Eugene Weekly : Wine : 11.06.08

Autumn Blues
Remembering one of the very, very good guys
By Lance Sparks

I brooded, deep in an indigo mood, so blue not even the sight of autumnal splendor splayed across the valley could lighten my gloom. On the 19th floor of the decrepit high-rise that towers over downtown Eugene, I leaned back in my chair, battered fedora pulled low on my brow, and grimaced out the grimy window of our office/lab, and I saw not the garish splashes of crimson, gold and orange; I saw vultures and ravens.

This column will appear on Nov. 6, two days after the most pivotal election I’ve ever been part of in this country. I hope we’ll still have a city, a nation, a Constitution. I hope my grandkids will have a future worth living. From my desk, I can’t see Russia, but I can see an abyss.

I’ve also reached that blue age, that time in life when friends, lovers and compadres are checking out. Wise heads had warned me  this would come. Even those bursting with energy can be suddenly snapped off. Emily Dickinson got it right: For dynamos too busy to stop for Death, Death will kindly stop for them. Death makes house calls. Death picks up all the galaxy’s hitchhikers. Death is the ultimate democrat but oddly seems inclined to take the unwaveringly good before the bitterly corrupted. Maybe some humans are so vile, even Death postpones having their company.

Blueblueblue. Mole crept around the office, wearing his pilgrim outfit, trying wan smiles when he crossed my sight-line. This is the month when we usually scope our Thanksgiving wines, and nobody loves a holiday like Mole (except maybe his lovely wife, Molly). He tried to raise my spirits, but my spirits lurked on the banks of River Styx, watching Charon ferry friends into the shadows. 

On Saturday, Oct. 11, Zareh Marashlian “crossed over,” in the euphemistic terms of the woman at RiverBend’s info desk. I stood at that desk, holding a crystal vase of dahlias intended for Zareh and his wife, Kimberly. The receptionist’s words socked me in the gut. I was there on Sunday, proffering my vapid vase and futile flowers. I had loved the man, and meant to tell him, and I was too late. We always think we have more time, enough time, and we never do.

Many Eugeneans, those who love good food and wine, are innocently indebted to Zareh Marashlian. As a partner — with Frank Ernandes and Armen Kevrekian — in Ambrosia Restaurant, Zareh contributed his gift, his “good taste buds,” his unerring sense of flavors and textures, to making Ambrosia, and more recently Portland’s Touché, into successes. In the restaurant world, Zareh was one of the very good guys, generous, funny, and razor sharp. He was a one-off, not replaceable. We owe him thanks.

Another: Thursday, Oct. 9, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, the man called Papa Pinot by wine-lovers, “crossed over” at 69. Lett is rightly credited with bringing pinot noir to Oregon, then with bringing the world to Oregon pinot noir. He was an against-the-grain guy: The viticultural pros at Cal-Davis warned him that Oregon was too wet, too cool to ripen pinot grapes, but, in 1966, Lett planted vines in the Dundee hills. When, in 1979, in the Gault Millau tasting competition, Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards 1975 South Block Pinot Noir finished among the top French red Burgundies, Lett looked more wise than wacky. But he’d only won a battle, not the war. He spent ensuing decades in contrary opposition to the popular style of pinot noir that we’ve called ‘hang-time’ pinot, deeply colored “fruit bombs.” Lett argued that pinot noir should be lighter, more delicate, and that such wines will age gracefully when hang-time pinots die young. 

The wine press and the wine market resisted Lett’s message — until this year, when Eyrie 2006 Estate Pinot Noir ($34) drew rave reviews for bright varietal-defined fruit and, ahem, delicacy. Maybe the wine world has had enough of hang-time pinots and their dreary sameness. Maybe Lett won that war, just ran out of time before he could harvest the fruits of the peace.

“Mole,” I said, “we got hope, thanks, more hope, a little wine. Let’s do it.” He beamed. We soldiered on. Our report:

Bubbles can lighten the bluest mood, and this month we got clued to Secco Verde, a flat-out yummy sparkler with a global pedigree: Italian name, German maker (Holz Weisbrodt), Austrian grape (Gruner Veltliner), pretty package (clear frosted glass, gold foil covering the first plastic screw-top for bubbly we’ve seen), decent price ($18.50). But it’s about flavors: dry, crisp, tingling with notes of lime and Asian pear, primo vino for an aperitivo, Ja?

Another pretty white for your Thanksgiving table: Illahe 2007 Estate Riesling ($17.50) is just off-dry, with a whisper of sweetness accenting flavors of apples, pears, citrus and mineral. Will match well with spicy foods or big birds.

Big red, big flavors: Maison du Midi 2005 Plan de Dieu Cotes du Rhone ($14.50) has depth, complexity (dark fruits, spices) and character. Makes a fine guest at the table.

We end with more hope: that you’re warm, well fed, happy, lively and among friends in a still-valiant, still-vibrant, still-free country. If so, give fervent thanks all around. Shed the blues, savor the splendor.