A few weeks back I was lucky to be a guest when Sotiris hosted his tasting group. We tasted seven wines blind of which one was a ringer. Now I could not peg that we were tasting 2000 and 1996 Bordeaux but the 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley did stick out for it is certainly different. Though the flavor is good, the structure is rather intense at this point so I suggest cellaring it for years to come.
The 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien is a particularly fine wine which you may drink now and over the coming years. From the nose to the flavor and mouth feel I could not help but to enjoy it. I thought the 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe showed well too. The nose demonstrates how it is entering a mature phase but the power and acidity will see this through for some time. As for the other bottles, the 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion is a wine to drink now whereas the 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien needs time to come into its own. Our bottle of 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves was sadly musty but the 2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage was spot on. This group loves Rhone wines so what a treat to finish up with Chave. This is a fine, impeccably balanced wine that is still very young in flavor but the saline and fat notes hint at future complexity.
1) 2000 Chateau Quinault, L’Enclos, St-Emilion
Imported by Wine Markets Intl. Alcohol 13%. A garnet hint in the glass. There are hints of maturity on the nose, ripe fruit, minerals, and Kirsch. The mature ripe start soon brings minerals but is not as expansive as I expected. There is a prominent vein of acidity, some herbaceous flavors, floral middle then less apparent acidity and spices in the finish. ***(*) Now – 2022.
2) 2000 Chateau Magdelaine, St-Emilion
Imported by Maison Marques et Domaines. Alcohol 13%. The nose is more subtle. This is a redder wine with fuzzy cranberry and red berry flavors. It has a core of sweet fruit in the middle then takes on more body, grip, and an herbaceous bit. *** Now – 2022.
3) 2000 Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julien
Imported by Bordeaux Wine Locators. Alcohol 13%. This is a dark violet garnet color with an elegant nose. There is power in the mouth which builds until the very finely textured flavors fill the mouth. It also coats the mouth with structure. Despite the strength this is an elegant wine with red fruit, minerals, and quite the aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.
4) 2001 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. There is a eucalyptus start followed by a red fruit burst with acidity. The flavor is interesting and different than the others. This is a powerful wine with very, finely coating flavor. With air flavors of blue fruit develop, warmth, and fresh grip. The very fine structure is intense and there is a bit of a rough patch with heat right before the finish. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
5) 1996 Chateau Calon Segur, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Ginday Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is fine and mature with a eucalyptus component. The wine is bright with focused flavors of red fruit that takes on a citric hint in the middle. With good power, the vein of acidity will see this wine develop for some time. A lovely wine. **** Now – 2027.
6) 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Calvert-Woodley. Alcohol 13%. There is a tough of cream to the nose. The tangy and ripe, powdery blue fruit builds grip as it leaves flavor on the gums. Powerful structure. With air the wine develops attractiveness as the components balance out. ***(*) 2020 – 2030.
7) 1996 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 13%. The musty nose makes with to a mature, mouth filling wine. The flavor is lighter, the structure is there, as is mineral and cedar box but no denying this is flawed. Too bad. Not Rated.
2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage
Imported by Langdon Shiverick. This is a tense wine with a saline note that adds complexity to the red fruit. The structure is perfectly integrated, the balanced impeccable. With air a very fine perfumed finish makes way to an aftertaste of gently coating fat. **** 2022-2032.
All of the wines were opened at the table to be drunk in any desired order. I have organized my notes in vintage order first by white then red and finally the sole Madeira. Finally, I have limited my comments to a handful of wines for brevity.
We kicked things off with the 1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne. Grand Siecle was conceived in 1955 as top cuvee to be blended from three of the very best vintages. So our bottle is a particular anomaly being from the single, outstanding 1985 vintage. The cork was firmly seated, refusing to budge, and ultimately twisted into two pieces which were then dug out. Perhaps the tightness of the cork ensures an impeccable seal for the quality of the bubbles is outstanding. This is no recent disgorgement. At best it is savory, complex, and racy.
The 1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves solicited many remarks as the bottle exuded promise. The fill was high, the color youthful, and the cork well-seated against the neck. From the last vintage before the Perrin family purchased the estate, this mostly Sauvignon Blanc based wine was fermented and raised in oak. The nose did remind me a bit of gasoline before it righted itself. With clean, floral flavors of lemon and even some weight it is in fascinating shape. It is a bit simple and short making it more of an academic reference point than quenching old wine.Moving back in time, the oldest red wine came in a squashed 66 cl bottle. The 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo is from one of the greatest Barolo vintages of the 20th century. The Reserva della Castellana represents a supposed secret stash of top wine secured behind a lock of which there was one key. Quantities of wine were released each year with the serial numbers recorded in a book. Bottle #2506 improved in the decanter. This salty, zippy wine is in the stage beyond fruit of bottle aged flavors. It is enjoyable, though not remarkable.
I suspect our bottle of 1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva does not represent the heights this wine can achieve. A bit of nail-polish and oxidation is present both on the nose and in the mouth. Beyond that, though, the wine is quite rich and savory. Time in the decanter broadens the wine. I would certainly drink this wine again.
The pair of wines from the 1969 vintage were great fun. The 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape adds to my recent experience with 1960s Chateauneuf du Pape. Unlike the examples I have tried from the 1978 vintage, this is an original release. Mont-Redon from the 1950s and 1960s are praised by Rhone lovers. John Livingstone-Learmonth found them to have strength and concentration with Robert Parker writing they were amongst the finest wines of France. During this period the wines were 80% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah.The second wine from this vintage came from California. J. Pedroncelli was founded in 1927 was John Pedroncelli planted 135 acres of vines on hillsides near Dry Creek. According to Robert Lawrence Balzer, the site reminded him of his native Lombardy. The vineyard would receive the fog that moved up the Russian River which then receded to provide sunshine. The coolness and warmth was found to make “grapes richly concentrated with flavor” when Robert L. Balzer first visited in 1975. According to Charles L. Sullivan, this was the first vineyard to be planted with Pinot Noir in Northern Sonoma after the Repeal of Prohibition.
Robert L. Balzer’s visit was prompted both by his enjoyment of the wines and the fact that they tended to place well in competitions. Nathan Chroman was chairman of a few competitions who noted the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir in California. In 1972, when Nathan Chroman tasted through 23 California Pinot Noirs, he found the 1969 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir a wine to lay down. Robert L. Balzer found the 1972 vintage in need of age as well. I doubt either of them expected the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County to be drinking with full vigor nearly 50 years later.
The Pedroncelli is a fun wine to taste with the Mont Redon. They both smell of similar age and a traditional style of winemaking. The Mont-Redon is more round, with sweet fruit whereas the Pedroncelli is vigorous and grippy with the addition of leather and animale flavors. John Winthrop Haeger offers one possibility for the longevity of the Pedroncelli, in the 1960s the Pinot Noir bottles included a hefty dose of Zinfandel.
The longevity is also, of course, due to the winemaking. This wine was made by the sons of the founder John Pedroncelli who followed the traditions and styles set by their father. It was only in 1968 that Pedroncelli purchased their first French oak barrels and began switching their old Redwood tanks to stainless steel. This was the start of the American wine boom that would see a year after year increase in vineyard acreage and number of Californian wineries. Thus the Pedroncelli marks the end of a phase and so does the Mont-Redon for the winemaking changed in the 1970s towards producing an early drinking style. After tasting these two wines I naively wonder why change?
I have become a firm believer that when a tasting of old vintages is finished with a dessert wine, it should be of similar or older age. What a treat then to have a glass of 1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira. From an excellent vintage, this is a Madeira that excels on the nose. Old Madeira fills your nose and the air around you, transporting you to a traditional period without the need to actively smell your glass.
1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. The very fine, lively bubbles are crisp, precise, and vigorous. With a bright entry, this saline and savory wine mixed baking spiced flavors with a racy body. With air the bubbles remain undiminished but the complexity comes out and the wine develops even more racy body, wrapping it all up with a mature finish. Drinking fantastically right now. **** Now – 2021.
1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves
Shipped by Alexis Lichine. Imported by Clairborne Imports. An excellent looking bottle. The light amber color defies age and matches the lemon and floral tree flavors. The wine has weight, drapes the tongue, and almost becomes racy. I think the Semillon is coming through. It is, though, a bit simple with a short finish. ** Now.
1996 Nicolas Joly, Savennieres Coulee de Serrant
Imported by The Rare Wine co. Alcohol 14%. This is a round wine with perfumed flavors of apple and mature lemon. It is round, fairly clear, and mature with a racy vigor in the finish. It seems to be all about the fabulous texture. **** Now – 2022.
2004 Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Wilson Daniels. This somewhat complex wine mixes lemon flavors with unintegrated oak. It is taut in the middle, leaning towards the acidic side of things before taking on some cream in the end. It is, perhaps, in need of time. ***(*) 2020-2025.
1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. The dark core hints at life. In the mouth this salty wine reveals how it improved with time in decanter. It is all about bottle aged flavors with tangy acidity giving a zippy personality. The mouth remains but the flavors ultimately thin out. *** Now.
1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva, Penedas
Imported by Forman Bros. Inc. Alcohol 12.65%. The color is deep. The nose offers up barnyard and some not-quite-right aromas of nail polish but is still enjoyable. Slightly oxidized in the mouth this is clearly from a rich wine. It is savory with acidity and even improved a touch in the decanter. But the oxidized hint is there and the finish is short. It is easy to imagine other examples being very good. *** Now.
1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
From a Belgian cellar. Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. A proper set of aromas which are animale. There is round, mouth filling sweet fruit with a subtle hint of Kirsch, and wood notes. The fruit resolves to be sweet strawberries. This is clearly a beautiful wine in fine shape which tightens with air. **** Now.
1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. This smells proper and of a wine-making style that no longer exists. With air this old wine smells of leather. In the mouth this is a vibrant wine with taut, grippy flavors of complex red fruit, leather, animale, and more sweetness. It has fine texture and life. Our bottle is in fine shape and capable of drinking at this level for years to come. **** Now – 2022.
1988 Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. With one of the youngest profiles this wine offers attractive, fruit driven flavors which focus in on violets. I would say it became younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1990 Chateau de Fonsalette, Syrah, Reservee, Cotes du Rhone
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines Ltd. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 14%. Ah, there is some of that Rayas character on the nose! This is a mature wine with youthful vigor. It is a little round but still possesses tannic grip. With air this exhibits spectacular body with articulate and textured flavor. The acidity is spot on as this wine enters its second, mature phase of life. After a few hours of air this is lovely. **** Now – 2022.
1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 20%. A lovely nose of moderately pungent aromas of caramel, orange, damp campfire, and hints of sweet leather. Flavors of leather mix with a focused, weighty body but the acidity builds until the finish where it becomes prominent and almost searing in the aftertaste. The aftertaste is of citric flavors and a persistent sweetness. ***(*) Now – whenever.
A few weeks ago I joined Lou for a game meat (moose, rabbit, etc) dinner party at his house. I took few pictures and even fewer notes but I did stop when I tasted the 2008 Weingut Bründlmayer, Kamptal Steinmassel Riesling. Lou purchased this bottle a few years back when he was in Vienna. Lucky me that he opened it. Bründlmayer produces this wine from a 4 hectare parcel in Steinmassel. This area was originally a quarry and that stone nature clearly comes through in the wine. This is really good stuff!
2008 Weingut Bründlmayer, Kamptal Steinmassel Riesling
This wine is 100% Riesling that was fermented in both stainless steel and large oak casks. Alcohol 12%. The nose is aromatic with fresh floral notes and a petrol hint. In the mouth this vibrant wine begins with white fruit that morphs into petrol followed by a decidedly stoney finish. There is richness to the wine but the flavors are dry with a citric, grippy finish. This is on the upslope of maturity and will only get better. **** Now – 2026.
There were other wines too. A 2002 Robert Hunter, Brut Blanc de Noir, Sonoma Valley really hit the spot. It is mature with the right amount of bubbles and brioche. Others liked it as well for the bottle was rapidly drained. The 2010 Palazzone, Orvieto Classico Superiore Campo del Guardiano is far more mature than the Bründlmayer. The acidity is more piercing with flavors of orchard fruit, dried herbs, and lychees. A solid wine in comparison. We finally had a solid bottle of 1970 La Mission Haut Brion, Graves. It was completely drinkable, not too far over the hill, but not worth writing any more about.
I really liked the 2009 Pascal Aufranc, Vieilles Vignes de 1939, Chenas. It was four years ago that I last drank this and I now believe it is fully mature. There is less strawberry and Kirsch flavor now. It leans towards an autumnal spectrum with the tannins fully integrated. We soon swung towards the modern spectrum with the 2011 Clos St Jean, Chateauneuf du Pape (16% ABV!) and 2008 Cayuse, God Only Knows, Walla Walla Valley. Both wines were double-decanted for several hours. The Clos St Jean showed rather well with plenty of grip and some complexity. But it was the Cayuse which wowed me. My best description is as if Chateau des Tours made wine in Walla Walla. Ethereal yet backed by substance, complex with no assertive structure. Great stuff. There was a bottle of 2013 El Nido, Clio, Jumilla which I did not like at all. Too modern, clean, and massive. We wrapped the evening up with a bottle of 1986 Fetzer, Port, Mendocino County. This actually bore a resemblance to a traditional Port. It was a bit simple, short, and spirituous but the flavor profile was right.
No one could remember where the bottle of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart came from. It had been in the store for at least several years. The label was in perfect shape but the ullage was 5cm down and the color was wearily light in the bottle. I bought it anyways. The 1964 vintage is still quite strong and I do not see Burgundy from the 1960s that often. I am glad that I bought the bottle for it turned out to be my favorite wine over seven other old selections.
David and I gathered at Lou’s house last week. Having acquired a number of bottles from the moving remnants cellar, I thought it would be fun to serve six of the bottles blind. After secretly cutting capsules, extracting corks, and brown bagging the wines we gathered everything up to taste outside by Lou’s pool.
The air was fresh, there were minimal clouds, and we were partially shaded by a maple tree. I had sniffed the bottle of Mommessin and did not detect anything wrong. The cork was very long, exceeding the length of my Durand. Perhaps it was impossibly long for the top of the cork had mushroomed over the lip of the bottle as if it refused to be shoved in all of the way. It was a little alarming to see but the bottle smelled proper.
I took a quick sniff and taste. I was completely excited to find that not only was the wine sound, it was very good. The color was very light but the wine was flavorful. It reminded David of old Barolo, light in color yet mouthfilling in flavor. Mommessin acquired the Clos de Tart vineyard in 1932 keeping on M. Cyrot as regisseur who was only succeeded by Alfred Seguin in 1965. Thus our bottle was produced under Cyrot’s tenure during which excellent wines were made in the 1940s and 1950s. According to Clive Coates, the wine was produced using the chapeau immerge technique. In this technique a grill is placed two-thirds of the way up the vat to prevent the cap from rising. Thus there are no punch-downs only pumping over. This apparently produces a wine of more elegance with less color and tannin extraction. It could also explain why our wine was so light in color.
I kept pouring additional wine in my glass so that I could continue to taste it. It was a lovely bottle of old Burgundy with a sense of lightness, sweet fruit flavors, and no fragility.
1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart
Imported by Capitol City Liquors Co. Alcohol 13%. It is a very pale color in the glass. The nose remained bloody and meaty through the end. In the mouth were plenty of ripe cherry and strawberry fruit that had a sweetness to it. This lively wine had a good mouthfeel, some texture, and some spice. It did not fade over three to four hours. **** Now.
After drinking a good share of the Mommessin, we not only moved on to the six blind wines but to a completely different style of red Burgundy. The bottle of 1979 Domaines Jaboulet-Vercherre, Beaune Clos de l’Ecu threw everyone into a state of confusion as to what it was. The Jaboulet-Vercherre firm has early 19th century origins in the Rhone with their expansion to Burgundy occurring a century later in the 1920s. I agree with Robert Parker agreeing with Hubrecht Duijker that the Rhone origins of the estate resulted in colorful and full bodied wines. Our bottle was certainly dark in color, dark in flavor, and remarkably well preserved. It is not a wine of finesse like the Mommessin, rather a hypothetical blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. It is a sturdy wine that will easily make age 50.
1979 Domaines Jaboulet-Vercherre, Beaune Clos de l’Ecu
Imported by Beitzell & Co. This color is quite dark with some garnet hints. The nose initially smelled of barnyard but cleaned up. In the mouth this salty wine offered full flavors of darker fruit bound seamlessly with acidity. The finish is simple and a bit short. This solid wine is age-defying. ** Now.
The first pair of Bordeaux were quite different. The 1980 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves is an attractive greenhouse infused wine both on the nose and in the mouth. It is quite lively with acidity driven flavors making it a solid wine from a very poor vintage. In contrast, the 1979 Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien is from a slightly better vintage. The wine needed some air to blow of its stink. It has an attractively taut, burst of flavor at the beginning with no hint of greenness. There is no reason to cellar the La Mission Haut Brion any further but I suspect it will not change much in case you do. The Beychevelle should be drunk up. Perhaps double-decant off the sediment then drink with your friends.
1980 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves
Shipped by Vignobles Internationaux. Imported by Julius Wile Sons & Co. Alcohol 12%. The initial greenhouse aromas are followed by finely scented aromas and even an animale note. The acidity driven red fruit takes on green pepper then red grapefruit flavors. There are minimal tannins at this point but the wine is still very lively. ** Now.
1979 Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co. Alcohol 12.2%. The nose is a bit subtle with initial dirty aromas blowing off to reveal deep aromas of Old Bay seasoning and wood box. There is a taut burst of flavor in this savory wine. It is initially a touch thin in flavor with some fine, bitter tannins. But with air the wine subtly expands through the moderate finish and old-school flavored aftertaste. ** Now.
The pair of 1978s offered a marked improvement in quality. The 1978 Chateau Trotte Vieille, Saint-Emilion has many attractive qualities from coffee aromas, racy, savory flavors, and a good reaction with air. It is a good, mature wine. The estate had changed hands in 1949 and David Peppercorn writes that the wines of the 1950s and 1960s were quite good but then they became largely disappointing. So it appears we were fortunate. There is clearly more vigor and strength in the 1978 Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, Graves. This is a second wine of Chateau Haut-Brion. Originally a non-vintage wine, Bahans Haut-Brion was sold exclusively to the Bordeaux market. In 1976 a vintage version was released as well. The non-vintage production was discontinued in 1982. So this wine was produced during a brief period when there were two second wines! I liked this bottle too. Both of these wines held up well to extended air.
1978 Chateau Trotte Vieille, Saint-Emilion
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons. Alcohol 12%. The older smelling nose cleans up to reveal coffee and caramel aromas. The wine starts with an animale hint. This racy, savory wine is quite tasty and fully mature. It responds well to air with a little ink, firmness, and good acidity. Nice wine. *** Now.
1978 Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, Graves
Shipped by Nathaniel Johnston & Fils. Imported by Forman Brothers. Alcohol 11.5%. This is an interesting old-school wine that is clearly quite vigorous with earthy flavors. The blend of fruit, acidity, and tannins makes for a lively, good wine that coats the gums with bits of sweet fruit in the aftertaste. *** Now.
I knew the 1974 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves. was doomed when I cut of the top of the perfect capsule to find a depressed cork covered by gobs of fluffy white mold. As I pulled the cork out the sides appeared muddy, which is a sign of cork failure. The final quarter-inch looked fine but was not enough of a bastion. I was looking forward to this wine because 1974 is a miserable vintage. However, Haut Brion harvested the grapes before the rains started and reportedly made an excellent wine. Lou brought out a bottle of 1970 Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, Saint-Emilion which coincided with the grilling of some lamb. The bottle had some melted crayon or rubber on it but the insides turned out fine. The wine was a touch smelly at first but started to clean up and become more expressive. I meant to give it enough air before taking a note but alas I forgot to take a note! I did not forget to have another glass of the 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart which was still just as good as when opened.
1974 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves.
Shipped by Barton & Gustier. Imported by Chateau & Estate Wines Co. Alcohol 12%. Bad bottle. Not Rated.
1970 Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, Saint-Emilion
Shipped by Solter, Schneider & Co. Imported by Consolidated Distilled Products. Alcohol 11% to 14%. Oops, no note!
“Customary Before Prohibition”: Moving back in time with food and drink through the Picayune Creole Cook Book
As I have previously described in my wine cookery posts the post-Prohibition years in America saw the rise of recipes where wine is an ingredient. These recipes appeared in both newspaper articles and cook books. There were indeed several books dedicated solely to wine cookery but other well-established cook books were updated to include sections or simply recipes involving wine. One such cookbook is the Picayune Creole Cook Book.
The Times-Picayune is a newspaper which originated during 1837 in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1900, the paper published their first edition of the Creole cookbook. A number of editions were published over the last century introducing new formatting and additional recipes. The sixth and seventh editions, published during Prohibition, do not contain any recipes that require wine or liquor for both food dishes and drinks.
Back in December, I was showing my wine cookery books to my friend Sudip as part of our general discussion about the history of cookery books. Sudip loves to cook and in his exploration of Creole and Cajun cooking he purchased a facsimile of the 1901 second edition of the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book. We quickly decided it would be fun to cook a few recipes involving wine so I purchased the ninth edition published in 1942. Titled The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book the title page notes that it was Reprinted from the Fifth Edition, Containing Recipes Using Wines and Liquors Customary Before Prohibition. As this edition is, in effect, a restoration of original recipes with wine, there is no wine cookery chapter nor wine specific indexing. Instead the wine inclusive food recipes are integrated throughout. The wine and liquor based drinks appear in the chapter “Domestic Wines, Cordials, Drinks”. Here you may find Moselle Cup, Elixir of Violets, and Louisiana Orange Wine.
Sudip and I coordinated our menu which we prepared at my house. We could not just jump straight into cooking so we started with a bowl of Ponche au Vin de Champagne a la Creole or Champagne Punch a la Creole. I made sure to include good wine in the form of The Rare Wine Co, Les Mesnil, Champagne and Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao. The punch was pretty good. With added sparkle from seltzer water the sweetness from the shaved pineapple and strawberry slices were balanced out by the lemon juice. It was a rich punch so after two small glasses it was time for Sudip and I to move into the kitchen.
The punch recipe and indeed everything else we picked pre-date Prohibition. Thus we were not looking at a new post-Prohibition flavor profile, instead we went straight back more than 100 years. My ninth edition notes that some recipes may be made without wine, as even some Creole cooks object to wine, but for other recipes it is essential. This includes our venison and chicken dishes for “the success of the dish depends greatly upon the flavoring given by a small addition of wine.” That is about the extent of the discussion on wine in food.
Our menu consisted of Gumbo aux Huitres (Oyster Gumbo), Supreme de Volaille a la Reine (Breast of Chicken, Queen Style), and Salmi de Chevreuil a la Creole (Stewed Venison a la Creole). These dishes were accompanied by macaroni with cheese and roasted carrots. The chicken and venison dishes both include wine. I picked the chicken recipe because the breasts are stuffed with quenelles (forcemeat) and mushrooms then simmered in Madeira. Likewise the Venison is stewed in Claret.
We continued the use of good beverages that day by using Blandy’s 15 year old Malmsey for the chicken and 2008 Domaine de la Solitude, Pessac-Leognan for the venison. The later was a tasty wine, already taking on a firm, mature profile. If I faulted the wine it would be for a lack of weight. Regardless, we all practically finished the bottle while cooking. In keeping with the menu suggestions in the cookbook we should have started with a Sauternes but with punch and four bottles of wine already selected for the evening, adding one more bottle would have done the four of us in!
The Oyster Gumbo, made without wine, calls for a tremendous volume of oyster liquor. Quarts of it in fact. We wonder if the fresh oysters were kept at home in water due to a lack of ice or refrigeration. In that case the home cook would have access to as much oyster liquor as needed. We drank this with our white wine being the 2008 Varner, Chardonnay, Home Block, Spring Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Lou introduced me to Varner many years ago with the 2008 vintage. Based on his recent experience I opened this bottle which was drinking perfectly. Though you get the butterscotch and pineapple flavors the wine remains flavorful rather than overbearing in any sense.
The Chicken Queen Style requires chicken breasts to be stuffed with a chicken forcemeat and mushroom mixture. On top of the breast is place the fillet. The whole piece is then basted with melted button, sauteed on the bottom then cooked for 15 minutes in Madeira with a lid on the skillet. Our chicken breasts were rather large so did not complete in time. Perhaps chicken breasts were smaller back then. I have noticed a number of wine cookery books utilize Madeira for flavoring. I find this fascinating as Madeira was no longer the wine of choice in America during the 1900s. Perhaps it is a holdover from the last great Madeira decades of the mid to late 19th century when it was still widely drunk.
The Stewed Venison Creole style reminded me exactly of boeuf bourguignon. It is essentially the same recipe but with venison. Which is not surprising given this is a Creole recipe. Sudip found that after the recommended 45 minutes it was still very liquidy so he doubled the cooking time to reduce it. I should add that Sudip used fresh mushrooms instead of the canned mushrooms despite the claim that “This dish will be improved beyond estimation if a can of mushrooms is added”.
With the chicken and venison we drank two mature red wines. The NV (1960s) Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast Counties turned out to be a cleaner version of the magnum of NV Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 271, North Coast Counties which I opened in November. It had an old school, sweet red wood profile with only some funk. A solid enough wine which remained drinkable for a few days. The 1974 Veedercrest Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Batch 2, Cask YUG 77, Sonoma County proved to be the best bottle I have yet opened of this wine. It sported fresh and clean red fruit with supporting leather. Whereas the Sebastiani leaned towards the funky spectrum, the Veedercrest was an elegant example of Petite Sirah that many would enjoy.
It was all great fun and you can be assured that another dinner will be in the works.
2008 Varner, Chardonnay, Home Block, Spring Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Alcohol 14.3%. The rich nose yielded aromas of butterscotch and yellow fruits. In the mouth the wine was still fresh and drinking very well. There were butterscotch flavors that mixed with pineapple and some toast. All of this was delivered with weight. Best on the first night. **** Now – 2017.
2008 Domaine de la Solitude, Pessac-Leognan – $25
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose reveals hints of maturity. In the mouth the red and black fruit mixed with leather and watering acidity. The wine is firm with apparent structure. It is actually rather tasty but could stand to have more fruit weight. It eventually took on some licorice and mature notes in the mouth. *** Now but will last.
NV (1960s) Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast Counties
Alcohol 12.5%. There were sweet, old smells on the nose. In the mouth were old school flavors, sweet red wood, and roasted earth by the finish. The flavors were clean but certainly different. With air the firm cherry fruit took on some foxy notes. ** Now but will last for quite some time.
1974 Veedercrest Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Batch 2, Cask YUG 77, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12.5%. The tart red fruit was very clean with hints of leather and some old school notes. There were minimal, fine tannins, a citric finish, and decent aftertaste. Still fresh *** Now.
Drinking old Bordeaux from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s is a complex game for you cannot predict the quality of the wine based on vintage and chateau alone. This period saw not only significant changes in technology but estates also changed ownership with vineyards subsequently reconstructed and replanted. As a result, I find reading about the history of these wines adds depth to the experience of drinking them. It also extends the period during which I think about the wines. Before I could think about Bordeaux, Lou and I tucked into a pair of white wines. Even after being open for three days, the 2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault proved it needs a few more years in the cellar. I found the oak supportive of the tart, grippy lemon flavors. On the other hand, the 1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley shows gobs of oak without enough interesting flavors.
2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault –
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is 100% Chardonnay that was aged for 18 months in oak barrels. Alcohol ?%. The aromas already bore complexity and were supported by oak. In the mouth the wine was fresh, tart and grippy with spot-on lemon flavors, good acidity, and some raciness. The structure is clearly supportive for development. *** 2014-2022.
1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley –
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented and aged in oak. Alcohol ?% The nose was a bit stinky with sweet and heavy aromas of oak. The flavors were soft and creamy with just enough acidity to prevent flabbiness. With an eye towards mouthfeel, the matching tropical flavors eventually leaned towards fresher, weighty lemons. With notes of wood and old wine, this was ultimately a survivor. Not my type of wine. * Now.
I expected the 1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux to be dead and despite Mark Wessel’s (MacArthur Beverages) warnings of volatility, I still expected the 1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves to be drinkable. Lou selected the as 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe a backup bottle which I prejudged as an apt replacement for the Giscours. The corks for the Giscours and La Mission Haut Brion were in fine form and of good aroma. A quick sniff of the Giscours surprisingly revealed sweet fruit, “jammy” as Lou described, that was attractive and indicated the wine was very much in good shape. On the other hand, the La Mission Haut Brion was volatile and as reflected in Lou’s facial expressions, not worth drinking. Up came the Montrose from the cellar and out came the cork. There was somewhat troubling mold encased down the top sides of the cork but the bottom smelled fine. Lou poured the Montrose and we both immediately commented on the relatively youthful, and certainly dark color of the wine.
Bottles of 1970 La Mission Haut Brion, and indeed the vintages surrounding it, are known to be marked by volatile acidity. The explanation lies within Clive Coates’ Grands Vins (1995). Frederic Woltner bought the estate in 1919 and upon his death, his son Henri Woltner took over running things. The Woltner’s were remarkably progressive, having installed stainless steel tanks in the 1920s and 1950s (from a brewery none the less). This enthusiasm for the wine seems to have faded during Henri Woltner’s final years before his death in 1974. It is this period, particularly from 1967 to 1974 that Clive Coates details as one of a “lack of supervision” with the wines suffering from “an excess of volatile acidity.” The famed oenologist Professor Emile Peynaud was brought in as a consultant in 1974 and the wines subsequently improved. Needless to write, our bottle of the 1970 vintage, represented this slump in full force. As a replacement we drank a lovely bottle of 1964 Chateau Montrose. You may read about the history of this youthful wine in my post “Picked before the rain”: the 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe.
While the 1970 La Mission Haut Brion lived up to its reputation I think the 1961 Giscours somewhat exceeded it. Once described by Michael Broadbent as “Not highly recommended”, notes of this wine by the major writers are noticeably absent from such books as David Peppercorn’s Bordeaux (1991). Chateau Giscours was acquired by Nicolas Tari in 1954. Nicolas Tari was an experienced winemaker from Algeria who set about reconstructing and replanting the vineyards. When he started purchasing the estate in 1947, only 7 of the 80 hectares were planted with vines. Thus the 1961 vintage was produced from young vines. The most recent significant note on this wine comes from Clive Coates. From a tasting in 2003, he describes the “Rich, aromatic, quite concentrated nose” as well as “no great complexity or distinction” in flavor. As far as our bottle relates, he is spot on!
1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux –
Unknown shipper and importer. The attractive nose bore sweaty, low-lying aromas of sweet and dark fruit. At first, the wine shows weight that matches the nose but after an hour it starts to thin out by the finish. The initial flavors of tart red fruit and hints of dark, earthy flavors take on older flavors that echo in the mouth. As leather notes develop there is a bit of a grip at the back of the mouth and even some tart, strawberry flavors in the end. *** for the nose alone but overall ** Now.
1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves –
Unknown shipper and importer. Top-shoulder fill. Old and foxy on the nose and certainly not worth drinking. With air the wine developed sweet fruit flavors that could not overpower the volatility. Not Rated.
1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe –
Shipped by Pierre Cartier & Fils. Imported by Monsieur Henri Wines. Alcohol 12%. Mid-shoulder fill. A beautiful wine in the glass with a dark and youthful core of color. Both the nose and the mouth exhibit firm, cherry red fruit, and hard, watering acidity. The wine is not terribly complex, instead it offers pure fruit flavors that are both beautiful and elegant. *** Now 2030.
When sorting through old bottles of wine I first reject those with the lowest fill, sick color, depressed or extended corks, and signs of seepage. I then gently check that the cork is firm by pushing on the top of the capsule. Sometimes a bit of liquid comes out from old seepage and other times the cork shifts under the slightest pressure. So it was to my surprise that this first bottle of 1969 Domaine Duchet, Beaune Bressandes revealed a thick crust of dried mold that shifted with any pressure from the worm of my Durand. I think the top of the capsule was firm enough to trick me. Needless to write the wine was a disgusting mess. That is a shame as 1969 is considered the finest vintage of the period according to Michael Broadbent. According to Robert Parker, the Duchet holdings were put together in the 1940s. In the 1960s Monsieur Duchet was estate bottling half of his wine with the intention of selling it direct to client. However, this one-time mayor of Beaune became busy with politics and never sold the wine. Robert Haas discovered this cache of wine in the 1980s and imported it into America. Thirty years later that labels are still in perfect shape.
As for the drinkable wines, the 1985 Domaine du Clos des Epeneaux, Pommard 1er Cru Clos Des Epeneaux Monopole showed great promise at first. Though initially in clear need of air, it had good power, a youthful profile, and attractive minerals. In my mind it was going to be better than the 1971 Chateau Haut-Bailly, Graves which was in very good shape. The cork is the cleanest one to date. The Clos des Epeneaux oscillated in behavior and never settled down. The Haut-Bailly, on the other hand continued to develop with air. The last glass was the best, worthy of three stars. I am beginning to believe that the old Bordeaux from this cellar need to be decanted and aired out for 30 to 60 minutes. They have thrown so much sediment that this will yield an extra glass of wine. The wine will also drink better, albeit for a shorter window, so make sure your partner or a friend is around. These wines were purchased as MacArthur Beverages.
1969 Domaine Duchet, Beaune Bressandes
Imported by Vineyard Brands. A bad bottle!
1985 Domaine du Clos des Epeneaux, Pommard 1er Cru Clos Des Epeneaux Monopole
Shipped by Cannan & Wasserman. Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co. Alcohol 11-14%. The nose turned after one hour offering up strange aromas. In the mouth there were still hints of ripeness, tart flavors, and eventually hints of wood. The wine was generally nice in the mouth with supportive structure. It oscillated between citric flavors and ripe fruit. In summary, this was young at first, pretty at times, and showed depth at other times. **(*) Now-2025.
1971 Chateau Haut-Bailly, Graves
Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co. Alcohol 12%. There were fresh evergreen aromas at first then darker and dusty notes. The mouth was fresh in the front with some initial weight, grip, and juicy acidity. With air the wine fleshed out, ultimately taking on dark red fruit, some Big Red flavors, and cherries. The wine was expansive with juicy body, and an ethereal finish that left texture on the gums. The aftertaste even brought a hint of vanilla. **/*** Now.