The American Automobile Association is not a major donor to the National Grape & Wine Council, nor does Alcoholics Anonymous put in a big presence at wine tastings, but at a recent one, I sampled current releases from Adelsheim Vineyards—who always appear to be on their ‘A’ game—and opted to usurp their favorite letter anyway.
Among the lineup, I was slightly underwhelmed by the aromatics on the 2011 Pinot Gris, which seem to have dissolved into a clean pomme/petrichor mouthful, but which in past vintages has offered a more complex and penetrating noseful. Adelsheim’s standard issue 2011 Pinot Noir was a beautiful Willamette paradigm: Rich black cherry, cinnamon and brown sugar with cola notes; certainly able to stand with, say, Premier Cru Volnay. 2010 ‘Elizabeth’s Reserve’ was more restrained—cut from the same elegant cloth, but wanting time to display direction.
Anyway, the surprise of the lot was the auxerrois. This odd medieval grape, native of Lorraine, France (rather than Auxerre, for which it is named), is mostly used as a blend in wines from Alsace—notably Crémant d’Alsace and as component (and even the entirety) of many wines labeled ‘pinot blanc’. It’s a close cousin to chardonnay, sharing a parentage that DNA profiling shows to be pinot noir and the rustic, now virtually obsolete gouais blanc. Like chardonnay, auxerrois is an early-budding grape which tends to lose acidity quickly after ripening and becomes pendulous and flat. However, unlike chardonnay—the planet’s most cosmopolitan grape, grown everywhere that white grapes can grow—auxerrois vineyards account for less than ten thousand acres worldwide, with a mere handful of wineries producing a single variety auxerrois in the United States.
And Adelsheim is One of ‘Em…
For which you may in part thank David Adelsheim, credited with introducing the often overlooked cultivar to Oregon back in the 1990’s—although, Michigan grape groupies have to give a shout-out to Bel Lago for having planted auxerrois on the Leelanau Peninsula several years earlier.
In any event, since founding Adelsheim Vineyards in 1971, so much applause, and so many accolades and awards have been bestowed upon David Adelsheim’s alabaster apex that he is now too top-heavy to make wine. These days, he divides his time between strategy, marketing and sales and leaves the foot stompin’ to Dave Paige and Gina Hennen. He’s an Oregon Vintner of the Year (2006), an Oregon History Maker (2010), an Oregon Lifetime Achiever (2012) and an Oregon Dude Who Doesn’t Have To Remember How To Pronounce Auxerrois (2013), and has bottled what may be the best auxerrois ever produced outside of Luxembourg, or maybe inside Luxembourg considering I’ve never been there.
“The 2012 growing season got off to a slightly slower than average start, with bud break occurring on April 23, about a week later than normal for the Willamette Valley,” Adelsheim maintains with characteristically dull shop-talk. “Weather during bloom was close to ideal, with minimal rainfall towards the end of flowering. Reduced berry set led to smaller clusters and lower yields than the prior vintage. Picking of the Auxerrois occurred on October 2. The remarkable growing season of 2012 resulted in clean fruit with intense colors and concentrated flavors. “
Well, that’s the medicine, and the sugar that helps it goes down goes something like this:
Aromatically, Adelsheim’s auxerrois shows an amazing array; especially, its bouquet garni of tarragon and sage behind a rich peach, apple and poached pear perfume.
Alsace admires such attention to authenticity; as in its ancestral abode, Adelsheim auxerrois is alive with orchard fruits and a touch of mandarin orange; the wine was prevented from undergoing chardonnay’s favorite crutch, malolactic fermentation, and as such has retained a fierce core of malic tartness balanced by sweet apple, ripe stone fruit and an herbal mélange which adds ginger to the nose notes.
Afterglow: Tangy and terrific, the orange/lime carries through with soft touches of hazelnut and damp stone.
All in all, Adelsheim: ‘A’ for affort.