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.