The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year End Guitar Review and Champagne

Last blog of the 2011 year calls for a review of some of my favorites that I’ve reviewed in the past 12 months. I’ve included a mix of styles, genre’s, acoustic, and electric. There’s a lot here (47 songs) so take your time, grab some champagne, and welcome the New Year in with some of the best guitarists around.

Davy Knowles

Mark Kroos
The demons were gone:

Guthrie Govan

Kelly Valleau

Michael Hedges

Tim Hawkins

Don Ross

Alvin Youngblood Hart

Roy Rogers

Matt Schofield

Gareth Pearson

Steven King
Rhapsody in blue:

Preston Reed

Eric Johnson

Lawson Rollins

Ben Lapps

Joe Robinson

So, it’s New Year’s Eve and what are you drinking? Beer…pullease! A fru fru martini? Get serious. New Years Eve calls for sparkling wine and lets face it, when it comes to sparkling wine, there is champagne and then there is everything else. The others are good, but they're not champagne.

But champagne is usually associated with megabucks, something that for most of us in this economy isn’t feasible. For that matter, it’s never feasible for me. No wine region in the world has done a better job than Champagne of creating a mystique about itself. The one common feeling associated with champagne is joy and happiness. But the trick is getting that happy feeling without breaking the bank while at the same time finding something that’s good.

Champagne is no sure thing. Producers baby their more expensive vintage Champagnes using the best grapes, grown in the best soils while basic champagnes may receive the consideration and resources of a neglected child. But fear not, there are good ones that are reasonably priced and consistent from year to year.

At the top of the price list, I recommend Pol Roger Brut Réserve ($35). This is a very consistent champagne and great value from one of the premier small Champagne houses. It’s medium bodied and well balanced.

One of my favorites, Nicolas Feuillatte, is a particularly reliable Champagne, a good value at almost every price level. The brut is full bodied, with lingering flavors and, although not completely dry, well balanced. It costs around $28 a bottle. I prefer the Rose ($39.00), which has delicious strawberry fruit overtones.

Lanson Black Label (~$30.00) has juicy acidity complemented by mineral and citrus flavors. Likewise, Louis de Sacy Brut Grand Cru NV (~$29.00) is full-bodied with a creamy texture and persistent flavors.

Depending upon your tastes, you may prefer a little sweetness in your champagne. If so, try Moët & Chandon's White Star  (~$28.00) that’s specially formulated for the American market, which is thought to prefer some sweetness. It’s labeled Extra Dry, which paradoxically is a step sweeter than brut.

But just to be fair, California produces some excellent sparkling wines (only a wine made in the Champagne region of France can truly bear the moniker champagne) and many of the great French champagne houses have California properties that turn out great wines at great prices. Two examples are Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley (~$20.00) and Chandon Blanc de Noir ($20.00). The former is from the makers of Cristal, the champagne of Rock Stars and starts off with a bit of toasted brioche that transitions into flavors of citrus, green apples, and pears. The latter is from the makers of Dom Perignon and features the crispness of Chardonnay and deeper flavors of tart cherries and strawberries from Pinot Noir. It’s a wonderful wine that my wife and I love to drink just because.

I’m posting this early so you have time to pick up a bottle that suits your tastes in time for New Year’s Eve. So forget the other stuff and pick up a bottle or two from one of these producers and get happy for the New Year. Stay safe!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Joe Robinson & Domaine St. Pierre Cotes du Rhone

Tonight’s featured artist is going to blow your mind. His technique is amazing, his sense of composition brilliant, and his song writing beautiful. I found him surfing the web about two years ago and I marvel at his talent.
 At just 20 years old, self-taught Australian guitarist Joe Robinson has accomplished what most musicians can only dream of. He recorded his first CD at age 14, and won first place on 2008’s Australia's Got Talent at 16. The following year, Robinson took the top title at the World Championships of Performing Arts.
 He’s begun augmenting the covers he plays by writing his own music and I’ve included several numbers below. Don’t miss “Emily,” a poignant love song on which he sings.
 One of the judges of Australia’s Got Talent had it right when he said that it was because of young guitarists like Joe that he gave up the instrument. Me too. Enjoy!

I’m pairing Joe with a 2009 Domaine St. Pierre Cotes du Rhone. It’s deep ruby in color, bursting with aromas of red raspberries and blackberries. It explodes in the mouth with flavors of dark berries and cassis finishing with mild tannins. It’s a wonderful Cote du Rhone with the richness of a liqueur that coats the mouth with berry goodness and yet it’s a very balanced wine. It’s especially impressive at the price of $15.00. Pick up a bottle and enjoy the holidays with the music of one fine guitarist. Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ben Lapps & Ojai VIneyards White Hawk Syrah

Ben Lapps is a 15 year old guitar phenom and my thanks to Rick Daley for bringing my attention to him. His debut album, The New Color, features almost all original music in his own unique playing style.  His influences range from Justin King (Phunkified), to Michael Hedges (Reverie), to Eric Roche (Per-cu-lator). Ben’s sense of rhythm is mesmerizing to hear and watch as he pounds out a rhythm on the top of his guitar. When he saw a video of Justin King playing "Square Dance" on YouTube, he couldn't help but change his guitar playing direction. He has quite a sense of composition as demonstrated by his version of “Going to California” that shows roots in Led Zeppelin. But the ultimate expression of his style is expressed in the first track below, namely the infamous Justin King song "Phunkdified." There’s a great deal of intensity expressed in his music and I hope you enjoy it.

Since I’m discussing “guitarist finds,” I’ll pair Ben with a real wine find. I was stumbling through a local liquor store and found a closeout sale on a variety of miscellaneous bottles. One of them was a 2005 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara County marked down to $22.00. That’s a steal as I believe it usually runs around $40.00.  For me, Syrah is a great holiday wine and this one is fantastic. It’s a deep violet with explosive aromas of dark berry preserves, incense, violets and exotic spices. Juicy red raspberry and and blackberry flavors flow over the palate, soothed by velvety tannins and excellent minerality. As it airs, it picks up a bit of sweetness and gingerbread spice that lasts through the finish. The only bad thing was they only had one bottle. So, peruse your wine shops and supermarkets. You never know what you’ll find.