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“Sturdy and Deep-Flavored”: Wines from our Thanksgiving weekend


For the past several years I have taken the effort to drink American wine for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While I largely kept to that theme this year, I did kick things off with a bottle of Spanish Cava.  I did so because the earliest Thanksgiving memories of my mother are from Spain.  She spent her childhood in Zaragoza where the family was sure to celebrate Thanksgiving.  They used imported American ingredients to prepare the classic dishes of turkey with gravy, potatoes, green beans, and of course, many, many pies.  They did, however, drink Spanish wine with their meal.  Our Spanish bottle of 2010 Recaredo, Intens, Rosat Brut Nature Gran Reserva took several hours to open up.  While it does require a few more years in the cellar, it eventually revealed attractive hard cherry flavors with just the right amount of texture.

Tday1

2010 Recaredo, Intens, Rosat Brut Nature Gran Reserva
Imported by Neal Rosenthal. This wine is a blend of 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Monastrell. Alcohol 12%.  After a few hours of air, the firm but quickly dissipating bubble made way to dry flavors of hard cherry and cola.  Quite different and certainly rather in need of age, things wrapped up with a textured finish and just a hint of yeast.  **(*) 2018-2025.

I tend to rely on red wine for Thanksgiving and this weekend I tasted through some mature reds.  Lou and I picked up a number of bottles from the Earthquake Cellar which was recently sold off by BP Wine.  The NV Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 271, North Coast Counties bears no date but the fact that this magnum is in a 2/5 gallon bottle dates the wine to the 1970s at the latest.  I personally believe the wine is from the 1960s for several reasons which places it during a period of fascinating change as detailed in History of Sebastiani Vineyards, 1955-Present.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Sebastiani was a bulk wine operation that produced wine solely for other labels.  Some 90% of this wine was dessert wine such as port, sherry, muscatel, and tokay.  By the early 1970s the transition to selling table wine bottled under the Sebastiani name was completed.  The bulk operation was no more.

The impetus for change developed in the mid 1950s under the control of August Sebastiani.  At the time, the Allied Grape Growers/Petri Group were going to start bottling their own wine at facilities throughout the country.  Gallo, in response, decided to bottle their wine in lightweight bottles so they could ship it across the country.  These two actions put direct competition on Sebastiani which had no choice but to change.  There is also the story that August Sebastiani’s wife Sylvia tasted a “really, really, really good cream sherry” which turned out to be a wine produced by Sebastiani for another label.  Why not bottle such good wine under their own name?

The Sebastiani brand was developed in the 1950s and a very basic bottling machine known as a Fillabelmatic was purchased.  However, the transition away from bulk wine production did not begin in earnest until around 1960.  Throughout the 1960s dessert wines were still produced but various tiers of wines were developed including table and varietal wines.  The varietal wines were not only bottled in 4/5 quart bottles but also in half gallon bottles and apparently magnum bottles.

Our particular bottle of Sebastiani wine clearly predates the conversion to metric wine bottles.  This requirement was passed in 1977 and went into effect in 1979. The basic Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon label from our bottle was used during the 1960s and 1970s.  Bearing the common theme of “Sturdy and Deep-Flavored” this label was used for both non-vintage and vintages wines.  Vintages wines such as 1963 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 9, 1968 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1970 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, Proprietor’s Reserve all list “North Coast Counties” with a winery location of “Sonoma Valley, California”.  The 1972 Mountain Burgundy, 1973 Barbera, and 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon, Proprietor’s Reserve that was bottled in 1979, all bear “Northern California” as well as the zip code 95476.  This suggests that the non-vintage blend could be from the period of 1963 through 1971.

The cork was solid and the wine itself in sturdy enough shape that it drank fine over three evenings.  It was rather stinky and animale at first but it did clean up.  The fruit was sweet with rounded flavors and no hint of French or American oak.  Instead this time-machine of a wine transported us back to the days of redwood.  The images it conjured might have outpaced the quality of the wine but it was enough to last a glass or two.

As for the other wines, the 1991 Knudsen Erath, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley slowly responded to air over the course of an evening.  With cherry and wood box flavors it only gave the slightest hint it would not develop any further.  By contrast the 1996 Newton, Unfiltered Pinot Noir, Napa Valley was forward on the nose and in the mouth with plenty of fruit and glycerin.  While clearly modern, it was not a bad drink at all, and in surprisingly strong shape.  The 1999 Domaine de la Charbonniere, Chateauneuf du Pape was in great shape, offering everything you could want from a somewhat rustic Rhone wine which has not yet hit full maturity.

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NV Sebastiani Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 271, North Coast Counties (2/5 gallon)
Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose was quite earthy at first with animal fur aromas.  Over time the stink faded off to reveal sweet fruit and wood box flavors in the mouth.  The wine softened a touch revealing rounded flavors and gentle old wood that lasted over the next few days.  ** Now but will last for many years.

Tday4

1991 Knudsen Erath, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
Alcohol 13%.  The nose revealed gentle aromas of earth, cherry, and tobacco.  In the mouth the firm cherry flavors matched the polished wood notes.  This slightly savory wine still sported a rather fine structure.  The flavors thinned out some by the finish where there were some cola-like flavors, watering acidity, and roasted earth.  *** Now but will last.

Tday3

1996 Newton, Unfiltered Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.5%.  The wine was immediately aromatic with round fruit and wood box.  In the mouth the flavors were forward with round black fruit that was almost thick with glycerin.  With air this modern wine showed more minerals, blackness, and some nearly resolved tannins.  ** Now – 2020.

Tday2

1999 Domaine de la Charbonniere, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Ginday Imports.  Alcohol 14%.  This wine had a good core of red and black fruit and a pleasing amount of structure that leant towards the not quite rustic personality.  Clearly a good wine in shape for continued development.  *** Now -2022.

There was also a pair of dessert wines.  From the lightest of a group, the bottle of 1988 Chateau La Tour Blanche, Sauternes was youthful, fresh, and rather unevolved which meant it did not tire the palate at all.  A brief taste of the 2007 Velich Apetlon, Seewinkel Beerenauslese, Burgenland already reveals an interesting amount of complexity.  It is noticeably richer and thicker so think of it more as a sipping wine to wrap things up.

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1988 Chateau La Tour Blanche, Sauternes
Imported by Luke’s Distribution Co.  Alcohol 14%.  In fine condition, this wine brighter, floral and yellow fruit aromas.  In the mouth the youthful, floral and orange citrus accented fruit has an appealing level of viscosity.  The level of acidity keeps things fresh and slightly watering through the saline marked finish.  I would cellar this further.   *** Now – 2035.

Tday7

2007 Velich Apetlon, Seewinkel Beerenauslese, Burgenland
This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Scheurebe, and Riesling that was fermented and aged in oak barrels.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Already a deep color , aromas of petrol with both fresh and dried apricots step out of the glass. With air hints of black tea develop.  In the mouth, this is a thick wine with viscosity that is noticeable in the finish and aftertaste.  ***(*) Now – 2035.

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