Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Irresistible Attraction of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is largely responsible for my obsession with wine. It was while tasting some 2003 CdPs that I began to realize what wine was capable of accomplishing. The power, complexity and sexiness of these wines completely drew me in. Naturally, I bought a lot of CdPs, despite my meager journalist's salary, and have continued buying and drinking them ever since. 

One of the first wines I bought for cellaring was a four-pack of 2004 Domaine des Pères de L'Église Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Le Calice de Saint-Pierre". The bottle I opened upon release was superb, showing lots of earthy, barnyard aromas and flavors. The second bottle fell victim to my palate a few months later. I opened my third bottle of this wine in 2008, and I made a note that my last bottle could be cellared for a decade. Well, I made it four years before opening my last one, and I consider that quite an accomplishment. This wine has undergone a lot of change over the years, and it’s been fun to watch it age.

This time around, the wine is a red plum color, very bright and clear, accented by orange and hints of brown. Bright cranberry fruit is the first thing I notice on the nose, but the complexity of aromas really grew over the course of the evening, evolving to show fig paste and a Southern Rhone medley of lavender, earth and beef jerky.

This CdP is 95% grenache, with touches of syrah and mourvedre.
The palate is full of grainy tannins and gushing fruit. This is a very ripe wine, drinking more like a brawny 2003 than a more restrained 2004. I love the roasted plum fruit and barbecue sauce flavors that just glide over the palate. This wine has lots of beef, dried leaves and tobacco flavors mixed in there as well. The fresh acid makes it easy to sip. Believe it or not, the 14.7% alcohol doesn’t intrude. A distinct flavor of dark chocolate lingers on the finish.

This is a more modern-styled Chateauneuf, but it’s clearly well-made, complex and, most of all, delicious. This is the best showing yet from this wine, and I sure wish I had another bottle to cellar for a few more years. It's nice to remind myself why I got into wine in the first place, and why I still love it so.

91+ points IJB

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Burgundies

I opened these two Burgundies back-to-back to compare and contrast them. Both are from the Cote de Beaune, but different villages and vintages. Here are the notes...

2004 Louis Jadot Pernand-Vergelesses 1erCru En Caradeux "Clos de la Croix de Pierre" (Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru)
It had been a while since I had an 2004 Burgundy, so I popped this to see what was going on. Very elegant aromas, much more so than I was expecting. Red cherry and plum fruit, backed up by underbrush and wet leaves. A smell of beef broth and soy sauce lingers on the end of the nose. With a few hours in the decanter, the fruit aromas really began to come out, and there’s this cool raspberry and almost a cola aroma that I love.

Tangy cranberry and red plum fruit on the palate. Medium+ acid, but not austere. Lots of savory broth flavor to this, along with some pepper and tobacco and a streak of minerals. This isn't green or stemmy like a lot of 2004s. Dusty tannins provide significant structure to the wine. For my palate, this wine is in a great place right now. It is quite expressive at this point, showing some lovely secondary characteristics. Considering I got this on closeout for like $20, I wish I would’ve bought more.

90 points IJB

2005 Roblet-MannotAuxey-Durresse "Le Val" (Côte de Beaune, Auxey-Duresses)
This wine is drinking very well right now, and despite the age worthiness of the 2005 vintage, I think this should probably be consumed in the short term. This wine is uncharacteristically meaty and savory, like a lighter version of a Northern Rhone syrah.

Nice cherry auburn color. Savory aromas of beef broth, venison and peppercorn, like some sort of slow cooker stew with cranberries thrown in. Really unique aromas, which I remembered from the last time I had this wine in 2010. Smooth tannins, high acid and lots of tangy, gritty cranberry and sour cherry fruit. There’s a really funky flavor too, like goat meat and pickle juice. The pickle flavor is a lot more pronounced now than it was in October 2010. I’d say drink ‘em if you got ‘em. Not your average 2005 Burgundy, but good in its own way.

87 points IJB

Beaches and Brews in Delaware

A lot has been said, written and televised about Delaware’s Dogfish Head craft brews. Known for the unique names and labels they slap on their beers, and for the dorky founder and president Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head is one of the first craft breweries I fell for. Their year-round bottlings offer consistent quality at reasonable prices, and their seasonal offerings are always exciting. 

Their flagship brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is something of a Mecca for East Coast beer fans, and rightly so, what with their dozen-plus beers on tap and well-priced and delicious pub food. Over Memorial Day me and a good buddy of mine headed east from DC for a weekend of beach and surf. After a full Sunday of shore-pound waves and perfect sunny weather, we decided to hit up Dogfish Head brew pub for some well-deserved beer and food. 

I tasted more than a few beers over the course of the weekend, but here are some notes on a few that impressed me.

Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale

I just had to pick up a bomber of this for my buddy, who is insane about Pearl Jam and Dogfish Head beer. "It's like my two favorite things rolled into one," he said. We knocked it back after a long day of sun and waves at Indian River Inlet. There is nothing like a craft brew after a day at the beach.

The Dogfish Head website describes the beer like so: "Faithfull Ale is a celebration of Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary as a band and its extraordinary debut album, Ten. In recognition of these milestones, this Belgian-style golden ale is delicately hopped to 20 IBUs and fruit-forward from 10 incremental additions of black currants over a one-hour boil."

I really liked how this beer's pleasantly hopped taste is accented with faint hints of currant and cranberry. It goes down way too easily, but at 7% alcohol, it won't knock you out like some other DFH brews.

Faithfull Ale is one of several bottles in the "Music Series," following the Miles Davis-inspired Bitches Brew and a beer tribute to Robert Johnson, Hellhound On My Ale.

Red & White

Like anything Dogfish Head puts out, this beer is made with some interesting ingredients. Red & White is a Belgian-style witbier brewed with coriander and orange peel and fermented with pinot noir juice. A fraction of the batch is then aged in a 10,000-gallon oak tank. The result is a fizzy, delicious, beer-wine that would wow wine and beer lovers alike.

It’s a pretty strawberry-apricot color with a light head. It smells both hoppy and sweet. The palate is a burst of hops, fruit and oak flavors. It’s got great bite and bitterness, but that’s balanced by the creamy mouthfeel. Overall, this provides a beer-drinking experience like few others. Maybe it's the pinot noir lover in me, but this is the best beer I've tasted from Dogfish Head. Complex and thought-provoking, but still  straight-up delicious. 

At $13 for a bomber, this is a solid deal as well.


This beer is the color of Starbuck's coffee. And it tastes like coffee mixed with cherries mixed with English breakfast tea mixed with baking spices. There's a really toasty flavor to this wine that lingers on the finish. Despite the alcohol content (8%) and its bold flavors the beer isn't heavy or weighed down. It maintains a freshness throughout.

Somehow, this beer incorporates the following bizarre ingredients: wattleseed from Australia, toasted amaranth from South America, rooibos tea from Africa, myrica gale from Europe and honey from the United States. Its name, Urkontinent, explains Dogfish Head, "is a German word for the theory that all of the continents were once connected, is a shoutout to the worldly recipe and ideas that make up this beer."

A worldwide medley of ingredients come together in the glass and make for one hell of a delicious dark beer. This is my second favorite Dogfish Head beer of all time, just behind the Red & White.

Any other Dogfish Head fans out there?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A $15 Cru Beaujolais, Money Well Spent

I love the old-fashioned label. Luckily, there's good juice inside.
As my palate has changed over the years and I've fallen in love with a different wines and regions, one of the mainstays has always been Cru Beaujolais. I love the freshness and ripe fruit of the gamay grape, but also the structure and complexity that comes through in a lot of Beaujolais made from the cru villages. I recently popped a 2007 Henry Fessy Moulin-à-Vent, which cost me a whopping $15, and was surprised yet again by how much this wine delivers for its price point.

Beautiful, bright purple color. Aromas of fresh cherries, a little bit of brown sugar, and rose petals. The aromas have the depth of a great flower. This wine shows a perfect mix of lipsmacking acid and ripe fruit. The wine is so balanced, with medium tannins, and that acid carries through the whole time. Flavors of violets, red cherries, and just a bit of black cherry as well. Long finish. At five years old, this wine has found a great place for itself. It's very expressive and delicious, although it has the strength of acid, tannins and fruit to evolve for at least another five years.

87 points IJB

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fun Finds and Let-Downs - Recent White and Sparkling Wines

There's probably no better time to drink bubbles than on a lazy, balmy Sunday afternoon in DC. My wine buddy Scott and his wife popped a few bubbly bottles on their newly renovated back patio, and we all took in the sun and wine together. Another friend came by with a bunch of sparklers to share as well, and it turned into quite an evening. I was surprised by some of the lesser-priced wines, especially those from Alsace, and let down by some of the bigger names. Go figure...

2007 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Bougros - France, Burgundy, Chablis Grand Cru
This was my contribution to the tasting, and it turned out well. Very dark gold color. The nose shows peanut shell, honey, salted nuts and dried pineapple. The palate is laced with acid and minerals, as well as wax, lanolin and nuts. The palate tastes like salted caramel and lemon zest. Interesting. I would say this is a drink now kind of Chablis Grand Cru. It's only five years old, but it drinks like its 10+ years old. (89 pts.)

2008 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Sea Spray - California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills
I've never had a Sea Smoke pinot noir. Their cult following and swollen price points have kept me focused on pinot noirs from elsewhere. I hope the quality of this sparkling wine isn't indicative of their other wines, because I was quite disappointed by this. Toasty nose of brioche, strawberry and cherry blossom. The aromas are the best thing this wine has going for it. The palate starts off with a burst of white cherry and strawberry fruit, overwhelming in its attack and fruit-forward approach. White cherry, coconut, mango flavors abound, combining to give my palate the sensation of drinking a sugary mai thai. So much red fruit and rum flavors, it's like a Caribbean cocktail. For the price, (this bottle retails at about $80) I'd spend my money on three bottles of Roederer Estate sparkling wine instead. In my opinion, this wine falls far short the "Califirnia Grand Cru" moniker it bestows upon itself. Is this a gimmick or a serious sparkling wine? Probably the former. (81 pts.)

2009 Loring Wine Company Brut Blanc de Blancs - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
I have enjoyed Loring's fruit-forward pinot noirs, and I liked this sparkling wine more than the Sea Smoke. Golden colored. Aromas of bubble gum, apricot and musty, earthy pinot noir. On the palate, this wine shows liquid apricots, lots of richness, peach and pineapple sauce. There's a strange boiled peanut flavor on the finish, and a hint of metal, like tin. Not nearly enough acid for my tastes, but still quite pleasant. (85 pts.)

N.V. Summerhill Pyramid Winery Pinot Noir Cipes Rose - Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley
Lookout! A simple rose sparkler bursts onto the scene and actually delivers. The color is like melted cherry Jolly Rancher candies. The nose shows white cherry, strawberry and chalk. The palate is tangy, with light and bright red fruit flavors. No minerals or secondary flavors, but this wine's simple, light, fruity personality is a lot of fun. (86 pts.)

N.V. Willm Crémant d'Alsace Cuvée Prestige - France, Alsace
Now we're talking. This Alsatian sparkler shows toasty, nutty aromas, along with white peach and musk, like Italian men's cologne. Full and toasty on the palate, with gorgeous white peach and honey flavors. Very pure with minerals, nutshells and musk. Finish shows notes of nuts and earth. Acid lingers on the finish. Delightful. (90 pts.)

N.V. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d'Alsace Pinot Noir - France, Alsace
Aromas of sea shells, strawberries and minerals. The palate shows bitter cherry, minerals, and a distinct flavor of lemon and grapefruit bitters, the stuff you'd mix into 1930s-style cocktails. This went very well with the pate and cheese selection. Lovely melon rind on the finish. (89 pts.)

N.V. Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace Brut Réserve - France, Alsace
Aromas of lemon-lime, spritzy grapefruit. The palate shows toast, cantaloupe rind, white peach and minerals. The palate is full of bold melon and pineapple fruit, while maintaining lively acid and fresh minerals. Quite a nice sparkler. (88 pts.)

N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé - France, Alsace
The streak of quality Alsatian bubbles continues with this light cherry colored wine. The aromas are very floral and grapefruit-centric. The palate is bright, showing grapefruit, lemon and white cherry. Zesty on the palate, with lots of lemons and minerals. (87 pts.)

N.V. Valdo Nerello Mascalese. Brut Rose - Italy
This Italian sparkling wine is a light salmon color. This wine smells like watermelon, stinky gym socks and rose water. It's not chemically faulted, it just stinks. The palate is bitter and offensive. Screw this wine, it tastes like crap, and the producer must be a loser. (60 pts.)

2008 Woodenhead Naturale Methode Champenoise - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
I've never tasted a wine from this producer, despite the fact that I unknowingly drove right past the winery earlier this year. Aromas of almond, lemons and white cherry. Very complex aromas, shifting with time. The palate tastes likes lemons, minerals and white peaches. It's very focused and intense, much more profound than the other California sparkling wines in the tasting. Zesty finish with white cherries and tang. With more time in the glass, it changed a lot and showed a lot of different characteristics. I can't wait to try something else from this producer. (90 pts.)

2010 Massican Annia - California, Napa Valley
What a lovely white blend of tocai, ribolla and chardonnay. It smells like white flowers, green melon and IPA beer, really interesting, almost hop-like. The palate is juicy with melon fruit, white flowers and a distinct flavor of cucumber water. The plump, yellow fruit blended in with the earth and mineral flavors and medium acid make this wine a really intriguing whole. Absolutely weird and delicious. (91 pts.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Drink the Pink

Maybe there are still some people out there who associate rose with sugary plonk, but they must simply not give a shit, because the American rose consumer has never had it better. There are more roses made in more styles from more grapes grown in more regions than ever before.

Over the past few years American consumers have seriously wised up to the fact that pink wine is awesome.

Living in the capitol swamp of DC, I spend much of the summer hiding from the midday or fleeing the city for the Jersey Shore. When I’m stuck here on a hot day, though, popping a bottle of rose is always a good idea. With the heat and humidity on the horizon, I attended a rose tasting put together by my good friends Brett and Alyssa for Brett’s birthday. He graciously brought almost all of the wines from his collection. (Who knew a metalhead had so much pink wine?) The wines paired very well with a melange of sushi, cured meats and cheeses. We popped all the bottles and helped ourselves, revisiting the wines over the course of the evening, checking their evolution, discussing the nuances. I dutifully took notes, and here they are...

Old World Roses
We had a great selection of roses from different regions of France, and a Lopez de Heredia thrown in for good measure.

2010 Domaines Ott Côtes de Provence Rosé Château de Selle - France, Provence - The bottle is shaped like some French perfume. Very light copper color. A burst of lemon and wild strawberry on the nose. Sharp acid, mineral-driven, with flavors of wild strawberry and white pepper. Finishes with soft tannins. Lots of focus on the minerals here, less in the way of flavors I usually associate with Provence, but a lovely style. A blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, cabernet sauvignon. (90 pts.)

2011 Domaine de la Mordorée Côtes du Rhône Rosé La Dame Rousse - France, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône - The bright strawberry color stands out among some of the paler shades of pink at the tasting. Nose of cherry candy, macintosh apples and a hint of pepper. The palate shows significant tannins, which back up the sweet cherry, strawberry and peppert flavors. This is a hefty rose, but absolutely delicious. (89 pts.)

2011 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Rosé - France, Loire Valley, Chinon - I've heard good things about this wine, and I'm officially on board. Light copper color with a bit of a spritz in the glass. Elegant aromas of peach, white flowers and tangerine. On the palate it starts off plush, but then the acid streaks through, creating a palate-coating effect without being heavy. I love the strawberry and white cherry fruit, which is underlined with limestone and lemon. Very long finish. Lovely stuff and it paired perfectly with sushi. (91 pts.)

2011 Château de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence Rose Commanderie - France, Provence - Very pale cherry color, almost clear. Melon rind and peach aromas, along with pepper and underbrush. Lots of pepper on the palalate, along with wild strawberry and lemons. Huge acid on this wine, which carries to the finish and leaves the palate refreshed. Very elegant. Grenache, cinsault and syrah. (90 pts.)

2000 R. López de Heredia Rioja Rosado Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia - Spain, Rioja - This is the third time I've had this wine, and, while I enjoy it, I don't love it. Sorry, I know a lot of people at the tasting raved about this wine, but for my palate it didn't hold up against some of the other excellent roses in the tasting. Tangerine color. It smells like cheese rind, strawberry greens and a canteloupe melon that's been left out in the sun for a long time. Austere acid on the palate. The best part about this wine is the minerals, which are fresh and lively. Thick mouthfeel with macintosh apple and brie rind flavors. This is a really nerdy wine that is fun to sip and dissect with others, but in the end, if I'm pouring myself a glass of rose on the porch, I'd go for something else. (86 pts.)

2009 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes - France, Provence - Orange/copper color. Aromas of watermelon, kumquat and marijuana, seriously. The palate shows juicy cherries and strawberries, along with a nice herbal-hemp flavor. This wine tastes old school, like it was made without much technology, and I like that. It definitely stood out as a funky, quirky wine. (87 pts.)

New World Roses
Of course, this was Brett's birthday, so his favorite region, the Pacific Northwest, was heavily represnted. I haven't been following roses from Oregon and Washington, but I clearly need to, because there are some great pinks out there.

2011 Gramercy Cellars Olsen Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley - This wine is unfiltered, showing a slightly cloudy pink color. Aromas of lemonade, roses and pepper. Lots of strawberry fruit on the palate, with tangy acid, medium tannins and a rush of minerals. Anise and hints of tobacco add even more complexity. It maintains elegance the whole time. The winemakers admit this wine is inspired by Chateau Peyrassol. While drinking that wine, they realized they had the exact same varieties planted in their Olsen Vineyard and decided to make a rose. The end result is delicious, a rose that clearly pays homage to Provence, while still showing its Columbia Valley roots. A blend of cinsault, grenache, syrah. Stellar stuff. It was really fun to drink this alongside the 2011 Chateau Peyrassol and compare them. (91 pts.) 

2011 Sleight of Hand Cabernet Franc Magician's Assistant Rosé - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley - Neon strawberry color. Initially, the nose reminded me of a highland single malt scotch, with this kind of caramel, toast and apple. That blew off a bit, and the macintosh apple aroma really came to the forefront. The palate shows tangy acid and sweet fruit, candied cherries and watermelon. I like this, but it lacks the minerality and complexity of some of the other roses in the tasting. (86 pts.)

2009 Cayuse Grenache Edith Rosé - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley - This is a bold rose that demands attention. Very light copper color with thick legs. The butter and spice on the nose reminds me of chardonnay, but there's also some melon and peach. On the palate, this is definitely the creamiest wine of the bunch. It's like drinking whipped fruit. Lots of red apple skins and strawberries, along with butter and cream. Very long finish. This is a much different style, but I still loved it. I imagine this would actually be better on the second day or with another year in the bottle. (90 pts.)

2009 Cameron Saignee of Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills - This was my wine of the night for sure. I've swooned for Cameron pinot noir in the past, and this wine is like a lighter version of the Clos Electrique pinot I love so much. It's a vibrant strawberry color in the glass. Complex aromas of beef, goat cheese, fresh cherries, oregano. The palate is bold and palate-coating, with cool cherry and raspberry fruit. It softened up a lot with time and got more expressive with rose, potpourri and mushroom flavors. There's a lot of cut on the palate, which keeps it fresh. The flavors in this wine are so pure, that's the best way to describe it. They evolved almost every minute, showing flashes of mushroom, cassis and all sorts of nuances. Incredibly long finish. This wine is made by bleeding off 10% of each fermenter of pinot noir and then fermenting the rose-colored juice in neutral oak barrels. Thanks, Brett, for bringing this and showing me once again that Cameron is one of my favorite producers, period. I don't put a lot of weight on scores, but I'm not kidding with a 93. Stunning. (93 pts.)

A Champagne shines, while a cremant de Bourgogne sucks ass.

N.V. Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé - France, Burgundy - I couldn't name  a specific fault in this wine. Maybe something's chemically wrong with it, but I'm not sure what it is. If it's not flawed, it sure sucks. Bright pink color in the glass. Aromas of underripe cherries and seaweed. The palate shows lots of acid along with bitter cranberries and bug spray. Gross stuff. I let it sit for a while, came back to it, and it was still crappy. Scoring this wine would be an exercise in futility.

2008 Roses de Jeanne / Cédric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules - France, Champagne - What a phenomenal Champagne. Complex aromas of toasted baguette, key lime and yeast. The acid in this wine is pure and bright, and it just rips across the palate. Intense lemon curd and key lime flavors and a lot of crushed limestone and minerals. This wine is so damned young and powerful, and definitely needs time to sleep, but it's pedigree is undeniable. (92 pts.)

Non-Pink Wines
A Cameron chardonnay and a quality pinot noir... a great way to finish off the evening.

2000 Cameron Chardonnay Blanc Abbey Ridge - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills - I've never had a Cameron chardonnay this old, so it was really interesting to taste one with 12 years of age. Beautiful golden color in the glass. Aromas of pear, honey and wax, a little bit of oxidized aromas as well. Some butterscotch aromas came out with time. The palate is thick but high in acid. It has a kind of aged vin jaune aspect to it, with butterscotch, peanut shell and wax. Underneath, the flavors of yellow apple and honey show through. Lovely acid lingers on the long finish. Delicious stuff, and this got better and better with more air. It's probably time to drink up, though, as the oxidized flavors are quite strong. (90 pts.)

2010 Domaine des Moirots Givry - France, Burgundy, Givry - I loved the 2009 vintage, and the 2010 is excellent as well. Bright cherry color. Smoky fruit on the nose, like someone threw cranberries on the grill. There's a musk and beef broth aroma too that I love. Sweet cherries on the palate, along with flavors of broth amd musk. Very savory, but still light and balanced. Tastes great now, but I'd love to taste it again in five years. Considering the price and quality, I need to buy up a whole bunch of these. (90 pts.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos"

We humans have sure made a mess of this place. Sometimes I wonder if the world will ever recover, or if we’ll just keep multiplying, consuming and polluting until there’s nothing left. It’s taken nature and evolution billions of years to shape life as we know it, and we seem willing and able to destroy it in mere decades. Sorry if this sounds depressing, but that’s life.

Few writers are able to grasp these stark truths about evolution and destruction like Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite writer of all time, Vonnegut is king of showing humanity at its worst while making us laugh our asses off in the process.

His novel “Galapagos” asks a lot of interesting questions: What will happen if/when humanity destroys itself? What would the world look like if everyone died except for a few people? What if we had to start all over again? What will humans be like if they’re still around in a million years? Are our big brains gifts or curses?

I love the way Vonnegut unravels this novel through his narrator, who is telling the story of humanity’s near-total demise from a million years in the future. In the year 1,001,986, things are a quite different. Evolution has scrapped humans’ opposable thumbs and big heads full of brains in favor of flippers and simple minds. In Vonnegut’s vision, we swim around a lot, eat a lot of fish and usually die by means of great white attacks. (Great whites, of course, haven’t evolved at all because they’re fucking perfect at what they do.) As the novel progresses the narrator divulges more and more about who he is and what the hell he’s doing wandering around earth for a million years, watching humankind transition into some sort of aqua-mammal. Of course, being a Vonnegut novel,  there are countless great quotes about human nature along the way. 

This book is full of characters who come on the scene and die, their lives as fleeting as those of the blue-footed boobies of the Galapagos Islands. For this reason, the characters aren’t nearly as memorable as those from other novels, like Billy Pilgrim or, but Vonnegut’s quintessential character Kilgore Trout does make a few appearances. Considering this novel spans a million years, it focuses more on the (really) big picture as opposed to the details of specific characters. 

The structure is intricate and the style is comic genius. This is  definitely one of Vonnegut’s most imaginative works, which is saying a hell of a lot.

I’ve heard several of my friends and fellow Vonnegut fans say this is his best novel. I think I love several other novels more, but any discussion of Vonnegut's best novel is purely academic. Point is: this is as close to perfect as a novel can get.

Read it. Evolve.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Celebrating with a Kosta Browne Pinot Noir

I’m always excited when I open a Kosta Browne pinot noir. They were the first premium or collectible California pinots I fell for, and over the past six years or so I've enjoyed tasting their pinots from many vineyards and vintages. They’re pricey, obviously, and have gotten more and more expensive over time, so it’s not like I can afford them all that often. But for special occasions, Kosta Browne pinot is always a good choice.

KB PN: I know it's pricey, but it's a beautiful thing.
The second anniversary of my first date with my girlfriend, Valerie, was just such an event, so I opened a 2007 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard pinot noir from Sonoma's Russian River Valley appellation. On our first anniversary I opened a bottle of 2008 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast, so I guess Sonoma pinot noir is becoming our anniversary tradition. And that's fine by me!

The Kosta Browne wine has that dark purple color that reminds me more of syrah than pinot noir, a color that usually elicits "That doesn't look like pinot!" from purists, and there's some truth to that. The aromas are very compact and hesitant upon opening, so I threw this in the decanter and let it sit for several hours as I cooked up some herb-crusted beef shoulder and roasted potatoes. Over time the wine starts showing some black cherry and brown sugar aromas, but even after four hours in the decanter, the aromas still feel restrained.

On the palate, the 2007 Amber Ridge pinot noir is very fresh, but full of compact cranberry and cherry fruit. This shows much more red fruit than some other Kosta Browne vineyards that have more of a gushing blackberry flavor, and I think I like this flavor profile more. There’s some mocha and toast mixed in here as well, but it’s very well-integrated. With air a lovely plum flavor comes out and just coats the palate. There’s also this classic Kosta Browne flavor of cherry cola. The tannins are firm and provide serious structure. Over time the fruit expressed more and more, growing in concentration and purity. The finish is consistently long and delicious. This bottle showed very well, but if I had any more I’d put them down for two or three more years at least.

Most importantly, Valerie loved it.

92 points IJB

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Night of Mostly Australian Wine

On Friday night I got together with some old-school wine buddies and we popped some bottles. My friend J and I had some Australian wines we wanted to open, and some wines from other regions inevitably got thrown in as well. I'm by no means a big collector of Australian wines, but I do like to poke around and fine unique wines. There actually is a lot of diversity, and I enjoy exploring them. Some of these wines shed more light on an issue I've been curious about for a long time: the ageability of Australian wines.

2010 Domanine Bonnet-Huteau Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Les Laures - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
I just love this vintage and this producer. This particular bottling spends extended time on the less, a year, giving it an aroma of buttercream. There's also this lovely mineral and lemon aroma. The palate is pure, bright and full of intense minerals. The focus is superb. The nervy edge of the acid and minerals combines with the creaminess from the sur lie aging to provide a full experience. The finish shows a lot of acid, leaving you salivating. Absolutely delicious, and I'd love to drink this with scallops. (90 pts.)

2008 O'Leary Walker Riesling - Australia, South Australia, Polish Hill River
I really enjoyed this riesling. It starts off with a real smoke and peanut aroma, but that fades away and white peach and minerals take its place. The palate has just a bit of a spritz, with tangy acid, but it's also quite full of peach and slate flavors. I was impressed by the minerality, which borders on austere. I really think this wine needs another few years in the bottle to show its stuff. There was a bit of honey that came out on the finish, but other than that it was a leaner, more mineral-driven riesling. On the second day it seemed even more focused and steely. (89 pts.)

2011 Château des Baumelles Bandol Rosé - France, Provence, Bandol
I really liked the 2010 of this, and the 2011 is very good as well, albeit a bit riper. Pink copper colored. Fresh aromas of grapefruit, melon rind and lemon zest. Tangy acid blends with ripe cherry and strawberry fruit. Fresh grapefruit on the finish. The added ripeness of the 2011 vintage hasn't taken much away from the acid and focus. (88 pts.)

2009 Juan Manuel Burgos Avan Ribera del Duero "Nacimiento" - Spain, Ribera del Duero
Hedonistic nose of currant jam, toast and fig paste. The palate is jammy and toasty, but somehow still balanced. Lots of creamy fruit and lush tannins. It's definitely a Ribera del Duero, but it seems to have more complexity and sexiness, as opposed to overbearing fruit and oak. This is such a great value at about $20, and I'm glad Peter Weygandt brought this wine in, because it will surely be a popular one. (89 pts.)

2008 Becker Estate Pinot Noir - Germany, Pfalz
This was one of two blind-tasted wine of the evening. Light cherry color in the glass. The aromas are brisk and fresh, full of cranberry and rhubarb, also some beef broth. The palate shows fresh acid, mixed in with a flavor that reminds me of tart cranberries. There's a lot of spice and bite (white pepper, rhubarb, green pepper) to this wine, which I like. I was happy to see it was a German pinot, because my experience with German pinots hasn't been that great. Very pleasant stuff. I thought this was a 2004 Burgundy, or possibly a more Old World styled Oregon pinot. Forty-eight hours later it smoothed out a lot and showed a bit more of a balance between fruit and non-fruit flavors. It became elegant and more expressive, leading me to think this is several years from its peak. (87 pts.)

2005 Giant Steps Pinot Noir Sexton Vineyard - Australia, Victoria, Yarra Valley
Second blind-tasted wine of the night. Light red color with a bit of tawny as well. This wine looks fifteen years old, and I was surprised to learn it was only seven. Pickles and sweet cherries on the nose, but it changed with hours open and showed more savory aromas. Tangy acid on the palate, fresh fruit as well, but there are still some tannins. Flavors of pickles, stewed cherries and red plums, along with a hint of cola. It's really interesting, quite complex, and very balanced at 13.4% alcohol. I liked the creamy feel of this wine more than the other pinot noir in the tasting. I tried it again 48 hours later and it was starting to show lots more savory beef broth aromas along with sweet red cherry. On day three, the tannins smoothed out and the wine became much silkier. (90 pts.)

1998 Virgin Hills - Australia, Victoria, Macedon Ranges
This Bordeaux blend was really interesting in a lot of ways, but ultimately not very good. Cloudy ruby color in the glass. What a bizzare and complex nose: dead ringer for Ukrainian borscht, as well as mustard seed and garlic. I kept waiting and searching for the fruit, but it remained elusive. The palate shows soft tannins and medium acid. It has a silky mouthfeel, but the weird flavors take over: garlic salt, chewing tobacco, charcoal and - finally! - a hint of cranberry fruit. This is a seriously nerdy wine. Drinking it was a fun academic experience, but this is not the kind of wine you'd drink two glasses of. I scored it 80 points because it reminds me of the borscht I always ate in Kyiv, but most people would despise this wine. (80 pts.)

2001 Majella Shiraz - Australia, South Australia, Coonawarra
Bold purple color in the glass. Dense and mysterious nose at first, but it opened up to show lots of red plums and cherries. The palate has firm tannins, dense fruit and a real sense of purity. This was the most "Australian" of the group, showing those plummy, cocoa-powder and smoky oak aspects. It's really held together well though, and age has started to bring out flavors of beef jerky and charcoal, which linger on the finish. (90 pts.)

2004 Hentley Farm Shiraz "The Beauty" - Australia, South Australia, Barossa Valley
Very dark purple color in the glass. Aromas of faulty, moldy, old cork. On the palate, the wine is corked beyond all recognition. Damn, I was expecting big things from this wine. I've seen other reviews of this specific bottle being corked, and that's really concerning. Maybe the winery needs a new cork provider. Boo! (FLAWED)

2009 Domaine Daniel et Denis Alary Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne "La Brunote" - France, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne
Dark purple colored. Brooding nose of smoky black fruit. Bold, gritty tannins on the palate with fresh black fruit. I really like this now but its quite compact and I'm sure it will improve for another few years. (89 pts.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Communal Cacophony of Crass

A Review of "The Story of Crass" by George Berger

Crass is not your average punk band. Come to think of it, they’re not really a “band” in any conventional sense. Come to think of it, they’re not really anything in any conventional sense. What with their all black clothing, their album covers and broadsides that would offend pretty much anyone with a belief system, the Dial House commune that is such an inseparable part of their story and music, their fear-inducing logo. 

And then there’s Crass’ self-imposed isolation from the mainstream capitalist economy, their D.I.Y., anti-authoritarian, pacifist, feminist ethic whose echoes can be heard in a slew of punk bands, protest movements and, more recently, Occupy Wall Street. With all this material, George Berger’s “The Story of Crass” almost writes itself.

The difficulty of telling Crass’ story lies in the complexity of the individuals involved, and in Crass’ refusal to be categorized. It’s hard to analyze a group that eschews all labels. Even my classification of Crass as a “seminal British punk band” is contradictory. In my mind Crass is probably the most polarizing and most misunderstood “punk” group of all time. “Nobody, it seemed, was neutral about Crass,” writes George Berger in his chronicle of Crass, “and the people that didn’t love what they were doing hated them…”

“You can’t just tolerate Crass,” the book quotes music journalist Paul Du Noyer, “you must either reject them outright or else prepare to get every idea in your head radically shook up – they probably won’t ‘convert’ you but they’ll sure as hell confuse you, and often that can be the healthiest effect of all.” I agree that getting “every idea in your head radically shook up” is healthy. But it’s neither comfortable nor easy. The average person doesn’t want to have their beliefs questioned and the average bloke doesn’t spin a record because he wants to fuck with his own assumptions about punk, music, sex, gender roles, libertarian ideals and government. This is one of the many reasons almost everyone chooses to “reject them outright.” It’s easier to condemn that try to understand something, especially something as complicated as Crass. Of course, this is one of the reasons they’re so fucking interesting to me.

Crass was simultaneously punk as fuck and not punk. They drew as much inspiration from experimental composers like John Cage and free jazz than from other punk bands. A journalist wrote of a 1979 Crass show: “It’s sharp music of fiction and friction that requires too much concentration to fully appreciate.” Berger writes: “Crass, drawing on both the wide artistic and cultural experience of their members and the spirit of the times, had metamorphosed from a bunch of lads out on the glorified piss to a serious multi-age, multi-gender, multi-media assault on conformity and narrow minds.” Their records, stage presence and messages had a “dada-esque intention to confuse.”

The mainstream understanding of British punk is usually focused on the Clash and the Sex Pistols. The Clash is also complicated, and I’ll leave that for another essay. Sure, the Pistols were great, but let’s be honest: it was a gimmick. The Sex Pistols were insecure prigs begging for a spotlight, any spotlight. Johnny Rotten had a great stage presence, and, yeah, he pissed off the status quo by screaming about being an anarchist and an antichrist, but in the end it was more about showmanship and fashion than anything else. (Stepping off soap box…) But Crass was in a whole different category. They took seriously the punk ethic of D.I.Y. self-sufficiency. They didn’t just yell “Fuck the system!” they bent it over and fucked it. Again and again. Where other bands, media and the culture at large saw the raw energy of punk and tried to make a buck off it, Crass tried to operate outside of the monetary system. When they first started putting out records they spent more on the vinyl and the revolutionary inserts and collage artwork that they lost money on every record they sold. Think of the worst example of a band or artist “selling out,” however you define that term. Got it pictured in your mind? Okay… Crass is the polar opposite.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Another Reason I Love Mendocino Syrah

Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard (Purple Teeth Cellars, LLC)
Anyone who’s drunk or talked wine with me has probably heard me rant about my love of Mendocino syrah. First of all, I love Mendocino. It’s a magical place of jagged rock mountains, dry valleys, breakneck turns and a brutal “Land of the Lost”-style coastline. I also love syrah, its uncanny ability to take translate the specific time and place it comes from into aromas and flavors in the glass.

After visiting Copain’s winery in March and tasting through a lot of their new releases, I figured it was about time to open up an older bottle and see how it was doing. (Click here for my March post on Copain’s winery and current releases.)

I decided on the 2003 Copain Syrah EaglepointRanch vineyard. The fruit comes from a nearly three-square-mile vineyard in the Ukiah Valley. This vineyard sits at 1,800 feet in elevation, where the soils are a mix of decomposed sandstone and loam.

Out of the bottle, this wine shows a pretty black cherry color. The currant and plum fruit is soft and lush on the nose, coming across as very seductive. There’s an aroma that reminds me exactly of Ukrainian sausage, which is always spiced with paprika and garlic. I know it sounds like a strange connection, but I’m not kidding: this wine smells like Ukrainian sausage. The aromas shifted like a wave, turning smokier after an hour. After two hours open that meat aroma drifted away, and was replaced by green olive and dried cranberry aroma. Aromatically, this wine speaks to me. And I listen.

The palate shows fine tannins, which glide across the palate with ease. The black cherry fruit is fresh, not baked or goopy. That Ukrainian sausage flavor is delicious, and mixed in there with the fruit. After an hour or two the wine became tinged with charcoal, black pepper and olive tapenade. Over time I started tasting fresh currant along with beef broth and a distinct sage flavor. It’s got enough acid to keep it fresh, but it seems to me that the acid is a bit lower than some of the more recent vintages. The tannins come back out on the finish, providing solid structure as it lingers.

I don’t really believe in a specific “peak” time to drink a wine, but this wine seems to be in a very harmonious place right now. It has at least three to five more years of development ahead of it, and I’m really curious how those sausage and charcoal flavors are going to mature. Right now, I'd go 92 points.

Overall, this was a great display of Mendocino syrah from one of my favorite producers. I've got a 2004 and 2005 of the same wine, but I think I'll let them sleep for a few more years, if I can keep my hands off of them. 


Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Brief Review of "The Dew Breaker"

My first thought upon picking up this novel: Damn, this lady has the coolest name I’ve ever heard. See, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been ignorant about this incredible writer. This was the first book I’ve read from her, but it will not be the last.

What have here a novel, kind of. A novel-in-stories, kind of. A narrative, kind of. The stories have different settings, different characters, but they all contain the same dark, mysterious aura. The titular character, (but not really the “main” character), is a hired thug for the dictatorial Duvalier regime in Haitia. The Dew Breaker tortures people for a living, and he’s pretty damn good at his job.

But, wait. We’re not in Haiti anymore.

Now we’re in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I lived in this neighborhood for several years and I can honestly say that no one has captured the feel of this place better than Danticat.

Wait, now we’re back in Haiti, where a minister goes on the radio and denounces the brutal regime that is destroying his country. Knowing he will be murdered for his views, he says, “life was neither something you defended by hiding nor surrendered calmly on other people’s terms, but something you lived bravely, out in the open, and that if you had to lose it, you should also lose it on your own terms.”

This book is about Haitians, their history, their families, their tragedies. Haitians are arguably the most abused and oppressed people on earth. Every empire and power-hungry thug has gotten kicks out of torturing these poorest of the poor. Danticat describes these horrors with beautiful language and poetic sensibility. But she’s no pessimist. This isn’t a sob story. It’s a story of forgiveness, love and, ultimately, freedom.