The Old-World Consistency of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

15 Sep

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and 2014 vintages. Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA; USA. 14% ABV, MSRP $58/bottle.

 

When an opportunity presented itself to compare back to back vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s famous Chateau Montelena, I simply could not wait! For those who don’t track annual harvest reports, 2013 was reported as a perfect growing year in Napa. To follow, 2014 started out badly with drought, but eventually this vintage was touted as a “dream” season for the Napa Valley, in spite of providing less tannin and structure than the previous year. Both years are ideal for collectors, and highly suggested for oenophiles.

 

 

In my tasting sessions, I found the vintages had significant similarities and minor differences, as you might expect from the vines, vineyard, and winemaker.  After much deliberation, I decided to use one set of tasting notes, and I’ll discuss the subtle differences in the vintages afterwards.

Color is deep purple; the nose full of blackberry, spice box, hints of fresh violets, and notes of earth. The palate is massive blackberry with allspice, cocoa, some green cuttings, and a hint of ripe raspberry, with a beautiful blend of complex minerals which demonstrate the Calistoga AVA’s flexible, alluvial soils.

 

 

 

 

I tasted these vintages with several neighbors over a mix of grilled meats, savory salads, fresh roasted vegetables, and highly spiced mediterranean chicken. Any red wine lover who tasted either wine was in heaven, but there were some differences. The 2014 was fruitier and more direct, while the 2013 more tannic, with more structure. Had I not known the vintages, I might have expected it was the same wine blend with 5 years of age. Overall, the 2013 appeared drier with the fruit more condensed, whilst the 2014 still demonstrated youthful fruit and an edge towards jam or compote with less tannin and a hint of mocha. By carefully rationing small portions, I was able to taste these bottles for four more days in which I expected the differences to become more apparent. Instead the opposite happened! I found that with more exposure to air, the wines showed stronger similarities as the fruit muted and the tannins melded, harmoniously, like some of the world’s finest old-world chateaux.

 

 

Both of these vintages drink beautifully now, but will show improved finesse and expression in another 5-10 years and beyond, if you can wait that long. The fact that they are an excellent value (and drink like an $85 Napa cab) should not be lost on the wine lover or collector: if you drink these now, you’re a smart drinker; and if you hold them and drink them later, you’re a brilliant collector!

 

Needless to say, I was impressed by both of these vintages of Chateau Montelena. They are proof to me that the winery continues to have tremendous consistency from year to year, and maintains their historic drive for excellence that shocked the wine industry at the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. It is wonderful to be able to access these wines at a moderate price point. For the serious drinker, the quality of winemaking will make you yearn to taste their upper echelon “estate” series.

 

 

If you are a serious Napa cab lover, you won’t want to wait to take advantage of these two vintages. Now is the time to collect, if you have not already. Or if you are like me, now is the time to invite friends over and open a few bottles to enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

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Strasserhof Sylvaner Valle Isarco 2015

4 Sep

Strasserhof Sylvaner Valle Isarco, by Hannes Baumgartner; DOC Süditirol/Alto Adige, Italy, 2015. ABV 13.5%, MSRP $22/bottle.

 

Color is pale straw. The delicate nose has traces of lemon, wildflower, and a hint of funk in the background that was gone by day 2. On the palate: Lemon and freshly cut grass, with backing notes of gooseberry, lime zest, and schist. High acidity and nice heat fill the back palate. The long finish features gentle flavors of citrus and sour candy behind the acidity and heat of the wine, and the combination of delicate flavors plus the elegance of a well-made wine make this a real wine nerd’s favorite.

 

 

After tasting this by itself, the next day I made grilled chicken, which complemented the sylvaner beautifully, as could chicken or veal piccata and marsala. This wine could also work nicely with spicy fare such as  Thai, Mexican, Indian, Lebanese, and Halal, as well as the traditional food of the Trentono-Alto Adige region. Some obvious local pairings would include schnitzel, fresh water fish, sausages, dumplings, sauerkraut, root vegetables, and of course, cured meats like prosciutto. But by day 3, I just wanted to enjoy the subtle flavors and structure of this wine by itself, sipping slowly and savoring the experience.  And for the non-wine nerds who had a taste of this wine? Their response was always the same: positive and interested. So buy some for your wine-centric friends, or for your own edification and education of the great white wines of the world at an affordable price. It might be your first Sylvaner, but it won’t be your last.

à votre santé!

 

Schiava: the Welterweight Knock-Out Wine!

30 Aug

Abbazia di Novacella Schiava “Stiftskellerei Neustift” 2015. Alto Adige, Italy. 12.5% ABV, MSRP $ 16/bottle.

 

Color is a robust, translucent ruby. The nose has sweet cherry, rose petals, and hint of limestone. On the palate, moderate bright raspberry, fresh cranberry, and a hint of red cassis are followed with lush, green foliage on the front palate. Polite, gentle acidity and tannins are balanced in body and scope. The flavors deepen across the top and back palate, with notes of slate and calcium-rich clay on the medium finish under the fruit profile. Best when served slightly chilled, and just under ‘moderate’ in body, this is a welterweight red that is luscious and mouthwatering, a wine that is beefier than rosé but lighter than the Cru Beaujolais and Burgundian pinot noir, and what a perfect wine for the middle! Pairing is so easy with vegetable appetizers, salad, fish, and pizza.

 

 

 

After a few sips, I kept thinking of all the meals I could serve this wine for; how easily to pair this with an appetizer, soup or salad course as a brilliant impact of delicacy and deliciousness. Taking the next step in meal evolution, if you are planning a cheese plate, cured meats, or a fresh seafood course, this Schiava is still worth your consideration as a capable flavor profile with plenty of acid and personality to pair with these more challenging dishes. Even more, it would be an ideal match for white meats such as turkey and cranberry sauce or roast chicken.

 

At this price, it offers an excellent value that is well worth seeking out to add to your repertoire and cellar, and is a beautiful representation of both the uniqueness and subtlety one can find in the wines of the Alto Adige. This one will go ten full rounds and win by decision as a crowd-pleasing favorite.

 

 

à votre santé!

 

Elena Walch Castel Ringberg Sauvignon 2016

24 Aug

Elena Walch Castel Ringberg Sauvignon 2016, Alto Adige AOC, Tramin, Italy. 13%ABV; MSRP $17/bottle.

 

Color is goldenrod. The nose offers a complex balance of grapefruit, gooseberry, tall grass and a hint of sandy loam. On the palate, gorgeous peach is primary, followed by starfruit, lemon zest, and a hint of hay. The long finish leaves beautiful citrus lingering after the tart completion, with tiny notes of salty, sandy limestone echoing like choirs of angels singing the beauty of the terroir of the Alto Adige.

 

 

Impeccably dry with lovely acidity, this wine is a delight for those who enjoy complexity in a white wine: it has depth of flavor with inspiring acidity to cleanse, along with a excellent ability to pair with food -fish, salad, vegetable, or pasta course- but is of course, stunning when served by itself in the afternoon sunshine or dockside. I’m consistently impressed by the wines of Elena Walch. She delivers elegance and complexity in her world-class wines, and I heartily suggest that when you see her wines, snap them up to enjoy a great value in a higher-tier delights that can be enjoyed immediately or aged gracefully in the cellar for a few more years.

 

 

 

à votre santé!

 

 

 

Drinking Island Wine: Locations Corsican White Wine

22 Aug

Locations Corsican White Wine by Dave Phinney; Corsica, France. 13%ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

 

The color is medium golden straw, while the nose offers fresh-cut wildflowers with a hint of salty sea breeze. On the palate, I found this flavor profile unique! Instead of white stone fruit, my mouth experienced a bundle of youthful and vibrant herbs popping forth first, followed by lemon zest, green apple, marzipan, and a long but gentle citrus finish with notes of almond, schist and sand. This wine is uniquely Corsican in its demonstration of a medium-bodied vermentino.

 

This wine is another great example of what Locations Wines is: singular to a locale, top quality fruit with great acid and a unique terroir. Phinney continues to make tremendous world wines on his journey, providing a drinking experience that is as special as the island in the mediterranean. Pair with mediterranean food: seafood, fresh vegetables, lighter fare for a hot, breezy climate. Feel free to open early in the day and enjoy in the sun or shade: drinking this wine is just like island life- everything moves just a little slower, a little more freely, and definitely without a care in the world.

The beach in Corsica: for some reason (possible the fortifications and cannon) make you feel quite secure on the island while sunbathing in this location!

 

The Corsica town market with statue of Napoleon.

 

The town market is full of locally cured meats, wines, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and herbs. If the sight and smell of these foods doesn’t make you want to eat and drink something local, nothing will! 

 

 

à votre santé!

D.V. Catena Tinto Historico Red Blend 2014

8 Aug

D.V. Catena Tinto Historico Red Blend 2014; Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% ABV, Street $16-18/bottle.

 

Color is a thick garnet with ruby edging. The nose offers ripe, bold, black and red fruit with hints of clay and oak. On the palate: black plum and black cherry across the front palate; red ripe raspberry and clove across the side palate; while the bottom of the tongue experiences a heavy dose of blackberries, with notes of forest floor, peppercorn, charcoal, and cacao. Intriguing and exciting, this 92% malbec blend features 8% petite verdot that adds richness to an already lush palate. Big, bold and beautiful, perfect for grilled meats, dark or savory flavors, such as cheeses, salumi, even grilled vegetables. I’m on a summer diet and paired this blend beautifully with pesto, believe it or not! But sipping this tasty wine made me want to put a porterhouse on my grill and invite my neighbors over!

 

I have had good experiences with Bodega Catena Zapata in the past and this wine continues that history, showing as a well-made, balanced wine that is gorgeous on the nose and mouth, dense and complex as a foil for food, providing a rich overall experience. Lush and luxurious-tasting, for an Argentinian wine you can source for under $20, you’d be crazy not to add this to your cellar so pick up a few bottles for your next grill adventure!

 

à votre santé!

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016

3 Aug

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA. ABV 12.8%, MSRP $36/bottle.

 

The color of this rosé of Cabernet franc is fuschia. Yes, I said fuchsia. That’s a first for me.

 

Imagine taking the innards of a sweet watermelon and mashing the dripping fruit thru a fine strainer into a sautée pan to make a reduction, cooking it down over low heat for an hour. You add a dozen plump strawberries, the juice of one lime, and one-half of a pint of raspberries. Reduce again for 30 minutes, then strain again, transfer and chill. It’s THAT color, ok? Fuschia! Getting back to the wine:

 

Color is fuchsia. The nose offers greenery of plants: raspberry bush and strawberry leaves, with watermelon vine and rind. There is a definite hint of fruit masked by lush greens; you can sense the fruit, but the plant is hiding them. On the palate, beautifully tart red berries and melon, then lemon-lime citrus. The acid appears as gorgeous lime zest, with sandy chalk on the finish. But you probably won’t spend any time thinking about the flavors, the essence, the notes on the medium-long finish. You’re going to drink this and go, “Oh, yes! Let me have some more of that, please?”

 

Trust me. Even the most verbose of astute critics can be silenced by a wine. I’ve seen it happen.

 

 

 

This rosé of cabernet franc is just delightful. Once you get some, you might turn the bottle around in your hand, pick up the phone and call the number on the back, asking to join their wine club so that you can get some of this juice delivered direct to your door. You would not be the first, nor the last, to do so.

 

When I saw the playful, unusual, and delightful color of this wine, I put it away in the cellar and put a note on it: OTBN (Open That Bottle Night). Months later, I spent days choosing a lengthy wine evening (nine+ bottles) and as I secured treasures from my cellar, I pulled this bottle out, wiped her clean, and put her squarely in the middle of the tasting: bottle #5. Part of me wanted to make this bottle #1, as with the recent steamy weather, it would be easy to start, continue, and end the evening on one wine -if only I had a case or more to play with. But with ten guests and one bottle,  everyone could get a fair pour, and that would be that. But it would be absolutely delicious!

 

 

‘Celebration’ Dinner wines. Not including the aperitif  Vinho Verde or additional after-dinner drinks, such as a 1962 Bas-Armagnac. 

 

Kevin Morrisey as a winemaker is quite similar to me as an audio engineer or production manager. In my world, the star gets what they need, everything in the production is highest quality,  done right, and the audience gets a PERFECT performance -the way show business is supposed to be. It doesn’t matter what happened on the way to the venue, during the load-in, or what technical issues might arise- anything could be in the way.  We overcome, and the audience gets the best show possible, period.
Similar to producing an event from a single idea, Kevin raises his “stars” from seedlings, grooms and cares for them with love on the vine, trimming the canopy for both protection and optimal sun exposure. He harvests them at the perfect time, uses the least intrusive measures (100% organic) to get the maximum result. He presses them with a champagne press. The wines see fermentation only in stainless steel, before bottling. No matter what happens during the growing season or after crush, he overcomes: his eye on the prize. Kevin treats this wine with both passion and scientific expertise, with love and the utmost of care- as he only wants to make sure the person who gets to drink his rosé will love the results and the message in the bottle. The best wine possible, period

There is a reason why this rosé is both priced comparatively with the finest rosé wines from Provence, France, and why it may be difficult to find months after release: This wine is just that damn good! Production size is low, and demand is high. And that’s why you should seek it and drink it. This is NOT the “drink me every day” rosé. To me, this is the engagement, anniversary, amazing dinner, or special event rosé. I call it like I see it, but you have to do the same.  Of course, if  YOU can secure a few cases, it could be the “drink me any day that ends in Y” rosé. If that’s the case… invite me over for a bottle!

à votre santé!

Make a Memory: Weingut Ziereisen Blauer Spätburgunder 2013 “Schulen”

25 Jul




#MWWC34

Unlike the rest of the writers who will submit entries for this Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, I have an unusual relationship with the word selected for this month’s topic, “Memory”.  I will assert that I am the only wine writer who has such a relationship with this word, “Memory”, which is also the title of the eleventh-hour song from the Broadway musical, CATS .  Subsequently, it was recorded in the 1980s by every diva who ever had a hit record. Oh yes, it haunts.

 

 

 

 

Cats, on Broadway. A show I mixed over 1600 times.

 

Over 1600 times.

 

So when anyone says “Memory” I have a different reaction than you do… I pause, I take a deep breath, I remember some amazing people, and a show I worked on for a very long time, a very long time ago.

Then, I mentally compartmentalize, and move on: from ancient history back to modern times!

 

So, moving on… to some wine memories. 

I’m going to share with you a memory I’d like to forget, one I cherish, and then we’ll make a new one.

Memory To Forget.
The bad comes first: being one of the fraud victims of the Hector Ortega/John Fox Premiere Cru Ponzi scheme. This calendar year, after years and years of carefully reading every document sent to me from the lawyers and judge, I got my settlement check, for pennies on the dollars stolen from me. I’d like to forget this… the funny thing is, I only had a backorder with them because they had proven to be a trusted good supplier at a decent cost, though it took months sometimes for the wines to arrive. So I’ve learned to tread lightly and never risk anything I’m not willing to lose (as what you buy, even if it exists and actually gets delivered, it might be flawed or corked already!) Too depressing? A good reason to forget, so let’s move on!

 

 

The Memory to Cherish: In 2016, I attended a reading of a new musical at a luxury home in Manhattan. The owner is a serious oenophile, and in addition to giving me a tour of his personal cellar, he shared with me an 1875 Madeira, and then opened a 1986 Chateau Margaux for me. Heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memory to Make: Open That Bottle.
I have been sitting on a German wine, a Blauer Spätburgunder (aka, Pinot Noir) from Weingut Ziereisen. Waiting for an excuse to open it. But finally, for #MWWC34, I am going to do so!

Weingut Ziersen Blauer Spätburgunder 2013 “Schulen”; Baden, Germany. 12.5%ABV. $35/bottle.

The color is a translucent garnet. The nose is expansive with deep, dark notes of black cherry, mocha, dried rose petals. On the palate, exquisite dark cherry and raspberry fruit  will start your experience; beautiful floral and grassy notes cross the top to back, while racy acid cross the side and rear palates. The luscious aromas connect from olfactory sensory down to the back of the tongue through the soft palate, extending the finish with a mineral/ limestone completion.

Matured in massive barriques, while both unrefined and unfiltered, it opens up beautifully and shows gorgeous expression, from the massive nose to the delicate fruit through to the limestone finish. Had I tasted this blind, I’m afraid I would have placed this in Burgundy! Bravo, in demonstrating the incredible art of winemaking. What a great “Open That Bottle”  bottle, I would have been afraid to open this with friends but now I KNOW I must do so to see if they share the same experience I do with this tremendous value.

 

 

 

Cheers- here’s to making more excellent wine memories!

 

 

“Let the memory live again”- “Memory”, CATS

à votre santé!

How Dry Is Alsace? Cuvée René Dopff Riesling

20 Jul

Dopff & Irion ‘Cuvée René Dopff’ Riesling 2015 Vin D’Alsace, Pfaffenheim, France. ABV 12%; MSRP $17/bottle.

 

Color is medium straw; the nose is floral blend of tulip, iris, and sweet honeysuckle. But the sweetness stops on the nose. On the palate, this is so deliciously dry! Gorgeous white peach, youthful pear and white stone fruits, with lively, flowing acidity, hint of almond, beautiful minerality, nary a hint of wood, but a tiny note of lemon peel on the finish.  This is so beautifully dry, such balanced flavor and acidity. It is never over the top; every sip is a mature, reserved, solid mouthfeel that makes me want another.

 

As for pairing, Cuvée René Dopff Reisling demonstrates how extremely flexible it is, coupling with  both high acid and rich, savory dishes. Baked goat cheese, bruschetta, and spinach bourekas in phyllo dough were great matches! It’s an obvious home run pairing for shellfish, raw or crudo, from sashimi to mussels to baked fish or delicate entrees. On a lark, I tried it with a beef stew my wife and I made; I assumed (incorrectly) that it would not be able to stand up to the powerful flavors of red meat. It turns out that the high acidity was a great choice with the huge number of vegetables in the stew, some sweet and some bitter, and could cleanse the palate while matching up with the various flavor profiles and make for a solid pairing.

 

I’m a fan of Alsace, and this wine is a perfect example of why: this wine is entirely hand-picked and sorted, pressed at low pressure, matured on the lees for four months before filtering, treated with such love, care and devotion- and it shows! This screams of the terroir of Alsace, of the brilliant, war-torn soils, the mineral layers, the subtle fruit profile, and of gentle, caring handling. And at this price, what’s not to love? Under $20 a bottle for a wine that is so beautifully demonstrative of the region and made by hand in one of the adored regions of France? Back up the truck, I need more than a few cases.

 

 

à votre santé!!

Esporão Quinto Dos Murças Minas 2015

18 Jul

Herdade do Esporão Quinto Dos Murças Minas 2015, DOC Douro, Portugal. ABV 14%, MSRP $25/bottle.

 

Color is a vibrant, warm purple center with violet edging. The nose proffers black plum, ripe cherry, and spice box with notes of topsoil, charred oak, and calceous clay. On the palate: red and black cassis, plum, then notes of violet, vanilla, leather, sand and slate.  Strong heat lingers across the top palate with grippy tannins across the side and rear. A nice aftertaste on the finish; lingering smoke and black cherry on the top of the mouth. 

 

Drinkable now as a great food-pairing wine (hello, Petiscos?)  but when this finishes harmonizing the elements, look out. This is going to drink gorgeously by itself, given the right amount of time in a cool, dark cave.

I paired this with a light mediterranean, late night dinner. The eggplant tahini I tried first didn’t make the wine shine at first. But, when I moved on to fresh vegetables and spicy turkish salad dip, this wine sang like a soprano center stage! Give her grilled meats or some hot summer spice, and wow- your tongue will be working overtime in pleasure. Likewise, I could easily see Spanish, Mexican, Indian or Thai being a killer pairing with this wine- I would love to try lamb vindaloo with this Douro blend, or find it in a Brazilian steakhouse!

What’s your favorite pairing with Douro reds? Grilled octopus? Fowl sausage? Porto Preto? Francesinha?  Soap de Cação?

à votre santé!

 

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