Monday, April 29, 2013

White Wine Month: Rhone Whites


About a month ago I went to the Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco. This collection of American Rhone producers is a great event to enjoy the wines you already know but more importantly try new wines, some you’ve never heard of. William Allen of Two Shepherds Vineyards first introduced me to Rhone whites and I am thankful that he did. With California Chardonnay still reeling from its oaky, buttery past, I needed to find some new white wines to enjoy when the weather turns warm. Breaking from my usual approach of tasting through geographic areas, this year while covering the event I decided to focus solely on Rhone whites. These are just a few of the standouts from the event this year.

Acquiesce Winery 2012 Picpoul Blanc

This is one of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes but one that I sure hope finds some appreciation and gets a little more recognition. Translating literally to “lip stinger” this was such a wonderfully light wine, made even better by a 12.5% abv. On the nose were aromas of pineapple, lemon, and a hint of jasmine. In the mouth this wine maintained bright acidity common with its French style but I also found it to be a bit savory. I imagine sitting on my patio with a cool glass in hand as the sun begins to set. I have only had 100% Picpoul from a couple producers but whenever it is on a tasting list it is always worth trying.

Acquiesce Winery is located in Acampo, CA which is just outside of the city of Lodi. They benefitted from being the very first table on the right side and their unique bottles drew me in. I asked winemaker Susan Tipton why she only made white wines and quickly responded with “Why not?” I imagine she gets the question a lot. I can appreciate it though. She has found the wines she has a passion for and works to make the best white Rhone wines she can, instead of spreading herself too thin by trying to make dozens of wines.

Truchard Vineyards 2011 Rousanne

This was one of the wines that was making a consistent appearance on the twitter feed during the event. I had heard about the Truchard Rousanne but never had a chance to try it until the event. I love finding 100% because it is used so commonly as a blending grape. This particular one sent my senses all over the place. I picked up some stone fruit, specifically apricot on the nose. The mouth was such a surprise as it was slightly creamier than I anticipated but that texture really highlighted the flavors of melon and more stone fruit. It was balanced with great acidity that allowed for a nice long finish. Safe to say that had they been selling their wines at the event I would have picked up a couple bottles.

Miner Famly Vineyards 2011 Viognier

Of the Rhone whites, you may be the most familiar with Viognier. If you aren’t, I hope the next time you are shopping for a nice white wine to have with dinner you will consider finding a nice Viognier. The one from Miner Family displayed citrus and honeysuckle on the nose and filled my love for stone fruit in the mouth. I think Viognier is a great food wine and often use it instead of an unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

There are so many great white wines out there beyond Chardonnay. Many are made by smaller producers who put such incredible passion into their wine and love exposing the everyday wine drinker to new and different wines. Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a chance. With summer right around the corner, broaden your horizons and try something new.



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

White Wine Month: 2011 Plum Hill Estate Pinot Blanc

Cole (one of my best friends) is a man with refined taste.  He likes his Budweisers light, his tacos from establishments adorned with bells, and condiments from only the free-est of packets.  Ok, so maybe he doesn't always have the world's most refined tastes, but he has his moments.  Case in point; I have Cole and his wonderful wife Shannon to thank for introducing me to Plum Hill Vineyards in Gaston, OR.

It all started with a weekend trip to Forest Grove for some wine tasting and general relaxation.  Cole and Shannon are wine club members as Plum Hill and wanted to stop by to pick up a shipment, so of course I was down for another stop.  Cole is also kind of a bullshitter too, which was great because the owners of Plum Hill are hilariously receptive to that and dish it right back.  If any winery were similar to walking into an episode of "Cheers," this is the one.  It really feels like you're invited into their living room and they're going to make sure you're enjoying yourself.

A few pours down,  Keith and Trudy (owners) mention that they have a Pinot Blanc for wine club members only, but that they'll graciously pour one for me since they like Cole and Shannon so much.  Usually this works the other way around, but I wasn't about to say "no."  I really enjoyed it (as well as pretty much all of their whites) and kept it in mind until it was time to settle up.

In general, Plum Hill's vision is to make delicious wines that are almost exclusively below the $20 threshold.  A few of theirs go above that, but by and large every wine they produce is solid and absolutely priced below where it probably could be.  You can tell it is a labor of love, well, unless you're their grand daughter and are put to work slapping on wine labels.  For everybody else, though, love.  

Fast forwarded to settling up.

"I'll take a bottle of the French-oaked Pinot Gris if..."

"If?  If what?" Keith replies.

"If I can also get a bottle of that Pinot Blanc." (insert grin)

"Fine.  Honey!  Go outside in the freezing cold and grab this young man a bottle of Pinot Blanc from the cellar.  They're all on the top rack too."

And so she did.

Plum Hill's Pinot Blanc pours quite a bit lighter than Josh and I anticipated with an almost effervescent quality to it.  The nose is kind of a mix of minerals and tropical fruits such as pineapple and kiwi.  Upon tasting, much of the nose comes through exactly as anticipated.  This is a very subtle wine that brings with it the expected hues of a pinot blanc that would go wonderfully paired with a big chunk of pineapple on a hot summer day.  While you may not be able to get this exact pinot blanc going into the summer, it is definitely a reminder that pinot blancs are a wonderful choice if looking for a white to sip on.

A big thanks goes out to Cole, Shannon, Josh, and everybody at Plum Hill for making this post possible.  I highly recommend stopping by their tasting room and trying a few for yourself if you're wine tasting around Forest Grove.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

White Wine Month: Piccola Cellars Chardonnay

When you think about wine what images come to mind? Sprawling vineyards...clear crystal...elegant people...the curve of a green bottle...french oak barrels...

How about crampons and an ice axe?

A while back I got a post on Facebook from West Toast's own Andrea Flatley offering me a link to a wine that pairs well with an active outdoors lifestyle (well, in my opinion, all wine does...but this maybe a little bit more) - the Wine Tote from Piccola Cellars, of which I have procured the chardonnay.

On the way up...

We took this fun bag of wine (complete with caribiner) with us on a climbing excursion on Mt. Hood. After all, why not see how this wine works in its preferred habitat. The bag lists its suggested uses as "camping, potlucking, picknicking, bonfiring, dinner partying, stargazing, hiking, kayaking, outdoor concert-ing, hottubbing, ultimate frisbeeing, snowshoeing, symphony-ing, gofling, biking, road tripping, beachcombing, fireworks watching." No, climbing is not on there. Apparently the folks at Piccolo think that climbers are made of different stuff? Regardless, we buried the bag in a snow drift and made for our climb. 5 hours later, upon our return, we gave it a taste.

Crisp and citrusy, this wine drinks more like a pinot gris than a chardonnay. That said, it sported a floral and citrus nose, cool and smooth crispness with melon and an herbal quality. It was incredibly refreshing in the warm parking lot after the chill of the upper elevations. It is smooth, accessible, and easy to drink. It would be a lovely addition to all of the above-listed activities...and you can add climbing to that list as well!

Stay tuned for next month - the merlot is going to the desert...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Coalition Brewing Co.'s Loving Cup Maple Porter

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I have a habit of wandering into the beer cooler whenever I'm at a grocery store.  It's not that I'm buying beer every time, but it's a fun excuse to see what's new.  Sometimes that leads to picking up a bottle of something I've never heard of.

Enter Coalition Brewing Company's Loving Cup Maple Porter.

It didn't occur to me until this very moment that I shouldn't have been as excited as I was to pick this up.  At this point in the review I haven't even popped the cap yet, but it hit me that our last encounter with a beer involving maple didn't go over so well.  There must me something intrinsic or deep down inside that yearns for somebody to combine two things I love so much into a palatable experience.  Scientific experiments at the WestToast test lab (Shari's) have proven that beer and maple go great together separately, so why not together?  Well, let's see if Coalition can pull this off.

I admittedly hadn't heard of Coalition before, so let's consult their website:
We're a ten-barrel brewery located just across the street from the pub, on Southeast Ankeny, just west of 28th Ave in Portland, Oregon. Our core assortment of beer reflects the traditional English style with a northwest influence - well balanced and highly drinkable.
The Loving Cup, although boasting a complex malt profile of 7 different grains, is a classic brown porter at heart.  Pure Vermont grade A maple syrup is added at the end of the boil to lend a subtle sweetness and maple aromatics.  The maple is balanced out by roasty British chocolate malts, making this seasonal ale highly drinkable and the perfect treat for any time of the year.  For maximum enjoyment, pair with chilly nights and good friends.
I'm somewhat cold, but I'm ignoring their second suggestion.  If you want some of this, get your own.  To the beer!

Brewery: Coalition Brewing Company
Style: Maple Porter Rating: Not rated yet Rating: 3.3/5
Serving: 22oz bottle
ABV: 5.48%

Appearance: Dark brown and creamy with a finger's worth of head on the pour.  Looks exactly like a brown porter as they claim.

Smell: Rich and malty similar to a typical porter with just a hint of coffee behind it.  I'm actually not picking up any maple, which is a bit surprising.  Just a hint of sweetness.

Taste: There it is!  Their description is dead on in that there is just a hint of maple.  Not a mouth full of syrup like my previous example.  The chocolate malts really take the show and make this a very enjoyable and drinkable chocolate brown porter (if that exists?).  It really has something for everybody if you enjoy browns or porters.

All in all I really like this.  It looks like I'm going to have to add Coalition to my list of breweries to hit up around Portland.  If you can't make it to their pub, it looks like they at least distribute through local Whole Foods in the Portland area.  Above all, I'm just really excited to be drinking something unique that obviously required taking a chance on.  This one very much paid off.

Monday, April 8, 2013

White Wine Month With Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris

Spring has sprung, and here in the Seattle that means that on any given day you can experience gorgeous sunshine, torrential downpour, and gusty winds within the matter of minutes. Really, whatever Steve Pool decides he wants the weather to be at that instant.

He makes it rain, you know.

At WestToast, Spring is a time for us to get back to our roots. You likely notice a lot of beer and spirits content lately, but we started as a wine blog back in the day and that's where many of our hearts lie. And, like most wine drinkers, we cut our teeth on white wine before progressing deeper into the abyss.

Enter White Wine Month.

Throughout the month of April, our writers will be bringing you features on the white wine that we find to be intriguing this season. We'll certainly sprinkle in some non-white wine posts like unicorn dust on a field of bright tulips, but you can keep up with the white wine action by following the White Wine Month label on posts or by looking out for our witty and creative White Wine Month image.

To kick off the series, I bring you the 2012 Barnard Griffin Reserve Pinot Gris.

You may have come to know Barnard Griffin for outstanding Columbia Valley red wines, but the label actually started out producing only whites in 1983 as one of the pioneering wineries in Eastern Washington.  That pioneering spirit and Rob Griffin's aptitude for amazing whites is nicely described by the winery:

Against the advice of his professors at U.C. Davis, who determined that Washington had too cool a climate to sustain wine grapes, Rob Griffin came to Washington in April 1977 to become Preston Winery's first winemaker. He quickly established himself as an accomplished artist by winning the first Best of Show at the Seattle Enological society's Northwest Wine Festival with his 1977 Chardonnay.

Producing two labels, the Barnard Griffin Tulip Series is broadly distributed with a price point of $10 - 20 per bottle, it's one of the best value wines in the industry. I suggest the Fume Blanc and the Syrah.

The diamond-shaped reserve label ups the ante with finely crafted whites and some big reds from the best vineyard sites in the state, such as Ciel du Cheval.

I found the 2012 Reserve Pinot Gris on sale at my local grocery store for around $12; it looked intriguing so I grabbed a bottle. Upon chilling, the wine poured with a very light, apple-juice look. The wine was clear as day with few legs.

Swirling and sniffing, beyond making me look more pretentious than I already am, brought a nice crisp odor with a strong sense of tart green apple.

My first sip of the wine was smooth and clean, with that tartness showing up at the end. The apple contented, with some pineapple and tropical fruit emerging as it warmed up a bit. With a very light mouthfeel, I found the wine to be an excellent summer sipping wine.

In terms of pairing, this one screams for some seafood such as shellfish. I, on the other hand, paired it with a Red Mill Bacon Cheeseburger and fries. It still worked, but I wish I had some scallops or a shrimp scampi instead.

All in all, this was a fantastic beginning of white wine season for me. The Pinot Gris is evidence that Barnard Griffin is still putting out nice whites with an even nicer price tag.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Taste of Siberia from Ninkasi

At one point or another, the entire staff of has lived in Siberia.

Think snow leopards, cheap vodka, and freezing cold winters. So maybe it's Pullman, WA, but that's kind of like Siberia compared to the exotic places we all live now.

Just across the border from Pullman was a little brewpub in Moscow, Idaho that served the finest brew that Coeur d'Alene Brewing company had to offer. For Rick and I, their Vanilla Bourbon Stout hit the spot every single time.  Sadly for the craft beer drinking community in the Palouse, CDA Brewing shut their doors in 2012 and we thought we'd never find another vanilly-stouty beer that good regularly available on the commercial market.

Well folks, Ninkasi has done it. The March debut of their Vanilla Oatis Oatmeal Stout in 22oz bottles is intended to "offer customers a tasty, more decadent alternative to the favored Oatis Oatmeal Stout."

Remaining on the shelf year-round, the Vanilla Oatis will replace the regular Oatis in the 22oz bomber lineup for Ninkasi. Don't worry plain Oatis fans, you can still get it on draft and in the 12oz bottles.

The Vanilla Oatis takes the traditional oatmeal stout and adds Eugene's Singing Dog Vanilla to the fermentation tank, creating a nearly orgasmic experience for those of us who gravely miss the CDA stout.  Perfect to pair with dessert or all by itself.

Here's the beer, according to Ninkasi:

A delicious oatmeal stout with just enough hops to balance the copious quantities of dark roasted malts, oatmeal for a creamy smooth drinkability, and whole vanilla beans for a rich complexity. To achieve this higher level of decadence, we added in whole vanilla beans to the final stage of fermentation – the same process we use to dry hop a beer.

Of course, I purchased some the first day it was available at my local bottle shop, so here goes.

Brewery: Ninkasi Brewing
Style: Oatmeal Stout (with Vanilla) Rating: Not yet rated. Rating: Not yet rated.
Serving: 22oz bottle
ABV: 7.2%

Appearance: This one poured jet black into the glass, with a small but quite enticing head.

Smell: Vanilla. With hints of stoutiness. All of the things I love in a vanilla stout come together in this one. Seriously, the nose invites you to take a sip as quickly as you can, and I did.

Taste: Pure heaven. The Vanilla Oatis is sweet and well-balanced with some nice vanilla notes and a bit of chocolate on the end. Not at all boozy when it really could be with 7.2%. This is one you want to bring a bit closer to room temperature to truly enjoy.

So there it is. A hole in our hearts and livers has been filled. The best part? This beer is $3.99. Really!