Kicking Off Old Wine Week with Jenn, Lou, and Frank
It all started one fall morning when Lou texted me a picture of a pristine bottle of 1966 Parducci, Zinfandel. I love to drink old wines and apparently to look at them as well. There is that sense of curiosity and potential surprise from a good glass of old wine. It certainly is a gamble but at an attractive price it is worth it. Since I received Lou’s text we picked up a few various bottles but these were mostly Bordeaux and nothing prior to 1970. Joe at MacArthur Beverages had recently bought a few wine cellars. A number of these bottles ended up in the dump bin. Through fortuitous timing I happened to be at the store when both the California and French bins were filled. I knew a tasting was coming together when Andy pointed out the two bottles of 1960s Beaulieu Vineyards with their bottom neck fills. To this I added other mature wines from California, Bordeaux, vintage Port, and Bordeaux. The wines from California and the red Bordeaux did not come from the best storage conditions but they were priced right. The Sauternes came from a different cellar with good storage condition. With enough wines in hand for a tasting Jenn and I were recently joined by Lou and Frank (DrinkWhatYouLike) for a tasting of some of these old bottles.
Traffic was horrendous that evening so we got off to a bit of a late start. The weather was turning a bit sketchy but we managed to have a glass of Ca’del Bosco on the deck along with some cheese. Frank has a particular affinity for this estate since he has actually visited it and disgorged some wine. I was not taking notes at this point for I was, quite frankly, thirsty. I found the wine refreshing and with my glass finished I was ready to taste the old red wines.
NV Ca’del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige, Franciacorta –
Imported by Banville & Jones Wine Merchants. This wine is a blend of 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Nero, and 10% Pinot Bianco blended with at least 20% reserve wine then aged for 28 months. Disgorged Summer 2012. Alcohol 12.5%. From memory, fresh, approachable yellow fruit with citrus and some yeast. Fine bubbles. Very easy to drink.
I had stored both of the bottles laying down in the Euro Cave. The sediment in both bottles had settled down but knowing these weren’t the strongest vintages I was worried about decanting them. I briefly conferred with Lou and having decided to ignore the sediment, I stood the bottles on end and begin to cut the tops of the capsules. The top of both corks were in great shape. The 1962 cork looked a bit more like old wood with just a little cellar mold. The top of the 1967 cork looked pristine. I extracted both corks with an Ah-So. The 1962 cork smelled like very old wood with hints of tobacco. It was marked “Portugal 196[2?]”. The 1967 cork was marked “Beaulieu Rutherford, Calif” and its business end was much darker, almost black. It smelled of old cork and vintage perfume. A sniff of each bottle revealed them sound. I had expected the 1962 to have already cracked up but instead it had promise! It managed to drink well for some 10-15 minutes before it cracked up for the worst. The 1967 had more fruit and was more robust, lasting almost one hour. The nose remained interesting for quite some time longer.
1962 Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de Latour, Private Reserve, Napa Valley –
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which was aged for 2 years in American oak. Bottom neck fill. Alcohol 12.5%. The color was a light to medium amber tawny. The light nose immediately revealed cedar, roast earth, and dried leather. Then a few minutes later it was scented with coffee and caramel. In the mouth there was firm red fruit, acidity, and a fresh aftertaste. It faded fast and after 10 minutes it begin to crack up and fall apart. Past.
1967 Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de Latour, Private Reserve, Napa Valley –
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which was aged for 2 years in American oak. Bottom neck fill. Alcohol 12%. The color was closer to medium tawny with a bit more red. The nose did open up to reveal deeper aromas as if there were more fruit. In the mouth this rustic, old-school wine had more fruit but it faded and softened with air. There was an interesting note. It was more robust than the 1962 but its slow decline begin by hours end. * Past.
Lou managed to remove the Parducci cork with a cork-screw. The top of the cork was black and white with mold having protruded half a centimeter down the sides. The cork itself was red and wrinkly looking. It was faintly branded “Parducci” and was about the same length as the Beaulieu Vineyard corks. It smelled of leather and the sea but fortunately the wine did not. The 1966 vintage was stronger than 1962 and 1967 as evidenced by this bottle. This wine was in great shape and even drank well the following night. After getting over my initial surprise I knocked back a glass or two of this old quaffer.
1966 Parducci Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Mendocino County –
Fill half-centimeter above vintage label. Alcohol 12.5%. The color was a light to medium tawny, the darkest yet. The nose revealed deep, red fruit with some scent and old perfume. In the mouth the fruit was firm with acidity. It was spiced and again a note about the acidity. It was not overly complex nor too engaging but it was completely drinkable. There were still a bit of ripe tannins. With air it took on dried leather in the mouth and firmed up. ** Now.
With the 1962 Beaulieu having expired we needed something else to drink. Lou thought the 1983 Chateau Gruaud Larose to be a good choice. I extracted the cork with an Ah-So without any issues. It was a good centimeter longer than the previous three corks. The cork and bottle smelled proper so I carefully double-decanted the wine to remove the sediment. As I did so it gave off dark, earthy aromas. The nose remained interesting but in the mouth the impression was of robustness and solidity. I think it safe to write that this bottle suffered from its storage conditions but it must have been made of such stuffing to evolve to this point and probably could have continued as well.
1983 Chateau Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien –
Imported by Chateau & Estate Wine Company. This wine is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot sourced from vines averaging 35 years of age. It was fermented in cement tanks then aged 16-18 months in new and used oak. Top should fill. Alcohol 12%. The color was a medium garnet ruby. The light to medium nose was robust and good with dark fruit and a little fresh menthol. The mouth followed the nose but was not as expressive. There was black and red fruit with tartness and acidity which was integrated throughout. The flavors faded and thinned with air. It had some textured ripe tannins. A solid experience which left the impression that it was not the best bottle. ** Now-2018.
Lastly it came time to open the Sauternes. Lou brought the 1988 Raymond-Lafon from a parcel of 1988 Sauternes half-bottle he picked up for both of us. He thought it a bit clunky upon first taste so I opened the 1990 Chateau Haut-Bergeron. These were very different types of wine. The Raymond-Lafon was young with less residual sugar to the flavors of apples and berries. The Haut-Bergeron was rich in flavor and feel with caramel and tobacco flavors. I drank the remnants over a few nights. The Raymond-Lafon remained a decent, enjoyable wine but never showed good depth. At one point I forgot to recork the Haut-Bergeron. I discovered the bottle with its remains several days later. It still smelled fine so I tried it and it was fine! It had taken on a little roughness from oxidation but otherwise it was still enjoyable. I imagine well-corked examples will live for several decades.
1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes – (375 mL)
Imported by Calvert Woodley. This wine is a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc sourced from vines averaging 40 years of age. The fruit was pressed in a hydraulic press then barrel fermented for 3-5 weeks. No sulphur was added to stop fermentation thus relying on antibiotic botryticine. It was racked every three months and aged three years in 60% new oak. Top shoulder fill. Alcohol 13.5%. The color was a vibrant, medium amber. The nose was fine but not too complex. In the mouth there were drier, firmer flavors of apple and then mixed apple and berries. It was very much alive and tasting young. It was not too sweet from residual sugar and still had plenty of acidity. While not that complex it had an expansive finish. ** Now-2033.
1990 Chateau Haut-Bergeron, Sauternes – (375 mL)
Bottom neck fill. Alcohol 14.5%. The color was a medium tawny. The nose revealed more botrytis and cider aromas. In the mouth the flavors were tawny with botrytis, good feel and texture, along with caramel and tobacco notes. I think this richer wine has the residual sugar, acidity, and alcohol to last for many decades to come. ** Now-2043.
I opened the leftover 1966 Parducci and 1983 Chateau Gruaud Larose three nights later for our schedule had conspired against me revisiting them earlier. We sat on the couch watching the television where Jenn was enjoying the 2010 Kermit Lynch, Cotes du Rhone. I drank the 1966 and 1983 that night tickled that they were my table wine for one evening.