2018 The Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery

If you know me, or had occasion to visit Notes in the past, you know that I often think of wine as a way to celebrate special occasions. Or, for that matter, to make an occasion. This bottle of the Count’s Selection I picked up earlier this year and held it…not long by a collector’s standards but certainly by mine, fan of Buena Vista wines as I am. At that time I didn’t know why, or for how long I’d sit on it, but I really do now.

2018 The Count's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2018 The Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County, California, USA.

The 2018 Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, produced with fruit from the Moon Mountain District of Sonoma Valley, is the bottle I selected to commemorate the passing of my dear, dear friend Ridley. This hound-retriever mix has been my constant companion for over a decade, a loyal and lovable dog that has seen me through many of the happiest and most challenging times in my life.

I still recall the exciting morning when I met Rid for the first time, a rescue dog who’d been transported all the way to NJ from the south. With a shake of his tags and a lolling tongue, he made me a huge fan right from moment one. There’s a great clip I took of Ridley that early May morning, video showing him cruising around his new yard, sniffing and checking things out, before he comes bounding across the grass and crashes right into my camera. That memory always makes me smile.

Those gifts, those fond memories, those images…they come easily to me now. There are too many to count. On a very sad, solitary walk I started thinking, “Could you name a Top 100 things you loved about this dog?” My list was more than 20 before I even crossed the street. He was so expressive—those eyes, that smile, and his brow—but it was his ears that often told you most about how he was doing. That’s also what makes his passing all the more painful. Ridley was showing me clues but I just didn’t interpret the signs or fully appreciate what he was going through.

We had been to two different vets in this last month, each time seeking answers to the gastrointestinal issues I was seeing in Rid. I was recording frequency, consistency, and color of his distress, and I was sure this diligence would assist the veterinarians with the right course of action. Both vets had similar approaches to his diarrhetic symptoms, prescribing a bland diet that would go easy on his GI tract, in combination with anti-nausea or anti-bacterial meds, to alleviate his issues. Sadly, that was not enough. 

Ridley was not just sick with a stomach bug, had not eaten something unhealthy on one of our many walks. On this unhappy Monday, my vet called back to say further exam had indicated the prescience of a large mass in his abdomen, and that x-rays had revealed aggressive spreading throughout his abdomen and lungs. Ridley was not a candidate for surgery and would not be able to come home one last time. “It’s time,” said the vet, and I reprocessed her words and finally understood my poor dog was wracked by rampant cancer and had been bravely taking it on for several weeks.

Cara and I climbed into the car immediately and raced to him. Ridley came into the special little goodbye room a little nervously. I’ll never forget his eyes and how soft and sweet he looked in that moment. I was devastated for my guy and simply tried to be there with him and for him in that last hour of his life. We both were. Ridley received tons of petting and rested as comfortably as possible. The word rampant thundered in my head over and over as he pressed against my leg, and I was appreciative the vet was adamant that he should not go another day with this burden. 

We cried. It was unimaginably heartbreaking, and it’ll continue to be so in the days and weeks and months to come. I know he felt comforted to have such love surrounding him in these moments. The rest of our final visit is personal, but know Ridley went bravely yet quietly into his next adventure—and I’ll look forward to seeing him there.

So that’s the reason for the Count’s Selection. Ridley has seen me pour many bottle of Buena Vista in our time together, but this one is special. The 2018 Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is the one we’re sipping this evening to celebrate Rid’s life. To think back on the good life he received, the way he returned the love tenfold. I miss him terribly already and always will. The wine is great to be sure, a red cherry treat, but for me it’ll always be the bottle we selected to toast my friend one last time. Thanks for reading, and for (hopefully!) thinking good thoughts of Rid or your own furry friends. Love to you all.

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2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards is the second callout that I selected to celebrate my birthday. This Oakville winemaker harvests grapes from a 33-acre property that features gravelly, sandy clay and loam soils that produce fruit for their own label as well as well-known wineries that include Stag’s Leap, Raymond, Groth, and one of my favorites—Orin Swift.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

About six tons of their yearly yield go into Stanton wines, and this one shows all the best marks of the region and its terroir. i purchased this 2015 from my local winestore based on its location (I’m a huge Napa Cab man) and that Dave Phinney made his signature imprint on their portfolio. I’m a fan of his too, and that was enough to motivate me to bring this bottle home for the celebrations.

Okay, so this is black berry and black cherry goodness, with just the right amount of dark fruit blended without being excessively fruity. There is a whiff of mineral or old leather in this Cabernet Sauvignon; it finishes soft and velvety with a very mellow mouth feel. It pours reddish-purple in your glass, great legs and an enticing bouquet to it. Certainly every wine has its pluses and minuses, but I couldn’t help to compare this to the Switchback that I had Wednesday night. The Stanton was by far the more enjoyable wine, and I didn’t regret skipping the decanter and going right to the stemware. 

This 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards accompanied a really tight, delicious birthday dinner of steaks, broccoli rabe, and wedge salads with all the right accents. Cara showed this cool technique—basting the steaks with butter, rosemary, and thyme—for the meat just before we pulled it from the skillet (you can’t quite do that on your grill, people!). The strips were well seasoned and it was so much fun seeking the perfect bite all evening as we celebrated my latest trip around the sun.

All this made for a memorable evening and one I will not soon forget. Looking forward to more of it all—including this great wine.

2015 Yeoman Cabernet Sauvignon, Goldschmidt Vineyards

The holiday this year includes fewer fireworks, but this wine goes off with a big bang* nevertheless. Happy July 4th, friends, so pull up a chair and check out the 2015 Yeoman Cabernet Sauvignon from Goldschmidt Vineyards.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon - Yeoman Vineyard, Goldschmidt Vineyards

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – Yeoman Vineyard, Goldschmidt Vineyards, Alexander Valley, California, USA.

We found this Cab in the fine wines section of Raleigh’s version of Wegman’s. Sigh. What a fun field trip to cruise through its well-stocked aisles…even writing this now I’m thinking of the amazing charcuterie awaiting Cara and I later today.

Shortly after sipping a couple delicious watermelon cocktails, we turned our focus to dinner and opened the Goldschmidt while prepping. It’s first impression is black cherry and leather, a heady mix of the bold and the subtle. My favorite wines often weave together such traits, and probably why I often gravitate to California Bordeaux-style Cabs and powerful Syrah.   

The Yoeman Vineyard is specifically a 3-acre plot near Geyersville, a small bit of land that is home to loamy soils and Eastern morning suns. Winemaker Nick Goldschmidt notes that the topography enables extended grape hang time for maximum flavor development—this taster nods appreciatively. The fruit was harvested October 1, 2015, hand-picked and aged 31 months in French Tarasaud barrels.

It’s 100% Cabernet. A powerful red (pours like ruby) that is slightly tannic but not dry; to the contrary it’s lush and full. Little bit of blackberry flavor too. Really great wine. As excited as I was to sample this Goldschmidt, I know in the back of my head that it would be even better if we let it breathe for a couple beats before drinking. That’s a prescription for another day some time off in the future.

Because today we’re celebrating things. Freedom. Time together. And even our dinner—charcoal-grilled strips, grilled asparagus, and a Romaine salad (also grilled!) with anchovy vinaigrette and toasted and buttered panko. Proud to report that we kept the coals crazy hot; they produced not only great steaks but also stayed hot enough to support a couple killer s’mores too.

Sometimes wine IS the occasion, and sometimes you have wine to mark an occasion. On a day this great I’m not sure which applies, but I want more. Bring on the “too much” I’ll take every bit I can get.

 

* Yes, I know it’s a ‘dad’ joke but hey sometimes these things write themselves…

2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Allegrini

This Amarone gem breaks a run of recent “meh” Italian wines sampled for Notes in recent weeks. Whereas each of those was undermuscled and generally thin, this 2015 Amarone from Allegrini compared very favorably to what I traditionally enjoy in a new world Cab, Syrah, or robust red blend. Thanks for the great birthday gift Mom, and here for you all is the run down on the 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Allegrini.

2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Allegrini, Italy.

Notes has covered on a few prior occasions the process used in the production of Amarone wines (just browse or filter by “Amarone” if you’re interested), so a repeat is unnecessary here. Do know that this wine packs in nearly 15% alcohol and is a powerhouse. It is full of fruit (corvinone, oseleta, rondinella, and corvina veronese grapes) and has a pleasantly bitter finish. In sampling the 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, you’ll likely detect black cherry, a little bit of chocolate, and certainly the “raisin” or dried fruit typical of an Amarone. That’s one of my favorite notes and I’m 100% confident I could pick it out from other varietals.

This 2015 accompanied a Mediterranean meal that was as fun to prepare as it was to eat. Our menu included a Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and green onions, accompanied by a homemade dressing of vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper), falafel, tabouleh, tzatziki, hummus, and toasted bread that stood in for pita. My favorite of the foodstuffs was a lemon dill yogurt sauce that accented any of those bites. It’s one of those meals where you can search all night for the right combination that produces the “ideal bite” and enjoy the hell out of each attempt – even when you fail you win.

Plus, we had this rich, balanced drink to make the whole thing come together. The Allegrini Amarone is high class grapes, and we treated it with all the necessary respect. Our only want here was a second bottle. Give it a go and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Big thanks for this thoughtful and delicious gift!

2016 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon,Duckhorn Wine Company

Yeah, this is birthday wine, and grapes done well. Big shout out to my brother Steve for the amazing hookup–this was an unexpected surprise and much appreciated!

If you’re following this Notes journey, you may have realized the Italian wines about which I’ve recently written were not in fact consumed in the hillsides of Montepulciano but rather here in NC while looking wistfully overseas. In the spirit of solidarity, I’ve tried to embrace those grapes but they are not as near or dear to my heart as is a Napa Cab. Brother, this is exactly what the doctor ordered!

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2016 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon, Duckhorn Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

So here we are: birthday dinner. This one checks all the boxes. The perfect date? Yes. Steak? Yes. Asparagus and crispy crowns? Check! And a lovely Napa Cab–this is about a good a day you can have in the middle of a workweek slash pandemic. (Yes, my favorite movie is queued up too…of course I honor traditions always, and hell yes to thine own self be true…)

The Duckhorn has a host of great qualities, and great brand awareness too–deservedly so. It’s pleasantly fragrant when uncorked, an oaky, plum that’s completely enticing. Even before pouring, I know it’s a much heartier wine than the Nebbiolos I’ve been recently sampling. In the glass it’s ruby red, nearly purple. This Cab is more dark fruit than red…more plum and blackberry than dark cherry…and has really nice, subtle notes of spice to it too. I love it immediately, as does Cara. The best sip is your first, and the worst is your last…because…well…

A Duckhorn Cab is one of those reasons you push through a tough workday, slog through challenging work, bosses, and clients. It’s the way you reward yourself for taking it all on, headfirst and like a man, for answering the bell each new round. I’m so appreciative of the gift, and for the occasion. Looking forward to my next, and sending big thanks to you all who took time to make an impact on my day.

2013 Aristocrat, Buena Vista Winery

If you’ve followed Notes to any real extent over the past 6 or 7 years, you’ll know the special place that Buena Vista wines have for me. Buena Vista has a great tasting room and was the very first wine club I joined—their bottles are braided throughout these posts and have a prominent role in the Notes Top Ten Reds list. 

2013 Aristocrat, Buena Vista Winery, Calistoga AVA, California, USA.

The Aristocrat I’ve had once previously, and it was flat-out great. That 2012 vintage (the inaugural) was fantastic, and from this 2013 I had similar expectations. I’ve held onto this bottle for several years, looking for the right situation or celebration to break out the red blend. This Friday was the exact right occasion—the company, the accomplishment, the week survived—but the 2013 Aristocrat didn’t really live up to my expectations. 

We had the right glasses, a pair of stemless Reidel reds, and right mood to appreciate these grapes. They’re harvested from the Calistoga AVA of Napa Valley, and I believe the final blend includes both charbono and petite syrah fruit. That’s more from a bit of research, though, because the wine itself was a little underwhelming. This bottle was a safe shot down the fairway. It didn’t have the subtle structure or layered nuances that I so often detect in my favorite wines, including the dozens of Buena Vistas that I’ve covered here in Notes. It was a red with an easy, smooth finish—but was otherwise just ‘meh’ overall. 

I know the 2013 is just the second vintage of the Aristocrat, however, so perhaps they just skipped a beat after the first batch? I have not tasted subsequent vintages so don’t know if this is a blip on the radar or was perhaps just a rare miss at the bottle level. I’ve shared feedback on more than 400 wines over the years (most reds), and just 2 Aristocrats so perhaps I just hit an outlier. If you’ve tried the Aristocrat of any vintage, would you perhaps share your findings or notes here so we can paint a fuller picture for Notes readers? Thanks for your continued readership and have a great day.

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Cellars

Nearly two summers ago I had my first exposure to the Orin Swift Papillon. While Notes did not fully profile the wine at that time, it did make the Top 10–high praise given the 400+ bottles covered in these pages. I’m here to say the 2017 vintage continues that standard of excellence.

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s a bordeaux-style blend, a new release that mixes five different grapes (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and merlot) sourced from throughout Napa Valley. After pulling the cork you’ll be greeted by big, rich scents of blackberry and pepper, and an inky reddish purple that’s probably the color of blood before it hits oxygen. My first sip was too soon–the wine had not yet had a chance to breathe and was slightly tart. After sitting for 15-20 minutes during a late-night dinner prep, the Papillon settled into a deep, flavorful dark fruit medley. Definite blackberry or black cherry scents wafting (maybe cedar or spice box?) heavenly from the glass…lip-smacking goodness.

This is from our winemaker friends at Orin Swift: “Intensely layered and decadent on entry, the wine exudes characteristics of black plum, boysenberry, kirsch and dark chocolate with a silky soft yet weighty texture. A prolonged finish of Provençal lavender, fig leaf and ripe currants close out the wine.

The 2017, a very special gift that I appreciated on multiple levels, is aged for 15 months in French oak (43% new) barrels to very good effect. It delivers a nice, easy finish for a wine with so much gravitas. Special shout out for the great photo and my favorite company. The Phinney magic touch continues again for another year…

Mountain Veeder Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This is a bottle intended for special occasions. I’ll always remember why I bought it, and then again why I decided to open it this particular evening. Life is a series of adventures and we learn from them all…in time.

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Mountain Veeder Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, California, USA.

It’s an exclusive, just one of 120 bottles (#86 specifically–check the label) produced by Napa Valley’s best-known vintners as they work to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation. I’ve never had wine from Mt. Veeder previously, and I’m curious to know how this stands as a representative sample. Full disclosure: I did NOT let it breathe adequately when I first uncorked it. My first glass had an extra tannin finish that I didn’t really relish, but it opened nicely over the course of the evening.

Here’s a little promo from the bottle: “As few as 60 and never more than 240 bottles of each Premiere Napa Valley wine are made, allowing the vintner to select from their finest sources, break with tradition, and come up with an offering that is truly handcrafted with a personal expression of their style.” You can see how it caught my eye, right?

I had this wine with a very simple meal–beef and potato–and thought about all the inky red goodness swirling about my Cabernet glass. This Mount Veeder Winery Estate Cabernet was not jammy but still filled with cherry and plum flavors. Once the tannins slid to the background you could catch notes of pepper and other spices on the nose too. I’ve heard the term “mountain wine” used on such bottles in the past, and that tip to the terroir I understand in context of this 2014.

And it was good, too. Really enjoyed it. But I had sort of expected better, and I can tell you this didn’t crack my Top 10, for 2018 and certainly not my all-time list. It’s a rare enough bottle that you might not be able to find this same vintage and that’s probably okay–there are plenty of outstanding wines at this threshold if you were feeling so inclined.

 

 

 

2013 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Proprietary Red, Bevan Cellars

Saturday night with old friends and new wines, notably the 2013 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Proprietary Red from Bevan Cellars, and a 2016 bottle of Cab from Daou. Our evening didn’t finish with these two bottles, but rather kicked it off as we enjoyed a fun dinner at the Echo & Rig Butcher and Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

2013 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Proprietary Red, Bevan Cellars, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2013 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Proprietary Red, Bevan Cellars, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The Sugarloaf came with the highest reviews (and hefty price tag–thanks Tony for this treat!) and was batting leadoff. It’s a bold red blend, and even on the cork you could smell its pungent mix of dark fruit. The Sugarloaf is fantastic, a combination of dark plum and blackberry notes, with just a hint of spices below the surface. The wine is composed of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot grapes. This Bevan Cellars offering pours so purple that it’s almost miscast as a ‘red’ wine. We did let it breathe, but honestly just for a few moments and swirls. With four of us splitting the Proprietary Red there was just enough for a first glass, and course it left us wanting more. I know the winery doesn’t do public tastings so you’ll have to just trust me (which is fair…I do taste a lot of California red for a ‘regular’ dude) and sample wherever you can–or just go buy one.

2016 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, USA.

2016 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, USA.

Next up was the 2016 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, a bottle that similarly earned raves from our foursome. It may have cost a fraction of the top-shelf Sugarloaf, but its excellence was right on par with the more expensive Napa blend. Whereas the 2013 primarily accompanied appetizers, the Daou we had with our entrees. It was bold and fruity, packed with dark cherry notes and a little bit of that earthy spice that I so enjoy among California Cab. Great mouthfeel overall!

I went with a filet mignon this evening, and we did a bunch of family-style sides at this steakhouse. The staff was great, the meal was exceptional, and the friendship even better than that. Forgive me for having less information on the wine this time…I was too busy enjoying the good company. Lots of smiles in our bunch on this evening, which we would soon extend to a wine bar just up the street for after dinner drinks. Raising a glass to all that made this night so enjoyable!