Lou and I managed to squeeze in several quick glasses of wine between our kids’ basketball games and dinner. We kicked off with a bottle of NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County. Both the capsule and label are darker, perhaps indicating this is a non-vintage winemaker’s blend. It is clearly a Bordeaux blend on the nose with the greenhouse aromas indicating some cooler vintage(s) in the blend. It is actually well made with an interesting finish and aftertaste, I just wish there was more depth to the fruit flavor. The 2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County is a completely different beast. The back label indicates that the sugar levels rose on the grapes and what we found in the glass were sweet, over ripe flavors. I enjoyed it more on the initial pour but then found it too sweet.
Finally, Lou served a bottle blind. I guessed it was either early 1980s California Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend or 1990s Bordeaux from a cooler vintage. I was close as it turned out to be 1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc. Caronne Ste Gemme was a daily drinker for Lou so he thought it fun to try a one. This particular bottle bears its age very well. With better balance than the NV Ridge, it is a lively drink at 21 years of age.
NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Alcohol 13.3%. The nose is finely scented with greenhouse aromas and red/black fruit. In the mouth this wine has fine grip and focus, showing tart red fruit and leather. It builds flavor with air as well as a hard wood note, more leather, and delicate cranberry red fruit. The aftertaste is surprisingly good. ** Now but will last
2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 99% Carignane and 1% Zinfandel. Alcohol 14.3%. There is a sweet, ripe dusty nose of fruit. In the mouth the flavor is of very ripe berries, tea flavors, chocolate, and sweet fruit. On re-tasting it tastes of over-ripe fruit. Though there is still some grip. * Now.
1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc
Imported by Adventures in Wine. Alcohol 12.5%. The color shows some age and the nose reveals greenhouse accented fruit. In the mouth is a focused cloud of fruit with some purple flavors and ink. It taste of a cool vintage but the attractive structure is in balance, there is some wood box, and an inky hint. **(*) Now but will last.
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.
Exploring old Californian wine is a bit like an archaeological excavation. You may know what you are looking for but not what you will discover. Most recently we tasted a few solid wines and one that is downright bizarre.
Cathy Corison left Freemark Abbey to become head winemaker at Chappellet in 1983. Lou found many positive comments on Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from this period but almost nothing with regards to Merlot. That is ample enough reason to try a bottle. This bottle of 1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley was of fine fill and condition inside but a previously broken bottle splattered the capsule and ruined the label. I preferred this wine in the mouth for its salty start and balance of acidity and structure. The nose was a touch disjointed for me with separate aromas of stems and chocolate. Otherwise I enjoyed the flavor.
We moved back a decade with a pair from the 1977 vintage. I was curious about the 1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County for the reference to Zellarbach Vineyard. Zellerbach is, of course, Ambassador James David Zellerbach who first bought property in 1943 on which he founded Hanzell Vineyards winery in 1957. Hanzell is know for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but what of Cabernet Sauvignon? The word “socks” was mentioned upon first smelling this wine. The wine did clean up some but remained a bit dusty with a vegetal note to the aroma and flavor. The 1977 vintage is the second drought vintage in a row so perhaps the vegetal note came from young vines? After an hour I rather enjoyed the wine but then it cracked up fast. I certainly did not like the 1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley. Smelled blind I guarantee anyone would think this a Riesling. And once tasted you would think it some bizarre red wine which was co-fermented with Riesling!
As it had just become the New Year, our oldest bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac marked the new 50th anniversary. Purportedly one of the best wines of the vintage, this particular bottle sported the lowest fill of a group. No doubt higher-fill bottles will be better but I was attracted to the blood, iron, and cedar aromas. In the mouth the wine did develop some heft and even a touch of fat. I give a nod towards this wine because of the better harmony between aroma and flavor. Sadly, all of the wines cracked up once I returned home. No great wines this time so Lou and I must simply get back together to pull more corks.
1986 Chappellet, Merlot, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This The color is a bright, garnet ruby. On the nose there are aromas of some stems and chocolate. In the mouth this wine is in good shape with bright acidity and noticeable structure from powdery tannins. There is a dry and certainly salty start before the seamless middle and slightly short finish. Clearly the youngest wine tasted. It will last for sometime but I doubt it will improve. ** Now.
1977 Ernies, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Select Zellerbach Vineyard, Sonoma County
Alcohol 13%. A little smelly at first this wine cleans up with air to reveal dusty, rather old, and slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth there are cherry flavors, some greenness, and watering acidity. Though there is a bit of funk, the wine cleans up but never becomes very expressive. ** Now.
1977 Zaca Mesa Cellar, Zinfandel, Santa Ynez Valley
Alcohol 13%. The lightest color of the quarter. It smells like petrol! In the mouth the petrol follows along with red fruit. Lou found “cherry cola” which I echo with finding a cola flavored finish. It is mouth filling and still possesses grip from the structure. Really odd. Not Rated.
1967 Chateau Latour, Pauillac
A Walter Eisenberg Selection imported by Pearson’s Liquor Annex. Mid-shoulder fill. Though of low fill the color is good. The nose reveals blood, iron, and with air cedar. There are similar flavors in the mouth. The wine does flesh out substantially with black fruit, wood, and even a little fat. Eventually it becomes more autumnal. **(*) Now but better bottles will last.
It has been a busy year. Not with wine drinking but with work, family, and the house. I certainly spent a lot of time researching about the history of wine but this year my strong efforts in exploration produced less results. As a result I published less historic pieces. Still, it was a good year in all sense. As for wine, what is memorable easily falls into five groups old Burgundy, old Chateauneuf du Pape, old Californian wine, old Bordeaux, and very old Madeira.
Old Burgundy was consumed in the form of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart and 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant. I find these old bottles particularly hardy with sweet, old concentrated flavors that never fade.
Chateauneuf du Pape was off to a roaring start thanks to a friend who not only opened 2003 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape but also 2003 Henri Bonneau, Cuvee Marie-Beurrier, Chateauneuf du Pape. The Rayas already exhibits “breath-taking complexity” whereas the Bonneau is structured for age. At the mature end, a beautiful bottle of 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape proved the longevity of this type of wine. This is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes. There were some mediocre vintages in the 1950s and early 1960s so it is possible Jacques Perrin was ready to use this new technique regardless of the quality of the 1964 vintage. From the same vintage, though not quite the same level of experience, the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape really highlights how negociants and growers successfully worked together. I am also thrilled to have tasted an original release Mont-Redon, whose wines from the 1950s and 1960s have been widely praised. With round, mouth filling sweet strawberries, the 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking perfect right now.
The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley expresses many of the traits I like in a mature American wine: dark fruit, earth, grip, and some of the concentration from age that just makes you want to drink the wine rather than figure out how to describe it. There is quite a reputation for this wine so I am glad it lives up to it. The biggest Californian surprise of the year is the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County which has no written reputation that I could find. This is Pinot Noir with a hefty dose of Zinfandel, that together provide a vibrant and taut wine with fruit, leather, and animale notes. I must, of course, include Eric’s big bottle of 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. I will write about this wine in a separate post but to provide some context for this exceedingly rare 19th century Californian wine, there were only 37 stars on the America flag when the grapes were harvested.
For some reason I did not get around to opening any wines from the 1966 vintage this year. Still, I did not miss the 50th anniversary of the vintage for the 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien proved to be an excellent representative. From the sweaty nose to the cranberries and red fruit this wine is nothing but fun. Also pleasurable, particularly for the mouth feel, is the 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol. In fact, Lou and I managed to drink this twice. It is round, weighty, and injected with fat. Great stuff! I also managed to taste two bottles of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac. The first bottle, with the highest fill, was the best being very aromatic with beef and blood. The second bottle had a much lower fill so I opened it up an experiment. It was simply a more compact representation, attesting to the staying power of Lafite.
As for very old Madeira, I was fortunate to taste 20 pre-Phylloxera bottles this spring. If I simply pruned out the fake(s), off bottles, and ones that are not so good I could probably list 10 more wines. But my favorites can be narrowed to include the 1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial, 1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial, and NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial. For me, these wines balance the high acidity natural to Sercial with some sweetness. They offer a diverse range of styles from tobacco and cedar wood to pungent, sweaty aromas and even smoke with minerals. An empty glass of Madeira will still smell great the next morning. A few errant drops on your skin will perfume yourself.
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.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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lou likes to gamble on white Burgundy. This week he proved that a basic Bourgogne Blanc can develop with age. Of course he hedged his bet. Jean-Marc Boillot is the grandson of Etienne Sauzet and former winemaker at Olivier Leflaive. This combination of a well-respected producer and the outstanding 2002 vintage have produced what is essentially a mature table wine. The 2002 Jean-Marc Boillot, Bourgogne Blanc drinks well now for it is fresh with attractive mouthfeel. It is not complex but then it never was meant to be. Sadly the bottle of 1989 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley was advanced in color and dead in the mouth. I even forgot to take a picture of the label.
2002 Jean-Marc Boillot, Bourgogne Blanc
Imported by Vineyard Brands. This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from young vines which was fermented and aged in oak. Alcohol 12.5%. The clean, yellow fruit is surprisingly rounded. There is a touch of yeast and a touch of apple orchard fruit which points to maturity. The wine remains fresh in the finish, though it is a little short in length. With air the wine becomes a little racy, developing sweet fruit and a touch of grip before the dry finish. All in all this is a lively wine. **(*) Now but will last.
Lou and I decided to drink a flight of Californian wine from the 1979 vintage. Michael Broadbent once described it as a cool vintage with useful wines. Kelli White recently assessed the vintage as capable of still yielding excellent wines. The 1979 vintage in California came a decade after the American wine boom began. This boom in wine consumption meant there was a year after year increase in vineyard planting and continual increase in the number of Californian wineries.
I should add that all three red wines had fills into the bottom of the neck.
The 1979 St. Clement, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley comes from a winery whose history spans this period. It was in 1964 that Michael Robbins bought an old Victorian mansion with a tiny vineyard. He planted vines then sold wine under the Spring Mountain Vineyards name only to sell the winery to William Casey in 1976. It is under William Casey that the St. Clement name was developed along with a good reputation for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Our bottle was in fine shape reflecting this reputation. The color is the deepest of the trio, matching the deep aromas and flavors of dark fruit. This is a wine to savor on a cool fall night.
Stonegate was established in 1973 on land that the Spaulding family bought in 1969. By the early 1980s production had reached nearly double that of St. Clement. The 1979 Stonegate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vail Vista Vineyard, Alexander Valley is marked by a prominent eucalyptus note on the nose and in the mouth. This alone sets it apart but there is also this beguiling combination of inky flavor, minerals, a savory aspect, and general intensity. If the St. Clement is deep and dark the Stonegate is brighter with more acidity and intensity. What a lovely, contrasting pair worth drinking again.
Sonoma Vineyards came about after a decades worth of winemaking by Rodney Strong. By 1970 Rodney Strong was selling some 150,000 cases of wine so he built a new winery and named his operation Sonoma Vineyards. It was not until 1980 that he began to sell wines under the Rodney Strong label. He had a customized label service for customers which appears to be the origin of our 1979 Sonoma Vineyards, University Club, Special Selection, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County. The University Club is located in San Francisco where it was founded in 1890. Clearly a club must provide nourishment and drinks for its members. In this instance with its own wine label. The wine itself had a vegetal nose and overall softness. I suspect it was never great to begin with but of enough quality to survive for decades.
1979 St. Clement, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. This is quite dark and significantly deeper in color that the other wines. The nose remains deep and attractive with a combination of fruit and some game. In the mouth is a bright start with good body and weight to the flavors which are still supported by structural components. The wine still has ripe tannins which coat the mouth as the lively flavors build on the gums. The dark fruit and character of the wine never faded over four hours. ***(*) Now – 2021+.
1979 Stonegate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vail Vista Vineyard, Alexander Valley
Alcohol 13%. There are some meaty, fruit aromas but it is eucalyptus which comes through on the nose. The mouth follows with eucalyptus infused fruit. The wine builds intensity and ripeness, becoming almost inky. There is a curious quality, almost mineral in this decidedly savory wine. The juicy acidity is more prominent than in the others. An old wood note comes out. The finish does not match the intensity of before but moderate flavor persists in the aftertaste. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1979 Sonoma Vineyards, University Club, Special Selection, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. This wine is a bit more grippy and vegetal. With integrated acidity the brighter fruit ultimately softens by the animale finish. It is a gentle, mature wine that should be drunk up. ** Now.
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.
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.