Saturday, November 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

They Make Wine There? Idaho Edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hopworks Rise Up Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pinot Noir is for the Children


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Cork, No Worries: Folin Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 11, 2010

They Make Wine There? New Mexico Edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We're on the Air for Washington Wine

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David Wilson of Grape Encounters Radio has basically taken over the state of California. His radio show has a similar format to what we're doing here at TOWB: he approaches wine without pretense, focusing on the experience, and he has a top secret location. Every time I check in with David there's a bevy of new stations that are carrying him all over California. One of the things I appreciate about David is that he looks at wine from every perspective: envelopes are pushed, corks are popped (and screwcaps are twisted, perhaps begrudgingly) and a general good time is had on Grape Encounters. If you're not currently listening, check them out on the interwebs or on iTunes. One of his biggest markets is actually Seattle, which is fortunate for me because it allows me to work a Northwest angle when I appear on his show, as I did recently to talk about Forgeron Cellars and our all too fleeting youth.

David recently invited me back to talk about millenials and wine and to give the wines of Forgeron Cellars a whirl. If you spend time talking with new wine drinkers you'll encounter a lot of "I only drink reds" or "I only drink whites." You'll also encounter a steadfast unwillingness to spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine. The result is often the safe $8-15 blend that has some nice oak elements and red fruit notes. The wines are comfortable, simple, and in many cases they even score pretty well according to the fancy magazine people. At that price point you "can't go wrong," and there's nothing wrong with that. What got us down the road towards Walla Walla's Forgeron Cellars is the idea that there are wines available for twenty to thirty dollars that will give younger wine drinkers a look at what the world of wine can really hold for them.

David and I spent some time talking about going a bit outside the comfort zone, and maybe spending just a little bit more, closer to the $25 dollar neighborhood and really opening yourself and your palate up to a new experience. In an effort to illustrate that, David and I tasted through three brilliant wines from Forgeron Cellars priced between $19 and $26.

I first encountered the wines of Forgeron Cellars in the spring and met the charming winemaker, Marie-Eve Gilles. Her wines, particularly the Zinfandel and Chardonnay, are, in my opinion, among Washington state's finest examples of each. Marie Eve marries her old world education in Dijon with the fruit and potential of Washington wine in away that gives her wine personality, elegance, and in many cases, grace.

I have said it on Twitter and I’ll say it again here: her Zinfandel is one of my top two wine discoveries of 2010. You may have picked up on this, but I get to try a lot of wine; this Zin is excellent. David was a big fan of the Zinfandel and found it to be a big bold wine, spicy and not raisiny, and well-integrated with an alcohol percentages hovering in the mid-14s.

Where Marie Eve may have won David's heart ,and what may be described as her wheelhouse, were the two whites we tasted, a Chardonnay ($19), and Marsanne ($26). What I love about the Chardonnay and where I feel Marie Eve hits the mark is on the mouthfeel of this wine, it's full and rounded. You get a lot of well-rounded Chardonnays in California, but they're usually so buttered over with oak that you don't get to enjoy any of the fruit elements. David said it best: this Chardonnay is indeed beautiful. It's crisp and bright and even a bit floral but it really fills the mouth well with a great finish. The Marsanne furthered David's appreciation for Marie Eve's winemaking. The floral elements and the bright fruit flavors had us both muttering compliments between tastes that included "absolutely beautiful” and “fantastic." There were only three barrels of the Marsanne, so if you’re able to get your hands on this beauty, you definitely should.

The point that David allowed me to make is that spending a bit more on wine allows you to really begin to see what the fuss is all about. So I encourage young people skip a few of those $5 lattes, pool your money with a friend or two and drop a bit more coin on a small production bottle of wine. In a perfect world, I'd prefer it be from Washington so you get a glimpse as to why those of us in the secret location of TOWB are so enamored with Northwest grape juice.

Listen to the show here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Columbia Gorge's Maryhill Winery

Maryhill Winery makes a lot of wine: their 80,000 cases rank them as the 15th largest winery in the state of Washington. But there is a lot going on at this scenic spot on the Gorge that would lead one to believe that Maryhill is a bit atypical of the big boys of the Washington Wine industry.

The arrival at Maryhill is about as breathtaking an arrival as one can make. The beautifully placed facilities have a view of the Gorge, the Columbia River, and Mt. Hood that is certainly an enviable one. Perched atop a terraced cliffside among the Gunkel vineyards, this beautiful estate (but not estate winery) defies many of the expectations that its huge case production might create. Why isn’t Maryhill an estate winery? They’re plopped right in the center of the well-regarded Gunkel Vineyards, and the fruit, it belongs to the Gunkels. In fact, the agreement that Maryhill has with the Gunkel family is a lease, a 300 year lease. While Maryhill sources a lot of fruit right there on site, they're also getting fruit from across the state. Maryhill is certainly making a lot of wine from Gunkel fruit, but because Maryhill doesn’t own the fruit, they are not considered an estate winery under the strictest definition of the term.

With distribution in 26 states and 20% of their sales coming from their on site destination tasting room, Maryhill Winery is well positioned, both physically and in terms of the current economy. Maryhill Winery has found themselves in a sweet spot with their wines’ friendly price points - all come in between $10-15 for the non reserve, and the reserve wines barely flirt with $25. On this point Vicki was very clear "We believe wine should be an everyday beverage. If you want people to drink your wine every day, and we do, it should be affordable."

There are a couple things to point out here, of course there's the price of the wines. The wines at Maryhill, particularly the reserve offerings, provide consistent value for the price point. So not only do you have a destination winery with wines that are very approachable where your wallet is concerned, you are also getting consistently well made wines. That makes Maryhill unique among destination wineries, which is unfortunate. Typically wineries with such a prime locale hope the grandeur of the site will blind you to the fact that the wine in your glass is sub par and overpriced.

When it comes to production, Maryhill's large size is more apparent in their practices. Only the Chardonnay is barrel fermented, and all the wines are fermented in stainless steel, with oak staves added when there's a desire to impart the wine with any oak. There is a bit of a departure in how long they hold onto the wines: most of the reds spend two years in barrel and one year in bottle, ideally. Demand may cut this timeline short, but that is an enviable position.

Owners Craig and Vicki Leuthold give off more of a smaller winery vibe. Their upstairs apartment, for one, has them on site and pretty hands on when it comes to the wine, the production and interfacing with their club members and guests of the winery. Last year 75,000 people paid Maryhill a visit, either coming for the wine or the concert series which pulls in national acts that are household names.

Maryhill is making enough varietals that you're certain to find something that suits your tastes. I believe I tasted nearly everything they make and my favorites were the Reserve Zinfandel and Sangiovese. I think these are two varietals that do well in the Gorge but also stand out among the wines that Maryhill makes. From their non-reserve wines I favored the very unique Riesling which has some serious acidity but would do splendidly with food and their tried and true, Winemaker's Blend, of which they make 30,000 cases.

I would have to imagine that when it comes to grandeur it's tough to match or beat Maryhill Winery as a wine destination. The ability to drink a well-made wine at a more than reasonable price while viewing some of the best scenery that that Northwest has to offer makes it easy for me to recommend paying Craig and Vicki a visit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Twelve Blind Pinot Noirs (From Washington) See How They Taste


Some friends at Wine & Beer of Washington State recently hosted a blind tasting of Washington Pinot Noirs, inviting an assortment of wine bloggers and twitterati. Many of us dubious, given that “Washington” and “Pinot Noir” aren’t often found in the same sentence. Bean Fairbanks and the Wine & Beer of Washington State crew had put together a line up of twelve Washington Pinots and one "ringer" from Oregon. With the foil wrapped bottles lined up in front of us, we went to work.

While there was some scoffing and smug remarks about the ability of Washington to produce a worthy Pinot, these were serious Northwest wine drinkers. All kidding aside, The Washington Wine Report's Sean Sullivan and myself had both previously had the opportunity to experience the Kyra Pinot, and we both found it to our liking. So while no one is ready to demand that Oregon's Willamette Valley fork over their title as America's Best Pinot Producer, (yeah, California, I said it) we knew that there was potential out there for this varietal in Washington. In addition to the Kyra Wines Pinot, word on the street (and in the newspapers) was that very good things were happening with the Pinot Noir from James Mantone down in the Columbia Gorge at Syncline Wine Cellars.

Below I submit my quick thoughts from the evening. Some of them are a bit rough, but this was how these wines tasted to me on this particular evening.

Wine #1: Pinot is not really supposed to have tannins like this. Lots of wood?

Wine #2: Not much palate on this wine. There's not much going on. Anyone home?

Wine #3: Whoa, oaky dokey. This wine is quite harsh. Tastes like it might be oxidized or a port style wine that's been open a long time.

Wine #4: Now that's a Pinot, finally. Cherries and cranberries on the palate.

Wine #5: Very good. Might be the Kyra. Baked cherries, concentrated fruit, restrained use of oak but some toasted almond elements.

Wine #6: This has got to be the Oregon Pinot, best one of the bunch. No oak to speak of, beautiful Pinot Noir. More please.

Wine #7: This wine has a lot of green elements, not so much oak to speak of; a relief. I'm getting sour cherries.

Wine #8: Sheesh. This wine, what is the deal? Tastes like strawberry daiquiri mix, and unripe rhubarb.

Wine #9: Fairly concentrated, judicious use of oak, a pretty solid example of Pinot Noir.

Wine # 10: Hmm...Bo Derek has nothing to worry about. Way too much oak on this wine, no hope at tasting the fruit. Cherry Halls comes to mind.

Wine #11: A bit of an earthy and musty nose, aromatic wine. Flawed? Brettanomyces?

Wine #12: A rosé. Fairly good acidity with grapefruit and other citrus notes in the wine.

So the verdict? My favorite wine of the night was easily the Syncline Pinot or #6. You know, the one I said had to be from Oregon. This Pinot, produced in the Columbia Gorge from the Celilo and Underwood Mountain vineyards, was the consensus winner from every guest. The restraint on the oak and the old world approach that James Mantone uses with all of his wines really lets the fruit and terroir speak for itself. This approach, which is often referred to in this country as Burgundian, is also typically Oregonian - at least, in what I feel are Oregon's finest examples.

Second place? Kyra Wines 2008 Pinot. Not much of a surprise. Actually, I was thrilled that I guessed this wine correctly. That rarely happens for me in blind tastings. It’s a bit more heavily oaked than what I prefer from Oregon, but it's not overly done. The fruit is certainly present, the concentration is good, and Kyra does a good job of blending multiple vineyards. The Kyra 2007, which was also in the lineup this evening, didn't fair as well. This was the vintage I'd had before, and I suspect that in this case this particular bottle may have been a bit off.

Third place? This was my biggest surprise of the evening, except perhaps for the fact that the Oregon Pinot faired so poorly. Third place went to the Challenger Ridge 2006. While it didn't approach the other two it was a solid Pinot Noir. I was particularly impressed given this one came from the Puget Sound AVA, which has some unique weather challenges to wine growing. Similar to the Syncline this wine allowed the fruit to come out and really backed down on the oak. Similar to the Kyra there was a vast difference in opinion between vintages from the Challenger Ridge, the 2005 was not very impressive at all.

At the end of the evening, as we prepared for a beautiful dinner, the conclusion of the group - besides that the food looked amazing - was that Washington can indeed produce Pinot Noir. However, there isn't yet a consistency in quality like what you'll find in our neighbor to the south. That might come, and it might not. In the case of Syncline, making wine from a cool climate like the western end of the Columbia Gorge may be the ideal situation, but Kyra and Challenger Ridge certainly prove that the wine can come from all over the state. Stop asking questions and give some of it a try.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Columbia Gorge AVA is beautiful and it might be magic

One of the perks of writing for the world famous Oregon Wine Blog is that sometimes people invite you to things. I recently attended a media trip organized by the good people at Maryhill Winery and Duo Public Relations. A few members of the print, radio and internet media were invited down for two days of exploration of both Maryhill and the greater Columbia Gorge AVA, unaware that they would unleash magic upon us.

I've been to Ithaca, NY, before and it's nice. “It’s gorges,” right? - that's the joke. Compared to the Columbia River Gorge, though, it's not so special. Unfortunately, the Columbia River Gorge is gorge, and not gorges, so that whole funny t-shirt thing doesn't really work.

The Columbia Gorge AVA is one of the Northwest's newest, designated in 2004. It's a shared AVA to boot; straddling both Washington and Oregon. I personally think sharing is good, though some folks might call that socialism. The Gorge AVA is unique on a number of levels, not the least of which is it's scenic beauty, which is unparalleled. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of pretty places in the Yakima and Willamette Valleys, but the sheer breathtaking beauty of the Gorge is hard to equal. The visual drama that plays out between the mighty Columbia River and the sheer cliffs and rolling hills that flank it make it a visual delight. Add to that the gorgeous Mt Hood and Mt. Adams and you've got one of earth's most splendid places, and not surprisingly America's first Natural Scenic Area. What most people don't know, but what I certainly figured out on this trip, is that the Columbia Gorge AVA must be a magical land.

“Magic is fake,” you scoff? I beg to differ. See, I've seen movies about magic, like the one with all the hobbits, the really long one, and the one about that kid, Hank Porterhouse, or whatever his name was. All of these movies take place in a beautiful, ominous looking place. The Gorge has that. Magical places have strange creatures; the gorge has zebras, which aren't necessarily strange on their own, but in Washington? That's weird. Volcanoes, great ominous mountains like the ones in the movies with all the hobbits, are also found in the gorge. The most magical thing though, the real magic I discovered on the trip, was what’s going on with the wine down there.

In the gorge, when it comes to wine, down is up and back is forth. What do I mean, you ask? The most amazing Pinot Noir in the gorge is coming from, wait for it... Washington. The Celilo and Underwood Mountain vineyards on the north side of the Columbia River are home to some of the highest elevation vineyards in the state. James Mantone at Syncline takes grapes from these vineyards and makes a Pinot Noir that is old world in style, like much of the wine being made at Syncline. It's elegant, beautiful, and allows the fruit to really show itself. It's the kind of Pinot that I love, but that's where the magic comes in, you see, ‘cause it’s from Washington.

Also on the Washington side of the Gorge is Maryhill Winery, a winery making 80,000 cases of wine a year; huge by Washington standards. Maryhill is most definitely the crown jewel of the Gorge when it comes to size and views. Craig and Vicki Leuthold are running this giant destination winery like a small family operation. Craig and Vicki's hands on approach and the family atmosphere they have created belies a winery making a great deal of quality wine, the pricing of which makes it a QPR bargain. Plus? They have concerts.

Craig and Vicki live upstairs and their dog Potter walks around greeting guests and barking at the wind. I don't know about you but I've been to a winery that makes tens of thousands of cases a wine of year; they have a concert thing going on there too. You know how often I've met the owners, or heard that they were living in an apartment upstairs? About as many times as I've met their family pet roaming the grounds, which is to say, never. Unless you count those peacocks.

There's more magic to be found on the Oregon side of the river, because they're growing Zinfandel. I know you thought they only grew Pinot in Oregon, but see, that’s the magic again. The Pines 1852 estate vineyards have zinfandel vines that are more than 100 years old. That's the kind of stuff you hear about from California, but not in Oregon. In addition to the beautiful zinfandel The Pines is making from these old vines, Maryhill is also making zinfandel. This is a grape that is often elusive in Washington and obviously Oregon, but you know what I'm going to say by now...superb growing conditions. Ha, gotcha! (Interestingly The Pines estate vineyard is mostly in the Columbia Gorge AVA but the AVA's boundary actually cuts right through the estate property.)

A visit to the Gorge can certainly be a magical experience. The views are once in a lifetime, the wines defy expectation and the people - from the Leutholds, or the Wright family who operate The Pines - certainly make you feel at home. The opportunity to chat with James at Syncline is worth the trip alone. But beyond that, there are a couple towns in the gorge worth a visit, including The Dalles, where we stayed. The Dalles is located quite close to Maryhill and has a few nice lodging and dining options. We stayed at The Dalles Inn, and ate at one of the most unassuming restaurants I've ever been in, The HiWay House. From the outside, The HiWay House doesn’t look like much. But inside? Damn, the food was amazing, and it boasted white tablecloths and the whole nine yards. I had a macadamia nut encrusted halibut that I was still talking about three days later. While I'm not a beef guy, the word on the street was that the prime rib was dangerously good. Walking into a place that looks sketchy from the outside and ending up with a meal that's sheer delight? Magic. Again.

I'll be chronicling my visit in separate posts on Maryhill Winery, The Pines and Syncline, but I urge you to check out the Gorge for yourself. As a year round destination it has something to offer outdoors enthusiasts from rafting to mountaineering, wine tasting, or just enjoying the hip shops and galleries of Hood River. Even if you're the laziest of people the views alone will make your trip worth while. Get down there.

The Columbia River Gorge Visitor's Association

Columbia Gorge Wine Region

Visit Hood River