The Monte Cassino Cocktail

In the beginning of 1944, the allies were being kept from capturing Rome by German army elements holding the Rapido-Gari, Liri, and Garigliano valleys. Monte Cassino, a Benedictine Abbey founded in 529AD dominated the landscape and was believed to be serving as a German lookout post. The allies dropped thousands of pounds of ordinance on the abbey in an attempt to neutralize its use. The bombing proved fruitless and actually allowed German paratroopers to set up an almost impregnable defensive position in the rubble of the monastery.

For four months the allies assaulted Monte Cassino in an attempt to remove the German blockade. Finally, on May 18, 1944, Monte Cassino fell and the flag of Poland was raised above the ruins – Poland providing the unit that finally lodged the Germans from their positions.

In tribute to the many lives that were lost in the capturing of this iconic landmark, thus enabling the allies to finally take Rome from the Nazis, I present the Monte Cassino cocktail*:

1oz. Rye Whiskey

1oz. Benedictine

1oz. Yellow Chartreuse

1oz. Lemon Juice

3/4oz. Cold Water

Shake the ingredients with crushed ice, strain and serve with a lemon twist


*(from “365 Days of Cocktails…”)

The Spencer Cocktail

Despite the snowfall today (April 6th), it is time to jump start Spring with a refreshing and fruity cocktail that just oozes sunshine!

The Spencer Cocktail is originally from Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, which is one of the definitive cocktail collections from the 1930’s.

The cocktail is well-balanced with a charmingly fruity personality, perfect to welcome Spring.

I present the Spencer Cocktail…2oz. London Dry Gin1oz. Apricot Liqueur1/4oz. Orange JuiceDash of bitters (Orange was my preference)Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a cherry.Cheers!

2015 Santa Ema Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipo Valley, Chile

Chilean Cabernet is so often forgettable. Not terrible, but not memorable either. Every so often the stars align and a Chilean producer comes up with a serious, memorable wine. This wine is truly wonderful. Solid structure, ample fruit and a melange of beautiful flavors on the finish. Moderate aging potential. The best thing? You get all this for a nudge over $10 per bottle… very solid value!


2016 Tellus Vinea Bordeaux AOC


Based on preliminary reports, as well as some actual taste experience, it appears that Bordeaux is poised to release two, back-to-back exceptional vintages – 2015 and 2016. The last time this happened was 2009 and 2010.

As the 2015 wines begin to roll in, it is clear these wines are magnificent – showing characteristics of both the 2009 and 2010 vintages, Bordeaux’s best vintages of late. The wines possess the structured elegance of the 2010 wines combined with the lushness and approachability of the 2009 wines.

At this point, there have not been many 2016 wines in the retail stream to taste, largely because most château have only just wrapped up their initial future offerings. There are, however, some château that are releasing wines and what is coming to market provides evidence of the superior nature of the vintage.

It has generally been the case that as Bordeaux prices have climbed, more attention is paid to second labels, or lesser châteaux in search of greater value. This approach is especially important when faced with back-to-back exceptional vintages.

Such is the case with the 2016 Tellus Vinea Bordeaux. Tellus Vinea is a subsidiary wine made by the same team behind Château Belregard Figeac, a legitimate Grand Cru Saint-Emilion wine. The Pueyo Family has owned Belregard Figeac since 1853. With over 150 years of continuous ownership, the impact of seasons of experience with their vineyard parcels shows in the exceptional quality of their wines. This extensive knowledge of the vineyards in Saint-Emilion has allowed the Pueyo family to find great sources of grapes for their AOC Bordeaux wine Tellus Vinea. The original vineyards supplying Tellus Vinea bordered Lalande-de-Pomerol and the wine distinguished itself as a high-value “baby-Pomerol,” despite the broad Bordeaux AOC. However, after the 2011 vintage, these vineyards were no longer viable and the Pueyos needed a new source of grapes. Beginning with the 2014 vintage, the Tellus Vinea is being sourced from vineyards located on less sandy, more argilo-calcaire soils in Juillac, much further south and east from Lalande-de-Pomerol. The new vineyard source is managed organically, and all harvesting is manual. The varietal distribution on the parcel is approximately 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc and the presence of calcareous soil imbues the wine with firmer structure than pre-2014 wines.

The 2016 Tellus Vinea is a wonderful wine. Well-balanced with fresh, vibrant fruit on the nose and firm tannin on the palate, the wine exhibits great structure with a presence of smoothness and elegance. Woven amid the fruit are earthy, herbaceous notes with strong cedar on the aftertaste. The finish is somewhat short, attributable to the wine’s youth. The wine is drinking very well now and should improve over the next 5 to 7 years. At an average per bottle cost of $17 pre-discount, the wine is an insane value. Gordons in Waltham, MA had a Daily Flash offer at the beginning of March of $14 per bottle net, which further improves the value proposition.


2015 Château Haut Ségottes Saint-Émilion Grand Cru


The 2015 vintage in Bordeaux is very highly-regarded, and as wines from the vintage enter the market, many are met with bated breath in anticipation of their arrival. Château Haut Ségottes is such a wine.

Château Haut Ségottes is a classic Saint-Émilion producer that has been owned by the same family since 1860. The current proprietor, Mme. Danielle Meunier, “vigneronne extraordinaire”, is the fourth generation of her family to oversee this twenty-two-acre estate.

From the importer’s website (Neal Rosenthal):

Meunier’s great-grandfather purchased the estate around 1860 and had earned gold medals for his wine as early as 1912 at the Concours Agricole in Paris. In 1959, the estate began to bottle its wine in earnest. In 1972 Madame Meunier took the reins of production and we can proudly stake our claim as one of her first and most loyal clients: we have been purchasing her wines since the 1977 vintage.

The twenty-two-acres of Château Haut Segottes are all planted within the St. Emilion Grand Cru appellation. The vineyards are planted 60% to Merlot, 35% to Cabernet Franc, and 5% to Cabernet Sauvignon. The position of the vineyards within the appellation is outstanding. Parcels are found within the “lieu-dits” of Fortin (across from Château La Dominique and approximately 1,000 feet from Château Cheval Blanc); Chauvin; and the highly regarded “Plateau de Corbin”. Château Haut Ségottes bottles between 30,000 to 40,000 bottles per year.


Château Haut-Ségottes is a very traditional Saint-Émilion wine. Harvesting of the grapes is entirely manual. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the young wine is aged in oak for approximately 18 months. New cooperage is limited to 20%. The wine is not filtered before bottling.


Although the vineyards are planted to 60% Merlot, the ultimate blend that is bottled as Château Haut-Ségottes is actually a majority of Cabernet Franc – almost 65%. The dominance of Cabernet Franc gives the wine considerable structure and makes it exceptionally age worthy. Approximately 10,000 bottles per year are imported into the USA.

The 2015 wine is quite the little powerhouse. On the nose the wine exhibits bright cherry aromas with hints of cedar and dried herbs. Full-bodied with firm tannin and moderate acidity, well-balanced. Dark fruit core on the palate, tight with a hint of greenness, likely due to the higher percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend. Long finish, somewhat closed, but showing a touch of spice on the aftertaste. Built for moderate aging, the wine should improve for the next 15 years, or more. The wine is a strong value, with an average retail of around $41.00 per bottle, pre-discount.


2016 Famille Gonnet La Julia Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc


Instinctively, when one thinks of the Rhone Valley, one inevitably thinks about red wine. Not surprising, given that the most famous wines of the region are red. But, like anything in life, if you look more deeply you will find hidden treasure. Many white wines of the Rhone are exactly that: hidden treasure.

There are many white varietals grown in the Rhone, but the principle white grapes are Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains. Roussanne and Marsanne are considered the work horses of dry white Rhone wines, with Marsanne providing strength and Roussanne providing aromatic appeal. Muscat is largely dedicated to dessert wines, or highly-perfumed, soft, light-bodied dry whites. Viognier, quite possibly the least-planted white grape in the world, is revered for its ability to create wine of infinite complexity and finesse.

In the Northern Rhone, Viognier finds it home in the famed appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet, where wine that is the stuff of legends is produced.

As you move south, Viognier becomes more of a supporting cast member, providing seductive aromas and pretty floral flavors to blends of Roussanne and Marsanne in Côtes du Rhône Blanc wines. Some noted producers see the value of increasing the percentage of Viognier in their white wines. For these wines, the experience is all about beauty and exotic appeal.

Since 2006, cousins Guillaume and Bertrand Gonnet, the sons of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Font de Michelle’s owners, Jean and Michel, have been very involved in running the Famille Gonnet domaine. Overall, the domaine includes 74 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 50 acres in Côtes-du-Rhône. So far, the young sons are making quite a name for themselves with an array of wines that are very well-received. After tasting their CDR Blanc, it is clear they are doing things right.

This lovely Côtes du Rhône Blanc is produced from vineyards located outside of the village of Signargues, not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The cepage is largely Viognier, with small amounts of Clairette in the blend. The 2016 vintage is being touted as one of the best vintages in the Rhone in over 40 years. As such, this delicious 2016 white wine has many of the same endearing characteristics found in Condrieu, that famous all-Viognier Appellation in the north. The primary difference is that this CDR Blanc is a third to one quarter the price of Condrieu.

The wine itself is just lovely, featuring a seductive nose of bright citrus fruit and wild flowers. Medium-bodied and well-balanced with moderate acidity, the palate is redolent of refreshing stone fruits and hints of minerality. Elegant with a long finish showing slight almond-skin and lime notes. Not for aging and a tremendous value at an average price of $15.99/per bottle pre-discount. The downside – availability may be tight because of limited quantities. That said, the wine is worth the search!


The Bee’s Knees

This Prohibition-era cocktail borrows it’s name from the slang phrase at the time meaning “the best.”

Like most cocktails during this era, the design was more about concealing the poor quality of available spirits, especially “bath tub” gin.

This cocktail was unusual, in that it used honey as the primary sweetener, as opposed to sugar or simple syrup. The result is actually quite pleasant, with the unctuous quality of the honey lurking in the background.

The use of honey is a bit challenging, as shaking the drink with crushed ice makes the honey tough to fully integrate due to its thickening viscosity.

Refreshing and crisp, the Bee’s Knees is a welcome addition to one’s cocktail repertoire.

2 oz. London Dry Gin

3/4 oz. Lemon Juice

3/4 oz. Honey

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe glass. Lemon twist garnish.

2001 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley

About fifteen years ago there was a great French Bistro in town that featured delicious food and intriguing wines. The restaurant partnered with a local wine shop to bring in small production wineries from California for a few truly awesome wine dinners.

One of those dinners was with Stephen Ross Winery, featuring their limited production wines made from the highest quality fruit found in some very sought after vineyards.

At the time, we bought a few cases of several of the wines – some Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. The wines were awesome and deserved some cellar time.

Well, tonight we opened the 2001 Pinot Noir from the Bien Nacido vineyard and I can safely say that this wine is still incredible after 17 years in bottle.

Bright fruit with floral hints. Jammy on the palate with deep, red berry fruit. Long finish with a spicy aftertaste. I would guess that this wine will continue to improve for many years to come. Pleasantly surprised, as my personal experience suggests that West Coast Pinot Noir does not age well…

The not so good news… current vintage of the Bien Nacido is selling for $42/per bottle from the winery… not cheap, but the 2001 suggests exceptional quality!


2013 G.D. Vajra Albe Barolo


As promised, here is another exceptional 2013 Barolo. The wines of G.D. Vajra are truly artisanal, crafted from some of the best grapes in Barolo. The wines also represent a tremendous value when compared to Barolo of similar quality.

G.D. Vajra was started by Aldo and Milena Vajra in 1972 and produced minuscule quantities of various Piemontese wines. The grapes were sourced from vineyards planted by Aldo’s father in 1947. Originally, the fruit was sold in bulk to negociants, but in 1978 that all changed, when Aldo produced the first serious commercial bottling bearing the family name.

Today, the family owns approximately 100 acres of vineyards in Barolo, consisting of holdings in Fossati, Coste de Vergne, and La Volta. The winery is very traditional and macerates its wines for 20 to 30 days depending on the vintage. The wines are typically matured in large neutral Slavonian casks. Stylistically, the wines possess finesse and elegance and are more refined on the palate.

The Albe is a very seductive wine, with a highly perfumed nose and ripe cherry aromas. Well-balanced with moderate acidity and well integrated tannin, the wine has a tight fruit core and a long, complex finish. Drinking well, but should benefit from many more years of bottle aging.

In the Boston area the wine is retailing for $39.99 per bottle, pre-discount, which is an outrageous value for wine of this quality. Given the aging potential of the wine, the value only increases.


2005 Chateau Peyrabon Haut Medoc


Chateau Peyrabon is a cru bourgeois property in the appellation of Haut Medoc in Bordeaux. The chateau has vineyards in both Haut Medoc and Pauillac, although the Haut Medoc vineyard is one of the largest holdings in that region at over 70 acres. The location of the parcel is several miles inland from the Gironde estuary, lying within a mile of the Pauillac commune. The gravelly soil imparts classic “Left Bank” minerality to the wine.

The chateau was purchased by noted Bordeaux merchant Patrick Bernard in 1998 and has been the recipient of generous investments to improve quality and production. The results are clearly evident in greatly improved scores for wines judged after 1998. Peyrabon is not without a bit of controversy. Back when the original Medoc Chateau were classified in 1855, Chateau Peyrabon was excluded from the list, despite commanding prices that were commensurate with other listed properties (historic selling price was the primary criteria for inclusion in the classification). As we all know, the classification has withstood many challenges, relenting only once to elevate Chateau Mouton Rothschild from second to first growth in 1973. Peyrabon’s 14 year challenge was ultimately unsuccessful, but the chateau was able to get in on the cru bourgeois extension of the classification, so there is some acknowledgement of the historic quality and importance of the property.

As a “Left Bank” Bordeaux, the wine is typically a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc.

The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was very highly-touted, coming after several weaker vintages. As such, the futures market was very active with some of the highest prices recorded to date. In addition, many top-rated chateaux sold out during the futures campaign, meaning that many wine lovers would only get to acquire their favorite wines at full release price, assuming they could get them at all.

The 2005 Peyrabon is classic “Left Bank” Bordeaux with lots of minerality and savory fruit notes. At thirteen years old, the wine is showing great maturity with evolved bottle-aged complexity. The wine is still a deep ruby red color, possessing an almost obscure robe with a hint of brick on the disc. On the nose, strong cherry fruit is evident with hints of menthol, dried herb and wet stone – classic. On the palate the wine is very well-balanced with an elegant structure, moderate acidity and well-integrated tannin. Cherry fruit is again evident, dense but not jammy. The finish is long with unfolding layers of complexity that open with time in the glass. The wine is drinking well and will likely continue to improve for another 5 to 7 years in the bottle.

Availability is another matter. We’re blogging about the wine because it was recently offered in the Boston market at an unbelievable price. The thirty cases that were offered sold out within an hour. That said, the wine is a spectacular value and worthy of coverage, if for no other reason than to put it on people’s radar screen in the event more shows up at some point. As a point of reference – the wine typically sells for between $28 and $30 per bottle – the offering that I reference had it on sale for $19.99 net per bottle. Now you can understand why it sold out in an hour.

This was the first time I experienced Peyrabon – based on how this vintage showed, it will not be my last… Looking forward to tasting some other noted vintages like 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016.