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A wine dinner with aged Chardonnay, Sonoma County oldies, and decades old Spanna

February 24, 2019 1 comment

A mixed group of wine drinkers and wine lovers recently met up at the house for a wine dinner.  We drank the sparkling and white wines while introductions were made and dinner was prepared.  It is with dinner that we tucked into three flights of red wine.  If the first flight of reds was a mixed bag the final two flights, featuring a pair of 1970s Sonoma County reds and a pair of 1960s Italian Spanna were my stars of the night.  Please find my notes below.

Sparkling

NV Ruinart, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA. Alcohol 12.5%.  A copper rose color.  A strong wine with fine, firm bubbles, red fruits, and a biscuit flavor.  Robust in a way.  *** Now – 2024.

2014 Dirty & Rowdy, Sparkling White Wine, El Dorado County
Alcohol 12.4%.  Sweet, floral tree fruits with bubbles.  Solid but not my favorite. ** Now but will last.

White Wines

The white wines were of more interest.  On their own the 2009 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Drake Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley and 2008 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Hawk Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley are quite different.  The 2009 is the bigger, rounder yet also a softer wine.  The 2008 is mature in flavor yet young in delivery.  If you could merge the two of them the results might be quite good.  The 2002 Maison Louis Latour, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot was the first bottle of white finished.  The nose is its strength yet while the flavors do not quite match, the balance and youthful delivery are admirable.  This wine should develop slowly for some years to come.  Almost everyone was drawn to this wine.

2009 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Drake Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.4%.  Verging on full-bodied, certainly rounded, with good mouth feel.  Youthful flavor but leaves an impression of softness due to the lower acidity.  *** Now.

2008 Williams Selyem, Chardonnay, Hawk Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.9%.  Mature in flavor but young in delivery.  Nearly crisp acidity, bright.  ***(*) Now – 2024.

2002 Maison Louis Latour, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot
Imported by Louis Latour Inc.  Alcohol 13.5%.  A lovely nose which is not quite matched by the flavor.  Balanced all around, this is surprisingly young in profile and remains that way throughout the evening.  Is it evolving at a glacial pace?  **** Now – 2029.

A Variety of Reds

This first flight of red wines was a bit of a mixed bag.  The 1996 Faiveley, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale seems like it is locked down but of solid material.  The nose of the 1997 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek was sadly reminiscent of dust.  Though better in the mouth, I was too distracted.  The magnum of 1998 Domaine Paul Autard, Chateauneuf du Pape should have been drunk promptly after double-decanting.  At that point it is a solid, mature Rhone red but after a few hours it is too bloody.

1996 Faiveley, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale
Imported by Wilson Daniels LTD.  Alcohol 12%.  Bright red fruit, slightly spiced then black fruit flavors in the finely textured finish.  Firm flavor with a spine of acidity and taut structure.  It has yet to open up but will be greatly improved if it does.  *** Now – 2029.

1997 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek
Alcohol 15%. An herbaceous nose mixes with dust.  In the mouth the cherry flavors are rounded with controlled ripeness.  There is a hint of Kirsch.  The fruit is balanced by the acidity and the structure is resolving.  The nose never cleans up with the dustiness becoming more dirty. An off bottle.  Not Rated.

1998 Domaine Paul Autard, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 15%.  A modest, mature mix of blue and red fruits, garrigue, and spice.  But after an hour or so it picks up hints of blood and iron until it becomes evocative of liquid meat.  A solid wine if drunk upon opening when it is ripe and big bodied.  At best a ** Now.

Sonoma County Oldies

My first experience with the 1977 Ernie’s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select, Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County was with a regular bottle. It was a bit dirty but underneath lurked some interesting material.  This magnum improved over several hours, until there was no more left, and captured the attention of more than a few people.  I have had good luck with Ernie’s lately.  This magnum and the 1974 Round Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon highlight the quality of wine he purchased.  The 1978 Louis J. Foppiano, Zinfandel, Sonoma County is infinitely better than the bottle of 1974 that I tried several weeks back.    It delivers ample flavor from the very first glass.  It does not have the complexity of the Ernie’s but it is more hedonistic.  On the following evening, the remains were nearly as pleasurable.

1977 Ernie’s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select, Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County en magnum
Alcohol 13%.  Aromatic with eucalyptus and bright fruit but then it turns deeper and a touch darker.  In the mouth is good body with cool flavored fruit, a spine of acidity and a finish of leather.  This is a good, clean, fresh example that after several hours reveals its complexity.  Notes of fat and oily whole nuts add to the attractiveness.  **** Now – 2029+.

1978 Louis J. Foppiano, Zinfandel, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Some animale notes mix with cherry-berry aromas.  Beautiful berry fruit greets and with that ripe fruit comes a hint of raisin.  However, this zippy wine is in great shape, effortlessly delivering waves of flavor.  With air it develops baking spices and comforting notes of sweaty, old leather evocative of old Californian wines. Pure pleasure.  ***(*)  Now – 2024.

Old Spanna

Surely one of the coolest labels I have seem in some time is on the 1967 Cantina Cooperative Villa Bianzone, Valtellina. The graphic drawing of Dionysus with hair of vines with leaves and beard of grapes is reason alone to purchase the wine.  There is little background information on this cooperative in the Wasserman’s book.  Despite other negative reviews of the 1967 they felt it is a “very fine vintage”. For being a basic Valtellina DOC wine it is actually quite good.  Moving west of Valtellina to the Novara-Vercelli Hills, the 1964 A. Brugo, Romagnano Riserva stems east of Gattinara.  According to the detailed Wasserman’s, this is a blend of Bonarda, Croatina, Spanna, and Vespolina, the later of which is sourced from Ghemme.  This is quite good as well.  I found my preference oscillating between the two wines as the developed in my glasses.  In the end, I would say the Bianzone has the more complex nose with brighter, controlled flavors.  The Brugo delivers that sweaty, old-school character with more grip.  I was happy to have separate glasses of each!

1967 Cantina Cooperativa Villa Bianzone, Valtellina
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Aromas of dried, old leather with balsamic notes make for a complex nose.  It is a cool nose that reminds me of the inside of the Air & Space Museum in DC.  In the mouth are very bright flavors with an earthy/leather note that cuts through.  Beautiful in the mouth. ***(*) Now but will last.

1964 A. Brugo, Romagnano Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny.  Deep and slightly sweaty red fruits on the nose…smells old-school.  In the mouth are sweaty flavors of red, grippy fruit and bright acidity.  In great condition with watering acidity carrying through to the still-structured finish.  ***(*) Now but will last.

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

December 11, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Hartford Court, Chardonnay, Four Hearts Vnyd is very good!

The 2016 Hartford Court, Chardonnay, Four Hearts Vineyards, Russian River Valley had my attention from the very first sip due to the crisp, textured acidity.  The luxurious fat in the finish sealed the deal for none of this barrel-fermented Chardonnay was left at the end of dinner.  You may pick up this gem at MacArthur Beverages.

2016 Hartford Court, Chardonnay, Four Hearts Vineyards, Russian River Valley – $40
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was barrel fermented then aged for 10 months in French oak.  Alcohol 14.5%.  Lively yellow fruit sports crisp textured acidity all of which overlays a toast note.  With air the yellow fruit takes on a floral component and becomes infused with fat which lasts through the long finish and aftertaste.  **** Now – 2020.

A Californian quartet

February 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Between work, family, wine research, and the new turntable I am short on free time.  Thus over the past month I have generally drunk inexpensive French and Italian wine for I need not take down any notes.  I have peppered these same weeks with a handful of younger bottles from California.  One recent release is the 2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley.  This bottle showed very well after a few hours of air as well as on the second night.  It is a style of wine that has not swung too far in either direction, providing balanced white fruit flavors with both lovely mouthfeel and tautness.

I have never tasted the 2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County since release.  I was surprised by the amount of flavor packed in and the lack of evolution.  It is quite tasty but should be cellared further to open up.  I suppose, in retrospect, I can understand why Lou and I enjoy decades old bottles of Ridge.  The 2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is a solid wine full of black fruit and graphite.  It is supple and tasty, just not as exciting as I hoped at this stage.  Finally, there is the gigantic 1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley which caught me off guard.  Ripe, dark, and alcoholic it is simply not my type of wine.

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2013 Coquerel Family Wines, Le Terroir, Chardonnay, Oakville Block A, Napa Valley – $30
This was fermented in 25% oak barrels with the remaining in stainless steel after which is was aged 7 months sue lie.  Alcohol 14%. With a bit of warmth and air this is an attractive wine of white fruit with a pleasing body of glycerin and nut flavors.  The tautness of the wine builds as the acidity becomes more noticeable, simultaneously evolving a finely textured, ripe grip.  ***(*) Now – 2020.

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2009 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, and 6% Carignane.  Alcohol 14.5%.  This is both surprisingly unevolved and packing a tremendous level of flavor.  It is a richly textured, dense wine of dark fruit that may not have any hard edges but does have structure for significant aging.  Given the level of stuffing I would wait another five years to try again.  **** Now – 2027.

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2005 Karl Lawrence, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.2%.  The nose remained subtle and the flavors of graphite-infused black fruit remained gentle.  This is a low-lying, almost laid back wine.  It remains very black in terms of flavor with inky hints and eventually develops some additional complexity from a wood box flavor.  There is some texture but it is generally supple with low-acidity.  Solid.  *** Now.

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1997 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Alcohol 14.9%.  This is a thick, dark flavored, very ripe wine of body and scope which seems to defy the varietal.  It was heady with noticeable heat in the finish that I found too distracting. Not my style.  Not Rated.

The Fruity 2015 Enkidu, Shamhat Rosé

With the 2015 Enkidu, Shamhat Rosé, Russian River Valley, Phillip Staehle has produced a pleasing rosé on the fruitier side of the spectrum.  With the rainier weather of the Washington, DC, area this more substantial offering hits the spot.  It also has enough stuffing to be drunk over several nights.  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.

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2015 Enkidu, Shamhat Rose, Russian River Valley – $18
This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Grenache, and 25% Mouvedre.  Alcohol 14.1%.  With a fruity start this wine has good grip and a racy, mineral finish.  The fruit is sweeter than other rose but it is not out of balance in the wine.  It will please many. ** Now – 2017.

Four wines from California, Canada, and Texas

I am doing my best to catch up on my tasting notes from the holidays. The pair of wines from Carlisle are undeniably large and flavorful making them fun for a glass or two.  The 2006 Carlisle, Syrah, Sonoma County is in the best shape with its fuzzy dark flavors.  The 2006 Carlisle, Two Acres Red Wine, Russian River Valley has better focus but I suspect it will soon become unknit.  From Texas via Lou, the 2011 Duchman Family Winery, Aglianico, Oswald Vineyard also showed oak notes but this time with black fruited Aglianico flavors.  This was open for two days before I tried it but I still liked the bits of fat before the inky finish.  It is a good wine to drink.  The 2012 Chateau des Charmes, Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, St. David’s Bench is completely opposite in style which is what you should expect in a wine made using Gamay from the Niagara Peninsula.  The puckering black fruit and stone flavored finish make you revisit the glass time and time again.  Another interesting bottle from Lou!

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2006 Carlisle, Syrah, Sonoma County
Alcohol 15.1%.  This big wine sported savory flavors of blue and dark black fruit.  The initial notes of roast earth dissipated bringing on dense, fuzzy flavors of dark strawberries with a touch of heat in the finish.  This wine still has sweet fruit and ripe structure but the edges are now rounded.  *** Now but will last.

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2006 Carlisle, Two Acres Red Wine, Russian River Valley
This wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignane, and Alicante Bouschet.  Alcohol 14.8%.  The nose was jammy like an Australian shiraz.  The round, smokey, leather start took on some weight before transitioning to a laser focused mineral and black fruited finish.  The mouth generally followed the nose with unabashed, jam fruit in the middle.  It did, however, balance out with a nice texture of fine grained wood.  *** Now but will last.

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2011 Duchman Family Winery, Aglianico, Oswald Vineyard
Alcohol 14.3%.  The sweet and round fruit mixed with sweet oak before it turned towards black fruited flavors.  It showed both some grip and a hint of fat along with textured tannins.  Things wrapped up with a sweet and inky finish.  ** Now – 2018.

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2012 Chateau des Charmes, Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, St. David’s Bench
Alcohol 13%.  The young nose made way towards flavors of black fruit that puckered on the sides of the tongue.  There was a hint of focused ripeness and weight in the middle.  The finish brought watering acidity and a stone-mineral profile.  *** Now – 2017.

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Chardonnay from Patrick Piuze and Porter Creek

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

You might at first believe this post is a comparison of Chardonnay from Chablis and the Russian River Valley.  It is not, rather this post features wine from two producers whose wine I have never tasted before.  Patrick Piuze produces a wide variety of cuvees from Chablis using fruit that he purchases.  His Terroir series of wines are produced from village level fruit.  The 2012 Patrick  Piuze, Terroir de Fyé, Chablis proved very young over several days leaving the impression of tight precision.  It is a bit hard to enjoy right now so it might be one to enjoy next winter. Porter Creek focuses in on wines made from Burgundy and Rhone grape varieties.  The vines are all located on hillsides.  The wines are meant to express their origins through the use of natural fermentation and restrained oak.  Having no previous experience I certainly cannot identify the origins of the 2013 Porter Creek, Chardonnay Old Vine, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County but I can tell you that the balance of flavor, mouthfeel (both creamy and textured), and lively acidity is very attractive.  I might even suggest this wine needs several more months of age.  If you are a fan of the 2012 Neyers, Chardonnay 304, Sonoma County than be sure to grab a few bottles of the Porter Creek.  For me it hits the mark of enlivening acidity, green apple flavors, and mouthfeel.  Thanks to Andy for recommending this wine.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.

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2012 Patrick  Piuze, Terroir de Fyé, Chablis – $25
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the village of Fyé that was fermented with indigenous yeasts partially in barrel.  Alcohol 12%.  On the nose, smoke gently mixed with stones and some ripe fruit.  There were precise flavors in the mouth that remained young and tight.  The flavors bore apple hints, almost tart acidity, and apple-like texture.  It showed good mouth weight.  ** 2015-2019.

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2013 Porter Creek, Chardonnay Old Vine, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County – $34
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from old vines.  Alcohol 13.9%.  The nose bore articulated aromas of ripe, green apple.  In the mouth was a lively start with flavors of green apple and white fruit.  A creamy mouth feel came out quickly before the wine became even livelier in the middle.  There was a stone like finish with a textured aftertaste that had some tannins.  Overall a light flavor style.  *** Now-2019.

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