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Veritas (Rolf Binder) Shiraz Heysen ’99, Richard Hell, and John Biz’ New Morning

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

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!

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.

The Dark Art of Blending (Part 1): Kay Bros. Amery Hillside Shiraz 2002, St. Supery Elu 2002, and Psychograss!

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Mitolo Shiraz GAM ’05 over Butcher’s Steaks at St Anselm and Todd Snider’s “Just Like Old Times”

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

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.