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An intense and dark 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot

October 16, 2019 Leave a comment

I pulled the cork on the 1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley not knowing one bit of its history.  Founded by Randle and MaryLee Johnson, this bottle is from their inaugural vintage which happens to be the same year the winery was founded.  Just five years earlier, in 1974, Johnson graduated from UC Davis then a year later begin work with Phil Baxter at Chateau Souverain in 1975. In 1977, Johnson started work under Bob Travers at Mayacamas Vineyard which is located on Mount Veeder.  Fascinated with this mountain fruit, Johnson opened Calafia Cellars in 1979.

Johnson explored the terroir of Mount Veeder.  In the early years at Calafia Cellars, he produced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel from both the southeast-facing and west-facing slopes.  I do not know any background details of this wine but as it is marked Napa Valley, it could be Merlot sourced from the southeastern slopes of Mount Veeder.  Calafia Cellars was a winery in name only so I wonder if this inaugural vintage was made at Mayacamas.  This bottle was showing a bit of its age but the dark and intense flavors bear all the hallmarks of Mount Veeder.  What a treat!

1979 Calafia Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.1%.  Dark in color with a lovely nose.  Ripe and dark in the mouth with firm, dense and polished flavors carried by watering acidity.  In good condition, this wine is integrated all around.  It fleshes out a bit taking on some spice.  It eventually shows its age being a touch hollow in the end.  **(*) Now.

Surprisingly Good 1980 Girard, Cabernet Sauvignon

September 3, 2019 Leave a comment

The Girard family first bought land for their vineyard in 1972.  For several years they grew grapes until they built a winery in 1980.  It is from this inaugural year that Lou’s bottle of 1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley stems from.  The wine continued to slowly unfurl for hours, taking me by surprise for its persistent quality.  Looking back, this wine pleased others as well.

One early mention came from the 1981 Los Angeles County Fair where judges such as Dmitri Tchelistcheff, son of Andre Tchelistcheff, and Frank Prial of the New York Times awarded the wine a silver medal.[1]  Nathan Chroman found the Girards’ a “youthful and ebullient wine-making family”. [2] As for the wine itself he presents it as “high in extract and alcohol. A monster at 14% alcohol, but loaded with fruit…is already developing suppleness…put this one away for a few years to enjoy its ambitious power and hopeful complexity.”  Nearly four decades later that description is still quite valid.

1980 Girard Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
This wine was aged for 16 months in 50% new French oak.  Alcohol 14%.  Dark with a cherry garnet core yet fresh on the nose.  In fine condition, this bottle sports a developing core of flavor that gains weight and texture over the course of several hours.  It has a fresh mineral start and supple nature to the fruity core.  It wraps up with a spiced, scented finish.  Persistent in nature, it continues to deliver waves of flavor for hours. ***(*) Now – 2024.


[1] 132 Entries: A Fine Collection in Fair’s Cabernet Sauvignon Competition. CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Sep 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. L26

[2] Quality of Most Products Ranges From Good to Excellent: New Wineries … CHROMAN, NATHAN. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Dec 9, 1982; ProQuest. pg. M48

Magnums at a friend’s gathering

July 30, 2019 1 comment

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Last week I went over to a friend’s house to hang out and drink some wine.  He had invited his neighbors over and to quench our thirst he opened five different magnums from his cellar.  With two glasses in hand we first compared two different Chardonnay wines from the 2004 vintage.  Repeated assessments to determine the different qualities of the 2004 Bernard Morey, Puligny-Montrachet La Truffiere 1er Cru and 2004 Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses meant the magnums were largely finish by evening’s end.  With air and warmth, both magnums continued to exhibit fresh aromas and flavors defying their age.  These pristine examples revealed themselves to be quite different.  The Morey is the more mature, more hedonistic of the pair since it offers more mid-palate ripeness and grip.  The Dauvissat is precise with stone-infused focused flavors.  I liked them both though I give a nod to the Dauvissat.  It really is incredible at how fresh these wines can remain.

The second flight compared two mostly Cabernet Sauvignon based wines from the 1996 vintage.  The 1996 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Napa Valley reveals berries on the nose with more fruit and substance through the middle.  It is, no doubt, very good and while generous, it remains controlled.  My preference lies with the 1996 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac. The deep nose is killer with mineral, tart black flavors that are highly focused.  I would drink it now because the aromas are so attractive.  I can easily image it will last another 10-20 years but it might become too austere at that age whereas the Montelena will continue to offer more fruity, flavorful drinking.

Dessert was in the form of 2005 Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape.  Sadly, it came across as rather unevolved and underperforming so after a quick taste I returned to the other wines.  Due to my friend’s generosity in providing magnums, we were insured there still more to enjoy with the other selections.

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2004 Bernard Morey, Puligny-Montrachet La Truffiere 1er Cru en magnum
Imported by Atherton Wine Imports. Alcohol 13.5%.  A vibrant yellow-green with a fine, smoke hint on the nose.  Mineral with tart lemon flavors and mid palate presence from gravelly fruit with hints of ripeness.  Lovely and mature, it might develop a bit more.  I found it generally precise with a little spice and long aftertaste.  ***(*) Now – 2024.

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2004 Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses en magnum
Imported by Wine Cellars LTD.  Alcohol 13%.  A lighter, brighter straw yellow color.  A beautiful, tense wine with a fine layer of fat into the end.  Fresh with lifted acidity with lower-lying flavors that become subtle in the fat infused finish.  It remains focused with lemon flavors before wrapping up with a pure and tart, persistent aftertaste.  **** Now – 2030.

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1996 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Napa Valley en magnum
Alcohol 13.5%.  Berries on the nose.  Fresh, weighty flavors with a good core of black rurant then a mineral hint in the end.  It takes on more weight and while richer, it is framed out and always in control.  It is mouth filling with flavors that cling to the gums.  **** Now – 2025.

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1996 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac en magnum
Shipped by Bernard et Meneret.  Imported by Vintage Trading.  This is roughly a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol 13%.  Deep on the nose with graphite and minerals.  A mineral, tart black fruited start is carried by watering acidity.  It is lighter in weight, remaining focused with taut, fresh flavors and a long lasting aftertaste.  **** Now – 2035.

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2005 Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Alcohol 15%.  The waves of rounded, mouth filling fruit, came across as monolithic and not having developed any complexity.  A seemingly underperforming bottle that was just not my style this evening.  Not Rated.

Young Loire and Mature Cali

Our most recent dinner with Sudip and his family continued the tradition of tasting Californian wines from the 1977 vintage.  While I deal with the older bottles, I put out the 2014 Xavier Weisskopf, Le Rocher des Violettes, Petillant Originel, Montlouis-sur-Loire.  This refreshing bubbly offers spiced flavors in a young frame.  I would recommend cellaring it until this winter at the least.

Rutherford Hill Winery was founded in 1976, just one year before the vintage of our 1977 Rutherford Hill Winery, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley.  It became a partnership of winemakers and growers who had previously sold off their fruit to other wineries.  The roots of the winery date back even earlier and was known for a time as Souverain of Rutherford.  The original Souverain Winery was founded by Lee Stewart who ran it until 1970 when he sold it to Pillsbury Co.  Pillsbury maintained the original Souverain of Rutherford in Napa Valley as well as a new winery in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County.  When Pillsbury sold off its wine assets in 1976, Rutherford Hill Winery was born of Souverain of Rutherford.  This is a particularly flavorful wine, I would guess some other varieties were included with the Pinot Noir.  It is savory and dark flavored but it is a bit on the simple side with a short finish.

The 1977 Estrella River Winery, Zinfandel, San Luis Obispo is only the second time I have drunk a bottle from this estate.  I do not come across many bottles so I was happy to pick this one up from Reid Wines of Bristol, England.  If this seems an odd place to find the wine, this bottle came from John Avery’s cellar.  Avery’s Wine Merchants was founded in the 18th century and became famous for importing New World wines during the 1960s and 1970s.  Estrella Rivery Winery received many awards for its wines during the 1970s but was rather under the radar.  Check out my post Three Californian Wines from the 1970s for just a tiny bit more detail.

For this particular bottle, the label was a bit beat up and the fill was just below the neck so not ideal.  Fortunately, the bottle stink rapidly blew off and over the course of half an hour, it blossomed in the decanter.  At best, it is an old-school bottle with lively, cranberry flavors and sweet wood notes.  Incredibly, it will drink at its peak for several more years.

Both bottles of 1977 were finished off.  While not exciting, they were nevertheless enjoyable which I count as a success.

2014 Xavier Weisskopf, Le Rocher des Violettes, Petillant Originel, Montlouis-sur-Loire – $25
Imported by Vintage ’59 Imports. This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc with zero dosage.  Alcohol 12.5%. Spiced flavors with a racy vein. The firm bubbles are intertwined with spices and a touch of apple. It is balanced with fresh acidity that makes it refreshing. *** Now – 2024.

1977 Rutherford Hill Winery, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.7%. It immediately offers dark and robust flavors. This bottle is in good shape with flavors evocative of a blend. It is savory and saline with bottle age reflected by the old leather and wood box flavors. It is ultimately a little simple and fades. ** Now.

1977 Estrella River Winery, Zinfandel, San Luis Obispo
Alcohol 12.5%. This benefits from half an hour of air becoming redder with sweaty notes and a spine of acidity. Cranberry flavors mix with cedar and sweet redwood. It is a mid-weight wine with old-school flavors. Pretty good! **(*) Now but  will last.

“There is no such thing as Round Hill”: 1974 Round Hill, 1970 LMHB, and 1978 Mastantuono

January 4, 2019 3 comments


Sickness and scheduling issues meant I was never able to host any tastings this holiday break. I did manage to meet up at Lou’s house for an impromptu tasting of mature wine.  I was given several bottles of 1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves from that odd DC cellar years back.  With ratty labels (the 1970 is still visible though) and good fill, the cork came out in good shape.  Just a brief bit of bottle stink soon blew off to reveal deep aromas.  It is deep flavored as well, yet also lifted, quickly showing fully mature flavors.  Equally good, the 1974 Round Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley lived up to my hopes.

It is due to these two wines that I stayed at Lou’s for nearly five hours as we finished off both bottles.  Two years ago I mentioned Round Hill in the context of some old Ernie’s bottles I had opened.  Ernie Van Asperen ran a chain of more than 80 liquor stores in California.  He also operated a negocient business, purchasing up extra wine from wineries who bottled it for him under the Round Hill and Ernie’s labels.  Round Hill wines could be highly regarded and won medals at the Los Angeles County Fair.  Frank J. Prial, a judge at the fair, wrote in The New York Times that he found this “amusing because there is no Round Hill.”

As for what was in our bottle we do have some clues.  In 1980, the Underground Wine Journal wrote that the 1974 Ernie’s “Special Selection” Cabernet came from old Souverain stocks that were sold off in the 1970s.  In 1974, Souverain was sold by J. Leland Steward to a group of investors.  They in turn sold Souverain to Pillsbury Co. under which the new winery was constructed in Alexander Valley.  It was not a profitable deal, for Pillsbury sold off the Souverain winery and its assets in 1976.  Round Hill was founded in 1977.  That same year Frank J. Prial noted that wine from Sonoma Vineyard and Souverain were bottled under the Round Hill label.

There is a strong chance, then, that the 1974 Round Hill is actually Souverain.  Whatever it is, Ernie knew what he was doing for it is an excellent wine at the height of maturity.

I do love a good surprise and the 1978 Mastantuono, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County represents just that.  I refrained from any prior research so was quite impressed with the savory and saline profile of this full-bodied, red fruited wine.  Founded in 1976, Mastantuono is the fifth oldest winery in Paso Robles.  The Dusi Vineyard was planted in 1923 so even at the time, the Mastantuono was made from old vines.  The 1978 vintage was a hot year producing “intensely flavored” Zinfandel according to Robert Parker Jr. in The Washington Post during 1981.  This bottle is intense yet savory, lending interest as it reflects both the vintage and vineyard.  It lasted about two hours in a decanter before it started to fade.

The wines that evening were a treat!

1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves
Deep flavored with ripe hints and goof lift.  Additional notes of low-lying leather and minerals adds complexity.  The watering acidity weaves through the palate as the wine grips the sides of the gums, turning redder in flavor.  With air it offers up deep flavors of cranberries and other bright fruit.  **** Now but will last

1974 Round Hill Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  A deep, black cherry color offers more pigment than the LMHB.  Immediately striking as medium-bodied with good fruit weight and rounded nature.  This wine is rich in flavor with no hard edges due to fully integrated structure.  It is dense and gravelly with minerals and grip by the middle.  It took half an hour to open up in the decanter, eventually offering big mouth feel and flavor for hours.  A touch of structure comes out in the end. **** Now but will last.

1978 Mastantuono, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol 12.5%. A fresh nose with an herbaceous hint.  A savory, salty start soon yields bright red fruit that is deep in flavor.  This is a medium to full-bodied wine with quite the weight to the fruit.  Flavors of candied berry and old leather mix with good watering acidity, actually zippy acidity.  A very solid wine.  The savory personality makes it stand out.  *** Now but will last.

An Afternoon with Mature Wine – Part 2 Old Cali

November 19, 2018 Leave a comment

After four largely good bottles of old Nebbiolo, the three of us needed more wine to taste so out came several bottles of old Californian wine.  The 1977 Franciscan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, by way of Reid Wines of Bristol, was a mess of herbaceous, evergreen notes.  The pair of 1975 Harbor Winery bottles proved more interesting with the 1975 Harbor Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley a clear favorite of this grouping.

Harbor Winery was founded in 1972 by Charles Myers of Sacramento with a goal “of bottling wine from a particular terrain”.  Myers was an amateur winemaker and English instructor at Sacramento City College.  His first 1,000 gallons of commercial wines were released in 1973 and by 1980, output hit 3,000 gallons.

Myers first produced a “terrible” zinfandel in 1954 but two years later, when he had moved to Sacramento, he was making 200 gallons of drinkable wine on an annual basis.  The Corti Brothers encouraged Myers to go commercial and they even advertised the sale of his first wine in 1974.  Harbor Winery, being the only small commercial winery in Sacramento, attracted frequent coverage in the Sacramento Bee from which this brief history stems. The Harbor Winery selections were soon sold not just locally, but in Los Angeles and San Francisco with a rare appearance at The Ritz London.

Darrell Corti felt the local Sacramento grapes were no good, a sentiment shared by Myers.  Myers first turned to Amador County in 1964 when he was looking for Muscat and in the process was introduced to the Zinfandels.  It was one decade later, in 1974, that Myers first purchased Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from the Deaver Ranch in Amador County. The 1975 we drank would then be Myers’ second commercial vintage of this wine.  He felt the future of the 1974 looked “very good” at the time and this must have extended to the 1975.  I found it deep fruited with tension from acidity.  There is still the coarseness or absence of “subtlety and elegance” Myers attributed to Amador County.

The 1975 Harbor Winery, Zinfandel, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley is not as good as the Cabernet Sauvignon.  As I have described in other posts, Amador County Zinfandel was “discovered” during the wine boom. Myers utilized carbonic maceration to make a Zinfandel for immediate drinking which is the opposite of what Sutter Home and Montevina were releasing at the time.  I found our bottle hollow.

We finished up with a soft, simple 1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  It is a little wine where the volume is fading.

1977 Franciscan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Imported by Peter Eckes. Alcohol 12%.  Tons of herbaceous, evergreen aromas and flavors.  Ugh.  Not Rated.

1975 Harbor Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  Scented on the nose.  In the mouth, deep fruited, fresh, with a soda-like tension.  The nice acidity keeps the edges sharp to the sweet, lifted, fruit.  There is even a note of cedar.  There is a sense of coarseness but the settles down and lies low.  *** Now.

1975 Harbor Winery, Zinfandel, Deaver Vineyard, Shenandoah Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  Red berries on the nose.  Wood notes with black fruit greet but the middle is hollow followed by a cola-like finish.  There is grip and a lipsticky finish.  too bad.  Drinkable but only of minor interest.  *(*) Now.

1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12%.  A soft, gentle wine in need of more acidity.  Flavors of leather, gentle red fruit, and cedar fade towards the finish.  Simple but not flawed.  The nearly full bottle tasted exactly the same on the second day.  ** Now drink up.

An off-bottle of 1977 Keenan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

I picked up a few bottles of 1970s Californian wine in England of all places.  Reid Wines to be exact, supplier of old Claret back during my Bristol University days.  Their wine lists easy spans a century’s worth of vintages, primarily in Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy but other regions are sprinkled throughout, including a bottle of Keenan from Napa Valley, California.

The first vintage of Robert Keenan Winery was 1977 from a vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in 1974.  Robert Keenan planted his vines on the 19th century Peter Conradi vineyard located on the Mayacamas mountain range in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley.  Joe Cafaro, the first winemaker, was a graduate of Fresno State University.  Also in his class of 1969 are Jerry Luper of Freemark Abbey Winery, Dick Arrowood of Chateau St. Jean, Mark Shouse of Gallo, and Phil Baxter of Rutherford Hill.

The wines of Robert Keenan were soon known on both coasts and in Europe.  The Chardonnay was released first and could be the reason my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon found its way to England.  Frank J. Prial wrote in The New York Times during the summer of 1979, that some “of the best new chardonnays” came from such new wineries at Keenan.  That fall Robert Lawrence Balzer included Keenan in a list of one dozen unfamiliar wineries that “may have interesting significance tomorrow” in The Los Angeles Times.

The 1977 Keenan, Chardonnay was poured on George Washington’s Birthday at a wine tasting organized by the California Wine Institute and Les Amis du Vin, held at the United States Embassy in Paris during 1979.  Frank J. Prial recreated the tasting back in San Francisco where he found the Keenan one of the outstanding wines in an outstanding group of Chardonnay.  As for a connection to England, Frank J. Prial interviewed the English wine writer Cyril Ray in New York City.  Of the two Chardonnay’s they drank, one was the 1977 Keenan.

My bottle of 1977 Robert Keenan Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley had a fill in the shoulder which is why I opened it for myself.  A gamble for sure but worth it for the history.  There was that tell-tale roasted quality on the nose indicating the wine is not right.  It never cleaned up but in tasting the wine I can see how proper bottles should be satisfying.

1977 Robert Keenan Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.2%.  Fill is in the shoulder.  Dark and deep in the glass.  A roasted aroma on the nose indicates this bottle is not ideal.  The flavors are better in the mouth though the roast note persists. Otherwise this is a full-bodied, savory wine with sweet fruit and a wood box flavor.  The amount of body is surprising but the wine is completely balanced.  Clean bottles should drink well for many years to come.  Not Rated.


Prial, F. J. (1979, May 09). Wine talk. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120885774?accountid=14784

Prial, F. J. (1979, Jun 06). Wine talk. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120838683?accountid=14784

By, F. J. (1979, Jun 10). Wine quality from california. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120840402?accountid=14784

Balzer, R. L. (1979, Sep 30). Wine connoisseur. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/158960200?accountid=14784