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“How long will our reds last? I don’t know.”: 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling plus some table wine


The label of the 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County magnum was only slightly soiled. The fill was excellent and underneath the plastic capsule, the firmly seated cork was pristine. After double-decanting, to remove the sediment, the wine bore deep aromas proper for a good Californian wine from the 1970s.

Grapes have been grown in Mendocino County since the 19th century when there were a few dozen growers. Located north of Sonoma, the slow arrival of rail lines meant this was a region of smaller enterprises rather than ones on a commercial scale. During Prohibition grapes were grown for home winemaking in San Francisco and bootlegging on the East Coast. By 1938, the number of bonded wines hit eight with Parducci the largest of them all. Most of the Parducci wine was sold off to other major wineries but eventually a new generation sought to bottle under their own label during the wine boom. It is in 1973 that Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, found Parducci was just beginning to establish their identity.

Like Robert Mondavi, John Parducci advocated unfined and unfiltered wine. He did differ from Mondavi in these early years by avoiding any contact with oak. Parducci also felt strongly about growing the best grapes for the site rather than what was in demand. Articles from the 1970s share a common theme of Parducci’s unique style, affordable price, and drinkable red wines. If there was preference for fresh, fruit flavored red wines, there was also an economic side to it. The French and Yugoslavian oak barrels were too expensive for the family. That is not to say no wood was used, the Cabernet was aged in tall, thin redwood vats.

It must be remembered that 1976 and 1977 were drought years in California. The 1978 vintage yielded large numbers of healthy, sugar-filled grapes. Excitement was widespread with John Parducci commenting on the new wines, “Some of the most fantastic wines California has ever seen.” The principal vineyards of Parducci were Talmage, Largo, and Home Ranch. This is not where the fruit came from for the 1978 Merlot Special Bottling. The back label states the “grapes were grown by small growers on the slopes of Mendocino County”.

In 1974, the Special Bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $7.99 per bottle in Washington, DC. That put this Special Bottling in the range of Chappellet and Clos du Val pricing.  The nose is generous and in Parducci style, the wine offers up berries, freshness, and levity.  The alcohol level is noticeably low.  Together these traits make it a highly drinkable wine.  In fact, the magnum drank very well for several hours at which time it started to fade. To answer the title question, this magnum lasted 40 years with ease.

I wish I could write more about the 1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.  Founded in the 19th century, very little was written about it save short mention of the periodically medal-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  William Rice of The Washington Post found the 1972 Foppiano , Zinfandel as “very fruity” and though pleasantly aromatic, it lacked in tannin.  Ours, though, was from a better vintage but my gut-feeling is that the regular 1974s are fading away which did not help this wine.  The flavors are beginning to turn with no supporting structure left.

We tried two other wines that night from California. The magnums of 1984 and 1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red were found in the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages. Priced at $3 each I had to try them for the historic note. A closer look at the label reveals these were made at the Woodbridge Winery. Created in 1979, the Woodbridge Winery was destined to produce large volumes of affordable, oak aged wines. A basic non-vintage table wine had been made at Mondavi since 1976 but quality had slipped.  The Woodbridge Winery was one of multiple prongs designed to improve the table wine quality.

The new Mondavi Red was primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged in small oak barrels. Carignan, Thomson Seedless (!!!), and Columbard were largely jettisoned as they were considered in the territory of jug wine.  Mondavi believed in long aging in oak but $300 French oak barres were to expensive for use at Woodbridge. Instead, he “retired” his older French oak barrels used in his premium wines to Woodbridge.  He then employed American coopers to use American oak to form new barrels using the French method of charing rather than steaming. Unlike other inexpensive table wines these were new table wines based at Woodbridge winery were regarded as more complex and capable of some aging.

As for the wines, the 1984 was green, herbaceous and way past prime.  Not really surprising.  I was hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the 1985 almost obliged. The nose was good but the flavors too herbaceous.  I suspect it would have drunk fine a decade ago.

1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Definitely a brick-brown color.  Deep, comforting aromas are evocative of the period.  In the mouth fresh acidity bearing mixed flavors of wood box, deep berries, and maturity.  A lighter bodied wine of moderate length it is fresh and very drinkable.  It fleshes out a bit with air becoming more saline.  It has good staying power.  *** Now but will last

1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  The cork smelled balsamic but none of that transferred to the wine.  A slight hint of roast indicates its past prime.  In the mouth this is a fully mature wine, aging fruit is a touch sour but it remains supple.  A lighter style of Zinfandel that was likely elegant to begin with the structure entirely integrated.  *(*) Drink Up.

1984 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Green veggies and other herbaceous aromas.  An herbaceous edge to the bright and tart red fruit.  Short, simple, and not of interest. Past Prime.

1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Some depth to the nose, dark fruit, wood box, and spices.  A certain hint of that carries into the mouth but herbaceousness comes out as well.  In much better poise than the 1984. * Now but drink up.

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  1. December 17, 2018 at 8:58 am

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