Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 13, April 12, 2016, Tasting a 1965 Chateau Lafite Rothchild 20 years ago

1965 was an absolutely terrible year in Bordeaux for wine, and Chateau Lafite Rothchild was no exception. The best rating I have ever seen for the 1965 Lafite was 81 points. On most people’s scale of desirable drinking anything below 85 points is becoming sketchy. In 1996 when we tasted this wine, it was then at 31 years of age. Rule # 1 when drinking wines from poor years is to drink them young because they are not expected to get any better with time, in fact they are expected to fall apart early.

I clearly remember the 1987 vintage in Bordeaux as being a poor vintage, one destined for early consumption. Within 10 years there were no more 1987s available in restaurants or wine stores. If you were unfortunate enough to have any 1987s in your cellar you were in a hurry to drink them up, looking for every excuse to open the last bottles before they would turn completely into vinegar. The same held true for the 1984 and 1980 vintages, and for several vintages in the 1970s, including 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1977. In the 1960s poor years included 1960, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1968, and 1969. But outshining all the above poor vintages was 1965, generally rated as one of the worst vintages of the 20th century.

So one day in 1996 when I was sorting through my Dad’s wine cellar for him, I happened upon 4 bottles of 1965 Chateau Lafite. I immediately asked him about these bottles, explaining to him that these were great wines but from an incredibly poor year, and that given they were now 31 years of age they would probably all be vinegar. My Dad explained that he did not drink red wine, and these had been given to him as a gift some 25 years earlier and he had never tried them.

So I suggested we try the wine one day with a dinner, and I volunteered to bring a substitute wine to replace the Lafite in the very likely case that the Lafite was no good. The following weekend we had a family dinner where we opened a bottle to have with our steak dinner. With a substitute standing by, I poured what I expected to be vinegar into seven wine glasses.

Since I had not been expecting the wine to be good, I had not decanted it. Instead I poured it directly into the wine glasses. There was quite a bit of sediment in the bottle so care was taken not to stir up the sediment any more than necessary. The wine was clearly old as displayed in the glass by the brown rim around the outer edge of the fill. There was no glycerine content to the wine itself as it left no “legs” on the inside of the glass, the wine did not cling to the glass. On the nose the wine was rather dull, smelling of vegetables and barnyard. On the palate the wine was thin, weak and just about gone. Frankly I was surprised that it was even that good. But then something magical happened.

I kept swirling the wine in my glass, half hoping that this might oxidize the wine enough to somehow soften the barnyard tones on the nose and the palate. Much to my amazement, the wine did open up and changed completely. All of a sudden the vegetable and barnyard tinges were melting away into that classic Lafite cedar pencil nose, and on the palate the wine opened up and blossomed into something soft, flowery, truffles mixed with bell pepper spices and enough fruit that this was now something dusty and old, but very pleasant and a total surprise. There was even a lingering aftertaste, not for long but nevertheless very agreeable.

We were all so surprised, and not knowing how long the wine would survive we did not want to chance it by lingering on the wine too long, so we drank the wine quickly with our meal. What a marvelous surprise, something completely unexpected. Furthermore, a very pleasant tasting experience when the opposite was expected.

Reg's Wine Blog 1965 Ch. Lafite

So I did more research on the 1965 Lafite and found that it was never well rated. By all the critics this wine should no longer exist, it should not be drinkable, yet it was. So we had 3 bottles left and I immediately made plans for a second dinner some 4-6 weeks later to try the second bottle, hopefully under slightly better conditions. However, there was also a risk that the bottle we had already tried was the only good bottle in the bunch, and that the remaining 3 bottles might still be bad. Prior to the 1980s bottle variation in Bordeaux classified growths was much more of a problem than it is today due to a variety of problems such as poorer vintages, poorer wine making techniques and facilities, poor bottling conditions, and poor transportation and storage. So it was entirely possible that the remaining 3 bottles would not be as good, or indeed might be no good at all.

At our next dinner some 6 weeks later, I decanted the wine to drain off the sediment, allowing the wine to breath in the decanter only ten minutes before serving, being careful to swirl the wine sufficiently in the decanter to encourage it to open up. Voila! What a success! With a little more gentle persuasion in the glass, there were no initial vegetable and barnyard aromas on the nose. Instead the wine exhibited a very delicate floral rose petal nose that quickly migrated into that classic Lafite cedar pencil nose. On the palate the wine was light, but smooth and delicate with enough bell pepper and spice to go nicely with the light cabernet fruit. And finally, there was enough of an aftertaste so as not to insult the wine by coming up short. The aftertaste did not last long, but long enough to leave one with a pleasant tasting experience. At this sitting we were only five drinking the wine, and again it did not take us long to consume the wine with dinner. Much to our surprise, we were two for two in success with our 1965 Chateau Lafite tastings. I even began to wonder to myself if the bottles were from another year and not 1965, so to be sure I checked the corks, and they too were labeled “1965”. So there was no mistaking it now, 1965 Lafite was still drinkable, in fact quite pleasant in spite of the bad reviews and bad reputation by critics.

With our two remaining bottles we had two more dinners over the following four months. Both bottles were good, and approximately the same in quality. The last bottle turned out to be a little weaker than the first three. In fact it only lasted about 30 minutes in total once opened. This bottle was different from the others in that it drank differently compared to the previous three. Using the same preparation with decanting 10 minutes prior to serving this last bottle was slower to open up in the glass, but when it did open up the wine seemed sweeter and more floral. It seemed to open up more fully and more fragrant. But with this 4th bottle the wine did not last as long in the glass as the previous three, in fact it was great for only 15 minutes, then it started losing it, and fast. The fruit started to just disappear from one sip to the next. It was as if the wine was sliding down a slippery slope, it just got notably weaker and weaker. Everyone drank up, but I kept a little in my glass to follow the decay and demise. Within about 10 minutes of beginning to break down, the wine converted into vinegar and was completely gone. It was no longer drinkable at all. Tasting this last wine was a real education, allowing us all to experience a very delicate wine open up, blossom, peak, and decline rapidly into oblivion, all within the time span of maybe 25 minutes.

So you might wonder why I bother writing about some obscure old wine from a poor vintage that nobody is going to come across and taste for themselves. Well there is a purpose to this post. First, let it be known that you can derive a lot a pleasure from drinking a good wine from a poor vintage. The 1965 Lafite falls into that category. Second, do not always take what the critics feed you as gospel truth on vintage ratings. Some very good wine has been made in some poor years. I will elaborate in future posts more about the pros and cons of wine critics and wine scores, but for now the purpose of this post was simply to show how much pleasure was derived from wine that was supposed to be poor to begin with, and was supposed to be vinegar and not drinkable long before we opened it.

How about that, kind of throws everything you thought you knew or took for granted about only buying top vintages right out the window.

By the way, if I were to assign a rating or score to the 1965 Chateau Lafite when we tasted and consumed those 4 bottles in 1996, I would give it an 88 score, but only for the pleasure delivered at the moment of of drinking, and that was not for long. Certainly a lot higher rating than the 81 it has been pegged at. While this does not eclipse the 90 point threshold that many consumers strive to limit themselves to, in terms of sheer pleasure extracted we were able to thoroughly enjoy this wine on 4 separate occasions within a 6 month period. You obviously cannot buy this wine today, nor should you if you happened upon it, because by now it has fully departed. But in 1996, some 31 years later, that Lafite was amazingly good.

Top wines from weaker vintages are often better priced, priced to sell. This means the wise consumer can and should consider buying a top wine from a weak vintage if it is attractively priced (for me that means at least 30% cheaper than normal). It should surprise you! Just don’t expect it to last too long, plan to drink it within 5-10 years.

Cheers,

Reg

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 12, April 5, 2016, Chateau de Haute-Serre 2010 Cahors, tasting and history, buy it while you can.

Chateau de Haute-Serre is located in the Cahors region of France. The vineyard itself is located on a plateau overlooking the Lot River valley. 60 hectares of land are planted almost exclusively with the malbec grape (85% Malbec, 10% merlot and 5% tannat). The southern exposure along with stony surface and mineral rich clay soil provide the perfect terroir to yield fabulous malbec wines.

Haute Serre malbec grapes

George Vigouroux bought the property in 1970, cleared the land, planted the vines from scratch and produced his first harvest in 1976.

Chateau de Haute-Serre has a rich history of producing some of the best wine in France long before George Vigouroux bought the property in 1970. In the 1800’s you could find Chateau de Haute-Serre on the wine lists of famous French restaurants beside Chateau Margaux and Pommards from Burgundy. In fact if you go to the winery’s website at www.hauteserre.fr and watch the short video about the property’s history as a vineyard, you will see a video clip that includes an old restaurant menu dating to July 18, 1880 at about the one minute mark into the 5 minute video. On the wine list are 4 wines: an 1858 Cahors, an 1868 Margaux, an 1878 Pommard, and an 1874 Hauteserre. However, like many other French vineyards, Haute-Serre was wiped out by the phyloxera aphid in the late 1800’s and the vineyard was never replanted, lying empty and overgrown from 1880 until George bought the property 90 years later in 1970.

In 1983 George Vigouroux bought the Chateau de Mercues, a 13th century castle sitting atop the same plateau.

Mercues 2

 

Mercues front with fountain 2

George converted the castle into a Relais and Chateaux hotel, he added a huge wine cellar under the castle, and he planted another 32 hectares of malbec vines around the castle itself to form the vineyards of Chateau de Mercues, where he produced the first vintage in 1987.

Reg's Wine Blog Château de Mercues wine label

Today the malbec vines of Chateau de Haut-Serre are roughly 43 years of age, and those of Chateau de Mercues are roughly 10 years younger at 33 years of age. Both vineyards are now producing legendary malbec wines that have been getting better and better each year for the last 25 years as the vines reach maturity.

In 1986 my family and I had a chance to do a wine tour through several regions of France, including Cahors. We stayed at the Chateau de Mercues, and we toured and tasted the wines at Chateau de Haute-Serre.

Mercues 1

If you have a chance to tour the Cahors region I strongly recommend you stay at least one night at the Chateau de Mercues. It really is a magical experience.

CHATEAU DE MERCUES

The view of the Lot River valley below is just stunning, whether that be viewed from the top of the castle walls, from the luxurious bathtub in the turret bathroom, or from the outdoor breakfast terrace outside the front gate.

Mercues castle wall

 

Reg's Wine Blog Chateau de Mercues view from the window

 

Mercues terrace

In such a setting you cannot help but let your imagination carry you back in time to the mid 13th century as you gaze upon the tracts of farmland and the river valley below.

Mercues view of Lot River valley from castle

When we toured the property at Chateau de Haute-Serre we strolled through the vineyards, we inspected the winery and of course we tasted the wines.

Haute Serre bottling plantHaute Serre chateau and vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was also harvest time, so we had the added treat of being able to watch the harvest itself.

Haute Serre harvest time

 

Haute Serre harvest equipment

In 1986 the vines were still quite young, and that was reflected in the more herbaceous taste of the young malbec vines at that time. Thirty years later the mature vines now deliver a much more refined and mature tasting wine from the outset, with full fruit complimented by both mineral and flint like tones, vanilla, liquorice, and smoke.

The Quebec Liquor Board (SAQ) has been a long time supporter of Chateau de Haute-Serre, regularly buying their wines. Currently on store shelves and available for purchase is the 2010 vintage, priced at $25.95 per 750 ml bottle, product listing number 00947184. This wine is rated 92 points by Wine Spectator magazine, and a sticker to that effect appears on the bottle. At a recent family dinner four of us drank a bottle of the 2010 with a steak dinner. This wine was very good, much better than Haute-Serre wines I have tasted from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Gone is anything herbaceous in the taste, which was a sign of youth and young vines. The wine is a deep clear purple in colour, in the glass the wine does show average glycerine content with medium sized tears running down the glass after swirling the wine. On the nose the wine delivers red fruit, plums, vanilla and a pleasant flint like mineral fragrance. On the palate the wine has a velvet satin like texture to it as it continues to show plenty of fruit, and as it finishes with a hint of dryness you can appreciate further flavours of liquorice, chocolate, mocha, and mint. I also picked up on a little hickory smoke in the aftertaste, which blended nicely with the mint.

This wine delivers a very pleasant package for $25.95. The wine is ready to drink now and will easily age at least 5 years and probably much longer, so you can lay it down in the cellar with confidence, knowing you can open it at any time from now on without opening it before it is ready. This makes the 2010 Chateau de Haute-Serre versatile and a wine that will perform well at special occasions and dinners with almost all meat dishes. I agree with the Wine Spectator’s score of 92 points, well deserved.

2010 Chateau de Haute Serre

It will be interesting to follow this winery in future vintages to watch for further complexity in the malbec vines as they continue to mature even further. At 43 years of age they should continue to mature and take on more finesse and complexity for another 10-20 years as the vines reach full maturity. Buy this wine now while it is still available locally in reasonable quantity and at this price.

Cheers,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 11 – March 28, 2016, my good buddy George asks “Do I like this wine?”

I have a friend of the family who has been near and dear to us for the last 38 years. His name is George, he is British and of modest means, but he sure loves his wine, and scotch, and port, and brandy, and madeira, and pretty much anything alcoholic.

George 1

George moved to Ottawa a few years ago and so we do not get together with any frequency like we used to in years gone by. For the last 30 years I was a long standing member of The Opimian Society of Canada, which is a wine appreciation society and wine purchasing co-op. Through the society we would purchase private label wines and for several years much of my wine consumption was purchased through The Opimian Society. It naturally progressed to the point where I was purchasing wine through my membership not just for myself but for friends and family as well, George included.

George took the old “I’ll have what he’s having” approach and simply had me purchase for him some of whatever I was buying for myself. This would inevitably lead to funny situations at delivery time when I would have 15 – 20 bottles of wine for him from 4 or 5 different types of wine. Even though he knew what he had bought when paying for the wine 4 or 5 months earlier when the order was placed and paid for, by the time it was delivered a few months later George had usually forgotten what he had bought and what he was picking up. Hence the phrase “Do I like that wine?” became a regular part of our pickup and delivery conversations.

This led to two funny situations with George. The first funny moment occurred when we got delivery of our Bordeaux shipment one year, and there were 7 different wines for George, mostly red. George asked me if I would label the bottles with stickers telling him how long to keep them, for special occasions or for everyday drinking, etc. Being one who always likes to please, I obliged and labeled the bottles. Of course I took it upon myself to label them with creative language that I knew George would understand, and maybe even find amusing.

Several months later George called me one day to tell me what had happened on this hot date he had with his new girlfriend. He had reached into his closet (George’s wine cellar) and pulled out a bottle of what he thought was his best wine. George had obviously not read my label on the back of the bottle which clearly said “To be drunk with cheap hooker” meaning this was not a bottle of the best, and he had some tall explaining to do when his girlfriend read the back label.

Some years later circumstances allowed me to play another good prank on George on that same theme of “Do I like this wine?”  Going through my Dad’s wine cellar I came across 5 bottles of 10 year old Beaujolais Nouveau, my Dad did not drink red wine and this was gifted to him, so he just let it rot in his cellar. The wine was worse than vinegar. I threw out all but one bottle, saving that one bottle for a “special occasion”. I had something in mind for an upcoming dinner party we were planning.

A month later we hosted a dinner party for 5 other people, George among them. I poured everyone a glass of red wine in the kitchen and brought the glasses into the dining room two by two, of course saving George’s glass for last. This was early December and we were actually tasting a young Beaujolais Nouveau recently arrived. George of course had been served up a glass of “not so new” Beaujolais Nouveau.

The real Beaujolais Nouveau was just as one might expect: fresh, light, young, not very complex, fruity but no body and no aftertaste, a little barnyard and vegetable in taste. But just for sport we all went on and on about what a great year this would be if this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is any indication. For about 5 minutes George just sat there in bewilderment, politely sipping his wine, trying not to show how awful it tasted, nodding his head in agreement with all the praise being dished out for this great wine, yet quietly trying to figure out for himself what was so wrong. It makes me laugh even today some 15 years later when I see that perplexed look on George’s face as he wrestled with how he was either going to drink this glass of vinegar or disagree with our collective assessment of this fine bottle.

Finally the moment passed and George simply blurted out that there must be something wrong with his glass. Well that was it for our straight faced masquerade, we all burst out laughing, and after the dust settled I poured George a glass of the good stuff.

So there is a purpose to this story. “Do I like this wine?” is really a very curious question to be asking because everyone is different, and very seldom will two different people’s taste buds be completely alike. While husband and wife might like the same red wines, husband may only like a Chardonnay in white wine while his spouse actually hates Chardonnay but adores Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Personally I like just about everything alcoholic, but for some strange reason I just don’t like Scotch.

So each of us has our own unique taste buds and our own unique taste preferences. The best way to determine what you like and what you prefer is to try many different types of wines and spirits, and through a process of elimination keep coming back to what you like. There is so much choice in wine that you could easily drink a different wine every time you drank a glass of wine and never drink the same wine twice. In order to really appreciate a great wine, you do need to have tasted a number of average wines. This forms your tasting reference points, you need to have those. If you only ever tasted great wines, they would all seem average to you, and you might end up very disappointed at not being able to find a better wine.

George has tasted some pretty gruesome wine in his days, so I am pleased to advise that George has a good broad based point of reference which allows him to appreciate all the great wine he drinks when he visits our place. George is one of our most appreciative guests, and he always comes back for more, just not as often now that he is living in Ottawa.

When George used to ask me “Do I like this wine?” what he really meant was “Will I like this wine?”. Knowing George’s tastes I could always reply with confidence “Yes”, after all I would never steer him wrong now, would I?

Cheers,

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 10 – March 21, 2016 – Tasting a fabulous vintage Madeira, the Cossart Gordon Malmsey 1920 Vintage Madeira

If you consider yourself to be a wine collector or wine connoisseur your tasting experience and wine collection are incomplete unless you have experienced and/or own vintage Madeira wines. At their best they are extremely old, extremely rare, and extremely good.

Reg's wine blog photo old vintage madeiras

In North America you will not find vintage Madeira wines readily available, in fact you will be lucky to find them in your local liquor store or wine shop at all. If you ask your local wine retailer for any Madeira wine you might be directed to either a 5 or 10 year old Madeira NON VINTAGE wine which is usually a golden amber color, and can be anything from a bone dry Sercial to a quite sweet Malmsey.

Madeira wines come from the island of Madeira, which lies about 200 miles west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is a colony belonging to Portugal. The island of Madeira has been producing wine for hundreds of years.

Reg's wine blog photo Malvasia grapes

 

Think of Vintage Madeira as similar to Vintage Port, another product of Portugal. Both are fortified wines, Madeira is fortified with brandy, and Port is fortified with a grape brandy called “aguardente”. The intent with both is to stop the fermentation process leaving more residual sugar in the wine, making it sweeter, and to boost the alcohol content which will now range from 18-21% alcohol (verses 12-14% in most wines).

Madeira has one added feature in its production process, the wine is actually heated, almost cooked. Today that heating process is done passively in hot warehouses. Through the 17th and 18th centuries the heating was accomplished by long sea voyages under the hot sun.

Reg's wine blog photo aging old madeira wines in hot warehouse attics

Vintage Madeira was extremely popular in the United States before the Civil War, for over 100 years between 1760 and 1860. Vintage Madeira was used to toast the American Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776, and the Inauguration of George Washington, the first American President, in 1789. The popularity of Vintage Madeira only tapered off in the 1860’s because two different events destroyed most of the grape vines on the island, the oidium mould virus in 1852 and the phylloxera grape vine aphid a few years later. Most wine making on the island stopped completely and only older Vintage Madeira wines were available in diminishing quantities as they were released for sale. Vintage Madeira is typically aged in cask for 20 years before being bottled and released for sale. So by the year 1900 there was not much new wine being made and much of the wine in cask had now been bottled and released for sale. Quantities dried up, interest from consumers dried up as well.

Reg's wine blog photo madeira grapes by the sea 2

Today the wine industry on Madeira has reinvented itself. Many of the major Madeira producers , such as Leacock’s, Blandy’s, and Cossart Gordon have all banded together under the name of The Madeira Wine Company. The major grape varieties grown are Sercial (the driest), Verdelho (slightly sweeter), Bual (medium sweet), and Malmsey (sweet). All are green grape varieties. Producers make 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40 year old variations of each of these 4 main grape types, and then vintage Madeiras in addition.

Reg's wine blog photo madeira wines and grapes

 

You can still buy a vintage Madeira today, but a “vintage” wine is not made in large quantities, and is still aged in barrels for 20 years before being released for sale. Madeira wine makers also made “Solera” wines. Basically a solera wine is made from a vat that was started in that particular year. So an 1871 Cossart Gordon Bual Solera is a wine made from a vat of the Bual grape that was started in 1871, and over the years the producer may drain off and bottle up to 10% of the vat at a time, replacing it with new wine of the same grape type. This may be done up to 10 times before the entire remaining wine in the solera vat must be bottled. So the Solera is never diluted by more than 10% new wine at any time. The objective is to have a vat of nicely aged Maderia wine that is periodically given a kick by introducing 10% fresh wine to add life and zip to the mix. Soleras will rival Vintage Madeiras in flavor, complexity and aging potential.

Vintage and Solera Madeira wines are both rare and expensive. They are truly the longest aging wines on the planet. It is not unusual to see a Vintage Madeira wine tasted at 150 and even 200 years of age and still tasting in perfect condition and capable of continued aging. This makes them great collector’s items. If you want a wine to celebrate your great grandfather’s 100th birthday this year, look for a 1915 or 1916 Vintage Madeira, they are still considered young and vibrant, and will be in better condition than great grandpa!

Madeira wine is stored standing up, the only wine to be stored that way. If you look at photos of the cellars of Madeira producers they all store their wine standing up. The reason is that the high acidity in the wine that is required to balance the high sugar content will rot the cork quite quickly if the bottle is stored lying down.

Reg's wine blog photo store your madeira wines standing up

To give you some idea of pricing, check out the Rare Wine Company’s website at www.rarewineco.com where you will find an 1865 Cossart Gordon Malvasia (Malmsey) Solera for $845.00 US, or an 1871 Cossart Gordon Bual Solera for $825.00 US. More reasonably priced are the 1968 D’Oliveira Bual Vintage Madeira at $185.00 US or RWC’s Historic Series of non vintage Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey at $49.95 each.

Reg's wine blog photo Madeira Wine Co. historic series

You may on occasion find an older Vintage Madeira from the 1850’s or 1860’s but be prepared to find it priced at $2,000 – $3,000 US. Keep in mind that you are in fact buying a piece of history at that point, and the wine should still be in perfect condition, unlike any other wine of a similar age.

Many years ago I came upon a good source of old Vintage Madeira wines and I purchased a few different bottles from different years ranging from 1848 to 1920. I bought two bottles of the 1920 Cossart Gordon Malmsey because my mother-in-law was born in that year.

We tasted the first bottle in May 1990 on the occasion of my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. This was my first tasting experience with a Vintage Madeira and we were six adults enjoying the wine. What a tasting experience. We were all completely captivated by this gem. The wine was a brown amber colour, orange on the rim, stunning legs with a rich creamy viscous texture to the wine as it lazily dripped down the glass in thick orange droplets. On the nose the wine gave off aromas of caramel, orange, licorice and hazelnuts, the one word to describe the combined fragrance would be “stunning”. The texture was just as thick on the palate as it appeared in the glass, with a thick satin texture gently coating the tongue as the flavours started to emerge.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Malmsey Cossart Gordon 1920

On the palate every primary aroma delivered to the nose emerged onto the tongue as well, but each primary flavour quickly evolved into many more complimentary flavours so that orange developed into a burnt orange, and a candied orange, and a tangy orange, while caramel opened up into butterscotch, honey, and maple syrup. The hazelnut evolved into roasted almonds, coffee and chocolate. The entire mix was topped off with an elevated alcohol level that held the overall menagerie together and produced an aftertaste of complete harmony that just went on and on for at least 3 minutes. One could not help but feel overwhelmed and humbled in the presence of such a superb wine. Everyone was captivated. My father-in-law was simply blown away, and after a multitude of toasts he proudly proclaimed that this was just the best wine he had ever tasted. It was indeed a memorable occasion that will remain forever etched into our collective memories. Two months later my father-in-law passed away from a sudden heart attack which made this one tasting experience that much more important to our family. This moment in time was one of the last truly happy moments we shared with him as a family, a wonderful man and a wonderful occasion to remember him by.

Fifteen years later we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday in May 2005, so we used the event to justify opening my last bottle of the 1920 Cossart Gordon Malmsey. It was every bit as good as the first bottle we tasted 15 years earlier, no decay, no sign of aging, no sign of decline, no sign of any softening of flavours or aromas. Another outstanding masterpiece that completely dominated the evening.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Malmsey-1920

Doing some research on line, I came across the following comments on this wine from various tasting events:

  • According to the late Noel Cossart, this wine was made from the last of the Malvazia Candida grapes grown in the Fãja dos Padres vineyard, sited at the foot of a very high cliff, to which access was only by boat. Probably the rarest and most romantic of all 20th century madeiras.
  • This wine has become a legend and is arguably the best example of Malmsey produced during the 20th century. This cultivar was extinct as of the mid-20th century. A few years ago, one single vine of the Candida was discovered in a patch of cactus. The 1920 Cossart-Gordon shows a light maple color, mild and engrossing, dry tea, toffee and sweet caramel aromas. Big, bold, balanced and elegant. Plenty of acid and an incredibly long and lively finish with a touch of butterscotch. This wine will outlive my grandchildren (my daughter just turned two years old, notes from 2004).

According to www.winesearcher.com there is only one location in North America where this wine can be bought which is the New York Wine Warehouse where it can be purchased for the equivalent of $1,600 Cdn. per 750 ml bottle.

I kept the empty bottle, and I put a cork stopper back into the empty bottle and periodically removed it to see how long the aromas of that fabulous wine would last. As I write this post now in March 2016 some 11 years since opening the bottle, the aromas that continue to fill that empty bottle are still full, vibrant, and very much remind me of all the tastes and aromas of that tasting experience. You should try that sometime when you open a bottle of your best, put a stopper on the empty bottle and remove it from time to time to see how well the bottle residue retains the original aromas on the nose. This works especially well with dessert and fortified wines, not quite as well with old Bordeaux, and generally not at all with lesser wines.

To any true wine lover, the opportunity to taste an old Vintage Madeira wine is the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to taste “history in a bottle”. As Winston Churchill said to his guests at a 1950 tasting of a rare 1792 vintage Madeira, bottled in 1840, at a dinner party in his honor on the island of Madeira: “Do you realize that when this wine was made Marie Antoinette was still alive?” At 158 years of age when that tasting took place the wine was still in fine condition, still displaying Madeira’s typically rich, sweet, and velvety taste, and room filling aromas of butterscotch, cocoa and coffee.

Reg's wine blog photo old vintage madeira wines

Find one, buy one, store it standing up, save it for a special occasion, and enjoy. Once opened, the wine will keep for several weeks, so plan to enjoy it over more than just one evening.

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post #9, March 14, 2016 – Valentine’s Day with a 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

On Valentine’s Day, Sunday February 14, 2016 we celebrated with the family the arrival of our grandson earlier that week. We were eight adults and two children sitting down to a lovely roast beef dinner, so I decided it was time to try a bottle of the 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases.

The 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases has always had a terrific reputation as one of their best vintages, one of their most tannic wines and made in the old style of being extremely tight and closed until the day finally comes when it opens up to reveal the magic within. Since the wine was now 30 years old I figured it should be time to give one a try, by now it should be showing well.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Leoville Las Cases 1986

I opened the bottle two hours before dinner, and decanted it a good half hour before dinner. The nose from the decanter smelled very promising, but I wanted the wine to open up before we sat down to dinner.

We had started with a shrimp appetizer and some champagne to toast our new grandson. We started our main course with another red wine as a tune up to the Leoville main event. When it was time to pour the wine, everyone remarked on the fabulous nose on the wine in their glass. Full of aromas of cedar pencil, tobacco, earthy tones, spices, cherries, plums and cassis, this promised great things to come on the palate. Once on the palate it became immediately apparent that this wine was completely shut down. Hugely tannic, it was so dry you could feel your cheeks getting sucked into your jaw, so much so that your only sensation was of bone dry tannins. There was no fruit on the palate at all, and the wine was so dry and tannic that there was very little aftertaste either.

So everyone began the process of swirling their wine in the glass, desperately trying everything possible to knock down that tannic wall and get at the prize behind those tannins. After much coaxing about 45 minutes later the wine started opening up a little, but only a fraction of what one would expect to match the wine’s nose. The palate started to display some fruit, some cedar, and some tobacco, but it stayed stubbornly closed the rest of the evening, promising more but refusing to open up properly.

I should have kept a partial glass to sample again later to assess exactly how long it took to open up properly, but alas I did not have the patience or the foresight to do so. This wine is very highly rated by several tasting experts and critics. Wine Searcher.Com gives the average rating at 95 points, average cost $580 CDN, and ready to drink from 2000 – 2035. Robert Parker rates the wine 99 points and recommends drinking between 2003 and 2035.

I have read tasting notes from tastings held in 2015 and 2014 from others who have been more successful at getting this wine to open up. In one case the taster had decanted the wine for a full six hours before tasting it. If you consult Leoville’s website, www.domaines-delon.com , you will find that the 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Case is rated by the estate itself as an exceptional year with exceptional aging potential, and requiring 3 hours decanting time.

My conclusion is that the wine is still very tannic and closed, and will not be ready for another 3 years minimum. When I do go to taste it again, I will be sure to allow several hours decanting time before tasting. I would rate this wine a 92 based purely on the nose. One must assume there is a lovely wine waiting to be let out from behind that wall of tannin. However, when I read tasting reviews on Chateau Leoville Las Case from many different years there are two common themes: first, the wine is often very tannic and closed for up to 30 years, sometimes longer, and second, there can sometimes be considerable bottle variation, meaning that some bottles of the 1986 vintage may shed their tannin sooner than others.

So I am going to assume my bottles, which I had bought as futures in 1988, are still stubbornly hanging onto their tannins a little longer than others. My only concern is that the 1986 Leoville does not evolve more like a 1975 by staying dried out and never really letting the wine shed its tannins before the fruit is gone. That would indeed be a shame. I have tasted several different vintages of Chateau Leoville Las Case, including 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, and 1989, and the 1986 is far more tannic and closed than all of these other years.

This is a mysterious wine, a potentially great wine that promises everything on the nose, yet stubbornly gives up nothing on the palate. If you own this wine, sit on it longer, at least another 2 years, and when you do open it plan to decant it at least 4 hours before you plan to taste it.

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 8, March 7, 2016 – Every Young Man’s Dream, my tasting at Weingut Reichstrat Von Buhl, Deidesheim, Germany.

In September 1986 several family members and I were lucky enough to travel to France on a wine tasting tour specifically organized by us for us. We had already toured Bordeaux, Cahors and the Alsace regions and we had left one day open in Strasburg before returning to Paris and then London. My wife and I, along with my younger brother and his girlfriend decided it would be nice to do a day trip into Germany, so off we went north east from Strasburg and eventually ended up in the town of Deidesheim, about 100 kilometers away.

On arrival in Deidesheim my brother and his girlfriend went off shopping in one direction, my wife and I went the opposite direction until she found a shoe shop that sold baby shoes. Not wanting to sit around while she spent endless time looking for shoes, we agreed to meet up two hours later in the town square where we had left the car, and off I headed looking for other places to shop.

Reg's Wine blog photo Reichstrat Von Buhl 2

One or two blocks later I came upon the wine shop and tasting room for Weingut Reichstrat Von Buhl. I was familiar with Von Buhl Riesling dessert wines, so like a bee drawn to a flower in bloom, in the door I went. A quick glance at my watch told me it was 9:45 AM so I was due back at the town square to meet my wife by 11:45. Well I figured, better to be tasting wines than looking at baby shoes!

At that hour of course the shop was deserted, but the door was unlocked and a bell on the door announced my entry. As I looked around seconds later the most gorgeous 20 year old blonde girl in a Bavarian style skirt and low cut V neck blue sweater entered the shop from the back and greeted me with a smile. She was beautiful, so much so that I fumbled around like a schoolboy caught off guard by her beauty. It soon became obvious that she spoke no English and I spoke no German. However, through sign language I managed to convey the message to her that I was there to taste her wines, and that lovely girl clearly understood as she went to fridge and got out three bottles to taste.

Reg's Wine blog photo Reichstrat Von Buhl

We, or rather I, started with their basic Riesling table wine, and also a couple of other basic table wines, nothing complex but all very lush, round and fruity. “This is wonderful” I thought to myself as I looked across the bar at these three open bottles of wine and my lovely hostess. Communication became a lot easier, she spoke in German, I spoke in English, neither of us understood a word the other was saying and yet we had no trouble getting along, I just smiled and she smiled back. She went back to the fridge and got out the next flight of four wines and opened those as well. Now we were getting into the better stuff, the QMP and sweeter dessert wines.

I watched as she opened a Kabinett, a Spatlese, an Auslese, and finally a Beerenauslese, and so I proceeded to taste them all in that order. And of course given that I was alone, each taste was a good 3-4 ounces. A quick glance at my watch as I tasted the Auslese told me it was only 11:15, still plenty of time, besides if the shoe shop was any good my dear wife could easily run ½ hour late or more. That was the last thought I had about time.

The Beerenauslese was marvelous, now I was in my element, and by now I was getting a little intoxicated as well. I went on and on about how great the Beerenauslese was, talking with both my mouth and my hands at the same time. She turned back to the fridge and got out another two wines and popped the corks. Another two Beerenauslese wines, like I needed more to taste. As she poured the next two glasses I thought to myself, here I am alone in this wine shop with this very pretty Fraulein, drinking glass after glass of great white wine without a care in the world. Did I ever think that I could get into trouble in this situation, hell no, I was living every man’s dream. Pour me another glass dear, this nectar just keeps getting better and better. I am in heaven I thought, and obviously I must have lost track of the time. Both wines were great, luscious, full and rich, sweet yet nicely balanced with a youthful acidity, from the great 1983 vintage.

Reg's Wine blog photo Reichstrat on Buhl

Suddenly my moment of pure bliss came to a crashing halt, the bell on the door to the wine shop rang and in came my wife. “Hello dear, I thought I might find you in here, did you know it is 12:30 and you are 45 minutes late. Get up, it’s time to go.”

Like a lost puppy suddenly found, I dutifully obeyed. One look at my hostess told me she was just as surprised and disappointed as I was that our magic moments together had abruptly ended. Probably all for the best because I had no idea how much more tasting I could do before getting into trouble. My wife summed it up best by remarking after we left the shop that it was a good thing she scooped me up when she did before the blonde hostess did. She went on to say that my blonde’s big blue eyes were all over me. Funny I thought to myself, I had not noticed, ya right!

So to get out of trouble, I asked her about what was in the heavy shopping bag she now had me carrying. That immediately changed the subject to shoes, which went on long enough to allow me to fall asleep in the car on the drive back to Strasburg. Needless to say, while snoozing in the car I was not dreaming about baby shoes.

Blonde hair, blue eyes, and as much wine as you can drink, all to myself. I have such fond memories of that magic moment at Weingut Reichstrat Von Buhl.

If you ever see Reichstrat Von Buhl wines for sale in your local liquor store  or wine shop by all means you should buy them. I do not see them very often in Quebec and Ontario liquor stores, but they are always reasonably well priced German wines, and I have always found their price/quality ratio to be great – low price for a high quality wine.

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 7 February 23, 2016, a recent red wine tasting party, 14 wines reviewed.

On Saturday January 23rd, I attended a red wine tasting of 14 wines from various regions, all commonly available in Quebec liquor stores, priced between $18 and $30 CDN. We were 14 people attending a birthday party celebration, and everyone brought with them an assigned bottle. The idea was that everyone would have a chance to taste and evaluate 14 different wines, and hopefully find 3 or 4 new wines they would enjoy enough to want to buy again.

We tasted in order three Cote Du Rhone wines, followed by one wine from Cahors, three wines from Bordeaux, two from California, two Spanish wines, one Australian, one from Argentina, and one Port.

Reg's Wine Blog photo the tasting lineup Jan 23, 2016

All the wines were quite good, but two did not show well, one because it was too young (the Vacqueyras), and the other  because it was poorly positioned in the tasting after a much fruitier wine (the Monasterio, and the positioning was my fault, I should have placed the fruity Menage a Trois closer to the end just in front of the port). As expected, different wines appealed to different people, so my own wine scores probably differ significantly from some of my fellow tasters. There was however a good consensus on which wines were the top performers.

Reg's Wine blog photo tasting the wine Jan 23, 2016 # 4

I have listed below the 14 wines that we tasted, in the order we tasted them, along with my personal rating score, tasting notes, price, product information, and other relevant information:

  • Cote du Rhone red, E. Guigal / 2011 / $21.05 / SAQ product # 259721 / blend of 50% Syrah, 45% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre / average age of vines 35 years / aged 18 months in oak / 3.5 million bottles produced / taste of plum, black raspberry and wood smoke, tasted young and closed / goes with all red meat / my score 8 on 10.
  • Jaume Reference Vinsobres Cote du Rhone / 2012 / $22.50 / SAQ product # 12125652 / blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre / annual production 42,000 bottles / rated 87 by Wine Spectator / taste of cherry, leather, toast, spice, and mint, very pleasant and ready to  drink / goes with lamb / my score 8.5 on 10, one of my favorites.
  • Perrin Christens Vacqueyras Cote du Rhone / 2012 / $24.20 / SAQ product # 872937 / blend of 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah / made from 50 year old vines / made by the Perrin family (same producers as Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape) / rated 91 by Parker / taste of black cherry and black raspberry, licorice, pepper and herbs / goes with lamb and beef / my score 7.5 on 10, wine was not ready, too young and scored poorly as a result, needs more time in the bottle, at least two more years.
  • Clos de Gamot Jouffreau Cahors / 2011 / $23.55 / SAQ product # 913418 / 100% Malbec / made from very old vines from two separate vineyards – one with vines 40-70 years old, the other 120 years old (this is unique and special) / goes with beef, lamb, pork and duck / tasted chalky, smooth with some spice / my score 8.5 on ten, one of the top wines of the evening.
  • Chateau La Papeterie St. Emilion Montagne, Bordeaux / 2010 / $29.25 / SAQ product # 866400 / blend of 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon / rated 90 on winesearcher.com / won a gold medal in 2013 / goes with all red meat / tasted still young, smooth tannins, good legs, dark fruit, tobacco and spice / my score 8.25 on 10, will get better given time, 6th best wine of the evening.
  • Chateau de Cruzeau Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux / 2012 / $24.95 / SAQ product # 00113381 / made by Andre Lurton family / blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc / rated 16 on 20 by Jancis Robinson / won gold medals in Los Angeles and International Wine Challenge in France, both in 2015 / goes with beef / drink from 2015 to 2027 / tastes of sweet black fruit, spice and pepper, tobacco, thick and rich, ripe and velvety / my score 8.25 on 10, a solid effort with years of good drinking ahead of it, buy this to drink and cellar.
  • Chateau le Puy Emilien, Bordeaux / 2010 / $28.85 / SAQ product # 709469 / blend of 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Carmenere / aged 24 months in oak / long aging wines / goes with all red meat / taste of full rich raspberry, balanced, long and rich mouth feel, and just starting to open up / my score 8 on 10, just an average performer on this evening.
  • Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Yulupa California / 2012 / $20.05 / SAQ product # 862953 / blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot / aged 20 months in oak / goes with pork, beef, lamb, and pasta / tasted plum and cherry, fresh sage, thyme, smooth and approachable tannins, made for early drinking / my score 8.75 on 10, smooth and ready to drink, my second favorite wine on the night, I will definitely buy this wine.
  • Menage a Trois Midnight California / 2013 / $18.75 / SAQ product # 12615264 / blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Syrah, 7% Petit Verdot (don’t ask me what the remaining 9% is, this info comes directly from the winery’s website and is incomplete) / tasted hot, full of blackberry and spiced plum, mocha, with a long powerful finish, a mini fruit bomb / my score 8 on 10, very forward and ready to drink, reasonable value for the money but lacking the finesse of the others.
  • Monasterio de Las Vinas Gran Reserva, Spain / 2005 / $20.70 / SAQ product # 10359156 / blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Tempranillo, 10% Carinena / rated 91 by Parker / aged in barrel 24 months and another 36 months in bottle before released for sale / taste layers of sweet ripe fruit, plums, blackberry, cedar, tobacco, anise, smoke, leather and cloves / my score 7.5 on 10, I have tasted this wine before and it has performed much better, maybe tasting it after the fruit bomb above left a bad impression, or maybe it was just a bad bottle, nobody else thought that much of the wine either.
  • Dehesa La Granja VDT by Alejandro Fernandez, Spain / 2008 / $22.10 / SAQ product # 928036 / 100% Tempranillo / goes with beef and lamb / made from 17 year old vines / consistent scores from 1998 to 2008 between 89 and 92 by Parker and others / tastes of dark berries, cola, smoked meat, mint, and smoky on the finish / my score was 7.8 on 10, I found it had a typical Spanish tang to the palate, no doubt the tempranillo grape in action, but it just did not perform well against the rest of the lineup.
  • D’Arry’s Original D’Arenberg Australia / 2012 / $21.95 / SAQ product # 10346371 / blend of 50% Shiraz and 50% Grenache / a regular favorite and steady performer / goes with beef and pepper steak / tastes of rich dark berry fruit and toasty oak / my score 8.5 on 10, I have tasted this wine in several vintages and it is a reliable and enjoyable wine.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Gran Lurton Valle de Uco Argentina / 2011 / $24.25 / SAQ product # 11375596 / blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Malbec / rated 90 by Parker / located in the foothills of the Andes mountains at 4,000 feet elevation / tastes of cloves, mint, cedar, vanilla, with a long spicy finish / my score 9 on 10, this was easily my favorite wine of the night, lots of rich and well integrated fruit, a full palate of flavours, long smooth aftertaste, will be a delight for at least the next 5 years, this wine I will buy.
  • Offley’s Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal / 2010 / $19.95 / SAQ product # 483024 / tastes of mint and blackberries, sweet and quite young / my score 8 on 10, nothing special, was pleasant but not the best LBV Port available in that price range.

 

There were too many wines, palate fatigue sets in after about 8 wines, especially if they are all red, so our next tasting will likely be all white wines and no more than 8. We also started the event too late with an 8:30 scheduled start time that got delayed to 9:15 while we waited for a couple of latecomers.

Reg's Wine blog photo tasting the wine Jan 23, 2016 #1

 

One of our tasters brought the Chateau Le Puy and claimed before the tasting began that this was his favorite wine. By the end of this tasting our taster announced that his beloved Chateau Le Puy was not even in his top three for the evening, in fact he had found several new wines to enjoy. In my view this is the mark of a successful event.

Reg's Wine Blog photo tasting the wine Jan 23, 2016 # 3

 

 

My  top wines for the evening in order were:

 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Gran Lurton Valle de Uco 2011
  • Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Yulupa 2012
  • Clos de Gamot Jouffreau 2011
  • D’Arry’s Original 2012
  • Reference Vinsobres Jaume 2012

Reg's wine blog photo gran lurton cabernet sauvignon valle de ucoReg's wine blog photo kenwood-vineyards-yulupa-cabernet-sauvignonReg's wine blog photo clos de gamot jouffreau cahorsReg's wine blog photo d'arry's originalReg's wine blog domaine jaume vinsobres reference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides having a lot of fun, these kinds of tasting evenings are very informative and educational. Everyone, myself included, tasted new wines they did not already know, and everyone found at least three that they would buy themselves again.

Reg's Wine Blog photo tasting the wine Jan 23, 2016 # 2

 

I think the tasting panel had a good time, next time we’ll do white, probably Chardonnay and Riesling matched with a seafood dinner, and 8 people with an 8:00 PM start time. Anyone want to join us?

By the way, always a good idea not to drive after this kind of event. Those of us left at the end of the evening left in two taxis, one regular cab and the other a Uber taxi. The Uber driver got lost and could not find our address for pickup, go figure!

 

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 6 February 19, 2016 – Hugel’s 1976 Gewurztraminer “Hugel” Vendange Tardive Sélection de Grains Nobles Fut 28, Ringing in the new year with a fabulous 40 year old Hugel wine

I had the good fortune to visit with Jean Hugel at his winery in Riquewihr with my family in September 1986. We tasted many of Hugel’s wines including his famous late harvest dessert wines, and this wine in particular. In 1986 it was superb, rich, unctuous, sweet and incredibly well balanced, and by Jean Hugel’s own words this wine would last at least 50 years and 1976 was probably the best vintage for his SGN wines in the last 100 years. I will be writing another blog in future about that visit with Jean Hugel in 1986, so for now let’s focus on the wine tasting.

Since 1986 I have tasted the 1976 Gewurztraminer “Hugel” Vendange Tardive SGN twice, once in 1995, and again in 2005 to keep track of the wine’s aging process in order to be sure I do not keep my remaining bottles too long. The wine in 1995 was very similar to when I had tasted it in 1986, but it seemed not to be as rich, thick, and sweet. In 2005 there was no real difference from 1995, still every bit as vibrant, showing no signs of aging or breaking down.

On January 2nd 2016 I decided it was time to try the Gewurztraminer again, the wine was now 40 years old and I had not tasted it for almost 11 years. On my previous two tastings in 1995 and 2005 the bottles I had opened were from the Fut 67 vat, this time I opened a bottle of Fut 28. In 1976 Hugel made Gewurztraminer SGN from three different vats, including 28 and 67, and according to Etienne Hugel who I exchanged emails with recently, the Fut 28 is richer than the Fut 67. The label clearly indicates which Fut or vat the wine is from, see the photos below:

Reg's Wine Blog photo 1976 Gewurztraminer Hugel SGN Fut 28Reg's Wine Blog photo 1976 Gewurztraminer Hugel SGN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fut 28 has an 8,800 liter capacity, and is a huge old wooden vat that occupies center stage in the Hugel winery, and dates back 350 years, see the photo below dating to 1986 where Jean Hugel is conducting a guided tour of his winery in front of his beloved Fut 28:

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel's Fut 28 Jean gives a tour Sept 1986Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel's Fut 28 Jean makes a point Sept 1986

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the bottle the fill was excellent, no sign of evaporation or seepage. White tartate crystals lay on the bottom. The cork came out smooth and moist, and carried the first aromas of the wine to my nose, promising great delights to follow. On the first pour into the glass the wine displayed a deep rich orange gold colour, on swirling the wine in the glass the thick viscous legs that trickled down the glass left no doubt that the wine would still be great.

On the nose the wine gave off aromas of orange and chocolate mocha, liquorice, cinnamon and roses. On the palate the gewürztraminer spice was clearly evident, although it had mellowed and settled into a more refined mix with the orange and chocolate flavours since I had last tasted it. When tasting a sweet gewürztraminer wine from Germany or Alsace, you will sometimes find the balance between sweetness and acidity is off a little, maybe even a little clumsy,  because of the spicy nature of the gewürztraminer grape. It can result in an awkward off balance feel on the palate and in the aftertaste. In this case the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN has superb balance, in fact the wine has indeed lost some of its sweetness since I last tasted it 11 years ago, and if anything this has improved the overall balance of sweetness and acidity. The result is a very fine glass of wine, perfect harmony, balance, not overpowering, finesse, elegance and maturity.

The mouth feel is great, a smooth satin feel indicative of continued great viscosity and richness. The aftertaste must last for a good minute, but that is hard to tell because I found it difficult to resist the next sip. We were five tasting the wine and everyone was enchanted with the wine, and alas it was gone far too quickly. I found myself inhaling the aroma from the empty bottle, which continued to entertain my nose long after the wine was gone. It is five days later when I am writing this blog, I had corked the empty bottle and every time I remove the cork again the bottle continues to give off that same aroma of orange and chocolate mocha, reminding me yet again of that fabulous tasting experience.

The Hugel family have been producing Alsatian wines since 1639, for 377 years 13 generations of the Hugel family have grown and produced some of the finest wine in Alsace, indeed some of the finest wine in France. Their Gewurztraminer 1976  Vendange Tardive Sélection de Grains Nobles Fut 28 was produced from gewürztraminer grapes grown at their Sporen vineyard located southeast of Riquewihr. I am happy to see that this wine has settled comfortably into middle age and shed just a little of its luscious sweetness. This enhances the harmony and balance nicely. Even though this wine may continue to provide memorable tasting experiences for another 20 years, I want to ensure I will be around long enough to enjoy my remaining bottles, so I will schedule my next tastings of this spectacular wine for every 5 years now instead of the usual 10.

Etienne Hugel tells me the winery has no recent tasting notes on the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN Fut 28 because it is becoming so rare. So if you are passionate about dessert wines, and If you can locate and purchase any of this wine at auction, you should do so, and take comfort in knowing that this wine is still in top condition, a little less sweet than when originally bottled, but still full of fruit and perfectly balanced, showing no sign of decay, aging with style. I would rate this wine 94 on 100, drink now to 2030, but check it every 5 years like I intend to do.

If you want to learn more about Hugel SGN dessert wines go to their website at www.hugel.com , and click on “The Wines”. Then click again on “Famille Hugel Selection de Grains Nobles” and you will be taken to their tasting notes and videos on all their recent vintages of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris SGN wines. The notes and videos are produced by Serge Dubs, rated World’s Best Sommelier in 1989. You will find no less than 10 recent vintages of Gewurztraminer SGN reviewed, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000, 2007, and 2010. The SGN “S” designation indicates years of particularly ripe and concentrated grapes, an extra indication of quality and longevity. You will also find tasting notes on no less than 8 vintages of Pinot Gris SGN, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000 and 2007, and tasting notes on no less than 5 vintages of Riesling SGN, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000 and 2009. The tasting notes are of great value to a buyer, and motivating enough to make me want to look for some of these more recent vintages.

These are all rare wines and most will last 20 years or longer under good storage conditions. Do not expect to find these in your local wine or liquor store, if you do then you are very lucky and should buy them immediately. If you are a collector, then the best place to find these wines is at wine auctions. I will have more to say on wine auctions in future posts.

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 5 February 9, 2016 – Decorating the tree with a 1976 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Beerenauslese

Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions are all great times to open that special bottle of wine you have been saving. This blog is going to assume that you have been saving and properly storing your special wine for quite a while and that it is still good to drink. We are also assuming that your wine is a good wine and worth saving.

I had the whole family over for dinner about two weeks before Christmas (December 13th) and after dinner the 11 of us decorated the family Christmas tree. I had an old German dessert wine that I wanted to open. I wanted a family occasion and our family normally makes a big deal out of decorating the tree, and it always launches the Christmas season and Christmas spirit. My 1976 Wehlener Sonnenuhr was now 39 years of age, and my concern was that the wine could be drying out by now and losing its fruit. The fill was still excellent, with white tartrate crystals on the bottom, and no seepage from the cork. Since the bottle was green in color it was hard to tell what color the wine had taken on – yellow, orange or brown.

The wine was estate bottled and shipped by Deinhard, and was quite inexpensive when I had bought it 30 years ago. This was going to be a good test of my cellar conditions I thought, as I opened the bottle. On pouring the wine into the glass the color was a deep orange, indicating the wine had oxidized a little as it had aged, but was it still good to drink or all dried out? On the palate to my relief there was still ample fruit, a burnt orange tang with good viscosity, sweet without overwhelming as some German Beerenauslese wines have a tendency to be, and a pleasant aftertaste.

Blog Pic 1976 Wehlener Sonnenuhr

I have tasted German dessert wines many times, and the older ones really go downhill quickly once they start losing their fruit. This wine was still in very good condition, not as sweet as it once was, but still enough fruit and sweetness to hold it together and maintain balance throughout. The burnt orange on the palate was in perfect harmony with the level of sweetness left in the wine. This left the impression that the wine was starting to dry out, but would be good for maybe another 2 years before losing its balance.

The wine happened to go very well with the family evening, and made for a very pleasant time decorating the tree before everyone left for home. Only about 6 of us were drinking the wine, the others were designated drivers, and everyone tasting it thoroughly enjoyed it.

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from cellaring a little gem like this for 30 years, then opening it at or near its peak on the right occasion for that wine. I was very happy, and that is the magic to be found with the right wine at the right moment in time.

I find it is okay to be a long term wine collector as long as you don’t obsess about it, you must drink your fine gems before they fade away on you. There is no joy to be realized from parking on your wine for 30 years and finding it has turned to vinegar when you finally do get around to opening it. In this case I was lucky, because I was pushing the envelope on this one, and probably should have drunk it 2 years ago. If you own a bottle similar to this, you may still be okay for another 2 years, but you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by holding onto it any longer. So think of a suitable excuse and occasion to open that good bottle and get cracking.

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 4 February 3, 2016 – Bad Restaurant Behavior – Refusing the Wine

Several years ago my wife and I had the misfortune to go out to dinner with 3 other couples to a fine Montreal restaurant. Even though each couple were paying for their own dinner, we intended to split the wine bill evenly amongst the 4 couples. One of our friends took it upon himself to order the first wine for everyone without consulting any of us and he promptly proceeded to order up an expensive Spanish red Priorata type wine.

This by itself was a very poor choice and we should have stopped the process before he ordered that wine, but most of us were distracted in conversation and failed to notice he was ordering anything. Having ordered the wine our friend got to taste it first. He tasted it and promptly refused the wine, telling the waiter the wine was defective and to fetch another bottle. The poor waiter did just that and arrived with a second bottle which our friend tasted and rejected again. The flustered waiter summoned the manager to bail him out and a debate ensued between our friend and the manager as to whether the wine was defective or not.

So I quickly intervened, I told the manager to pour me a small glass so I could taste the wine, which I did. The wine was fine, although not a good choice, and I instructed the waiter to serve the wine, which he did. I also took charge of ordering the wine for the rest of the evening, and I immediately ordered a second wine much more appropriate for everyone.

So what just happened, and what went wrong?

  • The wine our friend ordered was completely inappropriate for the occasion. Young Spanish Priorata red is very harsh and needs years in the cellar to soften up the tough tannins. This was a young vintage, typical of what you would expect to get from a restaurant wine list. Most people could not drink the wine.
  • The wine was expensive at about $85 per bottle, and for 8 people you would expect no less than 3 or 4 bottles of that to be consumed. It was completely inappropriate for our friend to assume that he should make such an expensive and eccentric selection for the table without consultation.
  • I learned after this event from other friends in attendance that our wine snob who made this selection regularly made sport out of this and regularly refused perfectly good wines in restaurants to fulfill his own ego needs and possibly to get better service. Needless to say I was horrified. This had been a totally embarrassing situation for all in attendance, it was 30 minutes before we got our first wine, and it certainly ruined the experience for the rest of us.
  • The restaurant clearly made mistakes as well. The waiter should have summoned the manager as soon as the first bottle was rejected. And a substitute should have been insisted upon by the staff instead of serving up a second bottle of the same wine.

There are some important lessons to be taken from this experience:

  1. Don’t go to dinner with someone who has such a high ego fulfillment need that they get their kicks by pulling this kind of stunt to get attention, we never went to dinner with that couple again.
  2. You never order such a full blown, in your face and raw red from a young vintage for 8 people at the beginning of a meal, it just does not work. Even if the wine had been properly aged, which it was not, it would not have tasted good to the majority of people drinking it. Five of eight people did not like the wine, two others were being polite by saying it was okay.
  3. Never presume that all dinner participants want to drink the same thing as an aperitif, and even with the main course do not order an obscure wine, go with something neutral that will appeal to everyone.
  4. Have some consideration for the restaurant staff and don’t play this kind of game at their expense. Realize that someone takes the hit for that bad bottle, either the restaurant itself or in some cases even the waiter, so that wine should really be a bad bottle and not just your poor choice.
  5. When going to dinner as a group, don’t let one person hijack the evening by presuming to order wine for the entire group unless he is paying for it himself, or all have previously agreed to let him take charge of the wine. Our misfit would easily have racked up a wine bill over $100 per person had he not been dismissed from his role in selecting the wine. It also ruined the experience for all of us.
  6. Life is too short to let someone ruin those special moments with good friends, good food, and good wine.

Reg