Saturday, February 12, 2022

Family Surf and Turf Dinner Features Diverse Wine Flight

Family Surf and Turf Dinner Features Diverse Wine Flight

Daughter-in-law Vivianna is due to deliver first baby any day now so with family in town for the big event, we hosted the in-laws for a gala dinner. 

Linda prepared flank steak with mushroom sauce of butter, garlic, shallots and olive oil, and pan seared halibut in a garlic butter lemon sauce.

Prior to dinner we had a selection of artisan cheeses, olives and mixed nuts.






She also prepared twice baked potatoes and sweet potatoes and a colorful pan of roasted potatoes and vegetables. 

I pulled from the cellar a medley of wines for the dinner and to celebrate the upcoming Valentines Day holiday. 

For the wine flight, with the Halibut, I served Rochioli Russian River Valley Chardonnay. With the steak, and noting this crowd favors reds over whites, I served several disparate reds. In commemoration of Valentines Day, we opened the current release of Arrowood Sonoma Cabernet, this following the aged vintage bottle we enjoyed the other evening. 

For another Valentine's selection we served Fantesca, a fun play on the branding of this premium Napa Cabernet - named for a character in the Italian comedy troupe that inspired Cirque Du Soleil. La Fantesca was the single female character in the early theatrical performances of Commedia dell’Arte. Fantesca, Sexy, Smart, and Unpretentious, both the lover and the equal of the protagonist, Harlequin, Fantesca could always be counted on to charm the audience.

Lastly, I served a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Telegraphe, which we visited together during our Rhone Valley Wine Experience in 2018.

Rochioli "Estate" Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016  

I served and wrote about this wine during our Covid forced Virtual OTBN for 2021.

Rochioli Vineyards & Winery sits just ten minutes south of Healdsburg, further inland up the Russian River Valley, where they produce estate sourced Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
The Rochioli family legacy began in 1911 when current proprietor and winemaker Joe Rochioli's grandfather, Joe Rocchioli Sr. immigrated to America along with his parents, Michele and Menichina Rocchioli (they later dropped the second "c").  Originally from a small village just outside of Lucca, the Rocchioli’s were one of many Italian families that arrived in New York, made their way across the country, and settled in Northern California.

In those days children worked from a young age, and so Tom's grandfather, Joe, still only 10-years old, labored alongside his father on a farm called Wohler Ranch, in the Russian River Valley.

 In 1934 Tom's grandmother Neoma gave birth to a son, Joe Rochioli Jr.  Shortly after, they moved to a 125-acre property nearby called Fenton Acres, the site and same location where Rochioli Vineyards is today.  

In 1959, Tom's father, Joe Jr, and grandfather, Joe Sr, planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grape vines.  The Cabernet did not grow well and was pulled out in the 1970's.  Sauvignon Blanc, at the time, was a strange new white grape that nobody wanted and was used mainly for blends.  It was soon discovered by a few famed wineries and became desirable as a high quality grape. Today, these same vines are still in production and are considered some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in California.

The Rochioli's passion for fine wine and high quality grape growing began in 1968 when Joe Jr. began planting Pinot Noir. He had his own ideas as to what would grow best here and planted fine Pinot Noir clones from France. This was revolutionary as there was very little known about the grape in the US and he was considered a pioneer at the time for doing this. Rochioli had the foresight to know that the soil and microclimates of this unique spot in the Russian River Valley were very special and would one day produce some of the world's greatest wines. Shortly after growing Pinot Noir successfully, he  planted Chardonnay.

I have written often in these pages about another American Pinot Noir pioneer, Josh Jenson of Calera Winery,  and the chronicles of his endeavors to plant Pinot Noir that was featured in a book on the subject, the Heartbreak Grape

By the early 1970's, Rochioli were selling Pinot Noir grapes to Davis Bynum Winery and shortly thereafter they started producing wine under their own Fenton Acres label. In the early 1980’s they began selling to Williams Selyem Winery, and others.  

Tom Rochioli went to college and worked at a major financial institution for a year, then returned to the family farm with a new idea. Based on the quality of the grapes they were selling, they knew their grapes were very good and were making great wines, so they set upon producing their own wines under the Rochioli name.  In 1983, they changed the name of the property from Fenton Acres to Rochioli Vineyards.  At that time Tom took over the family business operations and soon after became the winemaker.

In 1987,  they release their first estate wine with the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir.  It topped Wine Spectator’s list of Pinot Noir and was named ‘The Best Pinot Noir in America’.  The Rochioli brand struck gold and was validated as a premier label. With three generations of dedication to the land, Rochioli Vineyards and Winery earned the reputation as one of Sonoma County's finest wineries.

This 2016 Rochioli Estate Chardonnay was awarded 94 points and 'Editors Choice' by Wine Enthusiast , 92 points by Vinous, 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, and 90 points by Jeb Dunnuck.

Straw colored, medium bodied, notes of stone fruit and lemon curd citrus, hints of peach, honeydew melon and finishes with a sense of bright pineapple and a hint of what I might call cotton candy.

RM 91 points.

Arrowood Sonoma County Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 

Following our tasting of the 2004 vintage release of this label the other night, I picked up the current release to replace it, hoping it was as good. Its tough to compare vintages fourteen years apart but the pedigree and legacy promises for pleasant drinking ahead. I wrote about the history of this label in that blogpost.

This is from the Knights Valley, tucked into the foothills of Mount Saint Helena (not to be confused with St Helena in Napa Valley), on the remote eastern edge of Sonoma County, where the terroir experiences a moderated climate, protected from ocean influences, offering a longer and later growing season that develops dark fruit aromatics.  

The Arrowood vineyard there lies thirty miles north of the winery and tasting room in Glen Ellyn, Sonoma Valley.

Knights Valley AVA is one of Sonoma County's original five AVAs, Knights Valley AVA was formally designated back in 1983. Knights Valley AVA includes approximately 37,000 acres of which about 2000 are planted to vineyards. The Knights Valley AVA abuts the Alexander Valley AVA to the west, Chalk Hill to the south, and cozies up to Calistoga (in Napa Valley) on the east.

Knights Valley is pretty remote, tucked between the mountain ranges with the only practical access via twisty sections of Highway 128 through mountainous terrain before it eventually straightens out in a high valley.

This is one of ten different Arrowood Cabernet labels, an estate bottling, with a single AVA versus single vineyard designation as with several of the more premium and ultrapremium offerings.

Winemaker Notes for this label release: "The 2018 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is bold with black forest fruit and anise, nuanced with violet, pine resin, sage, and nutmeg. Densely concentrated and intensely flavorful on the palate with dark fruits, graphite and cocoa nibs."

Wine pundit Jeb Dunnuck gave this 91 points and wrote: "The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley is terrific and just classic Sonoma Cabernet. Lots of cassis, blackcurrants, lead pencil shavings and rocky, savory earth-like nuances all emerge from this spicy, medium-bodied, beautifully balanced Cabernet. It shows the fresh, focused style of the vintage, has wonderful purity, and enough tannins to warrant 2-3 years of bottle age."

While I concur with the above notes on some of the flavors, I would add that there was a predominant layer of sweetness, almost akin to caramel, which is not represented in those notes. I found it less structured and more moderate than the 2004 vintage, and the Fantesca Napa Spring Mountain Cab as well. 

RM 89 points.


Fantesca Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

As mentioned above, I selected this for a Valentines Day wine for its whimsical name from a character in the Italian comedy troupe that inspired Cirque Du Soleil. La Fantesca was the single female character in the early theatrical performances of Commedia dell’Arte,  who could always be counted on to charm the audience. Owners, Duane and Susan Hoff write that "when we heard Fantesca described as ”Sexy, Smart, and Unpretentious,” we knew we had found a name worth living up to."'
We first met owner/producer Dwayne Hoff when we hosted him in our home during his promotion tour to Chicago shortly after acquiring the Spring Mountain Estate. 
Fantesca Estate and Winery, Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

Fantesca Napa Valley,
Spring Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon
Etched glass, painted bottle.
(2006 shown)
I bought a case of this label back upon release and note it is the best drinking bottle to date. Perhaps this is now reaching its stride and apex of its drinking character and profile at a dozen years of age.
Medium-full bodied, dark garnet color; complex but smooth and polished with bright forward fruits of black currant, dark berry and cherry, accented by sweet dark chocolate, a hint of cassis, and a tone of spice on the lingering refined tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

As always, this was the blockbuster hit of the evening, a great complement to grilled beef steak.

Domaine Vieux Telegraphe "Télégramme" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016

As noted above, I selected this wine in remembrance of our visit with Alec and Viv to Domaine Vieux Telegraphe, one of the highlights of our Rhone Valley wine experience back in 2018. This provided a background for fun reminiscences about our trip and visit and our friends there.

Earlier in the day, I had already picked up the latest vintage release of this label, so I already had a replacement for drinking this vintage release bottle tonight. 

Télégramme is the Brunier brothers’ “second” label, based on the fruit of the estate’s younger vines. “Young” is a relative term as the vines that contribute to this blend average 35 years in age and come from some of the appellation’s most esteemed parcels, such as La Crau and Pignan. Available at about half the price of the estate’s flagship La Crau label, this offers great QPR - Quality Price Ratio.

While the second label of the estate, like the "La Crau" grand vin label, it is a blend of the thirteen different varietals sanctioned by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) appellation controllee rules that require predominance of the GSM - Grenache, Syrah and/or Mourvedre grapes. This is a blend of estate grown 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 6% Mourvèdre, and 4% Cinsault.

This release was awarded 96 points byJames Suckling, 92 by Jeb Dunnuck and Wine & Spirits, and 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Bright ruby colored, medium bodied, complex but balanced, the Grenache flavor profile prediminates with black raspberry, red-berry and plum flavors, with herbs, crushed rocks and pepper notes accented by spices with firm but smooth, ripe tannins on the finish. 

RM 90 points.