Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vino Collabos 2: Wine Giants Cast Long Shadows

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The Vino Collabo series takes its inspiration from the music industry’s recent tendency towards putting talented artists in the same room and seeing what comes out of that natural synergy. While many times it’s the musicians themselves, (read winemakers) it’s often the producers of the collaboration who are the real stars. They bring a vision, an understanding of complexity, and a knack for spotting talent. Allen Shoup is just such a “producer;” a man who has a knack for seeing talent and has a vision for what Washington wine can be.

Long Shadows Vintners is the ultimate collaboration when it comes to bringing the world to Washington wine. The project is the brainchild of true Washington wine pioneer Allen Shoup. To try and encapsulate all that Shoup has done for Washington, and really the global wine industry, would take up pages and pages, and this is a blog, not a legitimate source of news like a magazine or newspaper. Let me put it to you like this: Allen Shoup is a baller. He was a Chateau Ste Michelle pioneer, involved with Columbia Crest, and it's not too much to say he is one of the people who built Washington wine. Baller.

What Shoup brings to the table in Long Shadows is his considerable clout and his understanding of the talent of the world's most talented winemakers as they try their hand at crafting beautiful wine from Washington fruit. But that's what Shoup does; he laid the groundwork for the Antinori & Chateau Ste. Michelle partnership in Col Solare and is working with Ernst Loosen and the Eroica Rieslings as well.

The Long Shadows Vintners program has a broader approach. As a result, we see partnerships with renowned winemakers from California, Germany, Australia, France and Tuscany come together in Long Shadows’ nine wines. I'll focus on four wines specifically as those were the ones I tasted through.

The Poet's Leap Riesling 08 is made by Germany's Armin Diel, a man who has Riesling in his blood. His family has been making wine in Germany since 1802. That's a little while. This Riesling is a beautiful example of what Washington can produce; it has great acidity and residual sugar below 1.5. The wine's hint of sweetness allows the citrus elements and minerality to really show themselves. The wine retails around $19. While it’s a bit more than what you might usually pay for Washington Riesling, pick one up and experience what old world deference can do with this state's fruit.

The Pirouette 2006 is a Bourdeaux style blend that's crafted by Augustin Huneeus Sr. and Philippe Melka, a Frenchman who's made his mark all over Napa Valley. Melka's reputation for technical expertise and his ability to blend wines to a beautiful conclusion was paired with Huneeus's philosophy of allowing the terroir to show itself. The resulting Pirouette is a deep dark blend anchored by more than 50% Cabernet. The Wahluke Slope Cabernet gives the wine tannic structure and ripe fruit characteristics and lots of ripe dark fruit characters on the palate with a tobacco and earthen nose. This wine retails around $54.

The Sequel Syrah 06 is a what winemaker John Duval sees as the follow up to his career crafting the legendary Australian Shiraz, Penfolds Grange. John started at Penfolds 36 years ago and among his accolades are a Winemaker of the Year award and Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 1995. The man knows his way around Syrah, or Shiraz, whatever you decide to call it. The Sequel, also around $54, contains 2% Cabernet and exhibits a lot of the fruit character of Washington Syrah: loads of dark fruit, plum and a savory nose.

The last wine we looked at from Long Shadows was the Saggi 2006. I’m not sure how to sum this up except to say it's one of the best wines I've had in some time. The wine, crafted by Italian father and son, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, is a Super-Tuscan wine, and, in this case, is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Syrah. The wine is superb, with complex fruit characteristics, a impression of the oak that was used and as a result, has a beautiful nose with one of the most luxurious finishes I've ever experienced. This was my favorite of the four samples Long Shadows provided. This wine retails at $45. Go get it, it's easily worth the price tag.

The Long Shadows collabo is a fascinating one. It’s an opportunity for those of us who tend to favor the wines of Washington to see how some of the most talented winemakers in the world approach the world class fruit grown here. It’s also a validation that this is indeed a special place for wine to grow.
(These wines were provided as samples.)
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Oregon's Oldest Vines* The Pines 1852


Down in the Columbia River Gorge there are some old Zinfandel vines that are giving Northwest wine fans a look at what old vines in this part of the country can do. At the heart of the estate vineyards at The Pines 1852 are Zinfandel vines that are over one hundred years old.

A stalwart in the growing of vinifera grapes here in the Northwest, Lonnie Wright is the proprietor of The Pines 1852. Lonnie got his start working in 1978 beside some of Washington and the Northwest's viticultural pioneers they planted the original vineyards at Chateau Ste. Michelle's Columbia Crest. Lonnie spent time throughout Washington and Oregon and became known as a skilled and knowledgeable vineyard manager. In the early 80s Lonnie started working with someone who was planting vineyards on their property which included some old and neglected vines in The Dalles, Oregon.

Lonnie worked on that project all the while continuing to plant vineyards for others. Fruit from these various vineyards was going to notable wineries in the Northwest like Sineann, Owen Roe, Maryhill and Cathedral Ridge. Lonnie eventually bought that land in The Dalles that he had long been working and leasing, including those old neglected Zinfandel vines from the late 1800s. These Zinfandel vines were originally planted by Louis Comini, an Italian immigrant and stone mason who brought the vines from his homeland of Italy. Most of the wine producing vineyards in the Northwest were eradicated during Prohibition. Those old vines survived by being used to make sacramental wine. In addition to time and cultural change, the vines also survived severe neglect. With Lonnie's care and knowledge they were revived to the point where they were producing fruit again. Lonnie was selling that fruit to Sineann's Peter Rosback; this is the fruit used in that winery’s Old Vine flagship wine.


In 2001 Lonnie decided to keep some of that old Zinfandel and make a wine of his own out of it. He started his own winery and solicited the help of longtime friend and partner Peter Rosback to make his wine for The Pines 1852. Lonnie and his daughter Sierra are now selling their wines in their tasting room in downtown Hood River, Oregon.

The Pines is producing a Merlot and Syrah and two Zinfandels from their estate vines. Of the two Zinfandels one is from the old vines as well as a wine from a block that was planted in 1987 from cuttings taken from that old vine block. In addition to the estate wines, The Pines is also making wine from other vineyards and blending their estate fruit with wine from other sites. The most notable wine of course is that Old Vine Zinfandel, but the Big Red is a well done blend and their Pinot Gris is a food wine with a load of acidity. A look at their full catalog is available here.

Part of what makes Northwest wine so exciting is that it's all so young and still figuring out what works and what doesn't - from choosing the right grape clones to how to best orient the vineyards. The style of wine being made at The Pines - while New World - speaks to terroir and character that reminds many of the Old World wines. With all this new and exciting potential ahead of us, it's great to try such a rare example of some of the Northwest's oldest vineyards and wonder where we might be if it weren't for Prohibition.

* I don't know if these are actually Oregon's oldest vines, quit being so damn literal.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's this, a Beer Dinner?

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Yes, a beer dinner. I had decided to attend this particular at the last minute, but as I sat at our table at del Alma Restaurant perusing the menu for the Block 15 Beer Dinner, I was sure glad I did. I was prepared to enjoy the evening with friends as simply a consumer of fine beer and cuisine free of any responsibility for taking "notes" or "photos" as a blogger, then Nick Arzner stopped by. The owner of Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery in Corvallis, OR, and a good friend, Nick said "Hey, this would be a great opportunity to compare a beer dinner to some of the wine dinners you have written about." As with most ideas that come from the brain of a brewer, it was a great one so I broke out the trusty pen and iPhone camera and got ready to eat.

Located on the Corvallis waterfront, del Alma is a New Latin restaurant inspired by the flavors and cuisines of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain. Chef Mitch Rosenbaum (previously of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas) brings a passion for the fresh, vibrant flavors of Latin America and pairs it with the offerings of the Northwest to create an exciting and unique menu. Followers of the Blog have certainly read of Block 15 previously. As a refresher, Block 15 specializes in locally sourced casual food and premium, from the source, craft brews. The food is good...and the beer is unreal.

Background out of the way, it's time for the food and beer.  The format of this particular dinner was one that was reminiscent of a wine dinner:  four courses and an intermezzo, all paired with a different craft brew selected by the the chef to complement his food.

First Course

"Nu IPA" paired with Moule Frites Exotique
Red curry coconut mussels and yucca fries and green plantain tostones with lemongrass aioli.
NuIPA is brewed with Citrah, Sorachi Ace, and Simcoe hops deviating from the traditional IPA hops. Aromas of mango, lemon, and jam. Full hop flavor with a nice bitter finish. 6.5% ABV, 65 IBUs

After a wonderful appetizer of sweet potato bread with a bourbon honey jalepeno cherry butter, the red curry coconut sauce complementing the mussels was quite delicious. The star of this course, though, were the yucca fries dipped in aioli, followed immediately by a sip of beer. The crisp yet light characteristics of the NuIPA were perfect.

Second Course

"La Ferme de Demon" paired with Five Spice Pork Belly and Diver Scallop
Pan seared served with papaya slaw and sesame sweet soy vinaigrette.

La Ferme de Demon is a black farmhouse ale brewed with Belgian Pilsner malt, French malted wheat, Candi Sugar, roast malt, and farmhouse yeast. Aged for over 8 months in three barrel types: Pinot Noir, Oregon Oak, and Bourbon with Brettanomyces. After barrel aging and blending, this dark ruby black ale is further matured wiht a touch of Oregon Tart Cherry. 8.75% ABV, 31 IBUs.

The immediate consensus from our table was that the beer was "so good", like "drinking scotch without the bad parts" according to friend Matt. I don't know what he's talking about as I can't identify a bad part of scotch, but I digress. The dish was like a deconstructed bacon-wrapped scallop with some succulunt pork belly and a nice spicy slaw. Nom nom nom.

Third Course

"Figgy Pudding" paired with Galantine of Duck
Sundried bing cherries, pecans, and andouille sausage accompanied by Congnac fig jam and Aboriginal Ale mustard.

Figgy Pudding is brewed with English Pale and specialty malts and molasses. Matured in freshly empties brandy barrels and conditioned with mission figs. Gently spiced with Ceylon cinnamon and nutmeg. Complex aromas and flavors of port, figs, spice, brandy, oak and vanilla with a velvety warm finish. 11% ABV, 43 IBUs

So the velvety warm finish on this definitely has a little something to do with the 11% alcohol content, pushing that of wine, and after the 8.75% La Ferme we were definitely feeling good by the third course. The Figgy Pudding is definitely an amazing beer; count yourself lucky if you picked up a bottle before they sold out. The course was somewhat of a menagerie of different things on the plate, the fig jam being the shining star when paired with the beer.

Intermezzo

"Wonka's Wit" with a Prickly Pear Sorbet

Wonka's Wit is a Belgian style white ale spiced with orange peel and coriander. Matured in Pinot Noir barrels for 7-14 months with wild yeast and Pedicoccus and Lactobacillus. Refreshingly sour with citrus, tropical fruit, and farmhouse notes. 5% ABV, 20 IBUs

The beer was tart and sour, the sorbet was super sweet - a perfect combination. The sorbet. Wow. And, another beer aged in Pinot Noir barrels, it's almost like wine! In reviewing my notes, I found a poorly drawn heart next to this course without much else. It was that good.

Fourth Course

"Super Nebula" paired with Braised Lamb Shank
Dark chocolate mole and orange basil risotto.

Super Nebula is 100% aged in freshly emptied bourbon barrels and additionally aged on house roasted Cocoa nibs. Deep black brew with a brown creamy head. Heavy bodied with complex flavors and notes of molasses, vanilla, bourbon, coffee, roast fig and wood. Huge depth with a warming balanced finish. 11% ABV, 58 IBUs

Another 11% brew. Heh. The lamb was wonderfully prepared and fell off the bone. The mole was mild and complemented the coffee and cocoa notes on the beer. Unfortunately, the risotto was woefully undercooked; Chef Ramsay would have sent it back with some colorful euphemisms. After the final course, we got a little surprise to enjoy while we finished the Super Nebula - a house made stout truffle with bitter cocoa powder. The truffle hit a homerun in a major way.

So...how did it compare to a wine dinner? In many respects, a perfect pairing so to speak. Both events feature local craft beverage producers showing their wares with local gourmet cuisine. Food and wine...food and beer...they go together like Bert and Ernie. So, if you get a chance, hit up a beer dinner for a change in pace, and next time you are in Corvallis, del Ami and Block 15 are musts.

Block 15 Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coeur d'Alene Cellars: Idaho's Washington Wine


On a recent business trip to Coeur d'Alene, Josh and I decided to meet afterward at some of Idaho's wineries. I'd done some research for the blog several months ago and I knew they were making wine in Idaho. It usually takes on one of two forms; folks are making Idaho wine, typically from the Snake River Valley, or they're sourcing fruit from Washington. In the second case, it's hard to blame them. A couple examples of wineries that are sourcing Washington fruit are Coeur d'Alene Cellars and Pend Oreille Winery.

I contacted Coeur d'Alene Cellars owner and proprietor Kimber Gates and let her know that Josh and I would be in town and that we'd love to get a look at their wines. Kimber was happy to hear from us and we arranged a time to come around. When we arrived at the tasting room we were greeted by Hana-Lee, tasting room manager and Coeur d'Alene native. She explained a little about the retail operations between the tasting room facility and their downtown wine bar, Barrel Room #6. The tasting room is a newer, slick-looking facility on the outskirts of Coeur d'Alene about ten minutes from downtown. As we talked, Hana-Lee got us started with the two Viogniers that Coeur d'Alene Cellars makes, L'Artiste, named in honor of Sarah Gates, Kimber's mother (who does all the paintings on the label), and the other Viognier, named Viognier. The three of us concurred that of the two, we preferred L'Artiste, which was fermented in stainless and had excellent acidity and tons of bright fruit.

While we were waiting for winemaker Warren Schutz to join us, Hana Lee explained that Coeur d'Alene Cellars released their first vintage in 2002. They only did two wines at the time. They’re a family operation owned by the Gates family, not of Microsoft, but of Idaho. Kimber is the operating partner and manager with her father, and her mother paints all the labels. The tasting room and winery facility opened in 2004. Hana Lee continued us down the 6 for 6 tastings that they do for tasting room guests. We moved to the 2007 Cloud Nine, which is mostly Syrah with some Viognier and Mouvedre in there, a very reasonably priced and smooth drinking wine.

As Warren joined us, he explained that he came on board in 2004. Warren got his wine education at UC Davis and did some work in California as well as Washington before coming to Idaho. He was in Spokane when he got word from friends at Spokane winery Arbor Crest that Coeur d'Alene Cellars needed some assistance for crush. Warren went from 10 hours a week to the winemaker within a year.

Nearly all of the sites were selected when Warren joined the group, but they have since expanded to other vineyards, such as Lonesome Springs, while moving away from a few others. They get the preponderance of their fruit from Horse Heaven Hills, specifically McKinley Springs. Warren credits that hot dry climate, known for being Washington's windiest AVA, for the concentration and intensity Coeur d'Alene Cellars can get in their wines, particularly their Syrah.

As Warren has been able to get out to the sites more often, he’s become more in touch with the fruit, able to work with the growers and to figure in variability as Coeur d'Alene develops their style of wines. The next two wines we drank (both from 2006) were a testimony to that. The Envy was grown from some of the newer Syrah plantings at McKinley Springs, and resulted in a wine that was structured and masculine, with dark fruits and pepper. In contrast, the Opulence, from the older vines, demonstrated elegance and hints of the co-fermented Viognier, with a nose that also whispered it's new French oak influence.

We left Coeur d'Alene Cellars impressed with the wines they’re producing. The Washington fruit, the commitment to making great wine, and their refusal to waiver from that commitment shows itself in the styles and seriousness of the wine they're making. Located in a tourist location, it would be easy for Coeur d'Alene Cellars to put some plonk in a bottle and sell it to the the summer visitors in one of the NW's seasonal playgrounds. Instead they're making beautiful wines, particularly the Rhone style releases that speak to Washington terroir and commitment from Warren and Kimber. Our only regret was that we weren't in town while Barrel Room #6 was open to check out that operation.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Varietally Correct Soda; Vignette Wine Country Soda


The foodie revolution we've undergone these last few years has resulted in a significant uptick in quality restaurants, more imaginative cuisines, and a serious look at what many of us may have considered casual fare. The trickle down effect has caused some serious advances in street food as well as more attention paid to things like soda pop, candy, and chips. If you're me, this translates to awesome.

You may recall that not too long ago, I wrote a piece on the new Pinot Noir soda being released at this year's upcoming IPNC. On the heels of that piece I received an email from Patrick Galvin of Vignette Wine Country Soda. Patrick wanted me to know about the soda that he was making out of Berkeley California, using California fruit. Naturally, after the publicity he'd received in both the New York Times and the Oprah magazine, The Oregon Wine Blog was the next logical step. Patrick sent along a bottle of each of his sodas. He's currently making a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Rose soda, with the Rose soda made from Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Following proper tasting protocols we started our soda tasting with the Chardonnay varietal soda. Gwynne chuckled and shook her head at me as I poured the soda into the stemware. A couple swirls and sips later and I could tell that this wasn't your ordinary soda. The nose was sweeter, as this was soda, but there were serious ripened pear and honeysuckle on the nose of the Chardonnay soda. The soda has a nicely balanced sweetness to it that’s complimented by the crispness. It was very refreshing. The Rose was next. It received similar stemware treatment, and swirling and sipping revealed a whole lotta strawberry on this wine, er, soda.

We wrapped up tasting of the Vignette sodas with the Pinot Noir. There were lots of berry flavors, and so much blackberry that it probably could have passed for a blackberry soda. Again, the soda's sweetness is light and balanced, though Gwynne found the Pinot Noir to be the sweetest of the three.


These sodas? They're really, really good. As Patrick noted, they don't taste like wine, they taste like the grapes themselves. They're all naturally sweetened by the grapes, and are comprised of sparkling water and concentrated juice from the particular varietal. Without the fermentation that wine goes through they lack the complexity in flavor that you'll find in wine but there are certainly a few things going on in the way they smell.

The biggest thing Gwynne and I took away was that these sodas were really refreshing. They had light fruit flavors and were a great change of pace.

Patrick told me that he had developed his Vignette sodas after he and his wife had their first child. He'd noticed that there weren't a lot of great non alcoholic options for her during her pregnancy. The Vignette Wine Country Sodas are luckily available in wine country down in California and they're starting to pop up in Oregon as well. If you're out doing some tasting, these beverages are a great way to let kids, pregnant women or designated drivers feel a little more like they're part of the experience.


Vignette sodas have been around now for four years and have made their way up to Oregon. You can find them at The Allison Inn & Spa, Immortal Pie & Larder and Foster & Dobbs. You can also buy directly from Vignette here by the 12 pack. The next time you are in the mood for a change of pace but can't bare the thought of a day without Pinot Noir, pop the cap on a well chilled Vignette Country Soda and thank me later.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

You Can Find Me In the Club...


50 Cent is, in some people's eyes, an icon. He was shot a bunch of times and lived through it, he also made a song out of the classic nursery rhyme "you can find me in the club, rub a dub dub, three men in the tub." But this post has nothing to do with him, except the title. The last thing I want is to get into a "beef" with 50 Cent. The guy has massive pectorals and guns, and I don't have either. While classic hip hop beefs have only augmented an emcee's career (see Nas, Jay Z, Kool Moe Dee, and Big Daddy Kane) others have ended in tragedy. The most compelling and tragic ending being that between Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. Basically I wrote this post to begin a discussion about wine clubs, and now here I am going down a tangent that could get me shot. On to wine clubs, then.

Wine clubs serve a variety of purposes for wineries and winemakers. Neil Cooper of Cooper Wine Company gave me the skinny on what wine club members mean to him. For one; they provide a stability in sales. Wine clubs often have various tiers of commitments, but even the lowest tier often commits a member to a case of wine annually. For smaller production wineries who typically have a nominal marketing budget, this guaranteed and repeat customer base certainly helps you sleep better at night. At a recent wine club launch by Laurelhurst Cellars, who only make a couple hundred cases of wine per vintage, there were about 60 people in attendance. New club members were in committing to either one case or two with Laurelhurst Cellars, which means they sold somewhere between 20 and 25% of their release just on this club launch.

Another thing that Neil talked about is having club members act as "brand ambassadors." Club members are obviously invested and as such, they're likely to spread the word about your wine to their friends. If I believe in something to the point that I’m willing to make a substantial commitment, I'm likely to share it with my friends and even passersby, whether it's the wait staff at a restaurant or diners who may have taken note of the bottle. Neil says that club members are also more likely to buy more wine simply because they come by the tasting room more often and purchase wine above their club commitments. Another element that you may notice is that club members often develop a relationship with the wineries and the staff. That relationship, particularly in the case of the smaller production wineries, is a very personal one. While they're financially invested they're often emotionally invested in the success of the winery or winemaker and so they bring friends, coworkers and acquaintances to a brand of wine.

As a customer and someone interested in a wine club, the question I asked was which club should I join? I know and have lots of great personal relationships with several winemakers. For the past four years I'd been a member of one wine club, as a gift from my brother-in-law. The Barnard Griffin Reserve wine club was a great club of which to be a member. The wines were very good, particularly their Merlot, and they did a lot of things really well, including offering club member-only wines. They make such a variety of wines, and the reserves are all so good that it provided a really well-rounded experience.

What was missing for me, however, was the personal relationship. The people in the tasting room were very nice, but as they’re in the Tri-Cities and given their size, I never got to know those folks. The other missing component was exclusivity. Excepting the member-only wines, the reserve wines I received in my shipment were also available at the state store and local groceries. Finding the wines in grocery stores for less than I paid as a club member didn't necessarily make me very happy. Having said all that, I enjoyed my four years as a member, particularly the year my brother-in-law paid for.

I recently changed clubs and am now a Silver Level member of Laurelhurst Cellars. I made this decision for a few reasons. For one, they offer different levels of commitment and I can afford one case of wine a year while still having a wine budget with which to sample other wines. Secondly, they're going to do wine club member-only releases and first offerings. These guys are only making a couple hundred cases and they sell through all of their wine each year. My membership guarantees me access. Thirdly, I have a personal relationship with them. I met Greg, Gabe and Dave through the course of writing a piece for the blog. Their story is inspiring, and it's easy to relate to them because they're a small operation and they're likable down-to-earth guys. Fourthly, as an additional bonus, they're not far from my house. I can get to the club events; I can pick up my wine and avoid shipping costs; and while I know I can find their wine around Seattle, I'm not going to see it deeply discounted.

So what wine club is right for you? How the hell am I supposed to know? I write a wine blog, I'm not a psychic. I'd certainly recommend the Laurelhurst Cellars club. If I had an unlimited budget, there are a few others I’d definitely join. Some clubs of note: Syncline Wines, Anam Cara Cellars, and Kiona. The first two because they make such great wines, and Kiona probably has a leg up on everyone when it comes to awesome club shipments. Their Spring 2010 shipment was all Merlot, 1993, 1996, 1999 2001 and 2005 Merlots. Awesome.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

20 Something by the Washington Wine Commission; a stroke of genius

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You hear about it all the time - what will the wine industry do to court the millenials? I've seen some of their attempts at the local grocery store or wine shop. There are wines for girls who are girlie or wine for people who like labels with animals, or the often popular really cheap wine. Unfortunately, many of these attempts seem like they were conceived of by someone in a dark basement somewhere who's completely out of touch with what people want. "Put a pink label on it because young people like pink." "What you need here is a kangaroo. Young people love kangaroos, makes them think of petting zoos." "Young people don't really care about what wine tastes like, just as long as they can drink lots of it. Make it cheap."

While there may be some truth to those statements, they miss the mark. The Washington Wine Commission recently tried another tack to bring young people to the wonderful wine being made in Washington, and it was simply brilliant. In fact, they pretty much nailed it. What follows is either a formula for you to copy if want the youth of today to begin to think seriously about your wine, or an obituary for those ugly pink girlie, kangaroo-baring cheap wines. At least we can hope.

The first lesson of 20 Something is that the Washington Wine Commission is not making that square peg round hole mistake. If you want the younger generation to think about wine seriously, you bring it to them in a setting where they feel at home. The venue for 20 Something felt very much like a bar or a night club, and winemakers were making the rounds, rather than being stationed behind tables. This allowed them to approach the attendees as opposed to making it the other way around. If guests expressed interest in a wine, they were given a card with the name of the winery, the wine, and where they can find them online. Guests could collect the cards of wines they really liked without needing to remember all the details.

The old guard in wine is often left wondering why young people aren't coming to their chateau-y castle-y winery in ye olde countryside. That's simple: they're too busy texting. You expect them to put down their smartphones long enough to drive out to wine country, and get past the gated entrance to your chateau? Au contraire, mon frère. Young people are busy; or at least they think they are. 20 Something's event, held in Seattle's cosmopolitan Fremont neighborhood allowed them to make the scene without having to head out to wine country, and they could do it in very tight clothing with their texting machines in hand.

You cannot expect people to make wholesale changes and 20 Something offered the younger demographic the wine without (what can be) a stodgy or confusing tasting room or winery experience. Think of the night club atmosphere, the dark room and the lit up dance floor as training wheels. If these young folk start to think about wine as a beverage that they can associate with having a good time, then when they get to be my age and having a good time has them in bed by 10, they'll probably have a glass of wine with their sit down dinner in domestic bliss.

I spoke with Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards at the event and he was having a great time. Phil told me that "consumers make decisions about what kinds of beverages they're going to drink, usually by the time they’re 26." While they may change varieties, brands, or styles, if they're a beer drinker, wine drinker, etc, they've come to this conclusion by then. 20 Something allows them to consider wine in an arena that is comfortable for them.

The Geek Lounge gave these young people a quick educational rundown on wine, offering attendees the opportunity to explore wines that may have been flawed by using sight, smells and tastes. Riedel stemware was on hand to demonstrate how different glasses can impact how you experience a wine. There were also opportunities to sample many examples of one varietal and wines that were chosen for some of the specific food pairings.

It wasn’t just wine, though. Some of Washington's best restaurants with a wine focus were on hand to provide small bites and allow guests to further explore how a wine might be changed by pairing it with food. Blog favorite Frank Magana of Picazo 717 as well as Seattle's Ponti Seafood and Brasserie Margaux joined other establishments provided imaginative and delicious small bites.

This event was a smashing success, and all the winemakers and wineries representatives I talked to really enjoyed the format. Seattle Wine Gal and Darek Mazone kept people entertained with music and a dance contest. But most importantly Washington wineries got the attention of the young whippersnappers that make up the millenial demographic, and while it was only one night, the focus and the good time that was had will certainly bring them back to some of the wines they had on this evening and Washington wine in general.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spokane - Near Nature, Near Wine.

After spending some time in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint a few weeks ago, (cough...official Wine Blog business...cough), I capped off the adventure with a world wind visit to Spokane.  Now, I used to know Spokane as well as every hair on my chest, spending my formative college years there.  I knew every back alley, bar, dumpster, and honky-tonk, and had powerful connections who could get me backstage and behind the scenes wherever my heart desired in the Lilac City. Things have changed in eight years though, and this was a new Spokane.  One with art, culture, wine, and a populace who was left to wonder, "who the bleep is this Josh Gana fellow?"  A city where despite all best efforts I most definitely was not able to get a ticket for the Tosh Tour 2010 even though I tried with tens of minutes of notice before the start of the show.  Nonetheless, I was excited to become reacquainted with downtown Spokane and the wine scene I have been hearing so much about.

I arrived in Spokane mid-afternoon and promptly checked in to my accommodations for the evening. The fine folks at the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau hooked me up with a room at the newly-renovated Hotel Ruby, an urban chic former motor inn espousing comfort, style, and value in a downtown environment.   Located in the shadow of one of my favorite restaurants, the Steam Plant Grill, the Hotel Ruby instantly reminded me of the Hotel Jupiter in Portland.  My room had a hip and fresh feel, with amenities such as complimentary internet access, continental breakfast and coffee, and a fridge and microwave in the room, at a price point of around $70 you can't go wrong.  Oh yea, a darn comfortable bed and cool lighting.  Did I mention the location?  Next door you'll find Dempsey's, for all of your heteroflexible drinking and dancing pleasure, and across the street are concert venues for rocking late into the night.  Even better, the Hotel Ruby was within walking distance of my two winery destinations for the day:  Grande Ronde Cellars and Robert Karl Winery.  To the wineries!

Grand Ronde Cellars

Located in a cooperative tasting room on Second Avenue in Spokane, Grand Ronde produces single-vineyard and Bordeaux Blend wines from two of the finest vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley - Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills.  Producing wine since 1997 under the GR label, I was lucky enough to stumble in the tasting room on release weekend for the 2005 vintage and got to taste some nice wine.    While the single vineyard stuff was nice, the biggest surprise was the 2006 Cellar Red:

A Bordeaux Blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot, I knew the Cellar Red was my style before I stuck my nose in the glass.  With all Seven Hills fruit, this wine was fruit forward with a sharp peppery finish. 100% french oak aging comes through in a delicious way at a value price-point.

With my first tasting under my belt, it was off to the second stop of the day for some more wine.

Robert Karl Cellars

On West Pacific Avenue, Robert Karl blends the concept of tasting room and production facility into one. That is, the tasting room is a table set up in their production facility. It had an awesome feel. I walked through the door and was greeted by co-owner Rebecca Gunselman, who had ironically been following my twitter traffic all day.  Robert Karl has been producing wine in Spokane since 1999 after Rebecca and husband/winemaker Joe moved to Washington to start the winery.  A family business with all hand-picked and manually punched fruit, the 2500 case per year production is a delicious labor of love.  I was thrilled to find 5 reds open for tasting, all with Horse Heaven Hills fruit.  All HHH all the time?  Sold.  I enjoyed all 5, but the 2008 Syrah stuck out as extra-good:

Co-fermented with 8% Viognier in a classic style, the syrah poured a gorgeous purple and was a medium, well-balanced wine on the palate.  With relatively smooth tannins, you get plenty of smoke, berry, and spice on the tongue and next thing you know the glass is empty.  The fruit is from McKinley Springs Vineyard aged in french oak for 15 months.  With a production of 150 cases there won't be enough to go around. 

A barrel room tour capped off the trip to Robert Karl, and with that I stumbled back to the hotel to enjoy a pleasurable night sleep.

If you are planning a trip to Spokane, really any time is good.  Averaging 260 days of sunshine and at least 16 wineries in the area, the proximity to plenty of outdoor activities provide a nice break when you need to give your palate a rest.  While we weren't able to connect on this trip, the Nectar Tasting Room is also going to quickly become a Spokane mainstay worth checking out.  Oh, while I'm on the topic, the Steam Plant Grill is Spokane's home to Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company, who make a mean Vanilla Bourbon Stout.

Why on earth would you not visit Spokane?  Heck if I know.  Great wine, plenty of nature, awesome food, and some sweet lodging options such as the Hotel Ruby.  Oh, a killer college basketball team as well.  The Zags, perhaps you are familiar with them?
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving with Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir

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To many, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the things you're thankful for while sharing a large meal with your family. For my family, Thanksgiving is typically one of those pesky holidays where you're guilted into spending time with family members you'd never spend time with if you weren't related, but feel like you need to meet some sort of quota for the year. The grandparents will endlessly talk about who-gives-a-crap, the cousins will spend the entire time repeating how awesome their new Gameboy is as close to my face as possible, and my dad will get obliterated drunk by 3pm. Everybody is then reminded why we never spend time together and they're all gone by 8.

But not this year. No sir, this year was different!

For one, my family completely spared ourselves of the extended family commitment. We also had over my sister's husband and his parents, who are actually pretty damn cool. To top it off, freezing rain prohibited Josh from making it to Eastern Washington, so he joined us as well!


What were we to do to spend the time? Easy: Castle Crashers and Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir. I'm not going to dig into Castle Crashers too much, but I highly suggested buying it if you have a PS3 or X-Box 360 and also have friends.


As for the Leland Pinot Noir, I want to first express that our bottle was a review sample sent to us from Erath. Erath was generous enough to send us two different single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and what better holiday to enjoy a pinot than Thanksgiving?

For those of you unfamiliar with Erath, they've been producing wine out of the Dundee Hills for over 40 years. While mostly acclaimed for their breadth of incredible Pinot Noirs, they also happen to make a handful of whites and dessert wines. With a portfolio ranging from incredibly affordable to special occasion-only, you're bound to find a Pinot Noir that you'll love at the price point you're looking for.

Our 2008 Leland single-vineyard Pinot Noir happens to be a bit on the higher end. At a suggested $45 per bottle, it's not something we'd pop without a reason. This is Thanksgiving and not only do I want to make sure we're pouring something special, but I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to get feedback from my sister and her father-in-law. They both enjoy wine, but are by no means enophiles. Before we get to tasting notes, however, here's a bit about the Leland Vineyard itself

Located near Oregon City in the north Willamette Valley, owners Bruce and Ginny Weber planted the Pommard and Wadensvil clones of Pinot Noir in 1982. Leland vineyard consistently produces a complex and age-worthy style of Pinot Noir.



This single estate pinot noir immediately gives off hues of plum, cranberry, and currant on the nose. When sipped, it comes off as very light, slightly fruit forward, and very inviting. Josh and I both agreed that it is fairly complex for a pinot noir, yet everything about it is very unified. Pretty much a classic Oregon pinot that will win over almost any fan of great wine.


Josh and I liked it, but what about the people who aren't wine nerds? My sister, as depicted above, was immediately won over. While not an exact quote, I believe she said something to the extent of "this wine is friggin amazing!" Jim, her father-in-law, immediately noticed the drastic difference between Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir and the Red Diamond Cab Sauv he had been working on. "I don't know much about wine, but this one is damn good!"

So there you have it. Not only did you learn a little bit about my family and how we operate (or don't) at family gatherings, but you also have yet another incredible wine to put on your list of bottles to pick up. A big thank you goes out to Erath for sending us the sample bottle and look forward to hearing about another of their offerings soon. Another big thank you goes out to Josh for making this Thanksgiving the best ever!

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Serious Wine Cellar: Coeur d'Alene's Beverly's Restaurant

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I was in Coeur d'Alene on business, a town that is quite difficult to spell. I knew there were a few wineries out that way and had spoken with Kimber Gates of Coeur d'Alene Cellars about arranging a visit before I left town. Unsure of what kind of wine options existed in town for dinner or drinks I hadn't planned on much - then I got word from the man known as Wild Bill.

A phone call came through and on the other end was a man whose voice was as gravelly as my own; the one and only Wild Bill. "Clive, the restaurant in the Coeur d'Alene resort is deadly serious about their wine, get up here. Get to Beverly's." As Bill hung up there was a crackle at the end of the line, giving me a moment to think about just how serious it might be. This was Coeur d'Alene after all, a resort mecca for the outdoors inclined. The Northwest's well-heeled needed a scenic place to play in the summer and this place fit the bill. But how serious might this wine list be? I hit the elevator like a man on a mission.

When I arrived at Beverly's, Wild Bill had already cased the joint and he was seated in the lounge with two colleagues. The blog's own Josh Gana and a cat named Jeff whose family has been making wine for decades. Bill knows a classy joint when he sees one and this was no exception. As I greeted the fellas, Bill nodded at the waiter, "Sir, we'll have two of those buffalo carpaccios and this guys gonna order us some wine."

I asked everyone at the table what they were in the mood for and Bill said "Show us what Washington can do." I turned straight to the Washington Syrah section of Beverly's 89 page wine list and settled on a Bunnel Family Boushey-McPherson Syrah from 2006. Having had the Bunnel family wines before and seeing Dick Boushey's name on the label was all I needed to know.

The sommelier Eric came out to take our order and since we had missed the 4:30 tour time of the cellars, we asked if it might be possible to get a tour of Beverly's cellars. Admitting that he needed to go down there anyways to pick out our wine, we were invited to come along.


Along the way Eric shared that Beverly's has an inventory of around 10,000 bottles and if they sold it all at dinner we'd be talking about 2 million dollars worth of wine. We descended a tight spiral staircase and entered a dark room surrounded by bins of wine. Burgundy, Oregon, Washington Syrah, Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape were all around us. There may have even been some wines from California. Eric rummaged around and pulled out our Bunnel Syrah and popped the cork. If you've not had this wine it's a beautiful example of Washington Syrah; you can spend a night just on the nose thanks to the toasty Hungarian oak program. The wine itself is very savory, with dark fruit and earthen elements.

Eric gave us the rundown of their operation and talked about the wines he loves to carry and introduce customers to. When Josh and I asked if he had a hard time getting resort guests to give Washington and Oregon wines a try his response was, "Not at all." The folks staying in Coeur d'Alene are well aware of the wine the Northwest is capable of, and they're enjoying some serious bottles at Beverlys. When I asked about the best wine in the Beverly’s collection, Eric pulled out a 1978 Chateau Rayas CdP, priced at $1930.00, telling us this was the best wine in the cellar, though not their most expensive.

We headed up stairs to the second cellar, this one loaded down with Bourdeaux, and Washington and California Cabernets, including Leonetti, Pursued by Bear, Doubleback and plenty from Dunham Cellars and Andrew Will.

When we retired back to the lounge for our appetizer, Bill asked Eric about a pairing for the buffalo carpaccio. Eric said I was on the right track with the Syrah, but during our tour we had taken care of that Bunnell pretty quickly. Eric recommended the Delille Cellars Doyenne Aix, from 2005. This is a wine I really enjoy and it was a hit with the fellas as well. The carpaccio was accompanied by crostini and horseradish and it disappeared pretty quickly.

Should you find yourself in Coeur d'Alene and on the lookout for some serious wine, check out Beverly's. The wine list is impressive, and what really stood out for me, besides Eric's knowledge and willingness to indulge us, was the mark up. The wine mark ups at Beverly’s are often well less than 100%, which is highly uncommon in restaurants. The Bunnell Syrah retails for $42 and was priced at $65; similarly, the Aix which comes in at $35-45, and was priced at $65 as well. So give Beverly’s a try: the selection of Northwest wine options is impressive, the food is delicious, and the staff knows the wine from here in the Northwest and beyond.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

They Make Wine There? Idaho Edition.

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Last week, Clive and I took a jaunt to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on non-wine related business; well, mostly non-wine related if you want to be technical about it.  Clive will be posting soon on our awesome experience at Coeur d'Alene Cellars, an Idaho winery that uses exclusively Washington fruit.   After that visit, I had the opportunity to visit another Idaho winery that uses both Washington and Idaho fruit and as such, is the focus of this Idaho edition of our "They Make Wine There?" series:  Pend d'Orielle Winery in Sandpoint, Idaho.  You may have read about it...right here on this blog, in fact.  Rick and I have written about Pend d'Orielle hereherehere, and here.  If you hadn't noticed, we're quite fond of their wine and I was excited to visit the place where the magic happens.



I rolled into Sandpoint, Idaho in the early afternoon and was immediately struck by a cute, quaint, yet somewhat hip downtown area in the town of approximately 6800 residents.  Despite spending 4 years in the Spokane area, the only time I had seen Sandpoint was from the backseat of a car when I was 15 on a 24 hour run to Canada while working at a Northern Idaho summer camp.  That's a story for a different day.  Like many small communities in the Pacific Northwest, Sandpoint is steeped in Native tradition, with Lake Pend d'Oreille serving as a summer encampment site for the Salish Tribes.  In the early 1900's, railroads and timber drove the economy and in 1963, Schweitzer Mountain Resort opened nearby turning Sandpoint into a tourist mecca.  Presently with the lake and the resort, Sandpoint is an interesting collision between hip, urban, outdoor tourism and old-fashioned timber culture.  Sandpoint is quickly becoming an arts and culture capital of Northern Idaho, and yes, they make wine there!

Pend d'Oreille Winery, founded in 1995 by Steve and Julie Meyer, is the only Idaho winery north of Coeur d'Alene.  By the way, if you're going to visit Northern Idaho, better practice up on the use and pronunciation of apostrophes.  I walked into the PO tasting room at the appointed time and was immediately struck by an environment that was reminiscent of a urban environment; a hip tasting bar area surrounded by a small restaurant and lifestyle store with hints of country charm.  It could have easily been Portland or California. I was met by the Pend d'Oreille's cellarmaster and jack-of-all-trades, Jim, who poured two different 2007 Malbecs from the Terrior Series, one from Washington and one from Idaho.  We'll get to that in a minute.  After the Malbec, Jim asked if I wanted to head back to the cellar for some barrel samples.  After rearranging my extremely packed (nonexistent) schedule for the rest of the day, I was in.  Jim started pulling the 2010 vintage out of the barrels and by time we had made it through some very promising Viognier and a few strains of Chardonnay, the man himself, Steve Meyer, joined us.


As Steve and I thieved into the 2009 vintage of PO red wine, I had the opportunity to ask him some of the questions that you are probably thinking right now - why Idaho being at the top of the list.  Steve started sharing his background and I quickly got a glimpse inside the workings of a visionary winemaker and winery.  Steve started making wine in Burgundy 25 years ago during an errant ski trip.  After cutting his teeth in France and California, a wife from the area and proximity to some of the best fruit in the world brought Steve and Julie back to Sandpoint.  With a dual-mission of creating the greatest wine in the Northwest and invigorating a wine culture in the Sandpoint area, Steve takes his role in the industry very seriously as he creates wines of smaller varietals to both educate consumers in the area and promote business during the shoulder seasons of a tourist town.  Pend d'Oreille surprises many as Sandpoint isn't exactly wine country, but a quick drive to both Eastern Washington and Southern Idaho growing regions makes it the perfect locale.  Always pushing boundaries, Steve has placed a heavy emphasis on sustainability in operations with a "Think Green, Drink Red" motto.  To that end, the winery has implemented a refillable bottle program out of their tasting room.  Think of a growler in the beer world.  For an initial $25 bottle purchase, customers can have a refill of either Bistro Rouge or Bistro Blanc for just $16 at any time.  In the first year of the program, Pend d'Oreille kept over 10,000 pounds of glass out of the landfill and averages 350 fills per month.  How cool is that?

On to the wine!  While at the winery, I probably tasted 15 different wines from bottles or barrels so can't possibly speak to all of them.  I can say they were all good, and if you've read our previous coverage we love pretty much everything PO puts out.  One of the cool things that Steve does is called the Terrior Series, a side by side varietal comparison from two different winegrowing regions.  For 2007, Malbec was the varietal of choice with representation of vineyard designated Washington and Idaho fruit, presented with identical winemaking styles. Here's the rundown:

2007 Malbec, Freepons Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington: With a lot of dark fruit on the nose, this wine has a mellow tannin structure and a smooth mouthfeel. A relatively classic Malbec, it would pair well with some bolder food such as chili. Very nice. Case production of 74 with a very reasonable price point of $28.00.
2007 Malbec, Wood River Vineyard, Snake River Valley, Idaho: Tasted second, I found the Idaho Malbec to be a bit more tannic with some rose petal on the nose. Hints of plum and vanilla on the palate meld into a very delicious wine and a quite pleasant surprise coming out of Idaho. This is a gorgeous representation of the Snake River Valley. With a case production of 73 and the $28.00 price tag, it won't stick around long.

My preference leaned slightly towards the Idaho Malbec for this vintage.  The 2010 and 2009 vintages are showing a lot of promise, keep your eyes open for the Primitivo and Zinfandel to hit the streets.


So...Idaho, huh?  An often-forgotten area of the Pacific Northwest, wine grapes were introduced to Idaho in the late 1800's and were grown until Prohibition.  For those familiar with the area, the old Potlatch Lumber mill site near Lewiston was a vineyard in forgotten days.  In the 70's, Idaho saw a resurgence of vineyard development and the area is now home to 38 wineries.  Many believe that the Southern Idaho area is ideal for growth, with high heat summers and cold winters.  With over 1500 acres of grapes, and AVA designation for the Snake River Valley, Idaho is staking it's claim in the marketplace with primary production of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

After 2.5 hours in the tasting room and cellar with one of the most visionary winemakers in the region, it was time for me to leave and experience the rest of Sandpoint.  When you visit, other highlights of the area include Eichardt's Pub for a great beer selection and elk burger and the Coldwater Creek Wine Bar for a nice by-the-glass selection.  Yes, it's the same Coldwater Creek that sells women's clothing.  The Best Western Edgewater Resort offered comfortable, reasonably priced accommodations with a fantastic hot tub.  If you're looking for a scenic and fun place to visit with some awesome wine, put Sandpoint on your list.  If you want to avoid the tourist mobs, November is a great time to do it.  Be careful, though, as you may wake up to snow on the ground as I did the next morning.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hopworks Rise Up Red

Brewery: Hopworks Urban Brewery
Style: Organic Red Ale
BeerAdvocate.com Rating: B+/3.99 (Community)
RateBeer.com Rating: 3.53
Serving: 22oz Bottle

Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) has almost overnight become one of the most well known breweries in Portland. Founded in 2008, HUB is known for its commitment to sustainability in everything it does, amazing beer, great food, and an awesome place to congregate with other cyclists. As a fan of drinking organic beer while eating locally-sourced food and wearing cycling spandex, it's safe to say that HUB is an absolute must-visit brewery if you happen to find yourself in Portland. In fact, it's the only one that calls itself an Eco-Brewpub.

The latest of their offerings I had actually wasn't from the brewpub, but picked up at my local store in the form of a 22oz bottle. I'm a big fan of reds, so I snagged their Rise Up Red. From HUB:

This full bodied NW Red is mahogany smooth and hopped to the rafters with locally grown Cascade and Centennial hops. Raise your pints in the air, Rise Up, gather round, Organic Beer from the ground.

While my pint didn't get quite raised to the air, it did make it to my mouth and here's what I found.

Appearance: The color is an opaque copper accompanied by half a finger of tan head. Fairly typical of most reds aside from the slightly darker head.

Smell: Immediate hop profile with honey and citrus aromas. A bit sweeter than other reds, which makes it even more intriguing since most breweries out here tend to hop up their reds to where they're indistinguishable from an IPA.

Taste: Creamy mouthfeel with tastes identical to aroma. I'm drinking it paired with a bleu cheese burger and the combination is magical. I can see how the mouthfeel may be off-putting to some, but its wonderful if you're looking for something hoppy with substance. The honey hues make this really easy to sip by itself as well.

Did I mention I'm a huge fan of HUB? Rise Up Red is no exception and it goes to show that it's definitely possible to brew incredible, world-class beer using all organic ingredients. I know I've been preaching this for years, but organic beer keeps betting better and HUB deserves a ton of credit for how they're getting it done. Expect to read a lot more reviews about HUB brews in the future.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pinot Noir is for the Children

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You’ve heard me say it a million times, there’s nothing like Oregon Pinot Noir. Nothing. It’s a thing of beauty, complexity, elegance and strength all wrapped into one, granting you magical access to the soil, wind and spirit of the Willamette Valley. When it’s done well it can be a religious experience and when done poorly it’s still hard to screw up. If there’s a downside to Oregon Pinot Noir, it’s that there’s a drinking age.

Thankfully though, IPNC (the best tasting event on this mortal coil) has teamed up with Hot Lips Soda to make Pinot Noir Soda, which means that now you can supply Pinot to the younger generation. In what is probably the most earth shattering invention for the children since the Weebles, which wobble, but don’t won’t fall down, IPNC and Hot Lips Soda have struck gold. There is a rumor afoot that this soda will make children smarter, taller and more eloquent.


Fruit for this first release of Pinot soda comes from Archery Summit and Rex Hill wineries and comes from 2010’s tempestuous growing season. This lovely beverage was brewed in McMinnville, home to the annual mecca that is IPNC. What this earth shattering development means is that the wild-eyed youth clamoring for terroir-driven Oregon Pinot can now have their way, because Pinot Noir soda has finally arrived. Punk ass Willy Wonka has nothing on Hot Lips Soda. Booyeah.



The Hot Lips/IPNC Pinot Noir Soda will make its debut at IPNC 2011. If you didn’t have a reason to go before, now you do. And you don’t need a babysitter.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Cork, No Worries: Folin Cellars

As previously noted on the Blog, I've been doing a bit of traveling lately - both wine related and not. A few weeks ago I was at a student leadership conference in Ashland, Oregon for my day job as a higher education "professional". While happy to be in the heart of the Rogue Vally, my oenophilia was tempered by a relatively tight schedule and an alcoholic-free conference. Yep, no glass of wine at the end of the day for me. In true blogger style, I promptly emailed Christine from The Southern Oregon Wine Blog and asked, "If there is one winery I have time to visit on my way home, where should I go?" Christine responded, "Don't be stupid, I've been telling you to hit up Folin Cellars for months." Folin Cellars it was.


Folin Cellars is a family owned and operated winery producing estate-only rhone style wines from the estate winery in Gold Hills. Don't worry Portlandites, they also have a tasting room in Carlton if you're too lazy to roll down I-5. Folin is currently a small production winery, putting out around 500 cases per year and emphasizing a self-sustaining operation on their 25-acres of vines and new tasting room and winery facility. The estate just happens to be at the same latitude as the Rioja region of Spain, predispositioning Folin's signature tempranillo to a status of awesomeness right off the bat.

It was approximately Noon on a Sunday when I rolled through Medford on my way back to Corvallis, knowing that Folin was open weekends from Noon - 5:00 PM weekends through November, I rolled off of the freeway and headed east for the 10-ish mile jaunt to the winery. After some twisting and turning in the beautiful Oregon foliage, I pulled up to the gate of Folin Cellars and could see the 15-month old tasting room down the road. The gate was closed. Were they open? Please? After some jockeying of my cell phone to find good enough service to call the tasting room, Steve from Folin promptly came and opened the gate and returned to the tasting room to give me a warm greeting as I walked through the doors. Whew, there was wine in my future.


While we're on the tasting room...it's gorgeous. Lot's of natural light, amazing views, a classy bar, and a window where you can look down into the production facility. While a bit off the beaten path, this is one of those stops you can't miss and with the proximity to Del Rio and Cliff Creek, you can hit a few in an afternoon. Steve poured me a taste of the first wine, a 2009 Tempranillo Rose, and I immediately noticed that he hadn't pulled a natural cork out of the bottle. In fact, there was nary a cork to be seen in the tasting room. No screwcaps either. Turns out, Folin uses all glass corks, the winemaker being one who wants the wine to taste just as he intended whether you pop the bottle the next day or 5 years down the road. This philosophy results in the moniker of "No Cork, No Worries" which you'll find on every bottle they put out. Steve took me through the tasting series of 7 wines; 2 whites and 5 reds. I can honestly say I enjoyed every one of the seven, however there were two that particularly stuck out:


2008 Miseo: Miseo, a latin word meaning blend, is Folin's signature red blend consisting of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 20% Mourvedre. I immediately got a bright and deep nose off the wine with some delicious dark fruit and a tad of earthiness on the palate. I took a second sip, and damn, it was good. Real good. The finish was even better and I wanted to pour a full glass and go to town, but that will have to wait until another day. With an inaugural vintage production of 150 cases, this was my favorite wine of the day and you better pick some up while you can.

2007 Tempranillo:A pleasant black cherry nose complements a comfortable mouthfeel, nice acidity, and notes of plum and chocolate on the palate of this very classic tempranillo. Aged 100% in french oak, this wine is what put Folin on the map and shows that Oregon can do more rhone than just syrah. Do I sound like a wine snob yet? This is solid at $30/bottle and a case production of 150 or so.

As I finished my tasting experience, Steve took me down to the production facility to show me around a bit and I was pleased to see that Folin has the production capacity to grow in coming years. As I walked back to my car, I looked out upon the gorgeous territorial view and took a moment to reflect about the experience I just had. 7 great wines, an awesome facility, and friendly staff. That's what the Oregon wine industry is all about and it's beautifully demonstrated by Folin. Salud!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

They Make Wine There? New Mexico Edition.

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Yes, they make wine in New Mexico.  Continuing our "They Make Wine There?" series after this summer's feature on Texas wine, we bring you the finest New Mexico has to offer.  I'm not talking about Alamogordo, of nuclear test fame, or Roswell, home of Area 51 either.  My wine horizons have certainly been broadened through the crack investigative reporting of The Oregon Wine Blog Special Correspondent Chris Heuchert, and I hope yours are too.

This shit got real a few weeks ago when Chris was driving on a rural highway near Santa Fe heading back to his rustic mountain getaway.  Between the rumbling of his stomach from hunger, the blazing sun, a mild headache,  it appeared on the side of the road as if a desert oasis:  the Estrella Del Norte Vineyard.  Wait, what?  New Mexico, right?  He had to stop and see what this foolishness was all about.

It was true, there was wine inside the quant stucco southwestern style building.  And a nice lady who made Chris and his posse feel quite welcome throughout the wine tasting experience.  They tasted 6 reds in short order, sharing the experience with a quite engaging staff who clearly knew a lot about the wine.  After tasting through the big reds one might expect from a dry, high-heat region like New Mexico, Chris saw something on the menu that literally turned his world upside down:  Pinot Noir.  But Josh, you ask, isn't Pinot Noir rather a fickle varietal?  One that likes a cooler, moist climate?  Why yes, it is, thanks for asking.  You can understand Chris' surprise to find it in the middle of one of the most extreme climates in the US.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a bottle open for him to try to compare to the love of our lives, Oregon Pinot.  Chris was so intrigued by the experience, he took the red pill and was a member of the wine club when he got back in the car.  Fast forward two weeks, you'll find a case of wine from New Mexico delivered to his apartment,  and an enterprising Managing Editor of The Oregon Wine Blog on the couch ready to see what Estrella Del Norte is all about.

As an aside, did you know that New Mexico is the oldest wine growing region in the United States?  The first grape vines were brought to Senecu, a Piro Indian pueblo, in 1629 by a Franciscan and a Monk.  No, this isn't a variation of a "Franciscan and a Monk walked in to a bar..." joke.  By 1880, there were 3150 acres of grapevines in the state, and by 1884 New Mexico was producing almost a million gallons of wine per year.  Currently, New Mexico boast 42 operating wineries and tasting rooms.

To kick off my New Mexican experience, Chris popped open a bottle of the 2007 Estrella Del Norte Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorite varietals.  Not quite knowing what to expect, I gingerly swirled the wine in my glass and took a big old sniff.  I immediately detected notes of....booze.  Once I got past the boozy features on the nose, I found a rather pleasant cacophony of dark red fruit.  Upon taking the coveted sip, we detected an immediate heat related to the boozy nose, with an otherwise rather mild and dry profile laced with dark fruit and a peppery finish.  The winery describes it like a "starry Northern New Mexico evening", and while I'm not sure I agree with that, I can definitely attest that it was better than expected.  I'll be the first to admit that my palate has been shaped around Eastern Washington cabs, hard to beat, I know.  All things considered, "better than expected" is a glowing endorsement for a non-Washington offering.

So, there you have it.  We brought you Texas.  We brought you New Mexico.  What's next in the "They Make Wine There?" series?  You're just going to have to wait to find out, because frankly, I don't know yet.  Any suggestions?
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