I have so much backed up material and so many unpublished tasting notes, that I didn’t take down a single word last night at St. Anselm, though we opened and enjoyed: Foris Pinot Noir 2009, Antiqv2s (Antiqus) Syrah Garys’ Vineyard 2004, and Livingston Moffet Cabernet Rockpile Vineyard 1994; all interesting and noteworthy each in their own right.
Re: St. Anselm, I’m not sure there is a better compliment one can give a chef or his team, but I didn’t notice until after we ate that iron-willed head chef and grill-master Yvon was not in the building. Though the pacing seemed a little off (not much of a crime on a sold out Friday night), the various steaks and chops arrived in the glorious state to which St. Anselm patrons have grown accustomed.
Well, I kinda skipped out on that whole new years thing, so my March resolution is to get more material onto/into this blog, starting right now, from piles of backed up notes.
A note on bottle variation. At a certain level of quality, bottle variation can be a welcome surprise. Case in point, I’ve opened a number of bottles of Andrew Will Klipsun Merlot ’99 in recent months and the last two, had they been poured blind and side by side, I don’t think I would have pinned them as from the same continent or time, let alone the same bottling. The one I opened last night was a surprisingly Bordeaux-like beast showing mainly dark earthy and relatively fruitless characteristics- all damp leaves, pine tar, and forest floor. As a whole this ’99 Klipsun Merlot is drinking more like what I would expect from this label’s Sorella, which is Chris Camarda’s deliberately Bordeaux-style blend. It’s certainly possible that these last two bottles’ contents were identical and that this last couple of weeks aging was a definable turning point, but it’s neither a great chance (given the aging arc of Merlot) nor a verifiable one.
Those deep red and black fruits that were so lush and forward in previous examples of this wine are present here, but more in the capacity of great background harmonies, like Barbara & Joy (aka The Choir) on the Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Speaking of the Black Crowes, I was just listening to Amorica and not many records have a better closing track: a beautifully forlorn road ballad that would be far less without the color fills and purposefully meandering solos of keyboardist Eddie Harsch (Hawrysch). God bless old weird Ed, his rock & roll name, and his important work.
I have closely followed the rise of the flash sale site in and out of the wine world. While flash sale sites- even good ones- are not places to blindly purchase what comes up when you’re thirsty, if you know what you’re interested in, and don’t mind the occasional tidal wave of e-mail offers, one can make a fairly good score.
Lot 18 has quickly become the best funded and fasted growing of the flash sale wine sites (they have also expanded into food, products, and experiences), but more importantly, they more than occasionally end up with the best available price in the country on reasonably rare wine of excellent pedigree. Which is why Lot 18 is one of the sale sites I most use and most recommend.
Case in point, I just purchased some Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard from 2007, an excellent vintage. With the free shipping for 4 bottles, it ended up being just over $30 per bottle, to my door. For those of you who are local New Yorkers, compare that fare to Morrell’s price of nearly $40 (before tax and shipping!) or Zachy’s next level tariff at over $50 for the exact same bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2007!
For those of you who have not yet joined Lot 18, here’s a link that will earn you $10 credit toward your first order: https://www.lot18.com/i/WineList
For those of you keeping Sideways score, in the film, when Miles saddles up to the bar at the Hitching Post, he is offered and consumes their recently bottled single vineyard Bien Nacido pinot noir. A number of winemakers are lucky enough to have access to this southern CA fruit, and I have tasted many a worthy expression of Bien Nacido syrah as well as pinot.
Speaking of Sideways, I have long planned to address the palate swooning glory of a great merlot, which I assure you, I will get to some time before they release the sequel. But for now, if you’d like to get a head start on that discussion, stop by Apiary in Manhattan and order a bottle of ’97 Behrens & Hitchcock Napa Merlot with your strip steak. A nice merlot ages like (and makes up a sizeable percentage of) a good Bordeaux. But more on that another time. I’m going to have a little glass of this Sean Thackrey Lyra Viognier ’10 and call it a night.
The Dark Art of Blending (Part 1): Kay Bros. Amery Hillside Shiraz 2002, St. Supery Elu 2002, and Psychograss!
Over some quality company and unspectacular takeout, the topic of Chateau Palmer arose via thoughts on American Cabernet Sauvignon, then Bordeaux style blends. I mentioned that I own a case of Chateau Palmer’s exceeding rare Historical XIX Century Wine from 2004, the first vintage in which they bottled the controversial blend containing 25% Syrah from an unnamed source in Northern Rhone (Hermitage?). The evening began with a light OR pinot (Cloudline ’08) then on to Kay Brothers Shiraz Amery Hillside 2002, followed by St. Supery Elu Red 2002.
I’m listening to the kinetic string alchemy of Psychograss Live in Vermont, fittingly also a 2002 vintage, recorded May 4, 2002. With traditional Bluegrass instrumentation, Psychograss is a super group, each of whose members is an undeniable master of the venerable acoustic genre: Darol Anger (fiddle), Mike Marshall (mandolin), Todd Phillips (bass), David Grier (guitar), Tony Trischka (banjo). Individually, their credits are too numerous to list, together their sound is simultaneously expansive and exploratory yet tight and universally connected. Darol Anger (who once explained the inception of bluegrass as a supersaturated solution) told me that he sees Psychograss not as a band made up of Bluegrass musicians, but as a non-verbal high speed conversation about Bluegrass [amongst masters], employing that classic Bill Monroe instrumentation.
A small remaining glass of the Kay Bros. Shiraz found itself with about a 1/3rd blend of St. Supery Elu swirling about it. As it was happening, my host’s face was making similar perplexed contortions to those yours might be making right now. His face quickly grew blissful as his palate absorbed the unholy potion. So many beautiful wines are blends of different varietals, usually fermented separately, so why is blending wines that were bottled separately (9,000 mile apart) so shocking? On it’s own the ‘02 St Supery Elu (from half bottle) is still settling into itself, and while the red and black fruit forward 85% Cab blend is quite attractive, the tannin still requires some bottle aging to fully integrate. Conversely, the ’02 Kay Brothers Shiraz Amery Hillside is round and supple, not a hard edge to be found, but much of the wine’s original weight has been integrated away. It’s still fleshy and hasn’t gone soft, but it’s current profile gives a glimpse of the back edge of the plateau, that begins that inevitable decline. The blend of 2/3 Kay Bros. Shiraz and 1/3 St. Supery, as my host’s elated grin attests, is quite marvelous, bordering on revelation. That slightly under ripe Bordeaux-style blend bolsters the weight and spice of the seamless beauty of the the shiraz, resulting in a drinking experience flirting with the sublime.
I’m sipping a small glass of De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 from New South Wales, Australia. It came from a small stash I’ve been eyeballing of stickies from around the world including Foris Port (OR), and both light and dark sweeties from Joseph Phelps (CA) and d’Arenberg (AU). There are almost infinite, though often tiny production, dessert wines made in the style of classics of specific regional origin, usually available at a relatively lower price point. Bortoli’s Noble One Semillon is similar to a Sauternes, the classic French white dessert wine of Bordeaux, which can be many times more expensive.
I’m listening to Jesse Jarnow’s Frow Show as archived at wfmu.org. Jarnow is the music nerd’s music nerd. I spent many years researching music professionally and I can go through a whole Frow Show without hearing a single piece of music that I own in any format. The opener from his July 4th Frow Show entitled “unscramble: fereodm”, was the Karma Moffett track, “Ocean Bowls”, which is four minutes of waves gently breaking, barely impeded by slight tones laid over it. You’re as likely to hear fireworks as harp or theremin, but playlists also contain three minute songs in English, by hipp(i)er household names. This particular Independence Day show ended aptly with a historic recording of Woody Guthrie doing “This Land Is Your Land”.
The De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 shows lush fruit, apricot, pair and caramelized granny smith apple. It’s more viscous in the mouth than it is in the glass. There are honeysuckle and honeycomb, and it’s as sweet as a wine can be, without going sickly. Visually and texturally it’s more similar to a 5 puttonyos Tokaji than to a Sauternes. As the wine warms in the glass, it becomes even more honeyed, velvety, and viscous, perhaps this is closer to a 6 puttonyos tokaji? But still there’s a crisp acidity, good length, and the tang of orange zest. One could easily pair De Bartoli Noble One 2001 with a lithe tarte tatin, a floating island (oeufs à la neige or ile flotant, if you want to be all French about it), or the right kind of cheese plate, but this wine is serious enough to stand alone as it’s own course and experience.
There are so many intricacies to wine which can make just walking into a proper wine shop a daunting task for the uninitiated. But one doesn’t have to know all that much to be a good wine buyer. There is method to the madness and ways to make small pieces of information work for you. Like this: When in doubt, go Rioja. The Spanish region of Rioja makes some of the nicest wine in the world, per dollar spent (particularly red Tempranillo), and most wine shops will carry at least a couple of them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re in a wine shop that can’t sell you a decent Rioja for $15 or less, you should find another shop. Also, OR pinot noir is pretty amazing stuff these days and in 2008, they had one of their best vintages ever, so you can’t go too wrong with most any bottle from that region and year, and again, most decent shops will carry at least a couple, though the best ones can be costly. There are numerous recent examples of these little generalizations that can help: ’05 Bordeaux, ’09 Sonoma Chard, ’07 North Coast everything.
On a critical level, it’s relatively silly to generalize like that. Every single bottle of wine comes down to the grapes grown in a particular place and time and the choices made by the winemaker who begins the winemaking process with those grapes. But generalizing is like playing the percentages and certainly is no sillier than rating wine on 100 pt scale, implying that linear perfection can be achieved. One of the reasons I drink wine and- to this day- one of my favorite wines in the world is 1986 Dunn Vineyards Napa Cabernet. Some guy named Bob tells me it’s 92 points good. This isn’t far from walking into the Louvre, finding yourself before the Winged Victory of Samothrace, taking in its mass, its setting and the nuances of its construction (and destruction) and proclaiming, “I give it a 93.” Both of these things are artistic expressions in their given mediums and they are each effective on their own terms, to an open recipient. Empirically they are high quality examples of what they are. But assigning them numerical values and insinuating that they have a linear place in a measurable hierarchy from shit-on-Hellfire to absolute perfection is comical. But people like numbers, marketing is important, and anything that can be quickly described as an “A” should sell briskly.