Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tonight: Live Blogging a Wine Dinner

Tonight some of the staff from The Oregon Wine Blog will be attending a wine dinner at Gathering Together Farm. You may remember these dinners as we have blogged extensively about them previously. Tonight's dinner is paired with offerings from Airlie Winery. Instead of doing an in depth feature, we're going to take a little different approach: Live Blogging via Twitter.

Can we encapsulate each course of a five course meal in 160 characters and a picture? I don't know but we'll either succeed or get buzzed trying. Oh, don't worry, if something really stands out we'll probably dedicate a post to it. In the mean time, starting about 6:00 PM Pacific Time tonight keep an eye on our twitter feed, which can also be viewed in the right-hand sidebar of this page.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Non-Traditional Wines: Primitivo

As mentioned in recent posts, the time has finally come for us to introduce our latest series of reviews on non-traditional wines of the northwest. While others seem content reviewing who has the best cab sauv or pinot noir, we're aiming to increase awareness of non-traditional varietals. Look forward to reviews on Malbecs, Barberas, Dolcettos, and others you typically wouldn't expect northwest wineries to produce in large quantities. These wines have been either traditional blending wines or those not done in the region.

To accomplish this task, we have asked wineries all around the northwest to send us samples of their non-traditional wines. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we have since had more than enough bottles sent our way for this experiment. We'd like to take a moment to thank each and every winery who sent us their wine and are excited to share the fruits of their labor with all of you.

Today's wine? Primitivo.

About Primitivo

To be as accurate as possible (and because we're scientists), we have decided to consult the most accurate source of information in the world: Wikipedia.

In short, primitivo is essentially a clone of Zinfandel, which is an Italian varietal that also accounts for approximately 10% of California's yield. This clone theory was verified by DNA fingerprinting in 1993 and since then has created a variety of laws regarding the use of its name. While some countries' labeling laws allow primitivo and zinfandel to be used as synonyms, the US' labeling laws require winemakers to specify which clone their grapes came from.

It is also worth noting that primitivo grapes tend to produce more fruit, can be picked sooner, and have less rot. This is obviously very appealing to winemakers over the zinfandel clone.

The Wine

Choosing the best primitivo of our samples was easy as we only received one; thankfully for our palates it was a delicious selection. We sampled the 2007 Primitivo from Pend d'Orielle Winery in Sandpoint, Idaho. This wine, using grapes sourced 100% from the Coyote Canyon Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills (Washington), fulfills the winemaker's vision of "exploring flavors and experiences that grapes impart on wines." A new release and first of the vintage for the winery, this is also a first for The Oregon Wine Blog. Until today, we have yet to review a primitivo (or zinfandel for that matter), and wine from the budding industry in the State of Idaho has been grossly lacking.

As we weren't comparing this primitivo to others, we decided to pair it with a meal for full flavor impact. After an initial taste with clean palates, we dug in to our dinner of steak, corn on the cob, baked potato, and rolls....enjoying the wine throughout. Immediately evident was a strong nose that is quintessential of fruit from Eastern Washington. With sharp, fruity notes and an almost sweet port-like essence, the "wrapping" on this gift certainly did it justice. A deep, dark burgundy / purple color complemented the classic Italian taste, with flavors of plum, cranberries, black licorice, and leather. A spicy finish was mellowed by the steak, and this wine easily could have been mistaken as purely Italian had we not known it's origin.

This isn't a wine we would traditionally keep on the rack for day to day drinking, however, after this bottle we may reevaluate the selection. Definitely a food wine, this is a wonderful first introduction into Idaho wine and we're looking forward to the other samples from Pend d'Oreille. At only $28 per bottle and a 122 case production, get your hands on it while you can!

Know of any other northwest primitivos? Please share with us by posting a comment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bucking Tradition...and All That Jazz

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We've been salivating recently here at the world headquarters of The Oregon Wine Blog, and no, it isn't because of the box of day-old Albertson's donuts from sitting on the counter screaming "eat me, eat me". Hey, they were $2.99 - who can turn down that kind of deal? I digress.

The source of our yearning has actually come in a distinctly different format than donuts, although still in a box. We've been doing the prep work on a series for the Blog that excites the
heck out of me and as a result, wine samples have been coming in from wineries throughout the Northwest. What is that series, you might ask? It relates to the title of this post...oh fine, I'll stop being mysterious and just tell you: We're doing a profile of non-traditional varietals from the Pacific Northwest.

Think of those wines that have traditionally been blending wines, or done in other countries but not the US, or...the wild hair that grew up the ass of a ballsy winemaker. Yep, we're talking Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Dolcetto, Grenache, Lemberger, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Hooray! The plan is to take one varietal every 7 - 10 days, do an overview of the wine, and then review the submissions we received. We were hoping to have the first of the series posted by now, but some hot weather in Eastern Washington delayed shipping. After all, reviewing cooked wine would be no fun.

We've also got a few other features in the hopper that will be interspersed with this series, such as a profile of Col Solare and a review of the Oregon State Fair wine competition. Until then, which varietal would you like to see first?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Revisiting Terra Blanca

As previously mentioned a couple posts ago, a few of us at The Oregon Wine Blog had the opportunity to do some wine tasting in both the Red Mountain and Wall Walla AVAs in Eastern Washington. While we will slowly be publishing highlights of that trip, the first destination I would like to write about is Benton City's Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyard. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you read Michael's post about Terra Blanca from last year as I will be entirely skipping pieces he has already covered.

As a relatively new writer for The Oregon Wine Blog, I was really excited for my first expedition out to Eastern Washington for some serious wine tasting. Our first day ended at Terra Blanca (much like last year's trip) and after hearing about how great of a time was had last year, I was more than ready to experience Terra Blanca for myself. Having only tried their Onyx Bordeaux-style red blend before, I was in for quite the experience.

Let me also preface before I get into this article that I'm probably going to ramble. I may have started rambling already. The point is that when I'm excited about something, I tend to ramble. The following is more or less an instruction book for how to get a wine nerd excited.

Upon entering Terra Blanca's beautiful facility by tugging on one of the largest wooden doors I have ever seen (side note: they should consider going all the way and installing a draw bridge), Josh, Chris, and I were warmly greeted upon walking up to the tasting area. Not only was I surprised at how many different wines Terra Blanca has for tasting, but something else happened that I didn't expect. The woman cracking jokes and pouring wine behind the bar? Yup, that was Rachel from last year's article and she almost immediately recognized Josh. Not only did she accurately recall their trip from last year, but it turns out she also read our article and became a mini celebrity around the winery. Who knew we had that kind of effect?

Time to try some wine! Terra Blanca, like many large-scaled wineries, offers both a standard and a reserve tasting. We opted for the reserve line, where virtually every wine we tasted was phenomenal. I'll get to the wines in a bit, but one person in particular considered the non-reserve cab sauv better than the reserve. Rachel introduced us to Drew, who had recently started working at Terra Blanca and was finishing off his day with a glass of wine. After insisting we try their other cab sauv, the panel was split 50/50 in regards to which we preferred. While I could go on about how both cab sauvs are great wines for different reasons, I point out our experience with Drew because it didn't end at the tasting bar.

Although he had just finished working for the day, Drew graciously agreed to give us a tour of the facility and it's cellar. Even more gracious considering that he was originally planning on sticking around to give a tour for his parents. While Michael described the cellar in great depth, I would like to also point out that we were also shown where Terra Blanca libraries their wine as well as the bottling room. A fun fact I learned is that wax-covered bottles are hand-dipped. I suppose that makes sense, but for whatever reason I assumed there was some sort of bottling technology out there more sophisticated than a crock-pot full of wax. Guess not!

I would also like to point out that each and every one of our readers since the blog redesign has seen a piece of Terra Blanca. See that beautiful header at the top of every page? That's their cellar.

Another fun fact: Drew's father is John Clement; regional photographer and author of a couple books we have on our coffee table. That was definitely a surprise.

Once the tour finished it was back to the tasting room! After Rachel's awesome impression of her sister, we were up for another treat. Keith Pilgrim (owner/winemaker) paid us a visit and even took over some pouring duties. Keith is one of the most down to Earth and completely open people in the wine industry I have ever met. We talked about a whole array of topics including wine making, wine blogging, marketing, their new labels, and even his thoughts regarding the future of the wine industry in terms of audience. In short, Keith definitely has his finger on the pulse of the wine industry and expect big things from Terra Blanca.

Did I mention Terra Blanca also makes wine? While we had the opportunity to try almost all of their wines, I'll expedite the process by listing what we went home with.

-2004 Winemaker's Barrel Select Syrah
-2004 Reserve ONYX Bordeaux
-2003 Pantheon (blend of 81% Nebbiolo, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Dolcetto)
-2002 Estate Reserve Merlot
-2002 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
-2005 Forte Cabernet Sauvignon Port

While all of the above wines were obviously good enough to where we couldn't leave without them, let me specifically point out their Pantheon blend. Everybody in the wine industry does blends and often times many are not memorable, but this isn't the case for Pantheon. I was rather shocked at seeing its blend composition and it took all of one sip before Chris knew he had to have a bottle. I highly recommend picking up a bottle of this if you want a truly unique red blend not typically seen in the Pacific Northwest.

Rarely do wineries have that perfect combination of atmosphere, great wine, and a dedication to the experience as a whole. Terra Blanca is one winery that gets this absolutely perfect and what's even better is that we can now prove this experience is replicable. In terms of having the holistic perfect wine tasting experience, I can't think of another winery I would recommend any higher to visit in all of Eastern Washington. The selection is broad enough that everybody will find something they like and the staff is welcoming enough to where you can feel comfortable asking the most basic of questions.

After at least an hour and a half of visiting, it was time to head out. A huge thank you goes out to Rachel, Drew, Keith, and everybody else at Terra Blanca that makes it such a gem.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Dijon Clone Chardonnay

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As many of you may remember, The Oregon Wine Blog was granted the opportunity to write the first pre-release review of Willamette Valley Vineyard's 2008 Pinot Gris. Well, Christine from WVV has done it again and sent us a sneak peak of their 2007 Dijon Clone Chardonnay. You won't be able to pick up a bottle of this until around Thanksgiving, but you can certainly get excited in the mean time. So, to preface this article, this is a review of a comped wine. With that out of the way, let's get to the review:

This chardonnay pours a honey-yellow and gives hues of pear and floral notes. Mouthfeel is creamy (not quite buttery) and tastes of pineapple and pear with a finish of apple. After looking at the accompanied tasting notes, it looks like I identified the majority of what WVV was hoping for. The only components I didn't pick up on were hues of coconut and citrus. Note, however, that these might start to shine through by the time this wine is publicly available.

As shown in the photo above, we also decided to pair this with an herbed pork chop with gorgonzola and walnut butter from Lorraine Turner & Linda Doeser's Barbecue cookbook. While the accompanying tasting notes suggest pairing this wine with mostly white fish, we broke the mold a bit. The chardonnay paired perfectly with this dish as it both complemented and cleansed the gorgonzola and walnut butter.

Before I wrap this up, I'd like to say that I'm very picky when it comes to chardonnays. WVV, however, is one of those few exceptions as they have captured the essence of what a northwest chardonnay should taste like. If you have yet to venture into true northwest dijon clone chardonnays, WVV's offering is as good as it gets. At around $18 for their 2006 vintage, you can't go wrong.

A huge thank you goes out once again to both Christine and Willamette Valley Vineyards for being so gracious.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Only 3 cases? 1000 miles and some great wine.

As previously mentioned, The Oregon Wine Blog dispatched a crew in Eastern Washington last weekend to check out the Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley AVA's. I suppose to call ourselves a "crew" would imply a higher level of sophistication than the reality of Chris, Rick, myself with a camera, laptop, and an appetite for great wine and food. Nonetheless, we covered 1000 miles on the road and returned with some fantastic memories and a carload of great wine. Below is a brief overview and some highlights, with more detailed reviews to come in the weeks to follow.

The weekend started at a brisk pace Friday morning with some jet-skiing on the Columbia River in Richland, WA -- the heart of Eastern Washington wine country. After working up an appetite and taking a quick lunch at Atomic Ale Brewpub, we were on the road to Benton City for the first highlight of the weekend: a private tour with formal pairing at Col Solare. The estate was gorgeous, wine phenomenal, pairings spot on, and the hospitality of Wendi (the tasting room manager) among the best I've seen in the wine industry. No detail is left to chance at Col Solare and contrary to popular belief, they are not open "by invitation only". You just need to call and make an appointment. We'll definitely be doing an entire post on Col Solare.

The second highlight hands down was Terra Blanca. You may remember that Micheal blogged about Terra Blanca a year ago and to my very pleasant surprise, we walked in to see the same smiling face from the last visit behind the tasting room bar -- Rachel's. After a mediocre experience at Fidelitas, Terra Blanca left the perfect taste in our mouths and we spent over an hour chatting with Rachel, Keith the winemaker, and Drew from the tasting room. Oh yea, they have some great new wine out as well. We'll also be dedicating an entire post to TB.

We found the final surprising highlight in a Walla Walla culinary experience. We had planned on having dinner at Saffron as it had come highly recommended and had a great menu, so it was much to my chagrin to find a 2-hour waiting list with no reservation
made. The host was kind enough to direct us to Brasserie Four, a French-inspired restaurant with unique menu and an unassuming take on wine. All three of us ordered different main courses, and we shared an appetizer as well as a dessert. Everything we put in our mouths that evening was simply amazing, and the waitstaff very helpful. My favorite part of the entire experience is their wine list, or lack thereof. Patrons go to the wine rack on the wall, pick a bottle, and take it to the table where it is promptly opened and poured. How refreshing! More to come on this fine dining establishment as well.

We also had good experiences at Barnard Griffin, L'Ecole 41, and Cougar Crest wineries. All in all, a perfect vacation / research trip for The Oregon Wine Blog. It's a rough job, but somebody has to provide you with the latest and greatest from the Pacific Northwest. Fire up those RSS readers because we've got more great Eastern Washington coverage on the way -- in addition to our series on nontraditional wines of the Pacific Northwest and a review of the Oregon State Fair wine competition. Cheers!