Friday, October 29, 2010

You, Millenial, Put Down that Cheap Hooch! Upcoming Event : 20Something the New Vintage

Young people have it going on. They're young, after all, and the world is their oyster. Sadly the wine they typically select to pair with said oyster is more appropriately paired with cheetos or maybe a chalupa from Taco Bell. We love young people here at The Oregon Wine Blog, you're our demographic after all. What young people love to do is drink booze. There are a number of reasons for this that I certainly don’t need to review for you. Sadly, when it comes to booze, it's not always too impressive what they choose. (That totally rhymed.)

As the youth of today continues to guzzle down Charles Shaw, Barefoot or swill in a box, folks who have their best interest in mind are trying to get in the way of this palate abuse. Similar to en loco parentis. Enter the Washington Wine Commission, and the millenial-focused 20 Something: The New Vintage, on November 20th. 20 Something is an attempt by the Wine Commission to make young people understand that there's nothing snobby about drinking good wine instead of plonk. The event will feature 75 Washington wineries and wines that range in price from $12 to $40.

Youngsters will be encouraged to taste wine, rather than "get faced." So while part of the education will be simply the exposure to some of Washington's fine and approachable wine, part of the education will be about tasting behavior. The event will make it clear that it's hip to sip, not guzzle, it's hip to taste some of Washington wine country's best culinary options (well chosen small bites to pair), and it's hip to spit. Yes, spit. You don't have to drink all of it. There will be hip music from KEXP's Darek Mazzone, and demonstrations, social media lounging and general hipness. Somehow I convinced them to let this 30-something in. I'll be there with the young people bringing you a full report.

Tickets are $50 and they're available here. Last year it sold out, so get on the ball.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Twisted in Calaveras County

Now I understand that when you read the title of my latest post, two questions come to mind. First, how much wine does it take for a member of the most distinguished wine blog to get “twisted?” And second, where the heck is Calaveras County? Those are both reasonable questions because before my recent visit to Twisted Oak Winery, I didn’t know the answers either.

Three and a half hours east of Sonoma, Calaveras County is a collection of, what is smaller than a town? Because it is a bunch of those. On the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest, Calaveras County is mostly known by 4th graders on field trips studying California Gold Country. Unfortunately for those 9 and 10 year olds, they aren’t getting to experience the great Rhone-style wine this region is producing.

On a weekend birthday celebration for my mother in-law, an interest was shown in doing some wine tasting. Being based in Sonoma wine country I had never explored this wine region and was eager to do so. After a little research, I contacted a few wineries in the area to see if I could set anything up for me and my family. The first person to respond was Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery, agreeing to show us around the property and do some tasting with us.

As we drove up to Twisted Oak we got the vibe of the place immediately. The twisted gravel road was marked by signs such as “Severe tire damage will not happen,” “Speed limit 9,” and “Adults at play” with the silhouette of a person running with wine glass and bottle in hand. Not to mention the countless rubber chickens you were challenged to find hiding in trees and bushes. I like to think that the signs and chickens were all part of a distraction so you wouldn’t realize how long you had been on this road. Finally reaching the top of the hill we were greeted by a simple looking barn-style building with a modest production facility.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I saw Jeff walk up to meet us clad in jean shorts and sandals, I can safely say that wasn’t it. We exchanged pleasantries and quickly realized that the relaxed feel we got on the drive to Twisted Oak was reflected through the entire winery. Started in 2004, Jeff got into the wine business after being “a wine consumer and just started critiquing.” While classic rock music played Jeff walked us through the production facility answering rapid-fire questions from my family.

Our next stop was the tasting room, a small room that doubled as their warehouse, made exponentially more awesome because of the A Christmas Story leg lamp replica in the corner. Staying true to the county’s claim to fame, Twisted Oak focuses on Rhone style blends and varietal wines, coincidentally my mother-in-law’s favorite style. One of the first wines that really caught my attention was the 2006 Calaveras County %#&@!. No seriously, that is the name of the wine. We were told we could insert our own expletive for it, and I will afford you the same grace. This blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache was a nice bold red without being so full-bodied. I got complex flavors of cherry, raspberry, balanced with a hint of spice. This array of flavors worked well together and the %#&@! was a favorite of the whole family.
One of the next wines we tasted was a club special, reserved for The Twisted Few, but Jeff was nice enough to let us taste it anyway. Known as liquid Stairway to Heaven, the 2006 Tanner Vineyard Syrah was another well balanced wine. Flavors of dark fruit mixed with leather and cloves was ready to drink but will also continue to get better with age. Katie and I brought a couple bottles home with us to test that theory.

If you do like the really big, hearty red that makes you feel like you just ate a full meal, like my father-in-law does, The Spaniard is for you. Mostly Tempranillo but blended with Graciano and Granacha, this wine maintained the tradition we had come to realize from Twisted Oak in producing well balanced wines with complex flavors. Cloves and currants led the way in this wine with hints of blueberries and plums.

I honestly could go on and on about the wines at Twisted Oak because there was not a bad taste the entire day. From the 2004 & 2006 Tempranillo to the 2006 Murgatroyd there wasn’t a single wine I wouldn’t consider drinking if the situation was right. Thankfully some of my family joined The Twisted Few wine club and Katie and I will be able to continue to enjoy their wines. I was so impressed with this because Jeff and his team clearly focus on making smaller quantities of really great wine, rather than spreading themselves thin and making a whole bunch of mediocre wine. If you needed one more thing to convince you of the quality Twisted Oak is producing, those that joined the wine club bought a $35.00 bottle of wine not open for tasting simply on Jeff’s word and their experience tasting that day.

With a glass in hand Jeff was generous enough to take us down to the barrel cave to round out the afternoon. In addition to showing us around, Jeff gave us the chance to taste 4 wines from the barrel, including the 2009 Torcido Grenache and the 2009 Graciana, not typically enjoyed on its own. What made this experience truly wonderful was the interaction between us and Jeff. While down in the cave Jeff had no shortage of questions for us as he quizzed us on what we tasted from each barrel as well as other wine knowledge.

After more than two hours, two wine club memberships, and plenty of wine purchased it was time to leave Twisted Oak Winery. We took the obligatory picture at the Twisted Oak and made our way to our next stop. The quality and consistency of great wines paired with the hospitality shown to me and my family, Twisted Oak Winery made a lot of new friends and new fans that day. While Calaveras County isn’t exactly a tourist destination and you may not take a trip out there just to go wine tasting, I can’t imagine a trip out to this region without a stop at Twisted Oak.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What I've Been Drinking

1 comment
Tis' the season my friends. The season where the winemakers are slaving away getting fruit off the vine and into the barrels...and the time in which some great wine falls off of my wine rack, into a glass, and into my belly. Lucky me, and my friends!

I haven't done many wine events recently, but certainly have been doing plenty of "tasting" and since I feel it is an obligation of The Oregon Wine Blog to preview wines to make sure they're top notch for you, our readers, below you'll find four bottles that stick out as gems.

Here at TOWB, we're not huge on assigning ratings to wine as it is such a subjective art. To us, wine is more about the experience and each drinker will find different attributes and qualities in a vintage, and ultimately, if a consumer likes a wine, they like a wine; and that's that. So, you won't find ratings on these wines assigned by us (although I may include other's ratings), but rest assured their inclusion in this post serves as the Josh Gana stamp of approval - the bottles that I'd gladly buy and drink on any given day.

2006 Gilbert Cellars Allobroges

I picked up this bottle last October when Clive and myself were in the Yakima (the night I bamboozled Clive to write for the blog) and I've been waiting to crack it open.  A blend of 60% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, and 22% Grenache, a random evening with friend-of-the-blog Chris was that perfect moment.  With strong fruit aromatics, this medium-bodied rhone blend is smooth enough to drink by itself but also would pair quite nicely with your red dinner of choice.  This wine is full of black fruit and has been described as luscious, and I'd agree...adding a "baby" to the end of the l-word.  Grab some of the 07 next time you're in the Yakima Valley.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Quilceda Creek about a month ago offering the purchase of this red wine, so it took me all of 5 minutes to take them up on the offer and my order was in.  Immediately, I started sending taunting text messages to Rick about the exclusive wine on the way, knowing full well that I'd probably drink it with him anyway. Being relatively impatient, we popped the bottle open last weekend after just having received it. While the wine was a bit young yet, we enjoyed every drop and it has a ton of promise. With a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec from Red Mountain's finest vineyards, this has a silky smooth mouthfeel with spice and black fruit on the palate.  With a 93 rating from Wine Enthusiast, limited production, and an approachable price point, this one didn't last long.  Sorry friends, sold out.

2008 Gordon Brothers Six Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Last weekend, Rick came to visit. I knew I was in for a treat when he walked through the door, set his bag down, and held out this bottle with a twinkle in his eye saying, "I brought a present!" A present it certainly was, a bottle from his recent Wine by Cougars shipment.  Clone six cab was an experiment by winemaker Jeff Gordon, and methinks he hit the jackpot with the few acres he has growing next to the Snake River.  With 100% estate grown cab and 430 case production, it carries a striking purple hue and strong notes of plum and cherry.  A Columbia Valley cab at it's finest, you'll find some nice tannins and a 91-point rating from Wine Enthusiast.  It was a perfect end to the evening for Rick and I following the Quilceda Red.  The winemaker suggest a pairing with molten lava cake, and while I'll never turn down molten lava cake, it would be even better with this wine.

2006 Pend d'Oreille Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

This is one of those bottles that was a spur-of-the-moment, mid-week "I need a glass of wine" decisions for me. It had been sitting on the rack for a while calling my name, as you know from previous coverage that we love just about anything that Pend d'Oreille puts out. An Idaho winery, who would have thunk it? Don't let the ambiguous "Washington" denotation on this wine fool you, this is a straight up Columbia Valley wine with a lot of the fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope. Silly labeling laws won't allow Columbia Valley to be listed on an Idaho made wine. Allow this one to open up a bit before you enjoy, and then you'll find cherry and dark berry on the nose. I found this wine to have a very pleasant, full mouthfeel with plum and current on the palate. It's a nice, well balanced wine with a production of 521 cases and a very solid price point of $17.00. That's right, a great Washington Cab for $17.

Now I can just hear your internal dialogue churning as you think, "but Josh, you live in Oregon, what's the deal yo with all this Washington wine?"  Well, don't you fret because I have a whole row on my rack dedicated to Oregon pinot and there will be some of that coming soon.  Apparently I've been a bold mood lately!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wildlife Refuge and Wine?


For those of you not familiar with the fall and winter here in the Pacific Northwest, there really is only one word that describes those seasons...WET. It rains or precipitates in some manner pretty consistently from the end of September to about the beginning of April.

I don't mean that we never see the sun for those 6-7 months, or that it is dreary all the time, but we have a lot more gray days, and it will usually at least drizzle more than half the days of the week. As a result, you have to imagine everyone's surprise and delight when it was the middle of October and the rainy season still had not arrived.

Josh made note in his last post that he was in Vancouver, British Columbia for a period of time. I was in BC during the same time, and upon my return to Oregon I was greeted by a friendly visit from my dear colleague from Washington State University, Kyle Steven (otherwise known as just Kyle). It seems that Kyle Steven had chosen the best weekend to come to visit the Willamette Valley as he choose the last nice weekend before the rainy season started.

I know that Kyle enjoys wine tasting, and when coming to the valley, it is something very high on his list of must dos. We woke up at a decent hour last Saturday and I started looking for
what we could do prior to wine tasting. Yes, it's always 5pm somewhere, but I didn't think we should start off the day first thing in the morning drinking wine. Judge me if you must.

On an unseasonably dry , cloudless, and warm Saturday, we decided to start off the day with an adventure at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge just outside of Salem. I had driven by Baskett Slough many times in the nearly four years that I have lived in Salem, and had always wanted to visit, but never had. I am glad I waited.

From the website, you learn Baskett Slough is a refuge of over 2400 acres that provide for a place for Canadian Geese to spend part of their winter. It is has a combination of cropland, wetlands, grasslands, and forests.

Kyle Steven and I explored and did a beautiful hike. We saw the remnants of the last of the Queen Anne's Lace, went through the Oregon white oak forrest, and went up to the observation platform. While hiking, Kyle and I spotted among the most amazing sites, a true gaggle of geese. I think there were several hundred geese, while Kyle thinks there were easily at least 1000 plus.

After working up an appetite, Kyle and I decided it was definitely time for wine, and as I planned, there is a winery just outside of the slough - Van Duzer Vineyards. Josh and Rick did a review of a Van Duzer sparkling wine previously, but I got to be the first one of the group to visit the winery.

We turned off Smithfield Road, from Highway 22, just west of Highway 99W. The gravel road got us pretty excited about what lay ahead as we could see a building in the distance on a hill.

We turned and up we went until we pulled in the parking lot for the tasting room. From the tasting room there was a view of Baskett Slough, the Pacific Coast Range mountains, Van Duzer Vineyard, and the valley around you. It was a beautiful sight to see.

We walked in and met with and spoke with Josh Kimball, the Hospitality and Sales Manager who did our pours. Josh spent some time telling us a bit about Van Duzer, which has a long history. The vinery has been growing grapes since 1983, which, is a long time for an Oregon winery, and producing wine since about 1989. Josh told us that Van Duzer has only been a stand alone winery since about the late 1990s. Before that, it was part of a winery with a vineyard in California sharing the same owner and I believe the same label. The beautiful tasting room we were in was less than five years old having been built in 2006.

Josh spoke with Kyle and me about the grapes still being on the vine even at this late time. When Kyle and I were driving up the to the tasting room both of us thought that it might have been because they were late harvest grapes. I then remembered, and Josh confirmed it was because the 2010 growing season had been so short that wineries were leaving the grapes on as long as possible to maximize the benefits.

Van Duzer specializes in Pinot Noir. In fact, seven of the 11 wines they make are Pinot Noirs. The pours we had consisted of the Estate Pinot Gris, about five of the Pinot Noirs, and their two ports. They were all enjoyable wines. Kyle and I found ourselves knowing we couldn't leave empty handed, and ironically we both decided on a port - The Windfall. So be on the look-out for a post on that once I open it.

It was an great way to spend the last beautiful weekend in the Willamette Valley. As I right this, it has been raining almost all weekend, with us getting more than 2 inches in Salem alone. While I love the rain, I know that it means less visits to vineyards. That being said, I am grateful to Kyle Steven for coming to visit, and to Josh and Van Duzer for providing a great visit. I look forward to having more experiences with their wines.

Until next time...


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oakshire Amber Ale

Brewery: Oakshire Brewing Company
Style: Amber Ale Rating: B+/3.92 (Community) Rating: 3.31
Serving: 22oz Bottle

Oakshire Brewing Company is a brewery out of Eugene, Oregon that has seemed to explode onto the Oregon beer scene within the last year. In fact, you could say that for breweries in Eugene period. Oakshire is especially significant to the Oregon beer scene in that I believe they do an excellent job at creating craft beers that fall perfectly on that line between good enough for craft beer fans like myself, but not intimidating enough for folks used to macro pilsners. Case in point, Oakshire's Amber Ale. Here's what Oakshire has to say about it:

Refreshingly balanced & flavorful, our Amber Ale pairs wonderfully with a variety of foods while holding its own as a session beer. Brewed with five malts and three hop varieties, the Amber is a lovely table beer for new and experienced craft beer drinkers.

Appearance: Looks like a typical amber with a light caramel-esque hue and thin, white head. Not much fizziness, which leads leads me to believe the drinkability will be pretty high for this one. Not very translucent either, which is somewhat of an oddity for many Oregon ambers.

Smell: Medium hop profile with light citrus aromas. Fairly typical malt profile as well.

Taste: It's a bit creamier than expected. By no means would this pass as a cream ale, but definitely a more substantial body than most other ambers. The taste is brewed very close to the typical amber style as well, but with one large difference that I didn't notice until a friend pointed out that the taste almost completely dissipates off of your palate within seconds. I wouldn't have noticed this because it isn't that important to me, but many of my other friends agreed that lingering taste is a huge turn off from many craft beers. I tend to drink things because they taste good, but whatever! If it's going to open folks up to craft beer, then I'm down for it.

I may not have mentioned anything exactly remarkable about this brew, but there's nothing negative to say either. It's brewed to a style and it's done flawlessly. In fact, this would be one of the most perfect beers to pick up a keg of for a party, game day, a Tuesday, or whatever! Great utility beer that would sound great for almost any occasion.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

One Year Behind Me; My Anniversary with The Oregon Wine Blog


Truism: Wine is best when it's shared with friends. I know a lot about truisms because I have a couple degrees in Philosophy, so you should trust me. We take logic classes and use words like truism.

I started my stint with the world famous The Oregon Wine Blog sharing a bottle of wine with my friend Josh Gana over dinner in Yakima. I broke out a bottle of syrah by Plaza Socieovole. Josh said, "That, sir, is a good wine. You have impeccable taste, both in fashion and in wine." I said, "Ah yes. These things you say, they are truisms." "We need someone like you, someone with great taste, who's also handsome and may write a prolific amount of content for the world famous blog I started," Josh opined. "You are indeed perceptive, sir," I replied, "I will accept your challenge."

And so it began.

Thusly, over dinner, we formed the kind of alliance that would take the northwest wine scene by storm. Not necessarily on the scale of Josh Wade, but pretty good for us. Thanks in large part to the "Corkage Free Zone" policy of many of the downtown Yakima restaurants, and the fantastic wines being produced there, I became the Washington Correspondent for The Oregon Wine Blog.

As my one year anniversary with the blog passed without ceremony last week, I got to reflecting on what a treat it's been. Like many of our readers, I was a new young wine drinker, eager to learn as much as I could when the opportunity presented itself, and smitten with this mysterious grape juice from a corner of the country that seemed a little more elegant, a little more honest than wine I've had from other parts of the world.

It’s been an amazing year for me, and for Gwynne, who edits my content. We've had such amazing opportunities thanks to folks like Heather Unwin and the Pilgrim family at Terra Blanca, Sheila and Nick Nicholas of Anam Cara Cellars, and Frank Magana of Picazo 717. The magic and the mystery of wine for us has given way to the magic relationships we've formed with some of the winemakers, growers, movers and shakers in Washington and Oregon's wine scenes.

What I've come to know about the wine made here is that the people doing it are extraordinarily passionate and imaginative. They've come to love not just the wine they're making, but the land that it’s grown upon and the people who have taken a keen interest in what they're doing. To those of you who are reading this blog from here in the Northwest: I implore you, get out there and meet the people who are making the wine you're drinking. Meet the families who are farming Red Mountain or the Willamette Valley, the three friends whose love for wine grew from a basement hobby to a Seattle boutique winery. Do that, and you'll find that the wines they're making are just the beginning of the story.

In the words of Sinatra, it's been a very good year, and here are some highlights:

The post Wine Bloggers Conference on Red Mountain. This was an incredible opportunity that I owe to the folks at Terra Blanca. It was an insider's look at what I believe is America's most compelling AVA. Read about it here.

Having one my blog posts picked up by my hometown paper The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I was home in Pittsburgh visiting my mother and got the idea to combine two of my favorite things, Northwest wine and a Primantis sandwich.

The grand tasting at the International Pinot Noir Celebration. I need to thank Sheila and Nick Nicholas for helping me and Gwynne get to IPNC as well as the great staff of that event. If you haven't been and you love Pinot, what in the hell are you waiting for.

A meal of a lifetime with Chef Frank Magana at Picazo 717.

A trip to Newberg, and so many great experiences: visits with Anam Cara, Anderson Family Vineyards, a stay at The Allison and dinner at The Painted Lady.

I wrote 74 posts this year, as one writer on a staff of four or five. This is my 75th. Some were educational, some were tongue-in-cheek. Not all of them were brilliant, but maybe there were some gems in there. I look forward to another great year, more excellent discoveries both of wine and people and thank you, all 12 of you, for reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's got your juices flowing?

1 comment
Err, scratch that.  I don't want to know.  Really, unless it is alcoholic grape juice...then I do want to know.

As we progress into fall, a time here in the Willamette Valley where it rains...and rains...and rains, the aforementioned rain (did I mention rain enough times?) also means that the staff of The Oregon Wine Blog spend more time doing what we do best:  hunkering down inside, drinking, and writing about wine.  OK, so maybe we don't do it *best*, but you're reading this, aren't you?  I rest my case.

As a preview to an awesome fall and winter, I wanted to share a few of the things that have my juices flowing here in the Corvallis branch of the blog:
  1. Wine.  Duh, right?  Towards the end of the summer, my rack was getting frighteningly empty because frankly, Rick and I drank a lot of it.  Then I moved, and drank more of it.  Less wine coming through the door than going down the hatch and into the toilet creates a negative outflow that just had to be rectified.  Don't worry, it has.  I have some awesome samples from Southern Oregon that I'm excited to write about, as well as Northern Idaho and a solid lineup of Eastern Washington and Willamette Valley wines.  There's a little something special on the kitchen table waiting for the weekend, too.  No, it isn't brownies.
  2.  Beer.  As we speak, I have a Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout in my hand.  It's not wine, but it gets the job done!
  3. Travel.  Today, I'm headed to Vancouver, BC.  I hear they have some wine there.  While this trip won't bring time for wineries, I'll be back in February and plan on fully taking advantage of the region.  Watch out, Canadians!  I've also got a trip to Spokane and Sandpoint on the docket soon, hoping to check out the Nectar Tasting Room, Pend d'Orielle Cellars,  and old favorites Latah Creek and Barrister.  I'll be in Ashland and Red Mountain in November, oh my, and have a secret plan in my head for Rick and I to rock Portland in the near future.  I'm buzzed just thinking about all this foolishness!
So there you have it - the things that have me revved up for the rainy season.  What are you excited about?  Hit us back with a comment.  Oh, and if you have any great ideas of places for me to hit during the travels described above, share that too!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Washington Wine paired with Chinese Cuisine: Tranche Cellars

1 comment

One of the sweetest people I’ve met in Seattle is Annie Hong, General Manager for the Black Pearl restaurants. Annie had arranged a wine dinner at the Black Pearl and invited Gwynne and I to come and check it out. Also invited were several twitterati, and Lars Ryssdal from Tranche Cellars provided the wine.

I had heard of Tranche Cellars, as they’re popping up on the radar around Washington as a new wine worth checking out. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect, particularly since Black Pearl is a Chinese restaurant - not a cuisine renown for its wine parings. I thought that perhaps Tranche Cellars specialized in off dry white wines, like Riesling, Gerwurtztraminer and Pinot Gris. I was fascinated by the idea to pair wine with Chinese food, and really looked forward to trying out the food at Annie's restaurant.

We arrived and mingled with several of Seattle's social media savvy crowd. Annie didn't mess around and soon our first course was out of the kitchen: shrimp cake with ginger, accompanied by cucumber salad and plum sauce. Lars paired the shrimp cake with the 2007 Tranche Rousanne and Viognier blend. This Rousanne and Viognier in this wine come from the Milbrandt vineyard. This blend is being used by a lot of Washington winemakers because it gives the white wine a depth and character that is often thought to be the exclusive realm of red wine. Lars talked about the challenge of pairing wine with the flavors of Chinese food, but mentioned that given the conversations he and Annie had, he was confident in what we were going to sample that evening.

Our next course was a sweet and sour Basa Fish with the 2005 Tranche Cellars Slice of Pape. The Slice of Pape is the Tranche take on the classic Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. The wine,also from the Milbrandt vineyards, had substantial tannins and significant pepper notes, and was an intriguing pairing.

The conversation centered around social media and how it had connected all of us. It was an interesting collection of guests: there was Sean Sullivan from The Washington Wine report, myself and Taryn Miller from the wine blog crowd, romance writer Laurie London, co-owner of Bin 41 Jon, and Mollie of the lifestyle blog Mollie in Seattle. Not only was the conversation lively and entertaining, it was an interesting approach to a wine dinner. Annie brought people together from a variety of arenas - people who would use Twitter to get the word out to a broader audience than what wine bloggers alone can reach.

The 2004 Syrah from Stillwater Creek vineyard was paired with a Ginger Beef Tenderloin with green beans and red bell peppers. We thought this was the most spot on pairing of the evening. The peppery Syrah complimented the seasoning used on the beef tenderloin very nicely.

Annie and Lars then switched it up on us, pairing a 2005 Barbera with Lo Mein noodles, tofu and fresh veggies. This was a real shocker but it worked, and the Lo Mein noodles (made in house) and fresh vegetables were amazing. It had been some time since I'd had Chinese food, but Black Pearl certainly is worth a visit back, wine or no wine. We wrapped up the dinner with a Pinot Gris from 2005. No, that vintage is not a typo. It was incredible wine that was paired with a Szechuan eggplant dish with tofu. This was incredible, and the kind of pairing I was expecting to find with Chinese food.

The Black Pearl Chinese restaurant is modern Chinese food with two locations in North Seattle. The house-made noodles are amazing and are more than worth the trip. Their food goes well with wine and Tranche Cellars is now a mainstay on their wine list.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cherry Hill Winery at 14 MPH

Oregon's Cherry Hill Winery is in the Eola-Amity Hills region, and chances are that you’ve seen their very affordable Papillon Pinot Noir. The label is adorned by their pet Papillon, Daisy, whose forehead is adorned with a blaze in the shape of a wineglass.

Cherry Hill is positioned on 150 beautiful acres of rolling hills with amazing views of Oregon's Coast Range. According to Mike Sweeney, it’s also located smack dab on the 45th parallel. As you drive up the winding road leading to the facility and tasting room, you’ll travel a road with a posted speed limit of 14 miles per hour. More on that later.

Pinot Noir is the only grape planted in the 90 acres of vineyards that surrounds Cherry Hill Winery. The predominant clone here is Pommard, but they also have Dijon clones 115, 777 and 113 as well. The core of the vineyard, a 55 acre plot, was planted in 1998-99 with the first vintage in 2003. In addition to the beautiful vineyard layout, owners Mike & Jan have built a half dozen cottages on the property as a way to house visiting friends and colleagues. At the end of that long and winding road lies the tasting room and barrel house.

When we arrived at the tasting room we were greeted by the winemaker, Chris Luby. He started us off with a glass of their Poverty Road Pinot Gris, which is not from their estate vineyard. This wine is sourced from other nearby vineyards and produces a light, bright Pinot Gris that was a good way to start our flight. The Vanda Pinot Rose followed, a wine that the folks at Cherry Hill are making for our "lady friends." This dry rose is a definite strike against the evils of white zinfandel.

What they do best at Cherry Hill is Pinot Noir. They have three different Pinots to offer. The aforementioned Papillon Pinot you can often find under $20. The Papillion is a blend of Dijon clones 115 and 113 and Cherry Hill describes this wine as their most masculine.

The Cherry Hill Estate Pinot Noir is beautiful; this elegant wine is 100% Pommard clone. It’s delicate, a light Pinot, with the excellent acidity that is a signature of the Eola-Amity Hills. Last, but not least, we moved to the Reserve Pinot, the Sweeney Estate. Again 100% Pommard, this wine is selected from the best blocks in the vineyard. The owner, Mike Sweeney, then does a barrel selection. After all, it is his name on the label. What we’re left with is an excellent wine; they were selling two vintages of the Sweeney Reserve wines in the tasting room. They were clearing out the last two bottles of the 2003 at a ridiculously reasonable price, so we took those off their hands.

As we were wrapping up our visit outside the tasting room, checking out some of the coolest looking spiders I've ever seen, owner Mike Sweeney paid us a visit. Mike talked about how he and his wife Jan came upon this particular parcel of land and the kinds of wines they feel like the Eola Amity Hills AVA is capable of making. Mike also explained the speed limit, the 14 mph: Mike's ATV is only capable of a maximum speed of 14 mph, he owns the joint, he doesn't want anyone going faster than him. Fair enough.

We left Cherry Hill with a handful of bottles of their wine and a good sense of the beauty and elegance that was coming out of the wines from the Eola Amity AVA. If you're down that way, Cherry Hill should be on your list for a visit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Woodinville's Efeste Wines

I've seen Efeste (pronounced F-S-T) at a good number of wine events and tastings, and I've even met the very nice, and very well regarded winemaker, Brennon Leighton a few times as well. And yet, somehow, I hadn't tasted their wine until relatively recently. When I realized that I had neglected that particular area of my wine education, I said to myself (in a Scottish accent like the Uncle Argyle of a young William Wallace), "Well that is something we shall have to remedy, isn't it?" Off I went to Efeste for a visit.

Efeste is located in the blossoming Woodinville Warehouse district, set slightly apart from the main thoroughfare. While the exterior is constrained by the warehouse in which it's located, the inside is a beautiful and modern tasting room. There is a $10 tasting fee (which Efeste waived, thanks, guys!), a nice bar, casual dining space, and some comfortable furniture. Towards the back of the space, Efeste has installed a series of windows that allow you to see into the production area.

Efeste's first vintage came out in 1995 under the direction of Delille Cellars' Chris Upchurch. From there, Upchurch recommended Brennon Leighton and the winery has been moving forward under his direction since 2007.

Brennon wasn't around when I showed up but I spoke with owners and bartenders, Dan & Patrick, who led me through their current releases. We started out with one of the most talked-about Efeste wine, the Feral, a Sauvignon Blanc. The Feral is produced using all natural fermentation, 100% neutral oak, and all indigenous yeast. This Sauvignon Blanc has a stony quality to it that I find unique; the native fermentation process makes it a bit less refined, and frankly, refreshing. This wine is definitely not your run of the mill Sauv Blanc, but is absolutely something you should try.

As we drank through their wines, Dan told me some of the stories that go along with the names of the wines, and the imagery on the label. Efeste can be a confusing name for the uninitiated, and people tend to over-pronounce it, and the the label is interesting albeit confusing. The pronounciaton is "F-S-T," the initials of the owners, but there are stories everywhere else.

Australia played a substantial role in Efeste's labeling and naming. The image on the label is the Aboriginal symbol for kangaroo, which are all over the place down under. Their Syrah, the Ceidleigh (pronounced "Kaylee"), is named after a waitress they met in Australia's Barossa Valey. The '07 Ceidleigh was a 93 pointer and is made using Red Mountain fruit. The wine is big and full and has the nuances you expect in a Red Mountain Syrah.

While I think my favorite wine was the Feral, my favorite story was about their Babbit Rose. They've been making the Rose for a few years, and it's named after a family friend who has since passed away, Dick Babitt. Every time they'd go out fishing or have a party, Dick would always bring along his box of White Zinfandel. When they decided to start making a pink wine, they knew they had to acknowledge their old friend.

Head out to Efeste so you can taste some excellent wine made in a way that respects tradition and the wine making process, and that pairs well with fascinating back stories.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bottle That Was Meant To Be - Del Rio Claret

1 comment
Have you ever found a bottle of wine that, seemingly like fate, ended up on your rack after such an odd and absurd chain of events that it was almost meant to be? The 2007 Del Rio Vineyards Claret recently filled that niche for me, for had the day I purchased the wine gone a different path at a number of junctures, it would have meant no wine for me.

At the end of August, Micheal and I took a much needed vacation to Bend and Crater Lake. When it comes to travel, I'm a planner. I'll have reservations, maps, agendas, bottles of wine, and tickets finalized months prior to the trip. This trip was exactly opposite of that philosophy. The epitome of spontaneity, I hadn't had the time to think about this particular vacation until about 2 weeks prior. The result? Lodging reservations about 45 miles from the lake at the Historic Prospect Hotel, and tickets for the Crater Lake Boat Tour on a day that had a marginal weather forecast.

We arrived at Crater Lake on a gorgeously sunny Friday afternoon. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and has a transfixing deep blue color even on the worst of days. On a sunny day, the lake literally sparkles. After driving around the 33-mile Rim Drive (he he, Rim Drive), we headed into Prospect to eat at the Dinnerhouse at the Historic Prospect Hotel where we were staying. After an awesome prime rib paired with some wine from Crater Lake Cellars, Micheal and I reviewed our plans for the next day. Drive to the lake...hike a quick little jaunt down to the boat launch at Cleetwood Cove...and head out for a 2-hour spin around the lake with park rangers. Awesome. The revised weather report indicated a high probably of rain and a moderate temperature. Not so awesome. It was Oregon though, so a little rain wasn't going to stop us.

We hit the road to the lake on Saturday, the day in question, and the drizzle started. It was about 50-degrees and a little foggy, but no big deal. As we started gaining elevation, the temparature started dropping. And dropping. And dropping. By the time we ascended about 2000 feet to the parking lot for the boat tour, it was 30 degrees. And snowing. That's right, snowing. In August, in Oregon. And we were scheduled to go on an open-top boat in the middle of the deepest lake in the nation. Brrr. The ticket attendant looked at our light jackets and noticeable lack of gloves or hats, and intelligently talked us into a refund. We decided to still do the hike down to the boat launch, the only place at Crater Lake where you can access the water. The little jaunt wasn't so little. Despite only a mile in distance, the hike dropped almost 1000 feet in elevation over that mile. It was steep, and cold. We did the loop and my seat warmers never felt so good. But, as it was only about Noon and still snowing and cold, we needed to find a way to occupy the rest of the day. What to do...what to do.
I thought back to dinner the night before, and it hit me. Crater Lake Winery! The drive was about an hour, how could we not go? We started heading towards the winery and decided to stop for lunch. Two restaurants and 3.5 hours later (yep, they that busy), we hit the small town of Shady Grove, Oregon and found the winery. As we walked towards the door, I saw an ominous sign on the door.
Yep, closed. Foiled again. By this time, it was about 4:30 PM and we were 30 minutes from the hotel, in one direction...and 30 minutes from Medford, in the other direction. The boat tour failed, the winery was a wash, restaurants were congested, and we had a decision to make. Across the street, I spied a grocery store and in a moment of clarity we decided to grab some sandwiches and head back to our hotel, where an open bottle of wine and some pie waited. We walked in to this little grocery store, and I was immediately drawn to the wine section, in all it's splendor. Well, it was actually pretty small but I always like seeing what these little places have. After picking up and putting back down a few bottles, there it sat. With a price tag of $19.99, marked down from $35.00, were about 5 bottles of the 2007 Del Rio Claret. I knew this was a great wine, and at that price, how can you say no? The purpose for the day of trials and tribulations became clear: I was meant to go home with this wine, and go home with it I did. As Clark Griswold best put it in Christmas Vacation,

Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?

A few weeks later after the trip to the Sakery, 2 wineries, a flat tire, and an awesome dinner at Chang's Mongolian, Rick and I opened the bottle that was meant to be. The Claret was everything I dreamed of and more, and at $19.99, my frugalness was shining after having worked so hard to get the bottle. I first noticed the deep, dark purple hues on the wine and Rick pointed out some delicous blackberry notes on the nose. The blend is one that we knew would be a homerun out of the Rogue Valley:
  • 50% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 30% Merlot
  • 10% Malbec
  • 10% Cabernet Franc
That equals 100%, right? We swirled, sniffed, and sipped, and found some awesome flavors of currant and fig. The mouthfeel of this wine was lighter than I would have guessed based on the composition, but in a totally awesome way. The more we drank the more we liked, and this Claret is proof that Southern Oregon can stand up to Eastern Washington in the battle of the big reds.

Next thing we knew, the bottle was empty and the Del Rio episode was done. For now. Luckily, I have another bottle on the rack for the next time I want to have an absurd and random experience. Oh, and next time you want that awesome bottle at an awesome price, check out the grocery store in Shady Grove.  Don't worry about the name, it's the only one.  Cheers!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Blend Seattle and DIY Winemaking

Many wine tasting events follow a basic formula: a get together centered around wines from a particular region/varietal/theme. Winemakers and tasting room staff may talk to those in attendance about the wine that they're making and trying to make; they talk about what got them into wine and where you can find them. Oftentimes these events are great ways to meet smaller producers, or put a face to a wine that may come from further away than you normally travel. For many people, this can be a perfect opportunity to try a variety of really good wines all at the same time and do a little comparison across varietals, vintages or regions. I love wine tasting events, they're great places to try something new and meet new people.

Living in Seattle I've had the good fortune of being able to attend a number of events, and they all have tended to be similar until recently. Jamie Peha has recently added a little bit of bang for an additional buck to her tasting events with the incorporation of seminars and educational workshops. The first such seminar was at the Merlot Gone Mad tasting where winemakers and growers talked about the unique qualities of Washington Merlot while attendees tasted multiple vintages side by side. In her most recent foray, Blend Seattle, Jamie outdid her last go round with the addition of blending workshops. I got to attend one, and it was a blast.

Winemaking staff from Washington's Columbia Winery founded by the late David Lake started us off with a bit of an historical and scientific look at why winemakers blend wine for years, and for today's consumers.

After a bit of history on the blending traditions of Bordeaux we set about making our own blends. Columbia Winery had provided varietals from two different vintages to blend together in our own creation. I was at a table of all-star Seattle wine talent that included Annie Hong, GM for the Black Pearl restaurants, Taryn Miller fellow wine blogger, and the reigning king of the Washington wine blog scene, the man himself, Sean Sullivan, author of the Washington Wine Report, and the cover boy of the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine's 100 Best Washington Wines. We were also accompanied by an actual journalist and editor Jessica Voelker from Seattle Met Magazine as well.

Equipped with four of the traditional Bourdeaux blending varietals, we went to work. Traditional Bourdeaux styles are either Left Bank, blends predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon, and Right Bank, where the predominant grape is Merlot. Our table decided to buck tradition and we all experimented with different blends.

Using the Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from 2007 and the Red Willow Cabernet Franc and Malbec from 2008, we measured our blends into 100ml batches. Yours truly created a blend fancifully named Dark is the Night 1.0 that was 50% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet and 10% Cab Franc. My blend was popular with the ladies, but Sean felt it needed a little more backbone. Annie and Taryn also had winning combinations, but they both lacked the cool name that mine had.

As we went into round two, I eased the Malbec back to 45% and beefed up the Cabernet to 25% at Sean's suggestion. (He's Sean Sullivan folks, the guy knows his stuff, you should listen to the man.) Dark is the Night 2.0 was a hit. Jessica had a nice blend this time around as well. We decided the table’s best chance at victory our best chances lay with Dark is the Night. Before submitting our blend, we tweaked the blend a bit, coming to rest at 45% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 25% Cabernet and 10% Cab Franc. A bit of field blending was done after that and we submitted our wine to the judges. Each table submitted a wine and then scored each other's wines blind.

Unfortunately, we did not win. The winning table walked away with a bottle of the Penninsula blend from Columbia Winery. Tails between our legs we made our way out to the big event, Blend Seattle.

I was really pleased with some of the food tasting options, and some wine blends I hadn't experienced before. A favorite was the La Boheme from Saint Laurent and one I didn't try but heard great things about was the Vinify from Forgeron Cellars.

Curious to see what Jamie has up her sleeve for her next event? Get your tickets for the upcoming Lamb Jam.