Friday, September 30, 2022

Smith Wollensky backup


Chicago Experience - Museums, Parks, Architecture and Smith & Wollensky LKunch with Private Reserve Wines

Last weekend we took advantage of living near the City of Chicago and all that it has to offer with world class museums, architecture, and restaurants - all things we love to explore and experience.

Saturday we toured the magnificent Art Institute of Chicago, attending the final weekend of the Cezanne special exhibit. We've been members for decades and frequent there often and take in all the major exhibits. The Art Institute was rated No. 1 in the world on their list of the World's Best Museums. It has 300,000 pieces of art from the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Rembrant, and many other famous artists. Among the most famous works is “American Gothic,” that famous 1930 farmer/pitchfork painting by Grant Wood, and my favorite, (shown below), Night Hawks by Edward Hopper.

Linda and Cezanne's "Bathers"

Rick and my absolute favorite -
NightHawks by Edward Hopper

We then walked through Millennium Park with its unique iconic CloudGate (aka the Bean), Lurie Gardens, and the Pritzker Pavilion which this weekend is hosting Jazz Fest. one of the many music festivals held in the park throughout the summer. 

We then toured the new 6-acre Lakeshore East Neighborhood Park with its urban botanic gardens and fountains adjacent the spectacular architecture of the new neighborhood development that includes the undulating 101 story 1,198 ft supertall skyscraper St Regis Tower Hotel and Residences designed by award-winning architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang, originally known as the Wanda Vista Tower.

We capped off the afternoon with lunch on the esplanade overlooking the Chicago River Walk at Smith & Wollenksy steakhouse in Marina City, one of our favorite dining spots on a sunny summer afternoon downtown Chicago.

The River Walk was bustling with people and the river was full of boat traffic with the Water Taxi and the numerous tour boats filled with tourists and weekenders amidst the flotilla of private boats and hoards of kayaks.

With lunch we ordered two WBTG selections from the Smith & Wollensky winelist to go with my BBQ ribs and Linda's crispy battered shrimp in spicy lobster butter sauce and our side of creamed corn.

The Best of Award Wine Spectator winelist is presented on an electronic interactive tablet that showcases its 350 selections from the inventory of 5,500 bottles.

Smith & Wollensky Private Reserve Meritage Red Blend

This is a private label special bottling is from Girard Winery in Calistoga, Napa Valley.  It is crafted by Girard vintner Pat Roney and winemaking team, Marco DiGiulio and Glenn Hugo. Girard offer a dozen Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietal premium wines sourced from their estate as well from numerous vineyard growers across Napa Valley.

This private label offering is sourced from some of the finest Napa vineyards select fruit from the best sites ranging from mountaintop to valley floor sources that reflect wines that are authentically Napa.

This Meritage, which is registered trademarked term for an American Bordeaux varietal blend, is a rich, aromatic cuvée (blend) comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. 

Winelists' notes: "Shades of plum and spice mingle with a hint of French oak to complement the intense flavor of our USDA Prime beef. The lengthy, warm finish lingers on the palate. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec."

This vastly exceeded our expectations for a 'house wine' - especially one offered BTG - by-the-glass! This is a testament to the wine team at Smith & Wollensky and shows the care and attention they give to their wine program. 

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex, nicely integrated, smooth polished blackberry, black raspberry and plum fruits with notes of leather, subtle oak, mocha chocolate, hints of vanilla and tobacco with a pleasant lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Next ....

GROTH Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Thursday, September 29, 2022

FLW Home & Studio Tour and Hemingway's Bistro Oak Park

FLW Home & Studio Tour followed by Hemingway's Bistro dinner - two venerable Oak Park institutions

I conducted a public-private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, IL, which I do regularly as a Docent Interpreter for the FLW Trust

On this occasion, we hosted several friends, three AXO sorority sisters couples, for the Home and Studio interior tour, then the neighborhood walking tour, followed by a gala dinner at Hemingway's Bistro, one of our favorite French cuisine eateries.

We started with a round of their fresh oysters, followed by their delectable crab and corn bisque soup. With these the group enjoyed the house Champagne.

For the dinner entree course, all in the group except me ordered the daily special Walleye or the Crusted Whitefish, both served with their delectable beure blanc sauce. 

 Campet Ste Marie Chardonnay 2020

We ordered from the carefully selected winelist a bottle French Chardonnay to pair with the fish course. 

This Pays d'Oc wine is from Limoux in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France, along the Mediterranean coast to Provence. It is named after the specific terroirs on which the grapes are grown, sourced from small and hilly vineyards, that the French call “Campets”. These “Campets” and the Mediterranean climate offer ideal conditions for the production of ripe and fruit forward wines. 

This is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Picpoul white grapes, popular in the region.

Winemaker's Notes: "Limestone and clay soils coalesce on steep, rolling hills to make up the soil, but it is specifically the cooler areas of the vineyard, which contribute to creating their burgundy- style chardonnay. Each year, a proportion of the wine ages on wood for approximately six months, with regular battonage, to enhance the texture, the aromatic character and overall balance of the wine. The soil composition gives the wine structural acidity and makes this Burgundy-style wine unique. "

This was nice pleasant easy drinking - ideal for the pairing with the fresh fish entrees - a great value high QPR (quality price ratio). 

Straw colored, medium light bodied, aromatic, crisp, floral and stone fruit notes accent apple and pear with subtle lime citrus. 

RM 89.

I brought a BYOB from our cellar a couple of bottles - a Rhone and a Bordeaux, from which to I selected one to pair with my dinner entree. 

I chose the La Croix de Beaucaillou 2000 to accompany with my dinner entree selection, Strip Steak au Povre, with their delectable scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach and tomato (shown).

La Croix de Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux 2000

This was very timely as just yesterday I was notified by Binny's, the Chicagoland beverage supertore that my futures order of the current release of this wine just arrived for pickup. 

Our visit to Château Ducru Beaucaillou in St Julien was one of the highlights our Bordeaux St Julien Wine Experience in 2019

We've collected the Grand Vin Château Ducru Beaucaillou for more than three decades going back to the late seventies. We declared it one of the signature wines of son Ryan and served his birthyear vintage from large format bottles at his wedding. It was sharing that declaration and experience that prompted the Chateau to invite us for a private tour during our trip to the appellation. 

I wrote about the history and current portfolio of producer Jean Eugène Borie SA in my blogpost at that time. Today, the estate is managed by the Jean Eugène Borie SA, the company owned by Mrs Borie, her daughter Sabine Coiffe and her son Bruno-Eugène, who took over as CEO in 2003. He is the third generation of the Borie family to head the estate which has been closely held for five generations over two centuries. 

The magnificent Château sits on a promontory overlooking classic formal gardens with the Gironde estuary in the distance. The Victorian-style Ducru-Beaucaillou castle is built directly above the original barrel cellars, adjacent the new modern era barrel facility. enveloping its owners, who have lived here for over sixty years.

This is Château Ducru Beaucaillou's second wine, made from the property's younger vines and vats that are not selected for the grand vin. This wine has been bottled at the château since the 1995 vintage. La Croix de Beaucaillou, generally contains more Merlot than the grand vin - this release was 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot.

Winemaker Notes: "The wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou is the essence of elegance, symmetry, balance, breed, class, and distinction. it is never one of the most robust, richest, or fruitiest wines of St.-Julien and by its nature is a stubbornly slow developer. Most of the finest vintages of Ducru-Beaucaillou usually take at least 10 years to reveal their stunning harmony of fruit and power.'

'Ducru-Beaucaillou is a great wine for a number of reasons. The meticulous attention to detail, the brutal selection process - whereby only the finest grapes and finest barrels of wine are permitted to go into the bottle - and the conservative viticultural practices all play major rules in the success of this wine."

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate awarded this 89 points.

At twenty-two years, the fill level, foil and label were in pristine condition. The cork, not surprisingly pulled in half when our server Lapone tried to extract it using a traditional waiter's cork screw, which is why I invariably use an 'ah-so' two pronged cork puller for aged bottles. Otherwise it was in good customary condition. The waitstaff appropriately decanted the bottle for serving. 

Initially this was a bit funky and earthy but, as I predicted it would, but this burned off to reveal the dark berry fruits that emerged after about 45 minutes. Dark garnet colored, a very slight bricking, brown rust hue starting to show revealing its age, medium full bodied, the dark berry fruits, Parker calls them 'red fruits', emerged accented by subtle earthy leather, tobacco and moderately sweet clove spice, with moderate smooth polished tannins on the finish. 

RM 90 points. 

This was a wonderful accompaniment to my strip steak au povre.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Nozzole Chianti Classico Italian Village Chicago

Nozzole Chianti Classico Sangiovese with Pasta at Italian Village Chicago

Hosting a valued business partner leader, we dined at Italian Village Restaurant, Chicago, our usual locale for such occasions, downtown in the middle of the Loop, merely blocks from our office. 

We took advantage of the private dining tables and the superb authentic Italian cuisine and accompanying quality wine by the glass offerings. 

We both ordered the handmade Ravioli pasta, my guest the meat filled pillow shaped pasta, with the red meat bolognese sauce, and I selected the pasta stuffed with cremini and white mushrooms, garlic, ricotta and parmesan cheese with mushroom cream sauce (shown). 

We were served by one of the IV veteran long tenured staff, Hans, and Wine Director Jared Gelband who gave my guest and me a quick tour of their magnificent extensive Italian Village wine cellar that serves all three of the IV (Italian Village) restaurants.  

To accompany our power lunch, he served from the extensive Wine Spectator Best of Award winelist, glasses from the WBTG offerings - Nozzole, Toscana, DOCG Chianti Classico Riserva - an ideal pairing with our pasta entree dishes.

Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, DOCG 2018

This 100% Sangiovese is from Villa Nozzole run by owners Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, heirs of the historic estate that dates back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

The founder, Lorenzo Folonari, was born in Valtellina in 1729 and moved his family to Val Camonica, where they were entrepreneurs in trade and then producing wine.

In 1882, the brothers Italo and Francesco Folonari moved the company, then known as Fratelli Folonari, from Val Camonica to Bresci. 

In 1911, they bought the historic Tuscan winery and producer Ruffino, widely known for its Chianti Classico wines, bottled in traditional wine flasks wrapped in straw.

The Villa di Nozzole, located in the heart of the historic Tenuta di Nozzole, was taken over by the Folonari family in 1971. The classic Renaissance architecture castle and estate overlooking the vineyards, olive groves and surrounding hills dates back to the seventeenth century.

Principle Giovanni Folonari worked for Robert Mondavi in 1989 and Ruffino from 1991 to 2000 before forming Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute.

The Nozzole estate produces a broad portfolio of wines starting with this Chianti Classico Riserva sourced from their estate just north of the village of Greve at Passo dei Pecorai in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, and several single vineyard designated premium labels. The estate covers a striking, rugged, mountainous area of about 1,000 acres at 300 meters in elevation. Yields are kept low in order to obtain concentration and complexity in the wines.

Winemaker Notes: "Cherry and violet aromas, persistent and rounded flavors of spices and mushroom. Great structure with elegant finesse."

This release was awarded 93 points by James Suckling and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Ruby colored, medium bodied, bright cherry and raspberry fruits with notes of floral, earth and tobacco on a moderate tangy acidic soft finish. 

RM 89 points.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Viader Napa Proprietary Red Corley Reserve

Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend, Corley Reserve, Scount's Honor with grilled beef tenderloin for gala family celebration dinner

The entire Berganzi family came to town and gathered with clan McNees (below) to celebrate the dedication of grand-daughter Marylin, son Alec and Vivianna's baby.

Following the ceremony at Compass Church, Alec and Vivianna hosted all for a gala family dinner of grilled tenderloin beefsteak, salmon, roasted potatoes, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and carrots. 

Alec grilled two whole beef tenderloins on the grill. Before dinner we had a selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie followed by ceasar salad with a Champagne toast. 

We opened the wine-flight with Hill Family Estate Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay

There was so much to celebrate across the family - Marylin's dedication, Alec and Viv's second anniversary, Henry and Grace's engagement, Sean and Michelle's new home, and Johnny's birthday!

To celebrate the occasion and accompany the festive dinner, I pulled from the cellar a magnum of this Viader Napa Valley Red Blend. As I have written in these pages, this is one of the numerous "V" labels we have fun with as a tribute to our daughter-in-law, Viv. We wrote about fun with this branding in an earlier blogpost, Viader Napa Bordeaux Blend 1997.

We met proprietor winemaker Delia Viader at a tasting hosted by Binny's Chicago Lakeview back in 2005, and visited the property on lower Howell Mountain in 2008

Our collection of Viader spans a decade of releases dating back to the mid-nineties vintages. It was with interest to see how this vintage has held up over the years to calibrate the lifespan of the other vintages. In the style of many Viader releases, this blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Cabernet Franc in the profile of a top Graves from Bordeaux.

We expanded our collection of Viader wines following our visit to the Viader winery estate on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008.  

A travelogue of photos of our visit to the Viader are shown here or a selection are featured in the follow-on blog.  

The Viader 23-acre estate sits on the lower mountain at 1200 foot elevation overlooking Napa Valley. The vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Viader is known for its Bordeaux-style blends. 

The 1200 foot elevation of the estate is significant and notable as that is the height that the fog reaches above the valley floor and hence is the point at which below is designated Napa Valley, and above it designated Howell Mountain. This climatic difference creates a distinctive terroir due to the effects of the fog on the ripening vines.  

Napa Valley view from the Viader estate

This follows our tasting last evening of another of the 'V' series of labels we enjoy with and in tribute to to Viviana, the Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor.

The 'V' is the prominent branding of the producer and winemaker Delia Viader, a remarkable and impressive lady who was born in Argentina and educated in Europe before earning graduate degrees in the U.S., a notable role model for any career minded female. Delia spent much of her formative years in Europe and in France where she earned a doctorate in Philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, then pursued advanced business studies in the US at MIT, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

Recognizing the potential Napa Valley wine industry in the 1980's, Delia acquired the Howell Mountain property and set out to create a world class wine estate, and continued studying Enology and Viticulture at University of California, Davis.  During this time she also raised her four children in the wine environment and culture.

Shown here is our meeting Delia Viader during a producer tasting evening sponsored by Binny's here in Chicago back in 2005. 

Delia Viader was a visionary pioneer in Napa Valley investing in developing a mountain estate at a time when most of the vineyard plantings were on the valley floor.

Born in Argentina, Delia Viader came to the United States after spending many years in Europe. In 1986 the love of wine Delia acquired during her time in Europe lead her to purchase a 25 acre property 1200 feet above the Napa Valley floor northeast of St. Helena on the steep, rocky slopes of Howell Mountain. During this time when 99% of Napa’s vineyards were planted on the valley floor, Delia was considered a bit crazy-headed to plant vineyards in such foreboding terroir. But it was exactly terroir that she was after.

Delia’s first release of this proprietary red blend called simply Viader, was the 1989 vintage , a blend of almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine has gained an international reputation as one of the iconic wines of the Napa Valley and has become the signature wine for the winery.

 In the last few years, Delia’s children have come back to help manage and operate the business making this a true family concern. Alan Viader is Director of Operations and Winemaking, Janet Viader is Director of Marketing and Sales. Mariela Viader (married to Alan) is in charge of the Culinary Program.

Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Bordeaux Red Blend 2004

Winemaker Notes: "Since its first release in 1989, Delia Viader has made her Proprietary Blend using only the best fruit from her Howell Mountain Estate vineyards. The Viader blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc captures an ideal balance between the two varieties. The Cabernet Franc contributes to the early approachability, elegant structure and violet-like aromatics while the Cabernet Sauvignon adds complexity and character as well as providing the backbone structure for long aging potential."

"The 2004 Viader is intense, upfront, floral bouquet laced with chocolate, coffee, anise, earth and leather. Lingering, complex tannins firm up in the finish which is rounded by the powerful aromas of blackberry, blueberry and mint. Approachable now, bottle aging will further develop bouquet and complexity. Awonderfully elegant mountain beauty!"

This release was awarded 92 points by Vinous,  17.5/20 points by Jancis Robinson.

We love this blend of Napa Valley 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon accented by the structure, grip and spice of 40 percent Cabernet Franc. At eighteen years this was wonderful, probably at the apex of its drinking window, but likely with a decade of life still left. The fill level, label and cork were all pristine. As a result, I pushed the Cellartracker drinking window for my remaining bottles of this vintage release out to 2024. I raised my earlier rating from 92 to 93 points.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied and firmly structured ripe black raspberry fruits with notes of coffee, mocha, leather, graphite, sweet oak and spice with firm gripping by elegantly smooth polished tannins on the long finish. 

RM 93 points.


Alec followed with a big Napa Valley Cab, closing out with another Napa Valley Big Red blend from another one of our whimsical fun 'V' labels, Venge Scout's Honor Red. 

Corley Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

We were introduced to this wine when Alec served it at a father-brothers-sons dinner last year.  I wrote about this wine in an earlier blogpost at that time -

This is produced by the Corley family who are long time grape growers in Napa Valley that produce a small limited amount of wine of their own label, only in extraordinary vintages. The Corley family owns and manages some of the finest vineyard properties in Napa Valley at their 80 acre Monticello Vineyards estate with vineyards and winery, tasting room, as well as culinary and hospitality center.

Founded by Jay Corley in 1970 when he began searching for sites to grow wine, in pursuit of his personal passion for Burgundian-style wines led him to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in what is now known as the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley.

They produced this wine at Monticello Winery on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District of south Napa Valley. We visited this winery estate back in the late nineties when it was operating as a custom crush facility and we did a tasting of boutique producer Elan Wines with producers Patrick and Linda Elliott-Smith

This was a special bottle as the boys know and are friends with one of the members of the Corley family and were able to source this special limited release bottling.Today, Corley is managed by their third generation.

Since it’s first bottling in 1982, our Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the Corley Family flagship wine. It is sourced from each of their five estate cabernet sauvignon vineyards and the diversity of four distinct sub-Appellations - Rutherford, Yountville, St. Helena and Oak Knoll District.

This is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.

Ken's Wine Guide Tasting Panel summed this up perfectly when they wrote about this label, "This very dark garnet colored Cabernet Sauvignon from Corley opens with a mild black currant and black licorice bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, slightly acidic and savory. The flavor profile is a fruit forward fruit bomb featuring stewed plum and black currant with notes of graphite and toasted oak. We also detected a hint of blackberry. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins show very nice length. The Panel suggested pairing this Cab with a New York strip steak. Enjoy - KWGTP"

I echo their tasting experience and give this 92 points. Dark garnet color, medium-full body, nicely balanced and integrated blackberry and black currant fruits with notes of anise, hints of graphite and toasted oak with smooth polished moderate tannins on a lingering finish.

Winemaker notes: "Typically luscious, powerful and richly textured our Reserve is full-bodied and while ready to drink is also a wine to lay down for the years to come. This wine once again shows nice consistency and balance throughout the entire experience – from the aromatics through to the finish. The mouth-feel is rich in texture and with a finish framed by firm but rounded velvety tannins, one of the hallmarks of this wine."

Dark garnet color, medium-full body, nicely balanced and integrated blackberry and black currant fruits with notes of anise, hints of graphite and toasted oak with smooth polished moderate tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 91 points. 

Alec opened another Big Napa Red, another of the 'V' series of labels we enjoy with and in tribute to to Viviana, the Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor.

Venge Vineyard "Scout's Honor" Napa Red 2019

As I have written often in these pages, we've been enjoying Nils and Kirk Venge' wines since the early 1990's when Nils was featured by Wine Spectator Magazine in a 1994 article on up and coming wine producers. 

One of the labels of the Venge portfolio is Scout's Honor named for the family Labrador Retriever. I remember Scout walking the rows in the vineyards with Nils during a visit to the Rutherford Penny Lane estate back in the nineties (shown right from our 2002 visit).

This wine was initially meant to be a fun sipper for the Venge tasting room, yet it became — and remains — one of the most popular wines of the Venge portfolio which has now grown to nineteen labels. 

 Scout's Honor is based on a tradition of producing a full bodied, delicious and enjoyable red wine that can be opened and enjoyed immediately upon release however when cellared correctly it will age for 5 to 8 years.

Scout's Honor starts as a unique proprietary red blend anchored by a base of old-vine Zinfandel and builds upon that with dry-farmed Petite Sirah, old-vine Charbono, and finish with mountain vineyard Syrah.

We have been collecting this label since the earliest releases in the mid-nineties and hold a half dozen vintages. We typically keep a half dozen vintages of this label on hand for easy, enjoyable smooth sipping with everyday fare, great with BBQ, burgers, pizza to hearty cheese, beef, fruits and chocolates. I was surprised when I went to write up this tasting note that this was my first recorded tasting of this vintage.
Nil's has stepped down into retirement and winemaker and production duties are now with son Kirk who has raised the bar taking this label to new heights in recent years, earning 93 or 94 points from Wine Advocate for vintages 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

 Wine buddy Andy and I visited Kirk and Nils up at the Calistoga estate and the Signal Fire Vineyard back in 2002 (shown right).  

From a branding perspective, this may be the last year you see this packaging with a paper label as the 2018 release went to a more upscale painted on glass bottle label marking, moving to a more premium positioning for this label. It remains to be seen what happens to the price point. It is already priced at the high end of the Zinfandel range, but well worth it with its sophistication and complexity and quality of the blend.

Winemaker's Notes: "Full-bodied, concentrated and gorgeous, this vintage features an assemblage of violets, dried cinnamon, white flowers, fresh cut blue herbs, and a touch of barrel toast. The palate has loads black fruits and sweet currants, pepper spice, and an enveloping masculinity of char and tannins from the Syrah, Charbono and Petite Sirah. A seamless balance and mouth coating deliciousness lead to a wine that is quite pleasing to the senses. Cellared correctly it will age for 7 to 10 years."

The 2019 blends 63% Zinfandel with smaller amounts, 16% Charbono, 12% Petite Sirah and 9% Syrah aged 50% new American Oak and the balance in once-used tight grained French Oak.

The Zinfandel was picked from two, old-vine, 60 to 100+ years old, dry-farmed vineyard sources: Venge’s Estate “Signal Fire Vineyard” and the Frediani Vineyard, both located in the heart of Calistoga. The Charbono was sourced from old, dry-farmed vines 60 to 100+ years old, also planted in the Frediani Vineyard. Robbie Mondavi’s Oso Vineyard located on Howell Mountain supplies the Petite Sirah, and, Napa’s finest Syrah from Stagecoach Vineyard, high in the mountains of the Atlas Peak AVA.

This was rated 93 points by The Wine Enthusiast.

After the more subdued and focused Viader red blend, this was a monstrous super sweet fruit bomb, begging for hearty cheese, spicy pizza pasta or dark bitter chocolates. Dark garnet purple colored, full bodied, rich, thick concentrated sweet super ripe black currant fruit with notes of that Howell Mountain cinnamon spice, violet floral notes, pepper and pain grille.

RM 90 points.


Saturday, September 24, 2022

Signorello Hope's Cuvee BYOB at Suzette's Creperie Wheaton

 Signorello Hope's Cuvee BYOB at Suzette's Creperie Wheaton

Saturday night, date-night dinner out, we dined at Suzette's Crêperie Wheaton for authentic French cuisine in intimate casual setting. We've featured Suzette's Crêperie Wheaton several times in these pages, most recently back in May in this blogpost. 

This is pretty a replay of those earlier posts,  Suzette's Crêperie in nearby Wheaton (IL), is one of the few authentic French cuisine eateries in the western suburbs, and one of our favorite go-to casual fine dining sites. 

Sited downtown Wheaton city centre, adjacent the convenient muni parking garage, a block from the Metra station, Suzette's offers intimate casual fine dining, al fresco dining out front or on the rear patio, a private dining room for special dinners, and a bar, adjacent the authentic Suzette's Boulangerie & Pâtisserie, a French inspired bakery. 

We're delighted to see Suzette's has survived and started return to pre-covid normalcy, offering once again their broader menu entree selections beyond their namesake specialty Crêpe menu.

As with our recent visits, again tonight, I selected the 'daily special' Sole Meunière, which is one of my favorite dishes, along with the Country Style Pâté, another of my favorites.

As featured in recent previous posts in these pages, the Chicken Liver Mousse and slice of Country Style Pâté  are served with Dijon mustard, Cornichons and delicious Red Onion Marmalade with toasted Brioche on the side.  

Suzette's Sole Meunière is
served in the classic French style, Filets of Sole were dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter herb sauce, parsley and lemon, alongside spring vegetables and mashed potatoes. Wonderful, delicious, as usual. 

Knowing we would be ordering the Sole, we brought BYOB from our home cellar one of our current favorite rich Chardonnay's as an accompaniment, Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley Chardonnay.

This is the same wine we took BYOB on another earlier Saturday dinner outing that I featured in a previous blogpost Signorella Hope's Cuvee at Marco's Kitchen back in June.

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016

As posted in an earlier blogposts, we discovered and acquired (the then current release vintage of) this wine during our visit to the Estate on Silverado Trail in Southeastern Napa Valley during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013. At that time I wrote about this label: "I am predominantly a red wine drinker and while I enjoy an occasional glass of white, most often with appropriate food, I don't normally get excited about a white wine. This chardonnay was the exception,  memorable and special."

We're getting down to the last few remaining bottles of the label that we've acquired over time.

(Former) Signorello Estate overlooking vineyards
and valley floor.

The Signorello winery sits at the very southern end of Napa Valley and has 43 acres of vineyards, including some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in all of Napa Valley - fruit from 37-year-old vines goes into his Hope’s Cuvée.

The magnificent Estate was destroyed in the fires that engulfed much of sections of Sonoma and Napa in 2017. Fires came down the foothills to the property that sat up the hill back from the highway.

The fire reached the winery and completely destroyed the hospitality center that also housed offices, a wine lab and a family residence upstairs. The adjacent  crush pad and stainless steel tanks survived intact along with the barrel cellar and equally if not most importantly, the vines of the adjacent vineyards. 

In the wake of the destruction from Napa Valley’s October 2017 Atlas Peak Fire, Ray Signorello vowed to rebuild. We're relieved to read about the Phoenix of Signorella Estate, rising from the ashes, literally, and being rebuilt, even grander and larger than before. Signorello said he viewed the tragedy as an opportunity to do something new and exciting and is rebuilding with a larger fermentation facility, wine caves and a stunning expanded hospitality center.

The winery has kept almost all of its team employed as an interim step toward returning to normalcy and they have been operating out of a modular building was brought in to serve as a temporary hospitality center.

The adjacent Darioush property nearby the sits at the valley floor closer to the highway and similarly situated properties were untouched.

Signorello "Hope's Cuvée" Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave the 2015 release 98 points and said, "The best Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Ray Signorello has to be the 2015 Chardonnay Hope’s Cuvée." Vinous gave it 91 points.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with earlier tastings of this label. This Hope's Cuvée Chardonnay was full bodied but nicely balanced and polished for very pleasant drinking. It is bursting with flavorful fruit with layers of peach and poached pear giving way to hints of honey, almond, nutmeg, vanilla and creamy soft spicy oak. There is very pleasant full mouth-feel with rich texture on the palate with a long lingering finish of sweet mellow oak.

Golden colored, full bodied, rich and concentrated caramelized citrus, honeysuckle, white peach, pear and melon notes with a touch of almond and brioche.

RM 92 points.

Zaca Mesa Inceptive Red

Zaca Mesa Inceptive Santa Ynez Valley Estate Vineyard Rhone Red Blend 2018 with home grilled pizza

We discovered, tasted and signed up for the wine club for this wine portfolio during our Zaca Mesa Estate Winery and Vineyards Visit on the Santa Maria Valley Foxen Canyon wine trail during our Santa Barbara County Wine Experience this spring. 

We just received our wine club fall allocation this week and were eager to try two new labels so opened this tonight with home grilled pizza. 

This 2018 Inceptive is a blend of Rhone varietals Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, aged in a combination of neutral oak barrels, Italian concrete tanks, and amphora vessels. 

It was rated 92 points by Antonio Galloni, and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits.

This was dark garnet purple colored, medium bodied, a bit of alcohol heat that may burn off over time, tight black berry and black plum fruits with tongue puckering dry chalkiness with notes of cola, charred bacon meats, tobacco and tangy dry smoke.

RM 89 points.

Zaca Mesa Winery Twitter - @ZacaMesa_Wine



Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Harry & David Southern Oregon Merlot 2012

Harry & David Vineyards Southern Oregon Merlot gift basket selection

Harry & David is a on-line catalogue corporate gift site that packages a broad selection of gift boxes and baskets to send to clients, customers, and special folks. The gifts can be composed from a broad selection of gourmet foods, baked goods, cheese, fruit, chocolates and wine, or combinations thereof. The wine selection offerings consist of reds or whites or combinations thereof, of mostly Oregon wines. 

We received this bottle in such a gift box from a valued vendor years ago and have held it ever since, tucked away in the cellar, waiting for an appropriate time to drink it, or 're-gift' it. The Oregon reds available are Pinot Noir, a red blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or this Southern Oregon designated Merlot. This label has been offered consistently going back a decade to the 2010 vintage, sans 2011. 

According to their site," the Harry & David wine team works with growers and winemakers across the 'three prominent valleys' of Oregon to deliver the range of wines to their exacting standards". The wines are private labeled Harry & David Vineyards, which is carefully worded but more than a bit misleading since they are all outsourced to suppliers. The wine gift offerings are paired with a vast broad selection of wines, cheeses, meat, bakery goods, chocolates and more in price ranges from under $30 to several hundreds of dollars. 

According to the rear wine label, the brothers Harry and David started growing and shipping their "extraordinary homegrown (Oregon) pears" seventy five years ago and continuously expanded the business and "gourmet gift offerings to celebrate every occasion" ever since. And, "every occasion needs wine."

The promotion listing on the annual five day long Oregon Wine Experience charity fund raising event that is supported by all the leading winemakers and producers across the state and includes Harry & David. It says; "The Medford-based gourmet foods company, which has been selling gift baskets filled with locally produced fruit and snacks since 1934, has hired winemaker Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co. in Medford to make nine different wines from grapes grown mostly in the Rogue Valley. The wines will include Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The company has long sold wines from Oregon, California and imports in stores and it ships wines through the website. The Harry & David Vineyards label has the name of the grape-growing region printed across the top."

Pallet Wine Company Pallet "was built to provide a central winemaking destination for the quickly expanding Southern Oregon wine regions and focus on custom winemaking for growers who wish to pursue selling their own brand, and virtual brand owners who desire consistent and high quality wines vintage to vintage."

Cellartracker, the wine cellar management tool that I have been using for nearly a decade, says it has grown exorbitantly "to hundreds of thousands of collectors tracking more than 141 million bottles. CellarTracker has also grown to become the largest database of community tasting notes with more than 9 million such notes as of late 2021. Every year more than 10 million visitors come to the site to read reviews and garner wine recommendations."

Notably, they list nine vintages of this label with one or fewer tasting notes each totaling less than a half dozen tasting notes in total - the fewest I have ever seen for a label across such a range of vintages.  

 Our expectations for this wine were pretty low, but I must admit it exceeded them, actually proving to be reasonable every day casual sipping. It would meet the expectations for a large majority of consumers for such an every day wine, meeting the objective of a gifted wine, which of course would not want to disappoint. This is a testament to the care they take in selecting their wine offerings within their margin limits for their price-points.

This was ruby colored, light-medium bodied, rather austere simple easy drinking with notes of cherry and berry fruits, spice and hints of vanilla, smoke and pepper.

RM 85 points.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Paloma Napa Merlot 2003

Paloma Vineyards Napa Valley Spring Mountain Merlot 2003

Sunday evening dinner feasting on leftover NY Strip Steak from Friday evening's dinner, I opened from the cellar this premium Merlot as a perfect accompaniment. 

This 2003 release Paloma Merlot follows the 2001 release that gained notoriety when the 2001 Paloma Merlot was awarded Wine Spectator's #1 “Wine of the Year” in 2003, out of over 15,000 wines evaluated. 

Paloma is Spanish for “dove”, the estate sits on a steep, tree-lined ridge at the very top of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountain range that forms the west wall of Napa Valley, sitting between Bald Mountain to the south and Diamond Mountain to the north.

Founded by Barbara and Jim Richards in 1983, seeking a vineyard to highlight the grapes and terroir of their favorite region, they were turned on to the property by winemaker producer friend Dan Duckhorn. Over the next 25 years, Jim and Barbara worked to clear, plant, and cultivate 7,500 Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. 

Paloma was a vineyard back in the last half of the 19th century but was returned to forest around the turn of the century. There still remain old redwood grape stakes and a few old zinfandel vines that survive under amongst the large Douglas fir trees that surround the estate home. One historic vine near the house produces one or two clusters of grapes a year that are put into our Merlot blend for good luck.

In 1991, some of the grapes were sold to Pride to be blended into their Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim worked and learned enology alongside legendary winemaker, Pride’s very own, Bob Foley. In 1996, Paloma released their first-ever vintage, the 1994 Merlot  - 575 cases total. Paloma’s first commercial Syrah was released in 1998.

Paloma built the estate winery in 2000 where they crushed their own fruit that year for the very first time.

The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sheldon’s first solo vintage), received high praise from James Laube of Wine Spectator in two separate articles written in 2007 and 2009.

Their son, Sheldon, joined the business in August of 2003, just in time for harvest and for the release of the award-winning 2001 Paloma Merlot. The follow-on 2002 and 2006 vintages were also recognized as  the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 at 54 and 65, respectively.

Jim and Barbara passed on in 2009 and 2016, but their legacy lives on under the stewardship of son Sheldon as owner and winemaker. 

Paloma reflects the terroir and specific micro-climates of the area and the high altitude Spring Mountain property. The topography of the area has its own weather patterns being among the the coolest, wettest place in the Napa Valley.  High above the Napa Valley and the morning fog, Paloma Vineyard is generally 15 to 20-degrees cooler on hot summer days than the valley floor vineyards. The more moderate temperatures and the volcanic soils are what make Paloma wines so special, adding layers of complexity to the mid-palate and long finishes.

Springs appear throughout the area after a good rain, hence the area’s name. The combination of the summer heat and low pressure from the cool coastal air that approaches the summit from the west lengthens the growing season into late fall. The prolonged hang time – several weeks longer than warmer Napa Valley floor – add resonance and concentration to the resulting small clusters.

The vines are planted on mostly steep, east-facing hillsides. The Sonoma volcanics and Franciscan sandstone soils stress the grapes, forcing them to stay small, with a higher skin-to-grape ratio. The resulting mountain wines tend to be more concentrated and intense, softened by the gradual temperature fluctuations. The wines from the site are bright and bold but with a surprising softness and elegance.

Paloma Napa Valley Spring Mountain Merlot 2003

We love Napa Valley mountain fruit wines with their richness, focus and concentration, and Spring Mountain wines are amongst our favorites. We're long time fans and collectors of Pride Mountain, Fantesca and Robert Craig Spring Mountain Cabernets. 

We still hold several vintages of this label dating back to 1999 and our patience is rewarded tonight enjoying this aged nineteen year old.

Paloma Merlot is a blend of estate grown Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon ranges from 14 to 16 percent depending on the vintage. 

Winemaker notes: The wine is a big, world-class red capable of improving with bottle aging for at least 20 years in most vintages. Although the characteristics of the wine vary with each vintage, they have a consistent thread of complex aromas of blackberry fruits, black stone fruits, chocolate, tobacco, spice, and floral notes with a mineral overtone. On the palate, the wine has a silky mouthfeel, is well balanced with flavors of berries, fruit, cocoa, cassis, and spice, and enjoys a long spicy finish. The addition of the Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure, rich fruit, and a subtle increase in tannins." 

This release was awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator and 89 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

I first wrote about this wine in September 2013 when I gave this 93 points and wrote that I like this wine: "At ten years old this may be at or approaching its apex as it is drinking better than any of the previous half dozen bottles we've tasted from our case. I was worried at first when decanted as the color seem a bit dark with a slight brown hue but the aromas were pure berry. Medium bodied, silky smooth, elegant and polished with complex layers of raspberry, sweet current, blue and black berry highlights. This tasting was consistent with my last posted tasting notes from a year ago this week (September 2012) when I wrote, "Medium full bodied, smooth polished, complex harmonious symphony of finely integrated aromas and flavors - predominant sweet black currant, red raspberry, milk chocolate, a hint of ripe plum, sweet oak and a bit of burnt sugar caramel on the long smooth polished finish." Based on this tasting, I extended my drinking window in Cellartracker which was listed as drink by 2011 to 2016.

At nineteen years, the fill level was perfect, as was, importantly, the cork, reflecting the ideal conditions of our cellar for long term aging. Of course, as show, Paloma bottles are painted rather than having glued paper labels. Like I did back in 2013, tonight I once again extended the drinking window for this wine, to 2022, as it is still showing well, holding its own, likely at the peak of its drinking window, perhaps nearing the end such that it might now start to diminish from further again.

This was dark inky purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with intense firm concentrated structured rich black currant and blackberry fruits with notes of cedar and nutmeg, black tea, dark mocha and cigar box with firm focused tannins on the gritty lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Melka CJ Napa Valley Cabernet BYOB at Carnivore & Queen

Phillippe Melka 'CJ' Napa Valley Cabernet BYOB at Carnivore & Queen

We went out to dinner with son Sean and d-in-law Michelle and dined at Carnivore & The Queen in adjacent Downers Grove, IL. I took from our wine cellar BYOB this Napa Valley Red wine to accompany our entree dinner selections - NY Strip Steak and Bone-in Veal Chop. 


Closing in on celebrating our grandaughter's, Sean and Michelle's daughter, Lavender's first birthday, this was a fun choice with its whimsical label with the child's hand-prints on the label and foil, as this label is named for and dedicated to the winemakers' two children. 

There's another reason I selected this label, from producer Phillippe Melka, a producer we know well and hold several of his labels across two decades of vintages. Phillippe was the mentor for Eric White of Galena Cellars Vineyards and Winey in Galena, IL, whom we met during our stay in the estate guest house during our getaway holiday week before last.

Philippe and co-proprietors and co-winemaker for Melka Estates, wife, Cherie Melka produce four distinct brands that reflect their philosophy of soil driven wines:  Métisse from Napa Valley, Mekerra from Sonoma Valley, Majestique from sites around the world and CJ, also from Napa Valley.

Both Philippe and Cherie are both academically prepared for their distinctive careers and achievement in winemaking.  Philippe having degrees in Geology, Agronomy and Enology; and Cherie in Microbiology from the US and a diploma in French Studies from the University of Bordeaux III. 

Philippe learned winemaking and vineyard techniques from legendary prestigious estates such as Haut Brion, Chittering Estate, Badio O Coltibuono, the Moueix domains and Dominus.  Cherie was more self-taught as a enologist gaining her wine knowledge from equally impressive estates such as Ridge Vineyards, Beaulieu and Silver Oak Cellars.  Their combined science backgrounds and extensive experience in the industry make them a perfect team in their winemaking endeavors.

The Melka brand started in 1996, when Philippe and Cherie moved back to Napa Valley from France and set out to produce their own brand, despite each working for different wineries.  They started modestly with only two wines in 1996, Métisse and CJ for a total case production of 500.

After years of consulting, Philippe and Cherie opened up Melka Wines, in 1996, celebrating their first vintage of a Bordeaux styled Red Wine labeled Melka Metisse with a total production of 500 cases. Soon after, Melka’s success would eventually lead him to 3 more labels, the Mekerra, Majestique and the first vintage of CJ in 1996, the year Jeremy was born with production of only 200 cases.

Melka Estates started with Philippe and Cherie Melka sourcing fruit for their first two labels, two wines  named in honor of their two children Chloe and Jeremy and Metisse. They have since grown to four collections, CJ (a red blend very approachable in its youth sourced from premium vineyards throughout the Napa Valley), Metisse (a word that means ‘blend of cultures’ with wines from the Napa Valley), Mekerra (from the property they own in Sonoma County) and Majestique (single vineyard wines from outside of the Napa Valley). As a footnote, one quickly realizes the affinity the Melka’s have for the letter ‘M’.

Philippe grew up in Bordeaux, earned his degree in Geology at the University of Bordeaux and later his Master’s degree in Agronomy and Enology. His first wine job was at Château Haut Brion in Bordeaux. His first introduction to the Napa Valley came in 1991 as an intern with Christian Moueix, proprietor of Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux and Dominus in Napa Valley. Philippe came to Dominus to study soils – then spent a few years as a traveling winemaker and ultimately settled in the Napa Valley in 1994.

Melka CJ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Cherie earned a degree in Microbiology at Northern Arizona University and worked for a while in pharmaceuticals as a laboratory technician. In 1989, she moved to California and took her first winery job for Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards where she ran the lab for five years. It was here that she met Philippe who was working the vineyards.

The list of Napa wineries that Philippe has worked with over the years reads like a whose whose list of the valley – Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate, Brand, Bryant Family, Dana Estates, Lail, Hundred Acre and Tusk Estate among many other well-regarded brands.

The vineyards that contribute to the making of Melka wines are sourced from relationships with growers over the 20 years that they’ve been making this wine. Two primary sources of fruit for CJ are Soda Canyon, a unique area in Napa Valley near Oakville with hillside fruit, and Broken Rock has brought more fresh crushed rocks, good acidity and more massive tannins. 

This was a perfect complement to my NY Strip grilled beefsteak and sauteed portabella shiitake mushrooms with red wine reduction, and, the Dark Chocolate Flowerless Torte cake for dessert. 

At eighteen years, the fill level, label and cork were perfect. This was most likely at the apex of its drinking window and profile and will not likely improve with further age, but should last up to another decade.  

This is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot.

This release got 92 points from Wine Spectator.

 Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, firm, structured, tight, concentrated ripe, rich and lush blackberry and wild berry fruits with pointed notes of gritty eucalyptus cedar notes, black tea, dark mocha and cigar box with firm focused tannins on the finish. 

RM 92 points.