Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008

Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 

For casual mid-week sipping with fresh fruits and cheeses we opened this vintage aged Pinot Noir. This particular label has some special significance since Linda and I discovered it at a memorable outing during one of our get-away weekends to Chicago. We had a bottle at Smith & Wollensky sitting outside overlooking the Chicago River for a summer afternoon wine, salad and cheese interlude. Its been a favorite ever since. Read this blog and you'll see we're not big Pinot drinkers, yet we keep this label in stock as a mainstay in our cellar. We currently hold a half dozen vintages dating back to this one, the oldest, which we'll replace with a current vintage as part of cellar management. 

This is from producer Domaine Serene, whose owner proprietors Grace and Ken Evenstad who, after 20 years building a successful business in Minnesota, settled in the Oregon Willamette Valley in 1989. They acquired a 42-acre hilltop estate that had just been logged in the Dundee Hills with the intent of growing and producing world-class Burgundian style Pinot Noir. They established Domaine Serene, naming the winery after their daughter, Serene, and their first vineyard on the estate after their son, Mark Bradford Evenstad.

Today, Domaine Serene produces wines from six individual vineyard estates, planted exclusively to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each estate offers a diversity of soils, clones, rootstocks, microclimates, slopes and elevations that add distinguishing complexity and elegance to the wines.

In 2001, thy built a state-of-the-art, five-level, gravity flow Pinot Noir winery.

Since the first vintage in 1990, Domaine Serene has produced award-winning wines, including this Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, recognized as the World’s #3 Wine of 2013 by Wine Spectator Magazine. Their 2012 Winery Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir was named the Top Pinot Noir in the World by Decanter magazine in 2016. The 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay received 95 points and was ranked the #2 wine in the world on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. As a result, Domaine Serene became the only winery in the world to receive a Top 3 rating in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

In 2017, the 2013 Domaine Serene Jerusalem Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir was awarded the Top American Pinot Noir at the Decanter World Wine Awards. 

Through the continuous pursuit of quality and innovation, Domaine Serene has garnered global recognition as an iconic quality leader of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

For the past 30 years, Domaine Serene, under the guidance of the Evenstads, has been focused on excellence in a never-ending quest to produce world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their mission is to produce outstanding quality through continuous improvement and a commitment to extremely high internal standards. Domaine Serene’s wines represent the achievement that is possible in Oregon, one of the finest regions in the world for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008

This label 2008 release was awarded sequentially, 95 points by James Suckling, 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, 93 points by Wine Spectator, 92 points, Connoisseurs Guide, 91 points, Allen Meadows - Burghound, and 90 points by Wine & Spirits. 

Six reviews (ers), six different scores is a vivid example that such reviews are in the eyes of the beholder, and there is no right or wrong answer. All that matters is what one/you think (s), and such ranges occasionally reveal individual alignment or cohesiveness with one reviewer over another. 

This was bright dark ruby colored, medium bodied, complex forward tangy black cherry and black berry fruits, accented by notes of fennel, smoke, spice, tobacco and hints of black pepper on a taunt dry tongue coating finish.

RM 92 points. 





Saturday, March 26, 2022

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with tomahawk beefsteak dinner

Linda prepared one of her classic tomahawk ribeye beefsteak dinners with smashed potatoes and asparagus tips. I pulled from the cellar this vintage Reserve Sonoma Cabernet. My view is that Sonoma Cabs tend to be a bit lighter, less structured and therefore more approachable than those from Napa with its slightly warmer climate, lacking the cooling influences of the Pacific. Having less cache' perhaps than Napa cabs, Sonoma cabs also tend to be less expensive as well, often providing higher QPR - quality price ratios - as Napa wine prices have escalated through the roof in recent years. 

This wine is labeled Sonoma County, Alexander Valley, which is in the northern, eastern portion of region.

It has been written that Sonoma winemakers like to think of their region as a quieter, less glitzy alternative to the Napa Valley — though in fact, it produces roughly 50 percent more grapes annually, covers more than twice the ground, and boasts about three times the population. 

I write in more detail about Sonoma County and its diversity in my chronicles of our Sonoma Wine Experience 2017.

Sonoma had grapes planted earlier than Napa did, with the first plantings dating back as early as 1812. Legendary Hungarian writer and entrepreneur Agoston Haraszthy, called "the father of California viticulture," bought a property in Sonoma in 1857 and founded the still-extant Buena Vista winery there,  (it is the oldest commercial winery in the state). He later traveled around Europe collecting vine cuttings and is said to have introduced some 300 new varieties to California (among them, according to legend, zinfandel — though this has been disputed). 

Sonoma County boasts a broader range of more diverse soil types and microclimates due to its size and proximity to the coast on the west, and the inland mountain ranges and valleys to the east. The numerous subregion appellations are suited to many grape types with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being more predominant to the west and Russian River Valley, and Cabernet and Zinfandel thriving inland in the warmer climate areas. 

Dating back to 1959, Rodney Strong Vineyards was the 13th winery bonded in the nascent emerging Sonoma County wine industry.

The current owner proprietors, the Klein family, 4th generation California farmers, took over in 1989.

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

This would have been crafted by winemaker Emeritus Rick Sayre, who carried on the Rodney Strong vision, crafting wines for almost four-decades before handing over winemaking duties to current Director of Winemaking Justin Seidenfeld in 2018. 

This vintage release label was awarded 90 points by Wine Enthusiast. 

Wine Enthusiast notes, "The winery is trying very hard to boost the quality of their Reserve Cab. The challenge is to build in those extra layers of complexity and depth." I think this sums up well the impression left by this wine, that it lacks any wow factor and is less than inspiring, lacking that complexity and firmer backbone or structure one might expect or hope for.  

They did package it in a heavy stock grade bottle, indicative of more expensive premium cabernets, found commonly today.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, black berry fruits with notes of cassis, herbs and hints of spice and cedar with moderate tannins on the finish. 
RM 88 points. 




Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Hudson Chardonnay at Oceana NYC

Hudson Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay at Oceana Restaurant in NYC

In New York with a few colleagues for team meetings and a conference, we dined at Oceana seafood restaurant just off Avenue of the America's opposite Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, not far from the Broadway theater district since 1992,

The highly acclaimed seafood restaurant is the flagship of the Livanos Family Restaurant Group. Founder John Livanos immigrated from Greece in 1957, began his career as a dishwasher, working for his uncle in Manhattan, purchased his first restaurant in 1960. Today, John and his children, Nick, Bill and Corina, own and manage several other well known restaurants, Oceana and Molyvos and Hudson West in New York City, as well as Moderne Barn in Armonk, NY, and City Limits in White Plains. 

Cooking alongside each other at Oceana since 2018, Michael Aungst and Tim Jocz share the role of Executive Chef. 

We all selected the same entree, the Seared Cod, romanesco with smoked leeks and bacon cream (shown right). As a starter, colleagues raved about the Seared Octopus tapenade with parsley root. 

From the winelist I selected a Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay from the famed Hudson Vineyards. 

Oceana has an extensive, deep 33 page wine list that offers 600 different selections from an inventory of over 15000 bottles with special strengths in California and French Burgundy.

The Wine Spectator awarded wine list has received their "Best of Award of Excellence: since 2012. Wine Enthusiast has named Oceana one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” from 2013-2015.

The Oceana wine list includes outstanding vintages of Bordeaux & Bourgogne, as well as a vast selection of Pinots and Cabernets from across the United States and the world. 

The world-class collection is displayed in the aptly named Wine Room, in a floor-to-ceiling glass cooler that can also provide a dramatic backdrop for private dining events for up to 18 guests.

Shown from the Oceana wine cellar glass wine wall are two of my bucket list absolute top wishlist wines, from the most select vintages, two of my favorite labels - #1 son's birthyear, 1982 Leoville Las Cases ($975), and, classic 2000 vintage Ducru-Beaucaillou ($550) - two of the highlight featured producers from our St Julien Bordeaux trip tours; and two legendary Mouton Rothschilds ($1200 & $1050). 

Needless to say, we selected a more modest, yet premium label Napa Carneros Chardonnay for our food wine pairing. Interesting and notably, they offered no less than three producers' labels sourced from the same vineyard, Kistler, Pahlmeyer, and our selection, the grower's proprietary label. 

Hudson Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay 2013 

Hudson Vineyards on the Hudson Ranch, produce premium grapes on two hundred acres of vineyards, in the Carneros District at the bottom of the mountain range that separates Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where they come together, along the northern side of Carneros Highway that connects Napa and Sonoma. See map of vast Hudson Ranch Vineyards

The vines, planted back as early as 1981, source grapes that today are sold to as many as 27 wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties, some of which produce vineyard designated wines from specific vineyard sites that bear the ‘Hudson Vineyards’ designation on their labels. 

Proprietor Lee Hudson from Houston, Texas, after getting a degree in Horticulture at the University of Arizona, worked with the esteemed Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, in Morey St. Denis, Burgundy; learning that great grapes from hallowed vineyard sites produce truly world class, fine wines. Lee returned to the States to study viticulture and enology at University of California at Davis, where many of his classmates are now his clients. Lee searched for property from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, before deciding on the Carneros property in Napa Valley, founding Hudson Vineyards in 1981.

Beyond supplying premium grapes to dozens of other Napa and Sonoma producers, Hudson Vineyards also produce their own estate wines from their grapes, crafted by winemaker Clayton Kirchhoff, who joined Hudson as a young Winemaker with 12 years of winery experience. This label vintage release from 2013 was produced by then winemaker Christopher Vandendriessche in collaboration with the legendary consultant winemaker John Kongsgaard, who also sources grapes for his famous ultra-premium labels from Hudson Vineyards.

This release was awarded 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 90 points by Wine Spectator.

This was a perfect complement to our seafood entrees. 

Butter colored, medium bodied, clean, crisp, nicely balanced and elegant, soft peach and honeysuckle fruits with hints of spice, citrus and green apple on a pleasant finish. 

RM 93 points. 





Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Queensyard Hudson Yard New York

Queensyard Hudson Yard New York - a favorite chic trendy lunch spot

In NYC for a team meeting, we lunched at one of my favorite NY eateries, Queensyard in Hudson Yard. We walked over from our hotel to the magnificent Hudson Yard mall complex and dined at the Queensyard restaurant on the fourth floor, overlooking the Hudson Yard Vessel tourist attraction. 

I chose Queensyard and Hudson Yard for a special luncheon for our gathering, welcoming our NY colleague whom we were meeting for the first time in person, due to the Covid disruptions of the last year. It was one of culinary highlights of a previous trip to NYC prior to the Covid crisis.

The dining room (Queensyard photo) as seen
from my seat.
I love the stylish Queensyard dining room and bar with its bright airy wall of glass windows that overlook the Vessel architectural tourist attraction, its courtyard, the railroad yard, the Hudson River in the background and the opposite New Jersey riverscape. 

The trendy hip dining room sports a large colorful artistic painted murals on the opposing walls. 

They also have a stylish formal dining room framed by the wine wall wine cellar. 

Another reason I chose Hudson Yard is that it is a notable landmark and the tower is the consolidation of several locations from around the city for several of our key valued clients.

My lunch selection and wine pairing may have been the culinary highlight of my entire week in NY. While the rest of the entourage had the burgers, I had a starter and a side dish for lunch accompanied by a WBTG (Wine-By-The-Glass) glass of wine. 

Perhaps the best dining selection of my week was the Chicken Liver Mousse with parsley salad, lemon honey gastrique and toasted brioche. Additionally, I had the side dish, Macaroni & Cheese with stout braised oxtail and english cheddar. 

To accompany my lunch I selected from the WBTG list this Austrian Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner. The perfect wine and food pairing multiplied the enjoyment of each. 


Grüner Veltliner Weingut Bründlmayer 'L&T' Kamptal, Austria 2020

This was a perfect accompaniment to my lunch selections. This is from the producer Weingut Bründlmayer from the village of Langenlois, some 70 km north-west of Vienna, upstream along the Danube River in the Lower Austrian Kamp Valley. I traveled the wine region while on a trip to Slovakia several years ago.

The wooded hills of the Waldviertel protect the vineyards from the cold north-westerly winds. During the day, the sun warms the stony terraces, while at night the fresh, fragrant forest air drifts through the Kamp Valley into the Langenlois Arena. The wines are characterised by a combination of hot days and cool nights, the meeting of the Danube and Kamp valleys, and the geological and climatic diversity of the vineyards.

The Bründlmayer estate includes the family dwelling, a cellar equipped with state of the art technology and a heuriger which is open almost all year round and where all wines can be tasted in a convivial atmosphere.

The Bründlmayer vineyards highlight “ancient” vines, some older than 90 years of age, that produce wine that is particularly balanced and rich in character. Their most important varietal is Grüner Veltliner, which is the primary varietal grape in the Langenlois. Its name in an old dialect “Mauhardsrebe” refers to the Manhardsberg, a mountain ridge bordering the Waldviertel with the villages of Langenlois and Zöbing lying to the south.

Climbing north and slightly east of the Kremstal region, Kamptal has very little vineyard area bordering the Danube River (unlike Wachau and Kremstal, whose vineyards run along it). The region takes its name from the river called Kamp, which traverses it north and south. Kamptal’s densely planted vineyards represent eight percent of Austria’s total.

The area experiences wide diurnal temperature variations like the Wachau but with less rain and more frost. Its vast geologic diversity makes it suitable for various experimentations with other varieties besides Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, St. Laurent and Zweigelt.

The region is noted for the beautiful and expansive terraced Heiligenstein, arguably one of the world’s top Riesling sites, as well as some of Austria’s most extraordinary Grüner Veltliner vineyards. Kamptal’s soils, which are mostly loess and sand with some gravel and rocks, make it suitable for Grüner Veltliner, so much so that actually half of the zone is planted to that grape.

About 75% of the world’s Grüner Veltliner comes from Austria but the variety is gaining ground in other countries, namely Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the United States. Grüner Veltliner wines cover a diverse range from pleasant “light and dry” (such as this one labeled "L+T") to the most complex classified vineyard wines (crus) such as Käferberg or Lamm.

Winemaker Notes - Appealing nose of apples, fresh citrus and mild flowery aromas, as well as rosewood, green peas and asparagus. Fresh and crisp with flavors of sappy fruits on the palate followed 

This wine was rated 90 points by James Suckling.

Light straw colored, light bodied, notes of pear and green and yellow-apple with hints of citrus, lime and herbs with crisp acidity on a smooth finish. 

RM 91 points.



Monday, March 21, 2022

Amarone Amarone

Amarone Amarone casual quaint Italian dining NYC

In NYC for team meetings, we dined at Amarone, a quaint casual neighborhood Italian restaurant on Ninth Avenue between the Hell's Kitchen restaurant district and the theatre district. 

Amarone serves traditional classic Italian dishes and offers a basic modest Italian wine centered winelist. I don't know if it's fallout from the Covid disruptions or what, but even the limited two page wine list, the number of selections actually available was limited to perhaps single digits. 

No less than five of my selections were not available, and I was offered a modest Chianti Classico table wine. That left a handful at best of remaining options, one Ultra-premium Antinori Tignanello, and this Amarone. At least this was a DOCG classified label and was moderately priced - hence the obvious choice. 

For our entrees, two ordered menu pasta selections, and two of us ordered from two daily specials, a pork chop or a veal chop. I opted for the veal chop in a cheese sauce with spinach and roasted potatoes. 

Both dishes were large generous portions in were dramatic artistic presentations, as was the caprese starter, all shown below. 

Salvalai Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2016

This is from Salvalai, who have been been producing estate wines since 1870 from the grapes grown in the vineyards on the hills overlooking the Verona shore of historic Lake Garda. Salvalai makes wines from the popular Ripasso to the inimitable Amarone, as well as three "Classico" wines of the Verona area (Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella) .

Salvalai was one of the first wineries in the area to successfully export its wines beyond Italy's borders in the late '60s.

Produced in the classic Valpolicella method and style, this is a blend of the classic traditional grape varieties made up of 70-75% Corvina Veronese, 20% Rondinella and 5% Rossignola e Negrara. 

The grapes are sourced from estate vineyards, the twelve acre Vejo vineyard vines exceed 20 years of age, with distinctive terroir of particular soil and climatic, excellent east-west exposure with natural ventilation provided by the cool breezes coming from the nearby Mount Baldo and a mild climate due to the beneficial influences of Lake Garda.

The twenty five acre Sole Vineyard has rich alluvial soil with great exposure of the vines, located in a narrow valley, the vineyard receives a long and consistent exposure by the sun. 

Only perfectly unblemished and dry clusters are selected for the Amarone blend, harvested 1-2 weeks earlier than those for the Valpolicella wine and subjected to the ancient grape drying practice. They are left to dry in selected well-aired locations, called “fruittai”, to avoid being attacked by mold until the end of January. 

By the end of the drying period, the grapes have lost 30-40% of their weight, and their concentration of sugar, an indispensable element during the following fermentation stage to ensure a noteworthy alcoholic level has increased. Maceration is carried out on contact with the skins for a period of 20-30 days, after drawing off the lees, the product is fermented in steel vats, then matured three years and further aged 12 months in large barrels (Slavonian oak) and 30% in small casks, barriques and tonneaux (French oak), finally, prior to the release, matured for at least 6-8 months in the bottles.

The result is intense, concentrated big round ripe fruit forward wines, an acceptable pairing for our food entrees, but a bit intense, not for the feint of heart.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, sharp intense, concentrated ripe fruits accented by raisin, smoke, notes of creosote and fig with long warm length on the finish. 

RM 88 points. 




Saturday, March 19, 2022

Clos l'Église Côtes de Castillon 2005

Clos l'Église (Côtes de Castillon) Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2005  

We had steak sandwiches with left over grilled ribeye from the other night. I pulled from the cellar this vintage Bordeaux for casual sipping. I featured this producer and label in earlier blogposts when I wrote the following:

The Château Clos L’Eglise estate is owned by Gérard Perse, a French businessman and one-time bicycle champion. Perse sold two supermarket chains to finance his entry into the world of winemaking. He owns several Bordeaux estates, including Château Pavie and Pavie-Decesse. He stopped making wine under the Clos L’Eglise label after the 2008 vintage and since then used the estate’s grapes as part of the blend for his new Esprit de Pavie, a second wine for Pavie. Robert Parker cites that Clos L’Eglise was one of the least expensive wines produced by Gerard Perse.

Clos L’Eglise is a blend of 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Similar to previous tasting note, Dark garnet purple colored, medium bodied, aromatic floral, dark berry fruits accented by notes of leather, tobacco, tea and hints of menthol, turning to nice fine grained tannins on the lingering finish. 89 Points 
Tonights' tasting was consistent with and similar to previous notes. 

Back in May of 2019 I wrote about this wine,  "Dark garnet purple colored, medium bodied, dark berry fruits accented by notes of leather, tobacco, tea and hints of menthol, turning to nice fine grained tannins on the lingering finish."

RM 88 Points

Stephen Tanzer gave this wine 90-91 points. 

Earlier blogposts ... 



Friday, March 18, 2022

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 'Right Bank' Cuvee

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 'Right Bank' Cuvee Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2004

Friday night dinner, Linda prepared a Tomahawk Ribeye beefsteak with cheese potatoes and creamed spinach. She frequents the local butcher who invariably has a couple of these in fresh in the meat case and she'll pick them up for sharing. One steak grilled then sliced is easily enough for the two of us and often leaves some left for beefsteak sandwiches in the following days. Its also a dinner that cries for a expressive complex red wine, which results in a food wine pairing exposition. 

I pulled from the cellar an aged Right Bank Bordeaux Blend, aptly named "Right Bank" by the producer in light of its Merlot predominance in the Blend accented by another Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Franc - 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc. 

Oenophiles and Bordeaux enthusiasts know that a Bordeaux Blend will comprise the classic specified Bordeaux varietal grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and perhaps Malbec. 

Those wines produced on the Right Bank of the Gironde River, to the north and east of the slightly diagonally running river, will be predominantly Merlot based, complemented by the remaining varietal (s) in the mix. 

Meanwhile, those wines from the Left Bank, to the - south and west of the river, will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with lesser amounts of some combination of the remaining Bordeaux varietals in the Blend.

Hence, at 60% Merlot, this is considered a 'Right Bank' Bordeaux (Blend). Indeed, the rear label cites they produce this wine from the two Bordeaux varietals to be complimentary of those from the most famous Right Bank appellation St Emilion.

This is from Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards a family owned and operated producer founded in 1983 who released their first vintage in 1987. This is not to be confused with Conn Creek Napa Valley labels and brand from St Helena that go back to the 1980. 

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards produce estate Bordeaux varietal wines from their 40-acre estate located south of Howell Mountain in Conn Valley just over the first lower slope of the Vaca Range that makes up the eastern wall of Napa Valley. They promote that they are just 3 miles or 10 minutes east of downtown St. Helena to invite visitors to their tours. 

Anderson's is run by Todd Anderson who graduated from University of Pacific in Stockton, CA with a degree in Geology before working for a small tech firm in seismic oil and gas exploration. Todd soon joined up with his parents in starting a “small vineyard” in the creation of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 'Right Bank' Cuvee Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2004 

Anderson produces a portfolio of Napa Valley sourced wines, Bordeaux varietals and blends as well as a Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc whites. 

Conn Valley’s Cabernets are made from 100% Estate grown grapes from the vineyards located at the winery site in Conn Valley - from their estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a Reserve, a Cabernet Franc, this Right Bank blend and their flagship super premium Eloge blend label. Their website library notes go back to the 2007 or 08 vintages, post dating this 2004 vintage release. 

Prior to blending and bottling, their wines are aged in the hillside caves located on the Conn Valley Estate.

According to the rear label, winemaker for this release was Mac Sawyer, winemaker since 2000, he sadly passed away in 2012.  Owner, founding winemaker Todd Anderson brought Mac on when they created the ultra-exclusive Ghost Horse Label,

Mac interned at Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of the most famous top rated estates' labels in the world. No doubt that experience formed the inspiration from the wines of Saint-Émilion and at Cheval Blanc, that Todd Anderson and Mac sought to recreate with this Right Bank Cuvee, crafted in the style of Cheval Blanc from Napa Valley fruit. 

The first vintage release of Right Bank Cuvee was in 2001 and was intended to be produced only for the the annual Napa Valley charity fundraising auction Napa Premier.  

The story goes that legendary wine reviewer Robert Parker was on his annual visit to Anderson’s Conn Valley when Todd Anderson agreed to let Parker taste the Right Bank 2001 on the condition that he agreed not to publish any tasting notes. Impressed with the wine, somehow, Parker unintentionally published glowing tasting notes in the Wine Advocate. The ensuing demand for the Right Bank label was so great that Todd agreed to make it part of Anderson’s Conn Valley’s annual portfolio. 

My records show we've had a half dozen vintages of this label that included a mini-vertical dating back to the 2003 release, including at least one vintage in large format magnum.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated this 94 points and described it, "Their Napa Valley Cheval Blanc look-alike is called Right Bank, usually a blend of two-thirds Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc, although it can change somewhat depending on the vintage. This is a thrilling wine that comes as close as just about any wine in Napa to mimicking a great Right Bank Bordeaux."

At eighteen years, the fill level, label, foil and most importantly the cork were all in ideal condition. Never-the-less, this seemed to be waning on the back side of its peak drinking window signaling it may be time to drink as it will likely start or continue to decline from here going forward. In 2007, Parker wrote, 'drink it over the next fifteen years (or more)'.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex, black berry, black currant and plum fruits were accented by acidity, floral, smoke, leather, tobacco, hints of menthol with moderate tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 89 points.




Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Cadence Kitchen DG for great food-wine

Cadence Kitchen DG for great food-wine in trendy casual setting

For a casual midweek dinner we dined at Cadence Kitchen in nearby downtown Downers Grove, (IL). Our kids have been there and gave it high marks so we wanted to check it out. Cadence sits in a delightful park like promenade setting in the block-long condo building immediately opposite the DG Metra train stop. 

Cadence Kitchen is bustling with commuters, local foodies and casual diners and offers a well thought out menu of small plates, sandwiches, salads, sides and 'mains' with a respectable appropriate wine list that also includes WBTG - Wines By The Glass, for each food selection. Its trendy bright and airy with sections by the fireplaces that can be cozy and warm.

We started with their signature Crab Beignets, old bay, jumbo lump crab, and for a main course, the Red Wine Braised Short Rib with smoked gouda polenta and roasted root vegetables. We also ordered a side of their creamed spinach. All were delicious and ideally accentuated by our WBTG accompaniments. 

While the wine list was limited, it offers an appropriate selection of varietals, regions and price points. The full bottles tended to be 'restaurant' pricing (2+ times retail price), but the lower more value priced WBTG were carefully selected so as to provide great QPR - Quality Price Ratio offerings. 

Indeed, my red wine Santa Julia Reserva Malbec from Argentina was a fabulous pairing with the Short Rib entree at a great value, such that if I could find it a local merchant I would run out and buy several bottles for every day casual sipping. 

Linda's selection of the Alsatian Pinot Blanc was an ideal pairing with the Crab and the spinach. I write often in these pages about the merit and importance of effectively pairing the right wine with food thereby amplifying the enjoyment of both.

Santa Julia Reserva Valle de Uco Mendoza Malbec 2019

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2019 is from Santa Julia estate vineyards in Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. Valle de Uco is a viticultural region southwest of Mendoza, in Argentina situated along the Tunuyán River and is considered one of the top wine regions in Mendoza, and all of Argentina. 

Their vineyards sit at 1000 to 1400 meters above sea level with deep sandy loam soils and  a cool temperate micro-climate, and in stony soils on the banks of the Tunuyan river.

The combination of cool climate, heterogeneous soils, and altitudes as high as 1400 meters above sea level, and a rich tradition of grape cultivation, make this region a unique and ideal place with distinguishable terroir for producing wines born at the foot of the Andes Mountains. 

The ideal climate and altitude, along with great sun exposure and low temperatures allowing for ideal long growing season produces grapes with that introduce great concentration of flavor, freshness and marked texture in the wines. 

“Who is Santa Julia?” This is one of the very first wines made by the Zuccardi family is named after Julia Zuccardi. Julia is the only daughter of José Zuccardi, current director of Familia Zuccardi. The family has been making wines since her grandfather planted his first vineyards in Mendoza more than 50 years ago. Ever since, Zuccardi have strived to produce wines that express the uniqueness of their place in the region using practices that show respect for the environment. 

Santa Julia Malbec Reserva 2019 was aged in older French Oak barrels over 3 periods of 10 months before final blend. 

This Santa Julia Malbec Reserva 2019 was rated 93 by James Suckling, 90 by Wine Advocate and Vinous gave it 89 points.

Winemaker's notes: "Dark violet and brilliant purple color. Good complexity in the nose with typical Malbec aromas of ripe fruits such as figs, plums, blackberries and marmaledes. Notes of vanilla, tobacco, coffee and chocolate. Full bodied red wine with sweet tannins, good structure and a long finish." Some complexity in a very approachable style, with bright fruit and a tender texture. 800,000 bottles produced.

Dark garnet inky purple colored, medium-to full-bodied, bright expressive plum and red currant fruits with a notes of floral on a layer of moderate chalk and sprites of tangy spice and hints of oak with fine tannins on the moderate lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.


Sunday, March 13, 2022

Hill Family Estate Napa Cabernet 2018

 Hill Family Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

We were invited over to son Alec and Vivianna's new home to watch March Madness, the Big Ten Basketball tournament as a lead up to the NCAA selection show.

As newlyweds, Alec and Vivianna visited Hill Family Estate during their forest fire shortened honeymoon in Napa a year ago September. They visited the new Hill Family Estate winery, located just minutes south of Yountville just off Ste Helena Highway 29, the western main artery of Napa Valley. They tasted this wine there and acquired it as part of their wine club allocation. 

Doug Hill founded Hill Family estate vineyards back in 1977 when he acquired his first vineyards. Since then, eleven different vineyard locations have been added to the Hill Family Estate portfolio, mostly in Napa Valley and its environs now covering more than 100 acres in numerous significant sub-appellations within Napa Valley.

For nearly four decades, the fruit was sold to the likes of Far Niente Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, Duckhorn Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Caymus Vineyards, Cakebread Cellars and a host of other winery luminaries. Hill Family grapes were considered among the finest grown in the prestigious Napa Valley.

Around the turn of the century, Ryan and Carly Hill approached their father with the vision to establish the family winery with the family name on it. Hill Family Estate was born in 2001 with the first fruit that would become Hill Family Estate wines. A total of around 980 cases were produced and released in 2004. The new brand was immediately acclaimed and gained national prominence with numerous Awards and industry plaudits.

Hill Family Estate winemaker Alison Doran joined the team and crafted the inaugural 2001 vintage. Alison was introduced to Doug while he was growing grapes and she was making wine for Lewis Cellars, another one of our benchmark favorite producers, and the other estate visit tasting the kids attended during their shortened honeymoon. Alison developed her skill while being mentored by renowned wine expert Andre Tchelistcheff, completing a degree in winemaking at UC Davis and spending time in the legendary wine region of Alsace, France. Today, Doug and Alison work closely together selecting the highest quality grapes and producing ultra premium wines

Today, the Hill Family owns 120 acres of vineyards with properties on Atlas Peak, in Carneros, Oak Knoll and American Canyon. They are 100% family-farmed, family-owned and family-operated. Production ranges between 9,000 to 12,000 cases annually sourced from 12 different estate vineyards allowing them to select the highest quality fruit for their wines.  

The Hill Family portfolio has grown to over twenty five different labels across the broad range of varietals, blends, and single vineyard designated offerings.  
Hill Family Estate opened a tasting facility in downtown Yountville, directly down from the famous French Laundry Restaurant of Chef Thomas Keller and Keller’s Bouchon Restaurant, a classical French bistro also located in Yountville where Ryan Hill was formerly a sommelier. 

We've had several Hill Family Estate wines with Alec and Vivianna and I believe this may have been the best label so far. 

We had one of their special limited release premium labels available to Hill Family Diamond Club members that Alec acquired as part of Alec's club allocation during Father's Day Grilled Steak Wine Dinner last year. 
Hill Family Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

I believe I liked this label release as well as the best of all those selections, meeting the same rating of their most expensive premium label selection with a similar tasting profile and experience. 
This release was blended from fruit from several Hill Family Napa Valley vineyard sources. The high elevation Baker Vineyard up on Atlas Peak at 1,200 ft. providing intense tannins and color, was blended with vineyards from the valley floor and cooler areas - Windy Flats on the western foothills in Wooden Valley, and Beau Terroir is in the Carneros foothills. Also included in the blend was fruit sourced from Beau Terre, Hansen, and Villagio vineyards on the valley floor. Added to the blend was some Malbec and Merlot to add complexity of aromas on the nose along with fruit and oak spice, and finally some Syrah to add density without astringency.

The winemakers's notes for this release: "The 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has aromas of black currant, black cherry, violets, vanilla and pie spice. The palate is rich, with flavors of blackberry, hazelnut, raspberry and mocha. This wine has tremendous viscosity for being so young and has a lot of room to grow and integrate all the flavors."

I found this dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied with bold, full round complex expressive ripe black berry, raspberry and black currant fruits with a layer of soft sweet mocha, with notes of spice, floral and hints of cassis on a lingering tongue puckering tangy acidity silky tannin laced finish. 

RM 93 points.






Friday, March 11, 2022

Blue Eye'd Boy and CDP for Italian Beef Dinner

Blue Eye'd Boy and CDP for Italian Beef Dinner

Son Alec (our blue eye'd boy) came over for Friday night dinner with Vivianna, new mom, and new baby daughter/grand-daughter, Marylin. So, we whimsically opened one of our favorite labels, a signature label for son Alec, Blue Eye'd Boy Syrah from Mollydooker, and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This was in remembrance of our visit to the Rhone wine region together. 

This is one of two of what we consider our signature wines for our son Alec, along with Alec's Blend from Napa Lewis Cellars. 

For the get-together, Linda also picked up some artisan Murray's cheeses from the legendary NYC cheese purveyor. Murray's wine and cheese bistro in Greenwich Village was a favorite eatery with Alec when we visited on numerous occasions during the years he and Viv lived in Manhattan. How ironic or fortuitous that Murray's was acquired by the parent of our local grocer/marketer Marianno's and is now available here locally!

With our wine tasting, Linda served two of our favorite Murray's Cheeses, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog and Murray's Delice de Bourgogne along with her own pimento cheese spread. 

From Murray's Cheese site: "Humboldt Fog is perhaps the most recognizable American original cheese. Handmade at Cypress Grove's Northern California creamery from local goat's milk and lightly aged, Humboldt Fog boasts a fudgy texture and tangy flavor. The creamline develops into unctuous bliss, and the rind is paper-thin and brimming with minerality. You'll know it's the Fog by the characteristic line of ash running through the center"”creamery founder Mary Keehn's nod to the French classic Morbier"” and by its birthday cake-like shape."

From the Murray's Cheese Blog, "Many people commonly mistake the dark line running through and around Humboldt Fog as blue mold. In fact, it is an edible ash made from vegetables. The fresh curd is pressed half-way into a cheesecloth-lined mold and then the powdered ash is sprinkled on top. The molds are filled the rest of the way with curd and then the outside is generously coated with ash before they begin aging.'

"Cypress Grove’s amazing goat cheeses–Humboldt Fog, with its bright white, cakey paste and gorgeous line of gray ash through the middle tops many people’s Favorite Cheese List–and if you haven’t: get to it. Based in Arcata, California, they’ve been making cheese since the early 1980s. With Mary Keehn at the heart of the operation, the company became one of the country’s foremost artisanal cheesemakers."

As seen in Town and Country Magazine December 2012 

We first discovered Delice de Bourgogne at the French Market in Delray Beach Florida. We were delighted to find it available through cheese purveyor, Murray's. 

"Murray's Delice de Bourgogne is a tribute to small scale industrial French cheese-making, a pasteurized triple creme (75% butterfat in dry matter) that marries full-fat cow milk with fresh cream, producing an unapologetically rich, whipped delight. Unlike many straightforward triple-cremes, this one has a thin, pungent mold rind that imparts straw and mushroom aromas, complementing the buttery yellow, sweet cream interior. Makes a dreamy breakfast, lunch or dessert - just add champagne!" 

While Champagne might have been in order, we had already selected the wines to pair with our dinner - some of our favorites, that we enjoy with almost anything, including these artisan cheeses.

Mollydooker Blue Eye'd Boy Syrah 2013

I pulled this from the cellar at Linda's request as it is one of her favorite labels and winestyles, and was especially appropriate with son Alec joining us for dinner as noted above, it is one of our signature wines we collect and enjoy in tribute to him. 

This is one of several labels from this prolific producer that we collect. Producer Mollydooker offer a brand and portfolio of whimsical labels, each featuring a cartoonish character on the label. Even the brand name, Mollydooker, which is Australian lingo for a left-handed person, is a comical play on words, named for the two left handed owner/producers/founders Sarah and Sparky Marquis.  I chronicled Mollydooker brand and portfolio in a recent blogpost

As I wrote in that blogpost, the Mollydooker "Family Series" labels features photos of  Sara Marquis' two children. The 'Blue Eyed Boy' label shows Sarah’s son Luke, shown stomping grapes as a kid, who now heads up the Mollydooker Sales Team.

We love this full-throttle shiraz and collect it as part of our Mollydooker portfolio and as part of our Alec collection of labels we keep on hand to toast son Alec. We served an earlier vintage release of this wine at a graduation celebration for Alec back in his college apartment.

Winemaker Notes for this label release - "The delicious berry fruit and spice flavors of the cooler climate wine from the Joppich Vineyard in Langhorne Creek gives the Blue Eyed Boy its crowd appeal. We blend it with McLaren Vale Shiraz to add intensity, vibrancy and richness. This Shiraz is bursting with generous with amounts of fresh plum and blueberry, accompanied by spice and licorice all sorts. Supple texture and a creamy finish features layers of biscuit cream and espresso coffee. A well weighted wine with a truly elegant finish."

This was awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator.

This is a full throttle powerful high octane Shiraz. If you think that is over the top with the superlatives, try this wine. It's sometimes over the top for my liking and I like big bold style wine. Linda actually likes this style. 

Some Cellartrackers talked about using the Mollydooker Shake on this wine. No wonder the producer introduced the Mollydooker 'shake' where they actually prescribe shaking the bottle before opening to awaken or to settle the fruit! We own and drink a lot of their wine and I have never gotten into the habit of doing so, perhaps tonight we should have!

Reading up on the Mollydooker Shake, it is prescribed only for still red wines of two years of age or less. It is to release the nitrogen in the bottle that they use instead of the normal sulphites commonly used to preserve wines.  Sulphites can cause an allergic asthma type reaction in some people and Mollydooker realise a lot of people are sensitive to them. So, wherever they can, they use nitrogen to protect the wine so that they can reduce the amount of sulphites.

Dark blackish garnet purple colored, full bodied, dense, rich, spicy, concentrated blackberry, blueberry and raspberry fruits accented by notes of tar, leather, tobacco and notes of oak. 

RM 91 points. 


I also pulled this Châteauneuf-du-Pape in remembrance of our trip with Alec and Vivianna to the region. 

Domaine Ferrand Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005

We visited Châteauneuf-du-Pape with Alec and Vivianna during our Rhone Southern France region tour in 2019, so I pulled a blend to accompany our Italian beef dinner. 

At seventeen years, this was likely at the apex of its drinking window and profile, not likely to improve with any further aging, but showing no sign of diminution whatsoever. The fill level, foil, label, and importantly, the cork were all in perfect condition. 

This release was awarded 95 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 94 points *Highly Recommended* by Wine Spectator.

Classic Châteauneuf du Pape blend of the GSM requisite grape varietals, 94% Grenache and the remainder Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, complex, concentrated blackberry and plum fruits with notes of anise, herbs, tobacco, spice, and a bit of graphite anise with moderate tannins on the finish. 

RM 91 points.




Thursday, March 10, 2022

Dunham Cellars Trutina Columbia Valley Red 2009

Dunham Cellars Trutina Columbia Valley Red Blend 2009

Friend and Linda's sorority sister Pat R came over with friend Richard and we opened this nice pleasant but serious sipping wine with a medley of cheeses and desserts.

We discovered Dunham Cellars Cabernets on-line with Winebid.com. Having been awakened to the brand, when we saw this label at local merchant Vin Chicago, we grabbed it, tried it, liked it, and went back and bought some more. That was back with the 2009 vintage, and we then purchased the 2010 vintage when it arrived the following year.

At a price point of $25, this provides reasonable QPR - Quality-Price-Ratio when compared with equivalent quality Bordeaux Blends and Cabernets from California and Washington State.  

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate says, "This is the least expensive, yet the richest of the lineup" from Dunham Cellars.

We enjoyed this label during the Covid19 shut-in as we remained at home enjoying intimate dinners and wines from our cellar. I have joked that if such a situation occurred, we'd be stocked for up to year with wines from our cellar, and here we are, albeit hopefully for a couple weeks duration.

We hold close to a dozen vintages in a vertical collection of Dunham Cellars flagship Cabernet Sauvignon Red Wine Blend going back to the nineties. We discovered these Bordeaux varietal wines from Columbia River Valley in Washington, not well known for being a Bordeaux varietal region several years back. We stopped by the Dunham Cellars winery and tasting room during our trip to Woodinville, Washington, site of over a hundred tasting rooms of Washington State wines during our Seattle Culinary and Washington Wine Tour year before last.

We discovered this second label from Dunham at Vin Chicago when they still had their brick and mortar store in Naperville. We bought some, tried it, and went back and bought more. We still hold about a half case and are being rewarded for doing so.

This Trutina Walla Walla Red Blend from our cellar was a perfect compliment to the beef pot roast with grilled asparagus, fresh berries, roasted walnuts and artisan cheese and accompaniments dinner.

Trutina is a second label from Dunham at a lower pricepoint offers great QPR (Quality to Price ratio) in this complex and expressive red wine blend. We continue to find many of the Columbia Valley Reds have great quality and aging ability and offer great value over their French and California counterparts.

Dunham Cellars 'Trutina' Columbia Valley Red Wine 2009

Tonight, this was consistent with our earlier tasting experience which is recorded in these pages from 9/18/2018, while not as complex or polished as the flagship label, Trutina was very impressive going on a decade of age.

This showed bright garnet and inky purple color, medium full bodied with huge aromatics of floral and lavender with full forward bright vibrant flavors of black currant and black cherry fruits with a layer of vanilla and sweet caramel mocha on a full cloying lingering tannin finish.

The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Syrah, and 4% Malbec.

RM 92 points.