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A quick tasting at the end of the holidays


Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation.  You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover.  Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.

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Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983.  Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot.  That is ample enough reason to try a bottle.  This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label.  I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure.  The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate.  Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.

We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage.  I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard.  Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957.  Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon?  The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine.  The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines?  After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast.  I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley.  Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling.  And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!

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As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary.  Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group.  No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas.  In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat.  I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor.  Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home.  No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.

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1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%.  This  The color is a bright, garnet ruby.  On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate.  In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins.  There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish.  Clearly the youngest wine tasted.  It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve.  ** Now.

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1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%.  A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas.  In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity.  Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive.  ** Now.

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1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%.  The lightest color of the quarter.  It smells like petrol!  In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit.  Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish.  It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure.  Really odd. Not Rated.

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1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good.  The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar.  There are similar flavors in the mouth.  The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat.  Eventually it becomes more autumnal.  **(*) Now but better bottles will last.

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