A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life
To subscribe and be notified anytime we post a new article, enter your email address in the box below, then click on Subscribe Now.

Retrospective Review


John Tilson • 3/7/13        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share


In the early months of 1982, Volume III, Number 4 offered the following articles: One Winedrinker’s Opinion – To Decant or Not to Decant?, Coming Attractions, 1976 Sauternes, California Chardonnays, California Cabernet Sauvignons, Selected Tasting Notes, More 1978 Red Burgundies, More 1978 Rhones, and Barrels and Bottles. We are currently reproducing a copy of Volume III, Number 4 of The Underground Wineletter. Also there is a Retrospective Review which has an updated review of each article with commentary on what we got right and what we got wrong. This format will be followed with each successive issue. So Volume III, Number 5 will be coming next. The issues present a very interesting view of the evolution of many different wines as the “wine boom” took hold. At the beginning and the end of this Retrospective Review you can click to read the entire issue. We welcome your comments.

Volume III, Number 4 continued many of the themes we had focused on previously and a few new things. There was a commentary on decanting wine. Old wine was often on wine lists in those days, but many times it was not served properly. Coming Attractions listed the wines we would be reviewing in future issues. Following up on the 1975 Sauternes article was an article on 1976 Sauternes. California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons were also featured. We focused on these wines and attempted to taste every wine as it was released. Selected Tasting Notes featured California Pinot Noirs which was our first Pinot Noir review since the first issue. Articles on More 1978 Red Burgundies and More 1978 Rhônes followed. Finally, there was a Barrels and Bottles article featuring 1979 Bordeaux. We tasted the wines in Bordeaux and offered notes with no rankings noting that we would offer ratings after doing our regular blind tastings. This was  very different from what others would do later. Below is the Retrospective Review of Volume III, Number 4 from February-March 1982:


To Decant or Not to Decant?

One Winedrinker’s Opinion took up the issue of decanting wine. Basically, it was a lament against old wine served full of sediment. This is something that I still abhor, but now it rarely happens. Today, at home, I drink old wines mostly without decanting. The reason is that, over the years, the years I have found that often an old wine will fade very rapidly after decanting. And, the chances are better for it lasting if it is not decanted. However, I follow the advice in the article before pouring the wine. This means standing the bottle up for days or weeks before opening or carefully removing the bottle from the rack and pouring the wine very carefully so as to not disturb the sediment that has adhered to the side of the bottle. And, on the gereal subject of decanting wine I sometimes decant young wines, especially White Burgundies. I find that they can benefit greatly from aeration and are much more open. My note at the end of the article said:
Editor’s Note: I am indebted to my good friend Lee Hallerberg as a source of inspiration. In fact, parts are pirated directly from an article he prepared sometime ago in reaction to being ripped off in restaurants all over the world.
You see, in those days, rare old wines were available on a lot of wine lists (an example is mentioned in the article), but they were often not served properly. But, now that the level of expertise in serving wine is at a very high level, finding old wines on wine lists is quite rare!


“…For a fortunate few 1976 was a superlative year.”

In this article on 1976 Sauternes we began by talking about the difficulties that prevailed at that time in making Sauternes. Here is that commentary:
As was mentioned in our previous review of 1975 Sauternes (see Volume Ill, Page 39), the difficulties of Sauternes production continue to be a major problem. Costs are high. The noble rot, botrytis cinerea, is necessary to make Sauternes, but this doesn’t happen every year. Moreover, when it does occur it doesn’t develop evenly making it necessary to pick many times to get perfect grapes. Only the best known properties can afford this expensive task. Of economic necessity some vineyards are picked only once yielding grapes of varying degrees of ripeness. To compensate, it is believed that most properties add sugar to increase the alcohol and residual sugar to give an impression of richness. These wines are not likely to be as well balanced or as long-lived as those which were made from a must high in natural sugars. In short, there are no short cuts to making great Sauternes.

There were only a few 1976 Sauternes available, but the best were really terrific and we commented that we preferred them to the best 1975s. There were 9 wines reviewed and 3 were rated Outstanding. In order of preference they were d’Yquem, Fargues, and Rieussec. There were 5 that were rated Very Good and 1 that rated Good.


Continuing our regular coverage of California Chardonnays, this article covered 42 wines mostly from the 1979 and 1980 vintages. The prices ranged from $6 for the NV Ernest and Julio Gallo “Limited Release” which was ranked Below Average to $25 for the 1979 Long Vineyards “Napa Valley” which was the only wine rated Outstanding and clearly the best of the wines tasted. It was, in fact, the estate bottled wine made from grapes grown in the eastern hills of Napa Valley on Pritchard Hill between Stags Leap and Howell Mountain. Here is the note on that wine:

1979 Long Vineyards “Napa Valley”. This superb wine was made in a very limited quantity. It has a light yellow gold color and nice, deep, fruity/ spicy nose with a similar flavor. It is rich and buttery but has good underlying acidity. A deeply flavored wine that needs a year or two to come together, this seems sure to be one of the best 1979’s (18). $25

Long Vineyards began in 1977 and still exists today producing about 4000 cases of wine annually. The Long Vineyards Chardonnays have proven to be very age worthy and this wine was beautifully balanced with an alcohol of 13.5%. I would not be surprised to find that this wine is still a lovely wine today.

Fifteen wines were rated Very Good, but the best of them (1979 Jordan – which was the first vintage for Jordan Chardonnay – and 1980 Quail Ridge) were at a level quite a far removed from the Long Vineyards which was clearly the star of the show.

There were 20 wines that were rated Good and 6 were rated Below Average. Here is the note on the lowest scoring wine:

1980 Devlin “Monterey County”. This has a light yellow gold color with a cabbage/bell pepper/ eucalyptus nose. Continuing the vegetable medley, the wine has the flavor of bell peppers and potatoes (9). $9

Monterey County was a new wine growing area back then and many of the early wines were plagued by a pronounced vegetative quality. This one had it in spades!


“Price doesn’t necessarily correspond with quality.”

Like California Chardonnay, California Cabernet Sauvignon was an early focus of the Underground. We reviewed them regularly and attempted to taste every wine that came to market and were also reviewing a large number of the wines from barrel before they were bottled. We were also concerned about pricing for California Cabernet Sauvignons where pricing was going up rather dramatically. We often felt that the higher priced wines were, in fact, less good than wines costing less. We were not shy about making these feelings known as we did in this article.

There were 26 California Cabernet Sauvignons reviewed from the 1976 – 1979 vintages and priced from $7 to $35. One wine was rated Outstanding – 1977 Heitz Cellar Bella Oaks Vineyard. This vineyard was planted and owned at that time by the late Barney and Belle Rhodes who were good friends and early pioneers in the world of wine. The first vintage was 1976 and the 1977 vintage produced about 3800 cases of regular bottles and 200 cases of magnums. Here is the note:

1977 Heitz Cellar “Bella Oaks Vineyard”. Well, it seems Belle and Barney Rhoades have done it again. First they planted Martha’s Vineyard but they sold it. Then they planted Bella Oaks which they still own. Should we call this “Son of Martha’s Vineyard”? In time it seems destined to achieve the same reputation. Indeed, under the pricing strategy of Joe Heitz, it achieved a parity in price with Martha’s Vmeyard beginning with the very first vintage last year! The strategy might go something like this: “Everyone’s hooked on Martha’s Vineyard. It seemingly will sell at almost any price. Bella Oaks may be better, but how can it be priced more than a wine with a 10 year record of quality and high price? It can’t, but as the Martha’s aficionados find out it’s as good as or better they’ll be willing to pay the price. Meanwhile, they’ll still buy Martha’s Vineyard.” Maybe. This year Bella Oaks and Martha’s Vineyard are again priced at the same lofty $35 price and, again, Bella Oaks seems to be a better wine. In fact, this year it seems even better (both absolutely and relatively) than last year. The color is dark and the nose has a lovely perfume of fruit, cassis, and, very importantly, mint – very few will differentiate between Martha’s Vineyard and this wine based on the nose. In fact, they are so similar we’re inclined to ask whether this is a similarly of the property or shrewd winemaking? Hmmm?? In the mouth, the wine is full, rich, and luscious. Deeply imbedded flavors, lots of fruit, hint of mint and cedar, long on the palate, in short a classic California Cabernet. Well-balanced, with tannin to lose this wine should enjoy a long life and drink beautifully in 5-6 years (18) .

The 1977 Heitz Cellar Bell Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is still a great bottle of wine today. It is a wine that I have enjoyed on several occasions over the past several years. Today it is distinctly different than the Martha’s Vineyard with less mint and eucalyptus and more cedar. In that sense it is very Bordeaux like in the old classic style. But, the 1977 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon which was rated third in this tasting was underrated. Today it too is a marvelous bottle of wine with the distinct eucalyptus and mint Martha’s Vineyard stamp.

There were 12 wines rated Very Good with the top wine in this category being the Caymus “Special Selection” which was identical to the regular bottling except that it spent extra time in oak. Here is the note on that wine:

1976 Caymus “Special Selection”. Pay $35 per bottle (a curious similarity with the Heitz Cabernets) and you get a very good wine and the winemaster’s signature on the label. With only 200 cases made, it saved not only a bad case of writer’s cramp, but an agonizing decision for too many people. Aged 4 years in oak, just now the wine is very tannic. Only time will tell if the fruit can outlive the tannin. The color is very dark. The nose shows an intense, ripe fruit and chocolate quality. From the nose one would expect a big. rich, chewy wine. This is exactly right. It is full of fruit and shows an expected oakiness, but not overpowering. The texture is soft, yet the tannic finish argues for many, many years age to soften and mellow completely (17).

Later with all estate fruit getting an extra year in oak, The “Special Selection” became the flagship wine from Caymus. And, Cabernet Sauvignon made from purchased grapes was bottled under the Caymus label. This allowed for the “Special Selection” wine to sell for several times more than it did previously and gave a larger production of wine to sell under the regular Caymus label. Although, we felt at the time that it was not right to designate the entire production “Special Selection”, the market did not care. It fact, the wine seemingly became ever more popular as the price continued to rise steadily. In retrospect, this was one of the greatest marketing feats in California wine history and has made the Wagner family, the owners of Caymus, a ton of money! Ain’t America great?

There were 14 wines rated Good. These included the 1979 Ridge Vineyards “Santa Cruz Mountains” Cabernet Sauvignon which was, in fact, de-classified Monte Bello Cabernet as no Monte Bello Cabernet was made that year. And, at the bottom of the Good category was this note:

We Was Bagged!

1979 H. Coturri “Glen Ellen”. This wine was reviewed in Volume Ill, Page 9 where we scored the wine at 17. Subsequently, we have tasted nothing resembling what we first tasted. Our suspicions were first aroused when we visited the winery and were offered a barrel sample of the wine. This was after we had tasted and reviewed the same wine. Since the winery apparently only bottles the wine as it is sold there is no way to know what you’re buying. The later bottles have a dark color and an over-ripe, port-like nose. The flavors have an over-ripe, fruity/chocolate quality and the wine is hot on the finish. There is definite sweetness in a late harvest, port-like style (12½). $22.50

In retrospect, this score was a gift and should have been lower. The 1 wine that was ranked Below Average was the NV Martin Ray Cabernet/Merlot “Cuvee 778”. Produced from wines coming from the 1977 and 1978 vintages, this was a truly strange wine as were many of the Martin Ray bottlings in those days. Here is the note:

NV Martin Ray Cabernet/Merlot “Cuvee 778”. Made with 40% Merlot, this has a dark, cloudy color and a weird, wet hay/ ripe fruit nose. Slightly toasty, grapefruit flavors with a tart acidity and a sharp finish make this a real curiosity (11). $12


California Pinot Noirs

After our first issue featured Pinot Noir, this was our first Pinot Noir article in that 2 ½ year period. But, we would go on to continue to be early champions of Pinot Noir despite a lot of really not very compelling wines. Here is the introduction to that article and please pay particular attention to the last paragraph:

About 2 ½ years ago when the “First Vintage First Crush” of The Underground Wineletter appeared, we had a picture of the 1946 BV Pinot Noir on the cover. Inside the two lead articles were one comparing old Pinot Noir and old Burgundy and another reviewing 1975 – 1977 Pinot Noirs. The latter article was entitled “The Ugly Duckling Transformation Begins”. Some people called us crazy to put the primary emphasis in our first issue on Pinot Noir. After all, if we were to be a commercial enterprise why not Cabernet or Chardonnay? Well, first there’s the question of commercial – we’re not. Second, Cabernet and Chardonnay are easy. There are lots of really good ones. Pinot Noir is definitely not easy. There are lots of really mediocre wines – in fact the great majority. This has led a lot people, including many “wine writers”, to dismiss Pinot Noir. Wrong, again. We have produced a few great Pinot Noirs in California. In time there will be more. Also, the Pacific Northwest shows promise. Patience. Patience. Patience.

This is our first review of Pinot Noir since the premier issue. As we’ve tasted particularly good ones we’ve reviewed them in Barrels and Bottles or Distinctive New Wines. Frankly, our enthusiasm to taste a wide range of products from wineries making Pinot Noir either because they are trying to fill out a product line for marketing purposes or because they have Pinot Noir grapes and don’t know what else to do with them except make a product in which they have little interest, has about as much appeal to us as to the above mentioned wineries. You might call it mutual apathy. In fact, it would be nice if many Pinot Noirs would just disappear from the market, not to return That way both interests would be satisfied. Actually, it’s not so ridiculous as it sounds. Many wineries are giving up. Either pulling out vines and replanting or grafting over to other varieties. Good. Particularly in the warm regions of Napa and a good portion of Sonoma and Monterey, there just isn’t any reason to try to grow Pinot Noir. It doesn’t like it there and it won’t make good wine.

But we persevered. Here’s a review of a broad cross-section of Pinot Noir currently on the market. Most are not flying off the shelves. The best wines are being produced in small quantities. Again, patience. There will be more. Those few who are dedicated to making great Pinot Nair are among the most fanatical and talented people in the wine world. Don’t sell them short.

Our early interest in California Pinot Noir is well articulated here. But, not without some misdirection in the comment about “…the warm regions of Napa and a good portion of Sonoma and Monterey…” not being good to grow Pinot Noir. This was a bit off the mark in not emphasizing that the very warm areas were not the best. At this time, in Napa Valley some good Pinot Noir was being made been on Spring Mountain and in Carneros a few other places. In Sonoma, Pinot Noir was cultivated early on by Joseph Swan with great success. In the Santa Cruz Mountains Martin Ray and Mount Eden Vineyards were two of the early producers of Pinot Noir. Chalone, in what is now the Chalone appellation, and Calera, in what is now the Mount Harlan appellation of the Gavilan Mountains, were also successful early Pinot Noir producers. And, it should be noted that a lot of the early failures in making Pinot Noir in California were because of the lack of understanding about winegrowing and winemaking rather than the location. The point to be made is that the most successful Pinot Noirs have come largely from the cooler or relatively cool areas and that is what we were trying to articulate.

Today, there are a lot of really good producers of Pinot Noir in these same areas. And, new areas in Sonoma towards the coast and to the north towards Mendocino County have since met with great success as well. Not to mention Mendocino County Pinot Noir that was virtually unknown back then. There are now also other parts of the Central Coast in Monterey, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara that are making some really good Pinot Noir. These latter areas were just being developed in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Unlike the early days, Pinot Noir now has become immensely popular. The original Underground vision for California Pinot Noir has been manifest all over the state in mostly the areas mentioned above. Also, in this country it now includes the Pacific Northwest where there has been an explosion of Pinot Noir production and also the Finger Lakes in New York State where the potential has yet to be fully realized largely because of very limited plantings. And, this is also a world wide Pinot Noir phenomenon with Switzerland (To read the article on Domaine Dinatsch, a great producer of Pinot Noir in Switzerland, click here) and Germany as well as other European areas outside of Burgundy now making exceptional Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir now falls into 2 categories. The thin, vegetative, and poorly made wines of the past have now been largely replaced by extracted, high alcohol, intense wines that some wine consumers prefer. But, the number of producers of balanced Pinot Noir made in the traditional manner with real Pinot Noir varietal character has also increased dramatically. It is this style of traditional Pinot Noir that the Underground has always preferred and advocated. I am very happy to see this style of wine meeting with increased interest from new wine drinkers. I strongly believe that it is this traditional style of Pinot Noir that will eventually become the preference of most consumers. We shall see!

In this article 52 California Pinot Noirs were reviewed. The prices ranged from $4.50 to $20. There was one Pinot Noir that was rated Outstanding – the 1978 Chalone Vineyard “California” which was tasted and reviewed for the second time. Here is that note:

1978 Chalone Vineyard “California”. As reviewed in Distinctive New Wines in Volume III, Page 53, this Pinot Noir simply overwhelms everything else currently available. The color is very dark and the nose has a lovely, ripe fruit/spicy quality. It is full and rich with loads of fruit and a spicy complexity. Opulent, lush, long on the palate, great balance, this wine has everything. Seemingly destined for long life, this is a California classic. Only 500 cases were produced and the wine is being sold primarily from the winery (18). $18

We certainly gave our readers every opportunity to buy this wine! And, today it continues to be one of the all time great California Pinot Noirs. I have drunk many bottles of this wine over the years and still have quite a few in my cellar. They all have been consistently great. Well cellared this wine is today at an absolute peak of perfection (To read an article featuring a recent tasting note on the 1978 Chalone Pinot Noir click here).

Nine wines were rated Very Good led by 2 1979 Calera Pinot Noirs and a 1079 Carneros Creek Pinot Noir. Here are the notes on those wines:

1979 Calera “Reed”. (Barrels and Bottles Volume II, Page 30). This is a big wine with a very dark color and an oaky, fruity/ vanilla nose. With loads of fruit it is full, clean, with a berry quality, tannic, and shows good depth. About 90 cases were produced (16). $18

1979 Calera “Selleck”. (Barrels and Bottles Volume II, Page 30). With a dark color and an amber edge there is a deep, fruity/berry spicy/vanilla nose. The wine has good fruit with a spicy/vanilla nuance and good tannin/acid balance. About 110 cases were produced (16). $18.

1979 Cameros Creek “Napa Valley, Carneros District”. Carneros Creek usually produces one of the very finest Napa Pinot Noirs. This is a very good example. The wine has a dark color with an amber edge and a deep, fruity/ cherry/ oaky nose. There is good fruit and a cherry-like flavor with some tannin to lose. This should develop well for several years (16). $l5.

The 2 Calera bottlings were made in very small quantities. They were reviewed previously in out Barrels and Bottles feature which alerted readers to particularly good wines that would be coming to market later. (The 1979 Calera “Jensen” bottling was also mentioned in the Barrels and Bottles feature and ranked just below the “Reed” and “Selleck” in this review. There were 120 cases of the 1979 “Jensen”). The Carneros Creek Pinot Noirs were early examples of the potential for the cooler Carneros District of Napa Valley for Pinot Noir.

As was typical for most of the early California Pinot Noirs, most of the wines were ranked Good. In this review it was 38 wines that were ranked Good or about 75%. Included in this group were 1979 Pinot Noirs from Chalone (which we said “…bears little resemblance to the superlative 1978.”), Kalin, and Kistler. Included in the 8 wines ranked at the top of the Good category were a 1978 ZD “Napa/Santa Barbara” bottling and a 1979 Zaca Mesa “Santa Ynez Valley”. ZD was making some very good Pinot Noir from Napa Valley grapes and made this blend with Santa Barbara grapes. Zaca Mesa was one of the first wineries established in Santa Barbara. These 2 wines are particularly interesting since they represent early examples of the Pinot Noirs coming from new Santa Barbara plantings. Here are notes on those wines:

1978 ZD “Napa/Santa Barbara”. This wine has a dark color with an amber edge and a subdued, fruity/spicy/oaky nose. It is full with good, fruity/spicy/oaky flavors. Maybe lacking acid for long term aging, but quite pleasant to drink now (14 1/2). $9.50

1979 Zaca Mesa “Santa Ynez Valley”. This estate bottled wine has a Burgundy quality and is a good buy at $8.50. The color is medium with an amber edge and just a little cloudy. It has a nice, fruity/spicy/ slightly tarry nose. With good, fruity/spicy flavors, the wine has a slight bitterness in the finish. Youthfully appealing, this should be early maturing (14 1/2). $8.50

In addition to these wines Kalin and Calera also had Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs that were reviewed in this article ranking just below the ZD and Zaca Mesa. There are a lot of historic Pinot Noir reviews like these in this article and, if you have an interest, I would encourage you to read the entire article. Also, there was a note on the 1977 Mayacamas “California”. Mayacamas is situated high atop Mount Veeder in Napa Valley. This Pinot Noir is interesting in the sense that it represented a very distinct style. Here is that note:

1977 Mayacamas “California”. Leave it to Mayacamas to get extract out of Pinot Noir! This wine has a very dark color and a subdued, fruity/earthy/oaky nose. It is a big wine with fruity/oaky flavors. It is backward and very tannic and needs a lot of time. Will the fruit outlive the tannin? If so, it will be very good indeed (14). $7

I don’t recall tasting this wine since. It would be interesting to taste today. It might be really good as the Mayacamas wines have a demonstrated history of aging very well for a very long time.

There were 4 wines rated Below Average. Reflecting the difficulty in making Pinot Noir these included the otherwise reliable producers Clos Du Bois, Sterling Vineyards, and Burgess Cellars. Here are the notes on those wines:

1978 Clos du Bois “Cherry Hill”. Judging from the name this Sonoma County Pinot Noir should taste like cherries. Wrong. The color is medium with an amber edge. The nose has an unusual combination of sage and eucalyptus. The wine tastes like kiwi and vanilla – very strange. Just to add another dimension, it is stemmy with a bitter finish (11). $13

1977 Sterling Vineyards “Napa”. This estate bottled wine has a medium dark color with an orange amber rim. The nose is like shellac and shoe polish take your pick. Beyond the nose it is thin, tart, and woody and with a short finish. Sterling is one of the wineries who reportedly will stop production of Pinot Noir. This is a good example of why (11). $7

1978 Burgess Cellars “Napa Valley”. With a medium dark color and an orange amber edge, this wine smells bad with a skunky/ rubbery quality. It also tastes bad, rubbery and stemmy – a forgettable effort that may be the worst Burgess Cellars has ever produced (10). $9

And, occupying a familiar spot at the bottom of the heap, was the following wine which also had the distinction of being the second highest priced wine:

1979 H. Cotturi “Glen Ellen Vineyards, Sonoma”. This wine has a medium color with an orange amber edge. Fine. But how about a musty/ roasted/ mushroom/ compost pile nose? Very complex, but nothing very attractive. There are ripe fruit, spicy/ vanilla flavors with some sweet/sour sensation on the palate. Strange stuff and only $19 per bottle (10)!


“…1978 continues to warrant attention.”

In this article we were winding down our coverage of the 1978 Red Burgundies. We tasted the wines as they arrived and this would bring the number of wines tasted to near 400. There were 27 wines reviewed ranging in price from $15 to $82. There were 3 wines rated Outstanding – 2 were from Robert Arnoux, the Romanée-Saint-Vivant and the Vosne Romanée “Les Suchots” and the Echezeaux from Dujac. The “Les Suchots” was a great discovery as we did not know this vineyard very well at that time. Here is the note on the 1978 Les Suchot:

Vosne-Romanée “Les Suchots” (R. Arnoux). No mistake, this is one of the best of the 1978 Burgundies. The wine has an uncanny resemblance to the wines of the Domaine de Ia Romanée-Conti. The color is dark with just a trace of amber at the edge. The nose is overwhelming – a deep perfume of fruit and oriental spice with an incredible complexity of a slight smokiness and a hint of rose petals. A classically rich Burgundy with deep, full flavors. the oriental spice quality and superb structure bring specifically to mind the great 1978 DRC Richebourg. This is a wine to lay away for at least 5-6 years. It should become a cellar treasure (18) . $36

I don’t know about the comparison with the 1978 DRC Richebourg today, but last tasted a few years ago the Les Suchots was really stunning. It is a wine that I bought, cellared, and drank with great pleasure over many years. And, most recently, I have had the 1990 Arnoux Les Suchots which is gorgeous. Les Suchots is one of the greatest Premier Crus and Robert Arnoux’s is consistently very fine.

There were 19 wines that rated Very Good. One of the top wines in this category was Vosne-Romanée “Les Malconsorts” (L. Jayer). The appearance of the Lucien Jayer wines was very confusing. Like the Henri Jayer wines, they were new to the U.S. market. We knew that Lucien Jayer was Henri’s brother, but had been told that the wines were not made by Henri Jayer. We later learned that Henri did, in fact, make wines from his brother’s vineyard holdings which he shared – part under his label and part under the Lucien Jayer label. Also, rated in the middle of the Very Good category was the Bonnes-Mares from Dujac. This wine was underrated as it proved to be an Outstanding wine in subsequent tastings.

Lastly, there were 5 wines that rated Good and none Below Average.


A brief review of 9 recent Red Rhone arrivals was the next article. The Côte-Rôtie “Côtes Brune et Blonde” from Guigal was the only one rated Outstanding. We were taken by the flavor and structure of the wine and its early appeal also noting its ability to age. In the Very Good category there were 6 wines led by the Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Reserve” from Chateau Rayas. It was underrated even though we noted “This may be the most massively structured of all the 1978 Southern Rhones. In time it could be outstanding, but it will need at least 8-10 years…” This was correct. As time evolved, the wine did blossom as was predicted. Taste in the 1990s the wine was gorgeous and, if well cellared, should be great today. There were 3 wines rated Good including a nice Côtes-du-Rhône for $3.99!


1979 Bordeaux

Next was a Barrels and Bottles feature on 1979 Bordeaux which were tasted in Bordeaux in November, 1981. Here is the introduction to that article:

In Bordeaux in November of last year we had an opportunity to taste most of the major growths of the Medoc and the top ranked wines of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Generally, we were quite impressed. 1979 certainly is a very good vintage. As good as 1978? Maybe. The wines generally have good fruit and extract. Probably not a long-lived vintage, although the best wines should live well into the 1990’s and beyond. The majority of the wines are just now arriving in the U.S. Most should be here by early spring. Later in the year, we’ll review the wines in our regular blind tastings and make our evaluations For now, these notes should be helpful in deciding which wines to purchase And, make no mistake about it, many of these wines should be bought. First, because some are truly outstanding – Margaux, for instance. Second, prices are generally quite favorable with some classified growths selling or under $10 per bottle! Most will be no more than $15 or so per bottle with the first growths probably available at $25-35 per bottle. Compared with inflated prices for California Cabernets this is definitely a vintage to consider.

In total, 53 wines were tasted including most of the major growths from each area. Because the wines were not yet available in the retail market, there were no ratings accompanying the notes. As a pioneer in evaluating young wines, the Underground did not rate wines before they were offered for sale to consumers. Later, this would provide quite a contrast to others who began to taste wines after a brief time in barrel and give them precise numerical scores! Yet, despite not having a rating, our favorites were clear from the notes. They were: La Mission-Haut-Brion, d’Issan, du Tertre ( “…Maybe the ‘sleeper’ of the vintage.”), Margaux (“Best of the Vintage?”), Palmer, Lafite, Latour, Lynch Bages, Pichon Lalande, Pètrus, Ausone, Cos d’Estournel (“…maybe the best Saint Estèphe.”), Branaire, and Léoville-Las-Cases. Several months later, after the 1979 Bordeauxs had arrived in the U.S., we did our customary blind tastings and published our article with ratings. This was all part of the consumer focus and transparency that were in the Underground DNA from the very beginning and remain so today.

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson


Post a Comment


  • C. Finore says:


  • Post a Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.