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d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 and the Emotional Rollercoaster of Vinyl

September 26, 2011 1 comment

This d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 was tasted directly after the ’97 Rosenblum Zin Sauret and oddly, it made a fitting transition, but we’ll get to the specific tasting notes in a minute. d’Arenberg is a 4th generation family wine company helmed by the unique Chester Osborn whose bottled produce is as unusual and worthy of sincere investigation as the man himself. d’Arenberg is a relatively large producer for the artisan level quality and is just as ready to sell you a ubiquitous $10-15 blend (Stump Jump, d’Arry’s Original), or a moderately priced single-vineyard offering (The Derelict), as a rare and powerful (and pricey) bottle made from 100+ year old decrepit vines, who have already lost a limb to age (The Dead Arm). While I have never met the man, never profited from the sale of any of his labels, I am an avid consumer of it, and it would be dishonest to not admit my bias. Look for the tall, skinny label that reminds you of a diver’s flag and there’s a pretty good chance, there’s some nice juice under it.

I’m listening to an awesome pile of records, which is four obsolete recorded music formats ago, for those of you under 30. I don’t know why it took me so long to set up the turntable and phono stage, particularly with the Krell CD player refusing to open its door, and yes, I tried asking nicely. I had apparently forgotten the frustration of those records that never sounded like they should have. Some albums were recorded digitally and were simply transferred to the analog format for its own sake rather than being specifically re-mastered for the process, which is why the Flaming Lips’ wonderful Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots sounds completely flat on its super cool translucent red vinyl. And I pre-ordered two consecutive Andrew Bird albums, Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha, both of which showed up literally stuck to the sleeve, as if put away wet, and have never once played clean. And then one settles into a sincerely crafted masterpiece, such as Radiohead’s Kid A (on double 10”) which just ended or the 200gram virgin vinyl re-mastered pressing of HendrixAxis Bold as Love, whose controlled chaotic left-handed genius current courses through my auditory system. Now one quickly recalls that every advancement in audio (before digital compression) was a failed attempt to sound as warm and as real as a record. Because we’re all bold as love, just ask the axis. He knows everything.

The d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997, even at this age, is brooding in the glass and immediately shows copious black and spiced red fruit, cavernous depth, awesome length, and the (al)most unbearable concentration of being. Please forgive the hyperbolic alliteration, but I did warn you that I’m listening to Jimi on vinyl, and this wine really is a stunning blend of typical Australian varietals (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre), pushed to a-typical greatness. It drinks like a burly, brambly, dry-but endlessly lush, version of the previously tasted and much evolved Zin. The ’97 Ironstone Pressings is showing an unusual nose, currently dominated by red cherry, menthol, and volcanic ash. The massive fruit on the palate, after some breath, seems poured over crushed granite with hints of smoked game. Its texture is luscious and rich with an up front (non-syrupy) sweetness and a deep palate-shaking dryness before the long finish. This is a wine that I’ve followed for some time, and unlike the ’98 (which matured much more rapidly), this ’97 d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings has finally and fully come into it’s own. I look forward to future consideration of the ’97, while getting back into my stash of ’01s and ‘02s, of that same skinny label.

Rosenblum Zinfandel Sauret Vineyard 1997 and Jeff Tweedy vs. The Black Eyed Peas

September 22, 2011 1 comment

While sipping this remarkable 1997 Rosenblum Zin Sauret, I ponder many a past philosophical throw-down over the aging capacity of CA old vine zinfandel. There is certainly validity to the opinion that even a full-bodied concentrated zin loses certain attributes, even when significantly gaining in integration and the secondary and tertiary flavors that emerge with bottle age. Still, when any winemaker (or distributor) tells me that their brand new monster red is meant to drink young, I have to assume that their number one priority is selling through the vintage before the next release. And there is simply no full-bodied red wine that won’t benefit from at least a year in bottle. Anyone who says differently is well… selling something. That being said, I enjoyed the banter as much as the wine while recently tasting Victor Abascal’s Zin-forward blend, Marycrest My Generation ’07. And I have to respect a wine named with Pete Townshend lyrics. Does Pete see any of the proceeds?

Langerado 2005

I’m watching and listening to Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) do a Black Eyed Peas tune in a YouTube video, a link that was sent over by dear friend and major Tweedy-head, Jeff Austin (of Yonder Mountain String Band). The discrepancy between the sincerity of Tweedy’s own song-writing and the producer-constructed schlock for which the Peas are known, puts this clip high on my list of nominations for the 2011 Irony Awards. In reference to “I Got a FeelingTweedy says, “They have like a million lyrics, each one of them is like four pages long.” The subtext, of course, being that each lyric is more gratuitous and meaningless than the last, but his subtle way of explaining that, while playing the godawful thing, is far more satisfying than my meat-hook truth analysis. The Peas and their pushers are marketing geniuses and one simply cannot be a Bar Mitzvah DJ without owning that record. Mazel Tov to the sales team! Jeff Tweedy’s work is so deeply enjoyable and that of the Crap Eyed Sleaze so thoroughly loathsome that while watching this amazing clip, I believe at least part of my brain stem may have prolapsed.

At this point in its life, the ’97 Rosenblum Zinfandel Sauret Vineyard is drinking more like a subtly stunning pinot 2/3rd its actual age. It is deep, but wholly translucent ruby, in the glass, yellowing ever so slightly at the very rim. While much of its original weight has been aged away, there is still quite a bit going on here, pound for pound. The wine is soft and round, with swirling red fruit, speckled with moments of clove, cumin, and cinnamon. There’s good length, nice acidity and just a hint of unsweetened peppermint nearing the end of the tapering finish. Along with the dominant raspberry and red cherry, there exists here, to a much lesser degree, but undeniably present, boysenberry. It shows a distinct beauty, but also a coy subtly which is contrary to the kind of women I tend to date. With a nose of said red fruit over raw meat, the ’97 Rosenblum Zin Sauret is impressively complex for its weight, and is a prime example of the rewards awaiting those who “risk” aging such bottles. And in deference to those who prefer a bigger, fruit forward version, I can attest to the qualities of this same wine in its youth. If you can find them, a ’97 vs. ’07 tasting of this label would greatly expand one’s understanding of this wonderful CA varietal, of which Rosenblum bottles many of the finest, per dollar spent.

St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV (2011) and Dan Bern’s “The 5th Beatle”

September 18, 2011 1 comment

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.

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1982 and La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Vintage Port is the classic red dessert wine, and it is the vine product Portugal has always been best known for. The region was established as an appellation in 1756. Much like bubbly wine born anywhere but Champagne, there are many bottles called port, but all true vintage port originates in the Douro Valley of Northern Portugal, and only in declared vintages. Quinta do Noval first appeared in the land registry in 1715, and has obviously been making these venerable sweet wines for a very long time.

I’m listening/watching a series of La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows, which find some unreasonably talented musicians doing what they do, in random moments and a-typical settings, for such performances. These films never cease to enthrall me with their raw, one take, low-fi (for high-def), live performances in public spaces, amongst whoever happens to be there, in those moments. They are often single-shot (or made to appear that way), largely acoustic, usually portable and often fully in-motion. Now maybe I’m just biased because some of my favorite current artists have chosen to take part in the series: Andrew BirdYo La Tengo, Moutain Goats, Megafaun, Wilco…  There’s one with Femi Kuti on a Paris rooftop, several with Beirut, Iron & Wine in poorly lit wine cellar, Chocolate Genius with string accompaniment amongst the rubble of a demolished building. There’s even a goateed Tom Jones doing “We Got Love”, amongst others, backstage and in his hotel room. In the opposite direction, there’s an extraordinarily nerdy cover band project, Neutral Uke Hotel, a ukulele-based Neutral Milk Hotel tribute.  La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows catalog is relatively extensive, considering the quality. There’s an innocence and a sincerity in these creatively shot one-off performances, each existing for its own sakes. As a whole, the Take Away Shows may very well be the best live music experience one can achieve without leaving home or spending any money.

The 1982 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port is running unusually hot for a wine of its age and is still almost overbearingly alcohol prevalent after several hours of breathing. Eventually, a sweetness does begin to emerge on the palate reminiscent of rum marinated maraschino cherry, dusted with black pepper and a cool northern breeze of menthol. This wine has a long way to go still, just to settle into itself and after over 6 hours of breathing time, I left one glass out overnight and sealed the rest up, with my trusty Vacu Vin (still not sponsored!).

The glass that sat out overnight was far warmer and more welcoming, nearly 20 hours after being poured, and the rest of the contents of that bottle showed worlds better the next day, and in small glasses for the rest of the week. At this point, the ’82 Noval is showing medium ruby in the glass, brickish and yellowing at the rim. The nose is ashy, but still replete with alcohol, though the palate has become much rounder, displaying dry raspberry liqueur, violets, and caramelized plum, and wisps of the spice and menthol that was prevalent the previous day. While the fire on the nose never relented, the palate became much softer and more integrated with time. Though relatively rich and pleasurable there is significant alcohol on the finish that leaves more of a burn than an aftertaste. The wine is pretty, but largely unchallenging, making it reasonably versatile for a sticky, though it seems to go best with cigar course.

Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 and Phish Disclosure

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

After the unexpectedly weighty ’86 Beringer Cab Private Reserve, over world class steak, whose name shall not be spoken, the follow-up (or the closer, if you’re into baseball metaphors) was a Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002. As those familiar will know, wine is no longer bottled under the Pax label and the new wines from that former partnership now sell under the Donelan Family Wines label, while Pax Mahle, the winemaking partner, currently produces Wind Gap Wines as well as the remarkably concentrated and complex Agharta wines. All legal discord aside, all involved continue to produce and release compelling syrah-based wine. I have not tasted a wine in which Pax was involved that wasn’t a worthy experience and, full disclosure, I remain on the Agharta mailing list.

A quick glance at the few Twitter accounts that Mahle bothers to follow, seems to indicate that he’s down with the hippie music. And since I co-edited Relix Magazine’s tribute to Phish (with Jesse Jarnow), shortly after their disbanding, and penned its lead feature, on the Tom Marshall/Trey Anastasio songwriting team, let’s talk about them. This will likely get me banned from PhantasyTour (is that still a thing?), but it’s not okay to pretend that Phish is the band that they were prior to their post-hiatus disbanding. The millennium show was a profound, albeit drug addled, high water mark; it was the thing that all of those crescendos were building toward.  The silence that followed was deafening.

The members of Phish are all unquestionably skilled musicians, but they once wielded the power of the sustained crescendo, unlike almost any other, creating a glorious cacophony affectionately known as Phish Noise, to the nerdiest* of the flock. The best of Phish’ current jams sound a lot more like rehearsed segues, or parts of recycled ones, than the maintained mathematical chaos that once ebbed and flowed between songs. And most of the songwriting since the re-banding is, lyrically and sonically, retread at best. To anyone who insists that Phish is as good today as they were up to the millennium, do a couple of shows dead sober, for a change, and tell me what you hear. The 3 most interesting projects, made by any members of Phish, since 2000’s Farmhouse and The Siket Disc: Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke’s Clone, Mike Gordon’s Inside In, and Joey Arkenstat’s awesome and absurd concept album Bane, “produced” by Mike Gordon.

The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is deep, opaque purple in the glass, fading to concentrated ruby, at the very rim. There is significant sediment, adding to the depth of the color, and forcing me to curtail my swirling habit. There’s a massive attack of concentrated black and red fruit on the palate, but the lushness of the mouthfeel puts kid gloves on that aggression. After some breathing time, red currant becomes a dominant presence and there’s something just a touch green, hiding in the depths, under layers of smoke and wood, pine tar, and white pepper. The nose is largely of blackberry brandy and glycerine, though with further air, some of the fruit and complexities of the palate become apparent to the olfactory. After a long finish, there’s a slight aftertaste of dry roasted nuts. The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is fresh(er than expected) and bold and ripe, but much to my surprise, it’s still showing hot enough to singe the hair, but not the flesh, leading me to believe that this wine has at least a handful of good years left in it. Perhaps its best is yet to come.

Coventry.

*Here in Brooklyn, the term ‘nerd’ is a complement. Nerds make all the good stuff.

Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986, Sacred Cows, and Sad Cowboy Music

September 7, 2011 2 comments

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.

Belles Soeurs (Beaux Freres) Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 and Late Night with Bob Dylan

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

After the reasonably exquisite Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 (tasting notes in previous post), a Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 was poured. In general, across most vintages, I find their wines mades from outsourced grapes from Shea Vineyard to be more complete ventures than Beaux Freres’ Estate-specific cuvées (Beaux Freres Vineyard, Upper Terrace), though I have yet to encounter an uninteresting wine that bears the name. I have read about, but have yet to taste their tiny production Upper Terrace Grenache, and I would be more than happy to accept tasting samples, to be discussed here on WineGeist, judiciously and impartially.

I’m listening to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as performed by its composer, Bob Dylan, at the Hollywood Bowl, September 2, 1965. I know Dylan gets a lot of air time here, but that was the track that came up on the full library shuffle, just then, as I started the sentence; it’s still playing now. It’s true that I’ve been staring at the incomplete line, “I’m listening to…” for a couple of dozen songs, but that’s neither here nor there and Dylan is inspiring. And that song in particular, “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a big one in an unparalleled body of work, not to mention being the second part of the Good Doctor‘s dedication preceding Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: “-and to Bob Dylan, for Mister Tambourine Man“. Dylan wrote that one in ’65 and in the same year it was recorded by The Byrds and released as their first single for Columbia Records, which reached #1 on US and UK charts. Unrelated, I was told, not that long ago, “It takes a lot of Dylan to make a nice Syrah.” But today, we’re discussing Oregon Pinot.

The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 wafts immediately of cedar and raw meat, and is dark in the glass, knocking on the door of deep purple. Visually, it’s almost unreasonably concentrated for the varietal and most definitely for the vintage. The vast majority of 2000 OR Pinot Noir, even the very good ones are a little thin in the middle, as if too much water was interjected at a major stage of growth, and the grapes partied like it was 1999, resulting in flimsier fruit. Ironically enough, the grapes of 1999 were far more studious and the wines released from that vintage continue to age well. Even the normally highly concentrated Beaux Freres wines are a little soft, a little light on character, in 2000, including this one whose palate is not so brooding as the color. The only recently tasted examples to the contrary for 2000 OR Pinot are Ken Wright Pinot Noir, Shea and McCrone Vineyard bottles. But back to the ’00 Belles Soeurs Shea: the palate displays cool damp earth, ash, as well as some vegetal characterists and green pepper. There’s a nice mid-palate dryness, but the body seems to drop off there, making for a shorter experience. That being said, there exist notes of espresso bean, anise, and prune as well as overripe raspberry and a dusty, silty finish. The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 is a highly palatable wine, but it’s a little thin for its pedigree, and is likely at the back end of its drinking plateau. Remaining bottles will be enjoyed in the near future, rather than returned to the cellar.