I opened the 1979 De Forville, Barbaresco on a whim when I found out a dinner guest at our house is another wine lover. I picked up this bottle from Chambers Street Wine a year or two ago on the recommendation of Jamie. De Forville is a 19th century estate which, according to the Wasserman’s, produced this wine using the traditional methods of long skin contact and long cask aging. The 1979 vintage was uneven but I suspect the traditional winemaking and careful storage ensured that it arrived at my table in fine shape. This bottle fleshed out then peaked after 15 to 30 minutes. It is more complex in the mouth and when opened up, reveals mouth filling old-school flavors. I happily savored the last glass while I read a mystery book.
1979 De Forville, Barbaresco
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 13%. The cranberry with mixed red fruit nose reveals that the wine is very much alive. In the mouth the flavors of leather and red fruit soon flesh out a bit. This is an old-school wine with plenty of grip and acidity. It becomes more complex in the mouth adding black fruit, wood notes, and an inky bit. It wraps up with ethereal ripeness in the aftertaste. **** Now but will last.
Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973. My particular bottle of 1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva was vintaged the same year González Byass bought the winery. The estate is famous for their barrels made from American oak staves and French oak heads. The fruit for this wine was sourced entirely from Rioja Alta, a higher altitude region that produces brighter and lighter wines. The nose on this wine reflects its age with mature notes that remains aromatic for hours. In the mouth you get a sense or origin for this is a fully mature, bright wine with texture from the remaining structure. I recommend drinking it now but it should hold its current state for years to come. Given the release price for the current vintage, this vintage only costs an extra $1 per year of age. It is available at The Rare Wine Co.
1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva – $50
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. It is a clear, light garnet color. There are good aromas of modestly sweet fruit, vanilla, and a sweaty note. In the mouth this is fully mature with a very fine texture from the structure. It is a gentle wine with moderate body, watering acidity, and a generally bright and slightly tart profile. It remains aromatic. *** Now but will last.
A few weeks back I was lucky to be a guest when Sotiris hosted his tasting group. We tasted seven wines blind of which one was a ringer. Now I could not peg that we were tasting 2000 and 1996 Bordeaux but the 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley did stick out for it is certainly different. Though the flavor is good, the structure is rather intense at this point so I suggest cellaring it for years to come.
The 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien is a particularly fine wine which you may drink now and over the coming years. From the nose to the flavor and mouth feel I could not help but to enjoy it. I thought the 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe showed well too. The nose demonstrates how it is entering a mature phase but the power and acidity will see this through for some time. As for the other bottles, the 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion is a wine to drink now whereas the 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien needs time to come into its own. Our bottle of 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves was sadly musty but the 2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage was spot on. This group loves Rhone wines so what a treat to finish up with Chave. This is a fine, impeccably balanced wine that is still very young in flavor but the saline and fat notes hint at future complexity.
1) 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion
Imported by Wine Markets Intl. Alcohol 13%. A garnet hint in the glass. There are hints of maturity on the nose, ripe fruit, minerals, and Kirsch. The mature ripe start soon brings minerals but is not as expansive as I expected. There is a prominent vein of acidity, some herbaceous flavors, floral middle then less apparent acidity and spices in the finish. ***(*) Now – 2022.
2) 2000 Chateau Magdelaine, St-Emilion
Imported by Maison Marques et Domaines. Alcohol 13%. The nose is more subtle. This is a redder wine with fuzzy cranberry and red berry flavors. It has a core of sweet fruit in the middle then takes on more body, grip, and an herbaceous bit. *** Now – 2022.
3) 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien
Imported by Bordeaux Wine Locators. Alcohol 13%. This is a dark violet garnet color with an elegant nose. There is power in the mouth which builds until the very finely textured flavors fill the mouth. It also coats the mouth with structure. Despite the strength this is an elegant wine with red fruit, minerals, and quite the aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.
4) 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. There is a eucalyptus start followed by a red fruit burst with acidity. The flavor is interesting and different than the others. This is a powerful wine with very, finely coating flavor. With air flavors of blue fruit develop, warmth, and fresh grip. The very fine structure is intense and there is a bit of a rough patch with heat right before the finish. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
5) 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Ginday Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is fine and mature with a eucalyptus component. The wine is bright with focused flavors of red fruit that takes on a citric hint in the middle. With good power, the vein of acidity will see this wine develop for some time. A lovely wine. **** Now – 2027.
6) 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Calvert-Woodley. Alcohol 13%. There is a tough of cream to the nose. The tangy and ripe, powdery blue fruit builds grip as it leaves flavor on the gums. Powerful structure. With air the wine develops attractiveness as the components balance out. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
7) 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%. The musty nose makes with to a mature, mouth filling wine. The flavor is lighter, the structure is there, as is mineral and cedar box but no denying this is flawed. Too bad. Not Rated.
2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage
Imported by Langdon Shiverick. This is a tense wine with a saline note that adds complexity to the red fruit. The structure is perfectly integrated, the balanced impeccable. With air a very fine perfumed finish makes way to an aftertaste of gently coating fat. **** 2022-2032.
It took nearly one century for the wines of Mendocino County to become recognized for their quality. Grapes have grown in Mendocino County since at least 1880. The vineyards survived and perhaps even expanded during Prohibition as demand for home wine-making spread beyond San Francisco to the east coast. After Repeal grapes made their way to Napa and Sonoma Counties to be used in blends. It was not until the 1970s that the wines became recognized. This was first due to the efforts of Parducci and soon by those of the Fetzer family.
At our most recent dinner with Sudip and his wife Melanie, I brought up two bottles of Fetzer wine from the 1978 and 1979 vintages. We would first spend the afternoon tasting the wines in the living room where a fire burned for hours and a Mercury Living Presence reissue of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 spun on the turntable. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from purchased fruit coming from Lake County. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from the Home Vineyard originally planted by the Fetzer family in 1958.
It was a year prior, in 1957, that the lumberman Bernie Fetzer and his wife, moved their family of 11 children from Oregon to the sawmill region in Mendocino County some 120 miles north of San Francisco. Here the family purchased an abandoned 720 acre ranch where they found an old 70 acre vineyard. The family worked the land and in planting vines chose to include Cabernet Sauvignon, the first in the county.
As demand for varietal grapes reduced in the mid 1960s, the Fetzers began to sell grapes to amateur winemakers throughout the country. In 1968 the winery was bonded. The timing was impeccable. It is from this legendary 1968 vintage that Fetzer’s first Zinfandel earned a reputation which lasted for many years.
Nearly the entire family worked for the business. They constantly reinvested in the latest winemaking equipment, developed their own sales force, and sought expansion by purchasing fruit instead of land to develop vineyards on. They earned a reputation for producing pleasing, yet inexpensive premium wine. Even Robert Parker found the entire range “above average to very good” and priced below the “absurd” levels of other wineries. Eight years of nearly 20 percent annual growth in sales allowed them to avoid the cycles of the American wine boom which saw preferences oscillate between American and French wines. Fetzer went from being considered a small winery to the 25th largest Californian winery in 1983. Volume rose from 2,500 cases in 1968 to half a million cases in 1983.
Fetzer built their reputation on red wines including Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon in part through winning medals at the Los Angeles County Fair. Bernie Fetzer planted Cabernet Sauvignon on the Home Vineyard against the recommendation of UC Davis. He did so because he valued soil and sun exposure before science.
Both bottles had fills where the neck meets the shoulder. The short corks were sound. The 1978 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County is mature and herbaceous. Despite rallying after half an hour by taking on some firmness it largely did not hold interest. The 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard proved different. There is both more fruit and body with integrated acidity that gave it a bit of zip in the end.
Several LPs and burning logs later we sat down to dinner. I brought out a third bottle of wine this time from the southern half of California. Like Mendocino, San Luis Obispo County has been home to the grape vine since the 1880s. It is the York Mountain Winery that was responsible for the wines of the region until the early 1970s. Zinfandel was their specialty but new money and the wine boom meant several enormous new vineyards were being planted by 1973.
These new vineyards were planted with Zinfandel but the focus appears to be on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Estrella River Vineyards was one of these new ventures. It was founded in 1973 by Gary Eberle who went on to found Eberle Winery in 1979, co-found the Paso Robles Appellation, and recently return to Estrella.
Little is written about the early years of this winery but they were one of the new wineries to catch attention at the 1978 Los Angeles County Fair. Their 1977 Chardonnay won a gold medal. When one journalist visited the winery during the winter of 1979 he found the winery but no tasting room. It had not yet been built so with no wine for sale he had to purchase his bottles in town. The Estrella River Vineyard name soon made the pages of the New York Times when Frank J. Prial listed it as one of many award-winning wineries few people had heard of.
It is one of these passing references which caused me to originally pick up the 1978 Estrella River Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. In perfect condition and again with a solid, short cork the wine first greeted me with an annoying amount of bottle stink. I moved on to find a surprising amount and quality of ripe fruit with fresh acidity. After half an hour the stink was still around, perhaps muted but unwilling to fully clean up. It is a shame as it is quite lively, sporting robust fruit in the mouth. It was ultimately Sudip’s favorite wine. I preferred the 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard for it is clean, balanced all around, elegant, and easy to drink.
1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County
The herbaceous flavors mix with vintage perfume in this finely textured wine. It is acidity driven, crsip and bright. Though surviving the flavors are ultimately uninteresting before it falls apart. Past.
1979 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard, Mendocino County
This wine was aged for 13 months in American oak barrels. Alcohol 12.3%. There is good fruit and body with better integration of acidity. It remains lively in the middle as polished wood notes come through in the finish. It even has a little zip in the end. It is more in the vein of elegant, clean fruit with good overall balance. It did not fade over two hours. *** Now.
1978 Estrella River Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol 13.5%. The bottle stink is strong at first but does lessen with air. Some of that stink follows through in the mouth but there is also a surprising amount of mature, ripe fruit with quite the youthful grip. The acidity keeps it lively throughout when it finishes with coffee and sweet cocoa flavors. ** Now – 2020.
1) WINE: STATUS QUO 20 YEARS LATER, THE FETZER FAMILY Balzer, Robert Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 30, 1988;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. N38
2) Santa Barbara? It’s Part of Wine Country Now: Even Actors Get Into Grape Binge on Central Coast Cannon, Carl Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jul 10, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
3) SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY: STATE HAS NEW GRAPE-GROWING REGION GRAPES CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 18, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
4) VINTAGE YEARS TO COME: THE PURPLING OF MENDOCINO CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Nov 8, 1973;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
5) Coast Winery Bucks Trends: A Rapid Ascent For Fetzer Winery By THOMAS C. HAYESSpecial to The New York Times New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 23, 1983; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. D1
6) The Fetzer Line By Robert M. Parker Jr. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 20, 1981; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. L1
7) Wine Talk: Little-known California wineries winners of many top awards. Prial, Frank J New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 22, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C14
8) Bernie Fetzer: ‘Nonconformist’ With an Award- Winning Vineyard: Wine Notes By William Rice The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 30, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E19
9) A Watch on the Wine Smith, Jack Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 13, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
There is one great source for traditional, old Rioja in America and that is Mannie Berk of The Rare Wine Co. One of Mannie’s recommendations is the 1970 Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Rioja Bordon Cosecha Especial. Bodegas Franco-Españolas dates back to 1901 when it was founded by Frederique Anglade. The name reflects that fact that the operation was financed with both French and Spanish funds.
Frederique Anglade was a merchant who largely shipped Rioja in bulk back to France for blending. In 1890 he began to mature small amounts of wine for direct sale thus providing a foundation for the winery. By 1905 he was sending 60,000 hectoliters of wine to Spain, Europe, and America as well as producing some 200,000 bottles a year.
According to Jean Read in Wines of the Rioja (1984) no vineyards were owned so both fruit and finished wine were purchased from all over the region. Several different wines were made including this mid level Rioja Bordon which was regarded as “fuller bodied”.
At nearly half a century of age this wine still retains sweet, concentrated flavors of red fruit. The 1970 vintage is an excellent one and it is clearly reflected in this wine. The wine peaks after half an hour with gentle, ethereal flavors, the right amount of acidity, and a bit of grip for substance. The estate was sold off in 1973 so this is one of the last wines released under the original ownership.
1970 Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Rioja Bordon Cosecha Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are aromas of sweaty leather, wood, and red fruit. In the mouth are sweet, concentrated flavors of strawberries. Light in body, the sweet red fruit returns in the middle before the dry finish. The wine cleans up a bit with the right amount of acidity, a bit of grip, and a very gentle ethereal sweet flavor in the aftertaste. With air it adds both meat and blood notes. ***(*) Now.
The 1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage is at a state where it drinks perfectly. There are mature wine flavors, spices, and wood box delivered with a seductive round mouth feel. The structure is fully resolved with enough acidity to leave a fresh impression. In short, there is no reason to hold onto this Late Bottled Vintage any longer. You may pull the cork and start drinking to satisfaction but if you give it a bit of air, it will improve a notch.
1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage Port
Imported by Robert Hass Selections. Alcohol 20%. There is an ample volume of round, berry fruit with quite a lot of body present from the very beginning. It is in a fully integrated state with vintage wine flavor, christmas spices, wood box, and some ripe brown sugar flavor. Perhaps there is a softness to the round quality but the wine is still very fresh. With air the sweet cream and Christmas spice is carried with a glycerin mouthfeel. The rounded structure is fully resolved. **** Now but will last.
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.