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Young Loire and Mature Cali

Our most recent dinner with Sudip and his family continued the tradition of tasting Californian wines from the 1977 vintage.  While I deal with the older bottles, I put out the 2014 Xavier Weisskopf, Le Rocher des Violettes, Petillant Originel, Montlouis-sur-Loire.  This refreshing bubbly offers spiced flavors in a young frame.  I would recommend cellaring it until this winter at the least.

Rutherford Hill Winery was founded in 1976, just one year before the vintage of our 1977 Rutherford Hill Winery, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley.  It became a partnership of winemakers and growers who had previously sold off their fruit to other wineries.  The roots of the winery date back even earlier and was known for a time as Souverain of Rutherford.  The original Souverain Winery was founded by Lee Stewart who ran it until 1970 when he sold it to Pillsbury Co.  Pillsbury maintained the original Souverain of Rutherford in Napa Valley as well as a new winery in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County.  When Pillsbury sold off its wine assets in 1976, Rutherford Hill Winery was born of Souverain of Rutherford.  This is a particularly flavorful wine, I would guess some other varieties were included with the Pinot Noir.  It is savory and dark flavored but it is a bit on the simple side with a short finish.

The 1977 Estrella River Winery, Zinfandel, San Luis Obispo is only the second time I have drunk a bottle from this estate.  I do not come across many bottles so I was happy to pick this one up from Reid Wines of Bristol, England.  If this seems an odd place to find the wine, this bottle came from John Avery’s cellar.  Avery’s Wine Merchants was founded in the 18th century and became famous for importing New World wines during the 1960s and 1970s.  Estrella Rivery Winery received many awards for its wines during the 1970s but was rather under the radar.  Check out my post Three Californian Wines from the 1970s for just a tiny bit more detail.

For this particular bottle, the label was a bit beat up and the fill was just below the neck so not ideal.  Fortunately, the bottle stink rapidly blew off and over the course of half an hour, it blossomed in the decanter.  At best, it is an old-school bottle with lively, cranberry flavors and sweet wood notes.  Incredibly, it will drink at its peak for several more years.

Both bottles of 1977 were finished off.  While not exciting, they were nevertheless enjoyable which I count as a success.

2014 Xavier Weisskopf, Le Rocher des Violettes, Petillant Originel, Montlouis-sur-Loire – $25
Imported by Vintage ’59 Imports. This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc with zero dosage.  Alcohol 12.5%. Spiced flavors with a racy vein. The firm bubbles are intertwined with spices and a touch of apple. It is balanced with fresh acidity that makes it refreshing. *** Now – 2024.

1977 Rutherford Hill Winery, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.7%. It immediately offers dark and robust flavors. This bottle is in good shape with flavors evocative of a blend. It is savory and saline with bottle age reflected by the old leather and wood box flavors. It is ultimately a little simple and fades. ** Now.

1977 Estrella River Winery, Zinfandel, San Luis Obispo
Alcohol 12.5%. This benefits from half an hour of air becoming redder with sweaty notes and a spine of acidity. Cranberry flavors mix with cedar and sweet redwood. It is a mid-weight wine with old-school flavors. Pretty good! **(*) Now but  will last.

A tasting of Château Léoville Poyferré 2015-1990

February 25, 2019 Leave a comment

On January 18, 2019, Panos Kakaviatos (https://wine-chronicles.com/) gathered together a group of DC wine lovers for one of his biannual Bordeaux dinners. This was one was at Le Petit Bouchon Restaurant in the French Embassy and featured the wines of Léoville Poyferré.

As in the past he invited a guest from the Chateaux and had a vertical representation of multiple vintages. Also, as always, Panos was a wonderful host who obviously took great care in the menu and the wines to make sure everything showed at its best, and that the guests all had a great time. From the Chateau was Sara Lecompte-Cuvelier, who provided great commentary on the wines and was a charming ambassador for the estate.

The wines were served in five flights preceded by a variety of Champagne. For me the highlights were a 2002 Piper Heidsieck Rare and a 2002 Dom Perignon. Both were in a great place with bracing acidity, citrus fruit and a rich body. I give the edge to the Dom.

My general impressions of the wines were very positive, with a few very great ones. They all showed a nice structure that was never over the top. They were balanced and fresh, even in the riper vintages.

First Flight: 2014, 2012, 2010. Paired with Snails Croque Monsieur.

My favorite dish of the night and a smart pairing for these vintages.

2014 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
I liked this a lot and still think that 2014 Bordeaux overall may be the vintage to buy, given the balance of quality and price. This wine was very deep and rich, with cassis, cedar and a drying finish. Maybe a little austere in the middle. ***(*)

2012 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
My least favorite of the flight. Less polished, a little musty and earthy in the middle with some heat at the end. I do like the concentration and acidity. **(*)

2010 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
This is a very great wine. Very concentrated. Cassis, graphite, a spicy herbal note all balanced by some mineral and balanced acidity. Medium tannins and great structure. A terrific future. ****(*)

Second Flight: 2011, 2008, 2002. Paired with a lobster “purse” in a carrot ginger sauce.

While this was an unusual choice, I actually think it worked well.

2011 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
This reminded me of the 14 but a notch below in quality. Still very good. Tasting very young with hard tannin but great fruit and structure. I think it needs some time to come together a bit more. ***

2008 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
An expressive wine with hints of dried berry, lavender and mint on the nose. The fruit is there but more contained. I like it very much and can see this coming around sooner than some of the other wines. ***(*)

2002 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
The weakest of the flight. Leaner, with some green notes. Actually may be drinking at its peak now. Shows way better with the food. ** to *** ?

Third Flight: 2001, 2000, 1990. Lamb loin.

All these wines showed very well with the 1990 my favorite of the night.

2001 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
Some green herbaceousness, dill, some earth. Classically styled. ***

2000 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
A great nose with balanced notes of fruit, herbs and cassis. A long life ahead. ****

1990 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
Very fresh nose. Bright, rich. Creamy, silky fruit in the mouth. Perfect acidity and concentration.****(*)

Fourth Flight: 1989, 1985, 1982. Cheeses.

2006 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
A sharp, somewhat shrill nose is a deceptive start to what is actually a balanced wine. It likely just needs a bit of time to smooth the coarseness and fully integrate. ***

2005 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
A huge wine showing as very locked in at present. It is very rich and concentrated, very complex but desperately in need of time to show its best. ***(*)

2004 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
Showing better than I expected, this is a concentrated wine with strong notes of cedar and cassis. A pleasant surprise. ***

Fifth Flight: 2003, 2009, 2015. Chocolate Dessert.

An ok pairing. I remain skeptical about big red wines and chocolate.

2003 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
Very fond of this tonight. Not showing as roasted or overripe, except some coffee notes. Actually some green, minty notes present. Very fresh and complex. Another surprise. ****

2009 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
Still fairly primary. Black fruits, some wood and earth but smooth tannins. Needs lots of time. Impressive wine. ****(*)

2015 Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien
The greatest potential of all the wines tonight but now very primary with only the hints of what this will be. Very concentered blue fruits, vanilla, smoke and liqueur. I really like this. Is it better than the 1990? I’m not sure but can’t wait to see how it is after another couple of decades. The 2010 will certainly give it a run for its money. ****(*)

Thanks Panos for including me in a great event!

A wine dinner with aged Chardonnay, Sonoma County oldies, and decades old Spanna

February 24, 2019 1 comment

A mixed group of wine drinkers and wine lovers recently met up at the house for a wine dinner.  We drank the sparkling and white wines while introductions were made and dinner was prepared.  It is with dinner that we tucked into three flights of red wine.  If the first flight of reds was a mixed bag the final two flights, featuring a pair of 1970s Sonoma County reds and a pair of 1960s Italian Spanna were my stars of the night.  Please find my notes below.

Sparkling

NV Ruinart, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA. Alcohol 12.5%.  A copper rose color.  A strong wine with fine, firm bubbles, red fruits, and a biscuit flavor.  Robust in a way.  *** Now – 2024.

2014 Dirty & Rowdy, Sparkling White Wine, El Dorado County
Alcohol 12.4%.  Sweet, floral tree fruits with bubbles.  Solid but not my favorite. ** Now but will last.

White Wines

The white wines were of more interest.  On their own the 2009 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Drake Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley and 2008 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Hawk Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley are quite different.  The 2009 is the bigger, rounder yet also a softer wine.  The 2008 is mature in flavor yet young in delivery.  If you could merge the two of them the results might be quite good.  The 2002 Maison Louis Latour, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot was the first bottle of white finished.  The nose is its strength yet while the flavors do not quite match, the balance and youthful delivery are admirable.  This wine should develop slowly for some years to come.  Almost everyone was drawn to this wine.

2009 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Drake Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.4%.  Verging on full-bodied, certainly rounded, with good mouth feel.  Youthful flavor but leaves an impression of softness due to the lower acidity.  *** Now.

2008 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Hawk Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.9%.  Mature in flavor but young in delivery.  Nearly crisp acidity, bright.  ***(*) Now – 2024.

2002 Maison Louis Latour, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot
Imported by Louis Latour Inc.  Alcohol 13.5%.  A lovely nose which is not quite matched by the flavor.  Balanced all around, this is surprisingly young in profile and remains that way throughout the evening.  Is it evolving at a glacial pace?  **** Now – 2029.

A Variety of Reds

This first flight of red wines was a bit of a mixed bag.  The 1996 Faiveley, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale seems like it is locked down but of solid material.  The nose of the 1997 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek was sadly reminiscent of dust.  Though better in the mouth, I was too distracted.  The magnum of 1998 Domaine Paul Autard, Chateauneuf du Pape should have been drunk promptly after double-decanting.  At that point it is a solid, mature Rhone red but after a few hours it is too bloody.

1996 Faiveley, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale
Imported by Wilson Daniels LTD.  Alcohol 12%.  Bright red fruit, slightly spiced then black fruit flavors in the finely textured finish.  Firm flavor with a spine of acidity and taut structure.  It has yet to open up but will be greatly improved if it does.  *** Now – 2029.

1997 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek
Alcohol 15%. An herbaceous nose mixes with dust.  In the mouth the cherry flavors are rounded with controlled ripeness.  There is a hint of Kirsch.  The fruit is balanced by the acidity and the structure is resolving.  The nose never cleans up with the dustiness becoming more dirty. An off bottle.  Not Rated.

1998 Domaine Paul Autard, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 15%.  A modest, mature mix of blue and red fruits, garrigue, and spice.  But after an hour or so it picks up hints of blood and iron until it becomes evocative of liquid meat.  A solid wine if drunk upon opening when it is ripe and big bodied.  At best a ** Now.

Sonoma County Oldies

My first experience with the 1977 Ernie’s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select, Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County was with a regular bottle. It was a bit dirty but underneath lurked some interesting material.  This magnum improved over several hours, until there was no more left, and captured the attention of more than a few people.  I have had good luck with Ernie’s lately.  This magnum and the 1974 Round Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon highlight the quality of wine he purchased.  The 1978 Louis J. Foppiano, Zinfandel, Sonoma County is infinitely better than the bottle of 1974 that I tried several weeks back.    It delivers ample flavor from the very first glass.  It does not have the complexity of the Ernie’s but it is more hedonistic.  On the following evening, the remains were nearly as pleasurable.

1977 Ernie’s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select, Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County en magnum
Alcohol 13%.  Aromatic with eucalyptus and bright fruit but then it turns deeper and a touch darker.  In the mouth is good body with cool flavored fruit, a spine of acidity and a finish of leather.  This is a good, clean, fresh example that after several hours reveals its complexity.  Notes of fat and oily whole nuts add to the attractiveness.  **** Now – 2029+.

1978 Louis J. Foppiano, Zinfandel, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Some animale notes mix with cherry-berry aromas.  Beautiful berry fruit greets and with that ripe fruit comes a hint of raisin.  However, this zippy wine is in great shape, effortlessly delivering waves of flavor.  With air it develops baking spices and comforting notes of sweaty, old leather evocative of old Californian wines. Pure pleasure.  ***(*)  Now – 2024.

Old Spanna

Surely one of the coolest labels I have seem in some time is on the 1967 Cantina Cooperative Villa Bianzone, Valtellina. The graphic drawing of Dionysus with hair of vines with leaves and beard of grapes is reason alone to purchase the wine.  There is little background information on this cooperative in the Wasserman’s book.  Despite other negative reviews of the 1967 they felt it is a “very fine vintage”. For being a basic Valtellina DOC wine it is actually quite good.  Moving west of Valtellina to the Novara-Vercelli Hills, the 1964 A. Brugo, Romagnano Riserva stems east of Gattinara.  According to the detailed Wasserman’s, this is a blend of Bonarda, Croatina, Spanna, and Vespolina, the later of which is sourced from Ghemme.  This is quite good as well.  I found my preference oscillating between the two wines as the developed in my glasses.  In the end, I would say the Bianzone has the more complex nose with brighter, controlled flavors.  The Brugo delivers that sweaty, old-school character with more grip.  I was happy to have separate glasses of each!

1967 Cantina Cooperativa Villa Bianzone, Valtellina
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Aromas of dried, old leather with balsamic notes make for a complex nose.  It is a cool nose that reminds me of the inside of the Air & Space Museum in DC.  In the mouth are very bright flavors with an earthy/leather note that cuts through.  Beautiful in the mouth. ***(*) Now but will last.

1964 A. Brugo, Romagnano Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Deep and slightly sweaty red fruits on the nose…smells old-school.  In the mouth are sweaty flavors of red, grippy fruit and bright acidity.  In great condition with watering acidity carrying through to the still-structured finish.  ***(*) Now but will last.

A blind tasting featuring wines from Yvon Clerget and Duroche

February 12, 2019 Leave a comment

I was fortunate to be Phil’s guest at the lastest blind tasting he held for the group.  Phil had smoked some chuck for dinner, providing a savory reminder of what was to come after the blind tasting.  First up, we sampled the 2017 Chateau L’Ermitage, Auzan, Costieres de Nimes.  It is a good wine to drink this year and a reminder that I do not drink enough Rhone-style white wines.

I do not drink enough red Burgundy to have even remotely narrowed in on the six blind wines we tasted.  Beyond the particularly tasty bottles, Domaine Yvon Clerget and Domaine Duroche represent wines made by a young generation.  Thibaud Clerget produced his first wines in 2015 and Pierre Duroche took over his father’s estate in 2005. It is quite something then, that the 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget, Volnay 1er Cru Carelle sous la Chapelle is in the best spot for a wine to drink now or cellar for the future.  It is tasty from the first pour but develops over an evening.  I will admit the ripeness of the 2016 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin Champ had me guessing New Zealand Pinot Noir!  Despite that grave error, this is satisfying being the most fruited, forward wine we tasted.  The 2015 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux  is another fine wine for drinking now.  There is maturity already reflected in palate with additional complexity from the earth.  It is the most expensive wine of the evening yet also the most attractive.  I found these three wines the most enjoyable that evening.  I guess that the others did as well for these bottles were completely finished.  For those with patience, do not overlook the 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget, Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens.  It has an impressive future ahead.

With dinner we drank a bottle of 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja.  While not the most impressive wine, it was consumed quickly and I suspect it would benefit from further decanting.  I typically like Rabaja very much.  The final wine of the night is a library release that was recorked in 2018. At 27 years of age the 1992 Weingut Wegeler, Vintage Collection, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel is a modest, fully mature wine.  It is quite lively on the tongue which keeps it refreshing.

Starter

2017 Chateau L’Ermitage, Auzan, Costieres de Nimes
Imported by Terrison Wines.  This wine is a blend of 60% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, and 20% Viognier.  Aromas of flowers and nuts.  Modest in body and light in weight.  Quite floral in flavor with tree fruits, stones, and a very floral finish.  A solid wine to drink once the spring weather arrives.  *** Now – 2021.

Burgundy

1 – 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget, Volnay – $59
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13.5%.  A young color with a touch of VA on the nose.  The young flavors in the mouth are tart with ripe fruit soon developing.  Some concentration, slightly chewy, young structure, and tart acidity.  Becomes tighter with air.  **(*) Now – 2024.

2 – 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget, Volnay 1er Cru Carelle sous la Chapelle – $69
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13.5%.  A young color with violet.  A touch more aromatic.  In the mouth are expansive flavors of blue and black fruit supported by fine and drying tannins.  It picks up more weight in the finish.  Clearly more serious than #1.  This remains the easiest drinking of the six blind wines, taking on hints of spice and some lifted, ripeness in the finish. ***(*) Now – 2029.

3 – 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget, Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens – $119
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%.  Tart, young, and dry structured yet clearly possess power for the flavors to develop.   Younger in profile than #2, it has a big future ahead.  Though primary and grapey with a mineral, black fruited finish, the fine almost bitter tannins make it trying to drink at this point.  It is best left in the cellar for several more years.  **(**) 2022-2037.

4 – 2016 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin – $59
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Aromas of sulphur never blow off but there is some grapiness.  In the mouth it tastes like a natural wine with cranberry fruit, crunch acidity, and light finish.  In no way like the other wines so must be off.  Not Rated.

5 – 2016 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin Champ – $69
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  A lovely nose.  Very ripe and sweet fruit with just enough acidity and supportive structured.  Perhaps a hint of heat in the end.  It develops citrus notes.  Structured.  Tart acidity. *** Now – 2024.

6 – 2015 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux – $129
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Kirsch on the nose.  A hint of maturity in the mouth make this the most drinkable of the Duroche.  A ripe core of fruit, cherries, and a hint of earth make this a beautiful wine. **** Now – 2024.

Dinner Wines

2004 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja
Imported by Vias Imports.  Alcohol 14%.  Starting to mellow, maturing but focused with ripeness and grip to support future life.  Balanced.  Served immediately from a decanter, it was consumed quickly.  ***(*) Now – 2034.

1992 Weingut Wegeler, Vintage Collection, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel
Imported by Comete Wines.  Alcohol 8%.  A little spritz on the tongue then fully mature flavors are evident.  Dense lemon with modest ripe yellow fruit are fresh but the finish is short.  A slightest hint of tea.  *** Now but will last.

“There is no such thing as Round Hill”: 1974 Round Hill, 1970 LMHB, and 1978 Mastantuono

January 4, 2019 3 comments


Sickness and scheduling issues meant I was never able to host any tastings this holiday break. I did manage to meet up at Lou’s house for an impromptu tasting of mature wine.  I was given several bottles of 1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves from that odd DC cellar years back.  With ratty labels (the 1970 is still visible though) and good fill, the cork came out in good shape.  Just a brief bit of bottle stink soon blew off to reveal deep aromas.  It is deep flavored as well, yet also lifted, quickly showing fully mature flavors.  Equally good, the 1974 Round Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley lived up to my hopes.

It is due to these two wines that I stayed at Lou’s for nearly five hours as we finished off both bottles.  Two years ago I mentioned Round Hill in the context of some old Ernie’s bottles I had opened.  Ernie Van Asperen ran a chain of more than 80 liquor stores in California.  He also operated a negocient business, purchasing up extra wine from wineries who bottled it for him under the Round Hill and Ernie’s labels.  Round Hill wines could be highly regarded and won medals at the Los Angeles County Fair.  Frank J. Prial, a judge at the fair, wrote in The New York Times that he found this “amusing because there is no Round Hill.”

As for what was in our bottle we do have some clues.  In 1980, the Underground Wine Journal wrote that the 1974 Ernie’s “Special Selection” Cabernet came from old Souverain stocks that were sold off in the 1970s.  In 1974, Souverain was sold by J. Leland Steward to a group of investors.  They in turn sold Souverain to Pillsbury Co. under which the new winery was constructed in Alexander Valley.  It was not a profitable deal, for Pillsbury sold off the Souverain winery and its assets in 1976.  Round Hill was founded in 1977.  That same year Frank J. Prial noted that wine from Sonoma Vineyard and Souverain were bottled under the Round Hill label.

There is a strong chance, then, that the 1974 Round Hill is actually Souverain.  Whatever it is, Ernie knew what he was doing for it is an excellent wine at the height of maturity.

I do love a good surprise and the 1978 Mastantuono, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County represents just that.  I refrained from any prior research so was quite impressed with the savory and saline profile of this full-bodied, red fruited wine.  Founded in 1976, Mastantuono is the fifth oldest winery in Paso Robles.  The Dusi Vineyard was planted in 1923 so even at the time, the Mastantuono was made from old vines.  The 1978 vintage was a hot year producing “intensely flavored” Zinfandel according to Robert Parker Jr. in The Washington Post during 1981.  This bottle is intense yet savory, lending interest as it reflects both the vintage and vineyard.  It lasted about two hours in a decanter before it started to fade.

The wines that evening were a treat!

1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves
Deep flavored with ripe hints and goof lift.  Additional notes of low-lying leather and minerals adds complexity.  The watering acidity weaves through the palate as the wine grips the sides of the gums, turning redder in flavor.  With air it offers up deep flavors of cranberries and other bright fruit.  **** Now but will last

1974 Round Hill Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  A deep, black cherry color offers more pigment than the LMHB.  Immediately striking as medium-bodied with good fruit weight and rounded nature.  This wine is rich in flavor with no hard edges due to fully integrated structure.  It is dense and gravelly with minerals and grip by the middle.  It took half an hour to open up in the decanter, eventually offering big mouth feel and flavor for hours.  A touch of structure comes out in the end. **** Now but will last.

1978 Mastantuono, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol 12.5%. A fresh nose with an herbaceous hint.  A savory, salty start soon yields bright red fruit that is deep in flavor.  This is a medium to full-bodied wine with quite the weight to the fruit.  Flavors of candied berry and old leather mix with good watering acidity, actually zippy acidity.  A very solid wine.  The savory personality makes it stand out.  *** Now but will last.

A Blind Janasse Vertical: 1999-2016

December 30, 2018 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I tasted through twelve wines blind. That they turned out to be all largely excellent was of no surprise for Roland was the host. The first two wines clearly (and with great comfort) pointed to the Southern Rhone with a level of complexity that indicated Chateauneuf du Pape. While a couple of people narrowed it down to a Janasse vertical by the third wine, I could not achieve such specificity by the final wine. I did, however, achieve confusion for amongst the chronological ordering, waves of similar and dissimilar wines kept me guessing. That we tasted a vertical of three cuvees, Tradition, Chaupin, and Vieilles Vignes from 1999 through 2016 made perfect sense in the end.

The Tradition is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre fermented in tank then aged in foudre and a small proportion of new oak barrels.  The Chaupin is pure Grenache sourced from 100+ year old vines.  It is fermented in tank then aged in foudre and various sized barrels.  The Vieilles Vignes is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and other varieties sourced from 60-110+ year old vines.  It is fermented in tank then aged for 18 months in different sized barrels.

I thought the eldest vintages were 1998 and 2000 but to find them as 1999 and 2003 is a good experience. There has been a loose thread over these various tastings that 2003 produced successful wines in the Rhone which are developing in a satisfying manner. A new thread on the dissatisfaction of the 2007 vintage has appeared.

For current drinking, I recommend the three oldest vintages of Vieilles Vignes.  Of this trio I preferred the 2003 followed by the 2005 and 1999.  The 2010s and 2012s are very good in general but it is the 2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes I would lay down for the future.  Not only does it smell great but it has the essential components of fruit, garrigue, and minerals.  If you cannot find that vintage the 2010 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is right on its heels.  And if you cannot find that vintage then the 2015 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is probably a safe bet.  I think it has great potential so check on it in 2-3 years.

While I have recommended the Vieilles Vignes wines in specific, the quality of all of the wines we tasted (except the 2007) was very high across the board.    It is one of the most satisfying tastings I have attended in recent memory.

1999 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
Medium garnet in color. Moderate mature aromas with more smoke than the 2003. In the mouth, this mature wine offers up leather, minerals, and structure. The wine is in good shape, showing more focus and structure. There is a sense of levity that matches the flavors which bear moderate ripe weight. Overall, an elegant wine of sweet, ripe fruit, wood block, leather, and structure. **** Now – 2025.

2003 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
Medium garnet. A touch of earthy cheese on the nose. Flavorful and rounder with noticeably more fruit. Clearly a riper vintage than the 1999 but still shows a similar level of maturity. The fruit comes through at the end where it grips the mouth. Tasty. **** Now – 2023.

2005 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
The younger color is matched by the youngest flavors of the first three wines. In the mouth it is dense with young blue fruit. It packs more in including an eventual mature note. It comes across as in mid-life. It is great now with weight and though a bit intense, I wonder how long it will last. **** Now – 2023.

2007 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Chaupin
Almost spritzy to start with blue fruit, plums, and lower acidity. Upon revisiting, clearly the weakest of all the wines tasted.  What’s going on here? * Drink up.

2009 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Chaupin
More berries on the nose and young in the mouth. There are berry flavors in the round start with ripe tannins and some fat soon coming out. It is a little tense with waves of mouthfilling ripe, spiced fruit and licorice. It has concentration for age. ***(*) Now – 2028.

2010 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Chaupin
A hint of meat on the nose. Coming into mid-life with pure blue fruit, it has all of the components for further development. Dense, though with less oomp than the 2009, it is a balanced, elegant wine with lovely, round sweet, weighted flavors. **** Now – 2025.

2010 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
A young ruby, black cherry color. A nose of berries and grapes. In the mouth it is rather youthful with ripe spices, fruit, and ripe tannins. In the first third of its life, it is lovely to revisit for the clear berry flavor. ****(*) Now – 2028.

2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape
An interesting nose of tobacco and red, berry fruit. Light and linear in the mouth, watering acidity and ripe tannins move into the drier finish. There is structure in the finish and the sense of dryness remains. *** Now – 2023.

2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Chaupin
An interesting nose of elegant red fruit. Excellent, with cooler flavors, fresh and floral. The redder fruit is pretty, balanced by grip and structure. It becomes younger with air. **** Now – 2030.

2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
A lovely nose. This wine packs it in with watering acidity, mineral, garrigue, and more black fruit. Youthful. ****(*) Now – 2033.

2015 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes
Grenache on the nose. In the mouth, this is young, ripe, and tense. Fresh acidity carries the primary and grapey flavors which are balanced. This has great potential, the weight of the black fruit and dry baking spices will carry it for some time. ***(**) 2021-2031.

2016 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape
Sweet, ripe fruit is cool and elegant. It oscillates in nature, clearly still primary. A lovely wine with power but it is not overdone. ***(*) 2021-2028.

“How long will our reds last? I don’t know.”: 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling plus some table wine

December 11, 2018 1 comment

The label of the 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County magnum was only slightly soiled. The fill was excellent and underneath the plastic capsule, the firmly seated cork was pristine. After double-decanting, to remove the sediment, the wine bore deep aromas proper for a good Californian wine from the 1970s.

Grapes have been grown in Mendocino County since the 19th century when there were a few dozen growers. Located north of Sonoma, the slow arrival of rail lines meant this was a region of smaller enterprises rather than ones on a commercial scale. During Prohibition grapes were grown for home winemaking in San Francisco and bootlegging on the East Coast. By 1938, the number of bonded wines hit eight with Parducci the largest of them all. Most of the Parducci wine was sold off to other major wineries but eventually a new generation sought to bottle under their own label during the wine boom. It is in 1973 that Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, found Parducci was just beginning to establish their identity.

Like Robert Mondavi, John Parducci advocated unfined and unfiltered wine. He did differ from Mondavi in these early years by avoiding any contact with oak. Parducci also felt strongly about growing the best grapes for the site rather than what was in demand. Articles from the 1970s share a common theme of Parducci’s unique style, affordable price, and drinkable red wines. If there was preference for fresh, fruit flavored red wines, there was also an economic side to it. The French and Yugoslavian oak barrels were too expensive for the family. That is not to say no wood was used, the Cabernet was aged in tall, thin redwood vats.

It must be remembered that 1976 and 1977 were drought years in California. The 1978 vintage yielded large numbers of healthy, sugar-filled grapes. Excitement was widespread with John Parducci commenting on the new wines, “Some of the most fantastic wines California has ever seen.” The principal vineyards of Parducci were Talmage, Largo, and Home Ranch. This is not where the fruit came from for the 1978 Merlot Special Bottling. The back label states the “grapes were grown by small growers on the slopes of Mendocino County”.

In 1974, the Special Bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $7.99 per bottle in Washington, DC. That put this Special Bottling in the range of Chappellet and Clos du Val pricing.  The nose is generous and in Parducci style, the wine offers up berries, freshness, and levity.  The alcohol level is noticeably low.  Together these traits make it a highly drinkable wine.  In fact, the magnum drank very well for several hours at which time it started to fade. To answer the title question, this magnum lasted 40 years with ease.

I wish I could write more about the 1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.  Founded in the 19th century, very little was written about it save short mention of the periodically medal-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  William Rice of The Washington Post found the 1972 Foppiano , Zinfandel as “very fruity” and though pleasantly aromatic, it lacked in tannin.  Ours, though, was from a better vintage but my gut-feeling is that the regular 1974s are fading away which did not help this wine.  The flavors are beginning to turn with no supporting structure left.

We tried two other wines that night from California. The magnums of 1984 and 1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red were found in the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages. Priced at $3 each I had to try them for the historic note. A closer look at the label reveals these were made at the Woodbridge Winery. Created in 1979, the Woodbridge Winery was destined to produce large volumes of affordable, oak aged wines. A basic non-vintage table wine had been made at Mondavi since 1976 but quality had slipped.  The Woodbridge Winery was one of multiple prongs designed to improve the table wine quality.

The new Mondavi Red was primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged in small oak barrels. Carignan, Thomson Seedless (!!!), and Columbard were largely jettisoned as they were considered in the territory of jug wine.  Mondavi believed in long aging in oak but $300 French oak barres were to expensive for use at Woodbridge. Instead, he “retired” his older French oak barrels used in his premium wines to Woodbridge.  He then employed American coopers to use American oak to form new barrels using the French method of charing rather than steaming. Unlike other inexpensive table wines these were new table wines based at Woodbridge winery were regarded as more complex and capable of some aging.

As for the wines, the 1984 was green, herbaceous and way past prime.  Not really surprising.  I was hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the 1985 almost obliged. The nose was good but the flavors too herbaceous.  I suspect it would have drunk fine a decade ago.

1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Definitely a brick-brown color.  Deep, comforting aromas are evocative of the period.  In the mouth fresh acidity bearing mixed flavors of wood box, deep berries, and maturity.  A lighter bodied wine of moderate length it is fresh and very drinkable.  It fleshes out a bit with air becoming more saline.  It has good staying power.  *** Now but will last

1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  The cork smelled balsamic but none of that transferred to the wine.  A slight hint of roast indicates its past prime.  In the mouth this is a fully mature wine, aging fruit is a touch sour but it remains supple.  A lighter style of Zinfandel that was likely elegant to begin with the structure entirely integrated.  *(*) Drink Up.

1984 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Green veggies and other herbaceous aromas.  An herbaceous edge to the bright and tart red fruit.  Short, simple, and not of interest. Past Prime.

1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Some depth to the nose, dark fruit, wood box, and spices.  A certain hint of that carries into the mouth but herbaceousness comes out as well.  In much better poise than the 1984. * Now but drink up.