Saturday, May 30, 2020

Cheese Cheese Cheese for wine pairing

Cheese Cheese Cheese for Wine Pairing

Shut in due to the Coronavirus stay-at-home edict we've been taking advantage of our wine cellar enjoying favorite wines, food, and wine pairings with food and cheeses. We also love cheese and often do simple wine and cheese pairings. We features the wines in these pages but don't often mention or dive into the cheeses. That may change as Linda went out and got a selection of artisan cheeses which we're looking forward to exploring. We'll pay more attention to note the cheeses paired with our wine selections as we go forward.

Stay tuned and check back ....

We're currently holding these cheeses to explore with wine combinations over the coming weeks:

Campo de Montalban Mixed Milk Spain
Carr Valley Billy Blue
Castello Danish Blue
Fair Oaks Farm 11 year old aged Cheddar
Livradios French Morbier
Long Clawson English Blue Shropshire
Black River Gorgonzola
Ciresa Mountain Gorgonzola
Old Amsterdam Gouda
Pico de Queso Cheddar
Yellow Door Creamery Cocoa Fontina 

Wine cheese pairing coming next ... Domain Serene Evensted Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 2000 and 1997

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 2000 and 1997

This classic Aussie Shiraz (aka Syrah), is a single vineyard designated bottling from a well known high volume producer. Rosemount Balmoral Syrah is made from grapes grown in 50-100 year old vineyards. Balmoral Syrah from McLaren Vale in South Central Australia takes its name from the Oatley family homestead, built in 1852. Rosemount Estate was founded in 1974 and had its first release in 1975 and has built a strong Australian and international reputation for producing high-quality wines.This wine was first produced in 1989 initially under the Show Reserve banner but in 1992 it was renamed Balmoral and over the ensuing years become Rosemount's top flagship red wine.

We discovered and started collecting this wine in the mid-nineties and still hold over four cases spanning a decade of vintages from 1992 to 2002. We hold several vintages in the original six-pack cases from several vintages including this 2000 obtained upon release.

The label was Awarded Wine of the Year in Australia in 1998, it won both a Trophy and a Gold medal at the coveted Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011 and again in 2012 and consistently receives 90+ points from Wine Spectator across multiple Balmoral vintages.

Predominantly sourced from the McLaren Vale sub-region of Seaview, this wine is made from premium parcels from carefully selected vineyards (ranging from 50 to 100 years old) that produce tiny quantities of exceptional fruit. The result is a wine that delivers intense depth of flavour, superb length and fine acidity with a soft, velvety tannin structure and is known to be suitable for long term aging.

Following the 2000 vintages wines opened the past few evenings, Linda prepared a homemade pizza and I pulled from the cellar this 2000 vintage Shiraz. The next evening she prepared BBQ ribs and I opened a 1997 vintage release of the same label for a mini-vertical tasting of the label. 

Rosemount Estate Balmoral McLaren Vale South Australia Syrah 2000

I note regularly in these pages that a key to and part of the fun of having a wine cellar collection is to drink a wine over a period of years to witness how that wine ages. This is a testament to that process, for a wine that has longevity and has evolved gracefully over two decades now.

After fermentation the 2000 vintage was racked off its skins and aged for two years, in a 60/40 blend of new French and American oak. 

Consistent with previously reported tasting notes from 2010 and 2012, this 2000 was dark inky purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied. Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry fruits that turn to raisin, tangy black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco turning to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered.

This is a classic Syrah that interestingly is aged two years in American Oak. The winemaker's notes say it should cellar for fifteen or more years. My tasting notes back in 2010 spoke to the full aromatics and flavorful ripe black raspberry, raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar and cedar flavors that turn to an aftertaste of currant and a hint of plum." At ten years of age I noted it was "starting to show age a bit. Drink over next year or so."

In 2012, at twelve years of age, I wrote consistent notes that spoke to revealing the aging effects of this wine... "Dark inky purple color. Medium-full bodied. Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry, raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco that turns to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered. While I gave it a 92 initially on opening, by the end of the night I gave it a 90."

At fifteen years of age, this wine was aging gracefully and still holding its own, aging consistent with earlier notes back in 2010 and 2012 ... this revealed the same tasting and aging profile, consistent with earlier notes. Bright aromatics fill the room upon opening, the same dark inky purple color and medium body persists.

The notes from 2012 reflected this wine seemed frozen in time at this stage of its life, still holding its own and showing no further diminution of aging.
Tonight, at twenty years, it was showing amazing resilience and still holding on, albeit showing some diminution from aging.

This is consistent with other Cellartracker members' where on 1/7/2012 - monkeylug wrote, "drinking well now even though at the end of its window." and then as late as just recently on 11/24/2005 - rkorchid wrote, "there are still slightly dry tannins, so there is plaenty (sic) of life left in this."

Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry fruits that turn to raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco turning to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered.

RM 90 points.

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 1997

This was a good pairing with tangy BBQ ribs.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, "The dark purple colour, is starting to subside to garnet color with a slight hazy brownish hue, full aroma of perfume and fruit - the diminution of fruit continues as this wine is showing its age further with ripe concentrated plum and blackberry and black cherry fruits hanging on but giving way to green bell pepper replacing the ripe raisin fig tones, accented by leather, smoke and a somewhat funky wet wood and  cedar with a touch of vanilla and sweet cherry - tightly wound with a tinge of tight tannins and acid on the subdued fruit finish.'

'These notes from 2014 followed my earlier note in 2013 that said, "Its time to drink up as this '97 which is showing its age as the fruit starts to diminish somewhat.

Looking at Cellartracker tasting notes, one writer reports this vintage still holding on while another says his is over the hill. While past its prime, this was still very much still inside the drinking window." Showing that continued diminution, I would say that while still holding, this is nearing the end of its drinking window."

In 2016, it was written, This was a fitting wine to open on New Year's eve, twenty years beyond release, suitable tasting with festive holiday buffet foods of sausages, ham, olives and avocado dips and cheeses. 

RM 87 points.

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah 2000

Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale South Australia Syrah 2000

The Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah takes its name from the Oatley family homestead, built in 1852. The wine was first produced in 1989 initially under the Show Reserve banner but in 1992 it was renamed Balmoral and has become Rosemount's top red wine. 

Awarded Wine of the Year in Australia in 1998, the grapes for Balmoral Syrah are hand-picked from vines up to 100 years of age, yielding tiny quantities of exceptional fruit. The wine is known for consistently manifesting intense depth of varietal flavour and complex peppery nuances, balanced by a fine acidity and tannin structure. 
After fermentation it is racked off its skins and aged for two years, in a 60/40 blend of new French and American oak. Its inky purple colour is almost impenetrable. 

We hold a decade of vintages of this label dating back to the early nineties. 
Consistent with previously reported tasting notes from 2010 and 2012, this 2000 was dark inky purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied. Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry fruits that turn to raisin, tangy black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco turning to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered.
RM 88 points.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Vintage Napa Cab Trio mark celebration dinner

Trio of Vintage Napa Cabernets - Pride, Robert Craig and Silver Oak mark celebration dinner

For a gala family birthday celebration dinner, I pulled from the cellar some vintage Napa Cabernets to pair with grilled sirloin steak and sea scallops. Between thundershowers we were able to eat on the deck. It was a wonderful gathering of our seven grandkids.

Linda prepared grilled Salmon, chicken breasts and scallops in addition to the grilled sirloin steak. For dessert, Erin prepared a marvelous chocolate cheesecake with coffee crust and fresh berry coulis.

We had left over from the dinner selections the evening before a vintage Napa Cab and a Sauv Blanc. I started out looking to create a mini-horizontal tasting of the 2000 vintage to pair with the 2000 Craig Mt Veeder Cab we had left from last night. Digging through the cellar with son Ryan, we were evaluating a half dozen options when we came upon a selection '95 vintage releases. We opted for the older vintage as part of cellar management as well as just pure exploration. I still hold a half case of Pride Mountain cellars Cabernets from the mid-nineties as well as a broad selection of Silver Oaks from the era, so we pulled one of each.

Testament to the depth and breadth of our cellar, Cellartracker records indicate we have 86 bottles of 46 different labels from the 2000 vintage. Surprisingly, we hold 119 bottles from 41 different labels from the 95 vintage.

Linda prepared grilled sea scallops, salmon and chicken breasts, so, with eight adults drinking, I opened a magnum of Bouchaine Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay.  We also had the remains of the Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc from the night before.

Bouchaine Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2014

Bouchaine claims to be the oldest continually operating winery in Carneros dating back to the first vines planted in the 1880s by local legend Boon Fly. The property has passed through several hands to the current owners Gerret and Tatiana Copeland who purchased the property in 1981. They were among the early planters of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Carneros. 

Located down at the bottom of Carneros near the top of San Pablo Bay, Bouchaine produce about 22,000 cases of wine a year of Chardonnay and Pinots including , Pinot Noir, bright, spritzy Pinot Blanc, melony Pinot Gris and elegant Pinot Meunier, under the leadership of new winemaker Chris Kajani who was hired in 2015.

The Estate Chardonnay comes from 35-year-old vines and Dijon plantings dating to 1996, and more than a dozen blocks; 6,783 cases were produced. It’s 90 percent barrel fermented (15 percent new oak, Hungarian and French), and 10 percent stainless steel.

This release got 92 points from Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

James Suckling-Napa Valley, California- "Orange peel, lemon zest, slate, nectarines and spices. Very understated and pretty on the palate with a medium to full body, reserved but present acidity and a bright finish."

This 2014 Chardonnay Estate is straw golden colored, medium-bodied, notes of orange blossoms, apple tart and lemon meringue, bright, citrus flavors with a hint of oak and a toasty undercurrent, the fresh and elegant, with a wonderful intensity of citrus flavors and long, mineral-laced finish.

RM 90 points.


Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

We still hold several bottles from a case we purchased at the winery during a visit to the estate high atop Spring Mountain above St Helena back in the late nineties.

While past the apex of its drinking window, this is still showing very nicely with sound color, and resolute structure.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, dark, full bodied, firm, the full complex dark blackberry and black currant fruits are starting to give way to leather, mushroom, cedar, tobacco, smoke and earth still showing earlier hints of subtle dark mocha on the full firm lingering tannin finish. Still life left but should be consumed over the next couple of years.

I gave this 91 Points back in 2013 and 90 points in 2009. The Reserve bottling of this vintage got 98 points from Robert Parker and 97 points from Wine Spectator. 

RM 91 points.

Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer founded Silver Oak Cellars in 1972 with the idea of making only one varietal – Cabernet Sauvignon. Meyer was a winemaker for Christian Brothers and Duncan brought his business background to the enterprise. In the nearly fifty years since, Silver Oak became one of the most successful in the state and has developed a cult following of folks who admire Silver Oak’s oak accented polished style of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes blended with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The winery owned 200 acres of vineyards in Alexander Valley and 15 in Napa Valley producing about 50,000 cases a year. Justin Meyer sold his shares of the winery to the Duncan family in 2001, and a second generation of Duncans operated winery operations before selling off their holdings a few years ago. 

We hold a dozen and a half vintages of this iconic label dating back to the birthyear vintages of our kids in '81, '82, '85 and '90, of which we still hold in magnums. We also hold six liter bottles of the single vineyard designated bottling Bonny's Vineyard for son Alec's birthyear vintage, which we'll serve at his wedding this fall. So it is that we often open Silver Oak on special occasions.

Tonight this 1995 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cab was showing its age as the color had taken on a slight browning on the rim and the fruits were starting to give way to some funkiness and earthy notes.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, has a garnet hue with some slight browning at the rim, the black fruits were giving way to aromas of cigar box, leather and herb flavors with notes of cherries and dark chocolate and anise.

RM 88 points.

This release got 94 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate  and 92 points from Wine Spectator.

Parker noted, "given proper cellaring, this wine can be enjoyed now through 2019".

Characterizing notes from Robert Parker, "Critics have argued that the wine does not age particularly well, but that has largely been proven a myth for some vintages. Silver Oak generally is not as long lived as Chateau Montelena, Dunn, or other Napa Cabernets with a 30-40 year aging potential, but they can have a broad window of drinkability, known to be delicious at release, and able to sustain their fruit and character for typically 15 or more years."

Friday, May 22, 2020

Craig Mt Veeder and Lede Sauv Blanc for Surf and Turf Dinner

Robert Craig Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc for Surf and Turf Dinner

For a special celebration dinner at home, Linda prepared beef tenderloin and lobster tails with baked potatoes, salad, hothouse tomatoes and artisan cheeses. I pulled from the cellar two perennial favorite labels to accompany the dinner - Robert Craig Mt Veeder Cabernet and Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc.

I've written often in these pages about our collection of Robert Craig wines dating back three decades across the portfolio of labels, and this being Robert's favorite selection. Tonight, for our celebration dinner, I pulled a twenty year old 2000 vintage release.

To accompany the cheeses and salad, as well as the lobster tail, I opened Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc 2016. We served two of my favorite cheeses, Old Amsterdam Gouda and Gorgonzola.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

This is a mainstay label we keep on hand for such occasions. This is the last of our 2016 vintage collection so we'll move to the 2017 release next time we select this label.

Our visits to the Lede Winery estate in Stags Leap District Napa Valley been a highlight of many of those trips.

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 ...

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 

My Cellartracker records indicate that we have close to four cases of just label spread across a dozen and half vintages dating back to the inaugural release in the mid-nineties. 

Our last tasting of this label was four 1/2 years ago when I wrote, "Showing amazing resilience and vibrancy in its seventeenth year, this is what this wine is supposed to taste like, with all the essential characteristics of a Mt.Veeder appellation Cabernet – dense, generous black fruit integrated with fine, sinewy tangy tannins."

Tonight, while the label was a bit soiled from the cellar, the foil and cork were perfect and the cork came out effortlessly, intact and in perfect form using an ahso two pronged cork puller.

When we lasted tasted this vintage release and posted a tasting note on 12/11/2016, I wrote: "Expansive aromas of bright dark berry fruit emanated from the glass. Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, bright forward ripe black currant fruit tones accented by black raspberry and black berry, spicy oak and anise. The finish features a solid core of black fruit that lengthens and combines with smooth mocha, cedar and cassis for a plush, long-lived finish." 

Tonight's tasting was consistent with that last experience and I note that I did not notice any diminution from aging at twenty years of age, a testament to Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet and quality craftmanship.  I repeat my rating of 91 points that I gave it last time. 

Blend: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc



Saturday, May 16, 2020

Stonestreet Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Stonestreet Sonoma County Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 with French Morbier

I opened this simple, pleasurable light drinking wine before dinner for sipping out on the deck over the course of a delightful spring evening.  

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the purest most natural easy sipping wines which we try to keep on hand for such occasions.

I later opened it to try with some artisan cheeses Linda brought home from the cheese department at the local Mariannos. It proved to be a nice pairing with a French Morbier

Morbier-style cheese comes from the highest part of the Jura Mountains in a small farm village in the Franche-Comté region. It dates back to the 19th century when producers of Comté cheese decided to make a smaller cheese from the day's leftover curd for their own consumption.

Morbier has an ivory colour and is soft and fairly elastic. It is immediately identifiable because of its black layer of tasteless ash, which separates horizontally in the middle. The Soot is thrown on top in order to prevent a rind from occurring.  

This fruity, creamy Livradois is produced from cow's milk, French Morbier cheese matures for 6 weeks before it is ready for sale.

Stonestreet Sonoma County Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015
The Winemaker writes about this label, "This Estate Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of several blocks planted at 900 ft. elevation. It displays everything one would expect from Sauvignon Blanc grown at altitude in rock-driven soils: exotic fruit character grounded by serious textural and structural components." 

The rear label states this was sourced from the Couger Ridge blocks in the Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. It says this was grown, produced and bottled by Stonestreet in Healdsburg. Labeled as Estate means the grapes were sourced from the producer's own vineyards.

Wine Enthusiast wrote, "Stonestreet consistently delivers complex, refreshing renditions of Sauvignon Blanc. Grassy on the nose, with an exotic tease of pea shoot, it seemingly vibrates on the palate with lemon, grapefruit and apricot flavors."

Straw colored, light medium bodied, this was bright notes of pineapple, peach with accents of grapefruit and green apple, hints of passion fruit and pear on the tangy finish.

RM 88 points.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Chateau St. Jean 45th Edition Cabernet

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 45th Anniversary Special Edition

Being somewhat of a sentimentalist, I couldn't resist opting for this 45th Anniversary Special Edition Reserve Chateau St Jean Cabernet Sauvignon, being our 45th anniversary year as well. Another anniversary year wine, the rebrand of Caymus Estate Napa Cab also happens to coincide with our anniversary year.

We've written often in these pages about Chateau St. Jean being one of the crown jewels of Sonoma. It is one of our regular chateau estate tastings in our visits to the Sonoma region.

This special 45th Anniversary Special Edition release celebrates their "legacy of producing terroir driven wines from across the renowned region. Sourced from Alexander Valley, this Cabernet Sauvignon is an elegant yet structured representation of Sonoma County’s premier Cabernet growing region."

I ordered a case of this label upon release but due to the Coronavirus shut-in, just now was able to taste it, since I have been home-bound and this was delivered to my office downtown Chicago six weeks ago.

Tonight, we opened this in a mini anniversary celebration, rejoicing our survival in coping being shut-in together during these surreal and crazy circumstances in this, our 45th year.

This release got 94 points from James Suckling and Antonio Galloni's Vinous, and 91 points from Natalie.

James Suckling said this 'needs two or three years to soften. Try after 2022. Best from 2020 through 2030.' I agree, it was a bit tight, closed and flabby on initial opening, and will hopefully come together with a few more years aging. Antonio Galloni wrote, the "floral and savory aromas open up over time", and we found it needed time to open and in fact, was better the next day, after sitting open for the evening. 

The fruit was sourced from several vineyard sites throughout the Alexander Valley where Cabernet Sauvignon grows best including some of St. Jean’s traditional sources: Asti Vineyard, Stuhlmuller Vineyard as well as Belle Terre vineyard.  

Chateau St Jean winemaker Margo Van Staaveren writes: "The 2015 growing season was one of outstanding quality marked with ideal weather for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. The continuation of California’s drought brought a dry winter followed by a dry and early spring with an early bud break. Weather was warm and consistent throughout late spring and summer which allowed for full development in the grapes. We began picking the grapes in September, and while overall yields were low, the quality and depth of flavor of the fruit was excellent." 

The wine was barreled aged in 60% French and 40% American Oak barrels for 20 months of oak aging. This wine was bottled in August of 2017 and received another 6 months of bottle age prior to its release on January 1, 2018, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the famed winery.  

Natalie writes,"Dramatic differences in day and night time temperatures gives this Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, juicy fruit flavours of cassis, smoke, anise and dried sweet tobacco. Decant for one hour prior to pouring."

The Winemaker's Tasting Notes; "Deep ruby in color, this Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a huge amount of blueberry, plum, and violets on the nose, with oak spices shining through. On the palate, blue fruit flavors combine with cassis and plum to create a very deep berry and fruit profile. The wine finishes with strong oak spice supported by the tannic structure. Very drinkable with a strong acidity complementing the tannins and fruit flavors. Drink now, or cellar for up to 15 years."

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, black berry and black currant fruits with notes of dark mocha chocolate, cassis, smoke, anise, black tea and tobacco.

Natalie suggested pairing this Cabernet Sauvignon with "grilled portobello mushroom, lamb Bolognese, or grilled New York strip loin." We did, ordering in curb-side carry out from Angelis Italian, our neighborhood trattoria, I had the grilled portabella mushrooms along with Bolognese sauce.

RM 91 points.

Chateau St. Jean Website - 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Fortress Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

For mid-week sipping, I pulled from the cellar this Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon from Fortress, which, I admit, I don't recall purchasing or even ever having seen this label before.

Upon further research, I learn this is one of the many numerous brands and labels from the Jackson Family Wines, crafted by Fortress head winemaker Susan Lueker who specializes in Bordeaux varietals for the Kendall-Jackson brand.

Originally from Arkansas, Susan Lueker grew up on a family farm but set out to be a scientist, studying Chemistry and Medical Child Development at the University of Missouri, then, working at the renowned Johns Hopkins University pursuing a graduate degree.

Seeking more balance in her career, returning to her farming roots, more in line with her interests in nature, Susan transferred to the University of California, Davis, where she took her first Enology class and fell in love with the vineyards and the winemaking process.

After graduating with a degree in Viticulture and Enology, she took a job in winemaking at Sonoma Valley’s small-production Hacienda Winery where she gained valuable hands-on experience. We visited Hacienda during one of early visits to Sonoma back in the nineties.

Susan continued to hone her skills at Dry Creek Vineyards before joining Simi winery, where she spearheaded all winemaking efforts for almost two decades. In 2019, Susan moved to Jackson Family Wines as the head winemaker for Fortress, capitalizing on her 25 years of expertise and experience in Sonoma County winemaking. She is looking to craft wines that are complex, balanced, and food-friendly.

Susan lives in Healdsburg with her Chef husband, their two dogs, and two cats. She enjoys foods that pair well with wines, watching sports and exercise.

Fortress Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This release is sourced from the Alexander Valley AVA, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale AVA and the Mendocino Ridge AVA. 

It is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec and 9% Merlot.

The rear label says it was aged in "100% Small Barrels, 50% French Oak."

It is available in distribution at under $20 for an everyday casual drinking wine.

It is written that "Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon delivers aromas of dark fruit, mocha and baking spices on the nose. The palate exhibits well integrated tannins that complement the subtle earthy flavors of pomegranate, blackberry and sweet pipe tobacco. With a rich, opulent mouth feel, Fortress is an approachable wine with a silky, lush finish."

The Tasting Panel-Sonoma County, California - "Ripe berry aromas; lush and smooth texture with dense flavors of chocolate as well as ripe plum and boysenberry. Rich, chewy, and long with spice and depth."

Upon opening, I found this uninspiring and a bit obtuse. I put it away for the night and tried it again the next day it was much better.  Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, black berry fruit punctuated by a layer of dark mocha chocolate, with notes of black tea, spice and tobacco.

RM 87 points.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 94 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 94 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

I've written often in these pages the Ninety-Plus Cellars story with their negociant wines or surplus wines acquired and private labeled, often at high QPR below market prices. They offer a broad selection of labels from the wine regions around the world, often at great value. Occasionally, they offer extraordinary wines at affordable prices for everyday drinking.

When I acquired this label, I hoped this might be such a selection but tonight it was uninspiring and leaving much to be desired while shut-in due to the Coronavirus isolation. Holding some to retry the next day, it was more approachable and enjoyable the following day.

The Ninety-Plus approach started in 2009 when founder Kevin Mehra set out to bring higher quality wine to the market for a better price. He reached out to producers with a history of high ratings asking if they had wine for sale. While some told him to get lost, he found several that had excess inventory, or had some that did not meet their standards for their premium flagship label. Rather than diminish their brand, they agreed to put their wine behind the Ninety-Plus 'private' label, and sell it for less.

Those with excess inventory were willing to part with a certain percentage of their production for a reduced price, rather than discount their wine and erode the value of their brand. It was a win/win scenario. Wineries got to sell more wine, and consumers got access to better wine at lower prices.

Head wine buyer, Brett Vankoski continues to seek out the best opportunities in the market and turn those into great values. Each wine source is anonymized and identified or referred to as a "Lot" number, so as to provide continuity for a particular source from vintage to vintage.

Since availability of a Ninety-Plus label or Lot # is often due to excess supply or other reasons, one cannot expect, or depend on a particular Lot being available year after year. Such is the case of one particular favorite that we found and enjoyed. Despite buying up all we could find in the marketplace, we have not seen a return of the Lot 101 Syrah from Columbia Valley. At the time, the label specified simply '250 cases'. Interestingly it didn't say produced. How many cases were sold under some other, perhaps well known, perhaps higher priced label? We'll likely never know.

labelWine collectors understand the axiom of pricing wine for the occasion ... every day wines, once a week wines, once a month wines and once in a lifetime or special occasion wines. Only the privileged few need not worry about budgets or costs of their beverage choice du jour.

We've been enjoying a lot of great wines during our sequestration and sought a more moderate priced selection for this weeknight.

Lot 94 is part of the Ninety-Plus Cellars' popular Collector's Series wine brand. It is a full-bodied Napa Cab from highly-regarded vineyard sites in the distinguished Rutherford AVA, a good value when compared to the Napa Cabs produced from such sites.   

When I last tasted this last fall I rated this 90 Points and wrote, "The 2017 is a top flight Cabernet, sophisticated, complex and enjoyable for early gratification, drinking now, and may likely improve further with 2 to 5 years of aging or more as it is not equal to the 2015 which was a bit better integrated and polished."

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

While I echo the negociant's (Ninety Plus Cellars) tasting notes on this release: "Deep crimson in color with lavish aromas of black currant, mocha, and savory herbs with trailing notes of tobacco and vanilla. Full-bodied and well-rounded with soft edges and a lively dose of bright cherry fruit that unfolds into a smooth finish," this lacked balance and polish I hoped for pleasant high QPR everyday sipping. The fruits were a bit obtuse and forward with a somewhat flabby less approachable profile.

RM 88 points.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Nina Lee Spring Valley Syrah 2015

Nina Lee Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Syrah 2015

We just received our supplemental wine club allocation from Spring Valley Vineyards. 'Supplemental' meaning that we added an additional two cases to our normal shipment - a mix of five Spring Valley labels, Uriah Red Blend, Frederick Red Blend, Sharilee Petit Verdot, Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc and Nina Lee Syrah. As I've chronicled in these pages, each label is named for an ancestral family member dating back to patriarch founder Uriah Corkrum. Nina Lee was his son Frederick's wife, a vaudeville actress that he met while she visited Walla Walla and performed at the local theatre on a North American tour back in the 1920's.

Our visit to the ranch and picturesque vineyards, and meeting owner Dean Derby were highlights of our Walla Walla Wine Experience in the fall of 2018. We first tasted this release of this label in the tasting room in town during that visit.

Normally, we would stage these in the cellar to settle and age a few years before tasting, opting to drink older or oldest vintages first as part of cellar management. Tonight, we opted to try this current release vintage, still in the shipper, not yet deposited to the cellar.

We prepared a medley of cheeses and fresh fruits to accompany some roast beef and caprese salad for pairing with one of our favorite varietals from a favorite producer and one of my favorite wine friendly cheeses, Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda.

Nina Lee Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Syrah 2015
The 2015 release of Nina Lee is a blend of 99% Syrah and 1% Viognier, aged 19 months in 100% French oak, 30% new.

This was rated 93 Points by and Jeb Dunnuck. It was awarded 92 points by International Wine Report.

Upon opening the black fruit aromas permeated the room, the dark inky purple color is most apparent, medium-full bodied, rich concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits are accented by smoke, black tea, notes of olive tapenade,  pepper, spice, and hint of dark mocha with a long earthy finish. Needs some time to settle and integrate a bit further, give it a couple of years cellar aging to reach its prime.

RM 91 points pop and pour. 92 points the next day ... and chilled.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Cabernet 2004

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

As the Coronavirus shut-in continues, we ordered in, curbside carryout from our local neighborhood trattoria, Angelis Italian

I ordered veal marsala and for pairing with it's brown sauce, I pulled from the cellar an old stand-by from one of our favorite producers, Robert Craig Napa Valley Affinity 2004.

As I have written numerous times in these pages, we've been collecting this wine since its' inaugural vintage in 1993 and we still hold several cases spread across almost two dozen vintages. 

Crafted to provide a sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price with early gratification, Affinity defies this approach with its age worthiness, as this tasting testifies. 

This label was also understated in another way, it is actually a Bordeaux Blend and contains the other Bordeaux varietals. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Craig vineyards and contract sources throughout Napa Valley. Robert used to refer to it as "three mountains and a Valley", referring to their vineyards and sources on Howell Mountain, Mt Veeder, Atlas Peak, Mt George, and the valley floor. According to the rear label, this 2004 Affinity release was 'sourced from the Tulocay estate in southern Napa Valley, blended with Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from exceptional vineyards in Napa Valley'. As was often the case, the specifics of blend was not specified. 

R & L with Robert Craig
at Harvest Party
We may hold more Robert Craig wine in our cellar than any other producer. We've been fans of Robert Craig since the early nineties. We've been to many events at the winery as well as several private functions with Robert, his wife Lynn, and former hospitality and wine club ambassador, Rachel, and various members of the Craig team.   

I remember Robert Craig exclaiming his love for this label and how proud he was to hold it to an affordable pricepoint to introduce consumers to Robert Craig wines. I've written recently that in recent years, as Robert and Lynn turned over the reigns to new management, and the recent passing of Robert, this label has crept up in price significantly and is now priced where their premium labels used to be. Never-the-less, it provides good value and quality drinking both early and yet also stands up to aging.

Six years ago I wrote, "This ten year old 2004 remains consistent with earlier tasting notes, deep dark purple inky color, the ripe berry fruit aromatics, full body, ripe berry fruit, accented by a undercurrent of caramel are starting to give way to a layer of anise, tobacco, leather and firm full tannins on the long fruit filled finish."  

Tonight, at sixteen years of age, this release may be at the apex of its drinking window and is as good as ever.  In an earlier tasting when I wrote, "Tasted from a 375 ml split. In this smaller format, it may be starting to show its age," I attribute that to perhaps a combination of bottle variation and the smaller format which ages less gracefully.

RM 90 points, increased a point from past tastings.