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Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002 and the Joys of Cellaring Modest Wine

July 11, 2011 1 comment

Aging like... wine.

Another in the rack of aged Bourgogne, and next in line for tasting is Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002. Forey first caught my attention with an exquisite 1995 Echezeaux (from a reasonably light vintage) and I have since been impressed with several vintages of their Nuits St Georges and Clos Vougeot. I’m a little skeptical going in as this introductory level pinot noir was soft and unremarkable at release, but I have enjoyed other vintages of this modest villages blend.

The tongue belonging to a far sharper palate than my own likes to say that 90% of all wine is meant to be drunk within 3 years of bottling and the other 10% needs ten years in the cellar. It’s a generalization that I’ve argued against, but whether or not the numbers are precise, the arc of notion is pretty spot on. Yesterday’s Meo-Camuzet Bourgogne 2002, not yet at its decade in the bottle clearly needs more time, while the Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002, has blossomed quite nicely. I would add that almost all wine benefits from 2 to 3 years in bottle.

The Forey Bourgogne ’02 is dark garnet (burgundy?) in the glass and initially there’s a big waft of alcohol that blows off to reveal petrol and asphalt, like scorched earth, in a good way. If the Road Warrior weren’t a righteous racist, I’d like to think this might be his red of choice, in the price range. This wine has benefited greatly from the cellar time and is leagues more interesting now than when it went in. The palate shows dry earth, tar, and crushed roadside blackberries. Most wine consumption is an act of infanticide. But this ’02 Forey Bourgogne is another example of how well an inexpensive wine, properly stored and aged, can show.

Checking in with Old Friends: O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Rouge, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

An earnest beast.

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

A serious AOC villages blend.

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.

Diagnostics, Glorious Burgundy, and “Off” Vintages

July 9, 2011 Leave a comment

An "off" vintage beauty.

According to the diagnostics, people don’t read blogs on Saturday. So, if you are reading this, you are one of the 10% of the usual crew and I thank you for it. And since you’re here, I won’t bore you with notes on diagnostics or SEO (search engine optimization). But I would like to make a point about vintage charts, arbitrary wine market fluctuations, and the wonderful values to be had in “off” vintages. Recently I was drinking a Jayer Gilles Echezeaux du Dessus 2004, which cost me less than half of what any other vintage of that same wine is available for anywhere. While it was an exceedingly good deal, and I bought everything that was available, it’s indicative of what happens in world wine markets, particularly when a great region of great winemakers is labeled “off” for a given vintage, by the prevailing wisdom. Great growers and great winemakers will find ways to make palatable wine in all but the most horrific of growing seasons.

The three major factors that dictate a wine’s release price are 1) Supply and Demand (+ hype), 2) Relative quality of the product, 3) World currency rates at the time of release. However these factors line up, all future prices on the vintage in question, are largely determined by their price on their way into the market. The 2004 vintage in Cote de Nuits (northern Burgundy) was considered an off vintage compared with ’02, ’03, ’05, but the best of them are still damn good and tend to drink well on the younger side, such that bigger ones, like the Echezeaux pictured here, are drinking quite well, while many of the surrounding “better” vintages yielded wine that is still years before its peak.

Chevillon Bourgogne 2000.

Another example of this is the difference between the 1999 and 2000 vintages of the same region. 1999 was universally better rated than 2000, but many of the ’99s I’ve tasted have had an unpleasant overripeness to them initially, and have not grown out of it. Conversely, the very best of the 2000 Cote de Nuits are better than their ’99 counterparts and can often be found for half the price. While there are certain axioms that hold true in accepted modern wine nomenclature, it’s always best to do as much tasting on your own as possible. Just like with a record review, it all just comes down to one person’s opinion, on someone else’s creation, in a random moment. One of the most trusted palates in my personal pantheon likes to say that regardless of everything else, it comes down to the ‘yum or yuck’ test: Something hits your palate and it either pleases your senses or it doesn’t. The rest really are just details, pomp, and circumstance.

De Bortoli Noble One Semillon 2001 and The Frow Show 7/4/2011

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m sipping a small glass of De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 from New South Wales, Australia. It came from a small stash I’ve been eyeballing of stickies from around the world including Foris Port (OR), and both light and dark sweeties from Joseph Phelps (CA) and d’Arenberg (AU). There are almost infinite, though often tiny production, dessert wines made in the style of classics of specific regional origin, usually available at a relatively lower price point. Bortoli’s Noble One Semillon is similar to a Sauternes, the classic French white dessert wine of Bordeaux, which can be many times more expensive.

Wine was lighter in color than it appears.

I’m listening to Jesse Jarnow’s Frow Show as archived at wfmu.org. Jarnow is the music nerd’s music nerd. I spent many years researching music professionally and I can go through a whole Frow Show without hearing a single piece of music that I own in any format. The opener from his July 4th Frow Show entitled “unscramble: fereodm”, was the Karma Moffett track, “Ocean Bowls”, which is four minutes of waves gently breaking, barely impeded by slight tones laid over it. You’re as likely to hear fireworks as harp or theremin, but playlists also contain three minute songs in English, by hipp(i)er household names. This particular Independence Day show ended aptly with a historic recording of Woody Guthrie doing “This Land Is Your Land”.

The De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 shows lush fruit, apricot, pair and caramelized granny smith apple. It’s more viscous in the mouth than it is in the glass. There are honeysuckle and honeycomb, and it’s as sweet as a wine can be, without going sickly. Visually and texturally it’s more similar to a 5 puttonyos Tokaji than to a Sauternes. As the wine warms in the glass, it becomes even more honeyed, velvety, and viscous, perhaps this is closer to a 6 puttonyos tokaji? But still there’s a crisp acidity, good length, and the tang of orange zest. One could easily pair De Bartoli Noble One 2001 with a lithe tarte tatin, a floating island (oeufs à la neige or ile flotant, if you want to be all French about it), or the right kind of cheese plate, but this wine is serious enough to stand alone as it’s own course and experience.

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.

Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2007 and Megafaun’s Gather, Form & Fly

July 6, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been hot lately, here in Brooklyn, and I’ve been drinking more white than usual; most recently a Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2007. Back when Sanford Chardonnay made a cameo appearance in Sideways, it was still owned by the fellow whose name is on the bottle (Richard Sanford). Now a Terlato Group property, they’re still producing bottles with nice wine under those old labels.

Not thrilling, but nice.

I’m listening to Megafaun’s Gather, Form & Fly, which opens with a gorgeous instrumental called “Bella Marie”. These guys are as comfortable with the acoustic weapons of Americana and thick harmonies as they are with coaxing a subtle background loop out of a laptop. The result is a record as deep of orchestration as in sheer range, and reassurance that nerds make all the cool stuff. “The Fade” is the closest I’ve heard to a CSN moment in any band that’s currently vital. “Worried Mind” is their campfire ballad that’s often performed without amplification. The album ends with “Tides” which is sleepy as a lullaby yet somehow urgent. If I were deliberately pairing these musical tangents, Gather, Form & Fly would have been perfect with that sweetly off-beat Dettori Bianco.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress. Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2007 is pale gold in the glass with just the faintest tinge of green. The palate and nose are in relative harmony, wearing well Bartlett Pair and lemon zest. It finishes with a crisp acidity and is wholly food friendly. As the wine warms toward room temperature and breathes a little, the mouthfeel gets richer and leaves behind that tip of the tongue dryness, but mostly it’s just a pretty summer wine. Their single vineyard bottle sourced from La Rinconada is a more substantial offering, but at the next price point, and more importantly, a story for another time.

Dettori Bianco 2006 and Dan Bern’s Fifty Eggs, Unfiltered and Unfined

July 5, 2011 Leave a comment

An unusual off-white wine.

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.

Murky and off-white, but quite palatable.

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.

All in a day's work.

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.

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch ’07 and Summer Sun (Happy 4th!)

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

A summer white in the the summer wind.

It’s the 4thand the hunter/gatherer in me feels the need to grill something. There are a couple of Albacore steaks in the fridge and the marinade now contains: olive oil, white wine, a fistful of fresh basil, mined garlic and ginger, crushed hot peppers, salt and pepper the fish, not the marinade… and I’m out of citrus, so a dash of Pellegrino Limonata, looks like just the thing. I’ll also confess that the white wine is Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2007 that was vacu vin’d in the fridge from yesterday. I am still not sponsored by Vacu Vin but, per dollar spent, I’m not sure anything else has added more to the enjoyment of my wine consumption. And I’m not above sponsorship cash and products.

I’m listening to Yo La Tengo’s Summer Sun. They’ve been so good for so long that it’s inspiring and intimidating in the same moment. Summer Sun achieves and maintains a complete aesthetic throughout, without ever reaching monotone, in a way that few records ever have. The climax, literarily speaking, is the 10 ½ minute gorgeously ethereal and meandering “Let’s Be Still,” which sounds like the finest of all summer afternoon naps, no sunburn, no mosquito bites. At sundown, one wakes to the falling action of Georgia’s breathy rendition of Alex Chilton’s nostalgically sweet “Take Care”. And that’s how you end a great record.

Very little of the Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2007 went into the tuna marinade. Some is currently in the glass in my hand in which it appears to be 18 karat gold with just a hint of gripping viscosity to the swirl. There’s an apparent yeastiness to the nose, under which peach, wildflowers, and strawberry are rapidly emerging. There’s a butteriness to the texture and a firm but fair acidity that carries through a long finish, where pineapple persists. It’s nice juice that has another handful of good years in it, properly stored.

Rutherford Hill Port 1986 and God Bless Warren Zevon (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 5)

July 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Looking pretty sharp at 25 years.

The wine I was most excited to open with that glorious cheese selection from Bedford Cheese Shop was a Rutherford Hill Vintage Port 1986. I’m a big fan of high quality US dessert wines and this is one of the most port-like “Ports” I’ve ever encountered. There are an enormous amount of fabulous stickies bottled not only up and down the west coast, but sweet white is one of the few things they’ve been getting right in parts of New York for a long time. Often batches of California dessert wine are pet projects of wineries known for other things and production is often so small that if you don’t specifically ask, you’d never know they existed. I often come across such small batch wines in collection and consignment offers, which was how I originally discovered the dessert wines of Williams Selyem and Shafer. Over the years Phelps has produced a number of beautiful stickies such that I can recommend you purchase and taste just about any one you can find.

Warren Zevon‘s posthumous Preludes: Rare and Unreleased shuffles up on the itunes and I remember how much one can miss a guy he never met. Preludes is made up of selections from the tapes that Zevon’s son, Jordan, found in an old suicase, shortly after Zevon’s death. Warren Zevon was one of the great American storytellers and these earliest recordings show just how good he already was early on in his career, though on the charmingly raw version of “Carmelita,” it’s clear that guitar was his (distant) second instrument, to the piano, at which he was masterful. The previously unreleased “Rosartita Beach Café” sounds like something he might have written after a minor bender with Hunter Thompson, but I’m fairly certain they hadn’t yet met and become friends. “Rosartita Beach Café” was torn from the same moment as “Desperados Under the Eaves,” the version of which resides on Preludes is crushing. For my music listening dollar, it doesn’t really get any better. And the next glass is raised to Warren Zevon.

After hours of breathing, there’s still a solid alcoholic bite to the Rutherford Hill Port 1986, but the palate is broader and brambly, unquestionably lush, and surprisingly grapey for it’s age. It’s a big wine and age hasn’t taken that away. It’s thick with chocolate and black pepper, wild herbs, wintergreen, and a hint of caramelized sugar. This is a wine that would have worked as well with a rich flourless chocolate cake as it does with the various cheeses. It would be a crime on one level, but this ’86 Rutherford Hill Port would make a stunning reduction for a world-class marbled cut of beef. And damned if sipping it doesn’t make me want one of my 10-12 annual cigars; Montecristo #5 please, if anybody’s running to the shop… in Havana, or Montreal, or Mexico City, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or Moscow, or Zagreb

Epilogue: Beautiful as it was that evening, thanks to my trusty vacu vin, the ’86 Rutherford Hill Port was drinking even better the next day and the rest of the week, once the alcohol integrated had properly integrated.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 and Songs from the Tin Shed (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 4)

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Bottle shown here is 2008.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 was the next in the ever darkening wine lineup. This one is fairly big and is ideally suited for the rich [Bedford] cheese [Shop] plate, also standing its ground against the accompanying cured and thinly sliced meats. First, a vintage note: 1999 is an underrated vintage for much of CA (as well as for Bordeaux). So many different varieties of wines originating from Santa Barbara to Bolinas are fairing far better than their ’98 and ’00 counterparts and represent a significant value over the much hyped (and excellent) ’97 and ‘01/’02 vintages flanking them. As for Bordeaux, 1999 represents the last solid vintage to still occasionally be available at a significant price break from every vintage that has come since (minus the much maligned 2002), and they are aging beautifully.

Up on the itunes, the shuffle finds our ears flooded with the twangy strings and lush harmonies of Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) & Chris Castino‘s (The Big Wu) Songs From the Tin Shed (2004), from the pre-master recording. The music ranges from Sad Cowboy to Hillbilly, the tone from wistful to joyous, and includes a small handful of well placed covers amongst the majority original tunes by Austin and Castino. While Songs From the Tin Shed is far less known than the records (and live shows) of Yonder Mountain String Band or The Big Wu, the quality of its execution and heights of its sincerity will continue find its way to and delight ears- with a propensity toward twang- for generations.

Back to our regularly scheduled program:
T-Vine Napa Zinfandel 1999 is toward the shallow end of full bodied in color with a broad mouthfeel and long lingering acidity. There’s a piney sweetness and something ruggedly floral, like the unlikely offspring of a honeysuckle and some mutant wild thistle. This wine both grows in depth and softens in mouthfeel as another hour of air expands its horizons. T-Vine continues to quietly make very serious small batch wine in a number of varietals, both blends and single vineyards, including the recent addition of a Grenache from the incomparable Paras Vineyard. If you have not already, T-Vines is highly worth looking (and tasting!) into.