The eternal question of this column is, “Does the wine pick the record or the record pick the wine?” Most of the time it seems to be the latter. When I got a newsletter from Vinopolis heralding the arrival of Hartford Dina’s Vineyard Zinfandel, I saw opportunity for the former. I have fond memories of this wine, and although all the Hartford wines are good, Dina’s Vineyard is exponentially the greatest. Then I realized it had been fifteen years since I’d last enjoyed one; not since I’d moved from Los Angeles.
When I moved to Portland in 2001, I had the definitive California palate. Bigger was better, and I loved the bold, deep, jammy flavors of Zinfandel. It took almost two years to grasp Oregon Pinot Noir and by that time, everything I’d learned about wine in the LA restaurant scene was out the window. (For the record, what I’d learned wasn’t wrong. It was just a limited view.) With that purchase, I started thinking about how much I’d changed since then, and what I was listening to at the time. Truth be told, my taste in music is still so eclectic that I can safely say it hasn’t changed: I’ll still try anything once and want to hear anything new. After that, favorites are still favorites but the “go to albums” that show up in the stack week after week are different, year by year. In 2000, I recall heavy rotation including PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City and Peter Murphy’s Cascade--and I'd seen Peter Murphy at House of Blues that year. A recent visit to Jackpot Records had yielded a copy of Lion, Peter Murphy’s current double LP. There’s a match.
After years of seductive crooning and introspective whispering, I was both surprised and excited that the opening track showed an industrial bent, reminiscent of Bauhaus. A lot of my favorites have been going back to their roots lately (Bob Mould’s last album was a lot more Hüsker Dü and a lot less Sugar), so to hear Peter Murphy go full on Goth was an all out blast. Well, Cali Zins are my roots of a sort, and this was the sort of high octane I thrived on back then. Deep, dark, intense, with ripe blackberry, white pepper, cocoa and violets on the nose, this wine is an overwhelming mouthful of blackberry jam. Power is in play here--with focus.
My tastes have changed—or rather, expanded. There’s a minerality from 96 year old vines that I can recognize now like I couldn’t fifteen years ago. Although I was looking for black pepper and anise notes I expect from a great Zinfandel, I didn’t find them until I smelled my empty glass (promptly refilling it, of course), and that’s something else I’d learned recently, from Marcus Goodfellow. Ripe black plum and marionberry flavors showed later, toward the end of the album when the synth beats really cranked up.
Everything I've learned has changed the way I taste wine now. In the meantime, Peter Murphy has gone from creating singles like Cuts You Up and Fall on Your Knife to epic albums like Dust, and back again with 2011’s Nine. Lion has some of both, with a bent toward the epic. It’s glorious, bombastic fun, full of dark intensity with underlying subtlety that only comes from years of experience—like deep, 96 year old roots.