Eugene Weekly : Wine : 5.1.08

May Meanderings
On potholes and pours

Hooray, hooray, the Merry, Momentous Month of May: Gardens emerge from beneath April’s slush, frozen tarns melt, rhodies erupt, mothers are pampered for a day, nasty mayoral election reaches final stages (maybe), divisive Democratic primary is held. On a personal note, Sleuth suffers an ominous, landmark birthday, becomes officially Elder. It’s the shits. How’d it happen so fast?

I can still do my job. Being a wine detective is not that tough. Nobody’s shooting at me (except verbally) yet. My feet aren’t flat from walking a beat. In fact, my beat is usually more pleasure than pain. How it works:

First Friday last month, our whole crew cruised Opus6ix to dig some art — Mole calls it “washin’ the peepers” — found Mitch, co-owner of Peruginos, pouring vinos. Mitch motioned me over, business before etc. “Ya gotta taste this,” he said, bit of a glint in his smile. He splashed Spencer Creek 2006 Pinot Gris ($21): nice color, aromas/flavors of fresh pears and quince, very tasty, well structured and good acidity for foods, jazzy label, the whole package really impressive. Spencer Creek? I cocked an eye at Mitch. He beamed, gave me the news: Spencer Creek is newest producer in the family of our localfolk, owned/operated by genuine Eugeneans, Dan and Nancy Cooley. Mitch dispensed Spencer Creek 2004 Pinot Noir ($24): deep cherries, firm, delish. I let dood fill glass with noir, paid tab, wandered into the art, mentally booting my own butt for not getting enough into the circuit, staying masked by my other identity, straight dude, college prof, that stuff.

Week later, rolled into Midtown, crossed paths with Denise, wine rep for small producers. She offered tastes of Elyse, wines from the Carneros region bit south of Napa, good source of sparklers, pinot noir. But the Elyse wines were neither; they were also knockouts. Elyse 2005 L’Ingénue is a dry white blend of grape varieties that, in France, would comprise a Rhone Valley white, good wines to be sure, but not often, except in the case of white Chateauneuf du Pape, very exciting. The Elyse is exciting, so aromatic I felt tempted just to linger on sniffing — flowers, touch of citrus, mineral notes — but flavors called, and delivered, rich and complex, with a roundness of body that was elusive — not creamy, voluptuous. Elyse also has a zinfandel that’ll spin yer spurs. These are crafted wines, artistic renderings and not cheap — L’Ingénue is ticketed at $33 — but they are still superb value: There are many wines on shelves at twice the price and not half the flavor.

I spent an afternoon torquing our ancient Toyota through Eugene streets, looking for those axle-breaking, tire-bursting, bike-swallowing pot-holes that right-wing pothole-heads have been blaming on Kitty Piercy. I drove up and down 18th, found rough spots — wondering why the wingnuts don’t think to blame someone for lousy paving or patching jobs — but no champion holes. Heck, half a block from my crib, we’ve got a stretch of road that’s been roughening through two or three Republican (oops, I meant non-partisan) administrations; drives like a back road in Faluja. One thing I did notice in my investigation: Torrey has sewn up one constituency, will get many votes from fences, especially the chain-link variety, emblematic, I guess, of how he’s going to bring us together.

Eugeneans oughtta get together over some LaVelle Vineyards 2006 Estate Riesling ($14). Our neighbors in Elmira, LaVelle keeps a fine tasting room at Fifth Street Public Market, so you don’t have to buy this wine on my word: Drop down, swirl and sip, see if you don’t think this is lip-smackin’ Oregon riesling, low in alcohol, balanced in acidity, just a spoonful of sweetness to round out pretty flavors of peaches and apricots, maybe a hint of lychee. This charmer has been wowing the judges in competitions, has taken home a basket of medals. Rieslings are much more versatile with food than they’re usually credited as being: put this with a complex veggie dish or salad, but it’ll love a peppery Asian stir-fry.

Red wine bargain of the month has to be Holy Cow 2006 Merlot Washington State ($11). Sez here the grapes are grown in the Columbia Valley, and somebody there saw how to make a juicy, flavorful merlot, soft in the mouth, smooth on the palate, an attractive, affordable version of a nice sipping wine while heating the barbie for grilled grub.

Mug shot: John Paul of Dundee is probably certifiable and should be considered dangerous to people whose thinking is strictly conventional. But the wines Paul makes under the Cameron label are among the state’s most distinctive. He also messes with his labels, case in point being Cameroni delle Colline Rosse 2007 Giovanni Vigna Pinot Bianco ($13). I might be a solitary voice baying in the wilderness of wine (OK, John Paul might howl with me, just for fun) that pinot blanc (bianco is Italian for blanc, which is French for white — Paul is widely known to abuse all matters Italian, but with amore) is a good grape for Oregon and can make a really good wine for consumers. Doubt me. Drink this. Fun, no? Nice round flavors, slips right down, si?

Thazzit, friends, tidings of May. If my mind seems slightly disordered, that’s probably symptomatic of season of year and season of life. We’ll look into it. More investigations follow. Tend the garden. Vote.