Looking Beyond Local #MWWC12 Troon, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Applegate Valley, Oregon 2008

wine-stain1-3We in the West with more money than sense have made religion out of things local.  Like buying indulgences, that carrot at your farmer’s market or grandma’s un-labeled jam make us feel like we have done our part.

Farmer Market JamDelicious or dangerous, buying local frees us of our carbon-footprint guilt.

Yes, directing money back into the native economy slices out the middle-person. Yes, things grown from the same soil, sun, waters, and hands tend to synchronize well with similar products (see terroir).

But let us not fool ourselves.  At some point we get tired of underripe tomatoes, botulism, and local IPAs.  At some point we crave adventure.  This is why Oregon Pinot Noir bores me. I live a few minutes’ drive from some of the Willamette Valley’s best vineyards. I obsess daily over the finer permutations of Yamhill-Carlton or Dundee soil types.  But Pinot is (pretty much) all we grow here.

Local need not be so narrow.  Wine can transport one’s palate from the fringes of Morocco to Burgundy, to Napa, to Chile.  So, to slightly broaden my horizon, a day trip South finds us in the Applegate Valley AVA:

applegate valley mapHere the great, wet, state of Oregon sees more sun than any other part.  It’s dry, hot, and thus capable of warmer-climate grapes such as Syrah (see Quady North review), Viognier, Malbec, and occasionally Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Siskiyou Range draws the cool Pacific onto the Applegate’s hot, granitic soil.  Only in perfect years, like 2008, does Troon Vineyards, the Applegate’s eldest, decide to bottle their Cabernet Sauvignon.  As luck has it, Herb Quady was at the helm and made 278 cases.

Troon Cabernet Reserve 2008Appearance: The narrow rim looks clear and ruby, but the core opaque, inked, purple.

Aromas: Fresh, glinting blackberry jam spreads across crispy, buttered toast.  Or maybe I’m in a cherry orchard, blueberries at a distance, a waxy black vanilla bean.

Palate: Dry, notable acids ring fast and high up front.  They fade into soft, dusty tannins.  These turn to a warm glow of 13.8% alcohol.  The body feels full yet muscular.

Flavors: Ripe, bundled black berries and cherry fruit dive into taught, food-starved, tannic dryness thanks to 24 months of French barrel time.  The oak adds an adult dollop of volcanic ashy edge and tobacco near the finish. But somehow at the end that laser line of bright red fruit returns.

Troon’s Reserve 2008 Cab is outstanding, complex, lengthy stuff (5 of 5). It has an easy decade of evolution ahead of it but right now would simply eat any pepper steak, aged stinky cheese, or mushroom tart.

Conclusions: Don’t allow fervent adherence to things local to make you myopic.  We become broader and better people by learning beyond our bubble.  Few knew Oregon could make Cabernet, let alone one of such greatness.  But we need to look beyond our borders to find it.

Thus concludes my submission to the 12th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

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Beaune Part 2: Hospice de Beaune Hotel Dieu

Last Monday’s post, we hiked the frozen tundra of Beaune’s vineyards, tasted pinot noir from skeleton vines, got lost, and ate its chalky soil.  Today, we tumble back into Beaune to visit the Hospice de Beaune Hôtel Dieu: home of the world’s most famous wine auction.

A few plagues and marauding bands brought Beaune to a humanitarian crisis in the 1440s. Desperate to stop disease and buy a one-way-ticket to indulgence-paved heaven, Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor, and wife Guigone had a hospital and hostel built for the poor.  We arrive outside, a bit underwhelmed:

Exterior Hospices de BeauneIt’s cool looking but Beaune’s limestone forms a cold facade. Yet the red door hints at the extravagance within:

Hotel Dieu Hospice Red DoorWe pick up audio guides and enter into not just any courtyard:

Courtyard Hospice de Beaune

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More about that auction later. First: context:

Christopher Columbus wasn’t even born when this was built.  The hospital still runs today, but off site in a modern facility. But here, up until the 1970s, nuns and doctors toiled over the poor and infirm, keeping the riff raff from infecting higher society.

This is the great hall where the poor rested, ate tables along the center, while enjoying mass from the convenience of their beds.

Hospice de Beaune InfirmeryBeyond the great hall follow modest rooms where nuns slept, ate, and probably complained about either exhaustion or boredom:Nun room Hotel de dieuIn excessive contrast was a later Baroque chapel added, not for the poor, but for those who ran the Hospice:

Hotel Dieu Painted Room The whole place tended toward eclecticism and extravagance. We’re not going to show photos of the rectal medicine funnel.  The kitchen had the most fantabulous contraption for meat turning:

Fantabulous Meat TurnerAnd they ensured the stove had not one, but two goose-necked water spouts…practical:

Kitchen Beaune HospiceMeanwhile, the onsite apothecary had wall-to-wall jars of herbs, as well as a state-of-the art distillery.

Beaun Apothecary Hospice Oh, and let us not forget one of Art History’s favorite Weyden polyptych panels with Jesus riding a rainbow:

Weyden Jesus Rainbow RidingThis Weyden reminded us that Burgundy certainly once looked North, especially with their kingdom including the Netherlands.

Works like this were one of many ways higher society kept donating their way to heaven. Another Christmas gift to Hotel de Deiu came in the form of vineyards.  Today, the Hospice owns 150 acres of Grand and Premiere Cru vines throughout Burgundy.

Vins des HospicesAfter each harvest and fermentation, their wines-to-be are auction the third week of November.

The charity auction has run since 1851.  Come auction day, 31 cuvées of red and 13 of white totaling 800 barrels are up for grabs.  How high (or low) sales go often sets the standard expected value for the rest of Burgundy that vintage.

Sadly, we couldn’t try any.  The nuns don’t have a tasting room.  This is an EU Austerity Drinking Tour after all.

Next Monday’s post and 131 days of constant travel take us to a magnificent monastery outside Dijon.


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Thirsty Thursday: Birthday Champagne Challenge at Paley’s Place LeMaire

It’s my wife’s birthday and I’m in trouble. I sell wine to restaurants throughout Portland. But who to choose.  We rarely eat out.  We mostly cook, and it’s usually vegetarian.  So the whole restaurant scene seems like overpriced, meat-fest, fluff (especially when we buy wine at cost).  Yet, deep down, she wants to be overwhelmed.  Nothing too formal, just outstanding.


After a mild heart attack, I forget my job.  I forget accounts that sell my wine. I think about who I respect.  Where do my wine-geeks eat at?

Paley’s Place

Although October and Fall have started, it remains sunny, 80F, and the Fates have a table for two on the patio.  After a nervous parley with their buyer, we settle in.  The world turns amber.

Then out come two glasses of Crèmant de Bourgogne: Burgundy’s affordable answer to Champagne.  From Clotilde Davenne, it tastes snappy, citric, a touch saline, and utterly refreshing. This leads us to a challenge: she wants the five course, totally unknown chef’s menu, and I want the Red Wine-Braised Freekeh & Delicata Squash salad, as well as the Merguez-Stuffed Lamb Shoulder.

What could possibly pair?

We sip the flute and pour over the wine list.  I have some top Champagne, reds, whites, Brunello, and Burgundy there.  Yet nothing makes sense.  Then fantastic, adorable rondels of fried potato distract us.  We sip the bubbly.  At least four waiters try to help us. We sip the bubbly.  Bread arrives.  We sip the bubbly.

Then the dim bulb lights: bubbly.  Not this bubbly.  But not my bubbly.  But a bottle of Champagne.  It is her birthday after all.  Not any Champagne, but grower Champagne, Dom Perignon’s next door neighbor, a small grower called Roger Constant LeMaire makes Cuvée Trianon, Brut Champagne.

BubblyTighterIt looks a vibrant, pale gold with fine yet rapid, aggressive fizz.  Intense aromas show off four years of cellaring on yeasts: salt, pepper, chai spices, and baguette crust are there, backed by lime, lemon, strawberry pith, and ginger.  It feels dry, serious (6g of sugar/liter), incisively tart, yet plump enough to hold onto and through our meal-malestrom.

What follows is fantastic food pornography. A plate of currant-filled duck, horseradish spiced tongue, and an unbelievably complex, bread-wrapped, mushroom/nut-filled, sliver of delighted pork splay before us.  Cold cuts never seemed so good.

The Champagne sings, especially with the breaded pork.

Next, our first plates emerge. Her surprise dish is a crusted salmon, baby eggplant, browned butter, and veg. fest:

SalmonThe LeMaire Champagne holds beautifully, like a splash of lemon and chalk.  My golden squash plays off its mineral and fruit.

Then arrives Champagne’s greatest challenge: her Braised Oxtail & Gnocchi in Jus and my Merguez-Stuffed Lamb Shoulder, resting on a spicy tomato relish with corn and a wedge of fried masa cake.

All reason would say “have red wine you idiots!”. But half the bottle of Champagne persists.    Somehow, that spicy chunk of 60% Pinot Noir, hand selected fruit, and all that time on the lees make LeMaire intense enough a competitor to hold up.  It has also warmed up and the fizz softened, making it more of a wine than a bubbly.

Yes, the spice and herb from my dish make it seem drier, more acidic. Yes, all her oxtail’s earthiness brings out its fruit.  Yet it stands up, cleansing our palates of the oil and fantastic fat.

Then her eclectic four cheese plate emerges. The truffled pecorino is delightful with it, Cyprus Grove bright and quite good, the cedar smoked goat was odd yet great itself, but the brie, albeit simple alone, was breathtaking with the last drops of now mellow Champagne.

And then we wait.

The sun sets and the late rush has hit Paley’s.  People order Chateauneuf du Pape with their appetizers and chat about how Robert Parker is a genius.  Meanwhile, we glow over LeMaire’s success.  And then dessert arrives. The ginger ice-cream is lovely, the almond tort crunchy, and figs earthy (if underripe):

DessertBut then Joshua emerges from the shadows with a bottle of Madeira. Nary twenty four hours had passed since I suggested Paley’s get Madeira. And The Rare Wine Co. provides (although it annihilates our desert…consider more balsamic glaze to counter).

Glowing from a three hour feast, we head home.

I walk to our mailbox, expecting nothing. But then, I pull out an odd, large envelope, with red stamps and blue pen. I nervously hand it to Tracy. She screams and tears it open:

Jancis Robinson Photo 2002a

Somehow, Jancis Robinson, the first non-trade MW, the Queen’s wine adviser, Tracy’s idol, writer of THE Encyclopedia of Wine, and my heroine, had found a photo of herself in Moscow, on the release of her World Atlas of Wine, from 2002, signed and sent it for Tracy, with no idea that her birthday was today.

Happy birthday.

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Beaune Vineyards: EU Austerity Drinking Tour: Nuiton-Beaunoy, Burgundy, France

After much delay, our EU Austerity Drinking Tour continues.  131 continuous days of travel, drinking, eating, and drinking our way through Europe has worn us out.  But somehow, we keep striving in Burgundy.  Today, we visit Beaune: wine capital of Bourgogne and possibly the world:

Wine Regions France BeauneBut we’ll delve into Beaune’s history next Monday.

The gates of famous wineries frame our entry into town. Already starving, we grab our thousandth lunch of quiche to go (don’t try vegetarian travel in France).  Then, a walk through a park pops us into vineyards:

A bit up the road, we find a map that provides much needed context (and direction).

In order to brush with that Premiere Cru greatness, we hike the hill.  We assume we’re alone, but grumpy French men, like lonely icicles tend to the vines:

Grumpy French grape grower

We climb higher into Premier Cru territory. The road wiggles up the ever-steeper, terraced slope. Orphan grapes hang on hibernating vines. With no one looking, I try some:

“Nice”: not my most shining tasting note. But in truth, they are sweet, notably acidic, dark-fruited, spicy, and tannic.  What makes these grapes so well structured, yet delicate their restraint, is (in addition to the miserable weather), chalk:

Chalk in BueaneNearing the top of Mount Beaune, a sliver of topsoil covers flaking, calcium rich bedrock. The dirt tastes bitter, bone-like, and silty, but somewhat like coffee.  The chalk bedrock tastes like, well, chalk.  This difficult soil strains vines to the max, while providing stellar drainage in this wet, wet place.

And then we get completely lost. Who knew a massive forest park topped Mount Beaune? Luckily, we find our way out.

We tumble back into Beaune (more on that next Monday).  But since we made it to this edge of vine-growing, we should try a wine from here.

Also, because this is an EU AUSTERITY Drinking Tour, we forgo the pricey Premier Cru from Beaune’s middle slopes, for something less expensive from its higher elevation: Hautes-Côtes de Beaune:

Nuiton-Beaunoy, Le Mont Battois, Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, France, 2010. €12.00

nuiton beaunoy hautes-cotes-bourgogne le-mont battois rouge burgundy franceSo what does all that chalk and altitude add up to?

Appearance: It looks like a clear, light, bright ruby.

Aromas: Clean, developing, medium plus intense aromas of strawberry jam meld with an over-toasted creme brûlée.

Palate: This is dry, with medium plus acidity, flinty moderate tannins, a medium alcohol of 12.5%, all of which creates a medium body.  Bright, edgy, but average.

Flavors: Whereas the aromatics shined, here medium intense flavors of red grapefruit and cranberry juice, cigar, dried herb, and chalk persist for a medium plus length.

Vineyard Chalk Soil BeauneNuiton-Beaunoy, Le Mont Battois is very lean, sprightly, but needs a roast turkey or chicken. The extreme strains of growing high up Beaune’s slopes denies this wine premier cru status, let alone standard Beaune AOC status. It is good (3 of 5) and completely true to its place and price, but not compelling.

Next Monday continues our tour of the city of Beaune and its famed Hospices de Beaune: home of wine’s greatest auction.

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Thirsty Thursday: Hecht & Bannier, Syrah Blend, Minervois, France 2011

What the hell happened? Last night dropped below freezing. School buses prowl the streets. My wife already opened Halloween decorations. Fall has arrived.

Screw this, I will keep wearing t-shirts, flip-flops, and sunglasses.  To sustain my delusion, today’s Thirsty Thursday wine will remain sunny.

HolodeckLike plugging into the Matrix or entering the Holodeck, my liver and I are taking a one-glass flight to Minervois: nestling ourselves in the western curve of the French Mediterranean coast.

minervois mapWhat better way to play pretend than with a new Negociant team, Gregory Hecht and François Bannier, and their 2011 blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenach, and 10% Carignan?  Sourced from tightly knit relationships with grape growers, it then waited 2 years in barrels for me to drink.

Hecht et Bannier Minervois 2011Appearance: Clear, but so inky ruby with such a narrow rim, I can hardly tell.

Aromas: The steam from glowing sauna rocks lines a luscious lump of black cherry, chocolate syrup, and molasses.

Palate: Dry, with moderate acid, ample tannin, noted alcohol, and a full body that somehow remains lean, silken,

Flavors: Rich but dried black cherry jerky, chocolate syrup, and red apple skin lead to the mineral, white pepper dust finish that lasts for a medium plus length.

Hecht & Bannier’s 2010 Minervois tastes upright, experienced, and very sleek and stylish: like a black Armani suit.  It sings the song of the sunny South with loads of Fall-fighting warmth, fruit, spice, and presence.  Dinner is its friend.  It is very good (4 of 5) and worth the $20 venture.

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