Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation. You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover. Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.
Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983. Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot. That is ample enough reason to try a bottle. This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label. I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure. The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate. Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.
We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage. I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard. Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957. Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon? The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine. The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines? After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast. I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley. Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling. And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!
As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary. Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group. No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas. In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat. I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor. Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home. No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.
1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This The color is a bright, garnet ruby. On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate. In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins. There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish. Clearly the youngest wine tasted. It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve. ** Now.
1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%. A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity. Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive. ** Now.
1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%. The lightest color of the quarter. It smells like petrol! In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit. Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish. It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure. Really odd. Not Rated.
1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good. The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar. There are similar flavors in the mouth. The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat. Eventually it becomes more autumnal. **(*) Now but better bottles will last.
David Bloch returns from a hiatus in writing, though not tasting, to list his favorite Champagnes and both New and Old World white and red wines.
Top 10 Champagnes
1996 Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon
1998 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz
2004 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil
2004 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne
2006 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne
Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée de Réserve
Pascal Doquet Premiers Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs
Camille Savès Grand Cru Brut Carte Blanche Bouzy
Varnier-Fanniere Grand Cru Cuvée St-Denis
G. H. Mumm & Cie Crémant de Cramant
Top 10 Reds
Old World Reds:
1993 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
1994 Château Latour
1995 Château Troplong Mondot
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano
1997 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Méal
1998 Vieux Château Certan
1999 Jean Raphet et Fils Clos Vougeot Cuvée Unique
1999 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis
New World Red:
Top 10 Whites
2001 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese
2004 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Kellerberg
2005 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck GK Riesling Spätlese
2006 Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette
2006 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain
2007 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Trocken Großes Gewächs
2007 Vatan Sancerre Clos La Néore
2008 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs
2009 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
2010 Henri Prudhon Saint-Aubin En Remilly
1990 Château Climens
1996 Château d’Yquem
2001 Château Rieussec
2002 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume
2002 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg Auslese Goldkapsel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Sercial, 1864 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.
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!
Lou and I gather the families every year for a pre-holiday dinner featuring mature wines. This year we were joined by Darryl and Nancy for whom mature wine is a bit of an obsession. To accompany the dinner of crab cakes, coq au vin blanc, and leg of lamb we had planned nothing more than opening a random series of mature red wines. This was then surrounded by a Champagne and white wine starter eventually to be concluded with a dessert wine.
The Champagne was in the form of the impressively boxed 1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée. This is surprisingly fruity on the nose with precise flavors in the mouth that are supported by robust bubbles. There is only a touch of yeast and the sense of maturity really takes many hours to develop. It was a good showing.
The white wines moved us onto experimental territory. The 2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards is Verdelho on steroids. Unfortunately the 16.3% alcohol breaks through towards the finish as pure alcohol. No matter how seductive and correct the nose is, I could not get past the burning sensation in my throat. The 1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace is only made in the best vintages. You get that sense from the lifted aromas on the nose but in the mouth the wine is starting to tire. Switching gears once again, the 1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres is a wine for mature Chardonnay drinkers. The apple orchard flavors and bits of subtlety speak of maturation but the fat draws you back to peak drinking.
1990 Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Vintage Cave Privée
Imported by Moet Hennessy. Disgorged October 2008. Alcohol 12%. The nose is quite pretty with a surprising amount of berry fruit. The fruit continues in the mouth but soon picks up lemons and baking spices with a touch of yeast. With air the flavors develop towards maturity. The wine has good precision to the flavors which are enlivened by fine, robust bubbles. This is more of a fruity wine than yeasty/biscuit wine. **** Now – 2026.
2008 The Scholium Project, Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyards
Alcohol 16.3%. There is a rich, nutty, creamy, and seductive nose. In the mouth is a rich mouthful followed by toast and baking spices. The wine finishes spicy with a sharp, alcoholic jolt in the end. It starts of promising but is unpleasant by the end. *** for the nose but for drinkability * Now.
1998 Hugel, Riesling Jubilee Hugel, Alsace
Alcohol 12.5%. There is an attracted, lifted nose with lemons and herbs in the short finish. Interesting to smell but tiring out. ** Now.
1995 Pierre Morey, Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres
Alcohol 13.5%. The golden amber color speaks of maturity. In the mouth is an moderately dense wine with apple orchard flavors and spot-on acidity. It is clearly at its peak, with a suggestion of subtlety, that is briefly waylaid by the fat in the finish. *** Now.
While Lou and I finished our dinner preparations we required some red wine. Together we had both stood up a dozen or so bottles to try which we arrayed on a desk. A fine looking 1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard was selected at random. I was curious about this wine, Pommard being the first mature Burgundy I ever drunk. This bottle is from the first year Neal Rosenthal began working with the estate. The significant amount of muddy looking mold under the capsule foretells disaster in my experience. While not completely gone the dusty, dirty aroma pervaded the flavor. Down the drain it went and out came the cork on the half bottle of 1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. From the first released vintage, this wine was in good, though fully mature shape. Peter Newton and Michael Stone founded Sterling Vineyards in 1964 with Ric Forman as the winemaker. Both Peter Newton and Ric Forman went on to found Newton Vineyards once Sterling was sold to Seagram in 1977. So this is an historic wine in two senses. It proved a solid experience though the aroma of bananas and sweet rather than lively aspect of flavor prevented it from being excellent. No regrets though, for one should try as many 1960s Californian wine as possible, for it is an historic period.
1976 Bitouzet-Prieur, Pommard
Shipped by Neal Rosenthal. Imported by Select Vineyards LTD. Alcohol 11-14%. It smells of dust and dirt. There are some dark flavors in the mouth but the dusty, dirt aspect is less than subtle. An off bottle. Not Rated.
1969 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (375mL)
Alcohol 12%. The nose reminds me of red fruit and bananas. In the mouth are clean flavors of red fruit which are sweet. With air this becomes quite a mouthful. The assertive acidity brings forth a burst, of sweet flavor. It leaves the impression that this was a larger, slightly sweet wine in youth. *** Now.
With dinner we sat down to some serious wine. The glass bottle of the 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant was covered with cellar grime and label damage from racking. It is one of those bottles whose provenance was lost over the years or decades. There was a fair bit of ullage but the color through the green glass, though light, reminded me of watered down cranberries which is a good indicator. With a gorgeous nose and lively flavors, there is much on offer with this wine. If I nit-pick, it does not have the harmony of the 1964 Momessin, Clos du Tart but it has personality. I really like this type of wine. Just one year younger the 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac had very top-shoulder fill just below the neck. This was my first experience with Lafite. Yes, I have sadly written about more older vintages than the number of bottles tasted. Still this proved a great start. The nose is great, unique, and worth spending some time on. In the mouth this is a fully mature wine with just a touch of fat and graphite.
I admit the 1945 Chateau Calon-Segur looked horrible. As you can see by the picture, it still does, with the label almost falling off after lying in my equally old Eurocave. Inside the glass is what counts so the top-shoulder fill, dark color, and firm cork waylaid some fear. All of that aside, being of the 1945 vintage and bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol, where I spent my sophomore year abroad, warranted trying it out. The color is the darkest of all opened that night. The nose and the flavors are marked by eucalyptus with bright, tart, red fruit. In the end it is a relic.
With calls for more fruity wine I selected the 1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape. The fill was excellent and the capsule contemporary so I suspect this is an ex-domaine release. I cannot imagine someone would fake a modest vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape. I liked it a lot. To me it offers a balanced, mature Chateauneuf.
I recently wrote how I prefer equally old dessert wine following an old wine tasting. I am happy to report that the 2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes marks me wrong. It is incredibly complex and flavorful both on the nose and in the mouth. This is an outstanding wine.
1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby, & Co. This is almost light brown in color. The nose, though, is gorgeous with aromas of cranberry and vintage perfume underpinned by an earthy note. With air it develops both bacon aromas and hints of smoke. In the mouth the vintage flavor tastes sweeter with air. This is a vibrant wine with fine acidity. As should be the case, this old Burgundy develops with air, improving at first then maintaining its lovely state until finish. **** Now but will last for a decade.
1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Shipped by Mestrezat-Preller. Imported by White Company Ltd. Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose is aromatic and beautiful from the very first pour. It sports sweet, unique aromas of blood and iron. In the mouth are bright, clean red fruit which follows the nose. There are hints of fat and hints of dry graphite. This is drinking at its peak. **** Now.
1945 Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint-Estephe
Bottled by John Harvey & Sons of Bristol. The color is remarkably dark but of proper garnet brown. There is a fresh nose of eucalyptus and dust. Similar eucalyptus mixes with bright, tart red fruit carried through with watering acidity. There is even some structure. *(*) Now.
1979 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%. The nose smells of a library and garrigue. This wine peaks after 10 minutes providing an attractive blend of blue and red fruit, garrigue, and leather. Everything is in balance with this properly mature wine. It still suggests at ripe fruit. *** Now.
2009 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
The nose is amazing and almost effervescent as the aromas fly out of the glass. In the mouth is a core of butterscotch flavors, ripe pineapples, and sweet cream. This racy wine is already, impressively complex. Why not drink it now? ****(*) Now – 2036.
I was to bring a bottle of 1982 Chateau Calon-Segur, St Estephe over to Lou’s house. The first was, perhaps, drinkable to some extent. It was not by the time I arrived at Lou’s house. The second bottle bore absolutely no relationship to wine so down the drain it went. Both of these bottles were quite cheap, due to their mid-shoulder fill, proving they were dangerously low fills for a wine of such young age.
We kicked things off with a bottle of 1995 Michel Colin-Deleger, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Charmois from the Earthquake Cellar. It smelled of the sea with rather mature flavors in the mouth which were delivered with a freshness owing to good storage. We soon moved on to the pair of Bordeaux selected by Lou. The fill of the 1983 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac was in the upper shoulder. While not ideal it was still worth the gamble. You could see from the color and the smell of roast earth on the nose that it was not the freshest bottle. It did clean up after several hours of air proving to be a solid, mature Bordeaux of no particular distinction. This is due to storage and not the chateau. There was no mistaking the deeper and more pigmented color of the 1979 Chateau L’Evangile, Pomerol as it was poured. This was reflected in the deep nose and lively fruit in the mouth. It was the wine Lou and I kept drinking that evening. It was perfect stuff, really. I kept drinking it until my daughter kept texting me to return home so that I could read to her before bed. We were all happy that evening.
1995 Michel Colin-Deleger, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Charmois
Imported by Chateau and Estates. Alcohol 13.5%. The lovely golden color makes way to a surprisingly aromatic nose which is evocative of the sea. The white and yellow fruit is mature with a linear style of delivery. The wine itself took on some density. I suspect it was never that complex for it is the attractive mouthfeel that I remember most. ** Now.
1983 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac
Upper should fill. The nose reveals a little roast, noticeably more advanced than it should be, eventually taking on smoky, menthol aromas. In the mouth the wine does expand a bit after several hours of air. There is red fruit flavors, salivating and not quite tart acidity with lively, grippy tannins. Though this bottle is not generous and the finish is a little short, I cannot think of anyone who would refuse to knock back a glass. ** Now.
1979 Chateau L’Evangile, Pomerol
Shipped by Beylot. Imported by Majestic Wine and Spirits. Alcohol 12%. Top shoulder fill. There is a soft, start of red fruit, a minerally middle, expansive finish, and persistent aftertaste. The wine is quite lively with salivating, almost sappy acidity. There is still good fruit that is slightly tart and mixes quite well with the old wood notes. It is even a little racy at the end. **** Now but will last.
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.