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My favorite wines of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Sercial1864 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.

A lovely 1964 Mommessin, Clos de Tart followed by other mature wines

June 14, 2016 1 comment

No one could remember where the bottle of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart came from.  It had been in the store for at least several years.  The label was in perfect shape but the ullage was 5cm down and the color was wearily light in the bottle.  I bought it anyways.  The 1964 vintage is still quite strong and I do not see Burgundy from the 1960s that often.  I am glad that I bought the bottle for it turned out to be my favorite wine over seven other old selections.

David and I gathered at Lou’s house last week.  Having acquired a number of bottles from the moving remnants cellar, I thought it would be fun to serve six of the bottles blind.  After secretly cutting capsules, extracting corks, and brown bagging the wines we gathered everything up to taste outside by Lou’s pool.

The air was fresh, there were minimal clouds, and we were partially shaded by a maple tree.  I had sniffed the bottle of Mommessin and did not detect anything wrong.  The cork was very long, exceeding the length of my Durand.  Perhaps it was impossibly long for the top of the cork had mushroomed over the lip of the bottle as if it refused to be shoved in all of the way.  It was a little alarming to see but the bottle smelled proper.

I took a quick sniff and taste.  I was completely excited to find that not only was the wine sound, it was very good.  The color was very light but the wine was flavorful.  It reminded David of old Barolo, light in color yet mouthfilling in flavor.  Mommessin acquired the Clos de Tart vineyard in 1932 keeping on M. Cyrot as regisseur who was only succeeded by Alfred Seguin in 1965.  Thus our bottle was produced under Cyrot’s tenure during which excellent wines were made in the 1940s and 1950s.  According to Clive Coates, the wine was produced using the chapeau immerge technique.  In this technique a grill is placed two-thirds of the way up the vat to prevent the cap from rising.  Thus there are no punch-downs only pumping over.  This apparently produces a wine of more elegance with less color and tannin extraction.  It could also explain why our wine was so light in color.

I kept pouring additional wine in my glass so that I could continue to taste it.  It was a lovely bottle of old Burgundy with a sense of lightness, sweet fruit flavors, and no fragility.

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1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart
Imported by Capitol City Liquors Co.  Alcohol 13%.  It is a very pale color in the glass.  The nose remained bloody and meaty through the end.  In the mouth were plenty of ripe cherry and strawberry fruit that had a sweetness to it.  This lively wine had a good mouthfeel, some texture, and some spice.  It did not fade over three to four hours.  **** Now.

After drinking a good share of the Mommessin, we not only moved on to the six blind wines but to a completely different style of red Burgundy.  The bottle of 1979 Domaines Jaboulet-Vercherre, Beaune Clos de l’Ecu threw everyone into a state of confusion as to what it was.  The Jaboulet-Vercherre firm has early 19th century origins in the Rhone with their expansion to Burgundy occurring a century later in the 1920s.  I agree with Robert Parker agreeing with Hubrecht Duijker that the Rhone origins of the estate resulted in colorful and full bodied wines.  Our bottle was certainly dark in color, dark in flavor, and remarkably well preserved.  It is not a wine of finesse like the Mommessin, rather a hypothetical blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah.  It is a sturdy wine that will easily make age 50.

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1979 Domaines Jaboulet-Vercherre, Beaune Clos de l’Ecu
Imported by Beitzell & Co.  This color is quite dark with some garnet hints.  The nose initially smelled of barnyard but cleaned up.  In the mouth this salty wine offered full flavors of darker fruit bound seamlessly with acidity.  The finish is simple and a bit short.  This solid wine is age-defying.  ** Now.

The first pair of Bordeaux were quite different.  The 1980 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves is an attractive greenhouse infused wine both on the nose and in the mouth.  It is quite lively with acidity driven flavors making it a solid wine from a very poor vintage.  In contrast, the 1979 Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien is from a slightly better vintage.  The wine needed some air to blow of its stink.  It has an attractively taut, burst of flavor at the beginning with no hint of greenness.  There is no reason to cellar the La Mission Haut Brion any further but I suspect it will not change much in case you do.  The Beychevelle should be drunk up.  Perhaps double-decant off the sediment then drink with your friends.

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1980 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves
Shipped by Vignobles Internationaux.  Imported by Julius Wile Sons & Co.  Alcohol 12%.  The initial greenhouse aromas are followed by finely scented aromas and even an animale note.  The acidity driven red fruit takes on green pepper then red grapefruit flavors.  There are minimal tannins at this point but the wine is still very lively.  ** Now.

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1979 Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.  Alcohol 12.2%.  The nose is a bit subtle with initial dirty aromas blowing off to reveal deep aromas of Old Bay seasoning and wood box.  There is a taut burst of flavor in this savory wine.  It is initially a touch thin in flavor with some fine, bitter tannins.  But with air the wine subtly expands through the moderate finish and old-school flavored aftertaste.  ** Now.

The pair of 1978s offered a marked improvement in quality.  The 1978 Chateau Trotte Vieille, Saint-Emilion has many attractive qualities from coffee aromas, racy, savory flavors, and a good reaction with air.  It is a good, mature wine.  The estate had changed hands in 1949 and David Peppercorn writes that the wines of the 1950s and 1960s were quite good but then they became largely disappointing.  So it appears we were fortunate.  There is clearly more vigor and strength in the 1978 Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, Graves.  This is a second wine of Chateau Haut-Brion.  Originally a non-vintage wine, Bahans Haut-Brion was sold exclusively to the Bordeaux market.  In 1976 a vintage version was released as well.  The non-vintage production was discontinued in 1982.  So this wine was produced during a brief period when there were two second wines!  I liked this bottle too.  Both of these wines held up well to extended air.

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1978 Chateau Trotte Vieille, Saint-Emilion
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons.  Alcohol 12%.  The older smelling nose cleans up to reveal coffee and caramel aromas.  The wine starts with an animale hint.  This racy, savory wine is quite tasty and fully mature.  It responds well to air with a little ink, firmness, and good acidity. Nice wine.  *** Now.

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1978 Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, Graves
Shipped by Nathaniel Johnston & Fils.  Imported by Forman Brothers.  Alcohol 11.5%.  This is an interesting old-school wine that is clearly quite vigorous with earthy flavors.  The blend of fruit, acidity, and tannins makes for a lively, good wine that coats the gums with bits of sweet fruit in the aftertaste.  *** Now.

I knew the 1974 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves. was doomed when I cut of the top of the perfect capsule to find a depressed cork covered by gobs of fluffy white mold.  As I pulled the cork out the sides appeared muddy, which is a sign of cork failure.  The final quarter-inch looked fine but was not enough of a bastion.  I was looking forward to this wine because 1974 is a miserable vintage.  However, Haut Brion harvested the grapes before the rains started and reportedly made an excellent wine.  Lou brought out a bottle of 1970 Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, Saint-Emilion which coincided with the grilling of some lamb.  The bottle had some melted crayon or rubber on it but the insides turned out fine.  The wine was a touch smelly at first but started to clean up and become more expressive.  I meant to give it enough air before taking a note but alas I forgot to take a note!  I did not forget to have another glass of the 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart which was still just as good as when opened.

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1974 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves.
Shipped by Barton & Gustier. Imported by Chateau & Estate Wines Co.  Alcohol 12%.  Bad bottle. Not Rated.

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1970 Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, Saint-Emilion
Shipped by Solter, Schneider & Co.  Imported by Consolidated Distilled Products.  Alcohol 11% to 14%.  Oops, no note!

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