Over this winter I tried a few odd bottles of old Bordeaux, this post reflecting the lesser of them. The 1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux bore good fill and color but the corrosion on the capsule indicated a problem. Old seepage was confirmed by cutting the capsule but the wine itself was good shape, though fresh with sweet fruit, it is a wine that should be drunk up. I did not expect much of the 1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux. I opened it because it is a wine I drunk with my mom in the mid 1990s. We bought a bottle along with cheese, charcuterie, and bread to eat at a picnic in sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge off of Sion Hill in Bristol.
Of great surprise are several bottles from the miserable Bordeaux vintage of 1969. Michael Broadbent does not even award the vintage any stars. Still, these bottles proved that well-stored bottles from the worst vintages can still be drunk with pleasure. The 1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux certainly has vegetable aromas on the nose but in the mouth are perfectly preserved flavors, most likely by the lively acidity, of cranberry red fruit. There is even grip and a suggestion of weight. I do not suggest you seek this wine out but the good storage conditions came through. From the same vintage and cellar came three bottles of 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien. These showed some bottle variation. Two were deep fruited on the nose with one brighter and more pungent. There is less obvious acidity and more leather, wood, and bacon type of flavors. Fun stuff! Finally, the lowest fill of a group of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac proved satisfying. It did not have the depth of the bottle drunk with Darryl and Lou but was complete and enjoyable. To have drunk two bottles of Lafite in one month. Incredible! 😉
1982 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD. Alcohol 11%-13.5%. A lively wine that combines freshness and some attractive sweet flavors. The tannins are fully resolved and when combined with the hints of roast earth, suggests it should be drunk up. *** Now.
1978 Chateau Labegorce-Zede, Margaux
Fully mature, if not just past but it still manages to offer a mixture of blue and red fruit, wood box, and fully resolved tannins. Pleasant enough for a few glasses. *(*) Now.
1969 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Across two bottles are clean red fruit flavors along with a distinct vegetal, as in celery, aromas as if from unripe fruit. One bottle had some old funk which blew off. In the mouth are surprisingly well preserved, clean and lively flavors of red fruit. There is even some weight and fresh grip in the mouth. Clearly well stored, this is surprisingly solid with good acidity and a fine, polished wood note. ** Now.
1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Shipped Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by John Gilbert Jr. Co. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Of three bottles tasted, at best a nose of deep, earthy fruit then fresher aromas with cedar. Leather notes develop becoming more prominent than the earth. In the mouth this is a lively wine of bright red then blacker fruit. The flavors shorten quickly but a bacon infused finish carries a wee bit of fruit. The structure is still drying and present.** Now.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Prellar. Imported by Whitehall Company Ltd. Alcohol 11% – 14%. Mid-shoulder fill. A fine nose of meat, graphite, and flowers. In the mouth is a bright undeniably savory wine with a fresh, almost eucalyptus start. The low fill has obviously taken a toll but this remains a savory, fine albeit smaller version of what this wine can achieve. *** Now.
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.
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.
From the Comet Vintage through the Victory Vintage: A casual fine wine dinner with Mannie Berk and Ricardo Freitas
Last week started off strong as I attended A Blast from the Past: Madeira Extravaganza in DC which celebrated 20 years of collaboration between Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) and Ricardo Freitas (Vinhos Barbeito). The week ended in Philadelphia where I gave a talk about Henry Hill and Madeira. It turns out that the week was steeped not only in old Madeira but also in old red wine. There was a Madeira from the famous 1811 Comet Vintage and a red Burgundy from the 1945 Victory Vintage.
These important vintages were drunk with dinner at Ripple. Present were Mannie, Ricardo, Darryl, Nancy, Tim, Lou, Kevin, and myself. Many thanks to Marjorie Meek-Bradley for sending out plates of lovely food and Danny Fisher for taking care of us.
To be presented with any glass of wine from the Comet Vintage is a treat. Even some fifty years after the harvest, John Timbs wrote in 1862, “Who has not heard of the comet wine of 1811?” Just over a decade later Charles Hindley defined “comet wine” as one “of superior quality”. He noted that this was perhaps “because the comets themselves exercise some chemical influence on them.” Henry Vizetelly wrote about this vintage a few times, describing it as “famous” and “grand”. I was, admittedly, infected with historic excitement. Bemused why no one at the table was discussing comets, you can only imagine my great laugh when Mannie suggested all of the people who cared about Comet Wines had long since passed away. Indeed, I bear no resemblance to the following satire illustrating the type of men who might have cared about it.
Comets aside, the 1945 vintage was on everyone’s minds with the difficulties in the vineyards and of producing the wine. But first we drank Champagne as everyone arrived. There was discussion of flawed state of the Champagnes. I did not mind too much, though I found the 1989 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut Collection too aggressive. The 1990 Philipponnat, Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses had a rather short finish, the mousse was soft and it reminded me of an old wine. I enjoyed it. There was no disagreement about the sole white wine. Simply put, the 2000 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses was electric!
1989 Krug, Champagne Vintage Brut Collection
The yeasty, deep nose made way to good bubbles that burst from aggression in the mouth. The wine was minerally with a little creamy spiced flavor. The flavors themselves were mature. *** Now – 2025.
1990 Philipponnat, Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses
Imported by Vieux Vins. Disgorged February 2001. Alcohol 13%. I found a beautiful core of fruit then apple orchard hints. The fruit is ripe and texture with smaller, gentler bubbles bringing it forward. The flavors leaned towards that of a mature still wine mixed with baking spices. No doubt good to drink but the shorter finish is obvious. ***(*) Now – 2020.
2000 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 13%. The yeasty, electric nose of yellow fruit prepared the palate for the young and lovely flavors in the mouth. The wine showed more fruit both with air and with food. There was a very focused, gentle weight, and an attractive hint of cream and note. Note quite saline. Certainly lovely. **** Now – 2025.
A stunning old Burgundy
Though Clos de Lambrays is a centuries old estate my particular interest is that of the past century when the estate, under the Rodier family, went into decline after the First World War. Fortunately, Albert Rodier had a wealthy mistress, Renee Cosson who acquired the estate in 1938. The Appellation Controlee in Burgundy had just been established a few years earlier in 1936. The vineyards of Clos de Tart, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, and even Bonnes Mares were classified as the finest. Despite Clos de Lambrays being surrounded by these Grand Cru vineyards, the Cosson’s never pursued this designation potentially due to taxes, according to Clive Coates. It is commonly reported that as the old pre-phylloxera vines died off they were never replaced and the soils were not composted. Chaptalization was never allowed and the wine spent a very long time on the skins.
Clive Coates writes that the 1945, 1947, 1948, and 1949 are “some of the finest Burgundies I have ever drunk.” Robert Parker echoed the sentiment stating “the 1945 Clos des Lambrays I drank would certainly quality as one of the greatest and most potent burgundies I ever tasted.” He does continue that other bottles were never quite as good. Michael Broadbent tasted three bottles in the 1980s. From his “ecstatic notes” he wrote “reminiscent of Petrus ’47; incredibly sweet, sweeter than the port (1887 Sandeman)”. Charles Walter Berry, writing in the 1930s, was ecstatic about the 1898 vintage remarking, “This was a WINE! Very, very fine.”
The 1945 vintage in Burgundy saw a severe frost on May 1st which significantly reduced the potential crop size. A cyclone hit in late June further reducing potential size to one-sixteenth of what was anticipated. Thus the hot weather combined with a tiny number of grapes resulted in very concentrated wines. Indeed, our bottle of 1945 Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays lived up to the historic hype clearly reflecting the “traditional manner” of production as described by Alexis Lichine. The wine smelled unique and in the mouth were old-school flavors that still contained fruit with a seamless, minerally, weighty nature. The wine drank great for about one hour after it started to fade by drying up. There is no doubt in my mind that well stored examples will drink well for many years to come.
The label for the wine is quite attractive and was designed a friend of the Cosson family, the Alsacian Hansi. If you examine the label, it previously stated “Cosson Seul Proprietaire de Clos des Lambrays”. Subsequent to the printing of the label the words “Seul” and “Proprietaire de Clos des Lambrays” was over struck. The word “Heretiers” was added above “Cosson”. In the 1960s, Robert Cosson took over the operations from his mother Renee Cosson. Alexis Lichine writes that he sold wine to shippers. This makes sense because this bottle was shipped by Jean-Claude Boisset who formed his Negociant company in 1961. Perhaps reflecting his new management status Robert Cosson felt “Heretiers Cosson” was only appropriate given that he was heir to the estate. I have made a few enquiries and will update this post with anything I hear back.
1945 Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays
Shipped by Jean-Claude Boisset Wines USA.. Imported by Jean-Claude Boisset. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a unique, attractive nose with dark soil notes and a hint of band-aid. In the mouth a significant amount of fruit still exists with a minerally, weighty nature. The tannins are nearly resolved with the acidity bound in a seamless package. There is great balance and plenty of concentration and power for future life. With air the wine took on a sweaty, pungent nature with old-school flavors, and an attractive hint of saline and soil. Clearly unique. After one hour the flavors became drier but then my glass was emptied. ****(*) Now – 2025+.
Three red Bordeaux comprised our red wine flight. Kevin decanted the 1953 Chateau Latour, Pauillac whereas I simply opened the other two bottles. The cork of the 1955 Chateau Margaux, Margaux was in good shape, only slightly soft, and came out in one piece with the help of my Durand. The top of the cork was branded with two overlayed T’s. I meant to check the body of the cork but forgot and left it on the table. Though the cork of the 1961 Chateau Calon-Segur, St. Estèphe came out in one piece, it was coated on the top and indeed all the way along the sides with a dusty, moldy smelling layer. Hence the low-shoulder fill. The cork did not smell right and one whiff of the wine confirmed it was past drinking. As Mannie noted, it was the darkest wine of the trio, which to him, indicated oxidation.
That left us two chateau-bottled wines both produced by traditional methods. Whereas the Chateau Latour represents a style of management and winemaking that had been in place for decades, the Chateau Margaux represents efforts to return the estate, vineyard, land, and chateau back to form.
Chateau Latour was owned by shareholders with the estate administered by a Societe Civile since the 19th century. Incredibly the Phylloxera arrived late. The first vines only replanted onto American rootstock around 1901 with the entire vineyard completed in the 1920s. The 1950s eventually saw a doubling of yields over the previous decade. The fruit was destalked by hand then was fermented in oak vats. Les Forts de Latour would not exist for another decade until the 68 shareholders sold off a majority of their stakes. In wasn’t until this ownership changed in 1962 that the modern tools of mechanical destalking, stainless steel vats, and temperature control were introduced. Even the vineyards were extensively expanded.
The Ginestet family had completed purchasing shares of Chateau Margaux so that Pierre Ginestet became sole proprietor in 1940s. Under the Ginestets the sprawling vineyards were reduced to just the best terroirs and there was a return to selecting the best vats of wine for the grand vin. Like Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Margaux had mandated chateau-bottling in the 1920s but this was abandoned from 1930 through 1949 when shipping in wood was allowed. The Ginestets were able to restore chateau bottling as well as the chateau itself.
There is no doubt in my mind, nor was there in my palate, that the flight of Bordeaux could match the 1945 Clos des Lambrays for aroma, depth, and length. It was, harshly put, an obvious step down in quality. I write that not to belittle the Bordeaux but to show the clarity with which the 1945 Clos des Lambrays stood out. The 1953 Château Latour Grand Vin, Pauillac received decanting but to me it maintained a sort of grip on its flavor. I kept expecting it to reveal more but it never did. Still, it was enjoying and particularly fun because it offered a strong contrast to the Margaux. If the Latour offered a more powerful, stand-up profile the 1955 Château Margaux, Margaux was all about fruit with a delicate, gentle nature. On this night it was a wine to drink and be seduced by.
1953 Château Latour Grand Vin, Pauillac
Shipped by A. Delor & Co. Imported by International Vintage. Alcohol 13%. Consigned from a private collection to Edward Roberts International. The iron-like flavors maintained a focus that matched the core of red-black fruit hints and good acidity. The flavors maintained their binding in the structure and I found them particularly interesting n the middle with notes of old, dry leather, iron, and old wood. Will clearly last but will not offer anything in addition. ***(*) Now – 2020.
1955 Château Margaux, Margaux
Shipped by Smith & Hoey Ltd. Unknown importer. Mid-shoulder fill. There were lively, green hints in the mouth. Some structure came out on the teeth but the seductive, sweet, old fruit match it well and built intensity towards the finish. It is a pretty wine that took on a touch of weight. The delicate red fruit **** Now.
1961 Château Calon-Ségur, St. Estèphe
Unknown shipper and importer. Bottom shoulder fill. Clearly tired on the nose but I gave it a go anyways. The aromas of mushrooms made way to firm flavors with roast notes and an old mushroom note. Dying.
Very old and figuratively young Madeira
I first tasted an 1811 Malvasia Candida wine earlier this year in New York City which you may read about in the post “[W]hen of the best kind, a most delicious wine.” An historic 19th century Malvasia Madeira tasting. In all honesty, the bottle from NYC proved the worst experience of the evening. This did not deter my excitement to try the wine again for there was a difference. The previous experience came from a Burgundy shaped bottle sealed with red wax. For this dinner the bottle bore the same label but the glass was Bordeaux shaped and the wax was a dark, military gray.
I had reasonably assumed, that when the 1811 was bottled the Burgundy bottles ran out so whatever else was on hand, Bordeaux bottles in this case, were then used. Or vice versa. That the wax was different implied two separate bottlings. However, from the very first sniff I knew this was a different wine and in no way related. In addition, it was way too young. Just the night before I drank the 1866 and 1837 Barbeito Bual with perfect provenance through Mannie from Ricardo. This particular bottle of 1811 tasted even younger! I will write a follow up post focusing in on this particular bottle in detail. There were other Madeira’s that night as well. It was getting late so my notes are short. The 1901 D’Oliveiras, Malvasia, Madeira was less sweet and showed an attractive nutty profile. The 1973 D’Oliveiras, Verdelho, Madeira was rich, racy, and pungent. All aspects that I really like. This is a young wine to consume in the future.
1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
Acquired from a private collection Acker Merrall & Condit auction May 21st, 2015, New York. This was very sweet on the nose and with air, a prominent thyme note came out. In the mouth this wine was sweet, concentrated, vibrant, with a hint of Big Red flavors and a bit of greenhouse. There was sweet sugar and lots of thyme flavors. Way too young to be an 1811 and of the wrong flavor profile. Nevertheless, whatever was in the bottle, provided a tasty experience. Not Rated.
1901 D’Oliveiras, Malvasia, Madeira
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 19%-21%. There was a musky nose with nut flavors in the mouth, acidity on the sides of the tongue, and good liveness. It had an oxidized note in the long finish. **** Now – 2090.
1973 D’Oliveiras, Verdelho, Madeira
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 19%-21%. This was rich and racy with fine power and structure. The pungent flavors mixed with orange peel before the powerful and dry finish. The wine returns again with strength. Young! **** Now – 2115.
The mature wines of Chateau Palmer have given me great delight over this past year. A bottle of 1979 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tried at our last house is just one example. Unfortunately, I cannot find the empty, packed away bottle so I have included a picture of another bottle purchased at the same time. The 1979 vintage represents traditional Palmer in that it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot of which the Merlot was in large proportion. More recently, the Petit Verdot has been replaced. The grapes themselves were de-stalked by hand through a lattice-work table then fermented in oak vats. All of these methods are no longer employed.
This particular bottle had top-shoulder fill and came from an entire parcel I found in the dump-bin. The nose proved fantastic! Though there was still some ripe fruit in the mouth with acidity and structural components to support future life, it was a bit firm. I purchased these bottles several years ago when I knew nothing about old vintages of Palmer. My only regret is that I walked away with only two bottles. I should have bought the entire lot! This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
1979 Chateau Palmer, Margaux –
Imported by Parliament Import Co. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Alcohol 11%-14%. To-shoulder fill. Drunk over two-hours the nose was beautiful with complex aromas of wood box, berries, and ripe fruit. The red fruit showed more firmness in the mouth with acidity and noticeable drying tannins. It is clear this wine will live for many years but right now it is good with its offer of a little, deep fruited ripeness at first. It wraps up with cedar notes and firmness. Four stars for the nose but overall: *** Now – 2020.
This past weekend Lou and I went to a fun dinner party where we ate heaps of meat and drank some old wine. Lou’s friend Todd spearheaded the food side of things and Lisa offered up her place. This meant that Lou and I selected the wines. We started with a very fresh tasting 2008 Drouhin-Vaudon, Chablis Premier Cru. It showed younger than I expected with the bottle age taking off any rough corners and adding a hint of orchard fruit.
Once everyone arrived and set about tucking into the cheese and charcuterie, we cracked open the NV Michel Turgy, Reserve Selection, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs and the NV Vilmart & Cie, Grand Cellier, Champagne Brut Premier Cru. The Turgy is a pure Chardonnay based Champagne that was vinified entirely in stainless steel. The Vilmart is a blend of mostly Chardonnay with Pinot Noir that was both fermented and aged in oak. This made for an enjoyably different pair of wines, with the Turgy very aromatic with mature aromas and more explosive bubbles. The Vilmart had a subdued nose but was top-notch in the mouth with a luxurious mousse and all around harmony. I highly recommend you seek out both of these.
With our palete wet we moved on to a trio of Pinot Noir. I have written about the 2001 Domaine Serene, Pinot Noir, Evenstad Reserve, Willamette Valley and 2003 Brick House, Pinot Noir, Cuvée du Tonnelier, Willamette Valley before so I shall pass over those. The third bottle, in the form of the 1985 Comte Armand, Pommard Clos de Epenaux, showed an attractive maturity with plenty of earthy aromas that pervaded through the mouth. We have drunk one bottle before that seemed very young, this bottle was very expressive with good strength.
With the bottles of Pinot Noir drained we moved on to a pair of Bordeaux. Perhaps the 1982 Château Prieurié Lichine, Margaux was destined to be a mere solid experience due to the heat stress in Margaux or the estate itself. It was, nevertheless, a decent wine that only helped elevate the excellent bottle of 1982 Château Meyney, Saint-Estèphe. The Meyney proved quite aromatic with satisfying presence in the mouth. It was both mature and youthful at the same time making for a fine glass.
For the 1978 vintage we opened a pair from Saint-Julien. I had high hopes for the 1978 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien but this particular bottle offered darker red fruit, that while good, did not have quite the vigor it should have. The 1978 Château Gruaud-Larose, Saint-Julien on the other hand was completely open with its aromatic nose, expansive flavors, and strength. You could generally say the 1982s were fruitier and the 1978s were more rugged. More importantly, though, all four bottles provoked delight and were drained of their very last drops.
To transition to the Sauternes course we selected the 1977 Ridge Late Harvest Zinfandel Trentadue Ranch, Sonoma County due to the bit of residual sugar at bottling. From a drought vintage in California, I was prepared for it to be sherried at this age. It wasn’t! In fact it was like a solid, rustic old Californian wine. Be it the high alcohol level or its age, it drank more like the previous wines than a dessert wine. Lou is a firm believer in old Ridge wines and this bottle demonstrates why. I wish I could write more about the wine but I only had a tiny pour as I was quick to check on the Sauternes.
Both of our bottles of Sauterne were from good vintages. I expected the 1983 Château Bastor-Lamontagne, Sauternes to be more advanced given the color and simpler given the reputation. My expectations were met for there was a burst of mouthfilling, dark, botrytised fruit followed by a simpler and shorter finish. The sweetness was more obvious too. Quickly down the hatch it went! With everyone adjusted we poured the 1988 Château de Rayne Vigneau, Sauternes. This is an important vintage for the vineyard had been replanted, the rebuilding of the chais was complete with new stainless steel tanks, new barriques, and a cold chamber first employed for the 1987 vintage. Fortunately, the cold chamber was not required for the 1988 vintage which was the first to experience the pneumatic press. All of these updates showed through the wine. It was beautiful, more on the elegant side but it sported a finely articulate nose with perfectly balanced fruit, acidity, and sweetness in the mouth. As Lou commented, it is ready for a long future of development.
Many thanks to Todd, Lisa, and everyone else for such a fun evening!