Sunday, December 31, 2023

Cloud View 1999 with Beef Tenderloin

Cloud View 1999 Bordeaux Blend with Beef Tenderloin for intimate New Years' dinner

For a quiet News Years Eve dinner at home, Linda prepared a delicious beef tenderloin, with fresh baked bread, bacon mac-n-cheese, and peas and corn. I pulled from the cellar this aged vintage Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend as an ideal wine accompaniment.

I wrote about Cloud View in a detailed blogpost last summer - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I wrote that the estate was sold and is now owned by Tim Mondavi of Continuum.  Excerpts from earlier posts ...

The Cloud View Vineyards estate was located on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range that forms the eastern wall of Napa Valley, just south of Lake Hennessy and to the east of the Oakville AVA. The vineyards are grown between 1,000 and 1,500 feet above the Napa Valley floor. They were originally planted by owners Linda and Leighton Taylor who moved to Pritchard Hill in 1990 and began planting 23 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the 90 acre property five years later in 1995. 

The property eventually included 26 acres planted to Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, planted by the original owners Linda and Leighton Taylor.

After selling the property, the Taylors had intended to continue the brand, but use purchased Pritchard Hill grapes but we've never seen any indication of a release from them. 

Pritchard Hill is the site of some of Napa's most prestigious labels including Brand, Bryant Family, Colgin, Del Dotto's ultra-premium Villa Del Lago, Ovid and one of our favorites, Chappellet and David Arthur.  We visited David Arthur on Pritchard Hill during our Napa Wine Experience in 2013, and previously, we visited Chappellet on other side of Pritchard Hill during our Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley Experience - Autumn '09 with our visit to long time resident/producer Chappellet Vineyards.

While Pritchard Hill is not an official appellation (AVA - American Viticultural Area), it certainly could be, but lacks a sponsor to apply and lobby for designation. Donn Chappellet, owner/producer, the earliest settler in the modern era owns the 1971 Pritchard Hill trademark and firmly declares, “It will not become its own AVA.”

This 1999 Cloud View release was the inaugural release of wine and this label from this estate. Production was limited with 400 cases produced in 1999, 560 cases were made in 2000, growing to 2,000 cases were made in 2004.

We have six vintages of this label, from the 1999 through the 2005 vintage. A fellow Cellertracker'er contacted me year before last, seeking one of our vintages to fill out his vertical collection. We traded bottles to each fill out our verticals in a perfect trade scenario. Of our six vintages we hold of this label, we selected the oldest one, tonight, as part of cellar inventory management. Also, we recently drank a ultra-premium Napa Bordeaux from this same 1999 vintage, so I was eager to compare the two. 

This vintage release is a blend of 44% Merlot and 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, all sourced from the winery's estate vineyards. Interesting that they publish the lower percentage Merlot first and the majority Cabernet second (on the rear label - as shown here). Note this very limited production release was acquired at auction at

The winemaker for these wines was Karen Bower Turjanis who previously worked under Paul Hobbs at Lokoya and Cardinale Estate. We tasted a Cardinale Estate just the other evening, as featured in a blogpost in these pages - Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets. Fernando Espinoza was the cellarmaster and owner Linda Taylor was the vineyard manager.

The entire 85-acre Cloud View property was acquired by Continuum, the wine label owned by brother and sister Tim and Marcia Mondavi with Margrit Biever Mondavi, widow of the legendary Robert Mondavi. The Continuum brand was founded in 2005, and is Tim Mondavi's first venture since leaving the Robert Mondavi Winery in 2003. Both the 2006 and 2005 vintages were made from grapes from a leased Oakville property, and the Pritchard Hill purchase helps realize the family's goal of being a single-vineyard estate winery. The switch from an Oakville bottling to a Pritchard Hill bottling began with the 2008 vintage.

The late Robert Mondavi, who was also a partner in the Continuum brand, visited the site with his family before he passed away in May of 2008. "It's so meaningful that he saw it, to see where we are headed in the future," said Carissa.

Winemaker Notes for the Cloud View Vineyard's 1999 Proprietary Red Table Wine .... "is rich with intensely dark ripe fruit, round mid-palate and a long lingering finish of velvety tannins. The myriad of aromas includes anise and fennel, black olive and wild ginger, and is supported by a solid base of dark fruit and the toasty vanilla of fine French oak. On the palate, the ripe fruit opens up to hues of raspberry, blackberry, and dark black cherry with subtleties of lavender. The tannic backbone, which draws itself directly from this mountain site, weaves seamlessly with the warmth of creamy oak. We have crafted this wine for enjoyment now and well into the future. Aroma & Color Earthy–red dust, dark ripe fruit, wild sage, anise, fennel, black olive, ginger, vanilla oak. Profoundly garnet with the deep colors unique to mountain fruit. Flavor - Dark ripe fruit, raspberry, blackberry, lavender, velvety tannins, and subtle, creamy oak. Overall comments - Lush, delicious, round mid-palate, long finish, mouth filling.

I featured other vintages of this label in these pages in these blogposts and Cellertracker posted tasting notes.

In February 2018 - I wrote I like this wine: and gave it 92 Points.

This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with firm concentrated structured core of brambley earthy black currant and black berry fruits with a layer of sweet caramel accented by tones of cassis, sweet spicy tangy oak and silky tannins on the lingering finish.

I featured it in a blogpost in these pages - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

In June last summer, 2023 I featured this label in these pages in this blogpost - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The hill is named for homesteader Charles Pritchard who planted vines and produced the 1890 vintage of Zinfandel and Riesling. Pritchard Hill’s modern era began in 1967, when Donn Chappellet acquired and developed their property on the advice of André Tchelistcheff, then at Beaulieu Vineyard.

When Chappellets bought the property, there was an existing vineyard planted there to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Gamay and Johannisberg Riesling. He eventually replaced these with Bordeaux varieties, except for a brief experiment with Chardonnay. Chappellet's approximately 100 acres of planted vines makes their vineyard the biggest on Pritchard Hill.

Following Chappelett over the next decade were two Long families, unrelated. Bob Long and his wife, Zelma (then the chief enologist for Robert Mondavi, established Long Vineyards, which is no longer operating), and David Arthur Long and his father, Donald, planted their vineyard in 1978. Today, David Arthur Vineyards is owned by David, his brother, Bob, and Bob’s wife, Joye. Bob Long also has his own brand, Montagna. 
 Pritchard Hill is known for red soil known as Sobrante, described by David Arthur’s and Montagna’s winemaker, Nile Zacherle, as “volcanic clay loam.”The terrain is littered with huge boulders which some wineries, like Colgin and Brand, dynamited to clear the land to make it suitable for planting.

The high altitude well drained poor soils produce low yields of small, intensely flavored grapes with thick skins. Pritchard Hill sits above the fog line which comes up to 1,200 feet above sea level allowing for extra sunshine when the lower elevation is shrouded in fog. Notably, on Howell Mountain, further north in the Vaca Range, the 1200 foot elevation where the fog stops, is the demarcation point between Napa Valley and Howell Mountain appellations' designated wines.

Legendary winemaker Philippe Melka, one of our favorite producers, makes wines at Gandona, Brand and was Bryant Family’s winemaker until 2006, calls Pritchard Hill “the best of both worlds: Oakville sophistication with the extra intensity of a hillside.” We featured a Phillip Melka Bordeaux Blend during that same tasting the other evening mentioned above with the Cardinale, as featured in the blogpost Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets.

The Brand estate had been owned by the Miner Family Winery till it was purchased by businessman Ed Fitts. Portuguese Gandona owners bought the land from Bob Long (Zelma’s husband) when Long Vineyards ceased operations. 

Another of our other favorite wines in our cellar is Arns Melanson Vineyard Syrah produced by John Arns over on Howell Mountain. He obtains the fruit for this single vineyard designated label from the 10.5 acre vineyard on Pritchard Hill that is planted to Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah. Greg Melanson acquired the vineyard back in 1988. Previously, it was owned by Round Pond; Bob and Zelma Long planted the original vineyard in the early 1970s. For years, Melanson sold fruit to the likes of Heidi Barrett (for La Sirena) before starting his own brand. We drank this label just the other evening and will post it in these pages soon.

Cloud View 2005 rear label
The Bryant Family Pritchard Hill 13 acre estate was developed in 1985 by the all-star team that included winemaker Helen Keplinger, consultant Michel Rolland and vineyard manager David Abreu. Todd Alexander worked there on Pritchett Hill where he gained notoriety when his wines earned high ratings and critical praise. There he learned the craft under legendary viticulturist David Abreu and winemaking consultant Michel Rolland, following in the footsteps of notable producer Phillip Melka before moving to Walla Walla Washington to take on winemaking and production at Force Majeure.

David Del Dotto, developer of a vast portfolio of Napa properties and brands, and producer of one of the largest collections in our cellar knew "Pritchard Hill was a key vineyard site from drinking Bryant Family,” he says. “David Arthur convinced me of the potential of these wines.” From the broad portfolio of Del Dotto labels, he reserves the Villa del Lago brand for his ultra-premium estate Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ovid was developed in 2003 by former software entrepreneurs Dana Johnson and Mark Nelson who bought their vineyard land in 1998 and launched Ovid five years later. They assembled the superstar team including vineyard manager David Abreu, winemaker Austin Peterson (who worked with Michel Rolland at Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol) and consulting winemaker Andy Erickson (formerly of Screaming Eagle, now at Dalla Valle).

The Cloud View Vineyards estate ceased operation with the 2006 vintage when it was sold to Tim Mondavi when he struck out on his own after the family broke away from Robert Mondavi Winery. When he acquired the Pritchard Hill estate and founded Continuum Estate, the 62 acre vineyard was the second largest estate in the region. Note that the Cloud View brand was not sold so we might see it re-emerge in some fashion at some point in the future although the website is gone and the domain name is for sale.

In November 2021, fellow Cellartracker'er wrote about this wine in a vertical tasting.

"The 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Cloud View Vineyards wines were enjoyed side by side at Bourbon Steak with Rib Cap, grilled Vidalia onions and crispy brussel sprouts. The wines were left upright for a day, then opened with an ah-so at home an hour before dinner to keep the corks together, then quickly reinserted to minimize oxygenation. The clear winner was the 2002 - in full flight. Still exhibiting youthful fruit and towering structure, this beauty had weight, leather, dark hanging fruit and stunning aroma. Lingering, lasting finish. It still has much life ahead of it. The 2001 was a bit of a surprise. It was massive and brutish, but reserved. As if it were a towering building draped in a cape. The 2000 was a shocker. From a horrible vintage, it excelled. Not near the greatness of the other vintages there was no expectation it would be good, and it was - just to a lesser note. The 2003, 04 and 05 were fairly interchangeable; mature fruit, acid and tannins in balance. All delicious in their own right. The 1999 was the oldest and looked the part. It was brick around the rim and had that dried blackberry note, plowed earth and cocoa powder texture. It was the only one, aside from the 2000, that I would say was on the decline. Incredible wines on an incredible night."

I've been waiting for an opportunity to enjoy this rare label and the other five vintage releases that I hold in the cellar. This tasting was consistent with earlier tastings of other vintages.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, rich concentrated full round but approachable balanced and integrated dark berry and plum fruit accented by floral, smokey vanilla, clove spice and notes of camphor with a long tangy acidic silky tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.

The website is no longer active and the domain name is for sale.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Plumpjack Reserve Napa Chardonnay at Entourage Restaurant Naperville

Plumpjack Reserve Napa Chardonnay 2022 at Entourage Restaurant Naperville 

Son Alec & d-in-law Vivianna gave us a gift card to their latest favorite restaurant Entourage in Naperville, IL. It turns out Alec discovered the GM and Principle of the restaurant is a college buddy of one of his best buds from NYC, AJ, who has been to our home several times for wine and dinners. Hence, we were eager to try their restaurant find, which they highly recommended. 

Entourage features craftfully dry-aged cuts of beef, seafood, sandwiches, and small plate dishes. The founders opened a similar Entourage restaurant in suburban Schaumburg, IL in 2006 that was named “Restaurant of the Year” by a Chicago magazine, and neighboring Vai’s Italian Kitchen which earned best Italian restaurant honors two years in a row.

There is seating in and adjacent the lively bar, and a dining room to the rear with a couple booths, cushioned bench and table seating.

We decided on two seafood dishes for our entrees and hence ordered a bottle of Napa Valley Chardonnay as an accompaniment.

For a starter we had the Roasted Beets and Whipped Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula, Baby Gem, Spicy Pecans, Hot Honey, Blood Orange Vinaigrette and Fennel. Linda loved it but I found the whipped goat cheese uninspiring.

I chose the Branzino based on my favor for Meuniére sauce and for whipped potatoes. It too was uninspiring, okay but not great, a bit bland, perhaps because it was served less than hot. 

Linda ordered the Miso Marinated Chilean Seabass with Broccolini, Charred Peppers, Shiitake Mushrooms with Black Truffle Risotto, Yuzu and Sake Butter Sauce. This was extraordinary, delicious in all respects, the fish artfully prepared and served hot, and the Black Truffle Risoto was spectacular. I tried it and loved the Charred Peppers accent which Linda found slightly offputting to the dish. 

The Wood Grilled Branzino Meuniére was served with Yukon Pommes Puree, Baby Tomatoes, Artichoke Brussel Sprouts, Basil and Lemon Caper Sauce.

Entourage service was super, attentive and professional throughout the evening.   

The Entourage winelist offers a thoughtfully and carefully selected winelist of fifteen White wines and 30+ Reds, half of those BTG - By-The-Glass. It is mostly from the US but also offers some selections from Australia, Italy, France and some reds from Spain and whites from Germany.  Five Chardonnays were on offer in a range of five price points.

It includes several notable and some favorite producers including Darioush, Long Shadows, Shafer, (Cabernets), Domaine Drouhin, Foxen and Brave (Pinots), Rombauer, Fontanafredda Barolo, Anaperenna Barossa Shiraz, and Chateau LaNerthe Côtes-du-Rhône (Rose).

Despite our serious disdain for and distrust of the despicable owner producer, hypocrite politician, we order the Plumpjack Reserve Napa Chardonnay, putting politics aside for the evening to enjoy our wine dinner outing.

Plumpjack Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2022

Plumpjack Estate Vineyards and Winery sits on the east end of Oakville Cross Road, just off the Silverado Trail, in southern Napa Valley. It used to be one of our favorite producers and sites to visit in Napa Valley before their ownership became so political, and regretably so radical and divisive. 

We visited the winery several times over the years and hosted their winemaker for a special dinner back in the early 90's. Over the years we acquired an extensive collection of Plumpjack Estate Napa Cabernets, some Merlots and Syrahs, including several vintages of their Cabernet Reserve offering dating back to 1995 through 1997. 

Some of these visits were chronicled in these pages's blogposts - 

Plumpjack Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon

Plumpjack Founders Reserve Cabernet

I mentioned our cellar collection of Plumpjack vintages during our last visit there during a private tasting and they eagerly tried to supplement our collection of those vintages from their library, but at $500 to $700 per bottle, we politely passed. 

We first visited Plumpjack in its earliest days at the PlumpJack Wine Store on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, opened in 1992 by partners that included former San Francisco mayor and current Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, and some of his benefactor supporters. 

Over the years the investment group backing Newsome as their high profile figurehead lead has amassed a collection of premier Napa Valley properties and brands including PlumpJack Estate Winery, CADE Estate Winery, Odette Estate Winery and 13th Vineyard.

They also own and operate the rustic PlumpJack Inn boutique hotel set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in North Lake Tahoe, and several restaurants including Balboa Cafe in San Francisco, PlumpJack Cafe in Olympic Valley, Wildhawk, a neighborhood bar in San Francisco’s Mission district, and White Rabbit neighborhood bar in the Marina district.

The PlumpJack Winery sits in the heart of Napa Valley's renowned Oakville appellation, surrounded by the 42-acre estate vineyard. Both the winery building and the vineyard date back to the 1800s. The east  boundary of their vineyard lies along the foothills of the Vaca mountain range and yields grapes with the kind of bold fruit character that comes from well-drained hillside soils. To the west, their estate lies in the Napa River flood zone, where the vines take root in rich, deep clay soil yielding grapes with softer, more supple varietal character. From their oldest, rockiest section, the "I" Block, they source their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, of which we hold a half dozen bottles from several aged vintages.

Plumpjack Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2022

This Chardonnay is sourced from grapes grown in two vineyards in Napa Valley – one in the southern Napa Los Carneros appellation near San Pablo Bay, and another in St. Helena in the Central Valley. Just 30 miles apart, Los Carneros can be 10-15° cooler than St. Helena. Due to this difference and other important differences, such as soil type, these two vineyard sites vary significantly in character and expression. When blended, these differences in expression add layer upon layer of flavor to the nose and palate, creating a beautiful and complex Chardonnay.

Winemaker's notes - The 2022 PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay is a gorgeous, multi-faceted wine. The nose delivers layers of aromas—apple, baked pear, and lemon curd mingle with white peach, apricot, and honeysuckle with a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon just beneath the fruit. The palate is energetic and dynamic, beginning with a rich, mouth-filling texture reminiscent of lemon curd, followed by bright acidity that evokes lemon zest and honey-crisp apples. Finally, the beautiful acidity pulls the wine through the back of the palate, creating a long, structured finish. 

Light straw colored, light medium bodied, crisp, tangy citrus with notes of apple and pear with bright acidity on the lingering finish. 

RM 89 points.

We look forward to returning to Entourage, next time to try to Indiana Farm Raised beef with some favorite red wine (s).

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas dinner offers medley of festive wines

Christmas dinner offers medley of festive fine wines - old world, new world ... Left Bank, Right Bank ...

The tree was trimmed, the stockings were hung on the fireplace, and the house was decorated and lit up as the entire family gathered for a festive Christmas celebration and dinner. In all, there were twenty-six of us assembled for the gala festivities. 

 This is how we imagined our house decorated for Christmas ! ! ! In reality it looked like this ....

Linda prepared a Bone-in Prime Rib and Beef Tenderloin with Beef Bourgogne sauce, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and haricot verts, and cranberry fruit jello. 

The kids brought an extensive cheese and charcuterie board, shrimp cocktail and a selection of Christmas cookies. 

The gala provided an opportunity to open a broad medley of wines and Champagnes. 

For the cheeses and charcuterie and salad courses, and to celebrate the recent birth of grand-daughter Millie to Alec and Vivianna, we opened a birthyear vintage Champagne.

Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé 1990

The House of Delamotte is the fifth-oldest Champagne house in the historic wine region, founded in 1760 and is the little sister winery to the legendary House of Salon producing just 25,000 cases annually, and are both run by Didier Depond. The two wineries sit side-by-side in the heart of the Côte des Blancs in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger to the south of the village of Epernay. 

This vintage Delamotte is made from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay. Winemaker notes - Delamotte Blanc de Blancs exhibits absolute purity, with the vinification process taking place in stainless steel tanks. Blanc de Blancs is a mineral champagne, with a chalky sensation achieved by a modest addition of reserve wine (10% maximum). This particular note is the very essence of the Delamotte vineyard and its Chardonnays, which grow in a pure chalk soil. The wines tend to be a little austere when young, which they manage by allowing maturation on the lees – far longer than the statutory fifteen months – extended to four or five years before disgorgement. Ageing after disgorgement continues to perfect the finesse and elegance of the final cuvée.

This vintage release was awarded 95 points by Wine Spectator, Ranked #15 Top 100 Wines of 1998 and Highly Recommended, 92 points by Wine Advocate, and 91 points by International Wine Cellar.

Its always a risk to hold vintage wine, and moreso for Champagne, for long term cellaring and aging, in this case, collecting birthyear wines to served at special occasion such as this. Upon opening, the bottle didn't 'pop' from the release of pressure as is customary with sparkling wine. We were worried it was gone, having lost its effervescence, but, in the end, it was very approachable and tasty for memorable and enjoyable drinking.  

Wine Spectator said, "Mouthfilling and wonderfully flavorful but not overpowering, blends abundant ripe fruit flavors with a subtle mousse and weaves great complexity with an elegant restraint. Like a classic Meursault that sparkles." 

Wine Advocate called it "'other-worldly' exquisite, loaded with leesy, wheat thin, buttery flavors, exceptionally complex, rich flavor, yet oh so delicate and light. It seems obvious that the quality of the 1990 Champagne vintage is going to be remarkable."

International Wine Cellar said, "Complex, smoky aromas of lemon, spring flowers, minerals, marzipan and spices; like a grand cru white Burgundy. Vibrant and ripe, with beautifully integrated acidity and superb flavor intensity. Big but fine. The palate-cleansing aftertaste features a note of caraway seed. "

One fellow Cellertracker, ThompsonandFrench held this same vintage until Christmas last year and on 12/27/2022 had a similar experience noting, "Initially tasted like it was over & wld last for 10 mins tops, but give it those 10 mins, and it become heaven! Limited sparkle, rich and delicious. Moorish - very." He 'Liked' it and gave it 95 points.

After settling this was delightful, mature but complex and tasty, we gave it 91 points.

We then moved from the 'old world to new world' and opened this American sparkler ....  

King Estate Willamette Valley Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine 2016

King Estate is a 1033 acre vineyard complex and state of the art winery situated atop the rolling slopes in the Coast Range foothills, near the southern end of Oregon's Willamette Valley producing Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. King Estate also has an innovative culinary program.

Willamette Valley’s cool climate is ideal for growing fruit that is well suited for sparkling wine. The 2016 King Estate Brut Cuvée was four years in the making and eight years since they last produced a sparkling wine.

Winemaker Notes - A luxurious nose awakens the senses with aromas that carry through to the palate: bruised apple, lemon and flowers along with toast, biscuit, fresh bread, slate and walnut. Tiny bubbles create an excellent mousse followed by bright and fresh acidity that rounds out nicely on the mid-palate. Stark and yet elegant acidity on the finish provides backbone with a complexity that lingers.

This is a Blend of 83% Pinot Noir and 17% Chardonnay, mostly estate sourced by also from neighboring growers within the Willamette Valley AVA, the fruit was predesignated for the sparkling program based on how it ripened.

Winemaker Tasting Notes - "A luxurious nose awakens the senses with aromas that carry through to the palate: bruised apple, lemon and flowers along with toast, biscuit, fresh bread, slate and walnut. Tiny bubbles create an excellent mousse followed by bright and fresh acidity that rounds out nicely on the mid-palate. Stark and yet elegant acidity on the finish provides backbone with a complexity that lingers."

Light, crisp and refreshing. RM 89 points.

We then moved to red wines, and in light of the beef entrees, we opted for pairing with blends with their increased complexity. We pulled from the cellar a couple of classic Bordeaux Grand Cru Classes', a Right Bank with its Merlot predominance, and a Left Bank with Cabernet Sauvignon focus. We also selected a selection from the new world, one in a right bank style and one left bank to compare with the aged mature old world offerings. 

Prior to the blends, for casual sipping we opened a favorite Napa Cabernet. 

Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Vérité "La Muse" Sonoma County Bordeaux Blend 1999

I written often in these pages about Jess Jackson (1930–2011) who founded what became one of the most successful family-owned wine companies in the world. Jackson’s lengthy career spanned more than 30 years in pursuit of his vision and passion to produce extraordinary wine from California’s best vineyards. Over the years Jackson Family Wines developed and acquired nearly forty iconic brands as the empire expanded beyond California Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties to Oregon, and beyond our borders to Australia, France, Italy, Chile and South Africa. 

The meteoric rise of Jess Jackson was chronicled in the book A Man and His Mountain, the story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson and his pursuit of his dream to build a brand of premium varietal based wine for the mass market. His accomplishments over the ensuring two and a half decades exceeded all expectations achieving the art of the possible building a multi-billion dollar wine empire. I wrote about the book in these pages in this blogpost - Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2018.

From the earliest days, Jackson had longed to create wines that would be just as good as the world’s best wines and was confident that the terroir in Sonoma County had that potential.

Jackson first met French Vigneron Pierre Seillan during a visit to France in the 1990s. A friendship developed between the Jackson family in California and the Seillan family in Bordeaux.  When Pierre Seillan visited California in 1997, he bought in to Jackson's vision to develop the potential of Sonoma County terroir and Vérité was born.

Pierre Seillan has spent the previous five decades perfecting his micro-cru philosophy to create world-class wines from diverse terroirs. He teamed with Jack to use the same approach to capture the unique expressions of Sonoma County that he applied in Bordeaux, and Tuscany in each vintage.

Seillan’s wine career began at Bellevue, his family's estate in Gascony, France, where he learned to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and several white varieties. Later he focused on Cabernet Franc at Château de Targé in the Loire Valley. Seillan then spent two decades in Bordeaux making wine at several châteaux across eight different appellations, where he discovered the distinctive nuances between various vineyard sites. He perfected his micro-cru approach to build elegant and complex architecture in  his wines that reflected their source sites.

Beginning in 1998, Pierre Seillan has crafted the wines of Vérité, joined by his daughter Hélène Seillan who stepped into the role of assistant winemaker at the estate.

Born in 1987, Hélène Seillan spent her childhood in both France and California, surrounded by family and friends for whom winemaking was as much a passion as it was a profession. Following in her father’s footsteps, Hélène pursued a career in winemaking and began splitting her time between Sonoma County and Saint-Émilion. Starting in 2006, she served as assistant winemaker for her father at the family’s Bordeaux estate, where she worked on all aspects of winery management showing the same talent, passion and ability as her father. Hélène studied Viticulture and Oenology at the Institut Rural de Vayres in Bordeaux.

Vigneron Pierre Seillan carefully crafts each blend of Vérité from the mosaic of more than 50 “micro-crus” across four Sonoma County appellations, each contributing its unique palette of aromatics, flavors, textures and structural elements he needs to craft the wines of Vérité. Each micro-cru is harvested and fermented separately, then aged in French Oak barrels of various custom toasts.

Seillan carefully tailors his winemaking techniques and oak regimens to the personality of each lot, providing him with hundreds of unique components he can use to create the architecture of the final blends of three distinctive labels of the Vérité portfolio, La Muse, La Joie and Le Désir.

La Muse is the label developed in the style of the Right Bank of Bordeaux, delivering the incredible depth and texture with a Merlot-based blend from the top micro-crus of eastern Sonoma County.

This 1999 release was the second vintage of this ultra premium producer label, it was composed of a blend of 89% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon (84% of the fruit from Sonoma and 16% from Napa).

It was rated 97 points by Wine Advocate and 93 points by Vinous.  

At twenty-four years, the label, foil and most importantly the cork were all in pristine condition. The wine was likely at its peak, but not likely to improve further with more age. 

Garnet colored, medium bodied, complex yet balanced, integrated, elegant and polished, soft and smooth black and red currant and plum fruits highlighted with notes of cedar, tobacco, expresso and hints of leather and forest floor turning to smooth fine and mildly sweet tannin. 

Robert Parker noted - "plush and vinous, seamless and energetic, in the mold of an old-style Pomerol. (Right Bank Bordeaux appellation)"

RM 92 points. 

Winemaker Notes - "This wine is noticeably denser and richer in texture than the 1998 Vérité. The wine retains a similar lineage with red and black fruit characters and a velvety texture. What one notices last is the broad finish that lingers on the palate."

Melka "Métisse" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2003 

If you're selecting a Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend, one can't get a more authentic representation than a label produced by French Bordeaux turned Napa winemaker Phillip Melka

I've written often in these pages about Phillip Melka and his Bordeaux heritage and experience, his Napa estate wines and his influences and collaborations across Napa Valley and beyond, including as a contributing winemaker in the Long Shadows Vintners Collection program. 
Melka's influence even reaches here to Illinois where Phillip was the mentor for Eric White of Galena Cellars Vineyards and Winery in Galena, IL, whom we met during our stay in the estate guest house during a getaway holiday week.

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 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’.

This 2003 Metisse, is a blend in the Left Bank Bordeaux style with 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot, sourced from the famed Madrona Ranch Vineyard. The 2003 is a Bordeaux blend based on 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, from Jim and Stephanie Gamble's Madrona Ranch vineyard located near Spottswood at the foot of Spring Mountain on the edge of the town of St Helena.  

This vineyard is located on the eastern side of Saint Helena, at the base of the Mayacamas where it is protected from the northern and western winds. This old river bench settles mostly large gravelly sediments and a small portion of thinner clay particles which explains why varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit verdot and Merlot were planted. This 3.5 acre estate is reminiscent of the Graves area of Bordeaux.

Winemaker's Notes - "The wine from this vineyard displays classic profile of gravelly soils characteristics; dark and red cherry layered with spices, the wine is perfume, seductive and refined."

"Bright medium ruby. Black plum, black cherry, caramel and violet on the nose. Sweet and round but high-pitched, with nicely integrated acidity lending freshness to the dark berry and licorice flavors. Finishes with fine tannins and excellent length. The 2004 Metisse is full ruby. Black plum, minerals and a hint of game on the slightly wild nose. Dense, silky and lush but with perfectly integrated acidity and a violet florality giving this rather claret-like wine a distinctly juicy character. Offers terrific subtle sweetness and finishes with outstanding persistence."

This label was awarded 93 points by Wine Advocate and 92 points by Int'l Wine Cellar.

Bottled in June 2005 after aging 19 months in 59 gallon French barrels, 75% new oak, 520 cases were released in the Spring of 2006. 

Winemaker's Notes - "This wine is a densely structured full bodied Cabernet with a deep red color. The aromatics are a mix of blackberry, tar and chocolate with floral overtones. The wine is rich with dark fruit flavors, possessing layers of complexity which give it such dimension and character. The finish is silky."

This may have been the WOTN - Wine of the Night, it was certainly my favorite of the evening being in the style that I prefer.

At twenty years, the label, foil and most importantly, the fill level and cork were in ideal condition. This was likely at its apex although not likely to improve with further cellar aging.

Bright ruby colored, medium-full bodied, full round bright vibrant flavors of sweet plum, blackberry and black currants with notes of mocha, caramel and violets with hints of creosote on a smooth polished fine tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Cos d'Estournel Grand Cru Classe St Estephe Bordeaux 1989

One of the classic historic Left Bank Bordeaux producers, we hold a dozen plus vintages of this label dating back to the 1979 which we featured in a blogpost below, including this 1989, and large format birth-year vintage bottles that we have served at family special events and celebrations as featured in these blogposts:

Family Celebration Dinner Features Birthyear Vintage Wine,

Birthyear vintage magnum Cos d'Estournel

Other posts featuring vintages of this label dating back to the 1979 vintage..

Pour Boys Impromptu Wine Dinner on the deck

OTBN 2019 - Open That Bottle Night

We visited the magnificent historic iconic Chateau Cos d' Estournel during our visit to the Medoc in the summer 0f 2018. Leaving the Pauillac town and appellation, driving past Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one crosses a miniscule creek leaving Pauillac and entering the St Estephe appellation. Rounding the bend and climbing the gentle hill, the iconic gate looms over the highway framing the historic Chateau, overlooking the estate vineyards across the road with the Lafite estate in the distance. 

Chateau Cos d’Estournel is a Second Growth Bordeaux from the Bordeaux classification of 1855. The estate is located on the border as one leaves Pauillac and enters St.-Estephe, adjacent to and looking across the vineyards at Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The historic iconic Chateau sits atop the hill and emerges in full view as one rounds the bend on the D4 route. According to the producer,  'Cos' means "the hill of pebbles".

Its oriental facade is adorned with three pagoda turrets, all cast in a soft golden sandstone. Chateau Cos d'Estournel today covers 170 acres separated from Chateau Lafite, along the southern edge, by the stream between St. Estephe and Pauillac. The chateau is surrounded by 160 acres of vineyards planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot.

The gravelly soil, over a flint, limestone and silicate subsoil low in nitrogen, has eroded over centuries to form steep ridges which perfectly drain the vineyards. The vineyards are planted 60 percent in Cabernet Sauvignon vines, 2 percent of Cabernet Franc, and 38 percent in Merlot. Naturally, the percentage of Cabernet or Merlot in the composition of each vintage depends on the climate for that vintage which favors one grape variety or the other.

Founded in the 18th century by Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, the chateau’s wines were in demand all over the world from the 19th century. The chateau was bought and sold many times during the late 19th and 20th centuries, and in 2000 it was acquired by Michel Reybier, who has managed it and maintained it's excellence.

Robert M. Parker Jr. has noted that Cos d’Estournel “has been particularly successful in difficult vintages” and “remains impeccably managed.” Some 200,000 bottles of the signature Cos d’Estournel are produced each year. 

Our Cellartracker records indicate we still hold a half dozen vintages of this label from the eighties and nineties including a half case of this vintage release.

We acquired and have held this bottle in our cellar since release - the foil and label are like new, the cork was intact despite starting to saturate. Again, evidence our cellar conditions are suitable for decades aging fine wines. 

This release was awarded 95 points by Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate, 94 points by  James Suckling, 93 points by Wine Spectator, and 18.5/20 points by Jancis Robinson. Parker was prescient when he projected to "Drink now-2025" back in 2010.

Garnet colored with a slight tinge of brown rust bricking, medium full bodied, complex, concentrated, rich black berry and black cherry fruits with notes of leather, tobacco, coffee, herbs, spice and hints of cedar with lush tannins and crisp acidity on a long aromatic finish.  

RM 93 points. 

Fellow Cellartracker'er Reviewed and "Likes this wine" just last month and gave it 93 points. Reading his review, it was 100% consistent with out experience tonight, even down to the saturated yet intact condition of the cork. I respectfully repost his review here below which sums up perfectly our tasting this evening.

"Medium-dark garnet in color with slight clearing at the edges. Full, forward & fragrant nose of ripe fruit aromas of dark cherries, blackberries & cassis with overtones of classic cigar box notes of cedar & tobacco, leather, graphite, floral notes of violets, herbs, forest floor/loam, mushrooms, minerals, cocoa, tar & some sous-bois notes. Medium-full bodied with a very good concentration of well balanced & smooth textured, ripe fruit flavors of dark cherries, blackcurrants & cassis with herbs, mushrooms, minerals, coffee & a slight hint of oak/vanilla. Long lingering silky-smooth finish. Drinks quite well at present with decanting & airing. At 34 years of age, I doubt any further development would occur from additional aging, but it should hold here for another 4 to 5 years. Fill was in lower neck; cork was saturated 1/2 up but intact."

Swithing from the Left Bank back to the Right Bank, another 1989 vintage Bordeaux .. 

Château Pavie Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé 1989

Château Pavie, situated on Saint-Emilion's limestone plateau and Pavie-Decesse is one of the "happy few” Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés. It is the Premier Grand Cru Classé flagship of the Perse family portfolio of estates that includes Saint-Emilion Châteaux Pavie, Pavie-Decesse, Monbousquet and Bellevue-Mondotte and Clos Lunelles in the Côtes de Castillon appellation.

All are managed by  owner Gérard Perse who move to Saint-Emilion in the early 1990s and purchased Château Pavie in 1998, followed a year later with the purchase of Grand Cru Classe Pavie Decesses.

The first Pavie vines were planted in Saint-Emilion on the "Pavie Hillside” south east of the town of Saint-Emilion, which previously grew red-fleshed peaches on the hills, a variety called "Pavie peaches” gave their name to the vineyard. Over time, peaches give way to vines.

The estate dates back to early owner Ferdinand Bouffard, a Bordeaux négociant, who inherited the Domaine de la Sable. Gradually, and over twenty years purchased the smaller neighboring vineyards of Pigasse, Chapus, Fayard and Dussaut to create a property of almost 125 acres which would become Château Pavie. Bouffard continued to vinify and sell each property's wine separately: Larcis-Bergey, Pavie-Pigasse, Pimpinelle, Clos Simard and La Sable.

Bouffard passed and the individual domaines continued through the First World War while awaiting a new owner when in 1919 they were acquired by Albert Porte. He sold Pavie-Pigasse which would become Pavie-Decesse, and united the other domaines to create the current Château Pavie.  

In 1943, Château Pavie was purchased by Alexandre Valette, a négociant from Saint-Ouen who already owned the neighboring vineyard of Troplong-Mondot. 

In the first Classification of Saint-Emilion wines in 1955, Pavie achieves the rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé "B”.

Jean-Paul Valette sold Château Pavie to current owners Gérard and Chantal Perse in 1998.

Château Pavie was promoted to the rank of Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé "A” in 2012.
In 2001, Perse purchased the Château Bellevue-Mondotte property which is just several vines distant from Pavie and Pavie-Decesse, a 'little jewel' of but 5 acres in size, situated on excellent terroir at the summit of Saint-Emilion's famous limestone plateau. The second part of the Château 's name, reminiscent of its famous neighbours La Mondotte and Château Troplong-Mondot, became Château Bellevue-Mondotte's with exceptional terroir.

In 2001, Gérard Perse, already owner of the famous Château Pavie, Pavie-Decesse, Monbousquet and Bellevue-Mondotte, creates « Esprit de Pavie » A Bordeaux red wine.

The estate is planted to 65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average age of the vines being 43 years. Annual production is 70 000 bottles.

Château Pavie has diverse terroirs: typical of the Saint-Emilion limestone plateau composed of clay-limestone soil on an asteriated limestone subsoil, located at an altitude of approximately 85 meters above the Dordogne River. The terroir is called "milieu de côte" (middle of the slope), located approximately 55 meters above the Dordogne and composed of very fine brown limestone. 

Today, Perse's daughter Angélique, along with son-in-law Henrique, and their two children, born in Saint-Emilion, live at the property.

Château Pavie Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé 1989

This release predates Gérard Perse's acquisition of the estate by almost a decade and does not quite match the highly acclaimed 1990 Pavie, but it continues to drink well. It was awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator and 17.5/20 points by Jancis Robinson.

Like the Cos above, at thirty-four years, the fill level, label, foil and importantly the cork, were all in pristine condition - the cork showing slight saturation but still integrally intact. This was past its apex but pleasant and still within its acceptable drinking window, but at a point where it will no doubt diminish from age here forward.

Garnet colored, medium to full-bodied, balanced, smooth but relatively simple blackberry fruits with notes of mushroom, tobacco, dusty rose and hints of milk chocolate with soft fine tannins and elegant texture on the moderate finish. 

RM 90 points.


Following dinner we opened several other festive bottles for sipping with deserts ... 

Madame de Beaucaillou 2018

Fluffy Billows Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Josh Phelps GW Steady State 2015

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets

Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets

Son Ryan invited brothers, dad and in-laws, in town for the holidays, over for a boys night of darts, ping-pong and pop-a-shot. He opened the evening serving a flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets.

Ryan served a selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie. 


Hall Xzellenze Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

We discovered, tasted and acquired this label at the magnificent Rutherford Estate Winery during our Napa Wine Experience in 2017. This is sourced from the Sacrashe Vineyard that lies just above the winery adjacent to the estate residence. We hold and have had some of the earlier single vineyard designated wines from this vineyard dating back to 1998. Who knew this would evolve and progress to such heights? Not often does one get to taste a 'perfect' wine. of course perfection is in the eyes ('eyze') of the beholder. The 2013 vintage of this label that we tasted that day in their magnificent tasting room in the cave at the Rutherford Sacrashe estate (shown below) got 100 points from  Robert Parker.

We tasted this wine recently in our Pour Boys holiday wine dinner so it was great to compare an earlier vintage of this classic Napa label - the flagship of Hall Wines. That release and another were featured in these pages' blogposts:

Exzellenz and aged Robert Craig Mt Veeder for holiday celebration gathering 

Ryan has also visited the Hall Rutherford estate and has acquired a significant collection of Hall wines and several vintages of this super label. 

This earlier release was awarded 96 points by Wine Enthusiast and 93 points by Wine Spectator.

This is 100% Cabernet sourced from the Hall Estate Sacrashe Vineyard that surrounds the producer's home and sits above the Hall Rutherford Winery and Hospitality Center. This was a limited production barrel selection of only 420 cases.
We wrote in earlier visit blogposts about the spectacular Hall Rutherford estate and cave tours at the Rutherford estate sitting in the Sacrashe Vineyard, with hospitality rooms above the wine production area, barrel caves and tasting room below.

A powerful expression, ripe and rich, with tiers of loamy earth, spice, currant, blackberry and herbal notes. Full-bodied, very tight and compact, ending with firm, fine-grained tannins and a touch of new saddle leather. blackberry jam, chocolate, olive and cedar flavors, it’s hard to not drain the bottle now. But it also shows fabulously rich tannins that suggest aging.

Continuing our flight of outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons ...

Cardinale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Just last week at our Family Christmas dinner offering a medley of festive wines, we served another ultra-premium label from the extensive Jackson Family Wines portfolio of iconic brands.

I written often in these pages about Jess Jackson (1930–2011) who founded what became one of the most successful family-owned wine companies in the world. Jackson’s lengthy career spanned more than 30 years in pursuit of his vision and passion to produce extraordinary wine from California’s best vineyards. 

Here is another one of those labels, Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, a small-production, limited-availability wine, highly sought after label.  

In 1983, Jess Jackson, proprietor of Kendall-Jackson Winery, decided to produce a world-class red Meritage wine. The name comes from the original Cardinale vineyard site at Kendall-Jackson's Lakeport winery. The wine is made predominantly of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with small amounts of Merlot and, in certain years, Cabernet Franc. 

The 2010 Cardinale is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot, sourced from 100% Napa Valley hillside and mountain vineyard sites.  It was aged 20 months in 98% new French oak.
It was produced by winemaker Chris Carpenter who wrote: “An intriguing combination of dark fruits and spices. The blending of five mountain sub-appellations provided aromas of ripe boysenberry, dark cherry and dragon fruit. These fruits meld on the palate with holiday spice and Sumatra coffee bean characters. The wine is lush in mid-body texture and has a lingering finish.”

Winemaker Notes continue .... "The 2010 Cardinale reflects a vintage that challenged us and highlighted our dedication to producing a wine that defines the very best of Napa Valley in a way that impacts your palate like Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." The score is at once a classic of musical creation and a masterpiece with all of the subtly, grace and precision of a Mozart symphony, but with the charisma of complex Jazz. Following suit, the 2010 Cardinale is an intriguing combination of dark fruits and spices, opening with scents of ripe boysenberry and dark cherry that meld on the palate with holiday spices and Sumatra coffee bean flavors. The 2010 Cardinale has a lush, mid-body texture and a lingering finish."

This release was awarded 96 points from Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, 92 points Int'l Wine Cellar and Stephen Tanzer, 91 points from Wine Spectator and 17/20 points by Jancis Robinson.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, intense, powerful and rich layers of dark red and black fruits with notes of mocha, cinnamon, cassis, earthy cedar and tobacco with hints of tar and graphite on a firm grippijng tannin laced lingering finish. 
Fleury 29  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

I featured Brian and Claudia Fleury and their Fleury Napa Valley estate wines in thess pages back in 2018 in the blogpost Fleury Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Duo. I wrote about when we first met Brian and Claudia Fleury at a Del Dotto Estate Winery event (see below) back in 2002. From that meeting we acquired some Fleury Estate Lauren Bryce Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from what I believe was their inaugural vintage release. How surprising then and what fun to hear son Ryan speaking of this wine and about he and some of his buddy's acquiring some of the highly allocated select wine for their cellars. Fleury Estate Napa Cab is a favorite of him and several of his colleagues who have extensive collections of numerous releases of this label. 

Fleury Estate Winery owns 50 acres of premium vineyard land in different appellations and elevations that they note allow them to "craft consistent, high quality Napa Valley wines year after year". Their primary Fleury Estate Vineyard located in the heart of Napa Valley just south of St. Helena in Rutherford, is also home to the Fleury tasting room, winemaking facilities and 11 acre estate vineyard.  
They also own and manage 30 acres in the St Helena Vineyard, and six acre Howell Mountain Vineyard high up in Deerpark.
Their vineyards are planted to all the Bordeaux Varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. 

Le Fleur 29 is sourced from the Fleury estate vineyard in the foothills above St Helena sitting at an elevation of 880 feet. It is named for Brian Flurry's father Lee Fleury.
Garnet colored, medium full bodied bright expressive blackberry fruits accented by clove spice, oak, tobacco leaf, graphite with hints of sweet mocha and vanilla. 
RM 93 points.