I’m insanely behind on my posting; more so than I’ve been since I began doing such things. But helping a guy open a restaurant will do that, and I’m quite proud of what we put together, in a very short period of time. While I still have piles of CA content to get to, here are some tasting notes that should have been posted quite some time ago…
[It was] another Monday night at the bar at Apiary and the place is buzzing; not bad for August [yeah, that’s how far behind on tasting notes I am!]. By request, I’ve brought nothing but whites: one long shot, a probable, and a couple of sure things. First, the long shot: Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991. I bought this wine for basically nothing at all, from an unverified source, assuming- like the seller- that this wine was likely well beyond its pleasurable drinking window. That being said, 1991 has proven to be one of the longest lived vintages ever for most OR wines that have been around that long, and Van Duzer bottles some high art, on their best days. * And I know I’ve said it 1,000 times before, but it bears repeating that Chef Scott Bryan of Apiary (formerly of Veritas) puts out- every night- some of the best, wine friendliest, food that has ever existed on this vile rock they call Manhattan.
The foil off, and the cork still has some pressure behind it, the CO2 persists, and the initial pour shows a respectable head for a 21 year old American bubbly. It’s pale gold, or brilliant straw, bubblier than expected, and it’s rather captivating immediately. The nose is deeply yeasty, but subtly, not pungent. The palate shows bright integrated Meyer lemon zest over a broadly bready body, with a slightly creamy texture in the mid-palate, and faint mingling notes of raw honey and honeysuckle…. Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991 is unquestionably one of the most pleasant palate surprises of the year, to date. At the price that was offered, I should have grabbed the 2 cases that were available…
While unanimously declared a tough act to follow, the hesitating beauty to my right, Roy (Apiary’s Wine Guru), and I moved on to the Vincent Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret 1999. I can’t overstate how universally fantastic and underrated world wine is from 1999. It’s a solid- if not classic- vintage in many major wine regions from the Rogue Valley to Ribera del Duero, and represents many of the last “bargains” from overpriced earth, like that of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
In the glass the the Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret ’99 is as much caramel as gold, though the pictured softness is condensation on the glass, not the telltale cloud of oxidation. The nose is ripe with a damp earthy funk over a building tide of increasingly prevalent salt air. The palate is soft and integrated, with a citrus spike, punctuated by a flutter of honeybell rind, dancing about a tight mineral core. I would love to blind taste this one on a roomful of Burgundy snobs who scoff at such negociant wines.
It would be dishonest of me to give full tasting notes on this Guigal St Joseph Lieu Dit 2007 as I can’t locate my notes on the matter. But I do have a small list of bullets from Roy: “apple, papaya, lychee, white river stones, limestone, calcium- medium long finish, med+ weight.” The wine was quite beautiful and deserves a more considered review, but the above list represents the only primary resource I have from that evening.
One of the quietly classier flash sale wine sites around is Vitis.com. Vitis offers one wine at a time and organizes professional reviews, background and bottle information, and a pairing recipe, in a visually appealing way. Selections can be hit or miss, and as I click over right now, I see yet another Oriel selection. Oriel has been placed widely and repeatedly throughout the flash sale market. I’ve always respected Oriel’s business model, but I’ve never been terribly impressed with their wine per price, and they make much more sense to me at flash sale prices.
But if you don’t like the deal, just wait for the next e-mail. And when Vitis is on, you can claim some reasonably rare stuff, properly aged, at rock bottom prices, such as the ’01 Alenza Ribera del Duero and the ’95 Felsina Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva, I’ve picked up in recent months, well below market rate.
Vitis has also had a few of my favored tasty cheapys recently (at lowest national prices): Byron Chardonnay, Marques de Carceres Reserva, and Marti Fabra Masia Carreras, each of which represent excellent with-food drinking per dollar.
So, I’m listening to Jack White’s new record, Blunderbuss. Jack White is so fucking cool that it kind of pisses me off, though I have begrudging respect for just about everything he does. And as far as people who get to do whatever/wherever/whenever they want, in that Kid Rock on a bender kind of way, he seems to deserve it. And unlike Kid Schlock, Jack White can really play (and write) and he has at least as deep a respect for all that which came before, as all that which lies ahead. He’s constantly working on music in a creative and deliberate way, such that even when I’m not that interested in the resulting recording, his prolific drive is inspiring.
While I am big fan of the first 3 White Stripes records, most especially De Stijl (unquestionably one of the finest rock records of our time), I haven’t been enthralled with much of White’s recorded work since. I was going to mention what I thought of the new record, but White reminded me, at Stephen Colbert’s expense, that talking about music is bullshit:
“You want to talk about music? That’s ridiculous. It’s like dancing about architecture or singing about paintings.” – Jack White
Jack, I’m sure there are a dozen modern dance companies in this town that would be happy to interpret the work of Gaudi, they kind of do that already just by existing. And I’m fairly certain that Dan Bern (who is just one man) has written a dozen songs about paintings and sculptures and plays, though I suppose all of those songs are really about women. And yes, Jack, I take your fairly obvious point, well illustrated, about the singularity of art.
But I digress. I’m really just waiting around to find out that Jack White doesn’t actually exist and what we believe to be Jack White is really just an intricate Johnny Depp character. Maybe he’s really that good.
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.
It’s been hot lately, here in Brooklyn, and I’ve been drinking more white than usual; most recently a Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2007. Back when Sanford Chardonnay made a cameo appearance in Sideways, it was still owned by the fellow whose name is on the bottle (Richard Sanford). Now a Terlato Group property, they’re still producing bottles with nice wine under those old labels.
I’m listening to Megafaun’s Gather, Form & Fly, which opens with a gorgeous instrumental called “Bella Marie”. These guys are as comfortable with the acoustic weapons of Americana and thick harmonies as they are with coaxing a subtle background loop out of a laptop. The result is a record as deep of orchestration as in sheer range, and reassurance that nerds make all the cool stuff. “The Fade” is the closest I’ve heard to a CSN moment in any band that’s currently vital. “Worried Mind” is their campfire ballad that’s often performed without amplification. The album ends with “Tides” which is sleepy as a lullaby yet somehow urgent. If I were deliberately pairing these musical tangents, Gather, Form & Fly would have been perfect with that sweetly off-beat Dettori Bianco.
Now back to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress. Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2007 is pale gold in the glass with just the faintest tinge of green. The palate and nose are in relative harmony, wearing well Bartlett Pair and lemon zest. It finishes with a crisp acidity and is wholly food friendly. As the wine warms toward room temperature and breathes a little, the mouthfeel gets richer and leaves behind that tip of the tongue dryness, but mostly it’s just a pretty summer wine. Their single vineyard bottle sourced from La Rinconada is a more substantial offering, but at the next price point, and more importantly, a story for another time.
It’s the 4thand the hunter/gatherer in me feels the need to grill something. There are a couple of Albacore steaks in the fridge and the marinade now contains: olive oil, white wine, a fistful of fresh basil, mined garlic and ginger, crushed hot peppers, salt and pepper the fish, not the marinade… and I’m out of citrus, so a dash of Pellegrino Limonata, looks like just the thing. I’ll also confess that the white wine is Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2007 that was vacu vin’d in the fridge from yesterday. I am still not sponsored by Vacu Vin but, per dollar spent, I’m not sure anything else has added more to the enjoyment of my wine consumption. And I’m not above sponsorship cash and products.
I’m listening to Yo La Tengo’s Summer Sun. They’ve been so good for so long that it’s inspiring and intimidating in the same moment. Summer Sun achieves and maintains a complete aesthetic throughout, without ever reaching monotone, in a way that few records ever have. The climax, literarily speaking, is the 10 ½ minute gorgeously ethereal and meandering “Let’s Be Still,” which sounds like the finest of all summer afternoon naps, no sunburn, no mosquito bites. At sundown, one wakes to the falling action of Georgia’s breathy rendition of Alex Chilton’s nostalgically sweet “Take Care”. And that’s how you end a great record.
Very little of the Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2007 went into the tuna marinade. Some is currently in the glass in my hand in which it appears to be 18 karat gold with just a hint of gripping viscosity to the swirl. There’s an apparent yeastiness to the nose, under which peach, wildflowers, and strawberry are rapidly emerging. There’s a butteriness to the texture and a firm but fair acidity that carries through a long finish, where pineapple persists. It’s nice juice that has another handful of good years in it, properly stored.
A few weeks back I was invited to a private tasting in Boston, held by a group of three friends (thanks Noah, Steve & Tad!) who take turns hosting themed wine nights for each other and their guests. The premise of the tasting I attended was Cultish Cabs and the line up looked like this:
Since it’s not the clearest picture on this blog, here’s what we tasted (left to right): Whispering Dove Cabernet Oakville 2002, Whispering Dove Cabernet Stag’s Leap 2003, Agharta Syrah (Pax Mahle) 2004, Lail J Daniel Cuvee 1999, Dunn Cabernet Napa 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 2003, Scarecrow 2006, Chateau d’Yquem 1996, Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. What follows is more of an experiential tale than a set of proper tasting notes as I spent more time enjoying than note taking while amongst these friends.
This particular evening, it was decided that there would be an initial blind tasting, for fun, and after all guests made there guesses, decanters were properly labeled, so everyone would have accurate palate reference. The ’06 Scarecrow and the ’94 Dunn were both the crowd favorites and were the two wines that nearly everyone guessed correctly during blind tasting. As far as I’m concerned, Dunn Cabernet is the classic long lived Napa Cab in the same way that Chateau Haut Brion is the classic Bordeaux. As of this year, Dunn’s ’86 and ’87 Napa Cabs are still drinking quite well, with little sign of their age. This particular ’94 Dunn Napa, while showing beautifully, still has a number of years to improve in bottle, and many left to live. The 2006 Scarecrow, being such a big wine from a recent good vintage (sandwiched in between 2 great vintages), was supple, round, and encompassing. After significant breathing time, it was damn near seamless. There was a waft on the nose and considerable weight on the finish that our host insisted tasted of “vanilla cake”. While I experienced no crumbs, the vanilla (rich rather than sweet) character was undeniable and quite stunning. And while I know the price of this wine is relatively high (bordering on absurd), it’s a truly beautiful product, inside and out.
When I was first invited to this tasting, our fearless host expressed his desire to locate a bottle of Screaming Eagle for around $1200, which is next to impossible, making the cost of said Scarecrow seem quite reasonable. To most mortals, Screaming Eagle isn’t a real wine, but a legendary endpoint of what the highest end of the market will bear (or would bear before the Chinese started paying $1500 a pop for Lafite too young to drink, and then started drinking it). For pennies on those dollars, I brought the two bottles of Whispering Dove which I snapped up with great curiosity back when they were released for around $30/btl.
While every wine opened on this particular evening was well worthy of it’s company, the ’02 Whispering Dove Oakville not only had the most mysterious pedigree of the bunch, but was also 3rd on just about everyone’s blind tasting preference list, and was, by one less experienced taster, mistaken for Scarecrow. To the best of my knowledge, this wine was only produced in 3 vintages from ’01 to ’03, and was very likely different grapes (and likely winemakers) in each release. Rumors that Whispering Dove was in fact declassified Screaming Eagle juice were quickly dispelled, but that didn’t change the marketing boost it got from the false notion. Nor does it change the fact that the 2002 Whispering Dove was most certainly vinified by someone who knew how to handle reserve quality Oakville fruit. And I will likely give my remaining stash another 3 or 4 years before tasting again.
And then there was the obviously out of place ’04 Agharta Syrah, which while cultish, contains no cabernet, and was not part of the blind tasting. Bolstering said cultishness, prior to it’s debut, it was given a 98 point rating by some guy named Bob and before that it was vinified, oaked, aged (58 months!), and bottled (unfined & unfiltered) by a winemaker named Pax. And while Pax himself has said that the just released ’05 is “twice the wine” as is this monsterous and complex ’04 Agharta, he’s almost out of running room on the 100 point scale. I’ve tasted it on 3 occasions and giving notes would require the transcription of a short novel I haven’t yet written. It’s deeply complex stuff that changes dramatically over many hours of breathing and is an experience in itself rather that something to drink with any nameable specific food stuff. Structurally the experience of this debut Agharta is similar to Sean Thackrey’s Orion in that the sheer number of flavors per breathing time makes these wines infinitely faceted (and fascinating) gems. Looking forward to following the evolution of these bottles over the next decade or two.
And I don’t mean to disparage Chateau d’Yquem. There’s a reason it has the reputation it does. Yquem has been producing some of the words finest sweet white for centuries. By the time Jacques Sauvage was granted feudal tenure over Yquem in 1593 special growing techniques and late harvesting were already in practice and the estates finest vintages live for over a century. Very few estates, winemaking or otherwise enjoy such a rich history, which certainly comes with a hefty per bottle tariff, here in the future. For my dollar, if I’m going to spend way too much money on a half-bottle of sweet white, it’s more often going to be a 6 puttonyos tokaji, essencia, or something on which the Austrian genius, Alois Kracher, once had his hands.
Speaking of which, our final wine of the evening was Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. The Mr K series was a partnership of Sine Qua Non proprietor Manfred Krankl and the aforementioned Kracher, which ended abruptly upon Kracher’s untimely passing. Kracher’s family continues to produce the eponymous wines that made him famous. While the SQN Mr K The Nobleman 2002 (Chardonnay) is one of the lighter, thinner wines ever produced under this label, it is still a beautiful, balanced, nuanced, (almost) unreasonably honeyed joy to sip. The ’02 Nobleman is only “lesser” in the way that a mediocre Radiohead record is still worlds better than all of the crap on the radio. This golden wine is a treat on it’s own, but pairs well with a range of cheeses and non-chocoalte desserts, and with residual sugar at this level, the remaining wines may outlive many of us.