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“How long will our reds last? I don’t know.”: 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling plus some table wine

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

The label of the 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County magnum was only slightly soiled. The fill was excellent and underneath the plastic capsule, the firmly seated cork was pristine. After double-decanting, to remove the sediment, the wine bore deep aromas proper for a good Californian wine from the 1970s.

Grapes have been grown in Mendocino County since the 19th century when there were a few dozen growers. Located north of Sonoma, the slow arrival of rail lines meant this was a region of smaller enterprises rather than ones on a commercial scale. During Prohibition grapes were grown for home winemaking in San Francisco and bootlegging on the East Coast. By 1938, the number of bonded wines hit eight with Parducci the largest of them all. Most of the Parducci wine was sold off to other major wineries but eventually a new generation sought to bottle under their own label during the wine boom. It is in 1973 that Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, found Parducci was just beginning to establish their identity.

Like Robert Mondavi, John Parducci advocated unfined and unfiltered wine. He did differ from Mondavi in these early years by avoiding any contact with oak. Parducci also felt strongly about growing the best grapes for the site rather than what was in demand. Articles from the 1970s share a common theme of Parducci’s unique style, affordable price, and drinkable red wines. If there was preference for fresh, fruit flavored red wines, there was also an economic side to it. The French and Yugoslavian oak barrels were too expensive for the family. That is not to say no wood was used, the Cabernet was aged in tall, thin redwood vats.

It must be remembered that 1976 and 1977 were drought years in California. The 1978 vintage yielded large numbers of healthy, sugar-filled grapes. Excitement was widespread with John Parducci commenting on the new wines, “Some of the most fantastic wines California has ever seen.” The principal vineyards of Parducci were Talmage, Largo, and Home Ranch. This is not where the fruit came from for the 1978 Merlot Special Bottling. The back label states the “grapes were grown by small growers on the slopes of Mendocino County”.

In 1974, the Special Bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $7.99 per bottle in Washington, DC. That put this Special Bottling in the range of Chappellet and Clos du Val pricing.  The nose is generous and in Parducci style, the wine offers up berries, freshness, and levity.  The alcohol level is noticeably low.  Together these traits make it a highly drinkable wine.  In fact, the magnum drank very well for several hours at which time it started to fade. To answer the title question, this magnum lasted 40 years with ease.

I wish I could write more about the 1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.  Founded in the 19th century, very little was written about it save short mention of the periodically medal-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  William Rice of The Washington Post found the 1972 Foppiano , Zinfandel as “very fruity” and though pleasantly aromatic, it lacked in tannin.  Ours, though, was from a better vintage but my gut-feeling is that the regular 1974s are fading away which did not help this wine.  The flavors are beginning to turn with no supporting structure left.

We tried two other wines that night from California. The magnums of 1984 and 1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red were found in the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages. Priced at $3 each I had to try them for the historic note. A closer look at the label reveals these were made at the Woodbridge Winery. Created in 1979, the Woodbridge Winery was destined to produce large volumes of affordable, oak aged wines. A basic non-vintage table wine had been made at Mondavi since 1976 but quality had slipped.  The Woodbridge Winery was one of multiple prongs designed to improve the table wine quality.

The new Mondavi Red was primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged in small oak barrels. Carignan, Thomson Seedless (!!!), and Columbard were largely jettisoned as they were considered in the territory of jug wine.  Mondavi believed in long aging in oak but $300 French oak barres were to expensive for use at Woodbridge. Instead, he “retired” his older French oak barrels used in his premium wines to Woodbridge.  He then employed American coopers to use American oak to form new barrels using the French method of charing rather than steaming. Unlike other inexpensive table wines these were new table wines based at Woodbridge winery were regarded as more complex and capable of some aging.

As for the wines, the 1984 was green, herbaceous and way past prime.  Not really surprising.  I was hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the 1985 almost obliged. The nose was good but the flavors too herbaceous.  I suspect it would have drunk fine a decade ago.

1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Definitely a brick-brown color.  Deep, comforting aromas are evocative of the period.  In the mouth fresh acidity bearing mixed flavors of wood box, deep berries, and maturity.  A lighter bodied wine of moderate length it is fresh and very drinkable.  It fleshes out a bit with air becoming more saline.  It has good staying power.  *** Now but will last

1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  The cork smelled balsamic but none of that transferred to the wine.  A slight hint of roast indicates its past prime.  In the mouth this is a fully mature wine, aging fruit is a touch sour but it remains supple.  A lighter style of Zinfandel that was likely elegant to begin with the structure entirely integrated.  *(*) Drink Up.

1984 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Green veggies and other herbaceous aromas.  An herbaceous edge to the bright and tart red fruit.  Short, simple, and not of interest. Past Prime.

1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Some depth to the nose, dark fruit, wood box, and spices.  A certain hint of that carries into the mouth but herbaceousness comes out as well.  In much better poise than the 1984. * Now but drink up.

A tasty pair of wines

Just a quick note for today on two other wines tasted at Sudip’s house.  It is here that four of us were intrigued by the 2014 Goodfellow Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Durant Vineyard.   At this stage, the wine is still a bit tight but all of the components give you a sense of things to come.  This is a fine, fresh wine which balances white fruit with ripeness and fat.  Elegant and not bombastic.  From the dump cart I picked up a few bottles of 1997 Harrison Winery & Vineyards, Millenium Merlot 2000, Napa Valley thinking they would be good as an affordable party wine.   We all enjoyed the perfectly mature flavors so much that I decided not to serve them at the party!  At $10 this is a great dump bin find.

2014 Goodfellow Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Durant Vineyard – $37
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from vines on volcanic soils in Dundee Hills.  Alcohol 13.4%.  Flavors of white peach and green apple mix with smoke and a yeast hint.  There is gentle ripeness, a modest coating of fat, and watering acidity that propels this unique wine.  This fresh wine sports good focus and is actually in need of age.  **** 2020-2028.

1997 Harrison Winery & Vineyards, Millenium Merlot 2000, Napa Valley – $10
Alcohol 14%.  A savory red wine with a rounded body and grippy, mouth filling finish.  It develops wood notes, an animale note, and even more rounded berries which mix with cinnamon, brown sugar. Quite tasty.  ***(*) Now – 2021.

Notes from the Dump Bin: Sometimes Old Wine is Simply Old

I have a deserved reputation for trying almost any wine.  I do not keep track of my success ratio but sometimes I find fun stuff such as the bizarrely decent 1971 Chateau Montgrand-Milon, Pauillac.  Who knew that the second wine of a Crus Bourgeois Superieur would still be solid?  Those $10 bottles were worth every cent.  Earlier this year I grabbed a trio of wines priced in the $3 to $10 range.  I had hoped that the 1981 Cellier des Dauphins, Cotes du Rhone was stabilized in some form rendering it immune to age.  It was not.  At least the bottle shape is different. The 1983 Chateau La Cardonne, Medoc would be better if the fruit did not exist solely in the finish.  Lovers of blood and iron will rate this wine higher.  For me, half a glass was fine. Most disappointing is the 1997 Delas Freres, Les Calcerniers, Chateauneuf du Pape.  Wine Spectator gave this bottle 80 points upon release.  I think it has lost one point for every year of age.  If you see these wines then stay away!  These wines were taken from the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages.

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1981 Cellier des Dauphins, Cotes du Rhone
Imported by Cellier des Dauphins.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Should have been drunk 34 years ago.  Past.

1983 Chateau La Cardonne, Medoc
Imported by Chateau & Estate.  Alcohol 11%-12%.  The color is quite advanced and would be alarming if this bottle did not cost just a few Dollars.  The flavors are a bit better with slightly dense and rounded blood and iron start.  There is watering acidity that keeps things going.  The wine is best in the finish with some grippy red fruit, more blood but then there is an aftertaste of roast earth.  * Past.

1997 Delas Freres, Les Calcerniers, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Maisons Marques and Domaines.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose of roast earth does not bode well.  In the mouth the wine is balanced in feel and in no way in poor condition.  However, the wine tasted old with the fruit all gone and the flavors are lean. There is still a good body and mouthfeel. Poor. Past.

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Meat and Smoke: 1996 Mordorée, Reine des Bois, Chateauneuf du Pape

May 20, 2013 1 comment

The Domaine de la Mordorée, Cuvée de la Reine des Bois, Chateauneuf du Pape is a top cuvée which is normally priced beyond my budget.  I recently bought the last bottle from the 1996 vintage at an attractive dump-bin price.  This wine is listed on the domaine website as a vintage to drink now, specifically by 2009.  I found that the wine itself has the robust stuffing to easily last another decade.  The flavors are dominated by meat, smoke, and roast notes.  Though the red fruit is still present and the wine ultimately satisfying, I do agree that this is a wine which should be drunk up.  This wine was available at MacArthur Beverages.

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1996 Domaine de la Mordorée, Cuvée de la Reine des Bois, Chateauneuf du Pape –
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Syrah, 2.5% Counoise, and 2.5% Vaccarese sourced from vines averaging 60 years of age.  The fruit was destemmed then aged in a mixture of oak barrels and enameled steel tanks.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose was full of meat, smoke, and mushrooms.  In the mouth there was moderate weight to the flavors of meat, smoke, and controlled, dense red fruit.  There was some tartness on the sides of the mouth.  With air the wine proved to be robust with roast notes and no great complexity.  The aftertaste brought similar flavors along with ripe tannins.  *** Now-2023.

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A Pair of 2003 Northern Rhone Wines

One year ago we tried a bottle of 2003 Domaine Michel Ogier, La Rosine and found that bottle to be cracking up. Since then a few others have enjoyed this wine so I decided to give it another go.  This time we paired it with the 2003 Jean Luc Colombo, Les Ruchets which was on the dump stack.  This second bottle of La Rosine showed so much better with attractive smoke, earth, and roast on the nose followed by meat and wood box in the mouth.  It projected personality.  The Les Ruchets saw a higher percentage of new oak for a longer period of time.  Despite using fruit from vines planted in the 1920s I perceived less personality from the flavors and more from the structure of the wine.  I suspect it will live for quite some time but I think it best drunk over the near term.  While I was glad to have paid the discounted dump-bin price rather than twice as much I recommend you stick with the La Rosine.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

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2003 Domaine Michel Ogier, La Rosine, Vdp Collines Rhodaniennes – $20
Imported by Robert Kacher.  This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from vines planted in 1988 and the later 1990s.  The wine receives 14 months with 10% new oak and 90% in 2-year-old barrels which raised Cote-Rotie.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose was light to medium with smoke, earth, and roast.  In the mouth there was tart red fruit to start along with black acidity on the tongue.  There was a gentle weight with slightly flavors of meat and wood box in the finish.  The fruit was quite clean with light black and red fruits mixing with minerals.  The acidity was clean as well.  *** Now-2018.

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2003 Jean Luc Colombo, Les Ruchets, Cornas – $20
Imported by Palm Bay Imports.  This wine is 100% Syrah sourced from 90+ year old vines from the 1.6 hectare Chaillot parcel.  The fruit was destemmed, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 18 months in 70% new oak barrels.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There was a light, meaty nose with the slightest hint of fresh pepper.  The mouth brought black and red fruit, pepper, acidity, and fine ripe tannins.  The flavors turned drier in the finish which was textured rather than flavorful.  With air acidity enlivened red fruit came out midpalate along with more roundness and balance.  ** Now – 2018.

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Notes From the Dump Bin

January 21, 2013 Leave a comment

On a recent visit to MacArthur Beverages I picked up more dump bin materials.  There are a number of reasons why a bottle might be dumped.  In this case the Clos de los Siete had an incredibly stained label and the two other bottles showed signs of leakage.  I do not normally buy leakers but after having recent success with the 2007 Coudoulet de Beaucastel, I thought, why not?  Under the foil the La Bastide Saint Dominique had a purple and white stained neck but the top of the cork looked normal.  The fill was high and in breaking the cork in half it looked like some wine might have made its way through it.  The wine itself was in outstanding condition and thoroughly enjoyable.  The Domaine de la Mordoree showed a very thick, jam like vein of leakage alongside the bottle and slightly lower fill.  I quickly identified the culprit as a thin fold on the side of the cork.  Now I am not advocating you start purchasing bottles with signs of leakage, certainly not fresh leakage.  But the right bottle at the right price might yield a pleasant surprise.

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2008 Clos de los Siete, Mendoza –
Imported by Dourthe USA.  Alcohol 14.6%.  This wine is a blend of 56% Malbec, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Syrah, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The light nose revealed dark aromas, roast earth, and became a little pungent with air.  In the mouth there were dark, robust fruit flavors, roast earth, and a touch of salt.  There was soft weight to the wine a little vanilla note, and fine textured, ripe tannins in both the finish and aftertaste.  With air it showed good integration of acidity, good grip, and blackness.  *** Now-2023.

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2010 La Bastide Saint Dominique, Chateauneuf du Pape –
Imported by Simon N Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault sourced from 25-80 year old vines.  It was aged for 18 months.  Alcohol 15%.  The color was a medium cherry garnet.  The light nose revealed deep dark fruit and brambly red berries.  In the mouth there was dense, almost grainy blue and red fruit along with notes of wood box.  The finish was full of black fruit with some fruit liquor, grainy ripeness, and a minerally black fruit aftertaste.  This wine has power and a rounded personality.  There were some very fine tannins in the aftertaste.  ***(*) Now-2028.

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2009 Domaine de la Mordoree, La Reine des Bois, Lirac –
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 33% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, and 33% Syrah sourced from 40-year-old vines.  It is aged in a combination of enameled steel tanks, oak barrels, and oak tuns.  Alcohol 14.5%.  There was a light to medium strength nose of Kirsch and black fruit.  In the mouth there was a bit of roast earth, black and red fruit, fine structure, and closely held ripeness.  There was a powerful fine tannic structure on both nights, almost too powerful.  If this resolves with time it might merit a higher score.  *** 2018-2023.

A Trio of 2007 Rhones Make Us Happy

I like to drink diversely but I cannot help but enjoy drinking wines from the Southern Rhone.  Indeed they reinvigorated my wine drinking back in 2007.  The Domaine de la Mordoree and Domaine de Beaucastel were dump-bin purchases, the first being the final bottle and the second showing signs of leakage.  I gambled of the leaker because the fill was very high and the capsule was dry.  The gamble paid off!  The Mordoree had a nose which interested Jenn but in the mouth it was a firm, tightly muscled wine which should be cellared more.  Both the Beaucastel and Font de Michelle are forward, luscious wines for drinking right now.  The Beaucastel has old school, earthy aromas and flavors enjoyed by all.  This bottle drank really well and has a lushness which makes you want to open more.  The Font de Michelle is immediately obvious as a special wine.  Again hard to resist now but there is an internal structure to carry it forward. These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.  Click here for previous Notes from the Dump Bin.

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2007 Domaine de la Mordoree, La Dame Rousse, Lirac –
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah sourced from ~40 year old vines.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose starts of light and tight with brooding dark fruit and roast earth, taking on some raspberry on the second night.  In the mouth the focused blacker fruit mixes with cool acidity, black minerality, and carries muscular weight.  It give the impression that it will slowly age.  On the second night the purplish fruit takes on berry qualities with juicy acidity.  It is firmer but has focused ripeness, still young. **(*) 2015-2023.

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2007 Domaine de Beaucastel, Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Cotes du Rhone –
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  This wine is a blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, and 20% Cinsault which were all fermented separately in enamel tiled vats.  It underwent malolactic fermentation, was aged for six to eight months in large oak barrels, and bottled after fining with egg whites.   Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose is interesting with earthy, ripe fruit.  The flavors follow the nose with a soft approach which still has good acidity.  There is nice weight to the wine.  Old-school flavors, wood box, and sweet spices fill the mouth.  There are some ripe tannins in the finish which is followed by an expansive aftertaste.  At the top of its rating.  *** Now-2018.

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2007 Font de Michelle, Cuvee Etienne Gonnet, Chateauneuf du Pape – $35
Imported by Robert Kacher Selections.  This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache (sourced from 100 year old vines), 10% Syrah, 10 % Mourvedre, and the rest Counoise, Muscardin, and Terret Noir.  The Grenache is aged in tank with the rest in demi-muid for 18 months.  Alcohol 14.5%.  After a four hour double-decant the light to medium strength nose reveals blue fruit and exotic berries.  In the mouth there are weighty blue fruit, dense flavors, and vintage flower perfume.  It is accessible with forward flavors, a wild note, and lots of fruit which expands in the mouth.  There are fine+ tannins in the finish and a long aftertaste.  With more air it reveals strength in personality, cinnamon spices, and an inky middle.  **** Now-2023.

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