Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Copain's Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah Does it Again

Nine months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Another Reason I Love Mendocino Syrah,” the reason being a 2003 Eaglepoint Ranch syrah from Copain. Well, I just finished off a bottle of the 2004 Copain syrah Eaglepoint Ranch, and I guess I have yet another reason (as if I needed one) to love Mendocino syrah.

Copain no longer bottles a Eaglepoint Ranch-designated syrah; it appears the last vintage was 2007. The vineyard sits on nearly three square miles in the Ukiah Valley. About 1,800 feet in elevation, the soils are a mix of decomposed sandstone and loam.

The elevation, the soil, the vineyard management and the winemaking combine to make Copain’s Eaglepoint Ranch syrahs a bold, age-worthy wine that pays serious homage to syrahs of the Northern Rhone Valley.

Here are my notes on the 2004 Copain Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch (California, North Coast, Mendocino County). 

Deep purple color with a bit of ruby and auburn around the edges. The first thing I notice when I start swirling and sniffing is the savory and meaty aromas. They’re just wonderful, and they combine with notes of broth and bay leaf. But there’s also dried berry, cassis and lavender aromas. After a few hours it starts to show some roasted plum and coffee aromas. Basically, we’re dealing with seriously complex and nuanced aromas.

Silky tannins pave the way, and the dried berry, red plum and dusty cherry flavors are perfectly intertwined with beef broth, white pepper and a briny, olive oil flavor. For me, this wine combines the complex earthy flavors and the freshness of a Northern Rhone syrah, but there’s enough of that rich, dark Mendocino berry fruit that I love. Hints of soy and olive linger on the finish. With time, more bacon fat and meat drippings came out, along with dark roasted coffee. A ridiculously complex syrah that could please a lot of (open-minded) Old World palates. It’s in a very nice spot right now, and it has the stuffing to go for another few years.

93 points IJB

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hourglass: Napa Valley Cult Winery Gains a New Convert… Me

Jeff Smith is pure Napa Valley. He’s a husky, happy-sized guy with a big smile, wavy hair and a generously salted beard. He wears worn blue jeans and boots and slouches back on the couch cushions like a man whose been working outside all day.

Jeff is the owner of Hourglass, whose Napa Valley reds have a cult-like following and an impressive presence on high-end restaurant lists. In mid-January, Jeff, along with the new Hourglass winemaker Tony Biagi, took some time to sit down in front of a webcam and host a live on-line tasting of four Hourglass reds. 

They recorded the tasting in what looked like a hipster loft, complete with white paint peeling off the walls to expose the cement slabs underneath. Behind the couch hung a painting of a woman with a huge bee-hive hairdo, which another taster described as looking “like some sort of postmodern Marge Simpson.”

Before uncorking the first wine, Jeff gave a not-so-brief overview of how Hourglass came to be. The Hourglass Vineyard, which sits two miles north of the famous town St. Helena, was planted to four acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1992. Hourglass’ debut was a 1997 cabernet from this Estate Vineyard. The wine was included in a tasting around the time of the 2001 Napa Valley Wine Auction, where it fared well against cult Napa cabs like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. A new star was born, literally overnight. (Click here for a detailed history of Hourglass.)

Hourglass acquired the Blueline Vineyard in 2006. The 22-acre vineyard is planted to the classic Bordeaux varieties of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petite verdot and malbec. The vineyard is located in a warmer corner of Napa two miles south of the small town of Calistoga, and consists of alluvial gravel, sand and loam soils.

As Jeff tells the story of Hourglass, Tony stays quiet, that is, until the discussion turns to clonal selection. Tony’s eyes light up as he explains the intricacies and temperament of cabernet sauvignon clone 338, (and at least a few more clones whose numbers I didn’t catch). As they riff with each other, their chemistry and love for wine is obvious. While explaining Hourglass’ unique soils and climate, they use the words “fractured bedrock” and “thermal dynamic” at least two dozen times. Their excitement is understandable considering the uniqueness of their vineyards and the beautiful reds wine they produce.

Along with my friends from the wine blog Terroirist, I tasted the 2010 Hourglass line-up from half-bottles. All of the wines were made by renowned Napa winemaker Bob Foley, who’s been crafting quality Napa wine since 1977. (Foley has moved on to other projects while Tony Biagi has since picked up the winemaking reigns.)

Okay, I’ve introduced the wines enough. Here are my notes…

2010 Hourglass Merlot Blueline - California, Napa Valley
On the nose, this merlot shows seriously focused and deep aromas, waves of red berries and plums, dark roasted coffee along with some lavender. On the palate, this wine is incredibly silky and pure. Shows grippy tannic structure, but it’s balanced with rich cassis and blackberry fruit. Notes of vanilla bean and hazelnut add complexity. In spite of its boldness, this merlot maintains elegance and even some tanginess from the acid, which is quite a feat considering the massive 16.5% alcohol! The complexity and purity of this wine put it in an entirely different category. There are California merlots I’ve tasted, and there is this particular Napa merlot. It has to be one of the best New World merlots I’ve tasted in a very long time… at least two years… no joke. This merlot contains 17% cabernet sauvignon and the wine is aged 19 months in a blend of 40% new and seasoned French oak.
(92 points) $75  

“Merlots should have acid,” Biagi said as he took a sip of this wine. “They should have structure.” Well, the 2010 Blueline merlot is everything Biagi says it should be.

2010 Hourglass Cabernet Franc Blueline - California, Napa Valley
I’m always a bit skeptical of Napa Valley cabernet franc, but Hourglass has made a truly awesome one from their Blueline Vineyard. Aromas of graphite, dried hay and savory herbs accent the rich blackberry and black plum fruit. The first thing I notice on the palate is the tangy acid, which is backed up by silky tannins. Tobacco and tar mix with sage and black pepper. Blueberry fruit meets toasted oak. Very elegant for a Napa cabernet franc. Some mineral notes linger with the rich fruit and chocolate shavings on the finish. This wine (like all the other Hourglass wines I tasted) needs time in the decanter and/or five years of aging to show its full potential. A blend of 94% cabernet franc, with 3% cabernet sauvignon and 3% petit verdot, aged for 19 months in French oak, one-third new.
(91 points) $135

If Napa Valley is a boxing ring, cabernet franc is the journeyman fighter. Jeff and Tony acknowledge that it isn’t easy to make a great cabernet franc in Napa, and describe the process as a search for that “razor-thin edge of balance.” They nailed it.

2010 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon Blueline - California, Napa Valley
On the nose, this cab is pure darkness. Intense blackberry and cassis, with mocha, caramel and a hint of rose petal. Dense on the palate with focused cassis and plum fruit, highlighted by mocha, toast and chestnut. Much darker and deeper than the 2010 Blueline merlot and cabernet franc (obviously). Tinges of black cherry soda and loam carry the hedonistic finish. The 15.5% alcohol is integrated nicely. The depth of this wine is impressive. 100% cabernet sauvignon, aged 19 months in French oak, 45% new.
(90 points) $125   

2010 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
From the Estate Vineyard, this cabernet is dark and dense on the nose, full of all sorts of berries, dried flowers, caramel. Very complex and seductive, although a bit reticent at this young age. Creamy and rich on the palate with silky tannins and medium acid. Full of cassis, fig paste, mixed berries, root beer and caramel. Toasty, but not overwhelming. Very sexy and balanced despite the intensity and youthfulness of this wine.
(92 points) Price unavailable (but let’s assume it ain’t cheap).

I was lucky enough to taste these wines in the company of other winelovers and (via the internet) with the winemakers. Hourglass is expensive and it’s not easy to get your hands on some. You can sign up for their mailing list, or maybe you could find some on a restaurant list. But if you get a chance to try some, and you can afford it, Hourglass reds won’t disappoint.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

3 Virginia Wines, 3 New Yorkers & an Oregonian Tempranillo

Every now and then it’s good to step outside of California see what’s going on in other wine regions. I’ve got a new post up on Terroirist that covers three Virginia wines, three Finger Lakes wines and a tempranillo from Oregon. These are lesser-known regions, but that doesn’t mean they’re lesser quality.

All wines were received as press samples. Due to the unique nature of the wines, they were all tasted sighted.

2011 Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $19. Very aromatic, with an interesting combination of honeydew melon, mango and a kick of grass. The palate shows great cut, and a rush of gooseberry and grapefruit. A sense of crushed rock lingers onto the finish. One of the better Virginia sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted. Fermented in concrete eggs and stainless steel. (87 points)

2011 Stinson Vineyards Chardonnay USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $20. Rich and creamy nose, showing gobs of fresh white peach, a dash of lemon-lime and some orange blossom. The palate starts off with high acid, but then this creamy pear fruit comes in and adds richness. 25% of the wine sees new French oak, which adds delicious hazelnut and shredded coconut accents. The underlying fruit and structure allows the oak to take a back seat, and the overall wine is very balanced. I would proudly serve this at a blind tasting, just to see what other people think of it. Undeniably good fruit and solid winemaking make this an impressive chardonnay. (88 points)

2010 Stinson Vineyards Meritage USA, Virginia
SRP: $32. Aromas of rich black cherries (like the ones in really good black cherry ice cream) and some mocha. Well-structured on the palate, with firm tannins and rich black fruit, along with notes of red licorice. The 18 months in French oak adds roasted coffee and creamy hazelnut aspects to the wine, with caramel on the finish. A dense, modern-styled, well-oaked Bordeaux blend, but a very well-made one. One of the better Virginia red blends I’ve tasted in recent memory. A blend of 40% cabernet franc, 30% merlot, 15% petite verdot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. (87 points)

2010 Heron Hill Vineyards Muscat USA, New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $14. Light straw color with a tinge of green. It shows that muscat vibrancy on the nose, like a burst of lychee, white peach and honeysuckle. On the palate, the wine feels creamy and full, almost Alsace-like. Orange peel, lychee and honey flavors are supported with a medium dose of acid. The sweetness, although noticeable, is balanced by the other elements. (86 points)

2009 Heron Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir Ingle Vineyard USA, New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $20. Interesting aromas of smoke, cranberry and sweet cherries. The palate shows soft tannins, medium acid and fresh fruit. Lovely cherries, roses and earth. Very fresh and easy to drink. (87 points)

2010 Heron Hill Vineyards Cabernet Franc USA, New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $15. Vibrant cherry colored. Aromas of raspberry and tart cranberries. The palate is full of juicy wild cherry fruit, backed up by notes of pepper and olive. Gritty tannins make me think this wine could improve for a few years. Overall, delicious. (88 points)

2007 Abacela Tempranillo Reserve USA, Oregon, Umpqua Valley
SRP: $20. This is domestic tempranillo done incredibly well. The aromas are dark and deep, with black cherry, coffee and some aromas that remind me of an incense stand. Intoxicating on the nose, and time coaxed out aromas of boysenberry, tar and anise. The palate is wonderfully fresh, with a dose of acid to start off. The tannins show firm grip and there are plenty of big flavors to go around: black cherry and tart blueberries mix in with graphite and tar, coffee and some rhubarb tart flavors linger onto the finish. Over time, flavors of fig paste and tobacco started coming out. The complexity of this wine is really impressive, and I think it has some good cellar potential. Probably the only Oregon tempranillo I’ve ever tasted and I was really surprised by how good it was. (91 points)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tasting Report: Mira's New Napa Valley Wines

Mira is a relatively new Napa Valley endeavor from Gustavo Gonzalez, the former Robert Mondavi Winery winemaker. Gonzalez also worked at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Bolgheri, Italy, where he produced a Wine Spectator 100-pointer, the 2001 Masseto. (For more in-depth information on Gonzales, click here to read an interview from my friend David White at

This week I had the chance to taste through Mira’s new portfolio. To be honest, the whites were quite a let-down. Two reds packed lightweight punch, while the cab deserves some attention.

Here’s my tasting report…

2010 Mira Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa, Carneros ($22)
Smells decent, like Sweet Tart candies, grapefruit and a kick of mixed herbs. On the palate, this wine is quite strange. It’s got an oily body, not enough acid, and thin green fruit flavors. The thickness is abrasive, yet it lacks depth in the flavor department, except for this spicy green apple flavor. It’s not faulted, just not very good. 95% fermented and aged in stainless steel tank, 5% in new French oak barrels for 9 months. (70

2010 Mira Chardonnay - California, Napa, Carneros ($28)
This chardonnay has unique and distinct aromas of sage and fennel on top of the green pear. On the palate this has medium acid with sharp green pear flavors and a flavor that reminds me of the bitter part of a green apple core. Alcohol lingers on the finish. Disappointing. 100% stainless steel barrel aged on the lees for 12 months. No malolactic fermentation, but perhaps it could’ve used some? (77

2010 Mira Winery Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch - California, Napa, Carneros ($42)
Aromas of raspberry jam and toasted marshmallow. On the palate, this pinot noir is low on the tannins, with medium acid. The bright raspberry fruit is dashed by some serious oak. The wine seems too thin to handle the oak, leaving me with a rich, toasted chestnut flavor on the finish. Overall, this is a perfectly fine pinot noir but I wanted a little more depth and concentration on the palate. This wine is aged for 12 months in 100% French oak barrels, 75% new. I’m no winemaker, but I imagine they could’ve dialed down the new oak to 25% and gotten a more balanced wine. (81

2009 Mira Syrah Hyde Vineyard - California, Napa, Carneros ($48)
Dark purple colored in the glass. After three somewhat disappointing wines, smelling this wine got me excited. Tons of black plums, ink and charcoal (somewhat reminiscent of a Barossa shiraz in this context), but then comes a sweet, honey-baked ham aroma that I really enjoy. A bite of alcohol lingering on the nose is my only concern. On the palate, this wine is really extracted with a lot of plum reduction sauce, vanilla bean and green peppercorns. Very compact and inky, with a bit of heat. I think this needs time to settle down and unwind, but I like its different range of flavors. If tasted blind, I definitely would’ve guessed Australia. Aged 18 months in 100% French oak barrels, 5% new. (86

2008 Mira Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa, Carneros ($48)
Gushing sweet cassis on the nose, along with milk chocolate-covered blackberries and a hint of green pepper. Very pure and silky on the palate, with a really nice balance between tannins and fruit. Toasty oak accents the cassis and blackberry flavors. Kicks of tobacco, peanut shell and green pepper linger onto the finish. Hedonistic and rich, but it shows a bit more secondary flavors than I was expecting. Very suave. By far the best wine in the flight. (89

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1977 California Port is Equally Delicious and Mysterious

Everything about this bottle of 1977 J.W. Morris Vintage Port fascinates me. The wine is six years older than me, from an era when California wines numbered far fewer and received far less respect. Also, it’s made in the style of vintage Port, meaning the grape juice was stopped during fermentation by the addition of brandy, resulting in a wine with high alcohol (20%) and significant residual sugar.

I bought this mysterious relic at auction about 18 months ago because it seemed interesting and it only cost $30. But I’ve found it difficult to get much information about this wine.

I found a reference to J.W. Morris’ California port in a 1989 LA Times article: “Quady and J.W. Morris make some of California's most consistent vintage and non-vintage Ports.” My searching turned up a few more references of J.W. Morris’ fortified wines, but most of the hits consisted of broken links or archived bits of information from the late 1980s, back when the interweb was just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye., the world’s best tasting note and cellar management software, doesn’t have much information on this stuff either. One user tasted the 1978 vintage in 2007 and rated it a stellar 96 points. Wow.

Where are the grapes from? I’m not exactly sure. “California” is the only place named on the label. I’ve come across a bunch of references to this wine coming from Black Mountain Vineyard, but Black Mountain Vineyard appears to be a winery in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. Maybe the grapes were sourced from the area around Healdsburg? At the last minute before this post I found out that K&L Wine Merchants is selling a 1978 vintage of a Black Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Port from J.W. Morris, which I assume is the next vintage of this same wine. So I guess the grapes come from Sonoma...

Which grapes are in the bottle? I don’t know. I can make an educated guess that at least some of the wine comes from zinfandel grapes, but that’s only because zin has been grown in California for a long time and frequently used in dessert-style wines. Perhaps there’s some petite sirah in here as well? Maybe some mourvedre? Who knows...

After all my searching, this wine still remains something of a mystery. And  you know what? in the age of instantly-available information, that’s kind of cool. (Although, if a knowledgeable wino stumbles upon this post, please tell me more about this delicious stuff!)

Finally, my tasting notes:

The cork was soaked all the way through, but I found only a slight sign of past seepage. When I finally got the cork out, I was a bit worried the wine would be spoiled, but those worries quickly disappeared. This wine is a bright ruby color with thick legs in the glass. The aromas are strong, with caramel, dates and an alcoholic-smoke aroma that reminds me of a Highland single malt. Overall, a pretty interesting on the nose, although the alcohol does burn a bit. On the palate, the tannins have waned and the acid is a little low, which means the caramel, fig paste and dried apricot flavors really dominate. The alcohol provides weight, and the richness of the residual sugar and the mature fruit flavors are enough to keep this wine together. Raisins and caramel linger on a very long finish. This is not an epic dessert wine, but it’s a darn good one, and very intriguing.

89 points IJB

Monday, January 14, 2013

Writers on Writing: The Paris Review Interviews

As a literature addict, one of my favorite drugs is reading interviews with writers. The interview format allows writers let loose, speak their minds, come up with answers on the spot. Respectively, a good interview allows the reader to see the person behind the book, to listen to their favorite authors use an unscripted conversational lexicon. There’s something so pure and explosive about the language of writers when they’re being interviewed.

The quintessential literary journal of the 20th Century, The Paris Review, deserves credit for creating (or at least popularizing) the literary interview as a form in itself. During the 1950s, when most journals were closely aligned with academia, The Paris Review interviews must’ve been shocking. They’re stripped down, real, devoid of academic ornamentation. Luckily for addicts like me, The Paris Review compiled their interviews into a four-volume series called, simply The Paris Review Interviews. I picked up Volume 1 a few months ago and have been stoked about reading it ever since.

In his introduction to this volume, Philip Gourevitch explains that these collected interviews, “are constructed to stand as testimonials for the ages — if not as definitive portraits of each artist…” If that was the goal, then this collection is a resounding success.

The entire book is chock-full of interesting stories and insights into the writing and editing process. Here are some portions of the interviews that struck me.

Some very talented writers maintain an aura of  humility, even after long and successful careers. Humility is so important in writing, and Dorothy Parker demonstrates this quality perfectly: “My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated — as anything once fashionable is dreadful now.”

Dorothy Parker speaks about the need for writers to be meticulously observant. “The purpose of the writer is to say what he feels and sees,” she says. “The writer must be aware of life around him.”

When asked about the difference between wit and wisecracking, Parker responds with this quotable gem: “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

“How about the novel?” asks the interviewer. “Have you ever tried that form?” Answer: “I wish to God I could do one, but I haven’t got the nerve.”

Truman Capote explains how he needs to remain emotionally detached from the subject of his fiction: “… emotionality makes me lose writing control: I have to exhaust the emotion before I feel clinical enough to analyze and project it, and as far as I’m concerned that’s one of the laws of achieving true technique… My own theory is that the writer should have considered his wit and dried his tears long, long before setting out to evoke similar reactions in a reader. In other words, I believe the greatest intensity in art in all its shapes is achieved with a deliberate, hard, and cool head.”

Capote also gives a bit of advice to the writer who’s tempted to respond to a critical reviewer: “Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them down on paper.”

The Ernest Hemingway interview is classic. I love the way Hemingway insults the interviewer several times in hilarious manner: “I see I am getting away from the question, but the question was not very interesting…” Then, a few paragraphs later: “But when you ask someone old, tired questions you are apt to receive old, tired answers.”

Hemingway echoes Dorothy Parker’s notion that writers must first be observers of the world around them: “If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful.” When I was in journalism school one of my favorite professors told me that a journalist’s most essential tool was a fully-functioning bullshit detector. Well, maybe my professor took a cue from Hemingway: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

During his interview, Hemingway also gives The Paris Review one of the best book flap quotes ever: “I have all the copies of The Paris Review and like the inteviews much. They will make a good book when collected and that will be very good for the Review.” Well, the old man was right.

T.S. Eliot shares wise advice on breaking the rules of writing: “I always feel it’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Anatomy of a 19-Year-Old Riesling

The Forster Pechstein vineyard produces some of the Pfalz's
best riesling. This Smurf-like rock carving is pretty cool, too.
I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: aged riesling is one of life’s most delicious treats. I was reminded of this last night as I opened a bottle of riesling that I bought at auction and have been holding onto for a year or so…

Vintage: 1994
Producer: Reichsrat Von Buhl
Wine: Riesling
Designation: Kabinett
Vineyard: Forster Pechstein
Region: Pfalz (Germany)
I cut off the capsule and noticed that the tip of the cork was covered in some sort of mold. But not to fear, this isn’t rare when the wine’s been stored in a subterranean cellar for more than a decade. I inspected the bottle for signs of past seepage (when the wine inside leaks all the way past the cork and spills out, which can result in oxidization of the wine). I pulled the cork out like a surgeon, and was happy to see that it was soaked nearly to the top, but not all the way. The level of wine in the neck of the bottle looked OK, and I was pretty sure the wine was in good condition.

The first thing you notice about this wine is its clover honey color. This riesling shows complex and layered aromas, with a great combination of rich (apricot jam, honeycomb) and bright aromas (lime, slate). The intensity of the nose is something else.

On the palate… this is why I love German riesling, and specifically riesling from the Pfalz region. It’s got this burst of freshness, with lime-like acid and tangy minerals, but it’s accompanied by a rich, honeyed aspect. Intense and complex flavors of green pears, orange peel, apricot and a streak of minerals. Aged flavors of wax and lamp oil add complexity. So tangy, yet so plush and layered.

This is a superb and structured riesling. On the second day it was even more expressive, which leads me to think that, and even at 19 years old, this riesling has another 5-10 years ahead of it.

I rated in 93 points, non-blind.

The next time I see a riesling from the Forster Pechstein vineyard, I’m snatching it up for sure.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blind Tasting Oregon and California Chardonnays

After having so much fun blind tasting my way through a bunch of Oregon and California pinot noirs, it was time to hit up the chardonnays. Thanks to my friends at the daily wine blog Terroirist, I received a bunch of sample bottles from California and Oregon. When I tasted through them, I knew they were domestic chardonnays, but I didn’t know the producer, region, vintage, etc. After tasting the wines, I tried my best to track down the average price and research a bit more about the wines and how they were made.

Overall, I was really excited about this lot of chardonnays. Gone are the days when all domestic chardonnays tasted like the same buttered oak staves. As this tasting proved, there is a huge diversity of styles when it comes to domestic chardonnays. Sure there was some oak, some butter, some popcorn, but many of the wines showed great restraint and balance. Cheers to chardonnay!

2009 Stoller Chardonnay SV Estate - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
Exotic aromas of pineapple, butter and hints of honey. Surprising acid kicks off the palate. There’s a really unique combination of rich apricot flavors and lemon peel and minerals. Creamy, but not heavy. Zesty, but not light. (87 points) $30

2010 Stoller Chardonnay Reserve - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
On the nose, aromas of pear and apple mingle with smoky minerals. I really like the mouthfeel, very silky, nice balance between acid and density. Green apple and pear flavors blend well with the creamy hazelnut aspect. There’s a nice mix of mineral and caramel on the finish.
(89 points) $28

2010 Adelsheim Chardonnay Stoller Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley
Pretty light gold color. Lively and fresh on the nose, lots of flowers and lime (dare I say almost Chablis-like?), along with some honeydew melon. Very enticing on the nose. The palate shows a buttery texture, but there’s a huge amount of acid that keeps it balanced. I’m really impressed with the purity of the citrus and green apple flavors. There’s a lot of complexity and overall verve to this wine. It seems like it would be a lot of fun in another five years, but it's rocking now. (91 points) Price unknown

2009 Chehalem Chardonnay Ian's Reserve Stoller Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley
Very bright on the nose, with ripe peach, lime and fresh flowers. Zesty on the palate, but at the same time it shows generous creaminess and density. There’s a real sense of purity to the lemon and white peach flavors. Margarita salt carries the finish. This wine blends ripe fruit with bright acid and minerals in a focused and precise fashion. Delicious. Aged 7 months in French oak, 35% new.
(90 points) $32

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Chardonnay Willamette Valley - Oregon, Willamette Valley
Light gold. Pears, golden apple and a hint of lime on the nose. Creamy mouthfeel, showing rich texture and generous flavors of yellow and green apples. Toast, hazelnut and butter flavors add complexity but remain secondary. This shows a lot of intensity and depth. Aged 16 months in French oak, of which 24% was new.(90 points) $35

2010 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
The aromas are really bright and fresh, with an almost sauvignon blanc-like combination of lime, grapefruit and a hint of herbs. Very tangy on the palate, with lime and papaya flavors. Even a hint of mineral. This is really a brisk and fresh style, and I was surprised to see it was Russian River fruit. Lean and zesty, but by no means simple. Winemaker Rob Davis describes the 2010 chardonnay in this video. (88 points) $31

2011 Inman Family Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Aromas of white flowers, lemon and pineapple. Cream and butter combine with green apple and lemon fruit. It maintains freshness the entire time. Brisk and pure, and no wonder: the alcohol is listed only as 12.6%. (88 points) $32

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Carneros - California, Napa, Carneros
Very ripe on the nose, with pear, mango and hints of honey. Plush texture combines with medium acid. This chardonnay is generous on the pineapple and cantaloupe flavors, with butterscotch and coconut accents. (85 points) $21

It was no Tasting of Paris, but the  Chateau
Montelena chardonnay won the blind tasting.
2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley
Bright golden color. Very vibrant and floral on the nose, showing lots of orange blossom and honeysuckle aromas. High acid paves the way for the rich nectarine and pear flavors. There's a well-placed touch of hazelnut and toast, but there’s also a solid dose of minerals and lime, which gives this wine real verve. The density on the palate is impressive and the finish is really long. From nose to finish, a stunning chardonnay. (92 points) $45

2010 Gainey Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills
Medium gold colored. Layered aromas of pineapple, honey butter and toffee. Shows its boldness right away with golden pears, lemon candy and orange marmalade. Medium acid provides some balance and the plush texture makes it a pleasure to drink. Flavors of buttered rum, coconut and toast linger on the long, dense finish. Stylistically, this is big and bold, but very tasty. (87 points) $18

2010 Hahn Estates Chardonnay SLH Estate Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Light golden color. Very bright on the nose, with white flowers and green apples, but aromas of butter and orange peel linger underneath. Viscous on the palate, with and oily texture. Gobs of pears and pineapple evolve into a mix of toast and ruby red grapefruit. The combination of factors makes for a really fun wine. The fruit comes primarily from the 156-acre Lone Oak Vineyard and 33% of the juice is aged in new French oak. (88 points) $25

2011 Pepi Chardonnay - California
Straightforward aromas of lemon, grapefruit and green apple. The palate is full-bodied with medium acid, showing grapefruit and lime mixed with apricot and dried pineapple. No detectable oak. Not very deep or complex, but it’s balanced out quite nicely. This wine seems to be part of a new marketing gimmick and I could only find minimal information about it(84 points) $10

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve - California, Napa, Carneros
Bright gold colored. It’s clear from the nose that this is an elegant and ageworthy chardonnay. The aromas shift with air, showing white flowers, dried mango and pineapple, orange blossom. There’s a brightness to the aromas that is fantastic. The palate starts off with pineapple and papaya flavors and a dense mouthfeel. The acid comes through on the midpalate. The hazelnut and coconut element of this wine are really interesting. I can’t remember a wine that tasted more like coconut milk than this wine. And I really like it. Very complex and delicious, although I’m wagering this could age for a few more years and really improve, as it’s quite compact right now. (90 points) $40

2011 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smells like Hawaii, with pineapple, mango and papaya. On the palate, this wine is medium-bodied with rich melon and pineapple fruit. There's a flavor that reminds me of a coconut macaroon, and I like it. Big and bold, but easy to drink and a lot of fun. (86 points) $13

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Milosz on "The Captive Mind"

The more I read the more I become convinced that Czeslaw Milosz is one of the greatest writers of all time. No clarifiers like “greatest Eastern European writer” or “greatest Polish writer of the mid-20th Century,” just greatest.

“The Captive Mind” was first published in the early 1950s. It casts a wide net over topics like the post-war Soviet regime’s tactics of control, how xenophobia is used to rouse a recalcitrant public to violence, the effects of hegemonic state power on the individual mind, art as tool for socio-political revolution, and so on… and so on.

So how is this 60-year-old book relevant today? Simple: it’s relevant because Milosz wrote it. Time shapes the written word like the incoming tide over sand, but this text shows no signs of erosion. The ideas are still radical, the insight still profound, and the use of language still divine. Writing about this book sometime before his death, the novelist Jerzy Kosinski is quoted on the back flap as saying: “A faultlessly perceptive analysis of the moral and historical dilemma we all face… As timely today as when it was first written.” Well, it’s 2013 now, and I can say with conviction that Jerzy Kosinski was — and still is — right.

Milosz starts off his masterpiece with a quote of warning: “Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.” Basically, he’s saying, look for the person or the party or the state that claims to be absolutely right, and you’ll likely find that person or institution trying to assert control over others. That’s just the way it works.

During the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Milosz joined up with the Polish underground. He then saw what the Soviet Union did to Ukraine, Hungary and Poland in the post-war period. Suffice it to say that Milosz has some insight into the mechanisms of totalitarian control. Milosz’ words were purified in the fires of tyranny and violence, until the written word became his weapon of choice in combating tyranny. On writing during Hitler’s occupation, Milosz puts it this way: “We had to write; it was our only defense against despair.”

In “The Captive Mind” Milosz tells the stories of other artists and writers and how they turned from freedom fighters during WWII into supporters of Soviet repression. Calling them Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, Milosz tries to understand how anti-fascist intellectuals morphed into apologists for (big-C) Communist control. In every time, in every war, in every society, there are members of the “intelligentsia” who turn their backs on civil liberties in favor of the wishes of the powerful. Milosz gives some great examples of how this works, how agitators surrender their greatest weapons to the service of power. “In rebelling,” he writes, “I believe I protect the fruits of tomorrow better than my friend who keeps silent.”

Milosz writes about complex socio-political issues with historical insight, but his writing flows like poetry. He doesn’t get weighed down in meaningless linguistic games or academic discussions. His prose is alive, and his zeal for freedom is contagious.

Czeslaw Milosz in 1986.
At his core, Milosz is an evangelist of true art. Like me, he believes art represents humankind’s greatest possible achievement, the graduation point of human potential. He defends intellectual and artistic freedom furiously, because he knows that the unchained mind is the best bulwark against repression.

Some of his quotes about the meaning and value of art jumped off the page at me. Here are a few:

“Modern art reflects the disequilibrium of modern society in that it so often springs from a blind passion vainly seeking to sate itself in form, color, or sound. An artist can contemplate sensual beauty only when he loves all that surrounds him on earth. But if all he feels is loathing at the discrepancy between what he would wish the world to be and what it is in reality, then he is incapable of standing still and beholding.”

“The creative man has no choice but to trust his inner command and place everything at stake in order to express what seems to him to be true.”

“Repressed feelings poison every work, giving it a tinsel varnish which warns everybody: this is a synthetic product.”

As a writer of fiction, this following quote really struck me: “A novelist often modifies the people he has known; he concentrates his colors, selects and stresses those psychological traits which are most characteristic. When a writer strives to present reality most faithfully he becomes convinced that untruth is at times the greatest truth. The world is so rich and so complex that the more one tries not to omit any part of the truth, the more one uncovers wonders that elude the pen.”

There are far too many other topics in this book to cover in a review like this. I’ll close by saying that “The Captive Mind” has to be one of the best defenses of liberalism and free expression I’ve read in a long time. If you believe in art, free speech and the inherent value of the common person, give this book a whirl. Then tell me you’re not moved.