Umpqua upset at Australia’s Six Nations Wine Challenge

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Stephen Reustle, owner and winemaker at Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards, and his wife, Gloria, held their first media luncheon ever at The Bent Brick in NW Portland recently to celebrate their Six Nations Wine Challenge win with their 2012 Syrah Masada Bloc. Viki Eierdam After October’s Six Nations Wine Challenge upset, I’m already imagining Steve Carell cast as Stephen M. Reustle and Charlotte Ayanna as his beautiful wife, Gloria, in an upcoming wine flick entitled A Heavenly Vintage detailing their road to winning Best Syrah of the New World much like Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett in the fabulously entertaining 2008 Bottle Shock.

Up against stiff competition from the rest of the United States, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia—where the epic event was held and the country that enjoys a world-renowned reputation for their Shiraz—Roseburg, Oregon’s own Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards won top honors with their 2012 Syrah Masada Bloc.

Up against stiff competition from six New World countries—including Australia which enjoys a world-renowned reputation for their Shiraz—Roseburg, Oregon’s own Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards won top honors with their 2012 Syrah Masada Bloc. Reustle - Prayer Rock

The impact of these recent events is predicted to bring the same flurry of interest to the Umpqua Valley as the historic 1976 blind Paris winetasting did to Napa Valley when Château Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay won the white wine section of this game-changing competition.

Already known as the first winery in the U.S. to produce grüner veltliner, Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards is no stranger to recognition in the wine world. This 8,000 case per year winery has racked up over 400 medals in the seven years it’s been entering competitions. Stephen’s all estate-grown grapes are a representation of 14 varietals planted on 40 acres of hillside.

The Bent Brick's syrah-inspired rice pudding dessert with a chili-infused sauce took on apple pie characteristics with a vintage of Reustle's decadent Riesling. Viki Eierdam

To celebrate what Stephen referred to as “an absolute highlight in my life,” he and his wife, Gloria, held their first media luncheon ever at The Bent Brick in NW Portland recently. Owner and chef, Scott Dolich, paired Reustle’s syrahs with beautifully fresh, tried and true ingredients that bring out the smoky characteristics of this varietal like earthy chanterelle mushrooms and peppery Belgian endive in the salad, chanterelles garnishing the tender hanger steak and semolina fried onions and even a smoked butter to spread atop Ken’s bread between bites. Interestingly, I noticed the bread was not as popular as it normally is because Reustle’s syrahs are not the high alcohol bombs of old. He intentionally keeps them at a food-friendly, under 14 percent range rather than the 16.5 percent 2013 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz in one of our flights that made my eyes start watering before I even took a sip.

Stephen’s beautiful wife, Gloria, smiles as he describes Gloria’s Syrah, “masterfully both simple and complex, she captivates you with her vibrant color, seductive aroma, and exotic body” and I’m talking about the wine, he clarified. Viki Eierdam

There’s an elegance and complexity in Reustle – Prayer Rock’s wines that evolves as each glass is allowed to open up. The front of the palate is greeted with intense black fruit and as the wine makes its way from mid-palate to the back the pepper, licorice and baking spice characteristics introduce themselves and intensify with the warming of the wine to body temperature.

A special treat of the luncheon was the opportunity to taste their first U.S.-produced 2005 Grüner Veltliner which is a big white wine grown widely in Austria that has the acidity to stand up to long cellar aging. After 10 years, it presented luscious and full-bodied.

Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards is open for tastings from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. The sit-down wine tasting and appetizer pairing in their stunningly-created wine cave is a highlight of any visit.

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Wine 101: A grape by any other name...

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Pinot gris grapes in the Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg along the Alsace-route-des-vins. Known as pinot grigio in Italy, pinot gris is a crown jewel of Alsace, France. While there are literally thousands of known viniferous grapes throughout the world, the average consumers’ experience will be boiled down to a few hundred tops. The task of familiarity can become less daunting-or more complicated-when taking into consideration that many grapes are known by more than one name.

Why would grape growers create more than one name for the same grape? Marketing. Regional recognition. A simple case of not being aware of what’s planted in the ground (such as petite sirah in California). Sometimes even in an attempt to make life easier for wine drinkers.

Take pinot gris for example. Known as a full-bodied, slightly spicy white wine from the Alsace region of France, it becomes pinot grigio in Italy with less tropical notes than its French counterpart. Prior to 1993 Alsatian pinot gris was labeled Tokay d’Alsace but, since Hungary produces a magnificent sweet wine called Tokaji, it was phased from Tokay d’Alsace to Pinot Gris within a few short years. Isn’t it nice to know that the international political system is working to make wine drinking less confusing for all of us?

Grenache is the alcohol powerhouse in those much-lauded Rhône style wines but tends to have lower tannins and acid so is often used in blends. On its own it exhibits raspberry and some spice and can show quite nicely as a single varietal as evidenced by the garnachas of Priorat, Spain. It’s customary to see the grape referred to as grenache everywhere outside of Spain.

Since we’re on the subject of Spain, the red grape monastrell is more commonly known as mourvèdre in France and even mataro in Australia but its origins are thought to be Spanish. This is a highly tannic (and rather finicky) grape that lends its appealing-in-moderation trait quite nicely to blends. As such, you’ll see it showcased with grenache/garnacha and syrah.

Australians know it as shiraz. The rest of the world refers to it as syrah. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, this is a full-bodied, herbaceous, red grape with a nice balance of tannins and acidity that allows it to shine on its own and work well with others. Talk about accommodating.

Lest we leave out white grapes with all this red talk, Napa Valley’s fumé blanc is none other than sauvignon blanc. Gasp! Robert Mondavi is credited for rebranding sauvignon blanc for the American market with a made up name. Well, Pouilly-Fumé is one of the best known French villages for sauvignon blanc in the Loire Valley so he didn’t just pull the idea out of his…hat.

Grenache, garnacha, pinot gris, pinot grigio-they may be the same grape but the end result, the wine in the bottle, will always be a representation of the terroir it came from so never think that a shiraz will taste just like a syrah and revel in the distinct differences from region to region.

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An exquisite wine cave in the heart of the Umpqua Valley

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Our well-appointed, private tasting room in the cave of Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley Sometimes a unique vineyard feature can make the stop seem almost touristy. That is not the case with Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards’ well-appointed wine cave located in the Umpqua Valley.

The entrance to the cave at Reustle Prayer Rock with a peek-a-boo look at the first of several passages from the Book of Romans

At the entrance to the expansive cave, imprinted on the stone floor, is the first of several scriptures from the book of Romans, a bold testament to the strong faith of the Reustle family. From there our tour guide, Kevin, shared the detail of the archangels, Michael and Gabriel, drawn on either end of the cave, the impressive molded columns, several private tasting rooms as well as the captivating event space inside the cave, elegant lighting and replica of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

This personalized and educational experience is included for each visitor to Reustle Prayer capped off by a four-wine tasting paired with palate-appropriate appetizers in a private to semi-private tasting room. Reustle Prayer is particularly recognized for their Grüner Veltliner, a white wine grape grown extensively in Austria. Also on their current tasting menu are their 2013 Pinot Gris (the flavors of which were set off nicely by a goat cheese-topped rice cracker), 2012 Tempranillo and 2011 Syrah.

Tidy little Semillon vines at Reustle Prayer Rock in Roseburg, Oregon

Of the four, I preferred the 2013 Grüner Veltliner for its spice and white pepper which paired perfectly with the pecorino drizzled with honey and a dash of pepper as well as the Tempranillo for its jammy, black pepper flavor profile. For someone who doesn’t care for spicy food, it’s curious that I love a little spice in my wine. Kevin shared that their wine is not released until it’s ready to be consumed but it’s evident that the smoke of this Tempranillo will only continue to evolve into a rich tobacco and leather in the next few years making it a beautiful red meat wine.

A replica of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the exquisite event space inside the wine cave of Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards

We discussed their Sauvignon Blanc which Kevin said is being made by Reustle Prayer in the New Zealand style and he agreed with my impression that the Marlborough region really is the premier area to showcase the complexity of this varietal. Sadly, they did not have any available to pour but a bottle of their Semillon had been opened and it was a lovely substitution. Another grape that does particularly well down under – Australia particularly – it was bright in the glass with a light floral nose and crisp, citrus flavors already leaning toward a bit of nut. A refreshing and palate-pleasing wine with a long finish.

More vines at Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards on a glorious fall day

A wine lover can be overwhelmed with wine club choices. I looked hard at each of Reustle Prayer’s three options and was told that many people choose to have their shipments held back and pick them up in person a couple times a year. What a terrific way to insure another peaceful and enlightening visit in the near future.