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Solving the Mystery of the Inglenook Cabinet Port

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

In my post The Mysterious Inglenook Cabinet Port I looked into the pre-Prohibition years of Inglenook and Cabinet wines.  It was certainly fascinating but it did not bring me any closer to solving the mystery of the Cabinet Port.  I circled back to the bottle itself.  The label stated net contents as “750 mL.” At the bottom of the glass bottle the net contents appeared as both milliliters and fluid ounces.  In 1977 a law was passed requiring the American wine industry to use metric bottle sizes. It went in to effect a the beginning of 1979.  From what I understand, if the metric standard was being followed then the bottle could additionally list contents as fluid ounces.

Workers gather the harvest in 1893, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

Workers gather the harvest in 1893, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

In my mind the label was from 1979 or later.  But what about the the bottle and its contents?  Could the bottle have been produced and the wine bottled in the 1960s or 1970s before the metric requirement?  I started another thread on Wineberserkers with regards to net contents.  I have empty Martini magnums from 1964 and 1966 with  gallon units on the glass bottles.  A bottle of 1974 Veedercrest has both milliliters and fluid ounces.  Merril Lindquist stated her 1968 Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley was imprinted with 4/5 Quart four times around the base.  This pointed to the port being bottled in 1969 or later.

Old Cabinet Riesling Label, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

Old Cabinet Riesling Label, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

This helped narrow down the range of vintages but certainly did not reveal which one.  In fact, I still did not know if this was indeed a port from a single vintage.  As such it could be a vintage , late bottled vintage, or multi-year crusted port.  The flavor of the port clearly bore the hallmarks of oak aging but not to the extent of a tawny port.  If I gave it a range of one to six years in barrel the base vintage for the port could be as early as the late 1960s through the 1970s.  At the time I was still convinced this bottle was from 1978 or earlier.  The 1979 vintage was the centennial of Inglenook and all of the labels I had seen were designated “Centennial.”  Also the labels radically changed towards the modern in 1980.

John Daniel Jr in 1945, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

John Daniel Jr in 1945, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

I returned to Google searching for post-Prohibition accounts of Inglenook port and Cabinet wines.  In 1938 The Wine and Food Society partook of Inglenook Cabinet Sherry along with 1907 Inlgenook California Sauternes.  The San Jose News reported in January of 1941 that at An All-California Dinner, “Preceeding the dinner proper we convened in the buffer room with glasses of excellent Inglenook cabinet sherry in one hand.”  In 1943 we find House & Garden mention the Cabinet Sherry yet again but this time there is also a Ruby Port.  In 1948 Robert Lawrence Balzer romantically writes, “It was a perfect time to get lost.  Mellow with the Cabinet Sherry we had shared with John Daniel at Inglenook, time had no meaning.”  And more recently in 1971 Robert Lawrence Balzer found amongst 37 sherries, the  “The top showing from California was Inglenook Cabinet Sherry.”  That same year Inglenook won a silver medal at the California State Fair for its Palomino sherry.  In the 1960 California State Fair  non-Californian wines were allowed, the first time since Prohibition.  Inglenook performed strongly all around and was even noted for a port, along with Beringer, Martini, and Madrone.  For three decades there are diverse accounts of Inglenook sherry but only one Ruby Port and one Port.  I began to think there was no Cabinet Port produced prior to the 1970s.  According to Tom Mendes of Inglenook Vineyards many records were lost during the period when John Daniel Jr. sold the property and Francis Ford Coppola purchased it.

I had searched Google countless time for mention of Cabinet Port.  The 19th century Edge Hill Cabinet Port always came up but so did a hit in a Heublein auction catalog.  Unfortunately it was one with hidden content.  I already owned the catalogs for the 5th and 8th National Auction of Rare Wines held in May 31, 1973 and May 27, 1976 respectively.  In the Price Review appendix auction results dating back to 1969 covered Inglenook vintages back to 1887.  There is no appearance of the term Cabinet.  The wines listed are mostly red including Cabernet Sauvignon, Charbono, Chianti, Claret, Gamay, and Zinfadel and white wines such as Johannisberg Riesling, Pinot Chardonnay, Dry Semillon, and White Pinot.  There were even three “Vintage Pre-World War II” Inglenook Sherries being Brown, Dry, and Palomino.

Inglenook Winemaker Tom Ferrell, Image from The 8th Premier National Auction of Rare Wines, 1976.

Inglenook Winemaker Tom Ferrell, Image from The 8th Heublein Premier National Auction of Rare Wines, 1976.

The Google Cabinet Port search result pointed to the 11th National Auction of Rare Wines held on May 24, 1979.  This was the centennial year of Inglenook so I promptly ordered a copy.  John Daniel Jr. sold Inglenook to United Vintner in 1964.  The winery was later acquired by Heublein who brought on Tom Ferrell as the winemaker in 1970.  This was the same year that John Daniel Jr. passed away.  Inglenook went on to produce some four million cases of wine most of which were bottled at the Italian Swiss Colony Winery.  Higher-quality “Estate Bottled” wines were also produced at the 250,000 case level.   The centennial was celebrated by Inglenook with a special dinner in San Francisco where over one dozen vintages were poured.  In March of 1979 Nathan Chroman commented in The New York Times on a John Daniel Jr. wine served at the dinner, “The 1941, of course, was my favorite.  It was still vigorous, although perhaps not quite as I remember it, but nevertheless a Cabernet that other wineries might well emulate.”  From a vintage several decades later he finds, “Far better [than an Estate white wine] was the Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon cask 1974, which in due course may rival earlier Cabernets of Inglenook.  The wine is worth acquiring and aging.”

Tom Ferrell Decanting Wine at Centennial Dinner 24 January 1979, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

Tom Ferrell Decanting Wine at Centennial Dinner 24 January 1979, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

The catalog arrived at the end of a day, just as I was departing the house to pick up my wife and daughter.  I was gitty with excitement so I brought the catalog with me.  I ripped open the package as I drove.  Having made good time to the parking garage I remained in the car to inspect the catalog.  The title page bears the subtitle, “Featuring The Centennial Celebration of Inglenook Vineyards, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California, Founded 1879.”  A section on the history of winemaking concluded, “The goal of Inglenook in 1979 is the same as it was in 1879 – to produce wines equal to or better than Europe’s best.”  The table of contents revealed Lots 74-192 were part of the 1884-1978  Inglenook Vineyards Centennial Collection from the Vineyards Library.  I quickly looked through bu there was no lot of port nor of sherry.  I rifled through it again.  Still nothing.  And no mention of Cabinet despite two different pictures of Michael Broadbent and John Daniels Jr. with Cabinet Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was driving me nuts.

J. M. Broadbent opens Cabernet Sauvignon 1933, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

J. M. Broadbent opens Cabernet Sauvignon 1933, Image from The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines, 1979.

I made a thorough study of the catalog later that night and the next day.  I returned to Google and continued my searches.  By chance, for some strange reason, I got a result I had never seen before. In the 1983 Heublein auction catalog Prices Review appendix I found:

INGLENOOK CABINET PORT
Napa Valley; Est. Bot. Inglenook Vineyards.
V. 1979 $280

After an exhaustive search I finally found documentation that the Cabinet Port did exist, it had a vintage of 1979, and had sold for $280 per case.  It was a matter of moving forward two years to 1981 when the 13th National Auction of Rare Wines took place.  In it I found:

During the vintage of 1979, I made a few special wines as part of the celebration of Inglenook’s Centennial.  These were made with an eye both on the past and the future.  I wanted to produce wines that were traditional, but also wines that will last to the bi-centennial of Inglenook.  A number of red grape varieties were made into Port and more than one lot of each variety was fortified.  In tasting the wines that followed, it became apparent that a blend of two of the lots produced a distinct and complex dessert wine with a great potential for future development, it will be called 1979 Cabinet Port, a name used by Inglenook for an excellent dessert wine produced at the turn of the century.

I chose a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon Port and 47% Petite Sirah Port.  The presence of the Petite Sirah in the blend serves to mollify the varietal predominance of the Cabernet and produce a more subtle blend.  About two hundred fifty cases total were produced.  The wine will be bottled young in early 1982 and the entire bottling will be placed in the Inglenook Wine Library.  The Wine shows an intense and elegant ruby red color; a distinct aroma; an excellent potential for bouquet development; a full rich flavor and a balanced yet sweet finish.  Analytically, the wine is about 19.3% alcohol and 13.2% sugar.” T. A. Ferrell, January 14, 1981.  Delivery after bottling in Fall 1982.

Tom Ferrell’s notes were written during his last year as Inglenook winemaker.  With this wine he aimed to produce  a traditional bottle which would last until the bi-centennial in 2079.  It is a beautiful wine with which to end his Inglenook career.  My note suggested drinking by 2053.  I hope am I wrong.

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Just a few more items.  The auction only listed several case lots of the Cabinet Port.  Tom’s notes state that the entire bottling will be placed in the Inglenook Wine Library.  What of the bottles in the Library?  Also I see three Non-vintage Cabinet Port bottles listed in Cellar Tracker inventory.  Who’s are they? And why are these bottles also lacking a vintage date?  I left Tom Ferrell a voicemail earlier in the week, hopefully I will hear back from him.

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The Mysterious Inglenook Cabinet Port

January 30, 2013 1 comment

In my post Two Amazing Bottles: Charvin and Inglenook I guessed that the bottle of Inglenook, Cabinet Port which Clark and I drunk dated from 1974-1978.  This was a logical guess but not completely satisfying so over the last few weeks I continued my investigation.  I began an email exchange with Tom Mendes a Membership Associate at Inglenook Vineyards.  Tom began to ask around the winery.  Gustave Niebaum produced many wines in the early 20th century.  He conducted many experiments and also produced wines which he liked.  Though Tom knew Port was produced in the 1910s and 1920s there are no surviving records.  There are still many old bottles in the cellars but again, no records.  In this post I chart my investigation into bottles of 1910 Inglenook Port and the origins of Californian Cabinet wine.

Bottles of 1910 Inglenook, Private Stock, Port

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Timing was fortuitous.  In a recent thread on Wineberskers Trent Schaffler posted pictures of an 1910 Inglenook, Private Stock, Port.  I contacted Trent who graciously provided me detailed images and the history of these bottles.  Back in 1997 or 1998 he found a single bottle listed on a Yahoo Auction.  Trent was the only bidder and won the lot for $75.  He contacted the seller and found out he had original 12-bottle crates of 1910 Port and 1910 Sherry.   The seller’s father had purchased the wine upon release then stored them in a passive cellar/garage in San Francisco.  Trent was new into wine at the time so he asked to purchase six bottles of the port and a wooden crate.

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A friend inspected the bottles and picked six which were in the best condition for some of the bottles had leaked to the point of being almost empty.  Of these six bottles, four bottles were of one size/shape and two were another size/shape.

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Back in 2004 Trent took a bottle to an offline tasting.  This was the third bottle he had opened and the best thus far.  Here are the notes:

1910 Inglenook Port Private Stock
What a special treat, thanks to redwingstoneware for bringing this treasure to share with everyone.
Very light red rock dirt in color. Nose of a beautiful tawny with golden raisin. I’ve not ever found a port in the past that I would reach back for seconds, but this one breaks that trend. May not be the highest scoring wine from the night, but after adding on the history and experience, this is definitely my WOTN. Pyang

1910 Inglenook Port Private Stock Astounding. Golden tawney in color, what amazed me the most was not the quanitity of the fruit, but the purity of it. This was a very tastey, restrained wine. It is still nicely cherried on the attack with some sassofrass and is free of offputting flavors, it did show some heat mid-palate as the body of the fruit has faded, it finishes very clean. If only todays Ca port makers could figure this out. A unique opportunity to taste a very rare piece of American winemaking history. Thanks for the previledge. Stealthman_1

1910 California Port Inglenook Vineyards (private stock) – huh? Holy crap! I am sampling some history. A terrific port. The frenchman said “with this wine, you need to treat it with respect . . . like your grandparents.” Never had a wine like this. Score = 95. Blue Oval

Trent has gone on to enjoy two more bottles.  Most recently he finds:

I have been able to enjoy this wine 5 different times, 4 of the times, the wine was very much the same.  The other, the bottle began to leak and was certainly of lesser quality than the other 4.  The best I can compare this to is a really fine Tawny or Colheita.  The wine really has no red pigmentation anymore.  The fruit is still alive and it provides layers of caramel and nuts with a very surprising long finish.

Trent’s bottles are shaped like a brown glass port bottle.  They were sealed with red foil capsule, contain a neck label stating “Vintage 1910”, and a label designating “Private Stock, California, Port, Inglenook Vineyard.”  In looking at Trent’s bottles the top of the label bears, “Grand Prize, Medal of Honor and Twenty Gold Medals, Awards Inglenook Wines, Brandy and Champagne. P. P. I. E. S. F. 1915”.  Tom had noted there is mention of an Inglenook Private Stock Port having won a medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in Steven Kolpan’s A Sense of Place.

In 1908 Gustave Niebaum passed away and his wife closed the winery for three years.  From 1911 to 1919 wines were made under contract with B. Arnhold & Co.  The vineyards and cellar were managed by Herman Lange and the winemaking by Lafayette Stice.  They produced wine in 1911 but continued to cellar the 1908-1910 vintages.  The vintages of 1905 and prior sold so well that they decided to set aside the finest wines, as reserve wines meant for release six years after the vintage.  By 1915 Inglenook was winning many medals.  At the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition Inglenook won 17 medals including a gold medal for their Private Stock Port.

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Based on Trent’s images and description I doubt that the bottle of Cabinet Port was a single vintage port from the 1910s or 1920s.  I could not find any references to Special Reserve Limited Bottling but I did look into Private Stock.  The term was used by Inglenook as early as 1889.

A great square table, partially covered with the thinnest crystal drinking-cups, tempts the visitor to sample some of the old “private stock;” and there are dainty little hand-baskets containing a single bottle of a rare vintage, which have a decided tendency to make the sample taste like “more!”

Frona Eunice Wait. Wines and Vines of California. The Bancroft Company, 1889.

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The Origins of Californian Cabinet Wine

I knew that Carl Bundschu introduced a line of Cabinet wines in 1935, starting with the 1933 vintage.  Exactly how long this line existed is not known.  Tom Mendes of Inglenook Vineyards could not find any specific  information about a Cabinet Port so he looked into the Special Reserve Limited Bottling designation from the bottle and also for non-vintage Port.  In speaking with the Chateau Administrator they found inventoried one bottle of Non-vintage Ruby-Port Special Reserve Limited Bottling along with other bottles of non-vintage Sherry and non-vintage Port.  Having felt I exhausted the inquiry into Special Reserve Limited Bottling the next step was to look into the history of Californian Cabinet wines.

Inglenook, Wines and Vines of California, Image from Thirstyreader.

The Inglenook Vineyard, Wines and Vines of California, Image from Thirstyreader.

I decided to search www.winefiles.org which is a project of the Sonoma County Wine Library.  In it I found reference to an article published by Wines & Vines in 1935 describing Carl Bundschu’s Cabinet wines.  Andrew Adams, a staff writer at Wines & Vines, kindly scanned the article for me.  Here are the relevant bits:

“Cabinet” Wines

In common with many others, we have often wondered just what was meant by “Cabinet” wines.  Carld Bundschu, of the Inglenook Winery at Rutherford, has set us straight.  He points out the term “Cabinet” applied particularly to the famous Steinberg vineyard of Germany…

Mr. Bundschu says the Inglenook Winery was built along lines similar to the “Cabinet” found at Steinberg…  There are produced Inglenook’s finest vintages and hence termed “CABINET WINES”.

Wine and Vines, 1935.

Carl Bundschu attributes the term to the Cabinet at Steinberg and there is reference to J. L. W. Thudichum, M.D., Treatise on Wines.  Bundschu is apparently refering to the 1894 edition of A Treatise on Wines.  This is actually the abridged version of J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre’s exhaustive A Treatise on Wines published in 1872.  As a follow-up to Cyrus Reddings’ seminal A History of Modern Wines, Thudicum and Dupre were directed by Legislature to provide a decisive reference of viticulture and vinification from around the world.  The book was aimed at the serious public and others interested in viticulture as a legitimate branch of agronomy.  In published form it ran to almost 800 pages.  In 1894 Thudichum published an abridged version designed for reading which ran half the length.  It is not surprising that Carl Bundschu references a 40 year old wine book. In Frank Schoonmaker and Tom Marvel’s American Wines, published 1941 they point out, “…Captain Niebaum imported from Germany not only a good deal of admirable oak cooperage but, what was much more unusual, a unique and extremely valuable library of books dealing with the vine.”  Perhaps it is in this library that Bundschu found inspiration for his new label of wines.

Close to this latter hall is the so-called Cabinet, where the cabinet wines are kept.  This is a vault above ground, but protected by double walls and by trees and shrubs from the external heat of the atmosphere and rays of the sun.  It has therefore the same equable temperature as the best vault underground.  In very hot weather it is, however, kept cool by the floor being sprinkled with water, for which purpose a special pump has been arranged in the cabinet itself.

J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre.  A Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine. 1872.

Scenes from Inglenook Vineyards, A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Google Books.

Scenes from Inglenook Vineyards, A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Google Books.

As far as the construction of the Inglenook winery we may return to Wines and Vines of California.

To insure a proper receptacle for the wines, Captain Niebaum erected a cellar and winery, which was completed in 1887, and which, for perfection of detail and elegant finish, has no equal in American.  With an eye to the beautiful, as well as to the practical, the spot chosen for this winery was most judiciously selected.  Situated on the slope of one of the undulations, its rear sheltered by a solid hill of stone, Nature has assisted Science in maintaining in the vaults a uniform temperature, so necessary to the care and the development of wines.  The winery is built of gray and trimmed with brown-stone quarried on the estate.  It is three stories in height, with double roofs.  The architecture is semi-Gothic and Eastlake in design.  Its dimensions are length, 220 feet: breadth, center 72 feet, wings 62 feet; capacity, 500,000 gallons; structure, of stone and iron, with concrete floors throughout; the vaults are arched in cathedral style, and protected by double doors, thus maintaining a normal temperature of 60 F during the whole year.

Frona Eunice Wait. Wines and Vines of California. The Bancroft Company, 1889.

At the time the Steinberg wines were auctioned off every year in Erbach.  The auction wine was sold in 1,200 liter pieces.  The cabinet wines were sometimes sold in smaller sizes and bottles.  For individual bottles there is mention of Light Claret at 15s. per dozen, 1864 Rauenthaler at 18s. per dozen, 1862 Rauenthaler at 54s. per dozen,  and 1858 Steinberger Cabinet at 120s. per dozen.  As for the price per piece we find:

The price of Steinberg wine varies from £65 per piece to £600 and £700; the latter being the most exceptional and finest cabinet wines.

J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre.  A Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine. 1872.

Thus the introduction of Inglenook Cabinet wines references the construction of the winery, the quality of the wine, and the price they fetched.  But Inglenook was not the first Californian winery to carry the Cabinet designation.  This honor appears to be bestowed upon Edge Hill winery.  It is the oldest bonded winery in California dating back to 1867.  It submitted two cases of wine to the 1889 Universal Exposition at Paris which included five different Cabinet wines.  Inglenook was present as well but their submissions consisted of Hock, Gutedel, Riesling, Burger, Zinfandel, Claret, and Sauternes.  Turning back to Edge Hill we see:

Edge Hill Wine Company, St. Helena, California, agency, 12 Barclay street, New York city: Two cases containing specimens cabinet Riesling, cabinet hock, Sauterne, golden Chasselas, cabinet claret, select claret, Zinfandel claret, cabinet Burgundy, sweet Muscatel, sweet Tokay, cabinet port, and brandy.

United States Commissioners to the Universal Exposition of 1889 at Paris, Volume 5. GPO, 1891.

Edge Hill was noted for the “excellence and absolutely purity” of their wines and brandies.  Built by William Scheffler in 1875, the main cellar had the capacity for 400,000 gallons, a storehouse which could hold 150,000 gallons, and a distillery of some 10,000 gallons.  In 1879 the entire vineyard was grafted with noble varietals from the Old World.  I asked Edge Hill about the origin of their Cabinet designated wines.  Estate Directory Wendi Webster commented that the term was used to signify “a wine of higher quality.”

It is noticeable that through the years it was the ports, brandies and sherries of Edge Hill that garnered the most awards.  Scheffler’s greatest successes came from his distilled and fortified products.  The highest award he was to receive in his lifetime came from the World Fair of 1889 in Paris.

Edge Hill Chronology, 2000.

It is possible that William Scheffler had read Thudichum and Dupre’s treatise for the timing works out.  In 1880 the State Board of Viticultural Commissioners was created.  At this point viticulture contributed a notable amount to the state revenue.  There were not many out of state markets for Californian wine and the vineyards were still recovering from the Phylloxera.  According to Vincent Carosso The California Wine Industry the “short crop of 1879, the exhausted supplies of old stock, and the sudden increased demand of 1880 made it difficult to meet the requirements of new markets.”  The Commission felt there was a lack of scientific knowledge of viticulture so it set about building a library.  After purchasing all of the books in English it moved on to French, German, Italian, and Spanish.  By 1887 the commission had more than 400 books in the library.  Perhaps William Scheffler came across the treatise in the commission library.

John Daniel Jr. and the Heublein Years

In my next post I continue my investigation by looking at the John Daniel Jr and Heublein years.  I eventually uncover the true identity of the Inglenook Cabinet Port.

Two Amazing Bottles: Charvin and Inglenook

January 16, 2013 1 comment

I remembered the Wild Ginger Cellar Wine List one night after I had opened the 2011 Millbrandt, Evergreen Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes. I had meant to purchase the Viognier but the bottle I grabbed turned out to be Chardonnay. I only noticed the discrepancy after I had drunk a glass while perusing the Seattle Cellar wine list.  I had forgotten how interesting it was.  I almost got up to go straight to Wild Ginger but I was tired and the wine was actually good. I did ask Clark and Julia to join me for dinner and forwarded the list to Phil.

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Wild Ginger is located downtown near Benaroya Hall and up a few blocks from the Seattle Art Museum.  As if the regular wine list isn’t exciting enough, the Cellar List details over 60 pages of wine from all of the world with many older vintages. This not surprising since the Wild Ginger cellar is comprised of 40,000 bottles spread over the different restaurants. The prices are stunning as well.  For our dinner I formulated a plan to drink an older German wine and a mature Chateauneuf du Pape. The two bottles would work perfectly for the three of us.  Unfortunately, Julia got tied up with work so Clark and I ventured over on our own. We opted for a single bottle of 2001 Charvin, Chateauneuf du Pape. In looking through the list I caught sight of a Inglenook, California Cabinet Port, Special Reserve Limited Bottling, NV for $27. It did not sound like a recent release and I could not recall any quality Inglenook wines since an effort in the 1980s. I asked our Sommelier Dave if he could bring the bottle over along with the Charvin. He said it was a single old bottle which had been there for some time.

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I expected a tattered half bottle for some reason. What Dave brought out was a beautiful bottle, the fill was very high, red lead capsule, and the label in outstanding condition. The label itself looked like something from the 1960s or earlier. I immediately said I wanted the bottle. Dave cautioned us but I was excited. It was port so the fortification should greatly help and it appeared to be from a Golden Age.  Inglenook is a historic winery.  Gustave Niebaum acquired land in 1879 then had his first vintage in 1881.  His winery was quite large and built in to a hill for temperature control. It featured steamed-powered machines, concrete floors, and oak barrels.  He wanted to compete with the best wines of Europe so sparing no expense, he insisted on sanitation and high grape quality.  Starting in 1887 Niebaum only shipped his wine in bottles and succeeded in maintaining a reputation for his wines until Prohibition.

As we neared the end of the Charvin Dave returned with a Sommelier’s battery to address the Inglenook. He carefully cut the foil, cleaned the top, thought about using a corkscrew then opted for the Ah-So. He carefully extracted the cork most of the way, revealing the sides of an old mature cork. With his hand he removed it from the bottle. The business end was covered with shimmering wein-stein and the whole smelled proper. He poured me a small taste.

There was youthful ripe fruit on the nose which I quickly confirmed in the mouth where there were also some wood box notes. It was in great shape which Clark confirmed. I told Dave he should have a glass and not just a taste.

We spent the rest of the evening drinking the majority of the bottle, investigating it for clues, taking pictures, and searching online for information. We both agreed it was not like a Tawny Port for the fruit was too primary. To Clark it was more a Ruby and to me a Late Bottled Vintage. The fruit was still primary with plenty of residual sugar. The spirits it was fortified with must have been top-notch, no spirituous edges, perfectly integrated. We imagined the wood box notes from old, large oak casks and not redwood. Certainly not new wood. There was good color and a moderate amount of very fine tannins. The combination of residual sugar, acidity, and alcohol would allow this to last past the middle of the century.

What were we drinking? The only reference we could find was a listing on cellar tracker but without any tasting notes. What is a Cabinet Port? It was designated a Private Reserve Limited Bottling which made us wonder if only a barrel was produced. Were we drinking the last remaining bottle? The label indicated 750mL with the glass showing volume in both metric and English units. Could it have been produced in the 1960s then bottled after 1974 when the metric system was adopted?  In a Tweet from Inglenook they said port was made at the estate but it was many years ago.  Dave could not find any records on how Wild Ginger had acquired the bottle.  The punt had little white dots and was engraved with WP-3 28 OK-1.  Julie found reference to Inglenook’s Cabinet wines in James T. Lapsley’s Bottled Poetry which provided our first clue.  Carl Bundschu begin working with Inglenook at Repeal.  In August 1933 Bundschu outlined a three-year plan to restore Inglenook so that it could one again compete with the best.  In 1934 Bundschu revealed the “I.V.Y.” brand of standard quality wines followed a year later by the “Cabinet” label “for special lots of reserve varietal wine.”  From 1933 to 1964 Inglenook produced highly regarded wines under John Daniel, Jr.

With the tough financial times of the 1960s John Daniel, Jr. sold the winery to Louis Petri, founder of Allied Grape Growers and United Vintners.  Production shifted to jug wines, the reputation plummeted, and in 1969 it was sold again to Heublein.  The reputation spiraled even lower.  In 1972 the Daniel family sold the original mansion and surrounding vineyards to Francis Ford Coppola who begin to produce wine under the Niebaum-Coppola label with the 1978 vintage.  The Inglenook name and trademark continued to be traded around until Coppola was able to purchase it in the spring of 2012.  This spring the Inglenook label will return with the release of the 2009 Cask Cabernet Sauvignon.

References to Inglenook “Cabinet” wines are rare and so are references to Inglenook “Port”.  Bonhams has auctioned off various bottles of Inglenook wines dating back to 1890.  In a recent auction from June 2011 two bottles of “Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1933” were auctioned off with the description “Showing remarkable condition for their age, these wines include the 1933 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, the first wine produced by Inglenook following Prohibition”.  The label of our bottle is remarkably similar to these bottles.  In fact these bottles have a diagonal neck label stating “Cabinet Vintage 1933.”  Our label is clearly an updated version of the original “Cabinet” label.  Our label noticeably differs in the inclusion of “Private Reserve, Limited Bottling”, the addition of “Cabinet”, and volume specified as “750mL” instead of “1 Pint 8 Fluid Ounces.”

Images from Bonhams, June, 2011 Auction.

Image from Bonhams, June, 2011 Auction.

In the 1980s Heublein briefly tried to restore the Inglenook name and indeed I recall a few bottles of 1985 Inglenook Cask Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which my uncle had purchased.  In The 11th Heublein Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines there are lots of “1970-1980 Cabernet, Charbono & Cabinet Port, Inglenook Winemaker’s Auction Selection”.  There are many references to 1979 Centennial wines with labels that state as such.  With the 1980 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon release Inglenook brought back the Inglenook Diamond but in a completely new graphic design.  My best guess?  This is a bottle from 1974-1978.  Perhaps more clues are to be found in Christie’s auction of Inglenoook wines from Coppola’s cellar back in September 2011.  Or in Tom Parker’s “Inglenook Vineyards” published in 1979.  I will update this post with any additional information.

It was a great evening. The food and wines were excellent. To be able to drink the renowned 2001 Charvin then follow on with an outstanding, unknown Inglenook port took us to another level of happiness. It is an evening that shall never be repeated at Wild Ginger. We drank the last bottle of Charvin and the only bottle of Inglenook.

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2001 Domaine Charvin, Chateuneuf du Pape
Imported by Weygandt/Metzler.  This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre and Vaccarese sourced from 50 year old vines.  Alcohol 14.5%.   A mature color. It took 15 minutes for it to first open up. A lovely mature nose of earth and spices. The mouth was similar, eventually fleshing out with a bit of fruit and good acidity. It slowly put on weight and depth. I must agree with Clark that when drunk with the pork potstickers the fat from the meat reacted with the wine to provide a rich, expansive, racy, and complex taste. I image this is drinking at its peak right now but should last for some time. Give it at least an hour of air. **** Now-2023.

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[No Vintage] Inglenook Vineyards, Private Reserve Limited Bottling, California Cabinet Port
Alcohol 20%. The rim was tawny with the middle opaque. The fruit was amazingly youthful. There were very good flavors of purple, red, and ruby fruit, spirits well-integrated, and wood notes. There were no hints of tobacco no caramel. It was in incredible condition and very lively from the acidity. The residual sugar was noticeable in the finish and somewhat tactile on the fingers. Berries returned in the aftertaste. An empty glass was aromatic with wet tobacco and leather. **** Now-2053.

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