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Applegate Valley wines: A sample of things to come

The 18 vineyards and wineries in the Applegate Valley, affiliated as the Applegate Valley Wine Trail, held their semi-annual "Uncorked" celebration on May 18. Along with the tastings of featured wines and complementary food pairings, the wineries also pulled out the stops — so to speak — and offered some interesting barrel tastings of bottles-to-come.

These are wines that are still aging in the barrel. Some of the wines will be bottled in the next couple of months and released to the public soon after. Others will remain fermenting in oak for six months or longer before being bottled and allowed to age in the bottle for a few months to a few years prior to being offered for sale. These wines show nowhere near the flavor and complexity they will have when released, but a barrel sample gives a good idea of where they are going and what they will be like.

The winemakers, of course, taste from barrels at selected intervals during the winemaking process. These progressive samplings show how a barrel's contents — whether a single grape variety from a particular vineyard, a blend of the same grape variety from different vineyards or a blend of different grape varieties — is developing.

I was able to visit only six of the 18 wineries on the "Uncorked" tour — all 18 would have required a hired limo and an infinitely revivable palate — but the quality of the barrel tastings was impressive.

Plaisance Ranch offered a vertical barrel tasting of their 2010 and 2012 merlot and called the presentation "Beyond 'Sideways,' a fresh look at Merlot" — a direct swipe at the movie that made a joke of that varietal by comparing it unfavorably to pinot noir. And, indeed, the barrel-aged 2010 merlot is nothing to joke about. It is smooth and fruity upon first taste with enough acid and tannin to give it a refreshing finish without being harsh. Watch for this wine's release.

The barrel sample at Schmidt Family Vineyards featured their 2013 tempranillo. Schmidt is known for the quality of their tempranillo, and this vintage shows the promise of aging into a full-bodied wine with flavors of cherry and plum and minor notes of leather and tobacco.

Wooldridge Creek's barrel sample was their 2012 cabernet sauvignon and was accompanied by a formal presentation describing the grapes — the estate's cabernet sauvignon grape vines were planted in 1978 — and the winemaking process. The 2012 cabernet sauvignon is blended with 10 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, and it will have spent two years in French oak and another year in the bottle before release.

Longsword Vineyard's barrel sample was their 2013 "Phrase" pinot noir. Obviously, this is a very young wine but it is already very good — a nicely complex layering of fruit with acid and tannin. It is another one to look for when it is ready for release.

Valley View offered their 2013 sauvignon blanc, which will be bottled shortly. It is a nice balance of fruit and acid and will be a great summer match with grilled foods.

Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden did not have a barrel tasting but featured two just-released wines. The 2011 Syrah Grenache ($30) is a first-time blending for this winery of two grape varietals originally planted in 2005, although the two varietals are commonly blended in France. Cowhorn's blend is 65 percent syrah and 35 percent grenache. The 2013 Spiral 36 ($28) is a blend of equal parts of the tropically flavored viognier, the satiny rousanne and the honey-flavor marsanne and would go well with spicy foods or cheese.

The Academy of Wine, Bridgeview, Cricket Hill, Devitt, Fiasco, John Michael Champagne Cellars, Rosella, Red Lily, Serra, Soloro, Troon and Wild Wines also offered barrel tastings or their newly released wines during "Uncorked." There was everything from a 2007 Merlot Reserve at The Academy and a 2007 Merlot at Devitt to a white burgundy-style Chardonnay at John Michael to ginger wine and marionberry wine at Wild Wines along with tempranillos at Red Lily, cabernet sauvignons at Rosella and Serra, viognier at Soloro and a 2013 estate zinfandel at Troon.

I wish I could have sampled them all.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.