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A Rare Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical from 1964 to 2001

August 3, 2016 3 comments

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When the end of Prohibition in America was in sight, the “potent” and “celebrated” wines of Chateauneuf du Pape were mentioned as amongst the “Legendary Potions” that the Europeans were waiting to ship to our shores.  Once the purchase of wines was legal The New York Times published a thorough description of international wines that Americans should drink.  It was, in short, a refresher to the world of wine.  From the Rhone were recommended Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Chateauneuf du Pape.

Chateauneuf du Pape soon became an American favorite.  It was always listed for sale typically along with Pouilly Fuisse, at reasonable prices from the 1940s into the 1970s.  These were frequently negociant wines but the occasional estate bottled selection like Mont-Redon was available at a premium price.  In the 1950s a new style of early-drinking Chateauneuf du Pape was developed largely relying on carbonic maceration.  This dip in quality was soon met with a rise in price.

The American wine boom of the early 1970s led to the massive price escalation of the 1971 and 1972 Bordeaux vintages.  These price increases far exceeded the effects of the revaluation of international currencies from the fixed Bretton Woods system to a free-floating system.  This caused most European wines to increase in price some 10% to 20%.  In 1973, however, the favored Chateauneuf du Pape doubled in price in a matter of months.

The popularity of Chateauneuf du Pape plummeted due to price and by 1981 The New York Times called it “France’s Forgotten Red”.  Over the next year wines from such traditional estates as Chateau de Beaucastel and Chateau Mont-Redon were once again available  at reasonable prices.  These offerings began with the recently released and outstanding 1978 vintage.  A few older vintages were available too.

Lost amongst the turmoil of price escalation and carbonic maceration is discussion of the vintage of 1964.  This vintage is considered excellent but yields were significantly reduced by a summertime hailstorm.   Throughout this post-war period, Chateau de Beaucastel is consistently described as a traditional Chateauneuf du Pape estate fashioning wines meant to age.  Curiously enough, it is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes.

John Livingstone-Learmonth considered the 1964 Beaucastel “a supreme wine”.   It was recently served as the oldest wine at a tasting of thirteen vintages of Beaucastel.

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The Beaucastel tasting was organized by Darryl Priest and stocked with wines from a total of ten attendees.  Darryl felt that lamb would be an ideal accompaniment to old Beaucastel.  It was from a single lamb that six out of seven courses were created for us by Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Ripple in Washington, DC.  Here is the menu:

*
lamb tenderloin tartare, sicilian pistachio, za’atar cracker
**
glazed lamb rib, corn pudding, crispy squash blossom
***
lamb loin carpaccio, baby heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, smoked labneh
****
lamb neck ragu, roasted potato gnocchi, fillet beans, harissa, parmesan
*****
rack of lamb, roasted leg, charred eggplant, oven roasted tomatoes
******
slow roasted lamb shoulder, merguez sausage, braised rainbow chard
*******
lemon verbena panna cotta, raspberry coulis, apricots, sable

After starting with a very drinkable NV Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rose we launched into the Beaucastel.  We drank the wines from oldest to youngest.  The two bottles of Hommage were decanted and the old bottles were simply popped and poured.  We largely rotated who started off pouring the wines so no one person would be stuck with the dregs.

Though a few bottles were shamefully off, such as 1978 and 1989, there were many excellent wines. My favorites list includes 1964, 1979, 1981, 1990, and 1995 Hommage.  For this post I will just comment on the oldest vintages as they are the least known.

The biggest surprise of the night was the 1964 Beaucastel. Due to the high prices of Chateauneuf du Pape in the 1970s, less was imported and sold in America.  This in part contributes to the difficulty of finding older vintages here.  This particular bottle came from a parcel that Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Company, purchased several years ago from a European cellar.

The bottle, label and capsule were in pristine condition and so was the cork when I extracted it.  A quick sniff revealed good fruit on the nose and a remarkable amount of fruitiness in the mouth.  Incredibly, the wine opened up with air and continued to drink well for nearly four hours.  David Bloch was reminded of a bottle of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart that he, Lou, and I drank this summer.  They both taste of a similar period and style.  If you review older articles about Chateauneuf du Pape it was at times equated as a less expensive Burgundy.  In fact there are a handful of advertisements in England and America where Chateauneuf du Pape is listed under the heading Burgundy!    Everyone at the table commented on this wine.  Though no consensus was formed, there was discussion of the 1981, 1990, and 1995 Hommage as being favorites of the night.  I will add one observation.  The bottle of 1964 was the first one finished off including the very last dregs.

This was my second time tasting the 1976 vintage this summer.  Both from bottles Darryl sourced. This evening the 1976 was less advanced but it is still a solid wine at best.  The 1979 vintage proved very interesting.  It is an acidity driven vintage, bright and not ripe like the 1964.  I kept returning to my glass to be consistently surprised at how youthful it stayed.  Bill is spot on with his comment that it is on the same glacial pace of development as the 1964.  In contrast the 1981 vintage is a beautiful, elegant, and gently ripe wine that is drinking very well right now.  Please find my tasting notes below.

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NV Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by T. Edward Wines.  Alcohol 12%.  There is a good, fruity start followed by the presence of a yeast bit but the fine, ripe fruit soon takes over.  This is a generous wine with balanced bubbles, and even some grip in the finish.  I would not be surprised if some wine saw oak for there is a sense of old wood.  Drinking great right now.  ***(*) Now.

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1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Though light in color there are plenty of aromas and flavors.  It begins with earthy, garrigue infused aromas that open with air to reveal sweaty, red strawberry fruit.  In the mouth the flavors quickly fill with ample flavor and incredible amounts, for its age, of red fruit.  This wine is very much alive with brighter red fruit towards the finish and lively acidity throughout.  It ends with an ethereal, mineral finish. This bottle drank great over four hours.  Clearly this is a wine from a different era. ****(*) Now but will last.

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1976 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Darker than the 1964.  The nose sports more stink and barnyard but does reveal a floral and herbal freshness.  The flavors are controlled with an acidity driven start and short finish.  There is a fair amount of barnyard character here but it is not off putting.  Less advanced than the bottle tasted last month but it leaves a similar impression.  ** Now.

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1978 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is rugged, smells older and past-prime, eventually of blood.  The palate confirms this is not in the best shape for it is compact and short in flavor.  The acidity and aftertaste are there but this bottle is old and not a good representative.  Not Rated.

1979 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The lively color is promising and fulfilled by the sweaty aromas of leather and smoke.  This is an acidity driven wine with red fruit, structure, and surprising youth.  It is well-balanced with gentle earthiness and watering acidity.  This old-school wine will never be as generous as the 1964 but it will certainly drink well just as long.  **** Now – 2031.

1981 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The beautiful and fine nose balances earthy and olive aromas.  In the mouth the fruit, earth, and acidity are well balanced.  This wine has levity with elegant, ripe fruit and a gentle, ripe sweetness that lingers in the mouth.  **** Now – 2021.

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1983 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  A very different wine with aromas of flowers and candy.  With some rough and hard flavors, plenty of acidity, and a tangy finish it is time to drink up.  ***(*) Now.

1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Lactic nose.  Not right.  Not Rated.

1989 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There is some VA on the nose which the palate confirms as a slightly underperforming bottle.  There is however plenty of ripe, strawberry fruit, and strength.  Not Rated.

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1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  There is a great nose which conveys tension and complexity with fresh aromas of garrigue, fruit, saddle leather, and stink.  In the mouth, this wine has youthful grip, lovely balance, a firm finish, and an inky aftertaste.  There is plenty of flavor in the end.  ****(*) Now – 2035.

1998 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  There are pure flavors of clean, assertive fruit driven by acidity.  It shows the grip and tang of the vintage.  This is a strong wine with old-school flavors of Kirsch.  A good wine. **** Now – 2036.

2001 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  This is so young with clean flavors of strawberry and cherry fruit.  It is still in early development as it oscillates between flavors of fruit then garrigue and cedar.  Good acidity.  ***(*) 2021-2036.

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1994 Chateau de Beaucastel, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is subtle with mature, earthy aromas.  The softer and gentle entry brings dark, sweeter fruit and garrigue in the finish.  A fine wine that could use a longer finish, suggesting it is time to drink up.  **** Now.

1995 Chateau de Beaucastel, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Those nose offers animale aromas with bits of berries and Kirsch poking through.  In the mouth the concentrated, powerful flavors of ripe fruit cling to the mouth leaving extract in the aftertaste.  The flavors are also accented by animale notes.  The power is driven by acidity leaving fine, drying tannins.  **** Now – 2030.

The dessert wines were led off by the 1973 Domaine des Baumard,  Quarts de Chaumes.  This is a vintage that Phil Bernstein recently tasted at Baumard, where it is still available, so he imported a small quantity.  It is lovely stuff!  It is complex from decades of age but it is also very lively.  There is even a curious red berry fruit flavor.  The combination of residual sugar and acidity will see this wine through for decades to come. The 1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes is drinking great right now.  I love Sauternes and this bottle did not disappoint.  The 1989 Huet, Moelleux Le Mont Premiere Trie, Vouvray reminds me of an apple orchard but it was too subtle and short in the finish to warrant much excitement.

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1973 Domaine des Baumard,  Quarts de Chaumes
The nose was stinky at first with cheese and some tuna.  This is a tight and vigorous white wine with flavors of apricots, apple spice, and creme brulee.  It is a little thick with noticeable residual sugar.  It is quite complex and offers surprising red berry fruit in the middle.  There is plenty of acidity that will see this wine through many years to come.  **** Now – 2036+.

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1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The attractive amber color is followed by a robust nose.  The tangy fruit is matched by well-balanced residual sugar and acidity.  It soon becomes clear there is great sweetness here from ample residual sugar.  Drinks well right now.  ***(*) Now-2020.

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1989 Huet, Moelleux Le Mont Premiere Trie, Vouvray
The subtle nose is followed by apple and fallen orchard fruit making it the most vinous of the dessert wines.  It is perhaps, a little subtle and short to warrant future aging.  *** Now.

A Diamond Creek vertical back to 1978 along with some other good bottles from the 1970s

May 13, 2016 1 comment

This past Friday we gathered at my house to taste a vertical of seven Diamond Creek wines from 1994 back to 1978.  It is only natural to taste more wine than what we gathered for.  So with mixed results we tasted some aged bubbly while we waited for everyone to arrive.  We then sat down at the dining room table to work through four blind mature wines of the California and Bordeaux nature.  Following the Diamond Creek vertical and dinner, we wrapped the evening up with some interesting dessert wines.

The Sparkling Flight

I rarely notice old bottles of Californian sparkling wine for sale.  While there could be a reason for this, Lou and I were sure to snatch up a bottle each from the Earthquake Cellar.  Only the 1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County turned out to be mature and completely drinkable.  The fruit is mature with added complexity from baking spices.  The bubbles are starting to dissipate so I would drink this up.  Unfortunately, no amount of sparkle could resurrect the past-prime flavors of the 1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine.  To compensate I opened my second bottle of NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne (1970s release) hoping that this one would have bubbles.  It didn’t.  Despite the better looking bottle, the cork was saturated with fuzzy gray mold which did not bode well for what was inside.

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1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County
The mature and reasonably attractive nose revealed orchard fruit, some brioche, and baking spice.  In the mouth, the creamy and nutty start mixed with moderate bubbles that dissipated by the finish.  Fully mature. ** Now.

DC15

1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine, Carneros
This smells old with plenty of apple orchard flavors.  In the mouth are ample amounts of aggressive, fine bubbles that yield a youthful framework for the wine.  Unfortunately, the flavors are old and short.  Not Rated.

DC16

NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne Brut (1970s release)
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Completely flat with aromas and flavors of a white wine way past its prime.  Not Rated.

The Blind Flight

We kicked off the red wines by tasting a blind flight at the dining room table.  I knew what the first wines were, but having only tasted one upon decanting, it was fun none the less.  The 1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley is destined for a long life.  The nose is young, the fruit dark and in balance with the structure and acidity.  The wine is linear and firm, never giving up its flavor.  I believe there was a general consensus this was old California.  It will last but I do not see it improving.  The 1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tasted on the light and thin side when first decanted.  An hour of air only benefited the bottle for it offered up attractive aromas and flavors of sweet, mature fruit.  I like Palmer and this bottle of 1975 delivered all I could hope for from this vintage.  Most people thought this was old Bordeaux.  The 1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley was a flawed bottle.  I could work my way around the nose but in the mouth the brief, hopeful start soon turned coarse.  Impossible to say what this was blind.  Finally, the 1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc threw me and others for a loop.  We soon knew the last two wines were from the same vintage but this did not help in any way.  The coffee and chocolate aromas had me leaning towards California but the flavors towards Bordeaux.  The wine turned out to be quite youthful with plenty of strength.  A good wine but not as seductive as the Palmer.

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1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley
This smells young with cherry fruit.  The flavors are a bit linear becoming darker and blacker as the wine firms up towards the middle.  It is salty and savory with a structure of fine tannins woven throughout.  It does show some mature flavors in the middle before finishing up with salivating acidity.  ** Now but will last.

DC4

1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Shipped by Caves Robert Michelle. Imported by Parliament Import. Alcohol 11% – 14%.  There is a good, mature nose of sweet old fruit with a hint of musk.  The sweet fruit fills the mouth in a gentle way.  There is a touch of fat with structure still present through the end.  It is a lighter wine, with attractive flavors, some bacon, and a sappy finish.  Drinking great right now.  *** Now.

DC2

1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%.  Strong aromas of VA on the nose.  In the mouth is a brief bit of fresh, young flavors before the coarseness came out.  Shame.  Not Rated.

DC1

1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc
The aromas of coffee and chocolate had me on the fence about being from Bordeaux.  In the mouth this finely textured wine had a cedar hint before savory, weighty flavors came out.  There is good acidity.  The wine became even more youthful with air, showing dark fruit, and lurking power.  The finish was savory and a bit electric.  Needs more time?  *** Now – 2021.

The Diamond Creek Flights

Anyone with interest in Diamond Creek Vineyards should read the transcript of Carole Hicke’s interview of Albert Brounstein in 1998.  In fact, the entire Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series is great fun.  Diamond Creek Vineyards became California’s first all Cabernet Sauvignon winery when the 79 acre property was purchased in 1967.  Al Brounstein wanted to make the best possible wine from Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the more uneven Zinfandel.  He interacted a lot with Ridge Vineyards in those early days before Paul Draper.

The Diamond Creek vineyards were promptly planted in 1968.  Al Brounstein wanted to plant vines from France, but UC Davis said they would quarantine them for six years before they could be released.  Al Brounstein did not want to wait and he wanted the best cuttings possible so he approached the great First Growths of Bordeaux.  The cuttings went from France to Mexico City then up to Tijuana then over to Rosarita Beach.  Here Al Brounstein would fly them back up to his vineyard in his private plane.

The Bordeaux estates from which the cuttings came from are not revealed in the interview.  There is a cryptic clue however, “even though I’m going to tell you three names out of the five, of which two may or may not be included…I’m not revealing any names”.  He goes on to mention Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, and Chateau Latour.

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties were planted as a field blend for this practice is what Al Brounstein observed during his vineyard visits in Europe.  The vineyards were first planted with 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot.   In the early 1970s he began to replace dead or damaged vines with Cabernet Franc, eventually coming to 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc distribution.  Wine was first produced with the 1971 vintage.  All of the 1971 vintage, except for the one case which was drunk, was used to top off the casks of the first commercial vintage of 1972.

There were three original vineyards: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace, and Volcanic Hill.  The Gravelly Meadow lies on a prehistoric river bed which drains rapidly forcing the vines to search for water.  It is the second coolest microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion.  The 7 acre Red Rock Terrace faces north with red tinted soil from high iron content.  It has a warm microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion.  The 8 acre Volcanic Hill faces south where it lies on volcanic soils, producing what is considered the biggest wine of the three.  It was equated to Chateau Latour.

Wines from these three vineyards are what we tasted.  They have always been produced with an eye towards slow development which came out in the young vintages.  The modern 1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is young and densely packed.  Though it will develop for quite some time, it is surprisingly accessible with plenty of fruit.  In contrast, the 1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley which also show great future potential, is a more savory wine with less fruit weight and quite attractive in its youth.

The 1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley gave the first taste of an old-school Californian wine.  It is attractively sweaty with more restraint and structure.  It will drink well for sometime and might even improve.  It certainly set the stage for the final pair from 1978.  The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley is livelier with brighter, red fruit, lively acidity, and very fine tannins.  In contrast the 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is deeper and darker in flavor, slowly unfurling its power which takes grip on your mouth.  It was my favorite red wine of the night.  I really enjoy this type of wine and all I wanted to do is drink it.

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1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  The red fruit slowly builds intensity, taking on licorice as well.  The wine is quite fruity, packing in a lot of unique flavor, but is also rather young with fine tannins.  With this savory flavor, the wine maintains a dense core of fruit that is clean and thick.  **** Now – 2031.

DC9

1992 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  Corked! Not Rated.

DC8

1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  The sweaty nose is dark and aromatic.  In the mouth are savory, mouthfilling flavors framed by structure and watering acidity.  This wine is on the upslope of development.  With air the red and black fruit is lighter in weight making the fine structure noticeable.  The flavorful finish is followed by an aftertaste of dark roast and soil.  ***(*) Now – 2031

DC11

1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Off bottle! Not Rated.

DC7

1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose is sweaty and dark, not showing the intensity of the 1978s.  The mature flavors exist in a touch more structure with fine tannins and a sweaty finish.  It shows a good balance between fruit, structure, and acidity. With air there are mature flavors of cherry mixed with dry spices, salivating to juicy acidity and very fine tannins.  ***(*) Now – 2026.

DC6

1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose is more subtle but deeper with a crayon hint.  The red fruit is balanced by acidity making this more accessible.  The fruit flavors are bright but backed by depth and delivered in a lively, mature manner.  There is good balance with the acidity seamlessly bound in, matching the structure.  It wraps up with fine flavors of clean red fruit and a wood box hint.  **** Now but will last.

DC5

1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose is a touch earthy.  In the mouth the darker fruit is rich with grip, steadily expanding in the mouth.  The fresh and tart structure is left on the gum as some sweet, not quite grainy fruit, persists through the aftertaste.  **** Now but will last.

The Dessert Flight

There were four dessert wines opened. The first two in full-bottles were served blind and the last two, in halves, were from Canada.  There is little in print with regards to 1976 Hermann Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.  Despite the greatness of Bernkastel wines, the von Schorlemer family is not mentioned in Andre Simon’s and S. F. Halgarten’s The Great Wines of Germany (1963), Frank Schoomaker’s Encyclopedia of Wine (1965), nor Ian Jamieson’s German Wines (1991).  There are a handful of advertisements for von Schorlemer wines in the late 1960s, usually featuring other offerings of Alexis Lichine.  Fortunately, Phil reached out to Johannes Selbach who promptly responded.  The von Schorlemer is a noble family that owned some of the best vineyard of the Mittelmosel which were highly regarded before World War 1.  They were still a top estate in the 1960s.  It sounds like interests changed so a large holdings of vineyards were sold off in 1969 which marked the slow decline of the estate.  Our bottle was in perfect condition with a supremely beautiful color.  Michael Broadbent rates the vintage four out of five stars noting it was a “supremely rich vintage”. With aromas of apricots and baking spices the sweet peach flavors were sported along by watering acidity.  If you happen to have a bottle I would consider drinking it.  The finish was a touch short but the wine resurrected itself with a very long aftertaste.  I freely admit I had no clue what the 1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume was.  It was not as mature in color as the von Schorlemer and much younger in the mouth.  It needs time in bottle but you simply must love the fat and electric acidity that carries the residual sugar down your throat.

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1976 Herman Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor.  Alcohol 10%.  This golden colored wine smells of apricots, cream, and baking spices. There are flavors of textured sweet peach with watering acidity.  The intensity of the flavors fall off in the finish only to return in the incredibly long aftertaste.  **** Now.

DC13

1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Shipped by Bertrand Bordeaux. Imported by Prestige Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Though lighter than the 1976 Riesling, the color suggests maturity.  In the mouth is a very sweet start with fat, lots of sugar, and almost electric acidity.  ****  Now – 2046.

DC17

Tasting Old Wines with Darryl and Nancy at Blue Grass Tavern

February 11, 2014 2 comments
Baltimore, Maryland, skyline and waterfront. Detroit Publishing Co. 1910-1915. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Baltimore, Maryland, skyline and waterfront. Detroit Publishing Co. 1910-1915. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On a snowy evening Phil and I drove up to Baltimore to taste several flights of wine.  Darryl and Nancy were hosting an evening of old wine at the Blue Grass Tavern.  Their contributions and those of the other attendees were beckoning.  There were both familiar faces, including Jeffrey Snow, and several new ones.  We sat in the intimate back room which glowed  inside and allowed views of the coating of snow which was still falling as we sat down.  The dinner was a satisfying meat fest which was punctuated at the end by plates of cheese and an incredible amount of dessert.

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To start with 1990 Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon was great not only because the bottle was in top form but also because it was the second youngest wine of the evening.  We tasted through a number of wines at a reasonable pace and I never felt rushed nor short on my own pours.  The most physically satisfying flight was that of the 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape.  There great wines came from excellent cellars so the provenance showed.  If you have not yet drunk mature Chateauneuf du Pape then make every effort to do so.  I also really enjoyed the old Barolo flight.  There was nothing dried out or difficult about these wines, they really do develop for an incredible amount of time.  They were subtle in a way that when I tasted through the mixed French flight I kept wishing I was drinking the Barolo instead.

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1990 Moet et Chandon, Cuvee Dom Perignon, Champagne
Alcohol 12.9%.  This was opened right before serving.  There was a light toasty nose which was initially subtle before it blossomed with air to reveal mature white wine aromas and riper fruit.  In the mouth there was a fresh and crisp start carried by very fine bubbles that turned into a soft, lovely mousse of mature yellow fruit.  There was a chewy finish and long textured aftertaste which haunted my mouth.  This wine was in great shape and really was evocative of mature white Burgundy.

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1983 Staatsweingut, Rauenthaler, Baiken, Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau
Imported by Atlanta Wholesale Wine.  Alcohol 10%.  There was a killer nose with a little petrol.  The wine opened up quickly in the mouth bringing on petrol and riper fruit.  There was seamless acidity, drier flavors towards the finish and a hint of tartness.  The palate was not quite up to the  nose but still a very fine wine.

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1983 Kirchmayr, Solist, Traminer Spatlese, Neusiedlersee 
Imported by Domaine Select Wines.  Alcohol 12%.  This was very aromatic, rather Gewurztraminer like.  It provided a ripe, round mouthfeel with a woodsy mineral note.  It still had some sweetness, a racy hint,  and with air, a mellow personality.

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The Barolo flight had been decanted such that they had about four hours or so of air before dinner.  The 1962 Cappellano was bottled by Giovanni Troglia who was a wine merchant in Turin.  Darryl reported the oddly shaped bottle was sealed with a glass top fused with metal to the bottle.  So he had to delicately pry away before gaining access to the cork.

1962 Cappellano label scanned by Darryl Priest.

1962 Cappellano label scanned by Darryl Priest.

1962 Cappellana label scanned by Darryl Priest.

1962 Cappellano label scanned by Darryl Priest.

I thought the 1967 Francesco Rinaldi the darkest and freshest of the three.  This impression was not only due to it being the youngest of the trio rather, as Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) pointed out to me, it was aged in demijohn.  Indeed in Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman’s Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1991) they write that Luciano Rinaldi “keeps some of his Barolo in these 9- and 14-gallon (34- and 54-liter) jugs for ten years or more.  The wine is decanted off its sediment into bottles or magnums before being put on sale.”  At the time of their visit there was still 1967 in demijohn.  This was practice was common in the old days of Barolo so perhaps this younger vintage was the most traditional of the three.  Michael Garner and Paul Merritt note in Barolo: Tar and Roses (1990) that it was the old practice to transfer wine from botte to damigiana for maturation.  However, the deep frost of 1929 wiped out vast stocks of these glass demijohns providing incentive to shift aging methods.  The 1958 Giacomo Borgogno showed more mature with earthy and ethereal flavors.  I thought an interesting contrast.  The 1962 Cappellano with its funky bottle quickly took on a nose of pure cumin with funky flavors in the mouth.  It reacted a bit to the air, putting on more flesh, and provided a third unique Barolo experience.  In the end a very satisfying flight.

1958 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Red Capsule, Barolo Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  Acquired from a Private Collection and auctioned by Acker Merrall & Conduit, November 2013.  There was a strong, earthy nose with a hint of band-aid.  In the mouth were fresh, earthy flavors of black and red fruit.  The acidity was there, perhaps a hint of banana, followed by more piercing flavors in the finish and a haunting aftertaste.

1962 Cappellano, Barolo
Giovanni Troglia bottling.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There was a funky nose which cleaned up to be a pure aroma of cumin.  The funk followed in the mouth where the wine was dry.  It reacted well with air, became a touch savory and fleshed out.  An interesting wine.

1967 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  Acquired from a private collection by Chambers Street Wines.  Alcohol 13.5%.  This was very dark and the darkest of all three in the flight.  The nose was initially subtle then became more aromatic.  There was tangy red fruit in the mouth, lots of pleasing grip, and acidity which was very present.  It still had tannins, was a little dry, and puckering towards the end.  It remained very fresh and engaging.

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This was a mixed flight and a little underwhelming given the old Barolo and 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape flights it was sandwiched between.  There was a connection in that the Ausone and the Francesco Rinaldi were of the same vintage.  This vintage of Ausone came from the period when the vines were becoming increasingly older as there had been no replanting since 1950.  Both the Ausone and Montrose were fermented in old wooden vats.  I preferred the Montrose which was fresher.  To have mature Trousseau from Arbois was probably a first for many.  This particular bottle of 1988 Camille Loye came from a small parcel imported by Crush.  While it was not a wine I would want to drink an entire bottle of, it was enjoyable, and not near decline.  Finally, the Nicolas Potel was young with an interesting flavor but the powerful tannins were still too obvious.

1967 Chateau Ausone, Saint-Emilion
Imported by DKDJ Imports.  Acquired from a private collection.  There was a nose of beef stock and perhaps a hint of a sweet note.  There were flavors of black and red fruit in the focused start.  It had watering acidity, ripe spices, minerals, and a structure that still had tannic grip in the finish.  Ultimately, it was on its decline in life.  It did not seem to get better with air.

1970 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Alexis Lichine & Co.  There was a curious nose which was both fresh and animale.  There was levity in the mouth, a greenhouse hint, and a young core.  It was a good wine that did not show the level of evolution that the Ausone did.

1988 Camille Loye, Cuvee St Paul, Arbois Rouge
Imported by Vineyard Road.  There were flavors of red cranberry, citrus pith, and fresh acidity.  It was an interesting wine, in fine shape, and I can see why one person said  an “orange red wine” and another “curious”.

1999 Nicolas Potel, Latricieres-Chambertin, Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman Selection imported by C’est Vin.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose was very fresh.  There was a little earth to the flavors, a ripe note and an interesting flavor profile.  There was a lot of unevolved oak which showed in the powerful and very fine tannins in the finish.  This wine packed a punch at the end.  Clearly the youngest tasting bottle of the even.

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We almost had a quartet of 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape but the Rayas, Pignan was badly corked.  Still, the remaining three bottles were excellent.  The Charvin had been double-decanted ahead of time so it probably had two hours of air before it was poured. The other wines were opened just minutes before and not decanted.  While this difference should be noted there is no denying the Charvin was a great wine.  This vintage represents the first produced by Laurent Charvin for all of the wines had been previously sold off.  It remained excellent to the end.  I also really liked the Pegau which can be so satisfying to smell and to drink.  This bottle came from a good cellar and even with some air kept a youthful nature.  The Beaucastel may have been more polarizing and not with the same depth of flavor but I very much enjoyed it.  That three different wines could be so satisfying was evidenced by how quiet the table became.

1990 Domaine Charvin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co.  Alcohol 14.5%.  There were aromas of tobacco and red fruit that stood out of the glass.  In the mouth were lovely flavors that were a little savory and sappy with cherry and Kirsch notes.  The wine had weight and purity.  Despite the maturity the flavors had a ripe, dense core.  A real treat.

1990 Rayas, Pignan, Chateauneuf du Pape
Acquired from a private collection by Acker Merrall & Conduit Internet.  An off bottle.

1990 Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Hand Picked Selections.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There was great complexity in the familial nose but the flavors were young.  There was a good mixture of spices and fruit which was black red.  The chewy tannins made way to youthful weight, sweet fruit and sweet spices.  It had a spicy structure in the finish and a long aftertaste that took on ripe notes.

1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  This was very aromatic.  The flavors were expansive in the mouth but did not develop the weight or presence as the Charvin.  Some ripe fruit developed, an animale flavor, and the structure was more present.

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Unfortunately, the 1991 QBA was not worth drinking.  The 1995 Beerenauslese had an explosive entry into the mouth with an engaging mixture of black tea flavors.

1991 Carl von Schubert, Maximin Grunhauser, Herrenberg QBA, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer – (375 mL)
Alcohol 10.9%.  The nose was oxidative with a hint of apples and apricots followed by beef stock.  There were apple flavors, tart-like fruit but in the end dried out.  No.

1995 Carl von Schubert, Maximin Grunhauser, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer – (375 mL)
Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections.  Alcohol 6.5%.  There was a ripe nose of apples and apricots.  The wine had a lively burst into the mouth with not-quite bracing acidity.  The complex flavors blended in tea notes and maintained texture on the tongue followed by a tartness in the aftertaste.

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The Baumard was curious in that it was rather clean and almost primary.  Perhaps it needed more air or years in the cellar.  I believe some people continued to work this wine in their glass so perhaps they have a better opinion.  There is not much Terrantez any more on Madeira so the Cossart Gordon bottle was a treat to taste.  It was opened right before tasting and had great aromatics and powerful flavors.  It was a bottle I would be curious to track for a few weeks.

1989 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Imported by Classic Wine Imports.  Acquired from a private collection by Acker Merrall & Conduit Internet.  The nose was sweet and sweaty but remained youthful and tight.  In the mouth the sweetness over powered the acidity at first, it was in there but bound tight.  Remarkably unevolved.

1977 Cossart Gordon, Terrantez, Madeira
Imported by Premium Ports & Madeiras.  Alcohol 20%.  There was a very aromatic and gorgeous nose.  In the mouth were powerful flavors of salty and rich orange-red fruit.  It had subtle weight.

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