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, October 28, 2011

Friday Find, October 28

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.

There are terms like "white wine weather" and "red wine weather" just like there are terms like "boat shoes" or "dancin' shoes" these are erroneous terms.  There's just shoes and there's just weather, and like my good buddy Charles Gardiner says, "all weather is good weather."  The point I'm trying to make is that while we're clearly in the midst of some mixed up weather, you can drink whatever you want, and frankly you can wear whatever kinda shoes you wanna wear.  While it's Autumn, it's dark, dreary, and cold we're pulling out a Sauvignon Blanc for this week's Friday Find.  Thanksgiving is on the horizon and we need to find some wines that pair well with America's most gluttonest day, which given the amount of gluttony we see, that's impressive. A Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect set up for so much of what you'll get fat on come Turkey Day.

The Chinook Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example of a food friendly Washington white wine. The acidity, balance and crisp bright palate will pair up well with both your turkey and the greasier sides like green bean casserole that you know you love.  At least you'd love my green bean casserole, I make the cream of mushroom soup from scratch, believe dat.  Anyways, this Sauv Blanc is made in a style I'd liken to New Zealand style Sauv Blancs.  The aromatics are crisp and bright with wild flowers and grasses.  The palate is less fruit forward, though the fruit is certainly present braced behind stony minerality and cut straw.  $16.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Treveri Cellars: Crafting Tradition in Yakima

Downtown Yakima's newest and perhaps most exciting new wine development got its start in the ancient city of Trier in Germany's Mosel Valley.

Juergen Grieb began his winemaking education in his home country of Germany with degrees in winemaking and sparkling wine. While he earned his degrees, Jurgen worked at two German stalwarts; Kartheuserhof in Ruwer (just outside of Trier) and Duhr Sektkellerei, a sparkling wine producer in Trier. At Kartheuserhof, where they have an excellent reputation for their Riesling, he worked under the tutelage of the winemaker Breiling and owner Christoph Tyrell.

After earning his degrees, Juergen became the went on to work at Langguth Winery in Traben-Trarbach. The Langguth family had also established a winery in the Wahluke Slope area of Washington and Juergen was soon sent to Mattawa to make wines over here. In 1987 the Langguth facility in Mattawa was purchased by Snoqualmie Winery and Mike Januik was installed as the winemaker, replacing Juergen. Having married Julie, whom he had met at Langguth, Juergen stayed in Washington, spending nearly 20 years working largely with an enormous bulk wine producer in Grandview as the winemaker.

Three years ago Juergen and Julie seized an opportunity to craft sparkling wines in Washington state in the traditional "Sekt" style of Germany. In my opinion, we should all be grateful that they did. Juergen's long career here has given him time to get to know the vineyard sites and the growers he most likes to work with, enabling him to source fruit that will set up best in the variety of sparkling styles. The fruit from the Mueller Thurgau, for example, comes from a four acre site near Prosser. (There are only a handful of Washington vineyards producing this varietal.)

I first encountered the Treveri Cellars wines at Taste Washington in March. As I thumbed through my guide, they stood out for two reasons: they were a Washington sparkling wine producer that I was unfamiliar with and all of the wines they were pouring were under $20. Tasting their wines, I found a style and value unique to Washington. These aren't the yeasty rounded kinds of sparkling wine, though I like those, too. These are crisp, have a nice touch of sweetness and the fruit really comes through. All the wines are individually bottle fermented and there's an element of quality and character that's a result of these traditional methods of sparkling winemaking.

Much of the sparkling wine created here in the States and in the Northwest is a blend. What sets Treveri apart stylistically is that in the "sekt" style, the wines are varietally true. (Treveri also makes Brut, Extra Brut and Extra Sec, thereby running almost the complete gamut.) The resulting sparkling wine is a varietal expression: the Riesling tastes like Riesling, the Gewurztraminer tastes like Gewurztraminer and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries. Where many sparkling wines provide creamy mouth feel of yeasty Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blends, the Treveri wines give you bubbles, a touch of yeasty aromatics and the wine's fruit character as well as a hint of residual sugar, a unique sparkling experience for Northwest wine drinkers. Juergen finds that Washington fruit sets up very well for the single varietal, "fruit forward" Sekt style because of the quality and health of the grapes grown here. He's quick to point out, though, that it's not quite the Mosel.

The result of Juergen's cumulative knowledge and experience in the vineyards and cellars of both Germany and Washington is a wine that is classically German and also positively Washington.

Sparkling Riesling
This Riesling brings a lot to the table and at the $16-17 price point, it's silly how good it is. Aromatics of cut tropical fruit and melons mix pleasantly with floral notes. The palate of the wine reveals a a beautiful sweetness at 3.4% residual sugar but the acidity and yeasty elements of a well made sparkler make this an excellent combination. The Riesling is made in the Demi-Sec style, with 33-35 grams of sugar per liter, considered a sweet style.

Sparkling Mueller Thurgau
Definitely a less common Washington varietal, Mueller Thurgau is a hybrid varietal created by a German scientist aiming to achieve the fruity complexity of Riesling with a little more ease of planting and ripening. The result is a fruit forward wine with that yeasty bottle fermented signature, apricots, peaches and grapefruit and lemon zest on the finish. Made in the Sec style at 2.3% residual sugar it's carrying a nice hint of sweetness. $16

Sparkling Gerwurztraminer
One of my favorite varietals shows up in the sparkling version, and it's the sweetest of the three wines that Treveri sent my way. A touch of the spice that is signature Gewurztraminer, melons and peaches. The Gewurtz is done in the Demi-Sec style with 3.5% residual sugar, and the sweetness balances that spicy varietal character in a way that is textbook Gewurtz only with bubbles.

These wines were provided as samples

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NorthWest Wine Blogger Spotlight: LuchaVino

Wine is supposed to be fun and what makes it so fascinating is the variance you'll see in one varietal, Merlot for example, from year to year, and AVA to AVA.  Unfortunately wine blogs are not quite as varied.  Many of them read like this:  "I like this wine, it's got leather on it.  Here's a picture of the bottle.  I give it an excellent."  That's an over simplification of course, but not by a whole lot.  Fortunately there are still those out there who are doing things a bit differently.  My buddy Lucha Vino is one of them.  His take on wine, usually Washington is an homage to the great Mexican wrestling tradition and somehow he also ties in bicycle racing. How can you not love that?  Without further ado...

Lucha Vino (This post is also running over on his blog as well, and it includes his scores of the wines.  Oh, that's him over on the left.  Psst, he's wearing a mask.)

Wine is an unusual drink.  It gets better with age and as it maintains contact with air.  Most other beverages get worse, not better, under these conditions.  Over and over again I am surprised by the evolution of a wine over hours or even days.  Lucha Vino materialized early in 2011 as I considered a way to combine exploring wine from around the globe and cycling.  Comparing wine as it evolves over time reminds me of a wrestling match.  Check out The Rules (Most have been broken.  What did you expect?  Wrestling - Lucha Libre - is more spectacle than sport.)

Each week I select a Washington State wine and compare it to the same varietal from another part of the globe.  The challengers are selected based on where the pro cycling peloton is racing.  Since the pro tour just wrapped up with the Giro d Lombardia, I am taking the opportunity to explore wines from regions the pro racers do not typically visit.

This week the Lucha Vino matchup features a tag team bout for the Pacific North West Pinot Noir Heavy Weight Championship Belt.

Syncline 2009 Pinot Noir teams up with Tunnel Hill 2009 Pinot Noir to take on Oregon and British Columbia represented by Cristom 2007 Sommers and Blue Mountain 2009.

Tale of the Tape

Team BC/Oregon:

100% Pinot Noir from the Okanogan Valley Appelation
Aged in French Oak for 10 months.
Purchased for $25.99 in Vancouver BC wine shop.

100% Pinot Noir from the following vineyards:
87% Eola -Amity Hills, 7% Willamette Foothills, 5% Dundee Hills, 1% Yamhill-Carlton District (65% Estate fruit)
Aged for 17 months in Burgudian cooperage, 53% new oak.
Purchased for $24.99 at Esquin.

Team Washington:

100% Pinot Noir from the Celilo Vineyard (51%) and Underwood Mountain Vineyard (49%) and aged in neutral oak for 11 months.
Purchased for $28.99 at Esquin.

100% Pinot Noir all estate grown on the South shores of Lake Chelan.
Purchased at the winery for $24.95.

Round 1.  First Opening:
The Blue Mountain Pinot is the first into the ring for Team BC/Oregon and is showing a nose featuring salt-n-pepper, blue berry and some funky smokiness.  The palate is buttery with blue berries and a tart cedar and pepper spice finish.

Tunnel Hill checks in for Washington with a nose showing light smoke, salt, pepper and strawberries. The palate has strawberry notes with sweet Asian spices and a finish that tails off into dry tart cherry bark.

This matchup is close with a slight edge going to Tunnel Hill, but before Team Washington can start celebrating the Cristom from Oregon tags into the ring and brings down the hammer with a nose of red berries, all spice and pepper with some peat bog and sea breeze wafting in the background.  The palate is full of smokey red berries and mineral with a tart fresh finish.

Tunnel Hill is struggling on the ropes but manages to get a hand out to Syncline and that spells doom for Team BC/Oregon.  The Syncline has a nose of sour currants, smoke and underbrush.  The palate shows some floral notes along with dark berries and a sweet finish.

The Syncline is definitely the most well balanced of the four luchadors and it shows by finishing off the round in Team Washington's favor.

Round 2.  One hour after Opening

The battle rages on with Syncline throwing down some spicy in your face attitude with a nose of sour stone mineral red fruit and cranberry bog.  The palate is sweet, tart and spicy showing strawberry, rhubarb and cedar spice box that trails on to the finish.

Trying hard to match up, the Blue Mountain has a nose that mingles cranberry, strawberry and smokey peat bog character.  The palate is similar and trails off into a tart cherry pit finish.  Nice try but you better tag in your partner.

Cristom gets a bit tangled in the ropes but recovers to show a nose of dark fruit, earth and light pepper.  The palate shows similar character of earth, dark fruit and light cracked pepper that ends with a light tart finish.

Syncline doesn't really need any help against these two challengers, but tags Tunnel Hill in for the fans.  Tunnel hill slides into the ring with a nose showing smoky strawberries and brambles with a palate of strawberr and light tart Asian spices that continue on into a tart dry finish.

Round two is dominated by the Washington Pinot Pair.  Pinot may be hard to find in Washington, but this team is certainly showing some machismo.

Round 3. One day later

About all that team BC/Oregon can hope for now is a knock out, or at least some points to maintain some street cred.

The Tunnel Hill is skipping around the ring with a nose of strawberry and smokey pepper.  The palate is strawberries and cedar spices with a dry cedar finish.  Lightening up a bit, but tough to bring down.

Blue Mountain is trying to land some body blows with attempts at a full throttle attack on the senses with a nose showing funky,peat bog, smoke and sandal wood intermixed with notes of dark red berries.  The palate is darker with currant and cedar cigar box spices that end in a tart finish.  This Canadian Luchador is definitely showing some stamina.

What's this?  Syncline has dropped into the match without a legit tag in taking Blue Mountain by surprise.  Syncline unleashes some sinister kung fu with a nose of raspberry, brambles, leather and hints of spice.  The palate is similarly complex with raspberry and cloves that lead into a spicy clove finish.

Not to be out maneuvered, Cristolm joins forces with Blue Mountain in the ring going two on one.  Cristolm still has some oomph left in the tank, but not much.  The nose is red berries, with some barnyard funk and peat bog overtones.  The palate is showing dry tart dark fruit character that leads to a similar finish.

Even when Cristolm and Blue Mountain join forces they are finding this Washington team to be formidable foes.

Final tally - Washington 3, Team BC/Oregon nil.  Better luck next time.

Wrap up and over all observations

It ain't easy to find a Washington Pinot.  There seem to be several wineries in the Lake Chelan AVA that are having success with this finicky grape.  Tunnel Hill is one of those wineries.  Syncline is also doing good things in the Columbia Gorge. 

All four of these Luchadors presented solid variations on Pinot Noir.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Find October 21

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 wine is ridiculous.  I'm serious.  I paid $8.99 for this wine.  The BookMark WA1 NV, or Non-Vintage is Bookwalter's first of this particular wine.  They're selling it for $15 both on-line and in their tasting rooms in both Woodinville and Richland but it can be had for a song during the month of October.  While this is the first rendition of the BookMark, thus the 1, Bookwalter has long been producing some of the best value wine in the free world in their Subplot or formerly Lot wines.  This year's release is the Subplot 25 at $20 retail but you'll often find this wine at the $13-17 price point.  The wines are similarly made, multiple varietals and multiple vintages are selected to produce incredibly drinkable wines at similarly ridiculous low prices.  In fact, I would rate the Bookwalter Subplot wines as probably the most reliable, bang for your buck value wines in the Northwest.  However, with the release of the BookMark, they may have just kicked their own ass.

This under $10 wine contains lots from the 2005 vintage for pete's sake, it's a blend of mostly Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet and  other varietals comprising 11% of the wine.  It's mostly 2008 and in descending order, 09, 10 and 05 through 07.  This is a sweetheart deal.  It's the kinda deal you typically have to know someone to get.  The wine is like sneaking into a party you have no business being at.  You're getting to experience something you really have no business experiencing.  The wine unloads on you aromatically and it's all that barrel age, you'll get toasty chocolate notes and mocha that you probably don't deserve for $9. The wine is rounded and full bodied and it continues to bring you mocha and a smokiness that makes one think they may need to break out that smoking jacket.  But who are you kidding? Only rich people have those, you paid $9 for this remember.  I picked this up at Esquin, but have also seen offers through Full Pull and would imagine it's at a few other "in the know" wine shops throughout the Northwest.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Would You Like Some Doom with Your Pinot Noir?

From our PDX Insider, Jenny Mosbacher

We're nearing the end of the third week in October and the majority of vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley remain largely unpicked-- which means that the mood among winemakers is about as bipolar as the autumn weather. 

In the past several weeks that have seemed to bring nothing but gray clouds overhead, murmurs of a troubled harvest swelled like rain-soaked Pinot grapes and talk of doomsday again surfaced, with Internet-posted proclamations of 2011 being the "worst vintage since 1984," an infamous washout of a vintage of relentless rain that even an extra helping of C&H couldn't salvage.

If there is any consistency in a given Oregon harvest, it may be that air of pessimism. The same cries of a doomed harvest have echoed through many vintages past, and you'd think the industry would translate the technical and artistic skill of winemaking to the PR side of their business. Consumers are going to take a winemaker on his or her word, and if the word is that the year was bad, turning a buck on that bottle when it's up for sale is going to be a far bigger challenge than anything a rainy October could bring.

2007 was a prime example of how some grumblings of a difficult growing season became a full-on critical attack in the media. The bad news brought even more bad news as those bottles languished on store shelves as wine drinkers opted to pass on what threatened to be at best inconsistent, and at worst, undrinkable watery plonk. The good news is that if you were smart enough to ignore the negative press, you're now rewarded with Pinots that are elegant and complex; evocative of that delicate balance on the edge of ripeness that defines the beauty of this varietal grown in a cool climate. Wines that at two or three years in the bottle are just beginning to show their full potential. This stuff, this is why we're all here.

Just as of last year, we not only had doom clouds at harvest, but also giant swarms of hungry birds straight out of that one movie by that one guy (the names of which both escape me).  Once again, winemakers reactions were between guardedly optimistic and near-completely despondent. Local newspapers were on a weekly cycle of reporting the latest horrific updates of voracious starlings gobbling up already low Pinot yields.  In an interesting twist of fate, quite recently as a few of these new wines are on their way to release, the media attitude towards the 2010s are quite a contrast to the 2007 reviews. In fact, this may be the only time ever that my opinion of an Oregon vintage would intersect that of Harvey Steinman, Editor at Large at Wine Spectator. He recently published a little love note to the 2010 year on his blog, along with teasers to paid-access notes and musings that this may be (as 2008 & 1998 have been) dubbed a "miracle vintage." What a difference a year makes on one's perspective, huh?
I hate (seriously, hate) to say it, but Harvey is definitely on to something. After a hard day on the sorting line ensuring that only the best of this year's Pinot tumbles into a fermenter, I needed a little inspiration in the form of a glass of 2010 Walter Scott La Combe Vert Pinot Noir. Proof that with a little faith in yourself, your fruit, and your vineyard, it can translate into something beautiful. Walter Scott Wines is the wine-lovechild of two well-recognized contributors to the Oregon industry, Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow. Erica is one of Portland's most beloved sommeliers and Ken is a veteran sales guy who's day job is selling for some little project called Evening Land Vineyards (that just so happened to produce Oregon's highest scoring wine at 96 points in 2008). Obviously they know more than a little about Pinot and have a serious passion for it that shows in their entry-level cuvée "La Combe Vert," a mix of fruit from five venerable sites throughout the Willamette. It's a stunning bright garnet color, transparent and almost glowing in the sunlight. The aroma captures the scents of the first half of the 2010 growing season: rich damp soil, mushroom funk, dewy tea roses, and the faintest whiff of smoke. The taste is all about the second half of the season: fresh raspberries and plums, more earth, decaying fall leaves, wet rock and warm spice. The mouthfeel is practically vibrating with acidity, but has depth of soft tannin under that zingy top note. At this point, it would easily stand up to a few days of unwinding in an open bottle, and at $20 in the store, I can definitely stand to stock up on more. Just like with the 2007s, this indicates that the better 2010 wines will only continue to improve with age.

Tomorrow when I'm back on the line and handling some more fruit from this so-called terrible vintage, I'll remind myself that if it’s anything like the disasters of vintages past, we’ll probably be just fine, or we might even have another “miracle.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Angel Vine: From Pinot Noir to Zinfandel

A few Oregon wineries and winemakers source fruit from many of the warm sites in Washington State. While many of them made their way to the Willamette Valley for their love of Pinot Noir, their enological tastes and interest often expand to varietals that are not possible to properly grow in the Valley. That is the story of winemaker Edward Fus and his label Angel Vine.

Ed's educational background is in horticulture; when he started exploring wines seriously in the late 80s the idea of having his own vineyard naturally appealed to him. Through his wine exploration, Ed honed in on three varietals that he really enjoyed, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Zinfandel. A series of events led Ed and his wife Laureen to the Willamette Valley area, and Ed and Laureen put down roots. I mean that literally, in the form of a Pinot Noir vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills where their three-acre parcel is composed of three separate one-acre blocks of different Pinot clones on Jory soils.

Initially, Ed sold the fruit (and continues to do so) and assisted the wineries and winemakers who harvested from his vineyard, gaining experiencing at the sides of winemakers like Joe Dobbes of Dobbes Family Estate and Dean Sandifer at Domaine Couteau. As Ed gained experience and career changes took place, the idea of starting his own winery held more and more appeal. He and Laureen created their own brand but wanted to do something different from their neighbors. They fell back on that mutual love for Zinfandel and similar varietals and thought it would differentiate them in the Pacific Northwest, and certainly in Pinot Noir country.

The resulting label, Angel Vine, named for Ed's wife and two daughters, has a focus on Washington-sourced Zinfandel and to  lesser degrees Primitivo and Petit Sirah. Though it represents a 180 degree shift from the home-grown Pinot varietal on his vineyard, Ed used what he knew in considering his Zinfandel sources. Ed cites his experience in Pinot as indispensable because of the appreciation it gave him for the importance of site selection and the role it can play in winemaking, though he notes it took some adjustment to understand the amazing differences in vineyard management between each side of the Cascades. He says, "Having experience with my vineyard helped me find good vineyards and good vineyard managers – which I think is perhaps the largest single contributing factor to any success we've achieved."

In a more specific sense, Ed is a big believer in the transparency of Zinfandel and the importance of site to taste is what he wants to display in all Angel Vine wines.

The note on the back of the Angel Vine wines says "Angel Vine is committed to producing wines with character, individuality and spunk." The varietals that Ed and Laureen have landed on are certainly known to bring spunk; Zinfandel and Primitivo have a reputation for dark fruit character and spicy qualities like anise and black pepper. In each of the Angel Vine wines I've tried, the varietal character is true, and the distinct variance in the wines lends credence to Ed's focus on the individuality which comes from site selection.

Where his single vineyard bottlings are concerned, Ed is making a Stonetree Vineyard Zinfandel from the hot Wahluke Slope site as well as a cooler bottling from one of my favorite vineyards, Walla Walla Valley's Les Collines. In the 2011 vintage Ed hopes to have four single vineyard Zins, as well as a Columbia Valley blend or cuvee Zinfandel. The single vineyard bottlings are small and the focus on the three varietals gives Angel Vine variety yet focus. In addition to the Petit Sirah, Primitivo and of course, Zinfandel, Angel Vine also does a small bottling of Pinot from their estate vineyard's north block.

Ed sent me several bottlings of the Angel Vine wines and I've focused on my highlights below. Across the board these are quality wines and one thing that Angel Vine certainly delivers on is quality to price. This is a lot of wine for the dollar, with most of these wines landing just one or two dollars north of $20 on the high end. The Pinot is the most expensive at $28. I'd also say that we, the Northwest wine geeks, owe the good people at Angel Vine a debt of gratitude. They're making three different Zinfandels for us to explore from Washington, all in the $20 neighborhood. This is a wine that is not all that common and we're granted the opportunity to explore its possibilities throughout Washington for a song.

2009 Zinfandel, Columbia Valley. A classic Zinfandel comes from this "cuvee" blend of four different Washington vineyards. Sites included the Stonetree vineyard in Wahluke Slope, two Horse Heaven Hills vineyards and Walla Walla's Les Collines. This Zinfandel, which contains 13% Primitivo is classic in that California sense, particularly in comparison to the Les Collines. A bigger wine, fruit forward aromatics with a hint of black-strap molasses in the background. On the palate you get dense ripe flavors and concentration, raisins and plums, loads of smoke with a spicy finish. A ridiculous bargain at $20.

2009 Les Collines Zinfandel. A 180 degree shift from the Columbia Valley; lighter in color, the wine certainly appears aromatically with that beautiful funkiness that is this vineyard's signature. In the place of big dark fruit you find a more balanced, nearly elegant wine in comparison. Herbs, most notably sage and earth, as well as a floral note of violets appear in addition to that Les Collines funkiness. The palate gives you a hint of minerality, violets and stone. It's with this wine that Angelvine has won me over. We're seeing a markedly different Zinfandel being produced by different AVAs and vineyards and if you're not excited by the variety these wines show in this Washington varietal, what the hell are you doing reading a wine blog? $22 for single vineyard Zinfandel? Yes, please.

2009 Hellion. This wine is a blend of Primitivo, Zinfandel and Petit Sirah all from the Stonetree Vineyard, Ed's warmest source in the Wahluke Slope. This is a blending of two classically ripe flavored varietals and the super structured Petit Sirah. The resulting wine is fairly large but very enjoyable. The nose opens up with cloves, raisins and plums, as well as leather and spice. The wine is a warm rounded blend that allows us to experience a smart combination of some still rare varietals in Washington. $22.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Find, October 14

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 week's Friday Find found me actually.  I was contacted by the folks at Ash Hollow about the release of their newest vintage of the Headless Red, the 2008.  Ash Hollow is currently running a promotion for their new release of Headless Red and in conjunction they have made an excellent promotional video.  The wine, a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec denotes the Legend of the headless ghost who haunts the vineyards of Walla Walla.  "There is a tale that few dare tell of a headless ghost who rides a dark horse and haunts those unfortunate to cross his path."  This was the first time I've had any of the Ash Hollow wines and while I might lose my head over it, I'm happy that the Headless Red and I have crossed paths.

This week's Friday Find is yet another example of a Northwest red blend of the "kitchen sink" variety.  The wine has seen a good long time in oak at 30 months and the resulting wine has a nice rounded mouthfeel and delivers prominent oak aromatics like fresh roasted coffee, cinnamon and chocolate along with black fruit the likes of cherries and black currants.  The wine lingers on the finish with the tiniest touch of spice.  The $18 wine is garnered with the label of the Headless Horseman, this one instead of looking for Ichabod Crane is guarding the vineyards of Walla Walla.  Perhaps the folks at Ash Hollow are aware of the fate that befell that prized Red Mountain Mouvedre.  At only 1,000 cases this wine will not see huge distribution but for the month of October Ash Hollow is doing a 1¢ shipping special, order here.

this wine was sent as a sample from the winery

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's Just a Little Crush... on Maryhill Winery

Maryhill Winery is in Washington, just off of Route 14 along the Columbia River Gorge. Owners Craig and Vicki Leuthold left corporate careers to pursue their interest in the wine industry, and opened the Maryhill doors in May 2001. Since then Maryhill Winery has earned over 800 awards across their 17-varietal production and in 2009 was named the Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest. This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with the amazing Maryhill Winery staff as they began their 2011 harvest season.
If you haven’t yet made it out to the collection of wineries dotting the Columbia River Gorge, it is definitely must. I left Portland in a storm cloud of gray and torrential rain and my expectations for the drive were bleak. Having done my fair share of backpacking, hiking and the obligatory Multnomah Falls trips, I thought I knew what I was in for. Normally I-84 is my commuter hell and I was ready. To my great surprise, the drive turned out to be the perfect weekend segue and I was ready for my introduction to the Columbia Gorge wineries. By the time I hit The Dalles, the clamor of city traffic was far behind me; marshmallow clouds hung in blue skies above the Columbia, cradled by the over-sunned, yellowing grassy expanses and the rocky Gorge walls. The drive alone is worth an exploratory trip, but did I mention there’s wine at the end? We are in Columbia Gorge Wine Country

I was welcomed to Maryhill by Craig and Vicki and had arrived just in time to try my hand (well, feet) at crushing the grapes they have just begun to harvest. While other members of our group took turns crushing, I scanned the surroundings; the Maryhill property is immaculate, from the new tournament quality bocce ball courts to the terrace overlooking the picturesque expanse of the Gorge. Just below their tasting room and gift shop sits Maryhill’s world class, 4,000-seat amphitheater, the setting for their summer concert series. Past shows have included headliners such as Train, Yes, Styx, Earth, Wind & Fire, India Arie, and Counting Crows.

During my visit the Maryhill staff is preparing for Harvest Fest, a celebratory leap into harvest season where visitors can participate in grape crushing, taste wine both new releases and classics, nibble on local food creations and listen to live music. This time of year Maryhill’s winemaker and hunky (yeah, I said it) New Zealand native, Richard Batchelor, is working nearly around the clock to produce their award-winning wines, the more well-known being their Maryhill blend, Winemaker’s Red. Richard and the rest of his team work all but about three hours of the day during peak harvest season; hard work that certainly seems to pay off.

After the inaugural grape crushing we converge on the bocce courts for game time and wine tasting. Resident canine Potter, a 120lb Great Pyrenees, saunters over to meet us and sprawls leisurely in the grass as we play. Craig and Vicki’s personal vegetable garden lines the far wall of the courts, lush with cucumbers, tomatoes, 28 varieties of chili peppers, kale, onions, beets and more. It’s chilly enough to confirm that Fall has arrived, but the refreshingly crisp fresh air and competitive edge of the bocce ballers keeps us out there. Oh, and the wine of course…

Our group tasted several wines including their 2007 Sangiovese, a Cabernet Franc, Super Tuscan and my favorite of the evening, their 2009 Zinfandel. I’ve never been a Zinfandel kind of girl, but the Maryhill Zinfandels have me reexamining my opinions entirely. Our tastings were paired with delicious appetizers catered by nearby restaurant The Glass Onion, which Craig and Vicki often use to provide food service during their concert series and other winery events. Perfectly grilled baguette slices topped with a poached salmon spread, roasted tomatoes or kalamata olive tapanade pair well with the wine, the people and with bocce.

Dinner, also catered by Glass Onion, was served in Craig and Vicki’s personal residence. Their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon accompanies a light, fresh Greek salad. The main course is oven-roasted duck breast with stone vegetable salsa and the most amazing potatoes au gratin I have ever tasted – sweet potatoes, traditional potatoes and parsnips smothered and baked in cheesy, buttery goodness. I could seriously eat it for dessert… and then dessert comes: a massive piece of Tiramisu paired with their equally delicious 2007 Vintage Port. Aaaaaand food coma.

The next day, Craig provides a tour of their bottling processes start to finish and showcases the amphitheatre space. We follow the tours with a few more bocce games and tastings from the Maryhill Reserve releases. Their reserve 2006 Syrah, 2007 Malbec and 2008 Zinfandel make a clear impression on me. The Syrah is velvety smooth and both the Syrah and Zinfandel have crazy bright fruit flavors through the finish. The Malbec is also deep, with a characteristic finish of fresh ground pepper.
Overall I was impressed with the collection of Maryhill wine and was eager to learn more about their growing region. Their location in the Columbia River Gorge is unique for Maryhill and other neighboring vineyards. The low average rainfall, only 10” a year, provides a high desert-like climate with sun enough to create the perfect growing and ripening conditions for varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel. The Columbia Gorge Wineries slogan “a world of wine in 40 miles” truly speaks to the range of varietals the Gorge can offer as the ripening conditions can change based on the differentiated rainfall patterns throughout the region, the proximity of the vines to the river, and more.

So maybe it’s more than a little crush, and it won’t be long before I’m back out to visit the Maryhill staff. Want to see what all the fuss is about? You still have this weekend to take the scenic Columbia Gorge drive out to Maryhill’s Harvest Fest, happening October 15th and 16th, 12pm to 5pm. Come out and celebrate the harvest season by participating in their annual grape stomp! Get away from the city and taste new releases, enjoy free live music on the Maryhill Terrace, and take in some of the best views the Gorge has to offer. You’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Find October 7

This week's Friday Find is coming from Tiffany Stevens an experienced Northwest wine aficionado.

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.

With this week's Friday Find, we continue our exploration of the many amazing Northwest red blends.  You will often hear the Owen Roe's Abbot's Table described as a crowd pleasing wine, a great go-to wine for entertaining. The 2010 Abbot's Table will not only please the crowd, it will impress. Why? For around $20, this wine delivers in a big way, perhaps the best Abbot's Table yet. Although released only a few weeks ago, this wine is surprisingly cohesive. It has vibrant aromas and flavors of juicy dark fruit, cherry and  hints of chocolate, balanced with good structure and smooth tannins. This is an expressive wine, drinking very well now, but has the structure for some bottle age as well.

David O'Reilly's blend varies from year to year. It is a seemingly eclectic mix of varietals from Yakima Valley fruit. The 2010 is atypical in that Sangiovese comprises 48% of the blend, more than twice the amount in each of the previous 3 vintages. Sangiovese is not typically at the forefront of O'Reilly's wines, but clearly it works beautifully here. The remaining blend is 15% Blaufrankisch (also known as Lemberger), 14% Zinfandel, 14% Malbec, 7% Syrah and 2% Merlot. The 2009 blend included 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Grenache, yet the 2010 has neither. Spinning off into the fascinating world of winemaking details is not always “crowd pleasing”, so the takeaway here is this wine is worth finding. Due to vintage conditions in 2010, only about half the normal production of this wine was made. Consider putting it on your short list.

After recently tasting through other new Owen Roe releases,  I sought out this wine since I had not tasted it at the winery. By the first sip, it was apparent that this was a winner. Owen Roe wines are well distributed in many Northwest grocery stores, such as New Seasons and QFC, and many local wine shops.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Salud Auction; Cuvees for a Worthy Cause

Many will tell you that a good wine has complexity and depth that make it compelling. As we spend time with the wine, it unwinds an array of aromatics and flavors. The complexity that we find may come from a variety of complicated factors. It comes from the kind of growing season we had: a wet spring, warm summer, degree days; weather is complicated. It comes from the ripeness, structure and sugars during harvest; the fruit itself can be complicated. It comes from the selection of yeasts, fermentation, blending, or barrel selection; making wine is complicated. There are a lot of complicated factors that result in this complex beverage. Without a doubt however, one of the most complicated factors in winemaking is one that doesn't often get discussed: the workers in the vineyard. It's real complicated.

Many of the vineyard workers right here in the Northwest that play a vital role in the production of the wines that we love are not forgotten about in terms of just discussing the true complexity of the wine. They're often forgotten altogether. Vineyard work is hard and the wages are low. The romance that many of us attribute to the harvesting and making of wine goes right out the window when it comes to reality. The work, in addition to being difficult, is sporadic and is done in large part by seasonal workers, The National Center for Farmworker Health estimates that 70% of the agricultural worker population does not have health care.

In Oregon's Willamette Valley some of the greatest Pinot Noir is grown and bottled. The hands that tend to the delicate terroir-driven Pinot Noir grapes belong to vineyard workers who do seasonal, sporadic, physically demanding work. It was smarts and daring that led folks like David Lett, Charles Coury and Dick Erath to come to Oregon and plant Pinot Noir. It turns out it wasn't the only pioneering that has happened in Oregon's wine country. In 1991 some of the Willamette's most well regarded winemakers and their friends,including doctors on the board of directors at Tuality Healthcare, launched something just as smart and pioneering in ¡Salud!, crafted in some ways on the model created centuries ago by the Hospices de Beaune.

From Nancy Ponzi: "Twenty years ago a small group of winery owners and wine-loving doctors gathered to brainstorm the possibilities of creating a festival centered on Pinot Noir, health and community. We dreamed of a first class affair that could generate funds for a first class need: providing healthcare for the people who in turn care for the vineyards. After all, without their dedication and skilled labor, there would be no wine. We understood it was our opportunity and responsibility to make basic health care available to the workers. ¡Salud! became a reality. Its success continues to fill this void in the healthcare system for thousands of workers and their healthy families."

¡Salud! meets an enormous need for many of the vineyard workers in the Willamette Valley. ¡Salud! provides health care screenings, education and most importantly treatment access to vineyard workers throughout the Willamette Valley. In 2010 ¡Salud! saw 3,614 vineyard workers and their families register for services (still only 40% of the workers in the Willamette Valley), which included more than 7,500 medical or dental consultations or procedures. Those consultations may include wellness and educational clinics, dental screenings or major medical care that could include substantial hospitalization. The unique thing about ¡Salud! is that all of this is funded by wineries and wine. And nearly all of that from one annual event: the ¡Salud! Auction.

David Adelsheim calls
¡Salud! Auction Cuvees "the most amazing thing we put in a bottle this year" To say that it's not your average wine auction is to put it very mildly. The Salud Auction features some of the best Pinot Noir makers in Oregon making the best wine that they can - specifically and only for the ¡Salud! cause. Each winery selected is charged with making something unique, something that will be better than anything else they've done that vintage, and additionally, something for which serious Pinotphiles will pay handsomely. A ¡Salud! Cuvee is a serious responsibility. Sure, it's a wine, but it's not just a wine, it is a major part of the 3,159 dental procedures or the 1,257 vaccinations that iSalud! was able to give last year.

This year's Big Board Auction on November 11th at Domaine Drouhin will include 42 wineries barrel sampling their 2010
¡Salud! Cuvees. Auction goers will have the opportunity to quiz the winemakers on their cuvees before making any purchasing decisions. In each case, only 5 cases of each wine will be made available for purchase to the highest bidder. How's that for a small lot? That's minuscule. The following day at the Governor Hotel in Portland, ¡Salud! kicks off a party the likes of which you won't see too often. A black tie gala and silent and live auction with some of the auction lots guaranteed to make a pinotphile's head spin right off their neck. Last year's catalog included dinner with some Willamette Valley's legends, a complete 20 year vertical of Domaine Drouhin, a collection of 2008 magnums from every single winery in the Chehalem Mountain Winegrowers Association, and a trip for two to some of Burgundy's most storied chateaus with all the trappings.

¡Salud! Auction is one hell of a party, but make no mistake: the stakes are high. The 2010 auction raised $650,000 last year, which is an enormous sum. It's the engine that drives what ¡Salud! is able to do over the next year. There are other contributions and contributors to ¡Salud!, but none with quite the oomph of the Salud Auction. It's the bedrock for those 7,500 consultations and procedures, and the 236 vision exams and prescription glasses, the 1,414 medical clinic visits and the 238 major medical procedures for Willamette Valley's vineyard workers won't happen without the support from the ¡Salud! Auction.

If you're interested in more information about ¡Salud! or for tickets to what is sure to be one of the best parties of the season, click here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

P.Y.T. - Young Winemakers of Oregon on the scene!

{Saturday, September 24th}

On a perfect 76-degree summer Saturday night (the last, I’m pretty sure), friends and I headed to Corkscrew, a wine bar in Portland’s trendy Sellwood neighborhood, to see what three up and coming winemakers have in store for us at the Young Winemakers of Oregon Tour event, organized by Christine Collier. Corkscrew is a quaint space with a great selection of wine and food to pair. The intimate venue quickly filled with wine loving Portlanders, there to see what the future of Northwest wines may hold…
Fausse Piste, Jesse Skiles
First up: Jesse Skiles of Fausse Piste, the minimalist. Truly PNW, Fausse Piste grapes are pulled from a variety of both Oregon and Washington vineyards, all with unique soil compositions and other differentiating growing conditions. After harvest, Skiles takes a more hands-off approach to winemaking using more natural or spontaneous fermentation processes, adding very little sulfur, and finishing with minimal filtration. Skiles’ methods also include what he calls reductive winemaking, simply, less interference in the cellar. The wine is aged on the lees for longer periods and racked once before it is bottled. It is even bottled in such a way that allows for less exposure to the elements in a straight barrel to bottle fashion.
The result? Bold wines with boisterous minerality. Nearly too complex at first taste with the entirety of the winemaking process bottled up, after allowing it to open, you can differentiate and almost experience the wine in process, vineyard to bottle. Jesse had the Fausse Piste 2010 Viognier “ma conviction” ($21) and their 2010 Roussanne “l’Ortolan” ($40) to showcase, my favorite of the two being the Viognier.
We look forward to seeing more from Fausse Piste and will be able to experience it shortly as Skiles plans to take his culinary background and open up a tasting room in SE Portland come March 2012. There, Fausse Piste wines will be paired with small plates of his creation.
Brigadoon Wine Company, Matt Shown
Next up, Brigadoon Wine Company. Starting from eight years old Matt Shown grew up working on his family’s estate vineyard, nestled in the southern Willamette Valley just northwest of Eugene, Oregon. He later developed his background in horticulture, officially becoming a winemaker for Brigadoon in 2008. At the tour, Matt shared Brigadoon’s 2010 Pinot Blanc ($16), 2010 Lylee Pinot Noir ($19) and their 2009 Taproot Pinot Noir ($32). While each wine captured the true essence of each grape varietal, the Lylee, named after owners Christopher Lyle Shown and Sheree Lee Shown, is a true Anthem find. To be released this Autumn, the silky Lylee will pair well with your cold weather culinary delights, as well as your bank account.
God King Slave Wines, Christine Collier & Chris Jiron
Lastly, God King Slave Wines. Christine Collier and Chris Jiron have been officially inducted into the young winemakers of the Willamette Valley with the start of God King Slave. Their mission: Create like a God. Command like a King. Work like a Slave. At 27 and 24 they have released their first God King Slave label wine, a Syrah-Temperanillo blend, and were there to share the unique fusion. An accidental creation of Christine’s and quite the happy accident for us, the blend is wonderfully full-bodied and fruity-rich, with a bold, peppery finish.

While we can still expect to enjoy the multitude of wines and wineries the Willamette Valley already has to offer, the excitement, flair and nuance of fresh faces, and the promise of original or rejuvenated family businesses was felt from at the Young Winemakers event. Here at the Anthem we look forward to inventive new wine concepts as these P.Y.T.s storm the Oregon wine scene.

{and hey, I can always want for more tasting rooms in Portland proper!}