Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Willamette Valley, Take 2, Day 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about a fantastic pairing dinner I'd attended featuring Evening Land wines.This morning, we had the fortune of getting a private tour of their Seven Springs vineyard, where they grow all of their fruit, followed by a private tasting with the West Coast sales and marketing manager, Ken.

I'm tempted to give you the blow by blow account, but I don't want to make you jealous (or put you to sleep - as fascinating as I am, no one wants to read a novel when they visit a blog). In a nutshell, we spent 2 hours touring some of the most beautifully pruned vines I've ever seen and then 30 minutes tasting and discussing some of the best wines I've ever had. I'm not a paid spokesperson for Evening Land (though I'd gladly take that job) nor am I embellishing. This was simply the best vineyard tour I've been on. Moreover, Evening Land is one of the few vineyards where I genuinely loved every wine I tasted. I have my favorites (La Source Pinot Noir and Mad Hatter Chardonnay), but I have yet to dislike anything they make.

On Ken's advice, we spent the rest of the morning in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the region Evening Land is in. In Ken's completely unbiased opinion, this is the best region in Oregon and he recommended we visit Cristom and Bethel Heights.

After our fantastic experience at Evening Land, I was actually worried that no matter how great the region, we wouldn't like an other place we visited because it couldn't live up to what we'd just had. I should have known better because Ken just flat out knows his stuff. He even made the perfect recommendation for lunch.

At Cristom we tried several Pinot Noirs, most named after female members of the family who makes the wine. Among Eileen (smokey, spicy, structure), Jessie (gamey, smooth with a savory beef note), and Marjorie (pepper, cherry, very smooth with some savory notes), Marjorie was my favorite though I would like to see what Jessie is like in a few years. All were really tasty and interesting in their own way so if you stumble across one, pick it up. It's on the expensive side, but I think well worth it. I've tasted several Pinot Noirs that were as expensive and more expensive with half the complexity. It was a great tasting room experience (thanks Gerry or Jerry) and I was glad we weren't let down after our fantastic morning.

We followed up Cristom with another great experience at Bethel Heights. I also have to give some credit to my friends, Laura and Josh, because even before Ken had recommended Bethel Heights, Laura had raved about it to me so it was already on my list of hopeful visits.

Bethel Heights had a really lovely Rose, but for me, the real treat was the Flat Block Pinot Noir. It has a lot of red berry fruit on the nose and palate with some nice acid structure, though a medium finish. I'm interested to see what happens with it over the next few years. If you find me in 2013, 2014, I may just share some with you when I open up a bottle.

Unfortunately, the rest of the vineyards we visited during the day were letdowns, except for a final last minute, on a whim trip to Winter's Hill when our GPS inexplicably turned us around while searching for a different vineyard. I found their Pinot Noirs to be a bit unbalanced and too alcohol-y, but they make a wonderful and very reasonable Rose for $15 per bottle. It's got the lovely light body and strawberry notes that you look for in a good, classic Rose. they also had a really lovely Muscat. It's a dessert wine so it's sweet, but not cloying. Plus, the nose smells like a garden bouquet and who can resist that? 
As for the rest:

Bergstrom: Good $45 Pinot Noir. Too bad they sell it for $75 - $80.
Adelsheim: Nice, not great. Also, what happened to the wine pairing with chocolates?
DePonte: Sad to say that I think my palate has gotten too snobby for you. Plus, you should probably air condition your tasting room. It's not fun to taste in an 80 degree room.

Tomorrow we're going to hit a few more vineyards and then head out to the Coast. On Friday, thanks to the genius that is Wendy, we will be having dinner with Ben Thomas, the red winemaker from Montinore who was our tour guide yesterday. So even though we'll be out f wine country, stay tuned....

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff (a.k.a tomorrow),

Alli M.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Willamette Valley - Take 2, Day 1

As many of you know, I've been planning a return trip to The Willamette Valley in Oregon for several months and now here I am. My friends, Wendy, Mara, and I arrived late last night and due to our East Coast internal clocks were up at 5am raring to go. Well, maybe less "raring to go" and more in desperate need of coffee as we had to kill a few hours before making our way to our first vineyard of the day.

We finally headed out to Ponzi in Beaverton, about 25 minutes from Portland and we were still a good 20 minutes early. Luckily, they let us in anyway. If I had one word to describe Ponzi, it would be acid. This is not necessarily a bad thing because acid can be a very food friendly property of wine (just ask any Italian wine maker). Some of their whites were a bit too acidic for my taste, but they were still well balanced. My favorite Ponzi white was the 2010 Pinot Blanc which had a lot of acidity that was mitigated by a softer, somewhat rounded body because a portion of its blend had been fermented in oak. Among the reds, we all seemed to like the 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir with its smooth body, subtle tannins and spice and oak notes. The great thing about Ponzi is they make a lot of good, classic Oregon wines that are not too expensive and available in many places. It's hard to go wrong with them.

After Ponzi, we continued our journe down into the valley with a stop at Montinore, another label I've always thought of as a good buy because their red label Pinot Noir is very tasty, available in many places and usually availabe for around $20, if not a buck or two less. Today, though, we were going to get some VIP treatment thanks to a hook up through my friend, Chaz and his excellent wife, Robin. We not only had a tour with the red winemaker, Ben, but we also got to taste whatever we wanted which included some really special Pinot Noir along with an excellent ruby port, some dessert wine that tasted like pineapple juice and a non alcoholic vermis they sell to a local jam maker, among others. Suffice it to say, I picked up a few bottles of ruby port, a few bottles of their Graham's Block 7 Pinot Noir (smooth, lush bowl full of cherries, spice and oak) and a few bottles of their Parson's Pinot Noir (mushroomy and gamey with a hint of peat moss - reminded me of a nice Cote Rotie). These are both very small production Pinot Noirs, so if you find one, just pick it up. 
From there we went to WillaKenzie, White Rose, Carlton Winemaker's Studio and Domaine Drouhin. I wish I had a glowing write up for each of them, but they didn't really stand out the way Ponzi and Montinore did.

WillaKenzie - Least enthusiastic wine room employee I've ever encountered. This woman put a damper in the entire tasting (well when she wasn't ignoring us as she surfed online). The wine wasn't great, but even if it was, I'm not sure she would have cared.

White Rose - Wines were o.k., but the best part of the tasting was the view from the winery.
Carlton Winemaker's Studio - I think we really would have liked this, but we visited right after lunch and we were full and tired and our palates were a bit tired. That said, they were pouring Retour Pinot Noir, which I've read a lot of rave reviews about. It lived up to the hype. Picked up a few bottles of the 2007. The 2008 was also really good, but completely different.

Domaine Drouhin - Coasting on their name. Totally skippable.

Our final visit of the day was to Erath, one of my favorites from my last visit. Dick Erath who founded the vineyard and still consults for them (he sold his namesake several years ago) is one of the original Oregon pioneers. They just started making a white Pinot noir which I really enjoyed.  Many purists think that white pinot noir is a gimic, but the Italians have been making it for years and I find it very interesting (and not in a "it's weird, but I feel I should be polite way.")  It drinks like a red - medium bodied, spicy, cherry - but with some more floral and nutty notes that are typically found in older whites. Really, really interesting in the best way possible. I love finding stuff like this in my travels.

Well, the lights are going down here a the Comfort Inn and Suites (we Wine-O-Crats would rather spend the $ on good wine).

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or tour (uh, tomorrow),


Alli M.