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Looking back on positive year for local wine

It's January. Must be time for a year-ender. Journalists typically take a look back at the year's highlights in late December or early January.

My favorite year-ender memory dates back to 1951. I was watching a newsreel in a move theater. The commentator reviewed the various crises of the previous year — the Cold War, the Bomb, the Korean Conflict — and concluded: "So what can we say about 1950? Well, it could have been worse!"

So, what of 2010 and wine?

I sense that the 2010 grape-growing season wasn't the greatest. But from a consumer's point of view, there were many positives.

The variety of local wines grew, fueled in part by the use of custom-crush arrangements that allow growers to avoid much of the cost of building their own wineries.

At the World of Wine Festival at Del Rio last August, Southern Oregon wines won twice as many medals as they had the year before. New wineries like LaBrasseur, Caprice and Eliana won medals.

In November, the New York Times rated Foris Rogue Valley 2008 Pinot Gris ($15), made by Bryan Wilson, as "best value" among whites in an article on wines for Thanksgiving. Also praised in the story was A to Z Wineworks 2006 Chemin de Terre, a Dundee red made with Rogue Valley fruit.

More tasting rooms opened, like the one at Pebblestone. Other tasting rooms, like those at South Stage Cellars, RoxyAnn, Quady North and Pacific Wine Club, offered an expanding variety of events, including parties, classes, concerts and food-and-wine pairings.

More multiwinery events were introduced, notably Roam the Rogue.

A lot of good local wine was on the market. Wines I bought included Valley View chardonnay, RoxyAnn claret, Daisy Creek Triple Play (made at Agate Ridge), Slagle Creek chardonnay, Rosella's white blend, Pebblestone syrah, Bridgeview cabernet sauvignon, Fiasco claret, LaBrasseur viognier and Eliana Reserve.

More local restaurants made Southern Oregon labels their house or featured wines: Troon at Rosario's, Rosella's at Rosso's, Foris at Wild River, Valley View at Rogue Regency and Wooldridge Creek at several establishments.

And a growing number of local supermarkets set aside special Southern Oregon sections in their wine departments. Patrons could still find a few locals for less than $10.

Yes, it could have been worse.

TWO NEW WINES FROM Slagle Creek of the Applegate Valley were among the highlights of the second annual Meadows art show wine tasting in Central Point last month. The winery's 2007 Pini ($20), a tempranillo-cabernet sauvignon blend, is a superior red. But the crowd favorite was the dessert wine 2009 late-harvest gewurztraminer ($20).

Slagle Creek poured tastes of five wines overall, the others being 2008 Chardonnay ($15), 2007 Claret ($20) and 2008 Merlot ($15).

Rosella's of the Applegate featured the popular white and red blends that are served at restaurants like Rosso's and Pomodori in Medford and reviewed in earlier columns. The white features some gewürztraminer along with chardonnay giving it a hint of sweetness while the red blends zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The wines, which sometimes bear the name Manu Aloha, retail for $18.

THE VINTNER'S RESERVE line of Kendall-Jackson continues to offer affordable, high-quality wines.

Flagship of the group is chardonnay, and the 2009 release ($14) follows in that tradition with mild oak, tropical flavors and creamy texture. You often see the wine on sale locally for about $10, and many Rogue Valley restaurants serve it.

Two other, new Kendall-Jackson whites of note are the 2009 Riesling ($12) and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($11). I'd give a slight nod to the riesling — like a liquid fruit bowl with silky texture. The sauvignon blanc is tasty and crisp.

An interesting new red is K-J's 2007 Summation ($14), a blend of seven varietals: primarily merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. The result is a smooth, gentle yet complex wine. The winery's 2008 Syrah ($16) is earthy and full of flavor. Also new is a 2008 Zinfandel ($16) that's smooth and mildly spicy.

Kendall-Jackson also offers some good choices in the Grand Reserve line: 2007 Merlot and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, each $25. I found both of them rich and delicious.

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