A Rhone wine tasting: 1985, 1990, and 2000 Chateau de Beaucastel

When the fruit was harvested for the 1985 vintage, the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape were only regaining popularity in America.  Just 15 years earlier these wines had been wildly popular but a rise in price and a drop in quality caused attention to drift elsewhere.  This drop in quality reflected a change “to suit the ‘modern taste’ for lighter, quicker maturing wines.”[2]  Robert Parker explained that these “innocuous, bland, and one-dimensional bottles of wine” were often produced by carbonic maceration as in Beaujolais.[3]

There was, however, at least one estate that remained true to the traditional style of Chateauneuf du Pape and that was Chateau de Beaucastel.  It was in 1978 that Francois Perrin took over the historic estate with the help of his elder brother Jean-Pierre.  Together they maintained the traditional methods of their father such as vinification a chaud while also accepting new methods.

The wines of Chateauneuf du Pape may be a blend of up to 13 permitted varieties of which all are still grown at Chateau de Beaucastel.  Through the 1987 vintages the blend for Beaucastel included 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, and 10% Cinsault.  The regional popularity for high-yielding, alcoholic Grenache stems from clonal research carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture during the 1960s.  Robert Parker felt that Grenache contributed “plenty of fruit, but not much complexity or staying power.”

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At the recent tasting of Rhone wines we opened the 1985, 1990, and 2000 vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel.  These are interesting vintages because they span a changes in blend, vinification techniques, and the introduction of a new cuvee.  While the 1985 vintage saw 50% Grenache and 15% Mourvedre there was a change in 1988 such that the 1990 vintage saw 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre.  To quote Robert Parker the Mourvedre adds “body, firmness and color”.  The pumping down of the fermenting cap or pigeage was introduced in 1987 for Syrah.  This was employed to obtain greater concentration.  Two years later in 1989 just 2% of the wine was used to make the special cuvee in honor of their father Hommage a Jacques Perrin.  This appear to have not affected the quality of the traditional red wine.  Finally, the use of new oak for Syrah was introduced some time after the 1990 vintage.

I have now tasted two bottles of the 1985 vintage.  The first bottle did not carry the Beaucastel funk, instead it showed garrigue notes with completely resolved tannins.  This second bottle had the funk but also fruit and structure.  For me I found the finish of this bottle a touch short.  I have also tasted the 1990 vintage twice this year.  Both bottles have shown great depth and perhaps due to all of the changes, great staying power.  This is not a big wine in any sense.  Incredibly, at 25 years of age I believe it will continue to develop, not just maintain itself, for years to come.  Finally, I found the 2000 vintage rather shy on the first night.  It did slowly open up over the first several hours but it was on the second night at which it showed best.  There materials are clearly there for a strong future.

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1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.6 % Alcohol.  This wine revealed the Beaucastel funk on the nose with higher toned, mature aromas.  In the mouth were earthy to funky fruit flavors that bore thin, higher-pitched, cool red fruit.  With air the wine picked up good complexity, cleaned up some, and took on weight.  It showed that there was still fruit and even tannins.  *** Now-2020.

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1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.5 % Alcohol.  There was a beautiful nose followed by mature but lively fruit in the mouth.  This juicy wine was juicy with depth, wood box notes, and youthful grip.  ****(*) Now -2025.

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2000 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.5 % Alcohol.  The nose bore brighter fruit aromas.  Initially the wine was a bit tight with a ripe fruit core, plenty of power, and a fresh structure that gripped the teeth.  With extended air the brighter red fruit made way to a young and strong midpalate that was coated with fat.  The Becausteal funk surrounded lovely blue fruit towards the finish. **** 2020-2035.

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[1] Wine: FRANCE’S FORGOTTEN RED. By Terry Robards. New York Times (1923-Current file); Feb 15, 1981; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. SM18
[2] RIVER VALLEY OF REDS. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 14, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post. pg. SM42
[3] The Wine Takes Time: The Wine Takes Time. By Robert M. Parker Jr.. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 24 Jan 1982: L1.

An affordable Spanish beauty – 2011 Palacios Remondo, La Montesa, Rioja

July 24, 2015 1 comment

I had every intention to open up an older bottle of wine but first I wanted to taste the bottle of 2011 Palacios Remondo, La Montesa, Rioja.  With one good sip my mind was changed.  I was immediately hooked from the meaty, blue fruited nose to the creamy, dense flavors.  This is no surprise given that Alvaro Palacios is behind this wine.  He also produces such highly regarded wines as L’Ermita in Priorat and Descendientes de J. Palacios in Bierzo.  Following the death of his father in 2000, Alvaro Palacios took over the family winery in Rioja, Palacios Remondo.  For the 2011 vintage, he has produced a wine to drink now and not one to age.  Do not fear for it always has good complexity.  I would grab several bottles for you will see the first bottle to the end then wish you had more.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.

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2011 Palacios Remondo, La Montesa, Rioja – $18
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners.  This wine is 75% Garnacha, 25% Tempranillo, and 5% Mazuelo that was aged for 12 months in new and used French and American oak. Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose bore aromas of meaty, blue fruit.  In the mouth were similar dense flavors that had controlled ripeness.  This forward-drinking wine had ripe extract, creamy hints, and a dry structure.  A flat out tasty wine.  *** Now-2017.

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A Rhone wine tasting: the northern wines

This past weekend a group of us gathered in my living room for a hastily planned tasting of mature Rhone wines.  The motivation for the tasting came from an exchange with Jess Hagadorn (Young Winos of DC) where we quickly found a mutual love of Rhone wines.  Sometimes a last minute arrangement works well and in this case it did.  Many thanks to Jess, Bryan, Lou, Darryl, Nancy, Roland, Adrienne, David, and Isaac (Reading, Writing & Wine) for contributing an assortment of wines.  There was no formality to the tasting so for this post I have grouped all of the Northern Rhone wines together.

By all accounts the odds were against the 1987 H. Sorrel, Hermitage Le Greal.  Michael Broadbent is quite succinct describing the 1987 vintage as the “worst weather of the decade” with a rating of zero out of five stars.  He does not bother to even list any wines.  John Livingstone-Learmonth is a bit more detailed describing the vintage as “Mediocre, but some charming wines emerged.”  He noted the wines of M. Sorrel.  Marc Sorrel took over the estate from his father Henri in 1982.  Though he quickly ascended the learning curve, there was a rocky period between the late 1980s to mid 1990s.  John Livingstone-Learmonth attributes this to a divorce.  Undoubtedly helped by good provenance, our bottle sported an attractive and complex nose.  Ultimately, I felt the vintage showed through with hints of greenhouse and a lack of concentration.  It was a lovely, traditional wine that I enjoyed very much.  It also left me curious about other vintages.

After tasting a stinky 1978 E. Guigal, Hermitage just a few days prior, I was pleased to taste a well cellared 1990 E. Guigal, Hermitage. It is a solid wine that will not disappointed.  I wanted to enjoy the 1995 Michel Chapoutier, Cote Rotie La Mordoree more for it had good, young blacker fruit.  In fact, the wine seemed very young and unevolved.  But after a few days it refused to budge leaving me to believe the very fine and powerful tannins will outlast the development of the fruit.

The 1999 Domaine J. L. Chave, Saint-Joseph exhibited the most smoke out of all the wines.  It is a domaine wine and not from the negociant side.  It is produced using vines dating back to World War 1 but most of the vines were planted in 1992 and 1993.  This does come through in the wine but it is all done just right.  John Livingstone-Learmonth writes “Father Gerard would call his St-Joseph red ‘an amusement,’ and this is the broad spirit in which the wine should be taken – a wine to drink in free quantities, with its fruit leading the way.”  There was none of this bottle left by the end of the evening.

A new producer for me came in the form of the 1999 Domaine Burgaud, Cote Rotie.  Bernard Burgaud produces just one wine and that is a red Hermitage.  He has 22 acres of vines split across multiple sites each of which ripens at a different time.  He typically destalked his fruit but not so for the 1999 vintage for he needed to absorb back some color.  He ferments at high temperatures in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts then ages the wine for 15 months in 15-20% new oak barrels.  John Livingstone-Learmonth writes that his “aim is to make a wine that is as tight-knit as possible, one of full integration of both elements and flavor.”  At 16 years of age, this old-school bottle of wine was accessible in that it was balanced but there was no doubt in the room that it will take long to develop.  I would love to taste a mature vintage while waiting for this vintage to blossom.

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1987 H. Sorrel, Hermitage Le Greal
Imported by World Shippers & Importers.  This wine is 100% Syrah the majority sourced from Le Meal with the rest from Greffieux that was aged for 18-22 months in used oak.  Alcohol 12% to 14%.  There was a great, complex nose with mature aromas with hints of green.  In the mouth were light, mature, and ethereal flavors that made way to a mineral finish.  The hints of tea and greenhouse flavors were kept alive by watering acidity.  This bottle was in great condition, while the wine could have used more concentration, it was a lovely experience.  *** Now.

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1990 E. Guigal, Hermitage
Imported by Classic Wine Imports.  Alcohol 13%.  In the mouth were greenhouse flavors that eventually developed into a sweet floral profile.  The wine showed young in the mouth with the fruit more ethereal than weighty.  The acidity was present on the tongue with the structure coating the gums.  With air this firm and dry wine took on some old wood notes, a lipsticky note, and finish with some sap.  There was a fair amount of presence.  There is plenty of life ahead but I wonder if the fruit will develop rather than the structure just persist.  *** Now-2020+.

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1995 Michel Chapoutier, Cote Rotie La Mordoree
Imported by Paterno Imports.  12.8%.  There were firm, violet-like aromas on the nose.  In the mouth this wine was still infantile with dry, floral dark fruit, and a very fine-grained, powerful structure.  I wonder if the fruit will survive for the tannins to resolve.  **(*) 2020-2030.

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1999 Domaine Burgaud, Cote Rotie
Imported by Connoisseur Wines.  This wine was aged for 15 months in oak barrels. Alcohol 12.5%.  Still a very dark color the nose was tent with both tart aromas and old wood.  In the mouth this wine had an old-school nature.  There was plenty of fruit, textured and ripe vintage wood, and ultimately a sense of firmness.  With air there is more structure evident and clearly the need for further cellaring.  ***(*) 2020-2030.

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1999 Domaine J. L. Chave, Saint-Joseph
Imported Langdon Shiverick.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The seductive nose blended smoke and fruit as if from young vines.  In the mouth was a young start with the structure evident and a tart grip.  The wine had wood nose, some salty, good grip, and the right amount of smoke.  It showed less weight in the finish.  ***(*) Now-2020+.

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Vinified at Chateau Lynch-Bages, the 1970 Chateau Les Ormes de Pez, Saint-Estephe

Both Chateau Les Ormes de Pez and Chateau Lynch-Bages were acquired by the Cazes family in the 1930s.  Though Chateau Les Ormes de Pez is only a bourgeois estate, it received careful attention for decades such that David Peppercorn comments that it “is one of the most consistent and enjoyable cru bourgeois of St Estephe”.   This consistency was no doubt helped by the wine being vinified and stored at Chateau Lynch-Bages until the 1981 vintage.  Andre Cazes took over the estate in 1966 and persuaded his son Jean-Michel to join in 1972.  There was, apparently, a rocky period then in the 1960s and 1970s.  This was due to a combination of other business interests, lack of experience, and lack of any significant investment in either property since they were originally reconditioned.

David Peppercorn found that the 1970 Chateau Lynch-Bages “truly measured up to what one had come to expect”.  This quality apparently extended to Chateau Les Ormes de Pez for Stephen Brook found the 1970 “had a sweet blackcurranty nose and masses of flavour in the 1980s”.  This particular bottle, with its mid-shoulder fill, was actually quite enjoyable.  It still had a good nose and defined flavors of strawberry fruit with some attractive cedar notes.  Were there just a touch more vigor and longer finish it would easily rate higher.  I would not hesitate to buy a well-stored, high-fill bottle at the right price.  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

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1970 Chateau Les Ormes de Pez, Saint-Estephe
Shipped by Francois Gauthier.  This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  Imported by Apex Liquors.  Mid-shoulder fill.  The nose bore both fruit and minerals.  In the mouth were softer, strawberry flavors, a soft middle then a drying finish.  With air the fruit took on weight, showing some tartness too before the hints of cedar in the finish.  While the finish was a touch short this was a nice, flavorful wine.  ** Now.

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A 1978 dinner with wines from the Rhone and Bordeaux

July 21, 2015 1 comment

It was just several weeks ago that Darryl commented on an odd bottle of 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape.  Darryl had served it at a tasting full of Rhone wine lovers.  I did not attend the Rhone dinner but David did and he too felt something was amiss.  Both Darryl and David felt that this bottle was not representative of the 1978 vintage.  Fortunately for me, Darryl had purchased a second bottle which he was willing to open up so that I could taste it.  He did just that last week, around which we organized a small tasting of 1978 vintage wines.

We quickly settled on five wines from the Rhone and Bordeaux.  The 1978 vintage in the Rhone was an outstanding success with Michael Broadbent noting it was regarded as the best vintage since 1911 for Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, and Chateauneuf du Pape.  This same vintage in Bordeaux experienced an “appalling growing season” but Chateau Leoville-las-Cases and Chateau Palmer were regarded as very good.  With the wines selected, Darryl, Nancy, Lou, and Todd all gathered in my living room.

A trio of Rhone from 1978

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I must take time to comment on the 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape.  With one quick look at the bottle it is obvious that this was not an original release.  For an image of an original bottle I recommend you take a look at Francois Audouze’s post 177ème dîner de wine-dinners au restaurant Macéo.  Scroll down to see his two pictures.  The particular bottle that Darryl brought over was purchased from Grapes The Wine Company where it was advertised “Mont Redon is on its way, with perfect provenance, 3 outstanding vintages!!!”  The bottle itself sported a contemporary capsule and contemporary labels with Chateau Mont Redon instead of Domaine de Mont Redon, as it was known until 1988.  The fill went all the way up to the bottom of the capsule.  As for the cork itself, it looked rather young.  In short, it looked like a reconditioned bottle.  Darryl confirmed with both Daniel Posner and Envoyer Imports that these bottles came from Chateau Mont-Redon.  Chateau Mont-Redon confirmed that they have released these wines from their cellar.  They perform cork maintenance on all cellared wines which is why there is no ullage and a fresh cork.

John Gilman featured the wines of Chateau Mont-Redon in the April 2011/Issue 32 of View from the Cellar.  He noted that, “Château Mont-Redon is one of the great, old-time estates in the appellation of Châteauneuf du Pape, but until I began tastings in preparation for this report, I had simply no idea just how great their wines were.”  For the 1978 he concludes his tasting note with “A great and utterly classic vintage of Mont-Redon. 2010-2030+. 95.”

This sort of praise is not without precedent.  James Conaway visited Domaine de Mont-Redon then wrote about it in 1984 for The Washington Post.[1]  He tasted the “dark young wines of the traditional style” noting the juice was left on the lees for three weeks, then passed through a centrifuge before aging up to three years in huge oak barrels.  As for the wines “the ’78 was the most intense, with suggestions of cassis and cherries, a lot of body and tannin and a kaleidoscopic finish.”  One year later, Florence Fabricant visited the estate where she wrote in The New  York Times that you could taste “classic richness and strength in vintages going back to 1977.  The 1978, one of the best of the recent vintages, is an intense burgundy color, scented attractively of fruit, softening but still very powerful.”[2]

It appears generally accepted that Mont-Redon produced outstanding wines in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s but the quality turned in the 1970s and 1980s.  David Livingstone-Learmonth commented in The Wines of the Rhone (1992) on this “absence of the strength and concentration” of the previous vintages.  Amongst the “attenuated wines in the late 1970s” was the “maceration carbonique wines” of 1979.  Sandwiched within, though, was the 1978 which he found “still extraordinarily tight-knit, with a lovely harmony of flavours on the palate, tremendous width and still plenty of opening-up to do to add to an already impressive amount of richness.”  Robert Mayberry simply wrote that the “1978 surpassed 1979 “in Wines of the Rhone Valley (1987).

Robert Parked echoed the praise for those mid-century vintages but he was also damning of the 1978 vintage.  In Wines of the Rhone Valley (1997) he comments on “the desiccated 1978″ ran that this “was the first wine to be subjected to the new system of multiple filtrations.  Although the wine is still alive, it displays virtually no aromatic profile, a neutral taste, and no real typicity or character.”  Robert Mayberry noted that “finished red wine is centrifuged or filtered through diatomaceous earth”.

It turns out that Grapes The Wine Company is not the only store where these back vintages of Chateau Mont Redon became available.  Europa Cellars, MW Wines, and Vintage and Vine, all of Australia, had pre-arrival offers put out in 2012.  MW Wines noted “These wines are being offered at special pricing on a pre-arrival basis only, with payment required upon confirmation of allocation.  All wines are sourced directly from the cellar of Chateau Mont-Redon”.

All of the wines we tried that night were popped and poured.    As for the 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape it seemed an odd combination of rather mature flavors supported by a young structure.  With air the flavors became rasinated and the structure disjointed.  It was not enjoyable on the second night.  Ex-cellar releases are not new for Chateauneuf du Pape; Chateau de Beaucastel is one practitioner.  I guess in this case the changing of the corks (and topping off) created a wine that is just not my style.  However, let me know if you happen to have an original release that you are willing to share with me.

A quick smell and taste of the 1978 E. Guigal, Hermitage revealed some serious funk.  It was almost of the nature of fish sauce which I find a bit smelly but love the flavor.  Unfortunately, this bottle of Hermitage rapidly became less interesting.  One sniff of the 1978 E. Guigal, Cotes Rotie Brune et Blonde promptly indicated we were in for a treat.  The Brune et Blonde uses fruit sourced from nearly 50 small vineyard owners and a large portion of estate vineyards.  Fruit from the three La-La’s and Chateau d’Ampuis are excluded.  The wine is mostly Syrah with approximately 5% Viognier added.  The wine itself is aged for three years in casks and barrels.  David Livingstone-Learmonth writes in The Wines of the Northern Rhone (2005) that the “quality of the 1970s was extremely good” and that in big vintages the wines can live for “around 20 years” though longer in spectacular vintages.  Clearly this was one of those bottles.  If you ever come across a bottle it will be a worthy purchase.

A Pair of Bordeaux from 1978

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It was a treat to taste both the 1978 Chateau Palmer and 1978 Chateau Leoville-las-Cases.  Both wines feature more than half Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend but Palmer sports a good deal more Merlot at the expense of Cabernet Franc which is the opposite of Leoville-las-Cases.  David Peppercorn summarizes mature Palmer as, “the wine develop a bouquet of rare penetration and show all the finesse of a fine Margaux with rather more body and richness.”  For Leoville-Lascases he writes that the essence “is a bouquet of great elegance and sauvity and an incomparable flavour which is almost silky in texture when mature, very long but at the same time firm and well balanced.”  Michel Delon took over the production of Leoville-Las-Cases from his father in 1975.  According to Clive Coates, he imposed a very severe selection with roughly 40% of the harvest going into the grand vin and meticulous vinification.  He continues that this is a “full-bodied, austere and tannic wine” whose heart is the Grand Clos vineyard which lies just south of Chateau Latour.  Thus the 1978 vintage of Leoville-las-Cases is from a new period of quality whereas for Palmer it is yet another strong effort since the 1940s.

The 1978 Chateau Palmer, Margaux was evidently in great shape from the very first sniff.  It did develop more complexity with air but it always had that seductive, seamless quality to it.  It was no slouch either.  Nancy told me that last glass in the bottle would be fine the very next day.  It was.  The 1978 Chateau Leoville-las-Cases, Saint-Julien proved exemplary of a structured nature with increased Cabernet Franc.  I would have preferred a longer finish but nevertheless I enjoyed this earthy, more robust bottle.

In the end, my favorite wine of the night was the 1978 Chateau Palmer, Margaux.  The fill was into the neck with Darryl commenting that it was the best example he has yet opened.  This wine was closely followed by the 1978 E. Guigal, Cotes Rotie Brune et Blonde.  A step down was the 1978 Chateau Leoville-las-Cases, Saint-Julien.  Not bad for a Wednesday night.

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2006 Moët & Chandon, Grand Vintage Rosé Champagne
Imported by .  This wine is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir, and 19% Pinot Meunier.  There was a strong yeasty aroma with dark toast.  In the mouth was an aggressive start before the bubbles immediately burst.  The wine had hints of hard, cherry fruit, minerals, and some earth.  With air the wine increasingly tasted young but did take on dry, baking spices.  I think it needs time.  ***(*) 2020-2030.

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2002 Weingut Hauth-Kerpen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett
Imported by Valley View Wine Sales.  Alcohol 8.5%.  With a little bit of air the nose opened up to reveal rich petrol aromas back by some rubber-like notes.  In the mouth was a soft, slightly weighty start then drying flavors of green apple and petrol.  The finish was short. The nose was *** but overall ** Now.

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1978 E. Guigal, Hermitage
Imported by A & A Liquors.  There was old leather and stinky aromas.  With air the nose turned strange.  In the mouth there were fruit flavors and it was a generally drinkable wine but strange.  Will Last.  * Now.

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1978 E. Guigal, Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde
Import strip fell off the back.  There was a beautiful nose of fruit, red ripe fruit, and some earth.  In the mouth were slightly earthy, garrigue-infused fruit, mineral, and an attractive foxy finish.  The finish was a little rough but followed by an expansive aftertaste.  With air this wine showed slow building power to the lovely tart and ripe fruit.  It had beginning lift, beautiful acidity, gorgeous fruit, wood box notes, and good weight.  **** Now – 2020.

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1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Envoyer.  Alcohol 14%.  The color was old but the wine tastes like an old and young wine blend with young structure.  With air there were raisinated fruit flavors, juicy acidity, old perfume, and still a wealth of tannins.  Odd.  Not Rated.

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1978 Chateau Leoville-las-Cases, Saint-Julien
Shipped Arcande.  Imported by B & H Inc.  Alcohol 12%.  Top-shoulder fill.  The nose bore more greenhouse aromas than the Palmer.  In the mouth were tart red fruit flavors, a mineral-like middle, and salivating acidity.  It took on some funk and vintage perfume.  There were even attractive, sweaty and musky aromas that came out.  Overall this was a solid wine with a short finish but a long, low-lying aftertaste.  *** Now-2020.

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1978 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Imported by Parliament Import Co.  Alcohol 11% – 14%.  Bottom-neck fill.  There was a sweaty nose with grippy aromas of ripe, sweet bakins spices.  The flavors filled the mouth with fresh, good grip, leaving lovely, seductive impressive through the aftertaste. With air the wine was made seamless as if covered by a layer of delicious fat.  **** Now.

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[1] Chateauneuf – A Cask by Itself.  Conaway, James.  The Washington Post Magazine. Page  38. November 11, 1984.
[2] A Little Town And Its Big Red Wine: Vintage Chateauneuf-du-Pape. By FLORENCE FABRICANT. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 2, 1985; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. XX15

From “one of the most interesting and controversial vintages”: 1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe

When I attended Bristol University in the early 1990s, it was the 1961 Bordeaux vintage that we discussed with desire.  There was no mention of 1962, 1964, nor 1966 and certainly no mention of the vintages from the 1950s.  The handful of old bottles we drank came from Reid Wines of Bristol.  In their Winter 1992/1993 catalog the 1961 vintage is described as an “Outstanding vintage” but the 1959 is noted as “Big, meaty wines, full of concentrated fruit.  Most are delicious.”  I am not sure why the 1959 vintage escaped my lips, perhaps it was the slight uptick in price.  The missed experience of drinking from this vintage was only just corrected.

The 1959 vintage in Bordeaux followed a string of three vintages that “were bitter and cold years for the winegrowers and very little wine was made.”[1]  It was a very good year that received much publicity.  In Bordeaux, it was a hot and dry time with the only rain falling during a one week period in September.  The grapes were unusually rich in sugar which made for “big, robust, red wines, with a high percentage of alcohol” but in consequence the wines could be low in acidity.[2]  The warmth lasted through October both day and night.  This created problems in making the wines for fermentation temperatures were very hot and in some cases, went out of control.  In the worst case the native yeasts died off and vinegar yeasts activated making unpleasant wines.  In general, though, it was felt that these were generous, quickly maturing wines.

Clive Coates wrote in The Wines of Bordeaux (2004) that “1959 was the last great year when the wine was made by old-fashioned methods”.  The early 1960s saw the introduction of controlled vinification, stainless-steel vats, and general replanting of vineyards.  This transition to modernity began with the end of World War II.  Vignerons in Burgundy began to make wine that matured more quickly by reducing tannin content.  While this style became more common in the 1953 and 1955 vintages in Burgundy, it only started to be practiced in Bordeaux at the end of the 1950s.  The combination of these new techniques and the low acidity vintage, meant that this style of early drinking Bordeaux was both memorable and controversial.

When I saw the bottles of 1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe at MacArthur Beverages I knew I needed to buy one.  I wanted try a bottle for all the historic reasons, regardless of the condition.    Chateau Montrose produced traditionally made, long-lived wines that were high in both Cabernet Sauvignon and tannins.  Their adherence to tradition meant that an even lower-fill bottle was reported to me as good.

Nathan Chroman tasted a bottle at Binpin Desai’s Chateau Montrose vertical tasting in 1982.[3]  He described that it “may have been the best of the bunch [of 1950s].  Here is a taste that is subtle, rich, and soft with layers of flavors.  Superb to drink now with flavors that seem to go on and on.”[3] Tasted more than two decades later, Michael Broadbent found it “Outstanding – still fairly deep and velvety though fully mature…glorious rich flavor” and rated it five out of five stars.  I hoped that even if this bottle was dialed back a notch or two, that it would still make for good drinking.

Montrose2

I ended up with the last bottle which had a low to mid-shoulder fill with no signs of seepage.  When I rechecked the cork at home it budged slightly.  I had planned to taste the wine the following night with Lou.  Worried about the cork, I removed it, poured off a small taste, then gassed the bottle and sealed it with a new cork.  The wine was sound so I felt that it would survive to the next day.  Survive it did, for when we pulled this second cork, the wine handled air without any problems.  In fact, Lou decanted off the last glass for me to try the subsequent day.  At this point it had a metallic edge to it but was completely drinkable.  At its best, this wine had a core of cherry fruit mixed with an earthy/funky bit.  It still possessed tannins but more importantly it had strength.  I suspect that well-stored, high fill bottles will offer an outstanding experience and continue to do so for years to come.  For me, this bottle represents the twilight of an era when wine was cellared for future generations.  This wine was purchased from MacArthur Beverages.

Montrose1

1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Originally shipped by Grierson, Oldham & Adams Ltd of London then shipped by Compass Wines Ltd. Imported by Direct Import Wine Co.  The color was a medium+ dark with brown hints.  In the mouth was a dense, animale start with some roast earth and plenty of life.  There was a hint of cherry fruit that eventually developed into a core of fruit.  The flavors oscillated with a bit of vintage perfume in the end.  The wine left a fresh impression, with ripe, textured tannins, and citric grip with air.  It exhibited power that slowly unfurled.  *** Now-2025.

Montrose3


[1] It Sure Puckers Your Mouth. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 15, 1959; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times. Page B5.
[2]A sober view of 1959. Baile, Nicholas. The Guardian (1959-2003); Nov 22, 1960; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer. pg. 12
[3] A Tasting for Montrose Wine: Vintages From 1979 to 1906 Sampled at the Event. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 7, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times. pg. M50

“This hand a Cork-scrue did contain”: From a worm to The Durand

The CORKSCREW.

Whether of silver, or of temper’d steel,
I grasp thee firm, to my transported touch
Alike thou’rt welcome; for by thy kind aid
The cork, that blazons in its coat of wax,
I pierce intrepid, and transix the foe,
That rudely bars the passage to my joys,
Full in the centre.  Then with nervous arm
Compleate the gripe, and give th’imprison’d wine,
Champagne, or Port, its liberty of air.

Jemmy Copywell. 1758.[1]

At a recent tasting, Darryl commented on the murderous rate at which I am opening and writing about old bottles of wine.  I took this as a complement because Darryl and his wife Nancy are dedicated lovers of old wine.  It is true that as of late I have been drinking wine from the 1960s and 1970s at an almost daily rate.  If now only constant, it was certainly in periodic bursts over the past year.  To be able to access such old wine, without frustration and disintegrated corks, requires the use of a very good corkscrew.  Since the beginning of last year there is only one tool that I use for these old bottles and that is The Durand.  That I even possess a Durand is solely due to a gift from my friend Mannie Berk of The Rare Wine Company.

The Durand is the latest evolution in the 300 year history of corkscrews.  Most histories of the corkscrew state that the earliest reference was noted in the 1681. This is when Nehemiah Grew compared a “worme-stone” to that of “a Steel Worme used for the drawing of Corks out of Bottles.”[2]  Then there is the typical jump forward to Reverend Samuel Henshall’s first patented corkscrew of 1795.  This one century jump in chronology hides the fact that corkscrew use was widespread, they were much beloved, and even stolen.

The cellular structure of cork from Robert Hooke's Micrographia. [3]

The cellular structure of cork from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. [3]

Bottles of various materials have been stoppered with corks for some time.  Robert Hooke detailed his microscopic observations of cork in his important book Micrographia (1665).[3]  Unfortunately, his description of it being “unapt to suck and drink in Water” as well as the ability “to stop and hold air in a Bottle” does not extend to needing a screw to remove the cork from a bottle.  It is 1702 that we find mention in another publication of the Royal Society of London where a microscopic observation is compared to the “close spiral revolution like the Worm of a Bottle Screw”.[4]

The 1702 date is interesting.  Just one year prior Guy Miege published The Short French Dictionary in Two Parts (1701) in London.  While it contains vinous phrases, some of which appear in my post “The Wine smiles in the Glass” : Vinous Phrases In “Present Use” Back In 1701, there are none related to drawing a cork with a screw.[5] Abel Boyer was the second lexigrapher after Guy Miege to publish a French-English/English-French dictionary.  His Dictionnaire royal francois-anglois (et anglois-francois) (1702) contains the following passage, “A Screw, (to pull out the Cork of a Bottle) Un Tire-bouchon.”[6]  Although Abel Boyer’s dictionary was published in The Hague he did spend time in London beginning in 1689.  Clearly wine was important to Guy Miege so the omission of a cork screw in his dictionary is interesting.  Perhaps the corkscrew burst into the London wine scene between 1701 and 1702.

There is something to this thought for cork screws are mentioned in London newspaper advertisements from the first two decades of the 18th century.  For example, in 1708 someone lost “a little Green colour’d She-Monkey, with a small Cord about her, and a Cork-Screw at the end of it.”[7]  The following year a person lost their “Silver Cork-Screw” at Robin’s Coffee House.[8]

Title page from Nicholas Amhurst's The Bottle-Scrue: a Tale. 1732.

Title page from Nicholas Amhurst’s The Bottle-Scrue: a Tale. 1732.

Whenever the availability of the corkscrew became wide spread, there were poems written about them in the 18th century.  Perhaps the first and most famous is Nicholas Amhurst’s “The Bottle-Scrue. A Tale”.  This tale appears in his book Poems on Several Occasions (1720). Here he writes of a Sir Roger who set to uncork a bottle for his supper that was “ripe and well”.  Sir Roger apparently did not own a corkscrew.

Sir Roger set his teeth to work;
This way and that the Cork he ply’d,
And wrench’d in vain from side to side;
In vain his ivory grinders strain’d,
For still unmov’d the Cork remain’d;

And grown by thirst more valiant far,
He meditates a second war;
Firm on the spungy Cork he plac’d
His doubty thumb, and downwards press’d
The yielding wood; – but oh! Dire luck!
Fast in its place his own thumb stuck
Loudly the pleas’d spectators laugh’d,
With pain and shame the Parson chaf’d,
Long did he strive, with adverse fate,
His captive thumb to extricate,
Nor could his liberty regain,
‘Till hammer broke the glassy chain;
Leave to withdraw the Priest desir’d,
And bowing, sullenly retir’d.

Sir Roger eventually falls asleep only to dream of “the God of Wine” who stood in front of him, where in “This hand a Cork-scrue did contain, And that a Bottle of Champaign”.  Bacchus had seen the humiliation of the night and came to provide a solution.

Thus, with a smile, kind BACCHUS spoke,
And in his hand the weapon took,
He slipt it o’er his finger-joint,
And to the Cork apply’d the point,
Gently he turn’d it round and round,
‘Till in the midst its spires were wound,
Then bending earthward low, betwixt
His knees the Bottle firmly fixt,
And giving it a sudden jerk,
From its close prison wrench’d the Cork:
The wine now issu’d at command,
When, with a bumper in his hand,
Your health, Sir Roger, quoth the God,

Sir Roger recounted his dream when he woke up and was “intent to form the new machine” which he called “a BOTTLE-SCRUE”.  Whether by the name of bottle screw or cork screw the popularity must have grown in the 1720s such that comments on its use appear in Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1727).[9]  Here it is noted that “it is hard to pull out the Corks without a Screw”.  To prevent the cork from breaking “the Screw ought to go through the Cork”.

It is in 1714 that a bottle screw is first mentioned in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey which was London’s central criminal court.[10]  The term cork screw appears in 1721 when William Casey was found guilty of assaulting Gregory Turn on the highway where he took his “Cork-Skrew”.[11]  Cork screws were also stolen from store display cases[12] and dwelling houses.[13]  Some thefts were violent such as when John Carter and Peter Rivers held a pistol to the breast of Henry Howard upon which they “rifled his Pockets” taking money, buckles, and a cork screw.[14]  Men were not the only ones to carry cork screws with them.  Christian Smith carried a silver Cork Screw on her person.[15]  In 1739, Ann Price and Hannah Prior were assaulted by John Albin.[16]  Putting a pistol to Ann Price he stomped his food and cried, “d-mn you, your Money”.  When she handed him her money and corkscrew, he threw them back.

I too share a love for wine and the practical need to open bottles as those of some 300 years ago.  Whenever I am to open an old bottle, be it at my house, Lou’s, or somewhere else, I always carry my Durand with me.  Mannie Berk reset my concept of old and mature wine when he served us a 1922 Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva.  With the Durand he has facilitated my exploration of other venerable vintages.


[1] The Gentleman’s and London Magazine: Or Monthly Chronologer, 1741-1794. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=6p5EAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA2#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Grew, Nehemiah Grew. Musaeum Regalis Societatis.  1681. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=LXI_AAAAcAAJ&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Hooke, Robert.  Micrographia. 1665. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=W5FqAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Volume 10. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=_dReAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA1135#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Miege, Guy.  The Short French Dictionary In Two Parts.  1701. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=QrxRAAAAcAAJ&vq=wine&pg=PT1#v=onepage&q=wine&f=false
[6] Boyer, Abel. Dictionnaire royal francois-anglois (et anglois-francois). 1702. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=Q6RNAAAAcAAJ&pg=PT5#v=onepage&q&f=false  I should note that other editions of this book have “scrue” instead of “screw”.
[7] Classified ads . Daily Courant (London, England), Wednesday, May 26, 1708; Issue 1957.
[8] Classified ads . Daily Courant (London, England), Friday, November 25, 1709; Issue 2524.
[9] Bradley, Richard. The Country Housewife and Lady’s Directory. 1727. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=nppgAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[10] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1714, trial of William Deverell (t17140908-60).
[11] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), August 1721, trial of Martin Mackowen William Casey William Casey (t17210830-48).
[12] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), January 1725, trial of John Hobbs (t17250115-5).
[13] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), July 1728, trial of James Haddock (t17280717-1).
[14] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), February 1730, trial of John Carter Peter Rivers (t17300228-15).
[15] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1733, trial of Robert Lowle (t17330912-73).
[16] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1739, trial of John Albin (t17390906-4).

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