Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Little Light Within The Dark

It’s a bright light in a winter of dark beer - It’s Widmer Brother’s Pitch Black IPA.

photo courtesy: Craig P. Newcomb

The brand I immediately associate with Portland Microbrew is Widmer. It might be because when riding the yellow line up toward North Portland the air is thick with the delicious smell of yeast. It could be because the first time I ran a Portland road race - there were two free cups of Widmer Drifter waiting for me at the brewery finish light. It could be because last year the company offered free cab rides in the Downtown Portland area in their BrrrMobile. Whatever the reason, now that I live up the I5 corridor I get excited anytime I see its label. I actually yelled out loud (some may say it was my trademark ‘yelp of joy”) when I saw Pitch Black on the shelf at my neighborhood Albertsons.

I was surprised with a four pack (that’s how it’s sold) of the series 924 beer at the end of a Widmer event last spring and have been waiting for it to come back ever since. The Widmer website says it’s available January through April but it looks like it’s hitting shelves early. When you pour it into a glass (Kurt and Rob Widmer say you ALWAYS use a glass) it might scare some of you with how dark it looks - but the taste will deceive you. It has the richness of a dark with the complex flavors of an IPA.

The cardboard coozie it’s sold in says this about it:
“Pitch Black takes you to the dark side with our take on Cascadian dark ale. Debittered black malt lends a midnight hue along with a rich, toasty malt flavor. Generous does of alchemy and cascade hops provide a complex herbal aroma and subtle citrus note, balanced perfectly by a smooth Widmer brothers finish.”

I cringed slightly at the price - on sale for $7.99 - until I thought about going out and paying $4+ for a pint of something less tasty. For those four dollars I was able to drink 24 ounces from the comfort of my couch. Each bottle has an Alcohol By Volume of 6.5% and 65 International Bittering Units. IBU’s max out at 100 and the higher the number the more bitter the beer usually is -- but with this beer the malts balance it out and personally I didn’t think it was all that bitter.

So, as the winer weather sets in pick up a 4-pack of Pitch Black IPA and find the light in the often dreary days that happen in the pacific northwest.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Del Rio Vineyards 2009 Syrah

I have a penchant for big reds, and I'l be honest in admitting I have a bias towards Eastern Washington in that regard.  For so long in my head, Oregon was Pinot country and Washington brought the Merlot, Syrah, and Cab to the party.  If there's any attribute that is a hallmark of Pacific Northwest winemakers it's the ability to push my assumptions, and the Rogue Valley in Oregon has done just that.  Griffin Creek was my first introduction to the appellation, and I'm happy to report that Oregon can indeed produce some big reds that stand up those from up North.

Del Rio Vineyards, located in the Rogue River Valley near Gold Hill, Oregon, started it's agricultural history as a pear orchard, as so many great vineyards did. In 1997, the property was transformed into a vineyard, presently planted with over 200,000 vines, 12 varietals, and 17 clones.  In addition to supplying grapes to over 20 vintners, Del Rio also makes some of their own stuff -- Syrah being one perhaps the best known.  Recently Del Rio was kind enough to provide a bottle of their 2009 Syrah for review, an opportunity I was pleased to take advantage of.

Appellation: Rogue Valley, Oregon
Composition: 95% Syrah, 5% Grenache
Winemaking: Barrel aged for 10 months with 25% in new French oak.
pH: 3.8
Alcohol content: 13.5%
Production: 602 cases
Price: $35.00

The winemaker made the following vintage notes regarding the 2009 growing season,

The midsummer's heat wave accelerated the sugar development and resulted in an early start of harvest. The dry harvest gave way to cooler conditions in late September, delaying the picking of our reds. Fortunately, the majority of the fruit was already near to full ripening, which led to fruity well-balance white wines and structured reds.

Appearance: Upon pour, I found this wine to be a nice deep dark maroon bordering into purple. When held up to a light, this Syrah exhibits quite a bit of opacity.

Aroma: Immediately on the nose I extracted quite a bit of fruit, with some cranberry tartness. There was an aroma that I just couldn't put my finger on, so I pulled out the tasting notes and there it was -- raisin. A pretty classic nose that was quite inviting.

Taste: This Syrah started out soft on the palate with a punch of fruit-forwardness. As it developed, I detected some solid tannin with some acidity on the finish. This wine was juicy, full bodied, bold, yet elegant at the same time.

I made a fundamental error in pairing this wine with a stuffed bell pepper that turned out to be spicier than I had planned. I love spice, but it created some odd conflict with the wine. I'd suggest following a more traditional route and pairing the Syrah with a bigger, richer meat such as braised beef or lamb. All in all, a great representation of a Rogue Valley Syrah and a bottle I'd defnitely recommend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

We want you to swoon over Tapeña!


Hola mi amor!

 We here at WestToast are always on the lookout for muy delicioso wines that don’t require selling an organ to afford. Our newest find sweeps us away to the beautiful land of España (Spain for those of you who don’t remember your high school Spanish). Ladies and gentlemen, meet Tapeña Wines.

Part of the Ferrer family of wines, Tapeña produces four wines: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Verdejo, and Rose. The wines come from the Tierra de Castilla region in central Spain and break from the more traditional earthy wines you’d expect from Spain. Tapeña offers fresh and new fruit forward wines that reflect the fun and sexy culture of the Spanish lifestyle.
To become the lovers they are known to be, the Spanish often utilize piropos to win the hearts of the ones they desire. More than a cheesy pick up line... are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see... a piropo is all about appreciating feminine beauty. This is where you come in.

To help you woo the object of your affection, Tapeña wants to give you a party pack that includes a bottle of each of their wines, corkscrews, wine charms, a cookbook, as well as plenty of other goodies.

How do you get your hands on this great prize? It’s simple....and fun!
Leave a comment with your best (or worst) piropo and what Tapeña wine you would open to make your partner swoon.

Lacking creativity? Check out the Tapeña website for some inspiration. The contest will run until Saturday November 26 at 8:00pm EST when a winner will be chosen at random so make sure you check back.

Want more info on Tapeña? Of course you do!
In order to qualify for this contest you must be 21 years of age and by entering you verify you are at least 21 years old.

 Cheers and Salud!

Thank you to all who entered the contest and checked out Tapena Wines. We drew the number randomly and want to say congratulations to our winner Renae Dahlquist who will receive the Tapena Party Pack.

If you didn't win, you can still get your hands on Tapena wine by using their Retail Locator to find some near you!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chocolate Bar in a Bottle: Souther Tier's Choklat Stout

You may have already read Josh's Les Caves De Awesome! article a while back, and learned that we in Corvallis are incredibly lucky to have an amazing restaurant and beer bar that offers a wide variety of quality beverages from around the world.  I hit up Les Caves Bier and Kitchen last night to kick it with a pal and try something unique.  We found a remarkable chocolate stout that I really can't help but recommend - Southern Tier Brewing Co. Choklat Stout.

I don't drink a whole lot of stouts, especially of late as I have been on a serious sour beer kick, and so when my friend Matt picked this number I figured I'd give it a sip and then move back to my Grand CRU Sour Flemish Red.  Did I mention I love surprises???  (I know, I know, just about every other post I write)

The nose on this beer was undeniably cocoa - a dark bitter aroma that made me think immediately of the 75% cacao bars I stash in my desk for a late afternoon pick-me-up.  Above the dark bitter of the chocolate I found topnotes of coffee, warm and nutty, that balanced the darkness of the cocoa scent and created a fullness I rarely find when smelling beer.  Mind you, this is just the nose - I'd not even gone in for a taste yet.

If Southern Tier was going for the creation of a beer that tasted exactly like drinking a chocolate bar, well, let me say that both Matt and I are confident they achieved their goal.  The front was powerfully chocolate - a balance between sweet and bitter that, like the nose, gave me a sense of dark chocolate.  The coffee on the nose continued high in my palette in the center, with a light bitter finish that lingered and paired very nicely with the butternut squash bruschetta we were eating.  I can think of a million things that I would pair this beer with - sweet and savory - but, that said, I think my preference would be to just sip it on it's own.  You might want to split a bottle though!  At 11% alcohol the 22oz bottle could just put you under the table.  We recommended Matt's choice to Mike at the bar, who also gave it a big thumbs up.

Well played Southern Tier - I will be looking you up again in the future...perhaps for a bit of your coffee stout...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Deschutes The Stoic

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery
Style: Belgian-style Quadruple
BeerAdvocate.com Rating: B (Community)
RateBeer.com Rating: 3.59
Serving: 22oz Bottle

Bend, Oregon's Deschutes Brewery is well known throughout the United States beer drinking community for their standard standard fare of affordable yet classy brew.  You can walk into pretty much any grocery store that has a respectable beer selection and find Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, and Obsidian Stout; and their Green Lakes Organic Ale has long been a staple of WestToast.com staff.  Imagine my elation,  then, when I learned that Deschutes had even MORE to offer: The Reserve Series.

A collection of special, relatively small-scale distribution, The Reserve Series represents the the brewmasters playground in a way. With a price point between $10.00 - $16.00 for a 22oz wax-dipped bottle, reserve beers aren't for your every day sipping; they certainly make a special treat though. In August, Deschutes released The Stoic, a Belgian-style Quadruple and the latest in the reserve lineup. I couldn't wait to try it.

According to the brewer,

[The Stoic is] a simple recipe ironically hard to brew. The classic malt bill is all Pilsner malt. Hallartau, Czech Saaz, and Northern Brewer hops sustain a deftly understated flavor. Belgian candy sugars add impact and the smooth body required of any Belgian-style brew worth quaffing. A healthy portion of pomegranate molasses casts an opulent, tangy twist, while a vintage Belgian yeast strain provides a solid reference point. Pinot Noir and Rye Whiskey barrel-aging suggest notes of spice, citrus, pepper, vanilla, and toasted caramel like offerings to the ancients.

With an ABV of 11.5%, IBU of 20, and partially aged in Pinot Noir and Rye Whisky barrels, I knew I was in for a treat!

Appearance: Lightly pink in hue, The Stoic has a slightly effervescent quality which bubble up the side of the Belgian glass I was drinking out of.

Aroma: Immediate notes of the classic belgian yeast and sugar are complemented by hints of pomegranate and a bit of oak.

Taste: My first reaction upon tasting The Stoic was "sweet." Then, the flavor profile transitioned into a tart finish with a backing of oak and whiskey on the palate. This beer is complex! As it warmed up a bit the fruitiness opened up, bringing the pomegranate to the table to play.

Depending on your mood and what you are looking for from the beer, The Stoic it could be a standalone refreshing brew, a more complex after-dinner dessert beverage, or would do just fine paired with some fresh seafood. A unique, complex beer, The Stoic is unlike anything you've ever tasted from a beer - and probably will ever taste again.

It's definitely worth the trip to the store to pick up The Stoic, and also while you're at it you might as well learn how to easily open a wax-tipped bottle of beer. Hint, make a vertical cut up the side.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Col Solare: A Tale of Two Vintages

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It started as a torrid love affair.

It was a hot Corvallis evening; June 2007. Uncharacteristically hot, so much so that I was sitting on the floor fiddling with the cable box in just a pair of shorts. Sweaty, cranky, tired, a bit anxious, and hungry. It had been a long day...week...and month and I was on the eve of international travel.

A car pulled into the driveway, the door burst open, and there he was.  A blond-haired, blue-eyed stallion of a journalist sauntered in.  It was Rick.

He walked over to me and reached out his hand.  I grabbed it, and stood up.  It was a light touch, a caring touch.   In his other hand was a brown bag, a magical bag. With a twinkle in his eye, he pulled it out. A bottle. From the bag. It was perhaps one of the most delicious bottles of wine this writer has consumed; get your minds out of the gutter people.

The love affair was with the wine that night and the wine was the 2005 Col Solare.

It was with that fantastic Col Solare experience in mind that I contemplated the angle for this post while enjoying the grand opening of the Col Solare Bottega in Woodinville recently.  As I tasted through seven vintages, a thought kept rolling through my mind:  How much of a difference does a year really make?

525,600 minutes?  In daylight, in sunsets, it makes a world of difference.  Turns out it can have quite an impact on wine as well.  To fully vet this theory, I had a new mission in life:  a comparative tasting of two consecutive vintages of Col Solare with different growing season profiles; a mission achieved thanks to the help of Stes Michelle Wine Estates and their representative, Gracie, who graciously provided a 2007 and 2008 vintage for review.

There are two main composition differences between these two vintages.  The first is the blend.  2008 included Syrah, 2007 did not.  The second was a growing season.  2007 was a classical ideal growing season on Red Mountain; high heat early on followed by a warm summer and ideal ripening.  2008 experienced a cool start to the summer, followed by moderate heat with a spike at the end of the season.

To complete this comparison, I drew on the experienced palates of Rick, myself, and Blog regular Alyssa as we tasted through the two.

The Wine:

2007 Col Solare

  • Blend:  75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
  • Appellation:  Columbia Valley
  • Sourcing:  Red Mountain (31%), Columbia Valley (36%), Wahluke Slope (14%), Horse Heaven Hills (19%)
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Acidity: 0.58 gms/100ml
  • PH:  3.78
2008 Col Solare
  • Blend:  67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah
  • Appellation:  Columbia Valley
  • Sourcing:  Red Mountain (32%), Columbia Valley (45%), Wahluke Slope (10%), Horse Heaven Hills (13%)
  • Alcohol:  14.5%
  • Acidity:  0.59 gms/100ml
  • PH:  3.79
The Tasting

2007 Col Solare

On the nose we detected a fair amount of earthiness, followed by dark fruit and spice. Current and pomegranate were prominate, and the aromas contained the classic essence of a high-heat Eastern Washington wine from Red Mountain.  The juice was a gorgeous dark purple in the glass.  Upon taste, we found an elegant, smooth wine with the pomegranate and currant carrying through from the nose with the addition of a hit of vanilla.

This vintage heats up a bit at the end on the palate with a subtle white pepper, and wasn't as tannic as I anticipated.

According to Alyssa,

This is the smoothes wine I've ever tasted.

This was well-received sipping by itself.

2008 Col Solare

The 2008 vintage demonstrated some gaminess on the nose, with essence of tobacco, strawberry, earth, spice, and dark fruit. It was a bit more fruit-forward on the nose, but lighter than the 2007 in the glass. Upon tasting we noted an immediate spiciness right off the bat but less complex throughout. We detected tobacco on the palate with some oak, and less fruit that might be anticipated by the nose.

This vintage demonstrated more tannin than the, and seemed better suited to pair with food. As I found when I finished off the bottle the next day, the 2008 opened up nicely overnight and was perhaps even better the second day.

The Analysis

Both vintages were delicious and were fine representatives of the terrior and the Col Solare name. That said, however, all three of us unanimously picked the 2007 vintage as more enjoyable for sipping with friends. The very classic Red Mountain weather pattern in 2007 created a wine indicative of the best of Eastern Washington; big, bold, flavorful, and elegant.

We unfortunately didn't have a big juicy steak to match with the 2008, because it would sure be awesome with something to cut through the tannin a bit and complement the wine. A year or two in the bottle will serve this wine well, and the Syrah may pop out to say hi in the blend a bit more.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tales from the Tasting Team: CGE-GTFF Brew-Off

As a kid I used to watch Scooby Doo, Captain Planet, and the A-Team.  What valuable lesson did I learn?  Teams are good - they solve crimes, and save the environment, and buck the authority while helping the oppressed.  I wanted to be a part of such a cool team (I wanted to be Velma - go figure).  A couple of decades later I have decided I am going to make my dreams come true...not the Velma part, but the part where I get to be surrounded by the coolest people ever, and perform a highly important public service.  By service I mean quality control in adult beverages wherever I live (teamwork is all about me in case you did not notice).  Now that the Spirited Away tour has settled down (I still have your number Ms. Flatley and Mr.'s Goranflo and Seraphin) I am going to write about the dutiful assemblage of quality drinkers as we serve our community by ensuring the beverages are up to par.

Photo by Emily Booth

My receipt of an invitation to Second Annual CGE-GTFF Civil War Brew-Off seemed like an excellent opportunity to give out magic rings and pile into a van.  So now that I have thrown the alphabet soup in your face once in the title of this post, and again here in the copy, I will explain - CGE, or the Coalition of Graduate Employees (AFT Local 6069), is the Union representing Graduate Employees at Oregon State University.  In 2010 CGE was brainstorming a way to be more engaged in the Corvallis community, put on a fun event, and build a stronger relationship with GTFF, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (AFT Local 3544)  at the University of Oregon.  The result was the Civil War Brew-Off - a friendly competition among homebrewers from both unions squaring off with awesome beers.  Proceeds from the event (the admission being $10 and a can of food) went to the local food bank of the winning team.  The first annual Brew-Off was a huge success, raising $580 and 260lb of food that went to Food for Lane County (GTFF were victorious).  CGE were excited about not only the event's success, but also its symbolism.  "Unions are not just about improving our lives," said President Mindy Crandall, "we care about improving our community as well."

Launching into the 2011 iteration of the event, CGE was prepared to steal the title from GTFF, and excited to have a great number of sponsors on board.  Both bands, Mill About Smartly and The Svens donated playing time, and the Independent Order of the Oddfellows of Corvallis donated their space for the event.  The brewers also donate their time (and beer of course) to make the event happen.  Corvallis Brewing Supply was also on board donating prizes and beers to thank the cleaning crew.  This year regardless of which team took the trophy, the proceeds went to Linn Benton Food Share.  Increased advertising assured that the event would be well attended, but, in reality, the nature of the event leaves it to stand on its own.  "It's homebrew, it's music..." Crandall stated, "...it's the perfect event for Corvallis."

Beer and music - sounds like the perfect event for me.  Throw in community organizing, charitable donation, feeding people, showcasing local talent, and unions, and you have pretty much designed an event I cannot not attend.

But first, to assemble the perfect team - a team of excellence, grace, power, knowledge, fun, insight, heroics, beauty, adventure, and an undying need to drink quality beverages.  I could scour the globe to find such a squad, but I have the greatest of fortune to know such amazing people right here in the Willamette Valley:

Photo by Clare Cady

Emily - a woman of many talents, among them wine drinking and holding lingerie (she once held a bustier for 127 hours before putting it down - can't post a picture here...it wasn't pretty).  Emily is a staunch environmentalist whose Earth First name is Hop Warrior.  She specializes in the wearing of ironic t-shirts that espouse fringe political views, and the making of vegetarian stir-fry dishes.  She trained the Iron Chefs in the ways of the secret ingredient, which, incidentally, is okra.

Photo by Joshua Du Chene

Joshua Du Chene - a man tragically lost between two times - meant to be downing Gruit Ale and wild-yeast Lambics in the lower Rhine Valley of Medieval Belgium, while simultaneously developing ultraneo-postmodern folk-metal with punkgrass and acoustic-grunge influences in the year 2035.  Needless to say, the man knows his music AND his beer (and possesses some of the finest dance moves this side of the Rockies). 

Photo by Luke Frels

Luke Frels - If there is anyone who is up for anything ever (except for cage fighting...a man has to draw the line somewhere) it's Luke.  We were lucky enough to have him with us between his intense career as the Rockband champion of the known universe, and his work building entire houses using nothing but cereal boxes and glue.  There's no one better to have on your tasting team than a person who chews on a piece of galanga and finds 173 distinct flavors. 

Photo by Alyssa Dart

Oh, and me, Clare Cady (cue awkwardness whilst I refer to myself in the third person) - Clare comes to the team armed with stories that start, "and one time, in the wilderness...," and a MacGuyveresque ability to build just about anything (tables, bookcases, bombs) out of chewing gum, tampons, and duct tape. Clare has tasted wine, beer, and spirits on all 7 continents and three planets (it used to be four, but Pluto, you know), and is proud to be the coolest and cutest of the West Toast staff in the Willamette Valley.

With our crack team assembled we ascended to the Oddfellows Hall into the brew milieu, commemorative pint glasses in hand.  We were greeted with delightful chaos - the 25 brewers circled up at tables peddling their wares, a cheerful crowd sampling and enjoying the night.  We spread out and got going.  It was hard to choose what to try first - IPA, nut brown, amber, golden, porter...the offerings were diverse.  My wino sensibility wanted to organize flavors before diving in, but given the energy of the night and my own eagerness, I opted to just start tasting.  I picked up a taste of the Occup-IPA from last year's winner, Ian Pilgrim of GTFF.  I found it very hoppy on the nose, with a champagne sensibility, smooth texture, and mildly bitter lingering finish.  Luke also tried my sample and stated that it was lightly sweet up front moving into hops through the center.

We were given scorecards at the door listing all of the beers as well as the scoring directions: (1) acquire beer taste, (2) consume beer, (3) record your thoughts below if needed, and (4) vote!  As we moved forward through the organized chaos of the tasting room, we worked to try everything, but alas, there were many beers we did not get to before they were tapped out.  All in all the Tasting Team got to 18 of the beers at the event, and here are some of the standouts...

Ready for the tastin' - Photo by Emily Booth

Emily highly recommended The Brown Note by CGE brewers Ashley Bromley and Dennis Dugan - she commented that it tasted nutty and sweet, and that she enjoyed drinking it.  I would second that and expound it to a broad and cloudy texture, toasty nose, and lightly sweet front to compliment the round nuttiness of the body of the beer.  Luke commented that it was accessible and drinkable, and I am inclined to agree.  Josh stated that he thought the nutty flavor was bold, and that the nose gave a very good indication of the flavor.

Another standout was Thanksgiving Stew by CGE brewers Sean Delohery and Shilpi Halemane.  Listed as a "vegetable spice beer," the brewers offered it along with sweet potato chips and a great sense of humor.  Josh was very excited to see something so creative, and commented on its creaminess as well as the spicy nose.  Luke commented that the brewer's intention to give the drinker a Thanksgiving dinner in a bottle was spot on, and that from start to finish this beer was very well done.  The nose was full of clove and cinnamon with earthy hints that made me think of sage or other herbs.  The texture was indeed creamy and had a cool finish that the brewers told us was meant to be reminiscent of the whipped cream on pumpkin pie.  Well played sirs.

The Dust Devil, a "strong golden ale" by GTFF brewer Westley Miller was my dark horse for the event.  I almost skipped over this one, not being a big fan of golden beers (I prefer beers I can chew), but it seemed silly to pass on a taste just because of my personal bias.  Note - I LOVE surprises, and this was a delightful surprise.  The nose was powerfully mossy with citrus - Luke described it as bright.  The texture was light and crisp as befits a golden ale, and the flavor was indeed strong...full-bodied with a citrus crispness up front - or almost a tart apple sensibility - there were high bitter notes and a sharp finish. 

We loved the Halloween costumes! - Photo by Emily Booth

Josh got so excited about Yersinia pestis (Black Death) IPA, that he interrupted us at another beer to drag us over for a taste.  He described this beer by CGE brewer Russel Carpenter as having huge round hops that shifted across the palette, a high end smokiness, and a smooth texture.  Luke noted that it was rich and complex with almost a marshmallow finish.  I found a dank, herbal, hoppy nose with big hops and hints of vanilla.  Emily added that it felt and tasted like a strong IPA, and that she would be glad to drink this any day.

Luke highlighted the Forever Summer blackberry wheat by GTFF brewers Andrea Yocom and Adam Goering.  I was initially impressed with the clarity of the beer and the lovely golden color.  The nose was overwhelmingly fruity and tart.  Luke noted the beer's sourness and that it was balanced well with the blackberry flavor.  Josh enjoyed the strong fruit profile that was full of ripe summer berries. 

One of the last beers we sampled as Nutsplosion by CGE brewers Mark Ingman and Mousa Diabat.  The nose on this beer was undeniably and powerfully hazelnut, and the flavor followed suit.  Emily stated that this beer was a lot of fun, and that the nut flavors were intense.  Josh talked about the beer's accessibility and rounded nut flavors.  I found the whole hazelnut here - sweet start, meaty center, and the bitter of the hulls at the end.  Luke commented on the smooth texture and flavor profile.  All of us were taken by the brewers themselves who sported rockin' mullet wigs.

Quite the crowd - Photo by Emily Booth

Voting consisted of placing colored bottle caps into containers at each brewer's station.  We were given three caps - gold, silver, and red.  The gold signified our best beer pick, silver was to vote for the best name, and red was for best experimental.  Here is where the Tasting Team landed:

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Gold: Yersinia Pestis (IPA)
Name: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Red: Forever Summer

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Occup-IPA
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Occup-IPA
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Both bands were awesome! - Photo by Emily Booth

At 9:30pm the voting was closed and the caps counted.  While we waited Josh and I cut a rug in the ballroom.  Here are the final results:

1st Place: Nutsplosion (traditional European brown ale)
2nd Place: Yersenia Pestis (IPA)
3rd Place: Indira IPA (wet hop IPA)
Name: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Best Experimental: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)
Winning Team: CGE
Brewer's Choice: Anfield Road, Indira IPA, Well-Red Post Bock

The winning brewers show off their trophy - photo from Mousa Diabat

In the end, the event raised $1300 and over 300lb of food for the food share.  More importantly, CGE took the title from GTFF as the winning team - Go Beavs (I TOLD you teams were cool)!  Congratulations and thanks for a great event - looking forward to next year!!!

 The spoils of victory - Photo by Ashley Bromley

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sokol Blosser and a Day in Dundee

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Sometimes you find yourself enjoying a particular winery's offerings so much that you add them to your list of future wine destinations. Sometimes you realize that for the last 10 months you've lived only 20 minutes away from that winery. And sometimes you actually visit that winery and then remember that was over a month ago and realize you are one of the world's worst online beverage journalists. The particular winery I'm referring to is one we've written about a few times; Sokol Blosser.

I had driven through Dundee before, but for various reasons had never stopped to enjoy its plethora of wineries. Located along highway 99W, it is a quick trip for almost anybody living in NW Oregon and gets plenty of casual traffic. Josh happened to be in town and to make the best of it, Alyssa and I decided we were going to check it out.

While there are many world-renowned wineries in Dundee, we specifically decided to visit Sokol Blosser first. Long time readers of West Toast will recall that we've reference their Meditrina and Evolution blends quite a few times. Usually we do so in order to make the point that you can use either to pair with pretty much anything (like Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Bars and Dave's Killer Bread Sin Dawgs). That said, and as good as enjoyable as those wines are, we didn't come out to Dundee to taste what we've already had. Sokol Blosser also happens to make a variety of other wines and we were determined to try as many as we could.

Upon entering their tasting room, we were met by Eddie Zavestoski. Originally hailing from San Diego, Eddie heard the call of Pinot Noir and migrated to the Willamette Valley. Now entrenched in Pinot Noir, Eddie gets to share that passion and knowledge with random food and beverage journalists like ourselves.

After tasting through a dozen or so wines, it became abundantly clear that if one's only exposure to Sokol Blosser is through Meditrina or Evolution (which apparently accounts for 2/3 of their annual sales), you are sorely missing out. While some wineries go out of their way to make wines that push the boundaries of what a certain varietal should taste like, "classical" would be the best way to describe Sokol Blosser's approach. Nothing pushes your palate's boundaries, but instead each vintage reminds you why you appreciate it in the first place. Before we got to reds, I was pleasantly surprised by both their Müller-Thurgau and Willamette Valley Pinot Gris. Then came the Pinot Noirs.

If you couldn't tell by this point, Sokol Blosser takes Pinot Noir seriously. We must have tried around five different Pinot Noirs and each were spot-on reflective of the year they were harvested and the conditions of the time. All were very balanced, classical in their approach, and fit the profile of what a superb Pinot Noir should be. One, however, especially stood out as one of the best Pinot Noirs we had ever had. Their Goosepen single-block estate Pinot Noirs are very small in production, but make an enormous statement on your palate. Flavors of cola, chocolate, and black cherry fuse together in creating one of the smoothest, most complete Pinot Noirs I've had to date.

After our tasting was complete, it was time to take a tour of the vineyard and barrel room. Because of Sokol Blosser's 30+ year history, the vineyard is essentially a living story book. Episodes of devastated crops, experiments with geese, and rotated varietals in different blocks make their tour one of the more interesting in the Northwest. You can register for one of these tours yourself and spend about 45 minutes taking and sipping with folks like Eddie. Don't feel like walking? They've got you covered! With the assistance of a 7-person ATV, you can off-road your way through the tour of a lifetime.

Adding to their history of achievements, Sokol Blosser is also home to the country's first LEED-certified winery building. Built in 2002, Sokol Blosser's barrel room is a multi-chambered bunker of deliciousness and dedication to sustainability.

A huge thank you goes out to Eddie as well as everybody at Sokol Blosser. Do yourself a favor and either stop by the winery or pick up one of their single varietals next time you're wine shopping. While I wouldn't suggest Josh try pairing his bottle of 2008 Goosepen in the same manner we used Meditrina, I have a feeling we'll come up with something.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tragedy in Wine Country


Yesterday as I was sitting on the bus headed home from work, I popped open Facebook to catch up on the happenings of the day. While skimming the news feed, a shared link on Wine Press Northwest's site caught my eye. Award-winning wine country restaurant closes. Without even clicking on the link, I knew. I knew in a "heart drops into your stomach" or "just got kicked in the nuts" kind of way. It was Picazo. It had to be Picazo. A world-class chef...the site of one of my best culinary experiences ever...setting up shop in the Tri-Cities, my homeland? The place I had to spend family holidays?  It was too good to be true.

I clicked on the link, and read the first sentence:

KENNEWICK, Wash. Just five months after it moved to Kennewick from Prosser, Picazo 717 has closed its doors.

My fear was confirmed. Chef Frank Magana, proprietor of Picazo, was shutting the doors after four years, multiple awards from the Washington Wine Commission, and a recent move to Kennewick from the original downtown Prosser location. With an awesome Washington wine list, a love for the wine country environment, and a focus on fresh, local ingredients, Picazo held a special place in my heart. In 2009 a group of cockeyed optimists from The Oregon Wine Blog, this journalist included, spent an evening in Prosser with the Picazo crew as described in Part 1 and Part 2 of our feature.

I remember the discussion in the car ride back to Yakima like it was yesterday.  The conversation went something like, "damn, this place is special", and, "holy shit that was the best dinner I've ever had".  There may have been a "can you stop at that gas station so I can pee because I had too much wine" thrown in as well.  The place was really *that* good.

So What Happened?

As quoted in Northwest Wine Press,

"One of the things that brought down Picazo was Chef Magana wasn't at Chef Magana's restaurant," he said. "That was my mistake. I was out catering. I was doing what I love. I was trying to have the best of both worlds, but I couldn't."

A victim of his own success. A split focus from a chef in demand for every wine related event up and down the Columbia Valley. Too many irons in the fire can dilute focus, and in this case, it hurt.

A community that wasn't quite ready. Prosser worked because it was a small, intimate community. The location was smaller, the rent was cheaper, and pretty much everybody who goes out to eat in Prosser was either involved in the wine/agriculture industry with direct ties to the restaurant, or, were wine-related tourists. All folks who are more than happy to support a world-class restaurant in their local community. 

Kennewick, on the other hand, isn't quite there yet. The community at large isn't as gourmet. When Picazo announced the move from Prosser, I recall thinking "finally, a great non-chain restaurant for when I visit my family!" While I wasn't the only one who thought that, there are plenty of Tri-Citians who are very happy with your mediocre national chain and when you tack on more seats to fill with higher rent and a bigger staff, it makes the equation a little harder to pencil out.

A location that's still up and coming.  The Southridge area of Kennewick has all the promised to become a cultured area...in a few years.  It's still relatively fringe and doesn't receive the kind of walk-in traffic that a downtown location would.  Next to a sports bar and a freeway, the Kennewick location had it's work cut out for it from the start.

What Does This Mean?

Support your local wine country restaurant.  Seriously.  If the recipient of the "Winemaker's Choice Award" in the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards can't make a go at it in the heart of wine country, we're not doing enough as consumers to spread the gospel.

Sure, the restaurant business is a tough road, but if a phenomenal establishment like Picazo can't turn a profit while the Applebee's down the street is doing gangbusters business, this writer isn't sure he wants to show his face in that town again.

Frank, Tricia, Trina...we'll miss you, however, I have a sneaking suspicion we haven't seen the last of your culinary excellence.