Tasting Old Wines with Darryl and Nancy at Blue Grass Tavern
On a snowy evening Phil and I drove up to Baltimore to taste several flights of wine. Darryl and Nancy were hosting an evening of old wine at the Blue Grass Tavern. Their contributions and those of the other attendees were beckoning. There were both familiar faces, including Jeffrey Snow, and several new ones. We sat in the intimate back room which glowed inside and allowed views of the coating of snow which was still falling as we sat down. The dinner was a satisfying meat fest which was punctuated at the end by plates of cheese and an incredible amount of dessert.
To start with 1990 Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon was great not only because the bottle was in top form but also because it was the second youngest wine of the evening. We tasted through a number of wines at a reasonable pace and I never felt rushed nor short on my own pours. The most physically satisfying flight was that of the 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape. There great wines came from excellent cellars so the provenance showed. If you have not yet drunk mature Chateauneuf du Pape then make every effort to do so. I also really enjoyed the old Barolo flight. There was nothing dried out or difficult about these wines, they really do develop for an incredible amount of time. They were subtle in a way that when I tasted through the mixed French flight I kept wishing I was drinking the Barolo instead.
1990 Moet et Chandon, Cuvee Dom Perignon, Champagne
Alcohol 12.9%. This was opened right before serving. There was a light toasty nose which was initially subtle before it blossomed with air to reveal mature white wine aromas and riper fruit. In the mouth there was a fresh and crisp start carried by very fine bubbles that turned into a soft, lovely mousse of mature yellow fruit. There was a chewy finish and long textured aftertaste which haunted my mouth. This wine was in great shape and really was evocative of mature white Burgundy.
1983 Staatsweingut, Rauenthaler, Baiken, Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau
Imported by Atlanta Wholesale Wine. Alcohol 10%. There was a killer nose with a little petrol. The wine opened up quickly in the mouth bringing on petrol and riper fruit. There was seamless acidity, drier flavors towards the finish and a hint of tartness. The palate was not quite up to the nose but still a very fine wine.
1983 Kirchmayr, Solist, Traminer Spatlese, Neusiedlersee
Imported by Domaine Select Wines. Alcohol 12%. This was very aromatic, rather Gewurztraminer like. It provided a ripe, round mouthfeel with a woodsy mineral note. It still had some sweetness, a racy hint, and with air, a mellow personality.
The Barolo flight had been decanted such that they had about four hours or so of air before dinner. The 1962 Cappellano was bottled by Giovanni Troglia who was a wine merchant in Turin. Darryl reported the oddly shaped bottle was sealed with a glass top fused with metal to the bottle. So he had to delicately pry away before gaining access to the cork.
I thought the 1967 Francesco Rinaldi the darkest and freshest of the three. This impression was not only due to it being the youngest of the trio rather, as Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) pointed out to me, it was aged in demijohn. Indeed in Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman’s Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1991) they write that Luciano Rinaldi “keeps some of his Barolo in these 9- and 14-gallon (34- and 54-liter) jugs for ten years or more. The wine is decanted off its sediment into bottles or magnums before being put on sale.” At the time of their visit there was still 1967 in demijohn. This was practice was common in the old days of Barolo so perhaps this younger vintage was the most traditional of the three. Michael Garner and Paul Merritt note in Barolo: Tar and Roses (1990) that it was the old practice to transfer wine from botte to damigiana for maturation. However, the deep frost of 1929 wiped out vast stocks of these glass demijohns providing incentive to shift aging methods. The 1958 Giacomo Borgogno showed more mature with earthy and ethereal flavors. I thought an interesting contrast. The 1962 Cappellano with its funky bottle quickly took on a nose of pure cumin with funky flavors in the mouth. It reacted a bit to the air, putting on more flesh, and provided a third unique Barolo experience. In the end a very satisfying flight.
1958 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Red Capsule, Barolo Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Acquired from a Private Collection and auctioned by Acker Merrall & Conduit, November 2013. There was a strong, earthy nose with a hint of band-aid. In the mouth were fresh, earthy flavors of black and red fruit. The acidity was there, perhaps a hint of banana, followed by more piercing flavors in the finish and a haunting aftertaste.
1962 Cappellano, Barolo
Giovanni Troglia bottling. Alcohol 13.5%. There was a funky nose which cleaned up to be a pure aroma of cumin. The funk followed in the mouth where the wine was dry. It reacted well with air, became a touch savory and fleshed out. An interesting wine.
1967 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Acquired from a private collection by Chambers Street Wines. Alcohol 13.5%. This was very dark and the darkest of all three in the flight. The nose was initially subtle then became more aromatic. There was tangy red fruit in the mouth, lots of pleasing grip, and acidity which was very present. It still had tannins, was a little dry, and puckering towards the end. It remained very fresh and engaging.
This was a mixed flight and a little underwhelming given the old Barolo and 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape flights it was sandwiched between. There was a connection in that the Ausone and the Francesco Rinaldi were of the same vintage. This vintage of Ausone came from the period when the vines were becoming increasingly older as there had been no replanting since 1950. Both the Ausone and Montrose were fermented in old wooden vats. I preferred the Montrose which was fresher. To have mature Trousseau from Arbois was probably a first for many. This particular bottle of 1988 Camille Loye came from a small parcel imported by Crush. While it was not a wine I would want to drink an entire bottle of, it was enjoyable, and not near decline. Finally, the Nicolas Potel was young with an interesting flavor but the powerful tannins were still too obvious.
1967 Chateau Ausone, Saint-Emilion
Imported by DKDJ Imports. Acquired from a private collection. There was a nose of beef stock and perhaps a hint of a sweet note. There were flavors of black and red fruit in the focused start. It had watering acidity, ripe spices, minerals, and a structure that still had tannic grip in the finish. Ultimately, it was on its decline in life. It did not seem to get better with air.
1970 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Alexis Lichine & Co. There was a curious nose which was both fresh and animale. There was levity in the mouth, a greenhouse hint, and a young core. It was a good wine that did not show the level of evolution that the Ausone did.
1988 Camille Loye, Cuvee St Paul, Arbois Rouge
Imported by Vineyard Road. There were flavors of red cranberry, citrus pith, and fresh acidity. It was an interesting wine, in fine shape, and I can see why one person said an “orange red wine” and another “curious”.
1999 Nicolas Potel, Latricieres-Chambertin, Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by C’est Vin. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose was very fresh. There was a little earth to the flavors, a ripe note and an interesting flavor profile. There was a lot of unevolved oak which showed in the powerful and very fine tannins in the finish. This wine packed a punch at the end. Clearly the youngest tasting bottle of the even.
We almost had a quartet of 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape but the Rayas, Pignan was badly corked. Still, the remaining three bottles were excellent. The Charvin had been double-decanted ahead of time so it probably had two hours of air before it was poured. The other wines were opened just minutes before and not decanted. While this difference should be noted there is no denying the Charvin was a great wine. This vintage represents the first produced by Laurent Charvin for all of the wines had been previously sold off. It remained excellent to the end. I also really liked the Pegau which can be so satisfying to smell and to drink. This bottle came from a good cellar and even with some air kept a youthful nature. The Beaucastel may have been more polarizing and not with the same depth of flavor but I very much enjoyed it. That three different wines could be so satisfying was evidenced by how quiet the table became.
1990 Domaine Charvin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co. Alcohol 14.5%. There were aromas of tobacco and red fruit that stood out of the glass. In the mouth were lovely flavors that were a little savory and sappy with cherry and Kirsch notes. The wine had weight and purity. Despite the maturity the flavors had a ripe, dense core. A real treat.
1990 Rayas, Pignan, Chateauneuf du Pape
Acquired from a private collection by Acker Merrall & Conduit Internet. An off bottle.
1990 Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Hand Picked Selections. Alcohol 13.5%. There was great complexity in the familial nose but the flavors were young. There was a good mixture of spices and fruit which was black red. The chewy tannins made way to youthful weight, sweet fruit and sweet spices. It had a spicy structure in the finish and a long aftertaste that took on ripe notes.
1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co. Alcohol 13.5%. This was very aromatic. The flavors were expansive in the mouth but did not develop the weight or presence as the Charvin. Some ripe fruit developed, an animale flavor, and the structure was more present.
Unfortunately, the 1991 QBA was not worth drinking. The 1995 Beerenauslese had an explosive entry into the mouth with an engaging mixture of black tea flavors.
1991 Carl von Schubert, Maximin Grunhauser, Herrenberg QBA, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer – (375 mL)
Alcohol 10.9%. The nose was oxidative with a hint of apples and apricots followed by beef stock. There were apple flavors, tart-like fruit but in the end dried out. No.
1995 Carl von Schubert, Maximin Grunhauser, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer – (375 mL)
Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections. Alcohol 6.5%. There was a ripe nose of apples and apricots. The wine had a lively burst into the mouth with not-quite bracing acidity. The complex flavors blended in tea notes and maintained texture on the tongue followed by a tartness in the aftertaste.
The Baumard was curious in that it was rather clean and almost primary. Perhaps it needed more air or years in the cellar. I believe some people continued to work this wine in their glass so perhaps they have a better opinion. There is not much Terrantez any more on Madeira so the Cossart Gordon bottle was a treat to taste. It was opened right before tasting and had great aromatics and powerful flavors. It was a bottle I would be curious to track for a few weeks.
1989 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Imported by Classic Wine Imports. Acquired from a private collection by Acker Merrall & Conduit Internet. The nose was sweet and sweaty but remained youthful and tight. In the mouth the sweetness over powered the acidity at first, it was in there but bound tight. Remarkably unevolved.
1977 Cossart Gordon, Terrantez, Madeira
Imported by Premium Ports & Madeiras. Alcohol 20%. There was a very aromatic and gorgeous nose. In the mouth were powerful flavors of salty and rich orange-red fruit. It had subtle weight.