2006 Sweet Cheeks Pinot Noir

After spending the last three days tantalizingly close to Napa Valley, to which I could not venture due to being on a business trip, combined with reading a fantastic book about the Mondavi family called The House of Mondavi, The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, I was primed for a glass of rich red when I stepped off the plane this afternoon. A quick stop at Eugene's Market of Choice (lovingly known as PC Market) brought home with Steve and I cedar plank roasted salmon with rough chopped garlic and basil, spicy charred green beans, and artichoke heart balls for a quiet Valentine's Dinner.

To satisfy my craving for red wine, we opened a 2006 Sweet Cheeks Pinot Noir. Steve and I have both written about Sweet Cheeks before, and the Pinot Noir we had tonight is the third of the four Sweet Cheeks offerings we've tried. I opened this wine over some of our other notable cellared reds because I really wanted a red that I could sit and sip comfortably without being overwhelmed. This wine certainly fits that bill.

The 2006 Sweet Cheeks Pinot Noir is on the light side of Pinots, with a fresh fruity taste overall. After breathing, anise becomes one of the stronger forefront notes on the nose. It does have a slight tart twang at the finish, which is an indication this wine could benefit from a bit more aging. After the sip is complete, a warm brown sugar rounds out the flavor. After sipping this wine while dinner was heating and then while enjoying the spicy green beans and garlicy salmon, I lean toward only offering this wine as a stand alone. It's a light Pinot that doesn't overwhelm the palate without food to temper it, but it fails to show up full force to the dinner show when paired with stronger flavors. Perhaps a light pasta or salad would be better suited as a food pairing to this red.

And if I can venture into the land of book reviews for just a moment...I wholeheartedly recommend reading The House of Mondavi. I am as yet only halfway through, and am enthralled in discovering how Napa Valley really got started. It's a fascinating foray into the major American wine industry, and the inner workings of family business. It's a fantastic read, even for those who might not love wine as much as those of us at the Oregon Wine Blog!

Wine and Exercise: Synergy?

At The Oregon Wine Blog, we certainly enjoy the fruits of life. One of my personal approaches is to live a holistic wellness model. Healthy habits, healthy diet, exercise, and of course the responsible consumption of wine all go hand in hand in making this crazy world a much more enjoyable and sustainable place. Who would have thought that synergy could found in the latter two of those arenas -- wine and exercise?

I was recently sharing some of my recent trials and tribulations with keeping a normal workout schedule to my friend Rick with the Beer Blog...work is busy, friends are demanding, etc etc etc. He shared a technique that connects the two in a way that provides positive reinforcment for working out, and minimizes the impact on the waistline of the empty calories of alcohol. So I hereby proclaim - I shall only consume wine on evenings where I have exercised (well, with the exception of weekends and special occasions). This tactic will exentuate the positive and make that wonderful glass of wine all the more meaningful and deserved. As an added bonus, I won't have to buy new clothes!

So I realize this post is a little off track for the blog, but I wanted to share this unique use of wine as a motivator in part of my total wellness model. What do you think?

2008 Wine Pairing Feature - Traditional Holiday Dinner

The Oregon Wine Blog staff is proud to present our inaugural Wine Pairing Feature – this edition detailing a traditional holiday dinner. This year we were privileged to have Willamette Valley Vineyards partner with us to provide the wine for the wonderful experience. Many of the staff writers here at The Oregon Wine Blog are members of Willamette Valley Vineyards’ Oregon Wine Guild, and thus have become very familiar with their wines.

In preparation for the big evening Meg Hursh, WVV's Wine Club Manager & Shelby Zadow, their Marketing Manager previewed our pre-planned dinner menu and selectively chose wines to match the courses of the evening. Our plan from the start was to provide you, our readership, with a wine-pairing guide for a typical holiday turkey dinner. Our hope is that you might take away at least one idea for a great wine pairing for your next holiday dinner whether it be with the entire family or just that one special person.

The Appetizer:
To start the evening off as our guests were arriving we enjoyed a delicious cream cheese based smoked salmon spread with dill, capers, and red onion on crackers. This was a dish prepared by Chris, our Culinary Specialist and will likely appear on the menu of a new restaurant soon to open in Corvallis. WVV paired a 2004 Griffin Creek Cabernet Franc with this appetizer. The Cab Franc was a “perfect complement” to the smoked salmon dip most agreed. The subtle creaminess of the salmon spread was accompanied well by the peppery finish of the Cab Franc.

The Salad:
To begin the main part of the dinner we gathered around the table to enjoy a candied walnut and bleu-cheese pear salad with Oregon mixed field greens and a red wine vinaigrette dressing prepared by our Public Relations Director Megan. For this salad, rather extravagant for mid-January in Oregon, WVV paired two wines a 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyard Riesling and a 2003 Griffin Creek Viognier. For those who found the bleu-cheese to have added a pungent and powerful flavor to the salad, the Riesling enriched it with a “soothingly sweet yet balanced” contrast. However, for those who do not care for the sweetness of the Riesling, the Viognier also added a balanced dryer perspective for both the bleu-cheese as well as the candied walnuts, and was noted as having a subtle taste of summer melons. Overall, our staff and guests were very evenly split between the two wines. Both were excellent pairings for the strong flavors found in this salad, both sweet and bold. In the end our recommendation for this salad will not be settled on one wine but rather recommend them both.

The Main Course:
Before I can begin to describe the delicious wine pairings available to us for dinner, let me take a moment to define the dishes which were brought by each of us that comprised the main course:

  • Traditional Holiday Turkey – The turkey, stuffed with orange, lemon, onion and carrot wedges, had whole stocks of rosemary inserted under the skin of the breast, lightly sprinkled on top with salt and pepper.
  • Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing – cornbread, cranberries, and thinly sliced onions.
  • Garlic Rosemary Mashed Potatoes – Potatoes with finely chopped fresh rosemary, mashed with boiled whole garlic cloves.
  • Roasted Green Beans with Prosciutto – Green beans lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper roasted with thinly sliced prosciutto and onions.

On the side we also had traditional homemade turkey gravy to each of these dishes as desired by our guests and staff.

WVV paired two wines for this dinner, a 2005 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and a 2006 Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir. These two wines, albeit very similar, are indeed worlds apart in flavor, each with their own beautiful noses and palettes. Pinot Noir would not usually be a wine paired with a turkey dinner, as these fares are more traditionally paired with a subtle white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay. However, Meg and Shelby thought it appropriate to pair with a bolder wine like the Pinot Noirs because of the bold flavors we’ve added to the dishes of the evening.

Our guests and staff began enjoying the main course in silence for a few minutes as they savored their first wine selection and its balancing tones with each dish, followed by a change in wine to make an adequate comparison. After the personal enjoyment of the wines with the food the conversations began and lasted into the evening. At the end of the main course we regrouped to discuss our thoughts and provide comments on each of the Pinot Noirs.

First we examined and discussed the Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir. It was unanimously agreed upon that this delicate wine needed time to air out and decant prior to enjoying it to its fullest potential, so heed that warning before you enjoy it too. This wine in particular matched the prevalent flavor of rosemary in the meal very well. We all agreed that this wine was absolutely meant to be a complementary wine to great cuisine, and not a stand alone wine. Pairing this with dinner made for a great experience, however, most having tried this as a stand-alone sipping wine agreed it needed some strong flavorful fare to augment it best.

Secondly we examined and discussed the Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine was a mellow and smoother wine than the Whole Cluster, however it did not pair as well with the food. A great wine, nonetheless it was much better as a post cuisine drink making it more of a companion to great conversations and less to the food on the table. This wine is among the staff favorites for everyday drinking because of its versatility, however all agreed it was best enjoyed alone, as it needed no complement with which to pair.

At the end of our course it was evident that the crowd favorite for dinner was the Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir, followed up with a small sample of the Estate Vineyard to finish off the meal.

As our staff worked to prepare the menu we were equally torn between two wonderful, yet vastly different desserts for which we could choose. The first was a Pear and Ginger Galette, which is best described, for those who’ve never seen or had a galette, as a fruit pie made without the use of a pie-tin. The second delectable dessert was a chocolate-stout mousse, a menu item for the soon to open Block 15 Brewery in Corvallis, Ore. for which Chris, our culinary specialist, is the head chef.

So, rather than choose between two equally delicious desserts, we opted for the route requiring less self-control and kept them both on the menu. Meg and Shelby from WVV paired a wine with each, thus providing us once again with the task, and some may say burden, of sampling both desserts and accompanying wines, all for the sake of our readers and friends. Regardless of the burden for which we all undertook, we were happy to do it, and provide all those reading with our feedback.

First up for our reviewing, was the Pear and Candied Ginger Galette, with which was paired a 2006 Semi-Sparkling Muscat Frizzanté made by Tualatin Estate of Willamette Valley Vineyards. To nearly identically associate with the pear in the galette was the strong pear flavor and nose of the Frizzanté. These matching flavors provided for a perfectly logical pairing on the part of WVV. However, the truly amazing part of the entire pairing was the final anchoring point of the cuisine, and that was the matching of the traditional flavors of the Muscat grape with the candied crystal ginger pieces in the Pear and Ginger Galette. These two final flavors of Muscat and sweetened ginger were the capstone of the pairing.

For the Chocolate-Stout Mousse, WVV paired their amazingly delectable, and hard to find, 2004 Quinta Reserva Pinot Noir Style Port. This Port, which I’ve only found and tried once before is absolutely amazing. Retailing for approximately $50, this is a wine that if you ever find yourself in an opportunity to buy, do not hesitate. If you like Port, or know someone else who does, spend the money and buy this Port. Alas, I digress. The pairing of the mousse with the port created a warm feeling that made for a smooth and relaxing finish to a holiday gathering of friends and colleagues. Not much else can be said for the Port, other than pointing out the fact that with eight people present for the dinner, the only two wines we finished in their entirety were the Frizzanté and the Pinot Noir Port. This fact alone says something about these two wines. Even the few spouses in the group who are not as big of wine fans as their partners were able to enjoy both of these exquisite wines.

In closing, we’d like to thank our partners and friends Meg Hursh and Shelby Zadow from Willamette Valley Vineyards for their professional wine pairings and most especially for agreeing to be the sponsor for our inaugural Holiday Dinner Wine Pairing Guide. Look for this publication again, however next year it will be published by early December of 2008 so that its advise and ideas for both menus and wine pairings can be utilized to the fullest in the holiday seasons with friends and family. We are also kicking around the ideas of having a Summer BBQ Wine Pairing Guide, as well as a possibly others. So look for more to come as we continue to be a source of wine enthusiasm and advice for people looking to enjoy the fruits of the vine with the fruits of the land.

Until next time, Cheers!

Editor's Note: The staff of The Oregon Wine Blog plan to run quarterly feature length articles on various topics, including the previously noted Summer BBQ Pairing feature, as well as in depth looks at local wineries of the Oregon and Washington viticulture.

2007 Top Stories

In their January issue, Oregon Wine Press staff put together a feature listing what they consider to be the top 10 stories of 2007 in the Oregon wine industry. This was an interesting list to peruse, and I was excited to note that we have covered a number of the issues on The Oregon Wine Blog over the previous 6 months. Here are the top 10 (from OWP):
  1. Yes on 49: Oregonians support Measure 49, maintaining protectios on forests, famrland, and vineyards.

  2. Green scene: With global warming in the news, Oregon's wine industry is doing its part on being green. Read about a leading green winery in The Oregon Wine Blog.

  3. Labor limbo: Illegal worker issue will impact wine industry.

  4. Cuvee coup: The lastest updates on regulations offer Oregon's wine industry flexibility to create the highest quality in an increasingly competitive market. Read about this in The Oregon Wine Blog.

  5. Harvest '07: Weather presented some real challenges, but diligent farming and skillful winemaking will result in many hight quality, lower alcohol wines. Read about this in The Oregon Wine Blog.

  6. Fruit sources refashioned: Three of the most well-respected vineyards cmae under new ownership or long-term contract.

  7. Moratorium on AVA approvals: Temporary suspension of AVA approvals leaves Oregon's growing industry in appellation limbo. Read about this in The Oregon Wine Blog.

  8. Oregon Riedel: Oregon Pinot now has its own wineglass from one of the best crystal designers in the world.

  9. The Allison: Details of Oregon wine region's first luxury inn, spa revealed at groundbreaking ceremony.

  10. Salud! '07: The latest pinot relases shine and record money is raised at the industry's most beloved auction benefitting Oregon's vineyard workers.

Do you agree with this list? Are there other stories that should be included? How did these issues impact your Oregon wine experience in 2007?

In other industry news, The Oregonian reported on Thursday that Wine Business Monthly recently named Willamette Valley Vineyards as the hottest small brand of 2007. WVV is Oregon's only publicly held winery (Nasdaq: WVVI) and has been showing record growth while maintaining high quality product.