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Eugene Weekly : Wine : 1.4.07

Bloopers & Blunders

Forgive me, Janus

BY LANCE SPARKS

It's that time of year for us to peer into the face of that ancient Greek god for whom this month is named, Janus, the two-faced god who looks back and ahead at the same time, the deity of gates, arrivals and departures, endings and beginnings.

When I consider the recent past, I see an accumulation of pleasures amazing in their number and depth: genuinely glorious grub, some super wines, laughing times among some of the finest people anyone might hope to know. I can think of no reason I should have been so lucky, particularly when so many good folk struggle every day just to stay alive. I almost wish I could believe in some actual deity for ordaining my personal good fortune. Sometimes I long nostalgically for the comforts of blind faith as a substitute for the bemusements of blind chance.

But my reflections also reveal a record of errors, mistakes I've made I wish I hadn't. I hate making mistakes, but I admit to having made a bunch, Lilliputian lapses and Brobdingnagian blunders. Some of my bloopers could be classified as harmless to anyone but me; some were simple missteps, wrong moves, fork-in-the-cheek stuff, bangs and bends that could usually be fixed or would heal on their own. Oddly, though, for someone who works in words and should be craftier in their use, too often words have been my bane. My slips of the lip never sank any ships (to my knowledge) or cost any lives searching for WMDs, but I can't count the times I've wished I could hit rewind and erase or highlight and delete. Strings of words slipped between my lips before I could bite them off, words that hurt feelings and wounded hearts, words I never meant to say with any intent to harm, but suddenly they hung in the air like a kettle of vultures (thanks, Sandy) or stood on the page like tombstones, and the done could not be undone. Words have cost me friends, even family. And I have learned that even a heart-felt "sorry" rarely evokes forgetting and, even more rarely, forgiveness. The old adage had it: humans err, gods forgive. Forgive me, Janus.

But now, exiting the old and entering the new year through Janus' gates, this seems a good time for make-ups and take-backs, revisions and new visions:

First off, in last month's column I wrote that Oregon had scored four wines, three pinots noir, in the Wine Spectator's Top 100. Well, I missed the best (at least the highest rated): At #15 stood Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2004 ($23), noted for complexity of flavors and supple structure. Shea is a mature vineyard just west of Newberg in Yamhill County, in production since the late '80s, but the bulk of their fruit is sold to other winemakers, among Oregon's finest (e.g., Ken Wright, Broadley, Patricia Green). In fact, the '04 Shea Estate might not be Shea's best, but it's awfully good for the price. If you were lucky, though, you could still stumble across Panther Creek 2001 Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard at a mad markdown, from $33 to $20. Pinot-heads have probably hogged it all, but there might be remaining bottles; hog some your own self.

The whales are back, and most tourists are gone, so fire up the flivver and hie to the coast. And if you thought Yachats was yummy, it just got yummier with the opening of Yachats River House where Executive Chef Harley Charron is turning out some of the best chow on Oregon's western verge. The place is pretty (center of town; they razed the old Crab House next to the market), views of the river, service professional grade, food and presentation outstanding (do NOT miss the crab), prices moderate. Wine list deserves note because, although the restaurant list is quite superb and priced fairly, they have a wine shop adjunct; buy your fave there and bring it to the restaurant; they'll open and serve for no or nominal corkage. Note: If River House is packed, cross the highway to the Drift Inn for good food, good brews and often stellar live music; if you reel in on some night when the Sons of the Beaches are playing — two wildly crafty guys — you just got very lucky.

Matthew Parrott is an asset to Eugene; native to South Africa, he operates a house-painting business here, but he also imports carefully selected South African wines (Centaurus Imports). He pursues quality, of course, but conscience also plays a role; Parrott is painfully aware of SA's problems — the bitter heritage of apartheid, the scourge of AIDS — but he's also proud of the role that wine is playing in taking his native country into a new century. A recent tasting at Midtown Wines in Triomphe was packed with local wine suspects, many of them wearing amazement on their faces. The wines were ranged from very good to superb. At the low end, Headbutt 05 Chardonnay ($11) delivered nice apple/melon fruit from stainless-steel fermentation. The star, though, had to be Joubert-Tradauw 01 R62 ($22), a cabernet (65 percent)/merlot (35 percent) blend rich in complex flavors of dark fruits, spices, hint of chocolate, all married in a smooth, seamless texture with a lingering finish. This is a remarkable value, rivaling in quality wines at a much stiffer ticket. If this is a sign of South Africa's future, it offers a ray of hope.

We're all looking for rays of hope in this new year. All of us at EW and our crew at Investigations extend our best wishes to all of you. And we promise to make fewer mistooks.