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Historic Wells Liquors wine lists 1980-1981

January 26, 2018 Leave a comment

As I work on my wines of the year post I started going through old notes. I thought it would be fun to post some price lists/tasting sheets from my earliest days in wine as an eager 18 year old at Wells Liquors in Baltimore. These price lists represent 1980-1981 I believe. There are only notes attached to one. For that Cali cab tasting it looks like my favorite was the 1976 Mondavi Reserve. The price was really high for California then at $21. I note that I gave that wine 90 points, which was a big deal in those days before more consistent winemaking and lots of “grade inflation.” I also see that the “mystery wine” in this blind tasting was the second wine of Pichon Lalande (1978 probably) and just $8.

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Lou’s Favorite Wines of 2016

January 2, 2017 1 comment

As Aaron and I drink many wines together, it’s inevitable that we have some shared wines on our top lists. The 1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill was obviously California with rich fruit and concentration but balanced by forest floor and a balanced acidity. What was especially interesting for me with this wine was that it was served with its brother, the 1978 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace.  This wine shared many of the characteristics of its sibling, but with more cassis, less earth and somewhat brighter toned.

I shared Aaron’s enthusiasm for the 1964 Mommessin Clos de Tart.  This is everything Burgundy should be—hugely complex as it balances a sense of fragility and depth. This oxymoronic nature of great, mature Burgundy was abounding in this wine.  I too loved the 1964 Beaucastel.  It’s too rare that I drink great, old Chateauneuf.  In an evening with an amazing vertical of great Beaucastel, this wine stood above the rest.  It was a beautiful mix of bright fruit, iodine and seaweed.

Moving on to two wines unique to my list are two more wines from 1964.  Both Burgundies were drunk at Berns’ and served from 375’s.  The first was a Senard Aloxe Corton Les Valozieres.  The second was a lowly villages Morey St Denis from Valby.  Both wines benefited from the cold conditions of the cellar there and were in pristine condition.  Though neither showed the pedigree of the Clos de Tart, they both showed as fully mature, complex and exciting.

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The 1989 Cos d’Estournel  also was part of a vertical of exceptional wines. Though I greatly enjoyed many of vintages served that night, the 1989 stood out to me (and just edged out the 2005). It had concentrated fruit, some green notes and a fascinating smoky spice like incense.  The finish went on and on.

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The 1970 Souverain Zinfandel was also from a 375 at Berns’.  This tasted still young and fresh and showed the heights that classic Zin can achieve.

My final two wines were probably more about the experience that the wines themselves.  The first was a 2011 Fevre Montmains Chablis that I had at Han Ting restaurant in The Hague.  This meal was probably my best of the year for exciting food and flawless service. The wine perfectly accompanied the Asian styled food.  It had bright acidity, a delightful minerality and will doubtless just get better with time, as it was just a baby.

Finally was a carafe of the house red at O’Tinello Osteria in Lago Albano just outside of Rome.  This fruity and fresh wine made locally had enough acidity to lighten the platters of cured meats, creamy pasta and the porchetta that the region is famous for.  It was a great reminder of the time honored pairings of local food and wines. We were close to the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo and I could imagine the Pope having a similar lunch in the bright March sun……

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A tasting of Chateau Cos D’Estournel from 2012 back to 1982

January 25, 2016 Leave a comment

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On Monday January 18, Panos Kakaviatos (Wine Chronicles) gathered together a group of DC wine lovers for his annual Bordeaux dinner.  As in previous years he invited a guest from the Chateaux and had a vertical representation of multiple vintages.  Also, like in previous years, he did an impeccable job of working with the restaurant staff in preparing the wines to show their best.  His care, attention and expertise always make for an excellent evening! The dinner was at Ripple, where Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley prepared a very good five-course meal that paired well the wines. The wine service was flawless. The guest of honor was Aymeric de Gironde, Director General of Chateau  Cos D’Estournel, the famous St. Estephe Second Growth. The diverse crowd made for excellent conversation and everyone enjoyed a lineup of wonderful wines.

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As we prepared for the dinner itself we sipped Michel Reybier Champagne.  This is a grower’s champagne purchased in recent years by Cos d’Estournel. The property consists of 40 hectares of premier and grand cru vineyards sites. The wine is made in a big style, with evident oak aging and low dosage.  Tart green apple, yeast and toasty notes are present in this well balanced, well made Champagne.

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The wines were served in five flights.

First Flight: 2008, 2006, 2004.

These wines all showed well.  While they were all big wines, the cool vintages provided them a nice sense of balance. Spice and white pepper notes were evident on many of the wines throughout the evening. The wines were paired with a lamb heart tartare with pickled mustard seed.  I liked the vinegar acidity in the dish and thought it was a nice foil for the tannins of the wines.  Others thought the acidity was too overpowering.

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2008 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Spice or fruitcake notes were at the forefront.  This leads to a big wine with hard tannins and a finish with a lush, glycerin mouthfeel.  Very good structure and my favorite of the flight. ****(*)

2006 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Aymeric commented that this was “undrinkable” for many years and is just starting to come around. The nose is actually slightly more open than the 08.  Blackberry, white pepper and wood notes lead to some smoky notes and very drying tannins.  There is a nice energy to this wine but it’s hard to understand right now. ***(*)

2004 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : The spice notes are again very prominent.  The nose is more evolved and clearly the most approachable of the three vintages at present. The tannins are still hard and there was a slightly unbalanced heat at the end.***

Second Flight:  2005, 2003, 2002.

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Glazed sweetbreads and radicchio provided a nice richness/bitterness balance that echoed the wines.

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2005 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Aymeric called this a “wine (for) forever.”  This was my favorite of the flight and a very great wine. The wine was rich with excellent integration of the oak.  Currants and a subtle spice lead to a wine that has gotten slightly softer in the mouth.  Perfect balance. ****(*)

2003 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : I expected more evidence of the heat of the vintage but was surprised by how balanced the wine was.  Exotic spices were obvious. Some coffee notes were present but balanced by a lively acidity.   This wine is actually quite approachable now. Some of the other tables notes mint and menthol notes in their bottle.  This was not evident in ours but may suggest some (not unexpected)  bottle variation. ***(*)

2002 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Dark fruits and licorice are interesting but some hot alcohol is distracting on the nose. The wine is well done for the vintage but lacks some complexity in my mind. ***

Third Flight: 2000, 1996, 1995.

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Potato gnocchi with a wild boar ragu was hearty and complex and again balanced the wines well. All these wines showed very well with the 2000 my favorite of the flight.

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2000 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe (from magnum): A very exotic nose with Indian spices, herbal, forest floor and leather notes. Rich in the mouth with a firm structure. ****(*)

1996 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Some initial funk that blew off. Concentrated currants and perfume that leads to an herbal note.  A bit softer in the mouth with a long finish. ****

1995 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Aymeric called this the “year of the experiment.”  The wine was aged entirely in new oak.  Some hints of maturity were noticeable at first with some hints of iodine. There was an off putting hardness at the end that made me wonder if the fruit would dry up before the wine fully comes together. ***(*)

Fourth Flight: 1989, 1985, 1982.

Seared duck breast with foie gras grits.

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1989 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : My WOTN (though the 2005 was close).  Secondary notes on the nose.  Cassis, concentrated figs, bell pepper. Rich in the mouth with a smoky note at the end.  Very long finish.  Beautiful. *****

1985 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe :  Some mustiness on the nose. Asian spices.  Harder and leaner in the mouth. Good but the weakest wine of the flight. ***

1982 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : While a very good wine it failed to live up to its reputation and not at the level I remember from when it was young.  Figs, herbs, some iodine.  The nose came across as younger than it was in the mouth.  Still some tannin and some bitter medicinal herbs at the end. ****

Fifth Flight: 2012, 2010, 2009.

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Aged Gouda with date jam.

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2012 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Very dark.  Black pepper, perfume.  Very fresh and balanced structure. I liked this a lot. ***(*)

2010 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Very structured, fresh.  Deep cassis fruit. Cigar box. Hard but lots of potential. ****(*)

2009 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe : Spice up front, very lush fruit.  Hard tannins, heat at the end.  More California in structure than Bordeaux.  It’s very well made but I think not the wine that the 2010 is. ****

Lou’s Birthday dinner (1963, 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003)

February 22, 2013 3 comments

I just turned 50.  I’ve thought a lot over the past year or so about ways to appropriately celebrate. For the wine part of the celebration I’ve broken it into two parts.  One, a trip to my favorite wine “destination,” Bern’s Steakhouse.  Two, a dinner at home with friends celebrating each decade of my life.  As I was born in 1963, I’ve been gathering wines from 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003 that I thought would work well. I had the luck to be born in a great Port year.  In my early 20’s I had occasion to drink Dow, Graham, Taylor and others on multiple occasions.  For my 40th birthday, my wife made sure I had a ’63 Port, but I haven’t had one since.  So the plan for 1963 was easy.  I sourced a 1963 Croft in beautiful condition.  The other years I knew would be more challenging, as not all were great years.  My final lineup:

1963 Croft.  This was bottled by Croft & Co of London and imported by European Wine Resources.  Broadbent said in 1990 ***(*) with a drinking window until 2000 and commented on some bottle variation.

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1973 Coutet.  This is an Alexis Lichine Selection imported by Somerset Wine Company.  Not a great vintage.  Broadbent gave the wine ** with a drink soon in 1981, but said “pleasing ripe semillion nose, more power than expected.”

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1973 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. (4% Petite Sirah). A **** vintage in California but I couldn’t find notes on the wine. I’ve had a number of delicious older Ridge Zins over the years, including a very fine 1976 Paso Robles Zin about a year ago that was drinking beautifully.  So, I had high hopes for this wine.

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1983 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  (5% Petite Sirah). Again, no notes on this wine, but Broadbent had said about the ’83 Ridge Paso Robles Zin “dry, very flavoury, great length **(**).”  Though a cold, wet vintage I had high hopes for this wine too.

1983 Faivleley Nuits St. Georges les Porets St. George. This was imported by Wines LTD of Silver Spring, MD.  A variable vintage.  I found one passing note on how well Faiveley had done in a somewhat challenging vintage.  So, promising also.

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1983 Robert Mondavi Cabernet.  (14% Merlot, 9% Merlot).  From Broadbent: “No sulphur used. In new French oak 24 months. Very spicy, minty, eucalyptus. **(*).

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1983 William Hill Gold Label Cabernet. 1.5L. No notes found.  I had very fond memories of the William Hill wines of the 70’s but don’t recall ever having those from the 80’s.  A worthwhile gamble.

1983 Filhot 375ml.  This was imported by Majestic Wine & Spirits.  Aaron picked this up for me at MacArthur Beverages. See his notes from September 2012.

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1993 du Glana (St.Julien).  Again, no notes found on this one.  A challenging vintage for red Bordeaux, with St. Julien being weaker than some.  I didn’t hold out lots of hope for this wine.

2003 Diffonty Cuvee du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine.  This is a well thought of wine that I’ve enjoyed a couple of times.  I always felt it was rich but had avoided the hot, raisiny quality I’ve had in some ’03 CdP.

Although it didn’t fit the “3” theme, my friend Kate and her husband Matt had a bottle of 1971 Dom Perignon that they found resting quietly on its side in their dark, cool basement still in its original box.  We decided to add that in.  1971 was a very great vintage in Champagne.  Broadbent said of the wine, “twist of lemon and straw nose…distinct sweetness, excellent flavor and considerable length. Refined. Certainly warranting its reputation *****.” Though that note was from 1990, I hoped this would show its brilliance (and I love older Champagne).

Since I was thin on 1993, my friend Jeff brought a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel. A terrific addition to the lineup! Aaron also brought along a couple of surprise bottles: a 2003 Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous and a 1983 Harvey’s Port.  This is actually Martinez Vintage Port bottled for Harvey’s of Bristol and imported by Heublein. See his note from January 2012.

I figured we’d start with a few Champagnes to start, then move through the wines with dinner. It was a crowd of 15 including me and Adrienne.  A big crowd in terms of the pour size (especially as I knew we’d lose some to decanting), but I didn’t want to leave out anybody on the guest list. I had plans to follow the same theme for the background music, but that part didn’t work out as well as I wanted, primarily because I got too caught up with talking, eating and drinking. We got through two Beatles albums from ’63—Please Please Me and With the Beatles.  Next came John Coltrane with Afro Blue Impressions. We did Dixie Chicken from Little Feat for ’73 and I was ready to move on to Quadrophenia, but I got distracted and that was the end of the music.

Aaron and I had decanted all the wines for sediment (except the NSG) about 90 minutes before dinner.  We rinsed out the bottles, poured the wines back in and stuck them in the cellar.

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As the guests started arriving, we started with Thibaut-Janisson Brut from Virginia with smoked salmon and mushroom tarts that Adrienne had made. The wine was bright and fresh, and paired well with the food. It paled next to the next wine however, the Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix.  This 100% pinot noir Champagne had a pretty pale orange/pink color. It was big and a little yeasty, with some vague cherry/strawberry notes and a very clean, crisp finish. Next came the Paul Dethune Rose Grand Cru Champagne from Ambonnay (80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay). This was a nice wine, but a little big and clunky next to its predecessor.  It had hints of oxidation, and more rounded fruit.

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We moved on to dinner. Folks were still drinking Champagne as we moved into the first course, a roasted cauliflower soup with Chincoteague oysters, topped off with some sorrel and chive oil. I was having too much fun to pay as much attention as I should have, and the soup was a bit cold by the time we got out all 15 bowls, but was very good nonetheless.

We decanted the Faiveley and decided to pour it with the 73 Ridge.  We poured most of the wines in pairs. The Faiveley NSG was a great start. A very pretty wine, it remained in good shape with tertiary notes of tea and light flowers, some remaining sweet fruit and a long finish.  I wished I had more in my glass.  The 73 Ridge Lytton Springs also showed very well. Although clearly still Zin, it had a Bordeaux like structure with sweet fruit, some cedar notes and nice structure. It was in great shape.

We moved on to a salad of kale, watercress and frisee topped with maple syrup roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, and shaved Parmesan Reggiano.  It was a nice balance of a little sweetness with the bitter greens and the walnut oil vinaigrette.  The 1983 Mondavi Cabernet came next with the 1983 William Hill magnum. We also started on a grilled beef tenderloin that I had marinated in garlic, olive oil, and handfuls of fresh herbs and served with a couple of sauces. Roasted potatoes were a nice accompaniment. The wines started moving more freely at that point, and I started taking less detailed mental notes and went with the flow. The company was great; friends gave me wondeful birthday toasts and everyone seemed to love the wines and food.

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My notes on the other wines:

1983 Mondavi Cabernet. This was maybe the weakest wine of the evening. While not over the hill, it was dominated by mint and was a bit one-dimensional.

1983 William Hill Gold Label was the better of the two ’83 Cabs. Very California, but sweet Cabernet fruit obvious with resolved tannins and fair acidity to balance it out.  It has aged well, but is not overly complex.

1983 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  I think not the wine that the 1973 Ridge is. While well preserved, it showed less complexity, but in no way a bad showing.

1993 du Glana St. Julien. This was a real surprise. This was in good shape and showed as a fully mature, well-made Bordeaux. There was a fleeting hint of a strange medicinal quality that blew off in a few minutes.  I thought this wine was a treat and well beyond my expectations.

1993 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. This showed young. Immediate notes of Brett were followed by iodine and meaty notes.  A really nice wine.

2003 Cuvee du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine. This showed really well, with none of the overripe, roasted notes that I was worried about.  Very well structured, with intense Grenache fruit, firm tannins and lots of complexity.

2003 Clos St. Jean La Combe des Fous.  Another really nice 2003.  This one is begging for more time.  Garrigue, olives, kirsch and a little funk.  Exciting wine.

We moved on to individual olive oil cakes infused with thyme and served with whipped cream and some raspberries.

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1973 Coutet. A very nice wine. Hints of candied orange peel, mature botrytis and a tight acidity. Fully mature but not showing any risk of falling apart. I think Mr. Broadbent got this one wrong.

1983 Filhot (375ml). Consistent with Aaron’s previous note.

1963 Croft Port. The bottle was in great shape with a low neck level fill. I tried to put aside my emotion at tasting a wine about as old as I. It smelled of restrained spirits and some nuttiness and mature port notes.  In the mouth there was remaining fruit with hints of sweetness.  It was a really nice showing.

1983 Harvey’s  Port. A house I’ve not drunk from in Port before.  Very classically styled with lots of time ahead. Nice nose of heady spirits, earth and rich, sweet fruit in the mouth.  Long finish.

By then it was late, and the crowd started to dissipate. Kate and Matt were among the stragglers, so we opened the 1971 Dom. Unfortunately past its prime, it did show hints of what it was.  The bubbles were dissipated.  There was clear oxidation, but an interesting note of hazelnuts and a vague herb note.

An excellent evening and everything I had hoped for !

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The Construction of the Wine Cellar

October 12, 2012 4 comments

As part of a recent home renovation, we installed an actively cooled wine cellar in our home. While this required some extensive excavation, our house was already being torn apart for the rest of the construction, so it was easier to do at that point than it would have been on its own. The project was done by the excellent team of Barry Stohlman and Pat Kilner of Superior Structures. They were very easy to work with, came in on budget, and had a terrific sense of craftsmanship. Some of the work was detailed in Aaron’s previous post (Taking an Early Peek at Lou’s Cellar) but I wanted to provide a bit more detail on the project.

The entire construction project (including our kitchen work and a number of other things) took over 8 months. The project started with them “cutting out” a section of the house from roof to foundation to prepare for the excavation.

After the foundation was poured, the framing began. The picture below is inside the wine cellar itself. The crawl space can be seen, in which the split cooling system will be housed.

I chose to use closed cell spray foam insulation in the walls and ceiling to an R value of 50 in the ceiling and 30 in the walls (all interior walls). Because the foam expands, the insulation company would not spray in the ceiling around any of the lighting cans. Even though I was using cool LED lights in the ceiling, the danger is that the foam will pull at the wiring creating a potential electrical fire hazard. In those areas where the lighting cans were isolated, we used rigid foam board insulation.

After the insulation was in place, we installed greenboard drywall, behind which we placed a three foot section of continuous plywood in the center to provide a stronger base to anchor the wineracks.

This is what the finished room looked like.

The room was painted and allowed to air for about a week before the racking was installed and the door to the ante room installed.

After the redwood racking was installed, we put four inches of well washed pea gravel on top of the slab. I chose to install four foot high racking around the perimeter for now. Most of the room can take another four feet section as needed in the future. There is also room for a center aisle of racking, and a large alcove to stack cases.

The HVAC company installed the CellarPro system, Model 4000S. Though it’s generally intended for up to 1000 cubic feet (and I have a bit over 1100), I think I’ll be fine given the insulation and expected ambient temperatures. I installed the Weather Direct TX60U-SET Online Temperature and Humidity Wireless Alert System that texts me if temps or humidity go out of range. It also provides a nice spreadsheet of q 15 minute readings.

This is when I started to move the wine in. Notice the rack to the right. It’s intended for my wife’s ease of use if she wants to grab a daily drinker and I’m not home.

This is what the finished product looks like, along with the tasting room, just outside the glass door in the photo above.

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