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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.

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 and The Black Crowes’ Former Glory

September 4, 2011 1 comment

Back at St Anselm for the butcher’s steak, again braving the $25 corkage fee and bringing some properly aged Pinot: Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evanstad Reserve 2003 and Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000. I had originally planned to taste the ’03 Evanstad along side a 2004 Jayer Gilles Echezeaux du Dessus, as both have exhibited similar traits in the past. However the wrong bottle was packed that evening and the rare Echezeaux in question ended up preceding a youthfully clumsy Domain Serene Pinot Noir Willamette 2004 (a vintage that should prove to be long lived).

I’m listening to “Seeing Things” from the Black Crowes’ debut 1990 LP, Shake Your Money Maker. Early in high school, it was something of a revelation that a bunch of young guys could deliberately make new music that fit in with much of the classic rock hits of ‘60s and ‘70s. And it was no surprise that it was through Classic Rock radio, not pop, that the Crowes were first heard by so many. This was also when I first became aware of a thing called critics and that they largely did not like the Black Crowes, nor did pop radio, which wanted nothing to do with them, until their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” became a hit too big to be ignored. Sure, they were just another bunch of pretty(ish) white kids playing the blues, a time honored formula since Elvis, but at that time I didn’t know the history, and the Crowes were really good at it. Because of that, and an impressive body of work, up to and including the Amorica LP, for a certain segment of Gen Pop, the Black Crowes will always embody Rock & Roll.

The Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 has a component of damp leaves, but displays little if any of that mossy, wet earth, swampiness, on the palate, that is so typical of much of the ’03 vintage for OR Pinot Noir (as well as of scattered varietals and sub-regions of northern CA, of the same year). Instead there’s an unexpected sweet roundness to this reserve Pinot, led by dry raspberry and black cherry, with subtler notes of cocoa powder and chalkdust. After 40+ minutes of breathing the ’03 Evenstad shows deep cherry sweetness and a long vein of vanillin, sprinkled with baking spices and white pepper. This is a wine of excellent concentration without sacrificing the purity of the fruit; it maintains a broad mouthfeel and seamless integration. Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 seems right at its peak drinking window now and should drink nicely for at least another 5 years.

Post-Hurricane-Nonpocalypse Edition: Numanthia Toro 2000 and Hurricane Songs

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

There is some damage here in Brooklyn, but the great Hurricane of 2011 (following the tiny earthquake) was fairly reminiscent of Y2K and the WTO protests: much ado about little (though I’ve read that Vermont got hit hard). Did a lot of reading. Patti Smith’s book is really that good. Buy it, read it, love her. Paired the end of the Foris Pinot Noir 2008 with a red velvet doughnut and finished that last of the 1970 Burmester Colheita with a cinnamon. Both bottles were safely preserved, vacuum sealed, with my trusty Vacu Vin, and both doughnuts were from Peter Pan on Manhattan Ave. Seeing as I’m alive, without reasonable transportation, and having no real storm damage to deal with, I’ve just pulled the cork on a Numanthia Toro 2000 for no good reason at all. This wine was made from 100% Tinta de Toro grapes from ungrafted vines of 70 to 100 years old, 2300’ above sea level.

I’m feeling kind of topical and am listening to the best of hurricane related songs. As in so many different kinds of playlists, Dylan takes the cake with “Hurricane”, though Golden Smog’s “Hurricane” is also pretty great in a completely different kind of way. For melodrama- and yet another tragedy verité- you’ve got to love Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”. It’s not much of a stretch from hurricane to storm and I stream through, from Woody Guthrie’s “The Great Dust Storm” to the Minutemen’s “Storm in My House” and The Spaniels “Stormy Weather”, and then back to Dylan with “Shelter From the Storm” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Honorable mention: “Cold Rain and Snow.”

This label has only been around containing their current cuveés for a little over a decade, and while these wines are consistently bold and beautiful, we’re just beginning to get an idea of their true aging potential. This Numanthia Toro 2000 has settled down considerably since last tasting; the alcohol, the tannins, and the oak, once an overbearing cacophony of monolithic structure, no longer obscure the considerable fruit and cavernous depth of this beast. If a color can approach opaque and/or black and still qualify as some kind of brooding ruby, this would be it. The nose is initially somewhat muted, showing some black fruit, glycerin, and asphalt, but this wine’s gifts are largely of the deep palate of red currant, under blackberries, followed by the less prevalent cassis and vanilla extract. After considerable breathing time a deep mid-palate dryness evolves, stretching the experience through the long, undulating finish. Today, the Numanthia 2000 is serious juice, and while warm and welcoming, this wine still maintains significant weight and shows a touch hot, and will only improve with continued bottle aging.

Foris Pinot Noir 2008, Beurre Rouge, and Wilco’s Unreleased LP, The Whole Love

August 27, 2011 1 comment

Tonight I’m making fish. The details are still coming together, but I have a couple of very nice snapper fillets and a bottle of Foris Pinot Noir 2008. Red wine can absolutely go with fish and I am a firm believer that there is a pinot noir to go with anything/everything. Tonight, that theory is being tested further as I’m swapping some of this pinot for the dry white wine in a beurre blanc sauce (beurre rouge?) to go with the lovely snapper which will likely be lightly seasoned and pan seared, possibly finishing in the oven.

With some trepidation and a healthy skepticism, I’m listening to an advance copy of Wilco’s upcoming LP, The Whole Love. While their last couple of studio releases have been far less interesting- lyrically and sonically- than just about everything that came before, this new album comes with a high recommendation from a reliable pro. The first track, “Art of Almost” catches my attention before it begins to play, clocking in at over 7 minutes. The opening is a strange layered drone over a cool beat that dissipates into a synthetic textural cacophony with just enough space for Jeff Tweedy’s vocals to creep in, unannounced. Before the first vocalization, I’m not necessarily convinced, but I’m most decidedly listening. Thirty second into this song, it might be mistaken for Radiohead, halfway through minute 6, it could just as easily be a Nine Inch Nails tune as re-imagined by Aphex Twin. But such momentary surface analogy is trite and there’s a lot more going on, here on this record, than anything since A Ghost Is Born, if not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. More than one considered listen is clearly required here. Wilco is back.

The Foris Pinot Noir 2008 is from the Rogue Valley which is something of a remote outpost for Oregon Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied pinot is medium ruby in the glass and underneath the initial waft of alcohol, red fruit and forest floor begin to stir. There’s a classy crisp, but long and tapering, acidity that I have come to associate with Foris’ low alcohol, low cost pinot noir. After an hour of breathing, wild savory herbs and hints of sunberry and camphor mingle with the red cherry and predominant raspberry. Foris’ ’08 pinot is pretty and unassuming, nicely balanced, but far from flimsy, though full mature integration of alcohol and fruit will likely require another 6-8 months in the bottle. And much like the lighter-styled low alcohol pinots from The Eyrie Vineyards, you’ll be surprised how well and how long this wine will age. While highly enjoyable and food friendly today, the rest of this case of Foris Pinot Noir 2008 will get some well deserved down time in the cellar. Have a nice nap, my friends.

Unmasked and Anonymous: Castagnier Vougeot 1999 and Marry Me Jane

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Digging into the depths of the 144-bottle wine fridge in the corner of my kitchen, I discover a slightly tattered bottle of Castagnier Clos Vougeot 1999. As small as the total grape-growing real estate is in Burgundy, there are so many subdivided plots (mostly through lineage succession) that many tiny producers bottle very nice wine, almost completely unnoticed by the outside world. I’ll often take a chance on unknown Burgundy at an attractive price. In a nice vintage, such as 1999, not too many bad grapes were grown in Vougeot, in Echezeaux, in Bonne Mares. And with yields so tiny, very little fruit falls into inept hands.

I’m having a deep mid-90s (pop)rock chick moment as I am listening to the debut self-titled album by Marry Me Jane (1996). The opening forlorn electric guitar of “Twentyone” reminds me that this album was appropriated quite extensively- to great effect- in the little known (but great, for a RomCom) Eric Schaeffer film, If Lucy Fell. Elle MacPherson is surprisingly good (and unreasonably attractive), Sarah Jessica Parker is her old pre Jimmy Choo charming, and Ben Stiller’s small but unrelentingly absurd character roll is worth the price of admission. But back to Marry Me Jane which was a 2-record band, largely a vehicle for the songs of Amanda Kravat, who according to IMDB logged a fistful of composing, acting, and soundtrack credits between ’96 and ’01, before disappearing into the ether.

The Castagnier Clos Vougeot 1999 does not disappoint, at its price, and Vougeot has gotten disproportionately pricey, even amongst Burgundy. The color and palate are both bright, but deep (red) cherry. There’s an earthiness on nose and palate, but without any of that typical Burgundy funk. The ’99 Castagnier Vougeot is medium bodied, if a touch unchallenging, but sweet with cherry with wisps of fresh mint and a palate smackingly dry finish. The alcohol is a little more prevalent than was expected, but the acid and the fruit hold it all together. In a blind tasting, one might mistake this Vougeot for a Griotte Chambertin, twice its age.

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.

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.

Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin en Motrot 1997 and Jackson Browne’s “These Days”

August 15, 2011 2 comments

I had only recently stumbled upon and found significant fascination in the Burgundy of Denis Mortet when I heard the news that he had taken his own life, early in 2006. It was his ’96-’98 Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques which first struck my palate’s interest. I had ordered but not yet received a parcel of his Gevrey Chambertin from the mid ‘90s and upon the news, I snapped up what else I could. To experience the wine of a deceased master is a glorious indulgence, finite and fleeting. It’s both a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of loss and of mortality, and I afford great respect to bottles from winemakers like Denis Mortet, David Lett (The Eyrie Vineyards), and Alois Kracher.

All that Nico, John Cale, Lou Reed, and Velvets en masse, that has been injected into my now through the grace of David Byrne Radio, got me seeking out other semi-related cool tracks. After pulling up Nico’s cover of These Days,” which was so artfully appropriated by Wes Anderson for the soundtrack of The Royal Tenenbaums, I found other thoughtful renditions of the same. While I knew that tune was originally by Jackson Browne, I didn’t know that he wrote it when he was 16, until he told me. Then YouTube informed me that Elliott Smith (2nd Tenenbaums soundtrack connection) also covered that track live, which thankfully some nerd posted, and I also came across a pretty and breathy version by St. Vincent. But as YouTube giveth, YouTube also taketh away. Apparently, the Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi, Nate Dogg, Alien Ant Farm, and Rascal Flatts have all recorded “songs” with the same title as (but otherwise unrelated to) the Jackson Browne classic, each one more soul crushingly worthless than the last.

The Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin en Motrot 1997 is bright, though softening, translucent ruby in the glass, and there’s just a touch of sedimentary cloud to the color, but no signs of oxidation. The first waft is of an earthy, flirting with swampy, funk, though the latter begins to wane with air. The palate is of dry raspberry, subtle tart cherry, leather and ancient cigar tobacco. This is a refined medium-bodied pinot and there is a greater overall presence and depth here than has been found in other recent lithe ’97 Burgundies. As the swamp dries up, damp fall leaves remain, and an encompassing, but not overwhelming dryness approaches the palate. And the last glass is raised to the memory and fruits of a tormented master.

Deep into 2004 Napa Cab and Deeper into David Byrne Radio (part 2)

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

At the same time as the delightful ’04 Ruston Family Napa Cab, a Flying Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 was opened. While these were sold to me as “made by consulting winemaker Denis Malbec (of Chateau Latour fame),” to the best of my research, 2006 was the first vintage Malbec actually had his hands on. That being said, it’s an interesting and attractive Cabernet Sauvignon, none the less.

David Byrne’s playlist is still having a Velvet Underground moment, which it turns out is due to the legendary Chelsea Hotel and its new owner who apparently has directed the property to no longer accept hotel reservations. Amidst speculation of what may become of the historic Hotel/apartment building, Byrne offers a brief history lesson on where the Velvets met the Heads, musically speaking. It’s worth listening, even if only for Nico’s nightmarish rendition of “The End” which make’s the Doors’ original sound like the opening act for Yo Gabba Gabba. I’m currently enjoying John Cale’s “Paris 1919” from his 1973 release of the same title.

Flying Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 is deep, dark, and bordering on inky. The largely muted nose shows an unusual blend of chocolatey roasted espresso beans and crème de menthe. The last bottle from the same parcel was slightly oxidized, but only a touch, and was still quite drinkable. This one is a much better example of itself. The mouthfeel is brambly and then broadly dry on the long tapering finish with a faint recollection of mint. The palate shows deep red and black fruit, ash, and a touch of vanillin over a larger presence of glycerin. The prevalent tannin needs a little bit more bottle time to settle down, but given its weight and depth, it’s integrating nicely. This wine would be as comfortable accompanying a steak as it would a bold to creamy cheese selection, and it will only get better for the better part of another decade.