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Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986, Sacred Cows, and Sad Cowboy Music

September 7, 2011 2 comments

Over steaks too holy to be named, a couple of CA heavyweights were tasted: Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 and Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002, in that order. Beringer holds a strange place in the greater wine consuming consciousness. The name holds a certain generic- insert basic CA wine here- sort of connotation, largely due to the ubiquity of their many low-cost offerings. But this doesn’t change the fact that Beringer’s finest wines, their Private Reserve Cabernet and Chardonnay, are consistently high quality classic Napa wines, and have been for a very long time. In fact, Beringer’s ’94 and ’95 Private Reserve Cabernets are amongst the finest American Cabs ever to pass my lips, per dollar spent.

It’s been raining, here in Brooklyn, and like any good City Kid, deep in the weeds of melancholy, I’m listening to a playlist of Sad Cowboy Music. There’s something about a guy pouring his heart out over an acoustic guitar, particularly if the voice sounds like that of a man who may very well have once shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. There’s a fine line between despair and destruction, where the best of country music meets alcohol and pills. Just ask Hank Williams or Johnny Cash or Townes Van Zandt, the latter of whom just popped up on the shuffle singing “Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool You” with the glorious honesty of his tinny drawl. But the rainy day blues award has to go to Willie Nelson for “Opportunity to Cry” from Crazy: The Demo Sessions, which is a series of low-fi recordings from Willie’s very earliest days in the music industry, when he planned to make his way in the world writing songs for others to perform. Honorable mention: Gary Louris’ “She Only Calls Me on Sundays” from his heartbreaking Acoustic Vagabonds album.

1986 Napa Cab has long been one of my favorite places and times for wine, on the all-time, everywhere scale. I very much enjoy the longer lived and far more brooding Cabs of 1987 and often lament how few of the quite beautiful, but much softer, Cabs of ’85 have successfully made it with us, here to the future. But there’s a certain balance to the ’86s that make them stand out amongst that decades production, all these years later. This ’86 Beringer Private Reserve Cab is deep garnet in the glass, showing a touch of yellowing at the rim. The red and black fruit that is present is well integrated and is somewhat buried beneath ash, underbrush, and asphalt with notes of dusty cigar box and raw coffee bean. The palate carries greater weight and complexity than was expected, based on past performance.

This wine has aged very strangely and is a stark example of “shutting down in the bottle”, which refers to a wine going thin for a period, on its way to full maturity rather than growing lithe on its way to oblivion, or vinegar. The 1986 Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve showed thinner, by a wide margin, 5 or six years ago than it does today. It is currently much bigger and fresher than inticipated, with a nice mid-palate dryness. After 2+ hours of breathing time the nose develops a light, warm Bordelaise funk. Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 is a 25 year old Cab with structure and acidity to spare, and after rebounding from its lean years in the cellar, it somehow shows signs of not yet quite having escaped the barrel in which it was aged. This is a profound and unusual wine in a lineage of stalwart Napa classics. The remaining bottles will stay sealed for at least another couple of years. All bottle variation aside, this wine may very well truly achieve peak drinking at a cool 30 years. Let’s perhaps discuss this again in 2016. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking some up.

The Dark Art of Blending (Part 1): Kay Bros. Amery Hillside Shiraz 2002, St. Supery Elu 2002, and Psychograss!

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Over some quality company and unspectacular takeout, the topic of Chateau Palmer arose via thoughts on American Cabernet Sauvignon, then Bordeaux style blends. I mentioned that I own a case of Chateau Palmer’s exceeding rare Historical XIX Century Wine from 2004, the first vintage in which they bottled the controversial blend containing 25% Syrah from an unnamed source in Northern Rhone (Hermitage?). The evening began with a light OR pinot (Cloudline ’08) then on to Kay Brothers Shiraz Amery Hillside 2002, followed by St. Supery Elu Red 2002.

I’m listening to the kinetic string alchemy of Psychograss Live in Vermont, fittingly also a 2002 vintage, recorded May 4, 2002. With traditional Bluegrass instrumentation, Psychograss is a super group, each of whose members is an undeniable master of the venerable acoustic genre: Darol Anger (fiddle), Mike Marshall (mandolin), Todd Phillips (bass), David Grier (guitar), Tony Trischka (banjo). Individually, their credits are too numerous to list, together their sound is simultaneously expansive and exploratory yet tight and universally connected. Darol Anger (who once explained the inception of bluegrass as a supersaturated solution) told me that he sees Psychograss not as a band made up of Bluegrass musicians, but as a non-verbal high speed conversation about Bluegrass [amongst masters], employing that classic Bill Monroe instrumentation.

A small remaining glass of the Kay Bros. Shiraz found itself with about a 1/3rd blend of St. Supery Elu swirling about it. As it was happening, my host’s face was making similar perplexed contortions to those yours might be making right now. His face quickly grew blissful as his palate absorbed the unholy potion. So many beautiful wines are blends of different varietals, usually fermented separately, so why is blending wines that were bottled separately (9,000 mile apart) so shocking? On it’s own the ‘02 St Supery Elu (from half bottle) is still settling into itself, and while the red and black fruit forward 85% Cab blend is quite attractive, the tannin still requires some bottle aging to fully integrate. Conversely, the ’02 Kay Brothers Shiraz Amery Hillside is round and supple, not a hard edge to be found, but much of the wine’s original weight has been integrated away. It’s still fleshy and hasn’t gone soft, but it’s current profile gives a glimpse of the back edge of the plateau, that begins that inevitable decline. The blend of 2/3 Kay Bros. Shiraz and 1/3 St. Supery, as my host’s elated grin attests, is quite marvelous, bordering on revelation. That slightly under ripe Bordeaux-style blend bolsters the weight and spice of the seamless beauty of the the shiraz, resulting in a drinking experience flirting with the sublime.

Deep into 2004 Napa Cab and Deeper into David Byrne Radio (part 2)

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

At the same time as the delightful ’04 Ruston Family Napa Cab, a Flying Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 was opened. While these were sold to me as “made by consulting winemaker Denis Malbec (of Chateau Latour fame),” to the best of my research, 2006 was the first vintage Malbec actually had his hands on. That being said, it’s an interesting and attractive Cabernet Sauvignon, none the less.

David Byrne’s playlist is still having a Velvet Underground moment, which it turns out is due to the legendary Chelsea Hotel and its new owner who apparently has directed the property to no longer accept hotel reservations. Amidst speculation of what may become of the historic Hotel/apartment building, Byrne offers a brief history lesson on where the Velvets met the Heads, musically speaking. It’s worth listening, even if only for Nico’s nightmarish rendition of “The End” which make’s the Doors’ original sound like the opening act for Yo Gabba Gabba. I’m currently enjoying John Cale’s “Paris 1919” from his 1973 release of the same title.

Flying Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 is deep, dark, and bordering on inky. The largely muted nose shows an unusual blend of chocolatey roasted espresso beans and crème de menthe. The last bottle from the same parcel was slightly oxidized, but only a touch, and was still quite drinkable. This one is a much better example of itself. The mouthfeel is brambly and then broadly dry on the long tapering finish with a faint recollection of mint. The palate shows deep red and black fruit, ash, and a touch of vanillin over a larger presence of glycerin. The prevalent tannin needs a little bit more bottle time to settle down, but given its weight and depth, it’s integrating nicely. This wine would be as comfortable accompanying a steak as it would a bold to creamy cheese selection, and it will only get better for the better part of another decade.

Deep into 2004 Napa Cab and Deeper into David Byrne Radio (part 1)

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Classic Napa.

Digging through a case of predominantly dry red half-bottles, I pull a Ruston Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 and a Flying Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004. I have been a regular buyer and proponent of Ruston Family wines ever since stumbling across their Bordeaux-style flagship blend, La Maestra, from ’01 and ’02, releases I am still hoarding in multiple formats (which are aging quite nicely). Since they have only been making this wine for a little over a decade, it has been (and continues to be) especially interesting to follow its aging progress.

Serious juice, nice presentation.

I’m listening to David Byrne’s current playlist as streaming from his website. Byrne’s selections usually involve obscure, often instrumental, and more often than not, vocals in tongues other than English. But today, I seem to have caught dear David in the midst of a melancholy rock block of Nico. When I ducked in, it was “Valley of the Kings” playing, which makes thick textural chaos of its slow tempo, and features Nico’s signature haunting, accented, charmingly dour vocals that are now inseparable from the image of Margot Tenenbaum. Then came “Afraid” and “Chelsea Girls”, which I had little time to digest before being interrupted by a voice that could only be Lou Reed, in his post-Velvets solo years.

In general, Ruston produces small batch primarily Cabernet-based wines that tend to drink above their actual price point(s) and this Ruston Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 is no different. This blend of 66% Rutherford fruit, 34% Oakville boast blackberry brandy, dry raspberry, cassis, damp fall earth, tobacco, and crushed nuts. There’s a fair amount of alcohol on the nose, but the palate is much more nuanced and refined. Tannin still looms large, but it is integrating well, and this wine has the structure to age well for a decade more. There is now a textural roundness that is so exemplary of good Rutherford Cab, once it has truly begun to settle into itself. Ruston Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 ($40) is a solid value per quality and is an ideal wine to accompany a properly seasoned steak.

Spanish Secrets Under the BQE and the Mountain Goats’ Hyperbolic Sadness

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I’m tasting a bargain Spanish blend, Cataregia Gran Resereva 2001, picked up at my favorite local wine shop, here in my corner of Brooklyn, BQE Wine & Liquors. I don’t mind letting one of my neighborhood secrets out because they neither ship out of town nor deliver locally, so anybody that wants to take advantage of their excellent selections and prices will have to walk in, just like everybody else in the 11222. So much has been said (rightly so) of the 2001 vintage in most of Spain (especially Rioja and Ribera del Deuro) that finding a Gran Reserva for under ten bucks makes me cautiously optimistic.

I’m listening to the Mountain Goats’ (John Darnielle) “Autoclave” from their (his) Heretic Pride album. Mountain Goats is basically one guy, John Darnielle, who always plays as the Mountain Goats, regardless if he’s playing solo or with supporting players. While I know that so many of his long-time hardcores prefer his stripped down man-and-a-guitar stuff, and I can see the slick production rubbing some of these folks the wrong way, but the songwriting remains as remarkable as always. “Autocalve” has the awesome dichotomy of an upbeat, hooky tune and profoundly sad and deeply isolationist lyrics.

Cataregia Gran Resereva 2001 is 70% Tempranillo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and initially it tastes like mature Tempranillo and immature Cabernet in the same glass, somehow not blended; integration does occur, over time. The nose immediately hits with raspberry, which becomes sweet and ripe with some air in it. There are also notes of tobacco, tar, and a dusting of powdered black pepper. The alcoholic bite which initially lingers in the olfactory, integrates after an hour of oxygen contact, revealing a touch of vanillin and wildflowers in the negative space of the glass. This is really quite a nice wine for the fee. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a 10 year old wine from a marquee vintage for ten bucks. I’m going to go buy a few more bottles before I post this.
Happy hunting!
WineGeist

Hot Nights in NYC: Rampolla Sammarco ’94 at Novita and Sex Mob Does Bond

July 29, 2011 Leave a comment

A fitting label for a classic Italian red.

Amongst some of the finest, most consistent Italian food in New York, at Novita, I braved the $28 corkage fee and brought a bottle of Rampolla Sammarco 1994. Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco is the original bio-dynamic Super Tuscan, predating (1980) the much more hyped (and expensive) Ornellaia, both of whose vines reside deep in the heart of Chianti Classico, also next door to Sassicaia and Solaia. As far as I’m concerned Rampolla Sammarco is one of the classic Italian red wines and it has always felt like an Italian take on Bordeaux to me, encompassing a cabernet-based structure and a deeply earthy berry character.

I’m listening to Sex Mob Does Bond. Sex Mob is a New York based jazz quartet lead by Steven Bernstein and his slide trumpet. They don’t play together as often as they used to, largely because each of the band’s members is involved in so many other bands and projects, but when I first moved back to Brooklyn from Seattle, Sex Mob was regularly playing the midnight set at Tonic (RIP) for $5. I don’t believe I’ve since spent better entertainment dollars. Sex Mob does Bond is a collection of interpretations of John Barry’s legendary soundtrack work from the James Bond film series, taken to the jazz club level. The resulting record maintains both the power and subtlety of the original John Barry orchestral compositions while completely transforming the language by which they are conveyed, renewing the vitality of their spirit.

Work, work, work, all the time.

Rampolla Sammarco 1994 is rich with black and red fruits, ash, underbrush, pine needles, a dusting of white pepper, a hint of menthol, and wisp of chalkdust to the nose. There are also notes of overripe raspberry, tobacco, cedar, and after an hour+ of breathing time, smoked bacon emerges from the depths of the glass. The finishing mouthfeel is as dry as the Sahara. This ’94 Sammarco is far more integrated than a recent ’95 of the same, which is still a tannic monster, begging for several years more of cellaring. Conversely a recent ’93 Sammarco tasted 10 years older and was showing soft, powdery tannin, giving it that old cabernet (in a good way) feel. This ’94 Rampolla Sammarco displays fine integrated tannin, just hinting at approaching powdery. It is full and complex with excellent structure giving the impression that it has several good years left to evolve and likely adecade or more to live. This wine is ideal for roast lamb, braised beef, or a peppercorn fillet.

Pacific Northwest Daydreaming: Foris Port 2002 and Jimi Hendrix’ Stages

July 27, 2011 1 comment

And a pretty label too...

I’ve gone back into the mixed case of half-bottles and pulled to taste, Foris Port 2002. Foris is a high quality, low cost wine producer in Cave Junction, OR (Rogue Valley) whose first estate vines were planted in 1974. While it’s their unreasonably inexpensive per quality Rogue Valley Pinot Noir that has kept me coming back, I’ve also tasted and enjoyed several of their whites and stickies, and beyond Syrah and Cabernet Ports, they currently bottle a good number of different varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, various Cab, etc.).

I’m listening to the Jimi Hendrix Stages Box Set which, in all my years of collecting live shows, both official releases and bootlegs, remains one of the greatest documents of American music of whose existence I am aware. Each of the 4 discs is a single set from ’67 (Stockholm), ’68 (Paris), ’69 (San Diego), and ’70 (Atlanta). Just a brief listen to these shows reminds one of just how good Jimi actually was and the recording quality here is about as high as it gets, given the era and circumstances. There is so much listening gold on these discs, but it’s hard not to give the nod to the ’67 disc as tops. Not only is it clear that Jimi’s sounds was already fully developed, but he was in the process of writing his best songs. On the Stockholm ’67 disc, when he shyly admits, before a glorious “Burning of the Midnight Lamp“, that he and the band had never before played that tune in front of people, one gets a tiny glimpse of the man’s sincerity and the joy he took in doing what he did.

The back tells several stories.

The 2002 Foris Port was made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 19 months in barrel. It was bottled at 18% alcohol and 8.5% residual sugar. The resulting port-style wine is aging quite well and, by the time of these notes this one had the advantage of a couple of days sealed by the Vacu Vin, after having been opened. The wine is aging beautifully and what was once (pleasantly) grapey at last taste is now more raisin and chocolate, though fruit still persists in the form of wild blackberry jam. Foris Port 2002 drinks almost unreasonably nicely for the price point yet the residual sugar and current mouthfeel lead me to believe this wine will continue to age with grace for the better part of the decade. If you are unfamiliar, do yourself a favor and pick up just about anything bearing the Foris name and taste a secret slice or Oregon.