Choosing wine in the Rogue Valley has gone beyond merely looking at price tags or intriguing or amusing labels.
Gone are the days when restaurant "house wines" by the bottle or glass would be bulk-made, inferior whites or reds from California. Diners now are more likely to be offered decent, well-priced California or Oregon varietals, including some of the excellent wines from Southern Oregon
This increasing wine sophistication often sparks increasing curiosity. Tasting-room managers around the valley say that both wine-club members and visitors ask about a wine's description, the proper way to serve a wine or what food pairs best with a particular varietal.
It's become common for local wineries to serve compatible foods when presenting their seasonal wine-club selections for pick-up. Roxy Ann, Schmidt Family Vineyards and Wooldridge Creek, among many others, have made this a tradition. Wine-club pick-up days have become splendid parties, accompanied by live music and often with more substantial food choices available.
Increasingly, wineries offer classes to their wine-club members. Every winter, for example, Wooldridge Creek presents classes comparing their "classic" varietals, newer varietals and signature Warrick Red and Warrick White blends, as well as "vertical tastings" — tastings of successive vintages of these wines to show how the wines differ from year to year.
Last year, Don and Traute Moore of South Stage Cellars and Quail Run Vineyards introduced a "meet the winemaker" program, presenting winemakers for their own wines or other wineries using their grapes. This year, South Stage Cellars also will offer a class to wine-club members on how the shape of a particular wineglass influences the tasting experience.
Ledger David Cellars tasting-room manager Robert Trottman is offering a class, "Wine 101: How to Choose, Pair and Serve Wines," open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. March 5 at the winery's Le Petit Tasting Room, 245A N. Front St., Central Point (located between Lillie Belle Farms and Rogue Creamery). For more information, see www.ledgerdavid.com or call the tasting room at 541-664-2218.
Limited to 25 participants, the class will offer a selection of five Ledger David wines including the award-winning 2010 Orion's Nebula (a red blend), 2010 Port made from tempranillo grapes and 2010 "Primoris" Chenin Blanc.
"I want to talk about the life cycle of wine," says Trottman. "Wine is a living thing that changes radically over time. For example, the 2010 Orion's Nebula won a double gold at World of Wine when it was first released, but it is still evolving. It is still winning awards, most recently from the San Francisco Chronicle."
Trottman adds, "I am constantly having visitors to the tasting room ask why a wine is described a certain way as well as why a wine is best paired with certain foods."
The class pairs foods with the wine flight, and participants take home a logo wineglass, included in the $25 cost.
In describing a wine's complexity, Trottman often asks the taster remember a familiar flavor. "I don't just say 'fruity,' but rather a specific flavor like apricot or cherry. That's easy to recognize."
"I want to take the mystery out of wine," he says. "I want it to be approachable. I want people to understand that they are judging the wine; the wine is not judging them."
Good advice to keep in mind the next time you go winen tasting!
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.