Monday, March 29, 2010

#WA Merlot Tasting at Full Pull Wines

The twitter machine was all a buzz last week with the talk of #WAMerlot, particularly those of Northwest winos. For the uninitiated, that doesn't mean a pound of WAMerlot or the number of WAMerlot you're able to drink. In the twittersphere, "#" is a hashtag; a way of listing a particular subject or event to make it easily searchable. What #WAMerlot did was allow people from all over the country to participate in what its organizer, Josh Wade of the Drink Nectar called "the largest simultaneous tasting of Washington wine anywhere."

People participated in #WAMerlot from their homes and from wineries in Walla Walla, Tri-Cities and Woodinville that hosted #WAMerlot tweetups. In many cases a few wineries threw in together to host events and provide Washington Merlot for tasting. There were wine bars and restaurants hosting Merlot flights for a fee, and private #WAMerlot events where a short guest list was established and admission was free.

All these events were organized to promote Washington Merlot. In many cases the rallying cry was to undo some of the damage that Merlot suffered at the hands of Paul Giamatti's character Miles in Sideways. The #WAMerlot event fell on Thursday March 25th from 5pm to 7pm, just one day prior to Taste Washington, an enormous wine undertaking. It was a good way to get your liver warmed up, as one winemaker said.

While Merlot has seen it's cache change since that fateful movie, it is still the number one purchased wine in the United States. It's seen as an approachable wine that pairs well with a variety of foods and has a nose and palate that are broadly appealing. Though those statistics make it clear that Merlot is still a wine of the people; it's wine aficionados and wanna be wine snobs who have turned up their noses, pun intended, at this great grape.

Gwynne and I went to the #WAMerlot event at Full Pull Wines in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood. Full Pull Wines' Paul Zitarelli offers Washington wines from small producers as well as hard to find boutique gems. When he finds a great deal, he emails his list. If you opt to purchase that wine, you can decide to have it shipped to you or you can become part of the Thursday Pick Up crowd. This gets you a bigger discount and an opportunity to come by the place and taste some of the wines.

Full Pull is hard to find. It's got a door sign smaller than 1 foot square, so you have to be on the look out. The party was already in full swing when we got there. We were greeted by Paul and Emily and sent over to the bar where we found Doug Haugen of Wino Magazine already into the variety of Merlots assembled before us.

We began with a Hestia Cellars limited release and Emily told me she'd introduce me to the winemaker Shannon who was "around here somewhere" but he snuck out with Paul to catch the Sounders game before I could say hello. From there we moved into a Ward Johnson 2007 Red Mountain Merlot that I learned Kurt Johnson had brought by just on my account. (Pretty cool, Kurt.) The WJW Merlot was deep and dark and displaying cherries on the palate.

When it was all said and done, we tasted probably two thirds of the 12 to 15 Merlots they had assembled at Full Pull. Our two favorites were the Alexandria Nicole Gravity 07 Merlot and the Kyra Merlot, both of which we had decided to purchase. Doug from Wino and I both were having a hard time believing the price point on the Kyra: One of the best wines in the house was only $13.

This was our first Twitter related event, I had a good time; Gwynne was a bit let down by the lack of actual social interaction. To her point; she was right, much of the time was spent sipping and then texting away to update the rest of the world what we were tasting in these brilliant Washington Merlots. The conversation was sparse but it was great meeting some others from the wine blog community.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Epic Failure? Not with Belle Vallee in the Equation

The plan was simple.  That is what made it so great.  Take Friday off of work [from my day job], convince Micheal to do the same, and spend the afternoon wine tasting in Willamette Valley topped off with a nice dinner in Corvallis.  If only that is how the day materialized, I wouldn't be writing this post right now.  I am, so clearly things went awry at some stage in the game.

The first issue, which I failed to take into consideration in this wonderful plan, is the fact that it is still March...and in March, many of the Benton County wineries haven't opened yet for the season; the ones who have are only open on Saturday and Sunday.  The day being Friday, clearly a Saturday or Sunday tasting just wasn't going to work out.  Micheal was driving to Corvallis from Salem, so I felt really bad asking him to go back North for wine tasting....and really didn't feel like driving to the South much either.  That is where Plan B came into effect.

Plan B was masterful as a backup, if I do say so myself.  A nice afternoon hike up Mary's Peak, followed by a delicious dinner and some wine back in town.  It was patchy sun and rain on the drive to Mary's Peak Road, during which I was telling Micheal about the views from the Peak and how it had opened back up for the season a few weeks prior.  Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been the significant runoff apparent as we started our ascent.  Perhaps the second sign of warning should have been the glint of snow up the road as we progressed.  I certainly should have taken caution when the snow started bottoming out my 4-door all wheel drive german sedan, but alas, I was as cocksure as Clive was in navigating our journey to Portteus in February.  The final warning sign, of which we started to take heed, was a suburu wagon backing down the mountain because it was too slick and narrow to turn around.  It sunk in...this was a bad idea.  Ahead of us, we saw:

A lack of traction devices and a bit of common sense for once in my life led to the wise decision to turn around.  Who wants to be stuck in the middle of the wilderness, after all?  The afternoon was shot. Wine tasting failed, the hike wasn't to be.  What were we to do?  Fortunately, the wine gods came to our rescue in the form of Belle Vallee Cellars.   Returning to downtown Corvallis after the mishap, we popped in to Avalon Wine, Wineopolis, and Enoteca to browse the bottle selection before retiring home to cook a seafood dinner.  The final stop of the afternoon, almost as an afterthought, was Belle Vallee on the Corvallis waterfront.  Aubrie welcomed us in, and before we could even take our jackets off, we were met with what can only be described as a pot of gold for some wayward travelers:

Two Pinot's, a Syrah, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a vibrant conversation about winery branding and social media later, Micheal walked away with a quarter case of wine and me with a nice buzz, having entirely forgotten about the mishaps of the afternoon.  If you haven't been to Belle Vallee yet, you need to check them out.  Solid Pinot, solid big reds, and a delicious Pinot will not be disappointed.  With a nice deck on the waterfront that will be scrumptious in a few weeks...they are one of the best kept secrets in town.  When we were done, we retired to The Oregon Wine Blog headquarters for some steelhead, shrimp, and 2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir.

So, there you have it.  A tale of two guys, a mountain, snow, a car, and a lot of afternoon which could have reeked of epic failure but resulted in a great day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


1 comment
Ladies and Gentlemen, Winos and celebrate the 965 day anniversary of The Oregon Wine Blog, as well as #WAMerlot day on the twitter machine, we bring to you many gifts and salutations.  More importantly, though, we have gone live with a brand-spanking new blog layout that should look familiar but refreshed at the same time.  Even more notable, you'll find a variety of pleasurable content in our new pages features, accessed from the links under our header.

Yes, the gerbils (Rick) have been hard at work slaving away at code with very little wine in the glass to bring this to you, and we are proud to do so.  Rick may now have a glass of wine and you may now enjoy our new blog layout.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Exodus...Willamette Valley Block Party in Seattle

I believe it's impossible for Al Gore to have known what a powerful tool he created when he created the internets. On March 10th I tweeted that the Oregon Wine Blog had more Washington readers than Oregon readers. And like that, the next day about 52 Willamette Valley wineries came to Seattle. Can you blame them really, when during the month of March Oregon readers turned their backs on our blog?

I was happy to meet the wineries in Sodo Park at Herban Feast, where the staff from the Willamette Valley Wineries welcomed me with a media guide and credentials (I attended the trade event prior to the public ticketed event). Included was a booklet that listed the wineries present and gave me a little space for notes as well as the wines they were pouring, and the retail prices of each. I took this handy booklet, my credentials and made my way into Sodo Park. This was the first such block party by the Willamette Valley Wineries, and it was a successful one, with 350 trade members and 425 folks from the general public coming out to the event.

The 52 wineries were laid out alphabetically which made it easy to find wineries I had my eye on. Stumptown, a Portland institution, provided some coffee in cased you needed some help getting out the door at the end of the event.

Oregon's bread and butter is, of course, what I would argue is the best Pinot Noir on the planet. Some wineries were also pouring blends, such as those on hand at the Sokol Blosser table. The Meditrina, and Evolution are some of the state's most interesting and most approachable blends. Though there was Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Gris available at many of the tables as well, I was really there for the Pinot Noir.

I sampled several, but I've honed in on a few standouts for our purposes. I made my way to the table at Cooper Mountain Vineyards, where their Mountain Terroir caught my eye with it's slick all-black label. The Mountain Terroir Pinot is a blend of three vineyard sites that blend together to accentuate the terroir that is Cooper Mountain. The winemaker at Cooper Mountain is "very French" and doesn't believe in single vineyard efforts. The Mountain Terroir ($45) is very good, and there were only 300 cases made.

There were somehow some Oregon wineries on hand which I had never before sampled. Among them were Thistle, Retour and Patricia Green Cellars, where winemaker Patty was the original winemaker at Torii Mor.

I also found some old favorites - Jim Bernau from Willamette Valley Vineyards welcomed me to the table. WVV and TOWB are great friends. Jim told me he had a couple special wines on hand and asked if I'd be interested in giving those a whirl. He poured the 07 Signature Cuvee and the 06 Griffin Creek Syrah from Southern Oregon. While I was tasting, I told Jim that one of my seminal wine experiences came five or six years ago at WVV with their Bourdeaux style blend from Southern Oregon, The Griffin.

My favorite wine of the event was the Anam Cara, 2007 Nicholas Estate Pinot Noir. This wine was DYNAMITE! Anam Cara is a sentimental favorite of mine from one of my earliest trips to the Willamette Valley. While I hate to play favorites, this wine left me little choice in the matter. The 2007 Nicholas Estate is the product of five different Pinot clones. I feel like the Pinots that they're making at Anam Cara are a bit more earthy, that they're capturing what makes Oregon Pinot so special and just turning the volume up a little bit. This wine certainly did that for me.

This event was a lot of fun, and there were a few wineries that I hope to bring you more on in a separate post. The folks pouring did a great job telling us about their wine and the WVW staff were brilliant hosts. (If Oregon ever does decide to move here permanently I'd be happy to help carry a few of the boxes.) If you're heading down Willamette way, make sure you check out the Willamette Valley website, or go ahead and give them a call to help you figure out your itinerary. While they're not in a position to recommend one winery over another (they represent all of them), they can help you figure out which wineries are close to where you're staying or eating on your visit. Be sure to give them a call (503) 646 2985.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Darwin's Sandwich & Sokol Blosser Evolution

At the dawn of time, when sandwiches first crawled out of the primordial ooze, they were not pretty things to look at. They resembled their ancestors, the open faced sandwich. These unsightly contrivances, though often delicious (See: turkeyius and gravius deliciousius), are incredibly difficult to transport. Test runs involving lunchboxes and picnics didn't end well. Due to the fast paced lifestyle of the human creatures, unless these sandwiches evolved, they would be forever lost. Sandwiches developed a second slice of bread as a survival mechanism; wind kept blowing the lettuce off the top. The top slice became a necessity; mustard, or in exotic cases of mutation, mayonnaise, came much later. Like Darwin, we are perplexed when we witness the evolution of unecessary complexities such as bean sprouts or cream cheese, which confer no real competitive advantage, except perhaps in places like Los Angeles.

What is clear about sandwiches - abundantly clear, in fact - is that when we look at sandwich evolution, we are drawn to one particular region; Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to what evolutionary scholars refer to as the epitome of "what nature intended" when it comes to the sandwich. While there are other famous sandwich pretenders, this sandwich stands alone.

The Primanti's sandwich.
Big and bold and taller than some toddlers, the Primanti sandwich stands above the rest. The Primanti sandwich, created from Mancini's Italian bread, a grilled meat of your choice, a vinegar based coleslaw, sliced tomatoes and french fried potatoes.

Based on the biological realities of the Primanti, there are few candidates for a wine pairing for such mastery of sandwichology. Candidates are limited for a number of reasons. Reason 1 is that Pennsylvania, my home state, has what rank among the most asinine laws governing the availability of alcohol. You can only get a Primanti sandwich in Pennsylvania, or Florida, and who goes to Florida on purpose? Not I. Reason 2, while there is one really nice wine shop in Pittsburgh, there is only one really nice wine shop in Pittsburgh. The wine must come from there.

Keeping my eye on Reasons 1 & 2, I was excited to find the 13th go round of Sokol Blosser's Evolution. The Evolution is a combination of nine varietals that lend the wine a crisp and fruity palate. This is a bright, off-dry wine with a sweetness that is appealing, yet stays out of the way of the interesting flavor profile of this imaginative blend. As I was wrapping up my purchase, the cashier at the wine shop in Pittsburgh told me, "...that's a good wine."

As the "grilled meat of my choice" is always capicola when it comes to my Primanti sandwich, I immediately thought that the Evolution might be my wine for the job. Because we know from history that the blends Sokol Blosser make are capable of going with a variety of foods, I thought I'd give it a try.

The spicy undertones of the grilled capicola was complimented by the subdued sweetness of this 13th edition of Evolution. The peppery nature of the vinegar based coleslaw was nicely balanced by the bright fruit notes of the wine. The Primanti sandwich, which on it's face is a hardworking sandwich for a hardworking town, is really designed to be accompanied by an Iron City Beer, or if you're feeling fancy, a Yuengling. As anyone from Pittsburgh can tell you, the real element to why Sokol Blosser's Evolution goes so well with a Primanti's sandwich is because it's a wine that doesn't take itself too seriously. Displaying snootiness in Pittsburgh could leave you with a black eye. Sokol Blosser, with its no-nonsense approach to good wine, fits right in.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is #WAMerlot, Exactly?

Has the staff at The Oregon Wine Blog turned its back on the future?

Social media seems to be the cutting edge. Just when you think you've got this whole blog thing down, you have to learn the twitter machine. Then, you think you've figured out the best content for your wine-centric readers, and you look around and realize you're the only Northwest wine blog not dripping in sexual innuendo. (We gotta do something about this, fellas.) And me, being the old man of the blog, I've got enough to overcome just to learn the lingo of these young punks. So here I am trying to take The Oregon Wine Blog one step into the technological future.

Next Thursday, before the madness of Taste Washington begins in earnest, a twitter event of spectacular proportions will be taking place. The event, organized by "Look Out! There's a guitar behind you!" Josh of the wine blog DrinkNectar, is a spin off of a #CaliCabs event that took place earlier this year. (Or so I've been told.) #WAMerlot is an opportunity for you, the drinker who uses the twitter machine, to taste and tweet about it all at the same time. The event takes place on Thursday March 25 and it can really happen anywhere. Granted, you need Merlot (from Washington), a mouth, and the twitter machine. (You should probably have some way to open the bottle as well.)

What you do next is simple and fun: you drink the Merlot and you tweet about it. (Tweeting is what you do on the twitter machine.) In order to fully participate you should also end your tweet with the following: "#WAMerlot" (the young people tell me this is called a hash tag). There are several Washington wineries, about 80 or so (the goal is 100) participating and several of the twitterati (the goal is 1,000) will be tasting and tweeting from living rooms, tasting rooms, barrel rooms, all sorts of rooms. The hope is to have the "largest simultaneous tasting of Washington wines ever."

In addition to the wineries and twitterati there are ten "prominent and influential Washington wine writers/bloggers from across the state." We didn't make that list, either. While it's clear we have some work to do here at The Oregon Wine Blog, it'll have to wait, because yours truly is participating in #WAMerlot, tweeting from Full Pull Wines in Seattle and then there's Taste Washington to go to. In an effort to redeem us I am currently campaigning for "Most Handsome Wineblogger" at the World Wine Blog Awards of the World. Hell, I'm not getting any younger.

To participate in #WAMerlot, register here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Your Outlet to Value Wine

About two years ago, Micheal mentioned that he had purchased some wine at Grocery Outlet, per the suggestion of a colleague who was a wine writer in a former life.  Being a young and "somewhat snooty" wine connoisseur at the time, immediately visions of Charles Shaw and Robert Mondavi Private Label flashed through my head.  I recall seriously questioning Micheal's judgement at that time and in fact, he was almost excommunicated from the ranks of The Oregon Wine Blog as a result. As usual, when I'm being a snob about something, I'm usually wrong - and this was certainly no exception.  It just took a few years for me to come to that realization.

In October I was attending a meeting in Yakima with Clive, and one night after our meetings he cracked open a Syrah from the Yakima Valley that I particularly enjoyed.  Upon polishing off the bottle, I inquired as to it's origin.  Grocery Outlet was the source.  Clive shared that he buys wine by the case there, and you'd be a damn fool if you didn't.  The proof in my belly, I reconsidered my reticence for bargain shopping.

You see, what I failed to consider was in fact the genius of the business model of Grocery Outlet -- capitalize on the overload of better wine in the supply chain right now, grabbing it at a deep discount which is passed on to customers.  Based out of Berkeley, California, Grocery Outlet has over 130 locations in all of the Western states frequented by TOWB staff.  Initially offering a selection of wine from newer producers, the current economic state of the US has allowed Grocery Outlet to offer some older, better established wines at 50 - 70% off of normal retail price.

An aside about the economy for a may have noticed we are still in a bit of a recession.  In talking to winemakers over the past few months, a number have shared significant difficulty in moving some of the ultra-premium wine they produce -- think of the stuff over $35.  This hit home for me when I was able to procure a bottle of Col Solare at Costco for a 33% discount.  Point is none of us have the cash money to frivolously spend on wine, so why not find a value option for good juice?  This is a serious issue in the industry right now, and Grocery Outlet has found a solution.

Recently we had the opportunity to sample two wines provided by Grocery Outlet as part of this piece.  Those wines were:

  • Casa La Joya Chardonnay, Colchagua Valley (retail price $25, Grocery Outlet price $6.99)
  • Glass Mountain Merlot, Napa Valley (retail price $7.99, Grocery Outlet price $2.99)
Both wines were enjoyed by our guests, but the hit of the evening was the price point.  $2.99 for a Merlot that tastes like a $12 bottle?  Outstanding.  I can see why Clive buys a case.  As part of our research, we stopped by the local Grocery Outlet to see the offerings.  We found a larger than expected wine section, and while nothing was jumping out to us at that point in time, we saw many customers leaving very happy.  It's the joy of the search, and with an ever-changing supply you never know when you'll walk through the door and find that gem.  

So I feel like I'm rambling, so I'll quit. In summary, try Grocery Outlet for some great value wine -- it will surprise you.  Don't be a "damn fool."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Upcoming Event: Taste Washington from The Washington Wine Comission

There are only about two weeks left until Taste Washington in Seattle on March 27th and 28th. An event of epic proportions, that includes Saturday Seminars the likes of which any experienced NW oenophile only dreams about. Sunday concludes with the tasting to end all tastings, the aptly named Grand Tasting. Taste Washington is one of the largest region specific wine events in the world, and it's coming to Seattle for the lucky 13th year.

The Washington Wine Commission sees Taste Washington as an opportunity not only to show the state's wares, but also to give it's serious wine audience some amazing opportunities to meet and speak with some of the state's growers and legendary vintners. This event is the culmination of that opportunity. If you are serious about wine in Washington, this is perhaps that time to smash the piggy bank and throw yourself headlong into a weekend of learning about what it is you've spent all that time collecting and drinking.

I counted about 216 wine and cider makers just in scrolling through the website. 216, which is a whole lotta wine. The Washington Wine Commission takes their events seriously from a production standpoint, but they're also serious about the education of their consumers. Yours truly will be covering the event for The Oregon Wine Blog, and I am thrilled at the opportunity.

While the public events kick of on Saturday with the seminars, there are also the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards on Friday the 26th. The Washington Wine industry recognizes it's industry supporters, with recognition going to Sommelier of the Year, Restaurant of the Year, Most Innovative Wine List and more.

Seminars on Saturday will include food and wine pairing with Seattle's own Tom Douglas, a lesson on one of Washington's most distinguished terroirs, Boushey Vineyards, and peek inside the legendary Quilceda Creek. These are the kinds of opportunities Northwest winos dream about. To hear Dick Boushey and some of his devoted vintners talk about the essence of Washington fruit could be a "pinch me" kind of occasion.

The Grand Tasting on Sunday is truly grand, with almost one third of the entire wine industry in the state pouring. What is also exciting is that some growers will be pouring wines using their fruit, which is a unique opportunity as a wino to really get to the root of the matter. The folks at Taste Washington have also brought together 75 different culinary options, which will include small bites to pair with your wine, as well as cooking and other demos.

But a point to stress is that the idea is to Taste Washington not, Get Hammered on Washington, and so the Washington Wine Commission is out to make spitting hip. They want to emphasize, tasting (it's not called Drink Washington). So for those of you going to the Grand Tasting remember that it's "Hip to Spit" and quite frankly, with 216 options on the day, it's the only way you're going to get out of there on your own two feet.

Tickets are still available and they're also looking for volunteers if you're interested in getting involved and getting a discount. I hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Portteus Winery

1 comment
"I know where it is..."

On our recent trip to Washington, Clive mentioned that he had been to Portteus before, and since we were in the Yakima area, Josh, Rick, Clive and myself made the drive down to Zillah, Washington to visit Portteus Winery. We had a window of about 2 hours, and we were all confident we could get to Portteus, do a tasting, and make it back within that time.

Not long after we got off of 82 in Zillah, the three of us left our destination in the hands of Clive. But then we made a right turn when we should have made a left, or was it a left turn when we should have made a right? Either way a wrong turn was made and we were left trying to find our way to a place that only one person knew definitely existed. It probably didn't help that Rick and I (okay maybe I more than Rick) were fairly certain we had seen the signs for Portteus on a wine tour we had done about four days earlier. Clive maintained that he was pretty sure we were on the right track, and we continued looking.

Everything around looked familiar, but we were in orchards in the middle of February, with not many buildings around - hence everything looked the same - so none of us really thought we might be lost. Just in case we might be lost, Rick and I pulled out our trusty pieces of technology that should work in these situations. No, not a GPS, but rather he with his iPhone and I with my BlackBerry attempted to find out where the heck we were and how far we were from Portteus. We were men on a mission damnit, and that mission was to find this place and try the wines. We made left turns and right turns and u-turns, after getting to a couple of dead ends - looking for signs.

Then Clive's phone rang, it was Gwynne, she was running early and was about to get into Yakima. Clive informed her that we were near the winery and he had left her name with the hotel so she could check into his room. A few moments later, Josh's gas light came on. He reassured us that it just mean he had less than 50 miles before he would have run out of gas. Then, when almost all hope was lost, we saw a directional sign. And after passing a couple of roads we had previously been on, we found our way to Portteus Winery.

We saw the warehouse and the house with a Spanish Tile roof across the driveway. The sign on the warehouse read "If door is locked, please ring bell." The bell was rang and a couple seconds later, Brian (at least I think that was his name. I am going to say that it is, and I apologize in advance to him if that is incorrect), the son of the owner, to let us and another pair of gentlemen who had arrived in to do some tasting.

Over the course of roughly 45 minutes, we tried about seven different wines, ranging from Zinfandel to Port to Petite Syrah, to various blends. During the tasting there was entertaining banter that occurred between all of us. Brian jokingly talked about his friends inviting him to things, but only if he brings wine with him. Clive also discovered that Portteus put out a game he and Gwynne recently found - I don't recall anything about the game - and he talked a bit about his frustrations with figuring it all out. Brian cleverly mentioned that it was all in the directions.

We all found and left the winery with something that we liked. We made it back to Yakima in a timely manner, after getting gas, and realized how just one wrong turn was what left us wandering around outside of Zillah.

The wine I choose was the 2008 Rattlesnake Red. As per the bottle, this is a blend made up of 48% Cab Sauv, 25% Zin, 17% Sangiovese, and 10% Merlot.

I decided that this bottle of wine would be the first wine that I would consume as I began my fourth decade, and I partook in it with a colleague of mine, Zac, a couple of nights ago. I opened the bottle and let it breathe for about 30 minutes. Upon pouring the wine, both Zac and I thought the dark, rich color was amazing. We were somewhat taken aback by the full rich nose that existed with spices and wood abounding. We both liked the flavor, but Zac was not a fan of dryness of this wine, while I found it a bit refreshing. Zac had difficulty finishing his because it was just a bit too dry for him, but other than that he was able to enjoy the other aspects of it. I found pretty much everything about this wine enjoyable :-)

I would be interested to read how Clive, Josh, and Rick liked their wines from Portteus, while I am sure you all would be interested as well.

As a side note, please know this is not a post that picks on Clive's directional attributes, it just happened to be part of the story :-)

Until next time...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seattle Food & Wine Experience:

1 comment
A recent sunny Sunday afternoon found at the Seattle Center for the long awaited Seattle Food and Wine Experience; a truly global sampling of wine, beer and food. Gwynne and I arrived a bit late but with plenty of time to check out the scene. The F&W Experience was crawling with winemakers, owners, and twitterati.

Seeing some old friends like Rachel from Terra Blanca and Jay from DeLille Cellars made us feel comfortable right away. It was doubly nice to have a chance to sample the ONYX and the Chaleur Estate Blanc.

The event was certainly bumping by the time we arrived, with a long, long line for Kathy Casey's cookbook signing. People were chatting and there was certainly a buzz in the air. The event was set up with the Northwest winemakers front and center - as they should be - with Australia, France, Argentina, Spain, and California further in the back.

There were breweries and a variety of other vendors, including elaborate salts and pepper grinders as well as wine tours and adventure trips.

The event included cooking demos and tasty bites from several area restaurants. Some of the highlights included Salty's on Alki, who served very addictive Milk Chocolate and Sea Salt clusters and a phenomenal Ono Ceviche; Ray's Boathouse came out with Alaskan King Salmon Gravad Lax with Pummelo and Rye Toast. I didn't get a chance to pair these bites with a particular wine, but the tasty bites help our palates stay engaged a little longer, and they also staved off intoxication just a little bit. For some of us anyways.

At any event where you pay an admission ($49 in advance or $59 at the door, ours was waived) for an "unlimited" access to alcohol, you'll see some folks who look or sound like they never left college. There were three guys in particular who stood out, one of whom looked a bit...lost, and two jokers we encountered at the Grand Reve table. They had no real business drinking Grand Reve at this point, as they probably wouldn't appreciate it.

For the most part people were enjoying the various wineries (responsibly) and their wide array of options. In addition to old friends there were other wines I've had before including Anam Cara, a small producer of Oregon Pinot was on the list of those I had to sample. I first came across Anam Cara on one of our first Willamette Valley trips when they were pouring at August Cellars. I held onto that wine for a few years before having it with friends at a nice meal. They make deep, thoughtful pinot that you really need to spend time with.

Hard Row to Hoe, who is constantly coming across my twitter feed thanks to @seattlewinegal (who has probably posted 22 tweets in the time its going to take you to read this) is a wine I'd not yet tasted. Don was pouring the Primitivo and the Barbera. Both were excellent. I preferred the Barbera, which was dark and brooding and had a flavor profile that certainly has it standing out among Washington wines.

One of the most interesting wines I had was the 2008 biodynamic Syrah from NHV, or Naches Heights Vineyards. The wine had a very floral bouquet, yet the palate was more common of Washington Syrah. Phil Cline and I decided to we needed to meet some time in the future out in Yakima so he can give me the scoop on his biodynamic operations.

The Seattle Food & Wine Experience was most certainly a good time. Some of the finest wine in the Northwest was on hand, as well as options from across the globe. Truth be told, my provincialism got in the way of tasting some of it (Gwynne was much more geographically adventurous). From savory seafood samples to cupcakes (none of which lasted long) to entertainment, the Food and Wine Experience had it all. Each attendee received a commemorative wine glass and memories of wine food and fun. Those three guys I mentioned earlier - probably not so many memories, so at least they got that glass.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Be a Wino on Reddit

Reddit.  Heard of it?  If you're not a nerd, geek, dork, or otherwise addicted to the Intertubes there is a good chance you haven't.  It's ok, though, there is the form of The Oregon Wine Blog (and our favorite source for facts, Wikipedia).

In layman's terms, Reddit is a social news aggregation site,  on which users can post links to content on the Internet. Other users may then vote the posted links up or down, causing them to become more or less prominent on the reddit home page.  Owned by Conde Naste Digital, Reddit has a number of topical sections called "subreddits".  For tech geeks, it's all open source.  For the rest of us, it's a fabulous forum to learn such fun facts as "Iron Chef Secret Ingredients - A Complete List Of All The 'Secret Ingredients' Ever Used On Iron Chef" and other things that you've always wondered about.

OK, so why do we care?  Let me cut to the chase.  There is a wine related subreddit that currently has 438 listed readers.  It hasn't been very active, so Rick and I started posting relevant links to try to spread TOWB  spirit in a new forum.  Well, within 5 minutes of posting each link, our POSTS WERE DELETED by the moderator.  Whether they didn't fit his perspective of what should be on his subreddit, or, whether he was just awed that our journalistic ability out shined his, we'll never know.  What I do know is that we don't like having our voice squelched or our links removed, so the goal immediately became forming our own, more active subreddit related to wine - a la The Oregon Wine Blog.

Enter the Wino Subreddit, proudly brought to you by the folks at The Oregon Wine Blog.  Check it out. Post some links.  Upvote your favorites.  Add some comments.  Help us make it more freakin' popular than the other one that rejected our philosophy on wine like our stomachs reject NightTrain.  Vindictive, sure.  We really believe this is a new outlet to get folks involved in the wine experience...with your help.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Flight of the ONYX at Terra Blanca

On our recent trip to the Yakima Valley, Gwynne and I decided to venture out to Red Mountain and the Terra Blanca facilities, which had come highly recommended. Josh emailed ahead and let owner and winemaker Keith Pilgrim know we were coming.

At Terra Blanca, we introduced ourselves and owner and winemaker Keith and marketing genius Heather gave us a rundown of the history of Terra Blanca and a sneak preview into some of their upcoming changes. They're good ones, for sure. We also met Casey the Weimaraner, Heather's arch nemesis at Terra Blanca.

Keith and Heather gave us a tour of the facility. It's magnificent - from caves (caves!) to enormous doors to beautiful views from the terrace. The caves are naturally climate controlled and are hidden behind some serious doors.

As we were wrapping up the tour and our visit, ReNae Pilgrim asked if had a schedule and if we were at all interested in sticking around. The staff was having a lunch meeting in preparation for the 2006 Onyx release that was coming up that weekend. Gwynne and I said that we'd be thrilled to be their guests. (We had no idea just how thrilled we'd be.)

We walked around the corner and before us sat two pizzas and the entire vertical flight of ONYX; nine years worth of their signature Bordeaux blend. Keith, who got his start as geologist, named this wine for the deep dark gem. The ONYX is built to last, and Heather cited a Wine Spectator article that recently named three or four places in the world that turned out wines that were grown for the long haul. Red Mountain Cabernet and Merlot were on that list.

Terra Blanca describes ONYX as a "family portrait" of the Terra Blanca vineyards, and that portrait includes Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The blend varies from year to year because the fruit is different every year, and the variation allows the character of the vineyards for that year be expressed in the wine.

We started with the 1999, still a big bold wine. A wine that Keith described as "wearing boxing gloves." The grapes had a long hang time in 1999, with a very long growing season, making the vintage of the wine a unique one.

From there we moved to the 2000, which Keith feels is nearly at its peak. The 1998, which we drank immediately afterward, was the first wine to really come into it's own. Both wines are the product of hot seasons and are therefore maturing more quickly. The '98 blend saw 50% Merlot which resulted in soft tannins and a lot of chocolate.

We went next to 1997 which Keith thinks will peak in 8-10 years. It's 90% Cabernet, and is still bright. This was the first year of ONYX, with the estates planted in 1993. The vines were relatively young, in their fifth leaf, and Keith expects this wine will really come into it's own.

2001 was the next wine we tasted; it was very similar to the 97. The label looked like a Francis Bacon painting. This particular vintage used a higher percentage of new oak and the wine has a smoothness and elegance that stood out from its peers.

2002 was another warm growing season, similar to the '98 and 2000. It will likely mature faster than some of the older wines. Keith though prefers the more even temperature years. The fruit is more predictable and you have a good sense of what you can do with it. The 2003, which we tasted next, was likened to the 1997 wines because of the similar structure in the wines. This vintage, however, will take a few years to reveal itself. 2004 was a freeze year, and so only about one third of the crop was available.

The 2005 wine was my favorite, and brought out what is perhaps a first (in my hearing, at any rate): Heather called it crunked. Keith cited an change in oak that broadened the wine and gave it an elegance. The 2005 also introduced a new clone of Petit Verdot that fares a bit better in the Washington climate. He was pleased that I liked it the most as his goal was "to get better at what I'm doing."

The new release, the 2006 was also very good, and Keith turned up the Cab Franc and Petit Verdot ratios on this wine. His goal is to make a wine that's more approachable early. While ONYX is a reflection of the vintage, of that family portrait, it's also a reflection of Keith's maturation as a winemaker. He compared the wines to lego sets; the more sets you have, and the more experience, the more intricate things you can create. Keith talked about his process, of "thinking about this and trying to do something with a goal in mind. We're trying to get better with the choices we're making." When I asked Keith what he thought about the entire flight, and how they were maturing he revealed that he's so caught up in what he has going on in the current vintages that he doesn't give it so much thought.

My favorite thought Keith shared was "Wine is supposed to be fun. If you can figure out how to get the cork out of the bottle, you should be able to enjoy it." Well, we certainly had fun on this day. Being able to taste through the entire history of Terra Blanca, and spend some time with Keith, ReNae, Heather, and the staff was a fantastic experience and showed me a lot about how a wine and a winemaker can change and evolve. We certainly enjoyed it, and we'll be back to visit soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

B.R. Cohn Winery

I first discovered B.R. Cohn Winery while still living in Washington. After proposing, my fiancĂ©e Katie and I knew we wanted to get married at a winery in Sonoma. Living so far away we were forced to make a decision by pictures that family and friends sent to us. The beauty of B.R. Cohn’s property and the ability to get up close and personal with the grape vines immediately sold us and we were married here in June 2009. Having relocated back to the area, it didn’t take us long to revisit this wonderful place and the charming town of Glen Ellen, CA.
Upon entering the tasting room you notice a couple things pretty quickly. First, the tasting room staff seems to be having fun, talking, and laughing with each other and whatever tasters are present. The second thing you notice is the art pieces throughout the room seem to have a theme...rock-n-roll. That is because in addition to founding and running the winery, Bruce Cohn also serves as the manager for classic rock artists, The Doobie Brothers. This rare blend of wine and classic rock creates a casual atmosphere to enjoy consistently great wine.
Situated on the Olive Hill Estate grounds, named for the groves of Picholine olive trees, B.R. Cohn focuses much of its estate on growing Cabernet Sauvignon with smaller patches of Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The climate on the Olive Hill Estate along with the natural hot springs underneath creates grapes with intense flavors and unique characteristics. On our most recent trip to B.R. Cohn, Katie and I tasted two lesser known blends, the 2007 Sonoma Valley SyrCab and the 2007 Sonoma Valley SyrZin.

Now you all are smart people and I am sure you can guess which two varietals make up each of these wines but the taste is something you have to experience. With 77% Syrah and 23% Cabernet the SyrCab has an intense nose of cherry and plum fruit. Upon first taste this wine is smooth, much like you would expect from Syrah. However, the Cabernet sneaks up on you at the end and leaves your mouth very full, enjoying this wine long after it is gone.
A new venture, the SyrZin is a 50/50 blend from three different Syrah vineyards and a low-yield Zinfandel vineyard. I went into this wine really not knowing what to expect. Unlike the SyrCab, the Syrah takes a backseat and allows the spiciness and the bite of the Zinfandel to catch you off guard first before it comes in and mellows the intensity. The staff recommended trying this wine with any grilled meat or a spicy Italian dish.
B.R. Cohn provides a safe environment to explore your own tastes as well as enjoy some of the risks the winemaker takes to produce unique profiles. My next posts will be from an upcoming visit with TOWB’s very own Josh Gana down in California wine country.


Wine Country Dining: Yakima's Barrel House


Downtown Yakima has a few gems when it comes to dining options. One of those is most certainly Barrel House. I stumbled upon the Barrel House several years ago as the result of a recommendation by a winemaker I'd met in the Rattlesnake Hills. When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to introduce The Oregon Wine Blog to the Barrel House based on fond memories.

My first impression made me a little nervous. Our party of ten was there on a Monday and there wasn't a soul in the place. We had made reservations and the waitress/bartender showed us to our seats. The Barrel House has an impressive selection of Yakima Valley and Washington wines and the prices are really unbeatable; the mark up is a negligible $5 to $10 dollars a bottle. That's an incredible bargain.

I got us started by ordering the Kana Masterpiece 2007, Portteus Malbec 2005, and McKinley Springs 2004 Cabernet. We also asked for the Boudreaux Cellars 2005 Cabernet to be decanted for dinner.

Our meal started out with a variety of appetizers and salads and we were soon on to the main course. My initial nervousness went away as soon as the waitress asked me how I'd like my duck done. This is generally a sign that people know what they're doing.

Between the ten of us we had a variety of entrees; duck with a crispy skin, a beautifully displayed pork shank, scallops that melted in your mouth and perfectly done steak. The food was excellent, and what was truly amazing was that Tim did all of this on his own. I mean that literally - there was one guy in the kitchen; no sous chef; no help. All of our plates came at once, they were all hot, and they were all tender. The duck had perfect balance between the crisp skin with the tender breast. We had to order another bottle of wine as well, and went with the Thurston Wolfe 06 Petite Sirah. None of us had room for dessert.

We thanked Tim for one hell of a meal, and asked about the crowd. He had told us that it was slower through the winter, but that over the weekend they would be slammed. There are a handful of really nice restaurants in Yakima and Barrel House certainly heads up that list. The entrees are a little expensive, but the wine prices are beyond reasonable. If you're in town, I recommend this be your first choice for dinner in Yakima.

Painted Lady Restaurant on Urbanspoon