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Belles Soeurs (Beaux Freres) Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 and Late Night with Bob Dylan

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

After the reasonably exquisite Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 (tasting notes in previous post), a Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 was poured. In general, across most vintages, I find their wines mades from outsourced grapes from Shea Vineyard to be more complete ventures than Beaux Freres’ Estate-specific cuvées (Beaux Freres Vineyard, Upper Terrace), though I have yet to encounter an uninteresting wine that bears the name. I have read about, but have yet to taste their tiny production Upper Terrace Grenache, and I would be more than happy to accept tasting samples, to be discussed here on WineGeist, judiciously and impartially.

I’m listening to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as performed by its composer, Bob Dylan, at the Hollywood Bowl, September 2, 1965. I know Dylan gets a lot of air time here, but that was the track that came up on the full library shuffle, just then, as I started the sentence; it’s still playing now. It’s true that I’ve been staring at the incomplete line, “I’m listening to…” for a couple of dozen songs, but that’s neither here nor there and Dylan is inspiring. And that song in particular, “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a big one in an unparalleled body of work, not to mention being the second part of the Good Doctor‘s dedication preceding Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: “-and to Bob Dylan, for Mister Tambourine Man“. Dylan wrote that one in ’65 and in the same year it was recorded by The Byrds and released as their first single for Columbia Records, which reached #1 on US and UK charts. Unrelated, I was told, not that long ago, “It takes a lot of Dylan to make a nice Syrah.” But today, we’re discussing Oregon Pinot.

The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 wafts immediately of cedar and raw meat, and is dark in the glass, knocking on the door of deep purple. Visually, it’s almost unreasonably concentrated for the varietal and most definitely for the vintage. The vast majority of 2000 OR Pinot Noir, even the very good ones are a little thin in the middle, as if too much water was interjected at a major stage of growth, and the grapes partied like it was 1999, resulting in flimsier fruit. Ironically enough, the grapes of 1999 were far more studious and the wines released from that vintage continue to age well. Even the normally highly concentrated Beaux Freres wines are a little soft, a little light on character, in 2000, including this one whose palate is not so brooding as the color. The only recently tasted examples to the contrary for 2000 OR Pinot are Ken Wright Pinot Noir, Shea and McCrone Vineyard bottles. But back to the ’00 Belles Soeurs Shea: the palate displays cool damp earth, ash, as well as some vegetal characterists and green pepper. There’s a nice mid-palate dryness, but the body seems to drop off there, making for a shorter experience. That being said, there exist notes of espresso bean, anise, and prune as well as overripe raspberry and a dusty, silty finish. The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 is a highly palatable wine, but it’s a little thin for its pedigree, and is likely at the back end of its drinking plateau. Remaining bottles will be enjoyed in the near future, rather than returned to the cellar.

Post-Hurricane-Nonpocalypse Edition: Numanthia Toro 2000 and Hurricane Songs

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

There is some damage here in Brooklyn, but the great Hurricane of 2011 (following the tiny earthquake) was fairly reminiscent of Y2K and the WTO protests: much ado about little (though I’ve read that Vermont got hit hard). Did a lot of reading. Patti Smith’s book is really that good. Buy it, read it, love her. Paired the end of the Foris Pinot Noir 2008 with a red velvet doughnut and finished that last of the 1970 Burmester Colheita with a cinnamon. Both bottles were safely preserved, vacuum sealed, with my trusty Vacu Vin, and both doughnuts were from Peter Pan on Manhattan Ave. Seeing as I’m alive, without reasonable transportation, and having no real storm damage to deal with, I’ve just pulled the cork on a Numanthia Toro 2000 for no good reason at all. This wine was made from 100% Tinta de Toro grapes from ungrafted vines of 70 to 100 years old, 2300’ above sea level.

I’m feeling kind of topical and am listening to the best of hurricane related songs. As in so many different kinds of playlists, Dylan takes the cake with “Hurricane”, though Golden Smog’s “Hurricane” is also pretty great in a completely different kind of way. For melodrama- and yet another tragedy verité- you’ve got to love Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”. It’s not much of a stretch from hurricane to storm and I stream through, from Woody Guthrie’s “The Great Dust Storm” to the Minutemen’s “Storm in My House” and The Spaniels “Stormy Weather”, and then back to Dylan with “Shelter From the Storm” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Honorable mention: “Cold Rain and Snow.”

This label has only been around containing their current cuveés for a little over a decade, and while these wines are consistently bold and beautiful, we’re just beginning to get an idea of their true aging potential. This Numanthia Toro 2000 has settled down considerably since last tasting; the alcohol, the tannins, and the oak, once an overbearing cacophony of monolithic structure, no longer obscure the considerable fruit and cavernous depth of this beast. If a color can approach opaque and/or black and still qualify as some kind of brooding ruby, this would be it. The nose is initially somewhat muted, showing some black fruit, glycerin, and asphalt, but this wine’s gifts are largely of the deep palate of red currant, under blackberries, followed by the less prevalent cassis and vanilla extract. After considerable breathing time a deep mid-palate dryness evolves, stretching the experience through the long, undulating finish. Today, the Numanthia 2000 is serious juice, and while warm and welcoming, this wine still maintains significant weight and shows a touch hot, and will only improve with continued bottle aging.

Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005 and Baez Does Dylan

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Still tasting through my mixed case of 2000-2005 Bourgogne Rouge (though the Labouré-Roi Pinot Noir from yesterday wasn’t technically a Burgundy). Next in line is Maison Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir from the much lauded 2005 (before the more lauded 2009) vintage. This wine is a blend fashioned from select vineyards of pinot noir from the slopes of Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits in Burgundy.

I’m listening to Joan Baez’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” from her Baez sings Dylan record. Like so many of Dylan’s songs, “Don’t Think Twice” has been covered and recorded by many others, but Baez’ is the most overwhelmingly heartbreaking I’ve yet heard. On its own, “Don’t Think Twice” is one of the great breakup songs of all time, from the male perspective. On top of this, Joan Baez is one of the truly tragic (living) characters of the ‘60s counterculture movement. Looking back it seems that she really believed that she and Bob would become the king and queen of the People’s Revolution Prom. The dichotomy between that moment and Dylan’s personal and artisic momentum can be seen quite apparently in parts of  Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s famous document of Dylan’s 1965 tour of Europe.

Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005, in the glass, the wine is bright ruby w/ a slight purple hue toward the center. It’s light/medium bodied with prevalent raspberry and tart cherry. As the wine breathes and expands it shows some black licorice and white pepper. Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005 is another nice, light(ish), food friendly pinot noir from a lower cost Burgundy producer, representing good drinking per dollar spent.

Dettori Bianco 2006 and Dan Bern’s Fifty Eggs, Unfiltered and Unfined

July 5, 2011 Leave a comment

An unusual off-white wine.

Tenute Dettori is best known for the unusual, rustic, and outstanding estate old vine cannonau (Grenache) they produce, most notably their oldest vine, flagship bottle that sells under Dettori Rosso. Unfortunately, their release prices have more than doubled in the last couple of vintages and I can no longer in good conscience recommend the Dettori as a $150 bottle, though it does compete favorably against other over-priced Italian reds. And had it not been one of my favorite wines in the world at around $55, I wouldn’t have taken the price increase(s) so personally. However, should you come across any remaining stock of ’01-’04 at a lower price, or should you see any overpriced ’05s showing up on close-out sales, grab what you can. That wine is serious, high alcohol, bold, brooding, bordering on monsterous stuff; and the 2001 is still aging nicely.

Murky and off-white, but quite palatable.

I’m listening to Dan Bern‘s Fifty Eggs album (1998), produced by DIY folk goddess, Ani DiFranco. Bern himself sees this album as a specific moment in time that, at last check, he still had mixed feeling about, but there are so many reasons to dig this record. From a songwriting perspective, Bern was at the height of his aggressive surrealism, which is most apparent on “One Thing Real” and “No Missing Link“, the former of which finds Bern chewing over existence and song craft with Van Gogh and Jesus Christ. The latter poses an alternately profane theory of evolution. While the comedy and philosophy are thick beneath Bern’s Dylanesque vocal tone, it’s “Oh Sister” (Not to be confused with Dylan‘s 1976 “Oh, Sister” which Andrew Bird covers on Soldier On) and “Rolling Away” which humanize the deliberately reality-challeneged storyteller. Back in LA, Dan Bern has recently been contributing songs to films such as Walk Hard and Get Him to the Greek, work for which he was genetically engineered, but he still puts on a wholly entertaining show, when he feels like touring.

All in a day's work.

Back to Dettori Bianco 2006, which is obviously neither clarified nor filtered. As pictured, in the glass, the wine is a hazy, murky, deep orange gold; looking as if the wine were 10 years older and had been cellared in a hot attic. It’s high in acid, but not sharp with it, making this wine technically food friendly, though the floating orange/brown particles of dead yeast (also the name of my new punk band), which add to its foreboding appearance, might frighten away your meal. The nose wafts powerfully of apricot liqueur. The palate is sweetly funky, undeniably weird and pops with apricot, but there’s a lingering mid-palate note of an earthy cheese that’s most of the way toward blue. This wine is a walking contradiction from first glance, smell, and taste, but its an enjoyable experience. The acid grows over time and with some more air, the wine becomes softly briny, like miso soup, with notes of caramel and yeast, crossing the sweet with savory, making Dettori Bianco its own experience. This is also the sort of wine that can vary greatly bottle to bottle, making it necessary to taste 2 or 3 of them to really get an idea of the full quality and range it possesses.

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.

With Wistful Grace, Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County 1997

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Jaffurs Syrah, particularly the biggest of the single vineyard releases, has been getting well deserved high ratings of late from some guy named Bob, but Craig Jaffurs has been making and bottling nice Rhone varietals since his first professional releases after the ’94 harvest. I came across a parcel of 6 bottles, not long ago, of Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah 1997, believing there to be a chance that the wine inside had not successfully made it with us, here to the future. They came with good provenance and neck levels, but one never knows how a regional blend meant to be consumed in its youth will weather the years. Of the 6 bottles, all were drinkable, but at least two were outstanding and well worth the gamble.

Santa Barbara boutique production.

While certainly past its prime, it’s not by much and the wine is aging gracefully, maintaining a wide flavor profile. It still has its red fruit sweetness, but is clearly into its decline, resulting in a wistful kind of harmony, not unlike a Jayhawks tune. That band has seen many incarnations, but it’s always been a vehicle (particularly since the ’97 departure or Mark Olson) for the songs of Gary Louris, the second greatest songwriter of all time, from Minnesota, next to one Robert Allen Zimmerman. I was just listening to “The Man Who Loved Life” off of the Jayhawks classic album Sound of Lies, also a 1997 vintage. The lyrical imagery is so thick that it’s several stories in one, all punctuated by a foreboding tone that ebbs and flows, and ends, in a cacophony of vocal harmonies and heavy piano chords. It’s as layered and as moving as a profoundly expressed syrah.

Speaking of which, back to Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County 1997. It’s deep ruby, though lightening and growing more translucent. It has surprising weight on the palate for its age and amongst the red fruits, palate smacking tart cherry prevails. With a little more breathing time a portrait of the bottle as a young wine emerges: asphalt, savory herbs, white pepper, anise. What’s left of its tannin is powdery and soft and there’s a slight acidic bite at the beginning of its long finish, letting the palate know that it still has life, but its structure is just beginning to break down.