Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is Geisenheim 318-57?

It's not a work of automotive engineering.

It's not a radioactive isotope.

It's not a breed of cow.

I'm always impressed by the resourcefulness of Midwestern winemakers as they work with lesser-known grapes.

A friend gave me a bottle of a semi-dry white wine, known as Community, from Lau-Nae Winery in Red Bud, Ill., about 30 miles southeast of St. Louis.

Community is a blend of Seyval Blanc, Riesling and Geisenheim. It has floral and citrus notes, which, in my experience, is a rare combination. I can imagine how Seyval would add juicy personality to a Riesling, but I suspect Geisenheim may have something to do with the floral aspect.

According to Red Dog Vineyards And Grapevine Nursery of Ankeny, Iowa, Geisenheim "makes a Riesling-style wine." But that's really no help.

The Super Gigantic Y2K Winegrape Glossary, by Anthony J. Hawkins, says it was created in Germany in 1957 by crossing Riesling and Chancellor, and it grows well in Nova Scotia. The Y2K reference really dates this site (last version updated (October 2007), but these statements probably still hold. Hawkins says nothing about what kind of wine Geisenheim makes. 

At Winelabels.org, a section of the site devoted to unusual grape varieties says Geisenheim 318-57 makes a wine that's "flowery with light spiciness and a medium long aftertaste." So, I could be right about the source of the floral notes.

A blend often dissolves all the distinctive characteristics of the blended elements into a new result that's richer and smoother but not necessarily better. Cheers to Lau Nae for finding a way to preserve differences within its Community.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jack DeJohnette Group: Explosive

The Jack DeJohnette Group, which the great drummer started about two years ago, fuses his electric and free-jazz strains. It's very dense, powerful music, with a cast of monster players. When I listen to this band on YouTube, it makes me feel like I might explode.

I just became aware of an album by the band, Live at Yoshi's 2010. It's likely the most serious oversight of my music collecting life. More on this later.

DeJohnette does not always embrace this kind of high-energy music. He's part of the elegant Keith Jarrett trio, and he's made more than one album for mediation. I saw DeJohnette with this group's bass player, Jerome Harris, and Danilo Perez on piano. It was a volcanic trio; the music rocked and churned like a storm at sea. There was no lead-and-support format. Everyone seemed to be soloing at the same time yet in an interlocking way. 

The Jack DeJohnette Group has the same force, but it features individuals. George Colligan is one of the more dynamic pianists of recent years, and David Fiuczynski has always been a scary guitarist. With all that Rudresh Mahanthappa has going on, it's a blessing that he's playing in this group. He's the one who creates the tipping point for my listening experience, from enjoying to exploding.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

David Binney: No math required

Early this evening, I spent some quality jazz time on the deck, pointing the left-channel speaker out the kitchen window, the right channel out the sliding glass door from the living room. My chair on the deck is precisely placed to provide balanced sound. I was playing Barefooted Town by alto saxophonist David Binney.

I enjoy his restrained, searing yet swooping lines. Binney is part of a progressive crowd in jazz, people who use time signatures of hefty prime numbers, but much of his work is enjoyable in a casual way — and I must say that I have never counted off the rhythms to determine whether I am experiencing transformative or routine music.

In any case, my neighbor emerged to refresh his birdbath and water various plants. I hailed him and informed him of some potentially loud and intrusive operations that contractors I had hired would be carrying out early next week. He appreciated the heads-up. Then he asked, "Are you playing music?"


"I like it," he said, smiling, and subsumed himself within the confines of his dwelling.

He was enjoying "A Night Every Day" (video above), a piece that integrates lyrical and abstract passages from Binney, Mark Turner on tenor and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, in a spacey, ballad-like ambience.

On one hand, the moment was mundane. On the other, it was an explosive, insightful moment. A person with no apparent expertise in cutting-edge music was enjoying it in a spontaneous way. No math required, apparently.

There's something wrong about jazz — its' easily enjoyed without any prompting, yet most people would say they hate it.

By the way, the wine of the evening was a heavily oaked Chardonnel from Lindwedel Wine Garden of Branson, Mo. It presented a fitting combination of lyrical (white grape) and abstract (oak) elements, meshing nicely with Binney's aesthetic.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

New Ozarks winery opens: Tyler Ridge

With a list of smooth reds and lively whites, Michael and Kathy Dennis opened Tyler Ridge Vineyard Winery on Saturday, May 5.

Hours are Saturdays 1 p.m.-8 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

When we visited in mid-afternoon Saturday, the grand opening was crowded as folks congregated around the tasting table and on the deck of the old house the Dennises refurbished.

They planted grapes a decade ago on more than two acres roughly five miles north of Springfield.

We really enjoyed the wines (all bottles $15). It was a day for socializing and making way for others who wanted to taste — not for compiling detailed tasting notes. In any case:

  • Norton and Chambourcin were surprisingly mellow for 2010 vintages. Mike Dennis said the Norton was aged for several months in oak.
  • Burnt Barn Red, named after an unfortunate event on Dennis property, is a semi-sweet blend of Norton and Chambourcin, a great summer red that could be chilled.
  • The semi-sweet Cayuga White did not taste sweet due to the balancing effect of the acid in this wine. I don't have any experience with Cayuga. So, I was surprised by this result, which tastes like a neighbor to other regional whites such as Seyval and Vidal.
  • The dry Vignoles was intensely fruity and citrusy. The semi-sweet Vignoles was more balanced.
I bought Chambourcin and Norton grapes from the Dennises last fall and have made surprisingly smooth wines, for their age and considering that I have few skills beyond adding yeast and avoiding oxidation. I attribute my success to the quality of the grapes from Tyler Ridge.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Another Norton note

This passage is from The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman, whose research into the history of the Norton grape brought him to Stone Hill winery. Kliman relates tasting notes from a dinner with Stone Hill executive Jon Held that included special aged Norton:

The food is good; the wine is even better. His Norton is everything I love in a red wine: It is complex and expressive, with a strong, identifiable character that only being bound so intimately and rigorously to a specific time and place can produce. It tastes like nothing else in the world, except perhaps another Norton. There is the wild earthiness I love, which seems to conceal within it a hundred unknowable mysteries, but it changes over time as we drink it, a living, breathing thing that opens up like a flower to become softer, more supple — a more subtle and interesting wine. (Page 187 of the 2010 paperback version)

Almost as good as Maya's wine-loving speech in Sideways, but lacking her bold finish.

The Stone Hill Norton that I enjoyed recently was a 2008 and not yet quite that heavenly.