Friday, January 29, 2010

Washington Syrah: A Tasting of Terroir (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on our tasting of four 2006 Syrah from four of Washington's finest AVAs and vineyards. Our first two Syrahs were from Fielding Hills in the Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley's K Vintners Morrison Lane Syrah.

Our third Syrah moved west from Walla Walla Valley deeper into Yakima Valley to Laurelhurst and their Boushey Vineyards Syrah. The Boushey Vineyards, which are nearly smack dab in the middle of the Yakima Valley, have a more moderate climate than the vineyards of the Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain. The Boushey Vineyards are mostly a sand and loam soil combination and the Boushey fruit is sought after and is often looked at as fruit that personifies what Washington Wine can and should be.

The Laurelhurst Cellars Syrah ($37) had aromatics of earth tones and oak with cherry notes and an earthen quality which is typical of Boushey fruit. We also noted the definitive dark cherry and pepper notes that we have come to expect of a Washington Syrah. Most of us also picked up on the vanilla accents in the wine, which Craig guessed came from their use of new oak. Laurelhurst winemaker Gabe Warner later confirmed that the Syrah spent 22 months in 100% new French oak. The wine was the "hottest" of the four initially but the alcohol quickly breathed off, revealing a well balanced Syrah with good acidity. Laurelhurst Cellars is a relatively new urban winery located in South Seattle, producing wine in small lots, and using tight grain French oak to accent the wines.

Our final wine of the evening was DeLille's Doyenne Gran Ciel Vineyard Syrah ($72) from Red Mountain. Red Mountain, Washington's smallest AVA at 600 planted acres, is so named because of the red color of the cheat grass that covers the area. The Red Mountain is marked by a gravelly soil high in alkaline and is primarily planted with classic Washington red varietals: Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot on southwestern-facing slopes that get more sunlight hours than any other Washington AVA.

The DeLille Syrah 98% Syrah was blended with 2% Viognier to emulate the Rhone style. Craig explained that the blend creates an "ethereal" kind of result that combines the dark fruits and pepper of the Syrah with a floral and citrus element of the Viognier. This wine was built to lay down but was already displaying loads of character and nuance. The Doyenne GC Syrah had by far the most interesting and complex finish of the wines we tasted. The Syrah was big and jammy, with blackberry and plum flavors, and you could certainly detect the Viognier in what Gwynne referred to as orange blossom. This wine made it clear that it was going to go from delicious to extraordinary. The acidity and structure of this wine make one daydream of what it will be in ten years.

All of these wines were delicious. Sampling wines with 100% single vineyard fruit allowed us to really appreciate the character of the varying terroirs of Washington state. The variety and subtlety of the sources of the grapes allowed us experience how soils and climate can show up in the wine, through the nose and the taste. Most premium wines are made in a similar manner, though there are variances in oak and time spent in the bottle. What we taste in well-crafted wine is the ability of the winemaker to highlight the fruit and terroir that makes it special.

They say that the wine is made in the vineyard. I think these four wines proved that in the hands of a good winemaker, great fruit can become better wine.

The wineries:
Fielding Hills
K Vintners
Laurelhurst Cellars
DeLille Cellars

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Washington Syrah; A Tasting of Terroir (Part 1 of a 2 Part series)

Washington grows wine that can stand up to wine from anywhere else, and our Syrah is no exception. We all have particular expectations of what we'll get from a glass of Syrah. Though Syrah grown in France will be quite different from a Syrah grown in Washington, the Syrahs grown in Washington have elements in common. Within those commonalities, however, are subtle differences that come from the growing regions spread across the state.

I wanted to invite some friends over to explore the subtleties that exist in four different Washington Syrahs, all from 2006. The Syrahs came from of Walla Walla valley, the Wahluke Slope, and two examples of Yakima Valley: Red Mountain and the Boushey Vineyard. A friend, Craig Nickel, happens to be Cellarmaster for DeLille Cellars, and agreed to lead us through the tastings and give us the dirt on Washington's terroir. (Oh, that's a good one.)

We were lucky enough to have the cooperation of four wineries for this event; the wines were provided by Delille Cellars, K Vintners, Laurelhurst Cellars and Fielding Hills. Today's post will cover the Walla Walla Valley and Wahluke slope Syrahs; tomorrow we'll talk about the Yakima Valley Syrahs.

We started out in the Wahluke Slope. Wahluke is the Native term for "watering place," and it is Washington's 8th AVA. Originally dominated by Riesling and Chardonnay, the Wahluke Slope trademark sandy and gravelly soil now boast 80% red wine varietals, including some of the best Merlot in the state. The 2006 Fielding Hills Syrah ($40) from the Riverbend Vineyard represented the Wahluke Slope. Fielding Hills is a family owned winery that has been in operation since 2000, making small lot premium wines that are given lots of care and attention. They have developed an excellent reputation as one of Washington's fine winemakers.

The Fielding Hills Syrah was a very nice example of the trademark Wahluke Slope characteristics. The wine had a beautiful ruby color, slightly lighter than the other three Syrahs we'd taste, with smoky berry notes to match. It was as the most peppery of the Syrahs we tasted, which Craig pointed out is a trademark of Syrah that is even more present when the weather is quite hot. (Wahluke Slope is the warmest grape growing region in Washington.) Some guests noticed notes of chocolate and ripe red berries. This wine was well balanced and had an excellent finish that kept us coming back.

We moved from Wahluke Slope to Walla Walla Valley and the K Vintners Morrison Lane Syrah ($45). Walla Walla is known as the "Napa of Washington" and in many ways is the re-birthplace of the Washington Wine industry. The Walla Walla Valley AVA is in the southeastern-most corner of Washington and is marked by a wind blow silt deposited loess soil. K Vintners is one of the original winemakers in Walla Walla and their Syrah is an example of classic Walla Walla, where the fruit typically hangs longer to produce a "shrivel". That level of ripeness produces a concentration of flavor in the fruit. The wine it produces is well-balanced with excellent acidity and well structured tannins.

The first noticeable difference between our first two wines was color. The K Syrah was very dark in glass, nearly black, and had a more fragrant nose with floral notes. On the palate, it was much darker fruit with prunes and dark cherries. While the spice and pepper mingled with the fruit, they weren't as overt. The K Syrah exhibited dark earthen tones on both the nose and the palate. This is a big shouldered rich wine.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the Yakima Valley Syrahs; the Laurelhurst Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah, and the Delille Cellars Grand Ciel Syrah.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Welcome to California!

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Located just 40 miles north of San Francisco, the Sonoma and Napa wine region is home to over 730 wineries. Sonoma County sits between the California coast and the Mayacamas mountains to the east. Divided into several different areas, including Alexander Valley, Carneros, Dry Creek, and the Russian River Valley all with different temperatures and climates, Sonoma County produces a wide range of wines and is one of California’s largest wine growing regions. Continuing east over the Mayacamas mountains drops you into the heart of Napa county. Arguably the more famous of the two wine growing regions, Napa County boasts its own unique climate being in the valley of two mountain ranges. Traditionally these two regions do not get along with each other and each one will say they are better than the other for a variety of reasons. Having grown up in this wine country I have learned that each has its own specialties and you get a different experience everywhere you go.

Since this is my first post as a writer for The Oregon Wine Blog, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jesse Andrews and I am originally from Sonoma County. However I have spent time in southern California and was able to experience the Temecula wine growing region as well as spending 4 years in the Pacific Northwest. It was here I was introduced to the other writers for TOWB as well as both Oregon and Washington wines. I moved to Washington with a bias towards California wines but over time found a love and appreciation for the wines of the Pacific Northwest. Now that I have returned I am excited to explore this region even further.

I am aware of the reputation that California has and I can’t say it isn’t deserved. California is home to many wineries that produce the wines regularly found in any grocery store. Names such as Clos du Bois, Kendall-Jackson, and Sebastiani are found in California but so are the little known, family owned wineries tucked away in the rolling hills of California. My hope with this blog is to share some of those wineries with you so that if you take a trip to this area you can find similar experiences that you do at many of the places you love in Oregon and Washington. I am excited to be a part of The Oregon Wine Blog team and to share my experiences with wine in California.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 Mo's Crab and Chowder Festival

Ancient Pacific Northwest Native American folklore describes a legendary tale of fear, deceit, and pairings of delicious food and wine. Legend has it that thousands of years ago, the Pacific Northwest was ruled by a hideous creature that would ravage its coastline and disembowel humans for its own amusement. The creature in question, Mo, is not one that even the bravest of humans wished to encounter.

One day, while stuffing sand dollars in his cargo shorts near modern day Newport Beach, the hero of our story encountered Mo in what would become the first time any mortal would live to talk about it. Jim, our hero, was minding his own business when suddenly a humungous creature emerged from the sea.


Oh fiddle sticks! It’s Mo, the legendary human-disemboweling creature of what will be known as the future modern day Pacific Northwest coastline!


If that’s how it must be, then I accept my fate. Before you eat my pasty ass, may I make one last request?


Jim reached into his satchel and pulled out a relatively small bottle compared to Mo’s enormous mass.

I have spent my entire life trying to make the best wines in the world and nobody but myself has tried my latest vintage. I call it the 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris


Jim reached back as far as he could and hurled the bottle directly into Mo’s fang-filled mouth. Shortly after, Mo’s complexion turned from one of anger to admiration.


You think that’s good? Try it with one of these guys!

Jim reached down into the water, pulled out a dungeness crab that just happened to be chillin on the shore, and projected it straight into her mouth.


Thank you, oh benevolent Mo! I’ll gladly do whatever you say!


Absolutely! I own a beautiful wine tasting facility just over those mountains that can host a large volume of people over a two day period.


I’m more of a reggae man myself. Does it really have to be classic rock?


Cougars? Now you’re speaking my language! What else would you like.


Who is Michael Seraphin and what restaur-


Ok ok fine.


I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ll go ahead and assume the above will be invented sometime in the future.


I accept your terms and will begin planning the first Mo’s Crab and Chowder Festival at my vineyard.


What’s that?


And that, my friends, is how Mo’s Crab and Chowder Festival hosted by Willamette Valley Vineyards began. For more descriptive versions of what the festival is like, search our archives.

Tune in next week as I explain where babies come from.


Pairing Throwdown: Primanti Brothers Sandwich

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A short while ago, the Corvallis Headquarters of The Oregon Wine Blog paired a Sokol Blosser Meditrina with the maple bacon bar from the Portland institution that is Voodoo Doughnuts.

For family reasons, I must leave the Pacific Northwest next month and return home to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for a week. In addition to being known for having the greatest football team in the history of the world, Pittsburgh is known for the Primanti Brothers sandwich.

And so I wonder: am I able to combine two of my favorite reasons for having been born with tastebuds? Can I pair a Northwest wine with a Primanti's sandwich? A Primanti's sandwich is made by taking the best Italian bread in the new world, from Mancini's and creating a masterpiece by combining shredded cabbage, tomato, french fries, and capicola (my choice) between the two slices of Italian heaven.

My question, what Northwest winery makes a wine that can stand up to, and accentuate this Steel City work of pure genius?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Winery to Watch: Crayelle Cellars

A frequent reader of The Oregon Wine Blog tipped me off to a man by the name of Craig Mitrakul. While I hadn't heard of Craig, I was familiar with some of his handiwork: Craig held posts as the assistant winemaker at both Ponzi Vineyard in the Willamette Valley and Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla before becoming the winemaker at both Ryan Patrick and Saint Laurent Estate Winery.

More recently, Craig and his wife Danielle have struck out on their own in the creation of Crayelle Cellars. Craig has been called "one of the up and coming wine making stars in Washington" by Wine Press NW. Crayelle Cellars just released their first vintage in August of 2009, a 2007 Syrah and 2008 Dry Riesling. Craig's choice of syrah and riesling was a result of his coming up through the world of wine; Riesling came from his East Coast roots and his time in the Finger Lakes of New York state, while the focus on Syrah came from working a harvest in Australia. All Craig's fruit comes from the Ancient Lakes area of the Columbia Valley. Currently under application for an AVA status, this area is a bit further north and at a higher altitude than much of the valley. I think this is one of the keys to the wine that Craig is crafting. The labels on the Crayelle wines include three words that represent the philosophy of Crayelle; balance, character and longevity. I can say with certainty that the Crayelle wines have balance in spades. Both wines are 100% varietals made in small lots, around 70 cases of each.

The Crayelle Syrah ($26) is refined and elegant with a fine and smooth finish. Craig sent me a bottle of each to sample and stressed that he's making wine to be enjoyed with food. We paired it with a shrimp bisque and shrimp corn cakes. It had subtle pepper notes and red fruit with what Gwynne described as a "nutty" finish; I'd call it almost smoky. It was a very good match for the subtly spicy notes of the shrimp corn cakes. What really stood out for me with Craig's wine, particularly the Syrah, was how it departed from the majority of the varietal produced here in Washington. The Crayelle Syrah provides a different experience and a chance to expand your horizons (and your palate) when it comes to Washington Syrah. In this Syrah you find a new potential AVA showcased in a wine that reveals itself slowly, letting the fruit speak for itself. Many Washington Syrahs are big and bold; Crayelle appears a bit more intellectual and layered.

The Dry Riesling ($16) is done in an Alsatian style. The wine is crisp and aromatic with notes of citrus fruits all the way from the nose through the palette. The wine's acidity is very well balanced and it is an excellent food wine. This is a wine that will win over those wine drinkers who believe that Riesling and its sweetness are not for them. There is a minerality that is present amidst the fruit accents, but it doesn't result in a chalky wine that I feel you often get with drier style Rieslings. Instead you find a wine that is light and bright on the palate.

I found his wines to be about substance and subtlety; the Crayelle Syrah isn't the party guest who draws attention to themselves, raising their voice and shouting tales of their exploits across the room; rather, you learn the personality through an extended and shared conversation. Craig shared that the goal at Crayelle is layers of flavor and texture on the palate. They're not interested in hitting you over the head with their wine.

Variety is what makes wine so enjoyable. If every cork we popped tasted the same, the conversation would be boring and short. If you're willing to "listen," I think you'll find something very interesting in the wines coming out of Crayelle Cellars. These are wines that have depth, balance, and character. And if Crayelle's first release is any indication, longevity won't be a problem either.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seattle's Urban Wineries Part 4: The Tasting Room

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In the heart of Seattle's tourist haven, Pike Place Market's Post Alley, lies The Wines of Washington Tasting Room (a second Tasting Room can be found in Yakima at the Wilridge Wine vineyards). For a long time The Tasting Room was one of the only ways someone without the time or access to Washington's wine country could sample the wares from the eastern side of the state. Since this is part 4, we know there are at least three other ways, and quite honestly there are several more, I'll get to those later.

The Tasting Room is a wine cooperative founded by Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Wines and Robert Goodfriend at Harlequin Cellars. There are seven wineries that participate, all of which are winemaker-owned facilities that make 3,000 cases or fewer annually. The wineries are located throughout Washington, from Walla Walla to Yakima to Seattle's Madrona neighborhood and the Olympic Pennisula, and include Latitude 46 North, Wilridge, Harlequin, Camraderie, Wineglass Cellars, Mountain Dome and Naches Heights Vineyards. In many cases the wineries don't have a tasting room of their own, and participation in the cooperative allows them to get additional exposure without having to manage a tasting room operation. Perhaps the greatest asset The Tasting Room offers is its variety; with a wine list that easily has 50 different selections that you can buy by the taste, glass, or bottle. The Tasting Room also offers anywhere from 10 to 14 different tasting flight options from which to choose, which allows you to really tailor your visit to what you want to experience.

With its large wooden tables and the feel of a European wine cellar, The Tasting Room has been designed to be a gathering place. If you buy a bottle there, there is no corkage fee, which makes it a perfect place to share a bottle of wine over board games. We opted for a game of Jenga, the Clifton Cuvee ($18) from Latitude 46 North, a Rhone style blend that is mostly Grenache, and a cheese plate that included cheese from Beecher's (located in Pike Place Market).

The beauty of The Tasting Room lies in the simplicity: a welcoming atmosphere that brings multiple small lot producers together. The wide variety of board games help break the ice and bring a joviality to wine that isn't always present. In addition to the wine and tasting flights, The Tasting Room also often has Meet the Winemaker events. If you're looking for a quick way to sample a variety of what Washington State has to offer, look no further.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What happened? The bottle is empty! EdenVale Midsummer's Eve.

I was all geared up this evening to write an intellectual, refined post on the wine of the evening - EdenVale's 2006 Midsummer's Eve White Wine -- and next thing I knew, the bottle was empty.  Whoops!  Who was I kidding, anyway?  When is ANYTHING intellectual and refined on The Oregon Wine Blog? If your answer is "all the time, of course" then you have a new place on our favorite reader list. Really, we have a list. On to the wine.

Just like this post, I had other intentions for this particular wine. It was scheduled to be paired with the first course of our winter wine pairing dinner, taken from the pages of The Vintner's Kitchen. Unfortunately, the wine didn't arrive in time for the dinner so on the rack it sat until tonight, waiting for the perfect pairing with a chicken stir fry and an empty glass. Midsummer's Eve is a white wine blend, and while I don't have the technical specs at hand, I'm deducing that it is a blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier. Slightly off-dry, the wine presents with a nose of peaches and pears. On the palate, Drew found the wine a buttery and I detected melon with a very pleasant mouthfeel. This is one of those unique wines that could go perfectly in nearly every scenario. I enjoyed it with a spicy stir fry, however, it would be amazing on a hot summer night out on the deck, or paired with a fruit-based dessert by the fire on a cold winter evening. Meant to exemplify all four seasons, EdenVale hit the mark on this one.

I don't drink a ton of white wine at this point in my vinographical life, but this is definitely an enjoyable wine. It's also a bit on the lighter side and goes down easily, hence the empty bottle and lack of notes. Check out this wine and check out EdenVale, situated firmly in the Rogue Valley out of Medford.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Urban Wine Tour from 106 Pine

One of Seattle's newest wine bars is 106 Pine, where their motto is "Fresh Finds, Local Wines," and much of what they feature comes out of the nearby Pike Place Market. While that is reason enough to check them out, as of January 2, 2010, they're also offering a Urban Wine Tour on Saturdays at 2pm. Shannon Borg, the beverage manager, invited me to come join them on their inaugural trip. Given that it was advertised as a three hour tour, I was a little nervous!

Shannon is the wine writer for Seattle Magazine and has really come to develop a relationship with the wines and wine industry of Washington. She sees her role at 106 Pine as a way to give back to Washington wine and showcase the work of those she's known and worked with for so long. Though this first tour was a dress rehearsal with the owners and staff of The Chocolate Box and 106 Pine, it quickly became evident that Shannon was going to make an excellent guide. It was immediately apparent that she knows a lot about wine; I mean a lot.

The tour kicked off at the facilities at 106 Pine with a sparkling wine made by Masquerade, the Effervescing Elephant. It was a very well made Washington sparkling wine that Shannon paired with a chevre from Idaho's Rollingstone Creamery. As we tasted, Shannon explained the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne, along with the traditional "methode champenoise."

We piled into a bus-like van and made our way to Ward Johnson Winery. On the way Shannon explained the state of the Washington Wine industry and the role that Prohibition played in the industry's rebirth in the '70s. Kurt Johnson was there to greet us and to pour their Counterbalance Chardonnay, which will be featured at 106 Pine. Kurt told the tour-goers how he and Charlie, his brother got started in the basement of their mother's house in Richland, Washington.

Shannon and Kurt talked about the Counterbalance Chardonnay's high acidity and fruit characteristics, which make it stand out in the Chardonnay land of butter and oak. Shannon paired the Ward Johnson Chardonnay with the Cirrus, an amazing and highly recommended Camembert style cheese from Mt. Townshend Creamery.

From there we went a few short blocks down Elliot to The Wine Outlet. The Wine Outlet is owned by the guru of Washington Wine in Seattle, Richard Kinssies. Richard has been here from the beginning of the rebirth of Washington Wine. Richard gave us a run down of the history of his role in Washington Wine, and then shared with a JW Bridgman Viognier based blend ($7) that he blended himself. He explained the philosophy behind the Outlet: he won't sell a wine he can't get his customers a deal on. From the Voignier we transitioned to a '06 Northwest Totem Cellars Longhouse Syrah (a steal at $15). Shannon paired this wine with the Barolo and Tartufo salamis, cured meat from Creminelli.

Our final destination was in Sodo, the neighborhood that surrounds Seattle's sports stadiums. Our van pulled up at 85 Atlantic Artisan Vintners, where we were greeted by Jim of Sodo Vino and Judy of Falling Rain. Jim talked to us about the cooperative wine operation that they had running out of 85 Atlantic, and explained that as an urban winemaker, he works in Seattle because they want to be where the wine buyers are. He touched on the role the barrel plays in imparting flavor to the wine. To wrap up our visit to 85 Atlantic, Judy treated us to the highlight of the tour, a barrel tasting of two of her Merlots; one from Clifton Hills vineyards and one from Stone Ridge. Judy will eventually blend these in her Falling Rain releases.

Once the tours get underway, they'll conclude the tour with a chocolate and dessert wine pairing back at 106 Pine and wrap up in time for you to enjoy happy hour at 106 Pine. Tours are planned for every Saturday, and tickets will be $50. I'd call it a deal, particularly for those new to wine. The barrel tasting alone will be worth the price of admission, and you'll leave knowing much more about wine than when you arrived.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Oregon Bounty - The Vintner's Kitchen Wine Dinner

Greetings and salutations, loyal readers.  We're excited to bring you this review of The Oregon Wine Blog's Winter Pairing Dinner -- unique in that it not only chronicles the wine and food from our dinner, but also the cookbook utilized for 90% of the recipes:  The Vintner's Kitchen: Celebrating the Wines of Oregon.

Published in 2008, The Vintner's Kitchen is the second volume in Arnica Publishing's A Chef's Bounty Cookbook Series.  Written by Bill King, the book "honors the pioneering spirit displayed by our regional wineries and vintners in their quest to produce phenomal, award-winning wines."  The cookbook takes gourmet recipes covering the spectrum of culinary adventure and ingredients in Oregon and pairs them with specific wines from the state.  The result is a fusion of food and wine that will leave the diner in a state of euphoric delight.

From the minute I picked up The Vintner's Kitchen, I knew in it's pages contained the vision for the winter wine dinner our staff had been talking about.  We entered the project with the highest of hopes - to present every course of the dinner directly from the book, matched exactly with the listed wines.  We selected the menu, listed below, and approached the wineries requesting samples for the dinner.  We quickly found that most of the wines or vintages listed were not available, so we took editorial discretion and made local pairing decisions based on our knowledge of the wines we used.  We're grateful to the selected wineries for providing the wine for review, in typical The Oregon Wine Blog style, our plans changed drastically from start to finish and the outcome was amazing.  I'll take you through each course and the respective wine, sharing the thoughts and tastes of our esteemed panel of judges:  myself, Rick Goranflo, Micheal Seraphin, Drew Desilet, Alyssa Dart, and Megan Beresford.

Spicy Oregon Pear Salsa with Oregon Jack Cheese and Hazelnut Crisps
2007 Tyee Estate Pinot Gris

Starting off the night was a dish unlike any we had ever prepared before. In short, this dish is a tortilla with Oregon jack cheese, hazelnuts, and a pear salsa. Most notable about this dish is the fact that the hazelnuts used on the crisps were supplied by the same folks that produced the wine; Tyee. That's right, Tyee Wine Cellars also sells hazelnuts grown right next to their grapes and we were the lucky recipients of five pounds of them. It only makes sense to pair them with Tyee wine.

I would say this dish had the widest array of expectations as none of us had ever had a pear-based salsa. While it didn't come out spicy, many diners agreed that its end result of being more refreshing was actually a welcome trait. Diners noted the "nice combination of hazelnuts, cheese, and salsa" as well as the hazelnut adding a welcome texture.

The wine was described as "tangy," "very tart," "crisp," and hinting notes of apple. More to the point, the pairing was perfect. While the salsa didn't come out spicy as anticipated, the wine would have worked just as well with some added heat.  Tyee is a great winery and their gris is a nice catch.

First Course
Northwest Shellfish Stew with Artisan Bread
Corn and Cheese Chowder with Artisan Bread
2007 Willamette Valley Vineyard Dijon Clone Chardonnay

Let me first preface that we did not pair both dishes for all diners. While many of us believe creatures pulled from the bottom of the ocean to be some of the most delicious critters on the planet, two of our guests did not. Instead of making them suffer through something we already knew they wouldn't enjoy, we created an alternative dish lacking any seafood; corn and cheese chowder.

I'll also preface that like most multi-course dinners, everybody expected this course to be good, but not the crowning achievement of the night. It's a soup and salad dish, right? Right, but both completely different soups were largely considered the most delicious courses of the night matched with one of the best wine pairings.

Regarding the shellfish stew, all but one of us immediately noted a strong hue of orange brought on by it's fresh orange zest. Also surprising was a bit of unexpected spiciness, which one noted somewhat challenged the wine. We all agreed that the stew itself was absolutely delicious and a dish that will have to be made again.

The chowder produced just as much praise, albeit a completely different dish. While a simpler dish, the combination of melted cheese, large pieces of cracked pepper, and Yukon gold potatoes perhaps made the most perfect pairing of the night.

For more about the wine, check out our previous review of Willamette Valley Vineyard's 2007 Dijon Clone Chardonnay.  Willamette Valley Vineyards is always a solid choice.

Main Course
Cornish Hen Diavolo with Steamed Broccoli
2006 Zerba Cellars Columbia Valley Syrah

While not necessarily cheating, I will preface that Josh and I had made the cornish hens before. Why did we decide to use them for an event such as one of our regionally-famous wine dinners? Because they're damn good.

This sentiment was shared by all as the spice rub was delcared the perfect amount of spice for everybody while also not overpowering the wine. This course was declared a great main course, but in all honestly, many of us were still reveling from how awesome the last course was. I also way over did the broccoli due to a timing issue with the hens. Oh well!

People did have a lot to say about Zerba's 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah, however. Michael was the first to note that it wasn't as heavy as some syrahs, but spicy enough to remind you it is from Eastern Washington. Other popular hues brought out by this wine are those of tobacco, currant, and a little bit of smoke. Alyssa specifically noted cherries or plum. All in all a fantastic syrah that many agreed would hold up on its own.  We wanted to hit Zerba last time we were in the Walla Walla Valley, and now will definitely have make it.

Rustic Pear Tart with Dessert Wine Syrup and Crème Fraiche
2007 Harris Bridge Winery Sarah’s Stories Pinot Gris

I'm going to put out there that neither of us are bakers. We can cook some mean food, but are often at a loss when baking and having to troubleshoot. Luckily, Alyssa is quite comfortable baking and was a huge help in making this dish a success. What was at one point thought to be a potentially disasterous dish ended up being exactly the opposite. In fact, half of our guests considered this their favorite course.

This dish is a crust of mostly butter and flour stacked with slices of pear drizzled in a dessert wine reduction and creme fraiche. Like all of the above? So did we. Many people noted that their favorite part happened to be the crust, while others also mentioned that the creme fraiche actually mellowed out the sweetness.

I would also like to take a minute to recognize the wine donated by our new friends at Harris Bridge Vineyard. This small winery only produces dessert wines and their offerings are becoming available at more and more shops around Corvallis. The other cool part about their wine is that the winemakers live about three blocks away from us and gave us among their first review bottles.

Also noteworthy about Harris Bridge is that pretty much the entire operation is done by hand. The first thing you'll notice with every bottle is a short story tied around the top. Every story is written by Sarah herself, which is numbered on the top so you can select wines according to the story attached. We received stories 1 and 3, which means we have a few more to collect.  With full time vocations outside of wine, Nathan and Amanda are able to run their winery the way they want to -- with attention on small lot production not profit.  The wine, Sarah's Story, was the only wine universally enjoyed by all guests.  A dessert Pinot Gris, it brings forth an essence of apple and some peach but is unlike most dessert wines you will taste.  With a nice lightness but plenty of sweet, I guarantee you'll love this one whether you like dessert wine or not.

Are you salivating yet? You should be! As you can tell, all of these dishes were absolutely delicious, and we'd suggest picking up a copy of The Vintner's Kitchen available for $29.95. A quick word of warning, some of the recipes are a bit vague so we relied on our confidence as chefs to produce the results. If you need everything exactly prescribed and timed in the kitchen, you may need some trial and error before being successful.  Please support the wineries that contributed to our dinner as they all make great wine, are good people, and support the local economy.

We're already working on concepts for our Spring Wine Dinner. Some ideas we're looking at include a Sake tasting, or, a "farm to mouth" in 100 miles dinner. What ideas do you have for a wine pairing dinner?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fortified (Port-Style) Wine of the Yakima Valley: Episode 1; Cabernet Sauvignon

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When a wine is referred to as 'fortified,' it means it's been made stronger (or 'fortified') by adding a distilled beverage, traditionally brandy. The brandy is added before the fermentation process is complete, which kills the yeast, leaving behind more sugar, which results in a stronger, sweeter beverage. As I mentioned here, to properly be called Port, the wine must hail from the Duoro Valley in Portugal. Since the wines I received were grown and bottled in Washington, they are more properly 'port-style' or 'fortified wines.'

I would like to take you on a figurative journey through the fortified or Port-style wines of Yakima Valley, through nine Yakima Valley wineries and one Idaho winery. In order to give you a sense of what I had the pleasure to taste, I'll be breaking out my posts based on varietal. We'll be touring fortified wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese, or using a traditional port-style blend. Today's post will focus on the fortified wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Without further ado...Cabernet Sauvignon

I received three samples of fortified wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon: The Forte from Terra Blanca and two American Port-Style wines from Eaton Hill, Lot 99 and Lot 03. Because port-style wines are so enjoyable, I asked some friends to join us for the tasting of the Cabernets.

We started with the Terra Blanca Forte, 2005 ($42), which is 100% Cabernet. Put simply, it was quite good. This fortified wine is Terra Blanca's homage to the great Ports of the Duoro Valley. The nose had cherries and raisins, and one friend "definitely smelled raspberries." It went beautifully with dried figs and chocolate truffles, which enhanced flavor elements of the wine, including a resounding plum flavor that everyone picked up. Gwynne cited cassis which sent the group into a disagreement over what cassis actually was. Gwynne was right. The technical notes mentioned that the grapes were left to hang until mid-November. The sweetness that came out of that resulted in a very smooth texture in this delicious dark ruby wine.

Eaton Hill sent two fortified wines, the Lot 03, and the Lot 99, the respected harvest years of the fruit used in each.

The Lot 99 ($40) is made from Cabernet grapes and aged 17 months in oak barrels. This wine was awarded a silver medal at the 2003 San Diego National Wine Competition, and it came with a cool little silver sticker on the bottle. Gwynne described the nose of this wine perfectly: "it smells like a hot sunny day with over-ripened black berries crushed on the sidewalk." It had flavors of plum and caramel. We drank this along side the Theo Bread and Chocolate bar, which was a hit.

The Eaton Hill Lot 03 ($50) was amazing. Stunning. The nose of this wine is unbelievably luxuriant. This wine certainly benefited from the 30 months it spent in oak. Though it paired very well with the chocolate, cheese and dried figs we had on hand, this wine is a dessert in and of itself, with a nose of dried rose petals and vanilla. The wine tastes of chocolate, cherries and plum jam. One guest even a smoothness and depth of flavor reminiscent of crème brûlée. The wine was silky smooth and by far our favorite of the evening, and it had the jewelry to match. With six silver medals and one bronze medal this wine had more bling than Lil' John.

My next fortified wine post will be coming soon, but in the meantime, if you find yourself in need of an after-dinner drink, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any one of the Terra Blanca Forte, Eaton Hill Lot 99 or Eaton Hill Lot 03.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Seattle's Urban Wineries Part 3: A Nano-Winery in Ballard

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WineGirl Wines came to my attention recently as a perfect fit in my Seattle Urban Wineries series. Angela Jacobs is the "Wine Girl" behind WineGirl Wines. Making wine since 2001, she fell in love with wine while working at Cucina Cucina and made her first release (a Pinot Noir) before she turned 21. Angela agreed to meet me for lunch at Guancos Tacos, a delicious pupusería in Seattle's University District.

We had an excellent conversation over lunch, touching on social media and wine and the role it plays before we turned to WineGirl Wines. Angela describes her operation as a "nano-winery" because of its small size - annually, WineGirl Wines produces 200 cases a year. She told me that she owes a lot to Derek DesVoigne at Cuillin Hills. Given her small size she needs to be very efficient and effective in selling her wine so that she'll have the capital necessary to make the next vintage. Angela is still working it out. But she's also got long term plans for WineGirl Wines, including a vineyard plot she just acquired in Lake Chelan. She's also toying with the idea of opening a tasting room in the next year, though she still hasn't nailed down a location. For the time being, her wine making operation is based in Sammamish, WA, and sells her wine out of her Ballard home.

Of the 200 cases produced annually, the largest single production is the Kamari Black Label Reserve ($33), a Walla Walla Valley blend of which she made 48 cases. Angela makes three labels right now: the Firá, the Derby Wife, and the Kamari. Her Firá wines are named after the Greek word for fire and are her most affordable wines. These excellent wines go fast, and only the Chardonnay is still available. She also makes a My Derby Wife Merlot ($27) from Wahluke Slope in homage to the Rat City Roller Girls roller derby club, of which Angela is herself a member. The third label is her high-end wine: Kamari, named after the black sand beaches of Greece and made from sustainably grown grapes from Zerba Cellars in Walla Walla. The Kamari wines, represented by a beautiful black label, include a Malbec ($29), the Black Label Reserve ($33) and a Cabernet Franc ($26). As of this writing, there are fewer than two cases remaining of the Malbec and Cab Franc.

Angela was kind enough to bring me a bottle of the Kamari Black Label Reserve to sample. It is a decadent blend of four Bordeaux varietals - 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 17% Malbec, and 15% Cabernet Franc, and has a beautiful dark ruby color. The twenty months it spent in oak are evident in toasty vanilla notes on the nose. The palette shows black cherry and chocolate in an unbelievably smooth and well-structured wine. One reviewer in the online store described the Black Label Reserve as "the perfect combination between boldness and quiet charm," an apt description that I think fits this well-crafted wine very well. This wine is the very definition of boutique wine-making done right.

Angela's wines can be purchased online as well as at various Seattle area retailers. Having had the Black Label Reserve, I can tell you that I'll be looking to pick up more of Angela's wines, and I recommend you do the same.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Best of 2009 - The Oregon Wine Blog Style

It's been a fantastic year for The Oregon Wine Blog.  We've met some great people, drank some fabulous wine, enjoyed culinary delights, and experienced the true bounty of our region.  We made 78 posts on the blog and grew to a staff of 4 regular contributors, and site visits are up 56% over last year.

Early in December we started kicking around the idea of doing a "Best of 2009" feature and nearly immediately hit a roadblock in discussing the logistics of this post.  Should it be the best wine we drank in 2009...or the best wine released in 2009...or the our favorite experience associated with the blog during the year?  Well, in the true organic style of our blog, we decided that each writer could "do whatever the hell they want" as long as it involves wine and 2009.  So here goes - our staff's Best of 2009 - for what it's worth!

Josh's Pick
Narrowing down to a favorite of 2009 was very difficult for me. There are particular wines that stick out, particular experiences that were phenomenal, and as you can probably tell from our posts that we have some wineries that are solidly great, 100% of the time. I decided to focus on a wine and experience that was a surprise, versus a place like Willamette Valley Vineyards where we know it will always excel. The surprise, in a very good way, and my Best of 2009 is Terra Blanca Winery and their 2003 Pantheon.

2003 Terra Blanca Pantheon

We've detailed a few of the reasons that Terra Blanca is a favorite in previous postings, but in short both times the blog has officially visited the estate we have been blown away by the culture, the experience, and the wine.

 This summer we had one of those afternoons where we walked through the door expecting to taste through and be out, and we ended up chatting with the winemaker for nearly an hour, getting a wonderful tour of the cellar, and tasting wines that are demonstrative of the Red Mountain amazingness. The 2003 Pantheon is one of those wines. I wish I had purchased a bottle while I was there as it wasn't available the next time I visited the tasting room. A new take on Nebbiolo, the Pantheon is 81% Nebbiolo, 17% Cab Sauv, and 2% Dolcetto and it is everything that is great about an Eastern Washington spin on an Italian wine. As noted by the winemaker, "A full-bodied blend bursting with flavor and the aromas of violets, the Nebbiolo shines while the Cabernet Sauvignon provides the depth and backbone of the wine. On the palate, flavors of cherries and licorice dominate." Thank you, Terra Blanca, for what you are doing in the industry.

Rick's Pick
Picking just one wine as my favorite for the year is a very difficult decision. I've had some absolutely phenomenal wine, met some folks producing world class varietals, and had the opportunity to participate in some really fun events. Over and over again we continue to write about the entire wine experience, which is just as important to me as the wine itself. After a lot of deliberation, I kept coming back to one bottle of wine that was not only delicious, but was part of a really great experience:

2005 Col Solare

I don't mean to sound like a broken record mentioning Col Solare again, but the very first bottle of 2005 Col Solare Josh and I enjoyed together has been perhaps the most enjoyable bottle of wine I have ever had the pleasure to uncork. For a full write up, check out the article we wrote.

Long story short, Josh and I had been talking about wanting to try Col Solare for quite some time. $75 for a bottle of wine is quite a stretch for two guys that write for a wine blog that creates zero revenue, but I finally pulled the trigger. I had just finished grad school and officially started my career, whilst Josh was getting ready for a business trip to England and having a generally frustrating day. It wasn't anything fancy, but we popped the bottle and reflected on all the great stuff that had happened in recent months while he packed for the trip.

The wine itself was phenomenal as well. Col Solare essentially gets first pick of all of Chateau St. Michelle's fruit with the sole purpose of making the best red blend possible This mix of Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Cab Franc succeeded with flying colors.

Since then, Josh, Chris, and I later had the opportunity to visit Col Solare's winery on Red Mountain. Not only is their wine phenomenal, but Wendy gave us what I would consider the most special wine tour I have ever had. Col Solare could be the most pretentious winery in the entire Northwest, but Wendy's down-to-earth mentality and willingness to be open with us made the experience even better. To pass on word from Wendy herself, it's not invitation-only to go on a tour, but you do need to make an appointment. It is certainly well worth it.

Clive's Pick
When I reflect on what the best or most interesting bottle of wine I had in 2009, one particular wine stands out. As someone who has scoffed at this type of wine in the past, I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but the most interesting wine I drank in 2009 was a Rosé. Yes, I said it. DeLille's 2008 Doyenne Rosé is quite simply the best rosé I’ve ever had.

2008 DeLille Doyenne Rosé

DeLille made this Rosé in the Bandol style; the blend is 70% mourvedre, 15% grenache and 15% cinsault. The wine is a beautiful salmon color in the glass with touches of strawberry and meadow on the nose. The wine has a wonderful crispness to it that make it work very well as a stand alone wine and equally well with food. I’ve volunteered at DeLille for a few years and while I think the experience I had with the wine and with the people who are involved in making it contributed to how I felt about it, there is no question that this wine is phenomenal in its own right.

Micheal's Pick
2009 was far from my best year in terms of wine, primarily because I did not drink as much of it as I would have liked. So when the idea came across the staff e-mail asking us to write about our favorite of 2009, it was relatively easy for me. My best of 2009, was, unfortunately, not a wine whose grapes were grown, picked, fermented, or bottled in 2009. This is a bottle from 2004 that I received in the spring of 2008, and this would be the last wine that I had in my old apartment in July before I moved to my new place in August. For me, the best of 2009 would be the 2004 Westrey Pinot Noir from Abbey Ridge Vineyard, which is located in the Dundee Hills area of Oregon.

2004 Westrey Pinot Noir - Abbey Ridge Vineyard

I received this bottle of wine at the end of my first academic year at Willamette University (my current employer). After my first year, my role would change and I would no longer be in the same department that originally brought me to Willamette. My Director at the time wanted to give me something as a "going away" gift, and she knew I liked wine, but she herself did not know a lot about wine. She spoke with the Vice President I would now be reporting to. He, has and remains a wine connoisseur, having written wine reviews for either the Statesman or the Oregonian (I forget which one), and this bottle was among the bottles he recommended and I received.

I recall very clearly the day I opened this Pinot Noir. I had two friends, Ross and Denise visiting from Chicago - they decided to spend their one year wedding anniversary in Oregon, and spent a couple of days with me. We had spent the day driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, and had traveled from Salem to Newport to Lincoln City to Tillamook, and back to Salem. After such a long day, I thought it would be best to unwind with a bottle of wine, and as we had had a couple of really warm days and I was worried about this wine going bad, I thought it would be a great treat to have. I remember three things about this wine - the color, the nose, and way it was on the palate. The color - a rich red that was bold and stood out, yet it still had some transparency to it. The nose - oaky and spicy in a way that put a smile on your face. When sniffing this wine, you knew you were about to enjoy a great glass of wine. The palate - the way this wine landed on your palate, coated it, and you tasted every aspect of the wine - made you tingle. I remember enjoying the spices and the way they were subtle and not overpowering, and how my sense of smell enhanced the way my sense of taste absorbed this wine, and my brain processed it. In short, having this pinot was a full body experience.

This wine will hold a place in my heart for so many reasons and I am glad that I can say this was my best wine of 2009.

There we have it folks, 2009 is in the bag. As you can see, each special bottle has a backstory to it that makes it all the more meaningful to each of us.

What is your "best of", in whatever non-linear way you define best?