“Mine Eyes do Smell Onions” – OR – Rogue Valley Wine

September 21, 2009 at 9:27 am (Current Events, What we are thinking) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Jane

What a great line. Lafew, an emissary of the King of France, says these words in a tender moment at the end of Shakespeare’s Alls Well That Ends Well. Lafew, a rather rigid and impersonal sort, shows his soft-side (as well as his desire to hide said side), by blaming his tears on onions. This line also displays the culinary and gustatory thread through many of Shakespeare’s plays: from [spoiler alert!] Tamora eating her own sons baked in a pie in Titus Andronicus to the illusory feast of the sprites in The Tempest.

Stick with me: I’m getting to the part about wine. For me, the link between food and Shakespeare has always gone beyond the text. Every year, no matter on what corners of the earth we might be, my family meets to spend a few days together at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. We hunker down and cram many plays into few days (9 plays in 5 days this time!), and spend the rest of the time strolling around town, cooking together, and going out to eat.

This trip, I made it a special point to try some of the locally made wines — not from Willamette Valley, further north in Oregon, but from the Southern wine growing regions: Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley, Umpqua Valley. Southern Oregon is much hotter than Willamette, meaning our thin-skinned friend Pinot Noir cannot survive here. Instead, I saw a lot of Rhone grape varieties, as well as a spattering of Spanish, Italian, and Alsatian grapes.

For our second dinner in town, we decided to stay in and cook at the little historic cottage we were staying in (I know, it was a very precious week). The menu: mixed green salad with tomatoes, cucumber, garbanzo beans, and balsamic; watermelon and cantaloupe salad with feta cheese, red onions, kalamata olives, lime, and balsamic (a Mitch Einhorn specialty); and pesto-lemon chicken.

After an unnecessarily long but delightful period of deliberation  in the local wine store, I selected a few wines. The first sounded too interesting to pass up: a DRY Gewurztraminer from the Rogue Valley. I’m a sucker for Alsatian grapes, especially when done in a dry style, and the 2006 Foris Gewurztraminer did not disappoint. Not quite as dry as advertised, with a touch of sweetness of the front palate. Aromatically fascinating, with notes of beeswax, paraffin, rose petals, and lychee that continue on the palate. The characteristic Gewurz spiciness was tempered by a fresh floral note. A great pairing with the watermelon salad, especially against the sweet/spicy red onions (which, yes, were certainly smelled by my eyes).

Knowing fully that my parents would not care for a Gewurztraminer, no matter how dry it claimed to be, I had to get a fuller, drier, lower-acid white with a touch of oak on it. Bingo! A Rhone-style white from the Applegate Valley, the 2008 Cowhorn ‘Spiral 36′ is a blend of Viognier (35%), Marsanne (30%), and Roussanne (35%), and is certified biodynamic to boot. Plump, slightly oily and round, with subtle floral notes, some nice apricot and peach flavors, and an undercurrent of vanilla cream. The parents loved it, and it went smashingly with the food.

The last wine had to be red, and trying to get a lighter red from Southern Oregon was not proving to be an easy task. A Grenache caught my eye, but I was leary: warm-weather Grenache can sometimes be a flabby, light-but-lifeless fruit bomb with way too much alcohol. This one, however, only had 13% (low for both the grape and region), so I decided to give the 2007 Boedecker Grenache from the Rogue Valley a whirl.

This is one of the drier, lighter, more Pinot-esque New World Grenaches I’ve had. Sweet/tart black cherries and blackberry fruit on a lean, lithe palate. Lilacs and a spicy element (white pepper? clove?) filled out the palate. Pretty, balanced, and interesting. A perfect choice.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality and value of wines from Southern Oregon. Unfortunately, because most of its wineries are so low production, we don’t see too many in Illinois. LUSH has carried wines from Abacela and Brandborg (two of the regions larger wineries), but we don’t routinelly taste many Southern Oregon wines. I’m hoping this state of affairs will change, but until then, I will have to be contented with the sense memory of chopping red onions, eyes brimming with tears, and sipping on some Southern Oregon Gewurz. Shakespeare on the brain; Rogue Valley on the tongue.

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