A case of perfectly stored 1986 Chateau Bel Air, Cotes de Castillon showed up at MacArthur Beverages last week. You can tell because the fills are all in the neck, the corks are age-defying, and the color of the wine is deep. The wine itself is simple with flavors of hard cherry and eventually polished wood. And that’s about it!
The wines of Les Champ Libres are produced by René-Jean Dard and Hervé Souhaut. Both of these men produced northern Rhone wines, the latter of which have appeared on this blog. The 2015 Les Champs Libres, Lard, des Choix is a wine of great energy. Both the nose and palate offer deep, grapey, young fruit that is quite remarkable. I kept expecting some Pilsner/yeast aspect to break out but it did not. Instead, this is a personality rich wine that any lover of the Northern Rhone must try. These wines are (or were!) available at MacArthur Beverages.
1986 Chateau Bel Air, Cotes de Castillon – $10
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co. Alcohol 12%. The nose remains subtle. In the mouth the flavor of hard cherry remains firm. The structural components are still around and the watering acidity reminds you that this wine is very much alive. It needs some air before gaining a touch more interest from a polished wood note. *(*) Now but well-stored bottles will last.
2015 Les Champs Libres, Lard, des Choix – $22
Imported by Louis/Dressner. Alcohol 13%. The aromatic nose offers up grapey aromas and deep young fruit. In the mouth are lively, deep flavors of floral, purple fruit. The initial acidity on the tongue tip leads to a textured wine that leaves an ethereal, perfumed coating of fat-infused flavor. **** Now – 2018.
Last night Lou and I gathered to blindly taste through several bottles of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. For fun, we each unknowingly threw in an Australian blend of Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps this is unfair given the stature of our main selections but it was for fun. As we settled down to cheese, charcuterie, and cork removal we checked out a bottle of 2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray. I do not have enough experience with Huet so I found the lifted, aromatically textured nose a delight. It starts off in the fruit spectrum eventually to take on a honey character. In the mouth this is a fresh, grippy wine with a nice balance of fruit supported by hints of yeast and oxidation. Fine stuff! I look forward to finishing my leftover glass tonight.
It was then on to the bagged red wines. Guessing is fun when you are not pressured. Wine #1 is firm at first though you can detect some maturity and herbaceousness. It is the most structured wine out of all tasted and I, admittedly clueless, narrowed in to the 1979-1981 vintages. For those who enjoy structured, rather than opulent wines the 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley will develop for years to come. It eventually reveals a bit more of its bottle aged maturity.
Wine #2 showed signs of old seepage under the capsule but the fill was where the neck met the shoulder. You could get a sense of this on the nose which leaned towards meat rather than fruit but in the mouth the flavor and delivery of the fruit flavor is gorgeous! What luxury it is to drink glass after glass of 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains. This is a sophisticated wine of ideal balance with youthful, complex fruit flavors that seek out every part of your mouth with wave after wave of flavor. Also excellent is wine #4. After some bottle stink blew off, this is highly aromatic of eucalyptus. In the mouth an impressive amount of energy unfurls dark fruit, ripe structure, and wood box. The 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley is perhaps more mature in flavor than the Ridge but the Phelps needs more time to open up. It is fascinating pair to drink together. No one spat these two wines!
Just a few final thoughts with regards to wines #3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia, avoid, and #5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia. Wakefield River Estates was founded in 1972 by Dr. Douglas Hewitson who planted just over 2,100 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the wheatbelt area of Balaklava. The wines were made by the highly regarded James Irvine who still produces wine today. James Irvine got his start at a young age having developed the Siegersdorf brand in 1959 as winemaker at Hardy’s. As the Wakefield winery had no buildings the wine was made at Saltram, an historic Barossa Valley winery founded in 1859. Wakefield River Estates was short-lived and curious enough, the label on the bottle tells the history including the demise indicating this bottle was imported in the mid 1980s. It was in 1982 that all of the fruit was eaten by starlings and in 1983, due to severe drought conditions, there was a sparse crop. The fruit was sold off and the winery ceased. As for the vintage Decanter states the wines are of “richness and longevity” with the wines around Adelaide being “robust”. So perhaps it was a bit unfair to include this wine with the Ridge and Phelps but the potential is there.
2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray
Imported by Robert Chadderdon. Alcohol 12%. It is the color of a light apple cider. On the nose are finely textured, lifted aromas of dried apricots and apple cider. With air the nose reveals honey aromas. In the mouth this is a mildly weight wine with a vein of acidity and hint of yeast towards the finish. It wraps up with a fresh and grippy finish. Additional complexity is gained from a hint of oxidation. ***(*) Now – 2027.
#1 – 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.9%. This is less dark than #2 but of similar color. The nose offers hints of maturity with the slightest hint of herbaceousness. A lively start brings a little tang and firmness of flavor. There is still structure in the end which contributes to the lasting sensation. With air the wine begins to open up maturity becoming more evident. It also develops a mineral note and a dusty, wood box flavor. ***(*) Now – 2022.
#2 – 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. This garnet wine is still fairly opaque in the middle. The nose is a bit meaty. In the mouth this wine packs in the flavor with a plum hint at first, mineral middle, then a younger, fresh eucalyptus finish. There is sophistication to the purple and black fruits There is still a very fine tannic structure and acidity throughout. Impeccably balanced and impressive. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia
Imported by FWE Imports. This wine is a blend of 64% Shiraz and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is followed by candied and pruned flavors in the mouth. The acidity stands separate from the core of simple fruit flavors. Tastes like a cheap domestic port. Poor.
#4 – 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.3%. Some bottle stink at first but that blows off to reveal a highly aromatic, eucalyptus nose. In the mouth is dark flavor, more structure, and a touch of ruggedness in the finish. But over the course of several hours this wine unfurls itself. It adds both wood box and blood. The energy is impressive as framed, ripe, inky fruit coats the mouth. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
Imported by San Francisco Traders LTD. This wine is a blend of mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak puncheons. Alcohol 12%. A mature garnet color. There is a ripe fruit start but the wine quickly turns soft only to end at the short finish. Simply too old at this point. Fair.
Lou and I managed to squeeze in several quick glasses of wine between our kids’ basketball games and dinner. We kicked off with a bottle of NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County. Both the capsule and label are darker, perhaps indicating this is a non-vintage winemaker’s blend. It is clearly a Bordeaux blend on the nose with the greenhouse aromas indicating some cooler vintage(s) in the blend. It is actually well made with an interesting finish and aftertaste, I just wish there was more depth to the fruit flavor. The 2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County is a completely different beast. The back label indicates that the sugar levels rose on the grapes and what we found in the glass were sweet, over ripe flavors. I enjoyed it more on the initial pour but then found it too sweet.
Finally, Lou served a bottle blind. I guessed it was either early 1980s California Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend or 1990s Bordeaux from a cooler vintage. I was close as it turned out to be 1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc. Caronne Ste Gemme was a daily drinker for Lou so he thought it fun to try a one. This particular bottle bears its age very well. With better balance than the NV Ridge, it is a lively drink at 21 years of age.
NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. The nose is finely scented with greenhouse aromas and red/black fruit. In the mouth this wine has fine grip and focus, showing tart red fruit and leather. It builds flavor with air as well as a hard wood note, more leather, and delicate cranberry red fruit. The aftertaste is surprisingly good. ** Now but will last
2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 99% Carignane and 1% Zinfandel. Alcohol 14.3%. There is a sweet, ripe dusty nose of fruit. In the mouth the flavor is of very ripe berries, tea flavors, chocolate, and sweet fruit. On re-tasting it tastes of over-ripe fruit. Though there is still some grip. * Now.
1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 12.5%. The color shows some age and the nose reveals greenhouse accented fruit. In the mouth is a focused cloud of fruit with some purple flavors and ink. It taste of a cool vintage but the attractive structure is in balance, there is some wood box, and an inky hint. **(*) Now but will last.
Lou and I gather the families every year for a pre-holiday dinner featuring mature wines. This year we were joined by Darryl and Nancy for whom mature wine is a bit of an obsession. To accompany the dinner of crab cakes, coq au vin blanc, and leg of lamb we had planned nothing more than opening a random series of mature red wines. This was then surrounded by a Champagne and white wine starter eventually to be concluded with a dessert wine.
The Champagne was in the form of the impressively boxed 1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée. This is surprisingly fruity on the nose with precise flavors in the mouth that are supported by robust bubbles. There is only a touch of yeast and the sense of maturity really takes many hours to develop. It was a good showing.
The white wines moved us onto experimental territory. The 2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards is Verdelho on steroids. Unfortunately the 16.3% alcohol breaks through towards the finish as pure alcohol. No matter how seductive and correct the nose is, I could not get past the burning sensation in my throat. The 1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace is only made in the best vintages. You get that sense from the lifted aromas on the nose but in the mouth the wine is starting to tire. Switching gears once again, the 1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres is a wine for mature Chardonnay drinkers. The apple orchard flavors and bits of subtlety speak of maturation but the fat draws you back to peak drinking.
1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée
Imported by Moet Hennessy. Disgorged October 2008. Alcohol 12%. The nose is quite pretty with a surprising amount of berry fruit. The fruit continues in the mouth but soon picks up lemons and baking spices with a touch of yeast. With air the flavors develop towards maturity. The wine has good precision to the flavors which are enlivened by fine, robust bubbles. This is more of a fruity wine than yeasty/biscuit wine. **** Now – 2026.
2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards
Alcohol 16.3%. There is a rich, nutty, creamy, and seductive nose. In the mouth is a rich mouthful followed by toast and baking spices. The wine finishes spicy with a sharp, alcoholic jolt in the end. It starts of promising but is unpleasant by the end. *** for the nose but for drinkability * Now.
1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace
Alcohol 12.5%. There is an attracted, lifted nose with lemons and herbs in the short finish. Interesting to smell but tiring out. ** Now.
1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres
Alcohol 13.5%. The golden amber color speaks of maturity. In the mouth is an moderately dense wine with apple orchard flavors and spot-on acidity. It is clearly at its peak, with a suggestion of subtlety, that is briefly waylaid by the fat in the finish. *** Now.
While Lou and I finished our dinner preparations we required some red wine. Together we had both stood up a dozen or so bottles to try which we arrayed on a desk. A fine looking 1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard was selected at random. I was curious about this wine, Pommard being the first mature Burgundy I ever drunk. This bottle is from the first year Neal Rosenthal began working with the estate. The significant amount of muddy looking mold under the capsule foretells disaster in my experience. While not completely gone the dusty, dirty aroma pervaded the flavor. Down the drain it went and out came the cork on the half bottle of 1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. From the first released vintage, this wine was in good, though fully mature shape. Peter Newton and Michael Stone founded Sterling Vineyards in 1964 with Ric Forman as the winemaker. Both Peter Newton and Ric Forman went on to found Newton Vineyards once Sterling was sold to Seagram in 1977. So this is an historic wine in two senses. It proved a solid experience though the aroma of bananas and sweet rather than lively aspect of flavor prevented it from being excellent. No regrets though, for one should try as many 1960s Californian wine as possible, for it is an historic period.
1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard
Shipped by Neal Rosenthal. Imported by Select Vineyards LTD. Alcohol 11-14%. It smells of dust and dirt. There are some dark flavors in the mouth but the dusty, dirt aspect is less than subtle. An off bottle. Not Rated.
1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (375mL)
Alcohol 12%. The nose reminds me of red fruit and bananas. In the mouth are clean flavors of red fruit which are sweet. With air this becomes quite a mouthful. The assertive acidity brings forth a burst, of sweet flavor. It leaves the impression that this was a larger, slightly sweet wine in youth. *** Now.
With dinner we sat down to some serious wine. The glass bottle of the 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant was covered with cellar grime and label damage from racking. It is one of those bottles whose provenance was lost over the years or decades. There was a fair bit of ullage but the color through the green glass, though light, reminded me of watered down cranberries which is a good indicator. With a gorgeous nose and lively flavors, there is much on offer with this wine. If I nit-pick, it does not have the harmony of the 1964 Momessin, Clos du Tart but it has personality. I really like this type of wine. Just one year younger the 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac had very top-shoulder fill just below the neck. This was my first experience with Lafite. Yes, I have sadly written about more older vintages than the number of bottles tasted. Still this proved a great start. The nose is great, unique, and worth spending some time on. In the mouth this is a fully mature wine with just a touch of fat and graphite.
I admit the 1945 Chateau Calon-Segur looked horrible. As you can see by the picture, it still does, with the label almost falling off after lying in my equally old Eurocave. Inside the glass is what counts so the top-shoulder fill, dark color, and firm cork waylaid some fear. All of that aside, being of the 1945 vintage and bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol, where I spent my sophomore year abroad, warranted trying it out. The color is the darkest of all opened that night. The nose and the flavors are marked by eucalyptus with bright, tart, red fruit. In the end it is a relic.
With calls for more fruity wine I selected the 1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape. The fill was excellent and the capsule contemporary so I suspect this is an ex-domaine release. I cannot imagine someone would fake a modest vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape. I liked it a lot. To me it offers a balanced, mature Chateauneuf.
I recently wrote how I prefer equally old dessert wine following an old wine tasting. I am happy to report that the 2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes marks me wrong. It is incredibly complex and flavorful both on the nose and in the mouth. This is an outstanding wine.
1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby, & Co. This is almost light brown in color. The nose, though, is gorgeous with aromas of cranberry and vintage perfume underpinned by an earthy note. With air it develops both bacon aromas and hints of smoke. In the mouth the vintage flavor tastes sweeter with air. This is a vibrant wine with fine acidity. As should be the case, this old Burgundy develops with air, improving at first then maintaining its lovely state until finish. **** Now but will last for a decade.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by White Company Ltd. Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose is aromatic and beautiful from the very first pour. It sports sweet, unique aromas of blood and iron. In the mouth are bright, clean red fruit which follows the nose. There are hints of fat and hints of dry graphite. This is drinking at its peak. **** Now.
1945 Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint-Estephe
Bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol. The color is remarkably dark but of proper garnet brown. There is a fresh nose of eucalyptus and dust. Similar eucalyptus mixes with bright, tart red fruit carried through with watering acidity. There is even some structure. *(*) Now.
1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%. The nose smells of a library and garrigue. This wine peaks after 10 minutes providing an attractive blend of blue and red fruit, garrigue, and leather. Everything is in balance with this properly mature wine. It still suggests at ripe fruit. *** Now.
2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
The nose is amazing and almost effervescent as the aromas fly out of the glass. In the mouth is a core of butterscotch flavors, ripe pineapples, and sweet cream. This racy wine is already, impressively complex. Why not drink it now? ****(*) Now – 2036.
Lou brought a trio of bottles over to go with Thanksgiving leftovers. Coupled with a magnum of Bandol we tasted through some diverse wines. The 1997 Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley is from a moderate vintage and provides enough interest for a small glass. The wine tastes as if the fruit were not quite ripe when picked. Despite that criticism, the wine itself is chugging along and in no way decrepit. From a much better vintage the 2001 Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico looks significantly younger than its age. It is full of color and dark red fruit delivered with some bright acidity. While it is not particularly complex, it is in fine shape and made for solid drinking. The magnum of 2007 Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol proved to be my favorite wine of the night. It is a touch soft at first then opens up to plenty of clean, maturing flavors with an attractive mineral streak. It even seemed racy for a bit. There is no mistaking the 2013 Damiani Wine Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes for any other grape. The aromas and flavors work in that lifted greenhouse or vegetal quality to good effect. Actually, the wine is surprisingly packed with flavor.
1997 Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. More stemmy flavors the fruit at this point but the lifted fruit is still there in the form of bright, dry red fruit. It tastes a bit short of ripe fruit. With enough interest for a small glass it is more remarkable for holding up this long. * Now.
2001 Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico
Imported by Paterno Wines International. Alcohol 13.5%. Surprisingly dark but on closer inspection there is a garnet hint on the edge. In the mouth are dark red fruit flavors, polished wood, and unfortunately a touch of heat in the end. The flavors are dry with a generally bright outlook. There is even some structure. Overall this is a very solid wine that is simply not too complex. ** Now – 2018.
2007 Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol en magnum
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is a blend of 85% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, and 5% Cinsault. Alcohol 14%. It is subtle for just a bit before the flavors accelerate through the mouth with a racy, mineral quality. *** Now – 2018.
2013 Damiani Wine Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes
This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. Fairly attractive nose of red and blue fruit marked by lifted greenhouse aromas. The flavors bear the same vegetal hint but it works well with the fruit. There is quite a bit of stuffing and freshness to make this enjoyable. ** Now – 2017.
My friend Sudip is a gambling man who is all for trying any old vintage of wine. A gamble and a bit of recklessness was all that was required to try the 1979 Castello di Monte Antico, Tuscany. Neil and Maria Empson started Monte Antico in 1977, some five years after founding their wine importing company. Monte Antico is a super-Tuscan wine, meaning it is a blend of Sangiovese with international varieties, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Super-Tuscans grew in popularity during 1970s. This particular wine is one I drank with some occurrence during my university years in the 1990s because it was affordable. I had no expectation it would be a decent drink or even palatable, being a budget wine, but the bottle looked good, the price was cheap, and it reminded me of times past. The color was in the autumnal brown spectrum and the nose was advanced, as in roasted earth. But in the mouth it was surprisingly round with hints of sweet fruit that developed into licorice. But for the nose it would rate higher.
Two wines from the same vintage makes for more fun. I expected the 1979 Pio Cesare, Barolo Riserva to be better than the Monte Antico and it was. This was another cheap purchase made years ago. After an hour of air, I simply pulled the cork. The wine gave all that it could. The fruit has departed leaving leather and mushroom but the lively, tense acidity still remains. It fades soon in the glass. Neither bottle was finished but other young wines were. Sudip had fun.
1979 Castello di Monte Antico, Tuscany
Shipped by Neil Empson. Imported by Wine Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose initially smelled of roasted earth then celery. It is much better in the mouth, round with hints of sweet fruit. Certainly old but bits of fruit and licorice come out. Two stars for flavor but overall * Now.
1979 Pio Cesare, Barolo Riserva
Imported by Paterno Imports. Alcohol 13.5%. Though an advanced color it had a lively tension. It is simple at first and surprisingly closed. After an hour of air it opened up. All fruit gone having left just bottle aged flavors of leather, mushroom, and a very fine texture. ** Now.
Lou and I gathered in his kitchen last week to drink through a range of Sangiovese based wines primarily focused in on Ruffino, Riserva Ducale. We always start with a white wine but this time the bottle of 1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume was drinking too advanced. A few sips were fine for curiosity but I soon moved on. I did not miss a beat in tasting (and drinking) the 2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva. After recently loving a bottle of 2010 Carpineto, Chianti Classico Riserva the Montepulciano did not disappoint. Let me just say that this is a great wine which is already complex and will clearly develop over the next several years. I would buy several to lay down. I then moved on to the 1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley. This tasty wine will have broad appeal. It is a hypothetical mix up of Sangiovese made in a Rhone style in California. Perhaps this sounds bizarre but it will not after you knock back a glass or two.
1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from 30 year old vines on Kimmeridgian Limestone that was fermented in stainless steel. Alcohol 12.5%. The attractive autumnal amber color looks quite mature which the nose confirms with fallen orchard fruit signaling the wine is past its peak. The wine is younger in the mouth with hints of apple cider, fresh acidity, and nice tannins making for attractive grip. There is even a citrus hint. But with additional air I just can no longer get past the nose. * Past.
2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva
Imported by Opici Wines. This wine is 90% Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero that was aged for over 2 years in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is quite pretty and complex with leather and floral aromas. This youthful wine has flavors of black fruit supported by structure and acidity. There is a hint of minerality and an inky quality with a layer of red, floral flavors on top. It is even savory with a touch of fat in the aftertaste. This is well balance for aging. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.6%. The robust nose offers up some roasty, toasty aromas in a style evocative of California. The wine is drinking surprisingly well with a fruity, dense and rounded start. The watering acidity moves the wine along as it takes on some glycerin for body and offers tart black fruit on the sides of the tongue. It becomes softer with air with some dark cocoa flavors but it remains tasty. A hypothetical Rhone-styled Sangiovese. *** Now.
Our main flight of three wines was focused in on Ruffino in Chianti. Founded in 1877, this estate did not produce their first Ducale Riserva until 1927. The Ducale Riserva with the beige label is produced only in good vintages with the gold label only produced in the very best vintages. The best grapes from estate vineyards are used for Ducale Riserva. The gold label is a selection of the best lots of the beige label from the very best vintage and was first released in 1947. The Riserva Ducale has appeared in American newspaper advertisements since at least 1960. Over the subsequent decades, Ruffino was considered one of the best known names in Chianti with the Riserva Ducale Oro expensive but considered an age-worthy wine. In this vein, A&A Wine & Spirits of Washington, DC, listed 11 vintages of Riserva Ducale Oro for sale in 1987. From the 1977 at $23.99, their selection went back to the 1949 vintage at $199.99 per bottle. Only the 1964 Biondi Santi, Riserva Il Greppo was more expensive at $399.99 per bottle.
The beige label spends three years in various vats and oak casks with the gold label spending at least four years in oak. There was no gold label produced in 1961. The 1961 and 1971 vintages are a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and Trebbiano, 5% Colorino, Ciliegiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 1993 is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7-8% Canaiolo, and 2-3% white grapes.
The gold label is interesting in that it is made with 6-10% governo. Governo is a second fermentation caused by the addition of dried grapes, dried must, or concentrate. The governo used for the gold label is based on grapes dried on mats for two months. Ruffino feels it helps encourage malolactic fermentation. The Wasserman’s are of the opinion that wines made with governo can actually age quite a long time, particularly the gold label. Another example is the Chianti Classico of Monsanto which used governo until 1967.
Given our small sample set, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the use of governo. The Wasserman’s rated the 1961 vintage in Chianti a zero out of four stars with Michael Broadbent three stars out of five for Tuscany. The Wasserman’s rated the 1971 vintage two out of four stars (commenting that the 1971 Ducale Oro was fading when tasted in 1989) and Michael Broadbent rated the vintage five out of five stars.
A general opinion appears to exist that Chianti, outside of the spaghetti joint flasks, does not age to extremes due to the large percentage of white grapes. Our bottle of 1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva was certainly past prime. I managed a few satisfactory swallows but there was nothing that could improve its state. Perhaps the governo and the strong 1971 vintage worked together for the bottle of 1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva kept supplying great glasses of wine all night long. It smelled and tasted like old-school Italian wine with lively acidity and good weight to the flavors. This bottle was clearly well-stored and I suggest that fans of old Barolo try out this Ducale Oro if you can find one. Our final bottle of 1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva was clearly a wine of a different era. It did have attractive leather, vintage perfume, and a sweaty note but it did not have vibrant acidity, making it softer and more advanced than I would expect. A solid bottle. Based on my experience with the 1971 I will continue to carefully look for other old bottles of Chianti.
1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by Schieffelin & Somerset. Alcohol 13%. The nose has some VA to it, mixing with hard cherry aromas that become grainier with air. The wine is immediately softer in the mouth and more advanced than I would expect. This mature bottle sports tart cherry, leather, and vintage perfume flavors. It has weight and an attractive sweaty component. I keep thinking it is softer than it should be. ** Now.
1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny. Alcohol 12.5%. The good nose remains aromatic with mature, old-school aromas reminiscent of Italy. The vibrant, acidity driven start shows good weight to the red fruit with good presence in the mouth. There are ripe, dusty tannins in the aftertaste where a citric grip returns. The wine responds well to air taking on a persistent flavor of old-school perfume. The fruit is dry but there are no hints of raisins (from the governo). *** Now but will last.
1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 12.8%. The nose is full of roast earth indicating the wine is past its prime. In the mouth is good, edgy acidity with a core of dense, old fruit. It is more of a core of tired fruit that tastes old by the end. There is some menthol. Drinkable as a relic. * Past.