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.

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