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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.

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.