It was time for dinner following an afternoon spent on Madeira research with Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co. We made our way to the Common Lot in Millburn, New Jersey where we met up with John Junguenet. If the Junguenet name sounds familiar that is because John is the son of Alain Junguenet who founded Wines of France in the 1980s.
Mannie first met Alain Junguenet in those early years when Alain started off by importing Beaujolais. They traveled through France together and remain friends today. With John’s rise in the family business, new friendships are made, thus I found myself drinking several incredible bottles with two men whose lives are steeped in wine.
A very quick check reveals I have never drunk Coche-Dury with more than a decade of age. To move back nearly three decades is downright exciting! Our bottle of 1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots was in very fine shape. Both the aromas and flavors bring forth green apples and stones with a particular tangy grip. The acidity is bright but provides tension matched by the texture of the wine. There is, perhaps, a sense of maturity on the nose but this wine should drink great for at least a decade.
The name Henri Jayer should need no introduction. He made some of the most sought after Burgundy which also became the most expensive Burgundy in the market. However, there is also coveted Burgundy from the other Jayer brothers, Georges and Lucien. A bottle of 1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru was our first red wine. The three brothers each owned distinct parcels in Echezeaux with Lucien’s being Les Treux. Vineyard work and winemaking were a bit of a family affair such that Lucien tended the vines and Henri made this particular wine. [I do see that John Gilman writes that Lucien made the wine.] Regardless of winemaking, this is a young, pure, initially elegant wine. It ever so slowly responds to air, building both aroma and depth to the tense red fruit.
We then moved back to the 1960s. One sniff of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial transports you to another era. A quick inspection inspired Mannie to decant this bottle. This is beautiful, traditional Rioja with no sense of fragility to the lifted, sweet flavors which fill the mouth and cling through the aftertaste. I really enjoyed this bottle.
Something happened to the 1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County at some point in its life. Soft and limp, it was set aside. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley did not disappoint. It opened up with air, becoming the sort of intensely pleasurable wine you want to drink all by yourself. But then you would feel guilty for not sharing the experience with your closest friends.
1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots
Shipped by Radman & Co. Imported by Grand Cru Inc. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a fine nose of stones, gunsmoke, and apples. The aromas become even deeper with air. In the mouth are finely textured flavors of green apple. This wine has a tangy grip, plenty of stone like flavors, and bright acidity. There is great tension and attractive texture on the mouth. Drinking brilliantly but will easily live on. ****(*) Now – 2027.
1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An Alain Junguenet Selection imported by Wines of France. The young nose is pure, full of beautiful aromas of red fruit and perfume. In the mouth the red fruit oscillates between tang and tart, building flavor and citric grip with air. There is a hint of smoke. This bottle is in fantastic condition as this tense wine slowly builds, adding both flavor and persistence. The structure and acidity are there, capable of supporting years of future development. ****(*) Now – 2032.
1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Ahhh, that familiar old Rioja nose. This is a grippy, mouth filling wine with sweet, lifted flavors that cling to the mouth. It tastes of another era with its vintage perfume notes and ability to brighten up and build flavor with air. The aftertaste is very persistent. Drinks great now but will last. ****(*) Now – 2023.
1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. It smells off on the nose and while better tasting in the mouth, it is limp. Not Rated.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The dark aromas make way to minty, dark fruit which fills the mouth with both menthol and animale flavors. The wine improves markedly with air, revealing it as thicker, racy, and oily. It has an almost grainy texture to the black fruit. An excellent bottle with years of life ahead. ****(*) Now – 2027.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a raft of wonderful wines in 2016, thanks in large part to the generosity of DC’s wine-loving community. Of the many tasted this past year, two in particular stand out to me as the most memorable.
The 1994 Lopez de Heredia Blanco Gran Reserva Vina Tondonia was simply the most mind-bogglingly complex and delicious wine I had all year. From the pull of the cork, it showed a soaring, kaleidoscopic nose, with swirling aromas of salted caramels, vanilla, honey, jasmine, ginger, almonds, and orange peels. It was sensuous, smooth, and nutty on the palate, with a level of refinement to rival the noblest Grand Crus and a salty finish that left my palate tingling for what seemed like minutes. A true masterpiece from this venerable house, and one that will last a geologic age.
This summer, I had the privilege of attending a Chateau de Beaucastel vertical dinner that featured more than a dozen vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape reds from this benchmark producer. While the dinner included numerous sterling bottles (the 1990, 1981, 2001, and 1983 were especially excellent), it was the 1964 Beaucastel that lingers most in my mind from that evening. Swirling aromatics of campfire smoke, cinnamon spice, and stewed strawberries had my head spinning. On the palate, the wine was full of soft, sweet fruits that reflected the wine’s maturity, but it was also brimming with vigor and energy that belied its 50+ years. While not the qualitatively “best” wine of the night, it was the one that challenged my assumptions about the aging potential of Chateauneuf du Pape and will have me seeking out many more old CdPs in the new year!
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!
David Bloch pulls the cork on a bottle of Rioja.
2001 Artadi, Pagos Viejos, Rioja
This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from 75 year old vines that was aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. A totally locked down nose when opened. Needs two hours in the decanter to open up. Quite dark in color – ruby/violet. Mildly tannic which makes this an ideal pairing with beef or lamb, or any game. A modern-styled Rioja that shows plenty of meaty and espresso notes, framed by near perfect acidity. A nice mineral streak too. Sweet, ripe fruit. Still young; but accessible. Many years of good drinking ahead, with the possibility of more development.
The parade of interesting wines I have tasted continue with five selections from Spain. It is interesting enough that each one is from a different vintages. Having drunk a modest share of mature red Rioja I suggest you try the 2010 Bodegas Olarra, Cerro Anon, Rioja Reserva if you want a similar experience at an affordable cost. The nose smells great with blood and meat, offering a counterpoint to the somewhat short finish. The 2011 Trosso del Priorat, Lo Petit de Casa, Priorat is no amped up Grenache based wine. Made from the youngest vines on the property, it is an elegant wine that will make you think of stones. The 2012 Barahonda, Barrica, Yecla offers strong value for only $12. Whereas the 2011 vintage had more complex, mature flavors, this latest vintage tastes younger and cleaner. The 2013 Finca Villacreces, Pruno, Ribera del Duero is a generous wine offering up strong aromas and a cloud of flavors in the mouth. It is a little on the young side but if you don’t want to wait a year then double-decant it several hours ahead. If you only try one wine from this list then the 2014 La Zorra, Teso Rufete, Sierra de Salamanca is the one. Not only is it produced from old vines of the rare variety Rufete, it smells and tastes like nothing else. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2010 Bodegas Olarra, Cerro Anon, Rioja Reserva – $17
Imported by Classic Wines. Alcohol 14%. The nose is great with bloody and meaty aromas which smell like a musky, mature Rioja. There are similar black fruit flavors in the mouth with slight grip, integrated tannins, chocolate powder, and some cherry notes. The finish is a little short with ripe and polished wood tannins. Neat! *** Now – 2020.
2011 Trosso del Priorat, Lo Petit de Casa, Priorat – $16
Imported by the Spanish Wine Importers. This wine is 100% Grenache. Alcohol 14.5%. This is a different sort of wine with framed suppleness around very fine tannins. There is a great note of dark stones, not to be confused with minerals. *** Now – 2018.
2012 Barahonda, Barrica, Yecla – $12
Imported by OLE Imports. This wine is a blend of 75% Monastrell and 25% Syrah that was aged for 6 months in French oak. Alcohol 14.5%. There is a black, mineral start then focused flavors of slightly bitter black fruit, camphor, and a minerally aftertaste. ** Now – 2017.
2013 Finca Villacreces, Pruno, Ribera del Duero – $19
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars. This wine is a blend of 90% Tinto Fino and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Alcohol 13.5%. The strong nose delivered aromas of tar and some oak. In the mouth is a cloud of flavor which exists around black stones, lipstick, and some very fine tannins. The wine is certainly black fruited but has a citric aspect. This dry wine reveals more power with air, taking a few hours to open up. It eventually reveals dried herbs in the finish which is only when the tannins are noticeable. *** Now – 2020.
2014 La Zorra, Teso Rufete, Sierra de Salamanca – $19
Imported by De Maison Selections. This wine is 100% Rufete sourced from 60+ year old vines on granite and sand soils. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged for 4 months in French oak. Alcohol 12.5%. After a wee bit of stink blows off this aromatic wine smells distinct. There are moderately ripe flavors of minerals and red fruit with an ethereal sweetness. The wine becomes dry towards the finish where herb flavors come out. It leaves a satisfying tang in the end. *** Now.
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.
I am neck deep in wine research and as of this week, fortunate to have again drunk centuries worth of old wine. As as proxy to all of this archival and liquid history I am publishing my tasting note for the 1975 Bodegas Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Reserva. Jenn and I drank this bottle a few months back when we were still living in the old house. I had packed up my empty bottles and recently found this bottle hiding in a box up in the attic of all places.
Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co) takes pride and makes it a point to source his wine from only the best cellars. This high standard was clearly evident in our bottle which slowly blossomed over the course of our evening. I am no expert in old wine, though my experience continues to accumulate, but you can tell a proper bottle by its freshness. From the beautiful nose to the charming flavors, this bottle was an experience with a classic Rioja. And like classic, well-stored Rioja, at 40 years of age this wine is only hitting its stride. Incredible! This wine was purchased from The Rare Wine Co.
1975 Bodegas Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Reserva
Imported by Vieux Vins. This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from the Cenicero vineyards and was aged 24-30 months in American oak. Alcohol 11-14%. The nose engaged with its fine aromas of mature red fruit backed by an orange hint. With air a combination of roast earth and wood box scents came out. The mouth followed with similar, fresh flavors of tart red fruits and ripe cranberry. The acidity is spot-on and integrated. It was a touch riper with air and finished with an attractive, earthy and eventually minerally, firmer finish. The roast earth aromas also played a minor role in the aftertaste. **** Now-2024+.