Sunday, June 7, 2020

Covid Curve Rebound Wine Dinner

Covid Curve Rebound Wine Dinner

After three months shut in due to Coronavirus, we hosted a wine dinner with neighbors Mark and Shirley and wine buddy fellow 'Pour Boy' Dr Dan and Linda.

Linda prepared grilled Ahi Tuna steaks and filets of beef for the ladies and prime rib-eye steaks for the men, along with a wedge salad with ceasar and blue cheese, a special preparation of potatoes-au-gratin with herbs, and grilled asparagus.

Prior to dinner we served a selection of artisan cheeses and olives - Old Amsterdam Gouda,  Gouda Farmhouse Truffle, Danish Harvarti and Campo de Montalban Spain Mixed Milk.

With the salad and cheese course we served Lansom Rose NV Champagne and a Villa Andretti California Chardonnay 2017. This is the every day collection of Andretti wines sourced partly from the estate, but also blended with grapes sourced from across Northern California.

The cheeses paired perfectly with the Champagne and the modest Chardonnay. The hearty bolder Old Amsterdam, one of my favorites, accompanied the reds as well as the whites.

As we moved to the Ahi Tuna course we opened a Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Gary Farrell "Russian River Selection" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2015

We visited the Gary Farrell estate and winery in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County during or Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience in 2017.

This was ideal with the grilled marinated Ahi Tuna steak.

This was sourced from vineyards throughout the Russian River Valley, including Hallberg and Galante in the cooler Green Valley AVA. It got 94 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Ruby colored, medium bodied, smooth, nicely balanced, polished, dusty rose with fruits of black berry, black cherries, raspberries, smoky earthy, floral notes with crisp acidity, youthful tannins and oak. 

RM 92 points.

The dinner entree beef course was highlighted by a selection of Bordeaux and Bordeaux varietals starting with a Howell Mountain Napa Cabernet.

Château Clinet Pomerol Bordeaux 2010

Dan brought this Right Bank Bordeaux from his cellar. 

We have had the pleasure of meeting Château Clinet owner Ronan Laborde at the UGCB annual release tour Chicago wine spectacle yearly for the last five years or so. Clinet is one of our favorite Right Bank Bordeaux selections that we hold in our cellar dating back more two decades. 

We've enjoyed this label at several of our special wine events and dinners. A visit to the Chateau was one of the highlights of Ernie's visit to Bordeaux during his trip several years ago. Dr Dan brought this 2010 vintage release as a benchmark wine against which to compare the other labels of the evening. 

The 2010 release was awarded 97 points by James Suckling, 96 points by Jeb Dunnuck and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 95 points by Wine Spectator, 92-94 points by Wine Enthusiast and 93 points by Stephen Tanzer. 

This is what Ronan calls a classic (Right Bank) Bordeaux Blend of 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. 

At ten years of age, this is likely at the apex of its drinking window but will age gracefully for a couple more decades.  A Merlot based blend, this was much more complex and multi-dimensional than the 'narrower' and 'deeper', more single dimensional Cabernets. Hence this was ideal as a transition from the Ahi to the beef steaks, and between the softer, lighter Pinot Noir, but before the bigger, bolder, more single dimensional Cabernets. 

Dark inky purple  colored, full-bodied, concentrated and firmly structured, yet smooth, polished and elegant with layers of dark plum blackberry and black currant fruits accented by coffee bean, mocha, and hints of oak with silky polished tannins on a tongue puckering chewy finish.

RM 94 points.

Camiana Blue Hall Vineyards Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

From Blue Hall Vineyard,  a 5 acre site on Howell Mountain owned by two medical doctors, Andrew Zolopa & Annie Talbot. Andrew was instrumental in starting the HIV program at Stanford University in 1994 and was a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine for twenty years.

Andrew traveled regularly to Napa to enjoy fine wine and in 1998 purchased property on Howell Mountain to build a home away from home. Sitting near the top of Howell Mountain at an elevation of 1,700 feet above Napa Valley, the property was in the geographic heart of the Howell Mountain sub-appellation, surrounded by world famous vineyards (owned by Beringer) and forested hillsides. 

In 2000-01, Zolopa oversaw the planting of a vineyard divided into two farming blocks by a creek that ran across the property. It was planted by the Pina's a long time Napa family who continued to manage the five acre vineyard of which 3 acres was planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Zolopa named the vineyard Blue Hall Vineyard, deriving its name from the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. In the summer of 1880, while honeymooning in a cabin on the side of Mount St. Helena, 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 “Blue Hall” was written about in the book “Silverado Squatters”, written by Robert Louis Stevenson – it featured much about historical Napa Valley.

In 2004, they produced their first wine, a 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. Andrew named the wine “Camiana" after his daughters Camille and Juliana. They appointed Ted Osborne as winemaker, who was self taught 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

Blue Hall’s first vintage was 2004 with only 80 cases made, 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 despite 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."

Andretti Montona Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

In recognition for Mark's career in the auto industry and Dan's long time interest in the Indy 500, I served this Ultra-Premium label from the Mario Andretti winery, named for his birthplace village, Montona. Mario Andretti partners with his auto team sponsor Joe Antonini, former chairman and CEO of KMart, producing wines sourced from the Laird Estate in Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley.

Founded in 1996, their winemaker is Bob Pepi, son of Robert Pepi, founder of Pepi Winery. Ironically, working for these two notable Italians, Pepi is credited with bringing the Italian varietal Sangiovese grape to NapaValley.

We discovered this wine during our visit to the Andretti Winery in Oak Knoll District of southeast Napa Valley during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2018.  As a result of our visit, we joined their wine club and received allocations of this premium Reserve collection. 

This label was better than earlier tastings suggesting it needed a bit more time to settle and mature in the bottle.  It is sourced from select grapes from the Andretti Winery estate as well as from contract grower sources.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, concentrated forward black berry fruits were accented by a layer of dark mocha chocolate with notes of tobacco are spice with mouth filling tannins on a long finish. 

RM 90 points.

After dinner there was a selection of chocolate centric desserts, Linda's flowerless chocolate cake with fresh berries, Shirley's chocolate cheese cake, and Dan and Linda brought a chocolate cake.

The dessert course was highlighted by a mini-horizontal duo of 1996 vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from Nils Venge Saddleback Vineyards and Winery and Paradigm Oakville.

Nils Venge Saddleback Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

We first met Nils at Del Dotto when he was their winemaker while also managing his Penny Lane Vineyard over at his Saddleback Cellars during our Napa visits in the mid and late nineties.  We discovered and acquired this wine during one of those visits to the Winery.   

Tasting Venge Penny Lane Family Reserve Cabernet w/ AJ
and Nils Venge at Tra Vigne in St Helena
Nils Venge is a bit of a legend in Napa Valley. In addition to having been consulting winemaker to many top producers including Groth, Del Dotto and Plumpjack, he has his Venge and Saddleback family labels, and with son Kirk is coming out with wines from their property Rossini Ranch. He and Kirk worked with Dwayne and Susan Hoff at Fantesca in their early releases. We hear Nils has retired and ownership and the operations is now run by son Kirk.

During that visit we had a wine luncheon with Nils Venge back at our then favorite Napa Valley dining establishment, Travigne. Sadly, it has been taken over and re-purposed. The staff moved on to the old Factory Outlet site up near Calistoga where they have opened a winery and eatery, one of the highlights of our Napa Wine Experience 2018. 

We did this same mini-horizontal wine tasting during a holiday dinner back in 2018 when we compared 1996 vintages Cabernet Sauvginon releases of Saddleback opposite a Paradigm Oakville.

At that time we also compared the two Saddleback vintages, the Nils 2006 special release above oppsite the 1996 Saddleback Oakville Napa Cabernet.
At the time, I wrote of the '96, "Initially a bit tight and closed, we decanted and aerated this bottle and it opened a bit more and reveal its native character and fruits over the course of the next hour.'
The two Saddleback wines had remarkable similarity, being potentially the same wine but ten years removed. They showed the same basic profile and character but the '96 showed darker blackish garnet with slight hints of gray color, the same fruit profile albeit slightly subdued, accented by the same notes above of smoke, dusty leather, earth and tea.

RM 89 points.

Like that night, tonight we did the same comparison of the '96 Oakville Napa Cab above, we also opened this Paradigm Cabernet from the same appellation and same vintage.

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Tonight was a replay of that tasting back in 2018', "This provided an interesting comparison with the other '96 Oakville Cabernet sitting side by side. This wine had the same color and body as above. We also decanted and aerated this bottle which accentuated its bouquet and flavors which emerged further after about thirty minutes. The Paradigm showed fewer aromatics and more subdued fruit than the Saddleback above, but opened a bit more over the next hour.'

We tasted and acquired this wine during a winery visit back in 1999

 Tonight was a different experience than as reflected in my tasting notes for this label from back in 2009 when I wrote. "This wine is showing its age, probably beyond its apex, or any chance for improvement, but still within the drinking window. Showing some diminution of fruit, giving way to non-fruit charcoal and earth tones, yet, revealed some of its native fruit character at some point during the evening.'

"I opened, decanted and then rebottled and recorked this wine an hour before setting out for the restaurant. Upon decanting it released huge aroma's of berry fruits and some floral. After opening for serving the fruit was a bit muted for almost an hour before revealing black berry and hints of sweet black raspberry, giving way to a layer of charcoal, anise and spice. Tannins were moderate on the lingering finish. This wine is still showing okay but should be consumed over the next few years."

Tonight, this was bright vibrant and fruit filled from the beginning, showing well with great aging potential as it nears its 25th year since release.  A fun and rewarding tasting experience indeed.