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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.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 1998 and Cash by Johnny Cash

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

An American classic.

I’m at the bar again at Apiary, checking in with the menu updates and tasting some world class pinot noir. Before this post, Ken Wright Cellars was already officially the most reviewed wine label here on WineGeist and I make no apologies for it. Ken Wright is an artist and I dig his work. Most recently, I was floored by the experience of a Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 1998. Much pinot from that vintage in OR was a little off, and what was nice tended to age quickly. In this way, ’98 OR pinot is similar to the much maligned ’98 Cote de Nuits wines (Burgundy). Even in 1998 OR and Cotes de Nuits, as in all challenging vintages, great winemakers generally find a way to make nice wine.

I’ve been reading (finally) Cash, Johnny Cash’s eponymous autobiography. I’m very near the end and am already planning to pick up Cash’s previous autobiography, Man in Black, if only to get the 3 or 4 stories he says are in it, which he didn’t feel like retelling in the more recent book. Cash also penned Man in White, a novelization of six years in the life of St. Paul the Apostle, which will not likely make the reading cue anytime soon. But back to Cash, by Johnny Cash: like him or not as a musician, a performer, or a man, but there’s an undeniable honesty to his tales and there just aren’t that many people who have ever been able to tell first hand tales of touring with Elvis. It’s been a highly entertaining read.

Tasting notes at Apiary.

Back to the Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone ’98, which turns out to be far more comparable to 1996 Cote de Nuits, which will likely prove to be the longest lived vintage for that region, of the decade. But we’ll discuss that in another 7 years or so. The Ken Wright PN McCrone ’98 is shockingly fresh for its age and has a long backbone of firm acidity. This leads me to order the Scottish salmon (yes, red with fish!) with asparagus, shaved fennel, trout roe, and white port beurre blanc, which paired swimmingly. The initially somewhat muted nose shows wild raspberry, black cherry, and ash. These notes pass seamlessly into the palate where they mingle with damp fall earth and a suggestion of petrol. After over an hour of breathing, a hint of apple dryness blankets the mid-palate. This is a nuanced wine of excellent structure and concentration that is drinking beautifully at over a decade in bottle.

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.

More Ken Wright Pinot Noir and Ruminations on The Bootleg (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 2)

June 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Believing that a Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya Vineyard ’06 would stand up to a cheese plate, a .375L bottle was opened, decanted, and allowed to breathe. Wright bottles 10 distinctly different single vineyard Pinot Noirs and, as of the ’09 vintage, one regional blend under his eponymous label. Even after a short breath the ’06 Savoya seems much more mature and integrated than a recent ’05 of the same make and model, though splits do tend to age faster. The nose is still largely muted and not the sonorous experience that was the ’97 Carter, but the initial waft is a somewhat hollow richness that promises great things.

A bite-sized split bottle next to a .750L.

That great Beatles recording from 1966 got me thinking about the lost preciousness of The Bootleg. There was a time when one could only acquire a rare live recording from a shop like Revolver Records (R.I.P.) on W. 8th St. or from another music nerd who, for the cost of a Maxell XLII blank tape (later CD) and shipping, would make and post you a physical copy, and it wasn’t that long ago. Or at least it wasn’t that long ago before we began staring directly down the barrel of the Singularity. The speed and quantity of information afforded to anyone with a decent wireless signal at this point is astonishing and it has rendered the term “rare recording” comically obsolete. Even if there’s only one, it’s out there.

But back to Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya Vineyard 2006. It shows damp earth, without a hint of swampiness, and black raspberry. This wine needs another couple of years in the bottle to properly develop (and will live for another decade), but the acidity is mouth-watering and the back end spice smacks pleasurably of pink peppercorn. After a couple of hours in the decanter soft vanillin and subtle trace minerals become apparent. The ’06 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya is quite beautiful and largely integrated, though so many flavors and aromatics are yet to emerge.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir and the Beatles at Budokan ‘66 (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 1)

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Over a selection of tasty cheeses, meats, olives, and accoutrement from the Bedford Cheese shop, including an irresistible bliss in the form of a triple crème called Pierre Robert (thanks Chef Jacqueline!), a series of well aged wines were tasted. During this luxurious palate exercise the mp3 library played of a many generations old imac that still lives, by some act of G(Steve Jobs)D, functioning solely as a jukebox of randomness and a DVD player. Notes on the wine and music consumed begin now:

2 Generations of label ago.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir Carter Vineyard 1997 is deep, but softening garnet. Just as a touch of purple seems to appear in the center, the nose emerges and the olfactory overtakes the thinking mechanism. Is this a high pedigree Gevrey Chambertin? The most successful expressions of Oregon grapes, such as this one, taste like their own corner of that land in a way that the finest Frenchman with the finest palate for Burgundy will never understand.

And it never ceases to amaze me what one can acquire in a few Google searches and a few minutes of time, as the Beatles live at Budokan ‘66, rises from the speakers, pre-pubecent screams first. It’s unbelievable to be able to hear the greatest band of all time at such a formative formative stage, audio problems, vocal slips, and all. The shrieking really is intense though, almost deafening at times and indesciminant. My mom was a huge Beatles fan as a kid and saw the them a couple of times. She loved the music, but didn’t understand the screaming, and was disappointed at how little she could hear of the music over the spastic shrill din. Perhaps this is why I’ve always taken such joy when Mike Doughty or Jeff Tweedy berates an audience that pays the ticket price to aggressively not listen. There really should be a constitutional amendment banning the yelling of ‘Freebird’ in all music venues across this great land.

The ’97 Ken Wright pinot Noir Carter Vineyard continues to waft singular moments of the Pacific Northwest into the room. The nose is huge and the palate deep: wet earth, damp embers, and a little sea air, on a thick humid morning. In the glass, there’s smoke, soft earth, and tobacco. It’s subtly floral (violets?), fresh herbs, terragon, fennel fronds, and there’s something ¾ of the way down the road to eucalyptus. The wine has a very long finish, for an American Pinot Noir if its age, and the empty glass continues to echo that glorious nose. I have never met a Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and this one ranks high up in greater pantheon of American wine.