Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 18 – May 17, 2016, Happy Anniversary with 1979 Chateau Lafite Rothchild

As a wine collector there are certain special events in your life worth celebrating, mostly birthdays and wedding anniversaries. My wife and I married in 1979 so I took it upon myself to pick up a healthy supply of 1979 first growth Bordeaux reds in the early 1980’s. Over the years we have celebrated many anniversaries with a nice dinner and some fine wine. This year was no exception.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Chateau-Lafite-Rothschild post 18

1979 was not a great year for Bordeaux first growth reds, certainly not as good as 1978 or 1982, but all considered the year was slightly above average. When I first decided to purchase the best 1979 Bordeaux reds I could for long term storage, I opted to purchase Chateau Lafite (rated 90 points), Chateau Latour (rated 91 points), Chateau Haut Brion (rated 92 points), and Chateau Margaux (rated 94 points). Last year we tried the 1979 Latour which was marvellous, this year I decided it was time to try the 1979 Lafite again as my last notes from 3 years ago indicated I needed to keep a close watch on how much longer this wine will last.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Chateau-Lafite-Rothschild-1979

So I planned out dinner for two, first course consisting of a shrimp appetizer in a garlic butter sauce with a smoked gouda cheese and crackers, paired with the 2010 Chateau de Haute- Serre (which I have previously reviewed under blog post # 12 on April 5th). For the main course with the 1979 Chateau Lafite I had steamed lobster in a butter sauce with vegetables, and for dessert I served a strawberry/chocolate mousse cake in the shape of a heart with a 500 ml bottle of 1989 Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles by J.B. Adam from Alsace.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-1

I knew from previous experience that the 1979 Lafite could be sliding downhill, so in anticipation of a weak showing by the Lafite, I went with the 2010 Chateau de Haute-Serre to start. I knew this wine would be in great shape, having just tasted the wine a month earlier and rated it at 92 points just as the Wine Spectator magazine had done.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-7

I also wanted a dessert wine to go with the rather rich strawberry/chocolate mousse cake, and the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris SGN seemed perfect, it also happened to be the right size at 500 ml, larger than a half bottle but smaller than a full bottle.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-8

The appetizer was perfectly matched with the wine, the smoked gouda cheese was very nicely accentuated by the hickory wood smoke taste in the Chateau de Haute-Serre. The wine, as per my previous blog notes, performed just as well as it had last month, showing consistency. It also paired very well with the food, showing enough body and flavour without overpowering either the shrimps or the cheese.

The 1979 Lafite turned out to be a pleasant surprise, it was not weak at all, it was delicate and tender, but by no means weak. And the Lafite therefore paired very nicely with the lobster, neither one out of synch with the other, both rather light and delicate in style.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-6

I did not decant the Lafite for longer than about 15 minutes before serving because I did not want it falling apart before we were ready to try it. There was not much sediment in the bottle, and in the decanter the wine did not show much age, the colour of the wine around the rim of the decanter was only slightly browned, again in good shape with no signs of any orange rim. There were no glycerin tears or legs down the sides of the decanter, indicating the wine was more astringent and not rich in fruit.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-9

Once in the glass, our wine was subdued on the nose, not giving much away, in fact the nose did improve after another 20 minutes in the decanter and with some swirling in the glass. To me this means that the wine once again is not weak, just reserved and delicate. In future I would decant this wine at least 45 minutes before serving to catch it at its peak. On the nose we had that traditional cedar pencil aroma, leather, cigar smoke, and light fruit delicately balanced. On the palate more of the same, medium body, very soft fruit with gentle balance, reserved but not backward or out of tune in any way. For the year 1979, this wine has held together quite well. The aftertaste was again light, delicate and maybe a little thin, but nicely balanced.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-10

I have one bottle of 1979 Lafite remaining in my cellar, I may not drink that last bottle next May on our next anniversary, but I certainly would not advise waiting longer that 2 years from now to drink up. There is no doubt that the Lafite is not as strong as Latour, Haut Brion and Margaux in the 1979 vintage, so drink up any remaining Lafite first.

For dessert the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles was also quite pleasant, not great but certainly pretty good. The fruit in this wine was huge, on its own this wine could actually be quite overpowering. Thick glycerin tears rolled down the glass, the wine colour a dark yellow to orange. The wine texture was fat and chewy, in fact the lighter apricot and pineapple fruit was almost out of place with the thick cloying mouth feel you tasted on the palate. The wine was very good, in fact it was perfect for our dessert, and was richer than the dessert itself. In many ways this wine resembled and reminded me of a rich Sauterne and not an Alsace SGN. To me the missing component was not enough acidity in the wine to balance the sugar and fruit. However it is worth noting that this wine is already 27 years old and still showing very well.

Jean Baptiste Adam is the 14th generation winemaker in his family, who have been making wine in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr for over 400 years, since 1614. Every winemaker with that type of experience and history has evolved his own style of wine, and the Adam late harvest dessert wines are clearly made in a Sauterne type style. Again, this wine paired perfectly with our rich chocolate mousse dessert.

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of planning and hosting a special occasion dinner with the one you love is getting the right wines paired with the right foods. So much can go wrong, and sometimes it does. The wines might be too old, a little too dry (or fruity) for your food selection, maybe not decanted long enough, maybe too long. The pairing with food might not work because of a wrong sauce selection, an off flavoured herb or spice that clashes with the wine. When it all works together the sum total is another memorable shared experience for the happy couple. This was one such evening for the two of us. Every component came together as it should. To me this is what collecting fine wine is all about, planning and sharing a fine dining and tasting experience with friends or family.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-12

The 2010 Chateau de Haute-Serre retails for $25.95 in Quebec, and is rated by both Reg and the Wine Spectator at 92 points, the 1979 Lafite is rated 90 points by Wine-Searcher.com and sells for an average price of approx. $850.00 CDN, and I would give it only an 89 rating, I think the days of being rated 90 points are starting to fade. Obviously you do not want to be buying this wine any longer, it just does not have much time left on it, and buying such a delicate wine it may already be gone. I cannot find tasting notes or a rating for the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles anywhere online, but I would rate the wine at 90 points and it is probably good for another 5-10 years before that massive fruit bomb starts to dry out. The 1989 vintage is no longer available for purchase anywhere, the oldest vintage available for purchase appears to be the 2005, which retails at approx. $50.00 US or $65.00 CDN. If you could find the 1989 vintage anywhere it would cost no less than $100.00.

So all together, we celebrated in style, consuming about $975.00 worth of wine (please don’t think I paid anywhere near that amount, when I bought the Lafite in 1984 I paid about $30.00). Is my dear wife worth it? You bet she is, one look at her smile tells me she is worth every penny and then some.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-4

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg's Wine Blog photo wedding anniv 2

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 17, May 10, 2016 A tribute to Etienne and Jean Hugel, gone but not forgotten

When I wrote and published my blog post # 6 on February 19, 2016 I indicated in that post, which was a review of the New Years tasting we did of Hugel’s 1976 Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive SGN, that I would write an upcoming future post about our 1986 visit with Jean Hugel as it would tell a wonderful personal story about Jean Hugel, who passed away in June 2009. Little did I know at the time that this post would also be a tribute to his nephew Etienne, who passed away suddenly at age 57 just 4 weeks ago on April 9th, 2016.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 5

Jean Hugel lived a life full of passion for his wine. He was both an ambassador for Alsace wines around the globe, and a tireless promoter of his beloved Hugel wines. Under Jean’s capable management Hugel wines grew to become internationally known and acclaimed. When our family visited Hugel’s winery in September 1986, it was harvest time and predictably the busiest time of the year for every winemaker.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 2

We were a family of seven, and we had booked an appointment to meet with Jean at the winery weeks in advance. My Dad was an executive of Hilton Canada, so being in the hospitality trade, and the food and beverage industry, it certainly helped getting those hard to book appointments with Hugel and others at their busiest time of year.

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On the day of our visit, Jean greeted us with open arms, much as he would greet long time friends. He personally toured us through the winery itself, telling stories all the while. He was a walking history book about all matters Hugel. His detailed description of his beloved Fut 27, the 8,800 liter cask pictured in the photos below, explained in great detail the 350 history of both the cask and the winery.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 7

You can see both his passion and devotion for all things Hugel captured in these photos as he captivates us with his stories and his passion. Even those of us among our family group who were not as passionate about wine as I was, were enthralled by his personality and charisma. He was a “tour de force” and someone you could not help but admire.

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

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

As we went to the tasting room, Jean opened up bottle after bottle to sample, starting with the simplest wines and building to his late harvest Vendange Tardive wines, and his specialty dessert wines, the Selection de Grains Nobles. When we tasted his SGN wines at the end, I told Jean these were what I had come to taste more than anything else. I already owned a couple of bottles of the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN but had never tasted the wine.

Jean not only served us the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN, but also the Riesling and the Pinot Gris, both of which I did not know even existed. These wines were absolutely stunning, and by Jean’s own words the 1976 vintage of all three varieties were the best SGN wines of the century at that point, and would all last another 50 years in the bottle. That means according to Jean Hugel those wines should still be good in the year 2036. On January 1, 2016 when last tasted, I rated the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN at 94 points and forecast that the wine should still be good in 2030. So Jean was right, probably the wines of the century for Hugel.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 11

As our tasting at Hugel’s drew to a close I asked Jean if I could buy a couple of each of the three 1976 SGN wines from him to take home with us. Much to my surprise and dismay, Jean said no he could not sell me the wines. I was very surprised, but being very passionate about collecting those wines, I got into a prolonged discussion with him about why he could not sell me the wines.

Jean could tell by my enthusiasm and persistence that I was just as passionate about owning those wines as he was about making them and selling them. Jean told me his wine sales direct from the winery were strictly regulated and audited, and restricted to only promotional samples to wine wholesalers (negotiants) or others directly in the trade. After much question and answer, sparring back and forth, that must have gone on for 10 minutes or longer, it became obvious to me that the answer was a firm “no”, and that I was not going to be allowed to buy these magnificent wines. By now 5 of our 7 family members had left the room, not wanting to watch this debate drag out any longer. My expression changed to disappointment as I reluctantly accepted the fact that I was not going to be able to buy these wines. There was nothing more to do at this point but to thank Jean for his hospitality and the chance to taste such wonderful wines. In the presence of my Dad, we shook hands and I thanked Jean, but my disappointment still showed.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 12

As he was shaking my hand, Jean said to me “I am not allowed to sell you these wines, but nothing prevents me from giving them to you. So I am pleased to give you two bottles each of the three 1976 SGN wines (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris) as my gift to you.”  I was shocked at first, and after a couple of awkward moments trying to process what had just happened, the smile of pure joy that came across my face must have said it all, and given Jean a strong sense of satisfaction. Jean also gave my Dad a couple of bottles of the Riesling Vendange Tardive wine that he particularly liked. After another 10 minutes of conversation and expressions of profound thanks and appreciation, we left. To this day I have never forgotten that event. Jean did not have to gift anything to us, but he did, and as far as I could tell he did so because he was passionate about his wine, and because he could see that I too was passionate about his wine.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 8

Jean was right again of course, I will never forget that gesture of generosity on his part. I never would have guessed at the time in 1986 that 30 years later I would start a wine blog to write about my favourite hobby, so it gives me great pleasure to be able to devote a blog post to Jean and the entire Hugel family. In some small way to be able to give back or recognize their passion and devotion to the wine industry is the least I can do.

For those of you who do not know, Jean Hugel was responsible for the introduction of INAO regulations governing Vendange Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles Alsacian wines. The law was drafted and proposed in 1977, and finally passed into law in 1984. This law, aimed at maintaining quality standards for these late harvest wines, requires a blind tasting test be passed before any such wine can legally be sold.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 9 Jean 2008

When I was researching Hugel’s website (www.hugel.com) before writing my February Post # 6, it was not long before I had questions and entered into email correspondence with Etienne Hugel. Etienne responded to me immediately, he was very informative, cooperative, and hospitable. He issued me a written and standing invitation to visit Hugel’s winery again to revisit those marvellous Hugel SGN wines. I could tell instantly that Etienne shared that same passion and love for their Hugel wines as Jean had for so many years. Etienne joined the Hugel team in 1982 at 23 years of age, and worked tirelessly for 34 years until his untimely and tragic passing last month. Etienne was in charge of international sales and marketing, so he traveled widely and often. Hugel wines are now exported to over 100 countries around the world. Although the family has not disclosed what caused Etienne to pass away suddenly on April 9th at 57 years of age, I suspect it may have had something to do with his difficult travel schedule.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 10 Etienne 2012

The Hugel family have been producing wine in Alsace since 1639, so 13 generations of the Hugel family have been making great wine for 377 years. Their passion and dedication to the family business is clearly evident. They are also admired and respected for their contributions to the industry itself as  ambassadors, leaders and trend setters of the future.

To Jean and Etienne Hugel, bravo and well done, gone but not forgotten.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 16 May 3, 2016, Tasting Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port at 31 years of age

My eldest son recently turned 31 years of age, so at his birthday celebration dinner I thought it would be fitting to cap off the evening with a bottle of Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port. Would the wine be in better shape than my boy? The 1985 Graham’s was supposed to be the best of the 1985 Vintage Ports, and we were about to find out.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 5

Expecting the wine would have substantial sediment, I poured the open bottle into my trusty decanter and caught my first glimpse of the wine’s colour and texture. Blood red, thick and viscous as it swirled and coated the inside of my decanter, not a lot of sediment either, very clean. Not a lot of fragrance on the nose from the decanter. On pouring the wine into the glass, there was no evidence of any browning in colour around the edges, and the tremendous viscosity of the wine was evident from the long legs dripping down the inside of the glass. Once in the glass the nose was more aromatic than it was in the decanter, but it was still quite subdued. There were floral aromas there, but more subtle than one might expect from a reputed blockbuster port.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 8

On the palate the wine continued to be very soft and delicate, displaying very smooth smoke and dark red fruit, plums, figs, dates. The wine was “hot but not”, meaning that it had that typical port like full bodied robust rush to it that we all love, but there was no longer any bite or kick to it that we normally associate with a less than fully mature port, instead it came across as a soft, warm caress. Definitely a fully mature port, in fact some might observe that the wine was losing its fruit, because you could clearly taste the brandy backbone in this wine. But this was not a bad thing, the overall effect imparted a light but smooth, elegant finish both on the palate and the nose upon exhaling. On further tasting you began to get aromas of lush sweetness and nuts, licorice and prunes all tightly knitted together into one smooth harmonious blend.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 7

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 2

The port was very successful on this evening. Even though fully mature, this wine remains in full harmony, well structured, with just enough fruit to dazzle your taste buds with different fruit and nut combinations. Those flavors are very subtle and very entertaining, as your palate searches for and finds more complex aromas with each new taste. One could happily sit alone by a warm fire tasting this port on a cold winter’s night and get pleasantly lost or distracted in the tasting experience.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Graham-Lodge

No kick, no bite, nothing out of place, it is all there, soft, delicate and very sophisticated. I would not rate this port at 100 points, but certainly a solid 92. In terms of evolution, at 31 this port is fully mature and may even be a little past its prime, but having said that this port will probably still be drinking very nicely 10 years from now. If you currently own the 1985 Graham’s, you should be drinking it now, or any time over the next 5 years. This wine will keep longer than 5 years, but I would advise keeping track of how well the fruit holds into the future by tasting it every couple of years if you have more than one bottle left in your cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Garham's 1985 - 1

When I went to research this wine and its rating history on the internet I found quite a few disconnects that consumers will find contradictory. Robert Parker rated this wine at 96 points when he tasted it in 1989, saying it would peak and be fully mature in 1993, and continue to drink well for 20 years until 2013. WineSearcher.com gave the wine a score of only 84 points, based on the average of three scores, being 98 points from Decanter, 93 points from CellarTracker, and only 17.5 points (on 20) from Jancis Robinson. Well I am no mathematician, but I cannot figure out how three scores of 98, 93, and 17.5/20 (or 87.5) average out at 84. By my math, that averages out to 93, which is consistent with what we tasted on this night, and certainly not 84 points.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Grahams 1985 - 2

WineSearcher.com also advises to drink up, the wine according to them being good until 2016 only. Conversely, on the Fortheloveofport.com website Roy Hersh wrote an article covering a vertical tasting of Graham’s Vintage Ports in August 2011 where he described the 1985 Graham’s as “A port for the ages. I look forward to seeing how well this will drink in 25 more years.” That means Roy expects this wine to still be going strong in the year 2036, 20 years from now.

So when you navigate your way through all the conflicting information available on line, here are my conclusions. First, someone needs to send WineSearcher.com a calculator, or they need to hire someone who knows how to use one. Second, Robert Parker was right, the wine did mature early, but it will continue to drink very nicely well past his projection of 2013. Third, Roy Hersh should not wait until 2036 to try this wine again. In fact if Roy were to try the wine today he might be surprised at how much this wine has softened since his tasting in 2011. All this to say open a bottle and drink it now, this wine is at or slightly past its prime and will begin its decline sooner than you might think, but my guess is that it will hold in its current state another 5 years.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 4

So who is aging better, my son or the 1985 Graham’s Vintage Port? Well the good news is that I expect my son will live much longer than the port will, he should be around at least another 50 years plus. The port on the other hand will be lucky to survive another 25 years. However, right now the port is better behaved and is smooth and reliable. To my son’s credit, the port is not that good with chores around the house, car repairs, and solving computer problems. So it was a close call, but I think my son is a keeper, and the port is a drinker. No doubt I will have lots of help from my son consuming the rest of my 1985 ports.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 9

 

Cheers,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 15 April 26, 2016, To Decant or Not to Decant, that is the question.

What is decanting and why should you do it before drinking your wine. Here are my thoughts on this subject.

Most people are happy to just open their bottle of wine and pour a glass for immediate consumption. The process of decanting a wine involves pouring your opened wine bottle into a glass decanter, carafe, or jug, and allowing the wine to “breathe” for a while in your decanter before drinking it. Plain and simple, allowing the wine to breathe for a while means you are allowing the wine to oxygenate, which changes (and should improve) the taste of the wine. You should find that the oxygenation of your wine has softened any rough edges, it should allow a tight closed wine to open up, for fruit that initially is not found in the wine when first opened to express itself after being exposed to the air for a few hours.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanting-wine

Most liquor and wine stores sell very young wines, often the most recent vintage released, and usually having been bottled within the last 12 months. The very young wine is often “not ready to drink”, meaning the wine in the bottle is tight, closed, raw and harsh in taste, shows very little fragrance on the nose, may taste out of balance as either the fruit is not showing, or the harsh acidity has yet to settle down and mellow out or integrate with the fruit in the bottle. You the consumer now have only two choices available to you: either you cellar the wine for several years to allow the wine to evolve naturally over time in the bottle, or you find some way to speed up the aging process, and that means aging your wine as it sits open oxygenating in your decanter before drinking it.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 1

So the most important reason for decanting is to age your young raw wine before drinking it. This works fine at home, but not very well in a restaurant. Aging a young wine in a decanter at your restaurant table over the course of a one or two hour meal is not going to make much of a difference. It might help a little, but not much. That young wine is still going to taste harsh and rough around the edges.

How long you should open and decant a young wine before drinking it will vary from as little as an hour to as much as a day or two. In my opinion, decanting a young wine to drink with your meal should be done on average about 3 hours before dinner in most cases.

How long to decant an older wine is a completely different story. In my post # 9 on the 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases I observed that the wine, even at 30 years of age, was still very tight and closed, and clearly would have benefited from substantial decanting, probably a good 6 hours longer than the one hour I had decanted. On the other hand, in my post # 13 on tasting the 1965 Chateau Lafite, the wine was so delicate and fragile that any decanting at all would have destroyed the wine. In my opinion, the length of time you decant an older wine involves more research or tasting experience with the wine and vintage involved. I was right not to decant the 1965 Lafite, but I was wrong to decant the 1986 Leoville Las Cases for only one hour. A little more research on line would have alerted me to the fact that this wine still required a lot of decanting, a characteristic of several top 1986 Bordeaux wines.

The amount of oxidation or aging your wine will undergo in the decanter is also a function of the surface area of the wine that is exposed to the air in the decanter. So using a decanter that is shaped like a carafe or milk bottle will not be as effective as using a decanter with a wider base to it.

Reg's Wine blog - photo decanter 5

My favorite decanter below is a good example of a wide based decanter that maximizes the surface area exposed to air.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 11

 

Another reason to decant a wine is to remove sediment. Older wines, and many dessert wines such as port, madeira, and others throw substantial deposits, so unless you want to serve that half inch of mud at the bottom of the bottle, or risk clouding your wine as you stir up the sediment while pouring individual glasses, you should decant those wines before serving. Many vintage ports (Grahams for example) have instructions on the back label advising the consumer to decant the wine before serving to remove the sediment. When decanting an older bottle with sediment on the bottom, you generally want to leave the sediment in the bottle by pouring slowly into the decanter, and stop pouring when the wine flowing into the decanter becomes cloudy with sediment. If there is a lot of sediment you can also try filtering the wine through a cheesecloth or a very fine strainer as you pour the wine into the decanter. In most cases a careful pour will leave about 90% of the sediment in the bottle, and the 10% that does get into your decanter will itself settle to the bottom of the decanter, meaning that most of that can be left behind in the decanter by leaving the last half ounce in the decanter.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 6

There is also a third reason to have a decanter standing by, and that is in case of emergencies. Imagine you are opening a rare and expensive Bordeaux red with your meal to celebrate a special occasion. The cork is dry and flakes apart, leaving bits of cork floating in the bottle once you finally get what is left of the cork out of the bottle. Or the cork is too loose and tears as you remove it, part comes out and another part gets pushed into the bottle and is now floating in the bottle. Good luck serving this wine to your guests without a decanter. And no, it is not polite to have everyone use their fingers in their wine glass to corral the cork bits and pull them out up the inside of the glass. In these situations you must have a decanter and a strainer or cheesecloth handy to rescue both wine and embarrassed host.

Using a fancy designer decanter like the examples shown below will not get your wine aged as fast because there is very little wine surface area actually exposed to the air. They may look interesting, but they are not functional:

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 9

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 10

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 8

If you are decanting an old vintage Port or Madeira, or even an old Bordeaux, you may want to use a decanter that has a stopper that can be used to stop any further oxidizing once the desired air exposure has been reached. This is particularly important with fortified wines that you may wish to keep in the decanter for consumption over several weeks. See some examples below:

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 7

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 2

 

Not difficult, not rocket science, guaranteed to improve the tasting experience of both young wines, and older wines with sediment in the bottle. Also absolutely essential if you want to keep an opened fortified wine on hand to drink over a longer period of time. There are several different types of decanters that you can buy in the marketplace ranging from inexpensive simple glass carafe types (pictured above, 3rd photo) to my favorite (first picture below, approx $65) to luxury crystal decanters at huge prices over $500 (second picture below).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 6

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 4

 

Unless you do a lot of high profile entertaining where nothing but the best will do, I would suggest you let functionality be your guide and look for a decanter that maximizes surface area exposure. If you need one with a stopper for keeping old Port, Madeira, Sherry or Scotch then get a second decanter equipped with a stopper. Every serious wine drinker should have a decanter, but don’t break the bank on a fancy crystal one unless money is no object. Save that money for more wine!

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 14, April 19, 2016 – all about Moulin Touchais dessert wines

In the wonderful world of dessert wines, there are plenty of favorites including Vintage Port, Vintage Madeira, Sauternes (including those from the Barsac and Cadillac regions), German Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Vendange Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles from Alsace, Icewines  and fortified wines from North America and Australia, and others. Then there is also Moulin Touchais from the Loire Valley Anjou district, made from the chenin blanc grape. The wine lies somewhere between a Sauterne and an Alsace Selection de Grains Nobles in terms of style, and it is unique in many ways.

Eight generations of the Touchais family have produced Moulin Touchais wines since 1787. Jean Marie Touchais is the current wine producer of the family, having taken over full responsibility from his father Joseph Touchais in 1990. The Touchais family have 150 hectares of land producing wine, of which 35 are dedicated to the production of chenin blanc for their Moulin Touchais flagship wine.

There are several very unique features to the family’s production techniques that are worth mentioning. 20% of the chenin blanc crop is picked early (within 80 days of flowering) when the grapes are still unripe and very acidic, while the remaining 80% are picked late (within 120 days of flowering) when the grapes are fully mature, even overripe. The grapes are picked by hand and not by machine, and several different passes are made by pickers through the vineyard over several weeks before the entire crop is harvested. The acidity from the unripe early harvested grapes in the final wine balances out with the late harvested fully ripened grapes, producing a wine that has full, ripe fruit balanced with a strong enough acidity to keep the wine youthful for decades, often well over 100 years in top vintages.

The young wine is bottled early, usually the following Spring within 5-6 months of harvest. However, instead of being released for sale immediately, the wine is aged for 10 years by the Touchais family in their extensive underground cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, where the family have up to 2 million bottles stored in underground tunnel like cellars spanning 15 kilometers.

 

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais wines in storage in their cellar

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais the 15 km long cellar

The Touchais family insist on not selling the latest vintage until the wine has reached an acceptable level of maturity (usually after 10 years). The bottles lying in their cellar are not labeled, and they are restored or reconditioned before sale by re corking the bottle, topping up the wine at the same time, applying the protective foil over the cork, and finally applying the label. As a result of that practice, it is not unusual to lose track of some portions of a particular year’s production in some obscure corner of the cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais cellars

Annual production of Moulin Touchais can vary considerably in size, ranging from 6,000 bottles to 200,000 bottles, depending on grape quality and quantity. A Moulin Touchais wine is not necessarily produced in every year. In modern times it was thought that no wine was made in 1983 and 2008. However, once again a small number of bottles (approximately 5,000) of the 1983 vintage were recently “found” and released for sale. The family has, within those extensive cellars, older vintages dating back up to 140 years to the 1875 era. In top vintages the wine can and does age effortlessly for upwards of 100 years. This makes the wine a collectible as a birthday wine with which to celebrate your 50th, your 65th, even your 100th birthday.

I first got introduced to Moulin Touchais wines in the early to mid 1980’s. Living in Montreal, I noticed one day the SAQ (Quebec Liquor Board) was having a sale on Moulin Touchais wines at their Maison de Vins specialty store downtown on President Kennedy Ave. I bought a bottle of the 1971 vintage and tasted it that weekend. It was wonderful and so I went back for more. In fact, over the following three months I think I bought up half the old stock that was on sale. The SAQ had reduced prices by 40%, maybe some uninformed store manager thought these older vintages needed to be cleaned out before any of them went bad. So I bought Moulin Touchais wine from the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1969, and 1971 vintages, all discounted by 40%. What an incredible find, and I could tell from the remaining stock on hand how few bottles were being bought, so I was able to buy the wine gradually over a 3 month period. Strangely enough, in 1985 I was paying about $40.00 CDN per bottle for the 1971 vintage, and today you can buy the very good 1996 vintage from the SAQ for $46.75. So here we are over 30 years later and you can buy a very good vintage of 20 year old Moulin Touchais for less than 17% more than it cost 30 years ago. Now that is good value for your money.

So there is huge value in the current price level of Moulin Touchais compared to other dessert wines. Sauternes and Ports have easily doubled and tripled in price over the last 30 years. If you do go to buy Moulin Touchais wines, my best advice is to shop carefully. There is considerable variation between vintages, and there is also considerable bottle variation within the same year, mostly because of seepage and loose corks. Shop carefully for the best vintages, these include 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1971, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2005. Before you buy a bottle compare the available bottles for their fill levels, do not buy a bottled that shows a lower fill or any signs of seepage from the cork. You are buying a wine to possibly keep for 25 plus years, so you don’t want it all leaking out onto your cellar floor or oxidizing and spoiling prematurely.

Currently the SAQ is selling 2 vintages of Moulin Touchais as follows:

  • The 1996 vintage at $46.75, product # 00708628, my first choice.
  • The 1999 vintage at $49.50, product # 00739318, my second choice.

If you are new to this wine, buy a bottle of the 1996 and open it for dessert after a fine meal to try it. There is not much difference between the 1996 and 1999 vintage both in terms of age and quality. Although I have tasted neither one myself yet, the reviews I have read give the edge to the 1996.

I currently have Moulin Touchais wines from the 1959, 1985, 1988, and 1990 vintages in my cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais Reg's cellar selections

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1990

Reg's Wine Blog photo 1988 Moulin Touchais

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1985Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1959 my cellar

I also intend to add the 1996 and 1999 vintages currently available. I have also had the privilege to own and drink the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1964, 1969, 1971, and 1975 vintages. We must have tasted and consumed at least 30 bottles of Moulin Touchais from these vintages over the last 30 years, and every bottle was superb, not one was bad. Even a lesser vintage like the 1955 was still great, more delicate and less robust, but still with that classic chenin blanc grape nicely balanced by acidity. The 1947 was bottled in hand blown glass wine bottles, being thicker and heavier, that made the bottle itself a collectible.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Touchais, Jean-Marie’s father, at the annual Salon des Vins wine show/tasting exhibition held in November in Montreal and sponsored by the SAQ. The year was 1987 or 1988, it was late in the day on the Saturday and the show had already been going Thursday, Friday and most of the day Saturday before I arrived. I happened upon the Moulin Touchais booth just as a couple of young women were trying the 1975 Moulin Tochais, poured for them by Joseph himself. The girls recoiled in horror after one taste, telling Joseph how awful the wine tasted, being too sweet, tasting something like Kool-Aid, and not at all to their liking. As they stormed off, the look on Joseph’s face told me he was tired, frustrated, and visibly upset with the multitude of uninformed and unsophisticated palates he had been serving throughout the show. I saddled up to the booth and asked Joseph to pour me a glass of the 1975.

Joseph glared at me, then he said to me in an angry and impatient tone “I will not serve you my wine if you know nothing about my wine. This is a dessert wine, a work of art to be treasured and appreciated, not some cheap, dry lifeless excuse for a wine.” With that he poured me a very tiny little shot, much less than the 3 ounce shot I was paying for. Tasting the wine, I paused for a moment to savour the wine, I looked carefully at the legs on the wine in my glass, the bright orange gold colour in the glass, the floral nose, and the fabulous array of fruits on the palate, with a long lasting aftertaste. Gathering my thoughts, I finally replied to Joseph with the following:

“Mr. Touchais, your wine is fabulous. I have tasted the 1975 before, it has yet to disappoint me. However, I must admit that my favorite is the 1959, followed by the 1971, the 1964, the 1975, and the 1969 in that order. I also like the 1955 and the 1953, especially with the smoothness provided by that extra 10-20 years of bottle age. And I also admit to having a soft spot for the 1949, and the 1947 in the hand blown glass bottles, something you just do not see any more.”

Well the look on his face was something I will never forget. He went from anger to elation within seconds of hearing my comments, I thought he was going to cry. At that moment we were alone at his booth and he told me he was so tired of serving his wine to people who had no appreciation of his product or the labor of love that goes into making it. On the other hand, he was so happy to finally meet someone at the show who actually knew his wines, and knew them well. From the mini fridge under the counter he got out a bottle of the 1971 and poured us each a healthy glass. I stayed with him for almost the entire length of the remaining hour of the show, trying three more vintages he had with him, including the 1964,  and left with a mixed case of 1969, 1971, and 1975. I was thrilled to have met him, to have spent about an hour talking with him, and to have obviously made his day. There is no doubt he was very satisfied to have been able to engage in an intelligent conversation with a consumer who knew and appreciated his wine, in fact I think he was relieved. I am not sure how many times Joseph visited the Montreal wine show before or after. I looked for him again in following years, but he and his wines were not there, and based on what I witnessed and heard from him, I cannot blame him. His son Jean Marie has been doing the circuit since 1990, but not every year.

Jean Marie Touchais and Moulin Touchais wines do not have a website address to promote their business or communicate with their customers. If you go to visit them at the winery and cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, you will have a hard time finding them. There is no sign at the entrance to their facility, which is not on any main road but tucked away behind a smaller building that itself bears no civic address. It would appear the Touchais family like to be low profile.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais front door no sign

You can buy wine at the winery itself, but I would be careful to research that carefully before buying. You will want to buy the oldest vintage you can because you cannot find the older vintages anywhere else other than at auction. The older vintages should be in pristine condition having never left the winery, but you will have to be sure the wine has been recently reconditioned (topped up, re corked and labeled) before you buy it. I am also not sure the winery will sell you their much older vintages. What a treat that would be to buy a mixed case of two bottles each of the 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, and 1959!

The SAQ used to have the 1985 Moulin Touchais in stock at $67.25 per bottle under product number 12481171. According to their website it is sold out, if you ever happen to find one left somewhere, buy it. The last time I tasted the 1985 Moulin Touchais was two years ago, my tasting notes read as follows: “Tasted November 2013, another great showing for the 1985, rich, smooth, silky on the palate, great balance and a long pleasant aftertaste. Aromas, tastes and aftertastes of orange peel, peach and apricots, caramel and butterscotch. The acidity prevents the sweetness of the fruit from overpowering the wine, leaving a sense of harmony even though you can taste the power and longevity in this wine. Deep golden colour and great viscosity leaving long legs on the side of the glass. Easily good for another 20 years, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years.” I would rate the 1985 at 93 points.

Reg's Wine Blog photo glass of 1975 Moulin Touchais

As Moulin Touchais wines age the flavours and aromas they emit seem to change. Unlike many other dessert wines from Sauternes, Alsace or Germany where the fruit just dries up and your dessert wine begins to resemble an tired, old, unbalanced Chardonnay, an aging Moulin Touchais wine sees its fruit change from oranges, peaches and apricots to lemons, limes and a roasted nutty saltiness, all kept in perfect balance by the ever present acidity. I have watched this happen with interest to the 1959 vintage. I have tasted that wine at least 6 times over a 20 year period, and I have observed a very graceful and refined evolution where the full bodied orange, peach and apricot fruits are now slightly diminished and gradually the more subtle lemon and floral tones have become more pronounced.

If the 1959 vintage, now 57 years of age, is just now evolving ever so slowly and just beginning to show the changes in fruit, you can rest assured it will be around at least the next 25 years if stored properly.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1959

This means if you buy Moulin Touchais wines you should first identify which years are the best, and plan to keep those the longest. The weaker years you should plan to drink first, there is nothing to be gained by cellaring a weaker year over a long term. As for the two Moulin Touchais vintages (the 1996 and the 1999) currently available at the SAQ, I would recommend buying both to cellar, they both appear to be rated at 90 points. Again, as recommended above, if you are new to this wine, buy and try a bottle of the 1996.

Moulin Touchais wine is widely available throughout Canada and the US and the UK, I see the 1996 vintage was selling recently at the LCBO in Ontario for $37.95 (a good price), I am not sure if it is still in stock. The best vintages to buy are the 2005, 2003, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1990, 1988, 1985, 1975, 1971, 1969, 1964, 1959, 1953, 1949, 1947, and 1945. The recent vintages will set you back about $45 CDN, the 1985 about $65, older wines at $85 to $100. This may seem like a lot of money to pay for a dessert wine, but on a relative basis compared to older Sauternes, Alsace, Germans, and Ports, the Moulin Touchais is a better buy at ½ to 1/3 the price, and will age better and longer.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 1975 Moulin Touchais

But this is just my opinion, you be the judge. Go buy a bottle, try it yourself, and let me know what you think.

Cheers, Reg.

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.