Archive | May 2011

Tyrus Evan – King of the Claret

Jon and I took a little trip down to the Willamette Valley for Memorial Day weekend. Other than the day I took off to accompany my horse up to the vet clinic to have his tooth yanked earlier this month, I haven’t had a day off since the President’s Day Holiday weekend in February. Jon and I had been looking forward to this for weeks. Especially since the Willamette Valley is one of our favorite places on earth. If I were independently wealthy, I would work part-time in a tasting room in the Willamette Valley. And volunteer at an animal shelter.

So anyway, on Friday evening, I had to stay at until 5 o’clock, to grab job applications out of the application box because everybody that normally does it was out of the office. Then I just about locked myself out of my office, where my purse and car keys were waiting for me (damned security badge keycards!). That really freaked me out! So anyway, I headed home, threw a couple of things I forgot to pack into my suitcase, and then hit the road at about 5:30. Jon is great about getting things together while I finish packing, feeding the cats, putting out extra water, and putting more litter in the litterbox. We have a system.

We got down to Portland about 10, and vegged out the rest of the evening watching TV and playing on the internet, and talking about some of the wineries that we haven’t been to and intended to try. Jon has trouble making up his mind about an itinerary, and I don’t want to pick them all, so sometimes we just head in the general direction and then decide where to go as we drive by. It was that kind of day. We intended to start the day at Anne Amie, and I probably should have remembered this, but Anne Amie has a rather steep tasting fee on Memorial Day weekend. It is a $20 fee, that includes wine flight and food pairing. What we didn’t know is if you could share a flight. So, as much as we love Anne Amie, we decided to come back on a non-holiday weekend.

So, we headed into Carlton. Jon has been talking about visiting Tyrus Evan for awhile, so we took the leap. Tyrus Evan is Ken Wright’s second label, which specializes in the Bordeaux wines. They source a lot of their fruit from Washington and the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, and Jon has been curious about their Cabernets. They are located in downtown Carlton, in the old train station. The building is beautiful, with a lot of historic features. You can look out the window and see the old grain storage silos, which according to the tasting room staff, don’t get much use anymore.

Tyrus Evan started us off with their Viognier, which was good and not too floral. Their Chardonnay, although aged in oak, had a very light oak taste, and was quite nice. Jon particularly enjoyed it. Next we moved to two vintages of their Claret, which are Bordeaux blends, using slightly different blends (a Malbec one year and a Petit Verdot the other).  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are included in both vintages.  Their Clarets were what Jon had heard great things about, and we both agreed that they did a great job with them. They were very well balanced, have some time to age and soften, but could be enjoyed now. Neither were overpowered by the oak or tannins.

They showcased their Syrahs in a similar way, having us taste two vintages of the Syrah, one which had been made using Walla Walla Valley grapes and the other with Rogue River Valley grapes. You could taste the difference, but it was tough to pick a favorite.

We finished with a Port style wine that has been aging in the barrel for several years, because Ken Wright didn’t know what he wanted to do with it. You can’t buy it, but it is waiting for label approval from the ATF and will soon be on the market. It was a deep, syrupy Port, which reminded me a lot of a Marechal Foch Port I sampled at August Cellars last year, although this one was a Bordeaux blend. It was delicious, but it is always difficult to think of an occasion for a Port.

The verdict:  Tyrus Evan is certainly a winner.  Once we left Tyrus Evan, the next stop was the winemaker’s original label, Ken Wright…  Stay tuned!

Evolution of a Wine Drinker

So, the other day, I got to wondering why I like wine so much. Where did I learn all this useless information about varietals? How did my palate figure out how to distinguish between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc? And why did I decide to start trying wineries in different regions when I traveled?

I didn’t start out liking wine. When I was a kid, my mother (sorry to throw you under the bus here mom) drank cheap White Zinfandel. The Sutter Home brand was a particular favorite. Now it is convenient and all, considering that it comes in single serving bottles – my mom is a one glass a night drinker and she doesn’t have a glass more than about once a week, so that would make a lot of sense for her. But ugh, Sutter Home White Zinfandel is too sweet and alcohol-ey (sorry, I’m trying to remember a taste I haven’t experienced in years, and I’m not about to go buy a bottle for research purposes). So when you are a kid and your mom says you can have a sip, and that’s what ends up in your mouth, well let’s just say, I wasn’t anxious to get out there and try to get someone over 21 to buy me some. Especially when there were wine coolers! Juice in a bottle!

So after I turned 21, I started tempting my alcohol palate with something more than animal beer and Boone’s Farm. I do live in the Northwest, the microbrew capital of the world, so I started trying better beers. Yes, I had an Icehouse phase – I’m not proud of it, so please don’t bring it up. Eventually, I developed a taste for those slightly bitter microbrews and starting enjoying Sierra Nevada, Pyramid, Rogue Brewery, and Boundary Bay, to name a few. I also sampled some hard alcohol, and enjoyed things like vodka/cranberries, Long Island Iced Tea, and Duck Farts (it’s a shot, but I can’t remember what’s in it now). On my 21st birthday, my boyfriend started me off with a gin Martini, and it was disgusting (he thought I would like it because MASH was my favorite show). Later, I developed a taste for gin and tonics, but not until I was years away from the 21st birthday hangover. But at 21, I wasn’t that interested in wine.

Later in my 21st year, I moved to Chile and did a study abroad program there. I hope you don’t think that the books were the only thing I studied. Nope, you guessed it, Chile has wine! And lots of it. And my host family’s house happened to be 4 doors away from a Botellería (that translates to liquor store – I didn’t plan it that way!). I even remember the name – the Botellería San Patricio.  On my first night there, we were lost and trying to find our way home on a dark and stormy night (it really was!), we stumbled upon the liquor store like it was an oasis and we were dying of dehydration in the Sahara Desert.  It was painted aqua, and it happened to be the only building we remembered that was close to where we lived.  There’s a lot more comedy involved in that story, but I’ll tell you another time.

Of course, we were college students, and poor, so we bought the cheapest box wine we could get our hands on, which happened to be Gato Negro. Somehow it tasted better there, and I’ve been convinced ever since that they keep the best wines for themselves. So, South America was really where I started cultivating my love of wine. It was there that I went on my first wine tour. It was there that I tucked my first wine bottle into my carryon to bring home (I wish we could still do that!).

After I came back to the states, I started to try wines at home. I started to order the house wine with dinner. And I started to broaden my horizons. I learned that I didn’t like big oaky Cabernets. I learned that Merlots and white wines were more my style. It grew from there. I figured out that Chardonnays are oaky too, and I would rather have a Pinot Gris or a Sauvignon Blanc. And most recently, I discovered Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc.  And now here I am. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a good microbrew. I had a beer with our sushi dinner last Friday night. But, there is a variety in wine that you just can’t find in beers. There is a wine for every food, a wine for every occasion. And I swear, a wine to soothe every kind of crappy day at work. What’s more versatile than that?

Fennville Michigan – Find it on the Map!

Jon and I took a road trip this last weekend to visit Jon’s brother Justin and celebrate Justin’s birthday at a birthday BBQ. It was great to see the family, meet some of Justin’s friends, and relax in what turned out to be some fleeting sunshine. Justin is a scotch and red wine drinker, and I was in the mood for a white wine, so I brought my own bottle. The Fenn Valley 2007 Reserve Chardonel that we brought along turned out to be an excellent choice.

I know that many of you don’t associate Michigan with fine winemaking, but Michigan wine is starting to make a name for itself. Since my parents are from Michigan, and many of my extended family still live there, it is a foregone conclusion that I would go wine-tasting in Michigan. To tell the truth, I have been a couple of times, but since it is difficult to bring wine home on a plane, I don’t usually have wine to savor after the trip.

I visited my grandmother and extended family in October 2008, a couple of months after I met Jon. I flew out for the visit, but my parents were there at the same time and had driven out, so that meant that I could stash a couple of bottles of wine in their car for transport back to Washington. My cousin and I decided to take a couple of day trips, and we headed west to Lake Michigan. On the way, we stopped at Fenn Valley Winery, which has been in business since 1973.

Fenn Valley Winery

After being carded (that hardly ever happens anymore – unfortunately!), we went through a traditional tasting and decided which wines we liked. Interestingly, my favorite was a varietal wine that I hadn’t heard of before called Chardonel. Upon doing further research, I learned that it is a hybrid grape derived from the Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc grapes. The grape was first hybridized in 1953, but wasn’t released to wineries as stock until the 1970’s. Back in the 1990’s there was a push to get the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency (it has always seemed odd to me that wine is regulated by the same agency as semi-automatic weapons) to approve Chardonel as a varietal. I assume it happened, since the Fenn Valley Chardonel I purchased was a 2007 vintage. However, there is no longer any mention of Chardonel on Fenn Valley’s website, so I’m not sure if they are still producing it. It would be too bad if they aren’t making it any longer.

I read up on Chardonel, which seems to be more cold-hardy that it’s more famous parent, the Chardonnay. That is important when you are trying to grow wine grapes in Michigan. Although it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of Michigan due to the warmer wind that blows in off of Lake Michigan in the winter, the area around Fennville is still not what could be considered a temperate climate. Snow falls a good portion of the winter there, with low temperatures to about 10 Fahrenheit (according to the Fenn Valley website). Maybe Northwest Washington wineries should take up the Chardonel grape!

But back to the present day. I uncorked this delicious wine, and found that my choice two and a half years ago was justified. This wine is buttery like a Chardonnay, but more light and crisp that a traditional Chardonnay. It was a nice compromise between a full bodied white, and a crisp summer white. Jon liked it so much that he switched from the red he was drinking to have some of my wine. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if the sun had stuck around a while longer. It went very well with my spicy sausage, and with my hamburger. Hey, I know what you are thinking – “How much does she eat?”, so let me just say that Jon ate half of each. A girl has got to fend for herself in this marriage. When Jon’s around, no food is safe.

Perhaps when I visit Michigan next time, I’ll have a chance to visit Fenn Valley again. And hopefully, I can buy their Chardonel.

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us!

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, and it’s time for the Memorial Day trek down to Portland. Jon and I have made this an annual pilgrimage for the last couple of years, since I got Jon into wine tasting. Honestly, we go more than just Memorial Day weekend, but you know what I mean. When we first met, Jon and I both enjoyed wine, and I had been wine tasting in various locations during my travels, including in the Willamette Valley. It wasn’t that I was an experienced wine taster, but I had experience with more than a few wineries. Jon, on the other hand, hadn’t been wine tasting at all, despite living in California less than an hour and a half from Napa Valley. Go figure. At any rate, we’ve been to the Willamette Valley at about a dozen times now, and each time makes us want to continue coming back for more.

Admittedly, Pinot Noir is priced higher than a lot of other varietals, but only to a degree. Those of you who have tasted in the Napa Valley know that prices for wines there are high. Pinot Noir is an extremely picky grape to grow, demanding a lot of time and attention in the vineyard. This translates into a higher sticker price.  The Willamette Valley has a perfect climate for it, with the warm days and cool nights that produce a spectacular wine. Pinot Noir is also grown in California, but you will find the California Pinots to be much different that the Oregon Pinots – they are much more robust, without the silky, cherry taste that I love about Oregon Pinot. Oregon Pinot has that softness that so few wines from Washington or California have. I know that part of that is the wineries catering to consumers’ palates – wine drinkers lately want a heavily oaked, tannic red. I just don’t.

So, back to Willamette Valley. Jon and I have made a commitment to try new wineries every time we go – to expand our horizons so to speak. This is harder than it sounds, because we already have a short list of loves, and a long list of likes when it comes to Willamette Valley wines. In order to try new ones, you have to not visit some of the tried and trues. I know you will agree that it is truly a problem. It would be much easier if we lived closer, but at least for now, we have to make do with what we have.

A few months ago, I bought the Wine Trails of Oregon book. The author’s goal was to visit every winery in Oregon with regular tasting room hours. A steep challenge by any stretch of the imagination, since the Willamette Valley alone has over 200 wineries. I’m sure that there are new wineries, even since the book was published! He has it set up with closely situated wineries together, so you can hit several in the same area in a day. It is a pretty handy guide. I’ve been using it to plan our trip, thinking that we will head to a new area – one we haven’t been to. Although the author intends to not give a review of the winery or the wine, sometimes he’ll say what he thinks is an amazing wine. He also calls out extraordinary friendliness and service when he experiences that, which is nice. Going to a winery with a snobbish tasting room staff is never a good experience.

I’m leaning toward the Gaston area, but we have also talked about going down closer to Salem as well. Jon and I will need to sort that out this weekend.

One thing that is already decided is the fact that we are going to La Rambla on Saturday night! La Rambla is a tapas bar in McMinnville… and it has paella. I’m always on the lookout for paella, since it isn’t offered often enough. I stumbled upon it several years ago, before I met Jon. I went on Memorial Day, and they were fresh out of seafood paella due to the busy holiday weekend. I kept it in mind, and Jon and I went back one weekend in November when we were there. It was amazing! The tapas is wonderful, the paella is great, and they have a comprehensive wine list. I think we’ll probably bring our own bottle and pay the corkage fee though (restaurant prices are so high, especially considering we’ll have several bottles in the car). We tried to get reservations last year with the family last year on Memorial Day weekend and it was booked solid. So this year, we called a couple of weeks ago, and we scored! We haven’t been there since November of 2009 and we still have fond memories. You can be sure I’ll tell you all about it.

Chehalem – Pickle in a Glass

Author’s Note:  I actually meant to title this post “Heaven in a Glass,” but I was talking about pickles, I’m tired, and obviously, my brain has shut down for the night.   Now that it’s there, I think it’s kind of catchy.  Do not take this title to mean that Chehalem’s wines are bad.  They are my absolute, favorite wines.

It is finally sunny again. Today at lunch, I sat outside on a bench in front of the office and read a book. It was beautiful out, but it was a bit windy. I had to wear my extra sweater, and I had to brush my hair when I came back inside. But I’m certainly willing to deal with a little bit of wind for the sun! It has been so scarce lately, we really have to take advantage of it when we see it.

The other night, we tried a recently released 2009 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir from Chehalem Winery. Jon did some research about the vintage and the weather that existed in 2009. In the Willamette Valley, there was ideal springtime weather and a hot summer that combined to give an excellent harvest of fruit that could be picked at the ideal time. And it seems to have worked for Chehalem.

I find that many of the Pinots have a pickle nose (don’t worry, it isn’t a bad thing!), meaning that when I smell the wine, I smell that distinct smell of pickle. I have always found this odd, because I never read in reviews that other people think Pinot Noirs smell like pickle. Of course, it could be that there is a belief that having your wine smell like pickle could turn people away, and so it’s very hush hush. So, you heard it here friends, whether it’s just my smeller, or there’s an international conspiracy to cover up the truth, in my world, Pinot Noir smells like pickle. Fortunately for everyone involved, it doesn’t taste like pickle! But I’ve digressed.

I found this Pinot to be very robust. Not quite as robust as the 2006 vintage, but more so than the 2008 Pinots. Jon is really going to enjoy the Pinots coming out this year. I think Jon always secretly hopes that I will find a wine too strong for my taste – that way he can have it all. Unfortunately for him, I really enjoyed this wine. It is more robust than other Pinot vintages, but it is a well balanced wine with all the great Pinot Noir characteristics. Robust for a Pinot is something much softer than the typical varietal wines that come out of Washington – the Cabernets, Syrahs and Merlots. Pinot is the red wine that I can consistently enjoy! This was the first 2009 Pinot Noir that we have tried, and I think that this is going to be a great vintage. I can’t wait to do more sampling!

The Italians make great wine!

I’m home from my conference in Yakima, and surprise, surprise, it has been raining.  The story of my life this spring.  So, this evening, I’m drinking a wine that reminds me of sunnier places – Italy.  It’s a Facelli Winery Cabernet Franc.  Facelli is located in Woodinville, Washington, and we visited the tasting room in September 2010.  It was on that trip that we picked up this particular bottle.

This Cabernet Franc has a chocolate and cherry nose, and it tastes like tart dark cherries and raspberry.  The tartness is a characteristic of the Italian wines, and is one of the things I really like about it.  One of my favorite things about the Facelli wines is that they don’t have the heavy oak that so many of Jon’s favorite wines have.

All in all, this is a wonderful light red – it would be great with a pasta dinner!

Yakima – the Palm Springs of Washington

This afternoon I headed over to Yakima for a work conference. The weather is much nicer here than it has been West of the Mountains. This will be my first conference since I started my new job almost 4 months ago, and I’m getting to travel with a great group of coworkers. Yakima is forecast for highs between 70 and 78 degrees while I’m here, so it sounds like I’ll get the dose of sunshine I’ve been needing so badly. I brought my swimsuit, in case there is any pool sitting time, but outside of the conference I’ll probably be networking and hanging out with my coworkers. The real selling point to any conference in Yakima is the wine. There are several evening hosted bar events, so we will hopefully have the opportunity to try wines that I haven’t tasted before – and all for free.

In addition, Yakima as a couple of tasting rooms downtown, within walking distance of the hotel we are staying at. So it should be fun. One of my younger coworkers has been looking forward to this for weeks (months really) – she’s been plotting and planning every free second that we have, and it will all be consumed with wine (no pun intended). Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ll be listening attentively during the conference sessions. The conference topics are right up my alley, and I’m looking forward to learning from some really good speakers. It’s just that once the workday is done, I’m planning to enjoy myself – the sun, the leisure (no laundry or dishes!), and some great company.

Jon and I were planning to spend an extra couple of days touring after the conference was over. It gets over at noon on Friday, so we were planning to have Jon come over and pick me up in his car, and we could head out for a weekend trip. It seems that circumstances collided to make any long of weekend getaway an impossibility. First, we planned to go to Walla Walla, but then we found out that Walla Walla is having their balloon festival this weekend and all the hotels are booked. We talked about heading down to the Columbia Gorge, and staying in The Dalles. That sounded like a go – but then Jon got requested to substitute teach on May 12 and 13. That would mean that he wouldn’t get over to Yakima until at least 5 pm and we would still have a couple hours to drive before we got to where we are staying.

In the meantime, Biz’s tooth surgery got scheduled for May 4, and ideally I would be doing warm salt-water rinses everyday as the stitches come loose. Obviously I can’t be there during the conference, but coming home on Friday just seemed necessary in order to give him the care he needs. Sigh… It will be cheaper this way anyway – and Jon and I can do something more involved on Memorial Day weekend.

More on my adventures in Yakima soon – once I actually have some!