Sunday, June 30, 2019

Beaucanon Trifecta Napa Valley Red Blend

Beaucanon Estate Louis de Coninck Trifecta Napa Valley Red Blend

I stopped in Ambassador Wines in NYC on Second Avenue at 54th and met owner Louis Phillips.

For a special dinner I picked up this Napa Valley Bordeaux Red Blend from Beaucanon Estate by winemaker Louis de Coninck, Trifecta is a blend compiled of four estate grown Bordeaux varietals.

The Beaucanon Estate Longwood Ranch sits at the south eastern corner of the Oak Knoll AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Napa Valley where it meets the Atlas Peak AVA in southeastern Napa Valley.  

The original historic property dates back to the origins of Napa Valley, part of the Yajome land Grant that belonged to Captain Salvador Vallejo, brother of General Mariano Vallejo, founder of Sonoma and military commander and director of colonization on the northern frontier. The Grant covered over 6000 acres and was first given to Damaso Rodriquez, a retired ensign from the first Calvary division of the Company of San Francisco which petitioned the Mexican government in 1838.

It was back around 1860 when the Longwood name was first associated with the site known for the long row of old-growth oaks that still boarder Milliken Creek flowing through property down at the bottom of Silverado Trail. Later in 1912 Longwood was know for ample prune orchards and a 60 acres market owned by a prosperous dairyman name William Watt, ancestor to Kathryn Hall of Hall Wines in Rutherford and St Helena who produce a line of Walt Wines in his honor. 

The first winery was built in 1987 just outside of St. Helena. an impressive facility where they produce almost 30,000 cases of wine annually. After seven years at this facility, Louis de Coninck transitioned to the Longwood Ranch vineyard. There, a historic barn has been outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment where they produce only 12,000 cases annually of carefully crafted wine. 

Beaucanon Estate wines reflects the terrior of the soil type known as alluvium fan which exhibits gravely deposits, clay and silt that encourages the vines to grow deep strong root structures.  Deeply rooted vines produce high quality concentrated fruit for Beaucanon Estate select winemaker signature wines.

Louis de Coninck, the winemaker, carries on the wine making history of the family, 9 generations of wine merchants originally from the right bank in Bordeaux that can be traced back to 1740. Trained from age 18 in Saint Emilion, he joined his father Jacques in Napa Valley.  His crafts wines that reflect the terrior of Napa Valley, displaying finesse, complexity, structure, mouth-feel and the bright expressive flavors of Napa Valley fruit.  Like all great winemakers, Louis excels at highlighting the natural characteristics of perfectly ripe fruit and the distinctive "terroir" of the vineyard sites.

Beaucanon Estate Louis de Conick, Trifecta Napa Valley Red Blend 2013

Dark inky blackish garnet colored, full bodied, tight, concentrated dark dense flavors of blackberry and black currant fruits accented by a layer of black tea, notes of creosote, cassis and licorice  with hints of smoke with a lingering moderate tannin finish.

This is a blend of the Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. This composition results in the concentrated dense firm inky structured wine. Cabernet Sauvignon provides firm and structured backbone, Cabernet Franc highlights of spice, Petit Verdot dark color and firm dense structure, and Malbec contribute to the dark inky dark color and robust tannins. 

Conspicuously missing in the blend is Merlot, the most common Bordeaux varietal, which is typically used to  provide softness in the blend when compared with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be firmer and higher in tannin. The result is a firmly structured  'tight' wine.

RM 92 points.

Ambassador Wines @AmbassadorNY

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Chateau Buena Vista Napa Cabernet

Buena Vista Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Alec picked this up at the local wineshop in Westport, CT. From the legendary Buena Vista Winery with arguably one of the more colorful histories of the wineries in California with its founder, the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy, an eccentric pioneer of California wines.

Founded in 1857, Buena Vista was one of California’s first premium wineries. The legendary brand is being re-born today under the vision of owner Jean-Charles Boisset. Just outside the town of Sonoma, the original winery is now a California Historic Landmark.

The Count immigrated from Europe in 1840 in pursuit of opportunity in the burgeoning American West. Following the spirit of the forty-niners in search of gold in the hills of Northern California, Haraszthy sought “purple gold” – the perfect ‘terroir’ where he could grow grapes to make exceptional wine. He ultimately settled in Sonoma, birthplace of California and capital of the short-lived California Republic, where he founded Buena Vista Winery in 1857.

In the 1860’s Buena Vista covered more than 6,000 acres that ran up into the foothills and past the Mayacamas Mountain range into what is today Napa County.

In 1861, founder Count Haraszthy journeyed to Europe in search of the finest grapevines. In Bordeaux, he obtained Cabernet Sauvignon and brought choice cuttings back to California where he planted them at Buena Vista, thereby bringing Cabernet Sauvignon to the Napa Valley.

The inaugural release of this new label offering, Chateau Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon, was in 2013 as Buena Vista returned to Napa Valley. In recent history, Buena Vista has generally been considered and known for Sonoma Valley wines, based on its popular historic winery and cellar near downtown Sonoma.
This new addition to the Buena Vista portfolio is packaged in a large oversize heavy bottle of a premium wine but is moderately priced for a Napa Valley Estate Cabernet thereby offering good QPR (Quality Price Ratio).
Buena Vista Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
This 2016 release was sourced from Oak Knoll to St. Helena, from vineyards along Napa Valley’s eastern slope. The backbone of this is grapes from 10 acres of the Bartalucci Vineyard just south of St Helena, in Napa Valley near Raymond vineyards, a recent acquisition for Boisset. 

We tasted this opposite the Trifecta Bordeaux Blend that I brought for the occasion which made an interesting and fun comparison. Compared to the Chateau Buena Vista, the Trifecta was darker, bigger and tighter yet slightly more harmonious and integrated despite being a blend of four varietals compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bright garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich and opulent with intense structure, slightly obtuse, rich aromas of black berry, black cherry and black currant with a touch of spice and licorice, fine-grained tannins are soft with a full-bodied mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Birthyear Silver Oak and Freemark Abbey Bosche'

Birthyear Silver Oak and Freemark Abbey Bosche' wines to honor Alec and Viv's engagement

Son Alec and fiance Vivianna are engaged to be married in June of 2020. We traveled to Conneticut to visit our future in-laws, and the wedding venues. To celebrate the occasion, I took two birthyear wines from our cellar to commemorate the kids and their engagement.

We've collected numerous birthyear wines for son Alec. We also have a deep enough cellar so as to hold some wines from the birthyear of fiance and future daughter-in-law, Viviana. This was an occasion to do a combination tasting of wine from each vintage.

Silver Oak and Freemark Abbey are two of our favorite producers, from whom we hold several vintages and labels, however we don't necessarily hold labels of the same vintage from each. This provided an evening of celebration, and a comparison tasting or two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vintage wines of almost equal age, from two sequential vintages.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990

We have some special large format (six liter Imperials) birthyear bottles of Silver Oak (Bonny's Vineyard) for the gala event next year, so this is a warm up for the occasion with the Estate bottled label from the greater region, albeit not the extraordinary rare single vineyard designated label. We also served Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard from the 1982 vintage at our eldest son Ryan's wedding, as well as several other birthyear special wines.

Our twenty nine year old bottle was well preserved with a perfect label and foil with a fill level half way in the neck, reduced less about 3/8 inches from being perfect fill. The cork was almost perfect although it did break in half on opening being slightly dry, but I used a conventional corkscrew. Were I at home, I most certainly would've used my customary two pronged cork puller, which I am confident would have extracted both corks in whole.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, this had bright ruby garnet color, very slight bricking at the rim, with the black cherry and black berry fruits having given way to the predominant signature nose and flavor of infused sweet oak layer for which the brand is known and famous.

The black cherry and black berry fruit was subdued, somewhat Bordeaux like with accent by notes of spice, black tea and tobacco leaf with tangy acidity and soft moderate tannins on the lingering tangy finish.

While past its prime, apex of its drinking window, this will not improve any further with aging, but is holding its own and will likely remain at this level of its drinking window for a couple more years. I didn't decant this but served it straight from the bottle. I might do the same again the next time.

RM 89 points.

Freemark Abbey Bosche' Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1991

This is one of our favorite labels of which we hold numerous vintages dating back several decades. We acquired a case of this single vineyard designated label back around this period from the producer and picked up select bottles from nearby vintages to fill out our horizontal collection.

We picked up some of these bottles during our visit to the Estate over the years including select bottles from their library collection for special occasions.  We're longtime fans of Freemark Abbey, witness by the fact we hold bottles going back to the early eighties. Our Freemark Abbey experience highlights include our visit to the winery during our Napa Wine Experience 2009, when wine buddy and fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill and I had a fun time touring their library cellar with Cellar Manager Barry Dodd (Bill and Barry, right).

That day, we purchased two aged vintage selections - 1974 and 1978 commemorating our anniversary years, which we tasted that evening across the road at Graystoke Manor at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in St Helena.

Another notable point about this vintage is the poignant reflection on the rear label. It states' "this vintage is made in tribute to the life of John Bosche' (1909-1991). With dedication and drive he contributed to the Napa Valley wine growing industry for over thirty-five years.

Today, the Bosche' family continues his tradition of grape growing at the meticulously cared for vineyard near the town of Rutherford. Freemark Abbey has proudly produced outstanding Cabernet Bosche' wines since 1970." Signed Ted Edwards, Partner and Winemaker.

 Tonight, this wine showed more fruit and was aging more gracefully than the similarly aged, one year older Silver Oak. It showed better than recollections recorded at earlier tastings.

Like the Silver Oak, our twenty eight year old bottle was well preserved with a perfect label and foil with a fill level half way in the neck, reduced less about 3/8 inches from being perfect fill only a mm lower than the Silver Oak. Like the Silver Oak, the cork was almost perfect although it did break in half on opening being slightly dry, but I used a conventional corkscrew. Were I at home, I most certainly would've used my customary two pronged cork puller, which I am confident would have extracted both corks in whole.

Tasted at Freemark Abbey vertical tasting -

In 2012 I wrote, "This bottle was suprisingly lean and austere, not what I recall from this Napa vintage generally, but revealed such against the '92 which showed markedly differently. Garnet colored with a brickish rim, this was light bodied with properly balanced but slightly tart black cherry and black berry fruits accented by tobacco, tea, cigar box and leather on a short modest short finish." Perhaps bottle variation relative to tonight's tasting?

Tonight this showed best of the tasting: Bright garnet colored, medium full bodied, full forward vibrant red berry and cherry fruits accented by tangy spice, tea, hints of cedar and notes of cigar box with moderate tannins on a long lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Visiting future in-laws Frank and Mary-Lisa, we were served Frank's and family signature family wine, Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. We had a delightful weekend visiting, boating, and touring the venues for Alec and Vivianna's gala wedding weekend next summer.

A wonderful close knit family, it is only fitting their signature wine is not only a whimsical namesake, but also sourced from a family winery with vineyards named for their offspring.

Frank Family Vineyards estate up in Calistoga is housed in an 1884 stone cellar—the third-oldest building in Napa Valley.  They did a massive renovation of the original Kornell Champagne Cellars and the 19th-century Larkmead before that. The site is one of the most beautiful and interesting in Napa Valley. Ironically, it is one of the first wineries we visited during our very first Napa Valley wine visit back in the seventies!

The winery and tasting room were totally reimagined a few years ago for their 25th anniversary. The Hollywood Room is a tribute to founder Rich Frank, past president of Disney Corporation and wife Leslie’s career as an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist and Hollywood reporter. On display are the couple’s two Emmys. Frank is known as one of the guys who green-lit Aladdin and The Lion King, but it’s Frank’s penchant for hospitality, not his Hollywood credential that is behind Frank Family Vineyards being named “Best Napa Winery” eight years running by Bay Area A-List.

Frank Family flagship wine, Frank Family Patriarch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($225)  was named one of the world's 30 best wines according to Vivino’s latest 2019 Wine Style Award, which celebrates the best 1,640 wines across 164 different styles based on 40 million reviews and 120 million ratings on the wine app and website.

Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This is a Bordeaux Blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc, all sourced from the Frank Family Estate vineyards.

The 206 acre S&J Vineyard is located east of the Vaca Mountain range in Napa’s Capell Valley. Purchased in 2000, it is named for Darryl Frank’s children, Stella and Jeremy. It is planted to 58 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with 9 acres of Petite Sirah and 9 acres of Zinfandel.

The Benjamin Vineyard is located east of Conn Creek Road in the heart of the Rutherford AVA,  acquired in 2012, it is 87-acres formerly known as Wood Ranch, and was renamed for Paul Frank’s son. It is planted with 50 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 acres of Petit Verdot, and 2 acres each of Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, elegantly balanced and nicely integrated flavors of flavors of blackberry, black raspberry and black cherry with notes of crème de cassis, espresso and hints of vanilla bean, toast, spice and cedar turning to smooth yet firm tannic structure, with subtle gripping tannins on a long and expressive spiced fruit lingering finish.

RM 90 points.

Louis Phillips Ambassador Wines New York

Louis Phillips Ambassador Wines New York

During my trip to New York, I stopped in Ambassador Wine and Spirits at Second Avenue and 54th Street and met Louis Phillips, President and owner. he took me on a tour of the lower level cellars where there are showcase rooms dedicated to French wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. There is also a section on cognacs and armagnacs, dessert wines and other specialities.

Also downstairs is Ambassador's tasting room which serves as Louis's classroom, laboratory, office and library. He had the room set up and was preparing for a wine class and tasting that evening.

There, also, Louis proudly displays his certificate of Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne Ce Grand Chapitre de New York.

The Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne is the official fraternity of the major Champagne brands of France. Its mission is to promote the variety, versatility, taste and other unique characteristics that make Champagne wines synonymous with success and celebration everywhere.

The Ordre des Coteaux organizes Chapters, tastings and other activities, spreading the message of the Comité Champagne worldwide through a network of committed supporters who are drawn from all parts of the world – professional restaurateurs and sommeliers, famous connoisseurs, people in show business, politics and the media.

Established in 1656 by aristocrats in the court of French King Louis the XIVth, the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne is responsible for managing a global communications policy of essential information concerning the wines of Champagne, France through a worldwide network of highly-knowledgeable staunch supporters. These individuals are prudently chosen from all over the globe and include renowned restaurateurs, sommeliers, connoisseurs and international personalities in politics, media, stage and screen.

 Gregarious Louis is a wealth of knowledge on wines, vintages and labels from around the world. He has entertaining and informative stories on winemaker producers, their personalities, their wines, heritage, handicraft and special release products.

We talked about my recent visit to South Africa and our respective discoveries and experiences with Pinotage. He gave me a bottle of Pinotage to try and suggested several more.

We discussed my upcoming trip to Bordeaux and his insights and suggestions for estates, and then talked extensively on his selection of my favorite Bordeaux labels across the various vintages and several other label discoveries new to me.

Ambassador has an extensive collection of domestic wines and from around the world and a knowledgeable staff to help with your selection. If you're lucky, you'll meet Louis Phillips who will educate, entertain and inform you with his wealth of knowledge and gregarious elucidation.

When in New York, stop in Ambassador and enjoy the experience and pick up a bottle of a new discovery something unique for sipping, collecting or serious drinking for a special occasion.

Tonight we'll be tasting one of the discoveries that I picked found there.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

American Sangiovese for Italian Dinner

American Sangiovese for Italian Dinner - Long Shadows Saggi and Del Dotto Piazza

Wine buddy and fellow 'Pour Boy' Dr Dan and Linda came over for the evening and we dined at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. We took BYOB from our cellar two American Sangiovese's, a Del Dotto Piazza Napa and Saggi Long Shadows from Washington State.

Saggi Long Shadows Vintners Series 2016

We discovered and acquired this wine during our Woodinville, WA Wine Experience last fall. This is a selection of the Long Shadows Vintners Collection, a portfolio of seven ultra-premium wines showcasing the viticulture of the Washington State Columbia Valley growing region and the artwork and expertise of internationally acclaimed winemakers who crafted them.

Long Shadows was founded in 2003 by Washington State wine legend Allen Shoup, former Chairman and CEO of Chateau St Michelle, one of the premiere wine producers in the State. There he evangelized Washington Wines and championed collaboration with notable winemakers from around the world. Upon retiring, he started Long Shadows with a vision to produce the best, art of the possible wines showcasing/featuring the region's grapes, each produced by a world renowned winemaker reputed for producing grapes of that varietal.  Each vintner had access to Washington State's best grapes and a winery to outfitted to accommodate a their exacting cellar specifications. The idea was a resounding success as the wines have received critical acclaim that grown with each vintage. The Long Shadow collection went on to win numerous awards, including recognition as Food & Wine magazine's "Winery of the Year."

The Saggi label is a Sangiovese blended from top Washington State vineyards, from Candy Mountain, a warm area of the Columbia Valley adjacent to Red Mountain that produces fruit with ripe, black currant aromas and flavors. From the cooler growing conditions in the Yakima Valley, the Boushey Vineyard produces Sangiovese that is lively red currant with bright strawberry notes. Saggi also contains Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA, which contributes  structure and texture. Also in the blend is Syrah from the Bacchus and Den Hoed Dutchman vineyards, that add depth and complexity.

We talk about Den Hoed and their wines and our family connection in an earlier blogpost from our Seattle, Woodinville trip. 

Saggi, is crafted by the father-son team of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, one of Italy’s oldest and most prestigious Tuscan wine families from A. & G. Folonari Tenute that produces a collection of small, ultra-premium wines from the family's numerous Tuscan estates. The Folonaris teamed with Allen Shoup to produce a wine that showcases Washington State's terroir with plenty of Italian character. Saggi (meaning "wisdom") is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Long Shadows founder Allen Shoup originally met the Folonaris through mutual friend Piero Antinori. It was Allen who introduce Piero to Washington State while at the helm of Chateau Ste. Michelle, and it was Piero's regard for the vineyards of the Columbia Valley that piqued the Folonaris interest in creating a wine true to Washington terroir with plenty of Tuscan character.  Gilles continues that tradition, honoring the quality and style of wines the Folonairs inspired. 

From 2006, Long Shadows director of winemaking and viticulture Gilles Nicault collaborated with the Folonaris on Saggi's vineyard sourcing, winemaking and blending.  For this 2016 release , Gilles assumed complete winemaking responsibilities for Saggi.

This bottle was from our most recent Club allocation shipment from the winery.

Vibrant and lively, this weighty Sangiovese-dominant blend offers enticing aromas and flavors of red berries and currants with an appealing hint of nutmeg and sweet spice. An elegant and refined wine, its bright acidity pops on the palate with expressive red fruit character that echoes across a long-lasting finish.

The 2016 Saggi is mostly Sangiovese at 60%, but has 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Syrah.

Bright ruby-colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced and polished, black cherry fruits are accented by with notes of spice box, dried flowers and hints of cedar and vanilla, smooth sweet tannins linger on a clean, graceful finish.

RM 92 points.

Wine Advocate Jeb Dunnuck gave it 92 points noting, "It's certainly one of the best expressions of Sangiovese from Washington."

Piazza Del Dotto Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 

This has become our go-to wine for Italian dining. We tasted and acquired this wine during or Piazza Winery Delicacies Wine and Food Tasting Experience during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018. We had previously tasted and acquired the 2015 release a year earlier at our Napa Valley Del Dotto Estate Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting in 2017.

As we have written in recent tasting reviews of wine acquired during this Estate visit, this label is from Piazza Del Dotto, Del Dotto's newest project, a new winery south on St Helena Highway featuring an Italian-inspired “barchessa,” or barn, magnificently appointed with tasting rooms and dining areas. It is surrounded by fountain gardens with al fresco tasting cabanas, vegetable gardens, 17th century fountains and an outdoor barn with turkeys, peacocks, pheasants and doves. There are wine caves as well, all surrounded by 8.5 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards.

This is Estate grown fruit, I believe from the Rutherford vineyards that surround the Venetian Estate Winery & Caves, the site for the Del Dotto cave tours and barrel tastings.

This was ruby colored medium full bodied, delicious sweet ripe raspberry fruits accented by notes of vanilla and almond with supple smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day Special Dinner features favorite BBQ Ribs, Syrah and Zin

Father's Day Special Dinner features favorite BBQ Ribs, Lewis Ethan's Syrah and Robert Biale Black Chicken Zin

For Father's Day family dinner, Linda prepared one of my favorite summer dishes, BBQ ribs, with corn on the cob, baked beans, mashed potatos and green beans. I pulled from the cellar a family oriented Lewis Cellars Ethans Syrah, named for producers' grandson.

I've written much in these pages about the fun we have with Lewis Cellars wines and their named labels for grandkids and signature 'L' label. Also, to accompany the ribs, I opened a classic Robert Biale 'Black Chicken' Napa Valley Zinfandel.

Prior to dinner we had a broad selection of artisan cheeses including some favorites - ten year old aged cheddar, havarti, bellavitano merlot, Gruyere, and cheddar, with fresh berries and peaches fruits.

For the cheese course we opened a Chateau St Michelle Rose'.

Chateau St Michelle Washington State Rose 2018

Robert Biale Vineyards Napa Valley Black Chicken Zinfandel 2011

I consider Zinfandel as a go-to wine for zesty tangy BBQ and always keep some on hand for summer barbecues. Robert Biale specialize in Zinfandel with over a dozen different labels. The Biale Family have been growing Zinfandel along with assorted other varieties on their farm just outside the town of Napa since 1937.

This historic whimsical label "Black Chicken" gets its name from founder Aldo Biale, who used the name as a code word when he started making the wine on the sly in the '40s and didn't want other members of his family to know. He obfuscated the activities by referring to his wine as 'Black Chickens' or poultry as an alias and front for the business.

Biale produce several premium and ultra-premium Zins that are famous for a certain breed of intensity and power they obtain by restricting yields to only the best, most concentrated, fully ripe fruit each vintage.

Black Chicken is primarily sourced from Biale's Oak Knoll District ranch estate from the family vineyard that Aldo, Nonna, Bob Biale and the Biale family have farmed their whole lives, with additional grapes from our neighboring winery vineyard in the Oak Knoll winegrowing district. It is aged for fourteen months in 25% new French oak.

We have a half dozen vintages of Biale labels in our cellar and I pulled the oldest for today's dinner as part of rudimentary cellar management as it is most likely ready to drink and certainly not to improve with further aging, and at risk of passing its apex or prime drinking window.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, ripe cherry fruits with brambly blackberry and black raspberry notes accented by cinnamon and brown spices, hints of pepper vanilla and bacon fat with a moderate tannin, tangy finish.

RM 89 points.

Lewis Cellars Ethan's Syrah 2009

Named for Randy and Debbie Lewis' grandson Ethan, we salute the family affiliation and attribution on Father's Day. We also have fun with the 'L' on the label - we dedicate as a tribute to family members, Linda, grand-daughter and her namesake great-grandmother Lucy, and Erin Leigh.

We often serve Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend, named for the producers' oldest grandson, and a fitting tribute to our son.

 Our visit to the Lewis Cellars Estate was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2016.

This Napa Valley Syrah is big, bold, concentrated and complex in the style that we love.

Dark inky purple color, full bodied, concentrated supple tongue coating fruit filled ripe blackberry and black raspberry, ripe plum with tones of vanilla, spice, tar and sweet oak with hints of licorice before yielding to a layer of mineral on the lingering smooth tannin finish.

At ten years, this is starting to show its age a bit with a slight bit of an edge and alcohol heat, hence deducting a point from my previous score. I attribute this to age although it could be a bottle variation but I doubt it.

RM 92 points.

Big Red Wine Flight for Family Super Hero Birthday

Big Red Wine Flight for Gala Family Super Hero Birthday

We had a gala family gathering for Son Ryan and Michelle celebrating son/grandson Reid's birthday, my namesake to the next generation, and the next. For the superhero celebration, Ryan pulled from his cellar a flight of big reds to enjoy with his signature legendary smoked beef brisket.

The flight:

Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Rotie Cellars Washington State Southern Blend GSM 2013
El Nido Clio Jumilla Red Blend 2016
Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz 2010

Cliff Lede Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Cliff Lefe is one of our favorite producers and a visit to the Napa Valley Stag's Leap District estate has been a highlight of several of Napa Valley excursions.

In certain vintages this is our favorite Sauvignon Blanc with its bright expressive fruits - pear, lychee, passion fruit and peach with hints of grapefruit and notes of lemon citrus. This 2017 is one of those vintages - butter colored, medium bodied, crisp clean, full flavorful fruits with nicely balanced acidity.

RM 92 points.

Rotie Cellars Washington State Southern Blend GSM 2013

We tasted this wine at the producer in Walla Walla during our private tasting visit there opening our Walla Walla Wine Experience 2018. The 2016 vintage tasted then showed much better than this 2013 release tasted tonight.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, very green notes of bell pepper predominated over the cherry fruits spice and tobacco notes leaving an unfortunate barnyard funkiness and a bit of alcohol heat; hopefully a bottle variation and not indicative of the vintage and general release but I fear not?

A "GSM" blend of 75 % Grenache, 15 % Syrah and 10 % Mourvèdre.

RM 86 points.

Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio Red Blend 2016

This is the one Spanish wine in our cellar that we collect annually for a vertical collection that we hold for BBQ, bold cheeses and occasionally for tangy pasta. The grapes for this wine are made from 29.65 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and 79 acres of very old Monastrell with a very low yield.

They harvest the grape with small baskets to prevent bruising and then hand select only the best grapes on triage tables. The juice is then held 24 months in French and American new oak barrels for integration, complexity and oak infusion. The result is a bold concentrated extracted fruitiness and complexity that we enjoy in a big red wine.
Winemaker notes - The wine exhibits a glass-coating opaque purple color with an expressive nose of pain grille, underbrush, brier, mineral, blueberry,  and  blackberry  fruit  leading  to  a  plush,  opulent  wine with great density, savory flavors, and a lengthy finish.

This is a blend of 70% Monastrell (akin to French Rhone Mourvedre) and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated, complex, bold black and blue berry fruits with notes of pain grille, brier and mineral, with a moderate tannin laced tangy acidic finish. This vintage lacks the polish and integration of some years where it is more harmonious.

RM 91 points.

Killikanoon Oracle Clare Valley South Australia Shiraz 2010

One of favorite Shiraz's, the 2014 vintage release was awarded the 'Best Shiraz in the World' by the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in the UK.

Dark dense black inky color, full bodied, concentrated, complex, vibrant full black and blue fruits with accents of dark mocha, spice and hints of expresso, smoke and pepper with a long lingering tangy acidic and smooth moderate tannin finish.

RM 93 points.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Snowden Vineyards Lost Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Snowden Vineyards Lost Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - 

Buy/by the case! The challenges, delights, and learnings from tasting/exploring one's investment in one label over time.

With roast beef sandwiches and artisan cheeses, nuts and fruits, I pulled from the cellar this aged 1997 vintage Napa Cab. The 1997 vintage was hailed at the time as a stellar vintage projected to be long lived and age-worthy. It's high accolades and ratings overshadowed the much pooh-poohed 98 vintage so as to drive down prices of that vintage, and escalate prices of the already vaulted '97. 

Paradoxically, for many years to follow, many '98 Napa Cabs offered affordable pleasant drinking, while their more expensive '97 counterparts underwhelmed, were closed and tight. 

Alas, tonight, this 1997 vintage release second label single vineyard designated release from Snowden Vineyards, at 22 years of age, was more impressive, expressive, complex and fruitful than I recall from the many previous tastings of this wine when it was younger, from the case that I acquired upon release. 

My records for this wine record tastings dating back to 2000 with notations in 03, 04, 05, 07, 09 and 2011 - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - May 15, '03. June 30, '00, Nov 14, '04 July 18, 2005, December 25, 2007, January 6, 2009, Nov 12, 2011.

Having been tasting and recording my perceptions and experiences in tasting notes for over two decades, with over 10000 citations published, I am on the record of preferences and perspectives on wines. And, I have a track record of comparisons to calibrate and measure my palate and tasting discrimination, so I have a good sense of my consistency over time. That said, I rated this wine 90 points in the early years, then reduced my rating to 88 points for several years, at which time I started referring to the wine as 'tight' or closed. Notably, not all tastings are recorded and subsequently published.

On July 18, 2005 , I wrote - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - RM 90 - Firm tight subtle smoky earthy leather blends well with dark berry fruit and very subtle mocha on the full fragrant finish. Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot tastes true to form like a lower left bank Bordeaux!  

My January 6, 2009 tasted referred to the return of the fruit from earlier tastings - Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - RM 90 - Firm, structured, black raspberry, black cherry and currant on a balanced, finely integrated tannin finish. More fruit and lacking leather and earth of previous tastings. Tasted w/ L at Angeli's Restaurant, our favorite neighborhood bistro.

In 2011 I wrote; "Down to the last few bottles of a case acquired upon release in the late nineties. Consistent with earlier tasting notes taking into account the evolution of this aging wine. Starting to show its age a bit as the dark garnet color starts to take on a slight brownish rust hew and the fruit is starting to fall off a bit and give way to the smoke and leather nose and flavor. Still firm and tight with the smoky leather predominating over the dark berry and black cherry fruit, with forward pronounced cedar and a hint of cassis and a full fragrant firm tannin lingering finish with a bit of tight high alcohol heat. Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot tastes true to form like a lower left bank Bordeaux!"

RM 89 points.

Of course there are also bottle variations from one bottle to another, but this is the truest form of comparison since all these bottles were acquired at the same time and experienced the same storage and handing over the years.  

This is the fun and joy of having a wine cellar, to experience a wine over time and witness its aging effects. I write often in these pages about how a particular label is showing the effects of aging and where it stands in its 'drinking window'. Indeed, a benefit of having multiple bottles of the same wine is to compare them over time. And, the risk of misplacing a bottle, or just overlooking it and keeping it too long so as to miss the prime or apex of its drinkability. Hence effective cellar management is required of one's collection. 

Tonight this wine was delightful, reflecting the best attributes of this wine, without the adverse affects of diminution from its age, exceeding expectations of the the evening's tasting experience, and perhaps also showing what promise this vintage was projected to deliver!

Pizzini Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Pizzini Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi pleasant white wine available BTG at Italian Village Chicago

For antipasta pre-dinner starter at Italian Village Chicago, I had a BTG (One of Wine Director Jared Gelband's By The Glass selections) Verdicchio, a pleasant refreshing grape varietal from central Italy ideal with my caprese mozzarello with heirloom tomatos. I mentioned this wine when I wrote about that dinner a separate blogpost.

Barone Pizzini Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva San Paolo Pievalta DOC 2013

The long name identifying this wine exemplifies a reason many are intimidated or overwhelmed in learning about wines, especially Italian wines. Even I, a fairly knowledgable enophile (wine geek), get wound up trying to parse or decipher all the designations, words and syllables of such, (hence this wine blog to help 'unwindwine'!). The variables of this wine name are parsed and explained below, hopefully making sense of it and providing a basis for better understanding this label, or Italian wines generally. 

Verdicchio is a very popular grape varietal grown throughout central Italy with an estimated 65,000 hectares planted which makes Verdicchio the 15th most planted variety of any grape in the world, ahead of better-known popular varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese. Verdicchio is widely grown throughout the Marche, Umbria and Lazio regions of Italy, mostly in the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata - quality control regulations) wines of Verdicchio di Matelica and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi in the commune of Jesi in the Ancona province. 

The Pievalta winery is located in Maiolati Spontini township, Ancona province, in the Marches (Marche region of central Italy), in the heart of the commune of Castelli di Jesi. The area is known for production of wines made from Verdicchio grapes.

Pievalta was founded in 2002 through the vision of the Barone Pizzini winery of Franciacorta. CEO, Silvano Brescianini, had already recognized the great potential of Verdicchio as one of Italy’s most important indigenous grape varieties. Barone Pizzini tapped enologist, Alessandro Fenino, from Franciacorta to manage the Castelli di Jesi appellation project.

Pievalta farms 26.5 hectares of estate-owned vineyards with two principal growing sites on either end of the Esino River Valley. The vines were originally planted in the 1970s. Another vineyard is on the right bank of the Esino in San Paolo di Jesi in the hamlet of Follonica considered one of the best subzones in Castelli di Jesi which produces wines that are austere, rich in flavor and known for their power.

This label is sourced from the right bank of the Esino River made exclusively with grapes from the San Paolo vineyard. Locals point to San Paolo hamlet as one of the best areas for growing Verdicchio. Winemaker notes: "On the nose, this wine has delicate notes of yellow fruit, aromatic herbs, citrus, and almond. In the mouth, it is multi-layered and intensely mineral".

Straw colored with a gold hue, light medium bodied, 100% Veridcchio at five years, is starting to show a little age, floral aromas, notes of pear, apple, and hints of lime, stone fruit and almonds, dry, with medium to medium acidity, medium alcohol and nice flavor intensity.  

RM 90 points.  

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Italian Village Wine Duo with Dinner

Italian Village features Italian Wine Duo, Amarone and Sangiovese with Dinner

For the second Thursday night in a row I hosted a business dinner at Italian Village Chicago and wine director Jared Gelband (right) served up a duo of Italian varietal wines to showcase our dinner selections, a Amarone della Valpolicella followed by a Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese.

Tonight, we dined in one of the private tables/rooms in the Village, one of the three restaurants on the premises, a perfect setting for an intimate or business dinner.

In my blogpost about our wine and dinners last week, I wrote about Italian Village, Chicago's oldest, longest running continously family operated Italian restaurant in Chicago.

ILatium Morini Campo Leon Amarone della Valpolicella Corvina Blend 2013

Jared served me a taste of this wine last week with my anti-pasta course at my dinner at IV's Vivere and it was delicious, so we ordered it tonight with the anti-pasta course leading into the entree course.

In 1992, the Morini family bought bought a historic farm house from the early 1900's, surrounded by vineyards in the heart of Val di Mezzane.

For over forty years, ILatium Morini have been growing grapes  which they initially delivered to the local Cantina Sociale (cooperative wine cellar), but, eventually for production of own label wines. Seven brothers and cousins inherited the business that they continue to run to this day.

The origins or our village name Ilatium is from the word Latii, "those from Lazio", referring back to the ancient Romans who came in searching for remote lands to conquer. They settled in the area where they found an ideal environment for the cultivation of grapes, olives and fruit trees. The locals called them the Latii, "those from Lazio" who at the time were considered "strangers" or foreigners.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex concentrated sweet ripe dark cherry and black currant fruits with spicy dark mocha notes and hint of tobacco, moderate acids and soft tannins on the flavorful finish.

RM 92 points

Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 2013

For our entree course we ordered Sangiovese and Jared served up this Brunello.

Il Marroneto was purchased in 1974 by Giuseppe Mori, father of  current owner and winemaker Alessandro Mori. The Mori family thus began to make wine in the first two small rooms of Il Marroneto  in a historical building that dates back to 1246. 

The first three thousand meters of Sangiovese vineyards of Il Marroneto 
were planted in 1975, then, as many again in 1979, and another 9000 in 1984. They are sited on the north slope of the hills about 350m elevation in the vicinity of the walls of Montalcino in Siena.

The vines of Il Marroneto are arranged so that each plant has 3.6 square meters, allowing the Sangiovese vines, which feed on the surface, to have optimal spacing for a good rooting. 

This 2013 vintage release was bright ruby colored, medium full bodied, vibrant expressive red fruits, tangy cinnamon spice, earth and floral notes with brisk acidity and tongue puckering tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 for Angelis Italian BYOB Dinner

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 for Angelis Italian BYOB Dinner

We first tasted and then acquired this wine at the Estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018, last summer. The Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience
was one of the highlights of our trip. Del Dotto is one of the largest holdings in our collection. So when they opened their new property, Del Dotto Piazza, it was on the shortlist to visit their new property.

This Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016 and the 2015 vintage release have become a 'go-to' wine for our Italian dinners especially with one of my favorites entrees, Portabello Mushroom Ravioli. Our first recorded tasting note for the label was when we took it took it BYOB to Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood Italian Trattoria.

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Sangiovese 2016

Consistent with earlier recent tasting notes, this was ruby colored medium full bodied, delicious sweet ripe raspberry fruits accented by a layer of sweet mocha chocolate and notes of vanilla and almond with supple smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Italian Village Wine and Dine features Barolo trio

Italian Village (Chicago) Wine and Dine features WBTG and Barolo trio 

For a midweek dinner respite from hosting my global sales team, I stole away to perennial favorite, Italian Village - Chicago for a relaxing dinner before hosting the group for a team dinner the next evening.

Wine Director and wine buddy Jared (Gelband) (right) served up several wines from the WBTG (Wine By The Glass)  list and Jared's special "Jared's pour of the week" list served in the upscale Vivere Restaurant.

Italian Village, is Chicago's oldest continuously operating Italian Restaurant in the city, operating since 1927.

In its 92nd year, IV actually consists of three restaurants each with its own kitchens, chef and menu's. The three restaurants are on the three levels of the site on Monroe Street between Clark and Dearborn Streets. They share one wine cellar and one wine-list from the main cellar,  with the exception that Jared prepares a premium reserve wine-by-the-glass selection for the upscale Vivere Restaurant on the ground floor. I sampled the offerings from the standard as well as that special list.

Prior to dinner I tasted the house Verdicchio, a pleasant light and refreshing starter. I feature that wine in a separate follow on blogpost where I explain the grape varietal and the complexities of parsing the complex Italian wine label - Barone Pizzini Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva San Paolo Pievalta DOC 2013.

With caprese salad of heirloom tomatos and mozzarella, I tasted the current 'house' Brunello di Montalcino offered from the WBTG (Wines By The Glass) list.

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montacino Sangiovesi 2012

This paired nicely with my pasta course and begs for a robust cheese or bolognese meat sauce.

Ruby colored, medium bodied, bright tangy red fruits with floral and leather notes turning to an acidic moderate tannin finish. 100% Sangiovese varietal.

RM 89 points.

Bergadano Pier Carlo Barolo 2012 

Slightly opaque ruby colored, medium bodied, tangy black cherry and black berry fruits with notes of tar and tobacco leaf with a layer of acidic tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 88 points.

Barolo is a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine produced in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is made from the Nebbiolo grape and is one of Italy's greatest wines. Barolo wines are produced in the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi, Verduno, all in the province of Cuneo, south-west of Alba.

Barolo production codes stipulate that vineyards must be located on hillsides, however a recent revision of the production code released in 2010 goes further to specifically exclude valley floors, humid and flat areas, areas without sufficient sunlight, and areas with full-on northern exposures.

Barolo wines are noted for their ability to age and need to be aged for at least 38 months after the harvest before release, of which at least 18 months must be in wood.

Fontanafredda Lazzarito Barolo Vigna la Delizia DOCG 1996

This is a single vineyard designated bottling of 100% Nebbiolo from the legendary producer. This was a very special offering to be able to sample BTG - By-the-Glass, it was offered as "Jared's pour of the week" on the Vivere Restaurant special offer wine-list.

RM 92

Wine buddy Dr Dan and I tasted this same label last year BYOB from his cellar at a dining outing together.  Dan served the '99 vintage of this at his Big Italian wine dinner last year. At our wine dinner outing, my tasting notes stated. "This '96 showed medium bodied, dark garnet colored, vibrant bright black cherry fruits, tones of acidity, tar, smoke and leather on a moderate tannin lingering finish."

RM 88 points.

Later Jared served up a special Amarone by the glass as well.

The next evening for my team dinner, Jared served another Barolo from the same producer, instead of this single vineyard designated label, according to the 25th anniversary label, this is the first 'single-village' bottling from Serralunga D'Alba, served in magnum as well as several standard size bottles.

Fontanafredda Serralunga D'Alba Barolo DOCG 25th Anniversary Special Edition Bottling Nebbiolo 2013

Medium garnet in colour with a slight rust colored orange hue at the edges, medium-full bodied with nicely balanced complex integrated bright tangy red berry fruits with notes of earth, leather and mushrooms with medium tannins and acidity.

RM 88 points