Monday, February 28, 2011

Double Winetendre: South Stage Cellars 2009 Early Muscat

Editor's Note: At The Oregon Wine Blog, we're always scouting new talent in the wine blogging world. Really, we just have a lot of friends who like to drink wine and show some interest in writing for the Blog. In that spirit, we bring you this guest post from Clare Cady of the Semi-Urban Homesteader blog. Who knows, she may be our next staff writer.

Just recently my partner Jason and I trekked south to Jacksonville, OR, to visit friends who have a natural building school. Between climbing in the mountains, grinding wheat with a bicycle, and drinking homebrewed beer, we slipped out for lunch and a chance to check out the town. Jacksonville prides itself in its history, so it was only fitting that we stop in at a local landmark. Built in 1865, the then private residence of Patrick Ryan has been host to more local businesses than any other building in town. Currently it is the home of South Stage Cellars, a vineyard-based tasting room and wine garden.

We walked away with a bottle of their 2009 Early Muscat, sold on the promise from the woman in the tasting room that it served both as a delightful dessert wine as well as an aromatic white. It felt like a big claim to me and so was intrigued. I was impressed with the quaint, cozy feel of the tasting room along with the rows of medals and awards that lined the wall behind the bar. The 2008 incarnation of the Early Muscat won Best of Show at the 2009 World of Wine Festival.

We were also excited to see how committed South Stage is to supporting the local economy and community. The grapes come from owners Don and Traute Moore’s vineyard, Quail Run, a local 300 acre operation that utilizes no insecticides and utilizes cover crops as a means to enrich the soils. We noted that there were several events aimed at locals providing discounts and entertainment. Our friend Coenraad had been there just the night before performing at a local’s night.

Some weeks later we decided to give our southern belle a try. A pale straw color, I expected something touted as a potential dessert wine to be more syrupy, but it seemed more like an aromatic in the glass. The nose consisted of honey and a tropical fruitiness that we were initially unable to identify along with hints of clove. I found the taste to be powerfully sweet on the tongue with a slight sparkling texture and a lightly bitter finish, almost like grapefruit. Jason noted that he found a “zing” at the top of his palette that was just as much texture as it was flavor. After exploring this further we decided that this was the tropical fruit we’d gotten on the nose – guava. The whole experience was threaded with the light spiciness of clove that carried through from start to finish.

We decided that the claim that this wine could be either a dessert wine or enjoyed by the glass with food stood up to the test. The Early Muscat provided more than enough complexity and crispness to drink chilled with a citrusy piece of fish or a mild Thai curry. However, its bold sweetness and bitterness would make it an excellent complement to dark chocolate or summer fruits. I definitely enjoyed this versatile wine and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sweet wine with a kick.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sonoma Restaurant Week


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Diving Headfirst into Woodinville

I have a good friend who grew up in Snohomish, Washington.  When we were in college back in the day, we took a spring break journey to the Westside one year and a highlight of that trip was a tour of the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville.  Two freshly minted 21 year old dudes, $1 tour, an amusing guide with an Australian accent, and all the samples we could drink?  Um, OK!  Well, for years after that I associated Woodinville with beer and it wasn't until I became a wino many years later that I realized there was more to Woodinville than met the eye back then.  Much more. It actually went down more like this:

Clive: The shit is real up here in Woodinville, yo.
Josh: OK.

Fortuitously, as many of you know, I just moved to Seattle and my condo is a short short 17 miles from this wonderland of wine and this weekend I had the opportunity to make my first appearance. Nestled in the Sammamish River Valley, wine has been in Woodinville since 1976 when Chateau Ste. Michelle set up shop there. In the years since, the small community has become home to over 70 wineries and tasting rooms. The majority of fruit you'll find in Woodinville comes from Eastern Washington, with a good mix of winemakers that produce in Woodinville balanced with Columbia Valley wineries who have opened a second tasting room. It's going to take a long time to hit all 70, woe is me.

Micheal was in town visiting after a non-wine conference and we made plans to meet some of his former students in the wine mecca. After texting Clive for some suggestions resulting in, "There are too many good wineries to pick one.", the party we were meeting suggested starting out at Columbia Winery. I think I twitched a little when Micheal announced that was where we were headed, but not one to rock the boat, off we went. Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Columbia, it's just so big and probably crowded and I was hoping to hit some boutique wineries that weren't out on every grocery store shelf. Luckily, the second winery would provide that opportunity. Columbia was as anticipated; a large impressive tasting facility with a bunch of people coming in by the busload and high production wines on the tasting menu. Regardless, we had a nice tasting, good conversation, and settled on old favorite for our next venture: Airfield Estates.

Rick profiled Airfield about a year ago after our visit to Prosser; if you recall we had a simply amazing experience at their main facility. I was excited to check out the digs a little closer to my new home, would this be my new backyard tasting room? Perhaps. We arrived at the tasting room and to my chagrin, it too was packed to the gills. I noticed immediately that they had done a great job of sticking with the aviation motive present in the Prosser winery. Don't worry, I quickly elbowed my way up to the bar and was greeted with a tasting list with many of my old favorites. I'm a sucker for their blends and jumped right into the reds (I was driving after all), and the Spitfire, Mustang, and Aviator were just how I remembered them -- awesome. In fact, I want to crack open a bottle right now. I'm a sucker for unique red blends and to refresh your memory, here's the rundown on two of them:

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

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

Delicious.  A nice unanticipated surprise was the bonus pour of 2009 Tempranillo, a recent gold medal winner at the San Francisco wine competition. I'd actually had this wine at a local wine bar a few times recently, but was taken by it in the tasting room. We closed down the place, and as we walked to the car our stomachs were growling. Where should all good trips to wine country end? A hot dog cart. Luckily there was one right across the street at DeLille and we bought everything they had left.

So, there's a start. I have a feeling that I'll be making my way to Woodinville quite a bit in the future and look forward to sharing it's wonders with my Oregon friends.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Walla Walla to Portlandia: Will the Dream of the 90s Survive?


If you haven't heard by now, the Dream of the 90s Is Alive in Portland. Young people retire there, you can sleep until 11:00am and all the hot girls wear glasses. Besides its earnest hipness, Portland also plays the role of urban guardian to the Willamette Valley wine country just to the south. They know their wine in Portlandia, and they’re particularly fond of the world class Pinot Noir that grows just to the south. But Pinot Noir is grown elsewhere, and Walla Walla’s wine association is hopeful that Portland will give some of the world class wine from Walla Walla a try for a change.

Taste Walla Walla in Portland, on February 28th, gives those Portland Pinotphiles an opportunity to sample world class Washington wine from more than 50 of Walla Walla's 120 wineries. The event, at Venue Pearl, is a great way for Washington's neighbors to the south to be neighborly and check out what's going on in the Walla Walla Valley, a part of which is in Oregon. Tickets are available at the door for $65, and the event will feature Walla Walla food and wine and an opportunity for Portlandia to open its mind.

They say in Portland that world class Pinot Noir flows out of faucets and falls from the sky. They also say you can go to clown college. As much as I love Portlandia, I am still an outsider amidst its city streets. That's partially because I'm living in Seattle and partially because I'm a bit on the masculine side for Portland. So I had to get an insider's view. I wanted to know how Portlandia would deal with these world class iterations of Rhone and Bordeaux style varietals? Could these wines, nuanced and elegant compared to their New World counterparts, but big by Willamette Valley standards fit in; in this Mecca of skinny jeans? Could they play nice together? Was the Dream of the 90s prepared for one of the finest AVAs in the country coming to town?

All the hot girls wear glasses

Jenny M is my Portland insider and she wears glasses. In case there was any question about her credentials, Jenny pours world class Pinot by day, but her day doesn't really get started until around 11:00am. When I told her that Walla Walla was coming to Portlandia she was beside herself. "Walla Walla in Portland?! What do you think they're trying to do? "In Your Face," I think that says it all, doesn't it? It’s obviously just another facet of the Cabernet industrial-patriarchy takeover. It just sounds so violent, right? Why does it have to be in my face? Have you even seen what most of those bottles look like?! Those "big" Washington wines are just part of varietal-phallocentrist oppression."

Jenny continued, “Think about it: How many women winemakers are even IN Washington? There are like, a lot in Oregon. I think that says something about how progressive Pinot Noir production is here, comparably. I mean, it's like really progressive."

Free Range Lifestyle
Jenny was concerned that in addition to the lack of feminism there was a lack of in touch with naturism, and I tried to assure her that we had both amazing woman winemakers in Walla Walla like Marie Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars and Anna Schafer aMaurice Cellars and really nature-y type people too. She wasn't hearing it.
"Pinot Noir is soooo superior to those big masculine, hot-climate wines. It's feminine, nuanced, and in-touch with mother nature. Walking in the vineyard, I can put my hands in the soil and hear what the wine is trying to say. It CAN do that, I read about it in a Native American History class I once took. I might try it eventually.”

We Put Birds on Things
What I did find was that despite her initial reaction, Jenny had a weak spot for Portlandia-centered marketing, which basically amounts to the artful use of bird imagery. "I was in Whole Foods today, buying this really yummy spelt bread, when I happened to see some Washington Cabernet with a pretty bird on the label. Like, do they think that's all it takes?! I mean, yeah, I bought it! But that's not the point! The point is, "Bordeaux-style"? More like "Bour-don't style to me"!

While the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has work to do to convince this particular Portlandia die-hard, I do believe there’s a good chance that they’ll make a serious impression on the hipster Pinot guzzlers. If nothing else, Walla Walla is going to throw one heck of a party in the fashionable Pearl District and hell, Portlandia likes parties.

A big thanks to Jenny for bringing the humor and the hip to this post.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Taste of Terroir: 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir (2 of 2)

Part 1 of our most recent Taste of Terroir began in the Northern AVAs of the Willamette Valley, examining 2008 Pinot Noir from Oregon's Chehalem Mountains AVA and Ribbon Ridge. We also covered a little bit about the 2008 growing season in the Willamette Valley. You can read all that here.
But time waits for no man, and so we must continue our journey South through the Willamette Valley and onto the Yahmill-Carlton District.

Yamhill-Carlton District
The Yamill-Carlton District was designated an AVA in 2004. Its vineyards are predominantly planted on the south-facing slopes of the ridges that surround the district in what resembles a horseshoe pattern. In order for a vineyard to fall within the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA, not only must it be within the proper geographic location, but it must also be between 200 and 1,000 feet of elevation. The soil types are comprised mostly of marine sedimentary soils (Willakenzie), as well as some of the volcanic soils known as Jory. Yamhill-Carlton has some of the oldest soils in all the Willamette Valley.

Our Yamhill-Carlton wine came from Luminous Hills. It was not a winery I knew much about, but it’s a sustainably farmed and LIVE certified winery and a part of the Seven of Hearts winery. Byron Dooley is the owner and winemaker of both labels. The particular Pinot clones for this wine were 115, 667 and Pommard. The 2008 Estate Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir had one of the most, if not the most, beautiful aromatics of the wines we had that evening. In fact, the nose of the wine was a dead ringer for a 2004 Chambolle-Musigny, by Jacques Fredrique Mugnier, which I had recently had the good fortune to taste. The aromatics, beautiful and Burgundian, gave way to a palate that many of us experienced as a more steely minerality and spice than fruit or earthen characteristics. This wine retails for $28 and is a very small production at only 142 cases. (I should also note that I sadly poured some of this wine all over one of the guests. Sorry, Michelle.)

Dundee Hills
The Dundee Hills are probably the wheelhouse for visitors experiencing Willamette Valley. They’re located, right down the middle of the corridor and encompass some of the biggest names in all the Valley: Erath, Sokol Blosser, Argyle and Ponzi. When people think of Willamette Valley, whether they know it or not, they often think of Dundee Hills. The Dundee Hills is made up entirely of the Jory volcanic soil type and it's rich in both iron and a red hue that are a signature of the Dundee Hills. The AVA was designated in 2004 and it has 1,300 planted acres. The Dundee Hills are often thought to be a bit more protected weather wise than some of the surrounding areas, so a bit drier and warmer may certainly help in such a cool climate.

The Dundee Hills wine we had was the 2008 Stoller Vineyards, JV Estate Pinot Noir, which was also the third wine of the night (of four total) that sported a screwcap The JV Estate, or Jeunes Vignes, is a showcase of the vineyard’s newest vines. The wine is made to be drinkable and approachable right away, and folks found it to be just that. The Stoller 2008 Pinot Noir was a rounded wine with pleasing aromatics; some of the oak character coming through in sweet spice notes. The wine provided plenty of red berries and a bit of oak on the palate. A couple of our guests described an almost effervescence. This was a very comfortable Pinot Noir for our guests and made it the most popular among many of them. The wine retails at $25

McMinnville AVA
The McMinnville AVA was designated in 2005 after a successful petition by Kevin Byrd of Youngberg Hill Vineyards. The AVA lies within the rain shadow created by Oregon's Coast Range and it therefore generally sees less rain than many of its neighboring AVAs The proximity to the Van Duzer corridor, and the coastal wind it brings, keeps the vineyard sites a bit drier. The soil composition is primarily marine sediment but basalt and volcanic soils also underlay much of the McMinnville AVA. Only 600 acres of vineyard are planted.

Our wine from McMinnville comes from Noble Pig, a new winery. The 2008 McMinnville Pinot Noir is their first vintage released. The wine is comprised of three Pinot clones, Pommard, 114 and 115. This wine had very active aromatics, and was almost perfume-y. The oak made a slight and positive impression on the wine, and the bright red fruit made this an impressive first vintage from Cathy Pollak, winemaker and proprietor. This wine retails at $34

Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Continuing south in the Willamette Valley, on towards Salem, we reach the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The fruit of the the Eola-Amity is known for its almost pitch perfect acidity, higher than much of the Willamette Valley. Its proximity to the Van Duzer Corridor and those cooling winds from the Pacific play a major role in that acid retention. Designated in 2006, the AVA consists of mostly volcanic soils, as well as nekia, which is a soil comprised of exposed basalt. The Eola-Amity hills holds some of the most famed Pinot vineyards in the Willamette Valley, including Temperance Hills, Seven Springs, and Elton vineyards. Some of the signatures of the AVA include darker fruit profiles on both the palate and the aromatics of the wine.

The Brooks Winery 2008 Rastaban Vineyard Pinot Noir is a deep, dark Pinot Noir. This wine had far darker fruit character than any of the other Pinots we tasted. It was a bolder wine, a big, luxuriant Pinot Noir. The oak program used on this wine, 50% new French for 18 months, resulted in aromas of smoke and earth and represents a bit of a departure from many of the Burgundian styled Pinots that Oregon is known for. This wine was a lot of dark rich velvet, and it retails at $50.

Umpqua Valley
Next, we did what many people consider the unthinkable: we left the Willamette Valley. We left it behind and continued south to the Umpqua Valley. The Umpqua Valley was designated in 1984, and contains the basin area of the Umpqua River. In conjunction with the much warmer Rogue Valley AVA, it makes up the Southern Oregon AVA, designated in 2004. The Umpqua Valley is warmer than the Willamette Valley and sees plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling and some occassional Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of those warm weather varietals grow beautifully in its neighbor to the South, the Rogue Valley AVA. The soil composition of the Umpqua Valley is often sand and clay loams.

Our final and southernmost wine, the Brandbourg 2008 Ferris Wheel Estate Pinot Noir. This wine gave us a bit of toasty oak on the nose and certainly the palate held much more spice, with hints of chicory and cola than the Pinots to the North. While many of us found this Pinot slightly different than its neighbors, with its spicier fruit profile, this was still an elegant, balanced Pinot Noir and demonstrated capably that Pinot can, in fact, be grown outside the confines of Willamette Valley and still demonstrate great varietal integrity and beauty. This wine retails at around $30.

Our conclusion, the 2008 vintage is a great one for Oregon Pinot Noir fans. In many cases wineries are still releasing their 2008s, particularly when it comes to single vineyard Pinots. In other cases some of the 2008s have been completely sold out. The buzz about the vintage has had impact on both pricing and availability, but don't be deterred. Gather up and drink as much of it as you can, you'll thank us later.
These wines were provided as samples.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Taste of Terroir: 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir (Part 1 of 2)


Oregon’s recently released 2008 Pinots are garnering some serious buzz. "In the 2008's, you've got the best vintage Oregon has ever produced, the kind of vintage Oregon winemakers always hoped they could produce." Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator.

With that in mind, the time was right for The Oregon Wine Blog to explore this vintage in our Taste of Terroir series. To many wine drinkers, Oregon Pinot is Oregon Pinot, but that's too large a generalization. The Willamette Valley is certainly what people think of, but there's so much variety within the Valley itself that the sub AVAs provide an exploration of the valleys, elevations, soil types and micro-climates - and that's just what we hope to do with the 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir tasting. We've even got a Pinot from the Umpqua Valley.

This two-part post will start on the Northern end of the Valley in the Chehalem Mountains. As we progress, we'll pass through Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton District, the Dundee Hills, McMinnville and the Eola-Amity Hills AVAs, and as we work our way South we’ll end in the Umpqua Valley.

What kind of growing season was 2008? Here’s a description from our friends at Stoller: “In retrospect 2008 was the ultimate cool climate vintage, but it began rather apprehensively. A frost arrived when bud break, already a few weeks late, began. Everyone seemed to survive that frost and the fruit was right on track by late summer. Concerns about a wet harvest forecast never came to fruition as the end of summer and early autumn saw cool breezy days that allowed the necessary hang time to produce Oregon's world class Pinot Noir.”

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, 100 miles long and about 60 miles wide, was first declared an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984. Since then, it's become known as one of the greatest places in the world to grow Pinot Noir. Other varietals that do well in the Willamette Valley include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Chehalem Mountains AVA
The Chehalem Mountains AVA rests on the far North end of the Willamette Valley and serves as the guardian to the rest of the Valley of the harsher weather that comes in from the Columbia River Gorge. The area is marked by great variation of soil types within the AVA, with volcanic basalt creating the foundation for much of the area's clay and silt, marine sediment and sandstone. The area’s soil is also comprised of a windblown silt, or loess. The AVA was granted designation in 2006 and has around 1,600 planted acres of vineyard. The AVA Association has a great website here.

Our Chehalem Mountains representative was a personal favorite: Anam Cara Cellars 2008 Nicholas Estate. The Nicholas Estate vineyard (LIVE certified) is probably one of the most distinctive vineyards I've sampled in Oregon when it comes to displaying terroir. The site is a former hazelnut and walnut farm, has unique characters that are present, particularly on the nose of the wine. The 2008 was no exception. The wine started out with a smokey, earthen nose, hints of moss and forest floor as well as pepper and toasted spice that speak more to the site than the use of newer oak. This wine saw less than 20% new oak. This elegant Pinot delivers brighter red fruits and a hint of that spice from the nose on the palate. The Nicholas Estate is a blend of 5 clones, nearly 40% 667, though Pommard, 115, 114 and 777 all make up the wine. The wine was named in the Top 100 by the San Francisco Chronicle and will retail at around $30.

Ribbon Ridge AVA
Within the Chehalem Mountains AVA lies Oregon's smallest AVA, Ribbon Ridge. Ribbon Ridge was planted in 1980 by Harry Peterson-Nedry, owner and winemaker at Chehalem Winery. The AVA is only three and half miles long and 1 and 3/4 mile wide and it sticks up out of the valley floor at 683 ft of elevation. Its comprised of a younger soil, a silty clay loam of the Willakenzie type, drains exceptionally well and is perfect for viticulture. There are only 350 acres planted in Ribbon Ridge and the first vineyard was Ridgecrest, at 55 acres, Ribbon Ridge was designated in 2005.

We sampled two wines from Ribbon Ridge, the Chehalem 2008 Reserve and the Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noirs. Both of these wines exhibit a bigger style and excellent acidity that come across right away. These are wines that will lay down that much is clear. The Ridgecrest Vineyard 2008 came across with spice and smoke from oak on the nose. The palate gave way to prominent tannins, certainly in comparison to the Anam Cara. The wine is really well put together and we found it to be one of the favorites among the guests. The dark red fruit on this nicely balanced wine made it a beautiful example of Oregon Pinot.
The Chehalem Reserve 2008, is not yet released and was even bigger than the Ridgecrest and exhibited significant tannins. Bright fruit notes and even some of the oak on the palate, guests found the nose to have herbal notes, and fennel or licorice came up many times. This is a big and really impressively structured wine. Certainly drinking very well now but this wine held the most promise for tomorrow of the 2008s we tasted. I would love to taste this wine again in a few years. Both of the examples from Ribbon Ridge were nice examples not only of what the AVA has to offer but also spoke to the experience and innovation of Harry Peterson-Nedry and the amazing things that are coming from Chehalem. Wines with incredible structure and finish. Impressive.

Our journey through the 2008 vintage Oregon Pinot Noir continues in Part 2 coming later this week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Through the Eyes of Newbies: Willamette Valley Vineyards

Since beginning The Oregon Wine Blog, one quality we've strived to stick to is breaking down the wine industry in a way that makes it accessible to young people who don't know anything about wine. These folks are usually intimidated by the thought of driving their Honda up a long, winding driveway and parking it in front of a beautiful chateau just to belly up to the bar and not know what to ask for. We know this feeling, but the truth of the matter is it just isn't the case in the Pacific Northwest. We've broken this down numerous times, but it's time we prove our point in person.

To do this, I'm going to dedicate more time dragging people who don't know Chardonnay from Syrah out to wineries I enjoy. This provides three incredible benefits:

1. My
guinea pigs
friends get to experience Oregon wine first hand, find out what they like, and hopefully become lifelong wine consumers of Oregon wine
2. You, the reader, get to hear about their reactions
3. I get to pick wineries I already enjoy and drink great wine either way

For our first journey, Josh and I took Alyssa, Cole, Shannon, Laura, and Chelsea to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Why Willamette Valley Vineyards? For one, they make a little bit of everything. I had no clue what kinds of wines were going to be popular with this group, so it was a safe bet bringing them somewhere that produces pretty much the entire gamut of wines. Not only does this help my friends decide what kinds of wine they like, but it selfishly helps me narrow down what to bring to gatherings. I'm not saying that I particularly minded drinking an entire bottle of Latah Creek Petite Syrah by myself, but I also don't want to be that guy.

The second reason is even more important than the first. We weren't just getting any tour; oh no. We were getting a tour from Willamette Valley Vineyard's very own Wende! Wende is super rad and guided our tour during the Le Tour De Pinot Finale, so we knew our friends were in for an awesome experience.

After quick introductions, we were guided into the main hallway and given a brief history of the wine industry in Oregon as well as the story of how Willamette Valley Vineyards came to be. We even heard about how cork is harvested! While I'm sure our group didn't retain absolutely everything, it was really great hearing an explanation about the industry from somebody who actually works in it. For me, the industry itself is almost as fascinating as the wines it produces and from the feedback I got, everybody in our group really appreciated hearing about it.

With our history lesson over, it was time to hit the wine making facilities! Here we got to walk through their cellar, wine making facilities, and even saw a bottling line. Wende broke down the complicated methodology of making world-class wine into terms so simplistic that Cole even started throwing out questions regarding creating hybrid and custom grapes. While he probably won't end up changing careers to winemaking, it was clear that everybody left with exponentially more knowledge than they had when they showed up.

With the tour out of the way and one glass of Pinot Gris down, it was time to do some tasting!

Instead of bellying up to the bar and going down a tasting list, Wende had other plans for us. Upon walking out of the bottling room, we were lead into a separate event space and had a private table laid out with gourmet cheeses and five different bottles of wine.

Have I mentioned how awesome Wende is yet? Because it's a lot.

For our palate's pleasure, we all had the opportunity to try their regular Pinot Noir, Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir, Merlot, Frizzante, and Viognier. This provided quite the range of wines and lead to some surprising results. I would have guessed that the Frizzante and regular Pinot Noir would have won the crowd over, but here's how things played out:

Pinot Noir: Ranked towards the bottom of peoples favorites of the five. I was kind of shocked because WVV's Pinot Noir is fairly light, fruit-forward, and not at all offensive. It turns out that while they're all wine novices, it was actually too simple for their palates. Even Cole, who can often be found with a Coors Light, shrugged it off.

Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir: This was a home run with the entire crew. Everybody seemed to love how bold it was and how the flavors changed as each sip evaporates off the palate. Wende also showed us a cool trick of rolling a pinot glass on its side with wine still in it, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Griffin Creek Merlot: This was about as varied in opinion as I thought it would be. Surprisingly, this was one of Shannon's favorites. Shannon tends to drink Rieslings and Pinot Gris, so I'm still a bit perplexed as to how her palate works. That said, she really enjoyed the medium spiciness from this Southern Oregon favorite. I may just have myself a new red wine buddy!

Tualatin Estate Frizzante Muscat: Not at all surprisingly, this was a hit with everyone. It's practically wine soda!

Griffin Creek Viognier: This was perhaps the wine of the day. While our guests didn't have experienced enough palates to express every nuance of this wine, they all had the realization that there was a whole new dimension to white wine that they didn't know was there before.

Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: This wasn't one of Wende's wines, but I made everybody try this on the way out. This ended up being a big winner as well, which still has me scratching my head as to why the regular Pinot Noir wasn't. Oh well.

After our incredible tour and tasting session, we hit up the tasting room once again and each picked a few bottles. I was really excited to see that our wine newbies purchased a little over a case worth between themselves. While those guys were picking out their favorites of our tasting session, Josh and I got a little distracted by a few cellar wines on display:

Somehow we resisted the urge to buy the 2000 The Griffin as well as a magnum of port; instead leaving with a few bottles of Griffin Creek Cab Franc. As a somewhat regionally-respected wine journalist, it is my semi-professional opinion that you can never have enough Cab Franc on your rack.

All in all this trip was a huge success. The Oregon wine industry just gained itself five new customers and I got an excuse to visit one of my favorite wineries. A huge thanks goes out to Josh for coordinating the reservations and another out to Wende for being WVV's Senior Executive Director of Awesomeness.

Look for more of these posts as I drag my non-enophile friends to other wineries!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Willamette Valley is for Lovers on Valentine's Weekend

When it comes to wine, at least for this guy, there's nothing sexier than those earthy Oregon Pinot Noirs. They seduce the hell right out of me. I know I'm not alone and so that's what makes February 12th and 13th (the weekend before Valentine's Day) a perfect time to succumb to those urges and head on down to Willamette Valley. It’s not just the wine that comes out of Oregon that’s sexy, it’s the Willamette Valley itself. There’s something ethereal about the Willamette Valley this time of year: the mist hangs along the valleys slopes and vineyards, the dark green of the Valley’s flora, the varying aromatics of world class Pinot Noir and the real love that is being shared in the glass and over tasting room counters up and down the Willamette Valley. Ironically, I won’t be there because I’ll be celebrating love at a friend’s wedding, but you, those without some other plans who need a little more Pinot in your life, get down to Willamette Valley.

There are several events to highlight the most amorous weekend on the calendar. In keeping with the theme, there are several Pinot Noir and Chocolate tastings, and as we all know chocolate is one of the world's most ancient aphrodisiacs. There will be chocolate pairings at Johan Vineyards, Youngberg Hill, and Torii Mor, to name a few. Additionally, there are a plethora of Valentine dinners all up and down the valley, including at Cana's Feast, Cubanisimo, and Ankeny Vineyard, among many others. To top off the festivities, after gorging yourself on chocolates, Pinot and delicious meals, you can take advantage of Library sales at J.K Carriere and bring some of that sensual stuff home. After all, you should be “getting it on” like this all the time, not just this weekend.

To cap off the romance-a-thon that is this weekend of romance, Pinot, and food, you might just need to "get a room" at The Allison or The Inn at Red Hills. If Cupid has struck you between the eyes with such a force that you're considering some sort of weird romantic move like bathing in Pinot, don't do that. If you must, don't waste the good stuff; buy a couple cases of Pinot from California and fill that tub to the rim, save the good stuff from Oregon for drinking. With weekends like this, November of this year may just see us greeting babies with Willamette-themed names. Archer or Cara, anyone? (Archery Summit and Aman Cara)

Monday, February 7, 2011

It's for charity...really.

You've probably noticed a marked decrease in the frequency of posts lately, especially from yours truly.  If you are observant, that is.  I moved to Seattle a week ago and have been getting settled in.  With the move wrapped up, on Friday I resolved to kick it into gear and get a post knocked out this weekend.  This post.  The problem was that I didn't have a vision in mind, and while I have a ton of wine on the rack, nothing was jumping out for the post.

Saturday morning I connected with Andrea of Le Tour de Pinot fame, and we set off to explore my new neighborhood (Ballard). We ended up at the local wine bar that Rick and I had found the previous week, and fortuitously they had a complimentary tasting going on. California tasting, that is. While I enjoyed the tasting, I didn't take any notes or pictures so you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for a post dedicated to Portalis Wine Shop in the coming weeks.   Andrea and I parted ways for the evening and I was left reconsidering my options for a post.  The first thing that came to mind was the next in the "They Make Wine There?" series, with a bottle of Utah chardonnay in the hopper.  I wasn't feeling white that evening, so a bust on that one too. What was a boy to do?

Wait a minute! Right about then I remembered something that had jumped out at me twice per day every day for the past week on my foray into the public transportation world to work. Wine World Warehouse. It's right there on NE 45th right off of I-5 in Seattle, tantalizing me with 23,000 square feet of wine through the bus window. Yes, I would go there and find a bottle of wine to drink and review. I needed to be more specific because trying to find a bottle among the 6000 Wine World carries would have been seeking a needle in a haystack. With that in mind, I set the following ground rules for my selection: the wine would be obviously from the Pacific Northwest, one that I hadn't tried before, under $20, and something with a story behind it.

I drive the 3 miles from my condo to Wine World (how convenient), and was welcomed with dedicated parking and a shop that is open 11 AM - 9 PM on Saturdays with free tastings every day of the week at the gorgeous bar in the middle of the shop. I had missed the tasting, but was immediately drawn to the Washington section in front of me.  Wine was organized by geographical region, then varietal, then vintage; a strategy that might be a bit challenging for a wine virgin but I very much enjoyed the layout.   There were some wines that stuck out right off the bat.  The Leonetti Merlot was tempting, but at $89 it was a bit more than my $20 limit.  Kiona and Terra Blanca are always winners, as is Cougar Crest, but I couldn't fall back on the familiar.  It needed to be new and unique.  I circled around the store a few times, and found myself back in the Washington Merlot section.  In front of me was a Heaven's Cave Inspiration.  It looked unique, was $19.99 (fine, a little more with WA tax), and was single-vineyard designate from Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills.  Done.

Heaven's Cave Inspiration 2007 Merlot

Heaven's Cave Cellars is a for-benefit winery that chooses to donate a portion of its profits from wine sales to cover 100% of the operating expenses of the Make the DASH Count Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit dedicated to both developing the next generation of community leaders and benefiting at-risk youth. Heaven's Cave owner Hope Moore additionally partners with vintners from Alexandria Nicole, Hedges, DeLille, and Reininger in the Dash Wine Project. The Make the Dash Count foundation, with a vision of To creating an army of youth philanthropists who will serve as community leaders throughout their lives, was the perfect reason to crack open the bottle. See, I really was drinking for charity. Here's what I thought.

After allowing the wine to open up while cooking dinner, I found a very jammy and fruity nose packed full of red fruit. Upon sipping, the mouthfeel was very smooth and it was apparent this is a well-structured wine. As the wine coated my palate, I got a punch of tannin and heat on the end. My immediate thought was that this would be a better food wine. Good thing I had dinner in front of me. As I started to eat and continued sipping the wine, it paired extremely well with the raspberry chipotle bbq pork chop on my plate.

This Merlot earned an Excellent rating from Wine Press Northwest with fruit 100% sourced from the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. With a production of 112 cases, pick up a bottle and make pour your own glass for charity. I'm going to have to make it a practice to pick up some wine now and then that I haven't tried; this was a a winner and Wine World Warehouse will undoubtably provide me endless opportunities to do so.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Upcoming Event: Seattle Food & Wine Experience; What's Not in a Name

The Seattle Food & Wine Experience is coming up soon, and will be held on February 27th at the Seattle Center. The title “The Seattle Food & Wine Experience” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to the food and wine you get to experience. Although since it is in Seattle, I suppose that part is spot on. What the title doesn't tell you though, is the full scope of that experience. It has a reach well beyond the wines of Seattle area wineries, though Woodinville’s Convergence Zone Cellars and Hestia Cellars are represented. The wine experience though goes further: to Wenatchee and St. Laurent Winery, to Red Mountain and Hightower Cellars, and further afield to Walla Walla and the wines of Glencorrie.

I suppose they could have called it “The Washington Food & Wine Experience in Seattle,” though that really doesn't do it either. The wineries are coming from outside Washington, including Idaho. Yes, that Idaho. There are, of course, wines from our neighbor to the South, Oregon. Ten Oregon wineries will be showing their wares, including Anam Cara Cellars, Cayalla and Archery Summit. There are also plenty of wineries from California. Somehow there are more California options than the Northwest put together. Maybe there's a good deal on Jet Blue for those folks flying in from California? In any case, there are close to 50 California wineries. Perhaps a more appropriate name would be “The Northwest (Plus California) Wine & Food Experience in Seattle?” If you’re still playing, I switched up the place of “wine” and “food” because I don't believe the food is coming from anywhere but Seattle, but it was really just a precaution.

In addition to the fact that the more appropriate name has gotten a bit lengthy, it's also not complete. Italy, you hear me, Italy is also in the house. So is France, and maybe Germany. There's also breweries, the kind that brew beer, and cider. It's gotten a bit out of hand actually, and now we’re looking at “The Northwest (Plus California And Also Some European) Wine, As Well As Beer/Cider & Food Experience in Seattle. I plan to pitch the new name to Jamie Peha who's thrown this party together. I do think adopting the new name may take some time, and so I highly recommend you get should go ahead your tickets to the event (available here). Regardless of the name, it's going to be a helluva good time.