Until Wednesday, my only reaction to "Donn Reisen" would have been "Must we keep taking orthographical liberties with our first names?" I knew of Paul Draper, the winemaker and public face of Ridge, but the rest of the iceberg was underwater, out of sight.
Donn Reisen was the President--the top businessman, the irresistible evangelist, presumably the glue of the whole thing. I'll give the press the benefit of the doubt and presume that his death earlier this week was in fact a gun suicide. He was a sixty year-old man with glasses, groomed mustache, tucked-in shirt. Head of an A-list winery. A far cry from my generation's suicide icon, Kurt (Donald!) Cobain. But now their stories converge on the last page, the only one many will ever read.
This happens, this will always happen. Most are able, consciously or not, to stanch the flow of emotional sewage perpetually threatening to drown the brain and heart. A few aren't, and we remember them as some combination of cowardly, tragic, weak, beautiful, eternally damned. We want a few more minutes with them so we can wrap them in a furious hug before beating out their pain.
I still don't really get this one. Donn Reisen, you had the wine world by the grapes. When Monte Bello scored its latest 95+, were you in your office with the door locked and your palms pressed to your eyes? How often were you the guy in the room everyone recognized, wanted to meet, wanted to impress? I guess that gets old, like it did for Hemingway, Marilyn, Primo Levi, Ian Curtis, and all the others who couldn't even look on bright side of the sun. Still I, forty months out of college and adrift in the world but for my love of wine, would do anything to have your life. The visible part, at least.
To me, Ridge = Zinfandel. I haven't been in a right enough place at a right enough time to taste Monte Bello yet, but a Lytton Springs 2005 I had last year kicked doors open. Then the "Three Valleys" 2006, a Zin blend that looks insane on paper but alongside juicy red flesh and hearty vegetables is probably the best $15-$20 red wine on earth. Most recent was the Paso Robles 2006, which struck me as way too graceful to be 14.6%. All magnets for critical and consumer acclaim, and more importantly wonderful wines. How great must it feel to have any hand in their creation, let alone be the man responsible for guiding them to our glasses. It scares me shitless to know that there exists a darkness capable of overpowering this.
Donn Reisen could probably have Monte Bello with his lunch every day and swap untouchable bottles with the President of (insert cult winery) at will. Somehow he burned out, and the sad fact is that for most of us, he'll fade away as we hobble through our week towards another gloomy Sunday. Why do wine's celestial pleasures give life's gremlins the chance to catch up?
- Domaine Barry Cotes-du-Rhone 2006 - Translucent maroony purple. Nose might be more spice than fruit--particularly black pepper from, probably, Grenache. OK tannins and sharp acidity makes this an acceptable "food wine" (is that just a euphemism?), but it doesn't quite have the hedonistic gravitas that makes lots of CDRs such steals.
- Marquee Wines "Classic GSM" (Australia) 2006 - The sugariest "dry" red wine I've ever had. And it's still 15%! Powerful stuff. I admit I was drinking it out of a plastic souvenir cup (think baseball game beers) which may have contributed a strange-but-not-gross bubblegummy aroma. Massive body without much in the way of tannins, and plenty of juicy berry fruit (what an embarrassment this would be without tons of fruit). Not bad for the price if you like HUGE, though I'll stick with Pillar Box Red until it breaks the $15 barrier.
- Excelsior "Paddock" Shiraz 2007 - Inky with a floral/pine foresty nose, this is a balling example of how South Africa rolls when it comes to Shiraz. Lots of curranty fruit in the mouth, and impressive acid for a blockbuster wine. Excelsior is 3-for-3 on my scorecard, this one joining their great Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as definite keepers.