Wine Seminars

                                                                                             Douglass College  

In the 1980s I gave a series of wine seminars for the Douglass College Fellows at Rutgers, under the generous auspices of Dean Mary Hartmann and Ed Hartman. (The college system has since been largely abandoned at Rutgers, and what might be a practical improvement for administrative purposes is nevertheless a great loss for civilization -  insofar as that still matters.) The handouts and tasting notes for a few have survived.  Here are the handouts and the notes that did.  Many others fell by the wayside including Great Dessert Wines, American Wines not from California, Australian Wines, Sparkling Wines, Fortified Wines, Wines from Chile and Argentina, etc etc.  You will be amused by the prices for what were often superior vintages.  And remember when they were written - the '80s.  I think I was quite prophetic about some items!

​ There are few things in the world more satisfying than to find a great wine at a reasonable price.  Good hunting.
Castello di Brolio, Tuscany.  The brithplace of Chianti Classico.
Palazzo Antinori, Firenze


Chianti Classico: Notes

Chianti developed from the native red wines of Tuscany - mostly the Sangiovese grape, a basic robust red dating back to Etruscan times in the Chianti mountains.  It was the wine of the Renaissance, the wine Dante drank and would have us drink.while in mezzo del camin di nostra vita. The governo technique whereby over ripe grapes (usuallu of Colorino) were added to re-ferment the wine, gave it a sweet and musty flavor (as with e.g. Tokay.)  A strong fine wine, some still made today in this fashion.

In the 1850s count Bettino Ricassoli, the second Prime Minister of Italy (a grim man in anything but wine) began to experiment to produce a lighter wine.  The house of Ricassoli had been making wine since 1141.  He used the white wines of the area, particularly Trebbiano and Malavesa and the dark red Canaiolo, in roughly 80% red, 20% whilte with the governo technique for fermentation.He then added the Bordeaux method of aging in oak casks.  

Two types emerged: the young, fizzy fresh Chianti, usually sold in flasks, which at its best is delicious and at its worst undrinkable (only the fiasco made it popular abraod since it could be easily be made into a cheap lamp - as a student I had several). and the aged fine Bordeaux style which became the Classico and which we are trying.  It ages beautifully.  Each maker uses his own combination of grapes which gives the wines their individuality - but the governo method has largely been abandoned.

I have lost the Brolio notes, but here are some observations on the others.

VILLA ANTINORI.  Lodovico and Piero Antinori.  The family has made wine since 1385, and is to Chianti Classico what  the Rosthchilds are to claret.  Two year old wine is a vecchio and after three a riserva.   They ship their own wine, and ship and bottle for various cousins.  This keeps prices remarkably low for the quality.  If you are in Florence go the Palazzo Antinori for a tasting.  Incredible! Note the improvement of the '74 over the '78 to see how well it ages.  Tasters have noticed the growing resemblance to fine Claret of the same period or late '60s.

Here at some point I will insert my favorite story of the Brolios. 

Yes. At a party in New York given by the resident Italian aristocracy I came across two donated bottles of a rare Brolio vintage and indulged myself greedily.  As people were leaving I asked our hostess where these priceless treasures had come from.  She pointed to an elegant lady who was taking her leave. "Where did you find these?" I unsteadily asked her. "Oh" she said," they were lying about the house."  "Who was that vision? "I asked the hostess as she exited. "She is the Baronessa Riccasoli."  Oh my God. She walked amongst us and I recognized her not.

TIGNANELLO.  As Bettino Ricasoli "invented" Chianti, so it was and should remain a wine of experimentation and surprises. The "regulations" that govern the production of Classico (see the black cockerel and the indvidual numbers on the bottle neck) while producinga fine quality also produce stagnation.  Chianti is a mixed wine and you can't fix the mix.  Generations ago the Baracossi family introduced Cabernet into the mixture thus producing Carmignano - a fine variation.  Sangiovese and Cabernet mix very well.  The Antinoris have now replaced the whites completely with 10% Cabernet, producing this instant success, Tignanello - the new aristocrat of the region.  But because of the "regulations" of the consortium, they cannot call it Chianti!  But it is the wave of the future.  It matures beautifully, and the making and aging are pure Bordeaux using new oak barriques. The use of Cabernet can only increase.  The Marchese Incis della Rocchetta makes Sassicaiai from pure Cabernet.  His cousins, the Antinoris, bottle and sell it.

MONSANTO. Monsanto only produces Chianti Classico and never more than 40,000 cases of which 11,000 are riserva, and fewer still Il PoggioAll from a mere 125 acres.  A "pure" Chianti Classico which ages as well as any.  It uses only 3% Colerina as the white element, so is close to pure Sangiovese.  Hugh Johnson said the 1970 reservas compared well with the '66 Medocs (Crus Classes).  Same degree of maturity.  He preferred the Chiantis which made the Medocs seem "excessively dry" - but no question the two were comparable He desribes it as like "mulled wine with orange and spices, chestnuts, mulberry" the color "an even glowing garnet."  What a compliment! We shall see. 

                 
(Not on the handout)






Conti Serristori Machiavelli Chianti Classico Riserva
One of my favorities, and a reasonable price for its quality. 

 The Conti Serristori brand takes its name from an ancient and well-known noble Florentine family.
 
It has been making wine since since the 15th century, when Antonio Serristori, a senator of the Republic of Florence, received the farm at Sant'Andrea in Percussina with its vineyards and olive groves as a dowry when he married Niccolo Machiavelli's last heir. Drink it and feel a direct connection with the great one who wrote most of his immortal works, including Il Principe, right here, drinking wine from these same grapes.
Chateau Michel de Montaigne, Bergerac


Wines of Southern France: Notes

Started as "Great Wines under $5" but decided to limit it to a region.  Everyone knows of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Loire, Alsace etc., but what about southern France? One response was "There are no wines of southern France."  Point taken.  There are perhaps no GREAT wines of this region.  Note: By including southern Rhone we can cheat and just get in some great ones.   But there surely are some good and interesting wines.  Problem is, most are not exported and are hard to get.  We are lucky to have a couple of friendly shippers in this area.  

Wine areas of S. France (refer to map). We'll concentrate on south west and southern Rhone.  Otherwsie Roisillon, Languedoc and Provence are known for quantity rather than quality with a few exceptions.  Remember that most of the vin de table that most of the French drink most of the time is pretty weak and undistinguished stuff (a lot from Algeria) bought by its alocholic strength (pourcent) rather than its known quality.  But in the southwest we have exceptions like some of the Bergerac country in the Dordogne, like Madiron (e.g. Montbazillac - a great one) from the land of Cyrano; and the Chateau Michel de Montaigne (yes, the very one) and the Chateau Tiregand, owned by the relatives of Antoine de St. Exupery -  author of the best selling (if painfully sentimental) Le Petit Prince.

 Tavel Rosé – Château dé’Acqueria

Tavel is to the west of Avignon. It produces good reds and whites but is famous for its strong dry rosés.  These are perhaps an acquired taste – or as some wine snobs would say, no taste at all.  But the way Tavel makes rosé it is really a firm dry white wine with a nice orange color.  This is because as well as including the red skins during fermentation (which is what produces the pink color) they have two days maceration (pre-fermentation) and then are pressed like a dry white.  Château d’Acqueria is expensive, but the best.  It keeps well as opposed to most rosés which are meant to be drunk young.  I love Hugh Johnson’s comment that it is a classic and that, like Racine it should be re-read from time to time.  Drink chilled on its own or with any food that demands a good dry white.
 
Minervois – Château Paulignan

From the Midi on the north bank of the Aude (which parts the Pyrenees from the Massif Central.)  Minervois is an old Roman town in a dry treeless plateau producing strong grapes.  Most good wine here is VDQS – Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieur (as of 1945).  We know Appelation d’origine Controlée: strict rules about amount, strength, methods etc.  VDSQ is a kind of training ground for AC wines: slightly less strict, but often there is no great difference between the two.  This Minervois is just as good as most generic Bordeaux and more interesting than most.  This châteaux has small acreage (34) and high standards.
 
Fronton – Château Bellvue-la-Forêt
Southwest France generally.  Traditionally great areas that suffered from phylloxera and have relatively recently bounced back.  Most famous is Cahors, the “black wine”  - but I really like these Jurançon wines of which this is the best value around (in my opinion.)  Fifteen miles north of Toulouse in the foothills of the Pyranees – grapes Menseng and Negrette – flavor variously described as mango, guava and cinnamon. Colette “I was girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous as all great seducers are – Jurançon.” Can’t beat that.  Note Côtes du Fronton also available locally.  Great bargain, keeps well.  Note these southwestern grapes – unique to the area – we’ll come across Tannat later in Madiran.  Bergerac has the Auxerrois (the Malbec of Bordeaux), Gailliac (River Tarn – viz my friend the poet Nathaniel Tarn who is with us tonight in his capacity as a Rutgers professor and poet) has the Duras, the Brocol, the Ferservadou, the Nauzac, the Ordenc Loin de l’Oeil (l’En de l’El.)   What a list of great grapes! Look also for Côtes de Duras and the Côtes de Madmandais (not as distinctive but good – hard to find though.)
All references to Jurançon wines start with the baby Henri IV whose lips were brushed with garlic mashed in Jurançon.  The custom is still celebrated in the Bourbon family who today go to church on Bastille Day to pray for the souls of the wicked men who cut off the heads of the king and queen.
 
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Muscat des Papes – to be sipped and savoured.   Enables us to look at the southern coast peculiarity we mentioned – the VDN: Vin Doux Naturel. The ones produced in the Midi and Languedoc are mostly red – except for a fine white Minervois: Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois (AOC). We are going to try a white from Beaumes-de-Venise east of Avgnon (hence “des Papes”).  Made from the Muscat grape – very small and sweet.  Like other fortified wines, grape brandy is added at a crucial point (e.g. Port.) But with these only 10% is eau de vie, as opposed to 25% in Port.  The natural strength of the wine has to reach 15%. “Freshness and friesse” is used to describe this very sweet, very strong dessert wine.  It has no cork and no vintage year.  It is to be drunk fresh, chilled as an aperitif or with dessert (the colder the better.)
 
Madiron – Domaine Bouschassé

Another underestimated wine of the southwest (the Vic Bilh hills – Maumusson).  Southern edge of the Armagnac country.  Uses one of the grapes peculiar to this region: the Tannat.  (one, Domaine Laplace is 100% Tannat – couldn’t get it.) This one – excellent – is 50% Tannat and 25% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.)
I first tasted it in the Taverne Basque on the Rue Cherche-Midi off the Bouelvard Raspail when I was at the Musée des Sciences de l’Homme.  I was amazed.  A wine of the Basque region that was somewhat between a Claret and a Rioja as befitted its location.  That smoky, caramel taste.
A great wine – a few vines survived the phylloxera – but has only since 1950 “come back from the dead.”  Hard to find here but worth the search.  One of my personal favorites.
Same area produces nice range with appellation Béarn.  A white grape produces the Pacherence du Vic Bilh.  A nice varied, sweet to dry wine – again hard to find but worth it.
 
Châteauxneuf-du-Pape – Château de Beaucastel

What can we add?  The only (with Hermitage) truly great vin de garde of the south – to match its Burgundy cousins to the north.  Blending is of the essence – as many as six grapes (Grenache, Cuisant, Syrah, Mouvèrdre, Cournoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse – and that’s just the red ones!) (For the record, whites are Piccardan, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picpoul! Some small amounts of the whites used with the reds as with Chianti Classico.)  Thus there is a lot of variety in quality.  This one is one of the best with up to thirteen grapes used, Syrrah and Mouvèdre prominent.  The Perrin family has been in business since the seventeenth century.  It is fermented in traditional square stone vats and two years in oak barrels.  It should never really be drunk under five years and ten is better (up to fifty wonderful.)  But price prohibits the older years so use your imagination.  Should be decanted up to three hours before drinking and there will be a little sediment.  Again price is one of the only indices of quality unfortunately if you don’t know the properties well.  Consult a good wine book.

 
Chateau Larose-Trintaudon, Haut-Medoc
Note it should be "Chateau Ste. Michelle."  Wrong gender, literally.
 
Cabernets around the World: Notes

(The bottles did in fact surround an ornamental globe on a large round table.)

Alexis Lichine’s rule of thumb was that it was hard to make a bad Cabernet, and Ed Hartmann of course never met one he didn’t like. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape (and its cousin the Cabernet Franc, together with a little Merlot) make the greatest wines in the world: the Clarets of Bordeaux.  But Cabernet can be grown anywhere and always does make a drinkable wine and often a fine one.  The grape has been grown all over southern Europe (except Spain), in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, South America (especially Chile) and of course California but all the west coast as well as Virginia and New York in the east.  The best outside Bordeaux are Australia, Chile and California so that’s where we’ll concentrate, leaving Bordeaux until last.

This is like a controlled experiment.  We keep the grape constant but vary the climate and methods.  The best results come where we have a dry growing season and Bordeaux methods.  Some growers try the Bordeaux style of mixing Sauvignon with a little Franc and Merlot, but most stay 100% C. Sauvignon.  The notes are sparser on these wines because we have a lot of drinking to get through.

Europe

Trakia – Hungary ’86; Avia – Yugoslavia (as it was then) ’86; Premiat – Romania ’84 (probably the best – it can age a few years and improve); Fontinel ’87 N.E. Italy and an exception: a very good Italian Cab.; Domaine de Truillas ’87 (back to the St. Exupery family).
All cheap, all indifferent to good.  Cook with them and drink what’s left with the food.  Can’t go far wrong. There is also a Lebanese Cab. (Château Ksara)  that is really quite good – a left over from the French colonization, and one from Israel courtesy of the Rothschild family. The less said the better. It carries words in Hebrew that evidently ensure us it is Kosher.  More like an ancient curse against grapes.

 I sat next to a young Rothschild at a dinner in Paris.  I had just come from Israel and he asked if I had tried their Cabernet and what I thought of it.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t make up a polite lie.  He was a Rothschild for God’s sake; you couldn’t lie to him about wine.  I said it: “je suis infiniment désolé, mais c’est inbuvable.” He hesitated a moment and then cried out, holding his head in his hands: “mon dieu, vous avez raison, oh mon dieu, c’est vrai…” and on and on. Afterwards the hostess asked me what I had done to upset young M. de Rothschild?  “He was moved,” I said, “by a rare example of brave honesty in a world of cynical hypocricy.”  Or something like that.  Move on (or look at the version of the story in Particpant Observer.)

Australia

Australia has long dry summers and warm winters.  Good growing conditions. It is catching up with California rapidly.  There are three good areas to look out for:

Barossa Valley – Adelaide – the oldest area, including surrounding regions like McLaren Vale (most wine comes from here.)
Hunter Valley – New South Wales (north of Sydney)
Coonwara – in the remote south in what has been described as an “absurdly fertile” region.

Roos Leap comes from McLaren Vale;
Wyndham Estates Bin 444 from Hunter Valley;
Lindeman’s Bin 45 from Sydney;
Orlando Jacob’s Creek from the Barossa Valley (Australia’s most popular);
Orlando St. Hugo from Coonwara (expensive but one of the very best.)

The Cabernet grape (and others) was brought to Australia from South Africa, so at another time we might look at the very good products from that country.

Chile
 
Bordeaux grapes were introduced to Chile in 1851.  They had come from France just before the epidemic of phylloxera struck and were thus saved from the ensuing destruction - as were French vines later by being grafted onto American roots.  So Chilean Cabernets are made from genuine pre-phylloxera grapes and in the opinion of some give us the best idea of what should wine tasted like in pre-1851 France.  The best are as good as any in California – but greatness eludes them.  Still best value in Cabernets.  California equivalents would be double the  price.  The best houses are in the central valley, particularly Maipo, south of Santiago.

Concha  y Toro – Casillero de Diablo ’83 (so named in legend because the name scared off thieves).  Perhaps easiest to obtain – and it has other labels.  All good value.

Cousiño Macul ’83.  Hugh Johnson describes the setting: “A serenely beautiful old family estate on the outskirts of Santiago, criss-crossed with avenues of English oaks against the vast backdrop of the Andes.” How could they not make good wine? In fact they make better than good – near perfect.  Johnson compares their ‘83 to “Medoc Cru Bougeois ‘34” – can’t get a lot better than that.  It is the “first growth” of Chile, matured for at least five years in oak casks and two in bottle.

Los Vascos ’85.  Another lovely wine from the coast.  This vineyard (“The Basques”) is a cadet house of the Rothschilds (see the label with Chateau Lafitte) and one of their spectacular successes.

Santa Rita 120. '85.  Another beauty – completely reliable, always excellent.  See the note with the illustration below about the history of the “120.”




Santa Rita 120, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel Valley, Chile

During the war of Chilean Independence, after the Battle of Ramcagua (1814) the great liberator Bernardo 0'Higgins sought refuge with 120 of his men in the wine cellars of Santa Rita near Santiago.  Given this shelter he was able to continue and eventually win the struggle.  In memory of this the Santa Rita wines bear the title "120" to honor the heroes.
California wine country map

California

Northern and central California is great wine growing country for the Cabernet grape. Dry – long warm summers, cool winters, long traditions of wine growing and making.  Problem is there are so many – hundreds – of good Cabernets – never had a bad one.  Even the mass produced – Gallo for example – do a good Cab for cooking and casual drinking, and they are getting towards more than just respectable.

Some are truly great but over-priced.  When I first came to the States (1957) it was much cheaper in Boston to buy really good French wines than their California equivalents, since the cost of shipping from France (and low duties) added less to the price than did expensive trucking from California.  But they weren’t much cheaper there I found.  Unlike Bordeaux, Cal. Wines can be drunk relatively young since they achieve their full bodied taste early.  This is a reason they win wine tasting competitions over their French equivalent years.  But they all keep very well despite this.  I tried to give some variety here, and stay in a reasonable price range.  But don’t expect cheap bargains as with the Chilean; the market information here is too complete.

We have 1 from Sonoma, 3 from Napa, 1 from Mendocino, and one from Washington State just to show that good Cabs can be produced that far north.  All above the fault line and safe from earthquakes.  There are many good Cabs from further south but these northerners are the best.

Davis Byhum, ’83. Sonoma Valley.  Nearer the coast than Napa, Sonoma produces its own distinctive versions.  This is a young vineyard but I have always liked it and it will be among the greats.  At this price the nearest thing to a bargain you are going to get.

Beaulieu Vineyards, Beau Tour  ’86. Napa Valley. Founded by a French family – de Latour, in 1900.  Developed by André Tchelistcheff the dean of California wine making.  Always good, matures well. (Pronounced “Byewelee” as in England.)

Parducci, ’85.  Mendocino.  This was the first vineyard in Mendocino County (1933).  These are big wines and show off the grape beautifully.

Franciscan ,’80.  Also a relatively young house (1975).  This one blends Napa and Sonoma grapes, and its age – 9 years- allows us to see how this blending develops.

Louis Martini, ’86.  North Coast. Napa Valley.  Uses the same kind of mix and methods of the great clarets.  Johnson recommends it to “any Englishman weaned on claret” so I am obviously hooked.

Châteaux Ste. Michelle, ’85.  Washington State.  A really nice one – their Chardonnays are good too – to illustrate how far north the versatile Cab can go with success.


Bordeaux

We shall stay in the Médoc – the peninsular north of the town of Bordeaux, the homeland of the clarets.  We can’t afford the greatest clarets like the Pauillac  (Lafitte) or the Margaux, but there are various others just affordable – although all these take time to mature and the older are expensive in consequence.  You will just have to use your imagination and age these in your minds as you drink.
 
In the Médoc the usual measure is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 13% Merlot: close enough – each house differs: its “secret.”  Why are they the great ones? The light gravelly soil (graves), the climate, even the  micro-climates of the various slopes, and the cask aging and bottling, all combine.  They can never be exactly replicated anywhere however dry the summers and cool the winters.  But years matter here, since there is much variation between them.  But this adds to the fun since we never know how good a year will be.  Hence the importance of vintages here more than anywhere.  ‘79 and ‘83 are both good.  ’82 is reckoned great, and ’85 will be in time.

Château Gloria, ’83, St. Julien.  This house was assembled in 1940 from various crus classes. If there were a re-classification it would be one.  Hence a great buy.  A fine example of the type.

Château Meyney, ’79, St. Estephe.  This has achieved a reasonable age and is about right.  The wines of St. Estephe have more Merlot in the mix than the others so are sweeter and smoother.

Château Larose-Trintaudon ‘83/’85, Haut Médoc, Grand Cru Bourgeois. Made by the same family as the splendid Rioja of the Marquis de Caceres.  Johnson says it has a “steady enjoyable quality,"  but I think the ’85 is going to go beyond that.

I did mean to try to get a Châteaux Talbot but it proved too expensive.  My liking for it was partly due to its historical derivation from the last English governor of Bordeaux (see Henry VI Part 1).  The decline of England surely began when it lost Bordeaux (thank Henry V1 and the Wars of the Roses.)  But that loss was the world’s gain.  So raise your glasses to the great Cabernet grape, one of the true wonders of the world.
 
Chateau Gloria, St. Julien
Below, Mary Hartmann, one of the last great deans, who knew how to make a college an experience. Thank you Mary.