Eugene Weekly : Wine : 10.4.07

Must Be in Oregon
Nooooo! Too soon! Not ready!

I was sitting at my wine-wars-ravaged desk, piled with stacks of debris — papers, books, bottles, corks, receipts, stuff I don’t even recognize. I was tapping out this month’s wine report on my wheezy Mac, glancing now and then out the windows to leaden skies and a falling feather-mist (one of Oregonians’ hundred words for the variety of rains we experience). I had just retrieved printed emails from Navarro Vineyards when a low rumble rattled the windows. I spun around in my creaking chair in time to see bottoms of those gun-metal clouds torn open, spilling a torrent of water and pea-sized hail: temperatures plunged, leaves were ripped from limbs and cluttered the sidewalks in motley array, gutters filled and drains overflowed, drivers swerved and walkers ran.

And it was all too soon. We’re not ready for rains; we still linger in late summer, dream of a long, dry, colorful season before autumn, her “feet stained with new-pressed wine,” yields the world to winter’s “white hair an icy crown.” See, autumn is sorta my season, time of the harvest, crush of this year’s vintage. I thrive in the excitement, savor every day’s change as falling leaves paint streets, and people hustle to put away the stuff of summer and lay up stores for the long wet. I even enjoy tricks my mind plays on me; for instance, nobody burns their leaf-piles anymore, as they did when I was a kid running the streets of Queens, N.Y., but I swear I still can, every autumn, smell the sweet smoke that filled the air.

When the rains come too soon, they take their toll. In the wine world, early rains can ruin the grapes — engendering mold, retarding ripening, thinning flavors — and burden the harvest. Oregon has enjoyed a string of strong vintages since 1999. Some of the wines of those nearly 10 years have been exceptional, even though some folks have groused that we’ve been too warm, that these aren’t really Oregon pinot noir, that they’re more like Californians, too big, too dark, too rich, too something. Fact is, consumers loved ’em, snapped ’em up, left producers with the bittersweet problem of too much demand, too little supply, a problem most can learn to live with quite happily. Now? After early rains, pelting hail, cold, wet days and soggy nights? We’ll see, soon enough.

For now, early rains present most of us with simpler problems: putting away summer’s duds, breaking out flannels, big sweaters and raingear, figuring out which fine vino to match with fall-run salmon. Which brings us to:

Zolo 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($11), from Argentina’s Mendoza region: The Argentines keep coming on, first with blockbuster reds, made from the malbec grape, so rowdy they could crease a gaucho’s chaps. Now, those wily Southern Hemisphereans are coming to market with sauvignon blanc that can almost rival the luscious tropical-fruit flavors of the New Zealand wines that have dazzled drinkers over the last 10 years. And they’re being really cagey about price points; Zolo delivers these pretty passion fruit/tangerine flavors in an affordable package. Wicked.

For a few bux more, meet one of the most exciting new wines entering our market, Salomon 2006 Grüner Veltliner ($14). This dry white (pronounced grooner VELT-leener) is remarkably complex, coming with an array of flavors — citrus/lime, mineral, river-rock, ripe pear — on an elegantly balanced frame. Salomon is one of those growers who knows his soils, grapes and vineyards intimately and aims at definitive qualities for each varietal. If you can find his dry Riesling, buy it, be amazed.

Another versatile white, satisfying and surprising, is Gramona 2004 Gessami ($14.50). Originating in the Penedes region of Catalonia in northeast Spain, Gessami is a blend of muscats, sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer, delivering enticing aromas of fruits and flowers. On the palate, Gessami is dry with just suggestive sweetness, not at all flabby, plus flavors of peaches, pear, mineral notes, distinct tingle of lime; with only medium acidity, it’s a pleasant sipper but will pair nicely with seafood, Asian dishes, veggies.

Rains and rosés just go together, and Navarro 2005 Rosé Old Vine Cuvée is superb, a serious, intentional rosé — flavors of strawberries, roses and raspberries, spices — from excellent folks who live and work their vines in California’s Mendocino valleys. We haven’t found this wine in our stores, but go online to, order from the source. Note: We’ve liked every wine we’ve tasted from Navarro: Shop.

Two fine Oregon pinots have come to us through friends’ recommendations: Sharecropper’s 2006 Pinot Noir ($20) is made by the talented Owen Roe in Saint Paul. Wine is rich and complex, aromatic, flavors all over the mouth. Given a couple of years lying down in a cool, dark place, it will, we predict, emerge a knockout. Our pal Jack Denney returned from a Carlton tasting tour with Coelho 2005 Placiencia Pinot Noir ($25), stylishly polished, with flavors of black and red currants, cherries and spice. Jack was impressed by the Coelho wines, even more impressed by the friendly hospitality found in their Amity tasting room, a sharp contrast to some snarky treatment received in some other places. Good folks deserve rewards; so do you.

So pack away the Hawaiian shirts. It’s time for parkas and umbrellas. But send a warm thought to our neighbors anxiously tending their vines and fruit as early autumn stalks the valley.