Penfolds Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Click here for tasting notes.

Until Yellow Tail precipitated the boom in “critter wines” in 2000, it can be argued that Penfolds was just about synonymous with Australian wine in the U.S.  The label is ubiquitous here, in both grocery stores and fine wine shops. Prices range from about $12 per bottle for the Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet, to $850 for the legendary Grange, and everything in between.  (That $850 is doubly amazing, because just five or six years ago Grange was “only” about $200.) The selections are mostly reds plus a few whites and even a tawny Port.

Founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold immigrated to Australia from England in 1844, bringing their own French vine cuttings. Not long after, their fledgling vineyard was officially established as the Penfolds wine company at the 500-acre Magill Estate in Adelaide.

The Penfolds were believers in the medicinal benefits of wine, and they planned to concoct a wine tonic for the treatment of anemia.  Initially, they produced fortified wines in the style of Sherry and Port for Dr Penfold’s patients. The operation enjoyed early growth, and since Dr Penfold was focused on his medical practice, much of the running of the winery was delegated to Mary Penfold, including the cultivation of the vines and wine blending. On Christopher’s death in 1870, Mary assumed total responsibility for the winery. According to one historical account, by that time the business had “grown to over 60 acres with several different grape varieties including Grenache, Vverdelho, Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Frontignac and Pedro Ximenez,” and the estate was “producing both sweet and dry red and white table wines with a growing market in the eastern Australian colonies of Victoria and New South Wales.” Clarets and Rieslings were especially popular. Continue reading “Penfolds Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018”

Whitehall Lane Leonardini Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Click here for tasting notes.

In the heart of Napa Valley’s historic Rutherford appellation lies Whitehall Lane Winery, with a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s. Established in 1979 by Art Finklestein and Alan Stein, the winery has evolved through the hands of different owners, each contributing to its legacy. Today, under the stewardship of the Leonardini Family, Whitehall Lane continues to produce world-class wines, garnering accolades and awards for its dedication to excellence.

Napa Valley settlers were drawn to the gravelly loam soils and ideal climate over 150 years ago, planting high-quality grapevines at what is now the Whitehall Lane Winery site. The estate vineyards, located in the Rutherford Appellation, stand testament to the enduring allure of the region’s quality soils.

Control of the property has been transferred numerous times. Guiseppe and Rosalie Baranzini owned it in the 1940s and ’50s. Davis Bynum held the land in the 1970s, but failed to secure a winery permit (although not long after he would become the first vintner to produce single-vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir), and sold to Howard Allen. He also was unsuccessful at establishing a winery, and sold to Art and Bunnie Finklestein and Art’s business partner and brother, plastic surgeon Alan Steen, and his wife Charlene in 1979. It was they who finally successfully founded Whitehall Lane on the 25-acre vineyard, setting the stage for the winery’s future.  (Allen went on to be a long-time grower for Williams Selyem, starting in 1980.)

Their first vintage was in 1981. Seven years later, the Finklesteins sold the winery to Japanese-based real estate investor Hideaki Ando. (The Finklesteins remain a well-known winemaking family in Napa, currently operating Judds Hill Winery. Continue reading “Whitehall Lane Leonardini Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018”

Pepperoni, Mushroom, and Banana Pepper Deep Dish Pizza

Pepperoni, Mushroom, and Banana Pepper Deep Dish Pizza

I didn’t grow up in Chicago, but I’ve lived in the suburbs for over 40 years. Two things that I discovered when I moved up from Texas were blues music and deep dish pizza, both of which I love to this day.  This riff on Chicago Deep Dish is far from authentic, but uses the ingredients I had on hand.

Continue reading “Pepperoni, Mushroom, and Banana Pepper Deep Dish Pizza”

Louis Roederer Champagne 2015

Click here for tasting notes.

Louis Roederer [Road-ur-ur], a distinguished champagne producer situated in Reims, France, traces its origins back to 1776, when it began as Dubois Père & Fils. While its early days were marked by still wine production, the focus soon evolved to embrace the art of crafting fine champagnes. The business underwent a transformation under the stewardship of Louis Roederer in 1833 when he not only inherited but also renamed the company for himself.  He boldly ventured into international markets, focusing particularly on Russia. This endeavor gained him immense recognition, including from Tsar Nicolas II, who appointed Louis Roederer as the official wine provider to the Imperial Court of Russia.

Created in 1876, the wine made for Nicolas’ grandfather, Alexander II, was the first Cuvée de Prestige (Prestige Cuvée) of Champagne and is called Cristal, referring to the unusual clear glass of the bottle. The Tsar had pointed out to his sommelier that the design of a standard champagne bottle made the beautiful color and effervescence of champagne invisible to the eye. He therefore instructed Roederer that his personal cuvée be served in bottles made of transparent crystal glass with a flat bottom (allegedly to foil the insertion of explosives in the indentation by would-be assassins) to remedy this defect. Thus was Cristal born, and the first notion of a premium cuvée. For more than a century, the appearance of the patented Cristal bottle has remained unchanged. After the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, Roederer decided to continue producing Cristal and to market it internationally, and it remains one of the world’s most sought-after champagnes in the world.

Continue reading “Louis Roederer Champagne 2015”