Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservé 2007

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservé 2007 for BBQ Rib Dinner

Almost a complete and accurate replay of an earlier tasting of this wine, we opened this to serve with barbecue ribs.

While somewhat subdued the first evening upon opening, I reopened it the next evening and it was more expressive,  bigger and more complex with more pronounced fruits. 

This wine was rated 92 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Spectator and Vinous - a rare occasion of absolute concensus amongst four leading wine critics.  

This is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cinsault CDP varietals.

As written in previous tasting, classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape profile and characteristics, minus the black pepper notes which are suppressed and replaced by notes of lavender and floral.

Deep, dark ruby/purple colored, medium to full-bodied, black berry and black currant fruits with licorice, black tea, notes of vanilla bean, roasted herb, forest floor and meaty aromas with smooth tangy black cherry notes, licorice and smoky minerals lingering on a moderate tannin laced finish. 

RM 91 points.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

St Emilion duo for Tomahawk beefsteak dinner

St Emilion duo for Tomahawk beefsteak dinner 

Dr Dan and Linda joined us for Saturday night dinner - (my) Linda prepared grilled Tomahawk ribeye steaks with mashed potatoes and haricut verts. Dan brought from his cellar a 1er Grand Cru Classe Chateau Canon St. Emilion so I pulled another St Emilion Grand Cru Classe' for a comparison tasting. 

Prior to dinner we had a special select Domaine Carneros sparkling wine brought by Dan that we tasted with a broad selection of artisan cheeses.

We finished the evening with a duo of chocolates, Linda's homemade chocolate brownies alongside a chocolate cake brought by Dan and Linda. With the chocolate flight we sipped a Warre's Vintage Port.

Taittinger Domane Carneros
Le Rêve Sparkling Wine 2011

This is from the famous French Champagne house Taittinger, whose US presence dates back to when Claude Taittinger of the noble family began searching for a worthy U.S. counterpart in the late 1970s. In 1987 he selected a 138-acre parcel in the heart of Carneros, down at the bottom of Napa Valley near where the Napa and Sonoma valleys intersect. There he established the California sparkling wine house, Domaine Carneros, capable of producing a luxury blanc de blancs in the style of Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne in France. He hired Eileen Crane as founding CEO and winemaker to oversee the development of the winery and vineyards and to produce a quintessential California expression of the Taittinger style in Carneros. Of course, authentic Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region in northern France, all others are simply 'sparkling wines', even those produced in the méthode traditionnelle champagne method and style.

Their first California cuvée, appropriately named Le Rêve (the dream), was this blanc de blancs, crafted of 100 percent estate-grown Chardonnay. 

The Domaine Carneros château is a California wine country landmark along the Sonoma highway connecting Napa and Sonoma valley, completed in 1989. It's architecture was inspired by the classic 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France - home of Champagne Taittinger.

In 2020, after a successful career spanning 42 years, Crane passed the torch to a new CEO, Remi Cohen, who now carries on the Taittinger tradition of visionary female leadership. Ushering in a new era of Domaine Carneros, Cohen brings two decades of experience in all facets of the wine industry to the château. Crane also passed the torch as head sparkling winemaker to new sparkling winemaker, Zak Miller, who worked for over a decade with Eileen as a member of the winemaking team.

The heart of Domaine Carneros has always been around sparkling wines, with distinctive styles ranging from the classic vintage-specific-dated Brut cuvée, to the luxury Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs. Domaine Carneros farms 6 vineyards in the Carneros AVA, four of them within 4 miles of the Chateau. The Estate Vineyards now total 400 acres, 225+acres devoted to Pinot noir and 125+ acres planted with Chardonnay.

Le Rêve is the ultra-premium flagship label, a highly respected tête de cuvée - Domaine Carneros' finest sparkling wine that has frequently been named America’s Best Sparkling. French for “the dream,” Le Rêve is crafted from 100% estate-grown Chardonnay, crafted from five organically grown estate clones of Chardonnay, produced using the traditional method of Champagne, and aged in the bottle for a remarkable, unheard of five to six years sur lie before release.

From the Winery: The 2011 growing season experienced frost in the vineyard and ended the season with a very cool summer, resulting in a reduced crop size resulting in rich concentrated fruit.

Golden colored, medium bodied, intensely flavorful with notes of lemon citrus, apple and pear with hints of lime, wet stone and spice and what Wine Spectator refers to a fresh ginger on a tangy lingering acidic finish. 

RM 91 points. This release was awarded 95 Points by Wine Enthusiast,  94 by Insider, and 93 Points by Wine Spectator.

Château Canon 1er Grand Cru Classe' St-Emilion 2011

We tasted this label during the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) 2011 Vintage Release Tour Tasting in Chicago, back in 2014. This is one of our absolute favorites from the Bordeaux Right Bank appellation St Emilion. We've enjoyed this label dating back to the memorable 1983 vintage. The Chateau Canon property is owned by the proprietors of the haute couture house of Chanel.
This is a blend of 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, with 13.55% alcohol, aged in 70% new oak.  
This release was rated 93-95 points by Wine Enthusiast. 93 points by James Suckling, 90-92 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, and  91 points by Wine Spectator.
Tonight's tasting was consistent with my tasting notes from that tasting back in 2014, but actually improved from a decade of aging. Wine Spectator cited for this label, best drinking through 2022. 

Château Canon - Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, floral aromas with firm, concentrated sweet red and black raspberry fruits accented with tones of kirsch and tobacco leaf with firm but silky soft tannins on the long smooth lingering finish.  

Tonight, RM 92Points, improved from 91 points for the release tasting.

Château Vignot St. Émilion Grand Cru Classe' 2007

To pair and compare with the Château Canon, I pulled from the cellar this St. Émilion from a near mid-term vintage. I thought and hoped I had a bottle of the Château Canon but I was mistaken.

This Grand Cru is a class lower than the 1er Grand Cru of the Canon and the rankings accurately fit their tasting profiles with it being less complex, less polished and smaller in its presence. It did improve further after being open for 60-90 minutes to more closely resemble the bigger rival, but it never reached its more lofty standing.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, slightly 'flat' or flabby in comparison to the Canon, notes of dusty floral, dark berry, notes of tobacco, leather, spice and subtle oak with moderate tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 87 points.

With the chocolate course we opened this twenty-five year old vintage port which was probably at the apex of its drinking window and profile. We hold this label going back to the kids' birthyear vintages in 1982, 1985 and 1990, so watch for further tastings of this label in future family dinners and celebrations.

Warre's Porto Vintage Quinta da Cavadinha 1995

We featured this wine during a tasting back in 2017. Consistent with that earlier tasting notes. 

Dark blackish garnet coffee colored - full bodied, a bit of an edge of sweet black fruits, layer of smokey creosote with hint of expresso, cedar and cassis and dark black cherry on the finish. 

RM 89 points.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

House of Cards Sonoma County Chardonnay 2019

House of Cards Sonoma County Chardonnay 2019

Friday night dining at local eaterie 'Carnivore and the Queen' in Downers Grove, (IL) we feasted on their Friday special Fresh Walleye Fish & Chips. We also ordered our other go-to usual accompaniment, the beefsteak tomatoes with grilled steak. And of course, for the dessert course, Linda had their special of the house signature key lime pie.

From the winelist I ordered this house Chardonnay from Sonoma County, House Of Cards, not to be confused with the substantially more prolific producer of the same name from Western Australia. 

House of Cards Sonoma County Chardonnay 2019

This is crafted by winemaker Tom Hinde, whom I should've recognized, he is one of the most experienced practitioners in the California wine industry with expertise in all aspects of the wine business from vineyard cultivation to winery management and hands-on artisan winemaking. He was instrumental in the success of Yao (Ming's) Family Wines as President and director of winemaking there.

He has worked at several of California’s most acclaimed wineries for more than three decades, most recently as President, CEO and Director of Winemaking for Flowers Vineyard and Winery, a specialty Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer located on the Sonoma Coast.

Previously, from 1997 to 2005, Tom was General Manager for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates where he helped develop two famed Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon programs as part of the winemaking teams for Lokoya and Cardinale. He also supported the winemaking team at Stonestreet Winery and launched the world-renowned Vérité Estate. For seven years, he was General Manager at La Crema and Hartford Family Winery.

This was a pleasant surprise for a modestly priced WBTG (Wine-by-the-glass) winelist offering, a nice complement to the fish dinner. 

Bright straw colored, light medium bodied, fruit-forward flavors of pear, apple  and hints of citrus lime and wet stone, with notes of minerality and lively acidity to highlight the lingering finish. 

RM 88 points.



Saturday, April 10, 2021

Clarendon Hills "Piggott Range Vineyard" Syrah Duo

Clarendon Hills "Piggott Range Vineyard" Syrah Duo followed by pair of Rubissows

With the ladies gathered in town for a bridal shower for daughter-in-law Vivianna, the guys hung out sipping a medley of fine wines. Dr Dan brought from his cellar a Clarendon Hills "Piggott Range Vineyard" Syrah so I pulled another vintage of the same label for a mini-vertical comparison tasting. 

We've had several memorable tastings of this label going back to the '97 vintage including a special anniversary dinner and several of our wine group special events featuring this 2004 release. Links to these various tastings are featured below. I wrote about Clarendon Hills in one of those earlier blogposts

This Piggott Range vineyard designated label is by far my favorite of the Clarendon Hills portfolio even when compared to their flagship super premium Astralis label. I wrote about a trio of Clarendon Hills labels in a blogpost comparison tasting last fall, "Trio of Clarendon Hills labels - Astralis, Bakers Gully and Romas".


Clarendon Hills "Piggott Range Vineyard" Syrah McLaren Vale South Australia 2011

This vintage release of this label was not as big or fruit filled as the other releases I have tasted, taking on a little bit more menthol and acidity than the more complex concentrated fruit flavors of the 2004 that we paired and compared. One Cellartracker reviewer MMack gave it 92 points and compared it to a CDP (Chateauneuf du Pape). Vivino reviewer DcLaxFan also likened it to a Rhone, he wrote "From a winery founded by a biochemist, the Syrah opens with a nose of smoked meat, mulberry, tapenade, and plum. Savory mouth of prunes, brisket, cassis, and earth. A wild, smoky, meaty feel like a Rhône Vacqueyras."

RM 91 points.

Tasty and big never-the-less, the 2004 put it in its place with a more classic big powerful concentrated fruit Piggott Range profile.

Clarendon Hills Syrah Piggott Range Vineyard 2004

Consistent with earlier tasting notes, this exhibited a rich dark purple color, full bodied, and full smooth polished aromas and flavors of raspberries, blueberry, blueberries and smoked meat with notes of spice and floral elements with hints of oak with nicely integrated silky tannins on the lingering finish.

The rich extracted fruit however did not succumb to the last tasting of this label when the fruit seemed more ripe or extracted so as to be a bit more raisiny with a subtle tone of graphite or a metallic note - perhaps or most likely attributable to aging at this stage of life - fifteen years of age.

RM 92 points.

Previous tastings of this label: 

Rubissow Mt Veeder wines for comparison tasting ..

Rubissow Mt Veeder wines for comparison tasting ... and remembrances ... 

With Dr Dan and Eric and their 'better halves, ladies' in town for our daughter-in-law Vivianna's wedding shower, the men hung out and opened a series of interesting labels for a comparison tasting. In commemoration of the newlyweds bridal shower, and the gathering of special friends with a common memorable wine experience, I pulled from the cellar a special label, son Alec's birthyear vintage wine from Rubissow-SargentMt Veeder, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This bottle was acquired by Eric at a special auction and brought to one of our Pour Boy's wine tasting events. We didn't get to it that evening and I pulled it and set it aside for a special tasting such as tonight. This label had additional special significance as it was discovered when Eric and Cathy joined us for a visit to the Rubissow estate and vineyards high atop Mt Veeder during our Mt Veeder Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2011

For a producer comparison tasting, I pulled another Rubissow label, tasted and acquired during that visit to the Rubissow estate, a Rubissow Mt Veeder Merlot, 2006.

The Rubissow estate was purchased in 1983 and planted to vines by the family partnership of George Rubissow and his children, Ariel & Peter Rubissow. 

Rubissow Wines was started in 1986 as Rubissow-Sargent named for founder George Rubissow, a scientist, engineer and musician, and Tony Sargent, a Napa Valley winemaker. 

Rubissow was born in Paris to Russian and Ukrainian parents, and in Napa Valley Rubissow struck up a friendship with the legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, who was Russian by birth. The pair conversed in Russian and Tchelistcheff offered viticultural and winemaking advice for Rubissow’s new winery. In the early days, the wines were produced in a winery down in Berkeley. That winery has since shut down.

In 2004, second generation owners Peter & Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto dissolved Rubissow~Sargent and founded Rubissow, with new winemaker Timothy Milos.

The Mt. Veeder estate sits high atop Mt Veeder at the southern end of the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa Valley from Somoma Valley. The vineyard sitting up at the summit overlooks beyond the Carneros region to the south with views of San Pablo Bay in the distance. 

The 46 acre property consists of 26 acres of native oak and redwood forest with the remaining 18.5 acres planted to estate vineyards in 1983 and replanted in 1994. 

Rubissow produced a limited number of red wines, from estate grown fruit of the Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, and some Syrah. 

In their peak production, Rubissow produced about 5000 cases per year. In 2016, with their vintage release, they announced that after 37 years, the property would be taken over by new ownership. With their 2016 release, they wrote at the time, "When Tim made this wine, he and we didn’t yet know that it would be our final Rubissow Reserve, but just as well."

During our visit to the estate back in 2011, we tasted a flight of Rubissow estate Carbernet Sauvignon, estate Merlot, Les Trompettes, their flagship Bordeaux Blend, and Rubissow-Sargent Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (shown below). 

Rubissow-Sargent Mt Veeder, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990

Produced in an authentic 'old world style,  Rubissow and Sargent never went in for the thick jammy 'Parker' style. At thirty one years, this was respectably still hanging on, showing remarkably little sign of diminution from aging. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, still holding blackberry fruits with notes of black tea, tobacco, bits of cedar and bell pepper subtle with some lingering tannins on the finish. 

RM 88

Eric, Bill and George Rubissow

The Pour Boys crew with George Rubissow
and Barbara Jiro, Director Hospitality

We also opened this ...

Rubissow Napa Valley Mt Veeder Merlot 2006

We tasted and acquired during this visit to the estate. Late last fall I wrote this about this label, "Tonight's tasting was consistent with that earlier experience, this showed dark garnet purple color, medium body with black berry fruits, slightly tart black cherry with a hints of spice, tobacco, touch of mocha and coffee bean. Then iI wrote it was a bit flabby and lacked structure and therefor was a bit underwhelming, perhaps due to comparison with the bigger, bolder, brighter Yates Mt Veeder Cab."

That tasting was fairly consistent with the previous tasting back in 2013 when I wrote ,"This was leaner and lighter than I remembered from earlier tasting - it showed dark garnet purple color, medium body with black berry fruits, slightly tart black cherry with a hints of tobacco, touch of mocha and coffee bean."

Tonight 88 points, previously I gave it 87 points.

Rick and Linda with George Rubissow
We discovered and acquired this wine during a winery/estate visit during our Napa Wine Experience Mt Veeder excursion in 2011 - Rubissow Mt Veeder Napa Valley Vineyards

This is another Napa Valley Bordeaux varietal that we've enjoyed visiting the producer's estate. We acquired later vintages of this wine during the visit and ordered more of this varietal and joined their wine club, but we have never heard anything more or received and further wines from the producer. 

We had much better experience tasting the earlier vintage of this label which raised the anticipation of opening selections from our cellar, and raises the disappointment of not obtaining more (despite having placed hard orders.)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Syrah Syrah for big red tasting ...

Syrah Syrah for big red tasting ... two diverse contrasting styles from two disparate regions for a comparative varietal tasting ...

Sis-in-law Dr Pat in town for the family gathering this weekend, the ladies wanted a big bold red wine for tasting. I pulled from the cellar two contrasting style Syrahs to share and compare. 

We acquired this unique label last month and wrote about it with the info below in recent blogposts.

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.

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.

This label is 100% estate Shiraz. 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). 

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  

We then opened this Sonoma Coast Syrah for a fun and interesting comparison tasting. This provided an interesting comparison tasting of two diverse styles from two disparate regions producing the same varietal wine, the South African vs this aged Sonoma County Syrah, produced in the Northern Rhone style. 

I wrote recently about the Sonoma County region as an emerging area for Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It has also been known to produce Rhone style Syrah's such as this label which has been around for more than a decade. I wrote about this label, Domaine Des Chirats Rockpile Vineyard Syrah 2013 in a blogpost back in late 2018

Domaine Des Chirats Sonoma County Rockpile Vineyard Syrah 2013

This is produced by Jeff Cohn, former winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars in collaboration with Yves Cuilleron from the Northern Rhône, third generation proprietor of Cave Cuilleron founeded by his grandfather Claude Cuilleron in 1920. Yves took over in 1987 from his Uncle. The 150 acre estate produces over 430000 bottles of wine annually. Jeff Cohn and Yes Cuilleron teamed up in 2013 to produce this wine in the historic Northern Rhône style from fruit sourced from Cohn's Rockpile vineyard. Through their collaboration they have crafted this wine in the style of a Northern Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie.

Fruit for this label is sourced from the Rockpile vineyard in the Rockpile appellation in Sonoma. Cohn calls it "a special place for Syrah". Sitting at 2010 ft. elevation, Syrah 20 plus year-old vines are grown above the fog line allowing for plenty of sun to reach full ripeness. The vineyard gets its name from the rocky soil that stresses the grapes resulting in richness and concentration. Jeff began working with the Rockpile Vineyard over fourteen years ago.

Jeff strives to achieve the aspects of terroir and minerality found in France's legendary historic winemaking regions in wines sourced from California fruit. He has traveled across California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, searching for the finest fruit and the best vineyards. Among Jeff's most important discoveries was the Rockpile region in Sonoma where he began sourcing Syrah grapes for a portfolio of wines including this label. He strives for elegant and complex wines and he believes the craggy soil of the aptly named Rockpile produces some of the most complex and distinctive minerality in all of California.

The 2014 vintage of this wine was rated 95 Points by Robert Parker.

Dark purple garnet colored, full bodied, complex and concentrated but polished and elegant, blueberry and blackberry fruits with notes of floral, anise, meaty bacon fat and spice, crisp acidity with firm but approachable tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Tomahawk Rib-eye Dinner features Robert Craig Affinity Duo

Tomahawk Rib-eye Dinner features Robert Craig Affinity Duo and perhaps the best Affinity ever

With son Alec and daughter-in-law Vivianna staying with us, Linda prepared spectacular grilled tomahawk rib-eyes for dinner, carefully prepared 'Pittsbugh style', with grilled onion rings, haricot verts and whipped potatoes. I pulled from the cellar this duo of aged vintage Robert Craig Affinity's from the 2000 and 2007 vintages as a mini-vertical tasting of this label, one of our favorites.

We hold many fond memories of dinners, lunches and other tasting events with Robert Craig and partner and wife Lynn during many of our Napa Valley wine tours, and hearing Robert talk about this label.

This is the Bordeaux Blend of the Robert Craig portfolio that Robert always took immense pride in as his entry level introduction to his 'five mountains and a valley' appellation select Napa Cabernets. He took pride in holding the price point on this level which provided great QPR - quality price ratio value. He also took pride in this providing early gratification quality drinking at an early age, yet as shown tonight, it has some longevity for aging for a decade or more. 

I wrote year before last, after Robert's passing in a Tribute to Robert Craig, when the business turned over to new leadership, the price of the Affinity label understandably crept up to 'market' pricing, a not insignificant increase. Current 'published price' for this at several merchants is $89. I used to try to buy it at sub-$50 prices. 

Robert never promoted or played up the fact this label was a carefully crafted  Bordeaux Blend comprising all the Bordeaux varietals. He did promote it as an introduction to the portfolio of Robert Craig Napa Valley Cabernets.

I've written often that Robert Craig wines are one of the largest holdings in our cellar collection. We hold more than two dozen vintages of this label dating back to the inaugural release in 1993, as well as several of the single appellation designated selections. I question how those earliest vintages have held up and need to consume them, both as part of cellar management and thinning our collection. This tasting was part of that effort. 

Robert Craig "Affinity" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2000  

This showed more fruit, balance and complexity than recent earlier tastings, perhaps due to its ideal complementary pairing with the grilled beefsteak. 

Still holding its own, and while it won't improve further, its probably at the end of its apex, but still well within the acceptable drinking window, again showing the age-ability of Robert Craig and other carefully crafted Napa Valley Cabernets.

At two decades this is still holding its own, past its prime perhaps and not likely to improve with further aging, but drinking nicely and no need to hurry consuming any remaining bottles. 

Dark purple/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, this initially opened to a slight funkiness that revealed its age, which soon burned off to a complex, polished, nicely balanced sophisticated Cabernet with forward black berry and black raspberry fruits with a layer of pleasant, sweet, spicy oak accented by hint of tobacco leaf, black tea and leather, turning to tones of black cherry on the lingering moderate tannin finish.

RM 92

Robert Craig "Affinity" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2007 

This release was awarded 96 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 92 points Wine Enthusiast.

We first tasted this wine from a barrel sample and acquired this release during the Robert Craig Howell Mountain Harvest Party '09 back in 2009. 

Robert Parker wrote in 2009, "Give it 2-3 years of cellaring and drink it over the next 15 or possibly 20 years. This is the best group of wines I have ever tasted from Robert Craig Winery. Not only is there not a single disappointment in this portfolio, but these are all noteworthy wines, with thrilling levels of quality. Moreover, they are moderately priced for Napa Valley as well as ageworthy. I think these are the finest wines that I have ever tasted from Robert Craig Cellars."

Wine Enthusiast wrote of this release, 'Craig has produced his best bottling since the late 1990s'.

This year’s blend is heavier on the petit verdot, with a composition of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec.

This exceeded my expectations for this label and indeed was one of the best drinking Affinity's in memory. At fifteen years, this seems to reaching the apex of its drinking profile.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, elegant, polished and smoothly balanced, black berry and black currant fruits with notes of mocha chocolate and spice, hints of cassis, smoke and cedar with smooth silky tannins on a lingering cloying finish.

RM 93 points.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Dual Syrahs for BBQ Rib Dinner

Dual Washington State Columbia Valley Syrahs for BBQ Rib Dinner

For a mid-week BBQ dinner we opened from the cellar two primo Syrahs - both from Washington State Columbia Valley.

We started with this Force Majeure Red Mountain vineyard Syrah. We visited Force Majeure Estate and Vineyards and site of their new winery in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, in Walla Walla during our Walla Walla Wine Experience in 2018. We tasted and acquired this label at that time during that trip. 

Force Majeure Red Mountain Syrah 2015

This Red Mountain estate Syrah is grown predominantly at the top of  Force Majeure's hillside vineyard where it is steepest and rockiest. There the vines must put put down deep roots to gather moisture and nutrients, and the soil helps to create a powerful but elegant wine with a volcanic soil backbone. The blend is aged in a combination of new and used French oak barrels and puncheons for 18 months.

This label was awarded 93-96 points by Jeb Dunnuck of the Wine Advocate.

Dark garnet colored, full-bodied, rich concentrated black berry fruits, hints of blue fruits, accented with layers of smokiness, minerality and tones of anise, black tea, black olive tapenade and hints of smokey meats, with bright lively acidity and cloying but approachable tannins on the tangy lingering finish.

RM 92 

A visit to Force Majeure Estate and Vineyards in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, Walla Walla.


Spring Valley Vineyard Nina Lee Syrah 2015

We followed with another Washington State Columbia Valley Syrah, this one from Walla Walla. We visited the vineyards and the producer tasting room in town during that same trip to Walla Walla. This label is more fruit forward and bold, but less refined and elegant than the Force Majeure label above.

Our visit to the ranch and picturesque vineyards, and meeting owner Dean Derby were highlights of our Walla Walla Wine Experience in the fall of 2018. We first tasted this release of this label in the tasting room in town during that visit.

We just received our supplemental wine club allocation from Spring Valley Vineyards. 'Supplemental' meaning that we added an additional two cases to our normal shipment - a mix of five Spring Valley labels, Uriah Red Blend, Frederick Red Blend, Sharilee Petit Verdot, Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc and Nina Lee Syrah

As I've chronicled in these pages, each label is named for an ancestral family member dating back to patriarch founder Uriah Corkrum. Nina Lee was his son Frederick's wife, a vaudeville actress that he met while she visited Walla Walla and performed at the local theatre on a North American tour back in the 1920's.

Nina Lee Spring Valley Vineyard Walla Walla Syrah 2015

The 2015 release of Nina Lee is a blend of 99% Syrah and 1% Viognier, aged 19 months in 100% French oak, 30% new.

This was rated 93 Points by and Jeb Dunnuck. It was awarded 92 points by International Wine Report.

Upon opening the black fruit aromas permeated the room, the dark inky purple color is most apparent, medium-full bodied, rich concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits are accented by smoke, black tea, notes of olive tapenade,  pepper, spice, and hint of dark mocha with a long earthy finish. Needs some time to settle and integrate a bit further, give it a couple of years cellar aging to reach its prime.

RM 91 points pop and pour. 92 points the next day ... and chilled.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Holiday Family Dinner features special wines

Gala Easter Holiday Family Dinner features selection of special wines

The family gathered for a gala Easter Holiday dinner and we pulled from the cellar several select special wines for the occasion. Two of the wine highlights were a couple of birthyear vintage wines to commemorate special occasions. Son Alec and Vivanna are staying with us as they transition to their new Illinois home as soon as their furniture and belongings arrive from NYC. Moreover, it is Alec's birthday, hence we pulled a birthyear vintage label from a producer with a legacy of roots from Ryan's employer. Similarly, son Sean and Michelle are celebrating a family milestone announcement so we pulled a select label from a premier producer from his birthyear vintage. 

The boys also pulled from the cellar some special selections to taste for the occasion.  

Linda prepared beef tenderloin with baked potatoes, grilled asparagus and salad. Prior to dinner we had a selection of artisan cheeses, fresh shrimp and fresh fruits that we served with champagne. From Magnum we served Peiper Heidseick special bottling followed by a bottle of Moet Chandon Imperial. 

For the dinner course we had a selection of Bordeaux varietal wines from some special select producers and a range of vintages including two aged releases from son's birthyears:

Oakville Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990

Chateau Leoville Las Cases St Julien Bordeaux 1985 

Dunn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Cliff Lede Stags Leap District 2017



Château Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, St Julien-Beychevelle, Bordeaux 1985

Our visit to Château Léoville Las Cases was a highlight of our visit to the St Julien appellation a year ago. I wrote about it in detail in a chronicle in these pages. Indeed, we booked the estate visit and arranged our travel and other events around this cornerstone event. At that time we were focus on our collection of 1990 vintage bottles to be served at son Alec's wedding. Tonight, we focused on the 1985 vintage release to commemorate son Sean's special family announcement. 

We hold a half dozen bottles in an OWC case that we acquired back upon release that we are at this stage holding for such special occasions, so I was eager to try this bottle to see how it is holding up and aging in our cellar. Indeed, our Cellartracker records include a tasting we did of this label for dinner the night before he set off for college fourteen years ago. 

Our last tasting of this label was in the month leading up to our Bordeaux trip and our visit at the Chateau. We opened a bottle when we received our invitation to visit the estate.

This is a classic Bordeaux Blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

At thirty-six years this is on the cusp of the end of the posted drinking window set for this wine by Cellartrackers - indicating it is at the end of its prime drinking window, not expect to improve further, rather expected to start to diminish from this time forward with further aging. 

True to form, I tasted and rated this without any indication or reference of earlier tastings or reviews for this label. My review was the same as the prior tastings and notes were consistent therewith as well. Tonight's tasting largely was consistent with that last experience twenty months ago, except that tonight the color held up well and did not exhibit any of the diminution of slight orange bricking. Notably, the cork was a bit saturated and softening and would soon be at risk of losing its integrity in the intermediate term.

Consistent with my last tasting back on 7/8/2019, "Deep garnet colored, medium-full bodied, elegant, complex but nicely integrated dark berry and black cherry fruits with notes of floral violets, tobacco, oak and hints of graphite, cigar box and leather on a tangy black cherry lingering finish of supple smooth, polished tannins. Over the course of the evening, it opened more to reveal layers of floral and fruits and accents."

RM 93 points.

This wine got 98 points from Wine Spectator who called it "A fabulous wine; one of the first great Las Cases.", 94 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 95 points Wine Advocate's Neal Martin.

Oakville Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990

To celebrate son Alec's birthday and relocation to Illinois from New York we opened a Napa Cab from his birthyear vintage. This producer was the family of the legendary co-founder and primary developer of Oracle software, son Ryan's company. So it was fitting and fun that we could open it with Ryan and son Alec in a special vintage release.  I wrote about the Oakville Ranch property, its history and terroir in a detailed blogpost at the beginning of last year.

This release was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator and 92 points from Robert Parker. 

At thirty plus years of age it was still holding its body, color and fruit and was not showing signs of diminution from aging. The cork was most but still intact. 

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, bright expressive concentrated but nicely balanced and integrated black currant, cherry and plum fruits with notes of cedar, cassis, spice and oak with moderate balanced tannins on the long finish. 

RM 92 points.


 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Dunn Vineyards is one of he most extensive holdings in our cellar spanning four decades of vintages split between the producer's two labels, the Howell Mtn and this Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. 

For our gala wine dinner, the boys pulled from the cellar this classic Napa Cab from this legendary producer from the 2001 vintage, one that should be at its peak and drinking at its prime right now, as part of our flight spanning 35 years of vintages selected.

We also collect and hold numerous vintages of winemaker Randy Dunn's "Feather" Cabernet produced from Washington State Columbia Valley marketed under the Long Shadows Vintners Collection that features world class winemakers and Columbia Valley fruit.

We visited the Dunn Vineyards estate up on Howell Mountain and met legendary producer Randy Dunn during our our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience back in 2008.

 Randy Dunn Cabernets are known to be long-lived and we are holding many vintages dating back four decades - longer than we would similarly situated wines. We pulled this one at two decades to get a taste of a vintage likely showing well, perhaps at the peak of its drinking profile.

This label was awarded 91 points by Connoisseurs Guide and 90 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

Deep ruby/purple colored, medium to full-bodied, expressive forward black berry and black currant fruits with notes of floral, oak, earthy leather and hints of cola, pencil lead and what Connoisseur's Guide referred to as "black walnuts".

RM 91 points.


Cliff Lede Stags Leap District 2017

Ryan brought this from his cellar as a young recent release comparison in our diverse flight of reds. He's a member of the Lede wine club and has an extensive selection of labels. We've visited the Lede estate and vineyards in Stags Leap District on several of our trips to Napa Valley. 

The fruit for this label was sourced from the hillside terraces of the Poetry Vineyard, the Twin Peaks Vineyard estate surrounding the winery, and a few neighboring vineyards in the Stags Leap District. The wine is composed of small lots selected from the best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. The diversity of Poetry’s exposed, rocky terraces boasting volcanic origins, to the ancient riverbed alluvial soils of Twin Peaks, the breadth of contributing sites translates into a wine of impressive complexity. We hold a vertical collection of this label going back a dozen vintages.

Winemaker Notes
The 2017 Stags Leap Cabernet is darkly ruby/purple colored and possesses vibrant aromas of violets, lavender, blackberry, huckleberry, black licorice, and warm chocolate covered cherries. Juicy, penetrating, and conveying terrific depth, this gorgeously flavored wine possesses layers of blood orange, cardamom, cocoa powder, and slate. The long opulent finish continues on with notes of minerals, loam, pan grille, cassis, whilst the supple tannins go on supporting the well framed structure.
Production was 5,648 cases.
This wine was awarded 95 points by Wine Enthusiast, 94 points by Vinous and 91 points by  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. It contains small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc for complexity and structure. 
This was the standout of the diverse flight being the youngest, but also was the most vibrant and expressive with dark garnet color, medium full body, complex bright bold dark fruits, notes of menthol and clove spice turned to mocha, floral and hints of menthol on a soft tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.


A selection of photos from our visit to Château Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, St Julien-Beychevelle, Bordeaux

The Grand Vin is the product of exceptional terroirs from the former Léoville estate. The estate vineyards are located mainly in the Clos Léoville Las Cases along the D2 route running along and overlooking the Gironde River. They lie at the northern edge of the appellation just outside the village of Saint-Julien Beyechevelle village as you descend the hill heading north toward the appellation and village of Pauillac. There they meet and are adjacent to the legendary First Growth Chateau Gran Vin Latour estate and Pichon Longueville Comtess de Lalande, and Pichon Baron just across the road, in the Pauillac appellation. The vineyards extend over nearly 135 acres comprised of Bordeaux sanctioned varietals Cabernet Sauvignon (66%), Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) with an an average age of 52 year old vines.
The Clos represents a terroir of very great complexity composed of Quaternary gravel ("graves") over gravelly sand and gravelly clay subsoils. The vineyards run along the Gironde River and the proximity to the river has created the wide diversity of soils, formed over various geological periods.

The legendary estate produces distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc Bordeaux grape varietals that are predominant in the blend resulting in a complex, polished expressive  characteristics which are unique to the Grand Vin of Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases that has been widely recognized as one of the premier producers of the Medoc for decades. 


The chai contains a series of connected buildings with production facility, blending halls with laboratory and command and control center, the barrel storage halls, bottling room, shipping and storage room and the historic vintage library storage area.  

The grand vin is kept in the prime tanks while the second wine is produced in the square tanks in the another production hall. The control center has precise control over each tank during all phases of the process.

The barrels are racked monthly to remove any sediment and top off the level that is lost to evaporation. The aging barrels are kept in a precise temperature controlled facility.

It was a great treat to tour the cellars and see the extensive Las Cases library of vintages dating back in the 20th century including historic legendary top vintages such as 1959, 1961, 1975, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1990 and others. Here is our 1985 vintage!

The historic Chateau contains lounges, meeting rooms and a elegant formal tasting room. The Chateau overlooks a formal garden and fountain with views of the Gironde River in the distance.

The Clos du Marquis vineyard to the south of the Leoville Las Cases Grand Clos vines, overlooking the Gironde river, covers 12 acres. It is planted with 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Grassi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Grassi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 

We opened this Napa Cabernet up for a dinner of grilled beefsteaks. This is a label that we hold several vintages of from 2005 through 2011 but this our first tasting.

Producer Mark Grassi grew up in Northern California in Walnut Creek but moved to Napa Valley in 1980. He initially worked in the construction business but moved to pursue a career in the wine industry. To that end he took classes in viticulture and enology at Napa Valley College and worked on refining his

In 1989, Mark launched Grassi & Associates, builders of custom homes, wineries and estates in Napa and Sonoma Valley. The firm became known for its green building techniques and outstanding craftsmanship. In 1999, he and his wife, Jami, acquired 14 acres in one of Napa’s finest winegrowing areas. That vision became reality with Grassi Wine Company, founded in 2001. 

In 2000 Mark dug the first test pits on the Grassi family’s Napa Valley land and set aside four acres for planting. Early on, key guidance and wisdom came from Mary Maher, vineyard manager for Harlan, and Peter Franus of Franus Wines, who also helped oversee the first three vintages.

The Grassi vineyard was sited in what was once an ancient riverbed, located on a bench above the valley floor at the bottom of Soda Canyon Road below the Atlas Peak Appellation. There the soil is tempered by cobblestone, ranging in size from thumb to cantaloupe. The cobbles keep the soil from being too fertile and provide superb drainage. The vineyard slopes gently to a center drainage running east to west. The vines were planted on a tight grid to provide excellent density for flavor concentration.

Planting continued over two years. The first release recurred in 2008 with the first commercial release - the 2005 Grassi Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine Spectator recognized Grassi and mentioned them among "hot new" Napa Valley Cabernet producers. 

Grassi expanded focus on producing Italian red varietals in tribute to their Italian heritage while also continuing to expand the Cabernet program. In 2010 Grassi released the first vintage of Ribolla Gialla, an aromatic Italian white wine inspired by their Italian heritage, a varietal they had enjoyed for many years before producing it themselves. They then expanded production further, once again inspired by their Italian roots, with the release of Mezzo Mezzo, a Sangiovese-Merlot blend, in 2013.

Today Mark and Jami’s daughter, Cassandra Grassi, is carrying on the family business to the next generation. 

Grassi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

As I wrote earlier, this is one of several vintages we hold from 2005 through 2011 of this label and is the first we have tasted. Normally as part of cellar management one will drink the older wines first as they're more likely to lose their drinking window. An exception is a lesser vintage that may have less aging ability than a more robust vintage. To that caution, I chose the 2011 to drink. It exceeded our expectations in every respect and showed no cause to worry about rushing to consume the rest from that vintage at ten years of age.

Being from a lesser lackluster vintage, Napa 2011, our expectations were modest but were exceeded as this showed bright vibrant expressive complex black fruits of currant, black berry and black cherry with notes of olive, spice, cigar box and hints of graphite, oak and vanilla. 

Wine Advocate gave this ratings of 89 to 92 points. Antonio Galloni gave it 94 points. I gave it 92 points.