Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Locals Out and About 1

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Though I have been here in the Willamette Valley for a few months now, I had not really gotten out and about to some of the local wineries. The hubbub (not to mention the cost) of moving and settling in kept me pretty close to home. The times I did get out of town were to head off to faraway places such as Portland, Jackson, and Mt. Shasta. I was quickly getting myself into that rut where a person can be in one place for years, but never take part in the entertainment close to home - kind of like growing up in NY but never seeing the Statue of Liberty, living in Washington and never seeing Mount Saint Helens, or living in Utah and never going skiing (not that I know ANYONE for whom all of these apply).

So it was great when my friend Chris suggested a trip into wine country last weekend. We rolled out semi-early, and wined and dined our way through the area around Monmouth for the day, enjoying lovely wine and vittles where ever we went. Instead of writing a loooong piece about the whole day, I have decided I will break it up and highlight my favorite parts as to give them a bit more credence.

One of the wineries we went to was Firesteed. Just off of 99W North of Rickreal, we spotted Firesteed on our way to another location, and decided if we had time we would check it out. With the firm belief that you really always have time for wine, we made sure to stop in on our way back by. We climbed the hill up to the massive warehouse and tasting room, and wondered for a moment if it was open as there seemed to be no cars there. Upon entering the tasting room we met our hosts, John and Kristen, who greeted us with friendly smiles. When hearing we were there for a tasting, John replied "suh-weet!" We knew we had come to a great place.

Modern and edgy with a rustic flair, the tasting room was comfortable and posh without seeming pretentious. I especially enjoyed the wine rack that seemed to be made out of old barn wood standing behind the counter. A large window behind the bar allowed us to sneak a peak at the barrel room that included a massive German-style barrel with a stainless steel door on the front. We were informed that this was used for short-term white wines in place of stainless steel fermenters. Don't get me wrong however, there were still the big steelies there as well, towering to one side and making me want very much to climb in for a nice swim (yeah, I am strange - I'm OK with it). We joked warmly about that for a bit, and learned that the only way to clean them out was to actually get inside and scrape and spray - so perhaps I might get a chance to see the inside of them after all...add it to the bucket list - pun intended.

The lighting provided beautiful shadows around my glass as I tasted

We tried a number of wines while at Firesteed, here are the ones I enjoyed the most!

Our tasting started with their 2008 Pinot Gris. I found it to be light and silky on the nose with a large dose of melon and peach. There was a citrus-y topnote that promised crispness along with hints of wild honey. I found it tart and crisp with a silky smoothness that was cool on my tongue. There were hints of melon and peach that came through a strong green apple flavor. It made me dream of summer heat, honey barbecued chicken, and sweet corn roasted on the grill in the husk.

We also were able to try the 2008 Chardonnay - W3. The W's in W3 stand for Walla-Walla and Willamette where the grapes are grown. I found the nose toasty and cool simultaneously along with a high sharpness that suggested the wine would pack a punch. I found it to be the exact opposite upon tasting it however - it was smooth, mellow, and silky. The oak flavor was soft and subtle, hitting me gently at the finish. I noted a floral aspect at the top of my palette along with a balance of tart and sweet fall fruit - pear and apple. Not a huge fan of chardonnay, I was pleased to find this wine highly drinkable. Its strength and complexity would be wonderful by the glass, or paired with foods that are sweet and spicy.

I really enjoyed trying the 2005 Cayalla RTW (red table wine). This wine continued my current love affair with Oregon red varietals. The nose was rich and earthy and filled with dark fruity notes along with chocolate and vanilla. I found the taste equally deep with cherry at the front, an oily and peppery cocoa at the middle, and a long finish filled with mineral, earth, and moss. If there ever was a wine I would call a comfort food, this would be it. I'd drink it on its own, but really wanted to have it with my mom's macaroni and cheese followed by chocolate chip cookies. Despite the homeyness of this wine, I think it would stand well in a fine dining situation as well.

Another wine I noted well was the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The nose opened into a strong and complex mixture of berry and spice - deep and clear - blackberry, clove and pepper with almost a citrus flash that lingered late, opening up my sinuses and asking me to take another whiff. A long-time lover of the mountains, I found this wine to be the olfactory equivalent of springtime in the peaks just below the snow line. The taste was fresh, full, and tantalizing, and completely matched what I had just smelled. I enjoyed the acidic texture and the greenness of the finish. I loved loved loved this wine. I doubt I would pair it with anything lest I lose something from my experience of it, but if forced to choose I'd eat it with Greek food - feta cheese, olives, and smoky roast lamb.

All in all the experience at Firesteed was one of hospitality, fun, and great wines. I walked out with a bottle of the Cayalla RTW and (duh!) the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. As the weather improves here in the area I intend on hopping on my bicycle and visiting them again!

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