Monday, August 17, 2009

Forest Grove Uncorked!

When we first moved to Forest Grove many years ago, the best restaurant in town was a toss-up between the Dairy Queen and the Mexican place on Main St., and if you wanted wine, you could buy whatever the Safeway was selling. How things have changed! We now have a nice selection of restaurants including a brewpub, middle eastern food, and Thai, and we have not one, but 2 great wine shops. Forest Grove is also attempting to position itself as a destination for wine tourism, being at the northern end of the Willamette Valley and surrounded by at least 5 or 6 pretty good wineries. In fact, some of the oldest, if not the oldest, Pinot Noir vines in Oregon are planted at David Hill Vineyards just outside of town, hence our new slogan: "Forest Grove, the birthplace of Oregon Pinot Noir."

To celebrate all of this, the City Club of Forest Grove along with several local businesses put on an event to show off Forest Grove's food, micro brews, and wine called "Forest Grove Uncorked" on Saturday, Aug. 15th. Rachel had to miss this one, but I went with our friends Rhonda and Tracy and we had a wonderful time.

Most of the wineries that were there are old friends, but there were a few new ones and a couple that we don't really care for. Rhonda and I arrived just after it opened at 5pm and Tracy joined us about an hour later. They had blocked off the downtown section of Main St. just as they do for the farmer's market.

We tasted at the following wineries: A Blooming Hill Vineyard, Apolloni, Artisanal, David Hill, Laurel Ridge, Raptor Ridge, Bodhichitta, and Ardiri. The standouts for me at this event were the Gypsy Dancer Pinot Gris (sold by Ardiri who bought the vineyard from Gary Andrus), the Raptor Ridge Pinot Noirs, the David Hill Blackjack Pinot Noir, and the Apolloni Pinot Gris and Rosé. Most of the others certainly had some good wines too. The big disappointment was a new winery, Bodhichitta, whose wines just weren't very good.

This is likely to become an annual event, and I look forward to it next year.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bite of Oregon

Every year restaurants, wineries, and breweries from all over Oregon gather on the waterfront in Portland for a weekend to showcase the best of Oregon food and drink. In addition , there's music, cooking demonstrations and an Iron Chef competition. They also usually bring in a celebrity chef. This year it was Rahman "Rock" Harper, the winner of Fox TV's Hell's Kitchen. We didn't watch that show, so we'd never heard of him, but in previous years they've had Guy Fieri and Cat Cora from the Food Network.

Rachel and I arrived around noon and took a quick walk around to see what was there. We then headed into the wine tasting area where about 38 Oregon wineries were pouring. We like to survey the whole scene before jumping into the tasting, and it was great to get several shouts and waves from folks we know at various wineries. Although it's certainly growing, the Oregon wine industry is still relatively small, and we've gotten to know many winemakers and tasting room staff during our various wine adventures over the years. After our walkthrough, we jumped into the tasting. Although we didn't bring paper cups for spitting we managed to find some, and I'm getting pretty good (and less self-conscious) about using the spit buckets provided. Like Newport, wineries at The Bite charge a per-taste fee for each wine you want to try, usually between $0.50 and $2, although they'll often give you a special rate if you want to try all their wines. At events like this, we are a little pickier about what we try, usually looking for wineries we haven't tried for a while or real favorites.

After tasting through about half the wineries there, we decided it was time for a break, so we headed out of the wine area in search of food. All of the restaurants serve small plates for a few dollars, so you can sample several different dishes without getting stuffed. Last year we had some incredible lamb tacos, so we were expecting great things. Sadly, the food was just OK this year. Over the course of the afternoon, we ate a jerked pork sandwich with red cabbage slaw, liver paté with pickles, a sausage, and a few other things. We also caught one of the Iron Chef competitions on the chef's stage. In case you don't know about Iron Chef, it's a competition between 2 chefs to produce a meal highlighting a specific ingredient. The catch is that they don't know what the ingredient is until the battle starts. There are 2 identical kitchens on the stage, and each chef brings an assistant. At the end of the designated time period (30 minutes in this case), the chefs present their food to a judging panel. The secret ingredient for this battle was rack of lamb (one of my favorites!) and the final dishes looked really good! The announcer for the competition this year was local chef Lisa Schroeder, and although she tended to be a bit over the top, she was much better than last year's announcer - a local radio personality who had no clue about food.

After Iron Chef, we went back into the wine area and finished up our tasting. We then bought way more wine that we had intended, most of it from Hillcrest Vineyards - one of our favorites. Rachel was flying to Boston that night, so we drove straight to the airport from the Bite and I dropped her off and headed home. Although the food was somewhat disappointing, the Bite is always fun, and I'm sure we'll go again next year. One thing to remember is to bring more cash than you think you'll need. We've needed to use the on-site ATM both of the past 2 years, and they do charge a hefty fee.

Here are my tasting notes from the wines:

Witness Tree:

08 Pinot Blanc - Crisp, fruity, very good acid. Yum!
06 Elemental Cellars Pinot Gris - Good, but lacking acid
06 Elemental Cellars Viogner - Crisp, slightly spicy
07 Chardonnay - Nice, oaky, not quite enough acid
08 Termpranillo Rosé - Decent, but forgettable
07 Chainsaw Pinot Noir - Very good value ($20), smoky earthy
07 Estate Pinot Noir - Long finish, not quite as structured as the Chainsaw
06 Vintage Select Pinot Noir - Less interesting, low acid, flabby
05 Elemental Cellars Syrah - very peppery and smooth. Nice cool climate Syrah
07 Ice - OK, too sweet and not enough acid

Arcane Cellars:

08 Riesling - Very nice initial taste, but gets thin
08 Pinot Gris - Good, but not spectacular
06 Cabernet Sauvignon - Good fruit, but metallic finish

Silver Falls:

Chardonnay - Over-oaked, too buttery
Pinot Gris - Average, slightly sweet, not enough acid
Riesling - Floral and fruity, good finish, not enough acid
03 Pinot Noir in Stainless - Very fruity, smooth, slightly sweet (!?)
06 Pinot Noir in oak - Smoky, earthy and complex. Great value ($22)
06 Pinot Noir in stainless - Smooth, one-dimensional, boring
La Valle:

07 Dry Gamay Noir Rosé - crisp, light, delightful
07 Pinot Gris - dry, crisp, OK
08 Riesling - sweet, crisp, OK
06 Pinot Noir - a bit rough
07 Syrah - decent warm climate Syrah, nothing special
06 Cabernet Sauvignon - fruity but somewhat bitter


I like Dyson DeMara's wines a lot! We spent about 20 minutes tasting with him, and I didn't even write down any notes - they were all good.

Terra Vina:

Sangiovese - fruity, good flavor, too hot, good with food
Cab Franc - slightly harsh
Malbec - smooth, fruity, good acid

Rizzo Winery:

This was a strange duck - a very new winery that has tried to position themselves as an exclusive high-end winery with very expensive wines on allocation. Hmmm, good wines, but I don't think they're going to be able to sell them at those prices.

06 Yakima Cabernet Sauvignon - very complex, smooth tannins ($48)
06 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon - good, but not as interesting as the Yakima ($60)
06 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Reserve - good, but not worth the price ($90)

Zerba Cellars

06 Cabernet Sauvignon - decent fruit, tannic, good with food
06 Sangiovese - Fruity. R didn't like it
06 Barbera - Smooth and fruity


Tempranillo - good, but not great
Claret - flavorful, but not big and full enough. Not enough fruit.
Syrah - Average to poor warm climate Syrah.

Cliff Creek

04 Claret - Deep and rich. Yum!

Wilammette Valley Vineyards:

Eidelvise (white blend) - nice, but I'd rather drink their semi-sparkling muscat

Henry Estate:

Gewurztraminer - weak.


07 Hawks View Pinot Noir - light, strawberry, complex
07 Vine Idyl Pinot Noir - cherries, earth
07 Coleman Pinot Noir - smoke, plum, black cherry
06 Barrel Select Pinot Noir - fruity, but not everly

Pheasant Valley:

07 Tempranillo - fruity and interesting. Almost spicy
05 Cabernet Sauvignon - Fruity, smooth, a bit young, very nice


Pinot Gris - very nice, balanced, almost yeasty, slightly sweet
03 Zinfandel - nice, warm, full bodied, spicy
05 Zinfandel - simple and fruity, very tasty
Muscat - slightly sweet, muscat flavor is not quite intense enough

Chateau Bianca:

Riesling - very nice, good acid, slightly sweet
07 Triumph Marechal Foch - smooth and fruity


08 Viogner - spicy, slightly sweet
06 Pinot Gris - average
06 Pinot Noir - smooth, not too fruity, simple
06 Syrah - good example of Rogue Valley Syrah


06 Sauvignon Blanc - grassy, not enough acid
05 Marina Piper Pinot Noir - earthy, fruity, good
05 Brigette Catherine Pinot Noir - barrel select, fruity
04 Syrah - best warm climate syrah so far, big, tannic
Four Graces:

08 Pinot Gris - slate, minerals
07 Pinot Noir - complex and smoky
06 Pinot Noir - typical 06, not over the top, good


Bulls Blood - very good, fruity, smooth
Dolcetto - smooth and simple
Attila - nice claret with absolutely no finish


08 Baco Noir - smooth and simple. Nice Baco this year.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Argentina (long!)

July turned out to be a very busy travel month for our whole family. Faithful readers will recall that I started July with a trip to New York, and then traveled to LA for a long weekend. Near the end of the month I drove down to southern Oregon to give an astronomy talk and star party for a friend's church camp, and had one day back home before heading off to Cordoba, Argentina for business.

While I can honestly say that I had a great time once I got there, the traveling itself was pretty miserable. First off, it's a long way away - four hours from Portland to Dallas, 10 hours from Dallas to Santiago de Chile, and over an hour from Santiago to Cordoba, not counting layovers. To make matters worse, it is thunderstorm season in Dallas, which makes everything more interesting.

On Monday, I arrived at the Portland airport about 2 and a half hours early, and checked in at the ticket counter. The check-in machine offered me a first class upgrade on the PDX to DFW flight for a reasonable price, so I bought it, thinking that 4 hours in first class beats 4 hours in cattle class. The ticket agent said that the flight was slightly delayed because of the thunderstorms in Dallas, but I should still have plenty of time to make my connection to Santiago. "Excellent," I thought, and went through security and had a leisurely lunch at Gustav's (beer and sausage - what could be bad?) As I was finishing, I got a call from one of my traveling companions telling me that the flight was even more delayed, and that our 3rd traveler had gotten booked on an earlier flight to Dallas. Hmm, I thought, so I went to the gate to see what was up. When I got there, sure enough the flight was so late that I was likely to miss my connection to Chile, so I asked to be put on the earlier flight too. Sadly, it was overbooked, and all they could do was put me on standby. It turns out that ticket counter agents have a lot more power than gate agents. Both Ed and Tad had been put on the earlier flight by the ticket agent, but my gate agent couldn't or wouldn't do that for me. I called American Airlines, I called the travel agency, but to no avail. In the end, Ed and Tad got on the earlier flight, and I got to hang out at PDX for another 3 hours.

When my flight finally left, I did enjoy the first class seat and meal, but I was sure I'd missed my connection to Santiago. Upon arrival in Dallas, I saw that my connection, which was supposed to leave at 9pm, was now scheduled for 9:50 (it was 9:35). I got on the train between terminals and arrived at terminal D just in time to be told that they'd closed the doors and would not let me on. I saw the plane sitting at the gate, but couldn't do anything about it. Worse yet, the next flight was 24 hours later. I got re-booked (at least they got me an exit row) and asked about my suitcase. "No," I was told, "you can't get it." So, there I was at 10pm in Dallas with just the clothes on my back and 24 hours until my flight. I checked into the Hyatt Regency at the airport, and washed out my clothes in the sink and ironed them dry. Rachel had suggested that I buy a T-shirt in the airport so that at least I'd have something to sleep in.

I spent most of Tuesday in terminal D at DFW. Fortunately, it's a pretty nice part of the airport - lots of restaurants and shops. I got some work done on my notebook PC and wireless internet, had lunch at a nice Tex-Mex place and made the best of it. During my walks around the terminal, I discovered that there's actually a Texas winery that has a tasting room in the terminal. Not one to ignore an opportunity, I tried several Texas wines - a Pinot Grigio, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Meritage. All were actually pretty good.

At about 8:15pm they finally started to load our flight, and by this time I was certainly ready to leave DFW. Other than being long and crowded, it was a reasonable flight. I had a mini-bottle of Sutter Home Merlot with my airline braised beef. It was sort of like wine with something that somewhat resembled food. They woke us up at about 6am for a light breakfast, telling us we'd be landing in about 2 hours.

We landed in Santiago about 30 minutes late, and I had a tight connection to Cordoba. Fortunately I made the connection to the Cordoba flight, and settled in for the flight over the Andes. The snow covered mountains were beautiful, and we had a wonderful clear day to fly. I arrived in Cordoba around noon, went through health screening (Argentina was in the middle of a swine flu outbreak), and through passport control. I got to the baggage claim area and waited and waited for my bag. Sadly, it never arrived. I filled out a lost bag form with the LAN Airlines baggage agent, who, between her halting English and my halting Spanish managed to get the right information about where I was staying, etc. I took a taxi into Cordoba and was dropped off outside the Intel office.

Cordoba is an amazing city of about 2 million people. There are no freeways, so we drove through town and I got to see a lot of the city. More details of the city will come later. Upon arriving at Intel, I had several meetings, then walked the block and a half with Ed to our hotel. The Windsor hotel is a modern hotel with nice rooms. Interestingly, the key fobs are HUGE, and you're not supposed to take the key with you when you leave. Rather, you just leave it at the front desk and then pick it up again on your way back in.

I had earlier expressed interest in visiting the historic observatory in Cordoba (the Museo Astronomico) and Pablo Passera, one of the engineers, had generously offered to drive us. Originally called the Argentinian National Observatory, it was dedicated in 1871 and is one of the earliest modern observatories in South America. The original building was demolished and replaced by the present building in the 1920s. The observatory/museum now houses the original transit instrument from the 1870's, the Gautier Double Astrograph used to create the Carte du Ciel atlas, and a beautiful 33cm refractor with a lens made by Alvan Clark and Sons on a Warner and Swasey mount. We were given a thorough tour of the museum in Spanish, and Pablo translated for us. We even got to look at the moon through the refractor. Certainly one of the high points of the trip.

After driving us past the university, Pablo dropped us back to hotel. To my great delight, my luggage had been delivered from the airport! I was able to shower and change into some clean clothes, which both I and those around me appreciated. From the hotel, Pablo drove me, Tad, and Ed to a great restaurant called San Honorato where we met up with
Leandro, José Luis, Claudio, and Guillermo. The restaurant is housed in an old bakery and includes a brick oven and wine cellar. Diners can spend some time in the cellar sampling wines and food before deciding what to order. We tried some Malbec (of course) and a wonderful cured ham, similar to prosciutto. Back at the table, we ordered our meals. I started with a slightly spicy peanut soup, had cheese stuffed beef loin as my entreé, and an interesting dulce de leche wrapped in filo dough for desert. We ordered bottles of a couple of different Malbecs from Mendoza. The first was the 2006 Salentein Reserve from the Uco Valley in Mendoza. It was darker and earthier than most Malbecs, not a lot of fruit - quite good. The second was a 2005 Viniterra, and was fruity and less complex than the first, but also quite nice. We were also served a very strong and tasty lemon liqueur with dessert that warmed the throat as it went down. Because dinner is traditionally eaten pretty late in the day, we didn't get back to the hotel until around 11:00.

Thursday morning came early, and I had a full day of meetings on my calendar: 9:30am until 6:00pm with no breaks. I had 1:1s with several of the engineers, attended a team meeting, and was educated on the Scrum methodology, along with several other meetings. The Intel facility in Cordoba looks a lot like any other Intel facility - grey and blue cubes and conference rooms. However, during several meetings it was obvious that we weren't in the US. Many of the engineers bring their mate gourds into the meetings and drink mate throughout the meeting, much like we'd bring coffee in. Mate is a traditional tea-like beverage that is brewed in a hollow gourd and drunk through a metal straw that filters the leaves. Although it was a long day, it went by quickly and the meetings were very worthwhile. One can certainly conduct business over the phone, but meeting face to face and building personal relationships makes it so much easier to collaborate with people thousands of miles away.

After work, Ed, Tad and I took a short walking tour of central Cordoba. Cordoba is an old city, founded in 1573 by Geronimo Luis de Cabrera. The central area of the city contains many beautiful buildings built during the Spanish colonial era, including the Cordoba Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Monserrat School. We had dinner on our own at a northern Argentinian restaurant that Guillermo had recommended. None of the staff spoke English, but the menu had translations, and I knew enough Spanish to communicate with the waiter. The food was simple, traditional, and delicious. We had a simple lettuce salad, empanadas, BBQ short ribs, and flan. Tad wanted a beer, and ended up with a liter bottle all to himself. Ed and I shared a bottle of so-so Malbec.

Fridays start with several people bringing food into the office for "Happy Friday," so breakfast wasn't a problem! I had several meetings during the morning, then got to go to lunch at a place that advertises "Comidas por Kilo" (meals by
weight). This is a buffet restaurant a few blocks from the office where one chooses food from a buffet table and puts it into a plastic container. On Fridays, they also have barbecue going. You then take your tray to the front where they put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and wrap it up in butcher paper. It is then weighed, and the price calculated. Mine came to 12 pesos (about $3.50). After lunch it was time to head to the airport. Pablo flagged down a couple of taxis outside the office, and we made it to the airport in good time. We had extra time before we were allowed into the gate area, so we did a little shopping. Tad bought his own mate gourd, but he hasn't brought it into any meetings yet. The flight to Santiago was quite uneventful (thankfully), and we had a couple of hours to wait for the flight back to DFW. The Santiago airport has an incredible wine shop, but we didn't buy anything. Probably just as well, because the TSA doesn't consider Santiago secure enough, so we were subject to a hand search of all carry-on items as we boarded the plane. No liquids were allowed on board, even if purchased after we'd gone through security. Tad, however, managed to smuggle his 2 liter bottle of water onboard.

We landed at 6am Saturday at DFW, and had a very easy time getting through emigration and customs. I was very pleased to see that my bag had made it this time, and I happily re-checked it to Portland. We had a couple of hours before the flight to Portland, and decided to get something to eat. Now, when Tad and I had been in New York, we learned that you shouldn't just eat at the first place you see at an airport, because there may be something better a few gates down. Sadly, we didn't follow our own advice, and ended up eating at a really lousy breakfast place - tasteless eggs, tasteless grits, lousy OJ. We would have done better at McDonald's. Oh well.
We waited at the gate after breakfast, and all looked well, until...

About 45 minutes before we were supposed to take off, the gate agent came on to let us know that our plane had a maintenance problem and hadn't even been released from the hangar yet, we didn't have a cabin crew because they were on an delayed inbound flight from Tulsa, and the weather was getting really nasty and they were about to close the ramp. Other than that, everything looked good. The sky had turned black by this time and all of a sudden it started raining harder than I've ever seen it rain. Ed and I walked down a few gates to the restroom, and on our way back, passed by a waterfall coming in through the ceiling that hadn't been there 3 minutes earlier when we walked by. Fortunately, the weather cleared after about 20 minutes, they told us that the airplane that had been sitting at our gate for about an hour was, in fact, our airplane, and the crew had appeared. We were ready to go! The plane left only about 40 minutes late, and we arrived back in Portland just after noon.

It was a long trip, but absolutely worth going. I spent most of the time during my flights and waiting in airports on the way down muttering that I'd never travel again, but I got home looking forward to my next trip to Argentina. We were treated so well by all the Intel folks there, we accomplished so much in terms of building relationships, and Cordoba is a pretty cool place. Next time, I'm going to spend more time and try to drive over to Mendoza for the weekend to visit some wineries.