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Eugene Weekly : Wine : 1.7.10

 

Shelf Improvement

Good wines and good prices

By Lance Sparks

Hoopla! Hats and horns! Leaving the Aughts, we lurch into the ’Tens and ’Teens. Never thought we’d make it this long, this far, but day-um here we are, in the second decade of the third millennium. Sure, we can conjure grim visions rising on the horizon, but we staggered through the decade of Naughts, 10 years wandering in the Bush, endless war and economic collapse, the 24-hour cycle of Faux News. When we go down this far, everywhere looks like up from here.

Time now to look back and look ahead, pay our annual homage to that ancient Greek deity, Janus, the two-faced god for whom, suitably enough, January is named. And this kind of looking-back/looking-ahead is quite appropriate for the world of wine. Right now, for instance, Oregon vintners are mostly excited about the harvest — and the wines-in-the-making ­ of ’09; they’re also fairly tickled about the wines of ’08, many of which are just coming into the market but having a bit of a struggle because shelves are still back-stacked with bottles of ’07 vintage—and many of those are not moving, largely because they’ve been bad-rapped by the national wine press.

See, vintage ’07 was soggy and cool, with rains falling (in some areas) during the harvest, which meant that wine-makers really had to hustle and make the wine, instead of just crushing grapes and letting wine chemistry more or less happen. Sadly, perhaps, ’07 followed ’06, a year when sun was plentiful, harvest was dry and sugars went through the roof, resulting in big pinot noirs, deep in dark-fruit flavors and high in alcohol, voluptuous wines — just the kind of pinot noirs that many consumers have been taught to love. But — here’s the weird part — the pinot noirs of ’07 are closer to the traditional pinots of Burgundy: delicate and complex, lower in alcohol with food-friendly acidity, lighter in body than the ’06s but stylish and (many of them) very, very attractive.

But this is typical Oregon, one of the many reasons we love it. Also, from the consumer side we’ll be seeing lower prices for lots of wines, whites and reds, from the ’06 vintage, sure, but also ’08s, which has gotta be good.

Meanwhile, Oregon vintners continue to surprise and please:

Tasty Bubbles: RainSong Brut is a bargain ($20) for a fine sparkling wine with zippy citrus flavors and lively effervescence. The folks at RainSong have been making very good wines under their own label for years; when Kat and I traveled to Napa Valley years ago, we brought RainSong pinot noir to taste with Carneros wine-makers, and that worked out just swell.  But recently RainSong turned their business more toward custom wine-making with bottles wearing clients’ personal labels. Apparently, though, the Fix family has decided to reinvigorate the RainSong brand, bottling their own wines bearing their distinctive style. Welcome back.

Deep Seven: Proof that some ’07 pinot noirs are far better than their press comes with Coeur de Terre 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir ($20) — it has good color, complex scents of dark fruit and smoky woods, flavors from the hearts of cherries, accented by sweet oak, keenly balanced. Another: Eyrie Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir ($24.50) is firm and elegant, with cherry/red-fruit flavors and charming bouquet.

Looking ahead, we wish for nothing but blue skies. But even when the rains fall, it’s sweet to be home in the misty valleys of Oregon. Happy new year to all.