And all that's assuming I even get so far as enjoying a wine. You can't stop evolution and it's a sad and very pertinent fact that quite a few wines I greatly enjoyed only a year ago leave me feeling nonchalant at best. So my excitement at seeing the Zind-Humbrecht 2005's on the shelves at WineRoute was mixed with trepidation. Will the magic still be there?
See, what I love about Zind-Humbrecht wines on the village level is the powerful intensity complemented by an an underlying structure and balance that tempers the rich spiciness and the sometimes high alcohol level. If there is also elegance and finesse as well, all the better. And though from my experience over the past three years, the village Rieslings are more likely to show elegance than the Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer, a year's worth of German Rieslings had messed with my "Riesling compass" and I wasn't quite sure whether I'd still be attuned to the Zind-Humbrecht rendition of the varietal.
As it turned out, the jury's still out on that one. I'm willing to concede I'm not a good enough taster to understand certain young Rieslings. I can tell it's not showing great right now but I can't tell you whether it will improve.
Very much a youngster right now, the flowery yet minerally nose gets the nod but the palate is still taut, almost tannic with its abundance of grapefruit peels and pips. You can get a sense of the structure and the wine's potent and spicy enough but unlike the 2004 version, which I first tasted when it was six months older than the 2005, the fruit doesn't really mesh with the spiciness and the kick of the alcohol. Really, I've had 15% abv Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers from Zind-Humbrecht where you couldn't sense the alcohol as such yet here you can, not enough to make the wine unbalanced but enough to confuse. If I were it buy any more bottles it'd be solely due to Zind-Humbrecht's reputation, not because I can get a clear sense of the fruit here.
If Paul Westerberg was starting his musical career today, he'd be a lot more successful than he ever was in his heyday, mainly because his famous 80's band, the Replacements, laid down a lot of the ground rules for American alt-rock (as opposed to the hardcore scene from which the band sprang). Not that they were ever commercially viable; like a lot of underground bands, they crumbled apart soon after they signed with a major label (REM is just about the only band that escaped that fate).
Westerberg's gifts were quite amazing once he caught fire around 1984. Half the time, at the very least, he displayed major-league songwriting talent. He had quite an ear for catching telling details of a misfit's life and he could come up with intuitive synergies of anything from punk to arena rock. He was obviously a kid who grew up on rock and roll and he could pay offhand tributes to his heroes without sacrificing the gist of the song. He had a rough, tobacco and alcohol tinged voice that could be almost achingly expressive and while he wasn't a great guitarist but he knew his chords and he understood how to make his playing sound classic, unforced and sexy.
Given all that, it saddens me to admit that all the great Replacements albums are faulted in one way or another. Let It Be seems relunctant to give up the band's earlier juvenile stance. Tim tries too hard to be commercial and Pleased To Meet Me doesn't sound enough like a band. Still, no one can deny the power and charm of their high points and songs like "Unsatisfied", "Bastards Of Young", "Never Mind", "Valentine" and "Can't Hardly Wait" make you want to hop inside a time machine, go back to high school and re-live all pain and angst and nausea.
Paul's solo career was a bomb for the most part yet the one album I return to most often comes from early in the millenium when everybody had just about given up on him, myself included. Stereo is a home-made double disc set. The Stereo disc is mostly ballads which is not really a great set, though "Only Lie Worth Telling" can rip your world apart and his throwawy cover of Flesh For Lulu's "Postcards From Paradise" is inspired and amazing, telling you just about all you need to know about Paul, the depth of his failures and the heights he aspires to.
But the "rock" disc, Mono, is the supreme distillation of everything he wanted to do with the 'Mats. Remember the Lou Reed quote, "you can't beat two guitars, bass, drums"? This is the proof. It rocks, it riffs, the solos - whoever played them - are short and to the point. Westerberg is trenchant, cocky, confident yet sensitive enough to break and plead at exactly the right places. As always, it's got a few poetic lines that will settle down in your brain for life: "I know it's kind of low but to me it's high times", "from a distance you look peaceful and so faraway up close, you're leaving in the morning I suppose". But most of the magic is inexplicable and undescribable; it's all about the timing and the phrasing, the sound and the snot and the sweat.
Don't download, it, just buy it, the man deserves it after all these years.