It’s cold outside, and dark, though the new blossoms that star our hilly green city shine ever more whitely under the woolen gloom. Seasonal affective disorder has got us all by the short-and-curlies. Normal people spend dozens of minutes at a time hypnotized by wind shoals ripping across the shallow puddle outside the sky bridge between Neuberger and Smith, or staring blankly at the wondrous multiplicity of food options to be found a few stories below (pizza or bagel? pizza or bagel?). Jackass writers, over-prolix and embarrassingly enamored of the saccharine strains of their own printed treacle, waste fellow students’ precious time by churning out unreadable garbage fit only for the bottom of a birdcage – ahem.
However, it would behoove every little despondent one of us to put down our worn-out Death Cab for Cutie CD’s (yaaaawn) and remember that we live in Oregon, God’s prettiest irrigation ditch. That means that we have, here at our hands, one of the world’s great up-and-coming wine regions, not to mention an extra-Oregonian multiplicity of choices that one would be harp-pressed to find outside of New York, Chicago, or the gleaming hills of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But we needn’t venture so far afield (even though a trip down Topanga Canyon sounds absolutely superb right about now), as we have some magnificent wines being made right here on our doorstep. I’ll give you my opinion as to the best ways to drown your winter frumpiness of spirit in vinous cheer, varietal by varietal, to wit:
To be honest, most Oregon pinots come across as a little one dimensional and boxy to me, beaten into submission with new oak, or tough and uninteresting. I hate to say it, but your average Santa Barbara pinot will ring your average Oregon pinot’s bell. But one brilliant, glorious exception is the wines of Cameron Winery. Not only is winemaker John Paul a crazy genius outside the vineyard, therein he crafts the finest pinot noir in the state, bar none. His non-irrigated new release from the Goertz Vineyard has a funky, erotic Burgundian nose, a lush smoothness of texture, and is loaded with compelling flavors of roses, black raspberries, blood and sex. Don’t believe me? For $23 – an amazing value – you can see for yourself.
Most folks think of riesling as sugar-water with a kick, bland, sweet, and hangover-inducing, but the best Oregon rieslings are nothing like this. Our well-made sweet rieslings emulate the German style, with residual sugars, but exquisite balance (Elk Cove Late Harvest Riesling is a good example). But my favorites are in the Alsatian style, totally dry, with spine-tingling layers of citrus zest, blueberries, wet stones and peaches. Jay Sommers, winemaker at J. Christopher, produces a fantastic entry-level dry riesling for another winery, under the name Stafford Hill. It’s around $15 – find it, and drink it, now.
When Oregon was first planted with vinifera vines on a “large” scale, back in the late 60s and early 70s, many people rightly considered it to be a perfect place to grow riesling. But these grapes were not planted in the right sites, usually stuck on plots where the vines grew lavishly, thus producing insipid, boring wines (like a person, a grape-vine must suffer to produce brilliance). Pioneer and local wine hero David Lett had the idea to plant pinot gris, a grape most widely grown in Alsace (and, by the name pinot grigio, in Italy), and his efforts paid off. For around $15 a bottle you can taste his breathtaking Eyrie Pinot Gris, made from the oldest gris vines in the state. It drinks more like white Burgundy than pinot gris: a lush concurrence of fresh Meyer lemons, slate and stargazer lilies, with savagely beautiful acidity and a food-loving looong finish. Pretty much my favorite the world over.
Dry gewurz can be a riot of almost promiscuous floral aromas, with the spiciness that gives the grape its name (which means “spicy one from Tramino” or something like that), but I admit that I have a sweet tooth in this arena. When correctly balanced, sweet gewurz is one of the more sensuous wines one can consume. If you’re looking for a wine to be poured over your lover’s torso and carefully lapped up, look no further than Andrew Rich Gewurztraminer Ice Wine. Rich allows the berries to hang to zaftig ripeness on the vine, then “cheats” and, rather than leaving them to freeze naturally (rare in the soggy Willamette Valley), he freezes the grapes at a local dairy! From these prosaic roots comes a wine that almost explodes out of the glass with flavors of gooseberries, citron, summer wildflowers, fresh-cut grass and a hint of exotic spice- sweet, but not cloying, with perfect balance. Serve with someone pretty and a slab of rich blue cheese.
So, there you have it. Instead of sitting there lifelessly, watching the next animated head declare victory in the achingly unimportant ASPSU elections, go drink some wine and get laid! It’s almost springtime after all, and if the light at the end of the tunnel is four months away, by this time of year we can at least see it, off in the drippy distance.