My wife and I drink wine on a daily basis. If I can save money on our daily drinkers then I can spend more money on older vintages. In my area an $11 bottle represents the lowest price achievable for a wine of quality. The 2015 Camille Cayran, Le Pas de la Beaume, Cotes du Rhone is one of those wines. It requires a few hours of air after which it is an exuberant, black fruited wine. You should buy it by the case then drink it over the next few years. The 2015 Domaine de Belle Feuille, Cotes du Rhone is another solid wine at this budget price point. It is quite focused perhaps in need of six months of age. My recommendation is to buy the Cayran. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Camille Cayran, Le Pas de la Beaume, Cotes du Rhone – $11
Imported by G&B Importers. This wine is a blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 30% Cinsault. Alcohol 14%. Tasted over two days this eventually reveals exuberant flavors of black grapey fruit which are subtly ripe. With good grip at the start, the acidity keeps the wine crisp matching the level of ripe structure which provides texture to the flavor in the finish. It wraps up with black/purple fruit, dry stones, and a racy suggestion. **(*) Now – 2021.
2015 Domaine de Belle Feuille, Cotes du Rhone – $11
Imported by Winebow. This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Carignan. Alcohol 13.5%. This wine remains very focused with a black fruited start that moves to a core of ripe black, powdery flavors then a slightly bitter and mineral finish. ** Now – 2019.
The history of Mount Eden Vineyards reaches back to the final years of World War II when Martin Ray purchased several hundred acres of mountaintop land for a vineyard. Here he planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Martin Ray eventually took on investors creating the Mount Eden Vineyard Corporation in 1960. The next two decades were a turbulent time until operations steadied in 1983 when Jeffrey Patterson became head winemaker. According to the winery website the 1980s was a period of replanting in the vineyard and experimenting in the winery.
From this early modern period hails my bottle of 1985 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains. Despite the bin soiled label the fill was in the neck and cork perfectly firm. As usual when I encounter a new mature wine, I do not decant it. The nose cleans up to reveal aromas of sweet wood and berries. At first the wine is billowy, loose and marked by some bell pepper in the mouth, making me think it remained in bottle too long. With air, blue fruit develops and the whole becomes framed by structure which balances everything out. Despite this improvement the finish remains quite short. If you have any bottles lying about I suggest you drink them up.
1985 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Alcohol 13%. After breathing there is a pleasing nose of some sweet wood and berries. In the mouth is a billowy start accented by a touch of bell pepper. The billowy red fruited flavors remain but wine does gain better focus with underlying blue fruit flavors and more noticeable acidity and structure towards the finish. It definitely balances out but the finish ultimately remains short. ** Now.
In the late 1970s, during the height of the American wine boom, Sebastiani was the volume leader in the wine production for Sonoma. Sebastiani was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani but it was his son August Sebastiani who saw the winery through Prohibition and the rise of the California wine industry. Much of the production was jug wine but premium wine was produced as well. The general emphasis on varietals meant that the Barbera and Zinfandel offerings were regarded with popularity which is precisely why I opened the 1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California. This was among the last vintages produced by August Sebastiani who passed away in 1980. August Sebastiani did not fully adopt stainless steel nor French oak rather it was his two sons who began the transition to modernity in the 1970s. You can imagine August Sebastiani’s hand in making this wine for there is nothing modern tasting about this bottle of Barbera. It smells and tastes of sweaty leather, though is sweeter in the mouth. It reminds me of the 1960s Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignons. It is quite forward until it fades so drink rapidly once you pop the cork.
Buena Vista Winery is another historic winery in Sonoma but it predates Sebastiani by some 50 years. When General Charles de Gaulle visited America in 1960 he was served both French and American wines with his meals. For his meal of roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce he was served Buena Vista, Pinot Noir. This is quite amazing given that in the 1960s and 1970s Pinot Noir was considered “difficult and temperamental” to grow in California. Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, concluded that in California this varietal produced less “Pinot characteristics”. Pinot Noir ripens early and given the widespread warmth and sun of California very few areas were regarded as suitably cool enough for proper ripening. After tasting through several dozen Californian Pinot Noirs, he concluded that while the 1968 Buena Vista was a “very good glass of wine” it had less of the Pinot Noir characteristic he looked for.
I pop and pour most old wine which I have not drunk before. In retrospect I should have decanted the 1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma. This is a robust wine that with air shows more blue fruit and substantial structure evocative of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. This may not be surprising for John Winthrop Haeger writes in North American Pinot Noir (2004) that between 1969 and 1971 Buena Vista planted 84 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon near Pinot Noir. I followed the wine over several hours and in the process, kicked up a fair amount of sediment which contributed to a loss of focus. I have the suspicion that my mishandling did not allow this wine to show its best. I will be sure to write about the next decanted bottle.
1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California
Alcohol 12.6%. There is an aromatic nose of sweaty leather. In the mouth is a big wine of sweet flavors, leather, and supportive oak. It is evocative of other Sebastiani wines from the 1960s and 1970s except that it faded within one hour. ** Now.
1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma
Alcohol 12.5%. The color is a medium, cranberry garnet. The nose is sweet and sweaty, evocative of sweet, old wood. In the mouth is a soft start before menthol fresh flavors supported by a fine vein of acidity. The old-school flavor becomes bluer with air, taking on body with a good, ethereal finish. It is a fairly substantial wine which still has supportive, dry structure that coats the gums. It tastes like a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. **(*) Now – 2022.
Over this winter I tried a few odd bottles of old Bordeaux, this post reflecting the lesser of them. The 1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux bore good fill and color but the corrosion on the capsule indicated a problem. Old seepage was confirmed by cutting the capsule but the wine itself was good shape, though fresh with sweet fruit, it is a wine that should be drunk up. I did not expect much of the 1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux. I opened it because it is a wine I drunk with my mom in the mid 1990s. We bought a bottle along with cheese, charcuterie, and bread to eat at a picnic in sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge off of Sion Hill in Bristol.
Of great surprise are several bottles from the miserable Bordeaux vintage of 1969. Michael Broadbent does not even award the vintage any stars. Still, these bottles proved that well-stored bottles from the worst vintages can still be drunk with pleasure. The 1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux certainly has vegetable aromas on the nose but in the mouth are perfectly preserved flavors, most likely by the lively acidity, of cranberry red fruit. There is even grip and a suggestion of weight. I do not suggest you seek this wine out but the good storage conditions came through. From the same vintage and cellar came three bottles of 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien. These showed some bottle variation. Two were deep fruited on the nose with one brighter and more pungent. There is less obvious acidity and more leather, wood, and bacon type of flavors. Fun stuff! Finally, the lowest fill of a group of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac proved satisfying. It did not have the depth of the bottle drunk with Darryl and Lou but was complete and enjoyable. To have drunk two bottles of Lafite in one month. Incredible! 😉
1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD. Alcohol 11%-13.5%. A lively wine that combines freshness and some attractive sweet flavors. The tannins are fully resolved and when combined with the hints of roast earth, suggests it should be drunk up. *** Now.
1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux
Fully mature, if not just past but it still manages to offer a mixture of blue and red fruit, wood box, and fully resolved tannins. Pleasant enough for a few glasses. *(*) Now.
1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Across two bottles are clean red fruit flavors along with a distinct vegetal, as in celery, aromas as if from unripe fruit. One bottle had some old funk which blew off. In the mouth are surprisingly well preserved, clean and lively flavors of red fruit. There is even some weight and fresh grip in the mouth. Clearly well stored, this is surprisingly solid with good acidity and a fine, polished wood note. ** Now.
1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Of three bottles tasted, at best a nose of deep, earthy fruit then fresher aromas with cedar. Leather notes develop becoming more prominent than the earth. In the mouth this is a lively wine of bright red then blacker fruit. The flavors shorten quickly but a bacon infused finish carries a wee bit of fruit. The structure is still drying and present.** Now.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Prellar. Imported by Whitehall Company Ltd. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Mid-shoulder fill. A fine nose of meat, graphite, and flowers. In the mouth is a bright undeniably savory wine with a fresh, almost eucalyptus start. The low fill has obviously taken a toll but this remains a savory, fine albeit smaller version of what this wine can achieve. *** Now.
The 2015 Domaine La Garrigue, Cuvee Romaine, Cote du Rhone is the latest iteration of a wine I commonly open up at home. The 2015 vintage reminds me, in part, of the 2009 vintage, in which there was no Mourvedre. Whatever the 2015 is composed of, it offers less of the common dark, earth note and more pepper and structure. As such, it is a grapier wine which should develop over the short term and drink for longer. The 2014 Domaine de Mourchon, Cote du Rhone also offers pepper accented youthful flavors. Both of these are solid, week day wines you can drink over the next several years. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine La Garrigue, Cuvee Romaine, Cote du Rhone – $15
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. Alcohol 14.5%. Pepper notes on the nose make way to powerful, grapey flavors of moderate weight and grip. There are white pepper and ink notes with a mineral underpinning and very fine structure of tannins. The combination of structure and rapier acidity will allow this to mature for a few years. **(*) Now – 2022.
2014 Domaine de Mourchon, Cote du Rhone – $13
Imported by Oenos Imports. This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah sourced from vines averaging 40 years of age which was raised entirely in concrete. Alcohol 14%. The nose is a bit lifted and certainly youthful. In the mouth are flavors of youthful tasting tart red fruit then tooty fruity mixed with white pepper. The wine has textured grip and a youthful structure of fine tannins. The wine is not quite grapey so perhaps young and primary. ** Now – 2019.
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.
Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation. You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover. Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.
Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983. Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot. That is ample enough reason to try a bottle. This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label. I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure. The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate. Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.
We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage. I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard. Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957. Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon? The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine. The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines? After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast. I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley. Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling. And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!
As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary. Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group. No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas. In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat. I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor. Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home. No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.
1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This The color is a bright, garnet ruby. On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate. In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins. There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish. Clearly the youngest wine tasted. It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve. ** Now.
1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%. A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity. Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive. ** Now.
1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%. The lightest color of the quarter. It smells like petrol! In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit. Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish. It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure. Really odd. Not Rated.
1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good. The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar. There are similar flavors in the mouth. The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat. Eventually it becomes more autumnal. **(*) Now but better bottles will last.