Sunday, September 3, 2023

Labor Day Family Cook-out features some classic collectable wines

Labor Day Family Cook-out features some old and new classic collectable wines

Son Alec and d-in-law Viviana hosted a Labor Day Holiday family cookout that provided an opportunity for a gala family get-together that included all our kids and grand-kids. 

Alec and Viv (below) prepared grilled tenderloin that they served as small bites on artisan bread. Here shown are Alec and sister Erin. Everyone chipped in and brought a salad or dessert or other.

Our three sons.

Ryan and I both brought a classic collectable or highly allocated special wine.

I took from our cellar this aged vintage collectable Marilyn Merlot in tribute to their daughter, grand-daughter Marylin. This follows taking another aged vintage bottle of this label to their cookout just a couple weeks ago. That bottle, from the 2005 vintage surpassed my expectations so I was eager to try another vintage, and continue to enjoy this fun collectable wine with Alec and Viv and the rest of the clan.

Ryan brought from his cellar this special, very limited release highly allocated Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Alec prepared grilled tenderloin of steak that he served as small bites on artisan bread. There were numerous salads and accompaniments followed by a broad selection of desserts. 

Domaine De La Côte Sta Rita Hills Bloom's Field Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

Ryan brought this very special selection rare, highly allocated bottle he acquired at auction.

Domaine de la Côte translates to 'Estate of the Slope' and is an estate of sixty acres in the Santa Rita Hills wine region planted to a collection of six vineyards planted over forty acres on the furthest western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County. 

The vineyards, as shown on the rear label (shown left): Memorious (3.5 acres), Bloom’s Field (7.5 acres), Siren’s Call (3 acres), Clos Juliet (1 acre), La Côte (9.5 acres), and 15.5 acres of appellation Sta. Rita Hills. 

The property rises to an elevation of 700 feet above the Santa Ynez River, lying on an ancient 25 million year old siliceous (silex) and diatomaceous seabed 7 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Although the Domaine spans a mere forty acres, the diversity of its climats or unique terroir of each vineyard is staggering: each with a unique geology, aspect, elevation and microclimate. Such distinct expression of site, or terroir, in such close proximity, is unparalleled in California. 

A source of superior California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills is a relatively new AVA (Agricultureal Viticulture Area). It is the coolest, westernmost sub-region of the larger Santa Ynez Valley appellation within Santa Barbara County. The climate of Sta. Rita Hills is a natural match for Chardonnay and Pinot noir, thanks to the crisp ocean breezes and well-drained, limestone-rich calcareous soil allowing the vines and grapes to ripen optimally, while retaining brisk acidity and harmonious balance. 

Winemaker Sashi Moorman discovered the site and with Chris King developed several former Evening Land vineyards in the far western Santa Rita Hills in 2007. Under his direction, the vineyards were planted entirely to California heritage selections at extremely high vine densities between 4,000 and 7,000 vines per acre, unprecedented at the time for the appellation. Sashi Moorman along with Raj Parr  purchased the property at the beginning of 2013.

The Domaine was purchased by Moorman and superstar sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr, who sources grapes from his estate in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. Rajat Parr was the 2017 James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who Award” Winner, joining a short and impressive list of wine industry luminaries including Kermit Lynch, Marvin Shanken, Larry Stone, and Jim Clendenen.

When not in the vineyards, he’s been writing his second book, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe (Ten Speed Press, 2018), with co-author Jordan Mackay.

The La Côte vineyard covers a steep southeast-facing hillside on the leeward slope of the domaine. Unimpeded by the persistent continuous winds that confront the continguous Bloom’s Field parcel located to the west, and the Memorious vineyard plot to the south,  La Côte enjoys more optimal pollination and less shatter. The vineyard possesses the most heterogeneous soils of the estate: its bedrock varies from Monterey Shale to Diatomaceous Earth to alluvium, and the associated soils range from shallow and rocky with a covering of broken stones, to rich downslope.

The Domaine organically farms its vineyards and makes its wines with the philosophy of “add nothing; take nothing away.” All the wines are produced and bottled at the winery in the town of Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, three miles from the domaine.

Domaine De La Côte Bloom’s Field Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2014 

Ryan acquired this very special highly allocated bottle at auction and brought it to share.

This wine gained widespread critical acclaim and notoriety through coverage on the wine documentary, Somm 3, the latest installment in the documentary series that explores the world of sommeliers (wine professionals). It featured legendary wine industry experts and veterans Fred Dame, Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier, in conjunction with the next generation of primarily New York-based influencers that include Aldo Sohm, Laura Fiorvanti (nee Maniec), Pascaline Lepeltier and Sabato Sagaria.

The series featured biographical sketches of the participants and wine topics including arguments over the merits of blind tasting. The film spoke about the concept of tastings inspired by the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris that was the break-out for the American wine industry when, in that famous blind tasting, California wines outshined their French counterparts, setting the stage for the modern wine marketplace. 

In this series feature, they discuss Pinot Noir as the wine in question, rather than Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon which were the basis of the historical tasting. The show featured two separate tastings of six Pinots from acclaimed producers from around the world. Included was this 2014 Bloom’s Field bottling by Domaine de la Côte. Some of the judges considered it on par with, if not more “Burgundian,” than two celebrated wines from Burgundy!

Winemakers' notes: The 2014 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir is composed from declassified parcels and barrels of La Côte, Bloom’s Field, and Memorious vineyards. La Cote is from all 4 parts of the 9 acre vineyard parcel. La Cote lies behind a massive cliff of diatomaceous earth and is protected from the direct influence of the cold marine air from the pacific ocean. With its south-east exposition the vineyard absobs the energy of the morning sun and the exposed shale quickly warms the vines from the night time chill. The wine seems to have dark fruits on the nose with aromas of black cherry, sandalwood cola and sage. Like Bloom’s Field, La Cote is fermented with 100% whole bunches and aged for 20 months in 20% new Ermitage barrels. La Cote takes longer to open us. Decanting or ageing for 10+ years will greatly reward those with patience and cool cellars."

Winemakers' Notes: "The 2014 bottling was fermented with roughly 50% whole bunches and small amount of new oak used in the élevage. This wine has a pale red color with perfumed flavors of bing cherry, all spice and leather. The wine is open, softly textured, and finishes with silky tannins. We believe the wines have a long life in the bottle if properly cellared and should develop aromas and flavors of great complexity over the next 7+ years."

Decanter awarded this release 97 points and named it their top California Pinot from the 2014 vintage. Pundit Natalie MacLean scored this release 96/100, while this vintage release was awarded 93 points by Vinous, 92 points by John Gilman and 18/20 points by Jancis Robinson. 

1,020 cases were produced.

This was bright ruby colored, medium bodied, smooth texture, harmonius and balanced, red berry fruits with dusty rose petal, cinnamon and earthy spices and herb tones, turning to fine-grained tannins, tangy acidity and grip on the long, complex and nicely balanced finish.

RM 92 points.

Nova Wines Marilyn Merlot 2007

I published a blogpost last month about an earlier Family Cookout at which I brought another vintage of aged Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot with grilled beefsteak. As I wrote at that time, we have fun with this wine as a fun tribute to Alec and Viv's 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!

I've written in these pages before about 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. 

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.

After that tasting of the 2005 vintage that exceeded my expectations, tonight I brought and we opened and drank the 2007 vintage release Marilyn Merlot.  

Marilyn Merlot 2007

This was the 23rd release of this iconic label. Like other releases, the grapes were sourced from "some of the finest vineyards in the heart of Napa Valley", and "this vintage was produced in one of California's oldest wineries."

Producer notes about this release:

"Diamonds may still be a girl's best friend, but in challenging times an outstanding Napa Valley Merlot that appreciates in value year after year offers a safe and savory haven for wine collectors and connoisseurs alike.'

" of Franks Union Wine Mart said, "A collector's and connoisseur's Merlot!  This is a very drinkable wine, not just something to be collected by her fans, but by people who enjoy what's going on inside the artful bottle as well.  This wine will continue to improve with age..."

"With the release of the Marilyn Merlot 2007 on June 1st (Marilyn's birthday) a Napa Valley icon continues to offer its fans not just glamour but great value, too. "Marilyn Merlot wines are known to appreciate in value with most selling for several times their original price" notes Bob Holder, one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "They offer great value as fine Napa Valley wines on release, and they evolve and appreciate with age."

That said, this release is offered from the producer's library at an offer price of $160 for a standard sized bottle, $600 for a etched 1.5 liter magnum, and for $800 for a three liter large format etched image bottle wherein "Each bottle is carefully masked, hand etched and hand painted, resulting in a truly unique work of art on this 2007 (1.5 liter) 3 Liter Marilyn Merlot."

"The 2007 vintage of Marilyn Merlot continues this tradition and promises glamorous evenings of enjoyment to its many fans." 

About this release, Stephanie of Champion Wine Cellars wrote:

"More than Pretty Labels! Stephanie on Mar 01, 2021'

"Wanted to report that we actually drank a bottle of the 2007 Norma Jean. We know the Marilyn wines are sound and generally a pleasure to drink.'

"This was above and beyond! A lovely surprise. Bright and rich with a full middle palate and complex, extended finish! The bottle had sediment caked on the glass (from being on its side in one spot). Wine was dense, but well-balanced with cedary and blueberry jam aromas. We drank it over 3 days and it did not lose any character by the end of the bottle.'

"2007 was an exceptional vintage, and the Tallerico Vineyard near Lodi produced a wine with good aging potential. This goes to show that these wines are more than pretty labels!"

Interestingly, more wine reviews speak to the collect-ability and potential appreciation of the bottles, rather than the wine itself. Indeed, "The Vintage Stuff Store" writes as a caveat on its page featuring this wine, "The wine has been meticulously stored but serves ultimately for its collectable beauty and not necessarily for its drinkability. There is no guarantee for the wine itself, but the bottle and label are in perfect condition."

But alas, as posted on the header of these pages, this blogpost is all about, "Enjoying wine - perspectives on wine buying, collecting, tasting, a study in wine marketing & branding; observations, experiences and ruminations of a winegeek & frequent traveler. Sharing so others can 'unwindwine' for greater wine discovery, understanding and appreciation."

While we collect and study wine, we also like to drink it, and observe how (certain) wines age and reach a peak then diminish as they reach the end of, and beyond their drinking window. Many, all age-worthy wines follow a bell shaped curve of improving with age, then eventually diminishing. The height and length of that curve is subject to the quality, depth, breadth, structure and chemistry of what is in the bottle. And, that curve will be different for each wine, and for each vintage of each wine. 

Hence, for the benefit of collectors, those that may be holding similar bottles, I focus on, and report on the 'fill level' of the bottle, and the condition of the cork, as each diminishes with age at some point. The fill level and condition of the foil and label affect the collect-ability value of the wine.

This 2007, at sixteen years of age, the fill level of the bottle, the condition of the foil and label, and most importantly, the cork were all in ideal, pristine condition. The wine was drinkable, even enjoyable, but clearly reaching the end of its ideal drinking window.

The wine was garnet colored, with some purple, with some bricking and orange, brown - rust hues beginning to set in, yet, after a half hour, the dark berry and black cherry fruits emerged to reveal themselves, with notes of dusty, earthy leather, some dried tobacco leaf, black tea and hints of cedar under the surface. 

RM 88 points.

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