Thursday, January 31, 2008

Noir City Film Festival

Tonight I headed to the historic Castro Theater to take in a double feature on night 7 of the San Francisco Film Noir Festival. To get in the spirit and prepare for maximum noir enjoyment, I donned my blue full length cashmere winter coat and newly purchased grey fedora. Since my film knowledge is really quite pathetic, one of the things I hope to learn a lot more about this year is classic cinema, which of course would include film noir of the late 1940's and '50s.

The theme for tonight was films shot in San Francisco. D.O.A., the evening's first screening, is the tale of a man who travels to San Francisco to enjoy a big city vacation, only to discover that a letter of purchase that he notarized would cause him terrible misfortune, and ultimately lead to his death. The film's opening scene, where protagonist Mr. Bigelow goes to the police office to report his own murder, is one of the more unusual opening sequences I have seen in an older film. Classic. Molly X, the second film, is an obscure movie which tells the story of a woman who plans a botched robbery, and as a result has to do time in a women's correctional facility. She also has apparently murdered one of her partners in crime, though she is not tried for murder, and she has to struggle with this throughout the movie as well. Not as impressive, though it delivered some great snappy one liners, which are all the more appreciated when heard in a packed theater of folks who appreciate the corniness inherent in film noir.

After watching both movies, my date and I headed out the side entrance off the upper level section of the Castro Theater. The stairwell leads to a dark, narrow path, with piles of heavy cables strewn along the walls, probably from the filming of Gus Van Sant's new movie 'Milk.' We exited out the wrought iron gate and headed out into the misty San Francisco night. It was very noir.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lupicia and my new obsession with fancy tea

To adopt the Thomas Jefferson quote on the back of all of Kermit Lynch's wines, "Caffeine is a necessity of life for me." I love dark chocolate as much for its flavor qualities as for its abilitiy to make me feel alert, energetic and clear headed. After a meal I do enjoy a well made espresso (which as you may know is not as easy to come by as one might think). Despite my enjoyment of caffeine, I have never been a regular coffee drinker. The flavors of the roasted coffee bean can be rather harsh, especially in the morning when I need caffeine the most. And the quality and abundance of the coffee caffeine buzz is just too intense for me. Call me a wimp, but coffee is just too much for me, the caffeine equivalent of a big, medium+ toast oaky Napa Cabernet. Yes, I know that there are nuances of flavors to be found in different types of beans, but I have not fully explored them for the reasons mentioned above. Right now, and I would think for the foreseeable future, it's all about TEA.

Lupicia is a Japanese based retailer of fine teas. They've got a wide variety - over 400 types to be exact - so there is plenty to explore. Here are a few current favorites:

Seiran no Homare Gyokuru Green Tea

Also labeled as 'Pine breeze,' this Japanese green tea has a beautiful, soft, avocado green color. There are aromas of damp earth and baked sweet potatoes. It is similarly earthy on the attack, with a short period of not much flavor after swallowing giving way to a very clean, lengthy fresh grass flavored finish. The tea is complex yet subtle, and really quite thought provoking and invigorating. This is tea to rejuvenate the spirits and get your mind right for the day ahead.

Lupicia First Flush Darjeeling Tea

Here is a tea that shows more clean and high-toned floral notes on the nose. It is an amber colored tea, with refreshing citric tones and a touch of astringency on the finish. Drinking this brew in the morning turns my grog into blog. It makes me want to do stuff, gently but firmly urges me to have a productive day.

Look for more posts on tea in the future.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

From Cousin to Radikon - natural wines for the complete wine geek

I've enjoyed some very tasty natural wines in the past few days, most of them courtesy of Jenny and Francois - a couple specializing in importing natural wines from France. There have been a couple of, uh, challenging wines along the way, which serves as a reminder that natural wine does not always equal delicious, tasty wine. Nevertheless, I would maintain that your odds of getting a natural wine that is tasty, reasonably priced, lively and full of individual character are still favorable. Certainly better than getting an interesting bottle of wine from Napa. Or Sonoma. Or Pauillac. Or winning your March madness pool at work.

Sebastien Riffault Sancerre 'Akmenine' 2006

Produced from SB grown in primarily limestone based soils, this wine goes through full
malo and does not convince me that this is the way to go in Sancerre. Where's the fruit? 'Akmenine' is Lithuanian for pieces of rock - Sebastien's wife is Lithuanian. My family on my father's side is also Lithuanian so I really want to like these Sancerres more than I do.

Sebastien Riffault Sancerre 'Skevendra' 2004

Though this wine shows better than the '06, it is still lacking in brightness and fruit. Does the oak rob this wine of liveliness, or the malolactic, or both?

Audrey et Christian Binner Gewurztraminer Kaesserkopf2004

I'm usually not into Gewurz as a varietal wine. Too alcoholic and spicy. Though I do like the lighter German and Alto Adige renditions. This had very ripe red grapefruit flavors as well as the rosey, turkish delight thing going on. Not bad for Alsace gewurz.

Olivier Cousin Gamay 2005

Very rich gamay, this was more than merely bright red fruits and earth; it finished with a savory nutty note. Maybe a bit bretty, but I can deal with that.

Olivier Cousin Anjou Pur Breton 2004

Fun wine. I do not know exactly what the grape compostion is though. Cab franc maybe? I don't know. It was similar to the above but with a fresher, more vivid fruit character. A bit darker fruit. Livelier acidity. A wine that's easy to gulp down, but whose mid-term ageability and flavor intensity might make you think twice about doing so.

Oliver Cousin 'Le Cousin Rouge' Grolleau 2005

Produced from old vine Grolleau in Anjou, this is a serious wine that demands an hour decant. It is intense, dark fruited, and seriously structured. Though it also manages to have good acidity and pure, natural flavors as well. More brooding than the Pur Breton, but very possibly longer lived as well.

2002 Radikon Ribolla (500ml)

Saving the best for last here. This is produced from 100% Ribolla, with a very extended period of skin contact. So the wine is a beautiful pomegranate hue, a bit lighter in color though. Very complex, fascinating nose - my friend mentioned musky rose varietals (as opposed to more conventional pink roses). There are mixed dried fruits, smoke, baking spices, roasted chestnuts, wet stones. On the palate this wine is immediately intense, with juicy red currants, cherry, and yellow stone fruit skins. At times it reminded me of Kriek lambic with that intense, spicy cherry quality. Acidity was very high, nervy, but completely in balance. So fucking good!!! Pardon my language, I just learned that I really enjoy Radikon and this was my first Radikon experience, so apologies for the self-indulgence. Whereas my first Gravner (a neighbor and similarly minded Friulian vintner) experience was equally enlightening, the wine just wasn't as much fun to drink. I'd be curious to try it again now that two years have passed. If anyone out there wants to put together a horizontal of Gravner, Radikon and assorted disciples' wines, I would definitely be game.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008


In my first four and a half months of blogging, I have abstained from this sort of self-promo. But now it's high time for some shameless self promotion.

For the better part of the aughties I have played with a group called JohnStone. We play reggae. Not dancehall, not reggae influenced rock, but good old reggae, slightly updated and tweaked for modern times. We're a great crew of likable, hard working folks slaving away at the 9 to 5 and doing music in most of our free time. That's worth supporting, right? This past September we released our 3rd album - you can listen to several tracks (full length, none of that :30 bullshit) on our website. If you're so inclined, you can buy stuff on itunes or CD Baby. As did Bartles, James and many others before me, I thank you for your support.

And now back to our usual blog program.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

good TAURASI is a great value at $40

Though I love Campanian wines, I have had minimal experience with the intensely flavored, long lived Aglianico based wines of Taurasi. These wines are not
inexpensive, but if the quality of the wine I tried today is any indicator, they are still very reasonably priced. In the wide world of wine, we who sell the stuff are often as guilty as our customers (if not more so) of assigning arbitrary levels of value to certain regions or categories of wines. For example: "That's a great entry level Barolo, and a real value at $30." Or, "I would never pay $50 for a wine from Sicily." Fact is, a $30 Barolo at best will show a bit of typicity and that's about it - I'd rather buy a good bottle of langhe nebbiolo and arneis for my $30. And if a $50 bottle of wine from Sicily or southern Italy is every bit worth the price, then why hate? Appreciate.

And did I ever appreciate the bottle of 2000 Contrade di Taurasi I tasted today. Amongst a solid Italian line-up, including such gems as 2004 Bruno Rocca Barbaresco, it stood tall and was my favorite of the 25 strong row of Italians lined up on the tasting bar. The combination of truly intense black fruits, combined with decent acidity and a strong mineral backbone, made me taste a few times, and re-visit the wine for a palate refresher - with the same satisfaction and shaking of my head as the first taste.

Bottle Shock - Hollywood's next wine movie.

I can't help but post this trailer to the much anticipated (by some in the wine industry, anyway) Bottle Shock, which is loosely based on the 1976 Paris tasting. I still have Alan Rickman's performance with Johnny Dep in Sweeney Todd fresh in my mind. He's a good actor, and along with Bill Pullman might be the only quality performance of this movie. Bottle Shock, in theaters March 2008.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cab Franc for the cave

The original plan was to cellar some German Riesling this month, which I still may do. But today I realized that there is just way too much incredible, inexpensive, Cab Franc in the store to ignore. So 3 bottles of each of the following:

2002 Olga Raffault Chinon 'Les Picasses' (beginning to get silky and taste similar to good old school claret, great intensity to the fruit, shows really nicely a day after opening).
2004 Joel Taluau St Nicolas de Bourgueil Vielles Vignes (Youthful but so powerful, with all the structure for 10+ years in the cellar.)
2004 Chateau Tour Grise '253' Saumur Rouge (Very crisp, bright, punchy cab franc, with raspberry fruit and a really fresh profile. Not quite convinced that it's mid-long term material, but 3 years improvement no problem)

It will be at least 3 years before I re-visit each of these, though I may wait longer on the Taluau and Tour Grise, possibly 5 years. Any thoughts on this, Loire cab franc drinkers?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Indian Thriller

To celebrate Friday, bring in the weekend, and get everyone ready for my review of Shalimar, here's the infamous 'Indian Thriller' video for you viewing and listening pleasure.


A couple nights ago my friend Matt and his wife Karla took me out for some delicious Indian and Pakistani cuisine on Indian row in the 'loin. I had heard high praise for Shalimar, as well as some cautionary tales (greasy, do not use the bathrooms, etc). It is definitely a no frills greasy spoon without any pretensions; I found the place to be clean, if sparsely and simply decorated. But it's not about the ambience, or for that matter the service here (we were given dishes we did not order twice, you need to pay attention and be vigilant as the plates start arriving!) It's about greedily eating some of the most authentic, perfectly seasoned Indian and Pakistani food around. Each place setting is provided with a 'Shalimar Times,' basically a four page tabloid printout explaining what Shalimar is about, with a menu on the inside. An excerpt states, "SHALIMAR'S CULINARY PHILOSOPHY: 'No substituions to fit the local tastes, no frills or nuevo cuisine, but sensible, genuine, tasty hearty and wholesome food.' In each guest we look forward to 'many happy returns.' " The interesting word usage and liberal smattering of quote marks makes for entertaining pre-meal reading.

On to the food. We ordered 3 types of flavored naan (onion, garlic, and spicy potato). All were flavorful and properly moist and chewy. Okra and tomatoes was delicious - rich and velvety fresh okra, piquant from the simmered tomatoes, and very savory and authentic from a liberal use of hing. Pureed eggplant (bengen bhujia) was tasty, with a good amount of onion and a strong cardamom seasoning which was the dominant flavor of this dish. Even better was the tandoori chicken (murgh boti tandoori), crisp and well seasoned with spices and vinegar. The standout dish, however, was saag gosht - a combination of tender braised lamb and spinach, with ginger, coriander, and a more mild blend of spices.

No wine to wash this food down. It's a BYOB and I was caught unprepared, no riesling on me and neighborhood shops are fine for tall boys of beer but that's about it. So it was all washed down with a Bass ale. Which was fine, even Riesling would have a tough time handling much of this food. I wholeheartedly reccommend Shalimar for folks who can deal with a slightly sketchy neighborhood, poor service and a slightly louder than usual blend of hip-hop and Bhangra. At Shalimar, it's all about the food.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My mind on mencia from Ribeira Sacra

I had very big hopes for the 2 wines below from D. Ventura. Both are from Mencia grown in steep, terraced vineyards overlooking the Sil, fermentated in stainless steel and free of the yoke of oak. My initial impressions, as you will see from reading the tasting notes below, are mixed. That having been said, anyone to whom I've spoken, or whose notes I've read, about these wines has gushed enthusiastically about these wines. Yet another reminder of the subjectivity of taste, not to mention my palate's occasional contrarian streak.

At any rate, I will need to remind myself to set lower expectations for well hyped, emerging regions in future tastings. These notes are from tasting the wines right after opening the bottles and then the day afer. I will re-visit them again on day 3 and record any notable changes.

2006 D. Ventura Pera de Lobo Ribeira Sacra

Produced from 100% mencia grown in granite. The nose has black pepper and reminds me of some of the lighter, higher toned Rhone reds like Cotes du Ventoux and Lirac (sometimes). Yep, there is an '04 southern Rhone vibe to this wine, on nose and palate. Red plum and huckleberry fruit that is fresh enough but won't win any points from me for originality or true sense of place.

2006 D. Ventura Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra

This wine is from primarily slate vineyards. It is sturdier, with darker fruits on nose and palate. Tasty blackberry fruit on the palate, with good length. While heavier, it also appears to have more acidity as well, and to me is the more interesting wine of the two.

Both of these mencias changed very little over a day and I'm honestly not quite sure what to make of that fact quite yet. I look forward to continuing to track these wines' progress. For now I'm definitely underwhelmed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More sabor from Spain

One of our reps with a terrific book of Spanish wines - from wacky and funky, to traditional and regional, to cool and modern - came by today to sample a few things. Here are the wines:

Pere Ventura Cava Brut Nature

Brut nature= no dosage. It is an increasingly popular movement in Penedes, and for good reason if this wine is an indication of how exciting the quality can be. Touch of toastiness on the nose, leading to the crispest, driest, most precise tasting cava I have ever tasted. A real winner.

Sanstrave 'e' Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva

48 months on the lees. Much more yeastiness on the nose, which also had a very prominent, funky, yellow miso aspect to it. It was similarly of the earth on the palate. Not much in the way of fruit here. Not so good.

2005 Vina Ijalba Blanco

Produced from Tempranillo Blanco, from a mutated section of their Tempranillo vineyard. Ijalba functions as a nursery for rare Rioja varietals, and makes some pretty exciting stuff. This wine is explosive on the nose - loads of quince and a hint of red fruits. Very textural, fleshy palate, and once again explosive. It is like dry Chenin that doesn't need a lot of time to come around; it's already delicious. Apricot and tangy red currant fruits were full and mouthfilling.

2006 Odysseus Rosat

This could be Spain's most expensive rosado. It had red fruit, with pomegranate leading the way, on the nose. A bit stinky as well. Grippy and palate coating, it reminded me of a 2002 Kir-Yianni Akakies I drunk quite a bit of 4 years ago, with less acidity but a very similar funkiness. Thing is, the Akakies is half the price.

2006 Valduero La Uve Toro

A bit bubblegummy on the nose. But fresh dark fruit, moderate tannins and a bit more liveliness than the nose would suggest made for a pleasant enough Toro. I often can't stand wine from this D.O.- too one-dimensional and clumsy. The fact that this was fermented in stainless (probably preceeded by a carbonic maceration) clearly helped to make this more to my liking.

2006 Martin Berdugo Ribera del Duero Joven 2006

Reductive, reductive, dark fruit. Lacking in purity, overly aggressive tannins. Poorly made wine.

2004 Vina Ijalba Graciano

Easily better than their 2003 Graciano, which was pretty damn good itself. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is one of the 2 or 3 most interesting young Spanish red wines I've ever tasted. Very aromatic, with white pepper and floral notes, a touch of Indian spices as well. Cote Rotie-like. Blue and purple fruits on the palate, with very fine grained tannins. Impressive, and for under $25 a real steal.

1998 Valduero Ribera del Duero Reserva

Black cherry jam and blackberry nose leads to more of the same on the palate. Well-integrated tannins and acidity, pure fruit, terrific intensity and length. Still very primary, but beginning to hit its stride. I'll have to get a few bottles to drink in 3 or so years. This wine spends 30 months in barrel, 2/3 American oak and 1/3 French, both previously used.

2003 Sangenis i Vaque Priorat

Priorat is typically not my thing. As recently as one and a half years ago, yes. Now, I either hate the wines as most are so sickly fruity and over-extracted, or shrug my shoulders at the wines that are ok but still pricey and not quite exciting (a la Palacios Les Terrases). Though this particular Priorat is not my style, it was distinctive. Very dark fruited, with the intensity of many $50-$80 Priorats, sans cloying fruit. Good minerality (slate here is more red than the blue stuff that dominates many of the estates which produce and export Priorat to the US market). Not my style but I respect this wine. And it retails for about $30. Which follows the inverse correlation between price and quality I'm continuing to observe in estate's offerings througout Priorat.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cymande - Listen Up

Cymande was a group of Jamaican and Guyanese emmigrants to England. Their music is tight, soulful, and timeless. I really enjoy the way this Cymande fan captures in his video the album art and shows a bit more of what the band was trying to accomplish with their music.

I drank a wine from the Jeffersonian era! Palo Cortado, pt. III

And it was not a Th J Lafitte counterfeit bottle. Rather, it was a real deal bottle of Hidalgo Palo Cortado Viejo V.O.R.S. OK, to be honest the solera was begun in colonial times, which might represent .3333333% of the contents in the bottle. But I'm still going to count it as the oldest wine I have tasted to date. It was phenomenal. Endlessly fascinating to sniff, this sherry showed incredibly complex, nutty, dried fruit flavors with great acidity, and a silken texture that only a whole lot of age can provide. For roughly $120 you can enjoy the same experience, as well as help to save a rare species of Spanish eagle. Now how could you pass that up?

Puzelat Pd'A and other fun stuff at Terroir

Saturday night I went back to San Francisco's premier spot for enjoying natural wines - Terroir. Once we had settled in and started browsing for a bottle to enjoy, Guilhaume gave us a taste of the 2005 Tissot Poulsard. It was nice - fresh berry fruit, light tannins, direct and simple, just what I expected. With a bit of direction from Guilhaume, we ended up starting off with a bottle of 2006 Thierry Puzelat 'La Tesniere' Pineau d'Aunis. It was their last bottle and they're unable to buy more for the time-being, so it was a generous and appreciated rec. The wine was very, very good. A mix of wild strawberries and bramble on the nose. More of the same on the palate, tremendous purity of fruit and terrific balance. The tannins though were certainly firm, but very fine. In fact, the power of the wine and the firm tannin structure brought Barbera to mind, as did the slightly resiny, stick to your gums quality of the wine. But the fresh, bright quality of the fruit was all Loire valley; 14.5% abv did not at all detract from this wine.

In the Burgundian - and opposite Billy Joel style come to think of it - we had a bottle of white following our red, a humble bottle of 2005 Dr. Burklin Wolf Estate riesling. It was bright, nicely dry, fleshy, with yellow stone fruit and a bit of flinty minerality. Throughout the evening, Guilhaume and a few others poured a few other wines for us to taste(thanks, guys!):

2003 Tissot Chardonnay - This was pleasantly funky for a Tissot wine; I've found their other stuff to be pretty straight ahead. It is a savory, slightly spicy number, sort of village Meursault like, without the mid-palate richness and heft.

2003 Frick Riesling - Biodynamic Alsace riesling, here. It is made in a slightly oxidized style. Broad and creamy, it tasted like Riesling grown in some heavily clay based soil.

There was a pretty '05 Mercurey and I don't recall the producer's name. Also someone very generously brought in a bottle of 1986 Macon Village from botrytized chardonnay grapes (?) I forget the specs on this one, but it sure was one rare bird.

On this particular evening, Terroir once again came correct.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Creative Expression vs Economic Opportunism; Comparing wine to '80s music

Call me an idealist, a business novice, or just an idiot. But whenever I engage in a form of creative expression, I do it mainly to satisfy my criteria of what I would enjoy listening to, reading, eating, or, if I were to make wine, drinking. This seems logical, right? With stories like this one about Adam Tolmach of Ojai, one wonders how many folks in California are truly guided by a sense of personal aesthetics in their winemaking. It is not fair to limit this question to California; however, many people would contend that a whole lot of winemakers in California are guilty of making wines which lack originality and, to not mince words, are boring, sweet, and just plain suck.

The tide here is obviously turning, though. I see it in what most critics write about wines and in what many of my customers enjoy drinking.

I see 1984-1991 in the music business in similar terms as 2000-2007 in the world of wine. There are certainly many interesting albums and wines in both periods. But just as many wines now taste similar and lack inspiration, a whole lot of music was watered down, all featuring the same new genre of synths, and the same heavy handed production. Look at the list of established artists who made terrible albums in the 1980's. At the same time, new genres, most notably hip-hop, were continuing to evolve. If you looked carefully, the beginnings of what would be the new pop rock in the 90s was forming from the underground rock of the '80s. To return back to the vinous side of our discussion, natural wines and grower champagnes have never been more popular.

It will be interesting to see when this particular chapter in wine tastes will close, but it appears to be doing so quickly.

Afu-ra - Equality

Hmmm...what ever happened to Afu? This track was something of a hit back when the album was released 7 or so years ago. DJ Premier's production and Kymani Marley's raspy sing-jay vocals help support Afu-Ra's decent, but largely forgettable, flow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Battle of the Heavyweights: Nigl vs A. Fernandez

Well, this isn't much of a head to head competition here. Two very full-bodied, intensely flavored wines, however, hence the 'battle of the heavyweights.' The Nigl I had a few nights ago was a 2001 Kremser Kremsleiten Riesling, and the Alejandro Fernandez wine was 2004 Tinto Pesquera. OK, so clearly an apples and oranges comparison, actually more like apples and carrots: White vs red, Austrian vs Spanish, bottle aged vs current release. Both are very good wines from producers for whom I have an enormous amount of respect.

The '01 Nigl was a beautiful 18K gold color. Its nose was rich, honeyed, and showing a good bit more maturity than I had expected, with strong buckwheat flower honeyed notes, mandarins, apricot glaze, and some woodsy, floral aromas (maybe I should say 'manly flowers'?). Thankfully, the wine showed a lot drier than what the palate suggested, though the fruit was of such a rich and ripe character, that it was almost over the top for my taste. On the plus side there is just enough acidity to keep things balanced, and the finish is a very long one. Drinking this wine, you can taste what must have surely been a warm, sunny vintage in the Kremstal.

'04 Pesquera is of course a little baby. All of the classic Ribera dark fruit, licorice, and grip are on full display here, but with the added dimension of spice on the perfume that always make this bottle distinctive, and easy to detect if poured out of a brown bag. This spice and aromatic complexity is not yet on full display. It should begin to emerge after another 1.5 to 2 years in bottle. Drunk with a thick, grilled, Pittsburgh rare New York strip steak (to honor my recently deceased grandfather, Pepa), the '04 Pesquera was delicious and savored immensely with my immediate family.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Goodbye, Pepa.

Some people knew him as Dr. Copeland, others as Herb, Grandpa Herb, or Dad. To me he always was, and always will be, Pepa. He passed away this morning at 87 years old after what has been at least a 6 year battle with ALS.

Pepa was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, one of three children of Yetta and Herb Copeland, Sr, who were both from Odessa, Ukraine. He went on to serve in the army and start his own radiology practice at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore. With his first wife Myra, he had two children: my mom and my Uncle Jack. After Myra passed away, he married Elaine Rogers, or my grandmother, Me-ma, who would fall ill with lung cancer and died in 1994. Pe-pa married Jeanne a few years later, and I do not recall ever seeing him as happy as he was at that time.

Playing catch in the backyard, appreciating a rare steak, going on a drive in his latest luxury car of choice (he gave me his old Lexus 3 years ago), and a fridge stocked with his favored Coors Light, are just a few of the things I will always remember fondly about Pepa. That and the sweet, easy-going, gentle manner he had of dealing with anyone who knew him.

I will repeat here what I told my grandfather, after saying goodbye to him for the last time this past July 4th holiday: Goodbye Pepa, I love you.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


1979 is the year of my birth, and since I can name the number of wines I have tasted from this watershed year on one hand (ok, on 3 fingers) I figured I should treat myself and get something special for my birthday. So while the Walt Clyde Frasier leather pumas and Onitsuka Tigers comprised the gift to my wardrobe, the '79 Ducru was the gift to my palate and continuing wine education.

It was a good gift. The nose was full of currant, blackberry, rich, spicy dark cherry fruit. Secondary aromas of lead and very subtle green peppercorn emerged after some air. I decanted the wine right before serving it as it seemed so fresh, lively and primary at first. Probably not a necessary decant, though, as the tannins were almost completely resolved and the wine was fairly uniform; it didn't change much. It was elegant in that mature claret sense: silky smooth, intense and pure fruit with a suggestion of roasted meat. But really more fruit on this one. Elegant wine, and it did its job with my simple dinner prep: boneless leg of lamb with sauteed hedgehog mushrooms. It made the lamb more gamey and lamby and the mushrooms more earthy and shroomy, if that makes any sense.

Mature Bordeaux is still really good....

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fugazi - Turnover - (Live 1991)

This is Live in DC, during what looks to be an anti– Gulf war concert. DC was an entirely different, arguably a much cooler place to live back then, from what I have heard. Anyway, 'Turnover' is the lead track to the Repeater album. Thanks to my older brother I was listening to a lot of Fugazi in my pre-teen and early teen years. They are a great band and a group with integrity. If Guy, Ian, Brendan and Joe were wine drinkers they'd probably be drinking lots of real wine.

Post New Year's, Pre Bday Champagne.

Yesterday my tasting group and I were bringing in the New year in the traditional PMW tasting group style, with some champers. Usually it's a December event, but with the overarching sense of frenetic holiday activity prevailing this year, we put it off until the new year. Which is fine by me because it doubled as a bday celebration of sorts as well. And if any sort of celebration goes down tonight (today is bday proper) it will definitely be low key and on the early side. I'm partied out.

Our first champagne: Charley Heidseck Brut NV. It was not offensive; simple, crisp and celebratory enough, if lacking on the mid-palate and falling very short on the finish. A textbook middle of the road grand marque NV champagne without much character. But you can do a lot worse. I'd like to retroactively strike the LP Brut on my 'in a pinch' champagne post and replace it with this one.

Next would be a Blanc de Blancs from Gaston Chiquet. Didn't even know they made one, though their NV is always a favorite, especially for a good all around party wine. It's full of flavor and easy to like. Well this one was the exact opposite. It was a bit one-dimensional as well, though in a more interesting, lean and mean way. A cool, shy and mineral nose led to a very tight BdB that just isn't showing too much right now. Though I think this was the prevailing sentiment in the room, there were a few defenders of the wine.

No such divergence in opinion on the next guy: Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wine from Marin county! Point Reyes Winery's flagship (I think) sparkling wine, brought courtesy of Chad, was a unanimous pick for MOWOTN (most offensive wine of the night). Elmers glue and bananas foster. Not so fresh, not so clean clean.

Chad, however, knowing full well that this would likely be a dud, came through with another bottle that I think might have been WOTN. At least according to me and Chad. 1996 Gaston Chiquet Special Club had all of the delicious ripe and intense flavors of the vintage, balanced by the off the charts acidity that '96 also shows. This '96 was a bit more integrated, less angular, and probably will be quicker to mature than others I've had from the vintage. It's drinking really well right now.

Before Chad's 'redemption bottle' we had a few others. '98 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Millesime showed classic brioche aromas and lead to a tasty palate that is probably, both in terms of texture and flavor, one of the softest and most mellow Peters champagnes I will drink. Which was fine, and probably a reflection of a merely ok vintage. But when I drink Peters, I kind of want to taste that searing acidity, you know? This was a good reminder of the fact that, when it comes to vintage champagne, occasionally any notion of house style needs to be tossed out the window. Bonville Cuvee Prestige NV was a solid all round blanc de blancs, produced from the '02, '00 and '98 vintage chardonnay in Oger and Cramant. It was also well-rounded, with agreeable flavors and gentle mousse. Definitely another good party and 'gateway' champagne, to which my co-worker and first time PMWer David would attest, as it's the bottle that converted his girlfriend into a champagne drinker. 2000 Aubry "Le Nombre d'Or Campanae Veteres Vites" Brut is what Nadia and I brought, and definitely a funky number. It's a blend of primarily black skinned grapes including Fromenteau (pinot gris) Petit Meslier & Arbanne (endless mileage on the nose in the glass and declaring, 'yep, that's definitely Arbanne' joke) which are all nearly extinct in Champagne. There's a bit of chardonnay and PN in there as well, which I'm guessing is due to not enough supply of the other grapes, and an effort to make the wine somewhat more normal tasting. I couldn't put a finger on this one. The fruit was definitely tangy and full of life, but there was a real salty minerality here. Usually just the sort of wine I love, but for some reason I wasn't digging this. To me it was jarring, angular, and possibly just in a weird place? Definitely not bottle shocked, as the bottle has been comfortably resting on our shelves at K&L for the past year.

There were a few rose sparklers, one a cava whose name escapes me but was really dark colored, austere tasting, and tannic. The other was Taittinger Brut Rose NV. A bit off and almost reductive at first on the nose, it eventually shedded this and was a mediocre, over manipulated, over dosed rose champagne. The wine tasted contrived and lacked energy.

We had a few reds and a riesling after before the night was out. I had brought a 1976 Santenay 'Clos Rousseau' 1er cru from one Rene Fleurot, which smelled absolutely lovely but was a bit tired on the palate, with stewed red fruits that were kind of hanging in there but not enough to want to finish the glass. Then Mark ventured down to the cellar and grabbed a few wines. First, a bottle of '78 Sterling Cab which was as mature Napa cab should be. Green pepper and cherry fruit. It wasn't the best bottle; we had drunk the same thing at a Bdx tasting a few months ago that was a bit more delectable and intense. Next, a bottle of 1998 Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini 'Vigna Chiniera' which was delicious, young, and with a solid, long future ahead of it. Check back in 10 years. Finally we finished things off with a bottle of Koehler-Ruprecht Riesling Kallstadter Steinacker Kabinett 2002. Very smoky, delicious Kabinett from the Pfalz. It was woodsy and floral on the nose. Dry palate with Pfalz burnt brown sugar but plenty of acidity and savor. Thanks, Mark, for cracking this one open - I love 2002 German riesling and this was a great wine to finish the evening. Like the dude's rug, it really tied the room together.

OK, off to pick up a bottle from my birth year. Hope you all are enjoying your Thursday - it's my Bday so it's gonna be a good day for all of you out there as well, I know it will.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Taking Stock on 2008; Looking towards 2009

What a year it has been! While I'm sure there are many folks out there who will gladly wave goodbye to this watershed year, whether due to a mortgage foreclosure, loss of employment, poor health, or - who knows - maybe for the simple fact that, for the next four years anyway, the White House will be looking decidedly less white, I feel fortunate to be in a good spot in my life. Healthy, employed full-time, drinking and eating well, possessing of solid support from family and friends. Things are good, and I hope that they are for you as well. If not, here's to some positive change in the year ahead.

Looking back on last year, it started with Pe-Pa's passing- certainly expected but still an unhappy way to begin 2008. Things improved. Natalie and I began dating. We began what will hopefully become an annual tradition, checking out the San Francisco Film Noir Festival. Spring brought financial crisis to the nation, but in the largely prosperous, slightly insular Bay Area things seemd to chug along virtually unchanged. Later on in May and extending a week into June, I went to Spain on what amounted to my first wine trip in this country. In the summer and leading into Fall, the presidential campaign dominated the news, youtube views and our collective psyche. As we know, the good guys won. Also in the Fall season, I lessened my carbon footprint, while earning some extra cash (not a bad thing to have at any time, especially in these times) by selling my car. Recently I used some of the proceeds to buy a new bike and a basic Pro Tools recording setup. Speaking of recording, I headed east to spend a weekend recording music with some good Carribean friends, and while not recording I headed up to New York, spent time with the fam in Bmore, and even squeezed in a quick lunch with one of my favorite bloggers.

So there you have it, a brief, personal re-cap of 2008. For something way less personal and much more witty, check out the Mad Skillz version.

I suspect that 2009 will be a challenging year for many of us. Cliché that it may be, challenges do convey with them opportunities. I sincerely hope that on the national, state, local and individual level, we keep this in mind and learn (re-learn?) many things of value this year.

Here's to a happy, healthy, resourceful, dynamic New Year.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

OWOS Welcomes you in the '08

Happy New Year! To my family, friends, readers, fellow bloggers, colleauges, commenters, lurkers, b-boys and girls, punk and yacht rockers...welcome back to Old World Old School. Happy New Year, and I hope for all it is a year of health, exploration, growth, activity, and, as it relates to these pages, tasty, authentic, and honest wine, great food and real music.

Just to rewind back to the NYE celebration last night, we had some folks over, drank Mont Marcal cava, Ariston Brut and Brut Rose champagne, 1998 Cronin Zinfandel Mourvedre and 1974 Charles Krug Cabernet. Everything was tasty, though the latter really stood out. The wine was full of life, spicy and a bit bretty on the nose, but with loads of savory cherry fruit. And the fruit was not as sweet as a few generally higher regarded cabs I've had in the past from the '70's, at least from '78. The music was eclectic - a little Brian Eno, Billy Joel ('Los Angelenos' - that's an album cut from the oft overlooked Streetlife Serenader record. Good album.), Dylan and The Band, and a good stretch of The O'Jays which threw the crowd into a dancing frenzy. DA-da-da. Da-DA. DA - What they do.

While I get ready for what remains of the day, ponder if I'm going to see Sweeney Todd or The Savages and sip on some really tasty Lupicia Gyokuro 'Seiran No Homare' green tea, I thought it worthwhile to look forward to the (blogging) year ahead, think through what I'd like to accomplish on these pages, and give folks a sense of what's ahead. So here are some points as it relates to OWOS:


This will continue to be a blog driven by my personal sense of aesthetics. Bear in mind that wine drinking, as with music, is ultimately subjective. You don't have to agree with me, but if you disagree you risk being completely off base and plain wrong. I joke....


I will be visiting more vineyards and wineries this year and look forward to writing about them here. As I continue to live in the Bay Area, and continue to work the often rigid schedule of the retail wine business, most visits will be concentrated on who I think is making great wine locally. Napa may not figure too prominently in these visits, as they have long since ventured to the dark side of winemaking. Look for more stuff from Santa Cruz in particular, with Sonoma and other areas likely to be visited as well.


Now that I am somewhat more settled in my new city, I intend on seeing a lot more live music and writing about it. As time allows. At least I know I'll see a lot more concerts, reviewing them will take some discipline....


2008 is the year of shameless, unabashed promotion of this blog. To that end, I plan on being a bit more proactive in getting more people to read. How, I'm not yet quite sure, but of course I want more people to read. Not just wine geeks. Don't get me wrong, I still write this blog primarily as a means of self expression, continuing education, and organizing/documenting lots of random stuff in one convenient form. But while I am doing so, I might as well try to reach out to as many people as possible and hopefully entertain the masses who are bored at work.

Thank you to everyone who reads, and especially to everyone who occasionally shares comments on these pages. Thanks to my parents for continuing to read and to my brother Michael for reading and providing a real writer's input. Thanks to Mateo who encouraged me to begin blogging. Thanks to Paul who introduced me to Lyle's blog, which introduced me to Manuel's blog. Both of these are blogs, like this one, which began in 2007. Pretty good company. 2008 looks to continue to be The Year of the Wine Blog. Keep on reading, and I'll keep it coming.

Peace and Happy New Year,