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Transits in Wine

September brings the end of whites and beginning of reds

September in western Oregon can be dazzling. It’s a transitional month, pregnant with promises but already yielding the year’s harvest, the bounties of farms, fields and vineyards. This month usually finds Oregon’s vintners trembling on the brink: The vintage can make or break over the next few weeks. Grape clusters hang on the vines, fruit daily richer in color, sugars rising, flavors changing almost hourly. If the skies stay sunny and heavy rains hold off and flocks of migrating starlings and robins don’t descend and gorge on grapes, if … if … if … .

Meanwhile, we who merely slurp the benefits of the vignerons’ worry and work have these weeks to whistle September’s seductive song as we transit from summer to Oregon’s gloriously tinted hillsides and riverbanks. Plenty of time left (if …) to get outside, to roll or stroll through the country, savoring sweet air, still warm, still welcoming.

Among wine lovers, this month also marks a change. During summer’s heat, we tend to drink whites and pinks, and there’s yet time for those lighter wines during these lingering days of heat, but September’s cool nights invite a return to richer reds. In a sense, during this interim, we access the best of both.

First, let’s hit the trails, and tote a bottle (lightweight, screwcap-closed, recycle-able, BPA-free plastic) of Naked Winery’s Outdoor Vino Wanderlust White ($13). The label urges us to “take it outside.” The back label offers nearly no technical info about the non-vintage blend, but it does encourage consumers to shoot pics with the wine and upload to Outdoorvino.com. 

Interesting marketing strategy, but a little research shows that the families who own Naked Winery (based in Hood River, though Wanderlust homes in Cave Junction) are irreverent and whimsical, probably pushing buttons at OLCC with such labeling as Foreplay Chardonnay ($20) or Penetration Cabernet Sauvignon ($30). All the fun aside, Wanderlust White is quite quaffable, balanced nicely, delivering flavors/aromas of flowers with a dash of citrus and stonefruit. The wine should be served cool, not cold; a dip in a mountain stream would be about right. Note: Naked also markets Outdoor Vino Rambling Red ($15), another blend in traveling togs. Reviews have been favorable.

Before he departed from his position as winemaker at Sweet Cheeks to give full-time attention to his own William Rose line of wines, Mark Nicholl left a gift: another end-of-summer white, Sweet Cheeks 2010 Down Under Viognier (sale priced at $10), that is just excellent. The grapes were sourced in Australia’s Victoria district (Nicholl is a native of Australia and knows its vineyards very well). The result is a dry white that tames the sometimes overly floral flavors of the viognier grape but is flavorful with hints of peaches, pears and, of course, white flowers, all acutely balanced, just waiting for Dungeness crab, and maybe some halibut. 

Still feeling pinkish? Don’t miss Poco Collina NV Oregon Pinot Noir Rosé ($17.50), from the Gelardi Vineyard, the wine made by the talented J. Scott Oberlander. Very pale color disguises the burst of flavors of red fruits (cherries/strawberries mainly). Lovely wine, suited for fresh grilled veggies or cold pastas.

Seriously red: J. Albin Winery 2008 Pinot Noir ($25) comes to us from a highly rated vintage and deserves careful treatment (open an hour before serving, or decant) and good food, good company. Expect rich flavors of black cherries, a whiff of smoke, strong structure (there’s nothing flabby about this pinot). Get it if you can, while you can.

Special thanks this month to Randy Stokes of Sundance Wine Cellars in selecting these wines. I always ask for help in finding wines, from people whose livelihood involves tasting many, many wines. I recommend this strategy to all who pursue the mysteries of wines, foods and seasons. Savor your time, friends and your wines.