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

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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Okanagan; Not Just for Cool Climate Varietals: Le Vieux Pin

Canada's Okanagan Valley is a large and varied wine region; still slightly mysterious even to those most ardent Northwest wine fans because of what's known casually as a "national border" and Canada's very tough wine regulations.  I first came to appreciate the wines of the Okanagan as a result of beautiful fruit forward examples of Pinot Noir, crafted in a cool climate style.  My appreciation grew when I stumbled across some aromatic whites; the kinds of white wines and varietals you'd associate with Germany or Northern Italy's Friuli or Alto-Adige. My mind was made up by these examples, the Okanagan is a cool climate region producing delicate beauty, aromatics and acidity that craft perfect food wines.

But wait...there's more.

As it turns out, the Okanagan has a fair bit of climate variability. Its cooler regions, those to the North of the Valley near Kelowna and the middle of the valley around Penticton produce nice examples of cooler climate wines. The Valley, however, dips all the way south to the Washington state border where we find Oosyoos, which favors warmer climes.

Le Vieux Pin, or the The Old Pine is located in this area of South Okanagan, where the weather is significantly warmer.  When I mentioned to Rasoul Salehi, General Manager for Le Vieux Pin, that I was sorry to see they were discontinuing the production of Pinot Noir, Rasoul explained that while the Okanagan is a young growing region they're already learning some lessons and one of those is that the Pinots and Gamays that have found success to the North do not work in the Oosyoos because of the warmer weather.

"As a young wine region with a lack of experience, tradition or know how, trial and error has been key," he says, "After four to five vintages of dedicated experimentation we are finding our focus."  For Le Vieux Pin, that focus is on Rhone varietals, though the later ripening Mouvedre and Grenache are not a match for the climate, and the white varietals Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

What the Okanagan lacks in experience or tradition, it makes up for in spirited youth and "Wild West" attitude.  There is a balance, an homage, and an appreciation for the work done in the Old World, and even successfully here in North America. In many ways, there is also a relief from the constraints of tradition and the controls of AOCs.  Le Vieux Pin is about that open-minded and experimental approach, learning by doing and in so doing learning to make the best wines the Okanangan will grant them.

Le Vieux Pin is taking its inspiration from the Rhone and from French tradition.  They're also pushing boundaries for the Okanagan and they've found their customers and fans to be educated about wine and they're looking to Le Vieux Pin among others to push the envelope for BC and Canadian wine.  Le Vieux Pin, in turn, is happy to be working amidst such a strong wine culture in the South Okangan and they're grateful for the restaurant, wine bar and sommelier scene that continue to do the work of educating and inspiring Canada's wine scene.

I had the pleasure of trying their 2009 Roussanne/Viognier blend.  The aromatics are light and lively suggesting fruit and floral components.  The wine has lychee, lemon peel and honeysuckle aromas and  delivers on ample acidity while also carrying through a fair amount of rounded mouth-feel.  This wine is an undeniably outstanding example of a white Rhone style blend.  The mouthfeel and acidity are dialed in to a tee.  The folks at Le Vieux Pin are making wines worth taking note of should you find yourself north of the border.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Find, April 27

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.

What is alchemy? Alchemy is in many ways proof that people are crazier than, well, lavatory rats. It was a bit of pseudo science, with the occult and plain quackery mixed in, but it was also a precursor to chemistry and modern medicine.  Those who practiced alchemy believed they could summon ancient powers and possibly achieve immortality.  At the same time their experimentation and laboratory practices can still be seen in use today in chemistry and pharmacology.

What got them off on the wrong footing was some of their ludicrous assumptions.  1: Transmutation: Alchemists believed that they could transmute, (not Trans Am) basic metals into valuable precious metals such as gold.  They spent a lot of time on this, too much when you consider that it's IMPOSSIBLE.  2: The Philosopher's Stone: this was pretty much the end all and be all of alchemy, it among other things gave you the ability to do any transmutation, most importantly of clunky things into gold, it could help you bring dead plants back to life, create perpetually burning lamps (cuckoo!), create a clone of yourself, heal illness, grant longer life and... create malleable glass.  Malleable glass? What's that good for? Alchemists sheesh.

The Philosopher's stone came in two forms, white which turned things into silver and red which turned things into gold.  The Script & Seal wines from the Blind Boar Wine Company (Dusted Valley) also come in white and red and the labels are adorned with bizarre symbolism that depict a script and seal attributed to alchemy.

The Script & Seal 2008 red wine, is simple, honest and tasty.  Subdued aromatics, of cedar and red currants actually really opened up over time. On day two the aromatics showed more depth with darker fruit and roast coffee.  This red is medium bodied loads of fresh fruit, a touch of barrel spice, and a lot more minerality than you'd expect to find in a $12 wine.  A simple food friendly wine with a fair amount of acidity would pair great with pizza or comfort food. The wine is mostly Syrah but it includes small amounts of Cabernet, Cab Franc and Malbec. Will it turn something into gold? I don't know about that but in the immortal words of Ralph Macchio "nothing golden ever stays anyways, so sweep the leg Johnny".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Simply Gorge-ous: Columbia Gorge Winegrowers take on Seattle

Say “Columbia River Gorge” to a native and a few things might come to mind: the three-day music and, uh, plant festival also known as Dave Matthews Concert weekend at the Gorge Amphitheatre or the engineering wonders of our myriad hydroelectric dams, perhaps. Or maybe the ridiculously breath-taking views that made it the first recognized National Scenic Area. Much like Ben Franklin supposed that “beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy,” the 80 mile stretch between Portland and The Dalles seems proof positive that God loves the Pacific Northwest just a little bit more than other places. Between the waterfalls, the perfect windsurfing conditions and the dramatic canyon walls only a badass Ice Age flood could produce, the Columbia River Gorge is a bona fide treasure.

The author, a little too excited about the sweeping vistas...
So the fact that it’s also home to over 35 stellar wineries, well…it’s hardly fair, right? The Gorge wineries run the gamut from torchbearers like 2009 Washington Winery of the Year Maryhill, to boutique wineries like Piedmonte-inspired Marchesi Vineyards of Hood River and the slightly-scandalously-named (and unsurprisingly popular with the young folks) Naked Winery. The Gorge AVA is relatively new, but packs a wallop into 40 miles of real estate, with a wide range of terroir that has earned it the tagline “a world of wine in 40 miles.” The impressive geological realities that make the Gorge gorgeous and windsurfer-friendly (varied elevation, varied rainfall and some serious wind gusts) also allow a wide variety of grapes to be grown throughout the Gorge.

While they can’t bring you the windsurfing, the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers are bringing Seattleites the nectar of the Bridge of the Gods on May 6th at Wine World Warehouse. From noon-5:00pm, Columbia Gorge Wineries will be pouring a variety of wines that showcase the depth and breadth of varietals coming out of the region, with winemakers on hand to serve as your virtual terroir tour guide. Solstice Woodfire Café will be serving up hors d’oeuvres to pair. Tickets are on sale now, and just $25. Get inspired for your next weekend road trip and preview the best the Gorge has to offer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hey, Ho, Let's Go!... to the PDX Urban Wineries

From our main man of the mat, guest blogger Lucha Vino:

The Ramones are one of the greatest bands in history rising out of New York City. They came into being at a time when long hair, long solos and elaborate song writing were the norm for rock-n-roll. They challenged the status quo and took the world by storm blitzing listeners with two minutes of fury that often started with Dee-Dee Ramone shouting out “1,2,3,4…”

The Ramones were at their best when they were on the road. And that is exactly where I was last weekend…

On the road investigating the Portland Urban Winery scene. If what I witnessed was any indication, these wineries are about to stomp all over the status quo à la the Ramones in the Seventies.

I was lucky enough to be in town at the same time as Helioterra’s party to celebrate their inaugural Wine Club release. It turns out that I was in for an afternoon exploring some dynamite wines being made right in the heart of Portland. I got to experience the elegant wines from Helioterra, and was also treated to two suave single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Vincent Wine Company.

My prequel to all of this was a visit to Grochau Cellars where I tasted two more single vineyard Pinot Noirs exhibiting some serious style and panache.

The Helioterra party was hosted at The Slate in North West Portland. The space is a Scion dealership by day. By night (and weekend) it is a place for hip new ventures to display their wares. The Ramones would have felt right at home here. It is easy to imagine Joey, Johny, Marky and Dee Dee over-loading your senses with monster waves of rock-n-roll delivered in such furious fashion there is barely time to breathe.
                                             It's so street at The Slate that even the spray cans were graffiti'd on.. 

Anne Hubatch built her career in the wine industry much like the Ramones did, from the ground up. While the Ramones started their career by playing show case gigs at their rehearsal studio in Queens, Anne started her career working in tasting rooms. She progressed from there working with many of the most respected wine makers in Oregon including David Hamacher, Dave Paige, Joe Dobbes and Alfreddo Apolloni before finally striking out on her own to start Helioterra Wines with her first vintage in 2009. We're not sure Anne has even been to Queens.

The Ramones dropped a bomb on rock-n-roll by stripping the music down to bare bones and recapturing the essence of rock. They proved that minimalism does not equal a lightweight result. Anne is doing the same thing with her wines. Stripping away the excess and letting the true character shine through.

Anne’s 2010 wines were on display to celebrate the inauguration of her Helioterra wine club.

Helioterra Wines

2010 Vintner Select Pinot Noir
Anne selects her favorite barrels from each vineyard she works with and selects a blend that will produce a small lot of 50 cases each year. The 2010 shows sweet red berries, light spices and a bit of lemon on the nose with a palate that is similar all resolving into a nice lightly spiced tart finish.

2010 Willamete Valley Pinot Noir
Nice medium red berries that remind me of a mix of strawberry and loganberry with some smoky woodsy underbrush notes and a nice sweet tart finish.

Anne requests that her fruit be harvested a bit earlier than normal in pursuit of her goal to deliver a stripped down version of these wines made from Washington state fruit. This restraint shows through in her Mourvedre and Syrah.

2010 Mourvedre
100% Mourvedre from the Birch Creek vineyard in Walla Walla. The nose shows dark red fruit, pepper and Asian spices. The palate also features the rich dark red fruit character along with nice clove and cinnamon spices that linger on to an awesome spicy finish.

2010 Syrah
Syrah from Coyote Canyon vineyards co-fermented with up to 5% Viognier . This Syrah is subtle yet bold at the same time. It features creamy lush red fruit, light pepper and nice spicy tannins that stick around for a solid finish.

Vincent Wines

Right alongside Anne was Vincent Fritzsche from Vincent Wines. Vincent got his start in the garage and found his way right back to the (Slate) garage again.

He has been making wine for about 10 years and began his personal wine making journey in his garage and hosting neighborhood tastings. Vincent put himself out for scrutiny, listened to the feedback and integrated it into his style. He appears to be poised to take the Portland wine scene by storm.

His 2011 barrel sample from Zenith vineyards lends credence to the prediction that Vincent Wines is on the rise. This Pinot Noir features rich raspberry intermingled with tart floral notes on the nose along with some smoky bramble notes. The palate has similar character along with some nice light notes of all spice.

Last but not least, Grouchau Cellars was my first stop on the PDX Urban Wine road trip. I missed John because he was out riding his bike.

I tasted two single vineyard Pinot Noirs that were both very nice. Grochau is definitely turning out the largest number of wines of the three wineries. He makes a variety of Pinot Noirs and blends. Each one reflects the unique character of their region just like the Ramones never lost the grit of New York City.

2009 Bjornson Pinot Noir
Nice earthy nutty and pine forest spicy nose with a similar palate of earthen spice strawberry & raspberry with a nicely tart light spicy finish.

2009 Zenith Pinot Noir
Lighter red fruits subtle forest floor and some menthol on the nose and finish.

There is nothing wimpy or lightweight about any of these wines. All three of these wine makers are letting the grapes and vineyard characteristics do the talking. You won't find any 5 minute guitar solos or over oaked fruit bombs here. Just solid straight ahead wines that challenge the establishment to get back to basics and kick out the jams.

As I reflect back on these wines, and my road trip, I can hear Dee Dee shouting out “One, two, three, four!
Hey ho let's go!!!”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shoot for the Moon; L'ecole 41 Perigee Virtual Tasting on May 6th

Count on the Anthem for a quick lesson in celestial mechanics; we're always out to help you learn new things. Celestial mechanics, primarily concerned with the application of physics to astronomical objects like stars and planets, aims to calculate and accurately predict orbital positions and paths of planets, moons and stars. In other words, helping us understand what in the world is going on in those night-time skies.

Since the Early Babylonians, mankind has been observing and applying mathematics to planetary and celestial movement. As early as 1830 BC, observations were made about the periodic and repetitive nature of celestial happenings. Nicholas Copernicus shook up the world by re-imagining a universe without the Earth at the center. Fast forward to 1687 and our homeboy Isaac Newton began to really refine the study of celestial mechanics in his Principia, specifically the detailed explanation of how observable gravitational forces acted upon bodies of varying size. This is where the term "darn tootin,' Isaac Newton" came from.

On May 6th the moon will be in its perigee - the point within its orbital path where it passes closest to Earth. Coincidentally, that is the same weekend that Walla Walla stalwart L'ecole 41 is celebrating their estate Bordeaux blend the Perigee at the annual Spring Release Weekend. The Perigee is a vineyard selection from the oldest blocks of Seven Hills Vineyard. The 2008 iteration is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and smaller contributions of Petit Verdot and Malbec. It's selected to demonstrate the structure and lovely aromatics that the vineyard produces.

Whether you're a fan of Washington wine, celestial mechanics, Isaac Newton, or even fig newtons, join in the party. How do you participate? Get the details here. If you really want to get the full experience, get over to Walla Walla. The folks at L'ecole are going to be pulling out library (old) bottles of Perigee to see how it's aging. You can also pick up a bottle at some of the finer wine shops near you, or order it online. The virtual tasting is from 4-6pm on Sunday, May 6th. We here at the Anthem will be celebrating as well hosting some friends and family, so look for the #perigee41 hashtag from our @WineAnthem or my @clivity twitter handles and join in the conversation.

Author's note: I didn't know any of these astronomy things until I looked on Wikipedia.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Unwine'd Friday Find, April 20

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 Find is the last time 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. We gave away two pair of tickets and the word I hear is that the event is selling like hotcakes. (You can also buy tickets here.)

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.

Unwine'd is not however just about Pinot or just about the Wilamette Valley, and so we head south for this week's Friday Find and the final Unwine'd Friday Find before the big event on April 29th.  Oregon's Rogue and Applegate Valleys can produce some very nice examples of Syrah, Zinfandel and Tempranillo as well as Viognier.  Today's Friday Find is a Rosé of Grenache and Syrah (or at least as best I can tell) from Quady North. (We'll be doing a lengthy feature on them in May.)

Herb Quady is the proprietor and winemaker at the namesake label Quady North but Herb has bounced around with winemaking stints at California's Bonnny Doon (as associate winemaker) as well as currently making wines at Troon Vineyard.  Making Quady North the only place he hasn't made wine that doesn't rhyme with loon.  The labels at Quady North might be the first thing to grab your attention and there's a good reason for it, they're colorful bright and bring to mind the classic imagery of old sailor tattoos. While the Spring weather has really been an exercise is torture lately, warm and sunny days appearing only for the drab grey weather to return, we're on the cusp of Rosé season.  In fact, I'm drinking Rosé just on principal.

The Rosé from Quady North is electric pink and has wide open floral aromatics right from the jump.  Done as a saignée this rose comes across with loads of melon, peach skin and a hint of fresh mint delivers you to the finish.  The acidity is perfect for pairing this wine with anything light but it will likely cut through the fatty grilled meats of summer as well.  For $13.50 you'd have to be ridiculous to pass on this find.  The Quady North wines are fairly readily available through out the PDX metro area check out Zupan's and New Seasons and get this Rosé before it's all gone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wandering the North Willamette Wine Trail: Part 2

From Kelsey Ivey Part 2 of her North Willamette Wine Trail adventure with the North Willamette Vintners.  Read part 1 here.

Learning to Smell at Patton Valley Vineyards
“Stick your nose in this one!” a young lady proclaimed from across the cool barn, where her group was standing around a table with colorful filled glasses. Shoving the glass in her friends face so his nose practically took a three-flip dive into the rim, she persisted, “what do you smell!?”

Just up a winding road from Plum Hill Vineyards, Patton Valley Vineyards piqued the senses on our second stop of the afternoon – and not just with its wines. A dedicated, estate grown vineyard with sweeping views of the North Willamette Valley, Patton Valley prides itself on crafting high quality Pinot Noir. Emphasizing flavor over production, their wines taste with superb balance that comes with close cultivation. Grown on south facing slopes composed of Laurelwood soil, Patton Valley showcases top-notch, complex pinot noirs that are built on the foundation that great wines are the result of consistent vineyard management and persistence to the craft.

Complimenting their dedication to flavor, Patton Valley set up an aroma board for visitors to sniff their way through. Showcasing the 30 most common scents found in wine, from mushrooms to coffee and grapefruit to eucalyptus, each tasting glass had in it the actual item that creates the aroma. With a flurry of color, texture and overwhelming aromas, each glass popped the senses into overdrive to help pin-point the subtle and sometime not-too-subtle aromas of wine.

With a glass of Patton Valley’s 2009 Chardonnay in hand (the only non-Pinot Noir they make), I took a deep breath in through my nose of the wine and then sniffed through the individual tasting glasses to find pairs – like an adult game of memory. With notes of chamomile, lemon and vanilla on the nose, the aroma pointed the wine’s flavors to a creamy citrus tone with hints of honey that left the palate silky. Repeating with their 2009 Unclassified Pinot Noir, the smell sifters traced the wine’s scent to bright fruit that continued to the tongue.

The real magic happened though not in the nose but in the mouth with Patton Valley’s third wine, its 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. Flourishing with spice and savory dark berries, this wine peaked with a nice even, medium density and smooth, lingering finish.

Getting Dirty at Elk Cove Vineyards
Leaving Old Highway 47 and past the small town of Gaston, I made my way through the spotty, forested countryside southward to Elk Cove Vineyards. Following the winery’s long driveway, we enter what seemed like a miniature wine paradise to taste wines built from the ground up. A picturesque winery nestled in its own cove of the valley filled with row after row of vines, Elk Cove Vineyards is one of Oregon’s oldest wineries. With over 600 acres on four separate vineyard sites, the winery focuses on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Demonstrating their vineyards’ unique soil and microclimate, the winery has also produced single vineyard Pinot Noirs since 1979.

Tasting their wines starting with the soil, Elk Cove featured three of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs with visual information about each vineyard’s soil type for visitors to learn how the different dirts influence flavor.

First up was their 2010 Clay Court Pinot Noir grown in Jory soils in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. With a bright red cherry fruit flavor, light texture and a touch of spice at the tip of the tongue, this wine is made to drink on the porch in the late afternoon. Following, we sampled the Laurelwood soil based Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir with its blend of bright fruit and peppered earthiness. Breaking through the loess-type soil with its dusty sedimentary, this wine stuck in the mouth with its bright acidity and density. Finally, the tasting concluded with a wine grown in the marine sediment known as Willakenzie. The 2010 Mount Richmond Pinot Noir, which is planted at a lower elevation (300-500 feet), struck a delicious balance between the previous two. With a showing of black current, blueberry and a light center of ripe red berries, this wine swept the palate with its full flavor and hanging mouth-feel.

As the afternoon continued on and I traveled further along the North Willamette Wine Trail, I was delighted to discover more hidden gems around each corner. From Kramer Vineyards with its trio of Pinot Gris to the Cooper Mountain Vineyards’ rustic tasting room, the North Willamette is perfecting its wine making and pulled together to showoff and shine as a unified trail that is ready for wine enthusiasts to walk its line.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wandering the North Willamette Wine Trail

From Kelsey Ivey reporting on the North Willamette Vintners event the North Willamette Wine Trail on March 31st and April1st. (The North Willamette wineries contain some of the Valley's most known names as well as quite a few small operations.)

Even in sopping rain and flooded fields, nothing stopped tasters from hitting the trail to good wine. With doors wide open for two days – even through storming weather and high water – the wineries of the North Willamette Valley showcased their best bounty in an effort to warm those wandering wine fans. Hosted by the North Willamette Vintners, the weekend promoted each winery’s strengths and the areas easy accessibility for self-guided tasting tours. Bringing guests great wine, food pairings and hands-on educational activities, the 22 wineries along the trail rolled open their cellar doors for an unforgettable journey. I joined the festivities on Sunday to take a fun, full day excursion from my southern romping grounds in Eugene to see if these yankees to the north could treat my taste buds to a good time.

 Playing in the Garden of Grafting at Plum Hill Vineyards 
After picking up my wine tasting kit from Montinore Estate and a few quick tastes of their certified biodynamic wines, I made my way to the first winery of the day – Plum Hill Vineyards. A small, family owned winery located between pastoral plots, Plum Hill features limited production Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rose, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Muller-Thurgau and Schonburger. Serving samples in their homey tasting room and gift shop, Plum Hill warmly greeted us with their wines and family hospitality.

Paired with their wines, Plum Hill offered a grape root grafting station for visitors to learn the ins-and-outs of this precise process – and even graft their own grape rootstock to take home! After spotting the table with a few people hard at work, I was giddy as a school girl for this hands-on lesson.

Fitting a Concord grape rootstock with the bud of a French Pinot Noir stem, the event volunteer from Ballard Nursery, just down the gravel road, walked me through the steps of grafting. A process used to protect the vines from an aphid-like insect called Phylloxera, grafting unites the best properties from the two grape varietals – the strength and resilience of the Concord with the desired quality and flavor profile of the Pinot Noir. The pesky Phylloxera, which burrows and feeds off of the root of the vines beneath the soil surface, was first discovered in North American in the mid-1800s, according to the Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network.  Inadvertently introduced to France, the invasive species destroyed nearly two-thirds of vineyards in Europe. However, while Pinot Noir has no natural barrier to this creature, the Concord grape – a native variety of North America – is resistant and provides a solid base for the Pinot Noir vines to flourish.

As I left Plum Hill and securely buckled my new baby plant into the back seat, I hoped that if it could survive infesting attacks by creepy-crawlies and make it home in one piece, that maybe – just maybe; it would survive my black-thumb-of-death as well.

(Part 2 on Wednesday)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Unwine'd Friday Find April 13

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 three 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 yet another pair of tickets to the event next week and you can learn more about that contest by heading over to our Facebook page. (You can also buy tickets here.)

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.

David Adelsheim is known as one of the pioneers and livng legends of the Willamette Valley ,his Adelsheim Vineyard  planted in the North end of the Valley in what is now the Chehalem Mountain AVA in 1972.  In addition to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris all of excellent pedigree Adelsheim Vineyards is making what might be the most rare white wine in all of Oregon, and perhaps the greater Northwest.  Auxerrois.  Yep, that's what I said, Auxerrois.  Pronounced oak-sair-wah, this Alsatian varietal came to Oregon in 1977.  According to some of the statistics dug up by the folks at Adelsheim there may be as few as 5700 acres planted world wide and they could only come across two other US producers of the varietal.  It's broadly used as a blending agent in Alsatian Edelzwicker and blended with Pinot Blanc in Cremant de Alsace.

What the 2010 Auxerrois from Ribbon Ridge AVA is, is a fantastically aromatic white wine with a fair bit of body to it.  At Adelsheim the wine is done mostly in stainless steel with just a small 5% spending some time in neutral oak.  A little bit of time on the lees also helps with a bit of a rounder mouthfeel.  The aromatics on the wine are very lively exhibiting bright crisp fruits, cut apple, pear blossom and spices.  The palate is fruit forward though not as lively in acidity as some aromatic whites, it delivers a more substantial finish and a prominent presence on the palate thanks to the sur lees approach.  For $17 this unique Oregon wine experience and perfect food wine make it a Friday Find definitely worth looking for and this one is a rare find indeed. Good luck searching for it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taste Washington Take 2: Coming to Oregon

After reading the Anthem's recent State of the Union summary of Seattle’s Taste Washington, Portlanders will have their chance to experience this event as it comes to Pure Space on Monday, April 23rd. 75 Washington wineries will pour their wines alongside tasty fare from 9 local restaurants. Bar Avignon, Wildwood, Cheese Bar, and Laurelhurst Market are some of the restaurants that will have an assortment of culinary delights to pair with the wines during the event.

This is a great opportunity to try wines from Washington wineries not readily available in the Portland market. Wineries will be pouring a selection of wines from their current releases, but it’s an excellent chance to find out more about all the wines they make. Did you know Chatter Creek is one of the few Northwest wineries that makes a Nebbiolo? Baer’s “Ursa” was #6 last year on Wine Spectator’s 2011 Top 100, but which other wines do they produce? Hestia’s Chenin Blanc is a rare Northwest treat, and their reds are consistently excellent across the board; have you tried them? Maybe you’ve heard the buzz about Gramercy, but haven’t been able to track down their wines. This is your lucky day. 

Read through the full list of participating wineries here, and check out their websites to find out more about their wines. If you are a diehard <fill in your favorite type of wine here> fan, find out which participating wineries offer that type of wine; ask them about it during the event. It will save you a few e-mails or phone calls, and you can get much more information in person. Check the event wine list as they may possibly be pouring your favorite for the event. The wine list will update as the wineries finalize their selections. Tickets are available here on the Washington Wine website

Monday, April 09, 2012

Wine and the City

From guest blogger Charlotte Chipperfield:

 It's a wonder why we never saw Carrie Bradshaw take off to the Finger Lakes for some wine tasting, although, now that I say it, she wasn't a fan of the outdoors, too many squirrels. Plus, nothing is worse than taking a vineyard tour and feeling your Manolo Blahniks sink into the cover crops. But I wonder, if there were urban wineries in New York City, would we have seen more glasses of wine in between all those cosmos?

I can’t speak for New York, but I have seen waves of wineries come and go trying unsuccessfully to make it work in San Francisco. Creating an urban winery is no easy feat but I think Portland, Oregon, may just have what it takes for a thriving and successful urban winery scene.

Known more for micro-breweries and being a stone’s throw away from Willamette Valley wineries, why would you stay in the city to taste? Well, Portland has a unique group of 9 wineries dedicated to producing quality wines closer to home. No need to plan long day-trips, you can literally stop by in between grocery shopping and other errands, and ladies, no alternative footwear required.

With wineries located throughout the city limits, I took on the challenge of exploring. On a rainy Tuesday, I decided to sneak into Hip Chicks do Wine and see if the ladies of Sex and the City were inside. Alas, they were not, but I did meet another woman who was escaping the elements, enjoying some wine tasting and bonding with the young man behind the counter. As I got cozy on a stool, I immediately felt like I was with friends at a wine bar. I learned more about the meaning of life than about the wines but if you are looking for a reasonable priced off-dry Muscat, Hip Chicks has got you covered. Full of honeysuckle, stone fruits and silky sweetness. With the tasting room nestled behind the barrels, the casual atmosphere made for a perfect mid-week sipping escape. Just don’t forget your jacket, the cellar temperature is chilly!

The following week, I visited Seven Bridges Winery. Meeting the husband and wife team of Jill and Kevin Ross, I immediately felt as if I were welcomed into their home and offered freshly baked cookies , only their living room was a winery and their cookies were amazinKevin is the co-winemaker and co-owner along with Bob Switzer. Kevin and Bob both have engineering backgrounds and have a serious hungry for knowing how things work, demonstrating some serious winemaking skills. Focused on crafting wines they like to drink, be prepared for some bold reds! Sourcing grapes from both Oregon and Washington, they have access to some elite fruit.

As the passionate Kevin bounced around from barrel to barrel in the converted auto repair shop, I found myself becoming just as excited as he was! My jaw almost hit the ground when tasting the Sangiovese Rosé, then I remembered I had wine in my mouth. Sluuurp! Just when I thought I couldn’t be wowed any more, we tasted the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon out of barrel. One of the most vibrant and well-rounded cabs I have tasted in a long time! Finishing with the Prima Nata, their flagship red blend and baby of the family, truly outstanding. Overall production is around 800 cases. I just can’t say enough great things about their passion and their wines! With the new tasting room opening April 7th, I suggest you walk quickly, take a cab, or bike your way over before they sell out!

No matter which of the 9 wineries you choose to visit, the pride of Northwest grown and made is alive and well. Portland urban wineries have created a true sense of community in addition to outstanding wines. So the next time you are picking up your dry cleaning, taking a Saturday stroll, or just out with friends, forget about cosmos and leave your wine country map behind. It’s time to explore the hip urban wine culture taking place in your backyard.

To view the full list of Portland Urban Wineries and learn more about upcoming events, go here.

Santé! Charlotte :)

Friday, April 06, 2012

Unwine'd Friday Find, April 6th

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 three 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 yet another pair of tickets to the event next week and you can learn more about that contest by heading over to our Facebook page. (You can also buy tickets here.)

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.

One of the knocks on Oregon Pinot Noir is the price.  And while Willamette Valley Pinot can command some higher price points, there are still some very nice value priced Cuvees, or blends that allow winemakers the opportunity to sometimes blend some of the Valley's most prized fruit with some fruit that that they've source from more affordable sites .  While I've tasted a fair number of Oregon Pinots falling into the under $20 category and will admit that sometimes the blends and larger production seem to blur the Oregonian fresh fruit and earthen character right out of the wines the Wine by Joe Pinot Noir, has stood out as a fantastic foray into what makes Pinot from this place so fantastic.

For somewhere in the $15 neighborhood the Wine by Joe Pinot Noir 2009 grants you admission to fantastic acidity and balance and a wine that delivers, or more to the point over delivers on fruit driven aromatics as well as clove and pepper.  The bramble berries so true to Oregon come pouring through on the palate, black berries and raspberries along with a touch of baking spice.  The wine though is sophisticated and brings out complexity and layers of flavor and in some ways a kind of confusion.  The kind of confusion where you say, "Really?  We got all this for only $15?"  The good kind.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

State of the Union; Taste Washington 2012

Well, Washington Wine Month has come and gone and with it another iteration of Taste Washington. The 2012 edition of Taste was "double your pleasure," extending from one day into two. It is the Washington wine industry's opportunity to showcase itself to media, trade (restaurants, retailers, etc.) and, most importantly, to Washington wine consumers. How did Washington do?

The Future is Now:
While Taste Washington 2012 was certainly about this year's releases, one of the main themes I took away was that Washington is in very good hands. You could see the future of Washington wine, and it's a bright one. I'm referring to the number of young winemakers who are setting a new standard for Washington wines: Va Piano's Justin Wylie, àMaurice Cellars' Anna Schafer, Jon Martinez of Maison Bleue, James Mantone of Syncline, Justin Neufeld of JB Neufeld, Efeste's Brennan Leighton among others and the list goes on. (There are also several who weren't even attending Taste Washington, like Ryan Crane of Kerloo Cellars.) Washington's youth movement is exciting on a number of levels, some of these winemakers have been at it for a long time and others are relatively new to winemaking but they're already making some of the best wine in the state. They're willing to experiment, think outside the box and they're learning from and acknowledging the good work that was done by their predecessors. If they're doing this now, what kinds of wines will they be producing in 20 years? We can only speculate but it doesn't take a divining rod to tell you that the future is exciting.

The Real Rhone Rangers:
The other clear point is that the real American home of the Rhone varietal is right here in Washington. There were Washington Syrahs on display at Taste Washington that were just absolutely stunning, the Liberte from Maison Bleue, the Boushey Syrah from Robert Ramsay Cellars, the Amavi Estate, Hedges Estate and Va Piano's Columbia Valley. Syrah is Washington's wheelhouse. In fact, the Rhone varietals in general are doing very well, Viogniers from El Corazon, Maison Bleue (I know I said that already, get used to it) and white Rhone Blends from Tranche, Rotie Cellars and a new winery Cairdeas solidify that case. Don't get me started on the red Rhone blends. The same is true for single varietal Grenache, Mouvedre, Roussanne, the Cooper Wine Company Marsanne, etc., etc. you get the point. Washington is a Rhone away from home for these varietals and the wines are singing, hear them?

Room for Improvement:
I left Taste Washington thinking there was still work to be done in two areas: marketing and Riesling.

To the first point, marketing; I went to Taste Washington knowing that I would be selective in the wines that I tasted. I had a list of wineries that I wanted to get around to, and after that I hoped to discover a few new or newer wineries. I struggled to find any that jumped out at me. Taste Washington can be an opportunity for a new winery to get their name out there, as with JB Neufeld last year. If there is a downside to the two day format, it may be the shorter trade and media time, which makes it less likely that folks will have time to explore the unknown before the crowds get too thick. To stand out, wineries need to do something to distinguish themselves, whether that means out of the box varietals, great packaging, a clever name - anything. One of the wineries I did discover at Taste Washington was Cairdeas Winery. I was drawn to their table for two reasons: the packaging is nice and eye catching and they were pouring a non-vintage Dolcetto and Syrah blend. They were nicely done wines and it's a winery I'll look for in the future.

To the second point, Riesling; I was really looking forward to tasting a few Rieslings and at the end of the day I was left wanting. There were some quite good Rieslings but nothing wowed me. All in all there was a lack of the necessary acidity to bring a brightness and balance to the wine. I know that Washington can make very nice Riesling, but if the standard is Germany (and it is), then the acidity needs to be there and in the most recent iterations of Washington Riesling it has not been. For the time being, I believe that it's the Willamette Valley of Oregon that has become the standard bearer of Northwest Riesling.

Top 5 from Taste Washington:
5: Rose shows the way. In case this is the only Northwest wine blog you're reading, and you haven't caught these stories,(Foodista runs down the Rose and the Washington Wine Report recap) Rose was knocking it out at Taste Washington. My favorite was probably the Rose of Mouvedre from Maison Bleue. Robert Ramsay Cellars also brought out a Rose of Mouvedre that has yet to be released, and it is dynamite. Last year's standout, Tranche Cellars, has once again made one of the best Roses in Washington, though this iteration is completely different varietally.

4: Vashon Island Pinot Noir? Really? I have to admit I was surprised myself. I wandered by the Puget Sound regional table and was looking for a little something to give my palate a break and when I saw the Pinot Noir from Vashon Winery, I had to give it a whirl. It was a very, very nice wine, well made, great flavors and acidity in a lighter bodied red wine. I know the Puget Sound and particularly the islands are making great aromatic whites, it turns out there is also good potential for Pinot Noir.

3: Hedges your bets. I have had some of the Hedges Family Estate wine at least each year for several years now and I can't recall being this excited about their wines in a while. While they've always done a brilliant job marketing their product and their Red Mountain cache, these wines will speak for themselves. My favorite was their Syrah, dark and meaty yet with some dried floral aromatics but the Rose and Chardonnay were also top notch.

2: Drawing a Blanc for Grenache. The Grenache Blanc from Two Vintners was an awfully fun wine to try and the first Grenache Blanc from Washington I'd had. Dick Boushey grows the fruit and he actually poured the wine for me. It was at the Boushey Vineyard table, Dick had asked that he be able to pour this wine because he thought it shows that the varietal can stand on its own (Well, mostly. It's 10% Roussanne.) and be very enjoyable. The Grenache Blanc was incredibly aromatic with fruits and blooming floral notes and a fantastic acidity that made this a great summer wine. It sounds like it's only available to wine club members at Two Vintners, but was certainly fun to try.

1: Wine of the Night (Day) I went into Taste Washington knowing I was going to be selective, and looking back there were a few tables that I still can't believe I missed, Waters foremost among them. The most distinctive and stand-out wine that I tried at Taste was the 2010 Northern Blend from Rotie Cellars. It's Syrah with just 5% co-fermented Viognier, resulting in a wine with an Old World charm, while also being earthen, funky and deep and savory. The earthen and dark fruit flavors and finish lasted well into my trek to the next table. As soon as I tasted the wine I knew it was the one, it had me at hello, if you will. As acclaim for this winery continues to mount, I urge you to try to get your hands on some of the wines now, before they're harder and harder to find. This one will tell you everything you need to know about what Washington Syrah can be.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Harper Voit; Obsessively Crafted Wines

Drew Voit’s intrigue for winemaking began while he was in high school in California. This intrigue led him to study at UC Davis where it continued to flourish as he was acquainted with the use of cement tanks and wine being made on the lees. That changed the course of his focus; He put Oregon wine front and center during his junior year.  He headed to Oregon after graduating and jumped into the wine industry. Working as Associate Winemaker for Domaine Serene paved the way for Drew to join Shea Wine Cellars as Winemaker in 2007. 2008 was a very full and chaotic year. With his position at Shea in full swing, he offered his greatly needed assistance as Consulting Winemaker for Domaine Serene during a transitional time for them, all the while raising a toddler with his wife, Tandy. Today with 14 years of winemaking to his credit and still Head Winemaker at Shea, Drew’s own Harper Voit label is also up and running. It’s commonplace for a larger winery (Shea) to have an agreement with their winemaker that allows venturing out with a personal wine label (Harper Voit). It proves to be a beneficial arrangement for both, giving a winemaker an opportunity to showcase their personal style. Harper Voit provides that opportunity, and Drew promotes vineyards that are important to him. He finds unique sites, vineyard gems that people may be unfamiliar with, and showcases their fruit. These places teach him, give him the winemaking tools he feels he may be missing in his toolbox.

Great relationships are foundational to Drew’s collaboration with people and vineyard sources. One of these collaborative efforts involves Old School Vineyard, farmed by Stephen Hagen in Junction City, Oregon. The partnership that has been forged is based on mutual respect and a commitment to doing things well, quality from the land up. Hagen farms this Bellpine soil using methods that are considered “old school”, hence the name. Old School is a LIVE certified vineyard, another reason for Voit to be proud of this site. For those unfamiliar with LIVE certification, the LIVE website summarizes:  “LIVE is an acronym meaning Low Input Viticulture and Enology. This refers to the practice of limiting the amount of raw materials (inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, water, chemicals, fuel, etc.) used in vineyard and winery production.” Hagen uses draft horses for planting and incorporates other farm animals into the cycle. Sheep have been trained (yes, that is not a misprint) to eat weeds and undesirable growth in the vineyard, while staying away from the grape leaves.  Sheep may not have a reputation for being smart, but Hagen surely does, proving that by his ability to do the incredible.

Most of the fruit for Harper Voit’s 2009 Strandline Pinot Noir comes from Old School Vineyard, with the remainder sourced from the Ribbon Ridge AVA. 210 cases were made. Those of you following Oregon Pinot trivia will know that “Sideways” author Rex Pickett auspiciously references this particular wine in his sequel “Vertical”, the characters waxing poetic. A quick search through the book finds the description:  “inky, plush, gorgeous, almost savage, a wild ride of pepper, black cherry, cedar and Cuban cigar”. Truly an inky, plush wine, this one begins to show its complexity with a bit of decanting and served at a cooler temperature. 

The fruit for the 2010 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Blanc was sent Voit's way after years of previously being grown for another winery. He was glad to have the opportunity. Revisit our article from March 9th where we featured this Pinot Blanc as our Friday Find. 83% of the fruit was fermented in 1 to 3 year old barrels with the remaining 17% done in stainless steel tanks. Only 120 cases were made. These small production wines are beginning to gain quite a following. Repeating the favorite motto of a childhood teacher, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

What does the future hold? A wine club is in the works, possibly called the Wise Acres Society. The witty "Wise Acres" was Drew’s original idea for the winery name, but after being advised to go with something less whimsical, he combined his middle and last name to create Harper Voit. As for the wines, keep your eyes open for some old vine Riesling in the future, and an Old School Vineyard designate Pinot Noir for the wine club.  

Passionate not only about wine, Drew is a foodie who enjoys cooking for his family. Tandy is grateful to experience firsthand the culinary skills of her artist/scientist husband. Wine goes hand in hand with food, and showcasing the wines with the food of Oregon is a natural expression. Drew’s passion for “obsessively crafted wines” is evidenced in each glass. Online ordering is available through the winery. The wines are poured by the glass and sold by the bottle at several Willamette Valley locations. A comprehensive list can be found at the end of our March article here.