An Update on Troon Vineyard from Applegate Valley, Oregon
Since I last tasted Troon wines, in Southern Oregon in July 2013, the winemaker and winemaking approach have changed. They were pleasant before, so I was curious to see what I would fine in the wines post-makeover. I'm happy to report that this Southern Oregon pioneer continues to push boundaries in the right direction.
General Manager Craig Camp wrote to me, “Today winemaking at Troon is more straightforward. The grapes are field sorted by the same vineyard crew that tended them all season. The hand-harvested grapes go into half-ton picking boxes where both the red and white grapes are treaded by foot. After extended skin contact the reds (or whites destined to become Orange wines) may be de-stemmed and go into one ton fermenters where they complete fermentation outside with no temperature controls with our indigenous yeasts. Only hand punch downs are used, no pump-overs. The whites are pressed into mature French Oak barrels where they complete fermentations also with their native yeasts. All wines are matured in three or more years old French Oak Burgundy barrels purchased from top producers in the Willamette Valley. There are no acids, sugar, enzymes or any additives added to any of the wines. Natural pHs are low hovering about 3.5 for the reds and just over 3 for the whites, as evidenced by the crisp acidity in all of our wines. Alcohol levels for zinfandel, malbec and tannat will sometimes go just over 14%, while most of our wines are in the 12% to 13% range. Our vineyards are all LIVE and Salmon Safe certified.”
I replied to Craig that I thought this perspective was ironic. Most winemakers today would say that winemaker Steve Hall's approach could lend to far more erratic results given his hands-off approach. Many would prefer much more predictability, which in my thinking would make for more “straightforward” wines. Yet Craig’s take makes perfect sense, just arriving from the opposite end of the perspective spectrum.
Comparing my notes today to my notes from my 2013 Southern Oregon visit, the wines have, indeed, changed dramatically. There’s a salt-of-the-earth honesty to them. Moreover, these are wines whose hands-off approach has worked well. They are still clean and not so funky as to be relegated to a super-niche category. I’d serve them to my hip, “intellectual” wine friends as well as to my crew who just likes to tip back a glass or two from time to time.
Vermentino Blue Label Cuvée Rolle 2016 Applegate Valley 2016 12.5% $20
Temperature is important with this wine. Please, don’t drink it too cold. Not that it isn’t pleasant cold. Some chill emphasizes the wine’s fruitier characters. However, a serving temperature more in the mid-60s (Fahrenheit) emphasizes the wine’s savory qualities as well as its lightly tugging texture. Both expressions are delightful, but the latter is more intellectual and allows a broader array of food pairing possibilities. On the chilly side, the wine exudes fruitier tones of yellow plum, papaya-with-a-squeeze-of-lime and guava. When warmer, the wine favors aromas of Spanish almonds and whispers of amontillado Sherry. The finish is thoroughly dry, but not at all biting, with a lovely, light layer of deliciousness settling onto the palate. It was certainly cool to watch the wine evolve in temperature from its chillier expression to its warmer one. Perhaps it’s most interesting to see all its facets, but at least now you know how the wine will behave depending on how you decide to consume it. Though named Cuvée Rolle, which is another name for Vermentino, this wine also has a 10% dribble of Marsanne.
Vermentino Black Label 2014 Applegate Valley 12% $25
I’ll start this note on a temperature alert, too. Whereas with the Blue Label I felt the wine showed well in its cooler and warmer personalities, this bottling is stubborn and un-giving when served too cold. I wanted to give up on it almost immediately, though I was immediately drawn to its chicken bouillon, earthy peanut and light anise character. Sure, those make an unusual combination, but the cool thing about this wine is that it tufts out each flavor at a specific moment on the palate. There’s a fascinating delineation of flavors that spread across the spectrum here. I got less Vermentino character than I expected, but I got a LOT of thought-provoking wine. Moreover, this wine is a bit like my terrier pup: it demands attention.
Riesling Whole Grape Ferment 2016 Applegate Valley 12% $20
This orange wine is nicely clean and, despite its intentionally oxidized character, still shows some of the classic floral top notes of the Riesling grape. The palate tastes of applesauce, orange blossoms, kumquats, toasted hazelnuts and used Chinese tealeaves. It engulfs the palate in a wax-like coating and – unusually for Riesling – provides only moderate acidic relief. Given these two traits, though the wine is only 12% abv, the palate definitely feels medium rather than light in body. Happily, the crunchy texture helps provide balance and extends the flavors into a moderate finish. This is a definitively different Riesling, worth trying for its uniqueness!
Sangiovese 2015 Varner-Traul Vineyard Rogue Valley 14.4% $35
This is a terrific summer red. It even works well with a light chill, despite its elevated alcohol. Whatever the temperature, this wine has harmony in spades. It is pale in color (as Sangiovese should be) with a lightly rusty rim (as Sangiovese should have) and a nice balance of earthy versus mulberry fruit character. The finish is definitively dry and sustained, but the tannins are reserved and refined.
Tempranillo 2015 Rogue Valley 13.8% $35
This darkly colored red (it has a smidge of Malbec that contributes to that) has a lightly muddy nose with trodden mulberry flavors. Though the flavors come off a bit flat, they are certainly true to the variety. This Tempranillo has loads of mulled red fruits and earthy tones. In fact, this juice turns out to taste like a rather Spanish interpretation that just happens to hail from the New World. The finish is clean and flavorful, but a bit more lift would here would help to better define the wine. This is particularly true as its reserved tannins seem almost hidden, structure-wise. It works very well now with a touch of chill and should carry on with its fresh fruit for a few more years.
M*T Reserve 2014 Southern Oregon 14.4%
This wine is 60.1% Tannat and 39.9% Malbec. Though a blend, there is clearly no precision lacking here. This darkly colored wine has a rich nose of well-ripened forest berry fruits and a noticeably spicy, vanilla-infused and coconut-laden taste. It is full-bodied, vigorously structured and begging for a big hunk of lamb leg. The tannins are grippy but incredibly refined, and the wine’s acidic lift is “game on”. I am tasting this FAR too young. I suggest tasting this in 3-5 years and decanting it vigorously if you taste it before then. This is lovely, intense and well-moderated juice.