Saturday, January 26, 2008

1998 Willamette Valley Vineyards 1998 Freedom Hill Pinot Noir

To celebrate a belated anniversary, Megan and I had an important decision to make. What wine in our collection would be worthy of such an occasion? Our choice was a true treat - a 1998 Fredom Hill Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards, which represents one of the WVV single vineyard signature Pinot Noirs.

After sampling this sultry deep red, unfiltered gem (91 points by Wine Enthusiast) nearly one year previously, Megan and I decided that this indeed was our favorite Pinot Noir. By the way, the Hoodview and Karina Vineyard Pinots are absolutely superb too! Stay tuned for reviews on these beauties! Ok, back to the review...

After a brief breathing period, two glasses were poured. My first observation was the rich deep red color and supple texture resulting in a smooth mouthfeel superior to other, less refined Pinots. I attribute this unique texture and mouthfeel to the unfiltered nature of this wine.

Placing one's nose over the glass results in a very complex reward that is rich in oak, caramel, black cherry, and vanilla. A brief sip confirms these olfactory signals, while bringing anise and cinnaman to the pallete. The wine is ever so subtly sweet and spicy, rich with the taste of dried black cherries. There is no bite, the Freedom Hill is smooth all the way from sip to swallow. It's the kind of wine that is perfectly suited to drinking in front of a warm fire, rich and elegant, yet comforting and soft.

If you ever have the opportunity to enjoy one of WVV's single vinyard Pinot Noirs, take it. The single vinyard yield allows the winemaker to bring out the subtulty of a specific grape and highlight each unique characteristic. An effort well appreciated in the 1998 Willamette Valley Vineyards Freedom Hill Pinot Noir.

Monday, January 21, 2008


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OK, so admittedly it isn't wine but it is Oregon and it is alcohol...and I haven't uploaded the pictures yet from the Mo's Crab and Chowder Festival at Willamette Valley Vineyards to post and wanted to share with you some classic Oregon epicurean delight from this weekend. Behold the wonder that is Bendistillery small batch distilled vodka.

I was first acquainted with the wonders of Bendistillery a few years ago on a trip to Bend, Oregon with Mr. Paul Ryan. After a day of exploring the town, we were looking for a place to unwind and happened upon their martini bar and sampling room overlooking the Deschutes River at Mirror Pond Plaza. This place was swanky and fun, with a variety of delicious cocktails on the menu. What sticks out in my mind the most, however, is the simple, unassuming deliciousness of their flagship Crater Lake Vodka. Also making a gin as well as a hazelnut espresso vodka, this brand is one to look out for in your local liquor store.

I digress...back to this weekend. After the Crab and Chowder festival, a group of us decided at the last minute to head over to Bend as a friend had a deal for a house at the Old St. Francis School, a McMenamins property. We were staying in the nunnery, a 4-bedroom cottage that would be a great locale for a weekend date. As we enjoyed the on-property bars, Crater Lake vodka caught my eye on the drink menu. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find it at a lower price point than many of the premium vodkas on the list. Well, a lemondrop, greyhound, and mudslide (with the hazelnut espresso vodka) later, I can attest that the brand is doing just as well as it was a few years ago when I first tried it.

So, if you are in the mood for something different than wine, pick up a bottle of Crater Lake vodka and mix to your heart's content. If you find yourself in Bend, stop by the martini bar and let one of their mixologists create a work of art for you.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Henry Estate 2004 Henry V

Wow, it's been a while since we have posted. With the excitement of the new year, getting back into the swing of work after the holidays and travel, the blog has fallen to the wayside a little. Well, no more, my viticulturally-blessed friends!

Tonight I sit after a long Friday at the office sipping on a glass of Henry Estate 2004 Henry V. This wine is a red blend, primarily Cab Sauv (53%) with Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec rounding out the balance. Henry Estate is a family-run winery in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon, not far from Roseburg. A colleague grew up near the winery and had been telling me about it for months...but it wasn't until she brought me back a few bottles recently did I venture into their portfolio.

The Henry V has a spicy and smoky nose on it with a gorgeous red hue. To be honest I've become a bit nonplussed with blends lately after some delicious single-varietal wines, but there will always be the right time and place to crack open the perfect marriage of the larger red varietals in one bottle. The Henry V has renewed my hope in blends. Subtle, but not too subtle, the composition has a lingering finish preceded by hints of cigar and berries. Imagine a great cab sauv toned down a bit, making it perfectly appropriate to drink by itself or with a nice red meat dinner.

All in all, a great wine...and I suspect next time I'm down in the Southern Oregon area I'll stop by the estate. This one gets a "recommend" in my book. Thanks Shelly!

Coming soon keep your eyes open for the much ballyhooed holiday wine dinner pairing feature. Until then, cheers!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Oregon Wine Blog tours Woodinville

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I couldn't have scripted a more perfect way to conclude 2007 than what occurred on Sunday. Fellow Oregon Wine Bloggers; Drew Desilet, Josh Gana, Chris Heuchert and I were able to explore my backyard locale, known better as Woodinville Wine Country. Our journey provided tastings at 4 of Woodinville’s 34 wineries, while tasting from an array of labels and or varietals at each location. The day turned into an ideal wino excursion, offering the following highlights and some low lights:

Facelli Winery: The first winery, and quite frankly the friendliest one we visited all day. Tucked against the Sammamish River Slough and the Burke Gilman Trail, do not be fooled by the industrial street curb facade. A mix of red varietals was offered, with consensus winners being the 2004 Columbia Valley Syrah and the 2005 Columbia Valley Barbera. The 2005 Late Harvest Riesling was also a hit. Look for specific reviews related to these wines in months to come.

Winemaker Lou Facelli and family were endearing, offering a quaint, comfortable space to enjoy tasting bliss. Lou and wife, Sandy, captivated our minds and ears with stories of varietal struggle and success. Special thanks to Sandy for taking the time to explain the Facelli Winery philosophy to us all, and for making the Facelli Winery a truly personal experience.

Woodhouse Family Cellars: Situated in a similar industrial setting to that of the Facelli Winery, Woodhouse Family Cellars has taken obvious strides to increase curb appeal. A walkway entrance consisting of a vegetative oasis, among an array of wine barrels and wooded trellis leads one to the front door. Once inside the winery, I was caught off guard by an abundance of women, although later realizing a bridal shower was occurring in an adjacent commercial sized kitchen area. We were told the winery was playing host to a wedding that night.

Modern furniture selections, in addition to stainless steel appliances at both the tasting bar and adjacent kitchen area, gave way to a chic and stylish atmosphere. A raised roof, which many of us believed created a warehouse type feel, erred of a less than personal touch. Hoping the tasting associates would raise the bar, I was equally unimpressed with their lack of customer service.

Tasting offered a collection of varietals on the Kennedy Shah Label. Highlights selected among the group included Auntie Meredith’s Picnic Blend, a composition of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Viognier, and 25% Chenin Blanc. A second wine, most appreciated by Culinary Specialist Chris Heuchert, was the Orange Muscat.

Overall, I was left apathetic with the overall setting and wine offerings provided by Woodhouse Family Cellars. I felt no unique attachment to any particular wine, and was eagerly prepared for the next offering on our journey, Silver Lake Winery.

Silver Lake Winery: Perhaps you’ve seen Silver Lake wines in your local grocery store. Reasonably priced, with ample selection to choose from, I’m frequently tempted.

Once at the winery my palate was officially halted, having to choose from a variety of labels, offering a mixture of varietals. I learned that Silver Lake Winery has teamed with Glen Fiona Wines, Hoodsport Winery, and a jazzier label dubbed Blind Date. Being the responsible drinker, and designated driver, I opted for one label, selecting the Hoodsport brand. The town of Hoodsport was a traditional vacation spot for my family while growing up.

I first had a 2005 Merlot, which offered an awesome bouquet of berries, cherries and spice. The tasting associate praised the wine, stating it had gained recent notoriety in a wine publication, which lauded, “American’s will drink the HELL out of this wine!” I was impressed, not so much by the use of a curse word in a wine publication, but by the actual wine itself.

My second selection was a stretch, hoping to find a wine my wife would enjoy. She has an affinity for wines with named fruits in the label, i.e. “Strawberry Mist”, “Melon Medley” etc. I selected a Hoodsport Pear Wine. I was unmoved, and the wine found itself emptied into the spittoon.

The most affordable winery we visited all day; Josh, Drew and Chris all took a liking to the mixture of Syrah’s offered by Silver Lake and Glen Fiona. It appeared the Glen Fiona winery came out on top, having made several sales to our particular group.

Januik / Novelty Hill Winery: Technically two wineries located in one building, anyone who’s driven on Woodinville/Redmond Road has awed at the unique architectural existence that’s observed. Unsure what to expect inside, I was left simply speechless at the beauty and ambiance that’s bestowed.

A little research led me to the responsible party for such wonderful architecture and design; a company called Mithun. A link to a press release on the winery website gives the architecture and design more justice than I can do on paper. A link to the Seattle Post Intelligencer offers an editorialized perspective.

Januik/Novelty Hill has created a space that exerts feelings of familiarity and relaxation. The setting provided an overwhelming sense of intimacy with wines I had yet to even taste.

Tasting offered a 3-tiered approach, priced at $5.00, $10.00, and $15.00. I chose the $15.00 Single Vineyard flight and was blown away by the Cabernet Sauvignon’s offered by both Januik and Novelty Hill labels, true winners in my book. The Syrah’s were a close second.

While the most crowded winery we visited during the day, a friendly, knowledgeable staff capped off what had become quite an enjoyable wino experience. Januik/Novelty Hill Winery shines, exerting a contemporary feel, capped with magnificent wines to boot. I look forward to my return.

In Conclusion: Despite transplanting from Pinot Noir country for the day, it became evident that our mere thumbprint on Woodinville Wine Country created a lasting, positive impression for my friends. Although yes, I was somewhat embarrassed by their persistent requests to avoid sales tax, sharing my backyard locale was a treat.

I did learn one thing on this journey. When asked where they were from, I couldn't help but laugh, hearing my friends utter, “The Willamette Valley”. I had always placed them in Corvallis, which to their credit is in the Willamette Valley. I saw it as being no different than me uttering “Western Washington” or “Puget Sound”, except for the fact that the Willamette Valley is renowned for having some of the greatest wine in the world. I considered that if in another social setting, i.e. fly-fishing or theatre, would my friends still originate from the “Willamette Valley”, or candidly be a few hours from the Rogue River, or, just up the road from Ashland. I decided their logic was correct. When I’m visiting Oregon Wineries, I will proudly exclaim “WOODINVILLE” as my hometown …despite living in nearby Bothell.

Happy New Year!