While in New Mexico, I became aware of Taos Lightning Rye. Both the craft whiskey thing and the sourced whiskey thing (aka I’m not telling you where the juice is from or how long it was barreled) are getting out of hand. A lot of new whiskey is super-hot brown firewater and there will be a serious reckoning and culling of the population in the coming years.
Taos Lightning, it turns out, is a product of KGB Spirits in Santa Fe, NM. I purchased a number of different bottles from Total Wine and from Jubilation in Albuqurque, the latter of which was offering 2 different exclusive single barrel bottles, at very reasonable prices. If you’re in town, don’t let the odd location and prison-barred windows fool you, Jubilation is an excellent shop for spirits (I honestly didn’t check out their wine selection, but they did acquire a bunch of Merkin Vineyards wine for my neighbors’ wedding- of which I highly approve).
Now, the juice: Taos Lightning Rye 5yr is visually attractive, a medium reddish deep golden brown. A fairly sweet round nose gives way to a sweetly vanilla palate, a touch of bright cherry fruit to the mid-palate, and a nice spicy, medium-hot finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Willett’s excellent 4yr Rye– which is amongst the highest praise one can give a younger rye. According to co-founder, John Bernasconi, “All current whiskey was sourced from Lawrenceberg and the 15 year had the Jos. Seagram’s stamp on barrel. We are about to switch to house made with San Luis, CO grain. The aging in NM along the Rio Grande is what gives these products their uniqueness. We have a high elevation, low humidity climate and the river brings constant air flow exchange.” With so many shady stories in the current US whiskey market, we very much appreciate the candor, and anxiously await tasting what comes next from the fine folks at KGB Spirits.
And now, the case…
I was sufficiently smitten with the Taos Lightning 5yr that I was on the hunt for a styrofoam 12-pack shipper, common in the wine shipping world. However, the incoherent and arbitrary nature of state liquor law has left Albuquerque stryo-shipper-free. It’s illegal to ship wine or spirits within the state of New Mexico, let alone to the outside world. Albuquerque is a scorched barren wasteland, where the food sucks, people drive ridiculous cars, and a law abiding citizen can’t get a styro 12-pack. If the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce would like to sponsor this blog, they know where to find me.
Next, at the absurd yet demure, banal megaporium of intoxication that is Total Wine in Albuquerque- I love this town- I ask if they have anything suitable to safely transport at least a dozen bottles through the meathook paws of JFK baggage handlers. There is something they tell me, it’s a rolling travel suitcase fitted with styro insert, cut for .750ml wine bottles, 12 of them. The only one left in stock is the floor model, they’d be happy to take 10% off the sticker price for the pre-scuffed exterior shell and slightly stained interior fabric. Five minutes later, I was in a parking lot, cramming copious piles of fine New Mexican and Californian rarities into my new VinGarde Valise.
First, the idea is great: it’s a rolling suitcase containing 6 inserts, each cut to hold and protect 2 bottles each, such that one can remove as many or as few as necessary to adjust to any clothing and toiletries needed for the journey. But I was already out on the road and had my regular suitcase in hand, and used my new VinGarde Valise to full bottle capacity. Unfortunately, the follow-through is not nearly so inspired as the concept. The materials are fairly flimsy, the foam inserts made to separate the two halves aren’t even cut to the same size (one doesn’t fit at all such that the case will not close), and the bottle slots are cut to a fairly impractical stencil, unless they intend one only to carry obscure sherry. It’s one thing if the owner is going to be extremely careful with the cheap zippers, but on its maiden voyage, mine was tossed by the TSA, and returned to me in less than new condition (and containing the requisite slip letting me know my privacy had been violated). The guts of the bag are poorly constructed of insubstantial materials, and while not space efficient, I’d still recommend a much less expensive styro 12-pack shipper over this unit. Simply put, VinGarde Valise have a long way to go to make the quality of the case fit its $200+ price tag.
Bless me blogosphere for I have sinned.
It has been… a long, long time since my last confession.
I’m in the 3rd airport in six days, after not leaving Brooklyn for more than 24 hours in two years, and not taking a full day off since January 2nd. It has been glorious to get away, but best that Brooklyn is imminent.
Albuquerque is depressing. Luckily the speed limits are about as high as they get in this country, so one can get the hell out post haste. I’ve just returned from a couple of nights in Taos, where I enjoyed a wedding stocked with Merkin Vineyards Shinola Bianca and Chupacabra Red, some great chile relleno(s), and copious amounts of Taos Lightning Rye. The last for which I purchased a bottle-protective rolling bag, so I might transport some local spirits back to Brooklyn- more on that later. I fell hard for the long tall wedding photographer who shot 8000 digital images, while I shot a few rolls of good old fashioned analog- it felt great. Almost as much so, as the shockingly beautiful 23 year old brunette who guessed my age as 33. I asked her to marry me on the spot. It only occurs to me now that she said yes.
The first couple of days away from the shop the umbilical just wouldn’t snap, even though I was in idyllic Lake
Tahoe, drinking wonderful wine with people I love. 2 weddings without a single reading from Corinthians and thousands of air and road miles later, I don’t know that I’m recharged in any substantive way, but real distance from the insular world I’ve created on Atlantic Ave has given me fresh will to plow forth, hopefully with at least a soupcon of new insight.
With most of today to kill and only a couple hours of highway time to come down the mountain to the scorched strip mall hell of Albuquerque, I took a long detour through the tiny sublime Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where strangers smile at you and say hello on the street. I clearly worried at least one security guard for my facial proximity to some of the works, but I was really just looking for the evolution of brush strokes over time, the density of pigment, and the amount of naked canvas showing through. I’m sure I was grinning like a moron, as I tend to when engulfed in sincerely rendered art, as I did over Sean Thackrey’s 2000 Orion a few days prior.
Before I wander too deeply into the self-indulgent geist, forsaking most things wine, I’ll sign off for now, but we’ll talk again soon.
Wow, it’s amazing how opening up a wine shop in Brooklyn can disappear six months of ones life. So, for those of you who don’t already know, I am now the proprietor of Free Range Wine & Spirits at 355 Atlantic Ave, here in Brooklyn, NY. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hello.
Also, for those of you who don’t already know, Maxwell’s– Hoboken’s greatest (only relevant) rock club- is closing its doors forever. Recently, the Pastels were slated to play there, with the Condo Fucks (Yo La Tengo’s alter-ego, playing mostly garage covers) opening. While it was sad that the Pastels couldn’t make it stateside for the show due to visa issues, it was glorious kismet that it ended up being an acoustic Yo La Tengo set opening for the Condo Fucks. The show was beautiful and profound and heartbreaking, and was far better assessed by Yo La Historian, Jesse Jarnow, in his review for Spin which you should read. I shot a fair amount of video footage of both sets, much of which is posted on my Vimeo page HERE. Apparently my footage of the very last song will appear tonight on Fuse News, Fuse TV’s 8pET music news show. Once that segment is posted online, I’ll link it.
Statistics show that nobody reads blogs on Friday, but wine has been tasted and notes have been scratched in purple ink. A couple of nights back, over steak and duck at Apiary, after some 1990 Cote de Beaune and before a couple of stickies, we cracked a trio of American classics; two from Ridge and a Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1981.
Upon first opening, the Dunn showed surprisingly thin, for a typically long lived wine, but it’s always a journey with these mountain beasts. One of the bottles that first did it for me, one of the first tastes to awaken a real interest, was Dunn’s ‘86 Napa Cab. At the time, my soft palate didn’t know what to make of the monstrous ’86 Howell Mountain Cab, but the harmony of the fruit and the earth I found in that ’86 Napa Cab seemed to me to be all that a big CA red should.
But back to the wine currently staining the linens on the tasting table behind my eyeballs: After about 35 minutes of air, the Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain 1981 proves to be a slumbering giant, full of burly brambly mountain fruit. The palate is expansive, deeply gripping, and the finish’s long path is peppered with a patchwork of wild woodland herbs. The alcohol pulls in at a clockwork 13%, thought the wine- long integrated as it may be- is many shades heavier.
The Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 1994 also begins a little closed and while the body does build with ample air, this wine is not as lush as previous tastings, though the fruit hasn’t receded entirely. Both color and clarity are still crisp and the wine shows only the slightest hint of its age. The red fruit is still slightly out front of its earth component, but it is no longer penetrating. Forest floor and ancient spice box persist through the subtle, but undulating finish.
The Ridge Geyserville 1992, at this point in its career, is a dead ringer for a fruit forward Napa Cab five or six years its senior. Slip one of these into a blind tasting of late ’80s CA Cabernet and blow some minds/palates. Geyserville is a classic of the Napa establishment, and in my experience, this wine always shows well, though the true aging potential varies from vintage to vintage. I’ve also found that recent vintages seem to drink better younger, making them all the more difficult to squirrel away for further maturity, full integration, and secondary flavor development. For a true classic and always a palate expanding, Ridge Geysereville (and most of Ridge wines besides the Monte Bello) can still be acquired for around (a wholly fair) thirty bucks.
I’m insanely behind on my posting; more so than I’ve been since I began doing such things. But helping a guy open a restaurant will do that, and I’m quite proud of what we put together, in a very short period of time. While I still have piles of CA content to get to, here are some tasting notes that should have been posted quite some time ago…
[It was] another Monday night at the bar at Apiary and the place is buzzing; not bad for August [yeah, that’s how far behind on tasting notes I am!]. By request, I’ve brought nothing but whites: one long shot, a probable, and a couple of sure things. First, the long shot: Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991. I bought this wine for basically nothing at all, from an unverified source, assuming– like the seller- that this wine was likely well beyond its pleasurable drinking window. That being said, 1991 has proven to be one of the longest lived vintages ever for most OR wines that have been around that long, and Van Duzer bottles some high art, on their best days. * And I know I’ve said it 1,000 times before, but it bears repeating that Chef Scott Bryan of Apiary (formerly of Veritas) puts out- every night- some of the best, wine friendliest, food that has ever existed on this vile rock they call Manhattan.
The foil off, and the cork still has some pressure behind it, the CO2 persists, and the initial pour shows a respectable head for a 21 year old American bubbly. It’s pale gold, or brilliant straw, bubblier than expected, and it’s rather captivating immediately. The nose is deeply yeasty, but subtly, not pungent. The palate shows bright integrated Meyer lemon zest over a broadly bready body, with a slightly creamy texture in the mid-palate, and faint mingling notes of raw honey and honeysuckle…. Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991 is unquestionably one of the most pleasant palate surprises of the year, to date. At the price that was offered, I should have grabbed the 2 cases that were available…
While unanimously declared a tough act to follow, the hesitating beauty to my right, Roy (Apiary’s Wine Guru), and I moved on to the Vincent Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret 1999. I can’t overstate how universally fantastic and underrated world wine is from 1999. It’s a solid- if not classic- vintage in many major wine regions from the Rogue Valley to Ribera del Duero, and represents many of the last “bargains” from overpriced earth, like that of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
In the glass the the Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret ’99 is as much caramel as gold, though the pictured softness is condensation on the glass, not the telltale cloud of oxidation. The nose is ripe with a damp earthy funk over a building tide of increasingly prevalent salt air. The palate is soft and integrated, with a citrus spike, punctuated by a flutter of honeybell rind, dancing about a tight mineral core. I would love to blind taste this one on a roomful of Burgundy snobs who scoff at such negociant wines.
It would be dishonest of me to give full tasting notes on this Guigal St Joseph Lieu Dit 2007 as I can’t locate my notes on the matter. But I do have a small list of bullets from Roy: “apple, papaya, lychee, white river stones, limestone, calcium- medium long finish, med+ weight.” The wine was quite beautiful and deserves a more considered review, but the above list represents the only primary resource I have from that evening.
One of the quietly classier flash sale wine sites around is Vitis.com. Vitis offers one wine at a time and organizes professional reviews, background and bottle information, and a pairing recipe, in a visually appealing way. Selections can be hit or miss, and as I click over right now, I see yet another Oriel selection. Oriel has been placed widely and repeatedly throughout the flash sale market. I’ve always respected Oriel’s business model, but I’ve never been terribly impressed with their wine per price, and they make much more sense to me at flash sale prices.
But if you don’t like the deal, just wait for the next e-mail. And when Vitis is on, you can claim some reasonably rare stuff, properly aged, at rock bottom prices, such as the ’01 Alenza Ribera del Duero and the ’95 Felsina Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva, I’ve picked up in recent months, well below market rate.
Vitis has also had a few of my favored tasty cheapys recently (at lowest national prices): Byron Chardonnay, Marques de Carceres Reserva, and Marti Fabra Masia Carreras, each of which represent excellent with-food drinking per dollar.
So, I’m listening to Jack White’s new record, Blunderbuss. Jack White is so fucking cool that it kind of pisses me off, though I have begrudging respect for just about everything he does. And as far as people who get to do whatever/wherever/whenever they want, in that Kid Rock on a bender kind of way, he seems to deserve it. And unlike Kid Schlock, Jack White can really play (and write) and he has at least as deep a respect for all that which came before, as all that which lies ahead. He’s constantly working on music in a creative and deliberate way, such that even when I’m not that interested in the resulting recording, his prolific drive is inspiring.
While I am big fan of the first 3 White Stripes records, most especially De Stijl (unquestionably one of the finest rock records of our time), I haven’t been enthralled with much of White’s recorded work since. I was going to mention what I thought of the new record, but White reminded me, at Stephen Colbert’s expense, that talking about music is bullshit:
“You want to talk about music? That’s ridiculous. It’s like dancing about architecture or singing about paintings.” – Jack White
Jack, I’m sure there are a dozen modern dance companies in this town that would be happy to interpret the work of Gaudi, they kind of do that already just by existing. And I’m fairly certain that Dan Bern (who is just one man) has written a dozen songs about paintings and sculptures and plays, though I suppose all of those songs are really about women. And yes, Jack, I take your fairly obvious point, well illustrated, about the singularity of art.
But I digress. I’m really just waiting around to find out that Jack White doesn’t actually exist and what we believe to be Jack White is really just an intricate Johnny Depp character. Maybe he’s really that good.
I have closely followed the rise of the flash sale site in and out of the wine world. While flash sale sites- even good ones- are not places to blindly purchase what comes up when you’re thirsty, if you know what you’re interested in, and don’t mind the occasional tidal wave of e-mail offers, one can make a fairly good score.
Lot 18 has quickly become the best funded and fasted growing of the flash sale wine sites (they have also expanded into food, products, and experiences), but more importantly, they more than occasionally end up with the best available price in the country on reasonably rare wine of excellent pedigree. Which is why Lot 18 is one of the sale sites I most use and most recommend.
Case in point, I just purchased some Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard from 2007, an excellent vintage. With the free shipping for 4 bottles, it ended up being just over $30 per bottle, to my door. For those of you who are local New Yorkers, compare that fare to Morrell’s price of nearly $40 (before tax and shipping!) or Zachy’s next level tariff at over $50 for the exact same bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2007!
For those of you who have not yet joined Lot 18, here’s a link that will earn you $10 credit toward your first order: https://www.lot18.com/i/WineList
For those of you keeping Sideways score, in the film, when Miles saddles up to the bar at the Hitching Post, he is offered and consumes their recently bottled single vineyard Bien Nacido pinot noir. A number of winemakers are lucky enough to have access to this southern CA fruit, and I have tasted many a worthy expression of Bien Nacido syrah as well as pinot.
Speaking of Sideways, I have long planned to address the palate swooning glory of a great merlot, which I assure you, I will get to some time before they release the sequel. But for now, if you’d like to get a head start on that discussion, stop by Apiary in Manhattan and order a bottle of ’97 Behrens & Hitchcock Napa Merlot with your strip steak. A nice merlot ages like (and makes up a sizeable percentage of) a good Bordeaux. But more on that another time. I’m going to have a little glass of this Sean Thackrey Lyra Viognier ’10 and call it a night.