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.

2017 Boggione Claudio Brunate Barolo, Piedmont, Italy.

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.

2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco “Santo Stefano”, Piedmont, Italy.
2017 Castello di Neive Barbaresco “Santo Stefano”, Piedmont, Italy.

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!

2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.

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. 

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.

2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.
2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.

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.)

ES7 Locations, Locations Wine, Healdsburg, California, USA.

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. 

2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery

There was a time in Notes history when I scrambled to capture every bottle, every wine tasting adventure, seemingly every random thought about wine. Several hundred bottles later, that pattern has slowly changed with opportunity (and to some extent, taste). These days I always find time for a glass and a thought, but not always for sharing feedback in this modest column. 

2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery, Mendocino County, California, USA.
2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery, Mendocino County, California, USA.

The photos? Yes, those I have for sure. Like many oenophiles I assuredly have all the labels recorded. Like others, I have a few notes and thoughts that are half-discernible in various apps and scraps of paper…and on a few rare occasions I even get ‘em down here where others can read and sample. That’s no excuse – just reality, and perhaps even a forecast of the pending “Ones that got away” Q2 2022 that is on its way soon. Here in the meantime is my take on the 2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, from Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California. 

I bumped into Buena Vista’s Carignane several years ago, having cracked a bottle for friends who were in town for a quick visit. The Carignane surprised me at that time (was it my first with this grape? Think so…) and quickly found its way into my recurring order from Buena Vista Winery. This 2019 I drank a tad early…perhaps I should have left it on the rack for one more year? It’s quite good, but the tannins here felt a bit grippy. 

There is plenty of blackberry on the nose, with other red fruits in the mix too. The 2019 Carignane has the blackberry taking a lead role, but there are other subtleties involved too. It is dark, dark purple in the glass and very rich on your palate. The wine starts a little dry but the blackberry notes fill that space pretty quickly.

The winemaker notes, “Ripe, juicy flavors of red cherry and blackberry cover the palate with a hint of licorice and a touch of black pepper that lead to a long, savory finish.

According to the Buena Vista team, these are old vine grapes (an 80-year-old site known for Carignane), sourced from vines that are dry-farmed in the Ukiah region. Buena Vista harvested them in September, fermented, and ultimately aged the wine in French oak (13% new) for 15 months prior to bottling. The outcome of that production is the 2019 vintage of The Count’s Selection Carignane—I enjoyed this very much and know you will too. 

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, PureCru Wines

Birthday wine, this gem, one selected specifically for the occasion. Where does a gent go for satisfaction and representation of the Finer Things Club? Yes, the answer is Napa Valley Cab. This one is new for me, a 2016 from PureCru Wines. Let’s break it down.

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, PureCru Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The date is April 7, 2022. It’s evening, a long workday slowly sliding into the rear view mirror. I’m fatigued, in part from the concentration and in part from the early start of this Thursday. Thankfully this bottle, a dinner of several favorites, and Cara’s good company are there to raise my spirits. Several ‘nifty gifties’ are neatly wrapped and well within my interested gaze…

The 2016 PureCru Cabernet Sauvignon simply caught my eye on a recent trip to the wine store, seeking a bottle worthy of this milestone. Loved the striking bottle design, the raised red lettering both stamped and scrawled over the textured black label. Plus I’m a sucker for anything like the PureCru where there is limited production—there were fewer than 500 cases of this wine produced. 

I think “Napa” is my actual favorite four-letter word? Anyway, the wine is a pleasure. A bright, cheery and cherry wine filled with ripe fruit flavors. It’s all about red fruit and full bodied goodness, but has subtle notes of chocolate or plum just behind the dominant cherry. I’m tired but want to tip my cap to Mitch Cosentino – winemaker – for this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was barrel-aged for 39 months in French oak. I only purchased one, but additional bottles are in order, yes sir…