Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Seattle Wine & Food Experience Ups the Ante

The Seattle Wine & Food Experience is rolling into town on Sunday February 24th. The fourth iteration of the event finds the volume turned up considerably this year and an opportunity for those in attendance to certainly taste Northwest wines but also explore, ciders, beers and and spirits. Additionally, as the title indicates there will be food. (It turns out lots of food from some of the region's more renowned establishments.)

What the title doesn't indicate is that the Seattle Wine & Food Experience is probably one of the more unique consumer wine tasting events in both Seattle and the Northwest. With 32 Washington wineries and 33 from Oregon as well as wines from Idaho, and someplace called California the event offers both focus and range. Where it gets interesting from the attendee's standpoint is with a lot of the "programming" and educational events that will go on throughout the event.

Let's face it though folks, brevity reigns when it comes to titles and so it's likely that the Seattle Wine, Cider, Spirits, Beer, Coffee and Food Educational Experience never crossed the event's producer Jamie Peha's mind as a title option. "I feel strongly that there needs to be more to an event than just eating and drinking and I'm a big proponent of making sure all audiences are served well.  We encourage vendors/sponsors to create an educational bent to their participation and really offer consumers a way to engage with their products or services more deeply."

Folks can expect to taste a lot of wine of course, and in so doing there is a lot to be learned, but don't let the learning stop there. Cooking demonstrations with Stella Artois, and probably coolest of all is a beef tasting of Washington corn fed beef against Midwestern raised beef, a throw-down of sorts. I'd be lying if this didn't remind me of the story of the chef of McMinnville's Thistle, who got into a fistfight over a pig tasting, at Cochon 555 a couple years back in Portland. Let's hope peace prevails.

With any experience you get out what you put into it. If you're looking for an opportunity to submerge yourself into Northwest wine beyond Washington, or if you're looking to explore about 20 different spirits being produced here in the Northwest or if you're just looking for a good time you'll probably find all of those options at the Seattle Wine & Food Experience.

(I forgot to mention the whole reason for the "Up the Ante" title was the Snoqualmie Casino sponsorship and they'll actually be doing some gaming tables at the event. If you know when to hold em and know when to fold em, make sure you check that out as well.)

Tickets are still available here, but remember, the event sells out each year. Maybe I'll see you there?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Find, January 25th

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 at or 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.

Sometime last summer, Oregon was perfectly situated for premium viewing of a Perseid meteor shower. Hoping to catch several glimpses of astronomical beauty, my husband Tom and I put out a blanket on the front lawn late in the evening and waited. Tom spotted something fiery off to the right, but it all happened too quickly for me to see. A few more blazing lights briefly appeared for Tom, but seen only out of the corner of my eye; I was determined to wait for The Big One. Nearly an hour went by, and the night sky remained dark and undecorated. Concentrating intently, waiting for any sign of movement, I shuddered as a black figure dove from the sky behind us then over our heads. Swooping down was something that resembled the silhouette of the Lego Batmobile, nearly skimming my shoes before it raced into the trees across the street. I've never been a fan of bats, and had no intention of learning to love them at this moment. Up came the blanket, and we returned to the house. I felt like I had just lost all my money on carnival games without procuring the giant teddy bear - ripped off, and scared to death by a giant bat as well.

Why am I bringing bats to the table today? Not all bats make you run for the hills. The Dominio IV 2009 Technicolor Bat is one that will always be welcome. The iridescent rainbow colored bat on the label says, "Come on in from the lawn. Have a drink. Relax." Technically, this could be labeled as Tempranillo with a blend of 77% Tempranillo and 23% Syrah. The fruit comes from The Three Sleeps Vineyard in Mosier, Oregon, 20 minutes southeast of Hood River. Winemaker Patrick Reuter and his wife Leigh Bartholomew, Vineyard Manager for Archery Summit, found this place a few years back. They planted Tempranillo, Syrah and Viognier. The vineyard is organically and biodynamically farmed. Not only is this the source of exceptional fruit, but there is a bed and breakfast on site, run by Leigh's parents. 

The Technicolor Bat is a nicely structured wine that slowly opens up into complex beauty. The nose shows dense black fruit, with the initial flavors of currants, dark berries and anise continuing to expand into much more over the course of a few hours. Black tea leaves, toast and a hint of savory from the Syrah appear in the background as the dark fruit flavors continue to broaden. The Tempranillo gives this wine more structure and tannin than some of the higher acid non-Pinot Oregon reds. It is nicely done and is never overpowering. Priced at or under $20, this wine is a very impressive buy. You can find it at Dominio IV in McMinnville, on their website, and also at New Seasons, Whole Foods and other local wine shops well stocked in Northwest wines.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Find, January 18th

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 at or 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.

I am a big fan of Oregon wine, huge. This is in spite of the fact that I am not much of a fan of Ken Kesey, even though he is from Oregon. I love Oregon Pinot Noir, I think Oregon Chardonnay is the real deal but I must admit, largely, I feel like when it comes to Oregon Pinot Gris, I'm missing something.

I should also state that it's not that I don't like it, or that I think it's bad. I just think it's kind of boring compared to what else Oregon can and is producing. I understand, commerically the need to have a white wine. What I don't necessarily understand is why Pinot Gris.

Let me explain myself. I continue to be impressed with Oregon Chardonnay, incredibly so. I don't know that I've had a "meh" one to date. The varietal does so well in Oregon in terms of acidity and complexity. Rather than round and ripe, Oregon Chardonnay is proving to have great minerality and bright fruit profiles. Oregon Riesling is dynamite. Rieslings from Chehalem, Trisaetum and Anam Cara stand out as brilliant food wines, again with great acids and depth of flavors.

Given how wonderfully these two wines do I'm not sure why nearly every Oregon winery is producing a Pinot Gris, as opposed to say a Riesling or Chardonnay. I largely find Oregon Pinot Gris underwhelming and forgettable. I just don't find them that much fun to drink, and that's what wine should be about. I will admit that I haven't tried all of them. I know that the Pinot Gris produced by Eyrie Vineyards has a reputation for excellence, but I haven't tried that wine in a very long time. Jason Lett even once took me to task on the Twitter for being dismissive about Oregon Pinot Gris as "blaming the victim." His implication was that it wasn't the Gris that was the wrong fit for the Willamette, it was perhaps the way the wine was being grown, or made that was to blame.

I also know that there's a history of the varietal in the Willamette Valley, and that winemakers and growers from Alsace have played a role in the wine flourishing in Oregon. I respect that, but that doesn't change my opinion about most of the Pinot Gris I've tried. Yawn.

Hell, I prefer Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc to Pinot Gris. I find it's got a zing and a zest that largely Gris doesn't deliver on.  Today's Friday Find however has me eating a bit of crow.  The 2011 Carabella Pinot Gris from the Chehalem Mountains AVA is downright fantastic. I can't believe I said that.

The wine has a goodly amount of zip to it, in both it's aromatics and fruit forward profile. Lemon, grapefruit and honeysuckle aromatics as well as flavors of early season pear and wet stone. There's a bit of neutral oak used in the production but it hasn't dulled the fun acidity nor has it rounded the wine out in a way that makes it feel flabby at all.

The rumor on this wine is that a gentleman visited the tasting room and was really impressed by the Gris. It turned out that he owns a night club in the French region of Alsace and has been importing and serving this wine there, an Oregon Pinot Gris in Alsace to rave reviews. I don't know if the story is true, but it's a good one all the same.  For $18 this one is certainly worth your time and money and frankly it's a wine that in my eyes might show just how much fun Oregon Pinot Gris can be. Hell, it's good enough for Alsatian night club goers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Youngberg Hill; Site and Scenery in the McMinnville AVA

A short drive out of McMinnville and a steep sharp right hand turn leads the way up and up to Youngberg Hill. The sight and site is one to behold in terms of viewpoint, and Pinot Noir, it turns out.  The bed and breakfast, owned and operated by Wayne and Nicolette Bailey, is smack dab in the middle of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vineyards that certainly add romance to the sweeping views of the Willamette Valley as well as points north and south.

The inn is reason enough to make both the trip and that steep climb. My room had views of the vineyards below and the rolling hills of the McMinnville AVA. On a clear day Mt. Hood, Jefferson and the Sisters add to the show. The place is all sorts of charming, and in addition to the views and hospitality it grants you, the location would put it on the shortest of short lists in terms of rooms with a view for exploring Oregon's Willamette wine country.  

While Youngberg Hill is a Valley gem in terms of  accommodations what is most interesting about the place is their Pinot Noir, particularly from the Jordan Block.  The site, which lies slightly outside of the panorama visible from the front porch, sits on a steeper angle than the rest of the property at between 750 and 800 feet elevation. The block is a "field blend" of Pommard and Wadenswil clones on the well draining, sedimentary Steiwer soil.

Back in 1989, while Ken Wright owned Panther Creek, he convinced the property's owners to plant Pinot Noir in what is today the Jordan Block, (named for one of the Bailey's daughters). Wright bought the fruit exclusively until 96 when he sold Panther Creek. That winery continued to buy the Jordan Block Pinot until Wayne bought the Youngberg Hill property in 2003, he was tipped off to the place by Jimi Brooks. Wayne moved the vineyard in the direction of what he calls "holistic farming." For Wayne, holistic farming is "not quite biodynamics." He's not following the moon per se, but it's about creating a closed system, allowing for biodiversity and taking an approach that considers the entirety of the farm, not just the grapes.

Wayne treated myself and a few other writers to a vertical tasting of the Jordan Block Pinot Noir beginning with the 2006 and wrapping in 2010. For Wayne, 06 is three years into his holistic farming approach and the wine would show "the essence of this place." As we moved toward the most recent vintages, Wayne suggested we'd see vintage variation but perhaps an evolution in the site.  My overall impression of the Jordan Block as a site is of one that brings a lot of minerality (read "earthiness"),  tannins and acidity to Pinot Noir. Fruit character and aromatics are more subdued, except perhaps on the cooler vintages, 2007 and 2010 showed elegant and slightly more fruit forward aromas. The site produces fine Pinot Noirs, including one of the most enjoyable and vibrant 2008s I've had to date, thanks to that acidity.  (I have included my tasting notes at the end of this piece on each vintage.)

Youngberg Hill is already pretty much booked through the high season a year out, so if you go visit (and you should consider it) go in the Winter and take your bicycle, if you're so inclined. The driveway makes for a nice challenge. What's special to me is that they clearly have a beautiful place, it's a destination within wine country to be sure. Often times "destination wineries" put a lazyperson's emphasis on the wine part of the equation. Wayne Bailey does not, he is making serious and intellectual Pinot Noirs worthy of anyone's consideration.

2006 Jordan Block- Fainter aromas of crushed stone and forest floor and a flavor profile that includes mushrooms, hints of blackberry, clove and white pepper. Great balance and tannins show this wine as only really just getting started.

2007 Jordan Block-Lots of vibrancy and bright acidity in this cool site, cool vintage pairing. Aromatics of early season red raspberry, and flinty stone took some time to coax from the wine. Brighter berry flavors, and a mineral finish.

2008 Jordan Block-The fullest bodied Pinot from Youngberg's tasting that night but I found it to be one of the most redeeming examples of the vintage. I am finding, at least as I'm drinking them now that the 08s are a little clunky, and dull. The Jordan Block however gets a great lift in vibrancy from the acidity that this site imparts.Substantial tannins, and roundness as well as dark fruit flavors. Aromas of cedar and baking spices.

2009 Jordan Block-This wine was a bit of a departure from the others. Not the least of which was the substantial improvement in the label change. The nose was quite closed up and the wine felt a bit angular. High acids and flavors of white pepper, chalk, eucalyptus and a touch of red fruit. This vintage of Jordan Block perhaps needs more time, I'd love to revisit it in a year.

2010 Jordan Block- My love affair with 2010 in Oregon continues with this Jordan Block Pinot Noir. The elegance of the aromatics do the job with aromas of violets and sweet candied fruit. The wine was also quite pretty to drink, with a soft mouthfeel, more demure acidity and loads of blue fruit flavors. While my favorite of the flight was the 2008 this one has the most glaring potential.

I stayed at Youngberg Hill as a guest of the Inn and Winery.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Find, January 11th

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 at or 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 we're sticking with a theme and that theme is that you're only as old as you feel. Actually, that's not it at all. The theme is that the Yakima Valley is 30 years old in 2013. Washington's first AVA was granted it's status in 1983. For those of you at least my age, the idea that you could be born in the 80s and be 30 is frankly disturbing. 

The great thing about turning 30 is that it really allows you to see that the first 29 years were just practice, and secondly you can mark the milestone, it is a significant one, with a great party. Frankly, I don't actually remember what I did for my 30th birthday, but when my wife turned 30 we spent a romantic weekend in San Francisco. The coolest 30th birthday party I've ever attended? When my friend Jon turned 30 we all went out and played Whirlyball. (If you're not competitive or sports inclined this may seem silly to you, but I had a blast.)

Whirlyball if you're not familiar is a game that combines several sports, basketball, jai alai and bumper cars, naturally. You advance the ball to your teams goal and shoot it into a basket, the other team tries to stop this by bumping you, stopping your forward progress or interrupting any passes you might make. It's incredibly fun, providing everyone plays safe and reasonably.  Our group did, no injuries.

This week's Friday Find is from the birthday girl, the Yakima Valley AVA. A Yakima Valley wine from Chandler Reach is their "Super Tuscan" style blend the Corella. Mostly Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet and a splash of Merlot it's a fun example of Washington's take on the classic Italian varietal. Frankly I wish there were more out there. Sangiovese is a great food wine with it's acidity and brighter fruit elements and it's a great gateway wine for fringe wine drinkers to become serious wine drinkers. The grape doesn't come with all sorts of tannin baggage that can scare off those who are new to wine, or consider themselves "white wine drinkers."  This blend has that acid as well as the brighter cherry and strawberry notes the varietal seems to show nicely here in Washington. For $18 bills this is a really nice change up and a great pizza wine. (I got mine at Wine World and while this is the 07 the 08 is the current vintage.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

At 30, the Yakima Valley is Really Something

To begin with I should say that it gives me pause that 1983 was thirty years ago; the year that saw Return of the Jedi come to the theaters, Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space and the Dow Jones closed at 1,258.  That same year, the Yakima Valley became the first AVA, or American Viticultural Area, in Washington State.

The history of wine in the Yakima Valley is really the history of Washington wine. The Yakima Valley saw Dr. Walter Clore's work at the Prosser-located WSU Irrigation Branch Experiment Station, now referred to as the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, where he oversaw what was essentially the discovery of what Washington could be in terms of wine. Today, the Yakima Valley sees the wines of Red Mountain, Washington's highly esteemed "sub-appellation" located within the Yakima Valley AVA, find their way to the White House dinner table with some regularity.

The region has come into its own; growing into the potential seen by pioneers like Clore, John Williams and Jim Holmes, Stan Clarke, David Lake, Wade Wolfe, the Sauer family, and Dick Boushey. Their discoveries and the promise of the Yakima Valley is really a story of time and experimentation as well as patience and cooperation.

"Mike Wallace (of Hinzerling Winery) was really the impetus," says John Williams, one of the founders of Red Mountain and Kiona Vineyards. "At the time, the ATF governed AVA applications, and there was a federal registry that had announced the opportunity to apply for an AVA designation. Mike really thought it was something we should do."  John, Mike and Randy Tucker of Tucker Cellars got together and Mike won them over. The three of them, along with the Yakima River Winery, formed a sort of loose Wine Growers Association. "We each took on a different part of the application, submitted it and it came back approved three or four months later."  

The establishment of Yakima Valley as an AVA did not mean that the learning or experimentation was over. In fact, it was really just beginning.  "In 1983 I was three years into my first planting of Cab Sauv., Merlot and of all things Chenin Blanc... I was learning on the job," says Dick Boushey. At the time, Walter Clore was recommending hardy German varieties, which many people were planting, but Dick was interested in other kinds of wine. "I think what influenced me was the older Otis Vineyard and the old Lester Fleming Vineyard on Hawn Hill.  Both these old blocks were near my farm and I would visit them frequently and even made wine, homemade wine, from these blocks.  They both had older red varieties."

"A small handful of growers were starting to incorporate wine grapes into their mix of crops and we were all trying to learn together.   We were collectively trying to develop the best growing methods that would produce decent grapes in the valley.  Lots of mistakes were made." Viticulture was a new practice for these farmers, some of whom had been growing other crops for generations. What they learned was that growing wine grapes was a whole different animal. Over time growers moved away from frost and freeze areas like the valley floor. "We slowly and sometimes painfully learned from our collective experiences and moved to more desirable sites and fine tuned our cultural practices. This process is still going on today."  

For John Williams the AVA designation alone added a lot of value to both the Yakima Valley and Washington in terms of name recognition. "At the time it was the only one, so anytime anyone in the wine press wrote about Washington, Yakima Valley was mentioned." That led to a lot of good press and notoriety.  

Things have changed and so has the Yakima Valley but it remains the state's leader in vineyard acreage. As the newer sub-appelations have grown in esteem, the Yakima Valley remains a front runner. “The coming year is a special one for the Pacific Northwest wine industry,” said Barbara Glover, executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, the official association of Yakima Valley wineries and growers. “We’re celebrating the confluence of conditions that has made the Yakima Valley so important to the regional wine industry: this valley is the first AVA in Washington State; this valley is home to the most vineyard acreage in Washington State; and this valley fuels the best wine labels across the state and beyond.” She added, “I encourage everyone to enjoy the compelling simplicity of having ‘first, most, and best’ in one appellation: Yakima Valley.”

Glover commented that the local wine industry will be making the most of the 30th anniversary throughout 2013. “In all, everyone will see that 30 years is worth celebrating—and that 13 is a very lucky number.” 

The AVA is planning a series of events over the course of the year aimed at consumers, wine media and retailers. All of those events and updates can be found at the AVA's blog here.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Friday Find, January 4th

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 at or under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

The world we live in changing and no one seems to be really all too concerned but me, or me and a few other people on I'm talking about French Burnt Peanuts. The delicious snack that is apparently French in origin. They're disappearing  or rather, they've already disappeared. You cannot find them anywhere in this town. This is Seattle for god's sake. You can find 100 different kinds of sake, or soy sauce or curry. You can find exotic lotions, potions and commotions. You ain't gonna find no French Burnt Peanuts. 

How does a beloved snack like that just dry up? They're peanuts, with some sort of French coating. Peanuts, last I looked are doing just fine. They're still showing up in Cracker Jacks, Fiddle Faddle and those tiny little airplane bags. Peanuts are not the problem. Here's a whole study about the health of the American peanut industry, or at least the Georgia peanut industry, so you can extrapolate that American peanut people are also doing dandy. 

Perhaps it's the French? Perhaps they've decided to stop burning their peanuts? Is this some sort of fallout from that whole "Freedom Fry" movement? Like a revenge deal? I mean, the real mystery here, or at least the other mystery, because frankly the real mystery to me is where did they go, but what are they even? That's the other mystery. Well, here's the thing. Nobody knows. Only perhaps the French, and that's why we can't recreate any Freedom Burnt Peanuts on our own.

What you will find is a link like this, with other lost souls looking and longing.  Folks from Corpus Christi, Texas to Melbourne, Florida to Zip Code 97321, which it turns out is nearby Albany, Oregon. I see that I can buy them online but why aren't the on the shelves of American stores? Why? What is behind this French Burnt Blight? Join me in asking these tough questions, call your congressman or congresswoman. Let's get to the bottom of this.

In an effort to lift my spirits and drown my sorrows I offer today's Friday Find. From the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side. Domaine Pouillon makes a handful of different wines, and all of them are very good, the Gewurtraminer is amazing. The Black Dot is a "kitchen sink" blend that really kind of throws the rule book out the window. A blend of mostly Grenache, Zinfandel and Syrah, as well as some Cabernet, weird right? This particular wine is a non-vintage blend, but I hear that the 2010 wine is also out there as we speak. Domaine Pouillon uses the Black Dot as a fun blend, approachable certainly as a wine but in the $18-20 price range as well. The wine like all of the Pouillon stuff I've had has a real authenticity to it, aromatics of fennel, herbs and black cherry and a freshness to the palate that carries with it black fruits, savory spice and earth. Winemaker Alexis Pouillon has a very French sounding name, maybe he knows what happened to all those French Burnt Peanuts.