When Small is Big and Sweet is Dry

Avalon Recommends  Two Surprising Wines

Two winesIf you spend even a little time chatting with someone who is really into wine, it’s likely that you’ll hear them talk about the excitement of finding a wine that defies expectations. As with any hobby, serious wine drinkers and collectors often chase the unexpected. In wine, it is often paradoxes of flavor and texture that provide the most illuminating experiences.

When Small is Big

One of the most enjoyable surprises for me – and one that I relish in exposing customers to – is that of a “light” wine that comes through with big flavors. How can a wine be delicate and bold at the same time, you ask? Well, this combination of seemingly contrary attributes is what makes the best wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy so beguiling. Our example is based on Northern Italy’s Lagrein grape and is grown right here in Oregon.

Remy Wines Lagrein2009 Remy Wines Lagrein
Remy Drabkin has built a solid reputation for herself making wines from what might appear to the uninitiated as odd Italian varietals. Nothing could be farther from the truth – grapes like Sangiovese and Barbara are mainstays in Italy, as common as Pinot Noir is here in Oregon. The same, however, cannot be said of Lagrein, a grape that is really only grown in the far northern region of Alto Adige. There it produces fragrant and light bodied reds with a notable woodsy character. Remy’s version, made from fruit grown at Illahe Vineyards, captures that essence gorgeously.

What makes the wine special is that it also has the richness of a New World red, pairing ripe blackberry fruits against what we think of as old world elements: underbrush, sage and crushed stone. It manages spicy and structured at the same time it is rich and haughty. Not only is this stuff delicious, it is rare – the perfect combination for someone special’s stocking. Remy’s Lagrein screams for game sausage – elk, venison, or maybe Oregon lamb. Or perhaps cassoulet.

Gossip is that Remy Drabkin’s Lagrein is a hit at the ultra swank Bandon Dunes Resort’s restaurant – where some super sophisticated wine drinkers go to relax after a round of golf. Apparently the Lagrein was found fascinating, even by people who can have any wine they want.

Portland Monthly says: ‘“A richly textured, rustic, highly tannic wine made from very low-yielding vines, with the scent of wild mulberries. This is a rare Italian grape variety, recently introduced to Oregon.”

Remy uses a glass cork, and the label is an embossed matte black oval. Cool.

Read more about Remy: Oregon’s Remy Wines “Hooked on Italian Varietals”

When Sweet is (Nearly) Dry

Among the things that wines are wrongly scorned for, sweetness is top on the list. We’ve all either heard or taken part in the “oh, I don’t like sweet wines” invective. Sadly, sweetness in wines is largely misunderstood. When you begin to look at sugars as a crucial element in wine – and one reliant on overall balance – you gain some appreciation for the role it plays. On the other side of the flavor spectrum from ‘sweet’ is what we commonly refer to as ‘sour’. In the case of wine, the sour role is played by acidity. When in balance, the two can play a devilish game with your palate; the impression of sweetness can all but vanish amid the delectable tension that the fruit and acids create. Here is an example from Washington that gets us every time.

Read more about Trust: Winemaker Steve Brooks Trusts his Foodie Instincts

2011 Trust Cellars Riesling
Trust Riesling 2011Steve and Lori Brooks from Trust Cellars have done as much as just about anyone in Washington to bring balance back to the region’s wines. Both their whites and reds show refreshing levels of restraint and we readily admit to being huge fans. Their Riesling pulls off the kind of magic spell that the best versions of this varietal are known for; presenting a mid-palate flash of ripe exotic fruits (pineapple, mango, peach) then going on to a crisp and stony, nearly-dry finish. You might find yourself wondering where the sweetness disappeared to as you set your glass down. This deliciously unanswerable question is part of wine’s central paradox; one that will require a lifetime of what we call ‘hands-on research’ to gain tiny nuggets of insight. Now, get to work!

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