Sunday, September 7, 2008

Doing A Great Wine Justice

I have hesitated writing and publishing this post because I have wanted to make sure that I did it justice. I doubt I am alone in being one who may struggle with conveying the great work of the wine makers and others who have been involved in us (The Oregon Wine Blog contributors) having a great experience to the readers.

Josh wrote that some of us went to the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla area a couple of weeks ago. One of the wineries we visited was Terra Blanca. Terra Blanca is located in the Red Mountain region of South Central Washington, just west of the Tri-Cities in Benton City, Washington. This was not my first time at Terra Blanca, but this visit allowed me to really see the scenery and beauty that the summer held in the Red Mountain area - my previous visit having been in the winter, I can now easily contrast the two seasons here.

We arrived at Terra Blanca with it being our last stop in a day full of tasting in the Tri-Cities area. It was a very picturesque summer day with a the sun shining brightly and only a few clouds in the sky. We walked under the terrace, draped in various types of foliage, toward the main building, and behind us we could see Red Mountain for which the region is famous for. The Terra Blanca website has a little bit of history which can be found here.

Upon entering the building, which is constructed in a way that makes you think of a Medieval buildings- with large wooden doors and large stones - you come into a large hall with high ceilings, and plenty of space. The tasting bar is located just opposite the door. We had arrived not long before they would be closed and the employees were setting up for a wedding rehearsal. Rachel was the server who gave us our samplings, chatted with us, and to our surprise, offered to give us a quick tour of the facility.

The tour began with a ride down a very nondescript elevator to the basement. When the door opened we stepped into a large warehouse type area with the temperature several tens of degrees cooler than it was outside and even upstairs in the main area. I recall there being a few barrels, but nothing to the extent of what our eyes would soon behold. Not far from the elevator were two more large wooden doors - adding to the Medieval atmosphere. When Rachel opened the doors, the only thought that comes to mind is the scene in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original one with Gene Wilder), where the door opens and the children see the great candy room. For those of us from The Oregon Wine Blog who were at Terra Blanca that day, we saw a series of corridors, some long and some short, that were stacked several barrels high, full of wine. It was cool (temperature-wise), clean, and a bit aromatic with all of the wine there at various stages of the fermenting/aging process in either lighter wood barrels and dark wood barrels. To know we were able to see something that might not be very common for others to see gives you a little bit of excitement. As a person who constantly wants to know how things work and come to be, that mini-tour was amazing.

While my description might seem a little anti-climactic, you have to understand that there was a lot of excitement about this for us. Here we were, in the cellar, a true real wine cellar. Wine cellars like those you imagine existed in Elizabethan England or during the reign of the Hapsburgs in the Holy Roman Empire or on the Iberian Peninsula. The ambiance, the setting, the intentionality of the owners for to you feel like you are NOT in modern times, that is what got me, and made it that much more of an unbelievable experience for me. It was really quite the site to behold, and for me was second only to the Hanford tour we had taken the previous day.

We tired quite a few wines at Terra Blanca, between the five of us, everything on the tasting menu. One of the best wines we tasted was the 2003 Onyx. This wine is an amazing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The Terra Blanca website describes the Onyx as, "Raspberry, cherry, and blackberry with notes of violets that explode from the glass and mingle with hints of cedar and toasted oak on the nose. Smooth, lush flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and cassis wrap around a core of full, yet soft, structured tannins. Cedar notes with light touches of spice fold into lingering dark plum, black cherry and berry flavors bounded by dark chocolate on the vibrant, elegant finish."

I bought a couple of bottles, sharing one with the members of the Wine Blog at our dinner in Walla Walla, and bringing the other two home to Salem with me. I opened one with a old student of mine just before the beginning of the school year, and that evening, I introduced Ryan to the greatness that was Onyx. When poured, we took note of the deep plum, red, grape color that appears to be a trademark of this blend. I told Ryan how to sniff the wine and get a good sense of the things that were on the nose - the oak and cedar mixed with the spices and a hint of the chocolate noticeable only with taking a deep sniff of the wine. I told Ryan about how to he should observe the way the wine coats the glass in nice even streams when the wine is swirled.

Like all wines, one taste is rarely enough to get a full sense of what it has to offer, really just preparing the palate for what is to come, and Onyx is no different. With the first couple of sips, the flavor and "tartness" are on the front of the tongue. As you get into it, you will notice that you get a rich burst of flavor that lingers lightly as you swallow and Onyx gently soothes your throat. The spices are present, as well as a very light fruit taste at the end that is only very lightly present - you may miss it if you don't realize it might be there.

This blend is one that I recommend to everyone, you cannot go wrong. It is one that you can enjoy with a great dinner as we did in Walla Walla, or one that can be sipped on its own, as I did with my former student. I only hope that I have been able to capture the best of this experience to at least intrigue you all into looking to secure your own bottle of Onyx.

As just a side note, I know I speak for all of us here at the Oregon Wine Blog when I say an incredible Thank You to Rachel for showing us around Terra Blanca.

Until next time.


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