Monday, June 28, 2021

Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and Domaine Chandon sparkling white wine with Isola balsamic vinagrettes on beefsteak toast points and caprese salad - for ideal summer casual dining!

Readers of these pages know I am not a big Pinot drinker. I admit I don't have the palette or discrimination for a Pinot Noir like I do Bordeaux or Rhone varietals. 

Never-the-less I picked up several bottles of this moderate priced every day drinker for casual sipping during the summer when its more approachable than a bigger 'heavier' weightier wine. 

That said, I opened this casual Pinot sipper with some caprese - mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil from our garden, topped off with balsamic vinagrette dressing (s), and it was spectacular - a wonderful and delightful pairing! 

This is another example where the appropriate pairing of food and wine accentuates the enjoyment of both. 

In addition, we had toast points with slices of the tomahawk rib-eye steaks from the other evening, which were equally delectable - also topped with the balsamic! We love this combination. 

This pairing was accentuated further by the adding a touch of both chocolate and raspberry balsamic vinagrettes. These are from the brand Isola (shown below), imported from Italy, these balsamics originate from Modena, Italy.  

These are imported by Isola Imports, which began in 1957 as a small Italian grocery store, a modest little storefront in the heart of Chicago, operated by Italian immigrant John Nitti. As he shared a taste of Italy with his family, friends and neighbors, word spread quickly about his wonderful store and his customers clamored for more. His products enabled the whole neighborhood - and beyond - to experience uniquely authentic Italian cuisine. 

John and his wife Janet moved back to Italy, where they traveled its diverse regions - from Sicily to Venice, and from Rome to Napoli, searching for authentic artisan specialty culinary products. Today, they are joined by their children, Jay, Michael and Lisa in their family owned and operated import and distribution business in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago, bringing a range of products from across Italy to Chicagoland . 

Isola Imports was born in 1992. Isola means 'Island', referring to the numerous regions of Italy. each with its own identity with distinctive flavors and products. Isola import products can be found across the Chicagoland grocers: Whole Foods, Mariano's, Pete's Fresh Market, Tony's and Sunset Markets.

While we might serve this accompanied by a 'big red', in the heat and humidity of summer, the lighter, softer, more approachable Pinot Noir was ideal. 

As shown, wife Linda accompanied her's with sparkling white wine from Domane Chandon, another modest inexpensive every day sipper, ideal, and delightful for the occasion and for this pairing!

Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Anderson Valley  2018 

The Farrari-Carano estate and winery sit on Rock Rise Mountain on the east side of the Alexander Valley, high above the town of Geyserville at an elevation of 1,000 feet. This is where they produce their red wines. They produce white wines at another location. 

This Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir comes from their three ranches in Anderson Valley, up in Mendocino County, north of Sonoma County, two hours north of San Francisco up Hwy 101. Located just off the coastal region of Mendocino County, Anderson Valley and the adjacent Mendocino Ridge are in a sparsely populated area near the small town of Boonville, population 700. The 15 mile long Anderson Valley was formed by the Navarro River watershed and is surrounded by steep, forested slopes as well as rolling hills dotted with picturesque vineyards, farms and orchards. 

Ferrari-Carano purchased the Sky High Ranch vineyard property, already planted to Pinot Noir grapes, sited on the Mendocino Ridge high above Anderson Valley. The vineyard is surrounded by towering redwoods and dense forest. Sitting at 1,500-foot elevation, the steep slopes of Mendocino Ridgeover sit above the cool fog line.

They produce two Pinot Noir wines from this area – a single vineyard designated label, Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir, and this Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Anderson Valley is known as an up-and-coming appellation with ideal terroir for growing Pinot Noir grapes, good drainage and a microclimate of warm sunny days and cool, foggy mornings and nights.

The year 2018 was very good with ideal weather conditions for the vines. Spring produced great set, and average rainfalls led to normal to above‐normal yields. Consistently warm temperatures during the summer months without any drastic heat spikes or rain events allowed for longer “hang time” for the grapes, which led to fully ripe flavors.

Winemakers' notes for this label: "Aromas of pretty raspberry, cherry, pomegranate, a touch of rose petal, and cola notes fill the senses followed by vibrant flavors of red fruits that jump out on the front palate, while the mid-palate turns to blackberry, plum and spice notes. The finish is fruit driven with lingering flavors of cherry and a spicy touch of toast. A velvety texture and bright acidity create a naturally- balanced wine."

Wine Enthusiast Magazine scored this 92 points while Wine Spectator gave it 90 points.

The wine has aged for 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels before bottling.

This was dark ruby red, medium bodied, with rich, expressive full black-cherry, plum and pomegranate  flavors with dusty rose, clove spice, cola and smoky oak with smooth velvety tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 90 points



Saturday, June 26, 2021

Trio of Big Reds for a hearty wine tasting

Trio of Big Reds for a hearty wine tasting ....  

As posted in the previous blog, our dinner wine tasting extended into the evening and we were joined by more family, friends and neighbors which allowed us the opportunity to break out several more wines to taste

Lang & Reed Two-Fourteen Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2014

I've seen this label many times over the years but admit I belive this is my first initiation to a wine from this producer. I must say I was impressed and will pay more attention to this label in the future. I am a fan of Cabernet Franc and will put this on my watch list for expressive wine drinking from a producer who appreciates and focuses on the varietal that is normally reserved for a but fractional part of the Bordeaux blend.

This is produced by Tracey & John Skupny, who started Lang & Reed Napa Valley in 1993 with the goal to explore the distinct charms of Cabernet Franc and to craft wines that are both expressive and enjoyable to drink.

Their wine experience spans nearly a half century working in the restaurant trade in Kansas City as wine stewards (sommeliers). They pursued their passion for wine and moved to California in 1980, eventually settling in Napa Valley in 1984.

They were intrigued with the distinction of Cabernet Franc, one of the noble varietals from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux wine regions of France. Cabernet Franc is a foundation key varietal in Bordeaux red wine blends, included to contribute aromatics and robust flavors to round out and extend the tasting profile of the blend.  

In 1993, Lang & Reed Napa Valley was born with a focus on Cabernet Franc. Named after their two sons, J Reed and Jerzy Lang, Lang & Reed Napa Valley is family owned and operated. Through their winemaking, their wines tell their family story of a life dedicated to family working together to craft artisan wines.

Through exploration and investigation of all things ‘Cabernet Franc’, they selected Clone 214 that originated in the Loire Valley of France, home to some of the worlds’ most renowned Cabernet Franc vineyards and producers. 

In 2007 they selected the Sugarloaf Vineyard in the southeastern corner of Napa Valley, located on a hillside slope with ideal rocky soils with moderate temperatures and cooling breezes that emanate from the nearby northern reaches of San Francisco Bay. 

This new world climate combined with this old world Loire Clone 214 is the basis for Lang & Reed ‘Two-Fourteen’ Cabernet Franc, the only known bottling of this unique clone in California. 

Winemaker notes: "This is the eighth vintage of the Lang & Reed ‘Two-Fourteen’ Cabernet Franc and, true to type, this wine shows a persistent purity of aromas and flavors.  At first scent, this wine shows a nice burst of raspberry and blueberry, with a top note of violet and  a  backdrop  of  savory  herbaceousness.    The  palate  is  medium  bodied  with  beautiful  Cabernet  Franc  purity,  texture,  and  length.    Though  very  appealing  for  immediate  pleasure,  the  structural  elements  will  allow  this  wine  to  age  gracefully for the next 7 to 10 years."

This is composed of 100% Cabernet Franc, the Loire Entav Clone 214, sourced solely from the Napa Valley Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard. The wine is aged 16 Months in French Oak Barrels. 849 Cases were produced. 

This was rated 93 Points by Wine Spectator, 92 Points by Wine Enthusiast and 90 Points by Wine Advocate. James Laube of Wine Spectator says its "Best  from  2020  through  2030.”

This was a big hit with the crowd, all around - dark ruby colored, medium full bodied, forward full expressive ripe dark berry fruits with tangy spice and herbs, notes of tea and hints of cedar and oak with a moderate tannin lingering finish. 

RM 92 points.

 Domaine Des Chirats Sonoma County Rockpile Vineyard Syrah 2013 

As posted in these pages back in April, 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, founded by his grandfather Claude Cuilleron in 1920. Yves took over in 1987 from his Uncle. The 150 acre estate produces over 430,000 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, 20 plus year-old Syrah 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.

Cohn 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.

Definitely more of a Northern Rhone style, this was preferred by Mandy, moreso than Linda who opts for the more expressive approachable fruits of a new world style. 

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

TOR Kenward Family Wines ROCK Hommage Allan Hudson Vineyard Syrah 2013

A previously unknown, undiscovered label, I picked up the last two remaining bottles of this rather obscure label at Binny's and wrote about this Hudson Vineyard Syrah back in December of 2018.

This is the style and profile of Syrah that we favor, dark inky purple, full bodied, concentrated forward black and blue berry and cherry fruits with bright acidity accented by tones of anise, graphite, leather and hints of pepper with a long tongue puckering finish with firm but soft approachable tannins. This was almost over the top for some of the crowd but was a crowd-pleaser none-the-less.

Not as sweet, polished or balanced as some of favorite, preferred, standard bearer Napa Syrahs, but tasty and pleasant drinking in any event.  

RM 91 points.



Friday, June 25, 2021

Napa Reds and Sonoma Chardonnary for Surf & Turf dinner

Mini horizontal vintage tasting of diverse Napa Valley Bordeaux varietals and Sonoma Chardonnay for surf and turf dinner

We hosted 'in-laws' Jeff and Melissa visiting from California for an evening and grilled beefsteak and wine dinner. Jeff and Melissa are in-laws to my sister's daughter, our Niece Krysta. Linda prepared lobster tails and her classic tomahawk rib-eye steaks for the occasion. 

We pulled from the cellar two vintage Napa Valley wines that we acquired during a trip with our common connection, sister Jan and Bro-in-law Bill. I also pulled a classic Sonoma County Chardonnay to accompany the lobster medallions.

We opened this hearty robust Sonoma Chardonnay with the lobster medallions served in ramakans on bread with drawn butter and ceasar salad.

Our wine flight with dinner .... 

Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma Chardonnay 2013

We toured the Russian River Valley during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience 2017 year before last. We stayed on the coast in Bodega Bay and traveled the back roads between there and Santa Rosa to witness and experience the climate and topology that comprises the notable terrior of the area.

This is from the Green Valley AVA in Russian River Valley where, the grapes benefit from a cooling coastal influence that helps them ripen slowly and develop complexity.

From the Green Valley AVA site: "Green Valley is one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County. It lies in the southwestern part of the Russian River Valley, bounded by the towns of Sebastopol, Forestville and Occidental. It is very tightly delineated, both geographically and climatically, and is the most consistent and distinctive of any North Coast appellation in terms of soil, climate and flavor. The fog is Green Valley’s trademark."

The 2013 vintage was a fantastic growing season in the Russian River, with dry, moderate temperatures and cool foggy mornings

From the winery: "The 2013 Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Chardonnay is consistent from year to year. Passion fruit and floral aromas offer a mere hint of what’s on the palate: flavors of Muscat and Meyer lemon enhanced by flint and stone. A pleasant oiliness adds suppleness to the mouthfeel, but the vibrant acidity cleanses the palate and adds a succulent quality that makes one eager for another sip."

In my previous tasting I wrote that it was a bit much, almost overpowering for my more delicate sole entree at that time. Tonight this was an ideal pairing with the lobster medallions and I raise my rating as a result. This seemed to have softened and become more approachable with some additional age, or perhaps there was some bottle variation between this bottle and one I tasted two years ago. 

This was golden butter colored, full bodied, forward, round and firm with intense buttery and oaky tones and structure with expressive fruits - passion fruit, melon, floral, lemon, flint and stone.

RM 90 points.

Moving to the main course, son Alec assisted Linda in preparing tomahawk rib-eye steaks.  

Yates Family Vineyards Flower Merlot 2005

We tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to the Yates Family Estate vineyards high atop Mt Veeder during our Mt Veeder Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2011.  That was our custom in those days to focus on visiting one appellation per trip. This was especially useful as we could be efficient in not traveling long distances between sites, and it provided for a comparison tasting experience of like wines of similar terroir. 

Too many folks try to cover a too much during Napa Valley visits, or underestimate the time and effort to get from one site to another, especially if traveling up into the mountains. Having visited Napa Valley many times, we know the broader area and the specific appellations so we don't need to try to visit more than one area per trip. This is immensely more productive and enjoyable and significantly less stressful. 

Also, we plan our trips so as to visit in the off-season, off-peak, non-prime-time, when the producer's are more available and more relaxed. 

Many folks regale in visiting during the 'crush' (harvest) or at peak times when the producers are occupied and focused on running their business, tending to the most critical aspects of viticulture, harvest, or winemaking, bottling and so on. When meeting the actual producers and winemakers, this is much appreciated and respectful of their invaluable and precious time.  For many, this is the only time they really can focus on hospitality and promotion of their brand. Other times of the year, they need to delegate these tasks to subordinates who are dedicated to these tasks, if they have such resources at all.

We mastered this approach to visiting different wineries or estates, visiting off season, and by starting at the top of the mountain and working our way down from there. Then the worst drive, going up the mountain was at the beginning of the day, and it was 'downhill' from there the rest of day, literally and figuratively! 

It is also much easier to remember which trip was which, when a particular trip was dedicated to visiting one appellation, rather than several trips with no organization to differentiate the theme or focus of each. On this, our Mt Veeder focused trip, its easy to remember the estates and producers we visited and met, as it is for other similar approach trips such our visits to Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain, each separate and individually focused. 

We tasted, and acquired, the broad portfolio of the Yates Family Mt Veeder Estate Wines during our visit. A decade later, we're down to less than half a case and are enjoying these wines at fifteen years of age, or thereabouts, very likely at their apex of their tasting profile and window. We're also down to the last building of most of the half dozen labels that acquired during our visit to the estate.

While predominantly Merlot, this includes in the blend some Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) and Cabernet Franc (2%).

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant black berry, black raspberry and black cherry fruits, lively acidity, dark spices on a long moderate tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

We also opened another bottle from the same vintage, hence a horizontal tasting, two wines from the same vintage, but allowing for two diverse styles and terrior. The other bottle we opened was also from a visit with Sister Jan, and Bill, but to Howell Mountain, on the opposite 'corner' of Napa Valley. 

Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

From the same 2005 vintage, we opened about Napa Cab from a winery estate that we visited with sister Jan and Bro-in-law Bill.

We've written numerous times in these pages about Ladera and our visits to the estate on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. We discovered this wine and purchased it following our visit to the Ladera Vineyards estate and winery up on Howell Mountain in 2006 and then again during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008
We last wrote about this vintage release of label back in 2017 and tonight's tasting experience was consistent with that one when I wrote the note below.

This exceeded my expectations as I had forgotten how good this release was. It was a proper succession from the lighter and softer Merlot based Yates with its firm structure and the big concentrated bright forward fruits. Tonight was consistent with earlier tastings, earlier this year and a previous tasting in 2017.

Dark blackish purple colored, full bodied, rich concentrated chewy forward black berry and black currant fruits with a firm backbone structure accented by notes of cedar and hints of graphite and subtle oak with a tangy nicely balanced lingering finish.

RM 92 points. 

Earlier tasting blogposts:

We were joined by neighbors Mandy and Chris, son Sean and daugher-in-law Michelle and another friend Bobby D. As a result we opened a flight of big reds. 

I feature these in a follow on post. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Venge Vineyards Brown Ranch Vineyard and St Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay

Venge Vineyards Brown Ranch Vineyard and Chateau St Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay

As part of a gala family reunion dinner, the ladies opted for white wine rather than the flight of Napa Valley Reds that we served with the beef tenderloin dinner. I pulled from the cell this Venge Brown Ranch Vineyard Napa Chardonnay. From Venge Vineyards, with its conspicuous "V" logo and branding, we have fun with this label serving it with our daughter-in-law Vivianna. 

 We also served a Chateau St Michelle Washington State Chardonnay. This is another brand and label we have fun serving with our two daughter-in-laws, Michelle. 

Venge Vineyards Brown Ranch Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017

Readers of these pages know we've been fans of Venge wines for decades and have featured them many times including highlights of visits to the Venge Family estate in Rutherford during our Napa Wine Experience 2002, and visit to the Venge Vineyards, Rossini Ranch up near Calistoga. 

Of course, legendary winemaker Nils Venge is known for Napa Cabernet. As son Kirk has taken over the reigns of Venge Vineyards, the portfolio has expanded and now includes several Chardonnays from Sonoma County as well as this one from Los Carneros. This Venge offering is from the Brown Ranch Vineyard in the Napa Los Carneros AVA District off of Old Sonoma Road, down at the bottom of Napa Valley where the foothills of the Mayacamas Range reach down to the flatlands just above San Pablo Bay. The area is ideally suited for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with the cool breezes wafting in from the bay.

We acquired several bottles of this label a while back and I liked it a lot, such that when we went back and bought more, we also acquired the follow on 2018 vintage release.  I wrote about this wine in an earlier blogpost at that time back in April 2019. 

This was golden straw colored, medium full bodied with big round mouthfeel, bright notes of green apple, tones of pear and citrus with subtle highlights of rich creamy caramel and light butterscotch, honeysuckle and floral, round acidity on the tangy finish.

RM 92 points.

 Chateau St Michelle Washington State Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2018

We also opened this Chateau St Michelle Chardonnay. Chateau St Michelle are one of the largest producers of white wine (Riesling) in the world. They are Washington State's oldest winery dating back to 1912, and have  been fundamental in the development of wine production in the State and the Columbia Valley. 

We visited their spectacular Chateau with its unique craftsman-style architecture and the 105 wooded acre estate complete with amphitheatre for summer concerts during our Seattle Wine and Dine - Washington State Wines Tasting in Woodinville, Woodinville Wine Experience in 2018. 

Chateau St Michelle has an extensive, broad portfolio of wines from their Columbia Valley regional wines to appellation specific, single vineyard designated specific, premium, ultra premium and a broad selection of specialty bottlings. Celebrating more than 50 years of winemaking. Since then, we have combined Old World winemaking 

Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the few premium wineries in the world with two state-of-the-art wineries, one for red and one for white. The whites are made at the Chateau in Woodinville, WA, while the reds are made at the Canoe Ridge Estate winery in Eastern Washington.

This Chardonnay is from their Columbia Valley Collection of entry level mass produced brand of varietal wines sourced from the Columbia Valley where Chateau Ste. Michelle owns 3,500 acres in the Columbia Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA). The distinctive wine region is separated from Seattle's rainy, marine climate by the Cascade Mountains that collect the rain. The resulting terroir of the arid dry valley basin in the center of the state has limited annual rainfall of but 6-8 inches. Summer daytime temperatures hover in the mid-80's under sunny skies; cool nighttime temperatures in the fall protect the grapes' natural acidity and provide perfect conditions for ripening. The resulting grapes can be managed by vineyard managers through irrigation to develop intense aromas and flavors and distinctive character Washington state wines. 

At a fraction of the price of the Venge Chardonnay above, this provides a high QPR, quality price ratio such that we keep this on hand for everyday easy drinking and casual sipping. 

Linda likes this wine a lot and often prefers it to the more complex, fuller bodied, heavier Venge character and tasting profile. 

I first wrote about this release back last winter when I wrote about its "Good QPR in this easy drinking casual sipper." I gave it 87 points.



Beautiful! Aromas of pear, golden apple and pineapple along with a hint of honey and oaky spice. Full bodied and smooth on the palate with vibrant ripe fruit, and more warm oak and spice notes. Enjoy with scallops or other rich seafood dishes.

From the Columbia Valley, Washington wine region, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2018 Chardonnay is fantastic value under $20. Both the Chateau Ste Michelle itself, and vineyards, date back to 1912 Wine grapes for this 100% Chard were sourced from select sites throughout the Valley, with 6 months sur-lie ageing in a mix a of both French & American oak barrels. Buttery on the nose with fresh pear, vanilla and toasty toffee aromas, full-bodied and smooth on the palate with ripe orchard and tropical fruit with buttery caramel on the finish. Enjoy with a roasted chicken. - Community Wine Reviews


Friday, June 18, 2021

Family reunion dinner features select Napa Cabs with beef tenderloin

Family reunion dinner features beef tenderloin and select flight of Napa Cabs

Cousin/Nephew Chris visited from South Carolina crossing the country visiting several family members along the way enroute to a family reunion in Wyoming. We gathered for a family dinner to catch up with Chris and meet his new wife and family. Chris spent several tours serving our country in Central Asia and traveled extensively during furloughs and leaves. On two occasions he visited Napa Valley and sent us wines of producers he visited. 

One of the wines we received from Chris that we consumed a while back, this Liana Estates Vintners Blend 2015. While on leave from his tour in Central Asia, he visited Napa/Sonoma wine country and shipped several bottles back to me, Uncle Rick, and cousin (son) Ryan.

In town for this visit, our kids gathered to visit with their cousin. Linda prepared a beef tenderloin with grilled sweet corn, haricot verts and mashed potatoes. 

Son Ryan and I pulled from the cellar several Napa Cabs for the dinner including one specific bottle we pulled from the cellar was this bottle we received from Chris a while back that we were holding until we might open it with him. 
We had a bottle from this producer from our cellar back in February, 2021, this White Rock Napa Claret 2002.
Tonight we opened from this producer a special winemaker signed bottle of the White Rock Vineyards "Laureate" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. This was obtained and gifted to us by our nephew Chris who acquired it for us during a Napa trip a several years back. 

White Rock Vineyards "Laureate" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
This is from White Rock Vineyards in the Stags Leap District appellation in the southern foothills, sited in a small valley at the base of the Stag’s Leap Range, in southeast Napa Valley just above the town of Napa. The estate is a 35-acre naturally farmed vineyard, with distinctive terroir of white volcanic ash soils.

The property and White Rock Vineyards dates back to 1870. Originally a land grant to Salvador Vallejo, the original parcel was purchased in 1870 by Dr. Pettingill, a dentist, brewer, winemaker, and horse breeder.

Pettingill planted a vineyard on the property, one of the earliest plantings in Napa Valley. In 1871, he constructed a winery on the property out of the white rock he quarried from the property, using only a hand saw to cut and shape the rock. In that early winery, he produced 7,000 gallons of wine per year.

Dr. Pettingill built two cellars, where he began the tradition of bottle ageing his wine for 4 years before release, a method and tradition still practiced at White Rock to this day.

Henri and Claire Vandendriessche purchased the property in 1977 and set to work restoring the estate vineyards and winery. The Vandendriessche's released their first vintage in 1986 and it has been family owned and operated ever since. 

Henri Vandendriessche, whose family originated in Northern France, came to America to study Economics at UC Berkeley in 1960. In 1967 he met Claire who was raised in Napa Valley. They fell in love and set out to raise a family and pursue a life in winemaking, purchasing a 64 acre estate north of Napa in 1977. 

They raised their young family on the farm living in the old winery. They replanted much of the vineyard and dug a cave into the solid rock where they could make and cellar their wine. 

Always a family business, Henri oversaw all aspects of the vineyard management and winemaking, while Claire marketed and sold the wines. They raised three children who were involved in every aspect of the operation. 

The White Rock Laureate label is their Bordeaux Blend comprised of estate grown fruit, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot.
Plenty of life left and still holding very nicely at two decades, the cork, label and fill level were perfect. This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich powerful concentrated ripe blackberry and black currant fruits accented by notes of coffee, vanilla bean, mocha and hints of licorice with supple tannings on a lingering finish. 
RM 92 points. 


Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Everything about Pride Mountain Vineyards, Napa Valley California Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot wine producer profile, wine tasting notes, wine and food pairing tips, best vintages, history of the property, information on their wine making techniques, terroir and soil. You can also read about the Grapes used for California wine and learn about the extensive History of Napa Valley, California Wines

Pride Mountain Wines History, Overview

Pride Mountain Vineyards is located 2,100 feet up on Spring Mountain. The vineyards have been around a long time. In fact, they date all the way back to 1869. Archived records show the property was already being used for the production of wine at the time. The original structure was destroyed by fire after Prohibition. Pride Mountain Vineyards finished construction and a complete renovation of their estate in 1997.

Government regulations have interesting and difficult consequences for Pride Mountain Vineyards. Due to the properties location, the winery is required to maintain two separate facilities, one in Napa and the other in Sonoma. The property line is divided down the center of the crush pad. Pride Mountain Vineyards recent vintages are designated Napa Valley, Sonoma County or with a blend of both. This inspired Pride Mountain Vineyards to add the humorous tag, "One Ranch, Two Counties."

Pride Mountain Vineyards, Wines, Winemaking

Pride Mountain Vineyards owns three vineyards which add up to 235 acres on Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas mountain range. Their high elevation gives them an advantage over growers located further down the mountain. The soil includes volcanic rocks, gravel loam and stones along with some clay. They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Chardonnay and Viognier.

Pride Vineyards practices sustainable farming techniques. After harvesting, Pride vinifies all their vineyard lots separately. They own 40 different blocks which comes to being fifty lots of wine that are produced each to their own needs. The percentage of new French oak varies from vintage to vintage.

Pride Mountain Vineyards produce a myriad of different wines and bottling's including Cabernet Sauvignon, Claret (a Bordeaux styled, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend), Merlot, Viognier, Syrah and Petit Sirah.

Serving and Decanting Pride Mountain wines with Wine, Food, Pairing Tips

Pride Mountain Vineyards wines are best served at 15.5 degrees Celsius, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool, almost cellar temperature gives the wine more freshness and lift. Young vintages of their red wine can be decanted for 1-3 hours, depending on the character of the vintage. This allows the wine to soften and open its perfume. Older vintages might need very little decanting, just enough to remove the sediment.

The red wine of Pride Mountain Vineyards is best served with all types of classic meat dishes, veal, pork, beef, lamb, duck, game, roast chicken, ribs, hamburgers, barbecue, roasted, braised, grilled dishes and stews. Pride Mountain Vineyards is also good with Asian dishes, hearty fish courses like tuna, salmon, mushrooms and pasta.

The white wine of Pride Mountain Vineyards is best served with all types of seafood and shellfish, sushi, sashimi, chicken, veal, pork and cheese.

Read more at:
We visited the Pride Mountain Vineyards high atop Spring Mountain back in 1999 and 2000 when we tasted and acquired a case of this wine. The property sits at 2,100 feet, at the mountain summit above the town of St Helena in the Mayacamas Range that forms the western wall of Napa Valley. 
The vineyards and wine production date back to 1869 according to archived records. The original structure was destroyed by fire after Prohibition. Pride Mountain Vineyards built the current building as part of a complete renovation of their estate in 1997.
Due to the property's unique location at the summit, atop the mountain straddling Napa Valley to the east, and Sonoma Valley to the west, the winery is required to maintain two separate facilities, one in Napa and the other in Sonoma. The property line is divided down the center of the crush pad. 

Pride Mountain Vineyards labels may be designated Napa Valley, Sonoma County or both, depending on the source of the blend. Pride Mountain Vineyards brands their estate, "One Ranch, Two Counties."

Pride Mountain Vineyards consists of three vineyards totaling 235 acres on Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas mountain range that separates the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Their distinctive terroir with their high elevation includes soil of volcanic rocks, gravel loam and stones along with some clay. There they grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Chardonnay and Viognier in 40 different blocks produced in fifty lots of wines that varies from vintage to vintage.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with earlier bottles of this wine. The 1997 vintage produced long lived wines that took several years to actually open and reveal their true potential. 
I wrote about this wine in April 2017 when I gave it 93 points. 
"Consistent with earlier tasting notes in its profile, it seemed to show more polish and balance than I remember. Previous reviews I have given over the last several years have been increasing by a point indicating this vintage release is hitting its stride, at the peak of its drinking window.'

"Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, a firm structured backbone props up the vibrant complex black berry and black currant fruits showing tones of spice, cedar and hints of smoke, anise, leather and subtle mocha turning to a tangy gripping tannin finish."

RM 92 points.

This was a comparison to my previous tasting and review of this wine in Oct 2016 when I wrote the following:  - I like this wine: "Consistent with my earlier notes - dark, firm and full bodied with forward currant, black cherry, and a hint of cedar."

Tonight, this showed similar characteristics, blackish garnet, full bodied, more open, complex, bright and vibrant than as described in earlier tastings, showing tones of leather, graphite, anise and spice with hints of mocha before turning to a long tangy gripping tannin finish.

RM 93 points.

This label was awarded 94 points by Wine Spectator, 93 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, 91-93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 92 points by Wine Enthusiast, 91 points by Connoisseurs Guide. It was a Wine Spectator *Top 100 Wines of 2000*.

York Creek Cellars Spring Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Here is our last bottle of this rare label from a great vintage, showing well at two decades of age.
The owner of York Creek is Fritz Maytag, notably known for his Anchor Steam brewing company and beer brand that is synonymous with San Francisco. 
Maytag is of the Maytag family, more notably known for their appliances. While studying at Stanford University, he spent time hanging out in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco where he fell in love with the Anchor Brewing Company. In 1965, he jumped on the opportunity to save Anchor from going out of business, buying a controlling interest “for the price of a used car.”
His Anchor Steam beer preceded the craft brewing craze that become wildly popular over the following two decades. Over that time, Maytag developed Anchor Steam into a world-renowned and best-selling brand.
Fritz also pursued interests in winemaking, in addition to craft brewing, when, in 1968, he purchased the York Creek property high above Napa Valley. He continued to add land and invest in planting and replanting vineyards ever since.
Fritz farmed the the York Creek property selling grapes from his 125-acre mountain vineyard to other winemakers including many outstanding names in the California wine industry such as Ridge Vineyards, who produced a York Creek vineyard designated label. 
York Creek began making a small amount of its own wine in 1992, and to this day, fewer than 1,000 cases of this Meritage are bottled a year, produced entirely from estate grapes grown on Spring Mountain above St. Helena. 
Like Pride Mountain vineyards, York Creek's property sits high above the Napa and Sonoma valleys, on the crest of the Mayacamas Range of mountains where the Napa side has long been known as "Spring Mountain."  The Maytag property consisted of 125 acres of vineyards surrounded by another 575 acres of woods and orchards, with 24 varieties of native trees whose silhouettes are shown and illustrated on the York Creek wine labels.
York Creek grows 15 different grape varieties—in nearly 50 individually named blocks which they market under different vineyard designated labels such as "Horseshoe," "Arena," "Dynamite Hill," and "Track." 

The property "York Creek Vineyards" in named for the defining feature of the land, the creek which flows all year for a mile and a half through thick forests and redwood groves. The creek flows from a small trickle on hot summer days, and 'roars like a locomotive' during winter when it rains.

The York Creek wine labels' and branding feature the 24 extensive, diverse native trees that flourish on the York Creek property. The trees on their labels are Maytag's way of celebrating the varied wild areas of York Creek with its forests that outnumber the vineyards, and which provide great enjoyment and pleasure.

Winery's notes: "In the early years we made wine from all four of the top varieties grown in Bordeaux, and made our blends a little differently each year. Though each vintage was predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, the blends also contained varying amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot."
York Creek winery production began in the early 1990s with their own equipment in other people's wineries. In the early years they focused on three wines: this "Meritage" Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and early experiments with Port, and our Pinot Blanc. 
The early vintages with crafted by the famous young St. Helena winemaker Cathy Corison. The Cabernet based blends were labeled "Meritage" to indicate that they are blends of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, a typical blend of the the Bordeaux varietals and the wines of the Bordeaux region in France.

In 2000, Maytag built a tiny winery in San Francisco, just across the street from the Anchor Brewery, moving the equipment down from Napa. After nearly 40 years studying modern winemaking, Maytag began making the wines himself with the help of Tom Holmes as assistant winemaker. Tom had been a fine brewer at Anchor for several years while earning his B.A. and then his M.B.A. 

In 2000, Tom was about to leave Anchor coop until Maytag enticed him to stay as assistant winemaker. Raised in Hopland, in the heart of the North Coast wine region, and with his brewing background, Tom was well qualified and eager to take on this role.

This particular wine is labeled as both Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage. Its proportion of Bordeaux varietals is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot, which technically allows it to be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Maytag markets the wine under the licensed term 'Meritage' which means it is a Bordeaux Blend. Produced in the European style, the wine is aged in mostly French oak, with some American in certain vintages. This year, 743 cases were produced.

The term Meritage is derived from a combination of the words “Merit” and “Heritage”. Meritage wines must be US sourced and produced, and include some combination of the classic Bordeaux varietals,  (for red wines, a blend of the noble Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and/or Malbec), but may not have any one varietal account for more than 90% of the blend. The term Meritage is trademarked by the Meritage Alliance group which only allows the use of the branded name for a US Bordeaux Blend under license. 

Over the years, few producers have opted to pay the license fee and have foregone the Meritage (pronounced like Heritage) branding. Instead many wineries choose to brand their wines, creating a 'proprietary blend'. The Alliance considers these wines to be the best of the vintage, and consumers can expect big and bold flavors, brimming with ripe and lush berry fruit that will only improve with oak barrel aging. 

At two decades, the fill level, label, foil and cork were in perfect condition. Tonight, this was consistent with my previous tasting a decade ago, back in 2009, when I wrote: "Dark, full bodied, full flavored currant, red raspberry, and black cherry with a long soft polished tannin finish." 92 points.
Much like the Pride, heralding from the same terroir, this was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex, finely integrated blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by notes of cassis, cola, and hints of mocha turning to silky fine grained tannins on the long lingering finish. 
RM 92 points.  




Thursday, June 17, 2021

Hugo's Frog Bar al fresco wine and dining

Hugo's Frog Bar al fresco wine and dining 

We dined at Hugo's Frog Bar in downtown Naperville for a summer afternoon al fresco dining experience. I must admit I had this place all wrong as I had pre-judged by what I considered a 'stupid and illogical' name. The kids all rave about it so we gave it a try for a special lunch with special friends in from out of town. We dined outside on the patio adjacent to the fountain. There is much to be said about dining outside amidst the sound of trickling water.

I admit, I didnt realize it was a sister restaurant to the notable Gibson's Steakhouse downtown Chicago along the Gold Coast nightclub and entertainment district, or, that they had been in business since 1997, or, that they specialized in premier east and west coast seafood, oysters, crudos, frog legs, lobster and seasonal fish and shellfish, in addition to Gibsons Prime Angus and Gibsons Grassfed Australian steaks.

Lastly, readers of these pages know I measure a restaurant and dining experience by the wine selection and the available pairing of food and wine. 

Suffice to say, I was blown away, very impressed with the food, wine, and overall ambiance and dining experience. 

My initial skepticism deepened and continued when I read from the menu about the Seared Hudson Valley Scallops. I was intrigued by their preparation and accompaniments - brie cheese polenta, wild mushroom bordelaise sauce, and toasted sunflower seeds. 
But Hudson Valley Scallops? Scallops are from the bay, or the ocean, or they would have to be farm raised, in an environment not conducive to delectable eating. 
I challenged the server who insisted they were Hudson Valley, wild caught, fresh scallops. I was still skeptical, especially when she insisted they were Bay Scallops. I mentioned Hudson Valley is the Hudson River in middle and upper state New York, not near any Bay, or the Ocean. 
She went to the kitchen to re-confirm and came back and corrected what she had said, that they were Sea scallops, not Bay scallops, but still, from Hudson Valley! One last challenge, not Hudson Valley foie gras?  No, Hudson Valley Scallops! 
I gave in, rolled the dice and gave it a try. They were spectacular - perfectly prepared and accompanied by an imaginative, delicious, delectable delightfully prepared and presented sauce. 
The wine selection - B-T-G (by the glass) was decent, respectable, a selection of a dozen chardonnays B-T-G (by the glass), a half dozen each Pinots, Cabernets, 'American Reds' and 'Imported Reds'. 
Wine List ? An impressive, imaginative, well thought out, carefully prepared wine list that touched all the bases from simple to complex, budget conscious to self indulgent - all American wines, with all the requisite varietals, regions and blends. I found no less than a two dozen bottles of wine that I would find suitable, reasonably priced, and appropriate accompaniments to the menu selections, for a primo optimal wine and dining experience. Kudo's! 
With our entrees, Linda and I each selected a glass of Chardonnay, each to our preferred style. 
Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2018

Far Niente has been producing this Napa Valley Chardonnay since 1979. It was their first varietal cultivated and bottled. Far Niente Chardonnay is a blend sourced from Napa Valley vineyards located in Coombsville. Nestled in the rolling foothills, protected by those hills east of the city of Napa, Coombsville offers the characteristic cool climate of Carneros, with less wind, with deeper, well-drained gravelly loam and volcanic ash soils - ideally suited from Chardonnay. 
Producer notes: "Aromas of melon, sweet citrus and white blossom floral layered with notes of flint, yeast and sweetly toasted oak. A smooth and focused entry is followed by a silky midpalate with ripe flavors of honeydew and lemon, supported by just of touch of wet stone, yeast and toasted hazelnuts. The finish is long and structured with citrus rind and mouthwatering acid.

This is an amazing label given that they produce 40 thousand cases of this wine, year after year, amazing volume with consist quality.

This was awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator, "Rich and juicy, with oaky accents to the dried apple and glazed apricot flavors. The well-structured finish is filled with savory and buttery notes. Drink now through 2023. 41,970 cases made."

I liked it a lot, bright gold colored, medium bodied, round, full, bright expressive melon, wet stone, what the producer called 'yeast and toasted hazelnuts' with buttery toasted oak, rich mouthfeel and supple lingering finish. 
An ideal compliment to my entree - a perfect pairing, which only amplified the enjoyment of both! 
RM 91 points. 

Linda had the salmon entree and chose this Santa Barbara Chardonnay which she knows well as we have bottles from this producer (shown) in our cellar. The salmon was perfectly prepared and presented and was ideal with the Cambria Santa Barbara Chardonnay.

Cambria Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2017

We've had several bottles of this producer over the years and find it a high QPR, great value nice balanced dependable every day wine.  
From Santa Barbara, this was less buttery and oaky than many of the Napa Chardonnays that tend to be a bit bigger and fuller. This has more a clean citrus based layer than the Far Niente above, more to Linda's preference. 

Wine Enthusiast said of this Santa Barbara label. "candied or pie-filling pineapple jam, Mandarin orange zest, apricot brulee and vanilla custard flavors..."
I give this 88 points, but at a fraction of the cost of the Far Niente, one would argue it is a higher QPR and therefore better value. In any event, its what one prefers in character and style and this is Linda's preference. 


Prior to our entrees we had the Loaded Wedge with bacon, tomato & Blue Cheese. Bingo. 
Afterwards we had the two dessert selections, creme brulee and the flourless chocolate cake with berry sauce and creme fraiche, all the food groups, both large enough for sharing, and both delicious. 

As mentioned, I had the scallops, ideally accompanied by Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay. Spectacular! Memorable! Notable! 

I am still skeptical about the Hudson Valley seared scallops, and am still half believing they confused the Seared Scallops with foie gras with the Hudson Valley designation being a misnomer with the scallops. I stand ready to be corrected, or enlightened, or ratified. In any event, they were wonderful! 

After lunch I wondered into/through the empty mid-afternoon dining room. It looks delightful and inviting for a wonderful dinner experience and I can't wait to try it out, soon!