Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Chardonnay for Thanksgiving

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014 for Thanksgiving Feast

Every year at Thanksgiving I rethink, and overthink about what wine will we serve with dinner. I seek a special wine with some distinction or significance, but invariably default to a favorite one that we enjoy. Such was the case again this year when we opened a couple of memorable bottles from our cellar that we have a history of enjoying. We gathered with family and in-law for a getaway week to our Destiny Cove vacation rental in Destin, Florida.

Signorello "Hope's Cuvee" Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014 

This ultra-premium Napa Chardonnay was an easy choice, not only for quality drinking, and ideal pairing with the dinner, but also brought back several memories related to family and friends for the holiday. 

When it came time to posting about this selection, I realized we last had this same label during a 'celebration' dinner just last summer. Notably, this is a label of which we hold several vintage releases, and this was the oldest bottle in that vertical collection, thereby practicing good cellar/inventory management.

Tonight's experience was consistent with that most recent tasting which I posted in Cellartracker and in these pages back in June. 

Bright golden yellow colored, medium-full bodied, rich, textured, round fruits, hints of butterscotch and peach accented by honeysuckle, nut, stone, and with a long flavorful lip-smacking finish.

6/13/2023 - I like this wine: 94 Points



 I wrote extensively about this wine and our visits to the winery with family and friends, and the recent history of the winery having been destroyed in the Napa region fires.

Posted Monday, June 12, 2023

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Chardonnay 2014

Concluding a real estate transaction, Linda and I had an intimate mini-celebration dinner at home on the deck. I pulled from the cellar this premium Napa Valley Chardonnay for the occasion as a pairing with the roasted chicken with haricot verts, carrots and mashed potatoes.

As posted in earlier blogposts, we discovered and acquired (the then current release vintage of) this wine during our visit to the Signorello Estate on Silverado Trail in Southeastern Napa Valley during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2013

At that time I wrote about this label: "I am predominantly a red wine drinker and while I enjoy an occasional glass of white, most often with appropriate food, I don't normally get excited about a white wine. This chardonnay was the exception,  memorable and special."

As part of proper cellar management, we pulled from our cellar the oldest vintage release in our collection of the multiple vintages we hold of this label.  I had set this bottle aside over the weekend to open with Sis Pat in town since she was with us when we visited the winery (shown below), but we didn't get to it. 

With sister/in-law and nieces' family at
(Former) Signorello Estate overlooking vineyards
and valley floor.

The Signorello winery sits at the very southern end of Napa Valley and has 43 acres of vineyards, including some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in all of Napa Valley - fruit from 37-year-old vines goes into his Hope’s Cuvée.

The magnificent Estate was destroyed in the fires that engulfed much of sections of Sonoma and Napa in 2017. Fires came down the foothills to the property that sat up the hill back from the highway.

The fire reached the winery and completely destroyed the hospitality center that also housed offices, a wine lab and a family residence upstairs. The adjacent  crush pad and stainless steel tanks survived intact along with the barrel cellar and equally if not most importantly, the vines of the adjacent vineyards. 

In the wake of the destruction from Napa Valley’s October 2017 Atlas Peak Fire, Ray Signorello (Jr) vowed to rebuild. We're relieved to read about the Phoenix of Signorella Estate, rising from the ashes, literally, and being rebuilt, even grander and larger than before. Signorello said he viewed the tragedy as an opportunity to do something new and exciting and is rebuilding with a larger fermentation facility, wine caves and a stunning expanded hospitality center.

The winery has kept almost all of its team employed as an interim step toward returning to normalcy and they have been operating out of a modular building was brought in to serve as a temporary hospitality center.

The adjacent Darioush property nearby that sits at the valley floor closer to the highway and similarly situated properties were untouched.

Signorello "Hope's Cuvée" Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

The 2014 Chardonnay Hope’s Cuvée is crafted from a selection of the best lots and barrels sourced from the thirty-five year old vines on the 5 acre estate vineyard in front of the winery overlooking the valley floor. There were 379 cases produced of this wine, which went through 44% malolactic and was aged in 56% new French oak. 

Winemaker/producer Notes - Hope’s Cuvée Chardonnay showcases our utmost dedication to excellence, named in honor of my mother, Hope Signorello. It benefits from an intimate understanding of our 5.12 acre parcel on the west side of our hill. Planted 36 years ago with clonal selections from one of the region’s earliest outstanding vineyards, it is now one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards in Napa Valley. Night-time hand-harvesting into small trays protects the varietal’s refined and delicate flavors. This wild yeast and unfiltered Chardonnay can be enjoyed over the next 12 years. 

This release was awarded 96 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. He wrote, "The 2014 Chardonnay Hope’s Cuvée is a stunning Chardonnay. The wine shows plenty of orange blossom, honeysuckle, lemon custard and crushed rock notes. It is certainly very Burgundian and almost like a grand cru from the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Terrific stuff, with stunning texture and richness" ... (RP) (10/2015)

This is one of the few Chardonnays that we keep in our cellar that is vastly predominantly red wines. This was delicious and most likely at the apex of it's drinking profile, but likely not to improve from further aging, so time to drink up. The fill level, label, foil and most importantly, the cork were all pristine, in ideal condition, still wrapped in the tissue packaging, we acquired this bottle upon release and have held it in our cellar for nearly a decade.

Bright golden yellow colored, medium-full bodied, rich, textured, round fruits, hints of butterscotch and peach accented by honeysuckle, nut, stone, and what Parker calls "plenty of orange blossom, lemon custard and crushed rock notes," with a long flavorful lip-smacking finish.

RM 94 points.





We also opened another favorite that we have featured in these pages before as well. This wine is available in distribution at Total Wine, the big box wine and beverage superstore near our Florida home, and in Indiana, so we pick this up enroute or on location and not have to rob our wine cellar collection.

Like the wine above, we also gave this one 94 points in our personal rating.

We lasted featured this wine in these pages in, May, 2023, when I wrote:

Tensley Colson Canyon Santa Ynez Mountains Syrah 2020

Tensley Colson Canyon Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Country Syrah 2020

It was just about a year ago that we discovered and acquired 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

Perched high up at an elevation of 1,400 feet, the combination of warm days and cool nights produces 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.

Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara County Syrah 2020

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.'

"This wine always delivers juicy round seamless edges. This is the only wine we add some new French oak, as its weight and power integrates with the oak, adding a bit of toasty buttery complexity. Colson Canyon is such a beautiful example of fruit forward juicy California Syrah. Open it anytime and enjoy its blueberry, cassis and chocolate nuances or leave it 20 years and enjoy its leathery, almondy notes. It does not really matter when you open it, it will deliver."

1925 cases were produced.

This was awarded 94-96 points by Jeb Dunnuck, 96 points by Wine Advocate, 95-97 points by Vinous, and 95 points by Wine Spectator.

Might I consider this the Tensley 'flagship'? This reminded me of a couple other memorable highly rated Syrahs that has been standouts - Kongsgaard Carneros Hudson Vineyard and Penfolds Grange. Both are flawless, seamless, and notable for their smooth, polished, balanced profile. While not to that level of perfection perhaps, this is close and evokes the same experience. This bottle was from the Wine Club allocation we received from that visit. We're anxiously awaiting our fall release shipment that we're told was shipped this week.

We love this full throttle jammy rich fruit forward style of the 2020 Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah. Notably it has been recognized with four scores of 95 points or more.

We wrote about this wine in January and before that late last fall. Each time I gave it 94 Points.

Consistent with earlier notes - even better with BBQ ! 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.


Earlier, last fall I wrote: "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




Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Robert Craig Affinity and Beef Bourguignon - A Perfect Pairing

Beef Bourguignon and Robert Craig Affinity for a Delicious Perfect Food and Wine Pairing

Following our dinner the other night featuring Beef Bourguignon and a Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend, we did a repeat with leftovers and another similarly situated wine selection. Tonight we pulled from the cellar a Robert Craig Affinity, his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Blend. This turned out to a perfect 100 point wine and food pairing.

I've written often that Robert Craig Napa Valley Cabernets are one of the largest holdings in our cellar dating back to the inaugural release vintage back in 1993 and 1994. Affinity is the basic Bordeaux Blend aside several appellation specific Cabernet Sauvignons in the Robert Craig portfolio. I've written how Robert intimated that he was most proud of this label and went to lengths to keep the price affordable so it could used as an entry point introduction to the brand and portfolio.

I could not imagine a wine that would be better suited for tonight's spectacular delicious dinner. This evening we had the beef over buttery cheese mashed potatoes rather than the linguini noodles.

Robert Craig Affinity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Blend 2005

This is a classic example of the optimal pairing of wine with food accentuates and amplifies the enjoyment of both! We've had at least of dozen vintages of this label over the years and I don't recall any one that I enjoyed more. 

This vintage release is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.

Winemaker Notes - "Expansive ripe black cherry and currant aromas, with spice, black tea and violet notes. Bright and abundant dark fruit flavors and black currant liqueur are intertwined with sweet spice box, licorice and violets. Opulent black cherry drives the lively, long-lived finish. A rich, multi-layered Cabernet that balances power with finesse.'

"The 2005 Affinity marries the power and richness of Napa Valley hillside Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for a complex, supple and stylish Bordeaux-blend, backed by silky, ripe tannins. Luscious fruit flavors of great depth and purity are hallmarks of Affinity together with integrated tannin structure for long-term aging."

This release was awarded 90 points by Wine Advocate and 89 points by Wine Spectator. Robert Parker called it a "elegant Margaux-like stylish, graceful wine".

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, well-balanced, full round rich intense flavors of black currant and black cherry fruits with notes of cinnamon spice, sweet cassis, toasty oak, graphite, and hints of cedar. 

RM 93 points.

At eighteen years the fill level was ideal as was the foil, the label was slightly torn, and most importantly, the cork was slightly saturated and a bit soft from some past seepage, but still intact.




Thursday, November 9, 2023

James Restaurant "Cab is King" Wine Dinner w/ Bell Wine Cellars Wines

 The James Restaurant "Cab is King" Wine Dinner featuring Bell Wine Cellars Napa Valley Cabernets

We attended the "Cab is King" Wine Dinner with Bell Wine Cellars at The James Restaurant in nearby Geneva (IL). The evening featured a carefully curated multi-course menu prepared by The James Executive Chef, Steven Blackburn, and his culinary team. Each course was thoughtfully paired with a wine from Napa Valley Bell Wine Cellars crafted to enhance the unique characteristics of the food and the wines, creating a harmonious symphony of flavors.

We were joined by fellow Pour Boy Lyle and Terry who came out from the city (Chicago) to attend the event. 

We learned of the event during our lunch at The James last month which we featured in these pages - The James Geneva features wine friendly menu and fine wines.

The dinner was held in the fabulous Sun Porch dining room which provided an elegant picturesque setting for the memorable evening. 

The wine flight featured an extraordinary selection of Bell Wine Cellars' finest limited production and allocated wines. 

Bell Wine Cellars is an ultra-premium Yountville (Napa Valley) winery known for small-lot, single clone, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and Syrah. They produce several limited production Single-Clone appellation (AVA - American Viticultural area) specific designated Cabernet Sauvignons from leading vineyard sources across Napa Valley. 

Tonight's flight featured four of the Bell Wine Cellars' Napa Valley Cabernets, three Cabernet Sauvignons, a Cabernet Franc and a sparkling white Blanc de Noir from Sonoma County. 

A small independent winery was founded by winemaker Anthony Bell; he recently retired and the Bell Wine Cellars estate and winery in Yountville were taken over and are owned today by the Berberian and Spanos Families.

Visiting from California presenting the wines was Bell Wine Cellars Director of Sales, Hillary Cole, who guided the tasting flight, sharing insights and stories about the wines and their unique characteristics.

Hillary's journey as a Wine Master follows an incredible career as a military linguist and counter-terrorism analyst. Her work travel in national security intelligence took her to Europe where she had the opportunity to visit vineyards in the finest wine growing regions where she was drawn to the serenity and romance of the settings, such a stark contrast to her work. 

Following her government service she earned her MBA and immersed herself in Sommelier studies. She worked her way to become General Manager and Sommelier for three Sacramento-area restaurant groups running the wine program at Ella Dining Room and Bar in Sacramento. 

Hillary completed several wine certification programs, her favorites included French Wine Scholar, Champagne Master Level, Napa Valley Wine Expert, and The Business of Wine. She continues her studies of the French language and is currently a Bordeaux Master candidate. Building on her background in business, wine, and leadership afforded her the position as Director of Sales at Bell Wine Cellars.

Hillary represents the new Bell Wine Cellars team that was brought in by the new owners, the Berberian and Spanos Families.

The Berberian Family were prominent wine and spirits wholesalers for five decades in California and Nevada, and then, owners of the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce, launched in 1965 in Stockton, California. Ron Berberian grew the bank to 11 branches, serving San Joaquin and Contra Costa Counties.  The Berberians’ longstanding knowledge and expertise of quality wines eventually brought them to Napa Valley where Ron and Dea are dedicated to enhancing the experience of visiting Bell Wines and offering the best quality award-winning wines.

The Spanos Family, today most known as owners of the NFL Los Angeles Chargers, were notable in real estate development and construction, and equally known for their philanthropy to education, health, and youth initiatives. Native to Northern California over several generations, Napa Valley and the wine industry always held their interest and admiration with their affiliation with Bell Wine Cellars dating to 2002.

Bell Wine Cellars team with several leading notable growers to source grapes from some of the premiere vineyards that represent the varied appellations of Napa Valley. 

The Bell Wines served tonight were crafted by founder and winemaker Anthony Bell who has since recently retired. Going forward this will be overseen by Winemaker and General Manager John Hazak. A native of southern California, John earned a Master of Science degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, Davis before working in the Cotes-de-Nuits, Burgundy.  Returning from France in 2005, John honed his skills as Assistant Winemaker at Provenance Vineyards under seasoned winemaker Tom Rinaldi, then at Sterling Vineyards as an Associate Winemaker, heading their production of all white wines and Reserve red wine tier. 

He returned to Provenance Vineyards in 2015 to direct production of Provenance and Hewitt wines where he modernized Provenance into a small-lot, luxury Cabernet house, then doing the same at Beaulieu Vineyards in 2017.

John joined Bell Wine Cellars in February of 2020.  His previous experiences paved the way to Bell, where he hopes to continue Bell's vision of craft winemaking and constant improvement, while starting a new chapter with this team. 

"At Bell Wine Cellars, above and beyond is second nature. We encapsulate these efforts as Napa’s most prolific researcher and producer of Single-Clone Cabernet Sauvignon, a labor of equal parts love and diligence to express Cabernet Sauvignon as its own purest ingredient." John Hazak,Winemaker & GM.

The dinner menu featured five courses each thoughtfully paired with a Bell Cellars wine. I write often in these pages about the importance and impact of optimally pairing food and wine, accentuating and amplifying the enjoyment of both. 

The James Executive Chef, Steven Blackburn presented each course and discussed its preparation followed by Bell Cellars Director Hillary Cole who presented the accompanying wine, its composition, source and characteristics in applying it to the course.

The 'Welcome Starter' was a Fried Brioche Munchkin - fresh baked brioche bread injected with Manchego cheese custard, served with Bell Wine Cellars Blanc de Noir Brut Sonoma County NV sparkling wine.

This elegant sparkling wine is made from two of the three traditional grapes used in the Champagne region of France: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Pinot Noir (83%) hails from Carneros region, which straddles the southern region of Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The Pinot Meunier (17%) comes from the coastal area of Sonoma.  This traditional Champagne is a blend of the different grapes from different growing conditions, building complexity into the wine, produced in the classic méthode champenoise tradionelle. (Of course, only wine produced in the Champagne region of northern France can legally be called Champagne. Those produced elsewhere are relegated to the moniker 'sparkling wine'.)

This traditional Champagne production method entails adding a dosage of sugar, yeast, and wine to start the second fermentation in the bottle, followed by time-consuming hand riddling to separate the yeast following fermentation. The traditional method creates small, tight, delicate bubbles and an added complexity to the wine. 
This non-vintage Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine was disgorged in December of 2021 with the grapes grown primarily in the 2018 growing season.  

Producer's Tasting Notes - "Fresh and lovely as an aperitif to start any dining experience or perfect on its own, this sparkling wine pairs with everything, no matter what or when the occasion. Noting a very faintly salmon-tinged pink color, very fine bubbles and a gentle mousse, the wine opens with a fresh and lively nose of light strawberry and the scents one might find in a bakery early in the morning. The palate is delicate and refined, with toasted almond and unsweetened marzipan characterizing the entry. The beautiful but balanced acidity from these cool growing regions supports merengue, marshmallow and the strawberry flavors into the finish, livening up your taste buds for food. Our Brut is finished in the dry style. The Pinot Noir adds texture, body and strawberry aromas to the blend. The Pinot Meunier  contributes finesse, elegance, freshness and floral hints to the blend."

The first course was Oak Braised Short Rib - charcoal roasted carrot with dry aged beef fat powder, confit cipollini onion, sage demi glas and watercress.

Paired with this course was Bell Wine Cellars Napa Valley Rutherford Appellation Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Wine for this label was sourced mostly from the legendary Beckstoffer Rutherford AVA Vineyard, and the remainder from the equally iconic BV Ranch #3 vineyard originally planted and tended to by legends George de Latour and André Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyards in the early part of the 20th century, this historic vineyard carved out of the original Rancho Caymus land grant.
We discussed the BV Ranch vineyards in these pages just last week when we tasted and wrote about their BV Tapestry with beef bourgogne.

The well drained gravely, loam sedimentary soils formed from after volcanic rock provide a moderate stress to the vines, limiting yield and increasing qualitative potential. The region is influenced by the Valley’s layer of morning fog and afternoon breeze, creating a long growing season which allows tannins to fully ripen and create the signature dusty texture that the appellation is known for, “The Rutherford Dust”.

It was also one of the first vineyards involved in the development and commercial planting of the different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was aged 20 months in 100% French Oak, 20% new. Slightly more than 9000 cases were produced.

The Second Course was Grilled Swordfish served in a delicious black plum reduction sauce with fresh plums, crispy haystack parsnips and fall spice radicchio.

This was paired with Bell Wine Cellars Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.
This is sourced from the Neal Vineyard in the Howell Mountain AVA of northeast Napa Valley sited on a ridge almost overlooking the Napa Valley floor. The vineyard is owned and farmed by Mark Neal, son of Jack Neal, one of the original farmers of modern Napa Valley winegrowing.  
The volcanic soils of the Vaca Mountain range including Howell Mountain at the north end of the range, stress the grapevines, being thin and well-drained, but it is this specific combination of qualities that lend this mountain Cabernet its structure.  A slightly western-facing aspect allows the warm afternoon sun to push the fruit to an ideally ripe state in time for harvest. The result is a classic expression of the Howell Mountain terroir with full firm structured, concentrated dark saturated fruit with classic spice for an approachable Cabernet Sauvignon.  
This wine is 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 1% Merlot added for softness and complexity, and was aged in 27% new French oak and mostly once-used oak barrels for 20 months with minimal racking. The wine received about ten months of bottle aging prior to release.
Winemaker's Tasting Notes - "Our inaugural appellation blend from Howell Mountain is a dark garnet color in your glass. It beckons with a multi-layered nose of blackberry cobbler, sweet tobacco, new leather and sage. The flavors echo the aromas with dark plum, dry persimmon, hints of cinnamon and a fine worn-in wood expression. The texture is broad and lush, with a creamy mouthfeel that integrates dusty tannins and a bright acidity. We are proud to share our first appellation blend from one of the premier locations for Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley." 

Only 440 cases were produced. 
The Third Course was Waygu Flatiron Steak with petite Yukon crisps, garlic aioli and fried rosemary in a beef jus reduction. This course was the highlight of the evening for me. 
This course was paired with Bell Wine Cellars Atlas Peak Napa Vally Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.
This label is sourced from the Elan Vineyard located on the Eastern slopes of Atlas Peak at south end of the Vaca Mountain range that forms the east boundary wall of Napa Valley. It sits at an elevation of 2100 ft above sea level in the upper reaches of the range.

The vineyard is part of the Elan Estate owned by winemaker Patrick Elliot Smith who developed of the site building on his more than 40 years of experience in vineyard development and management. Patrick and his wife Linda purchased the property in 1979 and Patrick started clearing the very rocky land himself, while living in a tepee, and he continues to do most of the manual work himself. 

We visited Patrick and Linda Elliott Smith and tasted and acquired their Elan Winery and Vineyard wines during our Napa Wine Experience back in 1998, when they were crushing their grape and producing their wines at Monticello Winery in Southern Napa Valley. We still hold a half dozen vintages in a vertical collection of Elan Wine which we've featured in these pages - Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet duo.

This was my WOTN - Wine of The Night - the most expressive, finely balanced and integrated for the most elegant and polished representation of the Bell Cabernets.


The Fourth and final course was Chocolate French Silk Pie - dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, dark cocoa nibs and brown butter crust. 

This course was paired with the Bell Wine Cellars Napa Valley Oak Knoll AVA Cabernet Franc 2019.

This wine is sourced from the Chang Vineyard which is situated along the Silverado Trail on the southeast side of the Napa Valley, noted for a great stone wall along the back property line. 

The sub-appellation Oak Knoll AVA is distinguished by a cooler microclimate, second only to the Carneros AVA. The vineyard was planted on rocky but porous loam-chalky soils rich with volcanic rock. Although the temperature is cooler than upper valley, the east side aspect provides sufficient sun exposure for this early ripening variety. The winemaker notes that wines produced from this vineyard are characterized by raspberry and violet flavors as well as dark fruit and great tannin structure thanks to proper maturity and vigor restrain of the soil.


This was the WOTN - favorite wine of wife Linda and several others in our group.

We enjoyed the Bell wines such that we and our guests acquired each of the Cabernets featured this evening for our cellar collections. 

The opportunity to compare each of the appellation wines in one sitting was very special, indeed, especially when optimally paired with extraordinary food.







Wednesday, November 8, 2023

PEO Social Wine Tasting

PEO Social Wine Tasting

Wife Linda's service organization had a social gathering with a wine tasting hosted by Julie, and I was delighted to comply with the invitation to curate the wine flight for them. 

Julie prepared an extensive food course with which to pair a flight of wines - a selection of artisan cheeses from brie to manchego, followed by turkey breast followed by a beef tenderloin with a coffee rub preparation which gave it a charred taste that I love. Along the way were fresh grapes and apple slices with crackers to cleanse and reset the pallet through the courses.

I pulled a white and two red wines to accompany their foods from our cellar collection. I selected aged vintage wines in that 'Goldilocks window', not too old and not too young, so as to hopefully best represent the wines, and as part of proper cellar inventory management. In the end, the wine selections nicely complemented the foods for a wonderful tasting experience that was enjoyed by all.

The opening wine was from Andretti Cellars, a fun commemoration of one of the diner member's enthusiasm, legacy and career in the auto industry with wine from the legendary International race car driver Mario Andretti. 

The wine I selected for their opening course was Villa Andretti Napa Valley Moscato 2019


We discovered and acquired this wine at the winery during our Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2019.

Andretti Winery strive to create wines that are both fruit-forward and food-friendly, wines that can be thoroughly enjoyed with a meal today or tucked away in the cellar for additional complexity. 

This is sourced from various California vineyards. Most Andretti wine are sourced from the Andretti Winery estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll appellation AVA of the Napa Valley, a 42-acre estate vineyard, planted with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The Oak Knoll location is blessed with a climate is cooler than the upper reaches of the Napa Valley, yet warmer than the Carneros region to the south, making it especially conducive to growing diverse varietals such as Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. This unique climate, combined with quick-draining soils, yields small but intensely flavored grapes, just the sort of fruit that produces the very best wines.

This was ideal with the selection of cheeses and as a pivot to the turkey breast. 

Winemaker's notes - Lovely aromas of Bartlett pear syrup, honeysuckle, lavender and orange zest practically jump out of the glass.  There is a wonderful balance between acid and sugar on the palate for someone that likes a lightly sweet wine and a finish that lasts forever with hint of Meyer lemon and limoncello.



The next wine was a Burgundian Pinot Noir to complement the turkey breast and serve as a pivot to the beef tenderloin.

Domaine Tortochot Gevrey-Chambertin "Champerrier" Vieilles Vignes Côte de Nuits 2005 

We acquired several bottles of this label back in 2011 and last tasted it in 2021 when I wrote about the producer and estate in detail in this blogpost- Domaine Tortochot Gevrey-Chambertin Champerrier Vieilles Vignes.

Vieilles Vignes meaning “old wines” in French, the label actually indicates that the grapes used to make this bottle comes from older aged vines. In Burgundy, this generally means the vines are at least twenty-five years of age or older. 

I wrote in that tasting note - "Its hard to believe but its been almost ten years since I last tasted this label from our cellar. Back then, on 12/26/2011 - I wrote: "Very open and expressive - bright berry, strawberry, mulberry, spice and wood with long moderate tannin finish."

"Consistent with my tasting ten years ago too, this had similar tasting profile and the I blindly gave it the same rating. It showed no diminution of aging whatsoever and it likely still at its apex of its drinking profile.'

"This was garnet colored, medium bodied, bright, concentrated ripe red and blue berry fruits with earthy minerality and violet notes, smooth silky texture with firm but approachable tannins."

Two years later, tonight, at fifteen years of age, the fill level, label, foil, and most importantly, the cork, were all in ideal condition. This wine remains in its prime drinking window, albeit approaching the end and will start to diminish with age in the next few years.


Another Cellartracker review wrote: Very open and expressive - bright berry, strawberry, mulberry, spice and wood with long moderate tannin finish.


Our hostess, Julie, was so enthused by this wine, she went down and selected from her cellar a favored Pinot Noir to try as a tasting comparison with the Burgundian Pinot. Indeed, this is the fun of a tasting with several others, the ability to share and compare several wines. 

Gary Farrell Sonoma Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2019

We know this producer and wine well having visited the winery and estate during our Napa/Sonoma Wine Experience back in 2017. I wrote about this producer and our visit there in this earlier blogpost.

This provided a wonderful contrast in profiles and characteristics of two wines of the same varietal at different stages of their aging window.  The Tortochot Gevrey-Chambertin Champerrier was bigger, bolder, brighter and actually a bit obtuse when compared with the smoother and softer Farrell Sonoma RRV, which was more 'behaved' and approachable for enjoyable drinking. In the end, both were delightful and paired with the foods well, each favoring a cheese and meat that had the more complementary profile. 

Farrell produces a extensive profile of ultra-premium single vineyard designated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. This is their standard bottling blended from numerous vineyard sources.

This Russian River Selection bottling is classic Russian River Valley profile sourced and blended from several of the region’s top vineyards, taking advantage of varied climates and unique site characteristics. 

Grapes in this release are sourced from the following vineyards Hallberg, Rochioli, Toboni, Martaella, Bacigalupi, Nonella and

The Rochioli and Bacigalupi vineyards are located in the Middle Reach subdivision, where close proximity to the river awards foggy mornings, warm and sunny days, and cool nights – the perfect balance that characterizes the Russian River Valley. The Toboni and Nonella vineyards are located in the Santa Rosa Plain, a distinctly cooler and foggier sub-region, and the Hallberg and Dutton sites within the Green Valley sub-appellation exhibit even more extreme and cooler conditions. A beautiful expression of the varietal and of the appellation’s
unique terroir, this Pinot Noir blend captures the richness, purity and elegance that are Gary Farrell Winery’s trademarks.

This release was aged 10 months in 30% new French oak.

Winemakers' notes - "Raspberries, red currant and strawberry conserve dominate the nose with underlying
tones of tobacco and forest fl oor. Hints of cola, summer jasmine, honeysuckle, and rose petals further the intrigue. The palate presents a striking brightness and purity, coupled with a generous mouthfeel that delivers fl avors of fresh cherries, garden herbs, and sweet baking spice."

This was rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast. 



Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend 2010 

This is one of our favorite go-to wines when we want a sophisticated, more complex Bordeaux Blend, rather than a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. 

In the profile of a true Bordeaux Blend, Tapestry is a blend of the all classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

We had a bottle of this label just last week when I featured it in more detail in these pages - BV Tapestry with beef bourgogne, when it was a fabulous complementary pairing with the beef. Tonight, this was an ideal pairing with the beef tenderloin - especially with the coffee rub preparation that gave it more complexity which I love.

I wrote about Tapestry a while back in a blogpost when we tasted this label at a Chicago restaurant for a team dinner; "Tapestry is a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux Blend. I consider it a go-to wine, readily available and a safe reliable choice for easy drinking or special occasions, approachable when young but capable for aging. If your overwhelmed or intimidated by the plethora of wines available and not sure what to choose or take to or serve, Tapestry is a safe choice.'

"Our Cellartracker records indicate we hold more than a dozen vintages of this label dating back to the mid-nineties.  This is a classic Napa Valley label that provides high QPR - Quality Price Ratio for a Bordeaux Blend. Its another one of those high production label that I believe does a remarkable job achieving and maintaining the level of quality in high volumes and is approachable when young but also has significant aging capability for cellaring. James Suckling says this is "A wine that harkens back to its traditions.”

The predominant Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the historic BV Ranches No.1 and No. 2 Napa Valley vineyards in Rutherford, selected from specific blocks of reserve-quality grapes that give Tapestry the combined attributes of rich character and softer tannins for relatively early approachability. To complement the Rutherford Bench Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is added from Beaulieu’s vineyard in the Los Carneros region and the remaining grapes in the Blend from various Napa Valley vineyards. 



Sunday, November 5, 2023

Far Niente Chardonnay highlights seafood dinner at Hugo's Frogbar Naperville

Far Niente Chardonnay highlights seafood dinner at Hugo's Frogbar Naperville - Pan Seared Walleye rivals favorite memorable fresh seafood dishes - a retrospective ...

We joined son Ryan and his family for his birthday celebration dinner. at Hugo's Frogbar in Naperville (IL). 

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House (Chicago) opened its doors in February 1997 in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, next to sister restaurant Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Since its founding in 1989 the iconic Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse on Rush Street has been the flagship of what has become the Gibson's Restaurant Group

Over the years the Gibson's Restaurant Group portfolio has grown - today they own and operate several distinguished concept restaurants throughout Chicagoland and beyond: Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House (three locations including downtown and Naperville), LUXBAR, Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, Gibsons ItaliaThe BOATHOUSE Orlando, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House (on behalf of Rivers Casino), Bazaar Meat Chicago, Bar MarCafé By The River and Chi Sox Bar & Grill (on behalf of the Chicago White Sox).

For over 20 years, owners Hugo Ralli and Steve Lombardo have strived to become the city’s finest seafood restaurant, Hugo’s, as a destination for premier east and west coast oysters, crudos, frog legs, lobster and seasonal fish and shellfish.

Hugo’s seafood is delivered daily, earning The New York Times to praise “the fish could only be fresher if it swam in by itself.” 

Despite being in the middle of the country, it's not only possible, but customary, to get the daily fresh catch seafood here in numerous seafood restaurants. Notably, besides Hugo's, Chinn's in the northwest suburbs, one of the top 25 grossing restaurants in the US, posts the Bills of Lading airbills in the entrance showing all the fresh seafood flown in overnight from a half dozen or more coasts - Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, New England, Atlantic Coast, California, Seattle and so on. His nephew's seafood restaurant Chinn's Fishery Seafood, here in our hometown Lisle, IL did the same thing before closing at the height of the Covid shut-down.  As such, rather than getting the locale fresh catch from any one market, you have a broad selection from the fresh catch from a half dozen or more markets for a broad selection and variety. 

Over the years, I wrote about Chinn's and the daily specials sourced from around the world in numerous blogposts, that last one being Sunday, March 10, 2019 when I wrote, Nickle & Nickle Chardonnay for Chinns Seafood Dinner.

I was hesitant to feature and highlight the seafood at Hugo's, having had a bad experience there with the Hudson Valley scallops last year, but, tonight they redeemed themselves with a surefire winner with four out of four delectable seafood selections.  

Tonight, we had a broad selection of four fresh seafood selections for our entree choices - Walleye, Salmon, Crab and Sea Bass. Mine was a very pleasant surprise, exceeding my lofty expectations. 

I ordered the Pan Seared Walleye with Grilled Asparagus, Lemon Butter & Toasted Almonds.

I chose this dish, hoping it might be in the meunière style that is my favorite preparation. Many of my posts in these pages commemorate memorable dinners with delectable seafood and wine pairings. Forgive me as I obsess here, reliving several dinners featuring this preparation offering.

Notice the recurring theme of pairing these dishes with a full bodied round Napa Valley Chardonnay, an optimal wine and food pairing for enhancement of both.

My absolute favorite seafood selection was always Petrale Sole, or when available, the seasonally limited Sand Dabs, aka Rex Sole, with white wine, lemon butter meunière sauce. This is primarily only found in the San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay central coast of California. 

For several years, I commuted regularly to Silicon Valley, during which time this was my go-to regular meal every trip - the best being from Scott's Seafood, adjacent our offices in Palo Alto. Second, was Scoma's in San Francisco on the wharf and across the bay in Sausalito.

Tonight's preparation reminded me of fond memories of that Petrale Sole served in with white wine, lemon butter meunière sauce, a delight and high praise, indeed.

My next favorite fresh seafood selection would be Dover Sole, prepared in a similar way. I have many great memories, and postings in these pages from Il Postino Ristorante Italiano in New York City and their Dover Sole preparation: June 19, 2018 - Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay with Dover Sole at Il Postino NYC, and again ....  June 27, 2018 - Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay with Dover Sole at Il Postino NYC, and again ... April 15, 2018 - Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay at Il Postino NYC - a trifecta! 

And, Dover Sole here locally in Chicago - January 22, 2020 - Post UGCB Dinner with Dover Sole Rosebud Chicago; and again November 9, 2022 - California 2013 Duo BYOB with Dover Sole at Vistro Hinsdale.

Finally, I would say my near favorite seafood dish is Flounder, and once again one of my favorite and memorable eateries for such is in New York - October 24, 2019 - Eataly NYC Flounder Seafood Dinner, and October 23, 2016 -Eataly New York Wine Dine Options.
And, another favorite local east coast eatery where we were somewhat regulars over the years -January 28, 2020 - Pouilly-Fuisse, Chiles Valley Cabernet with Sautéed Flounder Francaise at Idylwild Grill in Falls Church, VA.

So it was, tonight's Pan Seared Walleye was reminiscent of those earlier memorable dinners.

As a starter we shared the Beet Salad - Golden & Red Beets, Spring Mix, Shaved Fennel, Orange Segments, Goat Cheese, Candied Hazlenuts with Citrus Vinaigrette.

Our other entree selections - 

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake - a small portion as she ordered the appetizer rather than the larger portion entree.

Pan Roasted Miso Marinated Chilean Sea Bass - Wild mushrooms, sweet peas, & soy reduction

Grilled Faroe Island Salmon - Roasted Sweet Potato Hash, Spinach, & Bacon Jam

For our wine pairing we had a premium Napa Valley Chardonnay, from the same producer that we had just the other evening. 

Far Niente Napa Valley Coombsville Estate Chardonnay 2020

Just the other evening we had at home from our cellar, the Nickel & Nickel Napa Valley Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay, from their single vineyard designated portfolio of labels. Tonight's selection is the flagship, estate bottled appellation bottling from the 'parent' winery producer Far Niente.

Far Niente is one of Napa Valley’s most historic wineries, founded in 1885 by John Benson. It closed during the Prohibition era in 1919. Sixty years later, the property was bought and restored by Gil Nickle who released the first vintage of Far Niente wine in the modern era in 1979 - this estate-bottled Napa Valley Chardonnay. It has been a namesake to the winery for over four decades ever since.

The grapes are grown in the Coombsville AVA, known for its more temperate climate and volcanic ash soils that give Far Niente’s Chardonnay its signature stone and tropical fruit flavors with a crushed rock minerality. The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation in the production process, which preserves the crisper malic acid, providing extra freshness on the palate and extending the wine’s longevity for years of drinking pleasure.

Far Niente Chardonnay is a blend of several superior Napa Valley estate (producer owned) vineyards located in Coombsville, down at the bottom of the valley, a cooler growing region nestled in the rolling countryside and protected by the hills east of the city of Napa. 

Coombsville offers the characteristic climate of Carneros, with less wind, along with deeper, well-drained gravelly loam and volcanic ash soils. The combination of these spectacular vineyards results in the subtle, tropical flavors, complex aromas and uncommon richness that have long been associated with Far Niente Chardonnay.

This is a marriage of fruit from the cooler, bay-influenced vineyards in southern Napa Valley, crafted to combine fragrant citrus blossom aromatics, rich fruit flavors and a silky finish to every occasion.

Winemaker notes - "Richly aromatic with notes of white fig, and citrus blossom, this captivating Chardonnay slowly builds on the palate, progressing from silky notes of honeydew, nectarine and lemon zest to a full finish supported by elegant, toasted oak. Crisp minerality and juicy acidity lift and support the generous fruit and provide the framework for graceful aging. This wine will continue to gain richness and complexity in the bottle and glass."

Pale straw colored, medium bodied, complex expressive rich sprites of minerality, acidity and hazelnut overshadow the subdued honeydew fruit notes. 

RM 90 points. 

This release was awarded 91 Points by Wine Advocate.