Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for November, 2007

Palandri Wines

Posted by Gabe on November 29, 2007

For many years now wine lovers have realized that Australia is frequently a source for great bargains. Often times the wines from Australia that are good or great values are from the school of bold and brash wines. Shiraz is of course the Australian calling card when it comes to wine. They are often made in that bold style, especially in the value category. These are generally speaking wines that are made to be drunk early in their life. And make no mistake they can be increibly enjoyable. Variety is also something I treasure in my wines.

Palandri LogoI’m happy to report that I just had a couple from Palandri that go against the tide. Both the 2002 Palandri Shiraz and 2002 Cabernet were made in a very graceful and age-worthy style. It’s fairly incredible to find over 5 year old Australian wines available with a suggested retail around $12.00. They’re both from the Margaret River area in Western Australia.

Both the Shiraz and the Cabernet have plenty of upfront fruit. Neither however are fruit bombs. They have a restrained elegance and an inherent earthiness that comes from being properly aged.

The Cabernet has soft fruit and some cherry notes on the mid palate. The finish which is a generous one features lots of mocha as well as earthiness and a little tobacco note at the very end. It’s a very well balanced Cabernet and quite elegant for the price. This will pair well with a wide range of foods. In addition to grilled meat I found it went very well with dark chocolate.

The Shiraz has bolder and brighter fruit than the Cabernet. The mid palate has a little touch of candied apple on it that really hits the back of the mouth with a nice tingle and draws you back in for more of it. The finish has white pepper notes that linger on the tongue well after the wine has been swallowed.

Both of these wines are excellent values. With the holiday season upon us, these are wines to stock up on for a variety of reasons. They will pair incredibly well with your holiday meal and impress your guests with their elegance. For approximately $12 a bottle they are also perfect to keep around the house as gifts. Whether it’s to bring to a party or as a stocking stuffer any wine lover will be glad to have a taste of these Palandri Wines. The fact that these are available now at these prices is an absolute boon for consumers. I urge snapping them up while you can.

Both wines are perfectly ready to drink now. However I suspect if stored properly they’ll be delicious for a few more years.

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Gary Allan – Living Hard

Posted by Gabe on November 26, 2007

Gary Allan’s latest release is called Living Hard. More than anything “Living Hard” is fueled by guitar. Make no mistake he’s a country artist and this is a country record. It just so happens that the album also rocks fiercely.

His voice is gritty, heartfelt, wonderfully unpolished and chock full of raw emotion. The lead single from the album is Watching Airplanes one of the mellower tracks on the album. My personal favorites are “She’sLiving HArd So California” which puts me in a mind of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and “Wrecking Ball” which was co-written by one time Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed.

“Living Hard” is the sort of country music that Merle Haggard might make in 2007 if he was a younger man. It has more in common with great Southern Rock than it does with much of the contemporary music out there labeled as country. Gary Allan’s sound has no pop sheen on it.

The two words that kept ringing in my head listening to this album are honest & guitar. Honest because that’s the word that best describes how the music sounds to me.  And as good as the vocals and other music are on the album the guitar playing carries the day. While some of the riffs are pretty big and dirty sounding they are always tasteful and compatible with the songs. In that way they remind me a little bit of the guitar work that David Lindley did on Jackson Browne’s early 70’s stuff.  

If you like real country music, southern rock or just good music without pretense Gary Allan’s “Living Hard” is a release to seek out.

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Carmody Mcknight – Estate Merlot 2003

Posted by Gabe on November 21, 2007

The Paso Robles area in California is best known for Rhone varietals. Second to that is probably Zinfandel which they also do exceptionally well. With some notable exceptions Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals don’t seem to fare quite as well there, by and large. 

CM MerlotCarmody Mcknight is without question one of the notable exceptions. Their work with 100% Estate, 100 % Varietal wines is exceptional. Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, they make them all well.

Their Merlot is particularly good. What shines about it from year to year is that it tastes like Merlot. Not the swill that often passes for Merlot but actual Merlot.  Shocking isn’t it?

The 2003 Carmody Mcknight Merlot is outstanding. It starts off with an immense nose of bright cherry fruit. The first sip reveals that the cherry notes are actually deeper CM Merlotthan they smell. The mid plate brings white pepper that hangs through a noticeably long finish. In addition to the white pepper the finish brings with it some earthiness in the way of mushroom character as well as chocolate notes. All of this is balanced by a firm acidity that keep things well in check. This wine screams for some grilled food to accompany it.

Carmody Mcknight does make some blends in addition to their varietal wines. They are also quite good. But in letting the grapes from each variety speak for themselves each year they are providing quite a service. Tasting their wine year after year you get a sense of their Terroir. Their vineyards are renowned for limestone rich soils. That comes through in the consistency of their wines and the refinement they display vintage after vintage.

At $22 their Merlot is not the least expensive you’ll drink. However it will be one of the most consistent year in and year out both in quality and varietal correctness.

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Posted by Gabe on November 20, 2007

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are suing Showtime for having a show called “Californication.” They claim it devalues their CD of the same name. Clearly they must be delusional, if not insane.

The term Californication appeared in Time Magazine as far back as 1972, 27 years before the Chili Peppers released their album.

In 2006 their album “Stadium Arcadium” was the best selling of the year. They toured the world and capped things off by winning 5 Grammy awards.

For a band that is still that commercially viable, suing a Cable Network over the title of a Television program seems desperate and lame. I have no idea if they have a chance in hell of winning this lawsuit but it makes them look ridiculous.

Are they trying to get their name in the news to spike CD and merchandise sales for the holiday season? I’m not sure what else this could be about especially since the timing of the lawsuit comes several weeks after Californication’s season finale aired. Odd that they wouldn’t sue during the previous two plus months that the show was actually airing.

Once considered to be anti-establishment innovators and an influence on music and bands that came after them the Red Hot Chili Peppers now look like they want to be the establishment. Whether this lawsuit is someones idea at quick publicity, quick cash or they actually feel wronged it still stinks. With this lawsuit The Red Hot Chili Peppers want everyone to believe they own the word “Californication.” These guys were much more interesting when they were wearing socks on their penises.

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Razorlight – Before I Fall to Pieces

Posted by Gabe on November 19, 2007

Before I Fall to PiecesFollowing up on their well received 2006 album, London based Razorlight have recently released a digital EP “Before I Fall to Pieces.” The title track is the single and it’s cool sounding Brit Pop.  It starts out with an interesting guitar riff and has a pounding, pulsating drum beat that speeds up at the end. In between are numerous cool flourishes including a solid vocal. But don’t take my word for it you can hear it for yourself:

Razorlight – “Before I Fall to Pieces” from Before I Fall to Pieces Digital EP.

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Stevie Wonder – Madison Square Garden

Posted by Gabe on November 18, 2007

Stevie WonderThe lights went down and without fanfare Stevie Wonder walked out to the middle of the stage accompanied by his daughter. He briefly addressed the crowd and explained that his Mom’s death last year ended up inspiring him to get back on the road to do what he does best. After that brief introduction he proceeded to bring the house down for two and a half hours.

He served up so much funky music the Garden seemed to take on a swamp like vibe. Other than speaking to the crowd every now and then he didn’t stop. Several songs such as “My Cherie Amour” were given intros that explained their origin. During other songs such as “Ribbon In The Sky” He urged the audience to participate and they gladly obliged

He smiled broadly the entire night and kept the audience engaged. Mostly he played and sang with passion and zeal.

By the time Stevie played the first notes of “Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours” the crowd was absolutely jumping. A few tunes later he mentioned that his mom had two favorite singers. One of them was Ella Fitzgerald and the other he said he was happy to have recorded a duet with.  And with that he brought out Tony Bennett to duet with him on “For Once in My Life.” An already giddy crowd was given an additional boost. They both sounded great and the song was performed true to their Grammy nominated version of 2006.

Stevie’s band is large and tight. In addition to a drummer,2 keyboard players, bassist and backup singers he has 2 percussionists and 2 guitarists. Their sound is thick, immense and overwhelmingly joyous.

Late in the show the familiar notes to “Superstition” began to ring out. It had occurred to me early in the night that there are only 2 men living with as much funk in their bones as Stevie Wonder. George Clinton is one of them. As “Superstition” started I thought of that again and then I had an out of body experience as Stevie called the other gentleman with equal funky credibility to the stage. That man is of course Prince. He strode out, strapped on a guitar and played lead. It seemed like the crowd was already as high as it could get but Prince proved that notion wrong. The sell out crowd found another level. In the middle of the song Prince and Stevie were side by side dueling a solo, guitar versus keyboard. It was just unbelievably good.  Normally an appearance by Prince would have to be THE highlight of a show. Make no mistake it was tremendous. However the entire show was one highlight after another. To name that moment as the singular one of the evening would sell the rest of it short.

Stevie Wonder is clearly having a terrific time out on the road playing from his vast catalog of classic music. If the audience at Madison Square Garden is any indication, fans are as well.

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Hall – Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on November 14, 2007

 Hall SB

Depending on where it’s from and how it’s made Sauvignon Blanc can take on many distinct flavor profiles. Taste a well made example from New Zealand side by side with a Sauvignon Blanc from anynwhere else in the world if you need proof that wine can have a sense of place.

The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Hall in Napa Valley leads with a citrus laden nose. A hint of guava follows behind it.

The first sip reveals more citrus accompanied by an undercurrent of mineral and a well defined sense of acidity.

Zest comes through heartily on the mid-palate and hangs through the long, lingering finish.

There is a cleanliness to this wine that makes it incredibly refreshing and easy to drink. It’s long finish and complexity however make it a Sauvingon Blanc to contemplate.

This is unquestionably a wine to take seriously. Suggested Retail Price is $20.00. However a quick look at reveals it can be found for as low as $15.00. This is an extremely well made wine easily worth either price.

Some Napa wineries seem to treat Sauvignon Blanc as an afterthought. Just a white wine to pour before the big reds. Thankfully that’s not always the case. When made well, Sauvignon Blanc can be a revelation. It’s clear that Hall treats theirs with as much care, gentle handling and respect as the rest of their well regarded portfolio of wines.

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Dinner at The Joel Palmer House

Posted by Gabe on November 12, 2007

Dining at The Joel Palmer House was amongst the highlights of my trip to Oregon.

On the first day of my trip I visited a couple of wineries, Yamhill Valley Vineyards amongst them. It was there that I met Woody. He’s the Tasting Room Manager, and, as I would come to learn later, all around man about town.

Yamhill Valley Vineyards has some very nice wines. Their reserve Pinot Noir and Pinot Blancs were my favorites. They have the sort of wines and tasting room that you want to hang around and savor. Woody is a part of that too. He’s as engaging a person as you’re bound to find in a tasting room. After talking for awhile he recommended some other wineries and a few restaurants I might like to try. He named The Joel Palmer House as his favorite Wine Country restaurant.

As it happened I ended up having dinner at The Joel Palmer House with Woody. He brought some tremendous wines along for us to enjoy. That they were able to compete with the food and ambiance is a credit to his willingness to dig deep into the his cellar.

The restaurant has several dining rooms spread through a historic house they restored to create this restaurant. The decor is elegant and charming.

Mushrooms are a huge part of the menu at The Joel Palmer Hosue. Owners Jack & Heidi Czarnecki collect the mushrooms themselves. You are bound to find mushrooms in just about any dish on their menu. Considering how well Pinot Noir does in Oregon and that it pairs incredibly with mushrooms this is a boon for diners.

Everything I consumed at The Joel Palmer House was delicious and clearly prepared with great care.  A Tenderloin of Pork I had was accompanied by a confit of apples, dried cherries, mushrooms, onions and a Port sauce.  I spent a week in Oregon and had several very good dishes, this was easily the best.

As I made my way around Willamette Valley last week I began to suspect that everyone in town knew Woody. His name came up in tasting rooms and restaurants all over the valley. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was greeted enthusiastically the moment we walked in to The Joel Palmer House. The reception he received was loud and genuine. Visiting dignitaries should wish to be treated with such fanfare.

I’m sure everyone receives great service as this restaurant, it just seems like that kind of place. But I’m pretty sure that since I was dining with Woody I was afforded an extra special level of service. Meeting Jack, Heidi, Chris & Shaun, the mainstays of the staff, it was clear what effort they put into providing a great meal and overall experience for their diners.

Dining with Woody was a pleasure I am sure to repeat on future trips to Willamette Valley. In addition to his wine knowledge, he spent decades in the music business and is a treasure trove of information and stories about it as well.

It’s easy to see why The Joel Palmer House is Woody’s favorite Wine Country restaurant. Everything about it is top notch. I only spent a week in Oregon, but I know when I go back, there is one restaurant I will definitely dine at again.

Posted in Dining, Wine | 1 Comment »

Stony Mountain Vineyard

Posted by Gabe on November 8, 2007

One of the best ways to get tips on smaller producers when touring a wine making region is to ask the people in the tasting rooms. Most folks are generally excited to share their favorites with you.  Often they’re places you may have missed or overlooked. Sometimes they’re not even listed on the map.

A couple of people suggested I seek out Stony Mountain Vineyard in McMinnville. Never one to shy away from needing an appointment, I secured one for early this morning.

9:00 AM was the scheduled time. Perhaps more appropriate for coffee than wine, but you have to go when they’re available, especially at smaller places that are often 1 or 2 person operations.

Stan Murayama the owner and Winemaker met me out front and walked me into the barrel room to taste. A lovely guy to speak with Stan shared some information about his operation.

300 Cases. That’s his average annual production. There’s small and then there’s tiny. So right away you know these wines are cared for and coddled into the bottle.

Stan makes an Estate Pinot Noir and an Estate Reserve each year. I tasted both the 2003 & 2004 Estate as well as the 2003 Estate Reserve. All three wines had a wonderful purity of fruit and true Pinot character. The 2003’s definitely benefit from their additional year in bottle. The 2004 tastes very good now but my suspicion is that it will be that much better in another year. I put the question to Stan and he agreed that in another year the Reserve will be even better than it is now. In fact he suggested it should be perfect by around Easter.

Having spent close to a week in Oregon tasting wine at this point I have run across the spectrum of quality and price. Over 30 wineries into my trip I have to report that Stony Mountain Vineyard wines are well within my Sweet Spot. Stan is producing tremendously exciting Pinot Noirs that are priced very fairly. In fact they’re a bit of a steal.

With only 300 cases a year they’re only sold locally or directly from the winery. If you like excellent Pinot Noir check them out.

It was close to 10:00 AM when I left, time for something else for breakfast.

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the Bird and the Bee – Please Clap Your Hands

Posted by Gabe on November 8, 2007

Please Clap Your Handsa 5 song EP, is the newest release from the Bird and The Bee.

The duo of Greg Kurstin and Inara George have a sound that’s hard to categorize and highly original.

The vocals are jazzy, cool and have a 60’s hipster vibe to them. The music veers off in that direction as well. But it also has dancy beats and trippy drums sounds.

Keyboards abound and they run the gamut of sound from pure jazz at times to wild 80’s style flourishes at others. Various other avantgarde textures complete a compelling kaleidoscope of sound.

Somehow it all comes together in a fantastic package. Most importantly, it works.

Please Clap Your Hands 

Their originals are very good and demand your attention for their inventiveness and sheer exuberance.

Most revealing for a duo whose entire sound is a pleasant and welcoming surprise is the last track on the EP. Dozens of people have covered the Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love.” Not a single one of them comes close to this version. It alternately respects the original yet forges some of it’s own sound. It might be the single best cover of a Bee Gees song to date. I know I haven’t heard a better one.

“Please Clap Your Hands” is a welcome addition to your collection if you enjoy jazzy vocals and eclectic music. It’s likely to be one of the more interesting things you hear this year. Perhaps one of the most often played too.

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