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.


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.



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:


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.


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.


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.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Toad Hollow Risque


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.

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!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Eugene Wine Cellars 2004 Pinot Gris

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



2005 Griffin Creek Syrah Fort Miller Vineyard

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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...


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Life Force Marionberry Mead - Marrionberry Honey Wine

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.

Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio

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!