Monday, November 29, 2010

Fallen Behind

Wow, I just looked at the drafts folder for this blog and realize that I've started 10 blog entries since April and published exactly one. We've had a great year so far, full of wonderful food and wine, but I don't seem to have had the motivation to write about it. I don't know if I'm going to every get around to writing up full posts for all of these, but maybe I'll summarize here just for memory's sake.

Winemaker Dinner

In April we attended a wonderful winemaker's dinner at Farm to Fork restaurant in Dundee. This is the restaurant within the Inn at Red Hills, one of several relatively new upscale lodging options in Oregon wine country. It's owned by Kendall Bergstrom and Paul deLancellotti, local winegrowers and winemakers, so they know wine. We had eaten there once before (for my birthday, I believe) and had a very nice meal. They hosted a series of winemaker dinners throughout the year, and we chose to attend the dinner featuring the wines of Bergstrom and deLancellotti. Winemaker Josh Bergstrom (Kendall's brother) and Paul were both there to share and talk about several wines. Josh even previewed their 2008 Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir - an amazing deep, dark and muscular wine. Paul brought his 2007 and 2008 estate Pinots which were both amazing. The food was good, but not spectacular, and we ended up sharing a table with some delightful people which made the entire evening memorable. Notes: apparently Farm to Fork has a new chef, so we need to go back to see how the food has changed.

Riedel Milk glasses?

In the world of wine glasses, size and shape do matter. We've demonstrated this to ourselves a couple of times by trying the same wine in different Riedel glasses. Yes, Pinot Noir tastes better in a Pinot Noir glass, while Bordeaux varietals are flat. They taste better in (you guessed it) a glass made for them. The boyz of course think this is all non-sense however. That is, until we brought home a couple of Riedel O glasses from this year's McMinnville Food and Wine Classic. The Riedel O glasses are stemless tumblers which I generally don't like for wine, so we decided to let Tim try some milk in one. Although we regularly drink skim milk, it tasted richer and creamier out of the Riedel glass. The next night Josh was home for dinner, and we gave him some skim milk in one of the glasses and asked him "what's different?" Thinking himself clever, he replied "Oh, you got whole milk. Big deal." Yes, it was a big deal because it was skim milk. I wonder if Riedel knows that it has a milk glass?

AVA Events

In May we attended a couple of AVA sponsored tastings. These events bring together producers from a specific sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley to showcase their wines and show off what their AVA can offer. The first was the annual Yamhill-Carlton spring tasting event which was held this year at the Anne Amie winery near Carlton on May 1st. Rachel had a conflict so I went by myself. The wine was great, and I ran into several friends and favorites (Trudy Kramer of Kramer, Chris Berg of Roots, and Stag Hollow) as well as some relative newcomers or new discoveries for me with nice wine (Ghost Hill, Atticus, and Alexana).

The second event was "Pinot in the Pearl" on May 6th sponsored by the Chehalem Mountain AVA. This was a much more upscale event held in the Pearl District in Portland. Lots of great wine paired with wonderful food from local restaurants. Favorites here included Alloro, Arborbrook, Barking Frog, Blakeslee, deLancellotti, Et Fille, and Utopia). We ran into lots of winemakers we knew, and really enjoyed the event.

Dinner at Jory

Another relatively new hotel in the area is the Allison Inn near Newberg. It's an incredibly upscale Inn with all the amenities including a day spa. The restaurant at the Inn, called Jory, had gotten great reviews, so we decided to check it out.

It's off the beaten path and there are several ways to get there, but we discovered for us, the best way is to come down Zimri Dr. off of North Valley/Bell Rd. We were slightly early for our reservation, so we walked around the grounds for a while. They've tried to make it very "green", so the landscaping is clover mixed into the grass, and many native plants. It also has a growing roof, and priority parking for electric and hybrid cars.

When we went in, we discovered that Dick Shea (of Shea Vineyard and Shea Wine Cellars) was there for a tasting. He was pouring his 08 Chardonnay (fruity, lightly oaked, nice finish) and 08 estate PN (young, slightly restrained, very elegant). On to dinner:

Appetizers - Steak Tartar (good, but not enough garlic) and muchroom duxell with warm goat cheese mousse (wow, goat cheese was great and mushrooms very nice. Went well with the Shea PN)

Wine - 2006 Telegramme Chateauneuf du Pape. somewhat earthy and spicy, went very well with our meals.
Dave - Lamb 3 ways - loin in a reduction sauce, mergez sausage, and braised shoulder a la pulled pork. Roasted carrots and fennel bulb.

Rachel - Gnochi with lamb and beef ragu and a salad with blue cheese and walnuts (nicely salted)

Desserts - 3 cheeses, creme brulee, chocolate cake thing. 2000 Vintage Port.

In all, a wonderful dining experience.

The Big One - Memorial Day weekend (and the weekend before)

Rachel and I ventured out on both weekends, visiting over 30 wineries and tasting hundreds of wines. I'm hoping to publish full blog entries for both of these weekends, so I'll not write anything more here.

Quick Bay Area Trip

As much as I usually dislike inter-league baseball during the regular season, it offered us a rare opportunity to see both the Red Sox and Dodgers in action against the Giants in back to back games on June 27th and 28th.

We flew into Santa Rosa (my favorite airport in the world) on Friday the 25th for an afternoon of wine tasting. Ben was training for a bike race, so he met us there with his bike. We took his car for wine tasting while he was out riding the Sonoma County back roads. The first thing we discovered is that all of my usual meticulous planning is worth it. I didn't plan much this time, assuming that we'd easily find 4 or 5 wineries that we could stop at. The problem was too many options. We headed off in one direction, not realizing that the winery we had targeted was about an hour away. After driving through heavy traffic for about 20 minutes, we decided to turn around and just stick to wineries closer to the airport (where we would be meeting Ben again after his ride). We ended up visiting Iron Horse (so-so sparkling wine), Porter Creek (nice small family winery), Arista (very nice Cab Franc, Sauv Blanc, and Russian River Pinot), Hop Kiln (not very good wines, in spite of the reputation), and Martinelli (rushed and impersonal. Can't remember the wines).

We then met Ben after his ride and drove him to the local 24 Hour Fitness so he could take a shower. The three of us then headed off for dinner at Zazu. Unknown to us at the time, this is the restaurant owned and run by Duskie Estes, one of the contestants on The Next Iron Chef. The food was good - well prepared homestyle cooking.

After dinner we headed into the city while listening to the Red Sox/Giants game on the radio. I can't remember all we did the next day and a half, but I remember that it included a great drive and walk up Mt. Tam and a visit to the Basement of Sports where I purchased a nice fleece jacket. On Saturday night Rachel, Ben, Joan and I had a fabulous dinner at Bix. It was so dark in the restaurant that the wait staff offered flashlights to read the menu. The food and wine were fantastic, including Dr. Loosen Riesling, ceviche, corn/clam chowder, steak and mashed, fromage blanc and strawberry sorbet among other delights. As we were finishing, a great jazz trio started playing; I could have stayed and listened all night.

The baseball games themselves were great - we watched Jon Lester pitch a complete game as the Red Sox won, and had unbelievable good seats for the Dodgers game the next night. The Giants were great hosts and graciously lost both games. Interesting note: because we attended those two games, I got to know the Giants players better, and ended up rooting for them against the Rangers in the world series.

That pretty much gets me caught up to October. I still need to write some posts about our 3 day trip to Sonoma, as well as pre-Thanksgiving weekend wine tasting.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bite of Oregon 2010

Every year restaurants, breweries and wineries from around Oregon show off their wares at Riverfront Park in downtown Portland. In addition to food and drinks, there is entertainment, chef demonstrations and of course the Iron Chef Oregon competition. This year Rachel and Tim were off at a swim meet, so I decided to leave work early on Friday afternoon and head to the festival.

I made my usual first pass through the wine area, but noticed something strange. Unlike last year where all the wineries had their own booths and determined their own tasting fees, it looked like more than half of them were in common booths staffed with volunteers rather than winery staff. Those wineries in the common booths were also charging $2/taste. What's with that? Maybe a charity fundraiser? Don't know, but I wasn't interested in finding out. Half the fun of wine tasting is talking to the winemaker or at least someone who works for the winery. Bad idea. Because of this, I visited far fewer wineries than in past years. It also seemed to me that there was not as much high quality wine there either - more like Newport than the McMinnville festival. Fortunately Dyson Demara was there from Hillcrest and had some great new wines, and John Olson from Palotai was there, also with some great new wines. These are my 2 favorite southern Oregon wineries, and I always enjoy talking with Dyson and John. I also had a nice chat with Ray Walsh from Capitello who has some nice new Sauv Blancs from both Oregon and New Zealand. A few other favorites were there (David Hill) but I've tasted recently enough that I didn't taste at the Bite. My full tasting notes are at the end of this post.

In between wine tastings, I took in a little music (a rock band called Hello Morning), a chef demonstration (Pascal Sauton from Carafe Bistro in Portland), and the first round of Iron Chef Oregon (Franco Console vs. Gabriel Gil). The great thing about Friday afternoon at the Bite is that it's not very crowded, and I had no trouble getting good seating for any of the entertainment.

Of course I also had to eat while I was there! In addition to Oregon restaurants, there were several food trucks from Portland's exploding street food scene, and I tried 2 of them. I had incredible Korean BBQ tacos from Koi fusion, and a pretty good meatball Parmesan Slider from Garden State. I washed that down with a nice Red Ale from Hopworks Urban Brewery.

I had a good time as usual, and it was fun to chat with the winemakers, but this isn't a "knock your socks off" experience in terms of either the food or (most of) the wine. Will I be back next year? Of course, but I hope Rachel can come with me.

08 Chardonnay - Lightly oaked, crisp and fruty. Really very nice, but not quite enough acid.
08 Riesling - off dry, not enough acid.
08 Zinfandel - Tastes young and rough. Needs more time, not as fruity as a Zin should be.
09 Baco Noir - Young and a bit rough.
08 Cab Sauv - Nice, but nothing special.

09 New Zealand Sauv Blanc - very crisp and clean, but a bit too much bell pepper for my taste. Some nice tropical notes.
08 Oregon Sauv Blanc - Smooth mouth feel, luscious.
09 New Zealand Pinot Noir - Big, warm and complex. Like the best OR 06's
07 Oregon Pinot Noir - solid 2007, with complexity and good fruit.
09 Late Riesling - well balanced, not too sweet

09 Pinot Gris - nice and crisp, not as much depth of flavor as I'd like.
NV White Blend - OK, nothing special
06 "Pinot-Licious" Pinot Noir - sold as an everyday Pinot ($20) it was OK, fairly simple.
07 Syrah - Nice example of a WA Syrah - not over the top fruit bomb, no pepper
Late Harvest blend - OK, not great.

OK, too many good wines and I forgot to take detailed notes. Here's what I remember:
09 Bull's Blood - Lighter bodied red, good fruit and acid.
NV Dolcetto - blend of 07 and 08, this is a rounder more polished wine than the 07 alone. Just bottled, so it showed a shorter finish than I'd like, but this may come back with time. Good warm fruity mid-palate.
08 Arany Szarvas - Syrah-Cab blend. Easy drinking red.
07 Syrah - finally, a nice peppery Rhone-style Syrah! Very nice.
?? Attila - a bigger, bolder Bdx blend. Full and nice.

Again, too busy enjoying my discussion with Dyson to take detailed notes. Here's what I remember:
Up Under 15 - Syrah/Zin/Cab blend, good subtle fruit.
07 "Phenom" Cab Sauv - same vineyard as Massimo, good deep Cab with complexity.
06 "San Roc" Syrah- Very nice deep northern Rhone style (San Roc = Cornas backwards!).
?? White Pinot Noir - this is the first white Pinot that I liked. Fruity, good acid, no bitterness
Very nice Hungarian-style Rosé
08 "Bone Dry" Riesling - great clean dry Rielsing
Late Riesling - off-sweet well balanced wine.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

North Willamette Vintners Wine Trail Weekend

It's finally spring in the Willamette Valley and winery events are coming fast and furious. The weekend of April 10th was full-up with events and we had to make some choices. The North Willamette Vintners was holding its wine trail weekend where member wineries offer wine tasting, snacks, and activities or tours for a single ticket purchase. Saturday was also the 3rd annual Calkins Lane event, an open house of the 5 wineries on Calkins Lane, home to some of the best Pinot Noir in Oregon. Finally, we were invited to a party at Deux Vert vineyard. Decisions, decisions! In previous years we've really enjoyed the Calkins Lane event, but this year they changed the format a bit so that you paid a separate tasting fee at each winery rather than one price for all 5. So, rather than seeming to be a single coordinated event, it was just as if a few of the wineries that didn't have regular tasting room hours were open for the day.

We finally decided to focus on the north Willamette event, but drop in at Deux Vert and visit one of the Calkins Lane wineries. We brought along our recording GPS unit, and after running it through my Automatic Memories software, it gave us a detailed record of our weekend:

4/10/2010 11:06:46 AM
Dave and Rachel arrived at David Hill Winery.

We left the house just before 11am on Saturday and headed toward David Hill Winery, a short 6 minute drive up the hill from us. They were ready for us in the tasting room and we picked up our wrist bands, wine glasses, maps and schedules. The tasting was going to be across the parking lot in the actual winery, but as we entered, Sean the assistant winemaker was frantically trying to get things ready. It seems that Jason had overslept and things weren't quite ready for us. Fortunately Jason walked in and they quickly started pouring. We tasted some barrel samples of the 09 Chardonnay - one from a neutral oak barrel and one from a stainless steel tank. Both were nice with a hint of oak in the barrel version. We then sampled the 08 Blackjack Pinot Noir from 2 different French barrels. One had a longer finish, while the other had a much better mid-palate. Both were very nice.

4/10/2010 11:51:26 AM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Patton Valley Winery.

We have visited Patton Valley once before and also tasted their wines when they've come to Forest Grove First Wednesday. Today they were tasting a PN Rosé (crisp and not too sweet), their 07 Estate Pinot Noir (nice), and their 07 West Block PN (darker and earthier). They were also doing smellavision where they had samples of odors that one was supposed to identify. Personally, I thought all of them smelled synthetic, not like the real thing, and the only one I correctly identified was cat pee (Sauvignon Blanc, anyone?).

4/10/2010 12:02:46 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We headed back down the hill past a house with a cool castle and chicken coops in their yard.

4/10/2010 12:17:21 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Kramer Winery.

We arrived at Kramer and found Trudy pouring Pinot Gris. She looked up at us and said "Finally, a friendly face!" I thought everyone tasting wine was a friendly face, but perhaps she just meant that she was glad to see someone she knew. We tasted through the Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Heritage Pinot Noir (one my favorites) and got to barrel sample the 08 and 09 Rebecca's Reserve PN and the released 06 Rebecca's Reserve. It was fun to taste the variations in the years and barrel times.

4/10/2010 12:46:21 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We next headed out toward Hillsboro.

4/10/2010 1:11:01 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at J. Albin Winery.

We've wanted to try J. Albin wines for a while, but since they aren't usually open, we hadn't had the chance. They taste from their house right next to their vineyard. Along with the wine, they had food catered in from a Lake Oswego restaurant that was very good (too bad I can't remember the name of the restaurant!). We tasted a sparkling PN Rosé (nice and crisp, interesting and not too demanding), a Pinot Gris (nice, simple, but not enough acid), their 07 estate Pinot Noir (very smooth, complex, and structured, good nose, earl grey tea), and a Pinot Noir dessert wine (wow, very nice and balanced, good acid, depth of flavor. 18% RS, 10% abv).

4/10/2010 1:32:31 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We kept heading east to pick up a couple more wineries that were tasting at Smith's Berry Barn.

4/10/2010 1:48:46 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Smith's Berry Barn.

Neil Frederickson owns a vineyard very close to Purple Cow and Apolloni north of Forest Grove, and I've gotten to know him as we picked grapes together in Jon's vineyard. He now has his own label, Provincial Vineyards. The wine is made by Alfredo Apolloni. We'd just tasted his wine at Urban Decanter the week before, but thought we'd drop in again. We tried his Pinot Gris (nice) and his 07 Pinot Noir (good, but with a slightly bitter edge).

Also tasting at the Berry Barn was Gresser, a label out of Forest Grove that we hadn't tried before. They were tasting their 06 and 07 Pinot Noir.

4/10/2010 1:56:16 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We next left the North Willamette Vintner's tour and took a side trip onto Calkins Lane

4/10/2010 2:23:01 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at DeLancellotti Vineyard.

Paul de Lancellotti is Josh Bergstrom's brother in law and farms a vineyard right next to the Bergstrom winery. He makes just a single wine, his estate Pinot Noir and it is VERY good. We tasted his 07 Pinot Noir and were impressed by the dark and earthy notes. It tasted like Calkins Lane.

4/10/2010 2:47:16 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/10/2010 3:02:01 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Deux Vert Vineyard.

We first met Mike and Patty Green at Crumbled Rock winery over the Valentine's Day weekend and took an instant liking to both them and their wines. They had invited us to a Tapas in the Vineyard party, and we arrived not knowing quite what to expect.

They have a beautiful house right next to the vineyard and we felt very welcome as we entered. Mike met us with a glass of Macindoe Family Cellars Melon made from his grapes, along with a salmon appetizer. We mingled for a while and enjoyed both the wine and the food, as well as the vineyard view from their deck. Patty was pouring her Tempranillo which is also very nice (especially the 2008). We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we still had other wineries to visit, so wethanked our hosts and headed off again.

4/10/2010 3:34:16 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/10/2010 3:47:01 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Adea Wine Co.

We were hoping that Marcus Goodfellow would be pouring at Adea, so we stopped in. Sadly he wasn't, but we did taste through a vertical of "Deano's Pinot" from Adea - 05, 06, 07, and 08. All were pretty good; we thought the 07 was the best.

4/10/2010 4:02:01 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/10/2010 4:14:16 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Montinore Winery.

Montinore was on the way home, so we thought we'd stop here too. Sadly, while the main tasting room was still open, they had finished with the North Willamette Vintner's event at 4:00. We decided that we'd return tomorrow.

4/10/2010 4:17:31 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/10/2010 4:34:01 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Dave's House.


4/11/2010 10:47:26 AM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We decided to start out day by heading north.

4/11/2010 11:01:36 AM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Tualatin Estate Vineyards.

We arrived at Tualatin Estate Vineyards just as they opened and were greeting in the parking lot by someone who seemed familiar. It was Rob Herb whom I'd gotten to know at Purple Cow. It's funny how you don't recognize someone at first when you see them in a different environment than you're used too. He and his wife Renee are now working at Tualatin Estate - pretty cool.

Sadly, I didn't take any notes on Sunday, but I do remember they poured some very nice semi-sparkling Muscat and several nice Pinot Noirs.

4/11/2010 11:19:21 AM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We left Tualatin Estate and took the back roads north toward highway 6.

4/11/2010 11:31:26 AM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Purple Cow Vineyards.

We arrived at Purple Cow and it was great to see Jon, Wendy, Matt, and Cheryl. Jon was tasting the new Muscat (just a hint of RS) along with one of his 07 Pinot Noirs, Gabriella red blend, and a couple of his trademark Tempranillos. He also took us out to show us a little about field grafting.

4/11/2010 11:57:21 AM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We made the very short drive across the road to Apolloni Vineyards.

4/11/2010 12:00:36 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Apolloni Vineyards.

Again, no notes today, but we tasted their Pinot Grigio and then headed back into the winery where Chuck barrel sampled several Pinot Noirs by clone. It was interesting to taste the difference the various clones make in the nose, finish, fruit level, etc. We finished up with a tasty super-Tuscan blend.

4/11/2010 12:22:36 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/11/2010 12:32:06 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Banks Chevron.

Time to gas up!

4/11/2010 12:33:51 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/11/2010 12:54:36 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Helvetia Winery Tasting Room.

We'd tried Helvetia wines at Newport but never been to the winery itself. The first stop was at their house to try a couple of their finished wines. I remember at least a Gewurztraminer among them.

4/11/2010 1:02:51 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We then made the short drive down the road to the actual winery.

4/11/2010 1:05:51 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Helvetia Winery.

Here, they were tasting barrel samples of Pinot Gris (very crisp and nice) which was about to be bottled, as well as several Pinot Noirs. We also got to sample fresh caught salmon prepared in a variety of tasty ways.

4/11/2010 1:26:21 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/11/2010 1:40:51 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Garden Vineyards.

North of highway 26 and further east, we came to Garden Vineyards. This is a huge, well-manicured property with quite a mansion on it. The owners, a younger couple, were tasting wine in the house itself. The wine was very nice, and included a sparkling wine made in the traditional method, a very interesting white table wine, and a couple of enjoyable Pinot Noirs. The food was excellent and we had a nice chat with the owners.

4/11/2010 2:05:04 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

We headed back on the long drive toward Forest Grove.

4/11/2010 2:43:04 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at A Blooming Hill Vineyard.

Our next stop was A Blooming Hill Vineyard. We'd met Holly and Jim at several events in Forest Grove and really liked their wine. They have a white blend called Mingle that is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris that really tastes like summer. The 08 Pinot Noir is quite good and is better every time we taste it. Jim gave us a quick tour of the winery itself - a very small facility in his barn. It's exactly the size I'd like to have some day. He also sampled his 09 whites - the same varietals that are in the Mingle, but they will be bottled separately this time. All are crisp and floral - good examples of their varietal. Can't wait to get some after they've been bottled.

4/11/2010 3:15:34 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/11/2010 3:27:34 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Montinore Winery.

Our final stop of the day was Montinore. We've had such mixed reaction to them over the years, although recently they've been pretty consistently good. They were tasting in a little building away from the main tasting room. It wasn't hard to find if you followed the sound of the jazz group that was playing. They're food was some of the best of the weekend, made by their hospitality director. We sampled a couple of very nice Pinot Noirs also, before one of the winemakers walked in and asked if anyone wanted a cellar tour. Um, yes!

The tour was led by the 2 main winemakers: Ben Thomas and Stephen Webber. It was interesting and informative. While down there, we tasted a vertical of their reserve Pinot Noir, and I was honestly quite impressed. Rich, deep flavors with a nice finish on all of them. We were especially taken with the 2008 and bought a couple of bottles.

4/11/2010 4:15:04 PM
Dave and Rachel started driving.

4/11/2010 4:33:04 PM
Dave and Rachel arrived at Dave's House.

It was really fun to re-visit old friends close to home as well as try a couple of new places. We usually just head south to the Carlton and/or Dundee area, but this event reminded us that we have some really nice wine close to home too. I wish I had taken notes on Sunday, but perhaps I was just enjoying the wine too much!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dobbes Family Event

About a year ago I wrote a post about the Joe Dobbes empire. He makes great wine under his Dobbes Family label, a line of value wines under his Wine By Joe label, and does custom crush work for many small Oregon wineries. On Sunday March 28th eight of his clients joined Dobbes in the winery for an open house to showcase their wines. As with last year's event, this one was very well organized and the staff did a great job keeping the food table stocked, emptying the dump buckets, and making sure there was plenty of water available. It was also really fun to taste both the diversity of wine varieties and the differences in wines made from the same grape variety by the same wine maker using grapes from very different vineyards.

Baron-Wahl - They were tasting a vertical of the Pinot Noir from 06, 07, and 08. The 06 had a big warm nose and a thick mouth feel. Vines were still somewhat young. The 07 had a huge nose and was smoky with a long finish. Slightly bitter and dilute. The 08 was light and fruity with no smoke on the finish.

Cliff Creek has been a favorite for a few years, but we came away from this tasting somewhat disappointed. The 07 Red Red Wine tasted pretty much like grape juice, almost candy-like. The 06 Merlot was slightly bitter and thin, and the 06 Cab Sauv lacked sufficient fruit. Fortunately the 04 Claret was still pretty interesting, although a bit tannic. The 05 Syrah was not too fruity and had almost a burned taste. What was going on? Wrong glass shape? Maybe our trip to Washington spoiled us for southern Oregon reds? We'll certainly give them another chance, but we were disappointed.

Joe Dobbes was tasting wines from both his labels, starting with his 09 Wine By Joe Rosé - not too sweet, not too bitter, very nice. The 07 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir was nice and light but fairly plain. The 06 Griffin Cuveé Pinot Noir was interesting with a lot going on and a long finish. The 06 Nuestro Sueno Pinot was very smokey and earthy, well made and balanced, but not much going on. Their late harvest Viognier was good but slightly flabby. Not too sweet however.

Elstrom was a back again this year and was pouring their 07 Pinot Gris which was delightfully crisp, like biting into an apple. The 08 Pinot Gris had good flavor but not enough acid. The 05 Pinot Noir that we liked last year was still good with earthy fruit and somewhat restrained. The 07 Pinot Noir was very good with earthy fruit, but more of it than the 05. The 06 Pinot Noir was boring and forgettable.

Fox Farm - We had a nice conversation with the Fox Farm owner who has recently opened a tasting room in Newberg for small wineries that were too small for their own tasting room including some of our favorites. They were tasting their 09 Pinot Blanc which was nice but not enough acid. The 08 Pinot Noir was light and smooth with nice fruit. The 07 Syrah was somewhat restrained with good fruit. The 09 Pinot Gris was very floral and almost had a Riesling nose. Not enough acid.

South Stage was a winery that we hadn't tasted before from further south in Oregon. Their 08 Chardonnay was nice and crisp, lightly oaked. The 08 Viognier was crisp and spicy. The 07 Alchemy was a blend of Tempranillo, Carmenere and Cab Sauv. It was OK but a little light. Their 08 Sauv Blanc/Semillon sweet blend was just too sweet and syrupy.

Quailhurst - We had visited them over Labor Day weekend last year and certainly enjoyed their beautiful horse arena and barns as well as their food. I recall the wine being just OK, which as confirmed today. Their 06 Virtuoso as an interesting white blend of 6 grapes - nutty with decent acid. Their 03 Pinot Noir was old and hot without much fruit left. The 06 Pinot Noir tasted like rotten meat. Seriously, although it may have just been a bad bottle. The 08 Pinot Noir was fine, light with strawberry notes.

Vitae Springs was also a winery that I don't believe we've tasted before. They had a self-made 08 Riesling that was nice and bright with good acid. Their 06 Pinot Noir was deep with dark fruits and good balance. The 07 Pinot Noir was good but very light, almost watery.

Youngberg Hill was there again, and we'd also tasted their very good Pinot Noir at McMinnville recently. The 07 Natasha Pinot Noir was good, but we'd just had salami that didn't work well with the wine. The 07 Jordan was very nice - earthy with dark fruits. The 08 Jordan barrel sample had good fruit and smooth tannins.

Another excellent event at Dobbes with lots of good Pinot Noir. I think our trip to Washington may have made us a little pickier about warm climate reds from Southern Oregon, we'll have to see. I definitely need to give Cliff Creek another try. Maybe a day in Carlton soon...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Woodinville Wine Coutnry

One of the realities of farming, whether it's produce or wine grapes, is that crops are usually grown away from the population centers that consume them. This normally isn't a big problem since one can always truck the product from farm to consumer (although faithful readers will recall that I'm a big proponent of eating and drinking as locally as possible). However, in the case of eastern Washington wineries that want to make connections with their potential customers and have people try their wines, it was difficult to get folks from the Seattle area to drive several hundred miles to visit the wineries and tasting rooms. The solution - if the consumers won't go to the wineries, bring the wineries to the consumers. This is exactly what has happened in Woodinville.

Rachel and I had planned a trip up to the Woodinville area a few years ago, but ended up not being able to go. This year, Tim was going to be swimming at the age group sectionals in Federal Way during the weekend of March 20th, so even though he didn't particularly want his parents with him, we figured it was as good a time as any to drive up for wine tasting. Actually, Tim posted a Facebook status from the meet that read something like "I'm at the swim meet and my parents are 100 miles away - life is good." Rachel popped his bubble by replying that we were actually only 36 miles away!

Chateau Ste. Michelle was the first winery to set up shop in Woodinville when they built the french-style chateau in 1976. All of the grapes for the winery were trucked in from various vineyards in eastern Washington. As the US wine industry started growing in the 70s and 80s, many other wineries and vineyards were established in the Yakima Valley and near Walla Walla. Many of these wineries made great wine, but didn't get a lot of traffic through their tasting rooms. As wine tourism has become more important, both older wineries as well as folks looking to get into the industry looked to Chateau Ste. Michelle's example and started moving into Woodinville. The result is an amazingly strange situation where you have industrial parks in the city full of tasting rooms and small working wineries along with small independent tasting rooms and several larger stand-alone wineries such as Ste. Michelle and Columbia. The strangest thing about them is the lack of vineyards. With very few exceptions, the wine is either made in eastern Washington and brought to the tasting rooms, or the grapes themselves are trucked from the vineyards to the wineries in Woodinville.


We left home early on Saturday morning so that we'd arrive in time to get a full day of tasting in. It's a loooong drive up I-5, but after stopping at the pool in Federal Way to drop off a forgotten item to one of the swim team members, we arrived in Woodinville. After getting confused the first time we went through the newly build rotaries in town and failing to find anyplace that looked good for lunch, we were a tad disappointed. We first stopped at Columbia Winery because they had a sign out that they were serving flatbread. Upon entering, they didn't seem to have any restrooms, and no one seemed willing to tell us where we could get the flatbread. We left, disgusted. Now, let me just say that although some people get crabby when they're hungry, this has never been a problem for me. What? Disagreement? OK, I was crabby. We ended up eating at Quizno's (yuk, but at least it was food) and felt better afterwords.

Our first real wine tasting stop was Northwest Totem Cellars. They are a small Mom and Pop winery that produces about 2000 cases a year. Both their winery and "tasting room" are actually part of their house, and it was obvious that they made do with what they had - next to the house were large plastic fermentation tanks that had been outfitted with window air conditioners to keep the temperature down on the must inside the tanks. Pretty clever. We were warmly greeted inside the house and tasted through 6 wines. They were not bad, but nothing special - well made, but simple.

Next, it was off to one of Woodinville's warehouse districts. As I mentioned above, many wineries have their tasting rooms (and sometimes the wineries themselves) in these industrial parks, so you drive in past little electronics companies and auto body shops and find all these tasting rooms. We spent most of the afternoon here and visited the following wineries:

Hestia (decent wine, nothing special)
Stevens (OK, would have been better with food)
Baer (very disappointing)
Red Sky (very nice Bordeaux blends)
Cuillin Hills (very good Syrah)
Smasne/Gard/Alma Terra (more wines than you've ever seen in one place along with food. Mostly very good wine, including a nice Carmenere. We also got to taste a collection of 3 Syrahs grown in 3 vineyards with very different climates but vinified using exactly the same process by the same winemaker. The differences were amazing.)

After Smasne, our palates were shot so we headed for the motel. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in nearby Kirkland. It was nothing special but was clean, quiet and relatively inexpensive. We relaxed for about an hour and watched part of a Mariners game on the TV. We really didn't feel like going anywhere fancy, so we walked across the parking lot to Pizza Hut. While we generally go for fancy high-end food, Pizza Hut has a special place in our hearts from our days working at Zenith in Michigan when our team would go out to lunch at Pizza Hut at least once a week. That was a long time ago, and for the past 10 or 15 years, every Pizza Hut we've been to anywhere in the country has been understaffed and the service was just awful. Sadly, this was no exception and while we were able to get our food in a reasonable amount of time, they wouldn't bring the check and then wouldn't come back to collect the money. We finally decided that we had enough cash to pay, and just left it on the table and walked out.


I'd been getting over a nasty cold before we drove up, but fortunately I was able to taste. Unfortunately when I woke up on Sunday morning, my ears were congested and I was having trouble hearing anything. What? After breakfast, we prepared to head out for another full day of wine tasting. Most Woodinville wineries don't open until noon, although a few open at 11:00 and the Woodinville Wineries Association's website said that Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia opened at 10:00. So, after sitting around the motel reading for a while, we decided we'd head out to the early openers. We arrived at Chateau Ste. Michelle around 10:30, and drove through the one open gate at the head of the driveway. There didn't appear to be anyone around, and when we tried the tasting room door, it was locked. So much for an early start. We drove around a little to see where some of the other wineries were until 11:00 when a few more wineries were open.

Our first stop was Januik/Novelty Hill, a large modern winery with a great tasting room. We tasted through 14 different wines from the 2 labels, most of which were quite good. Our next stop was Brian Carter Cellars whose tasting room is housed in a cute little cottage near the center of town. They had an eclectic collection of wines that included a super-Tuscan, a Spanish blend, a Rhone blend and a Bordeaux blend. The wine was OK, but not great. We then headed across the street to a small yellow house where Hollywood Hill has their tasting room. They specialize in Rhone-style wines, and had some very nice Viognier and Syrah. A quick trip around the rotary (I was getting good at it by now) brought us to DeLille tasting room. They had some of the best wine we tasted on this trip with some great Rhone and Bordeaux varietal wines.

We were determined to have better food today than yesterday, so we had lunch at the Purple Café and Wine Bar. I had a very nice lamb pasta dish along with a glass of Cote du Rhone. The food was quite good and it sure beat Quizno's.

After lunch we went to Mark Ryan Cellars just across the rotary from the restaurant. Interestingly, he had a Pinot Noir made from Lachini fruit that tasted like it came from Calkins Lane. He also had a lot of pretty good warm climate blends, but nothing knocked our socks off. We then headed back to the warehouse district to catch a few more wineries that we didn't get to on Saturday. Our first stop was Guardian where they were having a release party for one of their wines. I've never seen so many brand-new oak barrels at a small winery and the wine tasted mostly of oak and alcohol - not good. We then stopped at William Church where the wine was overly tannic and pretty disappointing. The weather wasn't nearly as nice as it had been yesterday, so we decided not to spend any more time walking around the warehouse district and drove to DiStefano where they were barrel tasting some of their Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was OK and it was interesting to hear how the winemaker approaches his blending program. All in all, a successful morning of tasting, but the afternoon was somewhat disappointing.

We headed back to the motel for a bit of rest before dinner, then drove back into Woodinville for our dinner at Barking Frog restaurant at the Willows Lodge. We ordered a bottle of Antinori Chianti Classico to go with dinner. We also ordered way too much food, starting with our appetizers - seared fois gras and sous vide porke belly. We then each had a salad (roasted beet salad and crab Timbale). The portions were too large and by the time the main courses arrived, we were already getting full. Had had a pretty nice lamb and pasta dish (wait, didn't I have that for lunch too?), and Rachel had duck breast with Huckleberry Risotto, Cipollini Onions, Wild Mushrooms, and Duck Confit. We had desert too (along with a glass of Port for me) and had to be rolled out. Rachel drove back to the motel. The food was quite good, but not spectacular. There were flaws with some of the dishes - the crab was too sweet, the pork belly was somewhat dry, and the portions were just too big.


Our first stop on Monday was Chateau Ste. Michelle. We signed up for the free tour where we went though the winery while hearing some of the history behind it. Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of Riesling in the country and it's all made in Woodinville along with their other whites. The red wines are made in a separate facility in eastern Washington closer to the vineyards. At the end of the tour we tasted a few of their mass-produced wines which weren't too bad. We had also signed up for a reserve tasting that we would come back for in about 40 minutes. In the mean time, we popped across the street to give Columbia another try. They weren't so crowded this time (and we weren't starving either) and had a pleasant enough experience tasting through about 10 of their wines. They were all OK, but pretty pedestrian. We then went back over to CSM and walked around their grounds for a while until it was time for our tasting.

The tasting itself was in a nice space off the main lobby where we sat down at a long table. We tried a sparkling wine, 06 Ethos Chardonnay, 06 Canoe Ridge Syrah, 06 Ethos Syrah, and the 06 Ethos Cab. All were very good, and extremely good values.

After CSM, we stopped for lunch at the Red Hook Brewery which is between Columbia Winery and the Willows Lodge. Pretty typical pub fare - I had a bacon cheeseburger and a pint of porter. We ended up sucking our lunch down very fast so that we could catch the brewery tour that was leaving about 8 minutes after we got our food. The tour was OK, but mostly geared for the 20-something Newport crowd. I didn't particularly care for most of the beers they sampled either.

After the tour, we decided we had time and palate for a few more wineries before heading home. We first stopped at Silver Lake winery where we had micro-pours of mediocre wine. We then went back to the little strip mall where the Quizno's and Purple Café were to visit a couple more small tasting rooms - Gifford Hirlinger (a very nice small family winery with pretty good wine) and Dusted Valley (another small family winery with very nice wines).

By then we'd had enough and started the long drive back home. The traffic was pretty bad south of Seattle, but we were able to use the carpool lane for some of it. Once we cleared Tacoma, it was pretty smooth driving, just a long way. We had go-fever and drove straight home.

It was a very fun weekend, and there were even some pretty good wines. Again we were reminded that you need to go through a lot of so-so wine to find the good stuff. I'd go again, but not until we've visited some of the other nearby wine regions like Walla Walla and the Rogue Valley.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sip - McMinnville Wine and Food Classic

The McMinnville Wine and Food Classic is one of my favorite single-site wine events during the year. It's held at the Evergreen Space Museum and features nearly 70 wineries and 25 restaurants and catering companies from the Northwest. They also feature guest chef demonstrations with the opportunity to sample what they've made. We've been museum members for the past couple of years, so we get in to the wine event for just 4 dollars, with free parking - you can't beat that.

Rachel had a swim meet this weekend, but was able to come with me on Friday. We arrived shortly after they opened at 3pm, and after paying our $4 each we picked up our glasses (stemless - yuk), we did our usual walk through to see who was here. As at Newport, we were warmly greeted by John Olson at Palotai, Dyson Demara at Hillcrest, Amy at David Hill, and several others. Although it happens every time, it's still so cool that the Oregon wine industry is small enough that you can get to know the wine makers, owners and tasting room staff of your favorite wineries. We then started in tasting (tasting notes at the end). We had skipped a few wineries at Newport that we knew were going to be at McMinnville, so we made sure to visit most of those. We also went to one of the guest chef demonstrations where Robert Young of Spirit Mountain Casino made a cold seafood salad and oyster stew. Not bad for buffet food. We also ran into one of the boys' former piano teachers, Dana Libonati who was playing some nice piano jazz at the event.

Saturday I was on my own, and timed my trip down so that I went through Carlton at noon so that I could stop at Scott Paul for the release party for his new D122 Pinot Noir. Named after the 2-lane road that runs through many Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, this is a barrel selection of some of Scott's best fruit from Ribbon Ridge vineyard that he blended. It was subtle and refined with good red and black fruit.

Next, it was off to the space museum for more wine tasting. I tasted through quite a few more wineries, and attended a sausage making demo from Brian Potts, the chef at Tina's in Dundee. I had hoped to stick around until at least 6 so I could hear the Ellen Whyte trio perform (I know the drummer), but was just worn out so I headed home. I missed talking to some of our favorite wine makers and growers (Trudy and Keith Kramer among them), but just ran out of time and energy.

Overall, a great event, but the quality of wine (other than a few notable exceptions) was just not what I'd remembered from last year. I suspect that the wine was just as good, but we're getting a lot pickier about what we actually buy. I'm definitely planning to go again next year - the combination of a great venue, good wine, good food, cooking demos and good music make it a very worthwhile event. As I said last year, it's Newport for more serious wine tasters.

Tasting notes:

Viento - southern Oregon winery we hadn't tasted before. Met the winemaker who said I looked just like Dave Whitehouse, the winemaker at Trefethen. Maybe in a few years...

07 Verona white - generic white blend
06 Voigner - not enough acid, OK to sip, but would be overwhelmed by most food.
08 Riesling - very nice sipper, not enough acid
06 Pinot Noir - not bad for a warmer climate Pinot Noir.
05 Sangiovese - warm and fruity
07 Barbera - smooth and well integrated. Not overly fruity or big
?? Syrah - Dark, good example of warm climate Syrah
07 Rieswling select harvest - OK but kind of thick

Angel Vine - a small producer who started out with Pinot Noir, but fell in love with Zinfandel

08 Zin - Nice and fruity but too young
08 Zin Horse Heaven Hills - Young and a bit rough
08 Primativo - Less wood, also too young.

Cathedral Ridge

Chardonnay - don't remember, didn't write anything about it.
Riesling - not enough acid
Necessity Red - fun, spritzy blend
06 Cab - smooth and spicy
07 Merlot - very similar to my Merlot - fruity, simple
07 Cab/Merlot - smooth, slightly spicy
07 Syrah - spicy, pepper, very nice
07 Syrah Reserve - velvet mouth feel, maybe too smooth.

Marsh Anne Landing - OK, so what's with the UFO and alien theme? Oh, I get it - Marsh Anne Landing, Martian Landing... Anyway, a small family vineyard who makes there own (pretty good) wine. We very much enjoyed talking with the owners and tasting through their wines. All were very well made.

07 Caballo - Tempranillo/Grenache blend with interesting fruit, mellow tempranillo
07 Cab Franc - gentle, but varietally correct
05 Red Planet - B'dx blend. Good, but not a standout.
05 Merlot - fruit with structure
05 Syrah - Good, but not a standout.

Bradley - Another farm family making wine from their vineyards, I'd met them last year and again enjoyed their wines. They were using a very cool bulb aerator pouring spout on their bottles that was endlessly fascinating.

Dry Riesling - pretty good, but not enough acid
Off-dry Riesling - OK. Milky. Not enough acid
08 Baco Noir - very nice, fruity and slightly complex (for a Baco)
Sugar-n-Spice - Port-style Gewurztraminer. Strong with notes of melon and mango.

Johan - Another small Pinot Noir producer whose wines I'd tried last year and liked.

07 Estate PN - very nice, slightly earthy and smoky.
07 Estate Reserve PN - less interesting. Smoother, but slightly bitter

Emerson - we tried some of these wines at Newport and were favorably impressed

08 Pinot Noir - Big smoke and earth, good fruit, not over the top. Simple mid-palate with a long finish. A real bargain at $20.

Youngberg Hill - Tried their wine last year and thought it was pretty good. Made by Joe Dobbes

09 Pinot Blanc - good acid, nice
09 Pinot Gris - kind of flat
07 Pinot Gris - slightly oaked. Meh...
07 Natasha Block Pinot Noir - wow, smooth and dark, smoky, and earthy.
07 Jordan Block Pinot Noir - very nice, elegant smoky, but more delicate than the Natasha

Crater Lake - We've had their wine a couple of times at Greatest of the Grape and at Newport. Lots of good red wine, but didn't take detailed notes here.

Syrah/Grenache blend - very nice
Recioto-style Merlot - excellent.
Cab - OK
Merlot 29 - big and bold
Merlot - OK
Grenache - nice and fruity
Syrah - nice warm-climate Syrah


08 Pinot Gris - crisp, good
07 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - Wow, very nice for $20, smooth, fruity, long finish
07 Reserve PN - a barrel selection, elegant and smooth

Wild Aire

06 Pinot Noir - nicely balanced, not over-fruity
08 Pinot Noir 'Timothy' - light with a good strawberry finish
08 Tempranillo - smooth, but slightly bitter at the end

Séjourné - Another local favorite new winery owned by one of the winemakers at Zenas along with his wife.

08 no-oak Chardonnay - very nice, crisp and fruity. Certainly not sterile.
09 Pinot Gris - good, crisp, and fruity
08 Pinot Noir - light, bright, nice
07 Pinot Noir reserve - light with strawberry and some depth. Not too big

Quenette - Tasted through their wines last year and liked them. Lots of big reds, all varietally correct.

Chard, Pinot Gris, Viogner (3 different wines) - all had pretty good acid, but were not that interesting.
Sangiovese - good, fruity
Barbera - warm and fruity, pretty typical WA Barbera
Cab - OK, not a standout
Zinfandel - nice peppery Zin
Syrah - nice, slightly peppery

Abacela - Southern Oregon tempranillo pioneer, they make lots of nice wine.

08 Viognier - crisp, slightly bitter
08 Rosado - nice, bright and light
07 Garancha - dark fruit, very smooth
06 Malbec - subtle, not tons of fruit, nice
07 Tempranillo Umpqua Cuveé - big and slightly tannic
05 Tempranillo Reserve - big, fruity, and structured, but not all that "warm"
00 Port style - nice traditional port-style wine. Smooth and warm.

Stone Wolf - We used to buy this label of Pinot Noir from the grocery store before we really got into wine.

08 Chardonnay - all stainless. Not enough acid.
08 Muller-Thurgau - off sweet, not bad
05 Cab Suav - pretty typical southern Oregon cab. slightly bitter.

Vitis Ridge - I like their wine, but Rachel won't taste them because she doesn't like their label design. Foch has been consistently good, but they weren't tasting it today.

Chardonnay - stainless, fairly forgettable
Riesling - crisp, but not quite enough acid
Merlot - very good, smooth tannins
Malbec - very nice and fruity
Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Reserve - not bad, but nothing special
Cab Franc - very smooth and fruity, not bitter as Cab Franc can be.

Barking Frog - We first met Ron and his wife at a First Wednesday in Forest Grove, and have been enjoying his wine ever since. He's a meticulous winemaker and lets the grapes and vintage speak.

07 Pinot Noir (all Wädenswil) - very nice, subtle and earthy
07 Pinot Noir Blakeslee - more structured, fruit and earth.
08 Sangiovese Elerding - light and bright with good fruit
08 Barbera - fruity and warm. 16.3% ABV but well balanced
07 Syrah - wonderful. Some pepper, but not as much as the 05, chocolate notes
06 Cab Sauv - warm and very smooth
08 Syrah Ice Wine - wow, smooth and sweet but very well balanced

Dukes Family Vineyard - Another winery we met at First Wednesday, they have a vineyard and have just finished building an on-site winery (currently making their wine at 12th and Maple). Their first few vintages were made by Gary Andrus who passed away in Jan 2009. They make some really great Pinot Noir, but since we'd just tasted it over the pre-Thanksgiving weekend, I decided just to try their new offering:

09 Rosé - very light, bright and pleasant

Biggio Hamina - We had tried their wine once before, at last year's Yamhill-Carlton tasting event in Portland.

07 Pinot Noir Deux Vert Vineyard - very nice, dark and deep
08 Pinot Noir Zenith - good, but not a lot behind it
07 Syrah Deux Vert - spicy, but slightly bitter or "pinched"

River's Edge

Semi-sweet Gewurztraminer - good flavor, floral, but not enough acid
07 Pinot Noir barrel select - smoky, complex, and very nice. We've had this one several times from different vintages and consistently like it.
08 Pinot Noir - smoky, fairly simple. Good, but not all that interesting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival

Once again, it was time for that great Oregon Bacchanalia known as the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. As faithful readers may recall, we finally got our routine down last year, and pretty much repeated it this year. We had made reservations at The Waves of Newport several months in advance, and arrived around 1:15 pm on Friday afternoon. Our room was ready, so we had a few minutes to unpack and relax before it was time to head down to catch the bus. The theme this year was "The Grape Wild West" so we brought just enough cowboy garb to look festive without looking ridiculous (we hoped). At about 1:45 we headed down to the street to wait for the bus. It was raining, but this year I had a hat - in fact I had re-shaped the brim of my rain hat to resemble a cowboy hat. This motel is well-situated on the shuttle route so that the buses are usually not too full when they arrive, and after about a 10 minute wait, our bus arrived. We stopped at a couple other hotels before filling up, and then headed straight to the festival site.

We had again pre-purchased e-tickets and the line for us was nearly non-existent. We had our bags checked, our ID checked (gray hair doesn't cut it at this venue), our hands stamped, and we were in! We didn't buy glasses this time because we have a bunch, so we brought our glasses from a couple years ago. It was just a little sad to think that we'd be missing the 2010 version from our vertical of glasses, but we moved on and turned our thoughts to wine tasting.

Our usual M.O. at big wine shows like this is to do a full walk-through to see who's here. While we rarely meet anyone we know who is tasting at the show, we've been doing this long enough that we got waves and greetings from many of the people behind the tables. John Olson of Palotai gave us his usual warm greeting, as did Dyson Demara at Hillcrest. We waved at Jason Bull, the winemaker at David Hill, and stopped for a short chat with Jon and the gang at Purple Cow.

After our walk-through, it was time to start tasting. Nerd that I am, I had printed out an alphabetical list of the wineries that were there, along with room for notes next to each one. These notes can all be seen at the end of this post. We tasted until about 6:00 when our palates were getting tired. As during Memorial Day weekend tasting, we spit at Newport, so although our palates were tired, we were still quite sober. If you're going to taste 180 wines in 3 days, it's just plain irresponsible not to spit. We went through and purchased a few wines and boarded the drunk bus (that's the return shuttle) back to our motel. We dropped off our purchases in the room, and then walked down to the Nye Beach area of town for dinner at Nana's Irish Pub. It appears that we again timed it just right since we got the last table in the place, and shortly after we sat down, there was a steady stream of people coming in looking for a table. Readers may recall that last year I hadn't been spitting on Friday, but felt compelled to get an imperial pint of Guinness anyway. Hmm, that wasn't a great idea, but this year I had been spitting, so the beer went down very well. Rachel and I both had delicious lamb stew over mashed potatoes.

The next morning we slept in for a while, and when I finally got up I looked at last year's Newport blog and added notes to my printout of wineries. It had also become clear from our progress through the wineries the previous day, that we weren't going to get through all of them in 3 days. So I checked to see which wineries would also be at the McMinnville festival in March so we could skip them here in Newport. After this research, Rachel got up and we had our showers and breakfast. We brought along some Cacklin' Oat Bran (one of our favorite cereals) and V8 and just had a quick breakfast in the room. Then it was down to wait for the bus again, and get my annual picture with Capt. Ahab. Although I finally got the pose correct, the sign that said "Capt. Ahab says 'Stay Here'" was sadly missing.

Once again the line for e-tickets was very short and we resumed our wine tasting. Saturday is the day on which Newport's reputation as a Bacchanalia is built. Saturday morning is fine, and we got some good tasting in. However, after about 1pm the 20-something crowd comes in, intent on getting plastered. We usually bail out around 12:30, get some lunch, and then re-enter for a short time to purchase anything we'd liked that morning. We had a very nice lunch at Rogue Brewing (just across the parking lot) and headed back. Now, when we'd left the tent, there was very little line. Just 45 minutes later when we got back, the line was longer than we'd ever seen it. Apparently the fire marshal had declared the tent full, and they'd only let someone in after someone else left. People in line were being warned that it would probably be another 2 hours before they could get in. Wuh, we didn't need to buy wine that badly! So we rode the drunk bus back to our hotel and napped and read and generally relaxed until dinner time.

Like last year, we made reservations for dinner at the Bay House in Lincoln City. You may recall that the food was good (although the beef was a little strange) and the wine was fantastic. During the afternoon I'd looked for the menu on the website and discovered that they served "Piedmontese" beef. A little more research revealed that Piedmontese beef is a variety of cattle that is much leaner than traditional American cattle breeds, and has a "tender texture." This would explain the sponginess of the meat last time - there wasn't anything wrong with it, it was just Piedmontese. Armed with this knowledge, I thought I might try the beef again.

We arrived at the restaurant a minute or two late, having gotten behind a slow-moving drunk bus for most of the 20 mile drive. We were seated and given the several hundred page wine list. Our waiter asked if we would like to order wine, but we hadn't yet seen the food menu, so we didn't know quite what to get. We then asked for some advice on the wine list, and our waiter sent the sommelier over to talk to us. We told him what we'd be eating and that we were interested in a Rhone of some sort. After a strange dance in which he didn't actually offer much advice, left the table for about 5 minutes and finally returned, we chose a 2005 Gigondas from Chateau de Saint Cosme to pair with the main course (rack of lamb for Rachel, Piedmontese beef filet for me), and shared a glass of Eyrie Pinot Blanc to go with our tuna tartare appetizer. The amuse bouche was a spoonful of wonderful asparagus soup with creme fraiche, and we had a romaine salad with fried polenta croutons in between the appetizer and the main course. Dessert? Of course! I had a cheese plate and an unbelievably good glass of PX sherry. Needless to say, Rachel drove back to the motel. It was a wonderful dinner, and actually exceeded expectations. The service at Bay House is just a little creepy, but the food and wine make it completely worthwhile.

Sunday morning we got up, got packed and ready to go, and checked out. Because of all the heavy partying on Saturday night, the 20-somethings are all hung over, and Sunday morning is a great time at the festival - attendance is low, and it's mostly folks like us with gray hair. We drove the car over and found an easy parking spot fairly near the tent. The e-ticket line was again non-existent and as we were heading into the tent, someone yelled at us to come get glasses. They were giving away this year's glasses on Sunday morning, so we continue to have a complete set of Newport glasses - yay! Most of the folks in the wine booth are glad to have Saturday over with and look pretty tired. One person we talked to told us that he had several people slosh up to his booth and ask for a full glass of whatever his highest alcohol wine was - real connoisseurs! But now it was Sunday - less crowded and easier to talk to the winemakers and pourers. We ended up tasting a bit longer than we usually do on Sunday, and didn't head home until around 2pm. Rachel slept and I drove, and we ended up getting home shortly after 4:00.

It was a great time as usual, but every year we wonder if we'll go again next year. It's fun, and we usually find a few surprisingly good wines, but most of it is pretty average. There's a lot of mediocre wine out there! The attendance was way up this year, which meant that the tent was more crowded with 20-somethings, and it was noisy. I was guessing that the recession would keep attendance down, especially after seeing so many vacancy signs on the motels (usually they're completely booked for weeks in advance). We finally figured that many folks probably just drove in from Portland, Salem, etc. for the day on Saturday, all arriving around 1pm.

Here are the tasting notes from the 180 or so wines that we tried:

12 Ranch Wines - Small winery near Klammath Falls with pretty decent wines.
  • 06 Viogner - good palate, but somewhat weak
  • 07 Chardonnay - nice, crisp, lightly oaked
  • 06 Merlot - nice
  • 06 Cabernet Sauvignon - Thick and tannic, but good
  • 06 Syrah - Dark, rich, and tannic
Abiqua Wind Vineyard:
  • 08 Gewurztraminer - good and crisp, not that spicy
  • 08 Muller-Thurgau - crisp and slightly sweet
Agate Ridge Winery:
  • 08 Sauv. Blanc - very good
  • 07 Roussanne/Marsanne - fairly bland and flabby.
  • 08 Viogner - barrel fermented, was OK but had a slightly unpleasant taste on the finish
  • 07 Primativo - "old-world style" more subtle that most Zins. Good.
  • 06 Syrah - good but nothing special
  • 07 Cab. Sauv - very nice example of an OR cab.
Amity Vineyards:
  • 07 Pinot Blanc - spectacular. Crisp and light with plenty of fruit.
  • 07 Riesling - not bad
  • 07 Sunnyside Pinot Noir - good but not great
Capitello Wines - Always fun to visit New Zealand winemaker Ray Walsh who always has some great wines:
  • Brut - very dry and subtle, clean with a hint of yeast
  • 08 NZ Sauv. Blanc - crisp with lots of green bell pepper.
  • 08 NZ Pinot Noir - light with red fruits. Similar to a good OR '07 PN
  • Sweet Riesling - very well balanced and tasty
  • 08 Dolcino - Wow, sweet and smooth and very well balanced. Yum!
Cardwell Hills Cellars - A winery that's gotten some very good scores from Wine Spectator recently that I've wanted to try.
  • 07 Pinot Gris - nice, off sweet
  • 07 Pinot Noir Estate - nice red fruit with a lingering finish
  • 07 Reserve Pinot Noir - rich and full
  • 08 Pinot Noir Estate - light fruits, strawberry
Chateau Bianca
  • Riesling and Gewurztraminer (2 separate wines) - nice fruit, but not enough acid
  • Brut - nice and yeasty, but maybe too fruity (7up?)
  • 2000 Pinot Noir - smooth, but past its prime
  • 07 Pinot Noir - good
  • Syrah - structured, but no spice or pepper
  • Marachal Foch - nice but subdued
Chateau Lorane - 2 years ago we loved them; last year not so much
  • 07 Reserve Merlot - very good, smooth with good fruit
  • 06 Durif (Petite Sirah) - just OK, nothing special
  • 06 Baco Noir - big and tannic
  • 06 Marachal Foch - very good, fruity and assertive
Cliff Creek Cellars - a favorite of ours for big reds from the Rogue Valley. They weren't tasting much that we hadn't tried before, so we didn't try much.
  • 06 Cab Sauv - young and tannic, but with potential
Coelho Winery - Portuguese-influenced wine. We have visited them in Amity and liked most of what they had.
  • 07 Chardonnay - very nice, lightly oaked
  • 06 Pinot Noir Rosé - slightly bitter
  • 06 Pinot Noir - too big and fruity and over the top
  • Port (Aventura) - good, but not deep enough
Coleman Vineyards
  • 07 Estate Pinot Noir - earthy
  • 08 Estate Pinot Noir - subtle but structured
  • 06 Reserve Pinot Noir - big and fruity, but not over the top. Nice.
  • 05 Reserve Pinot Noir - very nice. Smooth tannins with some earthiness
Cooper Mountain Vineyards
  • 07 Reserve Pinot Noir - pretty good, light, strawberry
  • 07 Malbec (Mendoza) - very nice, tannic, should age a year or 2 before drinking
Eden Vale Winery
  • 3 wines: Heritage Red, Claret, Tempranillo - It was all fine, but pretty much tasted like generic red wine.
Emerson Vineyards - A pleasant surprise, all the wines were well made and interesting.
  • 08 Chardonnay - nice and crisp, lightly oaked
  • 07 Pinot Noir - nice, bright red fruits
  • 07 Avelina Pinot Noir - good, notes of leather and earth
  • 08 Riesling - slightly sweet but well balanced
  • 08 Pinot Gris - OK, slightly bitter
Eola Hills Winery
  • Syrah and Zin - both had offensive, gamy flavors
Flying Dutchman - a winery on the Oregon coast that we've wanted to try. All the wines were OK, but not good varietal representations. All were somewhat weak but not unpleasant. We tasted: white blend, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, red blend, Cab Sauv, blackberry port

  • Riesling - too much extraction, slightly bitter
  • 08 Baco Noir - best in a few years, nice and smooth
  • 08 Zinfandel - OK but nothing special
  • 05 Cab Sauv - very nicely done Oregon Cab, very smooth
Hillcrest Vineyards - Dyson Demara makes great wine and is always fun to talk with. Sadly, he forgot to bring the bottles of Chardonnay that we had ordered, but he promises to bring them to McMinnville.
  • 07 Pinot Noir - good, but not his strength
  • Cav Sauv Fini - Great structure and flavor, a CA-style Cab from Oregon
  • Della Terra 15 Syrah blend - big red with good acid
  • Old Vine Zinafandel - intense fruit
  • Orsatian Riesling - crisp and wonderful, floral
  • 08 Chadonnay - flinty and crisp, but not quite enough acid for us
Hood River Vineyards - They have had good simple wine in the past that we've liked, but there was something off about it this time.
  • Sangiovese - not great
  • Barbera - old, vinegar?
HV Cellars
  • Syrah - strong notes of anise. Very strange.
K & M Wines - Fairly new small vineyard. They make their wine at David Hill
  • 06 Chardonnay - over-oaked and sharp
  • 06 Pinot Noir - OK
King's Raven Winery
  • 07 Pinot Gris - forgettable
  • 07 Marechal Foch - nice and fruity
  • 07 Leon Milot - gamy
  • 06 Reserve Pinot Noir - fruity, jammy, without character
Lone Oak Vineyards
  • Pinot Noir Blanc - clean, but little character
  • 06 Pinot Noir Reserve - slightly bitter fruit bomb
  • 07 Pinot Noir - nice, but nothing special
Melrose Vineyards
  • 05 Barrel Select Pinot Noir - big and fruity, could have been an '06
  • 07 Pinot Noir - good, nothing special
  • 06 Merlot - good varietal representation
  • 06 Syrah - good, not over fruity, no pepper
  • 07 Baco Noir - big and rough
  • 06 Equinox - smooth but not very interesting
Milbrandt Vineyards
  • Riesling - good, but should have been served colder. Not quite enough acid
  • 06 Syrah - OK
  • 07 Cab Sauv - typical WA Cab, needs more age
Misty Oaks
  • 07 Pinot Blanc - very nice, touch of oak
  • 08 Pinot Gris - off dry, not bad
  • 06 Pinot Noir - not bad for a southern Oregon Pinot.
  • 06 Gobbler's Knob - nice red blend
  • 07 Gobbler's Knob - refined and structured
Namaste Vineyards
  • Several nice whites - dry Riesling, off-dry Gewurztraminer
  • 07 Prosperity Pinot Noir - bitter and forced
  • 07 Reserve Pinot Noir - nice but over oaked
Orchard Heights
  • 07 Riesling - not good at all
  • 07 Merlot - OK, varietally correct
  • 06 Syrah - decent southern OR Syrah
  • 06 Cab Sauv. - OK
Palotai - Reliably good wines. John Olson is always fun to talk to as well.
  • Bella Bianca - crisp, acidic, food-friendly wine
  • Pinot Noir - good, but nothing special
  • Lots of really great reds - Bull's Blood: big red blend, Dolcetto: lighter, good pizza wine, Arany Szarvas, Attila: bolder blend, Syrah: very nice warm climate Syrah, Baco Noir: well made and fruity.
Pheasant Valley
  • 06 Pinot Noir Reserve - big, fruity 06
  • 06 Cab Suav - average WA cab. OK.
  • 06 Syrah - big fruit bomb
Purple Cow - One of my favorite wineries and wine people. Innovative varieties, and a killer Tempranillo.
  • 08 Siegerrebe - great, crisp and light
  • 08 Muscat - a little bitter. 07 was better.
  • 07 Kelsey Pinot Noir - drinking well
  • 07 Gabriela red blend - Wow, peppery with good fruit
  • 05 Elena Tempranillo - good
  • 06 Tempranillo reserve - warm, rich, yummy fruit.
  • 07 Teraldago - big and tannic, will be great in a few years
Pyranese Vineyards and Cellars - OK, this was amazing and I didn't write much down. They had at least 20 different wines under 2 labels to taste, all for $5 (no kidding). All ranged from good to very good. Reminds us a bit of David Hill. When we were there, there was just one woman pouring for about 10 different people. She did the most amazing job of multitasking I'd ever seen, keeping track of where everyone was on the flight of 20 wines.
  • 07 Gewurztraminer - Standout! Crisp, acidic, floral. Excellent.
Ribera Vineyards
  • 09 Viognier - slightly sweet, great balance, good with spicy food.
  • 07 Pinot Noir Stormy Morning - OK
  • 06 Merlot - OK
Rivers Edge
  • 08 semi-sweet Gewurztraminer - good, not that well balanced, but nice
  • 08 dry Gewurztraminer - good, solid, well-balanced
  • 07 Barrel select Pinot Noir - very good, earthy, smoky
Saginaw Vineyards
  • 07 Chardonnay - ok
  • 07 Riesling - very nice, slightly sweet
  • 07 Foch - nice, not overly fruity
Sienna Ridge
  • 03 Cab Sauv. - light, no intensity
Silvan Ridge-Hinman Vineyards
  • Cab blend - bad
  • Syrah - not bad, structured, no pepper
  • Early Muscat - sweet and sparkly, similar to Tualatin Estates Frizante, but not as much acid
Spindrift Cellars
  • 09 Gewurztraminer - slightly sweet, nothing special
  • 08 Pinot Noir - OK
  • 06 PN Reserve - nice, but nothing special
Stangland Vineyards
  • Viognier - not enough strength of flavor
  • 05 Reserve Pinot Noir - smooth, good value at $32
  • 08 Tempranillo - young and tannic
Sweet Cheeks Winery
  • 09 Riesling - very good, maybe a bit too sweet
  • Rosé - yuck, too sweet
  • Blanc de Noir - good sipper
Territorial Vineyards
  • 06 Riesling - quite sweet but pretty well balanced
  • 07 Pinot Noir - weak
  • 06 Stone's Throw PN - big and fruity, not really Pinot-like
Troon Vineyards
  • Kubli Cab Sauv - good fruit and tannin, nice
  • Kubli Zinfandel - Zin-character but not enough fruit
  • Meritage - good, but nothing special
  • Reserve Cab Sauv - very smooth, good fruit
  • Reserve Zin - young, but with good Zin fruit
  • V2 - 4 vintage blend of cab, fruity and complex
  • Port - nice but not as "deep" as I'd like
Valley View Winery
  • 07 Viognier - good but not spectacular
  • 07 Chardonnay - very nice, lightly oaked
  • 04 Merlot - very good
  • 06 Tempranillo - good flavor but a bit harsh
  • 06 Cab Sauv - intense and complex
  • 06 Cab Franc - delightful, simple but tasty
  • 06 Syrah - exceptional warm climate syrah
  • 08 Port - fruity, even R likes it
Wasson Brothers Winery
  • Sparkling Riesling - sweet and tasty
  • Gewurztraminer - slightly sweet with an "off" taste
  • Mixed Berry - very sweet.
Willamette Valley Vineyards
  • Riesling - 6% RS but well-balanced
  • Edelweiss - too sweet
  • 07 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir - harsh and bitter
  • 07 Griffin Creek Merlot - not bad

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Valentine's Day Weekend Wine Tasting

Valentine's Day weekend has turned into somewhat of a big tasting weekend among Oregon wineries - not as big as Memorial Day or Thanksgiving, but many wineries open their doors to the public or hold special events. On Saturday, Rachel was officiating at a high school district swim meet (Tim was swimming), so I headed out on my own. It's less fun going wine tasting by yourself, but a lot better than not going at all.

My first stop was a port and chocolate tasting at a new restaurant in Dundee - Farm to Fork. We've not yet eaten there, but certainly plan to soon. The menu features fresh local ingredients and an extensive wine list. Today however, a representative from Kopke was there to sample Port. Each port was paired with chocolate made by Cocoa Velvet, a Portland-based chocolate maker. The Ports ranged from a ruby and a tawny, to a 10 year vintage-style port to an amazing "Century Port" made using a solera system over 100 years old. It was very good, but very expensive.

I then headed back north into Carlton to Scott Paul Wines where Scott Wright was pouring Burgundy from cult wine superstar Lucien Le Moine. It's rare to even find this wine available for sale, much less open for a tasting, so I wasn't going to miss it. All the wines were from the 2007 vintage. We started out with a (white) Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières 1er Cru which was sharp, crisp and very minerally. I really enjoy white Burgundy with it's often austere fruit and great acid. Next it was a Chambolle-Musigny les Charmes 1er Cru with darker fruit and earther, toasty tones. The Vosne-Romanée Beaux Monts 1er Cru was brighter and fresher with more light fruits, while the Pommard Grands Epinots 1er Cru was fruitier and riper. Finally, the Echézeaux Grand Cru was amazingly earthy and complex. Scott said it would be much better in a few years, but I thought it was drinking pretty well now. All the wines except 1 were over $100 a bottle, so while it was wonderful to taste them, I didn't get anything. Scott was also tasting through his own wine and a few Burgundies from his normal lineup, and I ended up going home with a couple bottles of the newly released 2007 vintage of his flagship Pinot Noir La Paulée. It's a great restrained and elegant Oregon Pinot. Interestingly, the Lucien Le Moine wines were sold out before I left, so anyone who came later in the day missed out on the tasting.

Next it was off to Penner-Ash for a vertical tasting of their Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Penner-Ash makes some very nice wines, and they also have some of the best events at their winery, usually paired with some really nice food. I started out with their 2008 Viognier which Rachel and I tried at Thanksgiving. It is an excellent example of a Viognier with good acidity and a spicy finish. Next it was on to the 3 vintage vertical - 2006, 2007, and 2008. The 2006 was of course the biggest and ripest of the bunch, while the 2007 was more restrained and elegant. The 2008 was a surprise since I had been expecting more fruit than the '07. It was also fairly light with bright strawberry and not quite the earthiness of the 2007. Of the 3, the '07 was my favorite. Finally, their 2006 Syrah. They source the fruit for this wine from the Rogue and Columbia valleys and it's a fine example of warm climate Syrah, although I much prefer the pepper and spice of cool climate Syrah myself.

My last stop of the day was Styring, a family-owned winery that Rachel and I had been to over Memorial Day weekend a couple of years ago. Our impression at the time was very nice people, pretty average wine, and today's visit reinforced that impression. The Styring family and their staff are all very nice people and made me feel very welcome. They were serving 5 wines, each paired with a snack. The first was their 2008 Pinot Gris paired with Prosciutto and melon (the fruit, not the varietal). The Gris was well made with pretty good acidity. Next was their 2006 "Signature" Pinot Noir with Italian Truffle cheese, and then the 2006 "WIT" Pinot Noir with black truffle oil and bread. This PN was pretty good, although a bit too big and fruity for my taste. They then poured their new 2007 Cab Sauv from the Columbia Valley and paired that with Champignon cheese and chocolates (always a nice pairing!). The wine was tannic and slightly bitter, but that may soften over time. Finally, they poured the 2004 "Afterglow" dessert wine - a wonderfully balanced sweet Riesling. This was paired with assorted tea cakes and was the best wine of the bunch.

On Sunday Rachel joined me after church as we headed out to some old friends and something new. We started with our own local winery, David Hill, which is literally about a 5 minute drive up the hill from our house. Every year they do a chocolate, Pinot and Port tasting featuring hand made chocolates by the tasting room manager Michele, and of course their great wines. This year they paired different chocolate offerings with one of their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir, the wonderful 2006 Merlot, Jason's new Ruby port and the usual muscat port. All were excellent, although I thought that the muscat was slightly bitter by itself. However, it was an amazing pairing with Michele's chocolate with Grand Marnier.

We weren't sure where we wanted to go next, so we headed south toward the Dundee Hills (there's always good wine there!). We had tried Winderlea wines a couple of years ago just after they'd bought the old Goldschmidt vineyard and built their tasting room. At the time, we weren't very impressed, but wanted to go back and try them again since we know that great wine can come from that vineyard. Today they were pairing gourmet cupcakes with the Pinot and the tasting room was quite crowded. We found a spot at the bar that turned out to be right next to some swim parents that Rachel knew from another swim club. They were out tasting also, and we had a nice chat with them while we tasted. We started out with a wonderful 2007 Chardonnay - lightly oaked with great fruit (apple and tropical fruit) and good acidity - yum! This was followed by 3 Pinot Noirs, all of which were really quite nice. Either our palates had changed since we last tasted their wines, or the wine has improved. The 2007 Ana vineyard PN was earthy with red fruit, the 2007 Winderlea Estate PN was fairly light with subtle fruit, and the 2008 Dundee Hills PN had a hint of earthiness and bright red fruits. We discovered that their winemaker is Robert Brittan, whose own label PN we had tasted and liked at the Carlton Winemaker's Studio in January (oops, I forgot to write a blog entry about that!). All in all, a very pleasant surprise. By the way, we saved the cupcakes for the boys.

Just down Worden Hill Road from Winderlea is Crumbled Rock Winery, a relatively new kid on the block. The Juliard Vineyard has been producing great Pinot grapes for years and had been under contract to Dick Erath, but in 2007, the owners decided to build a small winery and start making wine commercially. 2007 was their first vintage under their own label, and it was pretty good. We also got to barrel taste the 2008, and I think it's going to be excellent. We'll be back once they've released it. Because they only had the one wine, they invited 2 other vineyard owners to come taste with them - Deux Vert and Cleo's Hill. We've been drinking wine made from Deux Vert grapes for years (Elemental Cellars and Roots to name a couple) and it was fun to meet the vineyard owners Mike and Patty Green. Mike was tasting a Melon de Bourgogne made by Macindoe Family Cellars, and was looking for the usual confusion on our faces when he mentioned the grape variety. Instead, we looked pleased, and said "OK, great." "You are familiar with Melon??" he said incredulously. We explained that we very much enjoyed Melon, and had tried various wines from Elemental Cellars, De Ponte, Panther Creek, and Roots. He was floored and took an instant liking to us. He meets one person every few months who has ever even heard of the grape, much less fans. Anyway, the wine was fantastic - crisp and acidic with nice clean fruit. His wife was also making Tempranillo from grapes on their property (another of our favorite varietals) and we tried both the 2007 and 2008. Both were great, but the 2008 was a standout with spice and pepper. We'll definitely make it a point to attend any upcoming events at their vineyard (they promised tapas in the vineyard this summer - how cool would that be!). The other vineyard making their own wine was Cleo's Hill. I could swear we've tasted them before, maybe at 12th and Maple, or somewhere else, but I couldn't remember. The vineyard owner said that we looked familiar to her, but she couldn't remember where either. They had a couple of very nice Pinot Noirs also. It's always so much fun to talk to the grape growers themselves, and we had a fantastic time here.

Our last stop of the day was Vista Hills - one of the most beautiful tasting rooms in the Willamette Valley. We've has their wine a couple of times, and it was good, but not great. They have their wine made by several different winemakers including Laurent Montalieu, Michael Stevenson of Panther Creek, and Isabelle Dutartre of De Ponte. Most of their Pinot Noirs that we've tasted made by Laurent have an incredible nose, nice mid-palate, and almost no finish (where did it go?), although today they had a bit longer finish. Michael's wines were all very good, but the surprise of the day was the last wine that wasn't even on the tasting list. We can usually build a pretty good rapport with the pourer if he or she knows anything about wine, and we had a great talk with the guy here. He told us he had one more wine that wasn't on the list that he'd be happy to let us try. It was their 2007 Saga Hills Pinot Noir, and it was wonderful - big and fruity for an '07, but very structured and well balanced with a long finish. We figured it was another of Michael's wines, but it turned out to have been made by Isabelle from De Ponte. This was surprising because we just haven't been all that impressed by De Ponte wines in the past, so we may need to go back and taste again sometime. With a trunk full of wine and smiles on our faces, we headed home.

Today was a day of pleasant surprises. We had expected David Hill to be good, and it was, but the other wineries all turned out better than expected. Winderlea and Vista Hills were places that we had visited in the past and had come away with our socks still on our feet, but today both exceeded expectations, and we'll no doubt be back again. Crumbled Rock, however, was easily the high point of the day - friendly people who are passionate about what they do, and some really nice wine. It was such a pleasure to talk with the Greens from Deux Vert, and we're really looking forward to Crumbled Rock's 2008 PN.