Tag Archive | Petit Verdot

Northstar Winery – the Tour Begins…

After our lunch at Olive, Jon and I decided to begin our day tasting at Northstar.  Northstar came with the recommendation of a friend of mine from childhood, and since we didn’t really know much about any of the Walla Walla wineries, that seemed good enough for us. Northstar was founded in the early 1990s, with their first vintage in 1994.  David Merfeld has been their winemaker since 2005.

Our server was a friendly gentleman who had spent years in the ski industry, and then started working part time at Northstar after he retired.  We were the only ones there, which seemed a little unusual, as it was about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday, but we chalked that up to the mountain passes being bad (two other couples were heading in as we were heading out).

Northstar Winery

Northstar Winery

If you know anything about Northstar, you know that they specialize in Merlot.  Their lineup has 3 Merlots, but it also had 5 other wines – you get to taste 7 of the 8 wines.  4 of the wines are only available at the winery.  Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2011 Stella Blanca Semillon – a blend of 93% Semillon and 7% Muscadelle – which was interesting because Muscadelle is not typically seen in Washington.  The Stella Blanca was crisp and bright, with flavors of honey and citrus – it was very appealing.  The tasting notes say there are flavors of coconut, but I didn’t taste any.  Since this was one of the wines only available at the winery, I made sure to buy a bottle.
  • 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – another blend of 65% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc.  This blend was a pretty bold spicy blend with flavors of vanilla interspersed.
  • 2009 Northstar Petit Verdot – I’m always intrigued when a winery does Petit Verdot as a varietal wine, and this one is very good.  It is dark and rich with fruit, and would be excellent paired with dark chocolate.  Also available only at the winery, so I left with a bottle of this one too.
  • 2009 Northstar Malbec – Interestingly, this wine is the only wine sourced from Northstar fruit, plus Spring Valley vineyard grapes.  Considering their specialty is Merlot, I would have thought their estate would be planted with Merlot.  This Malbec is fruit forward and smooth, with white pepper flavors adding a bit of spice.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine had flavors of blackberry, raspberry and vanilla, and was lightly oaked.  I often don’t favor Washington cabs, as they are too bold and oaked, but this one was approachable and pleasant.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot – Our server did a side by side tasting of this wine and the Walla Walla Merlot (below), so you could compare the two wines and the differences imparted by the vineyard and the climate.  This wine had flavors of of vanilla and blackberry, and was very smooth.  After tasting both wines several times, this one was my favorite by a nose.
  • 2009 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot – this wine has flavors of raspberry and blackberry and excellent, but it was still a bit tart.  I think this would have been my winner if it had a few more years on it.  Jon declared this wine his favorite.

All in all, Northstar has some very good wines, and there certainly wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch.  I have to disagree with the Merlots being their best wines though – I thought their standouts were the Stella Blanca, the Petit Verdot and the Malbec.  The tasting fee is $7, but is refundable with purchase – and the spacious tasting room would certainly be able to accommodate busy days without making the place seem crowded.  If I get the chance to visit in the summer, the patio would be a great place to relax and enjoy a tasting or a glass of wine.

After we purchased our Stella Blanca and Petit Verdot, I asked the server which other places he would recommend, particularly any wineries that had some white wines.  One of his recommendations was Va Piano, which I had never heard of before we started getting ready for our trip.  And that’s where we headed next!

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!