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.
A case of perfectly stored 1986 Chateau Bel Air, Cotes de Castillon showed up at MacArthur Beverages last week. You can tell because the fills are all in the neck, the corks are age-defying, and the color of the wine is deep. The wine itself is simple with flavors of hard cherry and eventually polished wood. And that’s about it!
The wines of Les Champ Libres are produced by René-Jean Dard and Hervé Souhaut. Both of these men produced northern Rhone wines, the latter of which have appeared on this blog. The 2015 Les Champs Libres, Lard, des Choix is a wine of great energy. Both the nose and palate offer deep, grapey, young fruit that is quite remarkable. I kept expecting some Pilsner/yeast aspect to break out but it did not. Instead, this is a personality rich wine that any lover of the Northern Rhone must try. These wines are (or were!) available at MacArthur Beverages.
1986 Chateau Bel Air, Cotes de Castillon – $10
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co. Alcohol 12%. The nose remains subtle. In the mouth the flavor of hard cherry remains firm. The structural components are still around and the watering acidity reminds you that this wine is very much alive. It needs some air before gaining a touch more interest from a polished wood note. *(*) Now but well-stored bottles will last.
2015 Les Champs Libres, Lard, des Choix – $22
Imported by Louis/Dressner. Alcohol 13%. The aromatic nose offers up grapey aromas and deep young fruit. In the mouth are lively, deep flavors of floral, purple fruit. The initial acidity on the tongue tip leads to a textured wine that leaves an ethereal, perfumed coating of fat-infused flavor. **** Now – 2018.
Between work, family, wine research, and the new turntable I am short on free time. Thus over the past month I have generally drunk inexpensive French and Italian wine for I need not take down any notes. I have peppered these same weeks with a handful of younger bottles from California. One recent release is the 2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley. This bottle showed very well after a few hours of air as well as on the second night. It is a style of wine that has not swung too far in either direction, providing balanced white fruit flavors with both lovely mouthfeel and tautness.
I have never tasted the 2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County since release. I was surprised by the amount of flavor packed in and the lack of evolution. It is quite tasty but should be cellared further to open up. I suppose, in retrospect, I can understand why Lou and I enjoy decades old bottles of Ridge. The 2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is a solid wine full of black fruit and graphite. It is supple and tasty, just not as exciting as I hoped at this stage. Finally, there is the gigantic 1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley which caught me off guard. Ripe, dark, and alcoholic it is simply not my type of wine.
2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley – $30
This was fermented in 25% oak barrels with the remaining in stainless steel after which is was aged 7 months sue lie. Alcohol 14%. With a bit of warmth and air this is an attractive wine of white fruit with a pleasing body of glycerin and nut flavors. The tautness of the wine builds as the acidity becomes more noticeable, simultaneously evolving a finely textured, ripe grip. ***(*) Now – 2020.
2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, and 6% Carignane. Alcohol 14.5%. This is both surprisingly unevolved and packing a tremendous level of flavor. It is a richly textured, dense wine of dark fruit that may not have any hard edges but does have structure for significant aging. Given the level of stuffing I would wait another five years to try again. **** Now – 2027.
2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.2%. The nose remained subtle and the flavors of graphite-infused black fruit remained gentle. This is a low-lying, almost laid back wine. It remains very black in terms of flavor with inky hints and eventually develops some additional complexity from a wood box flavor. There is some texture but it is generally supple with low-acidity. Solid. *** Now.
1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.9%. This is a thick, dark flavored, very ripe wine of body and scope which seems to defy the varietal. It was heady with noticeable heat in the finish that I found too distracting. Not my style. Not Rated.
It is a treat to blindly taste through eight wines of quality which I was recently able to do at Andy’s house. One year ago Andy managed to stump us with a horizontal of 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape. This year he served up 2003 Northern Rhone. There was certainly confusion at first, particularly after the first several wines showed a level of ripe fruit concentration that had me thinking we were tasting Southern Rhone. Then the final wines shifted my impression up to the Northern Rhone. In retrospect it is the generous 2003 vintage that lead to this confusion and a surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph. Though fruity, the flavors are not over ripe, the wine is lively, and backed by earth. It is certainly generous and enjoyable to drink as a result. Also from Saint-Joseph, the 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph steps up the level of elegance. Made from old-vines which see new oak, the quality of the fruit shines through with great grip and bacon flavors! Finally, the most seductive wine of the night turned out to be the 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie. Fat, glycerin, even more fat surround coiled, black fruit flavors. You can now imagine why I stayed a bit later than I intended to simply drinking these wines.
1 – 2003 Eric et Joel Durand, Cornas
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. Alcohol 14%. A medium garnet color with a mature and robust nose. In the mouth are racy, mouth filling flavors. This is a big wine with hints of alcohol. There are flavors of prune, baking spice, and a wood note but not much in the way of tannin. With air the sappy fruit takes on some fat and develops a longer finish. In a way this is young and taught. *** Now.
2 – 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13.5%. A similar dark colored core as #1. The nose is more expressive with mixed, dark fruits. The flavors show more concentration with a hint of earth and plenty of presence. It is a very good wine with ripe fruit, continued animale and earth notes, and an earthy aftertaste. Nice. **** Now – 2023.
3 – 2003 Alain Voge, Les Vieilles Vignes, Cornas
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 13.5%. A little less garnet than the previous wines. This wine plays it close both on the nose and in the mouth. It has hints of rather mature, old-school flavor which is delicate with earthy and red berry aspects. The flavors become more black towards the finish where the subtle, structured finish brings out a wood note. *** Now.
4 – 2003 Tardieu-Laurent, Vieilles Vignes, Les Roches, Saint-Joseph
A darker color makes way to wood box aromas, dark blue and red fruit, and good mature hints. In the mouth there is a younger, fruitier start, assertive tannins, and a bitter finish. There is good, tart flavor in the but ultimately taste more like a Southern Rhone. Or perhaps I should write, I pegged this as a Tardieu-Laurent wine. *** Now.
5 – 2003 Guigal, Brune & Blonde, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Meaty flavors with a dose of tannins start off this thick, mouth filling wine. It is a little rough and simple with dark roast and rather fine and strong structure. More toast is apparent with air. *** Now – 2023.
6 – 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph
Imported by Neal Rosenthal. Alcohol 13%. The floral, purple fruit aromas clearly speak of the Northern Rhone. In the mouth are cool, young fruit flavors on entry followed by a pervasive bacon flavor. It is a youthful wine with watery acidity, great grip, and accented by citrus flavor (but not citric acidity). This will continue to develop. **** Now – 2027.
7 – 2003 Rene Rostaing, Cote-Rotie
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a light garnet color. The nose is weird, lactic and fishy with fish flavors in the mouth. One taster commented “sardine dine”. Not Rated.
8 – 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Mmm, meat on the nose. This wine sports more body and glycerin then all of the previous wines. The black core of fruit is coated with fat, coiled and willing to unfurl in the middle with a bright lift. Did I mention the very seductive fat? **** Now – 2027.
Just over a year ago I was blown away by the quality and future potential of the 2010 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse. This wine was served blind during a tasting at Phil’s house. It is his quote which leads off the title of my post “Freakishly” good bottles of Chateau des Tours. Phil has recently brought in a few more selections from des Tours and this week I drank two of them.
The 2011 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse is in a great spot right now. It offers a bit more depth of flavor eventually coating the tongue with glycerin and weight. The 2012 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse is brighter with more primary fruit flavor. Both of them are made in that throwback style of mouth filling flavor without oozing fruit, tannin, and alcohol. For current drinking I give a nod towards the less expensive 2011. However, both of these wines should be in your cellar and glass.
2011 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse – $30
Alcohol 13.5%. This is a rather, light cranberry-garnet color. The wine is deeper in flavor with more mineral infused red fruit. After the acidity driven, zippy start is a racy middle with a deeper, bass note of flavor. With air it builds weight and glycerin as the flavors lay on top of your tongue. It even develops a floral, hop aroma. **** Now – 2027.
2012 Domaine des Tours, VdP Vaucluse – $32
Alcohol 13.5%. This sports brighter, grippy red fruit. In fact there is a more prominent display of floral red fruit. Minerality does come out from the middle to the finish. The wine is a little firm at first with youthful tension. With air it too builds weight and glycerin but remains riper and fruitier with flavors of strawberry and apricot. There is a little bit of ink and structure in the finish. **** Now – 2030.
I recently met up with Amy Ray and Barry Wiggins for a holiday dinner. It was a casual affair, seated at the corner of the bar of Restaurant Eve. Amy and Barry are long-time fans of Chef Armstrong’s cooking and Todd Thrasher’s care of their wines. While we limited ourselves to a handful of courses, the number of wine selections required both hands.
We opened with a brace of Krug Champagne. The 2002 Krug, Champagne Brut is young with white fruit, chalk, and a fine mousse of precise bubbles. Though drinkable now it really is a wine to be aged for at least another five years. One may guess this because our bottle of 1989 Krug, Champagne Brut has just entered full maturity. This wine coats the mouth with weighty, mature flavors which are still racy. The 2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru is a wine that delivers nothing but pure pleasure. The nose delivers an impressive volume of aromas matched by the round, weighty flavors in the mouth. Like the 1989 Krug before it, I savored my glass until the end.
We drank our mature red Burgundy side by side. The 1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis from the excellent 1978 vintage and the 1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche from the not quite as good 1979 vintage prove interesting to compare. The vintage differences are immediately noticeable with the 1978 Lignier still concentrated and powerful. The 1979 Dujac is rich at first but it is more linear towards the finish with less weight. The 1978 Lignier offers meat on the nose with cranberry flavors accented by meat and earth. On the other hand, the 1979 Dujac offers wood smoke aromas, an oily start, and mineral middle. Both are outstanding wines but the 1978 Lignier is a touch more impressive. There was no point in attempting to match these two bottles so I thought it would be fun to open the 1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa as it is the same vintage as the Dujac. With a double-capsule, short yet firm cork, and brilliant color this fine conditioned bottle comes across as closed. The nose was reluctant to open up but an animale flavor eventually added some curiosity. Not bad for an old liquor-store wine. I would double-decant this for an hour.
With our meal complete we required another Champagne. Out came the 2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc. This too is a fine wine, requiring a bit of air to properly show itself. It is more evolved than the 2002 Krug so you could be excused for drinking several bottles now.
2002 Krug, Champagne Brut
Alcohol 12%. There is an impression of freshness with dry, white fruit matching the chalk. The bubbles turn into a fine mousse carrying minerals before the persistent aftertaste. Needs more age. **** Now – 2037
1989 Krug, Champagne Brut
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd. Acquired from Zachy’s. Alcohol 12%. There is a gentle, golden color of maturity. The nose bears hints of yeast and apple orchard flavors. With air the wine puts on weight with gently coating, racy flavors which mix with dried herbs and some wood. These mature flavors are delivered with the freshness of a well-stored bottle. ****(*) Now – 2027.
2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by c’Est Vin. Alcohol 13.5%. The youthful color does not prepare for the rich, aromatic nose of spices and that sweet kiss of oak. The wine is round in the mouth with supportive structure and a slight edge. With extended air there is a density to the white fruit, grip, and notes of nuts. Drinking great. ****(*) Now but will last.
1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis
Imported by Robert Chatterdon. From Wally’s The Roy Welland Collection. There is a complex, scented nose with notes of meat. In the mouth are sweaty, pungent flavors of cranberry/red fruit and bloody. There is clearly a focused concentration and power from this excellent vintage. With vintage perfume flavor picks up earthy notes with air. This remains a fresh wine with persistent flavors in the middle and a grippy finish. ****(*) Now – 2022.
1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche
Imported by Frederick Wildman. The nose is both sweeter and muskier with hints of wood smoke. In the mouth this is a rich wine, almost oily at first but it straightens out with air. The flavors turn brighter at the beginning with a mineral edge and overall less noticeable weight and strength. **** Now.
1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa
Alcohol 13%. It is a youthful, very bright and clear color. There is a very subtle nose which takes much air to open up. In the mouth is red fruit flavors with a touch of citric grip. It does take time to relax adding an animale depth to the clean, focused fruit. **(*) Now – 2027.
2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 12.5%. This drinks well after half an hour of air. It is racy, glycerin infused wine with ripe apples and a mixture of yellow, white, and green fruits. It has tons of grip and when the bubbles calm down the earth, chalk, and yeast flavors are noticeable. It has a lovely future. **** Now – 2027.
On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.
A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours. Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating. However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine. Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity. Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.
My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century. There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871. It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste. There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence. As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira. I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.
It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake. The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction. Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal. There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial. It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule. I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.
You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted. Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights. As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines. For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees. While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised. Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations. From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling. Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.
While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important. Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive. You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial. Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)
1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****
1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.
1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.
1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)
1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****
1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****
1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***
1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **
1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****
1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)
1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***
1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***
1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)
1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***
1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****