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

Monday, February 27, 2012

This Is Where It's At... Mouton Noir Wines

Who's the Black Sheep, What's the Black Sheep?

Andre Mack's Mouton Noir Wines (Black Sheep in French) got its start in 2004. Andre left a career in finance for his love of wine. People leaving careers they find unfulfilling to pursue a dream is certainly admirable, but it rarely works out as well as it did for Andre. He went from a sommelier gig in San Antonio to being awarded Best Young Sommelier in America to Chef Thomas Keller's Head Sommelier with stints at both The French Laundry and Per Se. Along with managing one of the world's top wine lists and discussing pairing and menu dynamics with Keller, Andre Mack got into the winemaking game.

His cache as one of the top flight sommeliers got Andre access to both wine and fruit from prestigious vineyards and winemakers were willing to work with him to craft the kinds of wines Andre and his discerning customers appreciated. Andre left his work in the restaurant stratosphere to focus on wine and to develop his own brand, Mouton Noir.

Launching his own label Andre decided to do what he'd done best, be himself. As a Black man in charge of the wine program at America's most prestigious restaurants the status quo was never really an option for him, and he embraced it. "I was always comfortable with being the only person in the room who looked like me. In some ways, it worked to my advantage because everyone remembered me." He's someone who's embraced being himself and his label Mouton Noir wines embodies that, borrowing from Hip Hop and the skateboard culture of Generation X. Mouton Noir is about a lifestyle; clothing and domestic wines geared toward a younger set. "I gear my stuff towards young people who get this culture. Many in the wine community don’t necessarily understand these references, but the wine community could use a few new faces."

Andre's unique approach to marketing has mirrored the street team concept used to promote bands or live shows and is an overwhelming breathe of fresh air. His offerings include t-shirts encouraging the drinking of "Grower Champagne" that depict Mr. T saying "I pity the Veuve" or his Beaune Thugs design incorporating brass knuckles and a corkscrew. The current wines from Mouton Noir show a heavy Northwest leaning. The Code Noir Merlot is sourced in Washington State and there are three Oregon offerings: the Beaux Knows Pinot Noir, the Love Drunk Rose and perhaps the greatest wine moniker of all time, the O.P.P. or Other People's Pinot, (of which Andre sent me a bottle).

"The O.P.P.? How can I explain it, I'll take it frame by frame it and have you all jump and shout and saying it. O is for other, P is for people's, scratch your temple. The last P? Well, that's not that simple. It's kinda like a well, another way to say Burgundy that we grow, it's five little letters that spell Pinot." (I may have taken some liberties with that last line.) On the initial go round the OPP is predominantly bright and young fresh fruit, and even possibly a bit shy. Give it about an hour or so in the glass and the Pinot becomes a bit more signature Oregon, opening up with hints of dust and earthen aromatics along with a faint hint of clove. The more this Pinot breathes the more the classically Oregon bramble-berry profile comes to life on the palate. A blend from vineyards in the Eola-Amity, Yamhill Carlton and McMinnville AVAs at $22 it's easy to be down.

Mouton Noir image and photo of Andre Mack from 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Find, February 24

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.  

When The Clash called it quits back in 1986 there was so much bickering and bitterness between front-man Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones that "The Only Band That Mattered" split to pieces.  After over a decade of existence and the recording of arguably the greatest record of all time in London Calling they went their separate ways.  The Clash was the seminal punk rock band when it came to intellectual punk rock that took on racism, violence, government and war, if you wanted stupidity and belligerence there was always the Sex Pistols.  While we can mourn the loss of the band, and more recently the passing on of "St. Joe Strummer" the music that these two men gave us after their split gives you real insight into where the genius of the The Clash came from.  Joe Strummer went on to form Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros and Mick Jones actually turned down a reunion for his new band Big Audio Dynamite.  I present to you an example of each and will allow you to determine your own allegiances here in this week's Friday Find. (Move over Team Edward and Team Jacob.) Mick Jones was a dentist's dream.

The For A Song wines are Washington sourced and bottled by the distribution company Vinum.  The current releases include Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Syrah (I may have missed a couple).  Vinum is sourcing fruit from all over Washington's mothership AVA, the Columbia Valley and working with one of Washington's top talents in wine-making to produce these wines.  I'm not allowed to tell who the winemaker is but you better believe it's a baller who's crafting these bargain bin bomb droppers.  For $17 retail and $14 on sale when I got it the 09 For A Song Syrah is a quintessential Washington Syrah, aromatics of dark fruit and an earthy funk that give way to a brilliant dark fruit flavor profile accentuated by a bit of dust and spice.  This Syrah cost $17? You'll ask yourself.  You won't believe yourself when you answer yourself that it in fact did.  Of the bargain Syrahs that I've had in the last year it's clearly one of the top dawgs.  The wines are available at many places where Vinum has a presence, typically smaller grocery operations with impressive wine sections or specialty wine retailers.  If you don't see it where you shop ask your wine steward.  Its the perfect wine to sip on as you mourn and contemplate the loss of the world's greatest band of all time, ever.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Place Isn't Just About Terroir

by Liz Wasson Coleman
This post was previously published on the blog, Walla Walla uncovered.  The photo of the Waters Winery is courtesy of Boxwood.

It is no secret that a huge part of what makes Walla Walla a destination today is its world renowned terroir and the intense and award winning wines made with the region’s grapes. Going straight to the source – vineyards and wineries – to enjoy the fruits of this growing industry can be an intimate and rewarding experience. Many wineries offer private tours for wine club members, and of course attending seasonal barrel tastings and special winemaker dinners offered by some Walla Walla wineries guarantees you will make memories to last a lifetime.

Just as the climate in which grapes are grown is directly linked to wine quality, so is much of the experience of enjoying wine related to the environment in which you taste it. Just as the mood and interior design of a restaurant can make you want to return over and over again – or never again – so can a winery or tasting room encourage you to visit frequently and become a wine club member, or skip it next time you’re in town.

Winery facilities and tasting rooms, just as great wine, must strike a balance between elegance and approachability, familiarity and uniqueness. Practical issues must be addressed as well, such as making sure there is adequate space at the tasting bar, comfortable seating, good lighting by which to see and compare the wines, and a thorough understanding of the process of winemaking reflected in the architectural layout of a winery.

Beyond these practicalities there are the aesthetics of the space to consider, including the décor, furniture selections, layout of tables and chairs, and artwork. Wineries and tasting rooms can reflect the values of the winemaker and tell the story of the wine and the passion that goes into it. Some wines relate to themes derived from the landscape or history of the area, and these connections can be tastefully expressed in the architecture and interior design of a winery or tasting room. When done correctly, you will always connect the quality of the wine you enjoyed with the environment in which it was served.

One Walla Walla winery with a warm, welcoming tasting room is Reininger Winery. Located on an old farm just outside of town, the Reininger and Tucker families remodeled and added on to old potato barns to create their facility. With the help of architects, the owners used reclaimed materials from the existing buildings, natural materials native to the area, like zinc and basalt countertops, and dried grape vines in their spacious tasting room. The result is rustic elegance, and the unique stories behind the design elements make the space memorable. Besides enjoying the award-winning wines, customers can connect with the winery through these anecdotes and retell the stories to others, making their relationship with the winery more personal.

Another winery in Walla Walla that tells a story through its architecture is Waters Winery. With panoramic views of the Blue Mountains from the cozy fire pit and comfortable Adirondack chairs on the lawn, the winery reflects the agrarian history of the area, which used to be planted with wheat instead of grapes. With burnished concrete block and rusted, corrugated metal panels, the exterior reminds the visitor of an old barn - fitting, since grape growing is a part of agriculture. However the elegance of the interior spaces of the winery, like the tasting room, reflects the refinement and quality of the wines crafted and served in the space. Seattle-based design firm Boxwood served as architect for Waters Winery, which opened in 2007, using as many sustainable materials and practices as possible. This approach built upon the winemaker’s values and the winery’s name, which pays homage to both the flood waters that shaped the region thousands of years ago and the many rivers and streams in the area. Waters is also the winemaking home of Wines of Substance and 21 Grams, both of which are available for purchase online.  

One of the most recognized Walla Walla wineries is L’Ecole No. 41, which serves visitors their award-winning wines in an unforgettable environment. The winery opened its doors in 1983 in a historic schoolhouse in what used to be called Frenchtown, a French-Canadian settlement just outside of Walla Walla. The name of the winery was chosen to honor both the cultural heritage of the area as well as the local school district. In the tasting room, original chalkboards, light fixtures, woodwork and floors from 1915 remind visitors that they’re standing in a former classroom. The surface of the tasting bar is a blackboard where wine lovers can scribble their names without being sent to the principal’s office. L’Ecole No. 41 gives a history lesson to all of its visitors, and the winery has fans around the world, many of whom immediately connect the wine with the building in which it is created.

Wine can be enjoyed anywhere, but a space that heightens the wine drinker’s experience and tells a story about the wine or the location will help create a loyal following, and clients will stop by the winery or tasting room every time they are nearby, simply to relive the positive experiences they enjoyed the first time they were there. And when the bottle is being enjoyed at the customer’s home or favorite restaurant, the good memories of their visit to the winery will be fresh and present with every sip.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eat Something...Our Restaurant Awards

Here at the Northwest Wine Anthem there are a few things that we want to make clear.  We aren't all hoity-toity, while we may be abnormally attractive we're not into the trendy shit.  For us a restaurant needs a few things to make this list, it's not really an "awards", but people love that when you say "awards" or "top 10" so I tricked you.  What this is is a short list of places we love to eat for the following reasons: 1: They show love to Northwest wine, this means that their wine list puts the emPhasis on the right sylLable.  There are far too many restaurants here in the Northwest that aren't showing love to the real local wine scene.  California doesn't need their assistance but yet they've seemed to turn up their noses to the beautiful wines that are being made right here. 2: The wine list is thoughtful and well chosen. 3:  There are a variety of price-points, producers and varietals.  Sometimes the wine lists go a step further, they're organized by AVA or style of wine.  They might even take a moment to educate their customers on Northwest wine. 4: They have a corkage fee that is under $20.  This is huge. 5: Finally, and perhaps obviously they're serving great food, but here's our twist, it doesn't cost and arm and a leg.  It's simple, the Anthem is a blog, we're not an austere magazine that charges a $450 annual subscription for information you could find on the internet for free.  Our readers are trying to learn about and explore Northwest wines on a budget, this restaurant list should reflect that, and it does.

Washington (Really just Seattle...)

Posthumously... Picazo 717
When I began the concept of writing this post, Picazo was still open in Kennewick, Washington.  Perhaps no restaurant embodied what we would have been looking for in our "awards" here on the Anthem, quite like Picazo.  That, my personal friendship with Chef Frank and Trina make it more and more difficult to process that Picazo closed it's doors.  With perhaps the state's most educational wine list, a paltry corkage fee that charged more for wine from California and a fresh approach to wine for a younger demographic, not to mention Frank's excellent reputation for his cooking made them both a natural for the Vintner's Choice Award, which they received from the Washington Wine Commission in 2011 and this list.  All the more the loss for those of us who enjoyed a real wine country dining option.  Frank has come back with his catering business and so there is still hope for those of us who love that part of Washington.

Russell's Dining
Minutes from the Woodinville Warehouse District is Bothell's Russell's in what may be one of the strangest locations possible for a city dweller like me.  Tucked away in what is essentially an office park in an old barn you'll find Russell's.  The ethos, simple done well is well, and understatement.  Rustic American bistro style fare with fresh seafood and some of the best pan seared gnocchi to ever touch human lips.  Russell's has really tapped into the local wine scene in Woodinville, choosing even more specifically to honor those warehouse establishments.  Winemaker dinner's and winery tours as well as corkage fees aimed to support the local businesses and a wine list that tips the scales at somewhere around 90% Northwest is right up our alley.  The air is classic yet casual the food is dynamite and the place screams local wine.

Head down toward Seattle's Lake Union on Wallingford Avenue and you'll eventually come across Cantinetta. The rustic Italian bistro delivers the goods with an incredibly affordable menu, and they only serve Italian and Washington wines.  We love this.  The wine list tips with impressive giants like Quilceda Creek, Betz Family and Owen Roe's Dubrul Vineyard Cabernet.  It's clear though that they're hip to the scene with names like Reynvaan and Cedargreen making appearances.  The food is outstanding and I once again will give a nod to the gnocchi (no it's not the only thing I eat).  If there's a restaurant on this list that you may want to think about just skipping straight to dessert for it's here.  Hit the Nutella Zeppole like a ton of bricks and thank me later. Corkage is $18,

Eva Wine Bar
Eva has long been our favorite for dining out here in Seattle and as it happens they also meet all of our fake awards criteria.  The wine list is basically a split between European and Washington wines and a gang of Oregon Pinot Noir (not one California Pinot makes the list).  On the Washington side they're showing love to small producers like an Anthem favorite Domaine Pouillon of the Columbia Gorge AVA.  They even have half bottles of cool climate Syrah from Oregon's Cristom.  The ambiance is fantastic but we recommend sitting at the bar when you go.  The service is a bit slower but you get access to two different menu options.  The corkage fee is under $20 and Amy McCray can tear it up in the kitchen.  The menus change monthly with everything being seasonal and fresh.  While you don't often take this approach when you go out to eat, if you're going to Eva order the chicken.

Oregon (Really just PDX)

Located off NW Vaughn Street, Meriwether’s is a quaint, cottage-like venue situated in Northwest Portland between the trendy Nob Hill/Alphabet District and the Industrial area. Its seemingly miniature exterior does well at keeping Meriwether’s inventive, hearty and flavorful menu one of Portland’s best-kept secrets (or so I like to think). The spread is so completely Pacific Northwest featuring various renditions on sea-fare, lamb, duck, chicken, and fresh vegetables with a farm-to-table approach; most all of their ingredients locally sourced from their very own Skyline Farms, right here in Portland! According to their website, in 2011, Meriwether’s served over 15,000 pounds of produce directly from Skyline. Meriwether’s also features a fantastic happy hour menu in their bar from 3-6pm daily and keeps a well-rounded local wine selection on-hand. If you have a special bottle of your own in mind, their corkage is only $20.

Bar Avignon
Located close-in on SE Division, Bar Avignon is a gem among the many restaurants and bars that sprinkle this up-and-coming thoroughfare; a great place to steal away from the bustle and pace of the city. Both hangout and date-worthy, Bar Avignon serves up some creative cocktails and offers a collection of both local and non-local wines amidst an intimate, mellow backdrop. Their menu is adjusted weekly with eclectic new and delicious items (a variety perfect for pairing and tasting), except for the oysters and a few other regulars. My last visit fave? The roasted garlic and potato soup with thyme and crunchy croutons hit the spot for this always-cold girl in mid-winter PDX!

Bonus points: the Bar Avignon staff is knowledgeable and poised to help you select the best glass or bottle of wine for you! If you’d prefer to bring your own bottle, their corkage stands reasonably at $20.

Do you have restaurant recommendations?  Let us know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Find, February 17

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. 

Typically, in order to travel through time, you'd need some sort of Egyptian vortex, or at the very least a flux capacitor and a long straight stretch of road.  It's rare that time travel happens these days at all and if it did, it would probably happen in Utah.  As  you are all aware Utah is a very odd place, and many claim that there is a gap in the space time continum there.  In fact, in 1972, four women who were students at Southern Utah University were on their way back to campus (to make curfew) when they ended up in some sort of futuristic alien world where people drove egg shaped three wheelers, and by people, I mean aliens.  My time travel experience was particularly less exciting and anxiety provoking, well, it was a visit home during the holidays, so not that much less but it did not involve aliens, or egg shaped vehicles or Utah for that matter.  It did involve this week's Friday Find however.

The 2009 Planing Mill Red from the good people at Seven Hills Winery shook up my world and understanding of time travel.  Doing a little research on Al Gore's internet I came upon lots of technical notes regarding the blend for the 2008 Planing Mill Red.  I however had the 2009, I looked at the bottle shot again to confirm it and so upon calling the winery and telling them that I was some schmoe who writes a wine blog from Seattle, "Can you give me the technical sheets or the blend on the 09?"  They said it wasn't out yet.  I said, "Well I disagree I drank it" and she again assured me that the only vintage of the Planing Mill in the Seattle area was the 2008.  I said, well, I actually bought this wine in Pittsburgh.  Her response was that only in Pennsylvania could  you have had the 2009.  (There wasn't enough 08 remaining to match the quantities that the Pennsylvania State Liquor Board wanted to order.)

Besides time travel this wine is a great way to get in  on the ground floor of some of the good work being done over at Seven Hills Winery.  I've seen the wine priced from $13 (which I paid in Pittsburgh) to full retail here in Seattle at $17.  The blend for the 08, which you can get your hands on here in the NW is predominantly Cabernet with Syrah, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  The 09 is slightly different and what I got was aromas of smoke and tobacco along with some warms spice notes.  The palate is lots of comfortable red fruit and baking spices.  This wine is comfortable and drinkable right now, or in the future, which you can travel to by simply going to Pennsylvania. The wine is available broadly in grocery and wine retailers throughout the Northwest and I hear even in that big terrible big box store that pushed 1183 through.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Walla Walla Wine @ Pure Space in Portland, February 27

Walla Walla? Sweet!
Portlanders, prepare to transition from a rainbow of gray into a sunnier state of mind. Our Walla Walla wine friends are bringing their best to Portland on Monday, February 27th. A rare opportunity, more than 50 wineries will be pouring their celebrated wines from the Walla Walla Valley. Give your palate a respite from Pinot Noir and rekindle your love of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and the bounty of Washington’s superb white wines.
Walla Walla’s most well respected, established wineries will be represented - Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No 41, Spring Valley Vineyard, Seven Hills Winery to name just a few. Discover more from wineries we’ve mentioned here at the Anthem – Trust Cellars, Dusted Valley, Tranche Cellars, and Dunham Cellars.
Rising stars, under the radar, tried and true – classify them as you like. Get your tickets, enjoy the lofty Pure Space venue in downtown Portland, and experience for yourself why Walla Walla is establishing a presence on the worldwide stage.
A number of winemakers will be on hand at the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance event, so come prepared to ask that question you’ve always wanted to ask. Find the full list of participating wineries and purchase tickets here. Give yourself the gift of wine this Valentine’s month; the $60 price tag is a fraction of the cost for a weekend trip to Walla Walla.
Jealous Seattleites? Your day is coming. This event comes to Sodo Park on March 12th; Save the date!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Find, February 10

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.

Rules were made to be broken, or at the very least bent and this week, we're going to have to bend our own rules just a bit.  Rule bending historically has resulted in some great things.  For example the New England Patriots secretly video taped their opponents practices and they won three Super Bowl titles. In the 1986 World Cup Quarter final match, Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona used his hand, well at least partly his hand, and maybe partly God's hand to direct a goal, and his national team past the British team. Wine historically has been fairly bound by tradition, blends commonly still follow those rules, and many times this is done because of that respect for tradition as well as that Rhone varietals blended together tend to make a really nice wine.  But when you step outside of those rules, or make your own sometimes the results turn out really nice.  When it comes to value priced wines you tend to see this rule bending applied a bit more liberally.  What can happen when it's done well is a completely different wine experience.

This week's Friday Find, our first Friday Fudge is the $22 Railway Red from Bartholomew Winery.  The unconventional blend is Cabernet, Pinot Noir (yes, that's right) and throw in some Syrah and Malbec.  Bending the rules?  Bart is straight smashing them.  So by comparison, two dollars is really nothing.  The wine comes off as uber-approachable, the Pinot Noir mellows out the Cabernet structure and you get a super drinkable food friendly red blend.  This wine kind of reminds me of the Sokol Blosser blend Meditrina that was recently put to rest, may she rest in peace. A great burger or pizza wine this blend will go with damn near anything.  Go pick this up at the tasting room down in SoDo, in the old Rainier Brewery.  You can also find this blend in Bellevue at George's and the Matthews Thriftway and in Lakebay at Blend.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Look of the Label (A 3 Part Series)

This is the first of a three-part series exploring the impact wine labels and marketing have on wine sales here in the Northwest.  In today's post we hear from a designer about the importance of marketing when it comes to sales and brand identity.  Part two of the series will include the perspectives and goals of wineries when creating or working with a designer on their labels. The wrap up (Part 3) will have us hearing from retailers who have first hand experience with the impact a label can have on whether or not a wine sells.

There's an old saying we've all heard: "You can't judge a book by it's cover." The sentiment is great, but we all do it; whether it be books, people, or bottles of wine, they are picked or passed on based on how they look.

Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin professor, conducted a twenty-year study looking at the correlation between physical beauty and success. More attractive people were hired and often given promotions, raises and better job packages with greater frequency than their average or unattractive peers. Hamermesh's study indicated that people assumed that the physically attractive candidates and workers had more positive traits, and were therefore given more responsibility and rated higher on performance. The conclusion: appearances matter.

Luckily we are an attractive bunch here at the Northwest Wine Anthem and so none of us is worried, particularly since none of us is getting paid for this. However, I would say there are sharp correlations between how society treats attractive people and how most of us treat other products, for instance: bottles of wine. The most salient piece of Hamermesh's research for these purposes is that when a candidate or employee was found attractive, it was assumed that they had other positive characteristics; they were thought to be more intelligent, harder working and just simply more interesting. All of this is based on just looks.

Is it such a stretch to imagine that a more attractive wine label communicates the same possibilities? If the label is attractive might the consumer assume that it's more interesting, and just tastes better? Whether they make all those associations consciously or not, wine consumers are clearly buying wines based on the labels. Since we know that's a truism, why are there so many boring, and in many cases ugly, wine labels still out there?

The design firm Boxwood has worked with several wineries here in Washington, lending their expertise in everything from winery design to website and labels. Boxwood helped create the Obelisco Estates label, re-imagined the Pepper Bridge label and created complete branding for the super slick Wines of Substance. Joe Chauncey, Prinicpal at Boxwood, notes that the challenge often goes beyond just the label, "The issues that can get in the way of creating a label are surprisingly elemental: the winery does not know who they are, does not know what they want to say about their wine, and does not know who their customer will be."

It's folks like Joe and firms like Boxwood who work to help wineries answer these questions. According to Joe it's the design team's job to get you to pick up the wine the first time and the winemaker's responsibility to make sure you come back for more. 

When it comes to the consumer, time is short, and you've got to make your point. "A wine label must make an impression very quickly and that is exactly what you want. A package that appeals to one's sub-conscious mind where decisions are processed quickly is better than one that needs study and contemplation." Many wineries make the mistake of overloading that quick decision by either providing far too much information, or being completely unclear about what might be inside the bottle. 

"A considerable portion of brand identity, even perceived quality, is about the package. It is usually the first connection that a buyer has with the brand." According to Joe, the packaging, the label, needs to catch one's eye from a distance, and keep the gaze long enough for the wine to be picked up off the shelf.

So for the consumer who is buying wine based on a label it's easy, you pick out what appeals to you. For the winery it's a little trickier, figuring not only where that appeal lies, but also figuring out a way to communicate your identity on a small paper square in a matter of a few seconds. For wineries who have garnered a larger reputation perhaps the label is less important, but for those that consumers have never heard of, it's all they have to go on.

Wineries that don't take their label seriously do so at their own peril. This article pegs the number of people who buy wine based just on the label at 40%, conservatively. That's a huge consumer base that is largely uninformed about what's inside the bottle. Ultimately if you're in a grocery or busy wine shop where the staff may be busy or lack any sort of personal touch, the label has to do the heavy lifting and ultimately it may have to sell your wine. Sentimentality, watercolors and dogs will not.

The old adage "beauty is only skin deep" certainly applies in these circumstances.  A glossy label on a bottle of terrible wine will not fool the consumer more than once. Wineries should not shift their focus from creating quality a high quality wine to marketing something that is not up to their standards.  The point is however that most people will not have tried a wine, skin deep is as far as they'll get.  Not concerning themselves with what might appeal to the uninitiated customer is a terrible mistake. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Shot Through the Heart: Scott & Dana Frank take aim at the Loire

From Jenny Mosbacher

If you are even a casual drinker of Oregon Pinot Noir (or a casual reader of The Northwest Wine Anthem), at some point you may have familiarized yourself with the story of how this notoriously temperamental little grape came to be the dominant variety of wine grown in the state. The short of the story is that a few viticultural nonconformists in the 1960s gave the proverbial finger to prevailing agricultural wisdom by putting roots down in a little-known northern backwater called the Willamette Valley. The rest, they say, is history.

But in between then and now, a major prop for credibility of Oregon Pinot Noir and shorthand for defining it apart from other New World wine regions has been a constant allusion to the motherland of the vine: Burgundy. See, the Willamette is tied to Burgundy by an invisible latitudinal thread-- the north 45th parallel, providing a climatic similarity perfect for Pinot Noir production. Even the French themselves seem convinced by our comparison, and have since endorsed us as a kind of satellite Burgundy, exporting over big-name talents like Veronique Drouhin (Domaine Drouhin Oregon) and Dominique Lafon (Evening Land Vineyards) to make wine from Oregon fruit. Now it is commonly accepted to hear Oregon Pinot Noir described with the adjective “Burgundian,” a synecdoche for any example displaying characteristics of earthiness, acidity, and less-intense fruit than other New World Pinot counterparts.

Nearly fifty years later, Oregon stands as a premium spot for Pinot Noir, no props required. And yet, allusions and comparisons to the big “B” are still de rigueur. Luckily, the Willamette Valley still attracts those nonconformist-types. Pleased be to meet Scott & Dana Frank and their wine label, Bow & Arrow, bent on expanding your geography knowledge.

Burgundy is not the only place in France growing Pinot Noir. Bow & Arrow would like to direct your attention roughly 500km or so westward (and coincidentally, also along the 45th parallel) to the Loire Valley. Some really amazing winemaking goes on there, and were this blog not focused on the wines of Northwest North America, I would be tempted to break out pages and pages of love letters dedicated to the Loire (Muscadet, Savennières, Anjou, oh my!). The region is known for wines of great quality at accessible pricing, geared more towards a presence on the dinner table than in an investment portfolio.

And just like Oregon, the Loire is a happy home to iconoclastic vignerons willing to push the envelope, er, label . As Scott put it, “Why are we acting like Burgundy is the only region that can inform what we can do here?” Thankfully, he is providing a dissenting opinion for us to taste that happens to be delicious. Delicious things, by nature, tend to be very convincing of their cause.

The first of Bow & Arrow’s wines is a Pinot Noir from the 2010 vintage. It is sourced from a venerable site in the Chehalem Mountains, the 35-year-old Medici Vineyard. An eight-hundred-foot elevation paired with a cooler year makes for a wine with racy acidity, highlighting bright and fresh cherry fruit on the palate. There is a definite undertone of earth and funk, almost mossy quality that carries throughout. As the wine opened up over a few days it developed a darker fruit character, and the spicy tannin became more apparent, but the oak was still barely perceptible and it maintained its lightweight mouth-feel. “I suppose I could say I made it in Sancerrois style but really I just went for high elevation, cool climate Pinot from really old vines and picked early,” said Scott. As evocative as it is of wines from the Loire, the Pinot Noir shows a lot of spiritual similarity to the more delicate and nuanced Pinots from Oregon’s history, from the likes of the original rebel winemaker, David Lett of Eyrie.

We can look forward to even more breakout Loire-lovin' on the horizon as Scott plans to roll out a Bow & Arrow Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Melon de Bourgogne within the next few years. As for the rebel and his cause? The Loire aside, "[we wanted to] make the kind of wines that my wife and I and our friends like to drink. We simply want to see if you can do that here." I think we already have our answer.

Where to buy (in Portland): E&R Wines, Division Wines, Cork, Corkscru, Woodsman Market, New Seasons Market - Arbor Lodge, New Seasons Market - Concordia, New Seasons Market- Seven Corners.  Also look for it at Storyteller Wine Company and Barbur World Foods (These last two places are the goods).

Friday, February 03, 2012

Friday Find, February 3

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.

Our Friday Finds focus on bringing you a nice Northwest wine for $20, at the most.  It got me to thinking, what can you get for $20.  Doing some rigorous research on the interwebs I came across a 2003 article from Esquire magazine.  Esquire is like most men's magazines that I don't read, like GQ and maybe Details.,(Is that still around?)  Largely these magazines are written for rich people who dress like assholes. Every once in awhile, or at least once, like this time, you find a gem.  The article was about what a Jackson could get you.  "I'm not talking about buying here, by the way. When it comes to things with a price tag, a twenty doesn't get you much. You could open one of those stores called EVERYTHING FOR $20, and who the f*ck would go in there? Who needs a bunch of art calendars and T-shirts? No one wants to spend a twenty. It's a fair amount of money, for one thing. And it won't get you much, for another. Not in the way of merchandise, anyway. No, you have to give the twenty. Pass it, release it. This is about as much Zen as I can muster: Stuff your pockets full of twenties and doors will open by themselves."

More and more, the point above is right on, $20 doesn't buy what it used to, and before we get into how many people $20 will feed in a third world country, and I'm sure it's a large number, let's remember this is a wine blog.  That's not why we're here.  What $20, on the nose buys you this week is a Willamette Valley Cuvee, that's blend for the uninitiated from Dayton, Oregon's Seufert Winery.  (We'll have a full feature on them in the next little while.)  First off, this is a 2007, what was once a dogged vintage is now really coming into form.  This wine is all kinds of elegant fruit, blackberries and raspberries, earth and just a hint of spice.  The aromatics are true to Oregon's beautifully nuanced Pinot.  Crafted from six different vineyard sites in the North Willamette Valley this wine over delivers on value, you could easily confuse it for a wine nearly twice the price.  It can be had on their website and in the tasting room  and a few choice locations.  Salem's West Side Wine Shop, Portland has it at Garrison Fine Wines and Korkage and you can find it at the Wilsonville Fred Meyer too.  In any case get some.

What does $40 get you?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Oregon Chardonnay: Chardonnay for the Haters

After several bad experiences with the more traditional types, I had taken to avoiding Chardonnays like those Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellies. As many of us believe here on the Anthem, I prefer to simply drink what I like and thus, Chardonnay made only a cameo on my developing palate.

It did irk me, however, to have the empty space, especially given that Chardonnay was almost all I knew of wine….. before I started actually drinking it of course. Sharrr – don – nay. Pre-wine-me loved how it rolled of the tongue. It sounded mature and elegant, like champagne. “I’ll have the shar – don – nay, please,” I’d practice. So when I was allowed the opportunity to attend the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium hosted by Red Ridge Farms, I jumped at the chance to learn more, taste more and hopefully salvage this classic for myself and fellow skeptics...

The symposium was led by Master Sommelier Erica Landon, who took us through the history of the grape varietal and factors leading to its successes here in Oregon. Erica was flanked by a cross-section of Willamette Valley winemakers comprised of Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards, Dave Paige of Adelsheim Vineyard, Jesse Lange of Lange Estate Winery, Marcus Goodfellow of Matello Wine, and Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land Vineyards. The panelists offered varied opinions on methodology, cooperage and the future of Chardonnay in Oregon, and supplied samplings of some of their best Chardonnays.

Until recently, Oregon Chardonnay has been somewhat overlooked – shadowed by the robust Pinot Noirs of the region. Given the success of Pinot Noir it’s no surprise that Chardonnay, with vines that flower and ripen simultaneously, has begun to flourish and turn out bright, bold, and equally enticing flavors.

Upon tasting I was pleased to discover that the heavy, buttery Chardonnay I expected has been crafted quite oppositely by our Oregon winemakers. In their own ways, each Chardonnay offered flavors on par with the fresh, crisp trends of our Northwest food preferences – imagine the pairings! Chardonnay beginners (or haters) should refer specifically to wines number one, two and four, for the clearest representation of what Oregon Chardonnay has to offer.

(1) 2009 Ponzi – Willamette Valley: Tropical fruit on the nose with a mid-palate of pineapple and papaya. A delicate burst sweetness with a quick puckery finish.
(2) 2010 Durant Vineyard, Lark Vineyard, Dundee Hills: Mild fruit on the nose and palate – crisp acidity and light minerality.
(3) 2010 Adelsheim, Caitlin’s Reserve, Willamette Valley: Citrus and acetone on the nose, overly bright and puckery upon first taste – at best when paired with food or allowed to sit open prior to drinking.
(4) 2010 Lange Estate, Three Hills Cuvee, Willamette Valley: Subtle tangy citrus and sweet peach on the nose. Mostly mild fruit and very crisp.
(5) 2010 Matello, Richard’s Cuvee, Ribbon Ridge: Buttery lobster on the nose, surprisingly bright and fruity on the palate.
(6) 2008 Evening Land, La Source, Seven Springs Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills: The Malbec of Chardonnays! I swear. Initially off-putting on the nose – a peppery pastrami, however, if allowed to sit out this wine evolves into a very unique, oaky, almost smokey version of Chardonnay.

Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land described being ‘shocked’ when she was first pouring in Oregon tasting rooms as she experienced many visitors denying a Chardonnay taste. If this is you (this was me), think again. If you’re in an Oregon tasting room, many of these Chardonnays will have you re-evaluating and pining for summer at first sip.

Red Ridge Farms in located in the Dundee Hills, amid several other vineyards and tasting rooms. Much of the year the farm is lush with olive trees, vines and lavender, and provides rustic accommodations for a wedding or weekend getaway. The quaint gift shop offers tastings of the latest Durant Vineyards selections, and Red Ridge Farms’ very own Olive Oil Tasting Bar, with varied and unique oil flavors created right on property! Be sure to check out the new Durant Vineyards tasting room, slated to open in late spring of this year.