Cellar browsing turns up some very interesting finds**--really good stuff, as well as wines I really should have pulled out and opened long before--like white Burgundies from 1985 and '86 that I was "saving" for the right occasion. What happened? Usually other choices intervened and I let them get away from me--drat!  Not, however, '85 reds--a whole 'nother story!
This section also includes other "discoveries," including restaurant wines, dinners with friends, wine list values and such.....also wines from  North Carolina and  the mid-Atlantic (scroll down).

Questions or comments? BE's email:   b_e@bewinewise.com

                    
                                                                                             SCROLL DOWN FOR NC & VA WINE DISCOVERIES!!!



Results of recent cellar sleuthing....for B.E.'s comments on aging, see Cellar Notes

Simi 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Alexander Valley.  January 2014. I plucked this bottle from my cellar to take to a gathering in Napa Valley celebrating Zelma Long's 70th birthday with a group of stellar women in the field of wine. As Simi's winemaker in the 1980s, Zelma made this exceptional wine....and I was relieved to find it, as we all did that evening, still exceptional. The cork crumbled as I pulled it but it was tight in the neck of the bottle and the wine was sound, with very little ullage. I had stood it up a day in advance, and we decanted it. The blackberry flavors so typical of Alexander Valley cabernet fruit are still vivid, the wine beautifully evolved and marvelously lush in texture, richly aromatic and long in finish. We all got a few choice sips. Anyone who owns this wine is lucky. Thanks, Zelma.

Cosentino M. Coz 2001, Napa Valley.  A Bordeaux blend from the outstanding vintage of 2001, one of the best of the 21st century so far. It was part of a lot of  venerable Napa Valley gems I donated to a fundraising auction for the Rhine Research Center in Durham. The winning bid came from my godson and his brother in California, enthusiastic young wine collectors in the bay area. Still dark and rich (we decanted it), very firm-structured, the wine showed layers of  complexity, with flavors of  black currant, cedar, licorice and black fruits, very long in the finish. It was a treat to enjoy  its flavors unfold over dinner. Still has some years ahead of it.
1/2014

Caymus 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection, Napa Valley   
Opened with friends in Oxford MS over the holidays. Outstanding Cab--but not at its peak yet, as I suspect it will be in another five years or so, and likely something to swoon over from 2018-2020. Black currant fruit concentrated and intense, framed in oak and tannin just beginning to soften. Aromas took a while to really open but very rich and vibrant when they did. Alongside Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1995 SLV--also in need of further aging but not as complex as the Caymus. Both, however, solid treats with grilled; beef tenderloin.  Thanks, Duke and friends!

Raffaldini 2005 Montepulciano, Yadkin Valley, NC.  Wow! give us more like this! I think this was Raffladini's first release of  Montepulciano, and I'd been saving it to see how it would age. Verdict:  beautifully!  Dark, dense, with still-intensely flavored ripe-berry fruit, bursting with boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry flavors. Tannins have mellowed, but it still has a nice grip, fine balance and that tasty juice; a long appealing finish that lingers very agreeably.  Recent vintages have not seemed quite as concentrated as the 2005--which was a knockout right out of the gate and has more than lived up to its promise. In Italy the montepulciano grape produces mostly lighter, easy-drinking reds (such as Montepulciano d'Abruzzo), so it is interesting to see how impressively the grape can perform in North Carolina. Let's hope more of this grape is planted in the mid-Atlantic.

Château Gruaud-Larose 1982, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux. June 2011. A fabulous treat, courtesy of fellow Virginia judge Andy Williams, who decanted this venerable bottle and brought it to share with judges at the recent Virginia State Fair wine competition (scroll down for some good VA wines).
        The Gruaud-Larose '82 amazed us all with its still-vivid color, its generous well-matured fruit and aromas of smoke, blackberries, and sweet cherries fairly billowing out of the glass. Tilting the glass showed its bricky orange edges, but the wine was still lively, very smooth, some tannins extant, but with great complexity and fine length. Some thought it could go another decade, but I thought we caught it at an excellent time to really enjoy the brightness of the fruit melded with oak.
I originally tasted this wine in the mid-eighties when I still lived in New York and attended a tasting hosted by importer Chateau and Estates. Back then I found it very dense, opaque and closed, even a little heavy. What a lovely surprise to taste it some 16 years later and find it so delightful and charming.
          Many thanks, Andy!!!

Uh, oh!  Recent "sleuthing" turned up a forgotten case of  assorted Zinfandels, aged ten years, some older. Normally, we don't age Zins, though years ago when I was on Ridge Vineyards tasting program, I regularly purchased new releases that piled up, some for years--which provided some amazing tasting experiences when I finally got around to uncorking them. Would any of these be as good!  I invited some friends who love Zinfandel over to crack a few bottles and see.
       OMG, yes! 
Quivira 1997 and 1998, Dry Creek Valley.  I decanted  these wines to try together, expecting the 1997 (an excellent vintage in California) to be the superior of the two. It was musty and funky on the nose--no fruit. We set it aside--"don't judge it yet," I said. "After all, it's been confined in that bottle for thirteen years; let's give it some time to flex."  The 1998  was a more pleasant surprise--plenty of fruit, tannins mellowed, still berryish, smooth and attractive. Half an hour into our meal, however, the 1997 had bloomed, showing lovely black raspberry fruit, slightly smoky, richly textured, very delicious with our pot roast. In fact, it got better and better, revealing more layers of flavor--and totally eclipsing the 1998, which had flattened somewhat and now had none of the complexity or wonderful length of the '97.  Though both wines surprised and delighted me, the '97 really showed its breed. It had aged like a fine claret--likely because of its excellent balance (13.5% alcohol, unheard of for Zin today!).
Rancho Zabaco Reserve Zinfandel 2000, Dry Creek Valley.  Dry Creek Valley is one of the stellar places for great Zinfandel, so I shouldn't have been surprised  by this wine's outstanding character and flavor, even at 10+ years. Still dark and deep, due perhaps to the addition of petite sirah, still powerful (14.3%) in ripe berry fruit with a hint of black pepper. Not especially complex, but a handsome red, plushly drinkable.
         Bodes well for the remaining wines of the case -- will keep you posted.


Tignanello 1994, Antinori Vineyards, Tuscany. Decanted 2/2011, for my wine class at Duke. Simply lovely! What a great moment to catch this wine--the color still firm, the fruit rich and beautifully evolved with complex flavors of black plum, ripe berries and a hint of currant and wood; smooth, silken texture. Made from 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, it was superbly balanced  and wonderful to savor as it lingered elegantly in the glass to the very last drop. If you have it, enjoy it now (or soon).

Shafer 1983 Merlot, Napa Valley. Decanted. Stunning!  Bet you wouldn't think a Merlot of any stripe could age 27 years--but this one has, and beautifully.  Spicy cherry flavors, tannins fully mellowed but the fruit still has vigor-- it's simply delicious to drink now (and could quite possibly give Pétrus of comparable age a run). Interesting to note its alcohol of 12.7%. Will the 2001, which I had a few weeks earlier, age as well???
Shafer Merlot 2001, Napa Valley. Decanted. Quite vivid and appealing; certainly not your typical Merlot (but Shafer Merlots have never been "typical"!). Vivid color, good fruit concentration, nicely evolved with somewhat tamed tannins and rich texture. I wouldn't necessarily have thought it would age so nicely, since it's a powerful, full-bodied wine (14.9% alcohol), but the fruit was ripe enough--and not overripe or raisiny--not only to last but evolve into interesting flavors with complex aromas of black currants, smokiness and dried flowers.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 1982. Decanted. Well, it couldn't last forever. This '82 from Margaux in the Haut-Médoc is well past its peak. Alas. I'm wondering what to do with the ramainder of my of my case!  Fall 2010

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 1988, Napa Valley.
  Decanted. Terrific. Over Labor Day (2010) with friends on Bald Head Island. With grilled rib-eyes. Superbly evolved Cabernet, smooth but complex, with layered aromas and flavors of black currants, cedar, and an appealing smokiness. Fine balance, still vivid and lively.

Jordan Vineyards 1979, Alexander Valley.  Decanted. I live for wines like this! Thirty-one years old, yet possessed of rich color; complex aromas of black fruits--currants, plums, berries mingled with a slight smokiness. Great balance and acidity, a bgeautifully evolved Cabernet, with smooth but still vivid texture and layers of lovely flavors. Kudos to Rob Davis  (and his mentor and consultant Jordan, Andre Tchelistcheff). This is the kind of wine that makes an evening utterly memorable.  [7/10]

Silverado 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa Valley.  Decanted this for my Duke wine class (2/2010), and it showed beautifully. Still deeply colored, with mellowed tannins and black fruits flushing nicely with air.  Not as classicly impressive or complex as some Napa Cabs, but surprisingly fine and vivid at almost 19 years of age. Still some life ahead of it, but I think we caught it at a very good moment--and longed for a good roast of beef or lamb to accompany it.

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 1991, Napa Valley. Decanted. 
Pulled this up to have for dinner with friends--just at the right time.  Decanted it, a good inch of sediment. Took 20 minutes or so to open up, then big ripe berry aromas billowed up enticingly. Nice and full but quite smooth on the palate. Great with tenderloin. The flavors bloomed and lasted for over an hour, then the fruit began to fade and tannins took over....what was left, that is, just a scoche.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Monte Rosso Vineyard.  Decanted.
The legendary Monte Rosso vineyard atop the Mayacamas range is named for its
 red iron-rich earth.  The property has yielded  many fine Zinfandels  and Cabernets
through the years, and this 1997 is no exception. Big and muscular still at 12 years of
age, it is drinking well but has easily 5 to 8 years left to improve further. Flavors now
of dark ripe black cherry, spicy oak and a hint of earthiness that is very appealing.
Good length and structure. 

Mayacamas 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. 
Outstanding!  This superbly balanced Cabernet is drinking beautifully right now, showing great depth of color, wonderful black currant flavors, and softened tannins that have mellowed into a plush velvet texture. On its way perhaps to achieve the remarkable complexity of the 1984 (**see Mayacamas 1984 below), but it is awfully good now. A re-release from the winery, there may be some left, $75 a bottle. Check it out at:
www.mayacamas.com

Merry Edwards 2000 Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane, Russian River.
  We had this in my winter wine class at Duke. Always one of Merry Edwards richest Pinots, the 2000 Olivet Lane has mellowed into a smooth and silky, deliciously complex wine, still quite lively and lovely for drinking now. We longed for braised quail or roast duckling to complement it.  Watch for Merry's 2010 Pinots.

Merryvale Profile 1987, Napa Valley. 
Opened in a recent wine class focussing on Bordeaux and Meritage style blends. An excellent blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon, very well-balanced, deeply structured, with complex aromas that have evolved into a very appealing bouquet. A great example of how aging can bring a wine into most alluring harmony.
The 2009 Merryvale Profile will be released September 2012

Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 1995, Australia.
Decanted. Really gorgeous now, but still youthful, with more years ahead to develop further. Quite evolved, with softened tannins and complex aromas of wood, earthniness, roasted meat and rather high floral notes of violet. Perfect for roast beef or lamb. Glad I put away another bottle!

Beaune 1995 Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus, Grèves Côte de Beaune, Bouchard Père et Fils. Outstanding! A beautifully evolved  Beaune, with flavors of cherry, cinnamon and smoke. L'Enfant Jésus is one of the prized vineyards of the Côte d'Or, noted for its velvety texture.  Lovely with braised quail.
As was Robert Sinskey 1991 Pinot Noir Carneros. Still loaded with fruit but round and mellow, smooth and rich. Quite a knockout!  And extremely well-balanced, only 12.5% alcohol (well, maybe 13)--Give us more like this!!

Mayacamas 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  An amazing testament to the aging process!!  The '84 vintage was spotty, but mountain vineyards sometimes exceed ripeness and quality in a lesser vintage. Mayacamas, atop Mt Veeder, produces consistently fine Cabernets--but if you want glorious drinking you have to wait . Give them time and they'll turn into a beauty like this 1984, with a bouquet of ripe berries and layers of dark fruit and oak, wonderful clean, bright plummy fruit,  still vibrant and enticing. Superbly balanced, this wine was an exciting catch à point--perfect maturity. What a joy to drink, with its elegance, long appealing aftertaste--and here's the kicker:  12.8 to no more than 13% alcohol, proof the grapes don't have to be 25+ Brix at harvest to produce a classic.  My thanks, and a toast, to owner/winemaker Bob Travers!!     



North Carolina's Own
Kudos to Raffaldini Vineyards in the Yadkin Valley--Raffaldini 2011 Montepulciano won a Double Gold (panel of judges unanimous vote for gold) in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition..
I wasn't on that particular panel but the judges, mostly Californian, obviously loved its dark, rich, ripe-berry flavors.  Getting a gold medal  at this competition means a lot. This year there were over 5,800 wines submitted from more than 25 states, making it the largest single judging of American wines in the world. Wine professionals make up the panels of judges. I tasted the Montepulciano in the final round that included Best of Class winners (84 in 2014! ) and it showed impressively among numerous BOC reds.
     In 2012, Raffaldini Montepulciano 2010 won the trophy as Best Vinifera in the N.C. State Fair Wine Competition, where it has consistently won Double Golds.

News from NC:
  Traveling west in North Carolina? 
On your way from the Triangle or Triad you'll be near the Yadkin Valley, home to the lion's share of NC vineyards -- so take a short segué and stop in for tasting. A complete listing--maps, phone numbers and websites--is here:  www.ncwine.org/wineries

North Carolina is home to over 100 wineries. The state has long excelled with Muscadine grape varieties, native to the region...and still does.  But in recent years wines from Vitis vinifera, the European grape varieties (syrah, chardonnay, pinot gris, viognier, the cabernets, merlot, as well as Italian and Spanish varieties) are doing the state proud with full-flavored, well-balanced wines that are very good to drink. 

RayLen Reds.  Winemaker Steve Shepard, who has been making wine in North Carolina for some three decades, was at The Wine Merchant in Cary recently to showcase some RayLen current releases. Included were some very tasty and drinkable reds--Category 5 2011, $18**, named for the most potent hurricane force and first made in 2005, is a blend of 5 red varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and a bit of syrah). A lighter vintage but a good bet for roast or grilled chicken, pork chops, lamb shank. It went nicely with my grilled veal chop the other night.
RayLen Cabernet Sauvigon 2010, $18**+. Bigger in weight and concentration, but drinking very well right now, with enough structure to go a few years if you like. Good match for roast or grilled leg of lamb. If you're looking to show someone how good North Carolina wines can be--this would be a great choice.
RayLen 2010 Shiraz, $13.99 Juicy, fruity--I would cool this a bit because it's a light red, just right for burgers, pizzas, sausages.
RayLen 2011 Rosé of Cabernet Franc, $12.99**  Dry and crisp, fresh and tasty, a versatile pink for a variety of casual foods.  

The
mountains have wineries, too:  Biltmore in Asheville, Burnt Shirt in Hendersonville
Biltmore Chardonnay, North Carolina, $15** A very graceful and appealing Chardonnay from Biltmore's estate vineyard; fresh and well-balanced, with elegant flavor notes of citrus and pear.
Burnt Shirt Gruner Veltliner, $16***  Excellent steely Gruner--a new variety for North Carolina but obviously does well here at NC's newest winery in the in the Appalachian foothills at Hendersonville. Nice intensity of flavor; won a Double Gold in a California wine competition.  Not easy to find but worth a search!
     
  


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