On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.
A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours. Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating. However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine. Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity. Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.
My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century. There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871. It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste. There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence. As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira. I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.
It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake. The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction. Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal. There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial. It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule. I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.
You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted. Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights. As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines. For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees. While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised. Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations. From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling. Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.
While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important. Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive. You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial. Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)
1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****
1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.
1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.
1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)
1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****
1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****
1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***
1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **
1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****
1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)
1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***
1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***
1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)
1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***
1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****
On April 11, 2015, I attended The Majesty of Malvasia Tasting in New York City. This was the fourth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). In the post “Very rich and old”: Malmsey in America at the turn of the 19th century I published the article I wrote for the tasting booklet. This post features my tasting notes.
“…where the Americans beat us out of the field is their Madeira, which certainly is of a quality which we cannot procure in England. This is owing to the extreme heat and cold of the climate, which ripens this wine; indeed, I may almost say, that I never tasted good Madeira, until I arrived in the United States.” Marryat, Frederick. A Diary in America. (1839).
This spring I attended the fourth in a series of incredible Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). The previous tastings focused on the varietals Terrantez, Verdelho, and Bual so it was natural that Malvasia would be the most recent subject. The tastings have always been held in New York City, which while convenient for travel by plane and rail, is historically home to some of the best Madeira cellars. Thus on April 11, 2015, I walked into the basement of Del Posto restaurant to taste 20 wines. The youngest of the wines was only bottled less than two months prior. Incredibly, it was from the vintage of 1882.
Readers of this blog will know that I frequently write about the history of Madeira during the 19th and 18th centuries. Despite my historic knowledge, my previous experience drinking old Madeira was limited to just two wines shared by Mannie Berk, one being the stunningly aromatic 1846 Leacock Terrantez and the other a youngster from the 1897 vintage. You can imagine that there was no choice to be made upon receiving an invitation to the tasting.
These Madeira tastings encompass around 20 different wines organized into flights. Legendary bottles mixed with unknown bottles, playing off of vintage similarities as well as by firm. Thus it takes considerable effort each year for Mannie and Roy to organize these tastings. They consider the best bottles from the best cellars which means the wines and the attendees come from all over the world. For our tasting, some wines were known to exist in quantities of up to 1,000 bottles but most have only been cataloged from a few hundred down to just two dozen bottles throughout the last 40 or 50 years. For a few selections, only a handful are known to have existed through contemporary times. These are seminal tastings never to be repeated in such depth.
As a wine historian my attention was caught by vintages we were to taste. The very oldest year 1808, appears in the correspondence of our fourth President James Madison. The later years fall into a period written about nearly a century later by the Madeira expert Charles Bellows and consumed by the Baltimore Madeira connoisseur Douglas H. Thomas. For most of the 18th century and much of the 19th century Madeira was the one wine obsessed about by affluent Americans. As a result, there is a rich history detailing Madeira orders with various vintages and names appearing in invoices, menus, and advertisements. In a unique fashion many bottles even bore tags or labels detailing their own history.
Despite all of this documentation inventorying these treasured wines and how to take care of them, there is maddeningly very little about how these wines actually smelled and tasted. Most descriptions are limited to pungent aromas and whether the wine was bruised or pricked. It was, however, the color of the Madeira that was captured in description.
Color was of such importance to the Founding Fathers that their Madeira wines were often colored with James Madison preferring those of “deep colour”. Deep color appears to remain in favor as we move forward in time. Henry Vizetelly published a great range of descriptions in Facts About Port and Madeira (1880). He wrote of tasting a circa 1820 Henry Dru Drury Malmsey as “deep-tinted” and a circa 1835 Henriques & Lawtons Malmsey as “of ruby brightness”. At the close of the 19th century, Charles Bellows introduced the styles of Madeira with “deep colored old Malmsey” in Bonfort’s Circular. Ward McAllister writing in Society As I Have Found It (1890) took a different tact, characterizing the range of Madeira styles to color, “As in painting there are the Murillo and Correggio schools, the light ethereal conceptions of womanhood, as against the rich Titian coloring”. For the wines we drank I found the colors to be variations of amber with some leaning towards walnut and others cola. Given that our youngest wine was over 130 years old a shift in color is to be expected.
I should clarify that despite drinking vintages written about in the 19th century, we did not taste the same wines. Our bottles crossed the Atlantic Ocean within the last several decades if not months, instead of in the warm hold of a 19th century sailing ship. Beyond the increased age of the Madeira at the tasting, there is another notable difference between what we drank and that of the Founding Fathers. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson typically bottled their Madeira from cask for immediate consumption. James Madison aged his casks of Madeira for six or seven years before bottling them after which he aged them further. Much of what we drank was aged in cask for decades and even over a century before additional aging in demijohns. From demijohn the wines were then bottled.
Richard Mayson has already published background information on Malvasia and his tasting notes in his post The Majesty of Malvasia. You will find the history of each bottle as described by Mannie Berk preceding each of Richard’s tasting notes. I strongly encourage you to read these descriptions. Roy Hersh has published his tasting notes from the previous events in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
I must admit it was hard not to get excited by sitting in a room filled with the aroma of old Madeira but at the same time I knew I was up for a challenge in describing a range of wines new to me. By the end of the tasting I felt on better footing. Unfortunately, I went through a fair amount of my pours to get there. This did not matter to me for incredibly, only a couple of wines were distinctly less interesting which left many in the captivating and mind-blowing category. Where else but Madeira can a wine from the 1880 vintage taste young and a series from the 1830s taste incredible, each with their own personality? Likewise, some of the most drinkable wines were a blend of vintages.
As for my tasting notes you will find them below in the order tasted. For each flight I have reproduced the vintage comments from Noel Cossart’s Madeira The Island Vineyard (2011) that was lovingly revised by Mannie Berk. In a future post I will take a historic look at some of the vintages and wines that I tasted. Many thanks to Mannie, Roy, and everyone else who attended in making this the tasting of my lifetime.
1882 Very small, some fine Bual
1880 Malmsey of this year was extremely fine
1882 Barbeito Malvasia “RR”
There was a vibrant, medium amber color. The nose revealed tobacco and pungent citrus aromas. In the mouth there was a tart, tobacco infused start with pungent acidity, and racy flavors delivered in a clean and lighter manner. The wet tobacco flavors added good complexity before the earthy aftertaste. ***(*)
1880 FC Malvasia
Not as vibrant as the previous wine with a medium amber color that had more brown in it. The nose was a little meatier then funky, rusty, and dusty. The heavier aromas were more akin to a very old wine. There was a softer entry with clearly more mature flavors, old wood, and a short finish of high-toned flavors. ***
1880 Blandy’s Malvasia
This was the darkest of the first five wines being a medium amber-brown. There were heavier aromas on the nose with underlying fruit, more funk, and an almost lactic note. In the mouth were round, weighty flavors with a rather tart start, a pineapple-citrus finish, and acidity coming out in the end at the back of the throat. The acidity was more assertive but the interesting, floral middle caught my attention. ****
1880 Barbeito Malvasia “MMV”
There was a similar color to the 1882 wine but was a touch richer and more vibrant. The nose was fresh, aromatic, and complex with very fine textured musk. It offers more than the 1882. In the mouth were tart, round citrus and tobacco infused flavors. There was a lot of immediate presence on the tongue. This fresh wine had prominent, sharper, citrus flavors, salivating acidity, and some heat in the aftertaste. Tastes young! ****
1879 Herdeiros Dr. Castro Jorge Malvasia
This was a medium brown amber with a cloudy hint. The nose offered hints of tobacco, old wood, horse…it was like walking around historic Mount Vernon. There was a soft, weighty start with old wood flavors, underlying acidity, and a tart, citric finish. This was not the most complex wine with a simpler aftertaste. There was a bit too much tart acidity in the finish. ***
1875 Henriques & Henriques Special Reserve
This was almost opaque with a medium-dark brown color and very fine sediment. The nose was of pure butterscotch that picked up some fine wood aromas. In the mouth were sweeter fruit, ripe citrus, and a ripe texture. It appeared to have the most residual sugar yet encountered. There was a fair amount of youthful components and structure but with a soft edge. It was a dark, cola-like finish and simpler end. ***
1875 D’Oliveira Malvasia
This was a vibrant, medium plus rich walnut and amber color. The nose was slightly higher-toned yet had rich fruit, butterscotch and some articulate aromas like the 1875 Barbeito. In the mouth was seamless integration of ripe and tart fruit, acidity, and weight. There was a lot of presence in the mouth with burnt sugar and tang in the finish followed by a long aftertaste. This powerful wine left racy flavor on the lips. ****(*)
1875 Barbeito Malvasia
There was a dark, vibrant cola color. The nose was deep, slowly building, finely articulate, and sported “Barbeito style” darker fruit. In the mouth the wine was weightier with savory flavors, tobacco, a software expansion, clean finish, and a cinnamon note in the aftertaste. ****
1870 Small, generally good, especially Sercial
1864 Small, generally good, especially Bual and Malmsey
1862 Small, Terrantez of this year is considered very fine, also Malmsey
1870 Blandy’s Malmsey Reserve
The color was a medium amber with walnut. The nose was low-lying yet fresh. There was a powerful, mouth filling start with tang, power, and concentration. This was matched by plenty of acidity and creamy flavored finish where the fruit returns. ****(*)
1864 Barros e Sousa Malvasia Faja
This was a medium, slightly lighter amber. The nose was almost sweaty with finely, articulate aromas, musk and a medicinal bit. There was immediately presence in the mouth with acidity, old school perfume, some grip, and a never-ending finish. ****
1862 Blandy’s Malvasia Velha
This was a light to medium walnut. There were fresh, yet subtle aromas of mature fruit and butterscotch. This was a dense, racy wine with tobacco, old wood and a spicy, cinnamon finish. This was a whopper of a wine with a chewy finish and some heat in the end. ****
1839 Generally very good, especially Malmsey
1836 Generally very god, especially Sercial
1839 Blandy’s Malvasia Faja dos Padres
This was a slight less vibrant, medium amber color. The nose was fresh with musk and wood notes. In the mouth was slowly building ripeness, density, and a sweeter middle. The acidity was integrated. This improved well in the glass become a lovely wine with a vintage perfume note, sweet density, and a long aftertaste. ****(*)/*****
1836 Acciaioly Malmsey Special Reserve
There was a lighter edge around a cola-walnut center that was generally redder than the other wines in this flight. The nose was subtle with butterscotch and apple aromas. In the mouth were darker flavors that were less sweet. This wine had vigor with a salty middle, some baking spices and bitter notes, and a bit of heat in the end. ****(*)
1830 H.M. Borges Malvasia
This was a medium walnut color. The nose was evocative of apple pie spices with wood and overall complexity. Tang on the nose. In the mouth were old wood flavors and sweeter, wine fruit. There was a fair amount of flavor, tea notes, glycerin, and citrus notes. The wine was both solid and soft. ***
1830 Quinta do Serrado Malvasia
This was a medium plus walnut color. The nose smelled of butterscotch and burnt caramel. In the mouth was almost searing acidity with some heat and a lot of power. The wine was very tart and took over the mouth so much that it was too much for me. But with air it developed lovely flavors, citrus, and saline qualities. ****/****(*)
1808 Generally very good, Malmsey best ever known. Sercial fine.
1811 Malvasia Candida
This was the lightest of the flight being light amber. There was a subtle nose of musk and cookies. In the mouth were lighter, simpler flavors, a short finish, and notes of dried nuts in the aftertaste. This became sour with air. A curiosity. **
1808 Leacock Solera
This was a light to medium walnut color. The light nose was minty then developed a honied aroma. In the mouth were forward, ripe and sweet flavors that came in a dense start. This wine had power and a dry finish. With air it showed burnt caramel and black tea flavors. ***(*)
1808 Blandy’s Malvasia Solera
This was a medium walnut color. The nose was subtle with old wood aromas. In the mouth were power, very round and dense, tart fruit flavors. The wine had a good tang with a powdery, honey note. I particularly liked the savory and saline aspect. ****
Henriques & Henriques Malvasia Candida
This was a medium, vibrant amber color. The nose was fruity with floral highlights and pretty aromas of Mandarin oranges. In the mouth the fruit took on roundness with a lighter body and less noticeable acidity. There was a sweet tea note, tangy acidity, and tannins that were left on the back of the gums. After the softer finish the orange flavors persisted. ****(*)
Henriques & Henriques Malvasia Reserva
This was medium to dark with very fine sediment. The nose was very subtle with stinky mulch aromas. IN the mouth were darker flavors and slowly building power. The wine was a little chewy with more tart flavors, more acidity, and a simpler finish followed by some heat in the aftertaste. ****(*)
Earlier this week I had the privilege to attend the annual Bordeaux dinner hosted by Panos Kakaviatos (Wine Chronicles) at the restaurant Ripple. For this year the focus was on the wines of Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron. To complement the 13-vintage vertical of wines we were joined by Jean-Rene Matignon. Jean-Rene Matignon has been technical director at the estate since it was purchased by AXA Insurance in 1987. As the vintages reached back to 1989, he was able to share his comprehensive knowledge. Jean-Rene Matignon provided a pamphlet on the history of the estate as well as a tasting booklet describing each of the wines served at our dinner.
We started the evening in the bar side of Ripple drinking glasses of 2000 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut. With glass in hand of lovely full-bodied lemon flavors I chatted with many familiar wine lovers and met several others for the first time. The wines were decanted that morning and Panos fortunately revealed there was only one corked bottle. This meant there were ample pours of all wines included significant pours of the 1989 and 1990 vintages. As a whole I thought the wines showed incredibly well with attractive and engaging vintage variation. Of the younger wines the 2005, 2009, and 2010 showed significant potential for future the development. Whereas the 2005 was quite strong the 2010 had more of everything, including an already significant amount of complexity. These are wines for future decades. Of the mature wines I preferred the pair of 1989 and 1990 over the 2000 which came across as more advanced. The 1989 has entered its mature peak with the 1990 distinctly youthful with its pure fruit, good acidity, and integrated structure. I suspect this wine will develop even further!
We tasted all of these wines in flights of two and three. My notes are a bit short this year for, I will admit, for my table spent a good amount of time conversing. It was a pleasure to not only enjoy the wine and food but Ben Giliberti’s knowledge about Bordeaux and Keith Levenberg’s shrewd observations. Please find my notes below as well as Jean-Rene Matignon’s comments which I have paraphrased.
Jean-Rene Matignon: In the 2006 vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon was very ripe and the wine shows a lot of minerality. The 2007 vintage experienced a tropical summer with humidity and low ripeness. The fruit was slowly picked. The wine is for drinking now. The 2008 vintage demonstrates a lot of potential. With low yields and a strict selection the production level was low. This wine was assembled in the new cellar, built in 2006, that has more space allowing the lots to be kept separate for a precise selection.
2006 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. The nose was dense and meaty with minerally aromas of dark blue and black fruit. The density continued in the mouth with savory fruit, lifted minerality, and cedar hints in the finish. The drying structure came out with air but everything was balanced by the lively acidity. ***(*).
2007 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. There was a meaty, bloody nose marked by greenhouse aromas. In the mouth the tart red fruit had a greenhouse hint before a racy, line of flavor brought more greenhouse flavors. ***.
2008 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. Though tighter in the mouth this retained balance with minerals, blue-black fruit, and fine cola-like tannins. The wine was fresh with plenty of focus. Young with a good future ahead. ***(*).
Jean-Rene Matignon: The 2001 vintage saw a green harvest and produced a wine that is elegant and balanced with very good potential. The 2002 vintage saw a very cold spring where they lost many berries. Good weather in September pushed the ripeness into balance but still left a low-yield. Some green berries made it into the wine. The 2004 vintage experienced very good, regular weather that provided a big challenge to reduce quantity. There was a green harvest and the largest quantity of generic wine made.
2001 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 70% new oak barrels and 30% one-year old oak barrels. This was an aromatic wine with tart red and black fruit, good bright and deep flavors, complex spices, and a long aftertaste. ****.
2002 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot that was aged in 70% new oak barrels and 30% one-year old oak barrels. There was textured fruit on the nose. In the mouth there was concentrated red fruit, good wood flavors, and an almost glycerin mouthfeel. This was easy to drink due to the ripe, young fruit and freshness but the good structure and acidity will allow this to develop further. ***(*).
2004 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. There was a nice expression of black fruit, watering acidity from the start, and a racy nature. The ripe fruit was matched by ripe, citric tannins on the gums. ****.
Jean-Rene Matignon: The 2000 vintage saw a special blending of the wine with managing director Christian Seely. This was a vintage for winemaking with the revelation coming after tasting through the tanks and vats. It marks the beginning of the great vintages, classic for the Bordelais, and a taste for the world. The 2003 vintage was famously hot and difficult to sort out the very ripe fruit. For the second wine a second pick was employed. The 2005 vintage was strict and austere being about terroir and one for our children.
2000 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc that was aged 15 months in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. The fruit showed gentle concentration with a hint of greenhouse, some luxurious fat, and a mineral finish. One of the softer, more advanced showings of the evening that is drinking very well right now. ****.
2003 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot that was aged in 70% new oak barrels and 30% one-year old oak barrels. This had ample black fruit flavors, good structure, and a cinnamon spiced finish. ***(*).
2005 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. The precise nose offered blue and black fruit with an earthy hint. In the mouth the black fruit enveloped the tongue taking on spices, some back-end heat, and drying tannins in the aftertaste of ethereal flavors. Young with great potential. ****(*).
Jean-Rene Matignon: The 1989 and 1990 vintages produced from the historic, smaller vineyard on the estate. The new winery was not built until 1991 so they reflect the raw quality of the fruit. The 1989 vintage experienced such nice weather that the fruit was picked with students. There were exceptional berries so it was not necessary to sort as it is recently common. The 1990 vintage showed the potential of the Pichon Baron fruit producing a fresh wine that will last forever.
1989 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 15 months in 65% new oak barrels and 35% one-year old oak barrels. There were minerals and blood on the nose followed by fresh fruit in the mouth. The wine had a rounded edge with attractive incense and cedar notes that mixed with ripe, red fruit. ****(*).
1990 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon and 27% Merlot that was aged for 15 months in 70% new oak barrels and 30% one-year old oak barrels. The nose was rather aromatic with mature notes. In the mouth was an easy entry with tart, black fruit, lovely tannins, and good lively attitude. A very long life ahead of continued development. ****(*).
The dinner wrapped up with a pair of the youngest wines. Jean-Rene Matignon: This pair also marks the introduction of the optical sorter in 2009.
2009 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. There was an exotic nose of red fruit and Lebanese spices. In the mouth were tart cherry and pomegranate flavors that show ripe, fuzziness in the finish. ****(*).
2010 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
This wine is a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Merlot that was aged in 80% new oak barrels and 20% one-year old oak barrels. This was an aromatic wine with complex aromas and leather. The flavors had depth and concentration. Showing strength in its youth there was plenty of power, ample structure, and clearly all of the components for a great future. A stunning wine even at the end of a long evening. *****.
It was 26°F when I took the short walk over to Roland’s house on Monday evening. We were getting together to drink some Chateauneuf du Pape and eat some pizza. I brought over a bottle from Domaine Roger Perrin, a name which I had never heard of before. With Roland’s Janasse opened we sat down and started drinking. The Roger Perrin possessed a really good nose that revealed its bottle age. In the mouth it was elegant, almost Burgundian according to Roland, but still clung to firmness. The Janasse was clearly younger and riper but was actually modest in that it did not give up its hot origins from the 2003 vintage. It was really good. The wines were both different and enjoyable for that. I rotated between them as we ate. The music cut in and out as the strong gusts of wind knocked over anything loose including large garbage cans.
I do not recall how but it came up that I had never drunk a bottle of Chateau Rayas. Roland did not skip a beat, asked if I wanted to drink Rayas, how could I refuse, so we liberated a bottle of 2005 from his basement. We each had a small pour before it went into the decanter. The first taste was very good but then it opened up. It was obvious that this bottle was in a different league. It possessed a balance I had not come across before which allowed it to be drunk with great pleasure but also exhibit the ability to develop and improve for many years. Though the lightest in color it was the most aromatic and flavorful. The music came back on as the wind made something loudly crash in the backyard. We both got up and I noticed I could still taste and feel the Rayas in my mouth. I revisited the other wines, particularly following the Rayas with the Roger Perrin. The Roger Perrin was actually quite good. I drunk my share, one should not spit Rayas, then walked home in 12°F temperature. The types of wine served and order tasted clearly influence one’s perception. But it did occur to me later that perhaps the Rayas aftertaste was still in my mouth while I was tasting the Roger Perrin.
1998 Domaine Roger Perrin, Reserve des Vieilles Vignes, Chateauneuf du Pape
This wine is a blend of 70-75% Grenache, 10-15% Syrah, 8-12% Mourvedre, 4% Cinsault, Vaccarese, and Counoise sourced from 90+ year old vines. It was aged 12-14 months in casks and large barrels. Alcohol 14%. There was a complex nose which persisted all evening. In the mouth was lots of acidity with red and black fruit. The wine itself was firm and still possessed structure. The wine proved elegant and scented with cherry berries. It was a touch simpler in the finish. **** Now-2024.
2003 Domaine de la Janasse, Vieilles Vignes, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by MacArthur Beverages. This wine is a blend of 85% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre, and 2% other varieties. It was aged in old foudres and some new oak. Alcohol 15%. Very aromatic, intense notes of fresh and ripe berries which hover above the glass. In the mouth were very fresh berries that become sappy and took on a wood note. There was density, a fine ripe texture, and good acidity. Great balance and very approachable, I would not guess it from such a hot vintage. **** Now-2026.
2005 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Martine’s Wines Inc. This wine is 100% Grenache vinified in both concrete and enamel vats followed by 12 months aging in old casks. Alcohol 14%. The lightest color of all three wines. An incredible nose of scented berries and garrigue. There were very fresh flavors in the mouth which continued as the wine opened up rapidly with air. The fruit, acidity, and resolved tannins were impeccably balanced so much so that the wine was both drinking perfectly yet able to develop for the long-term. There was great depth and texture to the cherry fruit, and spices. The incredibly long finish boasted minerals and was matched by the persistent aftertaste. Effortless. ***** Now-2029.