Lou and I managed to squeeze in several quick glasses of wine between our kids’ basketball games and dinner. We kicked off with a bottle of NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County. Both the capsule and label are darker, perhaps indicating this is a non-vintage winemaker’s blend. It is clearly a Bordeaux blend on the nose with the greenhouse aromas indicating some cooler vintage(s) in the blend. It is actually well made with an interesting finish and aftertaste, I just wish there was more depth to the fruit flavor. The 2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County is a completely different beast. The back label indicates that the sugar levels rose on the grapes and what we found in the glass were sweet, over ripe flavors. I enjoyed it more on the initial pour but then found it too sweet.
Finally, Lou served a bottle blind. I guessed it was either early 1980s California Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend or 1990s Bordeaux from a cooler vintage. I was close as it turned out to be 1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc. Caronne Ste Gemme was a daily drinker for Lou so he thought it fun to try a one. This particular bottle bears its age very well. With better balance than the NV Ridge, it is a lively drink at 21 years of age.
NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. The nose is finely scented with greenhouse aromas and red/black fruit. In the mouth this wine has fine grip and focus, showing tart red fruit and leather. It builds flavor with air as well as a hard wood note, more leather, and delicate cranberry red fruit. The aftertaste is surprisingly good. ** Now but will last
2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 99% Carignane and 1% Zinfandel. Alcohol 14.3%. There is a sweet, ripe dusty nose of fruit. In the mouth the flavor is of very ripe berries, tea flavors, chocolate, and sweet fruit. On re-tasting it tastes of over-ripe fruit. Though there is still some grip. * Now.
1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 12.5%. The color shows some age and the nose reveals greenhouse accented fruit. In the mouth is a focused cloud of fruit with some purple flavors and ink. It taste of a cool vintage but the attractive structure is in balance, there is some wood box, and an inky hint. **(*) Now but will last.
In December 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman completed his “March to the Sea” which involved widespread devastation not just of military targets but also industrial and civilian property. Having reached Savannah, Georgia, his troops turned towards the Carolinas with the intention of reaching Virginia. Thus at the start of 1865, residents of Charleston, South Carolina took action as General Sherman’s army advanced.
Residents of Charleston were careful to hide and disperse their treasured Madeira collections to avoid consumption by General Sherman’s troops. Bottles were hidden between rafters, demijohns were buried in the ground and for the South Carolina Jockey Club, the Madeira was hidden in the South Carolina State Hospital for the mentally ill. The Jockey Club’s Madeira remained untouched but for some families their entire collection was lost. One family sent eight wagon loads of Madeira nearly 200 miles from Charleston to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border. The Madeira was captured by General Frank P. Blair before it could be hidden.
General Blair served a few bottles of the captured Madeira to General Sherman who found them “very good”. General Blair shared the story of its capture and eventually sent a dozen bottles “of the finest Madeira” General Sherman had ever tasted. The rest of the Madeira was divided equally amongst the army.
Surviving stocks of 19th century American bottled Madeira are exceedingly rare. It is ironic then, given the widespread disruption and consumption of Madeira by General Sherman’s army that one of his own bottles was served at The Sensational Sercial Tasting held last year.
Labeled “1852 Sercial Selected By General Sherman On his visit at Madeira, 1871” this bottle was part of a parcel of three bottles acquired by Roy Hersh, For the Love of Port. The paper-wrapped bottles were purchased from a family on Long Island who had owned them for three decades. Two of the bottles were labeled as Sercial and one Navy Reserve. There is no known documentation for these bottles and outside General Sherman’s comments on General Blair’s captured Madeira, he himself wrote nothing else about specific bottles of Madeira.
It was at a dinner in August 1871, with Admiral James Alden and General William W. Belknap, that General Sherman made plans to visit Madeira. Admiral Alden had been promoted to rear admiral in command of the Mediterranean Squadron. As General Sherman had never been to Europe he agreed to accompany Admiral Alden on his journey to Spain. They were to first stop at Madeira.
Admiral Alden was to take the screw frigate Wabash as his flagship. She was being overhauled at the time. With repairs complete she left the Boston Navy Yard on November 17, 1871. Just a few weeks later she approached Funchal under steam on December 5, 1871.
General Sherman wrote very little of wine during his life and little of the “Celebrated Madeira Wine” during his visit as he described it. His only descriptions of wine relate to the “[b]light destroy the grapes” some 20 years earlier. He described how “New Vineyards are beginning to reproduce the Same wine”.
He accompanied Admiral Alden on their very first visit ashore which was to a “Mr Walsh’s house”, the Admiral having known him in “former years”. It is Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., who first suggested that General Sherman perhaps visited Mr. Welsh of the Madeira shippers Welsh Brothers and that perhaps our bottle came from the Welsh’s.
Prior to the Oidium, or blight that General Sherman wrote of, the Welsh Brothers were focused on “cheap light Madeira”. This succeeded in this business becoming the largest Madeira shipper by 1849. By 1881, their focused changed to sending the “more costly growths” mostly in bottle to the United States.
That our bottle came from the Welsh’s is corroborated by an article published in Harper’s Magazine during 1919 by Major Charles Wellington Furlong. Major Furlong was an American explorer and writer who traveled around the world. This particular article of his describes a hunting trip he took with Charles B. Cossart, Harry Hinton, and Mr. Welsh Jr on a deserted island off of Madeira.
On the last night of the hunt, the party celebrated with a meal of curried rabbit and goat-meat stew accompanied by a bottle of Madeira brought by Mr. Welsh Jr. It was none other than “a bottle of Sercial wine of a vintage of seventy years.” This dates the wine to 1849 which essentially matches the 1852 vintage of our bottle. Mr. Welsh Jr. explained that wine was called “Sercial Sherman” because at Christmas time “General Sherman sent for four bottles, and since then his daughter has followed her father’s custom.”
It seems unequivocal that our 1852 General Sherman Sercial came from the Welsh Brothers. It is also possible that the Madeira Wine Association (MWA), in part formed by Hinton and Welsh, marketed wine under the name “Sercial Sherman”. Since this bottle is not labeled “Sercial Sherman” it is possible it was shipped during General Sherman’s lifetime which means it arrived in the United States between 1871 and 1891.
 Sherman, William Tecumseh. “Memoirs of General William T. Sherman”, 1876.
 General William Tecumseh Sherman to Thomas E. Sherman. December 5, 1871. CSHR 9/59. Sherman Letters. University of Notre Dame. URL: http://archives.nd.edu/findaids/ead/index/fulltext/cshr9_59.htm
 See Mannie Berk’s background information on the wine in the Sensational Sercial tasting booklet. April 30, 2016.
 Vizetelly, Henry. Facts About Port and Madeira. 1880.
 Furlong, Major Charles Wellington. “Hunting With the Lords of the Dezertas” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 138. 1919.
Just over a year ago I was blown away by the quality and future potential of the 2010 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse. This wine was served blind during a tasting at Phil’s house. It is his quote which leads off the title of my post “Freakishly” good bottles of Chateau des Tours. Phil has recently brought in a few more selections from des Tours and this week I drank two of them.
The 2011 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse is in a great spot right now. It offers a bit more depth of flavor eventually coating the tongue with glycerin and weight. The 2012 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse is brighter with more primary fruit flavor. Both of them are made in that throwback style of mouth filling flavor without oozing fruit, tannin, and alcohol. For current drinking I give a nod towards the less expensive 2011. However, both of these wines should be in your cellar and glass.
2011 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse – $30
Alcohol 13.5%. This is a rather, light cranberry-garnet color. The wine is deeper in flavor with more mineral infused red fruit. After the acidity driven, zippy start is a racy middle with a deeper, bass note of flavor. With air it builds weight and glycerin as the flavors lay on top of your tongue. It even develops a floral, hop aroma. **** Now – 2027.
2012 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse – $32
Alcohol 13.5%. This sports brighter, grippy red fruit. In fact there is a more prominent display of floral red fruit. Minerality does come out from the middle to the finish. The wine is a little firm at first with youthful tension. With air it too builds weight and glycerin but remains riper and fruitier with flavors of strawberry and apricot. There is a little bit of ink and structure in the finish. **** Now – 2030.
It was time for dinner following an afternoon spent on Madeira research with Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co. We made our way to the Common Lot in Millburn, New Jersey where we met up with John Junguenet. If the Junguenet name sounds familiar that is because John is the son of Alain Junguenet who founded Wines of France in the 1980s.
Mannie first met Alain Junguenet in those early years when Alain started off by importing Beaujolais. They traveled through France together and remain friends today. With John’s rise in the family business, new friendships are made, thus I found myself drinking several incredible bottles with two men whose lives are steeped in wine.
A very quick check reveals I have never drunk Coche-Dury with more than a decade of age. To move back nearly three decades is downright exciting! Our bottle of 1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots was in very fine shape. Both the aromas and flavors bring forth green apples and stones with a particular tangy grip. The acidity is bright but provides tension matched by the texture of the wine. There is, perhaps, a sense of maturity on the nose but this wine should drink great for at least a decade.
The name Henri Jayer should need no introduction. He made some of the most sought after Burgundy which also became the most expensive Burgundy in the market. However, there is also coveted Burgundy from the other Jayer brothers, Georges and Lucien. A bottle of 1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru was our first red wine. The three brothers each owned distinct parcels in Echezeaux with Lucien’s being Les Treux. Vineyard work and winemaking were a bit of a family affair such that Lucien tended the vines and Henri made this particular wine. [I do see that John Gilman writes that Lucien made the wine.] Regardless of winemaking, this is a young, pure, initially elegant wine. It ever so slowly responds to air, building both aroma and depth to the tense red fruit.
We then moved back to the 1960s. One sniff of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial transports you to another era. A quick inspection inspired Mannie to decant this bottle. This is beautiful, traditional Rioja with no sense of fragility to the lifted, sweet flavors which fill the mouth and cling through the aftertaste. I really enjoyed this bottle.
Something happened to the 1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County at some point in its life. Soft and limp, it was set aside. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley did not disappoint. It opened up with air, becoming the sort of intensely pleasurable wine you want to drink all by yourself. But then you would feel guilty for not sharing the experience with your closest friends.
1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots
Shipped by Radman & Co. Imported by Grand Cru Inc. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a fine nose of stones, gunsmoke, and apples. The aromas become even deeper with air. In the mouth are finely textured flavors of green apple. This wine has a tangy grip, plenty of stone like flavors, and bright acidity. There is great tension and attractive texture on the mouth. Drinking brilliantly but will easily live on. ****(*) Now – 2027.
1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An Alain Junguenet Selection imported by Wines of France. The young nose is pure, full of beautiful aromas of red fruit and perfume. In the mouth the red fruit oscillates between tang and tart, building flavor and citric grip with air. There is a hint of smoke. This bottle is in fantastic condition as this tense wine slowly builds, adding both flavor and persistence. The structure and acidity are there, capable of supporting years of future development. ****(*) Now – 2032.
1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Ahhh, that familiar old Rioja nose. This is a grippy, mouth filling wine with sweet, lifted flavors that cling to the mouth. It tastes of another era with its vintage perfume notes and ability to brighten up and build flavor with air. The aftertaste is very persistent. Drinks great now but will last. ****(*) Now – 2023.
1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. It smells off on the nose and while better tasting in the mouth, it is limp. Not Rated.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The dark aromas make way to minty, dark fruit which fills the mouth with both menthol and animale flavors. The wine improves markedly with air, revealing it as thicker, racy, and oily. It has an almost grainy texture to the black fruit. An excellent bottle with years of life ahead. ****(*) Now – 2027.
There was a time when much of the Vintage Port sold at MacArthur Beverages was English bottled. These wines were purchased by the case upon which the vintage and house were labeled. But as Mark Wessels and Andy Creemer recently related, the bottles inside were unmarked. Despite efforts to organize or tag the bottles, some bottles strayed losing any outwardly visible identification. I purchased what must be the last two of these stray bottles.
Vintage Port corks are largely branded. I cut the bottom of the lead capsule on the youngest of the two bottles. Despite scrubbing the neck of the bottle and using various flashlights, I could not make out any brand on the cork. The mystery was revealed when I extracted the cork using my Durand. This English bottle of 1970 Warre Vintage Port was in fine condition. It offered elegant flavors of fruit, wood, spice, and even a bit of grip on the tongue. There is no sense of power, rather that of a wine which has crested peak drinking and should be drunk up. Which is what we did, making me all the more happy to solve my mystery.
1970 Warre, Vintage Port
The good, clear color reflected in the clean, elegant flavors of this wine. It begins with fruity flavors, fig and hints of wood with a touch of warm spice in the finish. The wine grips the tongue leaving an impression of white nuts in the aftertaste. *** Now.
Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation. You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover. Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.
Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983. Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot. That is ample enough reason to try a bottle. This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label. I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure. The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate. Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.
We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage. I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard. Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957. Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon? The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine. The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines? After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast. I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley. Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling. And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!
As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary. Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group. No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas. In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat. I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor. Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home. No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.
1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This The color is a bright, garnet ruby. On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate. In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins. There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish. Clearly the youngest wine tasted. It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve. ** Now.
1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%. A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity. Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive. ** Now.
1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%. The lightest color of the quarter. It smells like petrol! In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit. Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish. It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure. Really odd. Not Rated.
1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good. The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar. There are similar flavors in the mouth. The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat. Eventually it becomes more autumnal. **(*) Now but better bottles will last.
I recently met up with Amy Ray and Barry Wiggins for a holiday dinner. It was a casual affair, seated at the corner of the bar of Restaurant Eve. Amy and Barry are long-time fans of Chef Armstrong’s cooking and Todd Thrasher’s care of their wines. While we limited ourselves to a handful of courses, the number of wine selections required both hands.
We opened with a brace of Krug Champagne. The 2002 Krug, Champagne Brut is young with white fruit, chalk, and a fine mousse of precise bubbles. Though drinkable now it really is a wine to be aged for at least another five years. One may guess this because our bottle of 1989 Krug, Champagne Brut has just entered full maturity. This wine coats the mouth with weighty, mature flavors which are still racy. The 2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru is a wine that delivers nothing but pure pleasure. The nose delivers an impressive volume of aromas matched by the round, weighty flavors in the mouth. Like the 1989 Krug before it, I savored my glass until the end.
We drank our mature red Burgundy side by side. The 1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis from the excellent 1978 vintage and the 1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche from the not quite as good 1979 vintage prove interesting to compare. The vintage differences are immediately noticeable with the 1978 Lignier still concentrated and powerful. The 1979 Dujac is rich at first but it is more linear towards the finish with less weight. The 1978 Lignier offers meat on the nose with cranberry flavors accented by meat and earth. On the other hand, the 1979 Dujac offers wood smoke aromas, an oily start, and mineral middle. Both are outstanding wines but the 1978 Lignier is a touch more impressive. There was no point in attempting to match these two bottles so I thought it would be fun to open the 1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa as it is the same vintage as the Dujac. With a double-capsule, short yet firm cork, and brilliant color this fine conditioned bottle comes across as closed. The nose was reluctant to open up but an animale flavor eventually added some curiosity. Not bad for an old liquor-store wine. I would double-decant this for an hour.
With our meal complete we required another Champagne. Out came the 2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc. This too is a fine wine, requiring a bit of air to properly show itself. It is more evolved than the 2002 Krug so you could be excused for drinking several bottles now.
2002 Krug, Champagne Brut
Alcohol 12%. There is an impression of freshness with dry, white fruit matching the chalk. The bubbles turn into a fine mousse carrying minerals before the persistent aftertaste. Needs more age. **** Now – 2037
1989 Krug, Champagne Brut
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd. Acquired from Zachy’s. Alcohol 12%. There is a gentle, golden color of maturity. The nose bears hints of yeast and apple orchard flavors. With air the wine puts on weight with gently coating, racy flavors which mix with dried herbs and some wood. These mature flavors are delivered with the freshness of a well-stored bottle. ****(*) Now – 2027.
2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by c’Est Vin. Alcohol 13.5%. The youthful color does not prepare for the rich, aromatic nose of spices and that sweet kiss of oak. The wine is round in the mouth with supportive structure and a slight edge. With extended air there is a density to the white fruit, grip, and notes of nuts. Drinking great. ****(*) Now but will last.
1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis
Imported by Robert Chatterdon. From Wally’s The Roy Welland Collection. There is a complex, scented nose with notes of meat. In the mouth are sweaty, pungent flavors of cranberry/red fruit and bloody. There is clearly a focused concentration and power from this excellent vintage. With vintage perfume flavor picks up earthy notes with air. This remains a fresh wine with persistent flavors in the middle and a grippy finish. ****(*) Now – 2022.
1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche
Imported by Frederick Wildman. The nose is both sweeter and muskier with hints of wood smoke. In the mouth this is a rich wine, almost oily at first but it straightens out with air. The flavors turn brighter at the beginning with a mineral edge and overall less noticeable weight and strength. **** Now.
1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa
Alcohol 13%. It is a youthful, very bright and clear color. There is a very subtle nose which takes much air to open up. In the mouth is red fruit flavors with a touch of citric grip. It does take time to relax adding an animale depth to the clean, focused fruit. **(*) Now – 2027.
2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 12.5%. This drinks well after half an hour of air. It is racy, glycerin infused wine with ripe apples and a mixture of yellow, white, and green fruits. It has tons of grip and when the bubbles calm down the earth, chalk, and yeast flavors are noticeable. It has a lovely future. **** Now – 2027.