The Green Era of 2011 Continues…

Below is a post that I wrote in April of last year… and unfortunately for Napa and Sonoma Cab lovers I was pretty dead on! Many of these 2010 and 2011 wines have had some green and herbaceous qualities to them (which can be a pleasant characteristic), while a lot of them have ONLY green and herbaceous qualities which is no bueno!

I have been tasting more of the 2011 wines lately and this “green effect” seems to be much more prevalent and overpowering in most of these wines. 2010 still had some standouts that avoided this overly stalky quality such as Cabs from Hanna, Clos du Val, Sequoia Grove and Pride. But for most of the 2011 Napa/Sonoma Cabs I have sampled so far the vegetal quality has been anywhere from noticeable to overpowering…not what you are looking for from these wines. The Peju Cab somehow avoided it, and Caymus was as consistently solid as ever. So just beware of the vintage when grabbing those Cabs from Napa/Sonoma… I would say the safer bet for now is to stick with the 2010 over the 2011 vintage.

Cheers!

(Below is my original post)

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Look What Just Popped Up in Mt. Kisco… A Kick Ass Steakhouse!

http://www.thepalm.com/files/imagesPalm/photos/home/palm_home_images_0002_steak-wine.jpg
As you may or may not know, Mt. Kisco is chock full of great restaurants and more are popping up all the time. There are the old school staples like Lexington Square Cafe, Crabtree’s Kittle House (technically Chappaqua but close enough), Cafe of Love, Eduardo’s and La Camelia. But over the last year or two, some newcomers have impressed as well such as Village Social, The Rose Room (the old F.A.B location), Westchester Burger Company and MTK Tavern. But the latest restaurant opening has by far been the most impressive and just what the doctor ordered for Mt. Kisco…Blackstones Steakhouse.

It is situated in that cool, sort of speak-easy, underground location across from O’Connors Public House on Main Street. Upon entering, there are beautiful wine display racks that flow throughout the first floor leading into the large bar dining area. The ambiance is on the tranquil side as you are somewhat secluded from the activity on Main Street. The only downside of the location is parking can be a little challenging.

Having tasted most of the appetizers from their extensive menu I can say that nothing has disappointed. However if you are with a group of people (6 or more) there is no reason not to go with the seafood tower. This decadent chilled platter is loaded with fresh shrimp cocktail, lump crabmeat, lobster, oysters and clams. Each item on the platter is tastier than the next and there is plenty of everything to go around. Best to pair this up with the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ….an absolute no brainer.

As for the meat, it’s tough to go wrong with any of their prime cuts (although I would avoid the veal chop). As a NY Strip fan, I think theirs ranks with the best in the area in terms of quality, preperation and presentation. It’s cooked and served on the bone and sliced up beautifully with just enough butter on the plate to keep it hot and moist without drowning in it as certain steakhouses tend to do. I like my steaks cooked rare plus, a new temperature I learned about, where the steak is bloody red on the inside but brought just to the point of being warm…and they nailed it! They have the Napanook Cabernet Blend from Napa (Dominus’ 2nd Label) for around $80-90, a great value at that price and a perfect accompaniment to a steak of this caliber.

So the bottom line is this… the service, ambiance and decor is all what you would expect from a high end steakhouse (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this place is not cheap). But more importantly, the food has been really top notch both times I have had the pleasure of dining there, having nothing to do with the fact that both meals were on someone else’s dime ;)  So if you are tired of eating at the same old steakhouses that Westchester has to offer you may want to give Blackstones a visit.

Cheers!

2010 and 2011 Napa Cabs… The Green Era

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Wine Dinners…A Better Value Than You May Think!

Ruth's Chris Steak House and Restaurant Location

Recently I was invited to attend a Napa Wine Pairing Dinner at the Tarrytown Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse hosted by Treasury Wine Estates. It was a five course meal where each course was paired and complemented by a wine in the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio (click on the link to see their brands). I had not been to one of these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners in a while and I forgot how well they pull this off. Upon arrival a glass of wine, usually the first one featured as part of the pairing, is offered to get the festivities under way…a nice touch indeed.

The dinner then started which included an appetizer, a soup, a pasta, the main entree (steak of course), 2 sides,  and a desert all served with appropriately selected wines enhancing each dish. The steak offered was Filet Mignon (usually not my favorite cut but it was cooked perfectly) and it was paired with the 2009 Stag’s Leap Winery Napa Cab, a big gun just screaming for this bloody, charred red beef! Some other wine highlights included the 2010 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2010 St. Clement Napa Chardonnay and with desert they served the Beringer Nightingale Dessert wine (a Sauternes blend that was more Tokaji in style) which was a perfect way to end the meal. Pretty impressive arsenal of juice all around.

I asked someone what they had paid for this wine dinner, as it was a work function for me so I had no idea (I know…it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it!). When they told me it was $90 a head, I cringed a bit thinking that was pretty steep! But after the sticker shock I started breaking it down. A meal for 2 at a high end steakhouse can easily run $300 a couple factoring in 2 apps, 2 entrees, sides, dessert, coffee, a good bottle of red and maybe a glass of white or a cocktail before dinner. So while you didn’t have the choice of selecting your own dishes, for about $100 less per couple you were offered an additional course, a wide array of different wines (and plenty of it) and a nice presentation on some of the wines you were drinking and why they worked well with each dish. Not to mention the food was surprisingly very impressive.

Moreover, the atmosphere was warm and friendly as I met some folks at my table who were really enjoying their experience. One couple frequented these wine dinners quite often while the other couple were first timers. It can be fun to meet people who you know are interested in food and wine (otherwise they wouldn’t pay to be there) if you are a bit of a social person. If not… this may not be the format for you. But at the end of the day, these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners are a serious bang for the buck and they have the formula down pat so you are almost guaranteed both a delicious meal as well as a top quality dining experience.

Cheers!

Unlike Miles…I AM Drinking Some F@#$%&g Merlot! But From Which Region?

If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.

3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.

2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.

1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!

So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!

Cheers!

A Napa Cab…from Mendoza??

Well, obviously not. But this has all the traits of a quality Napa Cab without the high price tag… Check out my tasting notes below.

Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza

Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza:

Better known for their arsenal of Malbecs, this High Mountain Cab from Catena is some pretty serious juice! The nose is super aromatic showing black currant, cola, plum and tobacco notes. It’s a big and coating wine on the palate displaying its youth. Yet the tannins are fairly smooth and the finish is long and dry. The best review I can give is that my wife thought this was a pretty expensive Napa Cab…and she knows her Napa Cabs!

More on this wine:

From Bodegas Catena Zapata comes this rich, dense 100% Caberent Sauvignon that they call “High Mountain Vines.” The grapes are sourced from three of their vineyards at very high elevations; La Piramide Vineyard, 3,117 feet, Domingo Vineyard, 3,675 feet and Adrianna Vineyard, 4,757. The high altitude means brilliant sunlight for ripening and cool temperatures at night for slow, even development of flavors and complexity. The Catena family has been producing outstanding Argentine wines for four generations and they have learned the best methods for handling these grapes. No cold fermentation and a 12-16 day maceration followed by 16 months of aging in French and American oak about 30% new.

California Wine Classification of 2012

Recently I have been teaching a wine class along with a colleague of mine (Josh Farrell of Wine Express) and we were going over the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification. For those who don’t know what that is, over 150 years ago professionals from the wine industry ranked the wines of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most prominent grapes used) according to a certain Château’s reputation, price and of course on the quality of wine.

However there were some politics involved and many equivalent quality wines did not get the top distinction because they didn’t have the brand recognition nor did they demand the ludicrously outrageous prices. Four wines at that time (now five wines) were awarded the elite distinction of Premier Cru Classification and this system is still in tact today. After discussing this in class my friend Glenn had a great question…”so what are the Premier Cru wines of California?” That got me thinking…

While California has never classified wine this way, there are certainly a small group of wines that are considered elite. If you have ever heard the term “Cult Cab”, many of those wines would fall in that top classification category. Cult Cabs are typically an extremely low production, high quality wine that you cannot even purchase unless you wait years to get on a mailing list or go to auction and pay 2-3X what the winery retails it for. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars and while they are some of the best wines you may ever taste in your life, they can also be the most disappointing.

The reason being is the expectations are set so high for a wine of this nature, that it is almost impossible for it to deliver. Think about the first time you were able to afford to go to that fancy five star restaurant that you had heard so much about. By the time you finally were able to dine there, did it live up to everything you had envisioned? Usually the answer is no… how could it?! With expectations that high, unless it is an utterly life changing experience it almost has to be somewhat of a disappointment. That’s not to say these wines are disappointing, as they are arguably some of the best wines produced in the world. But when shelling out that kind of dough, it’s tough to monetize the level of enjoyment of a wine.

With all of that said,  I have listed below what I consider the “Premier Cru” Wines of California, the “Grand Cru” Wines (a small step below in terms of quality, price and a bit larger production and availability) and my “Value Cru” Wines ($20-25 wines that over-deliver on a Quality-Price Ratio, or QPR, and are consistent values every vintage). The Value Cru Wines are readily available at most Westchester wine stores as well as online.

Premier Cru

Harlan/Bond Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley (Top Pick)

Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Verite, Sonoma

Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District

Grand Cru (2nd Growth)

Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains

Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa/Sonoma (Top Pick)

Opus One, Oakville

BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley

Value Cru

BV Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Rodney Strong Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma (Top Pick)

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma

Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Sterling SVR(Platinum) Reserve Red, Napa Valley

The Latest Red Blend from the Creative Minds of BV!

Beaulieu Vineyard Beaurouge Napa Valley 09

For those BV Tapestry fans out there, you don’t want to miss the latest red blend from Mr. Stambor. It has a softer feel to it, and the fruit is a little more approachable rating it higher on the drinkability scale than the Tap, which usually needs a bit of aging to develop. Lots of lush dark fruit blend in nicely with the vanilla, smoke and notes of brown sugar and mocha. The tannins have already softened a bit making this just a smooth and lovely wine.

Fun Facts:  Here’s the latest from Beaulieu Vineyards; a red blend from all of their vast vineyard lots throughout Napa Valley. Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor put his blending skills to the test with this very unique and delicious cuvee. The blend starts with 32% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Zinfandel. Then he adds 9% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah, 5% Sangiovese plus a dash of Carignan, Grenache, Petite Verdot and even a touch of Touriga Nacional. All of the varietals are carefully vinified and the blend is aged 12 months in 50% American, 35% French and 15% Hungarian oak barrels.

BV BeauRouge 2009 Red Blend, Napa Valley

What do you open to celebrate those big moments in life?

To follow up on my Father’s Day post, this week my wife gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl and we couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s one of those surreal events that changes your life forever and is deserving of a proper bottle to celebrate the occasion. While it may seem like a trivial afterthought considering what a blessing it is just to have a healthy child enter the world, it’s those small yet meaningful celebrations that can stick with you for years to come. I still remember my epiphany wine (the bottle that first sparked my passion), the bottle I opened when I proposed to my wife (and she miraculously accepted), the over-sized bottle we had everyone sign at our wedding, the bottle we opened to celebrate my son’s birth and the bottle we served at his Baptism (coincidentally the same bottle from our wedding). So deciding what to open with my wife to celebrate this joyous occasion is not so trivial in my book.

Over the past day or two I have had some internal debate about the subject. My first instinct was to go with a high end Napa Cab that we acquired from one of our trips to wine country. While it would clearly be delicious and memorable, without the right meal it may be a bit overpowering. I’m not sure we are quite ready to fire up the grill and cook up some big boy steaks to pair with such a wine just yet. So I thought about a Pinot Noir from the same trip, something that may not need the meal alongside it to enjoy. But Pinot is not really my wife’s favorite and I want it to be as enjoyable for her as it is for me.

So this led me to the somewhat obvious answer… bubbles! I was thinking it really should be a Champagne for an event such as this, but at the end of the day I know my wife prefers the California sparklers which tend to be a little less yeasty. And then it dawned on me…we picked up a couple of bottles of Domaine Carneros (owned by famed French Champagne producer Taittinger) Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour on our last trip to Napa. While at the vineyard we sipped it on their outdoor veranda on a beautiful day overlooking the Carneros vineyards with two of our closest friends and of course our son running and playing around the garden. Yeah, that was a pretty good day. The idea of bringing back some of those memories and starting some new ones with that particular bottle sounds pretty good to me! Oh, and of course… it’s pink ;)

The purpose of saving those special bottles, and opening the right ones at the right time, is all about creating long lasting and meaningful memories. I am sure I’m not the only one that associates certain wines with monumental events that are relived when that same bottle is opened at a future time. Wine can encompass so much nostalgia and emotion which is one of the main reasons people (including myself) are so passionate about it. It’s not just about drinking, it’s about embracing and celebrating life with those that are closest to you.

So the next time you are in the midst of an occasion that is deserving of opening a special bottle, take some time to think about what you select. After all, it may be something you hold with you for many years to come.

Cheers!