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Get On the (Wine) Bus

Happy New Year! Or at least hopeful? Sane?

Over the umpty years we’ve been scribbling this column, we’ve begun each new year with an homage to Janus, the two-faced god — he who looks backwards and forwards at the same time — for whom the month is named. We wanted to praise the year that ended, and invoke, if possible, better times for the coming months. 

Wine makes a fine vehicle for such reviews: Wine-fiends can often recall in agonizing detail the night they quaffed that exquisite bottle of Chateau Beauzeaux 1999; wine-makers can often recollect the entire growing season, dates and times, from bud-break to harvest to crush, sometimes better than they remember their anniversaries or their kids’ names.

Maybe that’s just as it should be. The wine experience is intimately linked to aromas/flavors, thence to emotions. Of course, our deepest memories transcend wine, which, after all, is really just tasty grape juice, well-fermented.

Much as I’d like to review memories of the grandly goofy 2011, I’ll leave that task to my colleagues — except for one minor (I thought) issue, which might turn out to be indicative of … something, hard to say what. But it does lead directly to wine.

The proposal to extend EmX into West Eugene first struck me as a mildly intriguing technical and financial question that I’d gladly let others fuss about. Then arose the clamorous responses by the shadowy organization Our Money Our Transit. Intensely tacky signs appeared on many businesses in affected areas, shouting strong resistance to EmX. Hmm, I thought, just when it seemed that West 11th couldn’t possibly get uglier, someone found a way to add clatter to clutter. 

Still I didn’t feel involved. A lot of the emotionalism, I noted, seemed to emanate from folks clinging to the car culture; in fact, a lot of the upset businesses were car-related — sales, maintenance, repairs. And taverns.

Then the tactics turned wildly zany. Dude parked a vintage tank outside his car biz, draped with an anti-EmX sign. LTD itself became a target: Signs read “LosingTaxDollars.” Huh?

The latest wiggle is most bizarre: On the four-lane 6th Avenue west of Blair appears a rash of signs: “Imagine Three Lanes,” then “EmX steals your lane,” and the capper (on what must be the ugliest fence in Oregon) “You paid for this lane/Now EmX wants to steal it.” A tavern warns against a 5-and-one-half block “bottleneck” created during construction.

What?! If I owned a biz in those tawdry acres, I think I’d do almost anything to slow traffic so people might actually see me, maybe even stop ’n’ shop. But nooo — these wheeler-dealers wanna make sure drivers can blow through the blocks. 

OK. Now, I’m imagining six lanes, no lights. Maybe an elevated freeway. Bullet train?  Wherever I see those signs, I imagine hitting the gas. I’m watching out for white rabbits and Cheshire cats.

Clearly, this year we’re gonna need lotsa wine:

Sarver Winery is one of our region’s newest (but on one of our oldest vineyards), and the Sarver 2010 Pinot Gris ($16) will please many palates. A whisper of residual sugar accents the pear/apple flavors, smoothes out the acidity. Try with fresh crab.

Capitello 2010 Pinot Gris ($15) is winning rave reviews for forward fruit flavors, flawless balance — gris as good as gris gets anywhere, elegant and firm.

Spangler 2010 Chardonnay Unoaked ($15) delivers true chardonnay flavors — baked apple, quince — not smothered in oak and vanilla notes. Lobster would be a marriage.

Stop for this: Walter Scott 2010 Pinot Noir La Combe Verte ($20) is superb, a deft blend of old-vine grapes yielding a blast of raspberries and pepper, a steal at this price (if EmX doesn’t snatch it).

LaVelle 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28): If you can cover the fare, this bus gathers grapes in the Columbia Valley; winds through bold, rich flavors of blackberries, cassis, whiff of mint; stops at aged cheddar or grilled filet. Open a couple hours before serving. Smooth ride, worth the ticket.

These are two-way wines, well-suited for winter fare, lovely for the coming spring. But if the face of Eugene revealed by the anti-EmX mob is an omen of the year to come, good wines and a sharp sense of humor might not be enough.