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Eugene Weekly : Wine : 8.7.08




Sippin’ Velvet Ass

And other lip-smacking delights

By Lance Sparks

Mid-summer morning in western Oregon, sun struggles to cast a faint glow through layers of marine clouds. The air is cool, clean, fresh despite last week’s field burning. Man, I love this place. 

Elsewhere in this great nation, people are sweltering, sleeping in puddles of sweat; here, last night, Kat and I dozed sweetly under a comforter, even thought about throwing on a light blanket, but no, just cuddled closer. Elsewhere, people battle hurricanes and tornados, floods and fires; here, we fuss some because the tomatoes are ripening slower than usual. Our friends in Minnesota fear the outdoors; apparently, Minnesota mosquitoes are the size of sparrows, can fly through heavy screens, seem to consider Deet on skin equivalent to butter on bread. Here, if we avoid lakes and still waters in the High Cascades, mosquitoes mostly constitute mere annoyances. 

So, yes, I love this soggy, misty land, though I admit that in correspondence with out-of-state folks, I frequently stress the negatives. OK, that probably ticks off the hype-meisters among real estate developers, but I’m convinced that folks who can’t handle the wet tend to be dangerously neurotic and should not settle here.

Still, blessed as I should have been, I was feeling testy. The cause of my disgruntlement wasn’t what you might expect, like maybe I’d seen Gordon Smith’s ad saying Merkley is “wrong on the economy.” Sure, I could’ve been fuming about a Bush Republican claiming to know what’s right for the economy because we can see what a great job the Bushies have done in driving this economy — off a cliff. Left and right, folks are losing their jobs and their homes, so how’re we supposed to help them buy decent, affordable wine when they’re having trouble feeding their families? I could feel a tad irritated about that, right? And I do, reasonably enough; actually, though, the source of my grump was more petty: Traditionally — can 10-plus years of a column constitute a tradition? — our August piece is about wines for the dog days, the season of high heat and picnics. Today, we’ll be lucky to hit 80 degrees, with a cooling breeze. We could be glugging monster big reds, zinfandel or barolo, and be blissed. Hot weather wines? Huh!?

I could see the tension in Mole’s face when the Round Mound of Merlot rolled out of our lab fisting a wad of tasting notes. When the world’s sweetest guy is that knotted-up, anyone can grok a wrongness. “Uh, Sleut’,” he began, “what’re we gonna do? Are folks gonna laugh at us fer talkin’ rosies and whites when dey’re wearin’ parkas in August?”

“Pal,” I answered, feigning confidence, “we’re rollin’ the dice, bettin’ on the turn, ‘cause the Bushies are goin’ away and the warm’s on the horizon. So, whatta we got?”

He brightened. I felt a little like a heel but I let him feel the glow. “Howzabout really tasty pinot noir?” he said, dropping notes on my desk. “Pinot goes bot’ ways, right?”

Good point, and we had two good ones:

First, we proudly present Territorial 2006 Pinot Noir ($19.50). It tickles us when local folks bottle super juice, and Territorial hit all the notes with this wine. It has depth of color and flavors that linger in the mouth, making music with berries and spice on a round, ripe, well-textured melody. We wanted cold steak, French potato salad, crunchy baguette, all laid out with a big, round glass of this palpable pinot, perfect for watching the drift of a late afternoon mist.

Friends tipped us to Winter’s Hill 2005 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($28). The ticket might seem a bit stiff in tough times, but pinot noir is a tricky grape and best cultivated for low yields per acre, so growers have to reduce crops and raise prices to stay in business. These days, pinot of this quality rarely fetches less than 30 bux/bottle and usually goes higher, so rejoice and invest with friends (best with all wines anyway). What we get is wine of deep garnet color and complex aromas/flavors of black cherries and berries, a whiff of toasty oak, full, rich mouthfeel. We challenged it with roasted summer veggies and grilled lamb chops; the kid came through like a champ.

We found three rosés we really liked. For years now, we’ve been urging readers to give rosés a chance, especially in summer when rosé really shines. Now, our wine merchants are offering rosés in a dazzling spectrum of colors and quality. It’s mighty fun just sampling the array, but we liked these a bunch: 

Marques de Caceres 2007 Dry Rosé ($8.49): Spanish, silky smooth in the mouth, with charming cherry/strawberry flavors, gentle hint of pepper, low acidity but still food-friendly, just as yummy as rosies get.

Big House Pink 2006 California Pink Wine ($8): pale pink blend of seven grape varieties, an unpretentious, tasty little wine under a screwtop hat, suitable for summer slurping with salami and cheese, rustic bread.

Velvet Ass Rosé 2006 Rosé of Barbera ($17.50): Tasty wine, yeah, but we just love the name, simple as that: “Another glass of Velvet Ass?” Teehee.

It’s summer — sorta — and we gotta get our giggles when we can. Enjoy, Eugene.