COMMENTARY
Andy Young multitasking in the vineyard. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Crescent Swoon

Winemaker Andy Young riffs on Austrian reds

The Changeup by Michael Alberty

Andy Young is a son of Louisiana who once drummed for a Texas rock trio that sounded like no other. Today, he does whole-cluster solos and riffs on carbonic maceration while making Willamette Valley wines that taste like no other. His wines are made with intention as well as a sense of humor. Case in point is his latest release: 2017 St. Reginald Parish “Victory Biscuit.”

Victory Biscuit, a serious $30 bottle of red wine, is made by co-fermenting 30 percent St. Laurent, 30 percent Zweigelt and 10 percent Pinot Gris — the missing 30 is Pinot Noir that Young blends back in. All the fruit is sourced from Willamette Valley vineyards. The Pinot Noir is made with traditional open-top oxygen fermentation while the other grapes go through carbonic maceration.

 At this point, you may be asking, “Yeah, but what’s with the name?”

St. Laurent and Zweigelt are two of the most widely planted red varieties in Austria, which reminded Young of a story. He was road tripping, killing time with the radio when he heard a remarkable tale of how the croissant, the bakery item that comedian Denis Leary turned into a 10-minute stand-up bit, isn’t even French.

“I’m not sure, but I think I heard the story on ‘Splendid Table’ or maybe it was from one of those fetishist food shows I watch,” Young says. The story is one of many competing theories about the origin of the croissant. In my book, it is the best version.

Victory Biscuit wine and its inspirational bakery item. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

It was 1866, and the Turkish army was preparing to capture Vienna. As the Turks began covertly tunneling under the city walls, Viennese bakers, working into the wee hours of the night, heard the noise and alerted the Austrian authorities. The bakers soon created a pastry shaped in the form of the Turkish crescent to commemorate their role in thwarting the invasion.

In Young’s mind, that triumph makes the croissant a victory biscuit. It is also the perfect name for a wine containing Austrian grapes that successfully invaded Oregon.  

At this point, you might ask, “Yeah, but what about the wine?”

The Victory Biscuit is a fine representative of what Young considers his house style: picking fruit earlier than most, whole-cluster carbonic maceration, bright acidity and dialed-back alcohol while still delivering on the fruit. He uses native yeasts to trigger fermentation, and the only thing he adds to any of his wines is a tiny bit of sulfur.

Just don’t try to pigeonhole his work. Young has grown weary of playing the name game: “There came a time when rock ’n’ roll couldn’t just be rock any more. It had to be ‘indy’ or ‘alternative.’ Why do I have to call my wines ‘natural?’ Why can’t we reclaim the simplicity of wine? Or maybe everybody else can call their stuff ‘made wine.’”   

Victory Biscuit is the color of Isabella Rossellini’s dress in “Blue Velvet,” with a bit of crimson thrown in for good measure. Go ahead, stare at the wine as it swirls in your glass. I swear you will hear an Angelo Badalamenti-scored soundtrack in your head.

Poet Carl Sandburg once wrote, “Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” The Victory Biscuit offers a touch of sweet lavender on the nose that could easily be mistaken for hyacinth. There are also scents of smoky blueberries, black pepper, chalk and a wee bit of fresh-baked brioche. Oh, how Sandburg might have enjoyed this liquid poem.

Sipping Victory Biscuit is equally pleasurable. It has nervy acidity and a mouthfeel that suggests an honest 12.5 percent alcohol on the label. The juice slips and slides over your palate like a long-nailed Border Collie on a fresh-waxed linoleum floor. Then the dark fruit arrives: black cherries with a touch of aged balsamic. And it is as crunchy as a Tony Iommi power chord erupting from a 100W Marshall Plexi 1959SLP amplifier. Traces of bittersweet dark chocolate and seared bacon hover in the background.

The first time I tasted the Victory Biscuit I wrote “high-toned and righteous — buy some.” A few months of bottle condition made me love it even more.

THE CHANGEUP is a baseball pitch designed to disorient and confuse. It’s the perfect representation of the unknown and its mastery over those who think they know what to expect. This column is devoted to those unorthodox Oregon wines you never saw coming.

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