Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2003 Chateau Pipeau – St. Emillion – Bordeaux

Deep purple color and still pretty young. Intense nose of prunes, blueberry, and almost a sweet spice. If you sniff it hard enough, you’ll even get some of the heat and high alcohol of the vintage. Darker fruit on the taste, blackberry is what’s noticeable.

Medium long finish and dry.

This is a solid wine with the one noticeable flaw of showing its “heat.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Oregon Wine Country (and beer too...)

It’s been a while but I wanted to finally post my thoughts on my visit to Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country. Before I start, I have to say that with a full fledged family now, its become a little harder to keep up posting all my wine notes. I have the best intentions but they often drift to the wayside and un unintentionally linger for longer than I’d like.

Our trip to Oregon is a perfect case in point. My family was “dragged” to a wedding in Portland, Oregon last summer and I petitioned that we take a one day detour and visit a few wineries in Willamette Valley just south of the city.

As Oregon is known for their Pinot Noir, I made that the main focus of our tastings but I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well the whites stood out.

My thoughts are below but they’re really overall impressions more than specific notes.

First up was Archery Summit and it was one of the highlights of the trip. We felt their wines had more complexity than a lot of other wineries we tasted that first day but may have lacked some of the “nuance” that I’ve often read about and experienced in my limited Oregon experience.

We tasted their ‘06 Premiere Cuvѐe Pinot Noir, the ’05 Renegade Ridge Estate Pinot Noir, the ’06 Looney vineyard Pinot Noir, and their ’06 Arcus Estate Pinot Noir. All here very good and none were cheap by any standards. The Premiere ‘06 Premiere Cuvѐe was the lowest priced we tasted that day with a retail price of $48 while the other came in at $80+. If I had to generalize on the wines we tasted, they were concentrated with lots of fruit and a rich texture. I’m leaving out the nuances of each specific wine but by notes a little “light” in that regard.

I’m familiar with Sokel Blosser because of their “Evolution”, a non-vintage white made from nine (or so) different grapes. It’s relatively inexpensive at approximately $15, relatively available, and different from a lot of other white wines on the market. I had never tasted anything else from them until our visit.
Our line-up inliced the ’07 Dundee Hills Cuvѐe Pinot Gris, the ’07 Rosѐ of Pinot Noir, Evolution, the ’05 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Meditrina which is a non-vintage red grape blend, the ’07 Willamette Valley Early Muscat, and their ’06 Estate White Riesling Dessert Wine.

Our tasting here was mixed. While pricing was lower than most of the other wineries we visited, I also thought that most of the wines poured at Sokel Blosser were average. The two standouts included the ’05 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir which wasn’t cheap at $34 but was one of the better entry level Oregon Pinots we tasted. Strong fruit mixed in with spice, notably cinnamon, and a smooth texture. The other standout was their fantastic ’07 Willamette Valley Early Muscat which was a bargain at $20. This is a sweet wine that falls into the dessert category. Very aromatic with a strong floral and orange aroma and a texture that just coats the tongue without being clingy.

Oregon also has a reputation for crafting good sparkling wines and Argyle is the best known of these producers. With that in mind, we tried the “bubbly flight” which included the ’00 Blanc de Blanc, the ’00 Knudsen Vineyard Brut, the ’06 Brut Rose, and the ’05 Black Brut which is a red sparkler. I don’t have extensive experience with sparkling wines but I came away thinking these were good but not special. In fact I thought they should have been better than they were given the price range from $30 for the Black Brut to $40-$45 for the others. In fact, I remembered them mostly for what they were not rather than what they were, having fruity flavors and creamy textures rather than the “yeasty elegance” that I’ve had from French Bruts for this price.

We also tacked on two Pinot Noirs, the ’05 Nuthouse Pinot Noir and the ’05 Spirithouse Pinot Noir. I have to mention the prices up front here at $60 and $70 respectively. These focused on dark fruit aroma and creamy textures with the Spirithouse being slightly more balanced and refined. However, I still felt they were more average than exceptional and not worth their price tag.

At Four Graces we tasted their ’06 Pinot Gris, the ’06 Pinot Blanc, the ’06 Pinot Noir, the ’06 Pinot Noir Reserve, and the ’05 Dundee Hills Black Family Estate Pinot Noir Reverve. I know I’ve had their entry level Pinot in a restaurant setting and have liked it and that was the same at the estate with their basic bottling being the one we liked the best. At $27 it was also a relatively affordable wine too. However, both their Reserve wines were disappointments and at $42 and $75 respectively, they shouldn’t have been. In the case of their Reserve, the oak dominated the fruit while their Black Family Estate tasted sour more than anything else. However, their Pinot Gris had a creamy texture with ripe apricot and green apple flavors. It was one of the first Oregon whites that stood out to us.

Up until this point, our Willamette Valley tasting had been a mixed bag with more misses than hits. That changed the second we walked into the Eyrie Vineyard tasting room. It was just us and Mike, the tasting manager that day. Eyrie Vineyards and its proprietor David Lett were among the pioneers of Oregon viniculture and their wines tasted more reminiscent of a lighter style that was likely more in fashion 30 years ago than the bigger and bolder styles today. The man started with what he liked and stuck through it all these years. Mike was great that day as well, giving us the whole Eyrie Vineyard story and even letting us poke around the barrel rooms.
The wines poured included the ’06 Pinot Gris, ’06 Pinot Blanc, ’06 Chardonnay, ’03 Reserve Chardonnay, the ’06 Pinot Noir, the ’03 Reserve Pinot Noir, and the ’06 Black Cap Pinot Noir made by his son Jason Lett.

The ’03 Reserve Pinot Noir was unlike any other Pinot I’ve ever had before in my limited tasting experience, light and spicy with a clear focused fruit core. Unfortunately I did not take more detailed notes on the wine that day but I still remember the “wow” experience.

Their whites, both the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, where also revelations. Rich textures mixed in with ripe fruit flavors that leave a long lasting finish.

Any trip to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the many and multiple brewpubs in town. The region may be known for its wine but it could be argued that Portland is also the Mecca of craft beer in the US.

Unfortunately we could only fit in one brewpub visit and we made that the Deschutes Brewery. It’s actually based in Bend, OR but they have an outpost in Portland.

Here we sampled their Cascade Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Inversion IPA, Black Butte Porter, Obsidian Stout, Bachelor Bitter, Green Lakes Organic Amber, Twilight Ale, X-Tap D Straat Dubbel, Altitude Amber, Sagebush Classic Pils, and the Spiced Dubbel.

All of these were the X-Tap Dubbel and the Spiced Dubbel with honorable mentions going to the Black Butte Porters, Obsidian Stout and the Bachelor Bitter.

While I feel we got an adequate sample of Oregon wines, I know we only scratched the surface of their beer culture and the little we saw was fantastic.