Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Team dinner at Italian Village Chicago

Team working dinner at Italian Village Chicago features Super Tuscan and Bolgheri Chianti Classico

Ive written regularly in earlier blogposts about our wine and dinners, about Italian Village, Chicago's oldest, longest running continuously family operated Italian restaurant in Chicago. As is our custom, IV Wine Director and buddy Jared Gelband served up a duo of Italian varietal wines from the expansive winelist to showcase our dinner selections, as we have done several times over the last couple months. 

With dinner, tonight we selected two wines from the winelist, a recent release new arrival Super Tuscan from Antinori, and a vintage release Tuscan Blend from notable Italian producer Baron Ricasoli.

Barone Ricasoli is one of Chianti’s largest estates, with nearly 650 acres of vineyards in Gaiole in Chianti, in the southern part of the Tuscany’s Chianti appellation. The estate has been in the Ricasoli family for more than 500 years dating back to 1141. Their estate and magnificent Brolio Castle are located within the town of Gaiole.

The Ricasoli family recognized the great potential of the Brolio territory and were among the first to dedicate themselves to the improvement of agriculture and vineyards in the region. Documents from the late 1600s report the first wine exports to Amsterdam and England.

In 1872, Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880), politician and visionary wine entrepreneur, originated the formula for Chianti wine, known today as Chianti Classico. 

Ricasoli is the most representative wine producer in the Chianti Classico area of the Italian Tuscany, or Toscana in Italian, wine region, Italy’s best-known wine region and its most diverse. The Ricasoli estate covers nearly 3000 acres of property that include almost 600 acres of vineyards and 26 of olive groves covering rolling hills and picturesque valleys with thick woodlands of oaks and chestnuts.

Historically Sangiovese was the primary grape grown in Tuscany and Chianti was considered the purest expression of Sangiovese. Sangiovese and its many clones are still important, and they are the grapes used for the Tuscan appellations of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Chianti, Chianti Classico and Carmignano. 

Baron Francesco Ricasoli took the reigns in 1993 and has been guiding the central Tuscan company when this label was released and re-launched Barone Ricasoli as fine premium wine producer, representing the heritage of his renowned ancestors who have made this territory great and established the Bettino Ricasoli brand. He totally renovated and completely mapped the vineyards. His wines showcase the distinctive terroir of the soil types, the climate and clonal selections of the Brolio Sangiovese.

Today, Ricasoli produce a portfolio of a dozen labels of premium wines, some only in prime years, several labels of Grappa, and a line of Olive Oils, sourced and crafted from the the Broglio Chianti Classico estate.

Barone Ricasoli Casalferro (Sangiovese) Toscana IGT 2000

This 2000 vintage release is a blend of 75% Sangiovese and 25% Merlot. It was aged in small french oak barrels for 18 months which along with the Merlot in the blend, softens the tannins. 
The grapes were sourced from estate vineyards set 350 – 400 meters above sea level, mainly from the vineyard of the same name with southwest exposure, with a predominance of calcareous sandstone and Alberese stone.

Today production of this label is 135,000 bottles in a prodigious vintage year.

Wine Spectator awarded this vintage release 90 points.

At twenty-one years, this was starting to show its age and is reaching the end of its drinking window. The fill level, foil and cork (shown left) were ideal for the age. 

While past its prime, this wine was an ideal pairing with the slight gaminess of my Pheasant Agnolotinni pasta in sage butter sauce with Parmigiana-Regianno, a Italian Village Chef Jose Specialty.

This was initially a bit funky with some barnyard earthiness which burned off after decanting and aerating back and forth three times. This was dark garnet colored with a bit of browning on the rim, medium full bodied, powerful full and forward black fruits are starting to give way to notes of cedar, black tea, olive tapenade, leather and hints of creosote on the deep, full, lingering tannic finish.

RM 88 points.




Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC

The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was established in 1994 but has gained worldwide recognition as a new reference point in the international oenological scene. The estate covers an area of 2500 acres, of which about 790 acres are planted with vines. The remainder is richly covered with wheat fields, sunflowers and olive groves, set in a beautiful plain encircled by rolling hillsides known as the “Bolgheri amphitheater” due to its particular shape. 

The Guado al Tasso estate is one of nine major well known brand of the vast Antinori family wine empire. Guado al Tasso’s vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Vermentino grapes; this last cultivated with both with white and red varieties. Adjacency to the nearby sea provides a mild climate with constant breezes mitigate summer heat and alleviate harsh winter weather, maintaining a clear sky and a high level of sunlight exposure. 

The Il Bruciato label was created in the year 2002 as the the second wine under the flagship Guado al Tasso. It is crafted to represent the unique terroir of Bolgheri and give it a greater visibility and recognition. The first blend to be used was that of Guado al Tasso only to see, in the years which followed, a modification of the varietal composition and the identification of a series of vineyard plots intended to be used exclusively for this wine. 

Il Bruciato is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.

A widely popular wine known for great value with exceptional QPR - quality-price-ration, this is one of the few Italian labels I regularly keep in our cellar for dependable everyday sipping, but also respectable for a fine dinner accompaniment. 

I served the 2016 release of this label at a team dinner reecntly, the last of my holdings from that vintage. I write more about this label in that blogpost. The 2018 release sold out very quickly making this 2019 even more anticipated. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a great value and is a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts. 

Bright ruby colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant expressive black cherry and black berry fruits with  spices, tobacco, milk chocolate, cedar and notes of graphite on the tangy acidic finish.

RM 91 points. 

Winemaker's Tasting Notes: Il Bruciato 2019 is intensely ruby red in color. Its nose expresses notes of small dark fruit, sweet spices and tobacco. Its well-structured palate is harmonious and very pleasant to drink. Fresh fruity notes dominate the finish.




Sunday, November 28, 2021

Dunn Vineyards and Caymus #40 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

Dunn Vineyards and Caymus #40 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

For another dinner with visiting relatives Jan & Bill, Bill pulled from the wine cellar a couple labels he was eager to try - a aged vintage Dunn Vineyards and a Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1986

Jan and Bill accompanied us when we visited the Dunn Vineyards estate up at Angwin on Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience back in 2008. We were hosted by Kristina Dunn that day but we had the privilege to meet winemaker, producer, patriarch and Napa Valley pioneer Randy Dunn. 

Randy started his wine career working for Charlie Wagner as the first enologist for Caymus. He was  instrumental in establishing Howell Mountain as a sub-AVA of Napa Valley. He is hands on from the vineyards to the cellars.

While not one of the larger holdings in our cellar in terms of number of bottles, it may be one of our broadest holdings in terms of number of vintages in our vertical collection of this label, and the flagship premium label Dunn Howell Mtn Cab.  We also collect Randy Dunn's "Feather" label that he produces for the Long Shadows Vintners Collection Series in Washington State.

Our Cellartracker records indicate we have a vertical collection of several mixed cases of each label from almost two dozen vintages dating back to 1981. 

Selections from Vertical Collection of Dunn Napa Valley Cabernets

This label release got 92 points from Robert Parker. It has a Cellartracker average rating of 92.7 from 92 user reviews.

With Randy Dunn at Dunn estate high atop Howell Mountain.

Dunn is known for age-worthy long-lived Napa Cabernets, especially the premium Howell Mountain label.  Robert Parker tasted both Dunn labels at ten years of age in 1996 and wrote: "Two of the most impressive wines in these tastings, both of Dunn's 1986s tasted like 3-4-year old Cabernets rather than 10-year old adolescents.... Rich, pure, and youthful, this 1986 is accessible now, but will unquestionably last another 20+ years." That would bring this wine to 2016 and here we are five years later. 

Amazingly, at 35 years of age this 1986 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is still holding its own showing some but little sign of diminution from age. The fill level, foil, label and most importantly the cork, were all in good, acceptable condition. 

The bottle still has the pricetag sticker on the bottle showing $49.95, which would've been the purchase price back on release in the late 1980's.

Dark garnet colored with a slight brownish tinge on the rim starting to set in, medium bodied, musty dark blackberry and black raspberry fruits holding on but starting to give way to notes of dusty tobacco, leather, hint of graphite, espresso and cassis with nicely integrated tannins on a round lingering finish. 

RM 88 points.

1986 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley



We then opened this widely popular classic Napa Cab Caymus. 

Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon #40 2012 

As I've written here in these pages several times,  Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon is an amazing wine, always a fan favorite. This 2012 vintage was spectacular as usual and was a perfect compliment to our beef steak dinner with dark chocolate dessert. I always find it remarkable how Caymus consistently produce such a wine in such large quantity sourced from so many different growers and vineyards. 

We visited the Caymus Vineyards estate during our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2018 for a private tasting. One of the most well known and established brands in Napa Valley dating back to 1972, since then, their production has grown from 240 to 65000 cases per year. They're most known for Caymus Cabernet - their two Cabernets Sauvignons; “Napa Valley” and the venerable “Special Selection”. Both are crafted by winemaker, founder and patriarch Chuck Wagner.

We collected “Caymus Special Selection” for the 1990 vintage (and many vintages since), birthyear of son Alec, and Wine Spectator Wine of the year for 1992. We served this at Alec and Vivianna's wedding celebration.

For this 2012 release, they produced a blockbuster for the vintage, and changed their long standing branding and packaging to this celebratory bottle and commemorative label. The numerical foil that they began with this vintage and every vintage since, signifies the anniversary of the release of this label dating back to the 1976 inaugural vintage release. In this vintage release, they also offered a one liter bottle which provides a nice mid-point step up between the standard size and the 1.5 liter magnum packaging. 

Tonight's tasting was consistent with earlier notes and posts in 2014, 2015 and 2016. 

Dark inky purple, full bodied, big brooding ripe tongue coating plum, black and blue berry fruits predominate turning to a layer of mocha chocolate with a hint of cassis on a big finish The 2012 vintage release also shows the classic characteristics of Caymus Estate Cabernet at its best - early approachability and drinkability as a young wine.

Typical legendary Caymus Cab style - dark blackish ruby/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, nicely structured, complex but smooth, well balanced and polished, it opens with sweet ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors highlighted by layers of milk chocolate, subtle tones of cinnamon, vanilla and hints of caramel and kirsch giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

RM 93 points.  






Saturday, November 27, 2021

Hemingways Bistro wine dinner

Hemingways Bistro Oak Park wine dinner with Cuvée de mon Aïeul, Lost Chapters Big Reds

For a special post holiday outing for our family members in from out of town, I arranged to conduct a private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, where I am a docent interpreter, followed by a walking tour of the historic neighborhood featuring some of FLW's seminal works in the Prairie style architecture. 

Afterwards, we dined at Hemingway's Bistro, one of our favorite intimate dining sites in the nearby Earnest Hemingway historic neighborhood featuring Chef Ala who brings 25 years experience to Oak Park. A certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, he has competed in numerous culinary salons around the world. In 1999, Ala was the opening Executive Chef of the Historic Allerton Hotel in Chicago after it's 80 million dollar renovation. Ala has also ran Le Meriden Hotel Restaurant and the historic legendary Chez Paul in Chicago. (Many will recall Chez Paul from it's famous scenes as the restaurant in two iconic Chicago movies, the Blues Brother (1980_and then in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)).

Previously, Ala was the Chef of The Colonnade Hotel in Boston and Brasserie Jo, he was at the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida, and spent seven years in the Caribbean working at resorts in Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

Hemmingway's offers classic French dishes with fresh Midwest ingredients; Beef Wellington, Steak Frites, and sumptuous Souffles are popular menu offerings, and daily specials reflect the chef's love for fresh seafood, using mostly East-coast seafood flown in from Boston daily.

 We took BYOB from our cellar, a special top rated bottle of Southern Rhone Châteauneuf-du-Pape for our authentic Provencal cuisine dinner. 

Pierre Usseglio 'Cuvée de mon Aïeul' Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001

I recall acquiring this bottle on release two decades ago while on a business trip to the Twin Cities and stopping in Haskell's wine shop. 

This release was awarded 99 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, who wrote in his review, "borderline perfection, (I seriously considered adding a point here) and a monumental Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is drinking at point." 

It was rated 93 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and Wine Spectator. 

The 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul is 85% Grenache and equal parts Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault with a prodigious 15.8% alcohol level.

The sources for Mon Aieul are three vineyard parcels with vines averaging between 75 and 87 years of age.

Dark ruby colored, full bodied, deep rich intense complex concentrated structured briary ripe black currant, blackberry fruits accented by flavors of fig, stewed plum, spice box, olive tapenade, tobacco, black tea, game, tar and mushrooms with hints of cedar turning to firm tannins on the tangy acidic finish. 

RM 92 points.


With the lady's dinner entrees (each ordered the daily special, halibut in beurre blanc sauce), they ordered several white wines from the broad B-T-G (By-the-Glass) selectiosn:

Chardonnay, Russian River, Lake Sonoma "18"
Viognier, Domaine Gassier "19"

Bro-in-law Bill and I ordered this big Petite Sirah from the winelist to accompany his New York Steak au Poivre and my Duck A L'Orange with braised cabbage, pommes dauphine, grand marnier sauce (I substituted the pommes au gratin - shown right).

J. McClelland Lost Chapters Petite Sirah 2017

Hemingway's Bistro has a carefully crafted winelist with selections to match the menu, many limited releases or distinctive artful labels.

This interesting label is from J. McClelland Cellars, founded in 2008 in honor of iconic California winemaker, trusted advisor and wine industry personality and long time friend of the principles, John McClelland, in honor of his six decades of service to the industry, and ten years of collaboration by founders winery Director and Winemaker Paul Scotto and viticulturist Winemaker Mark Smith.

Throughout McClelland's 60-year wine industry career he was widely recognized as an iconic figure in California wine innovation in winemaking, vineyard management, national sales, marketing and brand development. He served as Chairman of the California Wine Institute and held leadership positions in the Wine Growers Association, Association of Wine Educators and was named a Supreme Knight in Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine. He held numerous senior positions at producers Almaden, Geyser Peak and Alderbrook. John passed away in December, 2018.

Scotto family's acquired the J. McClelland Cellars winery in the Valley's eastern hills to produce their wines.

In 2014 the team was joined by renowned and frequently awarded winemaker Mitch Cosentino, who brought many years of Napa Valley knowledge, experience and vineyard contacts to the project.

The Scotto family's winemaking heritage dates back to 1883 when Salvatore Dominic Scotto began making wine at their home on the Island of Ischia off the coast of Italy. Salvatore passed on the winemaking tradition to his son Dominic who migrated to Brooklyn, NY in 1903. He followed the Scotto family tradition by passing on his winemaking skills to his sons, who began selling five gallon crocks from the family's horse-drawn wagon. In 1946, they opened D. Scotto Wines retail store in downtown Brooklyn that sold quality wines from around the world.

Anthony Sr. sold his father's homemade wine in one gallon jugs from pushcarts and later, with his older brother Sal, created Villa Armando one of the country's oldest brands. The family moved to California in 1963.

Anthony II entered the business in 1975 and eventually became a winemaker, winery owner, exporter and consultant, passing his skills and experience to the 5th generation, Anthony III, Natalie, Paul and Michael, who together carry on the family business into the sixth generation continuing to build strong relationships with both trade and consumers while expanding distribution throughout the U.S. and eleven export markets.

In 2014, notable winemaker Mitch Cosentino joined the Scotto family and John McClelland as Consulting Winemaker for the launch of J. McClelland Cellars. Mitch's four decade winemaking career dates back to his home town Modesto 1980 and then Napa Valley since 1990 where he founded Cosentino Winery in Yountville and established pureCru Napa Valley. Mitch has garnered almost 2000 awards and medals including the prestigious "Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year" award in 2003 and numerous awards for "Best Wine" and "Best Cabernet" of the year in multiple vintages and competitions. Mitch founded the Meritage Association (now known as the Meritage Alliance) in 1988 and produced the first American wine bottled with that designation.

The Lost Chapters brand was born in 2017, produced from varietal fruits and craft blends for the Scotto Family wine portfolio, sourced from barrel lots from select and limited "lots from each vintage that may not be seen again in future vintages". 

The Lost Chapters brand has produced award winning single or limited multiple vintage labels in Cabernet Sauvigon, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Meritage, and this Petite Sirah. 

The producer website writes: "When one release sells out, another will appear offering its own allure and charm. The Lost Chapters is Paul's opportunity to break away from the norm in winemaking and provide the opportunity to continue reading "the book" with each release standing on its own while complementing the whole." As such, Lost Chapters, building on the book metaphor, even applies a "volume" number in roman numeral to each label vintage release.

Hence, by design, these are invariably 'one hit wonders', specially selected from various vineyard sources in each vintage, not necessarily to be replicated, certainly not so over extended time. Fortuitous finds as they might be, they are not ones to collect for comparison tastings over vertical vintages, but rather to be relished and enjoyed. 

J. McClelland Cellars Lost Chapters Volume XIX Petite Sirah 2017

100% Napa County Petite Sirah, aged 24 months in French Oak barrels, 140 cases were produced. 

Winemaker notes: Deep purple-ruby natural color abounds. River stone minerality, black pepper, currants and black rose notes fill the aromatic profile. Flavors cross a broad spectrum of fruits: dense currants blackberries, black plums with rhubarb and peppercorns, well centered and big structured yet with a surprising suppleness on the mid-palate. It finishes long, spicy and firm with some ripe tannins.

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex concentrated ripe blackberry, black currant and plum fruits with notes of black pepper, spice and earthy tobacco with full firm tannins on the tangy lengthy finish. 

RM 90 points. 





Friday, November 26, 2021

Diamond Mountain Cabernet Duo

Diamond Mountain Cabernet duo for Tomahawk Rib-eye grilled beefsteak dinner

Sister Jan and Bro-in-law Bill visiting from SoCal for holiday and family festivities, we pulled from the cellar a couple of classic super premium Cabernets for a Tomahawb Rib-eye beefsteak dinner. Bill chose two wines where Jan and Bill accompanied us to a pair of private tastings at both estates during our Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011. - Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards, and Diamond Creek Vineyards. At seventeen and eighteen years of age, this was a good vintage comparison of two vintage wines perhaps at the apex of their drinkability. 

As shown, both bottles' fill levels, labels, foils and corks were in ideal, near perfect condition - another testament to the provenance conditions of our wine cellar.

Diamond Mountain Vineyards Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 

We last tasted this Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Napa Cabernet Cabernet 2004 during the Coronavirus shut-in in the spring of 2020. As I wrote in a blogpost at that time, we discovered and acquired this wine when we visited the spectacular picturesque Constant Vineyards estate high atop Diamond Mountain during our Diamond Mountain Appellation Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011.

We're approaching the end of a case of Constant wines we acquired then, and again, tonight we were rewarded for being patient as this wine has continued to develop very nicely. At seventeen years of age it still has life left and may be at its apex, perhaps still benefiting from continued graceful aging.

Our tasting and visit back then were hosted by proprietor Freddie Constant, founder and proprietor. Sadly, Freddie passed away in 2014. All of our group that were there remember him fondly and toast him each time we drink his wine.

The Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard sits at the peak of Diamond Mountain on the Mayacamas Range separating Napa Valley to the east and Sonoma Valley to the west and is one of the area’s highest, oldest, and smallest wineries in the region. At 2121 feet above sea level, it may be the highest, or certainly one of the highest, vineyards in the region.

Constant Diamond Mountain Estate Vineyards

The Diamond Mountain District appellation, one of the smaller Napa wine districts, sits just south of and above the town of Calistoga in the northwest corner of Napa Valley.

The unique terroir and micro-climate at the very top of Diamond Mountain provides grapes with optimal sun exposure and elongated ripening periods, The sun drenched slopes with their rocky terrain and volcanic soil produce rich concentrated Bordeaux varietal fruit.

Today the area is home to some of the most notable and prestigious labels including the namesake label Diamond Mountain vineyards. Our afternoon on the mountaintop retreat was one of the more memorable settings from our many Napa Valley trips.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard was established by Freddy and Mary Constant in 1993. While they started producing small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon then, their first vintage release under the Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard label was in 1995. They proceeded to build a winery on the estate producing their wine under the Constant label and brand. In 1999 Wine Spectator wrote that Constant was “a new can’t miss Cabernet, this vineyard is able to produce stunning wines on a consistent basis.” The original winemaker was the notable Philippe Melka. With the 2009 vintage, Paul Hobbs took over as consulting winemaker.

In 2016, Aries Liu and Sai You became the property’s caretakers with the continued commitment to producing some of Napa Valley’s best Bordeaux varietals.

Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

I believe this is the best, most memorable Constant Cabernet I have had and may be, at sixteen years of age, at the apex of its drinking profile and window.
Deep garnet purple color, medium-full bodied, delicious concentrated but smooth and elegant and nicely balanced ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruits with hints of black currant, notes of spice and graphite.

RM 92 points. 

The blend includes small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.



Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2003 

We visited Diamond Mountain Wine Experience - Diamond Creek Vineyards with Jan and Bill and were hosted by matriarch founder Boots Brownstein. 

A trip to Napa Valley Diamond Mountain by the serious wine enthusiast or collector would not be complete without a visit to the legendary Diamond Creek Vineyards. Founded in 1968 by the late Al Brounstein, a visionary pioneer who defied conventions of the time by planting Bordeaux varietals on secluded Diamond Mountain in the Mayacamas Range at the north remote end of Napa Valley.

This is one of the four Diamond Creek labels - all single vineyard designated bottlings from one of their distinctive four vineyards. Diamond Creek is a case study in terroir - each of its four vineyards with its own micro-climate, soil type and geography that are revealed in their single vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon wines - named for their four distinctly different origination vineyards. The vineyards of Diamond Creek are  Gravelly Meadow (5 acres - center left), Red Rock Terrace (7 acres front), Volcanic Hill (8 acres opposite), and Lake (¾ acre), plus Petit Verdot (1 acre) to the left outside of frame. The vineyards as pictured below, are amazingly co-located close to each other yet have distinctive individual characteristics that are revealed in their wines.

Our visit to the chateau and tasting room provided a spectacular tasting experience with the magnificent setting and view of the vineyards on the slope and meadow below and of the opposing hillside.
The private tasting at Diamond Creek chateau offered an elegant tasting experience showcasing their wines harmonized by Diamond Creek cabernet sauvignon reduction with petit beef tenderloin and artisanal cheeses.

We visited the estate again during our 2017 Napa Valley Wine Experience for their release tasting of the 2015 vintage Diamond Creek releases at an Open House held at the Estate. 

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 

Our Cellartracker records indicate we have a dozen vintages of this label dating back to the 1983 vintage, birthyear of our daughter-in-law, Michelle. We served that wine from magnum at her and son Ryan's wedding. 

K&L Notes indicate that "This muscle-bound Cabernet hails from Diamond Creek's second coolest mesoclimate. The five-acre Gravelly Meadow vineyard was originally a prehistoric river bed. Today, this stony, gravelly soil drains rapidly, and the vines must struggle for moisture. Gravelly Meadow is also this esteemed winery's lowest yielding vineyard, typically producing a Cabernet that is earthy and a touch cedary, as well as jammy with ripe blackberry with a spicy expansive finish. This one needs time. And more time. After which it will blow you away." 

This was awarded 93 points by Wine & Spirits,  90 points by  Connoisseurs Guide. 

Tonight, this was dazzling, not as forward, bright or vibrant as the more expressive Constant, more subdued but full, round, perfectly balanced, elegant and polished. Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, complex black fruits with earthiness, truffles, dark mocha chocolate, hints of mint on a moderate, smooth tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 92 points. 






Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving dinner - family, food, extensive wine flight

Thanksgiving dinner features family, food and extensive wine flight (s)

For Thanksgiving dinner, we hosted a traditional holiday dinner featuring twenty-three members of extended family, fellowship, a gala feast of all the customary dishes - turkey, dressing with gravy, three different preparations of stuffing, green bean casserole, corn casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, asparagus, fresh baked rolls, cranberry sauce/salad, mixed green salad, all accompanied by a broad flight of appropriate matching wines. 

Prior to dinner we had a selection of artisan cheeses, fresh fruits and mixed vegetables, olives and peppers, shrimp cocktail, and other accoutrements. 

I set the dinner table with glassware for a flight of wines to accompany four dinner courses, sparkling white, white, red or big red, and aperitif of dessert wine, prompting Linda to remind me it was a dinner, not a wine tasting. Of course, I disagreed ... You be the judge. 

I was prepared to open a lighter red wine, Pinot Noir, for the turkey and stuffing dressing, but the crowd overwhelmingly favored and opted for Big Reds as opposed to the more genteel Pinot. 

Our wine flight (s):

Thanksgiving Dinner White Wine Flight

  • FranciaCorte Berlucci '61 Rose Sparkling Wine
  • Field Recordings "Hock" Edelzwicker (Noble Blend) Alsace White Wine 2018
  • Schweiger Uboldi Vineyard Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2018
  • Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor Napa Valley Red Blend 2015 and 2018
  • Viader Vineyards "V" Petit Verdot 2001
  • Del Dotto Vineyards Connoisseur Series Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Magnum)
  • Cliff Lede "High Fidelity" Stags Leap District Red Blend 2017 
  • Venge Vineyards Family Reserve Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 
  • Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Grand Cru Classe Sauterne Bordeaux 2005

Thanksgiving Dinner Red Wine Flight

Watch for follow on tasting notes and reviews as we parse this selection, and follow on with several more spectacular wines during our gala holiday weekend of extensive festivities.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Herman Story Bolt Cutter Red Blend 2018

Herman Story Bolt Cutter Red Blend 2018 for Pizza and Pasta

Alec and Vivianna came over for pizza and pasta and we opened this BIG RED for the occasion. 

With a name like "Bolt Cutter", what else might one expect than a big bold concentrated firm forward fruit bomb?

Bolt Cutter was first released in 2012, the inaugural vintage made with a majority share of Bordeaux varietals. The wine is a diversion from the usual Herman Story wines that historically focus on Rhône varietals such as Syrah and Grenache. The name is a playful nod toproducer/winemaker Russell P. From’s most iconic wine: Nuts & Bolts. This is Herman Story for the “I only drink Napa Cab” crowd. 

I wrote about Herman Story and an older vintage release of this label in an earlier blogpost and another one of his labels in a recent blogpost.  

This label from Russel From, Herman Story winemaker and proprietor, is a tribute label from one of those producer's with a sense of humor. As I have written in earlier blogposts, every Herman Story label tells the story on the rear label, "Herman Story was a Rancher, Logger, Swapper, Banker, Philanthropist, a teller of tales and my Grandfather. - Russel From, winemaker, proprietor."

Proprietor and winemaker Russell P. From began Herman Story Wines in 2001 with 7 barrels stashed in his employer’s cellar. What started as a modest homage to his rancher grandfather has become a beacon to those seeking opulent, structured Syrah and Grenache. To maintain balance while giving flavor full stage, Russell works with 30 top-tier growers' vineyards in over 7 distinct growing regions between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles along the California Central Coast. Its widely published that he produces "no nonsense, balls to the walls wines that are not for the faint of heart or the pinky raising set".

With a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Petit Verdot and 10% Syrah this embodies everything we love in a big bold full throttle red wine. Fruit for this release is sourced from the Chelle Mountain, Slide Hill, Star Lane, Jespersen, White Hawk, Bien Nacido, White Cliffs, and Rolph Vineyards across Paso Robles region. The blend was aged for 24 months in 80% new French oak.

As From writes on his website about his no-nonsense approach to winemaking, "Herman Story Wines are made, schlepped, peddled, and drunk with friends by me. The basic web design books tell me that you're probably here for the basics: to find release schedules, ordering information and tasting opportunities for the wines I make, which sounds pretty good to me. The less time I spend writing this stuff the more time I spend in the cellar. So here you go, all the facts with none of the filler. An aesthetic I stand by and believe my wines do too."

Wine Enthusiast gave this a "Cellar Selection" and 94 points, while Jeb Dunnuck gave it a whopping 96 points and said, "It's the finest vintage of this cuvée I've tasted."

Producer's review of this wine speaks to its special, profound character and profile ....  "No one in Ellis County has ever seen a twister like this. Pushing F5 and tossing cows like nobody’s business. It’s about to separate the roof from this old Dodge Durango, but you’re still pushing. Inside, they pass around black licorice and cherry soda to easy listening classics – soothing keys and guitar riffs straight out of elevator speakers. e storm hits a supermarket, then a bakery. Cinnamon buns and rhubarb pies splatter on the road, the hood, the windshield, and the wheels come off the ground. Around you go, hundreds of feet in the air. But damn, listen to that bass groove."

Winemaker Tasting Notes:  "The 2018 Bolt Cutter Red is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Petit Verdot, 25% Syrah (sic, contrary to the rear label). There’s no denying it, with this much attitude, swagger and raw unbridled power nothing can stop this. This is basically an axe wielding shark wearing a tuxedo, driving a monster truck in an Evel Knievel jump across the Grand Canyon. Prickly pear jam, salted cherries, hoisin sauce, fire scorched poblanos, brand new BF Goodrich 33’’ Baja T/AS off road tires, char crusted bloody filet mignon, blasted limestone quarry, Ferrari seats, well spiced Mexican hot chocolate and rusted pocket knives."

You can't make this up! How else could you top that review? Nothing less than BOMBastic!

Not for the feint of heart indeed, this was dark inky blackish purple, almost like syrup pouring it from the bottle, thick, dense, powerful concentrated unctuous black fruits, dark bitter mocha, black licorice, hints of cherry cola, caramel and cinnamon clove spices with what Wine Enthusiast calls roasted meats on a lasting dry, tannin laced tongue coating finish. 

RM 95 point.




Saturday, November 20, 2021

Château LaGrange St Julien Bordeaux 2018

Château LaGrange St Julien Bordeaux 2018 high achiever in a stellar highly ranked vintage

I wrote earlier about our getaway weekend in the City (Chicago) and stopping in VinChicago, a family-run wine merchant since 1934. I wrote recently that they offer an alternative to the mega-merchants with carefully selected producer's and labels at competitive prices for high QPR (quality-price-ratio) values. Their extremely knowledgeable staff consists of certified Sommelier and Advanced Sommelier. While they closed their local Naperville store location, (they still operate three Chicagoland locations), we keep in touch via their newletters and on-line presence. They deliver wine purchases or conduct curbside pick-ups at location that is conveniently near our home.
Château Lagrange estate
Visiting the VinChicago retail location, we picked up several odd lot labels no longer listed on their web, and several other labels to 'try before we buy' (for cellaring). We had already acquired this label from the big box wine and beverage superstore for our collection, but picked up a couple more bottles, taking advantage of the discount pricing at VinChicago.
Another one of those selections was this St Julien Bordeaux that we drove by during our Bordeaux trip to the appellation in 2018. The wines that we tasted during that trip are now being released and we're now tasting and collecting them, several of which we actually got to taste from the barrel during our winery estate tours on that trip. 

Our Châteaux estate tours and wine tastings that week included several of our favorite producers: Super Second Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, Second Growth producers Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, Gruaud Larose and Léoville-Poyferré, as well as Fourth Growths Château Beychevelle  and Château Branaire-Ducru.
We visited the Château Lagrange' St Julien Bordeaux estate as we toured the area across the appellation. Château Lagrange’s vineyards on the beautiful estate stretch over gravelly slopes covering the highest point of the Saint-Julien appellation set back a mile or so from the Gironde River estuary and the village of St Julien-Beychevelle.
Château Lagrange St Julien Bordeaux 2018 
We hold nearly a decade of this label dating back to the 1981 birthyear vintage release for our daughter Erin's birthyear. This may be among the finest vintages of  Château LaGrange ever produced! 
I have written often in these pages that in a top vintage, all boats rise with the tide such that second and third labels of top producers, or secondary producers, often are also excellent and offer substantial QPR - quality price ratio values. 
The 2018 St Julien Bordeaux is such a vintage and this label is such a value offering. All the top labels of the appellation are highly rated - 97, 98, 99 and even 100 points - and are collectables for acquiring, early drinking, and for cellar collections. This label offers similar quality at a fraction of the prices of the Super Second growths. 
This release was rated 97 points by Jeb Dunnuck, 95 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 94 points by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter and Vinous. 
Bright garnet-purple colored, medium to full-bodied, big, rich, elegant, integrated and balanced bright vibrant blackberry, black currants and plum fruits with crème de cassis, mocha chocolate, spice, cedar and graphite pencil lead silky tannins, and a great mid-palate. This offers instant gratification for early drinking but should age gracefully for a decade or more. 

RM 94 points. 


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Force Majeure Parabellum Coulée Red Blend 2019

Force Majeure Parabellum Coulée Columbia Valley GSM Red Blend 2019

With D-in-law Vivianna out of town visiting a bereaving friend, son Alec came over for dinner and we selected a special bottle to accompany Linda's dinner of grilled steaks, baked potatoes, haricot verts and asparagus.

We recently received our annual vintage release case assortment shipment of Force Majeure Columbia Valley wines and we were eager to try this hearty GSM - Syrah blend, one of Linda's favorite labels. After the Force Majeure Parvata Syrah was such a blockbuster hit at our Pour Boys wine dinner last month, Linda is especially fond of this producer and label.

Our visit to Force Majeure estate vineyards in Walla Walla was a highlight of our Walla Walla Wine Experience trip to the region back in 2017 and we were hosted and our estate visits were orchestrated by Force Majeure Carrie Alexander. Once Covid subsides, our Pour Boys wine group is looking forward to visiting the region for some select estate visits and wine dinners. 

Force Majeure Parabellum Coulée Columbia Valley Rhone Blend GSM 2019

Force Majeure is a collaborative project of emerging superstar winemaker Todd Alexander in partnership with proprietors Paul and Susan McBride when they acquired the winery in 2014. Todd earned his stripes and gained notoriety as winemaker for Bryant Family Vineyard in the Napa Valley, one of the top producers of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. He was drawn to Washington and Columbia Valley by the opportunity to develop his own brands and labels based on underappreciated viticulture there. 

We first met Todd and Carrie Alexander when they visited us here in Chicago while they were traveling on their promotion and release tour back in 2016

Our visit to the Force Majeure estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Rocks AVA, was a highlight of our visit to the region, hosed by Todd's wife, Carrie Alexander who manages marketing and operations. Since then, they have purchased property at and planted vineyards at the North Fork of the Walla Walla river and have released their own Paxsa Brand and labels. Both Force Majeure and Paxsa brands focus on Rhone as well as Bordeaux varietals. Recent releases have also featured Pinot Noir from the region. 

This label is sourced from the estate vineyard located on the steep upper slopes of Red Mountain, sitting at 960 to 1,230 feet elevation in the Columbia River valley in central Washington State. This is from the Parabellum brand, the second-tier of Force Majeure wines, yet still produced with care to reflect the varieties and terroir and be approachable for early consumption and gratification, without constraints on blending. Parabellum and the rest of the brand are intended to "provide an opportunity to savor an authentic wine of distinction at a great value." To that end, Parabellum wines are unrestrained imaginative blends of both Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

I called this a GSM above, a reference to common blend of Rhone varietals Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This is a blend of northern and southern Rhone varietals, almost akin to a Syrah heavy Chateauneuf-du-Pape, consisting of 76% Syrah, 11% Grenache, 7% Mourvedre, 4% Cinsault and 2% Counoise.  

Garnet purple colored, medium-full bodied, complex concentrated vibrant black fruits with notes of olive tapenade, black pepper and tea with hints of bitter dark mocha chocolate with dusty tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 92 points. 




Monday, November 15, 2021

Prisoner Wine Company "Cuttings" California Red Wine 2012

Prisoner Wine Company "Cuttings" California Red Wine 2012

New parents son Sean and Michelle brought our new recent arrival grand-daughter, Lavender, over for dinner and we celebrated with a vintage release premium bottling from The Prisoner Wine Company.  

The Prisoner brand was first created by Orin Swift back in 1998 by winemaker and founder David Phinney. Phinney's interest in wines dates back to 1995 when on a lark, David Swift Phinney took a friend up on an offer and went to Florence, Italy to spend a semester “studying”. During that time, he was introduced to wine, how it was made, and he got hooked. After graduation from university, he  eventually landed a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997 starting as a temporary harvest worker. 

Deciding that if he was going to work this hard, it would eventually have to be for himself, he founded Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, named after Orin, his father’s middle name, and Swift, his mother’s maiden name. With two tons of zinfandel and not much else, he spent the next decade making wine for others as well as himself. He made the first Prisoner wine in 2000 with a 385 case production and continuing growing production, his reputation and his brand to an inconic label and portfolio with a wide cult-like following. The widely popular Prisoner label and brand had grown to a wide selection of carefully crafted wines - blends from the best vineyards and appellations across the leading regions of California. 

Phinney sold the Zinfandel blend and a few other labels comprising The Prisoner Wine Company to Huneeus Vintners in 2010, owners of the premium Quintessa brand. Huneeus later sold it to Constellation Brands in 2016 who spun off Orin Swift to E. & J. Gallo Winery, although David stayed on and remained the brand's winemaker. When Constellation bought The Prisoner Wine Company in 2016, case production had increased to 165,000 and they paid $285 million for the brand.

Following his non-compete sabatical after selling The Prisoner Brand, Phinney released his follow on label, 'Eight Years in the Desert', for the period of time since he had produced the original Prisoner red blend. He built up his new brand with labels that compared with those of his earlier portfolio.

  • Orin Swift, Eight Years in the desert vs The Prisoner Wine Company, The Prisoner.
  • Orin Swift, Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon vs The Prisoner Wine Company, Derange Red Blend.
  • Orin Swift, Slander Pinot Noir vs The Prisoner Wine Company, Eternally Silenced Pinot Noir.
  • Orin Swift, Palermo Cabernet Sauvignon vs The Prisoner Wine Company, Cuttings Cabernet Sauvignon.

Orin Swift became almost as well-known for its artistic and mysterious labels featuring photography, pastiche, collage and street art, making them stand out and helping to tell the story of each wine. 

Frankly, many of the Orin Swift labels are weird and in some/many cases creepy; The Prisoner family of wines, Red Blend, White Blend and Chardonnay, Blank Stare, Blindfold, China Doll, Machete, The Mannequin and Palermo. This label Cuttings in one of the few labels that are not so, artistic but not unnerving. 

The Prisoner brand and flagship label, were originally inspired by the classic sketch Le Petit Prisonier by 19th century Spanish artist Francisco Goya, part of a series entitled, “The Disasters of War”, created to be a visual protest against the injustice and brutality of the Spanish War of Independence in 1808. 

Today, Prisoner Wine Company wines are crafted by a team lead by Director of Winemaking Chrissy Wittmann and a team who work with over 100 growers across northern California from The Prisoner Wine Company located on the legendary Highway 29 St. Helena Highway in Napa Valley.

The Cuttings label was/is a creative red blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Syrah and Petite Sirah and a drop of Zinfandel, kind of a reverse blend of the original flagship and Prisoner. This 2012 release was crafted for the Syrah to add a rich mouth feel and silkiness to the complexity and depth of the Cabernet and the structure and intensity of the Petite Sirah, with some robust zest and character added by some Zinfandel in the blend. The Cabernet came from hilltop vineyards directly across from Pritchard Hill, as well as vineyards on Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain. With 20% new French and American oak, this was a complex sophisticated red blend.

The Cuttings' name and label were inspired by the age-old method of using cuttings from a vineyard to propagate new vines. This resulting wine is powerful and structured, with intense aromas of ripe dark fruit, black cherry and subtle spicy notes of cedar and anise. The palate is rich and dense, with flavors of sweet plum and red berries and complimented with a hint of dark cocoa powder. Polished tannins and integrated French oak adorn a long silky finish.

This wine was awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator, 90 points by James Suckling and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Winemaker's Notes:. Inspired by the age-old method of using cuttings from idyllic sites for the propagation of new vines, this Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend showcases some of our favorite hillside vineyards. Cuttings combines the intensity and depth of Cabernet Sauvignon with the structure and richness of Petite Sirah and Syrah. A small amount of Zinfandel adds a nice layer of complexity, while encompassing a signature, vibrant spiciness. The wine has an intense and alluring aroma of ripe plum reduction layered with baking spices, hints of cocoa powder and cigar box. The palette is velvety and dense with flavors of black cherry, cola, and freshly roasted co ee beans. Soft tannins evolve into a plush and lengthy finish.

Dark garnet colored,, full bodied, intense concentrated ripe plum, black cherry and currant fruits with baking spices, mocha cocoa powder, expresso and cigar box with round tannins on a moderate finish. 

RM 90 points.  




Sunday, November 14, 2021

Borsao Syrah Campo de Borja Zarihs

Bodegas Borsao Syrah Campo de Borja Zarihs/Shiraz - a collaboration of Spain and Australia Borossa 

We spent a getaway weekend in the City (Chicago) and stopped in VinChicago, a family-run wine merchant since 1934. I wrote recently that they offer and alternative to the mega-merchants with carefully selected producer's and labels at competitive prices for high QPR (quality-price-ratio) values. Their extremely knowledgeable staff consists of certified Sommelier and Advanced Sommelier. While they closed their local Naperville store location, (they still operate three Chicagoland locations), we keep in touch via their newletters and on-line presence. They deliver wine purchases or conduct curbside pick-ups at location that is conveniently near our home.
Visiting their retail location, we picked up several odd lot labels no longer listed on their web, and several other labels to 'try before we buy' (for cellaring). 
Bodegas Borsao Syrah Campo de Borja Zarihs/Shiraz 2016
We picked up this interesting label,
(flipped horizontally).
Zarihs (Shiraz spelled backwards!?! with a hint of the backwards "R" on the label), a collaboration between Spanish producer
José Luis Chueca of Campo de Borja and Australian producer/winemaker Chris Ringland, known for Barossa Shiraz/Syrah. This is 100% single varietal Shiraz sourced from the Spanish estate. 
Vivino called this the Best Syrah in Spain and one of the Top 10 Syrah du Monde in 2017.
This the first Syrah to be planted in 2002 in the foothills of the Moncayo in the Campo de Borja, a Spanish DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida) appellation which is located in the northwest of the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain). 

Aragon sits adjacent France, in the northeast corner of Spain, home to many rivers including the Ebro, Spain's largest river in volume, which runs west–east across the entire region through the province of Zaragoza. It is also home to the highest mountains of the Pyrenees. The Aragon region is the transition zone between the plains of the River Ebro and the mountains.  Borja is one of 16 municipalities in the The DOP wine region. 
The Moncayo mountain is the dominant feature of the DOP and creates a terroir and microclimate well suited to the Shiraz varietal to develop wines with a special character. The climate is continental, with Atlantic influences during the winter, notably a cold, dry wind from the northwest. In summer, there is a Mediterranean influence with temperatures varying a great deal, both on a daily and on a seasonal basis, with very low annual rainfall. The vineyards are planted on a series of high plateaus at heights ranging between 350 m and 750 m above sea level. 
The Shiraz vines are selected for the terroir, planted planted to take advantage of the soil, sun and the uniqueness of the Cierzo (a brisk wind that blows down from the northwest over 200+ days of the year), which freshens the grapes from bloom to peak maturity. The vineyard´s altitude and limestone soil give the Syrah a pleasant acidity. 
Zarihs is a 100% Syrah/Shiraz single-varietal, aged for 12 months in 40% American oak barrels, and 60% in stainless steel tanks.
This label was ranked #28 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2020 with 93 pts., and was awarded 91 pts. by James Suckling and 90 pts. by Vinous.

Wine Advocate called it “Borja wine with an Australian accent, and Heraldo de Aragón, "A Borsao with French stile (sic)”.   

VinChicago tasting notes:

  • Appearance: opaque red-black. Crimson-purple rim.
  • Aroma: powerful impression of blackberries, with a hint of wood smoke and sweet vanilla.
  • The nose begins to open up and develops notes of dark chocolate.
  • Palate: the initial impact is very full bodied, with a plush, soft structure.
  • Flavours of dark berries dominate; wild blackberries and dried plums, with notes of espresso coffee.
Winemaker notes on this release, "An opaque red-black color with a crimson-purple rim. On the nose, a powerful impression of blackberries, with a hint of wood smoke and sweet vanilla. The nose begins to open up and develops notes of dark chocolate. The initial impact is very full bodied, with a plush, soft structure. Flavors of dark berries dominate; wild blackberries and dried plums, with notes of espresso coffee."
Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, brambly concentrated blackberry and dark cherries, notes of creosote and tar with spice, smoke and savory soy laced black olive and bitter dark-chocolate with wisps of black pepper notes on a lingering tangy acidic finish.
RM 90 points.