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1985 and 1988 Brunello di Montalcino tasting

November 12, 2018 Leave a comment

This past month I hosted a Brunello di Montalcino tasting focused on the great 1985 and 1988 vintages from five producers.  Though these vintages are only three years apart, they are at significantly different stages of life.  The 1988s are generally less evolved on the nose, with a core of fruit in the mouth and significant tannic structure.  The 1985s are more aromatic, mature, and softer in edge.  Such were the qualities of the fruit from the 1988s and the aroma of the 1985s that several guests blended their Ciacci’s to strong success.  I even joined in on the fun and rated my blend a check plus!

As for the unblended wines our pair of Biondi-Santi were outliers.  The 1988 was a bad bottle and the 1985 was uninspiring.  The other eight bottles spanned a range of drinking states and qualities.  The 1988 Livio Sassetti, Pertimali, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and 1985 Livio Sassetti, Pertimali, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva are my favorites from this evening.  Both vintages bear aromas that I love with the 1985 drinking at a sweet spot.  After several hours the 1985 La Chiesa di Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino began to open up, revealing an inky core of fruit, both elegant and tense.  A determined wine that will continue to develop.  The 1988 La Chiesa di Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino is even less evolved but worth following.  The 1988 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino, Pianrosso is quite good too, showing floral notes on the nose and in the mouth.  The 1985 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino takes on perfume as well.  Though others surely disagree, I found the 1988 Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva too young and clean for my liking and the 1985 Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino too soft.

At 30+ years of age Brunello di Montalcino can remain clearly structured, tough to drink, and barely evolved in flavor.  Yet our best bottles are expressive, complex, and will drink in such a fine state for many years to come.

Please find my tasting notes below.  All of the wines were double-decanted one hour prior to tasting then followed over several hours.  I must once again thank Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., for opening up his inventory to me.

1988 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino, Pianrosso
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 14%. A finely articulated nose of mixed florals, incense, and wet wood. In the mouth it is finely veined with a core of deep fruit supported by strong and drying tannins. With air the wine remains tight with its floral, fruit vein. **** Now – 2028.

1985 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. Quite aromatic. A softer edge though there is power from the strong and drying tannins. There mature flavors with a soft edge becoming black fruited and perfumed in the nose. ***(*) Now – 2028.

1988 Livio Sassetti, Pertimali, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Good nose. In the mouth is fine grained flavor, focused around a core of red and black fruit. The profile is a little tart and certainly drying from the tannins. With air remains great focus and balance with complexity from Christmas baking spices and the inky finish. **** Now – 2033.

1985 Livio Sassetti, Pertimali, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. A love nose that is meaty, bloody, wild and evocative of wood box. This remained the most aromatically interesting wine from the first pour to the end of the evening. In the mouth, tart red fruit mixes with citric tannins providing engaging grip. Mature flavors from bottle age, earth, and wood box effectively mix together. “Sauvage” as one guest commented. A lovely wine of medium body which expands in the mouth leaving very fine, drying tannins on the gums in the end. ****(*) Now – 2028.

1988 Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. The deeper aromas are closely played but reveal berries and are of more interest than the 1985 sibling. It is a slowly evolving wine with cherry, watering acidity, and a vein of structure. Still young, not yet in mid-age with clean and elegant fruit. *** Now – 2023-2033.

1985 Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. Sour, clean fruit with watering acidity, and an incensed finish. There is a rounder start with more body and citric tannins on the sides of the gums. However, the flavors do not have the life giving energy. ** Now.

1988 La Chiesa di Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Some roast on the nose, balsamic. A core of sweet fruit develops and a pure, forward note of oregano. Needs time. **(**) 2023-2033.

1985 La Chiesa di Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. A fine nose develops after a few hours. With maturing fruit, and some sorry cherry this wine continued to evolve over the evening. The acidity creates tension between the inky, fine core of fruit, and supportive component. Red and black fruit mix convincingly, sporting elegant weight as textured tannins are left on the gums. ***(**) 2020-2035.

1988 Il Greppo, Biondi-Santi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. A bad bottle! Not Rated.

1985 Il Greppo, Biondi-Santi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Scented on the nose but a bit thin in flavor. Perhaps elegant, I only note tartness and acidity with an eventual leather note.  ** Now.

Wines from a birthday celebration

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

A small group of us gathered for a birthday celebration where we all contributed bottles around significant years.  While the name and age of the celebrant are withheld the wines we tasted are not!  Many fine wines were tasted both young and old with only a few off bottles.  Please find my notes below.

1996 Deutz, Cuvee William Deutz, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by Joshua Tree Imports. Alcohol 12%. A mature color with aromas of apricot and apple orchard. Very fine and firm bubbles from the start. The orchard note follows through in the mouth where there are flavors of tart apple, a hint of lees, and general maturity. It is drier through the middle. What is just a racy bit in the finish develops into an oily body. This bottle is drinking at its peak.  **** Now.

1996 Tattinger, Comte de Champagne, Champagne Brut
Imported by Premier Cru. Alcohol 12%. green, almost bright yellow color. The nose offers fine, ripe aromas of yeast and articulated fruit. Very gentle bubbles carry tart apple with tons of texture on the tongue and a weightier middle. It becomes a bit creamier after the start. **** Now – 2025.

2010 Jean Noel Gagnard, Chassagne Montrachet Blanchot Dessus Premier Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by The Source. Alcohol 13.5%. More gold in color. Aromatic of dark, yellow fruit. Nut oil density from the start with more sweet fruit than the 2010 Jobard. This wine is mature but still has a vein of acidity that carries the weight and oily body. It takes on a hint of lees, certainly stones in the end with an oily aftertaste.  Drink soon.  ***(*) Now – 2020.

2010 Antoine Jobard, Meursault Les Tillets
Imported by Kermit Lynch. Alcohol 13%. Gold and yellow in color. Crisp and closely played with gunflint and almost tart acidity. With air assuredly tart on the tongue, with attractive salinity, and verve from the acidity. Very focused. **** Now – 2023.

1978 Francesco Rinaldi, Barbaresco
Imported by Grape Expectations. Alcohol 13.5%. A nose of umami, Asian sauce, and veggies. Maderised a touch, more advanced than I would expect, with watering acidity, a dry middle, and grip on the tongue.  Not Rated.

1978 Cortese Giacomo, Barbaresco
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Perfumed. A lovely, sweet nose which remains aromatic. The ripest of the 1978 trio with earthy notes, sweaty middle, and firmer finish. It still possesses structure. There is good presence which persists with air. **** Now – 2023.

1978 Scarpa, Barolo Cascina Roncaglia
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. Fresh, slowly evolving nose with articulated aromas of eucalyptus. More acidity in the mouth with tartness in the gently firm, still structured first half. With air it becomes silky and more ethereal in nature. It is driven by acidity which almost provides verve. ***(*) Now – 2028.

2000 Bruno Giacosa, Falletto, Barbaresco Riserva Asili
Imported by Chelsea Ventures. Alcohol 14%.  A nose of raspberries.  In the mouth freshness with hints of pruned fruit, a roasted element, and very ripe bits.  Still quite primary.  With air it retains fine focused on brambly red fruit and fine, wood notes.  Not offering much, try again in several years.  *** 2023-2033.

1967 Domaine Jean Gros, Richebourg Grand Cru
Shipped by Remoissenet Pere et Fils and imported by Great Lakes Wine Company. Alcohol 13%. A fruity, weighty wine with flavors of orange-citrus and red fruit. An old-school wine of substance and life. It could stand more acidity to lend tension but I would happily drink this all afternoon.  **** Now but will last.

1966 Chateau Haut-Brion, Graves
Shipped by Mestrezat-Preller and imported by Great Lakes Wine Company. 12%. Sadly a bad bottle. Not Rated.

1989 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Kermit Lynch. Ripe aromas of strawberry and briar bramble. Fresh and youthful in the mouth with a certain lifted quality. The ripe fruit lie over a focused core, revealing this bottle is in great shape and has yet to hit mid-life. It remains focused with supple red fruit and develops structure.  **** Now – 2033.

1989 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. Redder, more focused flavors stay towards tart red in profile. It is a lovely drink, taking on more ripeness and strawberries with air. **** Now – 2028.

2005 Clos Mogador, Priorat
Maturing with blue and mixed fruits on the nose. An impressive wine with a trifecta of fruit ripeness, acidity, and structure all of which is well balanced. It is slowly evolving, still young, but willing to reveal its components. Pastilles eventually come out.  ****(*) Now – 2033.

1988 Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes
Imported by T. Elenteny. Apricots and oranges on the nose. Rounded, sappy, with improving definition as it breathes. There is a ripe and dense core of flavor that is all about the mouth feel. This is a racy and inky wine intertwined with glycerin and spice. ****(*) Now – 2038+.

1989 Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes
Alcohol 13.5%. Slightly lighter in color than the 1988. Good acidity makes this a tense wine, a tough bright with focus and grip. **** Now – 2038 .

2005 Markus Molitor, Riesling Beerenauslese * Zeltinger Himmelreich, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Imported by Schmitt Sohne. Alcohol 7%. Very aromatic. Brighter yellow fruit, eventually pure apricot, with sweetness that almost oversteps the fruit flavor. A slight spritz before the wine becomes dense and seductive with enough acidity to make it zippy. ****(*) Now – 2038+.

Rhone Research – 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape, Part 1

September 21, 2018 Leave a comment


By all accounts, the 2016 vintage is stellar in the Southern Rhone.  It is hype that the group, gathered by Phil Bernstein, of MacArthur Beverages, were no doubt aware of.  Together, we tasted through nine bottles of recently arrived 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape focusing in on some big names and top cuvees.   The reputation bore out in our limited experience.

These bottles of 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape are dense, highly flavorful wines with ample fruit and fresh acidity, that can be subtly or not so subtly intense. In this vein, the vintage character is evident in everything we tasted. At an individual level, some wines will come to sooner, like the Clos de Papes and the regular Domaine de la Janasse. The former was the only bottle finished off but the latter is nearly as good right now and certainly a best buy. In fact, I prefer this cuvee over the Chaupin and Vieilles Vignes! Of course time may prove me wrong.

The Le Vieux Donjon should not be overlooked for cellaring. It sports the lowest alcohol level of the group which lends itself to the floral elegance of the fruit. I particularly liked the Domaine de Marcoux, revealing complex red berries but also like its Vieilles Vignes sibling, it contains the most structure of the lot. The Marcoux wines might take the longest to come around and be the longest to live, but they should reward handsomely. The Vieilles Vignes packs more in yet has levity despite its 16% alcohol level. It is inky, sappy, and best enjoyed in small sips at this youthful age.

The wines were all double-decanted one hour prior to the taste then served blind in paper bags.  Please find my notes below, in the order of the tasting, which includes the two Champagne as well.  I should note, that nothing is marked by *****.  The best wines will develop and improve further, so I had to leave wiggle room for improvement!

NV Veuve Fourny & Fils, Champagne Rose Brut
Imported by Kermit Lynch. Alcohol 12.6%. A pale cooper rose color. Chalk greets with the good mousse. Eventually a yeasty, cola hint then dry from the middle. Good flavor and robust personality. *** Now.

1 – 2016 Clos de Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape – $109
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 10% Syrah aged in old foudre.  Grapey with some Christmas spice on the nose. In the mouth, smooth, beautiful, supple and fresh through the finish. There are hints of heat as the very fine, dry structure comes out. There is good focus to the grapey, bright fruit with a hint of nuts in the end. ****(*) Now – 2033.

2 – 2016 Roger Sabon, Prestige, Chateauneuf du Pape – $75
Imported by European Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, and 5% other varieties.  Alcohol 15%. Fresh on the nose with a greenhouse aspect, more modern. Dense, thick, and savory with a mineral middle. With air the wine remains thick but with cool acidity and attractive fat in the aftertaste. Much better than the Reserve.  **** Now – 2030.

3 – 2016 Roger Sabon, ReserveChateauneuf du Pape – $50
Imported by European Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, and 10% Syrah aged in foudres and vats.  Alcohol 15%. Subtle but a touch more floral. Fresh and redder with watering acidity. It remains a brighter wine that is tightly focused around a finely woven wood vein. With air too much heat for my preference. *** 2021- 3035.

4 – 2016 Domaine de la Janasse, Vieilles VignesChateauneuf du Pape – $109
Imported by European Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 75% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Syrah, and the rest other permitted varieties.  Alcohol 15%. Raisinated, intense, with heat early on and powerful structure with black stones in the finish. With air the wine remains dense and packed through the stone and mineral finish. Weakest of this flight of three.  It improves with air, but is completely shut down.  ***(**) 2023 – 2038.

5 – 2016 Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf du Pape – $50
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 15%. Rounded, supple with better balance, and an old-school flavor aspect. There is fat that covers the concentrated red fruit into the beautiful mineral end. With air the wine remains pure in fruit, clean, with powdery texture. Ripe tannins build and expand in the end. This should be in every CdP lovers cellar….a stellar buy. ****(*) Now – 2028.

6 – 2016 Domaine de MarcouxChateauneuf du Pape – $65
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 15.5%. More robust in flavor with red and blue fruit carried by fresh acidity. It becomes brighter in the finish where ripe tannins coat the gums. The most tannic of the trio but it is opening up with air to reveal a good balance of flavor in the form of ripe berries, strawberry, and raspberry. It eventually exposes complexity that persists through the finish. There is even a piñon hint. This should be in your cellar too! ****(*) Now – 2043.

7 – 2016 Domaine de Marcoux, Vieilles VignesChateauneuf du Pape – $159
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 16%. Backwards on the nose. In the mouth, it is dense with good acidity and more structure than the previous wine. The flavors are elegant, grapey purple, perhaps a bit lighter but there is better balance overall. The acidity matches the medium to full weight, maintaining levity. In the end the wine is sappy with inky, cranberry red flavors. For the long-haul. ****(*) Now – 2048.

8 – 2016 Le Vieux DonjonChateauneuf du Pape – $ 60
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14.5%. Pepper scented on the nose. It is dense, savory, and salty, certainly packing in the flavor. The fruit, though, is floral and finely delineated leading the way to a nearly lifted middle. With air the definite structure is revealed so best drunk after several more years.  A strong showing. ****(*) Now – 2038.


9 – 2016 Domaine de la Janasse, ChaupinChateauneuf du Pape – $75
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is 100% Grenache sourced from vines reaching up to 100+ years of age on sandy soils.  Alcohol 15%. Dense as well but silky with finely grained flavor and texture from the very fine, dry tannins. Red berries and firm minerals…actually very minerally, with a touch of heat in the end. Overall, hot and hard to drink, it never came round. *** 2023 – 2033.

NV Christophe Mignon, Pur Meunier, Champagne Brut Nature
Polaner Selection. This wine is 100% Petit Muenier.  Alcohol 12.5%. A scented nose of orchards and polished wood. A lovely nose. Finely textured bubbles followed by deep flavor of chalk and sour apple. The mousse and flavor mix very well. ***(*) Now – 2023.

A Northern Rhone Tasting with Mosel too

Several months ago we gathered on my back deck to taste through some Northern Rhone wines.  The focus was to be on Cornas and Côte-Rôtie but these wines were soon joined by Champagne (required of course), Hermitage, Mosel, and Paarl. The killer 1998 Dom Perignon, P2 Champagne Brut with its equally impressive gift box was the best wine of the night.  It is drinking spot-on but as it is a different beast, it did not distract from the red wines.

From Cornas, my favorites include the brambly and strong 2007 Thierry Allemand, Cornas Reynard.  Nearly as good, yet quite different, is the animale, crisp 2001 Dumien-Serrette, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Cornas Patou.  Graphite and vintage perfume add complexity at a reasonable price.

From Côte-Rôtie, my favorite is the 1998 Gilles Barge, Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune.  Floral on the nose, this is an elegant wine with plenty of minerals and violets.  It also yields fat for weight. I kept returning to my glass for another sniff. Of the slew of 1998s, the 1998 Domaine Jamet, Côte-Rôtie proved to be mostly reticent but did improve with extended air.  It is meatier and smokier than the Barge.  The pair of 2007s proved excellent too.  The cleaner 2007 Guigal, Côte-Rôtie La Mouline had my preference tilted towards it for the floral, lifted flavors over the deep base.  There is a lot of material here.  Whereas, the 2007 Bernard Levet, Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche is substantial, yet balanced, with a wild flavor personality.  What a fantastic range of styles from one small region.

We wrapped up the evening with a trio of excellent Mosel Rieslings and a dessert wine from Paarl.  I only took small tastes of these wines so my notes are short.  The two that stand out are the clean and vibrant 2006 Hofgut Falkenstein, Krettnacher Euchariusberg, Riesling Auslese, Mosel with the lovely 2001 Joh. Jos. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Mosel.  Many thanks for everyone’s contributions.

Champagne

1998 Dom Perignon, P2 Champagne Brut
Alcohol 12.5%.  Fine bubbles explode, leaving a lovely texture backed by flavors of ripe spices.  The acidity cuts through the end, supporting wood box hints and the creamy, mousse finish. ****(*) Now

Hermitage

1997 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Hermitage Blanc le Chevalier de Sterimberg
Golden amber color.  An interesting nose, honied flavors but past prime.  Not Rated.

1997 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Hermitage La Chapelle
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons.  Alcohol 13.4%.  Roast earth with fine wood scents.  Light in the mouth with watering acidity, polished wood, and effortless delivery of cherry flavor.  The wine takes on body, which is seductive, but the flavors are rather mature.  *** Now.

1983 E. Guigal, Hermitage
Imported by Classic Wine Imports.  Dead. Not Rated.

Cornas

2007 Thierry Allemand, Cornas Reynard
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  A brambly nose with interesting aromas including violets.  A sensation of weight greets in this young wine with youthful intensity and hints of yeast.  There is concentration, ripe tannins, and fruit extract with both acidity and tannins in the dry finish and aftertaste.  With air a sage, green herb component develops.  Strength.  **** Now – 2028.

2007 Thierry Allemand, Cornas Chaillot
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Pure in fruit with finely scents aromas of pepper and sweet baking spices.  Grapey fruit in the mouth, black pepper, and tons of texture.  With air it takes on a yeasty Pilsner quality that destroys everything.  Not Rated.

2001 Dumien-Serrette, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Cornas Patou
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Young with plenty of mouth feel from its citric grip and tannins.  There is graphite and an animale hint in this crisp wine with drier flavors and good presence in the mouth.  It has a lovely vintage perfume aspect that adds complexity to the good flavor.  ***(*) Now – 2033.

Côte-Rôtie

1998 Gilles Barge, Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. The floral, perfumed nose smells great.  In the mouth are focused flavors that build minerality and becoming impressive at the end with good length.  With air elegant hints of fat lend weight and balance the wine.  By the middle, tannins and acidity come out which will see the wine through further development.  A beautiful wine all about minerals and violets.   **** Now – 2023.

1998 Bernard Burgaud, Côte-Rôtie
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Very aromatic, meaty, fresh, and notes of vintage perfume.  Yet in the mouth it is tart, grapey, with pervasive earthiness overpowering everything.  Not quite right which is a shame.  Not Rated.

1998 Mathilde et Yves Gangloff, Côte-Rôtie
Imported by Vineyard Road.  The restrained nose remains tight and unyielding but a delicate, floral aroma does escape.  Smoked meats, along with pure, red and black fruits greet.  There is a restrained, tannic structure that smooths out as watering acidity moves the wine into the lipsticky finish.  Right now, this is a wine with ample presence and texture in the mouth.  *** Now – 2028+.

1998 Domaine Jamet, Côte-Rôtie
Imported by Robert Kacher Selections.  Hints of sweet fruit on the nose backed by meat and smoke.  Dense and gentle in the mouth,the textured red fruit become coated with fat.  Beautiful and elegant with fine texture from extract.  ***(*) Now – 2028.

1998 Rene Rostaing, Côte-Rôtie La Landonne
Pure bloody, meat but not much else there on the nose.  Not quite right.  Silky in the mouth with flavors of meat and a short finish.  Not right.  Not Rated.

Mystery Wine – 2012 Halcon, Alturas, Yorkville Highlands Syrah
Alcohol 13.5%.  Purple, grapey nose with gobs of grapey flavors in the mouth.  Hard to transition to but a solid wine.  **(*) Now – 2023.

2007 Guigal, Côte-Rôtie La Mouline
Imported by Vintus.  Alcohol 13%.  A beautiful, floral nose.  Grapey, purple fruit flavors surrounded by fat.  There is a floral lift to the deep, lifted flavors which I prefer over the Levett.  A modern take on Syrah with floral persistence in the finish and aftertaste.  ****(*) Now – 2033.

2007 Bernard Levet, Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche
Imported by Neal Rosenthal.  Alcohol 12.5%.  A floral, substantive nose.  In the mouth are fat infused, dense and supple flavors of intertwined black fruit and minerals.  Impressive balance.  It takes on red grapefruit with both animale and sauvage complexity.  The flavors drape over the tongue with weight and seamless body.  There are very fine yet not dry tannins that peak out in the end. **** Now – 2033.

German Riesling

2006 Hofgut Falkenstein, Krettnacher Euchariusberg, Riesling Auslese, Mosel
Alcohol 7%. The lightest color of the trio, almost white.  Clean, residual sugar in the start soon morphs into grapefruit with a tart, vibrantly acidic middle, and tangy finish.  Clean.

2006 Willi Schaefer, Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Alcohol 8%.  A golden color with petrol on the nose.  Some vibranrancy but surprisingly advanced.  Petrol and weight.

2001 Joh. Jos. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Mosel
A light yellow color.  Hints of petrol along with citrus fruit on the nose.  Very fine textured acidity, lovely.

Dessert

2000 Fairview Wine Estate, Le Beryl Blanc, Paarl
An amber color with flavors of apricots and dried fruit.  Good balance.

An introductory Madeira tasting: 1971 Terrantez back to 1880 Malvasia

January 12, 2018 2 comments

This past weekend I hosted a Madeira tasting in answer to requests I have received from my friends.  With a sizeable selection of wines made available to me by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., I settled in on what I consider an introductory tasting.  Over the course of 10 bottles I presented such wines as a recent Historic Series blend, a 19th century Bual solera, Bastardo, Tinta Negra, young Terrantez, and Malvasia Candida from Faja dos Padres.

I deployed all of my matching stems, some 72 of them, so we tasted the Madeira in two flights of five.  The extra dozen stems were required for Champagne, of course.  Each flight was largely designed to move from drier and more acidic to richer with the ending wine of each flight being old.  The two oldest bottles were decanted five days prior to the tasting then rebottled after one day in the decanter.  The other bottles received similar treatment one to two days ahead of time.

One guest surprised the group with a bottle of 1937 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira which was inserted into the first flight so we could compare it against the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira.  Thus you will find eleven tasting notes below.

The wines all showed very well with enough variety to encourage comparison.  It is definitely one of the most satisfying tasting I have been to as of late.  Given the loud volume of everyone towards the end of the tasting coupled with their individual comments, they agreed to!  For each flight I presented a short history of the wines which was well received.  I was excited for this tasting to occur, not just to experience the aromas and flavors, but to convey the individual stories of the wines.  Please find these wine histories appear below.  They are far more important than my tasting notes and ratings.

The histories are largely compiled from correspondence with Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., and  Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito, as well as the private publications of Mannie Berk Terrantez: The Transcendental Terrantez Tasting (2012) and Bastardo & Mostcatel – The Tasting (2017).  I also relied on the books Noel Cossart’s Madeira The Island Vineyard (2011) and Alex Liddell’s Madeira (1998).  Of course some bits are of my own research.  The map reproduced above comes from Isole Canarie from Vincenzo Coronelli published in 1697 and available at the David Rumsey Map Collection site.

Flight #1

NV Rare Wine Company, Historic Series Library Company Madeira
Released in 2015 to honor the Library Company of Philadelphia which is the oldest successful library in America, having been founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. Henry Hill was a successful Madeira merchant who lived in Philadelphia and also knew Benjamin Franklin. As a partner in the firm Hill, Lamar, & Bisset, he sold Madeira to wealthy Americans including financier Robert Morris, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll and John Hancock, and George Washington. Many of the business letters sent to Henry Hill reside at the Library Company. Bottled 2015.  The honied nose is followed by luscious, honied flavors of fig.  There are both tea and tobacco notes in the end.  This is fully mature now with just a vein of structure apparent in the finish followed by a bit of bracing acidity.  A fine value with flavors clearly evocative of old bottles of Madeira.  ***(*).

1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira
Pereira D’Oliveira was founded in 1850 as a producer of wines. It operated as a partidista until the mid-1970s when it began to market wines under its own name. Over the years D’Oliveira has acquired other firms thus expanding its stock of old wines. This particular wine was acquired in barrel when D’Oliveira purchased the Adegas do Terreão collection in 2002. Terreão was founded in 1949 by Vasco Loja who also operated as a partidista supplying the major wine companies particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. D’Oliveira keeps their wines in barrel until they are bottled for sale on an annual basis.   This means that different bottlings come from different barrels having seen wood for different durations. Bottled 2017.  A highly aromatic and articulate nose of citrus and tobacco, profound and of unique complexity.  The dense, explosive start has very fine acidity which soon builds to rapier sharpness.  Overall, this is a lighter weight, saline wine with an expansive, lighter finish, and pervasive pungent aftertaste. ****(*).

1937 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira
Shipped by David Turner Air Cargo.  Imported by Vineyard Road Inc.  From old family stocks at D’Oliveira. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2012.  There is a low-lying, dark nose.  The rounded start transitions to a berry core by the middle.  There is acidity present but it does not finish with much acidic strength.  I found more weight throughout the palate given impression of length but ultimately it is not as exciting nor complex as the 1928.  ***.

NV Henriques & Henriques, Inauguration Wine Madeira
From the back label, “To inaugurate Henriques & Henriques’ new winery in 1994, winemaker Luis Pereira searched the firm’s stocks of old wine to find something truly extraordinary. The wine he chose had been vinified and blended in the 1950s by his mentor Peter Cossart—the father of John Cossart. Though the wine’s origins were uncertain, Pereira believed it to have the character of a great verdelho or bual. It was a wine uniquely worthy of commemorating this important event. Pereira produced 800 bottles which were given to dignitaries attending the inauguration. This left a small amount to age in cask. In October, 2006, 144 bottles were drawn out, and then in April, 2008, the final 168 bottles were drawn out, each time for The Rare Wine Co.” This is the 2006 bottling of which it is numbered 66 of 144.  The nose is robust with mature hints and caramel.  Further investigation reveals articulate and sweet aromas of brown sugar, Christmas spices, and tobacco.  This is a zippy wine with piercing acidity soon coming out then building to the piercing finish.  There are good, sweet and weighty flavors that drape over the tongue with a ripe, orange flavors core, and mineral finish.  This ia very powerful wine with a long, textured aftertaste.  ****(*).

1971 D’Oliveira, Terrantez Madeira
Terrantez, long regarded as the finest variety in Madeira, was largely wiped out of existence with the phylloxera of the 1870s.  Being low-yielding and difficult to grow, it was not replanted.  In 1921 it was considered “extinct or almost extinct.”  The situation had hardly improved by 2004 as there was less than one hectare of vines in existence.  This scarce wine was acquired in barrel when the Adegas do Terreão collection was purchased in 2002. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2017.  A complex nose of fruit, marmalade, and sweet aromas.  In the mouth is a controlled start, vibrant middle, and sweet kick at the end.  The mouth feel reminds me of marshmallow combining sweetness and airy weight into one sensation.  This is a gentle, young wine of elegant strength and seamless integration.  ****.

1845 Cossart Gordon, Bual Solera Madeira
The 1845 Bual became a solera in 1875 in response to the shortage of wine following the Phylloxera epidemic. It eventually became the first Cossart centenary wine marking the anniversary of the founding of Cossart Gordon in 1745. After Cossart, Gordon joined the Madeira Wine Association in 1953, the soleras in wood were moved to stores at Rua Sao Francisco and no longer topped off. There were many bottlings of this solera both in Madeira, with red and black text, and in England. This bottling is by Evans Marshall & Co. who became Cossart’s agents in London in 1956. Bottled after 1956.  A very mature nose still with some bottle stink.  The sweet start soon focuses on flavors of sweet black tea with wood notes in the middle, and flavors of sweet cinnamon and baking spices in the textured finish.  This is the most advanced wine of all with a mellow nature and slight separation of acidity and residual sugar.  It becomes  vinous in the aftertaste with a hint of acidity.  ***.

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NV Unknown, Padre Madeira [da Silva Collection] 
The oldest known dated bottles of Madeira once belonged to Braheem Abdo Kassab who famously initialed his wax seals with BAK.  This Padre wine was in bottle for a long time, discovered in the laundry room of the home of a Kassab relative on the island. This is believed to be all Tinta Negra from the early 20th century.  Approximately three dozen bottles were aired in demijohn for a few months then rebottled. Bottled 2016.  The pungent, sweeter nose steps out of the glass with aromas reminding me of old Madeira.  There is a round, weighty, vinous start with ripe orange citrus flavors, good acidity, and grip.  The middle is assertive and the finish powerful with hints of dense fruit, I suspect this wine needs further time for integration.  ***.

NV Barbeito, Bastardo 50-year-old Avo Mario Madeira
Barbeito was founded in 1946 which is today run by third-generation, Ricardo Diogo Vasconcelos de Freitas. Bastardo was completely extinct in Madeira until 2004 when Ricardo convinced a farmer to plant it.  Today there is just over 1 hectare of vines.  This wine is an homage to Ricardo’s grandfather and is a blend of Bastardo wines Ricardo made in 2007 and 2009.  These are the first two successful harvests for there was bad weather in 2008.  At the time, there was no living memory on how to make the wine so Ricardo set out on his own.  He mixed these wines with some old Bastardo in demijohn that belonged to the Favilla family and 36 bottles of old Tinta Negra from 1950 that was bottled in 1997.  The 50 year old category was only introduced in 2015.  Bottled 2017 of which it is #326 of 550.  A sweet and floral nose is similarly followed by a sweet, gentle start.  Of good flavor, it mixes herbs and cedar box in an easy to drink manner.  The balance is impeccable making it compelling to drink.  ****.

1929 D’Oliveira, Tinta Negra Medium Sweet Madeira
Dated bottles of Madeira from the late 1920s through early 1930s are scarce.  The effects of the Great Depression was felt on an international scale and locally it wreaked havoc on Madeira.  The Portuguese Minister of Finance sought to mitigate the effects on Portugal by centralizing the importation and milling of grain in January 1931. The price of bread and other common goods quickly rose as a result. A few months later a revolt on the island of Madeira took place with control of the island temporarily seized from the government.  The spread of the European financial crisis coupled with the political instability on Madeira impacted the banks on Madeira the same year of the revolt.  By the end of the year banks suspended all payments and in the course of restructuring the banking system in 1932, many private banks failed.  This is the period when the influence of the partidista rose.  These merchants purchased wine at vintage then sold it off to shippers as they needed it.  It is likely that during these financially difficult times much Madeira was sold off for ready money rather than kept around as single vintage lots tying up capital.  This wine is from old family stocks at D’Oliveira. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2016.  With ripe aromas this wine offers attractive aromas of age which I look for in older bottles.  There is a weighty, round, dense start with good body and juicy acidity.  The flavors are more mature with moderately sweet bakings spices, strong acidity, and some brown sugar in the finish.  The strength of the acidity builts into the finish leaving a piercing citric edge.  ****.

1986 Barbeito, Malvasia Faja dos Padres Madeira
Malvasia encompasses several different grapes with Malvasia Candida the most sought after. It is a difficult grape to grow and prefers particular locations. One of these locations is Faja dos Padres which was originally cultivated by the Jesuits centuries ago. Located on the south side of the Island it lies at the bottom of a 900 foot cliff which, until recently, was only accessible by boat. For centuries, this site was considered as producing the best Malvasia Candida wines. The Malvasia Candida was nearly wiped out by phylloxera in the 1870s.  When the site was sold in 1919 it was believed that no Malvasia Candida vines existed. But in 1940 a single Malvasia Candida vine was found surviving at Faja dos Padres. It was cloned then planted at Torre. In 1979 the same vine was cloned again then planted at Faja dos Padres. An additional vineyard of 0.4 ha was eventually established. This is the first commercial bottling of Malvasia Candida from Faja dos Padres since 1921. It was raised in 800 liter casks aged by the canteiro method. Bottled 2012 of which it is #172 of 654.  The nose is young and fruit with complexity from wet tobacco.  The wines is young and rounded with clearly defined sweet black tea flavors.  There is a delicacy to the wine that makes it stand apart, with delicate berry fruit and a fresh finish.  With impeccable balance this wine highlights the flavors of Malvasia.  ****.

1880 Companhia Vinicola da Madeira (CVM), Malvasia Madeira
Founded in 1870, CVM was eventually associated with Justino Henriques. The company was closed in 1984 and much of the stock was sold off. This bottle bears a paper Junta Nacional do Vinho seal underneath the wicker capsule. The JNV seal would have been applied between 1937 and 1979.  The nose is slightly pungent with sweet, yellow citrus.  There is a gravelly start of brown sugar, wood box, and flavors of age.  The wine is completely balanced with no hard edges.  Backed by residual sugar this is dense and even racy in the finish with a hint of spiciness to perk up the long, gentle, sweet aftertaste.  ****.

A half-bottle of 1977 Graham’s Vintage Port

The 1977 Graham’s, Vintage Port is the only Port we drank over the holidays.  In the half-bottle format the Port soon opens up to reveal itself as fully mature.  It is of moderate sweetness but the mixture of brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon flavors add to the impression of being an end of evening drink.

1977 Graham’s, Vintage Port half-bottle
Imported by Ginday Imports.  Alcohol 21%.  There is a rounded berry core that mixes with wood box flavors.  The wine rounds out even more as it takes on brown sugar, cinnamon, and hints of tobacco leaf.  There is a good dose of acidity which keeps the balance spot on.  Of moderate sweetness you are reminded of it in the finish due to brown sugar and cloves.  This is just the slightest notion of heat.   ***(*) Now – 2028.

“C’est un produit d’une grande finesse”: The 1976 Ayala, Champagne Extra Quality Brut

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment

The Ayala house has produced Champagne for over 150 years.  During its golden period of the 1920s it supplied the royal courts of England and Spain.  The Union of French Sommeliers soon took note.  When they visited the house in 1924, they described the Champagne as having “great finesse” as well as high cost.  Ayala was eventually purchased by Bollinger in 2005.  This bottle of 1976 Ayala, Chateau d’Ay, Champagne Extra Quality Brut  comes from the period when it was regarded as a “smaller, but well respected house” according to Decanter magazine.  Ayala has produced a low-dosage Champagne since the 1860s and the house style comes through in the well-regarded 1976 vintage.  This is a finely textured, clean Champagne that is drinking at full maturity right now.  I found it a good start for an evening of mature wine.

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1976 Ayala, Chateau d’Ay, Champagne Extra Quality Brut
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  The wine is a light to medium gold color with an amber tinge.  There is an initial mature, yeast note that is framed by a dry and fine texture.  The wine rounds out with air taking on weight through the clean finish.  Apple orchard flavors come out in the moderately lengthy finish.  *** Now.

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