Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hungry Blond Napa Chardonnay Fantesca Napa Cabernet

 Hungry Blond Napa Chardonnay and Fantesca Napa Cabernet for surf and turf dinner

Newlyweds Sean and Michelle joined us for an intimate dinner Linda prepared, serving lobster tails with cheese pasta and grilled tenderloin beef steaks. I pulled from our cellar two fun, special bottles of wine to commemorate the occasion, Hungry Blond Chardonnay and Fantesca Napa Cabernet.

Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay 2016
This Hungry Blonde is the last bottle of several we special ordered last year. It was one of our favorite drinking everyday Chardonnays, a fun label to serve celebrating our two blonde daughters-in-law.

We discovered this wine from the winelist at Fiora Restaurant in Geneva during a lunch outing there last year during a pleasant summer afternoon outing. Interestingly, Sean now works out of an office nearby and walks past Fiora which lies between his office and the local trainstop on days he visits the office. 
At the time, I wrote about Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay and how we liked it so much we went out and bought all the remaining inventory in local merchants, then special ordered more of this label, the then new vintage release.

"We love the distinctive taste profile of this full bodied, forward fruit filled Chardonnay. "There's 2000 cases of the 2015 Chardonnay Hungry Blonde, and it's one seriously good Chardonnay.  It's the real deal and will keep for 5+ years. At 30 bucks it's a killer value." He gave it 94 points."

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

Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Carneros Chardonnay 2016

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

According to Wine Country Connection, Hungry Blonde is made by the well known Napa producer Cary Gott. The fruit comes from the Poe Vineyard, which sits adjacent to the world renowned Hyde Vineyard. Larry Hyde’s HDV Chardonnay, sells for $60.
Straw colored, full bodied, a rich concentrated buttery flavors that resemble butterscotch, notes of vanilla, oak and citrus fruits, stone fruit and white flowers. 

RM 91 points. 

Continuing the theme for the
occasion, we served this whimsically named Napa Cab, another fun tribute to our new daughter-in-law. 
The elegant upscale Fantesca packaging and branding features etched and painted weighty bottles each explaining the namesake Fantesca. 
The name of the winery comes from a character in the Italian comedy troupe that inspired Cirque Du Soleil. La Fantesca was the single female character in the early theatrical performances of Commedia dell’Arte. Both the lover and the equal of the protagonist, Harlequin, Fantesca could always be counted on to charm the audience. Owners, Duane and Susan Hoff write that "when we heard Fantesca described as ”Sexy, Smart, and Unpretentious,” we knew we had found a name worth living up to."'
We first met owner/producer Dwayne Hoff when we hosted him in our home during his promotion tour to Chicago shortly after acquiring the Spring Mountain Estate. 
Fantesca Estate and Winery, Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

Fantesca Napa Valley,
Spring Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon
Etched glass, painted bottle.
(2006 shown)
Medium-full bodied, dark garnet color; complex but smooth and polished with bright forward fruits of black currant, dark berry and cherry, accented by sweet dark chocolate, a hint of cassis, and a tone of spice on the lingering refined tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

As always, this was the blockbuster hit of the evening, a great complement to grilled beef tenderloin steaks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Château Clinet Ronan 2016

Château Clinet Ronan Bordeaux (Merlot) 2016

I was intrigued when I saw this label in the local Binny's, Chicagoland's wine and beverage super store. We are big fan's of Château Clinet and have gotten to know Owner/Producer Ronan Laborde from the many UGCB annual release tour tastings in Chicago. Last year, he took over as President of the UGCB.  

Fellow Wine Buddy and Pour Boy Ernie S visited the Chateau during his tour of the Right Bank several years ago.

Château Clinet is one of our favorite Right Bank Bordeaux selections that we hold in our cellar dating back two decades and more.  I was confident he wouldn't affix his name to a lackluster or disappointing effort. Moreover, at a sub-twenty dollar price-point, its a safe bet as a must try. 

I picked up a bottle and brought it home and tasted it with BBQ ribs that happened to be on order for the evening. Wow, run don't walk to your local wineshop to pick up a few bottles to try for some interesting, casual, or even exotic sipping. 

I had never seen this label before and was intrigued, rightfully so by the discovery. The anticipation was heightened by the branding and packaging with the label being visually similar to the winemaker produced Michel Rolland Napa Valley Cabernet that I recently discovered and purchased. The MR Napa Cab, like the flagship Château Clinet, at a $175 pricepoint, are at the opposite end of the price spectrum, resulting in tremendous QPR - (quality price ratio) for this label.

When I researched it further, I was surprised to learn this label been around since being introduced in 2009, and has established itself as a great-value Merlot, especially considering the pedigree of the legendary world famous winemaker Michel Rolland, the 'Master of Merlot', and Château Client team. 

Château Clinet Ronan Bordeaux (Merlot) 2016

The 2016 label says it is 100% Merlot. Other releases have been noted to be Merlot based with some amounts of Cabernet Franc. Wine pundit Jeb Dunnuck, who gave this 91 points in his review, writes that this Merlot-dominated 2016 by Clinet contains 5% Cabernet Franc.

One reviewer wrote, "From the same 100-point Pomerol powerhouse team behind the famed $150+ Château Clinet, the 2016 Ronan by Clinet was already one of the best values in Bordeaux at its regular $30 price."

Upon initial opening this was a bit flabby and obtuse but after an hour it settled and actually took on an interesting profile. This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied with black currant and plum fruits accented by an intriguing, almost exotic floral layer with herbs, truffle and notes of bittersweet dark chocolate with tongue puckering lingering tangy tannins and aromatics on the finish.  Great value in an everyday sipper!

RM 88 points.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Conway Deep Sea Napa Cab 2009

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Selecting a pizza wine, for sipping with Friday night pizza, I pulled from the cellar this ten year old entry level Napa Cab. Its been four days short of exactly four years since I last tasted and posted a tasting note about this label. At that time I wrote that it had been a year ago that week, that I wrote in these pages about Conway Family Wines sending me a kind note from them about my post. At that time, I had just opened their wine for a casual weekend evening of wine, fruit and cheese.

As I have written before in these pages, I found and obtained this wine downstate Illinois at the wine merchant Friar Tucks. I tasted it and then went back and bought more. Previously, I found this producer's Syrah and went back and bought more, twice, ending up buying out their entire stock. After buying out this Cabernet, I returned to the same retailer again later and discovered they had another case on the shelves which I acquired and shared with a colleague. Such it is with these wine finds.

Based on the earlier tasting experience with this wine, we only consumed only half the bottle the first evening we opened it and found the remainder of the bottle when revisited the next evening was as good or even better than it was initially. Such it is with hearty well structured wines of a half dozen years of age. This was the same as the notes from my earlier tasting experience, when we opened re-opened it, it improved upon revisiting the following day!

Here are my notes from the previous but similar tasting of this wine, earlier this year.

Earlier I wrote that one should consider this a Negociant wine since, according to the wine producer, it is sourced from a "number of the finest, well regarded vineyards within Napa AVA’s of Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, with each one contributing their unique characteristics to our blend".

According to the producer's release, "the dark fruit notes along with distinctive and pleasant chalky sagebrush notes greet your nose at first. This Cabernet has as plush an entry as we’ve seen in a lot of years. A round, soft, mouth filling wine that shows a smooth backbone of tannins and balanced acidity. The finish wraps up nicely with a lingering reminder of the mature dark fruits, ever so slight a hint of new oak, and the ever present palette of flavors that make Cabernet so sought after!"

This has incredible QPR - quality price ratio, at its price point below $20. The wine producer lists it at $39. 

As with earlier tastings, reported on earlier, this was dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, full fruit forward black berry and black cherry fruits with a layer of smoke, spice and hints of graphite and tea, turning to tones of sweet mocha, almost caramel like, with nice balance and smooth polished tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Robert Biale Royal Punishers and Dalila Sicilia White Blend

Robert Biale "Royal Punishers" Pettite Sirah and Dalila - Viognier Grillo Blend for Angeli's Italian Dinner

Our whacky govenor is espousing shutting down restaurants again in Northern Illinois so we made a point to dine out at Angelis' Italian, our local Italian trattoria in case we're prohibited from doing so in the near future. I took BYOB from our cellar this hearty Napa Valley Petite Sirah for the occasion. It was ideal with our dinner entrees, especially the Veal Marsala with its hearty brown sauce, and the seasonal butternut squash gnocci. 

We also ordered from the Angeli's wine list this interesting unique Italian white blend from Sicily. Both wines were sensational with this one an ideal accompaniment to the steamed mussels, Linda's Seared Ahi tuna, and the daily special, Angeli's Jalapena Gnocci. 

Stemmari Dalila Sicilia Viognier Grillo DOC Blend 2016

This wine finds its way to the Angeli's winelist as a result of owner Tony Angeli having visited the winery estate during his visit to the region a couple years ago. 
This wine is from the Stemmari winery located in the town of Acate in the Ragusa province of Sicily located in south eastern Sicily. The winery has 1,700 acres in two estates along the south coast of Sicily, one in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Agrigento province and the other in Acate in the province of Ragusa.
The vast Stemmari brand has a broad portfolio of wines include single varietals like nero d’avola, chardonnay, pinot grigio, moscato, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and even a sparkling grillo. They offer a few blends including this Dalila wine.

This unique blend is comprised of the Sicilian varietal Grillo and the international Viognier, native to the French Rhone River valley. The local indigenous wine grape "grillo" – which means "cricket" in Italian. This Sicilian white wine is composed of 80 percent grillo and 20 percent viognier.  
The interesting branding of music as a metaphor for the harmonizing of the two elegant varietals in the Dalila blend with musical notes on the label and on the bottle foil.

This was sensational and a very pleasant surprise discovery. Its available at a price point that provides great QPR - Quality Price Ratio

Straw colored, medium-full bodied, nicely balanced acidity and smooth mouthfeel with intense, bright vibrant, nicely integrated tropical fruits with notes of pear and hints of peach, apricot and citrus with tones of vanilla, floral and stone fruits with character and profile of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

RM 91 points.

Robert Biale Petite Sirah Royal Punishers 2013

Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa Valley dates back to the 1930s when the Biale family grew Zinfandel grapes and other produce, selling the grapes to local wineries, saving some for their own wine production. During prohibition, to obfuscate their banned trade selling bottles of illicit homemade Zinfandel, they would refer to their dark fruit filled wines as "Black Chickens" over his party line phone service.

Biale Winery was formally founded in 1991 when Aldo Biale and his son Robert formed a partnership with winemaker Al Perry and wine salesman Dave Pramuk. Their initial product was Zinfandel, eventually adding Petite Sirah grown on their 25 acres in Napa Valley.  

Despite its popularity, the Petite Sirah grape is somewhat rare with less than 10,000 acres planted worldwide, with the bulk of that in California. In France, the grape is referred to as Durif. Not to be confused with Syrah, Petite Sirah is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin. The result is darker and fuller.

In Napa Valley, the market has turned to Cabernet Sauvignon and other French varieties leaving Zinfandel as a rare varietal comprising less that 3% of the valley's grape production.

The inaugural wine production was a quantity of 400 cases produced from 8 acres of old non-irrigated low-yielding vines called "Aldo's Vineyard." Today, Bob Biale, Dave Pramuk, and winemaker Steve Hall specialize in a broad portfolio of twenty Zinfandel labels each representing the terroir driven personalities of their property with some of the oldest vineyards in America.

Biale Zinfandel is produced in a distinctive style utilizing intensive old world Burgundian methodology from vineyard to barrel to bottle and are recognized as one of the top Zinfandel producers in America.

In addition to Zinfandel, Biale also is recognized for producing blockbuster and ageworthy red wines from other California varietals – Petite Sirah, plus small lots of Syrah, Sangiovese, Barbera, Rhone blends, and Sauvignon Blanc.

This bottle exceeded my expectations for a big fruit forward sipper. It got 95 points from  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 92 points from Wine Spectator noting it as "Highly Recommended".

Robert Parker calls it "stunning, almost off-the-charts richness, and a killer finish of nearly a minute."

It was aged in 30% new French oak for 17 months prior to bottling

Dark inky black/purple color, full bodied, rich concentrated, dense juicy ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruits, floral and spices with hints of tea turning to a long chewy polished tannin finish. 

RM 93 points.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reignac Bordeaux Supérieur 2005

Reignac Bordeaux Supérieur 2005

For casual mid-week sipping with some artisan cheeses and fruits, this fifteen year old Bordeaux Supérieur that tasted like a five year old, not showing any signs of aging.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate liked this release and gave it 93 point. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points, it got 88-90 points from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.   

This is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is from fruit sourced from a large 200-acre vineyard on a high plateau in the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation near the village of Saint-Loubès.

Same with earlier tasting notes three years ago, this is dark inky blackish garnet, medium full bodied, firm structured tannic laced black berry and black cherry fruits with notes of tobacco, leather, graphite, spice box, anise, cedar with big, ripe, dusty tannins on a long lingering finish.

RM 90 points.



93 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

  From a large 200-acre vineyard, this blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a high plateau near the village of Saint-Loubès. A consistently over-achieving wine that is far superior to its humble appellation (Bordeaux Supérieur), the 2005 may be one of the all-time great Reignacs. Inky purple, almost black to the rim, the wine looks like a two-year-old rather than one that’s already hit a decade. Proprietors Yves and Stephanie Vatelot have turned out a superlative effort in this vintage that is cru classé quality. Dense crème de cassis, some graphite, spice box and cedar wood are all present in this full-bodied, super-concentrated, and remarkably impressive Reignac that has terrific purity, texture and length. Drink it over the next decade. (RP)  (6/2015)

90 points Wine Spectator

  There's a good smoky prune note on the nose, with lots of floral and mineral nuances. Has loads of fruit on the palate, with an interesting fresh tangerine note that comes through. Full-bodied and supersilky, with a long finish. Best after 2012. (JS)  (3/2008)

88-90 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar  Good full medium ruby. Expressive aromas of black raspberry, tobacco, smoky oak and earth (30% of this wine was fermented in barriques Fat, layered and sweet, with very good depth of blackberry, bitter chocolate and licorice flavor. Impressively broad and full-bodied for a Bordeaux Superieur. Finishes with big, ripe, palate-dusting tannins, a kick of black licorice and very good length


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Trio of Clarendon Hills labels - Astralis, Bakers Gully and Romas

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Shiraz 2003

After drinking the Clarendon Hills Astralis at the gala Pour Boys tomahawk ribeye wine dinner last weekend, for midweek meatloaf dinner I pull from the cellar another Clarendon Hills label, this aged single vineyard syrah-shiraz, Baker's Gully Syrah. At seventeen years, this bottle is past its prime and its time to drink while it is still within its drinking window. This is the final bottle of several that I obtained more than a dozen years ago. On my last tasting note of this label, three years ago, I wrote it was past its drinking window and starting to show its age. Ideally, I wouldn't finished consuming the remaining bottles rather than waiting three years to consume this final bottle as it has diminished linearly over that time. 

Clarendon Hills winery was founded in 1990 by Roman Bratasiuk in Clarendon, a town 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Adelaide, part of the McLaren Vale Wine Region in South Australia. Bratasiuk, a viticulturalist as much as a winemaker, selected Clarendon as a base because of the significant number of old vine vineyards that were planted there, vineyards of 50 to 90 years.

The township of Clarendon was established in 1880 by European migrants, who brought with them pre-clonal, original French vine cuttings that they planted and propagated across the surrounding hilltops. Clarendon is home to hugely varied terrain with sandy, clay based soils in the lower elevated regions and contrasted with shattered shale and ironstone rich, quartz ridden soils in the highest areas. It is ideal growing conditions for traditional French Rhone varietals - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre as well as Bordeaux varietals Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Clarendon Hills vineyards sources lie within the Clarendon, Blewitt Springs and Kangarilla districts. Using single vineyard designated fruits, Clarendon Hills seeks to express terroir driven varietal expression in its wines. 

Today, there are many single vineyard wines in Australia, but when Roman started in 1990, he was a pioneer in this approach. In the early 1990s, Roman started becoming known for his Grenache, but today he has an extensive portfolio of premium and ultra premium quality wines across 19 single vineyard cuvee labels. 

With the release of the 1994 vintage. Roman hired his first employee and rebranded his $30 Clarendon Hills Shiraz as 1994 Clarendon Hills Astralis. It was the first bottle in Australia to be priced at $100. It sold out and became his signature flagship label which remains to this day.  

Robert Parker has written that  "Clarendon Hills is one of the worlds elite wine estates".  In 1996,   Parker tasted the 1994 Astralis and wrote in his newsletter, Wine Advocate issue 110: "This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds’ Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange," and in issue 108 (1996) he named Roman wine producer of the year. Thereafter, Astralis became a cult wine.
Two vintages of Astralis (1996 and 1994) were recently included within the 'Greatest 1000 Wines of all time 1727-2006" as a result of 15 international MW's collaborating with Scandinavian publisher FINE. 
Clarendon Hills was awarded New World Winery of the Year in 2006 by Wine Enthusiast. To date, Astralis is either the highest or equivocally scored as the best Australian Shiraz/Syrah based wine every year according to US publications Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.
Today, Clarendon Hills produces broad portfolio of nineteen labels; eight Syrah, six Grenache, three Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot and Mourvedre wine. Roman exclusively produces single vineyard wines, all single vineyard, single varietal wines, produced from low yielding, dry grown old vines which are hand pruned, hand picked. All wines are aged in high quality French oak barriques.  

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Shiraz 2003

This Baker's Gully label was produced to be an entry level wine targeted at the restaurant trade which found the Clarendon Hills Old Vines range too pricey for some wine lists. This also provided an introduction to Clarendon Hills wines to a broader customer base.  
The Bakers Gully vineyard from which this label is sourced, is located approximately 1 km from the winery. Bratasiuk has been looking at this site for a few years, which consists of 10 year old dry grown Shiraz. The cropping levels are at the higher end of the quality status at 3 ½ tonnes per acre. Roman believes that over a period of 2-5 years the yields will be reduced to 2-2 ½ tonnes per acre. The soil profile is similar to those of another popular well known vineyard/label, Liandra, with sandy and clay soils which are typical of Blewitt Springs. The wine is aged in 15% new oak consisting of a mixture French Allier and Nevers.

Over the years we've had and still hold several labels from this producer including the flagship, premium Astralis that we consumed last weekend at our gala Pour Boys dinner. My actual favorite label from this producer, and perhaps most memorable drinking experiences is their Piggott Range Syrah. My experience is that those labels were always vastly exceeding this label. Lastly, we hold and recently tasted their Romas Grenache varietal label. It was underwhelming to the extent that I did not publish a review at that time. I'll wrap that up at the bottom of this post.

At this writing, the Baker's Gully still holds its dark inky garnet color and full bodied concentrated fruits, but a slight earthy leathery funk has set in with notes of a slight burnt note that was described a decade ago but a fellow cellartracker reviewer, offset by a raisin tones and a bit of a cognac alcohol heat tone. Satisfactory sipping as it nears end of life. 
RM 86 points.

Clarendon Hills Romas Clarendon Grenache 2007

Last week I opened this Clarendon Hills Romas Vineyard Grenache. This is Clarendon Hill's top Grenache, sourced from the Romas Vineyard, which sits in the tenderloin/best part of the more famous Blewitt Springs Vineyard.

The vineyard was planted in 1920 with the 'Romas Grenache' in the steepest, most elevated section. What makes this site special is its elevation of almost 1000 ft and its proximity to the ocean, which sits only a few miles away.  The hillside site in some places reaches above a +40˚ slope gradient where the old vines struggle to survive on a steep rock hill face with yields a microscopic 1.2 ton to the acre.The elevation and slope combined with the proximity to the ocean results in a cooler-climate site and not prone to producing the ‘jammy’, ‘porty’ styles of Aussie Grenache so popular from the broader area, rather, this wine is more like wines from the north side of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied with strong nose of cherry liqueur, ultra ripe raisiny berry and strawberry fruits are accented with an offsetting medicinal glycerin and high alcohol tone, with notes of oak, clove and mineral.

RM 84 points.


Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

For a quiet casual saturday evening in, we prepared a plate of artisan cheeses, fruits, charcuterie and popcorn, actually Linda's signature maple/caramel corn, we pulled from the cellar one of our favorite sipping wines for such an occasion, Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Two stand-out cheeses that are emerging as favorites are Delice-de-Bourgnogne creamy light brie, and hearty firmly structured Old Amsterdam Gouda, orange in color and grainy textured - two diverse styles that are both nice complements to this wine. 

This is a go-to wine that we keep in the cellar, vintage to vintage, when we drink an older bottle, we'll replace it with the recent currently available release so that we always have some available. Its great for casual pleasurable sipping, but also sophisticated accompaniment to seafood, or white meats as well as salads and some desserts. 

The primary vineyard source is located in eastern Rutherford, consisting of old vines planted to a heritage Musqué clone and Sémillon, providing density, richness, and citrus notes. Two other old-vine vineyards from up in Calistoga are included in the blend, one planted to Sauvignon Blanc and the other to Sémillon. Also included are grapes from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, imparting vibrant acidity and finesse to the wine. Finally, a vineyard in over the hill just east of Napa Vally in Chiles Valley, a small vineyard pocket in eastern Napa County,  adds complexity with old vines of Sauvignon Vert planted in 1947. 

This label release got 92 points from the Tasting Panel and from Wilfred Wong of, 89 points from Wine Spectator.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes of this label back in 2018, this was light straw colored, light bodied, this vintage is more subdued and muted than recent vintages with moderate pear flavored fruit punctuated by citrus and grapefruit with only a slight hint of that peach flavor so predominate in some past years that reveals itself after a half hour or so from opening. 

RM 88 points.




Thursday, October 15, 2020

Del Dotto Napa Vineyard 887 - Pirouette 2016

Long Shadows, Vintners' Series, Pirouette Columbia Valley Red Wine 2016 and Del Dotto Napa Valley Vineyard 887 St. Helena Connoiseur's Series Colbert French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Following our gala Pour Boys tomahawk ribeye wine dinner last weekend, we regroup and visited Dr Dan and Linda at their Indiana home. After further researching the Chateau Boswell Estate Red Wine that Dan brought and served at our dinner, I realized this was a Pillippe Melka crafted wine. On further review, I found that another Pillippe Melka wine, that we hold in our cellars, Long Shadows Vintners Series Pirouette, is a similar blend and from the same vintage, also, that got the same rating from the wine reviewer pundits. 

While Chateau Boswell is Napa Valley fruits and Pirouette is Columbia Valley, Washington State fruits, based on the other similarities I thought it would be interesting and fun to taste and compare the two labels. Hence, I took from our cellar the 2016 Pirouette to taste with our dinner. 

Prior to dinner, Linda served a selection of artisan cheeses. We brought what has become one of our absolute favorites, creamy Delice de Bourgogne.  

For dinner, Dan and Linda served kabobs of beef, chicken, green peppers and onion, salad and Linda's signature chili. They also served three cheese stuffed peppers and grilled tomatoes stuff with cheese and spinach.

Long Shadows, Vintners' Series, Pirouette Columbia Valley Red Wine 2016

We discovered and acquired this wine during our visit to the Long Shadows tasting room in Woodinville during our Washington State Wine Experience in 2018. 

Considering that the Napa Valley Chateau Boswell and Long Shadows Columbia Valley Pirouette are from two disparate wine regions, there was a remarkable similarity in the tasting profile and character of the two wines - indications of the effects of the winemaker's influence in the final product. 

Remarkably, the Pirouette costs a fraction of the Boswell, a tribute to the Long Shadows project, and the high QPR - Quality Price Ratio value afforded to Columbia Valley wines. 

This vintage release is a Bordeaux Blend of 68% Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, Petit Verdot (8%), Cabernet Franc (6%) and Malbec (3%). It was fermented in barrel and aged 22 months in 75% new oak.

This received 97 points from reviewer Jeb Dunnuck, 93 points from Wine & Spirits, 91 from Wine Enthusiast and 90 points, a Cellar Selection from Wine Spectator James Suckling. 

The Pirouette shared the same dark purple garnet color, medium-full body and black currant and black raspberry fruits. It was accented with blue fruit notes, cinnamon and clove spices, hints of tobacco and graphite with firm but approachable tannins on a long lingering finish. 

The Pirouette was more firm, concentrated and firmly structured than was the Boswell. From my tasting notes and blogpost, we tasted the remains of Boswell two days later at which time it was softer, smoother, more sensuous and balanced. We didn't have the benefit of a follow on comparison of the Pirouette two days later, but will perhaps do so in a future tasting. It was slightly less polished and elegant, slightly more fruit forward, concentrated and unctuous, and lacked the ultra ripeness tones of the Boswell fruits. 

RM 94 points. 

This showed consistently as a tasting earlier this year of this label. 

Pour Boys tour Del Dotto Caves

Following the Pirouette, Dan pulled from his cellar this ultra-premium single-vineyard designated select Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This was especially fun to taste this label as it represents some pleasant memories of our Napa Valley wine tours. Dan and we all tasted and then procured this wine during our Napa Valley, Del Dotto Winery and Caves Tasting and Tour in 2018

This single vineyard designated select label is crafted from fruit from the Del Dotto 887 St Helena Vineyard. This vineyard is named for the address, 887 St Helena Highway, on the south approaches into the town. 

Rick & Linda with David Del Dotto, 2003
Located on the south end of the St. Helena Appellation, Vineyard 887 is one of the highest rated vineyards in Napa Valley. It is purported to be the favorite vineyard of the producer. This picturesque vineyard consists of nine acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, planted in 2000. 

This vineyard shows the typical St. Helena characteristics of lush, fruity berries, with easily accessible tannins on the palate. 

The inaugural vintage of an 887 Vineyard single vineyard designated wine/label was in 2004. By 2012 it was receiving 96-98 point ratings from Robert Parker. 

The property also is the site of a guest cottage, amidst the vineyard surrounded by the vines. Linda and I had the pleasure of staying in the cottage during a Napa Valley Del Dotto winery, estate, vineyards and cave tour back in 2003 (left).

The single vineyard designated label didn't exist back then, it came along the next year, but we didn't discover the label until our 2018 estate and winery visit and tour. We purchased this label at that time, much in remembrance of that earlier visit, and had great anticipation of tasting this wine again, which we finally did tonight. 

Del Dotto Napa Valley Vineyard 887 St. Helena Connoiseur's Series Colbert French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

This is a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon. In the crafted in the unique Del Dotto method, it is part of the Del Dotto Connoisseur's Series where the same wine will be aged in different oak barrels of different oaks for the ultimate comparison tasting experience. This version was aged in Colbert French Oak. Robert Parker gives this wine 95 points and an aging window of 2018 out to 2040. 

We have hosted wine dinners where we served a selection the Connoisseur Series of the same wine aged in different oaks. Only the discriminating experienced enophiles appreciated and discerned the differences. 

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex, concentrated, forward, structured black berry and tangy black currant fruits with notes of pipe tobacco, black tea, graphite and hints of milk chocolate, anise and spicy cinnamon turning to firm but silky smooth approachable tannins on the long tangy acidic lingering finish. Needs a few more years to settle, soften and integrate further.

RM 94

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Château Boswell Napa Valley Estate Reserve Red Wine 2016

Château  Boswell Napa Valley Estate Reserve Red Wine 2016

As stated in our posting of our gala wine dinner the other night, we opened this ultra premium label, brought by Dr Dan from his cellar. He brought this in recognition of the destruction of Château Boswell in the ravaging Glass Wildfire that swept above Napa Valley just last week.

Château Boswell dates back forty years, when Richard Thornton Boswell founded a Napa Valley winery with the goal of excellence in small lot French Style wine production with wines sold directly to the client. At that time, The Wall Street Journal remarked upon his unique concept of a "Boutique" winery at a time when the other 71 wineries in the Napa Valley sold mostly through distribution. Today, Château Boswell remains among a handful of privately owned family wineries amidst the 554 wineries in the Napa Valley.

Château Boswell was founded in 1979 along the Napa Valley's Silverado Trail, under the guidance of Napa's foremost oenological consultant of the era, Andre Tschelistcheff. Their stated goal was to 'capture California’s purest representation of terroir from storied vineyards, Napa Valley’s Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, Northern Santa Barbara’s spectacular Rita’s Crown, Radian and Bentrock Vineyards, Sonoma Coast's Sun Chase Vineyard, and from the Russian River Valley, Ritchie, Rued, and Dutton Sebastopol Vineyard designated Chardonnays.' Surprisingly, Boswell doesn't attract too much attention, given the pedigree of their vineyard sources and the quality of the winemaking. 

Boswell's initial vision was to focus solely on the noble Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon varietal in his stone winery sitting on the hill side along the Silverado Trail in Saint Helena. That vision and the resulting wine portfolio has expanded and become vastly diversified to include wines from many of California’s most treasured vineyards. Today, the Boswell family, under the direction of Susan Boswell, continues that mission, to craft the finest wines with the greatest expression of terroir.

Building upon the vision and tradecraft of famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff who helped launch the original winery with his immense knowledge and tradition, Boswell builds on that legacy and history in their continued quest for excellence lead by a current era legendary winemaker, Philippe Melka assisted by Associate Winemaker Allison Nunnikhoven. 

Of course we know and enjoy Phillipe Melka wines from his own private label, as well as his participation as a contributing winemaker to the Long Shadows Vintners Series, where nine of the world's leading winemakers crafting world class wines from Washington State Columbia Valley fruits.

Melka started at the top: his first job out of school was at the legendary first growth Bordeaux Château Haut Brion. From there, he took a position with the reputable Moueix Company and was sent to Dominus Estate in California Napa Valley Yountville to study soils in 1991. He returned to France in 1993 to deepen his expertise at Château Petrus. 

Melka has been fortunate to have been trained and influenced by some of the most notable personalities in the wine business such as Jean Delmas and Jean Philippe Masclef from Haut-Brion, Christian Moueix and Jean Claude Berrouet from Petrus, Paul Draper from Ridge, Daniel Baron from Silver Oak and the globetrotting wine consultant Michel Rolland with whom he continues to work with on consulting projects. Michel Rolland is also a consulting winemaker along with Melka in the Long Shadows Collector Series Project. (We were fortunate enough to recently acquire some of Rolland's MR Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for our cellar collection which we will look forward to experiencing when a suitable occasion warrants). 

He returned to Napa Valley in 1994 and founded Atelier Melka in 1995. Since then he has served as winemaking consultant for some of Napa’s most highly regarded properties including Boswell as well as Hundred Acre, Quintessa, Bryant Family, Seavey, Dana Estates and Vineyard 29. Robert Parker named Philippe Melka, one of the top nine winemakers in the world.

Château Boswell produces 5 wines from the Napa Valley; our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, RTB Red wine which is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, At Anchor Cabernet Sauvignon, and tonight's featured wine, Boswell Napa Valley Red Wine, which is a blend of fruit sourced from 3 Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, and a touch of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot.

As I mentioned above, at our gala wine dinner the other night, we opened this ultra premium label, brought by Dr Dan from his cellar, in recognition of the destruction of Château Boswell in the ravaging Glass Wildfire that swept above Napa Valley just last week. 

Ideally, we would hold this wine for at least and perhaps a dozen years before opening. Never-the-less, it was spectacular. Had this been opened, decanted and allowed to settle for a couple hours before tasting, it would've no doubt vied for WOTN - Wine of the Night.

Jed Dunnuck gave this 96+ points yet called it 'backward', but went on to say this is a 'serious red that has lots of blackcurrant fruit as well as terrific intensity in its tobacco, leafy herbs, graphite, and lead pencil aromas and flavors. Possessing full-bodied richness, and building tannins, it holds onto a beautiful sense of elegance and balance.'

It was aged 18 months in 70% new barrels. 

On opening this was tight and restrained. Only on follow on tasting two days later did this reveal its potential of what is to come, polished, elegance, a symphony of flavors. Dark purple color, medium-full bodied, soft sensuous black and blue fruits with well behaved silky tannins offering nicely integrated and balanced notes of tobacco, hints of sweet mocha, spice and herbs. 

RM 95 points.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac Bordeaux 2003

Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac Bordeaux 2003

Wine buddy and fellow Pour Boy Bill brought this Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux from his cellar in South Carolina for a wine dinner following our extraordinary dinner and wine flight last evening. This was a great comparison tasting opposite the just released 2018 vintage of Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Château Haut-Batailley is another property of the legendary Borie family, one of the oldest wine producing families in Bordeaux who also own Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. Our visit to the Borie family owned classic second growth Ducru-Beaucaillou estate was one of the highlights of our trip to the Medoc last year. 

Bill brought this label to another wine dinner tasting we held three years ago. At that time I wrote that this wine as probably at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve further with aging. While that may be the case, it certainly is holding its own and showed very well again tonight, perhaps better than our earlier tasting, exceeding my expectations for what I was expecting from this label and vintage release. 

Bill's Cellartracker notes from the earlier tasting summed it up well - "Medium garnet with a slight touch of brown at the edges. Earthy nose with the slightest hint of lilac. A bit tight upon opening but within 20 minutes, began to reveal cassis, dark chocolate, a bit of moss and just a hint of mint."

Like our earlier tasting experience, this opened with wonderful Bordeaux aromas of earthy leather, dark fruits and floral but was firm and tight with a moderate gripping tannin backbone - yet smooth and polished rather than overbearing. We set it aside and let it open and breath for a bit which it did so very nicely over the course of the evening. It showed equally well if not better the next evening as we enjoyed the remains of the bottle.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex black fruits with tones of cassis, floral, earthy leather, tobacco and oak, hints of spice and graphite with smooth polished dusty tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Caymus 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvigon

 Caymus 2018 - Haut Batailley 2003

Following our extraordinary dinner and wine flight last evening, we had a follow on dinner of sliced beef left over from the tomahawk ribeyes. We opened the just released 2018 Caymus Napa Cabernet alongside a Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac Bordeaux 2003 for a comparison tasting. 

Caymus 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvigon

I have written in these pages often about the allure of Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Caymus has a signature style that is dark in color, with rich fruit and ripe, velvety tannins. It is known to be consistently approachable in youth for early gratification as well as being ageworthy to enjoy in maturity. Caymus do an incredible job crafting an elegant sophisticated wine year after year, in large quantities. 

Caymus sources grapes for their benchmark label from eight of Napa’s 16 sub-appellations. They note that this diversification enables them to make the best possible wine in a given year. Caymus Cabernet is known for complex layers, lush aromas and flavors, including cocoa, cassis and ripe dark berries. The Caymus style and consistency is achieved through rigorous disciplined viticulture practices such as crop thinning, which allows measured sunlight to reach the vine’s fruit zone, and extended ‘hang time’ whereby the fruit is left on the vine for an unusually long period to develop flavors and aromas.

This 2018 release is classic Caymus and lives up to its reputation as noted above. This is the 46th vintage of Caymus Cabernet, which happens to coincide with the number of years we've been married. Back in 2014 on our shared fortieth anniversary, they changed their packaging and labeling to include the anniversary year on the top of the foil capsule. Ever since, Caymus is a favorite go-to wine for our personal celebrations.   

The name ‘Caymus’ originates from the Mexican land grant named Ranchos Caymus, given to George Yount in 1836 to encompass what would become the town of Rutherford and surrounding areas.

We visited the Caymus Estate in Rutherford in the heart of Napa Valley, during our Napa Wine Experience in 2018. The 100% family owned Caymus was founded in 1971 by Charlie Wagner, his wife Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, and son Chuck. The winery was constructed among the vines planted on the family’s Rutherford ranch vineyard. Their first vintage in 1972 produced a modest 240 cases of wine. Forty years later, Caymus farms Cabernet grapes in eight of Napa’s 16 sub-appellations to ensure the pick of the year’s fruit and produces an incredible 65,000 cases for distribution around the world.

The 2018 vintage is no exception. In typical Caymus style, this Cabernet is deep mulberry in colour with aromas of blackberry jam, cassis, currant and cocoa. Straight out of the gates it delivers a hefty punch of fruit to the palate followed by tantalizing notes of anise, cocoa, cherry vanilla, tobacco and a hint of pepper. While abundant in tannins it retains a softness that guarantees a silky mouthfeel and sultry finish.

This release is darker, bigger, firmer and richer than I remember from older past vintages. This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, rich concentrated and firmly structured super-ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruits are complex with notes of cola, cassis, with hints of vibrant cinnamon and clove spices, mocha and vanilla, turning to firm gripping tannins on the long finish. It need several years to integrate and settle more gracefully.

RM 93 points.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Broad diverse flight of big reds highlight tomahawk beefsteak dinner

Broad diverse flight of big reds highlight tomahawk beefsteak dinner

A reunion of the Pour Boys wine group, me, Dr. Dan and Bill C provided an occasion for a broad diverse flight of big reds to accompany a beefsteak dinner featuring spectacular tomahawk rib-eye steaks. Linda prepared a magnificent dinner that also included medallion lobster tails, haricort verts, fingerling potatoes and cauliflower. 


Prior to dinner we had an extensive selection of artisan cheeses and then a ceasar salad. With the cheese course, we drank Pol Roger Reserve NV Champagne and then I opened a Château Climens Barsac from son Alec's birthyear vintage 1990. 


The cheese flight included:

Murray's Delice de Borgogne

Murray's Camembert

Fairlane Farms 12 year old aged cheddar

Fairlane Farms Havarti Pepper

Old Amsterdam Aged Smoked Gouda

Bayley Hazen Blue

Woolwich Dairy Triple Creme Goat Cheese

The tomahawk rib-eye beefsteaks ...

The big red wine flight was broad and diverse featuring wines from around the globe spanning three decades of vintage releases including several from son Alec's birthyear vintage 1990 that we served or hoped to serve at his recent wedding, to current recent releases. 

The flight featured producers that we have all visited together during our wine country tours such as Château St Jean, and also provided a tribute to the super second Château Leoville Las Cases that was a highlight of our trip to St Julien Bordeaux last year. Lastly, we recognized a couple of our favorite Napa Valley producers that we have visited together, Château Boswell and Fantesca who were affected by the ravages of the recent catastrophic fires there. 

Pol Roger Reserve NV Champagne

Château Climens Barsac 1990

Château  St Jean Cinq Cépages 2004

Fantesca Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Château  Boswell Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
I review this wine in an encore tasting in this blogpost.

Château  Leoville Las Cases St Julien Bordeaux 1990

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosche Vineyard 1992

Galerie Pleinaire Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Clarendon Hills Astralis Clarendon Syrah 2009 

Warres Quinta da Cavadihna Vintage Port 1990

After dinner Linda served a medley of deserts with fresh berries. With the dessert flight we served another 1990 vintage release wine, Warres Quinta da Cavadihna Vintage Port 1990.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Galerie Pleinair Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Galerie Pleinair Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This is my first introduction to this label that I found at the local Sav-Way wine shop in Hinsdale. The unique name, Pleinair refers to the French painters' method of painting outdoors (en plein air), which developed around the same time as Napa's first European-style vineyards in the 1800s. 

According to the producer, Galerie wines are "portraits of place or terroir,' crafted to represent the dramatically different features of Northern California’s most prized winegrowing appellations. They source fruit for their portolio of wines from Napa Valley and Knights Valley up in Sonoma County. Napa, of course, is known for its abundant sunshine and rich, fruit-forward wines, while Knights Valley at the base of Mt. St. Helena to the north, has even cooler temperatures, and volcanic soils that produce slower-ripening fruit with distinctive minerality. 

Galerie's winemaker for Pleinaire is Gianna Kelly a native of Sonoma County, where she was introduced to wine at an early age watching her father manage wine list selections for their family restaurant. After graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in Chemistry, she initially pursued a career in research with IBM. As she says, she quickly found that polymers weren’t as alluring as vineyards, and redirected her chemistry skills to the wine industry as a chemist for Enologix in her hometown of Sonoma. She landed a post as enologist at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where she fell in love with Bordeaux varieties and honed her winemaking skills by working with Cabernet Sauvignon. She then served as assistant winemaker for St. Francis Winery, working with a wide variety of vineyard sources.

In 2018, Gianna joined the team at Cardinale as an assistant winemaker and in 2019, she became head winemaker for Galerie wines.

The fruit for this vintage release of label is from four different vineyards from four different in AVA's (Agriculture Viticulture Areas, also known as appellations) in Napa Valley. The producer exclaims, 'sourcing the fruit from vineyards with diverse soil types brings complexity and depth to the finished wine, which shows rich black fruit, spice and floral notes with a firm tannin structure and balanced acidity.'
“Making Galerie wines gives me the chance to unite my passion for Bordeaux varieties with my curiosity for the way different vineyard sites express their own unique personalities,” says Gianna. “I enjoy the challenge of developing each small vineyard lot in the cellar and then choosing from a satisfying number of options when it comes time to blend. This helps me create balanced wines that showcase the delightful distinctions between two exceptional wine regions.” 
Contrary to the claims of the producer, I would argue that blending fruit from several disparate diverse sources may provide complexity, it obscures and negates the sense of terroir or place in the wine, especially if and as they vary from vintage to vintage. 

The four vineyard sources are:

The Yverdon Vineyard is on from the Spring Mountain AVA, perched high on the steeply terraced slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains along the western edge of Napa Valley. There the marine layer of fog and breezes that waft up from San Pablo Bay bring cooler days and warmer nights than on the valley floor. Its clay loam & volcanic loam soils introduces acidity and juicy-honey flavors & black fruit and floral notes into the wine. 

The Van Z Vineyard in the Saint Helena AVA has sedimentary, gravel-clay soils that are dry farmed to balance the tannin structure.

The highly acclaimed Stage Coach Vineyard from the Atlas Peak AVA has red volcanic soils in the Vaca Mountain Range on the Eastern Slope of Napa Valley that inputs bone and mineral spice into the wine. 
Lastly, the Red Hen Vineyard in the lower southwestern valley Yountville AVA has sedimentary and alluvial soils that impart acidity and brightness. 
Galerie Pleinair Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This label received
92 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points from Decanter.
Dark garnet colored, full bodied, super ripe rich concentrated raisiny prune-like blackberry, black cherry and ripe plum fruits with baking spices, olive tapenade, black tea and herbs with a narrow moderate tannin finish.
RM 89 points.