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An intense and dark 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot

October 16, 2019 Leave a comment

I pulled the cork on the 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley not knowing one bit of its history.  Founded by Randle and MaryLee Johnson, this bottle is from their inaugural vintage which happens to be the same year the winery was founded.  Just five years earlier, in 1974, Johnson graduated from UC Davis then a year later begin work with Phil Baxter at Chateau Souverain in 1975. In 1977, Johnson started work under Bob Travers at Mayacamas Vineyard which is located on Mount Veeder.  Fascinated with this mountain fruit, Johnson opened Calafia Cellars in 1979.

Johnson explored the terroir of Mount Veeder.  In the early years at Calafia Cellars, he produced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel from both the southeast-facing and west-facing slopes.  I do not know any background details of this wine but as it is marked Napa Valley, it could be Merlot sourced from the southeastern slopes of Mount Veeder.  Calafia Cellars was a winery in name only so I wonder if this inaugural vintage was made at Mayacamas.  This bottle was showing a bit of its age but the dark and intense flavors bear all the hallmarks of Mount Veeder.  What a treat!

1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.1%.  Dark in color with a lovely nose.  Ripe and dark in the mouth with firm, dense and polished flavors carried by watering acidity.  In good condition, this wine is integrated all around.  It fleshes out a bit taking on some spice.  It eventually shows its age being a touch hollow in the end.  **(*) Now.

Good Wines Abound in Sicily

October 1, 2019 2 comments

What is remarkable about these four red wines from Sicily is that the even the two least expensive bottles, made primarily from Nerello Mascalese, are great!  The 2017 Calabretta, Gaio Gaio, Etna is my favorite for drinking right now.  Calabretta consistently releases top-notch wines at low prices and this particular bottling is beautiful.  The 2017 Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosso is also approachable now.  It offers more stuffing up front but then a chalky, floral finish speaks of the island.  The 2017 Occhipinti, SP68, Sicily is a different blend being Frappato with Nero d’Avola. It is not offering as much as I would like so try it again in a year.  The 2014 Calabretta, Pinot Nero, Etna needs time too but it has the goods!  I recently bought these wines at MacArthur Beverages.

2017 Calabretta, Gaio Gaio, Etna – $17
Imported by Williams Corner Wines.  This wine is 100% Nerello Mascalese sourced from old vines.  It was aged in large, old oak containers.  Alcohol 14%. Aromatic berries on the nose. Crunchy, rosemary infused strawberry flavors. This is a beautiful wine with good presence and length in the finish. It has the structure and acidity for some years. *** Now – 2024.

2014 Calabretta, Pinot Nero, Etna – $25
Imported by Williams Corner Wines. Fairly robust at first, the intensity is surprising but then this is clearly an outstanding vintage. There is a core of fruit and puckering acidity which will see this through development. It remains tight so a good candidate for the cellar. *** 2022-2027.

2017 Occhipinti, SP68, Sicily – $26
Imported by Louis/Dressner. A blend of mostly Frappato with Nero d’Avola which was fermented then aged in concrete tanks.  Alcohol 12.5%. Scented red fruit on the nose. Bright in the mouth, a little earth, certainly tart with modest structure. Lively but the tart, ripe structure needs to resolve.  **(*) 2020-2025.

2017 Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosso – $19
Imported by deGrazia Imports.  This wine is a blend of 95% Nerello Mascalese and 5% Nerello Cappuccio Alcohol 14%.  Flavorful, almost robust, certainly impressive for the stuffing. Firm red candy then a mineral, chalky vein before the lifted, floral finish. *** Now – 2024.

An Honest Pair from Domaine de Fontsainte

September 29, 2019 Leave a comment

This pair of recent offerings from Domaine de Fontsainte exhibit distinct personalities at low prices. That is no easy feat.  The 2016 Domaine de Fontsainte, Reserva la Demoiselle, Corbieres  is mostly Carignan sourced from 100+ year old vines.  It is a wine to drink now and though generous in flavor, it has supportive acidity, and a good dose of provencal herbs.  The 2018 Domaine de Fontsainte, Corbieres is crisp with an interesting blend of brown sugar and mineral, black fruit.  I like the flavor and the acidity profile.  It should be even better this winter.  If you can only purchase on bottle then I would just grab the one which sounds more like your style.  I bought these two bottles at MacArthur Beverages.

2016 Domaine de Fontsainte, Reserva la Demoiselle, Corbieres – $17 at MacArthur Beverages
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 60% Carignan, 30% Grenache Noir, and 10% Mourvedre.  The Carignan vines were planted in 1904 and the fruit alone undergoes carbonic maceration. The wine is then aged in a mixture of cement tank and French oak barrels.  Alcohol 14%.  Effusive and approachable from the very first glass.  It is blue fruited at first then turns towards tart raspberry and blackberry in flavor.  It is a tangy wine with some supportive structure but is largely a wine that is ready to drink.  It is dense in the middle with lemon/citric acidity, and solid finish. It evokes the south with its provencal herbs.  *** Now – 2020.

2018 Domaine de Fontsainte, Corbieres – $15 at MacArthur Beverages
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 60% Carignan, 30% Grenache Noir, and 10% Syrah aged in French oak barrels.  Again, the Carignan undergoes carbonic maceration.  Alcohol 14%.  There is a core of brown-sugared, ripe, black fruit which leans towards a mineral, blacker fruited finish.  There is good freshness from the watering acidity.  It takes on hints of cream and stone.  Though a crisp wine it should improve over the short-term.  **(*) Now – 2023.

Four Barbera from the 2016 and 2017 Vintages

September 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Of the four Barbera featured in this post, the 2016 Giacomo Borgogno et Figli, Barbera d’Alba is the wine to drink now.  It is entering a fine drinking phase and I imagine it will be even better over the winter.  If you can wait one year then lay down a few bottles of 2017 Barale Fratelli, Castle, Barbera d’Alba and 2017 Comm. G. B. Burlotto, Barbera d’Alba.  The Barale leans towards floral fruit whereas the Burlott picks up a fine, firm chalky vein.  I like them both! I picked up these bottles at MacArthur Beverages.

2017 Barale Fratelli, Castle, Barbera d’Alba – $17
Imported by Williams Corner Wine. Alcohol 14%. Some floral aromas. This needs a day to open up at which point focused, sweet core of red and black fruit come out. Even strawberry too. This should drink well in a year. **(*) 2020-2024.

2016 Giacomo Borgogno et Figli, Barbera d’Alba – $20
Imported by DSWS. Alcohol 14%. Aromatic with fruit and flowers. There is weight or an undertone beneath the sweet, lifted flavors. The fruit is bound with juicy acidity taking on blacker flavors and a hint of stones in the end. Vinuous, quite nice. **(*) Now – 2022.

2017 Comm. G. B. Burlotto, Barbera d’Alba – $21
Imported by Elite Wine Imports. Alcohol 14%. Finely scented. More elegant in the mouth and closely played at first with a chalky finish. With air the black red fruit develops, its firm and tart edge suggests a need for short-term aging. **(*) 2020 – 2025.

2016 Palladino, Barbera d’Alba Superiore – $15
Alcohol 13.5%. Brighter with tart red and black fruit. This is a wine for now with a bit of body and increasing weight on the palate through the finish. ** Now – 2020.

Four Good Values From Bordeaux

September 18, 2019 Leave a comment

This quartet of red Bordeaux was recommended by Phil at MacArthur Beverages.  Priced between $13 and $20 these bottles represent good value for current consumption and a short-slumber in the cellar.  For near-term drinking grab the 2014 Chateau Dubourg, Saint Emilion and the 2016 Chateau Francs Magnus, Bordeaux Superieur.  These Merlot dominated blends each have their owner personality, dried herbs with the Dubourg and intense stones with the Francs Magnus.  For drinking over the next decade, after a few more years in the cellar, grab the 2016 Chateau Senejac, Haut-Medoc and the 2014 Chateau du Taillan, Haut-Medoc.  These show a bit more backbone from the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Senejac is cool, balanced, and spiced whereas du Taillan takes on some earthiness.

2014 Chateau Dubourg, Saint Emilion – $17
Imported by MacArthur Beverages.  This wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Round and creamy with a blue fruited start then a vein of minerals with black fruit.  The low-lying, supple tannin provide subtle support.  The wine wraps-up with a very black, stone laden finish.  Intense in character with a bit of bitterness. **(*) Now – 2014.

2016 Chateau Francs Magnus, Bordeaux Superieur – $13
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  Alcohol 14%.  This reflects a good, youthful state.  The mixture of red and blue fruit is a little tart with flavors of dried herbs, and dry wood box carried by juicy acidity.  This vein of acidity carries into the tart, and citric finish.  With air notes of rosemary come out as does a coating of fat.  Strong value.  *** Now – 2013.

2016 Chateau Senejac, Haut-Medoc – $20
Imported by MacArthur Beverages.  This wine is a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol 13.5%.  A spiced nose of black berries.  Young with focused flavors of black fruit and exotic spice.  There is a mineral touch with some perfume in the finish.  The spiced tannins take a grip on the gums.  The overall cool tilt to the flavors makes for a fresh wine with supportive acidity and good length.  Will develop and last.  *** Now – 2029.

2014 Chateau du Taillan, Haut-Medoc – $19
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Alcohol 14.5%.  Round and black fruited this has a focused core of fruit.  It takes on some earth before the mineral finish.  This is a mouth filling wine with more structure for development.  It leaves a drying sensation on the gums along with a licorice hint. It should develop for another year or two.  *** Now – 2026.

A Blind Tasting of 2005 Bordeaux with a Rioja

September 16, 2019 Leave a comment

At the very end of the summer, I was a guest of Andy for the monthly wine tasting.  We first gathered around his kitchen to eat from huge wedges of cheese and drink from a bottle of 2017 Matanzas Creek Winery, Chardonnay, Alexander Valley.  It is quite good all around, there is a balanced quartet of yellow fruit, body, acidity, and wood influence. It is a wine I recommend drinking again.

The tasting itself consisted of eight wines served blind. They had been opened some four hours prior. We knew one bottle was corked which logically left us with 6 bottles on theme and 1 ringer. There was a Bordeaux flavor profile to most bottles but the lightness and herbaceous quality of the first two had my sights first set to Chile. Then came the third wine with its ripe fruit, weight, and minerality and I was no longer certain of the theme. It was clear, though, that the last wine was the ringer.

This assortment of 2005 Bordeaux from Pauillac, Saint-Estephe, and Saint-Julien varied in quality. I found the 2005 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien as my clear favorite and very satisfying to drink. It is coming into a fine mid-life which should last for a bit of time. I do not mind the herbaceous note I found in my next two favorites: the 2005 Chateau Saint-Pierre, Saint-Julien a good value which is very mineral and the 2005 Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, Saint Julien. The latter is rounded, yet closely played and in need of several more years in the cellar.  The 2005 Cos D’Estournel, Saint-Estephe under performed and did not exhibit to the potential of the label.  Sadly, the 2005 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac was completely undrinkable.  Finally, the 2005 CVNE, Imperial Rioja Reserva stood out for its young, red fruit.  I found it hard to judge coming after the other wines.

1 – 2005 Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, Saint Julien
Imported by Appellation Imports. Alcohol 13.5%. A dark cherry with garnet color. Aromatic with notes of cedar mixing in blue and red fruit. A good nose somewhat herbaceous. Bordeaux like in the mouth with round black fruit, a dry finish, and some fine structure in the end. Expertly made and closely played, it shows more ripe fruit and structure with air. Best given a few more years in the cellar.  ***(*) 2022-2032.

2 – 2005 Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac
Imported by Benchmark wines. Alcohol 13%. Very dark. More herbaceous on the nose with blue fruit. A touch more structure yet also more suppleness. Less intensity with watering acidity and more tannins on the gums. A short finish. It could use more time for the structure to resolve but this bottle might now have the fruit for it. *** Now – 2029.

3 – 2005 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien
Imported by Chateaux + Estates. Alcohol 13%. A more complex wine with ripe flavors, weight, and minerals. The primarily blue and black fruit has a green hint but it weighty with good length. A fresh structure throughout it is redder in the middle. My favorite. **** Now – 2034.

4 – 2005 Chateau D’Armailhac, Pauillac
Imported by North Lake Wines. Alcohol 13%. Some brett on the nose. Interesting, tart red fruit with a fine tannic finish that is quite grippy on the gums. Animale flavors in the finish.  *** Now – 2029.

5 – 2005 Cos D’Estournel, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Chateaux + Estates. Alcohol 13.5%. Less aromatic. More licorice-like in the flavor, a touch racy with large amounts of flavor. Dark in the finish. It just does not deliver the balanced goods.  A drinkable bottle but under-performing based on the reveal.  **(*) Now – 2029.

6 – 2005 Chateau Saint-Pierre, Saint-Julien
Imported by Liquidlink. Alcohol 13%. Low-lying on the nose. The wine shows substance but also some herbaceous qualities. Blue and black flavored with a mineral vein. In fact, the mineral vein persisted throughout the tasting. ***(*) Now – 2029.

7 – 2005 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Imported by Heritage Wine Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Corked!  Not Rated.

8 – 2005 CVNE, Imperial Rioja Reserva
Alcohol 13.5%. Sweet cranberry and strawberry fruits, unevolved with watering acidity. Sweet oak. Develops intensity with air.  Younger tasting than the other wines despite the completely integrated structure.  *** Now – 2024.

A Preserved mid-1970s Liberty School, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Charles Wagner’s famous Caymus Vineyards was bonded in 1971 with the first successful vintage a year later in 1972.  Wagner would develop a reputation during the 1970s for producing some of California’s best wines.  These early vintages still command a premium to this day.  The shifting nature of the California wine boom left some winemakers with more wine than they could sell.  Liberty School, Wagner’s second label, made its debut, born of surplus wine, in 1976.

Nathan Chroman, of the Los Angeles Times, was skeptical of the first release of the bicentennial named Liberty School.[1]  Though the origins of subsequent releases are not known, Chroman sheds some light on the first.  It is a 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon that a grower could not market.  The wine was produced by a large winery in Dry Creek Valley then finished by Wagner at Caymus Vineyards.  First released at $3.50, Chroman found it “laden with tannin but with enough flavor” to suggest it would age.  A year later, Frank Prial of the New York Times reported that often “very good wine” shows up in second labels including Liberty School.[2]  He found these wines quite good and a bargain.

The origins of our NV Caymus Vineyard, Liberty School, Lot 3, Cabernet Sauvignon remain a mystery.  Advertisements are not consistent but we know that Lot 1 was sold in 1976, Lot 2 in 1977,  with Lots 4 and 5 in 1979.  That would place Lot 3 as being offered around 1978.  The vintage is certainly mid 1970s, perhaps 1976.  In 1979, it was priced between $5-$6 placing it in the range of Beringer, Clos du Bois, Souverain Vintage Select, and Sterling.

Today the wine is decidedly in a fine, preserved state.  It is clean and focused with an herbaceous Cabernet edge.  It does not have the depth that I would prefer but it is balanced and easy to drink.  I find this quite cool given that it a second wine.

NV Caymus Vineyards, Liberty School, Lot 3, Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol 13%. A dark, robust color.  In the mouth it offers clean cherry flavor with a touch of wood.  It remains focused with an herbaceous edge carried by fresh acidity.  **(*) Now but will last.


[1] California’s Cup Overflowing With Excellent Wine Bargains. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Apr 1, 1976; ProQuest. pg. H14

[2] Wine Talk. Prial, Frank J. New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 27, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. 64

[3] Wine Talk. Robards, Terry. New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 10, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. C17