Eugene Weekly : Wine : 5.6.10


Chard Times
Oregon white wines rising to the top
By Lance Sparks

Up on the 18th floor of the groaning old high-rise in downtown Eugene, I sat in my squeaking chair, hunched over the battle-scarred desk, doping out the races. 

Not the Derby. Nah, I was handicapping the local election, got down to the county commish races, zeroed in West Lane County. Lessee, Jerry Rust against Bozo the Tea-Bagger; guy with 20 years’ experience who’s actually started a successful business against guy who hates guv’mint but keeps trying to get elected and earns his bread working for a publicly owned utility. Rust: actually lives in West Lane County. Boz: lives on an island of his own imagination. Gee, tough one. Hope voters figure this one out.

We fuss like this when we get ready to write about wine, and this month we gotta square up to facts we’ve been ducking. It comes down to Oregon chardonnay.

For years, we’ve subscribed to the ABC doctrine: Anything But Chardonnay. Now, this applied almost exclusively to Oregon chardonnay, simply because most of it wasn’t very good. On the other hand, French chardonnay — aka white Burgundy — has usually been just charmant, but hugely expensive, strictly for rock stars and investment bankers (though not nearly as nutso as center-fold red Burgundies — $3,900 a bottle?). 

California chardonnays have been more affordable, but for years they were stuck in the butter/oak mode and only in the last few years have broken out. Similar changes for Oregon: Without going into niggling details, Oregon wine-makers have found the grape clones (varieties) that will ripen in our region and have adapted their use of oak barrels to achieve the flavors and complexity that can rank chardonnay among the world’s most satisfying white wines. In fact, some wine pros whose palates we respect have argued that chardonnay has become one of Oregon’s best wines. Really. 

We picked up the trail. As usual, we don’t have the space to include all the evidence, but we present a sampling, from top-shelf to bargains:

At the apex: Summum 2007 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard ($96) is very, very good, with aromas and flavors of pear, apple, honeysuckle, finely balanced, the most expensive (Oregon) chard we’ve ever seen.

John Paul’s Cameron 2006 Clos Electrique ($53) is a wine pro Top Pick, just a beautiful wine from one of the state’s most talented wine-makers.

Domaine Drouhin 2007 “Arthur” ($30) shows the deft hand of Veronique Drouhin, blending wines fermented in oak with others kept in stainless steel to achieve a French style her family has helped to define for generations.

Spangler 2008 Chardonnay, Unoaked ($20) shows the fruit of southern Oregon, with pretty scents/flavors of pear, peach, apple and tropical notes with no cloaking of oak.

Boedecker Cellars 2007/8 Chardonnay “Purity” ($20) earned its title as an expression of the “pure” fruit flavors of chardonnay without the overlay of oak; this is lovely wine.

Chehalem 2008 INOX Chardonnay ($15) is another in the style of unoaked chards that show the real fruit flavors and pair so well with a wide variety of foods, from fish to pastas.

We’re buy-local diehards, but we admit that there are many good wines made in other places, even in those states north and south of ours, and we stumbled into Davis Bynum 2006 Russian River Chardonnay ($12), a bargain for a very nice drink; the fruit spent time in oak, but isn’t buried — well worth the ticket.

Speaking of tickets, get your votes into the mail. This is no time for progressives to think victory’s in the bag, not when regressives and Tea Baggers are working hard to drag us back into an ugly past.