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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Unwine'd Friday Find, March 30

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.

For about the next four weeks or so we'll be bringing you the Unwine'd Friday Find, or an under $20 wine from one of the 100 Oregon wineries pouring at the Unwine'd Celebrate Oregon Wine event on April 29th. In fact, we're giving away tickets to the event and you can learn more about that contest by heading over to our Facebook page.

The Unwine'd event is Oregon's biggest consumer tasting event ever and will be hosted at the Left Bank Annex just across the bridge from downtown Portland on, believe it or not the left bank of the Willamette. The event will of course be about wine tasting, and not just Pinot Noir folks, but it offers guests an opportunity to explore the varied bounty of Oregon from the Walla Walla Valley, yes, in Oregon to the Rogue Valley at the state's southern end. In addition to the variety of wines, there will be food served up by some of the best culinarians that PDX and the Willamette Valley have to offer. From the legendary Joel Palmer House to Portland's Park Kitchen and the gem of the Columbia Gorge, Nora's Table. Oh and all the wines being poured, they'll also be for sale.

In addition to the wine and food there will be two educational components, an Oregon versus the World Pinot Noir tasting and a seminar on Oregon's white wines, which brings us to today's Friday Find. Brooks Winery will be pouring their wines at Unwine'd and they have developed a fantastic reputation for the Riesling and Pinot Noir that they produce.

A family winery with a compelling and heartfelt story Brooks produces wines in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. Today's find is their wicked cool white blend the Amycas. Amycas is a blend that certainly nods to Alsace with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Riesling all in the mix. The wine offers up so many varied and complex aromatics it's dizzying. In fact, if there was a wine that you might just sit around and bury your nose in the glass, this is it. Floral aromatics mix with apricot, peach skin and green apple, there's an underlying tone of sweetness as well. The wine delivers as much fun when it comes to the palate as well. Loads of minerality, flavors of sweet hay and honey as well as melon and ripe apricots lead into a mouth-filling white wine with both supple roundness and a crisp finish. For $15 you've got yourself a beautiful food friendly wine or one to while away those long Northwest summer day, which will come eventually. Right? In any case get your Unwine'd tickets and just pretend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

509 Wines... All About the 206

As the Washington wine industry blossoms to over 700 labels even those most "in the know" can have a hard time keeping up. For the uninitiated who want to support their local or regional wines it can be down right overwhelming. As the wine industry in Washington has continued to grow, its newer proprietors have learned from their predecessors, helping them achieve success with varietal selection, business models and often times more sophisticated labeling. For one Fremont winery, the industry growth has inspired a new look that's a stroke of genius.

As the Washington wine industry grows, 509 Wine is in their 6th vintage with the 2010 whites. They've sought to set down roots in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood and try communicate that sense of place through their wines. 509 Wine Company has called Seattle, and more locally Fremont, home for a few years now. Their current releases have been a re-branding of sorts. After initially coming out of the gates with an Elephant Mountain Merlot and Red Mountain Cabernet, 509 began to produce Rhone varietals, specifically Viognier and Syrah sourced from the Walla Walla Valley. With these most recent releases they've changed up some of their sourcing but have also expanded their offering and re-branded with that urban Seattle focus.

Kevin Conroy; owner says these current releases represent the new focus for the 509 label: "Fremont is where I really want to take the brand." Their Fremont tasting room is hopping each Friday throughout the year and sees extended hours during the summer and their new label is really a new opportunity for 509 to hone in on their urban appeal. With their Cotes du Fremont Rose and newly labeled Clos de Seattle Viognier, they're primed to attract new wine drinkers looking for a label with which they can identify.

If Washington wine drinkers want to drink locally, these labels give them an opportunity to nail it down to their neighborhood. The labels are fun and eye-catching and the wines are well made. In addition to the new look 509 has expanded to appeal to a broader audience. These most recent releases include a Cabernet, Grenache/Syrah/Mouvedre blend, the Mouvedre Rose, Syrah and Viognier. All of the wines have moved towards the broader Columbia Valley designation as well.

The 2009 Roots Syrah is reflective of the quality Syrah that 509 has been making for the past few years. The wine delivers classically Washington Syrah aromatics with dark fruit, clove and a hint of barrel spice. The palate comes through with ripe dark cherries, cinnamon and a touch of white pepper.

2009 Coq au Vin is a meaty, hearty Rhone style blend. Earthen aromatics give way to mouthfuls of dark fruit and baking spices. The dark hued wine is all black fruit and black pepper.

The 2010 Cotes du Fremont Rose is not as fruit forward as the 2009 release, instead exhibiting more subdued aromatics (a little time with the bottle open helps here), hints of strawberry and plum blossom. The palate is lots of stoney minerality, straw and a hint of citrus. The wine has a nice crisp acidity and will be great compliment to summer fare.

The 2010 Clos de Seattle Viognier has the new label but exhibits the same lovely aromatics I've come to rely on from the 509 Viognier. Peach skin and honeysuckle aromatics lead into a wine with a bit more minerality than fruit. Hints of orange zest and pear are followed more strongly by notes of stone and spring grass. Nice acidity and finish on the wine.

These wines were provided as samples.

Monday, March 26, 2012

All of Oregon is on Display: Unwine'd Celebrate Oregon Wine

Governor John Kitzhaber declared May of 2012 to be "Oregon Wine Month," so it's appropriate to kick it off with an event on April 29th. Portland's Left Bank Annex will host a tasting event for Oregon wine unlike any other, showcasing one hundred wineries representing the variety of the state, from the Columbia Gorge's Phelps Creek Vineyards to the far reaches of Southern Oregon and Roxy Ann. Oregon wine is more than just Pinot Noir and it's more than just terroir driven perfection, it's a huge business for the state. The wine industry in Oregon is 13,500 jobs at 850 vineyards over 20,000 acres and 420 wineries. It's a big deal. It's a $2.7 billion dollar a year big deal.

What should be gleaned from all those numbers is that it's time for Oregon to not just embrace its wine industry but to celebrate it. So the Oregon Wine Board in cooperation with some fantastic partners is helping us do just that with the Unwine'd; Celebrate Oregon Wine event.

In addition to all the wine, more than a dozen restaurants from Portland, the Willamette Valley and Southwest Washington will be providing fantastic food to pair with your Pinot,Tempranillo, or Syrah. Many of the restaurants are also recognized by the Oregon Wine Board for their Superior Cellars, an award that acknowledges the support from local restaurants when it comes to having a significant amount of local wine on their lists.

The real goal of an event like Unwine'd, and a major mission of the Oregon Wine Board, is not world domination but rather to make Oregon wine the first choice of any wine drinker in Oregon. If Oregon residents are choosing, asking for and buying Oregon wine then the whole mission is a success. Wine geekery aside, there are so many wine drinkers close to home who don't know much about Oregon wine and certainly aren't aware of the wide variety of wines produced in the state. Unwine'd is an event that can not only provide great tasting entertainment but also a bit of wisdom. Two educational components include a Oregon Meets the World Pinot Noir tasting brought to you by our friends at IPNC and an Oregon white wine tasting. Oregon white wines like Riesling and Chardonnay are of a class of some of the best in the world and I urge to try as many as you can.  Tickets are $50 and come with a souvenir glass. Get them here.

Our recommendation to you is to take the time to Unwine'd on April 29th. We're one of the media sponsors for the event and we're excited to be partnering with the Oregon Wine Board. To that end you'll see a few things coming up here on the Anthem. First is a ticket giveaway. Check and like our Facebook page (here) all week where we'll be asking three Oregon wine related trivia questions. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, the contest ends at 7pm on the 30th of March 2012. Additionally for the next little while we'll be featuring Unwine'd Friday Find where our usual Friday Find will highlight a winery pouring at the event. Come Unwine'd in Portland everybody.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Plan of Attack: Taste Washington Strategies

Taste Washington is a wine tasting extravaganza and it's not for the faint of heart. With 200 Washington wineries in attendance, this is serious tasting business. Multiply the number of wineries (200) by the average number of wines each table will pour (2 or 3) and the numbers start to get serious. What's clear is that this is perhaps the greatest wine tasting event in the free world and given that the un-free world probably doesn't have any wine tastings, maybe just the world. I already mentioned the 200 wineries, but there's also an oyster bar, a desert bar, beer, coffee, an incredible array of some of Washington's finest chefs and restaurants and chef demonstrations.

What all of this means, however, is that you would be ill-advised to show up at Taste Washington without a plan; you would be eaten alive. Didn't you read the previous paragraph? It's serious. Here's the thing, it's a week out and you need a game plan if you're going to do this right. Luckily for you, we're here to help.

The best way to approach Taste Washington is to have a strategy. I would hazard a guess and say that you're not very strategic. I mean, maybe you do okay, but you're not as strategic as, say, a General. My point being there's a lot of military history, you're busy, let's just borrow what's worked well for them. You're far from Sun Tzu and General Patton; you're more a General Tso's than anything. So, ladies and germs we bring you the Anthem Military Strategy Guide to Taste Washington:

-Blitzkrieg: German for "Lightning war" is the use of speed, maneuvering and the shock of sudden attack at an enemies fortifications. It was often thought of as a mechanized war maneuver. Since tanks are frowned upon in the CenturyLink Event Center (if not outright illegal), we've pared it down considerably. Basically, the Taste Washington Blitzkrieg has you just drinking Germanic varietals. I count 26 of them from just the website. Largely these are Rieslings with a handful of Gewurztraminers. Some notable producers include a Riesling from Cote Bonneville, the always fantastic Riesling from O-S, one from Washington's newest AVA, Naches Heights Vineyards, and one I'm dying to try from Figgins Family.

-Scorched Earth: typically the military strategy by which a force goes about destroying anything that might be of use to the enemy, including roads, bridges, food sources etc. Because this is a wine tasting and not an actual attack on anyone, we're going to change it up. Go after the high alcohol wines or "hot" wines, (get it? 'scorched'). Approach each table and ask, "I'd like to try your highest ABV wines." Or you could simply say "if it's below 15% then I ain't drinking it." You will absolutely get strange looks and will likely be drinking a lot of Zinfandels and Primitivos but with alcohol percentages creeping up you'll also likely be drinking several of the Bourdeaux varietals and sadly some Syrah as well. The thing is, there are some really well made wines with higher alcohol percentages where the high alcohol is so well integrated that it's damn near imperceptible. While on its face this seems like a bit crazy, it'll give you a sense of how Washington is dealing with its rising alcohol issue. I highly recommend that you spit.

The Flying V: a strategy developed by perhaps one of the greatest minds of warfare, Alexander the Great. When times were simpler and people fought hand-to-hand, this tactic was used to push into enemy lines. People would form into the shape of a V or wedge and force their way through enemy fortifications. In our version, again, no violence: you're only drinking Viognier. Lucky for you Washington produces some of the most beautiful examples of Viognier in the New World and arguably anywhere. In this strategy we're also allowing White Rhone blends that include Viognier. My count includes 10 such wines being poured. In particular, I'd love to take a gander at that V Neck Viognier from our friends at El Corazon Winery.

Tactical Positioning: from Sun Tzu's timeless classic The Art of War comes the concept of defending existing positions until one is capable of advancing. The Taste Washington version of this is to stick to the varietals that you know you love. If you love Merlot, Miles be damned, then try as many Merlots as you can get your hands on. If you're a big fan of Washington Syrah
(and why wouldn't you be?), then go ahead and stick to Syrah. While staying comfortable is nice don't forget the "advancing" component. If you love Syrah, try some Grenache and Mouvedre as well, stretch your legs a little.

Shock & Awe: is the last and least recommended approach. One may go about this approach by drinking as much wine as possible, exhibiting boorish behavior until everyone around is thoroughly shocked. Don't be that guy.

At the end of the day, Taste Washington is great opportunity to sample some of the best wines in Washington State. Many of the people pouring at the event made those wines they're pouring you. Talking to the winemakers, the winery staff and the many guests and you might be talking to Bob Betz or Dick Boushey. Learn what makes Washington special and certainly, don't miss out on the oyster bar.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Should Spring Decide to Show Up; The Willamette Valley is Ready

A couple days ago I woke up to snow. It's like mid to late-ish March here. Why are there snow flakes? I live in Seattle, at like 4 feet above sea level, it's warm, or it's supposed to be. This is nonsensical.

Spring is supposed to be coming upon us and if it ever gets here there are a bevy of Oregon Wine events to greet it. Luckily for us, and perhaps more importantly, these events will go off in spite of the weather. Oregon Wine Month was declared for the month of May and we'll have lots of Oregon wine to talk about in the next few weeks. There are so many events and some we will highlight more in-depth. What I do want to bring your attention to though is that the culminating event, Unwine'd Celebrate Oregon Wine on April 29th is being sponsored by the good, and well dressed folks here at the Anthem. Between now and then you'll have lots of opportunities to learn about Oregon wine, attend some of these more regionally focused events and also win tickets to Unwine'd. We'll be giving away two pairs actually.

March 24th: Equinox in the Eola Amity Hills
The barrage of Oregon wine events kicks off on March 24th in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA for Equinox at Zenith Vineyard. The event will feature 30 Eola-Amity wineries and food from local establishments including the legendary Joel Palmer House. The Eola-Amity AVA is the largest of the Willamette AVAs but because it's also the farthest south it's not as often visited. Take this opportunity to make the drive down and hit many of the wineries in one fell swoop. Details and ticket information are here.

March 31st & April 1st: North Willamette Wine Trail
From the south end of the Willamette Valley to the northern tip the North Willamette Vintners welcome you to two days of tasting on the North Willamette Wine Trail. 24 area wineries welcome you to their tasting rooms, providing samples from the barrel, reserve bottlings or new releases. Willamette Valley stalwarts like Cooper Mountain and Ponzi alongside new and undiscovered gems will be showing their wines. There are a series of wine education seminars on the trail including topics like: biodynamics, soil composition in vineyards as well as blending trials at Apolloni and a sake and wine tasting at Sake One. Get your tickets and more details here.

April 1st: Passport to Dundee Hills
Beginning April 1st and lasting the entire month (on weekends) is the Passport to Dundee Hills. $20 gets you discounted tastings and access to many of the state's best known wineries throughout the month of April. Some of the biggest names in Pinot Noir such as Domaine Drouhin, Eyrie Vineyards, Sokol Blosser and my favorite and lesser known Dundee producer Anderson Family Vineyard will be participating. Save $5 on the passport by liking them on Facebook and take advantage of savings at local wineshops, restaurants and cafes as well. Passports and details are here.

April 9th: Columbia Gorge Wineries Passport
The Gorge wineries come to Portland's Melody Ballroom for a Monday of wine tasting. The event is 4-7pm and will feature 28 wineries. You'd be smart to note that this is not a Willamette Valley tasting event but rather the Gorge represents the transition zone between the cool climate of the Willamette and the drier Columbia Valley. What the Gorge AVA does offer is "A world of wine in forty miles." With varietal variance, from Zinfandel to Dolceto, Pinot Noir to Albarino. Tickets and more information here.

April 19th: Mountains to Metro
My favorite AVA in all of Oregon has to be the Chehalem Mountain AVA, and that very AVA and it's close neighbor Ribbon Ridge are teaming up to bring their terroir driven wines to both the hipster and metrosexual crowd in Portland's The Governor Hotel from 5-9 on the 19th. "Emphasis will be placed on the appellation’s unique blend of soils, elevation range and corresponding flavor profiles for its many grape types." For my money the most uniquely site specific Pinots in Oregon. Tickets and details can be had here.

April 29th: Unwine'd Celebrate Oregon Wine
On April 29th in Portland's Left Bank Annex Unwine'd will allow you to fully explore all that this state offers. Wineries from many of the Willamette Valley AVAs, Southern Oregon, the Gorge and the Walla Walla Valley, on the Oregon side will give you the perfect Oregon Wine 101 opportunity. In addition the Superior Cellar Awards which acknowledges some of Oregon's finest restaurants with a commitment to Oregon Wine will also allow guests the opportunity to sample their perfectly paired bites to eat. Over 100 wineries, paired plates, educational seminars and the ability to purchase the wine you tasted their on site make this first annual Unwine'd an event not to miss. This event will very likely sell out quickly, so grab your tickets here or pay attention to the Anthem's facebook page as we'll be giving away a few.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Big Table Farm: Living the Dream

There is something endearing about a sweet newborn baby with a surprising shock of black hair. Equally unexpected is the bright pink Victorian home that sits among the rolling hills and green pastures at Big Table Farm. Built in 1900, this distinctive house belongs to Brian Marcy, Clare Carver and their dogs, Clementine and Levi. A homestead like setting, the 70 acre farm in Gaston, Oregon has a vegetable garden, chickens, pigs, cattle and draft horses. Modeled after the sustainable farming practices in Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, Brian and Clare endeavor to create a setting where the farm animals have a quality life, each day a good day - at least until the time comes, for some, to become a quality meal, making someone else's day very good. The view from the house looks out toward a sloping hillside of trees. They hope to eventually plant a vineyard in this sedimentary soil.

Brian and Clare set out from California in 2006 to find a place just like this – their own land where they could plant a vineyard and live a sustainable life. This is a dream come true, but it entails full days, hard work and dedication. Brian is the winemaker, and began his winemaking career in Napa around 1996. He also spent time in Australia making wine. For the time being, they source grapes from remarkable vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Brian works closely with the vineyards to see the best possible quality. Marketing and business tasks add to the list of responsibilities.

Clare also wears many hats, one being that of an artist/graphic designer. She is an accomplished fine art painter, and many of her paintings, depicting daily farm life, dress the interior walls of their home. Her studio occupies part of the main floor. The wine labels showcase her exquisite artwork. Each letterpress label is applied to the wine bottles by hand. She has designed award winning labels for many other wineries. Much of her daily routine is filled with farm chores and caring for the animals. Some animals make cameo appearances on the wine labels. All of this, and she still finds time for competitive plowing with the draft horses.

Besides functioning as an office and art studio, the pink Victorian is also a tasting room on occasion. A long, tall table draped in red and white linens serves as a tasting bar in their front room. First up is a Pinot Gris – and, surprise, it is orange! The color comes from being fermented with the skins for a time before pressing off the juice. This is a unique wine that pairs wonderfully with crab and seafood. The grapes come from the Wirtz Vineyard. Some of this site’s other vines were planted in the 1960s. Next is a dry Riesling, the grapes coming from Brooks Estate Vineyard, another site with areas of older vines, original plantings dating back to the 1970s.

The three 2010 Pinot Noirs each have their own virtues. The first is a Willamette Valley Pinot, a blend from the Johan, Wirtz and Pelos Sandberg Vineyards. This approachable wine is a richer style Pinot, nicely balanced with spicy flavors. Second is the Pelos Sandberg Pinot Noir from Don Sandberg’s vineyard, a meticulously cared for site which he tirelessly oversees. Opulent red fruit flavors and tannin structure harmonize well. The third is sourced from the Resonance Vineyard and is comprised of 3 clones: Pommard, 777 and Wadenswil. Resonance Vineyard wines have an ethereal quality to them, and this is no exception. Want a tip for distinguishing which Pinot is which by simply looking at the label artwork? Each vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot is always adorned with an illustration of the farm’s pigs. The Pelos Sandberg Pinot has an illustration of a hoe, a nod to Don Sandberg and his attentiveness in the vineyard.  The Resonance illustration displays one of the farm’s cattle.

The Syrah is the only wine made from California grapes - grown at White Hawk Vineyard. A few others in the Willamette Valley source grapes from this vineyard as well. This wine has great depth without heft. Brian uses some whole cluster fermentation in all of these unfined and unfiltered wines, delivering complex layers and distinction. All the wines are winners. A wide range of accolades have been published. Order directly from Big Table Farm, or call Storyteller Wine in Portland to check limited availability.

Brian and Clare’s lifestyle is one of quality: their cause, their wine and who they are. They have an appreciation for many of life's facets that are overlooked in our day to day comings and goings. It is not an easy life, but it is a rewarding and satisfying one. If you find yourself needing a change of scenery and a beautiful drive through wine country, give them a call. Make plans to visit Big Table Farm for some of their wine. See for yourself the best Oregon has to offer.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Find, March 16

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

The secret and intertwined histories of the Illuminati and Freemasonry are a long and debated topic.  While the Freemason organizations have roots dating to the 14th century and the Illuminati organization was born several hundred years later in Bavaria.  What we don't know will probably turn our hair white, rumors of the important members of the world's governments, America's founding fathers and Galileo can only assure us all that what we think we know is really just a giant lie fabricated by the world's great intellectuals to avert our eyes from the ugly reality that we may just be an organ farm for those in control.  Luckily great writers like Dan Brown have uncovered all of this ugliness for us.  What we can be certain of is that Tupac is alive and Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were all apart of the Masonic Knights of the Templar, there have been countless assassinations and government overthrows including the "heart attacks" of great pass rushing defensive end Reggie White, the "accidental death" of Dale Earnhardt and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  All of these at the hands of the evil and manipulating Illuminati.

Whether any of the folks at Woodinville's Robert Ramsay Cellars is privy to any of this inside information we'll likely never know.  Their secret location within the warehouse district has never actually been seen by human eyes.  Only the wolves know how to find it.  Their Mason's Red however is an example of the kind of reach that the Iluminati has.  All of this wealth for only $18, clearly, the Illuminati are at work here.  Nearly all Syrah with a nice kiss of Viognier, and only the slightest peck on the cheek of Mouvedre.  The Columbia Valley designate is made up of Boushey & McKinley Springs fruit.  Made to be a food friendly wine with berry and clove aromatics. On the palate this is a fruit forward blend, with cherry and black berry notes and a peppery finish. Go ahead and buy some, just hope the Illuminati aren't watching you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stoller Vineyards; A Star has Risen

While she's not new to the scene, winemaker Melissa Burr  is a rising star in the Willamette Valley, or maybe a legitimate star risen.  Despite her youth, she's been at it quite awhile now with 2011 representing her ninth vintage.  It's fair to say however that the sky is the limit for both Melissa and Stoller Vineyards.

Situated at the south end of the Dundee Hills Stoller Vineyards is planted on what was the largest turkey farm in Oregon until the late 1980s.  The turkey farm gave way to vineyard rows planted in 1995 through 1997.  Largely Pinot Noir which was sold to other winemakers.  Harry Peterson-Nedry at Chehalem began making a proprietary label for Bill and Cathy Stoller early on and still produces a  Stoller vineyard designate Pinot Noir.  (The Stoller family are co-owners and partners with Harry in Chehalem.)  As the request for the private label grew each year Harry finally recommended that Bill start a separate label in Stoller.  The Stoller wines were produced at the Chehalem site until 2005 when they designed and built a LEED certified production facility on the Dundee Hills property.

Melissa's intrerest in wine began at an organic grocery store.  The way many of us may discover wine for the first time she just happened to be there for a wine tasting.  Her interest in naturopathy and science and her husband's background in agriculture led them both into the wine business.  Her husband has successfully pursued viticulture while she has gone into wine production.  Very early on while working a harvest at Cooper Mountain the production staff quit during harvest, this bit of craziness was a stroke of luck for Melissa's winemaking development.  Her and the vineyard crew had to make the wine.  So she did.

That learning by doing and a self taught ethic has played a huge role in Melissa's development as a winemaker.  She's also learned a lot from great teachers like Harry at Chehalem, as well as long time Oregon winemaker Rich Cushman and Ray Walsh who worked as a consultant for Stoller early on.  Putting the time in, developing her own style and getting to know the fruit she's working with Melissa has really come into her own.  "I have enough experience now that I've become confident in my knowledge of our vineyard site."

As a result you're hearing more and more people, particularly those who get it gushing over the Stoller portfolio.  Melissa's emphasis is really on the site and what it produces.  Earthy Pinot Noir with complex fruit characteristics.  The warmer site in the south end of the Dundee Hills, Stoller is often first to harvest in warmer vintages.  With the good fortune of a reliable site, Melissa goes about presenting each vintage as best she can.

What's clear in the wines, is Melissa is a legit talent.  As the Willamette Valley has begun to develop a reputation for the incredible Chardonnay it's capable of producing, the Stoller Chardonnay stands as one of it's shining examples.

2009 Stoller Chardonnay is done with 100% French Oak, the wine did not undergo maloactic fermentation.  The focus for Melissa was producing a wine that balanced the acid to oak influence on the wine.  She dialed it in.  An elegant, yet far from demure Chardonnay the wine presents Old World aromatics of sliced apple, fresh baked bread and honey.  The wine retains a refined fruit character but was complimented by neutral oak barrel fermentation, the result is nuanced green apple, honey and hazelnut flavors. $28

2009 JV Pinot Noir is an incredibly approachable yet substantial Pinot Noir at a very approachable  price. The oak makes an appearance on the aromatics, alongside fresh bramble berries presenting that signature "fresh fruit" Oregon Pinot Noir.  A fruit forward palate, with dusty berries, cedar notes and barrel spice finish out the wine prices at a very friendly $25.

2008 SV Pinot Noir, from the older vines on the Stoller vineyard comes a bit of a broad shouldered Pinot Noir. 40% new oak results in toasty aromatics that combine with signature Oregon forest floor aromas. Flavors of black cherry, Italian plum and fennel stand out. The wine is fills up the mouth and delivers a long standing finish. $40

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Rusty Grape By Any Other Name...

Photo Credit: Paul Freeman

There's an old adage that warns "Don't judge a book by its cover." Battle Ground, Washington, a sleepy enclave in Southwest Washington known locally for its stunning volunteer-constructed contributions to the Portland Rose Parade and its summer Harvest Days festival, knows a thing or two about that expression. For there is no battle ground in Battle Ground, you see.

Quick history detour: Captain Strong convinced Klickitat Chief Umtuch and his tribe to return to nearby Fort Vancouver without a single shot being fired. For his efforts: he was the only casualty of the encounter - some say by soldier, some say by accidental friendly fire. The Klickitat agreed to return to Fort Vancouver after burying their fallen Chief. In the days between, as Strong returned empty-handed, his comrades at Fort Vancouver mockingly referred to the site as "Strong's Battle Ground". A good joke dies hard, and though Strong's (and Umtuch's) name lives on in the form of an elementary school, the city maintained the once mocking (now simply interesting) moniker of Battle Ground.

Battle Ground Lake

It's fitting then, that Battle Ground plays host to a winery that embodies that adage as well: on name alone, Rusty Grape Vineyards might not whet your palette. But thanks to owners Jeremy and Heather Brown, they are making their mark and helping to anchor a burgeoning Southwest Washington wine scene...and giving 'Couve dwellers a reason to get a little rural. In an unexpected location - outside of downtown and near homes, cows and acreage, Rusty Grape has made themselves a go-to stop for a night on the town, or rather, past the town.

They've done so, in no small part, due to their support of talented local musicians. And - what's a good story without a motif? - one such regular performer adds to the case of Books vs. Covers. Her name is Britnee - you may have seen her being compared to another Brittany after an emotional and ass-kicking performance on the American Idol Portland auditions. They share a name, single-motherhood, and aesthetic qualities (think Toxic-era Spears), but that's where the similarities end. Audiences at the Rusty Grape have known for awhile that Ms. Kellogg can wail, without any help from auto-tune.

For over a year, Britnee has played acoustic sets at the Rusty Grape every few months. Though her American Idol experience has ended, Britnee has seen her stock rise with features on Extra, E! and even People online, but her next few shows are back at the place that has shown her support from the get-go. What keeps her coming back? Britnee said, "It's great when small venues are willing to have performers and entertainment, especially in Battle Ground. The owners are wonderful, and really make it feel comfortable. The guests also feel comfortable and it's a lot of fun."

While she may look like the pop princess, Britnee's music is a far cry from dance beats and over-produced vocals. In preparation for her recent March 1 and upcoming April 7 shows at Rusty Grape, she's been putting a full band together, fusing her love of country music with the depth of catalogue she's been able to explore with her other band, Five Guys Named Moe. She suggests sipping on the Pinot Noir if you can get your hands on it, and settle in for fun. When asked what to expect she told me to picture "singing Rihanna and there's a fiddle & a's just going to be fun for people." While not all of Rusty Grape's performer's are rubbing elbows with Ryan Seacrest, Jeremy and Heather's support is giving local musicians a great venue, and Clark County residents a reason to stay on the Washington side of the river for their night out.

In a small area not known for its vineyards, it takes creativity and ingenuity to get noticed. Rusty Grape has steadily made moves to bring people to their wines, and then let the wine and the venue do the talking. What began as a small tasting expanded to a go-to site for weddings in the area. On those nice Pacific NW summer evenings we try not to tell tourists about, they host Movies on the Lawn. Partnerships with local restaurants have provided a mutually beneficial way to get on the radar with new audiences. And - tapping in to the secret that many of us runners like to indulge in a post-race drink - they partnered with smaller Battle Ground wineries to put on the inaugural
Wine Country Run last fall.

While creativity in introducing local audiences to their wine may get folks in the door once, it's the quality of their wine that keeps people coming back. On a hot summer day, patrons soak up sun on the back patio with a glass of the Moto Rouge Rose, a crisp and lightly citrusy wine that walks the fine line between dry and sweet. In the cooler months, their 100% Clark County Pinot Noir is like a comforting old friend for Pacific Northwesterners familiar with the varietal. Southwest Washington, sharing a watery border with Oregon, frequently lends itself to comparison, and Rusty Grape has hopes that their Pinot will follow the tradition set by their friends south of the Columbia.

Perhaps in a nod to southern neighbor Portland's ironic and iconic hipsters, Rusty Grape has chosen their funky moniker (though Jeremy and Heather say they just liked the way it sounds). One thing is certain; they are constantly proving they're letting themselves get anything but rusty.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Find, March 9

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

Today’s Friday Find is a delicious segue from winter into spring. Assuming we have seen the last of winter’s weather, our thoughts may now turn toward potting soil, sandal weather and wishfully thinking about sunglasses. Dare we dream of playing Frisbee on the beach, feasting on the freshest of seafood bounty while watching the blazing orange sunset in all its glory? Let us not get ahead of ourselves. As marvelous Northwest whites and rosés are being bottled as we speak, summer is sure to be delicious.

But, what about today? This Friday Find is the answer. The 2010 Harper Voit Surlie Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc is Drew Voit’s gift to all of us for surviving the soggy winter. The Surlie moniker refers to the wine being aged sur lie which means “on the lees”, imparting a very enjoyable creaminess on the palate. Neutral oak barrels were used for fermentation. The wine is crisp and light, yet creamy, lithe. Imagine a spoonful of lemon curd topped off with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and lime zest – citrusy, bright, with a smooth texture. A tiny touch of smokiness strikes a balance with the pineapple laced acidity.

You may have heard Drew Voit's name before. The winery's website tells us why. "Previously the Associate Winemaker at Domaine Serene Winery, Drew currently oversees winemaking and vineyard management for the renowned Shea Cellars in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Harper Voit is his private label and the ultimate expression of the sites he has hand-selected from among the best in the new world." 

Harper Voit labels are subtle and beautiful. Buying a bottle of wine for a label is not the way to go, but a beautiful expression on the outside goes a long way. As readers of the Wine Anthem, you may have recently read the first of our 3 part series titled The Look of the Label. Wineries that produce not only an excellent bottle of wine, but one that is pleasingly packaged will no doubt reap the benefits in sales. Tandy and Drew Voit have done an exquisite job with this wine inside and out. The Anthem will soon be sharing much more about this talented winemaker and his label. Stay tuned...
  • The Harper Voit Surlie Pinot Blanc is available online through the winery for $20, in Portland at Storyteller Wines, Zupan’s on Burnside, Oregon Wines on Broadway, Vinopolis, PDX Bottle Shop and in Salem at Grand Vines. 
  • Looking for a glass pour? Find Surlie by the glass at Davis Street Tavern, June, Noble Rot, Corkscrew, Andina, Little Bird, EaT: An Oyster Bar, Caps and Corks and St. Jack Restaurant. 
  • Planning a day in wine country? Take time to visit one of these places and enjoy a glass: The Allison Inn’s JORY Restaurant (Newberg), Bistro Maison or Thistle (McMinnville), Ponzi Wine Bar or The Dundee Bistro (Dundee).

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Future of Oregon Wine: Ripe for Success

Is it possible to gather 1300 wine lovers for two days of Enology, Viticulture and Business lectures, not simply to drink wine? To the shock and awe of many, the answer is yes. The Oregon Wine Industry Symposium took place February 21 -22 in Portland, essentially a State of the Industry address. Do the words “symposium” and “breakout session” send you running, or clicking over to check your Facebook page? Stay with us, and instead, prepare for metallic pom poms and megaphones. Those who appreciate Oregon wine unite in a collective holler - “Go Team!”

We know why we love them, but how are Oregon wines seen through the eyes of the world? Josh Raynolds (Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar) considers Oregon a top three worldwide wine region, alongside Napa and Sonoma. Metallic pom poms anyone? With a full spectrum of global experience, Josh believes Oregon has the strongest sense of community and enthusiasm among wine producers. That enthusiasm has cultivated another key to Oregon’s success: innovation, the pioneer spirit. Wine writer and consultant Doug Frost described how Oregon’s focus on clone and soil type has pushed it forward, with other wine regions following suit. An excellent point was made about Oregon’s vintage variation, particularly the recent past: spread the gospel of appreciating the nuances of vintage variation, in lieu of pegging a particular vintage as good or evil.

So the How does the Oregon wine Industry see itself? In a very positive light, thank you very much. Sam Tannahill (A to Z Wineworks) summarized using these descriptors - pioneers, artisan, sustainable, family owned, playing above its weight class, makers of long lived and balanced wines. Sam also highlighted potential growth areas. More diversity, by emphasizing grapes besides Pinot Noir, is significant in retaining a good piece of the sales pie.

Newly unveiled Oregon Wine logo

Which wine consumers are increasingly contributing to wine sales? The Millennials - people currently in the 21- 34 age range. They are rapidly becoming core wine consumers. Wineries should take note. The Millennials are coming, and they are armed with smartphones. Rick Bakas (Bakas Media) sees mobile phones on track to replace PCs in the near future. He encourages wineries to wake up and realize social media marketing is “no longer an option; it’s an expectation.” He tells wineries, at a minimum, there is a need to create a mobile landing page to “close the gap between the emotion of a real time experience and your brand.”

Technology meets the pioneer spirit. We will continue to see how the wine community marries these two different but necessary aspects. The Oregon Wine Board, led by Executive Director, Tom Danowski, brought many professionals in the industry together to take a look at Oregon’s wine past, present and future – and the future is looking very bright.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Celebrating Washington Wine Month

If you haven't heard March is Washington Wine Month.  In order to celebrate this fantastic occasion the Washington Wine Commission has a lot of things on the docket for the month culminating in the tasting event to end all tasting events Taste Washington on March 31st and April 1st.

In addition to the specials from Washington winery tasting rooms, Safeway groceries (30% off!!) to Seattle area restaurant deals (which can be found here) you're probably wondering what you can do to celebrate?  We're here to help.

First a crash course: second largest wine producing state to California, Washington has about 40,000 acres of vineyards producing over 30 varietals.  Washington has 12 AVAs or American Viticultural Areas, the newest being the very recently established Naches Heights.  It's premier AVAs; Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain produce some of the finest wine in Washington and really anywhere in the world.  The beauty of Washington wine is that so much does so well here.  Even some cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir, which have found very successful homes in both the Columbia River Gorge AVA and the Puget Sound, Washington does it all.

How Can I Be Down?
There are a myriad of ways that you can celebrate Washington Wine Month, and none of them have to cost you a mint. Here are five recommendations from the crack staff here at the Anthem on how to "do it up right" this Washington Wine Month

1: If it isn't from Washington don't drink it.  All you really need to survive is water, and unless your one of those pompous bottled water drinkers your water is coming from here, this March make sure the same is true about your wine. (Give yourself an out on coffee, you need that to survive as well.)  Any wine you buy, whether that's in a grocer, wine shop or restaurant make it a Washington wine.  Whether it's by the glass or by the bottle ask your restaurant's waiter or sommelier (the fancy guy) for a recommendation from Washington, if they respond by saying we don't have any wines from Washington, by the glass or otherwise, tell "Well, then, bring me some tap water, that's from Washington at least!"  This will make you funny and will send a message to those spots you frequent that it's time to start supporting the local wine industry.

2: Get down and dirty.  What? Not like that, I'm talking about soils, and soils mean vineyard sites.  The impact that soils, slope and exposure have on a vineyard and ultimately a wine are uncanny.  Do some googling or go to a really well versed wine shop, my favorite is Bin 41 in West Seattle and ask the staff to help you pick out 3 or 4 single vineyard wines that will get a sense of the role that vineyards play on how a wine turns out in the end.  Now ultimately unless there all from the same winery than there is going to be some variability but none the less, give it a shot.  In order to get the most eye opening experience you should be buying the same varietal and the same vintage (year).  Some of my favorite vineyards are Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA, Les Collines in Walla Walla, Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain and Red Willow also in the Yakima Valley.  (This list is begging for a Syrah btw.)

3: Go visit wine country.  Seriously, there are four weekends in March not including last weekend.  You've got plenty of time.  You've got a lot of options.  While the vast majority of the wine in Washington grows east of the Cascades you can even visit vineyards in the Puget Sound like those at Whidbey Island Winery or Lopez Island Vineyards.  Walla Walla has to be one of the coolest small towns in the Western United States, home to over 70 wineries, some excellent restaurants and obviously the world's greatest veggie burger at the Walla Walla Bread Company.  If you don't want to drive all the way to Walla Walla there are plenty of stops in between, Yakima, Prosser and the Tri-Cities all offer excellent wine and local dining options as well.  If you hunger for dynamic views and want to do a little tax free Oregon shopping on your trip head to the Columbia Gorge AVA, it's Gorge-ous, seriously, all Ithaca jokes aside. Walk through the vineyards, talk with the winemakers and learn what makes Washington such a great place for wine first hand, not just from us.

4: Join a Washington wine club.  So many of the great wineries in Washington, even the smaller ones are making a great range of wines.  Joining a wine club will be a great way to sample that range, over varietals and over years.  Typically your customer loyalty is repaid by free tasting fees, special club member events, member only wines or special blends and ultimately you'll very likely get to know the winemaker and winery staff very well.  You'll eventually learn as I have that it's not just the wine in Washington that's so great, but there are some great people making it.  Some clubs to consider?  Cooper Wine Club over on Red Mountain, there's no one more charming in the Washington wine industry than Neil Cooper.  Syncline Wine down in the Columbia River Gorge is making some of the best wine in the state and at a price point that makes you wonder how anybody gets away with those over $40 price tags.  Laurelhurst Cellars here in Seattle makes some excellent red wines sourcing from some of the best vineyards in the state.

5: Learn more about Washington wine.  This is general I understand but that's because there are a lot of ways you might go about it.  Look for opportunities to go to tastings at your favorite wine shop or bar.  Madrona's Bottlehouse has regular tastings with opportunities to meet winemakers and maybe fall in love with a new favorite.  Wine World in the Wallingford neighborhood has tastings almost daily as does Esquin.  Throw a party where you ask all of your friends to bring one Washington wine, maybe it's the same varietal maybe it's all different, but the way you learn more about Washington and wine in general is to taste more of it.  Read a blog, this one would be nice, or the Washington Wine Report.  Go to Taste Washington, there are over 200 wineries and you could also attend the seminars and learn a whole lot more.  Take a class at Seattle Central CC, visit a tasting room, or better yet, go to a production winery, like the aforementioned Laurelhurst or one of the wineries in the warehouse district in Woodinville and check out the barrels ask questions, get to know everyone from the tasting room staff to the wine makers.  They all love Washington wine or they wouldn't be doing it, it's not easy. Like anyone, they like to talk about their interest and passions.  Ask them.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Find, March 2

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

In 1927 the state of Oregon selected the Western Meadowlark as it's state bird.  This selection was made by a popular vote of Oregon school children and solidified by Governor I.L. Patterson.  What seemed like an innocuous move at the time would come to later have huge ramifications for Harlem Globetrotter and Scooby Doo fans.  Meadow "Meadowlark" Lemon went on to become the unquestionable leader and if often known as the "Clown Prince" of the legendary basketball team that thumped the Washington Generals over 13,000 times.  Meadowlark Lemon played 16,000 games for the Harlem Globetrotters and in Episode 12 of Season 1 of Scooby Doo that aired in 1972 he played the undeniable voice of reason as the regulars of the Mystery Machine and the Lemon led Globetrotters went up against the 'The Ghostly Creep From the Deep.'

The Western Meadowlark also graces the labels of Yamhill Valley Vineyards wines.  The winery located just outside of McMinnville produces a flock of wines in the under $20 neighborhood. While the labels are a bit folksy for me the wines are a very good value.

The 2008 Pinot Blanc is done in neutral oak and the rounded mouth-feel compliments the fruit forward nature of this varietal well.  Aromatics of floral and dried herbal notes bring on a palate of savory notes and stone fruit characteristics. $16

The 2009 Riesling is a sweet one but it's acidity gives it great balance classic stone fruit aromatics of peaches and mouthfuls of sweet nectarine, the acidity carries the flavors toward pear and green apple.  Brilliant food wine. $18

The 2008 Pinot Noir was a signature Oregon Pinot, loads up on blackberry, earth and spice on the aromatics and delivers classically fresh fruit across the palate, brambleberries, cherries and a touch of cola spice take us to the finish.  Nice acidity and freshness make this the bargain of the bunch. $20