In the late 1970s, during the height of the American wine boom, Sebastiani was the volume leader in the wine production for Sonoma. Sebastiani was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani but it was his son August Sebastiani who saw the winery through Prohibition and the rise of the California wine industry. Much of the production was jug wine but premium wine was produced as well. The general emphasis on varietals meant that the Barbera and Zinfandel offerings were regarded with popularity which is precisely why I opened the 1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California. This was among the last vintages produced by August Sebastiani who passed away in 1980. August Sebastiani did not fully adopt stainless steel nor French oak rather it was his two sons who began the transition to modernity in the 1970s. You can imagine August Sebastiani’s hand in making this wine for there is nothing modern tasting about this bottle of Barbera. It smells and tastes of sweaty leather, though is sweeter in the mouth. It reminds me of the 1960s Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignons. It is quite forward until it fades so drink rapidly once you pop the cork.
Buena Vista Winery is another historic winery in Sonoma but it predates Sebastiani by some 50 years. When General Charles de Gaulle visited America in 1960 he was served both French and American wines with his meals. For his meal of roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce he was served Buena Vista, Pinot Noir. This is quite amazing given that in the 1960s and 1970s Pinot Noir was considered “difficult and temperamental” to grow in California. Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, concluded that in California this varietal produced less “Pinot characteristics”. Pinot Noir ripens early and given the widespread warmth and sun of California very few areas were regarded as suitably cool enough for proper ripening. After tasting through several dozen Californian Pinot Noirs, he concluded that while the 1968 Buena Vista was a “very good glass of wine” it had less of the Pinot Noir characteristic he looked for.
I pop and pour most old wine which I have not drunk before. In retrospect I should have decanted the 1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma. This is a robust wine that with air shows more blue fruit and substantial structure evocative of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. This may not be surprising for John Winthrop Haeger writes in North American Pinot Noir (2004) that between 1969 and 1971 Buena Vista planted 84 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon near Pinot Noir. I followed the wine over several hours and in the process, kicked up a fair amount of sediment which contributed to a loss of focus. I have the suspicion that my mishandling did not allow this wine to show its best. I will be sure to write about the next decanted bottle.
1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California
Alcohol 12.6%. There is an aromatic nose of sweaty leather. In the mouth is a big wine of sweet flavors, leather, and supportive oak. It is evocative of other Sebastiani wines from the 1960s and 1970s except that it faded within one hour. ** Now.
1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma
Alcohol 12.5%. The color is a medium, cranberry garnet. The nose is sweet and sweaty, evocative of sweet, old wood. In the mouth is a soft start before menthol fresh flavors supported by a fine vein of acidity. The old-school flavor becomes bluer with air, taking on body with a good, ethereal finish. It is a fairly substantial wine which still has supportive, dry structure that coats the gums. It tastes like a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. **(*) Now – 2022.
Over this winter I tried a few odd bottles of old Bordeaux, this post reflecting the lesser of them. The 1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux bore good fill and color but the corrosion on the capsule indicated a problem. Old seepage was confirmed by cutting the capsule but the wine itself was good shape, though fresh with sweet fruit, it is a wine that should be drunk up. I did not expect much of the 1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux. I opened it because it is a wine I drunk with my mom in the mid 1990s. We bought a bottle along with cheese, charcuterie, and bread to eat at a picnic in sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge off of Sion Hill in Bristol.
Of great surprise are several bottles from the miserable Bordeaux vintage of 1969. Michael Broadbent does not even award the vintage any stars. Still, these bottles proved that well-stored bottles from the worst vintages can still be drunk with pleasure. The 1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux certainly has vegetable aromas on the nose but in the mouth are perfectly preserved flavors, most likely by the lively acidity, of cranberry red fruit. There is even grip and a suggestion of weight. I do not suggest you seek this wine out but the good storage conditions came through. From the same vintage and cellar came three bottles of 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien. These showed some bottle variation. Two were deep fruited on the nose with one brighter and more pungent. There is less obvious acidity and more leather, wood, and bacon type of flavors. Fun stuff! Finally, the lowest fill of a group of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac proved satisfying. It did not have the depth of the bottle drunk with Darryl and Lou but was complete and enjoyable. To have drunk two bottles of Lafite in one month. Incredible! 😉
1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD. Alcohol 11%-13.5%. A lively wine that combines freshness and some attractive sweet flavors. The tannins are fully resolved and when combined with the hints of roast earth, suggests it should be drunk up. *** Now.
1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux
Fully mature, if not just past but it still manages to offer a mixture of blue and red fruit, wood box, and fully resolved tannins. Pleasant enough for a few glasses. *(*) Now.
1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Across two bottles are clean red fruit flavors along with a distinct vegetal, as in celery, aromas as if from unripe fruit. One bottle had some old funk which blew off. In the mouth are surprisingly well preserved, clean and lively flavors of red fruit. There is even some weight and fresh grip in the mouth. Clearly well stored, this is surprisingly solid with good acidity and a fine, polished wood note. ** Now.
1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Of three bottles tasted, at best a nose of deep, earthy fruit then fresher aromas with cedar. Leather notes develop becoming more prominent than the earth. In the mouth this is a lively wine of bright red then blacker fruit. The flavors shorten quickly but a bacon infused finish carries a wee bit of fruit. The structure is still drying and present.** Now.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Prellar. Imported by Whitehall Company Ltd. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Mid-shoulder fill. A fine nose of meat, graphite, and flowers. In the mouth is a bright undeniably savory wine with a fresh, almost eucalyptus start. The low fill has obviously taken a toll but this remains a savory, fine albeit smaller version of what this wine can achieve. *** Now.
I am pleased by one of the latest releases of Fornacina for the 2014 Fornacina, Rosso di Montalcino is a perfect follow up to the savory 2013 vintage. The 2014 vintage is particularly lively with plenty of juicy, almost rugged fruit supported by a very fine supportive structure. I enjoyed it youthful state but some might want the tannins to mellow for another year or two. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2014 Fornacina, Rosso di Montalcino – $18
This wine is 100% Sangiovese fermented in stainless steel then aged in Slavonian oak. Alcohol 14.5%. The nose is of moderately deep plums. In the mouth there is an almost prickly start making for a lively entry of tart red fruit then black fruit. The structure is obvious throughout leaving a layer of very fine tannins on the gums. With air the wine builds a ripe, juicy start followed by a mulberry middle and firm, stone accented finish. *** Now – 2023.
This past week saw Jenn and I drink three different wines from California. Lou gave us the bottle of 2014 World’s End, Rebel Rebel, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley. This wine is produced by Jonathan Maltus of Chateau Teyssier and Le Dome background using fruit sourced from a Beckstoffer vineyard. It is flavorful and generous in mouthfeel yet does not push the richness too far. I found it drank great over two nights. Andy, over at MacArthur Beverages, pointed out a pair of Californian wines with a wee bit of age. I have already drunk two bottles of the NV Sean H. Thackery, Pleiades XVIII Old Vines. This is a hard to describe wine that blends red fruit, orange, tea, and floral components. The first bottle had a marked earthy component which I adored whereas the second bottle was more fruity and suggestive of its individual components. I suspect it is a good time to drink these up. Finally, the 1997 Judd’s Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley opens after a short double-decanting. This is a tasty, dry and still somewhat structured wine with a flavorful balance of black fruit, wood box, and leather. You may drink it now or over the next several years. Fun stuff all around!
2014 World’s End, Rebel Rebel, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.5%. The nose sets you up for a Californian experience with rich white fruit and white nut aromas. In the mouth is an almost focused start of founded, somewhat dense, ripe white fruit followed by a subtle toast note. The generous mouthfeel is enlivened by some salivating acidity which goes all the way to the back of the throat. Drinking generously right now. ***(*) Now.
NV Sean H. Thackery, Pleiades XVIII Old Vines
Bottled December 2010. This is a blend of Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and more! Alcohol 14.8%. The has an earthy hint at first. The flavors are mouth filling and supported by acidity from the very start. There is a sweet concentration of fruit with flavors of orange, wet tea, floral notes, and an underlying menthol freshness. ***(*) Now – 2020.
1997 Judd’s Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is deep fruited with a slight menthol note. In the mouth are bright flavors of black fruit with watering acidity then a building volume of black fruit, stone, leather, and wood box. There is a long aftertaste. With air the black fruit continues to fill the mouth but the flavors become dry with a drying vein of structure developing throughout. Happily the wood box note becomes amplified. Tasty. ***(*) Now – 2023.
The 2015 Domaine La Garrigue, Cuvee Romaine, Cote du Rhone is the latest iteration of a wine I commonly open up at home. The 2015 vintage reminds me, in part, of the 2009 vintage, in which there was no Mourvedre. Whatever the 2015 is composed of, it offers less of the common dark, earth note and more pepper and structure. As such, it is a grapier wine which should develop over the short term and drink for longer. The 2014 Domaine de Mourchon, Cote du Rhone also offers pepper accented youthful flavors. Both of these are solid, week day wines you can drink over the next several years. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine La Garrigue, Cuvee Romaine, Cote du Rhone – $15
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. Alcohol 14.5%. Pepper notes on the nose make way to powerful, grapey flavors of moderate weight and grip. There are white pepper and ink notes with a mineral underpinning and very fine structure of tannins. The combination of structure and rapier acidity will allow this to mature for a few years. **(*) Now – 2022.
2014 Domaine de Mourchon, Cote du Rhone – $13
Imported by Oenos Imports. This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah sourced from vines averaging 40 years of age which was raised entirely in concrete. Alcohol 14%. The nose is a bit lifted and certainly youthful. In the mouth are flavors of youthful tasting tart red fruit then tooty fruity mixed with white pepper. The wine has textured grip and a youthful structure of fine tannins. The wine is not quite grapey so perhaps young and primary. ** Now – 2019.
It is a treat to blindly taste through eight wines of quality which I was recently able to do at Andy’s house. One year ago Andy managed to stump us with a horizontal of 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape. This year he served up 2003 Northern Rhone. There was certainly confusion at first, particularly after the first several wines showed a level of ripe fruit concentration that had me thinking we were tasting Southern Rhone. Then the final wines shifted my impression up to the Northern Rhone. In retrospect it is the generous 2003 vintage that lead to this confusion and a surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph. Though fruity, the flavors are not over ripe, the wine is lively, and backed by earth. It is certainly generous and enjoyable to drink as a result. Also from Saint-Joseph, the 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph steps up the level of elegance. Made from old-vines which see new oak, the quality of the fruit shines through with great grip and bacon flavors! Finally, the most seductive wine of the night turned out to be the 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie. Fat, glycerin, even more fat surround coiled, black fruit flavors. You can now imagine why I stayed a bit later than I intended to simply drinking these wines.
1 – 2003 Eric et Joel Durand, Cornas
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. Alcohol 14%. A medium garnet color with a mature and robust nose. In the mouth are racy, mouth filling flavors. This is a big wine with hints of alcohol. There are flavors of prune, baking spice, and a wood note but not much in the way of tannin. With air the sappy fruit takes on some fat and develops a longer finish. In a way this is young and taught. *** Now.
2 – 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13.5%. A similar dark colored core as #1. The nose is more expressive with mixed, dark fruits. The flavors show more concentration with a hint of earth and plenty of presence. It is a very good wine with ripe fruit, continued animale and earth notes, and an earthy aftertaste. Nice. **** Now – 2023.
3 – 2003 Alain Voge, Les Vieilles Vignes, Cornas
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 13.5%. A little less garnet than the previous wines. This wine plays it close both on the nose and in the mouth. It has hints of rather mature, old-school flavor which is delicate with earthy and red berry aspects. The flavors become more black towards the finish where the subtle, structured finish brings out a wood note. *** Now.
4 – 2003 Tardieu-Laurent, Vieilles Vignes, Les Roches, Saint-Joseph
A darker color makes way to wood box aromas, dark blue and red fruit, and good mature hints. In the mouth there is a younger, fruitier start, assertive tannins, and a bitter finish. There is good, tart flavor in the but ultimately taste more like a Southern Rhone. Or perhaps I should write, I pegged this as a Tardieu-Laurent wine. *** Now.
5 – 2003 Guigal, Brune & Blonde, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Meaty flavors with a dose of tannins start off this thick, mouth filling wine. It is a little rough and simple with dark roast and rather fine and strong structure. More toast is apparent with air. *** Now – 2023.
6 – 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph
Imported by Neal Rosenthal. Alcohol 13%. The floral, purple fruit aromas clearly speak of the Northern Rhone. In the mouth are cool, young fruit flavors on entry followed by a pervasive bacon flavor. It is a youthful wine with watery acidity, great grip, and accented by citrus flavor (but not citric acidity). This will continue to develop. **** Now – 2027.
7 – 2003 Rene Rostaing, Cote-Rotie
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a light garnet color. The nose is weird, lactic and fishy with fish flavors in the mouth. One taster commented “sardine dine”. Not Rated.
8 – 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Mmm, meat on the nose. This wine sports more body and glycerin then all of the previous wines. The black core of fruit is coated with fat, coiled and willing to unfurl in the middle with a bright lift. Did I mention the very seductive fat? **** Now – 2027.
As today is the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, I thought I would briefly focused on our first president George Washington. George Washington’s Mount Vernon recently published a page from the Food Supply Ledger for the dates of May 19-25, 1794. It is a fascinating, daily account with rows detailing the consumption of the Meats, Fish, Butter, Bread, Spices, Candles and of course Wines.
The wines are categorized as “Madeira”, “Claret”, “Champaign”, “Burgundy”, “Ven-de-Grave”, “Sauterne”, and “Sweet wine”. On all but one day several bottles of Madeira were drunk. In reviewing his wine orders it is possible to hazard a guess as to what type of Madeira was in those bottles.
The last Madeira order prior to May 1794, was acknowledged on November 20, 1793, when John Marsden Pintard, US Consul at Madeira, shipped “2 Pipes Old particular Madeira” at £38 Sterling each. The pipes arrived via the sloop Lively at Philadelphia in January 1794. We know from the Household Account Book that Joseph Sim was paid $484.59 for the two pipes on January 24, 1794. The very next month on February 3, 1794, the final expense of $2 was paid for “putting in the Cellar”.
Madeira was classified according to quality with the best and most expensive being London Particular. “Old particular” thus refers to London Particular most likely of two years of age.