Archive for March, 2016

A likely case of American constantia wine

A view of Philadelphia from 1800.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A view of Philadelphia from 1800. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I have a bit of an obsession finding early references to Constantia wine in America.  One such references occurs in the probate inventory of John F. Mifflin.  John F. Mifflin (1759-1813) was an attorney in Philadelphia who left a wine cellar with various selections upon his death.  His cellar was located in his house at 5 Delancey Street in Society Hill.  His cellar contents are listed in John M. Bacon’s “Cellars, Garrets, and Related Spaces in Philadelphia Houses, 1750-1850” (1991).

1 pipe Madeira Wine [worth $] 260
1 quarter cask Marsela ditto 60.
1 do do supposed 1/4 full 15.
8 Demijohns Old Madeira wine supposed 1/4 full 48.
1 do do Spirits, 1 do Brandy do 1/4 full 12.
56 Btls. Claret 20.
5 do Old Madeira, 12 bottles constantia and other wines 12.
11 do Porter 1.37 1/2, [and] 9 dox. empty bottles.

“Wine Cellar” inventory taken early 1813

The probate inventory reveals that his cellar contained four specific types of wine Madeira, Marsala, Claret, Constantia, and other wines.  Constantia was a rare and expensive wine so it is curious that the larger lot of wine including the Constantia was valued much less than the smaller lot of Claret.  There are two general reasons for this, the appraiser undervalued the Constantia or the constantia was not the precious nectar from the Cape of Good Hope.

In reviewing Philadelphia wine advertisements during Mifflin’s lifetime I come across no listings for Constantia.  There are, however, advertisements for “Cape Wine”.  One possible source for Constantia was from nearby New  York City.  Indeed, there are a handful of scattered advertisements in the early 19th century for aums of Constantia.

I think it is likely that these bottles of constantia were made from nearby vines.  Peter Le Gaux famously claimed to have brought over Constantia vines from the Cape of Good Hope which he propagated at his Spring Mill vineyard near Philadelphia.  On July 22, 1787, General George Washington and General Thomas Mifflin visited Le Gaux’s vineyard just one year after it was planted.  General Thomas Mifflin was the half-brother of John F. Mifflin.  It is possible then that John F. Mifflin received his constantia through his brother’s connection with Peter Le Gaux.

Categories: History of Wine

The Heart’s Delight lunch with the Ambassador of France, Gérard Araud and Herve Berland of Chateau Montrose

March 16, 2016 1 comment

The French Ambassador’s residence is located in Kalorama just off of Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC.  Completed over one century ago, this grand Tudor Revival building was purchased by the French in the 1930s.  Following the completion of a recent renovation, this house has resumed its social role in the city.  Last week it was the scene of a spectacular wine lunch hosted by His Excellency, The Ambassador of France to the United States, Gérard Araud featuring the wines of Chateau Montrose.

Bruce Bassin

The lunch took place as part of the Private Series of events organized by the Heart’s Delight Wine Tasting & Auction.  Heart’s Delight is an annual five-day event of wine tastings, auctions, and meals aimed at raising money for the American Heart Association.  The first event took place in 1999 in memory of Bruce Bassin who passed away the previous year from a heart attack at the young age of 40.  Bruce Bassin had managed MacArthur Beverages since he was 28.

My experience with Heart’s Delight is only recent, having become a member of the Auction Committee just a few month ago.  That this lunch is the first event I have attended at Heart’s Delight is due to an invitation from Mark Wessels, the current manager of MacArthur Beverages.  It was a remarkable introduction for this intimate lunch took place for only two dozen guests.


This is the first time the wines of Chateau Montrose have been featured at Heart’s Delight.  They were presented by CEO Hervé Berland who shipped the wines straight from the cellars of Chateau Montrose. Hervé Berland pulled out all stops in his selection of wines by including the 1990 and 2010 vintages, both of which Robert Parker rated 100 points.  Robert Parker described the 1990 vintage as “one of the all-time modern legends from Bordeaux” with the 2010 as “among the greatest vintages ever made in Montrose”.  This is also the perspective of Chateau Montrose who regarded the 1990 vintage as the reference standard by which subsequent vintages were held against until the 2010 vintage came along.


The lunch began during a mild spring afternoon on the terrace with glasses of 2012 Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande Blanc, Saint-Estephe.  Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande is located near Chateau Montrose, both of which are owned by the Bouygues family.  Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande primarily produces red wine with just a small amount, some 250 cases, of white wine as well.  Our glass of 2012 represents the first vintage of the white wine made using the fruit of very young vines.  Though made mostly from Sauvignon Blanc the substantial inclusion of Semillon lent it an appealing amount of fruit and body.  After canapés and a photograph with his Excellency we moved inside for lunch.


Lunch was cooked by Chef Michel Bastide.  The beautifully plated and aromatic dishes were quite flavorful. They were rich enough to stand up to the wines yet not overpowering.

Emince de bar marine au pollen de fenouil
Creme de caviar Oscietre
Casserole de petits legumes de racines
Jus d’estragon et truffe
Magret de canard poele
Artichauts et girolles
Petit bijou du Vermont et pousses de cresson
Pain aux raisins
Nage d’orange sanguine
Emulsion de pamplemousse
Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande, Saint-Estephe, 2012
La Dame de Montrose, Saint-Estephe, 2011
La Dame de Montrose, Saint-Estephe, 2010
Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, 2010
Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, 2005

Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, 1990

Chateau Montrose is located on a gravelly knoll adjoining the Gironde.  From this unique microclimate it produces powerful, age-worthy wines.  Indeed, my recent experience with the wine includes the older vintages of 1959, 1964, and 1966.  In contemporary vintages, selection is strict with approximately half of the wine destined to be the grand vin, one-third as the second wine La Dame de Montrose, and the rest is sold off.


All of the red wines were double-decanted at least one hour before lunch started.  We began with the 2011 and 2010 La Dame de Montrose.  The 2011 vintage is mostly Merlot with the rest Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is a wine to drink now for the young-tasting, grapey fruit is refreshing to drink.  The 2010 vintage features mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest Merlot.  This bottle was particularly tight and in need of further aging.  The 2010 Chateau Montrose, on the other hand, is more expressive with impressive amounts of concentration and lurking power.  There is great depth with a substantial structure and acidity to support long term development but none of this is overbearing.  Hervé Berland spoke of an effort to fine tune the tannic structure of the wines.  That is a remarkable goal for the quality of the tannins is spectacular in the 2010.


Our shift to the 2005 Chateau Montrose brought along the first aromas and flavors from bottle age.  If the 2010 is a wine to marvel at future potential than the 2005 is one which is starting to exhibit that potential.  The bottle age comes across as an undertone for there is still mouth filling, age-worthy concentration.  I really enjoyed my glass but it is best left for further development.  The 1990 drank at or near full-maturity.  The gorgeous nose is mature with earthy hints and spices.  The wine fills the mouth with seamless concentrated mature fruit and fine complexity.  This is, perhaps, the most powerful of all the wines tasted that lunch but there is no sense of heaviness.

As we passed from the terrace to the dining room earlier that day, we walked through the Salon des boiseries where a portrait of George Washington hangs.  George Washington had a lifelong interest in wine but never tried Chateau Montrose for it was not founded until after his death.  George Washington was familiar with the best red Bordeaux, having ordered claret by the case not only for his table but also to drink at a boat race.  He certainly would have enjoyed the wines of Chateau Montrose for he placed orders for the “best old wine of Lafitte” and “old” 1785 Chateau Margaux.  He even once corresponded about the pleasures “which a Glass of good Claret seldom fails to produce.” It is a sentiment I shared as I drank from that final glass of 1990 Chateau Montrose.

A casual tasting from a 1975 Spanna to a 2012 Favorita

March 15, 2016 1 comment

A last minute offering to host some friends at the house resulted in four of us tasting through some excellent wines.  With a little bit of back and forth Lou, David, and Bill settled down in my living room with variety as our theme.  We began with a Piedmontese white wine which is something I have never tried before.  The 2012 Vigne Marina Coppi, Marine, Colli Tortonesi is made from Favorita which is a relative of Vermentino.  Tim (MacArthur Beverages) pointed this wine out to me and I am glad he did.  I was surprised by the floral aromas and even more so by the waxy, sweet lemon fruit, and substantial mouth feel.  It turns out the grapes are harvested ten days after maximum ripeness so as step everything up.  There were comparisons to Loire Chenin Blanc so if this sounds remotely interesting then you must grab a few bottles.


I kicked off the red wines by serving the 1975 Antonio Vallana, Gattinara in a paper bag.  I had double-decanted the bottle two hours prior.  Both then and during the tasting I arrested by the amount of sweet fruit and freshness of the flavors.  Indeed, many guesses settled towards Bordeaux from the 1989 or 1990 vintages.  This wine reflected its outstanding provenance as you would expect from a Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Company) selection.  While it comes across as fresh it has complexity from age.  Spanna is the local name for Nebbiolo.  If you have any interest in Barolo or Barbaresco then this wine must be on your list of bottles to try.

We moved onto younger wines.  The first bottle of 1998 Contratto, Solus Ad, Barbera D’Asti was recently brought back from Rome by Lou. Popped and poured, this bottle offered up coffee infused aromas and flavors.  Its heft was balanced by a certain roundness making it a solid, aged Barbera.  The 2001 Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino continued to offer deep, dark fruit flavors that were an easy match for the substantial structure.  At 15 years of age, I found it hard to resist this bottle since the harshness of youth is all gone.  It will continue to develop.  I want to try more Brunello.

We then moved to the Rhone in the form of another brown-bagged wine.  The fruit in the mouth was substantial, which gave me some doubt as to the origins, but I think we all pinned the floral aromas as being from a Syrah and Viognier blend from the Northern Rhone.  There were even guesses as to Cote Rotie but no one got the vintage correct.  The wine turned out to be the 2003 Duclaux, Cote Rotie.  David picked it in response to a 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape tasting where none of the wines were found to be overripe.  The 2003 vintage was very hot and has its critics.  This bottle of Cote Rotie exhibited the vintage by dialing up the fruit a notch (or two!) without losing any characteristics of the varieties and region.

This was the last good wine we tried.  The bottle of 2007 Bastide St Dominique, Les Hesperides, Chateauneuf du Pape was “troubling” with a consensus that it was heat damaged.  I returned with a brown-bagged 2003 Archery Summit, Pinot Noir, Arcus Estate, Willamette Valley.  David had mentioned the Archery Summit, Arcus in a winter time conversation so I thought this would match with his 2003 theme.  Let’s just say the guesses leaned towards Spanish Grenache.  This massive wine bore no resemblance to Pinot Noir.  While it was not an off bottle, no one drank it.  Why bother when there were so many good wines to return to?


2012 Vigne Marina Coppi, Marine, Colli Tortonesi – $25
Imported by The Sorting Table.  This wine is 100% Favorita.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose attracted with heavy floral aromas which were rather sexy.  In the mouth the flavors were waxy with sweet fruit and lemons.  There is acidity in the start with some chalk in the finish and an aftertaste that left ripe texture on the gums.  If it is a little expansive in the middle then it reigns it in by the finish.  *** Now.


1975 Antonio Vallana, Gattinara
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 12%.  Bottom-neck fill.  There is a little funk and animale on the complex nose which reminds me of some 1960s Californian wines.  In the mouth there is still sweet fruit, lovely acidity, and a impeccable quality of freshness.  The wine is still structured leaving fine grip on the gums. The fruit mixes with floral notes before taking on a hint of tartness.  **** Now but will last for ages.


1998 Contratto, Solus AD, Barbera D’Asti
Imported in a suitcase.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose evoked coffee and shoyu.  In the mouth the flavors continued with coffee infused dark fruit.  The wine was rounded with some density but did not overreach into sexiness.  There is a roast note to the fruit, good acidity, and fine, drying tannins in the finish. *** Now – 2021.


2001 Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd.  Alcohol 14%.  The deep dark fruit is never ending which acts as a counterpoint to the substantial amount of tannins.  As substantial as the wine is, the acidity is bound in allowing the fruitiness to be enjoyed.  With additional air it takes on hints of wood.  This is still young and will continue to develop for several more years.  **** Now – 2026.


2003 Duclaux, Cote Rotie
Imported by Chateau & Estate.  This wine is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier which were co-fermented in concrete vats then aged for roughly two years in a variety of oak casks.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is meaty with some maturity and a floral aspect pointing to Viognier.  There is a substantial amount of fruit in the mouth with a lot of drying tannins.  This mouth filling wine is slightly sexy.  If the fruit is almost effusive at the start it takes on tart red and black notes which balance everything out.  A pleasure to drink but will persist.  ***(*) Now – 2021.


A floral Tre Bicchieri wine from Torrevento in Puglia

Torrevento is located in Puglia at the heel of Italy.  These stony grounds have produced the excellent 2010 Torrevento, Vigna Pedale, Castel del Monte Riserva as  evidenced in the Tre Bicchieri rating by Gambero Rosso.  This is a particularly floral wine driven by the right amount of acidity.  It even drinks great from the very first glass!  With the respectable price of $24 I suggest you pick up a few bottles to drink now and later.  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2010 Torrevento, Vigna Pedale, Castel del Monte Riserva – $24
Imported by Cantiniere Imports & Distributing.  This wine is 100% Nero di Troia which was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Alcohol 13%.  The aromatic nose is clearly floral.  The rounded start is not heavy for the acidity driven floral fruit propels the wine through the finish of fine and rounded, grapey tannins.  The floral infused grapey red fruit has a good mouthfeel and lovely balance.  With additional air, a graphite note comes out and while the wine continues to drink well young, it will also develop over the short term.  ***(*) Now – 2022.


A 2005 Patricia Green dump bin duo

My latest culling from the dump bin includes this pair of Patricia Green Pinot Noir from the 2005 vintage.  I have had some very tasty mature Oregon Pinot Noir so I will try nearly anything I can find.  This somewhat difficult vintage seems to have produced solid enough wines.   The 2005 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Anden Vineyard, Polk County is clearly the best of the pair.  There is still lively fruit, a sense of maturity, and an appropriate amount of the structure.  It is best to drink it in one night.  On the other hand the 2005 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Whistling Ridge Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley flavors were quite advanced for the prominent structure.  Perhaps it is best drunk with grilled food.  I would not go out of my way to find the 2005 Anden but at $20 it is certainly worth picking up a bottle if you are so presented.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2005 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Anden Vineyard, Polk County – $20
Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is attractive with maturing, North-West Pinot Noir aromas.  There is very lively fruit from the acidity.  The cherry flavors are backed by some wood structure which is very much present as dry tannins left on the gums.  The wine has a citrus hint but remains very much about the fruit throughout.  With air the flavors are noticeably dry, showing both more maturity and more cherry.  Best on the first night.  *** Now but will last.


2005 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Whistling Ridge Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley – $20
Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is more advanced with old fruit and old wood.  There is a more robust start with tannins immediately present.  There is a cola-like note then watering acidity followed by a citric and rougher finish.  The wine is drier with older tasting fruit flavors.  With air there are more dried herb flavors and the wine softens up a touch but the tannic finish remains.  ** Now – 2020.


A balanced and attractive young red Bordeaux

Phil recommended the 2010 Chateau Fombrauge, Saint-Emilion to go with the Creole food Sudip and I cooked a few weeks back.  There was plenty of open wine that night so it was not until there were leftovers that I opened this bottle.  It is what I consider a modern wine but the oak influences are gentle and while there is some sweetness to the fruit, the wine comes across as elegant yet flavorful.  It is pretty good with only an hour of air but should continue to develop for a few more years.  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2010 Chateau Fombrauge, Saint-Emilion – $30
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is a blend of 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged for 18 months in oak.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The sweet cocoa aromas prepared one for the soft, round start of red and black fruit.  Salivating acidity moved the wine along with sweet fruit in the middle and a subtle, integrated structure evident by some dry tannins in the finish.  The wine becomes sexy with a little smoke and a certain sweetness.  ***(*) Now – 2025.


An interesting Pinot Noir and Gamay blend from Fiefs Vendeens in the Loire

March 4, 2016 2 comments

I grabbed the bottle of 2014 Domaine St. Nicolas, Reflets Rouge, Fiefs Vendeens not because I had never heard of the Fiefs Vendeens appellation in the Loire but because it is a Pinot Noir and Gamay blend.  Apparently, Fiefs Vendeens is the only maritime climate where both Pinot Noir and Gamay are grown in France.  The wine itself is relatively rich with good mouthfeel and leaves you with a sense that you are drinking straight from the foudre. If you are at all curious then do try this interesting selection. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2014 Domaine St. Nicolas, Reflets Rouge, Fiefs Vendeens – $20
A Jon-David Headrick selection imported by European Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Gamay, and 10% Cabernet Franc sourced from 15-25 year old vines.  It was fermented with indigenous yeasts in oak vats then aged for 7 months in French foudre.  Alcohol 13%.  The wine is surprisingly weighty with moderately thick body and a sense that it is not filtered.  The flavors are of purple and black fruit which are delivered with a youthful and fresh nature.  It becomes a little citric by the finish.  Overall, this is a drinkable wine with good mouthfeel.  ** Now – 2017.


The earthy and mature 2010 Fontefico, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo

March 3, 2016 3 comments

When I recently asked Tim for some recommendations, he quickly pointed out the 2010 Fontefico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  Fontefico is a relatively young winery started by Nicola and Emanuele Altieri on an old estate located along the coast in Abruzzo.  A handful of wines are produced, all from individual vineyards located only a few hundred meters from the sea.  I do not drink much  Montepulciano D’Abruzzo so I was pleased by the open nature of this bottle.  More importantly, I enjoyed the sense of maturity from the earth and leather notes in the wine.  You could probably hold on to this for a few years but I see no reason to.  Just drink it up! This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2010 Fontefico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – $18
Imported by Grappoli Imports.  This wine is 100% Montepulciano D’Abruzzo that was aged in a combination of stainless steel and oak.  Alcohol 14%.  The earthy flavors mix with herbs then greenhouse notes.  The rounded wine is mouthfilling but not weighty, leaving ripe tannins on the gums.  With air the wine becomes a little tangy.  There is also a sense of maturity that is highlighted by the leather notes.  *** Now.


A floral red wine from Setubal in Portugal

Setubal may be primarily known for its fortified wines but this dry red wine it good too!   The 2013 Boas Quintas, Herdade de Gambia, Peninsula de Setubal  is  quite aromatic with floral notes and black fruit.  The flavors follow in the mouth where the wine is youthful in profile with a slight, bitter aspect.  I personally enjoy the tannins right now so while you could hold on to this, I see no reason to do so.  Just drink it up while we transition into Spring.  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2013 Boas Quintas, Herdade de Gambia, Peninsula de Setubal – $17
Imported by Matadorvino.  This wine is a blend of 65% Touriga Nacional, 25% Shiraz, and 10% Aragonez.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose is floral and increased with underlying black fruit and just a hint of sweetness.  In the mouth the focused, ripe core of fruit is expansive in the middle with a moderate structure of fine, ripe tannins.  The flavor is floral as well and somewhat bitter before the powdered mineral finish.  The floral flavor continues into the fresh aftertaste.  Good in youth!  *** Now – 2018.