I hunkered in my chair, rolling behind the desk, periodically gazing down through grimy windows 17 floors above Eugene’s winter-wet streets. Derelicts and “travelers” huddled in the park, smoking, yakking, looking to score, ducking cops. Through the pebbled glass on the office door, I caught sight of a deformed shadow. The door creaked open.
Mole popped in, wearing a weird, two-faced mask: Janus, the Roman god whose name begot January. My own elf of the New Year. No cherub’s diaper for my wacky sidekick; no, the Round Mound of Merlot rocks to his own rhythm. “Sleut,’” he piped — he calls me Sleuth — “we’s gotta innerduce da peeps ta some great new vinos. It’s da New Year ‘n dey’ll wanna partay wit new wines, right?”
I can rarely argue with Mole; he’s the heart of our business and wine-people love the little guy, even if they can’t remember seeing him at, say, a tasting gig. He might as well be invisible, but they poured their secret stash for him, at no charge.
Besides, January is a fine time for wine: We’re damp and cold and want to huddle up with a warm red, hot grub and a good read. Mole proffered a sample, Foris Flyover Red ($10), a hearth-warming blend of mostly merlot (of course, Mole’s fave film Sideways be damned) and cabernet sauvignon, plus just a spoonful (2 percent) of cabernet franc, soft, cozy, drinkable, affordable, nice flavors of black currants/cassis, plums, dash of pepper. Sip it or serve with roasts of various sorts. Mole grinned.
More than once, Mole has told me outright, “Sleut’, youse a pinot-holic.” And he’s right — mostly — but pinot noir is a fussy grape, expensive to grow, tricky to vinify into really tasty glug and, as a result, it tends to be expensive at retail. We watch for drinkable pinots at $20 and under, and rarely find them. But right now there’s a boatload of good pinots in the market, many approaching affordable pricing.
For about a minute, we all might have a chance to score a bottle of Ponzi 2012 Pinot Noir Tavola ($22), a superb bottling from a skilled vintner in a fine year, aromatic, flavorful (black cherries, black raspberries, sweet-oak notes). This wine will disappear from shelves almost overnight. Get it while you can.
Last week, we drove out to Gimpl Hill Road and tasted through all 19 wines currently carrying the Noble Estate label, many of them just delish. We were particularly impressed with the Noble Estate 2012 Petite Sirah ($29); even though very young, the (almost black) wine showed depth of flavors (ripe plums, blackberries and currants) and promises of long life as it matures. Only slightly over 200 cases were produced, so it, too, will be only briefly available: Grab some.
But there’s no escaping Noble’s most popular wine, Noble Estate 2012 Muscat Semi-Sparkling ($18), so bright, so tasty, so friendly with white cheeses and fruity desserts.
One more local beauty that won’t be long on our scene: Benton-Lane 2012 Pinot Gris ($16) is just terrific for flavors (pears, apples) and balance. B-L has repeatedly garnered international praises and prizes for their pinot gris: Here’s why. Taste, put in your cart.
“Winter’s just beginning,” Mole says, dropping his Janus mask back over his face, better to look into our future. “Weah gonna need lotsa good vinos. Dis is good woik, Sleut.’”