Archive for July, 2007

Red, Red Sox

Like all right-thinking people long accustomed to the sulfurous taste of failure followed by the sweet, sweet ambrosia of success, Les Garagistes are fans of — believe in, identify with — the Boston Red Sox. The confluence of ferment and postseason makes October the most glorious month, and many of our fall sessions are accompanied by the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd playing on a laptop in a corner of the winery. I for one will never forget, late that wondrous night, sitting at Matt’s and watching David Ortiz plunk a Paul Quantrill pitch into the Yankees bullpen to win Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the conclusion of which was not only the most crushing upset in the annals of sport but also one of the greatest events in human history.

That said, I’m not sure that Longball Vineyards is a great idea. Setting aside the pairing of wine with the national pastime, a dubious proposition especially since the demise of the Montreal Expos signalled the end of major-league baseball in French — ‘lanceurs staring into home plate, frappeurs swinging for the fences and voltigeurs tracking down fly balls at la piste d’avertissement‘ — the choice of varietals is problematic.

The ‘CaberKnuckle’ should clearly be Pinot Noir. Tim Wakefield’s signature pitch is the knuckleball, la balle papillon, which makes a slow, lovely and unpredictable dance to the catcher’s mitt. As Willie Stargell said, ‘Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor’s mailbox.’ You don’t know how it’s turned out until it’s crossed the plate (or not), and anyone who’s made Pinot Noir knows what that’s like. As for the Schilling Schardonnay, one need only point out that the bloody sock, the holy relic of the 2004 miracle, was red.

‘Manny Being Merlot’? Maybe. Red Sox fans’ exasperated expression over Ramirez’ unreliability has lost its freshness, but Merlot can be great, and Manny is indeed one of les plus grands frappeurs de nos jours. Plus, the drapery of his oversized uniforms suggests Merlot’s softer side. And given what we know of Manny from this recent New Yorker profile,

Ramirez’s appearance—he styles his hair in dreadlocks, wears a uniform cut for a sumo wrestler, and smiles broadly and indiscriminately—hints at this extracurricular flakiness, and even gives off a whiff of pothead.(In 2002, he requested that the song “Good Times,” by Styles P, be played over the Fenway Park P.A. system before one of his at-bats, and unsuspecting fans were treated to lyrics such as “Every day I need a ounce and a half…take a blunt, just to ease the pain…I get high, high, high.”)

this may well be what Bob Marley had in mind when he sang ‘Red, Red Wine.’

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Make mine a 1999 Cristom Reserve

Cristom 1999 Reserve LabelWhat does Oregon taste like? After last night, I’d have to say “a 1999 Cristom Reserve.”

Simply incredible: Handsome brickiness to the rim, like a little gray at the temples. Lovely deep ripe cherry scent, wearing a thin but elegant veil of oak. Still lively and optimistic, but with a tinge of worldliness hard-won in the cellar. Silky. Dark cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum flavors that have the depth of a well — you drop in a penny and it seems to fall forever. And when it sounds bottom, that gently reverberating echo you hear is the oak and acid, somehow defining the structure with no physical presence at all. Most bewitching of all, the hard, cinnamon taste of (I’m guessing) ripe pinot stems, evoking the character of the plant, the site, the hillside in late harvest, sun-baked, orange and russet.

It’s the taste of a decade past, that 1999 harvest that came out of nowhere and seemed to last forever. Complete and beautiful, an archetype of Oregon pinot: a little wild and brambly, but pure, authentic fruit. Transcendent. Like and old friend; like Oregon.

James and I did an article on Steve Doerner, Cristom’s soft-spoken but incredibly talented winemaker, nearly a decade ago. One of his predilections is adding whole clusters to the fermenter, something you don’t do casually because unripe stems can highjack a wine and send it into the vegetable patch. But late in the season, if grapes are still hanging, the stems dessicate to a rich, warm brown and their flavor turns toward cinnamon.

I can’t say for sure, but it sure tastes like whole clusters must have played a role in this wine, and that’s in part what makes it so complex and evocative. The harvest in 1999 was long enough that Steve would indeed have had ripe stems at his disposal, and the resulting wine has those distinctive spice notes.

In short, stunning. 106 points, you Calipalate critic bastards. Read more

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What they’re really smelling

At last. A penetrating, behind (and I mean behind) the scenes look into what they’re really doing at all those fancy wine tastings. 

(To check this out, you’ll need the Flash plug-in, available for free here. Thanks to Amy W for the link!) 

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(P)retty (V)irulent (C)apsules

Traditional wine capsules on Burgundy and Bordeaux bottlesVirtually all professional winemakers finish the tops of their wine bottles with some kind of capsule — and while we are as unprofessional as they come, we’ve mostly done the same. Whether it’s composed of wax, lead, tin, or plastic, the capsule is thought to help protect the cork from microbial intrusion, but also to betray any evidence of tampering. A swig-safety cap, if you will.

But what if that seal — whose function is to keep the wine safe — is itself unsafe? That’s what I wondered when I discovered that the capsules we’d been using (and most of the industry uses) are made from PVC, a material targeted by scores of watchdog agencies for its dire environmental impact.

So I did some research, and the surprisingly terrifying results spurred me into a little R&D about how to finish our treasured bottles differently. This gripping journey of revelation and redemption awaits you below the fold… Read more

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I found an excellent syrah in Dallesport that I believe would make a fine base for a port. A barrel taste of the 2006 had rich but balanced fruits, no obvious dessert flavors, and a surprisingly long finish featuring solid acid and an evolution of flavors. This is above average stuff selling for about 1700 per ton or about $34 per case for the fruit (assuming 50 cases to the ton). I have enough of the other ingredient to make more than a barrel of port. If anyone wants “in” get back to me in a week +/- so I can gauge interest and get an order in. The process last time involved no barrel aging but an extended (week?) soak on the skins after adding the brandy. Following this procedure we would bottle in time for thanksgiving.
BTW this grower has some cabernet sauvignon left.


Garagistes 2007 Update June 27

Whit, James and I (joined by James’ friend Bill) racked all the wines on Wednesday night, rigorously (of course!) tasting through all the barrels and carboys to ensure top quality. A few notes to share:

The Perils of a Stainless Steel Tank. We’ve been housing whatever merlot didn’t fit in the barrel in a new 100 liter stainless steel tank. When we opened it up, however, the perils of not filling it absolutely to the top became apparent: a white film had formed on the surface of the wine, probably candida mycoderma. We wrangled it out and sprayed the surface with ethyl alcohol. In sampling the wine, there was no obvious acetaldehyde formation (an oxidized or stale sense to the wine which can result from over-exposure to candida), so we proceeded to rack it.

In refilling the tank, we poured in wine until screwing in the top just barely squirted out wine, so there should be no more trouble with candida. That said, we may want to sulfite the merlot a little more highly at the next (and final) racking.

Specific tasting notes after the jump.
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