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Friday News Dump: California Classics at Apiary – Ridge and Dunn

March 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Statistics show that nobody reads blogs on Friday, but wine has been tasted and notes have been scratched in purple ink. A couple of nights back, over steak and duck at Apiary, after some 1990 Cote de Beaune and before a couple of stickies, we cracked a trio of American classics; two from Ridge and a Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1981.

Apiary 3-13-2013Upon first opening, the Dunn showed surprisingly thin, for a typically long lived wine, but it’s always a journey with these mountain beasts. One of the bottles that first did it for me, one of the first tastes to awaken a real interest, was Dunn’s ‘86 Napa Cab. At the time, my soft palate didn’t know what to make of the monstrous ’86 Howell Mountain Cab, but the harmony of the fruit and the earth I found in that ’86 Napa Cab seemed to me to be all that a big CA red should.

But back to the wine currently staining the linens on the tasting table behind my eyeballs: After about 35 minutes of air, the Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain 1981 proves to be a slumbering giant, full of burly brambly mountain fruit. The palate is expansive, deeply gripping, and the finish’s long path is peppered with a patchwork of wild woodland herbs. The alcohol pulls in at a clockwork 13%, thought the wine- long integrated as it may be- is many shades heavier.

The Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 1994 also begins a little closed and while the body does build with ample air, this wine is not as lush as previous tastings, though the fruit hasn’t receded entirely. Both color and clarity are still crisp and the wine shows only the slightest hint of its age. The red fruit is still slightly out front of its earth component, but it is no longer penetrating. Forest floor and ancient spice box persist through the subtle, but undulating finish.

The Ridge Geyserville 1992, at this point in its career, is a dead ringer for a fruit forward Napa Cab five or six years its senior. Slip one of these into a blind tasting of  late ’80s CA Cabernet and blow some minds/palates. Geyserville is a classic of the Napa establishment, and in my experience, this wine always shows well, though the true aging potential varies from vintage to vintage. I’ve also found that recent vintages seem to drink better younger, making them all the more difficult to squirrel away for further maturity, full integration, and secondary flavor development. For a true classic and always a palate expanding, Ridge Geysereville (and most of Ridge wines besides the Monte Bello) can still be acquired for around (a wholly fair) thirty bucks.

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.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 and Songs from the Tin Shed (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 4)

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Bottle shown here is 2008.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 was the next in the ever darkening wine lineup. This one is fairly big and is ideally suited for the rich [Bedford] cheese [Shop] plate, also standing its ground against the accompanying cured and thinly sliced meats. First, a vintage note: 1999 is an underrated vintage for much of CA (as well as for Bordeaux). So many different varieties of wines originating from Santa Barbara to Bolinas are fairing far better than their ’98 and ’00 counterparts and represent a significant value over the much hyped (and excellent) ’97 and ‘01/’02 vintages flanking them. As for Bordeaux, 1999 represents the last solid vintage to still occasionally be available at a significant price break from every vintage that has come since (minus the much maligned 2002), and they are aging beautifully.

Up on the itunes, the shuffle finds our ears flooded with the twangy strings and lush harmonies of Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) & Chris Castino‘s (The Big Wu) Songs From the Tin Shed (2004), from the pre-master recording. The music ranges from Sad Cowboy to Hillbilly, the tone from wistful to joyous, and includes a small handful of well placed covers amongst the majority original tunes by Austin and Castino. While Songs From the Tin Shed is far less known than the records (and live shows) of Yonder Mountain String Band or The Big Wu, the quality of its execution and heights of its sincerity will continue find its way to and delight ears- with a propensity toward twang- for generations.

Back to our regularly scheduled program:
T-Vine Napa Zinfandel 1999 is toward the shallow end of full bodied in color with a broad mouthfeel and long lingering acidity. There’s a piney sweetness and something ruggedly floral, like the unlikely offspring of a honeysuckle and some mutant wild thistle. This wine both grows in depth and softens in mouthfeel as another hour of air expands its horizons. T-Vine continues to quietly make very serious small batch wine in a number of varietals, both blends and single vineyards, including the recent addition of a Grenache from the incomparable Paras Vineyard. If you have not already, T-Vines is highly worth looking (and tasting!) into.

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.