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Sean Thackrey @ St. Anselm: Wednesday, April 4th

March 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Post-tasting carnage.

While I still have a pile of tasting notes to relay (’07 Volnay Premier Crus, Brewer Clifton Pinot and Chard ’02-‘09, Damilano Barolos, Ribera del Duero ’93-’96…), but it’s not every day that I get to host an event with one of my favorite winemakers in the world, at one of my favorite restaurants in New York.

On Wednesday April 4th, Sean Thackrey will be joining us as at St. Anselm, here in Brooklyn, for a tasting and dinner event, featuring the widest selection of Sean Thackrey wines ever assembled. While we are down to a waiting list for the 8:30pm seating, there are still tables available for the 5:45pm seating. Please e-mail me (WineGeist@gmail.com) or call St. Anselm directly (718.384.5054 – ask for Krystal) to claim remaining seats.

Four (non)vintages of Pleiades.

But first, I’ll gush a little: Sean Thackrey is an American original. He was an unconventional high level hobbyist, sourcing techniques he translated himself from ancient texts. It’s no wonder he discontinued his career as an art dealer to go pro (back in the ‘80s), as one of this country’s most unusual winemakers, who makes some of the most interesting (and tasty!) American wine. While his exceedingly rare Orion starts at around $100 these days, and will live (and improve) for decades, Thackrey’s non-vintage Pleiades blend starts at around $25 at retail and is a substantial tasting experience. Somewhere in between lie his Aquila Sangiovese, Andromeda Pinot Noir, and Sirius Petite Sirah, each worthy of serious (sirius?) consideration.

The Orion label goes back to '86, but '92 was the first vintage sourced from the Rossi Vineyard, planted in 1905.

While I’m neither a car guy nor a TV guy, I recently came across Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure (thanks BBC!). And while it can be difficult to watch James May stain upon brilliant winemakers and slug down rare syrah like it’s a hip flask of Old Overholt at a ball game, the dynamic between his deliberate drunkard’s brutishness and Oz Clarke’s world-class wine poncery is bloody brilliant (if you want to be all British about it). Anyway, have a click and take a look at what happens to James’ face upon tasting Thackrey’s Orion. And no, it’s not the wrong clip, Thackrey just doesn’t appear until the next segment, beginning at 5min 21sec. Enjoy!

If anyone is seeking a musical (poncery) interlude, here’s the best live music thing I’ve attended in quite some time, even if it was 2pm on a Friday afternoon (and I may have told some people that “I was in a meeting”). The full hour show is available free (godbless NPR!):

http://www.thegreenespace.org/events/thegreenespace/2012/mar/30/soundcheck-live-andrew-bird/

Here are the full event details:

Wine Tasting and Dinner w/ Sean Thackrey
@ St. Anselm, 355 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Date: Wednesday, April 4th
Time: 2 seatings at 5:45pm and 8:30pm
Price: $52 (prepaid) for the basic tasting
**supplemental plates, glasses, and bottles a la carte

For $52 (pre-paid) per person: meet the winemaker, Sean Thackrey, who will lead a tasting of his Lyra Viognier 2010, Aquila Sangiovese 2002, Pleiades XXI, Sirius Petite Sirah 2009, and Orion California Native 2009. This will be accompanied by a vegetarian small plate and salad.

Available at an additional charge: 2 supplemental small plates (elk medallions and shellfish of the day), an abbreviated dinner menu, and an extensive selection of Sean Thackrey wine, including numerous vintages of Pleiades, Sirius, Andromeda Pinot Noir, and at least 10 vintages of Thackrey’s flagship, Orion, sourced from the Rossi vineyard, planted in 1905. Thackrey will remain on hand during the dinner to discuss any and all of his wines that guests choose to order.

Those who wish to experience the basic tasting, order another glass and a modest entree, can escape for about $100. Those guests less concerned with price can build a truly unique tasting experience, from what is unquestionably the largest selection of Sean Thackrey’s wine ever offered publicly, at one time.

Price: $52 (prepaid) per seat
– Includes: vegetarian small plate, salad, and tasting glasses of Lyra Viognier ’10, Pleiades XXI, Aquila Sangiovese ’02, Sirius Petite ’09, Orion California Native ’09.
– 2 supplemental small plates, abbreviated dinner menu, and an extensive list of Thackrey wine will be available, at additional cost.
Contact: Jack Chester
WineGeist@gmail.com

Sean Thackrey:
http://wine-maker.net/

St. Anselm:
http://www.stanselm.net/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/St-Anselm/140900289276127

WineGeist:
http://winegeist.net
https://twitter.com/#!/WineGeist
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Softly Crushing: Calera Pinot Noir 2009 and An Open Love Letter to Jill Sobule

March 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Calera had, reasonably quietly, been making one of the finest inexpensive Pinots in CA, until this vintage, when some Italian dude stamped it with 92 points and told one of the largest wine buying audiences in the world that Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 “may very well be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir.” And it’s definitely up there. I know Calera’s single vineyard Pinots are renowned wines of fine character and notable longevity (I am cellaring a number of them), but at $65+ for Jensen and Selleck Vineyard bottles, the opportunity cost is substantial. If you’re planning to drop $70 on a bottle of wine, the options for greatness are many, unless you only drink Burgundy, and then I kinda feel sorry for your limited options and your dainty palate (and your wallet). But Calera’s introductory level offering is unparalleled, at the $19.99/btl I recently paid at retail. And while I can’t speak to the longevity of the pretty glass ‘cork’, I can say that a 1997 vintage of the same wine (enclosed with traditional cork) showed beautifully not 2 years ago.

Searching the YouTube for a specific Jill Sobule show, I find a number of earnest young girls covering her delightfully crushing “Mexican Wrestler,” which warms my black little heart. But who the hell is Emma Roberts and why do these little chicks think she wrote Jill’s awesome song?! Apparently, that’s Nickelodeon’s fault. Roberts’ (or her producer’s) lyrical changes unforgivably replace fleeting subtleties with sophomoric hyperbole, for the intended target market. Though I get why it would lack rational continuity if a teenager reminisced fondly being 21. I hope Jill at least got a decent royalty check out of the deal. And no lyrical rearrangement could be as disappointing as finding out that Katy Perry’s single “I Kissed A Girl”, about which I had heard upon release, was not a cover of Jill’s 1995 hit single at all. After that and Perry’s “California Gurls” (no relation to the Beach Boys tune), it quickly became clear what borrowed name recognition and a little t&a could do for one’s profile. But in the end Katy Perry is just tabloid trash and Jill Sobule is a lifelong storyteller, high up in the storied pantheon of New York’s singer/songwriters (and higher up in my personal pantheon). True she’s done some time in LA, but Jill Sobule and New York belong to each other. By the way, this is the performance I had been looking for: La Java, Paris 3/16/2010. Enjoy.

But back to Calera Pinot Noir 2009, and it’s unusual glass cap: The seal is good, and the capsule tight enough and difficult enough to remove so as to appear structurally sound enough to age, under proper climate control. That being said, I have now had a number of bottles of this wonderfully under-priced pinot, and I have found greater bottle variation than I would expect. I haven’t come across any vinegar or identifiable oxidation, but some bottles have shown more predominant red fruit than others where an earthy wet funk (just shy of swampy) persists, so much so that I’m hesitant to give specific tasting notes on this one. This is all the more curious for the amount that I enjoyed each bottle, regardless of variations. It’s a good reminder though how much bottle variation does exist and that all tasting notes are just one persons opinion of one bottle’s opinion of any wine, in a given moment. The most common thread between each tasting of Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 is bright, but substantial and gripping, red cherry, which was immediately reminiscent of a recently tasted bottle of Laetitia Pinot Noir. No surprise, said vineyard was the source of over 30% of the fruit for this regional blend. So, I’ve drunk through the bottles that I’ve allowed myself (really not much beats this one at $20), but I did manage to squirrel some away. I’ll be checking back in on the progress of the wine and the medium-term stability of its all glass seal.

Stay Tuned.

The Unbearable Rightness of Seasons: Sean Thackrey, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and St. Anselm

February 29, 2012 2 comments

I often say: Nerds make all the good stuff. Which makes sense, because smart people tend to find and create interesting processes and products at a much greater rate than those less cerebrally gifted. Amongst winemakers, there are few nerds on the level of Sean Thackrey. He maintains, translates, and makes available his renowned collection of ancient texts on winemaking. He also gleans techniques from them with which to experiment on worthy grapes, here in the future. At their best, Thackrey’s results are world class, by any scale or measure. I don’t often defer directly to a media outlet (nor do I like to post links w/ ads), but I couldn’t possibly reTweet you a better instagram of the winemaker and the iceberg tip of his philosophy than did Chow.com in video form. Go watch it. Seriously. I’ll wait….

Orion's 2nd vintage and the 100th anniversary of the Rossi Vineyard.

So, I don’t have new tasting notes on any specific Thackrey wine, but I did learn that the proprietor of Spuyten Duyvil, Fette Sau, and most recently St. Anselm, here in Brooklyn, is the second biggest Thackrey nerd in Brooklyn. A couple of conversations later, St. Anselm has the most extensive selection of Sean Thackrey wine of any restaurant on earth, including the non-vintage Pleiades, Andromeda Pinot Noir, Sirius Petite Sirah, and 6 vintages of his flagship California native field blend, Orion. St. Anselm already had one of the best small wine lists in Brooklyn, now one can find well aged bottled gems to accompany serious cuts of grilled meat. Apparently the (various) whole fish is excellent as well, but we all have our priorities. Mine is finding the perfect syrah to pair with lamb saddle and rib eye.

At St. Anselm last night, enjoying the delightfully accompanied meat monster on grilled bread they call a patty melt, the soundtrack added quite a bit to my burger and my day: Hendrix’ “Bold as Love” the semi-title cut off his masterpiece, Axis Bold as Love, the greatest record ever made. After my Jimi moment, I was reminded that Frank Zappa was not only an actual genius at writing and arranging music, but he could be laugh out loud funny in a Steven Wright deadpan on acid sort of way (Zappa hated drugs!): “Bobby Brown Goes Down” from Zappa’s 1979 Sheik Yerbouti. And if you want to throw some crap around about how silly the album title is, go take a quick peak at what else the record companies were pressing that vintage. I mean, whatever happened to Randy Vanwarmer?

Wait, what was the question?

Happy LeapDay!

WineGeist

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.

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.