Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Pride Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Pride Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

I pulled this robust Napa Cab for tasting with some artisan cheeses.

Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

We visited Pride Mountain Vineyards and Winery high atop Spring Mountain of the Mayacamas Range overlooking Napa Valley to the east, and Sonoma Valley to the west during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 1999 and again in 2003. 

This is one of two estate vineyards that straddles the summit and thereby can claim to be both Napa Valley and Sonoma County as its AVA. The other is Constant up the range to the north atop Diamond Mountain. This label is designated Napa Valley.

We've enjoyed Pride since and often 'gifted' Pride to friends on special occasions. We're big fans of rich concentrated extracted mountain fruit and hold Pride Cabernet going back to the mid-nineties. We love the Spring Mountain expression of terroir which I believe is as complex and flavorful as the other popular mountain appellations.

At twenty-five years, this is amazingly showing well and not exhibiting any diminution from age. I noted in earlier posts several years ago that this was showing its age. Perhaps these were bottle variations which might explain the negative review, not the positive. Ideal provenance of this bottle in our cellar since release shows the true age worthiness of the label. While likely at its apex, it will not improve with any further aging and should be consumed as it will start to diminish in due course. We still hold five more bottles of the case we acquired back at the time of release.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, "Dark, full bodied, firm, initially closed and tight - decanted and set aside, after an hour and half it started to open up to reveal big full complex dark blackberry and black currant fruits accented by anise, with hints of spice, dusty cedar, and a subtle sweet dark mocha on the full firm lingering tannin finish."

RM 91 points.



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Marquis Philips "9" McLaren Vale Shiraz

With BBQ rib dinner I pulled from the cellar this hearty aged Aussie Shiraz. This label was the precursor to the now famous Mollydooker. We acquired several vintages of this label upon release and have only a few left, this being the last of this vintage release. This big bold profile is ideally suited for and demands something like tangy barbecue. My journal of tasting notes show we had each vintage from 2000 through 2007 of this label and this was our seventh posting of this vintage release.

Marquis Philips "9" McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz 2005

Marquis Philips was the label of winemakers Sarah and Sparky Marquis with their whimsical label of that era featuring the 'Roogle' (shown left). The cross between an eagle and kangaroo represented their joint venture with Dan Philips, their American distributor. They disbanded a few years later and started their own label that became the well known Mollydooker brand. They then split up and Sarah took over the business while Sparky spent time traveling and contemplating his next chapter. 

Ironically, Sparky is a racing car enthusiast buddy of my colleague who manages the ANZ APAC region for me from down there in Adelaide. I'll hope to meet him through our mutual acquaintance if and when I travel there on business, or better, on a wine trip.

Robert Parker loved this stuff! WA 96-98 Pts. Upon one release, he said, 'run, don't walk' to your local wine shop to pick this up. "The 2005 Shiraz 9 (a 4,000-case cuvee that spends 18 months in new and one-year-old American oak) reveals a big, toasty, smoky nose, but the oak is beautifully absorbed by extravagant quantities of blackberry and cassis fruit intermixed with licorice, incense, and spice. This full-bodied, powerful, rich, layered stunner should drink well for a decade."

I wrote earlier in a post that this label is not for the feint of heart with its big bold aggressive profile. 

At fifteen years, this still resembled earlier tastings from a decade ago with its super ripe berry fruit bordering on raisiny.  A bit opulent, almost obtuse, the big rich forward powerful super ripe black and blue berry fruits are like cherry-cola accentuated by graphite, mineral, tones of expresso and hints of dark bittersweet mocha chocolate. It doesn't seem to have aged in that time but will certainly not improve further but start to decline, no matter, since this was our last bottle. 

RM 91 points.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lewis Cellars "Alec's Blend" Napa Valley Red Blend 2010

Lewis Cellars "Alec's Blend" Napa Valley Red Blend for family celebration dinner and birth year vintage tribute ...

For oldest grandchild, Lucy's tenth birthday, Linda prepared grilled tenderloin, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables with her wonderful holiday season crescent rolls, accompanied by a kale cucumber and tomato salad. 

For dinner, I pulled from our cellar a family favorite label for such occasions from Lewis Cellars

Lewis Cellars' branding features the whimsical 'L' label with which we commemorate Lucy on her special day. This particular label has added significance, Alec's Blend is named for the Lewis' eldest grandson who also shares the name with our son, Alec.

Alec and bride Vivianna visited Lewis Cellars for a private tasting during their recent honeymoon in Napa Valley. Our visit to the Lewis estate chateau was a highlight of our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2017. That blogpost lists many such postings of special Lewis Cellars' wine openings/tastings.

We hold a vertical collection (multiple vintages of the same label) of this label spanning more than a decade, from which we pulled this 2010 vintage release.

For added significance we opened a bottle from Lucy's birth year vintage, 2010, on her double digit, first decade tenth birthday. Seeking a birth year vintage wine for the occasion, its notable that our horizontal collection (multiple labels of the same vintage) of this year consists of 108 bottles in 59 wines, allowing for many more celebratory tastings in the future. I originally pulled a Lewis Cellars Napa Cabernet 2010 but switched to the Alec's Blend label for the occasion.

The birthday celebration was also special since Lucy and I share the same 1/2 birthday, meaning each of our birthdays is the half birthday of the other. We also share many special shared memories together and have a special grandfather grand-daughter bond. Its great to be a grandpa!

Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend Napa Valley Red Wine 2010

This vintage release got 93 points from Wine Spectator. 

This is a unique blend of Napa Valley fruit, 70% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is the style we love with its thick concentrated full bodied forward fruits and bright floral aromatics. 

Dark inky purple colored, full bodied concentrated black and blue fruits with accents of tobacco and herbs, notes of cedar and expresso, turning to nuances of sweet mocha chocolate on the supple finish laced with firm but approachable acidity and tannins

RM 93 points.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2016

Robert Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2016

This thread of a mini vertical tasting continues. It started a couple weeks ago when we opened from our cellar the 2013 vintage of this unique varietal, Napa Valley Petite Sirah, from a traditional producer of Napa Valley Zinfandels, Robert Biale.

That 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").

As I wrote earlier, we enjoyed that bottle so much with its rich, concentrated full bodied flavorful fruit, a style we love, I sought to replace it. Naturally, the 2013 release was no longer available but I was able to acquire several bottles of the newer 2016 vintage at Binny's Beverage Depot, the Chicagoland wine superstore. For reference, Binny's sells this label for $42. The producer's 'published' release price is $49.

Following that tasting and a subsequent tasting of the 2018 release, we dined out at Angelis Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria and I took BYOB the 2016 release to share and compare with the recent tastings of the '13 and '18 vintages. 

The dinner was for a special occasion, for our dear long-time friends Mark and Jane who sold their home and are moving from Illinois to Texas. For their last night here we took them to dinner at Angelis. So many of our close friends have left Chicagoland for warmer weather and improved living environments in red states - Florida, South and North Carolina, Tennessee and now, Texas. It’s sad and tragic to see the decline of our home state as it succumbs to the burdens of decades of fiscal mismanagement, corruption, patronage and our politicians' selfishness and foolishness. No wonder the common saying is, 'the best view of Illinois is in the rear view mirror' as people exit the state in droves, the largest net loss of any state. 

It’s heartbreaking and depressing to watch our excessive tax dollars fund debt service rather than regular traditional government and social services. So many have become beholden to the entitlement economy, it’s become almost pervasive, despite the fact it is unsustainable. 

Ironically, today’s Chicago Tribune headliner was the Indictments of the chief aide to our long time Illinois Speaker of the House leader, a former COMED CEO, and a couple other luminaries for bribery and corruption. The legendary long time party chairmen fell through the cracks again and remains elusive, however, his grip on the reigns of power is slipping away. But after decades of abuse, the damage is done. 

Forgive me, so much for political hand wringing and commiserating, we wish our departing friends well in their new home state.

For our dinner, we took BYOB from our cellar this recent wine purchase that we picked up to try as we consider buying more. Several weeks ago we drank from our cellar the 2013 vintage release of this label. When I went to replace it, the 2018 release was available. I then found several bottles of this 2016. They had a few remaining so I brought this to taste, and to compare with the other two recent vintages tasted.

I wrote last week about Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa Valley and their work with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah sourced from their 25 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley where it is perfectly suited to the moderate and dry growing season. The resulting dark, full, deep, inky and powerful, Petite Sirah has become a favorite grape among winemakers looking to pump up underpowered wines in need of deep fruit, color, and structure. As a standalone varietal, this was almost too much for our moderate pastas, veal, salmon and ahi tuna dinner entrees, delightful none-the-less.

Robert Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2016

The Robert Biale Royal Punishers Petite Sirah is sourced from Carpy-Connolly Ranch in Rutherford. There the well-drained gravel and sandy loam soils, and warm daytime temperatures are ideally suited for ripening Petite Sirah grapes.

This 2016 was more like the big bold 2013 vintage than the 2018 we tasted the other evening. 

This was awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator, 91 points by James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast, and 90 points by critic/pundit Jeb Dunnuck.

This 2016 Petite Sirah Royal Punishers spent 17 months in 30% new barrels.

This is dark inky purple colored, full bodied, big, bold, concentrated with moderate firm structure, the black berry and black raspberry fruits are overtaken by notes of camphor or what Wine Enthusiast noted as 'a touch of heat', on opening that ‘burn off’ after a period of breathing and settling. Accented by notes of graphite and spice, hints of pepper emerged on the firm but approachable tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 92 points.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Camiana Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Camiana Howell Mountain Blue Hall Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Wine buddy and fellow Pour Boy Bill C introduced us to this wine when he and son Matt acquired a case or more and shared with us a mini-vertical collection of four different vintages. We served and wrote about this wine earlier this summer at a wine dinner with neighbors Mark and Shirley and wine buddy fellow 'Pour Boy' Dr Dan and Linda.

Tonight we opened this and drank it with left over beef tenderloin and some artisan cheeses. 

As I wrote last summer, this is from Blue Hall Vineyard, a 5 acre site on Howell Mountain. Andrew Zolopa purchased the property on Howell Mountain in 1998 sited near the top of Howell Mountain at an elevation of 1,700 feet above Napa Valley. In 2000-01, Zolopa planted the five acre vineyard of which 3 acres was planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard was adjacent to vineyards owned by Beringer.

Zolopa named the vineyard Blue Hall Vineyard, deriving its name from the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson who spent his honeymoon in a cabin on the side of Mount St. Helena in the summer of 1880. Stevenson was inspired by the purity of the blue sky and exclaimed that it was as if he had entered "the blue hall of heaven." The name reference “Blue Hall” was from the book “Silverado Squatters”, written by Stevenson – a book that featured much about historical Napa Valley.

This 2004 is their inaugural release, their first wine, a 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. Andrew named the wine Camiana" after his daughters Camille and Juliana. Ted Osborne was self taught winemaker, building on experience working at Passing Clouds in Australia, Rupert & Rothschild in South Africa, and Chateau du Seuil in Bordeaux. Coming to America, he put in time working for two well-known Napa wineries, Cakebread and Storybook Mountain, the northern most winery in the Napa Valley

Camiana Blue Hall Vineyards Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Only 80 cases made of Blue Hall’s first vintage in 2004, which they held until after their first commercial release in 2005. While the 2004 was technically their first vintage, it was released after the 2005 as a library wine. 

Their 2004 with the additional year in the bottle was their “biggest” wine out of their first few vintages. They produced the label annually until 2013, their last vintage produced.

This is one vintage of a vertical collection we acquired with/from fellow wine buddy and 'Pour Boy' Bill C who acquired a case of vintages with son and fellow collector Matt back in 2012. We're still holding four vintages of that collection and this is the oldest release from the selection.

Bill's tasting notes for this vintage release from his Cellartracker post back in 2015 says, "What a treat! Tasted side by side with the 2005 Camiana and we could not tell the difference between the two aside from additional sediment in the '04. Deep garnet in the glass, big black fruit with a touch of sweetness. Silky smooth tannins and a long, lingering finish. Beautiful Howell Mountain product. We were impressed by this small vineyard when we bought some '07 on sale 3 or 4 years ago. The big, bold, fruit forward style convinced us to try some earlier vintages. This was not terribly expensive at $45 a bottle. Great value and the '04 and '05 were absolutely at peak."
- 92 Points
At sixteen years of age, this bottle was showing its age a bit with notes of earth, leather and sage. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2018

Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2018

 A couple weeks ago we opened this unique varietal Napa Valley Petite Sirah from a traditional producer of Napa Valley Zinfandels, Robert Biale.

That 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").

We enjoyed that bottle so much with its rich, concentrated full bodied flavorful fruit, a style we love, I sought to replace it. Naturally, the 2013 release was no longer available but I was able to acquire several bottles of the 2016 vintage, and a few of the 2018. 

Binny's Beverage Depot, the Chicagoland wine superstore indicated on-line that it had a several bottles of the 2016, but not at a convenient location. I called a couple local independent merchants about obtaining a few bottles and ended up placing a special order. When they arrived they turned out to be the 2018 vintage. Several days later I was at a Binny's location that had the 2016 in stock and I obtained a few more.

As I wrote at the time, 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 the 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 the two grape varietals Syrah and Peloursin.  Robert Biale’s Royal Punishers got its name from scrambling the letters of both parent grapes. The resulting wine is darker and fuller, deep, inky and powerful, appropriately named, it deserves its reputation as one of Napa Valley’s top Petite Sirahs.

According to Biale, Petite Sirah was the most commonly planted grape in Napa Valley for nearly a century and now there is a resurgence and new appreciation for this historic varietal. Known for its dark color, firm structure, and deep blue and black fruit flavors, it is perfectly suited to Napa Valley’s moderate and dry growing season. Petite Sirah was also a favorite grape among winemakers looking to pump up underpowered wines in need of deep fruit, color, and structure. Its natural versatility made it a great counterpart to all red varieties including Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Biale Royal Punishers Napa Valley Petit Sirah 2018

With the kids in from out of state for the weekend, we opened this Big Red for late night adventurous sipping.  

Robert Biale sources this Royal Punishers Petite Sirah from Carpy-Connolly Ranch in Rutherford. There the well-drained gravel and sandy loam soils, and warm daytime temperatures are ideally suited for ripening Petite Sirah grapes.

Winemaker's notes for this release, "The 2018 Royal Punishers has a deep, blackish purple color with aromas of currants, blueberry, quince, violets, figs, molasses and graphite. The entry is weighty with a broad mid-palate structure which has layers of ripe, black fruit flavors. The oak profile is balanced and the tannins are medium grained which hold the fruit profile and carry a long, lingering finish."

While not as big and powerful as the 2013, this was bold and concentrated with rich extracted inky purple colored fruit, black raspberry, black currants, black tea and tobacco notes with a moderate tannin laced finish. 

RM 91 points.


Fabulous premium wine flight for tenderloin surf and turf dinner

 Fabulous premium wine flight for tenderloin surf and turf dinner

We had a double newlywed dinner with Sons Alec and his bride Vivianna, back from New York, and Sean and his bride Michelle joining us for a gala post celebration dinner. Linda prepared beef tenderloin that Alec grilled (right) and lobster tails, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, haricurt verts and ceasar salad. 

I pulled from the cellar a selection of premium wines to commemorate the occasion - wines that have special significance on many fronts. Alec and Vivianna visited Napa Valley for their rescheduled honeymoon and visited Lewis Cellars and Piazza Del Dotto wineries. 

Due to the extensive fires in the area their tasting at Hall Wines and others were canceled. Never-the-less, our wine flight included the trifecta of Hall, Lewis and Del Dotto premium labels. 

Prior to dinner we opened Champagne. We also tasted a Chateau St Michelle Merlot, a fun wine recognizing our daughter-in-law. We closed the dinner with a birth year vintage port with desserts. 

We opened the evening toasting the newlywed couples with Champagne - Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé.  

Consistent with earlier tasting with a layer of smokiness ... Rustic orange color, crisp, full-bodied, complex and zesty, lively red currant, red berry and citrus fruits with a good core, fine acidity, crisp texture, chalky minerality and hint of apple, smoke and spice with a long, vibrant finish.

RM 89 points.

Hall Exzellenz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

A couple years ago, Alec's boss contacted me seeking advise on a celebratory wine to gift to key clients for the Christmas holiday. I suggested this label with its classic name, super premium standing, and of course its holiday festive red and gold label. While this was an allocated wine with limited access, we garnered our wine club privileges and obtained two cases of this wine. In light of recent celebratory events, it was fitting to open this tonight. 

This is sourced from the finest blocks of the Sacrashe Vineyard which is just above the Rutherford Winery adjacent to the estate home. We were introduced to this wine during our Winery Tour and Tasting back in the summer of 2017 and prior to that back in 2013.

Jeb Dunnuck gave this 99 points, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate 95 points and Wine Spectator 91 points. 

Tonight this was the WOTN - Wine of the Night. 

Jeb Dunnuck describe this wine's "awesome depth and richness with crazy levels of purity".

Deep garnet-purple color, full-bodied, firmly structured yet perfectly balanced and silky smooth, elegant and polished, full concentrated black berry fruits with notes of crème de cassis, graphite, hints of cigar box and what Robert Parker described as tree bark turning to a long sinewy spicy oak laced finish. 

RM 96 points

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

Succumbing to some sentimentality, I selected this label from our extensive Del Dotto holdings. The kids encountered the Del Dotto experience on their honeymoon last month. This label has a special place in my heart with fond memories of our prior trips to Napa. 

We 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. 

The property 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.

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

This is a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 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 oak varieties 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 flight of the Connoisseur Series of the same wine aged in different oaks. Only the most discriminating experienced enophiles appreciated and discerned the subtle 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


Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2015 

 We tasted and acquired this wine during our Lewis Cellars Estate Visit and tasting in 2017. This label is a family favorite about which I've written many times in these pages. Like Del Dotto above, Alec and Vivianna also visited Lewis during their recent honeymoon.

The winemaker notes say; "Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" best captures the character of our rocking 2015 Reserve Chardonnay. Ripe succulent D'Anjou pear, gardenia blossom, sweet mineral spice and toasty brioche aromas come singing through. Broad shouldered with creamy textured leesy flavors, the wine reaches great depth while maintaining precision and serious structure."

Butter colored, medium full bodied, very pleasant bright vibrant crisp notes of citrus laced pear with notes of floral, soft sweet oak and hints of lychee fruits.

RM 92 points.

Warres Quinta da Cavadihna Vintage Port 1990

After dinner Linda served a medley of deserts and ice cream
with fresh berries. With the dessert flight we served a 1990 vintage release from Alec's birthyear, Warres Quinta da Cavadihna Vintage Port 1990.
Warre’s is a classic port producer that dates back to 1670. It was the first British Port company established in Portugal and therefore the pioneer of a great tradition; its history is synonymous with that of Port itself and the British influence in the trade.
Warre’s premium wines are sourced from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro Antigo, two of the finest estates of the Douro valley. 
The owners and producers today are British, Peter Symington and his son Charles who assists in managing the vineyards and wine making. Symington has been made ‘Fortified Wine Maker of the Year’ an extraordinary 6 times by the ‘Wine Challenge’. Nobody else has won this important award more than twice. In 2003, his son Charles won the same award. 
Garnet colored, medium full bodied, hints of aniseed and liquorice with a touch of cinnamon with a backbone of pleasant raisin and fig notes. 
RM 90 points.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Carpenter Creek Cellars Indiana Produced Wines

Carpenter Creek Cellars Indiana Produced Wines - the original winery in Jasper County, Indiana.

Last year we stopped at Carpenter Creek Cellars while passing through Jasper County in Northwest Central Indiana. They're located just off Interstate 65 in Remington, Indiana halfway between Lafayette and Chicago, not far from our family farm, relatively speaking. We've passed this spot literally hundreds of times over the years, but never before stopped to visit the local winery, Carpenter Creek Cellars. Exit I65 from the North at exit SR114, or from the south at State Road 231. Follow the signs on the back country roads to the winery on Jordan Road.

I thought I blogged about the experience last year but have to admit I can't find it and it was obviously never posted so I am doing so now. Photos here were taken in December 2019. 

Winemaker Randy Rottler (left) and proprietor
partner Ed Courtright

 During our visit at that time, we tasted a half dozen of their wines and ended up buying several labels. This is a bit remarkable as they exceeded my expectations for Indiana produced wines such that we brought home nearly a case. This is a testament to the craft and handiwork of partner proprietors Ed Courtright (right), who wanted to grow grapes in northern Indiana to supply wineries in the area, and winemaker Randy Rottler, who had dreams of starting a small winery.

The farm has been in the Courtright family for three generations. Ed and his son Byron planted their first grape vines in 2002, in what became Byron's vineyard. In 2011, they planted 1.1 acres of Traminette, the Midwestern grape used to produce Indiana's signature wine. After two years of building a business, and one year of restoring a barn/planting vineyards/doing paperwork ... they opened to the public in 2013. Just six months later, they won awards at the 2013 Indy (Indianapolis) International (wine festival) - a Silver Medal in Carpenter Creek labels - Gunny White, Sunset Rosé, and Sunset Red and Bronze Medals for both the Gunny Red and the Riesling. 

Their dessert wine, Byron's Blend is a tribute to Byron and is a blend of the five varietals sourced from that vineyards. 

I've visited wineries in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri where, as much as I would like to support them in their endeavors, often, I failed to find a wine sufficiently inspiring to acquire. That was not the case here as Carpenter Creek exceeded my expectations and we did end up buying several labels.

Carpenter Creek is a farm winery housed in a quaint picturesque renovated 1919 barn. There is the winery and a tasting room of Carpenter Creek Cellars broad portfolio of wines. The estate is actually visible from the interstate highway, I65.

From there they produce what they claim to produce "world-class wines which embody the best terroir and fruit the Midwest has to offer".

While I agree with the latter part of that statement, that they 'produce wines that embody the best terroir and fruit the Midwest has to offer', the front of that claim leaves much to be desired. Its not their fault that Indiana, and most of the Midwest for that matter, is not well suited to growing fine wine varietal grapes. Their challenge is that what makes Indiana a top producer of corn and soybeans, tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits, is precisely why it is not well suited for wine grapes. 

As I written often in these pages, the concept of terroir embodies all the elements of a place that affect the growing of varietal grapes - climate, soil, drainage, sun exposure, slope and elevation, proximity to climate impacting bodies of water, and so on. Needless to say, the terroir of Indiana in most respects is not ideal for growing wine grapes. In any event, there are now more than a hundred Indiana wineries that span virtually all regions of the agricultural state from corner to corner.

I've often said, California should not try to grow corn or tomatoes, and Indiana (or Illinois) should not try to grow wine grapes. Having lived for a time in California, I will attest that while we enjoyed access to the wine regions, and many of the California fruits and vegetables, artichokes, apricots and so on, we dearly missed quality beef steak, corn and tomatoes. 

World class wine growing regions are in certain latitudes in areas with moderate or hot climates, in areas that are arid and possess poor rocky, well drained soils that would otherwise be harsh to the likes of corn or tomatoes. Ideal grape growing conditions - terroir - actually stress the grapes, forcing them to establish deep deep roots to strain in capturing nutrients from the sparse soil, which is largely void of sufficiency to grow extensive vines and foliage, or corn. In short, the conditions for wine varietal grapes are almost the opposite of those for the cornbelt. 

The answer to this of course is to determine and cultivate grapes most tolerant of or best suited to the terroir. Great wine producers and regions around the world are all noted for the specific wine grape varietals symbolic for their region and its distinctive terroir - Bordeaux varietals for example which are also suited for Napa Valley in the US. One popular grape selected for Indiana and Illinois wines is Traminette. There are eighteen different varieties of grapes grown in Indiana on a total of 600 acres of vineyard lands.

Indeed, the whole concept of AVA's, American Viticultural Areas, is based on federally-recognized regions defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county, state or country, or by a designated area for that AVA. All the criteria for an AVA come down to terroir so that all wines from that AVA can be presumed to have the same characteristics, or from grapes grown under the same conditions. This is the same as in the old world wine producing countries, where they have rigorous grape growing and wine producing regulations subject to AOC - Appellation d'origine contrôlée regulations in France, and DOC and DOCG in Italy ((Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) is the  superior classification to DOC). 

Notably, there are 57 official appellations in Bordeaux, and seventeen in Napa Valley. Indiana has two designated AVAs, the Indiana Uplands AVA in the center of the state at the southern border along the Ohio River, and the Ohio River Valley AVA straddling the Ohio River along the southern border of the state. 

In order for a wine to be designated with an Appellation of Origin defined by a political boundary, such as a county name for example, federal law requires that 75 percent or more of grapes used to make the wine be from that appellation, such as Napa Valley.

Indiana Wineries have formed promotional tours with pre-designated Wine Trails, each with from five to a dozen wineries or more banded together along a geographic route. They are: 

Indiana Uplands Trail in south and central Indiana with five wineries -
Indiana Wine Trail in Southeast Indiana - seven wineries -
Hoosier Wine Trail along the I64 cooridor in Southwest Indiana - six wineries -
Indy Wine Trail in Indianapolis with five wineries -
State Line Wine Trail bordering the Illinois State Line with five wineries -
South Shore Wine Trail with eleven wineries in the Northeast and East Central Indiana -
Cardinal Flight Wine Trail in Marion and adjacent counties in Central Indiana with six wineries -
Indiana Grown Wine Trail - crosses the state visiting 33 wineries -
WineTour with five wineries in northeast Indiana -

 Alas, Carpenter Creek Cellars sources many of their grapes from California regions - central coast, Sierra foothills, central valley. They also source grapes grown in the Midwest, those tend to be from the southern reaches of Indiana in the two AVAs bordering the Ohio River, or from the wine growing areas of western Michigan, straddling Lake Michigan or Ohio, along Lake Erie, where the Lakes' have significant moderating effects on the local climate. 

While Carpenter Creek have planted vineyards adjacent to the winery, they admitted they lost many of their planted vines due to the harsh winters and extreme cold and deep freeze of the soil a few years ago. 

All that said, partners Ed Courtright and Randy Rottler have done an admirable job crafting some pleasant drinkable wines, that most assuredly represent nearly the best achievable outcomes from the grape sources that they have to work with. 

They produce an extensive portfolio of wines that cover the range from reds and whites, along with a port-like fortified wine, a dessert wine, and a Rose'.

Last year, during our visit, we acquired several Carpenter Creek labels from those that we tasted (below), produced from grape sources as indicated:

Carpenter Creek Cellars Byron's Blend - A red dessert wine done in a port style, sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Fence Row Red - Bordeaux style red blend - sourced from California Central Coast
Fence Row White
Gunny Red - from various sources - Gold Medal winner at the Finger Lakes International Wine Festival
Gunny White - from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Riesling - Michigan and other midwest grapes
Steuben - sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Sunset Red - sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Sunset Rose' - Ohio and other midwest grapes
Traminette - from Indiana and other midwest grapes

 Last week, Linda visited family and friends down in Indiana and stopped again at the picturesque red barn that serves as their winery and tasting room. Once again, she tried a couple wines and was pleasantly impressed such that she bought and brought home a couple new label selections.  

The highlight was a full bodied Zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels, sourced from Northern California Sierra foothill grapes.

 Watch for upcoming reviews of these wines. 

Carpenter Creek Cellars Bourbon Barrel Zinfandel - Byron's Blend - a perfect wine and BBQ pairing. 

 Other labels: 


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Ladera Napa Cabernet for Italian Dinner

Ladera Napa Cabernet for Italian Dinner

Hosting Sister Jan, visiting from SoCal for the weekend, we dined once again on her last evening in town at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood bistro. We were joined by newly-weds, son Sean and Michelle, who had their recent wedding rehearsal dinner at this venue. 

Once again I took BYOB from our cellar a bottle of Napa Cab from a producer we visited with Jan and husband Bill during one of our Napa Valley Wine Experience trips together. Shown left, Jan and Bill with proprietor/producer Anne Stotesbury at Ladera Vineyards and Winery up on Howell Mtn during our Howell Mtn appellation tour in 2008. 

We last tasted and posted about this wine just a couple months ago when I reposted about this producer and label, we discovered this wine and purchased it following our visit to the Ladera Vineyards estate and winery up on Howell Mountain in 2006 and then again 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 in northeast Napa Valley.
The fabulous historic winery building consisted 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. 
Ladera was founded when Stotesburys moved their family to Napa Valley from Montana in 2000 when 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.

Ladera initially primarily focused on Cabernet Sauvignon of which we still hold a several cases of four different labels across several vintages from this era.  

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

Stotesburys sold the Ladera land on Howell Mountain in 2016, following the earlier sales of their Lone Canyon and the Mount Veeder properties.

Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Ladera produced several labels of Cabernet Sauvignon including several sub-appellation designated labels from Howell Mountain and Lone Canyon. This is their basic label sourced from fruits from Howell Mountain and lower elevations in the foothills nearer the valley floor. 

This was a perfect complement to the Angeli's bolognese sauce and parmiagiana sauce on the pasta and eggplant dishes. 

At seventeen years, this is at its apex, if not past its prime drinking window and will not improve with any further aging. The fruits are a bit subdued, perhaps starting to diminish or were already that way. My only previous tasting note was ten years ago, October, 2010, when I wrote: "Dark garnet color - full bodied, a slight funky woody cedar aroma and flavor undercurrent on opening turning to full forward spicy boysenberry - almost whisky-like, and tones of licorice and black berry on a spicy, leathery moderate tannin finish."

At that time I gave it 88 points. Notably, I was going to give this 88 points based on tonight's tasting, before I read this earlier review and tasting note. 

Tonight this was consistent with those earlier tastings, with somewhat subdued fruits, dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, a layer of black tea moderates the spicy blackberry and boysenberry fruits, turning to the notes of licorice and leather on the gripping tannin lingering finish.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Mt Veeder Napa Cab and Sicilian Blend for Italian Dinner

 Duo of Mt Veeder Napa Bordeaux Varietals and Unique Sicilian White Blend for Italian Dinner and Evening Tasting

With Sis Jan visiting from SoCal, we dined at Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. We took BYOB from our cellar a Yates Mt Veeder Napa Cab from Yates Family Vineyards, a producer we visited together during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience back in 2011. 

As mentioned, we visited Yates Family Vineyards located high on the upper slopes of Mt Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains in the southwest corner of Napa Valley, in the Mount Veeder Appellation.

Yates have 35 acres of steep, hillside vineyards that were replanted in the early 1980s to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  

The Yates vineyards sitting at the upper reaches of the mountain at an average elevation of over 1,100 feet, have site terroir that combines the altitude and its exposure and drainage with its microclimates and volcanic soils to produce incredible grapes with intense fruit flavors.  These elements all contribute to produce long-lived ageworthy wines from the estate vineyard.  

Proprietor Mike Yates, shown left, is aided by his daughter Whitney Yates Hanes, working together as Co-Winemakers to produce wines under the Yates label. 

They estate bottle standard Bordeaux varietal designated labels as well as a Reserve. They also produce a St Emilion style blend and a left bank Bordeaux blend Alden Perry Reserve named for family patriarch Mike's grandfather, Perry and father Alden, who shifted to the Bordeaux varietals in the early fifties, (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc). 

Yates labels are produced in small quantity of less about 200 cases, including this Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that we tasted this evening of which only 98 cases were produced.

Here we are, shown with Mary Yates and her husband Todd Jones who manages sales and marketing for Yates.

We drank this with the Angeli's special Sausage and Pepper Pasta in garlic with shaved brussel sprouts and crushed red pepper. As a post course it was an ideal complement to the Butternut Squash Gnocci with its brown sugar sauce.

Yates Family Mount Veeder Redwoods Estate Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 

The winemaker's notes on this release sum it up well. "Deep dark purple ruby in color shows the intensity of this varietal. Bold earthy aromas of eucalyptus, sweet cherry, blackberry, cedar stone, and bittersweet chocolate. Lusciously complex, this wine boasts of high toned fruits, cherries perfectly ripened in the sun, rose, leather, cinnamon, briar, wet stone with a hit of coriander. The finish is smooth and memorable."  

Wine Enthusiast gave this release 92 points in their September 2009 issue.

This was aged eighteen months in 35% new French oak.  

Producers notes on the 2006 vintage,  "2006 started off with heavy rains bringing in the New Year.  This wet weather lingered into spring. This caused the vines to grown energetically early, delaying bloom into June.  June’s weather started to warm, with dry conditions favoring fruit set.  July had some record heat which was followed by a moderate summer.  Harvest was delayed due to the wet spring and delayed bloom.  Total yield was slightly lower, with small berries that helped concentrate the flavors and enhance the fruit aromas creating intense wines with soft tannins for accessibility early but still possessing age ability for years to come."

At fourteen years of age, this is likely tasting at the apex of its drinking window. Tonight, this was consistent with our earlier tasting experience, dark deep inky purple color - complex and full bodied, the black berry and black cherry fruits were accented by dusty rose petals, tones of dark bittersweet chocolate, spice, and a layer of leather on a smooth tannin finish. 

RM 91 points. 


As we did last week, once again, we 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 Angelis signature Boston Clam Chowder and the Butternut squash gnocci and Linda's entree, the Seared Ahi tuna.

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.

 Rubissow Mt Veeder Napa Valley Merlot 2006

 After dinner, back at home, we opened another label that we tasted and procured with Jan at the winery, Rubissow, high atop Mt Veeder during the same Napa Valley, Mt Veeder Appellation tour

We visited the Rubissow Estate and Vineyards, also high atop Mt Veeder and met proprietor, winemaker, producer George Rubissow.  The Rubissow hilltop vineyard is at the southern end of the Mt Veeder appellation looking south to Carneros with views in the distance of Mt Diablo to the west of San Francisco Bay and Mt Tamalpais in Marin to the north of the golden gate. 

The southern exposure and proximity to the San Pablo Bay moderates the climate of the site. 


From my earlier notes in a previous blogpost, "my recollection of this wine was the profile of the Yates Fleur de Veeder that we tasted next to this as reviewed above - full bodied with rich extracted fruit. Tonight this was leaner and lighter than I remembered and hence expected. I am looking ahead to trying this again as we still have a half case in the cellar."

Tonight's tasting was consistent with that earlier experience, this showed dark garnet purple color, medium body with black berry fruits, slightly tart black cherry with a hints of spice, tobacco, touch of mocha and coffee bean. 

This was a bit flabby and lacked structure and therefor was a bit underwhelming, perhaps due to comparison with the bigger, bolder, brighter Yates, reviewed above.

RM 87 points.