Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keeping Portland Weird: Schöne Schlucht

Barnaby Tuttle of the Teutonic Wine Company"Keep Portland Weird," goes the rallying cry, and Willamette Valley winemakers Barnaby and Olga Tuttle are doing their part. Let's count the ways.

  1. Barnaby and Olga use indigenous yeasts and neutral oak barrels to make wines of place / somewhereness. Nevertheless, they invoke yet another place by calling their company the Teutonic Wine Company.
  2. Their 2009 wines are actually labeled under the Schöne Schlucht name, which is hard to remember and nigh-impossible to pronounce — and this after labeling their wines Honig Schlucht in 2008.
  3. While they make pinot noir and riesling, they also make a varietal pinot meunier despite its nonexistent market reputation.
  4. They're so Teutonically obsessed that they would have labeled the pinot meunier as schwarzriesling if the authorities would have let them, which of course would have led consumers to believe it was a white wine, particularly as it's housed in a tapered, riesling-suggestive bottle.
  5. Barnaby wore an Iron Maiden shirt to a recent tasting even though a Scorpions shirt would have been more Teutonic; somehow this offness was more fitting.
An aside: I visited a well-regarded winery during my recent Oregon visit and found wines that were nicely made, technically correct, balanced, expensive, and dull, dull, dull. Wines dressed in starched clothes. To riff off "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," the wines were so damn dutiful that I wanted to spank them, right there in the fancy-pants tasting room. You might think that the Tuttles are so intent on making German and Alsatian-styled wines that they'd be hamstrung by dutifulness, but that is not remotely the case. Instead, as I discovered at a tasting at the Storyteller wine shop, their wines may follow the low-alcohol, acid-driven style often found in Germany, but they are specific, unbound, themselves.

The Schöne Schlucht 2009 Willamette Valley Riesling, which hails from the iron- and clay-rich Crow Valley Vineyard near Eugene, would do well in a lineup of like-minded German halbtrockens without aping them too directly. It smells like pie crust and sunny fall days and on the palate nicely balances slightly tart and slightly sweet fruit flavors while also sneaking in a hint of umami up the middle. It has good extract, weight, and length, and it turns dry on the finish, with a limey twist that I associate with slate-grown riesling, although the finish here is mellower than a Mosel. It's an effortlessly substantial and seriously joyful wine from 30 year old self-rooted vines that (no surprise) performs well with spicy food.

I also really liked the 2009 Schöne Schlucht "Bergspitze", which is a pinot noir (spätburgunder) from the 1400 foot elevation Laurel Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. I suppose that vineyards 1000 feet lower suffered under the extreme heat in 2009, but not this one: the wine is only 12.5% and it shows a cool, mint or eucalyptus profile; as does the 2009 Schöne Schlucht Willamette Valley Pinot Meunier, which also shows a hint of meatiness. Both wines are very good in their own right and are more specific than many Oregon pinot noirs twice their price (they're in the low to mid-20s).

The 2009s are awfully young and, if very promising, still a bit angular, so I'm particularly glad to have found the more mature 2008 Honig Schlucht Willamette Valley Pinot Meunier at a different Portland shop to bring home to Chicago. The aromas here are infused with cherry, lingonberry, redwood forest, grilled steak, and a drop of Dracula-friendly blood, thanks to the iron-rich soils of the Borgo Pass vineyard near Corvallis. It's even better in my mouth, for it's not only lively and juicy but also has a dead sexy silkiness that's structured by fine tannins and the kind of acidity that makes the wine waft effortlessly over the palate. Finally, it finishes with a tingling, peppery, lightly tart, admirably long mineral sensation. Admittedly, I've never had a German schwarzriesling before, but this wine actually reminds me of a Chinon, particularly Baudry's Les Granges — and yes, it's that good. Alas, with that one bottle, it's all gone... Thank god I have two 2009s for the future.

How do young winemakers hit it out of the ballpark in their first vintage? I'm shaking my head.