Friday, March 27, 2009

1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

For months I had been plotting a big Cabernet dinner at home. A few weeks ago I we finally put a date in the books and had a few friends over to open some of the first wines I started to collect which were from the 1999 vintage. We also had a few others with a 1997 Napa Cabernet and two top flight California Pinot Noirs. We had a great 4 course meal in a sit down format.


A great meal, but for simplicity's sake I will be brief. The real star of the meal (and focus of this blog) was the wine. The four courses in serving order were as follows:

Pear and gorgonzola mixed leaf salad
Sear Sea Scallops over Garlic and Butter Linguine
Beef Wellington & Herbed Fingerling Potatoes
Caramel & Apple Spice Cake


1999 Napa Cabernet Vertical
1999 Duckhorn Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA
1999 Cinq Cepages Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma, CA
1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA
1999 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

Non-1999 and Non-Cabernet
1997 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyards
2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, CA
2006 William Selyem Russian River Pinot Noir, Sonoma, CA
1997 Niepoort Porto Vintage Port Wine, Portugal

So, why the 1999's? I had no clue what I was doing when collecting wines until about the 1999 vintage. I had sporadically collected some 1997s and a few 1998s, both polar opposite vintages in quality. I was a little too late for 1997 and had to treasure hunt to find the 1997 wines I wanted (and could afford at the time as I was only about 25 years old - this is how I found ""). 1998 was a very wet and rainy vintage and the wines had showed to be thin and not all that great. Now, I do not want to be a vintage snob so I will say I have had some really good 1998 Napa Cabernet wines, but not many and most are now peaking or just past their peak.

Then I moved back to NY and that was when the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage from Napa Valley hit the market. It was a great vintage with wines characterized as well balanced, great fruit and concentration, with intact acid levels and ripe but firm tannins to provide a great backbone of structure. The only bad thing was it was a small crop and prices thus went up and they have not stopped going up. It was also probably the last full year before the majority of winemakers, especially new ones, started or in some cases tried to make big and ripe wines. By 2001 that style was en vogue: alcohol levels sky rocketed and acidity dropped from the wines. But 1999 is not that and a great classic Napa vintage. We all enjoyed these wines as they were nicely mellowed from age and showing the maturity of a nice Napa Cabernet.

Tasting Notes:

1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley)

Wow, still holding its own all these years. This was a great example of a '99 that retained a lot of its youth and structure. The flavor profile on this was darker fruits and bigger tannins than the other 1999 cabernet we consumed on 2/15.

Color: Dark opaque core, dark red edges.

Nose: Blackberry, dark plum, kirsch and rich oak aromas.

Palate: More blackberry, black cherry, black currants intertwined with some tobacco and leather. Big ripe tannins are receding. Nice and rich classic Napa finish...brought me back to tasting wine in Napa.

1999 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown (USA, California, Napa Valley)

OK, so this wine has some bad notes...(on - THE greatest place to catalog, find out maybe when to drink, and track your wine collection and tasting notes). Therefore I was not expecting much but was pleasantly surprised after an hour once the wine started to show signs of life and blossom. It was dead when I opened it, not aroma, little flavor. This first time I had this back in 2003 and it took about 4 hours for this wine to pop and reveal its aromas and flavors. This was my last bottle and was hoping for the best, what did I have to lose?!

The comments were pretty dire as being a dead wine. Upon opening and tasting this wine I got NOTHING. No aromas, minimal favors, and no finish. I had readied myself and was not too disappointed but I gave it another chance in a decanter before I used it to make the bordelaise sauce. I immediately decanted it and within 45 minutes it blossomed nicely and carried its weight through to the end 5 hours later. I was afraid it would not last based on how rapidly it opened up. This ended up being a crowd favorite: delicious, mellow and holding its own.

Color: Dark red core, lighter red/garnet edges

Nose: Sweet oak, cherries, sweet chocolate, whiffs of aged cabernet, but less than I expected.

Palate: More ripe cherries, aged herbal flavors like sage and sweet tobacco, a touch of leather, but rich oak and the cherries make this wine sing. Very mellow, smooth and polished.

I may have gotten lucky so drink up!

1999 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley)

Excellent. I was very surprised by how much it was still intact. It was drinking like it had 4-5 years of great drinking left. Youthful mocha and cherry, some more aged aromas and flavors of herbs and tobacco. Still kicking! I have one more bottle of this left and will be opening by the end of the year. Why not, it’s drinking great now. It’s probably too old to get any better and why risk it getting worse?

Color: Medium red center, ruby edges

Nose: Aged notes of cedar, leather and dried red fruits

Palate: Youthful mocha and cherry, some more aged aromas and flavors of herbs and tobacco.

1999 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cepages (USA, California, Sonoma County)

Initially when released this wine was very complex and structured - it has paid well its dividends. In fact, it still is a very structured wine and I think it can easily go at least another 5-7 years and still retain some of its youth. My initial impression was that it could have used a decant - I would be prepared to do so if you are to open one soon. I was all out with my other 3 decanters in use. It was however open for 2 hours before it was even dented.

Color: Dark core, purple black, dark red edges - by eye I would swear this was a 2004 or later!

Nose: Tight, hinting at first of currants and cherries, some earth, cigar wrapper - an almost rawness to the nose - very complex. Needs a decant, had 3 already in use for our dinner party!

Palate: Immediately you taste the complexity and depth this wine has maintained. Cassis and black cherry, cigar wrapper, a nice herbal component I could not put my finger on. Great, long finish. Give this wine some time to either age more or open up fully...please be patient with this one!

1997 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyards (USA, California, Napa Valley)

My last bottle of this too! Delicious and showing very well still. Opened for 2 hours, no decant as it showed well from the bottle.

Color: Dark red, ruby edges

Nose: Rich cherries and red currants, some spice and a touch of age.

Palate: Youthful fruit still remains, tannins are supple and soft. Full of cherries, currants, cedar and some sage in the background. Supple fine tannins finish this off quite nicely!

2004 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Southing (USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills)

I absolutely love this wine. I think that Sea Smoke makes my favorite Pinot from the new world, it’s unlike anything from Burgundy (which I also love but you can't compare them as they are different in every way soup-to-nuts). Rich but not weighty, complex and structured, generously reveals layers of flavors. I would open at least 1 hour before consuming, 2 if you can stand it! This wine is really starting to hit its stride, can easily go another 3-5 years or so.

Color: Dark black/red core, dark ruby edges.

Nose: Rich crushed black cherries, black raspberry, spice and oak.

Palate: Ripe cherries, black raspberry, some ripe blueberry notes, a touch of mocha from the oak. Long 45+ second finish!

2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley)

Man this went fast! Very easy to drink and very tasty! Lots of cherry and acidity keep you coming back.

Color: Ruby red, light red edges.

Nose: Cherries, lots of cherries and sweet oak, maybe a touch of dried cranberry. Surprising strength considering its lighter color.

Palate: Rich ripe cherries, sweet oak, some earthy loaminess. Not overly complex, but very enjoyable and tasty.

1997 Niepoort Porto Vintage (Portugal, Douro, Porto)

Based on my research on this wine I had to open it at least 12 hours, I figured 24 hours would do!

2/14 4PM:
Initial Observation: Opened at for consumption on 2/15 for post dinner. Resealed with an airtight artificial sealer gizmo that pumps out the air. Dark center with ruby red edges with the slightest tinge of brown. Very vibrant but a tad cloudy after 24 hours upright. This Port indeed has a lot of life left from the initial observation. Red fruits and spicy cedar on the nose. A bit of bite on the first taste. Not overly sweet at all. The sweetness is in harmony with the fruit, alcohol and tannins. I will try to buy vintage port going forward! Superb red berry finish.

2/15 2pm:
Alcohol still bites but the cedar and red fruits have enhanced and more of the classic port aromas come through.

2/15 9pm:
Started to consume after dinner with Lisa’s amazing dessert. The group loved it as most it was their first vintage port. You can tell the pedigree by the composition. Rich, complex, still very youthful.

Overall assessment: DO NOT touch this for at least 10 years! It was delicious but still very tight as its still too young.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Etude "Heirloom" Pinot Noir, 2003 Carneros, Napa Valley

This bottle was really singing tonight! A very solid wine example of the Etude single vineyard Pinot regime. Well made start to finish. Stood up and brought to room temperature for about 30 minutes before opening. Immediately it was impressive and after an hour grew more complex. Mellowed with time, this could easily go another 5 years as it was still chock full of complexity and concentration, yet smooth as silk. I remember initially having this wine and remembering it was a big wine that would need time to mellow out.
I picked this up with a few other bottles of the 2003 and this was my last bottle. It was an extraordinary wine and as I type this can smell strawberry wafting up from the glass about 14 inches from my face. This is an exceptional wine that is a big step up from the standard Carneros Etude that retails for about $30-40. For tat amount of money you can do better for Pinot. However in some cases this wine, since it’s so rare, can be picked up auction for a really good price. In retail forget it, this is probably $80 plus! GHAST...I just went to the winery webpage and it was $90! I think I paid about $70 at the time in 2005 for it at the winery. The Temblor and Deer Camp are a much more palatable $60. I have a few lying down but they are probably getting ready to go soon.
Color: Dark red center turning light ruby at the edges, very vibrant color.
Nose: Classic Pinot aromas of cherry, silky strawberry dusted with a touch of mocha and a hint of sublet cinnamon spice and I said, very complex.
Palate: Silky smooth start to finish with a nice touch of acidity. Strawberry and cherry flavors fan out into ever so slightly spicy cedar and earthy notes of mushroom and earth.


P.S.: I am planning on getting the notes up for the 1999 vintage Napa Cabernet tasting up soon! As well as a big night out at the wine bar Terroir in wine bar experience I have to say I have ever had!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Castano Monastrell 2007, Yecla, Spain VALUE RED $6.99-8.99

Monastrell or Mourvèdre? It is in fact the same grape varietal. Mourvèdre is the French name and Monastrell the Spanish derivation. It is an interesting grape because it has a natural compound that is resistant to oxidation and the best examples can age for 50 years easy. Rose from Domaine Tempier in Bandol has been known to age and taste quite youthful after 25 years! It is in fact my favorite Rose and to me the standard by which all Rose should be judged, but enough of France as this is a Spanish version! In fact speaking of Spain the grape was/is sometimes also called Mataro and many think that was its origin. It spread east to Provence and reaches its apex in Bandol, near Provence in the south of France on the Mediterranean coast.

Color: Dark red center, lighter edges

Nose: Spicy raspberry and plum, some gamy notes, smelled like a nicely aromatic Cote du Rhone

Palate: This is ready to go. Very generous similar flavors to the nose. More jammy mixed berries though. Clean finish, though simple without much acidity or tannin. Great quaffer for a mid-week splash of vino!


Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Bottle of White, A Bottle of Red...

This week we had two wines worth blogging about that stuck out for being the opposites. One was white while the other was red. One was a value wine, the other not a value per se, but under $40. One was from the New World, the other about as Old World as you get. The two wines?

N.V. Sokol Blosser Evolution No. 9 (USA, Oregon) $13.99 (up to 16.99)

Bridge Wine

Our first encounter with Evolution No. 9 was at dinner with a group of friends and we wanted a cheap white with some oomph to get us through the first course where most had scallops, shrimp, or 3 cheese polenta. A Chardonnay was not going to cut it and I did not want a Sauvignon Blanc, steel or barrel fermented. To me this was a great “bridge wine”; it had to carry a bit more weight. We were drinking wine at a wine bar before hand: Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah, and our palates were broken in pretty well from those heavy wines. A lighter wine was not going to cut it to bridge our palates from the initial big red wines to the big reds we’d be having at dinner. We wanted wine, not water. The Evo 9 fit the bill perfectly! That was a few weeks ago and I finally went out and bought a few bottles to stock the wine fridge.

And then some...Notes

OK, this is somewhat of a guilty pleasure wine but it reminds me of Conundrum, at a lower cost (I only paid 13.99) and a bit more versatile as the touch of sweetness mid-palate can go nicely with spicier Asian foods.

Color: Pale straw
Nose: White peach, lychee, lemon zest and slightly floral
Palate: Juicy, mouthwatering blend of tropical and citrus fruits. Sweet lemon and peach flavors are pinged with floral and pineapple notes. The finish is dry and crisp drawing you into another sip or bite of scallop or shrimp!

2004 Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino (Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino) $24.00 (typically $35-40)

I swear this is my favorite Rosso no matter how many others I try. Classic aromas, flavors and finish! Lisa and I visited this winery on our trip to Italy back in the fall of 2005. We had dinner there and fell in love with their wines. They were so cheap, even with the Euro conversion. This is our last bottle, and unfortunately they are NOT cheap in the US. I found some a few years back and got a good bulk discount at $19/bottle. Because of weight concerns I only bought Brunello back from the trip as I figured the Rosso would be a steal back home. Unfortunately it’s double that price in stores, but it will definitely satisfy even the stingiest Italian wine critic.

A “Rosso” di Montalcino is made from the Sangiovese Grosso grape just like its big brother “Brunello” di Montalcino. But, for a “Rosso” di Montalcino the grapes and the juice are declassified and not bound for bottling as Brunello or in to a Super Tuscan.

Color: Dark red center changing to maroon and vibrant ruby edges
Nose: Cherry, crushed flowers, some leather, and aromatic spice and cedar.
Palate: Cherry, a sweet-tartness to the cherry, some cedar, great texture and mouth feel, perfect acidity!

Cheers and drink responsibly!

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