Sunday, March 30, 2008

2003 14 Hands Merlot

I realize that it has been quite a while since my last post, but I have decent reasoning - among them being I haven't been consuming as much wine that would warrant making any entries in the last couple of months. I am definitely at a point where I will be remedying that situation, in a very responsible way.

Tonight, as I prepared a Cornish hen for dinner, I struggled with what wine to partake with it. I had staring at me, a 2006 Vintage Willamette Valley Riesling and a 2003 Merlot from 14 Hands. I know the cardinal rule of the type of food that should be consumed with what type of wine - but I couldn't bring myself to open the Riesling, so instead, I decided to go with the Merlot. I know, I know, shame on me.

Anyway, I received this bottle of 2003 Merlot from my friend Jon a couple of months ago after I dog-sat for him for about a week. I shelved this bottle of wine and truly forgot I had it until this evening. 14 Hands is a winery that is completely unfamiliar to me, at least I think it is (I don't recall having been there, but if it is in the Tri-Cities area, then it is possible I have visited them, but only once before). The grapes come from the Horse Heaven Hills, the south-central area of Washington in the Columbia River Valley. I have to be honest, I have not been able to find out much more about the winery itself. I have called the 800 number, but it being a Sunday, they were closed, so I will work on finding out more and make an addendum to this post.

I opened the bottle and let it breathe for about 30 minutes before I poured my first glass. Holding the glass, I noticed a very rich, very deep and dark color, which peaked my interest. I took a whiff, and the first thought that came to my mind to describe it was "clean." The nose on this wine - and I have continued to smell it - can only be described by me as clean. Don't get me wrong, its not like a cleaning agent, but just "clean." The nose also is not very strong - you smell it initially while sniffing the wine, but it doesn't remain.

The first sip was not very impressive, as is not completely uncommon with wines, but it definitely gets better. I do find the taste to be very "oak-filled," not in a bad way, but it is clear that it was fermented in oak barrels. You are also able to taste the spices of this Merlot, which comes in the form of an aftertaste - there isn't anything that hits you before you swallow it. I continue to sip as I write this, and I can feel/taste a little bit of a kick that enhances the spices.

What I am finding here is that this Merlot is not over-bearing, nor is it bland, but rather, it has a mellow sense to it. I definitely imagine that this is a wine enjoyed while just relaxing. A not bad wine for under $15.


Friday, March 28, 2008

2005 Reserve Barbera from Barnard Griffin


After weeks on hiatus, and many bottles of wine later, I am returning to the computer for the purposes of sharing with all, the joys of a delicious treat a friend shared with me this evening. Coming home tonight, a dinner of creamy pasta primavera with fresh from the store veggies was started for us. Three bottles of wine were taken off the shelf from which to choose for the evening's fare: an Erath Dolcetto (an old favorite), a Griffin Creek Tempranillo (extremely enticing), and the subsequently chosen bottle of Barnard Griffin Reserve Barbera.

Upon first tasting this wine, after a thorough decanting, I noticed a distinct raisiny flavor that hit the palette followed by some notes of cinnamon and citrus. After a while on the palette the raisin notes were replaced by a lingering flavor of cinnamon and other spices. This is an easy drinking wine that I will certainly be on the lookout for in the future, and for only $24.99 plus shipping Barnard Griffin will ship a bottle to you.

Barnard Griffin is a family owned and operated winery located on the east side of Washington state in Richland. Those who know me know I enjoy the varietals found only in the dry climates of southern Oregon and eastern Washington. For this reason, Barnard Griffin is one of my favorites, and atop the list of eastern Washington Wineries that I plan to visit in the coming spring and summer months.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Local Ocean and Tyee Pinot Blanc

As Chris and I pored over the menu last night, our waitress stopped by to inquire as to whether we had chosen a beverage yet. Not quite ready having not chosen our entrees yet, we asked her to come back. After all, how could I select that perfect bottle of wine without knowing what it was to be paired with?

We were in Newport, OR on a somewhat impromptu trip over to the coast in celebration of Chris having some time off after a successful opening month at Block 15, and we were going into spring break at the university I work for. We found ourselves at Local Ocean, a seafood restaurant that I had enjoyed before but Chris had not yet experienced. With a harbor view and a relaxed yet modern vibe, Local Ocean is small enough where they can do a great job with their menu and still maintain excellent serving times. We were sitting at the "bar", which actually was surrounding an open kitchen so we got a view of the chefs as they were preparing some delicious looking food.

I knew we wanted the roasted-garlic and dungenass crab chowder - it's to die for - and Chris settled on spicy coconut prawns while I went for a grilled ling cod fish and chips with fennel slaw. Having settled on dinner, I flipped to the wine list and the Tyee Pinot Blanc immediately jumped off the menu as the perfect pairing for our meal. The ripe flavors of citrus and melon would complement the spicy prawns, and the crisp full-bodiness of the wine would balance the fish and chips as well as the chowder. We weren't disappointed!

The meal was excellent, the wine was delicious, and who can ask for a better setting than bayfront as the sun starts to go down eating with great company? It was one of those moments where everything fits together perfectly and I found myself thinking out loud about the wonders of Oregon bounty - wine, food, and scenery - and couldn't imagine being in a different place at that moment.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Politics and Wine!

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It's election season here in the United States, and the presidential candidates are campaigning in full force. As Oregon has a primary coming up in May, the state is now getting some attention in the political arena. Barack's campaign is doing a worldwind tour of Oregon today and tomorrow, with stops in Portland, Salem, Eugene, and Medford. I'm working on getting down to Eugene for the rally tonight.

While this blog isn't primarily a political forum, there are certainly policy implications in terms of the wine industry and politics. Wine is quickly becoming one of the largest agricultural industries in Oregon and an administration can have stark impact on issues such as taxation, interstate commerce, support of sustainable practices, product labeling, and many other areas. Over the next few months we'll try to analyze the candidates in a way that describes what impact their presidency might have on the industry.

At The Oregon Wine Blog we cover the spectrum of political beliefs, so we'll keep posts as closely focused to the issues as possible in a respectable way. The belief we do share is one of civic engagement, involvement in the process, and education of voters. We'll do our part on the education piece.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Meanderings in my little Wine World

Today I was greeted with my copy of Red, White, and Drunk All Over; A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. The book, written by Natalie MacLean, was recently advertised in my Wine Blog Email, and I figured I’d give it a shot. The email almost qualified as Spam, but I figured I’d give it a chance, since someone was so kind as to send an email. If you’re sitting on a copy of the book, I’ll let you know my thoughts in the coming weeks.


Stretching beyond our Northwest viticulture, my wife and I have planned a trip to Napa Valley in late July, early August. Any suggestions on where to visit? Let us know.


When recently invited over to some friends, Walla Walla wine made its way to our table. Our friends had recently made the trip, 5 plus hours mind you, and we couldn’t help but feel like the lucky ones, having spared the snowy drive across the pass, along with rising gasoline costs.

Our offerings that night consisted of a Northstar 2005 Petit Verdot, and a 2003 Canoe Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve seen the Canoe Ridge label in my local market, but was unaware of the Northstar offering. The Petit Verdot was paired with a delicious cheese display, consisting of Coppa, Maytag, Gruyere, and some Caerphilly. Not wanting to make a scene with tasting notes, I walked away thinking the wine was good – not great. In fact, the Caerphilly left a greater impression on my wife and I, than the wine.

The Canoe Ridge offering, paired with fresh caught Salmon and Prawns, left a more positive reaction. The wine, consisting of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, only reassured my recent dis-appreciation with blends. That funk will burn over soon…..I’m sure. Any suggestions on a solid blend? Let me know.


Recent articles in a handful of publications indicate Oregon produced and crushed a record amount of grapes in 2007. Most exciting to read was that Pinot Gris production increased by 15% and Cabernet Sauvignon production increased by 33%. I haven’t read anything on Washington’s production as of late.
In early February, Washington State made news when a study indicated the wine industry contributed a little more than $2 billion to the state economy in 2006. 19,000 people were said to be working in the Washington Wine industry, and future outlooks appeared strong.
A growing wine industry in Washington and Oregon can only bode well, considering the tough economic times we now find ourselves in.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

2005 Keever Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

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I’ve been lucky to share a lot of special memories with my Grandpa while growing up, but I recently realized we have never enjoyed quality conversation over a glass of good wine. This past Christmas my wife and I gifted my Grandpa a spin-off of the program “Meals on Wheels”, where we’d schedule one monthly home-cooked meal for him at our home, or his. What better way to resolve this void in our relationship.

At our January meal, I served a bottle of Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) Riesling with our dinner, capping off the meal with the WVV Frizzante to go with a chocolate mousse (yes – just like the Oregon Wine Blog’s Christmas Dinner). I always knew my Grandpa liked wine, although I was more familiar with his typical Restaurant choice – Zinfandel. I figured the Riesling would be a good conversation segway to my newfound wine appeal.

My Grandpa took interest in my new hobby, explaining long-time family friends of he and my Grandma’s, (The Keevers) are Vintners at a Winery in Napa Valley – Keever Vineyards. My Grandpa didn’t know much about the winery, but I made mental note – thinking of “what could be” for February’s meal.

At the conclusion of the meal, and after saying goodbyes, my first priority was to locate Keever Vineyards online, which I did. Navigation through the website revealed an address for the winery, and showed a 100% Estate Grown, Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $68.00. I penned a letter to Bill Keever (Owner/Operator), explaining the circumstances regarding our “Meals on Wheels”, and told him I’d be purchasing their wine in the near future, while asking for two special requests. I requested my bottles be signed, and that he write a brief note to my Grandpa, which I’d present at February’s meal.

A week after sending the letter, Bill Keever wrote back, with anticipation for what our February meal had in store. A short week later, two bottles of wine arrived, signatures and all, in addition to a personal note addressed to my Grandpa.

Our February meal occurred last Friday, and figuring my Grandpa’s positive reaction, we invited my parents and brother’s family to enjoy in the occasion.

I went to present my Grandpa with his bottle of wine, card and all, and was overwhelmed with his response. His gratitude and appreciation was something I’ll never forget. We opted to pop the cork on the bottle, utilizing a decanter to aerate the wine.

Now, to accurately assess the Keever Cabernet Sauvignon, and to hold some level of objectivity, I asked my dad and brother to bring a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, representing the Northwest Viticulture. What arrived were a Silver Lake 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rattlesnake Hills AVA) and an Idaho wine, Sawtooth - 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.

My wife and sister-in-law assisted in serving up a traditional blind taste test, which resulted in a hands down favorite being the Keever Cabernet; superior in taste, but also its aroma, development and finish, neither my dad, brother, nor I, noted any flaws.

Sitting in the glass, the wine evinced its elegance, showing off a satiny smooth structure, distinguishing itself as the Varsity member of the trio at hand. An array of fruits presented themselves in the nose, most prevalent to us being spiced plum and dark cherries. Winemaker Celia Welch Masyczek describes the wine as “Classically elegant at entry with very fruit-centered flavors up front”. I couldn’t agree more. I respected the 100% Estate Grown Cabernet grapes, and felt some indebtedness to a wine with such close ties to my lineage.

While comparing Napa grown wine to Washington/Idaho wines may have been comparing apples to oranges, I can say that drinking the Keever Cabernet opened my eyes to the world of quality, exquisite wine, and as such, has raised the bar for wine reviews to come.

Thank God I have that second bottle!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Hidden Treasure

A few weekends ago, it was unseasonably warm here in Western Oregon -- "60-degrees, sunny, and blue skies when it should be rainy" warm. Micheal and I decided to take an impromptu trip over to the coast to soak in the weather and relax after a long week of work, and instead of heading North of Newport like usual, we decided to take a trip South...ending up in the small town of Yachats (pronounced Ya-Hots). Here, purely by surprise, we found some gems of the Oregon food and wine world.

With only 650 resident, Yachats is perhaps best known for Cape Perpetua National Scenic Area, a marriage of coastal scenery and forestry that is simply breathtaking. On our way to Cape Perpetua, I noticed a simple looking sign that said "Wine Place", so of course we had to stop. Inside was an outstanding selection of Oregon wines, covering all varietal and price ranges. Yachats, who would of thought? The proprietor of The Wine Place directed us next door to Cheese and Crackers, a lovely northwest artisan cheese shop. They were happy to provide us with samples of some delicious cheese, a perfect match to the wine you could purchase next door. To top off the evening, we had dinner at the Drift Inn, serving an eclectic mix of family favorites and original dishes focused on fresh ingredients and the Pacific Northwest. I had seafood lasagna that was excellent.

So, if you ever find yourself in Yachats, definitely check out some of these places. Even better, take a weekend trip to the Northern Oregon Coast and spend some time at Cape Perpetua during the day and spend your evening enjoying Oregon's bounty of wine, cheese, and great food.