A few weeks back I was lucky to be a guest when Sotiris hosted his tasting group. We tasted seven wines blind of which one was a ringer. Now I could not peg that we were tasting 2000 and 1996 Bordeaux but the 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley did stick out for it is certainly different. Though the flavor is good, the structure is rather intense at this point so I suggest cellaring it for years to come.
The 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien is a particularly fine wine which you may drink now and over the coming years. From the nose to the flavor and mouth feel I could not help but to enjoy it. I thought the 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe showed well too. The nose demonstrates how it is entering a mature phase but the power and acidity will see this through for some time. As for the other bottles, the 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion is a wine to drink now whereas the 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien needs time to come into its own. Our bottle of 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves was sadly musty but the 2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage was spot on. This group loves Rhone wines so what a treat to finish up with Chave. This is a fine, impeccably balanced wine that is still very young in flavor but the saline and fat notes hint at future complexity.
1) 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion
Imported by Wine Markets Intl. Alcohol 13%. A garnet hint in the glass. There are hints of maturity on the nose, ripe fruit, minerals, and Kirsch. The mature ripe start soon brings minerals but is not as expansive as I expected. There is a prominent vein of acidity, some herbaceous flavors, floral middle then less apparent acidity and spices in the finish. ***(*) Now – 2022.
2) 2000 Chateau Magdelaine, St-Emilion
Imported by Maison Marques et Domaines. Alcohol 13%. The nose is more subtle. This is a redder wine with fuzzy cranberry and red berry flavors. It has a core of sweet fruit in the middle then takes on more body, grip, and an herbaceous bit. *** Now – 2022.
3) 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien
Imported by Bordeaux Wine Locators. Alcohol 13%. This is a dark violet garnet color with an elegant nose. There is power in the mouth which builds until the very finely textured flavors fill the mouth. It also coats the mouth with structure. Despite the strength this is an elegant wine with red fruit, minerals, and quite the aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.
4) 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. There is a eucalyptus start followed by a red fruit burst with acidity. The flavor is interesting and different than the others. This is a powerful wine with very, finely coating flavor. With air flavors of blue fruit develop, warmth, and fresh grip. The very fine structure is intense and there is a bit of a rough patch with heat right before the finish. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
5) 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Ginday Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is fine and mature with a eucalyptus component. The wine is bright with focused flavors of red fruit that takes on a citric hint in the middle. With good power, the vein of acidity will see this wine develop for some time. A lovely wine. **** Now – 2027.
6) 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Calvert-Woodley. Alcohol 13%. There is a tough of cream to the nose. The tangy and ripe, powdery blue fruit builds grip as it leaves flavor on the gums. Powerful structure. With air the wine develops attractiveness as the components balance out. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
7) 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%. The musty nose makes with to a mature, mouth filling wine. The flavor is lighter, the structure is there, as is mineral and cedar box but no denying this is flawed. Too bad. Not Rated.
2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage
Imported by Langdon Shiverick. This is a tense wine with a saline note that adds complexity to the red fruit. The structure is perfectly integrated, the balanced impeccable. With air a very fine perfumed finish makes way to an aftertaste of gently coating fat. **** 2022-2032.
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.