Thursday, March 31, 2011

From Willamette's East Valley; Hanson Vineyards

Hanson Vineyards is one of 16 wineries that make up the East Valley, a Willamette Valley wine producing region that lies east of the I-5 corridor. While the area is a relatively new wine destination, some of the families have been farming that side of the valley for a good long while. Hanson Vineyards is one such long-standing winery and has been growing Niagara and Concord grapes since the 1920s. The wine making got serious in 2000 when Clark Hanson started to plant vinifera root stocks.

The Hanson family, Clark and his son, Jason, are looking to make a wine accentuated by their terroir. The vineyards are planted along the cool water Cascadia creeks, which elements add a unique character to their wine. Clark and Jason are currently making four wines: a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Blanc, and a Riesling. Though they generally agree on how the wines should be made, they disagree on Riesling, as Clark prefers a sweeter Riesling while Jason likes them really dry. As a compromise they change the style every year, alternating between about 2% residual sugar and a bone dry Riesling.

Hanson Vineyards is a small winery and they plan to stay that way, with designs on maybe making a few hundred cases of each varietal. In addition to being small, Hanson does their own thing, not pressured to follow any particular formula or style that may have become fashionable in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Hanson Vineyards makes the wine that their vineyards give them, not pursuing in your face, inkier Pinots. The Pinot Noir that's coming out of Hanson Vineyards is lighter in color and body.

I found the Hanson wines were certainly lighter than some Oregon Pinot. While they didn't have the dark fruit or earthen characteristics often associated with Pinot, the wines communicate lighter fruit and herbal notes. The nose on the Pinot Noir was very classically Burgundian and the wine was lighter to medium bodied and had very little oak influence. The Chardonnay was a fine example of what Oregon can do: lighter fruit and some herbaceous notes. France would have been proud of both of these varietals from the New World.

Hanson Vineyards gives Oregon Pinot and Chardonnay fans the opportunity to see the versatility that the Willamette Valley offers in the form of a small family operation that has no designs on overthrowing the giants of Willamette Valley or converting Pinot drinkers to their more Old World style. The Hanson family is happy to be able to create the wines their vines give them and Jason and Clark have agreed that the wines they're producing are as they are intended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Less than a minute to go in the VCU/Kansas game. Definitely glued...

Time out - less than 30 seconds. I will say that one of the best parts of coming back to civilization from the wilds of Southern Utah (I was there for nearly 5 years!) is March Madness. Oh...back to the game...VCU is going to pull this one out!!!

Killer - what an amazing upset! I make it my own personal rule to root for the under dog - unless we are talking Seahawks, UW, or anyone from the Patriot League (and I will admit that I came to cheer for several of these teams/schools BECAUSE they were or are underdogs). I was thrilled when Butler took out Florida yesterday. I mean, who does not like seeing the little guy win???

The first game of my day started at 11am - after moving West from NY I realize how East-centric our country really is. It being a Sunday I decided to call it a lazy day in bed with my computer watching the games in live feed. As early as it was I decided to forgo the game-day drink and sip on some coffee, but as the day continued, and the game got more and more interesting, I decided to find myself something a bit higher octane.

In the spirit of backing the underdog I chose a label off my rack that sported a pic of golden retriever - Rascal, a 2007 Pinot Noir bottled by the Great Oregon Wine Company. Pinot Noir is by far my favorite kind of red. I love how it is simultaneously simple and complex. I love how the Pinot grapes are finicky and it takes a lot of work and love and time to produce a good wine. I think also I love places that are best for growing these lovely grapes - particularly New Zealand and the Willamette Valley. On any given day I'll roll with the Pinor Noir before any other choice.

I found that it took a little longer than usual to open the nose, which seemed weak to me. I found light aromas of cherry as well as a sour topnote - something acidic and almost citrus which threw me. I worried that the flavor would be off. I was pleased when I tasted it to find that worry unfounded. Smooth and crisp, it first hit me with tart cherry, followed by a spicy, acidic bite and a smoky finish. As I continued to sip I found the flavor profile heightened to include a slow and delightful peppery burn that hit me high in the palette, and a darker green flavor that I still can't identify low in the back of my tongue.

Summit gave this one two ears up

Interestingly, when I spent some online research time trying to learn about the Great Oregon Wine Company, I could only find this page and a couple of reviews on other wine sites. There was a phone number on the back of the bottle. When I googled it I was led to the site for Lindsay Wine in McMinnville. Upon calling the number I got a message of a woman's voice saying, "Thank you for calling the winery..." Very helpful - thanks. So I suppose at this point the Great Oregon Wine Company will remain a mystery at least to me. If you know anything about it please drop us a line!

All in all I found Rascal to be a nice wine that I will be happy to continue drinking by the glass as I head into watching the UK/UNC game. By the time this posts the outcome will be determined, but at the moment you all know who I am cheering for...


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dining Around Seattle...with Oregon Wine

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A few weeks ago, Chris and Megan made the journey from Corvallis to Seattle to check out the new digs. Knowing that they were both relatively familiar with the area, the typical tourist agenda just wouldn't do. As I racked my brain for some neat activities, I remembered an event that a coworker had mentioned to me, Dine Around Seattle, so I got on the trusty intertubes to do a bit of research and solidified plans for an awesome night out.

Dine Around Seattle is actually less an event and more a month of awesomeness. In it's tenth year of existence, Dine Around Seattle is a bi-annual promotion wherein during the months of March and November many of Seattle's finest restaurants offer a three-course gourmet dinner for only $30 (tax, gratuity, and beverages not included). Oh yea, the promotion is Sunday - Thursday as well, but totally a great an excuse to go out more than just Friday or Saturday. As I scanned the list of nearly 30 restaurants participating, a little bird in the back of my head kept saying "Rays, Rays, Rays." Sure enough, there it was, Ray's Boathouse, a fine seafood establishment in my neighborhood that many friends had recommended. I quickly made a reservation and we were all set.

The marketing pitch: Ray's Boathouse is world-renowned for its impeccably fresh Northwest seafood. The culinary professionals, led by Executive Chef Peter Birk, hand select the best products from local purveyors and then prepare them simply to enhance the naturally fresh, clean flavors and succulent textures. My analysis: Spot on, mate. We arrived for our reservation and were led past some prominently displayed Wine Spectator Award's of Excellence to the back of the restaurant, a gorgeous table overlooking the sound. We could see the seagulls out the window looking at us longingly, knowing that we were in for a phenomenal experience. I grabbed the wine list and dove in, poring over nearly 700 wines primarily with a Northwest focus.  Where to start!  Feeling a bit nostalgic for the Willamette Valley and knowing seafood was on the menu, I flipped to the Pinot Noir section and was pleased to see an old favorite:  Spindrift Cellars Pinot Noir.  Spindrift has been on the agenda for Le Tour de Pinot and have always been good friends to the Blog. I was sold and the wine was showing beautifully. Now was the difficult part, choosing the dining selection.

Ray's was offering 3 - 4 choices for each of the 3 courses for Dine Around Seattle, all of them looking amazing. After much deliberation, I selected the following:

  • Sweet Potato Soup, Chorizo, Cilantro, Orange Crema
  • Panseared Coho Salmon, Coconut Rice, Mango, Chiles, Thai Basil, Lemongrass Syrup
  • Pistachio Cake, Roasted Pear Cream Cheese Filling, Chocolate Sauce, Candied Pistachios

The soup was creamy, spicy, and exuded fresh, local, and seasonal with every spoonful. The salmon was definitely the showcase of the evening, prepared medium rare with the lemongrass syrup and mango adding some nice accentuating notes. It paired perfectly with the wine I had selected (no big deal), and left me feeling full but just wanting a little more. The pistachio cake is not something I would normally order, however, it came highly recommended from the server and I learned long ago that it's good to push outside my box and listen to the expert serving staff. It was worth it.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as this meal did.  You, however, still have the opportunity to experience Dine Around Seattle for one more week, and you'd be a fool not too.  Ray's was great, as I'm sure a number of other restaurants are as well.  Do it, and drink some great Northwest wine while you're at it!

Ray's Boathouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wine Road Barrel Tasting 2011

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I have always found barrel tasting to be something magical. It isn’t something you get to do on the typical visit to a tasting room if you don’t live in an area that produces wine, you may never get the chance to taste directly from the barrel. That is what makes Barrel Tasting Weekend so special in Sonoma County. For the first two weekends in March, wineries opened their doors and their barrels to thousands of visitors from around the country to have this unique experience.
While the event spans three different AVA’s (Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valley) Katie and I decided to spend our time in the Alexander Valley. After getting a few recommendations on places to visit, we started off at Field Stone Winery.

Field Stone Winery
The event took place in the cave and we were able to enjoy two wines from the barrel. The first was their 2010 Syrah which will be released in May 2012. The dark fruit and jam flavors were quite prominent in this wine and I was surprised at how drinkable it already was. As expected it was still young but it will be one to watch for on its release in 2012.

Another wine to watch for will be the 2009 Petite Sirah from Field Stone. This big and bold wine will not be for the faint of heart as it definitely takes on the depth and richness you expect from this varietal. The earthiness was really starting to come through and with patience and time spent in the cellar, the complexity of the 117 year old vines will fully develop into a truly special wine.
After finishing our barrel tasting experience in the cave we went into the tasting room to try some of their reserve wines. Upon entering we got distracted by the row of bottles lining a shelf with some very familiar logos. Close to many of the writers here at The Oregon Wine Blog, the Beavers and Cougs were prominently displayed.

Hanna Winery
From Field Stone we made our way up to another winery we had not previously visited. The staff at Hanna had decorated the tasting room into a baseball theme and even though it was all about the SF Giants (Go A’s), it created an atmosphere that was fitting of an event weekend in Sonoma. The environment at Hanna is what I have come to expect from Sonoma county wine events and what attracts people from all over. While most of the crowds were at the tasting counter, their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was being thieved from the barrel in the opposite corner. Being released in January 2012, this Cab was noticeably young and was very tannic. However, if it resembles the ’06 Cabernet when it is released it will be one to grab. While some of my friends in the Northwest may not enjoy this full-bodied wine, California wine drinkers should definitely stop by Hanna now and in the future.

Hawkes Winery
While some wineries, particularly those with small tasting rooms, had trouble providing the experience of tasting out of the barrel (several had already transported the wine into empty bottles and poured from those), Hawkes Winery met and exceeded all of our expectations for the weekend.
A very small, family run operation, Hawkes provided visitors with a chance to taste 3 different single-vineyard Cabernets. All made in the same style, this tasting gave people the chance to understand the effects the terroir makes on a wine. The 2009 Cabernet from Stone Vineyard featured a chocolate and smokey profile whereas the Cabernet from Red Winery Vineyard was much more subtle in its notes of cherry, spice, and leather. The third wine was from Pyramid Vineyard, a young vineyard with plenty of soil diversity within the same vineyard. This Cabernet will continue to mature and will highlight complex flavors that complement a rich body.
Both Katie and I really enjoyed Hawkes as our final stop of the day. While talking with winemaker Jake Hawkes, we also met a wonderful couple who were visiting all the way from Maryland specifically for this event. They attend each year and purchase futures that get them through the year, until the next Barrel Tasting Weekend. Stories like this were not uncommon. We heard of one married couple who returns each year to celebrate meeting each other at this event many years ago.
Sadly, this event can be tarnished at times by overly-excited over-consumers of wine who use it as an inexpensive way to drink too much. While I experience this at any of my stops, I have heard some horror stories of people stealing tickets, yelling at tasting room staff, and disregarding requests for no limos or buses. However, this is such a small amount of the 25,000+ visitors that come to Barrel Tasting each weekend. My experience with Barrel Tasting was friendly staff, friendly volunteers, and a great chance to preview what to expect from Sonoma County in 2012. This event, with such low ticket prices ($20 in advance, $30 at the door) gives everyone from the seasoned oenophile to the most recent box-wine graduate a chance to explore, discover, and fall in love with the world-class wines of Sonoma County.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Passport to Dundee Hills


The Dundee Hills is a very special place for Pinot Noir, nestled as it is, almost dead center in the Willamette Valley. It’s home to many of the Valley's biggest names and the red Jory soils make a Pinot Noir that can be called signature Oregon style. In a recent Oregon Wine Blog tasting, the Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills was a group favorite. It sounds like to me that anyone within shouting distance of the Dundee Hills should hustle down there for the Passport to Dundee Hills.

The Passport Tour of the Dundee Hills allows Pinot lovers to not only experience the wine they've come to love, but it will also work to connect restaurants, inns and, most excitingly, wine education. While many tasting or touring events swing open the doors to eager wine drinkers, the Passport to Dundee Hills will teach attendees about the history and tradition of this sub-AVA as well as the unique growing conditions, soils and geography that make the Dundee Hills special in an educational seminar that's included in the passport package.

The Passport grants access to special weekend-only pours and you'll find many of the Dundee Hills’ smaller and more exclusive wineries - those that typically only open their doors to the public on rare occasions - will also be participating. I highly recommend that attendees make their way to Anderson Family Vineyards, a personal Dundee Hills favorite of mine. They're making Pinot Noir, but I find their Chardonnay to be some of the best in the Valley. Check out their views and some of Oregon's steepest vineyards.

The $15 passport grants you access to 50% to 100% discounts on tasting fees at participating wineries, discounts and specials at restaurants and hotels and the educational seminar.

Passport Tour Information:

When: April 16-17th, 2011. Hours vary by location (generally 11am-4pm)
Where: 30 DHWA members
Price: A $15 passport provides discounts of 50-100 percent off tastings.
Purchase: Online at

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When Thunderbolt Strikes Seafood

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I recently took some time after a conference and spent the weekend in Seattle. Josh made note of our adventures in one of his recent posts. On that trip, with Josh, Kyle, and some alums from the places I have worked, we stopped at Airfield.

I was first introduced to Airfield last winter when we took the now infamous trip to Prosser, Washington area. While Rick made a great post about the experience there, I left there with several
bottles of wine, and the trip to Woodenville, Washington a couple of months ago was no different. Since Josh was gracious enough to be the DD, I took advantage and did the full tasting that was filled with both their whites and reds. Elise, Tara, Neil, and Stacey (the alums who were joining us), also participated in full tasting. That Saturday I would leave Airfield with 10 bottles - some would say "Why not just do a full case?" While I think about it, I just cannot answer that question with a decent response...shame on me!

I fancy myself a fairly decent cook. I am always willing to try new dishes, and frequently do with varying degrees of success, and I have a few staples, which I am sure you all do. I also LOVE seafood, I grew up on it. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I usually have seafood several times a week. One of the dishes I have been experimenting with are spicy stir-fryes.

After coming back from Seattle, I decided I would try out another stir-fry for a recent dinner guest I had. I made a spicy shrimp stir fry that was had red, green, and orange bell peppers and asparagus. The stir-fry was then placed over rotini pasta. I am still fine tuning my rice cooking skills. Not going to lie - cooking rice still intimidates me a bit with the rice to water ratio and such. Anyway, I digress.

In deciding what to drink with dinner, I decided to open the bottle of 2009 Airfield Thunderbolt Sauvignon Blanc. This was one of the bottles I had just procured during the above mentioned trip to Seattle. I could not have done a better pairing for this dinner! Both my dinner guest and I found that the balance between the chilled, dry, lightly sweet Sauv Blanc with the warm and spicy stir-fry dish was perfect.

The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and refreshing with hints of tropical fruit including lemon seemed to enhance the flavoring for the spices used in the stir-fry. The way it landed on the palate provided an alternative to the stir-fry. The Thunderbird was really just very enjoyable. I don't recall buying more than one bottle, but by the end of dinner, I definitely wished I had several. You will too after you give this bottle a try.

Until next time...


Friday, March 18, 2011

Organically-Grown Girls’ Night

Editor's Note:

This post is the second from our Corvallis guest blogger, Clare Cady, author of the Semi-Urban Homesteader blog. Help us convince her to become a permanent member of our team!

I have to admit, I was very excited to have a posting as a guest writer here on The Oregon Wine Blog - so excited that I created a companion post on my blog, Semi-Urban Homesteader. I wanted to talk to my audience there (a small group of faithful!) about the intersection between winemaking and sustainability. I decided to do a simple write up on what makes a wine organic. I thought I would share that here along with my most recent sampling which comes from the organic (and local!) category.

From the blog posting…

“Often in liquor stores (and more often in food co-ops) we will see areas designated "organic wine," but the term "organic" is often so overused that it often becomes meaningless beyond green packaging and Pollanesque supermarket pastoral. I will admit that I have not really spent time figuring it out (I generally go for local first, organic second when it comes to wine).

For starters, there needs to be an acknowledgment that along with confusion around what it means to be "organic" in our supermarkets, each country in the world has a different standard. This is important to think about when dealing with wine seeing as so much of the wine in this country is imported (other food as well). What is agreed upon across the board is that the way the grapes are grown is very important. There should be no pesticides or chemicals and all other methods of growing need to be earth-friendly.

Where things start to become hazy is the position on sulfites. Sulfites are a naturally-occurring product of fermentation, and an excellent wine preservative. However, because many people are allergic to them, in order to be considered an organic wine there can be no added sulfites. This is the US standard, so if you have a sulfite allergy be sure that the organic wine you are about to drink is domestic. That said, there is no such thing as a completely sulfite-free wine…”

And on from there…

I enjoy wine of all kinds from all places (even that blueberry wine from New Hampshire I sampled with Josh a while back), but my personal beliefs often color my wine selections. Generally I go for a local wine over one that travels a long distance, and when I get the chance I roll with something organic. That said I am not allergic to sulfites, so certified organic is not that important to me. For example, the Early Muscat from South Stage Cellars I wrote about recently was not certified organic, but it was local to where I was and it made sustainably. All in all I have a code I try to stick to, but in the end there are amazing wines that totally trump ideals.

I decided to review an organic wine for this post (duh – why would I do anything else at this point?), and decided to fold it in with Washington Wine Month. I went with a pick I found at my local co-op: 2007 Ruby Red Wine from Klickitat Canyon Winery, a small family business in Lyle, WA with a dedication to sustainability and wine. At Klickitat, vinter Robin Dobson and his partner Kathleen Perillo have created a system of growing and harvesting they call eco-dynamic farming. This includes using native plants in the vineyard as a means for pest control, and harvesting in a way that does not disturb the local ecology. Using no pesticides, not adding sulfites, and avoiding any other additives to their wine, the folks at Klickitat are committed to creating a quality product in line with their ideals.

Tasting organic…

I spent the weekend up in Portland visiting friends, and decided that was a great time to open the Ruby Red with my friend Jess – girl time, if you will – after taking a hike in the beautiful Forest Grove Park. The bottle promised a dry varietal that was ‘completely free of residual sugars,’ and was an unsulfured, unfiltered, vegan extravaganza. I will say that after reading the label for a second time I was feeling a bit wary about the wine. I spend a fair amount of time doing things that might be classified as crazy-hippie-new agey (you know, building houses out of mud, tanning deer hides…the usual), but this seemed even a bit woo woo for me.

In the glass the wine was a beautiful brownish-maroon, dark and muddled looking in a way that belied the unfiltered nature. Upon tilting the glass we found the sediment coating the bottom. The nose was delightfully complex with strong aspects of blackberry, mineral and moss. Jess commented that she found it earthy and smoky with a hint of floral sweetness that overlaid the whole aroma. The whole thing brought back to us the hike we’d just finished – earthy, loamy, and filled with forest bounty.

Unfortunately the taste did not stand up to the lovely nose. Initially all that I got was a strong punch of sour cherry and cranberry with little else in the mix. Jess noted that she found it very bitter on the tongue and that the tartness was in the middle. There was no finish. The wine tasted not like it had just been uncorked, but that it had been left out for a time and had oxidized, giving it a flatness and lack of complexity that did not match our olfactory experience.

Don’t get me wrong, it was not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It had a lovely dryness and the tart flavor and smooth texture made it beautifully mouth-puckering and intense. However Jess and I agreed that this was a wine that would be better with a meal rather than a stand-alone to drink by the glass. We also were in accordance that it would not stand up to more powerful flavors, but would be nice with a classic steak – probably not what was intended by creating a vegan wine, but what you gonna do? What Jess and I did was sip, enjoy, and get ready to clean up and go out for a night on the town!

We tried to take a nice photo, but that's not really in our nature (no pun intended)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wine & Social Media; What's the Connection?


Wineries, like many businesses, are trying to tap into or harness the so-called mystery that is social media. There are workshops, conferences and summits on how wineries can leverage the ins and outs of social media and laugh all the way to the bank. Social media in general, and in wine specifically has spawned companies, and brands, how-to videos, books and workshops seeking magic bullets and that ever-elusive ROI.

While I personally find the use of social media to a be a positive and almost too easy relationship building device, many that I've spoken with in the wine industry remain skeptical about the time commitment. "It takes too much time." "It's hard to get started." "I'm not a tech person." While I don't want to make any claims about the undeniable value of the use of social media, I do have a story that I want to relay.

On December 12th, 2010 Neil Cooper of Cooper Wine Company loaded his truck and was making his way to 106 Pine, a wine shop in downtown Seattle. He sent out a tweet that the "sled was loaded up" and "he was on his way." Somewhere between Red Mountain and Seattle, the folks at 106 Pine got in touch with Neil to let him know that they had fallen victim to the incredible week of rain that saw flooding all over Seattle. The shop was inundated with water; the tasting needed to be canceled.

Neil contacted the 1200-odd followers between his personal and business pages. Together, they started reaching out to other wine shops, and within an hour a new location had been selected at the relatively new Wine World Warehouse. While a new location was being settled, the twitter machines were a-twitter (see what I did there?) with what had happened to Neil's original tasting and the subsequent relocation. Folks who had no idea about Neil's original plans were now clued in to the small bit of adventure for Neil and the new location.

When I got to Wine World later that afternoon, there were four wineries pouring at the bar in the center of the store. The traffic was heavily weighted to the far right side of the bar where Neil poured. While we were there, 30 to 40 people came and went to Neil's side of the bar, and maybe 4 to 5 people visited the other three combined. At one point one of the other winemakers walked over and said, "Well, I might as well join the party." Neil was his usual affable self: joking, smiling and laughing with folks. Hugs and handshakes preceded glass pours of Neil's Pinot Gris, L'Inizio, or his variety of Cabernets. There was a party atmosphere on that rainy Sunday in Wine World and Cooper Wine fans and friends of Neil were the reason.

When I talked to Neil about it later, he mentioned that every single one of his wine club members made it to Wine World. He had about 75 folks come through that day, many were club members but many were not. The twitter traffic had also generated interest from other wine shops in Seattle, enabling Neil to parlay what could have originally been a royal pain into a gain. Neil credits one of his twitter followers (@wawineman) for reaching out to Wine World and helping to make that tasting happen. Other followers re-tweeted the new location and times, drumming up attention and promoting the Wine World tasting for folks who don’t follow Cooper Wine on Twitter or Facebook.

So what does Neil Cooper know about technology and new media that others in the wine industry fail to grasp? Nothing, really. It's not a technology thing. Neil Cooper knows people. He knows how to make people feel welcome, valued, and he loves to talk to you. That's his big secret. Social media isn't about being cutting edge; it's about engaging people and building - and more importantly - maintaining relationships. So while Neil benefits from having natural charisma he also benefits from the relationships he's built.

When I hear a winery or winemaker waxing cynically about the real value of social media and things like Twitter I think of that rainy day in December, a flooded wine shop, and the smile on Neil's face when I saw him at Wine World. The ROI was pretty easy to measure that day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March is Washington Wine Month

March is Washington Wine Month, a perfect occasion to both celebrate and learn about the quality, variety and personalities of Washington Wine. The accolades and recognition for the wines coming from Washington continue to mount and national and international wine publications and wine authorities are fully aware that Washington is making some of the country's and really the world's best wines.

Washington Wine Month and its culminating event, Taste Washington, are aimed not at these media outlets or industry types, but rather at the consumer, and specifically the consumers within Washington. Washington is the country's second largest wine producer, but only a fraction of the size of California, which is a very good thing in my opinion. Washington's 160,000 tons crushed in 2010 pales in comparison to California, where they crushed 654,522 tons of Chardonnay alone, but California produces a lot of wine, much of it bad, and some of it in boxes. When you look at the higher quality California regions, Sonoma and Napa, who crushed 189,897 and 138,379 tons, respectively, in 2010, then Washington is in good company for quality wine production.

The Washington Wine Commission hopes consumers will educate themselves about the high quality wine that that's being produced here in Washington - often close enough that you can more or less throw a rock and hit a vineyard or winery. The hope is that consumers in Washington are at the very least, shopping for, ordering and actively seeking out the wines that we make right here in Washington.

For those of you who may be - somehow - still in the dark about Washington wine, shame on you, but what are you waiting for? This month gives you the perfect opportunity to brush up on your familiarity with Washington wine. As a primer here are a few tidbits you can use to get yourself ready for Taste Washington on March 27th.

The AVAs
Washington has eleven federally recognized AVAs including one on the western side of the Cascades. The fruit coming from each of these AVAs varies and when wineries produce an AVA or vineyard designate, that wine gives you an opportunity to focus in on one of the characteristics and qualities that define these eleven regions. As a consumer and budding Washington wine connoisseur, take the time to sample wines from each AVA, it'll give you a sense of Washington's range when it comes to wine growing.

Urban Wine
Wineries and tasting rooms are popping up in Seattle and Spokane and they give consumers a great opportunity for easy access to the kinds of experiences those visiting wineries often come away with. Wineries like Domanico Cellars in Ballard and Laurelhurst Cellars in SoDo/Georgetown do all of their production on site. You don't need to leave the big city to meet the winemaker and see what they're doing.

Exploring Varietals
Washington has become known for Riesling, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and for good reason: we produces some of the best in the world. Increasingly, though, growers and wine makers are also stretching themselves and exploring a variety of varietals. For examples, check out Washington Tempranillo by Gifford Hirlinger, a Lemberger from Kiona, Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Noir by Syncline and Petit Sirah by Thurston Wolfe.

World Class Vineyards
Some of the best fruit in the world is growing right here in Washington and the growers and winemakers are doing a wonderful job of working together to really push the boundaries and make improvements to what they've done. Look for vineyard designate wines that will allow you to see what these sites can do. Vineyard designates are indicated on the wine label, and vineyards to look for include Boushey Vineyard, Champoux Vineyard, Ciel du Cheval, Conner Lee, Dubrul Vineyard and Klipsun Vineyard.

Taste Washington
The greatest tasting event on earth is quite simply Taste Washington. There is nothing else like it. The event spans three days beginning with the Restaurant Awards on Friday, the amazing and once in a lifetime seminars on Saturday and wraps up with the greatest tasting extravaganza of all time on Sunday at the Qwest Event Center. Over 200 wineries and 60 Seattle area restaurants are coming together to give you the opportunity taste the best Washington has to offer. There are a lot of options, and it’s easy to go too far. Instead, make a plan, pace yourself and figure out exactly what you hope to get out of the experience. “Plastered” should not be at the top of that list. I'll have more on Taste Washington for you soon, but if you're not excited about March now, I'm not sure you can be helped. For tickets click here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Just a Number?


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pre-Event - Barrel Tasting 2011

One of the first times I had the chance to taste wine from a barrel was when I was living in Washington and went to a tasting at Merry Cellars. Tasting wine at this very raw state was fascinating and I have enjoyed each opportunity to taste from the barrel I have been given. Tasting wine before the bottle allows for some prediction and mystery of what the wine will become. For the first two weekends in March I get to play fortune teller again while participating in the 33rd Annual Barrel Tasting. Over the two weekends of March 4-6 and March 11-13,over 150 wineries will be participating in this spectacular event that drew over 25,000 attendees from 47 states in 2010. A ticket costs just $20 in advance and $30 on site covers one weekend and gets you access to three days of barrel tasting from all the wineries and the opportunity to purchase wine that will be available upon bottling. Often, these "futures" purchases will be deeply discounted and may only be available for sale in that form. While purchasing wine only tasted from the barrel involves some risk, it is no different than buying a bottle and holding it for years while it develops.
Wineries from the AVA’s of Dry Creek, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley will showcase some of the best wines that Sonoma County has to offer and what you can expect to see in 12-18 months. I will be providing coverage on the first weekend and focusing primarily in the Alexander Valley AVA. Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah, the Alexander Valley features common names such as Clos du Bois, Rodney Strong, and Coppola, but is also home to many small family owned wineries as well.

Watch for tweets along the way and future posts detailing the event.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Top 100 Oregon Round Up

Yeah, yeah, I know it was awhile ago that the Top 100 wine list came out, but now that all the votes are in, lists have been compiled and pontificators have pontificated I wanted to remind everyone how Oregon fared with the most recent release of Top 100 wine lists from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and the San Francisco Chronicle.

I'm not usually an enormous fan of the wine magazines, but they certainly play a crucial role in the ability for wine drinkers beyond the Pacific Northwest to consider Oregon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and all of the wonderful varietals coming out of Southern Oregon. The credibility their publicity garners cannot be understated, even as wine bloggers the world over try to overthrow their stranglehold on wine journalism. Here at the Oregon Wine Blog we have no such delusions; we all have day jobs, for Pete's sake. Far be it for us to play the role of player hater. The San Francisco Chronicle's Jon Bonne has serious credibility as far as I'm concerned and is always worth a read. While it's true that you'll find his offerings California heavy, it's hard to fault him since he's in California, and we've been accused of being Oregon and Washington heavy ourselves. And so, we run it down for you:

The Wine Spectator Top 100
90: Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2009, Willamette Valley, $19
75: A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon, $20
71: Roco Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, $30
32: Evening Land Pinot Noir 2008, Eola-Amity Hills, Seven Springs Vineyard La Source, $65

The Wine Enthusiast Top 100
100: Scott Paul 2008 Audrey Pinot Noir, Dundee Hils, $65
One? There's only one wine coming out of the state of Oregon that made the top 100 in the Wine Enthusiast? I'm a bit shocked by this, but hey - different strokes for different folks I suppose. I noticed a lot of California Pinot Noir on the list, particularly from the Russian River Valley. While slightly discouraging, it's nice to see the wine that they're making at Scott Paul get some recognition. Overall though the Enthusiat was far from enthusaistic about Oregon's offerings. Oregon did, however, fare better in their Top 100 Cellar Wines, wines that can look forward to serious promise with some aging.
70: Chehalem Statement Pinot Noir 2006, Ribbon Ridge, $99
69: Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir 2008, Canary Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, $50
35: Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2007, Boulder Bluff Vineyard, $58

The San Francisco Chronicle
So the San Francisco Chronicle does their listing of top 100 West Coast wines, so no old world magic to hog the spotlight. They break the list down further by varietal, or varietal and types, for the most part. For example they list out Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and then, other whites and roses. Due to the West Coast focus, Oregon did some serious butt kicking in this top 100 list. There are no number designations given, at least that I could find, so I'll list them at the Chronicle does:
Other Whites and Roses
Brandborg 2009 Umpqua Valley Riesling, $16
King Estate 2009 Signature Oregon Pinot Gris, $17
Pinot Noir
Adelsheim 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $32
Alchemist Cellars 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $25
Anam Cara Cellars 2008 Nicholas Estate, Chehalem Mountains, Pinot Noir, $29
Bergstrom 2008 Bergstrom Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Pinot Noir $78
Brooks 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $25
Chehalem 2008 3 Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $27
Cristom 2008 Mount Jefferson Cuvee, Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir, $30
Phelps Creek 2008 Cuvee Alexandrine, Columbia Gorge, Pinot Noir, $42

A great showing for the 2008 class of Oregon Pinot Noir in the San Francisco Chronicle. I do think that as we see the rest of the ‘08’s released this spring, we can expect to see a little more Oregon Pinot in the top 100 lists of 2011, as well. Heck, maybe even in the Wine Enthusiast.