October 23, 2008

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An epitaph of good wine
Thoughts on David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards
By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

I have the scariest costume this year. I’m going to dress up as my most recent 401 (k) statement. Dripping in blood-red ink.

Hopefully I won’t have to taste any scary wines this year. The scariest wine I’ve had this year was a Chateau Mucus, from 1991, probably one of the poorest vintages in recent memory. And it didn’t help that the guy who opened it had it sitting around in his tool box for a couple years after he’d been re-gifted it by a client who got it in one of those assorted Holiday Gift Packs where you get some crackers, well-preserved cheese and two reds and three whites. This is the wine equivalent of lime Skittles, always the last to be consumed.

The owner of Eyrie Vineyards, David Lett, died this week. I was saddened at the news, but it’s a testament to his wine-making skills that his epitaph in my mind will be the wondrously clear notes of his simple but elegant and honest wine. I first tasted its beauty in 1993. I was drawn to the simplicity of its label. The soaring hawk. The maroon/brown ink. The woodcut design. And the taste! I was really into cabernet sauvignons then, especially from Bordeaux. But this elegant, subtle wine wrapped around my tongue like warm fruit taffy. The layers! The subdued, almost submissive fruit. The slightly garnet color. Plus it was like $13.99, which it might be again with current economic conditions pointing to a period of deflation and then stagflation, with a chance of passing inflation.

And the Eyrie vintner was the first to see the Oregonian potential for Pinot Noir. He shall be missed, but remembered in every glass. Thinking back I can remember every detail of the little shop where I first found Eyrie. The bright all-glass front, the white wood wine boxes, the Sideshow Bob proprietor and his gentle defense of every wine in the shop no matter how bad.

David Lett, the late founder of Eyrie, also brought the clones in: Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, the second- and third-generation clones of Pinot Noir. These wines, rich, nicely sweet, but balanced with the perfect amount of tannic acid, give us a beautiful alternative to chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, which is Pinot Gris, with an Italian twist. Is it geography or are the grapes harvested sooner that make Pinot Grigio, fluid and tart, without the rich sugars of its non-Italian incarnation? I’m just glad we can taste all three side by side. Same grape, different interpretations.

 The last thing about Mr. Lett and Eyrie Vineyards that impresses and shows his sense of adventure is his choice to pioneer grape production and winemaking in the relatively unplanted Willamette Valley in 1966. It gives hope that someday, on the higher slopes of south-facing hills surrounding the Great Bay, some intrepid New Hampshire vintner will crack the code and produce a terrific Cabernet Franc.

Here are the wines I tasted this week:

• 2004 Lan Reserve Rioja ($28.49). I bought this wine because I wanted to impress Christine. I was surprised that someone so new to the grape could have a thing for fruit-forward, structured, tannically dry Spanish wines. But she loved that pricey Priorat. But not the Rioja. It was one-dimensional and tannic, but the structure was there. However, I probably wouldn’t seek this one out again, unless it was on a restaurant wine list.   

• 2004 Jarrarte Rioja ($27.99). This one fared a little better, but as the Kumar-esque proprietor said, “You’re robbing the wine cradle drinking bottles that young.” But who has time to let their wine age seven to 10 years? Produced by Bodegas Abel Mendoza.

• 2005 Pierre Lancon Domaine de la Solitude ($11.99). This Cotes du Rhone had its moments, but its biggest attraction is the low price.

• 2003 Guigal St Joseph ($32.29). I once had a bad first date that led to a bad long-term relationship. Should have known better. But an elegantly perfumed Chaves St. Joseph put stars in my eyes. This wine won’t have launched me into a bad relationship, but I am older and wiser now. This wine just didn’t have the intensity I remembered and it was pricey.

• 2006 La Crema from Sonoma Coast. I got this wine shipped to me from the producer. I had to jump through hoops to get the delivery address changed to a place where I’m freelancing on assignment. I’m never home from 8 a.m. ’til around 7 p.m. Boy, you would have thought I was trying to override the firewall on our Nuclear Launch Command! I find that yelling, screaming, crying and stealing that line from Stephen King, “Just give me what I want and I’ll go away!” delivered in a husky Halloween demon, voice pretty much gets you anything. And that was just to get past the computer. I did get the wine when a shipping company employee decided to own the solution and go above and beyond. For the rest of you, graveyard dirt harvested at midnight and blessed salt will remove the curse.

The Chardonnay was a little oaky and sour with a nice finish. The Pinot Noir is a worthy successor to the $13.99 Eyrie pinot, with 21st-century pricing and production methods. Chardonnay, $15.99; pinot, $18.99. Nice wine at a very good price.

• Herdade do Pombal ($11.99). You go to buy wine. They offer you a taste of something. It’s really good. But you don’t buy it. That’s what happened with this wine, and the Spanish Tempranillo that cost double the price wasn’t as good. So you go back and buy it later. Fruit-forward with cherry, grape and plum notes, Port-like finish, with a little baked fig flavor. Not surprised about the Port — after all, this wine hails from Portugal’s Alentejo region. One of the better-tasting wines I’ve had this year.


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9/11/2008 Spend Fall in Spain
9/04/2008 Making a break for it
8/28/2008 Achieving the impossible
8/21/2008 AVA in search of a movie
8/14/2008 Return to seller?
8/7/2008 Wine at the game
7/24/2008 Reviving a star
7/17/2008 Champagne staycation
7/10/2008 Pair vintage with vintage
6/26/2008 Leftover wine
6/19/2008 Fortune favors Opus One
6/12/2008 In the year 2048
6/5/2008 Tea, the original infusion
5/29/2008 Hello old friends
5/22/2008 Ancient in the new world
5/15/2008 You are the expert
5/8/2008 The must-drink list
5/1/2008 Gaming wine futures
4/24/2008 Chronos and me
4/17/2008 Getting lucky
4/3/2008 The daquiri's of spring
3/27/2008 Germans play well with others
3/13/2008 Complain yourself happy
3/6/2008 Operatic wine tasting
2/28/2008 Everything must go!
2/21/2008 His & hers bottles
2/7/2008 Friends in spam
1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
1/24/2008 A drink to them
1/17/2008 Stalking the barking dingo
1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
1/3/2008 Bit of bubbly
12/27/2007 Drinking blind
12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
11/22/2007 Thanks for the Napa cabs
11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
11/8/2007 Candy Corn hangover
11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz
10/18/2007 Spooky wines
10/11/2007 Location, location, location
10/04/2007 Shiraz history
9/27/2007 Ingenious appellation
9/20/2007 Small world of wines
9/13/2007 How not to get screwed
9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
7/26/2007 You do know your wine
7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
6/7/2007 Our lady of the Rioja
5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
5/17/2007 What the best bears drink
5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Gin
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
Mondovino
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce