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.
Over this winter I tried a few odd bottles of old Bordeaux, this post reflecting the lesser of them. The 1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux bore good fill and color but the corrosion on the capsule indicated a problem. Old seepage was confirmed by cutting the capsule but the wine itself was good shape, though fresh with sweet fruit, it is a wine that should be drunk up. I did not expect much of the 1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux. I opened it because it is a wine I drunk with my mom in the mid 1990s. We bought a bottle along with cheese, charcuterie, and bread to eat at a picnic in sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge off of Sion Hill in Bristol.
Of great surprise are several bottles from the miserable Bordeaux vintage of 1969. Michael Broadbent does not even award the vintage any stars. Still, these bottles proved that well-stored bottles from the worst vintages can still be drunk with pleasure. The 1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux certainly has vegetable aromas on the nose but in the mouth are perfectly preserved flavors, most likely by the lively acidity, of cranberry red fruit. There is even grip and a suggestion of weight. I do not suggest you seek this wine out but the good storage conditions came through. From the same vintage and cellar came three bottles of 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien. These showed some bottle variation. Two were deep fruited on the nose with one brighter and more pungent. There is less obvious acidity and more leather, wood, and bacon type of flavors. Fun stuff! Finally, the lowest fill of a group of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac proved satisfying. It did not have the depth of the bottle drunk with Darryl and Lou but was complete and enjoyable. To have drunk two bottles of Lafite in one month. Incredible! 😉
1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD. Alcohol 11%-13.5%. A lively wine that combines freshness and some attractive sweet flavors. The tannins are fully resolved and when combined with the hints of roast earth, suggests it should be drunk up. *** Now.
1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux
Fully mature, if not just past but it still manages to offer a mixture of blue and red fruit, wood box, and fully resolved tannins. Pleasant enough for a few glasses. *(*) Now.
1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Across two bottles are clean red fruit flavors along with a distinct vegetal, as in celery, aromas as if from unripe fruit. One bottle had some old funk which blew off. In the mouth are surprisingly well preserved, clean and lively flavors of red fruit. There is even some weight and fresh grip in the mouth. Clearly well stored, this is surprisingly solid with good acidity and a fine, polished wood note. ** Now.
1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Of three bottles tasted, at best a nose of deep, earthy fruit then fresher aromas with cedar. Leather notes develop becoming more prominent than the earth. In the mouth this is a lively wine of bright red then blacker fruit. The flavors shorten quickly but a bacon infused finish carries a wee bit of fruit. The structure is still drying and present.** Now.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Prellar. Imported by Whitehall Company Ltd. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Mid-shoulder fill. A fine nose of meat, graphite, and flowers. In the mouth is a bright undeniably savory wine with a fresh, almost eucalyptus start. The low fill has obviously taken a toll but this remains a savory, fine albeit smaller version of what this wine can achieve. *** Now.
Lou and I managed to squeeze in several quick glasses of wine between our kids’ basketball games and dinner. We kicked off with a bottle of NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County. Both the capsule and label are darker, perhaps indicating this is a non-vintage winemaker’s blend. It is clearly a Bordeaux blend on the nose with the greenhouse aromas indicating some cooler vintage(s) in the blend. It is actually well made with an interesting finish and aftertaste, I just wish there was more depth to the fruit flavor. The 2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County is a completely different beast. The back label indicates that the sugar levels rose on the grapes and what we found in the glass were sweet, over ripe flavors. I enjoyed it more on the initial pour but then found it too sweet.
Finally, Lou served a bottle blind. I guessed it was either early 1980s California Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend or 1990s Bordeaux from a cooler vintage. I was close as it turned out to be 1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc. Caronne Ste Gemme was a daily drinker for Lou so he thought it fun to try a one. This particular bottle bears its age very well. With better balance than the NV Ridge, it is a lively drink at 21 years of age.
NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. The nose is finely scented with greenhouse aromas and red/black fruit. In the mouth this wine has fine grip and focus, showing tart red fruit and leather. It builds flavor with air as well as a hard wood note, more leather, and delicate cranberry red fruit. The aftertaste is surprisingly good. ** Now but will last
2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 99% Carignane and 1% Zinfandel. Alcohol 14.3%. There is a sweet, ripe dusty nose of fruit. In the mouth the flavor is of very ripe berries, tea flavors, chocolate, and sweet fruit. On re-tasting it tastes of over-ripe fruit. Though there is still some grip. * Now.
1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 12.5%. The color shows some age and the nose reveals greenhouse accented fruit. In the mouth is a focused cloud of fruit with some purple flavors and ink. It taste of a cool vintage but the attractive structure is in balance, there is some wood box, and an inky hint. **(*) Now but will last.
Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation. You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover. Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.
Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983. Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot. That is ample enough reason to try a bottle. This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label. I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure. The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate. Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.
We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage. I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard. Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957. Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon? The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine. The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines? After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast. I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley. Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling. And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!
As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary. Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group. No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas. In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat. I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor. Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home. No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.
1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This The color is a bright, garnet ruby. On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate. In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins. There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish. Clearly the youngest wine tasted. It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve. ** Now.
1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%. A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity. Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive. ** Now.
1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%. The lightest color of the quarter. It smells like petrol! In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit. Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish. It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure. Really odd. Not Rated.
1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good. The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar. There are similar flavors in the mouth. The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat. Eventually it becomes more autumnal. **(*) Now but better bottles will last.
As Aaron and I drink many wines together, it’s inevitable that we have some shared wines on our top lists. The 1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill was obviously California with rich fruit and concentration but balanced by forest floor and a balanced acidity. What was especially interesting for me with this wine was that it was served with its brother, the 1978 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace. This wine shared many of the characteristics of its sibling, but with more cassis, less earth and somewhat brighter toned.
I shared Aaron’s enthusiasm for the 1964 Mommessin Clos de Tart. This is everything Burgundy should be—hugely complex as it balances a sense of fragility and depth. This oxymoronic nature of great, mature Burgundy was abounding in this wine. I too loved the 1964 Beaucastel. It’s too rare that I drink great, old Chateauneuf. In an evening with an amazing vertical of great Beaucastel, this wine stood above the rest. It was a beautiful mix of bright fruit, iodine and seaweed.
Moving on to two wines unique to my list are two more wines from 1964. Both Burgundies were drunk at Berns’ and served from 375’s. The first was a Senard Aloxe Corton Les Valozieres. The second was a lowly villages Morey St Denis from Valby. Both wines benefited from the cold conditions of the cellar there and were in pristine condition. Though neither showed the pedigree of the Clos de Tart, they both showed as fully mature, complex and exciting.
The 1989 Cos d’Estournel also was part of a vertical of exceptional wines. Though I greatly enjoyed many of vintages served that night, the 1989 stood out to me (and just edged out the 2005). It had concentrated fruit, some green notes and a fascinating smoky spice like incense. The finish went on and on.
The 1970 Souverain Zinfandel was also from a 375 at Berns’. This tasted still young and fresh and showed the heights that classic Zin can achieve.
My final two wines were probably more about the experience that the wines themselves. The first was a 2011 Fevre Montmains Chablis that I had at Han Ting restaurant in The Hague. This meal was probably my best of the year for exciting food and flawless service. The wine perfectly accompanied the Asian styled food. It had bright acidity, a delightful minerality and will doubtless just get better with time, as it was just a baby.
Finally was a carafe of the house red at O’Tinello Osteria in Lago Albano just outside of Rome. This fruity and fresh wine made locally had enough acidity to lighten the platters of cured meats, creamy pasta and the porchetta that the region is famous for. It was a great reminder of the time honored pairings of local food and wines. We were close to the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo and I could imagine the Pope having a similar lunch in the bright March sun……
It has been a busy year. Not with wine drinking but with work, family, and the house. I certainly spent a lot of time researching about the history of wine but this year my strong efforts in exploration produced less results. As a result I published less historic pieces. Still, it was a good year in all sense. As for wine, what is memorable easily falls into five groups old Burgundy, old Chateauneuf du Pape, old Californian wine, old Bordeaux, and very old Madeira.
Old Burgundy was consumed in the form of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart and 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant. I find these old bottles particularly hardy with sweet, old concentrated flavors that never fade.
Chateauneuf du Pape was off to a roaring start thanks to a friend who not only opened 2003 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape but also 2003 Henri Bonneau, Cuvee Marie-Beurrier, Chateauneuf du Pape. The Rayas already exhibits “breath-taking complexity” whereas the Bonneau is structured for age. At the mature end, a beautiful bottle of 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape proved the longevity of this type of wine. This is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes. There were some mediocre vintages in the 1950s and early 1960s so it is possible Jacques Perrin was ready to use this new technique regardless of the quality of the 1964 vintage. From the same vintage, though not quite the same level of experience, the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape really highlights how negociants and growers successfully worked together. I am also thrilled to have tasted an original release Mont-Redon, whose wines from the 1950s and 1960s have been widely praised. With round, mouth filling sweet strawberries, the 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking perfect right now.
The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley expresses many of the traits I like in a mature American wine: dark fruit, earth, grip, and some of the concentration from age that just makes you want to drink the wine rather than figure out how to describe it. There is quite a reputation for this wine so I am glad it lives up to it. The biggest Californian surprise of the year is the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County which has no written reputation that I could find. This is Pinot Noir with a hefty dose of Zinfandel, that together provide a vibrant and taut wine with fruit, leather, and animale notes. I must, of course, include Eric’s big bottle of 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. I will write about this wine in a separate post but to provide some context for this exceedingly rare 19th century Californian wine, there were only 37 stars on the America flag when the grapes were harvested.
For some reason I did not get around to opening any wines from the 1966 vintage this year. Still, I did not miss the 50th anniversary of the vintage for the 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien proved to be an excellent representative. From the sweaty nose to the cranberries and red fruit this wine is nothing but fun. Also pleasurable, particularly for the mouth feel, is the 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol. In fact, Lou and I managed to drink this twice. It is round, weighty, and injected with fat. Great stuff! I also managed to taste two bottles of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac. The first bottle, with the highest fill, was the best being very aromatic with beef and blood. The second bottle had a much lower fill so I opened it up an experiment. It was simply a more compact representation, attesting to the staying power of Lafite.
As for very old Madeira, I was fortunate to taste 20 pre-Phylloxera bottles this spring. If I simply pruned out the fake(s), off bottles, and ones that are not so good I could probably list 10 more wines. But my favorites can be narrowed to include the 1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial, 1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial, and NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial. For me, these wines balance the high acidity natural to Sercial with some sweetness. They offer a diverse range of styles from tobacco and cedar wood to pungent, sweaty aromas and even smoke with minerals. An empty glass of Madeira will still smell great the next morning. A few errant drops on your skin will perfume yourself.
I was careful to note I drank from a magnum of 1976 Lanson, Champagne and even took a picture of the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer, Cristal Champagne and Jacque Selosse, V.O. Champagne Extra Brut. However, my tasting note for the 1998 Dom Perignon, Champagne “racy, yeasty, rich, mineral wine flavors” is unaccompanied by a picture. This might sound haphazard but Champagne is the first thing drunk after the all-day Sercial Madeira tasting. The need to refresh oneself with Champagne and talk to old friends leads to a sort of frenzy. Everyone jockeys for a pour of Champagne. It is not a time to take note.
Dinner is seated, at a very long table. The pace of wine is measured by the sommeliers who impose a logical order on what is drunk. Every guest is encouraged to bring a magnum of mature wine or preferably two bottles of the same. This is not always possible so there is a large variety of red wines. I take pictures and jot down brief impressions so I may recall the evening later on. There were only two off bottles this night the 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and 1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley. In Germany 1959 is a legendary vintage and in America both Joh. Jos Prum and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard are legendary wines. In some punishing coincidence a friend brought a bottle of 1975 Martha’s Vineyard to my house this year. It was off too. Damn and double damn.
Of the good wines, they fell into two camps. Those which are too young to follow a tasting of 19th century Madeira and those which are appropriately mature. In this latter category two particular bottles stand out: 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. The 1966 Ducru sports a fantastic nose. I find some old wines have a sweaty aspect to their nose almost like aromatic umami and this bottle did as well. The flavors were equally attractive with that sweet concentration of flavor from age. It does not just taste mature, it tastes different.
My experience with Californian wine only includes vintages into the 1960s. I can assure you the last wine I would have expected at dinner was not just a pre-Prohibition Californian wine but one from the 19th century. In a particularly unforgiving act of arson in 2005, some 4.5 million bottles of wine were destroyed including 175 bottles of Hellman Angelica and Port wine, certainly most of the remaining stock. I can only imagine a handful of bottles survive to this day. Now scarcity alone does not make for a fine wine, what is in the glass does. With a bit of volatile acidity and dust on the nose the 1875 Hellman may have given slight pause but in the mouth this is an unctuous, powerful, and mouth coating wine. I managed to prolong the pleasure for a few more weeks because I was allowed to take the empty bottle home. There was still damp sediment in the bottle so I stoppered it. Every few days I would smell the bottle to swim once again in 19th century aromas.
2002 Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos
Imported by Vieux Vins. The yeasty nose makes way to minerally, white and yellow fruit flats. This seductive wine is rich with a hint of yeast, ripe tannins in the finish, and fat in the aftertaste.
2008 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a fresh, lean wine that tastes yeasty and older in the mouth. IT leans towards pure lemon flavors.
2007 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a grippy, concentrated wine with fresh acidity. A little weight comes out with air but this is all about lemon tartness. To match the flavor is a fair amount of acidity.
1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by O. W. Loeb & Co. Corked! D*mn!
1970 Domaine Dujac, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Alcohol 13%. The dark, garnet color matches the rather mature nose. In the mouth this is a very dry wine with old perfume mixing with linear, red fruit, The structure is still there, out living the fruit, as this gentle, old wine dries up.
1967 Odero, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The nose is a little stinky, which I find attractive, before aromas of candied cherry come out. This is old-school lively, with structure from the ripe tannins. Perfect for what it is.
1961 Burlotto, Castello di Verduno, Barolo
The foxy, earthy flavors come with initial concentration. It is a dry wine offering more flavor than the Oddero. Maturity has brought old-school flavors, a sweet aspect, and earth. It wraps up with drying, textured tannins.
1967 Cordezuma, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The color is young, almost cranberry-ruby in color. In the mouth this is a simpler wine which is tart, citric, and bears less fruit.
1981 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
An odd wine with almost mushroom flavors, yeast, and floral pork (WTF!). The acidity is bound up with the modest bit of structure.
1990 Prunotto, Barbaresco Montestefano
Alcohol 13.5%. Tobacco. Young!
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Landonne
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is way too young. Structure, drying, and bracing at this point.
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Mouline
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is aromatic with a fine nose just beginning to take on mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit is starting to soften a touch. Overall this is a focused wine with powerful structure through the fresh finish. Young.
1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Johnston. Alcohol 12.5%. The mature Bordeaux notes are starting to escape but this is still so young.
1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Shipped by SDVF. Imported by South Wine & Spirits. Alcohol 12.5%. This is more open with cassis, minerals, and fat. Nice.
1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Shipped by Raoul Lucien & Co. Imported by Combeau-Collet & Cie. Alcohol 12%. The fantastic nose is aromatic and a touch sweaty with cranberries and red fruit. It develops some old-school perfume. In the mouth the flavors have some sweetness to them before the drying finish. A lovely wine at 50 years of age.
1966 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Shipped by A. de Luze & Fils. This is less giving, more linear, soon shutting down to simple, cranberry, and red fruit flavors. It is firm and tight in the mouth with a shorter finish.
1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
An off bottle.
1992 Harlan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Young and primary.
1937 Niepoort, Colheita Port
Imported by W. J. Deutsch Co. Alcohol 19%. There is a sweet start with flavors of black tea and wood. There is a fair amount of noticeable acidity before the slightly harsh finish.
1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County
Though there is some volatile acidity on the nose, it is fine and articulate, with a bit of dust matching its age. The fruit tastes so different. This is a powerful and lip coating wine which is still racy and sweet. The fruit persisted through the dark finish. With air this unctuous wine, with its plentiful residual sugar, builds glycerin and baking spices. In great shape!