005 release was a nice, pleasant, easy drinking, yet sophisticated, polished and nicely integrated and balanced wine, dark garnet colored, medium bodied, aromatic blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by tones of tar, smoke, earthy leather, hints of cedar, spice and a whisper of mocha on a firm lingering tongue puckering tannin finish.

At fourteen years of age, this is showing no signs of diminution from aging and probably can be held for another decade or more for prime drinking.

My recent blogpost, from the week before last, speaks to, "the adventure, joy, and perils of holding vintage wine for a couple decades or more ...". This continues to be a pleasant, easy drinking yet sophisticated wine and I fear as I consume the last bottles of my collection, I'll regret having drunk many of them too early! 

RM 89 points.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservé 2007

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservé 2007 for BBQ Rib Dinner

We opened this to serve with barbecue ribs and sweet potatoes and grilled squash for gala family dinner with nieces Krysta and Jenna and nephew in-law Andrew visiting from Cal. 

This wine was rated 92 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Spectator and Vinous - a rare occasion of absolute concensus amongst four leading wine critics.  

It is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cinsault CDP varietals.

Classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape profile and characteristics, minus the black pepper notes which are suppressed and replaced by notes of lavender and floral.

Deep, dark ruby/purple colored, medium to full-bodied, black berry and black currant fruits with licorice, black tea, notes of vanilla bean, roasted herb, forest floor and meaty aromas with smooth tangy black cherry notes, licorice and smoky minerals lingering on a moderate tannin laced finish. 

RM 91 points.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

We hosted a gala family dinner with nieces Krysta and Jenna, and nephew Andrew visiting from California. Trolling through the cellar for wines to accompany our salmon and beefsteak dinner, with sweet potatoes and grilled zuchini, we pulled this notable Cabernet Sauvignon. Andrew expressed that Caymus was one of his favorites so we pulled this 40th Anniversary Edition 2012 Caymus Cabernet.

Caymus is one of the best known and popular wines from Napa Valley going back three decades. Its reputed to provide early gratification from being approachable young, yet can also age gracefully for a decade or more. It also is known for elegant, smooth polished, nicely balanced and nicely integrated fruit. It is amazing that Caymus can produce such a wine, year after year, in such large quantity. Such is the artwork of legendary winemaker Charles Wagner.

We visited the Caymus Estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2018

We love this wine and acquired and tasted it several times during 2014. That was our 40th Anniversary year, the same as the label and as commemorated in their new label design and branding with the anniversary edition.

Tonight, this vintage release was classic Caymus, expressing all the characteristics cited above. It was also amazing in its bold expressive style, consistent with my last tasting notes in 2015 and 2014.

On 8/1/2015. I gave this wine 93 Points and wrote: "Dark inky purple, full bodied, big brooding ripe tongue coating plum, black and blue berry fruits predominate turning to a layer of mocha chocolate with a hint of cassis on abig finish."

On 11/7/2014, I gave it  94 Points.

The 2012 vintage release also shows the classic characteristics of Caymus Estate Cabernet at its best - early approach-ability and drink-ability as a young wine.

Typical legendary Caymus Cab style - dark blackish ruby/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, nicely structured, complex but smooth, well balanced and polished, it opens with sweet ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors highlighted by layers of milk chocolate, subtle tones of cinnamon, vanilla and hints of caramel and kirsch giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay 2016

Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay 2016

Following our discovery of the 2015 release of this label this summer and acquiring all the remaining inventory in local merchants, I had to special order the new vintage release. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, after the accolades and positive reviews of the 2015 release, the market price for the 2016 increased 40% to obtain the new release.

This has happened so many times over the years, where a wine gains notoriety and dramtically increases its price as a result. Several times, one of our favorite regular drinkers increased in price such that it was no longer reasonable at the new QPR - Quality Price Ratio!

This may be such a case where this offered high QPR at the lower price point for the 2015 vintage, but the new release at the higher price is no longer a significant value. This point is exacerbated by the fact that I consider the new release less appealing.

Never-the-less, even at the new price, this is a reasonable price point and worth trying for a distinctive profile and character of wine. Such was the value of the earlier release!

"There's 2000 cases of the 2015 Chardonnay Hungry Blonde, and it's one seriously good Chardonnay.  It's the real deal and will keep for 5+ years. At 30 bucks it's a killer value." He gave it 94 points.

James Suckling gave the 2016 90 points. "A chardonnay with plenty of butter, apricot, flan and bread dough. There is good density to this and the acidity gives some form and clarity'"

Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay 2016

Winemaker notes for the 2016, "Our Hungry Blonde Chardonnay is the perfect expression of cool-climate Napa Valley Chardonnay from the Carneros region. Inviting aromas of lemon zest and white flowers make way for waves of bosc pear, Tahitian vanilla, and baked apple tart. All held together with fresh acidity and a supple texture inviting another sip."

I found the 2016 to be not as balanced or polished as the 2015 with a bit of an 'edge' that leaves it less approachable and easy drinking than the 2015. Perhaps with some further time in bottle it will soften, which remains to be seen, however I suspect it will not.

According to Wine Country Connection, Hungry Blonde is made by the well known Napa producer Cary Gott. The fruit comes from the Poe Vineyard, which sits adjacent to the world renowned Hyde Vineyard. Larry Hyde’s HDV Chardonnay, sells for $60.

I loved the 2015 - Full bodied, so buttery it emanated a sense of butterscotch notes. The 2016 is a nice sipper but not so captivating and extraordinary as the 2015 at its sub-$25 price point. 

Pick some up, try it, and if you're lucky, you might get some 2015 and do your own comparison!

We took this BYOB to Chinn’s 34th Street Fishery in Lisle (IL). This under-rated restaurant specializes in the freshest seafood available. They offer “jet fresh” fish and shellfish from all over the world, flown in literally the night before from the seafood ports from around the globe. On the wall in the entryway are the bills of lading of the container shipments of fish from the airlines showing the shipments that came in that day with the selections offered on that day's menu. They pride themselves in providing the highest quality food at most affordable prices. 

Another enticement of Chinn's is their liberal corkage policy of $10 corkage fee, which is appropriate for suburban independent restaurant dining. 

This Chardonnay was ideal and a perfect match with our entree selections. I had the Halibut served sauteed over spinach and tomatoes which was delicious. I had a side of Pasta - Fettucini Alfredo, which was also delicious. 

Linda had the Halibut tacos which were good with the ample avocado, tomato and spinach.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Superiore Sondraia 2015

Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Superiore Sondraia 2015

For a business dinner downtown, I dined at my usual dependable dinesite, Italian Village, Chicago. Its my regular routine site for business dinners for a number of reasons - its a short walk from the office, its in the center of Chicago's loop, its reliable and dependable, its got a broad variety with three restaurants under one roof, and I know the staff there as a 'regular' and I can depend on impeccable service. I also know the restaurant so well, that when I plan on dining there, I'll invariably specify which particular table I prefer, depending on the occasion, number of diners, and the desired mood for the event.

Tonight, I hosted two valued business partners visiting from Europe and India, so Italian dining was a safe and acceptable cuisine.

As usual I left the wine choice to Wine Director and wine buddy, Jared Gelband who often has a special wine to showcase or share. Often these wines are or are not on the winelist, perhaps because they are new, or on trial, or not available in sufficient quantity to make the list, or other reasons. Sometimes, he shares a taste of a special bottle that is being served for a very special occasion.

In any event, Jared knows my tastes, preferences, and budget and always has something to offer. Tonight was no exception. I don't know if this wine is on the wine list, but it was extraordinary and worthy of checking out, and going out and buying some if you can find it.

Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Superiore Sondraia 2015

This is a Bordeaux Blend. I would've failed identifying this as an Italian wine opting for a California Cabernet with its rich full bodied rich ripe sweet fruit. It presented a residual sweetness almost extreme for a Bordeaux blend but much to my liking. Complex, full bodied, elegant, balanced with nicely integrated fruit, notes of mocha and cinnamon spice, it has a long lingering finish of silky smooth gripping tannins.

This profile would probably be too much for most, especially Bordeaux enthusiasts, but I found it wonderfully delicious and perfectly matched to the brown sauce of my Veal Marsala at Italian Village Chicago.

RM 93 points. 

Records show we also tasted this label back in February. A rather new label, be on the look out for this and be prepared for it to be in short supply, or for the price point to increase as it becomes popular. 

The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.

From Tuscany, it is known as a 'Super Tuscan'. This is from the Italian producer Allegrini who are primarily known for Amarone's.

The Allegrini family acquired the 170 acre Bolgheri property with the Poggio al Tesoro vineyard in 2002. It was the first vineyard bought by the Allegrinis.

The Le Sondraie site sits next door to the legendary Ornellaia vineyard, It was previously rented before the acquisition. The 125 acres vineyard is planted in Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Vermentino.

The winemakers are Nicola Biasi and Lorenzo Fortini.
 Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit for this blend was sourced from the seven acre Via Bolgherese vineyard which lies 56 metres above sea level. The terroir consists of well drained coarse red sand and gravel,  and a layer of clay at a depth of 120cm. The Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend are sourced from the 30 acre Le Sondraie vineyard situated 35 metres above sea level. The well draining soil is a mixture of clay and sandy silt, with high levels of magnesium and iron.



Sunday, August 25, 2019

Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 -
The adventure, joy, and perils of holding vintage wine for a couple decades or more ...

Son Ryan came over for the evening and we went down and dug deep into the cellar to pull out this aged 1998 vintage release Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. We acquired this wine at the Estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2011. My early blogpost of our visit to Constant Diamond Mtn Vineyard was here.

Bill & Beth, Bill & Jan, the late Freddie Constant,
Linda and me.
I’ve written often about the 1998 vintage Napa Cabernets. It was widely panned as being a subpar vintage, especially after the much heralded block buster ’97. As a result, prices on the 98 releases were lower, especially after a couple of years when 98’s were still sitting on the shelves and the vintage was considered lackluster relative to the range of choices of more favored releases.

Lo and behold, IMHO this represented an opportunity to pick up quality wines at bargain prices when compared to the higher price points on the highly rated releases. Ironically, a decade, and now two decades later, those wines were and are often tasting very nicely and in some cases are on par equivalent to some of the other vintage releases.

Often, ‘off’ vintages can provide great QPR (Quality Price Ratios). Of course, perhaps just as often, off vintages are just that, ‘off’ in terms of quality in some way or other, due to whatever shortcomings that vintage suffered, excessive heat, not enough rain at the right times, or too much rain at the in-opportune times, all suppressants to the realized quality of fine wine.
This disparity was magnified perhaps by the fact that the much heralded 97 vintage in many cases, never achieved its lofty accolades and expectations – too closed, too tight, too subdued, or some other diminution of expectations.

Perhaps its time will come as the ‘lesser’ 98 reaches and surpasses its prime drinking window and eventually end of life, while the 97, a longer lived vintage, lives on, and perhaps still realizes the apex of its potential, late in life. It can happen. . So, caveat emptor. Don’t be afraid to invest in ‘off’ vintages. The price differential can be significant with savings of 50% or more.

Often, only in such years are some of the higher rated, ranked wines approachable or affordable. Take advantage to experiment, if you dare. You might be mightily rewarded. Or, your lowered expectations will be met.

Another related point, my wine buddies have heard me talk about my experience with a case of Dominus Proprietary Red Wine that I purchased on release back in 1986. Dominus, the Napa Valley project of legendary Bordeaux owner/producer/winemaker Christian Moueix often trades at super premium prices, and tends to be a long lived wine, in the tradition and style of sophisticated, complex Bordeaux’s.

Those early Dominus labels featured pencil sketch drawings of Christian Moueix on the labels for the first decade, up until the 1991 vintage release.

With that 1986 Dominus, I was patient, and waited, and opened a bottle of the 1986 around 1989 or 90. It was lackluster, rather closed and tight. I waited another couple years with the same effect. This exercise was repeated several more times until about 2006, when at twenty years of age, two decades, it showed complexity, polish, balance, breadth and depth – the attributes of its true character and potential one might hope for or expect from the pedigree’d label. Alas. That is what Dominus is supposed to taste like. But then, ahah, I only had three bottles left to experience its magnificence.

While its fun to enjoys one’s investment in a cellar, with case lots of wine, to experience how a wine will age and mature and hopefully improve over time, there is the real risk of drinking your wine too early, or holding it too long. I now realized I drank many of my Bordeaux from quality 1980’s era vintages too young. But, I also fairly often come across a bottle that I held on to too long, especially if it got overlooked or lost in the cellar, or just got passed over too many times for something more appealing or exciting. Such is the art of collecting fine wines.

Most folks would think that we hold onto our wines too long and drink them too late. Count my wife, Linda in those ranks. We look at it as part of the adventure.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

My previous tasting of this label was in March of this year when I had a similar tasting experience and wrote: "Some bottles of this vintage are at or nearing their end of life and need to be consumed. While at the end of or past its prime drinking window, this bottle was still holding its own, maintaining its fruit and some of its terroir character and profile.'

"Dark garnet colored with some slight bricking in color, medium bodied, the black fruit is giving way to notes of earth, spice, leather and hints of vegetable with modest tannins. Time to drink up but this was still pleasant drinking."

Tonight, this 1998 Constant was drinking very nicely – probably as good as ever, and most assuredly not likely to improve any with further aging, and very likely to start to diminish from this point forward.

Not for the casual feint of heart drinker, son Ryan and I enjoyed it and its ‘maturity’ immensely, and we opened something more ‘youthful’, or ‘approachable’ for Linda and the others.
Bon chance!