Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Rhône-lover’s Rhône

Up on Vinapedia.net now.

2005 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45
Rating: ***½

As part of my New Year’s resolution to only drink wines that are uncompromisingly spectacular, monumentally food-friendly and absurdly cheap, I bring to you the 2005 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45.

Diligent Vinapediacs such as yourself will recall my waxing lyrical on the California Rhône-style blends and it was in the course of rigorous investigative journalism that I decided the only noble thing to do is sacrifice myself and launch into an exploration of Rhône Rhône-blends. I mean, it’s the only decent thing, right?

I was fully expecting these sorts of wines to prove serviceable at table and none-too-abusive of my cash reserves. What I was not expecting was the near-uniform goodness these wines what can only be called, in the technical argot of the industry, “way cheap prices.” Yes, you could drum up four-figure invoices with a few judiciously chosen bottles if you wanted to. But why would you want to? Unless you have become enthralled with serious wine expenditures as a means to shelter income from confiscatory taxes – in which case, keep in mind my day job is right in that field and I will travel – there is no reason to do so.

One of the very big wheels in Rhône wines is Paul Jaboulet Aîné. Not only in importance is this big wheelness manifested, but also in the bewildering gamut of wines bearing this imprimatur. To give you an idea, if you were to traipse (on foot or, more easily, online) merrily seeking to purchase one bottle of each bottling, you’d be saddled with almost ten cases of generally wonderful wine. In which case I remind you that I will travel to render assistance.

This wine, which I have kindly chosen to focus upon on your behalf, will certainly provide you with reverse sticker shock. The official price is a paltry $10 a bottle, but you’d have a serious job finding it for more than $8. As I reviewed my receipts and tasting notes, I simply could not believe this wine was priced correctly. To be blunt, this wine is too inexpensive and too food friendly to be believed.

In the glass, it is a limpid purple with some crimson, and a clean blueberry/floral nose. The first tastes are of blueberries (What? Again?) and blackberries , with hints (and I mean hints) of currants and sun dried plums and a half-floral (violet?) half-minerally edge. It has a racy acidity and just enough tannins to give it a bit of scaffolding to make purchasing a case for consumption through the next few months an eminently reasonable proposition. This wine is ideally paired with foods that would be just a bit too overpowering for a rosé. An herby crown roast of pork with savory-sweet aspect to play the complementary card, or something along the moderately spiced ragout (sausage, mushrooms, etc.) spectrum if you wanted to showcase a pleasant contrast…that sort of thing.

If I told you it was $20/bottle, you would be right to sprint to your local Wine Shack, but at $8? You should leave skidmarks in your parking lot.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

...and then there was one.

A long time ago, say 15 years ago, there were two technological forms of enjoying a movie at home. You could go with:

1- The entrenched format which produced a picture and sound most people considered to be between OK and pretty good, which had titles available everywhere at a reasonable purchase/rental cost and the units wherein they played could not only record television programs, they could also be had for a very reasonable cost.

or

2- The newest/latest thing. It offered a FAR greater picture resolution (+/- 40% sharper), spectacular sound, the capacity to include some snazzy special features, and software often came in special editions. The players cost significantly more, fewer manufacturers made them, and titles had both a smaller selection and a noticeably greater cost.

DVD vs. Blu-Ray in 2008?

Try VHS vs. Laser-Disc in 1993.

Blu-Ray has won over HD-DVD, as you all know. Toshiba learned from Sony backing Betamax until it practically bled itself white and cut its losses now. To coin a phrase, Blu-Ray has won the battle, but will it win the war?

What this means is will Blu-Ray replace DVD or will it replace LaserDisc?

As of this moment, I'm not so sure which is which. People took a gamble on HD-DVD because in the last few months, the cost of guessing wrong was pretty slight, not because they simply had to have maximum resolution. What Blu-Ray apologists fail to notice is that most people don't care about the improvements in picture quality of Blu-Ray over DVD. People like me do, but that's cold comfort, because only people like me bought LaserDiscs.

I've said it before: on most (not ALL) films the average person will consider the improvements in picture quality to be immaterial. Note that word carefully. As in "not enough to warrant the expense and hassle of switching."

A highly unscientific way to analyze this is using my wife as a survey group. She was not floored by the leap from VHS to LaserDisc, she was by the leap from VHS to DVD. She has only sometimes been floored by the leap from upconverted DVD to HD-DVD to Blu-Ray. She, whether anyone likes it or not, represents the overwhelming majority of video consumers out there. People who look at Forbidden Planet or Blazing Saddles on some HD format and say "Meh. Looks a bit nicer."

The Blu-Ray people are not doing their long term growth any favors by keeping the player prices so bloody high. As I type -- sort of taking a chance on eBay -- you cannot buy anything to play a Blu-Ray disc for under $400. Stan Glascow from Sony was interviewed by The New York Times and said by Christmas 2008 the much vaunted "inexorable drop in Blu-Ray player prices" is expected to yield a $299 player. Don't expect to see $200 players until 2009.

How this is supposed to eat into DVD's market share is a mystery to me.

At any rate, HD-DVD players are practically free, upconvert DVDs beautifully and HD-DVD discs are actually cheaper than their "plain" DVD brethren. This ought keep most people busy for a while until Blu-Ray decides to get serious, or the next greatest thing comes along.

$399 for a Blu-Ray player? Yeah. Good luck with that, let me know how it turns out.

The next DVD or the next LaserDisc...it's up to them.

-J.