2011. It's here. I have a feeling that the coming year is going to be an awesome one for all associated with The Oregon Wine Blog. 2010 was a pretty rad year also, and in true TOWB style, I'm going to spend a few sentances pontificating on some of the highlights of the year in a general sense and then get down to the nitty gritty...the "Best of 2010" selection from each of our contributors.
The past year has been huge for us here at the Blog. In the way of quantification of 2010, our staff has made 154 posts, nearly 1000 tweets, attended countless events, and cleared and refilled our respective wine racks a number of times over the last 12 months. We successfully completed the second annual Le Tour de Pinot. We released the Taste of Terrior and the They Make Wine There? series', the Blog was converted to the [yellow tail] Wine Blog for a magical day, and who can forget the Voodoo Donut pairing of last New Year's Eve? Our California office got up and running, we did our first review of Sake, and we chronicled a legendary winemaker's battle with a large crab. Who can forget our Picazo 7Seventeen experience, time at the Taste Washington, or the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend? We had a writer on the judging panel of a wine competition, and oh yea, released a new layout and logo for the Blog. It truly has been a banner year, and I'm just scratching the surface of highlights.
With all of that excellence swirling around, what whet our palates in 2010? Following the format of last year's Best of 2009 post, I didn't want to provide too much structure for our year in review. For this post, each writer could "do whatever the hell they want" as long as it involves wine and 2010; it could be the best bottle, best experience, best varietal, most handsome blogger, best pair of spandex...what? *Cough*, back to wine. Without further ado, I bring you the Best of 2010 Picks from the Staff at The Oregon Wine Blog.
2008 Quivira Vineyards Mourvedre
It’s hard to believe that we are already at the end of 2010 and talking about our “Best of 2010” post. I have been blessed to be a part of the team here at The Oregon Wine Blog and have made some great friends here in California wine country. I have been fortunate to taste a lot of great wines and to attend a lot of great events so coming up with just one pick is not an easy task. I decided to think about a couple things when defining what “best” meant for me. Obviously, the wine must be good and it must stand on its own. After a day of tasting I like a wine that I can easily go back to and remember everything about it. Next, the wine must change over time, even in the tasting room. This shows complexity and richness of the wine. Lastly, it must be accessible to everyone. I’ve had some really great $100 bottles of wine this year, but not everyone, including myself, can afford those on a regular basis. When I take all that into account, I came up with a wine from a place that I will be writing a couple in depth posts about in early 2011. My best of 2010 is the 2008 Mourvedre from Quivira Vineyards.
Quivira Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley has become one of my favorite places to visit. Practicing biodynamic winemaking, Quivira takes great pride and is intentional about every step in the winemaking process. On a recent trip I had the chance to tour the farm, meet some of the animals, and chat with the Nancy, the general manager, and Hugh, the winemaker for almost three hours. The 2008 Mourvedre was fifth on the tasting list but stood out amongst all the rest. With flavors of blackberry, plum, and vanilla, this wine felt very rich upon first sip and then stuck around awhile on the finish, which was just fine by me. The care and craft that must go into harvesting Mourvedre comes through and is very apparent in the wine. Rarely seen as a single varietal wine, likely because of the challenges it presents during harvest, Mourvedre is slowly popping up around the Dry Creek Valley as more than just a blending grape and I highly recommend giving it a chance if you can, especially from Quivira.
2001 Griffin Creek "The Griffin"
Boy, this was a tough choice. For me, wine is often defined by the experience in which it is consumed, and 2010 had some phenomenal experiences and wines to draw from. The Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages from my Sonoma trip, the Cooper L'inzio from Picazo 7Seventeen, and the Harris Bridge Sarah's Story from our winter wine pairing dinner stick out in my mind. Spindrift's Pinot Blanc and barrel samples of the 2008 Tyee Pinot helped define Le Tour de Pinot, and Gordon Brother's Six Reserve Cabernet was just a damn good bottle. An awesome day at Pend d'Oreille Cellars complemented their Malbec, and how could I forget perhaps the best Thanksgiving ever with the 2008 Erath Leland Vineyard Pinot Noir? Ringing in the new year with Coeur d'Alene Cellars Boushey Syrah, Barnard Griffin Ciel du Cheval Merlot, and Gilbert Estate Malbec was a pretty rad time as well. I was racking my brain trying to figure out how on earth I was going to narrow my pick down to one and then I remembered March, and definitely my Best of 2010: The 2001 Griffin Creek "The Griffin", produced by Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Rick and I are both children of March, and for our birthdays in 2010 we decided to go big or go home. We wanted The Griffin and we wanted a magnum of it. It was the perfect gift for each other. We each pay for half, crack it open, and get to have a hell of an evening drinking the creme de la creme of wine in celebration. Easier said than done. Turns out, there hadn't been a vintage of The Griffin released in a few years and it was not readily available. After some finagling, wheeling, dealing, and enjoying the perks of being a long-time member of Willamette Valley Vineyard's wine club, a magnum of the 2001 vintage was located in the library and was tucked away behind the tasting room counter with our name on it. The morning of the celebration, we walked into the tasting room and found Mickey Bellman, founding shareholder, working the counter. He pulled the bottle out, got a wistful look in his eye, and said: Wow, how did you get this? This is a really special bottle, you know. It was our first magnum, and it was indeed a special bottle.
The Griffin, a mythological creature that is half eagle and half lion, traditionally carries a duty to protect the treasures of the gods; it is the namesake of Griffin Creek's best effort, a meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Franc (7%), and a sconce of Malbec (1%). From the Rogue Valley's best clones, vineyard lots, and barrels, The Griffin is barrel aged for 11 months, assembled into a four barrel lot, and aged for another 8 months prior to bottling. A well-balanced wine with a wonderful nose of berry and a bit of minerality, this blend is as smooth as silk and left us wanting more. The bottle is pretty sexy, too, with simply a gold Griffin on the front. This one will always hold a special place on my palate.
Non-Traditional Wines of the Pacific Northwest
I've been thinking long and hard about what I consider the most stand-out wine of 2010. This was a year of incredible variety and we hit up a ton of events, so it's not like I don't have much to choose from. Instead of picking just one one, however, I'm going use a strategy Time magazine has used in the past as a cop-out to make all sorts of people winners. My winner as the stand-out wine of 2010 is a fairly broad category: the nontraditional varietal.
Hear me out. While going through the process of identifying just one wine, wines such as Cana's Feast's Counoise, Airfield's Mustang and Lightning blends, and Zerba's Cab Franc all ran through my mind. That made me realize that what got me excited about wine in 2010 was more of a consistent theme of Northwest winemakers pushing the envelope and working with new grapes. Sure, this doesn't always mean a non-traiditional grape will outshine a cab sauv (and it most cases it won't), but it's going to grab my eye and I'm going to be more prone to wanting to try it.
What I'm really trying to get at is that if you're reading this blog, you're probably a somewhat experienced wine drinker at this point. You know your reds from your whites (beyond just color) and have settled into the varietals you enjoy. Instead of complacency, however, I highly urge you to go out and find a bottle of something with a grape you've never heard of. Maybe it's a blend at first, but the point is there are dozens of other varietals out there that we normally don't see in the Northwest that are finding their way into some of my favorite wines. I expect this trend to continue, so do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of Tempranillo, or Counoise, or Marsanne, or Mourvedre, or...
2007 Waters Winery Forgotten Hills Syrah and 2006 Forgeron Cellars Zinfandel
I tasted a lot of great wine this year too, there were some real stand outs, the 2007 Solena Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir, Pursued by Bear Cabernet, Cote Bonneville Chardonnay and an entire flight of Terra Blanca's Onyx, 1997 through 2006. There were two particular wines that I kept coming back to this year. The first wine I tasted at the Washington Wine Commission's Restaurant Awards in the days leading up to Taste Washington. The 2007 Waters Winery Forgotten Hills Syrah, is a stinky, gamey earthy Syrah. An expression of that vineyard site that is consistent vintage to vintage. This is a style of wine, similar to those stinky Syrahs from Cayuse and the Reynvaan Family that you either love or hate. Put me down for love on this one. It is a profound example of the variance you get from Washington's Syrah, which has me time and again claiming this state as the best place to grow Syrah.
The second wine I really fell in love with this year was the 2006 Forgeron Cellars Zinfandel. It's a beautiful wine with different berry and cherry elements that pop out at you but what I love is the spice that comes across in the wine. Marie Eve Gilla came from France to Washington over a decade ago and she makes her wines in a style that blends old world technique with Washington's world class fruit. The wine is a blend of three different vineyards from three AVAs, Walla Walla's Les Collines, Wahluke Slope's Clifton Vineyeards and Alder Ridge of the Horse Heaven Hills. These two wines have nothing in common except that they're both very beautiful examples of incredible winemakers and the world class wine that is coming from Washington.
2007 Cristom Vineyards Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir
2010, like some years before it is one that found me not drinking lots of wine. Correction, I am drinking wine, but not writing about it. I don't know if it is writer's block, or what, but I am just not writing about the wines I am drinking. I am hoping that 2011 will find me finding my mojo for writing about wine the way I had before. As a result of a "hiatus" I find myself nervous about recapping my favorite wine from the last year. I am finding myself having to balance this post with an upcoming post that I have been working on since Thanksgiving weekend, and when I finally make that post, you will hopefully see why it took me so long. But nonetheless, my selection for 2010 wine of the year is the 2007 Cristom Vineyards Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir. Because I am sitting on a post from Thanksgiving, this entry may not be as clean and obvious as one might hope.
Josh and I went to Cristom Thanksgiving weekend, and I think they have become one of my new favorite wineries. When I tasted this wine, I was in love with it, literally. One of the very first words to come to mind with it was pure "elegance." On the nose you get a fragrant fruit and spice. The burst of flavor that erupts on the palate is something I find as a hallmark of Cristom Pinot Noirs. The colour, the legs, everything about this wine makes it a top tier wine. Whether you enjoy it by itself at the end of the day, or with a meal, the perfect balance of fruit and spice, and the way the flavors linger on the palate makes this wine my top of 2010.
So where do we go from here? Glass by glass into 2011, of course. Related, I have some news to share with our wonderful readers. After nearly 5 years in Oregon, I will be moving to Seattle at the end of January. Now you probably are thinking the same thing that has been vocalized a number of times as I share this exciting development with various people, "But Josh, what about The Oregon Wine Blog?" What about it, I say. We're certainly not going away, if that is what they are wondering. With Rick in Portland and Micheal in Salem, we still have strong roots in Oregon in addition to Clive and I in Washington, and Jesse in California. Will we become the Pacific Northwest Wine Blog? Maybe. We kind of already are in terms of content, huh? Long story short, I don't know what the next year will bring but I do know that you can count on us for another year of our life as not-really-snooty up-and-coming winos in the Pacific Northwest. Beyond that, I'm not really worried about labels and it's a heck of a lot of work to rebrand.