Sunday, November 30, 2014

Birthday wine treat....and another treat, and another, and another....

Last Sunday was my 45th birthday; in celebration, we booked a suite at River Rock Resort and had a nice dinner party at Tramonto restaurant with some family and good friends.

But before dinner, we met a friend for lunch at Cactus Club and decided to splurge a little on a special bottle to get the day started right!

2012 Black Hills Nota Bene ($55 at winery; $90 at restaurant)

I previously reviewed this one here, My opinion has not changed. It was terrific then, it's terrific now.

We arrived at our suite a couple of hours early and brought along some beautiful bottles of wine to celebrate with. While it was just my wife and I, we finally decided to find out what a wine that received a perfect score of 100 from renowned critic Robert Parker tasted like!

Turnbull Cellars 2010 Fortuna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($109)

“The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Fortuna Vineyard is perfection! This extraordinary wine offers up notes of creme de cassis, graphite, truffles, blueberries and blackberries as well as a colossal mouth feel with no sense of heaviness, layer upon layer of fruit and glycerin, astonishing purity and a finish that is at least 50 seconds. A magnificent effort that should turn out to be one of the great modern classics of Napa Valley, it should age effortlessly for two to three decades.”
- Robert Parker

Do I agree with Mr. Parker that this wine is perfect? No; but it's pretty damn great. The fruit just explodes in your mouth, and the finish is so long that I'm pretty sure my palate isn't done with it yet, and we drank it a week ago! It truly is superb; can't even imagine that it would get better with age, but it should. It's already spectacular. It's right up there with the best red wines I've ever had. 96.

Off to dinner where we ordered another beauty that I hadn't seen before:

Aces 2007 Pocket Aces Syrah ($95.00)

Your nose might notice some cold cuts and black cherry. Lots of fruit on the palate, with just enough pepper. Full bodied with moderate acidity. Beautiful. 93.

After dinner we went back up to the suite to continue the party, and we cracked open another one that I had purchased last week.

La Rioja Alta 2004 ViƱa Ardanza Reserve ($40.00)

80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha (Grenache). A very expressive nose of chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Balanced and well-structured, the Garnacha brings just a tiny bit of juiciness that balances the Tempranillo nicely. Lovely but would have been better to accompany some aged cheese or red meat. 90.

My "birthday weekend" continued on Sunday, when we reached deep into the cellar for this one which we picked up in Napa this past September:

Silver Oak 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($175.00)

Intense and brooding, this is an excellent example of what a nicely aged Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley can be. Blackberries and chocolate with a hint of floral on the nose. Very rich and juicy palate, with some nutmeg joining in with the berries. 93.

My "birthday weekend" morphed in "birthday week" and we've also enjoyed these:

Quails' Gate 2012 Rosemary's Block 25th Anniversary Series Chardonnay ($40.00)

Citrus and apple on the nose and palate. Oaked, but very subtle. Not huge and buttery like this winery's traditional Chardonnays. 89.

And let's not forget this one:

Belle Glos Meiomi 2013 Pinot Noir ($27.00)

From Caymus. Rich garnet in colour. Strawberries hit your nose like a hurricane. A touch of vanilla comes along for the ride. Cherry, plum and a bit of cola on the palate. Lovely and a nice bargain at this price point. 89.

Or this one:

2012 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay ($28.99)

Orange, apricots, marzipan and citrus all mingle amongst your senses. Finishes fruity and beautifully. 90.

And a couple of "cheapies" we've enjoyed this week:

Kalala 2012 Aspire ($19.99)

Red blend comes on strong but fades a bit at the end. Juicy with lots of fruit. 83.

Kalala 2013 Harmony White ($13.95)

Much better than the price might indicate. An intriguing blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Auxerrois. Slightly off dry, fruity and refreshing. 86.

And, I might as well give one more review. This is the wine I am enjoying while typing this blog!

2013 Black Hills Chardonnay ($29.90)

An exceptional growing year and this wine has tons of potential. Further aging is necessary to really bring it to it's full potential. Notes of apple and citrus. Not a ton of oak. If you like your Chardonnay on the lighter side, this is for you. Should age gracefully until 2018 or 2019 at least. 88.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lots of great stuff, including some really aged Syrah!

Some really nice stuff enjoyed recently, including one that was recommended to me from a staff member at Liberty Wines in North Van last weekend. We'll start with that one:

White Oak 2002 Syrah ($19.99)

12 year old Syrah from Napa Valley? Yeah you betcha, real good now. Strong aromas of berries quickly give way to chewy, earthy, meaty notes on the palate. Thick and viscous and delicious. Would have been absolutely perfect to pair with a charcuterie board, but it also went very well with the roast beef sandwich I had with it last night. 89.

Black Hills 2011 Chardonnay ($35)

Lightly oaked and less buttery than previous (and later) incarnations. Fruity and bold with apple and citrus notes. Drinking very nicely now. 89.

Cedarcreek 2012 Chardonnay ($18.95)

Some pineapple and lemon on the nose. Strong flavors of citrus and a hint of butterscotch on the palate. Very good at this price point. 88.

Gray Monk 2013 Kerner ($17.99)

Bright lemon in colour with notes of lemon and butter on the nose. Ranges from 'off-dry' to 'sweet' depending on your definition. Drinks very well on it's own and would pair beautifully with vegetables or lobster. 88.

Quails' Gate 2010 Old Vines Foch ($24.99)

Full bodied and rich, with notes of cherries and chocolate on the nose. Some tobacco, cherry and cinnamon on the palate. Gamey as this varietal tends to be. 85.

Tinhorn Creek 2012 Pinot Gris ($18.99)

Pears, apples, tropical fruit and peaches all intermingle on your nose and your palate. Balanced acidity. Lingering notes of green apple and lime on the finish. Beautiful. 91.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Value wines! The best $20 and under wines out there.

Regular readers of my blog know I tend not to gravitate to cheap wines....some would go so far as to call me a "wine snob". I can live with that, it's probably accurate, but I cringe when someone suggests I go out of my way to buy expensive wine. I want GOOD wine. You think I ENJOY spending big bucks on wine? You think I wouldn't love to buy a $9 box of Hochtaler and go to town? Or a case of Apothic? Unfortunately that stuff is crap. Crap with a capital KRAAAAAAAAAAP.

But there are good wines out there at a reasonable price, if you search hard enough. Here are nine of my favorites. I've tried to stick mostly to current or recent vintages so you might actually be able to find some of these in local stores.

Church & State 2012 TreBella Red ($19.99)

The first ever-vintage of this red Meritage and they nailed it right out of the gate. Aromas of black cherry and black currant waft over the nose. Black fruits dominate the palate with just a touch of chocolate on the finish. For a first try, TreBella Red is exceptional. 90.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99)

An absolute steal at this price point. Immediately jumps to the top of my "cheap wines" list. Big red fruits on the nose and palate, with some coffee, chocolate and vanilla as well. Drinks beautifully but not a traditionally Cab Sauv; almost seems like there should be some Merlot and/or Syrah in there, which there isn't. 89.

Pine Ridge 2013 Chenin Blanc/Viognier ($18.99) 80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier. What a truly unique blend. Notes of melon, lemon and honey on the nose, with some papaya and a hint of grapefruit on the palate. Subtle sweetness and crisp acidity. Lovely, a real bargain at this price. 89.

***This one was $18.99 in Napa; I've recently found it in local stores and it's $26.99, so it is really only on this list on a technicality. Still, even at $27, it's worth the money.

Quails' Gate 2013 Gewurztraminer ($17.99)
I think I've mentioned this before, this wine was "the one" to get me into wine. Subtle notes of rose petals and lychee on the nose. Slight hint of spice on the mid-palate, giving way to a smooth and off-dry finish. 89.

Cedarcreek 2013 Riesling ($17.95)

At only 9.9% alcohol, it's a sure thing you'll want to enjoy two bottles. Maybe three. Slate and fruit on the nose and palate. Citrus joins in on the palate leading to a smooth finish. Beauty. 91.

2011 Quinta Ferreira Viognier ($19.90) Tropical fruits, peach, coconut and a touch of vanilla on the nose and the palate. Pineapple all over the palate as well. Delicately balanced with a finish that is both smooth and spicy. Brilliant. 90.

Renwood 2011 Zinfandel ($17.95)

Excellent complexity on this wine; lots of things going on. Notes of plum and berries, with the jammy feel you often get with Zinfandel, but not overly so. Finishes very smooth and the tannins have softened nicely, this is ready to go right now. Very yummy. 86.

Wolf Blass 2012 Red Label Shiraz/Cabernet ($18.99) The 2011 vintage was recently listed on Natalie McLean's list of the 20 best wines under $20, and I can attest this vintage is just as good. Medium bodied and luscious; berries on the nose and in the glass. The Shiraz adds just a touch of spice to the finish. Pairs great with any big red meat. 87.

Cedarcreek 2010 Cabernet Merlot ($19.95) Cherries and berries galore on the nose and palate. 21% Cabernet Franc brings just a touch of sweetness and mint to the table. Plums shine through on the palate as well. Juicy and terrific. 86.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A dinner party with some SERIOUS wine!

Apologies for the lack of updates lately, lots of other stuff going on. I'll try to get the blog updated more frequently!

Had some friends over for dinner on Saturday for a 5-course meal complete with appropriate wine pairings. First course was Caesar salad paired with:

Cedarcreek 2013 Platinum Reserve Block 3 Riesling

Previously reviewed here.

Course 2 was intended to be Brown Butter Risotto with Lobster....but when I opened up the lobster (that I had bought just the day before) it had a rather foul odour, so I wasn't going to take a chance on killing everyone at dinner (except for my wife who doesn't eat seafood...but she would have had quite a mess to clean up!), so I substituted some tiger prawns for the lobster. It worked just fine. Paired with:

Mer Soleil 2012 Reserve Chardonnay ($35)

Rich and creamy, with tasty notes of pineapple and coconut intermingling with butterscotch and citrus. An absolute steal at this price. 93.

Next up a recipe I had never made before, Stuffed Butternut Squash. Intriguing and this was the suggested pairing:

Caymus 2010 Zinfandel ($45.00)

Dark ruby/purple in colour. Blackberry jam and black currants on the nose and palate. Jammy but not overly so. A touch of chocolate on the finish. Lovely. My favorite Zin to this point. 91.

We took a small break to rest our stomachs before continuing, and while we took a break from food, we did not take one from wine! We opened up our last bottle of a wine we will never see again:

Quails' Gate 2008 Syrah/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.00)

A wine I had never heard of until we received one in our latest Club shipment. After tasting it, I ordered the last few bottles from the wine shop. I've never seen this anywhere, not even on the menu at their restaurant, Old Vines, which is where their library wines reside. It's a lovely wine, with berries front and centre accompanied by just a touch of pepper and mint to round it out. I'm going to miss this one. 90.

And, for the main event of the evening, pairing with Filet Mignon in a Mixed Berry Demi glaze:

Mission Hill 2007 Oculus ($80)

50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Dark fruits, violets and a touch of smoke on the nose. Raspberry, chocolate, cassis and spice come together on the palate. Seemingly endless finish. A real triumph of winemaking. It's amazing now, but probably has another 5-6 years in it. 95.

And just in case that wasn't enough great wine for one evening, paired with dessert of No-Bake Pineapple Cheesecake, the (still) only 100-point wine I've ever tasted:

2012 N'kmip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine ($60)

Previously reviewed here.

A terrific night of food and wine, and great friends. It doesn't get much better than that!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Napa Wine Tour: Joseph Phelps!

Sorry for the delay in posting the last two entries from our Napa wine tour; I've been fighting the flu this week and losing quite badly. Anyway, hopefully it is going to start subsiding sometime in the next few days. Hopefully.

For now, my notes on some terrific wine we enjoyed at Joseph Phelps. They are undergoing a massive and I mean MASSIVE re-doing of their tasting room, and they have us in a temporary location, but even so, they have gone out of their way to ensure a comfortable, first-class tasting experience.

Tasting here isn't cheap (where in Napa IS it cheap?), but it's worth it for a large and tasty lineup of wines, including two vintages of their high-end signature wine, Insignia.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($35.00)

Aromas of honey, orange and lemon. Fruity with very balanced acidity. 87.

2012 Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyards ($55.00)

Floral notes intertwined with stone fruits and oak. Beautifully lush mouthfeel. Well balanced and buttery with a spectacular long finish. 90.

2012 Viognier ($35.00)

Peaches and stone fruits on the nose and palate. Light and fruity. To me, Viognier has to be just perfect to get my attention, and although this one is nice, it doesn't knock me over. 85.

2010 Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Vineyard ($75.00)

Raspberry, blueberries, savory herbs and earth on the nose and palate. A touch of mocha and spice on the finish. Lovely and if you prefer your Pinot Noir a tad bit on the earthy side, this is for you. 89.

2012 Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast ($55.00)

Almost purple in colour, very fruity and delicious. Blueberries, cassis and a touch of spice. Black cherry and a bit of forest as well. Long, persistent finish. Just beautiful. 90.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70.00)

Maybe the wine most of us know this winery for. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot and Petit Verdot to round it out. The nose brings some leather, tobacco, blueberries and cigar box. The palate is greeted by plums and cherries, with some leather and fresh thyme. As with most good Napa Cabs, this one needs a while in the bottle to fully develop to it's true potential. But, oh, what potential. 89.

2011 Insignia ($225.00)

82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc. 100% impressive.

Strong notes of blueberry, strawberry and blackberry. A hint of tobacco. Silkiest mouthfeel imaginable; coats your entire mouth beautifully. Will age gracefully for a decade or more but it's already drinking very well. 93.

2006 Insignia ($240.00)

Some will argue "at that price, it BETTER be good" and I guess that's true, but any wine lover knows that price is not always a true representation of quality.

This one is 95% Cab Sauv with 5% Petit Verdot. Inky and opaque in colour. Lots of black fruit and strawberry on the nose and palate. Some graphite, cocoa and cola on the palate. Smooth, beautiful finish. Superb. 94.

Another beautiful experience that I would recommend to all of you going to Napa. And all the wines are good, so if you see them in stores near you, snap them up!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Napa Wine Tour: Silver Oak!!

Along with our tour at Opus One, this was the event we were most looking forward to, a food and wine pairing at Silver Oak. Called the "Silver Wine and Food Pairing", it is limited to eight guests but we were all on our own; well, actually, there were three of us eating, as one of their employees ate with us as she guided us through the pairings. We were also fortunate to meet the chef, who came up to introduce himself and present us with the food.

The food was fabulous and each plate was a perfect pairing with the wine it was 'assigned' to. What a different proper food pairing can make to wine. If you are skeptical, find an event like this and try it. You won't be skeptical anymore.

On to the wine, two from Silver Oak and two from their sister winery, Twomey (pronounced Toomey).

2012 Twomey Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50.00)

Some strawberry, blueberry and nutmeg on the nose. Slight note of coffee on the palate. Finishes well. Tannins are strong; aging or decanting recommended to really allow it to open. 89.

2010 Twomey Cellars Merlot ($58.00)

Black cherry, chocolate, tobacco and herbs on the nose and palate. Velvety mouthfeel. Coats your mouth and tongue generously. Will age beautifully for a decade or more. 89.

2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70.00)

Blueberry, blackberry, cassis and a hint of coffee on the nose. Blackberries and black cherry on the palate. Finishes long and beautifully. Already drinking well and as always, properly age it and you will not be sorry. 92.

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($110.00)

An intriguing nose of jam and coffee, nutmeg and flowers. Coats your mouth with berries and pleasure. Already drinking well but like most of their wines, built to improve with age. Could probably improve for two decades or close to it. It's delicious already. 95

Another great feature of this winery is their library; they have an extensive list of older wines from all their vineyards for purchase. We walked out with three aged bottles: 2003 and 2007 from their Napa Vineyard, and this beauty which we cracked open at Catal at Downtown Disney:

1999 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($130.00)

Intense notes of cassis, leather, tobacco and fig. Still lots of fruit on the palate, with some herbs and a touch of tobacco. Long, lingering finish. Drinking absolutely beautifully. I can't imagine it would improve much with further aging. 95.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Napa Wine Tour : Robert Mondavi!!

Regular readers will recognize the name "Mondavi" from other blog posts, including my post on Opus One, but not every Mondavi is equal. We arrived at our semi-private tour/tasting and were able to taste quite a few of their offerings.

Our "welcome" wine was given to us early in tour....keep in mind it was about 1.8 million degrees out (with the humidity) so it was probably not quite as cool as it should have been.

2012 Fume Blanc ($20.00)

Some of us would know this as "White Meritage" or "White Bordeaux". A blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. Grassy notes intertwined with some peach and lime. Well balanced acidity. Finishes long. 86.\

2007 Napa Valley Merlot ($21.99)

Notes of blueberries and vanilla on the nose. This is a strange one; already 7 years old but seems closed off. Our tour guide suggested this could age for another 30 years, which is unheard of in a Napa Valley Merlot. I think he may be right, or at least close. 88.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($125.00)

Strong notes of blackberry on the nose. The palate gives way to black cherry, cola and tobacco. Absolutely beautiful now and a few more years in the bottle will only make it better. 94.

2012 PNX Pinot Noir ($55.00)

Juicy and fruity notes with cherry and blackberry notes. Finishes long and lingering. Aging would inhance. 88.

At the end of our tour, we attempted to buy a couple bottles of the '07 Merlot for aging, only to find out that the area we were tasting in was out of them! They had some in the wine store but that was closed and wouldn't open until the morning. As an apology, they gave us (yes GAVE US) a bottle of this:

2013 Moscato D'oro ($25.00 for half a bottle)

Peach, lychee and a touch of honey on the nose, joined by some honey and orange blossom on the palate. Incredibly rich and decadent, a perfect after-dinner wine for those of you who may not want the sweetness of an ice wine. 87,

A couple days ago we were in a local liquor store and noticed this one which we didn't get a chance to taste during our tour:

2009 Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay ($35.00 CAD)

Pears, peach and butterscotch on the nose and palate. Not overly buttery, but the oaky notes are there. Some light notes of minerality. 86.

Sometimes big name wineries get more press than they deserve, but so far my experience with Robert Mondavi suggests that they are a big name for a reason!!

Napa Wine Tasting - Caymus Vineyards

This is one I was particularly looking forward to, as we knew that virtually everything we were likely to taste is very easy to get back home, so the only question was, would it be worth getting back home? Let's see.

Caymus is a well-known brand, but what may be less-known is that they have several other labels under their umbrella, including:

Belle Glos
Mer Soleil

We were welcomed with a glass of 2012 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay. What a way to start. I would suggest at the price point, this is as good a Chardonnay as you can find. I've reviewed this previously as we've enjoyed it many times.

We are taken into the old Wagner house where we are presented with four wines to taste.

2013 Belle Glos Dairyman Vineyard Pinot Noir ($44.00)

Black cherry and toasty oak on the nose and palate. Slightly off-dry with a bold and long finish. Lovely now but a little more time in the bottle is called for to reach it's full potential. 86.

2012 Caymus Zinfandel ($38.00)

Dark ruby in colour. Powerful aromas of blackberry jam, with currants, chocolate and black cherry as well. Silky mouthfeel and well balanced acidity. One of my favorite of this varietal. 89.

2012 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60.00)

Jammy berries on the nose and palate. Long, enjoyable finish. If you are drinking it now, serve it with a big meal of red meat. Will undoubtedly improve a lot with a little more time. 90.

2009 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($130.00)

Almost purple in colour, with tobacco and leathery notes on the nose. Touches of chocolate, cold cuts, vanilla and spice on the palate. This is one of those wines that is good to drink now but if you really want to experience it, lay it down for another 7-10 years. 91.

An excellent experience at a top Napa winery. Big fan of all their wines. It was pretty easy to leave the winery without purchasing any, since we had border exemption limits to deal with and we can get all of these wines in our local stores quite easily. We already have several of them in our library.