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JPR's annual wine-tasting a smash hit

"It's a party, not just a wine tasting," observed one of the guests at the 26th annual Jefferson Public Radio Wine Tasting in Ashland. A correct assessment. Wine and food were available in abundance. For many, it was like being a kid in a candy shop.

Schedule conflicts prevented me from attending this event in 2004 and 2005, so this past December's celebration was the first I'd observed in its new location at the Ashland Springs Hotel. (It was moved there after a number of years at Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union.) I was impressed at how organizers arranged wine and food tables here and there through three different rooms plus a hallway.

At some events like this, the food runs out an hour or so before closing time. But not at this one. Servers came around with trays of munchies right up to the end. Wineries and food providers each topped the 20 mark. When the JPR tasting began more than a quarter of a century ago, 90 percent of the participating wineries came from outside of Southern Oregon. Today, the percentages are reversed, reflecting the growth of the local wine industry.

Some wines I admired:

* Cliff Creek 2004 Syrah - rich and flavorful.

* Ashland Vineyards Shakespeare label "bone dry" 2003 Pinot Gris - interesting and spicy.

* Spangler 2004 Cabernet Franc - a high-class red from this Winston winery made with Rogue Valley grapes; one of the best wines there.

* Chehalem 2003 Pinot Noir - another quality wine from the small producer up near Newberg.

* Abacela 2003 Tempranillo - This Roseburg winery introduced tempranillo in this region and still excels at making it.

* Wooldridge Creek 2004 Syrah - made with 6 percent viognier which gives it some pleasant fruitiness.

* Valley View Anna Maria 2003 Claret - the best claret I tasted there.

* Madrone Mountain Vintage 2004 - a dessert wine blending merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot. It won a gold medal at this year's World of Wine Festival.

Some other good ones included Foris Gewurztraminer, Crater Lake Cellars Syrah, RoxyAnn Viognier, Weisinger's Dry Rose, Troon Ltd. Reserve and Paschal Civita (the last two are fine red blends).

Favorite foods? A good variety of pizzas from Kaleidoscope and meatballs from Elements, a new Medford restaurant that hadn't even opened yet (but since has).

COLUMNS IN LATE DECEMBER or early January often take a look at the year's highlights. For 2006, one could observe that the list of Southern Oregon wineries continued to grow, with newcomers appearing to pop up every few months.

Among the Jefferson Public Radio participants, for example, was Agate Ridge Vineyard of Eagle Point. It plans to have a grand opening for its tasting room this spring.

Take a look at the Southern Oregon Winery Association web site (www.sorwa.org), and you'll note there are now 35 members in the Rogue, Applegate and Umpqua districts.

THE JACKSONVILLE INN PLANS an Australian wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26. Wines ­-- from Penfolds - will include the famed 2001 Penfolds Grange (rated at 98 points by Robert Parker), as well as Eden Valley Riesling, St. Henri Shiraz and Grandfather Port, among others.

Nathan Millington, described by the Inn as "our resident Aussie," will offer commentary. Chef Tim Keller will prepare the menu. Cost is $120 (because of the expense of the wine). Call 899-1900.

THE WINE LIST AT THE HUNGRY Woodsman in Medford is not very strong on local labels, offering just a handful, like Foris, Valley View and Bridgeview. But it does offer a good selection from elsewhere in Oregon and the Northwest, such labels as King Estate, Argyle, Erath, Rex Hill, Panther Creek, Columbia Crest and Hogue, plus international choices.

And the list of about 50 wines features a dozen by the glass, starting at $3.75.

I sipped King Estate Pinot Gris ($5.25) with my spinach salad and Rosemount Shiraz from Australia ($4.75) with an entrée of chicken breast stuffed with bacon and cream cheese and cooked in a brown bag.

KENDALL-JACKSON OF CALIFORNIA has three new reds on the market. Best of the lot is the 2004 Jackson Estates Grown Cabernet Sauvignon. At $18 it is more expensive than most K-J wines which tend to run closer to $12, but is excellent - rich and earthy with a lingering aftertaste. It was even better after being open for three days.

The other two are the 2004 Syrah and 2005 Zinfandel, each $12 and about average.

I'd give a slight nod to the zin, which grew on me and, again, was better on the third day.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.