It is a treat to blindly taste through eight wines of quality which I was recently able to do at Andy’s house. One year ago Andy managed to stump us with a horizontal of 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape. This year he served up 2003 Northern Rhone. There was certainly confusion at first, particularly after the first several wines showed a level of ripe fruit concentration that had me thinking we were tasting Southern Rhone. Then the final wines shifted my impression up to the Northern Rhone. In retrospect it is the generous 2003 vintage that lead to this confusion and a surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph. Though fruity, the flavors are not over ripe, the wine is lively, and backed by earth. It is certainly generous and enjoyable to drink as a result. Also from Saint-Joseph, the 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph steps up the level of elegance. Made from old-vines which see new oak, the quality of the fruit shines through with great grip and bacon flavors! Finally, the most seductive wine of the night turned out to be the 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie. Fat, glycerin, even more fat surround coiled, black fruit flavors. You can now imagine why I stayed a bit later than I intended to simply drinking these wines.
1 – 2003 Eric et Joel Durand, Cornas
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. Alcohol 14%. A medium garnet color with a mature and robust nose. In the mouth are racy, mouth filling flavors. This is a big wine with hints of alcohol. There are flavors of prune, baking spice, and a wood note but not much in the way of tannin. With air the sappy fruit takes on some fat and develops a longer finish. In a way this is young and taught. *** Now.
2 – 2003 Joel Durand, Les Coteaux, Saint-Joseph
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13.5%. A similar dark colored core as #1. The nose is more expressive with mixed, dark fruits. The flavors show more concentration with a hint of earth and plenty of presence. It is a very good wine with ripe fruit, continued animale and earth notes, and an earthy aftertaste. Nice. **** Now – 2023.
3 – 2003 Alain Voge, Les Vieilles Vignes, Cornas
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 13.5%. A little less garnet than the previous wines. This wine plays it close both on the nose and in the mouth. It has hints of rather mature, old-school flavor which is delicate with earthy and red berry aspects. The flavors become more black towards the finish where the subtle, structured finish brings out a wood note. *** Now.
4 – 2003 Tardieu-Laurent, Vieilles Vignes, Les Roches, Saint-Joseph
A darker color makes way to wood box aromas, dark blue and red fruit, and good mature hints. In the mouth there is a younger, fruitier start, assertive tannins, and a bitter finish. There is good, tart flavor in the but ultimately taste more like a Southern Rhone. Or perhaps I should write, I pegged this as a Tardieu-Laurent wine. *** Now.
5 – 2003 Guigal, Brune & Blonde, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Meaty flavors with a dose of tannins start off this thick, mouth filling wine. It is a little rough and simple with dark roast and rather fine and strong structure. More toast is apparent with air. *** Now – 2023.
6 – 2003 Yves Cuilleron, Serines, Saint-Joseph
Imported by Neal Rosenthal. Alcohol 13%. The floral, purple fruit aromas clearly speak of the Northern Rhone. In the mouth are cool, young fruit flavors on entry followed by a pervasive bacon flavor. It is a youthful wine with watery acidity, great grip, and accented by citrus flavor (but not citric acidity). This will continue to develop. **** Now – 2027.
7 – 2003 Rene Rostaing, Cote-Rotie
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a light garnet color. The nose is weird, lactic and fishy with fish flavors in the mouth. One taster commented “sardine dine”. Not Rated.
8 – 2003 Guigal, Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Ex Cellars. Alcohol 13%. Mmm, meat on the nose. This wine sports more body and glycerin then all of the previous wines. The black core of fruit is coated with fat, coiled and willing to unfurl in the middle with a bright lift. Did I mention the very seductive fat? **** Now – 2027.
The TSA officer at the airport asked if I was escaping the Washington, DC rain for the warmth of Florida. No, I replied, I am going down to drink wine with my friend. With the officer perplexed I explained that Bern’s Steak House was my destination. A woman in the security line chimed up, Bern’s is my favorite place in the world.
Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida is legendary amongst wine lovers due to the half-million bottle wine cellar that contains table wines dating back to the 19th century and a few fortified wines which are even older. Founded in the 1950s by Bern Laxer and his wife Gert, wine has always played a major role at the Steak House. Decades worth of purchasing ensured that there are still ample supplies of wines from the 1960s and later which were bought on release. Coupled with nearly obsessive backfilling of ancient vintages, particularly for Bordeaux, there is also unparalleled depth. Many of these bottles were imported specifically for Bern’s. Fortunately, the prices for most of these wines appear frozen in time.
Most tables at Bern’s do not test the depth of the wine list. This fact combined with the sheer size of the wine cellar means there is still an impressive supply of old wine at all price points. Many wine-loving groups make regular trips to plunder the cellar. During the rise of the wine bulletin boards, Bern’s largely remained a place you did not post about or if you did, you certainly did not mention the Bern’s name. I suspect some posters did not mention all of the wines they drank for fear of the cherry pickers finishing off such satisfying gems as bottles of 1970s Crozes-Hermitage at $30 per bottle. Hence the unwritten rule of those who plunder Bern’s wine cellar, don’t mention it.
This silence was not always the case. The Bern’s wine cellar was mentioned in major newspapers over the decades and the wine list, available for $35 in the late 1980s, was even recommended as a Christmas gift. In 1978, Frank Prial began to include mention of Bern’s Steak House in his New York Times articles. Described as “[o]ne of the most unusual lists anywhere to be found” he describes the book of a wine list as being “chained to the table to keep from disappearing.” For $15 one could pay for a copy instead. Also in the New York Times, Florence Fabricant mentioned the inclusion of Bern’s in The Wine Spectator very first Grand Awards in 1981. Three years later Fred Ferretti focused in on Bern’s in the article “Wine List Thick as Tampa Phone Book.” Later that year Frank Prial wrote the list was “bigger than most telephone books.”
The wine list was still chained to the tables when James Conaway wrote about Bern’s for The Washington Post in 1987. It was actually a marble fixture to which the list was attached. Apparently this did not stop people from stealing the wine list for a woman was once employed to ferret out lists hidden under furs and shirts. Despite the wine list shrinking to the size of the Washington, DC, phone book, a cool $1 million Dollars of wine were sold each year. Frank Prial still wrote about the Bern’s wine list some two decades after he first mentioned it. He noted that even Bern Laxer called the immense book “absurd.”
My friend Lou first visited Bern’s nearly a decade ago and he has been sharing stories about his adventures ever since. It was to join Lou at Bern’s that caused me to flew down to Tampa. Lou was there the evening before my arrival so it was with delight that I looked at texted pictures of 1964 Domaine Edmond Valby, Morey-Saint-Denise, “Dried cherries, herbs and a little tar” and 1961 Pierre Ponnelle, Chateauneuf du Pape, “[V]ery different. More earth and animale.” For our dinner together, we were joined by two of Lou’s colleagues. Though they know little about wine, they are curious to try any old wine.
Lou and I found ourselves at Bern’s ahead of the other couple. We sat ourselves in the bar to flip through the wine list. After confirming the relative quality of the 1973 vintage in Germany, Lou somewhat randomly picked a bottle of 1973 Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern, Hattenheimer Nussbrunen Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau. Drunk over one hour, the nose remained rather shy but the fruit flavors picked up definition and weight. While it was not the most complex wine, it offered a pleasing combination of freshness and maturity.
1973 Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern, Hattenheimer Nussbrunen Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau
Imported by Frank Schoonmaker Selections. The color is a youthful light, vibrant amber gold. The light nose bears some petrol aromas and is generally subtle yet very fresh. The tart, yellow fruit mixes with good acidity and some textured tannin before picking up mid body weight. With air the flavors become sweeter with better definition of fruit and some ripeness in the aftertaste. *** Now.
Once seated at the dinning table we began our succession of red wines with the help of Senior Sommelier Brad Dixon. Brad was excited about a mature Beaujolais, something that Lou has long mentioned, so he soon returned with a decanted bottle of 1983 Heritiers Finaz Devillaine, Moulin-a-Vent. Alexis Lichine described Moulin-a-Vent as the “king of Beaujolais”, capable of slow development in great vintages such as 1983. Likely produced by a de Villaine relative, think Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, this bottle is a lively, compelling wine of tart red fruit, minerals, and wood notes. I would not compare this particular example to Burgundy, as some old Beaujolais is compared to, rather it is its own unique wine. Clearly great vintage and great storage.
1983 Heritiers Finaz Devillaine, Moulin-a-Vent
Imported by B Strauss Selections. Alcohol 12.5%. The wine is a relatively dark, young color. The nose is of cranberries back by a wood note. In the mouth is a bitter red fruit start before black, mineral hints come out. This lively wine is compelling to drink. The drying tannins and wood note before the tart finish lend to the impression of perfect storage. *** Now but will last.
A balance was struck between less expensive and more expensive wines. The pair of of Northern Rhone reds represented low priced wines from negociants. John Livingstone-Learmonth and Melvyn C. H. Master wrote that Leon Revol sold wines “which are consistent without being spectacular.” The Revol house was founded in the early 20th century. They own no vineyards, instead fruit was purchased from all over the Cotes du Rhone. The negociant Maison Brotte sold wine under the Pere Anselme label and become associated with their Chateauneuf du Pape. No amount of proper storage could change the fact that the 1979 Leon Revol, Cornas, from a superior vintage, was more engaging than the 1980 Pere Anselme, Cote Rotie. The Revol offered more interesting and complete flavors. The Anselme did have a bit of attractive meat flavor but was simpler and perhaps, a touch old.
1979 Leon Revol, Cornas
Imported by Bay Distributors. Alcohol 12%. There are fresh, red fruit and greenhouse aromas. In the mouth, the tart red fruit takes on some lipstick, a wood note, and a tart, citric pithe finish. *** Now.
1980 Pere Anselme, Cote Rotie
Imported by Bay Distributors. Alcohol 12.5%. This nose reveals buttery, tart red fruit. In the mouth the slightly meaty red fruit plays it tight with good structure of old wood and a hint of roast. ** Now.
The Californian flight proved to be the best of the night both in terms of the wines and history. Mike Grgich came to California in 1958. He first worked for Lee Stewart at the original Souverain Cellars then went on to Beaulieu Vineyard, Robert Mondavi Winery, and Chateau Montelena. Grgich Hills Cellar lead off with the 1977 vintage so our bottle of 1979 Grgich Hills Cellar, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley stems from the very early days. It is an outstanding wine. With a youthful color it was fruity on the nose followed by deep, chewy flavors backed by lively acidity and the right amount of cedar notes. It was the favorite wine of the evening. Clearly at full maturity. The half bottle of 1970 Souverain Cellars, Mountain Zinfandel, Napa Valley came from the year Lee Stewart sold the winery to a group of investors. There was then, for a time, a Souverain of Rutherford in Napa Valley and a Souverain of Alexander Valley in Sonoma. The later eventually became Chateau Souverain. Our half bottle bears the original Lee Stewart label. There are other bottles of 1970 “Souverain of Rutherford” Cabernet Sauvignon bearing post-sale labels. This wine is classically structured with fresh flavors of tart black fruit. I would almost venture it is not yet ready to drink. At least from the Bern’s cellar!
1979 Grgich Hills Cellar, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley
Alcohol 13.7%. The deep, youthful color is easily matched by the deep berry fruit on the nose. In the mouth are beautiful fruit flavors that range from blue to tart red by the middle. The lively acidity, cedar note, and slightly chewy aspect continue to delight through the aftertaste. Drinking so very well. **** Now.
1970 Souverain Cellars, Mountain Zinfandel, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This fresh wine is infused with cedar that supports the fresh, focused, and tart black fruit. This classic wine sports a lively personality and great structure. It leaves a menthol freshness in the aftertaste. ***(*) Now – 2025.
After dinner we moved up to the Harry Waugh dessert room with its mini barrel shaped rooms. We all opted to drink various dessert wines by the glass. Two of the glass of Port were particularly good. The 1965 Taylor Fladgate, Crusted Port leans towards the sweet, marshmallow spectrum but the addition of baking spices and expansive flavors make it a hands-down solid drink. However, it was 1978 Quinta do Noval, Vintage Port from a modest vintage, that was the Port of the night. It was complex, inky, and poised for further development. To add to the surprise, it is one of the cheapest Ports by the glass. In the end, that is what Bern’s is all about. You walk in with a general plan about what you want to drink but in the end you taste other wines you never expected to be so interesting.
1977 Barbosa, Vintage Port
The round berries and youthful flavors become super expansive and drier by the finish. Unfortunately there is some heat at the end. ** Now.
1965 Taylor Fladgate, Crusted Port
This fruity wine offers up a touch of marshmallow, subtle ripe baking spices, and other sweet notes. The finish is quite expansive. *** Now – 2025.
1970 Delaforce, Vintage Port
Musty, tastes of old red fruit. Not Rated.
1978 Quinta do Noval, Vintage Port
The deep ruby color speaks of promise. There is a lot going on in the mouth. The fruit is wound around a core of complementary wood. The fruit mixes with bakings spices, ink, and other complexities. Simply a really nice vintage Port. ***(*) Now.
Jeffrey Snow previously worked for Bacchus Importers then moved to France to enroll in wine studies. He was in town this past weekend for a brief visit so a group of his wine buddies got together. As Jeffrey still lives overseas I offered to host the gathering. Despite the heavy cloudiness the skies held back any rain so we gathered outside on the back deck. There was a slew of good wine, some certainly better than others, that kept us busy all night.
A bottle of 2006 Vazart-Coquart, Champagne Blanc de Blancs Special Club Brut accidentally received some 2000 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie La Mouline through a decanting mistake. Thus turned into a rose, the bottle was found improved and quickly drained. The 2005 Thierry Massin, Champagne Brut drank solidly for days thanks to it being a double-magnum. We had mixed success with the white wines. Fortunately, the 2005 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses offered all one could hope with great potential. This was my first time drinking Dauvissat and now I can see why it is a favorite of Roland. In terms of the red wines, the 1999 Domaine Jamet, Côte-Rôtie was my favorite. It was aromatic, unique in the mouth, and a generally lifting experience to drink. What a treat! Whereas the Jamet offered up bacon the 2000 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie La Mouline offered bloody meat. This bottle drank at a good, mature spot. The 2003 vintage provided our biggest wines. The 2003 Thierry Allemand, Cornas offered way more fruit than I expected, but it was good in its youth, reflecting both the vintage and its southernmost location in the Northern Rhone. Moving south the 2003 Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape exuded power. It took until the second night to show properly and with that time, great complexity came out in the middle. I would cellar this wine another five years. There were many other enjoyable wines so take a look at my notes below. I do wish to comment on the 1995 Domaine du Pégaü, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Maxim. Darryl managed to score this unicorn of a wine. This one-off cuvee was created to celebrate the birth of Laurence’s first child. Just over 600 bottles were produced and apparently, given only to friends. So good was this wine that it and 1997 cuvee Justine eventually became the precursors of De Capo. Unfortunately, our bottle was off.
2006 Vazart-Coquart, Champagne Blanc de Blancs Special Club Brut
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by C’Est Vin. Alcohol 12%. Through a decanting accident, this contained a proportion of 2000 Guigal, Hermitage La Mouline. So perhaps better as a rose with yeasty, ripeness! Not Rated but good!
2005 Thierry Massin, Champagne Brut (double magnum)
A Becky Wasserman selection imported by C’Est Vin. Alcohol 12%. There were fine, structured bubbles that integrated well with the grippy texture on the tongue tip. There were lemon flavors and baking spices in the finish. ***/**** Now-2025.
2008 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles
Imported by Wilson Daniels. Alcohol 13.5%. There were maturing, lean flavors of tart lemon before a young impression came out. There were tangy lemons in the short finish. Something not quite right about this bottle.
2005 Domaine des Malandes Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos
Imported by JAO Wine Imports. Alcohol 13%. The stinky nose made way to linear flavors in the mouth with a grippy finish. With air an earthiness pervaded, taking over the lemon citrus note, then finishing tired with apple orchard notes. Note Rated.
2001 Domaine and Select, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. There were plenty of berries in this robust wine. The dense core of fruit made way to cherry and even took on glycerin. A lovely wine. **** Now-2020.
2007 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale (en magnum)
A Becky Wasserman selection imported by Veritas. Alcohol 13%. The nose was rather expressive. In the mouth were ethereal flavors before the tighter finish. With air it developed some midpalate ripeness with delicate spices and a good length for the soft, lipsticky finish. *** Now.
2004 Château du Cèdre, Cahors Le Cèdre
Imported by Elite Wines. Alcohol 14%. The fresh nose developed deep and dark aromas. The wine was dense in the mouth with good intention from the structure and acidity. The flavors had a cool aspect and when combined with the greenhouse notes, I imagine this will have a nice future. ***(*) Now-2025.
2005 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses
Imported by Wine Brokers International. Alcohol 13%. There were rounded notes of white and yellow fruit in this beautiful wine. It was almost spritely with a chalky middle, lovely integrated acidity, a good grip, and even more minerals in the finish. Top notch! ****(*) Now-2025.
2004 Terredora di Paolo, Taurasi Pago Dei Fusi
Imported by Vias Imports. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose was very fresh with greenhouse aromas, small berries, and eventually a fine, wood aroma. In the mouth the linear flavors took on licorice. With air the gentle fruit existed within a resolved structure that made a return in the finish by drying the gums.
1999 Domaine Jamet, Côte-Rôtie
Imported by Robert Kacher. Alcohol 12.5%. Very aromatic with bacon and stems. In the mouth were good, controlled powerful flavors of violet fruit. The wine became salty with air and maintained a sense of purity to the acidity driven red fruit. Lovely. ****(*) Now-2025.
2000 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie La Mouline
Imported by Ex Cellar Wine Agency. Alcohol 13%. There was a lifted nose of bloody meat. In the mouth were acidity driven flavors that were savory, dense, and glycerin infused. There was still fruit and very fine, fresh structure. **** Now – 2023.
2003 Thierry Allemand, Cornas
Imported by Kermit Lynch. Alcohol 14.5%. The nose was aromatic with fruit power, camphor, and a touch of raisins. In the mouth was a load of tangy, red and pruned fruit with good acidity. With air the wine remained quite fruity, building in flavor towards the middle where mineral and sweet spiced fruit came out. ****(*) Now-2030.
1999 Tardieu-Laurent, Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes (en magnum)
Imported by Bacchus Importers. Alcohol 13%. This was aromatic with roast notes from the oak. In the mouth were soft flavors and vintage perfume. The structure was still there but there was low acidity and a generally limp impression. Not Rated.
2003 Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Alcohol 14.5%. This was beautiful, powerful, and earthy. The wine really packed in the components, exuding power as well as grainy black then red and violet fruit. On the second night it had expanded more to show very good midpalate complexity. ****(*) Now-2030.
1995 Domaine du Pégaü, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Maxim
Imported by T. Elenteny. Alcohol 14%. Oddly morphing, seemed clearly corked at first then as if through sheer determination powerful fruit tried to come through. Not right so bummer. Not Rated.
1995 Château de Fonsalette, Reserve, Côtes du Rhône
Imported by Le Vin. Alcohol 14%. This was aromatic with bloody and stinky notes. Very firm and linear at first this developed a weighty start with midpalate ripeness, cedar, and sweet fruit. In the end it came across as very mature. Drink up. ** Now.
2003 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve, Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT
Imported by Vinifera Imports. Alcohol 14.5%. This remained young over two nights but showed future potential. Clearly powerful, with tart acidity, good components from wood, and a perfumed finish. Should improve but needs time. ***(*) 2020-2030.
2000 Chateau Quinault L’Enclos, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Imported by Bacchus Importers. Alcohol 13.5%. This smelled increasingly mature and earthy with air. In the mouth it was cooler tasting with very fine grained structure. This bottle seemed very mature with the structure outliving the fruit. ** Now.
2008 Bodegas y Viñedos Paixar, Mencía Bierzo
Imported by Grapes of Spain. Alcohol 14%. The nose was very aromatic with floral and black fruits. In the mouth was a perfumed, black fruited start with some cedar notes picking up in the middle. The wine showed more acidity by the finish becoming lively. The structure revealed wood that had fine texture which combined well with the mineral finish. *** Now-2020.
2001 Gelchw Albertz-Erben, Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by Michael Skurnik. Alcohol 8.5%. There were hints of petrol on the nose. In the mouth were weighty flavors that fleshed out, filling the mouth with ripe fruit and residual sugar. The wine turned youthful with weighty, lemon flavors, and structure in the end. It left a fresh impression. **** Now.
I went over to Lou’s house earlier this week to taste some wine. He had put together a small flight of wines to taste blind so I thought it would be amusing to bring over two bottles of white wine which were missing their labels. I never wrote down what the first wine was so it shall remain an Unknown French White Wine of recent vintage. It was actually quite nice on the nose, certainly Sauvignon Blanc with Lou guessing Sancerre. Next up was the 2011 Domaine de la Pépière, Clos des Briords which Lou immediately guess as Muscadet based on the bottle. I had double-decanted this one hour prior. This is made from the oldest vines of the estate, planted in 1930, and I think that it is best left in the cellar. Lou then brought out the 2010 Domaine Rolet, Chardonnay, L’Etoile. I loved the 2007 vintage which I tasted last summer and suspect the 2010 will also develop well with age. The last wine I brought over was the 2006 Domaine du Coulet, Brise Cailloux. I tasted the 2006 No Wine’s Land back in the summer of 2008 and the 2008 Brise Cailloux earlier this year (thanks again to Lou). The 2006 had a gorgeous, engaging nose which is not quite/yet matched in the mouth. There is plenty of life ahead so I would be curious to hold on to any bottles.
We then came to the blind wines. Lou had double-decanted them so the probably had about one hour of air before we tasted them. I started with the first two wines and was really happy. Parlor games are fun so I guessed the first was either from Charvin or a Stolpman, Syrah. Having recently drunk the 2010 Stolpman, Syrah Estate, there was something familiar in mind. Lou commented there was no California Syrah in the lineup. In all fairness, Lou had previously offered to open up the 2008 Domaine du Pegau, Reservee due to my current interest in Pegau. I suspected he had not for this tasting. The second wine was certainly funkier, showing more advanced aromas and flavors, and absolutely lovely. Remembering the 2008 Clos des Papes Phil opened last year, I guessed it was a wine from 2008. The third wine had a brick wall of tannins, I thought some cuvee which saw way too much new oak.
It turned out the first wine was the 2007 Stolpman Vineyards, Grenache Estate, the second was 2008 Domaine du Pegau, Reservee, and the third was 2007 Domaine Grand Veneur, Clos de Sixte. The 2008 Pegau stole the show. We typically split and gas up the leftovers to be tasted the next night. I was so excited by the Pegau that Jenn and I finished it up that evening. Lou purchased this bottle for $25 from Premier Cru, what a deal! After that I really enjoyed the 2006 Coulet. I think the 2007 Stolpman was more impressive the first night but the 2007 Grand Veneur certainly improved on the second night.
Unknown French White Wine
This had ripe, grassy aromas of white candy with fine texture. It was strong in the nose with its floral, white candy aromas. The mouth was less impressive but had a nice chalky, dry aspect. ** Now-2014.
2011 Domaine de la Pépière, Clos des Briords, Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine
Imported by Louis/Dressner. The color was a very light white straw. The tight nose eventually revealed some heavy, underlying floral fruit. In the mouth was white candy-like fruit, not-quite crisp acidity, then rounder flavors of delicate white peach with a little tart tang. The wine was balanced with a little, fine ripe finish. This young wine eventually developed white stones which mixed with some tannins. **(*) 2014-2020.
2010 Domaine Rolet, Chardonnay, L’Etoile, Jura
Imported by Williams Corner Wine. Alcohol 13%. The subtle nose was apple-like. In the mouth the white fruit had weight with good, drying stone texture. There was fresh acidity in the start, lots of personality, and youth. **(*) 2014-2024.
2006 Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Brise Cailloux, Cornas
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%. There was a nice nose of floral aromas, pepper, and leaves of violets. It was finely delineated with a hint of sweet, spiced orange peel at the end. There was tart red fruit which was acidity driven from the start. The flavors continue through the wine eventually showing a hint of maturity. It was steely with minerals, and a black fruit with graphite finish. The structure slowly came out, leaving some very fine tannins on the gums. ***(*) Now-2025.
2007 Stolpman Vineyards, Grenache Estate, Santa Ynez Valley
This Alcohol 15%. There was fresher, younger red fruit with an orange citrus aroma. It was a fine wine in the mouth mixing red fruit with a darker core and ripe, fine, drying tannins. It took on perfumed fruit, young but very attractive. It dried out a bit with air but kept a sweet, ripe finish. It took on some orange peel flavors with air, along with dry, very fine tannins. Best on the first night. *** Now-2018.
2008 Domaine du Pegau, Reservee, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 14%. A slighter darker core. The nose was older with earthy, smoky aromas. It was a little sweaty with some blood. The mouth followed the nose with ripe fruit, tannins, and acidity which tickles the tongue tip. It had a lipstick finish and a long, expansive, beautiful aftertaste. With extended air a youthful core of fruit came out suggesting longevity. **** Now-2023.
2007 Domaine Grand Veneur, Clos de Sixte, Lirac
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils. This wine is blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre. Alcohol 14.5%. This was a medium-dark purple color. It had nose of cassis-like, ripe fruit, and vanilla. In the mouth was more linear fruit which quickly met an up-front wall of tannins. These were very fine and drying. An aspect of the nose came out in the finish. On the second night this was more approachable with dense fruit, a simpler finish, and a structure that subsided. ** Now-2023.
The wines of Vincent Paris are new to the shelves in Washington, DC. Vincent first made wine under his uncle Robert Michel. Having produced his first wine in 2007 he went out on his own renting winemaking facilities while he builds a new one. He sources fruit from some eight hectares of vineyards, including one hectare of 90+ year old vines inherited from his grandfather and rented from his uncle. He has also planted Viognier and Roussanne on north-facing slopes in Cornas. His holdings in Saint-Joseph amount to 1.5 hectares with 4.7 hectares in Cornas. He does not use any chemical in the vineyards and prunes to four bunches per vine. He ferments his wine at low temperatures and ages them for 12 months in oak barrels.
We tasted both of these wines over the course of four evenings. They both have pure, clean flavors, acidity which is present, and supportive structure. The Saint-Joseph remained the most accessible of the pair but it should still be cellared for a few years. There are many enjoyable aspects to this wine and at the price it is worth laying several bottles down. It is a crime to drink Cornas at such a young age but it is still important for me to try such wines for experience. This bottle remained unapologetically tight but it still revealed the potential for an interesting future. I am confident that it will develop with age but to what extent I cannot yet tell. It is well priced for Cornas so why not stash at least one bottle in your cellar? These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2010 Vincent Paris Selection, Saint-Joseph – $22
Imported by Potomac Selections. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from 10 and 20-year-old vines on granite soils at 300 meters. The fruit is fermented in 66% barrel and 33% tank then aged for 12 months in oak barrels. Alcohol 13%. The color was a light to medium grapey, ruby. The light nose had purple fruit aromas, pepper, and eventually a touch of smoke and meat. In the mouth the flavors were focused with clean and pure fruit along with black minerals. There was firm acidity on the tongue and fine grapey tannins. The flavors became a little savory, taking on some weight, and expanding a bit. Young. **(*) 2015-2026.
2011 Domaine Vincent Paris, Granit 30, Cornas – $33
This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from 30-year-old vines on granite soils at a 30 degree slope at 300 meters. The fruit is destemmed then fermented with indigenous yeast in concrete tank and aged for 12 months in used barrels. Alcohol 13%. The light nose was very finely scented with a touch of lees then perfume. In the mouth there was focused and firm flavors of tart red and black fruit, with hints of good flavors yet to come. There was little, expansive burst of flavor in the finish. There were very fine, grapey and drying tannins which stuck to the lips. With extended air there were more tart red fruit and citric tannins. Young. **(**) 2016-2030.
One year ago we tried a bottle of 2003 Domaine Michel Ogier, La Rosine and found that bottle to be cracking up. Since then a few others have enjoyed this wine so I decided to give it another go. This time we paired it with the 2003 Jean Luc Colombo, Les Ruchets which was on the dump stack. This second bottle of La Rosine showed so much better with attractive smoke, earth, and roast on the nose followed by meat and wood box in the mouth. It projected personality. The Les Ruchets saw a higher percentage of new oak for a longer period of time. Despite using fruit from vines planted in the 1920s I perceived less personality from the flavors and more from the structure of the wine. I suspect it will live for quite some time but I think it best drunk over the near term. While I was glad to have paid the discounted dump-bin price rather than twice as much I recommend you stick with the La Rosine. These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
2003 Domaine Michel Ogier, La Rosine, Vdp Collines Rhodaniennes – $20
Imported by Robert Kacher. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from vines planted in 1988 and the later 1990s. The wine receives 14 months with 10% new oak and 90% in 2-year-old barrels which raised Cote-Rotie. Alcohol 12%. The nose was light to medium with smoke, earth, and roast. In the mouth there was tart red fruit to start along with black acidity on the tongue. There was a gentle weight with slightly flavors of meat and wood box in the finish. The fruit was quite clean with light black and red fruits mixing with minerals. The acidity was clean as well. *** Now-2018.
2003 Jean Luc Colombo, Les Ruchets, Cornas – $20
Imported by Palm Bay Imports. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from 90+ year old vines from the 1.6 hectare Chaillot parcel. The fruit was destemmed, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 18 months in 70% new oak barrels. Alcohol 13.5%. There was a light, meaty nose with the slightest hint of fresh pepper. The mouth brought black and red fruit, pepper, acidity, and fine ripe tannins. The flavors turned drier in the finish which was textured rather than flavorful. With air acidity enlivened red fruit came out midpalate along with more roundness and balance. ** Now – 2018.
This past weekend a small group gathered in my dining room for a casual wine tasting. Present were Lou, Phil, Roland, Andy, and myself. Though the theme of Northern Rhone was picked just 24 hours in advance we ended up with a range of wines from 1995 to 2011 representing France, Washington, and Maryland. Of the Northern Rhone wines there were four wines from Cote-Rotie, two from Cornas, one from Hermitage, one from Crozes-Hermitage, one from Saint-Joseph, and one from the Ardeche. Two ringers in the form of Cayuse Vineyards and Black Ankle Vineyards were included. All of the wines were served blind.
It was a fun evening. Every person has a deeply set love for wine and a noticeable curiosity about what is in their glass. I believe all enjoyed the wines for the conversation kept weaving back to the wines and regions amongst noises of approval. I honestly prefer tasting wines when the people I am with and their remarks keep drawing me away from my notes. Wine is a social beverage and is best drunk when the people you are with are just as much of a draw as the wines themselves.
I started off the tasting by serving the 2011 Syncline, Grenache Blanc blind. This was one of the only white Rhone inspired white wines in my basement. I have become curious to try Washington State Grenache Blanc so I thought it would be a fun start. New World was concluded with Washington and Oregon narrowed down based on my travels.
Starter – 2011 Syncline, Grenache Blanc, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley
This wine is 100% Grenache Blanc which was whole-cluster pressed, fermented with indigeneous yeasts, racked into older French oak, no malolactic fermentation, and aged on the lees for roughly five months. Alcohol 14.1%. The nose was lighter and brighter with focused white fruit and tree fruit. In the mouth there was fresh, acidity driven fruit, a little hint of toast, and a citric finish. It has a bit of grip, along with some tartness and leaves the overall impression of youth and freshness. On the second night there was a core of grippy white fruit, tart green apple flavors, and enjoyable tannins in the aftertaste. I was surprised by the quality of the acidity. *** Now-2015.
The red wines were tasted in flights of three. In retrospect I could have grouped these by age but being more interested in not know what we were tasting I automatically mixed them up. I do not think this harmed any perspectives. Unfortunately the 1996 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Hermitage La Chapelle was not drinkable and the 1995 Chapoutier, La Mordoree, Cote-Rotie was only made somewhat drinkable by additional decanting. The 2008 Barret, Brise Cailloux, Cornas was an oddity and I think showing too many flaws. Shame.
There was a lovely glass to be found in the 2008 Cayuse, Syrah, Armada. Perfumed, effortless, and elegant it was easy to grasp why this was one of two bottles to be finished. The only other finished bottle was the 2010 Champet, La Vialliere, Cote-Rotie. While young there is strong attraction to this old-school wine which should develop quite nicely. The 1998 Ogier, Cote-Rotie stood out with its striking nose. The flavors could not quite keep up but it was a beautiful wine overall. Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the 1998 Tardieu-Laurent, Crozes-Hermitage. Tardieu-Laurent’s northern Rhone wines do very well with the Syrah easily absorbing all of the new oak. This bottle had been kicked about the shop floor a bit but despite the figurative footprints the wine inside was a treat.
The 2003 Durand, Cornas is hybrid between the old with its earth and vintage perfume and the new with forward, ripe fruit. A bit of an oddity in that combination but this drank great on the second night and should develop for some time. The 1999 J. Vidal-Fleury, Brune et Blonde, Cote-Rotie is perfectly mature and complete in what it is, which provides for a good glass. The 2003 Corbis, Les Royes, Saint-Joseph is a very solid glass of wine and while it drank well on the second night, it may not gain much more complexity so I would drink it now. The 2007 Black Ankle, Leaf Stone Syrah stood out with its candy and sweetness but it was a great start for the second night. I doubt anyone guessed Maryland. Ed said the 2007 is more New World and the 2008 is Old World. I should like to try the 2008. Lastly the 2011 Gonnon, Les Iles Feray which was literally and figuratively the youngest of all the red wines. Produced from vineyards located right next to Saint-Joseph this showed unique flavors and worthy of seeking out for the cellar or wine fridge.
1 – 1996 Paul Jaboulet Aine, La Chapelle, Hermitage
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced primarily from Meal, Bessards, and Greffieux. All of the fruit is destemmed and crushed with fermentation in a mix of concrete and steel vats. It is aged between 13-17 months in some to no new oak. Alcohol 13.5%. Double-decanted right before tasting. The color was a tired, medium tawny garnet. There was a firm nose which smelled old. In the mouth the firmer palate was tired, perhaps a touch of ripe fruit, but showing past prime. Not Rated.
2 – 2010 Domaine Joel Champet, La Vialliere, Cote-Rotie
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from the three hectare vineyard of La Vialliere which was fully planted in 1999. The fruit is not destalked, fermentation is in concrete vats followed by 18 months of age in < 10% new foudres. Alcohol 12.5%. Opened right before tasting. There was a lovely nose of young fruit and pepper. In the mouth there was tarter, focused black fruit which took on weighty, ripe red fruit. There was fine grip, old-school personality, and fine drying tannins. A powerful, balanced wine which is young with a very strong future ahead. ***(*) 2018-2028.
3 – 2003 Domaine Corbis, Les Royes, Saint Joseph
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from 12 hectares of vineyards on Les Royes with soils of limestone and clay. The fruit is destemmed, undergoes punch downs, pump overs, and emptying/refilling. It is aged for one year in 33% new, 33% one year, and 33% two year old casks. Alcohol 14%. Double-decanted half an hour prior to tasting. The color was a light to medium garnet. The light nose was tight with dark, earthy aromas. In the mouth there was red, weighty fruit, some vanilla, a little red candy, and tart acidity. There was a fine wood box flavor and good density to the fruit which had a sexy personality. On the second night the nose became more restrained. In the mouth the black and red fruit was dense with a light, creamy feel. There was subtle black fruit, minerals. The acidity and flavors were fresh, almost Eucalyptus like. There were fine polish and drying tannins in the aftertaste which stuck to the gums. Should last for some time but might be best now. Better on first night. *** Now-2018.
4 – 2008 Cayuse Vineyards, Syrah, Armada, Walla Walla Valley
This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from the Armada Vineyard planted in 2001. It was aged for 22 months in puncheons. Alcohol 14.2%. Decanted for two hours prior to tasting. The color was a medium, garnet ruby. There was a beautiful, effortless nose of perfumed fruit. In the mouth there was lovely weight to the fruit which bore gentle power and subtle creaminess. There was black fruit in the finish along with a minerally bit. Well integrated all around. With air it took on an orange peel note. This should age well. Elegant! **** Now-2023.
5 – 1998 Tardieu-Laurent, Crozes-Hermitage
Imported by Bacchus Importers. Alcohol %. Double-decanted half an hour prior to tasting. The color was a light to medium garnet. The nose has more old wood and a touch of smoke. In the mouth it was an interesting wine with dark red fruit, minerals, and a more upright personality than #4. There was a youthful core of fruit which matched a good structure. On the second night this was still drinking well and took on elegance. **** Now-2023.
6 – 2007 Black Ankle Vineyards, Leaf Stone Syrah, Frederick County
This wine is 91% Syrah, 4% Pinot Noir, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Merlot which was aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak. Alcohol 14.6%. Double-decanted half an hour prior to tasting. The light nose revealed more candy aromas with ripe fruit and a barrel note. In the mouth the riper fruit has good weight, sweetness, and a forward personality. It was mouthfilling with a touch of powder. On the second night the good weight continued with cool black cherry fruit, a creamy texture, and some raciness towards the finish. There was a bit of black licorice and some barrel sweetness. *** Now-2020.
7 – 2003 Eric & Joel Durand, Cornas
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from three hectares in Chaillot, Champelrose, Sauman, and Tezier. The fruit is destemmed, fermented in regulated vats then undergoes malolactic fermentation in oak casks where it is aged for 12 months in 10-15% new oak casks. Alcohol 14%. Opened one hour prior to tasting. The red nose offered up some candy aromas. In the mouth there were flavors of red candy and strawberry with some ripeness. There was a tang on the sides of the tongue followed by very fine, drying tannins. On the second night the weighty fruit showed more complexity with minerality, black flavors, structure in the middle, and good acidity. Then there were earthy and vintage perfume notes. A nice wine which continued to drink with confidence on the second night. ***(*) Now-2028.
8 – 1995 M. Chapoutier, La Mordoree, Cote Rotie
Imported by Paterno Imports. This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from the oldest vineyards in Brune and Blonde which date back to the 1940s. The fruit is destemmed, fermented in open wood vessels then aged for 15-20 months in 50% new oak casks. Alcohol 12.8%. Double-decanted right before tasting. The color was a light to medium tawny garnet. The light nose was tight with older aromas. Decanting certainly helped but older, drying fruit remained. There was firm black fruit, tartness, acidity, and a general lack of giving up anything. * Now.
9 – 1998 Domaine Michel Ogier, Cote-Rotie
This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from lieux-dits Lancement (1979), Cote Rozier (1950s), Champon (early 1990s), and But de Mont (1988). which is aged for 18 months in 30% new oak casks. Opened right before tasting. The nose was striking and stood out with smoke, vintage perfume, and pepper. The flavors were tart on the tip of the tongue. This salty wine slowly expanded in the mouth and does show some age. At first the mouth was not as good as the nose but with air it eventually opened up. There were lots of red fruit, a little citrus, and on the second night an earthy and bloody aspect. **** Now-2023.
10 – 1999 J Vidal-Fleury, Brune et Blonde, Cote Rotie
Imported by W. J. Deutsch & Sons. This wine is 95-97% Syrah and 3-5% Viognier sourced only from estate vineyards averaging 40 years of age. It is aged up to three years in 50 hl barrels. Alcohol 13%. Opened right before tasting. The color was a medium garnet. The nose bore older, ripe aromas with a fine quality and perhaps a touch of veg. In the mouth the fruit bore riper weight, expansive in the mouth, and a younger personality compared to the nose. There was a little cedar note and black fruit in the finish. On the second night the wine was softer with gentle red fruit, wood box notes, and some puckering acidity. There was a little earthy component. Despite the good level of maturity the fruit had a youthful nature. I would still drink this up. *** Now-2018.
11 – 2008 Matthieu Barret, Brise Cailloux, Cornas
This wine is 100% Syrah which is farmed organically and biodynamically. It is sourced from almost 10 hectares of vines . Between half and all of the fruit is destalked, the cap punched, then aged for 18 months in used casks. Very little sulphur is used. Decanted for two hours prior to tasting. There was a nose of pepper and pine. In the mouth the fruit was very tart with citric red fruit flavors. There were drying tannins and a hint of yeast in the aftertaste. On the second night the yeasty flavors continued with red grapefruit in the aftertaste. Not enough sulphur? * Now.
12 – 2011 Pierre Gonon, Les Iles Feray, Ardeche
Imported by. This wine is 100% Syrah which was fermented with indigenous yeast then aged for 13-15 months in 600 liter casks which are 1 to 40 years old. Decanted for one hour prior to tasting. The color was a medium grapey ruby. At first there was a strange nose with some mixed ripe berries. With air the nose became muted with aromas of fresh berries. In the mouth there was blacker fruit, a serious attitude, gentle weight to the unique and good flavors. On the second night there were flavors of tart black fruit, berries, and minerals. There was salivating acidity and a brighter finish where firm, drying, and somewhat grapey tannins came out. The wine stands out and should be cellared for the short-term. *** 2015-2025.