Archive | June 2011

Alex Eli Riesling at the Oregon Wineworks

The other evening, I opened a bottle of the AlexEli 2008 Riesling. This is a wine that Jon and I bought when we visited the Oregon WineWorks in McMinnville, Oregon in the fall of 2009. Oregon Wineworks is a cooperative winery, where several wineries share equipment and a tasting room. It is quite close to downtown McMinnville, located in an old brick building that appears to have been a machinist’s shop at one point. They have remodeled the building in a tasteful, modern design, and the result is a friendly, cozy space. The only drawbacks are that there is no natural light in the tasting room, and that makes it rather chilly. But we were there in late fall – and it was raining that day.

I have been meaning to open this wine on several occasions, and for some reason it has never gotten uncorked. I think Jon steers away from Rieslings because he expects them to be too sweet for his taste, so he kept trying to get me to open some other white instead. Until now. I had the opportunity to remember why I like it so much. This is a semi-sweet Riesling, with flavors of peach and Golden Delicious apples. It is a great balance between dry and sweet, and a great complement to Thai or other spicy foods. Now I’m disappointed that I only have one bottle. One thing is for certain – it is time to make another trip down to Oregon WineWorks to try their current vintages.

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Sinistra – the Leftist Wine

Tonight I’m enjoying a glass of Sinistra, a wine produced by Tsillan Cellars in Lake Chelan, Washington.  I discovered this blend of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera when I visited Chelan last fall for a work conference.  Since then, I have purchased it when I found it (which to tell the truth was only once).  Sinistra is Italian for left – whether it be left-handed, or a leftist political party formed in Italy in the late 90s.  I’m not sure what the significance was in naming this wine, but it works.  If anybody knows, please let me know!

Tsillan Cellars sit on the hill above Lake Chelan, built in the Italian Villa style, with a beautiful outdoor patio and plenty of seating.  The size reminded me more of a Napa winery than most of the ones that we see in Washington and Oregon.  That said, the staff are friendly and down to earth, and more than happy to recommend a great wine with dinner – they have a restaurant too.

The wine is a blood red color, which a very acidic nose (not uncommon with the Italian varietals).  At first taste, it reminds me of a tart raspberry.  The oak that it was aged in is not apparent, leaving a lovely, approachable wine.  It is an excellent wine with food – tonight we had it with some delicious hamburgers made from locally raised, organic beef.  It complemented the richness of the beef nicely.

Jon doesn’t typically go for the Italian varietals, but he announced that this would be a winery he’d be happy to visit.  Hopefully we can make it over to Lake Chelan sometime soon!

Chehalem – YUM!

Sadly every wine tour has to come to an end, and we wrapped up our Memorial Day tasting tour with our favorite – Chehalem. Chehalem is one of the wineries that Jon’s grandfather told us we had to try, and he was right about it’s quality. Chehalem has a tasting room in Newberg, Oregon that is very conveniently located as you head north on Highway 99. It is a standalone brick building, and once you are inside, you are greeted by local art on the walls that changes quarterly. Whoever is in charge of the art has done a great job choosing beautiful works that really fit the wine country and local agriculture theme. I’ve been tempted by several of the pieces. The tasting room staff are always friendly and knowledgeable about the wines, and are very down to earth and fun to talk to.

But this trip we didn’t go to the tasting room – twice a year they open up the winery for tastings there and tours, so we headed there instead. The winery is a few more miles north on 99, close to August Cellars on the other side of the road. We got there and checked in, and told them we are wine club members, which gave us the privilege of a barrel tasting of their 2010 vintage “Best of Barrel” wines. We got our glasses and were told to head on over and start tasting the whites, and Harry would come get us when he was ready for our barrel tasting. We got our wine club shipment a few weeks ago, so we were looking forward to the opportunity to tasting some of the new releases before we opened our bottle.

We started our tasting with a perennial favorite – the Inox Chardonnay. The Inox is a stainless steel aged Chardonnay, so it doesn’t have the oak flavor that so many Chardonnays have. It is an extremely crisp and clean Chardonnay, that pairs well with spicy food and rich foods.

The second wine was a Grüner-Veltliner – a varietal that isn’t very common in the United States yet. The grape is primarily grown in Austria, Slovia and the Czech Republic, where it is commonly grown on extremely steep terraces where it is difficult to retain the soil. Apparently when DNA researchers went looking for the parents of the Grüner-Veltliner grape, they found that one parent was the Traminer grape (also a parent of Gerwurztraminer) and the other parent was unknown. Eventually they discovered one lone vine hanging on in an abandoned vineyard in Austria. The pasture had not been used as a vineyard since the late 1800s, and this was the last remaining vine they could find. They are currently trying to cultivate this last vine to see what kind of properties its grapes have. But I digress. Chehalem’s Grüner-Veltliner is a refreshing white with a lot of minerality.

The last white that we tried was the 3 Vineyard Riesling. This wine is one that I have discussed before in a previous post. I’m happy to say I enjoyed it as much the second time I tried it.

After we tasted the whites, Harry came and got us for our barrel tasting. We happened to be the only ones going on the barrel tasting tour at the time, so we got a private tour. Harry is the owner and founder of Chehalem, and his knowledge and expertise are evident when he talks about his wines. It is Harry’s opinion that the 2010 vintage won’t be horribly ruined, even though the spring weather was cold and rainy, and we got early fall rain as well. For him, it is all a matter of the expertise of the winemaker – and if anyone can do it, Harry can.

The Chehalem Barrel Room is big and plain – not a lot of ornament, just a commitment to making good wine. Each year, Harry selects one barrel from each of the four Pinot Noir vineyards (one isn’t really its own vineyard, rather a section of the Ridgecrest vineyard), and that becomes the “Best Barrel” for the year. That barrel is aged and bottled as a single vineyard wine that is sold as futures to wine club members. The theory behind the Best Barrel choice is that it represents that absolute best of that vineyard for the year. Harry also chooses a Best Barrel for the Chardonnay. This is what we had the opportunity to taste that day. And I tell you, these wines were amazing! We started off with the Chardonnay, which is aged in oak. The other barrels of this Chardonnay become the Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay, so it was nice to have the opportunity to see what our bottle might taste like. The oak on this wine is light and not overpowering, with a light butter that gives it a richness. Jon was head over heels over this wine – I foresee buying futures of it – well, in the future.

The four Pinots each had different characteristics. We tasted Stoller, Corral Creek, Wind Ridge and Ridgecrest. Harry explained the differences in the types of soil and the temperatures of the vineyards. With his descriptions, you can really taste the differences and how the vineyard plays a role. They were all amazing, but our favorite was the Wind Ridge. Wind Ridge is actually a section of the Ridgecrest vineyard, at the highest elevation of the vineyard along a ridge. This is a fairly young planting, and you can tell that the wine is going to improve with age as this vineyard matures. When we have a bit more disposable income, we will certainly be interested in buying these futures wines.

After the barrel tasting, we headed back outside to where they were tasting the reds. They started us off with the Cerise, which is one of my absolute favorite wines. Frankly, I don’t think it gets enough credit. The Cerise is a blend of 80% Gamay Noir and 20% Pinot Noir, and it has a rich Bing cherry flavor. It is really like drinking a delicious cherry pie. It is very reasonably priced as well, with the 2009 vintage retailing for $24.  Unfortunately, you don’t see it around outside the winery much, I think because they don’t produce much of this wine.

Next we moved to the 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is a blended Pinot Noir that includes grapes from Chehalem’s three estate vineyards (that means that Chehalem owns the vineyards, and they don’t buy the grapes from someone else.) The 3 Vineyard Pinot is a great wine – it has excellent structure, and a nice balance between the fruit and the light oak that it is aged in.

We finished off with the 2009 Corral Creek single vineyard Pinot. This is a big Pinot, mixing cherry and chocolate tastes, but still delivering without being overpowering. It was a great wine to finish off the tasting.

We brought home several bottles for ourselves, and purchased some for Jon’s mom as well. She has been interested in Chehalem since trying their Inox Chardonnay a couple of years ago. Our Chehalem wrapped up the Memorial Day tasting weekend, but we can’t wait for our next visit.

Artisanal, Arsenal – However you say it – great wine!

The second day of our tasting tour took us to Newberg, Oregon. We decided that we would focus on just a few places, since we had done so many the day before. I received an email from Artisanal Wine Cellars a few weeks before, announcing that they were opening a new tasting room in Newberg. They also offered half off their tasting fee for their first two weekends in the new location. We had first tried Artisanal when we visited August Cellars last November over Thanksgiving weekend, and we really enjoyed their wines. Ever since then, Jon has been talking about “Arsenal” and wanting to visit again. I don’t think he’ll ever get the name right. The owner/winemaker Tom Feller is a science guy, who likes to explain the effect of the soil, the residual sugar, and the PH levels of the wines he produces. It reminds me a lot of Tom at Glacial Lake Missoula, whose exacting detail and scientific attention result in some fantastic wine.

So armed with our coupon, we ventured on in. The tasting room is in a historic building on the main drag of Newberg, with beautiful wood floors and the original exposed brick wall. It has a great feeling – the kind of building that strikes you with its elegance, but still you feel very comfortable. We were treated to a tasting by the owner/winemaker, and we started with a Viognier/Roussanne blend called Dovetail White. It was a light, fresh table wine – great for summer. The Viognier was very nice, with a nice balance of floral and apricot – it has a lot of flavor without being too heavy, as some Viogniers are. Their third white was a lovely Pinot Blanc, with nice apple flavor, stone fruit and a hint of honey. I enjoyed this wine immensely.

After the whites, we moved into the reds with the Evangeline Gamay Noir Rose. Of all the Roses that we tried over the weekend, this one stood out as the best by far. He explained that he uses a different process to make his Rose, by aging the wine for a few days with the skins to give it a robustness that many of the Roses lack. It is going to be a perfect summer wine!

Next, Tom led us through the Pinot Noirs that Artisanal produces. First we tasted the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is a blend of the three vineyards that they source they Pinots from. It has a cherry flavor with a light body and a touch of chocolate, and is a great everyday drinking wine, considering its reasonable price. We sampled the Jubilee Pinot Noir, a single vineyard Pinot from their Jubilee Vineyard. The Jubilee is a relatively light Pinot, with the tart cherry flavor shining through. It is excellent, but Jon and I both preferred the smokier, more robust Pinot that comes from the Adams Vineyard. We finished with the Reserve Adams Vineyard Pinot – also an excellent smoky, heavy, with flavors of blackberry and lots of spice on the palate.

We left there with four bottles and wanting more – wishing that the money fairy were coming to make a visit at our house anytime soon.

La Rambla Paella

Saturday evening of the Memorial Day weekend, after our wine tasting extravaganza, we headed into McMinnville for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. I first heard about La Rambla several years ago as I was doing a search for restaurants that offer paella. The first time I went, they were out of seafood (it was the end of the Memorial Day weekend). Since paella is what I really wanted, I didn’t stay. Fast forward a couple of years, Jon and I took a trip down to the Willamette Valley, and we made sure to go to La Rambla.

La Rambla’s paella is fantastic. It has the right amount of rice and seafood, and the saffron rice flavor is very good. When we were there Memorial Day weekend, they didn’t get the socarrat, which is the bottom crispy crust on the rice, quite right, but otherwise it was an excellent paella. An outstanding paella has a crispy crust on the bottom of the pan, where the rice has hardened into a crust – it is very difficult to bake this crust to perfection. We also enjoyed a spinach salad, a bread and cheese plate, and lamb skewers. La Rambla is well known for its excellent wine list, both by the glass and by the bottle. This trip though, we brought a bottle of Pinot with us from our day. It was our splurge dinner, since we have watching our budget for the last year since Jon has been back in school. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We’ll certainly go back again!

Carlton Cellars – The Final Chapter

Tasting number six at Carlton Cellars was Barking Frog Winery. Barking Frog does Pinot, but they also do several Syrahs and a Cabernet and that’s what they were tasting that day. The wines were good, but this trip was more about the Pinots for us. Interestingly the source quite a bit of their fruit from Crawford Vineyard in Prosser, which is where Mt. Baker Vineyards gets a lot of its fruit. The taste of the wine is quite different, showing that it’s as much the winemaking as it is the grapes.

And finally, we hit number seven, J. Albin Winery. We started out here with a Pinot Gris, which I thought was fantastic. It had the right amount of sweetness, and it was one that I truly enjoyed. I got a bottle for myself and one for my sister in law and brother, as a thank you for letting us stay at their house. We also tried their Late Harvest Pinot Noir, which surprisingly, Jon wanted to buy. Jon doesn’t typically go for sweet wines, so when he wants to buy a dessert wine, I know it’s good. Of course, I didn’t need Jon’s tastebuds to tell me that, because I already knew that it was excellent.

And with that, we reached the end of the marathon. We were exhausted! Well, not really, but we were ready for a break. We rounded up our purchases, and headed back to the car. Good thing that it was almost time for dinner.

Carlton Cellars – Part two

The number three station on the marathon tasting tour was Carlton Cellars again, where we tasted their reds. We started out with the 2008 Seven Devils Pinot Noir, which at $20 is a great value. It was a great wine too, with a balance of cherry and tannin that we both really enjoyed. We tried their reserve Pinots as well, and they were very well done, but I couldn’t taste enough of a difference to warrant the premium price. We ended up with a couple of bottles of the Seven Devil’s Pinot Noir, for an everyday drinking wine.

Ghost Hill Winery was number four. Ghost Hill is relatively new to the scene – they seem to have just set up a tasting room out of their home right down the road from Annie Amie Vineyards. We thought about visiting there, but were detered by the long, pot-holed gravel road, so we were pleased to see that they had a presence at Carlton Cellars. We sampled their Pinot Blanc, a Pinor Noir Blanc, and a Pinot Noir. The wines were good, and I think they have a lot of potential. I didn’t walk away with any distinct memory of the Pinot Noir – in the shuffle of the day, it got lost in the other wines. I did get a couple of bottles of the the Pinot Noir Blanc – it was a well structured wine, and it was very reasonably priced at $20. Not many wineries do a Pinot Noir Blanc, which is made with the Pinot Noir grape with the skins removed at the beginning of the process, to avoid having them color the wine. In fact, the only other winery that I’ve had it at is Anne Amie, so when we saw it at Ghost Hill, I got excited about trying it.

Angel Vine was number five in the marathon tasting session. Angel Vine focuses on Zinfandels, although they do a Pinot Noir and a Petit Sirah as well. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Angel Vine, they were Three Angels Winery, but apparently had to change the name when they got sued by a large corporation over the trademark. I find it sad that the little guy has to cave when the big corporate lawyers come knocking, but we are here about the wine now, aren’t we? At any rate, their Morgster Pinot Noir was good, but nothing special. The Zinfandels though are amazing. We tried the 2008 Columbia Valley Primitivo, which is the Italian clone of the Zinfandel grape and it was very nice, which a strong, bold flavor. The 2008 “The Hellion” and the 2008 Les Collenes Vineyard Zinfandel were also very good. They source their grapes from Washington, in the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys, and it is nice to see a winery that focuses on some of the varietals that aren’t as widely grown in Washington. They have done a great job with all their wines – in fact, it was impossible to choose a clear favorite among these three Zins.

Are you tired yet? We were, so we took this opportunity to take a break and get our BBQ pulled pork sandwich, that was complimentary with our tasting fee. The chef is a Mississippi native, who ended up in Portland. The BBQ sauce was excellent, with the spicy sauce having a great kick, but not an overpowering spice. His coleslaw was delicious too. It gave us a chance to take a break and regroup before continuing our circle around the barrel room. I took a little break out in the sunshine as well, although it was really kind of overcast rather than sunny.