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, May 31, 2012

Picnic Pink Perfection, Washington Rose from Dusted Valley Vintners

The Rosé movement is well underway and particularly these last three to four years some of Washington's finest winemakers have jumped into the fray to reclaim the pink from the plonk.  While pink wine is gaining serious ground it still faces an uphill battle thanks to all those California yahoos and their White Zinfandel.  The sickly sweet pink plonk has long lingered on America's bottom shelves and it still haunts the memory of many a domestic wine drinker.  Fact is the French have been crafting beautiful, complicated and food friendly Rosés forever but the Ford Pinto of pink wines like many evils, White Zin dies hard.

Luckily, some of these recent iterations produced here in the Pacific Northwest are down right complex, loaded with interesting minerality and subdued and layered fruit flavors. As Spring rolls around eventually and we start to get some of that Northwest Summer weather that we came here for in the first place, the time is right.  The deal is, if you want to appear to be among the wine cognescenti then the fact of the matter is, this time of year, you gotta drink pink.

In addition to drinking pink, it's a good idea to know where it comes from and the traditional methods for producing Rosé.  This is where you'll want to learn the term saignee which is French for "bleed."  Red grapes are crushed, and a relatively small amount of the juice which has absorbed the pink hues from the skins is bled off to ferment separately.  This is usually why you'll find the total production of your favorite winery's Rosé is in fact quite small.  If wineries are setting out to produce larger amounts of Rosé they will use a skin contact method, which has the wine crushed and rather than being by-product in the production of a red wine, the wine is allowed to remain in contact with the skins for one to three days to produce a pink hue and then the skins are discarded and the pink wine or Rosé then goes into fermentation.

In any case, regardless of the exact production methodology the resulting wine is loaded with flavors and complexity to stand up with any of your favorite picnic options from grilled burgers to seafood to cured meats and cheese.  The Dusted Valley 2011 Ramblin Rosé fit the bill for me and a few friends recently gathered for a picnic dinner lately on a rocky Puget Sound beach. (No admission as to whether or not we broke any city ordinances.)

The 2011 iteration of the Ramblin Rosé harkens to a return to the Dusted Valley pink release of two years ago (a beauty).  A paler pink color and light aromatics of rhubarb, apple blossom and early season cut strawberry lead you into a palate loaded with great minerality, subdued early season fruit character and brilliant acidity.  We paired this rosé with cheese, charcuterie and a couple cold salads, this great dry rosé will stand up to a variety of hearty fare.  The wine was a winner and won over a few Rosé cynics handily. Ramble on.

this wine was provided as a sample from the winery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matello Wines - A Little Foolishness Goes A Long Way

2002 was a fantastic year. It was the first vintage of Marcus Goodfellow’s Matello Wines. Matello means little fool in Italian, and some of Marcus’ friends thought starting a winery pegged him as such. He’s always had an “affinity for jesters”, so it seemed fitting to incorporate that in the winery’s name and logo. After becoming familiar with these wines, one might think Genius is a more applicable nickname for Marcus and his wines. The most wine savvy restaurants in Portland are well aware of Matello; the list of where to find his wines reads like a Who’s Who in the Portland food scene.

The wines have unique names; these names say something about the man himself and those with whom he closely works. Marcus often pays tribute to those with whom he has worked alongside, those who have taught him something during his winemaking journey. His Hommage Pinot Noir is named as a “Thank You” to his Oregon winemaking community. Marcus believes the stellar wines many young Oregon winemakers produce would not be possible without the volume of experience and cultural information shared within the Oregon wine family. Major Enology programs like UC Davis cannot always provide detailed, Oregon site specific knowledge. His appreciation for his fellow winemakers is remarkably evident.

Richard’s Cuvee Chardonnay pays homage to 85 year old Richard Alvord, the admired man behind the Whistling Ridge Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Richard, dealing with the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, had until recently cared meticulously for these vines.  The man and the vines inspired a haiku, found on the back label of this 2010 Chardonnay: Old weathered hands, Hardened and twisted as the vines they tend.
Marcus’ Fools Journey Syrah is sourced from Yamhill-Carlton’s Deux Vert Vineyard, which has a following all its own. Mike and Patty Green farm this LIVE certified vineyard biodynamically. This Rhone emulating Syrah often sells out in the blink of an eye. The current 2009 release is sold out at the winery, but may be found around the Willamette Valley in some local wine shops.  The 2009 was co-fermented with Viognier. The Deux Vert Syrah plantings are also among, if not the oldest in Oregon. The Syrah sees the most barrel age of all Matello wines, 2 years of neutral oak. Deux Vert’s latitude is the same as France’s Rhone region, which speaks to the potential for growing the same grapes, making similarly styled wines. He also makes a truly exceptional Deux Vert Viognier bottling from Oregon’s original Viognier plantings. 

“Great Pinot Noir is never made by playing it safe. It comes from meticulous farming, working hard at a craft, and conscientious work in the cellar”, Marcus believes. Meticulous farming is seen in the vineyards, Bishop Creek, Whistling Ridge and Winter’s Hill among them. Matello is a member of the Deep Roots Coalition, a group of wineries and vineyards subscribing to the biodynamic practices and non-irrigated vines, forcing the vines to go deep through layers of rock to find water. Grapes grown in this way develop from the natural, deep water sources below, expressing the flavors of the earth, truly an expression of terroir.

With his 2010 vintage, Marcus embarked on an uncommon endeavor, making a White Pinot Noir. This tiny 25 case production was made at the request of the renowned Herbfarm restaurant to pair specifically with selected menu items; there were 9 cases left for a fortunate few. The fruit comes from Stony Mountain Vineyard in the eastern foothills of the coastal range, just outside McMinnville. Making this uniquely challenging, unfined and unfiltered wine proved beautifully successful, exceeding Marcus’ expectations. By subscribing to traditional methods and little winemaker intervention, he allows the sense of place to speak through the grapes. He refers to this as a “quiet wine”, and sees it becoming remarkably special as it ages in bottle.

The 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir grapes were also grown at Stony Mountain. 2011 was a challenging year, as this cool site was very late to ripen. It did ripen at the 11th hour, and the fruit was brought in and pressed. These Pinot grapes are grown specifically for this rosé. The beautiful color and label announce the arrival of warm, rose-sipping weather. This crisp, dry beauty is the type sought out within the sea of spring rosé releases. Save yourself the trouble of swimming through entire sea; head straight to this one. 

Other new releases include great white wines for summer.  The 2010 Whistling Ridge Blanc is a blend of Ribbon Ridge fruit, varying year to year. This may be the best vintage yet. The 2010 Clover is 100% Bishop Creek Pinot Gris. Another of Marcus’ favorites, this wine spent 15 months in neutral oak and should be enjoyed on an unhurried afternoon with some Northwest sun. The excellent Bishop Creek Vineyard is managed by Jeremy Saville, like minded with Marcus in vineyard practices of non-irrigated vines with lower yields. The smallest details matter here, even uniquely managing the canopy in order to produce the best fruit.

Seek out these wines, or better yet, join the Wine Club to ensure you won’t be left merely to read about the greatness you could have known firsthand. The brand new tasting room opened Memorial Day weekend. The winery is located here, near the McMinnville Saturday Market. Beginning in June, regular tasting room hours are 10:30-3:30, Friday through Sunday until Labor Day. Contact Matello for more details, or check out their Facebook page.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Find, May 25

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

This week's Friday Find has us looking closely at
 the myths of feral children.  Since antiquity there has been a fascination with this concept that animals could and would raise human children and instill in them a deeper more connected sense of innocence.  In some ways an even greater humanity.  Through time the bizarre infatuation with children being raised by wild animals has appeared in nearly every culture and civilization.  From the myth of Romulus and Remus on forward, we had Amala and Kamala from Calcutta, India, the Chilean story of Vicente Caucau who was raised by pumas and of course the bear-girl of Krupina, Slovakia.  In all cases the stories have been proven to be just that, myths or fiction, like Kipling's Mogwli of the Jungle Book.

There is perhaps no better depiction of the realities of a child raised by wild animals, also known as a feral child than the American motion picture classic, Walk Like a Man starring Howie Mandel. In the film Mandel plays the role of Bobo, a boy raised by wolves who is reintegrated into society in time to inherit and enormous fortune.  The question, can man tame his animal instincts long enough to enjoy the mall and swanky dinner engagements.

The 2009 Raised by Wolves Cabernet is far from feral, instead you get a Washington Cabernet bargain that delivers on red fruits, cherry and raspberry and very pleasing aromatics, particularly for those who enjoy an oak influence with hints of spice and sandalwood.  The palate is velvety and pleasant with the red fruit and wood spice.  The wine a Walla Walla designated Cabernet from Elevage Wine Co. is fairly broadly available and can be picked up at Wine World for around $15.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rosé in the Rose City

We’re on board for this very punny grand tasting.

On Thursday, June 14th, Willamette Valley Rosé is coming to PDX! The North Willamette Vintners are bringing 18 of their wineries to the Montgomery Park building in Portland’s industrial Northwest District for this ever-so-summery grand tasting event: Rosé in the Rose City.

In conjunction with Portland’s annual Rosé Festival, this event will feature tastings of Summer wines including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, sparkling wines and of course, Rosé. Music and light food pairings will accompany, as well as Saké tastings from SakéOne.

Attendees will have opportunities to purchase any favorites (at discounted prices!), so get to tasting and add those crisp wines of the North Willamette Valley to your Summer experience this year!
Want to try your luck? “Like” our Northwest Wine Anthem Facebook page for a chance to win a pair of tickets to this event and stay tuned next week for how to enter our Rosé Giveaway.

Purchase your tickets here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Do You Remember 1985?

Do you remember 1985? I don't. Not really. I was just a young kid at the time. For many of us, it's events that provide our time its context.  The birth of a child, a favorite team's glory or that year we went to summer camp.  For most of us, we move on to the next year, and the next time and our work, our families and friends and our lives move along with us.

For the winemaker, a given year goes on forever, trapped behind cork and glass; picked, pressed, and bottled and representing that particular vintage.  Jim Croce said that if he could save time in a bottle... Well Jim, winemakers do just that.  The wines don't sit in stasis but rather they evolve over time, realizing a vintage's full potential. I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with a number of the Willamette Valley's winemaking pioneers, including Susan Sokol-Blosser, Luisa Ponzi, Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards and Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards.

Throughout the evening these folks shared some of their wines with us, and we walked down their memory lanes. We began where I'd like to end; the Amity Vineyards 1985.

From the 2008s of Sokol Blosser and Willamette Valley Vineyards through that 1985, we saw that each vintage meant a story, a lesson or an image that tells a complicated story of hard work, a bit of luck or regrets and lessons learned.  The 2008s were the youngest wines we tasted and both examples were so young and aromatically closed up, particularly in contrast with those lively 2007s.  Jim Bernau  shared that his wine, and the vineyards from which it came was owed in part to Susan Sokol-Blosser who went down to help him plant it in 1983. There was a sense that the connection to the wine and the Valley was also a connection to and an appreciation for one another as well.

For 2007, and for what has become known as the Ghost of 2007, (given the initial less than complimentary press that still dogs the vintage), for Luisa Ponzi 2007 was an invaluable experience as a winemaker and grower.  "I learned a lot from that vintage, while it's raining, things are still happening in that fruit."  Luisa picked some of her fruit before the rain, and she waited on some of it, and therein was the lesson for her. All agreed that those that hung on, and picked later ended up with fantastic wines. While the vintage was given a rough treatment early, the wines are beautiful right now.  The 2007 Amity had all the forest floor, spice and gun-powdery aromatics that I've come to love about that vintage.

The 1999 Sokol Blosser was our lone example of what many call the single greatest vintage in Oregon Pinot Noir.  A cool summer led to a bit of trepidation for the winemakers and of course doom and gloom from those wine writer/critic types.  All of that was for naught as an extended Indian summer allowed the grapes an extraordinarily long hangtime.  The result is complexity, depth of flavor, great acidity and balance and a 13 year old wine that is drinking like it could last an eternity.  The Sokol Blosser Willamette Valley Pinot was stunning with bright fruits, great depth of character and a long life ahead of it.

The 1985 Amity Vineyard Winemaker's Reserve was the undisputed star of the evening. (Myron decanted it to clear off the sediment.)  It was a 27 year old Oregon Pinot Noir, and a history lesson on both the vintage, winery and the Willamette Valley itself.  The vines at that time were fourteen years old, a Pinot droit clone used by both Myron and the man whom many consider the father of Oregon Pinot, David Lett.  Prior to 1999 it was 1985 that was the gold standard for vintages in the Willamette Valley, and it was because of the 1985 vintage that Oregon Pinot was discovered.  For Luisa Ponzi, it was after 1985 that things in Oregon really got going. "It was in 1985 that the press, that Robert Parker and others really stood up and started paying attention to us. 1985 was a big vintage for Oregon." I asked Myron what he remembers that was special about it.  "It was a long warm growing season and everything ripened perfectly in the fall. The low pH to brix gave us great, ageable wines."  Susan Sokol Blosser remembered 1985 as "her favorite vintage in Oregon." Unfortunately Sokol Blosser lost their library due to heat damage, yet the impressions of 1985 still lives with her.

The 1985 Winemaker's Reserve are specially selected for aging.  This bottle did so beautifully, tart cherries and raspberry flavors follow classically forest floor aromatics.  The wine is a Willamette Valley veteran, and thanks to that vintage it's still singing at 27 years old.  Jim Bernauer explained that the low ph levels lead to a high concentration of hydrogen ions.  These ions provide a natural defense against oxygen, and the longer the wine is protected from oxygen the longer it can age.  "The low pH wines that Oregon produces allow for great natural acidity and that's the key to a wine aging well."

The saying goes "Age before beauty," but in Oregon Pinot Noir, you can have both.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Saving Chardonnay from the Cougars; #ChardDay at Bin 41

On May 24th we're taking back Chardonnay.

If there's a sin to be laid at the feet of the commercially-minded California wine world, aside from the creation of White Zinfandel, it's the destruction of Chardonnay as it was intended to be.  Chardonnay came from France, a beautiful wine with lots of acidity, minerality and when made well, an accent of oak that brought the wine a roundness and depth.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are some nice Chardonnays that come from California, with serious acidity and ageability, Hanzell for example. But sadly California's Chardonnay reputation is not built on the Hanzells and the Rameys it produces, it's built on the wines masquerading as butter scotch syrup, it's the Cougar-Juice, it's the Rombauer that is what American Chardonnay has come to be known as.

Cougar Juice refers to the style of Chardonnay so over oaked that it seema the grapes were crushed with a Louisville Slugger and then sent into an oak barrel only to be bottled once again in an oak bottle.  The toasty, nutty, buttery and creamy characteristics and any semblance of the once elegant Chardonnay have been beaten to a pulp.  You seek out the fruit and you cannot find it, for the life of you you cannot find its aromatics or its flavors, all you can find is wood.  Frankly, if you swirl the wine too vigorously you could end up with splinters in your tongue.

Plain and simple, this is wrong.  Wrong.  The Chardonnay grape is one of the noblest of varietals, hailing from Burgundy, and it has the power to be a transformative wine experience.  I can personally say that perhaps the greatest wine I've ever had was a Chardonnay, a Burgundy, the Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne.  A wine with such depth of character and complexity, balance and aromatics that it was nearly a religious experience.  Why would anyone ever want to sully such beauty with such unbridled use of wood?

On 5/24 we're taking Chardonnay back, taking it back from the Cougars and back from the Californicators who did such damage to its noble beauty.  Luckily for all of us there are those in the Northwest who are well aware of the beauty and potential of Chardonnay and are producing wines that  are reminiscent of those origins.  Both Chardonnays fermented in stainless steel a la Chablis, with a crispness and acidity that soars, as well as those done in oak, striving for balance, roundness and preservation of fruit.  On May 24th a variety of those wines will be unleashed upon Seattle at West Seattle's Bin 41. And that will make the world a better place.

From 6 to 8pm Chardonnay lovers or those new to the varietal can pariticpate in International #ChardDay a Twitter virtual tasting from Rick Bakas. Bin 41 will be pouring 2 Washington Chardonnays, Maison Bleue and the steel fermented Lecole 41, from Oregon the typically winery only Crowley Four Winds Chardonnay and Amalie Robert, as well as a Chablis from Burgundy's Albert Bichot and a barrel fermented Burgundy surprise.  $5 to taste them all and it's refundable with a purchase of one of the featured wines.  If you love Chardonnay the way it's meant to be and you want to end the reign of the Cougars you need to get to West Seattle this Thursday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Find, May 18

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

This is indeed a Northwest wine blog but as many of us know, the Northwest isn't the only place that grows and produces word class wines.  It's our favorite of course, but it's not the only one.  Recently I'd been asked to participate in a very cool project that allowed me to write about wine, and probably the one past time I enjoy more, bicycle racing.  I was asked to contribute a wine column to a collaborative effort by Peloton Magazine and Cannondale Bicycles called Italiano.  You can download it for free here.

Today marks Stage 13th of the Giro d'Italia and the fame of the Tour de France not withstanding it's hard to argue that there is a country more romantic and passionate about the sport of cycling, or really anything, than Italy.  The stage kicks off in Piedmont, in the town of Cervere and ends near the coast in the Liguria region. Piedmont, I had come to learn (through my "research"), is the king of Italian wine regions.  Tuscany certainly delivers on romance and rustic appeal but when it comes to quality and variety of the wines produced.  Piedmont is hard to match.  From world class Barolos, Barbarescos, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Moscato and Dolcetto, not to mention several native varietals, Piedmont offers the Italian wine fan a cornucopia of wines at a very approachable price point, except for the pricey Barolos.

Today's Friday Find is a Washington take on Piedmont's Dolcetto.  A wine known for its tannins and fruit forward characteristics it can be a bit of a surprise to folks who might expect a literal translation of the Italian "little sweet one."  The Dolcetto from Wind Rose Cellars seems to hit the mark and would make those people of Piedmont think highly of this Sequim located winery.  Yes, I said Sequim, on the pennisula, which hosts it's own bicycle races, the not nearly as well named Tour de Dung each Spring.

For $18 you get a crack at a varietal that is quite rare by Washington standards, rumor has it only 20 acres are planted.  Typical of the varietal, you get loads of red fruits, notably strawberry and raspberry you also get that gripping tannic finish, where the Wind Rose strays from the Italian script is with a touch of smoke and coffee that come in on the back palate of the wine.  Order online from the good people in Sequim and do a side by side tasting with something from Piedmont.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jasper Sisco: Southern Gentleman Meets Northwestern Terroir

Meet Justin Paul Russell – the man behind up-and-coming wine label Jasper Sisco. Using IndieGoGo, a crowd-funding source, he plans to breathe life into a dream five years in the making with his Jasper Sisco 2012 vintage.

The name, Jasper Sisco, is that of Justin’s great grandfather – the embodiment of community and a family man well known in his town on the opposite end of the country. He is the essence behind the label and its production as Justin will work closely with the community and with those he has come to call family so far away from his Southern home. Through such avenues as IndieGoGo, Justin hopes to create buy-in for and loyalty to the Jasper Sisco label, as well as a transparent, tangible, community-based product for his patrons.

Jasper Sisco label mock-up. Sisco is far right.

Momtazi Vineyards
A self-proclaimed “Southern Pinot Noir Dreamer,” Justin had lived in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama before making the big move out West to pursue his winemaking dreams, and he can still recall the bottle that piqued his interest: the Austin Hope Paso Robles ’06 Syrah. Approximately five years ago Justin was assisting with wine distribution working at Whole Foods in Birmingham, Alabama bringing in various wines of Northwestern terroir. There he began making connections to the Western wine world, most notably Tahmiene Momtazi of Maysara Winery, and the Momtazi family, who have become the core of his Willamette Valley surrogate kin. Since then, he has completed his Sommelier Certification and has plans to complete his Master Sommelier Certification in the near future.

His relationship with the Momtazi family and Maysara Winery in McMinnville has provided him with two years of harvest and crush experience, as well as opportunities to connect with other winemaking mentors like Andrew Rich of Andrew Rich Wines and Jim Prosser of J.K. Carriere Wines. Through careful observation, and of course tasting, Justin has carefully selected two areas of the Momtazi Vineyards from which to source his grapes for the inaugural Jasper Sisco vintage.

JPR w. Hanna & Naseem Momtazi

Justin has made a home for himself in NE Portland and commutes up and down the I-5 corridor several times a week, all the while holding a separate fulltime job, and building Jasper Sisco from the ground up. While his label is just barely in its first year, Justin ultimately plans to make his wine a little closer to home and join the urban winemaking roster a la PDX Urban Wineries once the label is on its proverbial feet. Want to join the Jasper Sisco community? Check out the Jasper Sisco blog for updates and be a part of Jasper Sisco history by making your contribution on the IndieGoGo page


Momtazi Vineyards

Monday, May 14, 2012

Young Rogues in the Rogue Valley; God King Slave Wines

They say that in youth, everything seems possible.  The youngest wine-making operation in Oregon right now believes just that.  Christine Collier and winemaker Chris Jiron have taken their sense of possibility and their commitment to the wines of Oregon to the state's southern reaches. They hope in their loyalty to this part of the state and in the creation of their own label, God King Slave wines, that both the region and their wine can become an important part of the Oregon wine conversation.

New Frontiers
For Christine, Southern Oregon represents opportunity and for Chris it's a return home.  For both of them and their commitment and love of Oregon-made wine it presented a much more open door to wine-making than the already crowded Willamette Valley. Chris was drawn to an opportunity in wine production opened at Folin Cellars and Christine saw the region as a perfect place to launch a new label and a new adventure, a dynamic and growing region which can produce quality fruit and interesting wines.  As a region it's beautiful and rugged and wide open when it comes to the kinds of wines you can make.

As the southern frontier of Oregon wine, Southern Oregon represents tremendous opportunity but it's not without its challenges.  For better or for worse, the region does lack some of the seriousness that you find in the Willamette Valley and you still see an excess of retired millionaires who want to own a vanity project winery. On the other side of things, you're also seeing real talent in wine making at Quady North, Cowhorn and Folin Cellars.  Southern Oregon is without a doubt though the right place for God King Slave.  Chris and Christine are invested and are willing to do whatever they can to help it become a region that reaches its potential.  They've also been embraced by the region: Chris is the assistant winemaker at Folin Cellars and Christine does marketing and public relations for Troon Vineyards.  "Without Rob Folin, we couldn't do God King Slave," says Christine.  Rob hired Chris and has allowed them to get access to fruit and equipment to help get God King Slave off the ground.

Old World Homage
With the first vintage in the books, the wine style at God King Slave is still evolving.  There weren't any gimmicks or trends that drove the decisions about the kind of wines they set out to make.  For Chris and Christine it was about making the kinds of wines they appreciated: elegant wines with proper acidity, perhaps an undeniable remnant of their time in the Willamette Valley where Chris studied wine making and Christine worked at Willamette Valley Vineyards.  The result is a very intentional approach to the fruit and the wine.  "We pick on flavors and not brix.  Our red wine for 2010 and 2011 will barely break 13% alcohol, but they don't lack body or character in our eyes."  Last year was a cold vintage in Southern Oregon and God King Slave had picked all of their fruit before most folks had even picked their whites.  Add to that an adherence to keeping the wood from clobbering the fruit and you have a very neutral oak regiment and a wine that offers a stylistic nod to the Old World.

The biggest decision they made, however, was to blend.  That wasn't in the plan and so is the result of a happy accident. Christine was cleaning up after some blending trials and poured the Tempranillo in with her Syrah. When they tasted it, they both just knew, but the decision to go with it was a laborious one.  Will people really think of this as a blend? Would people think of them as idiots? Could they sell it?  Doubts aside, they knew it was their best effort and so they got comfortable with the idea.

The Future
God King Slave will release a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc in May.  Chris spent the last harvest in New Zealand and his fondness for New Zealand's Sauvignon Blancs drove a desire to give the varietal a try.  This doesn't necessarily set the direction for God King Slave moving forward.  There is a desire to do a white wine and long term a third, yet completely unidentified wine.  For Christine offering three different wines gives God King Slave both focus and variety while acknowledging that the goal is to strike a balance between being unique but not so far out there that only the geekiest of wine geeks is interested.

For Chris and Christine this is about a commitment and belief in the wine industry.  They're not wealthy and that's not the ultimate goal.  It's about making a living doing what they love, which is making wine.  That financial reality can making it challenging to grow in production size and so they're doing what they can for now.  They'll go up in production from 2011 to the 2012 vintage by 80 cases to get them to 250.  It's a slow process but they're not looking for short cuts and are realistic about their limitations.  The goal, make the best wines they can, stay true to potential of Southern Oregon and make something that people will be impressed by and interested in.

What's In a Name
Writing about God King Slave, the name itself feels like an "elephant in the room."  The inclusion of the terms God and Slave may make you uncomfortable.  The name comes from a quote by the sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, and the intention was never to push people's comfort levels.  The renowned artist is known as the patriarch of modern sculpture and the complete quote is "Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave." The quote resonated with Chris and after a lot of coaxing he won Christine over.  I can see how people are made uncomfortable by it, yet Christine says "To me it's less offensive than a winery named after someone's daughter or a stream the runs through their property.  It stands for something, which is a lot more than most brands do."

The Wine
I'm going to be honest - I wanted to like this wine before I'd even tried it.  The Northwest wine world is a small one, and while I've never actually met Christine in person, I knew her by reputation.  Hers is a very good one and I've been impressed with what I've seen when she's been involved.   The thing is though, the wine is incredibly good, I mean, it's really good.  (I've also gotten second opinions just to be sure.)

Split down the middle a Tempranillo and Syrah blend that delivers dried figs, black cherry reduction, dust, and smoky, meaty aromatics.  The wine is absolutely lovely, with fantastic structure and the low alcohol speaks volumes about what can be done without overripe fruit when it comes to Tempranillo, which is far too rare these days. There's loads of fruit, and no wood to be found on this wine. The flavors mingle beautifully with plums, clove, and herbal notes. A proper amount of acidity delivers a lasting finish, it makes me think of some Spanish blends I've had or even aromatically of a Minervois. I didn't know a thing about Constantin Brancusi before I researched this piece, but I think another of his quotes is in order, "Don't look for mysteries, I bring you pure joy."  If you enjoy real wine, appreciate elegance, and don't look for over-ripe flavors, you'll be impressed by the God King Slave.  Only 90 cases were produced and only $26 is an incredible price for a wine this good.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Find, May 11

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.

We've gone off the esoteric deep end here at the Anthem and I swear it's just coincidental.  We've gone from alchemy to Druids to now what appears to be a mix of biodynamic hocus pocus mixed with numerology. All of this has got me questioning is this really a coincidence?  Is it possible that the wines of the Northwest are some sort of gateway into a world of mystery?

Domino IV is a biodynamic winery with vineyards in Mosier, Oregon in the Columbia Gorge and a winery operation located in the Willamette Valley in McMinnville.  Their focus is Oregon Pinot Noir and their estate fruit in Mosier which includes Viognier, Tempranillo and Syrah.  From their website there is a clear focus on a connection they have with the land and the wine that they produce.  In addition there's a definite connection to the past, history and numbers.  Is it quite numerology?  I can't say for sure but I'm looking for an easy lede for this week's Friday Find and I'm going to take Domino IV's quote and run with it . From their website: "The number four represents four people, four seasons, four varieties of the grape and four quadrants of our symbol the labyrinth. Four is also the number of the earth."

The numerology connection is what is leading me to believe that perhaps these Friday Finds are a gateway into a world of esoteric mystery.  Numerology is the belief of a deep connection between life and numbers and by understanding the numerological values we could figure out life's great mysteries. St. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430) wrote "Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth." (I stole that quote from wikipedia.)  This week's Friday Find the Spellbound from Domino IV has two numerological connections, the numbers 2 and 13.  $13 makes this blend of two biodynamically grown varietals, Syrah and Tempranillo a great and affordable opportunity to sample what kind of fruit is coming out of the Gorge and maybe a gateway biodynamic wine for new wine drinkers as well.  The wine hints at leather, earth and tons of black fruit on the aromatics.  The palate delivers the more dusty dark fruit, earthen elements and a hint of clove.  For a very affordable price you can stare into the mysteries of the deep for a short time or decide to stay there.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Avennia: Poetry for the Palate

Perhaps one of the most interesting effects of Washington’s still-expanding wine industry as it relates to the last few years of a sluggish economy is the phenomena of the warehouse districts in Woodinville. The fact that we can visit these nondescript, utilitarian - and let’s be honest, usually pretty ugly - rows of storage units and warehouses and find everything from fun, in-your-face, spunky and rebellious wines - rock and roll, so to speak - like Sparkman Cellars, and refined, graceful wines - like Obelisco Estate - in the same nondescript cluster of wineries and tasting rooms, is remarkable.

Avennia, one of Washington’s newest wineries, falls into the latter category. In an unremarkable peach concrete box building the brainchild of former Delille assistant winemaker Chris Peterson and Microsoft retiree Marty Taucher has come to life.

Avennia’s brand and fanciful names evoke Old World Europe, having been inspired by the owner and winemaker’s shared vision: honoring ancient winemaking techniques and applying them to Washington’s ‘New World’ grapes. Winemaker Chris Peterson said it nicely: “Preserving the purity of that fruit so it can express itself in the bottle.”

At the winery’s first barrel tasting on May 5 I got a chance to try all five wines in Avennia’s 2010 vintage. What Chris and Marty got right, above all else, was staying true to their founding principles and letting some of Washington’s most exquisite fruit take its time.

We started with Oliane, “the only white wine we’ll make for a while,” Marty added. He said that Chris wanted to make, “a 100% Sauvignon Blanc and he really wanted to make it out of Dick Boushey’s grapes.” The result, starting at only $25, is crisp and refreshing, drinkable and elegant.

Next I sampled Avennia’s two Syrahs. Parapine, named after a ghost in Chris’ house (more on that in this article from Washington Wine Report) was round and warm. It immediately made me crave a medium-rare burger - it’s a great wine in the $35 range that will only get better in a few years.

However, it was Arnaut ($45), named after a 12th century Troubadour - their flagship Syrah - that stole my heart. (Must be all those Sestinas he sang...) Arnaut didn’t make me crave meat so much, but the nose and dense, dark color pulled me in immediately - wines like this are why I’m a Syrah girl at heart.

“This is 100% single vineyard Dick Boushey fruit. A lot of it comes off of his old block, which is a great, great vineyard,” said Marty. They used 15% whole cluster fermentation in it: “We left the stems in there to give it a little more character, a little more structure to it,” Marty told me. Structured - like the poems Arnaut used to write, apparently (more on that later).

Next up was Gravura, Chris’ interpretation of a Bordeaux blend from the Graves region, where they tend to balance Cabernet and Merlot more equally than they do on the right or left banks. Unlike the Syrahs, Gravura hasn’t been bottled yet.

“We wanted to build a representative blend because we use neutral oak and we use different kinds of barrels,” said Marty. So they pulled samples from all 13 barrels, blended them, and bottled them to pour at the event. Gravura is 35% Red Willow Cab, planted in 1985, and Marty credits Chris’ strong relationships with many Washington vineyards for their access to some of the state’s finest grapes. Bacchus and Klipsun, including some of Washington’s oldest vines, round out the blend - and it's a value at only $35.

Sestina was the last wine on the list. Chris explained that a Sestina is a structured poem put to song: six stanzas, six lines each, “and each line has to be in a specific order.” The Sestina was developed by Arnaut Daniel, the troubadour for whom they named their Syrah. Chris’ vision for all of Avennia’s wines is to use an ancient form and put modern ideas into it. “In this case, the bordeaux blend with modern Washington fruit.” Sestina ($50) accomplishes just that, with complexity and poise.

I asked Chris to expand on his approach to the ‘ancient form’ of winemaking. “The aging process, I’m trying to slow it down, basically. The wine...I kind of think of it as a lifeforce. Everything you do can move that window forward to where the wine tastes better younger, but you’re taking a little of the long term ageability of the wine.” He noted that they don’t rack often and only after malolactic fermentation. Because Chris is making wines he wants to give longevity to, these will only get better with time.

And of course, barrels are at the crux of the winemaking process. “I choose the barrels kind of the same way I choose the fruit. Just like you have fruit, big fruit with big tannins, you have some with more mid-palate and some with more aroma and hopefully it all comes together. Same thing with the barrels. You have some barrels that have heavy toast flavor which is really delicious but if you use just those it would be overbearing.” For his wines, Chris looks for barrels that don’t have a lot of overt wood and lower percentage of new wood.

The last two years, Chris and Marty have made their wine at Efeste, but their own equipment has been ordered and is on its way, so all the production will take place in their Woodinville winery moving forward. Already, barrels are stacked and waiting for the June 15 bottling.
Chris Peterson and Marty Taucher of Avennia

“Over the years that’s what I’ve been learning...everything is in flux,” admitted Chris. The wine has its time spent in barrels, then bottled, then cellared - the balance will be completely different depending on when you open it. In other words, as structured a wine - or a poem - may be, its ending isn’t always performed quite the same way. I guess it isn’t over until the troubadour sings.

Avennia will be open for release and barrel tasting events only. Visit their website to learn more.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Oregon Wine, the Oregon Way... Seufert Winery

Not far off the Willamette Valley's main drag, more commonly known as State Route 99 West, you'll find the small town of Dayton, Oregon.  You'll never get lost in Dayton, Oregon.  That is to say, you may get lost and end up in Dayton, but if you're trying to get to Dayton and you make it there, you can't really get lost once you're there. It's like four blocks. The whole thing.

One of those four blocks (this may be a slight exaggeration) is home to a small production winery owned and operated, with some help, by Jim Seufert.

Seufert Winery got its start when Jim decided to walk away from a hot shot consulting gig and return to his home state where he could take his interest in wine to the next level.  Beginning in 2005, Jim took his first crack at crafting Pinot Noir as an apprentice at Coleman Vineyards. From that moment things started happening quickly and Jim found himself working with growers to further explore site variation in the Pinot Noirs he was drinking and now making.  Jim's belief (and one I agree with) is that Pinot Noir is an excellent canvas for the expression of place, or terroir.  Part of what makes Oregon Pinot special is that so much of Oregon comes through in it, and by that he means the places, and ultimately the people who are dedicated to the fruit they're growing.

Jim focuses on producing single vineyard expressions in his Pinot Noir.  In the 2009 releases Seufert Winery produced seven single vineyard Pinots, and not the usual suspects either. Some names you'll recognize, like Johan & Zenith Vineyards, but many are not household names. Jim's focused on working with sites that "make a statement" in the bottle and with growers who are doing everything they can to produce excellent fruit. What Jim has done, at least in the three Pinots we tried, is keep the alcohol levels down nice and low in this hot vintage and let the fruit show itself.

The Johan bottling is winning them tons of publicity and it's a very elegant bottle of Pinot Noir, but I was equally impressed with a vineyard I'd never heard of: the Vine Idyl Pinot.  Vine Idyl is a vineyard that Jim began working with in 2007 and it's owned and managed by Chuck Maggard, a gentleman who's nearing 80.  Chuck's site is at 750 feet and that elevation, coupled with his selection of Pommard clone, results in what the folks at Seufert describe as unusually small berries.  The color and flavor concentration produce wines with a real intensity and depth of flavor.

The 2009 Vine Idyl brings on aromas of concentrated bramble berries, signature Oregon in style along with earthen, clove and cinnamon aromatics. Where the wine particularly stands out is in the mouthfeel and balance; it's beautifully done. Elegance and finesse are written all over this wine as it delivers fresh fruit on the palate, with just a touch of that cinnamon making an appearance again.  There is a silken quality to the texture of this Pinot, if this makes sense; it just feels beautiful $30.

The 2009 Horse Leap vineyard is a horse of a different color in contrast to the Vine Idyl and the Johan, it's darker hued for one.  This is indeed a site specific Pinot with dark fruit and loads of earthy funk to the aromatics.  Oregon terroir is all over the nose of this wine.  A darker brooding mare in comparison to the other 2009s but this wine is still very pretty.  Ripe blackberries, dust and barrel spice round out the palate of this Pinot Noir from the far north end of the Willamette Valley. $30

The 2009 Johan is the darling Pinot of this year's release and it's garnering them some serious attention.  Travel and Leisure magazine named it one of 5 Willamette Valley wines you gotta go get. As elegant as the Vine Idyl, this wine is loaded with fresh bramble berries, cranberry and dried violet aromatics.  We see some of that amazing structure and mouthfeel that we found in the Vine Idyl as well.  A medley of bright red raspberries and blueberries and the wine finishes with a touch of eucalyptus. $30

The 2006 Reserve Pinot really shows Jim's range as a winemaker and Pinot handler. This reserve wine is a broad shouldered Pinot Noir. The oak is certainly a factor with aromatics, with ripe Italian plums, spices such as mace, cloves, and cedar alongside a palate of figs, the ripest round fruit, licorice and raisins.

These wines, as well as the 2007 Cuvee, show a real ability for Jim to approach each Pinot very differently. I was curious to know if, with all this variety, there is a style of wine that Seufert is aiming for. Jim said that, "house style or palate has been something we've talked about these last few weeks," but that he hasn't necessarily defined it himself. He has been getting feedback from colleagues within the Willamette Valley that a style is being noted; that the Seufert wines are being described as "pretty, floral" and there's notice being taken about that elegance that came through in some of the 2009s we tried.

For fans of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and or nice guys, the Seufert story is one worth checking out for yourself.  You never know, just maybe you'll find yourself in Dayton listening to Spandau Ballet before too long.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Friday Find, May 4

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.

People are going to start to worry about us at this rate.  Last week's Friday Find was a nod to the ancient practices of Alchemy and the red blend Script & Seal, and here we are this week talking about Druids.   Here's the weird thing about the Druids, we don't really know anything about them.  I mean, at least Wikipedia doesn't and if Wikipedia doesn't well then, that knowledge doesn't exist.  What we do know about the Druids is that they were fairly frightening and mysterious. They were a priestly group in the British Isles and they killed people.

I think the most bizarre part of this whole Druid mystery is that there's no debating their existence and on a very clear level their importance within Gaelic society, but what's lost is any clarity on what they did, believed and why they burned so many people alive.  We do know that the believed in the immortality of the soul and perhaps in some form of reincarnation.  There is a definite Druid connection to Stonehenge and it's use to celebrate the summer solstice, in lieu of naked cycling. That is where the definitive information seems to run cold, what has been pieced together about the Druid culture is that it was a priestly one, with descriptions ranging from sacrificial crazies to intellectual and theological pillars of the community.  What's clear is that they wore hooded robes and had beards, probably.

The Druid's Fluid from Troon Vineyard is a nod to Dick Troon's Scottish roots and is the name for the vineyard's "mistake wine."  A blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet and Zinfandel with a touch of sweetness (1.55 Residual Sugar) and ample acidity the wine is a lot of fun to drink. It strikes me as a great summer BBQ wine, and reminds me with it's acidity and touch of sweetness of the German red the Dornfelder.  The aromatics are slightly funky at first, but give way to loads of fruit with cherries and strawberries.  The palate has that touch of sweet berry and a fruit forward character that's backed with ample acidity.

That touch of sweetness was that first mistake, in 2000 some Syrah with insufficient nitrogen resulted in a stuck fermentation.  The wine therefore retained some of it's sugar and the result was a sweet red wine.  Friends of Dick Troon found it to be an enjoyable easier drinker and so they've recreated the wine by stopping fermentation before all of the sugar is broken down. The result is a fruit forward red wine with great acidity and a kiss of sweetness, don't think tacky California sweet wine, think Old World German Dornfelder and for $18 it's a nice change of pace. You can find the wine fairly readily throughout Oregon, in Fred Meyer and Safeway or check out the dope wine locator beacon on the Troon website to track it down.  Suspend your disbelief about sweet red wines, and maybe do a side by side tasting with a Dornfelder you'll see for yourself. I'd recommend drinking it after chilling slightly next to your favorite home grilled burger.  Stay away from any Druids though.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

UnWine'd Rewind: Celebrate Oregon Wine Indeed!


This past Sunday, the Oregon Wine Board hosted UnWine’d: Celebrate Oregon Wine in Portland’s industrial-chic Left Bank Annex. The elaborate tasting featured 80+ wineries throughout the Oregon AVAs, and a heaping handful of restaurant vendors, delicious accoutrements in-tow. This grand tasting served as the kickoff event for Oregon Wine Month, which continues through the month of May and culminates in the ever-popular Memorial Day weekend wine country open house.
mini sliders & pasta {a la Davis Street Tavern}
With my free time rarely being spent outside of the immediate Portland area, I am ecstatic when wine country comes to me. Tasting book and floorplan in-hand, I was determined to explore and branch out rather than catching up with my known favorites. At these large-scale, free-for-all tasting events, I haven’t quite come up with a system. Sometimes I ask for recommendations from other pourers or, a self-diagnosed font snob, I’ll often wander until a label or logo catches my eye (gasp! but I swear, it’s a thing). In this case, I was reading through my list and came across an interesting name: Kandarian. Admittedly I did a double-take with the subsequent whoa, the Kardashians make wine? That would be a.w.k.w.a.r.d. Regardless, the thought amused me and I strolled over to the Kandarian table. To my surprise and extreme delight: jackpot.
Jeff Kandarian has been the winemaker for King Estate since 2008 in addition to producing his own wine under the label, Kandarian WineCellars. Make no mistake – though the site is still in the works, Jeff and the wines he has created thus far are legit; every bottle of the five being poured was adventurous and memorable. The 2010 Blue Eye Sauvignon Blanc drew me in with an incredibly bright peachy fruit on the nose and a slight effervescence on the finish. The ’09 Pepper Mélange Syrah, appropriately named, was bold and peppery with a very subtle smokiness. I was impressed to the very last drop: the ’08 Ice Box, a rich and syrupy Pinot Gris dessert wine.
Others of my UnWine’d favorites included the Stoller ‘08 Pinot Noir and ’09 Chardonnay (is it summer yet?). Fellow Anthem blogger Tiffany Stevens enjoyed the Quady North ‘11 Pistoleta, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, and the Chardonnays featured by Johan Vineyards (’09), Phelps Creek Vineyards (’10) and Winderlea Winery (’09).
Of course it’s not only on special occasions you can enjoy these collective tastings in PDX, you can enjoy them really close to special occasions too! PDX Urban Wineries, a group of winemakers committed to making wine within the city limits, will host their Passport Tasting on May 12th from noon to 5pm. So, pick up your mother and taste some wine Mother’s Day weekend at any and all of the PDX Urban Wineries member locations. Pick up your winery passport and travel the world of urban-made wine across the neighborhoods of Portland – enter to win prizes and as a participant you’ll enjoy 10% off bottles at all member locations. Happy Oregon Wine Month to all!

sliding door at left bank annex