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Archive for August, 2015

A deep Portuguese wine from Quinta do Vallado

I plan to unleash several posts this week featuring a large number of wines that I have tasted this summer. Until I do so, this short post bides me time.  The 2011 Quinta do Vallado, Vallado, Douro springs to mind as a selection for you to try.  I found that it is immediately recognizable as a serious wine.  The depth of flavor is obvious and forward but it also carries the need for age with ease.  My experience with mature Portuguese table wine is minimal but this is one I would see through the short-term.  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

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2011 Quinta do Vallado, Vallado, Douro – $23
Imported by Quintessential LLC. This wine is a blend of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional Sousao that was fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged 70% aged for 14 months in stainless steel and 30% aged for 16 months in used French barriques.   Alcohol 14%.  There were deep aromatic notes then low-lying aromas of deep red fruit with a sushi note.  In the mouth was rather focused, young, black fruit, that showed acidity right away with a forward drinking nature.  The wine continued with floral flavors, a dark robustness, and some oak notes.  With air this wine became weighty with fuzzy plum flavors.  *** 2018-2020.

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The latest from Les Pallieres in Gigondas

The wines of Domaine Les Pallieres were amongst the first Gigondas that I cut my teeth on during university.  They came back to my attention with the 1998 vintage, of which there were so many great Southern Rhone wines available at MacArthur Beverages.  The two cuvees Terrasse du Diable and Les Racines are relatively newer constructs in the history of this domaine.  While both of these are Grenache based wines, the former uses fruit from younger vines located on several vineyards.  The later is produced using the oldest vines which are located around the winery and cellar.

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The 2012 Les Pallieres, Terrasse du Diable, Gigondas packs a punch with a structure not unusual for traditional Gigondas. It is a good wine but not as memorable as the 2012 Les Pallieres, Les Racines, Gigondas.  Produced from the oldest vines, Les Racines exhibits not only more depth and weight but also impeccable balance.  True it also has a significant structure but this creamy, mineral, and fat accented wine leaves you wanting to drink more. With both cuvees priced the same I highly recommend you purchase Les Racines but make sure you age it for at least several more years.  These wines were purchased from MacArthur Beverages.

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2012 Les Pallieres, Terrasse du Diable, Gigondas – $37
This wine is a blend of 90% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre, and 5% Clairette.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The wine was very bright and creamy showing very focused ripe black and blue fruit.  It is supported by a very fine structure through the expansive finish.  With air it continues to show clean fruit, some saltiness, and a smacking finish.  Ultimately, this wine packs quite a structure as compared to the fruit.  *** 2020-2030.

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2012 Les Pallieres, Les Racines, Gigondas – $37
This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and Cinsault, and 5% Clairette.  Alcohol 14.5%.  This sported lower lying focused and deep black fruit.  The flavors were creamy and enlivened by a Big-Red flavored tannins in the finish.  This clean, textured wine had fruit matched perfectly with the fine tannins and integrated acidity.  With air it showed very good weight, fat, and a minerally finish.  **** 2020-2035.

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Several recent bottles drunk with friends and one without

It is a treat to have friends with strong interests in cookbooks, cooking, and cocktails who are both curious and excited to try new wines.  This meant that earlier this year I shared bottles not just from France but Croatia, Turkey, and Israel.  These were all youngs wine that I opened to expand their experience with wine regions.  At the beginning of the summer I was fortunate to purchase a number of old and mature wines (in case you have not yet noticed the radical shift in average vintage that Lou and I have been opening).  With a slew of vintages mostly from the 1970s my patiently cellared Rhone wines from the 1998 vintage now seem no longer precious.  Though modest in selection, they were the oldest bottles I owned so I held fast.

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At a small dinner this past weekend we started off with the recently acquired 2007 Yves Cuilleron, Les Poitiers, Saint-Peray.  I had no clue what to expect nor did Phil who pointed the wine out at MacArthur Beverages.  This blend of Marsanne and Roussanne was surprisingly young!  It showed some maturity in color but the palate was fresh with good acidity.  I did not take any notes at dinner so I am curious to try another bottle.

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We then proceeded to a trio of red wines including the previously described 2003 Brick House, Cuvée du Tonnelier, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley.  The other two bottles were minor Chateauneuf du Pape that I had forgotten about until I unpacked my wine in the new house.  I was expecting less from the 1998 Comte Louis de Clermont-Tonnerre, Chateauneuf du Pape but it offered plenty of fruity aromas and a burst of clean, uncomplicated fruit in the mouth.  The finish was rather short and my interest faded fast.  I called it a one trick pony to which S. commented that he liked this pony.  I think though he ultimately preferred the 1998 Domaine Saint Benoit Grande Garde, Chateauneuf du Pape which was clearly favorite amongst the group.  It was austere at first but over a few hours it fleshed out to show reasonable complexity and appealing structure.  You could drink this now after an hour in the decanter or over the next five years.

With that selection largely finished I returned with a double-decanted bottle of 1975 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac.  This particular example was rather stinky with a strong leather component on the nose and in the mouth.  It was too distracting so I eventually gassed and re-corked it.  I finished off the bottle the next night after which the stink had left.  The leather was still prominent but the wine had some heft and made for a decent Sunday night drink.  With the Pichon out of favor I then returned with the bizarrely consistent 1971 Chateau Montgrand-Milon, Pauillac.  This wine is very stable (perhaps filtered?), showing good fruit and though smaller in personality, is engaging enough.  I suspect it would work well at lunch.

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For dessert Lou opened the 2007 Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon.  This sweet, Chenin Blanc based wine drank forward without being heavy.  It was a spot-on match for our raspberry tart and a good note to end the evening.

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One bottle that Jenn and I drank alone this week is the 2000 Domaine La Garrigue, Vacqueyras.  Apparently I bought four of these, of which I discovered three bottles at the time I also discovered the pair of 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape.  My tasting note from four years ago did not offer much promise.  I was hoping for bottle variation in the positive direction but this was not the case.  It remained ethereal in flavor with very fine, drying tannins, and some heat.  It only became harder with air.  Drinkable but not pleasurable.

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 “For Summer Houses, Yachts, and Camps”: An old bottle of the classic Pommery Drapeau Americain Sec

The mysteriously old bottle of Pommery Champagne stood neck-deep in ice water, its dark glass yielding no clues about the wine inside.  After it had chilled down, Mannie Berk met us outside with glasses containing a most attractive dark-apricot colored wine.  There were even little suspended bits of red-brown sediment.   A deep sniff of the nose and confirmation in the mouth revealed this was indeed a sweet example of an old Champagne.

Pommery is renowned for popularizing what is regarded as the first Brut or dry style of Champagne in the late 19th century.  At the time, customers in different countries preferred their Champagne at different levels of sweetness.  This was achieved by adding a dosage or a small amount of an old Champagne, sugar, and liquor mixture.  Whereas a brut Champagne could have a very small dosage, a truly dry Champagne contained no dose.  It was the 1874 Pommery Nature, which contained no dose, that was exclusively shipped to England where it took the country by storm.

Interior of Messrs. Pommery and Greno's Celler. From Henry Vizetelly A History of Champagne. 1882.

Interior of Messrs. Pommery and Greno’s Celler. From Henry Vizetelly A History of Champagne. 1882.

Lost amongst the history of this new Brut style of Champagne is the fact that two years earlier Pommery Sec was introduced to America.[1]  The Sec contained a small dosage and the quality of the wine ensured great popularity.   The Sec cuvee rapidly became synonymous with luxury taste in America.  Produced nearly a century later it was a bottle of Pommery Drapeau Americain Sec that Mannie had poured into our glasses.

Pommery Sec was considered the Champagne of nobility with the Prince of Wales being a particular fan.[2]  Henry Vizetelly wrote that the 1868 vintage is what first made Pommery popular and that the Pommery Sec “especially” was “highly appreciated by connoisseurs.”[3]

This quality “dry champagne” commanded the highest of prices at international markets.[4]  It was in 1872 that Charles Graef, a wine importer based in New York City, felt that the American market was ready for Pommery Sec.  He went from importing 2,000 cases in 1872 to over 33,000 cases of it in the mid-1880s.  With over 3 million bottles of Champagne consumed annually in America, Pommery Sec accounted for nearly one-eighth of those bottles.  The Champagne was so popular that empty bottles of Pommery Sec were being refilled and sold off.[5]  To combat such fraud the bottles were soon shipped from France with a white band on the neck printed with “POMMERY & GRENO”.

It was just several years later that the neck band was switched to black with white lettering.  Incredibly, this band was kept in use for over sixty years.  At the time of this change in 1891, a new mark was registered showing a circular belt labeled “VEUVE POMMEREY SEC” with an eagle on top, the whole of which surrounds an American flag.[6]  Drapeau Americain sec was born.

Pommery Drapeau Americain mark from 1891. [6]

Pommery Drapeau Americain mark from 1891. [6]

Pommery Drapeau Americain Sec was not just drunk in America for it also appears on French wine lists and banqueting menus through the 1930s.[7]  It was even served at the Nobel Prize banquet in 1925.[8] However, Prohibition in America soon meant that the flow of Pommery into the country largely ceased, dealing a crippling blow to France.  With the end of Prohibition, Pommery filed a new trademark for the Drapeau Americain Sec.[9]  It is this mark with its waving flag stripes that adorned our bottle.

DrapeauAmericainSecMark

There are some clues about the production of Pommery Sec.[10]  Pommery produced only one Champagne which was then differentiated solely by the dosage added.  The fruit for this Champagne was sorted from particular hills in Ay, Bouzy, Cremant, and Verzenay.  The fruit was mostly white grapes which gave the wine “delicacy, freshness, lightness, and…greater tendency to sparkle” with the black grapes giving “body and alcoholic strength”.

The bunches of fruit were placed in a shallow tray so that any defective or injured grapes could be cut off.  Care was taken to minimally touch the fruit so that it arrived with the bloom intact to aid fermentation.  Only the juice from the first pressing was to be used and aged in oak casks.  These casks were monitored with any substandard lots sold off to brokers.  When the wines were deemed ready they were all dumped into a giant cuve to be mixed together.  The wine was then bottled and eventually it received a dosage or not depending upon the market.

It is unclear what Pommery Drapeau Americain Sec originally tasted like.  André Louis Simon, Pommery’s agent in Great Britain from 1902 to 1932, writes of only sweet and dry flavors in History of the Champagne Trade in England (1905).  George Saintsbury simply comments that he “did not share the prevailing mania for Pommery” in Notes on a Cellar-Book (1920).  T. Earle Welby wrote of 1904 Pommery in The Cellar Key where it is described as “beautiful with an austerity strange in Champagne”.  This was most likely the Brut having been drunk in England.  Perhaps finding a description does not matter for the bottle Mannie opened looked particularly old, much older than the vintages and ages typically mentioned.

DrapeauAmericainSec

At the extreme, the earliest this bottle could date to would be 1934 with the latest around 1970.[11]  The bottle looks of the same general age as the wedding cuvee released for the wedding of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly in 1956.  With no further leads from the bottle it is the capsule that most likely holds the key to the date.  It is an old looking, red capsule with the name Pommery and three stars.  In searching online images it looks like Lambert No. 29 as catalogued in Répertoire Capsules de Champagne.  My efforts to reach out to Pommery and others in the community have yielded no further information.

DrapeauAmericainSecCapsule

The glasses of Pommery that Mannie poured were particularly attractive with their dark, apricot color and a nose that was somewhat articulated with yeasty aromas.  In the mouth the wine was clearly mature with no bubbles left but it had almost a prick from the acidity.  Old Champagne can have minimal and even no sparkle left which transforms it into a unique white wine.  This wine still conveyed a sense of freshness from some zip and though the sweet flavors filled the mouth, there was a tang of returning acidity in the end.  Perhaps strengthened by the residual sugar, this bottle developed with air, taking on spiced flavors as the wine tightened up.

Over a century ago Pommery was advertised “For Summer Houses, Yachts, and Camps”.  It is only appropriate then that I rediscovered the history of this Champagne after tasting it at a summer house.


[1] “POMMERY SEC,” HOW IT WAS INTRODUCED INTO AMERICA, AND MR. CHARLES GRAEF’S CONNECTION WITH IT. New York Times (1857-1922) [New York, N.Y] 07 June 1885: 6.
[2] Simon, Andre Louis. History of the Champagne Trade in England.  1905. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=qWAaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Vizetelly, Henry. Facts about Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines. 1879. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=66ZBAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] For example, Pommery & Greno sold for $25.15 net cash per case in New York, making it more expensive than Louis Roederer, Widow Clicquot, Mumm, Piper Heidsieck, Ruinart, Krug, and Giesler & Co’s.  Advertisement. Date: Monday, March 10, 1873   Paper: Daily National Republican (Washington (DC), District of Columbia)   Page: 2.  In London, 1893 Pommery Brut sold at 125 Shillings which was more expensive than 1893 Mumm at 91 Shillings.  Collier’s, Volume 30. 1902. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=tY4jAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA31#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Life, Volume 5. 1885. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=s6VAAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Recueil officiel des marques de fabrique et de commerce contenant les marques déposées. 1893. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=cFwMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] See such menus as Le Concours Aerostatique de Bordeaux. May 10, 1908. L’Aʹerophile: revue technique et pratique de la …, Volume 16, Issue 11. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=1BLOAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA191#v=onepage&q&f=false  , Brasserie Universelle 1913. What’s on the menu? New York Public Library. URL: http://menus.nypl.org/menus/35481/explore  and Maison Prunier 1938. What’s on the menu? New York Public Library. URL: http://menus.nypl.org/menus/30971/explore
[8] Nobel Banquet Menu 1925.  Nobel Prize. URL: Nobel Banquet Menu 1925
[9] POMMERY & GRENO CHAMPAGNE VEUVE POMMERYREIMS DRAPEAU FRANCE – Trademark Details. 1934. URL: https://trademarks.justia.com/713/45/pommery-greno-champagne-veuve-pommeryreims-drapeau-france-71345891.html
[10] A Chat on Wine. The Illustrated American, Volume 22. November 27, 1897. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=AWxNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[11] There was a Pommery Drapeau Sec “old release” from the 1970s with a completely different label.