Question: Can you replace a wine back in the cellar after you bring it out but decide not to drink it?
Answer: Of course you can. Why not? Better to return them to a cooler darker location.Wines can be fragile and don’t like to be disturbed or shaken up or subjected to extreme changes in temperature – which could also affect the cork over a longer period. However wines are also pretty sturdy and forgiving – especially younger wines. Should be no problem. Your scribe often stands up several older wines with sediment deposit to have them ready for decanting in the coming week or so. However if not used I return them to the cellar even though the sediment was moved from the side to the bottom of the bottle. Try to place them on their side in a similar position as before when you return them – generally with the label facing upwards.
By following closely the California wine scene since the late sixties your scribe now believes the decade of the seventies was such a glorious classic one indeed. Arguably their best decade ever. So many wineries and winemakers particularly in Napa Valley receive continuing credit for this contribution – deservedly so. However Sonoma has been less heralded as a region and especially the gifted winemaker Richard L. Arrowood during his tenure at Chateau St. Jean starting in 1974. A big part of that is due to his recognized skills with fantastic white wines rather than his lesser known reds. Chateau St. Jean was under the radar for reds and doesn’t get a mention in Wine Spectator’s Guide of California’s Great Cabernets by James Laube from 1989.The seventies had a string of wonderful vintages for cabernet sauvignon led by 1970, 1974 and 1978 plus others including the 1973 (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won the 1976 Paris tasting). 1976 & 1977 were record drought years resulting in some very concentrated over extracted monsters for that time. However Arrowood shone with his amazing Wildwood Vineyard tannic early on yet rich in fruit with balanced acidity and structure that presently are drinking so beautifully. A lot of deposit sediment has been thrown almost like an old vintage port. The lower alcohol levels of 13.1 (1976) & 13.6 (1977) gave them a touch of elegance too. Interesting comment on the 1977 back label signed by RLA: “Sonoma Valley 100% Cabernet Sauvignon entirely Wildwood Vineyards bottled July 12, 1979. Although it can be enjoyed now, due to its tannic and “full bodied” character, it should outlast the next decade.” What an underestimated prediction that turned out to be as both wines show still young deep red colour but marvellously mellow and complex drinking in April 2021. The 1976 was purer impressive mature cherry fruit, so elegant, more Pauillac-like while 1977 softer earthy with roasted spicy plums and sage but both excelled with stuffed chicken thighs and braised fresh partridge food courses.
Necessary to mention the outstanding work RLA did with whites in more detail. Fume Blanc (Forrest Crimmons), Chardonnay & Riesling were pioneered by him as one of the very first with distinct vineyard designations. Remember so well trying so many Chardonnay of 1978 from Bacigalupi, Belle Terre, Frank Johnson, Gauer Ranch, Hunter (lowest abv 13.1), Jimtown, McCrea, Les Pierres (picked at 26 Brix with 15.5 listed on the label), Robert Young, Wildwood plus others. One of my all-time favs was the 1975 Wildwood harvested September 27 at 23.7 Brix fermented 14 weeks at 50-55F at 13.4 with 259 cases. Great memories of Chateau St. Jean unique excellent Chardonnay of the seventies. Credit is due for starting these many individual vineyard selections and all were so different. Well done. The most remarkable wines were the best sweet Riesling picked with botrytis at unbelievable Brix levels (51.3) with Residual Sugar up to 37.5 % by weight from 1978 Robert Young (and also Belle Terre) in the late seventies. Called Individual Dried Bunch Selected Late Harvest or Totally Botrytis Affected (TBA) at very low abv down to 7.3. So thick and viscous rich almost a liqueur more than a sweet wine but will last forever sipping like a Tokaji Aszu. Look for them at auction. Congrats and thanks to a truly great outstanding winemaker – Richard L Arrowood!
Question: Is wine consumption down during this Covid pandemic?
Answer: Hard to know. Forbes reported April 20 based on an OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine) release that worldwide consumption of wine dropped 2.8% in 2020 – the third straight down year. However biggest drops were special circumstances of China 17.4%, South Africa (government ban), Spain 6.8 and 6 in Canada. They say the two biggest consumers USA & France remained flat but the biggest increase was by Brazil. Still your scribe takes these numbers all with a grain of salt. I believe the interest in and the drinking of wine is as popular as ever-though overall less volume of better quality. These figures must be based mainly on current sales which naturally would be down because consumers are not visiting wine shops and hospitality industry at a stand still. Sure deliveries are up but not wine tastings, restaurant visits, and on site shopping which all contribute to spur of the moment wine buys. In addition so many global wine choices today that make your decision of what wine to buy on-line difficult. Buyers are taking a break and using up “cellared” bottles. Know many who are drinking wine most every night the last two years but from old stock as they haven’t bought any wine lately. Trophy wines at auctions continue to go up. Lots to consider in getting an accurate reading on overall wine consumption stats.
Not much French wine was available to buy during the sixties in Canada. It was really a fine wine desert. At that time Donald C. Webster (called “Ben”) President of Neptune Terminals was instrumental in buying a Grand Cru property near Château Figeac called Château Montlabert for about a quarter of a million dollars. It became a triumvirate named Societe Civile Du Château Montalbert including him, Montague Curzon from England, and the Barriere family prominent Bordeaux wine shippers – all shown on the wine label as Fondateurs. Until the label change as shown on the 1970 (picture of the winery) it sported an impressive unique colourful crest representing France, England & Canada (by the maple leaf). There is a detailed historical booklet about the property produced by David M. Lank through The Antiquarian Press Geneva in 1969 that lists the original 37 investors as “Les Chevaliers Du Château Montlabert”. The names are a who’s who of successful people, so many from Vancouver and two who were law partners of mine. Though encouraged to invest by Tom Ladner your scribe never did but 1964 was one of the earliest Bordeaux your scribe ever tasted. Lots of wine dividends were declared for the investors and held at the property but it was a nightmare to try and get these delivered to Canada through the provincial Liquor Control Boards. The booklet confirms that the “story of wine in this region goes back more than two thousand years. Before either the Greeks or the Romans colonized the western Mediterranean, local tribes had discovered the wonders of wine. For generations the grapevines could only be grown in the regions which corresponded by and large with those areas in which olive trees flourished. Through experimentation the tribes around Bordeaux developed grape varieties which flourished in the gravel beds and sandy soils around the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne.” – also notes quite accurately a description of the Château Montlabert wine back from the early 1900s as “It is soft and delicate, tender, supple, light with a very good bouquet which one might even call elegant.” – “one of the more elegant examples of the Saint-Emilion type. Since 2008 it is one of 20 Castel Family Estates with an informative website for Château Montlabert worth checking out.
Last week was most nostalgic for us drinking our last 3 bottles of this wine from vintages 1970, 1966, and 1964. It transported us back to the chateau even during this travel restricted Covid pandemic. It was the first Bordeaux chateau we stayed in during our 1970 visit as guests of the Barriere family. The property is well situated among so many famous properties of both St. Emilion & Pomerol. Though it has some blue clay surface soil the water table is higher there making it difficult for the vines to go as deep down as some other properties. Previously the wines had seemed light and simpler but shone best with extra aging. Shows you that even a less celebrated Bordeaux property can age better than you expected. The magic of Bordeaux! Suggest grabbing a few of their best current ones (80% merlot & 20% cab franc) from 2015 & 2016 for further aging and surprising enjoyment. Admired how all three vintages improved accompanied by mustard chicken or pasta dinner. Food wines at lower alcohol. Also liked how all three years were so distinctly different in their style expressing well the characteristics of the vintage. Some brief impressions:
1970 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Showing a mature quite aged colour with some depth. Bouquet is mushroomy with an earthy cellar note almost a touch of brett. Bit unclean. Balanced but drying out. More fruit there on previous tastings. Drink up.
1966 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Bright with a paling rim. Vibrant look. Open elegant good herbal merlot notes on the nose. Fresh acidity with the Michael Broadbent “1966 long distance runner” styling. Refreshing on the palate. Rather good.
1964 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Dark deep amazing red colour! What a delightful surprise on the bouquet with complex, very true St.Emilion terroir. Still has balance with beautiful fruit and opens up rather than dies in the glass. Best Chateau Montlabert ever tasted. Not the depth of 1964 Figeac or Petrus but shows you again how outstanding that year was on the Right Bank. Rare treat!
Answer: Yes this is a rather newer wine tasting word that is hard to really nail down. The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes “crunchy” as “that can be or has been crunched or crushed into small pieces; hard & crispy.” This literal definition seems most appropriate for tasting the tartaric crystals thrown by a white wine or sediment crust deposit from an older red wine. However it is finding a broader positive use to help describe a diverse group of lively crisp textured wines that you almost can crunch! Your scribe sometimes uses it with reference to thicker bodied Rhone style white blends and natural Syrah big fruit ones among others. What about you?