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A Fine Surprise: 1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon

December 30, 2019 Leave a comment

The Trefethen family moved to Napa Valley in 1968 where they acquired several small farms to form a single wine estate.  After the inaugural vintage of 1973, Trefethen Vineyards soon became known as a small producer of fine wines.  Thanks to Carole Hicke’s interview of Janet and John Trefethen in 1997, we know just how remarkable it is that the 1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley I recently enjoyed remains a fine wine to this day.

Janet and John Trefethen planned their marriage around their very first crush in 1973.  John had made wine on a private scale in 1971 and 1972 but the 1973 vintage, produced at the 19th century Eschol Ranch winery, was their first commercial effort.  Built in 1886, the winery had last been used for storage in the 1940s and for producing wine even further back, perhaps the 1920s.  When the Trefethen’s purchased the property in 1968, the winery still had dirt floors and stood in the middle of 280 acres of mass producing grape vines.  For the first vintage, they cemented over part of the ground floor, brought in a press and had storage for some 2,000 gallons of wine.  Curious enough, Domaine Chandon was located on the second floor!

There were just 25 wineries in Napa Valley when the Trefethen’s arrived.  Between 1968 and 1973, they replanted the vineyard.  For the 1973 vintage, they produced 2,000 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  In 1974, they added in Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.  1974 turned out to be an excellent vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon and it  caught the eye of Harry Waugh.  He purchased a stock of it to be served on the Queen Elizabeth II.

This bottle had good fill and deep color.  In the glass it was in fresh condition, developing with air and proving to be an enjoyable drink.  It is rounded and balanced, confidently mature with bottle aged flavors yet still offering cherry fruit.  This is a remarkable achievement given that this is the first release of Cabernet Sauvignon.

1974 Trefethen Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  An aromatic wine, herbaceous with a touch of roast.  Fresh in the mouth with a rounded edge to the flavors which are carried by fresh, watering acidity.  It is saline with old wood notes mixing with cherry fruit and baking spices.  It is quite solid with air for it proves satisfying and does not crack up.  *** Now but will last.

Holiday Time Wine: 1977 Dessert Wines from California

December 27, 2019 Leave a comment

I have become swamped with work and despite a lack of posting, I have still managed to drink some interesting wines this fall.  The 1977 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Amador County is a fine find.  Founded in 1974, Monterey Peninsula Winery soon developed award winning Zinfandel from a county which became synonymous for the variety.  Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Nathan Chroman found the group of Zinfandels submitted at the 1976 Los Angeles Fair the finest in its history.  This included the 1974 vintage of the wine we tried.  Chroman found this “high-alcohol” or “late-harvest” style of wine a great success due to their balance with the alcohol.  Indeed, that is a quality which persists with the 1977 vintage to this day.

A lack of balance with alcohol is the affliction of the 1977 JW Morris Port Works, California Vintage Port.  Founded in 1975, JW  Morris Port Works soon ran into problems with capital and was sold off to the Toth family in 1983.  Morris bought Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel from 70 year old vines in Black Mountain as the basis for his ports.  In 1986, the Toth’s still had a stock of the 1977 Port which had been aged in wood for 6 1/2 years.  They planned on releasing it as the first of the Late Bottled Ports.  The goal was to produce a smoother drinking port without “the ‘hot’ alcoholic qualities” of the younger ports.  Perhaps the wine we tried had issues from the very beginning.

1977 Monterey Peninsula Winery, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 17.8%.  The nose is a dead-ringer for a classic, less-sweet tawny port.  Ample, fruity flavors with baking spices, and still with fine rugged texture.  A certain robustness yet balanced all around, fine wood flavors…simply a treat.  ***(*)  Now but will last.

1977 JW Morris Port Works, California Vintage Port – half-bottle
Alcohol 20%.  A lovely nose, quite fruity and deep, revealing plentiful leather aromas with air.  In the mouth a fruity start, still youthful and well preserved but out of balance with the spirit.  Becomes hot by the end which I find distracting and a shame given the nose. *(*) Now but will last a long time.

Another tasting with Lou, from maturing Chablis to old Boeger wines

November 5, 2019 Leave a comment

While it was still warm, I met up with Lou and another friend for grilled steak and a variety of wines.  Two favorite wines from the evening include the lush 2005 Domaine Vrignaud, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume and young 2010 Scholium Project, The Courier, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.  I found the 2006 Domaine Saint-Damien, Vieilles Vignes, Gigondas young and capable of much further development.  Though it did become a bit hot with air (and perhaps some warmth).

We then moved on to a trio of old California wines from Boeger Winery.  Founded by Greg and Sue Boeger in 1972, Boeger Winery was the first commercial winery in El Dorado County since Prohibition.  It is located in the old Elmo Fossati Ranch winery built in 1870s and operated until the 1920s. It remained in the Fossati family until it was sold in 1972.

Boeger Winery was part of an expansion of vineyard acreage in the county from 11 largely experimental acres in 1967 to 380 by 1981.  Greg Boeger felt El Dorado County was special with a better climate than in Napa Valley.  The vineyards are located at a higher elevation, the temperature is cooler, and the area is without fog so grapes may ripen without mildew.  Boeger was ready for its first crush in 1974 and by 1977, he doubled capacity to 12,000 gallons.  It is from this period that our three oldest bottles stem from.  The NV Boeger Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Lot No. 3, El Dorado County is a solid drink, still in firm shape.  The 1979 Boeger Winery, Merlot, El Dorado County steps up the quality with savory, strong flavors.  Sharing a common savory quality, the 1978 Boeger Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Dorado County has a clear, blue fruited vein.  While not mind-blowing, these bottles were in fine shape with the vintage dated ones exhibiting a common personality.

2005 Domaine Vrignaud, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume
Imported by KV Imports.  Alcohol 13%.  A light, gold-straw color.  Aromatic on the nose with some ripe orchard notes.  More rounded that the nose belies, it is even lush with a touch of softness, wood hint, and underlying maturity.  With air the wine comes into focus with dense lemon flavor, flint, and quite the mouthfeel.  ***(*) Now – 2025.

2010 Scholium Project, The Courier, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County
This wine is a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Granche.  Alcohol 14.8%.  A young, lifted Syrah nose which is articulate and aromatic.  Complex, tense, and young. Needs time.  ***(*) Now – 2029.

2006 Domaine Saint-Damien, Vieilles Vignes, Gigondas
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.  Alcohol 15%.  Young but there is a savory focus for future development.  A licorice note comes out.  Strong with a touch of heat after extended air.  Will it remain balanced or should you pop and pour?  *** Now – 2029.

1990 Giuseppe Contratto, Solus Ad, Barbera d’Asti
Imported by Bedford Brands Ltd. Alcohol 12.8%.  Mature on the nose and on the cusp of falling apart. Not Rated.

NV Boeger Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Lot No. 3, El Dorado County
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from vines located at 1400 ft in elevation in the Gold Hill district.  It was aged in small French Never oak barrels.    Alcohol 12.5%.  Still good color.  Sweet wood notes on the nose.  Tart and firm red fruit supported by black fruit flavors.  A solid wine with good, citric acidity.  ** Now.

1979 Boeger Winery, Merlot, El Dorado County
This wine is 100% Merlot sourced from the highest ridge at the winery. Alcohol 13.2%.  A bricking color.  Savory in the mouth with a big start.  In a strong state with supportive acidity throughout.  **(*) Now.

1978 Boeger Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Dorado County
This wine is a blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot sourced from vines at 2300 ft in elevation.  It was aged for 2 years in small oak barrels.  Alcohol 13.2%.  A little stink.  Rounder and softer yet there is a good edge in there.  Good flavor with developing blue fruit.  A savory wine.  *** Now.

A tasting with Lou: Sandlands, Sanguis, Soumade and more

November 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Lou and I gathered quite a while ago to drink some randomly selected wines.  A new wine for me is the NV Phillippe Tessier, Phil’en Bulle.  It is a little sweet for me so perhaps better with dessert.  Of particular note is the white wine 2017 Linne Calodo, Contrarian, Paso Robles.  I should also note the very young 2016 Domaine la Soumade, Cuvee Prestige, Rasteau which, with several years of age, will become a very good wine.  2017 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Contra Costa County is a young wine for drinking now.  A solid bottle of 1989 Raymond Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley delivered surprise and pleasure.  A pair of Sanguis offered a fun comparison even if they should have been drunk up a few years ago. The 2011 Sanguis, 11-A, John Bastiano is very clean, chalky, and full of verve.  For a brief bit, I preferred the luxury of the 2011 Sanguis, 11-B, Bienacido but it sadly cracked up after a short period.

NV Phillippe Tessier, Phil’en Bulle, Loire
A Zev Rovine Selection imported by Fruit of the Vine. Alcohol 12.5%. A slightly hazy, light straw yellow. Very fine and strong bubbles carry the ripe, sweetish start. Some yeast the short finish.  **(*) Now.

2017 Linne Calodo, Contrarian, Paso Robles
This is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Picpoul Blanc, and 20% Viognier. Alcohol 13.7%. Refreshing with good acidity white nuts and expansive flavor. A core of tropical fruit remains but the gum, coating texture adds presence. Notes of pastilles in the finish. **** Now – 2022.

2011 Sanguis, 11-A, John Bastiano, Santa Rita  Hills
Alcohol 14%. A very light color with a green tinge. A little toast on the nose eventually blows off. Tart with some berry toast. Clean with chalk and yellow fruit. Plenty of verve. ** Now.

2011 Sanguis, 11-B, Bien Nacido, Santa Maria Valley
Alcohol 14.8%. A touch more fruit and weight, oily in the middle with a steely finish. Racy with good balance, it has some toast flavors. With air it begins to crack up revealing acidity and heat.  *** at best but Past Prime.

2017 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Contra Costa County
A blend of Carignan and Mataro. Alcohol 12.9% Grapey with cranberry flavor and chalky tannins. Tart with crunchy acidity this sports an interesting mineral, fruit blend.  *** Now – 2022.

2016 Domaine la Soumade, Cuvee Prestige, Rasteau
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14.5%. A grapey, young color and tight, grapey nose. Tight in the mouth but there is a lovely vein of fruit through the linear structure. Beautiful fat from the ripeness, it is powerful, building flavor. ***(*) 2024-2034.

1989 Raymond Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley
Mature with Eucalyptus. Some firmness in the mouth but the Cab flavor comes out. In fresh shape this is a tasty wine with focused, ripe fruit, some dry wood notes, and structure in the end. *** Now.

An intense and dark 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot

October 16, 2019 Leave a comment

I pulled the cork on the 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley not knowing one bit of its history.  Founded by Randle and MaryLee Johnson, this bottle is from their inaugural vintage which happens to be the same year the winery was founded.  Just five years earlier, in 1974, Johnson graduated from UC Davis then a year later begin work with Phil Baxter at Chateau Souverain in 1975. In 1977, Johnson started work under Bob Travers at Mayacamas Vineyard which is located on Mount Veeder.  Fascinated with this mountain fruit, Johnson opened Calafia Cellars in 1979.

Johnson explored the terroir of Mount Veeder.  In the early years at Calafia Cellars, he produced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel from both the southeast-facing and west-facing slopes.  I do not know any background details of this wine but as it is marked Napa Valley, it could be Merlot sourced from the southeastern slopes of Mount Veeder.  Calafia Cellars was a winery in name only so I wonder if this inaugural vintage was made at Mayacamas.  This bottle was showing a bit of its age but the dark and intense flavors bear all the hallmarks of Mount Veeder.  What a treat!

1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.1%.  Dark in color with a lovely nose.  Ripe and dark in the mouth with firm, dense and polished flavors carried by watering acidity.  In good condition, this wine is integrated all around.  It fleshes out a bit taking on some spice.  It eventually shows its age being a touch hollow in the end.  **(*) Now.

A Preserved mid-1970s Liberty School, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Charles Wagner’s famous Caymus Vineyards was bonded in 1971 with the first successful vintage a year later in 1972.  Wagner would develop a reputation during the 1970s for producing some of California’s best wines.  These early vintages still command a premium to this day.  The shifting nature of the California wine boom left some winemakers with more wine than they could sell.  Liberty School, Wagner’s second label, made its debut, born of surplus wine, in 1976.

Nathan Chroman, of the Los Angeles Times, was skeptical of the first release of the bicentennial named Liberty School.[1]  Though the origins of subsequent releases are not known, Chroman sheds some light on the first.  It is a 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon that a grower could not market.  The wine was produced by a large winery in Dry Creek Valley then finished by Wagner at Caymus Vineyards.  First released at $3.50, Chroman found it “laden with tannin but with enough flavor” to suggest it would age.  A year later, Frank Prial of the New York Times reported that often “very good wine” shows up in second labels including Liberty School.[2]  He found these wines quite good and a bargain.

The origins of our NV Caymus Vineyard, Liberty School, Lot 3, Cabernet Sauvignon remain a mystery.  Advertisements are not consistent but we know that Lot 1 was sold in 1976, Lot 2 in 1977,  with Lots 4 and 5 in 1979.  That would place Lot 3 as being offered around 1978.  The vintage is certainly mid 1970s, perhaps 1976.  In 1979, it was priced between $5-$6 placing it in the range of Beringer, Clos du Bois, Souverain Vintage Select, and Sterling.

Today the wine is decidedly in a fine, preserved state.  It is clean and focused with an herbaceous Cabernet edge.  It does not have the depth that I would prefer but it is balanced and easy to drink.  I find this quite cool given that it a second wine.

NV Caymus Vineyards, Liberty School, Lot 3, Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol 13%. A dark, robust color.  In the mouth it offers clean cherry flavor with a touch of wood.  It remains focused with an herbaceous edge carried by fresh acidity.  **(*) Now but will last.


[1] California’s Cup Overflowing With Excellent Wine Bargains. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Apr 1, 1976; ProQuest. pg. H14

[2] Wine Talk. Prial, Frank J. New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 27, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. 64

[3] Wine Talk. Robards, Terry. New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 10, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. C17

Surprisingly Good 1980 Girard, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 3, 2019 Leave a comment

The Girard family first bought land for their vineyard in 1972.  For several years they grew grapes until they built a winery in 1980.  It is from this inaugural year that Lou’s bottle of 1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley stems from.  The wine continued to slowly unfurl for hours, taking me by surprise for its persistent quality.  Looking back, this wine pleased others as well.

One early mention came from the 1981 Los Angeles County Fair where judges such as Dmitri Tchelistcheff, son of Andre Tchelistcheff, and Frank Prial of the New York Times awarded the wine a silver medal.[1]  Nathan Chroman found the Girards’ a “youthful and ebullient wine-making family”. [2] As for the wine itself he presents it as “high in extract and alcohol. A monster at 14% alcohol, but loaded with fruit…is already developing suppleness…put this one away for a few years to enjoy its ambitious power and hopeful complexity.”  Nearly four decades later that description is still quite valid.

1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
This wine was aged for 16 months in 50% new French oak.  Alcohol 14%.  Dark with a cherry garnet core yet fresh on the nose.  In fine condition, this bottle sports a developing core of flavor that gains weight and texture over the course of several hours.  It has a fresh mineral start and supple nature to the fruity core.  It wraps up with a spiced, scented finish.  Persistent in nature, it continues to deliver waves of flavor for hours. ***(*) Now – 2024.


[1] 132 Entries: A Fine Collection in Fair’s Cabernet Sauvignon Competition. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Sep 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. L26

[2] Quality of Most Products Ranges From Good to Excellent: New Wineries … CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Dec 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. M48