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