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An El Gaucho Dining Experience to Remember

This past week marked my 50th birthday, and the culmination of my week-long celebration was dinner at El Gaucho on Saturday. The evening was arranged by my amazing wife Lisa, and included my life-long friend Sean and his equally amazing wife Tracy. El Gaucho, for my money, has always been one of the top steak houses in Seattle. To that end, and to wrap a week of incredible wines, I brought a bottle of ’95 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon and a bottle of ’98 Leonetti Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy with our meal.

To set the stage for our experience, you should know that El Gaucho is famous for their tableside service. Our selections on this particular night included a Caesar Salad, Chateaubriand, and Bananas Foster, all of which were prepared while we watched. As our appetizers of pancetta-wrapped prawns and seared diver sea scallops were delivered, the sommelier suggested we move the wines, now in decanters, to the tableside cart to create more room for our first course plates.

After we savored the appetizers, it was time for the salad course. What happened next was both chaotic and surreal: As our server moved to clear the bowls and utensils she used to toss the Ceasars, the cart lost a wheel and collapsed toward Lisa and Tracy. Glasses shattered and dishes fell to the floor. My first thought was that the decanters of our wine were part of the carnage, but somehow both emerged without a scratch. It soon became clear, as I helped my wife sponge wine out of her purse with our napkins, that there was a fair amount of wine lost – both women were wearing quite a bit of the Dalla Valle, likely with a Leonetti spritz.

The staff at El Gaucho immediately went into crisis management mode. They quickly found us a new table, whipped up new salads, and brought what was left of the decanted Dalla Valle and Leonetti. We lost the Leonetti that was in the goblets due to broken glass concerns, and I suspect we lost a glass or two of the Dalla Valle before Tracy instinctively snatched the decanter prior to it hitting the floor.

As we settled in trying to make the most of an uncomfortable situation, the El Gaucho General Manager approached and placed bottles of 2010 Mouton Rothschild and 2008 Lafite Rothchild in front of me. He acknowledged that they couldn’t replace the wine we lost, but they wanted to make things right with one of these from their cellar. I was sorely tempted by the Lafite as I have yet to have the privilege of trying this Chateau, but the wine geek in me won out and I went with the better vintage (plus some vague memory that a critic or two may have scored the Mouton at 100 points). Without getting into specifics here, both of these wines are incredibly expensive at retail, and even more so on a restaurant wine list.

From this point forward, our evening was considerably less exciting. The steaks were fantastic and the deserts were amazing, and as the evening wrapped up our server told us the entire meal was being taken care of by El Gaucho. We felt they had been more than generous with the wine and were happy to pay, but she insisted that was not an option (we did manage to sneak in an appropriate tip). As we left, the GM encouraged us to send any dry cleaning or clothing replacement costs to him for reimbursement.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the wines. I tend not to take notes on nights like this but the Dalla Valle and Leonetti were both pristine. Tremendous aromatics, great texture and flavors. The perfect foils to an exquisitely cooked steak. Each wine is a great place right now.

The Mouton, albeit young, was almost beyond description. Immensely concentrated and powerful with cassis and plum laden flavors and this almost surreal smoky quality. God willing, I’d love to try this wine again on my 75th Birthday.

The staff at El Gaucho, General Manager James Parsons in particular, handled the evening with the utmost class and turned what could have been a disaster of a birthday into a culinary adventure. El Gaucho has a tremendous and well-deserved reputation for a reason. I truly look forward to my next opportunity to visit.

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The Week in Zinfandel (5/1/17)

Welcome to the latest installment of The Week in Zinfandel. If I missed your post or story please send me a link and I will be sure to include it next week. Cheers!

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2014 “Birth Year” Case Wine Recommendations

This is my 6th annual “Birth Year” case blog post. This post can serve as a guide for readers who had children born in the year of 2014 and want to set aside some wine for them to enjoy when they reach the age to appreciate said wines. My 2013 list was published in May of last year.

2014 was exceptional in Napa and also marked the first really good vintage in Bordeaux since 2010. This is great news for this exercise as many collectors turn to Cabernet Sauvignon when shopping for birth year wines.

Per previous year lists I attempted to find bottles from a diverse number of regions that have the capacity to age under appropriate cellar conditions for upwards of 20 years. I only included wines that cost $150 or less. This is no small task given escalating prices in regions like Napa Valley and the Northern Rhone. Fortunately, 2014 saw “reasonably priced” wines from Bordeaux. These wines should all be available at retail right now. None of these wines should be very hard to find. Happy hunting!

  1. 2014 Chateau Lynch Bages – Region: Bordeaux, Score: 94 points from the Wine Spectator, Price: $100.
  2. 2014 Chateau Montrose – Region: Bordeaux, Score: 96 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $130.
  3. 2014 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou – Region: Bordeaux, Score: 96 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $130.
  4. 2014 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon – Region: Napa Valley, Score: 94 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $60.
  5. 2014 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon – Region: Napa Valley, Score: 92 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $65.
  6. 2014 Antinori Tignanello – Region: Tuscany, Score: 93 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $90.
  7. 2014 Chateau Climens – Region: Barsac, Score: 97 points from the Wine Spectator, Price: $70.
  8. 2014 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon – Region: Washington, Score: 93 points from the Wine Spectator, Price: $100.
  9. 2014 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut-Lieu – Region: Loire, Score: 93 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $40.
  10. 2014 Domaine Charvin – Region: Rhone, Score:95 points from Vinous, Price: $50.
  11. 2014 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese – Region: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Score; 94 points from the Wine Advocate, Price: $45.
  12. 2014 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie – Region: Rhone, Score: 96 points from James Suckling, Price: $130.

If you have followed this series over the years then you may have noticed that wines like Montrose, Tignanello, Charvin and Prum have made multiple appearances. Simply put these are fairly priced, world class wines that should age effortlessly for up to 20 years. The real beauty of this list is you should be able to source the wines without needing to belong to a mailing list. Look at reputable wine stores like Wine Exchange, JJ Buckley and K&L Wines.

I doubt you will find the likes of Lynch Bages, Montrose and Ducru-Beaucaillou at prices like this when the 2015 and 2016 vintages hit the market. This might be the best buying opportunity for Bordeaux we will see in many years.

Other wines to consider that will be more readily available later this year include Cabernets from Dunn, Foreman, Ridge and Chateau Montelena.

I’d love to hear about what wine you are setting aside for your children that were born in 2014.

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2007 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Saxum Vineyards is located in the Paso Robles AVA of Central California. Founded in the early 2000’s by Justin Smith, a young winemaker who had previously been part-owner of Linne Calodo, Saxum leapt into the limelight in late 2010 when its 2007 James Berry Vineyards wine was named the #1 Wine of 2010 by Wine Spectator. Smith owns the winery with his wife Heather, and produces up to 2,800 cases of wine a year.

Blood red in color. 15.7% ABV. 82% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre and 5% Grenache. Soaring nose of molten licorice, camphor, blueberries and violets. Plush, full bodied and exceptionally well balanced. Lush and creamy on the palate with flavors of cassis liqueur, graphite, tar and minerals. The finish is silky, seamless and very long. Domestic Syrah simply does not get much better. Drink over the next 2-3 years.

My rating: 98 points.

Current wines from Saxum are available via the mailing list at $98 per bottle. There is a several year wait before you can expect to receive an offer.

I’ve written about Saxum previously in Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5 and The 2016 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

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2008 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Kosta Browne began as a dream shared by Dan Kosta and Michael Browne. In the summer of 1997, while working at John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa Rosa, California, Dan and Michael decided to pool their tips and venture into winemaking. Twenty years later, Kosta Browne is one of the most sought after Pinot Noirs in all of California. At present time they produce three appellation Pinot Noirs, eight single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a Chardonnay.

Keefer Ranch is located in the Green Valley appellation in the southwestern corner of the Russian River Valley.

Light red in color. 14.7% ABV. Pretty nose of red and black fruits, nutmeg, cloves and cherry cola. Silky, bright and fruit forward with loads of acidity. Black cherry, rhubarb, cranberry and baking spices on the palate. The finish is long and plush. Absolutely stunning Pinot Noir. At or near the pinnacle for this variety in the Russian River Valley. Drink over the next 2-3 years.

My rating: 95 points.

The 2015 version will be released this Fall and will likely cost around $80. Past vintages of this wine frequently show up on WineBid for at or near the original release cost.

As I mentioned in the Fab 5 of Mailing Lists, Kosta Browne is one of hardest lists to crack. Maybe so, but you’ve got nothing to lose by putting your name on the waiting list. Good luck!

Kosta Browne fared well in last year’s version of The 2016 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

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2002 Dehlinger Pinot Noir Octagon Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Dehlinger Winery is located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County and was founded in 1975 by Tom and Carole Dehlinger. Eva Dehlinger took over winemaking duties in 2007. Known for their Pinot Noir, Dehlinger also makes Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

The grapes for Dehlinger Wines are largely grown on the Estate Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The initial vines were planted in 1975 and followed by subsequent plantings through 1989. A special 3.5-acre plot of Pinot Noir was planted in 1982 around the original octagon-shaped house on the top of the property. This site is referred to as Octagon Vineyard. The 900-square-foot eight-sided house was built in 1975-76. The house on Octagon Hill has become a Russian River Valley landmark.

Light red in color. 14.8% ABV. Pretty nose of red fruits, damp forest floor, cloves and sarsaparilla. Complex and elegant with amazing texture. Light to medium body with perfect acidity. Strawberries, cranberries, baking spices and a touch of fresh mint on the palate. The finish is long and seamless. Gorgeous Pinot Noir. Drink over the next few years.

My rating: 93 points.

Dehlinger Winery has a great reputation among wine connoisseurs. Wine writers have consistently given strong reviews while praising the winery for its uniqueness, quality, consistency and value. About 75% of their wine is sold via the mailing list. Amazing wines that are well worth the search.

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The Week in Zinfandel (4/24/17)

Welcome to the latest installment of The Week in Zinfandel. If I missed your post or story please send me a link and I will be sure to include it next week. Cheers!

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1995 Chateau Calon Segur – Bottle Notes

The 1995 Chateau Calon Segur was the winning bottle in the April Installment of Pick My Next Bottle.

Chateau Calon Segur is one of the oldest estates in Saint Estephe dating back to 1147. In 1894 its vineyards were purchased by Georges Gasqueton and Charles Hanappier. The Gasqueton family managed the estate until 2012.  In July of 2012 Chateau Calon Segur was sold for 170 million Euros to the French Insurance Company, Suravenir Insurance. Jean-Pierre Moueix , the owner of Petrus and the massive negociant company Duclot, took a minority stake in Chateau Calon Segur.

This bottle was decanted for 1 hour and served with marinated flank steaks.

Blood red in color. 12.5% ABV. Dried red fruits, leather, tobacco and soil on the nose. Medium body with good acidity. Plush and powerful with a sweet fruit profile. Graphite, cassis, currants and plums on the palate. The finish is exceptionally long with ever so silky tannins. Fantastic showing for Calon Segur from the polarizing 1995 vintage. I’ve followed this wine closely over the last 15 years and it never fails to deliver. Drink over the next 3-5 years.

My rating: 94 points.

The 2014 Calon Segur is a compelling buy at just under $100. Be patient though as Calon Segur is typically a 20 year wine.

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2004 Araujo Syrah Eisele Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Araujo Estate is a 38-acre vineyard in northeast Napa Valley, east of Calistoga. It was established in 1990 when Bart and Daphne Araujo bought the historic vineyard from Milt and Barbara Eisele, who planted the vines in the 1960s. For nearly 40 years the Eisele Vineyard has been known as one of the valley’s great vineyards, consistently producing outstanding wines. The Araujos completed many renovation projects after they acquired the estate, and planted many varietals including Petit Verdot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Nevertheless the estate’s signature wine is its highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignon.

Garnet in color. 14.8% ABV. Rich and ripe on the nose with aromas of cassis liqueur, leather and violets. Full bodied with noticeable heat. Lots of sediment. Blueberries, olives and raspberry liqueur on the palate. Like the ’03 this is pushing the envelope on ripeness and is a little over the top for my tastes. Drink over the next year or so.

My rating: 88 points.

Disappointing bottle and not up to the reputation of the vineyard and the Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon. I would have a hard time paying the $150+ this wine goes for in the open market. Proceed accordingly.

Several years ago Bart and Daphne Araujo sold the winery to Francois Pinault, the owner of Chateau Latour. The winery is now known as Eisele Vineyard.

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Pick My Next Bottle – 1995 Bordeaux

The April installment of Pick My Next Bottle focuses on Bordeaux from the the now 22 year old 1995 vintage. As I mentioned in the first installment, the purpose of this series is to provide insight into specific wines or producers you may currently have in your cellar. The winning bottle will be opened on Saturday and a Bottle Note will be published the following week.

James Suckling, formerly of the Wine Spectator, first compared the ’95 vintage in Bordeaux to classic vintages like ’47, ’59 and ’82. The vintage was rated 95 points by the publication. I have followed the vintage for fifteen plus years now. The vintage is definitely a throwback to a bygone era with tannic wines that will undoubtedly be long lived. Many wonder whether the tannins on some of the classified growth wines will ever resolve.

The Contenders

  • 1995 Léoville-Poyferré – While not as backward as the 1996, the opaque purple-colored 1995 is a tannic, unevolved, dense, concentrated wine that will require 8-10 years of cellaring. The 1995 exhibits pain grille, blackcurrant, mineral, and subtle tobacco in its complex yet youthful aromatics. Powerful, dense, concentrated cassis and blueberry flavors might be marginally softer than in the 1996, but there is still plenty of grip and structure to this big wine. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2030. 90 points from the Wine Advocate.
  • 1995 Calon Segur – As I have said many times since I first tasted this wine, the 1995 Calon-Segur is one of the great sleepers of the vintage (I bought the wine as a future for a mere $250 a case). The wine has closed down completely since bottling, but it is a sensational effort that may ultimately merit an even higher score. The wine is opaque purple-colored. With coaxing, the tight aromatics reveal some weedy cassis intertwined with truffles, chocolate, and beef blood-like aromas. On the palate, there is an element of sur-maturite (1995 was an extremely late harvest at Calon-Segur), fabulous density and purity, and a boatload of tannin. This deep, broodingly backward, classic Bordeaux will require a decade of cellaring. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2035. 92 points from the Wine Advocate.
  • 1995 Grand-Puy-Lacoste – Unbelievably rich, multidimensional, broad-shouldered wine, with slightly more elegance and less weight than the powerhouse 1996, this gorgeously proportioned, medium to full-bodied, fabulously ripe, rich, cassis-scented and flavored Grand-Puy-Lacoste is another beauty. It should be drinkable within 4-5 years, and keep for 25-30. This classic Pauillac is a worthy rival to the other-worldly 1996. Anticipated maturity: 2002-2025. 95 points from the Wine Advocate.

Which 1995 Bordeaux Should I Open?

  • 1995 Calon Segur (44%, 16 Votes)
  • 1995 Grand-Puy-Lacoste (33%, 12 Votes)
  • 1995 Léoville Poyferré (23%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 36

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Thanks for voting! I’d love to see a comment below on why you picked one bottle over another and your thoughts on the ’95 vintage as a whole.

Also, let me know if you have any suggestions for the May Installment of Pick My Next Bottle.

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