Sunday, February 27, 2011

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival 2011

Every year we say "This is going to be our last year here" and every year we have a great time and look forward to next year. Last year, we thought that we had the routine worked out and that we'd just repeat the usual pattern. Little did we know that this year was not going to follow the script. We'd reserved our room at the Waves of Newport a few months back. We like this motel because it's well-placed on the bus route that goes between the motels and the festival, it usually has fewer drunks than the Shilo Inn, and it has a nice ocean view. This year it had 2 out of 3 points going for it. Not only have they moved the bus stop from just in front of The Waves to a block away, but they'd changed the frequency of the bus from every 15-20 minutes to every 45-60 minutes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We left home about 10 am on Friday morning, and after having to return to fix my sunglasses and grab some forgotten items, we were finally on the road at 10:15. Although it was cold (about 28 degrees the entire way), it was a beautiful sunny day for a drive to the coast. We decided that rather than our usual lunch stop at the Side Track Tap (aka the Side Door Café in Gleneden Beach), we'd have lunch at the Black Fish Café in Lincoln City. We'd eaten dinner there a few years back and really enjoyed it. Besides, the service at the Side Track is often slow and I wanted to get to Newport in plenty of time. We were quickly seated and I ordered the fish tacos (one of my new favorites) and Rachel had a pulled pork sandwich. I also ordered a glass of Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne. Todd sources these grapes from Mike and Patty Green at Deux Vert, and both Scott Macindoe and Chris Berg make great wine from them, so we wanted to taste this wine also. We were quite disappointed - the wine was weak and lacked enough acid. I'm wondering if the bottle had been open too long since this just wasn't what we were expecting. We'll stop by the tasting room and see if we can taste a fresh bottle sometime. The food was nothing to write home about either. Rachel's pork sandwich was fine, but wasn't that interesting, and my fish tacos lacked zing. Fortunately the service was fast and we were on our way.

It looked like our timing would work out well until we had to stop about 15 miles north of Newport while they cleared an accident. We were delayed by about 20 minutes. We made it to the motel at about 1:40 and had time to change clothes and pack the backpack. We went down and walked about a block to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited. That's when I checked the festival website and saw that the bus schedule had been changed. After waiting about 40 minutes, we gave up and walked back to the car and drove. If the organizers want people to take the bus, they can't space them out at 45-60 minute intervals; that just dumb. On the drive there, we saw several mostly empty buses. Fortunately there was plenty of parking at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. After a short walk to the tent and a very short line, we were inside by 2:30 - about 1/2 hour later than planned. We did our usual walk-through before tasting anything just to see who was here, and then started tasting in earnest. I'll transcribe my tasting notes and put them at the end of this blog in a few days. We tasted at 11 wineries on Friday. The highlights were Pudding River's Riesling and Chardonnay and Macindoe's 2008 Melon. We had drunk through our supply of Melon last year and were pleasantly surprised that Scott still had some left. Yum! We also got to taste A Blooming Hill's 2010 Riesling which was just marvelous, although not for sale yet. Jim had sold me some of his grapes for my Riesling last fall, so it was nice to see what those grapes could do in the right hands. It's clearly time for me to check on my Riesling and see if it's ready to bottle.

Our usual Friday dinner takes place at Nana's Irish Pub. Usually we take the bus back to the motel and walk the 3 blocks to the pub, but because it was below freezing, we decided to just stop there directly on the drive back from the festival. We usually order their shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie (along with an imperial pint of Guinness, or course), but this year I went for a seafood platter (beer battered cod and oysters) and Rachel went for the Irish sausages wrapped in puff pastry with peas. Both were very tasty dishes, and I had a pint of Smithwick's Red Ale rather than the Guinness. I'll not likely do that again, since it was mostly "Guinness Lite."

We stopped at Freddies on the way home to look for gloves. Rachel found a pair, but I was out of luck. We did find some "Little Hotties" chemical hand warmers that we were eager to try. Unfortunately, we forgot to buy cereal and milk for the next morning. Oops. Upon returning to the motel, we checked for wifi, and found that there wasn't any. Fortunately, we'd brought an old access point from home and plugged it into the wired Ethernet that they did provide. It all worked, and we had great internet access for all our wifi devices. The only strange thing was that the wifi location service on my iPad got confused since it thought that our access point was in Forest Grove, not Newport. It ended up placing us somewhere near Grand Ronde on the map!

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and about 23 degrees. We bundled up in our long underwear and jackets and activated our hand warmers. Within about 5 minutes, they were definitely getting hot. Apparently they work using exothermic oxidation of iron powder - basically fast rusting! Because of the new stupid bus schedule, we drove again and ended up parking in the Rogue Brewing parking lot. It cost us $5, but we got a $5 discount coupon at the Rogue restaurant, where we had already planned to eat lunch. Not bad! We were in the tent shortly after things opened up at 10:00. We managed to taste through about 8 wineries before things got too crowded and loud around 12:45. We were just getting ready to leave when our friend John Olson at Palotai waved us over for a sample of his new Barbera. It's a beautiful wine and we promised him that we'd be back tomorrow to taste through his lineup. The wine highlights of the day were Ray Walsh's (Capitello Wines) 09 New Zealand Sauv Blanc and his late Riesling. Agate Ridge's Primativo and Girardet's Pinot Gris were also standouts. The technology highlight was the hand warmers. We kept them in our jacket pockets, and every time I put my hands in, it was a warm and pleasant surprise on a cold day.

After making a few purchases, we walked over to the Rogue Brewery and dropped the wine off at the car. Parking onsite has its advantages! We then had a nice lunch at the brewery restaurant and drove back to the motel. We thought about taking a walk downtown or going down to the beach, but it was just too darned cold, so we took a nap instead.

We had our usual dinner reservations at the Bay House in Lincoln City, and we were on the road by 6:00. We had gone about 10 minutes when we saw flares by the side of the road, and shortly thereafter got stuck in a long line of stopped cars. We'd inch forward every few minutes, and we saw cars coming the other direction, so we hoped that this wouldn't take long. Unfortunately after 45 minutes of this, we discovered that there was a police car turning people around. There had been a wreck that was going to take about 3 hours to clear, so we were out of luck. All those cars that we had seen coming from the other direction had been people who had been turned back. Why did they let us all wait in line for 45 minutes before turning us around!?! So, no dinner at Bay House. We both had visions of the McDonald's drive-thru on the way back into town, but fortunately Rachel started calling around and ended up getting us a reservation at April's in Newport for 8:00. Apparently they'd had cancellations from folks up north who couldn't make it past the wreck either.

We had eaten at April's a few years back and hadn't been that impressed, so our expectations were low, but at least it was better than McDonalds! We were seated right away and noticed that several other winemakers were having dinner there as well. We recognized the folks from Pudding River and also Jason, Sean, and Scott from David Hill. We let our server know that the David Hill crew were troublemakers and to watch out for them! The 3 of them had brought some bottles from their own cellars, and Jason and Scott both wandered over to let us sample some of their great wines. We ended up ordering a 2005 Heitz Cellars Cab that was really nice too. Partway through our salad course, Jim and Holly from A Blooming Hill Vineyard came in and we had a nice chat with them, after Jim gave me a hard time for wearing a tie!

I had a really nice ribeye steak and Rachel had the most tender duck she'd ever eaten. We finished off with a delicious brownie ice cream sundae. Between the food and seeing our winemaker friends, it was a very memorable meal, and I'd certainly eat at April's again. We got back to the motel and I dropped Rachel off near the room before parking the car. As I walked up toward the room, she shouted out "hola!" to me across the parking lot. Didn't I say there were fewer drunks at this motel??

We woke up on Sunday to wind and rain, but fortunately the temperature was in the upper 30's to lower 40's so it was more like we're used to at the coast in February. We packed up and checked out and were at the festival shortly before 10:00. Sunday is my favorite day of the festival because it's far less crowded, and the attendees are mostly older and not so crazy. We usually save our favorite wineries until Sunday so we can get a chance to chat with people in a less hurried atmosphere. Our first stop was to see Dyson Demara at Hillcrest. Faithful readers may recall that Hillcrest was planted by Richard Sommer in 1961 and is Oregon's oldest modern winery. Dyson has kept the operation small enough to be completely run by him and his family, allowing him to tune the winemaking to the peculiarities of any given vintage. The result is an ever changing range of styles and some very good wine. Dyson has seemingly done it all and seen it all in his years of working in the wine industry at some well-known California wineries and now Hillcrest, and we ended up chatting with him for nearly an hour.

Our next stop was back at Palotai (now called Tesoaria) to see John Olson. John took over the winery from Gabor Palotai about 6 years ago and is producing consistently good wines using a wide range of grape varieties. He's also one of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet. He has a wonderful bright white blend called Bella Bianca that is very similar to our beloved Mingle from A Blooming Hill. He also has a fun Rosé of Merlot that is perfect for sipping on a warm summer day. I already mentioned the great Barbera, and he has a whole lineup of other great wines that range from a pure simple Dolcetto to a powerful Bordeaux blend.

Usually we finish our Sunday tasting shortly after noon and head home, stopping for lunch along the way. This year, we were on a roll and decided to stay longer and eat at the festival. Rachel found some excellent sushi (although we have yet to find a wine that works with sushi) and I had a nice (and very warm) crab and asparagus chile relleno. We finished up a bit more tasting and were on the road around 2:00. It was pouring rain as we went through the coast range, but fortunately the temp never dropped below about 38, so there was no snow or ice. We got home around 4:00.

So, another excellent year. A lot of so-so wine, but also some very good wine. We had a great time chatting with the winemakers, and had a really nice time at April's (both the food and the company). So, even though the general level of wine at this event isn't all that great, there are enough high points that we'll be back next year. After all, what's winter on the Oregon coast without the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival?

Tasting Notes:

Woven White - A nice, slightly sweet white table wine. Nothing special, but good.
06 Pinot-licious - Nice 06 Pinot. Good fruit, but not overly fruity as some entry level 2006s can be.
Syrah - Decent WA Syrah, nothing special.
06 Barrel select Pinot Noir - More structured, but not all that interesting.
07 Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir - Good 07, nice structure and extraction.
Late Harvest wine - mostly Chardonnay(!) Sweet but well-balanced.

South Stage Cellars:
09 Serendipity Marsanne/Roussanne blend. Good varietal representation, not bad.
07 Alchemy - Tempranillo, Camenere, Cab Sauv. Meh, nice fruit but slightly bitter.
09 Early Muscat - crisp and clean, 1.5% RS, not quite enough acid to balance the sugar.

Pudding River:
09 Riesling - Bright and acidic with a touch of sweetness. Very nice.
09 Pinot Gris - crisp, nice fruit with a touch of RS (0.6%)
07 Viognier - crisp and acidic with a bit of spice. Very nice.
08 Willamette Valley Chardonnay - 100% new French oak, very nice oaking, still crisp.
07 Reserve Chardonnay - Neutral oak and sur lies, gentle oaking but still present.
06 Pinot Noir - Warm, structured, slightly smokey.
08 Pinot Noir Pommard clone - Bright strawberry fruits, very short finish but quite interesting.

Mark's Ridge Winery:
09 Gewurztraminer - Sweet with a bit of spice. Not enough acid.
09 Riesling - Sweet, fairly thin, not enough acid.
07 Pinot Noir - some structure, not bad.
08 Pinot Noir - bright fruit, very smooth, not much structure.
09 Ladybug Rosé of Pinot Noir - fizzy, bright, and dry. Not bad.

09 Rosato - Interesting, some yeastiness, not bad.
08 Willamette Valley PN - Thin and forgettable. May have been the cold temps.
09 Pinot Noir Rumba - Thin and forgettable.
08 Pinot Noir Estate - Thin and forgettable.

08 Melon de Bourgogne - Wow, we thought this was sold out. Beautiful crisp, dry and fruity white wine. Goes with everything.
09 Rousanne - very smooth mouth feel, but not enough acid.
08 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley - too cold to taste much
08 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity - too cold to taste much, seemed to have nice fruit and structure.
Sweet Gewurztraminer - Ice wine style, slightly too sweet but very nice and interesting.

Slagle Creek:
08 Chardonnay - nicely oaked with rich mouth feel, maybe slightly sweet?
07 Claret (Best of Show) - Fruity and smooth, but really wasn't showing well in the cold temps.
08 Merlot - smooth, very varietal.
07 Tempranillo/Cab Sauv blend (a Super Rioja?) - a bit rough but tasty.
07 Syrah - very nice, not over fruity, N. Rhone style.

Bowlus Hills (Zerba 2nd label):
07 Syrah - nice WA syrah, warm and "burnt"
07 Cab Sauv - reasonably good WA cab, decent fruit.

J Scott Cellars:
10 Pinot Blanc - very nice, crisp with good fruit.
09 Viognier - not much spice, ok
09 Pinot Noir - too cold to tell
08 Syrah - nice fruit, warm climate syrah w/o bitterness.
09 Petite Sirah - Dark color, good fruit.
09 Petite Sirah Port - Warm, rich, chocolate notes

Noble Estate:
10 Riesling - too sweet, not enough acid
10 Sparkling Muscat - nice sweet easy drinker, Like Kramer Celebrate, but slightly too sweet.
08 Syrah - nice fruit, smooth, not a fruit bomb
07 Merlot - smooth with good varietal characteristics
08 Cab Sauv - typical So. Oregon cab, nothing special.

09 Riesling - not enough acid, fairly thin.

NV Brut - Dry, crisp, very slightly yeasty, quite good.
09 Pinot Gris (NZ) - silky with yeastiness, crisp.
09 Sauv Blanc - Ripe bell pepper, spicy, very aromatic. Great.
08 Pinot Noir (NZ) - Good and structured.
08 Pinot Noir (OR) - Classic OR 08, very nice but too young at this point.
08 Succession Pinot Noir - Warm, spicy, long finish, dark fruits.
09 Riesling (late) - Not too sweet, very drinkable, not just a dessert wine, 6.5% RS, would pair well with spicy food.
09 Dolcino - very good, maybe a bit too heavy and sweet, but not cloying.

09 Sauv Blanc - nice floral notes, somewhat thin.
09 Riesling - off dry (~2% RS), nice fruit but a bit thin
07 Pinotage - warm, simple, with a long finish
09 Dolcetto - simple, very nice example of a Dolcetto
06 Merlot - smooth older Merlot, somewhat subdued fruit.
06 Syrah - nice smooth warm climate Syrah
07 Equinox - very interesting blend, warm, long finish, some complexity.
07 Baco Noir - nice big, simple, fruity Baco.

09 Tempranillo Rosé - deep and interesting for a rosé, not bitter, quite nice.
08 Gewurztraminer - a bit weak but nice spice and flavor
08 Tempranillo - nice fruit but a bit of a harsh edge

Agate Ridge:
09 Sauv Blanc - good fruit, floral aromatics, but not quite "there"
09 Viognier - very nice, varietally correct, a bit of spice.
Sweet Semillon - 12% RS but very well balanced. A nice wine.
08 Primativo - smooth and easy, warm, nice finish, not over the top fruit
08 Cascade Terrace Red - nice red table wine.
07 Petite Sirah - dark inky color, smooth, no bitterness, medium long finish

Silvan Ridge:
08 Riesling - OK, not great.
09 Sparkling Muscat - crisp, less sweet than some
07 Rogue Red - smooth smoky blend of cab, merlot, and syrah
07 Syrah - very nice So. Oregon Syrah, warm fruits, not bitter

09 Gewurztraminer - nice and spicy
06 Pinot Gris - smooth, lightly oaked
09 Chardonnay - crisp with nice oak, nice acid
08 Syrah - very nice, pepper, clean, good fruit
06 Cab Sauv - Typical So. OR cab, nice but nothing special from the wine lake
09 Meritage - Simple, not that well integrated

Purple Cow:
09 Muscat - Crisp and clean with a bit of sweetness, better than the 08.
0? Primativo - fruity like a good Zin, maybe a bit hot.
0? Teroldego - big, warm, and fruity with a nice finish

09 Pinot Gris - excellent fruit, crisp and clean
0? Chadonnay - fruity but a bit over oaked for me
14 Vines - field blend, ok, but without much character. Basic red wine.
09 Zinfandel - fruity, but not opulent like a big CA Zin
08 Pinot Noir - OK, pretty typical So. OR Pinot
09 Baco Noir - Some fruit but a bit harsh and bitter. Disappointing.
0? Cab Suav - very nice example of a So. OR cab, some fruit, smooth
Ice Gewurztraminer - nice. not quite enough acid, but not overly sweet

We tasted through all of Dyson's lineup during the hour we chatted, and I didn't take detauled notes. They're all good, and here are a few notes:
06 Right Bank - nice cab/merlot Bdx blend
07 Phenom - Nice, warm and structured Cab Sauv.
07 Gabor - Petite Sirah named after Dyson's friend Gabor Palotai who has moved to Ecuador with a woman he met online. What a character! Deep and rich Petite Sirah.
06 Zinfandel 1888 - Nice fruity Zin.
07 Cab Franc NONIHC - "Chinon backwards, this is a good smooth, rich Cab Franc
08 Chardonnay Les Charmes - crisp, minerals, almost a Chablis style.
08 Riesling Bone Dry - crisp, but could use a little sweetness
09 Late Harvest Riesling - perhaps a bit too sweet or not enough acid for us.
Can't remember the name, but it was made to go well with Fois Gras. Very nice sweet wine.

Crate Lake Cellars:
Merlot 29 - Amarone-style Merlot, rich.
09 Grenache - nice rich Grenache, only 12.5% ABV, nice fruit.
08 Syrah - smooth, good fruit, tastes like cool climate Syrah (but isn't), clean.

09 Riesling - slightly sweet, nice fruit, not quite enough acid
09 White Pinot Noir - clean, but slightly bitter.
09 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley - Good well executed
09 Pinot Noir Avelina - Earthiness, forest floor, complex
NV Brother Red - Good basic table wine, but more interesting than some due to the multiple variety of grapes.

We tasted through most of John's lineup and again I didn't take great notes - too busy enjoying our chat. Here are a few notes:
10 Bella Bianca - white blend that tastes bright and clean, similar to Mingle.
10 Bella Rosa - Fun slightly sparkling Rosé of Merlot
09 Attila - Barbera, great fruit with an interesting finish
06 Attila - Merlot, Cab, and Malbec, nice and smooth
09 Bull's Blood - Didn't write notes, but remember it as very good.
05 Syrah - no notes

Cardwell Hill:
Their Pinot Noir has gotten consistently good scores over the past couple of years, but I've not been all that excited about it. This time, it was too cold to really tell much about it.
10 Pinot Gris - Not bad, but not enough acid
07 Pinot Noir Reserve - Nice structure, some smokiness
08 Pinot Noir Reserve - Lots of oak, nice fruit but somewhat restrained
08 Pinot Noir Estate - Good fruit, light, nice
09 Pinot Noir Estate - Really too cold to tell, young, subtle fruit

Misty Oaks:
08 Pinot Blanc - crisp, flavorful, fruity, some oak.
09 Pinot Gris - crisp, slightly bitter
07 Gobbler's Knob - Very tannic, ok but nothing special
08 Malbec - very tannic but with good fruit, black pepper

Valley View:
06 Syrah - good but not exceptional, Didn't jump out at us.
0? Tempranillo - fruity but with a bitter edge
0? Cab Sauv - Typical So. OR cab, nothing special

Always great to talk to Will.
09 Riesling - crisp, but not quite as intense as we remembered (too cold?)
07 Pinot Noir Estate - Nice, with dark fruit and good extraction
0? Pinot Gris - nice, crisp