2020 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery
2017 Red Wine, Napa Bridge Vineyards
For this guy, usually it’s the wine that makes the memories. The wine that marks time, shines a light on special occasions. And while wine was part of this year’s holiday celebrations, it was more about the unusual circumstances that makes the 2017 Napa Bridge Red Wine stand out from many Napa reds I sampled in ‘22.
We’re in Brockport, having snuck into town among the unfriendly swells of a big rainstorm that accompanied Cara and I all the way up the 95 corridor. We started our trip in the unfriendly “green” radar of RDU and flew with the storm all the way up to Washington and then again to the ROC. Good pilots and friendly attendants balanced out rolling turbulence until we were on the ground and headed for family and Christmas treats. As the temperatures plummeted and precipitation picked up last night, flight cancellations were suddenly national news and made us feel lucky to beat the storm into town.
This morning we woke early and did a walking tour of the neighborhood before the storm really took hold. The pavement was wet and skies ominous, but that was all just prologue to the real weather events of Christmas weekend in western New York. We had just started clearing breakfast dishes when the power flickered for a few hesitant moments and then died. Looking out through the snowflakes to the neighbors’ houses it was obvious the entire ‘hood was impacted.
Early afternoon, I bet the power would be restored by 4:05pm (it wasn’t!). We checked the local power company websites (not by WiFi obviously!) and saw the confirmed outages affecting much of the area, and many others. The snowfall didn’t seem to be the chief factor, but rather the howling gusts that bent limb and landscape to their will. At that point, I was pleased Mom’s recent siding and window project was complete, as you could almost see the house bleeding heat to the elements.
Funny moments? Those were the times you checked an appliance for the time, or when you automatically flicked a light switch when entering a room. Those moments when great neighbors called to check in on us, or when we reflected back on the last time (1991ish?) power was lost for an extended period. Less fun was reading that power crews are not able to get up poles and bucket loaders when winds exceeded 35mph, readings I was positive we exceeded several times each minute, or when your brain wondered how long the outrage would really last.
We broke out a puzzle and then cards, throwing hearts and that queen of spades hammer until it was so dark that we were calling out our discards to one another. Then it was Parcheesi by candlelight, wrapped in blankets and warm hats, until finally this guy had to break out the Napa Bridge. Maybe this was to fight through the doldrums of the powerless afternoon, maybe an appeal for warmth, or just because I knew several were ready, willing, and able?
At first taste, I was not overly impressed with this 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Vanilla notes (not always my favorite) were definitely present, and the wine was slightly dry, tannic, and acidic. Red fruit flavors of cherry, and maybe blackberry were notable. Having ordered this online several weeks prior to Christmas I had anticipated a welcome treat that could be shared with the entire family. Check…ish? I would have bet it a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and maybe Cabernet Franc—at least upon initial sampling? Generally I found it “meh” but, since our entertainment options were limited by Mother Nature’s fury, I sunk into this reality and enjoyed it with the great family time.
Once the wine had an opportunity to breathe, it was much more enjoyable. Since a powerless afternoon zapped us of stove or appliances, we opted for local pizza dinner (thanks Steve!) and carried the Bridge into the evening hours. The house was a balmy 51 degrees when power was finally restored around 730pm. Phew! Special thanks to all the dudes braving the swirling snow and icy winds to get back our comforts of home.
Later on, I discovered that Napa Bridge Vineyards combined nearly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot for this fruit-driven 2017 Red Wine. Other reviewers described its plum and cherry notes as well as “cedar and herbal inflections in this mouth-watering, velvety blend.” I would not use “velvety” in my recap but warmed to this vintage over several subsequent tastings over the weekend.
Be assured, I know the day was nothing like Buffalo residents faced, nor those traveling by Southwest Airlines during Christmas 2022. It was inconvenient at times, to be sure, but somehow melded us all together more closely. It’ll be a Christmas that we’ll be talking about well into the future, and that’ll always be the place I keep too the 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Happy holidays, friends!
2017 Boggione Claudio Brunate Barolo
An important goal for this trip was a stop at Mamma Maria, a well-regarded mainstay of Boston’s North Square and part of our ongoing quest for great Italian. This one checked all the boxes! I’ll never forget its amazing windows and striking views of downtown Boston—along with our fantastic eats and vino.
Our beef carpaccio (with shaved black truffles!) and braised rabbit ragu with homemade pappardelli were perfectly prepared and highlights of a night spent wandering through Cara’s former stomping grounds in the North End. The lines outside the bakeries and the merriment of all the customers will be in my memories for years to come, just like the 2017 Boggione Claudio Brunate Barolo.
As I have but limited experience with old world wines, I was not entirely sure what to expect from the Barolo. We ordered it in part based on the reputation of Piedmont region wines, its price, and the Barbaresco selection we’d made just two nights prior (we wanted to switch it up with a more substantive pick)! It’s produced from Nebbiolo grapes, and we savored the wine’s red cherry goodness while overlooking cobblestones and city streets once walked by Cotton Mather, Paul Revere, and Charles Dickens. Headsy stuff!
We had a fantastic waiter, and he was attentive to our glasses and generous with his pour. This Barolo had plentiful red cherry and leather notes along with a bold finish. Ample tannins but not to the point of overpowering…
Quick sidebar for you on the Boggione family: they sold grapes from their Barolo Brunate parcel to notable winemakers until 2008, when they decided to bottle under their own label. Brunate is one of the most famous vineyards in all of Italy, and the Boggiones only produce 6,000 bottles annually. Their production is free of pesticides and herbicides and also embraces traditions and techniques true to the region. The resulting Barolo is structured and sooo enjoyable.
The wine, the ambiance, and night out will stay with this fella for years ahead.
Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020
From my modest dining experiences past, I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever waited nearly 2 hours for a table at a trendy restaurant. Not sure? I mean, who doesn’t take reservations in an era of Open Table and online ordering?
Neptune Oyster, for one. This hot spot in the North End has just 37 seats (including the bar, which stretches from the doorway to the rear of the house) beneath its pressed tin ceiling, and each one of them was filled from the moment we arrived around 6pm until our seating (at about 7:45pm) and eventual departure (9:15pm) last night. Was Neptune’s Oyster, one of the city’s best-known eateries, worth the wait?
We each ordered the Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020 from among the coastal European wines that populated the extensive wine list and wrapped around the bar. With seafood on the brain, this light white from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region seemed like an appropriate selection—I’m sure Cara and I each picked less from standpoint of familiarity and more from our waitress’s description of its crisp, citrus notes and minerality taste. Notes’ readers know my background in white wine is far from extensive and I was pleased to have her recommendation and enjoy the glass.
I also loved the oysters (great salty finish, even if i overloaded the horseradish!) and the johnnycake that we had as appetizers; the latter was particularly amazing. A salty, crispy cake tapped with smoked bluefin tuna and sturgeon caviar, the johnnycake was striking and something I will remember for a long time. For her entree, Cara opted for the North End Cioppiono, a spiced stew inclusive of shellfish, saffron rice, shrimp, monkfish, and topped with Maine lobsta. A rich, delicious brew! I did bluefin tuna, just kissed by the grill and served with haricot verts, Nicoise olives, white anchovies, and a Dijon vinaigrette.
The food was delicious—did I mention the johnnycake?—and I enjoyed the “green apple” vibe of the Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020 very much. As I reflect on the evening, however, I’m not sure the time we spent lined up in the street lived up to our expectations of Jeff Nace’s well-regarded establishment. The music was booming and it was extremely difficult to hear your date or even make conversation. And that’s sort of ironic because, crammed as we were into the close quarters of the restaurant, I was close enough to neighbors to flinch at every hacking cough, hear every story about their Jira-based workflow, and be blinded by fellow restauranteurs who needed their cell phone flashlights to read the menu and simultaneously check us for cataracts.
I’d grade the ambiance as meh, the wine as good, the food better, and the company as the best of all. Thanks, love, for the new food adventure and looking forward to so many more.
2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco “Santo Stefano”
Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park in Beacon Hill marked the start of this weekend’s food adventures, a thoroughly pleasurable fine dining event that included the 2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco “Santo Stefano.” I had the inside track to this powerhouse restaurant, with its James Beard Award-winning wine list and recognitions from Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston and 50 Best Restaurants list. The entire experience was meticulously curated, delivered in the decor, the ambiance, staff, and certainly the wine and food that were the star attractions.
Our meal kicked off with hors d’eouvres that included hers and his steak tartare (with charred onion aioli and pine nuts) and prune-stuffed gnocchi, which we swapped throughout. Absolutely LOVED the foie gras that was served with the gnocchi—Cara said this appetizer has been on the menu since the beginning and I fully understand why. Faroe Island salmon, with asparagus, crème fraiche, and beets was the entree each of us selected. Your host is a big fan of all these elements, and for the most part they added up to a healthy dinner.
But this is a wine blog first and foremost, so let me share a bit more on this 2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco. It’s not the first Piedmont wine covered in Notes, but it’s likely the first Barbaresco. (I think the only one I’ve had previously goes years back to a Buffalo work trip with the Ivoclar team [Dr. Tysowsky picked one, as I recall…]) I selected the Santo Stefano from No. 9 Park’s extensive wine list, which included a number of old world wines from boutique vintners. In the glass I thought it poured light, ultimately showing a brick red garnet, and shared notes of strawberry at first. Certainly it tilted more to strawberry and raspberry rather than dark cherry or dark fruits.
Castello di Neive crafts this bottle from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, and the wine is very well balanced overall with an even, tannic finish. While my tastes traditionally run more to Bordeaux-style blends and Napa Cabs, this Barbaresco was great accompaniment to the start of our weekend in Boston. We began it in good fashion, tucked away in the restaurant’s cozy back dining room, glad for excellent foodstuffs, wine, and the exciting days ahead.
A final thought—I suspect most reading Notes are not looking for a recommended buy or shopping Italian red wines. If you are, though, then the 2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco Santo Stefano would be an excellent choice.
2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery
Good stuff in the mix here – firstly the 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot from Buena Vista Winery, and secondly a pan-roasted lemon garlic butter salmon with feta and olives—so delicious!
Yes this one’s an individually numbered bottle (mine is 7,242) and this wine deserves special attention. The 2018 Alexander Valley has all the marks of a great merlot. As it hits your glass, there are clear aromas of plum and dark cherry. It’s colored nearly purple in your glass, and concentrated, dark fruit notes are plentiful. The 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot has a really easy, silky finish.
What of the accompanying dinner? Salmon is always a great treat, and this was nice, fresh, and savory—accented with lemon, smoky paprika, and just a hint of crushed red pepper. There’s a kicked up olive dressing that drops a hint of salt and garlic into your ideal bite, too. The foodstuffs turned out about as well as I could have hoped, and kudos to Half-Baked Harvest for the helpful recipe and my very kind “sous chef” for her timely knife skills and unending encouragement.
Overall, this 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot made for a relaxing and satisfying Saturday night—and just in time after long work weeks for us both and exhausting business travel.
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Layer Cake
2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines
This is the second occasion I’ve been treated to a Proximus Pinot from Adastra, this one a 2006 magnum. Big thanks to the GDog for breaking this one out for Draft Weekend 2022 with the fellas. It’s an annual tradition spanning nearly 10 years, and great wine has often marked these gatherings as any follower of Notes may know.
Adastra is derived from the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (through striving to the stars) and the history of this family-owned estate is easily accessible so I’ll spend less time on that here. Most important to you is the great Pinot created by this Carneros winery, and that Adastra prioritizes environmentally conscious farming practices for all four wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir) they produce.* The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir is ruby colored and is a weightier Pinot. We busted this out around a table fire and a host of jokes, some older than this bottling and others as fresh as this pour.
Knowing my fandom of all things wine, the guys asked how I tasted the 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir. It almost felt like a challenge, from these lifelong friends who have seen me drink crappy keg beer more memorably than fine wine. Hoping I answered the call, I gauged it dark cherry to taste, with notes of burnt matches or charcoal on the nose. Very fruit-filled and substantive. They pushed further (of course!) and asked if there was “earth” to the wine. Lots of laughs as we swirled the wine in our glasses and debated terroir for a few moments. I mulled this over and stuck to my original tasting notes—not earthy or peat moss but rather charcoal or maybe pepper. And tannins more like a Cab than I’d usually equate to a Pinot.
Adastra has produced two different Pinot Noirs, a Regulus and Proximus; the latter made only in very small quantities as the “best of the best”. In Latin, Proximus means “closer” and the winery uses the term to mean “closer to the stars”. The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir was developed by Pam Starr, the winemaker for many years at Adastra (and now a consultant, I think), and was quite exceptional. Our only gaffe was setting the bottle too close to the flames but that was far overshadowed by our clear enjoyment of gathering together again after all these years.
I’m so thankful for the brotherhood, for friendships that span miles and decades. I appreciate too great wine like Adastra’s 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir and George for sharing it with us all. Looking forward to the next gathering and next Adastra too!
*Adastra has been a California-certified organic farmer for more than 15 years and eschews burning practices often used to curb vineyard growth, instead processing old vines with chipping machines to process yearly cuttings.
ES7, Locations Wine
Referencing older Notes posts from Dave Phinney and the Location series, I am more than a little astonished to see no writeup of previous Spanish tastings. While California releases have received extensive coverage, Italy and Washington at least one and France too, there are no comments for the “ES” series until now. (No, I’ve had neither the New Zealand nor the Texas, Portugal, or Argentina bottlings to date. Is Oregon among Notes’ entries? Please give the blog a read and let me know so I might right any wrong or oversight there.)
In selecting the ES7 Locations (along with a CA9 that will soon grace Notes), I had anticipated continuing a previous flight or knocking out a vertical for you, readers. That’s not the case, and perhaps in tasting the ES7 I can shed light: it’s a very Jekyll and Hyde wine, and I may have simply not known how to articulate this in previous tastings.
The 7th release of the “Spain Locations” is complex, and I have different interpretations of what’s going on here from yesterday to today. At first taste, it is slightly tannic and much sharper of a finish; I’d have described ES7 as flooded with young red raspberry notes. While I have high regard for all things Phinney, it was slightly underwhelming and did not live up to my initial expectations. This day, however, it’s more relaxed and deeper in plum, cherry, and spice underpinnings—it feels more matured compared to even one day ago. I interpret this as simply hitting the sauce too soon; the wine clearly opens up over time?
It’s my understanding the ES7 is produced from fruit sourced from five regions: Priorat (this comes through the most, IMHO), Jumilia, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. ES7 is a blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan grapes, and it’s barrel-aged for 10 months prior to release. And it comes to you here from the coast; we’re (carefully!) soaking in the sun and making great memories together. Thanks for checking in and have a great evening.