Thursday, April 30, 2020

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

Mid-week rainy day shut-in, we opened some wine to sip with Linda's Italian Bruscetta polenta and some artisan cheeses, this aged Cabernet Franc from a Napa Valley label and producer from a by-gone era, Liparita, different than the current day label.

While it isn't chronicled on my Winesite, I recall we visited Liparita and tasted earlier releases of this label with winemaker Gove Celia from barrel at the Oakville crush facility during one of our Napa trips back in the late nineties.

I've written earlier in these pages about this 'old' Liparita brand from the nineties. The actual original brand dates back to the historic beginnings of wine in America back in the 1880's when William Keyes, a geologist, settled in Napa Valley and discovered the Howell Mountain terroir with its volcanic soils which he felt would be ideal for wine. The soils reminded him of those on Lipari Island, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily, which became the inspiration for the name “Liparita.”

That original Liparita, like many other early wineries, succumbed to the restraints of Prohibition and the attacks of phylloxera on the early vine plantings. This Liparita brand resurfaced briefly during the nineties and then after waning was purchased was relaunched by Spencer Hoopes who purchased it in 2006.  The Hoopes' branding label is what you find in wineshops today, producing and remarketing Napa Valley appellation specific wines. The revitalized Liparita label replicates the original early 1880's design, and that original intent to produce great cabernets from the various notable vineyards from across Napa Valley.

I read that Gove Celia is director of winemaking at Neal Family Vineyards which ironically is on Liparita Road in Angwin high up on Howell Mountain. We missed this during our numerous trips to Howell Mountain and will explore this further. 

Liparita Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002

Hard to believe its been almost ten years since I last tasted this label. Moreso that it still has that same taste profile and character. Back in 2010 and 2012 I wrote, "We've been long time fans of Liparita Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots - this is our first Cabernet Franc and what a hit - a nice achievement exceeding expectations indeed - better than their other endeavors from this era.'

"Like a left bank Bordeaux that features Cabernet Franc to add flavor and structure, this full bodied Cab Franc was all-in with huge floral bouquet and full forward flavors of black berry and black raspberry fruits, a layer of clove spice, leather and a hint of cedar on a long lingering finish. Its slightly flabby awkwardness can be forgiven for its big forward tasty floral and fruit."

Similar to the previous tasting, however tonight the floral and fruit flavors have started to give way to non-fruit flavors of smoke, earthy and leather.

We've been long time fans of Liparita Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots - this is our first Cabernet Franc and what a hit - a nice achievement exceeding expectations indeed - better than their other endeavors from this era. 

Back in 2012 I rated this RM 91 points. Tonight I give it an 88 based on diminished fruits and floral notes.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Clark-Claudon Napa Cabernet 1997

Clark-Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 1997

Continuing our Coronavirus shut-in, we ordered 'curbside carry-out' from our neighborhood trattoria, Angelis Italian. We're endeavoring to support our local restaurants during this crisis albeit remotely since the bar and dining rooms remain closed .

I pulled from the cellar a boutique Napa Valley producer Clark-Claudon Cabernet Sauvignon.

We hold close to two decades of vintages of this label going back to their inaugural release in 1994.

Clark-Claudon are estate bottled Cabernets, sourced from their 18 acres of vineyards on the northeast side of Howell Mountain. The total estate covers 115 acres, sited between 800 and 1200 feet elevation, between Ink Grade & Howell Mountain roads.

We met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark (middle couple on left) when we hosted them for a wine producer dinner at then trendy Pinot Blanc in St Helena during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999.

I recall friend and wine-buddy Paul McDonald (left) from LA had some association with the restaurant ownership back in the day.

Clark-Claudon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 1997

I selected a 1997 vintage release which is one of the few bottles remaining from a case we acquired back during that trip. The much heralded '97 Napa Cabernets were highly rated and projected to be long lived.

As I wrote in a previous tasting of the release back in 2014, "In earlier tastings of this vintage of Clark Claudon, I wondered if it was like Dominus (86) and some Bordeaux (89-90 Pichon Lalande) that I later learned I drank too early when they finally 'awoke' to reveal their true character and fruits years later?'

Back in 2014, "Unlike previous tastings when the Clark Claudon was somewhat closed and a bit flabby with muted fruit upon opening, tonight it seemed to be showing its age, opening to ripe raisiny black cherry and black berry fruit, with subtle tone of cigar box and leather with nicely integrated and balanced silky smooth tannins. After an hour or so the fruit closed down and it became subdued leaving a slight astringency and tones of tobacco and leather.'

Tonight, this was settled and open and while not showing diminution from age, will certainly not improve further, but there should be no hurry to consume the remaining bottles for another year or more.

Due to the wax seal on the top of the bottle, I couldn't easily use my ahso two pronged cork puller, which I would normally use for an aged bottle. Despite using the 'rabbit ear' cork screw with the extra long screw, the cork pretty much disintegrated in a crumble and had to be dug out in crumbly pieces from the bottle, which was then strained and decanted.

Dark ruby colored, medium bodied, bright lively, nicely balanced structured black berry fruits with notes of black cherry, hints of graphite, leather and earthy tobacco with modest smooth tannins on the finish.

RM 89 points.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Chateau St. Jean "Cinq Cépages" Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

As the Coronavirus shut-in continues, our family and friends are having fun with our virtual wine tastings sharing texts and videos of our wines and dinners.

Friend and colleague Tom R texted me that he opened a 2003 vintage release (he's so proud that he has now mastered his 'ahso', two pronged cork puller) of this label and asked if he had waited too long? I replied, "absolutely not, we're still holding a dozen vintages of this label dating back to the mid-nineties". So, when Linda prepared grilled tenderloin steak with mashed potatoes and green beans, I pulled from the cellar this aged vintage release from 1998 for the pairing.

Chateau St Jean is one of the premier producers in Sonoma County and their winery chateau estate is a showcase highlight of the Sonoma Valley.

Our private tastings at the 1920's chateau with views of the Grand Lawn and Estate Vineyards and in the Reserve Room have been the highlights of our trips to the region including our 2017 Sonoma Wine Experience and our Sonoma Harvest tour in 2009.

Chateau St. Jean "Cinq Cépages" was one of the first classic Bordeaux Blend labels from the region and has always represented good value, high QPR relative to the top Bordeaux labels. It was the Wine Spectator #1 wine in the annual Top 100 list in 1999 with the 1996 vintage release. At that time the release price was $28, a remarkable value at the time. From then on, the label exploited its #1 legacy and notoriety and boosted the price point, but it still represents reasonable comparable value. 

Chateau St. Jean "Cinq Cépages" Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

At twenty-two years of age, this 1998 vintage release was still drinking nicely and holding its own, despite being from a lackluster vintage that was expected to have a short lifespan drinking window. The color is taking on a slight opacity and grey hue and the fruits are starting to give way to non-fruit flavors so it is starting to decline and should be consumed over the next year or so.

I have written often in these pages about the 1998 vintage release of Napa and Sonoma Valley Cabernets. Jancis Robinson of Jancis wrote of the 1998 vintage, "The vintage was slammed by some critics, and shame on them, for many terrific wines came from 1998, after the rush-to-judgment were made."

This was an over-achiever for the vintage exceeding expectations on release and in the years since. 

This classic Bordeaux Blend contains the five Bordeaux varietals, hence the name Cinq Cepages for the 'five flavors'. This release is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit-Verdot.

Robert Parker awarded this release 89-91 points, and Wine Enthusiast 90 points.

There was dense sediment in the bottle. This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, firm structure, tightly wound but nicely balanced with complex black currant and black cherry fruits with sharp acidity accented by briary herb, earth, cedar, hints soy and anise with moderate tannins on the long finish.

RM 88 points.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Viader V Petit Verdot 2000

Viader "V" Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend 2000

We discovered and acquired this label during our visit to the Viader winery estate on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008. We have since acquired and still hold more than a half dozen vintages dating back to this 2000 release. 

The Viader 23-acre estate sits at 1200 foot elevation overlooking Napa Valley. The vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Viader is known for its Bordeaux-style blends. The elevation is notable as that is the height that the fog reaches above the valley floor and hence is the point at which below is designated Napa Valley, and above it designated Howell Mountain. This is due to the difference terroir due to the effects of the fog on the ripening vines. 

With son Alec engaged to Vivianna, this has become somewhat of a 'signature' wine for us and our future daughter-in-law.

Readers of these posts know we have a lot of fun with wine labels associated with family members and friends, as well as vintage specific wines for birthyears, anniversaries and memorable occasions.

Tonight, we video-conferenced with Vivianna and Alec celebrating her birthday together, albeit remotely and virtually. In this case our virtual visit was due to distance between Chicago and New York, and not the isolation due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. In commemoration of her and her special day we opened this vintage release of the ultimate 'V' label and shared it via video.

Another 'V' series of labels we enjoy with and in honor of Vivianna is from Venge Vineyards, as shown.

The 'V' is a testament to the producer and winemaker Delia Viader, a remarkable and impressive lady who was born in Argentina and educated in Europe before earning graduate degrees in the U.S., a notable role model for any career minded female. It is also the branding and label for this single-varietal designated wine that is based on the Bordeaux Varietal Petit Verdot.

Delia Viader spent much of her formative years in Europe and in France where she earned a doctorate in Philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, then pursued advanced business studies in the US at MIT, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

Recognizing the potential Napa Valley wine industry in the 1980's, Delia acquired the Howell Mountain property and set out to create a world class wine estate, and continued studying Enology and Viticulture at University of California, Davis.  During this time she also raised her four children in the wine environment and culture.

We had the pleasure of meeting Delia Viader during a producer tasting evening sponsored by Binny's here in Chicago back in 2005

Petit Verdot (“peh-tee vur-doe”) is used as a blending grape in red Bordeaux blends because of its full body, plentiful color, tannin and floral aromas of violet. Because of its boldness, Petitot Verdot typically comprises less than 5-10% of the blend and is rarely produced as a single-varietal wine.

In recent years, Petit Verdot has emerged as a increasingly popular single varietal offering and we have collected the varietal from several of our favorite producers including Spring Valley and Del Dotto. Viader were ahead of their time in offering this as a standalone offering back in the day.

To accompany this special wine, Linda prepared a spectacular meal complete with grilled stuffed mushroom caps with sausage, jalapeno and cheese. 

Viader "V" Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend 2000

This released was awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator.

This is a blend primarily of Petit Verdot sourced from a 1.2-acre plot in the northeast corner of the estate of  where the soil is particularly rocky and the yields are incredibly small. The producer says, "in each vintage, these grapes are short on production but always long on personality".

The blend also contains some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Only 353 cases were produced of this release.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, firm structured blackberry and black currant fruits, licorice, spice, leather with hints of menthol and dark mocha, finishing with bright acidity and dusty, fine tannins.

RM 91 points. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Marco DiGuilio Diamond Mtn Cabernet

Marco DiGiulio Mark K Vineyard Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Entering week four of the Coronavirus shut-in, we order from Angelis Italian, our local neighborhood trattoria. I pulled from the cellar this vintage aged Marco DiGiulio single vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon for the wine pairing. I have blogged about the background and history of Marco in these pages.

 Marco DiGiulio gained a reputation producing premium wines as consulting winemaker for a number of high end boutique producers in the Napa area. He worked at well known wineries including Buena Vista, Pine Ridge, Atlas Peak and Pepi Winery. While at Pepi he was put in charge of the esteemed Lokoya brand focusing on high end Cabernet Sauvignon.

He came on the scene with his own label in 2001 through 2005 and then seemed to fall off the grid in terms of his own label. We saw his label in the Napa Valley wineshops that featured hip limited release boutique producers such as Bounter Hunter wines in downtown Napa. He also had some select distribution in New York, Florida and a few other states. We found and acquired his wines on It was also available on his website at, but it has become increasingly scare with the passing of time.

We still hold each of his vintage releases, '01 through '05, from both his vineyards, Mt Veeder and Diamond  Mtn. As a borderline obsessive wine geek, we researched his vineyard sources and his subsequent works to track terroir and legacy and succession in artwork. We have written about his work as we have in the cases of the Long Shadows and their Vintners' Collection which features the works of Philipe Melka and Randy Dunn, two legendary Napa producers, or Nils and Kirk Venge, who touched so many labels across the valley over time.

Much of the fun of collecting and studying fine wine is to follow the careers of notable winemakers from label to label, from vintage to vintage. Much of my journaling in these pages is following winemakers through such studies. Such a pursuit and study has been more difficult with the more stealthy, less public Marco DiGiulio.

Marco DiGiulio Wines featured single vineyard designated selections with premium fruit sourced from prime vineyards on Mt Veeder and this Mark K Vineyard from Diamond Mountain.  I wrote about his Mt Veeder label sourced from the legendary Pym Rae vineyard in this blogpost.

Marco branded release bottlings are packaged in large extra heavy gauge glass bottles with an extra deep bung, that 'bump' in the bottom of the bottle to separate sentiment. Each of his two wine labels were produced in small quantities of only 200 to 300 cases. Marco’s wines were aged in 100% New French Oak barrels.

Marco DiGiulio Mark K Vineyard Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

This Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from a vineyard owned and managed by Norm Kiken, the owner of Reverie Winery. The vineyard grows on volcanic soils with a southern exposure and always ripens well.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, nicely balanced and well integrated rich black berry and black cherry fruits with notes of smoked oak, anise, spices, hints of soy and dustiness with lively acidity on a smooth lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Vieux Telegraph CDP 2010 with Grilled Ribs

Vieux Telegraph CDP 2010 with Grilled Ribs

Coronavirus shut-in dinner, Linda grilled BBQ ribs and baked potatoes so I pulled from the cellar favorite bbq rib pairing, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Tonight, we opened a favorite CDP from Vieux Télégraphe in remembrance of our visit to the estate and meeting Daniel Brunier during our visit to the appellation last summer. 
Our Vieux Télégraphe visit was certainly a highlight of our trip to the Luberon and Rhone Valley.

I probably should've held this as it should age for three decades or more, and I almost opened a '96 Beaucastel, but I couldn't resist opening this in tribute to producer Daniel Brunier and his artwork, as well as his generous hospitality hosting us there.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe "La Crau" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate awarded this release 97 points and said "the 2010 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the all-time great Vieux Telegraphes I have tasted in the last 3+ decades. I believe it is even superior to the 2007."

This also got 96 points from Jeb Dunnuck and Decanter and Wine Spectator and 94 points from Vinous and Wine & Spirits.  

In 2012 Parker wrote, "More massive than I remember from last year, it has put on considerable weight and intensity. Forget it for 3-4 years, and drink it over the following 25-30 years."

Jeb Dunnuck said, "this will not be a wine for instant gratification and needs a solid 5-6 years of bottle age; it should keep for upwards of three decades."

This also got 96 points from Jeb Dunnuck and Decanter and Wine Spectator and 94 points from Vinous and Wine & Spirits.  

In 2016, wine writer critic Jeb Dunnuck gave a seminar at the Hospice du Rhône event in Paso Robles. This non-profit organization has long been a supporter of Rhône varieties from around the globe, and Dunnuck wrote "I continue to think it’s one of the best wine events in the World." 

The title of this seminar was “The Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape”, and he put the wines together with the idea to show the differences between rolled stones terroirs and sandy terroirs, as well as highlight the differences between traditional and modern wine making techniques.

He chose this 2010 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape LatCrau, one of four wines to highlight classic, traditional Châteauneuf du Papes. He wrote, "(This wine) is about as classic as they come. Dark fruits, lots of minerality, ripe herbs and licorice all emerge from this full-bodied, ripe beauty."

So, here at ten years one might think this is at the apex of its drinking window. I believe it probably will be at its prime in another five or even ten years at it seemed a bit tight and closed.   

It’s dark garnet colored, slightly opaque, full bodied, dense concentrated, complex black cherry and black currant fruits, black olives, licorice, spice and crushed pepper tones with hints of tobacco, magnificent 'legs' of structured, textured tannins yet smooth and approachable on the finish.

RM 92 points.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Godspeed Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Godspeed Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Eric and Cathy brought this to our OTBN gala last month. We both discovered and acquired this wine at the vineyard/producer during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience back in 2011.

Godspeed Vineyards is a small production label from this boutique producer. Ironically, I saw some available at Total Wine up in Minnesota just the week prior to my previous tasting back in 2016.

Godspeed is a small production boutique grower on Napa Valley Mount Veeder situated in a remote location to the north end of the vast Mt Veeder appellation up on Mt Veeder Road above the town of Yountville down below.

Godspeed Vineyard
Goodspeed vineyards, first planted in 1987, possess terroir for growing classic Napa mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, with steep hillsides and mixed sedimentary and volcanic soils. The hillside vineyard sits at an average elevation of 1500 feet above the valley facing predominantly East, Northeast. Temperatures are usually 10-12 degrees cooler than the valley, and the vineyard is generally above the morning fog, giving longer days of sunshine, which normally allows for an earlier harvest.  The vines snake across the hillside slopes producing small clusters of deeply concentrated grapes.

The vineyard is the project of Larry Stricker and his son David. Larry is an acclaimed architect who has created world class resort hotels, including the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona; the Marriott Desert Springs Resort and a series of Hawaiian properties including the Halekulani, Kahala Resort, Kapalua Bay Hotel and the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.

Bill, Jan, Linda, Bill and Beth with David Stricker
Godspeed sells most of their Godspeed Mount Veeder estate grown fruit to recognized wineries including Sbragia, Newton, Mayacamas, Robert Craig, Bremmer, William Hill & Monticello.

Since 1990 they kept about half the vineyard production and bottled their own hand crafted wine under under the Godspeed label.

Godspeed grows and produces four different varietal estate wines under the Godspeed brand: about 500 cases each of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, some Malbec and about 600 cases of Trinity, a unique blend of estate grown Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah sourced from partner grower.

For the 2005 vintage year, the blend was: 42% Godspeed Vineyards, Mount Veeder, Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Godspeed Vineyards, Mount Veeder, Malbec, and 33% Monticello Vineyards, Oak Knoll, Syrah.

In some years, they also produce a Non-Vintage Late Harvest Chardonnay dessert wine they call "Amen". 

The 2013 Sbragia "Godspeed Vineyard" Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon sold for about $80 and was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and 93-95 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

Godspeed Vineyards Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Tonight, Linda prepared for dinner chicken marsala in a brown sauce with brown rice so I pulled this aged Napa Cab as a pairing complement.

My last published tasting note for this label was back in 2016 when I wrote, "This was drinking very nicely in its twelfth year and may be at its prime, not likely to improve further with more aging. This 2004 was the best showing of this label that I have had to my recollection."

This was dark blackish purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied, aromatic, black berry and black raspberry fruit flavors, a bit tight and firmly structured, the fruits are starting to give way to a predominant tone of licorice, notes of creosote and cedar with hints of truffle, spice  tobacco and green pepper, turning to moderate tannins on the long finish.

RM 87 points.

In 2012 this was awarded 92 points by Wine & Spirits Guild of America.

Lasted tasted and published at

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Linda prepared chicken marsala with brown sauce and brown rice to take to a shut in friend and we dined on it as well. To pair with the entree we selected Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

While we primarily collect and drink Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignons, this is perhaps our favorite Sauvignon Blanc and one we keep on hand with each vintage release as one of our mainstay 'go-to' wines.

The primary vineyard source for Lede Napa Sauvignon Blanc are estate grown Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musqué. Another vineyard located in eastern Rutherford has old vines planted to a heritage Musqué clone and Sémillon.

Two other old-vine vineyards, both in Calistoga, contribute to the blend, one planted to Sauvignon Blanc and the other to Sémillon. In many vintages, they also include grapes from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, imparting vibrant acidity and finesse to the wine.

A vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, adds complexity with old vines of Sauvignon Vert planted in 1947.

The Cliff Lede winery estate and vineyards with their picturesque sculpture gardens at Yountville Cross Road and Silverado Trail are one of our popular visits during our many trips to Napa Valley. The most memorable was our private tour and tasting during our Napa Wine Experience 2009.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Straw colored, light bodied, aromas of floral and apricot and flavors of peach predominate with tones of lychee, pear, apple, citrus and hints of lime with a crisp clean sharp tangy finish.

RM 90 

Earlier tasting ...

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Ladera Napa Valley Malbec 2006

Ladera Napa Valley Malbec 2006 

Repost of earlier tasting blogpost feature of this wine and producer but another bottle and tasting experience, better this time than earlier. Entering week four of Coronavirus shut-in, we ordered in 'curb-side' carry out from Angelis' Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria.To pair with dinner, we pulled from the cellar this fourteen year old single Bordeaux varietal estate bottled Napa Valley Malbec

Bright garnet purple colored, medium-full bodied, better than last tasting, age or bottle variation? While not as complex and structured as a Cabernet, black berry and cherry fruit flavors, were accented by a layer of spice, hints of leather and a touch of cedar on a pleasant finish.laWe discovered this wine and purchased it following our visit to the Ladera Vineyards estate and winery up on Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008

We'd driven past the property, formerly the historic Chateau Woltner many times over the years on our treks up Howell Mountain. 

The fabulous historic winery building consists of production and barrel storage below and a rustic tasting room upstairs. It is surrounded by spectacular gardens, beds of lavender, and of course the vineyards.

Rick & Linda at Ladera winery
Howell Mountain
Ladera primarily focused on Cabernet Sauvignon of which we still hold a several cases of four different labels across three vintages from this era. We also acquired some of their Pinot Noir which was sourced from Sonoma County, as well as this Malbec grown from estate fruit, of which we still hold a half case in our cellar.

Malbec is one of the "big five" grape varieties in Bordeaux included in the "Cabernet family" of grapes.

It serves as one of the blending wines to round out and add complexity to the primary varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot used for its deep, dark purple color, its fragrant aromas, ranging from black cherry to black pepper, and its texture which is lush and juicy in the mid palette and very soft on the finish.

Primarily a blended complement to the tannic, brooding Cabernet Sauvignon, it produces an interesting and nice stand alone wine, as well.

The 2006 Napa Valley Ladera Malbec is a blend of fruit from two mountain vineyards - 50% from Howell Mountain and the other 50% from Lone Canyon - two unique terroirs.

The rolling hills and volcanic soils of Howell Mountain vineyard lend to the bold dark fruit characters while the steep slopes and gravely soils of Lone Canyon high atop Mt Veeder contribute intense phenolic structure and complexity to the wine.

Somewhat consistent with my tasting notes way back in 2011 when we last tasted this wine: "This wine holds true to its varietal characteristics with its dark inky color, rich aromatics and bold masculine structure. The wine exhibits forward fruits flavors of black cherry and black berry with violets, red licorice, hints of vanilla, white pepper and smoky fig.

Bright garnet purple colored, medium-full bodied, better than last tasting, age or bottle variation? While not as complex and structured as a Cabernet, black berry and cherry fruit flavors, were accented by a layer of spice, hints of leather and a touch of cedar on a pleasant finish.Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, less complex and less structured than a Cabernet this comes across a bit flabby on opening but overcame the funkiness to reveal black berry and cherry fruit flavors, a layer of spice, hints of leather and a touch of cedar on a long finish.

RM 90 points.

Rick with Ladera owner/producer
Anne Stotesbery
The seeds for Ladera were planted in the early 1970s, when Pat and Anne Stotesbery fell in love while attending university in Northern California. Among their many shared interests, they discovered a passion for wine, and were soon taking wine classes together, and traveling to wine country for tastings.

The next two decades took them to Minnesota and Montana, where they ran a 3,200-acre ranch with 750 head of cattle, during which time, their interest in wine continued to grow.

With deep agricultural roots on both sides of their family, Pat and Anne Stotesbery acquired their first Napa Valley mountain vineyard in 1996. Their original vineyard was on Mount Veeder, the following year they purchased their second mountain vineyard, Lone Canyon.

In 1998, Pat and Anne made their first non-commercial vintage of 100 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 As a reflection of their commitment to making mountain Cabernet Sauvignons, they selected the name Ladera for their winery, which means “hillside, or slope” in both Spanish and Italian.

They moved their family to Napa Valley, and in 2000, they acquired a historic Howell Mountain property featuring an 82-acre vineyard. For the next 16 years, this property served as the home for Ladera.

Around 2008, their son Dan visited us while on a wine promotion trip and we took him around to several of the local wine merchants in the area. 

In 2016, following the earlier sales of the Lone Canyon and the Mount Veeder properties, with their children grown and pursuing careers of their own, Pat and Anne sold their land on Howell Mountain.

Rustic Ladera tasting area in the historic
chai and barrel building back in 2006.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Presqu'ile Pinot Noir 2010

Presqu'ile Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2010 

For Friday night casual dining we opened this Central California Coast Pinot Noir from Presqu’ile Vineyard, grown in the Santa Maria Valley, a narrow ribbon of land between the Pacific Ocean and the San Rafael mountains, an area known for producing elegant Pinot Noir.

The Presqu’ile Vineyard 200-acre property was developed in 2007 by founder/producer Matt Murphy and his parents, Madison and Suzanne after an extensive search up and down the West Coast searching for an ideal property to produce Burgundian varietal wines, before selecting the property in the Santa Maria Valley.

The Murphys teamed with Santa Barbara County Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg and Winemaker Dieter Cronje to develop the Presqu’ile Vineyard estate. They mapped the site's deep sandy soils, distinct airflows, patterns of sunlight, hillside angles and elevations. With the insights derived from these measurements, they planted the vineyard to maximize the diversity of row directions, spacing, clones and rootstocks. They added an additional adjacent 11-acre parcel of Pinot Noir vines planted in 2001. The resulting Presqu’ile Vineyard consists of 73 total acres of vines; 32 acres of Pinot Noir, 17 acres of Chardonnay, 16 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, 6.5 acres of Syrah, and 1.25 acres of Nebbiolo.

The site is located in the Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), established in 1981, making it the second oldest AVA in California after Napa Valley. It is also one of the world’s most unique AVAs which, along with the nearby Sta. Rita Hills, lies in and benefits from the only two transverse mountain ranges on the entire West Coast of North and South America. 

Framed between the San Rafael Mountains to the north, and the Solomon Hills to the south, this geographic feature creates a natural funnel, drawing in cool marine air from the Pacific. The ocean temperatures just off the coast of Santa Maria are typically only about 55˚ to 59˚ F, further cooling the ocean breezes funneled into the valley. The resulting average temperature at just 64˚ F, creates a cool-climate viticultural region with one of the longest winegrowing seasons in California (125 days on average).

Matt grew up in Arkansas in a family that for four generations had been growing corn, soy and rice. He often spent harvest season working the family’s farm in neighboring Louisiana. The family were also wine lovers and he was exposed to fine wine at a relatively early age, including many of the great wines of Burgundy.  

While studying biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Matt followed his appreciation of fine wine and worked a summer at Signorello Estate in Napa Valley where he found a love for working in the vineyard and learning the craft of making wine. Our visit and tasting at Signorello was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2013. 

After university, Matt headed west, and took a position in the cellar at Santa Maria Valley’s Ambullneo Winery where he became good friends with Ambullneo’s talented assistant winemaker, Dieter Cronje. The two teamed up to pursue their shared philosophies about winegrowing and winemaking, and the potential of the Santa Maria Valley to make cool-climate wines.

Presqu'ile Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2010

This Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir is the first 100% estate grown wine. 

The winemaker notes for this release; "On the nose, we get aromas of forest floor, cherries, anise, sandalwood and classic "Santa Maria spice." Flavors of rich, red cherries, plum and cola are presented with exceptionally fine tannins, balance and integration. This Pinot Noir will continue to develop complexity for years to come."

This was ruby colored, medium bodied, bright floral bouquet with fruits of cherry and black raspberry with dusty rose, spice, hints of mushroom and soy with a balance of acid and fine smooth tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 89 points.

This got 92 points from

It was aged seventeen months in French oak barrels, 35% new.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Napa Cabernet 2004

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

With the late Freddie Constant at the Constant
Diamond Mountain estate
As the Coronavirus shut-in continues, tonight, we ordered out from Angelis Italian, our favorite neigborhood trattoria and wanted a special bottle of wine, so we pulled from the cellar this Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet.

We discovered and acquired this wine when we visited the spectacular picturesque Constant Vineyards estate high atop Diamond Mountain during our Diamond Mountain Appellation Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011.

We still hold close to a case of Constant wines and tonight we were rewarded for being patient as this wine has developed very nicely.

Our tasting and visit back then were hosted by proprietor Freddie Constant, founder and proprietor. Sadly, Freddie passed away in 2014. All of our group that were there remember him fondly and toast him each time we drink his wine.

The Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard sits at the peak of Diamond Mountain on the Mayacamas Range separating Napa Valley to the east and Sonoma Valley to the west and is one of the area’s highest, oldest, and smallest wineries in the region. At 2121 feet above sea level, it may be the highest, or certainly one of the highest, vineyards in the region.

Constant Diamond Mountain Estate Vineyards
The Diamond Mountain District appellation, one of the smaller Napa wine districts, sits just south of and above the town of Calistoga in the northwest corner of Napa Valley.

The unique terroir and micro-climate at the very top of Diamond Mountain provides grapes with optimal sun exposure and elongated ripening periods, The sun drenched slopes with their rocky terrain and volcanic soil produce rich concentrated Bordeaux varietal fruit.

Today the area is home to some of the most notable and prestigious labels including the namesake label Diamond Mountain vineyards. Our afternoon on the mountaintop retreat was one of the more memorable settings from our many Napa Valley trips.

The mountaintop land that would become Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard was first settled in 1895 by Andras Rasmussen, a Danish immigrant. After working in the wine industry for 15 years at Talcoa Vineyard (now Hudson Vineyard in Carneros), at Summit Vineyard and Winery, and studying viticulture at UC Davis – Rasmussen purchased 120 forested acres atop Diamond Mountain, cleared about 30 acres himself, and planted the first grapevines at the summit.

The vines were abandoned in the 1920s and 1930s due to Prohibition.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard was established by Freddy and Mary Constant in 1993 when they bought a dilapidated but historic farmhouse and set upon reestablishing the vineyards which by then were overgrown and wild.

The couple had backgrounds as radio station entrepreneurs but their plan on Diamond Mountain was to grow and sell grapes to winemakers. They believed they had a unique and spectacular plot of land capable of producing premium fruit and soon they were growing grapes for several of the best winemakers in the area.

The started producing small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon but their first vintage in 1993 was not to their standards and it was never released.  They released their first vintage in 1995 under the Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard label. They proceeded to build a winery on the estate producing their wine under the Constant label and brand. In 1999 Wine Spectator wrote that Constant was “a new can’t miss Cabernet, this vineyard is able to produce stunning wines on a consistent basis.” The original winemaker was the notable Philippe Melka. With the 2009 vintage, Paul Hobbs took over as consulting winemaker.

Notably, we collect Philippe Melka wines to this day an featured his label at a recent business dinner

Freddie and Mary hired renowned architect Howard Backen who built a stunning house along with a tasting room hospitality center overlooking the valley floor with a full view of Mount St. Helena.

In 2016, Aries Liu and Sai You became the property’s caretakers with the continued commitment to producing some of Napa Valley’s best Bordeaux varietals.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

I believe this is the best, most memorable Constant Cabernet I have had and may be, at sixteen years of age, at the apex of its drinking profile and window.
Deep garnet purple color, medium-full bodied, delicious concentrated but smooth and elegant and nicely balanced ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruits with hints of black currant, notes of spice and graphite.

RM 92 points. 

The blend includes small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve

Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007

Linda prepared a casserole of ham, cheese, potatoes and asparagus. I pulled from the cellar a Pinot Noir to pair with the dinner. Evenstad Reserve from Domaine Serene is one perhaps our favorite Pinot Noir.

We discovered this label at a memorable outing at Smith and Wollensky on the Chicago River during a getaway weekend in the City years ago. Its been our favorite 'go-to' Pinot ever since. As such we keep a vertical collection of vintages of this label in our cellar and enjoy it on special occasions, or just times together such as tonight during the Coronavirus lock-in. 

Domaine Serene Evensted Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007

As written in a previous tasting for this label, "One of our perennial favorites, although if you read this blog you know we don't a lot of Pinot Noir compared to other varietals.'

"The 2007 vintage is fairly typical of this label although seemingly slightly lighter and more subdued fruit than some years;  ruby color, medium bodied, raspberry, hint of black berry, strawberry, rhubarb, dusty rose with a touch of cinnamon spice.'

Tonight this wine was a perfect match for our dinner entree and was especially enjoyable. 

RM90 points. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Chiarello Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah Baked Brie - Chocolate Rapberry Crust

Chiarello Family Vineyards Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah 2003 with Baked Brie and Chocolate Raspberry Crust

Tonight Linda prepared an incredible baked brie and a crusted chocolate and raspberry along with a cheese plate. To complement the selection, I pulled a unique imaginative hearty bold red wine, Chiarello Petit Sirah.

This label is from Chiarello Family Vineyards, owned by Michael Chiarello, who is better known for his role as a Napa Valley chef, Emmy-winning TV personality, author, and founder of NapaStyle. From his Chiarello Family Vineyards, he produces five estate grown wines from the 20-acres of vineyards that surround his home in St Helena in Central Napa Valley. The property contains vines going back nearly a century.

To realize the potential of the property sourced fruit, Chiarello enlisted one of the top "old vine" winemakers in Napa Valley, Thomas Brown, named 2010 "Winemaker of the Year," by Food & Wine Magazine.

Brown has been recognized as a master at creating rich, dynamic wines from the ultra-ripe fruit of older vines. From those old vines they craft award winning Zinfandel and Petit Sirah based wines.

Not to be confused with Syrah, Petite Sirah is a cross of Syrah and another grape varietal, Peloursin. Despite its popularity, this grape is quite rare with less than 10,000 acres planted worldwide, mostly in California.

Petit Sirah was long thought to be related to an obscure French grape called Durif. After DNA studies by Dr. Carole Meredith, a Napa Winery wine producer at Lagier Meredith on Mt Veeder. Carole was educated as a geneticist at the University of California at Davis and went on to work in the wine business at Mondavi. She specializes in growing Syrah varietal based wines at the Lagier Meredith estate high atop Mount Veeder. We met Carole when we visited Lagier Meredith during our Napa Valley, Mt Veeder Wine Experience back in 2011.

The hertiage of Durif goes back to France where it was an offspring of syrah, the noble grape of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, and the lesser-known varietal called peloursin.
Petite Sirah was often mistaken for the more popular varietal Zinfandel to be. In the early days of California winemaking, much of the early labels sold as Burgundy or Chianti were often actually sourced from a grape whose name never appeared on the label, the sturdy, blue-collar petite sirah.

 Today, Petit Sirah is often added to Zinfandel wines for backbone and deep color, but more and more it is produced standalone. Petite Sirah is increasing found in the stores, and it often commands a higher price than what might be considered a more pedestrian Zinfandel which may have a broader following. Because Petit Sirah may be the more nuanced and complex of the two, it has gained notoriety and captured a wide following and is becoming increasingly popular. Subsequent more recent releases of this label have received enviable ratings and scores and command prices above $50.

The Chiarello Family Vineyards 2008 Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah (St. Helena) A was awarded 93 points and was noted as "a beautiful wine, just what a Napa Petite Sirah should be: Dark, dry, tannic and muscular, showing leathery, meaty flavors, with hints of blackberries, chocolate and violets, and a sprinkling of pepper," by a leading critic.

Ironically, our selection tonight is the second wine in a row that we pulled from our cellar to drink that was crafted by winemaker Thomas Brown, following the Schrader Double Diamond Mayacamas Range Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon that we drank Sunday night.

Thomas Brown has become one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Napa Valley. Brown moved to Napa in 1996 and went to work for All Seasons Wine Shop in Calistoga. There he met Ehren Jordan, winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars. He joined Jordan in 1997 helping in the cellar and learned the craft.

After three years, Brown ventured out on his own, beginning with clients he inherited from Jordan, Outpost where he produced Howell Mountain Zinfandel, and Chiarello where he produced this Roux Old Vine Petit Sirah,  He went on to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Nicholson Ranch and the Cabernet Sauvignon we drank Sunday night from Schrader, and others for Tamber Bey and Frank Family. Brown went on to produce his own Pinot Noir and became managing partner of Ridgetop Partners, a project that in 2001 purchased 40 acres on the Sonoma coast near Annapolis and planted 14 acres of Pinot Noir.

Chiarello Family Vineyards Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah 2003

Interesting heavy weight bottle with its painted label rather than paper label affixed to the bottle, properties found in more expensive premium labels.

Consistent with our last tasting notes for this label, "This was dark inky black/purple colored, big full bodied, rich, concentrated but nicely balanced and polished blackberry and black cherry fruits with layers of mineral, licorice, Asian spices, hints of smokey creosote with nicely integrated oak on the lingering clinging tannin finish.'

"At fourteen years of age, this 2003 was drinking well and seemingly still at the apex of its drinking window, although certainly not likely to improve any with further aging."

Tonight this was still holding its own at seventeen years of age.

RM 89 points.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Schrader Double Diamond Mayacamas Range 2002

Double Diamond (Schrader) "Mayacamas Range" Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

For Sunday night casual dinner, Linda prepared a homemade grilled pizza and to go along, we pulled from the cellar this Schrader Double Diamond Cabernet. 

Fred Schrader has been producing critically acclaimed premium Schrader Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet since 1998. In 2001, he created Double Diamond to produce Napa Valley wines in the Schrader tradition of excellence and to make it available to a broader audience of wine lovers. 

We sourced this wine through auction from WineBid who writes of this label: "Fred Schrader founded Schrader Cellars in Calistoga in 1998 after making wine for six years with Ann Colgin, who was then his wife. Colgin-Schrader Cellars launched in 1992... Schrader and his wife parted ways and he started Schrader Cellars, where his Cabernet Sauvignons have earned outstanding reviews. His grapes come from two of Napa Valley’s most prestigious vineyards, the Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville and the Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford. Schrader's current winemaker is Thomas Rivers Brown, one of California's star winemakers. Robert M. Parker Jr. admires Schrader’s wines, and called the 2006 Schrader CCS Cabernet Sauvignon “utter perfection.” Parker rated it at 100 pts. Like other limited production Cult Cab producers in Napa Valley, Schrader Cellars wines generally sell out through its mailing list."

Double Diamond is Schrader's 'second' label, a more moderately priced brand of Fred Schrader Cellars. While the flagship Schrader brand sources fruit from the legendary Beckstoffer To-Kalon and other notable Napa Valley vineyards, Double Diamond is sourced from other vineyard sources in Napa and Sonoma. While the Shrader flagship wines sell for $200-$270, Double Diamond sells for closer to $50, more approachable for the rest of us.

Schrader writes of the Double Diamond label. "Over the years, we have sourced our grapes from prime vineyards on the mountaintops, hillside slopes, and gentle floor of the Napa Valley. In each situation, we find the ideal sweet spot of the vineyard that produces the most elegant, character-driven Cabernet possible. Dense and concentrated, with exceptional character and flavor."

Like the benchmark Schrader Cellars Cabernets, Double Diamond is also crafted by acclaimed winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and his team. They strive to produce a "neighborly expression of Napa Valley Cabernet to enjoy every day." 

"Throughout the years, Double Diamond, crafted by winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, has been sourced from a complement of prime vineyard estates in and around Napa Valley. From rocky, high-elevation soils to the warm, rich valley floor, each incredible vineyard contributes its unique character to this enticing and eminently satisfying Napa Cabernet."

We hold a half dozen vintages of Double Diamond labels sourced from several different vineyards including this from the Mayacamas Range in Sonoma County. All are small limited production releases.

As with much of our wine collecting, we have fun with this label as another whimsical play on names as our daughter-in-law hails from the Diamond family.

Double Diamond (Schrader) "Mayacamas Range" Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 

This 2002 Mayacamas Range release Double Diamond Cabernet got 89-91 points from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

Our last tasting note for this label was back in 2011 when I wrote, "Medium bodied,  - dark berry fruits, blackberry, black raspberry and currant with hints of mocha and cassis with a subdued spicy, moderate tannin finish." Tonight this was similar although the sprites of sweet mocha have given way to more of the notes of smoke and creosote, but this is still enjoyable and holding its own at eighteen years.  

This was ideal with Sunday evening homemade pizza!

Ruby colored, medium bodied, concentrated bright berry and cherry fruits are accented by notes of smoke, creosote, cassis, and spices with firm tangy acidity and a moderate lingering tannin finish. 

RM 89 points.