Follow that grape!

Even among Oregon winemakers, John Eliassen qualifies as an obsessive. It's tough enough having your business depend on the fickle charms of the pinot noir grape, as many Oregon growers and winemakers do. But Eliassen trained as a winemaker in Burgundy, and he's determined to make his mark with all the traditional grapes of France's Burgundy region—not just pinot noir but gamay, melon, and aligot鮍 Trouble is, hardly anybody grows these varieties, particularly aligot鮠Coarser and more acidic than chardonnay, it's never been in demand in the U.S. But Eliassen is not easily daunted. (La B괥, the name of his winery, means, among other things, "stupid" and "stubborn.") He knew that someone grew, or at least had grown, aligot頨ereabouts because he had had once encountered a Covey Run bottling. He finally tracked down the source of those grapes to a five-acre patch planted in the 1960s—nobody quite remembers why—near the tiny town of Outlook in Eastern Washington. It turned out he had some competition for the grapes from legendary consulting winemaker Jed Steele, but that just indicated to Eliassen that he was onto something. His first wine made from aligot頣onfirmed his suspicions, and the third vintage, La B괥 Newhouse Vineyard aligot頲000—Washington-grown, Oregon-made—is currently on the wine lists of a number of prestigious restaurants, including Kaspar's, the Painted Table, and the Herbfarm. For fans of the rough and tart wines made from the grape in Burgundy, Eliassen's is startling. Roughness is transformed into presence, tartness to intensity. The wine has a chardonnaylike ripeness (grapes of the 2000 vintage topped 24 on the Brix sugar scale), and even fermented to virtual dryness, it remains round and agreeable on the tongue. It's a superbly food-friendly wine, sharp enough to cut through rich and cheesy sauces but delicate enough to enhance, not compete with, mild flavors like scallops and crab. A comparable chardonnay would likely cost twice its $15 price. Along with a love of the region's traditional grape varieties, Eliassen brought back from Burgundy a love of the traditional winemaking methods that helped make "Burgundy" a cultural keyword—methods which today are losing ground in their homeland. Just like aligot鬠as a matter of fact: Grown in Burgundy for centuries, aligot頶ineyards are being ripped out wholesale to make room for yet more chardonnay. Perhaps eco-radical Jos頂ov鬠scourge of McDonald's, might turn his attention to an example of globalisation closer to home? GET THIS Get this: Badger Mountain Winery's Powers label boasts a dandy '97 single-vineyard cabernet ($20) and a luscious '00 syrah ($16). But my prize goes to the '99 Powers chardonnay—no oaky steroids, no cocoa-butter mouthfeel, just crisp, firm fruit at a bargain price: $9. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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