Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's almost time

It's 12:30am and I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve.  That's because Taste Washington is happening this weekend in Seattle.  Starting tomorrow nearly every winery in the Evergreen state will be all in one place and dozens of us lucky Washingtonians will get the chance to sip, spit and swirl some of the tastiest wines in the state.  Not only can you drink - but you can eat, learn and socialize the day and/or weekend away.

Now with visions of Red Mountain varietals dancing in my head - I'm going to try to sleep.  Can't wait to see you all this weekend for the tastiest weekend in all of Washington Wine Month.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2013: A Year in Review

As we have transitioned into another new year, the seventh year of WestToast (and it's predecessor The Oregon Wine Blog), we find ourselves once again with the opportunity to reflect on the previous 12 months.

While 2013 wasn't the most active blog-wise for our team, the dip in post frequency was directly correlated with some pretty damn fantastic milestones for our staff.  New jobs, new friends, new houses, new marriages, new beginnings, and new relationships have blessed the staff -- Jesse, Clare, Andrea, Rick, Micheal, and myself -- and at the same time have afforded some memorable wine, beer and spirits moments to share with you.

As we have done in previous years, I'm pleased to share with you the "Best of 2013" from the eyes of our team.

Jesse's Pick:

A Trip to Oregon

This time of the year as I write my annual “Best of” post for WestToast, I find myself saying the same thing I have said since moving to the California wine country...I feel very grateful to live where I live. This year provided many new experiences in wine country and many new delicious wines. It also continued many relationships with wineries and winemakers that have furthered my education about wine and my opportunity to learn the back end of the wine industry.

And while I normally try to pick a wine that stood above all the rest, this year nothing tops the experience of traveling to Oregon for the Fourth of July and drinking wine, cider, and craft beer the way it was meant to be enjoyed, with great friends!

Over the holiday, Katie and I traveled to the Oregon coast to spend a week celebrating and reuniting with family from around the country. Since we had made the long trek, we arranged to connect with good friends and fellow WestToast writers. We started out by meeting up at Willamette Valley Vineyards, which seemed fitting as it was the core inspiration for writing about wine. We enjoyed a tour of the caves, private tasting room, and settled down on the patio overlooking their estate vines and tasting through the tasting menu and a host of library wines. Our friend Chris had also provided some delicious snacks that made for a wonderful start to the day.

From there we traveled back to the Corvallis area with stops at 2 Towns Ciderhouse, my first experience with cider, and longtime friend and supporter of the WestToast crew, Block 15 Brewery. We ended the day with a great dinner at Clare’s house and continued the cheerful drinking. At both places we were able to tour the facilities and taste through a plethora of craft beverages.

One of the things I love about wine is enjoying it with friends. Spending the day with some dear friends we’ve known for years and making some new ones is exactly what it is about. There was great conversation, plenty of laughs, sarcasm, and a day worthy of the top WestToast experience of the year.

Cheers to you all, I hope you get to raise a glass with the ones you love.

Clare's Pick:

Nectar Creek Honeywine

My favorite for 2013 was taking a tour at Nectar Creek Honeywine in Corvallis. Beyond being treated to an in-depth lesson on the making of mead, we were given the opportunity to sample a unique and amazing product. Brothers Nick and Phil Lorenz have been adding their own creative statement to the PNW brewing scene for over a year now, and it has been an amazing run so far. I highly recommend the ginger mead in particular, and am looking forward in 2014 to tasting some of their new offerings, including hibiscus and their wildflower mead aged in bourbon barrels.

Andrea's Pick:

Va Piano Cabernet Franc

Walla Walla, Washington – it is fun to say but not so easy to visit. Despite living in the Northwest for the past decade I’ve never been to Walla Walla. It has been on my ‘To Do’ list for some time though thanks to a good friend and a surprising gift it has shot to the top of my 2014 wine adventures agenda. It was March 18, 2013 when I came into work to find a bottle of wine just sitting on my desk – and not just any bottle. It was a 2009 estate grown and bottled Va Piano Cabernet Franc. My first bottle of Va Piano and one that was ‘oh! So tasty.’ It took me a few days to figure out where the generous gift had come from and once I found out I shared it with fellow WestToast writer and Gonzaga Alum, Josh Gana (he had first introduced me to the wine 18 months ago because of the GU connection). Moral of my Best of 2013 story – sometimes you just need a little nudge from your friends to follow through on something you’ve been meaning to do. Go ahead – give a friend a surprise nudge in 2014. You’ll be glad you did. Walla Walla, Washington – “Look Out! Here I come!”

Josh's Pick:

Griffin Creek Cabernet Franc Vertical

In March of 2013, our staff had a very special weekend: a chance to gather with friends of the blog, five consecutive vintages of the Griffin Creek Cabernet Franc, and tell the world what we think.  The Griffin Creek Cab Franc is a meaningful wine for us; it's the wine that turned Rick into an aficionado, and, the producing winery has been instrumental in our blog over the years.

I was happy to dig out the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 vintages from my cellar, gather in the bustling town of Centralia, WA, and share them with friends.  As you know from reading our blog, the people and the experiences are more important then the wine; add an awesome wine with amazing people and a special experience and this writer is in heaven.  That's what the weekend was all about and why it's my favorite experience of the past year.

At the end of the day, though, a vertical comparison is a chance to see how different environmental factors impact the crop.  You take the same fruit, the same winemaker, and the same production methods over the course of five years of weather patterns and see what happens.  In this case, while we enjoyed all five vintages, the 2008 won the day.  An exciting nose, an elegant mouthfeel, and a wine that stands up to food as well as one that is enjoyable rolling solo.  Pick up some of the current vintage and enjoy a delicious Southern Oregon big red.

Rick's Pick

Hopworks Urban Brewery

When thinking of my favorite experience this year, it was kind of tough. Normally I make it a point to venture out quite a bit and try new things, but that didn't happen as much with a wedding to plan for and all. Instead, I accidentally found my favorite go-to brewery. It's not fair because I've barely ever written about them, but Hopworks Urban Brewery is my best-of the year.

Why? They're pretty much everything I like wrapped into one. Phenomenal beer, excellent food, bike-themed, sustainable, the first brewery I take visitors to from out of town, and their beer completely won people over at my wedding. I'll get into that last part soon, but look forward to hearing about their HUB Lager and Velvet ESB. A special shout out goes to the Russian Imperial Stout I had a couple of nights ago.

Micheal's Pick

Cooper Barrel Maker Red

This post has literally been years in the making.

It is hard to believe that it has been four years since I was first introduced to the greatest that is Cooper Wine Company. Neary four years ago, the staff from WestToast (then The Oregon Wine Blog), had an incredible meal prepared and presented by Chef Magana at his restaurant at the time, Picazo 7Seventeen.

It was at that dinner where I had, what remains one of the top 10 cabs I have had, to date - 2007 Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh the memories. You see for YEARS, I tried to find ways to procure Cooper wine, but it eluded me. But when I stumbled upon their Facebook page, I quickly became a follower, knowing it would only be a matter of time before I would be cradling a bottle of my own in my arms.

Fast forward to December 12, 2012. I was at work, on Facebook, and I caught a surprise - in honour of 12/12/12, Neil Cooper was offering a case (12 bottles) of his 2009 Barrel Maker Red for $12/bottle, for the first 12 people to "like" that posting. I did not bat an eye, and saw that I was within the 12, somewhere between 7 and 10, and made sure I clicked "like" and there it was - my dream would be coming true, I would be able to have my own bottle(s) of Cooper Wine. The fact that still drooled over the wine should tell you something!

So when my case arrived, I knew I needed to be careful and intentional about how I distributed this new-found treasure. I initially thought I should keep six bottles, but I wanted to share the goodness of Cooper with as many people as possible. I gave Josh either two or three, shared about with one of my bosses, and gave a couple of sporadic other people a bottle.

When it came time for me to enjoy mine, we were in the early stages of 2013. I invited Andrew over. Having Andrew over for wine is always a lot of fun on my end, yet he always feels bad. He talks about the fact that he drinks wine because he can tell what he likes and what he doesn't like. And as a novice wine-drinker, it either tastes good or it doesn't. While I can get into the wine, he merely enjoys it, but that works doesn't it?

The Barrel Maker Red from 2009 is simply an amazing bottle of wine - a rich, deep, red colour, that is a full-bodied red on the palate. Everyone who gave a bottle to, came back afterwards and said how much they enjoyed it. It is a wine that you can enjoy by itself in the evening, with a steak, or with a like platter like Andrew and I had.

As I write this, I currently have one lone bottle left. When got downstairs thinking of a bottle to open, it no longer comes to mind as one to share with others. No, this last one shall be mine...all mine.

With that, we jump into another year of sharing the best the West Coast has to offer.  We all agree that each year has been better then the last, so I'm looking forward with anticipation of 2014's excellence.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gift Horse 5: 2009 Firesteed Pinot Noir

I can feel 2014 coming around the corner! What will you be drinking when it rolls up? I really enjoy the symbolic notion of a clean slate - a fresh start - a time to reflect and set goals and move forward. Last year I pulled out a mix of Oregon wines for a game night in Corvallis. The year before that, I sipped whiskey by a fire 8 miles up the Deschutes, and the year before that I sampled champagne and watched fireworks from a hotel window in Salt Lake City. This year I am in Boston, and I think the plan is a quiet night in. James Bond may play a role in the evening. 

What will I be bringing? 2009 Firesteed Pinot Noir: I had two bottles of this, and cracked into one last week to find that it is drinking very well. Cherry and spice and everything nice in this brilliantly-colored wine. I think it is an excellent choice for after-dinner sipping by the fire (indoors or out). It would also be a great complement to a pork dish, or even something a little more powerful in flavor. The plan is to make up small plates, and enjoy the evening in with good friends! 

Happy 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gift Horse 4: 2011 Eola Hills Reserve Pinot Noir

HELP! I was asked to bring wine to a party, and I don't know anything about wine. What do I doooo!?!?!?! 

Ok, let's start with taking some deep breaths and realizing this is not actually a crisis. Calmed down? Cool - now we can chat. 

So your friend is having a dinner party and asked you to bring wine. Perhaps they were fooled by the last wine contribution to their events and think you know what you are doing with selection. Perhaps they are about as clueless about wine as you are, and just wanted to delegate the responsibility and let someone else look like an oaf. Perhaps no one gives a care about what they are drinking, and no matter what you get it will taste like wine and people will drink it. Regardless you have been tasked, and you need to get going. The party is in an hour.

My first (and simplest) question is: what do you like, and what does your friend like? Go with that. 

Second (and slightly more complex): do your get red or white? Find out what is being served for food, and Google "wine pairing 101." Don't know what is being served? I refer you to question #1. Go with that.

Third (and most complex): what will happen if you choose poorly? If the answer is "I will be barbecued by my friends and paired with the bad choice wine," go with #2. If the answer is "nothing," go with #1. 

One wine i am going to bring to a party this season: 2011 Eola Hills Reserve Pinot Noir. Why not give them a taste of what the Willamette Valley is known for? This pinot will certainly fit the bill - lightly oaky with a gentle spiciness and a lot of ripe dark fruit, this wine would be amazing with heavier dishes like beef. It can also pair nicely with stronger vegetarian dishes with nutty or mushroom flavors. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Gift Horse 3: 2011 Tyee Gewurztraminer

1 comment

What if you are the person planning the party you say? How does all of this wine business stack up on the receiving end? If you are going to be putting together the shindig, you have to think about what kind of event it will be and plan accordingly. Serving food? You have either the option of doing your own pairings, or asking your guests to bring something. If you choose the latter, you also need to decide how much guidance to give. I had friends over for a small dinner party last week, and decided to delegate wine to my roommate. All I said was "citrusy white," which actually is more specific than a lot of people might be - most say "red" or "white" and leave it at that. It is appropriate to ask for a bit more (ie. varietal), but if you are going to really micromanage the selection, I recommend just getting the wine on your own.

If you ask someone to bring wine to a party, it is good form to open it and share. Of course, there might be a situation where the wine to person ratio is too great, and something goes unopened. That's OK, but if you are asking people to bring it, that is not a gift. That said, like I mentioned in Gift Horse 1, if someone shows up with a wine that was not requested, there is no obligation to open it. Why, you ask? Well think about it like this: what if someone showed up to your dinner party with a different cut of meat (or veggie main dish) than you were planning on serving? Do you change your plans and serve that? Probably not. It is OK to say "thank you," set the gift wine aside, and move on with your planned meal. I recommend sending a thank you note of some kind afterward. 

Recent pick: 2011 Tyee Gewurztraminer: Lots of tropical and local fruit and spice in this wine - pineapple, guava, mango, pear, and melon. All of this with a spiciness reminiscent of ginger and cardamom. The 2012 vintage of this wine is also excellent, and carries a lot of the same flavors. This wine is dry, and would be excellent with spicy foods, or just sipping on its own. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

(My) Wedding Review Part 1: The Wine

I know it may seem surprising if you've stuck with my writing for a while, but a woman actually agreed to marry me. I didn't even have to bribe her! That happened a couple of months ago and since I finally have some photos to accompany this article, I thought I'd take a moment to go over the food and beverages we decided to use and why.

Writing for a publication that focuses on the best of the region we call home was both a blessing and a curse. For one, I have a reputation to live up to. Our friends and family know this and expect the best from us. On the other hand, we're also fairly early in our careers and were financing the wedding ourselves.

Would it be possible to wow everybody with locally-sourced wine, beer, and food on a budget? Of course!

I'll do this series in three parts. Wine, beer, and food will be presented in that order. Up first, the wine.

One theme Alyssa and I really wanted to run with was Portland. It's where we live, where we got married, and where we both work. A good portion of our guests were coming from out of town and our wedding would be the perfect opportunity to highlight why we enjoy this city so much. Long time readers will probably know where I'm going with this, but for those of you who may not have guessed already, it was an easy decision for us to source our wine from Enso Urban Winery on SE Stark. About Enso:
We are a small-batch artisan wine producer, located in the heart of Portland’s Eastside. Our passion is to make wines that speak of the place where they were grown, the climate they were grown in, and their true varietal character. Let each bottle be it’s own enso – an expression of the moment.
Enso embodies everything I love about the culture of the West Coast and they just so happen to make all of their wine in downtown Portland. On top of their wine being delicious and very affordable, it was a no-brainer. So what did we select?
Bartender provided by
RESONATE Red #7 ($16/bottle) - Enso's RESONATE series are their current red or white blend that they feel like making at any given moment. Each iteration of RESONATE changes, so you'll never get the same thing each time. We chose #7 (which was on its way out for #8 soon) because of the specific blend. At 67% Washington Sangiovese and 33% Washington Barbera, it's both a crowd pleaser and an Italian blend that meshes perfectly with Alyssa's palate.

So how was it received? Turns out we didn't actually have a lot of red wine drinkers in the house. That said, those who do like red wine really enjoyed it. Having something local was a big hit and the fact it highlighted Italian varietals made it very unique compared to typical wedding wine. I myself stuck with this most of the night and couldn't have been happier.

RESONATE White #5 ($14/bottle) - While there weren't quite as many red wine drinkers, it turns out that significantly more liked white wine. According to those who I informally poled, this was either the best or one of the best white wines they've ever had. This blend comes to us at 85% Washington Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Oregon Muller-Thurgau, so quite possibly something our guests will never experience again either.
Warning: consumption of white wine can cause, uh, this...
What I learned and advice: We didn't know much about the beverage preferences of our guests ahead of time, so we made an assumption regarding how much everybody would eat or drink by estimating high. This didn't end up being much of a problem for us since I had no issue giving extra bottles away or taking them home, but I also could have saved money on wine by purchasing less. If you're comfortable doing so and want to make sure you're putting your money where it counts, it may be worthwhile to casually poll your guests regarding their beverage preferences.

That said, picking good wine that you actually enjoy will go a long way with guests who enjoy wine. Your crazy aunt may like box wine or 2 Buck Chuck, but my philosophy is to only serve wine that you yourself would want to drink. If you don't know much about wine, find a friend who does and have them help you pick something that meets your budget. One white blend and one red blend was absolutely the right way to go.

Up next: beer!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gift Horse 2: 2012 Erath Pinot Blanc

1 comment

Let's talk about cost when giving wine as a gift - is it OK for the wine you are giving to be one that does not lighten your wallet too much? Well, consider the occasion, the person, and most importantly, the wine. We did a series not too long ago called "That's a Steal" that highlights wines with an amazing value for the price point. Not able to spring $30-$50 on something "fancy?" No worries. Check out our staff picks from that series...or go to your local wine store (not the wine section in a grocery store) and ask the staff to help you. 

I was in Boston last year prior to Thanksgiving, and was going to head to NY to see my family. My mother had asked me to bring wine. While in the wine store, I ended up chatting up a fellow who was picking the wine for their holiday dinner. He thought I was a staff member, and thus asked me to help him out. His goal: get wine that was tasty enough for the winos at the table, but was not very expensive because most of the folks at the dinner did not really care or know about good wine. This was also my goal, so we trekked around the store and shopped together. I ended up with 3 bottles, but he walked out with 3 cases! The staff at the store were so appreciative, they gave me a free corkscrew with my purchase. 

One wine that is delicious and does not break the bank is 2012 Erath Pinot Blanc. If you want to bring the essence of Oregon summer to the party, this is a wine that can help you do it. Bright and fragrant, this wine carries melon and apple flavors as well as honey and citrus. It goes well with a cheese plate, and can also cut the saltiness of ham. This wine will please a range of guests, and has a price point that will not break the bank.