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Friday News Dump: California Classics at Apiary – Ridge and Dunn

March 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Statistics show that nobody reads blogs on Friday, but wine has been tasted and notes have been scratched in purple ink. A couple of nights back, over steak and duck at Apiary, after some 1990 Cote de Beaune and before a couple of stickies, we cracked a trio of American classics; two from Ridge and a Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1981.

Apiary 3-13-2013Upon first opening, the Dunn showed surprisingly thin, for a typically long lived wine, but it’s always a journey with these mountain beasts. One of the bottles that first did it for me, one of the first tastes to awaken a real interest, was Dunn’s ‘86 Napa Cab. At the time, my soft palate didn’t know what to make of the monstrous ’86 Howell Mountain Cab, but the harmony of the fruit and the earth I found in that ’86 Napa Cab seemed to me to be all that a big CA red should.

But back to the wine currently staining the linens on the tasting table behind my eyeballs: After about 35 minutes of air, the Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain 1981 proves to be a slumbering giant, full of burly brambly mountain fruit. The palate is expansive, deeply gripping, and the finish’s long path is peppered with a patchwork of wild woodland herbs. The alcohol pulls in at a clockwork 13%, thought the wine- long integrated as it may be- is many shades heavier.

The Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 1994 also begins a little closed and while the body does build with ample air, this wine is not as lush as previous tastings, though the fruit hasn’t receded entirely. Both color and clarity are still crisp and the wine shows only the slightest hint of its age. The red fruit is still slightly out front of its earth component, but it is no longer penetrating. Forest floor and ancient spice box persist through the subtle, but undulating finish.

The Ridge Geyserville 1992, at this point in its career, is a dead ringer for a fruit forward Napa Cab five or six years its senior. Slip one of these into a blind tasting of  late ’80s CA Cabernet and blow some minds/palates. Geyserville is a classic of the Napa establishment, and in my experience, this wine always shows well, though the true aging potential varies from vintage to vintage. I’ve also found that recent vintages seem to drink better younger, making them all the more difficult to squirrel away for further maturity, full integration, and secondary flavor development. For a true classic and always a palate expanding, Ridge Geysereville (and most of Ridge wines besides the Monte Bello) can still be acquired for around (a wholly fair) thirty bucks.

Flash Sale Sites Part Deux (Vitis.com) and Jack White’s Blunderbuss

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the quietly classier flash sale wine sites around is Vitis.com. Vitis offers one wine at a time and organizes professional reviews, background and bottle information, and a pairing recipe, in a visually appealing way. Selections can be hit or miss, and as I click over right now, I see yet another Oriel selection. Oriel has been placed widely and repeatedly throughout the flash sale market. I’ve always respected Oriel’s business model, but I’ve never been terribly impressed with their wine per price, and they make much more sense to me at flash sale prices.

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But if you don’t like the deal, just wait for the next e-mail. And when Vitis is on, you can claim some reasonably rare stuff, properly aged, at rock bottom prices, such as the ’01 Alenza Ribera del Duero and the ’95 Felsina Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva, I’ve picked up in recent months, well below market rate.

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Vitis has also had a few of my favored tasty cheapys recently (at lowest national prices): Byron Chardonnay, Marques de Carceres Reserva, and Marti Fabra Masia Carreras, each of which represent excellent with-food drinking per dollar.

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So, I’m listening to Jack White’s new record, Blunderbuss. Jack White is so fucking cool that it kind of pisses me off, though I have begrudging respect for just about everything he does. And as far as people who get to do whatever/wherever/whenever they want, in that Kid Rock on a bender kind of way, he seems to deserve it. And unlike Kid Schlock, Jack White can really play (and write) and he has at least as deep a respect for all that which came before, as all that which lies ahead. He’s constantly working on music in a creative and deliberate way, such that even when I’m not that interested in the resulting recording, his prolific drive is inspiring.

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While I am big fan of the first 3 White Stripes records, most especially De Stijl (unquestionably one of the finest rock records of our time), I haven’t been enthralled with much of White’s recorded work since. I was going to mention what I thought of the new record, but White reminded me, at Stephen Colbert’s expense, that talking about music is bullshit:

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“You want to talk about music? That’s ridiculous. It’s like dancing about architecture or singing about paintings.” – Jack White

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Jack, I’m sure there are a dozen modern dance companies in this town that would be happy to interpret the work of Gaudi, they kind of do that already just by existing. And I’m fairly certain that Dan Bern (who is just one man) has written a dozen songs about paintings and sculptures and plays, though I suppose all of those songs are really about women. And yes, Jack, I take your fairly obvious point, well illustrated, about the singularity of art.

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But I digress. I’m really just waiting around to find out that Jack White doesn’t actually exist and what we believe to be Jack White is really just an intricate Johnny Depp character. Maybe he’s really that good.

Flash Sale Sites and Boutique Rarities: Part 1 (Lot 18)

April 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I have closely followed the rise of the flash sale site in and out of the wine world. While flash sale sites- even good ones- are not places to blindly purchase what comes up when you’re thirsty, if you know what you’re interested in, and don’t mind the occasional tidal wave of e-mail offers, one can make a fairly good score.

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Lot 18 has quickly become the best funded and fasted growing of the flash sale wine sites (they have also expanded into food, products, and experiences), but more importantly, they more than occasionally end up with the best available price in the country on reasonably rare wine of excellent pedigree. Which is why Lot 18 is one of the sale sites I most use and most recommend.

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Case in point, I just purchased some Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard from 2007, an excellent vintage. With the free shipping for 4 bottles, it ended up being just over $30 per bottle, to my door. For those of you who are local New Yorkers, compare that fare to Morrell’s price of nearly $40 (before tax and shipping!) or Zachy’s next level tariff at over $50 for the exact same bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2007!

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For those of you who have not yet joined Lot 18, here’s a link that will earn you $10 credit toward your first order: https://www.lot18.com/i/WineList

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For those of you keeping Sideways score, in the film, when Miles saddles up to the bar at the Hitching Post, he is offered and consumes their recently bottled single vineyard Bien Nacido pinot noir. A number of winemakers are lucky enough to have access to this southern CA fruit, and I have tasted many a worthy expression of Bien Nacido syrah as well as pinot.

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Speaking of Sideways, I have long planned to address the palate swooning glory of a great merlot, which I assure you, I will get to some time before they release the sequel. But for now, if you’d like to get a head start on that discussion, stop by Apiary in Manhattan and order a bottle of ’97 Behrens & Hitchcock Napa Merlot with your strip steak. A nice merlot ages like (and makes up a sizeable percentage of) a good Bordeaux. But more on that another time. I’m going to have a little glass of this Sean Thackrey Lyra Viognier ’10 and call it a night.
Sweet dreams.
WineGeist

Softly Crushing: Calera Pinot Noir 2009 and An Open Love Letter to Jill Sobule

March 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Calera had, reasonably quietly, been making one of the finest inexpensive Pinots in CA, until this vintage, when some Italian dude stamped it with 92 points and told one of the largest wine buying audiences in the world that Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 “may very well be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir.” And it’s definitely up there. I know Calera’s single vineyard Pinots are renowned wines of fine character and notable longevity (I am cellaring a number of them), but at $65+ for Jensen and Selleck Vineyard bottles, the opportunity cost is substantial. If you’re planning to drop $70 on a bottle of wine, the options for greatness are many, unless you only drink Burgundy, and then I kinda feel sorry for your limited options and your dainty palate (and your wallet). But Calera’s introductory level offering is unparalleled, at the $19.99/btl I recently paid at retail. And while I can’t speak to the longevity of the pretty glass ‘cork’, I can say that a 1997 vintage of the same wine (enclosed with traditional cork) showed beautifully not 2 years ago.

Searching the YouTube for a specific Jill Sobule show, I find a number of earnest young girls covering her delightfully crushing “Mexican Wrestler,” which warms my black little heart. But who the hell is Emma Roberts and why do these little chicks think she wrote Jill’s awesome song?! Apparently, that’s Nickelodeon’s fault. Roberts’ (or her producer’s) lyrical changes unforgivably replace fleeting subtleties with sophomoric hyperbole, for the intended target market. Though I get why it would lack rational continuity if a teenager reminisced fondly being 21. I hope Jill at least got a decent royalty check out of the deal. And no lyrical rearrangement could be as disappointing as finding out that Katy Perry’s single “I Kissed A Girl”, about which I had heard upon release, was not a cover of Jill’s 1995 hit single at all. After that and Perry’s “California Gurls” (no relation to the Beach Boys tune), it quickly became clear what borrowed name recognition and a little t&a could do for one’s profile. But in the end Katy Perry is just tabloid trash and Jill Sobule is a lifelong storyteller, high up in the storied pantheon of New York’s singer/songwriters (and higher up in my personal pantheon). True she’s done some time in LA, but Jill Sobule and New York belong to each other. By the way, this is the performance I had been looking for: La Java, Paris 3/16/2010. Enjoy.

But back to Calera Pinot Noir 2009, and it’s unusual glass cap: The seal is good, and the capsule tight enough and difficult enough to remove so as to appear structurally sound enough to age, under proper climate control. That being said, I have now had a number of bottles of this wonderfully under-priced pinot, and I have found greater bottle variation than I would expect. I haven’t come across any vinegar or identifiable oxidation, but some bottles have shown more predominant red fruit than others where an earthy wet funk (just shy of swampy) persists, so much so that I’m hesitant to give specific tasting notes on this one. This is all the more curious for the amount that I enjoyed each bottle, regardless of variations. It’s a good reminder though how much bottle variation does exist and that all tasting notes are just one persons opinion of one bottle’s opinion of any wine, in a given moment. The most common thread between each tasting of Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009 is bright, but substantial and gripping, red cherry, which was immediately reminiscent of a recently tasted bottle of Laetitia Pinot Noir. No surprise, said vineyard was the source of over 30% of the fruit for this regional blend. So, I’ve drunk through the bottles that I’ve allowed myself (really not much beats this one at $20), but I did manage to squirrel some away. I’ll be checking back in on the progress of the wine and the medium-term stability of its all glass seal.

Stay Tuned.

The Unbearable Rightness of Seasons: Sean Thackrey, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and St. Anselm

February 29, 2012 2 comments

I often say: Nerds make all the good stuff. Which makes sense, because smart people tend to find and create interesting processes and products at a much greater rate than those less cerebrally gifted. Amongst winemakers, there are few nerds on the level of Sean Thackrey. He maintains, translates, and makes available his renowned collection of ancient texts on winemaking. He also gleans techniques from them with which to experiment on worthy grapes, here in the future. At their best, Thackrey’s results are world class, by any scale or measure. I don’t often defer directly to a media outlet (nor do I like to post links w/ ads), but I couldn’t possibly reTweet you a better instagram of the winemaker and the iceberg tip of his philosophy than did Chow.com in video form. Go watch it. Seriously. I’ll wait….

Orion's 2nd vintage and the 100th anniversary of the Rossi Vineyard.

So, I don’t have new tasting notes on any specific Thackrey wine, but I did learn that the proprietor of Spuyten Duyvil, Fette Sau, and most recently St. Anselm, here in Brooklyn, is the second biggest Thackrey nerd in Brooklyn. A couple of conversations later, St. Anselm has the most extensive selection of Sean Thackrey wine of any restaurant on earth, including the non-vintage Pleiades, Andromeda Pinot Noir, Sirius Petite Sirah, and 6 vintages of his flagship California native field blend, Orion. St. Anselm already had one of the best small wine lists in Brooklyn, now one can find well aged bottled gems to accompany serious cuts of grilled meat. Apparently the (various) whole fish is excellent as well, but we all have our priorities. Mine is finding the perfect syrah to pair with lamb saddle and rib eye.

At St. Anselm last night, enjoying the delightfully accompanied meat monster on grilled bread they call a patty melt, the soundtrack added quite a bit to my burger and my day: Hendrix’ “Bold as Love” the semi-title cut off his masterpiece, Axis Bold as Love, the greatest record ever made. After my Jimi moment, I was reminded that Frank Zappa was not only an actual genius at writing and arranging music, but he could be laugh out loud funny in a Steven Wright deadpan on acid sort of way (Zappa hated drugs!): “Bobby Brown Goes Down” from Zappa’s 1979 Sheik Yerbouti. And if you want to throw some crap around about how silly the album title is, go take a quick peak at what else the record companies were pressing that vintage. I mean, whatever happened to Randy Vanwarmer?

Wait, what was the question?

Happy LeapDay!

WineGeist

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.

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.