Saturday, January 30, 2021

Dowdell Napa Valley Soda Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Dowdell Napa Valley Soda Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

After our wine-dinner, we did another cellar dive and Dan pulled out this unique single label limited release Napa Cabernet that he picked up at auction. 

This label was marketed by Wilson Daniels a wine marketing firm who 'use education and brand-building to develop mutually rewarding, long-term relationships and strategic partnerships with luxury producers' to market and promote 'high profile fine wines featuring top terroir, that are benchmarks in their region'. 

One boutique merchant wrote in their promotion of this wine, 'We believe the project was initiated for a specific buyer in mind. That didn’t pan out and the wine wound up in limbo. Very little made to market. We just discovered it and we bought every single bottle we could get.' 

Essentially, someone had excess fruit, or wine, or as they said, proceeded on a wine production project that then needed marketing, promotion and distribution, developing a label and a brand. Since they were not owner producers, not producing 'estate' wines, these projects are often 'one-hit wonders', or less, if and when they don't live up to their hype or lofty expectations. They are fun and interesting experiments and experiences - just don't get attached to them as you may not see a follow on encore

This was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a single block of the former Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa, on the lower reaches of the Vaca Range above Silverado Trail, north of Atlas Peak, south of Howell Mountain. The Stagecoach Vineyard is one of the most storied legendary vineyards in Napa Valley.  Stagecoach fruit has sourced scores of premium and ultra premium bottlings by many top winemakers and labels over the years. The property was recently sold to E.J. Gallo which has caused much consternation through the Napa wine community and makes this independent bottling even more unique as a single vintage release appellation specific designated bottling, not likely to be repeated again? Cellartracker records indicate three vintages released - but only reviews for this 2014. With the only vintage reference on the rear label, who knows?

This label was crafted by notable winemaker Thomas Brown. According to The Terroirist Wine Journal, "Thomas Brown is the nation's hottest winemaker." He has received many 100-point scores from Robert Parker and James Laube. He was Food & Wine Magazine’ "Winemaker of the Year." He has lead or advised winemaking at Chiarello, Schrader, Outpost, Maybach, Revana, TOR, C. Mondavi, Jones Family, Harris Estate, Hestan, Seaver, Black Sears, Casa Piena and more.

I wrote about Thomas Brown and Chiarello in an earlier blogpost

This was aged for 19 months in 3 kinds of French Oak - Tonnellerie, Remond and Berthomieu.

This is packaged in an ultra-premium oversize, heavy glass bottle with a super deep punt. Unfortunately, the wine does not quite live up to the presentation of the packaging. 

Dark blackish inky purple, medium-full bodied, this wine is more defined by what it is not, rather than what it is, not overly dramatic or inspiring, not overblown, over-extracted or over-oaked, smooth, soft, balanced blackberry and black raspberry fruits with notes of cassis and tar, a touch of leather and spice turning to hints of aromatic floral notes and creme caramel on a smooth tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.

Super Big Red Wine Flight for Grilled Beefsteak Dinner

 Super Big Red Wine Flight for Grilled Beefsteak Dinner

Fellow Pour Boy wine buddy Dr Dan and Linda hosted Linda and I on a snowy winter evening. They prepared grilled New York Strip Steaks, baked potatoes, brussel sprouts, beets, and homemade baked onion soup. Before dinner there was a broad selection of artisan cheeses. These were great pairings with the Champagne and the Chardonnay.

Discussing the evening ahead of time, Dan offered he was going to serve a Howell Mountain Cabernet so I pulled one from the cellar to take as a comparison pairing.

The occasion was not only fellowship but also a celebration of Dan's recent successful surgery. 

The wine flight included vintage Champagne before dinner for the celebration and thanksgiving toast and to accompany the cheeses. Dessert was deliciously decadent Chocolate Tuxedo cake. I brought the remains of the dessert wine from the previous evening wine dinner for pairing. 

The wines:

Veuve Doussot Champagne Ernestine Millesime 2014
Gary Farrel Sonoma County Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017
Fleury Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Doubleback Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Château Suduiraut 1er Cru Classe Sauterne 2002

Veuve Doussot Cuvee Ernestine Brut Champagne Millesime 2014 

From the Aube region of Champagne, 150 km south of Epernay, midpoint on the route down to the City of Dijon. 

This vintage release is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It scored 92 points in Wine Spectator, and 91 points by International Wine Cellar.

Champagne colored, young vibrant nicely balanced fruit of apple and citrus with mineral texture and tight acidity.

Gary Farrel Sonoma County Russian River Valley Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Chardonnay 2017

This is a wine club exclusive allocated label. Dan became a member when we visited Gary Farrell with Dan and Linda during our Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience in 2017.. 

The grapes for this outstanding vineyard designated select Chardonnay come from two different blocks within the Allen Vineyard, planted just to the south of the Rochioli Vineyard. The diverse soil types and unique microclimates of this site provides ideal conditions for Chardonnay. Each clone and field selection were chosen to take advantage of the distinctive terroir of the specific soil type, elevation and exposure to the sun. 

Some of the oldest vines have been nurtured by three generations of the Rochioli family. This blend is composed of clones 76 and 15 from two blocks at the Allen Vineyard.

Winemaker's notes for this release: "Flecks of gold reflect brilliantly through an inviting straw hue as the 2017 Rochioli Allen Chardonnay is poured into the glass. Aromas of apple blossoms and chaparral clematis entice the senses upon first swirl. Elements of dried stone fruits coupled with citrus zest provide endless layers of complexity and verve. Focused minerality and crystalline acidity complete the package, delivering a stunning concentration of silky texture and balanced flavors."


Fleury Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Fleury Estate Winery is a family owned winery in Rutherford in the heart of the Napa Valley founded by Brian and Claudia Fleury in 2000, pivoting from a successful software business career in the Bay Area. We met Brian and Claudia at the Del Dotto Barrels and Beasts extravaganza shortly thereafter. Fleury and Del Dotto have been collaborators in various Napa Valley ventures. Back then I acquired some of their their earliest label, Lauren Bryce, named for their children. 

Fleury Estate wines are a favorite of son Ryan and several of his colleagues at Oracle.

Fleurys owns 50 acres of premium Napa Valley vineyards - eleven acres at the winery estate site in Rutherford, thirty acres in St. Helena, and six acres in Deer Park high atop Howell Mountain. This variation of different appellations and elevations enables Fleury to craft a portfolio of varying labels with consistent, high quality year after year. Total production is about 4,000 cases of wine per year.

The Fleury Estate, just south of St. Helena in Rutherford in the valley center, is home to the Fleury winery along with a hospitality center with tasting room, situated amidst the 11 acre estate vineyard. 

This label, Howell Mountain BDX is their play on the word Bordeaux, it is a red Bordeaux blend comprised primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Two hundred cases were produced.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, vibrant expressive blackberry fruit with sprites of plum and cherry accented by notes of tar, cigar box and leather with moderate tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 92 points.

Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I brought this from the cellar to compare with the Fluery Howell Mountain Cabernet. I've written often in these pages that Robert Craig, as well as Del Dotto are some of our largest holdings in our cellar collection, spanning more than two decades of vintage releases across numerous labels.

We've long been fans of Robert Craig and his family of appellation specific Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons featuring mountain fruits from three different Napa Mountains, Mt Veeder, Howell Mountain, and Spring Mountain District, and sometimes supplemented by another offering from Mt George.

We first met Robert back in the early 1990's when he was producing his handcrafted wines up on Atlas Peak. Robert started his winemaking career up on Mt Veeder and as such, this was his first Mountain designated release offering under the Robert Craig label, and fittingly, it is his favorite.

Shortly thereafter he released a Howell Mountain label which is typically my favorite, up until the limited release of his Spring Mountain District Cabernet in 2007 which I liked even more!

We've met with the Robert and Lynn Craig and various members of their team numerous  times during our Napa Wine Experiences (1998), during their visits here to Chicago, and have visited their Howell Mountain winery harvest parties and special events, and of course their tasting room in town in Napa.

Perhaps our most memorable Robert Craig experience was a special luncheon we held up at the winery during our Napa Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008 - Robert Craig on the lawn overlooking the vineyards, the valley below, and the opposing Mayacamas range across the Valley. A photo of that picturesque setting (shown above) was Linda's screensaver for years and the subject of one of her oil paintings. 

This Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is dark purple colored, medium-full bodied, focused blackberry and black raspberry fruits with smooth velvety texture, tones of soft sweet mocha with hints of cedar, spice and soft oak, a whisper of cedar and herbal notes on a polished smooth finish.

RM 92 points.


Doubleback Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Turning from Napa Valley and California to the north, Dan opened this Cabernet from Quarterback turned winery owner and producer Drew Bledsoe, very timely as we might have seen him play his last game in the NFL Playoffs series loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers who advance to the Super Bowl next week. 

We drove up to the Bledsoe property in the sloping foothills of the Blue Mountains in the southern reaches of the Walla Walla appellation during our Walla Walla Wine Experience back in 2018. 

This was Doubleback's first vintage to include estate-grown grapes in the blend. The 2011 cool vintage provided a challenge to winemakers in the Northwest as well as down in Napa Valley. This was crafted by legendary Columbia Valley winemaker Chris Figgins.

This won wide critical acclaim garnering 94 points and a 'Cellar Selection' from Wine Enthusiast, 92 from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and Wine Spectator.

Dark inky purple colored medium full bodied, vibrant ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruits, very similar to the Fleury above, but less complex, and lacking the polish and balance of the Robert Craig. Notes of truffle graphite and hints of creme de cassis with smooth tannin amid vibrant acid backbone cuts through its richness ending with a lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Château Suduiraut 1er Cru Classe Sauterne 2002

We enjoy sweet unctuous desert wines with salads, cheese or deserts. This was a nice finisher, a perfect complement to the final dessert course of decadent chocolate cake. 

This is a classic Sauterne, a blend of Semillon (94 %) and Sauvignon Blanc (6 %). Château Suduiraut is considered to be one of the finest Sauternes.

Golden honey, dark amber colored, full bodied yet delicate, nicely balanced fruit and floral aromas, complex roasted and candied notes of apple, vanilla and honey, medium sweetness and a long smooth silky finish.  Not as sweet and unctuous as some vintages, the fruit is more subdued lacking the apricot nectar and honey of some vintages. This showed plenty of botrytis, with predominate notes of smoke, marzipan, almond, ripe apple, and hints of vanilla on the tongue cloying finish.

RM 91 

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated this wine 90-93 points, Wine Spectator, 90 points.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

“A Night in Sicily” Italian Village Donnafugata Covid Lock-in Virtual Wine Dinner

“A Night in Sicily” Covid Lock-in Virtual Wine Dinner Presented by Chicago's Italian Village Restaurants

Italian Village Restaurants in Chicago hosted “A Night in Sicily” presented by Jared Gelband, Italian Village Wine Director and Chef Jose, and guest host Italian Wine Specialist, Daniele Sbordi, who lead a virtual journey to the island of Sicily and a tasting of wines from producer Donnafugata Winery

 A four course dinner was specially prepared for pick-up at the restaurant complete with preparation directions and a wine course selection of three bottles of Donnafugata Sicilian wines

 For the occasion, we were joined by son Sean and daughter-in-law Michelle in person in our dining room, and daughter Erin and son-in-law Johnny and their four children, who attended virtually via zoom from their home. We were joined via zoom with another dozen folks. 

 To facilitate and optimize the experience, we set up a large screen TV and our computer in the dining room for the occasion. 

The dinner: 

Crostini con Caponata - Rustic Italian Bread / Caponata Topping

Ravioli con Ricotta - Hand made Ravioli / Ricotta and Parmesan Cheese / Pistachio pesto sauce

Braciole alla Siciliana - Filet Mignon / Proscutto / Provolone / Green Onion / Salsa di Pomodoro 

Italian Cannoli / Italian Biscotti 

Vini - The Wine

Donnafugata "Sur Sur" Sicilia DOC Grillo 2019

Donnafugata "Floramundi" Cerasuelo di Vittoria DOCG 2018

Donnafugata "Sul Volcano" Etna Rosso DOC 2017

I wrote in these pages recently about the art and magic of pairing food and wine to magnify the overall experience. Tonight, the masterful pairing of the wines to the food courses by Wine Director Jared and Chef Jose amplified both the food and the wine. As a result, as I wrote Jared in a follow up note, "everything exceeded my expectations, the food, the wine, the pairing, the overall experience".

Even though there were six of us adult family members to share the experience, we quickly regretted not including other members of our Pour Boys wine group. Our Pour Boys wine group attended the fabulous Sassicaia producer wine dinner at Italian Village last year. We'll be certain to do so when we next participate in such an event. Or, ideally, do it together in person when the Covid controls are relaxed or behind us. 

Donnafugata was established in Sicily in 1983 by Giacomo Rallo, the fourth generation of a family with over 160 years of experience in quality wine, along with his wife Gabriella, a pioneer of viticulture in Sicily. Giacomo passed away in 2016, so the company today is run by their children José and Antonio and a team of people focused on excellence. 

The name Donnafugata comes from a novel by Tomasi di Lampedusa entitled Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). The name that means “donna in fuga” (woman in flight) refers to the story of a queen who found refuge in the part of Sicily where the company’s vineyards are located today. The adventure tome also inspired the corporate logo, the image of a woman’s head with windblown hair that dominates the brand and adorns every bottle. All Donnafugata wines' labels and names are inspired by Gabriella Rallo and designed by Stefano Vitale whose original artwork is featured each on the labels of each of the two dozen wines they produce. His works were featured in an exhibition "Art and Wine - Chasing Donnafugata”, presented by FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano in Milan in 2018 in the prestigious Villa Necchi Campiglio.

Donnafugata produce over forty estate wines meaning they are sourced from the producer owned vineyards that span almost six hundred acres of 45 different varieties of grapes indigenous to Sicily. Total production is near 5 million bottles annually.

Donnafugata "Sur Sur" Sicilia DOC Grillo 2019

We discovered and wrote about the Italian Grillo grape varietal earlier this winter, so it was fun to try another producer and label of this wine, another nice QPR pleasant sipper, worth exploring and trying a Grillo wine.

Donnafugatta "Sur Sur" is produced from Grillo, an ancient Sicilian grape varietal. The grape name grillo means cricket, for the crickets that are common in the region and said to bring good luck. The name comes from the classical Arabic language which was once also spoken in Sicily. The label features Stefano Vitale artwork of Gabriella (founder of Donnafugata, with her husband Giacomo) as a girl in flight, running barefoot through the flowers and fresh grass.

This is 100% Grillo classified grapes from the Sicilian DOC, according to Italy’s 'denominazione di origine controllata' (DOC) classification system, akin to France's well-known Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) and America's AVA systems. DOC, means designation of 'controlled origin', it is the second highest quality classification of the Italian system. 

There are 329 different DOCs in Italy, across a wide range of red and white wines across the country, from Prosecco sparkling wines to the Vin Santo dessert wines of Tuscany. Each DOC has its own rules about permitted grape varieties, maximum harvest yields, alcohol levels, and aging requirements including use of barrels. 

The grapes are from
the western tip of Sicily, the Contessa Entellina estate and neighboring areas and in the hilly hinterland between Marsala and Salemi in the Baiata, Alfaraggio, Pioppo district. The region has a distinctive terrior, hilly with altitudes from 200 to 600 meters, loamy sub-alkaline limestone soils, arid with little rainfall, with substantial variance in warm daytime to cool nightime temperatures with Meditteranean breezes, that is ideal for the growing and ripening of Grillo grapes. 
Donnafugatta have five hundred acres in eight different sites in the region where they grow both white and red grape varietals. 

This label has been produced since 2013 with 4000 cases annual production. It was awarded 91 points, #86 of the Top 100 Wines of 2019 by Wine Enthusiast. 

This was a wonderful pairing with the antipasta courses. We cheated and added a starter course of Linda's wonderful lobster tails on a ramukan of buttered croutons. Following was the Italian Village Crostini con Caponata - Rustic Italian Bread / Caponata Topping. Linda improvised with this course and chopped the Caponata into a wonderful tapenade. Both were wonderfully complemented by this wine.
 Winemaker notes: "Brilliant straw yellow, on the nose SurSur offers a fresh bouquet with notes of white fleshed fruit (peach and cantaloupe melon) combined with scents of wildflowers and mint. A soft palate, the fruity notes return combined with pleasant freshness."

This was straw colored, light bodied, aromatic with sprites of citrus, tropical fruit, floral, melon and hints of peach, dry with crisp clean acidity. Good QPR in this label.

RM 88 points.

Donnafugata "Floramundi" Cerasuelo di Vittoria DOCG 2018

This is a blend of grape varietals: Nero D’Avola, King of the Sicilian red grapes, and Frappato, one of the most ancient native varieties of Sicily, sourced from 88 acres of eight Donnafugatta estate vineyards from the prestigious denomination: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, in the territory of Acate on the western side of the southern tip of Sicily. 

The terroir is gently sloping terrain from 120 to 150 meters with sandy medium tectured limestone soils with warm temperate Mediterranean climate of warm temperate days moderated by sea breezes, and cool nights.

This label is classified DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), the highest quality classification designation for Italian wines. , while the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), has less strict guidelines. The rules for DOCG are stricter than DOC, yields must be lower and the wines must be aged in barrels longer. Also, DOCG requires the wines be submitted for technical analysis and tasted for approval by a government committee before they can be sold as DOCG wines. Interesting too, DOCG wines even have a numbered, government seal across the neck of the bottle to prevent counterfeiting.

Floramundi, a refined red, the dialogue between two souls: the one of Nero D’Avola, King of the Sicilian red grapes, and the one of Frappato, one of the most ancient native varieties of Sicily.

Like all Donnafuggati labels, Floramundi features distinctive colorful artwork by Stefano Vitale artwork, sponsored by proprietor  Gabriella Rallo. This label features the stylistic figure of a woman in a rainbow of symbols, of the tradition of the historic Pupi Siciliani (Sicilian Puppets).

This is the third vintage release of this label; it was awarded 92 points by James Suckling, and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast. 

This was a wonderful complement to the Italian Village Primi Course; Ravioli con Ricotta - Hand made Ravioli / Ricotta and Parmesan Cheese / Pistachio pesto sauce. Linda was the favorite wine, food and pairing of the rest of our group. I preferred the Secondi course and pairing. 

Winemaker notes for this release: "Intense ruby color with bright purple reflections; Floramundi offers intense fruity aromas, among which the notes of black cherry and berries (blueberry) stand out; the bouquet opens with delicate balsamic nuances of laurel and characteristic spicy notes of black pepper. The tasting is supported by freshness and softness that make it juicy and very pleasant to drink. The tannin is fine and well integrated. Floramundi 2018 expresses the harmonious balance that Cerasuolo di Vittoria can reach."

Bright Ruby colored, light-medium bodied, bright vibrant cherry and cranberry fruit flavors accented by tangy acidity, dusty rose floral tones and hints of white pepper.  

RM 88 points. 

Donnafugata "Sul Vulcano" Etna Rosso DOC 2017

For the main Secondi course, Chef Jose prepared this imaginative Braciole alla Siciliana - Filet Mignon  with Proscutto, Provolone and Green Onion in a robust tangy Salsa di Pomodoro. The Chef's directions called for this to be mixed with the accompanying Italian Village signature rosemary potatos. 

Linda called an option and served the potatos on the side which was a great move - they were akin to a whole additional course in of themselve and provided another complete wonderful tasting pairing experience.  

The Donnafugata Sul Vulcano label is from the Etna Rosso Denomination. It is a Etna Rosso DOC classified wine. It is a blend of Nerello Mascalese, the main red grape variety from the prestigious Etna appellation, with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio grape varietal. 

The fruit for this label is sourced from Donnafugata 45 acres of estate vineyards in Eastern Sicily, on the north side of the historic volcano of Mt Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano from which it derives its name, between Randazza and Castiglione di Sicilia.

The terroir there is a higher altitude of 750 meters with deep mineral rich volcanic soil, cooler sub-climate with the Sicilian dramatic variations of warm days and cool nights. 

This was more my style of wine, darker, more dense concentrated and complex, more like a Nebbiolo or a Bordeaux varietal. Naturally, this style was ideally paired with the hearty beefsteak, cheeses and tangy pomodoro sauce. As noted above, it also paired superbly with the rosemary potatoes. 

The art series stylistic label features a goddess-volcano with intense colors, red, yellows, and iridescent blacks, another design of artist Stefano Vitale.

This is the second vintage release of this label, first released in 2016.

James Suckling and Wine both gave this 93 points. 

Winemaker notes: "Pale ruby red, Sul Vulcano offers an elegant bouquet with notes of red fruits (raspberry and cherry) and flowery scents (violet), along with delicate spicy nuances of cinnamon and nutmeg."

Garnet colored, medium bodied, robust flavors of black raspberry and black cherry with notes of tobacco, hints of graphite, floral violets, hints of cinnamon and nutmeg spices with moderate tannins on the finish. 

RM 90 points.

We supplemented Jared's Italian Village Donnafugata wine flight with a dessert wine from our cellar for the Dolce Course of Italian Cannoli and Italian Biscotti. Linda also served her Pots-au-de-Creme Chocolat dessert. 

Château Suduiraut 1er Cru Classe Sauterne 2002

We enjoy sweet unctuous desert wines with salads, cheese or deserts. This was a nice finisher, a perfect complement to the final Dolce course. 

This is a classic Sauterne, a blend of Semillon (94 %) and Sauvignon Blanc (6 %). Château Suduiraut is considered to be one of the finest Sauternes.

The history of Château Suduiraut, dates back to the 1600’s. It was classified as a Premier Cru during the official 1855 wine classification programme. The French conglomerate AXA Millésimes acquired Suduiraut in 1992. 

Golden honey, dark amber colored, full bodied yet delicate, nicely balanced fruit and floral aromas, complex roasted and candied notes of apple, vanilla and honey, medium sweetness and a long smooth silky finish.  Not as sweet and unctuous as some vintages, the fruit is more subdued lacking the apricot nectar and honey of some vintages. This showed plenty of botrytis, with predominate notes of smoke, marzipan, almond, ripe apple, and hints of vanilla on the tongue cloying finish.

RM 91 

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated this wine 90-93 points, Wine Spectator, 90 points.