Last night Lou and I gathered to blindly taste through several bottles of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. For fun, we each unknowingly threw in an Australian blend of Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps this is unfair given the stature of our main selections but it was for fun. As we settled down to cheese, charcuterie, and cork removal we checked out a bottle of 2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray. I do not have enough experience with Huet so I found the lifted, aromatically textured nose a delight. It starts off in the fruit spectrum eventually to take on a honey character. In the mouth this is a fresh, grippy wine with a nice balance of fruit supported by hints of yeast and oxidation. Fine stuff! I look forward to finishing my leftover glass tonight.
It was then on to the bagged red wines. Guessing is fun when you are not pressured. Wine #1 is firm at first though you can detect some maturity and herbaceousness. It is the most structured wine out of all tasted and I, admittedly clueless, narrowed in to the 1979-1981 vintages. For those who enjoy structured, rather than opulent wines the 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley will develop for years to come. It eventually reveals a bit more of its bottle aged maturity.
Wine #2 showed signs of old seepage under the capsule but the fill was where the neck met the shoulder. You could get a sense of this on the nose which leaned towards meat rather than fruit but in the mouth the flavor and delivery of the fruit flavor is gorgeous! What luxury it is to drink glass after glass of 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains. This is a sophisticated wine of ideal balance with youthful, complex fruit flavors that seek out every part of your mouth with wave after wave of flavor. Also excellent is wine #4. After some bottle stink blew off, this is highly aromatic of eucalyptus. In the mouth an impressive amount of energy unfurls dark fruit, ripe structure, and wood box. The 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley is perhaps more mature in flavor than the Ridge but the Phelps needs more time to open up. It is fascinating pair to drink together. No one spat these two wines!
Just a few final thoughts with regards to wines #3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia, avoid, and #5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia. Wakefield River Estates was founded in 1972 by Dr. Douglas Hewitson who planted just over 2,100 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the wheatbelt area of Balaklava. The wines were made by the highly regarded James Irvine who still produces wine today. James Irvine got his start at a young age having developed the Siegersdorf brand in 1959 as winemaker at Hardy’s. As the Wakefield winery had no buildings the wine was made at Saltram, an historic Barossa Valley winery founded in 1859. Wakefield River Estates was short-lived and curious enough, the label on the bottle tells the history including the demise indicating this bottle was imported in the mid 1980s. It was in 1982 that all of the fruit was eaten by starlings and in 1983, due to severe drought conditions, there was a sparse crop. The fruit was sold off and the winery ceased. As for the vintage Decanter states the wines are of “richness and longevity” with the wines around Adelaide being “robust”. So perhaps it was a bit unfair to include this wine with the Ridge and Phelps but the potential is there.
2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray
Imported by Robert Chadderdon. Alcohol 12%. It is the color of a light apple cider. On the nose are finely textured, lifted aromas of dried apricots and apple cider. With air the nose reveals honey aromas. In the mouth this is a mildly weight wine with a vein of acidity and hint of yeast towards the finish. It wraps up with a fresh and grippy finish. Additional complexity is gained from a hint of oxidation. ***(*) Now – 2027.
#1 – 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.9%. This is less dark than #2 but of similar color. The nose offers hints of maturity with the slightest hint of herbaceousness. A lively start brings a little tang and firmness of flavor. There is still structure in the end which contributes to the lasting sensation. With air the wine begins to open up maturity becoming more evident. It also develops a mineral note and a dusty, wood box flavor. ***(*) Now – 2022.
#2 – 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. This garnet wine is still fairly opaque in the middle. The nose is a bit meaty. In the mouth this wine packs in the flavor with a plum hint at first, mineral middle, then a younger, fresh eucalyptus finish. There is sophistication to the purple and black fruits There is still a very fine tannic structure and acidity throughout. Impeccably balanced and impressive. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia
Imported by FWE Imports. This wine is a blend of 64% Shiraz and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is followed by candied and pruned flavors in the mouth. The acidity stands separate from the core of simple fruit flavors. Tastes like a cheap domestic port. Poor.
#4 – 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.3%. Some bottle stink at first but that blows off to reveal a highly aromatic, eucalyptus nose. In the mouth is dark flavor, more structure, and a touch of ruggedness in the finish. But over the course of several hours this wine unfurls itself. It adds both wood box and blood. The energy is impressive as framed, ripe, inky fruit coats the mouth. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
Imported by San Francisco Traders LTD. This wine is a blend of mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak puncheons. Alcohol 12%. A mature garnet color. There is a ripe fruit start but the wine quickly turns soft only to end at the short finish. Simply too old at this point. Fair.
Lou and I gather the families every year for a pre-holiday dinner featuring mature wines. This year we were joined by Darryl and Nancy for whom mature wine is a bit of an obsession. To accompany the dinner of crab cakes, coq au vin blanc, and leg of lamb we had planned nothing more than opening a random series of mature red wines. This was then surrounded by a Champagne and white wine starter eventually to be concluded with a dessert wine.
The Champagne was in the form of the impressively boxed 1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée. This is surprisingly fruity on the nose with precise flavors in the mouth that are supported by robust bubbles. There is only a touch of yeast and the sense of maturity really takes many hours to develop. It was a good showing.
The white wines moved us onto experimental territory. The 2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards is Verdelho on steroids. Unfortunately the 16.3% alcohol breaks through towards the finish as pure alcohol. No matter how seductive and correct the nose is, I could not get past the burning sensation in my throat. The 1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace is only made in the best vintages. You get that sense from the lifted aromas on the nose but in the mouth the wine is starting to tire. Switching gears once again, the 1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres is a wine for mature Chardonnay drinkers. The apple orchard flavors and bits of subtlety speak of maturation but the fat draws you back to peak drinking.
1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée
Imported by Moet Hennessy. Disgorged October 2008. Alcohol 12%. The nose is quite pretty with a surprising amount of berry fruit. The fruit continues in the mouth but soon picks up lemons and baking spices with a touch of yeast. With air the flavors develop towards maturity. The wine has good precision to the flavors which are enlivened by fine, robust bubbles. This is more of a fruity wine than yeasty/biscuit wine. **** Now – 2026.
2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards
Alcohol 16.3%. There is a rich, nutty, creamy, and seductive nose. In the mouth is a rich mouthful followed by toast and baking spices. The wine finishes spicy with a sharp, alcoholic jolt in the end. It starts of promising but is unpleasant by the end. *** for the nose but for drinkability * Now.
1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace
Alcohol 12.5%. There is an attracted, lifted nose with lemons and herbs in the short finish. Interesting to smell but tiring out. ** Now.
1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres
Alcohol 13.5%. The golden amber color speaks of maturity. In the mouth is an moderately dense wine with apple orchard flavors and spot-on acidity. It is clearly at its peak, with a suggestion of subtlety, that is briefly waylaid by the fat in the finish. *** Now.
While Lou and I finished our dinner preparations we required some red wine. Together we had both stood up a dozen or so bottles to try which we arrayed on a desk. A fine looking 1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard was selected at random. I was curious about this wine, Pommard being the first mature Burgundy I ever drunk. This bottle is from the first year Neal Rosenthal began working with the estate. The significant amount of muddy looking mold under the capsule foretells disaster in my experience. While not completely gone the dusty, dirty aroma pervaded the flavor. Down the drain it went and out came the cork on the half bottle of 1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. From the first released vintage, this wine was in good, though fully mature shape. Peter Newton and Michael Stone founded Sterling Vineyards in 1964 with Ric Forman as the winemaker. Both Peter Newton and Ric Forman went on to found Newton Vineyards once Sterling was sold to Seagram in 1977. So this is an historic wine in two senses. It proved a solid experience though the aroma of bananas and sweet rather than lively aspect of flavor prevented it from being excellent. No regrets though, for one should try as many 1960s Californian wine as possible, for it is an historic period.
1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard
Shipped by Neal Rosenthal. Imported by Select Vineyards LTD. Alcohol 11-14%. It smells of dust and dirt. There are some dark flavors in the mouth but the dusty, dirt aspect is less than subtle. An off bottle. Not Rated.
1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (375mL)
Alcohol 12%. The nose reminds me of red fruit and bananas. In the mouth are clean flavors of red fruit which are sweet. With air this becomes quite a mouthful. The assertive acidity brings forth a burst, of sweet flavor. It leaves the impression that this was a larger, slightly sweet wine in youth. *** Now.
With dinner we sat down to some serious wine. The glass bottle of the 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant was covered with cellar grime and label damage from racking. It is one of those bottles whose provenance was lost over the years or decades. There was a fair bit of ullage but the color through the green glass, though light, reminded me of watered down cranberries which is a good indicator. With a gorgeous nose and lively flavors, there is much on offer with this wine. If I nit-pick, it does not have the harmony of the 1964 Momessin, Clos du Tart but it has personality. I really like this type of wine. Just one year younger the 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac had very top-shoulder fill just below the neck. This was my first experience with Lafite. Yes, I have sadly written about more older vintages than the number of bottles tasted. Still this proved a great start. The nose is great, unique, and worth spending some time on. In the mouth this is a fully mature wine with just a touch of fat and graphite.
I admit the 1945 Chateau Calon-Segur looked horrible. As you can see by the picture, it still does, with the label almost falling off after lying in my equally old Eurocave. Inside the glass is what counts so the top-shoulder fill, dark color, and firm cork waylaid some fear. All of that aside, being of the 1945 vintage and bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol, where I spent my sophomore year abroad, warranted trying it out. The color is the darkest of all opened that night. The nose and the flavors are marked by eucalyptus with bright, tart, red fruit. In the end it is a relic.
With calls for more fruity wine I selected the 1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape. The fill was excellent and the capsule contemporary so I suspect this is an ex-domaine release. I cannot imagine someone would fake a modest vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape. I liked it a lot. To me it offers a balanced, mature Chateauneuf.
I recently wrote how I prefer equally old dessert wine following an old wine tasting. I am happy to report that the 2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes marks me wrong. It is incredibly complex and flavorful both on the nose and in the mouth. This is an outstanding wine.
1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby, & Co. This is almost light brown in color. The nose, though, is gorgeous with aromas of cranberry and vintage perfume underpinned by an earthy note. With air it develops both bacon aromas and hints of smoke. In the mouth the vintage flavor tastes sweeter with air. This is a vibrant wine with fine acidity. As should be the case, this old Burgundy develops with air, improving at first then maintaining its lovely state until finish. **** Now but will last for a decade.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by White Company Ltd. Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose is aromatic and beautiful from the very first pour. It sports sweet, unique aromas of blood and iron. In the mouth are bright, clean red fruit which follows the nose. There are hints of fat and hints of dry graphite. This is drinking at its peak. **** Now.
1945 Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint-Estephe
Bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol. The color is remarkably dark but of proper garnet brown. There is a fresh nose of eucalyptus and dust. Similar eucalyptus mixes with bright, tart red fruit carried through with watering acidity. There is even some structure. *(*) Now.
1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%. The nose smells of a library and garrigue. This wine peaks after 10 minutes providing an attractive blend of blue and red fruit, garrigue, and leather. Everything is in balance with this properly mature wine. It still suggests at ripe fruit. *** Now.
2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
The nose is amazing and almost effervescent as the aromas fly out of the glass. In the mouth is a core of butterscotch flavors, ripe pineapples, and sweet cream. This racy wine is already, impressively complex. Why not drink it now? ****(*) Now – 2036.
My friend Sudip is a gambling man who is all for trying any old vintage of wine. A gamble and a bit of recklessness was all that was required to try the 1979 Castello di Monte Antico, Tuscany. Neil and Maria Empson started Monte Antico in 1977, some five years after founding their wine importing company. Monte Antico is a super-Tuscan wine, meaning it is a blend of Sangiovese with international varieties, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Super-Tuscans grew in popularity during 1970s. This particular wine is one I drank with some occurrence during my university years in the 1990s because it was affordable. I had no expectation it would be a decent drink or even palatable, being a budget wine, but the bottle looked good, the price was cheap, and it reminded me of times past. The color was in the autumnal brown spectrum and the nose was advanced, as in roasted earth. But in the mouth it was surprisingly round with hints of sweet fruit that developed into licorice. But for the nose it would rate higher.
Two wines from the same vintage makes for more fun. I expected the 1979 Pio Cesare, Barolo Riserva to be better than the Monte Antico and it was. This was another cheap purchase made years ago. After an hour of air, I simply pulled the cork. The wine gave all that it could. The fruit has departed leaving leather and mushroom but the lively, tense acidity still remains. It fades soon in the glass. Neither bottle was finished but other young wines were. Sudip had fun.
1979 Castello di Monte Antico, Tuscany
Shipped by Neil Empson. Imported by Wine Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose initially smelled of roasted earth then celery. It is much better in the mouth, round with hints of sweet fruit. Certainly old but bits of fruit and licorice come out. Two stars for flavor but overall * Now.
1979 Pio Cesare, Barolo Riserva
Imported by Paterno Imports. Alcohol 13.5%. Though an advanced color it had a lively tension. It is simple at first and surprisingly closed. After an hour of air it opened up. All fruit gone having left just bottle aged flavors of leather, mushroom, and a very fine texture. ** Now.
Lou and I gathered last night to taste through five different bottles of mature Bordeaux and California wine. Three of the wines turned out to be of interest. The 1974 Louis Martini, California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon falls into that category of mature, yet very stable, classic California profile. It still has fruit, body, and some supporting structure. It will not knock you over but it is a good drink from a great vintage. The 1980 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley moves into the modern spectrum. This is also from a strong vintage which is reflected in the dark color and youthful robustness. If the Martini is mature, old-style Cali then the Beaulieu is clean, robust, and modern. Well-stored bottles will drink well for many years. The final bottle we opened turned out, as I hoped, to be the best. The first indicator of the potential for our bottle of 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol was the long, legibly branded, clean cork. After tasting the wine I soon became fixated on the texture and the flavor. This round and weighty wine is infused with fat yet balanced by lively acidity. The mouthfeel is gorgeous. If you move beyond texture there is ripe fruit to be relished too. Lou likened this wine to old Burgundy which Robert Parker echoed years ago with a specific Chambolle-Musigny descriptor. It is a beautiful wine of which I made sure none of my share was left over by the time I went to bed.
1974 Louis Martini, California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol 12.2%. Very top-shoulder, bottom neck fill. There is a sweet cedar/old wood nose that still retains that vintage Cali signature. The slightly round, red fruit has some body and modest grip. The middle is almost minty fresh followed by a slightly short finish. This gentle wine mixed old-style flavor with vintage perfume and modest aftertaste. The nose fades a bit with air but remains surprisingly stable in the mouth. *** Now but will last.
1980 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Bottom-neck fill. This has a relatively deep garnet color. In the mouth are clean fruit, spices, and weighty citrus. The fruit becomes sweeter in the finish. This is a youthful, robust wine with good acidity, and ripe structure. A good, clean wine. *** Now – 2021.
1970 Chateau La Gay, Pomerol
Mid-shoulder fill. This is a simpler wine with tangy red fruit, livey acidity, and citric tannins on the gum. The finish is dry and mineral, leaving tannins on the gums. Definitely mature but still sports an ethereal sweet red and citric fruit in the aftertaste. Unfortunately, this is marred by a musky, dirty note. The cork smells musky too. Robert Parker writes that until 1982, the ancient barrels used to store the wine shared space with chickens and ducks. Hmmm. * Now.
1978 Chateau Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien
Imported by Chateau & Estates Wine Company. Top-shoulder fill. It turns out the cork was floating in the wine. Lou took one sip, spit it out then dumped the bottle. Not Rated.
1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol
Shipped by Beylot & Co. Imported by Majestic Wine and Spirits Inc. Alcohol 12%. Very top shoulder fill. This is a round and weighty wine with subtle, dense hints of glycerin. The sweet and coating flavors quickly show good mineral structure. What is glycerin turns to be seductive fat which does not slow the wine down for there is lively acidity. It is quite lifted in the end. **** Now.
I have a deserved reputation for trying almost any wine. I do not keep track of my success ratio but sometimes I find fun stuff such as the bizarrely decent 1971 Chateau Montgrand-Milon, Pauillac. Who knew that the second wine of a Crus Bourgeois Superieur would still be solid? Those $10 bottles were worth every cent. Earlier this year I grabbed a trio of wines priced in the $3 to $10 range. I had hoped that the 1981 Cellier des Dauphins, Cotes du Rhone was stabilized in some form rendering it immune to age. It was not. At least the bottle shape is different. The 1983 Chateau La Cardonne, Medoc would be better if the fruit did not exist solely in the finish. Lovers of blood and iron will rate this wine higher. For me, half a glass was fine. Most disappointing is the 1997 Delas Freres, Les Calcerniers, Chateauneuf du Pape. Wine Spectator gave this bottle 80 points upon release. I think it has lost one point for every year of age. If you see these wines then stay away! These wines were taken from the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages.
1981 Cellier des Dauphins, Cotes du Rhone
Imported by Cellier des Dauphins. Alcohol 12.5%. Should have been drunk 34 years ago. Past.
1983 Chateau La Cardonne, Medoc
Imported by Chateau & Estate. Alcohol 11%-12%. The color is quite advanced and would be alarming if this bottle did not cost just a few Dollars. The flavors are a bit better with slightly dense and rounded blood and iron start. There is watering acidity that keeps things going. The wine is best in the finish with some grippy red fruit, more blood but then there is an aftertaste of roast earth. * Past.
1997 Delas Freres, Les Calcerniers, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Maisons Marques and Domaines. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose of roast earth does not bode well. In the mouth the wine is balanced in feel and in no way in poor condition. However, the wine tasted old with the fruit all gone and the flavors are lean. There is still a good body and mouthfeel. Poor. Past.
We spent much of our spare time in November painting our living and dining rooms in anticipation of hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner at the house. It is impossible to not be excited about the holiday so while mature wine was generally required, I did not want to drink anything precious. The best of the bottles we tried is clearly the 1999 Gourt de Mautens, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau. Some four years ago I guessed it would start drinking well this year and it is! This is always an expensive wine for the appellation, current vintages run over $60 per bottle in the States, but it repays with cellaring. Right now this savory wine shows dark fruit integrated with gorgeous structure. If the evolution of our bottle is any indicator this vintage will continue to develop with even more age. Also from Rasteau, the 2000 Domaine du Trapadis, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau has aromas of roast earth which indicate to me that it is on the decline. Unfortunately, this bottle remained firm rather than open but was still pleasing enough to drink on its own. The final bottle of 1985 Quail Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley came from the Earthquake Cellar which explains the wine stained label. This small wine proved fully mature without evidence of decline. I appreciated the old wood and leather which come with age.
2008 Domaine Humbert Freres, Bourgogne
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose was quite attractive, fully mature but not gone. There were similar flavors initially in the mouth before the overwhelmingly tart red fruit came out. Some pleasure could be derived but I imagine this must be drunk with food in the mouth. * Now.
2000 Domaine du Trapadis, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%. The nose revealed clean, mature fruit which competed with roast earth aromas. In the mouth this wine was still firm with red and black fruit. The structure was still present in the minerally, roast flavored finish. With air the flavors took on some weight with cherry liquor notes before shedding intensity in the finish. Will last but will always be firm. ** Now – 2020+.
1999 Gourt de Mautens, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau
Imported by Dionysos Imports. Alcohol 14%. This weighty wine builds power simultaneously with the developing ripe and grippy tannins. The menthol-like freshness persisted as does the watery acidity and bit of heat that breaks out in the end. The fruit is primarily dark but aspects of raspberry candy come out, all of which match the strength of the structure that coats the gums and teeth. With extended air, this savory wine takes on sweeter, blueberry fruit with both density and texture. ***(*) Now – 2025.
1985 Quail Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.3%. The roasted earth aromas hint at a wine beginning to decline. The mouth was better with some thickness to start. The flavors mixed with old wood box, old perfume, and a hint of eucalyptus and old leather in the finish. The tart cherry fruit matches the integrated acidity, very much present from the start. With air the wine fleshes out some. ** Now.
Drinking old Bordeaux from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s is a complex game for you cannot predict the quality of the wine based on vintage and chateau alone. This period saw not only significant changes in technology but estates also changed ownership with vineyards subsequently reconstructed and replanted. As a result, I find reading about the history of these wines adds depth to the experience of drinking them. It also extends the period during which I think about the wines. Before I could think about Bordeaux, Lou and I tucked into a pair of white wines. Even after being open for three days, the 2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault proved it needs a few more years in the cellar. I found the oak supportive of the tart, grippy lemon flavors. On the other hand, the 1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley shows gobs of oak without enough interesting flavors.
2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault –
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is 100% Chardonnay that was aged for 18 months in oak barrels. Alcohol ?%. The aromas already bore complexity and were supported by oak. In the mouth the wine was fresh, tart and grippy with spot-on lemon flavors, good acidity, and some raciness. The structure is clearly supportive for development. *** 2014-2022.
1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley –
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented and aged in oak. Alcohol ?% The nose was a bit stinky with sweet and heavy aromas of oak. The flavors were soft and creamy with just enough acidity to prevent flabbiness. With an eye towards mouthfeel, the matching tropical flavors eventually leaned towards fresher, weighty lemons. With notes of wood and old wine, this was ultimately a survivor. Not my type of wine. * Now.
I expected the 1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux to be dead and despite Mark Wessel’s (MacArthur Beverages) warnings of volatility, I still expected the 1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves to be drinkable. Lou selected the as 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe a backup bottle which I prejudged as an apt replacement for the Giscours. The corks for the Giscours and La Mission Haut Brion were in fine form and of good aroma. A quick sniff of the Giscours surprisingly revealed sweet fruit, “jammy” as Lou described, that was attractive and indicated the wine was very much in good shape. On the other hand, the La Mission Haut Brion was volatile and as reflected in Lou’s facial expressions, not worth drinking. Up came the Montrose from the cellar and out came the cork. There was somewhat troubling mold encased down the top sides of the cork but the bottom smelled fine. Lou poured the Montrose and we both immediately commented on the relatively youthful, and certainly dark color of the wine.
Bottles of 1970 La Mission Haut Brion, and indeed the vintages surrounding it, are known to be marked by volatile acidity. The explanation lies within Clive Coates’ Grands Vins (1995). Frederic Woltner bought the estate in 1919 and upon his death, his son Henri Woltner took over running things. The Woltner’s were remarkably progressive, having installed stainless steel tanks in the 1920s and 1950s (from a brewery none the less). This enthusiasm for the wine seems to have faded during Henri Woltner’s final years before his death in 1974. It is this period, particularly from 1967 to 1974 that Clive Coates details as one of a “lack of supervision” with the wines suffering from “an excess of volatile acidity.” The famed oenologist Professor Emile Peynaud was brought in as a consultant in 1974 and the wines subsequently improved. Needless to write, our bottle of the 1970 vintage, represented this slump in full force. As a replacement we drank a lovely bottle of 1964 Chateau Montrose. You may read about the history of this youthful wine in my post “Picked before the rain”: the 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe.
While the 1970 La Mission Haut Brion lived up to its reputation I think the 1961 Giscours somewhat exceeded it. Once described by Michael Broadbent as “Not highly recommended”, notes of this wine by the major writers are noticeably absent from such books as David Peppercorn’s Bordeaux (1991). Chateau Giscours was acquired by Nicolas Tari in 1954. Nicolas Tari was an experienced winemaker from Algeria who set about reconstructing and replanting the vineyards. When he started purchasing the estate in 1947, only 7 of the 80 hectares were planted with vines. Thus the 1961 vintage was produced from young vines. The most recent significant note on this wine comes from Clive Coates. From a tasting in 2003, he describes the “Rich, aromatic, quite concentrated nose” as well as “no great complexity or distinction” in flavor. As far as our bottle relates, he is spot on!
1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux –
Unknown shipper and importer. The attractive nose bore sweaty, low-lying aromas of sweet and dark fruit. At first, the wine shows weight that matches the nose but after an hour it starts to thin out by the finish. The initial flavors of tart red fruit and hints of dark, earthy flavors take on older flavors that echo in the mouth. As leather notes develop there is a bit of a grip at the back of the mouth and even some tart, strawberry flavors in the end. *** for the nose alone but overall ** Now.
1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves –
Unknown shipper and importer. Top-shoulder fill. Old and foxy on the nose and certainly not worth drinking. With air the wine developed sweet fruit flavors that could not overpower the volatility. Not Rated.
1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe –
Shipped by Pierre Cartier & Fils. Imported by Monsieur Henri Wines. Alcohol 12%. Mid-shoulder fill. A beautiful wine in the glass with a dark and youthful core of color. Both the nose and the mouth exhibit firm, cherry red fruit, and hard, watering acidity. The wine is not terribly complex, instead it offers pure fruit flavors that are both beautiful and elegant. *** Now 2030.