Saturday, August 26, 2023

Pour Boys End of Summer ('23) Wine Dinner

Pour Boys End of Summer ('23) Wine Dinner Extravaganza

Our Pour Boys wine group gathered in Northwest Indiana for our end of summer / early fall wine dinner hosted by Dr Dan and Linda. As always, the group brought a spectacular wine flight to accompany the extensive dinner offering. Dan and Linda prepared smoked beef brisket BBQ which set the tone for robust hearty full fruit forward wines. 

As usual, Dan set out an extensive selection of charcuturie, meats and sausages, and artisan cheeses, three types of grilled shrimp and mushrooms. 

For dinner, Dan and Linda prepared bratwursts, grilled chicken breasts, smoked beef brisket and pulled pork, followed by an extensive medley of sides and salads. 


The Pour Boys collectively brought an extensive wine flight worthy of a feast, and a serious wine tasting.

As has become his custom, 'Champagne John' brought two bottle of vintage Champagne:

Bollinger Extra Brut Champagne RD 2007 (De'gorge 10 Juillette 2020)
Charles Heidsieck Rose' 2008 

Bollinger Extra Brut Champagne RD 2007 (De'gorge 10 Juillette 2020)

 The blend of this 2007 vintage is composed of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It features 91% Grands Crus and 9% Premiers Crus. A total of 14 crus can be find in the blending. The fermentation is entirely in oak barrels.

Bollinger R.D. is sold just a few months after being disgorged, with a very low dosage known as “extra brut”, at just 3 grams per litre. The recent disgorgement guarantees the remarkable freshness of the wine.

The 2007 vintage marks a return to the roots of the R.D. cuvée and its historic label with the original material and legendary font of the 1952 vintage, once again showing the date of disgorging. 

Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Millésimé Rosé 2008

Another special bottling, a blend of 63% Pinot Noir (including 9% of red wine) and 37% Chardonnay, this rosé from Charles Heidsieck is sourced from 11 grands and premiers crus sourced from Les Riceys in the far south of Champagne.

 It was awarded 98 points by James Suckling, 96 points by Decanter, and 95 points by Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator.

Beautiful rose colored, superbly balanced and tasty, toasted nutty character, perfect acidity with hints of apple, dried cherry and raspberry red fruits.


Eric did the honors of opening the Champagne with Dan's 'champagne sword' ... 

Dan followed the Champagne flight with an ultra premium vintage Chardonnay:

Sea Smoke Sta Rita Hills Estate Chardonnay 2014

We've had many vintages of this label over the years and I believe this vintage, at this age, tonight, was the best ever - in its sweet spot, at the apex of its drinking window! 

It was rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Straw colored, medium bodied, concentrated white peach flavors predominate with notes of pear on a full smooth elegant finish. 

Followed by another Sea Smoke label from Dan's cellar, club allocation, pivoting to the reds ...

Sea Smoke Botella Sta Rita Hills California Grand Cru Pinot Noir 2009

This limited release label is from Dan's cellar and wine club allocation. 

It was rated 92 points by Wine Advocate. 

Garnet colored, medium bodied, dark fruit with accents of smoke, licorice and leather with a smooth polished lingering finish.

And the red flight continued; as I've written often in these pages, the order of tasting is based on a intricate studious mating dance we go through at the beginning of each event, establishing the tasting order based on previous experiences, sweetness, age, depth, weight and boldness and body. 

Much of the fun of the evening is determining in retrospect how accurate we were in determining the best or optimal tasting sequence. Invariably we're very close to being right on, or within a very few, very minor variations or adjustments, swapping a couple bottles' order, for the ultimate tasting experience!

Here is the tasting order of the evening, which as usual, was spot on, and required little of no modification as the evening went on. Of course, such changes are the basis of fun, animated and lively discussion for the wholehearted wine geeks!

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2008

Dan offered this ultra-premium Sangiovese blend from his cellar. It received 94 points from James Suckling and Wine Advocate.

Full bodied, dark intense concentrated  black fruits with notes of mocha, spice and hints of tar on a chewy tannin laced long finish.

Ernie followed with his customary ultra-premium Bordeaux blends ... two spectacular releases ! 

Peter Michael Les Pavots 2005
Lynch Bages Pauillac Bordeaux 2010
Peter Michael "Les Pavots" Knights Valley Bordeaux Blend 2005

This is a Bordeaux 'right bank style blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot & 2% Petit Verdot, akin to a St.-Emilion or Pomerol. 

It was rated 95 points Int'l Wine Review and Wine Advocate, 93 points by Vinous, and 92 points and "Top 100 Wines of 2008" by Wine Spectator.

Delicious! We drank this wine from the Reserve Winelist at our Pour Boys dinner at the Del Ray Beach Wine Room back in 2021.  Tonight was consistent with that tasting when I gave it 94 points.

Ernie brought this label to our Pour Boys OTBN night in 2014. 

Deep ruby colored, full-bodied, complex and multi-dimensional yet impeccably balanced, elegant and harmonious; dark currant and black raspberry fruits with spices, tobacco, leather, chocolate and cassis notes with a smooth silky finish.

For me, while the Les Pavot was elegant and complex, the more expressive and forward Lynch Bages, along with the Del Dotto Syrah were the WOTN - Wines of the Night (due to the smoked BBQ pairing), along with the Sea Smoke Chardonnay! With a grilled beefsteak, the Les Pavots and Lynch Bages would've been a wonderful duel!

Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac Bordeaux 2010

This is a spectacular wine, it was rated 98 points by Jeb Dunnuck and James Suckling, 97 points by Wine Advocate, and 96 points by Wine Spectator (also Cellar Selection), Wine Enthusiast and Decanter.

Dark garnet colored, full-bodied, layered, complex and multi-dimensional yet smooth, elegant and polished;  classic Pauillac dark berry and currant fruits accented by notes of cassis, cigar tobacco, and lead pencil graphite, with hints of oak and clove spice turning to firm, powdery tannins and lively acids on a long silky finish.

Then on to the Big Reds ... to accompany the BBQ ...

Bill brought this rare Carlisle Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel 2012

Followed by Lyle's, Seghesio Cortina Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2015

Then on to the Syrahs/Shiraz's ... 

I brought from our cellar this aged vintage classic label of which we've had great fun over the years, of which there are several stories across the group ... this was amazingly resilient and still going strong at 28 years.

D'Arenberg McLaren Vale "Dead Arm" Shiraz 1995

Consistent with earlier tastings, I first published a note on this wine in pre-blog days back in 2005, which I chose and opened from our cellar for my birthday dinner.

Eric brought this classic Chateau Tanunda "Chateau" 100 Year Old Vines Barossa Shiraz which we all discovered and of which we captured our unfair share of the extremely limited US/Midwest allocation through a special arrangement during the Grand Tour Chicago - Wine Tasting Extravaganza back in 2011. Lyle loved it and gave it WOTN while Bill thought it might be reaching end of its prime drinking window. 

Pour Boys at that 2011 Wine Spectator Grand Tour

Tanunda 100 Year Vine Shiraz 2008

John brought this classic, highly allocated rare Washington State Shiraz which he also brought from the 2012 vintage to our Pour Boys OTBN 2020 ~ Open That Bottle Night.  I wrote about the label  and producer extensively in my post of that event.

Cayuse Bionic Frog Walla Walla Valley Shiraz 2013

Bill brought this rare ultra-premium label from a well known favorite producer - I've never seen this label from a producer we thought we knew well.

Killikanoon Attunga "1865" Clare Valley Shiraz 2004

Another spectacular wine - an embarrassment of riches throughout this tasting. We love the Killikanoon "Oracle" label and never knew about this ultra-premium label from them. This special limited release label is released only in years of exceptional quality.

This Attunga "1865" single vineyard, Clare Valley Shiraz is named due to its source, from some of Australia's oldest living vines - 900 individual Shiraz vines, planted in 1865. According to winemaker Kevin Mitchell, it is the oldest commercially active vineyard still producing in the Clare Valley. 

This was rated  98 points by Wine Advocate and 97 points by Wine Advocate. 

It appears very little of this very limited release makes it to America. Cellartracker, which we use to track our wines, and the marketplace, has over 10 million reviewer tasting notes and has no listing for this label.

Deep purple-colored, full round, rich, concentrated yet elegant and polished, black and blue fruits with notes of floral, creosote and crushed rocks.


We closed the red wine flight with this label we tasted during our tour and tasting at the producer's estate Del Dotto Napa Valley Cave Tour Barrel Tasting, and acquired during our Del Dotto Piazza DELICACIES Food and Wine Experience culinary tasting at the producer's other property estate, Piazza Del Dotto, back in 2018. 

Tonight's tasting was consistent with my last bottle tasted earlier back in 2019

Del Dotto Cinghiale For Ross Seaview Sonoma County Vineyard Syrah 2014

To close, Lyle brought what has become somewhat custom, a vintage port dessert wine for the final course (s). Terry brought her decadent, spectacular orange cake, which Dan and Linda served alongside gourmet chocolates, chocolate cake and a selection of ice creams including sea salt caramel, and others.

Dow Vintage Port 1997

A classic vintage port from a spectacular vintage. This was awarded 95 points by Wine Spectator and 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, and 92 points by Int'l Wine Cellar.

Ruby colored, medium-full bodied, black currant fruits with bittersweet cocao, notes of dark mocha, expresso, sweet fig and herbs with a long smooth balanced finish. 

Unlike Attunga above with no Cellartracker listing, this classic label is four digit 2186 out of the hundreds of thousands of labels registered. 

Notice, Two-fisted Dan directing the orchestrated proceedings ... 

Thanks all for another spectacular wine and dine evening.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Super Tuscan at La Sorrella de Francesca

Tolaini Al Passo Super Tuscan at La Sorrella de Francesca 

Dear friends Beth and fellow Pour Boy Bill came into town to visit family and friends. We met and dined at La Sorrella de Francesca in Naperville

La Sorella is part of the Francesca’s Restaurant Group family of restaurants, founded in 1992 by Restaurateur Scott Harris, it has grown from one small Italian restaurant on Chicago’s North Clark Street to a group of six concepts across 23 locations in Chicagoland and a couple locations in California.

The original and primary brand of Francesca’s Restaurants are neighborhood Trattorias offering classic Italian favorites in an ambiance of sophisticated comfort, that have expanded to other brands within the historic Italian cuisine. 

In recent years they've also expanded the portfolio to Davanti Enoteca, a lively wine bar and restaurant with shareable  "contemporary twists on rustic Italian cuisine" and Disotto with the vive of a wine cellar in the Italian countryside. 

They've also gwoen beyond their Italian roots with Fat Rosie's Taco and Tequila Bar a family-friendly Mexican Taqueria featuring traditional Mexican fare with shareable small plates, and Joe's Imports offering modern Mediterranean noshes complemented by iworldly wines from curated from Joe's travels, and Vasili's hearth-cooked Mediterranean cuisine.

La Sorella de Francesca (sister of Francesca) has been a Naperville chic upscale staple for more than two decades in the lively burgeoning city center district. 

While the food was delicious, the wine list is somewhat limited and the atmosphere and ambiance is challenging with horrible acoustics that impedes basic conversation to shouting above the cacaphony of music, TV's and boisterous chatter.

For our entrees, Bill, Beth and I all selected the Mafaldine Pasta Bolognese - Fiore's mafalde - beef, pork, veal, tomato sauce, carrots, celery, onion and parmigiano. It was a perfect, delectable mix of pasta meat and cheese.

Linda selected for entree the Halibut Ippoglosso al Limone* - sautéed halibut with lemon white wine sauce, capers and sautéed spinach. It was equally delicious. 

From the winelist we ordered a Super Tuscan Merlot Sangiovese Blend as a pairing with dinner. 

Tolaini Al Passo Toscana 2019 

This is from the Tolaini estate winery and vineyards of founder Pier Luigi Tolaini. He envisioned owning such an estate when he left his Tuscan home for America as a young man, knowing that one day he would return, buy some land and make great wine.

Pier Luigi's search for a top Tuscan vineyard brought him to Chianti Classico, to the prestigious region of Castelnuovo Berardenga, and to the properties at Montebello and San Giovanni. When Pier Luigi first set foot on the amphitheatre - shaped vineyard at Montebello, he knew he had found the perfect balance of climate, soil, and exposure to establish the Tuscan Tolaini Estate winery and vineyards. The silty clay soil is rich in limestone with a high presence of stones. The wine plantings were completed in the spring of 2000

The vast and diverse Chianti Classico region of Tuscany stretches from the suburbs of Florence in the north to the outskirts of Siena in the south. As a result of the diverse varying soil, altitude, exposure and micro-climate, within the zone, many argue that it should be divided into subzones, or into communes, as in the Médoc [Bordeaux, France]. If this were the case, the wines from Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southernmost commune, would be the Pauillac of Chianti, for the wines have power, intensity and, at their best, great elegance and longevity.

Wine production in the area dates back more than 3000 years when Tuscany was home to the Etruscan civilization, a people noted for their culture and wine.

The name Al Passo is a derived from the term describing a small circular forest with an interior passage ("al passo") which sits at the highest point of the Tolaini Estate vineyard with views of the towers of Siena, the town of Montalcino and Montepulciano to the east of the Tuscany wine region. It was there in Al Passo that Tolaini discovered and restored an ancient Etruscan tomb and ruins.

The inverted "Y" symbol undefined that is in their branding logo and adorns their labels is taken from the ancient alphabet of the Etruscans and is equivalent to our modern letter "T". To honor the connection of the ancient with the modern, the symbol was chosen and is used to represent the Tolaini name and brand. The symbol is carved into a 3-meter high stone quarried from the vineyard and is also placed at the gate of the Estate.

The 2019 Tolaini Al Passo is a blend of 34% Sangiovese, 33% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon. Such Blends that combine the native Sangiovese varietal grape of Chianti, Tuscany with traditional Bordeaux varietals are known as 'Super Tuscan's". 

 This release was rated 93 points by James Suckling, 92 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points by both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

Al Passo 2020 was featured by Wine Spectator's picks in "9 Stylish Tuscan Reds".

Winemaker Notes - Spicy notes of oak rise above distinct aromas of cherry and berry. The palate has a backbone of Sangiovese, a roundness of Merlot and enhanced body from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit purity and varietal signatures are testament to the meticulous care given to the vines. Note: Some sediment may occur in the bottom of the bottle as the wine is not filtered.

This was bright garnet colored, medium full bodied, firm and tightly structured blackberry iand blackcherry fruits wth notes of black pepper, herbs, cedar and hints of cinnamon spice with pointed acidity on the chewy tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 89 points

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Marilyn Merlot with grilled beefsteak

Sunday Afternoon Family Cookout with Marilyn Merlot and grilled beefsteak

We were invited by son Alec and d-in-law Viviana over for a Sunday afternoon cookout. Our two son's Alec and Sean had spent the afternoon at their club pool with their daughters - a wonderful opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon with two of our sons and their families. 

I took this aged Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot to pair with the grilled beefsteak, and as a fun tribute to their daughter, our grand-daughter Marylin.

I've written extensively in these pages about Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jean Wines - A Study in Branding  including a blogpost back in 2021 about the brand and our fun collecting the label, especially now that we have a similarly named grand-daughter!

Excerpts here from that 2021 blog featured the then latest 2018 vintage release of the label when I wrote as below.

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

As I have written in these pages before, wine geeks, aka oenophiles, often take their passion for wine way too seriously, or certainly so, to those not so compulsive or fixated, which is most folks. Its important to back it down and simply have fun with wine too.

This blog focuses on wine tasting and collecting. Another discussion thread is a study in wine branding and marketing. Several producers release an artist series with each label featuring a piece of artwork to adorn that vintage release. 

One unique approach to wine branding and marketing is Marilyn Wines, of the entity Nova Wines, who since 1985, have featured iconic imagines of Marilyn Monroe, captured by many of the most talented portrait photographers of her era, to grace the labels of their Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jeane wines. 

In addition to Marilyn Merlot, Norma Jean is a lesser label with 'younger' second label grapes. Continuing the whimsical play on names, Norma Jean features a photograph taken of the young actress in the years just before she captured the imagination of the American public as Marilyn Monroe.

They have created an entire franchise on one celebrity identification theme based on a play on words - Marilyn Merlot featuring the iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Wines holds an exclusive agreement with the estate of Marilyn Monroe for the use of the name and the images in their wine marketing and packaging.

The brand is the creation of Bob and Donna Holder of Rutherford in Napa Valley, who initially crafted a homemade Merlot back in 1983 using some purchased grapes and some grapes from the Holder property. They started selling their wine and created the brand.  In the early days, they purchased bulk wine, then, in 1997, they shifted from purchasing bulk wine to purchasing grapes. The wine is made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, CA.

Marilyn Wines has extended the brand to a broad portfolio of labels based on Marilyn Monroe. The portfolio has expanded to also include Marilyn Meritage, Sauvignon Blond, Marilyn Cabernet, Red Dress and 
Blonde de Noirs, a sparkling wine. 

Grilled beefsteak, shrimp, peppers
& onions for fajitas
Building upon the collectables theme, they also produce an ultra premium Velvet Collection based upon a photo session on May 27, 1949 in Hollywood with photographer Tom Kelley. That two-hour photo shoot made history and established the aspiring but unknown actress, Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate sex symbol of the 20th century. The series features ten stunning photographs from the historic session, known as the "Red Velvet" series, each one a portrait of Marilyn Monroe posing on a red velvet drape. Each label of Velvet Collection of wine is covered with a protective vinyl overlay that, when removed, reveals the complete, original portrait.

Continuing the collectables theme, in many vintages, they also produce special process etched and painted bottles of Marilyn Merlot in limited production large format bottles, usually around 6 to 36 bottles of 1.5 Liter magnums and 2 to 10 bottles of 3 Liter double magnums. The bottles are placed in a sand carving cabinet where the artist utilizes instruments to hand carve out the design image on each of the bottles then to be hand painted. 

The brand has grown further with the release of Marilyn Merlot Rose and Marilyn Monroe Chardonnay.  For 2021, they also offer 2021 Marilyn Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley.

Of course the most famous or notable iconic collector series based on wine labels is the ultra-premium luxury French first Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild. A study in wine branding and marketing at some point invites a discussion of art label series featuring original or reproductions of notable art or artists on the wine labels. No wine producer in the world captures the imagination or attention of wine collectors and wine art enthusiasts more than Mouton Rothschild with their annual artist series artist featured wine labels.

Each year a renowned artist is commissioned to do the artwork for that vintage. The featured artist is said to be paid ten cases of various vintages of the classic Chateau Mouton Rothschild for their work. Every collector dreams of collecting a 'vertical' collection (wines of multiple vintages of the same wine) of the classic premium First Growth Bordeaux to display the 'artwork' of Mouton.

My Winesite Label Library lists the Mouton Rothschild Label Library Series Artists and associated works by the artists for reference or to aid in further exploration or research of the library and its history. Just last month I updated the library with the 2018 release label of the legendary wine. 

As with Mouton Rothschild, I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite

As of this writing, the latest release available in Chicagoland stores in the 2018 and 2019 vintage releases of Marilyn Merlot, the 35th and 36th vintages of the iconic brand. Also available is the 2018 Norma Jeane, the 23st vintage of the Norma Jeane brand.
The Nova Marilyn Wines website is offering on-line the 2021 Marilyn Merlot, 2021 Marilyn Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, and 2021 Norma Jeane and 2020 Marilyn Merlot.

Playing on the name of the famous cinema starlet, Marilyn Monroe, the marketers at Nova Wines have  built the brand on an annual release of moderate priced Merlot varietal featuring an authentic Marilyn Monroe photo on the label. Each year the new vintage and label is released on June 1, Marilyn Merlot's birthday! What might have started out as a whimsical or even corny idea has turned into a fun wine that has an almost cult following in some precincts of collectors. 
Some of our close to two dozen vintages of Marilyn Merlot

The producer tries to maintain a delicate balance and moderate the hype of the collectability of the wine and the valuation of bottles over time versus the novelty and fun of the wine. It appears they've earnestly worked to improve the pedigree and quality of the product to produce a wine more worthy of and capable of long (er) term cellaring by sourcing from notable vineyard sources and producing a Red Bordeaux varietal blend. As such, the release price of the wine has crept up in recent years as well. As it has been since the 2018 release, that year's release price is $40 and the 'street price' has followed accordingly. This year's current release (2021) and last years (2020) are currently $45 from the producer.
However, in secondary markets, the price can be elevated even above the release price.

The producer site says, "Each new vintage of Marilyn Monroe Merlot sells out quickly. While collectors have made Marilyn Monroe Merlot one of the fastest-appreciating wines on the market, it is wine enthusiasts with a sense of humor who have long enjoyed the playful spirit behind Marilyn Merlot wines that are now also seeking the Marilyn Monroe Merlot because of the emphasis on making a notable wine from prized Napa Valley grapes. While the concept and engaging label of these wines has given these bottles a degree of fame, it is the wine in the bottle that merits the enthusiasm of those who seek it out every year.'

"This wine is every bit as special as its package," says Donna Holder, one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "It is a must for collectors, but is also a Napa Valley Merlot that stands beautifully on its own."

The producer promotes highly escalated prices for vintage bottles of the label asking high prices that far exceed the pedigree of the wine, explicable only due to the marketing/branding of the label collection. I know of one reputable wine shop in a mid-size midwestern city that a few years ago held a 1985 Marilyn Merlot that they were offering at $3500.

I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite. And, I admit I've collected a 'vertical' collection of the wine and am still holding what now spans more than fifteen vintages. Indeed, we drank a dozen year old 2006 recently and it was drinking quite nicely. We do have fun gifting these wines to friends for suitable occasions, great for those not into the wine so much, but taken by the clever packaging. The Marilyn Merlot label is now in its 35th  year.

Tonight we opened and drank the 2005 vintage release Marilyn Merlot.  

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2005

Producer's notes for the 2005 release. "Wine Collectors and connoisseurs alike have much to celebrate with the release of the 21st vintage of Marilyn Merlot. As always, the wine is released on Marilyn's birth date - June 1st - and the 2005 vintage will prove to be memorable, not only because it marks a "coming of age" for the Napa Valley icon, but also because it exemplifies the outstanding qualities of the 2005 vintage. For more than two decades, the annual release of Marilyn Merlot has been an event much anticipated by legions of its fans."

"Bil Marsano in Hemisphere Magazine said, "Marilyn Monroe is one of les granfdes eternales, and she lives on in Marilyn Merlot with its neatly turned pun and bottle-blonde.  it started 21 vintages ago in a wine climate far stuffier than ours now, so the humor was welcome as it was rare.  Marilyn Merlot is no laughing matter now...everyone is mad for them"

This release is still available directly from the producer with an on-line price of $160.00.  

"Every vintage sells out in just a few months," notes Bob Holder, President and one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "We have seen 'celebrity' wines come and go, but there is only one Marilyn."

Wine Collectors and connoisseurs alike have much to celebrate with the release of the 21st vintage of Marilyn Merlot. As always, the wine is released on Marilyn's birth date - June 1st - and the 2005 vintage will prove to be memorable, not only because it marks a "coming of age" for the Napa Valley icon, but also because it exemplifies the outstanding qualities of the 2005 vintage. For more than two decades, the annual release of Marilyn Merlot has been an event much anticipated by legions of its fans.

In the early days, this was very mediocre wine, not necessarily ageworthy, inconsistent with a 'collectable' wine. In recent years, they've upgraded the wine, and as this experience attests, it is becoming more suitable for aging. At eighteen years, I was dubious, but, alas, this exceeded our expectations and was quite good. The fill level, cork and foil were in ideal condition.

Dark almost blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, intense concentrated black fruits, notes of creosote, hints of smoke and earth, but after about thirty minutes the black fruits emerged and were quite approachable and pleasant. A perfect pairing with our hearty grilled beefsteak fajitas. 

RM 89 points.

Earlier tastings of Marilyn Merlot.

Marilyn Merlot 2016

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

Marilyn Merlot 2012 Label Unveiling / Release

Marilyn Merlot 2019

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Chicago Getaway Features Favorite Destinations and Activities

Chicago Getaway Features Favorite Destinations and Activities

Continuing our wedding anniversary celebration Chicago getaway, we did several of our favorite sites visits and activities. Yesterday's blogpost discussed our Spectacular Memorable Anniversary Celebration Evening and Dinner at the St Regis Hotel Miru Restaurant Chicago. That was the beginning of our wedding anniversary getaway in our beloved Chicago doing many of our favorite destinations' activities.

Following that fabulous dinner, we attended the theatre production of MJ The Musical at the magnificent James M. Nederlander Theatre.

MJ is the story of pop icon Michael Jackson, one of the most talented, greatest entertainers of all time, and the making of his 1992 Dangerous World Tour. As promoted, the multi Tony Award®-winning new musical was Created by Tony Award®-winning Director/Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage. The show, "MJ goes beyond the singular moves and signature sound of the star, offering a rare look at the creative mind and collaborative spirit that catapulted Michael Jackson into legendary status". 


The following day, we took the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour, There are several cruise boat operators offering such tours. This one is offered in concert with the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) whose highly trained and volunteer CAC docents (guides) conduct the detailed narrative of Chicago's numerous architectural styles and the stories of the legendary figures who designed and built the great city.

Chicago’s iconic architecture is showcased aboard TripAdvisor’s #1 rated boat tour of the city and was also voted as one of the Top 10 Boat Tours in North America by USA Today readers for 3 years in a row!

Chicago has a rich architectural history with some of the most incredible architecture offering some of the best skyline views in the world, best seen from the lakeshore, the lakefront and in these instances, from the river.

Above, the Bank of America Tower riverfront, and river walk view with my office overlooking the river in the background.

From the Chicago River, the tour covers fascinating stories behind more than 50 iconic and historic buildings along the Chicago River and Chicago's rich history, how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world's largest cities in less than 100 years. 

Other architectural boat tours are offer by:  

The original Chicago boat tours - Wendella Boats - and ,

We love the Chicago boat tours. Even though we've done the tour many many times, and I could almost give the tour, as a docent interpreter of the Frank Lloyd Wright architectural tours, myself, we love taking the tour again and again. I know many of the docent guides and the intensive training and preparation they go through to conduct such tours. 

I gave the public tour the day of this post at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park. Catch me there many Sunday (or Saturday) afternoons in the Summer, Fall and Spring.

Indeed, my (day job until I recently retired) office overlooked the river and had a birds-eye view of the tour boats on the river (shown right).  

This photo, taken from my office, shows the river cruise boats on "bridge day", one of the Wednesdays in the early spring and late fall when the fleet of boats are moved to/from Lake Michigan up/down river to/from their winter storage sites, and the orchestration of opening the draw bridges to let them pass, street by street. 

We then visited another of our favorite Chicago destinations, the magnificent Art Institute of Chicago - Downtown Chicago's #1 Museum. We've been members for decades and visit regularly, most notably during special exhibitions. This was our third visit this summer, to see the Van Gogh special exhibit, once again. 

Founded in 1879, it is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the world. It is sited on Michigan Avenue in Chicago's scenic Grant Park.It houses many iconic works such as Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso's The Old Guitarist, my favorite, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and Grant Wood's American Gothic. Its permanent collection holds nearly 300,000 works of art hosts more than 30 special exhibitions yearly.

The AIC was rated the best museum in the world by TripAdvisor and the only museum in the world to be ranked among the world’s best by TripAdvisor four years in a row. The fabulous collection features many iconic works - many of our favorites by Masters such as Renoir and Claude Monet, and some of our favorites ... Nightlife by Archibald Motley, and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

We then headed home to the western suburbs, and stopped enroute in Oak Park at Hemingway's Bistro for dinner. We had reservations downtown but opted to beat the traffic and get out early, choosing Hemingway's despite the fact we dined there just last week, as featured in this blogpost - Lunch at Hemingway's Bistro Oak Park after FLW Tour

Continuing our anniversary celebration we started with a Champagne toast with two of our favorite Hemingway features, the Foie Gras with Candied Peaches and Baked Brie Cheese with Almonds and Honey.  

Baked Imported Brie with almonds, Apricot preserves, wildflower honey

Foie Gras du Jour with Caramelized Peaches, candy onions, parsnip puree, balsamic vinaigrette

For our dinner entrees, Linda chose the Crab Cake and I had a new menu entree selection offering, the Veal Chop. 

Lump Crab Cake Apple endive salad, grain mustard sauce

Wisconsin Veal Rib Chop with truffle creme corn, morel sauce

For our wine selection we had from the winelist this Santa Ynez Valley Andrew Murray Vineyards Syrah. The winelist offers six sparkling wines, 22 reds and 22 whites, predominantly French, with a dozen WBTG - Wines-By-The-Glass.

Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous les Jours Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2020

We saw the Andrew Murray estate vineyards and winery when we visited the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County and drove the Foxen Canyon Wine trail. The trail follows the Santa Ynez Valley from Santa Maria down to Los Olivos and is home to numerous continuous estates and vineyards the length of Foxen Canyon Road.  It is home to Fess Parker Winery, Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, and a dozen others, around the corner from Tensley Santa Barbara County Wines - many labels you'll see featured in these pages.

This wine is from the Curtis Estate, approximately 100 acres of uplifted, gently sloping vines, in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. The site has gravelly loam soils over a deep bed of ancient maritime sand.  

The vines are 15 to 47 years old divided into several Syrah blocks of various clones. 

This Estate Syrah is derived from several block from multiple clones to give ample fruit, solid structure, and that cool-climate Syrah flavor profile. One clone's small, round, marble-shaped berry has a tight skin, which results in more structured wines. Another Clone is similar, but with a bit more fruit-forward note. The main block was grafted a few years ago onto Viognier vines and has quickly become a favorite block of Syrah and results in a very delicious and complex wine. 

Each fermentation lot is kept separate throughout the entire 18 months élevage after being barreled down in a mix of new and 1–4-year-old French oak barrels. The Estate Syrah is always crafted from the best of these barrels each vintage. 

Winemaker notes - "The 2020 vintage is nearly opaque in the glass with a blue/black core and bright red-black at the rim. The primary fruits are cherry and raspberry, balanced by a dusting of white pepper with a lovely and fully integrated toasty oak finish from the nearly 25% new French oak. The mid-palate is energetic and massive, while the finish is rich and long. Notes of Wild Raspberry Jam, Black Cherry, Purple Flowers, Crispy Bacon, Cinnamon Stick, and Toasty Oak.