Having been an admirer of the wine of St. Cosme (Gigondas Valbelle, in particular) for some time, I was surprised to find out that St. Cosme bottles an unreasonably inexpensive NV table wine of unusual character: St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV. As always, any true student of the game is always learning. I have to thank Daniel Posner of Grapes The Wine Co. for alerting me to the existence of this cuvée, and even more so, for selling it to me at under $10 per bottle, a wholly reasonable fee for the entry level wine of truly great winemaker (Louis Barruol). But this St. Cosme Little James Basket Press is no average ten dollar non-vintage red table wine. It is made in a solera style, meaning that in each vintage new wine is added, such that any given bottling is made up of 50% the most recent vintage, and 50% a blend of all vintages that came before; this one began in 1999. While this 100% Grenache is made up of many vintages and is bottled as a non-vintage wine, the bottling year is listed on the label, and serves as the de facto vintage, without infringing upon the labeling rules of any appellation.
I’m listening to Dan Bern singing “The 5th Beatle” from his Live in Los Angeles album. It’s one of a handful of tunes on the record that Dan has been playing for years, but had never released in a legitimate recording. And while the Live in LA rendition isn’t the very finest I’ve heard, it’s an important moment that is not only lyrically amusing, but it sums up so much of what the best of Bern’s live shows can be. Dan once feared and loathed Los Angeles, as is apparent in “Wasteland” (also included on Live from LA) from his 1997 self-titled debut. He has since moved back to the City of Angels, having contributed key songs to films like Walk Hard and Get Him to The Greek, and he seems to see less darkness in it these days. “The 5th Beatle” is a sincerely rendered comedy impressions routine wrapped up in the guise of a talking blues tune, where Dan hypothesizes what might have happened had the Beatles stayed together, only to have other artists such as Hendrix, Cobain, and Springsteen join them, over the years they never had. And while the whole notion is clearly farcical, if you are unmoved by the fantasy of John Lennon surviving the 80s, then I’m not sure we have much else to talk about.
Two minutes after cracking the screw cap, this 2011 bottling of St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV is already the most interesting red wine under $10 I’ve tasted in all searchable memory. It’s medium dark ruby in the glass and is dominated by lightly floral crunchy red fruit, beneath which stews stone fruit, coffee, and pine tar. Lesser notes of cassis, baking spices, and hints of cedar add to the unusual depth of this sweet and round, if not deep, Grenache. The intermingling multiple vintages beneath the current adds layers, thin but significant, to the structure, like that of a masterfully baked mille crepes. After an hour of breathing time, the wine shows remarkable integration, and is darn near seamless. St. Comse Little James’ Basket Press NV is so good, per dollar spent, and is imported in small enough quantity that I genuinely hesitated in writing about it. After plowing through a half case, I’ve had to remove the remaining six bottles from sight and am looking forward to seeing how they age over the next few years. Future notes will most decidedly appear here on WineGeist. Stay tuned.
Tenute Dettori is best known for the unusual, rustic, and outstanding estate old vine cannonau (Grenache) they produce, most notably their oldest vine, flagship bottle that sells under Dettori Rosso. Unfortunately, their release prices have more than doubled in the last couple of vintages and I can no longer in good conscience recommend the Dettori as a $150 bottle, though it does compete favorably against other over-priced Italian reds. And had it not been one of my favorite wines in the world at around $55, I wouldn’t have taken the price increase(s) so personally. However, should you come across any remaining stock of ’01-’04 at a lower price, or should you see any overpriced ’05s showing up on close-out sales, grab what you can. That wine is serious, high alcohol, bold, brooding, bordering on monsterous stuff; and the 2001 is still aging nicely.
I’m listening to Dan Bern‘s Fifty Eggs album (1998), produced by DIY folk goddess, Ani DiFranco. Bern himself sees this album as a specific moment in time that, at last check, he still had mixed feeling about, but there are so many reasons to dig this record. From a songwriting perspective, Bern was at the height of his aggressive surrealism, which is most apparent on “One Thing Real” and “No Missing Link“, the former of which finds Bern chewing over existence and song craft with Van Gogh and Jesus Christ. The latter poses an alternately profane theory of evolution. While the comedy and philosophy are thick beneath Bern’s Dylanesque vocal tone, it’s “Oh Sister” (Not to be confused with Dylan‘s 1976 “Oh, Sister” which Andrew Bird covers on Soldier On) and “Rolling Away” which humanize the deliberately reality-challeneged storyteller. Back in LA, Dan Bern has recently been contributing songs to films such as Walk Hard and Get Him to the Greek, work for which he was genetically engineered, but he still puts on a wholly entertaining show, when he feels like touring.
Back to Dettori Bianco 2006, which is obviously neither clarified nor filtered. As pictured, in the glass, the wine is a hazy, murky, deep orange gold; looking as if the wine were 10 years older and had been cellared in a hot attic. It’s high in acid, but not sharp with it, making this wine technically food friendly, though the floating orange/brown particles of dead yeast (also the name of my new punk band), which add to its foreboding appearance, might frighten away your meal. The nose wafts powerfully of apricot liqueur. The palate is sweetly funky, undeniably weird and pops with apricot, but there’s a lingering mid-palate note of an earthy cheese that’s most of the way toward blue. This wine is a walking contradiction from first glance, smell, and taste, but its an enjoyable experience. The acid grows over time and with some more air, the wine becomes softly briny, like miso soup, with notes of caramel and yeast, crossing the sweet with savory, making Dettori Bianco its own experience. This is also the sort of wine that can vary greatly bottle to bottle, making it necessary to taste 2 or 3 of them to really get an idea of the full quality and range it possesses.