Small Wonders

"Gee, it must be great, getting invited to all those wine tastings," people say. And OK, it is pretty great, particularly when there's a posh buffet to put you in the mood. But there's a downside. You think it's nice getting to sample Chateau Cheval Blanc and, even as you're swirling it round your mouth trying to memorize every last subtlety, knowing that in the real world your chance of ever tasting it again verges on vanishing? And it isn't always the grands crus classés that hand out the frustration. Just the other day, in a tasting organized by the indefatigable wine pro David LeClaire, I realized that you can develop just as big an unfulfillable thirst for a wine that doesn't run to a three-figure cost. The show-and-sip was titled "Boutique Winery Showcase 2004," and a lot of the usual suspects were there: DeLille with its killer Chaleur Estate ($60) and second-label red D2 ($33), Bob Betz showing off his luscious '01 Clos de Betz ($28) and "Pere de Famille" ($44), Mike Wallace with a bevy of his Euro-style sweet wines from Hinzerling. But the real news—and the heartbreak—was coming from more than a dozen upstart wineries, some making their first offerings to the public, more often than not made in such tiny quantities that if you hadn't visited the vineyard shop or ordered via the Web, you were already out of luck before the wine hit your tonsils. To add insult to injury, they were mostly reasonably priced, too. Cañon de Sol's award-winning '01 Bordeaux-style blend goes for under $30—if you can locate any of the 3,400 bottles made. Maryhill was offering an '02 viognier, sappy, juicy, and fragrant, for $15 retail, all 320 cases of it. Wilridge has a real dark-horse winner with its nebbiolo for under $20; too bad there's only half an acre of nebbiolo vines at Klipsun Vineyards to make it from. Some of the most exciting wines on offer were made from grape varieties native to the Rhône River valley of France. Everybody is trying to make syrahs these days; the striking thing is vintners who are working with the less-fashionable (so far) Rhône varieties roussanne and mourvedre as well as viognier and the ever-cranky but essential grenache. Rhône varietal pioneer Doug McCrea was represented by a syrah, a viognier, and Sirocco ($32), a syrah-grenache blend descended from McCrea's legendary Tierra del Sols of the 1990s. Those who think ahead were scribbling notes to themselves to nab some of Syncline's '02 syrah (just $20) and a promised 100 percent grenache, while Serience, a debutant winery too new to have a Web site or even a printed program, was proudly putting forward a viognier-roussanne white and a four-Rhône red in relatively vast quantities: 650 cases each! At that rate, some Serience wines may make it into stores before selling out. Get this! Oregon's Argyle Winery has taken the big step of bottling its basic pinot noir—the 2002 vintage—in a screw-top bottle. Some people think wine can't mature properly in screw-top. At $16 list, this one isn't going to be on the market long enough to find out. Crisp, bright, with a full pinot noir fragrance and flavor, it's a drink-now delight.

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