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Three CdP and a Ringer

December 12, 2021 Leave a comment

Lou and I gathered outside to taste a small selection of Chateauneuf du Pape and one ringer. The 1978 Chapoutier, La Bernardine, Chateauneuf du Pape smells very good (it sports concentrated sweet aromas only brought by age) but the flavors do not deliver the same level of quality. The 1981 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Doctor’s Reserve, Monterey County smells OK but is interesting in the mouth. The nose certainly reflects the cooler climate of Monterey as do the tart flavors. A solid start.

The 2003 Les Cailloux (Brunel), Chateauneuf du Pape requires a bit of air to balance out. It is currently more complex and evolved (though will develop further) than the 2006 Domaine de Cristia, Chateauneuf du Pape. This later wine has good tension to support its future potential.

1978 Chapoutier, La Bernardine, Chateauneuf du Pape

Imported by Charles Lefranc Cellars. Alcohol 14%. In fine condition. Proper concentrated aromas are evocative of the 1960s and 1970s. In the mouth are bright flavors of tart, red fruit with bright acidity to carry it through. Unfortunately, the nose is more complex that in the mouth where the flavors hollow out at the finish. ** Drink Up.

1981 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Doctor’s Reserve, Monterey County

Alcohol 11.7%. Aromas of menthol and herbaceousness. A ripe hint in the mouth is soon followed by flavors of sweet tarts matched by chalky tannins. The wine builds in flavor, with the tart cherry core lasting throughout. An interesting wine. **(*) Now.

2003 Les Cailloux (Brunel), Chateauneuf du Pape

Alcohol 14.5%. The nose responds to air, improving with a deep note. It is initially quite ripe in flavor but this cleans up to reveal deep red, complex fruit, watering acidity, and ripe tannins. The fruit continues through the aftertaste. Quite enjoyable and certainly able to develop further over a few more years. ***(*) Now – 2032.

2006 Domaine de Cristia, Chateauneuf du Pape

Baking spices on the nose. More specifically Nuremberg Lebkuchen. A young, fresh wine which is ripe yet tense in balance with the acidity. The ripe, chewy tannins are attractive and so is the tangy acidity. In a markedly younger state than the Les Cailloux, it could stand further age to develop those bottle aged aromas and flavors. *** Now – 2035.

A Mature Bottle of Roudon Smith

December 9, 2021 Leave a comment

According to the back label, the fruit for the 1978 Roudon Smith Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County was sourced from a vineyard on the valley floor and one on Moon Mountain. What the label does not state is that the winery building was constructed the same year as the vintage. Up to this point, the wines had been raised in the cellar of the house. Roudon-Smith Vineyards was founded by the two families just prior in 1972. In a short period, they went on to produce a diverse number of wines including six different Cabernets bottled for the 1978 vintage. Three of those wines were made from Sonoma County fruit including this bottle.

Coming after the two drought years of 1976 and 1977, this 1978 Roudon Smith shows good acidity and brightness. Lively and enjoyable, it is clearly at its peak but will provide pleasure for some time.

1978 Roudon Smith Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County

This wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak. Bottle July 1980. Alcohol 13.4%. Intensely aromatic, combining dry tobacco and a green note. In the mouth this is a tart, sappy wine that is very much alive. Quite nice, with clean, red fruit and a dose of very fine tannins playing a supportive role. It lasts well with air, eventually taking on dry flavors of sour cherry and some spicy notes of Big Red in the finish. ***(*) Now.

Another Pandemic Tasting of Old Californian Wines

December 8, 2021 2 comments

Petite Sirah can often seem immune from age but the first pair of wines tasted did not subscribe to that notion. I expected the bottle of 1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County to deliver and it certainly did. It is a favorite of mine. The 1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Zinfandel, Scharffenberger, Mendocino was a new and pleasing experience for me.

The Fetzer family purchase their ranch in 1958, from which they sold grapes to amateur wine makers. A decade later, in 1968, they began to release their own wines. Robert Parker wrote in The Washington Post that since 1978, the Fetzer wines represented some of the best values in the market. The highest qualify and most expensive wines included Zinfandel from the three Mendocino vineyards: Ricetti, Lolonis, and Scharffenberger. Priced at near $9, these were full-throttle wines with the Scharffenberger bringing in 15.4% alcohol by volume. This fact was noted by Terry Robards of The New York Times. Out of 23 Zinfandels tasted, only two others are listed as having levels higher at 15.5% and 15.9%. The fruit was sourced from John Scharffenberger, whose family purchased the old Hildreth Ranch in 1973. The vineyard was planted with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon on the advice of Barney Fetzer and John Parducci. Much of the fruit was sold to Fetzer.

Some mature, full-bodied Zins can be monolithic, if not well-preserved. I found the 1978 Fetzer has enough balance that it is neither monolithic nor overly hot. It would be fun to taste examples of all three vineyards from this vintage side by side.

1975 Burgess, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley

Bottled May 1977. Alcohol 13.4%. Volatile on the nose with aromas of furniture polish. Firm red fruit in the mouth, short in flavor with fine textured tannins. Not Rated.

NV Tiburon Vintners, Windsor Vineyards, Petite Sirah

Bottled November 1973 for Eric and Arleen Peterson. Alcohol 12%. Clean with slightly sweet fruit on the nose. Drinkable but simple. * Now.

1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County

Alcohol 13.7%. Old-school aromas on the nose (sweaty with concentrated sweet fruit) with a life from eucalyptus. In the mouth the flavors build forming a deep note in the middle with a pervasive, vintage perfumed finish. Sappy acidity and freshly articulated tannins speak to top condition of this wine. With air, soft edges develop along with sweet cocoa and a hint of cola. ***** Now but will last.

1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Zinfandel, Scharffenberger, Mendocino

Alcohol 15.4%. A well preserved example of a bigger Zinfandel, very ripe but still in balance without exposing any alcohol. It is mouthfilling through the end where it picks up brown sugar notes. ***(*) Now but will last.

A Pandemic Tasting of Old Californian Wines with Lou

December 7, 2021 1 comment

Lou and I met up outside several times during the pandemic to taste a few bottles of wine. We started off with a small group of Zinfandel. Despite a rather disappointing performance as a whole, the bottle of 1979 Santino, Zinfandel, Special Selection, Fiddletown, Amador County stood out and rightfully so.

It was the same year of our bottle, 1979, that Scott Harvey took over as General Manager and Winemaker at Santino Winery. He had spent the previous years studying in Germany and locally at Story Vineyard and Montevina. When Scott Harvey wrote to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in support of creating a Fiddletown appellation, he noted that his best and most expensive Zinfandel wines came from Fiddletown. The fruit for the 1979 Special Selection we drank was made using fruit sourced from 60 year old vines at Chester Eschen’s Vineyard. Ridge Vineyards was also purchasing Zinfandel fruit from the same vineyard beginning in 1974.

I found the Santino offered up plenty of satisfaction until my share of the bottle was done.

1971 Fortino Winery, Zinfandel

Alcohol 12.5%. A rather old nose but some attractive vintage perfume survives. In the mouth sweaty flavors exist in a watery and light wine with bits of greenness. Fortunately, the sweaty, earthy aspect returns in the somewhat complex finish. *(*) Drink up.

1978 Mirassou, Unfiltered Zinfandel, Monterey County new label

Alcohol 13%. Slightly cloudy in the glass. A touch of overripe fruit. A medicinal note then tart red fruit with some cranberry like verve. Tastes of young vines. *(*) Drink up.

1978 Mirassou, Unfiltered Zinfandel, Monterey County old label

Alcohol 12.5%. Meaty flavors of firm cherry and tart red fruit before the textured finish. Vintage perfume mixes with fresh acidity and a hint of wood box. ** Now.

1979 Santino, Zinfandel, Special Selection, Fiddletown, Amador County

This wine is 100% Zinfandel sourced from 60 year old non-irrigated vines located at Eschen’s Vineyard. It was aged in small French oak barrels. Alcohol 14%. Clearly the best of all wine. Mature but plenty of fruit, texture, and balance. In fine shape with plenty of life ahead but pleasurable now. *** Now.

1980 A. Rafanelli, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

Alcohol 14.2%. Unfortunately, I did not write down a note.

A Return to Tasting with 2012 Chateauneuf du Pape

December 6, 2021 Leave a comment

I recently joined a very small group for a blind tasting of eight wines. While I was initially unsure of the theme, it was increasingly clear this was not a vertical, and by the end there was enough confidence to settle on a horizontal of Chateauneuf du Pape. I was, however, stymied at determining the vintage.

With nearly a decade of age, the 2012 vintage has produced some very satisfying wines. Some examples, such as the 2012 Domaine Grand Veneur, Vieilles Vignes and beautiful 2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Vieilles Vignes have a long future ahead. The 2012 Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, changed tremendously over the course of a few hours. It is immensely satisfying in the end but perhaps it should be aged a few more years. The 2012 Domaine de Marcaux is my favorite wine from this evening. It stood out as an elegant, traditional wine during the tasting and continued to captivate until the bottle was finished.

Please find my notes below in their tasting order. Many thanks to the host who also opened a 1988 Chateau Climens to wrap things up.

#1 2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Chaupin, Chateauneuf du Pape

Plummy depths on the nose which is open with maturing aromas. Rich flavor of dark red fruit which turns blue and mineral by the middle. Though the tannins are resolving, there is still some grip through the spicy, finish with a touch of heat. ***(*) Now – 2026.

#2 2012 Domaine de Marcaux, Chateauneuf du Pape

Meaty with depth on the nose, lovely to smell. Fuller in the mouth, clearly evoking a traditionally mature CdP. While there is structure, it is also decidedly elegant. Lovely, with a savory finish and juicy aftertaste. **** Now – 2032.

#3 2012 Domaine Charvin, Chateauneuf du Pape

Stinky on the nose. Advanced in the mouth, tight, tannic, less flavor. Taste of a hot vintage. Seemingly not right. Not Rated.

#4 2012 Domaine Grand Veneur, Vieilles Vignes, Chateauneuf du Pape

Dark aromas. Concentrated flavor in the mouth with ripe fruit flavors, fine texture, and chewy structure. Shows well blind. With air cool blue fruit and a savory edge comes out. It might stand a few more years of ago. ***(*) 2024-2034.

#5 2012 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Cuvee de mon Aieul, Chateauneuf du Pape

Volatile acidity apparent on the nose. Better in the mouth despite the spritz. Red fruit, good core of lively concentrated red, ripe fruit but clearly flawed. Not Rated.

#6 2012 Domaine de la Janasse, Vieilles Vignes, Chateauneuf du Pape

Beautiful, tasty, and serious. Plenty of fruit with supportive structure by the end as the wine becomes tangy. Grainier tannins and acidity will support a long future. **** Now – 2040.

#7 2012 Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, Chateaneuf du Pape

The greatest transformation of all wines this evening. It bears the most fruit which almost borders on sweet with ample weight on the tongue. The fruit drapes over the structure of ripe tannins which becomes clearly more apparent by the end. With air the flavors becomes incensed and perfumed then meaty in the finish. The demonstration of growing power point to the need for more age and a long future. **** 2024 – 2040.

#8 2012 Clos du Mont-Olivet, La Cuvee du Papet, Chateauneuf du Pape

Meat on the nose. In the mouth it is completely young but does show some red fruit mixing with garrigue into the long aftertaste. Needs time. *** 2026-2036.

A Good Bottle of 1985 Warre’s, Vintage Port

January 25, 2020 Leave a comment

I opened a bottle of 1985 Warre’s, Vintage Port a few weeks ago, inspired by the then upcoming Dessert Wine Tasting of the Wine and Food Society of New York City. What a good treat this turned out to be!  I found this bottle particularly balanced with a surprisingly youthful berry component.  Of course all of the components from age were there as well: spices, wood, and leather.  This wine is at its peak of drinking.  Given how well it responded to air, I would imagine it will drink at the level across the decade.

1985 Warre’s, Vintage Port
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 20%.  A light to medium mahogany color on the rim with a cherry core.  Aromas of sweet custard with spice soon integrate with even more baking spices.  Sweet flavors of black and red fruit quickly become tactile by a fine texture.  It is firmer in the finish with notes of fine old wood and damp leather.  With air it develops rounded berry fruit, evocative of a youthful state, cool acidity, and a sweet, unctuous finish.  Good length with a touch of spirit eventually coming out.  ***(*) now – 2030.

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 1 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.