Archive for July 2009

Pitchfork Festival 2009 Recap

July 22, 2009

I spent the duration of last weekend at all three days of the Pitchfork Festival in Union Park in my glorious city of Chicago. This is always one of my favorite weekends of the year, and this year’s fest has to rank among the best ever. The weather was unseasonably cool for July and we hardly ever saw the sun, which might sound like a bad thing, but actually made for a much more comfortable concert-going experience. The festival seemed more crowded than in past years, meaning longer lines (especially to use the restroom) and more time spent moving between stages, and they raised the prices on the Goose Island beer from $4 to $5 (which is still a bargain), but overall it came together wonderfully. For the first time ever, I attended all three days, as I was interested in Friday’s “Write The Night” concept, in which fans voted on the songs they wanted the artists to play that night. Here is a brief recap of my high and low moments over the course of the weekend.

FRIDAY:

Highlight: THE JESUS LIZARD

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Playing their first show in their hometown in over a decade, The Lizard came out with force. Lead singer David Yow, famous in his heyday for his unbelievable stage antics, addressed the crowd’s racous applause by sarcastically dismissing it, “Shuuuuuut up. Another day another dollar!” With that, Yow dove into the crowd before the first note rang out, and from there the band tore through a long, intense set of old favorites, highlighted early in the set by “Mouthbreather” and “Boilermaker” and really picking up steam towards the end as the band rocked hard on “Here Comes Dudley”, “Monkey Trick” and “Gladiator.” They looked as if they hadn’t missed a beat from the decade hiatus, and carried their set along with an intensity that would not be matched more than a couple of times for the entire rest of the festival. Yow is truly an amazing stage presence, but managed to keep most of his clothes on and only ended up in the crowd three or four times. I was most captivated by his truly tormented singing style, and his constant tendency to spit while singing.

Lowlight: BUILT TO SPILL

You have to feel bad for this well-established guitar band from Idaho, considering that no band was going to be able to live up to expectations after the performance of The Jesus Lizard. Playing in an unenviable position immediately after, the band sounded fine, but was a drastic switch in tone from the Lizard and almost certainly didn’t stick to the fan requests. And if they did, the fans clearly didn’t know any of the band’s best music. We only heard one song from Keep It Like A Secret and one song from Perfect From Now On, easily the band’s two best works. It also didn’t help that the weather Friday night got quite chilly. In any event, I enjoyed the set to some extent, but to call it anything but a let down after what came before it would be a stretch of monumental proportions.

Other Friday notes:

Tortoise was placed in the right spot here, although I still feel like they have trouble connecting in a live, outdoor setting due to the instrumental nature of their music. They played about seven songs and mostly hit the highlights, although I didn’t get my all time favorite, “In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven, There Were Women and Men.” Still, their placement as most of the concertgoers were just getting in from work, getting their beer tickets and grabbing dinner seemed to make more sense than when they headlined this festival three years ago. Yo La Tengo was better, and overcame some early sound issues to play a solid set of some of their best work, including my all-time favorite “Stockholm Syndrome” and some crowd pleasers like “Cherry Chapstick”, “Mr. Tough” and “Sugarcube.” We even got spirited versions of “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” and “Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind.” The band may have been frustrated by being forced to play such a predictable set, but managed to work in some new material that sounded great in my opinion.

SATURDAY:

Highlights: FUCKED UP, THE NATIONAL

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As the band I was looking most forward to seeing live over the entire weekend, Toronto’s harmonic hardcore rockers Fucked Up certainly lived up to their name and reputation. Much to my surprise, the crowd was still small by the time they took the stage on 2:30 Saturday afternoon, and we took advantage of this by getting as close to the stage as possible. What happened next was everything that I had hoped for, as charismatic, overweight, bald and bearded lead man Pink Eyes let out his famous shriek as the band ripped into the epic “Son The Father” and kept the intensity all the way through “Magic Word” while simultaneously biting off the ends of what had to have been at least a dozen beach balls, one of which actually ended up on his head. We pushed closer to the stage and into the mosh pit as the real highlights of the set started, which included “No Epiphany”, “Black Albino Bones” and an amazing rendition of “Twice Born” that sent the mosh pit into a frenzy and resulted in at least a half a beer being poured on my head…by myself. Still, for all of their anarchist lyrics and hardcore sound, I was amazed by how friendly the band, and the mosh pit seemed. To me, it appeared to be all about the intense energy of the music, and less about some misguided political message. This was a very good thing.

Pitchfork Festival, 07/18/2009

I’ve seen The National three times now, but this was their longest set and easily their finest. Something about the band’s sound works perfectly with the dark sky, and Pitchfork couldn’t have picked a better headline act in my opinion. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this was the best headline show I’ve ever seen at this particular festival. After starting a bit early and surprisingly opening with a new song, the band went into their typical progression of “Start A War”, “Mistaken For Strangers” and “Brainy”, all of Boxer fame. But what was great about this set was the length and the amount of non-Boxer tracks they played, as we got three or four older songs that I’d never heard before, along with Alligator material “Secret Meeting”, “Baby We’ll Be Fine” and even “All The Wine” before the typical but brilliant closer “Mr. November.” The hits kept on coming, but the real standouts to me in this set were a more upbeat version of “Fake Empire”, a heartbreaking rendition of “Green Gloves” and the awe-inspiring “Ada.” I didn’t get to hear “Guest Room”, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Lowlight: THE BALANCE STAGE (PONYTAIL, LINDSTROM)

Maybe I just wasn’t feeling the change of scenery, but as much as I wanted to get into Ponytail after hearing all the hype, I just couldn’t get past the actual sound of the music. Sure, lead singer Molly Siegal has an amazing stage presence with her speaking-in-tongues, shrieking vocal style reminiscent of a teenage girl with a severe bout of Tourette’s, but are we really to the point that we are calling this art? Maybe I need to give it another try in a different setting, because it looked like the crazies in the front row were just loving it, but these guys just didn’t do it for me. Lindstrom got a bad deal as his set was pushed back 20 minutes or so due to the Wavves delay. Once he got onstage he sounded decent enough, but I’m becoming less and less enthralled by hearing this DJ-type electronic music live. We had to leave earlier than we wanted to in order to get our spots for Beirut, and that was probably a bigger negative than his performance, which I am sure ended up just fine.

Other Saturday notes: I was very impressed with Cymbals Eat Guitars as they opened the day, as their interesting switches between harmonies and outright screeches definitely turned some heads and started the day on a great note, all behind some pretty diverse music. Closing with my summer 2009 anthem “Wind Phoenix” they were an early highlight for me. They were certainly more impressive than the much hyped The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, who played a solid set but seemed to be about a half note flat through their whole performance. Doom failed to fully captivate the crowd behind his patented superhero mask, and the reason for that could be because he may not have uttered a single word while onstage. Don’t expect to see him performing here, or anywhere, for a good while. Yeasayer benefited from a perfect time slot and some aptly timed rain and sun emergence; it seemed as though the weather patterns were almost following their setlist, as the rain came during “Wait For The Summertime” and “2080”, while the sun finally reared its head as the band moved into the opening notes of “Sunrise.” Aside this moderate “Pitchfork Miracle”, the band seemed to be really on. Beirut kept the somewhat relaxed mood going with a set that was pretty much what I had hoped for, including “Nantes”, “A Sunday Song” and “Postcards from Italy”, but for whatever reason didn’t seem to stand out to me on this day. Maybe he didn’t play enough from Flying Cup Club for me. It sounded nice enough, but it’s possible that these wonderful songs are better suited for listening to on record while sailing through the ocean, which is where they really shine.

SUNDAY:

Highlights: The Evening Stretch that was THE WALKMEN, M83 and GRIZZLY BEAR

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This was easily the most solid 3.5 hour stretch of the entire weekend. Bluesy rockers The Walkmen benefited from using a solid chunk of songs from their fantastic most recent effort You and Me, including a rollicking version of “In The New Year” after opening with a new song. They hit the old favorites like “The Rat” and “Louisiana”, but provided what might have been the best moment of my entire festival when they played “I Lost You.” I’m always amazed when I see them play that the lead singer really is screaming with as much force into the microphone as it sounds like he is. I was worried at one point that his head might just flat out explode.

Pitchfork Festival, 07/19/2009

M83 changed the mood a bit but were connected to their audience and really understood the setting. They also must have bribed the sound team because this was easily the loudest that this stage sounded all weekend. As expected, songs from their (in my opinion) inferior most recent album Saturdays and Youth dominated the set, but after playing one of my all time favorites in “Teen Angst”, at least they played the best three tracks from that album- “Kim and Jessie”, “We Own The Sky” and “Coleurs”.  The latter, along with the older track “Sitting” really turned this into a dance party midway through the set, and they kept up the intensity with a thrilling version of “A Guitar and A Heart.”  I’m shocked that they didn’t play a single song from their best album, Dead Cities, but that’s pretty much my only complaint, and they are probably correct that this particular setlist worked better in this environment.

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And what can be said that hasn’t already been said about Grizzly Bear? This was the best show of the day, bar none, and I’m always amazed by how impressively these guys can replicate such beautiful harmonies live. They now have the amazing album Veckatimist in their arsenal, and used a lot of it to their benefit, especially on the upbeat “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others”, although the crescendo through that album’s penultimate track, “I Live With You”, may have been the most affecting moment. Still, the older material wasn’t thrown by the wayside, as the set gained strength from a slowed down version of “Little Brother”, the always amazing “Knife”, and my all-time favorite, “On A Neck, On A Spit” to close the show. Brilliant, brilliant stuff at dusk.

Lowlight: THE FLAMING LIPS

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After all the hype and all of the silly back-and-forth publicity over whether or not The Flaming Lips would take fan requests or not, along with what has become almost a circus of antics by the band, I couldn’t help but feel that all of this detracted from the music in a big way. Lead singer Wayne Coyne started nicely enough after exiting his famous plastic balloon and tearing into an uplifting version of “Race For The Prize”, complete with confetti and dancing chipmunk girls. But after that song finished, Coyne made it clear that he wanted to spend more time discussing the Write The Night concept than he did actually playing music. I didn’t so much mind the fact that the band basically ended up playing a set full of either unreleased or vastly unfamiliar material as I hated the way that the half-assed their way through their standout tracks. “Fight Test” was a joke, slowed almost to a crawl–we’re talking about one of the very best single songs of the decade here, and they did all in their power to butcher it, which is something I previously believed to be impossible. “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” suffered from a similar slowed down arrangement that almost felt like an insult at that point. The few fan requests that they did honor were songs I could have easily done without, such as the ridiculously uninspired “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” from the last album and the mainstream “She Don’t Use Jelly.” I left in disgust before they played “Do You Realize”, but by that time all momentum had been lost. It’s a shame that this once great band has chosen to rely on a bunch of gimmicks and egotistical wisecracks instead of the power of their music. Maybe someday they will learn, but it is really a shame, because they had a chance to send off the Pitchfork Festival in the strongest manner in its history, and completely botched it.

Other Sunday notes:

I managed to get there early enough to see The Mae Shi perform for the last time, but while it looked like fun I had a tough time appreciating it from a musical aspect. I don’t know, maybe four guys bouncing around barking like dogs is just way over my head. Frightened Rabbit was more my speed, as they battled through a pretty awesome set while trying to overcome the incredibly hoarse voice of their lead singer as well as more sound difficulties. Blitzen Trapper really hit the spot in the 2:30 time slot, providing a soft but upbeat and engaging set of rustic, melodic guitar tunes, highlighted by opening song “Wild Mountain Nation” on through several songs from the band’s most recent album Furr. On the Balance stage, I was more intrigued by the dark, distant set from Women than others were. After that, DJ/ Rupture created what was the most impressive dance party of the weekend with his well-crafted, sharp world beats. I snuck back to this stage briefly in the evening and caught the last two tracks from the Vivian Girls, who sounded dischordant (but then they always do), but on their game.

Napa/ Sonoma Tasting Report 2009

July 14, 2009

I spent 4th of July weekend in Wine Country for the second straight year with my wife and a group of friends, and it is becoming quite the tradition in our circle. Over the course of five days, I visited 20 wineries and tasted over 100 wines. Aside from the beauty of the region, I am always taken aback by the unique feeling of calmness that I am overcome by when I visit here. I will live here someday.

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After spending months planning our tasting itinerary, the wines that I tasted were not lacking for substance. I was most impressed by the recent quality of Chardonnay in the region, especially the 2007 vintage, my favorite of which received the highest score for that grape of my tasting lifetime. I’ll start there and then break the rest down by varietal. Other notable surprises included the 2006 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon,  as well as a sudden drastic increase in the quality of America’s only true indigenous grape, Zinfandel, which is truly exciting, especially during grilling season. It was very difficult to make this list, but rest assured that every wine that I gave a mention to is well worth a try at the listed price.

CHARDONNAY

1. Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay Napa Valley 2007, $47, 92 Points- Golden body with aromas of tropical fruit above subtle oak. Crisp, acidic body is explosive with its generous green apple, mango and white peach notes that evolve into creamier notes of vanilla bean and hazelnut and linger with clovey spice through the long finish. Complex and delicious with impeccable balance.

2. Landmark Chardonnay Damaris Reserve Sonoma Valley 2006, $35, 91 Points- Buttery and oaky with melon fruit on the nose. Concentrated citrus fruit dominates with honeydew, peach and orange peel over lots of nutmeg spice and vanilla through the long, impressive finish.

3. Sbragia Chardonnay Home Ranch Dry Creek Valley 2007, $25, 91 Points- Crisp citrus aromas of pear and tropical pineapple notes. Creamy texture with vibrant tropical fruit notes of pineapple, lemon and pear with very subtle oak undertones and crisp acidity intertwined with a lingering white pepper spice through the long finish.

4. Darioush Chardonnay Signature Napa Valley 2007, $42, 90 Points- Golden body with lots of creamy golden apple, honey and oak aromas. Delicious texture with orange blossom, golden apple and peach above creamy, nutty oak and caramel notes. Full finish of crème brulee and exotic spice, yummy stuff.

5. Domaine Chandon Carneros 2006, $25, 90 Points- Buttery notes of pear and honey on the nose. Creamy texture, with tons of spicy pear, green apple and melon fruit above undertones of honey and mineral. Long finish with spiced pear pie notes lingering beyond everything else.

6. Landmark Chadonnay Overlook Santa Barbara-Sonoma-Monterey 2006, $30, 90 Points- Golden body, buttery on the nose with oak and hazelnut aromas. Very creamy with tons of citrus, white peach, golden apple and pear above notes of hazelnut, almond and exotic spice, laced with crisp acidity.

7. Sbragia Chardonnay Gamble Ranch Vineyard Napa Valley 2006, $40, 90 Points- Aromas of deep oak and golden apple citrus. Creamy texture with lots of golden apple and lemon fruit above present French oak notes, deep and creamy throughout with butterscotch and toffee lingering long with the fruit.

8. Artesa Chardonnay Limited Release Carneros 2007, $40, 90 Points- Tropical nectars of peach, apricot and mango fruit on the nose. Intensely concentrated citrus flavors of tropical mango, lime and peach fruit above perfectly intertwined oak. All elements linger long with a crisp, minerally bite.

9. Merryvale Chardonnay Carneros 2007, $35, 89 Points- Golden body, very buttery on the nose above golden apple notes. Thick, creamy texture with lots of toffee and butterscotch holding together the golden apple and pear fruit. Full, deep finish with oaky vanilla lingering.

10. Artesa Chardonnay Carneros 2007, $20, 89 Points- Floral aromas with golden apple and pear notes above softly stated oak. Lots of pear and apple fruit over a crisp, fruity body with hints of oak in the background. Sleek and concentrated fruit with enough oak to carry through the creamy finish.

OTHER WHITE VARIETALS

1. Darioush Viognier Signature 2008, $42, 90 Points- Crisp, clean apricot and peach on the nose above honey and candy sugar. Sweet and sugary, almost a dessert wine, with peach, orange blossom and melon fruit. Undertones of ginger and exotic spices, bright acidity through the long, balanced finish with hints of vanilla and honey lingering.

2. Signorello Seta Estate 2007, $32, 90 Points- Truly beautiful and toasty aromas of passion fruit, lime and pear that carry into a full palate that benefits from a complex undertone of ginger. This cries for spicy asian food as pear and ginger spice dominate through the long, crisp finish. 60% Semillion, 40% Sauvignon Blanc.

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3. St. Clement Sauvignon Blanc Bale Lane 2008, $20, 89 Points- Sugary, tropical fruit aromas of grapefruit and pineapple above soft vanilla. Crisp, creamy body of juicy grapefruit, lemon, mango and pineapple. Creamy for the varietal, with vanilla bean and crisp minerality adding complexity through the medium but focused finish.

4. Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2007, $20, 89 Points- Loaded with tropical citrus fruit notes of grapefruit, mango and orange all above hints of grassy earth. Very focused and fruity with a crisp, refreshing finish that isn’t the least bit tart and lingers long.

5. Barnett Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008, $30, 88 Points- Lots of lemony and grassy notes on the nose above subtle grapefruit. Creamy texture with refreshing lemon, mango and grapefruit notes above hints of grass and creamy vanilla, delicious through the long finish.

RED ZINFANDEL

1. Seghesio Zinfandel San Lorenzo Alexander Valley 2006, $60, 92 Points- Very deep and exotic with dark plum, blackberry above oregano and bay leaf spice along with hints of vanilla. Intense mouthfeel of dark fruits and well-integrated pepper and herbal spice through the long finish.

2. Frank Family Zinfandel Napa Valley 2006, $35, 91 Points- Floral red and purple fruit on the nose that carries into the body, with violets, plums and blueberries showing well. An exotic Zin, with a texture almost like Pinot Noir and offering a shocking blue streak throughout. Very floral with notes of ginger and loaded with flavor, with mocha, orange blossom and exotic spice lingering long and with intrigue.

3. Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Alexander Valley 2007, $35, 91 Points- Rustic wild berry fruit aromas. Very pretty, with dark plum, berry and black licorice flavors above tons of black pepper spice. Long, long finish with peppery spice lingering with cinnamon notes adding complexity.

4. Sbragia Zinfandel La Promessa Dry Creek Valley 2006, $32, 91 Points- Bursting with spiced red cherry, red licorice and red plum on the nose and palate. Thick and juicy but not jammy, with a decisive streak of black pepper spice running throughout. Long finish of fruit and spice, firm tannin grip as the spice heats up as the flavors linger.

5. Rosenblum Zinfandel Lyons Reserve Napa Valley 2006, $45, 90 Points- Spicy red apple, blackberry and smoke on the nose. Great balance of peppery black cherry, licorice and blackberry above smokey campfire notes and peppery spice through the long, tannic finish.

PINOT NOIR

1. Landmark Pinot Noir Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2007, $65, 93 Points- Jammy, floral red berry notes mingle nicely with tobacco spice on the nose. Incredible mouthfeel of spicy, elegant raspberry, black cherry and strawberry with a decisive streak of exotic white pepper spice. Very balanced through the long finish, spice lingers.

2. Siduri Pinot Noir Muilfield Vineyard Willamette Valley 2006, $40, 92 Points- Beautiful aromas of rose petal, dark cherry, blueberry and chocolate. Fantastic body of floral blueberry, plum and cherry fruit carries into complex undertones of white pepper spice and potpourri. Long finish with mocha chocolate lingering with the fascinating flavor combinations.

3. Siduri Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills 2006, $55, 92 Points- Toasty aromas of red fruit, vanilla and pepper spice. Dark but deep, with blackberry and blueberry above lots of toast, chocolate and cinnamon spice. Long finish that is elegant and delicious. Deeper fruit for the varietal but typical of this appelation, floral hints linger along with the chocolate.

4. Seghesio Pinot Noir Costiera Russian River Valley 2007, $42, 91 Points- Deep ruby body with an appealing nose of lavender and violet. Elegant with its deep, perfumey floral notes that lead into blueberry and understated white chocolate all backed by some tobacco spice through the impressive finish.

5. Siduri Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands 2006, $50, 90 Points- Ripe, bright red fruit aromas with hints of tobacco spice. Silky texture with strawberry, blueberry and raspberry notes and very present acidity. Fruit really shines here above subtle tobacco and white pepper spice through the long, slightly dry finish.

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SYRAH

1. Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2005, $70, 95 Points- Deep, smokey aromas of dark purple fruits and blackberries. Velvety, inky dark fruit notes of blackberry, dark plum and black licorice above a present note of campfire smoke along with leather, cocoa and black pepper spice. Turns deep and creamy on the finish, with earthy, smokey elements lingering longest of all. Rich and impressively balanced.

2. Darioush Shiraz Napa Valley 2006, $65, 94 Points- Deep, dark, purple fruit aromas with notes of leather and pepper spice. Intensely concentrated flavors with black licorice, blackberry and black plum above layers of chocolate, coffee and black pepper that resonate through the long finish, all with a decisive earthy note that includes leather and clove elements. Finish goes on for minutes.

3. Landmark Syrah Steel Plow Sonoma Coast, $30, 93 Points- Soft, elegant, lifted red fruit aromas with hints of cinnamon spice and vanilla. Insanely silky and intense on the palate with its dark raspberry, blueberry and complex notes of exotic asian spice, game and black pepper. Amazingly balanced with a long, long, elegant finish with lots of spice lingering beyond the focused fruit flavors. Drink with smokey tri-tip steak on a warm Sonoma night.

4. Novy Syrah Russian River Valley 2006, $27, 93 Points- Almost purple in color with a deep nose of blackberry, dark plum and licorice. Deep, spicy body with purple fruits resonating through the velvety texture, all backed by black pepper spice, black coffee and tar notes. Great balance and a soft, plush depth throughout on the palate and through the long finish.

5. Rosenblum Syrah England-Shaw Vineyards Solano County, $35, 92 Points- Loaded with chocolate, leather, blackberry, dark raspberry and smoked meat on the nose. A big, burly monster, with smokey meat notes leading into dark, intense blackberry above leather and peppery spice through the long, dark finish. My kind of Syrah, and vastly different than the suave fruitier 03 version I tasted a few weeks back.

6. Novy Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands 2006, $27, 92 Points- Deep blackberry, leather and beef aromas. Thick, chewy, beefy, smokey notes on the palate, leading into deep blackberry fruit above hints of tar and chocolate. Black pepper spice creeps in late in a big way and lingers long with dark earthy notes nearly overwhelming the fruit. Still a bit tight, but monsterous in style.

7. Novy Syrah Christensen Vineyard Russian River Valley 2006, $27, 91 Points- More plump and fruity than their typical wines, with dark plum and black cherry on the nose. Velvety body with lots of dark purple fruit flavors above subtly intertwined leather and pepper spice. Tannic, but put together through the long finish.

8. Carlisle Syrah Russian River Valley 2007, $25, 90 Points- Lots of ripe but dark raspberry and blackberry fruit above hints of leather, chocolate and pepper spice that lingers long behind its silky texture and round tannins.

9. Landmark Syrah Steel Plow Sonoma Coast 2007, $35, 90 Points- Very deep on the nose with its blackberry, cocoa and spice nuances mingling with hints of soy. All blackberry on the palate, benefiting from dark undertones of black tea, dark chocolate, soy and a blast of black pepper spice. Spice lingers with fairly aggressive tannins that could use some softening time.

10. Novy Syrah Napa Valley 2006, $25, 89 Points- Deep, dark perfumey aromas. Juicy blackberry, licorice and fig fruit dominate the body. Subtle tobacco spice lingers through the finish with the big fruit notes, still a bit tight.

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CABERNET SAUVIGNON

1. Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select Napa Valley 2004, $215, 96 Points- Elegant aromas of black and red currant fruit lead into a polished, focused body of intense black cherry and wild berry fruit. Complex undertones of cedar, tobacco, loam and dusty chocolate creep in through the incredibly soft mouthfeel and impressive layers. So velvety and creamy without a hint of dryness, chocolate lingers long with the fruit elements. This is just as refined as can be.

2. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2004, $80, 94 Points- Velvety body with creamy black cherry, blueberry and dark raspberry notes running throughout. Leather and chocolate spice creep in late to add complexity, this is delicious as always, with big, mouthcoating tannins and finishing on a bit of a floral note that lingers long with the fruit and earth components.

3. Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five Stags Leap District Napa Valley 2006, $70, 93 Points- Complex mix on the nose with perfumey currant fruit above earthy graphite, mineral and lead. Velvety and deep, with a streak of chalky mineral behind the elegant, floral blackberry and black cherry notes. Silky tannins pull it all together with great finesse and elegance that tastes like a Bordeaux that is ready to drink, terroir really shows here through the long finish.

4. Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, $45, 92 Points- Very elegant fruit, with perfumey dark plum and black cherry above campfire smoke and exotic spice. This is impressively innovative, with cinnamon running through the light, elegant body, interesting and odd for Cabernet, but I love it.

5. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Star Vineyard Napa Valley 2005, $80, 92 Points- Bright red cherry and dark raspberry aromas above subtle cedar. Chocolate-covered cherries dominate the body with complex cedar spice bursting throughout the long finish. Soft, oaky vanilla cream adds complexity.

6. Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Cimarossa Napa Valley 2005, $75, 92 Points- Deep, lush blackberry fruit aromas above cedary spice notes. Juicy dark plum and blackberry fruit above tobacco spice, cedar spice, dark chocolate, creamy oak and firm tannins through the long finish.

7. Hawkes Cabernet Sauvignon Pyramid Alexander Valley 2005, $60, 92 Points- Lots of cassis and eucalyptus/ mint on the nose. Super-velvety body with perfumey blackberry fruit above lots of cedar, mocha spice and pepper. This is deep and extremely elegant throughout the long finish.

8. Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, $60, 91 Points- Very deep aromas of blackberry and cassis above subtle cocoa notes. Big, deep flavors of blackberry and dark plum above cedar and chocolate, smokey meat and black tea. Long, complex finish with hints of peppery spice. Firm tannins here, but should improve with time.

9. Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006, $50, 91 Points- Bright and perfumey aromas of black cherry, brown sugar and tobacco spice. Rich body of dark raspberry, black cherry and blackberry fruit above vanilla and complex, persistent peppery spice. Still very dry and tannic through the long finish.

10. Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap Napa Valley 2006, $50, 91 Points– Deep garnet body with clovey spice immediately evident above its floral black currant nose that is complemented by other exotic spices. Fleshy black cherry, blackberry and hints of exotic orange spice and a slight floral note. Lots of dark, jammy fruit here with a lot of potential as tannins dissipate, spice adds complexity through the long finish with mocha creeping in.

RED BLENDS-

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1. Opus One 2005, $190, 93 Points- Lots of cocoa powder, black olive, black cherry, dark raspberry and floral notes on the nose. Silky, elegant body that is incredibly sofy on the palate, leading into dark raspberry and cherry fruit above complex olive, cedar and dark cherry notes that carry through the long finish, just a beautiful texture with hints of nutmeg spice lingering with chocolate and fruit notes. Silky tannins, surprisingly mellow overall but loaded with complexity.

2. St. Clement Orropas 2006, $55, 93 Points- Dark plum, roasted coffee and licorice on the nose. Elegant, rich, thick body of blackberry, black licorice, mocha spice and cedar. Deep as can be with exptic spice notes underneath of cinnamon covering the dark chocolate undertones. Beautiful stuff, with mocha spice lingering long through the long length that is still pretty tight but should soften perfectly with time.

3. Darioush Duel 2006, $45, 92 Points- Dark raspberry, black cherry, cola and black pepper spice dominate the nose. Gorgeous, deep mouthfeel that is soft on the palate with its blackberry and cherry cola notes that lead into peppery spice and bitter coffee and chocolate notes that take on and earthy, clovey note. Long finish with spices mingling and then lingering long, complex and structured throughout.

4. Girard Artistry Napa Valley 2006, $40, 92 Points- Very juicy red fruit aromas of cherry amd raspberry above cedary hints. Silky texture with moathcoating black cherry, dark raspberry, red currants and cedar. Full and fruity through the long, spicy finish with extremely well-integrated tannins. Rich, creamy dark red fruit here with an intriguing, lingering black olive and herbal spice.

5. Girard Artistry Napa Valley 2003, $40, 89 Points- Inky red fruit nose with notes of mineral, lead and soy. Perfumey and bursting with red plum and black cherry flavors above lots of dusty, rustic mineral and teryaki beef notes. Complex, interesting herbal notes and tannins that are beginning to hit their stride.

Until next time…

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