Eugene Weekly : Wine : 4.9.2009


Pucker Up
Sproing is nearly upon us
by Lance Sparks

Snooping for wine hauls us around to some strange and surprising places.

Couple weeks ago, we explored the hundred valleys of the beautiful Umpqua, checking new vineyards, new producers, chauffeured by Scott Henry, whose family settled in the valley just after the Civil War and whose wines, under the Henry Estate label, have been among those that defined Oregon as a prime wine-growing region. Scott Henry knows this valley like few others, yet even he got nearly lost among all the nooks, crannies, hills, dales, glens and gorges where new vineyards are being established.

We tasted around a hundred wines, including varietals that experts claimed would never ripen in Oregon — syrah, Grenache, tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon — and, of course, riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot noir, chardonnay. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: The Umpqua Valley will soon join the Willamette, Rogue and Columbia valleys as destinations for wine-lovers seeking distinctive interpretations of the relationship between grapes and land. Watch for Umpqua Valley on labels. Give our Southey neighbors some love; it’ll come home to us.

From our notes, just the highlights: Spangler 2006 Claret, Wild Rose 2007 Pinot Gris, Abacela 2008 Rosado, Girardet 2006 Grand Rouge, Delfino 2006 Tempranillo, Palotai 2007 Late Harvest Riesling, Henry Estate 2006 Riesling Select Harvest, MarshAnne Landing Cote de Umpqua (Rhone blend), Sienna Ridge 2005 Merlot, Brandborg 2006 Pinot Noir Ferris Wheel, Bradley 2007 Baco Noir. Platinum Medal from the competition went to Misty Oaks 2006 Pinot Noir, just delish.

Mole’s “cruelest month” shopping cart:

No secret, we’ve been mostly down on chardonnay, especially the over-oaked versions that taste like licking a chair leg, but this month we tripped into Durant Vineyards Dundee Hills 2006 Chardonnay ($17.50) and were amazed — lovely aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, hints of vanilla, smooth texture but enough acidity for food, just excellent. Durant is small but daring, and the wine is fine.

Spring veggies scream for lively white wines, like Léon Beyer 2004 Gewürztraminer, a beauty from France’s Alsace. Over a thousand years of growing grapes and making wines, these folks have almost got their rhythm, and Beyer’s gewürz is bright, crisp, with zingy grapefruit notes overlain with flowers, with zippy acidity for cheeses, pastas, cold meats. It’s bargain-priced now at $14.50, down from $21.95.

Zinfandel is distinctly American, mostly misused and misunderstood. Too many folks associate the term with schlocky-sweet pink wine — which it can be and has been — but it’s a black grape that makes a big, rowdy, high-alcohol juice best drunk while wearing chaps and spurs. Still, many winemakers keep trying to tame this mustang wine, turning a bronco into a hobby-horse. Happily, Three Angels 2007 Zinfandel ($19.95) from the Avery Vineyard in Columbia Valley retains some cowboy “spunk,” as they put it: bold flavors of black fruits, dash of pepper, whiff of sandalwood — yummy with BBQ.

Spring can’t sproing without pinot noir — basic rule. Find Winter’s Hill 2006 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and savor firm cherry flavors, dash of pepper, good structure, a bargain at $15.

Take heart, friends: Skies look a bit bluer, air’s sweeter, sun’s coming. April might be cruel, but May’s kisses are mighty sweet. Pucker up.