Posts Tagged ‘Chevalier-Montrachet’

Eclectic by Any Measure, a Dinner with Mannie Berk

November 29, 2016 1 comment

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

With Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co, in town for the Unveiling of the George Washington Special Reserve Madeira we decided to get together for a small dinner.  The theme was eclectic both in region and particularly in vintage.  I do not know if it is more interesting that there were wines from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s to write the least or that two were from the venerable 1955 vintage and two from 1969.  The quality of the wines in the glass varied but the individual personalities spoke, creating such interest that we stayed up very late that night.

All of the wines were opened at the table to be drunk in any desired order.  I have organized my notes in vintage order first by white then red and finally the sole Madeira.  Finally, I have limited my comments to a handful of wines for brevity.

We kicked things off with the 1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne.  Grand Siecle was conceived in 1955 as top cuvee to be blended from three of the very best vintages.  So our bottle is a particular anomaly being from the single, outstanding 1985 vintage.  The cork was firmly seated, refusing to budge, and ultimately twisted into two pieces which were then dug out.  Perhaps the tightness of the cork ensures an impeccable seal for the quality of the bubbles is outstanding.  This is no recent disgorgement.  At best it is savory, complex, and racy.

The 1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves solicited many remarks as the bottle exuded promise.  The fill was high, the color youthful, and the cork well-seated against the neck.  From the last vintage before the Perrin family purchased the estate, this mostly Sauvignon Blanc based wine was fermented and raised in oak.  The nose did remind me a bit of gasoline before it righted itself.  With clean, floral flavors of lemon and even some weight it is in fascinating shape.  It is a bit simple and short making it more of an academic reference point than quenching old wine.

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Moving back in time, the oldest red wine came in a squashed 66 cl bottle.  The 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo is from one of the greatest Barolo vintages of the 20th century.  The Reserva della Castellana represents a supposed secret stash of top wine secured behind a lock of which there was one key.  Quantities of wine were released each year with the serial numbers recorded in a book.  Bottle #2506 improved in the decanter.  This salty, zippy wine is in the stage beyond fruit of bottle aged flavors.  It is enjoyable, though not remarkable.

I suspect our bottle of 1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva does not represent the heights this wine can achieve.  A bit of nail-polish and oxidation is present both on the nose and in the mouth.  Beyond that, though, the wine is quite rich and savory.  Time in the decanter broadens the wine.  I would certainly drink this wine again.

The pair of wines from the 1969 vintage were great fun.  The 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape adds to my recent experience with 1960s Chateauneuf du Pape.  Unlike the examples I have tried from the 1978 vintage, this is an original release.  Mont-Redon from the 1950s and 1960s are praised by Rhone lovers.  John Livingstone-Learmonth found them to have strength and concentration with Robert Parker writing they were amongst the finest wines of France.  During this period the wines were 80% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah.

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The second wine from this vintage came from California.  J. Pedroncelli was founded in 1927 was John Pedroncelli planted 135 acres of vines on hillsides near Dry Creek.  According to Robert Lawrence Balzer, the site reminded him of his native Lombardy.  The vineyard would receive the fog that moved up the Russian River which then receded to provide sunshine.  The coolness and warmth was found to make “grapes richly concentrated with flavor” when Robert L. Balzer first visited in 1975.  According to Charles L. Sullivan, this was the first vineyard to be planted with Pinot Noir in Northern Sonoma after the Repeal of Prohibition.

Robert L. Balzer’s visit was prompted both by his enjoyment of the wines and the fact that they tended to place well in competitions.  Nathan Chroman was chairman of a few competitions who noted the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir in California.  In 1972, when Nathan Chroman tasted through 23 California Pinot Noirs, he found the 1969 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir a wine to lay down.  Robert L. Balzer found the 1972 vintage in need of age as well.  I doubt either of them expected the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County to be drinking with full vigor nearly 50 years later.

The Pedroncelli is a fun wine to taste with the Mont Redon.  They both smell of similar age and a traditional style of winemaking.  The Mont-Redon is more round, with sweet fruit whereas the Pedroncelli is vigorous and grippy with the addition of leather and animale flavors.  John Winthrop Haeger offers one possibility for the longevity of the Pedroncelli, in the 1960s the Pinot Noir bottles included a hefty dose of Zinfandel.

The longevity is also, of course, due to the winemaking.  This wine was made by the sons of the founder John Pedroncelli who followed the traditions and styles set by their father.  It was only in 1968 that Pedroncelli purchased their first French oak barrels and began switching their old Redwood tanks to stainless steel.  This was the start of the American wine boom that would see a year after year increase in vineyard acreage and number of Californian wineries.  Thus the Pedroncelli marks the end of a phase and so does the Mont-Redon for the winemaking changed in the 1970s towards producing an early drinking style.  After tasting these two wines I naively wonder why change?

I have become a firm believer that when a tasting of old vintages is finished with a dessert wine, it should be of similar or older age.  What a treat then to have a glass of 1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira.  From an excellent vintage, this is a Madeira that excels on the nose.  Old Madeira fills your nose and the air around you, transporting you to a traditional period without the need to actively smell your glass.


1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The very fine, lively bubbles are crisp, precise, and vigorous.  With a bright entry, this saline and savory wine mixed baking spiced flavors with a racy body.  With air the bubbles remain undiminished but the complexity comes out and the wine develops even more racy body, wrapping it all up with a mature finish.  Drinking fantastically right now.  **** Now – 2021.


1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves
Shipped by Alexis Lichine.  Imported by Clairborne Imports.  An excellent looking bottle.  The light amber color defies age and matches the lemon and floral tree flavors.  The wine has weight, drapes the tongue, and almost becomes racy.  I think the Semillon is coming through.  It is, though, a bit simple with a short finish.  ** Now.


1996 Nicolas Joly, Savennieres Coulee de Serrant
Imported by The Rare Wine co. Alcohol 14%.  This is a round wine with perfumed flavors of apple and mature lemon.  It is round, fairly clear, and mature with a racy vigor in the finish.  It seems to be all about the fabulous texture. **** Now – 2022.


2004 Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Wilson Daniels.  This somewhat complex wine mixes lemon flavors with unintegrated oak.  It is taut in the middle, leaning towards the acidic side of things before taking on some cream in the end.  It is, perhaps, in need of time.  ***(*) 2020-2025.


1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  The dark core hints at life.  In the mouth this salty wine reveals how it improved with time in decanter.  It is all about bottle aged flavors with tangy acidity giving a zippy personality.  The mouth remains but the flavors ultimately thin out.  *** Now.


1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva, Penedas
Imported by Forman Bros. Inc. Alcohol 12.65%.  The color is deep.  The nose offers up barnyard and some not-quite-right aromas of nail polish but is still enjoyable.  Slightly oxidized in the mouth this is clearly from a rich wine.  It is savory with acidity and even improved a touch in the decanter.  But the oxidized hint is there and the finish is short.  It is easy to imagine other examples being very good.  *** Now.


1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
From a Belgian cellar.  Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%.  A proper set of aromas which are animale.  There is round, mouth filling sweet fruit with a subtle hint of Kirsch, and wood notes.  The fruit resolves to be sweet strawberries.  This is clearly a beautiful wine in fine shape which tightens with air.  **** Now.


1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  This smells proper and of a wine-making style that no longer exists.  With air this old wine smells of leather.  In the mouth this is a vibrant wine with taut, grippy flavors of complex red fruit, leather, animale, and more sweetness.  It has fine texture and life. Our bottle is in fine shape and capable of drinking at this level for years to come.  **** Now – 2022.


1988 Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  With one of the youngest profiles this wine offers attractive, fruit driven flavors which focus in on violets.  I would say it became younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2026.


1990 Chateau de Fonsalette, Syrah, Reservee, Cotes du Rhone
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines Ltd. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 14%.  Ah, there is some of that Rayas character on the nose!  This is a mature wine with youthful vigor.  It is a little round but still possesses tannic grip.  With air this exhibits spectacular body with articulate and textured flavor.  The acidity is spot on as this wine enters its second, mature phase of life.  After a few hours of air this is lovely.  **** Now – 2022.


1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 20%.  A lovely nose of moderately pungent aromas of caramel, orange, damp campfire, and hints of sweet leather.  Flavors of leather mix with a focused, weighty body but the acidity builds until the finish where it becomes prominent and almost searing in the aftertaste.  The aftertaste is of citric flavors and a persistent sweetness. ***(*) Now – whenever.

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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


[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