“sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking” : The Rediscovery of Heitz Cellars Grignolino
In the article Italian Wines, A Growing Traffic in the Choice Falernian published in 1874 it was noted that Barbera, Grignolino, Nebbiolo, sparkling Asti and Malvasia were the top brands from Piedmont which were imported into the United States. Grignolino itself was planted in California as late as the 1883-1885 timeframe. In the Northern Italian section of the Descriptive List of Grapes Received and Wines Made, with Analyses of Musts and Wines it was noted that the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony of Asti, Sonoma County had brought in many cuttings of Piedmontese varieties including Grignolino. These were growing in their large vineyard which had been previously planted with Zinfandel. Unfortunately no samples grapes or wines were described.
By 1916 Californian versions of Grignolino were being produced and advertised by the Italian Vineyard Company. That same year one could dine at the Golden Lion Tavern and Grill at 4th and F St in San Diego and accompany your Roast Turkey with a “pint of San Severo white or Grignolino red Wine” for $0.75. Whether this was Californian or Italian Girgnolino was not specified. With the repeal of Prohibition, Guasti Fruit Industries advertised that “connoisseurs today stipulate Guasti instead of ‘imported’.” Amongst Burgundy, Claret, Madeira, and Riesling selections were Grignolino. Just after World War 2 the I.V.C. California Wines company advertised their Grignolino from “non-irrigated vineyards in Southern California”. The advertisement was headlined “Your new love…Grignolino” and was described as “Robust and ruby-red”.Heitz Cellar Grignolino was advertised in Seattle by June 1965 as a recommended wine for a Father’s Day dinner. It costs $3.10 per bottle as compared to La Tache, Burgundy at $17.50. One could by Heitz Grignolino in Dallas, Texas in 1973 for $2.99 per bottle on sale. This was more expensive than their Chablis and Burgundy selections priced at $2.69 but less expensive than Johannisberg Riesling at $4.19. The price was remarkably stable for in 1978 the Heitz Grignolino was still priced at $2.99 in Omaha, Nebraska. 
At the Los Angeles County Fair of 1977 Frank Prial noted there were 825 Californian wines entered “including everything from champagne and tawny port to grignolino and coconut wine.” Later that month Frank Prial described the “white-wine explosion” where “Hard-bitten martini drinkers by the score switch every day to white wine.”  While the popularity of rosé wines were not growing as fast as white wines it exceeded the growth-rate of red wines. He included the “iconoclastic Heitz Cellars” rosé made from Grignolino, concluding that “[t]hese new California wines are well-made, sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking.” By 1986 Frank Prial noted the switchover in preference from white wine to rosé wine. He attributed this to the Californian industry banking on red wine being the new favorite but it had been white wine and production was unable to meet demand. With a surplus of red grapes the discarded efforts of “white” Zinfandel, “white” Cabernet Sauvignon, and others led to blush wines. However, it was rosé wines which were more serious than blush and the good producers included Caymus, Geyser Peak, Montevina, David Bruce, Buehler, Mirassou, Robert Mondavi, Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon and of course Heitz Cellars with its Grignolino rosé. As late as 1993, Dan Berger recommended Heitz Grignolino at $5.50 per bottle for Thanksgiving dinner.
 Date: Friday, December 18, 1874 Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, NY) Page: 2
 Report of Viticultural Report During the Seasons 1883-4 and 1884-5. 1886. ULR: http://books.google.com/books?id=GJ5CAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
 The Grizzly Bear Magazine. 1916. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=J8wsAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA4-PA57#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Date: Saturday, October 14, 1916 Paper: Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA) Page: 6
 Date: Tuesday, August 21, 1934 Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA) Page: 7
 Date: Tuesday, June 8, 1965 Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA) Page: 11
 Date: Wednesday, June 27, 1973 Paper: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX) Section: B Page: 2
 Date: Wednesday, March 8, 1978 Paper: Omaha World Herald (Omaha, NE) Page: 57
 Date: Sunday, September 11, 1977 Paper: Boston Herald (Boston, MA) Page: 8
 Date: Thursday, September 22, 1977 Paper: San Diego Union (San Diego, CA) Page: 59
 Date: Wednesday, June 11, 1986 Paper: Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC) Page: 54
 Date: Wednesday, November 24, 1993 Paper: Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, GA) Section: B Page: 3
Here is David Bloch’s description from last year of tasting 2003 Pierre Usseglio, Cuvee Mon Aieul, 2003 Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, and 2003 Clos des Papes.
Knowing I would not be going in to the office last Wednesday but instead would be working from home, Ariane and I decided to open three CdPs from the highly irregular 2003 vintage. Here are my impressions – all wines decanted approx. 3 ½ hours before drinking:
Usseglio Mon Aieul: Absolutely amazing nose. Floral and spicy. The wine is becoming more delicate – but in no way less powerful. There is a certain “clarity” to the predominantly Grenache cuvee – almost a pristine clean of kirsch and flowers. Really long finish of that kirsch again as well as some darker berry notes. This wine will go for years to come. Purchased on release from Wide World.
Marcoux V.V.: IIRC, the most expensive bottle of CdP I ever purchased. Worth every cent. Having been in the Rhone this really does smell like the Rhone. Intense and complex nose. Really different than the Mon Aieul. This is a meatier wine, showing less pure Grenache but more of everything else: deep berry notes, some Bordeaux-like cassis, and a host of savory herbs and spices. The wine has got some tannins to resolve and in a way I regret opening the only bottle I have, only because I think the wine will continue to progress. Purchased on release from Calvert Woodley.
Clos des Papes: posters & bloggers who write of this wine’s diminishing lifespan are just wrong. This is a big wine, different than the Marcoux. It seemed the most alcoholic of the three but not in a way that there is noticeable heat. It had more of the kirsch notes that I am attracted to, but had a bit of dark side to it that leaned a bit toward the bitter. Licorice maybe. This is a peppery and herbal wine with plenty of tannins, still. Midway through dinner the wine tightened up and almost closed down again, something I was not expecting. Purchased on release from Bassin’s at the insistence of the Rhone-meister Emeritus.
A lot of wine and I suspect (and meant to check) some serious alcohol content. I could not stay awake for the 10 p.m. news.
Order of Preference: as listed above. Wines rebottled from decanters overnight and air pumped out. Kept in the cellar.
Snowmageddon (not!) Wednesday: finishing where what we started.
Marcoux showed even better the second day. Overnight was less kind to the Usseglio – I think the wine really impressed the night before and lost some of its kirschy sharpness. The Clos des Papes was another story altogether. It did not taste like the same wine. The wine was far better on day two and the air served to really soften the wine and smooth out some the rough edges that continue. My takeway is that the Clos des Papes can in fact live a lot longer than some cognoscenti would lead you to believe. Day two order of preference: Marcoux, Clos des Papes, Mon Aieul.
If you own them, drink them. They are all beautiful interpretations and expressions of the region and have, at least for my palate, reached a level of maturity that provides that extra Je ne sais quoi!
Last year David Bloch sent out an email describing his experience tasting a trio of Chateauneuf du Pape: 2003 Pierre Usseglio, Cuvee Mon Aieul, 2003 Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, and 2003 Clos des Papes. His email chronicled the wines over two days. He wrote in a very personal style that both conveyed his voice and his preferences. Today’s post features his latest experience with and an image of 1995 Chateau Haut-Brion.
1995 Chateau Haut-Brion, Graves -
(3/4/14): A local butcher ages prime meat to order the way I like it: 40-45 days. Served with an almost 1 ¾ lb. 42 day aged-boneless rib. Started in a pan and butter braised, and then finished in the oven on cast iron. Aromatically unmistakable an HB. A very olive nose. The color is youthful but the wine, while not advanced, is probably fully mature. Very dark fruits. One whiff smelled almost Northern Rhone-like to me. Mushrooms and earthy. Herbaceous (in a positive way) and smoky notes. Silky mouthfeel. The finish is long and the wine is really showing beautifully at this time. This 1995 will last for many, many more years.
Bodegas Ochoa was founded in 1845 and is located north-east of Rioja in Navarra. There is not much out there about the 1993 Ochoa, Navarra Gran Reserva besides a miserable 80 points from Wine Spectator. I try to avoid reading about wines before I taste them but I honestly was not expecting much from this bottle. Indeed when I started decanting the wine I was somewhat alarmed by the very tawny color void of all purple pigment. Perhaps this lack of traditional color explains why it was full of sediment. In Julian Jeffs’ The Wines of Spain (1999) he writes of their wines, “All of these reds have serious aging potential.” This apparently was true for the wine was immediately aromatic and full of flavor. The bottle was a treat to drink until the very end. I kept wondering how a wine with such mature flavors could taste so fresh. And then I wished I had more. This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
1993 Bodegas Ochoa, Navarra Gran Reserva -
Imported by Frontier Wine Imports. This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon which was aged for over two years in a mixture of American and French oak. Alcohol 13%. The color was an almost medium tawny and looked rather old. The nose was aromatic from the start with ripe aromas and wood box. With air the nose developed an attractive polished wood aroma. In the mouth the wine was round with a little weight and nice balance between fruit and acidity. There were mature red fruit flavors and a generally fresh nature to the mature flavors. With air the flavors took on more red cherry and contracted a bit to become a touch firmer. The freshness remained with juicy acidity, a musky and minerally finish, lipstick expansion, and a good coating aftertaste. Nice wine. *** Now-2019.
My research into Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira quickly resulted in my introduction to Mannie Berk of The Rare Wine Co. We had much to share in our first phone call and subsequent emails so it was perhaps inevitable that we would soon meet for dinner. Our common interests extend beyond Madeira to include Rioja amongst other subjects. Sharing an appreciation for these wines Mannie offered to bring an old vintage. Mannie’s interest in drinking traditional wines is enriched by historical curiosity and as evidenced by our dinner, not just old but historic vintages. For once we were seated for dinner he produced from his carrying case a bottle of 1922 Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva.
The 1922 vintage marks a 60 year span since the first Bordeaux influenced vintage of Marques de Riscal in 1862. It also represents an early post-phylloxera vintage as well as the 4th vintage after cholera created a labor shortage and half the 1917 harvest was left unpicked. Though vinified before the Consejo Regulador was established in 1926, this bottle bore the Rioja mark reflecting its long barrel aging and later release. Even today Marques de Riscal produces wine reflecting over 150 years of tradition. In this post I take a brief look at this tradition. I forewarn you that this post skips vast periods of history, including the efforts of the important Enological Research Station of Haro which was established in 1892. This gaps occur because I have spent much of my time surveying what materials are available for future research.
The tie between the Marques de Riscal and Bordeaux predates the phylloxera-driven influx of French winemakers in the 1870s. As part of the Medoc Alaves project the local Alava government sponsored the hiring of the winemaker Jean Pineau of Chateau Lanessan in Bordeaux. As part of the effort both vine shoots and 225 liter oak barriques were imported from Bordeaux and employed by Jean Pineau from 1862 through 1868.
Mr. Garagarza, director of the School of Agriculture, worked with Mr Pineau in a campaign to produce wine in the Medoc style. The campaign involved several producers. At a meeting in May 1863, Deputy Ortiz Zarate examined the wines produced in the new Medoc style from the 1862 harvest. Mr. Zarate felt that all of these wines were far superior to those traditionally produced. Mr. Pineau’s efforts also included cooperage. More of this effort is detailed in El Pimer Taller de Toneleria en Rioja (1865). Mr. Pineau was given the authority to sulphur a few vineyards to fight powdery mildew. His efforts met with success for it was noted that the crop of 1863 was reported to be more abundant and far superior than that of 1862. The Council of Alava reached out to Logrono and Navarre to witness the new tests.
The initial efforts of Mr. Pineau and the others were promptly submitted at the 1864 Exposition Internationale Franco-Espagnole.
Cortazar (Manuel-Maria), Laguardia.
789 – Quatre bouteilles de vin de 1862, vinificaiton bordelaise.
790 – Quatre bouteilles de vin de 1863, vinification bordelaise.
791 – Une bouteille de vin cuve de 1863, vinification espagnole.
Olano (Jose-Maria), Samaniega.
1046 – Quatre bouteilles de vin de 1862, vinification bordelaise.
1047 – Quatre Bouteilles de vin de 1863, vinification bordelaise.
Paternina (Francisco), Labastida.
1054 – Une bouteille de vin de 185(6?)2, vinification du Medoc.
1055 – Une bouteille de vin de 1863, vinification du Medoc.
1056 – Une bouteille de vin de 1863, vinification espagnole.
Poves (Galo), Labastida.
1061 – Une bouteille vin ordinaire de 1863, vinification bordelaise.
Puejo (Antonio), Laguardia.
1067 – Une bouteille de vin de 1863, vinification bordelaise.
Riscal (marquis de), Elciego.
1070 – Quatre bouteilles vin ordinaire de 1862, vinification bordelaise.
1071 – Quatre bouteilles vin ordinaire de 1863, vinification bordelaise.
Despite the early success demonstrated by a gold medal, the Council noted that not all gentlemen involved in the efforts were following the complete set of rules for the Medoc style. The offenses included the bad state of the vats and the absence of racking the wines. By the last year of Mr. Pineau’s contract in 1868 the Medoc system was still being praised as an advantageous system for Spain. It was seen as a way to increase production and quality for other winemaking areas which would open up the wines for more foreign markets. It was cited that the Medoc-Alava wines had been accepted in more national, English, and American markets. Indeed an advertisement in Madrid from 1868 offers “Vino Medoc, De La Rioja Alavesa.” A search through English and America newspapers did not yield any advertisements. This market expansion due to improved quality was also stated in the 1867 Paris Exposition catalog. It was noted that the wine was selling at 90 Francs per hectoliter as compared 25 Francs per hectoliter just three years prior.
With the end of Mr. Pineau’s contract he begin to work for the Marques de Riscal. In 1850 the Marques de Riscal employed the chief engineer Ricardo D. Bellsola to study the chai in Bordeaux. It was at this winery that Mr. Pineau began his work.
The winery was located on uneven ground with a north façade. There were rails for wagonettes to deliver the fruit which fell through a crusher then into the fermentation vats. The vats could accommodate some 85 hectoliters of wine. The closed wooden vats used a Mimard apparatus to vent the carbon dioxide as opposed to the alcoholic and aromatic vapors. It was believed that this increased the alcoholic strength of the wine and improved color. This appears to have been tested while the young, imported vines had not yet exhibited their own special qualities. Fermentation took five to six days depending upon temperature. It was considered complete when the Baume hydrometer measured 0 to 1, sweetness had disappeared as well as heat and movement. There were four dark rooms which could hold 1,000 barrels. The wine was aged in 228 liter new oak barrels that were made for each harvest. From barrel the wine was transferred to bottles closed by Spanish corks. The bottles were stored in bins.
Mr. Pineau also employed new methods in the vineyard. The vines were no longer pruned with a knife and were allowed greater width and height. Plowing was used as well as a mixture of manure and chemical fertilizers. For details and images about the historic advances in pruning I recommend you read the recent post The Introduction of secateurs in Rioja viticulture.
In 1908, F. de Castella, the Australian Government Viticulturalist visited Elciego. He was accompanied by Don Victor Manso de Zuniga, director of the viticultural research station at Haro. Mr. de Castella reported that the wines of Marques de Riscal were known throughout Spain as the best Spanish table wines. The long vaulted galleries were covered with earth and contained 5,000 hogsheads of wine in Elciego alone. The vineyard was planted with Tempranillo, Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and the white varieties Jaen and Calagrano. The vines were planted at 6’6” by 3’3” spacing and trained on wires as done in Bordeaux. The soils possessed a lot of clay and were considerably stiffer than in Haro. Despite this Mr. Castella felt the wines were lighter. The wines were fined rather than filtered with eggs being generally used.
The Public Relations department at Marques de Riscal reported that the 1922 Marques de Riscal, Reserva was made from Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. As the phylloxera had devastated the vineyards the fruit was sourced from vines planted between 1902 and 1910. The wine was produced as it still is today. The fruit was destemmed, crushed, and then fermented in closed wooden vats of 12,000 liter capacity. The wine was then aged for four years in both American and French oak barrels. The bottled wine was finished with Spanish cork from Extremadura.
It is possible to get a sense of what these early, revolutionary vintages smelled and tasted like. Marques de Riscal wrote of the 1862-1869 vintages submitted at the Vienna Exhibition. The 1862 was still well preserved and promised future life. The wines were no longer a dark blue color. They had body and were firm without being harsh. He felt the imported vines were not mature enough to develop a bouquet which characterized the distinguished wines of France. In 1872 Antonio Batalha Reis tasted the 1862 and 1864 vintages at the 1872 Exposition at Lyon. He wrote that the former was particularly splendid being Bordeaux-like with a pronounced aroma of violets with the second superb but not as delicate. Henry Vizetelly noted in 1874 that many of the Medoc style wines produced from imported vines were not successful. He felt the soil changes deprived the wines of “that fragrant bouquet which seems to be the especial property.” He did comment that the 1868 and 1869 Marques de Riscal were “remarkably interesting samples”. At the 1877 Spanish Wine Exposition 14 vintages from 1862-1875 had been submitted. These were described as all being frank with very perceptible aroma, though not as fine as Medoc, moderate alcoholic strength, and a state of preservation not usual in Spanish red wines.  Later, in 1908, Don Victor expressed to Mr. de Castella that he felt the wines of Elciego were best at five or six years of age.
Jan Read remarked in 1984 that the director of the bodega, Don Francisco Salamero Arrazubi, considered 1910, 1920, 1922, and 1925 the best vintages of the first two decades of the 20th century. Jan Read’s personal note on the 1922 reads, “and the wonderful 1922, on which my note is ,’Very deep blackberry colour with orange rim, intense blackberry flavour. Good body and long finish – it resembled one of the best of the St Emilions. Magnificent.’” As for our bottle, this old Rioja from 1922 came from an old hotel cellar that was deep in the ground. It was still wrapped in part of the metal mesh designed to prevent counterfeiting. The fill was upper shoulder. Mannie believes that wines enclosed in a bottle, devoid of air for decades, deserve a chance to breath. Thus our newly certified sommelier set about with corkscrew and flashlight to decant the wine. Upon being poured into our glasses we both immediately remarked on the state and depth of the color. There was certainly colorful pigment left being an aged dark cherry color but in no way was it tawny or brown.
A first sniff revealed a deep nose of fruit and fine cedar aromas. In the mouth the flavors also had a sense of heft, remarkably providing some fruit flavor as well. We slowly drank the wine over several hours. The nose responded to air with the cedar aromas becoming that of fresh mulch, not stinky, but like wet freshly shredded bark. In the mouth the wine perhaps became drier but it remained stable in nature. The fruit was bluer in flavor, still deep, with integrated acidity and not at all flat from lack of structure. The flavors were never mouth filling, rather they surrounded the confident heftiness. I enjoyed the wine throughout the dinner, often wondering what it must have been like in youth, not that I needed drink it in a younger state for enjoyment. Many of my wine books are rich in recommended wines and vintages of the 1920s from regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. It is true that there were comparatively fewer producers in Rioja so finding these ancient bottles will be hard but I suspect well-stored bottles will be worth the effort.
It is a pleasure to see the Domaine de Durban red Beaumes de Venise join the selection of Domaine la Ligiere at MacArthur Beverages. This particular bottle drank well right away but ultimately needed a few hours of air for full expression. The result was a flavorful wine that offered a nice mix of berry flavors, minerals, and spices. It is the sort of wine that once you pull the cork you will follows its progress to the very end of the bottle. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2012 Domaine de Durban, Beaume de Venise – $18
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre sourced from 47 year old vines on soils of clay-limestone and trias. The fruit was destemmed, fermented in stainless steel using traditional and carbonic methods, then aged in oak barriques. Alcohol 14%. The nose was a mixture of lighter, grapey aromas and berries. The mouth followed the nose with fresh and flavorful berries that had a brighter, juicy start before ripeness came out in the middle. The enjoyable ripe flavors become perfumed with black minerals, a little juicy nature, and ripe black fruit in the finish. The wine left Christmas spiced tannins in the mouth. *** Now-2018.
The 2011 Evesham Wood, Le Puits Sec, Pinot Noir represents the second vintage of the estate under ownership by Erin and Jordan Nuccio. Produced in a cooler vintage this warmer dry-farmed site has produced a lovely wine with an ethereal flavor I cannot describe. I would try this again in a year or two. For me the 2012 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Estate Old Vine, Ribbon Ridge was markedly more engaging than the 2012 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Pommard Clone, Willamette Valley. The later seemed to have more firm structure and dried herbs than fruit. Perhaps it just needs a lot of cellar time. The Estate Old Vine was engaging with its mixture of black fruit and minerals. Its an interesting wine that deserves a few years in the cellar. These Evesham Wood was purchased at Pike & Western Wine Shop in Seattle. The Patricia Green came from MacArthur Beverages.
2011 Evesham Wood, Le Puits Sec, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills – $36
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the warmer 13-acre Le Puits Sec vineyard founded in 1986. Alcohol 13%. The nose revealed delicately ripe aromas of small berries. In the mouth there was acidity from the start. The flavors took on some ripeness to the firm red and black fruit. There was an underlying, ethereal note that built until it expanded into the aftertaste. This was a lovely wine which eventually became a little floral. *** Now-2022.
2012 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Estate Old Vine, Ribbon Ridge – $37
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from vines planted in 1984-1990. Alcohol 13% The nose was of Pinot Noir fruit but with air became rounder and more perfumed. In the mouth were slightly smoky aromas of red and black fruit. It was tight at first with some acidity on the tongue tip followed by firm minerals. With air the low-lying flavors of black fruit developed, taking on weight and integrating with the minerals. The structure was of fine, drying tannins. The wine eventually developed a savory note. *** 2015-2020.
2012 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Pommard Clone, Willamette Valley – $37
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Freedom Hill vineyard located on marine soils. The fruit came from a section replanted in 2001. Alcohol 14.2%. The light nose was a little header with aromas of dark berries. It became more aromatic with air. In the mouth were tangier, gripper modern flavors that became rounder with air. It took on dried herbs and drier flavors with air. The structure became more apparent showing a fine, firm line of tannins before the drier, cinnamon-like spiced finish. ** 2015-2020.