“[E]ach grape was [c]ut off with scissors!” The early bottled vintages of Chateau Lafite

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Mabel Hubbard Bell, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell, visited Bordeaux during the summer of 1888.[1]  She wrote how “We have been buying a lot of wine here…some of it is really delicious.”  She was not just buying wine, she was visiting estates.  Her father’s wine merchant was also the agent of Baron Rothschild.  As a result her tour of Bordeaux included the Rothschild properties.  She wrote down rather specific details such that each vine bore 25 to 30 bunches of grapes and that the leaves are treated four or five times against mildew with sulphate of copper.  She was impressed how the horses and oxen never tread on the grapes “and none ever make a mistake even in the difficult operation of turning out of one row into another”.  From the Rothschild’s stock she even “bought some wine of such a fine quality that each grape was [c]ut off with scissors!”

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

At “Chateau Lafitte” the “Baron’s private cellars” were divided into four longer corridors with “bottled wine of different brands” that were valued at $200,000.  These bottles were given away by family to friends.  Another cellar contained three corridors with 162 casks per corridor or 486 casks of wine.  However, the most interesting description falls to the “sample cellar”.  This contained “sample bottles” from every vintage beginning with 1798.  Sample cellar seems to imply samples of Chateau Lafite wine.  Whether this means chateau-bottle wine instead of merchant bottle wine is not clear.  Unfortunately, the number of bottles of each vintage is not stated.

In Cyril Ray’s Lafite (1985) appears the section “The Earliest chateau-bottled Lafite?” where the vintages of 1846 and 1797 were variously stated as the first chateau-bottled Lafite according to the unsubstantiated accounts of Warner Allen and Andre Simon.  The vintage of 1846 had been stated as the first Chateau-bottle Lafite as early as 1920 and I wonder if Clarets and Sauternes was Andre Simon’s authority.[2]  Warner Allen moved from 1846 back to 1797 as the first bottled vintage for unstated reasons in A History of Wine (1961).  At the Heublein auction of 1971 it was stated 1846 was the first bottled vintage.[3]  The use of the later vintage could be simply due to the two bottles of 1846 Lafite that were included in the auction!  It is perhaps due to unearthed documentation that the vintage was shifted back to 1797.  This vintage also survived in bottle for Clive Coates MW writes in Grand Vin (1995) that 1797 “is the earliest vintage remaining in the Lafite vinotheque.”

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Cyril Ray writes that according to records there were no chateau-bottlings between 1885-1906 and that 1876-1885 were the phylloxera years.  That the 1797 bottling may have been “an isolated experiment, and that for the next half-century bottling was by Bordeaux and by English merchants.”  Mabel Hubbard Bell wrote that there were sample bottles “from each years vintage beginning with the year 1798.”  Could Mabel Hubbard Bell’s samples represent chateau-bottled Lafite albeit in small amounts?  Could the 1797 vintage lying in the vinotheque be the same at Mabel Hubbard Bell’s sample bottle of 1798?  What happened to all of the other sample bottled vintages?


[1] Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23. MSS51268: Folder: Eliza Symonds Bell, Family Correspondence, Mabel Hubbard Bell, 1888-1890. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/magbell.02800701/
[2] The Wine and Spirit Trade Record. Clarets and Sauternes. 1920. URL: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7143159M/Clarets_and_sauternes
[3] “1846 Lafite to captivate bidders.” Press release of Heublein, Inc. ca. 1971. URL: http://iwrdb.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=23007

Categories: History of Wine

A pair of must-try Cotes du Rhone from 2012

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Both of the wines in today’s post are Grenache heavy Cotes du Rhone blends from the 2012 vintage.  They both offer plenty of forward drinking ripe flavors but I believe they should be short-term cellared for different reasons.  The 2012 Clos du Mont-Olivet, Vieilles Vignes, Cotes du Rhone is the new name of the Montueil la Levade Vieilles Vignes.  This change was due to new AOC regulations.  As a result the bottle wears a completely redesigned label.  On the first night this was a rather ripe, fruity wine that seemed destined for immediately consumption.  On the second night the wine showed a serious side with better balance due to the presence of structure.  This wine might just need until the new year to show its best. If you cannot wait to try this affordable wine be sure to give it several hours of air before drinking.  The 2012 Le Clos du Caillou, Le Bouquet des Garrigues, Cotes du Rhone showed more obviously depth of flavor but it was delivered in a wall of flavor.  I would then cellar this wine to let it relax and expand.  I certainly recommend you try both of these wines.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

CdR1

2012 Clos du Mont-Olivet, Vieilles Vignes, Cotes du Rhone – $15
Imported by Dionysos Imports.  This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Carignan sourced from 30-40+ year old vines.  It was primarily fermented in cement tank, undergoes malolactic fermentation in cement, then is aged after blending in large oak barrels and vats.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose offered up clean aromas of blueberry and strawberry fruit.  In the mouth the blue fruit took on ripe fruit flavors with a little grip and noticeable acidity on the tongue.  It had a creamy hint, nice texture, and good expansion in the aftertaste.  This was all around well-done with more serious flavors, slightly juicy, and a persistent ripe and textured aftertaste.  *** Now-2018.

CdR2

2012 Le Clos du Caillou, Le Bouquet des Garrigues, Cotes du Rhone – $20
Imported by Dionysos Imports.  This wine is a blend of 85% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 5% Carignan, Mourvedre, and Cinsault sourced from 50+ year old vines.  The fruit was fermented in cuve beton then aged for for 15 months in used foudres.  Alcohol 15%.  This wine quickly built serious flavors that were lively in the midpalate on the tongue.  The wine coated the teeth and gums with a little spicy structure.  With air, the wall of flavor developed garrigue and cinnamon followed by dried herbs in the finish.  ***(*) Now-2020.

CdR3

Alcohol, Death, and the Devil. 1830s.

October 17, 2014 Leave a comment

George Cruikshank campaigned against alcohol according to the summary by the Library of Congress. This particularly vivid image shows a skeletal Medusa holding a glass of wine.  It was not until 1847 that George Cruikshank renounced alcohol in support of the Temperance Movement.  I can only imagine how macabre the image would have been if executed one decade later.

Alcohol, Death, and the Devil. Cruikshank, George. 1830-18490. [1]

Alcohol, Death, and the Devil. Cruikshank, George. 1830-18490. [1]


[1] [Alcohol, Death, and the Devil]. Cruikshank, George. 1830-1840.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003674027/

Cayuse, Chidaine, and Gros ‘Noré

October 17, 2014 Leave a comment

It is only through friends that I have been able to drink a handful of wines from Cayuse Vineyards.  Lou was curious to try one of his bottles so we recently gathered in his kitchen to taste some wines while we ate cheeses, charcuterie, and pasta.  We started with the demi-sec 2010 François Chidaine, Les Tuffeaux, Montlouis Sur Loire. The complex aromas and flavors were immediately apparent and perhaps due to the rather long fermentation period.  At first I wished it had a bit more acidity but then on the second night it all came into balance.  I would suggest you buy this outstanding value for your cellar.  Lou had opened the 2007 Cayuse Vineyards, God Only Knows, Walla Walla Valley some 13 hours ahead then decanted before the tasting.  Even then it showed more complexity on the second night!  This was a bigger wine but the red fruit flavors were light and delivered with precise mouthfeel. Beautiful stuff!  Finally we came to the trio from Domaine du Gros ‘Noré.  These wines were double-decanted about three hours before we tasted them.  These are, perhaps, prototypical classic Bandol with brawn and ample structure.  Our bottle of 2005 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol was marred by some volatile acidity that was present on the nose but not distracting from the good, maturing flavor.  The 2007 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol was my favorite due to its combination of concentrated fruit, minerals, racy flavors, and balance.  It is just entering its drinking window so this is a wine to look out for.  The 2011 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol remained young with its grapey flavors but also shutdown.  I had a hard time getting a sense of its future but I would not be surprised if, with bottle age, it developed like the 2007.

AtLous1

2010 François Chidaine, Les Tuffeaux, Montlouis Sur Loire
Imported by Dionysos Imports.  This demi-sec wine is 100% Chenin Blanc sourced from multiple parcels of vines 30-90 years of age.  The fruit was fermented with indigenous yeasts in demi-muids for up to six months and did not undergo malolactic fermentation.  It was then aged for 11 months on fine lees in demi-muids.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose was fragrant, textured, and round with aromas of miso, sweet notes then apples.  In the mouth was a round start followed by earthy, mineral flavors.  There was some residual sugar but also some tannin.  The earthy, grass flavors were picked up with food.  The acidity was more in a supportive role but became more noticeable on the second evening when the wine was more fruit driven.  There was a slight oxidative hint.  ***(*) Now-2024.

AtLous2

2007 Cayuse Vineyards, God Only Knows, Walla Walla Valley
This wine is a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% “god only knows” sourced from the Armada Vineyard.  It was aged in used puncheons purchased from Rene Rostaing.  Alcohol 15.2%.  This was a big wine but the brighter, lighter red fruit brought forth very attractive cherry flavors.  There was a slight wood hint with an uncrushable mouthfeel from glycerin.  With air it seamlessly developed complex flavors of oranges, exotic plants, stems, and unique flavors.  **** Now-2029.

AtLous3

2005 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 80% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsault sourced from 30 year old vines on soils of clay.  The grapes were partially de-stemmed then aged for 18 months in oak foudres.  Alcohol 15%.  The color was a medium, garnet infused.  The volatile acidity did pick up a bit on the nose, present but not distracting because the fruit and wood hints were still there.  In the mouth were savory, earthy flavors that mixed with wood box.  The flavors improved with air showing firm, black fruit at the start followed by sweet cherry and strawberry.  The finish was robust with some heat and roughness.  The aftertaste was long leaving a coating of firm minerals.  *** Now-2019.

AtLous4

2007 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 80% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsault sourced from 30 year old vines on soils of clay.  The grapes were partially de-stemmed then aged for 18 months in oak foudres.  Alcohol 15%.  This showed good concentration of fruit with a racy and inky midpalate presence.  There were flavors of black fruit, hints of red fruit, and minerals as the tannins coated the gums in the finish.  This was youngful, all around balanced, and has a long life ahead. Well done. ***(*) Now-2022.

AtLous5

2011 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 80% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsault sourced from 30 year old vines on soils of clay.  The grapes were partially de-stemmed then aged for 18 months in oak foudres.  Alcohol 15%.  The color was a medium cranberry red, showing youth.  The good nose made way to red punch flavored fruit.  The wine developed black fruit flavors but in general remained very tightly played.  It was dense, a little round, and had hints of grapey fruit in the rather firm tannic structure.  The aftertaste brought fine drying tannins and a touch of heat in the back of the throat.  Good flavor, definitely needs age.  *** 2018-2026.

AtLous6

A fantastic image of men trodding grapes in Mexico during 1914-1918.

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

This fantastic century old image shows the foot trodding of grapes in Mexico.  Nearly two dozen men are standing inside a giant concrete vat with grapes that come up to their thighs.  Two presses with screws are visible in the background.  It appears that music for encouragement and tempo was provided by the man with an accordion.

Pressing grapes in Mexico. 1914-1918. [1]

Pressing grapes in Mexico. 1914-1918. [1]


[1] Le pressoir à vin. Pressureurs debout dans le pressoir. 1914-1918. Reference #AP62T056305. Ministère de la culture (France), Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Diffusion RMN-GP. URL:

The silky wines of Domaine de Verquière

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

These two wines from Domaine de Verquière were forward drinking with smooth, clean fruit.  To support this nature the fruit is de-stemmed and malolactic fermentation is blocked.  The 2012 Domaine de Verquière, Rasteau is a very solid wine that still provides a hint of that attractive Rasteau rusticity.   It should improve over the short-term.  The 2012 Domaine de Verquière, Vacqueyras certainly stepped things up with greater depth of flavor and an engaging, racy finish.  There was a lot going on but it had a sense of tranquility about it.  It drinks well now but might be worth holding off until later next year.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

Verquiere

2012 Domaine de Verquière, Rasteau – $19
Imported by Esprit du Vin.  This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah which was aged for six months in concrete and older barrels.  Alcohol 14%.  There were interesting berry aromas on the nose.  The mouth begun with cherry fruit that was somewhat dense and round with a hint of glycerin at first.  The flavors were clean with plummy and figgy notes but not in an overripe sense.  This had a sense of rusticity followed by very fine and ripe tannins that coated the mouth in the aftertaste.  **(*) Now-2018.

Verquiere2

2012 Domaine de Verquière, Vacqueyras – $27
Imported by Esprit du Vin.  This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cinsault which was aged for six months in large oak casks.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose was full of plummy fruit.  In the mouth the plum flavors were pure, round, and deep. This wine left a sense of tranquility and balance.  The fruit became sweeter, not from residual sugar, towards the finish where notes of minerals mixed in.  This wine left a riper, racy impression towards the finish.  Oh yes, there was a nice structure too.  *** Now-2019.

Verquiere3

“le triomphe du vin sur son terrible ennemi”: A map detailing per capita liquor consumption in France for 1906

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

The interesting chart in today’s image reveals the triumph in the cultivation of the vine against the increased per capita consumption of liquor in France during 1906.

Map detailing the per capita consumption of liquor with line indicating the limit of the cultivation of the vine. 1906. [1]

Map detailing the per capita consumption of liquor with line indicating the limit of the cultivation of the vine. 1906. [1]


[1] Guerre à l’alcool par l’impôt : étude statistique de l’effet des lois fiscales de 1897 et 1900 sur la consommation comparée de l’eau-de-vie et du vin. Bertillon, Jacques. 1912. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb318070686

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