No one can count the promises that pour out of a bottle of wine. There is a flood of Old World traditions and New World tastes that elicit a genuine laugh or a short cry. Wine is a culinary journey or a path to learning; a career, hobby or just a good time.
For me, the pop of a cork signals the end of my workday. It's a ceremony as powerful as an exchange of vows, a commitment to pay attention to the wine and the people sharing it.
Too often, I put pressure on wine. I expect it to instantly deflate my stress, as if I'm a helium balloon in the hands of a prickly kid. And every time, wine delivers.
But like many other working stiffs, I delay gratification. It took a malbec in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday in May to show me a new way. I happened to be in Buenos Aires at the time, but I could have been 6,800 miles closer to home.
I was sitting at a streetside table with the sun on my face and an irrelevant watch on my wrist and, mercifully, no cellphone service. Nearby me were Portenos, as the residents call themselves to acknowledge that many of their ancestors arrived at the port. These very modern, very stylish, "muy" mellow Portenos were taking care of business, all right, but over European-style cafe visits woven into their workday. Wine-laced lunches and late-afternoon espressos and desserts revved them up for super-late-night dinners of grilled beef made even more sensational by malbec.
Relaxing during the workday is not my normal. Sure, I see the tourists sitting outside Ashland Springs Hotel's Larks restaurant, drumming their fingers on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival playbill and plotting how to spend the hours between a matinee and evening performance. I see them as I rush by to continue my self-imposed, harried day. Perhaps, I'm like you: the juggler who works, donates, volunteers, parents, mentors and nurtures an artistic expression or two in a very tight, 24-hour day.
For me to forget deadlines and let my mind wander requires escape to a faraway place. Or so I thought. After 10 days of soaking up grass-fed beef, approachable wines and spontaneous tango displays in Buenos Aires, I realized that except for the Eva Peron posters, the Beaux Arts mansions and lush polo fields, Tangopolis is a lot like home.
You see, Southern Oregon is mad about malbec, an affordable, food-friendly, fruit-forward red wine with soft tannins. Randy Gold planted malbec vines in Talent in the 1990s and now supplies fruit to a handful of wineries.
Earl Jones of Abacela and Gus Janeway of Velocity are seasoned malbec producers, who committed to the off-the-radar grape a decade ago. Others who have followed Jones and Janeway also have met with success. Dana Campbell Vineyards, which will open its tasting room in Ashland later this year, already sold out of its 2008 Malbec. I drank the 2009 ($28) on Memorial Day with the mandatory barbecue, and I was as patriotic as owner Paula Campbell Brown, who is a rear admiral in the Navy Reserves.
Daisy Creek Vineyards won a silver medal at this year's Greatest of the Grape for its 2009 Malbec made by RoxyAnn winemaker John Quinones (RoxyAnn blends its estate malbec into a claret). Spangler Vineyards won Best of Show at Greatest of the Grape in 2010, and Misty Oaks Vineyard won a gold medal for its 2008 Malbec at the Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival.
Others are catching up with gusto. Grizzly Peak Winery and Pyrenees Vineyard have released their first bottling while Ledger David Cellars' first malbec, a 2011 vintage, is currently in barrel. South Stage Cellars' 2011 was just bottled, and Kriselle Cellars will release a 2010 malbec, currently aging in French oak, when it opens its tasting room in White City this fall.
Serra Vineyards planted about seven acres in 2011, and Applegate neighbor Troon Vineyard has dedicated acres for its fast-growing program. Other wineries with malbec on the menu are Agate Ridge Vineyard, Del Rio Vineyards, EdenVale, Glaser Estate, Plaisance Ranch, Silvan Ridge and Wooldridge Creek.
Wine producers appreciate that malbec can be enjoyed young (no need to age it as much as cabernet sauvignon or even pinot noir), and customers like its light tannins and earthy qualities and how it can hold its own with a blue cheese-topped beef filet or lamb with pomegranate sauce.
Still, in Oregon, malbec vines are rare, says Charles Humble of the Oregon Wine Board. "It is listed as 'other' in our annual survey," he says. "That means it is in a group that totals about 3 percent of the total, so it's a drop in the bucket."
But grower Gold says some people find its scarcity part of the appeal. I'm thinking if it tastes good and mentally transports me to Argentina, I can save myself a lot of effort. I can avoid the TSA-imposed calisthenics stance, the need to try to fold my legs away in a coach airplane seat and to accept that my fellow passengers mistake me for a flight attendant willing to accept their empty soda cans just because I'm constantly patrolling the aisles to avoid bloated ankles.
Before I hopped a plane in Medford to crisscross the Americas, I casually mentioned to Kurt and Laura Lotspeich of Trium Wines where I was headed, and they proved to be walking Wikipedias on Argentine wine, terroir and the obstacles of visiting tasting rooms there (wineries are remote; reservations are required; fees hover around $50).
And I spoke to Daniel Karlin, a Portland man who fell in love with a woman — and Argentina. He married the woman and launched Anuva Wines in Buenos Aires in 2007 to introduce visitors to the region's boutique wines and to sell wine-club memberships. With the boom in Argentine wine and travel, his business has grown to seven employees, and now he distributes to the United State while continuing to host educational wine events in a glass-wrapped loft house in the pretty Palermo area.
Karlin laments that restaurants in the Pacific Northwest are too weighted by pinot noirs and cabs and suggests they get more adventurous with malbecs. He pours it when he's enjoying a Neapolitan pizza or a grilled pork shoulder. "You can't get a whole better," he says before reminding me that "wine drinking in Argentina is casual."
Casual. I like that word. I don't have to escape to Argentina. Or Napa or even the Willamette Valley. I can linger here. Slow down in Southern Oregon. That's a promise I will keep.
EVENT: People don't usually escort their moms to tasting rooms when it's Mother's Day, but on Father's Day — stand back to avoid the stampede. I guess it's because dads go with vineyards as easily as do well-managed kids, dogs and Frisbees. Porscha Schiller of South Stage Cellars explains the allure of papas and wine tasting best: "Ah, to sit down with a beautiful glass of red wine and watch his wife chase after their kids as he relaxes and knows this is the only day he does not have to participate in corralling them."
To encourage displays of daddy devotion, Bear Creek Boutique Wineries (Aurora Vines, Grizzly Peak Winery, Ledger David Cellars, Paschal/Tenuta Winery, Trium Wines, Pebblestone Cellars, StoneRiver Vineyard and Weisinger's of Ashland) are hosting Grape Expectations from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 16 and 17. Tickets to sample wine and appetizers and spend time with each of the owners are $20 each day in advance ($25 the day of the event; buy at www.bearcreekwineries.com).
TASTED: Madrone Mountain's dessert wines, including the cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot blend 2005 Mundo Novo ($38) and 2005 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer ($32), are now being poured and sold at Red Lily Vineyards' tasting room on the Applegate River (yes, this is the winery with lounge chairs on a sandy "beach"). Having Madrone Mountain wines at Red Lily "doubles the tasting experience available to the wine traveler at what I believe to be the most beautiful vineyard," says Madrone Mountain owner Don Mixon, who this summer will release a port-style wine made entirely from Red Lily's reserve tempranillo grapes. "People will be able to taste fruit from the same vineyard as Red Lily's dry wine and as Madrone Mountain's port-style wine."
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email email@example.com.