Friday, April 30, 2010

Believe the Hype...Jon Martinez and Maison Bleue Winery

I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know about Maison Bleue wines before four or five months ago. I learned about them when I did a post on some of the amazing white wines Kana Winery has been making. A reader sent me an email to tell me that if I didn't know the Roussanne that Maison Bleue was making, I didn't know diddly. I hate to admit this, but it would seem that at the time, I didn't know diddly. But I'm a quick learner.

I contacted Jon and asked about buying his Roussanne; they were all sold out in Seattle and I couldn't get my hands on one. Jon did me one better and sent me samples of six wines, opening up a can of elegant Rhone tradition whoopass on my ignorant palate. The wines Jon sent me included two bottles of Syrah, two bottles of Grenache and one bottle each of Viognier and Roussane. Believe me when I tell you that Maison Bleue is making some of the best Rhone style wines at their price point in the state of Washington, and maybe some of the best such wines regardless of price. All of the wines Jon sent me were 2008s. Given that, I can only imagine how Jon's earlier releases are drinking right now.

Jon's wine and his philosophy show a deeply respectful nod to tradition while also showcasing the excellent terroir of Washington. His mission is "True dedication to purity of fruit and distinction of site." That results in single-AVA and mostly single-vineyard varietals from sites within the Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and Snipes Mountain AVAs. Jon is using acclaimed vineyards Alder Ridge, Boushey and Olsen Estates, to name a few.

All of this commitment to tradition would lead you to the conclusion that Jon's wine education came from a legendary wine experience in the old world. You'd be close. Jon got his start in Kansas, as a dentist. So it's pretty much the story you're used to.

The two Syrahs, the Liberte ($39) from Boushey Vineyards and La Roque ($25) from Alder Ridge and Wallula Vineyards, were two very different expressions of 2008 Washington Syrah. The Boushey fruit brought the characteristic beauty of Washington Syrah, while the Horse Heaven Hills Syrah was a bolder, spicier exemplar of what is traditionally a hot site, even in a cool year. Jon's Syrahs are more refined than you will often find, and I was very impressed with what he did with this HHH fruit. These are the first of 2008 Syrah that I've had the pleasure to drink and I was really impressed where these wines were in such a short time.

The Grenaches were a real treat. Jon sent the 2008 La Montagnette ($25) from Alder Ridge and the Le Midi ($29) from Boushey Vineyards. Both of these wines were blended with a tiny bit of Syrah for color, which also adds to the structure of the wine. These were two of the most deep garnet and beautiful wines I've laid eyes on. The balance on the wines and the acidity made them incredible with food.

The whites were both amazing wines, the La Vallee du Soleil ($25) Roussanne from Olsen Vineyard and the Notre Vie ($20) Viognier. The Viognier is one of the best I've had, and at $20, it's phenomenally priced. It's got brighter fruit notes, which are typical of the varietal, and hails from a vineyard I've never heard of: Art Den Hoed Vineyard. The Roussanne, which is what prompted me to contact Jon, was really special. The Olsen vineyard fruit recommitted me to my opinion that Roussanne is the quintessential white wine for red wine drinkers. The Roussanne had more savory notes, as opposed to some of the bright fruit you get from other white varietals and the complexity was all there.

Jon set out to "make ultra premium wines from designated vineyards and appellations across Washington." He's certainly accomplished that goal. Jon has done some magic, though, in keeping his wines priced in the $20-$30 range. That's a real treat because while it may not be your budget for an everyday wine, Maison Bleue wines will give you a wine experience that is easily worth two to three times the price, proving that not all wine experiences need come with a hefty price tag.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vino Collabos...Northwest Wine Collaborations

From the Urban Dictionary: collabo : slang for collaboration
image from
Winemaking is a collaborative work. In the Northwest I've met so many winemakers who rely other winemakers for their help, advice, barrels, yeast, etc. Winemakers and wineries in general are very supportive of one another and it's pretty uncommon to hear one winemaker badmouth another. That's not to say it doesn't happen or that winemaking is Shangri La, but the industry is largely a cooperative one with a lot of collaboration.

The sharing of barrels, borrowing of extra bottles and consultations on wine making is par for the course. I want to take a step beyond that and talk specifically about intentional or unusual Northwest wine collaborations. And over the next however long it takes me, I'll be featuring some collaborations that are highly effective, original or interesting. These collaborations may have been planned every step of the way, or look more like a happy accident.

Collaborative efforts in winemaking are often done out of necessity, or serendipity. Gifford Hirlinger's collaboration with Napa California's Lewelling Vineyards is a product of necessity. The Grand Reve project and Long Shadows are examples of collaboration done to produce a particular kind of wine, or to marry an esteemed winemaker or skilled craftsmen to the perfect fruit or terroir, or both. Some collaborations, like Long Shadows and Col Solare, pair old world tradition with the world class fruit and terroir of Washington.

Recently Washington has become home to some celebrity collabos, with actors and athletes partnering with winemakers to come up with something that speaks to their passion about wines. Doubleback and Pursued by Bear wines are made by Washington natives Drew Bledsoe and Kyle McLaughlin with the help of some Washington winemaking heavy hitters. Having pursued careers in sports and Dune, they have returned to their roots, and have planted vines.

"Collabos," as the kids like to call them, allow talented artists, craftspeople, rappers, etc to come together and put their gifts together in a way that benefit an audience. We'll explore how those collaborations benefit wine, and ultimately the wine drinker. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Anderson Family Vineyard; Patience is a Virtue

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My recent Taste Washington experience taught me that while I may know a bit about the wineries here in the Northwest, there are so many wineries I've never heard of and that I still have a lot to learn.
When I looked for a Willamette Valley winery that I was unfamiliar with, I was excited to read about Anderson Family Vineyards.

I called Cliff Anderson and told him that Gwynne and I would be traveling down to Newberg, Oregon to stay at the new destination resort The Allison Inn & Spa. Cliff was eager to talk and even on the phone I could tell this was going to be a great visit. He was very excited about what he and his wife were doing with the vineyards. Anderson Family was just on the other side of the valley from the Inn's location and was a perfect fit for us based on our schedule.

Anderson Family Vineyards is in a beautiful setting atop a pretty steep hill. The view from the Anderson Valley facility was spectacular - a nearly 360º view out over the valley, looking at Chehalem Mountain. From their property, we could take in all of the valley as well as the Dundee Hills. Cliff and Allison invited us in to their tasting room, which also held steel tanks with the 2008 Pinot nearly ready to be bottled. Allison poured us some 2009 Pinot Gris, and the Andersons started to give us the rundown of the operation.

Cliff started making wine in high school, and they both got into wine simply because they enjoyed growing things as a hobby. They planted their first vineyard in 1978, with the 108 Chardonnay clone out of California, a practice common to early Willamette Valley viticulture. In their first go-round, the Andersons grew nearly everything from Cabernet to Pinot, from Gewurtztraminer to Syrah, all in Oregon. Time, trial and error, and the collaboration of the other area viticulturists helped them determine what grows best in the Willamette Valley.

After a two and a half year search for land that was not only suitable, but had a view equivalent to the one they would be leaving, the site the Andersons chose is not only beautiful, it's effective. They planted twenty acres on one of the steepest vineyards in the state of Oregon; the grade in some places is 40%. They largely planted Pinot Noir with a good bit of Chardonnay worked in there. The Andersons sell much of their fruit to renowned Oregon winemakers Bergstrom and Boedecker to name a few.

This brings us back to that glass of Pinot Gris we started with, which was an accident, in the most literal sense. When the Andersons lost a few rows of Chardonnay vines, they needed some vines to fill in the holes, and picked up some young plantings. Three years later, what they had thought to be Chardonney vines turned out to be Pinot Gris.

The 2006 Chardonnay really surprised me. It was really incredible. When I go to Oregon, I look forward to digging into Pinot Noir, and that's what I expect to stand out at each place. At Anderson Family Vineyard, this Chardonnay stood out for me. The Chardonnay is fermented partially in the barrel and partially in steel tanks and the oak worked very well with the spice and herbal notes. It was complex and very smooth.

After the Chardonnay, we moved on to their Pinot Noir. Anderson Family grows a variety of Pinot Noir clones, including 115, 667, 777, Wadenswil and Pommard. Their Pinot is a combination of all of these grapes. Though the 2006 Pinot is, of course, a fine example of this darling vintage, Cliff was really excited about his 2007, a vintage he feels has not gotten its due. While the 2007 was largely panned by critics, the winemakers call it a favorite. Cliff suspects the 2007s were reviewed before they were ready and they're just now coming into their own. We also got a shot at the 2008 Pinot which was hanging out in a steel tank getting ready to go into the bottle. The 2008 was young, but you could already get a sense that this wine is going to be impressive.

As Cliff and Allison took us through the barrel room, we listened to the 2009 Pinot going through secondary fermentation and the Chardonnay bubbling through primary fermentation. Cliff explained the secret behind the success of Anderson Family's excellent wines is patience: "We're not in a hurry."

Cliff and Allison are fortunate to be in a position where they aren't rushing the next vintage out to market. Most of their estate fruit is sold to other well regarded Willamette Valley vintners. When they select fruit for their own label, they're looking to reflect the patience they've shown with their vineyard, as well as with the wine making process. They keep barrels for a long time, and they keep the wine in the barrel as long as they can. "We've been slow and deliberate about our entire process, vintage to vintage and with this entire operation." The Andersons keep everything small and they made 1500 cases of wine in 2009.

Anderson Family Vineyards is a reflection of the unique terroir and their incredible dedication to their fruit. They have been painstakingly deliberate about their site, clone selection, and the process that their wine goes through. Not only is a patience a virtue, in this case it makes an excellent Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills, and hands down one of the best Chardonnays I've ever had.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Perfect Saturday Destination - Avalon Wine

If you're reading this when it posts, it's Saturday morning and hopefully you are lounging around in pajamas, sipping a nice cup of coffee, while pondering what the day holds for you. If you are performing said activities in the greater Corvallis region, downtown needs to be your destination, oh around 11:00 AM. Why, you ask? Well let me tell you. It involves food and wine, the focal point of my existence.

Downtown Corvallis on Saturdays is the "bees knees" for greater than or equal to two reasons. First, the Farmer's Market opened last weekend for the season. The market is a fabulous opportunity to stroll, browse, carouse, see the colorful people, buy the colorful produce, and just have a great time. It closes at 1:00 PM. Head there at 11:00 AM, spend an hour, and then...

Wander to Avalon Wine, located at 201 SW 2nd Street. You see, the great thing about Avalon on Saturday is the fact that they have free wine tasting. Every Saturday. Always free. Avalon strikes a great balance between bringing in distributors who will sample a variety of wineries and local winemakers who will pour their wine and hearts out to you at the same time. Today, Avalon will be hosting Denise from Triage Wines, a local distributor specializing in fine value wines. She'll be pouring offerings from Syncline, McKinley Springs, and some french offerings.

Avalon has long been the local wine shop of choice in Corvallis for The Oregon Wine Blog, they always have a great selection of local and hard to get wines and a reasonable price. Great staff, too. We've got some exciting partnership initiatives in the works with Avalon in the near future.

So, convinced yet? Come on, get up off your butt and head downtown. I certainly would...if I weren't in the Yakima Valley for Spring Barrel Tasting at this very moment. Magic, you ask? No...just the magic of scheduling posts.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2008 OCSW Pinot Noir Sneak Peak on Earth Day

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The fine folks at Willamette Valley Vineyards have taken sustainability seriously for quite some time. One such initiative has been their Cork Reharvest program started in 2008. Since then, it has grown to such importance that one lucky couple won a trip to Portugal for recycling 202.1 pounds of cork at the Energy Trust Better Living Show.  Their wines have long been Salmon Safe and the tasting room screams "green".

To take things a step further, Willamette Valley Vineyards is about to release their first Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) in the form of two Pinot Noirs. What's required for OCSW certification? In short, 97% of the fruit has to fall under at least one other certification, 100% of the grapes must be from Oregon, the bottling facilities themselves are certified by other agencies, and 97% of the fruit must be certified Salmon-Safe. The longer explanation can be found at OCSW's site.

While you can't get your hands on their 2008 OCSW Pinot Noir quite yet, Christine at WVV was generous enough to send us a bottle to preview. It may be a while until you see this wine in stores, but their Estate version for sale over Memorial Day weekend. We thought about letting it sit around for a bit, but what better day to pop an incredibly sustainable wine than on Earth Day?

This wine brings hues of tobacco, pomegranate or cranberry, strawberry, and presents itself as fruit-forward laced with a hint of earthiness. It's a bit tart and could stand sitting for a bit, but they obviously know that as this is a pre-release. Very solid pinot and even more impressive that this is their entry-level offering. I'd even go as far as to say even in its current state I enjoy it more than the 2007 offering and think it's going to be a big hit.

Sustainability initiatives from WVV and other Oregon wineries is one of the many things that completely distinguishes Oregon from other wine-growing regions of the world. Sustainability is an initiative that's been important to the state of Oregon for quite some time and it's incredible to see winemakers taking it to new heights. Kudos to every Oregon wine grower out there helping promote this movement and thanks again to WVV for taking it to the forefront of their business.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tainted Love: When TCA Ruins a Good Day


If you drink enough wine, the sad reality is that you're going to experience cork taint. The culprit, you ask? 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. This article, though, is not so much about cork taint, because there are plenty more credible sources for that. This article is about what happens now. You've pulled the cork on a wine, be it one you've been holding onto for a few years or one you just picked up at the store or tasting room, and it's tainted.

Well, first off your reaction will probably range somewhere between "meh" and full on rage. And this reaction will be directly in proportion to your expectation; thats the anticipation of a wine that has long been shelved waiting for a special occasion (think full on rage) to some friends are coming over and you picked up a "nice" bottle for dinner.

This article has come about because over the last few months, I've had an increased number of encounters with cork taint. Another of our blog's writers was planning on a writing about a bottle he'd been holding onto for a couple years and that wine ended up having cork taint. So I thought I'd write about the aftermath of a cork taint encounter.

First off I would encourage you, as a reader and drinker of wines, to do a few things. Change glasses and try the wine again, and give it about 15 or 20 minutes and come back to it, especially if the wine has been in your winerack for an extended period. Wines are organic in that they're changing and morphing in the bottle all the time, that's what we love about them. The sudden exposure to oxygen may have freaked the wine out a little bit, but it may come around. However, it may not. Be a little bit patient and give it a shot; if you've been holding the bottle 3 years, you can wait 20 more minutes.

I was once tasting wine with a winemaker and one of the staff insisted that the wine was corked. My wine smelled amazing; I couldn't wait to drink it. We discovered that their glass had likely been wiped dry by a mildewed dishtowel. Three for four empty glasses on the counter smelled the same way. The wine was perfect.

Now, back to the bottle you've been saving. In my most recent episode of cork taint, I contacted the winemaker. I told them that I opened one of their wines, a 2004 Washington Syrah, the night before, and I'd been holding onto the wine for some time, and that it was badly tainted. The winemaker emailed me within a few hours, thanking me for bringing it to their attention, and offered to replace the wine. The wine was replaced with a 2006, but all in all, the service I received and the response showed a few things; namely a) the winemaker appreciated that I understood he didn't make bad wine, but rather on occasion a bottle will go bad; and b) the opportunity to keep me as a customer. I will continue to drink the wines made by this winery because this is beyond their control and they were very responsive.

Most winemakers I've talked to are fully prepared to hear that a wine that they've made is corked somewhere out there. What many of them fear most is that the consumer doesn't understand what cork taint is and thinks they make bad wine. This often leads the consumer to relate their label to a poor product if the presence of the taint is subtle enough that it shows up as dull or with diminished fruit character. One winemaker I spoke with stated they were more concerned with a consumer detecting vinegar or CO2 in a bottle because it can be more apparent to a novice wine drinker and likely has further reaching circumstances. As opposed to a bottle being bad, it could be an entire barrel of wine.

How often does taint occur? I've gotten vastly different estimates from different winemakers, varying from 1 in 20 to 1 in 1,000 bottles. One smaller winemaker mentioned the importance of consumers alerting them to corked wine as a way to monitor the quality of the cork their using. In some cases small house winemakers are paying as much as 50 cents per cork, it's a serious investment on their part.

At the end of the day, wine will be impacted by cork taint, and you're going to encounter some of them. Its an experience that gives you some insight to what winemakers have to be aware of, and why some turn to screwcaps. Some of the tainted wine will be subtle and you'll drink it perhaps unaware, and some will be undeniable. In any case, I encourage you to let the producer know when you find a bad bottle, you'll likely get your wine replaced, and the winemaker will appreciate you're letting them know (at least the one's I've talked with).

Some great resources for information on cork, taint and other wine closures:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Settling the Score...Wine Don't Taste Like a Number

I for one think it's a damn shame that they no longer keep score in kids sports. What the hell is the point? When I was young, you would go play and you would win, or you would lose; like in life. If you won your coach would spring for Slushees. If you lost, you got no Slushee. This is very much how life works. These days kids get Slushees no matter what, and then when they're forty and they don't get promoted because someone else is better than they are at the job, this whole everyone gets a Slushee thing is really going to come back to bite us all in the ass.

As big a proponent as I am for keeping scores in sports, particularly when it comes to using sports to teach life lessons to our youth, I'm just as against scoring wines. I don't think wines should be scored period. One might say, well, how will we know if it's good? Well, for one, I would recommend you try it, or you might actually read about the wine, and not the number at the top, but the tasting notes.

Do you like wine that has oak on it? Well if you read about the wine, the winemaker or a reviewer will mention the presence of oak, or toasty caramel notes, or something to this effect. If you like white wines that taste of brighter fruit notes, like pear, starfruit and green apple, you'll see that in those notes too. That's why they're called tasting notes.

But maybe you're more discerning than that. Maybe instead of enjoying a Merlot that hints at leather, or tobacco you enjoy a Merlot that hints at 89 or better? They say that the human scent of smell is the most connected to our memories. Some of the best olfactory experiences you'll have will be around aged red wines. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood were of the scent of fresh cut grass, food on the grill; a high school crush's perfume. The words I use to describe them are important to the experience and the memory. If instead I said, some of my favorite childhood memories were the scent of 93, the smell of 89 and hints of 92. What the hell does that even mean people?

Here at The Oregon Wine Blog, you won't catch us scoring any wines. Unless you mean, scoring as in acquiring, like slang, you know. In that case we're way into scoring wines. Rather, what you will catch us doing is telling you about an experience we had with a bottle of wine and some friends. Or we'll run down for you a meal we had, or a chat with a winemaker, or a particular tasting room staff member who really knew their stuff and poured juice that knocked our socks off. These are our experiences, and we enjoy sharing them. We find them entertaining and we hope you do too.

If for example in his post about Airfield Estates in Prosser, Rick said, "We walked into the Airfield tasting room, 87. The blends at Airfield, uh, 91." That would quite frankly be piss poor writing. It wouldn't tell you anything except a number that is an attempt to summarize the entirety of the experience.

We don't score wines, or experiences because, while we're obviously geniuses and in many ways superior, we're also not. We like what we like. Between the four or five of us, we could go into a winery and if you asked us which wine was the best one in there, you'd likely get 3-4 different answers. Maybe a different answer for each of us. We all have different tastes, and while world domination sounds fine to some people, especially those of us from Baltimore, it's not really our bag, man.

We want you to enjoy our blog, go check out a winery that we visited, but certainly have your own experience there. If I write about a visit to a tasting room, and I said I really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc, I would hope, if you decided to visit you'd give all their wines a whirl. If you went in and said, "Well, just go ahead and pour the Cab Franc. Clive says it's good. Mmmm, it's good. Okay, see you." That would make me sad, and a bit surprised. I should probably start my own cult, but also, you should probably cut it out.

Go have your own experience there. I wrote about the place because I thought the people were great, the site was nice, and ultimately, the wine was first rate. Take it in, talk with the staff, try the variety of their wines. Stop buying wines based on what other people tell you and sit up straight in your chair. Okay, until next time, 89.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dave's Killer Pairing...Sin Dawg with Sokol Blosser Meditrina

Dave Dahl was a "four-time loser" with 15 years of prison under his belt when an epiphany emerged in the toilet bowl in his cell.  That's right, prison.  From this epiphany spawned Dave's Killer Bread, makers of the Sin Dawg - a 100% Whole Grain Organic Cinnamon-Sugar Bread Roll.   A healthy cinnamon roll?  You're damn right and we had to have it.  A good source of fiber with no animal-products, the Sin Dawg is shaped in a long-tubalar format meant to be sliced up into tiny cinnamon rolls.  How did we know how to cut it?  A puppy on the back of the wrapper told us, duh.

As a reward to a long week of work and exercise, Rick and I decided to cut loose a little bit on Friday by indulging in this mystical treat.  It wouldn't be a night at The Oregon Wine Blog World Wine Pairing Headquarters, though, if we didn't provide you (our readers) with handy pairing recommendations for delights such as the Sin Dawg.  It's a public service, really.  Upon procuring the Sin Dawg at our local cooperative grocery store, we put on our top hats, monocles, and fired up the luxury german automobile to locate the perfect pairing.  It needed to be something versatile, light, but robust at the same time.  Something that could stand up to the flavor and sweetness of the Sin Dawg, without totally overpowering it.  Something magical, mystical, and broadly distributed.

Oh yeah, so back to the toilet bowl.  No, the epiphany wasn't to make a log-shaped cinnamon role coated with nuts.  We initially intended on making a toilet wine joke at this point, but miscommunication and a mistake that's kind of funny either way have derailed our efforts (this is what we get for co-writing).  Fast forward to what we were going to get to; Dave (ok, so just Josh and Rick) decided this had to be paired with a wine as fine as the Sin Dawg itself.

My friends, we found the nectar in a Pinot shaped bottle from Sokol Blosser -- The Meditrina. The red blend, consisting of 52% Syrah, 25% Zinfandel, and 23% Pinot Noir, is duly notated as an "American Red Wine."  A goddess really.  The Roman Goddess of Wine and Health, to be specific.  With a lush, velvety taste and expressive notes of raspberry and cherry, the Meditrina has a night of debauchery written all over it.  Add Sin Dawg...well let's see what happens!

We pour the wine, we cut the Sin Dawg.  Rick takes a whiff..."oh, it already smells good."  I take a nip of the Sin Dawg without him looking.  It tastes like Aphrodite has graced my tongue with her sweet juice.  We take a sip and a bite.  Equally sweet and equally earthy are both treats.  The raisins in the Sin Dawg accentuate the fruity notes of the Meditrina.  The spiciness of the Syrah complements the cinnamon on the roll.  It's synergy, if you will.  Delicious.  Perfect.  Rick is left speechless after his first slice.  Both are distinguishable as free-standing entities of awesome, but merge is an expression of pure, unbridled enthusiasm.  "Mmmmhhhnam nom nom."  And just like that, the Sin Dawg is gone.

That's cause we ate it all.

We were successful in our venture, and have found the perfect pairing.  Sin Dawg by Dave's Killer Bread.  Perhaps the healthiest treat ever.  Meditrina by Sokol Blosser.  Perhaps the most versatile red wine ever.

The Oregon Wine Blog:  Bringing you dead on pairings you never knew you wanted to know week after week.  Up next?  Waffles.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Le Fête de Syrah - Edgefield's Grand Celebration

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At Edgefield's Celebration of Syrah last weekend, Pacific Northwest Syrah was king for a day. Actually, it was king for an entire weekend. Not the kind of king you see on those crazy Burger King commercials, either. We're talking a legitimate king, all royal like King Tut and stuff. I digress. Rick and I receive passes for the 9th Annual Celebration, an event orchastrated by the geniuses at McMenamins and hosted by their flagship Edgefield Winery.  Luckily, we were able to "squeeze" the event into our "packed" wine drinking schedule and bright and early Saturday morning we hit the road to Troutdale to Syrah it up.

If you haven't been to Edgefield, it truly is a magical place and was the perfect environment for this type of event.  An old poor farm, McMenamins has turned Edgefield into a destination resort it the mouth of the Columbia Gorge, not far from many of the Gorge wineries.  Hotel rooms?  They got 'em.  Golf?  Yep.  Fine dining restaurant?  Check.  Spa?  Purr.  A winery, distillery, brewery, and pub?  Glug glug glug.  A guy could stay there for a month and never leave the property.  They also host a summer concert series at a gorgeous setting.  Oh, did I mention that you can purchase beer and wine and wander around the entire 74-acre property?

The first event of the Celebration, which we were not able to attend, was a Gourmet Viognier Reception and Syrah Dinner. The dinner included a private reception featuring the winemaker's Viogniers followed by a multicourse dinner prepared by Edgefield's Black Rabbit Restaurant and paired with our guest winemakers' Syrahs. We heard it was phenomenal.

We joined the party for Syrah Barrel Sampling and BBQ Lunch. This was a relatively intimate event, hosted in a unique and historic ballroom in Edgefield's main building. Approximately 150 attendees crowded around 15 wine barrels throughout the room and "chewed the fat" with winemakers while tasting barrel samples of Syrah. Paired with a beef brisket lunch, chewing the fat was both a literal and figurative description. Some highlights of this barrel tasting include:
  • 2008 Syncline McKinley Springs Syrah: Using fruit out of Horse Heaven Hills, this was probably my favorite of the barrel tastes.
  • 2009 Spindrift Syrah: From the Seven Hills Vineyard, this was a delicious wine and even better conversation. We had been to Spindrift a few times but hadn't met Tabitha and Matt until this event. We look forward to future collaborations.
  • 1998 McCrea Syrah: So clearly 1998 wasn't a barrel taste, but McCrea decided to buck the norm and bring their oldest syrah. Yum.
After a 2-hour break in which we shot pool on what had to be the largest pool table in the world (seriously, this thing was 12-feet long), we headed to the final event for the Celebration: Grand Syrah Tasting and Benefit Silent Auction.

The grand tasting was organized in more of a trade show format, with approximately 40 wineries pouring in Blackberry Hall and the adjoining circus tent. The crowd was larger than barrel tasting and the appetizers were quickly devoured, but we elbowed our way through and bellied up to some of our favorite wineries and some new ones. After another great stop to see our friends at Spindrift, we discovered the following treasures:
  • Penner-Ash: Pouring a syrah with a blend of Columbia Valley and Rogue Valley fruit, the staff was nice and the wine delicious.
  • Cana's Feast: Pouring a 2006 and 2007 Syrah out of Horse Heaven Hills, Cana's wine knocks it out of the park. Behind the bottle we found Patrick Taylor, the winemaker and a compatriot in our vision of bringing wine to a younger crowd.

Among my favorite components of the Celebration was the variety of audiences the three events catered to. Whether you were young, older, wine novice or an expert, one or all of these events were for you. A great setting, awesome wine, and amazing conversations. Edgefield's Celebration of Syrah. What more could we ask for?

Maybe a crown and a scepter...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Airfield Estates Winery

Remember a couple months ago when Josh posted a two part article about our mind-blowingly awesome dinner at Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser, WA? Mmmm...firecracker prawns...

While we've ranted on and on about how great dinner was, I've completely neglected to write about what we were up to right before we hit up Picazo 7Seventeen. Gwynne had just made it to town, so Clive, Josh, Michael, and I met up with her to scope out some wineries for dinner. Clive had been communicating a bit with the folks at Airfield Estates Winery, so we set forth and decided to check it out. Like any visit to a winery, we all expected the usual stop in for a bit and chit chatting over a few pours. What we ended up with was another one of those experiences that completely transcends anything we imagined.

I have to admit that I didn't do any research before coming to Airfield, but wow, they take their name very seriously. The entire establishment looks like a hangar and it really sucks you into a 1940s WWII airbase feel - probably because the property actually used to be a WWII airbase. They even take this so far as to paint lines in the parking lot as if you're driving on a runway.

The airbase feel extends even more upon entering the hangar/tasting room. I'll go on record saying that Airfield's tasting room is both one of the most creative as well as beautiful tasting rooms I've seen. Plenty of comfortable seating is spread about the room with various pieces of merchandise, WWII artifacts, and bottles of wine adoring the outer perimeter. This isn't The Oregon Interior Decorating Blog, though, so we put that aside and bellied up to the bar.

At this time I'd also like to point out that we were those guys that showed up about 20-30 minutes before closing. We also tend to talk whoever is pouring's ear off, so I was tentative in expecting an especially warm welcoming. This, however, was not the case when we were greeted by Mike Miller - owner, grape grower, and the man with some of the best pours in the industry. Our timing didn't seem to matter at all as Mike went well out of his way to pour almost everything in their inventory, explain each wine, and answer every question we had.

Airfield's wines are divided about two thirds between single varietals and blends. While their single varietals are phenomenal (and easily identifiable by their screen-printed labels), I was personally blown away by their take on blends. Take these for instance:

2008 Mustang: 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 8% Cinsault, 2% Counoise, 2% Mourvèdre

2008 Spitfire: 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Petite Verdot

2008 Lightning: 50% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 20% Chardonnay, 5% Marsanne

Did your eyes just light up a bit like mine did? I'm a huge fan of blends and get incredibly excited when I see wine makers in the Northwest experiment outside of the relatively safe and proven Rhone varietals. Even more impressive is the huge difference between the blends themselves. Mustang, for example, is a bold and spicy wine that would be perfect to pair with something like a steak. Spitfire, however, is more subtle and refined, which makes it an incredible wine to sip by itself.

After tasting almost their entire inventory and staying way past closing time, we thought we were set to leave. That is, until we were offered a tour of the tower. What I figured would have been a quick trip to the top of the observation tower visible from the outside and back down ended up being something much more. We entered into their production facility and were lead past the usual wine making equipment until we reached a door to their Officer's Wine Club. This is the first thing we saw:

What is this magical place and why don't we have one at home? Airfield's Officer's Wine Club (or The Bat Cave as we have began calling it), makes homage to Airfield's creations as well as providing a place to conduct business. Think of it as part museum and part board room.

It's also home to the coolest chandelier ever:

To say we were all impressed with Airfield is a gross understatement. Not only are the wines original and delicious, but the staff is incredible as well. Definitely make Airfield a destination if you're in the Prosser/Yakima area and tell them we said to stop by. Who knows? It might get you into the Bat Cave.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Upcoming Event: Don't Call it a Comeback....Merlot Gone Mad

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Merlot Gone Mad

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. But in this case, as with all red wines, cool room temperature would suffice. However, I don't mean to glaze over the real issue at hand: Merlot, and the fact that it's mad. And let's be honest - can we blame Merlot for it's anger? You've heard the song; "You don't pull on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don't give short shrift to Merlot." I think that's how it goes, anyway.

Let's not dwell in anger, as I want to move on to more productive matters. Merlot is back, though we wanna-be wine snobs have turned up our noses at it, all because some actor who's dad used to be the commissioner of Major League Baseball gave it a bad rap in what was, all in all, a pretty good movie. A real bad rap, like the kind you'd find on an MC Snow album. Merlot, however, has forgiven us our snobbery. Merlot has been the bigger man, er...grape.

To celebrate, Merlot is throwing a party. A big party.

On Sunday, May 2nd, 2010, from 3-6pm, Merlot is blowing the roof off the Tulalip Casino and the food and drink will be way over the top. (If the roof explodes you never know what money might go shooting out.) In addition, Merlot invited some friends, true friends, the kind who have kept churning out top notch examples of why we should have never turned away in the first place. Merlot is, after all, the varietal that put Washington Wine on the map. Merlot done in Washington is done very, very well and it's high time we were reminded of that. Fifty, that's right I said 50, Washington wineries will be pouring over 100 wines.

It's time we remember why we loved it so much the first time - because it goes so damn well with food. And the folks from Tulalip Casino will be providing some well paired bites that will no doubt knock our socks off. Bites featuring beef, lamb and Iserno's chicken sausage will be thoughtfully crafted to pair with this food-friendly wine.

Merlot Gone Mad will certainly turn that frown upside down. For $45 for the general public, and $35 for Oregon Wine Blog readers you'll get to enjoy the food, the wine and educational seminars on wine by Don Corson from Camaraderie Cellars; David Merfeld of Northstar; Patricia Gelles of Klipsun Vineyard. (OWB readers can get the special price by entering the discount code OWB10 and clicking "Show Additional Prices")

At $45, this is already a deal, and at $35 for Oregon Wine Blog readers, it's down right crazy. $35 for the chance to take a crack at over 100 wines, food from Tulalip's incredible culinary staff, and then you throw in wine education on top of that? Are you serious? Maybe Merlot Gone Mad is a sign, and Merlot is crazy for offering this kind of a deal. Merlot, maybe you need help, my friend.

Nonetheless, I say let's take advantage of this momentary lapse of reason. For $35 can you think of a better wine-focused way to spend a Sunday afternoon? I didn't think so, folks. Get your tickets here, and I'll see you at Tulalip, the number one place for fun.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dusted Valley...And A Secret Society of Wine Operatives


I received a top secret message via the twitter machine that Dusted Valley, the Washington Winery of the Year was having an event, and they were asking for my participation. As the Washington Correspondent for The Oregon Wine Blog, sometimes these things happen to me.

The event was billed as a special opportunity for wine media to check out the Woodinville tasting room and meet winemakers Chad and Corey. There were several staff pouring the whites and reds as well as media folks like the guy from, Duane.

I started out sampling their Viognier and Chardonnay, both of which were very good.

After the whites, I moved over to the bar in the tasting room, which only opened last summer. The bar showcased an extensive line of red wines available that evening; I started with the Grenache. Of the reds, two that really stood out for me were the Wallywood and the Reserve Syrah. Wallywood is a play on their two locations (Walla Walla and Woodinville) and the Reserve Syrah is a true gem.

Chad Johnson, one of the two winemakers, came over and we chatted about how often he hears the Ocho Cinco jokes, and then I went and made one more. We talked about the wines, and about the fact that they recently changed the Squirrel Tooth Alice to a blend more in the style of a Chateauneuf du Pape. Chad and I also talked about their move from cork to screwcaps, which took place after their first release came out in cork.

It was then that I started to feel a little funny. As I began to pay closer attention it occurred to me that something else was going on. All of the tasting room staff were attractive blonde women, like in the spy movies. I had found out about the event through a top secret message via the twitter machine. It was all becoming clear to me.

I looked around and noticed that the other media people were gone. It was just me, Chad and Corey, the blonde staff, and two poets who approached me with a cache of supplies. I was being asked to join their secret society of highly trained, almost ninja-like wine operatives: The Stained Tooth Society. I agreed to the offer - I felt it was one I couldn't refuse anyways.

I looked at my cache. It included a CD with special operative instructions, which I was to destroy after learning my mission details. My charge was to spread the word that a quality fine wine out of Walla Walla could be made by Midwesterners, and could come in a bottle without a cork.

My other supplies included a stained tooth top secret garment, to be worn only at our secret meetings. A stained tooth brush, as I could not risk being discovered. After sharing this Dusted Valley treasure with the doubters, I was to brush my teeth, and erase all trace of my affiliation. There was also a bottle of 2006 Reserve Syrah. If we were going to convince someone of cork free quality, this special potion would do the trick. Finally, there was a rock. I'm still working on figuring that one out. Should I use it to start a signal fire in case of an emergency? If I'm apprehended should I try to swallow the rock? It's easily the size of my fist.

If you haven't had Dusted Valley wines, keep an eye out. It could be that one of the members of The Society is sitting across from you at the dinner table; pouring at your local wine bar; or the wine steward at your local grocer. We're out there, and you may not know who we are. But we know who you are and we're coming for you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quality vs. Quantity - Chateau St. Jean Masters Both

We’ve all done it. We’ve all had that internal struggle as we stand in front of the wall o’wine at our local grocer trying to figure out what bottle will pair best with whatever culinary creation is in the oven.
Then, from seemingly out of nowhere a glimmer in your eye and you look to the far end of the shelf and see it....Chateau St. Jean. Whether you are in California, Oregon, Washington, or somewhere else, there is a good chance you have seen that bottle sitting on the shelf. For the everyday California wine drinker, Chateau St. Jean represents that little splurge you give yourself on payday. Many of the widely distributed wines are on the higher end of the all important under $20 price point. But don’t let the big name fool you. Chateau St. Jean, a pioneer in the single vineyard technique in California, maintains its identity as a maker of both fine wines and a maker of wines that appeal to a wide audience, rather than sacrificing quality for quantity. On a recent trip to the Chateau, Josh and I got to experience this first hand.

In the area for a conference, Josh took the liberty of setting up a tasting for us. We arrived at the Chateau at 10:30 and were met by the Hospitality Specialist Bob, who served as our host for the day. After a quick description of the tasting room we were led to the private and reserve tasting room where a small table for two was set up. Bob first started by telling us a little about himself and the winery. Founded in 1973, Chateau St. Jean has been a leader in fine California wines for many years. Just recently, winemaker Margo Van Staaveren was named the 2008 Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. Part of her success comes from having worked in almost every position in the winery in the 25+ years she has been with Chateau St. Jean. Following the day of tasting, it is easy to see why Van Staaveren earned this esteemed honor.

As Josh and I sat down, neither of us knew what we were getting ourselves in to In front of us lay two tasting menus, one was the regular tasting menu and the other included all of their reserve and limited production wines. With few exceptions, Bob told us we would be going down the reserve list that morning, totaling 16 different pours. Yes, you read that right, at 10:30am we started our adventure of 16 very different wines. We started with two different Fume Blancs. First, was the 2007 La Petite Etoile from the Russian River valley. If this was any indication for what the day had in store, Josh and I were going to enjoy ourselves. The nose contained hints of lemongrass with a prominent scent of green tea. Upon tasting we noticed the tartness in this wine and immediately thought of grapefruit or some other sweet citrus. Having not gone through malolactic fermentation, the acidity and tartness of this wine lingered as it finished with a hint of spice. After tasting the Lyon Vineyard Fume Blanc we moved through Pinot Gris and onto one of my favorite whites of the day, the 2007 Robert Young Vineyard Pinot Blanc. This wine was actually off the regular tasting list but our host thought it special enough to pour alongside the reserves...boy was he right. Immediately we picked up on the intensely floral nose and it didn’t taste half bad either. The crispness of the wine was complimented by mellow flavors of melon, nectarine. This could easily be enjoyed by itself while sitting on the porch on a hot day with a good book, or enjoyed with food. Personally, I will be opening one of the bottles I walked away with tonight as a pair to a Thai curry dish.

And now on to the reds. While I would love to go in depth about each wine we tasted, there were a lot of them and I would encourage you to visit this landmark of Sonoma County and experience them on your own. However, I can’t leave you in the dark about some of the favorites of the day. We started with 3 different Pinot Noirs: Durrell Vineyard, Benoist Ranch, and the Sonoma County reserve, all from 2007. Each one different, I was partial to the Durrell Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine held the spice you would expect from a Pinot Noir without overpowering the rest of the black fruit flavors. On the finish we got hints of black tea, leather, and bacon....that’s right, I said bacon! Two of my favorite things joined at the was a good day.

We continued through a the 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc and the Sonoma County reserve Malbec from 2005 before getting to the crème de la crème. A wine so great that even after 10 tastings, still stood out. This was the 2005 & 2006 Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon. A Bordeaux style blend of Cab Sauv (83%), Merlot (7%), Cab Franc (5%), Malbec (4%), and Petite Verdot (1%), this wine is the flagship of Chateau St. Jean each year. Since they began blending this wine in 1990, it has never received below 90 points by Robert Parker and in 1996 became the first (and remains the only) Sonoma County wine to be declared the #1 wine in the world. The flavor profile includes raspberry, blackberry, red and black currants, perfectly balanced with cedar wood and an earthy flavor. Josh and I enjoyed a bottle later that night and were quite impressed with the complexity of this wine. It is something to open on that special night or lay it down for another 5-10 years like I plan on doing with a couple bottles.
We ended our tasting excursion by jumping up the tasting menu to the 2004 Sonoma County reserve Merlot. What is so unique about this wine was the aging process. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec, each varietal is aged separately for 2 years in French Oak before being blended and then aged another 3 years, totaling 5 years of aging before ever being released. Described as “liquid velvet,” the Reserve Merlot offers a profile of dark cherry, espresso, and bittersweet chocolate.
As you can tell, Josh and I were treated very well at Chateau St. Jean and I would highly recommend checking it out if you are in the neighborhood. Chateau St. Jean offers several different tasting options depending on what you’re in the mood for. While you do have to pay to taste at Chateau St. Jean, the wines and knowledge of the staff are well worth what you will get on either the regular tasting menu or the upgraded reserve tasting menu. While you’re there be sure to make time to walk around the property and enjoy the lush courtyard gardens that make for a great Kodak moment. Don’t be put off by the formal exterior of this property. Once inside, the friendliness and knowledge of the staff make you feel right at home. This was my first trip to Chateau St. Jean and I will be sure to return in the near future.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Movie, Company, Cheese, Crackers, and of course, Wine!

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Those of you who have read many of my posts, you know that I like to start my week off with a glass of wine at 8pm on Sundays, and this particular Sunday was no different. The time was 7:30pm and I opened my bottle of wine. I had invited Ryan, a former student of mine, over to enjoy this recently procured bottle and to hear about how his Spring Break.

While the wine was breathing, I cut and plated some Tillamook cheddar and pepper-jack cheeses, with some garlic Triscuits. When I poured the wine, the first words out of Ryan's mouth was, "That's good!" Ryan was enjoying the flavor of the pinot noir that was in front of him. With a rich color, oak-filled and spicy flavor, and an enjoyable nose, it would be hard to not find this wine good. This is not a big red wine, but rather a "regular" pinot noir that I enjoyed the moment it first hit my tongue, and I knew Ryan would enjoy it as well.

Over the last nearly two years, Ryan and I have talked about wine. What is good wine, what is bad one, and what makes it that way. We have talked about wines that we enjoy and ones that didn't sit well either of us. This particular evening, Ryan told me about some of the wine he had while in Seattle with his girlfriend over this last Spring Break. We continued to enjoy the wine, cheese, and crackers, and decided to put a movie in the background, so on went "The Talented Mr. Ripley." But then Ryan asked how I come about this particular bottle of wine. I re-told the story of Josh and I from just the week before.

Josh did a great job of telling you how we ended up at Belle Vallee, but I have to say, when I walked into the tasting room, I kind of just thought it was the place that I was meant to be at that exact moment. I know it's a bit odd to say about wine and a tasting room, but it was perfect. From the enthusiastic conversation I got the chance to observe Aubrie and Josh having, to the ambiance of the tasting room with its various maps of Oregon growing areas, it was a great experience.

This 2007 pinot was the first one Aubrie poured for us, and everything about it was so amiable, that I knew I would minimally be leaving with at least one bottle of it. Knowing how much I enjoyed it made me realize that this would be a good wine to catch-up with Ryan over. I did subsequently leave Belle Vallee with four bottles of wine, and I will do my best to write about all of them here on the TOWB. But this is a pinot you should go out and secure, you will not regret it!

As for this particular Sunday, it was a great way to start the week.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Taste Washington: Part 3 ( I Missed out on Part 2)

Part 2
So my plan for the Taste Washington weekend was to hit the Restaurant Awards on Friday, then head down and race the Independence Valley Road Race Saturday morning, returning in time for the afternoon seminars at Taste Washington. That last part never happened. Coming back from Rochester, Washington takes a lot longer than I thought. Luckily Yashar Shayan, the sommelier at Seastar in Seattle and a Twitter fixture in Northwest wine, had the hook up. Yashar used Ustream streaming video to allow those of us who couldn't be there in person to check out some of the seminars remotely. So I went to Yashar's blog and jumped right in to the Mighty Malbec seminar. In fact, Yashar even asked the panelists a question I asked, and gave The Oregon Wine Blog a shout out. Thanks, Yashar.

Part 3
Sunday, though, I wasn't going to miss a serious day of wine tasting so I was on my way to the Qwest Event Center for the 1 p.m. kick-off to the media and trade tasting. This was my first Taste Washington and I am a relative newcomer to the world of online wine media. I was slightly nervous and I had to figure out what to do with my coat.

I did a loop of the place and took it all in. I needed a plan. I needed advice. I looked up and I saw Josh Wade, the king of #WAMerlot and the guy who seemingly is always being stalked by a guitar. (I don't even know if Josh plays the guitar.) He told me where to put my coat, and after that, things started to fall into place.

There was so much going on at The Grand Tasting, it was like a wino's dream come true. I paired some oysters from Elliot's (they had three or four varieties) with a Terra Blanca Reserve Roussanne. I did a blind tasting with the lovely Emily from Full Pull Wines and got it horribly wrong (I blame the Tabasco on the aforementioned oysters). I was having a great time all the same. I ran across my favorite wine country culinarian Chef Frank Magana from Picazo 717 and he took me around and introduced me to some of Prosser's winemakers like Jarrod from Alexandria Nicole Cellars. I started to feel pretty comfortable at Taste Washington and managed to get over to Betz Family and Boudreaux Cellars before they poured all their wines.

The takeaways from Taste Washington?
    My short conversation with Dick Boushey, and what still excites him about his fruit and the wines that people are making with them. Look for another post on this cool opportunity to pick the brain of a Washington Wine legend.

    The Food! I had some amazing bites. The oysters from Elliot's were great, but so was the lamb chop pop from Picazo 7 Seventeen. They also make a chorizo-stuffed prawn wrapped in Proscuitto that was unreal. Other treats included a crispy thing with Dungeness crab from Muckleshoot Casino with a citrus-based salsa and a lime sorbet. All together, it was incredible. I also had more oysters from Alderbrook Resort with the pink peppercorn migonette. I ate a lot and it was all so delicious.

    The Wine! Of course it's about the wine. What surprised me was how many wines and wineries that were out there that I'd never heard of. And some of them were damn good. Nodland Cellars out of Spokane may have had one of the nicest wines available. They make a Bourdeaux blend with a nice presence of Carmenere. I was tipped off to the wines by Josh from Drink Nectar, and I passed it on to Doug of Wino Magazine, who also thought it was excellent. Nanstad Cellars is another winery I had never heard of who is making a great Cabernet Franc. I also ran across El Corazon and finally got to meet Jon Martinez from Maison Bleue and the fellas at Gramcercy Cellars. All of these winemakers are producing some excellent and original wines.

    The People! I got to see my buddy Frank again, as well as Emily and Paul from Full Pull Wines. I got to meet some of the famous folks of the Twitter universe. The aforementioned Josh and his lovely wife, as well as Yashar, Seattle Wine Gal, JJ from Kiona Wines, 106 Pine's Shannon Borg, Robert Smasne, the Full Pull folks, Jessica from Gifford Hirlinger, Heather from Terra Blanca and Josh from Cartel Wine.

Even though I just got done saying it's about the wine, it's really about the people. Washington is the home to a bounty of great wine, but also great wine folks. And let's be honest, would you want to drink all this great wine alone? Of course not. We're lucky to have great terroir and brilliant wine makers, tasting room staff, restaurant folks, media, twitterati, and farmers. I've been lucky to taste some amazing wines via my work with The Oregon Wine Blog, but my real perk has been meeting some great folks. That's what keeps me blogging. See you all again very soon. I hope.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Taste Washington: Part 1 Restaurant Awards

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(Disclaimer: While all the other wine bloggers were releasing their Taste Washington pieces last week. I was on a romantic getaway with Gwynne to the Willamette Valley. I apologize for the delay, but not really.)

Friday March 26th kicked off the Restaurant Awards for the marathon of wine and culinary appreciation that is Taste Washington. I found my way to the Washington Athletic Club and managed to get past security for this event. The event is held annually as a way for the Washington Wine Commission and the wineries to show their appreciation for their supporters in the restaurant and service industry.

Restaurants apply for recognition and awards are given based on a variety of criteria, including hosting wine events featuring Washington wine, staff training, promotions and percentage of Washington wines on an establishment's wine list. Sommeliers were also recognized for their expertise, but also specifically for their support of Washington wine.

There were about 40 or 50 Washington wineries also in attendance pouring their wine and getting the crowd warmed up for the awards presentation. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to tick a few of the wineries off my Grand Tasting list. The Sunday event was going to include 225 wineries, and quite frankly there was no way to get around to all of them, from a time and physiological stand point.

I also got to see Chef Frank Magana and Trina Cortez from Picazo 7 Seventeen again. We chatted and talked about the various wines that were in the room. Frank and Trina had served several of these wines at Picazo and so they were able to recommend particular options for me.

I sampled the Cote Bonneville wines for the first time, and I was impressed with all of them, though the Chardonnay particularly stood out. The Waters Winery wines did not disappoint my high expectations. Their Forgotten Hills Syrah was a very earthy, gamey wine both on the nose and in the palate. I had heard that his wine typically elicits a love or hate response. As for me? I loved it.

There were various levels of awards, including the Grand Award, the Certificate of Recognition and the Award of Distinction. The Certificate of Recognition goes to several restaurants doing their part to promote Washington wines, but whom the Commission hoped would continue to find ways to integrate Washington wine into their program. The Award of Distinction is granted to restaurants for restaurants who have shown dedication and support to Washington wine. The Grand Award is the recognition for those restaurants that are considered industry leaders in support of Washington Wine. This award went to restaurants like the Barking Frog, SkyCity at the Needle, Sun Mountain Lodge, and my hands-down favorite, Picazo 7 Seventeen.

Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA, received the Washington Wine Restaurant of the Year award, which included a custom-blown glass sculpture designed by Seattle-based glass artist Jesse Kelly.

The event was interesting and there were certainly some VIPs in the house. I would be interested to see what the Washington Wine Commission thinks about the idea of recognizing a restaurant that is working to bring younger wine drinkers to Washington Wine. There are some restaurants out there doing inventive and and creative things to bring young people to wine and food. I think that kind of effort should be recognized. If we had a The Oregon Wine Blog Restaurant Awards, we certainly would.

Some of the other awards given on this day:

Most Improved Wine Program of the Year – The Marc Restaurant, Marcus Whitman Hotel, Walla Walla, WA

Best Restaurant Event Featuring Washington Wines – Taste of Tulalip, Tulalip Bay Exceptional Dining, Tulalip, WA

Best Out-of-State Washington Wine Program – ENO, InterContinental Chicago, Chicago, IL

Doug Zellars of the Washington Athletic Club won the Walter Clore Honorarium award. Eric Zegzula from Anthony’s at Columbia Point in Richland was honored as Sommelier of the Year.

The Winemaker’s Choice award went to Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, WA.

The Washington Restaurant Association award was presented to Pearl Bar & Dining in Bellevue, WA. The Seattle Business magazine award was presented to Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, WA

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Celebration of Syrah at McMenamin's Edgefield Winery!

An entire weekend dedicated to the Celebration of Syrah in the Pacific Northwest?  Heck yes.

Hosted by McMenamin's Edgefield Winery in gorgeous Troutdale, Oregon, the 9th Annual Celebration of Syrah will be held next weekend, April 9 - 10, 2010, and is sure to please the palate with delicious food and wine.  The weekend schedule is packed with 3 awesome events:
  • Gourmet Viognier Reception and Syrah Dinner: Friday night kicks off right with a reception and dinner celebrating viognier and syrah from 6 local wineries, featuring the culinary delights from Edgefield's Black Rabbit Restaurant. Cost is $75 and if you check out the menu, it's bound to be worth every penny. Be sure to bring a designated driver, or even better, book a room at Edgefield for the night!
  • Syrah Barrel Sampling and BBQ Lunch:For $20, it's a steal. Barrel tasting with 13 syrah producers and a BBQ lunch featuring beef brisket among delights, can you think of a better thing to be doing at Noon on Saturday?
  • Grand Syrah Tasting and Benefit Silent Auction: The weekend wraps up with the grand tasting and silent acution, starting at 4:00 PM on Saturday, with all proceeds benefiting Salud!, a non-profit organization that aids Oregon's seasonal vineyard workers in securing proper medical care. With over 40 wineries pouring and a bounty of appetizers, this is a sure hit at $35.

I'd be negligent if I didn't spend just a minute letting you all know about the wonders of Edgefield.  One of McMenamin's historical properties, Edgefield combines a brewery, restaurant, hotel, distillery, and winery all in one.  You can go to Edgefield, not leave the property all weekend, and have a fantastic weekend get away with your boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, partner, arch-nemisis, or yourself for that matter.  With extremely reasonably priced lodging, it's perfect for those of us who don't want to break the bank.

Convinced yet?  In case you need even another reason to attend the Celebration of Syrah, we'll give it to you.  The Oregon Wine Blog will be there on Saturday, and with the recent scuttlebutt on the intertubes of a pending "Most Handsome Wine Blogger" award, who wouldn't want to hang out with us for an afternoon?

April 9 - 10, see you there!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fine Wine for the Proletariat: The Cartel Wine Group

When I first moved to the Northwest almost 7 years ago and was introduced to wine, it was rare for me to spend more than $12 on a bottle. There's no question that this was due, in part, to my income at the time. As I have gotten a bit older, and more interested in wine, it's become more common for me to spend over $25 on a bottle of wine I've never had before and occasionally as much as $35 to $40 if it's a wine I really enjoy.

I am now in my mid-thirties and as part of our mission as a blog, I'm a wizened veteran of our demographic. One of our purposes, apart from relaying enjoyable experiences we're having, is to make wine more approachable to the 25-35 crowd.

No matter how fun and entertaining we might make wine for you, our readers; no matter the the stereotypes about wine makers and the process we may break down, the one thing we can't change is your income. A sad fact of life is that young people make less money than older people, at least generally. As much as a 26 year old education administrator may appreciate your $50+ bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir, there is no way he can justify buying it on his budget.

Bloggers and the younger readers with the tight wine budgets aren't the only ones aware of this. Josh Klakring and Jason Baldwin are The Cartel Wine Group, and they're out to help the younger demographic experience Northwest wines that show characteristics that makes Washington such a fine producer.

The Cartel Wine Group is committed to providing a Northwest signature wine without the high price tag. Josh believes that most of the Washington wine that is priced at over $20 is a product of real costs, not gouging. High production overhead and expenses come in the form of expensive equipment and payrolls and sometimes from the producers who opt for fancy tasting rooms and glossy marketing campaigns. Josh does acknowledge - and we've all tasted - Northwest wines that push the envelope with their price tags and don't really deliver with what's in the bottle. Happily, that is the exception and not the rule.

The Cartel Wine Group is making three wines, sourcing their grapes from some of the same locations in Washington where wines cost two or three times the price. They have kept their overhead way down, and they bring you wine you can drink every day and not bat an eye at the price tag. Wine that lets you buy a case of it for your house party and give your guests a signature Northwest wine experience.

Josh at the Cartel Wine Group dropped off three bottles for me to sample; their entire line of wines. Cartel oaks their red wines for between 18 and 24 months, while their Chardonnay is fermented in steel tanks.

Seeing Red is 82% Cabernet and 18% Merlot from the Columbia Valley. The nose on this wine is a clear highlight, with its oaky and dark floral notes making for a definite treat. Seeing Red is aged in new American and neutral French barrels. The American Oak makes a real impression. On the palate the wine has notes of cherry, cola and light pepper. The wine is medium-bodied and the tannins are present but subtle on this Cabernet.

Seeing White is a Chardonnay but a bit of a chameleon, with a hint of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in the mix. This wine is unoaked and shows up as a bright and crisp Northwest Chardonnay.

The Surveyor, a Columbia valley blend of Cabernet and Merlot, is a garnet-colored wine that spoke of Northwest fruit. The oak is present yet subtle and we found cherries on the nose with plum notes and smokiness on the pallet.

I enjoyed all three of the Cartel wines. Jason and Josh have roots in the Northwest and share a love for Northwest wine; not an uncommon story, but always relevant when that love shows up in their wine. I would say they have succeeded in their efforts to produce affordable wines that showcase Washington characteristics. Their wines can be found in a variety of places in the Seattle area, including 106 Pine and the Magnolia Thriftway.