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Legendary Rioja: CVNE Viña Real and Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva from 1976-1964

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), founded in 1879, is one of the oldest Rioja producers. For nearly one century CVNE has produced the top brands of Viña Real and Imperial. Over this period the wines developed the reputation as consistent  both in high-quality and long-life with the particular decades of the 1940s through the 1970s considered the classic age. This month a small group of us explored the tail end of this age by tasting five vintages of both Viña Real and Imperial Gran Reservas from 1976 back to 1964.

CVNE is a unique estate in that there are only five winemakers over the course of its long history. For the vintages we tasted our focus begins with the third head winemaker Ezequiel Garcia (1930 – 2017).  He was born in Anguciana, a small town near Haro, and worked at CVNE from 1958 through 1973.

The 1920 harvest arrives at CVNE. Image provided by CVNE.

Imperial was first produced in the 1920s. It is always bottled in a Bordeaux shaped bottle and is named after the Imperial pint bottles it was once sold in. This wine is traditionally a majority of Tempranillo with a bit of Graciano, Mazuelo, and Viura largely from the Rioja Alta. The Viña Real brand name was registered in 1940 but it existed previously under different variations. The name stems from the Camino Real or Royal Road next to which many of the vineyards lie. It is bottled in the iconic Burgundy shaped bottle containing Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo largely sourced from the Rioja Alavesa.

Ezequiel Garcia produced Imperial at the CVNE winery in Haro and Viña Real at the Viña Real winery in Elciego. For each brand there were different levels of quality. From top to bottom quality, Imperial was historically sold as Gran Reserva and Reserva with the Viña Real as Reserva Especial, Reserva, and 4 año. With the new wine regulations of the 1970s Viña Real wines were renamed Gran Reserva, Reserva, and Crianza. The Imperial names did not change.

The Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva bottlings are meant to be the best quality wine possible, produced only in the best vintages using the best fruit. Such was the quality of the wines produced by Ezequiel Garcia during the 1960s and 1970s that the author and journalist Xavier Domingo nicknamed him “El Brujo” or the wizard.  It is these wines that I poured at the tasting.

A wine is only as good as the fruit that it is produced from so credit must be given to Jose Angel de Madrazo y Real de Asua, 4th generation of the founding brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua. Jose Madrazo joined the CVNE Board of Directors in the mid-1960s soon becoming General Manager of Viña Real. CVNE sources fruit from vineyards they own but also from others under long-term contracts. One of Jose Madrazo’s responsibilities was to maintain these contracts and to seek out other grapes for all the quality levels at Viña Real. It is he who discovered the vineyards at Laserna. Such was the quality of the Laserna fruit that Ezequiel Garcia used it exclusively for the Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva. These vines at Laserna would eventually form the single-vineyard estate of Vinedos del Contino.

The Viña Real and Imperial wines were always meant to be different. They were made at different wineries with different blends sourced from different plots with different climates. During the 1940s through the 1970s, Viña Real always featured at least one-third Garnacha Tina with a typical blend of 40% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 20% other varieties including Mazuelo. Imperial never included Garnacha Tinta and featured more Mazuela and even some Graciano.

Cement tanks at El Carmen winery inaugurated in 1940. Image provided by CVNE.

Viña Real was made at a small winery in Elciego built in the 1920s. Imperial was made at the El Carmen winery in Haro.  Inaugurated in 1940, it was the first winery with concrete tanks in Rioja. Epoxy-lined concrete tanks were also installed at Viña Real. The Viña Real winery was small so the wines were vinified there then underwent barrel aging at CVNE in Haro. In 1957, the year before Ezequiel Garcia began work at CVNE, the 1941 Imperial was still in barrel. Under Garcia, the duration the Gran Reserva spent in American oak was slowly reduced to at least six years by the 1970s.

1976 Imperial Gran Reserva aging in barrel. Image provided by CVNE.

In 1973, Ezequiel Garcia left CVNE for Bodegas Olarra. He vinified the wine from the 1973 harvest but the final blend was made by the fourth CVNE winemaker Basilio Izquierdo Torres. Torres, who studied in Bordeaux, worked at CVNE from 1974 through 2004. Thus the vintages we tasted may be classified as: 1976 (Torres), 1973(Garcia/Torres), 1970 (Garcia), 1966 (Garcia), and 1964 (Garcia).

It was also in 1973, that CVNE and others, purchased the Laserna vineyards and formed Vinedos del Contino. The first Contino harvest occurred in 1974 so all of the Contino fruit from the 1973 vintage was still destined for the Viña Real Gran Reserva. It took a while for the Contino facilities to be built up so a large proportion of the excellent Contino fruit continued to be used in the Viña Real Gran Reserva. Today, Viña Real continues to use fruit from the Laserna region including plots that literally border the Contino estate.

Bottling of the 1970 Imperial Gran Reserva. Image provided by CVNE.

Across all five of the vintages we tasted, the Viña Real Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva all demonstrate deep aromas, full-bodied flavor, and extra complexity from earth and animale notes. The Imperial are brighter, more structured with noticeable acidity and more control over the flavors.  All of the bottles have aged very well with a general increase in liveliness as the wines became older.

The pair from 1976 showed good, complex flavor yet came across as fully mature.  The pair from 1973 exhibit less complexity yet are fresh and lively in the mouth.  I personally would rather drink the 1976s for the flavor but many preferred the 1973s for their condition.  Both wines from the 1970 vintage demonstrated a significant increase in complexity and energy.  The 1970 Viña Real is deep, earthy, mouth filling, and ethereal with a level of energy that made me pause.  The 1970 Imperial leans towards a core of fruit propelled by acidity, leaving a texture in the mouth.  The 1966 pair are lighter in flavor.  The 1966 Viña Real offers up more flavor than the 1966 Imperial but both wines should be drunk up.

It is a remarkably testament to the greatness of the 1964 vintage and the capable hand of Ezequiel Garcia, that the wines from 1964 are the most energetic and long-lived of all we tasted.  That is no small feat considering the 1964 Imperial was served from two half-bottles!  The aromas are to dream of, the flavors are a bit closely played but the mouthfeel is oily and luxurious.  My favorite wine of the night is the 1964 Viña Real.  It is mouth filling with complexity yet never weighs down the palate.  The interplay of flavor, texture, and acidity are remarkable.

We are fortunate in that not one of our bottles was bad allowing the personality of Viña Real and Imperial to shine through all of the vintages tasted.  If you have yet to taste mature CVNE you must set your sights on the 1964 Viña Real Reserva Especial.  If that is too expensive, the 1970 Viña Real Gran Reserva is a relative bargain.  These two wines in particular should be tried by all lovers of mature red wine.

CVNE is still run by family members including Maria Urrita Ybarra, Director of Marketing, who answered many of my questions and provided the historic images used in this post. I must also thank Jesús Madrazo, son of Jose Madrazo, 5th generation of the founding brothers, and former Technical Director of Contino, who kindly replied to all of my emails as well.  Finally, I thank my friend Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co., whose careful acquisition of these bottles enabled this tasting to take place.


Arrival Champagne

1984 Le Mesnil, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A youthful yellow color with just a hint of gold. The wine greets with a good set of strong, yet finely textured bubbles. This is a surprisingly youthful with with yellow fruit, and a core of berries throughout. With extended air sweet spices come out. ***(*) Now – 2037.


The CVNE Wines

 

1976 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. The deep nose offers up dark, sweaty aromas. In the mouth the deep note is echoed in the soft entry. There is a bit of a sweet vein of fruit with some supporting structure in the end. This bottle is fully mature with good depth. With air the fine red fruit flavor takes on an old wood note. *** Now – 2020.

1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a coffee-like hint on the modest nose. In the mouth is a soft, seductive start then a bright note buoyed by the watering acidity. The flavors are more linear with dry black fruit, and a subtle wood note.  *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A fine, clean nose reveals familiar deep aromas, and sweet red scents. With air it takes on floral aromas. In the mouth are cherry fruits framed by a fine structure. It offers good grip and presence with a rounded body. The cherry note continues in the finish and into the ethereal aftertaste. *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a noticeably dark core to the color. The nose is less aromatic with hints of funk and pungency which eventually clean up. However, there is a brighter start with slightly sour flavors. The flavors are lighter weight, carried by watering acidity, and some grip in the finish. *** Now – 2022.

1970 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are finely woven flavors of deep, sweet strawberry fruit. Complexity is gained through a subtle amount of earth and animale flavors. This is a beautiful wine, full of flavor, yet ethereally light through the long aftertaste. The energy of the wine makes you take notice as the wine will continue to drink well for a long time. ****(*) Now – 2027.

1970 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Another lovely wine. The bright start takes on a gentle, sweet core of red and black fruits propelled by watering acidity. There are complex spices, animale flavors, and wood notes. This finely textured wine still has youthful grip.  **** Now – 2027.

1966 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. In a way there is sweeter fruit in this wine. Though it is lighter in flavor and body there is complexity from low-lying minerals and wood notes. It offers more fruit than the Imperial. It is in a good state of life given the lesser vintage. *** Now.

1966 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. I found this tart with watery flavor, less weight, and dry structure. ** Now.

1964 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are deep aromas of leather and earth. In the mouth the red fruit has youthful grip with a gorgeously fine interplay of fruit, earth, and animale notes. The wine becomes drier towards the finish. This is a beautifully focused wine with both fruit, acidity, and structure to continue its glacial evolution for years to come. If you enjoy that sweet concentration resulting from traditional winemaking and old age then look no further.  ****(*) Now – 2032.

1964 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. What a beautiful nose! Again this shows more focus and structure but the the vintages give the flavors extra strength and weight. Black fruited in general added mouthfeel comes out of nowhere from a luxurious oily bit. I wonder if it will open up even more? **** Now – 2027.


Dinner Wines

NV Krug, Grande Cuvée 164 eme Edition, Champagne Brut
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA.  Alcohol 12.5%. This already smells complex with a young aroma of apple. In the mouth this is a youthful wine with assertive bubbles then a very fine mousse. The yellow fruit and gentle baking spices are of good complexity and long duration. **** Now – 2037.

1996 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, Rioja Reserva
Imported by Tempranillo Inc.  There is a pungent nose of berries and banana foster. It is a fresh and gentle wine in the mouth back by good weight. Despite the young age, it is drinking very well showing both mature flavors and a core of covert fruit. **** Now – 2022.

1985 Torres, Grand Sangre de Torro, Penedes
This wine is a blend of 70% Garnacha and 30% Carinena.  There is a bright red fruit in the complex start. It morphs from earthy, sweet fruit in the start to dry black fruit in the finish. A ripe Garnacha character comes out with air. This is not a wine for the ages rather a solid, mature wine to drink now. *** Now – 2020.

1973 Paternina, Conde de los Andes, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A brilliant color! The tart red fruit on the nose smells of some age due to a roasted earth note. In the mouth are lighter flavors of cranberry and red fruits which are match by the acidity driven profile. This is a clean with, slightly short in the finish, yet the aftertaste still leaves texture on the gums. *** Now but will last.

1970 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vina Pomal, Rioja Crianza
A Chambers Street Wines selection imported by T. Elenteny. Tired on the nose and in the mouth. The rounded start brings rather advanced flavors and a short finish. *(*) Drink Up.

NV Emilio Lustau, Sherry Very Rare Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia
Imported by Europvin USA.  This is enjoyable pungent on the nose with polished wood, fresh orange citrus notes, and some deep aromas.  Noticeably less complex in the mouth with a dry, linear, saline flavors of nuts and yellow citrus wrapped up by a warm finish.  *** Now – 2027+.


NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve Madeira
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a sweet nose of brown sugar backed by the slightest pungency. In the mouth there is still, fine sweet fruit of good weight. The sweetness is expertly balanced by the acidity. It picks up a lovely foxiness in the finish. **** Now – whenever.

Back to the golden-age: A tasting of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Chateauneuf-du-Pape from 1990-1961

September 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Paul Jaboulet Aîné, founded in 1834, remains a major negociant to this day.  The Hermitage “La Chapelle” needs no introduction as it is still a benchmark for Northern Rhone wines. Today we would not include the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cèdres” as amongst the best of the region but it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a handful of vineyard owners bottled their own wine during this period which allowed Paul Jaboulet Aîné to purchase wine from top vineyards, the names of which are highly coveted today.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné has original vineyard holdings in Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth explained to me how Northern Rhone merchants felt they should have Southern Rhone wines in their portfolio. These were marketed towards French restaurants and the export trade. Thus the Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Cèdres” is a brand name marketed in the US and Great Britain and “La Grappe des Papes” elsewhere.

John Livingstone Learmonth writes that this was the “benchmark house” when he started in the wine business in 1973.  Robert Parker echoes this sentiment rating the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintages prior to 1970 with the top mark of five stars.  This past weekend a group of us gathered in my house to explore these golden years by tasting 11 vintages from 1990 back to 1961.

The four oldest vintages tasted 1970, 1966, 1964, and 1961 were produced by Louis Jaboulet, grandson of founder Paul Jaboulet. It is Louis Jaboulet who selected the wines that went into these vintages.  With his passing away in 2012 the background history of these great wines was lost.[1]  What we do know is very little and often repeated.  Robert Parker writes that the 1967 was produced from old-vine wine from Chateau La Nerthe.  He also writes that the older vintages were predominantly or entirely made from Grenache.

My overall impression is that in moving back in time, decade by decade, the wines become more interesting and exciting.  The 1990 and 1989 vintages are young in evolution but in different ways.  The former is integrated yet tight whereas the later offers rounder fruit but with tangy grip from age-worthy structure.  The first mature vintage is 1983 which attracted me with its sweaty, old-school aromas.  The 1982 requires a day for the nose to clean up at which point it is a mature, quieter wine. Both of these vintages should be drunk soon.  Youthful form returned in the 1981 vintage which is finely scented and flavored.  Out of magnum I would wait several more years before revisiting.

The excellent vintages of 1979, 1978, and 1970 made for a very satisfying flight.  These wines are mature but will drink in good form for several more years.  They all bear fruit backed by weight and a sweaty/animale note that I like.

We had an off bottle of 1964 thus our oldest decade was represented by 1966 and 1961.  For me the level of interest stepped up one more notch over the 1970s for the 1966 is downright exciting. The balance between red fruit, sweet concentration, levity, bottle age complexity, and life pulls you into your glass.  It should drink at this level for several more years.  If the 1966 is generous the 1961 is structured, controlled, and dry in nature.  It is made complex by leather and perfumed notes.

It is clear that Louis Jaboulet was able to source some fine wine for his vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Not only do these wines highlight the quality level a top negociant could achieve but increase the notion of longevity of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I must point out that this tasting would not have occurred without the willingness of Mannie Berk, founder of the Rare Wine Co., who generously opened up his inventory to me.  He imported all of these wines which included a combination of ex-domaine and private cellar acquisitions.

After the tasting we drank a few more wines.  One generous guest opened a bottle of 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle which required until the second night to show its glorious potential.  With dessert came the 1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port which I found to be completely mature.  It is all sweet fruit and spices.


Arrival Champagne

 

2000 Charles Heidsieck, Champagne Brut Millésimé
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  A light golden color.  The mousse tickles the tongue before the wine seamlessly transitions to a fresh, grippy presence.  The mouth feel matches the chalk flavor from which notes of apple orchard, some supple weight, and spiced chalk come out.  A fine glass.  **** Now – 2020.


Flight #1

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is tight at first but slowly reveals interesting aromas of sweet, sweaty leather, and garrrigue. In the mouth are fresh red fruit flavors around a fine vein of herbs and wood. The flavors are moved along by watering acidity. With air, this slowly evolving wine, shows complicated garrigue and wood notes. *** Now – 2027.

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 14%. Slightly maderized on the nose but with aromas of darker fruit and plums. In the mouth the flavors have good weight, eventually revealing cherries and sweet fruit. There is a bit of a tang and polished wood note. ** Now.

1989 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 13.5%. This is every so slightly darker than the first trio. A tight nose at first but the palate has lovely grip from the structure which adds pleasing texture to the blue/red fruits and garrigue. Unlike the 1990, there is a very fine tannic structure and it is also more forward in flavor. It is easy to appreciate the rounder flavors, tangy grip, and sweet raspberry aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #2

1983 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins. The nose is sweet and sweaty, certainly old-school. With air a freshness and tobacco aroma come out. Watering acidity brings forth a start of sweet and rounded flavors made more complex by incense. The wine is clearly mature. Though there is red fruit with some weight, though lighter than the 1989, the wine dries by the finish. There is also a touch of structure lurking about. ***(*) Now – 2022.

1982 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Quite aromatic with a hint of cheese and metal which eventually improves to be funky. In the mouth the wine oscillates in appeal. At best, the grippy structure and sweet red aftertaste appeal but there is more structure than fruit. ** Now.

1981 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13%.  This is a finely scented wine of dark aromas. In the mouth it is clearly in fine condition with red then blacker fruit, fresh acidity, and a finely textured and well-integrated tannic structure. With air raspberry flavors and firm red fruit come out. There is an ethereal quality to the fruit. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #3

1979 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The lightest of the trio but with good brilliance. The berries and cherries on the nose are a touch firm with a hint of roast. In the mouth is also a slightly roasted note but the sweet, small berried fruit has weight and longevity in profile. It is a bit animale. ***(*) Now – 2020.

1978 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Aromas of cherries, cranberries, and bright herbs eventually take on sweat, incense, and a green note. The flavors are rounder than the 1979 yet are light in weight, carried through by watering acidity. The entire wine is underpinned by structure and spiced tannins that are perfectly integrated. This wine eventually reveals itself to be long lived, lovely, and complete. **** Now – 2025.

1970 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The darkest of the trio, slightly cloudy. Also the most robust of the trio with a closely played berry core with tangy flavors lefts on the sides of the mouth. With air the wine becomes brighter with red, rounded berry flavors, tartness, and a hint of cola. Good watering acidity. **** Now – 2022.


Flight #4

1966 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. I just wanted to smell and taste this wine. There is a fine interplay between the red fruit, sweet concentration, and ethereal flavor. It is light in body yet flavorful with complexity from leather and animale flavors. Simply a point. ****(*) Now but will last.

1964 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.   This bottle is toast! Not Rated.

1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. The nose offers up sweet fruits and leather then with air banana foster. In this mouth this is a dry wine, a characteristic which naturally matches the perfumed flavor. There is controlled ripeness and watering acidity. **** Now but will last.


Dinner Wines

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle
Imported by Frederick Wildman.  The dark cherry and garnet color is still youthful. There are fine scented berries on the nose. In the mouth there is great purity with black and purple fruit, hints of leather all delivered with great focus. On the second night the wine is markedly improved with a savory profile to the dark fruit. Is is still youthful but the flavors takes on weight and a mineral dimension. It is also still structured but there is plenty of flavor for development as the long, mouth filling finish attests too. ***(**) Now – 2037.

1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines.  Alcohol 20%.  This is finely scented with sweet fruit, spices, and wood box. The rounded, red fruited start is dusted with ripe, baking spices. The structure is largely resolved so there is a sense of balance because the wine is in a sweet spot.  *** Now – 2022.

[1]According to correspondence with Jean Luc Chapel, Prestige Account Manager, Paul Jaboulet Aîné on 27 September 2017.

For drinking now, the 1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage

February 19, 2017 Leave a comment

The 1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage is at a state where it drinks perfectly.  There are mature wine flavors, spices, and wood box delivered with a seductive round mouth feel.  The structure is fully resolved with enough acidity to leave a fresh impression.  In short, there is no reason to hold onto this Late Bottled Vintage any longer.  You may pull the cork and start drinking to satisfaction but if you give it a bit of air, it will improve a notch.

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1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage Port
Imported by Robert Hass Selections.  Alcohol 20%.  There is an ample volume of round, berry fruit with quite a lot of body present from the very beginning.  It is in a fully integrated state with vintage wine flavor, christmas spices, wood box, and some ripe brown sugar flavor.  Perhaps there is a softness to the round quality but the wine is still very fresh.  With air the sweet cream and Christmas spice is carried with a glycerin mouthfeel.  The rounded structure is fully resolved.  **** Now but will last.

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A balanced bottle of 1983 Gould Campbell

February 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Just a quick post for today.  The 1983 Gould Campbell, Vintage Port is in fine shape.  It has shed any aggressiveness of youth and is now in that middle age of smoothness.  The primary blue fruit is surrounded by bottle aged flavor which last through the respectably long finish.   The sweetness is in balance making this an easy Vintage Port to drink.

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1983 Gould Campbell, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines.  Alcohol 20%.  This is an attractive wine which tastes best after several hours of air.  It has dense flavors of blue fruit, ripe spices, fine wood, and moderate sweetness.  It is smooth and balanced throughout with a sense of elegance.  ***(*) Now – 2037.

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A mystery bottle of 1970 Warre Vintage Port

There was a time when much of the Vintage Port sold at MacArthur Beverages was English bottled.  These wines were purchased by the case upon which the vintage and house were labeled.  But as Mark Wessels and Andy Creemer recently related, the bottles inside were unmarked.  Despite efforts to organize or tag the bottles, some bottles strayed losing any outwardly visible identification.  I purchased what must be the last two of these stray bottles.

Vintage Port corks are largely branded.  I cut the bottom of the lead capsule on the youngest of the two bottles.  Despite scrubbing the neck of the bottle and using various flashlights, I could not make out any brand on the cork.  The mystery was revealed when I extracted the cork using my Durand.  This English bottle of 1970 Warre Vintage Port was in fine condition.  It offered elegant flavors of fruit, wood, spice, and even a bit of grip on the tongue.  There is no sense of power, rather that of a wine which has crested peak drinking and should be drunk up.  Which is what we did, making me all the more happy to solve my mystery.

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1970 Warre, Vintage Port
The good, clear color reflected in the clean, elegant flavors of this wine.  It begins with fruity flavors, fig and hints of wood with a touch of warm spice in the finish.  The wine grips the tongue leaving an impression of white nuts in the aftertaste.  *** Now.

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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.

Eric Ifune’s 2016 Fortified Wines of the Year

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Eric Ifune returns this winter to describe his favorite fortified wines of 2016.  I first met Eric at the annual Madeira tastings organized by Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port) and Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.).  As you can see in his post, Eric drinks some rather amazing and rare wines, so I am excited to present his thoughts.

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I’ve had the great fortune to attend multiple tastings of fantastic fortified wines this year. These are my most memorable in chronologic tasting order.

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Henriques & Henriques Boal AB
A wine from the stock of the late John Cossart, the former head of H&H. This is a distinct wine from the famous H&H duo of the Grand Old Boal and the WS Boal. Probably from the early 19th century. Recorked in 1952 and 2011. The bottle itself is very old, a three part molded hand blown bottle approximately 150 years old.

A pale gold, green, amber color. Beautifully iridescent. A lovely, delicate floral fragrance with almonds and pralines. Just the barest hint of VA. Very, very long with limes and pralines on the finish. Just a lovely, gentle old Boal. Really beautiful. Not as dense as the WS or Grand Old Boal but fine and delicate.

The hand written labels are by Ricardo Freitas of Barbeito who reconditioned the Cossart Wines.

1898 Barbieto MMV Verdelho
Bronze gold green color. A meaty, savory aroma of cabbage, nuts, pralines. It smells better than it sounds! A very lean, acidic style of Verdelho which I love. Flavors of lemons and tangy pralines. A very, very long lemony finish. Just mouthwatering.

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1863 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
These wines originally belonged to Ricardo Freitas’ mother, Manuela Vasconcelos, who ran Barbeito before Ricardo.

Bronze green, gold in appearance. Very fragrant and floral. Just the barest hint of VA. Savory and delicate on the palate. High acidity with wonderful balance. Did I say I like a lot of acidity in my Madeira? A gentle style of Malvasia. Very long with a finish redolent of tangerines.

1880 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
This was commercially available via the Rare Wine Company. The majority of this wine was the mother wine of Barbeito’s excellent 40 year old Malvasia “Mae Manuela” blend that Ricardo Freitas created in honor of his mother. The remainder was bottled as a straight 1880.
Very dark, almost opaque with an olive oil meniscus. Dense and rich aromas with iodine, saline, savory and sweet flavors. Very dense, intense and rich. A complete contrast to the 1863. Musky, caramel and toffee. A great, concentrated Malvasia if somewhat monolithic.

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1795 Barbeito Terrantez
A very famous wine. I’ve been fortunate to have tasted this on several occasions over the past several years. Originally the property of the old Hinton family on Madeira, then owned by Oscar Acciaioly. Half was obtained by Barbeito and placed back into wooden casks for oxygenation. It was bottled a few at a time and slowly released to the market. The last of it was 23 bottles filled and sold in 2006. This particular bottle was from September 2000.

Dark bronze color with a green, gold rim. Huge and complex aromas of limes, oranges, toffee, and toasted nuts. On the palate, intense and electric. Great acidity. Not particularly sweet but beautiful balance. Huge depth and complexity. A long citric finish. Just wonderful!

1895 D’Oliveiras Malvasia
This was bottled in 2014. D’Oliveiras has the largest stocks of really old wine left on the island. They still have some of the 1850 Verdelho in cask! They will bottle wine as they need it. This was very dark, opaque in appearance. Smoky and dense aromas with citrus and molasses. On the palate, dense but not particularly sweet. Nice acidity. Flavors of grapefruit, lemons, honey, nuts, and toffee. Long, musky finish.

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1810 Borges Sercial
This was one of the famous wines that Henrique Menezes Borges purchased in the mid-19th century and passed on down to his descendants and not as part of the company holdings. These family wines were thought to be in wood for approximately 100 years. They were bottled from demijohn in 1989. Two demijohns of this 1810 Sercial yielded 45 bottles.

Bright copper, gold, green color. Spicy aromas, a bit spirit. Toast, nuts, and apples on the nose as well. Rich and fruity on the palate. Almost black fruited. High acidity. Beautiful balance. An almost Verdelho level of sweetness due to the extreme concentration. A long, scintillating finish. A bit atypical for Sercial but still a real beauty.

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Herdade do Mouchao Licoroso 1929 Solera
Herdade do Mouchao is an Alentejo estate with an almost cult status in Portugal for their table wines. They also make a vinhos licoroso which is the generic Portuguese term for a sweet fortified wine. Mainly Alicate Bouchet grapes. I think of them with penultimate organic viticulture. No monoculture here, the estate is a patchwork of vineyards, old forest, cork oak groves, pasture for sheep and poultry. Lots of biodiversity.

This particular wine is tasted at the estate from cask. It was refreshed several times, hence the solera designation. The average wine age is 45-50 years old. Impenetrable dark color with a browning rim. Very fresh aromas of walnuts, citrus fruit, figs. The barest hint of VA. Very thick and viscous on the palate, but fresh with great acidity. Not overwhelmingly sweet. Lots of lime, grapefruit, brown sugar and toffee. A very long nutty, figgy finish. Just wonderful stuff!

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” White Port
Quinta do Mourao is a Port producing Douro estate. Known in the industry for their large stocks of old, superb wood aged Ports. The famous houses would purchase old, wood aged wines from them to beef up their own stocks. The Quinta releases their own wines under the San Leonardo label. Not seen in the States until just recently when they obtained an importer based in Los Angeles. Their range of Tawnies of indicated age: 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 are among the best in their respective categories. They have older stocks as well. This is one of White Port. Technically, this is a White Tawny Reserve since there is no official category older than over 40 years. It is over 60 years in average age and so has the proprietary name “60 White.” This is not released in the States yet, probably this coming year. Tasted with the importer. Amber, gold color shot through with green. Spicy aromas with orange and toffee. Almost like a Christmas cake. Waxy on the palate, almost like an old Chenin Blanc. Very rich with huge complexity and depth. Lots of balancing acidity. A long finish with honey, limes, and tangerines. Eye opening as to the heights of White Port.

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “100” Port.
Another release tasted with the importer. This is wood aged with an average age of 102 years. Also a Tawny Reserve with the proprietary name of “100.” Very dark color with a gold green rim. Toffee and roasted nuts. Almost painfully concentrated. Huge and intense but balanced with huge acidity as well. Toffee, caramel, brown sugar on the palate and finish. This is a wine to be savored in small amounts it is so rich and concentrated.

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1970 Taylors Vintage Port.
Oporto bottled. Decanted a few hours before and tasted single blind. Dark core, just starting to go tawny at the meniscus. Spicy with leathery, citrus, and strawberry aromas. I really like the smell. On the palate, dense and rich. Sweet, but perfectly balancing acidity. Very long with tangerines and other citrus fruits.

1970 Dows Vintage Port
Tasted side by side with the Taylors, also decanted a few hours beforehand and tasted single blind. Also Oporto bottled. Even darker than the Taylors. Ruby rim. Young, spicy, plummy aromas. Black fruited, smoky. Very powerful, rich, and tangy. Tasting much, much younger than a 1970. Great balance. I think I like the Taylors a hair more to drink now, but might prefer the Dows in some years.

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Cockburn’s Crusted Port bottled 1929 by Averys.
I’ve not heard of a crusted Port from 1929 let alone seen one. Now I can say I’ve tasted one!

A crusted Port is a bottled aged Port from several years. This was bottled in 1929 so presumably it is a blend of several years prior. Decanted approximately an hour or two beforehand. Beautiful iridescent rose, tawny colored. Still fresh aromatics, savory-sweet with red fruits. Rich and velvety mouthfeel. Indeed the mouthfeel was exceptional! Dense with glycerin. Not a heavy weight, but a beautiful elegant wine. Bright, firm, and vigorous despite the age. Great balance and length. Conversation about the table is convinced there is a lot of 1927 vintage in this wine. 1927 was a very high quality, long lasting, and prolific vintage. Indeed, not all of it was bottled as vintage port; hence the consideration this bottle contained much of it.

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1900 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal
Very dark with a brilliant gold-green rim. Musky and savory aromas. High toned and minty. On the palate it is dense, rich, and sweet but with excellent acidity to balance. Sweet, long, rich finish. Textbook Moscatel. IMO, Setubal makes the best Moscatels in the world.

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1937 Warres Colheita Port
Bottled in 1997. Dark, opaque core fading to a tawny then olive oil rim. Smoky aromas with lime zest and a hint of VA. Rich and concentrated on the palate. Buttery mouthfeel. Limes and brown sugar flavors. Great balancing acidity. Long and concentrated.

1961 Krohn Colheita Port
Bottled in 2008. This was before Taylors, Fladgate bought out the Weise & Krohn company. Dark, tawny colored. A bit of VA on the nose, but lots of toffee and citrus as well. Very rich and sweet. Not the concentration as some of the older Colheitas, but beautiful and perfect balance. Long and satisfying. If you can find any of this still on the market, I’d snap it up!

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” Port.
Another wood aged Port from Mourao. I was fortunate to try this on two separate occasions about a week apart. Again, a Tawny Reserve, this time over 60 years of age. This is the red version in contrast to the white one listed above. Similar notes for the two times. The first taste was from a limited edition 750 ml bottle. The second from the regular release 500 ml bottle. Dark, opaque center with a copper-gold rim. Smokey and citric nose. Dense and sweet with huge complexity on the palate. Toasted nuts, lemons, tangerines. High levels of balancing acidity. A long, lemony finish. These old wines from Quinta do Mourao are a revelation as to the heights great wood aged Ports can achieve. One might think they could use them to beef up their Tawnies of Indicated Age, i.e. 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 years; however, their Tawny Ports are terrific as they are, and these older wines are extra special.

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