My favorite wines of 2016
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.