Note: This piece originally appeared in 2010 on the website zesterdaily.com and then mysteriously disappeared – so it reappears here slightly altered from its original form.
I saw a Neil Young show the other night. I’ve loved his music all my life, but aside from my high school years in the seventies, when I hung on every word of his apocryphal lyric like it was some strange gospel of the American Heart, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about him.
It was a solo show; Young shared the stage with a retinue of gorgeous old guitars, a handful of harmonicas, two pianos and a calliope. Nearly every song he played was thirty years old or older, from chestnuts like “Tell Me Why” to darker offerings, like “Cortez the Killer.” In short, nothing new – and yet every song felt fresh and genuine. Somehow he managed to instill each one with a palpable, edgy anxiety, like he was still trying to work out the squall of emotion that had driven him to write in the first place. I think it left all of us profoundly unsettled – and that made it one of the most moving performances I’ve ever seen. I was expecting an evening of nostalgia, some dilute version of a once mighty rock star. Instead of James Taylor, I got David Lynch.
This talk was delivered at the opening program for the Celebrate Walla Walla wine event, devoted to syrah, on June 20, 2014. Tiny portions of this speech appeared previously, in considerably different forms, notably on zesterdaily.com, where more musings on the topic of syrah can be found.
I want to thank the Alliance for having me up here for the weekend, to join with the Celebrate Walla Walla program – it is such a great pleasure to come up here, to see new faces and old, and to enjoy its shifting varietal focus. Every year I’m especially grateful for two things: that we’re here at or around the Solstice, when the sun performs its extra-celestial magic, and second, that these days coincide with the cherry harvest and I can stuff myself silly.
Last year I spoke here about the similarities and differences between Napa Valley and Walla Walla Valley cabernet sauvignon. I’m delighted that today’s topic is syrah, a variety and a category that’s near and dear to my heart. For the past 5 years or so I’ve been writing a book on the American Rhône wine movement, for which syrah is rightfully the flagbearer variety, with more meaningful acreage, in California and Washington soils, than all of the other Rhône varieties combined. However as an ambassador, domestic syrah has struggled mightily in the last decade. In fact, to say the category is in decline is to under-value the notion of decline. How bad is it? Continue reading
The following is a slightly edited version of a speech I delivered at the first Celebrate Walla Walla event held the third weekend in June, 2013, comparing cabernet sauvignon in the two regions:
I want to thank the Alliance for having me up here for the weekend, to join with the Celebrate Walla Walla program – which has, so far, been wonderfully diverse and creative. In fact everything’s been great except for the fact the Miami Heat beat the Spurs in Game 7 – but I don’t blame Walla Walla for that. No, that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Manu Ginobili.
I’ve been asked to speak briefly about Napa and Walla Walla cabernets and blends, a set of wines that constitute some of the most satisfying and celebrated wines in the American repertoire, and the wines most prized in these two places. I think it’s true that Napa put American cabernet-based wines on the map. I also think it’s true that without Napa cabernet, Walla Walla cabernet would not enjoy the success it does today. Continue reading
“A Taste of the Truth”
When you visit kj.com, the home page of the Kendall-Jackson, there is a picture of its patriarch and owner, Jess Jackson, leg up on a pile of attractive rubble in one of his vineyards. Beneath the pile of rock a single word appears: Truth. It’s not clear if this is meant to be a motto, a promise, a projection, or a character-defining trait, but the association and the positioning are pretty unmistakable. Continue reading
Adam Tolmach owns Ojai Winery, in California’s south Central Coast. He’s been making wine for more than 30 years, with significant stints at Zaca Mesa and a brief but important period as a partner with Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen. He’s not new to the game, in short. He’s been around to see more than his share of innovations and trends, and evidently has given in to a few as well. Continue reading
I recently attended lunch at Lucques with Christian Moueix, one of the world’s best known winemakers, proprietor of legendary Bordeaux properties (most on the Right Bank) including the great Pomerols Chateau Trotanoy and Chateau Petrus, as well as Dominus, the fine Napa Valley estate.
The Right Bank is the ancestral home to merlot, a variety which gets a tremendous amount of abuse heaped upon it, some of it (outside of the Right Bank anyway) deserved. Moueix, though, is one of the certified masters of merlot; he stewards the world’s most fabled merlot property, Chateau Petrus, for one thing, but in his many other properties, merlot is the centerpiece and his principle medium for expression. So before you write off merlot forever, taste one of Moueix’s wines and remind yourself just how extraordinary the variety can be. In an era when most wines are meant to bonk you over the head with their power (and alcohol), the Moueix wines epitomize elegance, balance, and restraint. Continue reading
An article I wrote on the LA Dining scene (with wine) for Wine & Spirits. LA restaurants W&S