Sunday, February 28, 2021

Covid forces Virtual OTBN for 2021

Covid forces virtual OTBN for 2021

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, 2021 - the annual wine tasting extravaganza was held according to custom, on the last Saturday night in February.

This is the 22nd year for the annual event wine extravaganza, originally conceived by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, is for those that have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened.  

Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle. Gaiter and Brecher realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it! Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because so often, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not.

Covid protection protocols dictated a whole new paradigm for social gatherings this year and as such, we met virtually via an internet network collaboration app with our fellow Pour Boys wine group. 

Linda and I traveled to Indiana to join Dr Dan and Linda, while Lyle and Terry in Chicago, and Bill and Beth on Seabrook Isle, SC, joined virtually via our tele-session. 
Pour Boys Wine Group OTBN 2021
Needless to say, the remote virtual gathering undermined the ability to share and taste a broad selection of wines.
Unlike previous years where the group brought a broad and deep selection of wines that allowed for multiple flights of different wine tastings - champagne or sparkling wine to start, a white flight with the pre-dinner starter course, a red or blend flight with the dinner course (s), and a dessert flight with the final course, tonight's selection was subdued and more singularly focused based on a limited selection appropriate for two couples. 
Each couple had their own wine and food pairing for the evening - Bill and Beth a Cliff Lede Stags Leap 2010, Lyle and Terry a Substance "CS" Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley, Washington.

I brought a red and a white to Dr Dan's, and as usual, he pulled a broad selection of wines from his cellar for the evening - a white, several reds, and a dessert wine. 
Prior to dinner, Dan and Linda served a broad selection of artisan cheeses with fresh fruits, mixed nuts and broad selection of chocolates. 
Tonight's dinner was more subdued with comfort food fitting the deep freeze and deep snowpack we've been enduring the last month - a hearty tomato basil soup and a robust chicken pot pie.
Pairing with the cheese course and the pivot to the dinner, we each served an expressive white - Chardonnays from Sonoma County and Russian River Valley, which provided and fun and interesting comparison in contrasting styles.  

What a fun and interesting comparison in these two Chardonnays, the golden butter colored Freestone and the straw colored Rochioli. 

Both were bright, vibrant and expressive and the group was mixed on which was bigger or more fruit forward - each bold with sprites of bright fruits and accents.
Freestone Sonoma County Chardonnay 2008
Last year I took a inconic historic Joseph Phelps flagship Insignia Napa Bordeaux Blend Cabernet from the 1989 vintage, served alongside a 2004, at OTBN 2020 which was also held at Dr Dans. 
While Phelps produced Napa Valley and Carneros Chardonnays from 1974, they sought a site more suited to Chardonnay. They explored sites across Sonoma County finally settling in the town of Freestone on the Sonoma Coast, where, in the late 1990’s, few vineyards existed.
In 1999 they purchased land in Freestone when the area was primarily comprised of cattle, pasture and forest land. The area - just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean - was socked in by fog that lingered into the early afternoon on most summer days. The climate and Goldridge soils were thought to provide a terrior suitable for Burgundy varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In 2000, the Pastorale Vineyard, a former dairy farm, was planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 2007, the Freestone Winery was built by the Hensel Phelps Construction Company, the company originally founded by Joseph Phelp's father and managed by Joe for decades until he sold the business in the mid-eighties to focus solely on winemaking. Joe Phelps stepped down as Chairman of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 2005. 
Winemakers notes for this release: "Our 2008 Chardonnay reveals the purest expression of Freestone terroir that we have captured with this varietal to date. The first dip of the nose into the glass reveals aromas of orange blossom, lemongrass, savory herbs and white flowers. The subtle oak nuances lend an appealing sweetness to the delicate bouquet. Lean and focused, with richness and depth in the mouth, on the palate this wine has a lot of verve. It is dense yet also has great intensity with a complex mineral-like finish and mouthwatering acidity; a lovely balance between power and finesse."

Golden colored, medium bodied, complex, rich and dense with citrus, apples, pear and floral notes with a subdued notes of oak on the moderate finish. 

RM 91 points.

Rochioli Russian River Valley Estate Chardonnay 2016
Rochioli Vineyards & Winery sits just ten minutes south of Healdsburg, further inland up the Russian River Valley, where they produce estate sourced Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
The Rochioli family legacy began in 1911 when current proprietor and winemaker Joe Rochioli's grandfather, Joe Rocchioli Sr. immigrated to America along with his parents, Michele and Menichina Rocchioli (they later dropped the second "c").  Originally from a small village just outside of Lucca, the Rocchioli’s were one of many Italian families that arrived in New York, made their way across the country, and settled in Northern California.

In those days children worked from a young age, and so Tom's grandfather, Joe, still only 10-years old, labored alongside his father on a farm called Wohler Ranch, in the Russian River Valley.

 In 1934 Tom's grandmother Neoma gave birth to a son, Joe Rochioli Jr.  Shortly after, they moved to a 125-acre property nearby called Fenton Acres, the site and same location where Rochioli Vineyards is today.  

In 1959, Tom's father, Joe Jr, and grandfather, Joe Sr, planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grape vines.  The Cabernet did not grow well and was pulled out in the 1970's.  Sauvignon Blanc, at the time, was a strange new white grape that nobody wanted and was used mainly for blends.  It was soon discovered by a few famed wineries and became desirable as a high quality grape. Today, these same vines are still in production and are considered some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in California.

The Rochioli's passion for fine wine and high quality grape growing began in 1968 when Joe Jr. began planting Pinot Noir. He had his own ideas as to what would grow best here and planted fine Pinot Noir clones from France. This was revolutionary as there was very little known about the grape in the US and he was considered a pioneer at the time for doing this. Rochioli had the foresight to know that the soil and microclimates of this unique spot in the Russian River Valley were very special and would one day produce some of the world's greatest wines. Shortly after growing Pinot Noir successfully, he  planted Chardonnay.

I have written often in these pages about another American Pinot Noir pioneer, Josh Jenson of Calera Winery,  and the chronicles of his endeavors to plant Pinot Noir that was featured in a book on the subject, the Heartbreak Grape

By the early 1970's, Rochioli were selling Pinot Noir grapes to Davis Bynum Winery and shortly thereafter they started producing wine under their own Fenton Acres label. In the early 1980’s they began selling to Williams Selyem Winery, and others.  

Tom Rochioli went to college and worked at a major financial institution for a year, then returned to the family farm with a new idea. Based on the quality of the grapes they were selling, they knew their grapes were very good and were making great wines, so they set upon producing their own wines under the Rochioli name.  In 1983, they changed the name of the property from Fenton Acres to Rochioli Vineyards.  At that time Tom took over the family business operations and soon after became the winemaker.

In 1987,  they release their first estate wine with the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir.  It topped Wine Spectator’s list of Pinot Noir and was named ‘The Best Pinot Noir in America’.  The Rochioli brand struck gold and was validated as a premier label. With three generations of dedication to the land, Rochioli Vineyards and Winery earned the reputation as one of Sonoma County's finest wineries.

This 2016 Rochioli Estate Chardonnay was awarded 94 points and 'Editors Choice' by Wine Enthusiast , 92 points by Vinous, 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 90 points by Jeb Dunnuck.

Straw colored, medium bodied, notes of stone fruit and lemon curd citrus, hints of peach, honeydew melon and finishes with a sense of bright pineapple and a hint of what I might call cotton candy.

RM 91 points.

Chateau Tanunda "The Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Eden Valley Barossa Shiraz

In the true spirit of OTBN, Dan pulled from the cellar this classic very limited release and highly allocated 100 year old vine shiraz from Chateau Tanunda. 

We discovered this wine together with the other Pour Boys at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Chicago when it was being poured by Chateau Tanunda's Dagmar O'Neill

Only 100 cases were produced that year and only a few were allocated to be shipped to America, a portion of which to the Midwest. We orchestrated a purchase of the entire allocation, nine three packs in OWC's (shown below) which we split amongst the 'pour boys' wine team, pictured below. This was Dan's last bottle, and at this time, I am holding my last bottle as well.

The Barossa is home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines and the grapes for this wine come from hundred year old vines from a high altitude, one acre single vineyard in the Eden Valley.

The 'pour boys' sighted at WS
Grand Tour

Full bodied, complex, concentrated, full lingering tannins predominate the dense, black and blue berry fruits with hints of licorice, plum, spice and spicy oak.

RM 93 points.


Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Furthering the spirit of OTBN, I brought a bottle of 1995 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet. This particular label and release have some significance to Dan and me. I gifted him a magnum of this wine for his (second) wedding dinner. It was a fun label as the producer Jim Pride, like Dan was also a specialty dentist. Alas, as we started down the Shiraz path for the evening, and with but a limited number of reveler participants, the Pride was set aside to be held in Dan's cellar for another time. 

d'Arenberg "Dead Arm" Shiraz McLaren Vale South Australia 2010 

Dan also opened this Australian Shiraz, Dead Arm from d'Arenberg, another label with which we've had much fun over going on three decades. We first discovered this label with the 1994 vintage and have shared a dozen vintages together since. 

We've had great fun gifting or sharing this label with several folks, playing on the name 'Dead Arm', most notably perhaps, with a former major league baseball catcher who went on to be a noted manager. I sourced this for his personal cellar, to share with some of his battery mates, major league pitchers, in jest! 

As I have written in these pages, the label 'Dead Arm' is named for the vines that survived a grape vine disease that afflicted the vineyard back at the turn of the last century. Typically a grower would pull out and replace the afflicted vines with new plantings. D'Arenberg kept the vineyard intact and found that one half, or an ‘arm’ of the vines slowly died, but, leaving the surviving remaining half of the vine. The resulting vine produced rich intense fruit due to the vibrant roots delivering nutrients to but half the vine with the resulting low yielding fruit achieving amazing  amplified intensity.

d’Arenberg is one of the most significant wineries in McLaren Vale South Australia. It dates back to 1912 when Joseph Osborn, a teetotaller and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, purchased 25 hectares (54 acres) of well established Milton Vineyards in the hills just north of the townships of Gloucester and Bellevue, (now known as McLaren Vale). Joseph’s son Frank Osborn left medical school, trading in scalpel for pruning shears to manage the property. He increased the vineyards to 78 hectares. Fruit was initially sold to local wineries until the construction of a winery and cellars was completed in 1928.

In 1943 Frank’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, universally known as “d’Arry”, returned from school at age 16 to help his ill father run the business. He took over management responsibility in 1957. In 1959 d’Arry launched the d’Arenberg label, named in honour of his mother, Frances Helena d’Arenberg.

d'Arenberg wines gained cult status when the 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon won the 1969 Royal Melbourne Wine Show and the 1967 Red Burgundy (Grenache based) was awarded 7 trophies and 29 gold medals in Australian capital city wine shows.

By the 1970’s d’Arenberg wines had gained a significant national and international profile. The fourth generation, d’Arry’s son Chester d’Arenberg Osborn continued his family’s winemaking tradition. having grown up helping his father in both the vineyards and the cellar.

d'Arenberg was named Winery of the Year in 2003. In June 2004 Chester’s father, d’Arry was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his contributions to the wine industry and to the McLaren Vale region. After more than 65 consecutive vintages, d’Arry continues to create an internationally recognized wine brand commonly known as the ‘Red Stripe’ due to the distinctive diagonal red stripe that adorns the label.

d'Arenberg "Dead Arm" Shiraz McLaren Vale South Australia 2010

This is one of our favorite big full throttle but elegant Australian Shiraz'. This vintage release was awarded 96 points by James Halliday, 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and by Vinous, and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast.

Deep garnet-purple colored, medium to full-bodied with bright vibrant black berry and black currant fruits with spices, smoky minerals, licorice, cola, bittersweet mocha and hints of pepper turning to firm powdery tannins, refreshing acid and a long finish. 

RM 92 points.



Violetta, Late Harvest, Napa Valley Dessert Wine 2003

To close out the evening, Dan pulled from the cellar this Violette dessert wine from Grgich Hills, named for the legendary winemaker producer Mike Grigich's daughter Violet who is also President of Grigh Hills winery and vineyards.

Of course, wine folks know Miljenko “Mike” Grgich who first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976, the now-historic blind tasting in which a panel of eminent French judges swirled, sniffed, and sipped an array of the fabled white Burgundies of France and a small sampling of upstart Chardonnays from the Napa Valley. When their scores were tallied, the French judges were shocked: they had chosen the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich,  as the finest white wine in the world. The results stunned the international wine establishment and immediately earned Mike a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world, and not incidentally, put America wines on the map with their newly validated respectability.

The whole story is told manificently in the class based on history fictional movie "Bottle Shock". 

This is the Grgich classic late harvest dessert wine, produced from the result of Botrytis cinerea, a beneficial mold that evaporates moisture while concentrating the flavor in the berry but yielding very little juice from which to yield from the grapes. The thick, rich juice is aged in French oak to develop subtle flavors and textures. 

Winemakers notes: Luscious, ripe fruit aromas of sweet pear, candied pineapple and ripe honeydew melon follow through on the palate with undertones of white flowers melded with balsamic notes and a hint of petrol. Accentuated by uplifting acidity, these dense, ripe fruit flavors beautifully balance the residual sugar. The finish is creamy and complex with a refreshing, lingering minerality. 

Whisky colored, medium bodied, sweet, dense ripe fruits, apricot accented with an exotic layer smoke and fig and what I can only describe as an essence of cognac. 

This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Riesling. 

RM 92 points.

This can almost be a whole meal course in of itself, it was ideal served with decadent chocolate bunt cake to celebrate Linda's belated birthday! 


Here's a compendium of our previous Pour Boy's OTBN galas. 

Pour Boys' OTBN 2020 ~ Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2019 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2018 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2016 - Open That Bottle Night 

Pour Boys OTBN 2015 - Open That Bottle NightBordeaux Anchors OTBN 2015

Pour Boys OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2014

Pour Boys OTBN 2013 - Open That Bottle Night 2013

Pour Boys OTBN 2012 - Open That Bottle Night



Saturday, February 27, 2021

Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz 2004

Kilikanoon "Oracle" Shiraz Clare Valley South Australia 2004 

Linda prepared a hearty Chicken Cacciatore with Rice. While an ideal pairing might have been a bright white wine, Italian cuisine might dictate a Sangiovese with acidic tomato sauces, we opted for a hearty big red and I pulled from the cellar one of our favorites, Kilikanoon "Oracle" Shiraz from Clare Valley in South Australia

We have fun with this wine as a sentimental favorite, as its name Oracle is also the name of Linda's high school teams, from her home town of Delphi in Indiana, hence Oracle was a suitable name. 

The name refers to the Oracle at Delphi, which was the most famous “oracle” in ancient Greece, and people from all the then-known world would flock to the temple of Apollo seeking advice. The long path leading up the mountain to Apollo’s temple, called the Sacred Way, was lined with treasure houses filled with costly gifts that leaders and cities had given to Apollo. 

Oracle has been the flagship wine of Kilikanoon since founding in 1997. Starting as a single vineyard wine from the famed 40 year old vines of  'Mort’s Block' Clare Valley vineyard, named for founder Mort Mitchel, Oracle has long been a standard bearer for the finest of Clare Valley Shiraz.

Winemaker and proprietor Kevin Mitchell purchased the property of the same name in the hamlet of Penwortham in Leasingham in South Australia's picturesque Clare Valley. Hailing from a long line of wine grape growers, his father Mort Mitchell planted and tended Kilikanoon's Golden Hillside suite of vineyards that include the famed Mort's Block, for over 40 years. Kevin spent years working along his father working the vineyards and learning the nuances of the distinctive terroir.

The first Kilikanoon branded wines from the 1997 vintage were four single vineyard wines, each from Kevin and Mort's vineyards; 'Oracle' Shiraz, 'Prodigal' Grenache, 'Blocks Road' Cabernet and 'Mort's Block' Watervale Riesling.

In the 2002 Clare Valley Wine Show chaired by prominent Australian wine writer and judge, Huon Hooke, Kilikanoon gained notoriety by winning 6 of the 7 trophies awarded. Oracle Shiraz has twice won 'Best Shiraz' at International wine shows, and James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion named Kilikanoon 'Winery of the Year' in 2013. In 2014, Kevin Mitchell was inducted into the inaugural Clare Valley Hall of Fame as Winemaker of the Year.

Kilikanoon "Oracle" Shiraz Clare Valley South Australia 2004

With the exception of the 2011 vintage, each year since 1997 Killikanoon have released the iconic Oracle Shiraz.

Robert Parker gave this wine 97 points, James Halliday and Vinous 93 points, and Wine Spectator 92 points.

Dense inky purple colored, rich, full bodied and concentrated yet well balanced black and blue berry fruits with floral, cinnamon and clove spices, cassis, licorice and espresso turning to firm but approachable tannins on a long finish. 

Showing its age a bit at sixteen years, the fruits are taking on a burnt raisin layer indicating its time to drink as this is past its prime and will continue to decline from here forward. 

RM 92 points.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco 2019

Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco DOC 2019

We discovered and tasted Donnafugata wines as part of the Italian Village Chicago virtual wine dinner tasting and food pairing. For the evening, Italian Village Restaurants 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

Having tried their wines, I was interested to explore more of their portfolio and picked up this label on my next visit to our local wine shop, Binny's, the Chicagoland beverage super store. For a baked pork chop dinner, I opened this Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco, a crisp light refreshing easy drinking white, an ideal pairing and perfect for the occasion.

As I wrote in my recent post, Donnafugata is the brand of the Rallo family of Sicily, who have 150 years of tradition in producing premium wines. Wine producers Giacomo Rallo and his wife, Gabriella, launched the Donnafugata brand in 1983. The name Donnafugata, translated literally “woman in flight,” refers to the history of the Habsburg queen Maria Carolina who was the consort of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. In the early 19th century, she fled Naples and found refuge a few miles from the estate’s vineyards. Her story inspired the effigy of the head of a woman with her hair tossed by the wind that dominates the label of every bottle of Donnafugata. 

Donnafugata wines are produced in three distinct grape-growing sites in western Sicily: the historic cellars in Marsala, built in 1851; the cellar at Contessa Entellina, where the company has 642 acres of vineyards planted to Ansonica, Catarratto, Nero d’Avola, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah; and the cellar on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, where Donnafugata cultivates 104 acres of Zibibbo vineyards. 

Part of their distinctive personality and branding of Donnafugata wines is their library of elaborate labels based on artwork 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. All Donnafugata wines are renowned for their use of native Sicilian and international varietals, balancing tradition and innovation in a quest for quality wines.

Wines from Sicily represent over 15% of Italy’s total vineyard land - more than the whole country of South Africa and almost as much as Australia!

One third of these Sicilian vineyards' acreage are devoted to the Catarratto grape, followed by Nero d’Avola, the second most produced grape and top red. Much of the Catarratto that is produced is blended with Inzolia and Grillo to make the famous Marsala wine, a fortified wine similar to Port with the rest used to produce mostly affordable everyday wines.

Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco DOC 2019

This label is a blend of indigenous Sicilian grapes, mostly Lucido (Catarratto) and Ansonica plus a small amount of other international varieties from southwest Sicily, Italy. The wine was fermented and aged for a short period in stainless steel. 

Winemaker notes: Anthìlia is made principally from Catarratto, a white grape native to Sicily and grown at the winery’s Contessa Entellina estate and surrounding vineyards. The fruit was vinified cold in stainless steel, then aged for two months in tank and two months in bottle prior to release. The robe is clear yellow and aromatic of citrus fruits and flowers: lemon, lime, melon, bay leaf. There’s also a slight reductive note that reads like clay or wet stone. The palate is piquant, with snappy yellow fruits and peels, but the finish is more languid, tapering in ripe tropical pineapple. It’s a good partner for young cheeses, especially of goat’s milk, and light fish and shellfish preparations. It’s also a clever match for briny foods — think green olives, capers, tapenade, feta, anchovies.

More Winemaker notes for this wine: The 2019 Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco begins with a nice crisp and fruity aroma of green apple, pear, peaches, lemon, lime and a touch of tropical fruit. Tasting the wine reveals a nicely tart combination of green apple, a little grapefruit, pear and creamy lemon/lime zest. This delicious wine has a great lively yet soft texture, good acidity and excellent underlying minerality. On the quite long and lingering finish that minerality turns chalky and comes to the front.

This was rated 91points by James Suckling and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast.

Light straw yellow colored, light bodied, fresh, lively and crisp with a fruity bouquet white apple and pear fruits with hints of citrus and wildflowers. 
RM 87 points.





Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Château Picque Caillou Pessac-Léognan 2007

Château Picque Caillou Pessac-Léognan 2007

For casual beginning of the week sipping with dinner of left-over meatloaf and grilled vegetables, I pulled from the cellar this modest Grand Vin de Bordeaux

Château Picque Caillou is in the shadows of Bordeaux Merignac Airport, just 10 km on the route to the city of Bordeaux. It lies in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation in central Medoc region of Bordeaux, a semi-urban area within the perimeter circular route that surrounds the city. We passed within just a few km of the site during our visit to the region in 2019.

Pessac-Léognan was created in 1987 from the northern part of the left bank Graves appellation. Before then it was simply part of Graves. Unlike many Bordeaux appellations, Pessac-Léognan is known for both red and dry white wines, although its reds are more predominant and famous. 

The appellation includes ten communes and the area’s most important châteaux, including Château Haut-Brion, the only non-Médoc estate included in the 1855 Bordeaux classification. 

There are 2,964 acres of vineyards in Pessac-Léognan with 16 classified growth estates. The main red grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, along with a small amount of Cabernet Franc. White grapes grown are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a little Muscadelle. Pessac-Léognan is considered to have the best terroir of the greater Graves region. 

Château Picque Caillou is not far from the prestigious Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut Brion and Pape Clément châteaux that are also surrounded by the urban sprawl of the city.

Once the heart of the Bordeaux vineyard, the vines of the “Graves de Bordeaux” surrounded the city. Today, Picque Caillou remains one of the last remaining vineyard sites surrounded by the all-consuming urban development that belies the respected soils and history. The 21-hectare (fifty acre) Caillou estate is named for the pebbly soils that originated from sediments deposited by the nearby Garonne River over thousands of years. Similarly, the prestigious second growth Château Ducru Beaucaillou is named for the beautiful tiny pebbles indicative of the gravelly soil further up the Gironde estuary. 

In 2006, Paulin Calvet took over the daily running of the vineyard. Coming from a long line of Bordeaux wine merchants, Paulin Calvet brought skills and experience he acquired in Libourne at the Jean-Pierre Moueix merchant house where he worked in the company of wine-growing experts Christian Moueix and Jean-Claude Berrouet. Paulin Calvet learned the subtleties of the best practices of vine-growing methods and vinification techniques practised by these two great Bordeaux wine professionals.

The wines of Picque Caillou quickly acquired higher levels of quality and consistency, soon attracting the attention of numerous wine professionals. Joining Paulin Calvet in 2007 were consultant œnologists Professor Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne who added further technical experience and skills to the winemaking team. This served to improve the quality of the wines further, producing wines that display balance and delicacy, reflecting the style and character of the prestigious Pessac-Léognan appellation.

The estate is planted to 35% Merlot; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; and 5% Petit Verdot red varietals, and 80% Sauvignon Blanc, and 20% Sémillon white varietals. Château Picque Caillou Red makes up around 60-70% of the total production, i.e. 65,000 to 80,000 bottles delivered in wooden cases of 12 bottles.

At fourteen years, this may be at its apex, not likely to improve further with aging, but showing no signs of diminution either. As shown, the cork was in perfect condition and the fill level was ideal as well.

At the modest entry level price point for a Grand Vin Bordeaux, in good vintage years this can offer great QPR - Quality Price Ratio, as in such years, 'all boats rise with the tide', resulting in high quality wines at good values. 

This was ruby colored, medium bodied with red and black fruits giving way to rustic, dusty herbs and spices, tobacco, floral notes and a bit of green pepper with tangy moderate tannins on the finish.  

RM 87 points.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

As I have written in these pages before, wine geeks, aka oenophiles, often take their passion for wine way too seriously, or certainly so, to those not so compulsive or fixated, which is most folks. Its important to back it down and simply have fun with wine too.

This blog focuses on wine tasting and collecting. Another discussion thread is a study in wine branding and marketing. Several producers release an artist series with each label featuring a piece of artwork to adorn that vintage release. 

One unique approach to wine branding and marketing is Marilyn Wines, of the entity Nova Wines, who since 1985, have featured iconic imagines of Marilyn Monroe, captured by many of the most talented portrait photographers of her era, to grace the labels of their Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jeane wines. 

In addition to Marilyn Merlot, Norma Jean is a lesser label with 'younger' second label grapes. Continuing the whimsical play on names, Norma Jean features a photograph taken of the young actress in the years just before she captured the imagination of the American public as Marilyn Monroe.

They have created an entire franchise on one celebrity identification theme based on a play on words - Marilyn Merlot featuring the iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Wines holds an exclusive agreement with the estate of Marilyn Monroe for the use of the name and the images in their wine marketing and packaging.

The brand is the creation of Bob and Donna Holder of Rutherford in Napa Valley, who initially crafted a homemade Merlot back in 1983 using some purchased grapes and some grapes from the Holder property. They started selling their wine and created the brand.  In the early days, they purchased bulk wine, then, in 1997, they shifted from purchasing bulk wine to purchasing grapes. The wine is made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, CA.

Marilyn Wines has extended the brand to a broad portfolio of labels based on Marilyn Monroe. The portfolio has expanded to also include Marilyn Meritage, Sauvignon Blond, Marilyn Cabernet, Red Dress and Blonde De Noirs, a sparkling wine. 

Building upon the collectables theme, they also produce an ultra premium Velvet Collection based upon a photo session on May 27, 1949 in Hollywood with photographer Tom Kelley. That two-hour photo shoot made history and established the aspiring but unknown actress, Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate sex symbol of the 20th century. The series features ten stunning photographs from the historic session, known as the "Red Velvet" series, each one a portrait of Marilyn Monroe posing on a red velvet drape. Each label of Velvet Collection of wine is covered with a protective vinyl overlay that, when removed, reveals the complete, original portrait.

Continuing the collectables theme, in many vintages, they also produce special process etched and painted bottles of Marilyn Merlot in limited production large format bottles, usually around 6 to 36 bottles of 1.5 Liter magnums and 2 to 10 bottles of 3 Liter double magnums. The bottles are placed in a sand carving cabinet where the artist utilizes instruments to hand carve out the design image on each of the bottles then to be hand painted. 

The brand has grown further with the release of Marilyn Merlot Rose and Marilyn Monroe Chardonnay.

Of course the most famous or notable iconic collector series is Mouton Rothschild. A study in wine branding and marketing at some point invites a discussion of art label series featuring original or reproductions of notable art or artists on the wine labels. No wine producer in the world captures the imagination or attention of wine collectors and wine art enthusiasts more than Mouton Rothschild with their annual artist series artist featured wine labels.

Each year a renowned artist is commissioned to do the artwork for that vintage. The featured artist is said to be paid ten cases of various vintages of the classic Chateau Mouton Rothschild for their work. Every collector dreams of collecting a 'vertical' collection (wines of multiple vintages of the same wine) of the classic premium First Growth Bordeaux to display the 'artwork' of Mouton.

My Winesite Label Library lists the Mouton Rothschild Label Library Series Artists and associated works by the artists for reference or to aid in further exploration or research of the library and its history. Just last month I updated the library with the 2018 release label of the legendary wine. 

As with Mouton Rothschild, I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite

This weekend, the 2018 vintage release of Marilyn Merlot label just appeared in stores in the Chicagoland market, the 35th vintage of the iconic brand. They also just released Norma Jeane, the 23st vintage of the Norma Jeane brand.

Playing on the name of the famous cinema starlet, Marilyn Monroe, the marketers at Nova Wines have  built the brand on an annual release of moderate priced Merlot varietal featuring an authentic Marilyn Monroe photo on the label. What might have started out as a whimsical or even corny idea has turned into a fun wine that has an almost cult following in some precincts of collectors. 
Some of our close to two dozen vintages of Marilyn Merlot

The producer tries to maintain a delicate balance and moderate the hype of the collectability of the wine and the valuation of bottles over time versus the novelty and fun of the wine. It appears they've earnestly worked to improve the pedigree and quality of the product to produce a wine more worthy of and capable of long (er) term cellaring by sourcing from notable vineyard sources and producing a Red Bordeaux varietal blend. As such, the release price of the wine has crept up in recent years as well. As it has been since the 2016 release, this year's release price is $36 however the 'street price' still remains at the traditional price point in the $25 to $28 range. However, in secondary markets, the price can be elevated even above the release price.

The producer site says, "Each new vintage of Marilyn Monroe Merlot sells out quickly. While collectors have made Marilyn Monroe Merlot one of the fastest-appreciating wines on the market, it is wine enthusiasts with a sense of humor who have long enjoyed the playful spirit behind Marilyn Merlot wines that are now also seeking the Marilyn Monroe Merlot because of the emphasis on making a notable wine from prized Napa Valley grapes. While the concept and engaging label of these wines has given these bottles a degree of fame, it is the wine in the bottle that merits the enthusiasm of those who seek it out every year.'

"This wine is every bit as special as its package," says Donna Holder, one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "It is a must for collectors, but is also a Napa Valley Merlot that stands beautifully on its own."

The producer promotes highly escalated prices for vintage bottles of the label asking high prices that far exceed the pedigree of the wine, explicable only due to the marketing/branding of the label collection. I know of one reputable wine shop in a mid-size midwestern city that a few years ago held a 1985 Marilyn Merlot that they were offering at $3500.

I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite. And, I admit I've collected a 'vertical' collection of the wine and am still holding what now spans more than fifteen vintages. Indeed, we drank a dozen year old 2006 recently and it was drinking quite nicely. We do have fun gifting these wines to friends for suitable occasions, great for those not into the wine so much, but taken by the clever packaging. The Marilyn Merlot label is now in its 35th  year.

The 2018 vintage release blend is comprised of Merlot from four different vineyards, primarily from the Carneros and Oak Knoll AVA’s, which has added to the complexity of the finished wine.

The iconic photograph adorning the label for this 2018 release was taken by photographer Milton Greene of Marilyn Monroe in 1955 while she was  living with the Greene family for a year in New York. It was during this time that Milton, and Marilyn sued 20th Century Fox to release Marilyn from what they felt was a “slave terrible contract”.   They won!

The Winemaker's Notes for this vintage:  "The color is immediately captivating in this rich deep ruby hued 2018 Merlot.  There is good intensity in the nose with well integrated aromas that hint of ripe blackberries, orange zest, cocoa powder, and hints of mint/menthol, and baking spices.  On the palate there are added notes of toasted oak, integrated with concentrated strawberry and bright plums.  This wine has more than ample body and structure for a Napa Merlot, but still maintains a rich balance ending with a long enjoyable finish."

As always, try it and enjoy the novelty as well as the grape juice. Have fun with wine.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

White Rock Napa Claret 2002

White Rock Vineyards Napa Valley Claret 2002

With Linda's meatloaf dinner I pulled from the cellar a Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend Claret from White Rock Vineyards for a perfect pairing. Claret is the term adopted from the British that refers to a blend of red Bordeaux varietals.

White Rock Vineyards was established in 1870 in the southern foothills of the Stag’s Leap range. Today it is operated by proprietors, the Vandendriessche family who carry on the tradition of the historic estate. The original winery still stands as the home of the Vandendriessche family, carved from white rock quarried from the property in the 1870’s.

The property sits in the Vaca mountain range in the Stag's Leap district on Loma Vista Road off Soda Canyon Road up in the hills above the Darioush and Signorella estates that sit along the Silverado Trail in southeast Napa Valley. 

A family affair, Henri Vandendriessche oversees the operations and business with sons Christopher and Michael serving as winemaker and vineyard managers today.  

Henri Vandendriessche was born and raised in Northern France. He came to America to study Economics at UC Berkeley in 1960. In 1967 he met Claire who was raised in Napa Valley. In 1977 they purchased the 64 acre 1870’s winery estate north of Napa and set out to revive the historic property.  

Henri and Claire settled their family and raised their three children in the converted old winery and made the farm their home. They replanted much of the vineyard and dug a cave into the solid rock. Henri oversaw the vineyard and winery operations while Claire marketed and sold the wines.

Son, Christopher Vandendriessche grew up living the family wine business. He studied physics at UCSC but after graduating in 1992, he moved to France and enrolled in the University of Bordeaux, graduating with an Enology degree. He went on to work at Chateau Pape Clement in Bordeaux and worked harvests in Burgundy, Spain (Remelluri in Rioja), and Argentina (Catena in Mendoza). 

Christopher returned to Napa and learned winemaking as Assistant Winemaker working under John Kongsgaard at Luna where they made wine for a legendary winemakers including David Ramey, Dan Baron, Bill Knuttel, and Marco Capelli. 

In 1999, Christopher returned to White Rock as Winemaker. Today, Christopher and his brother Michael have taken over the business to produce wines that showcase the unique terroir of White Rock Vineyards with its higher elevation cooler climate and rocky white volcanic ash soils. The 35-acre naturally farmed vineyard, boasting its unique terroir is nestled in a small valley at the base of the Stag’s Leap Range.

Michael Vandendriessche grew up on the property he now manages. After high school, he studied viticulture at Napa Valley College before heading off to study for two years in France. He learned viticulture and terroir working the harvest in Burgundy. He returned to Napa in 1996 to take on the role of Vineyard Manager. 

Michael’s wife, Kendall, is a vineyard manager for several distinguished Napa Valley properties including Grace Family Vineyards; and Christopher’s wife, Sarah, is the winemaker at Elizabeth Spencer Winery. 

We also hold from this producer a winemaker signed bottle of the White Rock Vineyards "Laureate" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. This was obtained and gifted to us by our nephew Chris who acquired it for us during a Napa trip a several years back. We'll look forward to sharing this with him when we are together at some point.

White Rock Vineyards Napa Valley Claret 2002

White Rock produce this estate Claret as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a Chardonnay Reserve.

At twenty-one years, the fill level, foil and cork were in ideal condition, while the labels were somewhat soiled from aging in our cellar.

This is a classic Bordeaux Blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, 1,160 cases were produced of this vintage release.    

In 2010, I wrote of this label, "Dark ink color, medium bodied, smoky leather and floral aromas - forward black berry, violets, hints of cedar, smoke, cedar and touch of tar on moderate tannin finish."

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex but nicely balanced and integrated blackberry and blueberry fruits with notes of smoke, spicebox and tobacco and hint of cedar with firm ripe but approachable tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 91 points.

Visit to Venge Vineyards and Nils Venge

Visit to Venge Vineyards Saddleback Winery, Penny Lane Vineyard and Rossini Ranch with Nils and Kirk Venge

A Unwindwine memorable retrospective. Back in 2002, wine buddy AJ and I visited Venge Vineyards Saddleback Winery down at the northern edge of the Oakville appellation south of St Helena and met with legendary winemaker Nils Venge

Nils in Penny Lane Vineyard

After meeting and touring the winery and Penny Lane Vineyard there in Oakville, we took wine maker Nils Venge to lunch at Tra Vigne, our favorite Napa Valley dining site of that era. Dining in the adjacent outside garden with the fountain and the oversize monstrous granite dining table was a highlight of many visits to Napa Valley. 

Upon arrival at Tra Vigne, as if we needed another legend sighting/meeting, we ran into Margaret Mondavi.

Nils Venge and Margaret Mondavi

 At lunch with Nils at Tra Vigna, we dined on the terrace with the garden in the background amidst the blissful sound of the fountain. 
Tasting Venge Reserve wines with Nils Venge

 Over lunch, we tasted Venge Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and the Venge Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000. Nils was the first winemaker grower producer in Napa Valley to plant Sangiovese varietals and craft Sangiovese wines. 

After lunch, we drove up to the new Venge venture, Rossini Ranch, in Calistoga. There we met Kirk Venge who was stepping into and following the footsteps of father Nils. 

At the time they were deep into the development of the Rossini Ranch property digging the caves at the site. 

Nils, Kirk, & AJ in front of new cave
being dug at Rossini Ranch
Kirk was born in 1976 and raised in Rutherford, Napa Valley into a wine family and lifestyle. He earned his degree in Viticulture and Eonology at the prestigious University of California, Davis, graduating in 1998, and quickly set his sights on buying the Venge winery from his family. From this foothold he set out across the Mayacamas divide and set roots in Sonoma. 
Today, Kirk has acquired the namesake brand and business of Venge Vineyards upon Nil's retirement. He has succeeded in establishing himself as a leading winemaker, grower producer in Napa and has expanded his reach into Sonoma. His wines have earned high praise and he has vastly expanded the Venge portfolio and consults with many top brands in Napa as well as Sonoma County.  
In addition to his namesake vineyard and winery, Venge Vineyards, Kirk also founded Croix Estate in Sonoma County. In the spring of 2009, Kirk introduced the name "Croix" and a rough idea for property and an eventual winery in Sonoma. He released the inaugural vintage of Croix Estate in 2012 and opening of a new winery in 2018. From the Russian River site, Kirk focuses on estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but also produces a Zinfandel from the nine acre vineyard that dates back to 1904, and a GSM comprised of the Rhone varietals Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre.  

Kirk also serves as consulting winemaker for several other producers including BCellars, Renteria, Promise Wines, Hunnicut, Trespass Vineyards, 11:11 Winery, Jax, and Macaulley Vineyards.

Visit to Venge Vineyards and Nils Venge

Visit to Venge Vineyards Saddleback Winery, Penny Lane Vineyard and Rossini Ranch 

A Unwindwine memorable retrospective. Back in 2002, wine buddy AJ and I visited Venge Vineyards Saddleback Winery down at the northern edge of the Oakville appellation south of St Helena and met with legendary winemaker Nils Venge

Nils in Penny Lane Vineyard

After meeting and touring the winery and Penny Lane Vineyard there in Oakville, we took wine maker Nils Venge to lunch at Tra Vigne, our favorite Napa Valley dining site of that era. Dining in the adjacent outside garden with the fountain and the oversize monstrous granite dining table was a highlight of many visits to Napa Valley. 

Upon arrival at Tra Vigne, as if we needed another legend sighting/meeting, we ran into Margaret Mondavi.

Nils Venge and Margaret Mondavi

 At lunch with Nils at Tra Vigna, we dined on the terrace with the garden in the background amidst the blissful sound of the fountain. 

Tasting Venge Reserve wines with Nils Venge
Over lunch, we tasted Venge Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and the Venge Penny Lane Vineyard Family Reserve Sangiovese 2000. Nils was the first winemaker grower producer in Napa Valley to plant Sangiovese varietals and craft Sangiovese wines.

After lunch, we drove up to the new Venge venture, Rossini Ranch, in Calistoga. There we met Kirk Venge who was stepping into and following the footsteps of father Nils. At the time they were deep into the development of the Rossini Ranch property and were in the midst of digging the caves at the site.

Today, Kirk has taken over managing the operations upon Nil's retirement. He has succeeded in establishing himself as a leading winemaker, grower producer in Napa. His wines have earned high praise and he has vastly expanded the Venge portfolio and consults with many top brands in Napa as well as Sonoma County.

At the time they were deep into the development of the Rossini Ranch property digging the caves at the site. 

Nils, Kirk, & AJ in front of new cave
being dug at Rossini Ranch

L to R above - Nils in Penny Lane Vineyard, Nils and Kirk Venge at new Rossini Ranch Vineyard; Nils, Kirk, & AJ in front of new cave being dug at Rossini Ranch; Nils in winery, and with AJ at Penny Lane, Nils and Margaret Mondavi at Tra Vigne.