Everything from A to Z: Good Oregon Wine

a to zTo me, “Oregon” used to mean “expensive Pinot from the Willamette Valley.” The Oregon wine people used to tell us, (again and again) that they were on the same latitude as Burgundy, which justified the $40, $50 or $60 price tags on their Pinot Noir. But many of us weren’t so sure…

Then along came this rather iconoclastic group of wine people who had passed through many of Oregon’s best wineries. The founding members of A to Z Wineworks had roots in Domaine Drouhin, Chehalem, Archery Summit, Eyrie, Burgundy and New Zealand. Not to mention a celebrity basketball coach (Gregg Popovich) who happened to be a huge wine fan and collector. Their stated aim was to make “Aristocratic Wines at Democratic Prices.”

So instead of buying land and planting acres of vineyards in the Willamette Valley, this group of wine professionals made contracts with some of the best growers in Oregon to buy their grapes and blend them into great wines that they could sell at great prices.  That’s where the whole “democratic” thing comes in…

I’ve tasted some of A to Z’s wines, and I can testify that they represent amazing quality for the money. In fact, Food and Wine Magazine named theirs the “Best American Pinot Noir Under $20.”

But this time I wasn’t tasting the Pinot Noir.  I stumbled on A to Z Night and Day 2007 , which is a blend of six grapes from Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. I admit that I knew nothing about this new appellation, and that I was surprised to learn that Southern Oregon is nothing like the Willamette Valley, where Pinot Noir is king. The Rogue Valley has much warmer days and a slightly longer growing season, but still retains the cool nights that produce structure and acid in the grapes. Southern Oregon is ideal for Bordeaux and Rhone varietals — who would’ve thought! And A to Z’s Night and Day is a blend of six of those grapes: 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese, 4% Grenache, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Wow: that really is the “kitchen sink” of Oregon reds.

So how does it drink? First of all, the 2007 vintage in Southern Oregon was “the finest vintage in recent memory.” Long hot days and cool nights produced beautifully ripe, small-berried clusters, which in turn created a rich, soft, full-flavored wine. The nose features sweet berries with a hint of spice and tobacco, and the palate brings a burst of bright fruit followed by good structure and acid. The balance is good, with just enough tannin to match the fruit.

Check out their very fun website to learn more about the A to Z family. I especially loved their page on screw caps — why they’re the best closures for wine, that is. That’s a bandwagon I jumped on long ago, and I hope they can help me win converts to the screw-cap cause.

Cheers!

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