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Eclectic by Any Measure, a Dinner with Mannie Berk

November 29, 2016 1 comment

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

With Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co, in town for the Unveiling of the George Washington Special Reserve Madeira we decided to get together for a small dinner.  The theme was eclectic both in region and particularly in vintage.  I do not know if it is more interesting that there were wines from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s to write the least or that two were from the venerable 1955 vintage and two from 1969.  The quality of the wines in the glass varied but the individual personalities spoke, creating such interest that we stayed up very late that night.

All of the wines were opened at the table to be drunk in any desired order.  I have organized my notes in vintage order first by white then red and finally the sole Madeira.  Finally, I have limited my comments to a handful of wines for brevity.

We kicked things off with the 1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne.  Grand Siecle was conceived in 1955 as top cuvee to be blended from three of the very best vintages.  So our bottle is a particular anomaly being from the single, outstanding 1985 vintage.  The cork was firmly seated, refusing to budge, and ultimately twisted into two pieces which were then dug out.  Perhaps the tightness of the cork ensures an impeccable seal for the quality of the bubbles is outstanding.  This is no recent disgorgement.  At best it is savory, complex, and racy.

The 1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves solicited many remarks as the bottle exuded promise.  The fill was high, the color youthful, and the cork well-seated against the neck.  From the last vintage before the Perrin family purchased the estate, this mostly Sauvignon Blanc based wine was fermented and raised in oak.  The nose did remind me a bit of gasoline before it righted itself.  With clean, floral flavors of lemon and even some weight it is in fascinating shape.  It is a bit simple and short making it more of an academic reference point than quenching old wine.

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Moving back in time, the oldest red wine came in a squashed 66 cl bottle.  The 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo is from one of the greatest Barolo vintages of the 20th century.  The Reserva della Castellana represents a supposed secret stash of top wine secured behind a lock of which there was one key.  Quantities of wine were released each year with the serial numbers recorded in a book.  Bottle #2506 improved in the decanter.  This salty, zippy wine is in the stage beyond fruit of bottle aged flavors.  It is enjoyable, though not remarkable.

I suspect our bottle of 1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva does not represent the heights this wine can achieve.  A bit of nail-polish and oxidation is present both on the nose and in the mouth.  Beyond that, though, the wine is quite rich and savory.  Time in the decanter broadens the wine.  I would certainly drink this wine again.

The pair of wines from the 1969 vintage were great fun.  The 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape adds to my recent experience with 1960s Chateauneuf du Pape.  Unlike the examples I have tried from the 1978 vintage, this is an original release.  Mont-Redon from the 1950s and 1960s are praised by Rhone lovers.  John Livingstone-Learmonth found them to have strength and concentration with Robert Parker writing they were amongst the finest wines of France.  During this period the wines were 80% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah.

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The second wine from this vintage came from California.  J. Pedroncelli was founded in 1927 was John Pedroncelli planted 135 acres of vines on hillsides near Dry Creek.  According to Robert Lawrence Balzer, the site reminded him of his native Lombardy.  The vineyard would receive the fog that moved up the Russian River which then receded to provide sunshine.  The coolness and warmth was found to make “grapes richly concentrated with flavor” when Robert L. Balzer first visited in 1975.  According to Charles L. Sullivan, this was the first vineyard to be planted with Pinot Noir in Northern Sonoma after the Repeal of Prohibition.

Robert L. Balzer’s visit was prompted both by his enjoyment of the wines and the fact that they tended to place well in competitions.  Nathan Chroman was chairman of a few competitions who noted the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir in California.  In 1972, when Nathan Chroman tasted through 23 California Pinot Noirs, he found the 1969 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir a wine to lay down.  Robert L. Balzer found the 1972 vintage in need of age as well.  I doubt either of them expected the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County to be drinking with full vigor nearly 50 years later.

The Pedroncelli is a fun wine to taste with the Mont Redon.  They both smell of similar age and a traditional style of winemaking.  The Mont-Redon is more round, with sweet fruit whereas the Pedroncelli is vigorous and grippy with the addition of leather and animale flavors.  John Winthrop Haeger offers one possibility for the longevity of the Pedroncelli, in the 1960s the Pinot Noir bottles included a hefty dose of Zinfandel.

The longevity is also, of course, due to the winemaking.  This wine was made by the sons of the founder John Pedroncelli who followed the traditions and styles set by their father.  It was only in 1968 that Pedroncelli purchased their first French oak barrels and began switching their old Redwood tanks to stainless steel.  This was the start of the American wine boom that would see a year after year increase in vineyard acreage and number of Californian wineries.  Thus the Pedroncelli marks the end of a phase and so does the Mont-Redon for the winemaking changed in the 1970s towards producing an early drinking style.  After tasting these two wines I naively wonder why change?

I have become a firm believer that when a tasting of old vintages is finished with a dessert wine, it should be of similar or older age.  What a treat then to have a glass of 1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira.  From an excellent vintage, this is a Madeira that excels on the nose.  Old Madeira fills your nose and the air around you, transporting you to a traditional period without the need to actively smell your glass.

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1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The very fine, lively bubbles are crisp, precise, and vigorous.  With a bright entry, this saline and savory wine mixed baking spiced flavors with a racy body.  With air the bubbles remain undiminished but the complexity comes out and the wine develops even more racy body, wrapping it all up with a mature finish.  Drinking fantastically right now.  **** Now – 2021.

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1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves
Shipped by Alexis Lichine.  Imported by Clairborne Imports.  An excellent looking bottle.  The light amber color defies age and matches the lemon and floral tree flavors.  The wine has weight, drapes the tongue, and almost becomes racy.  I think the Semillon is coming through.  It is, though, a bit simple with a short finish.  ** Now.

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1996 Nicolas Joly, Savennieres Coulee de Serrant
Imported by The Rare Wine co. Alcohol 14%.  This is a round wine with perfumed flavors of apple and mature lemon.  It is round, fairly clear, and mature with a racy vigor in the finish.  It seems to be all about the fabulous texture. **** Now – 2022.

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2004 Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Wilson Daniels.  This somewhat complex wine mixes lemon flavors with unintegrated oak.  It is taut in the middle, leaning towards the acidic side of things before taking on some cream in the end.  It is, perhaps, in need of time.  ***(*) 2020-2025.

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1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  The dark core hints at life.  In the mouth this salty wine reveals how it improved with time in decanter.  It is all about bottle aged flavors with tangy acidity giving a zippy personality.  The mouth remains but the flavors ultimately thin out.  *** Now.

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1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva, Penedas
Imported by Forman Bros. Inc. Alcohol 12.65%.  The color is deep.  The nose offers up barnyard and some not-quite-right aromas of nail polish but is still enjoyable.  Slightly oxidized in the mouth this is clearly from a rich wine.  It is savory with acidity and even improved a touch in the decanter.  But the oxidized hint is there and the finish is short.  It is easy to imagine other examples being very good.  *** Now.

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1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
From a Belgian cellar.  Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%.  A proper set of aromas which are animale.  There is round, mouth filling sweet fruit with a subtle hint of Kirsch, and wood notes.  The fruit resolves to be sweet strawberries.  This is clearly a beautiful wine in fine shape which tightens with air.  **** Now.

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1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  This smells proper and of a wine-making style that no longer exists.  With air this old wine smells of leather.  In the mouth this is a vibrant wine with taut, grippy flavors of complex red fruit, leather, animale, and more sweetness.  It has fine texture and life. Our bottle is in fine shape and capable of drinking at this level for years to come.  **** Now – 2022.

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1988 Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  With one of the youngest profiles this wine offers attractive, fruit driven flavors which focus in on violets.  I would say it became younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2026.

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1990 Chateau de Fonsalette, Syrah, Reservee, Cotes du Rhone
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines Ltd. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 14%.  Ah, there is some of that Rayas character on the nose!  This is a mature wine with youthful vigor.  It is a little round but still possesses tannic grip.  With air this exhibits spectacular body with articulate and textured flavor.  The acidity is spot on as this wine enters its second, mature phase of life.  After a few hours of air this is lovely.  **** Now – 2022.

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1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 20%.  A lovely nose of moderately pungent aromas of caramel, orange, damp campfire, and hints of sweet leather.  Flavors of leather mix with a focused, weighty body but the acidity builds until the finish where it becomes prominent and almost searing in the aftertaste.  The aftertaste is of citric flavors and a persistent sweetness. ***(*) Now – whenever.

Tasting Samples with Josefa Concannon of Louis/Dressner Selections

A few weeks ago I happened to be at MacArthur Beverages when Josefa Concannon of Louis/Dressner Selections was visiting the store.  She was pouring six different samples which I was fortunate to taste.  The Louis/Dressner portfolio is quite interesting and certainly has a strong following.  I am pleased to see an increased selection of their wines in Washington, DC so was more than happy to taste through Josefa’s samples.   Though it was fun to taste Francois Cazin’s Cour-Cheverny made from the Romorantin grape I preferred the 2011 Domaine du Closel, Jalouise, Savennieres and 2011 Chateau D’Oupia, Heretiques Rouge, Pays d’Herault.  The former has an average Wine-Searcher price of $20 and the later $11.  That makes for two very attractive wines at strong prices.  Please find my brief notes below.

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2009 Francois Cazin, Cour-Cheverny
This wine is 100% Romorantin sourced from 40-year-old vines and an 80-year-old parcel.  It was fermented in concrete tanks then aged on the lees for four months in barrel followed by 12 months in concrete tanks.  Alcohol 13.5%.  In the mouth there was white fruit which was slightly weighty, dry, and mildly ripe.  It had good texture.

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2011 Domaine du Closel, Jalouise, Savennieres
This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc sourced from 15-20 year old vines which were aged 12 months on the lees.  Alcohol 14.5%.   The nose had aromas of mildly ripe berries.  In the mouth there was a softer start followed by grippy flavors of white fruit and stones supported by good acidity.  The flavors build in the mouth showing nice weight.  I enjoyed this.

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2011 Chateau D’Oupia, Heretiques Rouge, Pays d’Herault
This wine is 100% Carignan sourced from 40+ year old vines with 50% barrel fermented and 50% carbonic maceration.  Alcohol 13%.  There was a good nose of expressive berries.  In the mouth the flavors were cooler and grapey before becoming racy.  The acidity and fruit were integrated providing a well-rounded wine with good energy.  I enjoyed this too.

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2010 Chateau D’Oupia, Tradition Rouge, Minervois
This wine is a blend of 50% Carignan, 40% Syrah, and 10% Grenache sourced from 50+ year old vines.  The nose was a little more serious.  In the mouth it was a touch more vibrant and assertive.  The the flavors were light the middle was expansive.  It showed a touch more tart acidity and presence of structure.

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2011 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie
This wine is 100% Gamay.  The nose was grapey with greenhouse aromas.  In the mouth there were red and black fruit which were grapey on the tongue tip.  The grapey tannins mixed with pepper and graphite.

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2011 G. Descombes, Morgon
This wine is 100% Gamay which was fermented in cement tanks with underwent semi-carbonic maceration with indigenous yeasts.  There was a good nose of black berries.  In the mouth the flavors were a little tart with grapey fine tannins, Gamay like, and weight which lay on the tongue.  There was pepper and a dry structure.

I Get Fooled by Hard Cider

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

This past weekend a small group of us gathered for a wine tasting and dinner at Lou’s house. There was no set theme this time but it did not take us long to figure out our contributions. Jenn particularly liked the 2011 Agrina, Portuguiser we recently tasted so she suggested we bring that and another Balkan wine. So I added in the 2007 Vino Budimir, Sub Rosa and 2007 Chateau Musar, Hochar to round things out. With two wines from Serbia and one from Lebanon we were sure to shake things up.

We started with the Domaine Overnoy-Crinquand, Rose Brut so I did not bother to take a note. The second wine, Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres was flawed. With the Domaine des Baumard flawed Lou quickly returned with a replacement. I was stumped and kept thinking it was some weird white wine from Pennsylvania. The wine was revealed to be Hard Cider from Maryland! Upon revisiting I could get the apple skins. With such a twist it was already a fun tasting!

We then moved downstairs into the tasting room to taste through the five red wines. The first wine was immediately obvious to me (having recently tasted it) as the Agrina, Portuguiser. It was a polarizing wine with half of us loving it and the other half not. The Paveil de Luze showed quite well at first with classic wood box aromas. It was less opulent than other 2009s and has a structure that will allow it to benefit from cellaring. The Vino Budimir, Sub Rosa is still young with a core of fruit that is still tight with tannins to match. The flavors are good but I would be inclined to cellar this as well. The Domaine Saint Damien was lovely, captivated everyone right away, and was the first to be finished. It continued to develop over the evening with intact bottles likely to do so for several years. It is a treat now but I would wait five years. The Chateau Musar, Hochar developed over the evening in fits and starts. I initially thought it quite soft and a bit disappointing so I rated it two stars. Upon revisiting it had fleshed out becoming enlivened by its acidity. On the second night, without any gas, it drank great. Who knows, this wacky wine might outlive all of the others. Jenn and I were getting ready to take off so I only briefly tasted the Domaine Cordier Pere et Fils, En Faux. Lou continued the cider theme by producing a vintage bottle of Ice Cider from Quebec! Take my note and rating for what its worth and certainly do not expect to switch your Sauternes with Ice Cider. But if you like Cider and apples this is pretty cool stuff. I can almost imagine why fruit wines were so popular centuries ago. Many thanks to everyone for their contributions and to Lou for both hosting and pulling out interesting drinks.

Lou double-decanted the Domaine Saint Damien one and a half hours before the tasting. I double-decanted the Vino Budimir and Chateau Musar one hour prior with the Agrina just half an hour. Everything else was opened shortly before tasting. All beverages were served blind except for the Domaine Cordiere Pere et Fils and the Domaine Lafrance. Please find my notes below in the order tasted.

2005 Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres
Imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies. This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc. Alcohol 13%. The color was a light yellow straw. There was a stinky, foxy nose,….bad yuck. Flawed.

NV Distillery Lane Ciderworks, The Jefferson Hard Cider, Maryland
This cider is made from pressed Newtown Pippins which were aged in American oak. Alcohol 7.3%. The color was a light golden-yellow, a touch cloudy. The medium strength nose revealed dried apricot, sweeter aromas, and floral hints. In the mouth the flavors were much drier and lighter, with a hint of citrus. It started off lively then faded towards the finish. After the reveal I picked up apple skin on the nose. * Now.

2011 Agrina, Portuguiser, Fruska Gora, Serbia
Imported by Winebow. This wine is 100% Portuguiser. Alcohol 13%. The color was light to medium ruby. The light to medium nose was scented with berry-liscious aromas. In the mouth this wine offered up bright, concentrated flavors of berries, some tartness, and lifted perfume. Very fruit driven. *** Now-2014.

2009 Chateau Paveil de Luze, Margaux
Imported by Calvert-Woodley. This wine is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. The color was light to medium grapey ruby. The nose was Bordeaux like with black red fruit, wood box, and a little texture. In the mouth the flavors were savory, a little lighter than the nose indicated, and focused. There were tart black fruits, minerals, wood box, and acidity from the start. This was nice with integrated tannins and flavors that, with air, became drier. I would cellar it a few years. On the second night the nose was higher toned with tart black fruit in the mouth, a dry quality…basically shutdown, needs some age. *** 2015-2025.

2007 Vino Budimir, Sub Rosa, Zupa, Serbia
Imported by Winebow. This wine is a blend of 60% Prokupac and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon which were fermented with indigenous yeasts. The Prokupac was aged for three years in 3000 L oak casks and the Cabernet Sauvignon in French oak barrels. Alcohol 13.5%. The color was medium garnet. The light, tight nose bore interesting aromas which I could not describe. In the mouth there was ripe, focused fruit, a little spicy, and the impression of a young wine. The core of fruit was a bit wound up but still had a lifted quality before the flavors dried and faded a little bit. This was grapey with ripe tannins, and brighter, powdery red fruit in the finish and a racy, black aftertaste. On the second night the nose was very grapey. The mouth still had good ripe, concentrated fruit but the tannins structure stepped up. *** 2014-2022.

2006 Domaine Saint Damien, Cuvee La Louisane, Gigondas
Imported by Premier Cru. This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache (planted in 1942), 15% Mourvedre (planted in 1977), and 5% Cinsault (planted in 1951) and Syrah sourced from parcels on the mid-hills at La Louisiane. It was fermented for six weeks in concrete vats then aged for 12 months in oak barrels. Alcohol 15%. The color was light to medium ruby garnet. The nose was light with black-red fruit, a touch of sweet vanilla, and with air it reminded me of Bordeaux. In the mouth there was ripe, concentrated fruit, lifted minerally flavors, tannins, and enjoyable texture. Simply a really nice wine to drink with great potential. ***(*) Now-2027.

2007 Chateau Musar, Hochar, Bekaa Valley
Imported by Broadbent Selections. This wine is a blend of 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Carignan which was aged in oak barrels for nine months. Alcohol 13.5% The color was light garnet. The medium strength nose revealed minerally black, sweet fruit; generally nice nose with older notes. In the mouth there was red fruit and maple, soft in feel with acidity towards the end. There was some complexity but softness prevailed before an aftertaste with a little firmness. Upon revisiting the wine had fleshed out with air to become quite lively and fuller. On the second night the nose was still smelling good with vintage cherry candy. In the mouth there was dark red fruit with a similar vintage perfume note, black and red fruit, acidity which mixed with black fruit followed by interesting tannins. *** Now-2017 (perhaps longer).

2010 Domaine Cordier Pere et Fils, En Faux, Saint Veran
Imported by Robert Kacher. This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The color was a very light golden straw. The medium strength nose reminded me of masa. The mouth followed the nose with moderate mouthfeel, good weight, and a sense of richness. Uniquely enjoyable. Not Rated.

2007 Domaine Lafrance, Cuvee Speciale, Ice Cider Quebec – (200mL)
From apples harvested in January which are then fermented in vat. It takes 60 apples to produce 375mL. Alcohol 10.5%. The color was a very light golden amber. The medium strength nose revealed potpourri, old perfume, and some aromas not encountered before. In the mouth this medium bodied cider bore similar flavors with tart fruit, apple acidity, and plenty of acidity in the aftertaste. Showed better integration on the third night with almost syrupy body that made way to tart fruit and integrated acidity. ***?? Now-??.