Monday, December 24, 2007

Inaugural Holiday Pairing Guide - COMING SOON!

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Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and Happy Festivus to you all! As this season of holidays is well underway, we at The Oregon Wine Blog have done little to recognize the season. That is because as you may have already read we are planning an inaugural Holiday Dinner and Wine Pairing Party! This is a staff celebration for the Holiday Season that will take place in early January. Timing and schedules did not allow for a pre- or mid-season Dinner Party, thus a post-season party is the result.

Alas, this is no regular holiday party, it is indeed a party worthy of a wonderful partner. For our inaugural party we are proud to announce that Willamette Valley Vineyards has graciously partnered with us to provide you, our readership, with the 2007 Holiday Pairing Guide. The pairing guide will provide wines to be paired with a traditional holiday turkey dinner from appetizers all the way through to dessert! Some of the staff favorites from Willamette Valley Vineyards will come out; look for wines like the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, the Pinot Gris, and even the ever elusive Pinot Noir Port will appear (so elusive no link can be provided!).

Soon after the Holiday Party, when we've all had a chance to confer and compare notes, a summary of the party and subsequent pairings will be posted for all to read. Should you have any questions or comments please feel free to let us know! Our emails can all be found to the right in the staff contact list.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and take time to enjoy some wonderful wine with family and friends. Also, give the gift to someone that keeps on giving and teach them to enjoy the wonders of the viticulture of the Pacific Northwest.

-Cheers!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Duck Pond Cellars 2006 Pinot Noir

A recent article in a “newlywed” magazine (disclaimer forthcoming) which my wife subscribes to, asserts the trend that youthfully aged newlyweds meet and mingle with other youthfully aged newlyweds; the reason being that couples desire having those friends whom they can go camping with, go out on the boat with, etc. When our 40 something married couple neighbors were recently replaced by what appeared to be 20 something newlyweds, we knew we had to capitalize on this potential newlywed vs. newlywed friendship. We opted for a Holiday Style meal, which occurred Monday night.

While awaiting the first delivery on our Viticultural journey (A Whidbey Island White), my wife and I had to scramble for a quality red to compliment our inaugural meal. We’d planned a flank steak, paired with Asian Noodle Salad and a Red Rosemary/Italian Seasoned Potato Dish. Believing first impressions are everything, no chances were taken on the wine selection, opting for that “sure thing” I knew would represent us well. I chose, dare I say, an Oregon Varietal, Duck Pond Cellars - 2006 Pinot Noir.

Before I’m berated by my fellow bloggers, let it be known that Duck Pond Cellars utilizes Washington land for a good portion of their harvest. The Pinot family of grape, however, is grown in the Willamette Valley.

Fellow Oregon Wine Blog Staff Member, Josh Gana, and I, had the pleasure of enjoying a tasting session at Duck Pond Cellars a few years back (2005). I remember leaving the session thinking their Gewürztraminer was good, but their Pinot Noir was great.

I used a couple tablespoons of the wine as a portion of the marinade I’d produced for the flank steak. Letting it marinate 12 hours, I was hopeful our main course would be a treat. Of course, having popped the cork, I couldn’t resist my first glass.

The wine glistened in the glass, showing off a purplish, more ruby colored texture. A swirl gave evidence to a thin mix, to some dismay. The nose offered a youthful aroma of cherry and berries, some of which I had difficulty pin pointing. The wine provided a balanced, smooth collection of flavors, while slightly light bodied. The finish was shorter than I prefer.

Had I had it over, I would have preferred a more robust wine as a marinade, possibly a Cabernet Sauvignon. In the context of conversation, tasting enjoyment, and making new friends, this Pinot Noir was no let down, while a little less enjoyable than I remembered back in 2005.

And yes, as you’ve figured, I do read articles in “girly” magazines!
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chateau Lorane - Cuvee Prestige

This evening, as has become an unofficial tradition, I opened a new bottle of wine - Chateau Lorane - Cuvee Prestige. This happens to be a white table wine that should be served chilled, not cold, as could easily be done by error. As per the Chateau Lorane website, this is a blend of 60% Viognier and 40% Sauvingnon Blanc.

This is another wine that has a nose I really enjoy. Like a true Viognier, there is a great scent of a mixture of fruits - with a slight hint of possible champagne? By the scent alone, you would imagine that this wine would be one for those of us who are bigger fans of sweeter wines. However, when you take your first sip, the fruit sensation and anticipation of what could be is all gone. This is a very dry wine that has a flavor more tart than I would like. I don't like the harsh after taste that exists either.

Overall, I am unimpressed with this wine to the point that I struggle with what more to write. It has a great nose, which can be very misleading, both to those who like sweeter wines (and realize it is not), and the ones who don't like sweet wines (and think it is). Aside of that, not much else is left. There are some sporadic bubbles that I find to have developed in my glass, but not in the bottle.

Oh well, you cannot win them all, and you never leave a man down.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A point well taken...

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This evening I was reading a post on Beyond the Bottle, another blog covering the Pacific Northwest wine industry, and I was compelled to share it here on The Oregon Wine Blog. In the post, "Breaking the Unspoken Code" Thad analyzes what I would call a positive bias trend within the wine press. Essentially, the argument is that many leading wine reviewers write inflated reviews to continue the "gravy train" -- free wine provided by the industry to writers for review. Check out Thad's excellent post for more in-depth thoughts regarding that issue.

I certainly acknowledge that a positive reviewing bias exists in the wine press, in fact, it is an issue we have struggled with here but for different reasons. Many of us have a propensity to only purchase wines that we have tasted and enjoyed, otherwise it would be a waste of limited resources that could be used to purchase more good wine. The staff here are still in the "up-and-coming" stage of life, not "already arrived" status after all. These are the wines that get reviewed here for the most part, although Micheal has made a point of reviewing some wine that he didn't enjoy as much. Additionally, its just a heck of a lot more fun to review a great bottle of wine than it is to review suckiness.

The title of this post is "A point well taken" because I think we can take away a lesson in transparency from Thad's post. Now, The Oregon Wine Blog certainly isn't classified as leading reviewer and we pay full retail price for a lot of our wine, but there are some exceptions. We've developed great relationships with some local wineries that at times result in a free bottle here or there, an industry discount, or a special tasting--and I am a small shareholder in a publicly-traded Oregon winery (small enough where all the wine purchases in the world wouldn't positively influence my financial situation).

There is nothing inherently wrong with forming postive relationships and participating in the industry--the ability to do so is one of the things that make the Pacific Northwest wine scene such a great place. I am confident that these relationships and perks, which are minor in the scheme of things, haven't influenced our content (we'd buy / review the same without the discount). As a writer and editor, I strongly believe that the notion of transparency gives validity to our journalized experiences. The sheer nature of this type of media encourages personal opinions, but I don't want you to think that a mystical gravy train shapes our reality. In the future we'll take a page out of Beyond the Bottle's book and disclose sourcing information to allow our readers to make informed decisions about our work. We don't make any money off of this venture and surely wouldn't complain if a free case of wine showed up at *our* doorstep.

Cheers!
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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Kiona - Red Mountain Chenin Blanc 2004 Ice Wine

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Yes, this is the Oregon Wine Blog. Yes, we already have a Washington Correspondent who does a great job, but why should he get all the fun? Part of the reason I am reviewing this wine is because it came in my recent Willamette Valley Creme du Cru quarterly shipment.

I first got introduced to Kiona Winery in December of last year when invited to go to some of the vineyards in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. I remember they were building their larger tasting room, which is now open, but at the time it was inside of the owner's house - very quaint and intimate setting. The Red Mountain Chenin Blanc Ice Wine is a dessert wine, harvested late in the season after the first frosts and freezes of the year. This is a sweeter wine, so for those of you who are not big fans, this might not be the one for you.

I enjoy the nose on this wine - when you sniff it, you can smell the sugar, initially, but then you are able to catch the full citrus aroma of the grapes. The nose almost makes you think that there might be apples and pears in it. This could be due to the fact that the Chenin Blanc "showcases aromas of citrus, melon, and pears" and has a "tart green apple finish."

When swirled, the glass gets a nice coat. The initial taste of this wine is one that will be a sweeter on the palate, but then subsides relatively quickly and you are left with a lingering citrus after taste. If you give yourself a few moments after each sip, you feel as if you have eaten a couple of sweet grapes.

I definitely find this to be a good wine to sit and unwind with or one to help start off the week on a Sunday evening.
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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Holidays and Block 15 Update

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Happy holidays to all the readers of The Oregon Wine Blog!

It’s an interesting time here in the Willamette Valley where an infrequent day of sunshine, like today, provides respite from the normal fare of rain, rain, and more rain. Here in Corvallis, the exodus of college students leaving after finals has in an instant provided easy access to restaurants, stores, and other services in town that isn’t possible when school is in session. This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all that this blog is about – fellowship, fun, and the culinary bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Last night a group of us went to a Chanukah party, with a traditional serving of latka and kosher Jewish wine. In addition, off of the shelf also came a bottle of Barnard Griffin Syrah, Eola Hills Merlot, and Ste Chapelle Riesling Ice Wine. All the elements came together for a wonderful evening.

As noted back in early November, our staff has been closely monitoring the progress of a new restaurant and brewery in Corvallis – Block 15. Opening the doors in mid-January with a twist of “Independent, Local, and Unique”, Block 15 is going to add a refreshing take to the culinary scene. We have been privy to some menu tastings and have also been in the facility throughout various stages of development, and excitement is abound. The other night I tried a delicious smoked salmon spread that will call for an evening at the brewpub with a bottle of Riesling. The Oregon Wine Blog has assisted in developing the wine list for the restaurant, and while the final list will take shape based on availability of distribution, price point, and the preferences of the founders, our recommendations included wines from the following wineries:

With that, I’ll bid adieu as we take off for another holiday party this evening. In the coming weeks you can look forward to a feature on pairing wine with a traditional holiday dinner, using wine from Willamette Valley Vineyard’s Wine Guild, in addition to the usual smattering of wine reviews, winery visits, and industry analysis.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Pursuing the 1%

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Let’s face it; much like wines of Oregon, the origins of Washington Wine can be predominantly traced to one specific region in the state. In Washington this area is identified as east of the Cascade Mountain range. In fact, eight of the State’s nine official American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) are located in this general area. These include the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain area, Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills area, Wahluke Slope, and Rattlesnake Hills regions. Data as recent as 2006 suggests these eastern regions grow 99% of Washington’s wine grapes. The one western AVA you ask? The Puget Sound Region.

Why bore you with mind-numbing Washington Wine facts? I have a purpose!

Take a stroll down any wine aisle advertised as “Washington Wines”, and the number of varietals with “Columbia Valley”, and “Yakima Valley” roots can be overpowering. I’ll argue with no regrets, that wines from these regions are what placed Washington on the world wine map, and as such, a majority of the press and publications are well deserved. I, however, have a different mission.

Prior to Thanksgiving, and as early as Halloween, I searched all my usual hot spots for a wine which classified as an estate grown wine of Puget Sound, the 1 % of Washington Wine I’d like to think. At Safeway, no luck. At QFC, no luck. At the Purple Café and Wine Bar, no luck.

My bitter pursuit of the 1% taught me two things. First, my wine knowledge surpasses that of the local wine stewards at my local markets (yes, I’ve graduated from nearly snooty wino to snooty wino), and secondly, any consumption of such estate grown wines, will more than likely require a ferry ride across Puget Sound, where most seem to originate. Before I divulge into my most recent (non Puget Sound AVA) delectable treat, let me first give space to those wineries neither appreciated by my markets, nor their stewards.

Bainbridge Island Vineyards, Black Diamond Winery, Carpentery Creek Winery, Eagle Haven Winery, Glacier Peak Winery, Hoodsport Winery, Lopez Island Vineyards, Mt. Baker Winery, Perennial Vintners, San Juan Vineyards, Vashon Island Winery, & Whidbey Island Vineyards. In months to come, look for entries relating to varietals produced by these wineries. I’ll admit some reluctance in opting for these lesser known wineries, but look forward to the adventure that awaits.

On to a more soothing subject, I recently opted for a psychedelic red, pertaining to a more than funky mood I’d obtained while searching for the 1% representatives. You could say I was duped by clever marketing, highlighted by an extremely plain label with black writing stating “House Wine”. The price caught my eye at less than $15.00, however, the kicker was it’s noted combination of four of Washington’s five most prominent red varietals, notably, Cabernet Sauvignon 54%, Merlot 30%, Syrah 11%, Malbec 3% and Cabernet Franc 2%. The winery, “The Magnificent Wine Company” states it is produced and bottled in Prosser, WA. Grapes are grown in the Columbia Valley.

The nose offered a smooth collection lavender and floral currents. As expected, the wine tasted predominantly of its Cab and Merlot distinction, yet the true winner in this “House Wine”, was the Syrah, offering a powerfully flavorful and full-bodied complement. There was no evidence of oak barreled scents, rather a velvety application of peppered enchantment.
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Labeling Requirements?

The Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Tax Bureau (TTB) has been mulling over an issue for a few years now that could have significant impact on the wine industry. The proposal is driven by a number of consumer groups and would require nutritional labels on alcohol beverages, including, of course -- wine. This proposal has been in public comment period since spring of 2005 and will more than likely come to resolution soon, and my gut is telling me that the decision will be on the side of nutritional labels.

I don't know about you, but I don't really care how many calories are in a glass / bottle / magnum of wine. It wouldn't bother me if it were on the label either, but a number of smaller wineries have objections to the proposal due to the impact on their business. Not only would it require a redesign of labels, but at a cost of $250 per release for testing, it could be costly for wineries with small production and distribution.

Keep your eye on this one, and if you are a geek like me and want more information on the proposed changes, check out www.regulations.gov, Docket ID: TTB-2007-0062.
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Apex (II) Cellars 2004 Late Harvest Semillon

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*Drew made a post about this wine on August 31st that I didn't realize until after I made this post. His thoughts and my thoughts are similar, yet different, check them out.

The Thanksgiving Holiday is behind us here at The Oregon Wine Blog, and as most of us work in Educational settings, the end of the Fall Term is also here. As my institution prepares to head into the home stretch after a short interlude, I decided I needed to open a new bottle of wine to end my 4 day "break." Tonight, I broke open a bottle from one of my shipments from Willamette Valley wine club.

This evening it is an Apex Cellars II 2004 Late Harvest Semillon. Apex Cellars is in the Yakima Valley of South-Central Washington State. It is both a vineyard and type of wine (Semillon) that are foreign to me, so I had to do some research on it. You will notice the "II" after "Apex", and the website reads, "Our goal with Apex II is to offer you an exceptional value—wines that are almost as impressive as Apex, but cost considerably less. Apex II wines are perfect for everyday enjoyment." This statement could lead someone to believe that the glass of wine I am about to enjoy may not be as good as a Late Harvest Semillon from Apex (or any wines from the "II" label for that matter). Let's not kid ourselves - the "Apex II" label is for those grapes not good enough to make the "Apex" label.

The Semillon is a grape that has a golden-skin and is used most frequently in making dry, sweet wines. Worldwide, it has been grown mostly in France, Australia/New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa. The tasting notes for this particular wine are, again as per the website, "Succulently sweet with opulent flavors of honey, apricots, and pears, this charming wine displays an unusually seductive floral scent, especially of honeysuckle. The luscious sweetness is balanced by refreshing acidity."

I have to admit that I was very excited about this wine, initially. It had been literally staring are me for about 10 days on my counter. So this evening I caved and opened the golden-copper seal and it's black plastic cork - I was like a kid...at Christmas...ugh (those of you who know me, know what that means). I was delighted by the this wonderful nose - very sweet citrus and a light alcohol combination hit you initially, not in a bad way.

There is a fairly decent coat on the glass when swirled, yet still less than I would have thought for a Late Harvest (with 9.5 % alcohol by volume). Then it came time for the taste...and I have to admit that I was less then impressed. It doesn't have an overly sweet taste that you would expect from a Late Harvest, but there was something about this wine that I didn't find very appealing. For my palate, I can actually taste the alcohol, which I find to be pretty rare. For me, the taste is this combination of lightly citric beverage that has a lingering alcohol "flavor"/aftertaste. I continue sipping and am wondering if I am missing something, but I can honestly say I don't think I am.

This is definitely a drier wine, but there is this odd something that lingers in the mouth that reminds you that you have/are consuming alcohol in a way that I have rarely experienced with other wines. So overall, I would just have to say this wine isn't a good one, but I would be interested in hearing what others' thoughts are.
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Saturday, November 24, 2007

2006 Sweet Cheeks Esate Pinot Gris

Sometimes decisions made on a whim yield surprising results! In this case, the result was an award-winning Pinot Gris to go along with the previously reviewed Riesling from Sweet Cheeks Winery in Crow, Oregon.

As with many Gris's, citrus notes dominate the nose and palette of this specimen. However, it is the combination of citrus, melon, acidity, and a hint of fig that define this wine from others of the same varietal. The finish is clean and refreshing with a citrus-mineral linger.

My first paring with this lovely wine was a artichoke jalapeno spread served prior to Thanksgiving-a very good combo. This wine was also used to make the sausage dressing for the same occasion, and then paired with a crab salad. Both outstanding.

Overall, this wine is a solid choice at $15. Below I have noted some of the awards earned by this white gem.

Cheers!

Best Pick Riesling for Oregon Wine Press
Winner 2007 Oyster Wine Competition
Gold Medal Winner West Coast Wine competition
Gold Medal Winner Northwest Wine Summit
Gold Medal Winner Astoria Wine competition
Oregon Press Pinot Gris Best Pick
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wawawai Canyon Winery

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A couple of weeks ago, on a trip to Eastern Washington, I stopped by the tasting room for a new winery near Pullman. While the tasting room is located only a mile to the west of the Idaho border, they have an estate vineyard in the Wawawai Canyon and source the rest of their grapes from the Wahluke slopes. With a current production of 400 - 600 cases, they are small--too small to distribute. The majority of sales are through the tasting room, although you can get a few of their wines in smaller local restaurants.

After tasting a few whites, my friend Rick (of the Beer Blog fame) and I moved on to a Pinot Noir. I was quite skeptical about a Washington Pinot, especially from the high-heat Wahluke slopes. I was right--it was different from any Pinot I have ever had, and I must say that I'm not a fan. Now, once we moved on to the Cab and Syrah, those were a different story. Exhibiting the traditional characteristics that the Columbia Valley is known for, I walked away with a bottle of Syrah that I'm looking forward to cracking open.

Next time you are in the Palouse, stop by Wawawai Canyon on the Moscow-Pullman Highway. You'll find the staff friendly, the tasting room pleasant, and the bigger reds delicious.
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Monday, November 19, 2007

2002 Griffin Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

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2006 Sokol Blosser Muller Thurgau Estate Cuvee


Considering the recent weather here in the great Northwest, gray and chilly, I needed a reminder of sunny skies and warm weather. What better than a opening a bottle of white obtained from the Dundee Hills during Memorial Day Weekend?

The bottle in question was Muller Thurgau Estate Cuvee from Sokol Blosser. This wine has a beautiful straw color and coats the glass wonderfully. After a thorough chilling, the nose on this bottle was not, at first, noteworthy... As the solution warmed, apple, pear, and mineral notes intensified greatly! After thirty minutes in the glass, just a hint of caramel and vanilla tingle the palette. Note to self, slightly chill this Muller, then turn it loose to breathe!

Like many Rieslings, this varietal has a fruity flavor up front, but finishes clean, smooth, and with a slight mineral linger. Yep, I remember that cool spring day at Sokol Blosser.

This wine was paired with a Gruyere cheese fondue and sun-dried tomato chicken sausage. Fabulous. Definately something that I will pick up again on my next diversion North. Oops, too late, this vintage is already sold out!

Bottoms Up!
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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Block 15

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Tonight the staff of The Oregon Wine Blog got a hard-hat tour of Block 15 -- a new brewpub that will be opening here in Corvallis, OR. Block 15 is located at Third and Jefferson, the location of the original "block 15" of Marysville, before Corvallis was Corvallis. That site was former home to Endzone, Headliners, the Gazette-Times, and the fire department.

We're excited about the opening in January or February. Not only will Block 15 have a wide selection of their own beer and a great, local food menu--but also a nice Oregon/Washington wine list. In fact, Drew and I are working on their wine list...so you know it will have a few gems in it. Most importantly, Block 15 espouses the values that we believe in here. Unique, local product...sustainability...a nice atmosphere...and culinary delights. What more can you ask for?

Stay tuned at The Oregon Wine Blog for details on the grand opening celebration!

11/19/07 UPDATE:

Yesterday I had the pleasure of tasting some menu items the chef was testing for Block 15. Of note was the QUITE delicious Southwest Salad. I recommend highly when they open:

Southwest Salad

Romaine tossed in a spicy tomato ranch and topped with grilled Chicken, black beans, roasted sweet corn, jack cheese, red onion. Garnished with blue corn chips and cilantro.
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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sweet Cheeks 2006 Estate Riesling

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Sweet Cheeks Winery is located in Crow, Oregon, at the southern end of the Willamette Valley and is about 10 miles away from our new home in Veneta. Although Steve and I haven't been out to the winery yet (too much painting and garage door installing to do!), I've been eyeing the Sweet Cheeks wines at the local Bi-Mart. The labels intrigued me - the focal point of the label is a black crow, whose eyes were metallic and seemed to follow me as I walked by. It struck me as strangely dark, a little sinister, and made me intensly curious what sort of wine I would find inside.

We brought home today a bottle of the Sweet Cheeks 2006 Estate Riesling. It's outstanding. Just outstanding. It's the perfect Riesling, sweet melon and citrus fruit all the way through, no minerally bite at the finish, and leaning just toward dry. It's sweet but not overly so, it's crisp but not bitey. It reminds me of summer as the chilly fog surrounds the house. I have not been so impressed with a Riesling since I first tasted the Willamette Valley Vinyards version.

Drinking the 2006 Estate Riesling tonight has me greatly anticipating visiting Sweet Cheeks Winery and tasting what else they have to offer. If it's anything like this wine, it's sure to be a treat. I'm also looking foward to seeing what inspired the naming of the winery - the two rolling hills that come together to form distinctive "cheeks." A winery that creates such a wonderful wine and has fun while doing it? It's got my vote.
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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harvest Musings

We're well into crush and harvest season here in the Willamette Valley, certainly a fun time to be an Oregonian. It's a time when the vineyards change colors, creating a beautiful mosaic across the landscape while the winemakers toil long and hard in their laboratories of vino.

As I've been out and about, I've been seeing more and more of the 2006 vintage of Pinot Noir out on the streets...well, on the shelves that is. A number of wineries have released their '06 recently, many of them earlier than planned or desired as they have sold out of the 2005 vintage which turned out quite nicely. I tried some of the 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir a few weeks ago and while still young, it has nice potential.

I digress. Back to the here and now, the 2007 vintage that is coming off of the vines. Frankly, I'm feeling like 2007 is going to turn out to be a very difficult year for Oregon Pinot. The weather started not cooperating in early October with rain rain rain, forcing winemakers to make a decision. The first option, pulling the fruit off earlier than desired, would result in an under-ripe grape but would be the safest option to protect the crop. To be successful with this option, the winemaker would need to potentially manipulate the wine by adding sugar, so the fermentation process would yield a high enough alcohol content by time it finished. The other option, with more risk yet more potential reward, pitted vineyard managers in a contest with mother nature--hoping for a few more days of sunshine while risking dangerous fungus growth. My sense in talking to folks in the industry is that many chose the first option, so this vintage will really come down to the skill of the winemaker in dealing with a finicky fruit and lackluster weather.

In other developments, a new wine store has opened here in Corvallis. WineStyles takes a unique spin on wine. Organizing wine by profile rather than vintage or region, they make it very easy for someone who doesn't know a lot about wine to find something they may enjoy. I commented to Drew after we visited that it seemed like they were trying to demystify wine, and when I looked at the website a few minutes ago that is one of their marketing messages nearly verbatim. The store is a franchise, though, and feels like it to me. In Corvallis I am more partial to Wineopolis or Avalon, but WineStyles will certainly develop a niche.

As a closing note, I stopped by Witness Tree Vineyard last week and it is a hidden treasure. Small and off the beaten path near Salem, they produce low volume but high quality Pinots. While you are in the neighborhood you can stop by Bethel Heights and Cristom.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2003 Cañon De Sol Syrah & Great Food

Last week a couple of friends kidnapped me for my birthday and took me to McMenamin's Edgefield Winery for some celebrating, drinking, eating and wine purchasing. The trip was doubly productive thanks to Chris' employee discount on the wine from their winery. It was a fun and delicious birthday treat, but while we were there having dinner we ordered a bottle of wine, which turned out to be out-of-stock so we upgraded to the top end syrah on the wine list. That wonderful bottle was the 2003 Syrah from Cañon De Sol Winery.

When the server poured my tasting sip the first thing I noticed was that the wine smelled of a very fruity jam, it had a deep red color, and has a very long and smooth finish. The palate is also of a very fruity deep red berry jam, with a mild oak flavor that provides just enough balance to the wine. It paired excellently with each of the three meals we individually had:

  • Lamb Saltimbocca sirloin filled with sautéed artichoke hearts, seasoned with fresh sage leaves and wrapped in prosciutto with balsamic vinegar-pomegranate molasses reduction and roasted cippolini onions

  • Grilled Smoked Ribeye Steak dried cherry and Edgefield Winery Syrah reduction, smoked jalapeño butter, roasted baby Yukon Gold potatoes

  • New York Steak Béarnaise sauce creamy potato blue cheese gratin, sautéed green beans

Cañon De Sol Winery hails from Benton City, Washington which is about 15 miles outside of Richland, Washington in the eastern side of the state. Noteworthy of the Winery is that Victor Cruz the Managing Owner/Winemaker is the only Latino winemaker and winery owner in the state of Washington. So, not only can you be sure to enjoy some wonderful wine if you buy this syrah, but you can know you're supporting a minority owned small business.

In the end the wine is something I will continue to recommend to friends to enjoy, as will I recommend eating at the Black Rabbit Restaurant & Bar at the Edgefield Winery in Troutdale, Oregon.

-Cheers!

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

What's in a name?

A lot more than people think, actually. A number of friends recently have asked about various aspects of branding associated with wine, not realizing just how strictly regulated wine labeling has come to be.

Wine naming and labeling guidelines are set in at least two arenas. Federally, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates all US wine (grape wine with 7% or greater alcohol content). Adding to federal regulation, each state has it's own set of laws regarding wine. Oregon's are among the strictest in the nation, a result of the work of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

So, for your edutainment, here is a primer on some of the things you might find on a wine label, and what they mean:

Brand

This area is fairly straightforward...well, not really. A brand name must be unique, registered, and trademarked to maintain protections within the industry. Beyond that, brands are not to be misleading. Early in the Oregon winemaking days, a number of wineries were named after the geographical area in which they were located. This concept makes sense from a marketing perspective, however, as the industry developed and the TTB started designating American Viticulture Areas and winegrowing regions in those areas, those brands became more and more restrictive due to the issue addressed next.

Appellation of Origin and Viticultural Area

AVA's are essentially a defined grape-growing area that has unique qualities in terms of soil, climate, etc. Appellations are more broad, and indicate the country, state, county, or region of origin. This tells you where the wine is from and what characteristics you might find. Federally, to put an appellation (like Willamette Valley) on a label, 75% of the grapes in the wine must be from that area. To list an AVA on a label, 85% of the grapes must be from that area. Oregon, on the other hand, requires 95% of the grapes to be from the area listed on the label. This can cause problems. For example, an application was put in with the TTB to create the Eola Hills AVA in Oregon a while back. Eola Hills Winery had existed previous to that time. Had Eola Hills AVA been approved as is, all of a sudden Eola Hills Winery would be restricted to using grapes only from the Eola Hills AVA -- as long as they wanted to sell under the Eola Hills Winery label. Additionally, the winery would have been given an unfair advantage in the marketplace. In that case, the issue was resolved when the TTB named it the Eola-Amity AVA. Willamette Valley Vineyards has overcome similar challenges by labeling Rogue Valley reds under the Griffin Creek label.

Varietal

What type of wine are you drinking? Federally, 75% of the grapes in a wine must be from a specific varietal to label the wine as that type (such as merlot). That entire 75% must be from the geographical area if there is one listed. The majority of popular Oregon wines hold 90% minimum content from the listed varietal, although 18 specific varietals can be blended with up to 25% of the non-primary grape. OLCC just approved the use of the Pinot Grigio varietal as well--which is really the same thing as Pinot Gris.

Vintage

TTB says that 85% of the grapes in a vintage-designated wine must be from that year, unless it has a geographic designation as well, then 95% must be from that vintage.

Estate Designated Wine

To be listed as an estate wine, TTB requires that 100% of the grapes in that wine were grown, crushed, fermented, aged, finished, and bottled on land owned or controlled by the winery, all within the same viticulture area.

Who would of thought there was that much to naming and labeling wine? This is simply an overview of some of the key requirements, there is certainly much much more codified in the federal and state law books. Hopefully, though, the next time you look at a wine label you will appreciate a little more what goes into ensuring what you see is what you get.
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Friday, October 19, 2007

Snoqualmie Vineyards 2003 Reserve Merlot

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There is something about Fall that just screams couch potato and red wine. I can’t decide whether it’s the debut of the fall television lineup, college football, or a chance of letting down after a summer of go, go, go. Either way, a renewed crispness in the air and the fact my wife and I just survived our first power outage this season; I knew it was time un cork an old standby and an autumn classic, Merlot.

I opted for a new label, and a winery which I have yet to visit, Snoqualmie Vineyards. The wine you ask, the 2003 Reserve Merlot. I chose the Reserve label, thinking my abrupt entry into fall deserved nothing less. Winemaker Joy Andersen describes the Reserve label as the “best of the best”. The wine itself is one of the more pricey wines editorialized on this blog, selling at $25.00.

The food pairing consisted of penne pasta with a tomato sauce, at the recommendation of the winery. I was quick to jump at letting the merlot flow, and my first swirl did not disappoint. I’ve never seen wine cascade down the side of the glass so slowly. The nose offered scents of its black cherry and oak aged roots. It felt clean on the palate, and went down with a kick, like a good Merlot should. Elements of spice and berries lingered long after taking a sip.

After finishing my first glass I noted a light layer of sediment on the bottom of my glass. If you’ve ever made homemade wine, you know first hand that sediment is the root evil of the home winemaking process. A second glass was poured and consumed, and little sediment was left. This one faux pas did not disappoint, overwhelmingly surpassed by the level of satisfaction this wine produced.
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Monday, October 15, 2007

Toad Hollow Risque

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I've been slacking lately. All this moving and packing and unpacking has me remiss in talking about one of my favorite things - wine. As an homage to getting 95% of the boxes unpacked, I opened a bottle I had been saving. It's one that I first experienced from Josh's first Creme de Cru shipment from WVV, and I'd looked for it ever since then. I found it just shortly after buying the house in June, at the local discount store BiMart, but let me assure you, this is not a "discount store" wine.

Toad Hollow is a winery out of Califorina (oh no, a California wine review!) whose mission is to create wonderful wine that is also affordable. At about $11 a bottle, I can dig that. The Toad Hollow Risque is a sparkling wine, reminiscent of champagne. However, aside from the sparkle, this is not like champagne at all. It's a light dessert wine, tasting of apple and pear, with just the right amount of fizz. Martinelli's, only not at all syrupy, and of course with alcohol content. Although it started out with a good chill, even after letting it warm up a little from casually sipping through the evening, the Risque maintained it's light mouth feel. Most dessert wines feel heavier after they warm to room tempurature, the Risque did not.

I know, I know, a California sparkling wine. But it's good, and is a great alternative to champagne. And to be fair, I learned about it through our favorite winery's Creme de Cru shipment, so it's sort of an Oregon thing.
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2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris


It's time for Mr. Red to dabble in reviewing the 'other side'... Considering my venture, I wanted to discuss a white that I have a bit of experience with, Willamette Valley Vineyards' Pinot Gris.

This varietal was one of the first adult grape juices that I was exposed to, and it has had a spot in the wine rack since. Why? Well, it is versatile to pair tasty treats and friendly to less experienced palates (Yep, that was a little Red Snootiness coming through, although admittedly, I am no professional...).

On to the specifics... The 2006 Gris is actually a blend of 91% Colmar clone Gris, 7% Pinot Blanc, 1% Auxerrois, and 1% Muscat that was picked late September/early October. Fermentation was performed in stainless with the 1% Auxerrois, followed by French Oak.

OK, here are my thoughts... 1) the nose on this bottle is mostly citrus with melon and oak components playing second and third place. 2) at first sip, the typical Gris citrus and melon carry through from the nose and the 7% Blanc and oak intensify. 3) the finish is clean, baby-butt smooth, with a touch of mineral; no doubt from the volcanic soils that this blend was sourced.

What about the Auxerrois and Muscat? Sorry folks, I did not detect them. This is not a negative, as previously indicated, this wine will likely always hold a spot in my collection because of its versatility.

My favorite combination for this wine is lemon herb halibut, rice, and fresh veggies, preferably on a warm summer day. Willamette Valley Vineyards says that this is their 'Salmon Wine'. I would encourage anyone to invest $15 in a bottle and figure out what paring works best for you.

Cheers Friends!
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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Eugene Wine Cellars 2004 Pinot Gris

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Recently I've been making a point of picking up a local wine that I haven't tried before when I'm at the store, masking the cost of the wine within the grocery expense and building up a stock of drinkable wine ready to go at a moments notice. A couple of weeks ago, I did the bi-weekly shopping trip to Safeway and ran across one of the Wine Steward's recommendations--the 2004 Pinot Gris by Eugene Wine Cellars. At $15, In the cart it went with few other bottles.

2004 was the fifth vintage produced by Eugene Wine Cellars-out of Eugene, OR if you hadn't picked up on that one. For that year, they rolled out a new label and image: b2. The b-squared title is representative of a number of double-b's that are related to the company, and present it as a new image and focus for the winery. Personally, I find this sort of marketing gimmick to be a bit too trendy and hip. Nonetheless, on to the wine.

This gris was dry on the nose, with a strong floral notes. It had a good mouthfeel, and upon sipping the dryer style of this wine was confirmed throughout with a crisp finish. I ate spicy chicken Italian sausage with this alcoholic grape juice, and the wine tempered the spiciness quite nicely. This particular vintage won a silver medal at the 2006 Tasters International Judging.

Like gris? Why not! Like dryer gris? Definitely check this one out.

For the coming attractions section of The Oregon Wine Blog, keep on the look out for upcoming treatment of:

  • Sahalie Wine Bar
  • Harvest and Crush
  • 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir
  • Chateau Lorane

Salud!

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2005 Griffin Creek Syrah Fort Miller Vineyard

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PEPPERY, BLACK CHERRY, OAK, VANILLA, SMOOTH!

Please excuse my excitement; my taste buds have control of my brain and I have a new favorite! My fellow wine bloggers know that I covet my Syrah's, particularly the 2002 and 2004 from Griffin Creek, so I was quite excited to receive the 2005 Fort Miller Vineyard version as a house warming gift.

The first whiff after popping the cork on this Rouge Valley gem was the peppery spice and bold cherry nose that diffused from the glass. This encounter was off to a good start! Letting the first pour breathe a bit, I put the finishing touches on the pairing for the evening, New York pepper steak, cheese risotto, and corn.

After toasting my wife on our new house, our first sips were pure bliss... This wine contained all of the key components I require for a superior ranking: spicy nose, fruit and oak notes, with a smooth finish. In this case a subtle vanilla finish grew in intensity, while maintaining its smooth qualities, as the wine came to equilibrium with its uncorked environment. The pairing of this robust yet complex vintage with the pepper steak could not have been improved; fellow wine blogger Megan, who is a lover of a good sweet white wine could not complement this Syrah enough.

As a test, tonight I decided to pair the same bottle with chicken enchiladas... OK, this may not be the traditional pairing for a robust red, but I felt that I had to really push this wine to see if it ranked supreme on my list. After being open for a day, any bite that was imagined at first sip has completely vanished and the vanilla, cherry, and oak components have intensified! Yes, I think it actually got better!

I will be acquiring another bottle of this wonderful specimen and would suggest that even the folks a little apprehensive of reds give this vintage chance.

Finally, Drew and Josh, thanks much for such a wonderful gift; I would suggest locking your doors until I get a chance to purchase another bottle...

CHEERS!!!!
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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Life Force Marionberry Mead - Marrionberry Honey Wine

3 comments
Well Ladies and Gentlemen, it was bound to happen. It was inevitable that I would have purchased a bottle of wine that was not to my liking, despite what happened when I first tasted it, and no, right now, I will not be giving this wine a second chance. There are many good things about this wine, but for my taste, the "bad" far outweighs the good.

Chateau Lorane is a beautiful winery that is 22 miles south of Eugene on Lake Louise. When I first travelled there this past Labor Day weekend, I was taken aback by its location. It was a little bit difficult to find, but the tasting room is located on a beautiful cliff that is covered by trees with views of the Lake. I have this very vivid picture of the scene in my head as I write this, and perhaps there will be pictures added after another scheduled trip there.

This Marionberry Mead is not what I recall it being from my tasting it about a month ago. Let me clarify something - I tend to like wines that might be on the sweeter side, even some of the late harvest wines are very much to my liking, but this did not live up to what I thought. If you take a sip of this wine, after lightly chilling it, you get an explosion of fruit - citrus, grape, it is all there, and very full, which can be a good thing. However, once swallowed, the distaste sets in. The honey in this wine is overbearing and leaves an aftertaste that makes me shudder. A good thing is that the aftertaste is not very long lasting, but for me, it was not pleasant. I see myself neither enjoying the remainder of my glass, nor finishing the bottle.

Because I work with students, you can never end on a bad note, and there are some great things about this wine (just not the taste). I LOVE the nose on this wine. I love the grape aroma that is present. It is a a sweeter grape, and if you are not a big fan of sweet wines, it could be a bit overbearing, but I like it a lot. I believe the nose has a hint of honey in it, but not too much. I also love the color of this wine. It has this beautiful clear red hue to it. I like the way the wine coats the glass when swirled - very clean and clear, with the runs being even all around the glass.

So there you have it. My first review of a wine that I am not a fan of, but it still has some redeeming qualities. I would be interested in the thoughts of someone who loves this wine and encourage you to try it for yourself.
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Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio

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My friends in Oregon have eloquently described wine of the Willamette Valley with due diligence. I’ve been engrossed in their literary prowess, craving the very wine they recommend. What I’ve noticed is a rapid exchange of Oregon wine cycling in and out of my wine rack. The problem you ask; a light layer of dust has immersed itself on bottles deserving equal tasting time and literary love. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m talking about the wine of my region, Washington Wine.

I’ll start with two bottles, yes two, which my wife recently surprised me with. She not being a wine connoisseur, recently asked “What wine do you like?” I explained “Anything Pinot”, thinking it would ease her frustration in a more than convoluted wine aisle at our local market. What she selected were the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Pinot Grigio 2005, and 2006 editions.

My introduction to the Columbia Crest Winery was at a wedding several years ago. While watching nuptials exchange, my thoughts moved to wine, and a growing concern that the Columbia Crest Winery was more a tourist attraction than a winery. Less than a year ago, my wife and I enjoyed a Murder Mystery Dinner Train which again took us to the winery. Thoughts of commercialism solidified, yet multiple tasting sessions appeased the palate and kept me coming back for more.

A late evening treat awaited, and I first opted for the 2005 edition. I was welcomed by the subtle flavor of acidic fruits, like peach and citrus, noting each flavors distinct presence. Winemaker Ray Einberger describes the wine as being crisp and clean. I agreed. After several sips, a light layer of tartness evolved to some dismay. No blame to Columbia Crest on this as it's to be expected when drinking an acidic wine.

I followed up the next night, drinking the 2006 edition. First impressions included an overall sweeter taste, which makes sense considering a slight increase in the sugar count compared to the 2005 edition. Much of the same flavors evolved, noting more satisfaction in this glass over the other.

I’ll admit some reluctance in using the Columbia Crest label for my introductory post. Its powerful role in the Washington Wine region, alongside its neighboring Woodinville winery, Chateau St. Michelle, can be equated to the analogous role exhibited by Starbucks and Tully’s. While the debate over large wineries versus small ones can continue another time, I must give credit where credit is due. Columbia Crest Winery continues to provide a wine at an unavoidable price point, less than $15.00, and I can’t help but realize that I keep coming back for more. While I may not select this Pinot Grigio again, the Columbia Crest label will almost always hold a spot in my wine rack.

Bottoms up!
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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Saginaw Vineyard 2006 Muller Thurgau

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A good way to end the weekend...

Tonight, while I sit enjoying some of my favorite Sunday night television, I am drinking a glass of wine from the Saginaw Vineyard. Saginaw is located south of Eugene, in Cottage Grove, in a very literal off the beaten path area. It is a small family owned winery that gets most of their grapes from other locations. I went there Labor Day weekend when my friend Chris Michaud came to visit.

When travelling to Saginaw, and you turn off the main road, you almost think that you might be driving onto someone's private property, and if you are not careful, you will miss your turn. The tasting room is in a red barn, but the inside is delicately decorated very similar to other small wineries I have been to, particularly a couple small ones in the Tri-Cities area of south-central Washington.

One of the wines we tasted was one that I had not heard of before - which is slightly odd because my parents are HUGE into wine. When I did some research, I learned why it was I might not have heard of this kind before - this particular wine is a Muller Thurgau. Muller Thurgau has sometimes been considered a bit of the bastard child of grape wines being seen as lesser quality and thought of as cheap. This has been particularly true in Germany, where it originated, but the grape has gained popularity in other parts of the world.

The Muller Thurgau from Saginaw Valley is quite enjoyable. Served chilled, when poured it looks a bit darker than white grape juice. I noticed the citrus smell when I gathered a couple whiffs of this wine. When swirled, there is a nice coat that the glass gets, which is slightly slower to run down the glass, yet this wine is far from heavily alcoholic (11% alcohol by volume). I find the taste to also be a bit more citric in nature than some others I can recall. There is a slight flavor of sweet but if you aren't paying attention, you might not be aware that it is there. When you take a sip, you get a burst of flavor, and once swallowed, the taste diminishes, with a very light remnant remaining on the palate.

I was glad that I tried this wine, and I don't know that I would call this a low quality by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that I might have spent $20 for this bottle, and I found it to be well worth it. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to try something a little different, and I would recommend visiting Saginaw Vineyards to everyone who is not a complete snob about where they taste their wine, Scott and Cheryl were very welcoming and will tell you the story of how they came about as wine proprietors.
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2005 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir (Estate Grown)

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Should wines be given a second chance?

I pondered this as I sit here after having given a wine a second chance, something that had I thought about it earlier in the week would not have happened. The wine this evening I am talking about is the 2005 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards. Let me make it clear - I love Willamette Valley Vineyards, and since my time in Oregon, most of my wines have come from there. As a member of the wine guild, I do feel a certain amount of loyalty to them, but, I was quite taken aback when I opened this bottle of wine on Thursday and took a sip.

My most recent post talked about red wines, wines that I didn't like as much, and my writing more about those. I got a response from a friend of the Oregon Wine Blog, the Beer Blog, commenting that we might be less prone to write about wine we dislike for numerous reasons. All the same, I was certain that this Pinot Noir would be the first on that list, but not completely.

I first opened this bottle of wine on Thursday. I let it sit open for about 15-20 minutes while I decompressed from the day. I poured a bit into the glass and was immediately struck by the color. It was a very distinct cranberry-grape color, which I liked. I took the nose on it to really be able to bring about the oak, or something wood (I am not sure what kind of apparatus it is aged in) with some some of the spices. I swirled the wine and noticed the nice coat it gave my glass. Then came the sip...I found my first glass of this wine to be very harsh, very strong, and reminiscent of why it is I am less prone to reds over whites. The aftertaste was lasting and it was almost as though I had taken some cold medicine. I thought it might have been my first sip of something that I did wrong. After pouring more into my glass, I would realize this was not the case. I continued to drink my glass of wine, "You never leave a man behind" is a favorite saying of someone here on the Oregon Wine Blog when referring to glasses of wine. I drank about 3/4 of my glass before I decided I was done with this wine for the evening.

That brings us to today. I think it completely okay to start the week off with a glass of wine or two in my apartment, as long as I am responsible. I decided, almost reluctantly, to give the Tualatin another chance, despite having a white wine chilled (I will write about that one later). I recently purchased a vacuum sealer for wines - it is not responsible of me to put away a whole bottle of wine every time I open one - and used it for the first time when I closed this bottle on Thursday. I opened the seal and poured my glass of wine. The color and coat were the same. The nose seemed to bring out more of a cinnamon scent with the wood, and then I took the plunge.

With a little trepidation, I took the sip and was relieved. The flavor and richness that was on my palate this evening was what I remembered this wine tasting like when I first tried it before. The flavor is one that still lingers, but it is no where near as strong as it was on Thursday. There is just a lite tingle that you feel at the back of the cheeks. While hard to describe, I like the spices that I taste with this wine. And while we sometimes talk about what we are eating or would eat while drinking our wines, I am going to be a little less conventional this evening. As I drink my Pinot Noir, I think that it would go well with some chocolate brownies. The sweet sugar of the brownies would be a good offset with the subtle and after-swallow lite tartness of this Pinot Noir.

I was very happy that I decided to give this wine a second chance, and would encourage others to continue to try old wines, even those that might not have made a good first impression. While I am not saying this is my favorite Pinot Noir, that will come later, I would rank this one in my top 5...for now :-)
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Firesteed 2005 Oregon Pinot Noir

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Firesteed Cellars holds an interesting page in the Pacific Northwest wine book. Formed in the early 90's as an answer to consumer demand for lower cost, quality reds in the emerging northwest wine regions, Firesteed started out as what you would call a virtual winery. Sourcing all of their fruit from other growers, utilizing cellar space at existing wineries, and borrowing spare time from other winemakers, Firesteed started out making an Oregon pinot and an Italian wine. In 2003, Firesteed bought an existing vineyard in Rickreall, OR and now is expanding in a more traditional fashion.

Yesterday we popped the cork on a bottle of the 2005 Oregon Pinot Noir. This pinot is a blend of grapes from 4 different appellations in Oregon. Right out of the chutes, this wine seemed a bit hot in terms of alcohol and it was getting a bit overpowered by the sirloin steak we were eating with it. The wine opened up over the course of the evening and a fruity, jammy nose emerged although the heat lingered on the finish of the wine. While I didn't dislike the wine, I wasn't overly impressed either. Tonight, I poured another glass and the wine has certainly mellowed out. My roommate and I both agree that we like it more this evening than last night, although I think it's a bit flat for my taste.

The saving grace of this vintage is the price -- at around $15 retail, it's quite affordable for an Oregon Pinot Noir. So, while it isn't my favorite, it's a great value wine and if you have those friends coming over who don't appreciate a really good wine, but you don't want to serve franzia or the likes, this may be a good route to go. Keep your eye on Firesteed as well, as they just produced a state best of classification Pinot Gris.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

2004 Griffin Creek Syrah

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This pre-release wine, made available only to Willamette Valley Vineyards Club members, is an outstanding testament to the quality of southern Oregon wines and its fruit forward grapes. Syrah can be a finicky wine to master, in my humble opinion. The bold qualities of this grape make it a wonderful wine to pair with big meals like steak, ribs, or even a roast.

As for the specifics of the 2004 Syrah by Griffin Creek, the nose starts with a great spicy tone, followed by a smooth scent of blackberries and black pepper. When the wine hits the palate a wonderful flavor of black cherries, strawberry jam, and a long smooth finish of spicy black pepper and licorice.

For our own pairing we had a dinner party last night with seven other friends at our place. For the main course we dry-rubbed some pork spare ribs overnight. The rub had a base of brown sugar and cinnamon, with cayanne, chili powder, paprika, ground ginger and garlic, and some thyme and rosemary. The pairing was excellent, the dinner phenomenal, and the company beyond reproach.

If you ever get the opportunity to purchase a bottle of this wine, by some myserious chance, do so without hesitation. The wine is one I won't soon forget.

-Cheers!
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

2005 St. Josef's Pinot Noir

St. Josef's Winery is one that holds a special place in my heart. I have fond memories of waitressing there when I was in high school, at some of the fanciest events I could imagine. I was thrilled with the amazing food they managed to serve out of the tiny kitchen, and getting to eat in the tasting room while the guests were occupied with their dinners. And one of my most favorite parts of the winery were the owners, two of the sweetest people you could ever meet - Joe and Lilli. I wasn't a regular employee, and only worked at big events when they needed the extra help, but both always welcomed me warmly into the staff for the evening. They have a close hands on style with the winery, and it comes through in their carefully handcrafted wines. As we were getting more into wine, I was always drawn to the St. Josef's label, wondering if the memories I had of the fairytale winery would carry into the wine bottled there. One of my personal all time favorites is the St. Josef's L'Esprit, a wonderful Gewurztraminer. But that's a post for another day.

At the grocery store, Steve and I decided to take advantage of the deal on fantastic looking New York steaks, and wanted to get a good red to go with. We wandered the wine isles for a little while, wanting something that would be as good as the Maryville Syrah we had with last nights dinner. After not being inspired by anything, I noticed the St. Josef's 2005 Pinot Noir label on the shelf with the other Pinots. It's an affordable wine, as with all of the St. Josef's wine, about $8 a bottle. I've wanted to try this one for a while, so in the cart it went.

This is a wine that likes to breathe. Upon pouring, the first taste is a bit flat for a Pinot Noir, but the flavors of cherry and the oak it's aged in are up front at the start. However, after letting the glass open up for a few minutes, the wine just increases in depth. If you let it roll over your tongue, you can taste light raspberry along with rich oak. It's a wonderful ruby red colored wine. The 2005 Pinot Noir isn't a pretentious wine, and it's bottled to enjoy right away. I can see this being a nice comfortable steady red to keep on hand, and plan to.
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Update and 2004 Columbia Crest Grand Estate Cab

2 comments
Here at The Oregon Wine Blog, there are times of the year in which we are limited in our ability to post as a result of the jobs that actually pay us. It is the downfall of our staff pretty much all working in the same industry -- university administration. Being the start of the school year, this is one of those times. Sorry. Things will settle down in a week or two and the posting traffic will pick back up. And, if anyone would like to pay me to do THIS, email me - josh@theoregonwineblog.com :)

Last week I was in Bend with some friends, and we cracked open a bottle of wine that I was familiar with previously although it's allure had fallen into a forgotton corner of my palate: 2004 Columbia Crest Grand Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Columbia Crest is another Eastern Washington winery, located in the Horse Heaven Hills of the Columbia Valley (Paterson, WA). Columbia Crest markets under three labels -- Reserve, Grand Estate, and Two Vines. I have consistenly been impressed by the Grand Estate offerings, their middle-tier wines which are available as a quite reasonable price point.

Tasting notes from the winemaker are pretty darn accurate: "Slight spice, chocolate, and hints of coconut and black cherry aromas lead into a subtle and harmonious balance of oak and fruit on the palate. This supple wine trails into a slightly spiced cocoa finish.” The chocolate notes and cocoa finish were particularly prominent for me. It's a very drinkable wine and you can't go wrong for $12.99. Seriously. We bought another bottle the other day and it's nearly gone. While the 2004 is pretty widely available at retailers, the 2003 in my opinion is even better. I haven't seen this on the shelves lately but it looks like it is still available at the winery. Darn it, I want to buy some now.

With that, I'll leave you all to vinification bliss. On a final note, if there is something you would like to see on The Oregon Wine Blog, leave a comment or send me an email.
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Sunday, September 9, 2007

2006 Tualatin Hills Semi-Sparkling Muscat

1 comment
Frankly I was a bit surprised when I opened a bottle of this wine this evening and looked at our blog, only to find that none of us had written about this much loved wine. To the best of my knowledge this wine, the Tualatin Estate 2006 Frizzante (site not up-to-date) is a favorite among each of us here at The Oregon Wine Blog.

The wine has been described to me as "Sprite in a wine bottle" but it is really so much more! The amazing fruit-forward qualities of this wine make it drinkable on the hottest of summer days as well as the coolest of winter evenings. This evening just so happened to be one of those record hot summer evenings here in the mid-Willamette Valley. The wine is specifically a mild semi-sparkling muscat. For those who do not like muscat, they may have a hard time enjoying this wine. However, if you can enjoy a sweet wine, you will most certainly enjoy this one. With a great palette of peaches, citrus rind, and orange blossoms, this wine serves as a great intro into the realm of wine for those who have never had the wine experience required to get them started.

If you would like more information about this delicious wine please visit Tualatin Estate's mother company Willamette Valley Vineyards' online store. The price is $15 per bottle and can be found across the Oregon area in many local markets and retailers, as well as a list of local retailers on other locales across the country.
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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Barnard Griffin 2004 Syrah

Are you looking for a nice syrah for under $20? Barnard Griffin's 2004 Syrah is the wine for you. Barnard Griffin is probably my favorite Eastern Washington winery, located near the Yakima River in Richland. Now, I grew up in Richland but unfortunately was under the legal age for enjoying wine at the time. I'm really digging where the industry is going in the Tri-Cities when I visit my family.

Barnard Griffin buys all of their fruit--and Rob Griffin, the winemaker, attributes much of his success to sourcing great fruit. They produce both tulip labels and reserve wines, and while the reserve are definitely the cream of the crop, tulip label wines are very respectable and reasonably priced.

For the 2004 Syrah, the nose has plum and blackberry notes with rich, full-bodied flavors. The grapes for this wine came from the Wahluke Slope, Columbia Gorge, and Columbia River areas capitalizing on the high heat climate of the Columbia Valley. We cracked it open with a nice steak and next thing we knew, the bottle was gone.

Next time you are in the local wine store, pick up a bottle. Even better, if you happen to find yourself in Richland--stop by the tasting room. They are quite hospitable.
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Monday, September 3, 2007

Reds vs. Whites, Good vs. Bad

2 comments
I feel that I must make the caveat whenever I write about a Reds that I am much more preferential to Whites. This does not mean that I don't drink Reds, but it is harder for me to find a good Red I like and once I do, I remain pretty loyal to it - comparing other Reds to the select few I love.

I had a friend come in from Chicago this weekend and we explored a couple of wineries south of Eugene. When I looked at the wines I purchased over the course of the weekend, I found I bought an greatly disproportionate number of Reds to Whites, about 7 to 2 , and this was very intentional.

I also recently had a conversation with a couple of people, Gana included, and we talked about how we only really talk about wines that we enjoyed here on The Oregon Wine Blog. My rationale was quite simple - we sample a lot of wines between all of the contributors, but we usually only buy the ones we like, hence that is what we log about. I have made the decision that I will also be starting to purchase wines that I might not like as much - others may disagree, which I think is a good thing, or I might turn someone onto a wine that they really enjoy.

In other words, in the next couple of weeks, be on the lookout for some of my posts as I give my insights on some Reds, some from the south-central Willamette Valley, and some that I might not like as much (the later portion will take longer since I currently only have ones I enjoy).
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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Made in Oregon

Today some friends and I journeyed to Newport to spend an afternoon on the coast. It was a gorgeous sunny day and a lot of people were out enjoying it. One of the places I always stop at while in Newport is the Made in Oregon store. Now, you may think it is a tourist trap - and much of their product line is designed to lure in visitors - but there is a hidden pleasure to the store. They have a fairly extensive collection of Oregon wines, and often are willing to open a bottle off the shelf to taste for customers. Additionally, if you are an Oregon resident like I, you can get a 10% discount to boot!

Next time you are on the historic bayfront in Newport, pop in. You may just find that next liquid gold in a 750 ml bottle.
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Friday, August 31, 2007

Apex II Late Harvest Semillon

In our last Creme' de Cru wine shipment from Willamette Valley Vineyards we received a small 375ml bottle of Apex II Late Harvest Semillon from Apex Cellars out of the Yakima Valley Washington. This Late Harvest Semillon is a sweet, but not too sweet wine. Although not from the great state of Oregon, this wine was sent to me from our favorite Oregon winery as a part of a club shipment.

When I opened the bottle of wine the first thing I noticed was the synthetic cork in the bottle. This small interesting bottle, with a rather faux modern label, had a black synthetic cork. Following the synthetic cork the wine had the typical late harvest thickness. However, upon the first flavor the thing I most noticed was its lack of extreme sweetness like most other late harvest wines. This wine was, as stated, sweet but not too sweet.

Being at a friend's house with her cat has largely blocked my nose from enjoying this wine's nose. However, the sweet flavors have all been experienced. The sweet honey flavor is complimented by a creamy backdrop of apricots and peaches. This sweet wine was enjoyed in the company of friends and a good suspenseful movie. A great warm summer evening wine for the enjoyment of good times with good friends.

-Cheers!
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Monday, August 27, 2007

Edgefield 2001 Fireside Sweet Dessert Wine

We cracked open some Edgefield 2001 Fireside Sweet Dessert Wine, a zinfindel port style wine, as a nightcap and I must say that I am enjoying it. Edgefield Winery, a venture of McMenamins (famous for their beer and unique properties) is located in Troutdale, Oregon. I haven't been to the estate yet, but it's certainly on the list next time I head over to Eastern Washington.

I'm not a port expert, beyond enjoying drinking it, so I'll just give you the description from their website: "Our traditional Port-style wine is strong, sweet, and "raisiny," expressing quintessential Zinfandel characteristics from which it is made. "

It retails for $19 per bottle and is available by the glass at many of the McMenamin's restaurants in Oregon and Washington. From my experience, it's a good mid-priced port. I've certainly had better (on my shelf) but also had much worse. And, I'm always a fan of local companies so this is a winner.
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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Celebration Oregon!

Yesterday brought the annual Celebration Oregon! event, an evening to recognize exceptional Oregon wine, winemakers, and chefs. Held on the opening night of the Oregon State Fair, it served to present the winners of the 2007 Oregon Wine Competition.

Desilet, Micheal, and myself decided to check the event out and we were immediately struck by the quality of culinary delights that were present to match the wine that was being poured. A majority of the wineries that entered wine into the competition were present, and many of them had the owner or winemaker pouring. The event felt like a private garden right in the middle of the fairgrounds -- and we tried some great wine.

To start off, the winners:

Best of Show:
Best of Classification:

Gold Medal Winners:

I tried the majority of these wines and particularly enjoyed the Firesteed Gris (released today retail) and the Orchard Heights Late Harvest Pinot Gris. Some other wines of note that I especially enjoyed included La Velle Pinot Noir and Riesling (both bronze medal winners) and Airlie 7 (a silver medal winning white blend--mostly riesling and muller-thurgau).

While Firesteed took the show, the Willamette Valley Vineyards portfolio (including Griffin Creek and Tualatin Estate) had a great night. In addition to their best of classification and two golds above, silver medal winners included the Griffin 05 Cab Franc and 05 Syrah and WVV 06 Pinot Gris and 06 Riesling. Bronze medal winners included the Griffin Creek 06 Cab Sauv, 02 Merlot, 04 Malbec, 04 Viognier, and 05 Tempranillo as well as WVV 04 Chard, 05 Estate Pinot Noir, and 06 Pinot Noir.

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