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

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Afternoon with Mature Wine – Old Cali Back Labels

November 20, 2018 Leave a comment

An Afternoon with Mature Wine – Old Nebbiolo Back Labels

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

An 18th century Portrait of Two Men Holding Wine Glasses

November 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne; Henry Clinton, 7th Earl of Lincoln by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt. c. 1721. [1]

While I think about the history of wine during the day and dream about it at night, glass is on my mind as of late.  The two men in this portrait were members of the 18th century Kit Kat club of London.  Apparently, the heavy baluster wine glasses they are holding are thought to have been designed specifically for club meetings.


[1] Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne; Henry Clinton, 7th Earl of Lincoln by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt oil on canvas, circa 1721 NPG 3215 © National Portrait Gallery, London. URL: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw03915/Thomas-Pelham-Holles-1st-Duke-of-Newcastle-under-Lyne-Henry-Clinton-7th-Earl-of-Lincoln?

San Gioveto from Pierre Viala’s Ampélographie

November 13, 2018 Leave a comment

San Gioveto from Viala, Pierre. Ampélographie. [1]


[1] San Gioveto from Viala, Pierre. Ampélographie. Tome 3. 1901-1910. Bibliothèque nationale de France. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb35281023z

Title page from Daniel Rhagor’s Pflantz-Gart (1639)

Title page from Daniel Rhagor’s Pflantz-Gart (1639). Image from UB Bern. [1]

Daniel Rhagor (1577-1648) was an administrator of a wine-vault, governor, and horticulturist.  His publication of Pflantz-Gart (1639) marks the first systematic guide to the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and grapevines in Switzerland.  In this post I reproduce the title page as it is the only illustration in the book.  Down in the bottom-right corner, you will see an illustration of a grapevine climbing up a stake bearing fruit in the foreground.  It appears in the same form as other 16th and 17th century German wine books.  In the background appears a vineyard on a steep hill.

The text, stemming from both contemporary knowledge and classic sources, is largely in German with a good dose of Latin.  At the end of each chapter are corollaria where we see Rhagor’s sources include the French.  Thus we learn that Vinum novellum, Newer Wein, and Vin nouveau are all the same.


[1] Rhagor, Daniel: Pflantz-Gart, darinn grundtlicher Bericht zufinden, welcher gestalten 1. Obs-Gärten, 2. Kraut-Gärten, 3. Wein-Gärten, mit Lust unnd Nutz anzustellen, zu […] : sampt zu End eines jeden Capitels beygefügter Verteutschung … lateinischer und frantzösischer Wörteren. Bern : bey Stephan Schmid : in Verlegung dess Auctoris, 1639. Universitätsbibliothek Bern, MUE Klein z 424, http://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-21930 / Public Domain Mark

[2] Stuber, Martin. “From Pflantz-Gart (1639) to Stamm-Register (1865) – on the history of knowledge of fruit cultivation in the canton of Bern”

[3]

CVNE Older Vintage Tour with Carlos Delage, Deputy Export Director

It is a testament to winemaking with excellent parcels of fruit and aging in carefully maintained facilities, that I have consistently enjoyed several bottles of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real Reserva Especial. I have drunk other vintages as well including the 1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva which was served by Carlos Delage, CVNE Deputy Export Director, at a luncheon in Washington, DC, during early April. What few seem to realize is that CVNE still produces complex, age-worthy traditional wines not only from legendary vintages but those which are overshadowed.

The glass of 2014 CVNE, Monopole Clasico which greeted us upon arrival is rooted in history. This wine was originally made in the 1960s and 1970s but then faded away to no longer be produced.  When Victor Urrita, CVNE CEO, tasted a mature bottle of the 1979, he was so impressed he took the only logical next step; he contacted the winemaker himself, Ezequiel Garcia.

So famed were the CVNE wines produced by Ezequiel Garcia during the 1960s and 1970s that he earned the nickname El Brujo or “The Wizard”. It is his vintages of Vina Real Reserva Especial and Imperial Gran Reserva that savvy wine drinkers covet today. However, his Monopole Clasico has remained obscure until it was resurrected with the 2014 vintage.

Not to be confused with the regular Monopole, the Monopole Clasico is unique in Rioja history as it features a good portion of Sherry. Unlike any other wine, this is a blend of Viura with 15% Manzanilla sourced from the Hidalgo family. The wine is then aged in a combination of American oak and Sherry bota. Incredibly, CVNE is still in possession of the 1970s letter granting permission to bottle this wine as Rioja. We all enjoyed a glass as we gathered for the luncheon. I found it light and fresh with an attractive, oily body throughout and Sherry background note.

Once seated, we started off with an tremendous glass of 2004 Contino, Rioja Reserva.  From an excellent vintage, this is a wine generous in flavor and capable of long age.  In my post Delicious and historic, the 1974 Contino, Rioja Reserva I describe the very first vintage as “age-defying”.  With the 2004 demonstrating potential for that same descriptor, an array of CVNE Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva illustrats the evolution of wine through the excellent 2010 and 2005 vintages along with the very good 1998 and good 1976 vintages.  The former are still in a development phase but while the 1998 is still structured, it is now gaining complexity from maturity.

The ability for a wine to age is of no importance unless it not only tastes good but also develops the unique flavors from bottle age.  The 1976 tasted at lunch was the best of the two examples I have tasted over the past year, no doubt because it came straight from CVNE.  While it reflects the modest vintage in its gentleness, it has taken on that slightly sweet, concentrated fruit flavor that I love in good wines over 40 years of age. If this is the peak of the 1976 vintage then I can only imagine the heights that the 2010 and 2005 vintages will achieve.

Many thanks to Carlos Delage (CVNE), Gloria Zapatero (CVNE), and Rob McFarlane (Elite Wines) for inviting to the luncheon.

2004 Contino, Rioja Reserva
Alcohol 14.5%. The youngest looking of the first three wines. Still has a grapey color and is highly aromatic on the nose. This is forward, promptly filling the mouth as floral and spiced flavors come out in the middle. It is showing beautifully with a fresh, almost menthol note, hints of sweet oak, and a finish of minerals and good funk. It wraps up with a kick of freshness. ****(*) Now – 2038.

1998 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
The nose is complex with red and black fruits with spices. In the mouth the red fruit is taking on maturity. The watering acidity carries the sweet and powdery red fruit. There is some chewy texture from structure and even a little tartness. Though entering maturity it will develop for some time. ***(*) Now – 2028.

1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Alcohol 13%. A clear, light to medium garnet. The nose still offers modest depth and meat aromas. In the mouth is a start of focused red fruit then beautiful powdery, cherry fruit flavors. The wine is lithe and light through the middle, carried by watering acidity into a gentle finish. It develops notes of old wood, slightly sweet concentrated fruit, and meat. **** Now but will last.

2010 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Very dark in color and still concentrated in the mouth. With youthful vigor, the flavors are held close but are not tight. There is ripe fruit and racy texture providing the stuffing for years of age. The oak still needs time to integrate. It has a long future over which it will improve. **** 2020-2038.

2005 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
The grapey dark color stains the glass. There is a cherry note at first then as the wine slowly opens up black licorice and fresh herbs. It has strength for development. ***(*) 2020-2030.

2012 CVNE, Graciano
This was vinified in oak then aged for 18 months in new French oak. This is very young with tight flavors. A menthol note mixes with the blue and black fruit which is almost bitter. Certainly unique.  *** 2023-2030.

Our host Carlos Delage, CVNE Deputy Export Director