Working with him turned out to be a crazy, fun, educational process. The guy is like no one else: irreverent, verbose, brilliant. Not only is he totally obsessed with wine, he has this incredible ability to absorb and organize what he experiences, and our protracted phone conversations never fail to open my eyes to some fascinating new aspect of oenophilia. Here five pressing questions with our resident wine critic.
WHAT IS THE MOST ILLUMINATING THING ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU ABOUT WINE?
David Lett, the founder of the Oregon Pinot Noir wine industry, once told me that “color and quality in pinot noir are inversely proportional.” He was of course totally correct, in spite of the attempts by many pinot makers to try and manipulate their grapes so that they look not like cab or syrah.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE WHEN BUYING WINE?
Thinking that high price always defines great wine. In fact, a high price often merely reflects that fact that the wine will age gracefully for many years, and, indeed, may require aging before it can be enjoyed. A great wine with a high price may not be as good for the first 10 or 15 years as other wines costing one quarter as much. Too cheap is a problem, but very pricey does not mean that it is ready to drink now, and in fact means quite the contrary for wines recently bottled.
WHO IS MAKING THE MOST INTERESTING AND EXCITING WINES IN THE NORTHWEST RIGHT NOW?
Mark Vlossak (St Innocent) and Steve Doerner (Cristom) in Oregon; In Washington, Christophe Baron, (Cayuse) Chris Figgins (Leonetti), and Rick Small (Woodward Canyon).
NAME FIVE NW WINES EVERY NORTHWESTERNER SHOULD TRY BEFORE THEY DIE.
1. St Innocent Justice or White Rose Pinot Noir, preferably from a good vintage, preferably after properly stored for ten years.
2. Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet, especially from the 2005 vintage, when Rick Small gave Paul Champoux some very special instructions about how he wanted his part of the vineyard farmed.
3. Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir from a great vintage, at age 15 or 20 or 25, such as the 1992 that I recently tasted—it was indistinguishable from a wine made in Morey St. Denis in the Cote de Nuits in Burgundy.
4. DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc, which is every bit as good as a white Bordeaux wine from Graves, (such as the white wine made by Domaine de Chevalier). This wine makes a statement, as does the Chaleur Estate Red from 2005, which is stunning but needs another decade in the bottle before it will show what you are paying for.
5. Domaine Serene Two Barns Pinot Noir from the 2005 or 2006 vintage. An elegant complex wine that is as good or better than anything else made at DS, even their higher priced bottlings.
WHAT IS YOUR DESERT ISLAND BOTTLE OF WINE?
That’s easy: Chateau d’Yquem 1975. This Chateau has made the best sweet white wine in Sauternes (a subregion in Bordeaux) for several centuries; many wine collectors consider investment in d’Yquem to be more solid than FDIC-insured CDs.
For several decades in the 19th century, every drop produced at d’Yquem was shipped from Langon (the tiny town located on the river near to the Chateau) to the ruling Czarist family in Moscow.
The vineyard itself surrounds the Chateau and the vines blanket an entire gentle east-facing hillside that catches the autumn morning fog and then sheds the fog every afternoon. This process is ideal for the creation in a vineyard of noble rot, the source of botrytis and the correspondingly unique flavors of Sauternes and its style of botrytis, which also concentrates the natural sugars. Harvest at d’Yquem, has always been made not only by hand, but one berry at a time, with multiple passes throughout the fall harvest months, so that only the most perfect grapes from each bunch are harvested at their peak of maturity and when the ‘noble rot’ (botrytis) has perfectly evenly distributed itself in only the harvested berries; a few days later, other berries will reach this stage and are only then harvested one at a time.