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The Dark Art of Blending (Part 2): Burmester Colheita 1970, Unholy Potions, and the Father of Bluegrass

August 22, 2011 1 comment

One of the very first auction cases I ever purchased (for a song) was a mixed case of 1970 Burmester Colheita and 1970 Krohn’s Vintage Port, procured from a Sotheby’s auction, many moons ago. Down to my last bottle of each, I cracked the Burmester recently, expecting it to likely be well past its drinking window. Colheita is a tawny port from a single vintage, aged for at least 7, but up to 20+, years in wood barrels before bottling. This is, of course, contrary to vintage port which spends a much shorter period in wood and does most of its aging in dark heavy bottles. This 1970 Burmester Colheita was bottled in 1988.

All that pickin’ I was absorbing during the last post has left me in that kind of a mood and Bill Monroe has been spending a fair amount of time on my desktop. No other single human being is as associated with the inception of a widely recognized genre of American music as is Bill Monroe with Bluegrass. With the 1946 addition of (then not yet legend) banjo player, Earl Scruggs, to his previous string ensemble, the instrumentation and style of Bluegrass was formed. Along with the rest of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys (Lester Flatt: guitar; Chubby Wise: fiddle; Howard Watts: bass), between ’46 and ’47, recorded 28 songs that soon would be canonized as the original Bluegrass standards. These tunes included “Blue Grass Breakdown,” “Molly and Tenbrooks,” and Monroe’s best known, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The last of which made an indelible impression on early Rock & Roll when it was recorded by a young Elvis Presley in 1954.

The 1970 Burmester is still beautiful but growing lithe. Visually, it’s a deeply ruby-hued brilliant, but light gold, far more resembling an ancient cognac than any form of wine. While the nose is also similar to a long aged cognac of high pedigree, it doesn’t show the level of alcohol that such a cognac would. At this stage of its life, the palate is almost barren of fruit, but a deep and nuanced caramel persists, mingling with cocoa powder, and hints of sweeter milk chocolate, as well as dry cigar tobacco. Once again, tempted by the available options, a little simple alchemy occurs and a small glass of the remaining ’70 Burmester is dosed with a small shot (about 10% of total volume) of the previously blended dry reds: (2/3rd Kay Brothers Amery Hillside Shiraz ’02, 1/3rd St. Supery Elu Red ’02). The dry blend returns fruit and mid-palate body to the aging caramelized cocoa sweetness of the 40 year old Colheita. While It would be a sin to foul the original intent of a full bottle of anything so rare, this evenings small amount of experimentation only enhanced the tasting experience.

Sean Thackrey Pleiades 1992 and What Happened to Beck?! (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 3)

July 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Sean Thackrey Pleiades Old Vines 1992 is an unusual wine, even by Sean Thackrey standards. Thackrey is a self-taught winemaker who borrows many of his techniques from the most ancient texts on the matter, of which he has the foremost collection, which Thackrey continues to slowly translate and post to his website. Pleiades is his lowest cost release and contains different percentages of different varietals every year, often from different vintages.

Parker and I agree on one thing: the old label was cooler.

Beck’s never released demo, Don’t Get Bent Outta Shape (1992), comes over the itunes and harkens back to that glorious decade (’92-’02) before his records started to suck. A Sea Change indeed. Then on to One Foot in the Grave, Beck’s lowest-fi official release, recorded largely on a 4-track and a delightfully out of tune Silvertone guitar. This was also recorded in ’92, but was released in ’94 after Mellow Gold and its big single “Loser” brought Beck instantly to the mainstream.

I’m not saying one can’t *like* Beck’s new stuff (Guero and everything since). It’s certainly snappy and catchy and it’s easy to do the robot to, but he was a decade late on that whole video game sounds thing. The best of Beck’s new stuff sounds like tracks that might have remained on the cutting room floor during the Midnight Vultures sessions in lieu of the weightier cuts that made that album real. Conversely, what made Beck’s previous stuff so great was that it was deep and rich (lyrically and sonically), but had the pop sensibility to appeal to the radio and its spoon-fed surface listeners.

Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is the only example I was able to locate of Thackrey blending this wine from numerous varietals of the same vintage. Pleiades is a wine that is not only different every vintage, but can vary greatly bottle to bottle, particularly with age as this is a wine meant to be consumed in its youth. This one displays a touch of oxidation, but is by no means turned. It’s denser, with a more syrah-like chewiness than other bottles from the same case. It’s softer, chocolatey, half way to a colheita three times its age. In the glass, the wine is red/brown, tapering to clear watery edge and of medium body (light by Thackrey standards). It shows fall earth, ash, red berries, dry cigar tobacco, and leather. The large perplexing nose is almost Burgundian, but denser, saltier, and with a touch of menthol. The palate is unearthly smoky, like a long lived Gigondas with a ghost of eucalyptus on the finish. Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is full and broad of mouthfeel, but the fruit has receded almost entirely leaving pepper and cumin nearer the topnote than ever was intended. While these ’92s are in the twilight of their years, the non-vintage Pleiades XIV through XVIII are drinking beautifully right now. I’m not sure a more interesting wine exists, at the price point.