I’m sipping on a Veritas Shiraz Heysen Vineyard 1999 and I am starkly reminded that Rolf Binder makes some world class shiraz. Veritas is the label under which Rolf Binder once produced his now eponymous wines. The winery is still called Veritas, as it has been since its inception in 1955. For most of its existence, Veritas Winery produced primarily fortified wines, but began expansion and experimentation in the ‘80s, leading to a number of dry varietal releases. By the ‘90s Rolf Binder was making stunning old vine shiraz that was impossible to ignore, most notably the Hanisch Vineyard Shiraz and Heysen Vineyard Shiraz. After nearly a decade of consistent accolade, the Veritas wines began to be distributed internationally, at which point it came to light that there was competition for that name, so the international labels for Veritas Winery wine read Rolf Binder.
I’m listening to Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ 1982 Destiny Street LP. It seemed one of the few records that felt appropriate after being graced with a listen to a test pressing of Brooklyn’s own John Biz’ brand spanking new New Morning LP; a testament to the raw quality and sincerity of both projects. Hell was a founding member of the band Television, but was also the first to leave the band (1973-1975). However he remained an integral part of the NYC punk scene as poet and musician. If there had been membership cards handed out, his would have likely read, ‘founding member’ as well. Biz, on the other hand, is a prolific Brooklyn based songwriter today, who seems to have a new record and/or a new band every time I see or even hear tale of him. If there is a future, I’ll be surprised if Biz is not properly recognized and/or compensated for his significant work.
The Veritas Winery Shiraz Heysen Vineyard 1999, in the glass, shows a deep inky opaque purple tinged garnet. Almost immediately, the wine displays lovely integration, but is still just a touch aggressive, a little hot. It’s still a little glossy on top, though this wine is clearly well into its peak drinking window, if not approaching the back of its plateau. The nose is dominated by plentiful red and black fruit, violets, and a dusting of white pepper, all of which translate to the palate. The black raspberry character lends a palate-smacking dryness, almost furry, to the broad mouthfeel. It’s like a concentrated bowl of slightly aged berries over brambly underbrush. After nearly 2 hours of breathing time, the ’99 Veritas Heysen is so well balanced, so round, that it could pass for alcohol-free, without sacrificing any character. While this wine will likely hold up for another handful of years, peak drinking is now. If you have any squirreled away, it’s time to pop a cork and enjoy!
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.
The wine list at St Anselm is remarkable for a boutique restaurant. While there’s very little wine of any significant age, the selections are deliberate, the mark-up is modest, and some of the finest artisan winemakers in the world are represented, including American originals like Sean Thackrey and Scholium Project. Having been before, and desiring to pair St Anselm’s $15 butcher’s steak, I braved the $25 corkage fee and brought my own: Guy Castagnier Clos Vougeot 1999, Kay Bros. Shiraz Amery Hillside 2002, Mitolo Shiraz G.A.M. 2005. It was a beautiful succession of ever deepening reds, but only the last will be full noted here.
I’m listening Todd Snider’s “Just Like Old Times” off of his 2006 album, The Devil You Know. If there is a future, Snider will unquestionably be recorded as one of the great songwriters of these days. “Just Like Old Times” celebrates a different kind of American Dream. This one finds our hero, and his trick-turning high school sweetheart, holed up in a motel room, swapping chemicals and stories. It’s a moral universe, more matter of fact than tawdry, in which politely evading the authorities- without having to flush the evidence- is a victory for all human kind. Snider has seen more sides of life (and more rehab) than most will experience in a lifetime, and he conveys these moment with a brutal honesty, a rare charm, and an encompassing wit.
The Mitolo Shiraz GAM 2005 is deep opaque purple-hued ruby. It’s bold and rich with black and red fruits: black raspberry, cassis, black cherry, tempered by the presence of cedar and weight pine tar. This wine is most definitely mature, but the tannin, though sweet, will still integrate further, with continued bottle aging. At 14.5% alcohol, this wine initially shows a touch hot with a greater presence of alcohol than did the higher alcohol (15%) ’02 Kay Bros. Amery Hillside Shiraz. This Mitolo is the definition of rich and full bodied, with a lush, silky mouthfeel. Its dense velvety texture falls short of jammy and manages to balance its significant endowment of alcohol and fruit. Dry blackberry liqueur and white pepper flood the long undulating finish, which leaves the palate with the lingering freshness of mint and a dusting of spice. This is very serious juice with at least another 5 years to thrive. Pair it with lamb, game, or a well seasoned, properly cooked butcher’s steak.
A few weeks back I was invited to a private tasting in Boston, held by a group of three friends (thanks Noah, Steve & Tad!) who take turns hosting themed wine nights for each other and their guests. The premise of the tasting I attended was Cultish Cabs and the line up looked like this:
Since it’s not the clearest picture on this blog, here’s what we tasted (left to right): Whispering Dove Cabernet Oakville 2002, Whispering Dove Cabernet Stag’s Leap 2003, Agharta Syrah (Pax Mahle) 2004, Lail J Daniel Cuvee 1999, Dunn Cabernet Napa 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 2003, Scarecrow 2006, Chateau d’Yquem 1996, Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. What follows is more of an experiential tale than a set of proper tasting notes as I spent more time enjoying than note taking while amongst these friends.
This particular evening, it was decided that there would be an initial blind tasting, for fun, and after all guests made there guesses, decanters were properly labeled, so everyone would have accurate palate reference. The ’06 Scarecrow and the ’94 Dunn were both the crowd favorites and were the two wines that nearly everyone guessed correctly during blind tasting. As far as I’m concerned, Dunn Cabernet is the classic long lived Napa Cab in the same way that Chateau Haut Brion is the classic Bordeaux. As of this year, Dunn’s ’86 and ’87 Napa Cabs are still drinking quite well, with little sign of their age. This particular ’94 Dunn Napa, while showing beautifully, still has a number of years to improve in bottle, and many left to live. The 2006 Scarecrow, being such a big wine from a recent good vintage (sandwiched in between 2 great vintages), was supple, round, and encompassing. After significant breathing time, it was damn near seamless. There was a waft on the nose and considerable weight on the finish that our host insisted tasted of “vanilla cake”. While I experienced no crumbs, the vanilla (rich rather than sweet) character was undeniable and quite stunning. And while I know the price of this wine is relatively high (bordering on absurd), it’s a truly beautiful product, inside and out.
When I was first invited to this tasting, our fearless host expressed his desire to locate a bottle of Screaming Eagle for around $1200, which is next to impossible, making the cost of said Scarecrow seem quite reasonable. To most mortals, Screaming Eagle isn’t a real wine, but a legendary endpoint of what the highest end of the market will bear (or would bear before the Chinese started paying $1500 a pop for Lafite too young to drink, and then started drinking it). For pennies on those dollars, I brought the two bottles of Whispering Dove which I snapped up with great curiosity back when they were released for around $30/btl.
While every wine opened on this particular evening was well worthy of it’s company, the ’02 Whispering Dove Oakville not only had the most mysterious pedigree of the bunch, but was also 3rd on just about everyone’s blind tasting preference list, and was, by one less experienced taster, mistaken for Scarecrow. To the best of my knowledge, this wine was only produced in 3 vintages from ’01 to ’03, and was very likely different grapes (and likely winemakers) in each release. Rumors that Whispering Dove was in fact declassified Screaming Eagle juice were quickly dispelled, but that didn’t change the marketing boost it got from the false notion. Nor does it change the fact that the 2002 Whispering Dove was most certainly vinified by someone who knew how to handle reserve quality Oakville fruit. And I will likely give my remaining stash another 3 or 4 years before tasting again.
And then there was the obviously out of place ’04 Agharta Syrah, which while cultish, contains no cabernet, and was not part of the blind tasting. Bolstering said cultishness, prior to it’s debut, it was given a 98 point rating by some guy named Bob and before that it was vinified, oaked, aged (58 months!), and bottled (unfined & unfiltered) by a winemaker named Pax. And while Pax himself has said that the just released ’05 is “twice the wine” as is this monsterous and complex ’04 Agharta, he’s almost out of running room on the 100 point scale. I’ve tasted it on 3 occasions and giving notes would require the transcription of a short novel I haven’t yet written. It’s deeply complex stuff that changes dramatically over many hours of breathing and is an experience in itself rather that something to drink with any nameable specific food stuff. Structurally the experience of this debut Agharta is similar to Sean Thackrey’s Orion in that the sheer number of flavors per breathing time makes these wines infinitely faceted (and fascinating) gems. Looking forward to following the evolution of these bottles over the next decade or two.
And I don’t mean to disparage Chateau d’Yquem. There’s a reason it has the reputation it does. Yquem has been producing some of the words finest sweet white for centuries. By the time Jacques Sauvage was granted feudal tenure over Yquem in 1593 special growing techniques and late harvesting were already in practice and the estates finest vintages live for over a century. Very few estates, winemaking or otherwise enjoy such a rich history, which certainly comes with a hefty per bottle tariff, here in the future. For my dollar, if I’m going to spend way too much money on a half-bottle of sweet white, it’s more often going to be a 6 puttonyos tokaji, essencia, or something on which the Austrian genius, Alois Kracher, once had his hands.
Speaking of which, our final wine of the evening was Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. The Mr K series was a partnership of Sine Qua Non proprietor Manfred Krankl and the aforementioned Kracher, which ended abruptly upon Kracher’s untimely passing. Kracher’s family continues to produce the eponymous wines that made him famous. While the SQN Mr K The Nobleman 2002 (Chardonnay) is one of the lighter, thinner wines ever produced under this label, it is still a beautiful, balanced, nuanced, (almost) unreasonably honeyed joy to sip. The ’02 Nobleman is only “lesser” in the way that a mediocre Radiohead record is still worlds better than all of the crap on the radio. This golden wine is a treat on it’s own, but pairs well with a range of cheeses and non-chocoalte desserts, and with residual sugar at this level, the remaining wines may outlive many of us.
Hello Wine Drinkers of the World!
As I actively switch wine related web presence in this direction, previously residing @:
I’m drinking a glass of K Vintners Milbrandt Wahluke Slope Columbia Valley Syrah 2006 (see comically low-fi iphone pic).
The wine is a big concentrated fruit forward full-bodied red, as most Charles Smith wines tend to be. Much of the nose, after considerable breathing time, is still masked beneath a heavy waft of alcohol, but the dark berries that make up the most pleasurable aspects of the palate are beginning to make themselves known to the olfactory as well. I have tasted a number of these wines going back to K Vintners The Beautiful Syrah 2002, which was not just a clever name, and Smith continues to impress at a number of price points, even as those price points creep skyward with each vintage.
While today’s photo quality is poor and these wine notes abbreviated, soon you will find unreasonably in-depth reviews, interviews, research, hi-res images, and video.