Saturday, July 31, 2021

Once & Future Napa Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah

Once & Future Wine Napa Valley Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah for pizza and hearty cheeses 

I wrote in detail about this wine a month ago (almost to the day) when I procured this wine, just for an occasion as tonight, simple casual sipping but big and bold and robust on Saturday night on the deck with hearty cheeses and some grilled pizza. 

Today I picked up the next latest release vintage of this label so drinking this tonight, we 'cycled' our cellar holdings, replacing this bottle with the next subsequent release.

As I wrote at the time, "I found this at Binny's and was intrigued to try it. Only 201 cases were made so its not surprising I had never seen or heard of the label before. Upon further research, they're known for producing Zinfandel. The premium packaging with the heavy bottle with its deep punt was impressive and we love Petite Sirah, a cousin of Sirah/Shiraz, an under represented varietal in Napa Valley, so, I took a chance and bought all six bottles in the store.'

This was ideal for casual sipping on the deck with artisan cheeses and fresh hot-house Flavor-Bomb tomatoes.

Winemaker Joel Peterson says, "It's my opinion Napa would be famous for Petite Sirah if it weren't for Cabernet Sauvignon."

According to the Once & Future Website, "Up until the 1960s, Petite Sirah was the most widely planted grape variety in Napa Valley. The few examples show that grown in the right places it does very well producing bright expressive full bodied wines that can be even darker and spicier than Zinfandel, that other “California grape” from Europe. Those that produce the varietal offer a distinctive and interesting choice (not to mention, often with better QPR - quality price ratio) over the leading Napa grape varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon.'

Once & Future Wine Napa Valley Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah 2017

This label was awarded 92+ Points by Erin Brooks of The Wine Advocate. The 2018 Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah Napa Valley was awarded 96 pts by Vinous Antonio Galloni. The only Cellartracker reviewer gave it 93 points. 

This was aged in 100% French Oak, 30% new barrels.

Totally consistent with that earlier tasting. This was opaque dark inky purple-black in color. Initially it was closed and tight but opened up after 30 to 45 minutes to full-bodied, firm, tightly wound black and blue fruits, floral notes with cassis, black tea, vanilla, with hints of black pepper and oak with a long gripping tannins on a moderate but lingering finish.

RM 91 points. 


Friday, July 30, 2021

Sojourn Napa Oakville Cab for Steak Dinner

Sojourn Napa Valley Oakville Ranch Vineyard Cabernet for Carnivore and Queen Restaurant Steak Dinner

Friday night dinner out with friends and neighbors Mark and Shirley, we dined at Carnivore and the Queen, local Bohemian styled supper club in adjacent Downers Grove. While their wine list is very limited, they had a couple of interesting offerings from which I picked this label. I had brought a bottle just in case but was happy to try one of their features. 

C & Q have an imaginative menu for fine dining and our service from server Jordan was excellent. I had the filet of beef in my customary 'Pittsburgh medium' style and it was prepared perfectly. Linda had the scallops and Shirley had the ribeye steak, all were delectable and also prepared perfectly. Mark had their spectacular signature Walleye fish and chips with their delicious onion rings. 

Carnivore and Queen Walleye fish & chips

Carnivore and Queen scallops

Carnivore and Queen grilled ribeye steak

Carnivore and Queen grilled filet of beef

With his Walleye, Mark drank Schlitz beer, an artifact from my youth as I remember that was my Dad's beer of choice back in the sixties. 

Brewed in the USA since 1849, I remember Schlitz as "the beer that made Milwaukee famous" although the famous branding and tagline were not to be found on the packaging, although its is buried in the text on its website. They state the brew is 'finished with a prime blend of Cascade, Mt. Hood and Williamette (sic) hops. This refreshing icon is for those who appreciate heritage and premium craftsmanship.'

As if lost in the sixties, or not yet caught up to the modern era, their webpages recounting their History were blank ...


Interesting that when you clicked on the Careers tab it took you to Pabst Brewing website. It proudly posted:

"We’re proud. Proud to be one of the few companies that is wholly defined by our audience. Our mission has always been this: make a good beer at a fair price. That’s there when you need a cold 12 ounces at the end of a hard day.'

"America looks wildly different than it did 175 years ago. But beneath it, the same values still ring. We’re still the people who believe we can, and then do. We’re rule breakers and bridge builders. Some of us get up early, some stay up late. But we’re united across race, religion, and whatever the hell else, by a shared set of values: Inclusivity. Freedom. Integrity. Passion. And being true to ourselves."

They're hiring, many sales positions scattered around the US. All the staff or HQ positions are for San Antonio, Texas.  But they made Milwaukee famous. Never-the-less, Schlitz has a Twitter profile, professing to be based in Milwaukee. 

On the dinner and wine ... 

Sojourn Oakville NapaValley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

I admit I had never seen or even heard of this label before. Not surprising as only 800 cases were produced by a producer sourcing grapes from contract growers, albeit well known high profile vineyards. 

This is the project/product of Erich Bradley, a founder and Director of Winemaking for Sojourn Cellars. Erich works with exceptional growers to produce distinctive wines that express vineyard and vintage in the bottle. As written in these pages before, so long as these contract sources are stable and long-term, this is a label to pay attention to, otherwise, their sources may change over time and hence there is no concept of terroir or comparative styles from various vintages over time. Notably, this label has been continuously produced since the 2011 vintage.

Sojourn Cellars produce Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, all sourced from grower vineyards in high profile, renowned appellations of Sonoma and Napa counties. They produce four different Cabernets, this being their standard base label. The others are all premium priced labels are sourced from high profile named vineyards: Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Home Ranch Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, and Oakville Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, all rated 95 points or higher. This label was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and 92 points by International Wine Report. 
The Sojourn website profile cites, "Bradley is a native of Palo Alto, California, Erich became interested in wine while helping his family develop their vineyard on a small ranch in Sonoma Valley. Erich studied Bio-chemistry at the University of Chicago and Philosophy and Modern European Intellectual History at Cal-Irvine.' Following an initial career as high school teacher and tennis coach, he moved to Sonoma in 1998 and studied winemaking at U Cal-Davis and viticulture at Santa Rosa College. He was also 'mentored' by winemakers Richard Arrowood and David Ramey. He is on the board of directors of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Association. 

Randy Bennett is listed as Winemaker. He started at Sojourn as Assistant Winemaker in 2008. He is responsible for making all the Sojourn wines and overseeing cellar operations and vineyard management activities. As General Manager, he run day-to-day operations of production, marketing, and business operations.

Randy’s winemaking education was under the tutelage of Thomas Brown and Mike Smith while working in the wine caves of Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma where Thomas and Mike produced wines for Schrader Cellars, Rivers-Marie, Myriad Cellars, Tamber Bey, and Nicholson Ranch.

Before entering the wine business, Randy worked 13 years at Accenture, leading business transformation projects for financial services firms. 

Sojourn have a tasting Salon located just off the Square in downtown Sonoma on Napa Street.

This blend of 2018 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is predominantly Oakville Ranch Vineyard fruit from the site located 1,000 to 1,400 elevation above Oakville, facing west over Napa Valley. The site is surrounded by a “who’s who” of neighbors, producers of premium labels, including Dalla Valle, Joseph Phelps’ Bacchus Vineyard, Pedregal, and Maybach. 

Also included in the blend is fruit from two other vineyards along Skellenger Lane. This is 98% berry-sorted Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. The final blend was aged 20 months in Darnajou, Bel Air, Jarnac and Taransaud barrels.

Packaged in a premium oversize heavy bottle, this was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, rich and vibrant blackberry and raspberry fruits accented by tangy acid and flavors of cassis and hints of mocha with lingering moderate tannins. 
RM 91 points. 


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Wine and Dine at Sepia Chicago

Wine and Dine at Sepia Restaurant Chicago 

We held a team / board dinner at Sepia Restaurant Chicago, a short walk from our office, in the trendy west loop district. 

Sepia offered an imaginative price fixe menu as their standard bill of faire for the evening. Sepia executive chef Andrew Zimmerman,
chef de cuisine Kyle Cottle, and pastry chef Lauren Terrill prepared a delicious, stylish, thoughtfully prepared and artfully presented four course meal. 

Wine Director and Sommelier Alex Ring guided us through the extraordinary wine list offerings and selections.

They were also agile and adept at accommodating those of our group that had special dietary requests.

The first course selections were:
  • foie gras tart rosé gelee, peach jam, aged balsamic, (shown)
  • sweet corn velouté parisienne gnocchi, pickled blueberry
  • kampachi crudo tikka masala consommé, baby tomato, almond
    with a kaluga caviar option/supllement, and
  • king crab chawanmushi, sauce nantua, hon shimeji mushroom
    (at a supplement charge)
 Second course:
  • crispy soft boiled egg potato porridge, black truffle
    (with black truffle supplement)
  • sablefish misoyaki charred cabbage, dill beurre blanc, grapefruit
  • berkshire pork confit cherry mostarda, peanut, five spice (shown)
 Third course
  • hay grilled sirloin smoked spring onion, bone marrow chimichurri, braised beef empanada
  • steelhead trout en croûte buttermilk, cucumber, dill
  • duck breast plum, sunflower seed, fennel, chamomile (shown)
  • ricotta agnolotti chanterelle, summer squash, aged ham butter, pine nut (vegetarian upon request), with black truffle option/supplement
The dessert course
  • strawberry & almond olive oil cake, almond cream, strawberry milk crumble
  • milk chocolate & banana whipped namelaka, green chartreuse ice cream, crunch
  • yogurt & blueberry greek yogurt panna cotta, blueberry-spruce tip sorbet, sunflower seeds

Sepia have an interesting, extraordinarily imaginative winelist with many notable key producers and labels as well as many offerings from lesser known boutique producers. The list is quite broad and extensive with a range of price points for each category. 

The price fixe menu also provided a wine pairing flight available for $55 per person. 

We were served by Sepia's Sommelier and wine director Alex Ring who was extremely knowledgeable, personable and helpful in our selections and service. 

The wine list starts with "Features and Notables - Wines to get excited about". The first section called a "Special Sort of Vertical", is a vertical collection of Krug Grand Champaign dating back to 1990 and featuring vintages 2004, 05, 06 and 07.  Next was a collection from French Loire River Valley third generation vigneron Domaine Romain Guiberteau, and finally, a selection from Sicilian producer Andrea Franchetti of Passopisciaro featuring finest estate vineyard selections from Mount Etna appellation and the unique local varietal Nerello Mascalese.
There were close to forty WBTG (Wine By The Glass) offerings with a wide choice of offerings for each course - aperitif, Champagne/Sparkling, Sweet, White, Rose ('Orange), Red, Port, Madeira and  a selection of liquors. 
The Wine by the Bottle offerings spanned forty pages from the range of traditional varietals from an extraordinarily broad range of regions including lesser regions such as Bosnia, Lebanon, Morocco, Greece, England, Hungary and Mexico. In addition, there were the traditional expected 'Old World' regions of  France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and Portugal, as well as those from the 'New World'; US, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Canada. They also offered a selection of Large Format magnums and a few double magnums. 
One point about the broad wine list was lack of vintage specification which made it somewhat difficult from which to choose, or which might have explained or help justify some of the offering prices at the ends of the spectrum, such as example Chateau Pichon Lalande at $845 (1989 vintage) and Aubert Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros at $420. 
From their broad wine list selection, I was able to order a couple of intriguing/interesting yet budget conscious reds and whites. Note that my budget consideration is invariably influenced by the degree to which the diners are wine centric or focused, coupled with their sophistication or appreciation for fine wines. Also, the fact most in our group ordered alcoholic cocktails or drinks before hand diminishes their discernment for or focus on fine wines, and thus reduces the investment or price point in wine selections for the evening - both in terms of overall spend as well as discernment in and appreciation for the wines after consuming one or a couple drinks. 
Taking into account that two of our senior partners, as well as me, visited the Luberon in the Southern Rhone River valley a few years back, I selection two Rhone River Valley wines, as well as two American producer selections.
For the reds I ordered:
Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley  
Domaine des Lises, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône (Syrah) 

For the whites I was excited to order and try and serve these two imaginative whites: 

Maldonado Los Olivos Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017
Mas de Daumas Gassac, Languedoc White Blend (Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay) 2016 

Initially I was leaning to the Lail Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, but in the end went for 'bigger' more complex whites that would appeal more to my more adventurous white wine drinkers. 

Maldonado Los Olivos Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017 

This is from the Maldonado Family Vineyards, a small Mexican-American family owned estate of 10 acres in Jamieson Canyon in the northernmost tip of the Napa Valley. Owner - winemaker Hugo Maldonado comes from a vineyard management background, who learned the importance and craft of vineyard care working at Newton Vineyards, and working alongside his father Lupe Maldonado.
Lupe Maldonado arrived in America in 1968 and worked his way up from day laborer to winery and vineyard owner, that he runs today with his son and grandkids.

Maldonado acquired the ten acre hillside property in 2007 in Jameson Canyon in the eastern hills of Calistoga, looking out to the Palisades mountain range. 

The winery, sited in a cave looking south toward the Palisades is where they do all production and barrel aging. 

This small boutique producer produces nearly 6000 cases annually under the Maldonado Family Vineyards label, and produces a second label called Farm Worker.  

Their flagship brand is classic “big Napa” Chardonnay, notably, this single vineyard designated label. 

I woke up the next morning still tasting and thinking about this wine and went on-line to find and buy some. I called all our regular local wine merchants and was told it is discontinued, or out of distribution, meaning they no longer have a distributor here in Illinois, a highly regulated two tier distribution state. It is still promoted and sold on their website, but since I don't need a full case quantity, I'll continue to search out this label. 

This was golden colored, full bodied with what I would call a combination of buttery and nutty flavor profile, concentrated but nicely balanced flavors of mineral, pear and citrus fruits, hints of peach and guava with notes of mineral and toasted oak accented by sprites of hazelnut and pain grille.

RM 92 points.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, Languedoc White Blend (Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay) 2016

As I noted, the two Managing Partners in attendance visited the Languedoc and Provencal regions of Southern France two years ago. We also visited and toured the Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the Languedoc around that time. Hence, I selected this extraordinarily unique white blend from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France, the area from the Mediterranean coast up to Provence. There a broad range of wine produced in this region, red, white and rose'. The region is traditionally known for more modest table wines, but in recent years it has been upgraded to more and more higher quality fine wines.  

Mas de Daumas Gassac is located in the Hérault countryside and valley carved out by the gentle flowing Gassac river. It is from the appellation of IGP Saint Guilhem le désert cité d’Aniane, situated inland from the coastal town of Montpelier, midway between the cities of Toulouse and Marseille. The area has a unique glacial terroir suited to produce exceptional fruit due to underground sources of cold water and the influence of the surrounding massifs of Arboussas and Larzac which contribute to the valley’s micro-climate.
The estate dates back to 1970 when Aimé and Véronique Guibert acquired the property with an old Mas (farmhouse) and an abandoned mill. Véronique, an ethnologist from Ireland, and Aimé, a glover and tanner from Millau, set out to produce Grand Cru quality wines in an unremarkable, relatively obsure wine region. 

The first vines were planted in 1972, un-cloned Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from top Bordeaux properties in the 1930s and 40s. The vines were selected on the basis of quality and diversity, and not on their yields or resistance to diseases.
Against all conventional wisdom and practice at the time, the Languedoc was known for the warm climate loving Rhone grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvedre, Guibert planted Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Guibert began planting white grapes in 1976, although the first wine not released untial a decade later. He was convinced the cooler climate of the Gassac valley  could produce whites with the freshness and acidity typically lacking in the region’s whites. 

He planted Chardonnay (cuttings from Comte Lafon), Viognier (cuttings from Georges Vernay) and Muscat. Guibert and Véronique loved to travel, and wherever they went, they brought back a few cuttings of other vines and planted them. 

Between 1972 and 1978 they constructed a barrel cellar and a winery in former water storage facility of the Gallo-Roman mill, the cold water of the Gassac river providing a natural coolness that was perfect for the vat room and ensured that the temperature remained constant.

In 1978, the great oenologist Emile Peynaud, who supervised the rebirth of Château Léoville-Las-Cases and acted as a consultant to Château Margaux, Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, and La Lagune, visited Mas de Daumas Gassac. He monitored progress and advised on the first vinification. 

Later, when journalists asked Professor Peynaud why he had helped and advised an unknown property in the Languedoc, when he usually only worked with world-renowned vineyards, he replied, “I have advised the best properties in France, but there, for the first time, I had the good fortune to be present at the birth of grand cru.”
The first vintage of Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge (80% Cabernet Sauvignon) was released in 1978.

The 1982 vintage was recognized with the first media endorsement of Mas de Daumas Gassac red wines, hailed by the magazine Gault & Millau as ‘Languedoc’s Château Lafite’. 

In 1986, the white Mas de Daumas Gassac wine, a uniquely crafted wine showing huge aromatic complexity, made its debut. This label was designed to showcase fruit aromas, was a complex blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Chenin Blanc, and augented with around fifteen other grape varieties from Old Europe.

The portfolio continued to expand with the release of rosé Frizant in 1990 which completed the estate’s range of wines to three – a red, a white and a rosé. 

In 1991, the Guilhem and Figaro labels were released, completing the Moulin de Gassac selection. Today, annual production totals 2.2 million bottles.

The business continued to prosper and expand but remains a family affair, with four of Véronique and Aimé Guibert’s five sons, Samuel, Gaël, Roman and Basile involved, the siblings taking over management of the property in 2009.

This white wine is a unique blend of 25% Viognier, 25% Chardonnay, 25% Petit Manseng, 15% Chenin Blanc and 10% other grape varieties including Courbu from Bearn, Petite Arvine from Valais, Rhole from Provence, Marsanne from the Rhone valley and 10 other rare grape varieties.

Gold in colour, full bodied, complex but nicely balanced, bright expressive almond nut flavors accented with tropical fruits of peach and citrus with sprites of  orange, lemon, pineapple and apple with hints of floral, vanilla and stone fruit with a nice balance of acidity on a full finish. 

RM 91 points. Decanter gave this 93 Points

Matthiasson Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Senior Managing Partner Tom R is celebrating his son's wedding in Napa Valley in the coming weeks. They'll be hosting and holding festivities at a couple of Oak Knoll District venues, serving Oak Knoll wines, hence I thought this would be a notable selection as a prelude to those celebrations. 

Matthiasson Wines was started in 2003 by Steve and Jill Mathiasson, with a mission to produce wines that are classical expressions of their grape varieties, that are refreshing, complement food, and are moderate in alcohol. 
Since launching their brand in 2003, the results of their non-traditional approach have been highly regarded by both customers and critics. Matthiasson has been named Winemaker of the Year by both the San Francisco Chronicle and Food and Wine Magazine, and the winery is a six-
time nominee for the prestigious James Beard Award.

Matthiassons share duties in running the business with Steve responsible for winemaking and vineyard operations while Jill tends to the business. Beyond Matthiasson wines, Steve also provides vineyard consulting services to some other notable top wineries including Araujo Estates, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Spottswoode and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
After studying philosophy in college, Steve landed a job in vineyards and orchards working for a sustainable agriculture consulting firm in 1994. In 1999, he co-authored the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices. By 2002 he was consulting on vineyard practices in Napa turning to his own family farming and winemaking in 2003. 

Jill studied botany at Penn, then traditional methods for soil health in grad school at UC Davis. She pioneered “farmer to farmer” networking for sustainability in the early 90s until turning her attention to running the business operations of the family business. 

Matthiasson produces this label in the tradition of a Bordeaux Blend, with complexity, roundness and completeness, based on Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant varietal with a small amount of Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (2%). 
This is blended from six different vineyard sources throughout Napa Valley from three appellations (AVAs). 
The winemaker writes that "the fruit sourced from Coombsville provides for structure and black fruit color and flavors, Rutherford for savory Cabernet characters and bright fruit, and Oak Knoll for soft fruit. It is a Napa Cab of the old school, a blended wine, age-worthy, complex, and begging for a steak off of the grill". Winemaker Notes for this release: "The nose shows abundant red fruits, lots of bright cherry along with bramble-berries, such as blackberry, cranberry, mulberry, and framed with hints of mineral/herbal characters such as graphite, cedar, and pencil shavings. The palate is vibrant and fresh, with light tannin and beautiful acidity."
This was awarded 90 points by Wine & Spirits.

This was dark garnet colored medium bodied with soft elegant black-currant fruits with notes of herbs, cedar, and graphite with moderate tannins on the lingering smooth finish. 

RM 90 points. 

1995 cases produced.

Producers notes on the Matthiasson Vineyards: 
The Matthiasson estate Vineyard is adjacent to the winery and homessite. It sits on loamy alluvial soil on the west side of the Oak Knoll District, just south of the Red Hen Vineyard. It is the coolest of the vineyards, receiving morning fog and afternoon sea breezes most summer days. 
The adjacent Red Hen Vineyard next to Dry Creek, in the Oak Knoll District where it cool breezes wafting up from the southern San Pablo Bay, and dry rocky alluvium soil combine to create structure and ripe fruits.
The Bengier Vineyard (formerly Vare) is also on Dry Creek, in the Oak Knoll District, but on gravelly soils in the mouth of the canyon. The cool air drainage and short fall days as the sun is blocked by the redwoods result in light aromatic wine.
The Helen’s Gate Vineyard is the home of Arthur Berliner and Marian Lever. It sits on an east-facing hill along Whitehall Lane in the Rutherford District of Napa Valley. It was planted by Mathiesson and managed since in 2009.

The Dead Fred Vineyard in Coombsville sits on rocky volcanic soil. It’s south-western exposure causes it to pick up heat during the day, and the proximity to the mouth of the Napa Valley keeps the nights cool. This vineyard has been leased by Mathiasson since 2012.

The York Vineyard is in the heart of Rutherford, on the classic gravelly alluvium known to create the famous “Rutherford Dust” character. This has been leased since 2013.

Domaine des Lises, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône (Syrah) 2016

We love big fruit filled Syrah wines, many of which are produced in the Crozes-Hermitage and other appellations in the Northern Rhone river valley. 
Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation of the northern Rhône valley in France. It covers a relatively large area on the eastern bank of the river, to the north and south of the village of Tain L'Hermitage. It is much larger than the prestigious Hermitage appellation which it surrounds, both in area and in terms of production volume.
The much smaller Hermitage appellation with 140 hectares (345 acres) of vineyards is known for some of France's most enduringly prestigious wines. These are on a par with those from the Côte Rôtie (30 miles/45km to the north), and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (70 miles/110km to the south). Both red and white Hermitage wines are long-lived and full-bodied.

The red wines are produced exclusively from Syrah and are often long lived and may be aged for 30 years or more. They are known for their robustness and rich aromas of leather, coffee and red berries.

Around 7.5 million liters of wine are produced and sold under the Crozes-Hermitage title each year.  This is more than the other seven northern Rhône appellations combined. There are 1,768 hectares of vines currently recorded for the appellation (4,368 acres).

There were two such wines on the winelist, this and one from producer Alain Graillot which we have had on many occasions. Hence, in the spirit of adventure and experimentation, I opted to try a new producer and label and chose what I hoped would be a similarly situated equivalent at relatively the same price point. In retrospect we might have been better served off with the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône (Syrah) which we have featured in these pages. This alternative did not stand up to my exectations based on earlier tasting experiences with the other label. 

This is 100% Syrah, produced from 40+ year old vines in the lieu-dit “Les Picheres” area, less than 2km from the vines of Domaine Alain Graillot. 
The wine pundit Vinous gave this a score of 92. I wonder if perhaps our bottle was slightly tainted, which I thought about at the time, but chose not to put up a challenge or make a scene, accepting that it may just be due to customary 'bottle variation' in the production blends. 

This was ruby colored, medium full bodied with dark berry fruits accented by non-fruit notes smoke and leather and a slight funkiness from what might be hints of bacon fat, turning to notes of anise and black cherry liquor on the spicy finish. 

RM 87 points.



Monday, July 26, 2021

Italian Village Team Dinner

Team Wine and Dine Dinner at  Italian Village Chicago

After fifteen months of Covid shut-in WFH - (Work From Home) controlled work rules, we brought my leadership team into Chicago for re-engagement and strategic planning. 

I hosted a dinner at our regular roost, my mainstay wine and dine site, Italian Village Chicago. This is our go-to site for such occasions given its proximity to the office, extraordinary winelist, dependable food service from the three restaurants, kitchens, chefs under one roof, and long standing friendship with Wine Director Jared Gelband

As is our custom, we dined in one of the private dining rooms, Seeking Italian varietal wines for the Italian cuisine,  Jared selected the initial wine course from special selections off the extensive winelist, and I selected a second follow on wine. I mentioned Barolo as a starter wine and Jared pulled an aged ten year old 2011 vintage from the cellar. To follow suit, I selected from the winelist another 2011 release wine for a mini-horizontal. As is customary, I selected a 'bigger' more exuberant wine so as not to be overshadowed or overpowered by the first selection. 

Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell Anunziata Barolo 2011

For native Italian faire we selected Italian varietal and produced wines. I suggested Barolo, a delicious red wine from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. 

Barolo is made strictly from Nebbiolo grapes. The Nebbiolo grape does not travel well and is high maintenance, hence it has not been adopted by other regions and gained wider popularity beyond the Piemontese slopes of Northern Italy. It is much like another finicky or fickle grape varietal, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is a reflection and expression of its terroir, and displays the subtleties of its environment. 

The center of the universe for production of this varietal based world class exclusive and age-worthy red wines made from Nebbiolo is the Barolo wine region. The region consists of five core townships: La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and the Barolo village itself, as well as a few outlying villages. 

The landscape of Barolo, characterized by prominent and castle-topped hills, is full of history and romance centered on the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo wines are known for their signature character profile: “tar and roses” aromas, a deceptively light garnet color, but full presence on the palate and plenty of tannins and acidity. A well-made Barolo wine will be complex and big with and aging profile that at its best needs 10-15 years before its ready to drink, and can further age for several decades. 

Jared pulled from the vast Italian Village cellar and decade old Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell Anunziata. This is a single vineyard designated label, the flagship top label for the reputable producer.

This producer and label dates back to 1962. Long before that, Domenico Settimo settled in the hamlet of Annunziata in the area known as La Morra in Piemonte in 1943, in an old farmhouse built at the end of the 19th century. Up until 1962 Settimos were farmers, working the land (vineyards, fruit trees, hazelnuts) and breeding animals (hens, rabbits, cows). They produced some grapes that were sold to big local wineries except a small amount that they held back for the family to produce wine for themselves, friends and relatives.

In the late 1950s, Domenico began bottling some of the wine under the Settimo Domenico label. Son, Aurelio worked by his side and learned how special the land and its terroir were. After Domenico died in 1962 Aurelio decided to specialize solely on growing grapes and producing wine.

Aurelio began extending the winery and growing production but 50% of the grapes grown on the estate continued to be sold to the larger local wineries up until 1974. Since that 1974 vintage all the production has been vinified on site. The estate vineyards cover 14 acres and have been planted and replanted over the years such that the vines range in age between 18 and 46 years, mostly planted in Nebbiolo, with a couple with Dolcetto. The estate’s 8.5 acre prime vineyard, considered to be one of the area’s very finest crus, is the celebrated Rocche Dell’Annunziata. The remaining 5.5 acres of Nebbiolo is used for their standard estate Barolo DOCG.

Since 2007, Aurelio’s daughter, Tiziana has been at the helm managing the company, holding to the long held philosophy to focus on quality and maintain respect for tradition. They produce only red DOC wines, exclusively from their own grapes. Their vineyards, all in Annunziata hamlet adjacent to the cellar, are cultivated with Nebbiolo for Barolo grapes. The best of those are set aside for the prestigeous cru Rocche dell’Annunziata. A small part is dedicated to dolcetto vine. 
This was dark garnet with brick edges in colour, medium full bodied with aromatic plum, blackberry and black cherry fruits with earthy peppercorn, rose, and notes of cigar box, licorice and spice with a dry acidic rounded finish.
RM 89 points.


Allegrini Amarone della Volpolicella Classico 2011

We moved to a bigger bolder wine for the entree course, selecting another 2011 vintage release for a mini-horizontal comparison, a perfect pairing with spicy pasta and dark Marsalla sauces. 

This DOCG Amarone della Valpolicella Classico from Allegriniis is always popular and one of the most awarded wines of its class and highest esteemed producers in Italy. 

Drawing on more than six generations of Veneto winegrowing tradition and a long running serious of successful vintage releasesm Allegrini has received its 30th Tre Bicchieri (“Three Glasses”) award from Gambero Rosso in 2014, placing it among the top producers in Italy. Individually, Allegrini Amarone has received 16 Tre Bicchieri designations, more than any other Amarone.

Family owned and operated by the Allegrini family, which has had roots in the Valpolicella since the sixteenth century, they have nearly 250 acres of hillside vineyards in the Classico zone. All Allegrini  wines are 100% from grapes grown in the Estate’s vineyards. 

Amarone is the result of unique production technique where Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Oseleta grapes are left to air dry at least until December, checked daily to ensure perfectly healthy grapes. Lengthy refining and aging finally yields a red wine that has become emblematic of Italian oenology, alongside Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. The result is wine with imposing structure and depth, as much in its aromas of mature fruit and spices, as on the palate, where the alcohol is sustained by the right degree of acidity and refined tannins.
This release was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. 91 by James Suckling.
Dark ruby colored, full bodied and firm structure, expressive vibrant intense classic ripened raisin flavored dark cherry and raspberry fruits fronted by spice and herb notes with accents of graphite, mocha, mineral and licorice. 
RM 92 points.







Friday, July 23, 2021

French Wine Dinner at Chez Joel Chicago

French Wine Dinner at Chez Joël Bistro Francais Chicago

We met fellow Pour Boys Dan with Linda and Lyle with Terry at one of our favorite eateries in Chicago, French Bistro Chez Joel on Taylor Street, in what used to be known as Little Italy, near the Medical district, just south of the UIC Campus.

A passing summer rain burst almost disrupted our plans to dine on the outdoor patio but we pushed back our dinner but 1/2 hour and the skies cleared for a delightful evening. 

All our entrees were wonderful, tastfully and artfully prepared and presented. I had the Seared Duck Breast & Leg Confit, one of the best I have had anywhere, Dan and Lyle the Fresh Fish Special of the Day, Brook Trout, which resembled grilled Salmon, and the ladies all had the filets of beef. 

Prior to dinner we had appetizers of the Duck Liver Pâté, Frog Legs, Beet Salad and the Escargot. 


Chez Joel Filet of Beef

Chez Joel Duck Confit

Chez Joel Brook Trout

We ordered from the thoughtfully and carefully selected winelist a selection of French wines starting with Chateau Mangot Bordeaux. I followed with a Crozes-Hermitage and then a Brane Cantenac Margaux. For the dessert course I ordered a Sauterne while Dan and Lyle had a Tawny Port. 

 Interesting that on our previous visit to Chez Joel, back in pre-covid 2019, we ordered these same two wines, the Crozes-Hermitage and the Mangot, which we also had on an earlier visit there back in 2013.

 Maison Les Alexandrins Crozes-Hermitage 2017

Consistent with the earlier tasting, I recast my notes from that earlier blogpost

While not as elegant, concentrated, complex or intense as some of the recent Syrahs featured in these pages, this is a fraction of their price. A fun and fitting comparison that holds its own very nicely against the pair of Croze-Hermitages we tasted in Paris last week (and the second one). 

Crozes Hermitage is the biggest vineyard appellation area among the Northern Rhône appellations with 3200 acres. It is spread over 11 different communes situated in the department of La Drôme on the left bank of the Rhône River.

Deep purple ruby colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant black berry and black cherry fruits, notes of smoky, spices and hints of black pepper, nice balance of acidity, turning to smooth silky tannins on a long finish. An outstanding QPR, high quality to price ratio wine.

RM 90 points.

Reviewed by: Jeb Dunnuck - 90 pts
Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate
- 90-92 pts

Chateau Mangot St Emilion Grand Cru 2012

On our last visit to Chez Joel we tasted the 2014 release of this label, and prior to that, the 2009 release.  Tonight's tasting was consistent with that those earlier experiences.Of the previous visit I wrote the post below.

For the entree course we selected this label which ideal with the steak and duck courses. We've had this wine before from the winelist at Chez Joel over the years, in several vintages. It consistently represents great value in a quality appropriate selection at a fair and moderate price-point.

This cru, is from the St Emilion Grand Cru appellation, crafted  from the Estate's 4 terroirs spread between the foot of the slopes, slopes, terraces and plateaux. It is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the 21 different plots that of the Estate vineyards.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, tangy black berry and black currant and plum fruits, spice, floral and notes of anise and cedar, dry with cloying tannins on the long finish.

RM 90 points.

Château Brane-Cantenac Margaux-de-Brane 2015

For the entree course I selected this Left Bank Bordeaux from the Medoc. This is the third label of Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux. Owned by Henri Lurton, one of several Lurtons to own property in Margaux, the Lurton family has been at the helm of the property for four generations . 

From the Chateau review: "Created in the 18th Century by the De Gorce family who gives it her name, this great vineyard produced yet, a century before the classification of 1855, one of the most renowned wines of Médoc. The Baron de Brane, called “the Napoleon of wines”, purchased the vineyard in 1833 and devoted all his energy to this growth. He renamed the property “Brane Cantenac” in 1838. In 1925, François Lurton, main shareholder of Château Margaux, bought this prestigious growth. His son Lucien, then, his grand-son Henri took over him at the head of the property." 

We drove past the the 75-hectare estate during our visit to and tours around Margaux back in 2018. 

We've long been fans of their Grand Cru but this was my first tasting on record of their second label. It was delightful and in my book was the WOTN - Wine of the Night of the Reds. I'll be seeking this out to add to our cellar collection, a high QPR label for more budget conscious sipping appropriate occasions.
Its second wine is rich and concentrated with solid tannins as well as generous blackberry fruits. It will be impressive as it ages. Drink from 2020. 

From the 2015 vintage, a phenomenal ideal vintage in Bordeaux such that the second and even the third labels of top producers were exceptional, as 'all boats rise with the tide', as the saying goes. 

This release is a blend of Bordeaux sanctioned varietals: 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, more akin to a Right Bank than a Left Blend composition. 

Garnet colored with hues of purple, medium full bodied, structured but elegant and nicely balanced, expressive concentrated dark berry fruits with bright floral notes accented by spice and hints of licorice, chocolate and vanilla with a silky tannin lingering finish. 

RM 91 points.

This was rated 92 points by Wine Enthusiast and 87 points by Vinous.

For the final dessert course I ordered this Sauterne that was a delicious, perfect accompaniment to the lava chocolate cake. 

Château Suduiraut Lions de Suduiraut Sauterne 2016

Like the previous selection, this too is the second wine of a well known prestigious Bordeaux Grand Cru. 

Resembling its flagship first label big brother this was delicious and a perfect perfect accompaniment to the lava chocolate cake. 

The history of Château Suduiraut began in 1580 with the marriage of Nicole d’Allard and Léonard de Suduiraut. Classified as a Premier Cru Classé (First Growth) in Sauternes in 1855, it has always been known as a superb property (its neighbor is Château d’Yquem). 

In the 1990’s, the estate was sold to French financial insurance conglomerate AXA, who invested in the Château making significant investments in its vineyards and winemaking facilities. This eventually translated into a dramatic increase in the quality of the wines.

The Suduiraut vineyards span 92 hectares consisting of gravel, sand, limestone and clay soils on sloping hillsides. They are planted to 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is fermented in French oak barrels and aged on its lees in 50% new French oak for 18-24 months. Lions de Suduiraut, their third label, is produced from almost nearly 100% Semilon. This release was a blend of  93% Semillon and 7% Sauvignon Blanc. 

It was aged 50% in new barrels and 50% from barrels of one vintage, for 16 to 18 months

Dark golden, weak tea colored, medium bodied, sprites of sweet honey, apricot with note of peach and glints of pear, citrus and notes of lychee, stone fruit on a tongue coating unctuous finish.

RM 91 points.

As usual and to be expected at Chez Joel, a wonderful, relaxing fun wine and dine evening.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend 2011

 Lewis Cellars Alec's Blend 2011

With wife Vivianna in NYC/CT for the weekend, son Alec hung out with us and neighbors over the weekend. After golfing with Chris and Andy, they came over to check out our cellar and Alec naturally pulled his 'signature' Alec's Blend for a tasting with pate' and artisan cheeses. 

As written often in these pages, we have fun with this branding, with its signature 'L' on the label, ala Laverne and Shirley, or Linda, or her mother Lucy, or our daughter Erin Leigh, or her daughter, our first grandchild/daughter Lucy!

Lewis Cellars wines are family favorites for all occasions, punctuated by this namesake Blend for son Alec. Indeed, Lewis Cabernets are some of favorites and we have a decade long vertical of Alec's as well as their Cabs, dating back to this '97. 

This blend is dedicated to Randy and Debbie Lewis' first grandson Alec, who was born on the day of the harvest of the grapes for this wine (for the '97 vintage), hence the namesake!

Our visit to the Lewis estate and Chateau were a highlight of our Napa Valley Wine 2017 Experience as well as visit and private tasting there by Alec and Vivianna on their firestorm shortened honeymoon last year. 

This 2011 vintage release was the oldest of a half dozen vintages we hold in our cellar of this label. I was concerned about its age, not only being the oldest in our holdings at ten years, but also a slight off-vintage overall in Napa. 

This vintage release is a blend of 61% Syrah, 33% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Indeed, at ten years, this was starting to show its age a bit and was showing some slight diminution with a slight funk beginning to set in. It wasn't likely due to provenance as the fill level, label and notably the cork were all in perfect condition. Some, but not all, of the funk did burn off a bit after some settling time.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, moderately intense brambly black berry and black raspberry fruits with notes of vanilla, hints of that classic Alec's Blend cinnamon clove spice and pepper, with some tones of black tea, wet wood and graphite setting in, with moderate tannins and acidity on the finish. 

RM 88 points - probably off a couple points due to its age.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

I opened this Napa Cab with left over beef tenderloin from our gala dinner the other evening for a wonderful wine and beefsteak pairing. I bought a case of this wine upon release and after tasting this bottle, wow, am I glad I had the foresight to stock up on this label release. 

My Cellartracker records indicate I bought some, tasted it, then went back and bought more, and then went back and bought a couple magnums of this release.

Son Alec was over and had never had this historic long time Napa producer so it was a chance to educate and introduce him to this benchmark Napa Cab.  

My records show I tasted one bottle of this label six years ago, back upon release in 2015. Then, I wrote, "The 2013 Napa Cab's are coming and all indications are that it is a blockbuster vintage, one of those where all boats rise with the tide, such that all earnest producers should have notable collectible releases, one for the consumer to rejoice and stock up."

Interesting that Antony Galloni used the same metaphor in writing about this vintage of Napa Valley 2013 vintage, "The rising tide has indeed lifted all boats, as can be seen by the number of estates that over-achieved and made brilliant wines... When all is said and done, there is little doubt 2013 will go down as one of the all-time great vintages for Napa Valley."

The Clos du Val received spectacular ratings and appears to be one of those rare wines that come along every so often where everything comes together for a high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) highest rated wine at a moderate price point. 

Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

The wine is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7% Merlot, and 2% Petite Sirah. It was aged for 18 months in 25% new oak before bottling. 

This label was rated 95 points by Vinous and Antonio Galloni of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 92 points by James Suckling. 

Chicago wine merchant Vin Chicago described it this way. "Even more impressive than the flavors is the structure. The tannins are powerful and youthful, yet as nuanced and integrated as you'll find in some of the world's best Cabernet or Bordeaux." 

At eight years, this is just now starting to hit its stride and has a long life ahead and may not yet have reached the apex of its drinking/aging profile. It might settle down and integrate a bit further for more polish and nuance, but it is delicious now as it is. 

Bright garnet/purple colored, medium full bodied, vibrant, forward expressive blackberry, dark cherry and black currant fruits with notes of graphite, smoke, floral, herbs, black tea and tobacco turning to firm but smooth approachable tannins and a pleasing bright tangy lingering finish.

RM 92 points.