Winter was a cinch in the Pacific Northwest this year. It wasn’t cold, it didn’t rain that much, and both snow and suicide levels were way, way down. Fine with me. But with no snow upon which to ride, what’s winter for, I mean, really? Winter, it seems, forgot its fury. In its place, we were treated to breezy days in the 50s. But, strangely enough, our lack of winter seemed to push spring’s real arrival ever further away. We were in a fake spring and everyone knew it.
Now that the real, authentic, skin-revealing season is upon us in every way, it’s time to think about restocking the shelf with some whites in anticipation of the frolic that accompanies the fair seasons. There’s already a ton of info available regarding this year’s crop of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, so instead, we’ll concentrate (well, mostly) on some of the white grape world that gets cheated when it’s time to opine about what’s recent and decent.
I’ve written enthusiastically about a previous vintage of Sokol Blosser’s Evolution #9 in this space, so it was no great stretch to spring ($14.50) for a bottle of the 2003, their eighth edition of this wine. Evolution is a blend of nine white varietals that compares (at about half the price) to Caymus Conundrum. The Evolution is a fun wine with an entire fruit stand under the cork: lime, mango, melon, honey, lemongrass... it’s all there. And even if this version isn’t as successful as previous editions, it ain’t bad.
More compelling is Folie A Deux winery’s Menage a Trois, a blend of 47 percent chardonnay, 38 percent muscat canelli and 16 percent chenin blanc. The Menage plays rounded, lush notes with a ton of melon and pineapple. There’s noticeable depth here, and the flavors are well drawn and finish long and strong. Because this wine is unoaked, it’s easy to imagine a nice cold bottle disappearing pretty quickly on a warm day.
You stylish hipsters may snicker when I mention that trumpeter Herb Alpert’s classic 1965 album Whipped Cream & Other Delights (Shout Factory) has just been reissued. Chuckle if you must, but this album’s chock full of ear nutrition. You’ve certainly heard the big hit on this recording, “Whipped Cream,” which for years was theme to The Dating Game. But the good times don’t stop there. Alpert incorporated an eclectic mix of styles into this album, including Brazilian rhythms on Green Peppers and Bittersweet Samba, and big band on Butterball. Bottom line: Whipped Cream & Other Delights swings, it’s a hoot and you’re 100 percent guaranteed to get a kick out of it. Tasty!
Riesling is a big deal in Washington State. We make a ton of it up here, and it can be pretty great. Problem is, no one seems to care. People dismiss riesling. It’s as if it isn’t as “serious” as the cab or pinot we also produce. Phooey to all that. A good riesling can stand on its own or pair with opinionated foods like Thai or curry.
Poet’s Leap Columbia Valley 2003 Riesling ($20) is emblematic of a dang good Washington State riesling. The folks at Poet’s Leap recruited some German hotshots (Armin Diel of Schlosgut Diel) as well as Allen Shoup, one of the guys who laid the foundation of the Washington wine industry, to sculpt this beauty. There’s an abundance of pear and honey flavors here, with some very understated lemony citrus notes. I like the medium body, creamy mouth feel and the bit of mineral earthiness that holds this wine together. Unfortunately, I drank too much of this before the inferno chicken with coconut rice hit the table and only got a few glugs in with the food. The verdict: excellent.
Smarties had informed me that the J. Bookwalter 2003 Columbia Valley Riesling was one of the best buys in the entire Evergreen state. “Best buy” is a key phrase for me, so I happily handed over $10, anticipating yummy things. The Bookwalter is a thick, rich white with juicy pear, gooey honey and drippy pineapple up front that lingers leaving mouthwatering, sweet tastes of the honey and a flinty mineral sense. Does it hold its own against the Poet’s Leap? Yep. Easily. Just as importantly, it was the bomb with the coconut rice and inferno chicken.
Classical music is in the same leaky philosophical boat as riesling. No one talks about it. No one thinks it’s cool. For the past 18 years, however, the Anonymous 4 have been creating the most stirring, beautiful sounds set down on silvery, five-inch plastic discs. Anonymous 4 specialize in ancient vocal music - chant, polyphony and plainsong. I know, I know... but these four women don’t just sing, they teleport ears to long ago places. Origins of Fire (Harmonia Mundi) is their latest, and sadly final, recording. On Origins of Fire, they return to where they started - the music of Hildegard of Bingen, a brilliant 10th century nun who, aside from receiving visions from God, must have also been picking up heavenly radio stations. This is music that can send us to a quieter, more peaceful place. It’s incredibly atmospheric, detailed and gorgeous, and receives my absolute highest recommendation.
I rarely venture out of the comfy world of wines that have English on their labels for the simple reason I can’t read French or Italian, so it’s tough to know what to buy. But a friend pressed this bottle of I Cedri di Villa Pattono Monferrato Bianco doc 2003 (see what I mean?) into my hands and said, “Trust me, it’s great.” So I took it home, chilled it down and cracked her open. The I Cedri (“The Cedars”) uses sauvignon blanc grapes, but the resulting wine is quite different than the sharp, austere stuff from New Zealand or California that you might be used to. Instead, this is a warmer, fuller version loaded up with full, fresh hits of lemon and green grass. The mineral backbone of more local sav blancs is certainly present, and you’ll also notice a rather robust body. This is also pretty dry stuff, so you’ll definitely want to save this for some, oh, say, pan fried calamari with lemon, garlic and black pepper.
I’m not overly worried that most of the best bands in the world rarely get much attention, money or credit. It’s certainly selfish to want to keep these bands your own little secret, sharing them with only those who can appreciate greatness. In a way, it’s a bit like hoarding a case or three of a mind-blowing, inexpensive wine you discovered. The Radar Brothers have been one of those cherished secrets for about a decade now, and it’s finally time to share. Their fourth album, Fallen Leaf Pages (Merge Records), is freshly released and as delicious as everything else they’ve ever issued. Drawing influences from moody cloud gazers as disparate as old Pink Floyd, the Byrds, Neil Young or American Music Club, the Radar Brothers create mirage-like dream pop that hovers, shape-shifts and rarely breaks a sweat. Their music is spare, laid-back, intimate and totally devoid of anything that would make them even remotely popular - perfect antidote for the hyper-dumb, semi-coherent spasmodic rock currently in vogue.
RECENT & DECENT