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Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 and Phish Disclosure

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

After the unexpectedly weighty ’86 Beringer Cab Private Reserve, over world class steak, whose name shall not be spoken, the follow-up (or the closer, if you’re into baseball metaphors) was a Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002. As those familiar will know, wine is no longer bottled under the Pax label and the new wines from that former partnership now sell under the Donelan Family Wines label, while Pax Mahle, the winemaking partner, currently produces Wind Gap Wines as well as the remarkably concentrated and complex Agharta wines. All legal discord aside, all involved continue to produce and release compelling syrah-based wine. I have not tasted a wine in which Pax was involved that wasn’t a worthy experience and, full disclosure, I remain on the Agharta mailing list.

A quick glance at the few Twitter accounts that Mahle bothers to follow, seems to indicate that he’s down with the hippie music. And since I co-edited Relix Magazine’s tribute to Phish (with Jesse Jarnow), shortly after their disbanding, and penned its lead feature, on the Tom Marshall/Trey Anastasio songwriting team, let’s talk about them. This will likely get me banned from PhantasyTour (is that still a thing?), but it’s not okay to pretend that Phish is the band that they were prior to their post-hiatus disbanding. The millennium show was a profound, albeit drug addled, high water mark; it was the thing that all of those crescendos were building toward.  The silence that followed was deafening.

The members of Phish are all unquestionably skilled musicians, but they once wielded the power of the sustained crescendo, unlike almost any other, creating a glorious cacophony affectionately known as Phish Noise, to the nerdiest* of the flock. The best of Phish’ current jams sound a lot more like rehearsed segues, or parts of recycled ones, than the maintained mathematical chaos that once ebbed and flowed between songs. And most of the songwriting since the re-banding is, lyrically and sonically, retread at best. To anyone who insists that Phish is as good today as they were up to the millennium, do a couple of shows dead sober, for a change, and tell me what you hear. The 3 most interesting projects, made by any members of Phish, since 2000’s Farmhouse and The Siket Disc: Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke’s Clone, Mike Gordon’s Inside In, and Joey Arkenstat’s awesome and absurd concept album Bane, “produced” by Mike Gordon.

The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is deep, opaque purple in the glass, fading to concentrated ruby, at the very rim. There is significant sediment, adding to the depth of the color, and forcing me to curtail my swirling habit. There’s a massive attack of concentrated black and red fruit on the palate, but the lushness of the mouthfeel puts kid gloves on that aggression. After some breathing time, red currant becomes a dominant presence and there’s something just a touch green, hiding in the depths, under layers of smoke and wood, pine tar, and white pepper. The nose is largely of blackberry brandy and glycerine, though with further air, some of the fruit and complexities of the palate become apparent to the olfactory. After a long finish, there’s a slight aftertaste of dry roasted nuts. The Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002 is fresh(er than expected) and bold and ripe, but much to my surprise, it’s still showing hot enough to singe the hair, but not the flesh, leading me to believe that this wine has at least a handful of good years left in it. Perhaps its best is yet to come.

Coventry.

*Here in Brooklyn, the term ‘nerd’ is a complement. Nerds make all the good stuff.

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.