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Another Tasting Night at Apiary – What day is this… man?

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m insanely behind on my posting; more so than I’ve been since I began doing such things. But helping a guy open a restaurant will do that, and I’m quite proud of what we put together, in a very short period of time. While I still have piles of CA content to get to, here are some tasting notes that should have been posted quite some time ago

A testament to OR fruit, traditional winemaking, and proper cellaring.

[It was] another Monday night at the bar at Apiary and the place is buzzing; not bad for August [yeah, that’s how far behind on tasting notes I am!]. By request, I’ve brought nothing but whites: one long shot, a probable, and a couple of sure things. First, the long shot: Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991. I bought this wine for basically nothing at all, from an unverified source, assuming– like the seller- that this wine was likely well beyond its pleasurable drinking window. That being said, 1991 has proven to be one of the longest lived vintages ever for most OR wines that have been around that long, and Van Duzer bottles some high art, on their best days. * And I know I’ve said it 1,000 times before, but it bears repeating that Chef Scott Bryan of Apiary (formerly of Veritas) puts out- every night- some of the best, wine friendliest, food that has ever existed on this vile rock they call Manhattan.

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The foil off, and the cork still has some pressure behind it, the CO2 persists, and the initial pour shows a respectable head for a 21 year old American bubbly. It’s pale gold, or brilliant straw, bubblier than expected, and it’s rather captivating immediately. The nose is deeply yeasty, but subtly, not pungent. The palate shows bright integrated Meyer lemon zest over a broadly bready body, with a slightly creamy texture in the mid-palate, and faint mingling notes of raw honey and honeysuckle…. Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991 is unquestionably one of the most pleasant palate surprises of the year, to date. At the price that was offered, I should have grabbed the 2 cases that were available…

Can’t believe I didn’t make note of the appetizer in the foreground…

While unanimously declared a tough act to follow, the hesitating beauty to my right, Roy (Apiary’s Wine Guru), and I moved on to the Vincent Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret 1999. I can’t overstate how universally fantastic and underrated world wine is from 1999. It’s a solid- if not classic- vintage in many major wine regions from the Rogue Valley to Ribera del Duero, and represents many of the last “bargains” from overpriced earth, like that of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Not sure why this guy is staring at me…

In the glass the the Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret ’99 is as much caramel as gold, though the pictured softness is condensation on the glass, not the telltale cloud of oxidation. The nose is ripe with a damp earthy funk over a building tide of increasingly prevalent salt air. The palate is soft and integrated, with a citrus spike, punctuated by a flutter of honeybell rind, dancing about a tight mineral core. I would love to blind taste this one on a roomful of Burgundy snobs who scoff at such negociant wines.

It would be dishonest of me to give full tasting notes on this Guigal St Joseph Lieu Dit 2007 as I can’t locate my notes on the matter. But I do have a small list of bullets from Roy: “apple, papaya, lychee, white river stones, limestone, calcium- medium long finish, med+ weight.” The wine was quite beautiful and deserves a more considered review, but the above list represents the only primary resource I have from that evening.

Diagnostics, Glorious Burgundy, and “Off” Vintages

July 9, 2011 Leave a comment

An "off" vintage beauty.

According to the diagnostics, people don’t read blogs on Saturday. So, if you are reading this, you are one of the 10% of the usual crew and I thank you for it. And since you’re here, I won’t bore you with notes on diagnostics or SEO (search engine optimization). But I would like to make a point about vintage charts, arbitrary wine market fluctuations, and the wonderful values to be had in “off” vintages. Recently I was drinking a Jayer Gilles Echezeaux du Dessus 2004, which cost me less than half of what any other vintage of that same wine is available for anywhere. While it was an exceedingly good deal, and I bought everything that was available, it’s indicative of what happens in world wine markets, particularly when a great region of great winemakers is labeled “off” for a given vintage, by the prevailing wisdom. Great growers and great winemakers will find ways to make palatable wine in all but the most horrific of growing seasons.

The three major factors that dictate a wine’s release price are 1) Supply and Demand (+ hype), 2) Relative quality of the product, 3) World currency rates at the time of release. However these factors line up, all future prices on the vintage in question, are largely determined by their price on their way into the market. The 2004 vintage in Cote de Nuits (northern Burgundy) was considered an off vintage compared with ’02, ’03, ’05, but the best of them are still damn good and tend to drink well on the younger side, such that bigger ones, like the Echezeaux pictured here, are drinking quite well, while many of the surrounding “better” vintages yielded wine that is still years before its peak.

Chevillon Bourgogne 2000.

Another example of this is the difference between the 1999 and 2000 vintages of the same region. 1999 was universally better rated than 2000, but many of the ’99s I’ve tasted have had an unpleasant overripeness to them initially, and have not grown out of it. Conversely, the very best of the 2000 Cote de Nuits are better than their ’99 counterparts and can often be found for half the price. While there are certain axioms that hold true in accepted modern wine nomenclature, it’s always best to do as much tasting on your own as possible. Just like with a record review, it all just comes down to one person’s opinion, on someone else’s creation, in a random moment. One of the most trusted palates in my personal pantheon likes to say that regardless of everything else, it comes down to the ‘yum or yuck’ test: Something hits your palate and it either pleases your senses or it doesn’t. The rest really are just details, pomp, and circumstance.

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.