The coldest and wettest year in Oregon in the last fifty? Grapes hanging on the vines longer than they’ve ever hung before? The possibility of a complete wipe-out if fall rains came and temperatures dropped?
No problem. The grape harvest of 2011 will go down as a real nail-biter for Oregon wineries, from the Columbia Gorge through the Willamette Valley and all of the way down to the Applegate Valley. But the relevant words are that it did go down. A couple of late weeks of albeit weak sunshine saved things, and allowed grapes to mature — if not fully, then just enough. The wines that will come from this will more than likely be low in alcohol and acid, but with good flavor — winemakers have their work cut out for them over the coming months. We’ll leave it to the critics to decide in a couple of years how it all worked out in the end.
But at least they have grapes to work with, and with most vineyards having been harvested before an expected blow of bad weather coming by the first weekend of November, it looks like Oregon’s wine industry dodged a climactic bullet in 2011.
Robert Parker’s influential Wine Advocate just came out with its annual review and scores for Oregon pinot noirs this week, with wineries like White Rose, Bergstrom and Arterberry Maresh receiving numbers in the mid-90s.
We were especially pleased to see the vineyard and wines of our good friend, winemaker Robert Brittan, placing high on the list. Nearly every wine that Robert touched was recognized, beginning with his own Brittan Vineyards Gestalt Block 2009 Pinot Noir (93 points), and his Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block 2009 Pinot Noir (92 points). Also on the list were the Ayoub Brittan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 (93 points), the Winderlea Pinot Noir Estate Reserve 2009 (93 points) and the Winderlea Legacy Pinot Noir 2009 (94 points) that Robert makes for Winderlea owners Bill Sweat and Donna Morris.
To see what Robert Brittan had to say about Oregon chardonnays in a tasting panel that we conducted earlier this year, click here.
Congrats to all on the recognition from Parker on some first-rate Oregon wines.
Posted in News, Wine Reviews, Winemakers
Tagged Ayoub wine, Brittan Vineyards, Oregon pinot noir, Oregon wine, Oregon wineries, Oregon wines, pinot noir, Robert Brittan, Robert Parker, Winderlea
Newberg’s The Painted Lady Restaurant, one of the top fine-dining establishments in Oregon wine country, was recently awarded Four Diamond Status by AAA in its annual rating program. Husband and wife team Allen Routt, who serves as the Chef, and Jessica Bagley, who runs the front of the house, opened the restaurant in 2004 in a refurbished, two-story Victorian home in a quiet Newberg neighborhood.
Besides offering a prix fixe menu of fine-dining choices, the restaurant has an outstanding list of Oregon wines available the bottle, half-bottle and glass.
After tasting 125 wines in two days, it was the one Gewurtztraminer entry that I may never get over. I imagine having nightmares about it, hideous flashbacks long into my elderly years. Amber-colored in the glass (and this is not a good sign), smelling faintly of sulphur and fish, it may have been the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Rick Mafit of Mystic Wines
And it was just one of the first wines we tasted in the two-day judging of the Oregon Amateur Wine Competition. As part of the Oregon State Fair that runs through Labor Day in Salem, amateur winemakers were encouraged to enter their wines, and over 100 of them enthusiastically accepted the challenge. On the other end of those hopes and dreams sat five of us — myself (a novice taster, but getting there; it was my third judging event); blogger and wine marketer Tamara Schubert Belgard, who is exceptionally well-versed in Oregon wines; winemakers/winery owners Rick Mafit (Mystic Wines) and Trudy Kramer (Kramer Vineyards), who brought decades of expertise to the table; and a young guy whose name I never got who oversees the wine list at Bentley’s Restaurant in Salem, which hosted the judging. For two solid days we were handed blind flights of roughly seven wines, would sniff, swirl and sip them and decide if the wine merited a red, white or blue ribbon — or none at all.
There were lots of none at alls.
It started on the first morning with flights of chardonnays and pinot gris, most of which came out tasting like the oak barrels in which they were aged, the fruit barely registering. It was like all of the winemakers had entered a “who can make the driest, most austere wine” contest. Nothing much caught our fancy, but late in the morning, a Rousanne that tasted of peaches and had a nice roundness was the first medalist. That wine was served in the same flight of “Other Whites” that included the hideous Gewurtztraminer, and gave us a nice side-by-side comparison of a really well-made wine next to a really bad one.
The many flaws that can occur in winemaking reared their ugly heads as the day progressed; our winemaking panelists were good at pointing them out. Amateur winemakers, of course, don’t have access to the same quality of fruit, the variety of barrels, or even the chemistry labs of the pros, and it showed. Many of the Pinot Noirs that we tasted had surprising levels of brettanomyces (i.e. brett), the spoiling yeast that makes wine taste and smell like old Band-Aids. Some professionally made wines have traces of brett, too (many people actually enjoy a faint trace of it on their palates, but not me), but in our amateur batches there were levels so high that you could barely get past the first whiff. The pinots were a tough bunch to love, but they were followed by flights of cabernet sauvignon that had some real winners — rich, round, the prevalence of oak enhancing the wines. We gave several ribbons to the cabs, as well as to a few nice Bordeaux blends that were presented.
At the end of day one, Rick summed up the prevailing mood of the judges when he said, “I’m toast.” We had gone through over sixty wines, spat out a lot of brett, tasted a lot of strong oak that overwhelmed a majority of the entries, and awarded only a handful of medals.
Day two started with flights of syrah, and there were some real winners, with plummy, jammy flavors and even a little whiff of bacon here and there. Our old nemesis brett was present again in the first group, but around it were some nice wines that anyone would be happy to make or drink. We were then punished by rounds of ill-tasting Sangiovese, tempranillo and malbec and a “Super Tuscan” that was all but undrinkable, but just when things looked bleak a very nice Barbera shown through for the day’s first blue ribbon.
(At one point, Trudy looked up from her row of glasses and wondered aloud, “What is in that to make it so bad?”)
Dessert and fruit wines concluded the judging, starting with a tomato-based wine — as clear and pale as sauvignon blanc — that was a noble experiment gone terribly wrong. If anyone offers you a tomato wine at their dinner party, head for the hills. But a Concord grape wine, and another one made from cherries, were pretty good. And one of the last wines we tasted, a raspberry wine that tasted like the pure, distilled essence of the freshest, ripest raspberries imaginable, was a unanimous blue ribbon winner. And probably the best wine we tasted in two days.
Thanks to all of the entries, and congrats to all of the winners.
Which Oregon wine goes with which Oregon food? The two go hand-in-hand, since the local food movement is hugely popular in Oregon right now. We thought we’d share the menus from two lovely winemaker dinners that we attended this summer, with some nice tips on the wines that they chose to go with the delicious, catered fare.
Rudy Marchesi toasts the summer
CELLAR DINNER AT MONTINORE
It was cool and cloudy and (standard for Oregon) a small chance of rain in mid-July, so a vineyard dinner at Montinore Estate near Forest Grove got moved into the cellar. And what a blast it was. Winemaker/Owner Rudy Marchesi presided over a four-course dinner prepared by Portland’s Courtney Sproule (of Din Din Supper Club) and paired with his biodynamic wines. Here’s how it went:
PORK, PLUM AND PISTACHIO PATE ON LEVAIN TOAST, and BEET SORREL SALAD ON HOUSEMADE CRACKER passed as hors d’oeuvres and paired with Rudy’s aptly named 2009 Almost Dry Riesling and 2010 Pinot Rose, which helped us pretend it was a hot summer day.
SALMON BISQUE WITH CLOVE AND PORCINI MUSHROOM, a gorgeous soup course served with 2009 Estate Reserve Gewurtztraimer; crisp and dry and a lovely pairing.
GRILLED SILVIE’S BEEF ROUND AND CHERRY VIOLET MUSTARD CHUTNEY WITH CHARD AND VELLA JACK TART that went head-to-head with 2008 Parsons’ Ridge Pinot Noir. Hit of the night for me; the wine burst open with cherry and raspberry aromas and held up beautifully with the beef. One of those ’08s that will get better and better with time but drinks just fine now.
HAZELNUT PANNA COTTA WITH MONTINORE RUBY-MACERATED BLACKBERRIES, served with 2009 Riesling Sweet Reserve and 2005 Ruby Port. ”I love panna cotta,” sighed Rudy. No argument here. Lovely dinner all around.
DINNER WITH HERB
Here’s the menu for a fine dinner we attended in the vineyards of Herb Quady’s Quady North winery in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. Want to know how best to pair Herb’s delicious wines with food? Here’s how he did it.
SWEET PEA CROSTINI and HEIRLOOM TOMATOES — Crostini spread with a pate of fresh peas, mint and ricotta cheese, with a side of ripe tomatoes in an herb and wine vinaigrette. Paired with 2010 Pistoleta — a sweet, delicious blend of Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier
GRILLED CORN SALAD AND SHRIMP — molded mini-tower of corn, black beans, red bell pepper and spices, served with shrimp marinated in a red chili-cilantro-lime marinade. Paired with 2009 Ox Block Viognier to stand up to the spice and seafood
RATATOUILLE — Fresh, garden blend of zucchini, squash and red onions in a fire-roasted red pepper tomato sauce. Paired with 2010 Bomba Grenache for fun, and to counterpoint the tomato sauce
SMOKED WHOLE HOG — 16 hours in the smoker, served with bbq sauce and coleslaw with a roasted poblano dressing, the pulled pork was moist and fragrant. Paired with 2008 Syrah 4-2, A and 2009 Cabernet Franc, Herb’s big reds are just delicious and the hits of his cellar
GRILLED PEACHES — Served with locally made Lemon Dream ice cream and drizzled with vanilla fig balsamic vinegar. Paired with Deviation, a Quady (south) dessert wine with a sweet, orange color and fragrance.
We recently set out to write a simple story about Oregon wineries that also had great food service, assuming that they were as numerous as Oregon wineries that pour a decent Pinot Noir.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Chef Michael Landsberg of the King Estate Restaurant
What we found instead was that you can name the Oregon wineries with restaurants on one hand, and still have a finger or two left over. Out of the 440 wineries in Oregon, we found only four that offer regular food service, and a handful more that do limited food-related activities on a regular basis. And that this was no coincidence: A debate has been raging in the industry about whether wineries should be allowed to combine their facilities with side businesses like restaurants, wedding venues and concert halls, culminating in a new bill that is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature that limits the size and scope of outside activities in which wineries can engage.
We were just looking for a decent Po Boy sandwich, chicken liver pate or Roasted Chicken to go with a nice glass of wine. And we found them…but it wasn’t easy.
Click here to read the story about Oregon restaurants with wineries.
Click here to discuss your own food-related questions and experiences in our Forum.
After having recently spent a day touring wineries with Ron Burke of Oregon Wine Tours, we have to say that there are few things more pleasant than having a knowledgeable driver and guide take us to hidden winery gems deep inside wine country, and then (and this is really key) continue to drive even as we go way past accepted parameters for wine-tasting and vehicle management.
Unlike driving yourself or depending on your cousin to drive you around, the benefits of taking a scheduled tour are many:
– A good tour operator has connections with wineries and knows the best times to visit them. They often get tasting fees waived.
– A small, intimate tour can be structured to go at your pace;
- Catherine Douglas of Adelsheim Vineyard pours a sample.
stop for lunch or a picnic at a winery with a killer view and let the operator worry about the timing.
– Tour ops can arrange to have your wine purchases shipped home.
– Unlike you after a marathon day of tastings, tour ops know which hotel you’re staying in, are perfectly willing to deposit you there safely, and can even remind you what your name is.
to read our story about a day spent touring with Ron.
to visit our Forum to discuss your own wine-touring experience.
A Blooming Hill Vineyard ’09 Chardonnay – $12. Didn’t rate highly with our tasters. Wait’ll next year?
Adelsheim ’07 and ’08 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – Lovely, consistent wines that topped our panelists’ list of favorites with their vanilla and cherry flavors and nice balance throughout. The NYT called the ’08 “dry and subtle, with lively, high-toned fruit flavors and good structure.”
Adelsheim ’09 Willamette Valley Chardonnay – $22. Citrus and mineral nose and flavors with very little oak presence; “kind of simple and nice, but it’s a well-made wine”; good price for an everyday white wine that won’t knock off any socks.
Alexana 2008 Pinot Noir – Herbs and roots, “like lightly cooked tomato with mirepoix and parsnips,” kind of wintry and spicy; uneven; expected to like this wine far more than we did.
Anam Cara Cellars, 2007 Nicholas Estate Pinot Noir – Blood orange, sweet spice, raspberries in a nice, elegant package characteristic to ‘07s; “a wine I’d like to take home.”
Angela 2008 Pinot Noir, Clawson Creek Vineyard – Dark, extracted color; big aromas of mushrooms, herbs; “rain on asphalt, or wet cement…interesting”; raw tomato hint would pair it well with tomato dishes; opened up to nice cherry flavors after a few hours; made by Ken Wright for a Kentucky horse-breeding family.
Anne Amie ’07 and ’08 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – The colors and berry flavors put the ’08 over the top; both wines had lean, somewhat astringent acid that make these a good bet for food pairing.
Benton-Lane ’09 Chardonnay – $28. Rich and caramel, with lots of oak right from the start. “Well made and I like the oak in it.” Worth a try at under $25, but maybe not at this price point.
Coeur de Terre 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir – A big, earthy nose announces this lovely, powerful wine that delivers an instant sense of the McMinnville AVA terroir, and is a steal at $20.
Colene Clemens Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir, Estate Reserve – Opens up to a raft of interesting flavors: We got skins of pears, cherry, celery, menthol and mint, “a dark, roasted quality.” “Every time I taste it I get more out of it.” Should develop well with time. Nice surprise from a new producer in the Chehalem Mountains.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon ’09 Arthur Chardonnay – $30. Top of the line and highly recommended, it marries a Burgundian finesse with Oregon fruit in a lovely package. Maybe one of our favorite white wines in the whole state.
Ghost Hill Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir, Bayliss-Bower Vineyard – Lovely wine with nice balance throughout. Our tasters called out hints of pine, bark, “fresh air,” dandelion and spice, with a lingering finish. Great aging potential. Solid debut from winemaker Rebecca Marie Pittock Shouldis.
Gresser ’07 and ’08 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – “Pretty, a good food wine,” was the consensus on the ’08 from this small producer, which seemed to take giant steps forward from a spiky ’07 bottling.
Jan-Marc Wine Cellars ’09 Chardonnay – $22. A bit austere and tasted kind of green, with a harsh aftertaste that our tasters all noticed.
Joseph Drouhin 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin – Want to taste a French burgundy side-by-side with its Oregon counterparts from the same winemaker? Domaine Drouhin Oregon now sells this delicious, strawberry-perfumed Burg in its tasting room alongside the fine Pinot Noirs made by bi-continental winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss.
Lange Estate Winery & Vineyard ’07 and ’08 Three Hills Cuvee Pinot Noir – Both interesting wines in their own way with nice balance and drinkability right now; more up-front cherry flavors in the ’08, while the ’07 eases into a raspberry finish.
Misty Oaks 2008 Jones Road Cabernet Franc – We loved this deep, lush, Southern Oregon Cab Franc that shows off pepper-jam and dense berry flavors with a soft finish.
Scott Paul 2007 Audrey Pinot Noir – Top-of-the-line pinot noir from this Carlton producer who loves his Burgundies, this shows great earthy aromas and black-cherry flavors to go with nice balance and acid.
Seven of Hearts ’07 and ’08 Pinot Noir, Crawford-Beck vineyard – The ’07 won hands-down with its tawny color and nice berry flavors; “nice and rich without being flabby”; but our ’08 sample was tainted with an unpleasant odor that hopefully didn’t permeate the entire vintage.
Seven of Hearts ’09 Crawford-Beck Vineyard Chardonnay – $24. Pleasant wine, nicely balanced, with flavors of golden apple and pear and some spice notes; finishes a little hard, but is well worth a try.
Three Wives ’10 Auxerrois — $13. We’re huge fans of this second-label wine from McMinnville winemaker Remy Drabkin. This hard-to-find varietal delivers a crisp, dry white wine with nice minerality, and in Remy’s hands it comes out smooth and balanced, in a pale, almost blue-green package. Lovely wine made in limited production.
Troon ’09 Kubli Ranch Zinfandel — $24. “This is the future of the winery,” said owner Chris Martin, and we could see why. Rich and delicious without being overbearing, and a terrific food wine.
WildAire Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve – Came on after a slow start to flavors of currant and raspberry, vanilla, “sweet, new leather,” “candied fig, then sweet and sour.” Acids and structure will make it go great with food.
’08 WILLAMETTE VALLEY PINOT NOIR – This blend from several vineyards was a nice surprise, a reasonably priced bottle that showed awfully well. Many ’08s we’ve tried have been tight and showing their acids and tannins far more than their fruit, but this one had bright flavors of raspberries and black fruits, and a subtle touch with the oak. Drinking well right now.
Willamette Valley Vineyards ’09 Dijon Clone Chardonnay – $20. Nuanced nose goes to a nice, mineral taste; nice finish and balance, “rich and kind of opulent” with a good dose of oak. Very nice bang for the buck.
Willamette Valley Vineyards ’08 Estate Chardonnay – $30. Kind of big and scattered with lots of oak and flavors that reminded us of anything but chardonnay; doesn’t stand up in price or quality to its Dijon Clone sibling (above).
Willamette Valley Vineyards ’09 Muller-Thurgau — A dessert wine with a very pleasant pear brandy quality, with lots of flavors of honey and cloves. A similar bottle of the WVV Gewurtztraminer didn’t stand out nearly as much as the Muller; we’d go back to it for a crowd-pleasing after-dinner drink with cheese and fruit anytime.
Winderlea ’08 Chardonnay – $30. Another winner, this has more of a California, oaky style, but wrapped up in a nicely balanced package with rich aromatics; “I could drink this all day,” said one of our tasters, and so could we.
It was only until recently that there were far more fruit and vegetable stands than vineyards in the Columbia Gorge, but winemakers on both sides of the river have caught on to the discovery that fine wine grapes grow here, too. Come along with us as we explore the very vibrant town of Hood River…read more
Our friends at Oregonwine.com, our sister site (brother site? we’re not exactly sure the gender relations here) have asked us to announce that they’ve launched a new online Wine Store. There, you can buy selected single bottles of wine, many of which come from smaller, little-known winemakers (outside of Oregon, that is; they’re rock stars to the locals) like Isabelle Dutartre and Remy Drabkin. A Wine Club will send you 2 bottles of Oregon’s finest every month, or a three-pack of hand-picked Pinot Noir.