Pop the Cork! It’s 5 o’clock in Some Campground

The German and I headed south – Mendocino-south to the northern coast of California for the annual family camping trip. Yes, sometimes I camp – Rocky Mountain High and the works. As soon as we arrive, the fun begins until inevitably, a bone breaks or an eye is poked out. Then we pack up and go home – until the next year when we do it all over again.

Despite the many, many dirty fingers attached to the little goblins, who seem to always be pursuing my plate, what brings me peace is knowing that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and on a camping trip, it’s never too early to drink. So scramble some eggs, pull the cork and pour a glass of some kind of wonderful.

Cherry Point Vineyards 2004 Ortega, Vancouver Island, is an unexpected glass of bliss and a great way to start the day. Serve it as a side of fruit, because this wine is full of ripe grapefruit, apple, pomello and mandarin orange with a smidge of minerality to even things out. Admittedly, we packed this bottle with a fair bit of trepidation and rather low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a smooth and harmonious wine, sophisticated to serve at brunch with enough umph to unscrambles the eggs.

Next up: Januik 2008 Riesling, Bacchus Vineyard, is an amazing counterweight to the power of spice in Uli’s Famous Sausage straight from Pike Place Market. This wine is light and flinty with bursts of ripe peach and juicy apricot. Roast a dog over an open flame and while your mouth unsuspectingly fans the spicy heat, this wine steps in on its covert mission. With a quiet forcefulness, this Riesling squelches the fire burning in your soul, looks left than right – and disappears into the darkness, superhero style.

Speaking of darkness, Walla Walla Vintners 2006 Bella Italia Red Blend, Columbia Valley, is the blend that calls to the wild things – lions and vampires and bears, oh my! this wine is appallingly luscious, and brings forth the power at twilight. Its first impression is structured and hard-hitting. Than it gradually softens – lulling you into a hypnotic seduction as it sets its sites on the kill. Blood red with big-bodied intensity, this wine is the lion that falls in love with the lamb, showing evidence that stupidity is painful. Its red fruit is made redder with ripe cherry and dark plum – no camping trip is complete with out a real-life ghost story told around the campfire.

And, undoubtedly, campfire talk ranges depending on who’s doing the talking. From easy to elaborate, Willamette Valley Vineyards 2007 Elton Pinot Noir is something of the sort. Smooth and mellow wrapped in earth and ripe strawberry. It’s a provocative wine – that bores easily until the storm moves in. A blast of politics, a gust of guns – this wine casually ignites the flames proposing an assault rifle over an Anaconda six-shooter. And you thought a bear was all you had to fear in the woods. This wine is direct, yet understated – imperious yet protective. It teases the tongue and mocks the mind undoing the seams where family harmony once prevailed.

But back to the bites. JM Cellars 2006 Cuvee, Columbia Valley, puts the meat in the ball atop a pile of camping-style spaghetti (jar, yes – can, no). This wine has hearty strength – a backbone that bursts with juicy blackberry, black currant and fig. Smacked by tannins on the back of your tongue, this wine is robust enough to tame the tomato, yet refined enough for French cheese and chocolate.

And then there’s chocolate – wedged tightly between a golden, plump marshmallow and two slabs of graham cracker. It is the perfect blend of soft texture, creamy meltiness and crunch. Enter Glencorrie 2006 Cuvee Marquis, Columbia Valley. This wine starts out subtle with a smooth finish, but exceptionally unobservant. Wait for it as it quietly unrolls the warm layers you should have packed. Bright cherry and earthy tobacco fill you up leaving plenty of room for s’mores al dente. A complex wine for an intricate meal, this wine comes alive with gusto and endurance.

More of a simple savor, Saviah Cellars 2008 Rose is the watermelon we forgot at the market. With balanced acid and sour fig, this is a breezy, uncomplicated wine served best at the beach. Its soft salmon pinkness brings out the wham in spicy salsa as well as the crisp in the chips. It’s precisely what I was drinking when the German spouted that our friends the sea lions “are dirty, loud bullies who eat with their feet and have no refinement.”

At least I thought he meant the sea lions…

Until we meet again, with packed car and filthy dog, oh family, we are filled with anticipation.

Republished from Wine Press Northwest, Sepetember 2009

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