Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Delicious Red Wine!

2006 Domaine Grand Veneur Lirac Clos de Sixte (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Lirac)

the nose on this wine is just heavenly. right out of the glass, i get a gush of plums and black cherries. There's also a gorgeous smokiness, and an aroma that reminds me of singed bacon, which of course i love. the palate is equally as impressive. the tannic grip on this wine is intense. i'm really impressed by the structure of this wine. the fruit is pure and smooth: blackberry jam, plums right from the farmer's market. the fruit is so fresh and vibrant to the point of being mouthwatering. and it's balanced with lively acid. the finish is a smooth but complex blend of charcoal, minerals, grilled meat fat and fruit jam. i just love this wine, and i think others would too. new world fans will love the fruit, but old world fans have to respect this wine. at least i do.
91 pts

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Punk Rock Was Dangerous: A Review of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk”

Reading “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” is like living through a time I wasn’t alive to see. The early punk scene has always fascinated me, ever since I spun my father’s Ramones, Stooges, Clash and Sex Pistols records when I was twelve. When I discovered punk, I fell in love with it. I felt the music and the movement were created just for me. It was such an intense connection. Punk became not just a kind of music, but a prism through which I saw the world in a different way. Its pioneers, history, ethics and attitude made a tremendous impact on me as a teenager, an impact I am still feeling today. And this has to be the best book I’ve read on the subject.

“Please Kill Me,” named after a bulls eye T-shirt that Richard Hell wore on the Lower East Side, is a voyeuristic journey of sex, drugs, rock & roll and self-destruction. Reading it is like getting drunk and punched in the face at CBGBs. You get all the good, and all the bad. All the rock, and all the puke and piss. Seriously, insanity lives in between the covers of this book. There are no introductions, no back story, no footnotes. “Please Kill Me” is just rockers, groupies and artists talking about the old days. All you get are their names: Alan Vega, Nico, Lou Reed, Dee Dee Ramone, Malcom McLaren. And the rest is just the transcript of these recorded conversations. So the words spat onto the pages are raw and dense. It’s gritty stuff. And there’s something in this book to offend everyone.

Much of the book focuses on the New York rock and roll scene in the late 60s and early 70s, probably because that’s what the book’s editor Legs McNeil knows best. He was editor of Punk Magazine and a permanent resident of New York rock chaos. I say rock and roll because, to be honest, I feel the title of this book is a bit misleading. This isn’t a book about the history of punk. Sure, some punk bands are featured, but a large portion of the book is spent recalling the drug-fueled escapades of bands like the Velvet Underground, MC5, Iggy and the Stooges and others. I guess some people call these bands punk, but I view them as a kind of bridge between sixties rock and roll and the explosion of punk in the late 70s and early 80s. There’s some really great stuff in here about the Clash and the Sex Pistols. But this book stops right at the beginning of the LA hardcore punk scene, the emergence of New York hardcore and the British punk bands that would go on to define the punk ethic: Sham 69, the Cockney Rejects, Crass, etc. Instead, more time is given to earlier pre-punk bands like the Doors and MC5. It’s still fascinating, even if it’s a bit odd that a book on punk starts in 1967.

The content of this book is a product of Legs McNeil’s belief that punk was a strictly regional phenomenon. It was a bunch of New York junkies, vagabonds and provocateurs who all knew each other and did whatever they wanted to. He claims, even by quoting himself in the book, that “punk” is dead. (I hate it the phrase “punk is dead.” Heres my take on that shit.) It was a small cadre of chaotic New York musicians and fans, and as soon as it wasn’t that, it was dead. He also believes the Sex Pistols played a major role in killing it.

First of all, McNeil’s definition of punk is far too narrow. It wasn’t something he invented, and it isn’t his, even if he did play a part in coining the term as it related to music. Art forms are not items to be possessed and controlled. And, unfortunately, McNeil is too self-absorbed in his own place in the punk narrative to realize that punk was so much more than him and his friends getting wasted and breaking things. A lot of the New York punks quoted here decried the Sex Pistols as being opportunistic nihilist jerks (which they most certainly were). But they didn’t single-handedly destroy punk. The Pistols don’t deserve that much credit. They were a bunch of talentless, attention-seeking wimps who enjoyed causing a fuss and getting on the front page. McNeil and others in the New York scene seem to defend media stunts by Iggy and the Stooges, the New York Dolls and Patti Smith but then denounce the Sex Pistols for doing the exact same thing. So, even while this book contains interviews with dozens of people, it is essentially a one-sided view of punk rock, a view from New York’s Lower East Side. And McNeil is no unbiased source, that’s for sure.

So, I think of this book as the story of punk’s early foundations. Of course, this is all just academic shit. Point is: the book is awesome. And if it tried to encompass the entirety of early punk rock, it would fail miserably anyway.

It’s fascinating to hear the way musicians speak, as they are so focused on rhythm and pacing and tone in their art. So the flow of the prose, combined with this hardcore, no-bullshit language, is incredible to read. It’s been superbly edited, so the individual transcripts blend together to form an integrated whole, but McNeil hasn’t cleaned up the language or sentence structure. Junkies talk like junkies and artists talk like artists. While this book is nothing more than a collection of recorded confessions, it does have a narrative arc to it. And that’s due to the editing. So, technically speaking, this book must’ve taken an ass-load of work. But it’s really pulled together well.

One overarching theme in this book is the drug-like, addictive, dangerous aspects of roll and roll. It can easily turn from chaotic fun to overdose and death. There’s always the danger that rockers and their crews would take the ride too far. “At that time, people still seemed indestructible,” writes Legs McNeil of a time when Patti Smith fell off a stage during a show and broke a vertebrae. “There was a cartoon quality to everyone’s life.” Well, not forever.

As one punk rocker says, “The streets are tough, aren’t they?” Interesting and hilarious, “Please Kill Me” is also tragic. Many of the people in these pages are talented, beautiful, funny, caring and artistic. But so many of them throw it all away. There are so many tragic deaths recounted in this book: Johnny Thunders, Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious and others. The one that hits me the most is Dee Dee Ramone’s girlfriend, Connie. She was a prostitute and a drug addict and her relationship with Dee Dee was epic for its violence and chaos. But by the way Dee Dee talks about her, it’s obvious that he loved her. He was just too messed up to love her properly. Connie, for her part, tried so hard to make a home for Dee Dee. And then she ends up overdosed and dead in a doorway in some East Village dump. It’s so senselessly tragic. As the punk scene in New York gets bogged down in drugs, violence, broken hearts, the book begins to read like a Shakespearean tragedy. Some parts are so heartbreaking they’re tough to get through.

Patti Smith is really intriguing in this book, and I’m glad that she’s one of the main characters. She comes off as a freak among freaks, which is what she was, and is, I guess. She watched guys as they slept and kind of stalked some of them. It seems like when she wanted something (rock status, a guy, and eventually marriage) she went out and got it. She also seemed more driven than the other characters in this scene. Maybe that’s because she was probably the only one in the Village not shooting heroin or speed or snorting coke. She was definitely an individual: masturbating on stage, reciting poetry, emitting sounds like a street preacher, dressing herself up as a prophet. She’s a really fascinating figure, and this book does a great job of showing her for who she really is.

The latter parts of the book deal more with the Ramones, which is great. The more I read about the Ramones, the better. Joey Ramone isn’t humble about the place of the Ramones’ first album in rock and roll history. “It kicked off punk rock and started the whole thing - as well as us.” Thing is, he’s right. The Ramones’ first album is one of the best ever made. They didn’t really know it at the time, but they were making history in 1975 and 1976. And anyone who loves any kind of punk rock, or rock and roll at all, absolutely has to love that first album. It doesn’t get better than that. And when other punk bands set out to do their own thing, they knew it could never be as good as the Ramones. I love Black Flag. They’re not The Ramones. I love Bad Religion. They’re not the Ramones. I love the Sex Pistols. They’re not the Ramones. God, the Ramones are the greatest band ever, period. It’s true, and this book is further proof of that.

It’s really interesting to track punk from the Ramones in the streets of New York to England. Reading this book is a real reminder of how the Ramones weren’t really accepted in the U.S. outside of New York. Later, yes, in California and pretty much the rest of the country, but not initially. The Ramones went to London because they felt the scene there was ready for them. And in England, the kids were paying attention. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were there. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were there. And when the English kids see what the Ramones are doing, they take it and run with it. Bands sprout up all over the place. “I felt like what we had done as a joke in New York had been taken for real in England by a younger and more violent audience,” says one New York punk about the 1976-1977 punk explosion in England.

Then there’s the Clash, who show up at a Ramones show in London acting like tools and poseurs. They weren’t punk, they were “acting punk,” as the Ramones describe it. And it’s so true. I like the Clash, but they could never be the Ramones. And they knew it. The Clash knew they were ripping off punk, reggae, dub and left-wing politics. They knew they were going to be big, but they also knew they were covering up their real identities. They were, after all, just upper-middle class egotists. They might have played punk music, but they were not punks. And the Sex Pistols weren’t much different. Harder and more extreme, yes, but they were also a bunch of poseurs. When the New York bands met Johnny Rotten, they thought he “was an awful little poseur – phony, social climbing – you know, just a little twerp… He wasn’t rock and roll at all. He was just an opportunist.” And while Sid Vicious wins more friends in the New York scene, he wasn’t as tough as he pretended to be. He was a lost child, a boy who latched onto women for attention, protection and love. Sid’s innocence, and his loss of innocence, is chronicled by Nancy Spungen, the woman he would be accused of murdering (but never tried). The story of Sid and Nancy is well-known, but in this book it’s told by all of the people around, and it adds a really human touch to what was otherwise a pop culture celebrity destruction fest. It’s amazing, but reading this book, I really feel like Sid loved Nancy. Of course, he was as screwed up as Dee Dee Ramone. The discussion also focuses on Sid’s alleged murder, and how there was no real evidence that he actually did it.

There’s a ton in here about The Dead Boys, a group of chaotic dudes transplanted from Cleveland right as punk was exploding in New York. I know of the band, but, to be honest, I haven’t listened to much of their stuff. This book makes me think I should go back and give their records a spin.

As a Jersey boy and someone who has lived in New York for several years, this book is a trip back in time to a New York I never knew but always wanted to. Going to CBGBs to see Sham 69, Rancid, Sick of it All, Agnostic Front, T.S.O.L. and others, I always longed for the heydays of punk in the late 1970s. I wanted to live what the people in this book lived. Well, this book is as close as I will get.

What a powerful read.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Wine to Celebrate One Year of Love

2008 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Taylor Lane Vineyard (USA, California, Sonoma Coast)

I popped this bottle to celebrate my first anniversary with my girlfriend. I opened it three hours before she got there. Right out of the glass, the color is dark purple, but not opaque. It retains that kind of murky pinot color. Sexy legs in the glass. Aromas of plums, prunes, cinnamon, clove and sweet cherries. I can't help it. I just love this nose. It demonstrates everything I love about Sonoma Coast pinot noirs. Very different on the palate. It's medium bodied and very spice driven. The streak of acid from the first taste to the finish is exquisite. Loads of cranberry, cherries, backed up by tobacco and peppercorn. The tannins are soft, almost to the point of being creamy. The mouthfeel isn't "like velvet," it is velvet. There's a dose of chocolate-covered cherries on the finish, along with soft toast and mocha. Delicious. This is a bomb of a wine, but it's by no means offensive to the palate. It goes down so smoothly. It reminds me a lot of the 08 Kosta Brown Sonoma Coast I had recently. But this was half the price. For fans of this creamy, rich style, seek this wine out. I know a lot of people love to hate this style of pinot, but let the haters hate. This wine is delicious.

91 points - IJB

Poem: The Best Thing You Can Do

Here's a new poem I'm proud enough of to put somewhere else besides my desk.

the best thing you can do
in life is refuse
to live in fear
hit it hard
to watch the cascade
serve the top shelf stuff
to friends and strangers alike
and hope
comes as planned
at least that's the best
i can do

-Isaac James Baker
May 2011
Washington, DC

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

White Wines from Alsace and Germany

My girlfriend's family traces its heritage back to Alsace. She's also lived in Germany for a while, as have I. So, when her parents were in town, it was a given: I'd throw a little wine party with wines from Alsace and Germany. They've all traveled extensively through Germany and Alsace together, and have even visited the tiny village their family came from. They've also toured Germany's Mosel Valley, one of my favorite regions in the world. They're not huge wine fans, so I took this as an opportunity to put on an educational tasting. It was a great idea for wine beginners, as it really helped a lot of people realize what they like and don't like in white wine.

Opening Whites

2009 Williamsburg Winery Governor's White - USA, Virginia
opening white. the nose has the sweet aromas of a hybrid grape lilke vidal blanc or something. melons and white peach. good acid to balance out the sweet white peach and green grape flavors. i poured this because the tasting was planned for people who didn't have much experience with wine, and this proved to be a crowd-pleaser. (81 pts.)

2010 Quinta da Aveleda Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Regional Minho
this wine smells like honeydew melon covered in dried hay. the palate is zingy. tastes exactly like a grapefruit rind, with even some of that bitterness. i was surprised, but a lot of people like this wine for its acid and freshness. it's good, but just not enough weight for me. (85 pts.)

Gewurztraminers from Alsace

2007 Trimbach Gewurztraminer - France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
what an incredibly aromatic wine. to me, it smells exactly like those orange circus peanut candies, which i love. there's this white clover flower aroma as well. the palate is plump, almost fat, and rich with green apple and white peach fruit. it doesn't come off as sweet and there's just enough acid to keep it balanced. creamy finish. this wine was well-liked by the crowd. (88 pts.)

2009 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer - France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
the crowd liked the 07 trimback better, but still enjoyed this one. lemon lime and white pepper on the nose. the palate is creamy and full. i got a distinct mango flavor on this, and a hint of some spice and oyster shell. (87 pts.)

2007 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Steingrubler - France, Alsace, Wettolsheim, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
this was something of a controversial wine at the tasting. although, not for me. i thought it was just gorgeous. the nose is epic: white flowers, fresh ginger, lavender. rich and wonderfully balanced on the palate. i got a distinct orange peel and whipped honey flavor this time. a rush of minerals and ginger on the finish. for a lot of people, this combination of flavors might be confusing, because some of the tasters weren't as excited about this one. (92 pts.)

German Rieslings

2007 Weingut Reuscher-Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
this wine went quickly at the tasting. a lighter style with yellow apples and honey on the nose. i got brisk iced tea, honey and yellow apples on the palate. light on its feet, but by no means boring. (88 pts.)

2007 Georg Mosbacher Forster Elster Riesling Kabinett trocken - Germany, Pfalz

for the people who didn't like residual sugar or rich fruit, this was the wine of the night. smells like oyster shells, lemons and slate. this bottle had the most acid of the tasting. It almost feels spicy on the palate from the acid. (88 pts.)

2008 Jakoby-Mathy Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
light golden color with thick legs. the nose is really aromatic: white peach, sugar cane and a kind of orange marmalade as well. the palate has great depth and balance. the orange rind and lemon-lime flavors are balanced with a streak of zesty acid that lingers on the finish. (90 pts.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Wines of Domaine du Vissoux/Pierre-Marie Chermette

5/14/2011 (Weygandt Wines - Washington, D.C.)
I've enjoyed the beaujolais wines from this producer many times in the past. And I was excited to try the 2009s, some of which I'd had before, some of which I was tasting for the first time. A lot of these wines showed well, but I do think a lot of these 09s would improve with a few more years in the bottle.

2009 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais
what a great way to start the tasting. vibrant nose of smoke and licorice. the palate is fresh, medium-bodied, with sharp acid. complex flavors of cherry, coffee grinds and cocoa powder. (90 pts.)

2009 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes Cuvée Traditionnelle - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais
spice cake on the nose. red currants and a hint of white pepper. fresh red fruit on the palate. sweet cherries. i liked this, but for some reason the tannins seemed a bit bitter on this wine. it's still a solid 89-pt wine that is great for the price, but it may need a bit more time to balance out. (89 pts.)

2009 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais Coeur du Vendange - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais
dark cherries on the nose. cassis. cherry liquer. the palate is straight-up black cherries, sweet red fruit and plum pits. defiitely some weight on this, and some alcohol, but i thought it was solid. (88 pts.)

2009 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Brouilly Pierreux - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Brouilly
plums, black tar and anise on the nose. palate is really sappy with fruit. dark fruit, spiced tea, cherry pie fillings, but enough minerals to keep it fresh. (91 pts.)

2010 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Brouilly Pierreux - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Brouilly
nose is so different from the 09s i tasted. bacon, smoke and dark berries. plump, softer tannins and silkier than the 09s. long finish. (90 pts.)

2009 Domaine du Vissoux / Pierre-Marie Chermette Moulin-à-Vent Les Trois Roches - France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Moulin-à-Vent
nose of spiced cherries. it smells just like one of those "autumn" candles they sell at bed bath and beyond or some place like that. gorgeous. the palate is a silky stream of fruit. gorgeous mouthfeel. tannins are grippy and there's a slice of minerality through the whole thing. showing very well right now, but will improve for years. (91 pts.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Exciting and "Nerdy" Wines From the Jura

Wines from the Jura region of France are a nerdy oenophile’s dream. They’re unique, intense and, well, seem well-suited for dorks. They frequently come in bottles shaped like Russian stacking dolls, feature wax caps over the cork and come from grapes even wine geeks can’t remember: poulsard, savagnin, trousseau. Jura wines are like an artist friend from some remote European village who wears tight black clothes, smokes clove cigarettes and eats fried calamari out of a brown paper bag. Kind of crazy, kind of scary, but, in a very odd way, kind of cool. They are introverted wines with quirky qualities that a lot of people are just going to flat-out hate. But I love them. Then again, I’m an introvert and a nerd, so that makes sense.

Anyway, I got together with some friends at Polena in Cleveland Park for some Jura wines, generously provided by another equally nerdy wine enthusiast. This tasting dinner was my first time trying wines made from poulsard and trousseau, two grapes I’m sad to say I’ve overlooked… until now. I also really love what chardonnay does in the Jura. It’s not white Burgundy, it’s not Chablis and its not new world. It’s Jura. And some producers there are apparently doing great things with the grape. Jura wines are hard to get, but I’m officially on the lookout.

My tasting notes are below. I know they are a bit extravagant, but that’s only because these wines were so damned unique.

N.V. Hubert Clavelin Crémant du Jura Brut - Comté - France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
This sparkling chardonnay was light golden in color. flowers, almonds and fresh biscuit aromas. Razor sharp acid, bordering on austere for some palates. Lemon zest, sea shells and minerals on the palate and a distinct saline flavor on the finish. A very unique sparkling wine that made me crave oysters. (88 points)

2007 Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura "En Quattre Vis" Vieilles Vignes - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
The nose on this chardonnay showed lemons and minerals, opening up with time to show a bit of orange rind. the palate is light and zesty with orange zest, lemon and mineral flavors. There’s a very distinct slate flavor in this wine. The finish is quite long, and a hint of hazelnut comes out on the finish. A lighter style, but enough complexity to keep it interesting. (88 points)

2007 Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura Vieilles Vignes en Griffez - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
Golden color in the glass. The nose on this is amazing: almond shell, buttered pear, coconut shavings and biscuits. The palate is so much richer and creamier than the "en quattre vis" bottling. I’m amazed two wines from the same producer, appellation and vintage (different vineyard) can be so incredibly different. This wine changed so much over the course of the night, transitioning from a creamy, nutty and herbal element to a more briny, mineral-driven wine with time. I’d love to see what five years does to this wine. I’d also love to pour this to fans of creamy California chardonnays, as this offers a version of that without the oakiness. (89 points)

2008 Emmanuel Houillon Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy Chardonnay - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
As a huge fan of chardonnay in all its expressions, I absolutely loved this wine. It really demands attention. From the moment it hits the glass, I knew I was in for something different. The wine was cloudy (clearly unfiltered, possibly unfined?) like tea with honey. The nose is a medley of lemon peel, honey, and what I describe as a Hawaiin bun aroma, meaning a fluffy, sweet, baked bread aroma. Absolutely gorgeous nose. The tasting group described the palate as "clean and tight," and I agree. But it has tremendous richness, showing honeycomb, hazelnut, lemon peel and dried apricot. underneath it all is a briny aspect, like dill pickles covered in garlic salt. All of these elements are in impeccable balance. The finish is long and intense. What a crazy, amazing wine. (92 points)

1993 Emmanuel Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
The color on this "red" wine is more like watered down sweet tea mixed with cranberry juice. My friend Tim described the aromas of the wine thusly: "it smells like someone farted on a tire." Yes, there is some stinkiness, clearly some brettanomyces sneaking around in this wine. But to me it smells like braised pork belly. No, I wasn't eating pork belly, so it's not that. It really smelled like you were cooking bacon on high heat, went to take a shower or something, and came back 45 minutes later. Also, it smells like car exhaust. I thought of the Jersey Turnpike while smelling this wine. Not sure if that's a good thing, being a jersey boy, or if it means this wine could’ve poisoned me. The palate is surprisingly approachable. Okay, maybe not approachable, but the average wine taster wouldn’t spit this out. Good tannins still, zingy acid. The palate feels a bit confused to me, a bit off balance. I actually do get some wild strawberry and cranberry fruit. The finish is quite long and leaves me with a leathery taste. What an interesting example of what the poulsard grape can do, especially when aged. Several tasters commented that the wine reminded them of Burgundy a bit, and I can definitely see that comparison. (87 points)

2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Arbois Les Berangères - France, Jura, Arbois
I loved this wine. Vibrant ruby colored in the glass. The nose is gorgeous: soft red fruit, rich top soil, dill pickles and herbs. I could smell this wine forever, as it just kept opening up more and more. The palate is soft and sexy and very reminiscent of pinot noir, at least to me. (This wine is made from the trousseau grape). Laser-like intensity and focus. Delicious red fruit and mineral flavors laced with herbs. Less tannic than a young Burgundy, but still some grip. The finish is really long and gorgeous. My first taste of a trousseau, and I’m very impressed. (92 points)

2009 Domaine Ganevat Côtes du Jura Plein Sud - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
Well, one good trousseau deserves another. This wine was even better than the Puffeney, albeit a very different style. Bright ruby color. The nose is just gorgeous: melted licorice, plums. this combination of fresh strawberry and earth aromas reminds me of an 09 Beaujolais. The palate is bright, fresh and laced with lots of minerals. The mouthfeel is plush and the wine completely coats the palate. Like a really good Sonoma Coast pinot noir, this offers rich red fruit, earth, but then takes the minerality to a whole new level. I’m beginning to think I’m in love with trousseau. Wine of the night. (93 points)

2007 Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin L'Ivresse de Noé - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
This dessert wine made from savagnin grapes is goldenrod colored. The nose shows honey, pine, apricots. Reminds me of a late harvest chenin blanc. The palate is an interesting blend of briny flavors and creamy, sweet fruit. It’s like pickle juice and calamari dumped on top of candied peaches and apricot jam. Then top it with margarita salt. Seriously. What a weird/impressive wine that went very well with a variety of hard cheeses. The finish is long with a very distinct saltiness. (90 points)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Great Syrah from a Lesser-Known California Region

2007 Tahto Syrah (USA, California, North Coast, Potter Valley)

The first time I tasted this syrah was from the barrel at a small winery in Potter Valley, California in 2009. I loved it then, and I've loved each of the ten bottles I've opened over the past year. This, by far, was the best showing yet. It has developed complexity and integration but remains fresh and lively.

I brought this bottle to the last night of my fiction seminar at Johns Hopkins University, and it was a joy to sip while discussing writing. Tasting notes: 5/2/2011 - rated 90 points - best bottle yet! the nose shows plums, cherries and meat drippings. still solid tannins, but they've relaxed a bit, and the fruit has softened. sweet cherries, black pepper, charcoal, just like previous bottles, but i get more of a beef jerky and tomato flavor now, especially on the finish. violets and roasted meat come out on the finish and linger. this reminds me of a really good northern rhone syrah, and that meaty violet aspect reminds me of an aged st. joseph. only one more bottle left. damn!

If you haven't heard of Pottery Valley, you're not alone. I may never have bought a Potter Valley syrah if my brother hadn't gotten married there. Not only is the area pristine and gorgeous, it's a wine region that is primed to really take off in the next decade. Mark my words. You've heard it here first. Actually, I've been saying extoling Potter Valley for two years now. But I still maintain that it is a great place for syrah, especially in the hands of a talented winemaker like Wayne Bauer, who hand-crafted this wine in miniscule quantities. He chose the fruit from a variety of sites around the valley, and it's obvious that Wayne knows good fruit when he sees, smells and tastes it. I don't think Tahto has distribution outside of a few areas in California, but I sure hope some importer out there gives Wayne some respect and buys up a future vintage of Tahto's Potter Valley syrah. This wine deserves some space on wine lists.