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d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 and the Emotional Rollercoaster of Vinyl

September 26, 2011 1 comment

This d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 was tasted directly after the ’97 Rosenblum Zin Sauret and oddly, it made a fitting transition, but we’ll get to the specific tasting notes in a minute. d’Arenberg is a 4th generation family wine company helmed by the unique Chester Osborn whose bottled produce is as unusual and worthy of sincere investigation as the man himself. d’Arenberg is a relatively large producer for the artisan level quality and is just as ready to sell you a ubiquitous $10-15 blend (Stump Jump, d’Arry’s Original), or a moderately priced single-vineyard offering (The Derelict), as a rare and powerful (and pricey) bottle made from 100+ year old decrepit vines, who have already lost a limb to age (The Dead Arm). While I have never met the man, never profited from the sale of any of his labels, I am an avid consumer of it, and it would be dishonest to not admit my bias. Look for the tall, skinny label that reminds you of a diver’s flag and there’s a pretty good chance, there’s some nice juice under it.

I’m listening to an awesome pile of records, which is four obsolete recorded music formats ago, for those of you under 30. I don’t know why it took me so long to set up the turntable and phono stage, particularly with the Krell CD player refusing to open its door, and yes, I tried asking nicely. I had apparently forgotten the frustration of those records that never sounded like they should have. Some albums were recorded digitally and were simply transferred to the analog format for its own sake rather than being specifically re-mastered for the process, which is why the Flaming Lips’ wonderful Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots sounds completely flat on its super cool translucent red vinyl. And I pre-ordered two consecutive Andrew Bird albums, Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha, both of which showed up literally stuck to the sleeve, as if put away wet, and have never once played clean. And then one settles into a sincerely crafted masterpiece, such as Radiohead’s Kid A (on double 10”) which just ended or the 200gram virgin vinyl re-mastered pressing of HendrixAxis Bold as Love, whose controlled chaotic left-handed genius current courses through my auditory system. Now one quickly recalls that every advancement in audio (before digital compression) was a failed attempt to sound as warm and as real as a record. Because we’re all bold as love, just ask the axis. He knows everything.

The d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997, even at this age, is brooding in the glass and immediately shows copious black and spiced red fruit, cavernous depth, awesome length, and the (al)most unbearable concentration of being. Please forgive the hyperbolic alliteration, but I did warn you that I’m listening to Jimi on vinyl, and this wine really is a stunning blend of typical Australian varietals (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre), pushed to a-typical greatness. It drinks like a burly, brambly, dry-but endlessly lush, version of the previously tasted and much evolved Zin. The ’97 Ironstone Pressings is showing an unusual nose, currently dominated by red cherry, menthol, and volcanic ash. The massive fruit on the palate, after some breath, seems poured over crushed granite with hints of smoked game. Its texture is luscious and rich with an up front (non-syrupy) sweetness and a deep palate-shaking dryness before the long finish. This is a wine that I’ve followed for some time, and unlike the ’98 (which matured much more rapidly), this ’97 d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings has finally and fully come into it’s own. I look forward to future consideration of the ’97, while getting back into my stash of ’01s and ‘02s, of that same skinny label.

Rosenblum Zinfandel Sauret Vineyard 1997 and Jeff Tweedy vs. The Black Eyed Peas

September 22, 2011 1 comment

While sipping this remarkable 1997 Rosenblum Zin Sauret, I ponder many a past philosophical throw-down over the aging capacity of CA old vine zinfandel. There is certainly validity to the opinion that even a full-bodied concentrated zin loses certain attributes, even when significantly gaining in integration and the secondary and tertiary flavors that emerge with bottle age. Still, when any winemaker (or distributor) tells me that their brand new monster red is meant to drink young, I have to assume that their number one priority is selling through the vintage before the next release. And there is simply no full-bodied red wine that won’t benefit from at least a year in bottle. Anyone who says differently is well… selling something. That being said, I enjoyed the banter as much as the wine while recently tasting Victor Abascal’s Zin-forward blend, Marycrest My Generation ’07. And I have to respect a wine named with Pete Townshend lyrics. Does Pete see any of the proceeds?

Langerado 2005

I’m watching and listening to Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) do a Black Eyed Peas tune in a YouTube video, a link that was sent over by dear friend and major Tweedy-head, Jeff Austin (of Yonder Mountain String Band). The discrepancy between the sincerity of Tweedy’s own song-writing and the producer-constructed schlock for which the Peas are known, puts this clip high on my list of nominations for the 2011 Irony Awards. In reference to “I Got a FeelingTweedy says, “They have like a million lyrics, each one of them is like four pages long.” The subtext, of course, being that each lyric is more gratuitous and meaningless than the last, but his subtle way of explaining that, while playing the godawful thing, is far more satisfying than my meat-hook truth analysis. The Peas and their pushers are marketing geniuses and one simply cannot be a Bar Mitzvah DJ without owning that record. Mazel Tov to the sales team! Jeff Tweedy’s work is so deeply enjoyable and that of the Crap Eyed Sleaze so thoroughly loathsome that while watching this amazing clip, I believe at least part of my brain stem may have prolapsed.

At this point in its life, the ’97 Rosenblum Zinfandel Sauret Vineyard is drinking more like a subtly stunning pinot 2/3rd its actual age. It is deep, but wholly translucent ruby, in the glass, yellowing ever so slightly at the very rim. While much of its original weight has been aged away, there is still quite a bit going on here, pound for pound. The wine is soft and round, with swirling red fruit, speckled with moments of clove, cumin, and cinnamon. There’s good length, nice acidity and just a hint of unsweetened peppermint nearing the end of the tapering finish. Along with the dominant raspberry and red cherry, there exists here, to a much lesser degree, but undeniably present, boysenberry. It shows a distinct beauty, but also a coy subtly which is contrary to the kind of women I tend to date. With a nose of said red fruit over raw meat, the ’97 Rosenblum Zin Sauret is impressively complex for its weight, and is a prime example of the rewards awaiting those who “risk” aging such bottles. And in deference to those who prefer a bigger, fruit forward version, I can attest to the qualities of this same wine in its youth. If you can find them, a ’97 vs. ’07 tasting of this label would greatly expand one’s understanding of this wonderful CA varietal, of which Rosenblum bottles many of the finest, per dollar spent.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 and Songs from the Tin Shed (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 4)

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Bottle shown here is 2008.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 was the next in the ever darkening wine lineup. This one is fairly big and is ideally suited for the rich [Bedford] cheese [Shop] plate, also standing its ground against the accompanying cured and thinly sliced meats. First, a vintage note: 1999 is an underrated vintage for much of CA (as well as for Bordeaux). So many different varieties of wines originating from Santa Barbara to Bolinas are fairing far better than their ’98 and ’00 counterparts and represent a significant value over the much hyped (and excellent) ’97 and ‘01/’02 vintages flanking them. As for Bordeaux, 1999 represents the last solid vintage to still occasionally be available at a significant price break from every vintage that has come since (minus the much maligned 2002), and they are aging beautifully.

Up on the itunes, the shuffle finds our ears flooded with the twangy strings and lush harmonies of Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) & Chris Castino‘s (The Big Wu) Songs From the Tin Shed (2004), from the pre-master recording. The music ranges from Sad Cowboy to Hillbilly, the tone from wistful to joyous, and includes a small handful of well placed covers amongst the majority original tunes by Austin and Castino. While Songs From the Tin Shed is far less known than the records (and live shows) of Yonder Mountain String Band or The Big Wu, the quality of its execution and heights of its sincerity will continue find its way to and delight ears- with a propensity toward twang- for generations.

Back to our regularly scheduled program:
T-Vine Napa Zinfandel 1999 is toward the shallow end of full bodied in color with a broad mouthfeel and long lingering acidity. There’s a piney sweetness and something ruggedly floral, like the unlikely offspring of a honeysuckle and some mutant wild thistle. This wine both grows in depth and softens in mouthfeel as another hour of air expands its horizons. T-Vine continues to quietly make very serious small batch wine in a number of varietals, both blends and single vineyards, including the recent addition of a Grenache from the incomparable Paras Vineyard. If you have not already, T-Vines is highly worth looking (and tasting!) into.

Andrew Bird, The Jack of Hearts, and DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment

DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997 is yet another example of a reasonably priced old vine CA zinfandel that proves what an underrated varietal it is for aging. While it’s almost cheating to bring up Ridge– well-known makers of some of the finest aging zin that’s ever been bottled- a ’94 Ridge Geyserville was once the crowd favorite at a tasting I held of CA heavyweights and I have been an advocate ever since. This DeLoach OFS ’97 (a growing season of high yields and excellent quality) was deliberately made in a more traditional style that the winery had retreated from in the mid-’80s in attempts to produce a younger drinking crowd-pleasinger bottle. The timing couldn’t have been better meteorologically and what remains today is braving the years with fortitude.

Another compelling iphone 3G pic.

While getting to know this bottle of DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997, I’m listening to an entire itunes library on shuffle, the one on a decade-old imac, which once ran the office of my defunct publishing company, but now only functions as a jukebox and DVD player. I’ll skip the gratuitous Dylan reference today even though the alternate (original) version of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is just fading out. On however to Andrew Bird, “Tables and Chairs” off of his breakthrough album, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s a heavy-minded, light-hearted, off-kilter glimpse of a post-apocalyptic playground: think Fight Club meets SpongeBob, aesthetically. Individually, the lyrics and spritely flowing orchestration of the melody are more than minor paradoxes. Together they make up a textural menagerie that’s like the structure of a Beach Boys tune (sad lyrics over happy music) with a head full of DMT. The beauty of Andrew Bird’s best work- which is most of it- is that one can get lost in the music alone, which is crushing when one ponders the depths of his stories. This is why Andrew Bird has been my platonic man-crush ever since Beck‘s records started to suck; a Sea Change indeed.

For an inexpensive wine, this ’97 DeLoach Zinfandel OFS, with proper aging and now a decent amount of air in it, is still as weighty as one might imagine, but it’s got a supple roundness to it that is more than what could have been hoped for, and depth to spare. There’s been some softening, visually, and of the raspberry and cherry, which make up the majority of this wines fruit profile, but it is not yet thin in the middle. Not relenting are the pronounced cedar, pine tar, dry forest floor, hearty herbs- rosemary, and a touch of menthol, hanging down around the 14.5% alcohol, which will always be present. For a non-luxury (industry code for ‘over-priced’) cuvee, this wine over delivers, but that’s part of the magic of old vine CA fruit, particularly from a banner vintage.

Venge, Not Vengeance

June 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Why would one alter this label?!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I first became intrigued with Venge wines because of the cool name and the attractive labels. It turns out they’re more benevolent than the family name may imply and more importantly, they make really nice (red) wine. Venge’s cultish top cabernet has seen significant increase in popularity as well as in release price, while their other bottles, such as their tasty merlot and the remarkable Scout’s Honor Zin-based blend and Penny Lane Sangiovese, have remained modestly priced, per quality. While the labels have been modernized, this 1999 Venge Sangiovese Penny Lane Vineyard wears the older label, pictured here, and has aged quite nicely.

This single vineyard Oakville Sangiovese is not shy, containing over 14% alcohol, and bearing a deep, dark ruby hue, right up to the rim. With notes of raspberry liqueur, coffee, and juicy red cherry, it’s a fistful of raw sweetness away from qualifying as a dessert wine. Don’t believe me? Open one with a rich cheese plate and thank me later. At over a decade in the bottle, the only age it currently shows is with it’s mouthfeel, and a pleasurable front palate dryness. Venge Sangiovese Penny Lane Vineyard 1999 is a full bodied encompassing mouthful, with enough spice to hold up to the middle eastern fare with which it was paired on this occasion.