Eugene Weekly : Wine : 12.04.08

Spread the Love
With gifts of wine and good cheer
By Lance Sparks

I must be as bi-polar as Santa Claus. Last month I was apocalyptic blue; this month I’m feeling red, white and blue. And green and orange and kinda sparkly. Happens every Christmas season. Oh, I know it’s mostly operant conditioning, salivating when the bell rings, or in this case shopping when the jingle bells ring, but this holiday touches some psychic taproot I can’t resist, don’t even want to: I flat-out love giving presents to folks.

I know the economy’s circling the drain, lotta people are in deep hurt, many hungry, and our family plans to tweak our giving toward FOOD for Lane County, United Way and other channels of care, and we’re not inclined toward buying plastic crap for the kids. But we’re still gathering friends, kids and grandkids, draping the house in colors, cooking and baking till the air grows leaden in spices and woodsmoke.

And we’ll still fill our glasses with our neighbors’ good wines and raise toasts and hopes for a better new year, or at least the end of an eight-year nightmare. A deep winter might loom, but we’ll take some joy in the moment.

I’d no sooner written the line above when Mole — Santa Jolly himself — rolled into the office. As ready for the hoopla as I might be, I’m never really ready for Mole: Full elf rig, all greens and reds, got the curly-toe footgear, tights on round and spindly legs, jolly elf vest with bell buttons, rose-red nose, cheek-splitting grin, topped with pointy elf-cap. “Heunh-heunh-heunh,” he announces, his version of ho, ho, ho. “Merry Chrisymus, Sleut’! Lookit whut Santa brung! It’s ouah Chrisymus list! Gots two kinds, one fer grubbin’, one fer giftin’, ’K?” 

Mole’s a force. He IS the Spirit. Watch for him. “Ouah” lists:

“Fer grubbin’”:

Brighten the feast with either (or both) of two brilliant whites “from the misty hills of the Umpqua Valley”: Anindor Vineyards 2006 Gewürztraminer Dry Style ($16), fragrant, zesty flavors of grapefruit and Asian pear with a touch of white pepper, near-perfect match for roast turkey; Anindor 2006 Riesling Dry Style ($17) proves (again) that those “misty hills” might well be (or become) proper home grounds for Oregon Riesling, yielding Alsatian-style crispness, low alcohol, food-friendly acidity, exuberant flavors of pears and apples, crying for vegetarian dishes with spicy profiles. 

Bubbles are simply required for the season, and bargains abound, but a real surprise for flavor and value is Jaillance Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé ($14.95). It’s French, of course, but not from the Champagne region, hence dubbed “sparkling wine,” and the grapes are unusual, merlot (55 percent) and cabernet sauvignon (45 percent), giving us a nice, dusky tint of dark pink, but the flavors leap, rich and complex in red berries (raspberry dominates). This wine could cross many food borders, from aperitif to red meat. The term “cremant” means the wine is under slightly less pressure than usual sparklers, so mouthfeel is rather, uh-huh, creamy — and yummy.

Speaking of creamy, and intensely floral, and round and white, and finding good wine in weird places, Los Alamos 2007 Torrontes ($9.95) fills all bills. Torrontes is a peculiar grape variety that somehow migrated to Argentina with the Spanish but found the land compatible and developed its own identity, emerging with intense peach/tangerine flavors and whiffs of jasmine and gardenia, all carried on a balanced frame and bright acidity. Beware: could inspire fandangos around the table.

In tough times, we look for good wines that won’t break the bank, and our neighbors to the north have been champs at producing everynight wines at good prices. Columbia Crest 2004 Merlot stands on shelves sporting a $6.99 ticket, brings home good merlot flavors (cherry/plum, hint of chocolate), good balance. It’s not profound but it’s damn good value.

Fer “giftin’”:

You want profound merlot, come on home to LaVelle Vineyards 2006 Merlot Wahluke Slope. This is a shocker, super wine, an achievement, with rich, complex flavors — black cherry, plum, black currants, chocolate, razzleberries, vanilla, toasty oak — and long finish. It’s a hefty ticket ($44) and hefty wine (14.9 percent alcohol), a trifle hot, but open it two hours before serving (even better decant it), let it catch its breath, blow off some fumes, and it relaxes into merlot with spine. Mole, Eugene’s own Round Mound of Merlot, sez: “I only gots two thumbs, but dey’re bot’ way up.” Fine gift, maker of memories.

Memories abound in Pédro Xinénez Alvear Solera 1927  ($19.95 half-bottle). Yep, the year’s right, the greatest vintage of the century, but Soleras are sherries blended from  barrels of the best, and only a little is needed to qualify for the year designation. Still, this is an experience. And don’t fret about the little bottle; serve a thimbleful of this dark amber syrup and wait for oohs and aahs as the flavors spread across the palates — prunes, raisins, chocolate, coffee — on a satiny texture. Dole out some ripe blue cheese, neutral crackers, make somebody very giddy.

Last words for this memorable year: Folks, we’ve been through hard times before, and we’ll come through these. Huddle up, take care of each other, spread the love. Even in winter’s discontents, joy lives in hearts, and the sun is surely coming. Joy to you and yours from all of us.