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Three old Italian wines from different vintages, producers, and regions

December 31, 2019 Leave a comment

Lou and I met up to try a trio of wines which, besides being old and Italian, had nothing in common.  Our first wine, 1967 Anton Lindner, Eppaner Justiner Auslese, Alto-Adige, was a dead-ringer on the nose for a Vintage or Tawny Port.  It is quite aromatic, suggesting strong potential but ultimately a let down in terms of flavor.  Our next two wines proved more interesting.

The 1968 Castello di Drugolo Lonato, Riviera del Garda Rosso Superiore, Lombardy is most likely a blend of Gropello and several other varieties including Barbera and Sangiovese.  I cannot find much specific to this wine other than the vineyards are located near Lake Garda.  It is an flavorful wine, from a vintage unknown to me.  It is attractively pungent on the nose with bloody, meaty, animale flavors.  Despite the tense start, it plumped up a bit becoming a bit short and soft by the finish.  I am curious to try better vintages (if they exist) of this wine.

How tickled I am to note the Cabernet Sauvignon like nature of the 1964 Azienda Agricola Ca Loredan-Gasparini, Montello e Colli Asolani Venegazzu Rosso, Veneto only to find it is one of the components.   I should also write that two years ago I enjoyed a more recent vintage from 2011.  Conte Loredan Gasparini planted his estate in Venegazzu with French varieties during the 1930s.  This bottling is not the Riserva dell Casa etichetta bianca, so the exact blend is not known to me but it is safe to write it has at least Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot with potential for Malbec and or Petit Verdot.  This is surely an early modern example of a successful Italian Bordeaux blend.  It could stand a bit more fruit at this age but that would not stop me from trying other vintages.

I remember commenting that my ideal wine, from this evening, would be a blend of the Drugolo with the Loredan-Gasparini.  I am kicking myself for not trying the actual blend!

1967 Anton Lindner, Eppaner Justiner Auslese, Alto-Adige
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Alcohol 12.5%.  A light, garnet-black color.  Sweet, vintage Port-like aromas with sweet fruit that become more like tawny Port with air.  Clean flavors in the mouth, still a fine texture of tannins and tart acidity.  The nose offers much more. * Drink up.

1968 Castello di Drugolo Lonato, Riviera del Garda Rosso Superiore, Lombardy
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Alcohol 12%.  A deep, good color of mahogany-garnet.  Slightly sweaty and pungent on the nose with dark soil.  A tense start with watering acidity carrying the wine through the drier, structured finish.  The tannins are attractive, lending texture.  With air the flavors turn bloody and meaty with an animale finish and chalky aftertaste.  It leaves fleeting notes of gentle, old wood.  **(*) Now but will last.

1964 Azienda Agricola Ca Loredan-Gasparini, Montello e Colli Asolani Venegazzu Rosso, Veneto
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Alcohol 13%.  Aromas of earth with some sweet, wood box notes.  Structured with wood tannins yet fresh and juicy in the mouth.  The wine is in a framed style, like a structured Cabernet Sauvignon, but is still balanced by tart acidity and firm black cherry flavor.  With some air there is more lift to the red fruit.  **(*) Now but will last.

A Fine Surprise: 1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon

December 30, 2019 Leave a comment

The Trefethen family moved to Napa Valley in 1968 where they acquired several small farms to form a single wine estate.  After the inaugural vintage of 1973, Trefethen Vineyards soon became known as a small producer of fine wines.  Thanks to Carole Hicke’s interview of Janet and John Trefethen in 1997, we know just how remarkable it is that the 1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley I recently enjoyed remains a fine wine to this day.

Janet and John Trefethen planned their marriage around their very first crush in 1973.  John had made wine on a private scale in 1971 and 1972 but the 1973 vintage, produced at the 19th century Eschol Ranch winery, was their first commercial effort.  Built in 1886, the winery had last been used for storage in the 1940s and for producing wine even further back, perhaps the 1920s.  When the Trefethen’s purchased the property in 1968, the winery still had dirt floors and stood in the middle of 280 acres of mass producing grape vines.  For the first vintage, they cemented over part of the ground floor, brought in a press and had storage for some 2,000 gallons of wine.  Curious enough, Domaine Chandon was located on the second floor!

There were just 25 wineries in Napa Valley when the Trefethen’s arrived.  Between 1968 and 1973, they replanted the vineyard.  For the 1973 vintage, they produced 2,000 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  In 1974, they added in Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.  1974 turned out to be an excellent vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon and it  caught the eye of Harry Waugh.  He purchased a stock of it to be served on the Queen Elizabeth II.

This bottle had good fill and deep color.  In the glass it was in fresh condition, developing with air and proving to be an enjoyable drink.  It is rounded and balanced, confidently mature with bottle aged flavors yet still offering cherry fruit.  This is a remarkable achievement given that this is the first release of Cabernet Sauvignon.

1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  An aromatic wine, herbaceous with a touch of roast.  Fresh in the mouth with a rounded edge to the flavors which are carried by fresh, watering acidity.  It is saline with old wood notes mixing with cherry fruit and baking spices.  It is quite solid with air for it proves satisfying and does not crack up.  *** Now but will last.

A pair of 1960s Oleggio and Beccaro from Alto Piemonte

December 28, 2019 Leave a comment

On a dark December night, Sudip and I tried two old bottles of wine from the Novara-Vercelli hills of Alto Piemonte, home to such wines as Gattinara and Ghemme.  I can find little on the 1961 Cantina Sociale Cooperativa di Oleggio, Vino Vecchia Collina Riserva.  It probably has a base of Spanna with some amount of Bonarda and Vespolina, all three of which were certainly blended together for our second wine.  We know more about the 1964 Armando Beccaro, Vino Mesolone since this Mesolone was solely made by Armando Beccaro and son, of whom Mario Soldati recounted his visit in “Vino al Vino.”

The Oleggio has promise with its attractive and pervasive earthy note which matches its vinous nature.  Perhaps in a vintage like 1964, if it sports more fruit, then the acidity will be balanced out.  For now this is a solid table wine to consume with a meal.  The Beccaro opens up with air.  Regarded as a full-bodied wine in its youth, the dense, sweet flavors of fruit compote come out, anchoring the wine with pleasure as wood-box notes and spices add to the pleasure.  It is a successful blend, showing a profile different than that of pure Spanna, and definitely a wine I would be happy to drink again.

1961 Cantina Sociale Cooperativa di Oleggio, Vino Vecchia Collina Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Earthy at first.  Fresh menthol flavors in the mouth with tart acidity driving earthy red fruit into a vinous, old bottled aged wine middle.  The fruit is sweeter in the finish, likewise the attractive earthy note is longish in the aftertaste.  A solid wine whose acidity is taking over the flavors.  ** Now.

1964 Armando Beccaro, Vino Mesolone
Imported by T. Elenteny. A blend of roughly 50% Spanna, 30% Bonarda, and 20% Vespolina exclusively from family vines.  It was fermented for three weeks then racked once a year until it was bottled in the third or fourth year. Alcohol 13%.  A fresh nose with menthol notes.  This builds sweetness with air forming a sweet, fruity middle with a wood box finish.  A mid-weight wine, it is mixed with spices which become slightly spicy by the finish.  It responds well with air becoming dense in the middle with a compote of sweet, textured fruit extract.  *** Now.

Holiday Time Wine: 1977 Dessert Wines from California

December 27, 2019 Leave a comment

I have become swamped with work and despite a lack of posting, I have still managed to drink some interesting wines this fall.  The 1977 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Amador County is a fine find.  Founded in 1974, Monterey Peninsula Winery soon developed award winning Zinfandel from a county which became synonymous for the variety.  Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Nathan Chroman found the group of Zinfandels submitted at the 1976 Los Angeles Fair the finest in its history.  This included the 1974 vintage of the wine we tried.  Chroman found this “high-alcohol” or “late-harvest” style of wine a great success due to their balance with the alcohol.  Indeed, that is a quality which persists with the 1977 vintage to this day.

A lack of balance with alcohol is the affliction of the 1977 JW Morris Port Works, California Vintage Port.  Founded in 1975, JW  Morris Port Works soon ran into problems with capital and was sold off to the Toth family in 1983.  Morris bought Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel from 70 year old vines in Black Mountain as the basis for his ports.  In 1986, the Toth’s still had a stock of the 1977 Port which had been aged in wood for 6 1/2 years.  They planned on releasing it as the first of the Late Bottled Ports.  The goal was to produce a smoother drinking port without “the ‘hot’ alcoholic qualities” of the younger ports.  Perhaps the wine we tried had issues from the very beginning.

1977 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 17.8%.  The nose is a dead-ringer for a classic, less-sweet tawny port.  Ample, fruity flavors with baking spices, and still with fine rugged texture.  A certain robustness yet balanced all around, fine wood flavors…simply a treat.  ***(*)  Now but will last.

1977 JW Morris Port Works, California Vintage Port – half-bottle
Alcohol 20%.  A lovely nose, quite fruity and deep, revealing plentiful leather aromas with air.  In the mouth a fruity start, still youthful and well preserved but out of balance with the spirit.  Becomes hot by the end which I find distracting and a shame given the nose. *(*) Now but will last a long time.

An intense and dark 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot

October 16, 2019 Leave a comment

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

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

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

A Preserved mid-1970s Liberty School, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 4, 2019 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Surprisingly Good 1980 Girard, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 3, 2019 Leave a comment

The Girard family first bought land for their vineyard in 1972.  For several years they grew grapes until they built a winery in 1980.  It is from this inaugural year that Lou’s bottle of 1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley stems from.  The wine continued to slowly unfurl for hours, taking me by surprise for its persistent quality.  Looking back, this wine pleased others as well.

One early mention came from the 1981 Los Angeles County Fair where judges such as Dmitri Tchelistcheff, son of Andre Tchelistcheff, and Frank Prial of the New York Times awarded the wine a silver medal.[1]  Nathan Chroman found the Girards’ a “youthful and ebullient wine-making family”. [2] As for the wine itself he presents it as “high in extract and alcohol. A monster at 14% alcohol, but loaded with fruit…is already developing suppleness…put this one away for a few years to enjoy its ambitious power and hopeful complexity.”  Nearly four decades later that description is still quite valid.

1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
This wine was aged for 16 months in 50% new French oak.  Alcohol 14%.  Dark with a cherry garnet core yet fresh on the nose.  In fine condition, this bottle sports a developing core of flavor that gains weight and texture over the course of several hours.  It has a fresh mineral start and supple nature to the fruity core.  It wraps up with a spiced, scented finish.  Persistent in nature, it continues to deliver waves of flavor for hours. ***(*) Now – 2024.


[1] 132 Entries: A Fine Collection in Fair’s Cabernet Sauvignon Competition. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Sep 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. L26

[2] Quality of Most Products Ranges From Good to Excellent: New Wineries … CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Dec 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. M48