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November 17, 2007

Francis-Tannahill, Jackass (beta)

I just found out today that Oregon's Francis-Tannahill winery has released the Jackass, a wine I first wrote about in The Short Pour over a year ago. Apparently, I'm a little slow on picking this up, as a few wine stores have already started selling it under the "Jack White" name (who knew Sam was such a White Stripes fan?). My shipment arrives soon. And as an aperitif to that review, here is a write-up of my first encounter with that mystic, mirage-like entity that I've thought about almost every day since... and his wine.

Of course the wine I love is the wine that no one can have. But I got some. And, chances are, we all might someday.

"It's that rose thing at Sam's table," whispered the Cream Wine Co. rep who helped put this whole Small Batch tasting together last month in Chicago.

Great; a freaking rose. As if the lean 04 pinot noirs and the buckets of pinot gris, stainless chard, and late-harvest riesling weren't enough to make my teeth bleed. Now to find out what underripe strawberries taste like when you put them in a bottle.

"Jackass," said Sam, as if he knew how bad I thought this wine was going to be. Winemaker Sam, the suffixed Sam of Francis-Tannahill, wearing a casual checked shirt, square frames, and incredulously blue jeans. His clothes made my teeth hurt. I was afraid the word "Burgundian" might come up soon.

"Well, call it Balalaika," technically, "not Jackass." That's what I should call it in the newsletter, he said. I promised I would--especially if he was going to sell it someday.

He said he wouldn't, though. This pristine, unusual, enervatingly complex rose... thing. This cloudy pink blend of pinot blanc, chard, and 30% et cetera. I numbingly blurted "Gravner," as if the weird Italian Breg--similarly made in obscurity--really had anything whatsoever to do with this wine. And Sam actually nodded, as if my reference could possibly be right.

We were in the oft-encountered limbo of wine cognoscenti and sheer ineptitude. The former got you free dinners at Avec. The latter made you happy.

What could he say? What could he ever do with a wine like this. It would never sell. There is no market for wine that smells like fresh persimmons, looks like ruby red grapefruit juice, and tastes like tangelos, kumquats, and blood orange pith.

His wife called him a jackass for making it in the first place. I was going up against his wife. And her name came first on the label.

Among the few hundred brilliant American wines that the Cream team showed at Small Batch, Sam's Balalaika was the best. It's the wine we all look for and hope to find before anyone else (truthfully, I was third)--the wine that no one else will ever like, to borrow Doug Frost, or even ever know how to like, for that matter.

As Jay Somers did with the 04 Croft sauvignon blanc, as Charlie Smith did with the 02 The Beautiful, Sam has done with Balalaika.

Don't you love my catharsis? My absolutely embarrassing, unabashed lust for a wine that hardly suits any normal palate. When I drank this wine, it felt like my first rock show, my first cigarette (I quit years ago), my first night on a cliff overlooking the sea in Luc sur Mer.

It is everything new, lovely, and pure that no one but you--us--will ever appreciate, ever know, and ever get to tell our friends about. We'll make them like it. We'll make them rock, smoke, and dream.

Or maybe Sam will just put it in a box, serve it with turkey next fall, and forget anyone but him ever understood. Jackass.


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