It has been a busy year. Not with wine drinking but with work, family, and the house. I certainly spent a lot of time researching about the history of wine but this year my strong efforts in exploration produced less results. As a result I published less historic pieces. Still, it was a good year in all sense. As for wine, what is memorable easily falls into five groups old Burgundy, old Chateauneuf du Pape, old Californian wine, old Bordeaux, and very old Madeira.
Old Burgundy was consumed in the form of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart and 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant. I find these old bottles particularly hardy with sweet, old concentrated flavors that never fade.
Chateauneuf du Pape was off to a roaring start thanks to a friend who not only opened 2003 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape but also 2003 Henri Bonneau, Cuvee Marie-Beurrier, Chateauneuf du Pape. The Rayas already exhibits “breath-taking complexity” whereas the Bonneau is structured for age. At the mature end, a beautiful bottle of 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape proved the longevity of this type of wine. This is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes. There were some mediocre vintages in the 1950s and early 1960s so it is possible Jacques Perrin was ready to use this new technique regardless of the quality of the 1964 vintage. From the same vintage, though not quite the same level of experience, the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape really highlights how negociants and growers successfully worked together. I am also thrilled to have tasted an original release Mont-Redon, whose wines from the 1950s and 1960s have been widely praised. With round, mouth filling sweet strawberries, the 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking perfect right now.
The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley expresses many of the traits I like in a mature American wine: dark fruit, earth, grip, and some of the concentration from age that just makes you want to drink the wine rather than figure out how to describe it. There is quite a reputation for this wine so I am glad it lives up to it. The biggest Californian surprise of the year is the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County which has no written reputation that I could find. This is Pinot Noir with a hefty dose of Zinfandel, that together provide a vibrant and taut wine with fruit, leather, and animale notes. I must, of course, include Eric’s big bottle of 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. I will write about this wine in a separate post but to provide some context for this exceedingly rare 19th century Californian wine, there were only 37 stars on the America flag when the grapes were harvested.
For some reason I did not get around to opening any wines from the 1966 vintage this year. Still, I did not miss the 50th anniversary of the vintage for the 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien proved to be an excellent representative. From the sweaty nose to the cranberries and red fruit this wine is nothing but fun. Also pleasurable, particularly for the mouth feel, is the 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol. In fact, Lou and I managed to drink this twice. It is round, weighty, and injected with fat. Great stuff! I also managed to taste two bottles of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac. The first bottle, with the highest fill, was the best being very aromatic with beef and blood. The second bottle had a much lower fill so I opened it up an experiment. It was simply a more compact representation, attesting to the staying power of Lafite.
As for very old Madeira, I was fortunate to taste 20 pre-Phylloxera bottles this spring. If I simply pruned out the fake(s), off bottles, and ones that are not so good I could probably list 10 more wines. But my favorites can be narrowed to include the 1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial, 1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial, and NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial. For me, these wines balance the high acidity natural to Sercial with some sweetness. They offer a diverse range of styles from tobacco and cedar wood to pungent, sweaty aromas and even smoke with minerals. An empty glass of Madeira will still smell great the next morning. A few errant drops on your skin will perfume yourself.
Amy Ray has a well “honed” (to borrow a general quote from Barry Wiggins) passion for Burgundy. Though I have known of her for some time we only met this year. In hanging out with her I have discovered she also loves the wines of Champagne, Piedmont, and perhaps most importantly, old Madeira.
Amy’s love for Burgundy is clearly expressed in her list of memorable wines from 2016. Earlier this year she traveled to Burgundy where she drank the 1959 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules Domaine des Héritiers. She recently remarked how much she likes the 1959 vintage. At the Paulée at Château de Meursault she experienced the 1979 Domaine Francois Lamarche La Grande Rue which was not yet recognized as a Grand Cru.
If Amy is willing to attend the Paulée in Burgundy it is of no surprise that she was at La Paulée de San Francisco. At Quince in San Francisco, she was seated next to Etienne de Montille and Veronique Drouhin Boss.
It is here that she drank a beautiful bottle of 1985 Joseph Drouhin Musigny.
Amy’s love for Nebbiolo and Truffles took her to Piedmont. Here she took a break at Vinoteca Centro Storico with a bottle of NV Marie-Noelle Ledru Champagne Extra Brut. Marie-Noelle Ledru manages everything herself even riddling and disgorging.
She thought the Elio Grasso estate the most beautiful in all of Piedmont.
Gianluca Grasso ordered an excellent bottle of the 2006 Elio Grasso Barolo Riserva Runcot at the Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d’Alba.
Here are the other wines on Amy’s incredible list. Note, there is even Rayas!
- 1979 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut
- 1979 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee St. Vivant
- 2010 Domaine Armand Rousseau Père et Fils Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
- 1998 Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Musigny
- 2004 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières
- 1995 Christophe Roumier Ruchottes-Chambertin
- 1995 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
I was lucky enough to enjoy a raft of wonderful wines in 2016, thanks in large part to the generosity of DC’s wine-loving community. Of the many tasted this past year, two in particular stand out to me as the most memorable.
The 1994 Lopez de Heredia Blanco Gran Reserva Vina Tondonia was simply the most mind-bogglingly complex and delicious wine I had all year. From the pull of the cork, it showed a soaring, kaleidoscopic nose, with swirling aromas of salted caramels, vanilla, honey, jasmine, ginger, almonds, and orange peels. It was sensuous, smooth, and nutty on the palate, with a level of refinement to rival the noblest Grand Crus and a salty finish that left my palate tingling for what seemed like minutes. A true masterpiece from this venerable house, and one that will last a geologic age.
This summer, I had the privilege of attending a Chateau de Beaucastel vertical dinner that featured more than a dozen vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape reds from this benchmark producer. While the dinner included numerous sterling bottles (the 1990, 1981, 2001, and 1983 were especially excellent), it was the 1964 Beaucastel that lingers most in my mind from that evening. Swirling aromatics of campfire smoke, cinnamon spice, and stewed strawberries had my head spinning. On the palate, the wine was full of soft, sweet fruits that reflected the wine’s maturity, but it was also brimming with vigor and energy that belied its 50+ years. While not the qualitatively “best” wine of the night, it was the one that challenged my assumptions about the aging potential of Chateauneuf du Pape and will have me seeking out many more old CdPs in the new year!
Phil Bernstein, who works at MacArthur Beverages, is literally within arms reach of amazing wines on a daily basis. In this post he writes about two occassions where he tasted special wines from the 1978 and 1990 vintages.
Aaron asked me to write up my favorites and 2016-and it’s a tough assignment as I’m lucky enough to taste quite a few wines both at work and with friends throughout the year. I’ve narrowed it down to two, but I have loads of honorable mentions! While the two below are in the “fine and rare” category, I still get just as excited to find amazing values in the sub $20 category. It’s a great time to be a wine consumer as there are tons of these out there…but that’s a post for another day (or come see me in the store and I’ll sell you some!)
The first ones are a “no brainer”. I was lucky enough to join my boss, Mark and a long time customer for a casual get together on a Monday night at Fiola. This particular customer has been a long time collector and has a great cellar full of gems mostly from Bordeaux and Rhone. He suggested a theme of drinking the 1978 and 1990 Hermitage la Chapelle from Jaboulet side by side. A once in a lifetime opportunity for sure!
Both wines were fantastic with the 1978 being one of the best reds I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Smoky, with notes of plum it was pure velvet on the palate. A seamless wine that just kept getting better and better. It still has loads of life left as well. The 1990 may end up being even better, but in comparison to the 1978 it seemed like an infant! If I was lucky enough to own this wine, I’d probably wait a few years before opening it. Both of these wines have that special, almost intangible pedigree to them – similar to top notch Burgundy and First Growth Bordeaux. They go beyond “great Syrah” and when drinking, you are sucked into that “special wine” vortex that I’m sure many of you have experienced.
Next up is the 1990 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. I was lucky enough to be invited to the house of a different customer who also has been a long time German wine collector to a tasting of 1990 Germans. We had many superb wines that night, but this was far and away the stand out for me. Nice crisp acidity (a hallmark of this vintage) and loads of green apple fruit and a finish that had to last 5 minutes. Just amazing stuff. There is nothing better than mature Riesling when it’s in a good spot, and I continue to be amazed at how well JJ Prum wines age.
Eric Ifune returns this winter to describe his favorite fortified wines of 2016. I first met Eric at the annual Madeira tastings organized by Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port) and Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.). As you can see in his post, Eric drinks some rather amazing and rare wines, so I am excited to present his thoughts.
I’ve had the great fortune to attend multiple tastings of fantastic fortified wines this year. These are my most memorable in chronologic tasting order.
Henriques & Henriques Boal AB
A wine from the stock of the late John Cossart, the former head of H&H. This is a distinct wine from the famous H&H duo of the Grand Old Boal and the WS Boal. Probably from the early 19th century. Recorked in 1952 and 2011. The bottle itself is very old, a three part molded hand blown bottle approximately 150 years old.
A pale gold, green, amber color. Beautifully iridescent. A lovely, delicate floral fragrance with almonds and pralines. Just the barest hint of VA. Very, very long with limes and pralines on the finish. Just a lovely, gentle old Boal. Really beautiful. Not as dense as the WS or Grand Old Boal but fine and delicate.
The hand written labels are by Ricardo Freitas of Barbeito who reconditioned the Cossart Wines.
1898 Barbieto MMV Verdelho
Bronze gold green color. A meaty, savory aroma of cabbage, nuts, pralines. It smells better than it sounds! A very lean, acidic style of Verdelho which I love. Flavors of lemons and tangy pralines. A very, very long lemony finish. Just mouthwatering.
1863 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
These wines originally belonged to Ricardo Freitas’ mother, Manuela Vasconcelos, who ran Barbeito before Ricardo.
Bronze green, gold in appearance. Very fragrant and floral. Just the barest hint of VA. Savory and delicate on the palate. High acidity with wonderful balance. Did I say I like a lot of acidity in my Madeira? A gentle style of Malvasia. Very long with a finish redolent of tangerines.
1880 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
This was commercially available via the Rare Wine Company. The majority of this wine was the mother wine of Barbeito’s excellent 40 year old Malvasia “Mae Manuela” blend that Ricardo Freitas created in honor of his mother. The remainder was bottled as a straight 1880.
Very dark, almost opaque with an olive oil meniscus. Dense and rich aromas with iodine, saline, savory and sweet flavors. Very dense, intense and rich. A complete contrast to the 1863. Musky, caramel and toffee. A great, concentrated Malvasia if somewhat monolithic.
1795 Barbeito Terrantez
A very famous wine. I’ve been fortunate to have tasted this on several occasions over the past several years. Originally the property of the old Hinton family on Madeira, then owned by Oscar Acciaioly. Half was obtained by Barbeito and placed back into wooden casks for oxygenation. It was bottled a few at a time and slowly released to the market. The last of it was 23 bottles filled and sold in 2006. This particular bottle was from September 2000.
Dark bronze color with a green, gold rim. Huge and complex aromas of limes, oranges, toffee, and toasted nuts. On the palate, intense and electric. Great acidity. Not particularly sweet but beautiful balance. Huge depth and complexity. A long citric finish. Just wonderful!
1895 D’Oliveiras Malvasia
This was bottled in 2014. D’Oliveiras has the largest stocks of really old wine left on the island. They still have some of the 1850 Verdelho in cask! They will bottle wine as they need it. This was very dark, opaque in appearance. Smoky and dense aromas with citrus and molasses. On the palate, dense but not particularly sweet. Nice acidity. Flavors of grapefruit, lemons, honey, nuts, and toffee. Long, musky finish.
1810 Borges Sercial
This was one of the famous wines that Henrique Menezes Borges purchased in the mid-19th century and passed on down to his descendants and not as part of the company holdings. These family wines were thought to be in wood for approximately 100 years. They were bottled from demijohn in 1989. Two demijohns of this 1810 Sercial yielded 45 bottles.
Bright copper, gold, green color. Spicy aromas, a bit spirit. Toast, nuts, and apples on the nose as well. Rich and fruity on the palate. Almost black fruited. High acidity. Beautiful balance. An almost Verdelho level of sweetness due to the extreme concentration. A long, scintillating finish. A bit atypical for Sercial but still a real beauty.
Herdade do Mouchao Licoroso 1929 Solera
Herdade do Mouchao is an Alentejo estate with an almost cult status in Portugal for their table wines. They also make a vinhos licoroso which is the generic Portuguese term for a sweet fortified wine. Mainly Alicate Bouchet grapes. I think of them with penultimate organic viticulture. No monoculture here, the estate is a patchwork of vineyards, old forest, cork oak groves, pasture for sheep and poultry. Lots of biodiversity.
This particular wine is tasted at the estate from cask. It was refreshed several times, hence the solera designation. The average wine age is 45-50 years old. Impenetrable dark color with a browning rim. Very fresh aromas of walnuts, citrus fruit, figs. The barest hint of VA. Very thick and viscous on the palate, but fresh with great acidity. Not overwhelmingly sweet. Lots of lime, grapefruit, brown sugar and toffee. A very long nutty, figgy finish. Just wonderful stuff!
Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” White Port
Quinta do Mourao is a Port producing Douro estate. Known in the industry for their large stocks of old, superb wood aged Ports. The famous houses would purchase old, wood aged wines from them to beef up their own stocks. The Quinta releases their own wines under the San Leonardo label. Not seen in the States until just recently when they obtained an importer based in Los Angeles. Their range of Tawnies of indicated age: 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 are among the best in their respective categories. They have older stocks as well. This is one of White Port. Technically, this is a White Tawny Reserve since there is no official category older than over 40 years. It is over 60 years in average age and so has the proprietary name “60 White.” This is not released in the States yet, probably this coming year. Tasted with the importer. Amber, gold color shot through with green. Spicy aromas with orange and toffee. Almost like a Christmas cake. Waxy on the palate, almost like an old Chenin Blanc. Very rich with huge complexity and depth. Lots of balancing acidity. A long finish with honey, limes, and tangerines. Eye opening as to the heights of White Port.
Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “100” Port.
Another release tasted with the importer. This is wood aged with an average age of 102 years. Also a Tawny Reserve with the proprietary name of “100.” Very dark color with a gold green rim. Toffee and roasted nuts. Almost painfully concentrated. Huge and intense but balanced with huge acidity as well. Toffee, caramel, brown sugar on the palate and finish. This is a wine to be savored in small amounts it is so rich and concentrated.
1970 Taylors Vintage Port.
Oporto bottled. Decanted a few hours before and tasted single blind. Dark core, just starting to go tawny at the meniscus. Spicy with leathery, citrus, and strawberry aromas. I really like the smell. On the palate, dense and rich. Sweet, but perfectly balancing acidity. Very long with tangerines and other citrus fruits.
1970 Dows Vintage Port
Tasted side by side with the Taylors, also decanted a few hours beforehand and tasted single blind. Also Oporto bottled. Even darker than the Taylors. Ruby rim. Young, spicy, plummy aromas. Black fruited, smoky. Very powerful, rich, and tangy. Tasting much, much younger than a 1970. Great balance. I think I like the Taylors a hair more to drink now, but might prefer the Dows in some years.
Cockburn’s Crusted Port bottled 1929 by Averys.
I’ve not heard of a crusted Port from 1929 let alone seen one. Now I can say I’ve tasted one!
A crusted Port is a bottled aged Port from several years. This was bottled in 1929 so presumably it is a blend of several years prior. Decanted approximately an hour or two beforehand. Beautiful iridescent rose, tawny colored. Still fresh aromatics, savory-sweet with red fruits. Rich and velvety mouthfeel. Indeed the mouthfeel was exceptional! Dense with glycerin. Not a heavy weight, but a beautiful elegant wine. Bright, firm, and vigorous despite the age. Great balance and length. Conversation about the table is convinced there is a lot of 1927 vintage in this wine. 1927 was a very high quality, long lasting, and prolific vintage. Indeed, not all of it was bottled as vintage port; hence the consideration this bottle contained much of it.
1900 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal
Very dark with a brilliant gold-green rim. Musky and savory aromas. High toned and minty. On the palate it is dense, rich, and sweet but with excellent acidity to balance. Sweet, long, rich finish. Textbook Moscatel. IMO, Setubal makes the best Moscatels in the world.
1937 Warres Colheita Port
Bottled in 1997. Dark, opaque core fading to a tawny then olive oil rim. Smoky aromas with lime zest and a hint of VA. Rich and concentrated on the palate. Buttery mouthfeel. Limes and brown sugar flavors. Great balancing acidity. Long and concentrated.
1961 Krohn Colheita Port
Bottled in 2008. This was before Taylors, Fladgate bought out the Weise & Krohn company. Dark, tawny colored. A bit of VA on the nose, but lots of toffee and citrus as well. Very rich and sweet. Not the concentration as some of the older Colheitas, but beautiful and perfect balance. Long and satisfying. If you can find any of this still on the market, I’d snap it up!
Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” Port.
Another wood aged Port from Mourao. I was fortunate to try this on two separate occasions about a week apart. Again, a Tawny Reserve, this time over 60 years of age. This is the red version in contrast to the white one listed above. Similar notes for the two times. The first taste was from a limited edition 750 ml bottle. The second from the regular release 500 ml bottle. Dark, opaque center with a copper-gold rim. Smokey and citric nose. Dense and sweet with huge complexity on the palate. Toasted nuts, lemons, tangerines. High levels of balancing acidity. A long, lemony finish. These old wines from Quinta do Mourao are a revelation as to the heights great wood aged Ports can achieve. One might think they could use them to beef up their Tawnies of Indicated Age, i.e. 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 years; however, their Tawny Ports are terrific as they are, and these older wines are extra special.
I was careful to note I drank from a magnum of 1976 Lanson, Champagne and even took a picture of the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer, Cristal Champagne and Jacque Selosse, V.O. Champagne Extra Brut. However, my tasting note for the 1998 Dom Perignon, Champagne “racy, yeasty, rich, mineral wine flavors” is unaccompanied by a picture. This might sound haphazard but Champagne is the first thing drunk after the all-day Sercial Madeira tasting. The need to refresh oneself with Champagne and talk to old friends leads to a sort of frenzy. Everyone jockeys for a pour of Champagne. It is not a time to take note.
Dinner is seated, at a very long table. The pace of wine is measured by the sommeliers who impose a logical order on what is drunk. Every guest is encouraged to bring a magnum of mature wine or preferably two bottles of the same. This is not always possible so there is a large variety of red wines. I take pictures and jot down brief impressions so I may recall the evening later on. There were only two off bottles this night the 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and 1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley. In Germany 1959 is a legendary vintage and in America both Joh. Jos Prum and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard are legendary wines. In some punishing coincidence a friend brought a bottle of 1975 Martha’s Vineyard to my house this year. It was off too. Damn and double damn.
Of the good wines, they fell into two camps. Those which are too young to follow a tasting of 19th century Madeira and those which are appropriately mature. In this latter category two particular bottles stand out: 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. The 1966 Ducru sports a fantastic nose. I find some old wines have a sweaty aspect to their nose almost like aromatic umami and this bottle did as well. The flavors were equally attractive with that sweet concentration of flavor from age. It does not just taste mature, it tastes different.
My experience with Californian wine only includes vintages into the 1960s. I can assure you the last wine I would have expected at dinner was not just a pre-Prohibition Californian wine but one from the 19th century. In a particularly unforgiving act of arson in 2005, some 4.5 million bottles of wine were destroyed including 175 bottles of Hellman Angelica and Port wine, certainly most of the remaining stock. I can only imagine a handful of bottles survive to this day. Now scarcity alone does not make for a fine wine, what is in the glass does. With a bit of volatile acidity and dust on the nose the 1875 Hellman may have given slight pause but in the mouth this is an unctuous, powerful, and mouth coating wine. I managed to prolong the pleasure for a few more weeks because I was allowed to take the empty bottle home. There was still damp sediment in the bottle so I stoppered it. Every few days I would smell the bottle to swim once again in 19th century aromas.
2002 Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos
Imported by Vieux Vins. The yeasty nose makes way to minerally, white and yellow fruit flats. This seductive wine is rich with a hint of yeast, ripe tannins in the finish, and fat in the aftertaste.
2008 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a fresh, lean wine that tastes yeasty and older in the mouth. IT leans towards pure lemon flavors.
2007 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a grippy, concentrated wine with fresh acidity. A little weight comes out with air but this is all about lemon tartness. To match the flavor is a fair amount of acidity.
1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by O. W. Loeb & Co. Corked! D*mn!
1970 Domaine Dujac, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Alcohol 13%. The dark, garnet color matches the rather mature nose. In the mouth this is a very dry wine with old perfume mixing with linear, red fruit, The structure is still there, out living the fruit, as this gentle, old wine dries up.
1967 Odero, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The nose is a little stinky, which I find attractive, before aromas of candied cherry come out. This is old-school lively, with structure from the ripe tannins. Perfect for what it is.
1961 Burlotto, Castello di Verduno, Barolo
The foxy, earthy flavors come with initial concentration. It is a dry wine offering more flavor than the Oddero. Maturity has brought old-school flavors, a sweet aspect, and earth. It wraps up with drying, textured tannins.
1967 Cordezuma, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The color is young, almost cranberry-ruby in color. In the mouth this is a simpler wine which is tart, citric, and bears less fruit.
1981 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
An odd wine with almost mushroom flavors, yeast, and floral pork (WTF!). The acidity is bound up with the modest bit of structure.
1990 Prunotto, Barbaresco Montestefano
Alcohol 13.5%. Tobacco. Young!
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Landonne
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is way too young. Structure, drying, and bracing at this point.
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Mouline
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is aromatic with a fine nose just beginning to take on mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit is starting to soften a touch. Overall this is a focused wine with powerful structure through the fresh finish. Young.
1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Johnston. Alcohol 12.5%. The mature Bordeaux notes are starting to escape but this is still so young.
1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Shipped by SDVF. Imported by South Wine & Spirits. Alcohol 12.5%. This is more open with cassis, minerals, and fat. Nice.
1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Shipped by Raoul Lucien & Co. Imported by Combeau-Collet & Cie. Alcohol 12%. The fantastic nose is aromatic and a touch sweaty with cranberries and red fruit. It develops some old-school perfume. In the mouth the flavors have some sweetness to them before the drying finish. A lovely wine at 50 years of age.
1966 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Shipped by A. de Luze & Fils. This is less giving, more linear, soon shutting down to simple, cranberry, and red fruit flavors. It is firm and tight in the mouth with a shorter finish.
1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
An off bottle.
1992 Harlan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Young and primary.
1937 Niepoort, Colheita Port
Imported by W. J. Deutsch Co. Alcohol 19%. There is a sweet start with flavors of black tea and wood. There is a fair amount of noticeable acidity before the slightly harsh finish.
1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County
Though there is some volatile acidity on the nose, it is fine and articulate, with a bit of dust matching its age. The fruit tastes so different. This is a powerful and lip coating wine which is still racy and sweet. The fruit persisted through the dark finish. With air this unctuous wine, with its plentiful residual sugar, builds glycerin and baking spices. In great shape!
On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.
A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours. Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating. However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine. Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity. Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.
My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century. There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871. It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste. There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence. As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira. I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.
It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake. The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction. Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal. There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial. It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule. I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.
You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted. Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights. As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines. For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees. While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised. Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations. From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling. Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.
While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important. Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive. You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial. Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)
1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****
1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.
1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.
1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)
1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****
1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****
1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***
1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **
1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****
1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)
1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***
1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***
1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)
1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***
1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****