What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 10)


“Let us have wine and women, mirth, and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.”

― Lord Byron

I must smile as I recall some of the wines and the experiences I have enjoyed. Wine is a social drink, and it lends itself to shared experiences. After all, what is the point of having a great wine if one is just going to drink it alone?

36. Maya Dalle Valle – The woman and the wine.

Maya Dalle Valle

In 2019, Marché Bacchus restaurant in Las Vegas had a paired wine dinner featuring verticals of Dalle Valle Cabernet Sauvignon and Maya. My friends Eric and Lory and I decided we had to go. Dalle Valle was the first wine I had ever had by my heroine winemaker, Heidi Barrett (see a prior article in this series where I discuss my first experience with Heidi and Dalle Valle).

Dalle Valle Vineyards was founded in 1982 by Naoko and Gustav Dalle Valle. Sadly, Gustav passed away in 1995. Fortunately, Naoko was resolutely determined to continue the business. Dalle Valle became the incomparable Heidi Barrett’s first client as a consulting winemaker. She returned the favor by earning Dalle Valle her first two 100-point scores from The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker.

Marché Bacchus Patio View

I was lucky enough to have been seated next to Maya Dalle Valle at the dinner. Maya, the woman, had just been named Dalle Valle Vineyards’s Director and new winemaker. I had never met anyone for whom a 100-point wine was named. Maya is a highly accomplished woman who was literally born into wine. She worked the harvests, has a Master’s degree in enology from Cornell, worked with Michel Rolland, and had turns at Ornellaia, Château Pétrus, and Latour, amongst other accomplishments. As if that is not enough, she is also utterly charming.

Andras, Lory, Eric, Maya, Naoko

It turns out, Maya’s birthday is the week before my son’s and the same year. This bit of knowledge spurred me into action. Could it be that I could possibly introduce my beloved son to the delightful Maya, the woman? They could fit together like a Bordeaux blend. What was I willing to do for limitless access to 100-point wines? The answer was… anything. Maya, Naoko, Eric, Lory, and I had a wonderful evening. We talked, laughed, had great food, and drank outstanding wines.

2013 Maya

The Dalle Valle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon verticals showed the nuances of the varietal. Maya, the wines, were stunning. They were a gorgeous colored red blend, complex but imminently approachable. The wine is designed to enhance whatever food it accompanies. Maya, the proprietary red wine, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, showing notes of crème de cassis, white flowers, savory herbs, chocolate, and licorice. Maya, the woman, explained her approach to winemaking to me. Clearly, she carries a tradition of greatness that befits both her first and last names.

Unfortunately, the evening was ending. Maya and Naoko, ever gracious, took photos with Eric, Lory, and me. Maya signed my bottle of Maya, and I gave one more shot to tell her what a fantastic son I have. She was taking a long time to sign the bottle, so I asked, “What are you writing, ‘War and Peace?’”

“You’ll see,” she responded. I looked at the bottle as we said our last goodbyes. I had to smile as I read what she wrote.

Maya’s Inscription

I participated in at least 50 Zoom calls during the 2020 Covid-19 quarantine. One of them was with Carlton McCoy, Jr., Master Sommelier, former wine director at The Little Nell restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, and currently CEO of Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley. The presenter asked Carlton at the end of the session what he drinks when he is not drinking his own wine. He ticked off several amazing wines, and he then casually said, “I like to drink wines made by my girlfriend Maya Dalla Valle.”

He just had to drop that in there. And he did it so nonchalantly. COME ON! He has access to 100-point wines. Did he have to steal my future daughter-in-law too? I thought I was in there!

Oh well, I will have to settle with just introducing my son to Maya, the wine. I hoisted my glass in a toast, “Cheers! Here is to what could have been.”

37 & 38. Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne 1987 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1991.

My kidults (they will always be my kids, but they are adults) were born in 1987 and 1991, and I resolved to buy a bottle of wine intending to celebrate with them on their respective 21st birthdays.

My son was a preemie born on Bastille Day, the 14th of July 1987, so the wine had to be French. I was torn between a Champagne and a still wine. Champagnes are already aged in the bottle, whereas still wines are typically, intended to be cellar aged. I finally settled on a Champagne. I love everything about Champagne, from the bubbles and the whimsical way it tickles your nose to the historical, as Champagne became the wine of choice of 18th-century French nobility. I wanted a bottle of wine that would keep for 21 years. My favorite Champagne is Krug, so I bought a bottle of Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1987.

I love vintage Champagnes, and I have done several articles in this series on them. We opened the bottle on my son’s birthday in 2008. This Champagne proved to be a great one. Honestly, I do not think there was a choice, given the occasion. My son had infrequently had drinks over the years, I know that he had never had anything like Krug. I cannot say that the Krug was the beginning of a life-long affair with wine for him, but he has loved Champagne, and Krug, in particular, since then. He also enjoys still wines, and he is developing his palate. He is his father’s child because he has an affinity for Napa Cabs. I have asked him over the years if he has had a Champagne that approaches the Krug, and the answer has always been, “No.”

My daughter was my pre-Valentine’s Day gift. I was not sure which wine to get to celebrate her 21st birthday. Should I get a still wine or go for another Champagne? Krug and several other Houses did not make a 1991 vintage, so I looked at several still wines. I just could not find the right still wine. I did find a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1991. Taittinger is also one of my favorite Champagnes (see my article on Taittinger 1980 that is a part of this series).

Taittinger Champagne

It was 2012, and I had a problem. My daughter did not drink alcohol, and she still does not. She must have taken after her grandmother. We opened the Taittinger on her 21st birthday, and she did indulge me by taking a sip. She was not impressed. However, I was. The Taittinger was a beautiful expression of Champagne. It hit all the right notes. I am just sorry my daughter did not enjoy it. However, there is an upside to everything. You know what they say when you are with someone who does not drink wine? “There is more for me.”

39. Penfolds Bin 95 Grange 1996

Penfolds Grange 2012

My friends Eric and Lory have an enviable wine cellar. Fortunately, they love to share their wine. I was part of an enviable group whom they invited to enjoy one of the most iconic vintages of Australia’s premier wine: Penfolds Bin 95 Grange 1996. This wine had been awarded 99 points by James Suckling. I had previously had the Grange, but they had been comparatively young. This was my first opportunity to taste the wine aged to its optimal tasting range.

Penfolds was founded in Australia in 1844, a mere eight years following the establishment of South Australia. This makes Penfolds one of Australia’s earliest wineries. Their first vine cuttings were from South Africa.

The 1990s were a great time for Penfolds. Penfolds celebrated its 50th anniversary of the Grange, and deliveries expanded throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Asia, especially in China, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Penfolds and Decanter

The Grange is, at 94.00%, predominantly from the Shiraz varietal and uses only 4.00% of Cabernet Sauvignon as a filler. Most red wines come on the market two years out from vintage; the 1996 Grange was released as a five-year-old after 19 months of new American oak maturation.

Not all wines can withstand the test of time. Some wines are meant to be enjoyed shortly after release whilst others need to be nurtured over time to reach their optimal peak. The Grange is one of the latter.

The 1996 Grange benefited from a great amount of rain in the autumn and winter followed by the wettest July in 10 years. This wine was a fusion of cinnamon and spices, with currants, blueberries, and boysenberry notes on the nose. Oak, vanilla, maple, and anise are all omnipresent. There were hints of nuttiness, tea, and earth. The palate was incredible.

The Grange was balanced with concentrated blue and black fruits, still tannic, yet long, lingering, and flavorful, enveloped in the oak. My goodness, what opulent juice!

Drinking such a fine wine after giving it time to mature is what enjoying wine is all about. Eric let me have the empty bottle, and I keep it on a shelf. I also found a full bottle of the ‘96 that I will eventually open. Ideally, it will be with Eric and Lory.

40. A Rioja tasting – “Tradition is not inherited, tradition is conquered.”

This article is not just about a single wine, but an entire region. I had the pleasure of attending the most remarkable private wine tasting in September 2018. This tasting was sponsored by Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits and the trade group for the wines from Rioja, Spain, called Rioja Trade. The tasting’s focus was mainly on the Tempranillo varietal, but it also included other varietals from the region, such as Garnacha (Grenache) and Carignan (known in Rioja as Mazuelo). This tasting had only about 30 people present, many were sommeliers. Everyone was effusive about the wine selections and with good reason.

I have always enjoyed Tempranillo, which is a wine produced from a grape of the same name. Tempranillo is versatile and can be enjoyed separately or blended with other varietals, such as Garnacha or Mazuelo. It is incomparable when paired with regional food.

This tasting presented the best of the Rioja region in one place. The tasting also featured something I had never had before, aged Tempranillo wines. By aged, I mean wines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They also presented more current vintages. Additionally, this tasting showcased Spanish tapas and a Jamón Ibérico, or “Iberian ham,” carving station. Iberian ham, made from the Black Iberian breed pigs, is considered a delicacy. I do not eat pork, so I have never tried it. My son attended a wedding in Barcelona about 10 years ago, and he had Jamón for the first time. He called me and said that the Jamón was so good that even I would have tried it.

Jamon Iberico

Tempranillo is the dominant varietal in wines from Rioja. They are characteristically oak-barreled aged and have a brick color profile. The predominant notes on the nose are leather and red fruits, mainly cherries. The wines are typically medium- to full-bodied with an abundance of tannins and minerality. The flavor profile is akin to Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had several wines for the first time that evening. One was Marqués de Riscal Reserva Frank Gehry 2012. Yes, that Frank Gehry, the architect who designed the stunning Hotel Marqués de Riscal, as well as the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, the Disney Theater in Los Angeles, and the Ruvo Brain Institute in Las Vegas. The etched bottle and the accompanying box Gehry designed are unique. The wine follows the bottle like the palate follows the nose. It is beautiful. The wine has expressions of blackberries, kirsch, espresso beans, and even tar.

Wineries in Spain are called Bodegas. I also had a Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta – Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial for the first time. This vintage was the 2007. Several bottles of this special wine are presently in my cellar. This is a splendid wine and is representative of the quality of wines from Rioja. I was very pleased that the 2010 vintage was named Wine Spectator’s 2020 wine of the year.

Another of the recent vintages that was superb was Ramòn Bilbao Mirto Rioja Red 2012. This wine is a blend of predominately Tempranillo and was rounded out with Graciano and Garnacha grapes. It had seductive notes of chocolate, vanilla, leather, spices, liquorice, and tobacco. I had never had the wine before, but I was never so happy to have had this opportunity.

As incredible as those wines were, and make no mistake, they were incredible, the stars, for me, were the library wines. I did not realize Tempranillo-based wines could age for decades. The Bilbainas Viño Pomal Reserva 1970, was 48 years old. Let me repeat that. The Bilbainas Viño Pomal Reserva 1970, was 48 years old! It was a wine that still held up.

The Bodegas Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 was a Tempranillo and Graciano blend. The wine was jammy, well-balanced, and medium-bodied. Its finish was as long as its age.

You cannot speak of wine from Rioja without mentioning Bodegas Faustino, which is probably the best-known wine from Rioja found in the United States. The Bodegas was well represented by Bodegas Faustino I Gran Reserva 1991. Faustino’s motto is, “Tradition is not inherited, tradition is conquered.” This is another blend from Rioja, but this time it was a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, and Mazuelo grapes. This wine also withstood the test of time, like the other library wines presented at the tasting that evening. I think tradition had been conquered.

This tasting was one of the best I have ever attended. I will always recall it whenever I have Tempranillo or other wines from Rioja. The best part is I can stack my Spanish wines deep, and I know they will improve with age.




Andras B.
Andras B.
Andras is a retired attorney, a passionate wine aficionado, and sommelier. He is an experienced and seasoned world traveler with a gourmet palate.


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