Friday, September 29, 2023

Blue Hall Vineyard Camiana Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Blue Hall Vineyard Camiana Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with grilled beefsteak fajitas

Wife Linda prepared grilled beefsteak fajitas with roasted peppers and onions with roasted corn aioli. I pulled from the cellar this Howell Mountain Cabernet for a great wine accompaniment. 

As I have posted before in these pages, wine buddy and fellow Pour Boy Bill C introduced us to this wine when he and son Matt acquired a case or more and shared with us a mini-vertical collection of four different vintages. We served and wrote about this wine earlier this summer at a wine dinner with neighbors Mark and Shirley and wine buddy fellow 'Pour Boy' Dr Dan and Linda.

As I wrote previously, this is from Blue Hall Vineyard, a 5 acre site on Howell Mountain owned by two medical doctors, Andrew Zolopa & Annie Talbot. Vintner and owner, Dr. Andrew Zolopa, was a world-renowned researcher and was instrumental in starting the HIV/AIDS program at Stanford University in 1994 and was a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine for twenty years.

Andrew traveled regularly to Napa to enjoy fine wine and in 1998 purchased property on Howell Mountain to build a home away from home. Sitting near the top of Howell Mountain at an elevation of 1,700 feet above Napa Valley, the property was in the geographic heart of the Howell Mountain sub-appellation, surrounded by world famous vineyards (owned by Beringer) and forested hillsides. 

Zolopa planted the five acre vineyard of which 3 acres was planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon in 2000-01. The vineyard was adjacent to notable vineyards owned by Beringer.

Zolopa named the vineyard Blue Hall Vineyard, deriving its name from the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson who spent his honeymoon in a cabin on the side of Mount St. Helena in the summer of 1880. Stevenson was inspired by the purity of the blue sky and exclaimed that it was as if he had entered "the blue hall of heaven." The name reference “Blue Hall” was from the book “Silverado Squatters”, written by Stevenson – a book that featured much about historical Napa Valley.

Andrew named the wine Camiana" after his daughters Camille and Juliana. They appointed Ted Osborne as winemaker, who was self taught building on experience working at Passing Clouds in Australia, Rupert & Rothschild in South Africa, and Chateau du Seuil in Bordeaux. Coming to America, he put in time working for two well-known Napa wineries, Cakebread and Storybook Mountain, the northern most winery in the Napa Valley

Blue Hall produced their first vintage release wine in 2004, a 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 80 cases were made, which they held until after their first commercial release in 2005. While the 2004 was technically their first vintage, it was released after the 2005 as a library wine. That 2004 release, despite the additional year in the bottle was their “biggest” wine out of their first few vintages. They produced the label annually until 2013, their last vintage produced. 
This is one vintage of a vertical collection we acquired with/from fellow wine buddy and 'Pour Boy' Bill C who acquired a case of vintages with son and fellow collector Matt back in 2012. We're still holding four vintages of that collection and this is the oldest release from the selection.

Our notes on the inaugural Camiana Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

Camiana Blue Hall Vineyards Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
We last tasted this wine back in 2015 in a comparison tasting of Howell Mountain Napa Cabernets, when I wrote, 'The wine is full bodied and dark inky purple color, the nose is perfumed with violets, cedar box and dusty earth; The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon flavors are complex, tight and dry, with big firm tannins masking the intense concentrated black berry and black cherry fruit accented with tobacco, hints of cassis and sweet oak. This wine is great now but should be laid down for five to 10 years.' Tonight, the fruit seemed more expressive and open, but coming across boldly, lacking finesse, balance or polish, coming across as youthful and, as written before, needing time to settle and harmonize.

Our first tasting of this wine was upon receipt back in 2012 when I wrote:  The 2007 Camiana is full bodied and dark inky purple color, the nose is perfumed with violets, cedar box and dusty earth, The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon flavors are complex, tight and dry, with big firm tannins masking the intense concentrated black berry and black cherry fruit accented with tobacco, hints of cassis and sweet oak. This wine is great now but should be laid down for five to 10 years.

Tonight, at sixteen years, the fill level, foil, label and most importantly the cork were all in ideal condition. The wine was a bit more settled and integrated than initially but still a bit slightly obtuse and forward. Tonight I gave it RM 91 points.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

California Grüner Veltliner a perfect pairing with Butternut Squash Pasta and Sauteed Veggies

Central Coast California Grüner Veltliner a perfect pairing with Butternut Squash Pasta and Sauteed Veggies

Linda prepared butternut squash pasta with savory sauteed carrots and broccoli and I opened this Field Recordings Wine Grüner Veltliner for a another wonderful, perfect wine food pairing. This follows recent posts where I wrote about the enhanced enjoyment of both food and wine when an ideal complementary pairing is achieved. Such was the case tonight, resulting in the accentuation of the whole culinary experience. 

Uccelliera Rapace Toscana 2018

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio 2006

Grüner Veltliner Morro View Vineyard  2019

This is another interesting label from the broad portfolio of wines from 35-year old California winemaker Andrew Jones whose work as a vine nursery fieldman, planning and planting vineyards for farmers across Central California has provided insights and access to some of the best fruit sources across the region. 

As his website explains, "having stood in just about every vineyard on the Central Coast, he’s all about finding those underdogs with untapped potential. As friendships are made and opportunities are embraced, Andrew produces small quantities of soulful wine from these unusual, quiet vineyards. (He) has developed a keen eye for diamonds in the rough: sites that are unknown or under-appreciated but hold enormous untapped potential. He strives for unique wines loaded with personality and a one-of-a-kind experience." 

'Field Recordings is Andrew’s personal catalog of the people and places he values most. He quotes: “Our wines are all about the flavor — with none of the pretension.”'

The Field Recordings website shows two dozen wines sourced from no less than twenty-two vineyard sources, shown on a map of the California Central Coast wine region from Carmel in the north to Solvang in the south. 

I picked up a selection of these wines to have on hand to try for special occasions and everyday sipping. Indications and experience show Field Recordings tends to provide quality wines at great value high QPR - Quality-to-Price-Ratios. 

Our first encounter was a white blend, "Hock", that I selected and served at our family Thanksgiving celebration dinner

I then opened this same label last winter a posted a tasting review at that time.

Field Recordings Morro View Grüner Veltliner 2019

I liked this pairing so much, I went back to try to obtain more but there was none to be found. 

This is sourced from the Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County in the California Central coast. It is California’s coolest wine growing area, best suited for the production of high quality wine grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rhône Blends for aromatic white wines. 

It has a cool Mediterranean climate and an incredibly long growing season, giving late-ripening varieties plenty of opportunity to develop great phenolic complexity.

The valley has a northwest to southeast orientation that creates a direct path for cool Pacific air and fog to penetrate the valley from the Los Osos and Morro Bay area inwards. Low hillsides of both calcareous and volcanic soils are home to much of the vineyard acreage of the Edna Valley.

Tonight's optimal pairing of this wine with food enhanced the enjoyment of this wine significantly resulting in a higher rating that our earlier tasting. 

At that time, this wine followed an Alsatian Blend which also featured this varietal grape associated with the Alsace Loraine region of France - Grüner Veltliner. This too would have been a good selection for Thanksgiving dinner but I opted for the more complex blend that day.

The winemaker notes, "This is 100% Grüner Veltliner, sourced from our favorite vineyard in the heart of the Edna Valley. The extra rock and limestone in the soil never allowed it to be used for row crops like the majority of the other vineyard sites in Edna. The acidity from each variety pulled from Morro View is what makes them all special. The Grüner really shines in the glass. Notes of lychee, Yuzu, Jasmine tea, electricity," as written by Winemaker Andrew Jones.  

Last time I gave this wine 88 points. Tonight, I raise that to 90 points based on the enhanced pairing with the food. 

Light golden straw colored, medium bodied, bright expressive forward notes of pear and green apple are accented by a layer of roasted nut and tropical lychee fruit, sweet honey and paine grille, with hints of grapefruit, with well balanced acidity on a sharp pointed finish.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Right Bank Bordeaux Blends and South African Chardonnay with surf and turf dinner

Right Bank Style Bordeaux Blends and South African Chardonnay with surf and turf dinner of lobster and grilled ribeye beefsteaks 

 We hosted neighbors Rich and Edessa for a casual Sunday evening dinner and Linda grilled ribeye beefsteaks and lobster tail medallions for a surf and turf dinner al dante on the deck, taking advantage of a delightfully perfect autumn evening. 

Son Alec dropped in and joined us and helped select, and enjoy, the wine (s).

De Wetshof Limestone Vineyard Robertson Valley Chardonnay 2021

Prior to dinner with artisan cheeses, and then with ramikans of lobster medallions with butter baked croutons, I served this interesting Chardonnay from South Africa.

We picked this up at Wine Discount Center downtown (Chicago) during a getaway weekend to the City last year. They do a great job finding good QPR (quality price ratio) wines from around the world. Regretably, they closed their Naperville retail outlet a while back but still offer the means to shop on-line and pick-up wines at a convenient location nearby. We've bought many wines this way however it involves several steps in the process including being able to pick up your purchase at a specific time on a specific day. In any event, its an avenue to acquire some interesting selections of wine-finds.

This producer, De Wetshof is known for the production of fine wines in South Africa since the 1970’s and were the first registered wine estate in the Robertson Wine Valley. De Wetshof specialize and focus on Chardonnay and become known internationally as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House due to the pioneering role they have played in producing the noble Burgundian grape to the country.

Proprietor's Danie De Wet's family were early growers in the Robertson Valley and can trace their Cape winemaking heritage back to the 1700s when the De Wet family first arrived in 1694 and made their mark on the South African wine industry.

Today, De Wetshof is one of the few third generation wine estates in South Africa managed by Johann de Wet, CEO who oversees the De Wetshof’s vineyards, while brother Peter runs finances and logistics. Both are also actively involved in winemaking and strategy along with their father Danie.

About 80% of the estate is planted to Chardonnay, with various clones matched to specific sites on the property aimed at optimal expression of terroir. This label is the standard entry level to a portfolio of a half dozen Chardonnays which also includes a Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, a "Lilya Dry Rosé", "Nature in Concert Pinot Noir" and a Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a a "Edeloes" Noble Late Harvest aged dessert wine.

Winemaker Notes for the Limestone Vineyard Chardonnay - "Heavy clay soils rich in limestone allow this Chardonnay to emit optimum varietal expression in a cloak of rich complexity. An un-wooded wine, Limestone Hill has notes of grapefruit and nuts, with the complexity balanced by a nuanced elegance ending with a delicate ripeness."

This label was awarded 91 points by Wine & Spirits, and 90 points by both James Suckling and Wine Spectator.

This De Wetshof’s unoaked Chardonnay is grayish green and gold colored, medium bodied with crisp pear and apple flavors with notes of lemon, apricot and crushed stones on the nose with tangy acidity and a mineral on the pleasant zesty finish. 

RM 90 points.

For the main course with the grilled rib-eye beefsteaks, I pulled from the cellar a couple aged "Right Bank" Bordeaux varietal blends, one from Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards and Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah. 

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards "Right Bank" Napa Valley Red Blend 2006

We served an earlier vintage release of this label and wrote about the producer and this label in an earlier blogpost in the spring of last year - Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 'Right Bank' Cuvee Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2004.

Just like that night when we prepared Tomahawk Ribeye beefsteaks, I was eager to serve the optimal food wine pairing, which as I state often in these pages, results in heightened enjoyment of both.

I pulled from the cellar this aged Right Bank Bordeaux Blend, aptly named "Right Bank" by the producer in light of its Merlot predominance in the Blend, accented by another Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Franc.

Tonight's 2006 release is 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and provided a delightful sipping smooth polished Merlot centric red wine with a tangy spicy edge provided by the Cabernet Franc, ideal for pairing with the grilled beefsteak. 

As I highlighted in that earlier blogpost, Oenophiles and Bordeaux enthusiasts know that a Bordeaux Blend will comprise the classic specified Bordeaux varietal grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and perhaps Malbec, or some combination thereof. 

Those wines produced on the 'Right Bank' of the Gironde River, to the north and east of the slightly diagonally running river, will be predominantly Merlot based, complemented by the remaining varietal (s) in the mix. 

Meanwhile, those wines from the 'Left Bank', to the - south and west of the river, will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with lesser amounts of some combination of the remaining Bordeaux varietals in the Blend.

Hence, at 77% Merlot, this is considered a 'Right Bank' Bordeaux (Blend). Indeed, the rear label cites they produce this wine from the two Bordeaux varietals to be complimentary of those from the most famous Right Bank appellation, St Emilion.

This is from Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards, a family owned and operated producer founded in 1983, who released their first vintage in 1987. This is not to be confused with Conn Creek Napa Valley labels and brand from St Helena that go back to the 1980's. 

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards produce estate Bordeaux varietal based wines from their 40-acre estate located south of Howell Mountain in Conn Valley, just over the first lower slope of the Vaca Range that makes up the eastern wall of Napa Valley. Take Howell Mountain Road to Conn Valley Road which snakes through the valley parallel to the ridgeline above Silverado Trail, above Joseph Phelps and Hall Rutherford estates and vineyards.

They promote that they are just 3 miles or 10 minutes east of downtown St. Helena to invite visitors to their tours. 

Anderson's is run by Todd Anderson who graduated from University of Pacific in Stockton, CA with a degree in Geology before working for a small tech firm in seismic oil and gas exploration. Todd soon joined up with his parents in starting a “small vineyard” in the creation of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 'Right Bank' Cuvee Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2006

Anderson produces a portfolio of Napa Valley sourced wines, Bordeaux varietals and blends as well as a Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc whites. 

Conn Valley’s Cabernets are made from 100% Estate grown grapes from the vineyards located at the winery site in Conn Valley - from their estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a Reserve, a Cabernet Franc, this Right Bank blend and their flagship super premium Eloge blend label. Their website library notes go back to the 2007 or 08 vintages, post dating this 2006 vintage release. 

Prior to blending and bottling, their wines are aged in the hillside caves located on the Conn Valley Estate.

According to the rear label, winemaker for this release was Mac Sawyer, winemaker since 2000, he sadly passed away in 2012.  Owner, founding winemaker Todd Anderson brought Mac on when they created the ultra-exclusive Ghost Horse Label.

Mac had interned at iconic Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux, one of the most famous top rated estates' labels in the world. No doubt that experience formed the inspiration from the wines of Saint-Émilion and at Cheval Blanc, that Todd Anderson and Mac sought to recreate with this Right Bank Cuvee, crafted in the style of Cheval Blanc from Napa Valley fruit. 

The first vintage release of Right Bank Cuvee was in 2001 and was intended to be produced only for the the annual Napa Valley charity fundraising auction Napa Premier.  

The story goes that legendary wine reviewer Robert Parker was on his annual visit to Anderson’s Conn Valley when Todd Anderson agreed to let Parker taste the Right Bank 2001 on the condition that he agreed not to publish any tasting notes. Impressed with the wine, somehow, Parker unintentionally published glowing tasting notes in the Wine Advocate. The ensuing demand for the Right Bank label was so great that Todd agreed to make it part of Anderson’s Conn Valley’s annual portfolio. 

My records show we've had a half dozen vintages of this label that included a mini-vertical dating back to the 2003 release, including at least one vintage in large format magnum. 

Tonight, this release was better than earlier tastings of earlier vintages of this label. 

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated the 2004 release 94 points and described it, "Their Napa Valley Cheval Blanc look-alike is called Right Bank, usually a blend of two-thirds Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc, although it can change somewhat depending on the vintage. This is a thrilling wine that comes as close as just about any wine in Napa to mimicking a great Right Bank Bordeaux."

He rated the 2006 release 95 points back in 2009. (RP Wine Advocate, 12/2009) and wrote, "The 2006 Right Bank (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc) exhibits a dark plum/purple hue along with gamy, cedary, black cherry, black currant, plum, toffee, and caramel aromas. Deep, rich, and youthful with significant tannin as well as impressive concentration and length, this is a stunning, complex Napa Valley red. (RP) (12/2009)"

Like the 2004 two years ago at eighteen years, the 2006', at seventeen years fill level, label, foil and most importantly the cork were all in nearly ideal condition. The cork, shown, exhibited slight evidence of past seepage and the label was soiled from excessive humidity in the cellar at some point over the last decade. 

Unlike the 2004 in the previous tasting, (, when it seemed to be "waning on the back side of its peak drinking window signaling it may be time to drink as it will likely start or continue to decline from here going forward", this was still at the apex of its drinking window, albeit not likely to improve any further with age. 

This was delicious, dark garnet colored with purple hues, medium full bodied and complex, yet smooth and polished black berry, black currant and plum fruits accented by notes of sweet toffee and caramel with hints of cinnamon clove spice, anise and cedar on a long silky tannin laced finish.

RM 93 points.  

As we neared the end of the bottle of "Right Bank", I elected to fetch another similar style wine for a comparison tasting. After discussion on our options, Alec and I went to the cellar to pull the follow on selection for our tasting flight. We went back and forth on the vintage selection and ended up bringing up two vintages. 

Uriah Spring Valley Vineyard Red Blend 2013 and 2015

This provided an interesting comparison in a mini-vertical tasting, showing a disparate contrast in two vintages of the same label. 

I reviewed this wine in an earlier blogpost in these pages - Spring Valley 2013 Blends - Uriah vs Frederick, a comparison tasting between two different Spring Valley wines, their Right Bank, Uriah, and their Left Bank Frederich.

Spring Valley Vineyard 2013 Walla Walla Valley Red Wine Bordeaux Blends - Uriah vs Frederick 

Tonight, this pair of two red wine blends of the same style and blend as our other selection, from different vintages of the same wine provided a comparative tasting in a mini-vertical tasting, as well as a ideal comparison tasting flight.

We visited Spring Valley during our appellation visit to the Walla Walla (Washington) wine region in the fall of 2018. We visited the Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room in downtown Walla Walla, then ventured out to the vineyards and winery northeast of town. There, we met Dean Derby patriarch, and husband to Shari Corkrum Derby, grand-daughter of Uriah Corkrum, namesake for this label. 

Meeting Mr. Derby was one of the highlights of our Walla Walla Wine Experience, especially since he has since passed on. We posted a Tribute to Dean Derby and memorium of that visit - Spring Valley Vineyard toward the end of 2021. 

All of the Spring Valley wines are named for one of the ancestral or current family members. Spring Valley Vineyard wines are all produced from 100% estate-grown fruit, a relative rarity in Washington.

The complete lineup of Spring Valley wines featuring the family member labels is featured in a boxed set. Shown is our set commemorating the 2013 vintage releases.

Washington State and regional powerhouse Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates purchased the winery and the brand from the Derby family recently, but they continue to own and operate the vineyards.

This label, Uriah, is named for the Spring Valley Vineyards founder Uriah Corkrum, grandfather of matriarch Shari Corkrum Derby. 

Born in Walla Walla on June 1, 1866, he began successfully farming on his own during the 1880s. Unusual summer rain kept him from getting his harvested wheat to the warehouse so he lost everything in the depression of 1893. He persevered and, in 1897, acquired land in the area known as Spring Valley that is the site of the vineyards today. Uriah is featured on the flagship label Uriah Spring Valley Red Blend. This is our favorite label from the Spring Valley portfolio. 

The Uriah label from Spring Valley Vineyards in Walla Walla, Washington is a Right Bank Bordeaux Blend, meaning it is Merlot based like those from the northeastern or right bank of the Gironde River.

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Walla Walla Valley Red Wine 2013
We hold nearly a decade of vintages of this label but pulled two of the oldest, both of which we had multiple bottles.

The 2013 release of Uriah is 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec.

Being a blend of five Bordeaux varietals, this was more complex than the 'simpler' Right Bank that only contained two. I often compare the profile of blended wines to their width and depth - imagine a bar chart with five bars vs one with three. 

This release was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator,  92 points Vinous and Wine Enthusiast. 

Vinous in their review also mentioned both labels in their review,  "Incidentally, this wine and the Frederick are Spring Valley's most important bottlings, with about 3,000 cases of each produced.

The Merlot base exudes smoothness while the Cabernet Franc spiciness shines through. This was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, Wine Spectator called it 'broad and expressive', black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by pepper, spice, black olive and notes of black olive, expresso and green herbs turning to fine grained tannins on a lingering finish. 

This was not a smooth, elegant or polished as the Right Bank, which was noticed by everyone at the table. 

RM 90 points.

We then moved to the 2015 vintage release of this label, which was featured in earlier tasting posts in these pages - Uriah Spring Valley Red Blend 2015

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Walla Walla Valley Red Wine 2015

Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah Red Blend 2015

The Spring Valley Vineyards adjacent to the
farmstead site

These are 100% sourced from Spring Valley Vineyards in the wind-shaped Palouse Hills 12 miles northeast of Walla Walla, amid the picturesque wheat fields of southeastern Washington and the Blue Mountains in the distance. 

The initial block of Merlot was planted in 1993 on a southern hillside facing southwest. The vines follow the north-south slope of the hills in vertical rows, an orientation that when combined with the declination of the slope, allows the vines to take optimal advantage of air drainage, sunshine, and the reflective nature of the surrounding wheat fields.

The 2015 vintage was one of the warmest growing seasons on record in Washington. Warm temperatures continued through the spring and summer, moderating slightly into fall and extending an early harvest. Overall, 2015 saw very favorable growing conditions, producing optimal ripening across varieties and yielding outstanding wines throughout the region.

This 2015 release is a blend or Bordeaux varietals, 43% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. It was aged 18 months in 100% French oak, 40% new.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “Our most terroir driven blend, mostly Cabernet Franc and Merlot. A rich wine coming from one of the warmest harvests. The tannins are velvety and the finish is long and soft.”
~ Serge Laville, Winemaker.

This was rated 93 Points by Wine & Spirits, 92 Points by James Suckling, 91 Points by Wine Spectator, and 90 points by Sean Sullivan of Wine Advocate. 

We hold half dozen vintages of this label and pulled two of the oldest vintage as part of effective cellar management rotation. 

At eight years this is probably at or near its peak, the apex of its drinking profile, not likely to improve further with aging, but certainly to age gracefully for another decade if you're patient enough to keep it that long. 

This was bright garnet colored, medium bodied, elegant polished, rich but approachable for pleasant but sophisticated drinking, its right-bank style blend shows vibrant black berry and dark plum fruits with notes of cassis, spice, floral and hints of balsamic and herbs with dusty minerality with polished soft tannins on the lingering finish.

It was consensus of the entire group that this was better than the 2013 vintage release, but still not as polished, elegant or delightful as the first Right Bank bottle in our flight.

RM 92 points.

Linked referenced in this blog:

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Chateau St Jean Malbec Reserve with Murray's Blue Cheese

Chateau St Jean Malbec Reserve with Murray's Blue Cheese

While at the local Mariano's Grocery, we picked up some artisan Murray's Blue Cheese at the cheese shop and were eager to try it with some fresh baked bread and wine. 

This Treasure Cave® brand Blue Cheese has a long and rich history as the first commercially produced blue cheese brand in the United States. In 1935, caves in Faribault, Minnesota, were renovated and turned into a cheese-making facility. The caves provided the right temperature and environment to produce authentic, cave-aged cheeses. Produced in caves, Treasure Cave cheeses today are made in a state-of-the-art facility in Almena, Wisconsin, with curing cells to finalize the production while ensuring consistent quality of the brand's blue and gorgonzola cheeses.

I've written in these pages about the irony that Murray's Cheese shop and wine and cheese bar/restaurant on Bleeker Street in New York City, Greenwich Village, one of our favorite eateries there, sold out to national retail grocer Kroger, who also took over local Chicago grocer Mariano's. Hence, the iconic New York cheese purveyor now has an in-store cheese shop in our neighborhood grocery here in Naperville. 

Previous posts featuring Murray's Cheese in these pages:

Murray's Cheese Restaurant and wine bar on Bleeker Street in the Greenwich Village - Ultimate Wine Cheese Experience

Coronavirus Virtual Family Dinner and Birthday Celebration
features Murrays Cheese Pairing

Murray's Cheese - and wine too

Murray's Cheese Wine Dinner

Looking at guidance from several cheese and wine sites, several suggested Malbec as an ideal wine for pairing with Blue Cheese, so I pulled from our cellar this premium Reserve Malbec for a cheese and wine pairing. 

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Malbec Reserve 2013

We tasted and obtained this label as part of a Reserve wine flight pairing at the Chateau St Jean estate during our Sonoma Napa Wine Experience back in 2017.  I featured that tasting in a blogpost in these pages at the time - July 30, 2017 - Chateau St Jean Sonoma Reserve Private Tasting

Our Pour Boys 2017 Sonoma Napa Wine Experience started on the Sonoma Coast and worked east along the Russian River Valley ending up in Sonoma Valley at one of its crown jewel estates, Chateau St Jean. Bill C., a wine club member arranged for a special Reserve private tasting. 
The Chateau St Jean estate is one of the most picturesque and authentic in the Sonoma Valley and is more civil and hospitable than some of the garish ostentatious properties in the more highly commercialized Napa Valley. This was a perfect buffer and transition from the more relaxed Sonoma County to the Valley as we transitioned to spend the coming week in Napa (Valley).

Private tastings are held in the cottage (shown right) across the courtyard from the hospitality center. 

We've visited the estate and done tastings there numerous times over the years. Sonoma Harvest '09 - Chateau St Jean and again Sonoma Valley Wine Experience 2009 - Chateau St Jean.

This label was one of the highlights of that tasting. 

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Reserve Malbec 2013

Malbec grapes tend to have a dark inky color and robust tannins. It is one of the six designated grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine. It is added to the blend to add deep color, intensity, tannin, structure, and complexity to the wine. 

The Malbec grape is thin-skinned tends to need more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. The grape became less popular in Bordeaux after a devastating frost in 1956 killed off 75% of the crop forcing replanting of the varietal. 

The grape is included in the blend to add dark color, body and structure to the wine. As the trend to robust forward wines became more popular, many producers crafted wines that were a majority, even100% Malbec. The varietal gained notoriety and become popular as one of the main varietals planted in Argentina.

This St Jean label is produced and released in very limited quantities and hence is only available to wine club members at the winery.

Winemaker's notes: The Reserve Malbec was blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (6%) to round out the final vintage. Individual lots of each variety were aged separately for 28 months exclusively in small French oak barrels with only 5% being new barrels. Barrel by barrel, each lot was tasted and the most outstanding Malbec barrels were selected and then blended with specific lots of Cabernet Sauvignon to complete the final wine.

This 2013 Reserve Malbec offers bright aromas of boysenberry and blackberry fruit, subtle clove spice and a high-tone violet floral note. The inviting nose leads to a full, plush palate with powerful yet well-integrated and smooth tannins. Flavors of boysenberry jam, black cherry and spice are distinct on the palate. The wine is round with balanced acidity leading to a lengthy and flavorful finish.

Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren has championed Malbec and believes the variety flourishes in Sonoma at selected sites. It has become one of her favorite wines to bottle as a varietal. The Malbec for this wine comes from the Asti Vineyard in Alexander Valley at the northern end of Sonoma County as well as the St. Jean Estate vineyard in the heart of Sonoma Valley. The beautiful 2013 growing season resulted in wines with great depth of flavor, intense color and excellent balance. The Malbec consistently ripened with a concentrated core of fruit balanced by bright acidity.
This was a nice pairing with it's robust full flavors standing up to the hearty cheese. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio 2006

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio ideal pairing with spaghetti bolognese sauce

Following the delightfully delicious food and wine pairing of a Super Tuscan Blend with spaghetti bolognese tomato sauce the other evening, I was driven to pull from the cellar this unique Napa Valley Super Tuscan Blend for a comparison tasting. 

When I first discovered and purchased David Arthur Meritaggio back in 1997 I didnt think of it as a Super Tuscan Italian Blend. But then that terminology or moniker had not been invented yet, or certainly hadn't gained the notoriety it has today. But, the concept of a Napa Valley Sangiovese was intriguing, especially when blended with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! 

Two decades later, we've developed a fond appreciation for Sangiovese, the varietal of Tuscany and its famous Brunello di Montalcino, and the increasing propensity to blend Sangiovese with Bordeaux varietals into what is today popularly called a "Super Tuscan" (from Montalcina, Tuscany, Italy).

Yet, it is rare to find Napa Valley Sangiovese, and more rare to find A Sangiovese Bordeaux varietal, or Super Tuscan Blend. Alas, David Arthur Meritaggio. The whimsical name Meritaggio is a brilliant play on words applying an Italian syllable to the traditional word 'Meritage' which is a licensed term to denote a US wine produced from Bordeaux varietals.

Sanviovese and Cabernet blends came into fashion in the 1960s and 1970s as producers from Tuscany began to experiment with the Bordeaux varietals. The results become legendary and these Super Tuscans as they came to be known now make up some of Italy's most famous wines. 

One of the most famous Tuscan producers was a pioneer in planting Bordeaux varietals in Tuscany, but went all the way to producing a Bordeaux Blend foregoing the historic traditional Tuscan varietals of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Our Pour Boys wine group attended a spectacular memorable dinner of the ultra-premium Sassicaia with the owner producer at a special dinner at legendary Italian Village Vivere Restaurant, Chicago, for a Vertical Tasting of the iconic label back in 2019.

Never-the-less, true Super Tuscan wines are a blend of Bordeaux and Tuscan varietals, so, it is that I pulled this aged vintage Napa Valley "Super Tuscan" blend to compare with the authentic Super Tuscan of the other evening. Such a comparison cast a whole new light on such a tasting as the comparison was sharp with not surprising similarities in style and tasting profiles.

We finished up the bolognese sauce from the other evening as leftovers for dinner, paired with this red blend from one of our favorite Napa Valley producers. Our collection of David Arthur Cabernet Sauvignon spans two decades, with several vintages of this unique red blend spanning that period.    

Our visit to the David Arthur estate and vineyards was a highlight of our Napa Wine Experience in 2013 when we had two of the Long girls, wife Linda and sis-in-law Pat, along to visit the Long Family, estate (no relation) unfortunately. 

We continue to have fun with this label with family and friends, having married Ned Long's daughter, no relation whatsoever to the Long's, proprietors, owners and growers of David Arthur Napa Valley wines. 

The origins of David Arthur Vineyards and the Long Family Ranch date back to when the Long family started visiting the Napa Valley in the 1950’s. Don Long, a butcher by trade owned a small grocery store in Portola Valley, near Stanford University and had long been interested in the California wine country. With a keen eye for business opportunities, Don began steadily investing in Napa Valley real estate leading to the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres atop Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range above St. Helena, California. Don’s youngest son, David Arthur, founded the winery with his then wife, Joye Dale, in 1985 with the purchase of 30 French oak barrels. David and Joye’s daughter, Laura Long, now works side by side with her father running the day-to-day operations of the winery and vineyards.

David Arthur "Meritaggio" Napa Valley Red Blend 2006

This Super-Tuscan style blend is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon (77%), Sangiovese (21%) and Petit Verdot (2%), all sourced the from David Arthur estate vineyards (shown right). 

The fruit is all grown at the winery's Pritchard Hill vineyard, planted in 1978 at the southern end of the Vac mountain range overlooking the Napa Valley below. Indeed, their flagship ultra-premium label is called "Elevation 1147" denoting the elevation above sea level of their property and vineyards. 

This release was awarded 91 points by both Connoisseurs Guide and Wine Enthusiast. 

My tasting and cellartracker notes indicate we drank one of our four bottles of this label back in 2009, (prior to the launch and publishing of this blog). At that time I awarded this 93 points when I wrote, "Wow, this is good! Dark, medium bodied but full flavored - blast of currant, red raspberry and black berry turning to chocolate mocha and subtle tones of anise on the soft finish."

Like the Italian Super Tuscan from our recent tasting, this was a perfect wine-food pairing to the tangy beef bolognese tomato and herb sauce, enhancing the enjoyment of both.

Tonight, fourteen years after first tasting this wine, the fill level, foil, label and most importantly, the cork, were all in pristine condition. 

The wine was starting to show its age a bit with the dark garnet color taking on an ever so slight brownish hue, and the bright expressive fruits have taken on a bit more rustic tone with the tobacco and earthy notes becoming more pronounced, the medium-fill bodied, concentrated, complex black currant and blackberry fruits accented by spice, anise and hints of mint and pepper with smooth soft acidity and chewy tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Uccelliera Rapace Toscana 2018

Uccelliera Rapace Toscana 2018 - perfect pairing with spaghetti

Sunday night dinner, Linda prepared spaghetti with a delicious bolognese tomato sauce with garden fresh herbs and fresh shaved parmesan cheese, with grilled fresh bread. 

I pulled from our cellar this Tuscan Sangiovese blend for a perfect food wine pairing, a perfect example where when an ideal symbiotic pairing is achieved between food and wine, the complement greatly accentuates the enjoyment of both.

This Tuscan Sangiovese blend is from small boutique producer Andrea Cortonesi, the only son of a family of sharecroppers who has been working in the vineyards and in all the related activities of the farm since his childhood, when he started helping his father. 

Andrea has been sharpening his skills as a winemaker and entrepreneur since 1986 when he acquired the farm with century-old olive trees, pastures and a small vineyard. Andrea grew up in that culture of a farmer where sacrifice and hard work are rooted in deep respect, love and humility for the land.

Uccelliera is the name of his old homestead laid on the hillslope of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, a small village in Tuscany, central Italy, administratively a frazione of the comune of Montalcino, province of Siena. At the time of the 2001 census its population was 236.

Historic middle age papers report of the existence of this place, called Uccelliera which means aviary, near Sant' Antimo Abbey and the alabaster quarries, attributing the origin of its name to the use of raptors for hunting. The ancient quarries that yielded the alabaster for the Abbey of Sant'Antimo border the vineyard.

The hamlet dates back to the middle ages, when in 1462, as a fortress of the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, included a residence which subsequently became property of the Bishop of Montalcino. Since then the estate building was nicknamed “Palazzo del Vescovo” (the Bishop’s Palace).

The small medieval village in Val d’Orcia is located within the municipal borders of Montalcino, close to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The village lies in a beautiful hilly area, home to many vineyards that produce the famous wine Brunello di Montalcino. 

The Uccelliera micro-climate and terroir benefits from the estate sitting protected by the natural barrier of the height of Mount Amiata to the south-east side and of Poggio d’Arna to the south-west, as well as the Orcia river and the marine breeze rising up from its valley that gives this place a unique micro-climate, particularly well-suited to viticulture.

Uccelliera has 25 acres of vineyards almost entirely planted to Sangiovese, made up of vines between 5 and 45 years old, grown on sandy loam with noticeable presence of crumbled fossils at an average altitude of 150, 250 and 350 meters a.s.l. in the zone of Castelnuovo dell’Abate.

The direction of the rows, the constant and attentive manual care of the vineyard to maintain a balanced growth and a regular thinning of the bunches contribute to the production of grapes to be perfectly ripe, healthy and fragrant, all essential requirements for a balanced wine, rich in structure, suitable for brief and long ageing. 

Uccelliera produces a small portfolio of estate sourced wines with four price-points, a most highly acclaimed DOCG ultra-premium flagship Brunello di Montalcina, and a Riserva, a premium more standard DOC, and two IGT wines. 

All the labels shown are currently available at Binny's, our local big box beverage super store. I went back to obtain more of the Rapace and it was sold out.

The Italian appellation or Origine Contrillata system has DOCG classification that specifies Italy’s highest tier in wine quality, but that does not mean that wines without it, or below in classification, cannot also be wonderful. In fact, there are actually four different Italian wine classifications - DOCG, DOC, Indicazione di Origine Contrillata (IGT) and Vino de Table (VdT) all of which include fantastic labels. IGT is a catch-all classification that denotes wines not made in DOC and DOCG appellations.  
The flagship Brunello di Montalcino is produced from select 100% Sangiovese sourced from designated  Montalcino estate vineyards, produced only under exceptional growing conditions with carefully selected grapes from the oldest vineyards and plantings, 28,666 of 750 ml are produced annually. 

The extra special Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, a DOCG (Denominazione di origine Controllata e Garantita) is 100% Sangiovese produced in outstanding vintages from the best fruit, of which bottles 9,600 of 750 ml are produced annually in such years.  

The appellation Riserva designation is given to the wine produced under exceptional growing conditions with carefully selected grapes from the oldest plantings of the oldest vineyards wine produced with selected sangiovese grapes from Brunello di Montalcino designated vineyards of approximately 17 acres planted in 1975, 1988, 1998 and 2000 in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, south-east of Montalcino at an altitude that varies from from 150 (492 ft) to 350 (1150 ft) meters. The soil is of medium consistency, calcareous-clayey with presence of sands and marl, rich in minerals and skeleton.

The second label, Rosso di Montalcino is produced with both selected Sangiovese grapes reclassified from Brunello di Montalcino designated vineyards, and those designated as Rosso di Montalcino. Rosso di Montalcino is a DOC, (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wine. 

It has an annual production of 26,400 bottles of 750, as well as 400 ml of 1500 ml.

Uccelliera Rapace Toscana IGT 2018

This label, Uccelliera Rapace Toscana is an IGT designated wine, Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). 

It is a Super Tuscan Blend comprised of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from a selection of Sangiovese grapes, reclassified from Brunello di Montalcino designated vineyards, and estate grown Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Annual production is 9500 to 10330 of 750 ml, 500 ml and 1500 ml bottles produced.

The collected grapes are expedited to reach the cellar in as short a time as possible, are subjected during the the destemming process with dry ice to prevent the berries from oxidation and, by cooling down the temperatures, to preserve their original characteristics. 

After draining off the skins, malolactic conversion occurs in stainless steel, then, the wine is aged in French oak vessels for at least 12 months followed by a further refinement in bottle for a minimum of 6 months.

This wine was rated 92 points by James Suckling and 90 points by Wine Advocate.

Winemaker Notes - Marked tannins but very smooth, soft and structured, well blending with the woods with which it is refined.

As noted above, this was a wonderful accompaniment to the tangy meat and tomato sauce.

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied,, bright expressive black cherry and berry fruits accented by tobacco and oak with hints of cinnamon spice with acidity and smooth polished tannins on a tangy finish.

RM 91 points.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah 2021

Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah 2021 with BBQ Ribs

Linda grilled BBQ ribs with baked potatoes and grilled corn and peppers. I pulled from the cellar one of our favorite labels for such a food wine pairing and one of the currently best drinking wines our cellar.

We discovered this producer and label and acquired earlier vintages of this and several other Tensley Santa Barbara County Wines, that I wrote about here, and replay below, during our Santa Barbara County Wine Experience. This was the standout of that tasting and best represents the style that we love.

We discovered Tensley Santa Barbara County Wines during that Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley Wine Experience while driving the Foxen Canyon wine trail. One of the producer's we visited recommended we check out Tensley Wines, which was near that estate we were visiting. 

We drove by the Tensley vineyards on Alisos Canyon Road, (shown left) which was closed, so we stopped in the Tensley tasting room in downtown Los Olivos (below).

I was not aware of this brand prior to this trip. It was a top discovery and revelation and may certainly be one of our go-to boutique labels going forward. We joined their wine club to obtain a supply of their labels from those tasted and going forward.  

As I have written in earlier posts, Tensley was one of the great surprises of our Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley wine experience was the revelation of Syrah being one of the lead varietals in the area. 

We were expecting to see Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are predominant taking advantage of the cool climate being close to the coastal maritime eftects. The cool coastal breezes run up the valleys of the mountains that run perpendicular to the coast.

We were delighted to find several producers featuring or even specializing in Syrah, Tensley included. At the Tensley tasting room, we were able to taste a flight of their Rhône varietals centered on their Syrahs.  

Colson Canyon Vineyard | Santa Ynez Mountains

Since joining their wineclub, we have acquired a half dozen labels from this producer, but this single vineyard designated label remains our favorite. Sourced from Colson Canyon Vineyard, high up in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Los Olivos, it has been providing exceptional Syrah fruit to Joey Tensley since 2000. It is this fruit that helped Tensley become the one of most sought after Syrah's on the coast with consistent high ratings, one vintage flirting with Robert Parker perfection at 99 points.

Joey Tensley launched Tensley Wines in 1998, producing 100 cases, while serving as the assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards, where he was given space to launch his own label.

Three years later, in 2001, he relocated to Buellton, CA to open his own winery, producing 750 cases of wines that immediately appeared on some of the country's top wine lists. That same year, Matt Kramer added two of Tensley's 2001 Syrah wines to the Wine Spectator's Top Ten Wines in the World list. followed by 90-95 point scores from Robert Parker for Tensley's 2001-2004 vintages. 

Tensley released his first vineyard-designate Syrah from Colson Canyon in 2001 and the wine press took notice. That year Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator named two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrah’s to his list of the Top Ten Wines in the World. Robert Parker, Jr. scored all the ‘01’s in the high 90’s, calling them “serious, hand-crafted efforts.”

By 2008, Food and Wine Magazine named the Colson Canyon Syrah “Top Syrah in America Over $20.” Two years later, Robert Parker gave the 2008 Anniversary Series Colson Canyon Syrah 99 points, and Wine Spectator Magazine named the 2008 Colson Canyon Syrah "#17 of its Top 100 Wines in the World". The 2007 Colson Canyon Syrah was ranked #22 the year before. Since then, the string of high scores has been consistent.

Tensley and his wife Jennifer, purchased the Colson Canyon property about five years ago, ensuring that they would always be able to tap the most distinctive site. 
Today, Tensley produces 3,300 cases a year. Taking advantage of the numerous micro-climates in the Santa Barbara mountain ranges, Joey also produces a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in areas closer to the ocean, while growing his Rhone varietals--Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier--further inland.  
Winemaker Notes: "Everything we farm in house is something very special to us. This site is one of the most unique and special places in the world of wine. High (1400 elevation) in the hills north of the Santa Maria Valley with some of the most iron-laced soils I have seen in Santa Barbara County."

Perched high up at an elevation of 1,400 feet, from a site located in the hills above Los Olivos, the Colson Canyon Vineyard benefits from the combination of warm days and cool nights that produce dense, fruit-forward wines with opulent jamminess. The site covers 115 acres but has only 16 acres of grapes because the elevation and rugged terrain make so much of the site untamable. Tensley believes that only three more acres have the potential to be planted.

Even though we received this label as part of our wineclub allocation shipment directly from the producer, we enjoy this particular label so much we arranged to pickup several bottles from big box wine merchant super store Total Wine during a recent trip to Indianapolis. This wine is not available in our marketplace as they have no distribution in our state of Illinois.

Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara County Syrah 2021

Winemaker notes for this 2021 Colson Canyon label: "Coming from one of the coolest vintage in a decade the wine has a serious freshness. With that said the extremely low yields of 1.7 ton per acre the texture is what the wine is all about. When you put your nose in the glass think of cracked pepper, black currant and raspberry with a touch of vanilla on the finish. The finish will last a long time from the high level of acid and tannin. Drink now, but probably best to wait a few years and for those who like aged wines don’t touch for 15-20 years!"

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate writes, "This hedonistic Syrah could use another 5+ years in bottle to unwind and will be long-lived in the cellar. Best After 2024."

Despite guidance to wait at least five years before diving into this full throttle Syrah, we were eager to try it and we weren't disappointed.   

This release was awarded 97 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate who called it "a perfumed powerhouse!", 94-96 by Vinous, and 93-95+ by Jeb Dunnuck. Vinous says, "The 2021 Syrah Colson Canyon Vineyard is one of the highlights among the 2021s I tasted from Joey Tensley."

Ruby and inky purple colored, full-bodied, dense, powerful, ripe, concentrated black and blue fruits, with accented by notes of menthol, bitter dark chocolate, tar, black pepper and hints of vanilla, floral and lavender, with full tannins and bright vibrant acidity on a long perfumed finish. 
This might benefit from a few years further aging to settle a bit.
RM 94 points.

Earlier reviews of this label:

Earlier, last fall I wrote about the previous vintage of this label: "Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, thick concentrated unctuous juicy black and blue fruits with layers of cassis and chocolate nuances with notes of oak, leather and tobacco on a tongue coating lingering finish." 

RM 94 Points