This month our focus returns to Oregon but not to Pinot Noir. This time we'll shine the spotlight on two wines born of pet projects and passion. We love featuring wines from our home state because we know them, their terroir, and the winemakers like nowhere else. In addition, we often taste these wines with the winemakers themselves, and while that may make these seem like an easy choice for the club, our most passionate arguments in the tasting room often erupt over these wines. Hometown pride runs deep, so we expect these guys to represent. While Pinot Noir may be the meal ticket for these winemakers, small lots of other varietals can really reflect their passion and expertise.
Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis started on separate paths in the Oregon wine industry at about the same time back in 1996, both becoming head winemakers at two of Oregon’s larger wineries, Sam at Archery Summit and Cheryl at Chehalem. In 2001 after marrying, they founded their joint venture: Francis Tannahill Winery, with the goal of making “wines that balance power and concentration with integrity and elegance.” In 2002 they also cofounded A to Z Wineworks, which is now Oregon's fastest growing winery, known to produce Oregon's best wine values by focusing on the skills and talents of the founders. But let’s get back to Francis Tannahill’s true passion: making small batches of less-common Oregon varietals that aren’t intended for the masses, but for a select few. This leads us to our first wine for this month, Francis Tannahill’s 2007 Rogue Valley Grenache. This native varietal of Spain is widely planted around the world but is probably best known as the main grape in the Southern Rhone’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Requiring long, hot, dry growing conditions, this varietal also thrives in Oregon’s southernmost appellation, the Rogue Valley. It is one of the last grapes to be harvested. This long ripening season allows the grapes to reach peak sugar levels, making Grenache-based wines higher in alcohol content, often reaching 15%. Though we’re not huge fans of high-octane cocktail-style wines ourselves, we do like to offer all styles, and this one’s got the balance to fit the bill. It’s blended with 26% Syrah to add color, depth, and tannins that even it out nicely. Big and bold, it wants grilled beef and lamb. A stew would be a great partner too!
Our second wine comes from Brooks Winery, where the legacy of its originator, Jimi Brooks, lives on through commitment to organic and biodynamic farming, and his passion for growing and producing beautiful Pinot Noir and Riesling in Oregon. He passed away prematurely in 2004, at the age of 38, but he left a philosophical legacy about winemaking and viticulture that family and friends carry on today by continuing the winery in his name and honor. This month’s white is Brooks’ Ara Riesling, which was the featured wine (vintage 2006) at President Obama’s first state dinner. Oregon’s cool climate and volcanic soils lend great potential to the Riesling grape, allowing its natural minerality, as well as floral and citrus aromatics, to blossom.
76% Grenache, 24% Syrah
Region: Rouge valley, Oregon
This deep purple-black-hued Grenache is a powerhouse of layers with red berry and black fruit, cassis, and dried-fruit aromas. The palate is loaded with black cherry and smoke, and it ends with a sweet, vanilla oakiness. These grapes are sourced from the organically farmed Sundown Vineyard in southern Oregon.
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
This richer style Riesling exudes lemon and honey aromatics, along with a complex and full body to follow. Mineral overtones and a hint of petrol add to this wine’s classic Riesling characteristics. Solid and balanced acidity finish it out and make it a good match with Asian and/or spicy foods. Only 185 cases produced of this biodynamically farmed wine.
For this month’s food recommendation and pairing we asked the winemaker, Sam Tannahill, what he would suggest to accompany his Grenache. Here’s what he had to say:
“Lamb mole tacos – I like the way the spice and chocolate in the mole goes with the wine and the gamey edge on the lamb works really well.”
“I would also recommend veal or calves liver with caramelized onions and pancetta. There is not much smoke on the wine so I wouldn’t use bacon. “
“An Oregon bird (maybe pheasant of chukar) simply roasted with a Marion berry sauce and served with some roasted leeks and beets is great when the wine is young.”
“Lastly, (while not light – the wine really is pretty big) as the wine ages make what I call a “St Marcellin truffle sandwich”. Take a ripe St Marcellin cheese and some black Oregon truffles. Cut the St Marcellin open, thinly slice the truffle, open the cheese and layer some black truffles in. Slap that baby on some grilled bread and pop into the broiler until just beginning to melt and bubble.”
I have to say that although each suggestion speaks love to our stomachs, it’s the St. Marcellin cheese that really stands out. The soft, creamy texture and slight mushroomy aroma of the rind with the hidden truffle treasure inside all melted over crispy grilled bread really works with this wine. While truffles may be a little harder to come by, these cheeses are available at any decent cheese shop, come in small wheels, and are inexpensive.