Friday, July 9, 2010
I don't typically make a habit of accepting invitations from strange men, but when fellow blogger Josh Chang of PDXploration asked me to meet him for a private tasting of Owen Roe wines, I knew it was one invitation not to be overlooked. Not only was I intrigued to learn about a fellow Portland blogger who focuses on all the undiscovered and delicious things around Portland, I was also dying to pick his brain for the inside scoop on where to dine. The fact that I'd actually been meaning to visit Owen Roe and would be able to cross this tasting room off my list was just the icing on the cake.
I’d heard Owen Roe’s winery has no sign and is not-easy-to-locate. When given directions to their facility, I was instructed to look for the driveway flanked by English ivy (thanks portlandoregonwine), really? Stealth locale discovered (are they trying to keep people away?), I joined my buddy Josh and his visiting family for a private tasting of Owen Roe’s wines. Owen Roe sources the fruit for their wines from premium vineyards sites in Washington and Oregon and operate a production facility in Washington as well. In addition to the Owen Roe label, they also produce Sharecroppers, O’Rielly’s and Corvett A.
To say I was immediately impressed with the 2008 DuBrul Riesling ($21) would be an understatement—blown away might have been a more accurate description. I’m not typically a huge Riesling fan, but the wine was slightly worshipable—viscous, almost honey-like in color and sweet on the nose, presenting apricots and candied almonds. The minerality and brilliant acidity played well against the hint of residual sugar, and though there is .4% RS, the wine was far more dry than it was sweet. The fruit for this luscious bottling came from a small block of grapes in one of the oldest vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley.
Inquiring about the winery’s intriguing black and white labels was a bit like opening up Pandora’s Box. Rose told us story after story of Owen Roe O’Rielly (anscestor of founder and winemaker David O’Reilly), a 17th century Irish patriot who battled all his life with rival Oliver Cromwell. The Riesling’s hand-drawn label features an original woodcut of Clough Oughter Castle where Owen Roe eventually died. Each wine and each label depicts a different chapter in the Owen Roe saga, utilizing the back label to convey the story.
One of the most memorable and impressive of these tales (though I haven’t a clue if the wine is as memorable and might have even given up my left hand to try it) was the story behind Sinister Hand (a blend of Rhone varietals from vineyards in Washington State) whose label prominently features a severed bloody hand. Legend has it, during a boat race across a lake between the O’Rielly’s and the O’Neills, whomever touched land first would be awarded the land as a prize. Land being so valuable, when the O’Rielly’s were losing, one of the crew cut his own hand off and threw it onto land to claim their prize. Rose retold the story with such grim reality, it felt almost like a Monte Python movie, “It was just the left hand… no big deal,” she said sinisterly.
The Owen Roe Kilmore 2008 Pinot Noir was thin and elegant with mouthwatering acidity and earthy components of soil, mushrooms and leather. The mouth opened up to reveal dark, black cherries, blackberries, coffee and a hint of floral perfume that was all but beguiling. Whereas the 2007 Cabernet Franc Mystica Rosa was a bit too vegetal for my taste, with bitter tastes of green pepper that stole the show (and not in a good way), the 2006 DuBrul Cabernet on the other hand, was, in a word, fabulous. Rich and complex flavors of black fruit and lingering spice fill your mouth, laying across your tongue like the finest silk sheet… purely luxurious, especially at $72 a bottle.
Owen Roe also makes a late-harvest Semillon called “The Parting Glass.” The 2007, tropical and floral on the nose, tasted of pineapple, figs, vanilla and toasted caramel… a lovely finish to a great tasting. The Parting Glass is a tribute to winemaker David O’Rielly’s father and the bottle features a popular Irish toast used both to mark the end of a gathering and to honor those who have died: “But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not, I’ll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be with you all.” Until we sip again…