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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

1941 Casa de Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon from the Private Cellar of August Sebastiani

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

As a California Cabernet from the 1941 vintage, the wine is very good for its age: deep aromas and a burst of flavor delivered with graceful decline. I agree with Mannie Berk that any better and suspicions would be raised.  Incredibly, the wine is not from the great classic names like Beaulieu or Inglenook but rather the El Gavilan Winery.  The wine was originally acquired by August Sebastiani and the fact that the bottle survived to this day is rooted across the history of California wine.

The bottle of 1941 Casa de Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County bears a strip label indicating it came from August Sebastiani’s personal wine cellar.  The Sebastiani winery was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani.  Located in Sonoma County, it survived the Prohibition years by producing sacramental and medicinal wine.  In 1944, Samuele passed away and shortly thereafter, his son August and August’s wife Sylvia took over. In 1946, they built their family home overlooking the vineyards.  That same year they designed the Casa de Sonoma label for what would be their first bottled wine.  The label even shows the new family house and vineyard.

The Casa de Sonoma back label indicates that this new line of wines were “selected for their distinguished flavors and are made from superior grapes grown in the fine wine district of Northern California.”  In 1947, after a period of long aging, the 1941 Casa de Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon became the first wine August bottled.  It was first offered in 1950 at $1 per bottle.  It did not, however, sell well.  The Sebastiani clients were accustomed to screw-top wines and did not own the corkscrews required to open the Casa de Sonoma.  The remaining bottles were to lay in a corner of the warehouse.  Over the decades they would only be pulled out to celebrate special occasions.

Records from the post-war years are thin at Sebastiani.  Despite the label not indicating a vintage, it is known to be 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced primarily from San Benito County.  Sebastiani operated as a bulk wine producer from 1946-1959 which necessitated buying wine from other producers.  On the label we see that the wine itself was produced and bottled by El Gavilan Winery of Santa Rosa.

El Gavilan Vineyard and Winery

“I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness, and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.” John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”, 1952.

U.S. Geological Survey, 1940, USGS 1:62500-scale Quadrangle for Hollister, CA 1940

It was in 1907, that Dr. Harold Ohrwall, a San Francisco physician, and Professor Frederick Bioletti, Viticulture Department of the University of California, became partners in an experimental vineyard they called El Gavilan Vineyard.  The vineyard was located in San Benito County, some 95 miles south of San Francisco.  Their experiment took place in Grass Valley, 12 miles south-west of Hollister, on the Cienega Road. It was named after the Gabilan (or in Spanish Gavilan) Mountain Range which separates the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys.

U.S. Geological Survey, 1941, USGS 1:62500-scale Quadrangle for Gonzales, CA 1941

Professor Bioletti had convinced Dr. H Ohrwall that they could produce exceptional table wines.  This area was home to vineyards since the early 1850s when the Frenchman Theophile Vache settled in Cienega, some 9 miles south-west of Hollister.  Vache cleared the hillsides, creating vineyards with vines he brought over from Europe.  The area became known as the Vineyard District.

In 1898, Professor Bioletti joined the faculty at the University of California.  Over the years he became convinced that Grass Valley was a good area to grow fine wine grapes because of the good climate, fertile soils, and lack of phylloxera.  It also had good roads.

Professor Bioletti took a few years off from the university to start his venture with Ohrwall.  In 1908, Bioletti and Ohrwall added to their existing 15 acres of vines another 75 acres with vines sourced from the best vineyards in California.  Professor Bioletti soon left, not liking the practical side of vineyard management.  He returned to the University of California in 1910 becoming the first Professor of Viticulture as well as the first chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology before retiring in 1935.

Dr. H. Ohrwall continued operations as he enjoyed the life.  He built a small winery and crushed his first harvest in 1912.  The following harvest of 1913, yielded 29,000 gallons of wine which was valued at $6,000.  It was estimated that the yield would double the following year.  All of the wines were sold in bulk to the California Wine Association until Prohibition.  This would explain why no advertisements are to be found in period newspapers.  The Association ceased operating upon Repeal in 1935.

During Prohibition, households were allowed to make up to 300 gallons of wine for their own use.  New markets for grapes opened up on the east coast.  The grapes from El Gavilan were shipped off but at a reduced price compared to thicker skinned shipping varieties.  With the end of Prohibition in 1935, new wineries began opening up in the area.  For the next decade there was a period of renewal and turbulence.

El Gavilan Winery aged all of their wines in redwood casks for at least 4 years.  That August Sebastiani could purchase this wine and the fact that it spent 6 years in cask may be attributed to the difficulties of World War II.  The federal government requisitioned all raisin grapes for the production of raisins for military rations and not for use in making sweet wines.  The production of wine plummeted in 1942 as a result.  Price control was in effect which made the traditional selling of wine in bulk a nearly profitless venture.  However, the controls did allow for bottled wine to be sold at nearly five times the bulk pricing.  In 1943, the government requisitioned railway tankers, effectively ceasing the feasibility of bulk shipping.  El Gavilan would need to keep their production local.

East coast bottlers flocked to California to purchase wineries and vineyards.  This drove a boom for grape and wine prices in 1944.  El Gavilan Winery continued to operate under Dr. H. Ohrwall who produced wine until 1944.  The following year he sold the vineyard and winery to Taylor & Co during the market crash of 1945.  El Gavilan Winery ceased all operations in 1952.  A decade later, in 1963, the Taylor & Co properties were acquired by Almaden.

There are no records indicating if Auguste Sebastiani bought the wine either from Dr. H. Ohrwall or Taylor & Co.  It seems likely that Taylor & Co. sold the wine.  The labels, with El Gavilan Winery listed, were created in 1946 after Dr. H Ohrwall had sold the company.  That year California wine sales started off strong and increasing in value which might have influenced the creation of the Casa de Sonoma line.  The upward trend did not last long as the ending of the war and removal of price controls all contributed to a major crash of the wine market in 1947.  This is the year the wine was bottled and by all accounts, it was not immediately offered for sale.  Perhaps August Sebastiani chose to wait until 1950 for a better market.

The 1982 Re-release of Casa de Sonoma

The sachet which was tied to the bottle contains the original cork and paper capsule.

Shortly before August Sebastiani passed away in 1982, his son Sam Sebastiani, began running the winery.  He immediately set about moving operations towards the premium end by re-evaluating the quality of all purchased grapes.  He expanded the winery, invested heavily in new equipment, and ceased produced of old-fashion products such as sweet wines.  The release of the 1941 Casa de Sonoma was meant to symbolize these changes until the newly produced wines could stand on their own.

The wine is in the original 4/5 quart bottle with original labels.  When the bottles were recorked in May 1982, new foil was added and a small strip label indicating the provenance.  The original cork and paper cap were placed in a sachet which was tied to the neck of the bottle.    The replacement cork is stamped “Recorked [illegible] At Sebastiani Vineyards, Sonoma, California” along with an eagle.

The Wine

Sylvia Sebastiani had tasted the wine over a period of 30 years when it was released in 1982.  She recollected it started out “young and fruity” and then in the 1950s it “began to throw something of a sediment.  It has now developed a bottle bouquet.  It’s slightly brown around the edges but still has a substantial fruit character.” During the re-corking process, Sam Sebastiani said they noticed some variation between bottles but there was “an overall strong consistency.”  He felt the wine demonstrated the importance of redwood which allows the wine to mellow while still preserving its fruitiness.

Our bottle of wine was as well preserved as the labels.  The color is mature but still pigmented and bright.  There is a burst of flavor but the wine is old enough that any sweetness from concentration is gone.  The flavors are drying but there are suggestions of red fruit which is still supported by structure.  I will even venture to say the extended redwood aging is evident, for the profile of the wine is just different.

August Sebastiani’s careful cellaring leaves us with a very unique experience.   We get to taste the product of Professor Bioletti’s and Dr. H Ohrwall’s belief that site-specific, single-variety, traditionally made California wines could result in top quality wine.  There were others who were to soon champion this view most notably Martin Ray.

1941 Casa de Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
From the personal cellar of August Sebastiani.  Recorked in May 1982 at Sebastiani Vineyards.  Alcohol 13%.  A clear mature cherry wood color lightened from age.  A good nose full of mature aromas, suggestive of redwood.  In the mouth the wine is fading and drying, the sweetness of concentration is all gone.  There is a suggestion of red fruit with a meaty cut and perhaps some fat.  Fine wood and watering acidity still support the wine.  It certainly tastes of another era.  *** Drink up.


  • California Fruit News, Volume 49, Issue 1351. 1914. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=tXhRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA4#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Sebastiani Sets Record: WINE: $100 Bottle. Cannon, Carl. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Jul 13, 1982; ProQuest pg. E1
  • Lapsley, James T. “Bottled Poetry”. University of California Press. 1996.
  • My Most Memorable Bottle of Wine.  Meredith, Nikki.  Oct, 03, 1982. San Francisco Chronicle. pg 18.
  • Ohrwall, John P. “A History of Vineyard and Wineries in San Benito County” found in Almaden Vineyards, Petition for Establishment of San Benito as a Viticultural Area.  Dec 2, 1982.
  • Peninou, Ernest P.  “A History of The San Francisco Viticultural District.  Presented by Nomis Press for The Wine Librarians Association.  2004.
  • A CHANGING OF THE GUARD. By Terry Robards. New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 12, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. SM122
  • Rare vintage release by Sebastiani.  Thwaite, Jean. The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984); Jul 22, 1982; Proquest Historical Newspapers. pg. 19F.
  • U.S. Geological Survey, 1940, USGS 1:62500-scale Quadrangle for Hollister, CA 1940: U.S. Geological Survey. URL: https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/5d295848e4b038fabe1d13d3
  • U.S. Geological Survey, 1941, USGS 1:62500-scale Quadrangle for Gonzales, CA 1941: U.S. Geological Survey URL: https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/5d295838e4b038fabe1d13a3

 

Mature Burgundy: Barolet, DRC, Giroud, Roumier, and more

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A group of us recently gathered to taste mature bottles of Burgundy.  Due to everyone’s generosity, several different flights were formed.  We began with a blind flight of three different Champagne from the 1996 vintage.  This was followed by the main focus on both the 1965 and 1966 vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche and Romanée-Conti.  A very old bottle of Burgundy was then served.  A pair of Champagne Brut Rose was served while dinner was prepared.  After a slew of dinner wines, both young and old, dessert wines were deployed.  Several of the wines were off but due to everyone’s generosity, there was plenty to drink at a generally high level of pleasure.

1996 Champagne

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We kicked off the evening with a trio of Champagne from 1996.  The guest who generously brought these bottles poured them so we could taste them blind.  Of course I had no chance of guessing correctly, I have far too little experience with Champagne.  But I suspect with that experience these wines could have been identified blind.  The Gosset is mature and vinous, a wine to drink now. The Billecart-Salmon is elegant and lively, delivering its tart and chalky flavors with verve.  The Philipponnat is intense, rich and ripe, yet balanced by green apples and lemons.  I particularly enjoyed the last two.

Blind #1 – 1996 Gosset, Grand Millésime, Champagne Brut
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 12%. A touch of stink eventually blows off. In the mouth are mature flavors followed by ripe fruit in the middle. Age has given it a vinous quality. Additional air reveals this is a wine to drink now.  *** Now.

Blind #2 – 1996 Billecart-Salmon, Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart, Champagne Brut
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Elegant on the nose with a fine mousse and lively precise nature in the mouth. The flavors cut through the palate, supported by acidity. Quite enjoyable with attractive verve. It wraps up with tart citrus and a chalky finish. **** Now – 2029.

Blind #3 – 1996 Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses, Champagne Brut
Alcohol 13%.  A touch more aged yellow in the glass. The most intense nose with an intense offering in the mouth. The bubbles explode upon drinking, leaving a short-lived mousse which is replaced by a green apple note. It moves on to rich and ripe flavors with a lovely lemon finish. **** Now – 2029.

1965 and 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

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I was fortunate to purchase a small parcel of old wines including the following quartet of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The wines were originally purchased by a couple in the Washington, DC area who bought their wines from MacArthur Beverages. For decades these bottles were stored in the basement.  I am not sure what happened during those years, perhaps a basement flood, for the labels and fills varied.

These were not the best looking bottles but given the scarcity and generally insane pricing of these wines  I had to organize a tasting around them.  For I doubt I could ever again taste the 1965 and 1966 vintages of Romanée-Conti and La Tâche in one sitting.  And what a pairing of vintages, the disastrous 1965 with the very good 1966.  But I had another reason for pairing the two vintages.

Neal Martin wrote in Fermented Grape Juice: Romanée-Conti 1953-2005 how Aubert de Villaine recently served the 1965 Romanée-Conti to a large group.  Michael Broadbent rates this soggy vintage zero stars yet the very late October picking resulted in a wine that Neal Martin found “mocks its vintage reputation and defies all expectations.”  One guest with deep Burgundy experience believes he had never before tasted any Burgundy from the 1965 vintage.

The wines were single-decanted then immediately poured.  With all four glasses in front of us it was obvious our bottle of 1965 Romanée-Conti was flawed as was the 1966 La Tâche.  The 1966 Romanée-Conti was suffering a bit but the 1965 La Tâche was in fine form.  Despite being less than ideal, the 1966 Romanée-Conti  initially offered a complex nose I had trouble describing.  The 1965 La Tâche was the star of this flight for me.  A lovely wine all around and complete shock given the vintage.  Compared to some of the other wines with similar age, this has quite a bit of substance.  I held on to my glass for a long time.

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1965 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, S/N 01281
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Very clean on the nose, revealing incense and perfume. Elegant yet with depth. This is a mid-weight wine which still sports some supporting tannins. With air it reveals a silky nature, infused with fat, and a baking spiced finish. **** Now but will last.

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1965 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti, S/N 00578
Imported by Frederick Wildman. The stink on the nose is hard to get around. Shame as it is round and dense in the mouth with a mineral cut. The flavors have power but the nose reveals it is a flawed bottle that eventually falls apart. Not Rated.

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1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, S/N 03090
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Shame, the worst nose and gross in the mouth. Not Rated.

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1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti, S/N 01221
Imported by Frederick Wildman. An exotic nose with perfumed aromas that I have difficulty describing. In the mouth it is supple and elegant with some spice. *** Now.

A Blind, Rather Old Bottle of Burgundy

After the DRC flight we were treated to a bottle of Burgundy served blind.  Two lines of inquiry developed as to the vintage and appellation.  Though one guest eventually narrowed in on Pommard, I do not possess that sort of experience so I focused in on vintage.  It was certainly older than 1964.  Based on a handful of bottles I have tasted from the 1940s and 1930s I decided it had to be older, perhaps 1920s or even 1910s.

The bottle was revealed to be 1928 Collection du Docteur Barolet (Henri de Villamont) Pommard-Epenots.  I was excited to guess the general age but more so to finally have tasted a Dr. Barolet wine.  The excitement level rose even more when we next learned that it was acquired at the 2006 Acker auction of Rudy Kurniawan’s “THE Cellar”.  I will write more about this particular bottle in a subsequent post but whether it be a real or fake bottle, it was very good.  Michael Broadbent writes that the 1928 Epenots and Rugiens were among the best of original bottles at the 1969 Christie’s auction.  At our tasting, it was one of the best bottles as well.

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1928 Collection du Docteur Barolet (Henri de Villamont) Pommard-Epenots
Purchased at “THE Cellar”, Acker-Merrall & Condit, January 2006. The lightest and most mature brick color of all wines tasted this night. Clear in the glass. A fine, scented nose with ripe hints. It develops with air showing apple orchard and hints of red fruit. In the mouth it is red fruited, tart with some vein of very old wine flavor. There is a meaty note. Precision comes from the spine of acidity. It focuses with air.  **** Now but will last.

Champagne Refreshment

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A pair of Champagnes acted as a palate refresher while the preparation of the Coq au Vin was finished.  The Paul Bara, Special Club is on the sweet side for my preferences.  I can imagine serving it outside at a BBQ.  I prefer the Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne.

2012 Paul Bara, Special Club, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by Envoyer Imports. Alcohol 12%.  A burst of sweet fruits comes with the initially firm bubbles.  A creamy mousse persists along with the sweet fruit.  *** Now – 2024.

2006 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Aromatic.  Focused flavors and firm bubbles lead to dry, baking spices.  There is a vein of sharp acidity around which rounded, berry notes form until picking up a racy hint in the finish.  ***(*) Now – 2029.

Dinner Wines

With dinner we moved on to several old and a few young Burgundies.  Some of the oldest Burgundies I have drunk comes from Maison Camille Giroud.  Founded in the 19th century, this negociant firm still believes in long barrel aging.  They hold back stock, releasing some wines decades after the vintage.  The 1949 Camille Giroud, Volnay Santenay Premier Cru and 1966 Camille Giroud, Volney 1er Cru Clos des Chenes reflect perfect provenance.  Both wines sport some old-wine concentration but the 1949 is more tangy and elegant from age whereas the 1966 is completely different with its attractive baked cookie notes.  It was my second experience with the 1978 Mongeard-Mugneret, Grands-Echezeaux and I still like it very much.  It is a hedonistic wine for drinking now.  In moving forward nearly two decades, the 1994 Domaine G. Roumier, Chambolle-Musigny is certainly younger but still full of character.  I particularly liked the scented nose and understated complexity.  In contrast, the 2002 Domaine Annick Parent, Volnay Les Fremiets  is very young and tonight, in need of more age.

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1949 Camille Giroud, Volnay Santenay Premier Cru
Burgundy Wine Company Selection.  Round with sweet and sweaty flavors with a beautiful, old-wine concentration.  The finish is initially a little short and there is some heat but there is plenty to engage with.  The wine does flesh out with air, taking on tangy citrus, spices, and stones in the long, lifted, ethereal finish. **** Now.

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1966 Camille Giroud, Volney 1er Cru Clos des Chenes
Imported by USa Wine Imports. Burgundy Wine Company Selection.  A deep mahogany color.  The array of spices on nose reminds me of Nurnberger Lebkuchen.  A round and sweet start brings on some old-school flavors carried by a structural vein.  Sandalwood. **** Now – 2024.

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1978 Mongeard-Mugneret, Grands-Echezeaux
Shipped by Robert Haas Selections. Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Exotic perfume on the nose.  The cherry fruit flavors persist with good acidity.  This is a weighty, expansive wine with fat in the finish.  Hedonistic and drinking well right now.  **** Now.

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1994 Domaine G. Roumier, Chambolle-Musigny
Alcohol 12.7%.  Nice with a strawberry scented nose.  An elegant wine with some gravelly density.  It balances youth with complexity leaving the impression of a lovely, characterful wine.  ***(*) Now – 2029.

2002 Domaine Annick Parent, Volnay Les Fremiets
Very youthful, pure, almost candied with flavors of red grapefruit.  In the end, I think this wine needs more time.  *** 2022-2032.

Dessert Wine

With a chocolate tart we had a small grouping of dessert wines.  In order of age, the 1946 Bodegas Albala, Don P.X. Convento, Montilla-Moriles is perhaps the most concentrated wine I have drunk.  With notes of dried figs and baking spices, this unctuous wine has enough acidity to keep it balanced.  There is so much flavor packed in that you only need the tiniest of pours.  The 1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen continues to deliver unctuous flavors with tea notes but this bottle showed a touch less acidity than before.  It is always a treat to taste these old bottles of Riesling.  Finally, the 1968 Lodovico e Piero Antinori, Vino Santo Rosso Riserva offered a good surprise.  The nose was pungent, evocative of Madeira, with dried fruit and spices, along with a touch of red fruit.  I had no idea what to expect so I was pleased.

1946 Bodegas Albala, Don P.X. Convento, Montilla-Moriles
Imported by Classical Wines.  Alcohol 17%.  Bottled in 2011.  Surely, the most concentrated wine I have tasted.  Incredibly dark and viscous enough to stain the glass brown.  Lifted aromas of dried figs and baking spices.  An acidity driven start followed by a knife-edge of acidity pierces through the unctuous and sweet flavors.  Fresh, wet baking spiced flavors coat and persist in the mouth for a long time.  One of the most concentrated wines I have ever dried, you only need a tiny pour.  **** Now until whenever!

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1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars. From the Don Stott Cellar.  A youthful yet aged golden yellow color.  Baking spices on the nose.  A sweet core with weighty flavors of apricot and tea.  A bit soft, plumped up with fat and perfume.  There is less obvious acidity but the tea and tannins keep the wine fresh.  *** Now.

1968 Lodovico e Piero Antinori, Vino Santo Rosso Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  Alcohol 16%.  Wow, of course I like this wine for the pungent aromatics remind me a bit of Madeira.  There are flavors of sweet, spiced, dried fruit and plenty of texture around the fuller bodied wine.  There is enough acidity to be supportive.  The wine tastes of mature flavors with old leather and old-school notes in the finish.  Towards the end this viscous wine becomes more red-fruited.  ***(*) Now – 2039.

Wines That Were DOA

The following three bottles were bad!

  • NV (1970s) Simi, Burgundy, Sonoma
  • 1978 E. Guigal, Hermitage
  • 1985 Comte Armand, Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux

A disintegrating label yet solid 1966 Lafite Rothschild

A widow recently sold off the small remains of her wine cellar.  The wines were originally purchased from MacArthur Beverages a long time ago, then stored in the basement of her house. There was nearly a case of 1966 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac with labels varying from largely intact to disintegrating.  I picked bottles with the best fills, which coincidentally had the worst labels.  Last month, I opened a bottle with the lowest fill to gauge what I had purchased.

The 1966 vintage of Lafite was available in Washington, DC for several years.  In 1970, you could purchase 1966 Lafite for $9.50 a bottle.  By 1971, the price had crept up to $12 before skyrocketing to $20 in 1972.  You can understand how this massive increase in French wine prices, in part, led to more people buying Californian wine.

Under the capsule, the top of the cork was covered with mold which was working its way down the long cork.  While not the best preserved cork, at least half of it was still in business.  I decanted the wine into a flask then took a sniff of a freshly poured glass.  It smelled clean.

Edmund Penning-Rowsell writes that Lafite went through a bit of a bad spell between 1964 and 1974.  David Peppercorn reports that 323 tonneaux were produced that vintage which is a greater than in 1982.  I relay this information because I found this bottle just moderately good.  It did smell and taste of good condition despite the fill and label.  My impression seems to follow others on Cellar Tracker.  While the wine is now in a tertiary state with cigar box, earth, and meat, there is good weight and even a sense of fat.  I happily drank it with relishing thoughts of what is in the other bottles.

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1966 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Laurent Lescure.  Imported by Capitol City Liquors Co.  This is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  Upper to top shoulder fill.  A garnet-mahogany color.  A slight herbaceous edge to the nose but also earth and meat.  The flavors are light yet the body is weighty and develops a round edge.  With air, flavors of tart red fruit take on cigar box by the middle and graphite in the end.  A pretty wine, completely smooth, which becomes meaty with luxurious, ethereal fat in the finish.  **(*) Now.

The First Release: 1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander’s Crown

July 25, 2019 2 comments

When Rodney Strong created Sonoma Vineyards in the 1960s, he already had years worth of experience at multiple wineries.  In fact, Sonoma Vineyards represents the rebirth of his successful Windsor Vineyards.  Based on his winemaking experiences Strong built a new, practically designed winery in which he installed the latest winemaking equipment including temperature controlled stainless steel tanks made by his own company.

The Sonoma Vineyards name was inspired by Strong’s increasing acquisition of vineyards throughout Sonoma County.  Strong believed, based on European ideas, that each vineyard should be planted with the grape variety best suited for it.  Two of his vineyards were of particular high quality, Chalk Hill for Chardonnay and Alexander’s Crown for Cabernet Sauvignon.  As a result of his terroir driven interests, Strong began his vineyard designated series with Chalk Hill in the 1960s.  This was followed by the Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon series in the 1970s.  In fact, the 1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County represents the first release of this series.

By releasing the 1974 Alexander’s Crown, Strong created the first single-vineyard wine from Alexander Valley.  The AVA was to follow some 10 years later.  For this vineyard, Strong had purchased 180 acres of which 61 acres was planted in 1971.  He felt the red, iron oxide soil produced big, forward Cabernet wines.

This bottle of 1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County had fill in the neck with a beautiful, well-seated cork for its age.  One quick sniff and taste confirmed it was in fine condition.  It is a deep flavored wine with a fine mineral note.  It is generously fruity, berrylicious in fact, with all structure resolved as it is in the last stage of its fully mature plateau.  It is a lovely surprise to discover this wine.

The background information in this post comes from Carole Hicke’s 1993 interview of Rodney Strong which you may find here.

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1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in 60 and 120 gallon French oak barrels.  Alcohol 13.7%.  Immediately deep in flavor with minerals and earth evident, followed by full flavored, cherry core.  There is good complexity from the first pour.  With air the flavors become bluer and more minerals come out.  If I find fault it is with the finish that is a touch soft but this is likely due to it being near the end of its fully mature plateau.  It remains berrylicious and satisfying to the last drop.  **** Now but will last.

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