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Eugene Weekly : Wine : 9.4.08




A Kiss of Sweetness

In search of palatable pleasures

By Lance Sparks

Beautiful Sunday afternoon, late August, we decided to scope Savor the Vine at Fifth Street Market, see if we’d find some new sources, new flavors. I pulled out my notebook, prepped my palate, focused on the job. Mole just smiled, said, “Meetcha back,” then scooted off under his mystical Cloak of Invisibility, tasting glass in hand, sweet smile on his face.

Drives me nuts. I’m a nice guy, too, a wine snoop, sure, but I don’t bully people, don’t try to play the big-shoulders press-goon. I buy wine, don’t wheedle samples, gladly wait my turn in line, always try to find something positive to say (growing grapes and making wine are tough gigs, but selling wine can be nasty). But Mole just bobs and weaves through crowds, always the smile, hardly noticed, a gormless, guileless, talented taster. I’ve heard peeps try to describe him: “Oh, medium height, maybe a bit short, kinda round. Seemed like a really nice guy.” And that’s it: medium, round, always finish on nice.

And Mole is nice, sweetest guy you never met, but when it comes to filing his reports, he can be harsh: “Dull … overpriced … not varietal … undrinkable schlock.” Of course, the bad-rapping never shows up in print — we report the good wines, leave other stuff alone — but when winefolk gossip among themselves, I come off as the hard guy, and Mole’s a cuddlebug. Merely more proof that “justice” is just a word in the dictionary.

Anyroad, we found good juice and some surprises:

We liked Hip Chicks Do Wine Riot Girl Rosé ($15), blend of sangiovese/malbec, given a little longer on the skins to get a nice, rich color, it has a kiss of sweetness but some complexity, making a pretty little wine to take on an end-of-summer picnic.

Emerson Vineyards’ (Monmouth) young winemaker Elliott Johns shows talent and experience. Emerson 2007 Chardonnay ($15) was not over-oaked, delivered good fruit on good balance at a fair price, but Emerson 2006 Pinot Noir Avelina ($25) was stylish, deep and rich, with silky texture. Their shocker, though, was Emerson 2006 Lodi Syrah ($18), yummy black currant flavors with pinch of black pepper, 15 percent alcohol but so well balanced the fire was banked by fruit.

Namasté Vineyards (Dallas) 2007 Tranquility Dry Riesling ($18) cheered us with peach/apple flavors, tingle of citrus, bone-dry structure that cries for light meats, cheeses, a blanket on the lawn and a lingering summer evening.

LaVelle Vineyards (Elmira) is producing the quality of wines we always hoped they would, but LaVelle 2007 Estate Riesling ($16) is a semi-sweet delight — flavors of peach/apricot/pears that would make music with spicy stir-fry.

While I was furiously scribbling notes, Mole sidled up, stage-whispered, “Dey was real nice ta me, Sleut’, and dere was some decent vinos, yeh?” All I could do to resist hugging the goof. See what I mean?

Other scores from lucky times:

We’ve been trying to pretend it’s still summer, so we were happy to find Naia 2007 ($13), a dry Spanish white from Rueda region (grape is verdejo) with zesty notes of lime and grapefruit, a light and food-friendly wine, a sipper that inspired more sips.

Every year for the past dozen years, we’ve saved a month just for rosés. Didn’t work that way this weird year, but we keep finding these little beauties, and they’re good any ol’ time. Chiaretto 2007 Tenuta Maiolo Rosé ($15) is an Italian charmer with lovely pink cheeks and flavors of roses and raspberries, round and plump.

Friends Phil and Mariko came to dinner with Chateau Musar 1998 ($48); over the years we’ve mentioned this special big red made by Gaston Hochar (actually, now, his sons) from grapes grown in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the wine made in France. This is deep, dark wine with flavors of blackberries, black currants, cherries, spices, with just a hint of gunpowder, legacy, we suppose, of centuries of fighting in that bloody, lovely valley. With 10 years’ age, the tannins are smoothed out, but there’s enough structure to support longer aging. In a way, Musar is more an experience than a mere drink.

Final note, very important: Oregon winemakers are famously generous in charitable giving, and this year local winefolks — Angus James of The Broadway, Larry Malmgren, Bob Sogge, Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines — are working to create a remarkable auction to benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley. They’re gathering rare and special bottles of wine from various donors’ cellars, and, at 6:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 2, at The Broadway Bistro, auctioneer Sid Voorhees will call the lots. Mole, Kat and I are sending a rare Siskyou Vineyards 1985 Troon Vineyards Zinfandel, winner of Diamond, Double Gold in Aspen’s 1987 Grand National Wine Competition against 37 California zins from a classic vintage. This probably isn’t a bottle to open and glug, rather one to cellar and save as a piece of Oregon history, proof that the Rogue Valley’s big reds can rival the best. 

We’ll be at the auction, of course, Mole rolling around in glee, though he will, as always, be utterly invisible.