Vin Rouge Wine Tasting Notes for March 2, 2016

I’ve been in the club for over 20 years and have to say, this month’s tasting, was a first time theme for the club and had everybody guessing what we were enjoying. A big hats off to Brother Don, who stepped up to the plate and traded with another member who could not make it, and an even bigger bow to Brother Don for choosing some spectacular wines and an awesome theme! Drum roll please…

The theme of the night was wines with very high (more than 14.5 percent alcohol), although these days, that pretty easy to find. This theme sparked a lot of discussion within the club. As Don presented, “There’s pressure on winemakers from critics for intense flavors, and that means riper grapes”, explains Marnie Old, the director of wine studies at the French Culinary Institute, in New Your City, and a coauthor of He Said Beer, She Said Wine (DK Publishing, $25). “So during the past few years, winemakers have been leaving grapes on the vine well after they would typically be picked, and that translates into fuller-bodied wines and more alcohol.” Thanks to technological advances in farming, it’s now less of a risk to delay harvesting grapes.

A Guide to the Alcohol Content In Wine can be found here

Don’s focus was very high alcohol wines, which translates into big bold flavors and the choice presented this month did not let us down and neither did the venue, a club favorite, The Aurora Club. We were allowed to order off the menu, although I saw many club members enjoying the baked escargots appetizer.


Okay, finally to the wines. Based on the monthly preference poll completed by the club, the favorite was a 2011 Monte Santoccio Amarone. Second place was a 2009 Dehlinger Guadagni Brothers Zinfandel. Third place was a tie between the 2012 Martinelli Zinfandel Vallutini Ranch and the 2009 Allegrini Amarone Classico.


Further descriptions of each of these wines can be found in the following paragraphs.

2011 Monte Santoccio Amarone ( % alcohol)
This one has a brilliant ruby reflections color, the bouquet is nuanced with scents of wild berries, and has a rich flavor, majestic and velvety.

2009 Dehlinger Zinfandel Guadagni Brothers (15.5% alcohol)
This wine is an actrative juicy wine layered with plums, dark red fruit and licorice. High-toned floral notes and a hint of white pepper add lift on the finish. The blend includes 13% Petite Syrah. This is a totaly inviting, vinous red best enjoyed in its exuberant youth.

2012 Martinelli Zinfandel Vallutuni Ranch (16.9% alcohol)
This wonderful wine exhibits abundant notes of licorice, Christmas fruitcake, Asian spices, mulberries, black cherries and blackberries, a full-bodied, viscous mouthfeel, and a long finish.

2009 Allegrini Amarone Classico (15% alcohol)
This wine is a beautiful, international rendition that shows the soft and supple side of Amarone with loads of ripe fruit sweetness. This expression opens with an inky, impenetrable appearance and shows lingering notes of exotic spice, smoked bnacon, grilled herb and blackberry preserves.

2006 San Rustico Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Gaso” (16% alcohol)
This shows beautifully elegant aromas of spice, black pepper, crushed granite, dried spice and fresh forest berry. There are recognizable notes of jammy red fruit and marmalade, but the bouquet remains tightly pulled together and balanced nonetheless. It imparts a crisp, clean sensation on the palate, with a long, polished finish.

2012 Martinelli Zinfandel Lolita Ranch (15.9% alcohol)
This one reveals gorgeous notes of cured meats, licorice, roasted herbs, blackcurrants and black cherries. Supple and full-bodied with a medium ruby color.

Don then went above and beyond yet one more time and shared a nice Sandeman 30 year old tawny port. Absolutely scrumptious!


Vin Rouge Wine Tasting Notes for February 3, 2016


The February Vin Rouge meeting took place on February 3rd at the Alpine Country Club. Don’s theme was based on Chateauneuf du Pape and GSM blends and featured the component varietels of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, providing an interesting experience. The presentation offered three different Chateauneuf du Pape blends interspersed by examples of the component varietels of California Grenache, a Mourvedre wine from Provence and an Aussie Shiraz.


The Domaine Tempier Bandol (Mourvedre) from Provence took top honors in the preference poll, followed closely by the Laughing Magpie from McLaren Vale and then by the Domaine du Vieux Lazaret CdP. Unfortunately, the 1995 Chateau Beaucastel was prematurely aged and garnered no votes, which was surely disappointing.

Detailed notes coming soon. In the mean time, here are some snapshots…







Our host certainly made up ground with his choice of a dessert wine. The 2010 Chateau Rieussec was perfectly delicious and was rated the best Sauternes of the vintage. Thank you Don!


Several positive comments were made about the Alpine venue: great space and seating, good food and service, and wonderful privacy.


Vino Rouge Red Wine Tasting January 6, 2016

Happy New Year folks! After the vertical of Penfolds Grange last year, it will be a hard year to top, but we are all willing to give it a try. The January Vin Rouge meeting took place on January 6th at a new venue, Bistro 9 in East Greenwich, RI, which is the clubhouse for the 9-hole East Greenwich Golf Club.

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This month’s host was Ray H., a Founding Member. To those of us that are newer members, we all know that a Founding Member Hosting will result in a tasting with some surprises and most often offer a learning experience!
The wine line up when poured, showed that there was a consistent pattern in color depth and a strong possibility of a single varietal. The range of comments by the group suggested it could be Pinot Noir, Burgundy, CDP, or perhaps Nebbiolo, but no one suggested a wine from Spain.

When the choices for favorites began those present gave a strong lead for glass number 3 with twenty points! The second choice came in for glass number 6 with eighteen points and glass number 1 received five points. Glasses 4 and 5 got 6 points each for a tie for third place.

When the wines were unwrapped, we found that we were drinking a vertical of very highly rated Rioja Alta wines from the same producer/region. With vintages from 2001 to 2006 represented.

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These wines are all made from Tempranillo, and some blended with minor quantities of Manzuelo or Garnacha. The taste will give you a flavor of leather along with cherries with a finish which is mild, smooth and lingers with tannin on both sides of your mouth. Good vintages (as provided by Ray H) show full body mouth feel and a modest alcohol level.

Here was the lineup…

2006 Vina Arana Reserva – Glass 1; Rating 94 (RP); Drink 2015-2035; Cost $21-50; 13 % Alcohol

The 2006 Vina Arana Reserva is a blend of Tempranillo with 5% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carinena) fermented with natural yeasts and had a slow malolactic fermentation of 56 days after which the wine was put in barrel in July 2007 where it matured for three years, being racked every six months before being bottled in December 2010. It feels like a ripe red with notes of forest floor, dark cherries, spices and hints of leather, hung game, smoke and toasted noted. The palate is lush and polished, with a velvety texture and moderate acidity. It is ready to be enjoyed now and able to stand the test of time.

2005 Vina Arana Reserva – Glass 2; Rating 93 (WA); Drink 2012-2020; Cost $21-$37; 13 % Alcohol

The 2005 Vina Arana Reserva has a fresh bouquet of orange blossom, quince, violets and dark cherries. The palate is succulent on the entry with vivacious maraschino cherry, red currant and blood orange. It displays a very fine build and a silky smooth texture that segues to a poised, mint-tinged, bright and animated finish.

2005 Vina Ardanza Reserva – Glass 3; Rating 94 (RP); Drink 2015-2035; Cost $21-$25; 13.5% Alcohol

Cropped from a vintage deemed almost perfect, the 2005 Vina Ardanza Reserva follows the same varietal mix found in the last vintages: 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha. The grapes are always sourced from the same vineyards, 30-year old Tempranillo from Fuenmayor and Cenicero in Rioja Alta and Garnacha from Tudeililla in Rioja Baja. In the case of the 2005, it was racked six times during its elevage. The one bottle I tasted first was a bit evolved with plenty of cigar ash, incense and leather along with hung game (woodcock came to mind). But the palate was drying out a bit. Another bottle showed much fresher, with a great classical Rioja profile.

2004 Vina Ardanza Reserva – Glass 4; Rating 93 (WA); Drink 2012-2020; Cost $30; 13.5% Alcohol

The 2004 Vina Ardanza is a blend of 80% Temranillo and 20% Garnacha from 30 year old vines in Fuenmayor and Cenicero. It is aged for 36 months in four year old American oak. It has a very enticing bouquet with dark cherry, Christmas cake, dried fig and espresso with fine delineation and bags of exuberance. The palate is medium bodies with taut tannins, underpinned by a keen citric thread that cuts through licorice-tinged, dark berry and allspice tinged fruit with style.

2004 Gran Reserva 904 – Glass 5; Rating 96 (WA); Drink 2016-2024; Cost $39-$60; 13% Alcohol

This 2004 from a suburb vintage shows a beautiful light red color with a brick rim and a suburb nose of balsamic woods, spices, leather, well-hung meat, incense and truffles. The light to medium bodied palate shows fully resolved tannins, great acidity and pure, pungent flavors that linger in the mouth forever and that only can be Rioja. This is a wine to smell over and over again.

2001 Gran Reserva 904 – Glass 6; Rating 64 (RP); Drink 2005-2040; Cost $42-$97; 12.5% Alcohol

The 2001 Gran Reserva is a dark ruby colored wine with a garnet rim. It displays a lovely nose of Asian spices, incense, tobacco, balsamic and blackberry. On the palate, it has exceptional depth, layers of spicy black fruit, excellent ripeness and an elegant personality.

The meal we had was also exceptional!

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Vino Rouge Red Wine Tasting December 2, 2015

Another year is fast coming to a close. In reviewing the notes for the past year, we certainly are fortunate to have shared some wonderful wines and more importantly, some truly outstanding company during the past 12 months. We are lucky to have such a great bunch of guys to gather together and share wine, food and camaraderie.

This 2015 Christmas Bash was another outstanding evening. Unfortunately, two of our members were unable to join in the festivities but the ten members attending were treated to fine collection of show off bottles. We all heard lots of oohs and aahs as we moved through the glasses. Every offering was special and a fine example of quality red wine.

red wine tasting

In our preference poll, there was a first place tie, with the 2005 Napa Valley Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon (Don O) and the 2009 Susana Balbo Brioso Bordeaux Blend (Norm) each receiving 17 points. Jay’s 2009 Opus One and Steve’s 1990 Dominus rounded out the Bye winning bottles. I believe the
Opus may have been a bit young to reach a First place level. And the Dominus, I think, would have fared better is the wine had a chance to reach a better temperature. The damn New England weather chilled it while Steve sat in traffic. It certainly opened up as the night progressed.

Unfortunately, Vincent’s 2000 Altesino Brunello was just a bit overripe, it was still scrumptious but had lost most of its fruit. Don L brought an interesting 2011 Syrah from Force Majeure. Lots of comments focusing on the spicy and hot nature of the offering. Perhaps a few more years in the
cellar would be helpful. Rick’s 2008 Napa Keenan Reserve Cab was another hit, but surprisingly only gathered 3 points in the poll as the wine certainly fit the favor profile the club often enjoys and rewards with votes. Tom treated us to a 2004 Masi Amarone, which was the only wine the
club identified 100% correctly but again, it did not fare well in the poll only collecting 3 points as well.

And special thanks to Ray for sharing another fine bottle of Heitz Angelica. We are being spoiled as Ray shares his collection!

The food, as always, was great. Everyone went with the Rack of Lamb which was excellent. The private room at the Aurora club was great but may be a bit tight for 12 people.

red wine tasting

Here are the reviews for each of the wines we shared on the Christmas Show-off Evening.

red wine tasting

2005 Seavy Cabernet Sauvignon – $84.99
95 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
The densely black/purple-colored 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon has the telltale burning ember, blackberry, and cassis notes, with hints of underbrush, espresso roast, chocolate, and subtle oak. A large, full-bodied wine of admirable intensity, terrific length, and no hard edges, this is a beauty that has put on weight since I tasted it in barrel and immediately after bottling last year. It should evolve effortlessly for 35+ years. As I said last year, there is a strong argument to be made that this is the most underrated great Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Napa Valley. (RP) (12/2008)

93 points Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
Good deep ruby-red. Explosive, very ripe aromas of currant, black plum, tobacco and mocha. Lush and silky on entry, then sweet and spicy in the middle, with flavors of redcurrant and medicinal cherry. A bit less complex in the mouth than on the nose, but then this wine will not be released until the fall and will need several years of additional bottle aging. Finishes with substantial ripe, building tannins. 93(+?) points (ST) (6/2008)

red wine tasting

2009 Opus Red Wine – $198.99

A collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, Opus One arose, like any great work, out of passion. The wineries goal is to create a wine of ultimate quality that reflects the traditions and innovations of both founders. French in style but Californian in execution, Opus One is produced with uncompromised attention to detail: from the manner in which our vineyard is planted and maintained, to the quality of the cork that seals the bottle.

STEVE TANZAR REVIEW: (a blend of 81% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot, 4% merlot and 1% malbec): Full medium ruby. Wild, flamboyantly expressive aromas of black raspberry, crystallized blackberry, smoke, leather, licorice, bitter chocolate and cedar, lifted by violet and spices. Smooth, mouthfilling and decidedly dry, with a lightly dusty character to its flavors of dark fruits, minerals and game. The broad, very long finish features building tannins. Quite different in style from the higher-pitched 2008, which was tighter and more floral at the same stage of its evolution.

WINE SPECTATOR REVIEW: This bold, rich and assertive Opus is firm and concentrated, displaying a mix of dried currant, blackberry, wild berry and spice flavors, ending with loamy earth and melted black licorice notes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec. Best from 2014 through 2025.

red wine tasting

2009 Susana Balbo Brioso – $43.99
Deep, brooding and intense garnet color with deep aromas of cedar and cocoa powder framed by light French oak. Big, lush and concentrated with a core of red and black currant fruit. It has a range of layered flavors including tobacco, black tea, and classic Cabernet pepper with a good grip on the finish. Big and refined all at the same time. It will drink well now with a nice meal, but should improve over the next 5 years. Pairs well with beef, pork, lamb, squab, quail and duck.

91 Points, Wine Spectator, 2013
“Dark, with good cut to the ripe candied black cherry, cassis, licorice, spice and light underbrush notes. Full-bodied, offering a rich, mocha-accented finish.”

red wine tasting

1990 Dominus Estate Red Table Wine – $195
RP 95 – The Wine Advocate – “In a blind tasting, both the 1990 and 1991 wines were identified as being French by all eight tasters. I pulled these wines from my cellar to insert as ringers, so I was particularly miffed at not getting their origin correct. In retrospect, I suppose I was somewhat surprised by just how great the 1990 performed in comparison with the profound 1991. I mistakenly thought the 1990 was a Medoc, with its cedary, spicy, tobacco, blackcurrant-scented nose, sweet, full-bodied flavors, high tannin, and low acidity.”

ST 93 – International Wine Cellar – “Deep red-ruby. Knockout, Bordeaux-like aromas of cherry syrup, plum, chocolate, mocha and brown spices, plus a faint vegetal complexity. Sweet, smooth and ripe, if not quite as dense as the extraordinary ’91. Excellent acidity gives the flavors lovely clarity. Finishes firmly tannic and very long. Extremely suave wine.”
2008 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon – $44.99
94 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 76% estate fruit and the rest from Napa’s Pope Valley. Its black/purple color is followed by abundant aromas of cassis, licorice, underbrush and graphite. Full-bodied and impressively endowed with stunning concentration, this may be the biggest, richest regular Cabernet Sauvignon Keenan has yet made. It should age effortlessly for 15-20 years. (12/2010)

91 points Wine & Spirits

A rich, mountain-grown cabernet packed with high-toned fruit scents, this is focused on its formidable black tannins for the moment. Those tannins yield spice and smoky fire-pit scents along with an opaque minerality that shields the fruit. Built for the cellar, this should reveal more flavor complexity as the tannins begin to mellow. (6/2012)

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar

Bright ruby-red. Aromas of cassis, plum, mocha, menthol, licorice and fresh herbs suggest a wide range of ripeness. Subtly sweet and supple in the mouth, with good herbal lift and intensity to the currant, chocolate and licorice flavors. Finishes with rather serious tannins that turned a bit dry with air. (5/2012)

red wine tasting

2000 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino – $70
90 Wine Spectator
Gorgeous aromas of raspberry, flowers and mineral follow through to a silky palate, with lovely tannins and a medium finish. Very fresh and fine for the vintage.

red wine tasting

2011 Force Majeure Syrah – $56
“Coming all from the estate Force Majeure Vineyard, the 2011 Collaboration Series Syrah displays the earthy, savory side to the variety with plenty of tobacco leaf, underbrush, black pepper, currants and damp earth on the nose. A rich, full-bodied effort that defies the age-old, old-vine marketing you often hear (it’s from fourth leaf vines), it is beautifully concentrated and rich through the mid-palate, has a fleshy, weighty texture and a great finish. I can’t wait to taste it from bottle, but I suspect it will be reasonably approachable on release and have a 12-15 years of prime drinking.”
Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 94 to 96 pts

red wine tasting

2004 Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico – $75
A property steeped in history, this wine estate has remained in the same family for 21 generations. It was purchased in 1353 by the son of the poet Dante and remains in the care of his descendants. In 1973, Count Pieralvise Serego Alighieri revolutionized Serego Alighieri’s production by forming an agreement in which his family’s estate would make and age the wine. It would then be bottled and sold by Masi Agricola, freeing up the estate’s winemaking team to focus on grape quality. In addition to a variety of internationally recognized red and white wines, Serego Alighieri produces a grappa of Amarone as well as olive oils and honey. The 2004 Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico is a rich, dark, serious wine. On the nose it features cooked black cherry, black plum and vanilla. Up front, there are black currant and dark chocolate syrup flavors as well as a bramble note that carries throughout. Toward the back, the cherry and plum notes return with lingering vanilla and cinnamon on the finish. Try it with pasta dishes in a classic tomato sauce. A complex wine, it would also work well with simple foods like venison sausage or roast chicken. Those with a sweet tooth should try it with dark chocolate.

red wine tasting

1974 Heitz Cellars Angelica Dessert Wine – $89.99
A fortified wine made from Mission grapes, this very special Heitz is California history in a bottle. From wine writer Richard Jennings: “93 points. Dark brown color with yellow meniscus; toffee, salty, dried fig, root beer essence, fig sauce nose; tasty, dense, rich, complex, dried fig, rich Christmas pudding palate; long finish (bottled in 1991)” (, 10/2011) The winery offers the following description: “This 1974 vintage year Angelica dessert wine is made Mission grape variety, the same grape the early California missionaries used to make the highly respected original Angelica. Made in the tradition of its California heritage, we believe this is undoubtedly the best Angelica Heitz Cellars has ever offered. A luscious dessert wine, sweet on the palate, complexed by time and mellowed by oak wood aging. After 17 years of slowly aging in a cool stone cellar and then bottled in 1991, this flavorful amber colored wine is ready to enjoy. May we offer you our cellar treasure Angelica, truly an ambrosial drink, fit for the gods.” (09/1991)

Vino Rouge Wine Tasting on November 4, 2015

wine tasting

We were back at Alpine country club in a big private room with an even bigger table than last month. The extra elbow room was appreciated. For the second month in a row, the members were delighted with the menu for the evening, which was captured here in this photo…

wine tasting

Brother Don presented six wines from six different parts of the world. After the tasting Don remarked how poorly we all did when we attempted to identify the wines. Wine made from different grapes in different parts of the world may have distinctive characteristics if that is the goal of the winemaker.

The first five wines were made in the modern fruit forward style. The influence of Robert Parker was evident in these wines which he has often called hedonistic fruit bombs. We all enjoy this style of winemaking but we cannot escape the reality that the potential terroir driven character of a wine will be compromised when this approach is used. So Don perhaps the heavyweight punch of ultra ripeness, high levels of extraction and lots of new oak may have dulled our senses.

wine tasting

Glass number one was a young big wallop Shiraz from newcomer Nugan. A novelty for this wine was the use of raisinated grapes. The wine was our number three favorite with 14 points. The Nugan had a lot of body, a lush mouth feel and a ripe fruit personality. Glass number two, another young newcomer made from Cabernet Franc grapes, with four points was not appreciated because it was not as expressive as the competition.

Dead last with two points, despite the highest professional rating, the 2007 Senechaux was enjoyed less by our club than a corked bottle of Rafanelli Cabernet. 2007 Châteauneuf Du Pape wines made by modernists like Senechaux are still massive fruit bombs. The ultra ripe Grenache in this blend produced a mouth coating texture that I thought was the result of raisinated grapes. Sadly the 2009 Rafanelli was impaired but this club favorite managed to attract five votes.

In second place with 17 votes was the big money 2010 Paul Hobbs Argentinian Marchioli Malbec. This well-made brawny wine was a winner in the heavyweight class. The club favorite with 18 votes was the delicate 2006 Amarone of Tomassi. How about that. My experience is that this cuvée by Tomassi is made for enjoyment in the first 12 years after the vintage. The style for this wine is reminiscent of a mellow Châteauneuf Du Pape made by a traditionalist. We appreciated the subtlety, the balance and the mellow complexity of the oldest wine presented.

Here’s a more detailed description of what we experienced…

Coming soon!

You can’t forget the wonderful close to the evening, with Don serving up a Graham’s 40 year old tawny port, with it’s golden brown caramel color and absolutely spectacular mouth feel!

wine tasting

Vine Rouge Wine Tasting on October 7, 2015

wine tasting

Alpine Country Club is a new venue for our club which satisfies all of our needs. The served us well, the food was good and the seating was spacious, private and intimate. Here’s a peak at our first menu selection at the Alpine…

wine tasting

Host Rick presented some new wines to the club at this tasting. Wine makers from the Loire Valley in France have used Cabernet Franc for centuries and have developed many different terroir driven expressions for this grape. Cab Franc wines from the Loire, such as the Chinon in this tasting, represent a small niche in the world of wine but they are certainly here to stay.

wine tasting

The Chinon never had a chance at this tasting. Perhaps this bottle was flawed or past its peak. There may be many reasons why this 13 year old, delicate, sophisticated wine from the Loire was not appreciated in the midst of five newcomers which were from the popular modern school of big fruit forward wines. The Oaky-Doke school of wine making was on display for sure. Most wine drinkers love the smell and taste of wines aged in new French oak. Wine makers know that they can produce wines that the wine drinking public will like if they over-oak their wines.

The ten year old Arger Martucci was the runaway favorite wine. It displayed a mellow, pleasing, ripe style with a soft mouth feel. The second place Peju and third place Pride Mountain wines were tightly grouped with 14 and 13 points respectively. Each were quite accessible and presented overall pleasing personalities. The Dedicato A Walter Italian wine, with 8 points, was my favorite. This wine I thought had a bit more complexity than the others. With 2 points the Dare by Viader I believe was not well received due to its youth. Rick did a good job of finding 5 recent Cab Franc creations by adventurous wine making pioneers. These 5 wines conformed to the subject matter of the informative Wine Spectator article, “Cabernet Franc’s Time” passed along by Rick. Here’s some more details of the wine we had…

Ager Martucci Cabernet Franc 2005 – Here’s an elegant, full-bodied Cabernet Franc packed with power and grace. It feels lush and classy in the mouth, a dry, softly tannic wine with rich flavors of blackberries, black currants and cedar.

Pride Mountain Cabernet Franc 2009 – Bright dark red. Blueberry, cassis and smoky oak aromas are lifted by a floral nose. Spicy flavors of blueberry and tart red cherry lead to substantial dusty, oak-edged tannins that turned a bit dry as the wine opened in the glass. However, a rich, full, comforting mouthfeel of pure silky pleasure.

Olga Chinon Les Picasses 2002- France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon – It starts out on the nose with beautiful black and red cherry fruit, and then it’s as if you strolled into a spice market: clove and nutmeg, and a mix of fresh and dry kitchen herbs. It’s the kind of aromas that makes your stomach growl, and it should – this is a true food wine! In your mouth, its great acidity keeps the fruit in balance, while a sticky kind of brambly quality stretched out to the edges of your tongue, and lingers on into a pretty finishing combination of linear lead and juicy blackberry.

Dare 2013 – Viader Cabernet Franc – Explosive aromatics showing dark red fruits and layers of tobacco, graphite and baking spices. Lush, sweet juicy red fruits, chocolate and caramel coat the palate. Full-bodies and impressive, the silky mouthfeel leaves you with mouthwatering acidity and a touch of fresh sage on the finish. Extremely approachable.

Peju Cabernet Franc 2012 – This classic Cabernet France offers aromas of raspberry, green peppercorn and violets. Layers of savory dried herbs, clove, plum and blackberry immerse the mid-palate, finishing with hints of cedar and rosemary. This suptle, elegant wine is brilliant now and will continue to mature nicely for years to come.

Dedicato a Walter Toscana IGT 2009 – Deep ruby red in color, this one shows complex aromas of ripe blackberries, balsamic spices, tobacco, and a hint of eucalyptus. On the palate, it is exotic, spicy, full-bodies and harmonious, with ripe and well developed tannins that lead into a persistent and pleasing finish.

wine tasting
The 1994 Graham’s Vintage Port certainly was a fine dessert. This fully mature Port was soft and lush in the subtle Graham’s house style. With such a fine liquid dessert presented by brother Rick I had no need for vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

Vino Rouge Red Wine Tasting September 2, 2015

pinot noir tasting

Finally it was my turn to host a tasting and like always, I tried to try something a little different. For a start, for the first time ever, we got together at Phil’s Main Street Bar and Grille in Wakefield, RI. Upon arrival, we were served with some nice menu choices as follows…

1st Course
French Onion soup or New England Clam Chowder Or House Salad w/ balsamic vinaigrette or Caesar Salad

2nd Course
Prime Rib – slow roasted & served with their savory au jus, horseradish cream sauce, freshly baked popover, garlic mashed potato & farm fresh vegetable of the day.

Chicken Marsala – All natural chicken breast, garlic mashed potato, marsala sauce with farm fresh vegetable of the day.

Asian Sesame Grilled Tuna – Served over a ginger lime rice with a mango-pineapple salsa served with farm fresh vegetable of the day.

3rd Course
Double layered chocolate cake Or Moscato Berry Tiramisu

Now to why you’re really here…the the wine! While the color in each of the glasses was a giveaway of what we were having, most of the club was surprised that brother Vin would bring the clubs favorite summer varietal, Pinot Noir, and pit California verses Oregon in a Pinot Noir Dual.

Pinot Noir is the red wine grape of Burgundy, now adopted (and feverishly studied) in wine regions all over the world. The variety’s elusive charm has carried it to all manner of vineyards, from western Germany and northern Italy to Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps most notably, California and Oregon. It is the patriarch of the Pinot family of grape varieties – so called because their bunches are similar in shape to a pine cone (pinot in French). Other members of this family include Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Aligote and Pinot Noir’s white-wine counterpart, Chardonnay.

It takes a great deal of care and skill to make Pinot perform, and the results vary wildly from watery, acidic candy water to some of the richest, most intensely perfumed wines on Earth. This elusive perfection has earned the variety obsessive adoration from wine lovers all over the world.

The essence of Pinot Noir wine is its aroma of strawberry and cherry (fresh red cherries in lighter wines and stewed black cherries in weightier examples), underpinned in the most complex examples by hints of undergrowth (sous-bois). Well-built Pinot Noirs, particularly from warmer harvests, also exhibit notes of leather and violets, sometimes approaching the flavor spectrum of Syrah.

pinot noir tasting

Here was the lineup…

2012 Montebruno Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir – $29.99
Eola-Amity Hills is an AVA in the center of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, just north of Salem. This bank of hills lies west of the Willamette River and runs for roughly 15 miles north-south between the towns of Amity and Eola. All of the land within the AVA must lie at least 200 ft above sea level, and vineyards sit on both the sheltered eastern slopes and the more exposed western slopes of the hills. The cool climate here is well suited to Pinot Noir.
The vineyard combines both volcanic and marine soils — the Willamette two-step — for a result evocative of the great wines in years past. Aromatic to the point of floral, like lilies, with pomegranate, wild strawberry, cracked pepper and matsutake.

2013 Vincent Crowley Station Vineyard Eola-Aminty Hills Pinot Noir – $44.99
Limestone, sand over sandstone| Non-irrigated| Native yeasts | 100% destemmed | 3 week fermentation in macrobin, with 9 days of punchdowns, then racked to 8 yr-old barrels for 11 months| 13 yr old vines that are own-rooted | 48 cases produced
Floral, red fruit, even a lychee note in the aroma, with bright cran-raspberry and delicate herb flavors and a soft but still focused finish. This wine is a sneaker.

2011 Foris Rogue Valley Pinot Noir – $21.99
Bright red. Lively red berry and floral aromas are deepened by notes of cola and licorice. Smooth and supple on the palate, offering sweet raspberry and cherry flavors and a hint of white pepper. Closes with good tangy lift and cut, with no obvious tannins and good, spicy persistence.

California (Sonoma Valley)
2012 Trione Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – $34.99
Coastal notes of sea air, forest floor, and blackberry brambles remind me of a top down trip to Jenner. Flavors of black cherries, hints of truffle, and sage linger on the palate. This wine is muscular but well balanced and displays long aging potential, 10-15 years.

2013 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – $52.00
Shy and reserved, this cool-climate wine opens coyly with a burst of spearmint on the nose, evolving into layers of flavor steeped in rhubarb, black cherry and tea. Soft and lilting, the wine’s finish conjures thoughts of strawberry cream. Fresh fruit aromas of cherry, plum, and raspberry are followed by hints of sandalwood, mineral, and leather. Unfolding with flavors of plum, raspberry and spice. Tannins are supple creating a long, soft finish. A blend of Sonoma Coast vineyards.

2013 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – $24.99
Fruit for this wine came from cool estate and grower vineyard sites within 30 miles of the Pacific Ocean. 100% de-stemmed, 3-day cold soak, basket pressed, fermentation in open-top tanks, punch downs three times a day during fermentation, minimal post-fermentation maceration. Aged 7.5 months in 100% French oak barrels, 21% new. Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. A rather savory nose with aromas of spiced plum, black cherry and forest floor. Light to mid weight flavors of cherry, and oak-driven black tea and anise, framed by suave tannins. Pleasant, but rather shallow in this vintage with a thin finish.


Offley Boa Vista Port
The color is still deep red. Classic nose with rich, figgy, almost maltiness of very ripe grapes, very sweet, full bodied, loaded with fruit, extract, tannin, acidity. The palate is sweet with good fruits but a bit of alcohol heat. Good length. Hot finish.

Our members were deeply in love with two of the six glasses which had a total of 44 out of 55 points. We all know that the Russian River Valley of California is a great place to make Pinot Noir wine because of the track record of the great Dehlinger and Rochioli vineyards. The number one favorite with 23 points was the little known 2012 Trione. It had good body with lovely berry notes and a flattering bouquet. The number two favorite with 21 points was the 2013 Crowley Station from Oregon. It also had good body with a slightly silkier mouth feel than the Trione.

Tied for third with modest point totals of 4 points each were the 2013 Flowers from the Sonoma Coast and the Foris from Rouge Valley. Both wines were quite nice but I believe that the Flowers was a bit young and reticent. The well-known 2013 La Crema garnered 3 total points and I believe it was holding back due to its youth. La Crema is the most well-known wine in this group and is present on restaurant wine lists probably more so than any other Pinot Noir. As one member accurately pointed out, the Montebruno from Oregon with no points was flat because it was unbalanced, lacking in the acid category.

Vino Rouge Red Wine Tasting August 5, 2015

This month the club visited one of its favorite spots again, The Aurora Club, and we were treated like royalty as usual. Member Tommy put on quite a show and rekindled our palates with some really awesome 2007 California Cabs. Specifically, some terrific juice from Napa Valley. While the club was generally in line with the first three present bottles, expressing Cabernet Sauvignon as the hidden varietal, the remaining three bottles fooled the club and had it veering from having this one figured out. While there were some distinct winners, there was not a slouch in the bunch!

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

The following paragraphs present the tasted wines and their associated tasting notes, in order of the club’s preference poll for this month’s tasting.

2007 ALTAMURA Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2012-2024; Robert Parker Rating: 95
Probably the best Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted from Altamura, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is aged 30 months in 70% new oak from the same high-elevation vineyard as the Sangiovese. Notes of espresso roast, graphite, black currants, sweet black cherries and earthy, loamy terrior are all present in this dense purple, full bodies, exuberant, concentrated and expressive Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007 Beringer Vineyards Cabenert Sauvignon Private Reserve – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2010-2030; Robert Parker Rating: 95
One of the greatest Private Reserves ever made, it ranks alongside the Private Reserves made in 1991, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2004. Its dense plum/purple color is followed by sweet aromas of cassis, licorice, smoke and graphite intermixed with hints of bay leaf and chocolate. Full-bodied and velvety-textured with beautifully integrated acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood, it is an opulent, full bodied Cabernet that should drink beautifully for 20 or more years.

2007 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2013-2033; Robert Parker Rating: 92+
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville plays it closer to the vest than either Cabernet Franc of Zinfandel Field Bland. Locked and loaded, it posses plenty of black currant fruit intermixed with hints of earth and oaks as well as juicy, full bodied mouth feel. This youthful, still grapy wine spent 19 months in French oak. It has lots of potential, but needs to be forgotten for 3-4 years and should age from 15-20 years thereafter.

2007 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2013-2043; Robert Parker Rating: 95
The phenomenal 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Georges de Latour is the greatest BV Private Reserve made since the 1970 and 1968. The good news is 11,000 cases were produced. The return of this superb Napa classic is fabulous news, and the brilliance of this wine is evidenced by its opaque purple color and its big, sweet, blackberry, cassis, subtle smoke, graphite, and spicy oak-scented nose. Dense and full bodies with sweet but substantial tannins, thrilling levels of concentration, texture and richness, and a heady finish, this wine will benefit from 4-5 years of bottle age, and last three decades or more. It’s time to once again fill your cellars with the BV Private Reserve, one of the historic names in California wine folklore.

2007 Antica (Anitori) Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2009-2029; Robert Parker Rating: 94
The finest wine I have yet tasted from Piero Antinori’s rocky hillside vineyard on Soda Canyon Roadt on southeast Napa, this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a dense purple color with a rich, sumptuous bouquet of licorice, creme de cassis and smoky oak. This opulent, fleshy, fill-bodies wine exhibits beautiful purity and concentrated fruit. it should age nicely fro 15-20 years. Impressive and reasonable priced.

2007 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve – Napa Valley – Drink Range – 2014-2039; Robert Parker Rating: 94
As I indicated last year, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a brilliant effort. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, it has begun to shut down slightly, but reveals an opaque purple color along with deep, sweet, cedary, black currant aromas intermixed with hints of tobacco leaf, licorice and graphite. Full-bodies and rich, this impressive 2007 needs 4-5 years of cellaring and should keep for 25+ years.

For dessert, we had an incredible…

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

1985 Fonseca Vintage Port, Portugal
The 1985 Fonseca is still youthful in appearance with hardly any ageing on the rim. The nose offers kirsch, sloes and Christmas cake. With time, there are subtle notes of dried fig and dates beginning to emerge and add to the complexity. The palate is medium-bodied and beautifully balanced on the supple, rounded entry. It is not quite as complex as the aromatics, with dates and dried fig, the finish mellow and refined. It is very elegant for a Fonseca, weighty but supremely well focused. This is a fabulous Fonseca that is ready to drink now, but will age for another 30 or 40 years. (NM)(2/2013)

Vino Rouge Red Wine Tasting July 1, 2015

Having an instinct for adventure can lead to a whole lot of fun as well as the discovery of new places to visit. Jay Chelo was responsible for the adventure to Plainville, Massachusetts, which I had never visited before. We were accommodated well and ate well food at Fitzy’s Pub. We wish our good friend Jay good fortune in his new restaurant venture. Host John Benevides also took us on an adventure to the Bolgheri region of Italy. I had heard a bit about the region but had very limited knowledge about Bolgheri. Introducing and educating fellow club members about an up and coming wine region is always enjoyable.

wine tasting

Once we got to the third or fourth glass it was feeling like a family affair. The Argentiera winemaker certainly has a good feel for the house style to be created. All six glasses were quite consistent with strengths being balance of oak and fruit, density and extraction which produced the result of pleasing mellowness. John emphasized the importance of terroir which has shaped the character of these wines.

Winemakers seem to have an instinct for adventure when it comes to Bordeaux varietals being planted just about everywhere a vine is able to grow. In the Bolgheri region of Italy, as expressed by the Argentiera winery, Bordeaux varietals have been tamed to take on a classic trim European sense of body and mouth feel. The Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore that we tasted is certainly a food wine and if it truly is an age worthy wine, it does so without a chunky, chalky tannic structure which often characterizes Vin De Garde wines made with Bordeaux varietals.

wine tasting

The preference poll favored wines from seven to ten years old. The 2004 being the oldest of the group may have suffered from bottle variation or some other unfortunate problem. The youngest wine, the 2010, I believe received no votes because of its youthfulness. Host John ended the tasting with another adventure, the 2009 Tremonti dessert wine from a part of Italy close to Bolgheri. The vino dolce was made from an indigenous Albano grape. The dessert wine was great and always appreciated by our club which includes a few dessert wine specialists.

wine tasting

Bolgheri, on the Tuscan coast just south of Livorno, is one of Itlay’s most prestigious vineyard areas. Here are the tasting notes for this month’s tasting…

2004 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Vivid ruby red color with purple reflexes. Expressive aromas of liquorice, cassis and floral hints. A generous and deep wine, rich of tannins. Full bodies and pleasant taste on the palette with an appropriate acidity and a fresh and minerally finish showing considerable persistence.

2005 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Vivid ruby red color with purple reflexes. Expressive aromas of liquorice, cassis and floral hints. A generous and deep wine, rich of tannins. Full bodies and pleasant taste on the palette with an appropriate acidity and a fresh and minerally finish showing considerable persistence.

2006 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Intense and dark ruby red color. It develops on the nose hints of delicate spices as saffron and paprika, aromas of dark berries like blackberries and cassis together with hints of toasted wood and tobacco. On the palate the wine shows round and pleasant complexity with compact and rich tannins offering a silky taste. A lingering and open finish with hints of fresh fruits and mineral notes showing considerable persistence.

2007 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Intense and dark ruby red color. The nose shows very complex with hints of mint, eucalyptus, liquorice and coffee followed by fruity flavors of plums, black currant, blackberries and cherries. Int he taste, the wine offers its whole character and elegancy. The palette presents immediately fruity flavors of fresh plums filling up the mouth. Wine of structure, fresh and mineral, in perfect harmony thanks to sweet, velvet and large tannins. A lingering and intense aromatic finish with fruity flavors of plums.

2008 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Intense ruby red color. The very complex nose shows sweetness and vanilla flavors accompanied by balsamic hints of eucalyptus, mint and laurel followed by fruity flavors of mature cherries, plums, clack and billberries with a light smoked finish. At the palate, the wine offers a good structure and elegant character combined to a pleasant fruity sweetness. A well balanced and harmonic wine with appropriate freshness and mature, velvet and large tannins. A lingering and intense aromatic finish with fruity flavors of plums mixed to balsamic flavors.

2009 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Intense and luminous shades of dark ruby red. Very complex on the nose with fresh hints of wooden berries and cherries, beside intense and spicy balsamic notes finishing with some roasted hints. On the palate, we discover the same aromas, which are perfectly balanced with intense taste, but the end is of red and dark fruit like mulberries and blackberries. The taste impresses because of the deep and velvet balance, beside a perfect interaction between freshness and tannins, which offer a long persistent pleasant and elegant aftertaste. The wine shows harmonic but intriguing, because of the sapid and mineral aftertaste; well balanced between fineness, structure and the lingering finish.

2010 Argentiera Doc Bolgheri Superior – Intense and luminous shades of dark ruby red color. Very complex on the nose with fresh hints of red berries like cherries, plum and cassis going over to wooden berries. Beside this, we have intense and spicy balsamic notes as eucalyptus and graphite, finishing with some well integrated roasted notes. On the palate we discover the same aromas, which are perfectly balanced giving deep and velvet sensations. The mineral taste impresses because of the freshness, which offers character to the wine and a long persistent, pleasant and elegant aftertaste. The wine shows harmonic but intriguing, because of the sapid and mineral aftertaste; well balanced between fineness, structure and the lingering finish.

wine tasting

The History of Penfolds Grange by Max Schubert

This paper was delivered at the first Australian National University Wine Symposium in Canberra, Australia in September 1979.

Penfolds Grange

So much has been spoken and so much written about Grange Hermitage over the years that, as its originator, I welcome the opportunity of adding my own measure to the volume that has gone before, particularly as the spoken and written word has not always been laudatory but often quite distinctly the reverse.

Grange Hermitage has always been a controversial and an individual wine. It is my belief that if these two characteristics can be combined, then at least half the ingredients necessary for success have been achieved. Grange Hermitage has been argued and debated around countless dinner tables. In its early years it was insulted and classified among the lowest of the low – yet, through all this it has stood out as an individual wine with its own particular personality and has been consumed in copious quantity whether it be with praise and pleasure, or with dislike and condemnation.

It has been almost unbeatable in wine shows, whether it be in the young vintage classes or the old open classes, having accumulated since 1962 some 117 gold, 63 silver and 34 bronze medals, plus 27 trophies and 7 championship awards. It has recently even won two Jimmy Watson trophies, amazing the present chairman of wine judges as it is not the type of wine that usually wins Jimmy Watson awards – not because of its quality but because of its style.

It is a truly controversial wine, never without interest and always open to debate one way or another. How, then, did an individual wine of this nature come into being?

It was during my initial visit to the major wine growing areas of Europe in 1950 that the idea of producing an Australian red wine capable of staying alive for a minimum of twenty years and comparable with those produced in Bordeaux first entered my mind. I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of Monsieur Christian Cruse, one of the most respected and highly qualified wine men of the old school of France at that time, and he afforded me, among other things, the rare opportunity of tasting and evaluating Bordeaux wines between forty and fifty years old which were still sound and possessed magnificent bouquet and flavour. They were of tremendous value from an educational point of view and imbued me with a desire to attempt to do something to lift the rather mediocre standard of Australian red wine in general at that time.

The method of production seemed fairly straightforward, but with several unorthodox features, and I felt that it would only be a matter of undertaking a complete survey of vineyards to find the correct varietal grape material. Then with a modified approach to take account of differing conditions, such as climate, soil, raw material and techniques generally, it would not be impossible to produce a wine which could stand on its own feet throughout the world and would be capable of improvement year by year for a minimum of twenty years. In other words, something different and lasting.

The grape material used in Bordeaux consisted of four basic varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, and these were used in varying percentages to make the Bordeaux wines. Only Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec were available in South Australia at the time but a survey showed that they were in such short supply as to make them impracticable commercially – after all, the development of a new commercial wine, particularly in the high grade range, depends on the quality and availability of the raw material, the maintenance of standard, and continuity of supply.

I elected to use Hermitage or Shiraz only (which was in plentiful supply) – knowing full well that if I was careful enough in the choice of area and vineyard and coupled that with the correct production procedure, I would be able to make the type and style of wine I wanted. If necessary, I could always use a small percentage of Cabernet Malbec from our own Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley as a balancing factor to lift flavour and character. As it happened, this was not necessary – at least, not in the early Granges.

It was finally decided that the raw material for the first experimental Grange Hermitage would be a mixture of Shiraz grapes from two separate vineyards and areas, consisting of Penfolds Grange vineyards at Magill in the foothills overlooking Adelaide and a private vineyard some distance south of Adelaide. I had already observed that both vineyards produced wines of distinctive varietal flavour and character with a great depth of colour and body weight, and felt that by producing them together, the outstanding characteristics of both vineyards would result in an improved all round wine eminently suitable for my purpose.

Accordingly, during the 1951 vintage, the first Grange experimental wine was made, incorporating five new untreated oak hogsheads which I had observed were used to such good effect in France and other European countries. The objective was to produce a big, full-bodied wine, containing maximum extraction of all the components in the grape material used.

The procedure to be employed was first to ensure that the grape material was sound and that the acid sugar content was in balance consistent with the style of wine as specified. Using the Baume scale, this was to be not less than 11.5 degrees and not move than 12 degrees with a total acidity of not less than 6.5 and not more than 7 grams per litre. With strict attention to detail and close surveillance, this was achieved.

The grapes were gathered and crushed and the must-consisting of skins, seeds and other solids comprising the fleshy part of the grape, and juice were pumped into a 12 tonne open concrete fermentation tank. During this operation, the must received a dose of sulphur dioxide, to neutralize the wild yeasts, and also an injection of pure yeast culture previously acclimated to the level of sulphur dioxide used. The tank was filled to the exact level required.

Boards, known as heading-down boards, were placed across the surface of the must in the open tank, with a narrow gap between each board. These were secured by two strong pieces of timber placed across the boards and locked in position underneath four lugs built into the upper tank walls. Fermentation began almost immediately and as carbon dioxide gas pressure developed, the juice was forced through the narrow gaps between the boards, keeping the skins and other solids completely immersed underneath the surface. Although this was all fairly basic, it was important in achieving complete extraction, during fermentation particularly, if viewed in conjunction with other procedures which followed. For instance, it was thought that in order to obtain full extraction, a much longer period of fermentation and skin contact would be required, necessitating strict fermentation control. This was to be achieved by controlling the temperature generated by the fermentation, on the basis that the lower the temperature, the slower the rate of fermentation, since there would be a considerable reduction in the heat generated by the yeast in its frantic efforts to multiply and convert the grape sugars into alcohol. Of course, vice versa, by allowing the temperature to rise, an increase in the fermentation rate would result. Temperature control was to be achieved by incorporating a heat exchanger in the process.

The actual fermentation rate in this case was governed by the predetermined length of fermentation which was set at twelve days. This required a fermentation sugar conversion rate of approximately one Baume degree per day. A further measure of control was achieved by using a graph system which showed the ideal fermentation line over a twelve day period compared with the actual fermentation line which was governed by daily temperature and Baume readings of the fermenting juice. A glance at the graph immediately showed the degree of cooling or heating required to maintain an even daily rate of fermentation over the period stipulated.

I had previously determined that to assist in obtaining full extraction it would be necessary to separate the fermenting juice from the skins by completely draining the tank. This would cause all the solids, including the heading-down boards and cross pieces, to settle on the bottom of the tank. Then we would pump the juice back over the top so that it would percolate through the skins and other solids, thus extracting further essentials in colour, flavour and character. As the tank filled, the heading-down boards would rise on the surface until they were again locked into position by the cross pieces. It was a comparatively simple matter to incorporate a heat exchanger in this process, using salt brine as the coolant to achieve temperature control.

Fermentation proceeded slowly but evenly and the development of colour, body and character was extremely interesting. As the process approached its end, I decided that extraction from the solids was sufficient and that no useful purpose would be served by prolonging skin contact.

The fermenting wine was a beautiful rich, dark, ruby red already showing above – average body, bouquet and fruit flavour. In addition, a general slowing down of fermentation, which is normal during the latter stages, meant that temperature was no longer a problem and cooling could be dispensed with. In fact, a slight increase in temperature was desirable at this stage as an encouragement for the flagging yeast to complete the conversion of the remaining sugar into alcohol.

The wine was then separated from the solids for the last time and a portion was transferred to the five new untreated oak hogsheads, and the remainder to a 1000 gallon (4550 litre) well-seasoned dry red cask. This was to be the control wine used to measure the success or failure of the new experimental hogshead wine.

The solids which were left in the fermenting tank were removed and pressed and the pressings stored in small seasoned casks holding 30 gallons or about 140 litres. This would be used later on as topping-up wine, to keep the containers filled to the brim at all times.

Topping-up is a preventive measure against bacterial infection, and also makes good the removal of lees or deposits which accumulate on the bottom of containers during the self-clarification process following completion of fermentation. It was also intended to use the pressings as a balancing medium for the experimental wine before bottling if required.

The experimental hogsheads were stored in underground cellars where the temperature was constant at 15C and fermentation was completed in twelve days as previously determined. Within a month, vast differences became apparent between the experimental hogsheads and the control cask. Whereas the control wine showed all the characteristics of a good, well-made wine cast in the orthodox mould, the experimental wine was strikingly different. The volume of bouquet, comprising raw oak mixed with natural varietal fruit, was tremendous. These characteristics were also very apparent on the palate. The overall flavour was much more intense than the control, and for a big young wine, the balance was superb. To my mind, even at this early stage, there was no doubt that this wine would be different, with almost unlimited potential if handled correctly.

During the months that followed, treatment was confined to the removal of lees from all containers including the control cask and the addition of small amounts of tannic acid. After twelve months, both wines were crystal clear, with superb dark, full, rich colour and body – but there the similarity ended. The experimental wine was bigger in all respects. It was a big wine in bouquet, flavour and balance. The raw wood was not so apparent but the fruit characteristics had become pronounced and defined, with more than a faint suggestion of cranberry. It was almost as if the new wood had acted as a catalyst to release previously unsuspected flavours and aromas from the Hermitage grape.

I was delighted with the results of the experiment so far. To my mind, the marriage of all components had taken place and it required only the sealing of all these wonderful characteristics into bottles for a marriage to be consummated. After a total wood storage of eighteen months, and without any further treatment, the wine was bottled and binned away in underground bins where the temperature was more or less constant at 15C.

Several hundred dozen of the control wine were also bottled and, while it developed into an exceptionally good wine in the orthodox manner, it never reached the heights of the first experimental Grange Hermitage. It did, however, set the guide lines for the production and marketing of a whole range of special red wines which have been sought after, vintage by vintage, to this day. In the meantime, the 1952 vintage had come and gone with an increase in quantity production of Grange Hermitage, using the same raw material and method of production with similar results. It was a superb wine to my mind.

A variation occurred in 1953 in that in addition to Hermitage, a straight Cabernet Sauvignon from our Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley was made experimentally, employing the same method of production as for Grange. The quantity made was five hogsheads as in 1951. The decision to make an experimental Cabernet at all, despite the shortage of this variety, was influenced by the fact that in 1953 the analytical balance of the grapes was similar to that laid down for Grange.

To obtain balanced Cabernet, at least in my sphere of operations at that time, was rare and while the volume of flavour and character of the finished wine was usually magnificent, the imbalance of the fruit invariably manifested itself on the palate with a noticeable break in the middle and a thinnish, hard, astringent finish. However, this was not so with the 1953 vintage and I still rank this wine as one of the best Grange-style wines made.

As vintage followed vintage, the accumulation of bottled stock grew and the improvement shown in the earlier vintages was all that I had hoped for. Gone was any suggestion of raw wood, and a complete wine was emerging with a full buoyant almost ethereal nose of great intensity and a palate which was full of rich flavour and character. The balance in every vintage I thought was near perfect. The time appeared to be ripe to remove the wraps and allow other people to see and evaluate this wonderous thing.

Besides, my superiors at head office in Sydney were becoming increasingly aware of the large amount of money lying idle in their underground cellars at Magill.

Representative bottles from each vintage from 1951 to 1956 were called for, and a wine tasting arranged by the then managing director. Those invited included well-know wine identities in Sydney, personal friends of the board, and top management. The result was absolutely disastrous. Simply, no one liked Grange Hermitage.

It was unbelievable and I must confess that for the first time, I had misgivings about my own assessment of Grange. However, I was determined to prove the Sydney people wrong and, with the help and support of Jeffrey Penfold Hyland, who was then assistant general manager of our South Australian operations, numerous tastings were arranged in and around Adelaide and at Magill. We availed ourselves of every opportunity, donating various vintages to wine and food societies, Beefsteak and Burgundy Clubs, and wherever wine drinkers congregated. However, the general reaction was little better than the earlier disaster in Sydney.

It may be illuminating at this time to record some of the assessments made by experts and critics alike in public and in my presence during the darkest hours of Grange Hermitage. Some of the remarks were downright rude and pained me no end.

“A concoction of wild fruits and sundry berries with crushed ants predominating.” This, by a well-known, respected wine man.

“Schubert, I congratulate you. A very good, dry port, which no one in their right mind will buy – let alone drink.”

Then there was the smart person who wanted me to give him a couple of dozen. He was not going to pay for it because he did not think it was worth anything. Another very smart one wanted to buy it and use it as an aphrodisiac. His theory was that the wine was like bull’s blood in all respects and would raise his blood count to twice the norm when the occasion demanded.

A young doctor friend even thought he could use it as an anaesthetic on his girlfriend. I could go on, but I think that will give you an idea of Grange’s initial reception by most people at that time.

There were, of course, some notable exceptions, whose faith in Grange never wavered. They were people such as Jeffrey Penfold Hyland, without whose support Grange would have died a natural, but not peaceful death, George Fairbrother, that doyen of wine judges, Tony Nelson, at that time managing director of Woodley Wines, Douglas Lamb, who needs no introduction from me, and Dr. Max Lake who, I recall, either purchased for a song or consumed most of the 1953 experimental Cabernet himself.

There were a number of others who would not commit themselves but preferred to wait and see. At least they did not condemn and were prepared to give the wine a chance. To all these I offer my gratitude.

The final blow came just before the 1957 vintage when I received written instructions from head office to stop production of Grange Hermitage. The main reasons given were that I was accumulating large stocks of wine which to all intents and purposes were unsaleable and that the adverse criticism directed at the wine was harmful to the company image as a whole. It appeared to be the end.

However, with Jeffrey Penfold Hyland’s support, I disregarded the written instructions in part, and continued to make Grange in reduced quantities. Finance was not available to purchase new hogsheads, but some benefit gained by using hogheads from previous vintages. This undercover production continued through to 1959 and the wines made, although good, lacked that one element which made the difference between a good wine and a great wine. In all, it was ten years from the time the first experimental Grange was made before the wine gained general acceptance and the prejudices were overcome. As the earlier vintages matured in bottle and progressively became less aggressive and more refined, people generally began to take notice, and whereas previously it had been all condemnation, I was now at least receiving some praise for the wine.

A little of this filtered through to my board of directors, with the result that just before the 1960 vintage, I was instructed to start making Grange Hermitage officially again, with ample funds available for this purpose. Since that time, Grange Hermitage has never looked back.

In 1962, after many years’ absence from Australian wine shows, the company decided again to take part in these competitions, and Grange was first submitted as an entry in the open Claret class in the Sydney Show of that year. It was awarded a gold medal. This was the 1955 vintage which, in my humble opinion, was one of the best Granges ever produced. This wine won in all fifty gold medals, until its retirement from the show arena a couple of years ago, not because it was defective in any way – in fact, in 1977 it was awarded the trophy for the best dry red in the Melbourne Show – but because my board wished to give later vintages the opportunity of winning or adding to the number of gold medals already won. In retrospect, the 1950s were exciting years of discovery, faith, doubt, humiliation and triumph. The 1960s were rewarding years of consolidation and success, and the 1970s have been mellow years of contentment in the knowledge that the continued making of Grange is in good hands.

I wish, at this stage, to pay tribute to the many winemakers, technicians, cellar managers, senior cellar hands and vineyard supervisors who, over the years, so ably assisted me in the making of Grange. Each one had a part to play in every vintage made, and even though I always retained absolute control of all stages of Grange production and, indeed, company production generally, without their help, support, interest and co-operation, it would have been almost impossible for me to cope, particularly in the later years before my retirement in 1975.

I would also like to express the hope that the production and the acceptance of Grange Hermitage as a great Australian wine has proved that we in Australia are capable of producing wines equal to the best in the world. But we must not be afraid to put into effect the strength of our own convictions, continue to use our imagination in wine-making generally, and be prepared to experiment in order to gain something extra, different and unique in the world of wine.

Penfolds Grange