Tag Archive | Pinot Blanc

May Day at Walnut City WineWorks

While we were down visiting family in Portland in May, my cousin and I decided to do an afternoon of wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.  After Megan and I visited Chehalem Winery, we headed to another winery in McMinnville: Walnut City WineWorks.  Jon and I had visited a few years before, at the recommendation of Jon’s grandfather, and they had some really good wines, so I was excited to try them again.

Walnut City WineWorks is a custom crush facility that provides a production facility for several wine labels: Walnut City WineWorks, Bernard Machado, Carlton Hill, Z’IVO, Lundeen, Genius Loci, and Robinson Reserve.  What makes Walnut City WineWorks different is the fact that they are actively involved in vineyard management for the various labels, and all the labels are sold in the tasting room.  The Walnut City label produces about 6,000 cases per year, and when you combine all the labels the production is about 12,000 cases per year.  They are located in a historic brick building right near downtown McMinnville; I’m sure that it used to be an industrial facility of some sort.  It has been nicely renovated with a modern and tasteful decor, although it is a bit dark inside.

Our server for the day guided us through a selection of their wines from a few of their different labels.  We began with the Walnut City Hodge Podge, a white blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois.  Wow, that’s quite a blend!  I certainly picked up a lot of the Gewurztraminer in the wine, but overall I thought it was a bit too sweet for my taste.  Megan really liked it though.  After that, we tried the 2011 Z’IVO Pinot Blanc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write any tasting notes on this wine, and I couldn’t find any online, but I liked it enough to buy two bottles (I’ll have to crack open a bottle soon to give you some better tasting notes on this one!)

We also tried the Z’IVO Charly, which is a blend of 75% Gewurztraminer, 20% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier.  Again, I thought the wine was a bit too sweet, but Megan loved it (she declared it to be her favorite) and went home with two bottles.  Next we tried the 2012 Walnut City Rose, a Pinot Noir Rose made in the Old World style.  It was dry and crisp and absolutely delicious.  The 2011 Walnut City WineWorks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is the largest production at the winery, with 4,000 cases produced.  It was bright and tart, with a light mouthfeel and a soft, elegant structure.  I really enjoyed it, but it is certainly a very delicate Pinot.

We also sampled the Bernard-Machado 2007 Pinot Noir.  Our server explained that this wine is only produced in years of great grapes, which was confusing to me because I have heard that 2007 wasn’t such a fantastic year in Oregon Pinot – the cool, wet season led to wines that are much softer and more delicate than other years – characteristics in Pinot that I personally love, but not everybody does.  This wine exhibited more of the earthy, forest floor flavors, and it was good, but not outstanding, and it didn’t warrant the $36 price tag for me.

The Walnut City WineWorks 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve was more up my alley.  Spice, black cherries and cola dominate this wine that was barrel aged for 18 months and bottle aged for another 24 months.  It won a Gold Medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, a new competition where the judges aren’t professional tasters, but rather people working in the wine industry in Washington and Oregon.

We finished off our tasting with a Lundeen wine, the 2008 Rogue Valley Syrah.  The grapes are sourced from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, which has hotter, drier summers and and is known for growing the hot weather grapes.  That said, this Syrah is nicely balanced, and was described as a Syrah for Pinot lovers.  The flavors of blueberry and blackberry are accented by just a hint of dark chocolate.

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but of course I didn’t think to take any photos.  We did take some wine home with us – we got a case between us and the server was kind enough to allow us to ring the orders separately and still apply the discount.  If you have a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And be sure to let me know what you think!

2010 Elemental Cellars Auxerrois

Tonight I’m drinking a varietal I’ve never tried before.  Jon and I were down in Seattle a few months ago and stopped in one of the downtown wine shops.  We were perusing the selection, and we decided to each select a reasonably priced wine that we had never tried before.  This was my pick, for $15.99.

I opened the wine without looking up anything about it first – I wanted to try it without anything affecting my perception first.  The nose is a light, toasty butter, and it is a nicely balanced mix of crisp minerality and butter.  It reminded me a lot of a Pinot Blanc.  After googling Auxerrois, I learned that it is a grape similar to Pinot Blanc (yay for my tastebuds!) and is also the grape used in French Chablis (I might have to buy some Chablis now).

Elemental Cellars is the side project winery of Steven Westby, winemaker for Witness Tree Vineyard.  The grapes are sourced from Zenith Vineyard, which sells grapes to some of the best known Willamette Valley wineries, including Adelsheim, Ponzi, and St. Innocent.  Apparently this block of Auxerrois is the oldest in Oregon.  I haven’t tried Witness Tree Vineyards wine either, but after tasting this wine, I will have to make sure to try them too at some point soon.

Anne Amie 2008 Pinot Blanc

The other night Jon opened a bottle of the 2008 Anne Amie Pinot Blanc.  We haven’t been to Anne Amie for a couple of  years, and this bottle reminded me that we should go again.

Anne Amie is technically family owned, but…  It is one of the many businesses of the R.B. Pamplin Corporation, a family-owned company with annual sales approaching $700 million.  Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. is the founder of the Portland Tribune newspaper, Columbia Empire Farms, and Your NorthWest retail stores, in addition to Anne Amie Vineyard.  Of course, I can’t be too hard on this large, family business, because Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. is known for his philanthropy and the winery has earned certifications in Low Input Viticulture and Salmon-Safe practices.

When you visit Anne Amie, their tasting room staff are friendly and approachable and happy to share their knowledge of the wines you are tasting.  Their lineup is always excellent, not a bad one in the bunch.  Jon and I once bought a bottle of their Cuvee A Amrita, and watched it disappear in less than 5 minutes when we shared it with Jon’s sisters and cousins at an impromptu hot tub pool party.  Yep, I’d say that was a success!  But I digress.

The 2008 Pinot Blanc has a nose of light butter and crisp citrus, which gives way to a wonderful balanced flavor of butter and pineapple.  The key word here is balance, because the French oak aging is done so expertly that the oak and butter do not overpower the citrus flavors in the wine.  Very well done.

Although I have seen the Anne Amie Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in grocery stores here, I’m not sure I would find the Pinot Blanc.  Another trip to the Willamette Valley is certainly in order…

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.

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.

Ken Wright Virgins No More!

Once we left Tyrus Evan, we headed across the street to Ken Wright, which is also in Carlton. Ken Wright is only open Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Day weekend, because they sell most of their wine as futures. We hadn’t been to Ken Wright before, and we had never even had Ken Wright wines. Ken Wright was a favorite of Jon’s grandfather, who lived in McMinnville. He had been buying futures of Ken Wright for several years, and gave us a bottle of the wine, which we have been keeping for a special occasion. When he passed away, we received another bottle.

Ken Wright specializes in single vineyard Pinot Noir. He has ten vineyards, and each is aged, bottled and sold separately. We started our tasting with a Pinot Blanc. It was delicious, with a soft, unoaked, creamy butter taste. Jon and I both really like it, as it was a compromise between the light crisp wines that I like and the heavily oaked, buttery white wines that Jon prefers. Their Chardonnay was excellent as well, a soft butter without the too heavy oak of so many Chardonnays. After we left, Jon regretted not buying a bottle of the Chardonnay. After the whites, we moved into the barrel tasting of some of the 2010 single vineyard Pinot Noirs.  Carter, the first one we tried, was very good. It already had a very nice structure with the tart cherry flavor of a good Pinot.  I can certainly see why the futures sell out. The second we tried, from Canary Hill Vineyard was my least favorite – it has a very light mouthfeel, and just didn’t have the structure of the other two. We finished off our barrel tasting with the Guadalupe vineyard, which was everything a Pinot Noir should be. I will want this wine when I can afford to buy the half case of futures.  What we found with the Ken Wright barrel tastings is that you can really appreciate the flavor that the soil and the differences at each vineyard really impart into the wine.

The tasting ended with a truly spectacular surprise.  2009 was a bumper crop in the Willamette Valley, with a hot summer that produced a lot of fruit in the vineyards. Ken Wright had no much extra fruit that they did what they rarely do. He took leftover grapes from 9 of his vineyards and produced a Pinot Noir that is affordable and delicious. We really enjoyed the blend, and I hope that they will do it again. From what I’m hearing, 2010 was a much tougher year, and 2011 is shaping up so far to be miserable, so it might be a couple of years before we get this wine again. The good news is that while we are waiting, there are always other wines to try. And other reviews to write…