Monday, August 24, 2009

Creatures Called "Men"

I gave blood today to Lydia Of The Red Cross, who was named for the Biblical woman who played some part in the Judeo-X'ian story; she was also the dyer of the royal robes, I was told. So, I told this Lydia about Murex (a seashell with a violet inner layer) and its discovery by the Phoenicians as the sole source of a purple dye so precious that only royalty could afford it. That's why purple is associated with royalty, by the way.

So, having bonded with this historically-aware blood-taker, she taught me something important about men and iron. Whereas women lose blood monthly and need to replace it, which requires prodigious quantities of iron, men do not lose blood monthly (unless they live in a leech-infested lagoon, or are REALLY clumsy with a kitchen knife ;). We men get plenty of iron from red meat and other sources, and if we are lucky enough to reach our 50's or 60's, and if we diligently take multivitamins that contain iron, we often work up an iron excess, which can be VERY bad for our continued survival. Seems the body is not able to reduce its iron level. I had my blood tested last week, and it was OK, but my doc confirmed that iron excess in men is a problem and is to be avoided. Donating blood is one way to work off an excess of iron. Switching to a "men's" multivitamin, which does not contain iron, is another way. So, meat-eating men, check your vitamins for content!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Belknap Springs; Cougar Lake

That fortunate image is of Cougar Lake. Wow! It's not really as pretty as my picture indicates, but it's great to see, regardless. We found it on our drive to Belknap Hot Springs. Belknap is on the McKenzie River, which is COLD, shallow, broad, rushing, and gorgeous. The hotel dates to the late 1800s. They have cabins, RV sites, campsites, and rooms in the lodge. It's kind of a middle-class place but the setting is terrific. There are good hiking trails, and a hidden formal garden that, depending upon your view, is either breathtakingly beautiful or hydrologically fascinating (it channels water from a stream in creative ways). Seriously, that garden is somebody's masterpiece. We drove up the McKenzie Pass, where there is an expansive lava field with scattered dead and live trees framing a fantastic panaroma of the Sisters mountains. Wow. Eat at Takoda's, about 10 miles west of Belknap--it's awesome food and beer, and have you ever seen a living lungfish before?--it practically proves evolution all by itself, but don't eat at the Rusty Skillet or whatever it's called. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Too far South for Pinot noir?

We visited King Estate last week (pictured). It's in the boonies, about ten miles west of Cottage Grove.

What a grand winery! It must have been Oregon's most expensive (and expansive) place, until Dom. Serene was built. The tasting alcove is in the restaurant, which is inside and outside. Very elegant indeed. In fact, the architecture makes it worth a trip.

They have about 600 acres of grapes, and over 300 of them are in Pinot gris (their "signature grape," according to Kevin, one of the best-informed, brightest wine pourers I've yet met. They have three labels of gris. I liked the middle one (Signature) the best; it's $17 retail and has a nice nose and is good on palate. I can get it for you at wholesale if you like. The Domaine gris ($25) was Jane's favorite of the three. The Pinot noirs were OK, but I don't recommend them. I think K.E. is too far south and hot for Pinot noir. Also, the trellis high wire seemed too low to me (you can see it in the photo)--PN grapes need about 12 leaves per cluster to reach full ripeness. Maybe it's different in the hot semi-desert (kidding, but it seemed like it) down there, but I suspect the the viticultural practices limit the wine's quality (though I'm sure the vineyard workers would protest with reasons why the trellises are OK).

We also visited Ch. Lorane, which has a great deck high above a pretty lake. Most of the wines are not recommendable, but we found a rose from Tempranillo and a Viognier that were OK. I went there because they make some wines from hybrid grapes, but sadly they're not going to convert any vinifera lover. I still think that is possible, just not at Ch. Lorane.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Disappointment + sadness = old Oregon Pinot

Man. I have HAD IT with disappointing older Oregon Pinot noirs. So many times have the big names (and big bucks) let me down.

The latest: 2001 Bergstrom. The bouquet was just alcohol. No fruit on the nose or in the palate. No whiff of barnyard (which is a customary element with Pinot). True, this was from four younger vineyards, but they are good ones (Arcus, Corral Creek, Bergstrom, Mahonia) and Bergstrom is a major Pinot noir player in Oregon (their wines are sold mostly to Manhattan and LA restaurants, if I recall correctly). Moreover, 2001 was a very good year. I didn't want to finish my glass; usually, we'll rip through a whole bottle. Direct and repeated experience does not lie; this is a damnation of practically an entire industry (just of its older wines, to be clear--I'm not criticizing the great younger ones from here). But this stings. When I was in Burgundy, and talked up Oregon's Pinots (I know, that was a dumb thing to do--did I have a death wish or something?), the Frenchies' universal response was, "Yes, but it doesn't age well and you don't have our terroir."
If you can't cellar a wine for a few years, then what good is it? I buy prosecco to drink in a month or two, sure, but I don't schedule my reds that tightly. They should be able to wait for me, and shine brightly when I'm ready for them. A Pinot from a good year should be able to last eight. And you will hear many winemakers from around here say that their Pinots last much longer than is commonly believed. Don't be so sure.

Previously, it was 1999 Archery Summit and Erath, a 2000 Domaine Serene, and some 2000 Ken Wrights that were worn out by year 7-10. All these wines were cellared impeccably.

My list of Willamette Pinots that truly can improve for years is fast shrinking. Here is my list: Beaux Freres and Domaine Drouhin (in a great year), and Anderson Family Vineyards (in good years), and some wines from JK Carriere, in great years. There may be others; God I hope so. Otherwise, I recommend drinking our Oregon Pinots up by 3-4 years from release. And don't even think about investing in them--with rare exceptions, they do very poorly at auction. There are better ways to lose money.

Sorry to have to post this. Please, Oregon, prove me wrong.
10-2-09 update: One 2000 Beaux Freres (Beaux Freres Vineyard) was a little disappointing (not bad, but down the curve's backside a ways), but another from the same case was very good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wine regulation, or how poor Oregon is screwed

Arggh! I find some wines for sale, at retail, in California, at prices awfully close to the WHOLESALE prices I can buy at, and, today, even below my wholesale purchase price, in one instance.

So I call my distributor, who listens patiently, then explains, for his thousandth time:

1. CA allows volume discount pricing to distributors, so the big ones can sell to their bigger retail customers at lower prices. This is how K&L, a giant online and brick-and-mortar retailer in the Bay Area, can offer such great prices (though, if you buy from them, you must pay shipping to get the wine up here, and by the time you do that, I can ALWAYS give you a better price). In Oregon, by state law every sale of a wine to a wholesaler (large or small) must be at the same price. So my distributors can't get discounted pricing even if they buy large volumes.

2. Most wine that gets to Oregon comes into the US in, or comes through, California. To get wine up to Oregon, shipping costs of approximately $2-3 per bottle must be paid. This increases Oregon's wine prices over California's big-city wine prices (the California boondocks face the same shipping price adder as Oregon does).

3. California, being a state with high income and property and sales taxes, has very low taxes on wine purchases. In contrast, Oregon, with its (pardon the editorial comment: stupido refusal to enact a sales tax and thereby raise some money from our tourists, who comprise Oregon's largest industry) has pretty high taxes on wine purchases.

Taken together, the Oregon consumer is disadvantaged compared to the California consumer. But, then again, how many of us would want to live in California, just to get cheaper wine? C'est la vie!

Among thorns

Picking Blackberries 101:
Do you know how fast a rock thinks? Move your hands at that speed, and no thorn can touch you. The thorn knows only how to rip fast flesh; against slow flesh, the thorn has no power. Work at the cadence of the thorn, and even the most sensitive skin is safe. Laugh at the barbed points! They cannot hurt you, no matter how often you touch them. Weave your hands, zen-like, through the bush, and pluck the berries, letting them fall into the basket of your palm.
Amidst the distant bleating of a goat, you stand, working, alone with fruit and sky, in the delirious minefield that you alone can traverse.
Now, you know. Please pick up your graduation certificate at the administrative office, and enter the real world, to apply your newfound knowledge.

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