Brovia 2010 Roero Arneis (Piedmont) – I’d say that this wine serves as a constant counterpoint to those who insist that the Piedmont doesn’t produce interesting white wines, but of course a handful of fine arneis (and the very occasional nascetta) do not a robust counterargument make. Dense, with just enough light and space to let the apple blossom and honey (dry, dry honey) through, as they ooze with white powdered minerality. (11/11)
Il Falchetto 2009 Langhe Arneis (Piedmont) – Very lush fruit in the banana realm, but there’s an edge to it that’s more plantain-like…something greener and less ripe, combined with a textural ripeness that suggests, but does not deliver, an element of tropicality; a sort of Musa equipoise, if you will. Crystalline minerality coalesces over the course of a fairly long finish. Balanced and quite nice, perhaps with the potential to be even more than that. (3/10)
Ascheri 2005 Langhe Arneis (Piedmont) – The expected chalk soda texture is here, but what dominates is whitewashed minerality and semi-desiccated apple; it’s a striking expression of grape and place that simply won’t be ignored. Delicious. (10/08)
Brovia 2007 Roero Arneis (Piedmont) – Though I love this producer, I realize I’ve never tasted their take on this grape. It’s a good one. There’s fat peach that crisps considerably by the finish, and dried white flowers cover everything. Despite the initial breadth of fruit, the overall impression is one of delicacy and beauty. (9/08)
JB Cellars 2005 “Margaret Anne” Arneis/Tocai Friuliano (Mendocino) – Made by Marietta. It’s clean, pure fun, with intense sauvignon-like greenery (but on the ripe side) aromatized by a perfumed, almost lush top note of freshly-crushed lilies. Really, really nice. (8/07)
(The original version, with bigger photos, is here.)
15 July 2006 – Willamette Valley, Oregon
Oregon Sauvignon Blanc Cartel – While tasting at Bella Vida, we’re handed a card announcing this most unlikely event: a sauvignon blanc tasting at Patricia Green Cellars (normally closed to the public). Sauvignon blanc from Oregon? This we have to taste for ourselves.
The drive, which crosses the hills on a small country road winding through trees and vineyards, is a beautiful one, but we take it a bit faster than caution might indicate, as we’re short on time. In Green’s busy winemaking shed, three wineries are represented: Andrew Rich, J. Christopher, and Patricia Green Cellars, and not everything on offer is made from sauvignon blanc. We grab glasses, push through the dwindling late-afternoon crowd, and dive in.
Andrew Rich 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Willamette Valley) – Grassy, with big lime, green apple and grapefruit bursting forth on the nose and palate. It become riper and more focused on the finish, with gooseberry, lime, lemon and lemon curd dominating, yet the wine is obviously a bit of a fruit salad. And there’s an intrusive Styrofoam note throughout, the memory of which the delicious finish can’t quite obliterate. Admirable but worrisome.
Andrew Rich 2005 Gewurztraminer “Les Vigneaux” (69.5% Washington, 30.5% Oregon) – A “freezer wine” that apes true ice wine as made in Germany and Canada. There’s much varietal truth here, with lychees and peaches in play, and though the wine is a little on the silly side, it’s got a great balance between acid, sugar and fruit. Fun.
Patricia Green 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Oregon) – Citrus rind, Bosc pear, green apple and fetid armpit notes – not all that unusual for sauvignon blanc, though I don’t know that it’s ever actually welcome – with an exceedingly dry, flat finish. Not very interesting.
Patricia Green 2005 Chardonnay “Four Winds” (Yamhill County) – Restrained with terrific acidity, showing melon, grass and lemon over a firm bedrock of limestone. The finish, though seemingly dominated by malic acid, is incredibly persistent. A terrific wine that almost mimics unoaked Chablis (not in taste, but in overall structure)…and it’s hard to believe that it’s from the U.S. I don’t know that it will age, but it’s awfully nice right now.
J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Dominated by majestic quartz-like minerality, with grass, dried lemon, and apple skin. Acid and a tannic dryness compete with fine-grained minerals on the finish. Just terrific, and probably the best domestic sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted.
J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Oregon) – It’s interesting to compare this with the Andrew Rich wine from the same vineyard…though I note they use different appellations. A blending issue, perhaps? This is harder-edged than both the Maresh and the Rich version of the Croft, with green apple about all that’s discernable amidst a biting wave of acidity. It probably needs some time to settle down and develop aromatics, but it is a much more uncompromising interpretation that either of its cohorts.
Ponzi Wine Bar – Part of a larger complex of restaurant, wine bar, and (as of our visit) empty space awaiting a client, this is a very pleasant spot that desperately needs a better exterior view. Nonetheless, it does well, presenting both Ponzi and other Oregon wines by the glass and bottle. The staff, almost inevitably, is almost exclusively comprised of attractive young people…though unlike so many other similar venues, they appear to know their stuff.
Ponzi 2005 Arneis (Willamette Valley) – Floral, showing honeysuckle, ripe apricot and mango with a spicy texture. Yet despite all these yummy descriptors, the wine comes of as simple. Pleasant, to be sure, but simplistically so.
Ponzi 2004 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Very closed at first, with burnt cherries and a bit of jam underneath a heavy, palate-deadening weight. With air, a Port-like character emerges, with jam a significant player as well. A decidedly fruit-dominated, somewhat behemoth wine that’s not to my taste, but that’s executed pretty well for those that appreciate this style. And I suppose it will age…though my previous experiences with old Ponzi pinot suggest that “last” is a better term.
The Painted Lady – Like Red Hills and the Joel Palmer House before it, this is a converted residence. And as with the Joel Palmer House, we barely see the interior, preferring an outdoor table on the restaurant’s tiny terrace to one of the over-conditioned rooms. (A word of advice: there are serious issues with glare and heat from the setting evening sun on the few outdoor tables, so if you eat early, be prepared to play a positioning game until after sunset…or sit inside. After the sun goes below the rooftop horizon, however, the outdoor tables are well worth their previous inconvenience.)
With a passionate, knowledgeable owner and (mostly) excellent service, plus a true purity to the cuisine, this ends up being the most complete dining experience of our stay. While it’s not as memorable at our fungal fiesta at the Joel Palmer House, it does everything just a shade better.
Theresa starts with fried razor clams, their panko-encrusted texture and form a surprising and worthy variation on an old standard, while I nibble on flawless sweetbreads in a shallow pool of chopped corn and porcini cream, the earthier aspects of each combining for a glorious whole. Proximity to source improves an impeccably roasted filet of wild King salmon, while halibut over corn succotash and fried green tomatoes is no less perfectly presented. The most outstanding dish, however, is a simply-prepared 10 oz. cut of Strawberry Hill beef that brings out every beautiful essence of rare steak, served with pillowy potato gnocchi and a few asparagus spears drizzled with olive oil. It sounds unexciting to the jaded diner, but each bite proves otherwise.
Willakenzie 1998 Pinot Noir Aliette (Willamette Valley) – Shy at first, though it builds and improves throughout the evening, showing gentle baked cherries and leaves over a flowing stream of gravel and crushed granite. Soft-textured, this pinot embraces the tongue, getting longer and longer with each sip. A lovely wine, though I don’t know if I’d hold it much longer.
The only lapse in the restaurant’s perfection comes at the end of the meal, when we’re offered a “small plate of local cheeses” and, after much delay but no explanation, presented with a single, razor-thin wedge of a cheese…from Washington. Well, OK, I guess it could easily be “local,” but somehow this seems to subvert the premise. Or at least the plural.
Toro Albalá “Don PX” 1971 Pedro Ximénez “Gran Reserva” (Montilla-Moriles) – Prune motor oil that’s still amazingly primary (though I’m led to believe that this isn’t exactly 100% 1971 wine, but rather more of a solera), yet with beauty and elegance as the wine lingers…and lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Old PX is the longest-finishing wine I’ve ever encountered, which I guess means that one should studiously avoid bad examples. Thankfully, this isn’t one.
And thus is our brief Oregon visit brought to a satisfying close. The drive to the airport, through otherwise depressing strip malls and chain shopping complexes on the southern outskirts of Portland, is overwhelmed by the beauty of a dark purple sky, in which the snowy peak of Mt. Hood and the smoking crater of Mount St. Helens gleam as pinnacles of light and dark; metaphoric representations of good and evil made manifest. (Or perhaps that’s just the wine talking.) We’ll remember the books, the wines, and the mushrooms, but most of all we’ll remember the gentle beauty of a region to which we’ll soon find a reason to return.
Valdinera 2004 Roero Arneis (Piedmont) – Like especially vivid seltzer, this grabs one’s attention not with weight or concentration, but with a vivacious, dancing palate presence. But other than some light floral and citrus aromas, there’s not a whole lot of tactile substance here, rendering the wine more exciting than satisfying. It’s refreshing enough with restrained cuisine…but just don’t expect too much, otherwise. (6/06)
There’s just not much arneis on wine shelves in the States (usually one sees Giacosa or Vietti), so a new label is often welcome. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the grape almost died out a few decades ago (and, admittedly, probably fell victim to the international misconception that all Italian white wines are identically thin and uninteresting). Its resurrection is a good thing, as even in thinner conceptions (as here), it offers an aromatic presence unlike most other whites. The aforementioned producers do a denser, heavier version of the grape, if that’s your thing, and remain acceptably-priced (not, unfortunately, inexpensively-priced anymore). Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: John Given. Web: http://www.valdinera.com/.
Ernest/JF Burn 2002 Pinot Blanc (Alsace) – Sweet, spiced pear and a thick, crystalline liquid syrup structure. If you think that sounds like a dessert wine, you’re not wrong; while there’s some acidity here, the wine’s just too sweet to be served with most food. Drink it as a refreshing summer dessert, or drink it as an apéritif (that’s what the French tend to do with sweet wines anyway, so you can feel all multicultural while you do it), but be very careful about serving it with savory food. (6/06)
Burn’s a domaine I used to love, especially for their Clos St-Imer bottlings (the “La Chapelle” bottlings, allegedly superior, were often a bit too out of balance towards the sugary side), but things have gotten completely out of control there in recent years. I’m not sure if it’s the high ratings from sugar-loving critics, or global warming, or what, but when a even a basic pinot blanc become a dessert wine, something’s askew. And, of course, there’s no exterior indication on the label that this is the case, something that’s endemic to Alsace (though recent legislation will allow a change, if producers other than Zind-Humbrecht are willing to make the effort to inform their customers about the amount of residual sugar in their wines). Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Arborway.
Château Lavergne-Dulong 2003 Bordeaux Supérieur (Bordeaux) – Dense, forward blackberry and black cherry with the suggestion of cassis and some ripe, velvety tannin. Eminently drinkable and quite tasty, albeit highly suggestive of a New World style. (6/06)
50% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. Dulong is a négociant, and a big one, and this fits into what seems like a vast ocean of labels (check out their web site and marvel at the portfolio). Obviously, then, this isn’t artisanal winemaking at it most hands-on. What it is, however, is a poster child for the benefits and ills of modernized, international-style winemaking. 2003’s heat wave helps in this regard, of course, but this is a wine with a striking amount of fruit and a particularly soft, approachable texture; everything one might want from inexpensive Bordeaux (which is far too often over-structured and under-fruited), right? Well, opinions differ. I poured this blind for a wine-loving French friend, who pronounced it “too heavy for the food” (we were having aggressive cheeses at the time) and was flabbergasted that it was a Bordeaux. While I didn’t necessarily agree with him on its proportional weight (no doubt because I’m more accustomed to riper, bigger New World wines than he is), I did agree on one key point: there’s very little here to suggest that the wine is from Bordeaux. Of all the potential sins of the internationalized wine style, this is the biggest: the muting or even obliteration of regional or varietal typicity. None of which is to say that the result is a “bad wine” – rather, it’s quite a good wine for the price – but that it very well might be “bad Bordeaux.” To some people, that matters. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Dulong/Elite. Web: http://www.dulong.com/.