Sunday, January 14, 2024

Round Lake Vineyards Sangiovese with pizza

Round Lake (MN) Vineyards & Winery Sangiovese with pizza

Sunday night dinner, Linda prepared a hearty three cheese and pepperoni pizza so I pulled from the cellar a hearty 'pizza wine' -  an Italian varietal Sangiovese that we discovered, tasted, and acquired at the winery during our cross country tour back in the summer of 2022. This was a perfect food wine pairing!

We visited Round Lake Vineyards and Winery in Round Lake, Minnesota where we had the pleasure to meet owner producer Scott Ellerbrook and his son, winemaker Logan Ellerbrook (below). We wrote about our estate winery visit in an earlier blogpost.

Round Lake Vineyards American Sangiovese 2019

We tasted this label as part of our Red wine flight selections at the Round Lake Bistro restaurant on the estate. I wrote earlier about this wine, that it was a standout high achiever of this Minnesota producer and we acquired some as part of a mixed case of their wines we brought home for occasions such as tonight. 

Fruit for this label is actually sourced from the Sierra Foothills in Amador County, California, hence it carries the 'American' wine designation on the label. 

Winemaker notes on this label: "The 2018 Sangiovese is a delicate fruit forward wine with flavors of dried cherry and red plum. A hint of spice and candied fruit give a sweeter finish on the palate."

Garnet colored, medium bodied, bright acidity, expressive plum, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with notes of pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and hints of cola, caramel and sweet oak with moderate tannins on a moderate finish. 

RM 89 points.


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

We had left over beef bourgogne for dinner so I pulled from the cellar this premium Napa Cabernet for pairing. This is the flagship estate wine from Grgich Hills, one of the most storied legendary producers with a historic past. 

Founded by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich in 1977 with Austin Hills, the winery has been family-owned and operated since

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich was born and raised in Croatio in a winemaking family. He came to American and Napa Valley in 1958. He worked for Lee Stewart, founder of Souverain Winery and an early Napa Valley pioneer, then Christian brothers before Beaulieu Vineyard where he spent nine years working alongside the legendary Russian winemaker André Tchelistcheff. 

In 1968, Mike became chief enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery, considered the most innovative winery at the time. “In 1969, I made my first Cabernet for Robert Mondavi,” Mike recalls. “In an important blind tasting, fifteen California winemakers proclaimed ours to be the best Cabernet in all of California.”

In 1972, Mike joined Chateau Montelena as winemaker and limited partner.

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich first gained international recognition at the epoch “Judgement of Paris Tasting” of 1976 when, in a now-historic blind tasting, a panel of eminent French judges blind tasted a flight of fabled white Burgundies of France and a small sampling of upstart Chardonnays from the United States Napa Valley. When the scores were tallied, the world was shocked to learn the French judges had chosen the 1973 Napa Valley Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich,  as the finest white wine in the world. The results stunned the international wine establishment and put US and California wines on the map, and earned winemaker Mike Grgich a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world.

Austin Hills of the namesake coffee company, founded Hills Vineyards and developed his own label in 1975. After the Judgement of Paris in 1976, Austin contacted Mike Grgich with a proposal to join forces to produce world class wines in Napa Valley.

Austin Hills had broad business experience and money to invest, since he and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, had just sold the coffee company. Austin wanted to produce world-class wines and was looking for a winemaker to do that. Mike had extensive winemaking and management experience and now had the reputation as the American winemaker who beat the French.

Austin grew up in the Hills Bros. Coffee company family, founded by his grandfather and grand uncle in 1878 in San Francisco. Austin acquired a business background, earning a B.A. degree from Stanford University and M.B.A. from Columbia University, before working at Hills Bros. Coffee, Inc. Starting as an assistant coffee buyer, he worked his way up to Vice President and finally Chairman of the Board.

Today, Austin is Chairman of Grgich Hills Estate, and also president of Hills Vineyard, and an active member of San Francisco society, serving on a wide variety of boards. 

The Hills Vineyard should not be confused with Hill Family Vineyards of Napa Valley, long time Napa Valley grape growers and vineyard owners who produce a portfolio of wines often featured in these pages.   

The two men were an ideal match for success with their combined complementary business and viticulture and winemaking skills, so Mike Grgich joined forces with Austin Hills in a partnership in 1977, forming Grgich Hills.

The Grigh Hills winery and vineyard was established in Yountville in the center of Napa Valley on the valley floor. Mike first discovered the property in 1958 as an ideal site to produce quality grapes due to its ideal sun exposure and excellent drainage. 

Today, the 63-acre Yountville vineyard is planted to classic Bordeaux varietals - 53 acres Cabernet Sauvignon, 5.4 acres Petit Verdot, and 5.1 acres in Merlot. A 25-acre plot is the second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines, planted in 1959. These vines are showcased in a vineyard designated latbel, "Yountville Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon".

Grgich Hills expanded the Yountville Appellation vineyards in 1984. 

In 1992, Grgich Hills was selected Winery Of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine, and, Mike Grgich appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine, “California’s Old World Master-Few Can Challenge Mike Grgich in crafting World-Class Wine.”

By 2007, Grigh Hills had grown to 366 acres spread across five vineyards throughout Napa Valley - 34 acres in Calistoga, 18 in Rutherford, 163 in American Canyon, 88 in Carneros, and the original 63 in Yountville.

Able to use estate grown grapes exclusively in the production of their wines, they changed the name to “Grgich Hills Estate” to recognize their wines as 100% estate grown. 

In 2016, Miljenko "Mike" Grgich released his long-awaited autobiography, A Glass Full Of Miracles. At 94 years of age, Mike Grgich retired as president and passed on the baton to his daughter, Violet. He remains active in winery operations as Founder and Winemaker Emeritus, and is a Vintners Hall of Fame Inductee and James Beard Award Winner.

A Croatian TV documentary about his life, “Like the Old Vine,” won the Grand Jury’s Special Award from France’s Oenovideo Film Festival. 

Violet Grgich grew up accompanying her father in the vineyards and cellar. She spent her summers at the winery, doing everything from bottling line work to laboratory analysis and working in the tasting room.

She attended the University of California, earning a BA in music while taking classes in biology, chemistry, and enology. After graduation, she returned home to Grgich Hills to continue her education in the wine business, learning beside her father.

After a period to receive her Master of Music in harpsichord at the world renowned Indiana University School of Music, Violet rejoined the winery fulltime in 1988. Today, she is responsible for daily management of the winery, as well as sales and marketing. 

Ivo Jeramaz serves as Winemaker and VP of Vineyards & Production,  responsible for the day-to-day operations in the cellar and the vineyard, including naturally farming Grgich Hills’ 366 acres. 
Ivo was born in Grigh's home country Croatia to a family of grape growers and was involved in making family wine from boyhood. After earning a masters degree in engineering from the University of Zagreb in 1986, he came to Napa Valley to join his uncle, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich,  Over the ensuing three decades at Grgich Hills Ivo learned the classic style and art of winemaking from his uncle, supported by the science and technology, and from what he gained from enology and viticulture courses at University of California, Davis.
Joining Mike’s daughter, Violet Grgich as President, and Ivo Jeramaz, Mike’s nephew as Winemaker/VP, the next generation of the Hills family has also found a home in grapes, rather than coffee beans: Austin’s youngest son, Justin, and Ivo's oldest daughter Maja Jeramaz have joined Grgich Hills continuing the family legacy.
Today, Grgich Hills Estate produce a portfolio of Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Mike was intrigued about the Croatian origins of Zinfandel and obtained a single Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski cutting, taken from one of the last nine Crljenak plants in existence. It is planted and continues to thrive in Grgrich's Calistoga Vineyard.
In April, 2023, Mike Grgich reached centenarian status. The winery celebrated with the release of two “Centennial Wines;” the 2020 Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay, and the 2019 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
This is 100% estate grown fruit, a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc, sourced primarily with grapes from the Grgich Yountville vineyard supplemented from Grgich Rutherford and Calistoga vineyards.
This release was awarded 93 points by James Suckling, 92 points by Wine Advocate and 90 points by Connoisseurs Guide and Vinous. 
Bright garnet-purple in color, medium full bodied, expressive ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruits with floral, cassis, tobacco, licorice, cedar and earthy notes, with a hint of clove spice turning to tight crisp acidity and grainy tannins on the finish. Still young at five years, this might benefit from a little more time to settle and integrate.
RM 91 points.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Château La Dominique Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé with Beef Bourgogne

Château La Dominique Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé with Beef Bourgogne

For a hearty midweek dinner, Linda prepared her delicious beef bourgogne, so I pulled from our wine  cellar this Grand Cru Classé Right Bank Bordeaux for a fabulous food and wine pairing. Having a fine wine cellar is made for situations such as this.   

While some suggest Burgundy wines based on Pinot Noir for pairing with beef bourgogne, I prefer a moderate, complex, but expressive and soft Bordeaux such as Merlot based blends from the Right Bank, such as this.

Château La Dominique produces this Grand Cru Classé wine from their 71 acres of vineyards located in the northwest of Saint-Émilion, on the edge of the Pomerol appellation, adjoining some of the most famous vineyards of the region - Cheval Blanc, Figeac, La Conseillante, and L'Evangile.  It has been owned by the Fayat family since 1969.

From the Wine Cellar Insider, we learn that Chateau La Dominique dates back to the 1700s and is named for the island in the Caribbean where the original owner of the property earned his fortune.

The Fayat family purchased the estate in 1969 from the de Bailliencourt family, who had owned the vineyard since 1933 and also still own Chateau Gazin in Pomerol. The property had several ownership changes over the previous two decades before it was obtained by Clement Fayat.

Clement Fayat started out as a bricklayer and went on to found one of the largest construction companies in the world. In addition to La Dominique, he also owns Chateau Fayat in Pomerol and Clement Pichon in the Haut Medoc appellation. The Fayat family also recently purchased Vieux Fortin in St. Emilion which was incorporated into La Dominique.

The 71 acre Château La Dominique vineyard is planted to 81% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the vineyards are classified as Grand Cru Classe. The best parcels in the La Dominique vineyard are located next to the legendary first growth estate Cheval Blanc, and not far from Chateau Figeac, one of our favorite Saint Emilion producers, and cellar holdings. Head north towards Pomerol the estate also bordered the premiere estates of Chateau Conseillante and LEvangile in Pomerol.

Chateau La Dominique underwent a major renovation of the entire estate in 2013 including the chateau, cellars, winemaking facilities, grape reception area, and a larger vat house, bringing in the most up-to-date, modern technology available. 

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate wrote of the 2012 vintage - "This 2012 is sensational and further evidence of the rebound of La Dominique after a few years of mediocrity." 

The estate produces 60,000 cases per year of the grand vin and slightly more than 7,000 cases per year of a second wine, Saint-Paul-de-Dominique. 

We have enjoyed tasting these wines and meeting the producer at the annual UGC Bordeaux' (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB)) North American release tour (s) and appreciate their participation and visits to Chicago to show their wines.  See example postings of this event here - UGC Bordeaux 2013 Release Tour Chicago 2016, and Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Chicago.

Château La Dominique Saint-Émilion Grand Cru (Grand Cru Classé) 2012

This wine was produced with the advisement of the legendary Merlot master, Michel Rolland and Jean-Philippe Fort as consulting winemakers. 

The 2012 is a blend of  95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. 

This release was rated 94 points by Vinous, 93 points by Wine Advocate, 92 by Wine Cellar Insider, and 89–91 by Roger Voss of Wine Enthusiast. 

At eleven years of age, the label, foil and most importantly the fill level and cork were ideal, likely at it's apex and may be there for perhaps close to a decade yet. 

This was double decanted and left to open for an hour before serving.

Dark garnet inky purple color, medium full bodied, elegant, bright vibrant expressive but soft ripe plum, cherry and blackberry fruits with floral, spice and earth notes, hints of lavender, black tea and licorice with a long smooth silky finish. 

60,000 bottles of this cuvée were produced


Saturday, January 6, 2024

Venge and Beau Vigne wines with intimate family dinner

Venge and Beau Vigne wines with intimate family dinner - Venge Napa Syrah with Vodka Cream Sauce Pasta

We were invited to son Alec's and Vivianna's house for dinner to watch IU Hoosier Big Ten Basketball. Alec prepared a delicious vodka cream sauce with penne pasta, baked bread and a delightful Cesar Salad. 

Prior to dinner, Alec opened a nice Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay for sipping with some artisan cheese and with the salad course. He served a delectable Saint Andre Triple Cream cheese from Murray's Cheese that was an ideal pairing with the Chardonnay.

 I've written in these pages the irony that Murray's Cheese is now available locally from our Mariano's Grocery Store. We used to shop at Murray's Cheese Shop and dine at Murray's Cheese and Wine Bar on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village in New York with Alec and Viv when they lived in Manhatten. After they moved to Chicago, Murray's was sold to Kroger who had also acquired the Mariano's Grocery chain.

Beau Vigne Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2021

Both Alec and we have collected several labels of Napa Valley wines from this producer Beau Vigne. This is the first time I have seen or tasted any of their white wines including this Reserve Chardonnay. 

 Winemaker's notes - "2021 Reserve Chardonnay -this is Napa Valley after all- and while you might expect today’s offering  to resemble the classic weighty, juicy, oaky versions, you are absolutely correct. We feel this 2021 ranks as one of the most pleasant Reserve Chardonnay's we've produced to date."

The Vineyard runs along a northern stretch of Carneros soils that are thin and rocky. As a result, these old vines struggle to produce even the most modest of crops.  

Tasting Notes: Fresh almond, apple turnover with hints of rose and lavender honey. The concentrated mouthfeel is draped in white stone fruits. The wine showcases our commitment to minimal intervention winemaking.

For pairing with dinner, I took a Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Syrah

I've written often in these pages about the fun we have with the "V" collection of wines from Venge Vineyards with our daughter-in-law Vivianna. 

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard Block 1-4 Syrah 2015

This is produced by Kirk Venge, son of legendary Nils’ and Dianna Venge, who was exposed to winemaking at an early age and has proven to be as talented a winemaker as his father.

In 2008, Kirk stepped into Nil's shoes and acquired full ownership of Venge Vineyards in 2008. To this day, Kirk continues the Napa Valley heritage, focusing on select vineyard sites that produce fruit worthy of bearing the Venge family name. 

We visited Nil's at the Penny Lane Venge Family Vineyard and Winery down in central Napa Valley, and then went up and met Kirk at his new estate near Calistoga back in 2002 as chronicled in this blogpost - Visit to Venge Vineyards and Nils and Kirk Venge.

Since then, we've acquired many Venge labels from his various brands that extend beyond the Venge name.

This is from the legendary Stagecoach Vineyard, which according to the producer, "Stagecoach is one of the Napa Valley’s largest and leading mountain vineyards located near the Atlas Peak AVA at an elevation of around 1,700 feet above sea level. The soil is very rocky and topography very steep. Temperatures are warm in the midday and cold at night. This diurnal effect makes for a balance of vibrant acidity and fruit structure that is concentrated and focuessed. “Block I-4” is referenced in this bottling because of its very high elevation relative to the rest of the Stagecoach Vineyard."  

"Stagecoach Vineyard continues to produce Syrah of unparalleled quality. The Syrahs from that mountain vineyard really shine from the steep, rocky terroir of the location."

The 2017 vintage possesses a bold, deep, dark color that opens the door to an array of black fruit aromatics. Cassis, blackberry, warm toasted bread and French Oak vanillin all fill the glass with purpose. While still young and in development, the palate shows superior promise with minerals, tongue swirling acidity, cherry and black plum.  The tannins are firm and support the back palate for several moments beyond the initial taste. If cellared correctly, this wine will continue to improve through 2029.

The wine was managed under the Venge barrel program of 100% French oak with 60% entirely new Francois Frères from the tight grained Voges forest in both medium and heavy toast. Bottled unfiltered.

This was the latest tasting of another vintage of a mini-vertical collection of this limited release label I picked up at auction, and it was by far the best so far. 

This was awarded 93 points by Wine Enthusiast and 92 points by Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.

This is the style and profile of wine we most enjoy - Linda's absolute favorite, big, thick, chewy full throttle full fruit Syrah.

Dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied, powerful concentrated chewy unctuous textured black and blue fruits with a layer of vanilla and spice with notes of what Robert Parker's Wine Advocate calls "Chinese five spice, hoisin and cardamom over a core of plum preserves, violets and blackberry pie with a waft of earth", with firm, big but polished fine-grained tannins on a tongue coated long finish.

RM 94 Points.


Friday, January 5, 2024

Pour Boys Wine Dinner at Italian Village Chicago

Pour Boys Wine Dinner at Italian Village after Art Institute Tour - a fabulous day in the city - arts, perfect food and wine pairing ...

Linda and I spent a day in the city (Chicago) touring the Art Institute of Chicago, one of our favorite destination outings, to see the Picasso special exhibit. We planned a dinner at classic historical Chicago landmark restaurant, Italian Village, Chicago, one of our favorite eateries, and were joined by fellow Pour Boys Dan and Lyle, with Terry.

We have featured our visits to the magnificent Art Institute in several posts in these pages -  

Chicago Experience - Museums, Architecture and Smith Wollensky Riverside Lunch

Day in Chicago - Art Institute - Chez Joël French Bistro

Art Institute Garden Summer Lunch Wines

One of the highlights of the world class Art Institute Chicago collection, and one of Linda's favorites, Paris Street, Rainy Day (French: Rue de Paris, temps de pluie), oil painting by the French artist Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894).

We've also featured Italian Village in many posts in these pages from many business dinners with my staff and customers, our Pour Boys wine group, and special family dinners -

Team Dinner and Go-to CasalFerro Wines at Italian Village Chicago

Italian Village Wine & Dine Chicago

Italian Village Vivere Wine Dinner Features Masseto Cellar Selection

Merry Christmas - Frozen and gala family wine dinner

We were delighted to get 'my' regular private dining room and table, one that I frequented regularly over the last couple years for staff, team and customer dinners. And, what fun that the IV staff hung my staff picture on the wall at the head of the table, like we used to do when we dined there, just like all the celebrity pictures on the walls. 

We were served by Gerry, one of the senior long time team members as IV retained their long term staff throughout the pandemic disruption - many who have been 'in the family' for decades.

Of the many many dinners we've had at IV, tonight's was one of the best with excellent food, wine and service, as good as it can be - a perfect pairing of wine and food which amplifies and accentuates the enjoyment of both!

We started with anti-pasta - a cheese and charcuterie board with delicious gorgonzola and muscarpone cheeses with pepperoni and meats, and grilled calamari. 

As a starter wine, Gerry brought us a Antico Fuoco Veronese IGT Red Blend for casual sipping before everyone arrived for dinner. 

For our dinner entrees we ordered a broad selection that represents the breadth and depth of the IV menu. Linda and I both ordered dishes with the IV Marsala sauce with pasta - me the Veal Marsala “Scallopine” - Mushrooms, Marsala Wine, Capellini, and Linda the Beef Toscanini - Filet Mignon Medallions, Mushrooms, Marsala Wine and Pappardelle.

Terry ordered the fabulous IV Italian Sausage and Peppers - Italian Grilled Sausage, Green Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, Tomato Sauce and Mostaccioli.

For Lyle, they prepared a special off menu dish of Chicken Ciaccatore - chicken, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and onions in a tangy spicy tomato sauce.

Dan had the Linguine Frutti Di Mare - Linguine In A Zesty Tomato Sauce with Mussels, Scallops, Calamari, Shrimp, and Clams.

Lyle has amassed an impressive cellar collection of Italian Brunello do Montalcinos so he took the lead in ordering the wine selections for dinner - two Brunellos, a Caprili Riserva and an Altesino

Caprili Brunello di Montalcino AdAlberto Riserva Sangiovese 2015 

This wine is a homage to current owner and winemaker Giacomo Bartolommei’s great grandfather Alberto, who planted these vines in 1965. This Riserva is a single-vineyard designated label from the estate’s Madre vineyard. AdAlbreto is a special bottling, only produced in top vintages from the finest fruits drawn from the same site since 2010. It is a small-production wine with just 4,000 bottles made, carefully selected and blended by winemaker Giacomo Bartolommei.

This was awarded  97 points by Wine Spectator, 96 points by Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck and James Suckling, 95 points by Vinou, and 94 points by Decanter and Wine Enthsiast.

Dark ruby colored, full-bodied, concentrated and complex yet smooth, elegant and balanced, rich forward vibrant ripe black cherry and black raspberry fruits with notes of black tea, clove spice, earth, tobacco and leather with hints of anise and dark mocha on a smooth polished ultra fine tannin finish. 

RM 95 points.

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 2017

This is the primary Altesino label, 100% Sangiovese fruit courced and blended from 60 acres of estate vineyards throughout Montalcino to create the most balanced Brunello from each vintage. Annual production is 11,600 cases, of which 3,500 are imported, 

They also produce a Reserva premium label as well.

This is rated 95 by James Suckling, 94 Points, by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 92 Points by Eric Guido of Vinous and 90 by Wine Enthusiast.

Dark Ruby colored, medium-to full-bodied, full round balanced blackberry, black cherry and black currant fruits with savory baking and clove spices with hints of licorice, tobacco and leather with smooth silky tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 92 points.


 Antico Fuoco Veronese IGT Red Blend 2021


Thursday, January 4, 2024

Elmhurst fine dining caps day of suburbs' museum tours

Elmhurst (IL) fine dining caps day of suburban museum tours

Linda and I visited the Lizzadro Museum in Oak Brook, then the Picasso Exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Following our museum outings, we visited downtown Elmhurst and dined at Victory Restaurant. 

As a I child, I grew up in Elmhurst and attended Hawthorne Elementary School across the street from the original Lizzadro Museum and the current day site of the Elmhurst Art Museum. Back then, the museum site was a street and a block of aging homes that I would walk and pass enroute to school. It was during that time that the original Lizzadro Museum was built in Wilder Park directly across from my school. 

So, it was heartfelt to revisit my childhood neighborhood and hometown. Also, Linda was touched by the history and legacy of the Lizzardro Museum, so we joined and became supporting members. This pays homage to ancestors, one of whom was a stone mason in southern Indiana who worked on the National Cathedral In Washington DC, her brother, a geology major in college, her mother Lucy, an artist who painted, drew, and did work in ceramics and some in lapidary arts, and Linda's several years selling fine jewelry for a major department store, more for recreation and enjoyment than the remuneration.

While in the Elmhurst neighborhoods, we visited two historic, architecturally significant homes - driving by the FB Henderson House by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and then while visiting the Elmhurst Art Museum, we toured the McCormick House, by another legendary architect, Mies van der Rohe. This was especially interesting since we visited the notable Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House earlier this summer. Also, readers of these pages know I give tours at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in suburban Oak Park.

Our visit to the Elmhurst Art Museum was to see the Picasso exhibit, which was a precursor to our visit to the magnificent Art Institute of Chicago and the Picasso exhibit there, the follow day which included a Pour Boys Wine Group Dinner at Italian Village Chicago.

Visiting downtown Elmhurst we visited Tannins Wine Shop and Wine Bar and met proprietor and Certified Sommelier Mike Allas. He has a carefully selected offering of wines for sale and for sipping on-site, with a broad selection of WBTG - Wines By The Glass. The retail selection included wines from Chateau La Nerthe, one of our favorite producers from the Rhone, which we visited a couple of times. It also included a couple labels from HourGlass Vineyards in Napa, some of which we hold in our cellar, but also a label we've not seen before which we're eager to try at some point. 

The real crown jewel of the establishment may be the Reserve Wine List which is available on request. It includes for retail sale a who's who of Napa Valley ultra-premium labels with the usual suspects included - Shafer Hillside Select, Opus, Joseph Phelps Insignia and Dominus, to name a few. We'll look forward to visiting Tannins again soon for causal wine sipping and small bites.

We then went next door to dine at Victory Meat and Seafood Restaurant.  

They offer a formal fine dining room adjacent the bar, and a more casual dining seating area at, along and to the rear of the bar. As the first diners of the evening we were seated in the rear. Next time we visit, we'll seek to sit in the nicer more formal dining room.

The menu offers a selection of seafood, steaks, chicken and pasta dishes, soups, salads, appetizers, oysters, and desserts. 

There is a limited but adequate, carefully selected wine list with several offerings of WBTG - Wines By The Glass.

For starters, in consideration of being their 'first diners of the New Year', we were treated to Lobster Bisque! It was delectable, rich, warm, flavorful with ample chunks of fresh lobster meat. 

Linda ordered the Baked Oysters, sourced from the Northeast Atlantic coast which we were advised, are considered the most delectable and sweetest by the chef. 

For our entrees, Linda had the Maryland Crabcakes and I the SeaBass. 

Maryland Crab Cake

Linda loved the hearty rich crab filled preparation. The smaller portion size was due to the fact it was a starter, which she selected for her entree. Even then, it was sufficient for her dinner. 

Seabass - Broccolini and EVOO

The Sea Bass was prepared and presented nicely and properly, the brocolini and beans prepared with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) accompaniment was filling and tasty, but suffering from a comparison with the extraordinary Sea Bass with black truffle risoto we had the other evening at Entourage Restaurant in Naperville

For wine pairings we ordered from the ample BTG - By The Glass offerings a pair of two current release young Sonoma County Chardonnays. 

Neyers "304" Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2022

This is from namesake Bruce and Barbara Neyers, originally from Delaware, they moved to Northern California in 1970 and ultimately purchased the Conn Valley Ranch in 1984 and established Neyers Vineyards in 1992.

In 1999, they purchased the winery and thirty-acre parcel in 1999, in the Sage Canyon area of Napa Valley. They renovated the estate building a modern winery. They produced their first Neyers Vineyards vintage in the new facility in 2000 and in 2002 were named Artisan Winery of the Year by Wine and Spirits Magazine.

On their 50-acre Conn Valley ranch estate they grow Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which accounts for about 25% of their production. They also purchase grapes from a select group of growers including the Sangiacomo family of the Carneros District, Will Nord of Napa, the Rossi Ranch of Sonoma County, Markus Bokisch and the Evangelho family. 

Bruce started his career as a chemist, but pursued a career in wine starting at Mayacamas Winery in the Napa Valley in 1972 where he spent two years as assistant winemaker while studying in the wine program at University of California, Davis. He and Barbara spent two years in the Nahe region in Germany where he worked as an apprentice winemaker. Returning in 1975, he joined Joseph Phelps who was just starting his winery, and worked there for 17 years, leaving in 1992 as general manager.

From Phelps, Bruce joined Berkeley-based importer Kermit Lynch serving as National Sales Manager until his retirement in 2017. Working with 100+ French wine producers he learned about viticulture wine-making and production.

Bruce's experience with French wine importer Kermit Lynch and their French producers had an influence on their wines such as organic farming, making wines naturally without use of cultured yeast or lab designed malo-lactic starter, and bottling wines without fining or filtration. Also, Neyers uses French barrels made to their specifications from wood they buy in bulk.

Meanwhile, Barbara taught then pursued her love of food and cooking, eventually managing the heralded Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley for 20 years.

Bruce and Barbara raised three children on their ranch in the Conn Valley area of the Napa Valley, where they now grow grapes while they jointly manage the winery, which is now a joint venture with Trinchero Family Estates.

Tadeo Borchardt is winemaker who oversees the winemaking process along.

Bruce Neyer's says, “No expense has been spared in our grape growing, winemaking practices, or processing equipment, yet customers repeatedly tell us that our wines represent great value in today's highly competitive wine market.”  Bruce Neyers produces the company blog, “Vintner Tales.”

Neyers "304" Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2022

Winemaker Notes - "A crisp freshness is the main component the winery looks for, but they enjoy the bright minerality as well, and the naturally low alcohol level makes the wine even more enjoyable. There is no contact with oak barrels during the production, so the charming fruit component is allowed to take center stage."

This was rated 91 points by Wine Enthusiast and 90 points by James Suckling.

Light straw colored, light medium bodied, notes of golden apple, pear and hints of peach fruits with wet stone and mineral with a crisp abrupt finish. 

RM 89 points.

Hartford Court Sonoma Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2022

This is from Hartford Family Winery, founded in 1993 by Don and Jennifer Hartford, natives of the Russian River Valley. Their vineyards and winery are located in the Sonoma County town of Forestville, about 15 miles the cool Pacific Coast in difficult locations along the rugged foothills of the region.

Hartford Family makes wines under two brands, the Hartford Family and this Hartford Court which is labels of small lot single vineyard designated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that express the "high-personality distinctive qualities inherent in each vineyard's terroir" - the interplay of soil, slope, exposure and climate. They produce a dozen different vineyard specific labels sourced from more than a dozen vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.

This is their estate label, not vineyard specific but a blend from numerous vineyard sources.

Winemaker Notes - "The 2022 vintage, one of Hartford Court's earliest harvests on record, gave them wines with precision and concentration. The Chardonnay has great elegance and bright acidity from the fruit harvested in August, with the fruit harvested in September giving more ripe fruit and richness."

Golden straw colored, medium bodied, rich round complex, ripe apple and pear fruits with notes of sweet papaya or mango, and lemon citrus and tropical fruit notes with hints of oak and medium acidity on the finish.

RM 90 points.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Spring Valley Katherine Cabernet Franc with artisan cheeses

Spring Valley Vineyards "Katherine" Cabernet Franc with artisan cheeses and bacon wrapped dates .. 

A quiet winter night by the fire bingeing on a TV special series, Linda prepared blue cheese stuffed bacon wrapped dates with a plate of artisan cheeses. I pulled from our cellar a big fruit forward tangy spicy wine as a perfect pairing for the occasion. 

Often we select a big fruit filled Syrah/Shiraz but tonight I pulled a Bordeaux varietal, a grape used to add structure and spice to the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A wine that is 100% single varietal with those characteristics isn't for the feint of heart, but fits the bill perfectly for our tastes. 

Tonight we opened this Spring Valley Vineyards "Katherine" Walla Walla Cabernet Franc 2016.

We discovered and acquired this wine during our visit to the Spring Valley Vineyards tasting room in Walla Walla back in 2018 as covered in this blogpost - October 27, 2018 - Spring Valley Vineyards Tasting and Vineyard Visit.

We joined their wine club and as members receive regular quarterly shipments of their wines. We amassed a collection of the complete portfolio of wines including this label. Our Cellartracker records show we have 95 bottles of 35 different Spring Valley wines in our collection.

One of the great historic Walla Walla wineries, Spring Valley Vineyard lies 12 miles northeast of the town of Walla Walla, amid the picturesque wheat fields of southeastern Washington and the Blue Mountains in the distance. The land that was originally used for farming dating back to the the 1880s. 

Founded by Uriah, Katherine, and continued by the next generation, Frederick, and Nina Lee Corkrum, Shari Corkrum Derby and her husband Dean Derby continued to operate the wheat fields, vineyard and winery. Shari and Dean Derby planted vines on the land from 1993 and made their first vintage in 1999.

Today, Spring Valley have 110 acres of vines planted, all in the relatively cool micro-climate of Walla Walla Valley in the southeast corner of Washington State.

We had the pleasure of meeting Dean Derby on the property during our visit to the estate.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, founder and namesake for their Bordeaux Blend label, husband to Katherine, 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. 

We thought of him last week as his alma mater, University of Washington played in the NCAA national football championship, and next year join the Big Ten conference. I wrote about Dean playing on and being captain of that football team in my tribute blogpost.

The Derby's son Devin Corkrum Derby served as winemaker until his passing in 2004. Devin’s assistant and friend Serge Laville took over as winemaker and has been crafting wines since. Originally they focused on varietals from the Northern Rhone region in France, they expanded production to Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and this Cabernet Franc, and a Right Bank and a Left Bank style Bordeaux Blend. 

 I've written often in these pages about Spring Valley Vineyards portfolio of wines named for members paying homage to the family and ancestors dating back to the first generation founders at the turn of the last century. We have several vintage releases of their annual case that features six of these labels - each one commemorating a different family member. This Cabernet Franc is named in honor of founder Uriah Corkrum’s wife Katherine, a native of Wales who immigrated to Walla Walla Territory in 1897. She and Uriah had four sons, including Frederick Corkrum.

We have a vertical collection of seven vintages of this wine. Normally, as part of cellar management, I would open the oldest, earliest vintage to drink, but, I pulled a bottle from the rack, not thinking that we have a couple older vintages in the decorative OWC - Original Wood Cases, each with a vertical collection that include this label. I'll need to 'break' those collections at some point and consume the older releases. 

Spring Valley Vineyards ‘Katherine Corkrum’ Walla Walla Cabernet Franc 2016 -  

This wine commemorates Katherine Williams Corkrum, born and raised in Wales, then came to America and settled in Walla Walla Washington to eventually marry Uriah Corkrum. Together they raised a family with three sons that would follow for three generations developing the property. 

This is 100% estate grown Cabernet Franc. 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 wine was aged 18 months in 100% neutral French Oak, mostly new, 2-year-old and 4-year-old barrels

Winemaker's Tasting Notes -  “The 2016 Katherine has floral and almond notes with a rich texture and minerality. The finish is dominated by rich cherry flavors and lingering tannins.”
~ Winemaker Serge Laville  

The 2016 vintage was “much better than average, with plenty of time to pick at the right time.” The harvest lasted six weeks, which was relatively long for Spring Valley Vineyard,

Interesting that the producer's published 'Food Pairings' for this wine includes "Beef bourguignonne, cassoulet and grilled portobello mushrooms". These are the exact hearty foods we love and enjoy pairing with appropriate wines such as this.

This release was rated 94 Points by Jeb Dunnuck, 93 points by Owen Bargreen, 91+ Points by Vinous Media and 89 points by Wine Enthusiast.
Dark ruby colored, medium full bodied, full round with a silky smooth texture, ripe dark blackberry fruits with notes of spice, tar, mocha chocolate, herbs and hints of cherry with toasty oak on a lingering finish. 
RM 91 points. 

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Cloud View 1999 with Beef Tenderloin

Cloud View 1999 Bordeaux Blend with Beef Tenderloin for intimate New Years' dinner

For a quiet News Years Eve dinner at home, Linda prepared a delicious beef tenderloin, with fresh baked bread, bacon mac-n-cheese, and peas and corn. I pulled from the cellar this aged vintage Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend as an ideal wine accompaniment.

I wrote about Cloud View in a detailed blogpost last summer - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I wrote that the estate was sold and is now owned by Tim Mondavi of Continuum.  Excerpts from earlier posts ...

The Cloud View Vineyards estate was located on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range that forms the eastern wall of Napa Valley, just south of Lake Hennessy and to the east of the Oakville AVA. The vineyards are grown between 1,000 and 1,500 feet above the Napa Valley floor. They were originally planted by owners Linda and Leighton Taylor who moved to Pritchard Hill in 1990 and began planting 23 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the 90 acre property five years later in 1995. 

The property eventually included 26 acres planted to Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, planted by the original owners Linda and Leighton Taylor.

After selling the property, the Taylors had intended to continue the brand, but use purchased Pritchard Hill grapes but we've never seen any indication of a release from them. 

Pritchard Hill is the site of some of Napa's most prestigious labels including Brand, Bryant Family, Colgin, Del Dotto's ultra-premium Villa Del Lago, Ovid and one of our favorites, Chappellet and David Arthur.  We visited David Arthur on Pritchard Hill during our Napa Wine Experience in 2013, and previously, we visited Chappellet on other side of Pritchard Hill during our Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley Experience - Autumn '09 with our visit to long time resident/producer Chappellet Vineyards.

While Pritchard Hill is not an official appellation (AVA - American Viticultural Area), it certainly could be, but lacks a sponsor to apply and lobby for designation. Donn Chappellet, owner/producer, the earliest settler in the modern era owns the 1971 Pritchard Hill trademark and firmly declares, “It will not become its own AVA.”

This 1999 Cloud View release was the inaugural release of wine and this label from this estate. Production was limited with 400 cases produced in 1999, 560 cases were made in 2000, growing to 2,000 cases were made in 2004.

We have six vintages of this label, from the 1999 through the 2005 vintage. A fellow Cellertracker'er contacted me year before last, seeking one of our vintages to fill out his vertical collection. We traded bottles to each fill out our verticals in a perfect trade scenario. Of our six vintages we hold of this label, we selected the oldest one, tonight, as part of cellar inventory management. Also, we recently drank a ultra-premium Napa Bordeaux from this same 1999 vintage, so I was eager to compare the two. 

This vintage release is a blend of 44% Merlot and 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, all sourced from the winery's estate vineyards. Interesting that they publish the lower percentage Merlot first and the majority Cabernet second (on the rear label - as shown here). Note this very limited production release was acquired at auction at

The winemaker for these wines was Karen Bower Turjanis who previously worked under Paul Hobbs at Lokoya and Cardinale Estate. We tasted a Cardinale Estate just the other evening, as featured in a blogpost in these pages - Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets. Fernando Espinoza was the cellarmaster and owner Linda Taylor was the vineyard manager.

The entire 85-acre Cloud View property was acquired by Continuum, the wine label owned by brother and sister Tim and Marcia Mondavi with Margrit Biever Mondavi, widow of the legendary Robert Mondavi. The Continuum brand was founded in 2005, and is Tim Mondavi's first venture since leaving the Robert Mondavi Winery in 2003. Both the 2006 and 2005 vintages were made from grapes from a leased Oakville property, and the Pritchard Hill purchase helps realize the family's goal of being a single-vineyard estate winery. The switch from an Oakville bottling to a Pritchard Hill bottling began with the 2008 vintage.

The late Robert Mondavi, who was also a partner in the Continuum brand, visited the site with his family before he passed away in May of 2008. "It's so meaningful that he saw it, to see where we are headed in the future," said Carissa.

Winemaker Notes for the Cloud View Vineyard's 1999 Proprietary Red Table Wine .... "is rich with intensely dark ripe fruit, round mid-palate and a long lingering finish of velvety tannins. The myriad of aromas includes anise and fennel, black olive and wild ginger, and is supported by a solid base of dark fruit and the toasty vanilla of fine French oak. On the palate, the ripe fruit opens up to hues of raspberry, blackberry, and dark black cherry with subtleties of lavender. The tannic backbone, which draws itself directly from this mountain site, weaves seamlessly with the warmth of creamy oak. We have crafted this wine for enjoyment now and well into the future. Aroma & Color Earthy–red dust, dark ripe fruit, wild sage, anise, fennel, black olive, ginger, vanilla oak. Profoundly garnet with the deep colors unique to mountain fruit. Flavor - Dark ripe fruit, raspberry, blackberry, lavender, velvety tannins, and subtle, creamy oak. Overall comments - Lush, delicious, round mid-palate, long finish, mouth filling.

I featured other vintages of this label in these pages in these blogposts and Cellertracker posted tasting notes.

In February 2018 - I wrote I like this wine: and gave it 92 Points.

This was dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with firm concentrated structured core of brambley earthy black currant and black berry fruits with a layer of sweet caramel accented by tones of cassis, sweet spicy tangy oak and silky tannins on the lingering finish.

I featured it in a blogpost in these pages - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

In June last summer, 2023 I featured this label in these pages in this blogpost - Cloud View Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The hill is named for homesteader Charles Pritchard who planted vines and produced the 1890 vintage of Zinfandel and Riesling. Pritchard Hill’s modern era began in 1967, when Donn Chappellet acquired and developed their property on the advice of André Tchelistcheff, then at Beaulieu Vineyard.

When Chappellets bought the property, there was an existing vineyard planted there to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Gamay and Johannisberg Riesling. He eventually replaced these with Bordeaux varieties, except for a brief experiment with Chardonnay. Chappellet's approximately 100 acres of planted vines makes their vineyard the biggest on Pritchard Hill.

Following Chappelett over the next decade were two Long families, unrelated. Bob Long and his wife, Zelma (then the chief enologist for Robert Mondavi, established Long Vineyards, which is no longer operating), and David Arthur Long and his father, Donald, planted their vineyard in 1978. Today, David Arthur Vineyards is owned by David, his brother, Bob, and Bob’s wife, Joye. Bob Long also has his own brand, Montagna. 
 Pritchard Hill is known for red soil known as Sobrante, described by David Arthur’s and Montagna’s winemaker, Nile Zacherle, as “volcanic clay loam.”The terrain is littered with huge boulders which some wineries, like Colgin and Brand, dynamited to clear the land to make it suitable for planting.

The high altitude well drained poor soils produce low yields of small, intensely flavored grapes with thick skins. Pritchard Hill sits above the fog line which comes up to 1,200 feet above sea level allowing for extra sunshine when the lower elevation is shrouded in fog. Notably, on Howell Mountain, further north in the Vaca Range, the 1200 foot elevation where the fog stops, is the demarcation point between Napa Valley and Howell Mountain appellations' designated wines.

Legendary winemaker Philippe Melka, one of our favorite producers, makes wines at Gandona, Brand and was Bryant Family’s winemaker until 2006, calls Pritchard Hill “the best of both worlds: Oakville sophistication with the extra intensity of a hillside.” We featured a Phillip Melka Bordeaux Blend during that same tasting the other evening mentioned above with the Cardinale, as featured in the blogpost Boys night features flight of ultra-premium Napa Cabernets.

The Brand estate had been owned by the Miner Family Winery till it was purchased by businessman Ed Fitts. Portuguese Gandona owners bought the land from Bob Long (Zelma’s husband) when Long Vineyards ceased operations. 

Another of our other favorite wines in our cellar is Arns Melanson Vineyard Syrah produced by John Arns over on Howell Mountain. He obtains the fruit for this single vineyard designated label from the 10.5 acre vineyard on Pritchard Hill that is planted to Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah. Greg Melanson acquired the vineyard back in 1988. Previously, it was owned by Round Pond; Bob and Zelma Long planted the original vineyard in the early 1970s. For years, Melanson sold fruit to the likes of Heidi Barrett (for La Sirena) before starting his own brand. We drank this label just the other evening and will post it in these pages soon.

Cloud View 2005 rear label
The Bryant Family Pritchard Hill 13 acre estate was developed in 1985 by the all-star team that included winemaker Helen Keplinger, consultant Michel Rolland and vineyard manager David Abreu. Todd Alexander worked there on Pritchett Hill where he gained notoriety when his wines earned high ratings and critical praise. There he learned the craft under legendary viticulturist David Abreu and winemaking consultant Michel Rolland, following in the footsteps of notable producer Phillip Melka before moving to Walla Walla Washington to take on winemaking and production at Force Majeure.

David Del Dotto, developer of a vast portfolio of Napa properties and brands, and producer of one of the largest collections in our cellar knew "Pritchard Hill was a key vineyard site from drinking Bryant Family,” he says. “David Arthur convinced me of the potential of these wines.” From the broad portfolio of Del Dotto labels, he reserves the Villa del Lago brand for his ultra-premium estate Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ovid was developed in 2003 by former software entrepreneurs Dana Johnson and Mark Nelson who bought their vineyard land in 1998 and launched Ovid five years later. They assembled the superstar team including vineyard manager David Abreu, winemaker Austin Peterson (who worked with Michel Rolland at Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol) and consulting winemaker Andy Erickson (formerly of Screaming Eagle, now at Dalla Valle).

The Cloud View Vineyards estate ceased operation with the 2006 vintage when it was sold to Tim Mondavi when he struck out on his own after the family broke away from Robert Mondavi Winery. When he acquired the Pritchard Hill estate and founded Continuum Estate, the 62 acre vineyard was the second largest estate in the region. Note that the Cloud View brand was not sold so we might see it re-emerge in some fashion at some point in the future although the website is gone and the domain name is for sale.

In November 2021, fellow Cellartracker'er wrote about this wine in a vertical tasting.

"The 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Cloud View Vineyards wines were enjoyed side by side at Bourbon Steak with Rib Cap, grilled Vidalia onions and crispy brussel sprouts. The wines were left upright for a day, then opened with an ah-so at home an hour before dinner to keep the corks together, then quickly reinserted to minimize oxygenation. The clear winner was the 2002 - in full flight. Still exhibiting youthful fruit and towering structure, this beauty had weight, leather, dark hanging fruit and stunning aroma. Lingering, lasting finish. It still has much life ahead of it. The 2001 was a bit of a surprise. It was massive and brutish, but reserved. As if it were a towering building draped in a cape. The 2000 was a shocker. From a horrible vintage, it excelled. Not near the greatness of the other vintages there was no expectation it would be good, and it was - just to a lesser note. The 2003, 04 and 05 were fairly interchangeable; mature fruit, acid and tannins in balance. All delicious in their own right. The 1999 was the oldest and looked the part. It was brick around the rim and had that dried blackberry note, plowed earth and cocoa powder texture. It was the only one, aside from the 2000, that I would say was on the decline. Incredible wines on an incredible night."

I've been waiting for an opportunity to enjoy this rare label and the other five vintage releases that I hold in the cellar. This tasting was consistent with earlier tastings of other vintages.

Dark garnet colored, medium to full bodied, rich concentrated full round but approachable balanced and integrated dark berry and plum fruit accented by floral, smokey vanilla, clove spice and notes of camphor with a long tangy acidic silky tannin laced lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.

The website is no longer active and the domain name is for sale.