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An Afternoon with Mature Wine – Part 2 Old Cali

November 19, 2018 Leave a comment

After four largely good bottles of old Nebbiolo, the three of us needed more wine to taste so out came several bottles of old Californian wine.  The 1977 Franciscan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, by way of Reid Wines of Bristol, was a mess of herbaceous, evergreen notes.  The pair of 1975 Harbor Winery bottles proved more interesting with the 1975 Harbor Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley a clear favorite of this grouping.

Harbor Winery was founded in 1972 by Charles Myers of Sacramento with a goal “of bottling wine from a particular terrain”.  Myers was an amateur winemaker and English instructor at Sacramento City College.  His first 1,000 gallons of commercial wines were released in 1973 and by 1980, output hit 3,000 gallons.

Myers first produced a “terrible” zinfandel in 1954 but two years later, when he had moved to Sacramento, he was making 200 gallons of drinkable wine on an annual basis.  The Corti Brothers encouraged Myers to go commercial and they even advertised the sale of his first wine in 1974.  Harbor Winery, being the only small commercial winery in Sacramento, attracted frequent coverage in the Sacramento Bee from which this brief history stems. The Harbor Winery selections were soon sold not just locally, but in Los Angeles and San Francisco with a rare appearance at The Ritz London.

Darrell Corti felt the local Sacramento grapes were no good, a sentiment shared by Myers.  Myers first turned to Amador County in 1964 when he was looking for Muscat and in the process was introduced to the Zinfandels.  It was one decade later, in 1974, that Myers first purchased Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from the Deaver Ranch in Amador County. The 1975 we drank would then be Myers’ second commercial vintage of this wine.  He felt the future of the 1974 looked “very good” at the time and this must have extended to the 1975.  I found it deep fruited with tension from acidity.  There is still the coarseness or absence of “subtlety and elegance” Myers attributed to Amador County.

The 1975 Harbor Winery, Zinfandel, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley is not as good as the Cabernet Sauvignon.  As I have described in other posts, Amador County Zinfandel was “discovered” during the wine boom. Myers utilized carbonic maceration to make a Zinfandel for immediate drinking which is the opposite of what Sutter Home and Montevina were releasing at the time.  I found our bottle hollow.

We finished up with a soft, simple 1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  It is a little wine where the volume is fading.

1977 Franciscan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Imported by Peter Eckes. Alcohol 12%.  Tons of herbaceous, evergreen aromas and flavors.  Ugh.  Not Rated.

1975 Harbor Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  Scented on the nose.  In the mouth, deep fruited, fresh, with a soda-like tension.  The nice acidity keeps the edges sharp to the sweet, lifted, fruit.  There is even a note of cedar.  There is a sense of coarseness but the settles down and lies low.  *** Now.

1975 Harbor Winery, Zinfandel, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  Red berries on the nose.  Wood notes with black fruit greet but the middle is hollow followed by a cola-like finish.  There is grip and a lipsticky finish.  too bad.  Drinkable but only of minor interest.  *(*) Now.

1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12%.  A soft, gentle wine in need of more acidity.  Flavors of leather, gentle red fruit, and cedar fade towards the finish.  Simple but not flawed.  The nearly full bottle tasted exactly the same on the second day.  ** Now drink up.

Two old Special Selection wines from California

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

One evening this summer, Mannie and I sat outside with our families for dinner.  The theme for the meal was old Californian wine, a favorite subject of mine, both historically and gustatory.  Our first bottle, the 1969 Louis M. Martini, Special Selection California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was produced by  Louis P. Martini who took over management of his father’s winery the year before.  It was that same year, in 1968, that the Californian wine boom took off and wine production began to accelerate.  In the span of one year, from 1969 to 1970 the volume of table wine produced in California increased by more than 25%.  The new interest in wine extended beyond the staggering increase in consumption, Californian wines made inroads at the White House and Heublein held their first rare wine auction conducted by Michael Broadbent.

Californian Zinfandel rode the boom during which our second bottle of 1977 Montevina, Special Selection Zinfandel, Amador County was produced.  Zinfandel was to became widely discovered after Bob Trinchero released his 1968 Sutter Home, Zinfandel from old vines in Amador County.  Amador County Zinfandel would eventually be considered “the biggest, richest, spiciest, and most intensely flavored red wines” produced in America.  As a result, the price for Amador County Zinfandel skyrocketed from $68 per ton in 1968 up to $400-$500 per ton in 1980.  During this period there was also a small scene of skyrocketing alcohol levels.

The first post-Prohibition winery in Amador County is Cary Gott’s Montevina Winery.  Founded in 1970, it was a full-fledged professional operation by 1973.  During the late 1970s the wines were being sold and favorably reviewed  both on the west coast and the east coast.  Frank J. Prial’s 1979 suggestions on which wines to select at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City include “the great Montevina zinfandel” from 1974.  He would later describe the 1976 vintage as “big, intense wine without a lot of elegance but great fun to drink.”

The Montevina fruit came from 120 acres of vines, most over 30 years of age and many over 70 years of age.  They were dry-farmed which stressed the vines in the intense heat yielding “deeply colored, more concentrated juice”.  If the regular bottlings of Zinfandel reached 15%, the more tannic and alcoholic Special Selection were higher.  The 1977 Special Selection Zinfandel reached a reported 16%.  These were the levels achieved naturally.  The 1977 vintage occurred during a second consecutive drought year which when coupled with longer hang time only compounded levels.  Mt. Veeder’s late harvest Zinfandel reached 17.2% and Sutter Home made a late harvest Zinfandel in 1977 which reached 17% alcohol.  Bob Trinchero described it as a “very, very difficult wine to drink.”

By 1980, Bob Trinchero felt the fad “for these, big monster Zinfandels” died off.  The wines were no longer bargains due to gaining respect.  That same year Terry Roberts of The New York Times published a list of “complex and robust zinfandels” made by David Bruce, Mayacamas, Montevina, Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma Vineyard, and Sutter Home.  That is quite a list of names.

As for the wines the 1969 Martini is fully mature.  The flavors are still complex but the wine is gentle and shortening up.  The 1977 Montevina is a mouth full.  It does not have the complexity of the Martini but there is an interesting inky, mineral middle.  It is almost like a dry Port and will last for decades.  Neither wine blew me away but in reflecting the beginning and middle of the California wine boom I find them fascinating.

1969 Louis M. Martini, Special Selection California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Napa and Sonoma Counties. Alcohol 12.5%. The old-school, tangy red fruit is accompanied by leather and vintage perfume. The flavors dry up towards the shorter finish.  *** Now.

1977 Montevina, Special Selection Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 15%. From the mouth filling start to the mouth filling finish this wine is substantial. It is almost thick in the mouth with an interesting mineral middle, inky nature, and baking spiced finish. *** Now but will last.

I like my Sutter Home Zinfandel red and from the 1970s

August 2, 2017 1 comment

Our dinners with Sudip have come to a reasonable arrangement for all.  The kids play for hours, Sudip provides the meal, and I provide the old wine.  Though purely by coincidence it is worth noting that Sudip has won handsomely at poker on days when his games begin or end on our dinner evenings.

One theme we continue to visit at each dinner are the Californian wines from the 1977 vintage.  In picking the wines for our latest dinner I could not but help to bring the 1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County.  As we last had success with Martin Ray I also included the NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5 and to match the lack of vintage date I paired it with the NV Preston Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Sonoma County.

Sutter Home has a history dating back to the late 19th century but for our bottle, produced by the Trinchero family, that history begins in 1946.  It is then that the family purchased the old winery then set about revitalizing it such that they produced over 40 different wines including the one gallon variety.

Bob Trinchero became winemaker in 1960.  When he made his first zinfandel in 1968 he knew that was the direction he wanted the winery to go.  The wine was released with great success in 1971.  By 1973 only red Zinfandel, white Zinfandel, and Muscat were being produced.

Throughout the 1970s Sutter Home Zinfandels were amongst the highest rated Zinfandels at the Los Angeles County Fair and as such frequently appear in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post.  The earliest vintages saw up to three years of age in wood.  The aging period was reduced, in an effort to gain complexity, with the 1978 vintage achieving the desired results.

When Bob Trinchero first began to make Zinfandel, it was viewed as a lesser grape and the fruit did not command the same prices as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Amador County Zinfandel sold for $68 per ton in 1968 climbing up to $400-$500 per ton in 1980.  By this point Amador County Zinfandel was considered “the biggest, richest, spiciest, and most intensely flavored red wines” produced in America.[2]

There is little in print about the specific bottling of 1977 Sutter Home Zinfandel we tried.    Bob Trinchero notes that winemakers were producing big, alcoholic wines almost to the point of “absurdity” at the time.  It is the intense heat of Amador County which regularly produced wines of alcohol content starting at 14%.  Trinchero does state that Sutter Home made one Zinfandel in 1977 with an alcohol content of 17%.[3]  This wine “stained enamel”.  Sadly the 1977 was not included in the 11 vintage lineup of Sutter Home Zinfandel tasted by William Rice in 1980.

The need for age is a common description found for young Sutter Home Zinfandels from the 1970s.  Our bottle of 1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County still contains obvious structure and cherry flavors delivered in a firm manner.  It is not the most complex wine but all of those years of oak aging will enable it to readily live on for a long time.

Not of the same staying power is the NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5.  This bottle was originally offered during the early 1980s.  It is a generous and interesting blend of old-school funk with modern clean fruit.  I found the combination appealing.  Most likely from the same period the NV Preston Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Red Table Wine, Sonoma County is a fun drink for the first hour.  During this period the tangy and weighty red fruit is thoroughly enjoyable.  While not as complex as the Martin Ray it is quenching and deserves marks for that.

1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 13%.  This is structured and firm with predominant cherry flavors which are accompanied by black fruit in the end.  There is a bit of zip and certainly a structure of fine, drying textured tannins.  With air a decent nose develops.  The wine remains solid but has some grip and certainly tart, cherry candy notes.  ** Now but will easily last.

NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5
This wine is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose combines enjoyable old-school funk with modern dark fruit aromas.  In the mouth this is very lively with rounded, old school flavors that come across as juicy and weighty.  There is even some earth.  The blue-fruited finish shortens up a bit but it is balanced overall.  *** Now.

NV Preston Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Sonoma County
This wine is perhaps mostly Cabernet Sauvignon.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose offers tart cherry and incense.  This is a very strong offering right out of the bottle with tangy red fruit that is delivered with some authoritative weight.  The fresh tang leaves an impression a good impression.  The wine is quite good for the first hour then it fades and falls apart a bit.  *** Now for the first hour.


[1] Rice, William. WINE: Zinfandels Find A Home at Sutter WINE. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]27 Apr 1980: K1.

[2] THE NEW AMERICAN WINES: Intense Zinfandels Of the Sierra Nevada Wine Talk
By TERRY ROBARDS. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 11, 1980; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. C1

[3] Hicke, Carol.  Interview with Louis “Bob” Trinchero in 1991. “California Zinfandels, A Success Story”.  The Wine Spectator Californian Winemen Oral History Series.

Four old Ridge wines from 1976 – 1982

January 5, 2015 3 comments

I may not have met my goal of finishing up posts about several major tastings from last year but I am writing about the very first tasting of this new year which occurred last night at Lou’s house.  Lou bought a series of old Ridge wines last year from which he selected two pairs to be tasted.  All of the wines were double-decanted almost one hour ahead.  We started by tasting a few bubblies of which our contribution was the 2007 Gruet, Grand Rose.  Jenn and I bought this wine on release from Gruet several years ago.  Unfortunately, this well-stored bottle did not offer much in the way of aroma nor flavor.

The first pair of Ridge wines consisted of more traditional Zinfandel from the Advanced Tasting Program. The 1981 Ridge, Zinfandel ATP, Fiddletown, Amador County was complete after it saw some air.  The wine was fully mature yet still had good fruit, acidity, and structure all in balance.  It was elegant but not lean and attractive enough that we finished up the leftovers when we returned home.  Sadly, the 1982 Ridge, Zinfandel ATP, Esola, Amador County was past drinking and according to Lou it deteriorated further.

The second pair of Ridge wines were designed Late Harvest and contained obvious residual sugar in the finished wine.  The 1976 Ridge, Zinfandel, Late Harvest I, Esola, Amador County was  produced from “very ripe Zinfandel” that were kept separate from the “main crop released as Late Harvest II.”  It showed a claret like personality that was given some roundness and weight from the touch of residual sugar.  It showed better integration on the second day with attractive mature notes rather than preserved notes.  The 1981 Ridge, Zinfandel, Late Harvest, Amador County was produced from grapes ripened beyond full maturity that were the last to be picked.  The flavors were simpler and shorter and while revealing cedar, it did not offer the level of bottle age flavors that the 1976 did.  What can I write except that I look forward to the second round of Ridge wines!

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2007 Gruet, Grand Rose
This wine is 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (that was aged 12 months in French oak) which saw 4 years of bottle age before release. Alcohol 12%.  There was almost nothing on the nose.  In the glass were the largest bubbles I have ever seen that burst with tremendous force in the mouth.  The wine soon became still with some notes of hard red fruit.  Not much going on. * Now.

Ridge1

1981 Ridge, Zinfandel ATP, Fiddletown, Amador County
Neck-shoulder fill.  This wine is 100% Zinfandel.  Alcohol 13.9%.  There was a musky, medicinal, sweaty nose that eventually blew off.  The mouth revealed some ripe and tart black/red fruit, structure, citric notes, and a tart, cranberry red finish before the minty fresh aftertaste.  With air the wine showed a gentle mature nose, became more salty and acidity driven.  *** Now.

Ridge2

1982 Ridge, Zinfandel ATP, Esola, Amador County
Bottom neck fill.  This wine is a blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah sourced from vines planted in 1910.  Alcohol 12.3%.  This smelled past drinking on the nose which was confirmed on the palate.  There was, however, still acidity and drying tannins.  Not Rated.

Ridge3

1976 Ridge, Zinfandel, Late Harvest I, Esola, Amador County
Bottom neck fill.  This wine is 100% Zinfandel.  Residual Sugar 0.8% Alcohol 16%.  The color was a light to medium garnet.  There was an attractive, aromatic nose of cedar and sweet, mature red fruit.  In the mouth was a ripe and round start with obvious residual sugar.  The cola-like flavors were almost bracing.  The wine settled down into a blend of classic claret flavors rounded out by residual sugar.  The acidity was lively the entire time.  There was a long finish and clean, slightly warming aftertaste.  *** Now.

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1981 Ridge, Zinfandel, Late Harvest, Amador County
High-shoulder fill.  This wine is 100% Zinfandel.  Residual Sugar 2%.  Alcohol 16.3%.  There were aromas of cork and cedar on the nose along with some low-lying funk.  In the mouth was a higher residual sugar level, cedar notes, and a refreshing aftertaste.  The wine was very much alive but offered simpler and shorter flavors of licorice and red fruit.  ** Now.

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Mature Chapoutier and Turley with young Dirty & Rowdy

December 23, 2014 1 comment

A recent evening tasting wine with Lou proved to be rather interesting. I do not recall ever tasting Hermitage blanc so I was completely surprised that the 2000 Chapoutier, Chante-Alouette, Hermitage Blanc continued to develop the entire evening.  While it was always balanced it became more expressive on the nose and in the mouth.  I usually save my leftovers for the next day but Jenn and I just had to finish it up when I returned home.  If you open a bottle then double-decant it at least one hour ahead.  Also interesting was the bottle of 2000 Turley, Zinfandel Juvenile.  I would not think a high-alcohol Zinfandel could develop gracefully past 10 years of age.  This one did.  I would not say it developed any distinctive bottle aged flavors, rather it was youthful in a manner that belied its age.  We finished up with a pair of Mourvedre from Dirty & Rowdy.  The 2011 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County was a bit more robust and expressive, though the flavors waxed and waned.  Though familiar on the nose the 2013 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre, California Familiar proved to be a younger, lighter, and acidity driven relative.  Not surprising given the change in fruit source and the inclusion of some Petite Sirah.  My feelings oscillated but the wine did grow on me.  In the end I felt it just needs some time.  What really matters is that the 2000 Chapoutier rocked and the 2000 Turley was an outright tasty wine to drink.

WithLou1

2000 Chapoutier, Chante-Alouette, Hermitage Blanc –
Imported by Ginday Imports.  This wine is 100% Roussanne.  Alcohol 11-14%.  The wine was a gold color.  With air aromas of toast came out.  The wine itself became rounder, riper, and weightier throughout the entire evening.  There was a lovely, exotic mouthfeel with green herbs and eventually an interesting masa with fruit flavor.  It had attractive glycerin and a flavorful aftertaste.  **** Now-2020.

WithLou2

2000 Turley, Zinfandel Juvenile –
This wine is 100% Zinfandel sourced from young vines on estate vineyards.  It was aged in 20% new oak.  Alcohol 15.2%.  The color was a light to medium garnet.  The nose was grapey and meaty with some prune aromas.  In the mouth the wine was very fruity before linear flavors of black fruit and lively young acidity came out.  The wine was balanced, though you could work out some heat, and quickly took on a little ripe texture and tannins in the finish.   With air the wine took on more grapey fruit, rosemary notes, and a powdery ripe aftertaste.  *** Now-2019.

WithLou3

2011 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County –
This wine is 100% Mourvedre from two blocks of young vines that was aged for four months in neutral oak.   Alcohol 13.4%.  There was an enjoyable nose of gentle potpourri and red fruit aromas.  In the mouth were forward, grainy fruit flavors that were tart, black, and acidity driven.  After the start the wine fleshed out a bit in the middle but dropped off in the finish before resuming in the aftertaste.  The wine became more floral with air, showing pepper, black fruit, and greenhouse flavors.  It even took on notes of polished wood and vintage perfume.  *** Now-2018.

WithLou4

2013 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre, California Familiar –
This wine is a blend of 93% Mourvedre and 7% Petite Sirah that was whole cluster fermented using indigenous yeast.  Alcohol 13.2%.  Familiar in the nose but certainly different.  There were tart red and black fruit that had a more carressing feel.  The wine was cleaner and lighter on its feet with cranberry acidity and a moderate amount of citric tannin that were still young.  **(*) 2015-2019.

WithLou5

2011 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre

I first read about the wine of Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery in Erin Scala’s December 2012 post Dirty and Rowdy wine at Rouge Tomate.  In case you missed it both Erin Scala and Hardy Wallace were included in the Wine Enthusiast’s “40 under 40: America’s Tastemakers.”  Several months later David White (Terroirist) invited me to a Hipster Wine tasting which included wines from Dirty & Rowdy.  I had a schedule conflict so instead of joining David I joined the winery mailing list.  This weekend we finally pulled the cork.  While I did expect a cooler, lighter presentation I did not expect such an array of spice aromas and flavors.   Pretty cool and different stuff!  This wine was purchased directly from Dirty & Rowdy.

DirtyRowdy1

2011 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County – $36
This wine is 100% Mourvedre from two blocks of young vines.  Alcohol 13.4%.  The color was a light to medium cherry garnet.  The nose was of red fruit, orange peel, spice, and cherry berry.  In the mouth things begin with a vibrant, crisp start on the tongue followed by flavors of tart red and black fruit.  There was a fine core of ripe fruit which mixed with Christmas spices and potpourri.  There were very fine integrated tannins and a somewhat tart red citrus note.  With a bit of air this opens up nicely.  *** Now-2014.

DirtyRowdy2