Loving Grana Padano

You're at the store with two pieces of cheese in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is Grana Pandano the other is Parmigiano Reggiano.

You'd buy the Parmigiano right? The king of cheeses, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two pieces of cheese are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line Grana Pandano, while the Parmigiano is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the Parmigiano spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the cheese?

You're at the store with two bottles of wine in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is cabernet sauvignon the other is syrah.

You'd buy the cabernet right? The king of wines, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two bottles of wine are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line syrah, while the cabernet is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the cabernet spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the wine?

Grana Pandano and Parmigiano Reggiano are the same type of cheese. While at its pinnacle many connoisseurs consider Parmigiano the ultimate expression of this style of chesse, there are many passionate producers and consumers of Grana Pandano that would take exception with their position.

One thing I've learned is that dollar-for-dollar you get better value for Grana than you do with the more famous Parmigiano. Often it's a far better choice to buy the most expensive product with a less famous name than the lowest price product with a more exalted name.

I apply the same strategy to buying wine. If I have $30 to spend cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay don't even enter my mind. My thoughts go to gamay, syrah, tempranillo, aglianico, vermentino, chenin blanc and on and on. Today it seems the choices are limitless.

Like the Reggiano cheese place name, many wine appellations get bonus points for name recognition that spot them extra dollars on each bottle over their competitors. When you buy wine from a famous place name you pay a premium for that privilege. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes. There are experiences you can get from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Napa that are truly sublime. But with the $30 I want to spend, sublime will not be found in those appellations. You can find extraordinary wine experiences on a budget if you're willing to go beyond these famous place-names. Think El Dorado, Mendocino, Rogue, Sablet, Madiran, Languedoc, Corsica, Sardegna, our own Applegate Valley and, as with the varieties, the options go on and on.

Never in the history of wine has it been easier to drink great wines without spending a fortune. Next time you're in a wine shop hold that bottle of cabernet in one hand and a different wine from a place or variety you don't know in the other and ask yourself what you want to pay for - the name or the wine?

Troon, Tannat, Temptation

Troon Tannat and Malbec blocks looking west from the winery.

This is exciting. This is what wine growing should be about. We’re planting more Tannat - a temptation I can’t resist. Yes, Tannat, nothing could be more refreshing than being out of the “fighting varietal” business.

I believe Tannat is a variety that can define the Applegate Valley. Tannat in southern France is famed for its tannic rage, but our granitic soils take off just enough of that edge to reveal a distinctive Southern Oregon personality - all without taming its wilder side. All of our Tannat is grown on our estate vineyard on the higher, second bench of the Applegate River Valley.

Europe is full of regions like Madiran and Cahors, places Tannat has traditionally called home. Many appellations like these that almost died a few decades ago are now reborn and vital due to better winemaking and viticulture - and enlightened consumers. Happily the wine energy today seems to be shifting away from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and so on to new regions and new varieties. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Hallelujah”. These wines are not new to me. In the early 80s I was introduced to the hedonistic pleasures of less than famous place names by Christopher Cannan in France and Spain and by Neil Empson in Italy. At Direct Import Wine Company in Chicago I aggressively imported wines from Madiran, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bandol, Le Marche, Puglia, Priorat and others. They were not easy to sell even at ridiculously low prices, but they were very easy to fall in love with. Of course, I was importing a small cadre of visionary, elite producers that were, in those days, leading the way for their appellations. Today there are many famed producers from these regions and most of the wines I first imported are now, rightfully, famous and not cheap.

Some of you may have tasted previous vintages of Tannat from Troon Vineyard, but those wines are related to these wines in name only. Starting with the 2014 vintage we moved to a natural wine growing and winemaking philosophy. Prior vintages were produced with conventional methods and it shows. These new Tannat releases are from grapes harvested from LIVE and Salmon Safe certified vineyards. The pickers are the same hands that worked in the rows for the entire vintage. Upon harvest the bins are treaded by foot for skin contact and to encourage the native yeast populations. After a day or two, they are de-stemmed into small fermenters for native yeast fermentation and hand punch downs. There are no acids, sugar, enzymes or sulfur added to the fermenters. After fermentation is complete the wine is pressed into used French Oak barrels. No new oak is used. The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel.

The new releases:

2014 Troon Blue Label Estate Tannat, Applegate Valley $35

100% Tannat from our estate vineyard. This is unrestrained pure Applegate Valley Tannat. Deeply colored with intense dark fruit flavors and mouth-coating tannins, an in-your-face Oregon wine, yet it can seem restrained compared with many California wines. Despite the strength of this wine, I believe is not for long aging, but should be enjoyed over the next five years as it's better to revel in its youthful power rather than wait for a refinement that may or may not arrive. 169 cases produced.

2014 Troon Black Label MT, Applegate Valley $50

This is a co-ferment, not a blend, and that makes all the difference. Blending can enhance and lift the character of a wine, but a co-ferment creates a new wine all together. The unique chemistry of a co-ferment releases whole new ranges of flavors, aromas and textures that would never exist in a blend. We feel we've found the right balance with this vintage using 60% Tannat and 40% Malbec. The Malbec gives a round warmth that envelops the power of the Tannat to make a more complete and complex wine. The Tannat is from our estate vineyard and the malbec is from the Full Quiver Vineyard, which is contiguous with our estate. 240 cases produced.

As much as I like these wines, they are just a beginning point for us - a launching pad. These wines are delicious, but the upcoming vintages still in the cellar - 2015 and 2016 - have gained in complexity and depth as we learn more with each vintage. It’s a thrilling voyage.