Wineaux: Savoring the present in a glass of wine

By From page A13 | January 23, 2014

On Jan. 2, my partner and I hopped on an early morning train and headed west. By 10:30 a.m. we were sitting on a bench overlooking the San Francisco Bay, drinking a pot of Snow Leopard tea and munching on an Acme Bakery roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich. The sun was shining.

When we could tear ourselves away from the warmth and the view, we walked to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (did you know that your Yolo County Library card entitles you to free admission?) to see their latest exhibit, “Dissident Futures.” The paintings-installations-videos come from a number of artists, who “envision a future that expands beyond our conventional expectations.”

Sobering. I’m already living in a “future” that has expanded way beyond my expectations; as I walked through these surreal (yet not impossible) future land-and-seascapes, dotted with practical projects like fog collectors to supply fresh water (fast becoming our most precious commodity — think about that before you flood your lawn or linger in that luxuriously hot shower), I couldn’t wait to get back out into the sunshine. And the present.

Rebecca turned to me and said exactly what I had been thinking: “Maybe mortality isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

That future-on-the-walls may be exciting and challenging and possibly, in some weird way, wonderful, but do I really want to be around for it? I kind of like San Francisco just the way it is. I kind of like life just the way it is. My adaptability seems to be contracting.

This, at least, was my initial response. And a depressing response it was. As we headed toward Grace Cathedral, though, to walk the labyrinth, I had a different one: Let’s celebrate. Let’s enjoy the present. Let’s have a glass of wine.

For the past several years, I’ve regaled readers with the wonders of the hotels, restaurants and wines of this post-holiday City excursion. And yes, all were good. Beyond good. Do try The Griffon Hotel, Perbacco Restaurant, La Nebbia Wine Bar, Vermentino de Gallura (a soft, dense, winter white from Sardinia) and Cannonau di Sardegna Azienda Agricola Pedres (an intense, full-bodied, spicy red, also from Sardinia).

Yes, those wines did anchor us firmly in the present. A good wine will do that. The beauty of it in the glass, the slightly mysterious smell of it, the lingering taste of it.
And there are plenty of wonderful wines more easily available and just as worth enjoying to celebrate the here and now. My January resolution (note that I’m making resolutions month by month this year) is to worry a little less about price and a little more about, well, goodness. So until your next trip to the big city, here are a couple of discoveries.

Because the conversation is so engrossing, I usually don’t pay much attention to the glass of wine I sip at book group dinner. At last month’s gathering, though, I sat up and noticed the 2011 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris. Delicious. Interesting. Unusual.

Eyrie claims to be the first grower of pinot gris in America. Founded by David and Diana Lett in 1966, the vineyards are in the Red Hills of Dundee, Ore., and the winery itself in McMinnville. They named it for the red-trailed hawks who make their eyries in the fir trees.

This wine is a blend of grapes from all four of their vineyards, is fermented in stainless steel, and remains on the lees until bottling, which gives it added depth and complexity. It’s quite acidic and mineral-y and surprisingly rich and creamy with a slightly bitter citrus finish.

Very versatile, it paired perfectly with all manner of potluck offerings on my plate from artichoke-heart-stuffed cremini to butternut squash lasagne. (Yes, we eat well in my book group.) I can imagine it as an elegant companion to a nice piece of wild salmon. The wine has garnered much praise and many high scores (90 from Parker) — $18 at Nugget.

One of the Eyrie folks joined with other Oregon wine veterans and started A to Z Wineworks in 2002. Not only do they produce wine but they have worked with more than 100 vineyards across the state offering assistance for sustainability certification. A to Z has two viticulturists on staff and uses biodynamic principles to farm all owned or long-leased vineyards.

The current issue of Wine Spectator has the 2011 A to Z Pinot Noir on its Top 100 Wines of 2013, and all manner of critics have praised it. Here’s WS: “This sleek red is tightly packed, with delicate layers of cherry, tobacco and cocoa flavors that mingle against refined tannins, persisting pleasantly on the light-stepping finish.”
Other critics call it “beautiful,” “vibrant,” “lush,” “complex,” “sassy” — everything you’d want in a nice pinot. Given this, I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle at Nugget at the sale price of $20 (though other wine sources offer it for as little as $12). We found it, unlike some critics, rather austere, though we liked it. I’d be happy to drink it often. But I was expecting to love it and I didn’t. Maybe all the hoopla made my expectations unrealistic; I have, after all, written before about the difficulty of finding a good pinot noir for under $20.

It puzzles me that WS called it not just a good bargain but one of the 100 best wines of the year. Really? Then I wonder what wines make it to their tasting table. This is a large production pinot, made from the grapes of 24 different Oregon vineyards and made by the fastest growing wine operation in Oregon. I’m imagining big bucks, too. Infer what you will. This may well be, as one wine source said, “the best $15 pinot we’ve had in the store all year,” but one of the best wines?

(By the way, if you decide to try this, be sure you get the 2011; the 2012 has been released but I have no idea what it tastes like and apparently A to Z has produced a few duds, which, reservations aside, this definitely is not.)

My regret: I could have spent a little less and gotten a bottle of that Eyrie Pinot Gris. Or local Bebame Red (cabernet franc and gamay) or Bone-Jolly gamay (both at the Co-op for about $18) — made by Steve Edmunds and friends, full of local terroir (El Dorado) and a little bit unlike anything else.

These wines I love. These wines anchor me to the present and make it possible to shrug off scary scenarios of the future. At least for an hour or two.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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