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Rutherford Hill Port 1986 and God Bless Warren Zevon (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 5)

July 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Looking pretty sharp at 25 years.

The wine I was most excited to open with that glorious cheese selection from Bedford Cheese Shop was a Rutherford Hill Vintage Port 1986. I’m a big fan of high quality US dessert wines and this is one of the most port-like “Ports” I’ve ever encountered. There are an enormous amount of fabulous stickies bottled not only up and down the west coast, but sweet white is one of the few things they’ve been getting right in parts of New York for a long time. Often batches of California dessert wine are pet projects of wineries known for other things and production is often so small that if you don’t specifically ask, you’d never know they existed. I often come across such small batch wines in collection and consignment offers, which was how I originally discovered the dessert wines of Williams Selyem and Shafer. Over the years Phelps has produced a number of beautiful stickies such that I can recommend you purchase and taste just about any one you can find.

Warren Zevon‘s posthumous Preludes: Rare and Unreleased shuffles up on the itunes and I remember how much one can miss a guy he never met. Preludes is made up of selections from the tapes that Zevon’s son, Jordan, found in an old suicase, shortly after Zevon’s death. Warren Zevon was one of the great American storytellers and these earliest recordings show just how good he already was early on in his career, though on the charmingly raw version of “Carmelita,” it’s clear that guitar was his (distant) second instrument, to the piano, at which he was masterful. The previously unreleased “Rosartita Beach Café” sounds like something he might have written after a minor bender with Hunter Thompson, but I’m fairly certain they hadn’t yet met and become friends. “Rosartita Beach Café” was torn from the same moment as “Desperados Under the Eaves,” the version of which resides on Preludes is crushing. For my music listening dollar, it doesn’t really get any better. And the next glass is raised to Warren Zevon.

After hours of breathing, there’s still a solid alcoholic bite to the Rutherford Hill Port 1986, but the palate is broader and brambly, unquestionably lush, and surprisingly grapey for it’s age. It’s a big wine and age hasn’t taken that away. It’s thick with chocolate and black pepper, wild herbs, wintergreen, and a hint of caramelized sugar. This is a wine that would have worked as well with a rich flourless chocolate cake as it does with the various cheeses. It would be a crime on one level, but this ’86 Rutherford Hill Port would make a stunning reduction for a world-class marbled cut of beef. And damned if sipping it doesn’t make me want one of my 10-12 annual cigars; Montecristo #5 please, if anybody’s running to the shop… in Havana, or Montreal, or Mexico City, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or Moscow, or Zagreb

Epilogue: Beautiful as it was that evening, thanks to my trusty vacu vin, the ’86 Rutherford Hill Port was drinking even better the next day and the rest of the week, once the alcohol integrated had properly integrated.

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.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir and the Beatles at Budokan ‘66 (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 1)

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Over a selection of tasty cheeses, meats, olives, and accoutrement from the Bedford Cheese shop, including an irresistible bliss in the form of a triple crème called Pierre Robert (thanks Chef Jacqueline!), a series of well aged wines were tasted. During this luxurious palate exercise the mp3 library played of a many generations old imac that still lives, by some act of G(Steve Jobs)D, functioning solely as a jukebox of randomness and a DVD player. Notes on the wine and music consumed begin now:

2 Generations of label ago.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir Carter Vineyard 1997 is deep, but softening garnet. Just as a touch of purple seems to appear in the center, the nose emerges and the olfactory overtakes the thinking mechanism. Is this a high pedigree Gevrey Chambertin? The most successful expressions of Oregon grapes, such as this one, taste like their own corner of that land in a way that the finest Frenchman with the finest palate for Burgundy will never understand.

And it never ceases to amaze me what one can acquire in a few Google searches and a few minutes of time, as the Beatles live at Budokan ‘66, rises from the speakers, pre-pubecent screams first. It’s unbelievable to be able to hear the greatest band of all time at such a formative formative stage, audio problems, vocal slips, and all. The shrieking really is intense though, almost deafening at times and indesciminant. My mom was a huge Beatles fan as a kid and saw the them a couple of times. She loved the music, but didn’t understand the screaming, and was disappointed at how little she could hear of the music over the spastic shrill din. Perhaps this is why I’ve always taken such joy when Mike Doughty or Jeff Tweedy berates an audience that pays the ticket price to aggressively not listen. There really should be a constitutional amendment banning the yelling of ‘Freebird’ in all music venues across this great land.

The ’97 Ken Wright pinot Noir Carter Vineyard continues to waft singular moments of the Pacific Northwest into the room. The nose is huge and the palate deep: wet earth, damp embers, and a little sea air, on a thick humid morning. In the glass, there’s smoke, soft earth, and tobacco. It’s subtly floral (violets?), fresh herbs, terragon, fennel fronds, and there’s something ¾ of the way down the road to eucalyptus. The wine has a very long finish, for an American Pinot Noir if its age, and the empty glass continues to echo that glorious nose. I have never met a Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and this one ranks high up in greater pantheon of American wine.