The history of Mount Eden Vineyards reaches back to the final years of World War II when Martin Ray purchased several hundred acres of mountaintop land for a vineyard. Here he planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Martin Ray eventually took on investors creating the Mount Eden Vineyard Corporation in 1960. The next two decades were a turbulent time until operations steadied in 1983 when Jeffrey Patterson became head winemaker. According to the winery website the 1980s was a period of replanting in the vineyard and experimenting in the winery.
From this early modern period hails my bottle of 1985 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains. Despite the bin soiled label the fill was in the neck and cork perfectly firm. As usual when I encounter a new mature wine, I do not decant it. The nose cleans up to reveal aromas of sweet wood and berries. At first the wine is billowy, loose and marked by some bell pepper in the mouth, making me think it remained in bottle too long. With air, blue fruit develops and the whole becomes framed by structure which balances everything out. Despite this improvement the finish remains quite short. If you have any bottles lying about I suggest you drink them up.
1985 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Alcohol 13%. After breathing there is a pleasing nose of some sweet wood and berries. In the mouth is a billowy start accented by a touch of bell pepper. The billowy red fruited flavors remain but wine does gain better focus with underlying blue fruit flavors and more noticeable acidity and structure towards the finish. It definitely balances out but the finish ultimately remains short. ** Now.
Last night Lou and I gathered to blindly taste through several bottles of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. For fun, we each unknowingly threw in an Australian blend of Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps this is unfair given the stature of our main selections but it was for fun. As we settled down to cheese, charcuterie, and cork removal we checked out a bottle of 2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray. I do not have enough experience with Huet so I found the lifted, aromatically textured nose a delight. It starts off in the fruit spectrum eventually to take on a honey character. In the mouth this is a fresh, grippy wine with a nice balance of fruit supported by hints of yeast and oxidation. Fine stuff! I look forward to finishing my leftover glass tonight.
It was then on to the bagged red wines. Guessing is fun when you are not pressured. Wine #1 is firm at first though you can detect some maturity and herbaceousness. It is the most structured wine out of all tasted and I, admittedly clueless, narrowed in to the 1979-1981 vintages. For those who enjoy structured, rather than opulent wines the 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley will develop for years to come. It eventually reveals a bit more of its bottle aged maturity.
Wine #2 showed signs of old seepage under the capsule but the fill was where the neck met the shoulder. You could get a sense of this on the nose which leaned towards meat rather than fruit but in the mouth the flavor and delivery of the fruit flavor is gorgeous! What luxury it is to drink glass after glass of 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains. This is a sophisticated wine of ideal balance with youthful, complex fruit flavors that seek out every part of your mouth with wave after wave of flavor. Also excellent is wine #4. After some bottle stink blew off, this is highly aromatic of eucalyptus. In the mouth an impressive amount of energy unfurls dark fruit, ripe structure, and wood box. The 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley is perhaps more mature in flavor than the Ridge but the Phelps needs more time to open up. It is fascinating pair to drink together. No one spat these two wines!
Just a few final thoughts with regards to wines #3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia, avoid, and #5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia. Wakefield River Estates was founded in 1972 by Dr. Douglas Hewitson who planted just over 2,100 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the wheatbelt area of Balaklava. The wines were made by the highly regarded James Irvine who still produces wine today. James Irvine got his start at a young age having developed the Siegersdorf brand in 1959 as winemaker at Hardy’s. As the Wakefield winery had no buildings the wine was made at Saltram, an historic Barossa Valley winery founded in 1859. Wakefield River Estates was short-lived and curious enough, the label on the bottle tells the history including the demise indicating this bottle was imported in the mid 1980s. It was in 1982 that all of the fruit was eaten by starlings and in 1983, due to severe drought conditions, there was a sparse crop. The fruit was sold off and the winery ceased. As for the vintage Decanter states the wines are of “richness and longevity” with the wines around Adelaide being “robust”. So perhaps it was a bit unfair to include this wine with the Ridge and Phelps but the potential is there.
2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray
Imported by Robert Chadderdon. Alcohol 12%. It is the color of a light apple cider. On the nose are finely textured, lifted aromas of dried apricots and apple cider. With air the nose reveals honey aromas. In the mouth this is a mildly weight wine with a vein of acidity and hint of yeast towards the finish. It wraps up with a fresh and grippy finish. Additional complexity is gained from a hint of oxidation. ***(*) Now – 2027.
#1 – 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.9%. This is less dark than #2 but of similar color. The nose offers hints of maturity with the slightest hint of herbaceousness. A lively start brings a little tang and firmness of flavor. There is still structure in the end which contributes to the lasting sensation. With air the wine begins to open up maturity becoming more evident. It also develops a mineral note and a dusty, wood box flavor. ***(*) Now – 2022.
#2 – 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. This garnet wine is still fairly opaque in the middle. The nose is a bit meaty. In the mouth this wine packs in the flavor with a plum hint at first, mineral middle, then a younger, fresh eucalyptus finish. There is sophistication to the purple and black fruits There is still a very fine tannic structure and acidity throughout. Impeccably balanced and impressive. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia
Imported by FWE Imports. This wine is a blend of 64% Shiraz and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is followed by candied and pruned flavors in the mouth. The acidity stands separate from the core of simple fruit flavors. Tastes like a cheap domestic port. Poor.
#4 – 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.3%. Some bottle stink at first but that blows off to reveal a highly aromatic, eucalyptus nose. In the mouth is dark flavor, more structure, and a touch of ruggedness in the finish. But over the course of several hours this wine unfurls itself. It adds both wood box and blood. The energy is impressive as framed, ripe, inky fruit coats the mouth. ****(*) Now – 2027.
#5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
Imported by San Francisco Traders LTD. This wine is a blend of mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak puncheons. Alcohol 12%. A mature garnet color. There is a ripe fruit start but the wine quickly turns soft only to end at the short finish. Simply too old at this point. Fair.
Between work, family, wine research, and the new turntable I am short on free time. Thus over the past month I have generally drunk inexpensive French and Italian wine for I need not take down any notes. I have peppered these same weeks with a handful of younger bottles from California. One recent release is the 2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley. This bottle showed very well after a few hours of air as well as on the second night. It is a style of wine that has not swung too far in either direction, providing balanced white fruit flavors with both lovely mouthfeel and tautness.
I have never tasted the 2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County since release. I was surprised by the amount of flavor packed in and the lack of evolution. It is quite tasty but should be cellared further to open up. I suppose, in retrospect, I can understand why Lou and I enjoy decades old bottles of Ridge. The 2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is a solid wine full of black fruit and graphite. It is supple and tasty, just not as exciting as I hoped at this stage. Finally, there is the gigantic 1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley which caught me off guard. Ripe, dark, and alcoholic it is simply not my type of wine.
2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley – $30
This was fermented in 25% oak barrels with the remaining in stainless steel after which is was aged 7 months sue lie. Alcohol 14%. With a bit of warmth and air this is an attractive wine of white fruit with a pleasing body of glycerin and nut flavors. The tautness of the wine builds as the acidity becomes more noticeable, simultaneously evolving a finely textured, ripe grip. ***(*) Now – 2020.
2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, and 6% Carignane. Alcohol 14.5%. This is both surprisingly unevolved and packing a tremendous level of flavor. It is a richly textured, dense wine of dark fruit that may not have any hard edges but does have structure for significant aging. Given the level of stuffing I would wait another five years to try again. **** Now – 2027.
2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.2%. The nose remained subtle and the flavors of graphite-infused black fruit remained gentle. This is a low-lying, almost laid back wine. It remains very black in terms of flavor with inky hints and eventually develops some additional complexity from a wood box flavor. There is some texture but it is generally supple with low-acidity. Solid. *** Now.
1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.9%. This is a thick, dark flavored, very ripe wine of body and scope which seems to defy the varietal. It was heady with noticeable heat in the finish that I found too distracting. Not my style. Not Rated.
In the late 1970s, during the height of the American wine boom, Sebastiani was the volume leader in the wine production for Sonoma. Sebastiani was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani but it was his son August Sebastiani who saw the winery through Prohibition and the rise of the California wine industry. Much of the production was jug wine but premium wine was produced as well. The general emphasis on varietals meant that the Barbera and Zinfandel offerings were regarded with popularity which is precisely why I opened the 1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California. This was among the last vintages produced by August Sebastiani who passed away in 1980. August Sebastiani did not fully adopt stainless steel nor French oak rather it was his two sons who began the transition to modernity in the 1970s. You can imagine August Sebastiani’s hand in making this wine for there is nothing modern tasting about this bottle of Barbera. It smells and tastes of sweaty leather, though is sweeter in the mouth. It reminds me of the 1960s Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignons. It is quite forward until it fades so drink rapidly once you pop the cork.
Buena Vista Winery is another historic winery in Sonoma but it predates Sebastiani by some 50 years. When General Charles de Gaulle visited America in 1960 he was served both French and American wines with his meals. For his meal of roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce he was served Buena Vista, Pinot Noir. This is quite amazing given that in the 1960s and 1970s Pinot Noir was considered “difficult and temperamental” to grow in California. Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, concluded that in California this varietal produced less “Pinot characteristics”. Pinot Noir ripens early and given the widespread warmth and sun of California very few areas were regarded as suitably cool enough for proper ripening. After tasting through several dozen Californian Pinot Noirs, he concluded that while the 1968 Buena Vista was a “very good glass of wine” it had less of the Pinot Noir characteristic he looked for.
I pop and pour most old wine which I have not drunk before. In retrospect I should have decanted the 1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma. This is a robust wine that with air shows more blue fruit and substantial structure evocative of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. This may not be surprising for John Winthrop Haeger writes in North American Pinot Noir (2004) that between 1969 and 1971 Buena Vista planted 84 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon near Pinot Noir. I followed the wine over several hours and in the process, kicked up a fair amount of sediment which contributed to a loss of focus. I have the suspicion that my mishandling did not allow this wine to show its best. I will be sure to write about the next decanted bottle.
1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California
Alcohol 12.6%. There is an aromatic nose of sweaty leather. In the mouth is a big wine of sweet flavors, leather, and supportive oak. It is evocative of other Sebastiani wines from the 1960s and 1970s except that it faded within one hour. ** Now.
1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma
Alcohol 12.5%. The color is a medium, cranberry garnet. The nose is sweet and sweaty, evocative of sweet, old wood. In the mouth is a soft start before menthol fresh flavors supported by a fine vein of acidity. The old-school flavor becomes bluer with air, taking on body with a good, ethereal finish. It is a fairly substantial wine which still has supportive, dry structure that coats the gums. It tastes like a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. **(*) Now – 2022.
This past week saw Jenn and I drink three different wines from California. Lou gave us the bottle of 2014 World’s End, Rebel Rebel, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley. This wine is produced by Jonathan Maltus of Chateau Teyssier and Le Dome background using fruit sourced from a Beckstoffer vineyard. It is flavorful and generous in mouthfeel yet does not push the richness too far. I found it drank great over two nights. Andy, over at MacArthur Beverages, pointed out a pair of Californian wines with a wee bit of age. I have already drunk two bottles of the NV Sean H. Thackery, Pleiades XVIII Old Vines. This is a hard to describe wine that blends red fruit, orange, tea, and floral components. The first bottle had a marked earthy component which I adored whereas the second bottle was more fruity and suggestive of its individual components. I suspect it is a good time to drink these up. Finally, the 1997 Judd’s Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley opens after a short double-decanting. This is a tasty, dry and still somewhat structured wine with a flavorful balance of black fruit, wood box, and leather. You may drink it now or over the next several years. Fun stuff all around!
2014 World’s End, Rebel Rebel, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.5%. The nose sets you up for a Californian experience with rich white fruit and white nut aromas. In the mouth is an almost focused start of founded, somewhat dense, ripe white fruit followed by a subtle toast note. The generous mouthfeel is enlivened by some salivating acidity which goes all the way to the back of the throat. Drinking generously right now. ***(*) Now.
NV Sean H. Thackery, Pleiades XVIII Old Vines
Bottled December 2010. This is a blend of Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and more! Alcohol 14.8%. The has an earthy hint at first. The flavors are mouth filling and supported by acidity from the very start. There is a sweet concentration of fruit with flavors of orange, wet tea, floral notes, and an underlying menthol freshness. ***(*) Now – 2020.
1997 Judd’s Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is deep fruited with a slight menthol note. In the mouth are bright flavors of black fruit with watering acidity then a building volume of black fruit, stone, leather, and wood box. There is a long aftertaste. With air the black fruit continues to fill the mouth but the flavors become dry with a drying vein of structure developing throughout. Happily the wood box note becomes amplified. Tasty. ***(*) Now – 2023.
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.
It was time for dinner following an afternoon spent on Madeira research with Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co. We made our way to the Common Lot in Millburn, New Jersey where we met up with John Junguenet. If the Junguenet name sounds familiar that is because John is the son of Alain Junguenet who founded Wines of France in the 1980s.
Mannie first met Alain Junguenet in those early years when Alain started off by importing Beaujolais. They traveled through France together and remain friends today. With John’s rise in the family business, new friendships are made, thus I found myself drinking several incredible bottles with two men whose lives are steeped in wine.
A very quick check reveals I have never drunk Coche-Dury with more than a decade of age. To move back nearly three decades is downright exciting! Our bottle of 1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots was in very fine shape. Both the aromas and flavors bring forth green apples and stones with a particular tangy grip. The acidity is bright but provides tension matched by the texture of the wine. There is, perhaps, a sense of maturity on the nose but this wine should drink great for at least a decade.
The name Henri Jayer should need no introduction. He made some of the most sought after Burgundy which also became the most expensive Burgundy in the market. However, there is also coveted Burgundy from the other Jayer brothers, Georges and Lucien. A bottle of 1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru was our first red wine. The three brothers each owned distinct parcels in Echezeaux with Lucien’s being Les Treux. Vineyard work and winemaking were a bit of a family affair such that Lucien tended the vines and Henri made this particular wine. [I do see that John Gilman writes that Lucien made the wine.] Regardless of winemaking, this is a young, pure, initially elegant wine. It ever so slowly responds to air, building both aroma and depth to the tense red fruit.
We then moved back to the 1960s. One sniff of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial transports you to another era. A quick inspection inspired Mannie to decant this bottle. This is beautiful, traditional Rioja with no sense of fragility to the lifted, sweet flavors which fill the mouth and cling through the aftertaste. I really enjoyed this bottle.
Something happened to the 1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County at some point in its life. Soft and limp, it was set aside. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley did not disappoint. It opened up with air, becoming the sort of intensely pleasurable wine you want to drink all by yourself. But then you would feel guilty for not sharing the experience with your closest friends.
1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots
Shipped by Radman & Co. Imported by Grand Cru Inc. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a fine nose of stones, gunsmoke, and apples. The aromas become even deeper with air. In the mouth are finely textured flavors of green apple. This wine has a tangy grip, plenty of stone like flavors, and bright acidity. There is great tension and attractive texture on the mouth. Drinking brilliantly but will easily live on. ****(*) Now – 2027.
1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An Alain Junguenet Selection imported by Wines of France. The young nose is pure, full of beautiful aromas of red fruit and perfume. In the mouth the red fruit oscillates between tang and tart, building flavor and citric grip with air. There is a hint of smoke. This bottle is in fantastic condition as this tense wine slowly builds, adding both flavor and persistence. The structure and acidity are there, capable of supporting years of future development. ****(*) Now – 2032.
1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Ahhh, that familiar old Rioja nose. This is a grippy, mouth filling wine with sweet, lifted flavors that cling to the mouth. It tastes of another era with its vintage perfume notes and ability to brighten up and build flavor with air. The aftertaste is very persistent. Drinks great now but will last. ****(*) Now – 2023.
1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. It smells off on the nose and while better tasting in the mouth, it is limp. Not Rated.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The dark aromas make way to minty, dark fruit which fills the mouth with both menthol and animale flavors. The wine improves markedly with air, revealing it as thicker, racy, and oily. It has an almost grainy texture to the black fruit. An excellent bottle with years of life ahead. ****(*) Now – 2027.