GREAT HISTORIC MAGNUMS OF MOUNT EDEN VINEYARDS CHARDONNAY AND PINOT NOIR
A few years ago I was able to buy 2 pristine magnums of 1972 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir from a couple who were original investors in Mount Eden Vineyards. They had owned the bottles since release and the bottles were in perfect condition. The 1972 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir is a very rare and legendary wine. Made by the late Dick Graff of Chalone fame, it was the first vintage for Mount Eden Vineyards as it emerged from what was formerly Martin Ray (to read an article on all the Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignons from 1972 to 2012 as well as a history of Mount Eden Vineyards and a link to all my articles on Mount Eden Vineyards click here ). I mentioned to Jeffrey Patterson, the winemaker since 1981 and now majority owner (along with his wife Ellie), that we should do a dinner with magnums of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I have been buying, drinking, and cellaring Mount Eden wines for over 40 years and I can say without question that there are many remarkable wines from this great estate. Jeffrey and I agreed to do a dinner in Northern California which Jeffrey arranged and I contributed the 1972 Pinot Noir magnum as well as 5 magnums of Chardonnay from 1997, 1991, 1990, 1987, and 1984. Jeffrey contributed magnums of Pinot Noir from 2000, 1995, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1985, and 1977 and magnums of 2002 and 1978 Chardonnay. It should also be noted that with the exception of the 1972 and 1977 Pinot Noir and the 1978 Chardonnay all the wines were made by Jeffrey. To say that he has done an outstanding job is an understatement.
The wines were fabulous across the board. During the tasting of the Chardonnays, here is what Darrell Corti, the proprietor of Corti Brothers in Sacramento, grocer extraordinaire, and wine expert had to say about Martin Ray, Mount Eden Vineyards, and the Chardonnays:
I wish that we could really stop talking about Martin Ray. On the other hand, sometimes it’s very interesting not to forget where you came from. One of the things that is very interesting is that under the previous regime we would never have tasted wines like this, ever, because he never made wines like this. It is very interesting to make a wine that is really good young and really good old. Normally, that never happens anywhere because you can’t have both things. In Italian there is a saying, “You can’t have a drunk wife and a full cask.” So with these wines you’ve actually shown that you can make a wine from Mount Eden that will, in fact, keep.
With Martin Ray, his Chardonnays, he drank and forced everyone else to drink his Chardonnays when they were only two years old because he didn’t believe in old white wines. On the other hand, tonight we have seen a series of wines that are really remarkable because they are still fresh. The color has deepened in the second series of wines. They are not oxidized, they don’t taste stale, they‘re not old tasting and they are 30 years old. This is a real tribute to both the winemaking and to the place that grew them. This is very difficult to find in California. You don’t find old white wines in California. Sometimes you find old white wines in places most unexpected to find old white wines where the wines were simple but in bottle they gained complexity. Here you have a white wine variety which is supposed to make a very strong wine, a very straight-forward wine, a very complex wine but here the wines have gotten old and they haven’t lost any of this character. This is a real, real test of winemaking – is to make a wine that tastes good when it’s young and it tastes good when it’s old because it doesn’t taste old. My compliments. (To read more of Darrell’s comments on Martin Ray, Mount Eden, and other old California wineries click here )
Below are my notes on the Chardonnays followed by notes on the Pinot Noirs and my concluding thoughts. Please note that the bottle numbers shown are for regular sized bottles only. Only the magnum of 1972 had a bottle number. Magnums since 1972 are not numbered. However, since Jeffrey Patterson arrived in 1981 about 20–30 cases of magnums are bottled each year along with a very limited number of large format bottles in some years.
MOUNT EDEN VINEYARDS CHARDONNAYS EN
2002 1997 1991 1990 1987 1984 1978
2002 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 2002 vintage produced 26,700 bottles. This Chardonnay is fully mature and drinking beautifully. It has a light golden yellow color and a deep floral perfume with tinges of citrus and a faint tropical quality. Lush and rounded with lots of fruit and faint hints of spice it is flavorful and has lots of charm – Outstanding Plus.
1997 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 1997 vintage produced a large crop consisting of 36,496 bottles. This Chardonnay is very finesseful with lovely flavors. It has a light yellow gold color and a deep perfume with floral spice nuances and faint hints of citrus and pear. Beautifully balanced the wine is at a peak with the structure to hold for many more years – Outstanding.
1991 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 1991 vintage produced 21,290 bottles. The 1991 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay has evolved beautifully and makes an interesting comparison with the great 1990. Along with the 1990 I have enjoyed many bottles of the 1991 over the years and they have shown a great evolution. In January 2004 I noted the following: Light golden color. Gorgeous perfume of minerals and a touch of citrus and spice. Faintly honeyed with tinges of citrus and spice. Long, crisp finish. Youthful, but evolving beautifully. Great now, but no hurry. 10-15 more years. This 1991 Chardonnay has been consistently delicious to drink and is now reaching its peak as indicated by the following note: The wine is light golden yellow in color with a deep spice tinged perfume and faint honeyed nuances accented by suggestions of citrus and apricot. With great flavor and structure, it is flavorful with gorgeous fruit showing a tinge of spice and honey. Really delicious – this 1991 should age gracefully for many more years – Outstanding Plus.
1990 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 1990 vintage produced only 11,392 bottles. The 1990 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay has been a favorite of mine since the first tasting in 1992. It was a clearly outstanding wine and I noted at that time …a classic example of what low yields and good winemaking can create. Over the years I have enjoyed many bottles of this wine which have been consistently great. In January 2004 I noted the following:
…Light gold color. Deep faintly honeyed perfume. Lush with great flavor. Honeyed with tropical nuances and a tinge of coconut. Long finish. Super. Great Chardonnay. At a peak. Will hold. Another 1978?
In December 2004 tasted from magnum the wine was again great, but more youthful. Here is that note: Light golden yellow color. Lovely perfume of mineral, citrus, butter, and tropical fruit. Great flavors with an intermingling of fruits with tropical and citrus nuances. Faintly buttery with a touch of spice and an underlying minerality. Good acidity. Long finish. A beauty. Will age. Superb wine.
For many years the wine has been a delight to drink. The bottles more advanced and the magnums delicious and aging beautifully as the following note suggests: Light gold in color the wine has a deep perfume with a touch of spice and citrus with a nice faintly tropical quality. Complex, with great intensity, flavor and richness, there is a firm underlying backbone that gives the wine definition. Long on the finish, the flavors go on and on and this Chardonnay seems capable or evolving over another decade or more – Extraordinary.
1987 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 1987 vintage produced 16,186 bottles. This Chardonnay is now at a peak after nearly 30 years. It has been on this plateau for many years and seems likely to remain here for some time into the future. Light golden in color the wine has a deep faintly honeyed perfume with a touch of citrus and spice. The fruit is lovely showing a very faint honeyed spice quality and there is a wonderful balance and a nice hint of crispness on the finish – Outstanding.
1984 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The 1984 vintage produced a very small 9,083 bottles. In 1986 here is what I first said about this wine in The Underground Wineletter: The 1984 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay is again outstanding. The winery is on a roll with Chardonnay. We know of no other California Chardonnay that is as consistently outstanding as Mount Eden Vineyards. For our money, it is the best Chardonnay produced in California. This is a delicious Chardonnay and a match for many Grand Cru White Burgundies.
In 2004 I donated 19 vintages of Mount Eden Chardonnays from 1975 to 2000 and 5 vintages of Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noirs from 1984 to 1991 to the Central Coast Wine Classic. They all were served at a dinner and the 1984 Chardonnay from magnum was lovely, but still young. Here is what I said then: Light yellow gold color with a lovely floral perfume showing just a touch of spice. Crisp and flavorful and very youthful – 10 to 20 years?
I have enjoyed the 1984 Chardonnay many times over the years and it is one of my very favorite Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnays. The bottles developed sooner than the magnums. At 20 years of age the wine was still youthful in magnum. The bottles were drinking beautifully then and have maintained on a plateau for many years. The magnums have now been at a peak for some years, but show no sign of age as the following note will attest.
Light yellow gold in color the wine has a stunning honeyed perfume with hints of white peach and citrus with a faint suggestion of crème brûlée. It has lots of depth and structure with well integrated acidity and complex flavors suggesting peach with honeyed nuances. The finish is long and lingering and the wine is absolutely stunning at over 30 years of age – Extraordinary.
1978 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay (Magnum)
The production in 1978 was only 4,800 bottles. This has been one of my very favorite California Chardonnays since my first tasting in 1980. Here is what I had to say about it in the October-November 1980 issue of The Underground Wineletter (to read the issue click here ): …The 1978 Mt Eden Chard, made by traditional methods, is really extraordinary, with a deep, fruity/spicy/vanilla nose. It is very rich and ripe with intense, almost sweet flavor. Oily and velvety with lots of flavor and a lingering finish – should be ambrosia in a few years….Over the years I have consumed many bottles of this wine and it has always been great. This magnum was true to form.
Light golden in color the wine has a deep honeyed perfume with faint hints of coconut and crème brûlée. Full, rich, and rounded this is a Chardonnay with lots of intensity and depth yet it is balanced and shows a lot of charm. Flavorful with a faint honeyed quality also showing tinges of coconut and crème brûlée it is very long on the palate and at an absolute peak. How long will it last? Hard to tell, but it does not yet show any obvious signs of being past its prime and should keep for many more years – Extraordinary.
My original comment that this wine should be ambrosia in a few years seems prophetic yet who would have expected the few years would turn out to be 37 years! This is simply amazing!
MOUNT EDEN VINEYARDS PINOT NOIRS EN MAGNUM
2000 1995 1994 1991 1990 1985 1977 1972
2000 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 2000 vintage produced 5,858 bottles. The wine has a deep color and a lovely berry perfume with faint hints of mint. With very pure fruit it is rounded, elegant, and supple with a nice underlying crispness. Still very youthful, this Pinot Noir will benefit from years more of aging – Outstanding.
1995 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1995 vintage produced 4,936 bottles. With a deep color the wine has a lovely cherry berry perfume with a very faintly smoky nuance. It has lots of spice tinged berry fruit with a nice underlying structure. At 20 years of age this wine seems to not yet be fully mature. Give it a few more years – Outstanding.
1994 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1994 vintage also produced 4,936 bottles. Deep color with a gorgeous perfume showing a floral, cherry, berry quality with a faint hint of earthiness this wine has loads of supple fruit with lots of richness and depth. Approaching full maturity, this Pinot Noir has many years of life ahead – Outstanding Plus.
1991 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1991 vintage produced 7,668 bottles. This wine has a very nice color and a deep perfume with a spicy foresty nuance. With lovely fruit it has elegance and lovely spice tinged flavors and is harmonious and balanced. Seemingly at a peak now, but should remain on a plateau for many more years – Outstanding.
1990 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1990 vintage produced 3,198 bottles. This has been one of my favorite Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noirs from the very beginning. It is drinking beautifully now, but has a long life ahead. The wine has a deep color with no amber at the edge and has a great spice tinged berry perfume with foresty nuances and a tinge of earthiness. It is rich and full with intensity and depth and shows great fruit with a faint spiciness. Flavorful and very pure this is an amazing wine from and amazing vintage that matches up with some of the great 1990 Burgundies – Extraordinary.
1985 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1985 vintage produced 2,565 bottles. This wine has a deep color with some amber at the edge. It has a great floral tinged perfume and has lovely supple fruit. Very elegant and flavorful with a foresty undertone, this Pinot Noir is at a peak and should hold for many years into the future – Outstanding Plus.
1977 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
The 1977 vintage produced 1,450 bottles. From the second year of the drought the crop in 1977 was severely reduced. This Pinot Noir shows intensity and depth along with great structure. With a deep color showing no amber at the edge, the wine has a great berry perfume with a tinge of spice. It has lovely fruit with spice tinges and a firm underlying backbone. At nearly 40 years of age this is a Pinot Noir that should continue to evolve for 10 or more years – Outstanding Plus.
1972 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (Magnum)
There were 3,070 bottles of Pinot Noir produced in 1972. This magnum was bottle #107 and was the only one with a number. From the first year of production for Mount Eden Vineyards and made by the legendary Dick Graff of Chalone fame, this is an amazing Pinot Noir. At over 40 years of age the wine is fully mature, but showing no signs of decline. The color is deep with just a faint amber edge and there is an intriguing perfume with a faint spice, a tinge of earth, and a faint foresty nuance. It has rich fruit and is rounded and flavorful with spice nuances and is beautifully balanced with a long finish – Outstanding Plus.
Since 1979 I have been writing about the Mount Eden Vineyards wines. Here are some of the very early comments on the Mount Eden Chardonnays from the October-November 1979 issue of The Underground Wineletter (to read the issue click here  and to read more issues as well as Retrospective Reviews of each issue click here ): …The Chardonnay grape has found a home in California where it makes a rich, fruity wine… Chardonnay grapes are grown in virtually every wine growing region of the state, but many of the best seem to prefer slightly cooler climates – the Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey County and the Carneros Region of Napa Valley are typical examples. Since 1969, when several wineries premiered with Chardonnay bottlings, some excellent Chardonnay has been produced in each year…1971, Mt Eden (bottled under the Sutter Home label), 1972, Mt Eden again….In 1976, the first of the drought years produced a number of really good wines. Mt Eden Chards are classics….
Over the years I have had many great tasting experiences with Mount Eden Vineyards wines. And, I have never had a Mount Eden Vineyards wine from my cellar that was over the hill. This in itself is amazing. The wines at this event were all magnums and magnums are widely considered to be the best bottle size for the long term aging of wine. They certainly matched that expectation. The wines were simply remarkable. All the bottles came from impeccable provenance. As, I have always said, this is the most important thing to consider with old wine. (To read an article on storage click here ). The wines were all in perfect condition. Every wine was wonderful and none were in decline. This is totally unique and remarkable. But, the highlights for me were the 1990, 1984, and 1978 Chardonnays and the 1990 Pinot Noir along with the 1994, 1985, 1977, and 1972. And, reflecting the aging ability of Mount Eden Vineyards, these wines ranged in age from 25 years to 43 years!
Also, it is important to remember that when you combine the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs made at Mount Eden Vineyards with the Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons (to read about those click here  ), you have something that I do not believe any winery in the world can match – three of the greatest wine varietals, grown and produced in the same place for over 40 years, and consistently producing wines that rival many of the best in the world. This is a unique hat trick!