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Californian Pinot Noir and Barbera from 1977

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

In the late 1970s, during the height of the American wine boom, Sebastiani was the volume leader in the wine production for Sonoma. Sebastiani was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani but it was his son August Sebastiani who saw the winery through Prohibition and the rise of the California wine industry.  Much of the production was jug wine but premium wine was produced as well.  The general emphasis on varietals meant that the Barbera and Zinfandel offerings were regarded with popularity which is precisely why I opened the 1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California.  This was among the last vintages produced by August Sebastiani who passed away in 1980.  August Sebastiani did not fully adopt stainless steel nor French oak rather it was his two sons who began the transition to modernity in the 1970s.  You can imagine August Sebastiani’s hand in making this wine for there is nothing modern tasting about this bottle of Barbera.  It smells and tastes of sweaty leather, though is sweeter in the mouth.  It reminds me of the 1960s Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignons.  It is quite forward until it fades so drink rapidly once you pop the cork.

Buena Vista Winery is another historic winery in Sonoma but it predates Sebastiani by some 50 years.  When General Charles de Gaulle visited America in 1960 he was served both French and American wines with his meals. For his meal of roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce he was served Buena Vista, Pinot Noir.  This is quite amazing given that in the 1960s and 1970s Pinot Noir was considered “difficult and temperamental” to grow in California. Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, concluded that in California this varietal  produced less “Pinot characteristics”.  Pinot Noir ripens early and given the widespread warmth and sun of California very few areas were regarded as suitably cool enough for proper ripening.  After tasting through several dozen Californian Pinot Noirs, he concluded that while the 1968 Buena Vista was a “very good glass of wine” it had less of the Pinot Noir characteristic he looked for.

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I pop and pour most old wine which I have not drunk before.  In retrospect I should have decanted the 1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma.  This is a robust wine that with air shows more blue fruit and substantial structure evocative of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.  This may not be surprising for John Winthrop Haeger writes in North American Pinot Noir (2004) that between 1969 and 1971 Buena Vista planted 84 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon near Pinot Noir.  I followed the wine over several hours and in the process, kicked up a fair amount of sediment which contributed to a loss of focus.  I have the suspicion that my mishandling did not allow this wine to show its best.  I will be sure to write about the next decanted bottle.

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1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California
Alcohol 12.6%.   There is an aromatic nose of sweaty leather.  In the mouth is a big wine of sweet flavors, leather, and supportive oak.  It is evocative of other Sebastiani wines from the 1960s and 1970s except that it faded within one hour.  ** Now.

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1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma
Alcohol 12.5%.  The color is a medium, cranberry garnet.  The nose is sweet and sweaty, evocative of sweet, old wood.  In the mouth is a soft start before menthol fresh flavors supported by a fine vein of acidity. The old-school flavor becomes bluer with air, taking on body with a good, ethereal finish.  It is a fairly substantial wine which still has supportive, dry structure that coats the gums.  It tastes like a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  **(*) Now – 2022.

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A Casual Tasting Involving 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling to 1979 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Earlier this week my brother-in-law and I went over to Lou’s house to taste a selection of primarily American wines.  Lou recently brought back a bunch of wine purchased during his vacation in the Finger Lakes.  The 2013 Forge Cellars, Riesling, Finger Lakes is the first bottle he has shared with me from this new stash.  It is a collaborative project involving Louis Barruol of Chateau Ste Cosme in the Rhone.  It is also interesting because Louis Barruol decided to use old oak when making the Riesling.  This version is crisp and tart but it remained mostly closed throughout the evening.  I would revisit it a few years from now.  Our second white is the $6 dump bin selection of 2006 Barnett Vineyards, Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros.  This is a barrel fermented and sur lie aged Chardonnay which exudes the richness you can obtain in California.  Lovers of this style of wine will gush over it more than I do but I can write that with air it is an enjoyable fully mature wine.

As for the red wines we started with and promptly moved over the 1979 Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux.  The 1982 vintage of this wine still provides pleasure but this 1979 is past any enjoyable drinking window.  We opened it as a vintage pair to the 1979 Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 125th Anniversary Selection, Rhine Farm Vineyards, Sonoma Valley.  The 1979 is admittedly not the best Californian vintage and it reflects in the aromatic hints that this wine is moving past maturity.  It came from the Earthquake Cellar hence the label arrived stained and is not a reflection of us spilling wine everywhere.  The wine is pretty tasty in the mouth and was not frail.  It really is just the nose holding this one back.  Completely different is the very youthful 1989 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley.  It is slightly herbaceous in a good way, bright, acidic, and structured.  I like the floral aspect and believe you should drink this up now.

We required one more bottle of wine to finish up our sous-vide then grilled flank steak so the cork came out of the 1999 Ravenswood, Pickberry Vineyard, Sonoma.  It offered up flavorful black, bramble berries with some added complexity from age.  This dump bin find is drinking at its top form right now and would make an interesting alternative as a daily drinker.  In the end, none of the wines blew me away or really captivated my attention but that is fine as I spent a good amount of time talking and not taking notes.

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2013 Forge Cellars, Riesling, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 12.8%.  The color is a lighter, yellow green.  The Riesling aromas moves to a richer note of petrol flavor in the mouth that exists in a tart and crisp wine.  There is some body but the fruit is largely closed down.  The wine is very fresh and tart with a chalky finish.  It does round out a bit with air but it really needs several years of age to integrate and open up.  **(*) 2018-2022.

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2006 Barnett Vineyards, Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was barrel fermented then aged sur lie.  Alcohol 14.8%.  The nose is of yeast and toast that speaks to the winemaking.  In the mouth is a round, glycerin loaded, ripe fruit start.  This wine bears a lot of wine with some green apple flavors and just enough acidity.  It actually brightens up with air and reveals its mature flavors.  ** Now.

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1979 Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor.  Alcohol 13%.  There are advanced aromas and roast on the nose.  In the mouth there is a bright start but the wine is too advanced with thin flavors and structure still around.  Past! Not Rated.

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1979 Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 125th Anniversary Selection, Rhine Farm Vineyards, Sonoma Valley
Alcohol 13.0%.  The nose speaks of its age and there is a roast hint.  In the mouth this wine has good body and red fruit flavors.  The sweet, powdery fruit coats the mouth leaving ripe tannins on the gums.  Attractive.  ** Now.

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1989 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.1%.  The nose is fresh and  slightly herbaceous.  There is still fresh red fruit in the mouth with a balance between fresh floral flavors and an inky hint.  It is a nice wine that becomes a little shy with air.  I believe the structure will ultimately outlive the fruit.  Why not just drink it now?  *** Now but will easily last.

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1999 Ravenswood, Pickberry Vineyard, Sonoma
This wine is a blend of 72% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvigon, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.6%.  There are plummy, black fruit and bramble berries.  Rather flavorful but the acidity and structure balance make for a good feeling in the mouth.  There is a good balance between bottle aged complexity and fruit.  *** Now.

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