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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
http://www.facebook.com/WineGeist

When in doubt, Go Rioja! A Few Rules for Basic Wine Shopping (and the Absurdity of Linear Thinking)

July 7, 2011 1 comment

There are so many intricacies to wine which can make just walking into a proper wine shop a daunting task for the uninitiated. But one doesn’t have to know all that much to be a good wine buyer. There is method to the madness and ways to make small pieces of information work for you. Like this: When in doubt, go Rioja. The Spanish region of Rioja makes some of the nicest wine in the world, per dollar spent (particularly red Tempranillo), and most wine shops will carry at least a couple of them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re in a wine shop that can’t sell you a decent Rioja for $15 or less, you should find another shop. Also, OR pinot noir is pretty amazing stuff these days and in 2008, they had one of their best vintages ever, so you can’t go too wrong with most any bottle from that region and year, and again, most decent shops will carry at least a couple, though the best ones can be costly. There are numerous recent examples of these little generalizations that can help: ’05 Bordeaux, ’09 Sonoma Chard, ’07 North Coast everything.

On a critical level, it’s relatively silly to generalize like that. Every single bottle of wine comes down to the grapes grown in a particular place and time and the choices made by the winemaker who begins the winemaking process with those grapes. But generalizing is like playing the percentages and certainly is no sillier than rating wine on 100 pt scale, implying that linear perfection can be achieved. One of the reasons I drink wine and- to this day- one of my favorite wines in the world is 1986 Dunn Vineyards Napa Cabernet. Some guy named Bob tells me it’s 92 points good. This isn’t far from walking into the Louvre, finding yourself before the Winged Victory of Samothrace, taking in its mass, its setting and the nuances of its construction (and destruction) and proclaiming, “I give it a 93.” Both of these things are artistic expressions in their given mediums and they are each effective on their own terms, to an open recipient. Empirically they are high quality examples of what they are. But assigning them numerical values and insinuating that they have a linear place in a measurable hierarchy from shit-on-Hellfire to absolute perfection is comical. But people like numbers, marketing is important, and anything that can be quickly described as an “A” should sell briskly.

Andrew Bird, The Jack of Hearts, and DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment

DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997 is yet another example of a reasonably priced old vine CA zinfandel that proves what an underrated varietal it is for aging. While it’s almost cheating to bring up Ridge– well-known makers of some of the finest aging zin that’s ever been bottled- a ’94 Ridge Geyserville was once the crowd favorite at a tasting I held of CA heavyweights and I have been an advocate ever since. This DeLoach OFS ’97 (a growing season of high yields and excellent quality) was deliberately made in a more traditional style that the winery had retreated from in the mid-’80s in attempts to produce a younger drinking crowd-pleasinger bottle. The timing couldn’t have been better meteorologically and what remains today is braving the years with fortitude.

Another compelling iphone 3G pic.

While getting to know this bottle of DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997, I’m listening to an entire itunes library on shuffle, the one on a decade-old imac, which once ran the office of my defunct publishing company, but now only functions as a jukebox and DVD player. I’ll skip the gratuitous Dylan reference today even though the alternate (original) version of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is just fading out. On however to Andrew Bird, “Tables and Chairs” off of his breakthrough album, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s a heavy-minded, light-hearted, off-kilter glimpse of a post-apocalyptic playground: think Fight Club meets SpongeBob, aesthetically. Individually, the lyrics and spritely flowing orchestration of the melody are more than minor paradoxes. Together they make up a textural menagerie that’s like the structure of a Beach Boys tune (sad lyrics over happy music) with a head full of DMT. The beauty of Andrew Bird’s best work- which is most of it- is that one can get lost in the music alone, which is crushing when one ponders the depths of his stories. This is why Andrew Bird has been my platonic man-crush ever since Beck‘s records started to suck; a Sea Change indeed.

For an inexpensive wine, this ’97 DeLoach Zinfandel OFS, with proper aging and now a decent amount of air in it, is still as weighty as one might imagine, but it’s got a supple roundness to it that is more than what could have been hoped for, and depth to spare. There’s been some softening, visually, and of the raspberry and cherry, which make up the majority of this wines fruit profile, but it is not yet thin in the middle. Not relenting are the pronounced cedar, pine tar, dry forest floor, hearty herbs- rosemary, and a touch of menthol, hanging down around the 14.5% alcohol, which will always be present. For a non-luxury (industry code for ‘over-priced’) cuvee, this wine over delivers, but that’s part of the magic of old vine CA fruit, particularly from a banner vintage.

Abbreviated Notes on a Past Private Tasting in Boston

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

A few weeks back I was invited to a private tasting in Boston, held by a group of three friends (thanks Noah, Steve & Tad!) who take turns hosting themed wine nights for each other and their guests. The premise of the tasting I attended was Cultish Cabs and the line up looked like this:

The Cultish Cabs and their invited guests.

Since it’s not the clearest picture on this blog, here’s what we tasted (left to right): Whispering Dove Cabernet Oakville 2002, Whispering Dove Cabernet Stag’s Leap 2003, Agharta Syrah (Pax Mahle) 2004, Lail J Daniel Cuvee 1999, Dunn Cabernet Napa 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 1994, Staglin Family Estate Cabernet 2003, Scarecrow 2006, Chateau d’Yquem 1996, Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. What follows is more of an experiential tale than a set of proper tasting notes as I spent more time enjoying than note taking while amongst these friends.

Classic Napa Cab at it's finest.

This particular evening, it was decided that there would be an initial blind tasting, for fun, and after all guests made there guesses, decanters were properly labeled, so everyone would have accurate palate reference. The ’06 Scarecrow and the ’94 Dunn were both the crowd favorites and were the two wines that nearly everyone guessed correctly during blind tasting. As far as I’m concerned, Dunn Cabernet is the classic long lived Napa Cab in the same way that Chateau Haut Brion is the classic Bordeaux. As of this year, Dunn’s ’86 and ’87 Napa Cabs are still drinking quite well, with little sign of their age. This particular ’94 Dunn Napa, while showing beautifully, still has a number of years to improve in bottle, and many left to live. The 2006 Scarecrow, being such a big wine from a recent good vintage (sandwiched in between 2 great vintages), was supple, round, and encompassing. After significant breathing time, it was damn near seamless. There was a waft on the nose and considerable weight on the finish that our host insisted tasted of “vanilla cake”. While I experienced no crumbs, the vanilla (rich rather than sweet) character was undeniable and quite stunning. And while I know the price of this wine is relatively high (bordering on absurd), it’s a truly beautiful product, inside and out.

Nice juice, not just a clever name.

When I was first invited to this tasting, our fearless host expressed his desire to locate a bottle of Screaming Eagle for around $1200, which is next to impossible, making the cost of said Scarecrow seem quite reasonable. To most mortals, Screaming Eagle isn’t a real wine, but a legendary endpoint of what the highest end of the market will bear (or would bear before the Chinese started paying $1500 a pop for Lafite too young to drink, and then started drinking it). For pennies on those dollars, I brought the two bottles of Whispering Dove which I snapped up with great curiosity back when they were released for around $30/btl.

While every wine opened on this particular evening was well worthy of it’s company, the ’02 Whispering Dove Oakville not only had the most mysterious pedigree of the bunch, but was also 3rd on just about everyone’s blind tasting preference list, and was, by one less experienced taster, mistaken for Scarecrow. To the best of my knowledge, this wine was only produced in 3 vintages from ’01 to ’03, and was very likely different grapes (and likely winemakers) in each release. Rumors that Whispering Dove was in fact declassified Screaming Eagle juice were quickly dispelled, but that didn’t change the marketing boost it got from the false notion. Nor does it change the fact that the 2002 Whispering Dove was most certainly vinified by someone who knew how to handle reserve quality Oakville fruit. And I will likely give my remaining stash another 3 or 4 years before tasting again.

Though new labels don't wear his name, Pax Mahle still makes remarkable syrah-based wine.

And then there was the obviously out of place ’04 Agharta Syrah, which while cultish, contains no cabernet, and was not part of the blind tasting. Bolstering said cultishness, prior to it’s debut, it was given a 98 point rating by some guy named Bob and before that it was vinified, oaked, aged (58 months!), and bottled (unfined & unfiltered) by a winemaker named Pax. And while Pax himself has said that the just released ’05 is “twice the wine” as is this monsterous and complex ’04 Agharta, he’s almost out of running room on the 100 point scale. I’ve tasted it on 3 occasions and giving notes would require the transcription of a short novel I haven’t yet written. It’s deeply complex stuff that changes dramatically over many hours of breathing and is an experience in itself rather that something to drink with any nameable specific food stuff. Structurally the experience of this debut Agharta is similar to Sean Thackrey’s Orion in that the sheer number of flavors per breathing time makes these wines infinitely faceted (and fascinating) gems. Looking forward to following the evolution of these bottles over the next decade or two.

Like Agharta, the depth of SQN Mr K wines crush the feeble descriptives of the written word.

And I don’t mean to disparage Chateau d’Yquem. There’s a reason it has the reputation it does. Yquem has been producing some of the words finest sweet white for centuries. By the time Jacques Sauvage was granted feudal tenure over Yquem in 1593 special growing techniques and late harvesting were already in practice and the estates finest vintages live for over a century. Very few estates, winemaking or otherwise enjoy such a rich history, which certainly comes with a hefty per bottle tariff, here in the future. For my dollar, if I’m going to spend way too much money on a half-bottle of sweet white, it’s more often going to be a 6 puttonyos tokaji, essencia, or something on which the Austrian genius, Alois Kracher, once had his hands.

Speaking of which, our final wine of the evening was Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman 2002. The Mr K series was a partnership of Sine Qua Non proprietor Manfred Krankl and the aforementioned Kracher, which ended abruptly upon Kracher’s untimely passing. Kracher’s family continues to produce the eponymous wines that made him famous. While the SQN Mr K The Nobleman 2002 (Chardonnay) is one of the lighter, thinner wines ever produced under this label, it is still a beautiful, balanced, nuanced, (almost) unreasonably honeyed joy to sip. The ’02 Nobleman is only “lesser” in the way that a mediocre Radiohead record is still worlds better than all of the crap on the radio. This golden wine is a treat on it’s own, but pairs well with a range of cheeses and non-chocoalte desserts, and with residual sugar at this level, the remaining wines may outlive many of us.

Few partnerships have ever created such beauty.

Three Young Wines Over (Midweek) Sunday Night Italian Dinner

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Having gone to this midweek Sunday Night Italian dinner directly from the Sherbrooke portfolio tasting, with a brief stop at home to pick up some bottles and La Piazetta in my neighborhood for cannolis, there are a few new wines that need mention. I don’t review many new wines and never bother with a point scale and while my tasting notes are sparse from yesterday’s trade event, several things must be said. First, Henri Boillot is currently making some of the finest white Burgundy I’ve ever tasted. The Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 2009 is as round as it is deep with intoxicating aromatics and can only improve for at least another 5 years and sustain for at east another 5. The Boillot Corton Charlemagne is attractive though currently much bigger and more pungent than the Puligny. Another year or two in bottle will likely find it rounder, more complete, but it is certainly not lacking in character today. While tale of the quality of 2009 in many of the most significant regions in France has spread farther and wider than the actual wines (to date), it speaks volumes that the Boillot Pommard ’08 and Volnay Les Fremiets ’07 are also drinking quite nicely today and these wines clearly have many years to evolve.

Oh iphone 3G, how dost thou camera suck?

As the price of the average Chateauneuf du Pape and much of the rest of the Rhone creeps skyward, some of the few deals left to be had in that region come from Gigondas and the Dauvergne Ranvier Gigondas Vin Rare 2007 was a standout amongst the hundreds of bottles represented, particularly at it’s price point. Also noteworthy were two (very) sweet whites at the dessert table, both new to my palate: Ca’ Rugate La Perlara recioto Di Soave 2008 and Chateau Perray Joannet Bonnezeaux Les Menus Clos 2009. Try either of these with a tarte tatin, or cheese plate with artisanal honey.

At dinner, an impressive array of meat products and red sauces were prepared (thanks Bill!) and as such, I brought some meaty syrah. But first, there was a selection of meats and cheeses with which with which I opened a nicely chilled bottle of Donelan Family Venus 2009 (90% Rousanne 10% Viognier). For all the sins that American wines are often accused as related to the nose, this one escapes, having almost no apparent alcohol with which to obscure the abundant fruit. The Venus had rigid acidity, lending to the notion that it intends to drink well for a good few years, and a lightly creamy mid-palate that stood up to a moderately diverse cheese plate in the creamier and saltier directions. The palate is briefly buttery, showing light minerality at the end, but it’s the crsip acidity that carries the apple-pair and hint of citrus through the finish. As with just about every new wine of any varietal, another 6 months in bottle should smooth over that tiny bite that lingers. After a long breath, the last of the Venus made a palate-smacking intermezzo en route to various meat and pasta dishes.

In the background: Starmaiden of Brooklyn rockers, Sloppy Heads.

Very recently I found some 2006 Milbrandt Syrah The Estates Wahluke Slope on one of the better discount sites that have been springing up and this selection became the first big red of the evening. I have tasted and thoroughly enjoyed several vintages of Syrah produced from these same grapes under Charles Smith‘s K Vintners label and was anxious to taste the wine made by the Milbrandt family themselves. Upon opening, the nose was almost non-existent* with small amounts of black and red fruit intermingling beneath glycerine and a little alcohol, but aromatic expansion would occur. Rather than a single block of a single vineyard as the label may seem to indicate, the ’06 Milbrandt Estates Wahluke Slope is 100% Syrah from three estate Wahluke Slope vineyards (67% Northridge, 22% Talcott, 11% Pheasant). The concentration is considerable as is the complexity, though slightly shy of what Charles Smith achieved is his ’06 Milbrandt bottling. While the nose opened up somewhat over time, the palate became thick (in a good way) and the distinct presence of boysenberry and soft earth rose to the top over bramble, with hints of spice and a trace amount of something almost menthol; followed by a deceptive, lingering finish. While less inherently forward than the K Syrah, the overall weight is quite similar and will make an interesting side by side tasting in the coming years (both new vintages and past). *This wine was tasted two days after shipping, which can affect it’s showing.

Boring picture of an unusual foster child wine.

The final wine that accompanied our savory feast was Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007. But before the tasting notes, full disclosure. The wine was made and barreled by Pax Mahle, but due to a split between Mahle and the Donelans, it was blended by then new Donelan Family winemaker, Tyler Thomas. Further disclosure, I was on the mailing list when the label was Pax and and remain on the Donelan mailing list. I actively follow the winemaking of Pax Mahle and have a number of bottles of his various  wines going back to his 2000 Lauterbach Syrah and I am on the mailing list of both of his current projects: Wind Gap and the remarkable Agharta. What can I say, I like a nice syrah.

Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007 is a lighter wine (Rhone) styled to be more approachable early in it’s life than previous vintages and as such, it doesn’t have the palate encompassing weight of the ’05 or ’06. Still it’s a full bodied wine by any standards and exhibits cassis amongst it’s distinct berry characteristics. It’s earthy and broad on the palate and finishes with a flourish of spice. It’s the kind of wine that begs to be consumed with the powerfully savory, not unlike the Italian feast with which this one was enjoyed, but it would have been just as contented to hang with barbecue, or a really good pepperoni pizza.