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.

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