Statistics show that nobody reads blogs on Friday, but wine has been tasted and notes have been scratched in purple ink. A couple of nights back, over steak and duck at Apiary, after some 1990 Cote de Beaune and before a couple of stickies, we cracked a trio of American classics; two from Ridge and a Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1981.
Upon first opening, the Dunn showed surprisingly thin, for a typically long lived wine, but it’s always a journey with these mountain beasts. One of the bottles that first did it for me, one of the first tastes to awaken a real interest, was Dunn’s ‘86 Napa Cab. At the time, my soft palate didn’t know what to make of the monstrous ’86 Howell Mountain Cab, but the harmony of the fruit and the earth I found in that ’86 Napa Cab seemed to me to be all that a big CA red should.
But back to the wine currently staining the linens on the tasting table behind my eyeballs: After about 35 minutes of air, the Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain 1981 proves to be a slumbering giant, full of burly brambly mountain fruit. The palate is expansive, deeply gripping, and the finish’s long path is peppered with a patchwork of wild woodland herbs. The alcohol pulls in at a clockwork 13%, thought the wine- long integrated as it may be- is many shades heavier.
The Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 1994 also begins a little closed and while the body does build with ample air, this wine is not as lush as previous tastings, though the fruit hasn’t receded entirely. Both color and clarity are still crisp and the wine shows only the slightest hint of its age. The red fruit is still slightly out front of its earth component, but it is no longer penetrating. Forest floor and ancient spice box persist through the subtle, but undulating finish.
The Ridge Geyserville 1992, at this point in its career, is a dead ringer for a fruit forward Napa Cab five or six years its senior. Slip one of these into a blind tasting of late ’80s CA Cabernet and blow some minds/palates. Geyserville is a classic of the Napa establishment, and in my experience, this wine always shows well, though the true aging potential varies from vintage to vintage. I’ve also found that recent vintages seem to drink better younger, making them all the more difficult to squirrel away for further maturity, full integration, and secondary flavor development. For a true classic and always a palate expanding, Ridge Geysereville (and most of Ridge wines besides the Monte Bello) can still be acquired for around (a wholly fair) thirty bucks.
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.
Two weeks into the new year and I’m already 12 days (and five years) behind on my resolution(s). Back to life… back to reality. Well, if reality were a pile of rare wine and 46oz axe handle ribeyes. I’m so scattered that I’m quoting Soul II Soul, but I digress… from my digression. Red meat & red wine is just one of those (combination of) things, right up there with the all-time greats. And while a number of interesting and beautiful reds (and one white- Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2011) were sipped over succulent charred animal flesh at St. Anselm, it is the St Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 that most warrants documentation.
St. Innocent is one of those great American owner/winemaker situations, where proprietor Mark Vlossak makes some of Oregon’s most compelling (single vineyard) bottled produce. The hardiest examples from the stronger vintages defy the absurd common wisdom that American Pinot Noir doesn’t age well. And the finest expressions of Shea vineyard grapes age as well as any American Pinot Noir; far greater longevity than a francophile will ever admit. And this one is fairly interesting, over a decade after crush.
So, I finally watched Knuckleball, which reminded me acutely that baseball was my first love, well before wine, or even women. If you have ever loved anything about any sport that wasn’t based in some re-wired tribalism, Knuckleball will warm the cockles of your heart. Didn’t know that R.A. Dickey was a born again Christian, but one of many reasons I stopped following organized sports was that I didn’t want to support the livelihood of thugs and felons. So, like saddling up to an Irish bar, let’s leave the religion and politics at the door (for today). But if I find out that Charlie Hough, The Niekro brothers, and Tim Wakefield are all born again, and that only by taking the New Tastament version of Jesus Christ Superstar into one’s heart, can you truly take the spin off of that demoniacle changeup, I’ll be very upset. Regardless, if I do follow baseball this season, it’ll likely be the Blue Jays that interest me. May the force be with you, R.A.
Back to the wine: St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 is showing slightly less fruit than previous tastings, but no less expansive baseline of furry dry raspberry, brambly, but thornless, and a lesser presence of red cherry. There’s a broad mid-palate of dusty crushed granite, dry earth, pine tar, ancient cedar chips, and just a touch of gaminess. With further breath the mid-palate opens to palate-suckingly dry, before a deceptively long, undulating finish. It’s beautiful stuff, but have a large glass of clear cool water handy. Always remember: Hydration is your friend. It makes tomorrow possible. From the weight and breadth of the St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001, it’s difficult to discern how much life this wine has left in it, but it’s well worth pairing with a well-marbled world-class steak today.
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.
While I still have a pile of tasting notes to relay (’07 Volnay Premier Crus, Brewer Clifton Pinot and Chard ’02-‘09, Damilano Barolos, Ribera del Duero ’93-’96…), but it’s not every day that I get to host an event with one of my favorite winemakers in the world, at one of my favorite restaurants in New York.
On Wednesday April 4th, Sean Thackrey will be joining us as at St. Anselm, here in Brooklyn, for a tasting and dinner event, featuring the widest selection of Sean Thackrey wines ever assembled. While we are down to a waiting list for the 8:30pm seating, there are still tables available for the 5:45pm seating. Please e-mail me (WineGeist@gmail.com) or call St. Anselm directly (718.384.5054 – ask for Krystal) to claim remaining seats.
But first, I’ll gush a little: Sean Thackrey is an American original. He was an unconventional high level hobbyist, sourcing techniques he translated himself from ancient texts. It’s no wonder he discontinued his career as an art dealer to go pro (back in the ‘80s), as one of this country’s most unusual winemakers, who makes some of the most interesting (and tasty!) American wine. While his exceedingly rare Orion starts at around $100 these days, and will live (and improve) for decades, Thackrey’s non-vintage Pleiades blend starts at around $25 at retail and is a substantial tasting experience. Somewhere in between lie his Aquila Sangiovese, Andromeda Pinot Noir, and Sirius Petite Sirah, each worthy of serious (sirius?) consideration.
While I’m neither a car guy nor a TV guy, I recently came across Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure (thanks BBC!). And while it can be difficult to watch James May stain upon brilliant winemakers and slug down rare syrah like it’s a hip flask of Old Overholt at a ball game, the dynamic between his deliberate drunkard’s brutishness and Oz Clarke’s world-class wine poncery is bloody brilliant (if you want to be all British about it). Anyway, have a click and take a look at what happens to James’ face upon tasting Thackrey’s Orion. And no, it’s not the wrong clip, Thackrey just doesn’t appear until the next segment, beginning at 5min 21sec. Enjoy!
If anyone is seeking a musical (poncery) interlude, here’s the best live music thing I’ve attended in quite some time, even if it was 2pm on a Friday afternoon (and I may have told some people that “I was in a meeting”). The full hour show is available free (godbless NPR!):
Here are the full event details:
Wine Tasting and Dinner w/ Sean Thackrey
@ St. Anselm, 355 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Date: Wednesday, April 4th
Time: 2 seatings at 5:45pm and 8:30pm
Price: $52 (prepaid) for the basic tasting
**supplemental plates, glasses, and bottles a la carte
For $52 (pre-paid) per person: meet the winemaker, Sean Thackrey, who will lead a tasting of his Lyra Viognier 2010, Aquila Sangiovese 2002, Pleiades XXI, Sirius Petite Sirah 2009, and Orion California Native 2009. This will be accompanied by a vegetarian small plate and salad.
Available at an additional charge: 2 supplemental small plates (elk medallions and shellfish of the day), an abbreviated dinner menu, and an extensive selection of Sean Thackrey wine, including numerous vintages of Pleiades, Sirius, Andromeda Pinot Noir, and at least 10 vintages of Thackrey’s flagship, Orion, sourced from the Rossi vineyard, planted in 1905. Thackrey will remain on hand during the dinner to discuss any and all of his wines that guests choose to order.
Those who wish to experience the basic tasting, order another glass and a modest entree, can escape for about $100. Those guests less concerned with price can build a truly unique tasting experience, from what is unquestionably the largest selection of Sean Thackrey’s wine ever offered publicly, at one time.
Price: $52 (prepaid) per seat
- Includes: vegetarian small plate, salad, and tasting glasses of Lyra Viognier ’10, Pleiades XXI, Aquila Sangiovese ’02, Sirius Petite ’09, Orion California Native ’09.
- 2 supplemental small plates, abbreviated dinner menu, and an extensive list of Thackrey wine will be available, at additional cost.
Contact: Jack Chester
Calera had, reasonably quietly, been making one of the finest inexpensive Pinots in CA, until this vintage, when some Italian dude stamped it with 92 points and told one of the largest wine buying audiences in the world that Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 “may very well be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir.” And it’s definitely up there. I know Calera’s single vineyard Pinots are renowned wines of fine character and notable longevity (I am cellaring a number of them), but at $65+ for Jensen and Selleck Vineyard bottles, the opportunity cost is substantial. If you’re planning to drop $70 on a bottle of wine, the options for greatness are many, unless you only drink Burgundy, and then I kinda feel sorry for your limited options and your dainty palate (and your wallet). But Calera’s introductory level offering is unparalleled, at the $19.99/btl I recently paid at retail. And while I can’t speak to the longevity of the pretty glass ‘cork’, I can say that a 1997 vintage of the same wine (enclosed with traditional cork) showed beautifully not 2 years ago.
Searching the YouTube for a specific Jill Sobule show, I find a number of earnest young girls covering her delightfully crushing “Mexican Wrestler,” which warms my black little heart. But who the hell is Emma Roberts and why do these little chicks think she wrote Jill’s awesome song?! Apparently, that’s Nickelodeon’s fault. Roberts’ (or her producer’s) lyrical changes unforgivably replace fleeting subtleties with sophomoric hyperbole, for the intended target market. Though I get why it would lack rational continuity if a teenager reminisced fondly being 21. I hope Jill at least got a decent royalty check out of the deal. And no lyrical rearrangement could be as disappointing as finding out that Katy Perry’s single “I Kissed A Girl”, about which I had heard upon release, was not a cover of Jill’s 1995 hit single at all. After that and Perry’s “California Gurls” (no relation to the Beach Boys tune), it quickly became clear what borrowed name recognition and a little t&a could do for one’s profile. But in the end Katy Perry is just tabloid trash and Jill Sobule is a lifelong storyteller, high up in the storied pantheon of New York’s singer/songwriters (and higher up in my personal pantheon). True she’s done some time in LA, but Jill Sobule and New York belong to each other. By the way, this is the performance I had been looking for: La Java, Paris 3/16/2010. Enjoy.
But back to Calera Pinot Noir 2009, and it’s unusual glass cap: The seal is good, and the capsule tight enough and difficult enough to remove so as to appear structurally sound enough to age, under proper climate control. That being said, I have now had a number of bottles of this wonderfully under-priced pinot, and I have found greater bottle variation than I would expect. I haven’t come across any vinegar or identifiable oxidation, but some bottles have shown more predominant red fruit than others where an earthy wet funk (just shy of swampy) persists, so much so that I’m hesitant to give specific tasting notes on this one. This is all the more curious for the amount that I enjoyed each bottle, regardless of variations. It’s a good reminder though how much bottle variation does exist and that all tasting notes are just one persons opinion of one bottle’s opinion of any wine, in a given moment. The most common thread between each tasting of Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 is bright, but substantial and gripping, red cherry, which was immediately reminiscent of a recently tasted bottle of Laetitia Pinot Noir. No surprise, said vineyard was the source of over 30% of the fruit for this regional blend. So, I’ve drunk through the bottles that I’ve allowed myself (really not much beats this one at $20), but I did manage to squirrel some away. I’ll be checking back in on the progress of the wine and the medium-term stability of its all glass seal.
I often say: Nerds make all the good stuff. Which makes sense, because smart people tend to find and create interesting processes and products at a much greater rate than those less cerebrally gifted. Amongst winemakers, there are few nerds on the level of Sean Thackrey. He maintains, translates, and makes available his renowned collection of ancient texts on winemaking. He also gleans techniques from them with which to experiment on worthy grapes, here in the future. At their best, Thackrey’s results are world class, by any scale or measure. I don’t often defer directly to a media outlet (nor do I like to post links w/ ads), but I couldn’t possibly reTweet you a better instagram of the winemaker and the iceberg tip of his philosophy than did Chow.com in video form. Go watch it. Seriously. I’ll wait….
So, I don’t have new tasting notes on any specific Thackrey wine, but I did learn that the proprietor of Spuyten Duyvil, Fette Sau, and most recently St. Anselm, here in Brooklyn, is the second biggest Thackrey nerd in Brooklyn. A couple of conversations later, St. Anselm has the most extensive selection of Sean Thackrey wine of any restaurant on earth, including the non-vintage Pleiades, Andromeda Pinot Noir, Sirius Petite Sirah, and 6 vintages of his flagship California native field blend, Orion. St. Anselm already had one of the best small wine lists in Brooklyn, now one can find well aged bottled gems to accompany serious cuts of grilled meat. Apparently the (various) whole fish is excellent as well, but we all have our priorities. Mine is finding the perfect syrah to pair with lamb saddle and rib eye.
At St. Anselm last night, enjoying the delightfully accompanied meat monster on grilled bread they call a patty melt, the soundtrack added quite a bit to my burger and my day: Hendrix’ “Bold as Love” the semi-title cut off his masterpiece, Axis Bold as Love, the greatest record ever made. After my Jimi moment, I was reminded that Frank Zappa was not only an actual genius at writing and arranging music, but he could be laugh out loud funny in a Steven Wright deadpan on acid sort of way (Zappa hated drugs!): “Bobby Brown Goes Down” from Zappa’s 1979 Sheik Yerbouti. And if you want to throw some crap around about how silly the album title is, go take a quick peak at what else the record companies were pressing that vintage. I mean, whatever happened to Randy Vanwarmer?
Wait, what was the question?
After the unexpectedly weighty ’86 Beringer Cab Private Reserve, over world class steak, whose name shall not be spoken, the follow-up (or the closer, if you’re into baseball metaphors) was a Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002. As those familiar will know, wine is no longer bottled under the Pax label and the new wines from that former partnership now sell under the Donelan Family Wines label, while Pax Mahle, the winemaking partner, currently produces Wind Gap Wines as well as the remarkably concentrated and complex Agharta wines. All legal discord aside, all involved continue to produce and release compelling syrah-based wine. I have not tasted a wine in which Pax was involved that wasn’t a worthy experience and, full disclosure, I remain on the Agharta mailing list.
A quick glance at the few Twitter accounts that Mahle bothers to follow, seems to indicate that he’s down with the hippie music. And since I co-edited Relix Magazine’s tribute to Phish (with Jesse Jarnow), shortly after their disbanding, and penned its lead feature, on the Tom Marshall/Trey Anastasio songwriting team, let’s talk about them. This will likely get me banned from PhantasyTour (is that still a thing?), but it’s not okay to pretend that Phish is the band that they were prior to their post-hiatus disbanding. The millennium show was a profound, albeit drug addled, high water mark; it was the thing that all of those crescendos were building toward. The silence that followed was deafening.
The members of Phish are all unquestionably skilled musicians, but they once wielded the power of the sustained crescendo, unlike almost any other, creating a glorious cacophony affectionately known as Phish Noise, to the nerdiest* of the flock. The best of Phish’ current jams sound a lot more like rehearsed segues, or parts of recycled ones, than the maintained mathematical chaos that once ebbed and flowed between songs. And most of the songwriting since the re-banding is, lyrically and sonically, retread at best. To anyone who insists that Phish is as good today as they were up to the millennium, do a couple of shows dead sober, for a change, and tell me what you hear. The 3 most interesting projects, made by any members of Phish, since 2000’s Farmhouse and The Siket Disc: Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke’s Clone, Mike Gordon’s Inside In, and Joey Arkenstat’s awesome and absurd concept album Bane, “produced” by Mike Gordon.
The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is deep, opaque purple in the glass, fading to concentrated ruby, at the very rim. There is significant sediment, adding to the depth of the color, and forcing me to curtail my swirling habit. There’s a massive attack of concentrated black and red fruit on the palate, but the lushness of the mouthfeel puts kid gloves on that aggression. After some breathing time, red currant becomes a dominant presence and there’s something just a touch green, hiding in the depths, under layers of smoke and wood, pine tar, and white pepper. The nose is largely of blackberry brandy and glycerine, though with further air, some of the fruit and complexities of the palate become apparent to the olfactory. After a long finish, there’s a slight aftertaste of dry roasted nuts. The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is fresh(er than expected) and bold and ripe, but much to my surprise, it’s still showing hot enough to singe the hair, but not the flesh, leading me to believe that this wine has at least a handful of good years left in it. Perhaps its best is yet to come.
*Here in Brooklyn, the term ‘nerd’ is a complement. Nerds make all the good stuff.
Sean Thackrey Pleiades Old Vines 1992 is an unusual wine, even by Sean Thackrey standards. Thackrey is a self-taught winemaker who borrows many of his techniques from the most ancient texts on the matter, of which he has the foremost collection, which Thackrey continues to slowly translate and post to his website. Pleiades is his lowest cost release and contains different percentages of different varietals every year, often from different vintages.
Beck’s never released demo, Don’t Get Bent Outta Shape (1992), comes over the itunes and harkens back to that glorious decade (’92-’02) before his records started to suck. A Sea Change indeed. Then on to One Foot in the Grave, Beck’s lowest-fi official release, recorded largely on a 4-track and a delightfully out of tune Silvertone guitar. This was also recorded in ’92, but was released in ’94 after Mellow Gold and its big single “Loser” brought Beck instantly to the mainstream.
I’m not saying one can’t *like* Beck’s new stuff (Guero and everything since). It’s certainly snappy and catchy and it’s easy to do the robot to, but he was a decade late on that whole video game sounds thing. The best of Beck’s new stuff sounds like tracks that might have remained on the cutting room floor during the Midnight Vultures sessions in lieu of the weightier cuts that made that album real. Conversely, what made Beck’s previous stuff so great was that it was deep and rich (lyrically and sonically), but had the pop sensibility to appeal to the radio and its spoon-fed surface listeners.
Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is the only example I was able to locate of Thackrey blending this wine from numerous varietals of the same vintage. Pleiades is a wine that is not only different every vintage, but can vary greatly bottle to bottle, particularly with age as this is a wine meant to be consumed in its youth. This one displays a touch of oxidation, but is by no means turned. It’s denser, with a more syrah-like chewiness than other bottles from the same case. It’s softer, chocolatey, half way to a colheita three times its age. In the glass, the wine is red/brown, tapering to clear watery edge and of medium body (light by Thackrey standards). It shows fall earth, ash, red berries, dry cigar tobacco, and leather. The large perplexing nose is almost Burgundian, but denser, saltier, and with a touch of menthol. The palate is unearthly smoky, like a long lived Gigondas with a ghost of eucalyptus on the finish. Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is full and broad of mouthfeel, but the fruit has receded almost entirely leaving pepper and cumin nearer the topnote than ever was intended. While these ’92s are in the twilight of their years, the non-vintage Pleiades XIV through XVIII are drinking beautifully right now. I’m not sure a more interesting wine exists, at the price point.