Eugene Weekly : Wine : 3.5.2009


Music in the Mouth
Fresh crab and white wines
by Lance Sparks

From our 19th-floor offices, Eugene/Springburg today soaks in soggy — and welcome — rain, the harbinger of spring. Actually, grape-growers could tell us that spring 2009 actually began on Feb. 8, signaled by the opening of the first crocus. We can safely ignore clocks and calendars; plants and animals are the real Keepers of the Seasons, the ones who really know what time it is.

And it’s spring. Mole, my irrepressible sidekick, also knows it’s spring. He goes goofily into the season all giggly about “loverly whites and pee-no nwahr.” Indeed, and as usual, he’s quite right: coming soon to our markets will be newly released white wines of 2008, a harvest that had growers and wine-makers nearly giddy. And there’s still fresh Dungeness crab coming in, and clams and mussels, the first baby greens for salads, soon the spring-run salmon, the early morels breaking out of the forest duff. Birds, beasts and plants know what they know; Oregonians know that spring means the fathomless bounty of land and waters, each year’s vernal adventures in flavor. The economy might be tanking and some of our people might be nearly suffocated under the blanket of greed dropped behind by absconding scoundrels, but the land itself — this land, this sodden corner of Eden — is still enormously generous, and we who live here are blessed. 

But with our blessings should come great responsibility for this beautiful place, to tend it as carefully as the Native peoples did for more than 10,000 years before the first pioneers …

“Um, Sleut’?” I was just interrupted, mid-sermon, by a nagging Mole. “Shouldn’t we get ta tha wines?” Well. Yes. The, um, wines:

Back to lovely fresh crab: For decades I’ve ranted to anyone who’d listen, that Oregon’s best whites — pinot gris, rieslings, even chardonnay, but especially viognier (vee-o-NYAY) — make sweet mouth-music with Dungeness crab. And some of the best versions of viognier, including beauties from the grape’s native Rhone Valley in France, originate in Oregon. In fact, the varietal thrives in southern Oregon. Recent proof is Trinity Vineyards 2007 Oregon Viognier ($18, worth every sou), sourced from the Rogue’s Sundown Vineyards. The wine bursts with flavors — pears, stonefruit, apples, flowers — but the structure and balance are so finely tuned that we get a firm, mouth-filling burst of juice with crisp, food-friendly acidity — a little crab, a sip of Trinity, crescendos ensue.

The days of flabby, shlocky American Rieslings are ended — we think. Hope. And there’s been a surge of renewed interest in this delicious white grape varietal. It’s so versatile, so open to interpretations and stylizations, so responsive to its soils and climates, so adaptable to a variety of foods, we’re sure that it’ll soon regain its place among the most popular of white wines. Five H 2006 Columbia Valley White Riesling ($12.50) ought to find a place on many tables right now, especially if the menu runs to shellfish or spicy Asian dishes (they recommend Moroccan, uh-huh). The wine is exceptional, essentially dry with a whisper of sweetness, and delish pear/citrus flavors, low alcohol, keen balance.

Spring and Oregon pinot noir: heavenly. Artisanal Wine Cellars 2006 Adams Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir could seem pricey ($38), but this is superb, top-shelf vino — deep, rich in dark fruit flavors, complex, showing the maturity of old vines, beautifully balanced. Only 225 cases were made, and we shouldn’t let any of them escape to unworthy Easterners.

“’K,” says Mole, “dat’s spring fuh real. We gots ta go ta mahket. Now.”

Lance Sparks, Ph.D., teaches writing and literature at LCC.