Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Find, December 30, 2011

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

As Washington wines go, there are few names more recognizable than Chateau Ste. Michelle. So featuring them as a "Friday Find" probably sounds a little like saying "You like music? Have you heard of this little band called U2?" But while you're likely familiar with their greatest hits - their many Rieslings, for instance - there's a lot more to their catalogue. Today, we bring you a deep-album cut (kids...there used to be these things called "albums". They had a lot of songs on them, painstakingly chosen. It was wild.) from their Horse Heaven vineyard in the much-loved Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Because sometimes you want the viticultural equivalent of "With or Without You," but that's only because you haven't even discovered the awesomeness of "Bullet the Blue Sky."

The Horse Heaven Vineyard has been in Paterson, Washington since the 1970's, and provides some of the most consistent quality fruit. Usually, the HHV lends itself to warmer temperatures, but 2010 produced one of the coolest vintages and much to the winemaker's chagrin, a late harvest. All that work was worth it, though - the result is a bright, crisp and clean white with great acidity. It's sweet, but not syrupy, and will hold its own nicely next to those shrimp cocktails at any holiday party. If you're more the "stay in and order take-out" type, this will also pair nicely with your favorite curry dish. And since it is Chateau Ste. Michelle, you can snap this up for $11-15. So try something new on your wine playlist, and add the Horse Heaven Vineyards to your white wine must-tries.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Find, December 23rd

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

Negociant is a french term. It refers to someone who buys up fruit or wine from other producers or growers and sells it under their own label. Renegade Wine Co. is just such a negociant. However, they're renegade-ish. Reminds me of another renegade negotiator played by Samuel L. Jackson in the 1998 hit "The Negotiator" it's extremely possible that in France this movie was called "Le Negociant" I cannot confirm this however because I am not French and I was not in France in 1998. In that blockbuster action flick Samuel L. Jackson is framed by some crooked cops. Clearly these guys never watched Pulp Fiction. This man is not to be toyed with. Similarly Trey Busch the winemaker at Sleight of Hand Cellars was set up by some crooked cops, actually, that's not true. Trey though is the winemaker doing the blending and barrel selection behind the Renegade Wines. The goal here is to bring some nice wine to the people for a nice price instead of getting hostages released.

I have to admit I was shocked to see the Renegade Wine Co. doing a Walla Walla Valley Mouvedre. The varietal is certainly gaining steam here in Washington and it's been showing up in a lot of the great Rhone style blends that is part of this state's wheelhouse. You're only seeing a few single varietals however. It's scarcity makes it cool, especially cool for $13. The 12.7% alcohol is a renegade statement to be sure given the rising ABVs in the state. The wine itself? The aromatics are reminiscent of Pinot Noir, bright red raspberry and cranberries. The wine is medium bodied and loaded with spice, if you're looking for a change of pace this certainly brings that with a kiss of cocoa powder on the finish. You're going to find other Renegade Wines much easier than this one but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I know Esquin's got it because I picked mine up there.

The song Renegade by Styx may have been the inspiration for this wine label as we know Trey's into the whole music thing. So I leave you with the greatest Styx video ever created.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Doctor of Dirt; Alan Busacca and Alma Terra Wines

Alan Busacca got into wine through the dirt in which it's grown and Washington he carries as much weight as some of the state's most renowned growers and winemakers and for good reason: Alan is one of the original American Terroirists. The guy is not just a wine geek, he's a real deal geologist. While an academic at Washington State University, Alan, whose PhD is from U.C. Davis, began consulting with winegrowers and wineries on vineyard sites character and selection. Alan has also played a vital role in the AVA designations that Washington has been granted, his work has been used as part of the backing argument for those seeking AVA designation, and he's been part of the formal petitioning process in some cases.

Through this work, Alan made a connection with the people making the wines. Alan found the winemaking and growing community to be "a heartfelt and wonderful group; one that was welcoming and really open to partnering." He decided to go in "whole hog" with the wine adventure and bought and planted the Volcano Ridge vineyard in the Columbia Gorge with long time Northwest wine grower Lonnie Wright. His other project, for which he's partnered with Robert Smasne to produce a higher end boutique wine, is the single vineyard Alma Terra Syrahs.

The selection of Syrah and the single vineyards they honed in on was an academic one. Alan wanted his wine exploration to be an extension of what he'd learned in working with Washington's AVAs and vineyard sites. He ultimately sees wine as an extension of his educational and academic background, with wine as a vehicle to help people experience and understand how unique and special wine can truly be and the role that soils, sites, and other factors play in crafting what shows up in your glass. "We chose Syrah because, through his experience, Robert [Smasne] felt that this varietal was the most expressive when it came to its origins and vineyard sites." If Alan's goal was to really demonstrate the role that vineyard site had in crafting a wine, this was the varietal to choose, saying, 'While Syrah is having a tough go in the marketplace, I'm comitted to it."

photo from

When it came to selecting vineyards to source their fruit, both Alan and Robert started a list of sites based on their own individual knowledge and experiences. Robert leaned on his many years of winemaking experience, thinking about the wines he's been able to make and the vineyards and growers he's worked with. For Alan, the list was about his expertise: site, soils, elevation and climate. When they cross-referenced their lists it became clear where they ought to look to make the wines they wanted: Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, and Horse Heaven Hills. Their combined knowledge confirmed that these were the right choices.

Alma Terra is sourcing their Syrah from three vineyards in three different AVAs: Red Mountain's revered Ciel du Cheval, Yakima Valley's Minick Vineyard and the Coyote Canyon Vineyard within the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. These three sites provide incredible variety, from the hot Red Mountain to the cooler Yakima Valley. Vines are trained differently, the clones vary and most importantly, the soils, elevation and climate are different.

The Alma Terra wines are serious and they're serious expressions of the sites. You can visit with Alan in his tasting room in Bingen, Washington in the Columbia River Gorge, located near the Volcano Ridge Vineyard project. Though it'll be a little while before we see those wines, if you were the betting sort, you could bet they'll be interesting.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Find, December 16

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

The song Is There a Ghost? by Band of Horses is nearly 3 minutes long.  You know how many words make up the song lyrics?  14.  Seriously, 14, I counted them.  Pay attention to those number 3 and 14.  Acutally mix them up, you get 413.  Sure, there are other patterns, but I don't care about those.  The Ghost of 413 is a wine created by the Giant Wine Co.  Winemakers, Chris Gorman and Mark McNeilly have teamed up on this Washington value blend.  I've been next to both of these men and neither of them are giants, though Mark is tall.  So, maybe the name is an inside joke?   The song Is There a Ghost? is about an attractive young woman who breaks into homes and steals people's pillows ultimately resulting in domestic violence, infidelity and a street brawl.  I've provided the video above so see for yourself.

The Ghost of 413 is the kind of wine at $15 that makes you wonder why you ever paid $40 for that red blend.  It is dark, rich, full bodied.  It's like somebody came into your house and instead of stealing your pillows they covered you and the whole place in dark red velvet tapestries. This wine coats the inside of your soul... er mouth, with blackberries and smoke.  According to the website it's 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot and Syrah.  That's 110%.  That's what coach always asked for.  There's only 5,000 cases, so don't dilly-dally.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Pines, In the Pines Where the Sun Actually Shines; Swiftwater Cellars

In his cover of the Vaselines' song, Kurt Cobain asks his girl, "Where did you sleep last night?" Her retort is something that all of us "Wetsiders" can identify with: "In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, I shivered the whole night through."

This is the life of those of us living on the side of the Washington Cascades where it's wet somewhere between 9 to 10 months out of the year. There's a definite draw to this verdant oasis and after eight years of living here I can truly say I love it. That does not mean that from time to time there's not a longing to escape this second coming of Kevin Costner's Waterworld. I mean, is dry land a myth? Sometimes it feels that way. There are ample options for outdoor enjoyment once we crest over that pass; from skiing and snow sports in the winter to outdoor exploration and recreation in the spring.

It's time to add to that list of escape options. Swiftwater Cellars, which opened in September of 2010, is a destination winery at one of Washington's swankiest resorts: Suncadia, located just outside Cle Elum. Perched atop the one of Suncadia's golf courses, The Rope Rider, the views from Swiftwater are appealing even to someone like me who grew up caddying and hates golf. What's impressive about Swiftwater is not the location but rather then intent and serious approach they take in focusing on the wine. Too often, the downside to a destination winery is that the wine is not the focus. The emphasis is on the views, the B&B options, the restaurant menu or the souvenir stands, not the wine. Swiftwater Cellars goes off script here and for that Washington and Oregon wine fans should be thankful. (Though they do have nice souvenirs and the restaurant is incredible.)

Swiftwater Cellars is owned by Don Watts who is one of the most un-assuming rich people I've ever met. Don is like really rich, not fake rich. He made his money through hard work and potatoes; potatoes grew into more potatoes which grew into more agricultural land, some 30,000 acres which grew into food processing, which grew into one of the biggest agricultural businesses in the world buying it all from him. Along the way Don became friends with the Hogue family and he even dabbled in some vinifera vineyards predominantly used for large production wines like those made by Hogue Cellars and Chateau Ste. Michelle. That vineyard, Zephyr Ridge, will become the focal point for the Swiftwater Cellars Washington wines. (More on that later.)

Winemaking duties are handled by consultant winemaker Tony Rynders, formerly of Domaine Serene, and Linda Trotta, the in-house winemaker who came from California's Gundlach Bundschu. Both bring a wealth of experience in winemaking and Tony has a vast working knowledge of the Northwest, particularly regarding varietals and site. Tony's experience and reputation at Domaine Serene make him an enormous asset for Swiftwater Cellars as they establish themselves and Linda brings considerable experience from Gun Bun where they were known for producing a great variety of wines in the Sonoma Valley including California signatures Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. The team will work together, and has been since 2007, building a catalog of varietals, blends and sourcing the fruit they want to make the wines they're aspiring to make. Their current releases are numerous, tiered, and varied and they demonstrate a true comprehension of what Northwest fruit is really capable of.

The Vineyard
The Zephyr Ridge vineyard is a holdover from Don's days of working with Hogue and Chateau Ste. Michelle. The Zephyr Ridge site is becoming more established and that excites Tony and Linda. While never intended to be a boutique production site, the age of the vines and the potential coupled with the right vineyard management could blossom into the red fruit and good acidity that they're looking for. As it stands the Zephyr Ridge site produces big tannins, evident in a 2010 Merlot Barrel sample that came on with loads of blueberry and spice. They're excited about an estate plot that will really show itself over time and has such historical significance for the Watts family.

The Wines
The current releases from Swiftwater Cellars show a focus on two tiers: the No. 9 wine and the Swiftwater label. The No. 9 wines were named for the No. 9 mine that Swiftwater Cellars sits atop. These wines are more fruit forward and ready to drink now. The Swiftwater label is the winery's higher tiered wine, aimed at "complexity and ageability, a wine with some longevity." (There are no whites among the Swiftwater label.) For Don the wines are the centerpiece but they allow him to tie the entire operation together. "Wine was intended to be enjoyed with food and so we're making food friendly wines intentionally." This is evident in the Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette and some of the brightly acidic but well balanced whites. It's also apparent in the Hoist House restaurant, located in the winery, where they are producing serious cuisine to be paired with the Swiftwater wines. Tony believes that you'll continue to see Washington wineries producing more Oregon Pinot Noir given its natural food pairing superiority for a red wine. (Of the Swiftwater Pinots, I favored the No. 9 as the best and most true (characteristically) "Oregon Pinot" I've had that was made in Washington.)

2010 No. 9 Riesling ($18) is made from three rows of Olsen Estate fruit. It is made in an off-dry style and the touch of residual sugar adds a sweetness to the acidity for a very nice example of Washington Riesling. The wine has aromatics of apricot, melon rind and lemon peel. Across the palate there's a fair bit of minerality, and loads of Granny Smith apple.

The 2009 No. 9 Chardonnay ($20) is of the oaky variety, which is not a style that I prefer. Having said that, it's well done if you like that kind of Chardonnay and plenty of folks do. Super rounded and with loads of body this Chardonnay coats the mouth with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla yet not much in the way of fruit character.

The 2009 No. 9 Pinot Noir ($30) is sourced from 9 Willamette Valley vineyards and it's a classic example of the varietal from what I believe to be the world's greatest place to grow it. The hot vintage of 09 is evident in the 14.7% alcohol but the wine is so well balanced that all you get are the classically Oregon aromatics presented in an incredibly vibrant wine.

The Swiftwater Proprietary Red 2007 ($50), demonstrates impressiveCabernet aromatics, red fruits and spices. The blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah carries its 68% new oak really well. Touches of spice, cedar and vanilla mingle really well with the red currants, cherries and raspberry character.

The Swiftwater Pinot Noir 2008 ($55) is much denser and broad shouldered than its No. 9 cousin. The aromatics are certainly from the Willamette Valley with their fresh fruit and earthen characteristics but the palate is a bit more influenced by the new oak. Big thick and fleshy cherries and huckleberries along with a hint of tobacco and spice.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Friday Find, Friday December 9

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

If you're into Northwest wines and you're not familar with the name Ron Bunnell of Bunnell Family Cellars, really you should be ashamed of yourself.  Ron is one of the gems of the Washington wine industry and after a stellar career at some huge names like Beringer, Kendall-Jackson and Chateau Ste. Michelle, Ron settled into Eastern Washington and started cranking out some serious small lot Rhone style varietals and blends under his Bunnell Family label. (As an aside the 2006 Bunnell Family Boushey-McPherson Syrah is on my all time wines list.)  The second label, made with some of the same vineyard sources, a real focus of Ron's winemaking ethic, is River Aerie.

The River Aerie label is named after Ron and his wife Susan's farm beside the Yakima River.  The term should not be confused with the term Irie, and or IRIE from the Rastafarian slang.  While aerie, or eyrie can refer to a large raptor's nest, Irie is all about having no worries, feeling at ease, I Respect I Eternally.  If Irie is the state of mind you're looking for, you really need look no further than the Rivier Aerie label.  You're getting a crack at Ron Bunnell's very well made wines at the sub $20 price point and if that doesn't have you thanking Jah, I don't know what will.

The 2008 Sangiovese is sourced from three Ron Bunnell approved Washington vineyards including two Wahluke Slope sites and the ever revered Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.  The varietally true wine is lighter in body than many Washington's red wines, exhibiting fruit and spice aromatics.  The lighter body and brighter acidity make it an easier drinker and great pairing with foods (thank you Italy).  I find that Sangiovese can be a gateway wine for bringing novice wine friends over to the "Keep it Real Side."  The varietal tends to exhibit fruit and spice in a way that makes it fun and with the lighter body it's never too austere.  At $16 and very well distributed pick up this or any of the label's wines and you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Scarborough Winery: Rebel With A Cause

from Tiffany Stevens

Scarborough Winery (originally founded in 2005 as O’Shea Scarborough as evidenced by the website) has been on my radar for a couple of years. The 2007 “The Rebel” Cabernet was my first bottle. That bottle embodied three of my greatest interests: Cabernet Sauvignon, Graphic Design, and discovering something with a high cool factor. Outside, the parchment colored label was adorned with a vintage motorcycle rider from the 1920’s. Inside was a great Washington Cabernet from the Wahluke Slope, selling for under $20. Several months later, I savored the black fruits of “The Black Cask”, a meaty, dense Syrah also showcasing a beautifully unique label. Curious about several other wines, I finally arranged a time to visit Travis Scarborough in Tukwila, Washington, where his winery maintains a low profile in an industrial park.

A dark and rainy autumn day rolled in with wind gusts that caused umbrellas everywhere to flip inside out. Ignoring the elements, I set out for 808 Industry Drive with fellow wine lover, my sister Carmen. We wound our way through homogenous business park buildings looking to meet up with Travis. Gladly escaping the soggy weather, we went inside and found cases of wine stacked high to the left, an unoccupied office to the right, and rockin’ tunes emanating throughout the space. Continuing past various sizes of glass beakers and wine lab gear, we spotted Travis standing on the edge of a large fermenting bin, punching down the grapes inside. He greeted us and said he was nearly finished. He joined us a few minutes later, and we began the grand tour. Surrounded by bins of fermenting grapes made me keenly aware how fortunate we were to be at the winery deep in the midst of harvest and crush. As we peered into a bin packed with whole clusters of deep purple, fermenting Syrah, Travis described the grapes in the various bins, detailing their uniqueness and specific qualities by vineyard. His winemaking philosophy is to allow the wines to express the terroir of the vineyard, unfettered by heavy influence from the winemaker. Vineyard selection is vital. Fruit is mainly sourced from the vineyards of Dineen, Boushey, Meek, Lewis, Champoux, Klipsun and Wallula (The Benches). Old World Style is his preference, steering away from big, tannic, brawny wines. A line from the winery’s website describes his aim perfectly: “If you want wines with character, terroir and concentration, not overly extracted, then you’ve found the right place.”

We followed Travis over to the stacks of barrels. New barrels tightly bound in protective wrap shared the crowded space with stacked barrels full of wine, barely leaving room for us to squeeze by. He explained that choosing particular barrels for ageing wine is guided by which flavors and how much flavor will be imparted to the wine. Prospective choices range from previously used barrels, with mild flavor influence, to specialized new barrels using wood harvested from a particular forest, imparting more prominent oak and toasty flavors. Observing the winemaking process from vineyard to bottle clearly displays its duality: part science, part art form.

We then tasted several wines still in barrel, including the clean, crisp, fruity 2010 Den Hoed Chardonnay, sure to win over even those who shun Chardonnay. A Grenache and Mourvedre blend revealed wonderful fruit, so pure and delicious. We swirled and sniffed another blend comprised of two less commonly seen varietals, Counoise and Cinsault. The aromas elicited spontaneous comments of “Old World!” and “Barnyard!”- high praise in the world of wine. A few minutes of swirling, and this light ruby colored wine evolved into the prettiest, most beautiful, delicate expression of strawberry and sweet fruit. We glanced back and forth, collectively caught off guard. No one had anticipated Barnyard would so suddenly transform into Beauty. I am keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that Travis will bottle this just as it is, without any further blending!

The last tasting experience of the day had the most significant cool factor. Gathered near the wine lab, we watched Travis open a refrigerator and remove a gallon jug filled with amber colored, viscous liquid. He grabbed a few more wine glasses. The expression on his face caused me to wonder if this was some sort of science experiment. The thick liquid was poured into the glasses. Travis handed us both a glass with no explanation, just a sly half-smile, waiting for us to explore the mystery. I tentatively inhaled aromas from the glass - GERMAN, petrol, powerful. No one said anything. I still was unsure where this was going. He tasted it; we followed. I cannot easily put into words what I tasted – it was other worldly, sweet and delicious satisfaction. It was one of those moments that “wine people” talk about. This was something special. So special, in fact, Travis may or may not bottle it. This mystery was the 2009 “As They Lay Dying” Eiswein (Ice Wine), made from grapes picked on December 21, 2009. Even though I would willingly shell out big bucks for this, I don’t know if I could replicate the experience I had at that moment, although I’d gladly try! Travis made no promises, as he ferried his precious elixir back to the refrigerator, potentially never to be seen again by mere mortals.

As we wrapped up that afternoon, Travis told us he was expecting Grenache grapes to come in that day. I’m not sure where he put them, since there was absolutely no room left inside. He had a few ideas up his sleeve, and I’m certain it all worked out. I am looking forward to a day in the future when the other worldly wines tasted that day, make it into a bottle, and then into my wine glass.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Find, December 2nd

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

John Grochau of Portland's Grochau Cellars is the fastest winemaker in the Willamette Valley on a bicycle. You can write that down. Oddly, John and I once raced in the same race. Normally this wouldn't happen in bicycle racing because he's way faster than me. But the Rapha Gentleman's Race is unsanctioned. Ironically the race began in a vineyard in Forest Grove, Oregon and went for one hundred and twenty something miles. It was an exceedingly miserable day to race a bicycle that far, I mean it was sunny and all, but it was 102 degrees that day. I met John very briefly in the parking lot at Shaeffer Vineyards (their van/truck was parked next to ours) and never saw him again. His team passed ours somewhere on Pittsburgh Road. My team, Motofish Racing is the one mentioned in the paragraph below with one teammate who had 8 flats. The gravel of Pittsburgh road ate us alive and we never really recovered, but enjoyed the suffering, there's glory in it.

The 2010 Commuter Cuvee from Grochau Cellars is cool for a couple reasons, it has a bicycle on it, instead of a bird and it's a fruit forward Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in the $15 neighborhood. No suffering here folks. Bright red bramble berries across the nose with lots of raspberry aromatics. Like many of the Pinot Noirs that John's producing including some of the more expensive ones, (which are still very reasonable by Oregon Pinot standards) the fruit for this value priced Pinot is from identified vineyards from up and down the Valley.  The aim of the Pinot Noir produced at Grochau is to be a suitable wine for food pairing and this bargain is no different.  John shows this wine just a little barrel time and very little new oak, it's one of the first 2010 Pinots I saw out there. The resulting wine is a prime example of the "fresh fruit" signature of Willamette Valley.  Bright red cherries, and those raspberries again appear on the palate as just the slightest hint of dusty spice announces the finish.  A portion of the sale of these wines goes toward bicycle safety and awareness programs.

Though there isn't a ton of this wine it's well distributed in both the Portland and Seattle markets.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seasons Rieslings

This time of year rolls around and the seasonal beverages start to come out of the woodwork. You'll see pumpkin beers, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin wine, eggnog, and that weird "holiday spice" coffee blend. All of this pumpkin nonsense is just that. Nonsense. Pumpkin lattes and beers have their place, but that place is not at the dinner table, and let's be honest, the "season" is about eating, not pumpkin beverages. And when it comes to food there is one wine that stands above all others, an uber-mensch of wine that stands alone, and that wine is Riesling. Don't get it twisted.

I know what you're thinking, "Uh, excuse me? Riesling is a white wine." This is the season for cold, crappy, dark, damp weather, right? You think we should be drinking earthy Oregon Pinot Noirs, meaty, funky Washington Syrahs, Cabernets, Southern Oregon Tempranillos. Now is the time, man! Sure, drink those too. Just remember what you must keep in mind: huge dinners of poultry and pork; over indulgence of fatty meats, sweet deserts and appetizer after countless appetizer. All that calls for Riesling. There's no two ways about it.

In order to fully understand why Riesling is such a natural for food pairing, we need to understand German history. Most of us don't (including many of us here at the Anthem, our knowledge peters out after we note that Augustus Gloop, the most famous glutton from Willy Wonka's adventure through the chocolate factory, was German).

The brilliance in Riesling is its variance in styles. The reason for this variety is somewhat historical and somewhat German so it will suffice for understanding German history. The German wine classification system is similar to the Biological classification system. You remember: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order...etc. Only it's completely different because it's just about Riesling. Remember that. The first two classifications you can pretty much forget about because "Tafelwein" or table wine, also sounds kinda like "Awfulwine" and "Qualitatsweine mit Pradikat" obviously means "Quality stats wine with a Prada Cat." This is weird, but that's okay because we're moving up the classification to the wines we actually care about.

The three most common styles of Riesling that pair up well with food are the Kabinett, a style of Riesling that is picked least ripe, followed by Spatlese and Auslese. All of these styles of Riesling can vary in their levels of residual sugar and acidity but all three make excellent food pairing options. Kabinett style Rieslings are predominantly done in a drier style, while the Spatlese and Auslese have a greater range and more body, making them naturals to pair with both spicier lighter fare and hearty food, the seasonal kind of food we spoke about before. Kabinett style Riesling may also be kept in your cabinet (get it?), whereas the other two should be stored elsewhere.

This being the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're taking the Northwestern angle thanks to our good friends at Pacific Rim. Not familiar with them? Pacific Rim is serious about Riesling. How serious? They're making eleven Rieslings. Eleven. Two sparkling Rieslings and one ice wine. They make Rieslings in different styles, with different sweetness levels and four single vineyard Rieslings. The Pacific Rim project started out as a release in 1992 from Bonny Doon's Randall Graham. The idea caught fire and in 2006 a bunch of the ne'er-Doon-wells moved from California to Eastern Washington to focus almost entirely upon Riesling, a Riesling they could believe in. As it turns out, there are several Rieslings they believe in, representing 90% of their production.

While the good folks at Pacific Rim aren't German (the winemaker is French), they are making the Awesomelese style of Riesling and as we move into this holiday season, you might consider Rieslings for your holiday table, Riesling for gifts and Rieslings for stocking stuffers... They are aficionados, after all. With all the upcoming holiday dinner tables in mind, the Pacific Rim Riesling, Dry Riesling and Sweet Riesling will certainly hit the sweet spot when it comes to quality to price, and food friendly flavors. For those of you new to the varieties of Riesling, you're in luck because the good folks at Pacific Rim have placed a Riesling Scale on the back of each of their wines. How dry is the Dry Riesling? Not sure how sweet the Sweet Riesling is? What about just the Riesling, what's that gonna be like? This scale will give you some guidance.

2009 Dry Riesling is an acidic dynamo. The aromatics come across with very sweet floral notes and fresh cut green apple. The acidity is the star of this wine and that is what makes it such a wonderful food pairing option. The tropical fruits mix with early season stone fruits continuing that hint of sweet that is really brought home with a puckering acidity on a flavorful finish.

2010 Riesling is the mid point on the Pacific Rim Riesling scale. This wine is a harmony and balance to your search for sweet and dry. Smack dab between sweet and dry, floral and fruit components on the aromatics, tipping towards peach fuzz and honeysuckle. The rounder mouthfeel and sweetness on this Riesling (compared to its dryer counterpart) makes it a good match for spicy dishes. This wine was the #1 wine on the Wine Enthusiast's Top 100 Best Buys of 2011 and it packs a serious QPR wallop.

2010 Sweet Riesling is certainly sweet but the acidity makes it a can't miss for food pairing.  Aromatics include sweet grass, lemon zest and peach.  The sweeter and fuller palate comes across with candied orange peel, grapefruit and loads of honey.  This is no Def Leppard Sweet Riesling, a la "I'm hot, sticky sweet from my head to my feet."  This is a sweeter wine with complexity, acidity and balance and it is one that certainly deserves it's place at your holiday table this season.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fairytales Can Come True, It Can Happen To You, When You're Young At Heart...

On a freezing Saturday night in November, hundreds of young Seattleites in party dresses & their going-out best poured into Fremont Studios amidst club lighting, great beats from KEXP, and pink glowsticks. A swanky rave? A temporary nightclub? Nope – this was a wine tasting, built for the millennial set. Now in its 3rd year, the Washington Wine Commission’s 20 Something: The New Vintage, has found the formula to bring Washington winemakers and the young folks together, a big win for both parties.

Walking into the Fremont Studios space, it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t your typical wine tasting. With a red carpet entrance and photo booth, guests could channel their inner celebrity (do we all get a turn? Because I think they’re just handing out celebrity status at this point…) with friends, new friends, or fun people who happened to be near the booth with them and find their pics for free on 20 Something’s Flickr site. A brilliant move that meant come Monday morning, 20 Something was occupying the valuable real estate of many a Seattleite’s Facebook profile picture.

Last year 20 Something gave tasting a twist with wineries making the rounds rather than remaining at a table. Guests were able to collect winery cards with information on the winery, wine and where to find them online if they were interested. This year, 20Something made the process a little more tech-savvy and a lot more festive: winemakers sported QR codes on their names tags, allowing guests to snap a shot with their ever-present smart phones and be immediately directed to the winery’s online presence, including social media. The number of excited tweets virtually squealing over the QR code up on the live-tweet board tells me it was a well-utilized feature. Not only were the winemakers sporting QR codes, but this year they sported pink glow-in-the dark necklaces. While this didn’t eliminate the Where’s Waldo element if you were looking for a specific winemaker, it certainly made it easier if you were looking for wine in general.

The hunt for specific wine – and winemakers – is part of the fun of the evening. Many a Coug in the house spent a portion of the night scouring the dark rooms for our favorite NFL quarterback turned winemaker Drew Bledsoe, who was there representing his Doubleback label. Fortunately for me and the lovely Taryn Miller, he’s 6’5” and you can’t pass up an opportunity to “Go Cougs” a legend of your alma mater. In addition to being one hell of an athlete and a nice guy, he makes a great wine. We got a sneak preview of the ’09 Cab Sauv, which is gearing up for a January release. Even a few months out, there was nice complexity and a touch of spice. Attendees can do a before-and-after taste test when it hits the world in January. This picture was a great item to check off the life-list. Fairytales can come true…

The great thing about wandering winemakers is that you’re bound to find something brand new (especially with over 75 wineries roaming the venue). Normally these events require a plan, a route, a backup route...possibly a compass. But when you can’t easily find specific wineries (unless they’re repped by a 6’5” former NFL quarterback), it’s best to sit back, go with the flow, and see what treasures come to you. In addition to some of our Northwest Wine Anthem favorites, I found myself tasting a number of wineries new to me and varietals outside of my usual go-to’s. Buried Cane and Yakima Valley Vintners were great new finds, and Treveri Cellars wowed with their bubbles. I wasn’t the only one wowed – they just secured a contract to provide the White House with their bubbles for future events.

While wine is certainly the star of the show, there were plenty of other goodies in store. A Mini Cooper decked out in whiteboard paint was available for guests to leave their mark. Some of the area’s hippest restaurants, including Brave Horse Tavern, Hook & Plow and Urbane, were serving up everything from smoked salmon and marshmallow skewers to lasagna to sushi. For the red-meat-friendly crowd, the Washington Beef Commission served up a blind taste test of Top Sirloin, and Dianne’s Delights practically had to fight back the crowds who came back for seconds and thirds of the Chocolate Shop cake balls. Beer & Cider even made an appearance for those needing a little palette cleanser.

The 20 Something event has been going strong since its inception, and this year’s small changes tapped in even more to connecting young Seattle with Washington wine. With many of the wines poured coming in at a reasonable $15-25 price point, Seattle’s millennials can afford to keep the party going on their own until next year’s event. It’ll be up to them to provide the glow sticks.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Find, November 25: Black Friday!

From our masked homeboy Lucha Vino.

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

Buried Cane refers to the vineyard practice of burying a young grape vine to protect it from the winter weather.  The dirt creates an insulating layer over the cane saving it for the spring time when it can be unearthed and released to grow a fresh crop of grapes.  The 2008 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon is going to send some much more expensive Cabs for an extended "dirt nap."  Repaying the favor for being spared the winter cold by giving us a fantastic Washington State Cabernet at the affordable price of $13.99.

The Buried Cane Roughout Cabernet Sauvignon offers up a blend of 75% Cab from the Alice Vineyard on the Wahluke slope and the Arete Vineyard in the Columbia Valley, 23% Merlot from the Florence and Virginia Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and 2% Syrah from the Gamache Vineyard also in the Columbia Valley.  

This is a big classic Washington Cab.  On first opening the nose is showing sour currants, earth and light spices with a palate of currant and herbal spicyness and a tart semi-sweet chocolate finish.  With an hour of air the nose is much richer with currants, chocolate, cinnamon and cloves with a hint of citrus.  The palate also shows currants and some tart green herbal tones with a semi-sweet chocolate and clove finish.  One day later the nose has added some more earth and leather along with dark currant and spices.  The palate has continued to build with currant, espresso bean and some light spices finishing with ripe plum and more notes of semi-sweet chocolate.  The Wahluke slope character is really present in this week's Friday Find giving it the essence of a true giant slayer. 

So many wines at this price point start out strong and falter over time.  The Buried Cane reverses the trend growing bigger and bolder over time.  Go out and find yourself some Buried Cane.  This giant killer is available at many local wine shops or directly from the Buried Cane website for 14 bucks.  You might find that your more expensive wines take an extended dirt nap in your cellar.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day Tripper - WV Wine Country Thanksgiving

Black Friday’s straight dangerous, it’s too early to start baking for Christmas, the in-laws are here for three more days, and you’ve run out of ways to entertain them?
This weekend, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association gears up for the 29th annual Wine Country Thanksgiving event. Over 160 WV wineries open their doors for you and yours with hors d’oeuvres and pairings, winemaker meet and greets, live music, case discounts, and great deals on your next holiday or gift wines. Some tasting fees do apply and range from $5 - $30.
The event is made even more accessible via the launch the new Willamette Valley Mobile Wine Tour application for smart phone users. The application is your complete guide to the Willamette Valley whether you’re searching for winery hours, specific varietals, or wineries that are just plain nearby, so shake out of that tryptophan coma nap at some point this weekend and take a drive. Plan your trek through the valley by scanning the QR code below with your smarty-pants phone and get to tasting!
{if you don’t have a smarty-pants phone, I bet there’s some Black Friday, 3am deal you can score before the big weekend}
Looking for something a little more north? Some of the WV wineries will be pouring in the downtown PDX area and are noted in the Thanksgiving Weekend guide. The Columbia Gorge wineries also host a Thanksgiving Open House Weekend on both the Oregon and Washington sides. Their events and hours can be found here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Local & Lively: LaVelle Vineyards

We know that they're making serious Pinot Noir up and down the Willamette Valley. From the Northenders like Chehalem, Cameron and new hotshot Colene Clemens to the farthest south sub-appellation Eola-Amity Hills and producers like Evesham Wood, Cristom and St. Innocent. Yet little of what's happening south of that southern point is on the radar of the Pinot Public. Fact is, there's a whole world of wine happening down in the Eugene, Oregon area, and it doesn't all begin and end at King Estate.

LaVelle Vineyards is one such place: a family operation founded by Doug LaVelle after a long corporate career. The vineyards and winery, formerly Forgeron Vineyards, was South Willamette Valley's oldest, planted in 1972. Forgeron closed its doors in 1992 and Doug opened LaVelle in 1994. At its inception, in addition to being a small winery, LaVelle Vineyards was also a substantial custom crush facility. Throughout its evolution, LaVelle has seen significant changes and some serious talent walk through its doors. Syncline's James Mantone, Anne Amie's Andy Gribscov and long time consulting winemaker and Willamette Valley stalwart Gary Carpenter have all been part of building the LaVelle brand.

In 2006 Doug's son Matthew took the production reigns and as a winemaker and owner aims to put LaVelle's best foot forward. At his disposal is a 16 acre vineyard with some of the region's oldest established plantings and a state-of-the art winery. LaVelle Vineyards and Matthew have turned their focus toward crafting the finest Pinot Noir their vines will give them and creating a destination for locals and visitors to gather and enjoy their wines. In addition to a production facility, the winery (located in Elmira, just outside of Eugene) is very much an event and gathering space. The focus is certainly on the wine; not just the technical aspects, but providing a place to enjoy it, often accompanied by live music, local food and several companions. LaVelle has more or less eschewed distribution, having none outside of Oregon, and just a trickle outside of Eugene. The bulk of their wine is sold through the winery, wine club and their downtown Eugene tasting room at the 5th Street Public Market, where they again place emphasis on the experience.

The wines that LaVelle Vineyards are producing have two aims: being true to the fruit and style. Stylistically, Matthew fancies his Pinot a feminine one, not over-extracted or dumbed down by oak. Matthew wants the true character of Oregon's crown jewel varietal to come through. Pinot Noir is intended to lighter in body, Oregon is renowned for it's "fresh" fruit expression and this is all underlined with a fine structure. The second aim is to be true to the high quality fruit that is being grown in Oregon's little-known South Willamette Valley. What is it about the South Willamette that's special? Consistency, says Matthew. "There are probably less "fantastic" Pinot Noir vintages in the South Willamette Valley when compared with the North Willamette Valley, but there are [more] "less than average" vintages up North than we have down here." That kind of reliability makes the production and sales of your wine less of a guessing game. (LaVelle also produces a Columbia Valley line sourced from Washington state which allows them to provide variety both in the tasting room and to their club.)

The wine I found most surprising and refreshing ofthe LaVelle wines that I sampled (all Pinots) was the Reserve Pinot Noir, Matthew's Reserve. The 2008 Reserve is an outstanding Pinot Noir, and while the 07 and 08 Pinots are also fine wines, this one is clearly head and shoulders above them. I'll wrap this piece up with tasting notes, but the thing is, before the 2008, they hadn't made a Reserve since 1998. I was intrigued by this as '06 was a really nice year for Oregon, but there was no Reserve for LaVelle. Matthew's response? "The most likely years for reserve Pinot Noirs in the South Willamette Valley are the coolest, dryest ones. 2010 was a cold year but there was too much rain [...] only having a reserve wine when the wine is good enough is something that doesn't happen much anymore."    I've spoken with winemakers who've said "There won't be a reserve this year" but to go ten years, that's a serious standard to uphold and whether you find yourself a fan of LaVelle's wines or not, you have to respect that kind of discipline.

The 2007 LaVelle Pinot Noir ($24) is indeed a feminine expression of the varietal, and in many ways similar to the 07s that are now coming into their own. The aromatics are mostly red fruit from this cooler vintage and a hint of moss. A Burgundian styled, medium bodied Pinot Noir typical of the 07s that continues with red currants and raspberries on the palate and a touch of spice on the finish.

The 2008 Pinot Noir ($24) is a bit more broad shouldered and fills the mouth with darker, more concentrated fruits while retaining the elegance of the varietal. Aromatics exhibit more spice and smoke with darker fruits. This well rounded Pinot bring ripe dark cherries, blackberries and earthen character. The structure is substantial and the finish goes on quite a while.

The Matthew's Reserve 08 ($48) is an excellent example of the capability of the South Willamette, with aromatics of bramble berries and earthen forest floor. Layers of flavor complexity, including currants, blackberries, cloves, and the 35% new oak makes an appearance imparting smoky flavors throughout the finish. This is a wow wine to be sure.

Samples provided by the winery.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Find, November 18

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

In the 1990 "hit" The Forbidden Dance, a princess emerges from the Amazon in an effort to fight a multi-national conglomerate threatening her people's land and forests. She makes her way to L.A. the land of broken dreams and high heels in an effort to save the day. Huge mistake lady. Anyways, she mixes it up with some guy and we all learn a valuable lesson; "there's only one dance that can turn feeling into rhythm, strangers into lovers and passion into fury. The Lambada, The Forbidden Dance..."

The Forbidden White from Patterson Cellars is basically the same thing, except for the whole Amazon to L.A. and passion into fury thing. I mean let's be honest, you and a stranger drink a whole bottle of wine together, there's no telling what can happen, maybe you do end up lovers. The Forbidden White is a nice bottle to share with a stranger for a couple of reasons. It hits a couple different high notes on the way to a really well made, bright crisp and fun wine. The varietal blending is if anything unique, barrel fermented Chardonnay (56%) Viognier which was subject to extended exposure to the lees (32%) and at this point with the combination of barrel fermentation and sur lie Viognier you might expect a really rounded almost buttery wine, au contraire. This wine is all kinds of fruit forward, though the varying fermentation combinations give it a beautifully full mouthfeel. In comes the Siegerrebe (12%) grown over on this side of the Cascades in the Comfort Vineyard on Whidbey Island.

The result is a unique white wine blend that hits many geographic points on the map of Washington and provides dizzying fruit and floral aromatics. The wine is not an acid bomb but rather a complex white wine that can be sipped all into the evening without food. Much like the Forbidden Dance it will awaken your furious passion for white wines from Washington. The label is a bit of a mystery and while I'm not necessarily a fan it's apparently a Chihuly piece. The wine is carried by Vinum and so if you're not seeing it in your favorite local wine shop, ask your steward. You won't regret looking past the label at a fantastic wine at $16-18 it's a great find. If you do decide to go all Lambada and drink this wine with a stranger, be safe, use protection.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Final Word on Thanksgiving Wine Pairing

Drink whatever you want.  Seriously, if you like it, go ahead and drink it.  That's our advice.

A Tale of Two Acidities... Part II of Winemaking Lessons on Bainbridge Island

Continuing from Monday's Part I post from guest blogger Eileen Lambert.

The Crush class participants get into the groove of working the various stations, machinery humming, shovels scraping, buckets dumping, crates lowering, hoses spraying, muscles flexing, juice samples circulating, and lots of animated conversation and good natured joking throughout.

Just as we fell into a rhythm, jamming along to Credence Clearwater Revival tunes booming out of the winemaker’s shed, lunch was called, and the elusive sun chose that moment to break through the clouds, casting an idyllic glow upon Rolling Bay Winery’s orchard overlooking the Puget Sound.

We filled our plates high with the bountiful offerings, each bite thoroughly earned, and sipped Rolling Bay Winery’s award winning, small batch wines -Manitou Red, Syrah, Pinot Gris -all receiving appreciative reviews from the group.

After a leisurely lunch (it was, after all, a ‘French Style affair’), we cleared the tables, and passed around fresh wine glasses for the blind taste tasting and sensory analysis led by Sommelier David Morris, of Wild Ginger restaurant.

We spent the next 40 minutes tasting and analyzing 6 wines, of varying origins and varietals, their identities masked in foil. David did a superb job educating the group on the various sensory aspects involved in analyzing wine.

He talked about classifying a high acid wine, where a wine can cause you to salivate like crazy, as it attacks the sides of your palate. He explained that when you feel a wine on the sides of your mouth, that indicates high tannin, and therefore a heavier weight or body to it.

He talked about how white wines undergo malolactic fermentation and how that imparts in Chardonnays that buttery taste, and how it’s a fitting description, since lactic acid is present in sour dairy products.

For each of the 3 segments, David poured us a pair of wines from the mystery bottles, which we took into our glasses, swirled, sniffed, and swished, before tasting. We were quizzed on appearance, smell, notes, acidity, and weight, compared the two, and in the end could venture guesses as to the wines we had
just tasted. I found myself surprised on more than one occasion.

The sensory analysis and blind tasting exercise was informative and revealing, and a fitting end to a day of wine theory, wine practice, and wine pairing.

To be a good winemaker, one must strike a balance between artistry and science, and today I gained a greater appreciation for both.

Being part of this inaugural Crush class did allow me to build community with fellow wine aficionados, resulting in meaningful conversations throughout the day, employing teamwork to fulfill a shared vision, enjoying each other’s hospitality through sharing of delicious food, and learning from each other’s wisdom and palates during the sensory analysis and blind tasting.

If this first Crush class is any indication, I foresee more community building happening over at Rolling Bay on Bainbridge; more people getting to know each other outdoors; over hard work, great food and wine, and a shared passion for creating a memorable experience for others to later uncork.

For a complete gallery of images from Chris Laurion from this event go here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Acidities; Winemaking Lessons on Bainbridge Island

Food blogger, Eileen Lambert takes the Anthem on an adventure to Bainbridge Island...

Charcuterie sampling early on a Saturday morning portends a day’s events. Darting to the deli at the Bainbridge Town & Country, I began to assemble my artisanal arsenal -meat, cheese, bread, fruit and pastry-- covering a range of alimentary bases, to accompany the plentiful drink I would be partaking in (and taking part in making) later.

Reading over my fellow classmate’s emails the night before, one would think the potluck was the main event: Baguettes, Beecher, Mt Townsend Creamery, and brie cheeses, dry salami, garlic spreads, homemade heirloom tomato salad with pesto and cheese, smoked chicken salad, raw milk gruyere, crackers, and sliced finnochionia, a mix of oysters and some mignonette. (Damn these people know how to eat!)

And from the instructor: Lunch will be a sit down French Style affair with both red and white wine served on a long table.

Photographer Chris Laurion, and I had been invited to attend today’s Crush program on behalf of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we had caught the 9:35 a.m. ferry and were now blissfully sampling the house prosciutto in an island grocery store – not a bad way to spend a Saturday. As he consulted his iPhone for cheese pairings for Pinot Gris,(asiago a clear winner for me), I selected some ripe pears, a Macrina herbed baguette, and threw an apple caramel walnut tart in the basket before checking out.

Our destination was Rolling Bay Winery on Beach Crest Drive, where a truck containing several tons of Pinot Gris and Merlot grapes awaited us, as did the 11 other Crush class participants, winemaker Alphonse de Klerk and his cadre of winemaking friends, Bainbridge Island Parks and Rec Outdoor Programs Coordinator, Jeff Ozimek, and Sommelier David Morris.

When I first heard about this class from a fellow blogger, Leslie Seaton, its basis as a Parks and Rec outdoor program piqued my interest, and in talking with Jeff, found that its purpose was ‘to help build community by getting folks together who share similar interests and would like to learn more about the wonderful world of wine.’

The wine program was new, and the outdoor program would run three different classes/trips this fall as pilot programs with the goal to expand in the future. Ideally they’d like to offer overnight trips, wine and bike tours, wine making, and events featuring NW winemakers and grape growers. Their aim is to get people outdoors trying new things in an effort to build the community.

I couldn’t think of a better introduction to winemaking –a half day comprised of instruction with Alphonse covering wine chemistry, fermentation, sugar content, aging vessels, and more; hands- on crushing and pressing of Pinot Gris and pressing of fermented Merlot, a potluck lunch accompanied with Rolling Bay Wines, and finally, a blind tasting and sensory analysis led by Sommelier David Morris, featuring some of his choice bottles. After a brief overview of the fundamentals of winemaking -the chemistry involved, the inoculating of the yeast, the sending of samples to the lab for analysis, for both a chem panel and measurement of residual sugar, the adding of sulfites and nitrogen to keep the yeast going, and throughout, the ongoing tasting process, I learned that yeast are happy when well fed, and that wine goes through a lag period, followed by a period of exponential growth.

I learned descriptive wine terms like ‘punchdown’ - the process of breaking up and “punching down” the skin cap into the fermenting juices of red wine as well as ‘brix,’ –a unit of measurement for sugar content. I handled a hydrometer, an instrument when plunged into a vat of fermenting wine, indicates the sugar content by floating above the surface.

After the brief lecture portion, the eager students yearned for some practicum. We were assigned to different stations – 3 on the truck unloading the crates of grapes into buckets, 2 on the truck dumping the buckets into the crusher, 2 on the tub below filling buckets of crushed grapes and emptying them into the presser, and the rest taking turns at the presser and monitoring the bucket below as it filled with juice from the free-run, or the juice that freely flows as a result of gravity and weight pressing the crushed grapes downward.

After working for about a half hour, we rotated among the stations, so we each had a chance to experience the different tasks associated with the crush. It was laborious work, a lot of stooping, bending, and lifting, the kind of work that left you damp, sticky, and covered in grape skins–literally head to toe. But no complaints here.

For a complete gallery of images from Chris Laurion from this event go here.

The conclusion of Eileen's piece, Part II coming on Wednesday...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Find, November 11

Once again Ladies & Gentlemen, from Tiffany Stevens...

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

This Friday Find comes from a hidden gem of a winery, just in time for Thanksgiving. The beautiful grounds of Vercingetorix are nestled just outside Newberg, OR. As Vercingetorix (pronounced ver-sen-ge-tor-iks) does not easily roll off the tongue, the winery also goes by the name VX Vineyard. The meaning behind their name is illuminated on their website.

 It honors “a Gallic hero Vercingetorix who became chieftain under the threat of Roman invasion --     Vercingetorix adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy against the Romans which preserved only the precious vineyards of Burgundy and the main settlement Averticum. Vercingetorix is honored to this day by local  Burgundians for his bravery and the preservation of the noble Pinot noir grape of Burgundy. We continue to honor his name at our vineyard, by producing small quantities of high quality Burgundian style pinot wines.”

What better occasion to honor such a noble deed than Thanksgiving. A cornucopia of variety for harvest dinner and wine selections exists, yet Oregon Pinot Noir will surely grace many Northwest tables. Remarkable for only $20, the Vercingetorix 2008 Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir is a perfect selection. Emulating Burgundian style Pinots, aromas of earth, red fruit and subtle barnyard drift up from the glass. High toned Bing cherry, raspberry and lavender delicately balance with flavors of dried leaves and earth. This smooth, lovely Pinot is available through the winery for pickup or shipment. Add their $18 Pinot Gris to your order to round out your Thanksgiving wine selection!

The tasting room is located on the grounds of the 210 acre Willamette Farms which produces hazelnuts, Christmas trees, arborvitae and their Estate Pinot Noir. Not far into wine country, the 45 minute drive from Portland is stunningly beautiful this time of year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

This Sunday: Southern Oregon Wines Come to the PDX Park Blocks!

Yo PDX, the Southern Oregon wine scene is comin’ atcha! Over 25 Southern Oregon wineries will be representing their best at the Southern Oregon Winery Association's Grand Tasting event at the Portland Art Museum this Sunday, November 13th from 4 – 7pm.

A perfect opportunity to find that there is in fact wine life, in Oregon beyond Pinot Noir.  Our lovely neighbors to the South are producing an amazing array of warm weather varietals and are really making a name for themselves with Tempranillo and Zinfandel.  You've got Pinot Noir coming out your pores, fact is, you need a Tempranillo cleanse.  Southern Oregon is here to oblige you.

Featured varietals, both unique and familiar, will include Albarino, Viognier, Roussanne,  Malbec, Syrah and many more. Over 100 Southern Oregon wines will be offered, paired with appetizers, to make for a distinctive city tasting experience (and to soften the blow of the weekend... well, ending). Tickets are $39 and can be purchased on the Southern Oregon Wineries website, or by calling (800) 781-9463.

Feel like going for free? Enter to win a pair of tickets to this event by liking the Northwest Wine Anthem page on Facebook and watch for details on Thursday as to how you can win. Good luck, and happy tasting!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Harvest Time In Willamette Valley: Abbelone Vineyards

From our South Willamette Correspondent: Kelsey Ivey

Just a few days before Halloween, Abbelone Vineyards in the South Willamette Valley harvested with scary potential.

Working my way down a vineyard row, the leafy plants glowed a marbled green and gold in the late October sun. Dragging a purple, grown-up sized sandcastle like bucket through the clover and grass covered row, I helped to gather the winery’s lush, plump fruit. Maneuvering my hand through the twisted vines that gripped the black, beady clusters of Pinot Noir like a newborn’s little fingers, I snipped the clusters of grapes from the vines as light laughter and chatter floated above the plants. In a year that many vineyards were spooked by the late, wet spring weather, Abbelone Vineyards celebrated in style with a picking party and abundant harvest.

Located in the southern shadow of Spencer’s Butte just outside of Eugene, Oregon, Abbelone is a family- run, single-vineyard winery. Producing small batch Pinot Noir, the owners Chris and Angela Ferry started the vineyard as a small farm with only 300 plants about ten years ago.

“I didn’t water them or fertilize the vines and yet they still grew like weeds,” said Angela. “It was a total fluke- everything about it…and now we have 5000 plants.”

Abbelone’s first vintage, a 2009 Pinot Noir, is a vibrant red wine with a distinguishingly fruiting taste that pops on the tongue. With deep cherry notes, the wine glistens with a rich, ruby red color and fragrant nose. Producing only around 350 bottles of this juicy, resonant wine, Abbelone is optimistic for another great vintage.

“Your fruit tastes like your fruit” Angela described of their vineyards. And for a harvest season full of weather woes from the long, rainy spring, no worried lines crossed the Ferrys’ brow.

Stopping to take a break and enjoy Angela’s specialty chili, caramel apples, and wine, the harvesters by lunch time had already filled the winery’s available bins with two tons of fruit from their small five acre hillside and more grapes still hung.

I argued with Chris that we had more than two tons of fruit out there and he just didn’t believe me, said Angela. “I think we will end up with nearly three tons.”

With each cluster that we picked after lunch, we added to Abbelone’s total easily surpassing their 2010 harvest yield – and for a winery, who is already low on their first vintage stock, a sign of a good year to come.

Harvest this year though was more than just about picking grapes and crop yields – it was a reason to gather. From mothers to a soccer coach and neighbors with their dogs, everyone trudged through vines
with yoga fluidity, holiday spirit and a passion for the wine and family they had come to love.

“This is what harvest is all about,” said Angela, “friends and getting together.”