Today’s pair of wines recently hit the shelves thanks to Phil Bernstein. Always interested in expanding my Northern Rhone experience I excitedly popped open the 2011 Jean-Michel Gerin, Champin Le Seigneur, Cote-Rotie. Jean-Michel Gerin first worked under the advisement of Jean-Luc Colombo whose modern 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo, Les Bartavelles, Chateauneuf du Pape I recently tasted. From the onset Gerin employed “modern” ways including new oak some of which was American. The Champin Le Seigneur is a blend of Syrah and Viognier sourced from all of his parcels. Fortunately, this particular vintage is not evocative of oak. Instead, it is a gentle, pure wine of mixed fruits, floral notes, and stones. It is quite tasty right now but will develop with further age.
From Corsica comes the 2013 Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Cuvee Faustine. This blend of Sciaccarellu and Niellucciu provide attractive flavors of tart red fruity and dry floral notes. There are not many Corsican wines available in Washington, DC so this wine is worth a try. The balance tilts towards the structure with air so I suspect now might be the time to drink it. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2011 Jean-Michel Gerin, Champin Le Seigneur, Cote-Rotie -$45
Imported by Esprit du Vin. This wine is a blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier. Alcohol 13%. There are gentle clouds of ripe aroma. In the mouth the smooth, dense entry combines red and black fruit with an inky, mineral, stone infused middle. The interest continues as fat infused strawberry and floral flavors develop with air. ***(*) Now – 2027.
2013 Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Cuvee Faustine – $25
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is a blend of 70% Sciaccarellu and 30% Niellucciu raised in stainless steel and cement. Alcohol 14%. The red fruited start defines itself with tart red fruit bound in a tangy structure. There are dry floral and herb notes but the structure really blooms in size. I Like the flavor profile with its very delicate and ethereal ripe berries on the gum and persistent herbs. *** Now – 2022.
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.
David Bloch returns from a hiatus in writing, though not tasting, to list his favorite Champagnes and both New and Old World white and red wines.
Top 10 Champagnes
1996 Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon
1998 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz
2004 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil
2004 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne
2006 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne
Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée de Réserve
Pascal Doquet Premiers Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs
Camille Savès Grand Cru Brut Carte Blanche Bouzy
Varnier-Fanniere Grand Cru Cuvée St-Denis
G. H. Mumm & Cie Crémant de Cramant
Top 10 Reds
Old World Reds:
1993 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
1994 Château Latour
1995 Château Troplong Mondot
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano
1997 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Méal
1998 Vieux Château Certan
1999 Jean Raphet et Fils Clos Vougeot Cuvée Unique
1999 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis
New World Red:
Top 10 Whites
2001 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese
2004 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Kellerberg
2005 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck GK Riesling Spätlese
2006 Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette
2006 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain
2007 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Trocken Großes Gewächs
2007 Vatan Sancerre Clos La Néore
2008 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs
2009 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
2010 Henri Prudhon Saint-Aubin En Remilly
1990 Château Climens
1996 Château d’Yquem
2001 Château Rieussec
2002 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume
2002 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg Auslese Goldkapsel
I was careful to note I drank from a magnum of 1976 Lanson, Champagne and even took a picture of the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer, Cristal Champagne and Jacque Selosse, V.O. Champagne Extra Brut. However, my tasting note for the 1998 Dom Perignon, Champagne “racy, yeasty, rich, mineral wine flavors” is unaccompanied by a picture. This might sound haphazard but Champagne is the first thing drunk after the all-day Sercial Madeira tasting. The need to refresh oneself with Champagne and talk to old friends leads to a sort of frenzy. Everyone jockeys for a pour of Champagne. It is not a time to take note.
Dinner is seated, at a very long table. The pace of wine is measured by the sommeliers who impose a logical order on what is drunk. Every guest is encouraged to bring a magnum of mature wine or preferably two bottles of the same. This is not always possible so there is a large variety of red wines. I take pictures and jot down brief impressions so I may recall the evening later on. There were only two off bottles this night the 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and 1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley. In Germany 1959 is a legendary vintage and in America both Joh. Jos Prum and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard are legendary wines. In some punishing coincidence a friend brought a bottle of 1975 Martha’s Vineyard to my house this year. It was off too. Damn and double damn.
Of the good wines, they fell into two camps. Those which are too young to follow a tasting of 19th century Madeira and those which are appropriately mature. In this latter category two particular bottles stand out: 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. The 1966 Ducru sports a fantastic nose. I find some old wines have a sweaty aspect to their nose almost like aromatic umami and this bottle did as well. The flavors were equally attractive with that sweet concentration of flavor from age. It does not just taste mature, it tastes different.
My experience with Californian wine only includes vintages into the 1960s. I can assure you the last wine I would have expected at dinner was not just a pre-Prohibition Californian wine but one from the 19th century. In a particularly unforgiving act of arson in 2005, some 4.5 million bottles of wine were destroyed including 175 bottles of Hellman Angelica and Port wine, certainly most of the remaining stock. I can only imagine a handful of bottles survive to this day. Now scarcity alone does not make for a fine wine, what is in the glass does. With a bit of volatile acidity and dust on the nose the 1875 Hellman may have given slight pause but in the mouth this is an unctuous, powerful, and mouth coating wine. I managed to prolong the pleasure for a few more weeks because I was allowed to take the empty bottle home. There was still damp sediment in the bottle so I stoppered it. Every few days I would smell the bottle to swim once again in 19th century aromas.
2002 Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos
Imported by Vieux Vins. The yeasty nose makes way to minerally, white and yellow fruit flats. This seductive wine is rich with a hint of yeast, ripe tannins in the finish, and fat in the aftertaste.
2008 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a fresh, lean wine that tastes yeasty and older in the mouth. IT leans towards pure lemon flavors.
2007 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a grippy, concentrated wine with fresh acidity. A little weight comes out with air but this is all about lemon tartness. To match the flavor is a fair amount of acidity.
1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by O. W. Loeb & Co. Corked! D*mn!
1970 Domaine Dujac, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Alcohol 13%. The dark, garnet color matches the rather mature nose. In the mouth this is a very dry wine with old perfume mixing with linear, red fruit, The structure is still there, out living the fruit, as this gentle, old wine dries up.
1967 Odero, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The nose is a little stinky, which I find attractive, before aromas of candied cherry come out. This is old-school lively, with structure from the ripe tannins. Perfect for what it is.
1961 Burlotto, Castello di Verduno, Barolo
The foxy, earthy flavors come with initial concentration. It is a dry wine offering more flavor than the Oddero. Maturity has brought old-school flavors, a sweet aspect, and earth. It wraps up with drying, textured tannins.
1967 Cordezuma, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The color is young, almost cranberry-ruby in color. In the mouth this is a simpler wine which is tart, citric, and bears less fruit.
1981 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
An odd wine with almost mushroom flavors, yeast, and floral pork (WTF!). The acidity is bound up with the modest bit of structure.
1990 Prunotto, Barbaresco Montestefano
Alcohol 13.5%. Tobacco. Young!
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Landonne
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is way too young. Structure, drying, and bracing at this point.
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Mouline
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is aromatic with a fine nose just beginning to take on mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit is starting to soften a touch. Overall this is a focused wine with powerful structure through the fresh finish. Young.
1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Johnston. Alcohol 12.5%. The mature Bordeaux notes are starting to escape but this is still so young.
1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Shipped by SDVF. Imported by South Wine & Spirits. Alcohol 12.5%. This is more open with cassis, minerals, and fat. Nice.
1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Shipped by Raoul Lucien & Co. Imported by Combeau-Collet & Cie. Alcohol 12%. The fantastic nose is aromatic and a touch sweaty with cranberries and red fruit. It develops some old-school perfume. In the mouth the flavors have some sweetness to them before the drying finish. A lovely wine at 50 years of age.
1966 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Shipped by A. de Luze & Fils. This is less giving, more linear, soon shutting down to simple, cranberry, and red fruit flavors. It is firm and tight in the mouth with a shorter finish.
1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
An off bottle.
1992 Harlan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Young and primary.
1937 Niepoort, Colheita Port
Imported by W. J. Deutsch Co. Alcohol 19%. There is a sweet start with flavors of black tea and wood. There is a fair amount of noticeable acidity before the slightly harsh finish.
1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County
Though there is some volatile acidity on the nose, it is fine and articulate, with a bit of dust matching its age. The fruit tastes so different. This is a powerful and lip coating wine which is still racy and sweet. The fruit persisted through the dark finish. With air this unctuous wine, with its plentiful residual sugar, builds glycerin and baking spices. In great shape!
There was no shortage of grilled food and wine this Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to many generous people I got to try decades worth of wine. An inexpensive bottle of NV L.A. Cetto Vino Espumoso from Baja California enlivened a lunchtime sangria. The first serious wine is a magnum of 2006 Macarico, Aglianico del Vulture which smelled and tasted great from the very first pour. It still has strength but the tannic edges are receding such that you notice the dark fruit and minerals. I wish I could age more of these wines. The 1998 Chapoutier, Hermitage Monier de La Sizeranne showed much better oak integration than when tasted last summer. It is a substantial wine with a long future. The 1971 M. Mascarello, Nebbiolo d’Alba held up for several hours after double-decanting. It was sweaty on the nose, in an attractive old-school way to me, but better in the mouth with lively acidity and a core of flavor.
The 1971 M. Mascarello helped show how a 1976 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape was even fruitier with notes of old wood. It made for a perfectly good drink. I will follow this post with a real tasting note. The magnum of 2007 Domaine Ponsot, Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Cuvee des Alouettes showed on the elegant side of the spectrum with very clean fruit. Other drinks include a 2003 Le Vieux Donjon, Chateauneuf du Pape that is youthful and packs quite a lot of forward fruit.
Roland opened a slew of bottles including 1990 Alain Graillot, La Guiraude, Crozes-Hermitage. This wine is made from a selection of the best barrels and is certainly the oldest Crozes-Hermitage that I have tasted. This was still clean and fresh with that sense of lightness a Crozes can offer. It was almost suspended in time.
The 2007 Henri Bonneau, Chateauneuf du Pape was quite tight right after double-decanting. Nevertheless a few minutes of swirling coaxed an elegant wine. It has quite a bit of focus and certainly more heft than the ethereal Marie Beurrier can have. The 2001 Domaine Bois De Bourson, Chateauneuf du Pape showed great right out of the decanter. It is drinking near peak with earthy flavors and garrigue delivered with grip. A pour from the end of the 1990 Jamet, Cote Rotie provided a really good glass. There was an aspect of elegance to the maturing and complex flavors.
The 1994 Chateau de Fonsalette, Cotes du Rhone drank quite well. This is a generous Rayas wine made from Syrah. It is floral with dark blue fruit, wood notes, and good complexity.
I also tried a surprisingly savory, dense, and fruity bottle of 1996 Chateau Ste Michelle, Merlot Reserve, Columbia Valley. This came from a mediocre vintage and if this took a toll on the wine it was only that the finish was a bit short. This wine was made under David Lake MW which probably explains why it is still balanced and lively. There is not much Charbono around so you should try whatever you can. The 2011 Calder Wine Company, Charbono, Meyer Vineyard, Napa Valley is still not up to the quality of the 2009 vintage but it reveals vintage perfume unique to the grape.
As for dessert wines the half-bottle of 1983 Zilliken, Saarburger Rausch Riesling Eiswein contained only 7% alcohol. The undoubtedly high levels of residual sugar were perfectly balanced by the acidity. It is really easy to drink and is entering the middle of life. Finally, a double-decanted 1977 Warre’s, Vintage Port needed just a little air before showing dense flavors of dark blue, racy fruit. Good stuff! There were some other wines I tried but I did not get a look at the bottles.
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.
A last minute offering to host some friends at the house resulted in four of us tasting through some excellent wines. With a little bit of back and forth Lou, David, and Bill settled down in my living room with variety as our theme. We began with a Piedmontese white wine which is something I have never tried before. The 2012 Vigne Marina Coppi, Marine, Colli Tortonesi is made from Favorita which is a relative of Vermentino. Tim (MacArthur Beverages) pointed this wine out to me and I am glad he did. I was surprised by the floral aromas and even more so by the waxy, sweet lemon fruit, and substantial mouth feel. It turns out the grapes are harvested ten days after maximum ripeness so as step everything up. There were comparisons to Loire Chenin Blanc so if this sounds remotely interesting then you must grab a few bottles.
I kicked off the red wines by serving the 1975 Antonio Vallana, Gattinara in a paper bag. I had double-decanted the bottle two hours prior. Both then and during the tasting I arrested by the amount of sweet fruit and freshness of the flavors. Indeed, many guesses settled towards Bordeaux from the 1989 or 1990 vintages. This wine reflected its outstanding provenance as you would expect from a Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Company) selection. While it comes across as fresh it has complexity from age. Spanna is the local name for Nebbiolo. If you have any interest in Barolo or Barbaresco then this wine must be on your list of bottles to try.
We moved onto younger wines. The first bottle of 1998 Contratto, Solus Ad, Barbera D’Asti was recently brought back from Rome by Lou. Popped and poured, this bottle offered up coffee infused aromas and flavors. Its heft was balanced by a certain roundness making it a solid, aged Barbera. The 2001 Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino continued to offer deep, dark fruit flavors that were an easy match for the substantial structure. At 15 years of age, I found it hard to resist this bottle since the harshness of youth is all gone. It will continue to develop. I want to try more Brunello.
We then moved to the Rhone in the form of another brown-bagged wine. The fruit in the mouth was substantial, which gave me some doubt as to the origins, but I think we all pinned the floral aromas as being from a Syrah and Viognier blend from the Northern Rhone. There were even guesses as to Cote Rotie but no one got the vintage correct. The wine turned out to be the 2003 Duclaux, Cote Rotie. David picked it in response to a 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape tasting where none of the wines were found to be overripe. The 2003 vintage was very hot and has its critics. This bottle of Cote Rotie exhibited the vintage by dialing up the fruit a notch (or two!) without losing any characteristics of the varieties and region.
This was the last good wine we tried. The bottle of 2007 Bastide St Dominique, Les Hesperides, Chateauneuf du Pape was “troubling” with a consensus that it was heat damaged. I returned with a brown-bagged 2003 Archery Summit, Pinot Noir, Arcus Estate, Willamette Valley. David had mentioned the Archery Summit, Arcus in a winter time conversation so I thought this would match with his 2003 theme. Let’s just say the guesses leaned towards Spanish Grenache. This massive wine bore no resemblance to Pinot Noir. While it was not an off bottle, no one drank it. Why bother when there were so many good wines to return to?
2012 Vigne Marina Coppi, Marine, Colli Tortonesi – $25
Imported by The Sorting Table. This wine is 100% Favorita. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose attracted with heavy floral aromas which were rather sexy. In the mouth the flavors were waxy with sweet fruit and lemons. There is acidity in the start with some chalk in the finish and an aftertaste that left ripe texture on the gums. If it is a little expansive in the middle then it reigns it in by the finish. *** Now.
1975 Antonio Vallana, Gattinara
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12%. Bottom-neck fill. There is a little funk and animale on the complex nose which reminds me of some 1960s Californian wines. In the mouth there is still sweet fruit, lovely acidity, and a impeccable quality of freshness. The wine is still structured leaving fine grip on the gums. The fruit mixes with floral notes before taking on a hint of tartness. **** Now but will last for ages.
1998 Contratto, Solus AD, Barbera D’Asti
Imported in a suitcase. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose evoked coffee and shoyu. In the mouth the flavors continued with coffee infused dark fruit. The wine was rounded with some density but did not overreach into sexiness. There is a roast note to the fruit, good acidity, and fine, drying tannins in the finish. *** Now – 2021.
2001 Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd. Alcohol 14%. The deep dark fruit is never ending which acts as a counterpoint to the substantial amount of tannins. As substantial as the wine is, the acidity is bound in allowing the fruitiness to be enjoyed. With additional air it takes on hints of wood. This is still young and will continue to develop for several more years. **** Now – 2026.
2003 Duclaux, Cote Rotie
Imported by Chateau & Estate. This wine is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier which were co-fermented in concrete vats then aged for roughly two years in a variety of oak casks. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is meaty with some maturity and a floral aspect pointing to Viognier. There is a substantial amount of fruit in the mouth with a lot of drying tannins. This mouth filling wine is slightly sexy. If the fruit is almost effusive at the start it takes on tart red and black notes which balance everything out. A pleasure to drink but will persist. ***(*) Now – 2021.