Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Wine, Not Whine

There was a time not too long ago when The Feared Redhead and I shared these things called Leisure Time and Disposable Income (look them up, they really do exist) -- the former more often than the latter, and seldom much of the latter. One of the things that we liked to do to spend a little free time together, without spending much money, was to go for drives in the country. Ok, to be honest, we still manage to go for drives, but now that this activity is shared with the Lad, instead of being a carefree, spur-of-the-moment lark, a drive in the country requires all the planning and preparation of Operation Overlord. "OK, I'll feed him while you pump. Then you get him ready while I pack the car. That gives us 3 hours until we have to be back here to lather, rinse, and repeat. Diaper bag -- check. Extra bottle -- check. Baggies for when Little Big Dog does her "duty" -- check. Stroller in case we stop -- check."

When we go for drives, especially on occasions where we leave LBD behind to patrol the firebase (Like she could do anything to an intruder except for causing him to get a muscle cramp from the laughter), is stop at wineries. While it's not the biggest producer of wine in the country, Oregon is getting a reputation for the quality of its wines, and with merit.

Now, I did not drink as a teenager or Very Young Man. My father was a pastor and the son of an alcoholic, so the hard stuff was verboted in the B household. I did not begin partaking of the fruit of the vine nor of the nectar of the grain until I was in my mid twenties. Two big advantages to this late start have been that I have been able to practise moderation more easily, and that I have been able to cultivate specific tastes in the beverages I do drink.

Now, a long time ago, I used to think that being a snob was one of the worst fates that could befall a person. And in some regards, I still do -- judging a person because of their education, or their income, or their cultural background, those are wrong. Judging them by their conduct, and their willingness or unwillingness to better themselves, that's a different story.

The same is true when it comes to epicurean pursuits. I remember a visit to my fafvorite winery shorty after I began drinking wine. Of all the alcoholic subgenres, wine was the last I developed a taste for. And at first, my taste in wine was limited and rather sweet -- specifically, I liked Lambrusco. Soon after discovering it, I visited the winery of Phillipe Girardet, a French speaking Swiss man whose winery is in my home town, and who attented my father's church. I was trying to expand my wine repertoire, and so was explaining what I knew I liked in hopes that he could suggest new wines I would also like. In confessing my taste for Lambrusco, I apologetically made the comment that "I know it's not the best wine, but I like it." Phillipe got a twinkle in his eye, grinned slyly, and said, "You know, Brian, the best wine is the one you like."

And so I learned to judge wine (and art and food) not on whether or not it was trendy, or because I was TOLD it was haute cuisine or high art or had good legs, but because I liked it. So I managed to avoid one form of snobbery, but develooped another -- the snobbery of my own preferences. And this is a snobbery we all share. IF we like it, we like it. If we don't, we don't.

Now, since then, my tastes in wine have expanded, and to certain extent, refined. I don't have down the patois of the sommelier or the fancier, but I do have enough experience with trying certain wines to not only know which varietals I like, but distinguish between different levels of quality in a specific varietal. Furthermore, while I may not know the official terms used to describe all aspects of wine, I've learned enough, and have enough of a grasp of English vocabulary, to get my point across. So, with that in mind, a couple of observations about Oregon wine:

We recently visited the King Estates Winery in Lorane, just south of Eugene (My father spent his teen years in Lorane). The Winery is in a gorgeous location, on a hill in the middle of the valley, and offers some spectacular views. They make some wonderful wines, especially their Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Noir.

I don't know, however, why they (or any Oregon winery) bother with Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. For starters, the ones I tried their were either unmemorable or downright bad. California pretty much has a lock on those varietals. Furthermore, there are OTHER varietals that do much better in this region (Pinot Noir being the most notable), and it seems like a waste of good vine space to bother with Chard or Cab, especially when the varietals we do better are becoming popular.

Having extolled the virtues of Oregon PN, I must sadly mention one exception. PArducci Vineyards makes a Pinot that is sold in Albertson's. Don't bother with it, It was insipid, watery, and lacked any complexity. You can get a much better wine for a better price.

MY personal favorite as an every day drinking Pinot is Girardet's Petit Cuvee. 10 bucks at Fred MEyer, and it's a lovely wine -- soft but complex, with lots of fruit and just enough tanin to make it interesting.