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elastic_daysRainy days are great in Los Angeles; it lends another perspective to this sunny city, bathing seldomly under wet skies, LA looks cleaner, the food magically tastes better and my music becomes livelier. I tend to shorten the stacks, playing the same records over and over when it rains. I’ve conditioned myself to believe that Astral Weeks is synonymous with dew drops and suddenly will come out of my slumber on jazz. Art Blakey drums in rain time. It’s rare we get much here, so when it was on the forecast last week, it presented an opportunity to find new rainy-day favorites. Since time allowed, I filled my stem with something suited to be a catchall—in this case, a glass of 2016 Guillot-Broux ‘Les Genevieres’ rouge that was riding tableside, while I thumbed through my newer records.

One of the newest in my collection happened to be from Dinosaur Jr. front-man J. Mascis titled Elastic Days, released last November, and before I go any further, I must admit that I am big fan of their/ his music… an obsession that has stuck since middle school. J. Mascis’s new work was a pared down effort, more intimate, and I had given it a few casual listens earlier (when I first purchased it in December, amongst holiday shopping), but nothing as concentrated as this time.

I put it on the platter, spinning through the A side and immediately was awestruck. It took me back to when I first listened to Dinosaur Jr. The thing that has always struck me when listening to them, or later solo efforts, has been J’s delivery. The first song that I that I couldn’t stop listening to was Start Choppin’ thanks to skateboarding videos when I was thirteen. Start Choppin’ was one of the coolest songs I had ever heard; It began with a simple little pop riff and then unfurled into a layered masterpiece that fused everything from falsettos to epic guitar solos and would send me off running to purchase my first CD of theirs.

While Elastic Days doesn’t bring the power of ‘Where You Been’ or other Dinosaur Jr. releases—nor is it trying to—it demonstrates why J. Mascis will forever hold a special place—like Yo La Tengo—between my ears. His maturity and songwriting are simple, straightforward and enjoyable to listen to. The dude makes melodies look easy. As the years continue, the songs are distilled, so while he can shred on the guitar like a Jimmy Page, his perceived vocal diffidence provides an endearing counterpoint.

When the rain really came down, I noticed it again, but honestly the record wasn’t hitched to rain drops quite like Chopin’s prelude or even encapsulated in a pop tune like that of the Cascades. Elastic Days made me feel a little warmer than the current weather let on—a folksy vibe painted early evenings on sunnier days. A reprieve, in fact.

By the time I moved into the B side I was fully on board, I heard new material that felt like a natural progression of where some of my favorite Dinosaur Jr. tracks had left me years earlier. He featured duets and a wider tapestry of instruments, including trading in his own axe for an acoustic guitar on a few songs, but kept the record thematically true and warm.

I finished my glass of Pinot Noir as I reached ‘Elastic Days,’ the namesake of the album. The wine was docile, showing hibiscus, red berries and possessed a savory crunch that, although not a perfect pairing, was a good partner for the music as it allowed me to savor that well-shaped guitar line and those vulnerable lyrics.

There were a few other tracks that made me pause like See You At The Movies (the single), I Went Dust, Sometimes and Wanted You Around. This record was just so far beyond my expectations and remained on my turntable all weekend. The rain has come and gone, so has that bottle of Macon Rouge, but what I am left with is a deeper appreciation for J. Mascis.

What are some of your favorites to listen to when it rains?

ChambolOn a night that would have made Allen Meadows proud, my tasting group concentrated its attention on the village reds of Burgundy’s Cotes de Nuits. In a private room at Wilshire Restaurant, we added an extra member to the roster, to cover a wider reach of appellations from Fixin to Nuits St. Georges.

Our price ceiling was raised, digging a little deeper into the wallets (Burgundy isn’t cheap), to procure a handful of bottles—seven official entries—to show off the marvelous spectrum of Pinot Noir from one of the most respected wine regions in the world.

Before the start our collective expectations fluttered above the roof. The seven brown-bags, numbered arbitrarily, had our respect before the first sip. We scrupulously studied every pour to see if we could place the esteemed villages of the Pinot Noirs. Off to a good start with each village bringing something unique to the table,  it wasn’t until the fourth bottle that I had actually picked a first favorite. Primly casting a garnet-ruby and emitting a developing perfume of cranberry, coffee and cheese curds. Pure on the tongue, a marvelously lithe structure that flashed a youthful bit of cranberry/cherry cocktail, with sumptuous burnt sugar and café au lait finish. It was elegant and supple; its attractive balance of soft (medium-fine) tannin and sweet ‘n savory flavors went the distance. When it was revealed, a bottle of 2007 Lignier-Michelot Premier Cru Cuvée Jules hailing from Chambolle-Musigny wore the motto of its tiny commune proudly—dubbed the queen of the Cotes de Nuits.

ClosThe regal Chambolle-Musigny was the odds-on favorite (for me), establishing an early lead while I enjoyed the remainder of the tasting order. I had little luck pinning the appellation to the Pinot Noir but it was terrific exposure. That was especially true of the last bottle, but what was clear, was that it was a notch above the rest. A garnet-orange vin—indicative of an older vintage—with a deep aroma of cranberry tea, shitake mushroom, white pepper, minerals, olives, and more undefinable to list. On the palate the wine was in full stride, Popeye-like muscle delivering a bruising, flavorful wallop that followed the developed nose on a long and memorable finish. Shedding the brown paper wrapper we were stunned to see a 1996 Labet & Dechelette Chateau de la Tour Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru—the largest Grand Cru site in the Cotes de Nuits—from a relatively small appellation of Vougeot beaming on the table. The quintessence of Pinot Noir.

Every wine made an argument for place and we couldn’t have ended on a better note. The spit cups were retired and we meditated on the Grand Cru and village reds as we paired them with truffle flat breads for the duration of the evening. In good company, with the hospitality of Chef Nyesha and Wilshire Restaurant, and the best wines we’ve tasted since the groups’ inception—Cotes de Nuits had made a lasting impression.

Pataille BourgVintage isn’t usually first on the list when I’m shopping wines, but there is no overstating its importance. A great growing season is the cherry on top after the requisite work has been done in the vineyards—however reactive. I culled a couple affordable older vintages, carefully searching closeout bins across SoCal to see just how long-lived a regional red wine—appellation Bourgogne contrôlée—could be.

2007 was a challenging vintage in the Côte d’Or, with early heat spells in spring and a cool summer that threatened rot and mildew—some of the best producers were forced to reduce volume, sorting out affected grapes for days before they pressed the best selections. With the mixed vintage report I found a lot of interesting closeouts from 2007.

One of the best values I found, under twenty dollars, was clad in a non-descript periwinkle label—2007 Domaine Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne. I drew out six ounces to rest comfortably on the kitchen countertop while I analyzed for color. As the red wine stretched its legs there was a clear ruby sheen with medium intensity and slight rim variation in the glass. After thirty minutes—about as long as I could patiently wait—I fetched the glass, sniffed, and found an effusive perfume of aardbei thee (Dutch strawberry tea), over new shoe leather and damp oak. It was simple, without the floral nuance, but making up with its surprising grip on primary red fruits that were steeped in earthy intrigue.

Not disappointed but was hardly wowed until the following night. The very same Pinot Noir had really made itself at home twenty four hours later, opening up, the flavors were deeper, the finish was longer, the body, more sultry. It had my attention.

The 2007 vintage was given a passing grade by critics and importers. That vintage provided me with the best experience and value overall—maybe they didn’t give bottles like this a second sip. It’s a shame that Domaine Sylvain Pataille cannot be found easily but that’s also what makes it special—it’s worth searching for.

BouchardMy Pinot Noir promised excursion continued with another expression from a large house in Burgundy. On a rainy evening in LA, I was documenting the overlapping features between producers while comparing a glass of 2009 Bouchard Père & Fils Bourgogne “Reserve” Pinot Noir to the recent memories of Jadot.

A match for the drizzly weather,  the ruby tinted vin was wet in character and true to its origin, emitting a moderately expressive and developing fragrance of red berries, worn leather and wet mushroom. The development brought out an interesting set of flavors that made the Pinot Noir slightly more enjoyable by olfactory alone. Not surprisingly it translated well to the palate with medium body and acidity, delivering some earthy tones and a soft raspberry cream finish that carried longer (medium-plus) than expected.

The rain had heightened my tasting experience, giving Bouchard a distinct edge over last week’s Jadot’s lowest level offering. Though its singsong characteristics—red fruits, body and alcohol—were shared, distinct markers of the grape, there was a bit of finesse and texture in Bouchard that was missing in my previous tasting. A little extraction goes a long way. As Burgundy becomes my mantra, I’m confident that complexity will continue to trend up.

New World or Old World…, that decision can lead to contention among wine people. As much as I want to drink the latest Rajat Parr tweeted Burgundy, I generally don’t have the luxury. Old World wines are definitely sexy, but many, especially those that I’m interested in, benefit from a lengthy stay in the cellar to become their more refined selves. Though I would love to cut my teeth on the wines of the Côte d’Or, it just isn’t practical for everyday consumption (monetarily speaking). Living in Los Angeles however affords a bounty of great Pinot Noir makers nearby, those trying to strike a balance between the austerities of Burgundy while reveling in the California sun’s cooperative repair. I  sampled such a bottle, recently, from a budding producer in Santa Barbara.

Zotovich Cellars had been on my radar a short while, name thrown round by a few of my closest friends in the wine world, and I couldn’t wait to taste the touted Pinot Noir. I went to the website to see what I could glean, reading about the winemaker Ryan Zotovich and his stat sheets, showing that he split time between Sea Smoke and Palmina. An added bonus was the direction (consulting) of Steve Clifton—of Brewer-Clifton fame—as well as some decent reviews from Tanzer and Company… not cheating, just prepared. It would be my devoir and privilege to taste the 2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

With stemware handy, I popped the wine, poured about five ounces and walked away, watching some online television to encourage aeration; I made my way back only after I finished the latest episode of Suits. This is the wine world, always waiting on your date to put on her makeup. When I came back I checked for fault. In its place, a luscious aroma of red cherry starburst and dried rose petals slugged me with a clenched fist. I nosed the wine greedily, pulling out as much as I could in my newly honed WSET approach, finding a faint crack of pepper and some light mushroom.

I brought the bulb to my pursed lips, tasting a dialed-in red fruit attack in the youthful Pinot. Light-footed, with surprising acidity (teetering on medium-plus), wearing fine tannins and leaving a long impression of gorgeous primary fruits that were enhanced by the slightest bit of earth and faint dusting of pepper.

The quality was high, as well as the suggested retail ($39), but it was worthy of its price tag. Delicious, and drank better with every hour. While it might’ve fallen short of a Corton Grand Cru, in terms of austerity, or the seductive charm of Chambolle-Musigny, it was a beautiful Pinot Noir, proudly wearing its New World sweater. I’m still finding my palate, dedicating a serious portion of my time to sniffing out the best Burgundy deals I can find, but in the meantime I’m really happy to have found the Zotovich Pinot Noir to enjoy during the waiting game.

I don’t get as excited anymore about upcoming concerts. Perhaps it is my conservative nature or old soul showing through, but even those all-star billed festivals don’t always rouse my neck hairs the way they used to; it takes magic when you get there to make the event enduring. There are a few major exceptions—M. Ward being one of them. I go “outta my head” every time I see have seen him perform. This is the first tour of his in a long time that I wasn’t able to purchase tickets, late to the show and shutout from a good time. I was forced to commiserate, playing the latest album—A Wasteland Companion—alone, in my living room. After spinning through the new record I wondered what would pair best with his scratchy timbre.

I made a conjecture for something that would be as mellow as the acoustic guitar-work while possessing those earthy characteristics and power that are as genuine as his lyrics, reaching for a Pinot Noir. I wanted old world, somewhere deep in Burgundy like Pommard in the Côte de Beaune, that often extracts a lot of power from the thin-skinned grape but remembered that I was working on a wine buyer budget. Instead, a domestically grown Pinot Noir became an obvious choice: Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir.

The Oregon based Pinot would be an acceptable substitute for Burgundy, based on the spice and underbrush that pin themselves to the prominent cranberry and red cherry flavors that are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest terroir. Also, the “Blue Label” is attractively priced ($21-24) for its pedigree.

I thumbed through my collection, skipping singles and going for some of my favorite full lengths that M had created. My first time seeing M. Ward, he performed from his then current album Transfiguration of Vincent where I had been made a fan by listening to his melancholy song “Undertaker.” I thought that this record would be the best place to prove my hypothesis. I would later segue into other works—Post-War and End of Amnesia—up until his most current album. My own private sound stage.

Uncorking the blue seven-fifty to the tune of “Duet for Guitars #3,” a Fahey-esque track that showed off an original composition rooted in tribute much like the wine. The aural homage to John Fahey, and maybe even Leo Kottke, was shared with the base level Pinot from Oregon that had a French hand (albeit French Canadian); Isabelle Meunier with help from other compatriotes and consulting winemaker Dominique LaFon (truly French) helped craft an exciting Oregon expression.

The heady and subjective experiment seemed to be paying dividends early on as I sipped the wine. Armed with soft tannins (medium -) cupping vibrant red fruits (raspberries, cherries, and strawberries), with dashes of cupboard spices and to keep it grounded, the organic soils that accompany some of my favorite Pinot Noir. That touch of earthiness lent itself nicely with the throaty delivery on “O’Brien,” which to me was the pinnacle of the combination.

The flavors of the Pinot did not diminish; the finish was long and continued to offer up more the further I went into the sound experiment. By the third disc the pairing seemed to be natural, both worked to elevate me to nirvana.

Successful and completely my own, it was shy only of getting to see M. Ward live but not by much. I felt that in place of going French, I had a suitable alternative because I was pairing it with domestic folk rock. The blend of M.Ward’s discography with Evening Land Pinot Noir from Oregon was seamless, bearing a common thread of rusticity in the most elegant way. After the last album played through and my spiritualized state wore off, I vowed to never delay on buying tickets for one of my favorite artists again. It really is possible to sip wine alone to a good tune and summon some magic without being a desolate drunk, but it makes me relish the concert experience more when I’m lucky enough to get there.

In anticipation of Fridays’ flask tastings I have been extra dutiful in studying wine pairings to determine what might best complement a hamburger. When marrying this dish (or any) to wine, a number of factors must be considered: the meal’s preparation, complementing or contrasting flavors, acidity, and thinking about terroir. Carefully considering these criteria might best lead to the perfect pairing.

No burger is created twice (my apologies to McDonald’s)—though the meal can be simple there is a lot of variation between establishments. A hamburger might feature lettuce, tomato and onion to start but of those ingredients, the lettuce or tomato may not be the same. Some restaurants may favor a red onion, or an heirloom tomato while others prefer white sautéed onions and romaine lettuce. Then there is the patty, which can be grilled, griddled, charbroiled or can include ingredients like peppers or cheese into the formation of the patty. A deluge of options can change the complexity of the hamburger.

To broaden the scope, a person choosing a wine may select a route that can complement or contrast the flavors of the meal, depending on their goal. Complimenting the charbroiled meat I might want to serve a full bodied red because the backbone of the wine will be able to stand up to the bitterness from the char. Specifically, I might want to pair a Russian River Pinot Noir with a fatty burger—dripping in oil from the grind and the preparation—because the acid of the wine can cut through the fat, taming it. If I wanted to contrast the meatiness I would pair the wine with a complete opposite in order to highlight/bring out flavors that may not have been easily detected. Both are acceptable paths and can provide a different perspective on pairing.

Acid can be found in sautéed spinach and a glass of wine—the trick to matching these flavors is making sure that the acids found in my favorite vegetable are in proportion to my glass. If one of the components is too acidic the balance is lost and one of the items will suffer. Matching the acids is of paramount importance—nothing should be steamrolled—instead the acids should be utilized to bring out more in each meal. When it comes to the burger, a ripe slice of tomato might make me adjust my pairing like serving an Italian varietal to match the acid and bring out the savory grind of the meat.

Hamburgers strike me as uniquely American fare, a favorite of mine—comforting and diverse (as noted before). The final edge in selecting a wine that suits a hamburger might be the terroir (or the climate, soil and other elements unique to an origin comprised within a bottle). Wine has been tailored to meat for centuries but certain dishes are representations of their environment. So it is no surprise that it would be difficult for a Canadian Ice Wine (even if they posses great acidity) to pair with a hamburger since it does not share the same locale and was not created to suit hamburgers.  Instead, I will begin my experimentations with California wines; specifically Zinfandel and Merlot to see what can be gained by pouring American born wines.

Terroir is not strictly applied to wine—the influences of a particular locale can find themselves on the menus of many restaurants like sourcing all the meat a chophouse uses from Japan (or an individual Wagyu producer) or Niman Ranch in California where unique philosophies help raise the cattle. Differences in diet—kind of like the soil conditions in wine—between grass and grain fed cows can also have an impact on flavor.

Now these pairings may appear goofy but I am aiming to be practical—haute cuisine is special to me so I do not eat four course meals in excess nor do I find myself eating lavishly at home. I prefer simplicity and it will be interesting to note if this is reflected in the pairing. Hamburgers away.

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