Archive

Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Op-Cred: Do Not Drink This Story

March 26, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to make sense of Bianca Bosker’s loathsome piece in The Times on engineered swill wine since it first darkened my inbox. I get that it’s opinion, but any editor who lets this kind of crap slip by should be ashamed. If there isn’t a better point to be made, maybe give that space to another writer, or even a remotely entertaining ad. I read a smart and fairly measured response by Rachel Signer, and very much enjoyed Eric Asimov’s sober assessment via Twitter. So now that the rest of the wine world has moved on and no longer cares, here goes.

What irked me so fiercely about that absurd defense of shit wine for schmucks is that it posed industrial engineered plonk in a direct continuum with the current natural wine fad. This completely disregards a profound array of good, honest, tasty wine that is neither, to no discernible useful end.

Many great winemakers are doing things right, being relative stewards of the earth, but still choose to intervene in the process, and/or add a tiny amount of SO2 for stability. These are very often the most consistently pleasurable wines on the market, and are completely ignored by this absurd piece of clickbait penned by the self-styled Cork Dork (a title ensuring that I’ll never read the book). It’s about wine and wine people, not the life and times of the Quercus suber, yes? Oh, I get it; it rhymes, and it’s easy to remember. Anyway, many climates require a little help to produce viable grapes, even if not necessarily every season, and many wines need a little stability so they don’t continue to ferment (or immediately start deteriorating), such that every bottle in the same case tastes different. Neglect and chance are not viable winemaking techniques.

Besides being the ethos of many wonderful dedicated juice artists ‘natural’ is a buzzword used to sell stuff, just as is ‘organic’, and to a lesser extent, ‘biodynamic’. The best of natural wine is most definitely a wonderful and welcome movement, but it’s also a trend to be generous, and a fad if we’re being honest. Many natural wine purists don’t differentiate between good/tasty/balanced natural wine and brutally acidic, unstable, undrinkable crap that happens to fit the criteria. Natural does not mean good, and never will, just as literally will never mean figuratively, no matter how many language shredding Philistines use the terms interchangeably.

Marketeers continue to confuse people for their own obvious ends. More often than I’d like, I’m faced with a customer demanding sulfite-free wine. When I gently (sometimes not so gently) explain that the process by which yeast turns sugar to alcohol also creates sulfites (naturally!), they often look at me as if I’ve just told them, “Your god is dead.” One customer simply told me, “That’s not true”. Since nothing good happens at the intersection of ignorance and certainty, I suggested that she shop somewhere that doesn’t mind lying to her, to preserve her fragile false reality, in order to make a sale.

Is organic farming and biodiveristy in soil a good thing for wine and for the earth? Yes, absolutely. But farming and winemaking are very different endeavors, and both are required to get fermented juice into a bottle. And there are many wines that are organic and/or natural that just plain suck. A shocking percentage of walk-in cold calls to my Brooklyn retail shop are by reps spouting off about how natural and organic their wines are. Which immediately begs the question: Are they any good?

To open a natural wine exclusive shop, bar, or restaurant, and leave wine off the list because of a pinch of SO2 seems to miss the point. There’s a huge difference between adding a little tartaric acid, deliberately manipulating the amount of water during vinification, or using a small amount of egg white to clarify (sorry [not sorry] vegans!), and straight up dumping flavor changing additives into an otherwise finished wine. There are many many wines that aren’t 100% natural, but are doing things mostly right, aren’t raping the Earth with chemicals, and are producing accessible, pleasurable wines.

There will always be purists, and I will always feel sorry for them and their dainty palates. If you ONLY drink Burgundy, or Italian wine, or natural wine, you’re just missing out on piles of pleasure by drawing hard lines where they might not need to be. It’s just as vexing as those who only drink un-oaked Chardonnay and insist that any wood is poison to that venerable varietal, when convincingly enjoyable wines exists on either side of that arbitrary fence. And the very best examples often display some creaminess, but without buttering over the fruit, and maintaining vibrant acidity. I would call it balance, but that term too has had a big steamy pile of dogma dumped on it by those seeking to define (and control) a categorized commodity.

Most wine consumers I encounter- the vast majority of customers at our fair shop- just want to drink something that tastes good and doesn’t have chemical crap dumped into it. Luckily for them, we feel that way too, and have lots of love for everything ignored by Bosker’s ill-conceived two treatises of wine. Beyond that noise, don’t ever believe anyone who tells you there’s only one way to make or enjoy great wine. And if you really want to drink a bunch of syrupy chemical crap, just go have a Coke and a smile, but don’t bother writing an article about how good you think it is.

Theory Kitchen, Sad Cowboy Music, and Giving a Shit

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Duck 2 ways Theory Kitchen 4-2016If necessity is the mother of invention, then the mother of inspiration is a deadline… for something else. I’m on the precipice of a comprehensive inventory and professional off-site storage project that will see 200 cases go out the door of my shop- via the cavernous basement, which is far from the front door- and all I can think about is how many blog posts behind I am.

It’s late and I’ve just been to a Theory Kitchen event, and I am again reminded that giving a shit (and attention to detail) goes a long way. The kid who runs the show is the same age now I was when getting obscenely high and paying my rent interviewing (and photographing) musicians, writers, and artists for print magazines back before Seattle died. The ‘90s were a magical time for getting away with it in America (RIP HST!).

K Vintners Morrison Lane '01 4-2016I’m drinking, amongst other things, a K Vintners Syrah Morison Lane 2001. Full disclosure, I love the wines of Charles Smith. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the company of the man himself (though I’d certainly give it another shot- over the right Chateauneuf du Pape), but his wines are very good, on the low end, and expansive and otherworldly, at their very best. But it’s clearly on the back end of its plateau. Those dusty tannins and that distinct apply dryness in the back will, over the next few years, head toward the predominant front note, on its way to becoming deep, slightly cloudy, brick-toned water, if stored properly, and eventually a sullen dry vinegar. On the off chance you have any in your cellar, drink it sooner than later.

I’ve been in a prolonged phase of sad cowboy music, the like of which I haven’t seen since first discovering Townes Van Zandt, however many years ago that was. And these days I can’t stop listening to The Dave Rawlings Machine’s Nashville Obsolete. Just now, writing that down, I almost dropped a tear. It’s a good goddamn record, in an era that’s goddamn short on good goddamn records. I’ll admit to having erased “Candy” from the album on my iphone, and it really does feel kind of silly and extraneous amongst the incisive story telling, verse, and chord progression of “The Weekend”, “Shorthaired Women”, “The Trip“, and “Pilgrim”.

Pig Crispy Theory Kitchen 4-2016Three hours after first opening, this wine- K Vintners Syrah Morison Lane 2001- really smells, in the glass, like a Hermitage twice its age, and the palate really isn’t that far off, minus the nod toward animalia. Deep blackberry fruit, earth, tar, basalt, ancient woodland herbs; an encompassing, pensive mouthful. A pleasantly dark way to end an evening. Thanks for that, Chuck.

A Suitcase of Lightning

June 30, 2015 1 comment
Taos Lightning Rye Single Barrel, 5yr, and 15yr.

Taos Lightning Rye Single Barrel, 5yr, and 15yr.

While in New Mexico, I became aware of Taos Lightning Rye. Both the craft whiskey thing and the sourced whiskey thing (aka I’m not telling you where the juice is from or how long it was barreled) are getting out of hand. A lot of new whiskey is super-hot brown firewater and there will be a serious reckoning and culling of the population in the coming years.

Taos Lightning, it turns out, is a product of KGB Spirits in Santa Fe, NM. I purchased a number of different bottles from Total Wine and from Jubilation in Albuqurque, the latter of which was offering 2 different exclusive single barrel bottles, at very reasonable prices. If you’re in town, don’t let the odd location and prison-barred windows fool you, Jubilation is an excellent shop for spirits (I honestly didn’t check out their wine selection, but they did acquire a bunch of Merkin Vineyards wine for my neighbors’ wedding- of which I highly approve).

Taos Lightning Rye 5yr.

Taos Lightning Rye 5yr.

Now, the juice: Taos Lightning Rye 5yr is visually attractive, a medium reddish deep golden brown. A fairly sweet round nose gives way to a sweetly vanilla palate, a touch of bright cherry fruit to the mid-palate, and a nice spicy, medium-hot finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Willett’s excellent 4yr Rye– which is amongst the highest praise one can give a younger rye. According to co-founder, John Bernasconi, “All current whiskey was sourced from Lawrenceberg and the 15 year had the Jos. Seagram’s stamp on barrel. We are about to switch to house made with San Luis, CO grain. The aging in NM along the Rio Grande is what gives these products their uniqueness. We have a high elevation, low humidity climate and the river brings constant air flow exchange.” With so many shady stories in the current US whiskey market, we very much appreciate the candor, and anxiously await tasting what comes next from the fine folks at KGB Spirits.

And now, the case…

I was sufficiently smitten with the Taos Lightning 5yr that I was on the hunt for a styrofoam 12-pack shipper, common in the wine shipping world. However, the incoherent and arbitrary nature of state liquor law has left Albuquerque stryo-shipper-free. It’s illegal to ship wine or spirits within the state of New Mexico, let alone to the outside world. Albuquerque is a scorched barren wasteland, where the food sucks, people drive ridiculous cars, and a law abiding citizen can’t get a styro 12-pack. If the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce would like to sponsor this blog, they know where to find me.

Next, at the absurd yet demure, banal megaporium of intoxication that is Total Wine in Albuquerque- I love this town- I ask if they have anything suitable to safely transport at least a dozen bottles through the meathook paws of JFK baggage handlers. There is something they tell me, it’s a rolling travel suitcase fitted with styro insert, cut for .750ml wine bottles, 12 of them. The only one left in stock is the floor model, they’d be happy to take 10% off the sticker price for the pre-scuffed exterior shell and slightly stained interior fabric. Five minutes later, I was in a parking lot, cramming copious piles of fine New Mexican and Californian rarities into my new VinGarde Valise.

The suitcase of Lightning: Title Achieved!

The suitcase of Lightning: Title Achieved!

First, the idea is great: it’s a rolling suitcase containing 6 inserts, each cut to hold and protect 2 bottles each, such that one can remove as many or as few as necessary to adjust to any clothing and toiletries needed for the journey. But I was already out on the road and had my regular suitcase in hand, and used my new VinGarde Valise to full bottle capacity. Unfortunately, the follow-through is not nearly so inspired as the concept. The materials are fairly flimsy, the foam inserts made to separate the two halves aren’t even cut to the same size (one doesn’t fit at all such that the case will not close), and the bottle slots are cut to a fairly impractical stencil, unless they intend one only to carry obscure sherry. It’s one thing if the owner is going to be extremely careful with the cheap zippers, but on its maiden voyage, mine was tossed by the TSA, and returned to me in less than new condition (and containing the requisite slip letting me know my privacy had been violated). The guts of the bag are poorly constructed of insubstantial materials, and while not space efficient, I’d still recommend a much less expensive styro 12-pack shipper over this unit. Simply put, VinGarde Valise have a long way to go to make the quality of the case fit its $200+ price tag.

Free Range Wine and Yo La… wait, what now?

July 18, 2013 1 comment
Behold the fampersat!

Behold the fampersat!

Wow, it’s amazing how opening up a wine shop in Brooklyn can disappear six months of ones life. So, for those of you who don’t already know, I am now the proprietor of Free Range Wine & Spirits at 355 Atlantic Ave, here in Brooklyn, NY. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hello.

Also, for those of you who don’t already know, Maxwell’s– Hoboken’s greatest (only relevant) rock club- is closing its doors forever. Recently, the Pastels were slated to play there, with the Condo Fucks (Yo La Tengo’s alter-ego, playing mostly garage covers) opening. While it was sad that the Pastels couldn’t make it stateside for the show due to visa issues, it was glorious kismet that it ended up being an acoustic Yo La Tengo set opening for the Condo Fucks. The show was beautiful and profound and heartbreaking, and was far better assessed by Yo La Historian, Jesse Jarnow, in his review for Spin which you should read. I shot a fair amount of video footage of both sets, much of which is posted on my Vimeo page HERE. Apparently my footage of the very last song will appear tonight on Fuse News, Fuse TV’s 8pET music news show. Once that segment is posted online, I’ll link it.

More soon!

Cheers,

Jack

self Pisoni close

Bottle Variation, Southern Harmony and Andrew Will Merlot Klipsun Vineyard 1999

March 11, 2013 Leave a comment

I have so much backed up material and so many unpublished tasting notes, that I didn’t take down a single word last night at St. Anselm, though we opened and enjoyed: Foris Pinot Noir 2009, Antiqv2s (Antiqus) Syrah Garys’ Vineyard 2004, and Livingston Moffet Cabernet Rockpile Vineyard 1994; all interesting and noteworthy each in their own right.self Pisoni close
Re: St. Anselm, I’m not sure there is a better compliment one can give a chef or his team, but I didn’t notice until after we ate that iron-willed head chef and grill-master Yvon was not in the building. Though the pacing seemed a little off (not much of a crime on a sold out Friday night), the various steaks and chops arrived in the glorious state to which St. Anselm patrons have grown accustomed.

Well, I kinda skipped out on that whole new years thing, so my March resolution is to get more material onto/into this blog, starting right now, from piles of backed up notes.

Here’s one:

A Will Klisun 1 '99 3-10-2013
A note on bottle variation. At a certain level of quality, bottle variation can be a welcome surprise. Case in point, I’ve opened a number of bottles of Andrew Will Klipsun Merlot ’99 in recent months and the last two, had they been poured blind and side by side, I don’t think I would have pinned them as from the same continent or time, let alone the same bottling. The one I opened last night was a surprisingly Bordeaux-like beast showing mainly dark earthy and relatively fruitless characteristics- all damp leaves, pine tar, and forest floor. As a whole this ’99 Klipsun Merlot is drinking more like what I would expect from this label’s Sorella, which is Chris Camarda’s deliberately Bordeaux-style blend. It’s certainly possible that these last two bottles’ contents were identical and that this last couple of weeks aging was a definable turning point, but it’s neither a great chance (given the aging arc of Merlot) nor a verifiable one.

A. Will Klipsun Merlot '99
Those deep red and black fruits that were so lush and forward in previous examples of this wine are present here, but more in the capacity of great background harmonies, like Barbara & Joy (aka The Choir) on the Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Speaking of the Black Crowes, I was just listening to Amorica and not many records have a better closing track: a beautifully forlorn road ballad that would be far less without the color fills and purposefully meandering solos of keyboardist Eddie Harsch (Hawrysch). God bless old weird Ed, his rock & roll name, and his important work.

Cheers!

Knuckleballs, Lost Love, and St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001

January 15, 2013 1 comment
A cracked spring training bat signed by then pitching coach Phil Niekro.

A cracked spring training bat signed by then pitching coach Phil Niekro.

Two weeks into the new year and I’m already 12 days (and five years) behind on my resolution(s). Back to life… back to reality. Well, if reality were a pile of rare wine and 46oz axe handle ribeyes. I’m so scattered that I’m quoting Soul II Soul, but I digress… from my digression. Red meat & red wine is just one of those (combination of) things, right up there with the all-time greats. And while a number of interesting and beautiful reds (and one white- Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2011) were sipped over succulent charred animal flesh at St. Anselm, it is the St Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 that most warrants documentation.

St. Innocent is one of those great American owner/winemaker situations, where proprietor Mark Vlossak makes some of Oregon’s most compelling (single vineyard) bottled produce. The hardiest examples from the stronger vintages defy the absurd common wisdom that American Pinot Noir doesn’t age well. And the finest expressions of Shea vineyard grapes age as well as any American Pinot Noir; far greater longevity than a francophile will ever admit. And this one is fairly interesting, over a decade after crush.

What was that about American Pinot not aging well again?

What was that about American Pinot not aging well again?

So, I finally watched Knuckleball, which reminded me acutely that baseball was my first love, well before wine, or even women. If you have ever loved anything about any sport that wasn’t based in some re-wired tribalism, Knuckleball will warm the cockles of your heart. Didn’t know that R.A. Dickey was a born again Christian, but one of many reasons I stopped following organized sports was that I didn’t want to support the livelihood of thugs and felons. So, like saddling up to an Irish bar, let’s leave the religion and politics at the door (for today). But if I find out that Charlie Hough, The Niekro brothers, and Tim Wakefield are all born again, and that only by taking the New Tastament version of Jesus Christ Superstar into one’s heart, can you truly take the spin off of that demoniacle changeup, I’ll be very upset. Regardless, if I do follow baseball this season, it’ll likely be the Blue Jays that interest me. May the force be with you, R.A.

Back to the wine: St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 is showing slightly less fruit than previous tastings, but no less expansive baseline of furry dry raspberry, brambly, but thornless, and a lesser presence of red cherry. There’s a broad mid-palate of dusty crushed granite, dry earth, pine tar, ancient cedar chips, and just a touch of gaminess. With further breath the mid-palate opens to palate-suckingly dry, before a deceptively long, undulating finish. It’s beautiful stuff, but have a large glass of clear cool water handy. Always remember: Hydration is your friend. It makes tomorrow possible. From the weight and breadth of the St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001, it’s difficult to discern how much life this wine has left in it, but it’s well worth pairing with a well-marbled world-class steak today.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2013 2 comments
Happy New Year! Enjoying Andrew Will Sorella '98 and Quliceda Creek Merlot '93 during the fireworks in PB, FL!

Happy New Year! Enjoying Andrew Will Sorella ’98 and Quliceda Creek Merlot ’93 during the fireworks in PB, FL!