A Cautionary Tale

First… This post is not about Greenvale Vineyards in RI. I adore Greenvale and I think they make amazing, estate-grown wines. Their winery is a lovely place to visit – my favorite in RI actually, and the proprietor and staff are among the friendliest and most knowledgeable that I have ever met. So, even though the wine that I will talk about is a product of Greenvale Vineyards, this post is not about Greenvale…

What then is this post about? The dark side of owning a deep, deep wine cellar.

With more than thirty years of collecting, we have amassed a significant number of wines, with a total bottle count well north of 5,000 bottles. The collection is scattered across a wide palate of wines – many from regions where the wines are made to age. Inevitably, when one grows a cellar to these proportions, wines are purchased that do not have prodigious aging potential. One buys wine that one enjoys and not every enjoyable wine begs to be aged. So, lurking in the dark corners of our wine cellar are bottles that are aging into atrophy.

In October of 2013, we conducted a tasting entitled “The Lost Bottle.” The tasting consisted of a flight of wines that were uncovered during a “cleaning and reorganizing” effort. After a week of work, a case+ of wines were found that exemplified the risk of deep cellar ownership. The list of wines was as follows (dates in parentheses note purchase date):

1996 Domaine des Cassagnoles, Cotes du Gascon (4/27/1998)

1996 Chateau La Blancherie, Graves (4/27/1998)

1997 Domaine du Closel, Savennieres (7/8/2000)

1995 Francis Cotat Chavignol, Sancerre (1/31/1997)

2004 Monkey Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough (4/23/2005)

1996 Domaine Dauvissat-Camus, La Forest, Chablis (7/4/1998)

1989 St. Clement Chardonnay, Abbott’s Vineyard (3/30/1992)

1990 Herm. Donhoff Oberhauser Brucke Spatlese Riesling, Nahe (12/28/1998)

1990 Le Bocce, Chianti Classico (11/5/1992)

1997 Ricasoli San Ripolo, Chianti Classico (3/29/2004)

1998 Ricasoli Occa Guiccarda, Chianti Classico Riserva (2/23/2005)

1998 Villa Cafaggio, Chianti Classico (10/6/2001)

1998 Domaine Celinguet, Coteaux du Languedoc (1/29/2000)

1999 Les Cailloux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (7/2/2002)

The outcome of the event was actually far more favorable than originally anticipated, with only two of the wines tasting simply dreadful (the 1996 Domaine Dauvissat-Camus and the 1989 St. Clement, were undrinkable), and the other wines tasting decently, albeit some with that resplendent patina of age. We dodged a bullet…

Fast forward to today… As I was looking for something to have with dinner, I stumbled across a bottle of 2003 Greenvale Vineyards Cabernet Franc from the Southeastern New England AVA.

We visit a lot of wineries and when we visit, we tend to take home our favorites from the visit. Back in 2006, we made one of our many forays into the then burgeoning RI wine trail, which included a stop at the beautifully situated Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, RI. After a few hours of tasting and being given a tour of the vineyards, we left with a few cases of our favorites – including the 2003 Cabernet Franc. I was especially pleased with the Cabernet Franc because the wine did not exhibit the usual markers of cool climate Cabernet Franc – bell pepper and green, stemmy notes. Instead the wine was very nicely balanced with dark, cherry fruit, dried herbs, cedar, vanilla and excellent structure. At the time, I noted a five year window of improvement in bottle aging – which means the peak for the wine would hit around 2010. We actually bought six bottles in September 2006. We drank bottles in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2020. The cellar notes indicate the wine showed strongly in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, with some weakening in 2014. The last bottle we opened just recently in 2020 had this tasting note:

Herbaceous nose with hints of bell pepper, cardamom and cedar. Dried cherry and rosemary notes. Firm acidity with tired fruit. Balance is consistent with a 17 year old wine from New England, meaning there is little fruit, tight acid and almost no tannin. Pleasant but tired aftertaste with layered complexity.

This story is actually a favorable example of aging wine over a long period of time… meaning, the last bottle opened was a fitting closing chapter for the wine.

Then why is this a cautionary tale? Because deep in the corners of our wine cellar there are numerous bottles of wine that are likely at, or worse, past peak. Many of which are not the last bottle of a particular vintage. The 2003 Greenvale is a wake up call that a careful, re-assessment of the cellar is in order. If for no other reason then to prioritize the drinking of certain bottles. Recognizing that there will be too many to consume before their fated end.

As has been said at almost every Musings event – the assessment of a bottle’s aging potential is far more art (read “swag” – silly, wild ass guess) than science and part of the beauty in having a wine cellar is to watch wines grow, develop, age and eventually pass. It is the cycle of life in a bottle – the constant reminder that nothing is permanent and that from whence we came, so too shall we return…

The Lost Distillery – Gerston – Archivist Bottling

The Lost Distillery Company believes “it is a tragedy that over one hundred Scotch Whisky distilleries have been permanently closed during the last century.” The Lost Distillery Company has breathed life back into many of these distilleries, by painstakingly researching all of the important elements that made a distillery unique and then taking their research to heart by producing archival bottles of these magnificent ghosts.

One such distillery is Gerston, a North Highland producer that actually had two lives during their history. The original distillery opened by the Swanson family in 1796 and produced spirits until 1882. They were globally popular with customers as far away as Asia and Argentina. The malt was peated and exhibited a style that was traditional North Highland Coastal. Records indicate that both ex-Rum casks and ex-Wine casks were used in the aging process. After closing in 1882, the distillery remained closed until 1886, when it was reopened as a larger, more commercially-oriented distillery, producing un-peated malt. The distillery shuttered for good in 1914.


Recently, I came across a bottle of Gerston from my friends at Julio’s in Westboro, MA. The Archivist Bottle is exemplary of the original style of Gerston. This particular malt was bottled in 2017 after being finished in Ribera del Duero casks.


The malt is a pleasure on the nose and palate, showing a light briny bouquet with dried fruits, allspice and vanilla in the nose. The palate is smooth and slightly smoky with hints of juniper, caramel and saddle leather. Very long in the finish.


The Lost Distillery Company should be commended for their efforts! The revival of high-quality malts long deceased is a labor of love. While no one really knows whether their creations are actually representative of the original products, the results of their efforts are still wonderful libations that evoke the past beautifully.


2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Back in September we assembled a brave group to taste through a small, but classic assortment of wines from the storied region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the highly-touted 2016 vintage. We tasted two whites and eleven reds and not one disappointed. In a scene reminiscent of tasting the 1998 vintage, it seemed like each bottle delivered even greater enjoyment as the afternoon carried on.

Before we look at the wines, let me provide some background to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.


Chateauneuf-du-Pape is by far the most famous region within the larger region referred to as the southern Rhone valley in France. Its name translates to “Pope’s new castle,” which is derived from the period in Papal history when the Pope’s summer residence was located in this region of France, under Pope Clement V in 1309. While he made his home here, Pope Clement V did not cultivate the vine. It was under Pope John XXII when serious viticulture began to take place.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is quite distinctive for a variety of reasons.

  • The wine has the highest minimum strength of any French wine (12.5%).
  • The wine has thirteen (13) allowed grapes in its cepage (grape blend).
    • Chateau de Beaucastel is one of the few wineries in the region that actually still use all thirteen in their wine.
  • As a region, Chateauneuf-du-Pape has some of the most varied soil, ranging from large, rounded, heat-absorbing stones (galets) to more traditional clay topsoil.
  • In 1923, Chateauneuf-du-Pape was the first region to initiate the Appellation Origine d’Controllee system that would become the standard for French wine law.
  • Chateauneuf-du-Pape also doesn’t allow chaptalization (the addition of sugar to grape must to increase total alcohol in the finished wine), which is unlike many other regions in France.

The region is located at about the midpoint of the overall Rhone Valley, just south of the city of Orange.CDP-Map



Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Grapes


  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Counoise
  • Picpoul Noir
  • Mourvedre
  • Cinsault
  • Vaccarese
  • Terrent Noir


  • Grenache Blanc
  • Bourboulenc
  • Picardin
  • Clairette
  • Roussanne

The traditional cepage, or blend, allows for all thirteen of the aforementioned varieties to be used in making the wine. Traditionally, the high alcohol of Grenache often gives many Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines their prodigious 14% alcohol. Mourvedre and Syrah add structure, while Cinsault and Counoise add flesh and body to the wines. The white grapes were often used to further soften what can sometimes be extremely tannic wines.

About 6% of the wines made in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are made entirely from white grapes, wines that are very rare indeed.

2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wines

The following are the wines in the flight.

The whites:


  • 2016 Domaine de Vieux-Lazaret Blanc: Bright lemon and citrus nose with hints of peach and wet stone. Grapefruit on the palate – refreshing with little oak.


  • 2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Le Crau Blanc: Grassy with wet stone and grapefruit on the nose. Medium weight on the palate with hay, citrus, chalk and light vanilla notes.

The reds:


  • 2016 Bosquet des Papes: Dried currants, saddle leather, vanilla and black pepper in the nose. Tannic, structured with a deep, dense core of black fruit. Should age well.


  • 2016 Chateau-Fortia: Earthy nose with hints of molasses and dried plums. Well rounded palate with red currants and tobacco leaf.


  • 2016 Clos des Brusquieres: Earthy with dried herbs and light campfire smoke. Blackberry fruit on the palate, closed.


  • 2016 Clos du Mont Olivet La Cuvee du Papet: Fruit forward nose with black cherry and blackberry hints, some smoke. Tannic, structured, but lacking a strong fruit core. Higher than expected acid.


  • 2016 Domaine de 3 Cellier Alchimie: Cedar and bramble in the nose with light vanilla and caramel. Dried cherry and saddle leather on the palate. Complex finish.


  • 2016 Font de Michele: Cedar, cigar humidor and dried stone fruits in the nose. Gorgeous and seductive. Blackberry, black cherry and black pepper with hints of vanilla on the palate. Spectacular.


  • 2016 Le Vieux Donjon: Soft nose with hints of red berry and wet stone. Tannic and structured with a tight core of black fruit. Black pepper on the finish. Lovely.


  • 2016 Mas de Boislauzon: Classic. Jammy nose with dried herb, wet stone and black pepper. Well-balanced palate with more jammy fruit and silky tannins. Should age magnificently.


  • 2016 Domaine Olivier Hilaire: Phenomenal. Another classic. Fruit forward nose with black cherry and black pepper notes. Well-balanced with a solid core of almost Port-like fruit. Seemingly endless on the palate. Stunning.


  • 2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Le Crau Rouge: Tight nose – Port-like with stewed fruit hints. Tannic with a good core of fruit. Cherry and dried herb on the palate.


  •  2016 Chateau de Beaucastel: Tight nose with faint hints of blackberry and wet stone. Fruit forward palate – very young – firm tannin with a tight finish. Needs lots of time.


  • The flight – Overall – impressive and each bears examination in the coming years.

A superb tasting, which will be repeated in another five years to see how the wines are evolving. One of the best arguments for purchasing multiple bottles is the ability to study the wines over their life…



Domaine du Fleuve

Wine is forever evolving. For the last thirty-six years I have watched and tasted how wine has changed, specifically, how it has improved in areas where only a few years ago, the product was marginal. One such area is Quebec. Nine years ago we visited this region and the wines were decent, but almost entirely limited to hybrid grapes, like Frontenac and Vidal, or fruits, like apples and pears.

Fast forward to today. We spent the afternoon tasting at a wonderful little winery in Varenne called Domaine du Fleuve. Our host, proprietor and wine maker Louis Thomas is gracious, knowledgeable and clearly passionate, producing spectacular wine from both vinifera and hybrid varietals.

We started with a selection of whites featuring estate grown Chardonnay


Pinot Gris

and Vidal.

The four whites were all fresh, well-balanced and showed vibrant noses with delicate palates. Quite nice.

A rose was next featuring a blend of 60% Frontenac Gris, 20% Ste-Croix and 20% Vidal. The wine had a beautiful strawberry, floral nose with a well-balanced, fruit-forward palate. Slightly chilled the wine was perfect on this warm Summer afternoon.

We finished this flight with a final white wine, an off-dry estate-grown Vandal Cliche, which is a grape native to Quebec. The wine has a perfumed nose with a delicate, slightly sweet palate featuring apples and honey.

The next flight featured two reds, both made from hybrid grapes. Unfortunately, the other reds made at the winery, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Franc were sold out, clearly a testament to the quality and appeal of the wines.

The first red is a blend of Lucy Kulhmann, a cousin of Marechal Foch, Frontenac Noir and Marquette. The use of Lucy Kulhmann, which is softer and much more delicate on the palate than Marechal Foch makes for a much more seductive wine, showing lovely cherry and lilac notes in the nose with a quaffable, easy-drinking character on the palate.

The second red we tasted is a blend of Frontenac Noir, Sabrevois and Ste-Croix. The wine showed a much more vibrant nose with stronger cherry and red currant notes, with more structure and firmer tannins on the palate. The second red is not yet for sale, but should be available very soon.

Both reds were very well-balanced, something ten years ago would have been unusual for hybrid wines.

We finished with a very interesting dessert wine, made in the style of Bordeaux’s Pineau du Charente, consisting of the unfermented grape must of the Vandal Cliche grape mixed with Brandy. The result is a wonderful mix of apples and honey, lightly sweet and not a bit cloying. Simply delicious!

The vineyards surround the winery and create a picturesque scene reminiscent of wineries we’ve visited around the world.

The soil, as can be seen in the pictures is varying degrees of clay topsoil over schist.

Our visit to Domaine du Fleuve was truly wonderful. The wines were excellent and Louis was such a gracious host. In the nine years since we visited, the quality and appeal of Quebecois wines has improved, evolving into legitimate wines we should all have in our cellars, or at least on our table!


The Opera

They say that Queen Elizabeth keeps a flask of London Dry Gin and Dubonnet in her coach so that she can have her favorite cocktail, the Dubonnet Cocktail on demand. Refreshing and well-balanced, I can clearly see why the longest-reining British monarch keeps this fine libation within easy reach.

So how does one improve on a classic? Find a way to add a complimentary layer of complexity with Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. Slightly floral with subtle nutty overtones, Maraschino Liqueur lurks in the background teasing and exciting one’s palate.

Presumably, the authors of the handy drinks book called 365 Days of Cocktails, christened this drink to celebrate the opening night of Madam Butterfly in 1904. I guess that is as good a reason as any to roll this lovely flower of a drink.

So, I present The Opera…

2 oz. London Dry Gin

2 oz. Dubonnet

1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur

3 dashes Orange Bitters

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe


2017 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley Chile

Almost twenty-nine years ago I tasted my first Los Vascos Cabernet. It was one of the first Chilean wines I had ever experienced, and frankly I was seriously impressed. It doesn’t hurt that the winery is owned by Lafite Rotchild, the famous first growth from Pauillac in Bordeaux, masters of fine wine.

Hugh Johnson has written that Chile may be the most perfect place on Earth to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. With ideal climate and vineyards that never experienced the scourge of phylloxera, Chile has incredible potential, which is why Lafite has chosen to invest so heavily in Los Vascos.

Back in the late 80’s, I put the 1988 Los Vascos in many flights, blind, against fairly credible Bordeaux. Time and again, the Los Vascos was picked as everyone’s favorite. Back then, the wine sold for just under $5.00/bottle. Pretty incredible…

Today I picked up the 2017 vintage and the wine is wonderful. Fruity with nice complexity and elegant structure. Well-balanced with a nice, long finish. Not built for long term aging, the wine does have enough structure to improve for the next 7-10 years.

Here’s the best part… I paid a discounted $7.50/bottle… Los Vascos is offering a $36 mail-in rebate for a case purchase. You do the math… that translates to $4.50/bottle… that is cheaper than what I paid for the 1988 vintage almost 29 years ago… that is incredible…

I recommend you run to buy this wine. The rebate is for purchases made before 12/31/2018, with claims filed by 1/31/2019.


Corpse Reviver #1

There are supposed to have been four variations of this “hair-of-the-dog” hangover cure. The #2 is perhaps the most popular and the only one that survived prohibition in tact. I’m not even sure that reliable recipes exist for #3 and #4, despite finding a few on the Internet. A conventional search of my drinks library turned up nothing verifiable.

I was able to find a recipe on Liquor.com that claims to be the “verified” recipe for the Corpse Reviver #1, so we gave it a roll. The ingredients are in line with a cocktail of this variety, but I feel it is lacking a souring/refreshing component like lemon juice. Next version we will play with that idea and see how we fair…

Until then, you will have to suffer along with the “verified” recipe from Liquor.com…

Corpse Reviver #1

1oz. Cognac

1oz. Calvados

1/2oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antico)

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe.


2017 Lupi Reali “Corte Fiore” Appassimento Vino Rosso

Appassimento is a traditional Italian wine-making method that involves drying the grapes on straw mats prior to fermentation. The drying process concentrates the sugar and intensifies the complexity of the flavors in the grapes. The resulting wine is powerful, rich and redolent of spice, raisins and cooked fruit.

This method is used in the famous wines of Valpolicella Della Amarone, producing ageless wines of infinite complexity and smoothness.

In lesser regions, the process creates potent, fruit-bombs that are quaffable and delicious.

The 2017 Lupi Reali is a Montepulciano-based red wine from Abruzzo. The use of the appassimento process creates a wonderfully pleasing wine that is both sippable and food-friendly. Fruit-forward with supple, well-integrated tannin, the wine is drinking wonderfully now and should add complexity as it gains time in the bottle.


Octomore 08.1

Obsessed… some have called me this and they would not be wrong… I think of myself as a purist… that person who seeks out real, authentic product that is a testament to the Craft.

Octomore, produced by Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay, is for purists… or those obsessed.

I am relatively new to the Octomore fan club, having only just joined with the 6.3 bottling. Since my first taste, I have wended my way through the 7.1 and 8.3 bottles, finding that with each intense treatment, I am left wanting more. Recently, I have been scouring the market in search of the 8.1, a veritable unicorn for Octomore in the US.

Much to my pleasure, my friends at the Whisky Exchange had the 8.1 in stock and but one ocean away… so, throwing care to the wind, the order was placed and the wait began. Fortunately, I have had remarkable luck with the WE, and the 8.1 arrived, lovingly packed and ready to sip.

The Octomore are cask strength monsters that pay homage to the gods of Islay. If you thought Laphroaig and Lagavulin were impactful as Islay malts, then you need to taste the Octomore. Without a doubt, Octomore redefines Islay and sets the bar very high for Peat and Smoke.

Comparatively, the 8.1 is “lighter” than the 8.3 and is more like the 6.3 in balance and flavor. Massive peat and smoke dominate the palate with a hint of honey, vanilla and violets on the finish. A trifle hot, with a few drops of mineral water, the whisky explodes and at the same time, tames itself nicely.

Contemplative is the word I would use to best describe the experience of sipping an Octomore… and if you close your eyes, you are transported to Islay, where the mix of peat, smoke and sea salt tempt your nostrils and conjure an ancient time when whisky was first born…


Nelson’s Blood

In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte anxiously planned the invasion of England. Having neutralized the continent of Europe, Napoleon looked to solidify his position of power by invading France’s long term enemy. What stood between Napoleon and victory was the English Fleet, led by Admiral Horatio Nelson. In what would become one of history’s greatest sea battles, Lord Nelson stemmed the tide of Napoleon’s quest, by defeating the combined French and Spanish Navies off the west coast of Trafalgar. Nelson would receive a mortal wound during the battle. His body was rumored to be transported back to England in a cask of Rum, which led to the spirit’s nickname, Nelson’s Blood.

In celebration of a true naval hero, I present Nelson’s Blood…

2 oz. Pusser’s Naval Rum

2 oz. Ruby Port

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a cocktail glass.