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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.

The Dark Art of Blending (Part 2): Burmester Colheita 1970, Unholy Potions, and the Father of Bluegrass

August 22, 2011 1 comment

One of the very first auction cases I ever purchased (for a song) was a mixed case of 1970 Burmester Colheita and 1970 Krohn’s Vintage Port, procured from a Sotheby’s auction, many moons ago. Down to my last bottle of each, I cracked the Burmester recently, expecting it to likely be well past its drinking window. Colheita is a tawny port from a single vintage, aged for at least 7, but up to 20+, years in wood barrels before bottling. This is, of course, contrary to vintage port which spends a much shorter period in wood and does most of its aging in dark heavy bottles. This 1970 Burmester Colheita was bottled in 1988.

All that pickin’ I was absorbing during the last post has left me in that kind of a mood and Bill Monroe has been spending a fair amount of time on my desktop. No other single human being is as associated with the inception of a widely recognized genre of American music as is Bill Monroe with Bluegrass. With the 1946 addition of (then not yet legend) banjo player, Earl Scruggs, to his previous string ensemble, the instrumentation and style of Bluegrass was formed. Along with the rest of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys (Lester Flatt: guitar; Chubby Wise: fiddle; Howard Watts: bass), between ’46 and ’47, recorded 28 songs that soon would be canonized as the original Bluegrass standards. These tunes included “Blue Grass Breakdown,” “Molly and Tenbrooks,” and Monroe’s best known, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The last of which made an indelible impression on early Rock & Roll when it was recorded by a young Elvis Presley in 1954.

The 1970 Burmester is still beautiful but growing lithe. Visually, it’s a deeply ruby-hued brilliant, but light gold, far more resembling an ancient cognac than any form of wine. While the nose is also similar to a long aged cognac of high pedigree, it doesn’t show the level of alcohol that such a cognac would. At this stage of its life, the palate is almost barren of fruit, but a deep and nuanced caramel persists, mingling with cocoa powder, and hints of sweeter milk chocolate, as well as dry cigar tobacco. Once again, tempted by the available options, a little simple alchemy occurs and a small glass of the remaining ’70 Burmester is dosed with a small shot (about 10% of total volume) of the previously blended dry reds: (2/3rd Kay Brothers Amery Hillside Shiraz ’02, 1/3rd St. Supery Elu Red ’02). The dry blend returns fruit and mid-palate body to the aging caramelized cocoa sweetness of the 40 year old Colheita. While It would be a sin to foul the original intent of a full bottle of anything so rare, this evenings small amount of experimentation only enhanced the tasting experience.

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.