Saturday, February 25, 2023

OTBN - Open That Bottle Night - 2023

 OTBN - Open That Bottle Night - 2023

The last Saturday in February brings the annual OTBN wine event – Open That Bottle Night – the 24th such event since its creation in 2000 by Dorothy Gaither and John Brecher wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal.

And, for the twelfth straight year, since 2011, members of our Pour Boys (TM) wine group assembled to share and compare special bottles of wine, that have been held in our cellars, waiting for the special occasion to open, so as to eventually succumb to the inevitable, its time, open that bottle (to)night!

As is becoming our custom, we’re starting to follow the seasons, and congregate in the south during the winter, and the north during the other seasons. As such, we gathered again at Bill and Beth C’s in Charleston, SC for this years' gala.

This year’s event was hosted by Bill and Beth C at their home on Seabrook Island, SC. The Saturday night OTBN dinner was held at the Seabrook Island Clubhouse Ashley Room private dining room. 


Several members were not able to attend due to family and other commitments but we'll look forward to having them participate in our other scheduled events this spring, summer and fall, back in Chicago-land.

This year, while we defy any theme other than the spirit of OTBN, we narrowed some of our selections to a couple of vintages, since we all have rather deep and broad cellar collections that offer at times perhaps an overwhelming range of choices.

To that end we brought a couple mini horizontals - multiple labels from the same vintage - a selection of 1995 Napa Cabernets and one of 2015 vintage premium Chardonnays - Mayacamas Napa Valley Mt Veeder and Sea Smoke Santa Barbara County Santa Rita Hills.

The Chardonnays from two of our favorite producers were an ideal comparison tasting of two diverse contrasting styles, and perfect accompaniment to the Seabrook Club Sea Scallops and the Salmon entree selections. 

We tasted the Mayacamas wine at the estate winery with Bill and Beth during our Mayacamas Mt Veeder Napa Valley Winery Visit during our Spring 2011 Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience. Both Bill and Dan are collectors as members of the Sea Smoke wine club and source this iconic premium label.

The Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon Horizontal flight from 1995. 

This year, a few new designations or declarations emerged, perhaps for the future. From our selection of a dozen and a half bottles of wine, to be enjoyed over the course of the weekend, not just limited to the Saturday evening gala, we discovered, or decreed some new notables or mentions from our wine flight.

The Highest Achievement or Achiever award, or recognition went to Freemark Abbey Bosche’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1995. This wine stood our from the other two similarly situated labels – same grape varietal, same vintage, similar or neighboring proximity appellations.

The also rans were Del Dotto Napa Valley Rutherford appellation Cabernet Sauvignon, and Plumpjack Reserve Oakville Cabernet.

The Del Dotto probably was most predicable, meeting or pretty much living up to expectations, consistent with my earlier recollections. Folks thought it had a mustiness to it that I attributed to Del Dotto's preponderance of oak. 

We visited the estate together during out Del Dotto Rutherford Cave Tour and Barrel Tasting during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2017.

Reading my earlier tasting notes on this label, indeed I cited the preponderance of oak in the tasting profile when I wrote in 2011, "Only starting to show a hint of age but still life left in this sixteen year old - dark garnet color, medium-full bodied, oak predominates the taste accented by spicy black cherry, berry, plum and cedar with hint of leather, cigar box and vanilla with well-integrated tannins on a long complex finish." RM 91 points. 

Like tonight, this was consistent with my previous tasting fifteen months earlier in 2010. "Starting to show a hint of age but lots of life left in this fifteen year old - oak predominates the taste accented by spicy black cherry, berry, plum and hint of vanilla , with smooth polished well-integrated tannins on a long complex finish."

The Plumpjack, being the Reserve single vineyard designated bottling from McWilliams Mt Eden vineyard, probably underachieved, especially when considering the lofty expectations set by the producer at the winery when they pressed to supplement or top up our holdings for a mere $700+ per bottle.

We tasted and acquired this wine during our first visit to the Plumpjack estate back in 1999 when we actually hosted winemaker May Pisor for a winemaker dinner with our wine group at Meadowood Country Club in Napa (right).

The Freemark Abbey Bosche' was full, round, complex, yet polished and elegant, showing no signs of diminution whatsoever after 28 years, and was even better the next evening!  It showed very similar profile and characteristics as the TOR, below. This is not surprising perhaps since the Bosche' vineyard is adjacent to the Beckstoffer ToKalon vineyard

Once again, perhaps this should not have been a surprise. Tonight's tasting notes are remarkably consistent with my previous tasting of this label nine years earlier when I wrote: "At a horizontal tasting of Napa Cabernets, this label proved to be one of, if not the tasting highlight (s) of the evening. My own Cellartracker notes and rating from 9/2/2013, about eleven months ago accurately apply to tonight's tasting - I wrote: "An eye-opening standout of th(at)e evening featuring a horizontal tasting of five 95 vintage Napa Cabs, this was medium to full bodied with bright vibrant forward ripe plum and black raspberry fruits accented by tones of currant, clove, hints of vanilla and sweet oak with smooth polished silky tannins on the finish. Lots of life left in this eighteen year old."

These were great comparisons and accompaniments to the Seabrook Club filets of beef entrees. 

While interesting, and somewhat complex, the Plumpjack was what I will politely call, delicate, subdued in its nuances, certainly a style and profile very different from the boisterous blustery bold fruit bombs we so often favor and enjoy – more akin the style of some of our other highly regarded selections, below.

Perhaps the most highly acclaimed or rated bottle of the evening (WOTN- Wine of the Night) was the Bacchus label by Joseph Phelps, brought by Dan from his wine club vertical collection of this label. Our visit, private tour and Joseph Phelps Napa Spring Valley Winery Tasting was one of the highlights of our Napa Valley Wine Experience together in 2017.

Next in line might be the TOR To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon predominant Cuvee' Bordeaux varietal blend. This is produced by vintner and proprietors Tor and Susan Kenwood, part of a portfolio of a dozen labels of single vineyard designated wines sourced from some of the premier vineyards across Napa Valley and crafted by Winemaker Jeff Ames. 

This label is sourced from six blocks of 83 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and two blocks of Cabernet Franc from the world renowned To Kalon vineyard. To Kalon owned by Andy Beckstoffer provides under grower/producer contracts, fruit for some of the most storied labels in Napa Valley such as Opus One. It is sited across Highway 29, St Helena Highway, from that property, adjacent and behind Robert Mondavi Winery, up against the Mayacamas foothills. It is also source for the Poetic Justice label below.

Here is where the surprise of the evening, or weekend emerges. 'Hooray for Bosche,’ the single vineyard designated label from long-time favored and widely held and collected producer Freemark Abbley. Wine buddy Bill holds an extensive collection of this producer, followed by me, with labels dating back three decades. These pages are filled with comparison tastings of these labels over the years between Bill and me. 

We also made a discovery of a new label (to us), Poetic Justice from the Bounty Hunter, from a collection from the producer that Bill acquired as part of a winning bid at a fund raising charity auction. Lucky us, as this was an exciting new label/producer discovery, perhaps a new category for us for future wine tastings. 

This was released negociant style by Bounty Hunter, notable long time Napa Valley reseller of super premium boutique and bespoke wines. This label release was a collaborative project with legendary winemaker Philip Melka crafted from fruit sourced from the To Kalon vineyard. We've acquired several super labels from him over the years and have attended a couple premier tastings currated by him.

Bill's Cellartracker notes for this tasting that captured this perfectly. "Wow! What a pleasant surprise. This was full of red fruit, raspberry and cherry. Full bodied with well integrated tannins. This was delicious on a pop and pour basis. 73% Cabernet Franc and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the flavor was there and plenty of body. Missing a little complexity and depth but really delicious." WCC 92 points.

Lyle brought from his cellar the Dissident from Mark Ryan. We tasted this and the Poetic Justice in a run up to the dinner. This exceeded expectations, providing a very nice complex but balanced approachable wine for casual sipping in the afternoon with cheeses and fruits.

Mark Ryan wines are the artwork of Mark Ryan McNeilly, a self taught winemaker who learned the craft working with well known producers, acquiring Bordeaux varietal grapes from renowned vineyards in the Columbia Valley Red Mountain appellation. He produces an extensive portfolio of wines from across the region, but is most notably known for several art crafted Bordeaux Blends.

We discovered, tasted and acquired this wine when we visited and conducted a Mark Ryan Columbia Valley Wine Tasting in his Woodinville, Washington tasting room during our Seattle Culinary and Washington Wine Tour in 2018.
Today's tasting was consistent with my notes from that experience: "Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, dark berry, black currant and black cherry fruits are accented with notes of spice, mocha and hints of cedar with subtle tannins on a lingering finish." RM 91 points. 

The closing wine flight for the dinner, and over the weekend, was a collection of dessert wines and a big brawny Aussie shiraz, the premium Clarendon Hills Astrallis label, best suited for the after dinner chocolate course.

The weekend featured several selections of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, fresh fruits and assorted nuts, biscuits and crackers. 


What fun, and how ironic that our long favored cheese purveyor, Murray's Cheese, where we shopped and dined at their wine and cheese shop and restaurant wine and cheese bar in Greenwich Village in NYC numerous times over the years, was subsequently acquired by Kroger, and as such, their artisan cheeses are now available here at home at our local Mariano's, and down in South Carolina and their local Harris Teeter, as well as at specialty wine and cheese shops! 

And the Dow Vintage Port and Astrallis with Chocolate cake! Recognition for Linda's birthday (and my recent retirement).

The wine flight for this year’s events:

Chateau Leoville Barton St Julien Bordeaux 1986 - we'll hold this as part of a vertical or horizontal for an upcoming event.

Mark Ryan Dissident Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

The trio horizontal wine tasting of 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

-        Del Dotto Rutherford Napa Valley Estate

-        Freemark Abbey Bosche' Vineyard from Oakville Appellation

-        Plumpjack Reserve Oakville McWilliams Mt Eden Vineyard

Joseph Phelps Bacchus Oakville Cabernet 2012

A duo of Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignons

Bounty Hunter Poetic Justice 2009
TOR 2009 from magnum

Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cab 2008

And the dessert, cheese, chocolate courses flight:

Clarendon Hills Astrallis Syrah 2011
Alois Kracher Chardonnay TBA Trocken Bereen Auslese #7 Nouvelle Vague 2001
Alois Kracher Chardonnay TBA Trocken Bereen Auslese #9 Nouvelle Vague 2002
Dow Vintage Port 1994

Previous Pour Boys OTBN Events

Pour Boys OTBN 2019 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2018 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2016 - Open That Bottle Night 

Pour Boys OTBN 2015 - Open That Bottle NightBordeaux Anchors OTBN 2015

Pour Boys OTBN - Open That Bottle Night 2014

Pour Boys OTBN 2013 - Open That Bottle Night 2013

Pour Boys OTBN 2012 - Open That Bottle Night

Pour Boys OTBN 2011 - Open That Bottle Night.


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Long Shadows Chester Kidder

 Long Shadows Chester Kidder with grilled beefsteak dinner - Tribute to Founder Allan Shoup

We grilled out beefsteaks served with asparagus, buttered baked potatoes and wedge salad. To accompany the dinner I pulled from the cellar this special bottling, Chester Kidder Columbia Valley Red Bordeaux Blend from the Long Shadows Collection

I written often in these pages about Long Shadows Cellars that feature world class winemakers and Columbia Valley fruit. Long Shadows was the creation of Allan Shoup, leader of Chateau St Michelle from 1983 to 2000. There he introduced Washington State grapes to winemakers from around the world in collaboration to produce quality wines. 

After retirement from Chateau St Michelle he founded Long Shadows to produce world class ultra-premium wines in Washington. He built a state of the art winery in Walla Walla and recruited a team of legendary producers to craft signature wines from the best vineyards' fruit from the Washington Columbia Valley. Three years into the new venture Long Shadows was awarded the Winery of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine. 

Shoup recruited a top winemaker with expertise and a track record producing best in class wine in each category or type of wine based on varietal grape. Marketed under the Vintners Collection, each of the Long Shadows labels in a testament to the legend of the winemaker for each label based on each varietal. 
Allen took inspiration for Long Shadows from his good friend and mentor Robert Mondavi, whose Opus One collaboration with Baron Philippe de Rothschild helped establish the prestige of Napa Valley. Inspired by the idea of international partnerships and fortunate to enjoy industry friendships around the  globe, Allen envisioned a the collaborative alliances to highlight the quality and diversity of Washington vineyards that lead to recruiting the dream team of winemakers.
Since the beginning, Long Shadows' Director of Winemaking and Viticulture Gilles Nicault, has overseen the operations of the winery and worked closely with the vintners to bring each winemaker’s vision to completion. Internationally renowned winemakers Randy Dunn (Feather Cabernet Sauvignon); John Duval (Sequel Syrah); Philippe Melka (Pirouette Red Wine); and Michel Rolland (Pedestal Merlot) are active partners in their respective wines. Gilles now crafts Poet’s Leap Riesling and Saggi, a Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, in styles that remain true to their original winemakers, Armin Diel and Giovanni Folonari respectively and this label, Chester-Kidder, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend, independently.

Gilles works closely with the state’s top growers to execute a diverse winemaking protocol at Long Shadows’ state-of-the-art facility in Walla Walla to produce wines of exceptional quality, true to the Columbia Valley’s terroir.

In researching Long Shadows for this blogpost I just learned that Allan Shoup recently passed this pas November. He is memorialized in a tribute on the Long Shadows website, “It is impossible to overstate the impact Allen had on Washington wine. If there were a Mount Rushmore of Washington wine, his face would be on it. His accomplishments will continue to impact this industry long after we are all gone." - Sean Sullivan, NW Wine Report.
Allen Shoup created this label and named this wine in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Chester, and his grandmother, Maggie Kidder. He selected Long Shadows' Director of Winemaking and Viticulture, Gilles Nicault, to craft this New World blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other classic Bordeaux varieties.

Chester Kidder Columbia Valley Red Bordeaux Blend 2016

This is a unique blend that is crafted and styled to capture the complexity of the growing region, Chester-Kidder is aged for an average of 30 months in tight-grained French oak which allows the fruit to fully integrate prior to bottling. 

Since discovering Long Shadows Cellars and joining their club, we've acquired a vertical collection of a half dozen vintages of this label and are now being rewarded for collecting and holding these bottles.  

Tonight, after four years of aging, this was much better behaved, more approachable, seamless and well integrated than and last encounter in 2019 when I wrote: "I like this wine: 91 Points - I found this dark garnet colored, medium to full-bodied, complex, and layered, but slightly disjointed as if the boldness of the Syrah was competing for attention with the firm structured Cabernet Sauvignon. I suspect that with some time in bottle this will settle and become more balanced and harmonious. The Syrah predominance showed a layer of sweet red fruits, accented by notes of spice, tobacco leaf, smokey sweet oak and smooth tannins on the lingering finish."

 Winemaker Notes: Inky in color and brimming with layered aromas and flavors of black cherries, baking spice and a subtle earthiness, the 2016 Chester-Kidder offers an impressive concentration of refined tannins and a lively mouthfeel. Wonderfully rich and well-balanced, the wine gains fullness across the mid-palate and leaves a vibrant impression on the finish.

This is an interesting, enticing blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, and 12% Petit Verdot resulting in a style and profile that we love.

This was delicious and a perfect complement to the grilled beefsteak dinner. 

This label release was awarded 94 points by Jeb Dunnuck and James Suckling, 92+ points by Wine Advocate and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast Sean Sullivan.

Dark blackish inky purple, full bodied, powerful, dense/rich, yet nicely balanced, ripe layered dark berry fruits are accented by spicy oak, flavors of bitter dark chocolate, dark currants and cassis with silky mouthfeel and firm tannins lingering with a long, drawn-out finish.

RM 93 points. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Leña Brava Restaurant Chicago

Leña Brava Restaurant Chicago

We held a celebration dinner recognizing our team that contributed to the successful business transaction resulting in the sale of our company. In attendance were the 'deal' team from our company and our corporate finance investment banking advisors.

The dinner was held at Leña Brava Restaurant in the vibrant Randolph Street Restaurant Row in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. 

The recent renaissance has transformed the historic Fulton market meat packing and food processing and distribution area into one of the country's most vibrant commercial centers with the development of corporate headquarters, tech industry, hotels, bars, restaurants, and retail that include McDonald's world headquarters, Google, Mondelez, Herman Miller and more.

Leña Brava was created to celebrate classic Mexican dishes cooked over hardwood fire featuring seafood-heavy cuisine of Mexico’s Baja coast, with an all ”ferocious firewood” kitchen. Interesting too, given my focus on wine in these pages, is the feature of Mexican wines on their winelist, which I admit, I had never experienced before. 

We were seated in a private dining room with views of the cityscape, and dinner featured a bespoke menu for the evening.  Prior to dinner was an endless procession of delectable hors d'oeuvres and specialty drinks.

Our wine pairings for the evening including a White and a Red from the limited, focused winelist, from producer Casa Magoni, sourced from Valle de Guadalupe, on the Baja Peninsula, (B.C. - Baja California), Mexico. 

Both wines exceeded my expectations, neither the selection of varietals nor their profiles being what one would expect coming from what I would consider a hot climate. Apparently, the coastal effects, and they say the elevation, temper the terroir to produce such wines.  

The Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) is an area of Ensenada Municipality, Baja California, Mexico that is an increasingly popular tourist destination for wine and Baja Med cuisine. It is located 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of the City of Ensenada and 113 kilometres (70 mi) southeast of the border crossing from San Diego to Tijuana.

The Valle de Guadalupe's elevation and microclimate make it ideal for growing Vitis vinifera, cultivated grapes, suited for winemaking. As of 2018, there were over 100 wineries along the Valle's Ruta del Vino (Wine Route). Collectively, they account for 70% of all Mexico's wines.

The varieties of grapes grown to produce red wine in the Baja California region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. The grapes for white wines are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga. 

The wines were appropriate pairings to complement the beef, cheese, and seafood selections. 

Our host arranged for a prepared menu flight of three courses with two selections each. 

The starter course consisted of Charred Queso Fresco - Garlicky green mojo, Picoline olives, parsley and lime served with coal-fired pan de campo.

The other starter course may have been the best selection of the entire evening, incredible, delicious, artfully prepared Wood-Fired Oysters - east coast oysters, preserved lemon-anchovy butter and chipotle. They were as delectable and unique as they were picturesque.

The two main courses were a fish and a beef dish - Wild Alaskan Black Cod marinated in red chile, roasted chayote, fiery arbol salsa and Wood-oven braised beef short ribs, silky tamal pudding, guajillo reduction, parsley & white onion salad.

The two main dishes were accompanied by two side dishes: Mexican Rice and Fingerling Potatoes.

The two wines were from the same producer, Casa Magoni - both from the same region, Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California, Mexico.

Winemaker/producer Camillo Magoni, born in Valtellina, Italy, Magoni moved to Baja California in 1965, after studying viticulture and enology in Alba. He worked for almost fifty years at regional producer L.A. Cetto winery, another label offered on the Leña Brava limited, focused wine list.

Magoni is credited for helping establish the transformation of Baja California’s wine industry. Starting in the 1960s, he bought vineyards and experimented with many varieties, growing over a hundred of them seeking the right varietal best suited for the terroir of the area - soil, climate, exposure - all the elements that contribute to the character and profile of the sense of place and its impact on the resulting wines. He experimented with Chardonnay, Fiano, Viognier, Arneis, Moschofilero, Assyrtiko, Montepulciano, Aglianico, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, many of them field blends. 

Over the years, he sold his grapes to established wineries, and helped them move away from high alcohol reds while developing white wines. In 2012, faced with a surplus of grapes, he decided to start making his own wine. 

Like his experimentation in grapes, he also explored crafting techniques best suited for the local wines, trying new things, making many unique cuvées and trial batches. He introduced his Casa Magoni wines in 2016, and has become recognized as one of the iconic personalities of Baja California viticulture and signature wines.

Production of Casa Magoni has grown to total production approaching 21,000 cases per year.

Casa Magoni, Manaz, Vino Blanco, (Viognier, Fiano), Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico 2021

This white blend is 80% Viognier and 20% Fiano sourced from the “Campo Manaz” vineyard, on the east side of Guadalupe Valley, which lends the wine its name.

One cellartracker writes "A very nice blend combining soft, peachy fruit from Viognier with the more earthy, nutty, tart characteristics of Fiano."

Winemaker's notes: "A pale and luminous yellow with a light green hue. Fresh and elegant with white flower and mellow aromas. Citric notes like lime and grapefruit mixed with tropical fruits like pineapple and apricot are perceived. Fresh in mouth. Citric and floral notes are highlighted. Nice and firm acidity with a long and elegant finish."

Light grayish straw colored, medium light bodied, crisp, bright acidity with slightly tart stone fruits, mineral and notes of tangy citrus and tropical fruits.  

RM 87 points

 And for the red ....

Casa Magoni, Sangiovese/Cabernet, Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico 2021 

This is an imaginative unique blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, also sourced totally from the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, México.  

Winemaker's Tasting Notes: "A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two varieties have been grown in the Guadalupe Valley for decades, as the climate and terroir is well-suited to them. Each variety is harvested and fermented separately. The vinification is done in stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness of the fruit. The wine is bottled before the following harvest season.'

"Aromas of cherries and red raspberries, with black fruits notes in the background. Well-integrated tannins, more cherry and plum, and a hint of black tea on the finish. 13% alcohol."

Wine pundit Ian Blackburn who reviews Mexican wines awarded this release 90 Points. He wrote, "Freshness, purity and drinkability are expressed wonderfully in this value option. Color 13/15 (soft and pretty), Aroma 22/25 (fresh fruit, nice varietal expression), Body 22/25 (satisfying and indulgent), Overall 33/35 = 90 points."

Ruby colored, medium plus bodied, bright expressive dark berry and plum fruits with spice, tobacco and cedar sprites with tangy acidity and moderate tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 88 points.

The closing dessert course was Coconut Tres Leches Cake - Sponge cake soaked in coconut milk with toasted coconut and strawberry compote. 

Like all the dishes, this exceeded my expectations and was better than could be imagined, or discerned from the description which did not do it justice. 

Thanks to our hosts, and the Leña Brava team for a delightful evening and delectable dinner.