The other day I chucked a bottle in my bag at the last minute from an Oregon estate I know nothing about by the name of Holden. It was a sample Molly left with me before she took flight, from the Medici vineyard, with an odd, twee label, the kind that says nothing about the contents of the bottle, at a standard price point for Oregon Pinot, far from cheap, but hardly expensive either. I was headed out to see one of my top American wine customers, and threw the bottle in for fun thinking “when else will I crack this?”
I uncorked the bottle and rinsed two glasses with wine to get rid of the dishwasher taint. The sun was shining, the weather warm for the first time in months. My customer had just received his New York Times review, and was in a sparkly good mood. I’d slept the sleep of angels, and the West Village streets were bathed in the soft glow of spring sunlight.
I poured the wine. It was Poulsard pale; “Woah” my customer and I uttered simultaneously. “Do you think there’s something wrong?” I wondered aloud. “Look at the alcohol” my customer pointed to the back label. 10.9%. Okay, there’s probably nothing wrong; it’s just an unusual expression of Oregon Pinot. We swirled, sniffed, swished, spat, looked at one another. “This is — like — something I would drink … but I’m just not sure I can serve it.” I nodded in agreement. “I just feel like people expect something different when they order Oregon Pinot.” For sure … more color, more structure, more extraction, not necessarily more fruit, but fruit of a darker hue, and more obvious character. It’d be like expecting Bad Company, and instead getting Steely Dan, intricate and subtle sounds, just not the anticipated ones. Returning the bottle to its padded slot, I went about my day.
At home a few hours later I popped the open Medici into my fridge. An hour or two passed, glued to the computer screen, before I pulled her out and poured a taste. The aromatics were explosive: sumac and tarragon, thyme, ripe raspberry. “Holy shit” I murmured aloud to the black cat, Toro, gazing at me, head-cocked inquisitive, “I love this wine.” (Yes, I talk to the cats.) On the palate, the wine was sweet-toned with the warmth of Oregon, but the body of Jura. There was something so immanently gulp-able about this juice, so charming, so spring-like, virtually without tannins, but not lacking its own unique complexity. Even the color, which I’d initially found anemic, now gleamed … comme une jolie verre de Poulsard I thought, and then chastised myself for trying to put it in a familiar box without giving the wine a proper chance to stand on its own merits.
Referring back to Michael Wheeler’s email about this juice, I thought about what was at play in the bottle. First email: “They went for … LIGHT” Yeah. No shit. Second email “It’s cool if it sells!” Well, yes. Embedded in the second email were the clues to what makes this wine magical. The grapes were planted in 1976, at a steep 1,000 feet elevation. And crucially, they are not the standard issue Dijon clone widely planted across Oregon. This is the Pommard clone of Pinot. I’d been talking to Scott Frank of Bow and Arrow about this clone (his superb Pinot “Hughes Hollow” is also the Pommard clone). Apparently most growers in Oregon chose (or perhaps still choose) the Dijon clone because it promotes ripeness. In 2016, however, we have climate change, which has begotten some hot, dry vintages, vintages in which promoting ripeness may be less important than preserving acidity. In 2016, our thirst for delicate red wine that we can serve chilled and guzzle remorselessly is insatiable, and exactly what this bottle delivered.
I cobbled together the typical Tuesday night repast: cheese toast and salad, beginning with the best bread of all time: the roasted potato loaf from High Street on Hudson. I slathered some pesto, and then applied a thin layer of ham followed by Prairie Breeze cheddar. While cheddar was melting under the broiler, I put my hands in a bowl of salad: greens and purple carrot simply dressed with olive oil and ramp vinegar. Picking up a book (after washing my hands), shooing the cat from my lap for the umpteenth time, “all’s right with the world,” I thought.
The next morning, I’d begin to ponder how to sell it, how to push people beyond their Oregon Pinot comfort zone, how to convince my customers of its myriad charms, but for the moment, I was merely happy to be drinking the wine … and at the end of the day (literally and figuratively) that’s the best compliment one can pay to a bottle of fermented grape juice.