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Madeira in Early America, The dinner party

Discussing the history of wine is thirsty work.  After completing our breakout sessions and the walk around tasting for The Stanford Wine Society, it was time for dinner.  Back in San Francisco a handful of us gathered at a round table to refresh with a glass of NV Laurent-Perrier, Champagne Brut Cuvee Grand Siecle.  Grand Siecle is a blend of three vintages, the exact set unknown to us, but based on the label we know this was released in the 1980s.  From an English cellar, this is robust, lively wine with mature flavors and the core to persist for a number of years.

Carried over from England, the 2011 Arnaud Ente, Meursault La Seve du Clos is the most engaging and impressive wine of the evening.  Impeccable and easy to drink, this is the first wine I have found such level of flavor from a small sip.  The aromas, flavors, and mouth feel engage multiple senses.

A lack of vintage label invoked a study of Clape label styles to arrive at a backet of mid 1980’s vintages for our first red wine.  After tasting, those of more experience narrowed down to 1984 [believed] Auguste Clape, Cornas.  The nose is gorgeous, the palate gentle.

We met fate with our pair of 1989 Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve and 1990 Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve.  The former in fine condition but the sea spray aromas on the later 1990 indicated an off bottle.  The 1989 is all pure framboise with texture.

Of the final pair, the 1991 August Clape, Cornas first overshadowed the 1999 Noel Verset, Cornas.  The Clape is a deep, dense, flavorful wine from the start such so that I first finished my glass before moving.  Upon settling down with the Verset, I was impressed by how well it responded to air.  This is a wine with strong potential, the young flavors are tense with energy and the old-school note speaks of interesting complexity yet to come.

NV Laurent-Perrier, Champagne Brut Cuvee Grand Siecle
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12%. 1980s release.  A mature color with a fine, textured nose.  Initially a robust wine with a fine cut of acidity and yeasty streak.  Lively, with both chalk and a core of fruit followed by plenty of presence through the finish.  The mature flavors are up front, coating the mouth and taking on sweetness with air.  **** Now – 2028.

2011 Arnaud Ente, Meursault La Seve du Clos
The very light color belies the aromatic nose of sweet, floral aromas, and tropical fruit.  In the mouth is a bright start with the body immediately developing and coming out to fill the mouth.  An almost inky finish brings a toast note.  The balance is impeccable and the effortless concentration is impressive.  Flavors of lemon, with a tart hint on the sides of the tongue, mix with fat and long-last acidity.  One really needs just a small sip to enjoy all the wine has to offer.  Gorgeous.  ****(*) Now – 2028.

1984 [believed] Auguste Clape, Cornas
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  A gorgeous nose of vintage perfume, flowers, earthy hints, and menthol freshness.  In the mouth are gently sweet flavors of red fruit.  There is concentration and the citric grip is structured from the middle through the finish.  The fruit flavors are mostly up front and of tart, red flavors meaning the nose is the star of this wine.  ***(*) Now.

1989 Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve
Pure, aromatic fruit on the nose followed by framboise in the mouth.  The flavors turn a touch tart with air but they are pure, clean, and in plenitude.  There is plenty to perceive as well, fine berries with texture, evocative of seeds, minerals, and even structure.  Lovely.  **** Now – 2023.

1990 Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve
Not quite right on the nose, sea spray.  In the mouth are slightly short red fruit flavors, sharper fruit, and a tart middle.  Grippy on the tongue with plenty of grip and extract.  Clearly an off bottle but enough going on that you could drink around it as a mid-week wine.  Shame!  Not Rated.

1991 August Clape, Cornas
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%.  Slightly textured, animale, dense and flavorful.  The fruit is not bright, rather dense and deep in flavor.  Fine polished wood and a deep, meaty end wrap things up.  **** Now – 2028.

1999 Noel Verset, Cornas
Alcohol 12.5%. Lot 1.  A greater purity to the red fruit.  There is still structure but the grapey tension and resolution with time only makes the wine more attractive.  Delicate yet greatly flavored with an old-school note.  This bottle shows strong potential.  ****(*) Now – 2033.

A tasty pair of wines

Just a quick note for today on two other wines tasted at Sudip’s house.  It is here that four of us were intrigued by the 2014 Goodfellow Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Durant Vineyard.   At this stage, the wine is still a bit tight but all of the components give you a sense of things to come.  This is a fine, fresh wine which balances white fruit with ripeness and fat.  Elegant and not bombastic.  From the dump cart I picked up a few bottles of 1997 Harrison Winery & Vineyards, Millenium Merlot 2000, Napa Valley thinking they would be good as an affordable party wine.   We all enjoyed the perfectly mature flavors so much that I decided not to serve them at the party!  At $10 this is a great dump bin find.

2014 Goodfellow Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Durant Vineyard – $37
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from vines on volcanic soils in Dundee Hills.  Alcohol 13.4%.  Flavors of white peach and green apple mix with smoke and a yeast hint.  There is gentle ripeness, a modest coating of fat, and watering acidity that propels this unique wine.  This fresh wine sports good focus and is actually in need of age.  **** 2020-2028.

1997 Harrison Winery & Vineyards, Millenium Merlot 2000, Napa Valley – $10
Alcohol 14%.  A savory red wine with a rounded body and grippy, mouth filling finish.  It develops wood notes, an animale note, and even more rounded berries which mix with cinnamon, brown sugar. Quite tasty.  ***(*) Now – 2021.

A diverse set of wines: Armenia, Macedonia, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, and others

It was over the bottle of Ethiopian Chardonnay, brought by Jacques several weeks ago, that he proposed the idea of hosting a wine dinner to include bottles from Macedonia and Lebanon.  The origins of the wines we tried were nearly as diverse as the guests he hosted, who together represent nine different nationalities.  Jacques supplied a number of wines he had acquired over the years, bringing them from his home cellar to the Washington, DC, area.

A few other wines were added, including those I had purchased from MacArthur Beverages, from which we started with the 2017 2016 Domaine Neferis, Rose Magnifique, Sidi Salem, Tunisia.  A solid rose from Tunisia, how can you not try it?

My favorite red wines all came from Jacques.  It took me several minutes to realize I had drunk an earlier vintage of the 2012 Domaine des Tourelles, Syrah, Grand Cuvee, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.  The 2012 vintage is clearly much better than the 2009 I had drunk earlier with Taz, which was also supplied by Jacques.  The 2012 is a dark flavored wine with strong development potential.  I would try it again in a few years.  My favorite wine is the 2005 Chateau Musar, Rouge, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.  It is mouth filling with mature flavors that do not weigh you down and capable of further development.  Purchased pre-war, the 2008 Domaine de Bargylus, Syria struck me as the biggest surprise of the night.  The 2008 vintage is only the third for the domain.  It is very well-made and drinkable, perhaps a nod must be given to consulting oenologist Stephane Derenoncourt.  The family produces wine in both Syria and Lebanon but I believe Jacques prefers their Syrian wine.

Our final wine was sat for most of the evening in a decanter.  Complete with wooden presentation box and metal label, the 2013 Kamnik, Vranec, Terroir Grand Reserva, Macedonia is big both in bottle and in alcohol.  I notice power more than terroir but it is a good drink with the alcohol integrated.

Thanks again to Jacques and his wife.  Please find my tasting notes for these and the other wines I tasted below.

2017 2016 Domaine Neferis, Rose Magnifique, Sidi Salem, Tunisia
Imported by Travis Wine Imports. This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache. Alcohol 13.5%.  A medium, dry rose color.  In the mouth is a moderate body, floral middle, watering acidity, and a lighter finish.  Light and bright in flavor, it takes on a creamy mouthfeel and notes of pastilles in the finish. ** Now.

2017 Minuty, Rose M, Cotes de Provence
Imported by Chateau & Estates. Alcohol 13%.  A rather light dry rose color.  This light, acidity driven wine bears just a touch of texture but plentiful stone notes.  ** Now.

2013 Yacoubian-Hobbs, Aghavnadzor, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Imported by Paul Hobbs Selections. This wine is a blend of Voskehat, Khatuni, Qrdi, and Garan Demak. Alcohol 12.8%.  Both a light color and a light nose.  Improves with warmth to reveal white nuts, hints of wood but is overall modest in flavor.  Interesting but left me wanted for more.  *(*) Now – 2019.

2003 Chateau Musar, Blanc, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
This wine is 100% Merwah.  Alcohol 12%.  A copper-yellow color.  Mature in the mouth with an oxidative note then Sherry flavors with some toast.  At first moderate in body with watering acidity it eventually develops an enjoyable lanolin roundness through the long aftertaste.  Certainly an acquired taste.  **(*) Now but will last.

2010 Tsantali, Xinomavro Reserva, Naoussa, Greece
Imported by Fantis Imports. Alcohol 13%.  Quite nice actually with initially dry flavors of black cherry then an engaging racy bit.  *** Now – 2020.

2004 Domaine Ferrando, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. This wine is 100% old-vine Grenache.  Alcohol 14.5%.  Fully mature with wood box, black cherry, and Kirsch all delivered in a rounded style.  Very good finish.  *** Now.

2012 Domaine des Tourelles, Syrah, Grand Cuvee, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
This wine is 100% Syrah. Alcohol 14.5%.  Very dark in the glass with dark flavors of incense.  There is extract and tannins structured for a requisite few more years of development.  I like the dark fruit profile and mouthfeel.  The new oak needs to integrate but strong potential.  ***(*) Now – 2028.

2005 Chateau Musar, Rouge, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan aged in cement vats, French oak barrels, and finally vats.  Alcohol 14%.  Mature with mouth filling flavors of cherry, good acidity, and animale bits adding complexity.  The citric tannins and acidity will see further development.  Unique!  **** Now – 2028.

2008 Domaine de Bargylus, Syria
This wine is a blend of 45% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Merlot. Alcohol 14.5%.  Very dark in color.  Some roast on the nose but mature overall.  In the mouth are good flavors and fine extract.  A successful blend that opens up to a modern profile with good length.  *** Now – 2023.

2013 Stobi, Vranec, Veritas, Tikves, Macdeonia
Imported by Winebow. This wine is 100% Vranec aged 24 months in 80% new Slavonian oak casks and 20% Slavonian oak barrels. Alcohol 14%.  Modern flavors of cherry with some brightness, certainly clean and balanced with no hard edges.  Could use a year or two to open up.  ** Now – 2023.

2013 Kamnik, Vranec, Terroir Grand Reserva, Macedonia
This wine is 100% Vranec sourced from 17 year old vines aged 28 months in French and American oak barrels. Alcohol 16.3%.  An intense, yet flavorful wine with powerful ripe dark fruits and a long, powerful finish.  One notices power and not alcohol.  A bit unevolved at this point so come back in a few years.  *** 2020-2028.

From the quality years: 1974 Stone Creek Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon

I try not to conduct much investigation before opening an old bottle of Californian wine.  I enjoy the mystery of what the wine will taste like and with a bottle of 1974 Stone Creek Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley the resolution was perfect.  There is not much sediment in this wine so I served from the bottle at the end of dinner at Sudip’s house.  This lively wine first offers cherry flavors but with air it gains saddle leather, earth, and animale components.  Such was the satisfaction that we did nothing else until the bottle was finished.

1974 Stone Creek Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
The 1974 label indicates “Stone Creek Vineyards, Produced and Bottled by Stone Creek Cellars” of Rutherford.  This brand was first registered as a “fictitious business name” in 1977 by Sonoma Vineyards at 11455 Old Redwood Highway.  Sonoma Vineyards was the winery of Rodney Strong, who bonded his first winery in 1960 and soon built a large mail-order business during the Californian wine boom. He went public, but by 1975, overexpansion to some 5,000 acres led Sonoma Vineyard to near bankruptcy.  That year Renfield Imports acquired 47% of Sonoma Vineyards.  Production was reduced and an emphasis was placed on quality.  This bottle dates from the turn-around period.  The label was later registered as a fictitious business name by L. Foppiano Wine Co. in 1982.  The 1978 label indicates “Stone Creek Cellars, Cellared and Bottled by Stone Creek Cellars” of Geyserville.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Cherry flavors and zippy acidity quickly confirm this wine is in very fine shape with plenty of life ahead.  Notes of saddle leather and an earthy hint come out with a touch of air.  Zippy acidity carries the flavors through the fresh finish, and long aftertaste.  It even develops an animale note that adds complexity.  ***(*) Now – 2025.

Mostly 1970s Californian red wines

The Memorial Day weekend kicked off with several wines from the 1970s tasted over at Lou’s house.  After a sweeter than expected start with the fully mature 1998 Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Gris, Alsace Grand Cru Kitterle four of us ventured down to his tasting room.  The fills on 1970 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1975 Chateau Branaire, Saint-Julien, both from less than ideal storage, had decreased since purchase so were quickly dispatched as bad bottles.  Our first red was a good intro, not too old, rather it was quite young.  The 1993 Glen Carlou, Grand Classique Reserve, Paarl is a modest wine which may be drunk for a few more years.  Think clean and tart flavors with just a hint of earth.

We then moved on to a quartet of old Californian wine.  Two of the bottles proved undrinkable or not worth drinking.  The 1974 Woodside Vineyards, La Questa, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains had some stink and certainly plenty of power.  I actually thought it would blow off and improve but instead it fell apart.  Shame as this is an historic wine.  The 1976 The Firestone Vineyard, Red Wine, Santa Ynez Valley represents the second vintage of this winery.  The winery was still under construction at the time of harvest and it was not anticipated to be until 1980 that operations would normalize.  Sadly the 1976 vintage suffered from heavy rains and it is evident in the wine.  This bottle is drinkable but simple, soft, and monolithic.

The final two bottles provided plenty of satisfaction.  The 1974 Arroyo Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County is all about cranberry fruit, crisp acidity, and an animale note.  It is clearly of a different winemaking style and I enjoyed it for that.  The final bottle of 1974 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is a very good wine from, incredibly, an inaugural vintage.  The key is that Roy Raymond Sr worked for decades at Beringer, even marrying into the family.  Both his long experience in the industry and the practice of discarding substandard bottlings are evident in this wine.  There is plenty of good, deep fruit, and ample body.  It is also more alcoholic than the other wines tried.  In any event, a very fine end to the evening.

1998 Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Gris, Alsace Grand Cru Kitterle
A rich and honied start morphs to stone flavors in the middle then lychee by the finish.  This wine has a good amount of residual sugar but also dense texture backed by acidity in the finish.  Gentle in the finish.  **(*) Now.

1993 Glen Carlou, Grand Classique Reserve, Paarl
This wine is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 16% Cabernet Franc matured in French oak barrels.  Imported by The Hess Collection. Alcohol 13.2%.  Tart and clean flavors of cranberry red fruit are followed by good tannic structure with a fresh finish.  A bit more complexity comes from an earthy undertone.  This should drink well for several more years.  **(*) Now – 2023.

1974 Woodside Vineyards, La Questa, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Founded in 1963 by Bob Mullen, the fruit for this wine was sourced from La Questa vines first planted by Emmet Rixford in 1884 These old vines are purported to come from cuttings brought from Chateau Margaux.  In the 1940s Martin Ray propagated vines at Mt. Eden which were eventually planted by Ridge at Monte Bello.  Alcohol 12%.  Bright and volatile aromas of stinky feet.  There are powerful flavors backed by citric tannins but instead of improving it quickly falls apart then becomes weird. Past.

1976 The Firestone Vineyard, Red Wine, Santa Ynez Valley
The 2850 acre property was originally a beef-cattle ranch which was acquired by the Firestone family in 1972.  The winery was run by Brooks Firestone, son of the former Ambassador to Belgium, and grandson to the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.   Some 345 acres were aside for premium varieties and in 1973 they were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer.  The first crush was with the 1975 vintage which was the first commercial level achievement in this area.  The fermentation tanks were in place for this inaugural vintage but the winery was still under construction in 1978.  This 1976 vintage was troubled by heavy rains. Could this be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot???  Alcohol 12.5%.  A soft, monolithic wine with simple flavors of cherry cola that show more advancement as coffee and caramel note mix in.  There is watering acidity but this is simple wine.  * Past.

1974 Arroyo Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Bandiera Winery was founded in 1937 by Emilio Bandiera.  This was largely a bulk winery until new owners sold wine under the Arroyo Sonoma label amongst others.  Alcohol 12.5%.  This builds ripe, tart fruit that has plenty of crisp flavor and crisp acidity.  Cranberry notes mix with the tannins and so does an animale note.  *** Now but will last.

1974 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Roy Raymond Sr. worked for Beringer beginning in 1933, eventually marrying Jacob Berginger’s granddaughter Martha Jane Beringer.  In the early 1970s the Raymond family bought 90 acres south of St Helena and in 1974 opened their new winery.  Early bottlings were discarded if they did not meet the family’s standards.  Alcohol 13.7%.  Good fruit and deep flavors abound in this wine.  It reveals focused and bright notes of blue fruit with some coffee.  Has body and staying power.  A treat to drink.  **** Now – 2028.

A pair of Oregon Pinot Noir

If you are interested in Pinot Noir then I strongly recommend you try the 2016 Walter Scott, La Combe Verte, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley.  It is best left to age for a year or two but if you are tempted now then give it a long decant.   It is a serious wine with deep flavor and sappy acidity all at a great price.  Stock up!  The 2014 Bryn Mawr Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley could use a touch of age as well, though I suspect it will always be closely played.  There is a certain old-school quality to it.  Thanks to Andy at MacArthur Beverages for the recommendations.

2016 Walter Scott, La Combe Verte, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $26
Alcohol 13.6%.  Fine, ripe varietal aromas on the nose make way to fresh, yet weighty flavors and almost sappy acidity.  Blue fruit flavors develop over a moderately ripe structure with a hint of fresh greenness at the end.  Tasted over two days this young wine already has good depth but remains tight as it needs to develop for a year or two before you should drink it.  ***(*) 2020-2025.

2014 Bryn Mawr Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $22
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir aged 9 months in 30% new French oak.  Alcohol 13.3%.  A firm profile with slightly zippy, citric acidity mark this closely played wine with flavors of black cherry.  There is some spice, a stemmy nature, and an old-school herbal note.  **(*) 2019-2022.

A trio of 2016 from Domaine des Pasquiers

Rhone wines often form the backbone of our weekly drinking for which I will soon adopt the three selections featured in this post.  These wines are imported by Phil Bernstein which explains why you may find such good natured wines at such a reasonable cost.  New to the Pasquiers lineup in Washington, DC, is the 2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, VdP de Vaucluse.   Right now it is a youthful wine, with juicy acidity, and will make for great mid-week drinking over the next few years.  A real wine for only $11.  The 2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu proves why I love Plan de Dieu.  There is a lot of personality here.  Of complete surprise is the quality of the 2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet.  It is deep and luxurious.  I find it hard to believe that it is priced the same as the Plan de Dieu.  I recommend you try all three wines which you may find at MacArthur Beverages.

2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, VdP de Vaucluse – $11
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 14%.  Youthful with grapey tannins which cling to the gums leaving a ripe texture.  Combined with juicy acidity this purple and blue flavors wine will develop over the next few years.  **(*) Now – 2021.

2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu – $15
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 14.5%.  Young with scrappy acidity, there are finer tannins structuring the wine for certain development.  There is, however, good tension between the acidity and the flavor.  The depth of the flavor stands up to the structure with a good mineral vein providing further satisfaction.  It has an enjoyably rugged nature right now.  *** Now – 2025.

2016 Domaine des Pasquiers, Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet – $15
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 14.5%.  Deep, grapey flavors combined with black fruit greet from the beginning.  There is a ripe, floral touch and fine, yet ripe textured density to this wine.  With air it takes on a luxurious creamy flavor and savory saltiness.  It over delivers for the price point.  ***(*) Now – 2025.