Phil Bernstein, who works at MacArthur Beverages, is literally within arms reach of amazing wines on a daily basis. In this post he writes about two occassions where he tasted special wines from the 1978 and 1990 vintages.
Aaron asked me to write up my favorites and 2016-and it’s a tough assignment as I’m lucky enough to taste quite a few wines both at work and with friends throughout the year. I’ve narrowed it down to two, but I have loads of honorable mentions! While the two below are in the “fine and rare” category, I still get just as excited to find amazing values in the sub $20 category. It’s a great time to be a wine consumer as there are tons of these out there…but that’s a post for another day (or come see me in the store and I’ll sell you some!)
The first ones are a “no brainer”. I was lucky enough to join my boss, Mark and a long time customer for a casual get together on a Monday night at Fiola. This particular customer has been a long time collector and has a great cellar full of gems mostly from Bordeaux and Rhone. He suggested a theme of drinking the 1978 and 1990 Hermitage la Chapelle from Jaboulet side by side. A once in a lifetime opportunity for sure!
Both wines were fantastic with the 1978 being one of the best reds I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Smoky, with notes of plum it was pure velvet on the palate. A seamless wine that just kept getting better and better. It still has loads of life left as well. The 1990 may end up being even better, but in comparison to the 1978 it seemed like an infant! If I was lucky enough to own this wine, I’d probably wait a few years before opening it. Both of these wines have that special, almost intangible pedigree to them – similar to top notch Burgundy and First Growth Bordeaux. They go beyond “great Syrah” and when drinking, you are sucked into that “special wine” vortex that I’m sure many of you have experienced.
Next up is the 1990 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. I was lucky enough to be invited to the house of a different customer who also has been a long time German wine collector to a tasting of 1990 Germans. We had many superb wines that night, but this was far and away the stand out for me. Nice crisp acidity (a hallmark of this vintage) and loads of green apple fruit and a finish that had to last 5 minutes. Just amazing stuff. There is nothing better than mature Riesling when it’s in a good spot, and I continue to be amazed at how well JJ Prum wines age.
I was careful to note I drank from a magnum of 1976 Lanson, Champagne and even took a picture of the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer, Cristal Champagne and Jacque Selosse, V.O. Champagne Extra Brut. However, my tasting note for the 1998 Dom Perignon, Champagne “racy, yeasty, rich, mineral wine flavors” is unaccompanied by a picture. This might sound haphazard but Champagne is the first thing drunk after the all-day Sercial Madeira tasting. The need to refresh oneself with Champagne and talk to old friends leads to a sort of frenzy. Everyone jockeys for a pour of Champagne. It is not a time to take note.
Dinner is seated, at a very long table. The pace of wine is measured by the sommeliers who impose a logical order on what is drunk. Every guest is encouraged to bring a magnum of mature wine or preferably two bottles of the same. This is not always possible so there is a large variety of red wines. I take pictures and jot down brief impressions so I may recall the evening later on. There were only two off bottles this night the 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and 1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley. In Germany 1959 is a legendary vintage and in America both Joh. Jos Prum and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard are legendary wines. In some punishing coincidence a friend brought a bottle of 1975 Martha’s Vineyard to my house this year. It was off too. Damn and double damn.
Of the good wines, they fell into two camps. Those which are too young to follow a tasting of 19th century Madeira and those which are appropriately mature. In this latter category two particular bottles stand out: 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. The 1966 Ducru sports a fantastic nose. I find some old wines have a sweaty aspect to their nose almost like aromatic umami and this bottle did as well. The flavors were equally attractive with that sweet concentration of flavor from age. It does not just taste mature, it tastes different.
My experience with Californian wine only includes vintages into the 1960s. I can assure you the last wine I would have expected at dinner was not just a pre-Prohibition Californian wine but one from the 19th century. In a particularly unforgiving act of arson in 2005, some 4.5 million bottles of wine were destroyed including 175 bottles of Hellman Angelica and Port wine, certainly most of the remaining stock. I can only imagine a handful of bottles survive to this day. Now scarcity alone does not make for a fine wine, what is in the glass does. With a bit of volatile acidity and dust on the nose the 1875 Hellman may have given slight pause but in the mouth this is an unctuous, powerful, and mouth coating wine. I managed to prolong the pleasure for a few more weeks because I was allowed to take the empty bottle home. There was still damp sediment in the bottle so I stoppered it. Every few days I would smell the bottle to swim once again in 19th century aromas.
2002 Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos
Imported by Vieux Vins. The yeasty nose makes way to minerally, white and yellow fruit flats. This seductive wine is rich with a hint of yeast, ripe tannins in the finish, and fat in the aftertaste.
2008 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a fresh, lean wine that tastes yeasty and older in the mouth. IT leans towards pure lemon flavors.
2007 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a grippy, concentrated wine with fresh acidity. A little weight comes out with air but this is all about lemon tartness. To match the flavor is a fair amount of acidity.
1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by O. W. Loeb & Co. Corked! D*mn!
1970 Domaine Dujac, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Alcohol 13%. The dark, garnet color matches the rather mature nose. In the mouth this is a very dry wine with old perfume mixing with linear, red fruit, The structure is still there, out living the fruit, as this gentle, old wine dries up.
1967 Odero, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The nose is a little stinky, which I find attractive, before aromas of candied cherry come out. This is old-school lively, with structure from the ripe tannins. Perfect for what it is.
1961 Burlotto, Castello di Verduno, Barolo
The foxy, earthy flavors come with initial concentration. It is a dry wine offering more flavor than the Oddero. Maturity has brought old-school flavors, a sweet aspect, and earth. It wraps up with drying, textured tannins.
1967 Cordezuma, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The color is young, almost cranberry-ruby in color. In the mouth this is a simpler wine which is tart, citric, and bears less fruit.
1981 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
An odd wine with almost mushroom flavors, yeast, and floral pork (WTF!). The acidity is bound up with the modest bit of structure.
1990 Prunotto, Barbaresco Montestefano
Alcohol 13.5%. Tobacco. Young!
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Landonne
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is way too young. Structure, drying, and bracing at this point.
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Mouline
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is aromatic with a fine nose just beginning to take on mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit is starting to soften a touch. Overall this is a focused wine with powerful structure through the fresh finish. Young.
1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Johnston. Alcohol 12.5%. The mature Bordeaux notes are starting to escape but this is still so young.
1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Shipped by SDVF. Imported by South Wine & Spirits. Alcohol 12.5%. This is more open with cassis, minerals, and fat. Nice.
1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Shipped by Raoul Lucien & Co. Imported by Combeau-Collet & Cie. Alcohol 12%. The fantastic nose is aromatic and a touch sweaty with cranberries and red fruit. It develops some old-school perfume. In the mouth the flavors have some sweetness to them before the drying finish. A lovely wine at 50 years of age.
1966 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Shipped by A. de Luze & Fils. This is less giving, more linear, soon shutting down to simple, cranberry, and red fruit flavors. It is firm and tight in the mouth with a shorter finish.
1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
An off bottle.
1992 Harlan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Young and primary.
1937 Niepoort, Colheita Port
Imported by W. J. Deutsch Co. Alcohol 19%. There is a sweet start with flavors of black tea and wood. There is a fair amount of noticeable acidity before the slightly harsh finish.
1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County
Though there is some volatile acidity on the nose, it is fine and articulate, with a bit of dust matching its age. The fruit tastes so different. This is a powerful and lip coating wine which is still racy and sweet. The fruit persisted through the dark finish. With air this unctuous wine, with its plentiful residual sugar, builds glycerin and baking spices. In great shape!
For several years David Ehrlich has been organizing a series of weekday wine lunches. Known as the Lost Lunch his idea is for a small group to enjoy a fine meal and an array of fine wines over the course of an entire afternoon. Six of us recently gathered in the backroom of Black Salt where we kicked off the lunch with a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon, Oenotheque Champagne. This is an excellent Champagne which, with air and warmth, revealed an attractive amount of maturity. It is simply a flat out treat to drink which was not only an outstanding way to start the afternoon but it was one of my top three favorites wines of the meal. Rather than go through all of the wines I will jump straight to the 1971 Cav. L. Brero & C., Barolo Monvigliero Riserva. The color of the wine is still deep with mouth filling flavors of vigorous fruit which take you by surprise. The concentration builds with air, adding berries and baking spices, but never buries its great acidity. The Monvigliero vineyard is located in Verduno which is on the northern edge of the Barolo region. The vineyard itself is located on a high hill and is the only vineyard completely facing south. It may be a romantic notion but you can taste that combination of ripe fruit from the sun and crispness from the altitude. Regardless, it is an undeniably good wine. For dessert we drank a lovely half-bottle of 1988 Chateau Climens, 1er Cru Sauternes-Barsac. This Climens not only feels luxurious in the mouth but the complex flavors make you want to take another sip. I see no reason to hold back on drinking small formats.
1996 Dom Perignon, Oenotheque Champagne
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA. Disgorged 2008. The light, toasted gold color leads you to a sweet, floral and fruity nose. The fine and robust bubbles first bring toast and yeast notes before a core of sweet fruit slowly expands in the mouth. Complexity is gained from old wood notes and a steely, chalk finish. With air and warmth this lovely Champagne shows more citrus, spices, and maturity. ****(*) Now – 2026.
1971 Domaine Gustave Gros, Richebourg Grand Cru
Shipped by Remoissenet Pere et Fils. Imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits Corp. Acquired from The Don Stott Cellar, Sotheby’s Wine. The color is relatively deep but the nose offers old leather and generally older aromas. In the mouth the wine is a little tired, though it is round and gentle, there is still some apparent structure in the finish. With moderate air it takes on a little fat and old spices but the finish becomes shorter. Overall it lacks some definition. *** Drink up.
1991 Jean Gros, Richebourg Grand Cru
Imported by Chambers & Chambers. Alcohol 13%. The nose improved significantly with air eventually revealing some maturity. In the mouth are focused flavors of black cherry which never shook off firmness. The wine has a tangy grip that matched flavors of red fruit complemented by smoke. The flavors persist through the aftertaste. This wine will continue to develop. **** Now – 2026.
2007 Domaine Francois Raveneau, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux
Alcohol 13%. Acquired from Acker Merrall & Condit. Of the pair of Raveneau this has more acidity and tang which matches the white and chalky fruit. This is very precise, more citric, focused, and acidic. **** Now – 2021.
2008 Domaine Francois Raveneau, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. The rounded start brings mango flavors. Despite the generous feeling this wine has grip and control. There is an attractive, weighty lemon flavor which is not tart. The finish brings chalk and a touch of tightness indicating a bit more aging potential. This was my favorite of the pair. **** Now – 2021.
2010 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault Clos de la Barre
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by Wines Unlimited. Alcohol 13%. This is an electric wine from the berry fruit to the chalky, grippy tang which coats the bottom of the gums. The structure is still there too but this is drinking great right now. **** Now – 2018.
2011 Lucien Le Moine, Meursault 1er Cru Genevrieres
The flavors are forward with good fruit but the oak is immediately noticeable. There is chalk and acidity in the finish but the fruit is reduced and the oak returns as butterscotch. Perhaps it will integrate with time. ***(*) Now – 2019.
2011 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrieres
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. The lightest of the three Meursault. Compared to the others it had a berry fruit core but showed less concentration, less fruit, and watering acidity. That said it was cool in aspect with clean fruit and moderate minerality. I would drink this up. ***(*) Now.
2001 Domaine A.-F. Gros, Richebourg
Imported by Pelton Imports. Alcohol 13%. This is a young, grapey wine with concentrated flavors of berries. It remained firm with primary, clean fruit yet shows strong promise. I would age this several more years before trying again. ***(*) 2020-2030.
1952 Giacomo Borgogne, Barolo Riserva (red capsule original release)
Imported by T Elenteny. The pale amber color will be shocking to some. In the mouth the flavors are rounder than the color indicates. There is certainly vigor to this wine as the flavor fill the mouth, albeit they are simple in nature with watering acidity. The palate is more engaging than the nose. Very much alive and drinkable but this was never a strong wine. *** Now.
1971 Cav. L. Brero & C., Barolo Monvigliero Riserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. This is quite deep in color. In the mouth are concentrated fruit flavors, berries, and cinnamon spices which persist on the tongue. This wine is full of vigor, still has weight to the fruit yet is crisp from the acidity. It builds concentration with air leaving baking spices in the aftertaste. An impressive wine. ****(*) Now – 2026.
1988 Chateau Climens, 1er Cru Sauternes-Barsac
Imported by Pearson’s Wine Imp. Co. The golden amber color makes was to luscious and seductive flavors. This is an unctuous wine with noticeable residual sugar. It is not just the mouthfeel that is attractive but the flavors of apricot and ripe, Christmas spices. Drinking great right now. **** Now but will last.
2001 Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Auslese *, Mosel Saar Ruwer
A Terry Theise Selection imported by Michael Skurnik Wines. A little asparagus stink on the nose. There is a zippy start with tart, white berry fruit, and rather dry body. It remained acidic. *** Now
David Bloch uses the Pungo so he can drink a wide variety of wines every day of the week. Here is one recent selection.
2015 Domaine de Fonsainte, Gris de Gris, Corbieres
An annual purchase from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. The wine performs so well every vintage. This year’s bottling is as impressive as ever. Apple, pear, minerals and melon. Not a bruiser but flavor-packed and food friendly.
2012 Von Hövel, Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Great nose. Almost a real Saar Kabinett. Bitter almond. Cream. Lemon tart. An extremely well-balanced wine – plenty of ripe fruit with a nice streak of acid and minerals. Really long. A baby with a long life ahead.
2000 Fratelli Revello, Barolo Vigna Giachini
Really nice wine. Mature. Floral and sweet even. On the red fruit spectrum. Oddly, day two found a very tannic wine that wasn’t nearly as good as day one. Therein lies the unpredictable nature of Nebbiolo.
2010 Domaine les Grands Bois, Rasteau Cuvée Marc
On the large size, the tannins have integrated and the wine is a big mouthful of the Southern Rhone. Black fruited – I think the Mourvedre really pushes forward while it only accounts for a minority of the cepage. Spices. A tad overdone perhaps? I suspect the wine may have needed more time to mellow. Good with beef.
There was no shortage of grilled food and wine this Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to many generous people I got to try decades worth of wine. An inexpensive bottle of NV L.A. Cetto Vino Espumoso from Baja California enlivened a lunchtime sangria. The first serious wine is a magnum of 2006 Macarico, Aglianico del Vulture which smelled and tasted great from the very first pour. It still has strength but the tannic edges are receding such that you notice the dark fruit and minerals. I wish I could age more of these wines. The 1998 Chapoutier, Hermitage Monier de La Sizeranne showed much better oak integration than when tasted last summer. It is a substantial wine with a long future. The 1971 M. Mascarello, Nebbiolo d’Alba held up for several hours after double-decanting. It was sweaty on the nose, in an attractive old-school way to me, but better in the mouth with lively acidity and a core of flavor.
The 1971 M. Mascarello helped show how a 1976 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape was even fruitier with notes of old wood. It made for a perfectly good drink. I will follow this post with a real tasting note. The magnum of 2007 Domaine Ponsot, Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Cuvee des Alouettes showed on the elegant side of the spectrum with very clean fruit. Other drinks include a 2003 Le Vieux Donjon, Chateauneuf du Pape that is youthful and packs quite a lot of forward fruit.
Roland opened a slew of bottles including 1990 Alain Graillot, La Guiraude, Crozes-Hermitage. This wine is made from a selection of the best barrels and is certainly the oldest Crozes-Hermitage that I have tasted. This was still clean and fresh with that sense of lightness a Crozes can offer. It was almost suspended in time.
The 2007 Henri Bonneau, Chateauneuf du Pape was quite tight right after double-decanting. Nevertheless a few minutes of swirling coaxed an elegant wine. It has quite a bit of focus and certainly more heft than the ethereal Marie Beurrier can have. The 2001 Domaine Bois De Bourson, Chateauneuf du Pape showed great right out of the decanter. It is drinking near peak with earthy flavors and garrigue delivered with grip. A pour from the end of the 1990 Jamet, Cote Rotie provided a really good glass. There was an aspect of elegance to the maturing and complex flavors.
The 1994 Chateau de Fonsalette, Cotes du Rhone drank quite well. This is a generous Rayas wine made from Syrah. It is floral with dark blue fruit, wood notes, and good complexity.
I also tried a surprisingly savory, dense, and fruity bottle of 1996 Chateau Ste Michelle, Merlot Reserve, Columbia Valley. This came from a mediocre vintage and if this took a toll on the wine it was only that the finish was a bit short. This wine was made under David Lake MW which probably explains why it is still balanced and lively. There is not much Charbono around so you should try whatever you can. The 2011 Calder Wine Company, Charbono, Meyer Vineyard, Napa Valley is still not up to the quality of the 2009 vintage but it reveals vintage perfume unique to the grape.
As for dessert wines the half-bottle of 1983 Zilliken, Saarburger Rausch Riesling Eiswein contained only 7% alcohol. The undoubtedly high levels of residual sugar were perfectly balanced by the acidity. It is really easy to drink and is entering the middle of life. Finally, a double-decanted 1977 Warre’s, Vintage Port needed just a little air before showing dense flavors of dark blue, racy fruit. Good stuff! There were some other wines I tried but I did not get a look at the bottles.
This past Friday we gathered at my house to taste a vertical of seven Diamond Creek wines from 1994 back to 1978. It is only natural to taste more wine than what we gathered for. So with mixed results we tasted some aged bubbly while we waited for everyone to arrive. We then sat down at the dining room table to work through four blind mature wines of the California and Bordeaux nature. Following the Diamond Creek vertical and dinner, we wrapped the evening up with some interesting dessert wines.
The Sparkling Flight
I rarely notice old bottles of Californian sparkling wine for sale. While there could be a reason for this, Lou and I were sure to snatch up a bottle each from the Earthquake Cellar. Only the 1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County turned out to be mature and completely drinkable. The fruit is mature with added complexity from baking spices. The bubbles are starting to dissipate so I would drink this up. Unfortunately, no amount of sparkle could resurrect the past-prime flavors of the 1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine. To compensate I opened my second bottle of NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne (1970s release) hoping that this one would have bubbles. It didn’t. Despite the better looking bottle, the cork was saturated with fuzzy gray mold which did not bode well for what was inside.
1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County
The mature and reasonably attractive nose revealed orchard fruit, some brioche, and baking spice. In the mouth, the creamy and nutty start mixed with moderate bubbles that dissipated by the finish. Fully mature. ** Now.
1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine, Carneros
This smells old with plenty of apple orchard flavors. In the mouth are ample amounts of aggressive, fine bubbles that yield a youthful framework for the wine. Unfortunately, the flavors are old and short. Not Rated.
NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne Brut (1970s release)
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Completely flat with aromas and flavors of a white wine way past its prime. Not Rated.
The Blind Flight
We kicked off the red wines by tasting a blind flight at the dining room table. I knew what the first wines were, but having only tasted one upon decanting, it was fun none the less. The 1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley is destined for a long life. The nose is young, the fruit dark and in balance with the structure and acidity. The wine is linear and firm, never giving up its flavor. I believe there was a general consensus this was old California. It will last but I do not see it improving. The 1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tasted on the light and thin side when first decanted. An hour of air only benefited the bottle for it offered up attractive aromas and flavors of sweet, mature fruit. I like Palmer and this bottle of 1975 delivered all I could hope for from this vintage. Most people thought this was old Bordeaux. The 1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley was a flawed bottle. I could work my way around the nose but in the mouth the brief, hopeful start soon turned coarse. Impossible to say what this was blind. Finally, the 1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc threw me and others for a loop. We soon knew the last two wines were from the same vintage but this did not help in any way. The coffee and chocolate aromas had me leaning towards California but the flavors towards Bordeaux. The wine turned out to be quite youthful with plenty of strength. A good wine but not as seductive as the Palmer.
1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley
This smells young with cherry fruit. The flavors are a bit linear becoming darker and blacker as the wine firms up towards the middle. It is salty and savory with a structure of fine tannins woven throughout. It does show some mature flavors in the middle before finishing up with salivating acidity. ** Now but will last.
1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Shipped by Caves Robert Michelle. Imported by Parliament Import. Alcohol 11% – 14%. There is a good, mature nose of sweet old fruit with a hint of musk. The sweet fruit fills the mouth in a gentle way. There is a touch of fat with structure still present through the end. It is a lighter wine, with attractive flavors, some bacon, and a sappy finish. Drinking great right now. *** Now.
1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. Strong aromas of VA on the nose. In the mouth is a brief bit of fresh, young flavors before the coarseness came out. Shame. Not Rated.
1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc
The aromas of coffee and chocolate had me on the fence about being from Bordeaux. In the mouth this finely textured wine had a cedar hint before savory, weighty flavors came out. There is good acidity. The wine became even more youthful with air, showing dark fruit, and lurking power. The finish was savory and a bit electric. Needs more time? *** Now – 2021.
The Diamond Creek Flights
Anyone with interest in Diamond Creek Vineyards should read the transcript of Carole Hicke’s interview of Albert Brounstein in 1998. In fact, the entire Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series is great fun. Diamond Creek Vineyards became California’s first all Cabernet Sauvignon winery when the 79 acre property was purchased in 1967. Al Brounstein wanted to make the best possible wine from Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the more uneven Zinfandel. He interacted a lot with Ridge Vineyards in those early days before Paul Draper.
The Diamond Creek vineyards were promptly planted in 1968. Al Brounstein wanted to plant vines from France, but UC Davis said they would quarantine them for six years before they could be released. Al Brounstein did not want to wait and he wanted the best cuttings possible so he approached the great First Growths of Bordeaux. The cuttings went from France to Mexico City then up to Tijuana then over to Rosarita Beach. Here Al Brounstein would fly them back up to his vineyard in his private plane.
The Bordeaux estates from which the cuttings came from are not revealed in the interview. There is a cryptic clue however, “even though I’m going to tell you three names out of the five, of which two may or may not be included…I’m not revealing any names”. He goes on to mention Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, and Chateau Latour.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties were planted as a field blend for this practice is what Al Brounstein observed during his vineyard visits in Europe. The vineyards were first planted with 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. In the early 1970s he began to replace dead or damaged vines with Cabernet Franc, eventually coming to 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc distribution. Wine was first produced with the 1971 vintage. All of the 1971 vintage, except for the one case which was drunk, was used to top off the casks of the first commercial vintage of 1972.
There were three original vineyards: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace, and Volcanic Hill. The Gravelly Meadow lies on a prehistoric river bed which drains rapidly forcing the vines to search for water. It is the second coolest microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 7 acre Red Rock Terrace faces north with red tinted soil from high iron content. It has a warm microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 8 acre Volcanic Hill faces south where it lies on volcanic soils, producing what is considered the biggest wine of the three. It was equated to Chateau Latour.
Wines from these three vineyards are what we tasted. They have always been produced with an eye towards slow development which came out in the young vintages. The modern 1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is young and densely packed. Though it will develop for quite some time, it is surprisingly accessible with plenty of fruit. In contrast, the 1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley which also show great future potential, is a more savory wine with less fruit weight and quite attractive in its youth.
The 1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley gave the first taste of an old-school Californian wine. It is attractively sweaty with more restraint and structure. It will drink well for sometime and might even improve. It certainly set the stage for the final pair from 1978. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley is livelier with brighter, red fruit, lively acidity, and very fine tannins. In contrast the 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is deeper and darker in flavor, slowly unfurling its power which takes grip on your mouth. It was my favorite red wine of the night. I really enjoy this type of wine and all I wanted to do is drink it.
1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The red fruit slowly builds intensity, taking on licorice as well. The wine is quite fruity, packing in a lot of unique flavor, but is also rather young with fine tannins. With this savory flavor, the wine maintains a dense core of fruit that is clean and thick. **** Now – 2031.
1992 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Corked! Not Rated.
1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The sweaty nose is dark and aromatic. In the mouth are savory, mouthfilling flavors framed by structure and watering acidity. This wine is on the upslope of development. With air the red and black fruit is lighter in weight making the fine structure noticeable. The flavorful finish is followed by an aftertaste of dark roast and soil. ***(*) Now – 2031
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Off bottle! Not Rated.
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is sweaty and dark, not showing the intensity of the 1978s. The mature flavors exist in a touch more structure with fine tannins and a sweaty finish. It shows a good balance between fruit, structure, and acidity. With air there are mature flavors of cherry mixed with dry spices, salivating to juicy acidity and very fine tannins. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is more subtle but deeper with a crayon hint. The red fruit is balanced by acidity making this more accessible. The fruit flavors are bright but backed by depth and delivered in a lively, mature manner. There is good balance with the acidity seamlessly bound in, matching the structure. It wraps up with fine flavors of clean red fruit and a wood box hint. **** Now but will last.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is a touch earthy. In the mouth the darker fruit is rich with grip, steadily expanding in the mouth. The fresh and tart structure is left on the gum as some sweet, not quite grainy fruit, persists through the aftertaste. **** Now but will last.
The Dessert Flight
There were four dessert wines opened. The first two in full-bottles were served blind and the last two, in halves, were from Canada. There is little in print with regards to 1976 Hermann Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Despite the greatness of Bernkastel wines, the von Schorlemer family is not mentioned in Andre Simon’s and S. F. Halgarten’s The Great Wines of Germany (1963), Frank Schoomaker’s Encyclopedia of Wine (1965), nor Ian Jamieson’s German Wines (1991). There are a handful of advertisements for von Schorlemer wines in the late 1960s, usually featuring other offerings of Alexis Lichine. Fortunately, Phil reached out to Johannes Selbach who promptly responded. The von Schorlemer is a noble family that owned some of the best vineyard of the Mittelmosel which were highly regarded before World War 1. They were still a top estate in the 1960s. It sounds like interests changed so a large holdings of vineyards were sold off in 1969 which marked the slow decline of the estate. Our bottle was in perfect condition with a supremely beautiful color. Michael Broadbent rates the vintage four out of five stars noting it was a “supremely rich vintage”. With aromas of apricots and baking spices the sweet peach flavors were sported along by watering acidity. If you happen to have a bottle I would consider drinking it. The finish was a touch short but the wine resurrected itself with a very long aftertaste. I freely admit I had no clue what the 1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume was. It was not as mature in color as the von Schorlemer and much younger in the mouth. It needs time in bottle but you simply must love the fat and electric acidity that carries the residual sugar down your throat.
1976 Herman Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor. Alcohol 10%. This golden colored wine smells of apricots, cream, and baking spices. There are flavors of textured sweet peach with watering acidity. The intensity of the flavors fall off in the finish only to return in the incredibly long aftertaste. **** Now.
1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Shipped by Bertrand Bordeaux. Imported by Prestige Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Though lighter than the 1976 Riesling, the color suggests maturity. In the mouth is a very sweet start with fat, lots of sugar, and almost electric acidity. **** Now – 2046.
Mature vintages are a normal part of any discussion with Darryl and Nancy. However, when it came to selecting our wines for a recent dinner, they led off deep with a double salvo of vintages from 1929 and 1931. This soon led everyone else to offer up bottles from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
It was easy to be seduced by the final wine list. The vintages from 1929, 1931, 1937, and 1942 were at one time not only difficult but impossible to secure in America. The oldest wines were initially not imported due to Prohibition. The others would have been held up for a few years due to transportation difficulties caused by World War 2. In fact, Jane Nickerson wrote in The New York Times that the first tasting of imported wines since the war only took place in New York City during 1946. For these reasons, in part, all of the oldest bottles bore modern import strips.
It turned out that ullage as an indicator of condition reined king. With one loose cork, two bottles low in the shoulder, and even one below shoulder wine, these bottles were doomed from the start. Whether this was due to poor storage in Europe or America is not known.
However, you cannot find fault in trying a low fill 1929 Chateau Duhart-Milon, Pauillac or even a 1949 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves for they are rather difficult to acquire. The 1929 Duhart-Milon is largely regarded as an excellent wine. This particular vintage represents the last great vintage of the estate before it succumbed to the economic depression of the 1930s and ravages of the war. With no capital to spare, the old vines slowly died off with the overall acreage declining as weeds took over. It was not until 1962 that the estate was turned around after the acquisition by Domaines Barons de Rothchild.
Such history was in the back of my mind when, with bottles in hand, eight of us gathered last week at The Grill Room in the Capella Hotel located in Georgetown. Present were Darryl, Nancy, Tim, Scott, Lily, Josh, Morgan, and myself. For our dinner Chef Frank Ruta created a six course menu around our wine flights. The wines themselves were overseen by Master Sommelier Keith Goldston. There was much discussion with about the service of the wines to let them show their best. While there was no help for some bottles, the dead bottles of Bordeaux were tempered by other tenacious old red wines and an incredible opening flight of Champagne.
cod and colossal squid from Denmark, sweet onions, dauphines
grilled soy braised daikon
I have drunk Salon only once before but given the situation I did not note the vintage nor how the wine tasted. Our bottle of 2002 Salon, Cuvée ‘S’, Les Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs, Brut Champagne from the current release was deep in the aromatic nose, with cream and fat in the mouth, and a racy finish. It was young in the mouth but when I returned to it I could not help but see what all was in store. It was a very good but perhaps due to youth not as compelling as what was up next. The first mature wines were perfectly fresh. The 1973 Moët & Chandon, Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Champagne was a tremendous bottle, holding nothing back for the first hour or two. I was beguiled by the fat and oil textured flavors. As the 1973 began to fade the 1976 Moet & Chandon, Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Champagne finally opened up. This was always more austere in nature with yeast notes, dry flavors, and vibrant acidity. It finally showed good complexity and even suggested the need for several more years in the cellar.
2002 Salon, Cuvée ‘S’, Les Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs, Brut Champagne
Imported by Vineyard Brands. Alcohol 12%. The nose was very aromatic with remarkable depth, a hint of yeast, and underlying earthiness. This lovely wine was rich in the mouth with very fine and strong bubbles that quickly dispersed to leave a dry texture and chalk infused finish. With air it took on cream and fat, which never became heavy because it was racy. Young! **** 2020-2050.
1973 Moët & Chandon, Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Champagne
Imported by Schieffelin & Co. Alcohol 12.7%. The darkest of the pair, this bottle revealed pure aromas of coffee and latte with bits of nut added in. In the mouth the lively, firm bubbles made way to a drier, richer, and creamy wine. It lost bubbles with time but it developed remarkable amount of fat and oil before the racy finish. This tremendous wine delivered all it could before fading after an hour or two. ****(*) Now – 2025.
1976 Moet & Chandon, Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Champagne
Imported by Schieffelin & Co. Alcohol 12.1%. Though it bore familiar aromas, there were more yeast notes. The flavors were youthful with pretty floral components and better defined acidity. Nice flavors developed after a few hours of air making this a vibrant, mature wine. **** 2020-2035.
chestnut coulis, apple and turnip salad
Michael Broadbent noted the 1973 German vintage as the largest vintage on record with most wines set for early consumption. I might have hedged once the nose opened up on the 1973 Egon Müller, Scharzhofberg Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer but the flavors were getting tired in the mouth. While fine enough to drink I did not crave more.
1973 Egon Müller, Scharzhofberg Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Shipped by Weinexport Hattenheim BMGH. Imported by Kobrand Coporation. The nose was first evocative of geraniums before developing complex aromas of herbs and old lady perfume. In the mouth were apple-like flavors with some old and dusty notes. ** Now.
Hand Cut Tagliatelle
with kabocha squash, truffle and shaved reggiano
The 1929 Duhart-Milon, Pauillac turned out to be a shell of its former self. Perhaps speaking to its original potency, the nose was incredibly aromatic but of herbs and greenhouse plants. This was followed by tart and strange flavors in the mouth. No doubt old but refusing to let go was the 1931 Fontanafredda, Barolo. This is a remarkable bottle because very little appears to have been written in English about this vintage let alone the wine. The Wasserman’s described the vintage as “widely considered to be the greatest of the century” in their book Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1991). Michael Broadbent wrote that “pre-war vintages are scarce” for Italian wine which remains true to this day for there are but a handful of tasting notes. The Wasserman’s made note of the 1931 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo, there is also Michael Broadbent’s note on the 1931 Giacomo Borgogne, Barolo Riserva Speciale, and finally Jamie Wolff (Chambers Street Wines) mentions a good bottle of 1931 Marchesi di Barolo.
Fontanafredda has a royal history dating back to the mid-19th century. Trying times began with World War I and reached a low mark with the economic depression of 1929. After changing ownerships a few times, Fontanafredda went into bankruptcy in 1930 then was acquired by a bank in 1932. Kerin O’Keefe writes in Barolo and Barbaresco (2014) how this bank turned the estate around. You can imagine my delight when this bottle, produced during economic turmoil and bottled under new ownership, turned out to be fabulous.
Darryl had double-decanted the 1931 Fontanfredda, Barolo almost 24 hours prior to our tasting. He reported that the wine had gained weight since he first pulled the cork. It was in the mouth that this wine shined. It had richness and weight but it was the tension which kept me returning to my glass all night long.
Also drinking very well, was the 1937 Camille Giroud, Hospices de Beaune, Cuvee Blondeau, Volnay. The excellent 1937 vintage also happens to be the same year of the first Burgundy pavilion during the Paris Exposition. Our bottle was fairly pigmented when first poured but the color shifted to include more browns which matched the old wine flavors that also came out. The wine was sexy but unlike the rich body of the Barolo, our Volnay had structured black fruit and minerals. If it was more firm the aftertaste was coating and long.
1929 Chateau Duhart-Milon, Pauillac
Shipped by J. Calvet & Co. Imported by Ginday Imports. Alcohol 12.5%. Below shoulder fill. The dark brown color let to aromatic herbal and greenhouse aromas that also took on notes of dill. The flavors were similar in profile with a tart start, strange flavors, and an old wine finish. Sadly not worth drinking. Not Rated.
1931 Fontanafredda, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose did not prepare one for the surprising richness of the flavors. It showed a racy personality with inkiness and most importantly, tension. This was an elegant, compelling wine. **** Now – 2035.
1937 Camille Giroud, Hospices de Beaune, Cuvee Blondeau, Volnay
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by Old Vine Imports. Alcohol 13%. There was still red color in the glass but with air it took on browner and garnet tones. This was a sexy, old wine which showed proper mature flavors with air. It still sported some tannics with a touch of dusty, black fruit and minerals. I particularly liked how the old fruit flavors clung to the mouth in the rather long aftertaste. **** Now – 2025.
Bobo Farms Air Chilled Duck Breast
glazed beets, juniper sauce
This next flight featured two well regarded bottles from excellent vintages in Rioja. In The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain (2011) the vintage comments point out that 1942 “Vina Albina from Bodegas Riojanas” is in “top form today.” The Vina Tondonia “in gran reserva format, represent the peak of the vintage.” The 1942 Bodegas Riojanas, Vina Albina, Rioja was in top-form and really deserved even more air than it received. This textured wine had citric red fruit flavors and a youthful personality that reminded me of a demi-john aged wine. Sadly, our bottle of 1947 R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja was on the tired side. With the fruit largely gone it was tart and acidic with less flavor. Both bottles had metal capsules. The Riojanas bore a more modern Consejo Regulador Garantia de Origen label on the back with the de Heredia sporting the older Diploma de Garantia. I feel these labels spoke to the relative release dates of the wines.
1942 Bodegas Riojana, Vina Albina, Rioja
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Bottom neck fill. Quite clear and vibrant in the glass with a meaty nose of sweet berries. In the mouth the citric red fruit flavors and tannins made it taste like a demi-john aged wine. The flavors were dry and mouthfilling with watering acidity, a hint of old wood, and a cool, meaty note. It left good texture on the tongue. **** Now – 2035.
1947 R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
Imported by T. Elenteny. Top-shoulder fill. The wine smelled old with notes of soy. In the mouth the flavors were very tart and citric, leaving a first impression that the wine was older. The fruit had largely faded leaving prominent acidity and some old wine flavors. ** Now.
Dry Aged Shenandoah Rib Roast
locally foraged winter oyster mushrooms, glazed celeriac, red wine jus
This final flight of red wines turned out solid at best. With the 1949 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves clearly evocative of bananas and the 1955 Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe even worse, the 1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe once again exhibited reliability. This bottle had better fill and a different shipper than the bottle I tasted this summer. It proved different too with a robust, tannic, and textured personality. It is what I drank with my rib roast. The mallet-shaped bottle of 1964 M. Chapoutier, Cote-Rotie was aromatically described by one guest as “fog of ass”. It was odd and certainly stinky so much so that I did not revisit the wine until after I finished my course. Surprisingly, the nose cleaned up and developed a core of robust fruit. Though a bit clunky, it was a decent glass.
1949 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves
Though the bottle smelled of sweet fruit, in the glass the wine was strangely evocative of banana foster. This sweetness quickly faded to reveal old vintage perfume. In the mouth were highly astringent flavors of tart red fruit and perfume. It was a bit salty too. Not rated.
1955 Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe
Shipped by Tarbes & Co. Imported by Vintage Wines Inc. The smelly nose made way to tired, old flavors of menthol. Worse than the 1949. Not Rated.
1959 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Direct Import Wine Company. Alcohol 11% – 14%. The wine looked good with a garnet color of color infused with some redness. This wine presented mature flavors in a youthful, robust, and tannic nature. While not sporting a ton of fruit, this wine craved air, filling the mouth with textured flavors of maturity. A good drink. *** Now – 2025.
1964 M. Chapoutier, Cote-Rotie
Frederick Wildman and Sons. Imported by Schallery Wine Company. Bottom shoulder fill. This was a very dark cola color. I initially thought it too old with its odd nose one person described as “fog of ass”. Upon revisiting it had cleaned up tor reveal a core of red and black fruit with surprising robustness. A solid wine which just needed to shake its stink off! ** Now – 2020.
Tarte Tatin aux Coings
Honey buckwheat ice cream, vanilla quince sauce
The final wine of our evening was a fitting last glass. The mature flavors fit in with all of the other wines but the sweet, tense flavors acted as a refresher. As such I was satisfied and felt no need to taste anything else.
1959 Moulin Touchais, Anjou Blanc
Imported by Rolar Imports. Alcohol 12%. With a color of vibrant, dark gold and a nose of membrillo this wine was attractive to all of the senses. The rich flavors hinted at sweetness but this old wine had strong focus and good life from the acidity. The acidity drove the wine through the end where it tasted like a mature white wine. Good tension. ****Now – 2045.