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.
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.
Over steaks too holy to be named, a couple of CA heavyweights were tasted: Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 and Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002, in that order. Beringer holds a strange place in the greater wine consuming consciousness. The name holds a certain generic- insert basic CA wine here- sort of connotation, largely due to the ubiquity of their many low-cost offerings. But this doesn’t change the fact that Beringer’s finest wines, their Private Reserve Cabernet and Chardonnay, are consistently high quality classic Napa wines, and have been for a very long time. In fact, Beringer’s ’94 and ’95 Private Reserve Cabernets are amongst the finest American Cabs ever to pass my lips, per dollar spent.
It’s been raining, here in Brooklyn, and like any good City Kid, deep in the weeds of melancholy, I’m listening to a playlist of Sad Cowboy Music. There’s something about a guy pouring his heart out over an acoustic guitar, particularly if the voice sounds like that of a man who may very well have once shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. There’s a fine line between despair and destruction, where the best of country music meets alcohol and pills. Just ask Hank Williams or Johnny Cash or Townes Van Zandt, the latter of whom just popped up on the shuffle singing “Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool You” with the glorious honesty of his tinny drawl. But the rainy day blues award has to go to Willie Nelson for “Opportunity to Cry” from Crazy: The Demo Sessions, which is a series of low-fi recordings from Willie’s very earliest days in the music industry, when he planned to make his way in the world writing songs for others to perform. Honorable mention: Gary Louris’ “She Only Calls Me on Sundays” from his heartbreaking Acoustic Vagabonds album.
1986 Napa Cab has long been one of my favorite places and times for wine, on the all-time, everywhere scale. I very much enjoy the longer lived and far more brooding Cabs of 1987 and often lament how few of the quite beautiful, but much softer, Cabs of ’85 have successfully made it with us, here to the future. But there’s a certain balance to the ’86s that make them stand out amongst that decades production, all these years later. This ’86 Beringer Private Reserve Cab is deep garnet in the glass, showing a touch of yellowing at the rim. The red and black fruit that is present is well integrated and is somewhat buried beneath ash, underbrush, and asphalt with notes of dusty cigar box and raw coffee bean. The palate carries greater weight and complexity than was expected, based on past performance.
This wine has aged very strangely and is a stark example of “shutting down in the bottle”, which refers to a wine going thin for a period, on its way to full maturity rather than growing lithe on its way to oblivion, or vinegar. The 1986 Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve showed thinner, by a wide margin, 5 or six years ago than it does today. It is currently much bigger and fresher than inticipated, with a nice mid-palate dryness. After 2+ hours of breathing time the nose develops a light, warm Bordelaise funk. Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 is a 25 year old Cab with structure and acidity to spare, and after rebounding from its lean years in the cellar, it somehow shows signs of not yet quite having escaped the barrel in which it was aged. This is a profound and unusual wine in a lineage of stalwart Napa classics. The remaining bottles will stay sealed for at least another couple of years. All bottle variation aside, this wine may very well truly achieve peak drinking at a cool 30 years. Let’s perhaps discuss this again in 2016. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking some up.
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.
Today I’m tasting a bargain Spanish blend, Cataregia Gran Resereva 2001, picked up at my favorite local wine shop, here in my corner of Brooklyn, BQE Wine & Liquors. I don’t mind letting one of my neighborhood secrets out because they neither ship out of town nor deliver locally, so anybody that wants to take advantage of their excellent selections and prices will have to walk in, just like everybody else in the 11222. So much has been said (rightly so) of the 2001 vintage in most of Spain (especially Rioja and Ribera del Deuro) that finding a Gran Reserva for under ten bucks makes me cautiously optimistic.
I’m listening to the Mountain Goats’ (John Darnielle) “Autoclave” from their (his) Heretic Pride album. Mountain Goats is basically one guy, John Darnielle, who always plays as the Mountain Goats, regardless if he’s playing solo or with supporting players. While I know that so many of his long-time hardcores prefer his stripped down man-and-a-guitar stuff, and I can see the slick production rubbing some of these folks the wrong way, but the songwriting remains as remarkable as always. “Autocalve” has the awesome dichotomy of an upbeat, hooky tune and profoundly sad and deeply isolationist lyrics.
Cataregia Gran Resereva 2001 is 70% Tempranillo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and initially it tastes like mature Tempranillo and immature Cabernet in the same glass, somehow not blended; integration does occur, over time. The nose immediately hits with raspberry, which becomes sweet and ripe with some air in it. There are also notes of tobacco, tar, and a dusting of powdered black pepper. The alcoholic bite which initially lingers in the olfactory, integrates after an hour of oxygen contact, revealing a touch of vanillin and wildflowers in the negative space of the glass. This is really quite a nice wine for the fee. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a 10 year old wine from a marquee vintage for ten bucks. I’m going to go buy a few more bottles before I post this.
Amongst some of the finest, most consistent Italian food in New York, at Novita, I braved the $28 corkage fee and brought a bottle of Rampolla Sammarco 1994. Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco is the original bio-dynamic Super Tuscan, predating (1980) the much more hyped (and expensive) Ornellaia, both of whose vines reside deep in the heart of Chianti Classico, also next door to Sassicaia and Solaia. As far as I’m concerned Rampolla Sammarco is one of the classic Italian red wines and it has always felt like an Italian take on Bordeaux to me, encompassing a cabernet-based structure and a deeply earthy berry character.
I’m listening to Sex Mob Does Bond. Sex Mob is a New York based jazz quartet lead by Steven Bernstein and his slide trumpet. They don’t play together as often as they used to, largely because each of the band’s members is involved in so many other bands and projects, but when I first moved back to Brooklyn from Seattle, Sex Mob was regularly playing the midnight set at Tonic (RIP) for $5. I don’t believe I’ve since spent better entertainment dollars. Sex Mob does Bond is a collection of interpretations of John Barry’s legendary soundtrack work from the James Bond film series, taken to the jazz club level. The resulting record maintains both the power and subtlety of the original John Barry orchestral compositions while completely transforming the language by which they are conveyed, renewing the vitality of their spirit.
Rampolla Sammarco 1994 is rich with black and red fruits, ash, underbrush, pine needles, a dusting of white pepper, a hint of menthol, and wisp of chalkdust to the nose. There are also notes of overripe raspberry, tobacco, cedar, and after an hour+ of breathing time, smoked bacon emerges from the depths of the glass. The finishing mouthfeel is as dry as the Sahara. This ’94 Sammarco is far more integrated than a recent ’95 of the same, which is still a tannic monster, begging for several years more of cellaring. Conversely a recent ’93 Sammarco tasted 10 years older and was showing soft, powdery tannin, giving it that old cabernet (in a good way) feel. This ’94 Rampolla Sammarco displays fine integrated tannin, just hinting at approaching powdery. It is full and complex with excellent structure giving the impression that it has several good years left to evolve and likely adecade or more to live. This wine is ideal for roast lamb, braised beef, or a peppercorn fillet.