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1980s Beaucastel and Burgundy at the Woodberry Kitchen

Darryl and Nancy organized a small wine dinner at the Woodberry Kitchen in order to partake in ramps and old Châteauneuf du Pape.  Roland, Richard, and I joined them one fine evening this week.  Fortunately we had extra bottles in tow for this evening was marked by an unfortunate series of off and underperforming bottles.  A shame then that two vintages of 1983 and 1985 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser, from two different sources were off.  A 1981 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape had a bad cork and despite a heroic effort by the wine to correct itself, it remained ultimately marred.  The 1978 Chateau Cos D’Estournel, Saint-Estephe was more advanced than I had expected.

Thus the white wine highlight of the evening included the fine 1992 Zind Humbrecht, Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain, Alsace which still needs air for full pleasure.  It has a kiss of petrol followed by nuts and lively acidity.

For the red wines my favorites include a 1982 Thorin, Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Chambolle-Musigny.  This represents a smaller and gentler example of an old-school mature Burgundy.  I enjoyed my glass and would happily have this as a house wine.  The mature Burgundy set the stage for a well-cared bottle of 1981 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape.  The last time I tasted this wine, my glass came from the dregs.  This time I had a proper pour which I kept around for an hour or so.  Good stuff!  This deep wine should drink at its peak for several more years.  In complete contrast the 1986 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape is yet to reach full maturity, instead it offers brighter, fruitier red flavors.  It will not achieve the depth of the 1981 but it does have that Beaucastel familiarity.

 

2011 Champy, Chassagne-Montrachet
Imported by Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  Alcohol 11%.  A golden straw color greets.  The flinty nose makes way to a rounded, slight dense start backed by glycerin.  There are yeast and chalk flavors but the wine lacks verve from enough acidity.  ** Now.

NV Bereche, Vallee 66 Mois de Cave, Champagne
This wine is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay.  Bottled 07/07/2010.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose is slightly oxidized with aromas of apple orchard.  The bubbles quickly become creamy with a fine vein of prickle.  The flavors have strength with chalky, fruit, and a slightly bitter finish.  It tastes fully mature.  *** Now.

1985 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser, Riesling Spatlese Abtsberg, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Consigned from a private source to Zachy’s 2016 Rieslingfeier auction. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD.  Alcohol 11%-14%.  The nose is very aromatic and smells exactly like pure gasoline.  There is a fruity start backed by the petrol note a bit of grip then the wine completely fades off.  There is a strange lack of acidity.  Not Rated.

1992 Zind Humbrecht, Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain, Alsace
This also sports a bit of petrol on the nose.  In the mouth is a nutty, bitter, and coconut start.  This wine has ample acidity providing a lively start then drier middle before the acidity returns in the end.  With air it fleshes out a bit to bring the acidity in balance.  *** Now but will last.

1982 Thorin, Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Chambolle-Musigny
Acquired from private collection by Acker Merrall & Condit.  Alcohol 11.9%-13.9%.  There is sweet fruit on the nose then violets and attractive, sweaty leather aromas.  In the mouth are sweet flavors that coat the tongue and a slight vibrancy.  A small example of a well-tasting old Burgundy.  *** Now.

1981 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Robert Haas Selections imported by Vineyard Brands.  This is in fine condition with sweet aromas and wood box complexity.  In the mouth are gently sweet flavors of perfumed strawberry which eventually take on fat.  There are pervasive flavors of leather, animale notes, blood, and an old-school perfumed aftertaste. **** Now – 2023.

1981 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape
No signs of seepage but cork was loose with a bit of wine on top of it.  Prominent volatile acidity and band-aids on the nose.  With air it cleans up a bit but can’t shape it.  The wine is fruity, supple, and weight but is marred by a band-aid flavor.  Not Rated.

1986 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Lighter in color than the 1981.  In the mouth are surprisingly young, reddish fruit flavors, a grippy nature, and brighter acidity.  This wine has both more structure and youthful grip.  It is not yet at full maturity but is gaining fat.  ***(*) Now – 2027.

1978 Chateau Cos D’Estournel, Saint-Estephe – $18.95
Shipped by Les Vieux Celliers.  Imported by  The Stacole Co.  Dried banana on the nose.  In the mouth this is more advanced with red fruit, bananas, old greenhouse infused flavors, and a short finish.  ** Now.

1983 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser, Reisling Auslese Abstberg  No. 125, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Acquired from a private collection by Chambers Street Wines.  Imported by Schenk USA.  Alcohol 9%.  Signs of seepage and the cork dropped in the bottle.  A beautiful orange color and attractive, scented marmalade nose.  Sadly it is undrinkable.  Not Rated.

An Elegant and Mature Old School 1er Cru Chambolle Musigny

Kermit Lynch writes that “Bertheau’s holdings would make any lover of great Burgundy drool”. David Bloch’s latest tasting note also makes me drool.

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2002 Domaine Bertheau, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru
As many 1er Cru C-M are, this is a blend of vineyard sites: Baudes, Groseilles, Gruenchers, and Noirots.   I opened the bottle about two hours before dinner and poured off half a glass.  The wine was really showing well after popping the cork.  Two hours later, the wine was hitting on all cylinders.  Very, very pure pinot – a brightness of red fruit – cherry, strawberry – against a developed backdrop of mushroom, tea, and a potpourri of spice.   The remaining tannins were very silky.  Midweight wine, no perceptible wood.  Lovely smooth and silky mouthfeel.  This bottle was simply one (small) gear off from a Grand Cru.

Incredible bottles of old Burgundy

September 5, 2015 Leave a comment

When Lou and I decided to tuck into some old red Burgundy we stood up multiple bottles fully expecting a few to be undrinkable.  We started with a single bottle of white as we snacked on cheese and charcuterie.  The 1988 Louis Jadot, Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles Grand Cru was interesting enough with its apple-orchard oxidized profile but it ultimately left me wanting to try the red wines.

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Each of us had selected a few, somewhat random bottles which we had stood up for a few days. We pulled the bottles from Lou’s cellar into the tasting room.  I first removed the cork on the most ullaged bottle from the pair of 1961 Domaine Amiot, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru.   A quick taste revealed this bottle was in great shape, fruity on the nose and in the mouth, with plenty of life.  I honestly expected it to be dead.  Lou poured us the 1979 Robert Sarrau, Chambolle-Musigny.  Incredibly, this did not just seem young compared to the 1961, it was young compared to its 36 years of age!  Next up came a strong example of the 1983 Bernard Amiot, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes.  I was floored.  How could these three bottles of wine all taste so good?  Lou was pretty excited too.  With no need to open up any backup bottles we sat down to further enjoy our wine.

The 1961 Amiot reminded me of the 1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe.  Still possessing fruit, this old Burgundy continues to live, not by tannins and acidity but through a compact vein of power.  This is then, a great example of traditional Burgundian winemaking from the post World War II era.  The years immediately after the end of the war saw the return to transportation within France followed by increased international exports.  Ronald Avery of the 18th century wine merchants Avery’s of Bristol noted in 1961 that stocks of Burgundy were not very plentiful except for “old-fashioned wine merchants”.[1]  In fact he felt that “sales of wine labelled Burgundy must amount to at least three or four times the legal output so great is the demand.”

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Demand in America for quality Burgundy was increasing as well.  Coupled with the reduced yields of the 1961 vintage and the view that this was the best vintage since 1929, The New York Times stated “The 1961 Burgundy vintage will be the most expensive ever.”[2]

The traditional way of making Burgundy, dubbed methode ancienne, involved keeping stems on the fruit and a long fermentation period.[3]  This meant it could take four years before the wine was bottled and around eight years before it could be drunk.  To meet the continually increasing demand for wine a new style of winemaking quickly took hold in Burgundy.  This methode nouvelle involved nearly complete de-stemming of the fruit followed by leaving the must on the skins for a much shorter period.  This resulted in softer, lighter bodied wines with less tannins that became drinkable in a shorter period of time.  The side-effect was that the wines did not last as long.

Cyril Ray wrote that wines produced by the methode ancienne had “greater body and staying power.”  While this certainly helps explain our lovely bottle of 1961 Domaine Amiot, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru what of the bottle of 1979 Robert Sarrau, Chambolle-Musigny?  The demand for Burgundy in America continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  This caused so much back pressure in Burgundy that prices rose 300 percent during the 1970s.  Frank J. Prial wrote in The New York Times during 1974 that many Americans had finally become “appalled by short life of some of the finest Burgundies”.[4]  While the 1959s were excellent and still improving, newer vintages beginning with 1961 had “peaked and declined”.  Joseph Drouhin remarked to the Circle of Wine Writers, that he thought “many of us will be going back to the old way.”

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I cannot determine whether the negociant Robert Sarrau returned to the methode ancienne or never abandoned it.  What is clear is that the 1960s saw the introduction of temperature controlled fermentation, enamel and glass lined tanks, and stainless steel vats.  According to H. W. Yoxall there was a developing view that common wines were appropriate for methode nouvelle or quick fermentation and storage in the latest vats.  Quality Burgundy should be raised in wood.

The wines were not just excellent, they were exciting.  They were not just old, they were lively with fruit.  When I returned home with my share of the leftovers, Jenn and I decided to see the 1961 Domaine Amiot, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru and 1979 Robert Sarrau, Chambolle-Musigny to the end.  After all, one could not risk the wine deteriorating over night!  The 1961 Amiot continued at its glacial pace of development, somewhat impervious to air.  It is true that the finish was a bit short but I did not mind, the wine transported me back in time.  The 1979 Robert Sarrau continued to develop, taking on a creamy almost buttery quality.  Jenn was thrilled and I could see how this wine should be double-decanted.  It was more complete than the 1961 and on emotion alone, I would score it even higher.

There was another wine in our trio of reds, the 1983 Bernard Amiot, Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 1er Cru.  It was a completely different wine beyond the apparent youth.  Both on the nose and in the mouth were earthy, old-school animale flavors that existed in a lighter, more delicate wine but there was ripeness and the impression of plentiful flavor.  It is also a wine that should absolutely be cellared for further development.

I went to bed that night with bittersweet thoughts.  This was (and still remains) the best experience this year of drinking older wines with Lou.  Old bottles of Bordeaux and Rhone from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s are still available at a reasonable price.  These old Burgundies are more difficult to find with prices beyond what I can afford.  After we exhaust this small tranche of Old Burgundy, I fear it might be many years before I can drink such vintages again.

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1988 Louis Jadot, Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles Grand Cru
Imported by Kobrand.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There was a light amber-apricot color that matched the decently aromatic nose of apple orchards and some perfume.  In the mouth, the fresh, salivating acidity existed with some structure that came out by the finish.  The flavors became puckering with a touch of weight in the finish.  Ultimately, the physical aspects of the wine were more appealing than the flavor itself.  ** Now but will last.

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1961 Domaine Amiot, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
Shipped by F. Hasenklever.  Imported by Great Lakes Wine Company.  Alcohol 12%.  This was the darkest wine of the lot with rather mature fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, there was a burst of blue fruit then black and red fruit flavors.  There was a short finish in terms of intensity but the flavors persisted throughout the long aftertaste.  With air a mature, ripe hint of fruit developed with tart acidity throughout.  The finish eventually took on spices and wood box flavors.  **** Now but will clearly last.

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1979 Robert Sarrau, Chambolle-Musigny
Imported by Sarrau Wines USA Inc.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose revealed fruit accented by toasted and roasted nuts.  In the mouth were youthful flavors of purple and red fruit that were subtle compared to the sure and rich finish.  With extended air, the wine took on some salty flavors as well as a smooth, not quite buttery, finish.  **** Now-2020.

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1983 Bernard Amiot, Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 1er Cru
Shipped by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants.  Imported by Select Vineyards.  Alcohol 11%-14%.  The nose revealed ample leather aromas and other animale notes.  There earthy flavor was pervasive through the finish where some juicy, cherry and strawberry fruit mixed with acidity.  Overall the wine was lighter in nature with an old-school perfume, and drying structure.  It took on attractive, delicate ripe fruit flavors followed by a tart and strong middle, ultimately leaving the impression of ample flavor.  ***(*) Now-2025.

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[1] Avery, Ronald. Burgundy years. The Guardian (1959-2003); Nov 21, 1961; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer. pg. 15

[2] ’61 BURGUNDY TOPS IN COST AND TASTE: May Be Best of the Century, Experts Say — and Pay
By ROBERT ALDEN Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1961; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. 21

[3] Adopted by the British press by the late 1960s.  See Bottles for stockings. Ray, Cyril. The Observer (1901- 2003); Dec 10, 1967; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer. pg. 29 and H. W. Yozall’s book The Wines of Burgundy (1978).

[4] Burgundy Maker Predicts A Return to ‘the Old Ways’: WINE TALK The … By FRANK J. PRIAL. New York Times (1923-Current file); Sep 14, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. 14

An Evening of Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanee, and one Gevrey-Chambertin

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I was very lucky to be Roland’s guest when he recently hosted his wine tasting group.  As always, the host picks the wines which are tasted blind, as well as cooks dinner.  We gathered around at first, eating charcuterie and cheese which was accompanied by an excellent 2012 Willi Schaefer, Himmelreich GG, Mosel Saar Ruwer.  It had textured, somewhat ripe flavors with excellent acidity.  I drained my glass before we sat down to the wines.  We eventually learned the wines were arranged in flights.  The first which clearly contained the ringer, showed more tart and tannic than the second excellent flight.    There were some guesses of Italy but the group quickly spiraled towards Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  Phil thought hard, swirling his glass, eventually announcing Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée.  Roland confirmed the guess and added that they were all of the 2005 vintage.  Suitably impressed I rapidly smiled because I had never drunk a wine from Vosne-Romanée.

In the first flight I thought both the 2005 Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru and the 2005 Serafin Pere & Fils, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes were not giving up much.  The noses were tight, reduced, and the flavors came across as locked in structure.  They had breathed for almost three hours and though they did improve some with additional air, this pair should be left in the cellar for several more years.  The 2005 Louis Jadot, Domaine Gagey, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes showed the best of the three.  I was particularly attracted to the earthy component.  It came across as more mature with a touch of softness.  I would recommend the 2010 Cristom, Pinot Noir, Sommers Reserve, Willamette Valley for its nose alone.  Tasted blind it was “easy” to work out it was from Oregon.  Roland commented that other vintages of the Sommers Reserve has appeared in previous blind tasting and even come out on top.

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2005 Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru –
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  The nose had a touch of sulphur, eventually revealing smoky aromas of black-red fruit and toast.  In the mouth the black and red fruit was integrated with acidity and very fine tannins.  The flavors became a bit tart and red but the wine did not reveal much and remained tannic.  Cellar further.

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2005 Serafin Pere & Fils, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes –
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.  The nose was a little earthy.  In the mouth were tart red fruit flavors, a little more complexity, some minerals, and touch more acidity.  The finish was attractive with grippy tannins.  Showing young.

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2005 Louis Jadot, Domaine Gagey, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes –
Imported by Kobrand Corp.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose was more open with an earthy touch, sweeter fruit, and meat.  In the mouth the slightly riper red fruit  morphed into black fruit.  The flavors came across as more mature.  The wine became rounder with air, had some density and a touch of softness in the finish.

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2010 Cristom, Pinot Noir, Sommers Reserve, Willamette Valley –
Alcohol 13.5%.  This was highly aromatic.  In the mouth were more clean Pinot Noir flavors, approachable red and black fruit and minerals.  The mouth clearly followed the nose.  There was a cinnamon note, ripe tannins, and some ripeness in the finish.

Chemical characteristics of 1870 Groffier, Chambertin and 1870 Vosne-Romanee. “Medical Use of Wine”, The Lancet, Vol. 2. 1880.

In the 19th century the wines of Vosne-Romanée were medically noted for their increased percentage of alcohol, almost complete absence of sugar, and low proportion of tannins.  As such they were recommended for “diabetic patients who can afford so expensive a luxury, these high-class red Burgundies appear to be especially well fitted.”   After tasting through he Vosne-Romanée flight I cannot help but wonder how much wine was leftover for drinking after The Lancet Commission on the Medical Use of Wine finished their laboratory work.  This was a great flight, the wines not only showed more open than the Chambolle-Musigny but they were more rounded and complex.  The 2005 Frederic Magnien, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Brulees has a lot going on right now but seems perfectly balanced with stuffing for continued development in the bottle.  I think the 2005 Domaine Gros Frère et Sœur, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes was the weakest of the flight despite its aromatic nose.  The 2005 Louis Jadot, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts had a great combination of vintage perfume and meaty fruit on the nose followed by attractive grip in the mouth.  It was the perfect prelude to the 2005 Domaine Francois Lamarche, Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru Monopole La Grande Rue.  It clearly had good depth and an attractive mix of maturity, wood notes, and fruit.  Not knowing anything about the monopole La Grande Rue I was instructed to look at the back label of the bottle.  It was surrounded by legendary names I have only read about.

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In 1793 Duncan M’Bride wrote in his General Instructions for the Choice of Wines and Spirituous Liquors (1793) that “of all the wines of Burgundy, that called Romanée is most valued.”  Our bottle of 2005 Domaine Francois Lamarche, Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru Monopole La Grande Rue  was made from fruit sourced at La Grande Rue.  This 1.65 ha strip of vineyard is sandwiched between La Tâche on the west and both Romanée and Romanée Conti on the east.  The land was a wedding gift given to Henri Lamarche in 1933.  When the area was classified in the 1930s, Henri Lamarche believed nothing was to be gained through the grand cru status but more taxes.  So this strip of premier cru vineyard was surrounded by grand cru vineyards until it was reclassified in 1992.  This reclassification was based on the geology and exposition.

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2005 Frederic Magnien, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Brulées –
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  The nose was a little stinky with perhaps some tobacco notes.  There were tart blue flavors, minerals, good acidity, and some attractive grip.  The flavors were drier and had a citric lift.  The flavors showed some maturity that mixed well with the wood and tobacco flavors.  This wine was good now but setup for strong development.

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2005 Domaine Gros Frère et Sœur, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes –
Imported by Wine Cellar LTD. Acquired from a private collection.  This was very aromatic with fresh, floral aromas stepping out of the glass.  The nose followed the mouth where there were red, citric flavors.  The acidity was there along with a very fine, gentle ripeness, a spicy hint in the finish, and a fresh aftertaste.  Overall this came across as riper.

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2005 Louis Jadot, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts –
Imported by Kobrand Corp.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The meaty nose was followed by ripe flavors of vintage perfume, meaty red fruit and some black fruit.  The wine was compact and became younger with air.  There was grip and attractive red cranberry flavors in the finish.

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2005 Domaine Francois Lamarche, Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru Monopole La Grande Rue –
This was young on the nose showing more grip on the aromas.  In the mouth the flavors mixed with nice cedar notes, some tart fruit, and good depth.  There was a subtleness roundness as well as lift.  Good flavors.

Clos Vougeot and Chambertin

With the blind tasting complete it was only natural to drink more wine.  Roland poured the 1997 Claude Dugat, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaux St Jacques into his giant wine glass shaped decanter.  Claude Dugat typically makes two premier cru wines from Gevrey-Chambertin.  Lavaux St Jacque is produced from a 0.3 ha parcel of vines planted in 1980.  After Roland swirled the wine for quite some time our bottle revealed itself to be aromatic with perfume.  In the mouth were excellent flavors of blood and minerals.  With the bottle finished the evening was complete.

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1997 Claude Dugat, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaux St Jacques –
Imported by Robert Kacher Selections.  This had an aromatic, attractive perfume to the blue fruit.  In the mouth the vintage perfume continued as lovely flavors of blood and minerals came out.  There was good grip to the tart, black graphite finish.  A lovely wine.