Monday, May 22, 2023

Birthday Surf & Turf Dinner with favorite Howell Mtn Cabernet

Birthday Surf & Turf Dinner with favorite Howell Mtn Cabernet

For my birthday dinner, we grilled out surf & turf New York Strip steak with lobster tail, served with grilled asparagus and baked potato. To pair with the steak I pulled from the cellar one of my favorite Napa Cabernets from Howell Mtn. 

I pulled from the home cellar this Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet. This was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled steak beef and the lobster tail. 

Robert Craig Cabernet is featured often in these pages as it is the largest or one of the largest producer holdings in our cellar collection. 

Of the five or six different Cabernet labels offered by Robert Craig, his Howell Mountain is my perennial favorite. Indeed, if I had to choose my favorite appellation of the seventeen found in Napa Valley, it would be Howell Mountain.

We have visited Robert Craig's estate winery and vineyards high atop Howell Mountain several times over the years, for a private tasting, release parties and tasting tours. One of our memorable trips featured a picnic lunch at the site overlooking the valley below. 

We hosted Robert and Lynn at a wine producer dinner at the CIA back in 1998 and met them for one here in Chicago years later.

Sadly, Robert passed a couple years ago and I offered a Robert Craig Tribute in this blogpost.

We've focused on and visited Howell Mountain producers on several of our Napa Valley trips including most notably, Arns, Dunn Vineyards, Clark Claudon, Viader, Ladera, Lamborn and of course Robert Craig. 

Our holdings of these labels from Howell Mountain may be the most represented appellation of the more than 1000 Napa Cabs in our cellar. Indeed, our cellar collection includes seventy-five bottles of fifty different labels that also include LaJota, Lakoya, OShaunessey, Outpost and Pilcrow. This includes a dozen vintages of Robert Craig and sixteen vintages of Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain.

Other notable Howell Mountain producers we hold are Outpost, Cakebread, Duckhorn, Cade and Robert Foley, but there are many more emerging as the number of producers and labels continues to increase. 
In my opinion, Howell Mountain wines have one of the more distinct and distinguishable terroir based profiles in Napa Valley. The characteristics of Howell Mountain wines are my favorites, big bold fruits driven with highlight tones of mocha, clove and cinnamon spices. I still remember my first Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet from back in 1990 with its distinctive cinnamon spice accents.
Robert Craig vineyard high atop Howell Mountain

Howell Mountain is located in the northeast corner of Napa Valley at the north end of the Vaca mountain range that forms the eastern boundary wall of the valley. The elevation of its vineyards ranged between 1,400 and 2,200 feet above sea level. This is interesting and notable since the elevation means that the vines are located above the fog line which rolls in from the south San Pablo Bay and the valley floor. 

That fog line reaching up to 1200 feet in elevation is the demarcation point between the Napa Valley and the Howell Mountain appellations, since it's impact results in different sub-climate growing conditions, thereby resulting in the distinctive terroir of the two areas. Being above the fog lines results in more sunlight, cooler days and warmer nights.

The Howell Mountain A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area, as designated by the US Dept. of Treasury Alcohol And Tobacco Bureau) was the first sub appellation of Napa when it was designated back in 1983. The area is notable for its two soil types: volcanic ash, also known as “Tuff’, and a dry red clay, both of which are nutrient deficient.  Combine that with the steep hillsides and rocky and porous terrain and you have an environment that places high stress on its vines, resulting in rich concentrated fruit. Stressing the vines produces smaller harvests and smaller berries, but the fruit that is produced is more concentrated, intense and complex, perfect for making superior wines. 

Robert Craig Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

This Robert Craig Cabernet from the Howell Mountain appellation vineyards showed all those classic characteristics that showcase the terroir of the appellation.

At twenty-one, this bottle is drinking wonderfully right now but may be a bit past its peak as it is showing slight signs of diminution as the fruits are just starting to fade. 

The fill level, label, foil and importantly the cork, were all in ideal condition, aside the label being slightly soiled.

Tonight's tasting was consistent with earlier tasting notes of this label dating back to September, 2009, and August, 2010.

Dark inky garnet colored, medium full bodied, concentrated complex core of black raspberry and black currant fruits accented by a layer of sweet mocha chocolate turning to tones of clove and hints of vanilla and spicy oak, turning to smooth fine tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 93 points. 


Son Ryan and kids joined us for our cook-out dinner and he brought from his cellar these two favorite producer premium labels that he had opened at home earlier. 

Long Shadows Saggi Columbia Valley Red Blend - Sanviovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

We're members of the Long Shadows wine club and hence get regular Vault Key Club release allocation shipments of their top labels of which we share our case lot with son's Ryan and Alec and fellow Pour Boy Dr Dan. We've written in these pages about the Vintners Collection wherein Long Shadows collaborates with world class winemakers to craft varietal compositions from Washington State fruit

This label is inspired by the great wines of Tuscany and father-son winemaking team Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, winemaker Gilles Nicault crafts Saggi in the style of its original winemakers.

The 2018 Saggi is a Columbia Valley Blend: 58% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Syrah. The Sangiovese is sourced from two distinct Washington State Sangiovese vineyards, both planted in 1998. Both sites with have terrior of well-draining soils, important to managing Sangiovese’s vine vigor and controlling berry size. Candy Mountain Vineyard Sangiovese is a warm vineyard that delivers grapes with ripe, black currant aromas and flavors. Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese, grown in the Yakima Valley, is a cooler site that brings brightness and balanced acidity to the blend. 

The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, included to add a silky texture to the wine. The Syrah adds a darker hue and another layer of complexity.

Winemakers' tasting notes: "Easily one of our favorite Saggi bottlings to date, this wine showcases the quality of our vineyard sites and the warmth of the growing season. A brilliant garnet-red, the 2018 Saggi is elaborately fragrant, brimming with red cherries, ripe strawberries and notes of nutmeg. Vibrant and
well-integrated with balanced natural acidity, this is a textured wine with great richness and flavors that linger across a generous finish. Drinking beautifully now, the wine’s concentration and structure also make it an excellent candidate for the cellar."

This is becoming a go-to wine for us for Sangiovese complemented Italian cuisine, but bigger and bolder than your typical Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino. Son Alec, who also shares in our club allocation cites this as one of his favorite wines.

As usual this is a stand out with its big bold style, bright garnet-red colored, full bodied, nicely balanced and well integrated vibrant forward fruits of raspberry, red cherries and ripe strawberries with fragrant floral and notes of nutmeg and clove spices. 

RM 93 points. 

Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This is one of our favorite producers and labels of which we hold a decade of releases in our cellar. We have visited the state and done tastings there on numerous occasions. Ryan is member of their wine club and regularly gets this along with their other premium and single vineyard designated labels as part of his regular allocation shipment. 

Winemaker Notes - Inky purple with blood-red tinged edges, the elegant and seamless 2013 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon's multilayered perfume fills the glass with notes of violets, lavender, and spring flowers. Intertwined with the floral notes are heady layers of plum, blackberry, and red currents. Silky, unctuous flavors of smoked cardamom, cinnamon, and black licorice lay out on the palate and finish with the taste and texture of liquefied rocks. 

The fruit for this release was sourced from the hillside terraces of the legendary Cliff Lede Poetry Vineyard, as well as Lede's Twin Peaks Vineyard estate surrounding the winery, and a few neighboring vineyards in the Stags Leap District. The wine is composed of small lots from the best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. From Poetry’s exposed, rocky terraces that are volcanic in origin, to the ancient riverbed alluvial soils of Twin Peaks, the breadth of contributing sites translates into a wine of impressive complexity.

According to, this is a blend of Bordeaux variteals: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot 

This release was awarded 94 points by Wilfred Wong of, 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate,

Robert Parkers said the 2013 Cliff Lede Cabernet appears to be one of the vintage's top wines. 
Dark dense ruby/purple color, medium full bodied, floral notes highlight blackberry and black rapsberry fruits with notes of crème de cassis, cinnamon spice and hints of graphite and forest floor on a long silky tannin laced finish.
RM 92 points.