On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.
A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours. Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating. However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine. Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity. Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.
My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century. There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871. It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste. There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence. As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira. I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.
It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake. The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction. Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal. There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial. It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule. I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.
You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted. Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights. As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines. For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees. While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised. Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations. From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling. Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.
While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important. Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive. You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial. Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)
1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****
1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.
1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.
1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)
1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****
1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****
1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***
1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **
1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****
1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)
1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***
1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***
1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)
1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***
1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****
A couple weeks ago we tried the trio of wines featured in today’s post. The 2015 Ghost Block, Sauvignon Blanc, Morgan Lee Vineyard, Napa Valley is an attractive, sur lie aged Sauvignon Blanc of substance. While being the opposite of a grassy, acidic wine it is not over done. It is flavorful and you may drink it over several days. The latest 2015 Neyers, Chardonnay 304, Sonoma County is a bit of a step down from previous vintages. The Neyers Chardonnay 304 is a staple in our household. I find this new vintage a bit too rich and missing some liveliness. I will try another bottle in case something went wonky. Finally, the 2014 Halcon Vineyards, Tierra, Yorkville Highlands tempers Petit Sirah to be a flavorful, mouthfilling wine capable of aging yet without bracing tannins. If black fruit, baking spices, sage, and oregano sound interesting to you then you will certainly enjoy this wine for many years to come. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Ghost Block, Sauvignon Blanc, Morgan Lee Vineyard, Napa Valley
This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc aged sue lie. Alcohol 13.8%. This bright, mineral wine is full of white and yellow fruit. It drinks well over several days maintaining a rounded start and an increasing amount of lemon flavors that fill the mouth. A substantial wine. *** Now – 2017.
2015 Neyers, Chardonnay 304, Sonoma County – $22
This wine is 100% Chardonnay that was fermented and raised in a combination of stainless steel and cement. Alcohol 14.1%. The oak upbringing is still obvious on the nose. In the mouth this wine is almost rich and certainly broad shouldered with tropical, white flora, fruit flavors. There are fine toast and sage notes. It could stand more acidity. ** Now.
2014 Halcon Vineyards, Tierra, Yorkville Highlands – $26
This wine is 100% Petit Sirah that was aged in 25% new oak. Alcohol 14.6%. This wine is very forward, immediately conveying savory and mouthfilling flavors of black fruit, cinnamon, and other baking spices. It sports a dry texture and a rather interesting finish that mixes sage and oregano notes. ***(*) Now – 2031.
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.
At the end of October I was fortunate to attend an Italian tasting largely focused in on the wines of Bruno Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. No tasting of Barolo should be without a mature example and this one began with a very fine 1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo. Double-decanted midday it continued to slowly develop in the glass. I can only write that I love the aroma and flavor of this type of wine. Also with attractive maturity, the 1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti is meatier and earthier but leaves the impression of being tired.
The youthful white-labeled pair of 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive and 1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive did not prepare me for the outstanding red-labels. At 20 years of age the 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili is beginning to move past its youthful stage. It is a powerful, intense wine which never takes away from the beautiful flavors. Younger in age and profile, the 2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja promises a great future. There are primary aromas and flavors right now but everything is in place for slow development.
Completely different in nature the 1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino, with moderate concentration and complexity, acted as a segway to the outstanding 2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino. This is a highly refined, ethereally flavored wine which fills the mouth. With air it fleshes out to provide seamless pleasure. What a tasting!
1980 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. Looks like a copper-orange wine. There is a complex nose which is a touch maderized. In the mouth is focused, driven flavors that are quite lively and even sport some body but the wine is clearly not correct. Not Rated.
2010 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes
Imported by Wilson Daniels. Alcohol 13.5%. The flint aromas make the nose stand out. In the mouth the precise, lemon fruit mixes with flint and smoke. This is a persistent, tart wine with lime flavors and a long, finely textured finish. Impressive now. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Domaine des Croix, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman selection imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is a touch earthy and lactic. A significantly rounder body is backed by glycerin. Flavors of lemon and lime take on subtle baking spices. It improves with air, filling the mouth with flavors and the sensation of an oily, luxurious body. ***(*) Now – 2021.
2010 Lucien Le Moine, Corton Blanc Grand Cru
Imported by Barrel One Selections. This is aromatic with sweet fruit and floral spices. The tart start is focused yet offers weight. It is almost puckering with a wood hint, floral flavors throughout, and smoke in the finish. It is almost spicy. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Etienne Sauzet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Vineyard Brands. A slight darker color hints at the inevitable. Shame!
1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo
Imported by suitcase. The nose is subtly smokey. In the mouth are lively, fresh flavors that are initially linear and focused but expand by the finish. There is bottle aged complexity as this wine is beyond fruit. I like the blend of old leather and weighty, animale flavors that develop with air. ****(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. The meaty nose is good and opens up a bit with air. In the mouth this is grippy with tart red fruit, and an animale nature. It builds subtle ripeness but is ultimately leaner and not as flavorful. *** Now.
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 14%. The fruitier nose is attractive with complex bitters-like aroma. This grippy wine starts with dry tannins and young fruit but it has very attractive grip, long taste, and a haunting personality. ***(*) Now-2031.
1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 13.5%. The darker nose is more subtle. This is a rounder wine with less acidity and tannins, despite its youthful flavor. It shows more balance at this time. The complex red and black fruit are supported by some firm, underlying structure. ***(*) Now – 2026.
2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja
Imported by Wine Cellars. Alcohol 14%. The aromas step out of the glass, primarily exuding violets. This is very young in the mouth, powerful with very fine tannins. A core of blackberry fruit comes out. This clearly has a strong future ahead. ****(*) Now – 2036
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili
Imported by Premier Cru. Alcohol 14%. The nose is concentrated and strong with fruity aromas of licorice. The rounded start is powerful with intense structure and fine, grippy tannins. The flavor, though, is undeniably beautify with density, and some bacon fat. The liquidity of the wine is bound with the acidity. ****(*) Now – 2031.
1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14%. The flavors are of lighter berries and almost roast earth. The wine remains firm with fine, strong tannins. There is structure to last but the flavor concentration does not seem to be there. **** Now – 2026.
2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. The young grapey nose makes way to a smooth entry of mouth filling, black, ethereal flavors. The power of this wine builds with time becoming fleshier too. Lovely and very classy. ****(*) Now – 2026.
2012 Donnhoff, Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein, Nahe
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 7.5%. This, bright, electric wine is noticeable for its residual sugar and almost effervescent sensation on the tongue. The spices soon mix with sweet grapefruit and sugar. Young and a bit hard to drink at this stage. **** 2026-2046.
2002 Alois Kracher, Scheurebe Trockenbeeren Auslese #6 Zwischen den Seen, Neusiedlersee
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 8.5%. Like liquid amber, this aromatic wine is lovely with an apricot hint that is more fresh than dried. It adds baking spices and cinnamon. Weighty with good integration of sweetness. **** Now – 2026.
Chateauneuf du Pape was long a favorite wine in America during the post World War II years. As with several regions in France, the production of a lighter, earlier drinking style of wine also developed in Chateauneuf du Pape. The perceived lessening of quality and rapid increase in price meant that the appeal of Chateauneuf du Pape in America declined through the 1970s.
There were, however, a handful of domains and negociants who stayed true to a traditional style of wine. In the very early 1980s, these wines were rediscovered in America beginning with the exceptional 1978 vintage which was championed by Robert Parker Jr., amongst others. Incredibly, in 1978, some 80% of the wines from Chateauneuf du Pape were sold off in bulk.
I am fortunate this year to have tasted a number of traditional bottles from the 1960s and 1970s. It all begin with Darryl Priest’s Rare Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical from 1964 to 2001 held during the summer. As I was bowled over by the 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, my friend Mannie Berk opened up his cellar with a salvo of ancient 1964 Chateauneuf du Pape. Most recently, Mannie provided an original release 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon which I found lovely. My first exposure to mature Mont-Redon came last year when Darryl opened an ex-domaine bottle of 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon. You may learn more about this vintage in my post A 1978 dinner with wines from the Rhone and Bordeaux.
After Mannie opened the pair of 1964s he then opened the 1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape and the ex-domaine 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape. You might first notice that the Les Cedres, being a negociant label, is not embossed on the bottle like the Mont-Redon. This particular Les Cedres is an original release. After breathing in a decanter there is a combination of earthy, sweet flavors, and even some textured tannins. It is not as substantive as the ex-domaine 1964 Les Cedres but it is certainly good, flavorful, and mature. If the Les Cedres is expansive with mature flavors, then the Mont-Redon remains firm with just a hint of maturity. The Mont-Redon is in fresh condition but lacks that mature excitement.
Paul-Jaboulet Aine purchased wine which was blended for Les Cedres. That the 1964 and 1978 vintages can provide so much enjoyment today suggest there was a golden age for Chateauneuf du Pape which deserves to be rediscovered. There is a significantly problem in that there is not much left but I shall continue my hunt.
1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. The nose offers sweeter, mature aromas. In the mouth is an earthier, more expansive wine of sweet flavors and watering acidity. The old wood flavor is bound with the textured tannins. The persistent aftertaste leaves ripe flavor on the gums as an ethereal, inky flavor lingers on. This responds well to air, needing at least half an hour to open up. ***(*) Now – 2021.
1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. This is a tighter, closer knit with mature flavors that make way to a fresh, slightly firm finish. The start sports more watering acidity before the firm structure comes out in the second half. *** Now – 2021.
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.
A rather large group of us gathered at my mom’s house for Thanksgiving. After bottles of French sparkling wine and rose we sat down for our turkey and ham dinner.
For this part, I thought a pair of Chateauneuf du Pape magnums would be festive. The 1998 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf du Pape was by far the favorite and as such it was finished off by steadily application. It is appropriately mature for age and format leaning towards dry rather than ripe flavor. It is a very solid wine for drinking now. There was a good measure of the 2010 Chapelle St. Theodoric, La Guigasse, Chateauneuf du Pape leftover for me to taste on the second night. On that night it was significantly improved. The wine is young tasting in that it is all about pure fruit flavors but the lack of noticeable structure tricks you into thinking you should start drinking it after removing the cork. Instead this needs significant air to exhibit its savory, weighty, and textured flavor. I really liked it at this point.
1998 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by New Castle Imports. 70% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 4% Cinsault, and other varieties. Alcohol 14%. Rather dark on the nose with attractive, maturing aromas that are spiced and mix in some licorice. In the mouth this is a dry, focused wine with black and blue fruit with an appropriate amount of wood box notes and baking spices.The wine moves due to salivating acidity and it even has structure. The tight density suggests it will last but I suspect it will only dry out with age. *** Now – 2021.
2010 Chapelle St. Theodoric, La Guigasse, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. This is 100% Grenache sourced from 50 year old vines of the La Guigasse vineyard. Alcohol 14.5%. The kirsch aromas are pure on the nose and lovely. With air this wine is almost thick with Kirsch flavored fruit. There is good fruit weight and texture on the tongue with just the right amount of acidity to lift. It takes on finely textured and ripe flavors of plum which soon leave the impression of extract. It is ultimately a savory, weighty wine where you do not notice the structure. Markedly better on the second night. ***(*) 2018-2024.
My mom left the choice of red wines up to me but for dessert she requested Port. As we had a diverse group I thought it would be fun to open a fruitier Vintage Port and a Tawny Port. I must admit that I am beginning to accept that a Port from the mid 1980s may be ready to drink so to crack open the 1995 Smith Woodhouse, Madalena, Vintage Port seemed like an exercise in infanticide. It wasn’t! It is fruity wine that is densely packed with flavor and spices. The suppleness is attractive for the acidity and structure do not stand out. The NV Grahams, 20 Year Old Tawny Port, with its older label, was bottled in 1998. I mistakenly did not decant this wine so the very fine sediment became stirred up. It is still an apricot and orange fruit driven tawny port. The t-stopper cork is bit fragile and so is the wine at this age for it shows some heat in the end. A solid but not moving experience.
1995 Smith Woodhouse, Madalena, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines. Alcohol 20%. A medium red garnet. Sweet, dense, flavors soon build both complexity and intensity in the mouth. A bit racy, certainly supple with holiday spices overlaying the fruit. A long, drier aftertaste with salivating acidity and dark fruit. ***(*) Now – 2026.
NV Grahams, 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Imported. Bottled 1998. A slightly cloudy, apricot tawny color probably the result of not decanting off the sediment. Not too sweet of an entry balanced by the right amount of viscosity. A surprising amount of apricot and orange fruit. Clearly a tawny with an interesting twist away from nuts. A touch of heat breaks through in the end. *** Now.