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Archive for ‘Discovering wines from Napa California’

Raise a glass – Mondavi celebrates 100 years!

Posted by Susan

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

As a part of its centenary celebration, and recognizing the life and work of its founder, the Robert Mondavi Winery hosted a luncheon and tasting at the Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa.  I was delighted to be part of this special event to mark the major milestone.  The afternoon’s wine tasting was led by Mark de Vere, Mondavi’s Director and Master of Wine, who moved to Napa Valley California from the U.K. shortly after completing his WSET and Master of Wine certification.

The talented Chef Louis Simard of the Château Laurier created an innovative, intricate series of dishes featuring local produce and expertly paired with each wine:

Asparagus Salad with charred tomato, home-made ricotta, pickled egg, basil-mint vinaigrette
Smoked Salmon Rillette with grilled baguette on a bed of baby arugula
Duck Confit with Ermite blue cheese, brioche crostini, sherry-rhubarb reduction
Cardamom-Mushroom, Rubbed Lamb Sirloin & Aged Striploin  graced with lima bean cassoulet, red wine jus
Blueberry Goat Cheese Cake

Why not test out the menu yourself with these Mondavi wines – all available at the LCBO.

 

Considered as one of Robert Mondavi’s signature wines – Napa Valley Fumé Blanc (LCBO #221887, $22.95) – was first released in 1968 as an endeavour by Mr. Mondavi to redefine California Sauvignon Blanc from a sweet, unnuanced wine to one endowed with a rich, round texture complemented by a lively, fresh texture. The 2010 vintage served at the tasting certainly hit the mark, displaying beautiful aromas of tropical fruits, lime, a whiff of honeyed floral notes and a touch of nutty toast. The first sip brought out the concentrated fruit and round texture, while the crisp acidity ensured a juicy, finely balanced finish.

The wine continued to evolve in the glass, showcasing tantalizing aromas of crème brulée. The Fumé Blanc was followed by the 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay (LCBO #310409, $25.95), a fruit-focused wine with attractive aromas of orchard fruit, pineapple and vanilla. Dry, bright and smooth, the wine again featured that fine balance of ripe fruit, well-integrated oak and fresh acidity, finishing with a touch of warmth and candied citrus.

 

The spotlight turned to the red wines featuring the Carneros Pinot Noir 2011 (LCBO #438697 $34.95), vinified to accent the ripe berry fruit, picked early to retain its freshness, then aged 10 months in French oak. Showcasing luscious cherry/berry fruit aromas, notes of smoke and spice, this is a warm, fleshy Pinot Noir, where the intensely flavoured ripe fruit is again balanced with lively acidity. Dry and spicy, it finishes with a touch of peppery warmth.

The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (LCBO #255513, $34.95, available to June 23 for $31.95) is inky purple and tantalizingly rich, offering complex aromas of dark fruit, vanilla, licorice, spiced chocolate and a hint of herbs. Blended with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Mark described it as a ‘classic Napa Valley Cab’, a well-balanced dry wine with perceptible tannins framing tasty black fruit, replaying the notes of herb and licorice on a finish that offers a whisper of well-integrated oak.

The third red wine was the Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (the 2008 is available in the LCBO, 670463, $144.95), produced from fruit harvested from the To Kalon Vineyard. Designed for aging yet absolutely fabulous now, this is a deep, powerful wine characterized by plush, ripe black fruit, supple yet well-structured tannins, clean acidity and lovely nuances of spicy floral notes, chocolate, dried herbs and spiced vanilla. A rich, lush, harmonious wine.

The tasting closed with the Robert Mondavi Winery’s Moscato d’Oro 2009 (LCBO #687392, $17.95, currently available for $14.90), a wine with the winery’s classic intensity and depth of flavour, beautifully fragrant and crisp, Lovely notes of natural grape juice, fruit salad and honeyed peach are lifted by a gentle touch of spritz. Simply delightful! 

 

Here’s to 100 years of Mondavi wines…and many more to come.

Cheers!

-Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I died & went to Harlan Estate Winery …

Posted by Wayne

Monday, March 12th, 2012

My original good intention for my second “killer” wine “To Die For” in this blog series was going to be a highly revered white, probably from Chateau Montelena. But “the best laid plans o’ mice and … sommeliers … “gang aft agley” after a visit to a private collector’s wine cellar and the quaffing of “first growth fruit”.  The wine that is the inspiration for this change of heart is one of a group of wines grown in California that are known as “Cult” wines.

“Cult” wines refers to any of the “typically but not exclusively Cabernets” for which collectors, investors and highly enthusiastic consumers will pay very high prices.  The producers of such wines in California include Araujo Estate, Bryant Family, Caymus, Colgin Cellars, Dalla Valle, Diamond Creek, Dominus Estate, Dunn Vineyards – Howell Mountain, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Hundred Acre, Kistler, Saxum Vineyards, Marcassin, Ovid, Scarecrow, Screaming Eagle, Opus One, Shafer Hillside Select, Sine Qua Non and Sloan.These wines are generally very expensive and are in limited production (often fewer than 600 cases per year) and can command several times their “release price” upon release. This also generally means that the wine releases are allocated to certain customers who pay a substantial membership fee to the Winery for the privilege of purchasing these highly sought-after vintages.  – courtesy of Wikipedia.

As loudly as any wine produced from Burgundian acreage or any Bordeaux bastion might claim product superiority – because of its Premier Cru status (this literally means “First Growth” and refers to the status of wines produced on these fields as “the best of the best”) – the wine profiled in this entry proudly claims excellence in its own right as a product of its proprietor’s intent: “To produce a California “First Growth” from the hills of Oakville (California).” – H. William Harlan

My Second “To Die For” wine …

I would agree with Jancis Robinson when she says, “About the Harlan Estate, I had written impetuously, ‘Why doesn’t all wine taste like this?'”.

Harlan Estate 2002, Napa (Oakville)

From an elevation of 225′ to 1225′,  Harlan Estate Winery rises above the fabled Oakville Bench in the Western Hills of Oakville California. Sitting on both
 sedimentary and volcanic rock, the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.  It produces 2 wines: The Harlan Estate red blend and its Bordeax-style sibling, The Maiden.

Honed from the natural landscape of Oakville by its mentor and progenitor, H. William Harlan, it is staffed by a by a long-serving, talented team of winemakers and agriculturalists who have embraced the vision of producing a First Growth California wine from the location and terroir of the winery.

A Real Estate Developer and Resort Owner, Harlan purchased this 230-acre property, a forested area, with steep hillsides, multiple elevations and exposures, west of Martha’s Vineyard in Oakville and cleared 30 acres for viticulture (wine grape growing).

Winemaker, Robert Levy has been working with Harlan since 1983 when Harlan took part in founding the Merryvale Winery. Since 1989 the estate has retained Michel Rolland as consultant oenologist. Construction of the current winery was completed in 2002.

Harlan Estate Winemaking

Perfection in wine does not occur happenstance.

Robert Levy, another UC Davis graduate, has been with Harlan almost since its inception and arrived on-scene with experiences at other Napa well-knowns like 
Merryvale, Rombauer and Cuvaison. Robert immediately bought into the “First Growth” philosophy from the start; however, it is not only his direction that has developed the inspiration of Harlan Estate.

Michel Rolland, World renowned Bordeaux Consultant, has made significant ongoing contributions to the Harlan Estate mantra. This collective, forward-moving approach to making fine wine has contributed to Harlan Estates being compared to Chateau Latour and Chateau Haut Brion (Michel Jamais).

What are these conditions capable of?

Harlan Estate might be the single most profound red wine made not just in California, but in the world.” – Robert Parker on Harlan Estate Bordeaux
 
Harlan Estate 2002 is one of those wines that can just be left with the expression, “Wow!”, that everyone utters after experiencing it. Its powerful complexity and concentration and perfect balance navigate in a texture that is pure silk and elegance. When you drink, you don’t wonder how it got to this level of satisfaction and pleasure, but you do wonder how other wines can ever achieve the same … even its sibling vintages. It’s a shame to analyze its components because the whole experience is greater than the sum of its parts – a status all winemakers strive to achieve.

(However, in an attempt to relay some of its quality), it is big, dark, concentrated and dense in pure, dark, ripe fruit. The oak has morphed into nuances of vanilla and dark chocolate that integrates very well with its typically earthy (almost black olive) quality of Oakville terroir.

Its texture is its greatest asset. After an hour or so in a decanter, its silkiness and complexity just improve.

Its finish? I don’t know if you’re ever finished with this wine once you’ve have it tattooed in your memory. As for the reality of the finish? Very long and reflective!

Restaurant Menu Matches for Harlan Estate 2002:

(Pairings courtesy of Bleu Provence, Naples Florida)

– Appetizer –
Seared Foie Gras with Raspberry Sauce

– Main –
Kobe Style Wagyu Beef Boneless Short Ribs in Red Wine with Mashed Potatoes and Baby Carrots 

– Dessert Course –
Duo of Black and White Chocolate Mousse

The complexity, intensity and diversity of Harlan Estate 2002 makes wine choice simple as it will transport you through all course choices with complexity and depth, each pairing delivering a pleasant change in palette and aroma profiles.

Rackability (aka cellaring notes)

The only sources for this wine 10 years after its release would be from private cellars, the winery itself, high-end restaurants or wine exchange companies … all will be difficult to access and be very expensive. 
The age it is at now would make it even more desirable than on release because of the positive effects that racking would have on its profile and availability.

Investment potential?

A quick look at auction prices shows a range of purchase price from $675 US a bottle to $1200 US a bottle. Harlan Estate 2002 will accrue in value even at these prices. Its quality and longevity are not yet at risk. It is a safe investment for another 8 to 10 years.

Harlan’s website www.harlanestate.com is worth a look.

If you ever get a chance to taste any Harlan Estate vintage, drop everything and find the nearest glass!

Cheers … and follow your dream wines!
Wayne Walker

If I died & went to Napa…

Posted by Wayne

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

I think the more you learn about wine & the more you swim in the overwhelming waters of today’s wine culture, the more you search for the beacons of “best choice”, the wine areas & vintages that take the trepidation & guilt out of the simple act of choosing a bottle of great “vino”.
 
Many of the realities of choosing wine, like quality, price, style, integrity…get down to the game of “Who do you trust?”. Personally, I get tired of this game. That’s when I start dreaming of wines I’d like to experience…the “killer” wines that my palette knows are out there, but that I’ve never had, don’t know about, or can’t afford.
 
Fortunately for me, I am in a position to experience some of these wines that come from California and Oregon & this is the purpose of my If I died & went to Napa blog – to share these experiences with you.
 
Twice a month, I will share one “dream” wine by featuring a Napa winery, their wines & winemaker. Along the journey, we will uncover some of the pleasures and mysteries of Napa and its neighbours. 

 

Introducing my first “To Die For” wine…

CADE Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa 

 At an elevation of 1700 feet, CADE Winery, located on the East side of the elusive Howell Mountain in Napa, produces 4 wines under the direction of Winemaker, Anthony Biagi,  in its state of the art Organic facility: 3 Cabernet Sauvignons and 1 Sauvignon Blanc. Howell Mountain is one of, if not THE, altar for pilgrims in search of the Colossus of ‘Cabs’ to be found in Napa.

Cade was established in 2005 after its older sibling, Plumpjack Winery was born in 1992. The principals were three entrepreneurs:

  1. Gavin Newsom – former Mayor of San Francisco
  2. Philanthropist Gordon Getty
  3. and its present General Manager – John Conover

 

CADE Estate Winery - winemaker Anthony Biagi

Anthony Biagi (in photo), the Lead Winemaker, arrived on the scene making wines on Howell Mountain in 1995 as a Graduate of University of California (UC) Davis. Anthony’s philosophy of creating “… artisanal, dimensional wines … tasting like they could come from nowhere else”, combined with Cade’s mantra of creating wines that are “…dense, rich and ageworthy, but not rustic or tannic” spawned the pleasures of wines like Howell Mountain Estate 2008.
 
Napa’s terroir has become legendary since Stag’s Leap’s 1973 Cabernet won the Judgement of Paris in 1976 . Weather conditions notwithstanding, Napa has been blessed with three geological conditions that contribute to the rich conditions of its soils: it has been on the floor of the ocean, the mouth of a river and the base of a volcanic mountain. What this means is that the soils are capable of providing good drainage and soil oxygen, an appropriate range of acidity to facilitate the availability of nutrients like P, K, Mg and Ca. As well, moderate to good water retention, moderate fertility and a reasonable rooting depth complete its almost perfect profile. Elevate this 1700 feet skywards toward the Sun Gods and you have an excellent foundation for creating  World Class Wine.

What are these conditions capable of? 

“A brilliant texture, stunning purity and great length (that) make for a fabulous wine to drink over the next 20 to 25+ years.” Robert Parker on Cade Estate Howell Mountain  (Dec. 2010)
 
Dark, creamy, layered, intense and long are the essentials of Cade Howell Mountain Estate. Opaque dark purple, it exhibits a nose of blueberries, black raspberries, ripe plums, graphite and crushed rocks. These flavours are warmed and carried over to the palette, embellished by dark chocolate, vanilla and sweet smoke.

Restaurant Menu Matches for CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 :

(Pairings courtesy of Ridgway Bar and GrillNaples Florida)

-Appetizer-
Crisply Seared Pork Belly (with Cider Reduction, Apple and Fennel Slaw)

– Mains-
Coq Au Vin (Baby Root Vegetables, Rich Red Wine and Demi-Glace Sauce)
OR
Braised Short Ribs (Pureed Celery Root, Cranberry Demi-Glace)
 
-Cheese Course-
Rogue River Blue Cheese and Greens (Julienne Apple Salad, Olive Oil and Fig Jam, Focaccio Crostini)
 
-Dessert Course-
Chocolate Opera Cake
  
The complexity, finesse and diversity of Cade HM Cabernet 2008 makes wine choice simple as it will transport you through all Course choices with elegance and satisfaction, each pairing delivering a different experience.

Rackability (aka cellaring notes) 

This wine is drinkable on purchase. Its intensity and balance are in no way affected by its youth.
 
As Robert Parker has indicated, aging is not a problem so to consider it part of a collector’s portfolio for future use is an easy decision to make, especially considering its desirabilty and limited production. The 2006 vintage which had a 98+ ranking like its heir the 2008, sold out quickly. 

Investment potential?

This all depends on Cade Winery’s ability to move into the integrity level of Harlon or Chateau Montelena in the next 5 to 10 years. It presently retails for about $150 US/bottle. Certainly, the wine will accrue in value, but how much depends on continued levels of production, excellence and recognition.
 
Cade’s website http://www.cadewinery.com  is worth a look. Here you will find how it is linked to its sibling Plumpjack and how both wineries are linked to Shakespeare. More on Plumpjack later!
                                                                    

Cheers… and follow your dream wines!
-Wayne Walker