Raptor Ridge dinner highlights unusual white
Have you ever tasted Auxerrois? If you have, likely you butchered its pronunciation — at least this writer initially did. According to www.dummies.com, it is pronounced aus-ser-whah, which is easy enough for me to say — and remember — yet expect to hear other versions; they’re not necessarily wrong.
This confusion may deter some from ordering the wine, which is a shame because no matter how you say it, it is tasty. Technically termed Auxerrois Blanc, this grape shares its unusual name with other better known varieties — Auxerrois Gris is another name for Pinot Gris; Auxerrois is also a name for Malbec in the French region of Cahors.
It’s possible you’ve unwittingly tasted an Auxerrois Blanc. Classically grown in Alsace, France, it is often used to make an inexpensive Edelzwicker, a blend of more than one varietal. Normally, Alsatian wines of a certain quality must be 100 percent of a single variety in order to list the grape on the label. Yet, Alsatian vintners are allowed to label a bottle with a portion of Auxerrois Blanc as Pinot Blanc. Well, then…
One way to be absolutely sure you’ve tasted an Auxerrois is to try one produced in Oregon.
David Adelsheim is credited with introducing Auxerrois to the state. In 1974, he arranged for Alsatian clones to be shipped to Oregon State University for quarantine and evaluation. When the cuttings arrived, the package contained well-known vines such Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, yet there was one he had never encountered: Auxerrois. Small-lot wines were made at OSU, so winemakers could sample them.
“Amazed by the Auxerrois,” Adelsheim planted those first vines at what is now Zenith Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills and then at Adelsheim’s Calkins Lane and Ribbon Springs vineyards.
Fast-forward to 2016, an intimate gathering of interested tasters recently celebrated the debut vintage of Raptor Ridge’s 2015 Zenith Vineyard Auxerrois alongside Alsatian examples. Called Auxtoberfest — pronounced aus-TOE-ber-fehst — the dinner was held at Raptor Ridge’s Newberg winery and tasting room atop the Chehalem Mountains. A cloudy, drippy evening made for a cozy atmosphere as people enjoyed learning more about this interesting grape.
Winemaker Scott Shull introduced his Auxerrois, describing his approach to its winemaking.
Shull says, “[Auxerrois offers the] verve and raciness of an Oregon Pinot Gris and the sophistication of an Old World Chardonnay,” while demonstrating its own unique profile.
The Auxerrois from Raptor Ridge was 100-percent barrel-fermented in older barrels to build viscosity — flavor-wise, winemaker notes included flavors of Asian pear and Meyer lemon.
Guests learned more about Alsatian winemaking and the place Auxerrois occupies in the spectrum of European wines through a comparative tasting from producers such as Domaine André Ostertag, Meyer-Fonné and Domaines Schlumberger — styles ranged from still to sparkling.
Each wine was introduced by Jonathan Ziemba, Raptor Ridge’s hospitality manager, who shared a short educational session about Alsace’s dry, sunny climate — caused by a rain shadow cast by the Vosges Mountains — and its effect on the final product.
To accompany the lineup of wines, Chef Paul Bachand, of Recipe in Newberg, prepared a variety of culinary surprises, channeling the flavors and textures of Alsace. Guests enjoyed traditional foods, including “mountain” cheeses, as well as Auxerrois-inspired dishes such rabbit and pistachio terrine “en croute” flavored with orange zest and baking spice, and petite rye toast topped with whipped butter, sweet pickled onion and salmon roe. The choucroute garnie, a dish normally served on gluttonous platters, was reconstructed into a one-bite canape consisting of potato cooked with heavy cream, cheese and mustard, topped with sausage and braised red cabbage — Bachand had been dreaming of creating this dish for years.
Raptor Ridge focuses on vineyard-designate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but likes to experiment with eclectic offerings like its Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, méthode Champenoise rosé and, now, Auxerrois.
“We like to have something to excite the wine geek,” Shull says.
Auxerrois certainly fits that definition and, fortunately, is produced by a handful of Oregon vintners. The following are a few worth seeking out and savoring.
Jade Helm is the primary author of Tasting Pour, a blog about wine, cocktails and food. Her expertise is evidenced by credentials from the Society of Wine Educators (Certified Specialist in Wine) and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (Diploma in Wine and Spirits) and from the Court of Master Sommeliers (Certified Sommelier).
Bjornson 2015 Eola-Amity Hills Auxerrois
Mark and Pattie Bjornson planted Auxerrois based on site selection and advice from David Adelsheim, and David and Jeanne Beck of Crawford Beck Vineyard. Planted on a north-facing knoll and cooled by the Van Duzer winds, the grapes struggle a little to preserve acidity and concentrate flavors. The Auxerrois is co-fermented with a small amount of Pinot Blanc to create an acidic backbone, a traditional Alsatian technique. Deliberately avoiding an “oaky style,” Pattie Bjornson fermented the wine in stawinless steel with one-fifth Acacia wood and an Australian yeast to bring out floral aromas. Wine Enthusiast awarded it 90 points, describing it as “fleshy and round with a core of slightly candied tropical fruit. Smooth and engaging, it lingers in a graceful finish laced with streaks of caramel.” The wine also placed in Sip Northwest’s “Best of the Northwest” single white varietal category. $18; 100 cases
Adelsheim 2015 Ribbon Springs Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Auxerrois
Winemaker Dave Paige describes this wine as having notes of fresh tarragon or fennel bulb, crisp pear and jasmine. The grapes are grown on a north-facing slope to capture the coolest part of the Ribbon Springs Vineyard. “The best pairing I have had,” Paige says, “was a lightly cured salmon with shaved fennel and yogurt.” The Auxerrois is mostly tank fermented with a small amount — 5 to 8 percent — barrel fermentation in neutral oak. $25; 454 cases
Zenith Vineyard 2014 Estate Eola-Amity Hills Auxerrois
Zenith Vineyard, owned by Tim and Kari Ramey, is the Auxerrois source for other wineries, including Elemental Cellars and Raptor Ridge. The Rameys loved what these producers were doing with Auxerrois, so in 2012, they increased their plantings so Zenith could have its own Auxerrois label crafted by business partner Mark Vlossak. The Rameys find the grape rich and vibrant when made in a barrel-aged style. $27; 135 cases
Carlton Cellars 2015 Russell-Grooters Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Auxerrois
Made from estate-grown fruit, this Auxerrois is produced in a clean, dry style allowing the fruit to shine. Winemaker tasting notes describe a firm underlying structure with peach and baked apple notes accented by hints of citrus and white pepper. Carlton Cellars also makes a white blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois in an off-dry style. $18; 265 cases
Elemental Cellars 2014 Zenith Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Auxerrois
Winemaker Steven Westby says Elemental Cellars has always been partial to odd-ball varieties, so he “jumped on the chance” to get Auxerrois fruit from Zenith. The first vintage, 2009, was barrel-fermented and aged in older, neutral barrels. Westby claims, “The ‘Aux’ is all about fun. No pretense. No foo-faa. Just slurp it down.” $15; $300 cases