Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Teeth Circa 1999--Part 1

I really didn't get into collecting wines until about 10 years ago, when my palate was in its infancy and my acquisition strategy was unformed (as compared to now, where it's almost entirely random and profligate). I picked up two completely different reds from very distinct sources at about the same time and, by chance, ended up drinking them back to back a few weeks ago. The serendipitous connection aside, the wines confirmed that good juice comes from a lot of places and that a diverse cellar with finds from all points of the globe can be quite wonderful. Enough waxing poetically, here's one of them, with the whole stinking story to boot:

Bethel Heights Vineyards. We were up in Portland Oregon for a wedding in the spring of 2001 (before the kids) and went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bluehour in the Pearl District--kind of snooty but good food. The story gets longer--I asked the wine guy for an Oregon Pinot recommendation and he brought out a bottle of St. Innocent Brickhouse Vineyard from 1998 I believe. It was a delicious wine and since we were free the next day, the wife indulged me and we went in search of St. Innocent Winery, which turned out to be located in a drab industrial space in Salem. We were the only visitors to the tasting "room" which was merely an office with an empty folding table; no one to be seen. After a minute, a young girl who appeared to be 16 greeted us then went to the refrigerator and brought out a half dozen bottles for us to try. Everything was quite good, from the Pinot Gris to the Chard to the Pinot Noirs that she offerred. We started to talk about buying wines and to show interest in knowing more, as compared to the usual glug and gallop crew, so our server went and got the winemaker and owner, Mark Vlossak. We learned that Mark was a negotiant in the Burgundy style of producer and owned no grapes, trucking everything into this dump, uh I mean site for processing etc. Mark brought out some of the better Pinots, thank you! and showed us around. No one else showed up during our entire visit and the teenager disappeared too. We were touring the fermentation space, which was full of spotless stainless steel vats, all empty as he had just put his 2000s into barrels, when the door of one of the vats opens up and out popped a little blond girl.

"So, that's the secret." I said, being so inclined. "Shhh!" Mark smiled, "let's keep it between us, OK?" We got a laugh out of his daughter's hide and seek antics and ended up buying a shitload of his wines for some real good prices, with an extra discount from Mark the winemaker, now friend for life. Plus we picked up some St. Innocent baseball caps for free! Net of it all, I asked Mark what one winery would he visit if he only had time to visit one more winery, which was all the time we had given our extended tour of St. Innocent. "Bethel Heights!" he said and off we went, with a great story, some fine wine (being shipped to our house in California) and a second quest to find good affordable Oregon Pinot Noir.

Now Bethel Heights is a real winery, with acres of grapes, a beautiful tasting room on a hill overlooking its vineyards, a picnic area (ubiquitous but lovely) and all the other consumables and comforts that you expect to find when you go to taste wine. It's about 20 minutes from Salem heading generally north and we found it rather easily with Mark's precise directions, though I suspect we would have struggled had he trekked out on our own. We tasted through a bunch of whites and reds, basically closing the tasting room down. We bought some Chards and Pinots and picked up this beauty, the Bethel Heights Vineyards 1999 Pinot Noir, Nysa Vineyard, Willamette Valley. I bought this wine from the winery direct for $30 and it checks in at a balanced 13.2% alcohol. Now I'm not sure how Oegon Pinots are supposed to age but 8 years may be pushing past the peak of some of the better selections from there. The Nysa seemed a bit mature when I opened it, though it livened up in the glass after a few minutes and was at its best after about an hour or so. Here are my notes: Nose of prunes and minerals, smoky mid-palate with blackberry and pomegranant notes. Earthy, and refined, its tannins are long gone. Cherries on the finish. This vintage needs to be consumed very soon.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

1 comment:

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