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.
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.
After the reasonably exquisite Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 (tasting notes in previous post), a Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 was poured. In general, across most vintages, I find their wines mades from outsourced grapes from Shea Vineyard to be more complete ventures than Beaux Freres’ Estate-specific cuvées (Beaux Freres Vineyard, Upper Terrace), though I have yet to encounter an uninteresting wine that bears the name. I have read about, but have yet to taste their tiny production Upper Terrace Grenache, and I would be more than happy to accept tasting samples, to be discussed here on WineGeist, judiciously and impartially.
I’m listening to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as performed by its composer, Bob Dylan, at the Hollywood Bowl, September 2, 1965. I know Dylan gets a lot of air time here, but that was the track that came up on the full library shuffle, just then, as I started the sentence; it’s still playing now. It’s true that I’ve been staring at the incomplete line, “I’m listening to…” for a couple of dozen songs, but that’s neither here nor there and Dylan is inspiring. And that song in particular, “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a big one in an unparalleled body of work, not to mention being the second part of the Good Doctor‘s dedication preceding Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: “-and to Bob Dylan, for Mister Tambourine Man“. Dylan wrote that one in ’65 and in the same year it was recorded by The Byrds and released as their first single for Columbia Records, which reached #1 on US and UK charts. Unrelated, I was told, not that long ago, “It takes a lot of Dylan to make a nice Syrah.” But today, we’re discussing Oregon Pinot.
The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 wafts immediately of cedar and raw meat, and is dark in the glass, knocking on the door of deep purple. Visually, it’s almost unreasonably concentrated for the varietal and most definitely for the vintage. The vast majority of 2000 OR Pinot Noir, even the very good ones are a little thin in the middle, as if too much water was interjected at a major stage of growth, and the grapes partied like it was 1999, resulting in flimsier fruit. Ironically enough, the grapes of 1999 were far more studious and the wines released from that vintage continue to age well. Even the normally highly concentrated Beaux Freres wines are a little soft, a little light on character, in 2000, including this one whose palate is not so brooding as the color. The only recently tasted examples to the contrary for 2000 OR Pinot are Ken Wright Pinot Noir, Shea and McCrone Vineyard bottles. But back to the ’00 Belles Soeurs Shea: the palate displays cool damp earth, ash, as well as some vegetal characterists and green pepper. There’s a nice mid-palate dryness, but the body seems to drop off there, making for a shorter experience. That being said, there exist notes of espresso bean, anise, and prune as well as overripe raspberry and a dusty, silty finish. The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 is a highly palatable wine, but it’s a little thin for its pedigree, and is likely at the back end of its drinking plateau. Remaining bottles will be enjoyed in the near future, rather than returned to the cellar.
Back at St Anselm for the butcher’s steak, again braving the $25 corkage fee and bringing some properly aged Pinot: Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evanstad Reserve 2003 and Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000. I had originally planned to taste the ’03 Evanstad along side a 2004 Jayer Gilles Echezeaux du Dessus, as both have exhibited similar traits in the past. However the wrong bottle was packed that evening and the rare Echezeaux in question ended up preceding a youthfully clumsy Domain Serene Pinot Noir Willamette 2004 (a vintage that should prove to be long lived).
I’m listening to “Seeing Things” from the Black Crowes’ debut 1990 LP, Shake Your Money Maker. Early in high school, it was something of a revelation that a bunch of young guys could deliberately make new music that fit in with much of the classic rock hits of ‘60s and ‘70s. And it was no surprise that it was through Classic Rock radio, not pop, that the Crowes were first heard by so many. This was also when I first became aware of a thing called critics and that they largely did not like the Black Crowes, nor did pop radio, which wanted nothing to do with them, until their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” became a hit too big to be ignored. Sure, they were just another bunch of pretty(ish) white kids playing the blues, a time honored formula since Elvis, but at that time I didn’t know the history, and the Crowes were really good at it. Because of that, and an impressive body of work, up to and including the Amorica LP, for a certain segment of Gen Pop, the Black Crowes will always embody Rock & Roll.
The Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 has a component of damp leaves, but displays little if any of that mossy, wet earth, swampiness, on the palate, that is so typical of much of the ’03 vintage for OR Pinot Noir (as well as of scattered varietals and sub-regions of northern CA, of the same year). Instead there’s an unexpected sweet roundness to this reserve Pinot, led by dry raspberry and black cherry, with subtler notes of cocoa powder and chalkdust. After 40+ minutes of breathing the ’03 Evenstad shows deep cherry sweetness and a long vein of vanillin, sprinkled with baking spices and white pepper. This is a wine of excellent concentration without sacrificing the purity of the fruit; it maintains a broad mouthfeel and seamless integration. Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 seems right at its peak drinking window now and should drink nicely for at least another 5 years.
Tonight I’m making fish. The details are still coming together, but I have a couple of very nice snapper fillets and a bottle of Foris Pinot Noir 2008. Red wine can absolutely go with fish and I am a firm believer that there is a pinot noir to go with anything/everything. Tonight, that theory is being tested further as I’m swapping some of this pinot for the dry white wine in a beurre blanc sauce (beurre rouge?) to go with the lovely snapper which will likely be lightly seasoned and pan seared, possibly finishing in the oven.
With some trepidation and a healthy skepticism, I’m listening to an advance copy of Wilco’s upcoming LP, The Whole Love. While their last couple of studio releases have been far less interesting- lyrically and sonically- than just about everything that came before, this new album comes with a high recommendation from a reliable pro. The first track, “Art of Almost” catches my attention before it begins to play, clocking in at over 7 minutes. The opening is a strange layered drone over a cool beat that dissipates into a synthetic textural cacophony with just enough space for Jeff Tweedy’s vocals to creep in, unannounced. Before the first vocalization, I’m not necessarily convinced, but I’m most decidedly listening. Thirty second into this song, it might be mistaken for Radiohead, halfway through minute 6, it could just as easily be a Nine Inch Nails tune as re-imagined by Aphex Twin. But such momentary surface analogy is trite and there’s a lot more going on, here on this record, than anything since A Ghost Is Born, if not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. More than one considered listen is clearly required here. Wilco is back.
The Foris Pinot Noir 2008 is from the Rogue Valley which is something of a remote outpost for Oregon Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied pinot is medium ruby in the glass and underneath the initial waft of alcohol, red fruit and forest floor begin to stir. There’s a classy crisp, but long and tapering, acidity that I have come to associate with Foris’ low alcohol, low cost pinot noir. After an hour of breathing, wild savory herbs and hints of sunberry and camphor mingle with the red cherry and predominant raspberry. Foris’ ’08 pinot is pretty and unassuming, nicely balanced, but far from flimsy, though full mature integration of alcohol and fruit will likely require another 6-8 months in the bottle. And much like the lighter-styled low alcohol pinots from The Eyrie Vineyards, you’ll be surprised how well and how long this wine will age. While highly enjoyable and food friendly today, the rest of this case of Foris Pinot Noir 2008 will get some well deserved down time in the cellar. Have a nice nap, my friends.
Having no excuse to open anything grand (cru), I go to the tasty cheapy shelves and pull, to taste, a Cloudline Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008, for which I paid about $15. Cloudline is a nogociant wine, sourced from a variety of Oregon vineyards, whose large production is guided by consulting winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss. Veronique is the great-granddaughter of Joseph Drouhin, who began making wine in Cote de Beaune in 1880, and founded the family label under which many a beautiful Burgundy is still bottled today.
I’m listening to Brooklyn-based Tim Fite’s “Big Mistake” off of his Fair Ain’t Fair album. Fite is one of those rare artists who chooses specific musical moments for which his individual projects to exist, rather than blending his scope of influence into a single songwriting sound. His live show is a one-man multi-media experience that features story-telling, hand drawn animated videos, and songs in which Fite plays, loops, and sings along with back-up players and singers on a video screen, each of whom is also Tim Fite. He’s a strange and unusual artist, in the best way(s), and his sincerity is undeniable. “Big Mistake” best demonstrates his outsider charm, as pulled snug over a deeply nuanced musicality and intellectual lyrical sensibility. Tim Fite is superhuman; check him out.
In the glass, the Cloudline Pinot Noir 2008 is medium ruby and medium bodied. The nose is somewhat muted, and initially blanketed by alcohol, but not enough to obscure the bright red fruit that also makes up the most pleasurable facet of the palate. Along with which passes lighter notes of damp earth, ash, and wintergreen. After about 35 minutes of breathing time, the alcohol blows off the nose, which remains muted, but much softer, more inviting. By this time the palate is more integrated and has softened considerably, becoming light/medium bodied and dangerously gulpable. But now there’s a tangible minerality, leaning just a hair toward the metallic, a crisp acidity, and broadness of mouthfeel that keep this wine from being a pushover. For its price ($15-20) and its relative ubiquity, this is a solid (value) summertime Pinot which lends itself to versatile food/flavor pairing. If your local shop still has the 2008 vintage, it’s most definitely worth a taste (or a case).
I’ve gone back into the mixed case of half-bottles and pulled to taste, Foris Port 2002. Foris is a high quality, low cost wine producer in Cave Junction, OR (Rogue Valley) whose first estate vines were planted in 1974. While it’s their unreasonably inexpensive per quality Rogue Valley Pinot Noir that has kept me coming back, I’ve also tasted and enjoyed several of their whites and stickies, and beyond Syrah and Cabernet Ports, they currently bottle a good number of different varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, various Cab, etc.).
I’m listening to the Jimi Hendrix Stages Box Set which, in all my years of collecting live shows, both official releases and bootlegs, remains one of the greatest documents of American music of whose existence I am aware. Each of the 4 discs is a single set from ’67 (Stockholm), ’68 (Paris), ’69 (San Diego), and ’70 (Atlanta). Just a brief listen to these shows reminds one of just how good Jimi actually was and the recording quality here is about as high as it gets, given the era and circumstances. There is so much listening gold on these discs, but it’s hard not to give the nod to the ’67 disc as tops. Not only is it clear that Jimi’s sounds was already fully developed, but he was in the process of writing his best songs. On the Stockholm ’67 disc, when he shyly admits, before a glorious “Burning of the Midnight Lamp“, that he and the band had never before played that tune in front of people, one gets a tiny glimpse of the man’s sincerity and the joy he took in doing what he did.
The 2002 Foris Port was made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 19 months in barrel. It was bottled at 18% alcohol and 8.5% residual sugar. The resulting port-style wine is aging quite well and, by the time of these notes this one had the advantage of a couple of days sealed by the Vacu Vin, after having been opened. The wine is aging beautifully and what was once (pleasantly) grapey at last taste is now more raisin and chocolate, though fruit still persists in the form of wild blackberry jam. Foris Port 2002 drinks almost unreasonably nicely for the price point yet the residual sugar and current mouthfeel lead me to believe this wine will continue to age with grace for the better part of the decade. If you are unfamiliar, do yourself a favor and pick up just about anything bearing the Foris name and taste a secret slice or Oregon.
I’m at the bar again at Apiary, checking in with the menu updates and tasting some world class pinot noir. Before this post, Ken Wright Cellars was already officially the most reviewed wine label here on WineGeist and I make no apologies for it. Ken Wright is an artist and I dig his work. Most recently, I was floored by the experience of a Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 1998. Much pinot from that vintage in OR was a little off, and what was nice tended to age quickly. In this way, ’98 OR pinot is similar to the much maligned ’98 Cote de Nuits wines (Burgundy). Even in 1998 OR and Cotes de Nuits, as in all challenging vintages, great winemakers generally find a way to make nice wine.
I’ve been reading (finally) Cash, Johnny Cash’s eponymous autobiography. I’m very near the end and am already planning to pick up Cash’s previous autobiography, Man in Black, if only to get the 3 or 4 stories he says are in it, which he didn’t feel like retelling in the more recent book. Cash also penned Man in White, a novelization of six years in the life of St. Paul the Apostle, which will not likely make the reading cue anytime soon. But back to Cash, by Johnny Cash: like him or not as a musician, a performer, or a man, but there’s an undeniable honesty to his tales and there just aren’t that many people who have ever been able to tell first hand tales of touring with Elvis. It’s been a highly entertaining read.
Back to the Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone ’98, which turns out to be far more comparable to 1996 Cote de Nuits, which will likely prove to be the longest lived vintage for that region, of the decade. But we’ll discuss that in another 7 years or so. The Ken Wright PN McCrone ’98 is shockingly fresh for its age and has a long backbone of firm acidity. This leads me to order the Scottish salmon (yes, red with fish!) with asparagus, shaved fennel, trout roe, and white port beurre blanc, which paired swimmingly. The initially somewhat muted nose shows wild raspberry, black cherry, and ash. These notes pass seamlessly into the palate where they mingle with damp fall earth and a suggestion of petrol. After over an hour of breathing, a hint of apple dryness blankets the mid-palate. This is a nuanced wine of excellent structure and concentration that is drinking beautifully at over a decade in bottle.
Checking in with Old Friends: O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Rouge, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
I recently exhumed from storage 2 cases of pinot noir for tasting purposes, one vertical of O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir (’05, ’06, ’07) and a mixed case of Burgundy blends from some of my favorite labels including Meo-Camuzet, R. Chevillon, Claude Dugat, and Domaine Forey. I’m planning a proper vertical tasting of the O’Reilly’s, for which I’ll likely dig up an ’08 and ’09, for the half-decade run. O’Reilly’s is a lower cost pinot noir blend made up of declassified grapes sourced from the numerous significant vineyards from which Owen Roe crafts their fabulous Oregon wines. Recently, an O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir 2006 showed very nicely, but could still benefit from a couple of years nap. Further tasting notes after the vertical.
I’m listening to the pulsating beats and awesome urgency of David Byrne & Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. No matter how many times I hear this record, I always have to check the liner notes: yup, recorded in ’79 and ’80, released in 1981. The thick African-based beats, deliberate repetition, and haunting “found voices,” foreshadow almost all electronic and sample based music that came after. This stuff, all these years
later, is still quite stirring, most notably “America is Waiting” and “Jezebel Spirit” which play off of secular and religious aspects of American yearning. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts remains one of the most engaging pieces of music that has been recorded in the this country, during my lifetime.
The Meo-Camuzet Frere & Soeurs Bourgogne 2002 is much bigger than I would have expected from a nearly decade old introductory level pinot noir, even from a serious Burgundy house like Meo-Camuzet. Much like the 1996 Cote de Nuits, I’ve found the 2002s to be very slow to mature. This wine is a tannic monster and much of the detail is lost to the sheer weight of this juice, so in goes the vacu vin. Many big wines and most especially big dessert wines often fair much better, after being opened and then vacuum sealed for a day or more. A day later and another hour of air and the Meo-Camuzet Bourgogne is approachable, but still weighty. Red fruits have begun to emerge, countered by petrol, fresh mint and white pepper. The wine is nice, but the three remaining bottles are going back into temperature controlled storage for at least another couple of years.
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.