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Holiday wines: hunting and gathering

For holiday meal and wine pairing, it seems fair to say there really are no iron-clad rules.

In the spirit of fun and adventure, pretty much anything goes. You might opt to offer guests a wide selection of both red and white wines as a nod toward individual palates and preferences, and as a hedge against (heaven forbid!) running out.

The Wine Wednesday research staff recently took a field trip to Jacksonville to shop for local vintages. Why Jacksonville? Several tasting rooms offering distinctly different wine selections are clustered around town, so you can minimize driving. Also, you can cruise a great selection of downtown stores between flights. For a tasting expedition like this, it’s good to take along a friend. For one thing, it’s more fun that way. As you taste you can discuss your impressions of the bottles you try. And you can split wine flights and avoid having too many sips over too short a period of time.

We started at Dancin Vineyards, about two miles outside Jacksonville on South Stage Road. It opens at noon, and you can grab a light lunch of artisan pizza or salad while sampling the award-winning burgundies, pinot noir and chardonnay Dancin has built its reputation on. The ballerina in the wine dress featured on the Dancin label says it all: every bottle is a work of art.

We headed into town, parked on California Street, and walked a couple of blocks to the South Stage Cellars tasting room on Third Street. South Stage is the estate label of Quail Run Vineyards, one of Southern Oregon’s largest and oldest growers. The wine list runs to more than two dozen wines, including vintages made by local winemakers for South Stage and other labels that use 100 percent Quail Run fruit.

I had not visited since the renovation of its patio and indoor seating spaces. It’s still rustic and charming, but the footing outside is better with new pavers, while inside spaces have been opened up for more elbow room. We sat at the wine bar near a lovely fire and sampled a white flight of South Stage pinot gris, chardonnay, viognier and riesling, as well as a J. Scott Semillon. Light bites such as a charcuterie and cheese plates are available. An autumn case sale was going on, offering 40 percent to 50 percent off cases of syrah, tempranillo, grenache, cabernet franc and merlot — a lot of holiday cheer for the buck.

Our next stop was the Quady North tasting room at the corner of California and Fifth Streets. Quady specializes in viognier, cabernet franc, syrah and rhone blends sourced mainly from estate vineyards in the Applegate Valley. I’ve been a fan of Herb Quady’s wines for years but am delighted to discover he also makes sparkling wines — Q-Vée Rosé of cab franc made in the classic Méthode Champenoise fashion, and a white sparkler of 75 percent vermentino and 25 percent orange muscat named for SOU archaeologist Chelsea Rose. Nothing kicks off a celebration like a glass of bubbles, and these beauties are lower in alcohol, around 11 percent, so you get lots of fun while minimizing side effects of imbibing.

Our last stop was Rellik Winery, the new brand on the property formerly known as Caprice Vineyards, about a mile north of Jacksonville on the Old Stage Road. The Caprice alpacas are still in residence, so after parking we wandered over to see the animals. Heavy equipment is operating in the adjacent field, preparing the ground for new vineyard plantings going in next spring. While we watched all this, hospitality manager and longtime friend Robert Trottmann emerged from the tasting room to greet us with glasses of pinot gris. He gave us the rundown on all the new developments at Rellik, including the opening of guest accommodations — three immaculate suites with access to a secluded fire pit and heated pool. In the renovated tasting room, we tried Rellik pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. All were crafted by Chris Graves of Naumes Crush, but an estate winery is in the works. Rellik is a fantastic addition to Jacksonville’s eclectic array of wineries and expands the options for overnighting on extended wine adventures or an overflow of out-of-town guests.

By the end of the afternoon we’d assembled a variety of wines sure to please friends and family.

But wait, there’s more!

Want to learn everything about sparkling wines? Oregon Wine University, a year-round part of the Oregon Wine Experience, will offer a class on sparklers at the Harry & David Country Store in Medford Thursday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. For ticket information, www.theoregonwineexperience.com/oregon-wine-university-discovery-series/. Proceeds benefit the Asante Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network.

Two notes: Be sure to check winery websites for tasting-room hours. Most open at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. One downtown spot we didn’t get to but plan to try on our next Jacksonville tasting trip is Cricket Hill Winery, a producer of estate right-bank Bordeaux reds. Happy hunting!

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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