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Flash Sale Sites Part Deux (Vitis.com) and Jack White’s Blunderbuss

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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“You want to talk about music? That’s ridiculous. It’s like dancing about architecture or singing about paintings.” – Jack White

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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.

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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.

When in doubt, Go Rioja! A Few Rules for Basic Wine Shopping (and the Absurdity of Linear Thinking)

July 7, 2011 1 comment

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.

While We’re Talking Garys’ Vineyard…

June 25, 2011 Leave a comment

R.I.P.

While we’re on the subject of Garys’ Vineyard, I recently tasted another 2001 produced under the now defunct Lorca label, which was an early victim of the simultaneous market saturation in CA and economic downturn. Still they sourced grapes from some of the vey best and made a nice pinot, while they lasted. Previous bottles from the same parcel came off swampy and as somewhat oxidized, but this last of its kind in my collection showed no such affectations.

The Lorca Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard 2001 shows deep garnet in the glass, tapering to a thin yellowish, watery edge. The nose is somewhat muted, but more concealed by alcohol. 45 minutes in, the alcohol blows off to reveal a faint minerality, predominantly red fruit, cherry, soft earth. The palate is more lush with the same red fruit around which many of the secondary flavors seem to be fading, leaving a light to medium bodied wine, wholly pleasant, but shorter of finish than expected. There is a lingering wisp of spice on the aftertaste. The final glass is raised to the memory of the label.

Brief Notes on Vision Cellars Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard 2001

June 24, 2011 Leave a comment

For those that have read here before, you know that I am a great proponent of the fabulous fruit from Garys’ Vineyard and of *most* of the vintners who are smart/lucky enough to work with the Garys’ remarkable grapes. Upon last tasting, over a year ago (two+?), Vision Cellars‘ 2001 Garys’ Pinot was still, shockingly, a little stiff with a slightly astringent acidity, and I have been hoarding my tiny remaining stash, awaiting its summit on that ideal age plateau, ever since. It seems we’re there.

Properly aged and near perfect.

In the glass, this wine is light, but bright translucent ruby, browning slightly at the edges. The nose is initially somewhat muted, but soft and sweet, and slightly floral, like wildflowers, long since hung upside down and now bone-dry. The palate is soft, but full and round, almost buttery, led by copious red fruit, slightly overripe raspberry and pervasive bright red cherry off of which the supporting flavors- and hint of spice- drape. There are simply no hard edges left anywhere in this medium bodied 2001 Vision Garys’ Pinot. The long(ish) tapering finish begins with just a touch of damp, earthy funk, and ends with a wholly pleasing nutty dryness. Vision Cellars continues to do impressive things with both single vineyard and regional blends of CA pinot noir. I’m certainly not the first wine nerd to sing their praises, but take my word for it, Vision is worth a taste, especially if you can locate some older bottles.

Abbreviated Notes on a Past Private Tasting in Boston

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

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:

The Cultish Cabs and their invited guests.

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.

Classic Napa Cab at it's finest.

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.

Nice juice, not just a clever name.

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.

Though new labels don't wear his name, Pax Mahle still makes remarkable syrah-based wine.

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.

Like Agharta, the depth of SQN Mr K wines crush the feeble descriptives of the written word.

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.

Few partnerships have ever created such beauty.

Three Young Wines Over (Midweek) Sunday Night Italian Dinner

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Having gone to this midweek Sunday Night Italian dinner directly from the Sherbrooke portfolio tasting, with a brief stop at home to pick up some bottles and La Piazetta in my neighborhood for cannolis, there are a few new wines that need mention. I don’t review many new wines and never bother with a point scale and while my tasting notes are sparse from yesterday’s trade event, several things must be said. First, Henri Boillot is currently making some of the finest white Burgundy I’ve ever tasted. The Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 2009 is as round as it is deep with intoxicating aromatics and can only improve for at least another 5 years and sustain for at east another 5. The Boillot Corton Charlemagne is attractive though currently much bigger and more pungent than the Puligny. Another year or two in bottle will likely find it rounder, more complete, but it is certainly not lacking in character today. While tale of the quality of 2009 in many of the most significant regions in France has spread farther and wider than the actual wines (to date), it speaks volumes that the Boillot Pommard ’08 and Volnay Les Fremiets ’07 are also drinking quite nicely today and these wines clearly have many years to evolve.

Oh iphone 3G, how dost thou camera suck?

As the price of the average Chateauneuf du Pape and much of the rest of the Rhone creeps skyward, some of the few deals left to be had in that region come from Gigondas and the Dauvergne Ranvier Gigondas Vin Rare 2007 was a standout amongst the hundreds of bottles represented, particularly at it’s price point. Also noteworthy were two (very) sweet whites at the dessert table, both new to my palate: Ca’ Rugate La Perlara recioto Di Soave 2008 and Chateau Perray Joannet Bonnezeaux Les Menus Clos 2009. Try either of these with a tarte tatin, or cheese plate with artisanal honey.

At dinner, an impressive array of meat products and red sauces were prepared (thanks Bill!) and as such, I brought some meaty syrah. But first, there was a selection of meats and cheeses with which with which I opened a nicely chilled bottle of Donelan Family Venus 2009 (90% Rousanne 10% Viognier). For all the sins that American wines are often accused as related to the nose, this one escapes, having almost no apparent alcohol with which to obscure the abundant fruit. The Venus had rigid acidity, lending to the notion that it intends to drink well for a good few years, and a lightly creamy mid-palate that stood up to a moderately diverse cheese plate in the creamier and saltier directions. The palate is briefly buttery, showing light minerality at the end, but it’s the crsip acidity that carries the apple-pair and hint of citrus through the finish. As with just about every new wine of any varietal, another 6 months in bottle should smooth over that tiny bite that lingers. After a long breath, the last of the Venus made a palate-smacking intermezzo en route to various meat and pasta dishes.

In the background: Starmaiden of Brooklyn rockers, Sloppy Heads.

Very recently I found some 2006 Milbrandt Syrah The Estates Wahluke Slope on one of the better discount sites that have been springing up and this selection became the first big red of the evening. I have tasted and thoroughly enjoyed several vintages of Syrah produced from these same grapes under Charles Smith‘s K Vintners label and was anxious to taste the wine made by the Milbrandt family themselves. Upon opening, the nose was almost non-existent* with small amounts of black and red fruit intermingling beneath glycerine and a little alcohol, but aromatic expansion would occur. Rather than a single block of a single vineyard as the label may seem to indicate, the ’06 Milbrandt Estates Wahluke Slope is 100% Syrah from three estate Wahluke Slope vineyards (67% Northridge, 22% Talcott, 11% Pheasant). The concentration is considerable as is the complexity, though slightly shy of what Charles Smith achieved is his ’06 Milbrandt bottling. While the nose opened up somewhat over time, the palate became thick (in a good way) and the distinct presence of boysenberry and soft earth rose to the top over bramble, with hints of spice and a trace amount of something almost menthol; followed by a deceptive, lingering finish. While less inherently forward than the K Syrah, the overall weight is quite similar and will make an interesting side by side tasting in the coming years (both new vintages and past). *This wine was tasted two days after shipping, which can affect it’s showing.

Boring picture of an unusual foster child wine.

The final wine that accompanied our savory feast was Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007. But before the tasting notes, full disclosure. The wine was made and barreled by Pax Mahle, but due to a split between Mahle and the Donelans, it was blended by then new Donelan Family winemaker, Tyler Thomas. Further disclosure, I was on the mailing list when the label was Pax and and remain on the Donelan mailing list. I actively follow the winemaking of Pax Mahle and have a number of bottles of his various  wines going back to his 2000 Lauterbach Syrah and I am on the mailing list of both of his current projects: Wind Gap and the remarkable Agharta. What can I say, I like a nice syrah.

Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007 is a lighter wine (Rhone) styled to be more approachable early in it’s life than previous vintages and as such, it doesn’t have the palate encompassing weight of the ’05 or ’06. Still it’s a full bodied wine by any standards and exhibits cassis amongst it’s distinct berry characteristics. It’s earthy and broad on the palate and finishes with a flourish of spice. It’s the kind of wine that begs to be consumed with the powerfully savory, not unlike the Italian feast with which this one was enjoyed, but it would have been just as contented to hang with barbecue, or a really good pepperoni pizza.

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