Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 From Our Glass To Yours

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Happy New Year!

It's 2012. Whew. We made it. What a fantastic year 2011 has been. Plenty of great booze, full bellies, and a writing team here at WestToast that you're not embarrassed to see the next morning when you don't quite remember what happened the night before.

Simply put, 2011 was fantastic both personally for our staff and for the blog. In the past year, 67% of our staff have moved or changed jobs, further broadening our coverage footprint in the meantime. In 2011, valued writer Clive Pursehouse launched his own blog, the Northwest Wine Anthem, and while we were sad to see him go, we are thrilled that Clare Cady and Andrea Flatley have joined the WestToast team this year. No longer is WestToast a veritable sausage fest, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Most notably was the transition in May from The Oregon Wine Blog to WestToast. Through 119 posts, the formal expansion into the beer and spirits industry in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho has complemented our long-standing wine coverage quite nicely.

Starting the year with Pinot Noir and ending with our Winter Beer Month series, here are the highlights of 2011 from each of our staff. These "best of 2011" selections represent some of the best experiences, drinks, or locations we visited over the past year.  Pour a glass, sit back, and enjoy the read.

Clare's Pick:

Deco Ginger Rum

Why is the rum gone???

Oh yeah, 'cuz it's AWESOME, and I drank it all.

I was very nervous to branch out into spirits this year, but as things progressed I really got into it!. My pick for 2011 is my trip to the Deco distillery in Portland's distillery row. Augustina, our hostess in the tasting room, was amazing - funny, informative, and passionate about rum. My friend Jen and I enjoyed the art-deco decor, the open-air space of the tasting room, and, of course, the rum! We tried the Silver, the Coffee, and the Ginger in their unadulterated forms...then got to sample them in mixed drinks. Though I have really appreciated tasting spirits without mixers, and have learned that I actually do like liquor from doing this, I think this tack that Deco employs is phenomenal. Other tasting rooms I have been to will do this as well, but thus far, Deco has been the best.

And speaking of the best, the Ginger Rum!!!

I quote from my article: The flavor is unapologetically ginger - right in your face with the hot and spicy essence and experience of this incredible root. The rum is not sweet, but instead hits you hard at the front with a ginger spice that works it way through the palette and up into the nasal cavity, stimulating all of the senses at once with an explosion of ginger that is reminiscent of biting right into the freshly ground stuff. At the center there are hints of sweetness that come out more fully at the finish just alongside a final spicy nip. I totally took a bottle of this home with me! I've had ginger rum and cokes and ginger-pineapple coolers, but my favorite thus far? Ginger steamers with almond milk, fresh ginger, and nutmeg. Here is my recipe for you:

2c almond milk (or any other milk you like)
3T agave nectar or some other sweetener
1T freshly grated ginger
1t nutmeg
2-3oz of Deco Ginger Rum

Heat all ingredients on the stove until they are warm and sippable - enjoy.

Rick's Pick:

2 Towns Ciderhouse

By far, the greatest benefit of transitioning to WestToast has been the ability to write about a much larger scope of craft beverages. One type of beverage I knew almost nothing about previous to this year was cider. I understood the basic concept of it being fermented apples, but that's about it.

Little did I know that not only would I enjoy cider, but that my favorite thus far is brewed in a town I have twice called home. 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis, OR has introduced me to an entirely new realm of craft beverage and for that, I choose them as the brewery that most moved me in 2011.

After meeting Dave at the 2011 Cider Summit NW: Portland event, I knew I had to make it down to their open house. Accompanied by a team of elite cider connoisseurs (Alyssa, Theresa, and Claire), we tasted through ciders ranging from low in alcohol and high in apple flavor, to higher in alcohol and more resembling a white wine. Since then, I've sought out as much cider as possible in order to compare and contrast the vast spectrum of possible flavors. I've also become a member of their Cider Supporters Club to stay in the loop as best as possible from Portland.

If 2 Towns' trend of rapid expansion is indication of anything, expect big things and even broader distribution in 2012. Something special is brewing in Corvallis and it starts with apples.

Jesse's Pick:

Couloir Wines 2009 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir

It’s hard to reflect on 2011 and feel anything other than blessed and fortunate. This year brought many great things for me in terms of the blog. Struggling to gain exposure while still being a part of our predecessor, The Oregon Wine Blog, I considered branching off to create a California specific blog. Through a series of conversations when Josh and Rick introduced the initial concept for WestToast, I made the decision to stick with the team and I couldn’t be happier about it. I believe in what we do and more importantly why we do it. Blogging for WestToast has allowed me to establish myself in northern California as a blogger, attend incredible events, meet new friends, and taste some pretty unforgettable wines. I was also introduced to Mendocino wines, which led me to my “Best of 2011” wine selection.

While attending the Taste of Mendocino event (which would easily earn my pick for best event of 2011), I came across Jon Grant, winemaker for Couloir Wines. The twitter world was blowing up at this event, talking about the Pinot Noir, with one in particular, the 2009 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir. When I first met Jon he was going on and on about the passion he has for wine and how he wants the story to be apparent when you open his wine. When you try the Oppenlander Pinot you will see Jon was right on the money.

While many California Pinots are in the 14% abv range, the 2009 Oppenlander is at 13.5% abv, allowing the fruit to not only come to the party but be the center of attention the whole night. There is a sweetness that comes from flavors of red raspberry that is wonderfully balanced with dark spice and a rich dark cherry flavor. Rather than extracting all of the tannins from the grape skins, 50% of the grapes were processed whole cluster, allowing the stem tannins to provide much of the structure to the wine and adding to the flavor profile. Sitting here just thinking about it makes my mouth water and wishing I had a glass in front of me. Couloir is all about letting the fruit speak for itself without a lot of interference or tampering from the approach that is clearly working well.

Andrea's Pick:

Maryhill Winery Proprietors Reserve Serendipity

The best of the best when it comes to the West Coast, it isn’t the easiest thing narrow down. It’s got everything from spectacular views, great restaurants to wonderful people and of course fantastic beer, wine and spirits.

For me, the best part of the year really was becoming a part of WestToast. During the revamping of the site in May I was honored to be invited to become part of the staff. Since then I’ve gotten to taste my way through just a small part of what our region has to offer.

There have been some great new discoveries - Treveri Cellars and their Yakima Sparkling wine, old romances rekindled – Dry Fly Distilling’s Wheat Vodka and of course things that didn’t go down quite so well.

I would have to say my “I’ll start consistently keeping this on my shelf” wine of 2011 comes from the majestic Columbia River Gorge. It’s Maryhill Winery Proprietors Reserve Serendipity.

I first tasted this label in a line with others during a winery tasting but it stood out, though not at first. For me, it is a wine that at first sort of blends into the back but the flavors linger on your tongue and keep tantalizing your tastebuds long after your first sip. The label mentioned a variety of different blends on the nose and some different ones for your palate. I couldn’t smell nor taste them all but noticed cherry on the nose and plums and coffee on the nose.

The name says it all “Serendipity - the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” and for $40.00 online or a trip to the breathtaking Gorge, you can experience it in 2012.

Josh's Pick:

Winter Beer

As I reflect on another year as a semi-prentious enthusiast of wine, beer, and spirits of the West Coast, highlights seem easy to come by as we've done so much cool stuff in 2011.

Celebratory wine has graced our glasses a number of times throughout the year, with Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, The Griffin, Col Solare, Leonetti Cellars Merlot, and Woodward Canyon Cabernet marking special moments of 2011.

During a trip to Walla Walla in March, we were able to share starkly different by equally awesome experiences at Stella Fino and Woodward Canyon with good friends of the blog. These two wineries showed us the best Washington Wine Country has to offer.

A summer concert experience at Chateau Ste. Michelle provided sweet redemption for a stormy Steve Miller Band experience a few years ago at Edgefield.

Perhaps the most unique, fun, and educational venture of the past year for me personally has been our foray into winter beer. Throughout the years, I've become progressively more appreciative of craft beer production. With so many similarities to the wine industry, the shift to WestToast has allowed us to play in the hop sandbox more frequently. While I spend much of my time focused on wine, Winter Beer Month on the blog provided the perfect outlet for me to have some boozy fun. Additionally this feature engaged all 6 of our writers in a collaboration that we hope to continue and an effort I'm proud of as Managing Editor.

I personally featured the Washington Beer Commission's Winter Beer Fest, Hales Barrel Aged Wee Heavy, and Maritime Pacific's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale throughout the month of December, but took our effort as an excuse to sample many more winter beers. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this venture into the beer netherlands, but sure enough, I'm jonesing for some as I write this post.

Micheal's Pick:

East Valley Wine Association New Release Festival

2011 found me not consuming a lot of wine. I decided to cut back dramatically because I spent most of the year training for a half marathon, Not having run that far before, I decided it would be important to cut back on the alcohol intake. That being said, I did decide to take in what has become one of my new favorite summer events. I received a text from Jason Hanson of Hanson Vineyards asking if I would once again be willing to be a judge for the East Valley Wine Association New Release Festival. I had such a great time last year, that I had to say yes once again.

Held at St Josef's Winery, on the weekend of June 17th, 2011, there were several small and family owned wineries that reside to the East Side of the Willamette River Valley. There were several of us judging in the categories of Pinot Noir, Other Reds, Whites, Desserts, and Others, very similar to last year. There was music, chocolate, food, and other wares from different shops in towns in and around the East Valley area. What was lacking, unfortunately, was the sun, at least on Saturday.

I arrived fairly early on Saturday in order to get myself situated and in an attempt to pace myself for all of the wines there were to be had. To all of our surprises, the weather, in June, opted to not agree and be as it should have been. I was worried that the turnout would be not as well as hoped. That, however, would change, well not so much the weather. The turnout for the event would be a couple hundred more than anticipated and substantially more than last year! Turnout was so great they ran out of the commemorative wine glasses attendees were slated to get. What a great problem to have!

It was a fun day, and I appreciated the chance I had to attend. Thanks again to Jason Hanson for invitation to be a part of this event.

Until next time...

Thanks for sticking with us, and drink up! After all, the world could end this year...and life is too short to drink Night Train. In fact, we've found that drinking Night Train can make your life too short.

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