Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Clark-Claudon Napa Cabernet 2004

Clark-Claudon Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

For beef stroganoff dinner I pulled from the cellar this aged mountain fruit Napa Cabernet - a perfect match! 

The producer, Clark-Claudon estate is situated on the ‘backside’ of Howell Mountain in an area known as Pope Valley. Their 17 acres of vineyards are carved out of a 117 acre property located on the north east side of Howell Mountain between Ink Grade and Howell Mountain Road, from 800 ft to 1,200 ft elevation. It’s shallow, mountain soils, cool evening breezes and excellent sun exposure are ideal for a low yield of small, intense Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot grapes. The 17 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon are planted with clone 7 which grows well in hillside rocky soil and produces small berries with concentrated flavors. A small vineyard block is planted to Petite Verdot. After completing their initial vineyard planting, Clark decided to leave the  remaining 100 acres of forests, creeks, meadows and ponds in their natural state which serves as a preserve for native birds and wildlife.

Interesting, following my discussions in recent blogpost about the terroir and appellation specificity line of demarcation being at the 1200 foot elevation level to differentiate between Howell Mountain and Napa Valley designation, we have another such-situated Napa/Howell Mountain Cabernet. Similar to the Viader Napa Valley Cabernet Red Blend we drank the other night, this Clark Claudon Napa Cab vineyard is at 1000 foot elevation on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain. That terroir distinction doesn't apply here as the Clark Claudon property is on the backside of Howell Mountain which never sees the fog that is experienced on the Napa Valley side of the hill.

We have been collecting this label since its introduction back in 1993 and hold two decades of vintages since. We first met Tom Clark and Laurie Claudon-Clark during our Napa Wine Experience 1999 when we hosted them at one of our wine producer dinners. That night, held at what was then Pinot Blanc Restaurant in St Helena (see picture left), we tasted Clark Claudon 1995-96 against ten year old 1989 Bordeaux. 

During our Napa Wine Experience visits of 1997 through 2000 we hosted gala tasting dinners with the "'Undisccovered Dozen', emerging new wine producers to watch", featured in an article in Wine Spectator Magazine. Many of these producers released their inaugural vintage releases in or about the 1994 vintage. Those producers and winery visits included Plumpjack, David Arthur, Clark-Claudon, Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Elan, Paradigm, Pride Vineyards, Snowden, Nils Venge and White Cottage and are featured variously on my winesite An complete index of my tasting notes of these wines over the years is on the site at this link to California Producers Index. These producers make up a foundation of our wine cellar collection even today. In many of these wines, we still have vertical selections, several dating back to those early release vintages.  

We love the distinctive unique Clark-Claudon packaging with the tall slender bottles. An interesting and trivial wine-geek's observation about the Clark-Claudon branding and packaging; as mentioned, we hold close to a score of vintages of this label. All our vintage holdings but this one, the 2004 release, are packaged with the wax cap inside the rim of the bottle, topping the cork, as shown left. This one, 2004, has a 'traditional' foil top of the bottle (shown below). Not sure why?

This release was awarded 93 points from Wine Enthusiast who wrote, " ... it really needs time. Give it until after 2008, if you can keep your hands off, and will come into its own after 2010."

A decade later, going on seventeen years, this release is holding its own very nicely and showing no signs of diminution whatsoever. The fill level, label and most importantly the cork were in perfect condition.

Wine Enthusiast wrote, "The 2004 Clark-Claudon Napa Cabernet Sauvignon blends fruit from all over the winery's estate, combining multiple expressions of the fruit. The higher portions of the estate yielded fruit that was rich, deeply colored with intense tannins. The lower portions of the estate produced softer, more perfumed wine."

Tonight's tasting was consistent with previous tastings in 2015 and 2016. In 2016 I wrote it was more expressive than earlier tastings. I sense this is at its peak, not likely to improve further, but grand and capable of aging several more years none-the-less.

Like before, the room filled with dark berry fruit aromatics as soon the cork was pulled. This was dark garnet colored, rich, full, concentrated, but nicely integrated and elegant black berry and black currant fruits with accents of cassis, mocha, floral and notes of spicy oak and hints of black cherry on a lingering fine-grained silky tannin finish.

RM 92 points.


Earlier tasting posts ...

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Varner Santa Barbara El Camino Vineyard Chardonnay 2014

Varner Santa Barbara County El Camino Vineyard Chardonnay 2014

We served this with grilled Cod and Salmon dinner with son Alec and daughter-in-law Viviana visiting from NYC/FL. As I've written in several blogs, we've been having fun with "V" wines as a result. I recently acquired several bottles of Venge Chardonnay for such an occasion. 

Ironically, when I went to the Chardonnay rack in our cellar and pulled from a selection of older bottles, as part of cellar management and rotation, selecting an old bottle most likely to nearing the end of its drinking window, I pulled out a "V" bottle from Varner by chance! Great fun with labels and whimsical matching wines to friends, occasions and loved-ones. 

This label is from the Varner brothers, Jim and Bob, known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Barbara County. They recently severed ties with grower producers the Neely families, losing access to a source for fruit from the Spring Ridge Vineyard in the Santa Cruz range they have enjoyed since the early 2000s. Here forward, they'll focus on Santa Barbara County sources. 

This label is one such label, a single vineyard designated label sourced from the El Camino Vineyard in Santa Barbara County

This label release was awarded 92 points by Vinous and was heralded by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate as a good value "serious Chardonnay for (the pricepoint). Despite its very reasonable price, the 2014 Chardonnay El Camino Vineyard delivers serious intensity, richness and nuance. Broad, ample and phenolic ..."

Another review writes, "Showing the more forward, charming and textured style of the vintage, the 2014 Chardonnay El Camino Vineyard has pretty notes of citrus, leafy herbs, mint, and even basil, as well as a medium-bodied, elegant feel on the palate."

Straw colored, medium bodied, bright notes of grapefruit citrus with notes of lime, mineral and hints of oak. 

RM 88 points.


Monday, March 29, 2021

Viader Napa Valley Syrah 2004

Viader Napa Valley Syrah 2004

Following a gala dinner, Linda brought out her decadent chocolate dessert. On request, I trolled the cellar and pulled a hearty Syrah to map on to the Viader Proprietary Red Blend we had with dinner

We discovered and acquired this label in 2005 during our visit to the Viader estate property on lower Howell Mountain in 2008. A travelogue of photos of our visit are shown here or a selection are featured below.

This is sourced from the Viader estate vineyard on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain in the north east corner of Napa Valley. 

Designated a Napa Valley wine from the area normally suggests the source site is below 1200 feet elevation. Above that level would warrant a Howell Mtn designation. This is due to the demarcation point that the morning and late evening fog rises to that level thereby cooling the ripening grapes, resulting in a different microclimate above and below. In this specific case, the vineyard is at 1300 feet and they use Napa Valley in the greater content of region that encompasses several sub-appellations. 

Notably, according to the (rear) label, the fruit for this label is sourced from both Hermitage appellation in the French Northern Rhone River Valley and the Australian Barossa  valley appellation - two districts/regions known for distinctive Syrah/Shiraz. Accordingly, they attribute 'spice and fruit concentration' to the Barossa vines, and 'sleek and fragrant nuances' to the Rhones. 

This release was awarded 92 Points by The Connoisseurs Guide.

Dark garnet colored, medium plus bodied, black berry fruits accented by spice, earthy leather, black olives and pepper on a moderate finish.

RM 89 points. 

400 cases were made of the French-Oaked Syrah.


Views of visit to Viader estate vineyards and winery. 




Viader Napa Bordeaux Blend 1997

Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Bordeau Red Blend 1997

Our first dinner with the newlyweds Alec and Viviana upon their arrival in Illinois, Linda prepared a beef roast and I pulled from the cellar this Viader Napa Valley Red Blend. As I have written in these pages, this is one of the numerous "V" labels we have fun with as a tribute to our new daughter-in-law, Viv.

We met proprietor winemaker Delia Viader at a tasting hosted by Binny's Chicago Lakeview back in 2005, and visited the property on lower Howell Mountain in 2008

Our collection of Viader dates back to this 1997 vintage so it was with interest to see how this vintage has held up over the years to calibrate the lifespan of the other vintages. In the style of many Viader releases, this blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Cabernet Franc in the profile of a top Graves from Bordeaux.

We expanded our collection of Viader wines following our visit to the Viader winery estate on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008.  

A travelogue of photos of our visit to the Viader are shown here or a selection are featured in the follow-on blog.  

We have since acquired and still hold close to a dozen vintages dating back to this 1997 release. As usual, as part of cellar collection management, I pulled this '97 vintage release, the oldest vintage in our collection.

The Viader 23-acre estate sits on the lower mountain at 1200 foot elevation overlooking Napa Valley. The vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Viader is known for its Bordeaux-style blends. 

The 1200 foot elevation of the estate is significant and notable as that is the height that the fog reaches above the valley floor and hence is the point at which below is designated Napa Valley, and above it designated Howell Mountain. This climatic difference creates a distinctive terroir due to the effects of the fog on the ripening vines.  

Napa Valley view from the Viader estate

This follows our tasting last evening of another of the 'V' series of labels we enjoy with and in tribute to to Viviana, the Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor.

The 'V' is the prominent branding of the producer and winemaker Delia Viader, a remarkable and impressive lady who was born in Argentina and educated in Europe before earning graduate degrees in the U.S., a notable role model for any career minded female. Delia spent much of her formative years in Europe and in France where she earned a doctorate in Philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, then pursued advanced business studies in the US at MIT, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

Recognizing the potential Napa Valley wine industry in the 1980's, Delia acquired the Howell Mountain property and set out to create a world class wine estate, and continued studying Enology and Viticulture at University of California, Davis.  During this time she also raised her four children in the wine environment and culture.

Shown here is our meeting Delia Viader during a producer tasting evening sponsored by Binny's here in Chicago back in 2005. 

Viader Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 1997

This release was awarded 97 points Wine Spectator and was Ranked #2 Top 100 Wines of 2000.  It received 92 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate who wrote, "The terrific 1997 Proprietary Red is the finest Viader I have tasted. It is a wine of exceptional finesse and elegance, yet undeniable richness and intensity." 
We acquired this label upon release and I first tasted and published a tasting note back in May 2000 when I wrote, "
Supposed to be one of California's best Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blends, this mountain-grown wine is bold yet moderately structured,  currant, blackberry, cassis and herb flavors. I found this unexciting and a bit flat - perhaps it needs more time... (RM 89)." 
My lackluster rating at that time was somewhat typical of my experiences with the 1997 vintage that underwhelmed relative to its lofty ratings and high volume hype. Indeed, it took a decade or more for many of the labels to emerge and open up and reveal their true character and profile and live up to their potential. 
Here is another example where, at two decades, it is now showing vibrancy in the fruits, moreso than when young. It showed subtle signs of diminution from aging with ever-so-slight signs of opacity and rust color hues setting in with a bit of funkiness as fruits give way to non-fruit notes, mostly upon opening which burned off somewhat after an hour. 
The fill level, label, foil and most importantly the cork, as shown, were perfect, as if new.
Vinous wrote in 2017, "This wine has a distinctly cool element, as well as more fruit retention than the Cask 23, and I could easily enjoy it for dinner tonight. Supple and fully evolved; seems just past its peak even if sweetness remains."

Dark garnet color with hues of purple, medium full bodied, complex but nicely balanced, black cherry, black currant fruits with notes of spice, toasty oak and hints of graphite and dark mocha on the tangy crisp acid and smooth silky tannin laced finish. 
RM 92 points. 




Venge Vineyard "Scout's Honor" Napa Red 2015

Venge Vineyard "Scout's Honor" Napa Valley Red Blend 2015

Son Alec and daughter-in-law Viviana arrived from Florida as part of their circuitous relocation from New York City to Chicago. As part of our welcome to them we opened this bold expressive casual sipper, one of our "V" wines, those featuring the letter 'V' on their labels or in their branding, as a tribute to Viviana, that we have fun with in our collecting and serving. 

As I have written often in these pages, we've been enjoying Nils and Kirk Venge' wines since the early 1990's when Nils was featured by Wine Spectator Magazine in a 1994 article on up and coming wine producers. 

One of the labels of the Venge portfolio is Scout's Honor named for the family Labrador Retriever. I remember Scout walking the rows in the vineyards with Nils during a visit to the Rutherford Penny Lane estate back in the nineties (shown right from our 2002 visit).

This wine was initially meant to be a fun sipper for the Venge tasting room, yet it became — and remains — one of the most popular wines of the Venge portfolio which has now grown to nineteen labels. 

 Scout's Honor is based on a tradition of producing a full bodied, delicious and enjoyable red wine that can be opened and enjoyed immediately upon release however when cellared correctly it will age for 5 to 8 years.

Scout's Honor starts as a unique proprietary red blend anchored by a base of old-vine Zinfandel and builds upon that with dry-farmed Petite Sirah, old-vine Charbono, and finish with mountain vineyard Syrah.  

The blend for 2015 70% Zinfandel, 14% Charbono, 9% Petite Sirah and 7% Syrah.

We have been collecting this label since the earliest releases in the mid-nineties and hold a half dozen vintages. We typically keep a half dozen vintages of this label on hand for easy, enjoyable smooth sipping with everyday fare, great with BBQ, burgers, pizza to hearty cheese, beef, fruits and chocolates.
I was surprised when I went to write up this tasting note that this was my first recorded tasting of this vintage.

Nil's has stepped down into retirement and winemaker and production duties are now with son Kirk who has raised the bar taking this label to new heights in recent years, earning 93 or 94 points from Wine Advocate for vintages 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

 Wine buddy Andy and I visited Kirk and Nils up at the Calistoga estate and the Signal Fire Vineyard back in 2002 (shown right).  

From a branding perspective, this may be the last year you see this packaging with a paper label as the 2018 release went to a more upscale painted on glass bottle label marking, moving to a more premium positioning for this label. It remains to be seen what happens to the price point. It is already priced at the high end of the Zinfandel range, but well worth it with its sophistication and complexity and quality of the blend. 

2015 Venge "Scout's Honor" Napa Valley Red Blend

This release got
94 points from Jeb Dunnuck and 93 points from
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

 Winery notes: "The base starts with old-vine Zinfandel from Venge's Signal Fire Vineyard in Calistoga (where some of those vines have been producing for over 100 years!) and build upon that with dry-farmed Petite Sirah, old-vine Charbono, and finish with mountain-vineyard Syrah from the Stagecoach Vineyard. The result is an unpretentious red wine that will satisfy time and time again. This vintage has a gorgeous, concentrated assemblage of aromas of stone fruits, crushed blue herbs, violets, cherry, anise, and a touch of honeysuckle. On the palate is pure richness from the old-vine Zinfandel with loads of super-ripe blackberry, pepper spice, and an enveloping masculinity of char and tannins from the Syrah, Charbono and Petite Sirah. A seamless balance and mouth coating deliciousness are found throughout the palate, with an extra-long finish."

Deep garnet-purple colored, full bodied, rich, bold expressive dense, forward, especially ripe black berry and black currant fruits, this is another fruit bomb that is almost a bit over the top with its super ripe fruits' opulence, almost bordering on raisin notes with a bit of burnt coffee and tobacco notes turning to anise and dark bitter mocha with hints of cedar and pepper on the long moderate tannin laced finish. 

RM 89 points.



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Flora Springs "Trilogy" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2008

Flora Springs "Trilogy" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2008 

We enjoyed this with left over beef stew dinner at home. It was a perfect complement. I wrote about this label, the producer, history, family and branding in an in-depth chronicle last summer

This label is a regular favorite and mainstay holding in our cellar, partly due to the namesake that wife Linda is a descendant of the Flora family, founders of her hometown Flora, in Indiana, no relation of course to the California Napa Flora (first name) Kombs, but fun and a tribute none-the-less.

To this day, we hold a dozen vintages of this label in our cellar dating back to 90 and 91, a dependable offering for quality sophisticated drinking at reasonable value relative to the premium Napa and Bordeaux Blends.

Notably, we served the 1990 and 1991 vintages of this label, birthyear vintages of the groom and bride, at son Alec's wedding last fall

Hence, to fulfill the urge for a Bordeaux with our beef this evening, we opened this dozen year old Trilogy, named for the three primary Bordeaux varietal grapes in the blend.

Had I read the winemaker's accolades for this vintage release earlier, I likely would've held this vintage longer and chosen an older or alternate year as he attests 'it may be one of our greatest ever', and suggests prime drinking through 2028. 

As shown right, the cork was perfect at a dozen years of age. 

Robert Parker suggested in 2014 it should drink well for 10-15 more years. Prudent cellar management might have suggested I select a bottle that is closer to the end of its prime drinking window since this bottle can be held still longer for prime drinking. 

Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley Red Bordeaux Blend 2008

This release was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, and 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. It is a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot, and 2.5% Malbec, sourced from estate vineyards in the benchland hills of the Mayacamas Range in the further northwest corner of the Rutherford Appellation. It was aged for 22 months in 100% new French Oak and nearly 5000 cases were produced. 

Deep ruby purple coloed, medium to full body, complex yet elegant, supurbly balanced and polished black raspberry and black current flavors highlighted by floral, smooth oak and spice with hints of cassis and mocha turning to smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish. 



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Calera Vineyards Mt Harlan Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

For a midweek dinner, Linda served baked ham and scalloped potatoes. I pulled from the cellar this Calera Pinot Noir from Mt Harlan near Hollister in North Central California.

This is a single vineyard designated wine from the Ryan Vineyard. Readers of these pages know we primarily collect, drink and enjoy Bordeaux varietals and to a lesser degree Rhones. This is one of the very few Pinot Noirs we hold in our cellar. The reason for holding this label is part due to the classic history and legacy of this producer, and, the whimsical fun that this vineyard designated label shares the name of Ryan our oldest son. 

We don't do a lot of Pinots, opting instead for bigger, bolder, fuller bodied, darker more fruit forward wines. There are occasions when a lighter, more delicate subtle wine is more suitable and Pinot Noir, the wine of Burgundy is ideal. Such wines are not simpler however and can often be equally complex and even elegant.

Ten year old Pinot
vs Cabernet
As I have often written in these pages, our cellar is full of labels selected as signature labels for a family member or friend due to Vineyard names, special bottlings, or logos on the bottle as remembrances or tributes to someone special. These selections are in addition to our penchant for collecting wines from birth year and anniversary and special occasion year vintages as well.
Add to all this exuberance the selection of the producer Calera Vineyards and its founder winemaker Josh Jenson who is the epitome of Pinot Noir in California, or perhaps America.

I have written that I initially learned about Josh Jenson and his legendary Calera Vineyards were featured in Marq Devillier's wonderful 1994 book - "The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir". The story tells the tale of Josh's quest to grow the very finnicky Pinot Noir grape in California in the early days before Pinot was cultivated here. In pursuit of his dream to create authentic Burgundian style wines, he sought to find the place in California suitable to achieve that goal. 

Devillers tells of Jenson's quest and research to find the right terrior - all the attributes of the right location, soil, climate, drainage, and other nuances of 'place' that make up the character and personality of a wine from grapes of a particular site. Josh chose Mt. Harlan, an area not then know for grapes or winemaking. 

The rest, as they say, is history. While it is a human interest tale, it also provides a rich insight into the challenges and travails of setting up a winery, and a business, and achieving one's dream to make noteworthy wines. 

Calera’s Mt. Harlan Vineyards are located in Hollister, California, in the Gavilan Mountains, 25 miles east of the Monterey Bay. After much research and searching, Jenson found and selected this site for its limestone soils and ideal climate. At an average elevation of 2,200 feet it is among the highest and coolest vineyard sites in California.

Calera Pinot Noirs are single vineyard designated meaning they are each named for and produced from fruit sourced from one vineyard each. Their five vineyards planted in Pinot Noir are named for Josh's father (Jenson), Mills, a neighbor who mentored Josh in his early years, Reed, for one of Josh's dear friends and early investors, and in this case Selleck, for a family friend whom Josh attributes to introducing him to wine.

In 2002, the Ryan label appeared, named for Calera's vineyard manager since 1979. We've had fun with this wine collecting it for our #1 Ryan, serving it in celebration of his wedding a few years ago, and holding it in our cellar for special Ryan oriented occasions, or just fun occasions shared together such as tonight!

The Calera vineyards are enumerated and featured on the rear bottle label of the bottles as shown here. They are perhaps the most comprehensive and informative labels one will find anywhere on a bottle of wine. They spell out the information on the vineyard, geography, altitude, plantings, vines, the vintage and the bottling. The rear label itself makes for interesting reading, and insightful comparisons across the vineyards or vintages if one happens to have such bottles.

The Calera branding features the historic massive 30 foot tall limestone kiln that sits on the property from earlier days quarrying and processing limestone. Noting limestone in the soils of the legendary French Burgundy region, Jenson scoured the US seeking similar terroir to site his vineyards to produce Pinot Noir. He found such terroir and thoughtfully chose the property in the Central Coast region of California. The name Calera translates to 'limekiln' in in Spanish.

The Calera organically farmed Mt. Harlan vineyards are in the Gavilan Mountains, 25 miles east of Monterey Bay. The Ryan Vineyard, like Calera's others, has limestone soils, which are prized above any other soil type for growing Pinot Noir. Combined with the vineyard's average elevation of 2,200 feet--among the highest and coolest in California--the result is structured, intense Pinot.

Interesting that the latest wave of development in vineyard plantings for Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is in the western reaches of Sonoma County along the Sonoma Coast. Producers are calling these cool climate wines for the coastal breezes and fog encroaching and enveloping the vineyards from the Pacific Ocean. 

We toured the region and stayed in the remote town of Botega Bay during our Napa/Sonoma County Wine Experience in 2017

Winemaker notes for this release: "Graceful aromas of rose petal, tea, cassis, and clay accent a beautiful strawberry brick hue. This 2011 Ryan is firmly structured and intense with classic Mt. Harlan mineral purity. Mouthwatering flavor of cranberry, sour cherry and calcium offer fascinating tension with the taut, well integrated tannins offering a bright and very complex wine, and definitely a candidate for cellaring."

Calera Ryan Vineyard Mt Harlan Pinot Noir 2011

We hold a half dozen vintages of this label in our cellar as one of our 'signature' wines we hold in fun tribute to son Ryan.  

I still hold several bottles dating back to the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Normally I would select the older vintage but I chose the 2011, believing it might be the 'lesser' vintage, from a less ageworthy vintage. This is based on the lackluster vintage up further north in the Napa region. Alas, what a pleasant surprise that was very enjoyable, showing well, and holding up well showing no diminution of age whatsoever at ten years of age, exceeding my expectations on both counts. I raised my personal rating score of this label from earlier tasting (s).

Winemaker notes for this release suggest it is a 'candidate for cellaring': "Graceful aromas of rose petal, tea, cassis, and clay accent a beautiful strawberry brick hue. This 2011 Ryan is firmly structured and intense with classic Mt. Harlan mineral purity. Mouthwatering flavor of cranberry, sour cherry and calcium offer fascinating tension with the taut, well integrated tannins offering a bright and very complex wine, and definitely a candidate for cellaring." 

Pundit Allen Meadows of Burghound suggests 'drinking this on the younger side with an appropriate dish,' and Vinous said 2014 it 'should drink well for many year's. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate Jeb Dunnuck in 2014 wrote, 'Overall, it’s a structured effort that should be given another handful of years in the cellar, and consumed over the following decade.

I suspect at ten years, we're drinking this wine at the apex of its drinking window. The label from the bottle was in perfect condition (shown above).

This release was awarded 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 92 points by Vinous

Consistent with our last tasting of this wine, ironically a year ago this week, and our previous tasting for this label which we served for the family Thanksgiving diner back in 2015, this was translucent ruby red colored, medium light bodied, scent of dusty rose, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with a hint of cola, clove spice, leather and earthy mushroom turning to fine grained delicate tannins on the moderate lingering finish.

RM 90 points.  @CaleraWine

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Swerwer Swartland Chenin Blanc 2018

JC (Jasper) Wickens Swerwer Swartland Chenin Blanc 2018

Continuing our exploration of South African wines recently sourced from Vin Chicago, Linda prepared crabcakes and we opened this South African Chenin Blanc for casual sipping. This is from the Swartland appellation, 'Designation of origin' from the Western Cape, Coastal Region of South Africa.

This is produced by winemaker Jasper Wickens who was previously the assistant winemaker at Badenhorst Family Wines He has built up a following since his first releases in 2012 with his highly popular ‘Swartland’ wines. 

Jasper Wickens started out working at Zevenwacht Wine Estate where he learned conventional wine making practices over a two year period. He went on to graduate from Stellenbosch University with a Bachelor's Degree in Viticulture and Oenology. Jasper spent some time in Napa Valley where he was exposed to cutting edge technology and state of the art equipment.

Returning to South Africa he writes, “Adi Badenhorst brought me down to earth, really fast and hard. Coming to the Swartland changed everything I thought I knew about the wine world. Immediately I was working in the most primitive of ways, paying with blood and sweat, to learn that good wine doesn't come without getting your hands dirty. Tasting and developing a feel for the vineyards, the grapes and what they would become was much more important.”Suddenly, Jasper found himself in a completely different environment of old bush vines, natural whole bunch fermentations, low sulphur levels and a hands-off approach. This ‘Swartland norm’ was very far from the clinically sterile approach of the cellars he had worked in before. His time immersed in the ‘primitive’ ways passed quickly resulting in an almost ten year working relationship at AA Badenhorst Family Wines.

During his time at Badenhorst, he was allowed the freedom to travel and explore new cultures of winemaking. He spent time at the ancient, steep sloped slate vineyards of Priorat, Spain, working alongside Eben Sadie at Terroir-al-Limit, using traditional winemaking techniques, plowing with mules and practicing biodynamic farming for the first time. Crafting top wines from old vine Grenache and Carignan, Jasper returned to Priorat yearly between 2009 and 2011.

During the European harvests of 2011 and 2012  Jasper worked with Tom Lubbe at Matassa in Roussilon, France where he explored and experimented with completely naturally made wines farming organically or even bio-dynamically.

Moving with the seasons, working two harvest a year: a South African Swartland harvest followed by an European Priorat and Roussilon harvest, his ‘Swerwer’ project was born. “Swerwer” is a name which describes the lives of many young winemakers who chase the vintages across the globe traversing between the opposing seasons of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. 

The bulk of Swerwer grapes came from Waterval farm where a number of new vineyards were planted especially for Jasper’s growing production. Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Tinta Barocca vineyards were planted with a particular vision for Swerwer. There he got the opportunity to work with old vine Chenin Blanc and be part of the planting of new vineyards.

Waterval is one of the oldest farms in the area of Pardeberg dating back to the late 18th Century farming fruit orchards, vegetables and livestock. Over time and with the rise and formation of Swartland Co-op in the late 1940’s, attention turned to planting grapes. 

The Paardeberg ('horse mountain') divides the Paarl and Swartland wine regions, on the Western Cape coastal region, north of Capetown. The climate has cold winters with an average rainfall of 400-600 mm and hot summer, typically very hot during the day, with cooler temperatures at night.

Paardeberg has some of the highest vineyards above sea level in the Swartland region rising to 700 m. Vines are planted on the slopes of the Paardeberg in relatively deep soil consisting of decomposed sandstone, granite and some clay, while glenrosa-scali-type soil is found on the lower northeastern slopes.

Waterval has been in the Schreiber family since 1947 managed by father and son team, Cyril and Barry. After graduating from Elsenburg, third generation Franziska joined her father Barry and gradually took the ‘reins’, combining old school with a fresh outlook and modern techniques.

In 2016 Jasper and Franziska Waterfal tied the knot and the proprietorship partnership was formed, Jasper as winemaker and Franziska as viticulturist, they set out to produce estate wines from vines dating back to the 1960s. The old cellar on Waterval farm was renovated and equipped with the help of Adi. The first grapes in 50 years were received in January 2019, the same year James Barry was born to be the 4th generation on Waterval.

JC (Jasper) Wickens Swerwer Swartland Chenin Blanc 2018

Winemaker note for this label in 2019, "A high quality, focused Chenin Blanc. An invite of white and yellow stone fruit and herbal notes to a leaner palate, softly textured with peach, citrus, quince and a slightly savoury touch. A zesty acid zip leaves flavours to evolve and broaden with a longer finish. It is a complex and well-balanced wine, to be enjoyed fresh with food, although it can benefit with ageing to become quite complex and special."

Straw colored, light bodied, crisp acidity with citrus, tropical and stone fruit and hints of peach and lime on a zesty finish.

RM 88 points

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Force Majeure Collaboration Series Ptera Red Mountain 2012

Force Majeure Collaboration Series Ptera Force Majeure Vineyard 2012

For midweek dinner, Linda prepared a beef roast variation of her shepherd's pie and pot pie. I pulled from the cellar this big complex Columbia Valley red wine for an accompaniment. This is from proprietor entrepreneurs Paul and Susan McBride who ventured to the Northwest in pursuit of a dream to develop world-class vineyards and wines from the region. They believed in the promise of the quality wines coming from Red Mountain in the Columbia Valley in central Washington State, They purchased undeveloped land that is now Force Majeure Vineyard in 2004 to pursue their passion to make wines that define the region and showcase the terroir of its vineyards.

Drawing inspiration from the great vineyards of Bordeaux and the Northern and Southern Rhône valleys, they developed the first vineyard on the steep, rocky upper slopes of Red Mountain that were formed by the ancient Missoula floods, winds and volcanic activity. This steep vineyard ranges in elevation from 960 to 1,230 feet. 

They worked to carefully match varietal and clonal selections and viticulture techniques and irrigation to the eight distinct soil types in their vineyard. The outcome is a vineyard articulated into many small “micro-blocks,” maximizing the potential to to capture the distinctive and varying terrior of the unique and dynamic site.

The rocky upper-slope with shallow soil is well suited to the cultivation of Rhone varietals such as Syrah and Grenache, while the lower blocks of the vineyard are comprised of deep, well-drained Warden soils, where the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc excel. The west/southwest exposure of the site is planted to Syrah on the hill, tightly spaced to provide shade on the fruit. Development of the site began in 2006.

In 2014 they recruited winemaker Todd Alexander from California. Todd had developed a reputation for crafting terroir-driven wines that showcase the unique characteristics of specific sites through uncompromising, meticulous work in both the vineyard and winery. Prior to his arrival at Force Majeure, Todd had been Winemaker for acclaimed “cult” winery Bryant Family Vineyard in the Napa Valley. At Bryant, he worked closely with some of the very best and brightest in the wine industry, including legendary vineyard manager David Abreu and famous winemaking consultant Michel Rolland. 

In 2014, Todd came to Force Majeure with the goal of applying his skills and talents toward pushing the envelope of winemaking in Washington state, to join in our endeavor of crafting truly world-class wines from our own special sites.

We hosted Todd and his wife Carrie during their vintage release tour visit to Chicago in 2016 where we introduced him to our good friend Jared Gelband, wine director at the Italian Village restaurants.

We later visited Force Majeure during our Walla Walla Force Majeure Vineyards Site Visit and Tasting Walla Walla Washington Wine Experience in 2018. We tasted and acquired a broader portfolio of their wines at that time and subsequently through their wine club allocations.  

We have subsequently served Force Majeure Red Mountain wines at dinners we have hosted at Italian Village Chicago.
This vintage release is a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This label, Ptera, was only made in a few vintages and quickly become a mailing list favorite. This was from the Force Majeure Collaboration Series, begun in 2004 with a partnership between viticulturist Ryan Johnson, owners Paul and Susan McBride and seven specially selected winemakers, each chosen for their proficiency with various grape varietals and styles.

The “Collaboration Series” was produced in small quantities of Bordeaux- and Rhone-inspired wines, sourced from the notable Ciel du Cheval Vineyard from 2004 to 2013, and including in later years the Force Majeure Vineyard.  This and the follow on 2013 release were the final vintage for the “Collaboration Series” wines, as Force Majeure estate production increased to allow them to be a completely estate-focused winery sourcing fruit from their own vineyards.

This label was a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It was awarded 95 points by The Wine Advocate and 91 points by Wine Spectator. 

At nearing a decade old, this was likely at its prime, at the apex of its drinking window and profile. The cork was in perfect condition as shown.

Dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied, firmly structured but nicely balanced and approachable full black raspberry and black berry fruits are accented by notes of cola, coffee, spices with lead pencil graphite and floral turning to fine grained tannins on the long lingering finish.

RM 92 points.



Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Château Clinet Ronan 2016

Château Clinet Ronan Bordeaux (Merlot) 2016 for affordable every day sipper - a tasting primer

I opened this for everyday sipping with some baked ham and Linda's baked brie. 

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

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

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

I had never seen this label before and was intrigued, rightfully so by the discovery - priced at close to $10. The anticipation was heightened by the branding and packaging with the label being visually similar to the winemaker produced Michel Rolland Napa Valley Cabernet that I recently discovered and purchased. The MR Napa Cab, like the flagship Château Clinet, at a $175 pricepoint, are at the opposite end of the price spectrum, resulting in great relative QPR - (quality price ratio) for this label. 

Recall, as I have written in these pages, for most of us who have any sense of economic management of their wine cellar and drinking selections; we have everyday wines, once a week wines, once a month wines, and special occasion or once a year, and even once in a lifetime wines - each with their corresponding price point. At closer to $10 than $20 'street' price, this is affordable for most anyone as an everyday sipper. The high end of that range depends on the consumer and their level of discrimination, and their budget - it might be $25, $50 or $100, or more. Of course, like the commercial says, your experience or results may vary.

One tragedy of developing a more discriminating pallet is that as one acquires or learns an appreciation for better quality, more expensive wines, one seeks and enjoys better wines and becomes less content with lower priced lesser sophisticated wines! Hence the budget management described above for most. One will find they will reach an equilibrium of affordability and preference. 

This is also where a 'blind' tasting comes in. Taste a wine without the pretense of the price point and set your standards thusly, not influenced by price. 

For the most part, prices rise with quality and visa versa - its the anomaly that exceeds the QPR - quality-price-ratio that is the mother lode of wine tasting and collections. Hence I often refer to the QPR of a given wine - but that may be at any of the aforementioned pricepoints. 

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

Most importantly, wine appreciation is all in the eyes, or tastes, of the beholder. There is no right or wrong answer to one's preference for any given wine - you like what you like! All snobbery aside, at the end of the day, its all grape juice, with a wide range or nuances!

Château Clinet Ronan Bordeaux (Merlot) 2016

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

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

Upon initial opening this was a bit flabby and obtuse but after an hour it settled and actually took on an interesting profile. 

This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied with black currant and plum fruits accented by an intriguing, almost exotic floral layer with herbs, truffle and notes of bittersweet dark chocolate with tongue puckering lingering tangy tannins and aromatics on the finish.  Great value in an everyday sipper!

RM 87 points.





Saturday, March 13, 2021

Babylonstoren Simonsberg-Paarl South Africa Shiraz 2018

Babylonstoren Simonsberg-Paarl South Africa Shiraz 2018

This South African Shiraz is a current special offering from local merchant Vin Chicago. We had to try it and are glad we did! It is from the Simonsberg-Paarl ward or appellation, (what in the US would be called an AVA, or an AOC in France, DOC in Italy), the most granular South Africa wine area designation, within the Paarl District, within the Coastal Wine Region of South Africa, located in the southwestern tip of the nation. 

South African Wine Regions are generally aligned with geographic units, regions and districts largely traced by political boundaries, the sub-unit appellations or wards are segmented and defined by their unique Terroir characteristics, as with other wine area classifications around the world.

Simonsberg, translated into English means Simon's Mountain, is part of the Cape Fold Belt Mountain Range in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is located between the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, where the prominent 1399 m high mountain is detached and freestanding from the other ranges in the winelands region.

I gained an appreciation for South African wines during my South African Wine Experience visit there two years ago when I had the chance to drink some popular and limited release wines.

Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms, set at the foot of Simonsberg in the Franschhoek wine valley. They produce a wide portfolio of wines, crafted in a state-of-the-art winery to reflect the unique terroir soils and climate where its grapes are grown. The Babylonstoren estate also includes a contemporary Farm Hotel & Spa, and the Farm Shop and Restaurants.

They have 88 hectares (217 acres) under vine and produce 13 different grape varieties. The vineyards lie against the Simonsberg (Mt Simon) reaching altitudes of 600 meters above sea level. The highest vines are planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Some of the vines on the farm date back to original plantings by the farm’s previous owners, the Louw family, who lived there for four generations. The Louws were grape growers for the former Simondium Co-operative Winery and other large wineries in the area. 

The branding of Babylonstoren wines are represented in the Babylonstoren logo, which consists of the pipe (representing the farmer), the flower (representing the garden) and the bird (representing nature).

Winemaker producer Charl Coetzee says, "This combination is the very essence of Babylonstoren – keeping things simple and as true to the earth as possible. It is this that we strive to achieve in our wine," says Charl Coetzee. "Truth to the area we are situated in on the slopes of Simonsberg, and simplicity by making elegant and balanced wines as natural as possible."

This label is 100% estate Shiraz. Fermentation takes place on the skins for about seven days, after which it gets an extended maceration period of about one week. The wine then gets pressed into a combination of 70% new and 30% second-fill 300 liter French oak barrels. After malolactic fermentation the wine gets racked and is then returned to the barrels for another 18 months before bottling.

This release was awarded 96 points by Decanter World Wine Awards in 2020.

Winemaker: Charlenes Coetzee Tasting Notes: "Aromas of cassis, pencil shavings, ripe fruit, a little dustiness and fragrant violets. Matured in French oak, this delicious Shiraz has a fresh mid-palate with dark cherry and soft prune flavours and a hint of spice. The mouth-feel is rich and velvety and the finish long and pleasing. A firm favourite of ours."  

At slightly more than $20, this represents good value high QPR (Quality Price Ratio). 

We drank this with Covid carry-out Italian pizza and pasta dinner from Angeli's Italian, our local neighborhood trattoria. 

What you would hope for in a big full throttle Shiraz - dark inky purple colored, full bodied, slightly flabby, concentrated dense black berry and sweet black cherry brambly fruits with a layer of smokey menthol and black olive, spice, graphite and hints of cassis and white pepper with tongue coating acidity on the lingering finish.  Lacks elegance or polish, a bit obtuse, but tasty and enjoyable.

RM 90 points.

twitter : @babylonstoren 


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Oracle Software Silver Oak Wine Tasting

Oracle Software features Silver Oak and Twomey Wine Tasting presented by Silver Oak/Towmey Kathleen McLeod

Strategic Alliance partner software vendor Oracle (tangentially and but remotely related to Napa wine label of same name via Robert and Dave Miner association - no association with Oracle label from Killikanoon) featured an imaginative and classy wine tasting as part of a Covid shut-in remote ISV partner briefing. 

The Oracle Live Webinar event was hosted by and featured Dave Profozich, North American ISV SVP, who presented the ISV Executive Cloud Briefing industry and program strategy and update. Oracle kindly sent us two bottles for the event, the latest release Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet 2016 and the Twomey 2018 Napa/Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc

After the Oracle update briefing, Dave then turned the session over to Kathleen McLeod, VP Consumer Experience for Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey, who lead a virtual tasting of the current release Silver Oak Cabernet and Twomey Sauvignon Blanc.

Kathleen has thirty years industry experience with fifteen years at Silver Oak.  She lead a tasting exposition of each wine, shared the history and philosophy of Silver Oak/Twomey and then lead a general discussion answering questions and sharing perspectives and experiences with the participants.  

The first bottle featured was the current 2018 release of Twomey Sauvignon Blanc.  I wrote more extensively about Twomey in a recent blogpost.

This was an extra special event for me since son Ryan is an Oracle executive, so we attended and shared the experience together. With two of us, it afforded the opportunity to open another bottle of Silver Oak Alexander Valley to do a mini vertical comparison tasting. Ryan opened his 2016 release and I, rather than open my 2016 bottle, pulled from the cellar a 1995 vintage release of the same label. 

 As I wrote when we last opened this vintage release of this label, we hold a dozen and a half vintages of this iconic label and the Napa label, dating back to the birthyear vintages of our kids, '81, '82, '85 and '90, of which we still hold in magnums and some in other large format bottles. 

Notably, we served birthyear vintage Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard (named after founder proprietor Ray Duncan's wife and co-founder) 1982, and other vintages of the Napa label, at Ryan's wedding from six liter large format and standard size bottles. Bonny's Vineyard was two acres of vines that surrounded the original homestead on the estate.

We also hold six liter bottles of the single vineyard designated bottling Bonny's Vineyard (shown right) for son Alec's birthyear vintage, which we'll serve at his wedding this summer. 

So it is that we know Silver Oak well and often open Silver Oak on special occasions.

Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Tonight's tasting of this label was consistent with our last opening of this vintage release back in May of last year when I wrote: "Tonight's tasting of  this 1995 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cab was showing its age as the color had taken on a slight browning on the rim and the fruits were starting to give way to some funkiness and earthy notes.'

"Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, has a garnet hue with some slight browning at the rim, the black fruits were giving way to aromas of cigar box, leather and herb flavors with hints of cherries and dark chocolate and anise."

RM 88 points - consistent with last tasting in May, 2020. 

This release orignally got 94 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 92 points from Wine Spectator.

As shown, the bottle fill level, label, foil and cork were in ideal condition, testament to the ideal provenance conditions of our cellar.

 While still holding up, this is past its prime and starting to diminish from aging and should be consumed in the next year or so, longer only for the more adventurous. 

Note this interesting perspective based on the longevity predicted for this release by pundit Robert Parker. Parker noted, "given proper cellaring, this wine can be enjoyed now through 2019".

Characterizing notes from Robert Parker, "Critics have argued that the wine does not age particularly well, but that has largely been proven a myth for some vintages. Silver Oak generally is not as long lived as Chateau Montelena, Dunn, or other Napa Cabernets with a 30-40 year aging potential, but they can have a broad window of drinkability, known to be delicious at release, and able to sustain their fruit and character for typically 15 or more years."

Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Kathleen then lead the group tasting of this current release label, she explained, Silver Oak focuses on one varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon. Each release is selected from the best lots, blended together from numerous estate and grower supplier sources, and aged for two or more years in American Oak. Typically, more is produced or available for production with the best lots selected and released under the Silver Oak brand, with the remaining portion sold off to the trade for bottling under other labels. 

Silver Oak produce two Cabernet labels, this one from Alexander Valley, and another from Napa Valley, each reflecting the profile and character of the two regions - Alexander trending towards being softer, lighter, more delicate and moderate, while Napa tends to be more bold, fruit forward and bigger with its more concentrated Napa fruits - two styles to appeal to two preferences. In a typical vintage, sixty thousand cases are produced of the Alexander, twice as much as the Napa label. 

We have visited both the Alexander Valley winery up near Healdsburg, and the Napa Valley winery and hospitality center during our many visits to the region.

Ryan brought his bottle of this vintage release that he had opened and decanted several hours before the tasting. 

The 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 94.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.0% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.4% Malbec, and was aged for 24 months in American oak (50% new) from Silver Oak's own cooperage.

Winemaker's Notes:

Our 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is ruby in color with a magenta rim. It has an enticing nose of cassis, blackberry, vanilla, sage and spearmint. Upon entry, this wine builds from potpourri and bramble to a bright pop of raspberry on the mid-palate. A juicy finish with chewy tannins and a medium length, it will provide drinking pleasure through 2042 with proper cellaring. 

This was rated 93 points by Wilfred Wong

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, bright expressive yet smooth and approachable black berry and black currant fruits with notes of cassis, herbs and hints of mint, graphite mineral and subtle oak on the lingering dusty tannin laced finish. 

RM 92 points.

Towmey Napa Valley Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2019 

As I wrote in a recent blogpost, Twomey was founded in 1999 by legendary Ray Twomey Duncan, founder of the well-known known and highly regarded Silver Oak, and sons David, and Tim Duncan. David served as the managing partner and today is Chairman and CEO of both Silver Oak and Twomey having joined Silver Oak in 2002. The name Twomey, (pronounced two-me) is named after their grandmother, Ray's mother, Velma’s maiden name and is also the middle name of several family members.

This Towmey Sauvignon Blanc is sourced exclusively from four estate-owned vineyards, half from Napa Valley and 1/2 Sonoma County Russian River Valley: the Sonoma sources - 35% Merino Estate Vineyard and 15% Twomey Healdsburg Estate Vineyard: the Napa County 50% from Twomey Calistoga Estate Vineyard, 9%, and the remaining 41% from Oakville Estate Vineyard that surrounds the Silver Oak winery there. 

The is is 99% Sauvignon Blanc with 1% Sauvignon Gris.

Light butter straw colored, light body, crisp and lively acidic laced flavors of bright tropical fruit with notes of grapefruit citrus and hints of pineapple with a crisp clean finish. 

RM 90 points.





Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 label