Friday, April 28, 2023

Portsmouth offers delightful picturesque getaway

Portsmouth offers delightful picturesque getaway and numerous wine dine options

We spent a getaway weekend in Portsmouth (NH) for an extended family event. Portsmouth, a historic harbor port sited at the estuary of the scenic Pascataqua River, on the New Hampshire Maine border, exceeded our expectations with many picturesque, quaint cityscapes, and a broad range of shopping and dining options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, cafes, bistro's, fine dining, riverfront views, and wine bars.

We learned that idyllic Portsmouth, a town of 33,000, mushrooms to over 100,000 inhabitants during the summer season, attracted to shopping, historic sites, theatre and jazz clubs, and a extensive vibrant dining scene. 

Our short weekend stay only touched the surface, but discovered and exposed a target rich environment for readers of this blog, those interested in the wine and dine scene. 


Elephantine Bakery

For breakfast we dined at Elephantine Bakery, an idealic simple enchanting old-world cafe'. They profess to use traditional French techniques to handcraft breads and pastries, baked daily in their intimate kitchen. They consider daily coffee as a sacred ritual with a traditional Italian coffee menu espousing the philosophy that 'quality is essential and simpler is better'.

Elephantine Bakery sits off the main street tucked away in an alley, Commercial Alley in Portsmouth, that is as picturesque as an city view, opposite an equally enchanting wine and cheese shop ingeniously named "Corks and Curd"!

The Elephantine Bakery in Portsmouth was voted the No. 4 place to eat No. 4 on Yelp's Top 100 Places To Eat in New England. 

Elephantine Bakery is the dream of owners Sherif and Nadine Farag, which they pursued after becoming disenchanted with notable storied careers.

Nadine earned a Masters and completing one year of doctoral studies in global health at Harvard. Sherif, born and raised on the French Seacoast, graduated from Ferrandi in Paris where he studied bread and viennoiserie under the mentorship of Didier Chaput. He moved to New York City and worked in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. 

Sherif and Nadine checked out and founded The Elephantine Bakery, their dream to pursue to the deep values they believe in: good food, a beautiful setting, the nurturing of community, and the art of living well.

The atmosphere and setting is magical, "inspired by the enduring allure of the café—of countless rendezvous unfolding over coffee from Paris to Rome, from Beirut to Athens. Here, time and space obscure".

The decor "sports jungle wallpaper, leaping zebras, leopard-print ceilings, French bistro-inspired light fixtures, brass surfaces, and blue and white pottery create a tapestry of beauty".

Get there early as it only sits eight people inside and less than a dozen outside. 

Domaine De Ecette Les Gaoudoires Ruly 2019 at ROW 34

For lunch we dined at ROW 34 on Hanover Street and Portwalk Place, located a few blocks away from the famed Portsmouth’s Decks. Row 34 is among several upscale restaurants in town that are worthy to be a destination for dining.

ROW 34 take seafood seriously, but they profess "We are here to have fun, and we love what we do".

Their seafood roots run deep, "which means they (we) love local oysters and beer, source our lobsters from Jeremy’s cousin Mark (in York, Maine), and will run all over New England to find the freshest fish around. We source the best oysters from our friends, pick up our fish fresh from the Fish Pier, and are always on the hunt for the most delicious beer around."

Of course we had the Whole Buttered Lobster Roll served on a brioche bun. We also had sides of the Whitefish Croquettes, basil, preserved lemon aïoli, and Grilled Asparagus tapenade and citrus. All were delicious.

With lunch we had from the wine-list this Burgundian Chardonnay,  Domaine De Ecette Les Gaoudoires Rully 2019.

This obscure small production label has found distribution in the highly regulated state including the New Hampshire State Liquor. We also found it on the winelist, then saw it prominently in other wine shops in the village. I blog about this wine producer and label in a separate blogpost here.

Rio Tequila Cantina

For casual late afternoon, early dinner, we dined along historic Row Street overlooking the Portsmouth riverfront, harbor and two of the three downtown bridges crossing the river. 

We dined at Rio Tequila Cantina, located on the Portsmouth Waterfront. They serve authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern touch. They have two levels of outside patios overlooking the water and a bright vibrant picturesque dining room featuring colorful artwork and historic architecture and decor. 

We opted to sit inside to enjoy the artwork and delightful vibe, still having window scenic views of the Portsmouth harbor waterfront and bridges in the distance.

Rio is part of the Labrie Group family of restaurants which also includes Jimmy’s, The Atlantic Grill, Rio and adjacent The River House next door, also on the riverfront. Corporate chef Nathan Varney oversees executive chefs at each Labrie Group restaurant. We found the food incredible, imaginative, artful and delicious - amazing for a Mexican cuisine! 

I chose for my entree selection the Enchiladas, roasted poblano, three cheese, finished with enchilada sauce, crema, rice and beans. 

Linda chose the Street Corn Salad with shrimp, roasted garlic dressed mixed greens , warm carved corn, roasted red peppers, cotija cheese, spicy aioli, green onion.

Rio Tequila Cantina
37 Bow St., Portsmouth, N.H.

La Maison Navarre Pastry, Bistro, Wine Bar

We frequented La Maison Navarre Pastry, Bistro, Wine Bar, a Parisian-style cafe & pastry shop with light French fare, French pasty and macarons with a wine and cheese bar upstairs. Each morning we picked up fresh croissants for breakfast at the cafe.

Our family event duties didn't allow time to take advantage of the fine dining establishments of Portsmouth that we found. We look forward to returning to explore more of the Portsmouth wine and dining scene and the long list of establishments that we found during our walks around town - Bridge Street Bistrot & Wine Bar, Toscana Italian Chophouse & Wine Bar, Surf Portsmouth, also on the riverfront, adjacent Rio and River House, and Massimo's, like Rio, an ornate brick & stone setting with oil paintings on the wall, with upscale Italian fare & wines. 

We also walked by, checked out the menus and put on our list Cafe Mediterraneo Ristoranti Italiano, a small 40-seat Italian bistro located on Fleet Street downtown Portsmouth, adjacent and next door to La Maison Navarre. 

 Accommodations - Visiting Portsmouth, there are several hotels downtown within walking distance of the Riverfront and the numerous shops and eateries, the large Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside sitting on the hilltop overlooking the city, perpetually reliable and ever hospitable Marriott has a Marriott AC Hotel and Residence Inn, and adjacent, Hilton Garden on the same block. Our group opted for the Hilton Garden for its location. Unfortunately, several of the staff there (aside the bar staff) were unwelcoming, rude, condescending and confrontational - one to avoid if alternatives are available. 

Enjoy Portsmouth. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Domaine De Ecette Les Gaoudoires Rully

Domaine De Ecette Les Gaoudoires Rully 2019 at ROW 34

As mentioned in my separate blogpost on our visit to Portmouth (NH), we dined at ROW 34 on Hanover Street and Portwalk Place.

We had the Lobster Roll with sides of the Fish Croquettes and a plate of grilled asparagus. From the menu:
  • Whitefish Croquettes basil, preserved lemon aïoli* 
  • Grilled Asparagus tapenade, citrus
  • Whole buttered Lobster Roll served on a brioche bun 
With lunch we had from the wine-list this Burgundian Chardonnay BTG (by the glass). 

Domaine De Ecette Domaine de l’Ecette – Vincent Daux Les Gaoudoires Rully (Blanc) 2019

This obscure small production label has found distribution in the highly regulated state. We first found it on the winelist, then saw it prominently in other wine shops in the village including the New Hampshire State Liquor Store and Wine Outlet.

Domaine de l’Ecette is a small family estate of about 35 acres located in the village of Rully, on the Côte Chalonnaise in southern Burgundy. It is run by Father and son team of Jean and Vincent Daux who work together to combine experience and knowledge of Burgundian tradition with 'modern schooling, energy and enthusiasm' of the next generation. 

Management of the Domaine passed at Domaine de L’Ecette in 1997 after Vincent completed his studies in viticulture. The father and son team produce vibrant and lively wines that represent the Côte Chalonnaise with a portfolio of wines from the noble Bourgogne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté.

Rully is a village with a long history, with a château which has been in the same family for six centuries, a church with an elegant bell-tower, as well as fine houses and parks. Rully was granted its AOC in 1939 and now produces red wines (Pinot Noir) and white wines (Chardonnay) with both appellations Village and Premier Cru with 600 acres under vine for whites and 300 for reds. It is in the appellation Côte Chalonnaise, one of no less than 84 world-renowned appellations of the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region with vines grown along a strip covering some 230km from north to south, with 30,052 hectares under vine.

The 84 appellations are spread over the regions include the world famous notables as well as the obscure, ranging from Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, the Côte de Nuits and the Hautes Côtes de Nuits, the Côte de Beaune and the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Couchois, the Mâconnais and the Châtillonnais. No wonder many find French wines confusing, complicated and bewildering.

As discussed in these pages, we tend to focus on Bordeaux wines and grape varietals. Like Bordeaux appellation system with its fifty plus designated areas, the wines of Bourgogne are classified into 84 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOCs), from appellations Régionale to Grands Crus. The AOC system of classification guarantees the authenticity and helps maintain the quality of the region’s wines that reflect the diversity of the Bourgogne terroir and the expertise of its winemakers.
As with Bordeaux and the Rhone region, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is a form of certification. It guarantees the characteristics of a wine in terms of the terroir where the grapes are grown, the way it is made, following certain precise steps, the terroir of the site, and the local savoir-faire, born from traditional methods that have been perfected over time.

The terroir consists of subtle differences in the wines are due to differences in soil, exposure and altitude, all of which vary considerably hereabouts. At heights of 230-300 metres, the hill-slopes produce wines which can compete with the best wines of the nearby Côte de Beaune. The Pinot Noir grape grows on brown or limey soils with little clay in their make-up. The Chardonnay grape prefers a claylimestone soil.

Producer notes - This wine is gold flecked with green, and the gold deepens with age. It is redolent with superb aromas of hedgerow flowers (acacia, may, honeysuckle, and a very delicate elderflower) as well as violet, lemon, white peach or flint. Time brings out honey, quince, and dried fruits. Indeed, this wine is full of fruit, which on the palate is lively and well-rounded, meaty and long. It has both the coolness and the polish of marble.
Golden straw colored, medium bodied, bright lemon, grapefruit citrus with hints of lime and tropical fruits, high acidity but sufficiently balanced for a pleasant lingering finish.  

RM 87 points.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Kistler Les Noisetiers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay at Emerils Coastal

Kistler Les Noisetiers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay at Emeril's Coastal Restaurant, Sandestin, Miramar Beach

Visiting the Florida Gulf shores for a getaway week, we had a delightful, delicious dinner at Emeril's Coastal Seafood restaurant in Sandestin Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach.

For diiner, we shared the daily fresh seafood catch, whole pan seared Grouper, and for starters we had roasted oysters and the special cheese plate. 

The Emeril's Coastal Cheese Board consisted of  Four Artisanal Cheeses with accompaniments - home-made multi-berry jam, fresh honey comb, fresh berries, nuts and baguettes: 

  • Thomasville Tomme French
  • Humboldt Fog
  • Talcggio
  • Roque Smoked Blue

Fresh Oysters from Murder Point and Admiral, Alabama

The Fresh Catch of the day was pan seared whole Grouper with asparagus spears in a muniere sauce.


We selected from the winelist this ultra-premium Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

 Kistler “Les Noisetiers” Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, California 2020

Kistler is a family-owned and operated winery founded in 1978 by Steve Kistler and the Kistler family. From the beginning it has been dedicated to the production of ultra-premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, using old-world Burgundian techniques applied to new world vineyards. 

Kistler wines are crafted from one heritage Californian selection of Chardonnay clone vines planted across fifteen vineyards, from Carneros to Sonoma Valley, to the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. Kistler's plantings on Sonoma Mountain are some of the oldest Chardonnay plantings in Sonoma County.

They have been working with and on this singular clone of Chardonnay since the mid 1980’s. It was originally sourced from vines imported from Burgundy in the early part of the 20th century. It have been developed by California farmers and winemakers over decades to be best suited to the Californian terroir and growing conditions.  

From the fifteen vineyard sites Kistler produce eleven different vineyard designated select Chardonnays.  

This cuvee is an appellation-focused wine designed to the regional character of western Sonoma County, highlighting mineral tones from vineyards with sandy soils. The wine was originally crafted exclusively for restaurants but is now available in retail stores on a limited basis. It has rich, complex smoky aromas, intense fruit flavors underpinned with toasty oak, and crisp acidity with a long, lingering finish.

This label, Les Noisetiers (pronounced Lay Nwaz-tee-yay) is a study of Kistler's Sonoma Coast sites. The name refers to the toasted hazelnut characters that is manifest year in and year out from these sites. This cuvee is an appellation-focused Chardonnay. explicitly produced to illustrate the site and area specific regional character of western Sonoma County highlighting inherent mineral tones from thirty year old vineyards with sandy Gold Ridge soils. The main sources are the Vine Hill Vineyard, Dutton Ranch and Trenton Roadhouse vineyards.

Golden straw colored, medium-full bodied, complex yet elegant, polished and balanced layers of juicy peach and pear fruits with hints of apricot and white flowers, turning to a mineral backbone with stone fruits on a long sumptuous finish. 

RM 93-94 points. 
Winemaker notes: The grapes are whole-cluster pressed into 30% new French oak for fermentation via indigenous yeast. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered after 10 months in barrel. From the winery: "Deep green-yellow. A pronounced and refined sense of minerality pierces through the initial first blush of stone fruit on the nose. Wet stone, powdered sea sand, and a slight sense of roasted grain. Perfectly balanced, the core is packed with grilled citrus, a touch of lemongrass and threaded with a vibrant acidity that reverberates across the palate. Possesses a lively, yet elegant finish that just doesn’t want to end.
After thoughtful selection at the sorting table, whole clusters are fed by hand directly into the press. An extremely gentle 2-hour Champagne program is used to produce the best juice with the finest solids. The juice is consolidated in tank and then, without cold settling, is transferred directly to barrel with its fine lees. Driven solely by naturally occurring yeasts, the wine is barrel-fermented. Kistler Chardonnay fermentation temperatures are warm by California standards, but very much like Burgundy was made 20 years ago. The wine is fermented bone-dry. After a complete malolactic fermentation, the wine sees 11 months of barrel age with no battonage. The wine spends an additional 3 months in tank before being bottled without fining or filtration. There is a smaller percentage of new oak used on the Les Noisetiers in order to highlight the soil-driven character of this wine. This minerality is rare in new world Chardonnay.



Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Sea Smoke Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay Voyageurs Restaurant

Sea Smoke Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay at Voyageur's Restaurant

During a getaway week on the Gulf Shore we dined at Voyageur's Restaurant, Orange Beach, Alabama.

For entree Linda had from the daily fresh catch, Gulf Grouper - pan roasted carbo grouper with smoked harissa polenta cake, romancesco, rock shrimp & green tomato chow chow.

I had the Pan Seared whole Flounder. Prior to dinner we had the wedge salad and I had the Foie Gras.

To accompany the fresh seafood, we ordered from the award winning winelist a robust ultra-premium Santa Barbara County Chardonnay.

With my Foie Gras, I ordered from the winelist BTG - By the Glass, the Cain Cuvee from their extensive vertical collection of Cain Five and Cain Cuvee sourced through a direct relationship with the producer.

Sea Smoke Vineyards Santa Rita Hills Estate Chardonnay 2019

Sea Smoke in Santa Barbara County produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown exclusively on their estate vineyards in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.They focus on the meticulous management of each vine to achieve optimal vine balance and very low yields.

The name Sea Smoke refers to the coastal fog that wafts inland along the East/West running valley of the Santa Ynez river, a rare phenomenon in the U.S. Instead of the maritime influence being held back by the coastal mountain range, its influence rushes through the valley and into the vineyards.

Their ultra-premium wines have an almost cult-like following with much of their wine production allocated to their club mailing list. Every single bottle is made from the estate grown fruit, there is no purchased or contract grown fruit, even as demand far outstrips supply. 

Shown 2020 vintage label
from our cellar
A local wine merchant in the area wrote about this label, "For the first time ever, we got our hands on Sea Smoke’s elusive, exclusive and exquisite Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, the famous cool climate Chard that helped propel this tiny winery into the elite stratosphere and cult status. Made with Dijon and Wente clones, they use stainless steel as well as French oak foudres and demi-muids to ferment their Chardonnay which brings out elegance and a laser-focused Chardonnay."

Another merchant reseller writes, "We have represented Sea Smoke for well over 10 years. This 2019, quite frankly, blew us away. We told the owners and the staff at Sea Smoke that we feel this is the best vintage of chardonnay that they have ever produced (and we have tasted every vintage.) This wine strikes an ideal balance between richness and crispness, with a strong backbone of minerals. The flavors unfold in layer after layer. If you like a chardonnay that does not weigh down your palate, but is still mouth-filling and enticing, this one’s for you. Very cellar worthy." 

Winemaker's notes: "Our estate-grown Chardonnay fruit was picked and hand-sorted in the vineyard before spending the night in our cold room. Chilled grapes were softly pressed and the juice was gently pumped into a stainless steel tank and cold settled. Once the heavy solids were removed, the juice was racked to a stainless steel fermentor, then inoculated for primary fermentation. Following primary fermentation, the wine was racked to barrels, inoculated for malolactic fermentation, then periodically stirred to enhance depth and mouthfeel. The 2019 Sea Smoke Chardonnay was aged for a total of 10 months prior to bottling with no fining and no filtration."

"Character: An elegant Chardonnay with aromas of orange zest, ripe melon and honeysuckle. Complemented by mango and a slight nuttiness in the focused mid-palate and the refreshing cool climate acidity of our estate vineyard."

Golden straw colored, medium bodied, crisp smooth balanced refreshing pear and apple fruits with notes of lemon zest, melon and nuts, turning to a polished acid laced finish. 

RM 92 points.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Den Hoed at Son Ryan's for Bulls Play-in Game

Den Hoed at Ryan's for Bulls Game

I joined son Ryan and grandson Reid for dinner to watch the Chicago Bulls play the Miami Heat in the NBA Playoffs 'play-in' game, in which the winner would advance to earn the 10th seed playoff berth. 

In the end, the Bulls let a late lead slip away in 102-91 loss to the Miami Heat, ending their season 1 win shy thereby missing the shot at a playoff berth.

Ryan's Michelle had prepared chicken ciaccatore pasta. With dinner and to watch the game, Ryan opened a Den Hoed Marie's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. I have accumulated a vertical collection of this label in the auction marketplace. This rare limited release label is actually produced by the Den Hoed borthers from estate grown grapes on their vineyards overlooking the Yakima River in Central Washington State.

Den Hoed Marie's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 Just a month earlier, I took this same bottle to son Alec's when we watched in NCAA basketball tournament. That night, Alec prepared grilled Waygu beefsteaks with mashed potatoes and mushrooms to watch together the Big Ten basketball tournament quarterfinals with our beloved alma mater Indiana.

Den Hoed Marie's View Walula Slope Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

That night I took from our cellar this same special limited release label from a lot that I acquired at auction, since this wine has a rather disparate lengthy family connection. 

We met the sister of the producer Den Hoed brothers, vintner farmers in Yakima Valley Washington, at the wedding of our niece, Alec and Ryan's cousin, who married their nephew. Den Hoeds grow grapes for several producers and also produce some some limited release select labels of premium wines. 

Ryan and I first tasted Den Hoed wines at chic upscale Canlis Restaurant in Lake Union, suburban Seattle, when we were together for our Seattle Culinary Wine Weekend.

Den Hoed Andreas Wallula Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

As I wrote at the time. this is named for the patriarch founder, Andreas Den Hoed who married Marie Den Hoed in 1956 and they planted their first vineyard on their property that year. After two years in the Army Andreas returned to the farm. 

In the early years, they paid the bills growing mint. He continued to plant more vineyards as resources allowed, expanding acreage almost every year. In 1988, their two sons Bill and Andy joined the business as partners in a new project, with acreage planted to vineyards. 

The father and sons team continued to expand in the Yakima Valley for the next 5-6 years. After several years of searching, in 1997, they purchased a 550 acre parcel of land bordering the Columbia River in the Wallula Gap. Since then the vineyard has earned a reputation as one of the finest in the region. It is sited in a picturesque growing location nestled high above the mighty Columbia River south of of the town of Kennewick. The wines produced from this vineyard have proven to stand the test of time and can stand up and hold their own against the best wines of the new world. 

Andreas is a limited production estate wine which celebrates their family history and showcases the Wallula Vineyard. It is a robust Cabernet Sauvignon crafted by Gilles Nicault of the notable Long Shadows Vintners Collection of wines that we collect as prime members of their club. We also discovered Long Shadows during that Seattle, Woodinville Wine Weekend. 

Canlis Lake Union night view
That was our first tasting experience of Den Hoed wines, and being priced below the median on the extensive Canlis winelist, we were dubious yet had high expectations. The Andreas met our most lofty hopes and expectations and was a highlight of our extraordinary meal.

So, how fitting it was that that Canlis dinner was a mini family affair as wife Linda and son Ryan joined me at this legendary family restaurant. Moreover, a subplot to the story, our niece Anna Long, married into the Van Hoed family, farmers, wine growers, viticulturists and winemakers from the famed Walula Vineyards in the central Washington wine region.

Tonight we opened another Den Hoed label, Marie's View from a vineyard so named on the Walula Slope in the Horse Heaven Hills Washington State Appellation. This was from the same vintage as that first Den Hoed wine encounter, 2012.

The 2012 Washington red wines vintage follows challenging vintages in 2010 and 2011. Some producers considered 2012 the best in state history - a notable great vintage that stands tall amongst the best in the past 20 years. While 2002 and 2005 may have produced wines a bit richer than 2012 made great wines across the regions, from cooler climate Yakima Valley to the stony Walla Walla Valley. 

Wines made in 2012 might have slightly more acidity,but they are generally balanced red wines that show a good core of fruits, while perhaps not as hedonistic as the big red wines made in 2013, 2014 or 2016. 

At eleven years, these wines are probably at their apex, not likely to improve with further aging, but certain to age gracefully for perhaps another decade.   

Den Hoed Wine Estates is a collaborative effort between the Den Hoed brothers, Bill and Andy, and former Stimson Lane and Chateau St Michelle CEO and Washington wine pioneer, Alan Shoup, to produce great red wines from their jointly owned Wallula Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills. 

We discovered Long Shadows Cellars during that trip and since joining their club, we've acquired a vertical collection of a half dozen vintages of their premier labels of renowned producers crafting world class wines from Washington State fruit.

Notably, I learned and wrote just the week before last that Alan Shoup sadly passed just recently.

The winemaker is the local well known Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars. 

Previous vintages of Marie’s View were blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese with the proportions varying from year to year. This is the first vintage of this wine to be labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon as opposed to a red wine.

Den Hoed Marie’s View Wallula Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2012 

Like that earlier tasting when this was a perfect complement, pairing with the grilled beefsteaks and mushrooms, tonight it was delicious with the Italian pasta and chicken.

This vineyard is named for Marie Van Hoed, wife of founder Andreas, mother of the current generation producers. 

This was awarded 93 points by Owen Bargreen, and 89 points by Wine Enthusiast. Earlier releases consistently earned 92 and 93 points.

This is the first vintage of this wine to be labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon as opposed to a red wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

Den Hoed wines are packaged in an extra heavy bottles with the most incredible deepest punts (that indentation in the bottle around which sediment collects).  

Densely colored inky garnet purple, medium full bodied, concentrated, firmly structured, full round black berry, black currant and plum fruits with notes of creosote, cassis, cedar and hints of pepper with a vibrant acid backbone and firm tannins on a lasting finish. 

RM 92 points.


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Force Majeure Syrah 2015 w/ BBQ ribs

Force Majeure Syrah is a perfect pairing w/ BBQ ribs

We received our club allocation shipment today of Force Majeure Vineyards & Winery so we were eager to try the new releases of our favorite labels. As such though, as part of proper cellar inventory management, we pulled from the cellar the oldest vintage release and replaced it with the just received new arrival. 

Linda prepared baby back ribs which were a perfect accompaniment to the Force Majeure Syrah. 

Force Majeure Syrah 2015

We discovered and started collecting Force Majeure wines when we met and hosted winemaker and his wife, Marketing and Operations director during their release tour back in 2016. We posted this blog about that visit:

Todd Alexander joins Force Majeure Winery

 We visited the Force Majeure Vineyards Site and did a Tasting during our Walla Walla Wine Experience back in 2018. 

This is 100% Syrah sourced from the steep rocky sections of the top of the Red Mountain hillside vineyard. 

As this was the last bottle of our mixed case shipment of this wine, it was only logical that we showed three earlier tastings and tasting note postings for this label. There were posts from 2018, 2020, 2021, and here, the last bottle in early 2023

Each subsequent follow-on tasting began with or summarily stated, "Consistent with earlier tasting experiences." And as such, as to be expected, all were rated the same. 

Tonight, I might break that trend stating that at seven years, this wine is probably at its peak and finally showing its true profile, character and potential.Tonight this wine show more harmony, integration, and fullness and richness than earlier. As such I raised my rating for this final bottle.

Like before it was "Consistent with earlier tasting experience. Dark garnet colored, full-bodied, rich concentrated black berry fruits, hints of blue fruits, accented with layers of smokiness, minerality and tones of anise, black tea, black olive tapenade and hints of smokey meats, with bright lively acidity and cloying but approachable tannins on the tangy lingering finish." But, I gave it a 93-94 rating, improved from earlier, showing benefits and rewards for several years of aging. 

I've done enough tastings in these pages and beyond, that I trust my pallet and consistency of assessments over time.

My earlier reviews of this label, as posted on Cellartracker -

Consistent with earlier tasting notes.

Dark garnet colored, full-bodied, rich concentrated black berry fruits, hints of blue fruits, accented with layers of smokiness, minerality and tones of anise, black tea, black olive tapenade and hints of smokey meats, with bright lively acidity and cloying but approachable tannins on the tangy lingering finish.

 Watch for our next review of this label, which will be a subsequent later vintage release. I wish we had more of this 2015 but expect newer releases to be a fun adventure with hopefully equally pleasant memories!


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Family Easter and Birthday Celebration Dinner features ultra-premium birth-year vintage wines

Family Easter and Birthday Celebration Dinner features ultra-premium birth-year vintage wines

We hosted the family for Easter featuring an Easter Egg hunt for the (grand) kids followed by a gala dinner that also recognized son Alec's birthday. Alec and Linda prepared grilled Salmon and NY Strip Steaks. 

I pulled from the cellar two ultra-premium birth-year vintage wines for the occasion, from son Alec's birth-year who also had a birthday this week. 

At thirty-two years, this was a study in longevity and age-worthiness of two top labels, one from Bordeaux and one from Napa Valley. Amazingly, they were very similar and equivalent in all respects, with similar character and tasting profiles, fill levels, foils, labels, and importantly the corks were all in ideal condition, for their age. The Ducru cork was a bit soft and spongy and starting to erode, but was still intact. The Diamond Creek cork was remarkably tight and well preserved.

This is another testament to the conditions in our wine cellar for aging fine wines. Both had been in our cellar for decades.

Both had good color and body and, while showing their age and perhaps past their prime, were still very much within their approachable drinking window.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien, Bordeaux 1990

Lisa Perrotti-Brown of Robert Parker's Wine Advocated tasted this at the Chateau in August 2020 and gave it a drinking window of 2020 - 2028. 

We hold a vertical collection of this label dating back four decades, including birth-year vintages for each of our kids, and many of our grand-kids, several of which we served at their weddings in large format bottles. 

We had the privilege and honor to visit the Château Ducru Beaucaillou estate during our trip to the St Julien appellation of Bordeaux in 2019.

Château Ducru Beaucaillou is named for the "beautiful pebbles", stones found in its unique wine-growing terroir of the Gironde River estuary. The estate sits on an promontory site with views of the river in the center of a hundred-year-old park. 

The Ducru Beaucaillou Chateau is a majestic, Victorian-style castle, which is one of the great symbols of the Médoc, and residence to the owners to this day. 

The original winery and cellars are in the lower level underneath the residence. A new extensive expanded facility was built in recent years.

For 300 years, six families of owners have owned and managed the Château Ducru Beaucaillou estate. which today is managed by the company Jean Eugène Borie SA, which is owned by Mrs Borie, her daughter Sabine Coiffe and her son Bruno Eugène, CEO since 2003, the third generation of the Borie family to head the estate.

This wine is a traditional left bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged for around 12 months in two-thirds new oak.

Dark garnet brick colored, medium-full bodied, complex and rich blackberry and plum fruits with notes of earth, tree bark, tobacco, tapenade, black tea and leather on a lingering moderate tannin acidic finish. 

RM 91 points. 

This was awarded 91 points by Robert Parker 's Wine Advocate.

Diamond Creek Vineyards "Gravelly Meadow" Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1990

A trip to Napa Valley Diamond Mountain by the serious wine enthusiast or collector would not be complete without a visit to the legendary Diamond Creek Vineyards. 

Diamond Creek was founded in 1968 by the late Al Brounstein, and wife 'Boots' (pictured below), a visionary pioneer who defied conventions of the time by planting Bordeaux varietals on secluded Diamond Mountain in the Mayacamas Range at the north remote end of Napa Valley.

Diamond Creek is a case study in terroir - the estate is segregated into four distinct vineyards, each with its own micro-climate, soil type and geography that are revealed in their single vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon wines named for the four distinctly different origination vineyards. 

The vineyards of Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon are Gravelly Meadow (5 acres - center left), Red Rock Terrace (7 acres front), Volcanic Hill (8 acres opposite), and Lake (¾ acre). There is also one acre planted to Petit Verdot. 

This is another producer of whom we hold a vertical collection spanning more than two decades. Our collection includes all of the vineyards, many in horizontal collections of the three primary vineyards from a vintage.

The vineyards,  pictured here, are amazingly co-located close to each other yet have distinctive individual characteristics that are revealed in their wines, based on their proximity to the slope approaching the creek that cascades down the mountain, dividing the property. The chateau and tasting room offer a magnificent setting and view of the vineyards on the slope and meadow below and of the opposing hillside.

We visited the estate in 2017 for the Diamond Creek Open House and 2015 Vintage Release Tasting, shown here with Matriarch, proprietor and founder Boots Brownstein. 

We also visited the estate and did a private food and wine pairing tasting back in 2011 as part of our Diamond Mountain Wine Experience - Diamond Creek Vineyards visit and tasting.

In 2020, 52 years after its founding, Diamond Creek was acquired by the Rouzaud family of world-renowned Maison Louis Roederer, whose roots in wine date to the 1700s. The relationship between the Rouzaud and Brounstein families stretched back three decades, with an admiration and mutual respect for one another born of a common love for wine and its role in history, culture and life.  

Like the 1990 vintage Bordeaux above, this too was in ideal condition, with no obvious signs of diminution from age. The fill level, foil, label and cork were as good as to be expected at three decades. 

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated, rich, complex yet elegant blackberry and black cherry fruits with notes of deep, perfumed, herbaceousness with concentrated currant, cedar and flavors of tea, leather and tobacco on a long, smooth finish.

RM 92 points.

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

For the grilled salmon, we also served this hearty robust Napa Valley Chardonnay from a legendary producer. 

The Far Niente estate sits along St Helena Highway in the heart of Oakville. Far Niente's history dates back to 1885 when the estate was first established by pioneer John Benson a forty-niner of the California gold rush and uncle of the famous American impressionist painter, Winslow Homer. Benson hired notable architect Hamden McIntyre to design the historic winery in western Oakville which today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was restored to its original prestige by the Nickel family in 1979.

Far Niente prospered up until the onset of Prohibition in 1919 when it was closed and sat neglected for 60 years until 1980, when Gil Nickel bought and restored the winery and neighboring vineyard over three years. He preserved the Far Niente name which in Italian translates to ‘without a care.’ 
Far Niente constructed wine caves, the first to be constructed in North America since the turn of the century, spawning a whole new standard in California wine country. Over the next 20 years, the winery conducted four more expansions of the caves, bringing the total area to 40,000 square feet.

Far Niente is consistently recognized as a benchmark producer of Napa Valley Chardonnay and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The Far Niente Estate Bottled Napa Valley Chardonnay is crafted in a blend sourced from superb vineyards, many of which are located in Coombsville, the cool growing region in the rolling hills east of Napa that they've been growing for over 40 years. The climate there is similar to the other source site in the popular Chardonnay appellation of Carneros in south west Napa Valley, but with less wind and deeper, well-drained gravelly loam and volcanic ash soils. The winery states, "the combination of these spectacular vineyards results in the subtle, tropical flavors, complex aromas and uncommon richness that we have long associated with Far Niente Chardonnay."

Winemaker Notes: The 2011 Far Niente Chardonnay opens with delicate aromas of citrus blossom, honeydew melon, pear, flint and toasted almonds. The entry is silky with pear and citrus flavors. Refreshing acidity leads to a juicy finish, layered with toasted oak.

Butter colored, medium bodied, bold full but nicely balanced flavors of citrus, pear and melon with notes of floral and almond on a pleasantly dry moderately acid finish. 
RM 92 points.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Piazza Del Dotto Petit Verdot

Piazza Del Dotto Petit Verdot

Called to grandparents babysitting duty, we took to our son's house a BYOB to enjoy for the evening with artisan cheese and fresh fruits. We took a favorite label from a favorite producer from a memorable estate visit and tasting in Napa Valley. 

We discovered, tasted and acquired this wine during our visit to the winery and as part of the Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience, which was definitely one of the highlights of our Napa trip. 

Piazza Del Dotto Petit Verdot 2014

Regretably this is the last bottle of this label from a multi-case mixed assortment acquired during that visit. At nine years of age, this was likely at the peak of its tasting profile, as good as ever.

We posted earlier tasting notes of this label in 2018 and several times in 2020. 

8/13/2020 - 92 Points - Consistent with earlier tasting notes - Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, reasonably balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, with notes of licorice, spice and hints of mocha and subtle pepper spice with bold but approachable lingering tannins. 

6/20/2020 - 93 Points - Consistent with earlier tasting, a big hit for our dinner! Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, reasonably balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, with notes of licorice, spice and hints of mocha and subtle pepper spice with bold but approachable lingering tannins.

2/16/2020 -  92 Points - Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, reasonably balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, with notes of licorice, spice and hints of mocha and subtle pepper spice with bold but approachable lingering tannins.

12/22/2018 -  91 Points - Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, nicely balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, with notes of mocha, spice and hints of pepper spice with smooth lingering tannins.

Del Dotto Piazza Napa Valley Petit Verdot 2014

Of course, Petit Verdot is one of the Bordeaux varietals, appellation authorized for inclusion in the blend. Most often, Petit Verdot is the fourth varietal in the mix, subordinant to the primary Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the secondary Cabernet Franc.

Petit Verdot is added to a red blend for structure, backbone and colour, to round out, augment and enhance the profile of the blend. Standing alone, without the core Cabernet, and the softening roundness of Merlot, and the hint of tangy spice added by Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot comes across as huge, bold, muscular and forward, perhaps awkward or obtuse and overpowering to some.

Indeed, those are the characteristics I love in a wine and while lacking polish and balance of the harmony of the overall blend, its a wonderful wine with bold and full flavored food such as tonight. I wish I had ordered more and will savor what we have, and miss it when it is gone. I'll be looking to top up our holdings of this label.

Tonight this was as good as any previous tasting, showing well, benefiting from nearly of decade of graceful aging in the cellar. Wish we had more! Dark blackish garnet colored, full bodied, reasonably balanced, firm forward concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, with notes of licorice, spice and hints of mocha and subtle pepper spice with bold but approachable lingering tannins.

RM 93 points.

We also acquired some of the 2015 vintage of this label which I took to a gala tasting of which I blogged about last winter in this posting: 


Saturday, April 1, 2023

Family birthday dinner at Son Ryan's features a flight of big red wines

 Family birthday dinner at Son Ryan's features a flight of big red wines - Back-up

For grand-daughter MacKenzie's birthday, son Ryan and D-inlaw Michelle hosted a gala family celebration dinner.  They grilled beef steaks and chicken on Ryan's new outdoor kitchen grill with a range of accompaniments. Before dinner they served shrimp, assorted veggies, fruits and an medley of artisan cheeses. With the snacks and hor d'ovres Ryan served vintage Roederer Champagne.

With dinner Ryan served from his cellar several vintage premium wines:

  • Fantesca All Great Things - Freedom 2009
  • Cliff Lede High Fidelity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
  • Lillian California Syrah 2017

Family friend Dustin R brought from his cellar this premium Argentinian Malbec by Viña Cobos.

Cliff Lede “High Fidelity” Red Wine, Napa Valley 2017 

Ryan has an extensive collection of Cliff Lede estate Cabernets. As a member of their club he gets allocated special vineyard block designated bottlings from the Stags Leap District Napa Valley estate including this red Bordeaux Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot based blend label. 

The 2017 'High Fidelity' is composed of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Cliff Lede's Twin Peaks estate vineyard, along with the Cabernet Franc from acclaimed viticulturist David Abreu’s Madrona Ranch. 

We've visited the Lede estate numerous times over the years and its alway a highlight of our Napa visits. 

This was rated 94 points by Antonio Galloni of Vinous.

Dark inky purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, smooth, polished and nicely balanced black berry and plum fruits with notes of graphite, mocha, expresso, anise, spice and black tea with earthy floral on an elegant soft tannin finish. 

RM 92 points.

Fantesca All Great Things - Freedom 2009

This is the handicraft of legendary veteran winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett, whose Napa Valley resume includes winemaking stints at Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, and her own La Sirena. She signed on with Fantesca in early 2008.

Fantesca Estate and Winery Napa Valley "All Great Things - Freedom" 2009 
This label "All Great Things" is Heidi Barret's annual Bordeaux blend produced for Fantesca - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  
This is the inaugural release of the series, which is inspired by the words of Winston Churchill:  “All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”  
Each vintage release commemorates one of those notable words from the legendary Churchill quote - freedom (2015), justice (2016), honor (2011, 2017), duty (2012, 2018), mercy (2013), and hope (2014) - this one christened the (first) "Honor" release.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, smooth, elegant and polished with bright black fruits with floral notes of and subtle notes of spice, mocha, tobacco and leather with smooth moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 92 points.

 Lillian California Syrah 2017

An interesting wine I had never heard of or seen before Ryan brought this premium artisan Syrah from his cellar when we were over last fall. That night we tasted the 2016 release.

This is from winemaker Maggie Harrison who worked at legendary Sine Qua Non for eight years.  and is also winemaker of Antica Terra. During Maggie's seventh year working at Manfred Krankl's Sine Qua Non, she was given the opportunity to produce a few barrels of her own Syrah and in 2004, Lillian Winery was born with an inaugural release of 150 cases. Lillian represents Maggie’s personal project and reflects everything that she learned during her time at Sine Qua Non.

First released in 2004, she sources fruit for this small production artisan label from the prestigious White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County

She produces this Lillian Syrah and a some other labels from vineyards sources such as the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, and the Stolpman Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Lillian wines are crafted from Rhone varietals — Roussanne, Syrah and Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Lillian shares a winemaker, winery, and tasting room with Antica Terra, in Dundee, OR.  While Antica Terra is focused on Pinot Noir from OR, Lillian is dedicated exclusively to producing Rhone varieties, as noted on the label, the wine is designated California Syrah, attributing the vineyard sources of the fruit. 

Dark purple, medium-full bodied, balanced savory dark fruit with hints of smoke and bacon fat on the nose and palate with a big lingering tangy finish. 

RM 91 points.

Viña Cobos, Vineyard Designate Malbec, Marchiori Estate, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, 2019

Paul Hobbs, renowned California winemaker is founding partner and winemaker at Viña Cobos. 

In addition to his global consulting career, Paul Hobbs has navigated producing wines globally, engaging annually in two harvests across nine countries. Today, Paul is the owner and winemaker for Sebastopol, California based wineries Paul Hobbs Winery and Crossbarn, as well as his international partnerships: Viña Cobos of Argentina, Crocus of Cahors, France, Yacoubian-Hobbs of Armenia and his two latest projects in development: Hillick & Hobbs, focusing on Finger Lakes riesling, and Alvaredos-Hobbs in Galicia, Spain.

Paul Hobbs visited Mendoza in Argentina in 1989 and started working with Malbec, exploring different terroirs of Mendoza, looking for the most distinguished regions in Luján de Cuyo and the Valle de Uco, to produce wines that uniquely express their origins.

He established Viña Cobos in 1998, After twenty years of experimenting, development, innovation and improvement, Viña Cobos has evolved to become internationally recognized for producing luxury-class wines and a world quality leader for Malbec based wines. Viña Cobos creates extraordinary wines of outstanding quality, highlighting Malbec as the emblematic variety of Mendoza.

With the inaugural vintage of Cobos Malbec in 1999, Viña Cobos marked a milestone in viticulture, defying existing standards and firmly positioned Malbec and Argentina on the international wine scene.

Viña Cobos, Vineyard Designate Malbec, Marchiori Estate, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, 2019  

The winery’s elegant and balanced wines are a result of meticulous vineyard farming and utmost attention to showcasing the specific terroir of the region. This Malbec is sourced from Estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The Marchiori Estate is the cornerstone of Viña Cobos. Malbec grapes grown in block C2 have been the key source since the inaugural vintage release, Cobos Malbec 1999. 

Luján de Cuyo is the premier growing region of Mendoza, fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River. High altitudes range from 945 - 1,100 m (2,624 - 3,608 ft). The soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock.

Valle de Uco with proximity to the Andes Mountains characterizes this cool, high altitude region. Vineyards sites range from 900 - 1,400 m (2,950 - 4,600 ft) in elevation. The soils are alluvial, sandy and rocky, and in some areas, limestone.

In addition to Malbec, Viña Cobos grows and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.

The 2015 Cobos Marchiori Estate Malbec was awarded 98 points by JS.

This is really dynamic and focused with blueberry, blackberry and mineral character. Hints of lavender and sandalwood. Full body, yet so tight and lifting. The palate just grows at the finish which goes on and on. Juicy, meaty and dried herb flavors at the end… – J.S.

The first release of this wine was 2018, under the 'Viña Cobos Vineyard Designate' label. The Viña Cobos Vineyard Designate line captures the richness and power of exceptional vineyards and estates within Valle de Uco and Luján de Cuyo. 

This was dark inky purple colored, full bodied, rich, concentrated extracted black and blue fruits with notes of bacon, tobacco, black tea, spice and herbs with a full lingering finish. 

RM 94 points.