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A holiday dinner with Amy and Barry

I recently met up with Amy Ray and Barry Wiggins for a holiday dinner.  It was a casual affair, seated at the corner of the bar of Restaurant Eve.  Amy and Barry are long-time fans of Chef Armstrong’s cooking and Todd Thrasher’s care of their wines.  While we limited ourselves to a handful of courses, the number of wine selections required both hands.

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We opened with a brace of Krug Champagne.  The 2002 Krug, Champagne Brut is young with white fruit, chalk, and a fine mousse of precise bubbles.  Though drinkable now it really is a wine to be aged for at least another five years.  One may guess this because our bottle of 1989 Krug, Champagne Brut has just entered full maturity.  This wine coats the mouth with weighty, mature flavors which are still racy.  The 2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru is a wine that delivers nothing but pure pleasure.  The nose delivers an impressive volume of aromas matched by the round, weighty flavors in the mouth. Like the 1989 Krug before it, I savored my glass until the end.

Squab dusted with Donegal turf.

Squab dusted with Donegal turf.

We drank our mature red Burgundy side by side. The 1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis from the excellent 1978 vintage and the 1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche from the not quite as good 1979 vintage prove interesting to compare.  The vintage differences are immediately noticeable with the 1978 Lignier still concentrated and powerful.  The 1979 Dujac is rich at first but it is more linear towards the finish with less weight.  The 1978 Lignier offers meat on the nose with cranberry flavors accented by meat and earth.  On the other hand, the 1979 Dujac offers wood smoke aromas, an oily start, and mineral middle. Both are outstanding wines but the 1978 Lignier is a touch more impressive.  There was no point in attempting to match these two bottles so I thought it would be fun to open the 1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa as it is the same vintage as the Dujac.  With a double-capsule, short yet firm cork, and brilliant color this fine conditioned bottle comes across as closed.  The nose was reluctant to open up but an animale flavor eventually added some curiosity.  Not bad for an old liquor-store wine.  I would double-decant this for an hour.

With our meal complete we required another Champagne.  Out came the 2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc.  This too is a fine wine, requiring a bit of air to properly show itself.  It is more evolved than the 2002 Krug so you could be excused for drinking several bottles now.

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2002 Krug, Champagne Brut
Alcohol 12%.  There is an impression of freshness with dry, white fruit matching the chalk.  The bubbles turn into a fine mousse carrying minerals before the persistent aftertaste.  Needs more age. **** Now – 2037

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1989 Krug, Champagne Brut
Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd. Acquired from Zachy’s. Alcohol 12%.  There is a gentle, golden color of maturity.  The nose bears hints of yeast and apple orchard flavors. With air the wine puts on weight with gently coating, racy flavors which mix with dried herbs and some wood.  These mature flavors are delivered with the freshness of a well-stored bottle. ****(*) Now – 2027.

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2009 Jean Noel Gagnard, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by c’Est Vin. Alcohol 13.5%.  The youthful color does not prepare for the rich, aromatic nose of spices and that sweet kiss of oak.  The wine is round in the mouth with supportive structure and a slight edge.  With extended air there is a density to the white fruit, grip, and notes of nuts.  Drinking great. ****(*) Now but will last.

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1978 Georges Lignier, Clos Saint-Denis
Imported by Robert Chatterdon. From Wally’s The Roy Welland Collection.  There is a complex, scented nose with notes of meat.  In the mouth are sweaty, pungent flavors of cranberry/red fruit and bloody.  There is clearly a focused concentration and power from this excellent vintage.  With vintage perfume flavor picks up earthy notes with air.  This remains a fresh wine with persistent flavors in the middle and a grippy finish. ****(*) Now – 2022.

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1979 Domaine Dujac, Clos La Roche
Imported by Frederick Wildman.  The nose is both sweeter and muskier with hints of wood smoke.  In the mouth this is a rich wine, almost oily at first but it straightens out with air.  The flavors turn brighter at the beginning with a mineral edge and overall less noticeable weight and strength. ****  Now.

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1979 Charles Abela Cellars, Ernie’s, Pinot Noir Special Selection, Napa
Alcohol 13%.  It is a youthful, very bright and clear color.  There is a very subtle nose which takes much air to open up.  In the mouth is red fruit flavors with a touch of citric grip.  It does take time to relax adding an animale depth to the clean, focused fruit. **(*) Now – 2027.

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2005 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Blanc de Blanc
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 12.5%.  This drinks well after half an hour of air.  It is racy, glycerin infused wine with ripe apples and a mixture of yellow, white, and green fruits.  It has tons of grip and when the bubbles calm down the earth, chalk, and yeast flavors are noticeable.  It has a lovely future. **** Now – 2027.

Lou’s Favorite Wines of 2016

January 2, 2017 1 comment

As Aaron and I drink many wines together, it’s inevitable that we have some shared wines on our top lists. The 1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill was obviously California with rich fruit and concentration but balanced by forest floor and a balanced acidity. What was especially interesting for me with this wine was that it was served with its brother, the 1978 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace.  This wine shared many of the characteristics of its sibling, but with more cassis, less earth and somewhat brighter toned.

I shared Aaron’s enthusiasm for the 1964 Mommessin Clos de Tart.  This is everything Burgundy should be—hugely complex as it balances a sense of fragility and depth. This oxymoronic nature of great, mature Burgundy was abounding in this wine.  I too loved the 1964 Beaucastel.  It’s too rare that I drink great, old Chateauneuf.  In an evening with an amazing vertical of great Beaucastel, this wine stood above the rest.  It was a beautiful mix of bright fruit, iodine and seaweed.

Moving on to two wines unique to my list are two more wines from 1964.  Both Burgundies were drunk at Berns’ and served from 375’s.  The first was a Senard Aloxe Corton Les Valozieres.  The second was a lowly villages Morey St Denis from Valby.  Both wines benefited from the cold conditions of the cellar there and were in pristine condition.  Though neither showed the pedigree of the Clos de Tart, they both showed as fully mature, complex and exciting.

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The 1989 Cos d’Estournel  also was part of a vertical of exceptional wines. Though I greatly enjoyed many of vintages served that night, the 1989 stood out to me (and just edged out the 2005). It had concentrated fruit, some green notes and a fascinating smoky spice like incense.  The finish went on and on.

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The 1970 Souverain Zinfandel was also from a 375 at Berns’.  This tasted still young and fresh and showed the heights that classic Zin can achieve.

My final two wines were probably more about the experience that the wines themselves.  The first was a 2011 Fevre Montmains Chablis that I had at Han Ting restaurant in The Hague.  This meal was probably my best of the year for exciting food and flawless service. The wine perfectly accompanied the Asian styled food.  It had bright acidity, a delightful minerality and will doubtless just get better with time, as it was just a baby.

Finally was a carafe of the house red at O’Tinello Osteria in Lago Albano just outside of Rome.  This fruity and fresh wine made locally had enough acidity to lighten the platters of cured meats, creamy pasta and the porchetta that the region is famous for.  It was a great reminder of the time honored pairings of local food and wines. We were close to the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo and I could imagine the Pope having a similar lunch in the bright March sun……

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My favorite wines of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

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It has been a busy year.  Not with wine drinking but with work, family, and the house.  I certainly spent a lot of time researching about the history of wine but this year my strong efforts in exploration produced less results.  As a result I published less historic pieces.  Still, it was a good year in all sense.  As for wine, what is memorable easily falls into five groups old Burgundy, old Chateauneuf du Pape, old Californian wine, old Bordeaux, and very old Madeira.

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Old Burgundy was consumed in the form of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart and 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant.  I find these old bottles particularly hardy with sweet, old concentrated flavors that never fade.

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Chateauneuf du Pape was off to a roaring start thanks to a friend who not only opened 2003 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape but also 2003 Henri Bonneau, Cuvee Marie-Beurrier, Chateauneuf du Pape.  The Rayas already exhibits “breath-taking complexity” whereas the Bonneau is structured for age.  At the mature end, a beautiful bottle of 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape proved the longevity of this type of wine.  This is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes.  There were some mediocre vintages in the 1950s and early 1960s so it is possible Jacques Perrin was ready to use this new technique regardless of the quality of the 1964 vintage.  From the same vintage, though not quite the same level of experience, the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape really highlights how negociants and growers successfully worked together.  I am also thrilled to have tasted an original release Mont-Redon, whose wines from the 1950s and 1960s have been widely praised.  With round, mouth filling sweet strawberries, the 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking perfect right now.

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The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley expresses many of the traits I like in a mature American wine: dark fruit, earth, grip, and some of the concentration from age that just makes you want to drink the wine rather than figure out how to describe it.  There is quite a reputation for this wine so I am glad it lives up to it.  The biggest Californian surprise of the year is the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County which has no written reputation that I could find.  This is Pinot Noir with a hefty dose of Zinfandel, that together provide a vibrant and taut wine with fruit, leather, and animale notes.  I must, of course, include Eric’s big bottle of 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County.  I will write about this wine in a separate post but to provide some context for this exceedingly rare 19th century Californian wine, there were only 37 stars on the America flag when the grapes were harvested.

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For some reason I did not get around to opening any wines from the 1966 vintage this year.  Still, I did not miss the 50th anniversary of the vintage for the 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien proved to be an excellent representative.  From the sweaty nose to the cranberries and red fruit this wine is nothing but fun.  Also pleasurable, particularly for the mouth feel, is the 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol.  In fact, Lou and I managed to drink this twice.  It is round, weighty, and injected with fat.  Great stuff!  I also managed to taste two bottles of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac.  The first bottle, with the highest fill, was the best being very aromatic with beef and blood.  The second bottle had a much lower fill so I opened it up an experiment.  It was simply a more compact representation, attesting to the staying power of Lafite.

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As for very old Madeira, I was fortunate to taste 20 pre-Phylloxera bottles this spring.  If I simply pruned out the fake(s), off bottles, and ones that are not so good I could probably list 10 more wines.  But my favorites can be narrowed to include the 1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial, and NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial.  For me, these wines balance the high acidity natural to Sercial with some sweetness.  They offer a diverse range of styles from tobacco and cedar wood to pungent, sweaty aromas and even smoke with minerals.  An empty glass of Madeira will still smell great the next morning.  A few errant drops on your skin will perfume yourself.

Solving the Mystery of the Inglenook Cabinet Port

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Wines from California

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

This was my first X Winery wine and I purchased it for $15 from Chain Bridge Cellars.  The Beringer was purchased for $22 from MacArthurs.  Both of these are decent drinks but I found too much sweetness in the X Winery.  At this price range and with this style I suspect this has broad appeal.  The Beringer was more of our style and screams well made Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon that is at an appropriate point.  I can certainly purchased more exciting wines for $22 from France and Spain but if you are itching for a Beringer then grab this one.

2009 X Winery, Red X, North Coast
This wine is a blend of 52% Syrah, 19% Mourvedre, 17% Zinfandel, and 12% Grenache.  The wine was aged for 21 months in 20% new French oak, 10% new American oak, and 70% new oak.  The light nose makes way to softer, loose knit fruit in the mouth that is powdery sweet.  It is a little rough and wild as earthy, darker fruit come out midpalate.  There is a grainy texture, not gravelly, in this wine which has a fair amount of flavor.  There are definite notes of mocha and sweet cocoa in the finish. * Now.

2007 Beringer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley
This wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Merlot and Cabernet Franc then aged for approximately one year in small, French oak Nevers barrels.  This is drinking quite well right now with lots of lush, blackberries and dark red fruit.  Smooth and round it hits the spot! *** Now-2015.

Gifts from William

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Vineyard, Image from Quartz Reef

These bottles from Quartz Reef and Blackbird Vineyards were gifts from William when he came down for the 2011 International Gold Cup. During my birthday week last month I became ever curious and decided to try these two bottles.  The Quartz Reef clearly needs to be aged for 2-3 years before trying again.  The Blackbird Vineyards, Arise is Pomerol-inspired but clearly Californian.  Its soft, darkness made me want to curl up on the sofa by a fire.  Thank you William!

2008 Quartz Reef, Pinot Noir, Bendigo, Central Otago
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir from six different clones.  It was partially fermented with indigenous yeast then the wine was aged in 33% new oak, 40% 1-year-old oak, and 27% 2+ year-old oak.  This wine is young. There are concentrated, tighter flavors of blue fruits. There is texture, a bit of spice, and a little nose. With air the wine becomes creamy.  I think there is potential for this to show better with age. **(*) 2015-2020.

2008 Blackbird Vineyards, Arise, Napa Valley
This wine is a blend of 42% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged for 19 months in 70% new and 30% seasoned French oak barrels.   The nose is dark with brambly fruit. In the mouth this is a dark, quiet, textured wine. The dark berry fruit show definite confection, a little spiciness, and are not quite creamy. In the finish the fine+ tannins are a little lose with some incense/lipstick notes. The aftertaste sports some toast. Overall this is a very easy to drink wine.  This might develop for a few years. ***(*) Now-2019.

Vineyard, Image from Blackbird Vineyards