Sunday, April 19, 2009

What to do while the rest of the family is swimming?

OK, I admit it - swim meets are not my favorite way to spend a weekend. This weekend was the big Hawaii Five-O swim meet sponsored by our local swim club, so Rachel and Josh were busy working the meet all weekend, and Tim was swimming like a maniac (6 personal best times out of 6 events!). Fortunately, several local wineries were also having special events this weekend, so I was able to keep myself out of too much trouble!

First up on Saturday was the 2008 Chardonnay release party at Sejourne winery. They are a relatively new winery in the Willamette Valley owned by Kevin and Robyn Howard specializing in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. Kevin is also a principle in their family winery, Zenas in Carlton. Their estate vines are only a couple of years old, so they are sourcing fruit from other vineyards as they wait for their vines to mature. Here are my notes from the 4 wines they were tasting:

2008 Pinot Gris - very crisp and clean with good fruit. Would go well with mild seafood such as oysters, scallops, or simply prepared white fish.

2008 Chardonnay - this is touted as "no malo, no oak" and is also very crisp and clean with the fruit coming through very clearly. Somewhat more subtle than the Pinot Gris, this reminds me somewhat of a typical Chablis.

2006 Vidon Vineyard Pinot Noir - a dark and earthy Pinot with dark fruits, but not so earthy as those from Calkins Lane.

2006 Del Rio Syrah - A pretty classic southern Oregon Syrah, this one is very nicely done.

By the way, they made a killer rose at Sejourne that we bought last year, but they have sold out of it now. Today (Sunday) was warm and beautiful, and we had our first BBQ of the season - red sauce chicken with grilled brussels sprouts and zucchini. We popped open the bottle of Sejourne rose, and it was the perfect accompaniment to the meal as we dined on the deck.

After Sejourne, I headed in to Carlton. Scott Paul Winery was releasing their 2007 Audrey Pinot Noir and having an open house to celebrate it. In addition to their own Oregon Pinot Noir, Scott Wright also runs a Burgundy import business, and brings in some really nice Burgundies from several small producers. Burgundy is complex, and I'm still having a hard time keeping track of the various producers, vineyards, and wines. Today Scott and the staff were pouring 4 wines: 3 Burgundies, and of course the Scott Paul Audrey.

2007 Frederic Gueguen Village Chablis - very crisp and simple, with pure minerals. Done in 100% stainless.

2006 Domaine Thibert Pere & Fils St. Veran Champ Rond - We've purchased this wine before and I really like it. Very obvious notes of honey with a smooth vanilla finish. Apparently honey is a dead giveaway that it's a St. Veran.

2006 Domaine Aleth Girardin Pommard Vignots - A rich powerful Burgundy typical of Pommard, although very well balanced.

2007 Scott Paul Audrey - This is the first time I've tasted the Audrey, and it's really special. This wine is a barrel selection of Scott's favorites exclusively from their blocks at Maresh vineyard. Great extraction and depth, especially for an '07. Dark fruit with some minerals and a nice long finish. Silky smooth tannins.

The last event of the day was a barrel tasting and desert reception at David Hill Winery. Fortunately, Rachel was able to leave the swim meet a little early and join me for the fun at the winery.

We started off in the winery itself as Jason (winemaker) and Michele (tasting room manager) poured the current release of their Pinot Blanc. This is a nice acidic wine which should pair nicely with a variety of foods. This vintage (2007) was done completely in stainless, and Jason wanted to try something different, so he fermented the '08 Pinot Blanc in neutral oak. He pulled a sample of this out of the barrel to taste. It was quite different from the 2007 - it had a smoother mouth feel and a distinct oak flavor. It was good, but I prefered the clean crispness of the 2007.

Next up, we got to try samples of the BlackJack Pinot Noir. This wine is made from some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Oregon. Most everyone who knows anything about Oregon Pinot Noir has heard of David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, aka "Papa Pinot" who brought Pinot Noir vines to Oregon in 1965 and started the Oregon Pinot revolution. What most people don't know is that Charles Coury came up from California shortly before David Lett and planted Pinot Noir at what is now the site of David Hill. The BlackJack Pinot is made from block 21 (get it? 21 - BlackJack...) of the vineyard from some of those original vines. This is a deep and earthy wine that is aged in something like 60% new oak. Our first sample was the 2008 from a French oak barrel. For such a young wine it was amazingly deep and complex. I suspect this is going to be quite a wine when it's released in a couple of years. To show us the difference a year can make, we next sampled the 2007 BlackJack from a similar French oak barrel. It was obviously a more mature wine with a more complex mid-palate and a longer finish. However, 2007 was a cooler vintage, especially near harvest, and this wine was lighter and more subtle.

Next, to show the difference the barrel can make, Jason pulled a sample of the 2007 BlackJack from a Hungarian oak barrel that he's trying. The nose on this one was almost non-existant, but it had a richer mid-palate with more oakiness. If I had to choose between the 2, I'd probably go for the sample in the French oak, but I think the addition of that one Hungarian oak barrel into the mix is going to make this a more interesting wine.

We then moved on to a sample of port. The current release of the Tawny Port is the last wine still being sold that was made by the previous winemaker. Jason doesn't care for the Tawney Port style, and gave us a sample of his vintage-style port (barrels kept topped up, less oxidation) and it was very good. I prefer a vintage-style over the tawney or ruby, and I think this is going to be a nice wine.

With the official tasting over, most folks moved up to the house for the desert and music. Jason was willing to hang out and answer questions, and a pretty good crowd stayed for that. During that time, he pulled a sample of the new Farmhouse Red from a tank for us to taste. This is one of the best $10 wines out there, and this new release promises to be a great one. Lots of Sangiovese as usual, but a higher percentage of Merlot and Petit Verdot gives this a little more structure and backbone.

We then headed up to the house to enjoy some of Michele's desert creations, port, and live music with the Dick Lappe band. We'd heard these guys before at David Hill, and I could listen to them all day. Dick Lappe is a big fan of Gordon Lightfoot, so they play a lot of his material, including a dead-on rendition of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. There were also some great folk songs including City of New Orleans and Wabash Cannonball. Michele's deserts were great too. How cool is it to live just 5 minutes from the David Hill winery? Good wine, fun people, and a beautiful setting - it's hard to beat.

A John Sexton Retrospective (and wine too!)

John Sexton is one of my favorite photographers. He apprenticed with Ansel Adams, and has made quite a name for himself in the past 30 years with his black and white photography. He has published several monographs, and his most recent book is a retrospective of the past 30 years of his work. So I was very pleased to get his newsletter telling of an exhibition of his work at OSU during the month of April. Unfortunately, the gallery (which is actually part of the fine arts building on campus) is only open on weekdays from 8-5, but since things were a little slow at work on Friday, I decided to take the afternoon off and drive down to Corvallis. The drive down I-5 is long and boring, but I eventually made it to the OSU campus around 2 pm. It's been quite a few years since I've been on the campus of a relatively big school, and boy was it nice. There was so much energy and so much going on. I'm envious of my children and their opportunity to experience college. Who knows, maybe when I retire...

I walked around on campus a bit, and eventually found the fine arts department housed in a wonderful old Victorian-style house. The gallery is the first room through the front door, and they had about 30 prints hung on the plain white walls around the room. While I have all of John Sexton's books, there's nothing quite like viewing actual prints - the dynamic range from dark to light and the incredible detail captured by his large format cameras just can't by fully captured in reproductions. Like his mentor, he spends a great deal of time in Yosemite, and there were numerous prints of snow-covered trees, long exposures of the flowing Merced River, and wonderful plant details. While Ansel Adams tended to focus on the grand sweeping landscapes, Sexton has an eye for shape and detail. There were also numerous prints of trees of every texture taken during that magic time between sunset and the end of twilight.

After spending some time enjoying the gallery, I got back in my car and headed north toward home. I drove up through the heart of Oregon wine country, so I figured I ought to stop at a winery or 2. Since we had just spent a day touring the wineries in the Salem area, I thought I might stop in at someplace further south.

The first winery I came to was Eola Hills. We have tasted their wines at Newport and been relatively pleased with them, but we've never been to the winery. Their tasting room is a large beautiful room with a lot of exposed wood. It's actually part of the winery itself and you can see a large number of barrels stacked in the room behind the bar. They have about 25 wines available for complementary tasting, so I had to be somewhat choosy about what I tried. Fortunately I had a dump bucket all to myself, so I was able to spit during the tasting, allowing me to sample 11 different wines. I won't go through all of my tasting notes, but will summarize as follows:

They have 2 tiers of wine - their standard wines and their Reserve wines. While the standard lineup represents a reasonable value ($6.95 up to $12.95), they're really not worth the time if you're looking for better wines. I tried a couple of the standard wines, but focused mostly on the reserves. Both of their Chardonnays are decent, but way too oaky for my palate. The 2007 Pinot Noirs were decent too, showing good extraction for 2007 and some dark earthy notes. I thought that their top of the line Wolf Hill 667 was over-oaked however.

Their real strength, in my opinion, is the big reds from Lodi fruit. The 2007 Reserve Sangiovese was very nice (although a whopping 16+% alcohol) with lots of rich fruit and very smooth tannins. The 2005 Reserve Merlot was nice too, with dark fruits and smooth tannins. The 2005 "La Creole" Cabernet Sauvignon was tannic and fairly simple, but might get more interesting in a few years. Finally, they make a very nice LBV-style port from locally grown Cab Sauv. Apparently it doesn't ripen enough for table wine, but works well for port.

The wines are not going to knock your socks off, but it's well worth a stop if you're driving through Rickreal, especially if you enjoy the big warm climate reds.

Tasting through 11 or 12 wines took the better part of 40 minutes, so I figured I'd best head straight home. Rachel was at the pool setting up for the big home swim meet this weekend, and picked up pizza on her way home. We popped open a bottle of Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel and had a most enjoyable dinner.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Calkins Lane Wine Event

Spring comes slowly in Oregon. Throughout March and into the beginning of April we've had rain (quite normal) but we've also had temperatures in the 30's and 40's which is just nasty! So it was with great delight that I headed out to the annual Calkins Lane wine event under clear blue skies and temperatures promising to reach into the 60's today.

Calkins Lane is home to some of our favorite Pinot Noir produces in the Chehalem Mountain AVA. Wine made from the grapes grown here has a distinctive earthy nose that lets you know right where the the grapes were grown. Last year, a group of 5 wineries within a mile of each other on Calkins Ln decided to hold an open house where they charged a single fee that was good for tasting at all 5. All proceeds were donated to ¡Salud! - a collaboration between Oregon winemakers and healthcare professionals to provide access to health care for Oregon's seasonal vineyard workers and their families.

My first stop was Adelsheim Winery. Founded in 1971 by Dave and Ginny Adelsheim, it is one of Oregon's older Pinot Noir producers. They've just opened a new tasting room which is considerably larger than the old one. Today they were tasting the following wines:
2007 Caitlin's Reserve Chardonnay - crisp and very clean with notes of apricot. A touch of new French oak gave it just a nice bit of toast.
2008 Pinot Noir Rose - refreshing with a huge strawberry nose.
2006 Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir - very warm, smoky and dark with a hint of cedar.
2007 Boulder Bluff Pinot Noir - smooth and earthy, but not as smoky and dark as the '06 Elizabeth.
2007 Anna-Louise Pinot Noir - lots of dark fruit (plum and black cherry) and very warm for an '07.

Next up was ArborBrook Vineyards. They are a relative newcomer to Calkins Ln; I believe that 2004 was their first vintage (and a nice one too!). Dave and Mary Hansen own the vineyard, and Laurent Montelieu is their winemaker. We enjoyed the 2004 and 2006 vintages of their Pinot Noir very much, but 2007 was challenging. The '07 Pinots are light and subtle - making it harder to find the dark earthiness that we enjoy in Calkins Ln wines. We last tasted the '07 Pinots in February. Today they were tasting:
2008 Croft Vineyard Pinot Gris - using fruit from near Monmouth, this Pinot Gris was fermented 100% in stainless steel. It was crisp but very light and less interesting to me.
2007 ANA Vineyard Pinot Gris - sourced from the Dundee Hills, this Pinot Gris was barrel fermented sur lies and is much fuller and rounder than the Croft. Pale yellow in color, it tastes lightly yeasty with good acid. Hints of citrus and vanilla.
2007 Heritage Cuvee Pinot Noir - both the nose and taste of this wine have intensified since Feb. becoming darker and earthier. Tannins have smoothed somewhat, but could still use more time.
2007 Estate 777 Block Pinot Noir - Very light in both color and flavor intensity, this is a subtle wine. So far I still prefer the Heritage. We own bottles of both Pinot Noirs, and it's interesting to see how they are developing over time.

My next stop was Lachini Vineyards. They are usually closed except for Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, and I believe the last time we tasted here was the weekend before Thanksgiving last year when we inadvertantly crashed a members-only event. They were very kind and let us taste anyway. All of their wines except the 'S' Pinot Noir are made by Laurent Montalieu. Today they were tasting:
2007 Lachini Vineyards Pinot Noir 'S' made by Peter Rosback of Sinnean from Lachini estate fruit. Fairly dark Calkins Ln nose, somewhat tannic, warm and earthy. Some bleed off during fermentation to concentrate the flavor.
2007 Lachini Estate Pinot Noir - Darker and richer than the 'S', somewhat tannic. Very nice, as usual.
2006 Lachini Estate Pinot Noir - much riper and fruitier than the '07 with dark fruits on the nose. Not quite as earthy as the '07 however.
2006 Cuvee Giselle Pinot Noir - Huge strawberry nose with lighter fruits than the '06 estate.
2006 Il Mulinell0 - a Bordeaux blend using fruit from Klipson and Ciel du Cheval in Washington. Very smooth and drinkable, finer tannins than the 2005.
2006 La Bestia - a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon using fruit from Klipson, this is big and earthy, much smoother than the 2005.
2006 Pinot Noir Port - Fairly light and a little harsh.

The next property north is Bergstrom Winery, known for their Riesling and Pinot Noir. We've tasted their wines a couple of times and enjoy them very much. They used to be open by appointment only, but will now have regular tasting hours. Emily Freiler, who we got to know when she was the tasting room manager at Scott Paul wines, is now pouring at Bergstom. Today they were tasting:
2007 Dr. Bergstrom Riesling - we loved the 2006, but they weren't pouring the 2007 on our last visit, so it was great to finally get to try it. It was crisp with refreshing minerals and just enough sweetness to balance the acidity. Very nice.
2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - this is their "value" wine, and frankly I was disappointed. It was tight and tannic and somewhat bitter.
2007 Winery Block Pinot Noir - a big wine for an '07, this had dark fruits and was somewhat spicy. Somewhat atypical for Calkins Ln fruit.
2007 de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir - wow, this was really nice. Nice dark fruits (plum and black cherry), hints of cedar with plenty of tannin. Good Calkins Ln nose too!

My last stop was right next door to Bergstrom: the de Lancellotti Family Vineyards. Paul de Lancellotti is Josh Bergstrom's brother in law, and they share fruit from the estate vineyard. Paul makes just one Pinot from his fruit, and it is a nice one. He was tasting 2 vintages:
2006 Estate Pinot Noir - big and fruity, but not over the top. Mostly Pommard clone with some Dijon 115 for added interest. Dark fruits and long finish.
2007 Estate Pinot Noir - this was a barrel sample (he'll be bottling in the next week) and it was really nice. Somewhat lighter than the '06, it still retains a dark fruitiness. May want to drop in to taste on Memorial Day weekend.

The event was very well done, and a great value too - $30 for all 5 wineries is less than what you'd pay normally just to taste at Bergstrom and Adelsheim (and you get 3 more on top of that!). I was concerned that it was going to be a zoo given the nice weather, and while they did have good crowds at each place, it wasn't bad at all. While most folks came in their private vehicles, there were a few limos, and I even drove past a full size tour bus blocking one lane of the road in front of ArborBrook on the way home. I guess I timed that right!

Friday, April 3, 2009

First Wednesday in Forest Grove

When we first moved to Forest Grove back in 1991, the joke was "Where do you go for good food in Forest Grove? Beaverton!" Fortunately, that's no longer true, and after our dash through downtown for First Wednesday we have always face the enviable dilemma of figuring out which of the several fine restaurants we'll patronize.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, since this post is really about First Wednesday. For over a year now, downtown businesses have stayed open late on the first Wednesday of each month to host wineries, artists, and writers, provide munchies, and generally put on an open house. During the summer months, it also coincides with the weekly farmers market where one can buy all manner of fresh produce, crafts, and other local goods. Of course my favorite part is the wine tasting. We usually get between 6 and 12 wineries to offer tasting at local businesses each month. Most are very local (within 10 miles), but every so often we get one from further down the Willamette Valley.
This month we had 6 wineries and a brewery: Sake One, Plum Hill, A Blooming Hill, Montinore, David Hill, Archery Summit, and Off the Rails brewery. We tasted through four of them:

A Blooming Hill - This is a new winery that just got bonded last year. They haven't even released any wine yet - they were just offering barrel samples. However, from what we tasted, they are one to watch. They had 2 wines to sample: a white blend and a Pinot Noir. The white blend is called Mingle and consists of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. I thought the nose was a bit off-putting, bur Rachel claimed it was fine. However the taste was wonderful - bright and crisp with notes of peach and strawberry; Rachel said it tasted "shiny." It seems like the perfect wine for sipping on a hot summer day. It will be released later this spring. They also had a 2008 Pinot Noir that they were sampling. It was obviously still young, but I could taste a lot of potential underneath the fruit. It had some smokiness and minerality in addition to bright fruit. I can't remember when they said it might be released, but certainly not before this fall.

Archery Summit - Archery Summit is well known for high priced, high end Pinot Noir, so we were a little surprised (but pleased) to see that they were coming to First Wednesday. Unfortunately they only brought one wine - their 2007 Premier Cuvee. It had the dark, rich nose typical of Dundee Hills Pinots, and was very light in color. It was good, but not terribly complex or interesting.

David Hill - Will was pouring a whole bunch of David Hill wines at the Wine Behren, all of them good. We started with the slightly sweet Gewurztraminer, moved on the the Pinot Gris (also slightly sweet) and then to the Riesling (crisp and acidic). We also tried the Muscat, which I sure we must have tasted before, but couldn't remember. It was slightly sweet (about 4% RS according to Will), but Rachel and I both thought it either too sweet or not sweet enough. Perhaps it's best consumed with food! We skipped the Barrel Select Estate Pinot Noir - we have several bottles of it, and think of it as an everyday Pinot. It's good, not great, but a good value. We then tasted the Tempranillo which we like so much. However, on the first sip, something was wrong. The residual Muscat did some nasty things to the Temp! We had some bread and cheese to cleanse our palates, and tried again - much better. This is some wonderful fruity Tempranillo with a long, lingering finish. We finished up with the 2006 Merlot Reserve - one of our favorite Merlots - it didn't disappoint.

Montinore - This is another local Forest Grove winery that we tried a few years ago. The wine was OK, some better than others, but we weren't that impressed. However, over the past year, they've come to First Wednesday several times and the wine has gotten considerably better. The new owners have really taken an interest in the quality of the wine, and it shows. They brought 2 wines with them - an almost dry Riesling which was very crisp and refreshing, and their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. 2007 was a tough vintage in Oregon, and many of the Pinots are fairly light in both color and flavor. Montinore did a great job with their '07 which had a nice depth of flavor and enough complexity to be interesting. Not great, but darn good for a $19 bottle of Pinot and quite a value.

Oh yes, about dinner - to our own surprise, we ended up at McMenamin's. It was one of the first decent restaurants in the FG area, but we'd grown somewhat tired of it and had quit eating there after many of the other restaurants openned. However, I was in the mood for a calzone, and they do make a nice one there. Rachel had a salmon sandwich with sweet potato fries. Their beer is just OK, but they did have a very nice Irish stout on nitro which I enjoyed with my meal.