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.
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.
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.
There was a time when much of the Vintage Port sold at MacArthur Beverages was English bottled. These wines were purchased by the case upon which the vintage and house were labeled. But as Mark Wessels and Andy Creemer recently related, the bottles inside were unmarked. Despite efforts to organize or tag the bottles, some bottles strayed losing any outwardly visible identification. I purchased what must be the last two of these stray bottles.
Vintage Port corks are largely branded. I cut the bottom of the lead capsule on the youngest of the two bottles. Despite scrubbing the neck of the bottle and using various flashlights, I could not make out any brand on the cork. The mystery was revealed when I extracted the cork using my Durand. This English bottle of 1970 Warre Vintage Port was in fine condition. It offered elegant flavors of fruit, wood, spice, and even a bit of grip on the tongue. There is no sense of power, rather that of a wine which has crested peak drinking and should be drunk up. Which is what we did, making me all the more happy to solve my mystery.
1970 Warre, Vintage Port
The good, clear color reflected in the clean, elegant flavors of this wine. It begins with fruity flavors, fig and hints of wood with a touch of warm spice in the finish. The wine grips the tongue leaving an impression of white nuts in the aftertaste. *** Now.
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.
I recently met up with Amy Ray and Barry Wiggins for a holiday dinner. It was a casual affair, seated at the corner of the bar of Restaurant Eve. Amy and Barry are long-time fans of Chef Armstrong’s cooking and Todd Thrasher’s care of their wines. While we limited ourselves to a handful of courses, the number of wine selections required both hands.
We opened with a brace of Krug Champagne. The 2002 Krug, Champagne Brut is young with white fruit, chalk, and a fine mousse of precise bubbles. Though drinkable now it really is a wine to be aged for at least another five years. One may guess this because our bottle of 1989 Krug, Champagne Brut has just entered full maturity. This wine coats the mouth with weighty, mature flavors which are still racy. The 2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru is a wine that delivers nothing but pure pleasure. The nose delivers an impressive volume of aromas matched by the round, weighty flavors in the mouth. Like the 1989 Krug before it, I savored my glass until the end.
We drank our mature red Burgundy side by side. The 1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis from the excellent 1978 vintage and the 1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche from the not quite as good 1979 vintage prove interesting to compare. The vintage differences are immediately noticeable with the 1978 Lignier still concentrated and powerful. The 1979 Dujac is rich at first but it is more linear towards the finish with less weight. The 1978 Lignier offers meat on the nose with cranberry flavors accented by meat and earth. On the other hand, the 1979 Dujac offers wood smoke aromas, an oily start, and mineral middle. Both are outstanding wines but the 1978 Lignier is a touch more impressive. There was no point in attempting to match these two bottles so I thought it would be fun to open the 1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa as it is the same vintage as the Dujac. With a double-capsule, short yet firm cork, and brilliant color this fine conditioned bottle comes across as closed. The nose was reluctant to open up but an animale flavor eventually added some curiosity. Not bad for an old liquor-store wine. I would double-decant this for an hour.
With our meal complete we required another Champagne. Out came the 2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc. This too is a fine wine, requiring a bit of air to properly show itself. It is more evolved than the 2002 Krug so you could be excused for drinking several bottles now.
2002 Krug, Champagne Brut
Alcohol 12%. There is an impression of freshness with dry, white fruit matching the chalk. The bubbles turn into a fine mousse carrying minerals before the persistent aftertaste. Needs more age. **** Now – 2037
1989 Krug, Champagne Brut
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd. Acquired from Zachy’s. Alcohol 12%. There is a gentle, golden color of maturity. The nose bears hints of yeast and apple orchard flavors. With air the wine puts on weight with gently coating, racy flavors which mix with dried herbs and some wood. These mature flavors are delivered with the freshness of a well-stored bottle. ****(*) Now – 2027.
2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by c’Est Vin. Alcohol 13.5%. The youthful color does not prepare for the rich, aromatic nose of spices and that sweet kiss of oak. The wine is round in the mouth with supportive structure and a slight edge. With extended air there is a density to the white fruit, grip, and notes of nuts. Drinking great. ****(*) Now but will last.
1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis
Imported by Robert Chatterdon. From Wally’s The Roy Welland Collection. There is a complex, scented nose with notes of meat. In the mouth are sweaty, pungent flavors of cranberry/red fruit and bloody. There is clearly a focused concentration and power from this excellent vintage. With vintage perfume flavor picks up earthy notes with air. This remains a fresh wine with persistent flavors in the middle and a grippy finish. ****(*) Now – 2022.
1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche
Imported by Frederick Wildman. The nose is both sweeter and muskier with hints of wood smoke. In the mouth this is a rich wine, almost oily at first but it straightens out with air. The flavors turn brighter at the beginning with a mineral edge and overall less noticeable weight and strength. **** Now.
1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa
Alcohol 13%. It is a youthful, very bright and clear color. There is a very subtle nose which takes much air to open up. In the mouth is red fruit flavors with a touch of citric grip. It does take time to relax adding an animale depth to the clean, focused fruit. **(*) Now – 2027.
2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 12.5%. This drinks well after half an hour of air. It is racy, glycerin infused wine with ripe apples and a mixture of yellow, white, and green fruits. It has tons of grip and when the bubbles calm down the earth, chalk, and yeast flavors are noticeable. It has a lovely future. **** Now – 2027.