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
Phil Bernstein, who works at MacArthur Beverages, is literally within arms reach of amazing wines on a daily basis. In this post he writes about two occassions where he tasted special wines from the 1978 and 1990 vintages.
Aaron asked me to write up my favorites and 2016-and it’s a tough assignment as I’m lucky enough to taste quite a few wines both at work and with friends throughout the year. I’ve narrowed it down to two, but I have loads of honorable mentions! While the two below are in the “fine and rare” category, I still get just as excited to find amazing values in the sub $20 category. It’s a great time to be a wine consumer as there are tons of these out there…but that’s a post for another day (or come see me in the store and I’ll sell you some!)
The first ones are a “no brainer”. I was lucky enough to join my boss, Mark and a long time customer for a casual get together on a Monday night at Fiola. This particular customer has been a long time collector and has a great cellar full of gems mostly from Bordeaux and Rhone. He suggested a theme of drinking the 1978 and 1990 Hermitage la Chapelle from Jaboulet side by side. A once in a lifetime opportunity for sure!
Both wines were fantastic with the 1978 being one of the best reds I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Smoky, with notes of plum it was pure velvet on the palate. A seamless wine that just kept getting better and better. It still has loads of life left as well. The 1990 may end up being even better, but in comparison to the 1978 it seemed like an infant! If I was lucky enough to own this wine, I’d probably wait a few years before opening it. Both of these wines have that special, almost intangible pedigree to them – similar to top notch Burgundy and First Growth Bordeaux. They go beyond “great Syrah” and when drinking, you are sucked into that “special wine” vortex that I’m sure many of you have experienced.
Next up is the 1990 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. I was lucky enough to be invited to the house of a different customer who also has been a long time German wine collector to a tasting of 1990 Germans. We had many superb wines that night, but this was far and away the stand out for me. Nice crisp acidity (a hallmark of this vintage) and loads of green apple fruit and a finish that had to last 5 minutes. Just amazing stuff. There is nothing better than mature Riesling when it’s in a good spot, and I continue to be amazed at how well JJ Prum wines age.
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!
At the end of October I was fortunate to attend an Italian tasting largely focused in on the wines of Bruno Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. No tasting of Barolo should be without a mature example and this one began with a very fine 1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo. Double-decanted midday it continued to slowly develop in the glass. I can only write that I love the aroma and flavor of this type of wine. Also with attractive maturity, the 1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti is meatier and earthier but leaves the impression of being tired.
The youthful white-labeled pair of 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive and 1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive did not prepare me for the outstanding red-labels. At 20 years of age the 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili is beginning to move past its youthful stage. It is a powerful, intense wine which never takes away from the beautiful flavors. Younger in age and profile, the 2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja promises a great future. There are primary aromas and flavors right now but everything is in place for slow development.
Completely different in nature the 1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino, with moderate concentration and complexity, acted as a segway to the outstanding 2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino. This is a highly refined, ethereally flavored wine which fills the mouth. With air it fleshes out to provide seamless pleasure. What a tasting!
1980 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. Looks like a copper-orange wine. There is a complex nose which is a touch maderized. In the mouth is focused, driven flavors that are quite lively and even sport some body but the wine is clearly not correct. Not Rated.
2010 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes
Imported by Wilson Daniels. Alcohol 13.5%. The flint aromas make the nose stand out. In the mouth the precise, lemon fruit mixes with flint and smoke. This is a persistent, tart wine with lime flavors and a long, finely textured finish. Impressive now. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Domaine des Croix, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman selection imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is a touch earthy and lactic. A significantly rounder body is backed by glycerin. Flavors of lemon and lime take on subtle baking spices. It improves with air, filling the mouth with flavors and the sensation of an oily, luxurious body. ***(*) Now – 2021.
2010 Lucien Le Moine, Corton Blanc Grand Cru
Imported by Barrel One Selections. This is aromatic with sweet fruit and floral spices. The tart start is focused yet offers weight. It is almost puckering with a wood hint, floral flavors throughout, and smoke in the finish. It is almost spicy. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Etienne Sauzet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Vineyard Brands. A slight darker color hints at the inevitable. Shame!
1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo
Imported by suitcase. The nose is subtly smokey. In the mouth are lively, fresh flavors that are initially linear and focused but expand by the finish. There is bottle aged complexity as this wine is beyond fruit. I like the blend of old leather and weighty, animale flavors that develop with air. ****(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. The meaty nose is good and opens up a bit with air. In the mouth this is grippy with tart red fruit, and an animale nature. It builds subtle ripeness but is ultimately leaner and not as flavorful. *** Now.
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 14%. The fruitier nose is attractive with complex bitters-like aroma. This grippy wine starts with dry tannins and young fruit but it has very attractive grip, long taste, and a haunting personality. ***(*) Now-2031.
1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 13.5%. The darker nose is more subtle. This is a rounder wine with less acidity and tannins, despite its youthful flavor. It shows more balance at this time. The complex red and black fruit are supported by some firm, underlying structure. ***(*) Now – 2026.
2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja
Imported by Wine Cellars. Alcohol 14%. The aromas step out of the glass, primarily exuding violets. This is very young in the mouth, powerful with very fine tannins. A core of blackberry fruit comes out. This clearly has a strong future ahead. ****(*) Now – 2036
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili
Imported by Premier Cru. Alcohol 14%. The nose is concentrated and strong with fruity aromas of licorice. The rounded start is powerful with intense structure and fine, grippy tannins. The flavor, though, is undeniably beautify with density, and some bacon fat. The liquidity of the wine is bound with the acidity. ****(*) Now – 2031.
1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14%. The flavors are of lighter berries and almost roast earth. The wine remains firm with fine, strong tannins. There is structure to last but the flavor concentration does not seem to be there. **** Now – 2026.
2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. The young grapey nose makes way to a smooth entry of mouth filling, black, ethereal flavors. The power of this wine builds with time becoming fleshier too. Lovely and very classy. ****(*) Now – 2026.
2012 Donnhoff, Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein, Nahe
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 7.5%. This, bright, electric wine is noticeable for its residual sugar and almost effervescent sensation on the tongue. The spices soon mix with sweet grapefruit and sugar. Young and a bit hard to drink at this stage. **** 2026-2046.
2002 Alois Kracher, Scheurebe Trockenbeeren Auslese #6 Zwischen den Seen, Neusiedlersee
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 8.5%. Like liquid amber, this aromatic wine is lovely with an apricot hint that is more fresh than dried. It adds baking spices and cinnamon. Weighty with good integration of sweetness. **** Now – 2026.
David Bloch uses the Pungo so he can drink a wide variety of wines every day of the week. Here is one recent selection.
2015 Domaine de Fonsainte, Gris de Gris, Corbieres
An annual purchase from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. The wine performs so well every vintage. This year’s bottling is as impressive as ever. Apple, pear, minerals and melon. Not a bruiser but flavor-packed and food friendly.
2012 Von Hövel, Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Great nose. Almost a real Saar Kabinett. Bitter almond. Cream. Lemon tart. An extremely well-balanced wine – plenty of ripe fruit with a nice streak of acid and minerals. Really long. A baby with a long life ahead.
2000 Fratelli Revello, Barolo Vigna Giachini
Really nice wine. Mature. Floral and sweet even. On the red fruit spectrum. Oddly, day two found a very tannic wine that wasn’t nearly as good as day one. Therein lies the unpredictable nature of Nebbiolo.
2010 Domaine les Grands Bois, Rasteau Cuvée Marc
On the large size, the tannins have integrated and the wine is a big mouthful of the Southern Rhone. Black fruited – I think the Mourvedre really pushes forward while it only accounts for a minority of the cepage. Spices. A tad overdone perhaps? I suspect the wine may have needed more time to mellow. Good with beef.
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.
This past Friday we gathered at my house to taste a vertical of seven Diamond Creek wines from 1994 back to 1978. It is only natural to taste more wine than what we gathered for. So with mixed results we tasted some aged bubbly while we waited for everyone to arrive. We then sat down at the dining room table to work through four blind mature wines of the California and Bordeaux nature. Following the Diamond Creek vertical and dinner, we wrapped the evening up with some interesting dessert wines.
The Sparkling Flight
I rarely notice old bottles of Californian sparkling wine for sale. While there could be a reason for this, Lou and I were sure to snatch up a bottle each from the Earthquake Cellar. Only the 1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County turned out to be mature and completely drinkable. The fruit is mature with added complexity from baking spices. The bubbles are starting to dissipate so I would drink this up. Unfortunately, no amount of sparkle could resurrect the past-prime flavors of the 1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine. To compensate I opened my second bottle of NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne (1970s release) hoping that this one would have bubbles. It didn’t. Despite the better looking bottle, the cork was saturated with fuzzy gray mold which did not bode well for what was inside.
1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County
The mature and reasonably attractive nose revealed orchard fruit, some brioche, and baking spice. In the mouth, the creamy and nutty start mixed with moderate bubbles that dissipated by the finish. Fully mature. ** Now.
1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine, Carneros
This smells old with plenty of apple orchard flavors. In the mouth are ample amounts of aggressive, fine bubbles that yield a youthful framework for the wine. Unfortunately, the flavors are old and short. Not Rated.
NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne Brut (1970s release)
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Completely flat with aromas and flavors of a white wine way past its prime. Not Rated.
The Blind Flight
We kicked off the red wines by tasting a blind flight at the dining room table. I knew what the first wines were, but having only tasted one upon decanting, it was fun none the less. The 1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley is destined for a long life. The nose is young, the fruit dark and in balance with the structure and acidity. The wine is linear and firm, never giving up its flavor. I believe there was a general consensus this was old California. It will last but I do not see it improving. The 1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tasted on the light and thin side when first decanted. An hour of air only benefited the bottle for it offered up attractive aromas and flavors of sweet, mature fruit. I like Palmer and this bottle of 1975 delivered all I could hope for from this vintage. Most people thought this was old Bordeaux. The 1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley was a flawed bottle. I could work my way around the nose but in the mouth the brief, hopeful start soon turned coarse. Impossible to say what this was blind. Finally, the 1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc threw me and others for a loop. We soon knew the last two wines were from the same vintage but this did not help in any way. The coffee and chocolate aromas had me leaning towards California but the flavors towards Bordeaux. The wine turned out to be quite youthful with plenty of strength. A good wine but not as seductive as the Palmer.
1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley
This smells young with cherry fruit. The flavors are a bit linear becoming darker and blacker as the wine firms up towards the middle. It is salty and savory with a structure of fine tannins woven throughout. It does show some mature flavors in the middle before finishing up with salivating acidity. ** Now but will last.
1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Shipped by Caves Robert Michelle. Imported by Parliament Import. Alcohol 11% – 14%. There is a good, mature nose of sweet old fruit with a hint of musk. The sweet fruit fills the mouth in a gentle way. There is a touch of fat with structure still present through the end. It is a lighter wine, with attractive flavors, some bacon, and a sappy finish. Drinking great right now. *** Now.
1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. Strong aromas of VA on the nose. In the mouth is a brief bit of fresh, young flavors before the coarseness came out. Shame. Not Rated.
1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc
The aromas of coffee and chocolate had me on the fence about being from Bordeaux. In the mouth this finely textured wine had a cedar hint before savory, weighty flavors came out. There is good acidity. The wine became even more youthful with air, showing dark fruit, and lurking power. The finish was savory and a bit electric. Needs more time? *** Now – 2021.
The Diamond Creek Flights
Anyone with interest in Diamond Creek Vineyards should read the transcript of Carole Hicke’s interview of Albert Brounstein in 1998. In fact, the entire Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series is great fun. Diamond Creek Vineyards became California’s first all Cabernet Sauvignon winery when the 79 acre property was purchased in 1967. Al Brounstein wanted to make the best possible wine from Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the more uneven Zinfandel. He interacted a lot with Ridge Vineyards in those early days before Paul Draper.
The Diamond Creek vineyards were promptly planted in 1968. Al Brounstein wanted to plant vines from France, but UC Davis said they would quarantine them for six years before they could be released. Al Brounstein did not want to wait and he wanted the best cuttings possible so he approached the great First Growths of Bordeaux. The cuttings went from France to Mexico City then up to Tijuana then over to Rosarita Beach. Here Al Brounstein would fly them back up to his vineyard in his private plane.
The Bordeaux estates from which the cuttings came from are not revealed in the interview. There is a cryptic clue however, “even though I’m going to tell you three names out of the five, of which two may or may not be included…I’m not revealing any names”. He goes on to mention Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, and Chateau Latour.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties were planted as a field blend for this practice is what Al Brounstein observed during his vineyard visits in Europe. The vineyards were first planted with 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. In the early 1970s he began to replace dead or damaged vines with Cabernet Franc, eventually coming to 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc distribution. Wine was first produced with the 1971 vintage. All of the 1971 vintage, except for the one case which was drunk, was used to top off the casks of the first commercial vintage of 1972.
There were three original vineyards: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace, and Volcanic Hill. The Gravelly Meadow lies on a prehistoric river bed which drains rapidly forcing the vines to search for water. It is the second coolest microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 7 acre Red Rock Terrace faces north with red tinted soil from high iron content. It has a warm microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 8 acre Volcanic Hill faces south where it lies on volcanic soils, producing what is considered the biggest wine of the three. It was equated to Chateau Latour.
Wines from these three vineyards are what we tasted. They have always been produced with an eye towards slow development which came out in the young vintages. The modern 1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is young and densely packed. Though it will develop for quite some time, it is surprisingly accessible with plenty of fruit. In contrast, the 1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley which also show great future potential, is a more savory wine with less fruit weight and quite attractive in its youth.
The 1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley gave the first taste of an old-school Californian wine. It is attractively sweaty with more restraint and structure. It will drink well for sometime and might even improve. It certainly set the stage for the final pair from 1978. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley is livelier with brighter, red fruit, lively acidity, and very fine tannins. In contrast the 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is deeper and darker in flavor, slowly unfurling its power which takes grip on your mouth. It was my favorite red wine of the night. I really enjoy this type of wine and all I wanted to do is drink it.
1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The red fruit slowly builds intensity, taking on licorice as well. The wine is quite fruity, packing in a lot of unique flavor, but is also rather young with fine tannins. With this savory flavor, the wine maintains a dense core of fruit that is clean and thick. **** Now – 2031.
1992 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Corked! Not Rated.
1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The sweaty nose is dark and aromatic. In the mouth are savory, mouthfilling flavors framed by structure and watering acidity. This wine is on the upslope of development. With air the red and black fruit is lighter in weight making the fine structure noticeable. The flavorful finish is followed by an aftertaste of dark roast and soil. ***(*) Now – 2031
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Off bottle! Not Rated.
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is sweaty and dark, not showing the intensity of the 1978s. The mature flavors exist in a touch more structure with fine tannins and a sweaty finish. It shows a good balance between fruit, structure, and acidity. With air there are mature flavors of cherry mixed with dry spices, salivating to juicy acidity and very fine tannins. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is more subtle but deeper with a crayon hint. The red fruit is balanced by acidity making this more accessible. The fruit flavors are bright but backed by depth and delivered in a lively, mature manner. There is good balance with the acidity seamlessly bound in, matching the structure. It wraps up with fine flavors of clean red fruit and a wood box hint. **** Now but will last.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is a touch earthy. In the mouth the darker fruit is rich with grip, steadily expanding in the mouth. The fresh and tart structure is left on the gum as some sweet, not quite grainy fruit, persists through the aftertaste. **** Now but will last.
The Dessert Flight
There were four dessert wines opened. The first two in full-bottles were served blind and the last two, in halves, were from Canada. There is little in print with regards to 1976 Hermann Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Despite the greatness of Bernkastel wines, the von Schorlemer family is not mentioned in Andre Simon’s and S. F. Halgarten’s The Great Wines of Germany (1963), Frank Schoomaker’s Encyclopedia of Wine (1965), nor Ian Jamieson’s German Wines (1991). There are a handful of advertisements for von Schorlemer wines in the late 1960s, usually featuring other offerings of Alexis Lichine. Fortunately, Phil reached out to Johannes Selbach who promptly responded. The von Schorlemer is a noble family that owned some of the best vineyard of the Mittelmosel which were highly regarded before World War 1. They were still a top estate in the 1960s. It sounds like interests changed so a large holdings of vineyards were sold off in 1969 which marked the slow decline of the estate. Our bottle was in perfect condition with a supremely beautiful color. Michael Broadbent rates the vintage four out of five stars noting it was a “supremely rich vintage”. With aromas of apricots and baking spices the sweet peach flavors were sported along by watering acidity. If you happen to have a bottle I would consider drinking it. The finish was a touch short but the wine resurrected itself with a very long aftertaste. I freely admit I had no clue what the 1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume was. It was not as mature in color as the von Schorlemer and much younger in the mouth. It needs time in bottle but you simply must love the fat and electric acidity that carries the residual sugar down your throat.
1976 Herman Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor. Alcohol 10%. This golden colored wine smells of apricots, cream, and baking spices. There are flavors of textured sweet peach with watering acidity. The intensity of the flavors fall off in the finish only to return in the incredibly long aftertaste. **** Now.
1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Shipped by Bertrand Bordeaux. Imported by Prestige Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Though lighter than the 1976 Riesling, the color suggests maturity. In the mouth is a very sweet start with fat, lots of sugar, and almost electric acidity. **** Now – 2046.