Tag Archive | Pinot Gris

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 – a Multiphase Tour, part 1

Our last stop of the day was also the biggest stop of the day. We went to Carlton Cellars, which is a cooperative where several wineries share harvesting and bottling equipment. Carlton Cellars is the main winery there, and their custom crush wineries include: Youngberg Hill, Ghost Hill Winery, Angel Vine, Barking Frog Winery and J. Albin Winery. With so many wineries under the same roof, there is a lot to taste. You really have to pace yourself!

We started our tasting with the Carlton Cellars white wines, where they had Pinot Gris, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Pinot Noir Rose. The Pinot Gris was good, but almost a little too dry for my taste. I wanted it to be a bit sweeter. The Sauvignon Blanc was excellent – crisp, with a lot of minerality, perfect for a hot summer day. The Pinot Noir Rose was just ok, I thought it lacked structure.

The second stop was Youngberg Hill. Youngberg Hill had four wines to taste – a Pinot Blanc, a Pinot Gris, and two Pinot Noirs. I liked their Pinot Gris quite a bit.  Crisp and sweet – without being overly so.  The two Pinot Noir’s, called Natasha and Jordan were good, with the difference in the taste due to the vineyard where the grapes were grown. The Natasha was grown in marine sedimentary soil, where the Jordan came from a vineyard planted in volcanic soil. You can taste the difference, with the Natasha being much more fruit forward, and the Jordan having a smoky, more earthy flavor. That said, I liked the Jordan Pinot Noir much better, it just had that something – it was richer, more solid.

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?

Fat Bird, Skinny Turtle, and some wine

On Sunday, Jon and I decided to make our own “Shirk Your Responsibilities” Day. Instead of staying home and getting laundry done and working on things around the house, we decided to go down to Woodinville and do a little wine tasting. When I suggested it to Jon first thing in the morning, I was amazed at how quickly he popped up out of his chair to get ready to go – kind of like a Jack in the Box.  That was my first hint that he was into the idea…  So we got ready, and drove down. On the way, we talked about where we wanted to go.

Jon was interested in heading to Mark Ryan, which was supposed to be in the Hollywood Schoolhouse. The Schoolhouse is an old school that was built in 1912 and is no longer being used as a school. I was under the impression that the school had been converted in space that the wineries were leasing, and each classroom would be a tasting room. Not so much. Apparently The Schoolhouse is a special event space, that is rented out for weddings and other events. It looked beautiful through the locked doors, but there aren’t any wineries there. Alexandria Nicole has a space at one end of the building, with an outside entrance. Mark Ryan, Andrew Ross, J Bookwalter, and PepperBridge are in a building behind the Schoolhouse. It just wasn’t the same.

So after figuring out this Schoolhouse business, we made our way behind the building to where Mark Ryan is. It was a very quiet Sunday, and we were the only ones there. I think it was because Taste Washington, the big wine event in Seattle was that day. At any rate, it was our gain. Mark Ryan has received rave reviews for their wine, and they were delicious. We began our tasting with a Viognier that was very floral. Then we moved into the reds. Mark Ryan has a lineup with pop culture and eclectic names (two of his wines are named after Pearl Jam songs), like The Dissident, The Dead Horse, Wild Eyed Syrah and The Long Haul, and all of his wines, with the exception of the Viognier, are blends. Mark Ryan is into the big, bold Cabernet blends, so Jon was in heaven. The wines for me were all very good, but I found the Cabernet blends all running together. It was hard for me to tell them apart. I liked the Wild Eyed Syrah best.

Mark Ryan’s tasting room follows the pop culture theme as well. They used an antique cabinet as the tasting bar, and had two antique Indian motorcycles. For those of you who don’t know the Indian, it was the motorcycle that BJ Hunnicutt fell in love with in a M*A*S*H episode. It was destroyed in that episode, causing much anguish for BJ. The Indians at Mark Ryan are fully restored (one is a 1928!), and absolutely beautiful. The walls at Mark Ryan are decorated with concert posters, matted and framed in pristine condition. The ambience of the place reminded me of a bachelor’s loft – very hip.

We moved next door to Ross Andrew after that. Ross Andrew started the lineup with a Pinot Gris. I really wanted to love it, because a Pinot Gris is just so rare in Woodinville. It was good, but it wasn’t the crisp fruity Pinot Gris that I really wanted it to be. We also tried the Glaze, which is an affordable Cab blend, which I liked quite a bit. It was smooth and easy to drink, and not overpowered with tannins, like so many Cabs can be. The Glaze is named for the winemaker’s wife’s pottery. The spit bucket in the winery was actually a clay pot that she made, with wine grapes decorating it. It is nice to see a winery that is truly a family affair, down to the Bernese Mountain winery dog Galena (she’s shy though…).

After leaving Ross Andrew, we decided to try to find Chatter Creek Winery. I had purchased a bottle of their Grenache a few months back, not knowing anything about the winery, and it was very good. So, with the help of the GPS and our guidebook that said Chatter Creek is open from 12 – 4 pm on Sundays, we headed over… to find it closed. So much for Chatter Creek, at least for now.

We ended our day with an oldie but a goodie – Matthews Estate. We were there before, a year ago during the Party Bus tour. This year when we went, it was really quiet… there was only one other guy there tasting with us. I was excited that they now have a Sauvignon Blanc, and it was wonderful. Crisp apple taste, perfect for a hot summer day with some Teriyaki chicken on the grill. I brought home two bottles. Their Blackboard charity blend this year is a Cab blend, and I have to say, I just didn’t like it at all. It was very oakey, and seemed pretty harsh to me. I liked their Blackboard Syrah a lot better. I know that they likely change the wine each year, depending on what grapes they have leftover, but I hope they will do the Syrah again. They are still doing their single varietal Syrah, and it is one to be experienced.

Jon and I finished up the day with a little shopping at Molbak’s nursery, and Cost Plus World Market. I managed to walk away from all the beautiful and unusual plants that Molbak’s has, which is good since my yard is totally full. But it was tough. I did have to bring home a fat bird and a skinny turtle with absolutely no practical purpose. But they are cute, and that was enough for me.

Sokolicious

On New Year’s weekend, Jon and I were heading down to Portland to visit family, so we took a day to ourselves and headed over to one of our favorite wine regions… the Willamette Valley.  We have vowed to go to at least one winery on each visit that we haven’t been to before.  It was New Year’s Eve, which I thought would be very busy, but surprisingly, there weren’t many people out and about.

Our first stop was to Torii Mor winery.  Jon has had their flagship Pinot Noir, the one you can get at the grocery store, but I have never tried their wines.  We sampled their Cote D’Mor Viognier, the Reserve Pinot Gris, the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Deux Verres Pinot Noir and we finished off with their 2006 Syrah Port wine.  I enjoyed their Viognier, but found the Pinot Gris to be not fruity or crisp enough for my taste.  Jon and I both thought the Willamette Valley Pinot was a light and easy everyday drinking wine, but it lacked much pizazz.  The Deux Verres Pinot Noir was very nice, as it has a more robust flavor.  The Port wine was excellent, with a strong flavor that would be great poured over cheesecake or ice cream.  The server was friendly and talkative, and the atmosphere was nice.  We were alone the whole time we were there, so having a personable server really made a difference.

After leaving Torii Mor, we decided to turn right and go up the hill instead of heading back down to Highway 99.  We passed a couple of wineries that looked interesting, but were closed for the New Year’s holiday, so those will be ones we want to visit in the future.  We stopped next at Maresh Red Barn Winery, which for us was a complete unknown.  They have been in business since 1970, but apparently just sell from the winery.  They are located in a 100 year old barn, which had antique glass windows and an amazing view.  This would be a great place to visit in the summer too.  Here we had five wines, a Pinot Gris, a Chardonnay, and three Pinot Noirs.  The Pinot Gris was the standout here.  It has clean and crisp, with green apple flavors.  The Chardonnay was very good too, but unlike a traditional Chardonnay – this one was completely unoaked.  Their three Pinot Noirs were light and fruity and were all very soft.  I would have preferred a bit more from the Pinot.  We purchased the Pinot Gris, and after leaving, I think we should have purchased two.

Next up we headed to Sokol Blosser, which we have been thinking about visiting for a while.  The atmosphere here is more contemporary, with a a younger vibe.  They have a huge floor to ceiling window in the tasting room that looks out on Mount Hood, which was clearly visible on the day of our visit.  The view was spectacular.  Our servers were both young and hip, but knew about their wines.

Sokol Blosser is a certified organic winery and practices sustainable farming techniques.  We tried their Pinot Gris, which was very well done.  It was another crisp, clean fruity Pinot Gris, that will be perfect when the temperatures warm back up.  We sampled three vintages of their Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, which is a blend of all their blocks of Pinot Noir grapes.  We started with the 2008, and finished with the 2006.  It was interesting to see how the 3 vintages were so different, with the ’08 being a great balanced Pinot, the ’07 being very soft and light, and the ’06 being a robust strong Pinot.  Jon and I both liked the 2008 best.  Jon really liked their 2007 Goosepen Pinot Noir, which is a single vineyard wine, but I thought it wasn’t different enough from the ’07 Dundee Hills to justify the difference in price.  We finished our tasting with the White Riesling Dessert Wine, which was a lovely sweet dessert wine.  Sokol Blosser was our untried winery star for the day – we both really enjoyed all of their wines.

We ended our day at Chehalem, one of our old standbys, which is always excellent.  We tried their Pinot Blanc, which was very good.  There aren’t many Pinot Blanc varietal wines out there, so I’m always looking for good ones.  Jon and  I also both love their Cerise, which is a wine that is Gamay Noir blended with Pinot Noir.  Gamay Noir is a grape similar to Pinot Noir, but it has a strong delicious cherry taste.  Chehalem always does a great job with their Pinots and this year’s are no different.  Everything they have is delicious – you can’t go wrong whatever you buy.

It was certainly another day well-spent in the valley.  Can’t wait to be back again.  I don’t have my camera cord here, so I’ll post pictures soon.