Saturday, February 29, 2020

OTBN 2020 ~ Open That Bottle Night

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2020

Another year has passed and despite the leap year, the last Saturday night in February is time for - OTBN - Open That Bottle Night.  This is the 21st year for the annual event wine bachanalia, originally conceived by  Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, is for those that have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened.  

Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle. Gaiter and Brecher realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it! Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because so often, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not.

This year we passed the baton to Dan and Linda to host OTBN. All the 'Pour Boys' were in attendance along with Eric and Cathy from Indy and Bill and Beth coming back from their new winter haven in Charleston for the occasion. We were able to get together the evening before for a OTBN warm-up and preview. Thank you, Dan and Linda for hosting OTBN 20.

Dan and Linda put out a spectacular spread of bacon wrapped figs, shrimp scampi, a vast selection of artisan cheeses, olives, proscuitto, smoked salmon, candied bacon, fresh fruits and vegetables, truffles spreads, dips and other hors d'oeuvres

For the pre-dinner wine flight there was a broad selection of Champagnes and white wines: 

Sebastien Dampt Chablis Chardonnay 2017
Y de Yquem Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blend 2017 
Krug Clos du Mesmil Champagne 2004
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame 2008
Sea Smoke Gratis Chardonnay 2008

For dinner, Dan and Linda served beef tenderloin, baked ham, brussel sprouts and tortelini in cheese and truffle garlic sauce. 

The broad wine flight was Bordeaux varietal centric from Napa Valley with a duo of Shiraz' from Australia and Walla Walla, Washington, and a Vintage Port. 

Dunn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 
FontanaFredda Lazzarito Barolo 2008
Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989
Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Opus One Red Blend 1996
Cliff Lede Cinnamon Rhapsody Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Godspeed Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Two Hands Lily's Garden Barossa Shiraz 2010
Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2012 
Grahams Vintage Port 2000

As always, the beginning of the event is spent determining the order of the tasting. This is part of the fun of the event, but also essential, because if the tasting is not done in proper order, the wines will be significantly less enjoyable and less appreciated. 

As with most years, as the evening progressed we validated our initial lineup and only made but a few very minor adjustments. Getting it right is due to experience in tasting these wines over time and over their many stages of aging. Its somewhat amazing how close we get the tasting order right, how few adjustments we make over the evening, and what a remarkable difference it makes in the enjoyment of the wines.

We started the flight with straight up Cabernets, expecting them to be simpler, more singularly dimensional and less complex than the blends. We also started with the older vintages as their sprites would likely be more subdued from aging and thus harder to discern. Later in the tasting they would be overshadowed by the heavier more complex wines.

Some of the highlights of the evening:

Dunn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

I brought this from our cellar as a classic OTBN wine, one that begs for an occasion that may never seem ready to drink.

Our Cellartracker records indicate we hold no less than thirty-one vintages of Dunn Vineyards cabernets dating back to 1981. We visited Dunn Vineyards estate high atop Howell Mountain and met the legendary winemaker Randy Dunn back during our Napa Wine Experience 2008.
My notes from an earlier tasting of this label: I opened and decanted this and a Howell Mtn about four hours before dinner. The Howell crumbled but the Napa cork was perfect, as it were a two year old! Neither this or the Howell showed any sign of aging. Very Bordeaux like with dark inky garnet/purple colored, medium to full bodied, complex and balanced black berry fruits with tones of lead pencil, tea, tobacco and hints of cedar and leather with acidity turning to modest tannins on the moderate finish. 

I've written often about the much heralded '97 vintage for Napa Cabernets and how they seem to never be ready to drink. Alas, tonight this long-lived label was indeed showing its age and perhaps has reached a point where it is revealing its true character and profile. It may finally be the right time for this release.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, black fruits accented by graphite, tobacco, mushroom, leather and anise, firm but approachable tannins on a smooth acidic finish. 

RM 89 points.

Caymus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

We tasted this earlier in the order because Caymus tends to be rather lighter than the mountain fruit of the Diamond Creek, and we wanted to pair or match the two Insignias together.

Ernie brought this as a mini-horizontal to compare with the '96 Opus that he also brought from his cellar.

We're longtime fans of Caymus and consider it a classic Napa Cab for consistent quality drinking and early gratification, although don't necessarily consider it one for long term aging.  Linda and I visited the Napa Estate during our Napa Wine Experience in 2018.

In 2011, I noted this wine in a tasting note: "This wine was opened two and a half hours ahead of time and burst with floral on initial tasting. Dark garnet color and medium bodied. Predominant throughout in the tasting, the bright vivid floral perfume highlighted the soft delicate nicely integrated fruits, harmoniously balanced and polished - currants, black cherry, subtle hints of vanilla, oak, spice, milk chocolate and cigar box with a moderate tannin lingering floral finish. At fifteen years old, this wine showed no sign of deterioration or diminution. After initial moments of brilliance, the fruit later fell off to slightly tart black cherry with a subtle leather finish took over, still accented by dusty rose petals and floral." At that time I gave this 93 points.

Tonight, at 24 years, this seemed to be a bit past its prime and was showing a diminution of the fruit, devolving into more raisin and prune notes.

RM 88 points.

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Bill brought this from his cellar and we looked for a Red Rock Terrace singe vineyard designated label in my cellar for a comparison by I didnt have one that wasnt being held for special birthyear celebrations. 

We visited Diamond Creek Vineyards with Bill and Beth for a private tasting back in 2011, then again at the Diamond Creek Open House and Release Tasting in 2017 with them and Dan and Linda for the Release  Party and Open House at the Estate. 

This release was awarded 93 points by Connoisseurs Guide. 

Bills Cellartracker notes on this bottle: "Complex, layered and rich. Shared this on OTBN and it was spectacular. Deep indigo in color. Nose of damp leaves and earth...very Bordeaux like. On the palate, blackberry, blueberry and plum up front; coffee, chocolate and eucalyptus on the mid palate; medium, silky tannins, a touch of oak and leather on a lingering finish. This will certainly last longer but is certainly at peak right now."

My notes - This was elegant, bordering on exotic, dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex with concentrated black berry and black currant fruits accented with layers of coffee, vanilla, caramel and notes of cedar. 

RM 92 points.

Godspeed Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Eric brought this along with a couple of whimsical labels. We visited Godspeed together along with Bill and Beth up on Mt Veeder during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience 2011 when we tasted and Eric likely acquired this label. 

My tasting notes from a tasting back in 2016 for this label follow.

Dark blackish purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied, aromatic, black berry and black raspberry fruit flavors, a bit tight and firmly structured with tones of truffle and spice with hints of cedar, tobacco and green pepper, turning to moderate tannins on the long finish.

RM 90 points.  

Bill wrote a note on it back in 2012: "Nice quaffable wine. Evidences bright fruit typical of Mt. Veeder cabs. Medium bodied, garnet in color, a bit of clove on the nose but not terribly complex."

WCC 86 points.

Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

This is one of Dan's signature wines in his cellar. Knowing Dan was going to serve an Insignia, I pulled from our cellar this aged thirty year old Insignia for a mini-vertical comparison.  Our visit and private tasting at the fabulous Robert Phelps Estate was one of the highlights of our Pour Boys Napa Wine Experience in 2017.

This release was awarded  91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. I found and acquired several bottles of this release in the library cellar at Kahn's Wines in Indianapolis several years ago and had been waiting for the right occasion to serve - a perfect candidate for OTBN. 

Some Cellartracker notes ...fellow tasters' notes summed it up well, similar to our experience.

Getting a bit lighter shade of garnet in the glass, no bricking at all. Cork was saturated to about 3/4 of the way and soft, glad to open this now. Slight earthy cedar on the nose, on the palate orange peel, slight honey, mushrooms, most of the fruit has faded Ito the background, with an extended finish.

Color: dark red core, a little bricking at the edges but not too much
Nose: aromas of mint, pencil lead, green bell pepper, a touch of leather and spicy currants and plums

Palate: the pencil lead and green bell pepper lead the way over the palate, with currants, spice, and earthy notes that trail and add complexity. The tannins were fine, but still present, especially at the end of the finish.

Garnet colored, slightly opaque, this was medium bodied, lighter than I expected, with dark berry fruits, notes of anise, spice, plums and currants. A mere shadow of the bigger, more concentrated and fruit filled 2006, not due to age, but likely indicative of a lesser vintage and perhaps lesser selection of the fruits.

The '89 release was a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc from 79% estate & 21% grower vineyards: 79% Banca Dorada Vineyard (Rutherford) and 21% Oakville growers.

Robert Parker gave this release 91 points in 2013. 

RM 88 points.

Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

This was one of the highlights of the evening in my book, perhaps the best bottle of the tasting (of the Bordeaux varietals). As I noted above, our visit to the Phelps magnificent estate was one of the highlights of our Napa Wine Experience in 2017 when we did a private tasting together.

This is a Bordeaux Blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot from 100% estate-grown Napa Valley vineyards: South Napa (33% Suscol Vineyard), Stags Leap District (17% Barboza Vineyard and 12% Las Rocas Vineyard), Rutherford (20% Banca Dorada Vineyard), St. Helena (10% Home Ranch Vineyard) and Oak Knoll District (8% Yountville Vineyard). 

This vintage was awarded 95 points by Connoisseurs Guide, 94 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, and 92 points by James Suckling and Vinous.

The winemaker's notes: The opaque, inky color of the 2006 Insignia is followed by concentrated aromatics of lush black fruit, graphite, coffee, dark cocoa powder, licorice, and cola syrup. The flavor density and tannin balance integrate beautifully for a long, layered finish.

This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, deep, concentrated, plush, ripe dark blackberry and dark currant fruits with complex but wonderfully balanced tones of mocha, tea, creosote and oak with smooth polished tannins on a nice smooth finish. 

RM 94 points.

Opus One Bordeaux Blend 1996

Opus One was founded as a joint venture between Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, the two  first growth brands of Bordeaux and Napa Valley respectively. The first release in 1984 was the its first vintage, the 1979. It has since become an international luxury Bordeaux-style blend cult wine, produced at the iconic landmark Napa Valley winery comprising 169 acres of vineyard on the Route du Cabernet, St Helena Highway Rt 29, across from the legendary landmark Robert Mondavi winery.

We visited the classic Opus Estate and Chateau in Napa,  back during what at the time was billed as our fourth Napa Wine Experience in 1998. It was served as one of the feature wines of our winemaker dinner that year.

I must admit, I have yet to taste an Opus that has lived up to its lofty stratospheric reputation expectations. I can only link that underachievement to the fact we have drunk the vintages too young, and perhaps also didn't serve them with the proper reverence they demand and deserve, opening several hours before serving and decanting appropriately. Or, perhaps it is the lofty price that raises the expectations. Also, these super premium wines are noted not for their obtuse angles or highlights, but often by their uniformity and singularity as they tend to be flawless and thus highlighted by the moderation and lack of any distractions.We see this later with the Bionic Frog from Cayuse as well.

This vintage release was awarded 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 93 points by Decanter, 92 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and 90 points by Vinous.

The 1996 blend included Malbec, which first became a component of Opus One in 1994, and it was the last Opus One not to include any Petit Verdot, a grape that has been part of the blend ever since 1997. 

My Cellartracker records indicate we drank our last bottle of this release back in 2013 when I wrote: "The '96 Opus was dark inky purple colored, medium to full bodied. It opened with a huge nose, reminiscent of a classic Margaux from the mid-eighties. Elegant, complex, smooth and polished it was a symphony of black fruit flavors accented by harmonious tones of leather, tobacco, lead pencil and soft tones of cassis and a hint of mocha. Decanted, over the course of the evening the fruit became slightly muted giving way to classic left bank Bordeaux earthy leather, but never losing its harmonious balance. The fragrant finish continued to linger for minutes." I gave it a 94 points rating then. Perhaps tonight we didn't serve it appropriately to so as to reveal its true potential. 

Dark garnet/purple colored, complex, medium-full bodied, harmonious and balanced, silky smooth, elegant, polished but somewhat subdued blackberry and black currant fruits accented by cassis, plums, leather, with hints of mocha chocolate, tar, leather, tobacco and fresh herbs, finishing with dusty tannins and excellent balanced lingering length.

RM 92 points. 

Cliff Lede Cinnamon Rhapsody Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Billl is a big Cliff Lede fan and member of their club so he gets these limited production, single vineyard selections, which he kindly shares with special friends, Thank you. Our visit and private tasting with Bill and Beth at the Cliff Lede estate was highlight of our Napa Wine Experience in 2009.

WWC's notes on this release - Another contribution to OTBN along with an ‘06 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace. Very different from the RRT but delicious in its own way, Medium to dark garnet in color. Nose contains mostly floral notes with a hint of earthiness. Bright, jammy, red raspberry and blackberry up front; a bit of sharpness that I have come to expect from Stags Leap along with a bigger mouthfeel on the mid palate; a long, warm, oaky finish with grippy tannins.

This release got 93 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points from Wine Spectator. 

This was a blend of  85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Merlot.

This was my second wine of the evening behind the Insignia of the Bordeaux varietals.

This was dark garnet colored medium-full bodied with black berry fruits accented by notes of cassis, spice and earth tones.

RM 92 points.

Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2012

John always brings a most imaginative and rare label to OTBN and this year was no exception. This is one of the classic cult labels from the iconic Walla Walla producer Cayuse.

We stopped at the Cayuse tasting room during our Walla Walla Wine Experience last fall and there posted on the door a sign that said "Sold Out", with instructions on how to contact them if you were seeking to pick up your allocation.

This release got 99 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 95 points from Vinous, 94 points from Wine Spectator, and 17/20 points from Jancis Robinson.

Like another near perfect rated Syrah we tasted recently, the iconic Penfolds Grange from a classic vintage of the century, 1990, rather than being a blockbuster, this impressed us with its subtlety and level flawlessness.

Dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied, intense rich concentrated black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by notes of pepper, cassis, smoke and dried meat or what one Cellartracker tasted noted as tapenade.

RM 93 points.

Two Hands Lily's Garden Barossa Shiraz 2010

Lyle brought this Aussie Shiraz from his cellar and it overshadowed the Bionic Frog with its bright brilliant bold fruit. The difference is it being more single dimensional. I describe the difference in such wines and being a foot wide and a ten feet deep versus the Bionic Frog being much more complex and multi-dimensional at five feet wide and five feet deep. 

This was one of the biggest and brightest wines of the night, but a bit obtuse relatively, less polished and balanced than the other top performers, the Insignia, Cliff Lede and Cayuse.  

This got 93 points from Wine Spectator, 92 points from Stephen Tanzer's Wine Cellar and 91 points from Wine Advocate.

Dark inky purple garnet colored, bright rich concentrated blackberry, black raspberry and cherry fruits with clove spice, mocha chocolate, expresso and menthol. 

RM 92 points.

Grahams Vintage Port 2000

It is customary in these events that Lyle brings a vintage port from his collection. In recent years he has been disappointed by the showing of several labels, although the rest of us were not. Tonights selection was wonderful and met the highest expectations for the brand and the vintage. This may have been the best showing and best representation of a port in all our years of tasting together. 

At twenty years this was clearly at its prime but is perhaps only half way through its drinking window. What fun it will be to monitor this label as it ages, if you're fortunate enough to have acquired several bottles.

This iconic release got 98 points from  James Suckling and Wine Spectator, 94 from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate,  

James Suckling of Wine Spectator said, "This is the greatest glass of Graham I have ever tasted, young or old." It was recognized in the Top 100 of 2003 at No. 9, Collectibles.

The 2000 vintage produced a very tiny crop, just 650 g per vine on average (they usually harvest 850 g per vine from Malvedos – their lowest yielding, most consistently cropping quinta). That said, the fruit was rich and concentrated. 

Saturated black-ruby colored, full-bodied, superripe, powerful, huge, dense and rich black fruits,  yet balanced and smooth, opulent yet elegant, notes of mocha bitter chocolate and licorice and cassis, the finish lasts for minutes going on and on on your palate. 

This is what a vintage port is supposed to taste like and this is a benchmark standard bearer. 

RM 97 points.

Previous Pour Boys OTBN Events

Friday, February 28, 2020

Pour Boys Pre-OTBN Wine Dinner

Pour Boys Pre-OTBN Wine Dinner

Fellow 'Pour Boy' Bill came back to town to attend our annual OTBN Wine Dinner tomorrow night to be hosted this year by Dr Dan, who joined us for a pre-OTBN wine dinner.

Linda served barbecue ribs and salmon with baked potatoes, baked beans and salad. Before dinner we had a selection of artisan cheeses, fresh salsa and fruits.

Our wine flight included:

Del Dotto Cinghale Vineyard Sonoma Chardonnay 2017
Rubissow Napa Valley Mt Veeder Syrah 2013
Elderton 'Command' Barossa Single Vineyard Shiraz 2002
Marquis Philips '9' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2002
Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Del Dotto Cinghale Vineyard Fort Ross Seaview Sonoma Chardonnay 2015

Dan brought this from his cellar. This was a fitting selection since we were all together when we tasted and he acquired this label during our Del Dotto Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting at the Rutherford Estate during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience 2017.

Rubissow Napa Valley Mt Veeder Syrah 2013

Bill chose this from our cellar. He wanted to try this as he recently acquired some Mt Veeder Syrah from Lagier Meredith whom we visited together during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience 2011. We discovered and tasted this wine when we visited the Rubissow estate high atop Mt Veeder during that trip. 

With George Rubissow at the Rubissow vineyards
and estate atop Mt Veeder

Elderton 'Command' Barossa Single Vineyard Shiraz 2002

We acquired several bottles of this label more than a decade ago shortly after release and realize like many wines, we consumed them too soon or too early in their drinking window. In several of those tasting experiences, this wine was tight and closed. 

Tonight, this was much more vibrant and expressive, exotic but perhaps past its prime as it was taking on the raisin prune notes taking the place of the fruit.

My tasting and associated note in 2015 perhaps captured this wine at the apex of its tasting window when I wrote, "My last tasting of this was back in 2006 when I wrote "this wine was more approachable than the first time we tried it - but it still needs some time to meld and reveal its complex fruit". Well nine years later, it is smoother and more polished and is certainly approachable with its delicious melange of black and blue fruits.'

"Reiterating my initial tasting note when I wrote this was "huge, powerful, dense, richly complex, dark", tonight it was big, dense, rich and complex, but now is smooth and approachable with full forward fruits of ripe plum, candied cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry fruits with tones of black pepper, hints of anise and dark chocolate punched by firm intense tannins on a smooth and long finish."

RM 90 points. 

Marquis Philips '9' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2002

To compare with the Elderton Command above, we pulled another 2002 South Central Australian Shiraz for a mini horizontal comparison tasting of the vintage. 

We hold nearly a decade of this label dating back to its earliest days. This vintage is the oldest and this is the last of our holdings of this release. 

This release got 96 points from Robert Parker and 91 from Wine Spectator. 

Dark inky purple color, full bodied, big nose of dark fruits with a layer of iodine accented by anise, notes of expresso on the long finish.

RM 92 points. 

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Bill brought the 2008 vintage release of this label which was spectacular. For a 'mini-vertical' comparison I pulled from the cellar this 2006. We consumed the 2008 first which overshadowed this '06. Had we opened and consumed this first, it would've shown better and been more enjoyable.

This release was awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator and 91 points by  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant ripe red and black currant fruits with hints of dark mocha and expresso. 

RM 90 points. 

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

As noted above, we opened this vintage first and was more complex, integrated, balanced and harmonious, overshadowing the lesser '06 that followed. In retrospect it would've been better had we done them in reverse order. Normally, we open older vintages first but we couldn't have imagines the degree of difference in just two years.

This got the same 91 point rating by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate as the '06 but it showed much more elegantly. 

Deep garnet purple color, medium-full bodied, dense, complex, elegant, nicely balanced and integrated black berry and black currant fruits highlighted by dark mocha, floral, anise and hints of cedar and oak on a polished lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

This was a Bordeaux blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Del Dotto Cave Blend and Signorella Hope's Cuvee Chardonnay

Del Dotto Cave Blend and Signorella Hope's Cuvee Chardonnay

For a dinner with friends and colleague Jeff visiting from Seattle, we dined at our favorite local neighborhood trattoria, Angelis' Italian with regulars Andy and Barb D. I pulled from the cellar to take BYOB, two mainstay Napa favorite producers' labels, Del Dotto Cave Blend and Signorella Hope's Cuvee Chardonnay.

Around the table, we ordered Angeli's Pasta and Peas Special, Veal Jannel Special, Eggplant and Tilapia entrees which were ideally complemented by our two select wines.

Del Dotto Napa Valley 'Cave Blend' Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

We've known this label since its introduction back around the turn of the century. We tasted and acquired this vintage release during our visit to the Del Dotto Rutherford Estate and took the Del Dotto Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting.

We've been fans of Del Dotto wines since their earliest days back in the early nineties. We started acquiring their wines starting with their inaugural release back in 1993. They gained notoriety when they were featured in the Wine Spectator feature, "Twelve Up and Comers to Watch". We met Dave and Yolanda Del Dotto and then winemaker Nils Venge during several of our Napa Valley wine producer events and winery and vineyard visits. From those meetings, we worked with Dave and Yolanda and Desiree in the earliest days in their web marketing launch.

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 for our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018.

Del Dotto has grown remarkably beyond their Rutherford Estate at the corner of St Helena Highway and Zinfandel Lane. Their expansion now encompasses seven other appellations. Today, Del Dotto's footprint consists of 437 acres with 121 acres planted of varietals including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and sangiovese.

This was dark garnet colored with a bright blackberry and black raspberry fruits,  with notes of floral, earthy clove spice and hints of oak with moderate tannins on a lingering finish. RM 89 points

Fellow Pour Boy Bill was with us on our tour and posted this tasting note on this label; This has improved significantly in the last six months. Dark cherry, black raspberry, white pepper and a bit of clove on the palate. Medium bodied with grippy tannins and a medium finish.  WCC 86 points.

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016

We discovered and acquired (the then current release vintage of) this wine during our visit to the Estate on Silverado Trail in Southeastern Napa Valley during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013. At that time I wrote about this label: "I am predominantly a red wine drinker and while I enjoy an occasional glass of white, most often with appropriate food, I don't normally get excited about a white wine. This chardonnay was the exception,  memorable and special."

Signorello Estate overlooking vineyards and valley floor.
The Signorello winery sits at the very southern end of Napa Valley and has 43 acres of vineyards, including some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in all of Napa Valley - fruit from 37-year-old vines goes into his Hope’s Cuvée.

The magnificent Estate was destroyed in the fires that engulfed the much of sections of Sonoma and Napa. Fires came down the foothills to the property that sat up the hill back from the highway.

The adjacent Darioush property nearby the sits at the valley floor closer to the highway and similarly situated properties were untouched.

Signorello "Hope's Cuvée" Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave the 2015 release 98 points and said, "The best Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Ray Signorello has to be the 2015 Chardonnay Hope’s Cuvée." Vinous gave it 91 points.

This Hopes Cuvée Chardonnay was full bodied but nicely balanced and polished for very pleasant drinking. It is bursting with flavorful fruit with layers of peach and poached pear giving way to hints of honey, almond, nutmeg, vanilla and creamy soft spicy oak. There is very pleasant full mouth-feel with rich texture on the palate with a long lingering finish of sweet mellow oak.

Golden colored, full bodied, rich and concentrated caramelized citrus, honeysuckle, white peach, pear and melon notes with a touch of almond and brioche.

RM 92 points.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Long Shadows Pirouette and Lewis Chardonnay

Long Shadows Pirouette and Lewis Chardonnay BYOB at Carnivore & The Queen Supper Club

For a Saturday night outing we dined with neighbors/friends Mark and Shirley at a new local eatery that bills itself as a Supper Club.

Whimsically named, Carnivore & The Queen Supper Club is designed after a bygone area of nostalgic dining, a contemporary revival of a classic prohibition-era supper club with a 'casual vibe & approachable classic food'.

Carnivore & The Queen is the work of husband-and-wife team Chris Matus and Kelli Lodico-Matus. It is located down the street from Lisle (Illinois) in adjacent Downers Grove at the intersection of Maple and Belmont Avenues.

It actually opened a year ago February in a strip mall that I drive past several times a week to/from the nearby train station from where I commute into the City, but only noticed it recently, and immediately earmarked it for a visit.

Their concept is a Supper Club, an independently owned fine and fun dining destination with ambiance and decor reflecting that of the owners style and offerings, thoughtful dishes intended for sharing, a showcase for the owners’ family recipes, treating diners to an evening-long experience.

Lodico-Matus came up with the name while on a walk one day. “The name Carnivore & the Queen to me sounded indulgent, grandiose, and a bit … theatrical?” she says. “I thought it described our personalities … and it stuck! Everything on the menu is foods we like to eat and indulge in, with no guilt."

They offer daily menus featuring their recipes and the seasons' local ingredients from localvor  farmers, fishmongers & ranchers. They strive to deliver an experience that both their mothers provided, like gathering the family around the dinner table every night. There is a price-fix three course and a five course offering. There is also a menu offering with wine pairings accompaniment.

By 630 pm the restaurant was full and by 700 there was a crowd at the bar waiting for tables. It was lively and vibrant and very socialable and comfortable, like a neighborhood favorite eatery should be! We were very comfortable at the tall tabletop adjacent the bar despite the crowd. We look forward to returning again.

We've already noted their Friday Beer Battered Walleye Special, and their Sundays Only Queen's Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken Dinner. The optional up-charge to the five course supper is the hot ticket and reasonable value.  

Prior to dinner we had the special plate of olives, beets, veggies and relishes with salads. The wedge salad was delightful.

With the salad and anti-pasta courses we ordered from the winelist Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne.

For our dinner entrees Mark ordered the sea scallops, Linda the chicken breast, and Shirley and I both had the NY Strip. Linda never orders chicken but was compelled to do so tonight and she liked it. I ordered my regular favorite, 'Pittsburgh' style preparation - charred with hot pink center, and it was done perfectly!

'Pittsburgh' style New York Strip with wedge potatos.

We took BYOB two special bottles from our cellar to celebrate Linda's recent birthday and the festive gathering occasion, Lewis Cellars Chardonnay and Long Shadows Pirouette.

 Lewis Cellars Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2004

My recent tasting notes just last month for this label: Perfect complement to lobster tails. Ideal drinking window for this is five to ten years. At sixteen, this is past its apex and showing its age turning from golden straw colored to honey brown, and the fruits are starting to take on notes of smoke. This was delicious none-the-less, but time to drink.

RM 88 points.

My earlier tasting notes from 2018 for this label: This is clearly crafted in the California versus the classic Burgundian style with layers of big rich oak, straw colored, medium bodied, note of of creamy vanilla, green apple, hints of nut and stone, nice acidic balance for crisp pleasurable drinking. Its density calls for drinking with food and was perfect with our buttery lobster.

RM 90 points

Long Shadows "Pirouette" Columbia Valley Red 2011

Another label from the Long Shadows Collection, this is crafted by legendary world renouned winemakers Augustin Huneeus Sr. and Philippe Melka. I recently had the 2016 release of this label at a business dinner and it was outstanding. Hence I was eager to try to an aged vintage release of this label from my cellar.

This is a classic Bordeaux Blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec; aged for 22 months in 75% new French oak;

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this 93 points,  Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar gave it 92 points.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full-bodied, deep, rich, complex, nicely balanced, well integrated flavors of black berry and black currant with notes of cassis, licorice, coffee, dark bitter chocolate and hints of floral violets, with ample, finely polished tannin on the lengthy finish.

RM 92 points.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ricasoli CasalFerro & Livio Fellugo Saso

Ricasoli CasalFerro and Livio Fellugo Sossó at Italian Village Chicago

For a special business dinner with staff and a business partner we dined at my usual venue for such occasions - Italian Village, Chicago. I've written often in these pages about our dinners and meetings at IV, the oldest and longest continuing operating Italian restaurant in Chicago.

I selected from the wine list this Tuscan Sangiovese based blend, an old and reliable favorite, Casalferro from Baron Ricasoli. Our friend and wine colleague Jared Gelband, Wine Director, pulled from the vast IV cellar this 2000 vintage release bottle.

Barone Ricasoli Casalferro (Sangiovese) Toscana IGT 2000

Barone Ricasoli is one of Chianti’s largest estates, with nearly 650 acres of vineyards in Gaiole in Chianti, in the southern part of the Tuscany’s Chianti appellation. The estate has been in the hands of Ricasoli family for more than 500 years. The winery today is run by Francesco Ricasoli and other family members, and it calls itself the oldest commercial winery in Italy.

Tuscany, or Toscana in Italian, is Italy’s best-known wine region and its most diverse. Historically Sangiovese was the primary grape grown in Tuscany and Chianti was considered the purest expression of Sangiovese. Sangiovese and its many clones are still important, and they are the grapes used for the Tuscan appellations of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Chianti, Chianti Classico and Carmignano.

This release was a blend of Sangiovese 75% and Merlot 25%. It is aged in small french oak barrels for 18 months which along with the Merlot in the blend, softens the tannins.
Wine Spectator awarded this vintage release 90 points.

This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, powerful full and forward black fruits are accented by a layer of oak with notes of cedar, tea, leather and hints creosote on the deep, full lingering tannic finish.

RM 88 points.


Livio Felluga Sossó Fruili 2012

This is a blend of three different grapes - two uniquely from the Fruili region, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and Pignolo, and a Bordeaux varietal  - Merlot.  Friuli took on French varieties after phylloxera devastated most of their native grapes, and this wine is a testament to that history, with two indigenous varieties blended with Merlot.

Created in 1989, this wine is named after the Sossó stream, which runs at the foot of the hill where the grapes grow. Made with carefully selected and oldest vines of Merlot and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso grapes, together with a small percentage of Pignolo, from Rosazzo. Sossò is the result of skilful vinification and barrique maturation that lasts for 18 months. A supremely complex and well-structured wine, it stands out for its elegant, ripe, sweet, fruity tannins.

Winemaker notes: The Refosco brings the soft, peppery notes and earth tones while the Pignolo hefts up the wine with blackberry fruit and a tannic backbone allowing the Merlot to shine with soft juicy blueberry notes mingling with a hint of oak and vanilla. This is an amazingly structured wine from the banks of the Sosso river in Collio. 

Winemaker's Notes: Dark blackish ruby colored, medium full bodied, complex red currant and black fruits accented by floral lily blossoms, cedar wood, with notes of spice, almond, rosemary, undergrowth, short crust pastry and pomegranate, elegant, pleasant and well-balanced tannins; aftertaste has notes of red berries, vanilla pod, and elder berries.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Châteaux Clerc Milon and d'Armailhac Pauillacs

Duo of Château Clerc Milon and Château d'Armailhac Pauillacs for grilled tenderloin dinner

Hosting colleague Jeff from Seattle, Linda prepared grilled beef tenderloin with baked potatoes, fried mushrooms and onions. Touring our wine cellar, Jeff requested Bordeaux to accompany our dinner so I pulled two Pauillacs, Clerc Milon and d'Armailhac adjacent and affiliated properties from two disparate vintages for the occasion.

We toured the region during our Bordeaux Medoc Wine Experience 2019 last summer and drove around the Paulliac appellation to see the Baron Philippe de Rothschild properties, Mouton Rothschild, Clerc Milon and d'Armailhac.

Château Clerc Milon Cinquieme Grand Cru Classe (5me cru classé ~ Fifth Growth) Pauillac Bordeaux 1989

At three decades, this was showing its age in the color and opacity as it was starting to take on a slight grayish hue. The foil and label were pristine and the fill level was ideal. The cork however turned out to be partially saturated and loose providing a challenge to extract. I was able to successfully do so using an Ahso two pronged cork puller. Had one applied a traditional cork screw, it would have most assuredly pushed the cork into the bottle. Even inserting the Ahso did so and it took considerable effort and multiple attempts to insert the prongs. Extracting the cork also took considerable effort as it crumbled apart as it was coming out.

Time to drink as this is past its prime and starting to wane. 

The 1989 vintage was a great year with a warm spring and early flowering followed by heat throughout the summer, leading to Clerc-Milon's earliest harvest of the twentieth century to that point.

The resulting Clerc-Milon was on par with the premier first growth flagship Mouton-Rothschild and even preferred by Robert Parker for the first time in his many years as a critic resulting a great value in comparison

The 1989 Clerc-Milon is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.

This vintage Clerc Milon was rated 93 points by Wine Spectator, 91-93 points by Neal Martin's Wine Journal and 90 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

Garnet colored with a slight gray hue, medium-full bodied, earthy nose, dense, concentrated ripe black plum and currant fruits with forest floor, leather, hints of smoke with smooth supple full round tannins on the long full finish.

RM 90 points.

Château d'Armailhac Cinquieme Grand Cru Classe (5me cru classé ~ Fifth Growth) Pauillac Bordeaux 2016

From the same ownership, Château d'Armailhac is another label in the family of brands of Baron Philippe de Rothschild 2016 sourced from near contiguous properties just outside the village of Pauillac in the northern Medoc.

The 2016 is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. 

This release got 95 points from James Suckling, 94 points from Jeb Dunnuck, 93 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, Vinous and Decanter and 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. 

Vinous says "This fulfills all my expectations and is quite simply one of the best d’Armailhac wines ever made."

Dark, deep bright garnet purple colored, medium full-bodied, firm, structured and concentrated bright floral, vibrant fruits of blackberry and plums  with tones of violets, graphite, cassis, tea, earthy cedar and earthy notes of herbal nuances with firm, gripping tannins on a long earthy finish. Needs some time to integrate and settle.

RM 91 points.