Believing that a Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya Vineyard ’06 would stand up to a cheese plate, a .375L bottle was opened, decanted, and allowed to breathe. Wright bottles 10 distinctly different single vineyard Pinot Noirs and, as of the ’09 vintage, one regional blend under his eponymous label. Even after a short breath the ’06 Savoya seems much more mature and integrated than a recent ’05 of the same make and model, though splits do tend to age faster. The nose is still largely muted and not the sonorous experience that was the ’97 Carter, but the initial waft is a somewhat hollow richness that promises great things.
That great Beatles recording from 1966 got me thinking about the lost preciousness of The Bootleg. There was a time when one could only acquire a rare live recording from a shop like Revolver Records (R.I.P.) on W. 8th St. or from another music nerd who, for the cost of a Maxell XLII blank tape (later CD) and shipping, would make and post you a physical copy, and it wasn’t that long ago. Or at least it wasn’t that long ago before we began staring directly down the barrel of the Singularity. The speed and quantity of information afforded to anyone with a decent wireless signal at this point is astonishing and it has rendered the term “rare recording” comically obsolete. Even if there’s only one, it’s out there.
But back to Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya Vineyard 2006. It shows damp earth, without a hint of swampiness, and black raspberry. This wine needs another couple of years in the bottle to properly develop (and will live for another decade), but the acidity is mouth-watering and the back end spice smacks pleasurably of pink peppercorn. After a couple of hours in the decanter soft vanillin and subtle trace minerals become apparent. The ’06 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya is quite beautiful and largely integrated, though so many flavors and aromatics are yet to emerge.
Over a selection of tasty cheeses, meats, olives, and accoutrement from the Bedford Cheese shop, including an irresistible bliss in the form of a triple crème called Pierre Robert (thanks Chef Jacqueline!), a series of well aged wines were tasted. During this luxurious palate exercise the mp3 library played of a many generations old imac that still lives, by some act of G(Steve Jobs)D, functioning solely as a jukebox of randomness and a DVD player. Notes on the wine and music consumed begin now:
Ken Wright Pinot Noir Carter Vineyard 1997 is deep, but softening garnet. Just as a touch of purple seems to appear in the center, the nose emerges and the olfactory overtakes the thinking mechanism. Is this a high pedigree Gevrey Chambertin? The most successful expressions of Oregon grapes, such as this one, taste like their own corner of that land in a way that the finest Frenchman with the finest palate for Burgundy will never understand.
And it never ceases to amaze me what one can acquire in a few Google searches and a few minutes of time, as the Beatles live at Budokan ‘66, rises from the speakers, pre-pubecent screams first. It’s unbelievable to be able to hear the greatest band of all time at such a formative formative stage, audio problems, vocal slips, and all. The shrieking really is intense though, almost deafening at times and indesciminant. My mom was a huge Beatles fan as a kid and saw the them a couple of times. She loved the music, but didn’t understand the screaming, and was disappointed at how little she could hear of the music over the spastic shrill din. Perhaps this is why I’ve always taken such joy when Mike Doughty or Jeff Tweedy berates an audience that pays the ticket price to aggressively not listen. There really should be a constitutional amendment banning the yelling of ‘Freebird’ in all music venues across this great land.
The ’97 Ken Wright pinot Noir Carter Vineyard continues to waft singular moments of the Pacific Northwest into the room. The nose is huge and the palate deep: wet earth, damp embers, and a little sea air, on a thick humid morning. In the glass, there’s smoke, soft earth, and tobacco. It’s subtly floral (violets?), fresh herbs, terragon, fennel fronds, and there’s something ¾ of the way down the road to eucalyptus. The wine has a very long finish, for an American Pinot Noir if its age, and the empty glass continues to echo that glorious nose. I have never met a Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and this one ranks high up in greater pantheon of American wine.
DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997 is yet another example of a reasonably priced old vine CA zinfandel that proves what an underrated varietal it is for aging. While it’s almost cheating to bring up Ridge- well-known makers of some of the finest aging zin that’s ever been bottled- a ’94 Ridge Geyserville was once the crowd favorite at a tasting I held of CA heavyweights and I have been an advocate ever since. This DeLoach OFS ’97 (a growing season of high yields and excellent quality) was deliberately made in a more traditional style that the winery had retreated from in the mid-’80s in attempts to produce a younger drinking crowd-pleasinger bottle. The timing couldn’t have been better meteorologically and what remains today is braving the years with fortitude.
While getting to know this bottle of DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997, I’m listening to an entire itunes library on shuffle, the one on a decade-old imac, which once ran the office of my defunct publishing company, but now only functions as a jukebox and DVD player. I’ll skip the gratuitous Dylan reference today even though the alternate (original) version of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is just fading out. On however to Andrew Bird, “Tables and Chairs” off of his breakthrough album, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s a heavy-minded, light-hearted, off-kilter glimpse of a post-apocalyptic playground: think Fight Club meets SpongeBob, aesthetically. Individually, the lyrics and spritely flowing orchestration of the melody are more than minor paradoxes. Together they make up a textural menagerie that’s like the structure of a Beach Boys tune (sad lyrics over happy music) with a head full of DMT. The beauty of Andrew Bird’s best work- which is most of it- is that one can get lost in the music alone, which is crushing when one ponders the depths of his stories. This is why Andrew Bird has been my platonic man-crush ever since Beck‘s records started to suck; a Sea Change indeed.
For an inexpensive wine, this ’97 DeLoach Zinfandel OFS, with proper aging and now a decent amount of air in it, is still as weighty as one might imagine, but it’s got a supple roundness to it that is more than what could have been hoped for, and depth to spare. There’s been some softening, visually, and of the raspberry and cherry, which make up the majority of this wines fruit profile, but it is not yet thin in the middle. Not relenting are the pronounced cedar, pine tar, dry forest floor, hearty herbs- rosemary, and a touch of menthol, hanging down around the 14.5% alcohol, which will always be present. For a non-luxury (industry code for ‘over-priced’) cuvee, this wine over delivers, but that’s part of the magic of old vine CA fruit, particularly from a banner vintage.
Jaffurs Syrah, particularly the biggest of the single vineyard releases, has been getting well deserved high ratings of late from some guy named Bob, but Craig Jaffurs has been making and bottling nice Rhone varietals since his first professional releases after the ’94 harvest. I came across a parcel of 6 bottles, not long ago, of Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah 1997, believing there to be a chance that the wine inside had not successfully made it with us, here to the future. They came with good provenance and neck levels, but one never knows how a regional blend meant to be consumed in its youth will weather the years. Of the 6 bottles, all were drinkable, but at least two were outstanding and well worth the gamble.
While certainly past its prime, it’s not by much and the wine is aging gracefully, maintaining a wide flavor profile. It still has its red fruit sweetness, but is clearly into its decline, resulting in a wistful kind of harmony, not unlike a Jayhawks tune. That band has seen many incarnations, but it’s always been a vehicle (particularly since the ’97 departure or Mark Olson) for the songs of Gary Louris, the second greatest songwriter of all time, from Minnesota, next to one Robert Allen Zimmerman. I was just listening to “The Man Who Loved Life” off of the Jayhawks classic album Sound of Lies, also a 1997 vintage. The lyrical imagery is so thick that it’s several stories in one, all punctuated by a foreboding tone that ebbs and flows, and ends, in a cacophony of vocal harmonies and heavy piano chords. It’s as layered and as moving as a profoundly expressed syrah.
Speaking of which, back to Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County 1997. It’s deep ruby, though lightening and growing more translucent. It has surprising weight on the palate for its age and amongst the red fruits, palate smacking tart cherry prevails. With a little more breathing time a portrait of the bottle as a young wine emerges: asphalt, savory herbs, white pepper, anise. What’s left of its tannin is powdery and soft and there’s a slight acidic bite at the beginning of its long finish, letting the palate know that it still has life, but its structure is just beginning to break down.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I first became intrigued with Venge wines because of the cool name and the attractive labels. It turns out they’re more benevolent than the family name may imply and more importantly, they make really nice (red) wine. Venge’s cultish top cabernet has seen significant increase in popularity as well as in release price, while their other bottles, such as their tasty merlot and the remarkable Scout’s Honor Zin-based blend and Penny Lane Sangiovese, have remained modestly priced, per quality. While the labels have been modernized, this 1999 Venge Sangiovese Penny Lane Vineyard wears the older label, pictured here, and has aged quite nicely.
This single vineyard Oakville Sangiovese is not shy, containing over 14% alcohol, and bearing a deep, dark ruby hue, right up to the rim. With notes of raspberry liqueur, coffee, and juicy red cherry, it’s a fistful of raw sweetness away from qualifying as a dessert wine. Don’t believe me? Open one with a rich cheese plate and thank me later. At over a decade in the bottle, the only age it currently shows is with it’s mouthfeel, and a pleasurable front palate dryness. Venge Sangiovese Penny Lane Vineyard 1999 is a full bodied encompassing mouthful, with enough spice to hold up to the middle eastern fare with which it was paired on this occasion.
While we’re on the subject of Garys’ Vineyard, I recently tasted another 2001 produced under the now defunct Lorca label, which was an early victim of the simultaneous market saturation in CA and economic downturn. Still they sourced grapes from some of the vey best and made a nice pinot, while they lasted. Previous bottles from the same parcel came off swampy and as somewhat oxidized, but this last of its kind in my collection showed no such affectations.
The Lorca Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard 2001 shows deep garnet in the glass, tapering to a thin yellowish, watery edge. The nose is somewhat muted, but more concealed by alcohol. 45 minutes in, the alcohol blows off to reveal a faint minerality, predominantly red fruit, cherry, soft earth. The palate is more lush with the same red fruit around which many of the secondary flavors seem to be fading, leaving a light to medium bodied wine, wholly pleasant, but shorter of finish than expected. There is a lingering wisp of spice on the aftertaste. The final glass is raised to the memory of the label.
For those that have read here before, you know that I am a great proponent of the fabulous fruit from Garys’ Vineyard and of *most* of the vintners who are smart/lucky enough to work with the Garys’ remarkable grapes. Upon last tasting, over a year ago (two+?), Vision Cellars‘ 2001 Garys’ Pinot was still, shockingly, a little stiff with a slightly astringent acidity, and I have been hoarding my tiny remaining stash, awaiting its summit on that ideal age plateau, ever since. It seems we’re there.
In the glass, this wine is light, but bright translucent ruby, browning slightly at the edges. The nose is initially somewhat muted, but soft and sweet, and slightly floral, like wildflowers, long since hung upside down and now bone-dry. The palate is soft, but full and round, almost buttery, led by copious red fruit, slightly overripe raspberry and pervasive bright red cherry off of which the supporting flavors- and hint of spice- drape. There are simply no hard edges left anywhere in this medium bodied 2001 Vision Garys’ Pinot. The long(ish) tapering finish begins with just a touch of damp, earthy funk, and ends with a wholly pleasing nutty dryness. Vision Cellars continues to do impressive things with both single vineyard and regional blends of CA pinot noir. I’m certainly not the first wine nerd to sing their praises, but take my word for it, Vision is worth a taste, especially if you can locate some older bottles.