Turn and face the strain.

While I'd like to think David Bowie was thinking of The Oregon Wine Blog when he sang those iconic lyrics, he probably wasn't.  Since it's launch on August 3, 2007, TOWB readers have been privy to 368 posts...11 different writers...2 site redesigns...1386 days of blogging awesomeness and a topical focus that has been bursting at the seams for many nears now.  Let's be honest, we've covered more than just Oregon and more than just wine for quite a while now - it's time to be real, yo.  Today I'm pleased to announce the launch of the future of The Oregon Wine Blog:
Semi-pretentious enthusiasts of wine, beer, and spirits of the West Coast.

The West Coast is a special place - the connection between people, place, and the spirit of wine, beer, distilled beverages, and culinary excellence in the region tell a compelling story.  From this story comes, a new online publication with a mission to make fine wine, craft brew, local spirits, and regional cuisine fun, sexy, and approachable for the next generation.

WestToast unifies the editorial vision and history of The Oregon Wine Blog and the [BW] Beer Blog, featuring good beer since 2006.  With the same writing staff and conversational format of The Oregon Wine Blog, WestToast recognizes a broadened scope both geographically and topically by covering wine, beer, spirits and cuisine in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

When we started nearly four years ago, we were a rag-tag group of hooligans in Corvallis, Oregon who wanted to chronicle our journeys in the Willamette Valley.  We never anticipated some of the experiences that have made the Blog what it is.  Wende taking us through the cave at Col Solare, Keith opening bottle after bottle after bottle at Terra Blanca, Frank bringing out one dish after another at Picazo 7Seventeen.  Those experiences epitomize the relationships that make the Blog special to us and hopefully to you, the relationships and experiences we'll continue to feature on WestToast.  Four years later, we represent a group of friends spread among Seattle, Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and Sonoma who will continue to share our passion, and hopefully you'll stick with us through this transition.

This is the last post on; look for new content on  Please redirect any links to the site, and you can find our hot asses on twitter @WestToast or facebook at


Locals Out and About 2

Wine and food and food and wine...these are a few of my favorite things!

And if we're talking food here, lets talk about my favorites there...Asian cuisine, french fries, and anything associated with breakfast. So now that you know what to do with me on our first date, I'll quit free-associating and let you in on what I've been up to. It has nothing to do with french fries (sadly), could have something to do with Asian cuisine (if I so chose), and has everything to do with breakfast food and wine (yeeee haaaaw).

Locals about the Willamette Valley...we (Chris, Jason, and I). Decided to take on a beautiful day in wine country. The day started at Eola Hills Winery in Rickreall, OR. Why Eola first??? Well I'll tell you this is where the breakfast food comes in - SUNDAY BRUNCH!!!

The winery space was filled with tables and sparkling lights. The effect was one that made me feel we were at a country wedding reception - clean, bright, and lacking pretension. Our hosts gave us a tour of the dining options - a series of cooking stations where we could watch our meal being made right before us (this was done in conjunction with Simply Delish Catering). We were able to choose from foods such as fried oysters, carved beef, eggs benedict (3 different kinds), crepes, waffles, and omelets. There were also tables featuring fruit, desserts, and pastries along with hot items such as biscuits and gravy, ham, and potatoes. It was a lovely and beautiful feast.

Part of our meal price was a drink ticket for a glass of wine or champagne. The three of us opted to pool our resources in order to get ourselves a bottle. We went for the 2009 Oregon White Riesling as our designated breakfast wine. It had a lovely nose - melon, peach, and pear with hints of citrus. I found it crisp and bright, with a sweet/tart punch at the start and a soft finish that gave me a lovely pear flavor. Chris and I decided to mix our first glasses with orange juice, making a beautiful quasi mimosa.

Fun and funky gifts like this wine holder were in the gift shop

The brunch was fantastic - we definitely got our money's worth. My favorite was the eggs benedict. There were three kinds - veggie, seafood, and traditional - and I opted for the traditional. The egg was done perfectly, the ham thinly sliced and flavorful, and the sauce was creamy and full. I also sampled the crepes, made thin and light with a wide variety of fillings including fruit, cheeses and sauces. I tried the 'Vin d' Ete' dessert wine on a cheese crepe and found it amazing! The waffles were also good - small enough to try a couple with toppings that included flavored butters and fruit sauces.

Filled with goodness, and enjoying happy sipping, all three of us gave the Eola Hills Sunday Brunch (9:30-2:00) a big thumbs up, and have made plans to make plans to go back again!

The name is Merry...Cellars that is.

"You take North Grand out of town.  Turn at the last stoplight, you know, the one that leads towards the engineering lab. Drive around the bend, through some wheat fields, and you'll find it," I overhead the clerk tell my friend Kyle as I was browsing through the shop. We were at the Old Post Office wine shop in Pullman, Washington, having recovered from a Ludacris concert at Beasley Coliseum the night before. By the way, if you'd like to be hip the kids call him "Luda".  We knew there was wine in them there hills, and we were on a mission to find it. Stat.

Merry Cellars was the destination du jour, a winery that we were all tangentially familiar with from our time living in Pullman.  Back in my day, Merry Cellars was located at the Old Post Office, so you could understand the confusion when we walked through the door and found a wine shop and production brewpub but no winery tasting room.  Unfazed and armed with directions, we hopped back in the car and headed to the other side of town...all of a 5 minute find the man they call Merry and drink his wine.

Founded in 2004, Merry Cellars seeks to craft age worthy and approachable wines, those which are elegant yet casual enough to serve at the family dinner table.  Winemaker and owner Patrick Merry finds a sense of place in his wine, capturing the essence of the Palouse region through small lot productions.  The winery uses a minimalist, hand-crafted approach through the entire wine-making process, and as we were soon to discover, produces some outstanding wines from varietals that are relatively rare but up and coming in Eastern Washington.  And talk about fruit!  Sourcing from some of the finer vineyards in Walla Walla and Columbia Valley, most of the wines in the Merry Cellars portfolio are backed with Les Collines, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Stillwater Creek, Stone Ridge, and Echo West offerings.

We turned at the last stoplight, you know, the one that leads to the engineering lab.  We drove around the  bend and through some wheat fields, and there it was.  In an otherwise unassuming building, with simply some sandwich boards announcing it's presence stood what was to be the start of a great afternoon of wine tasting.  We walked through the door, a rag-tag group consisting of Rick and myself, blog regulars Alyssa and Kyle, and my brother Chris.  Immediately we were greeted with a smile and some glasses by Joe, a relative newcomer to the Merry Cellars family but certainly an asset to the tasting room, and Bruno, the Merry Cellars puppy.  At 12-weeks old and adding an incredibly cute and cuddly attribute to our experience, Bruno was conked out on a pillow in the corner of the tasting room after reportedly lapping up spilled Carmenere off of the floor.   I'd guess we tasted 6 or 7 wines, although my notes are sketchy in that arena.  In fact, they don't exist so I'm going to profile a few wines that stuck out among the crowd and we'll go from there:

2008 Crimson: Merry Cellar's interpretation of a Bordeaux blend, the Crimson brings about 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the balance in Cab Franc to the table. Smoky and masculine as described by the winery, this one has long been Kyle's favorite Merry wine.

2008 Carmenere: This one was a nice surprise to our group, many who were completely unfamiliar with Carmenere as a varietal. Entirely from Seven Hills Vineyard, spice and pepper was evident on the nose but we found a very well-balance wine on the palate. Yum.

2007 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Merlot: This is the one that I took home and for good reason. A deep, rich, but moderately tannic wine, the merlot has been critically acclaimed by everyone and their brother. It's classic Columbia Valley, delicious every time. In fact, my brother did enjoy it.

After tasting through, Joe asked if we were interested in seeing the back room as they were in the process of bottling. Never ones to turn down back room tours or back door deals, we were in. He led us through a gorgeous barrel room, which is available for events by the way, to the bottling line. When I say bottling line I mean a group of Merry Cellar's closest friends hand bottling each and every drop of the wine with care and attention to detail. It's definitely cool to see.

Merry Cellars is one of those places that is a bit off of the beaten path, well at least in Pullman terms, so really not much. Firmly planted in a college community, they have a phenomenal opportunity to help in our mission of making wine more approachable to the next generation, and the winery is a great place to spend a hot Palouse summer afternoon sipping wine on the their patio. There's also a puppy.

Locals Out and About 1

Though I have been here in the Willamette Valley for a few months now, I had not really gotten out and about to some of the local wineries. The hubbub (not to mention the cost) of moving and settling in kept me pretty close to home. The times I did get out of town were to head off to faraway places such as Portland, Jackson, and Mt. Shasta. I was quickly getting myself into that rut where a person can be in one place for years, but never take part in the entertainment close to home - kind of like growing up in NY but never seeing the Statue of Liberty, living in Washington and never seeing Mount Saint Helens, or living in Utah and never going skiing (not that I know ANYONE for whom all of these apply).

So it was great when my friend Chris suggested a trip into wine country last weekend. We rolled out semi-early, and wined and dined our way through the area around Monmouth for the day, enjoying lovely wine and vittles where ever we went. Instead of writing a loooong piece about the whole day, I have decided I will break it up and highlight my favorite parts as to give them a bit more credence.

One of the wineries we went to was Firesteed. Just off of 99W North of Rickreal, we spotted Firesteed on our way to another location, and decided if we had time we would check it out. With the firm belief that you really always have time for wine, we made sure to stop in on our way back by. We climbed the hill up to the massive warehouse and tasting room, and wondered for a moment if it was open as there seemed to be no cars there. Upon entering the tasting room we met our hosts, John and Kristen, who greeted us with friendly smiles. When hearing we were there for a tasting, John replied "suh-weet!" We knew we had come to a great place.

Modern and edgy with a rustic flair, the tasting room was comfortable and posh without seeming pretentious. I especially enjoyed the wine rack that seemed to be made out of old barn wood standing behind the counter. A large window behind the bar allowed us to sneak a peak at the barrel room that included a massive German-style barrel with a stainless steel door on the front. We were informed that this was used for short-term white wines in place of stainless steel fermenters. Don't get me wrong however, there were still the big steelies there as well, towering to one side and making me want very much to climb in for a nice swim (yeah, I am strange - I'm OK with it). We joked warmly about that for a bit, and learned that the only way to clean them out was to actually get inside and scrape and spray - so perhaps I might get a chance to see the inside of them after all...add it to the bucket list - pun intended.

The lighting provided beautiful shadows around my glass as I tasted

We tried a number of wines while at Firesteed, here are the ones I enjoyed the most!

Our tasting started with their 2008 Pinot Gris. I found it to be light and silky on the nose with a large dose of melon and peach. There was a citrus-y topnote that promised crispness along with hints of wild honey. I found it tart and crisp with a silky smoothness that was cool on my tongue. There were hints of melon and peach that came through a strong green apple flavor. It made me dream of summer heat, honey barbecued chicken, and sweet corn roasted on the grill in the husk.

We also were able to try the 2008 Chardonnay - W3. The W's in W3 stand for Walla-Walla and Willamette where the grapes are grown. I found the nose toasty and cool simultaneously along with a high sharpness that suggested the wine would pack a punch. I found it to be the exact opposite upon tasting it however - it was smooth, mellow, and silky. The oak flavor was soft and subtle, hitting me gently at the finish. I noted a floral aspect at the top of my palette along with a balance of tart and sweet fall fruit - pear and apple. Not a huge fan of chardonnay, I was pleased to find this wine highly drinkable. Its strength and complexity would be wonderful by the glass, or paired with foods that are sweet and spicy.

I really enjoyed trying the 2005 Cayalla RTW (red table wine). This wine continued my current love affair with Oregon red varietals. The nose was rich and earthy and filled with dark fruity notes along with chocolate and vanilla. I found the taste equally deep with cherry at the front, an oily and peppery cocoa at the middle, and a long finish filled with mineral, earth, and moss. If there ever was a wine I would call a comfort food, this would be it. I'd drink it on its own, but really wanted to have it with my mom's macaroni and cheese followed by chocolate chip cookies. Despite the homeyness of this wine, I think it would stand well in a fine dining situation as well.

Another wine I noted well was the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The nose opened into a strong and complex mixture of berry and spice - deep and clear - blackberry, clove and pepper with almost a citrus flash that lingered late, opening up my sinuses and asking me to take another whiff. A long-time lover of the mountains, I found this wine to be the olfactory equivalent of springtime in the peaks just below the snow line. The taste was fresh, full, and tantalizing, and completely matched what I had just smelled. I enjoyed the acidic texture and the greenness of the finish. I loved loved loved this wine. I doubt I would pair it with anything lest I lose something from my experience of it, but if forced to choose I'd eat it with Greek food - feta cheese, olives, and smoky roast lamb.

All in all the experience at Firesteed was one of hospitality, fun, and great wines. I walked out with a bottle of the Cayalla RTW and (duh!) the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. As the weather improves here in the area I intend on hopping on my bicycle and visiting them again!

Erath 2008 Prince Hill Pinot Noir and 5lbs of Ham

Last Thanksgiving, I really took a chance and exposed the inner workings of my family with what a typical holiday looks like. Instead of the usual drunken complaintfest we normally experience, it ended up being one of the best Thanksgivings ever thanks to Josh joining us, some Castle Crashers, and Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir.

While Josh didn't join us last weekend, I tried to replicate as much of the experience as I could for Easter dinner. Nobody in my family is very religious, so Easter is more or less an opportunity for us to get together and stuff our faces with ham and ham accessories. To fully accessorize the ham while also partaking in the requisite alcohol consumption, I decided to make another one of Erath's Pinot Noirs a part of my holiday experience. This Easter I decided to open a bottle of Erath's 2008 Prince Hill Pinot Noir.

For the sake of disclosure, this was a promotional bottle sent to me by Erath. Like all wines we review, I'm still going to be just as critical as I would otherwise.

Picture this scene: It's about 3pm and Alyssa and I have just arrived at my parents' house. Grandma is spaced out on the couch staring into oblivion, my mom is busy in the kitchen, my sister is on a laptop, and my dad isn't anywhere to be fouOH THERE HE IS! Alyssa and I are greeted with a big group hug out of nowhere and one thing is obvious; he's been hitting the sauce for a few hours. If there's anything that makes his loud ramblings any easier to bear, it's having a few drinks yourself.

To counter this, I realized it was the perfect time to have a glass of Pinot Noir before dinner and then another once dinner was served. As I popped its cork, I immediately picked up the aroma of sweet cranberries. My dad must have been fascinated too as he asked whether this wine was "sweet or dry". I don't even know how to respond that anymore as I'm pretty sure he doesn't know the difference. Instead, I read the wine's tasting notes to him:

This traditional offering from Dick Erath’s home vineyard reflects the classic Dundee Hills Pinot Noir style – bright red fruit with a soft body. Vibrant cranberry aromas with an ethereal hint of violets provide a pleasing introduction to juicy, cinnamon-spiced, strawberry flavors – laced with a streak of rich mocha – that build to a satisfyingly prolonged finish

Dad: "Is this expensive?"
Me: "It retails for about $45"
At that point he took the liberty of grabbing the bottle and taking a swig from it.
Dad: "Let's drink it like it's cheap!"
Me: "No."

I got the bottle back and my mom took it upon herself to usher him out of the dining room. Finally I could start pouring. Erath's 2008 Prince Hill Pinot Noir pours a very bright, translucent ruby color that is much lighter than your typical Oregon Pinot Noir. As the tasting notes state, you're immediately greeted with powerful cranberry hues followed by what I identified as red fruits and cocoa. That said, the tartness of the cranberry really steals the show as other flavors are somewhat over powered.

The tartness was somewhat subdued when paired with ham and more savory side dishes. Although Erath suggests pairing this wine with savory duck and pork dishes, I disagree only because this wine paired like peanut butter and jelly when paired with cheese cake. The rich, creaminess of the cheesecake both subdued the tartness and combined with its lesser hues to really bring out its full flavor.

In short, I would definitely recommend trying this Pinot Noir if given the opportunity, but I would urge you to ignore its pairing suggestions and instead have it with some sort of rich dessert. Wine and dessert? I know, life is rough sometimes.

A huge thank you goes out to Erath for providing the wine as well as an apology for probably writing the least-classiest way to review an otherwise phenomenal Pinot Noir.

Up next on my series of wine for the holidays: Memorial Day weekend and whatever my dad agrees not to take pulls of.

So Long, & Thanks for the Memories...

One October evening in Yakima about a year and a half ago, over dinner and a bottle of Plaza Socievole Syrah, Josh asked me to consider becoming the Washington Correspondent for The Oregon Wine Blog. My wine knowledge and experience at the time was significantly limited. I had been to Yakima and the Rattlesnake Hills a handful of times, had been volunteering at Delille Cellars for about 4 or 5 years and had made it down to Willamette Valley once or twice. From my visits to Delille I understood a bit about crush, bottling, and portions of the wine making process from a friend who was formerly their cellar master. I knew that I loved the wines of the Northwest, and I had seen my wine budget slowly creep up to the point where we’d occasionally stretch for a $30 wine.

Everything has changed. I’ve enjoyed writing about wine; from my very first post,
an awkwardly worded attempt to capture my thoughts on a DiStefano Cab Franc (wow that was poorly written), to my recap of the Wine Blogger’s Conference on Red Mountain to my most recent guest post on Drink Nectar about wine and its relation to Cognac. Writing for the blog has been a whirlwind. I’ve met some amazing folks and tasted some brilliant and some … not so brilliant wines. I’ve made great friends in winemaking; including, among many others, Ryan Johnson, Sheila Nicholas and Neil Cooper and I’ve visited some of the finest vineyards, cellars, and wine folk's living rooms in both Oregon and Washington.

The wine blogging crowd can be an odd one. Among us there are some awkward cats, some people with odd behavior and habits and one or two jerks completely without tact. There are some really good people with various palates and writing abilities - some of them spot on in both arenas and some who are way off in both fields as well. Every one of those people accepted me among them, particularly in the greater Seattle area, and through them I’ve learned a bunch. Folks like Sean Sullivan, Doug Haugen and Susie Curnutte have generously shared wine and knowledge with me.

I learned to tweet on the twitter machine. I have to be honest; I had no idea what the hell the point of this was at first. I’ve become pretty handy at it and you might say a bit addicted. I’ve developed relationships with people all over the country and we “talk” (if you can call it that) nearly daily about a variety of things, most of them unimportant. I’ve participated in “tweet-ups,” created hash-tags, and learned about and tasted wine from all over the world.

All of this has a purpose: to tell you that I’m hanging up my spurs as the Washington Correspondent on The Oregon Wine Blog. Recently the blog’s founder Josh - the same guy who invited me to take up the reigns here in Washington - has himself moved to Seattle. He’s worked hard to build the blog over the years and as a newly transplanted Washingtonian has graciously agreed to assume the Washington duties
for The Oregon Wine Blog. I may still do an occasional piece here and there for TOWB.

To borrow the worn out line: this is not goodbye so much as “see you later.” I can’t walk away from the relationships I’ve built, the wines I’ve learned to love, and the curiosity within me, and the opportunity out there to learn more. So, sometime this spring look for me to be coming back around. Ugh, another wine blog? That’s just what we need, right? Well I’m not so much concerned with that, but look for The Northwest Wine Anthem sometime later this Spring.

Where the Frick is this place?

It has only been in the last 6 months or so that I have really been discovering and developing a love for Rhone grapes. There is a lot of buzz in the wine world about Rhone style wines as the next big thing. Most people know Syrah but until recently, grapes like Grenache and Mourvedre were only seen as blending grapes. In northern California, if you are looking for great Rhone style wine, there is no better place to explore than the Dry Creek Valley. I was already appreciative of Rhone grapes as single varietal wines, particularly Grenache, but after a recent trip with my family who introduced me to Frick Winery, I am ready to drink the kool-aid.

We turned down the road towards Frick and it didn’t take long for me to start wondering if there was an actual winery out there. Driving along the dirt and gravel road with no visible signage encouraging me that I was almost there, I also began wondering if anyone could hear me scream out here. Thankfully, we overcame our doubts and finally came upon the cottage-like building used as the tasting room. To get a picture of the size of this place, Frick explains that groups of 6 may be difficult to accommodate.

When I joined the staff at The Oregon Wine Blog I wanted to showcase small, family-owned wineries in California. Frick Winery is the epitome of what I wanted to showcase. Listed as the owner, founder, winemaker, vineyard worker, bottle washer, tasting room staff, and cellar rat, Bill Frick does it all and is literally a one man show, handcrafting single vineyard rare Rhone varietal wines. Bill told us that when he was a kid he visited a winery and it was from that moment that he was bit by the wine bug. While talking and tasting with Bill, that genuine love for wine was easy to feel. A relatively simple approach, Bill focuses his attention on these uncommon wines “because that is what grows best on the mountain.”

We first started with the 2008 Grenache Blanc. Like many of the wines we had at Frick, I had never tasted Grenache Blanc and found it to be incredibly refreshing. Flavors or pear and apple were the most prominent in this fruit forward wine. The crispness of the wine would make it perfect with light seafood or spicy food...or just to sip while sitting on the porch on a hot day. Having not tasted Grenache Blanc before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found this wine to be very complex, with new flavors appearing throughout the lingering finish.

Our next wine, another uncommon varietal was the 2007 Owl Hill Vineyard Counoise (pronounced coon-wahz). Only 2 acres of this grape exist in Sonoma County, compared with the 10,192 acres of Pinot Noir planted in the county. The rarity made it feel very special to be enjoying this wine with someone like Bill who really appreciates these rare varietals. Upon pouring I first noticed the deep purple color of the vino in my glass. The Counoise was very soft with wonderful flavors of blueberry, cranberry, plum, and many other delicious fruits. I found a slight hint of spice and pepper on the finish but nothing that overpowered the wine and made me forget about the fruit in the first part of the wine. A very drinkable wine when you are looking for a fruity red wine with a little bit of body.

Frick is not only rare in the wines he produces, but also in that tasting there carries no charge. As such, we were able to taste through several other wines including the cherry-laden 2007 Grenache, the 2006 Carignane, and the very earthy 2005 Syrah. My favorite however, and the wine receiving the overwhelming popular vote among the family was the 2007 Cinsaut (pronounced sahn-so). With only 7 acres planted in Sonoma County (Bill owns 3 of them), the Cinsault is another wine you will not see on most tasting menus. The Cinsaut had a very balanced body with mild tannins. I found this wine to be very jammy on the front with mostly red fruit and a more detectable finish of spice than the Counoise.

Going to Frick was an exploration into unfamiliar territory. When you go to Frick you won’t find a new take on the Cabernet that you love or the Chardonnay you open on a hot day. You go to Frick because you want to try some new things, expand your palate, and support a true family winery in Sonoma County. Going to Frick also gives you the chance to taste with the person involved in every process of the winemaking process. His winemaking processes are true to the grape and allow you to experience the unique qualities of each grape without any unnatural processing to alter the characteristics. Frick is a hidden gem in Sonoma County and is worthy of any wine tasting itinerary.

A special thanks to Katie’s Uncle Jim and Aunt Zee for introducing us to this treasure and to Bill for taking such great care of me and my family!

Taste Washington's Dirty Little Secret: The Vineyards

This year was my first Taste Washington! experience, well, primarily because it's my first year back in Washington after five years in Oregon.  Makes sense, eh?  Clive was well-versed in the wonderfulness of this particular event, so I was pretty stoked to have the opportunity to attend and see what the hub-bub was all about.  I spent many days agonizing over my approach to the event.  With over 200 wineries and 60 restaurants, there was no way I could come even close to tackling them all lest I stumble out the door never to be seen again.  Should I take the Disneyland approach and start in the back corner of the room, opposite the crowds?  Should I only visit wineries that I had never tried before?  Should I connect with old winery cronies such as Heather from Terra Blanca, Neil from Cooper, Frank, from Picazo 7Seventeen, and Wendi from Col Solare?  Halfway through my deliberation, my friend Paul agreed to attend with me so my mission was clear:  show him the best that Washington wine has to offer.  It certainly wouldn't be hard with the cast of characters at the event.

Gametime came...and Paul couldn't make it.  Don't worry, friends, he wasn't just blowing me off for booze and hookers; he legitimately couldn't make it so it was time to rethink the strategy.  As I flipped through the brochure, a section caught my eye:  TASTE! The Vineyards.

Hmm, tell me more oh magical brochure of wine.

"Try a new approach to wine tasting.  This area is organized by vineyard, so you can compare and contrast the wines that several different wineries have produced from a single source," it whispered seductively into my ear.

Klipsun, Sagemoor, Tapteil, Upland...damn, these jokers weren't fooling around.

A new game plan was solidified; taste a variety of wines from the best vineyards in the state.  Swirl, sniff, sip, spit, and move on to the next.  Maybe swallow a little every second or third taste.  Have I mentioned how tough of a life it is to be a wine blogger?

Why is this Taste Washington's dirty little secret?  It's actually not dirty at all, but the secret is that there were no lines whatsoever in the vineyard area of the event, despite being near the front of the room.  While every Tom, Dick, and Sally were elbowing their way to get a sip of the awesome Betz Syrah, I sashayed right on up to the Klipsun table and had the place to myself.

Klipsun, Chinook Indian Jargon for Sunset, is one of the preeminent vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA.  You may know it as one of the primary sources of fruit for Quilceda Creek's run of 100-point Cabs back in the early 2000's.  From my count, at least 37 wineries used their fruit for the 2009 vintage, all of them notable in one way or another.  I had the opportunity to taste 5 different Klipsun wines at this event, all were amazing in different ways.  Don't ask me what they were, I didn't take notes and swallowed more than I should have.  Point being...awesome interaction with the pourer, awesome crowd.  Next I saddled over to Sagemoor, then Tapteil.  Same experience.

Interested in another protip for Taste Washington 2012?  Winery Association Tables.  Again, smaller crowds, more wine.  I spent more than my fair share of the event at the Red Mountain AVA Alliance and Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers tables.  That was when I wasn't chowing down on some great food with Picazo7Seventeen or these awesome little mini-cupcakes from The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co.  The Pancakes n' Bacon cupcake is to die for, no joke.  

By the end of the event, I was well satiated and did have the opportunity to connect with Heather, Neil, Frank, and Wendi.  I even got to skulk around with Clive a bit, and friends of the Blog - Andrea and Craig - showed up before I left.  I'd had my fill of wine by that time, as you can tell by my wine lips.  After reading this are you sad that you missed Taste Washington?  Well, don't fret Oregon friends, because I have a deal for you!  Taste Washington is coming to you...Portland style.  Sunday, May 1.  Do it.

Water to Vintjs

I have decided I may try to have people over on a monthly basis for wine tasting. Being new to Corvallis (and knowing that wine can make fast friends), I want to increase my social interactions and connect with other people who like wine as much as I do. The challenge is that I am new to town, and at the moment my social connections are relatively low...but i'd imagine a nice bottle of vino could get things going...

I picked up Vintjs - a2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir bottle by Wine by Joe in Dundee, OR. I'd had a hankerin' for a good pinot noir as recently I've been dabbling in red varietals and trying to branch out. Familiarity won out in this case, and I decided this was the first bottle for wine night (which I think will be the second Saturday night of each month - come on over!).

I got on Facebook and invited all 10 people I know here in Corvallis, plus a number of folks in Portland I know won't make it just to feel better about the number of invitees (a move as silly as the length of this sentence). I'd set the bottle on my bookcase while looking for my camera, and when I returned I realized I'd set it right next to Buddy Christ (not the REAL Buddy Christ, but close enough). I decided the hook for the party was, "Buddy Christ wants YOU!"

Hours later only one person had replied to my little Facebook invite. Ironically, my friend who decided to join me, Megan, a) did not like wine, and b) was Jewish. That shows me for being sacrilegious and ridiculous. Eventually my friend Matt RSVP'd as well, and it was ON. He suggested to go along with the time of year and the Jesus-themed invite that we dye Easter eggs as well. So a Jew, a gentile, and I got together for some water-to-wine hijinks.

We went to the wine first, Matt and I each ready to take one for the teammates who did not make it (Megan enjoyed a flurry while she watched the festivities). The color was pale and thin - light reddish-almost like dark red raspberries. It took a while to get the nose to open up, but when it did Matt noticed a light fruitiness that he decided was raspberry. I first got heavy plum, followed by berry fruit, with a sweet floral note high in my nasal cavity - oily and violety. Matt dove in first, stating that the taste was much stronger than it smelled. He found the strongest flavor in the middle of his tongue - an unnamed tang that followed a weak start and drifted to a weak finish. He noted that the flavor was not bad, just not complex enough to hit in any place but the center. I found fruit at the front - plum and cherry - with a bitter center note like fruit tea. The finish had the sense that the wine had been sitting out for a while and had oxidized, but carried a bit of vanilla along with the watery clarity.

Both Matt and I felt that the wine would be better with food rather than drinking on its own (of course we then proceeded to drink the whole bottle over the course of the night). Matt noticed that when he had it with the guacamole and chips he'd brought that it brought out some of the peppery spice one expects from a pinot noir. I stated that I thought the wine would go well with a light custard and berries, or grilled chicken and sweet corn. I did not think that it would stand up well to bolder flavors, but carried a light essence of summer. I noted I might even chill this wine (gasp!) to capitalize on its clarity and almost thirst-quenching properties. Matt disagreed on the light flavors, preferring to pair it with pork done with a mustard spice rub. He felt that pairing it with spice would increase the wine's potency. We both agreed that this wine was good but not amazing, tasty but not mind-blowing. We then each poured our second glasses and moved on to dye our eggs.

I will say that egg-dying is much more fun with wine. 9 out of 10 Buddy Christs agree!

Gone Walkabout, Pinot Walkabout

In the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, the term walkabout refers to a rite of passage. When males reach adolescence they step outside of their daily routines to honor and follow their family's ancestral customs and history. Young men would live and wander the outback for as long as six months as they traced their ancestor's stories or "songlines."

IPNC, which has become an annual rite of passage for Northwest Pinot Noir fanatics, has finally come to its senses and is allowing us the opportunity to celebrate Pinot Noir more than once a year starting on May 1st with the Pinot Walkabout: The People's Pinot Event. The Pinot Walkabout brings Oregon Pinot Noir literally to the streets. Or at least very near to the streets, as they'll be inside various restaurants on Portland's Eastside. (Actually taking Pinot out on the street could result in an open container citation.)

Portland's Beaker & Flask Noble Rot and Simpatica will each be hosting five Willamette Valley wineries pouring Pinot Noir for a very limited 100 ticket holders. Participants will receive an assigned starting place with their ticket and will stroll, saunter, swagger and or strut to each location to sample and savor Oregon's finest contributions to the world's palate.

IPNC has also partnered with Portland's Pedi-Cabs for those less inclined to the actual Walkabout portion of the event, for you it would be the Pinot-Sit-While-Someone-Else-Pedals-About. Tickets can be had HERE.

Participating wineries include: Adelsheim Vineyard, Amity Vineyard, Archery Summit Winery, Bethel Heights Vineyard, Elk Cove Vineyards, Erath, The Eyrie Vineyards, Lemelson Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, R. Stuart & Co., REX HILL Vineyards, Sokol Blosser Winery, Soléna Estate, Stoller Vineyards, Yamhill Valley Vineyards

Part 1.5 of Day 2 of Walla Walla Birthday Extravaganza: The Drinkening

As Josh mentioned in his previous article regarding our recent trip, March was a month of birthdays and wine tasting in Walla Walla. Because he already covered days 1 and 3 and I'm all about chronological order, gather 'round as I share what we experienced on day 2!

The first stop on our trip was to Zerba Cellars where we were greeted by Marilyn Zerba herself. Unbeknownst to us, Zerba had just been announced as the Wine Press Northwest Winery of the Year. Josh and I have been huge fans of pretty much everything they make, so this wasn't a surprise and a very deserving accolade. The rest of our party had very little exposure to Zerba beforehand, so in the name of investigative journalism, we had to do some tasting to prove the point.

What makes Zerba Cellars such a great wine tasting spot is that they make a little bit of everything. We tried whites, French reds, Italian reds, and even a port. After tasting through about ten wines, it was unanimous that Zerba was a big hit. Some of the bottles we left with included their Wild Z Red, 2008 Barbera, 2008 Dolcetto, 2007 Merlot, and (my personal favorite) their 2008 Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre Walla Walla Valley Blend. Josh and I had the pleasure of opening this about a week ago and it is easily one of my favorite red blends of the year. Zerba's tasting notes is 100% spot on:

This medium-bodied Rhone blend has a rich bouquet of cherry, vanilla, and cedar backed by a peppery spiciness. The smooth coating flavors again display pepper, and dark cherry that fade into blackberry and a light toasted oak finish.

Up next was Dusted Valley, where Gordon found this doggy! While the dog was both entertaining and adorable, the real winner at Dusted Valley was the wine. Like our previous destination, Josh and I have had the opportunity to try many of Dusted Valley's offerings and knew we were going to enjoy what came next.

Of the eight or so wines we tasted, the first winner with the group was their Viognier. Kathryn and Alyssa especially loved its light fruit hues and easy drinkability. Definitely a perfect white for a hot summer day. Dusted Valley has made somewhat of a name for itself with their Stained Tooth Syrah and it became evident why. For a mid-tier priced syrah, you don't get a whole lot more bang for your buck than this big, spicy Syrah that just screams Walla Walla. What I left with, however, was their Grenache. It's plum-like jamminess (although they would disagree with that statement) laced with a bit of spice completely won me over.

We had some time to kill before our final appointment for the day, so we decided to randomly stop by a nearby winery. Unfortunately, this experience was a reminder that not all wineries in Walla Walla produce world-class wine. That's ok, though, as what came next was incredible.

Behold: Stella Fino Winery! Ok, so that's not entirely fair. Stella Fino is much more than a Toyota fork lift with some wine on it. In fact, it's the best Walla Walla winery you've probably never heard of. Matt and Marlene Steiner are the husband and wife couple responsible for 100% of Stella Fino's mission to create excellent Italian-varietal wines that pair well with savory food. The production may be small and they're only using about 1/3 of the space you see in these pictures, but their wines wouldn't convince you of that.

Our experience with Stella Fino started with Marlene meeting us during an absolute downpour at a small building owned by another nearby winery. Matt arrived soon after and we were then led into the facility you see above. At the time the forklift above was supplied with an array of wine glasses and we were immediately greeted with a glass of their Pinot Grigio. I'll be the first to admit that Pinot Grigio doesn't usually do it for me, but this one really won me over. It's crisp with a bit of tang and honey-like hue that screams to be paired with some seafood.

Up next was their Barbera. Alyssa and I were especially excited to try this as Stella Fino's 2006 Barbera is the wine that essentially got Alyssa into enjoying red wine. Their 2008 varietal certainly didn't disappoint with its light hues of black fruit and medium drinkability. While great on its own, it too would open up even more with food.

Also from the bottle we had the opportunity to try their 2007 Rosso Sangiovese/Barbera blend. While leagues away from what you would call a table wine, this seems to be Stella Fino's utility wine that will pair with almost anything. It delivers exactly what you expect from the blend and does it at an absolute bargain price of $19.

We had one more bottle to try, but Matt and Marlene insisted we take a break to do some barrel tasting. I've said it before, but barrel tasting never gets old as it's never the same experience twice. We had the opportunity to try a little bit of everything from their barrels, but the highlight was when he created a Sangiovese blend for us in our glass! I've never had a winemaker take multiple pulls from barrels and create a blend in my glass for me, so that was a first. We were also lucky enough to be drinking wines almost ready for bottling,

Our final pour was their 2009 Columbia Valley Dry Orange Muscat. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. If you're a big fan of orange muscats and are ok with it being on the dry side, you should love this wine. Kathryn did!

I know I must sound like a broken record with my multiple endorsements of great Italian varietals, but Stella Fino is a sure thing if you're looking for great Italian varietals from the Pacific Northwest. A HUGE thank you goes out to Matt and Marlene for not only providing us an incredibly fun afternoon, but for being so kind and willing to take the time to share their story, insights on wine making, and their wine.

All in all, day 2 of our Walla Walla Birthday Extravaganza weekend was a huge success. We left with a bunch of incredible wine, some great experiences, and new friends.

They're Not Foolin'

Apologies all for the poor quality of my photos in this post - I forgot my camera and apparently my phone does not cut it...

Despite the fact I LOVE that writing for this blog can often consist of hanging out in my bed drinking wine (I mean, what else does a girl need?), I was thrilled to get out and about this past weekend on self-imposed assignment (oh...poor me).

The Mission, Should I Choose to Accept It...

I get to hang out with all the coolest fermentation enthusiasts - my friend Chris being one of them. It was he who invited me to the 3 Fools' Annual April 1 Party (thanks buddy). The promise was a chance to taste some good wine, eat some good food, and listen to some good music (lots of goods apparently). After doing a double check on Facebook to ensure that this was not some elaborate prank among pals, I planned to make an evening of it. The day was BEAUTIFUL beforehand, so I was very excited to get to wear cute shoes and a sundress that evening. I may be a girl who plays in the dirt and climbs mountains, but I LOVE a chance to get pretty!

Welcome to the Main Event

The party was out at Emerson Winery in Monmouth, a long, rambling shed of a space that was half-barn, half airplane hanger, and all amazing. I was greeted immediately at the door with what I can only imagine is true 3 Fools style. A giant blackboard sported mad-lib style fill in the blanks where patrons could plug and chug amusing combinations of verbs and adjectives. I was encouraged to sign in and get tickets for door prizes (canvas bags, shirts, and amazing hand-made cribbage sets in the shape of the number 3). The band, Wild Hog Gumbo was pickin' and wailin' up a storm despite the deadening acoustics, and at the back there was a table sporting finger foods by Block 15.

Oh...and there was wine!!!

The Wine

There were three wines offered by the Fools for tasting. I worked through them throughout the evening and enjoyed each one:
  • '08 Pinot Noir: generally what I love about pinot noir is that it is delicate, thready, and forces me to focus my attention onto it fully in order to gain a sense of what I am drinking. This pinot did none of these, but I loved it anyway because it totally surprised me. Darker and richer in color and texture than what I know of pinot noir, this wine sported a deep maroon that was almost purple. The nose was musky and deep - right in my face with strong cherry and plum and a spiciness that did not seem peppery, but more of a clove. There was an overall sweetness in the nose that lingered after I'd stopped smelling. Upon tasting I found those cherries and plums to be powerful initially, giving way to smokiness, and a tart finish. While sipping and talking I detected a light sense of sweet clover in my mouth that hung at the top of my palette. I had a very strong emotional reaction to this wine. It hit me hard in the gut because I was expecting the high-falootin' sensibility of what I know of pinot noir, and instead I got his accessible, blue-collar wine that made me feel comfortable and kicked back. I instantly wanted hot grilled sausages and mustard with a thick, crusty roll. I could drink this wine all day and then some!
  • '09 Syrah/Viognier: This was the second wine I tried, though at that point I was ready to just stop and get myself a bottle of the first! I noted its cloudy and rich color and the satisfying way it clung to the sides of my glass and was instantly bought in. The nose had a green, herbal aroma - kind of like blackberry bushes after rain - that combined with dark fruitiness. I found a lovely topnote of violet that danced with a sweetness I never could identify but loved. The taste was deep and sensual - berry fruits, chocolate, and vanilla with a sharp dankness on the finish. This too was an amazing comfort wine - one I would happily eat with a big plate of spaghetti, cheesecake, or late-night munchies...maybe all three.
  • '09 Pinot Noir: This pinot was served to me straight out of the barrel, and its clarity and delicate appearance promised a more traditional flavor. I was so entranced by the color - a deep near-violet - that it took me a while to even get to the tasting. The nose took a while to open up, but when it did I got tart cherries, pepper, and dark fruit. It hit me hard with a peppery punch that flirted with cherry and black raspberry. The strong sense of oils and tannins conjured the idea that the wine tasted like how my best-loved baseball mitt smelled (and I mean that as the highest compliment possible). The finish was long and grassy with hints of blackberry leaves and herb garden high up in my nasal cavity and deep into my throat. Closer to traditional, this wine still gave me a pleasant surprise with its rich complexity and vivid flavor. I could just as easily drink it with a classic steak dinner as I could a ballpark frank with extra relish - it was accessible enough to make me feel at home, and intricate enough to take me places.
In Summation...

I was very pleased by this event - it was a great way to spend a Friday night! The people were warm, the music lively, and the food delicious and creative (who does not like bacon-dusted brownies!?!). Mostly though, I was incredibly impressed by the 3 Fools' wines. I found them to be remarkably creative, terribly intense, and beautifully executed. At the end of the night I got to meet the "Fools," and have a short chat. Once having met them and sampled their wines I can say that their love of whimsy, dedication to their art, and appreciation for the fun things in life play out in their wines. I'd gladly uncork anything they throw my way!

Mountains to Metro

Not that kind of metro, silly.

No, I'm talking about over 30 wineries, top restaurants, one night.  On May 6, 2011 Chehalem Mountain Winegrowers are going to pillage and plunder the Governor Hotel as the mountains come to you, metropolitan Portland friends.  Mountains to Metro is an unparalleled tasting featuring wineries from the 100 square mile AVA on Portland's doorstep.

A Blooming Hill Vineyard, Adelsheim Vineyard, Alloro Vineyard, Anam Cara Cellars, Anne Amie Vineyards, Archery Summit, Artisanal Wine Cellars, Beckham Estate Vineyard, Bergstrom Wines, Blakeslee Vineyard Estate, Carabella, Chehalem, Colene Clemens Vineyards, Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Dion Vineyard, Et Fille Wines, Gresser Vineyard, J.K. Carriere, K&M Wines, Lachini Vineyards, Le Cadeau, Longplay Wine, Ponzi Vineyards, RR Wines, Raptor Ridge Winery, Redman Wines, REX HILL, ROCO Winery, Terra Vina Wines, Triseatum, Utopia and Vidon Vineyards. Maybe you've heard of a few? Add in food offerings from Jakes Grill, Davis Street Tavern, OBA, Gracie’s, Vino Paradiso, Thirst Wine Bar and Bistro, Aquariva, Food in Bloom Catering and The Painted Lady and just reading about this event is enough to make one salivate.

Chehalem Mountain and Ribbon Ridge are home to some of the oldest vineyards and most diverse terrior in the State of Oregon, and if you're too lazy to drive out there you have simply no excuse to not head down to the Governor's Hotel. Oh yea, did I mention that the Chehalem Mountain Winegrowers is a non-profit? Well it is, so you're supporting charity, sorta. When was the last time you visted 30 wineries in one night?  May 6 from 5:00 - 9:00 PM.

If you buy your tickets by April 22, they're only $35.  I'd do that because they increase to $40 after that.  Tickets are available online at or you could check out their facebook page, twitter machine, or smartphone app.

I just need somebody to looovvveeee....yea...ohhh whoa...

An Afternoon at Cana's Feast

Since meeting Winemaker Patrick Taylor almost a year ago at Edgefield's Celebration of Syrah, Josh and I have been increasingly intrigued with his approach to winemaking at Cana's Feast. While we absolutely love the phenomenal Pinots that come from the Willamette Valley, it's refreshing to see something different brewing in the heart of Pinot country. While I had the opportunity to visit Cana's Feast for their Southern Mediterranean Festival last Summer, none of us had actually had the opportunity to do a full tasting and winery tour. This had to change.

On a somewhat cold and dreary Saturday morning, Josh, Alyssa and I started the trek to Carlton, OR. Patrick was slated to meet us upon arrival and while Josh and I were certainly excited about tasting some incredible wine, we were equally excited at the prospect of figuring out where Alyssa's wine palate lies. While we had initially expected more wine newbies to join us, Patrick had been warned ahead of time that the primary mission of this visit was to expose people new to wine to different types of varietals. Alyssa had shown much interest in Italian varietals in the past, so hopefully this trip would confirm what Josh and I had suspected.

Now that we're here, it's time to taste some wine! Patrick was stuck behind a tractor, but the fine folks behind the counter weren't going to let us stand their thirsty. We started with some of their Italian varietals; Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and a red blend. After that, a Syrah and even a Pinot Noir graced our glasses. While Josh and I were loving every pour, we especially paid attention to Alyssa and her reaction to what she was drinking. It turns out we were absolutely correct. Patrick greeted us at just the right time and quickly explained to Alyssa in completely understandable terminology that the reason she typically likes Italian varietals over French ones is a lower amount of tannin. With each pour he further dug deeper into her reactions and explained why she tasted certain flavors and why her palate either agreed or disagreed with a certain varietal. It was incredible to watch and Alyssa especially learned a ton.

With our science lesson out of the way and armed with a sense of confidence, it was time to do some barrel tasting! Did you know that in his spare time, Patrick works on his ninja skills in the barrel room?

Accompanied by a couple who have been long-time wine club members, Josh, Alyssa, and I had the privilege of trying Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Counoiuse, Cinsault, Sangiovese, and I believe I recall a Syrah. In short, Cana's Feast has a ton of varietals fermenting at any given time. While wine from a barrel at such a young state is hardly refined, it's always a fun experience tasting something in the process of achieving greatness and then trying it again when finished.

You'd think we'd be finished after tasting released wines and then hitting the barrels, but oh no. Patrick had something else for us to try in the lab. It's called Chinato and you've probably never had anything like it. In a sense, it's Cana's Feast's take on vermouth.

We had the opportunity to try it straight up without any sort of mixer, so I can't speak to its taste if you prefer vermouths that way. My explanation isn't going to do Chinato the justice it deserves, but picture a heavily herb-infused wine with an extra alcohol punch and a lot more bitterness. I told you I wouldn't do it justice, so I'll turn to Cana's Feast's description:

A base of barrel-aged nebbiolo renders this vermouth earthy, rich and ruby red, with notes of gravel, graphite and dark chocolate. This chinato includes many of the botanical infusions found in the Imbue, with the additional spicy warming notes of black pepper, cinnamon, fennel, lavender, mace, rose petals, sarsaparilla and vanilla. Drink on the rocks with soda and an orange twist, blend with whiskey to make a vermouth-y Old Fashioned or a Manhattan or serve straight up, alongside chocolate, for dessert. 17.4 percent alcohol by volume.

See, much better. While I can't say I'm a huge fan of it straight up, Patrick heavily recommended splitting it with club soda and perhaps an orange rind. I can see how this combination would be much easier to sip and look forward to trying it in the future.

Did I mention that Cana's Feast also has a gourmet restaurant attached to it? Oh, I didn't? We did that next.

Cana's Feast's Cucina restaurant is headed by Executive Chef Lisa Lanxon. Attached directly to the tasting room, the Cucina is the perfect way to indulge one's self in local Willamette Valley cuisine inspired by the Mediterranean. I could write an entire article on the Cucina alone, which is exactly what I'm going to do since it is completely deserving of one. In the mean time, I'm going to throw out that the braised short rib empanadas are incredible and Alyssa ordered the best lasagna I've ever had.

With a case worth of wine now in our possession, we left Cana's Feast incredibly satisfied and with smiles on our faces. This winery is truly a gem in the Willamette Valley serving up a ton of varietals you won't find elsewhere. If you are planning on being anywhere near the Carlton area, you owe it to yourself to stop by and expose yourself to their non-traditional take on Northwest wine. A huge thank you goes out to Patrick as well as the entire staff at Cana's Feast.

The Grand Discovery and Taste Washington

I drink a lot of Washington wine; probably 65% of what I consume minimally, and maybe closer to 80%. My wine rack is loaded with Washington wines and honestly I love the stuff.

Having said that, there's a lot of wine being made in Washington. Over 700 wineries now call this great wine producing state home, and Taste Washington for your general consumer, is a way to really explore what the state can offer. The event hosted over 200 of Washington's wineries. The food that was showcased was an added bonus (or perhaps a necessity given all that wine). About 60 of the state's best restaurants, many of them from around the Seattle area, provided bites of varying sizes to pair with the wines.

Taste Washington is truly a remarkable event and a great celebration of the state's most interesting and delicious product: Washington wine. In addition to the tables of food and wine, there are educational opportunities for attendees as well; seminars where vineyards of some acclaim poured wines made from their fruit and highlight the vineyard characteristics that show up in different varietals. The Viking center stage had chef demonstrations and interactive audience opportunities.

What many people don't know is that Taste Washington really begins on Friday with the Restaurant Awards where The Wine Commission takes the time to recognize the restaurants, sommeliers, and service industry professionals that do their share to spread the word and love of Washington Wine.

Notable awards this year were given to The Oregon Wine Blog's favorite wine country restaurant; Picazo 717 of Prosser, which was recognized as the Winemaker's Choice. This (well-deserved) award is selected anonymously by winemakers for the restaurant that they deem the most supportive of the wine industry. The first ever Washington Wine Ambassador award was given to long time industry supporter Lars Ryssdal, most recently of Tranche Cellars. Kristen Young of the Waterfront Seafood Grill was honored as Sommelier of the Year and legendary Seattle eatery Canlis was given the grand honor of Restaurant of the Year, and the cool looking goblet that goes along with it.

Saturday follows Friday, at least on the Roman calendar, and Saturday brought the Taste Washington Seminars. For reasons that are becoming increasingly unclear to me, for two years running I have missed the seminars so I could race my bicycle in the Independence Valley Road Race. I'm not sure why because both years I have had my ass handed to me. What did I miss?

The seminars covered the gamut from food pairing with celebrity chef Michael Mina to a look at Washington's up and coming varietal, Grenache, to a panel exploring the 100 point system. Had I gone to the seminars, I would have likely gone to the Grenache and point system seminars. Washington Grenache is really promising and with examples from Maison Bleue, Grand Reve, and Syncline, there is real sense that this varietal shows Washington's ability to blend both new and old world style in wine. The point seminar included a discussion of the 100 point wine scoring method and included the Washington Wine Report's Sean Sullivan, Rebecca Murphy of the Dallas Morning News, and Blake Gray, most famously the guy who started all the dust storm that had Charles Smith of K Vintners suing people. As someone who doesn't subscribe to the scoring system but understands its place in the market, this would have been a fascinating debate to overhear.

As the weekend ended for many, it was just beginning for most as Sunday brought the Grand Tasting. This is a wine event that you should make a point of attending at least once. The sheer scope of it, combined with the overall quality of the wines, just boggles the mind. It's proof positive that Washington may just be the perfect climate for wine.

Though I'm no stranger to Washington wines, the scope and breadth of the Grand Tasting means that even I got to make some new discoveries. The most impressive wine I tasted was also the first, the Betz Family Cellars 2009 Cote d' Patriarche Syrah. Betz, of course, has one of the finest reputations in the state and so this wasn't a discovery per se, but it was indeed the finest. I did however taste some wines that I'd never had. Here are of some of the day's most impressive findings:

Cadaretta Cellars SbS is a Bourdeaux style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It may have been the best white wine I've had in a long while, with great acidity and a really nice mouth feel. The nose was a beautiful example of floral and bright fruit notes. Very young and new winemaker Brian Rudin is especially proud of this release as it's his first wine to be made to completion as the winemaker at Cadaretta.

JB Neufeld are the initials and last name of Justin Neufeld and his wife Brooke and is a relatively new winery. Justin, however, has been making excellent wines at Gilbert Cellars for quite awhile. JB Neufeld makes two Cabernets from two of Washington's most sought after vineyards, Artz Vineyard on Red Mtn and my favorite of the two the Dubrul Vineyard Cabernet. The Dubrul is the more elegant of the two Cabernets and has an excellent finish. The flavor profile is nuanced, layered and compliments the nose of this wine beautifully.

aMaurice Cellars Syrah/Grenache blend. Anna Schafer easily the prettiest person making wine in Washington state and has made a reputation for herself with her Malbec, but I really liked this Syrah and Grenache blend. It was less of a big, bold example of Washington Syrah and more true to some of the elegance of its ample but not 100% Boushey vineyard fruit. The wine spoke of fruit and herbal characters and shows the range that Rhone varietals have in the state.

The final highlight was the Tranche Cellars Rose. While I've had Tranche Cellars wine before, I hadn't had this Rose. There was a time when I would claim, hands down, that the Rose coming out of Delille Cellars was far and away the best in Washington. That day has passed. The rose that Tranche is making is dynamite. It’s very light in color and has a crisp old world style. It’s a Syrah based wine that includes Cabernet Franc; this is a rose that will make serious wine drinkers proud. With this offering Tranche continues to shock Washington wine fans with amazing wines at affordable prices that boggle the mind.

Walla Walla, Washington's Woodward Canyon Winery; It's a mouthful!

A mouthful of deliciousness, that is.  A few weeks ago, in celebration of not one, not two, but three birthdays in the month of March, a group of bloggers and friends converged on Walla Walla, Washington for a long weekend of wine, food, and friends.  If your first thoughts upon hearing Walla Walla are, “isn’t there a prison and some onions there?” then perhaps you are reading the wrong blog.  If, on the other hand, the sweet sweet city so nice they named it twice connotes an instant drool effect, makes you giggle like a school girl, or creates the unexplicable need to hold your bookbag in front of you like in junior high boy standing at the chalkboard, read on friends.

The trip to Walla Walla comprised 2.5 days and 6 people:  blog notables Me and Rick, friends Alyssa, Kathryn, and Gordon, and special guest from Minnesota Dominique.  Four years ago I never would have imagined Walla Walla would be the locale of choice to celebrate my 30th birthday, but that's exactly what happened.  You see, I grew up just 40 miles from this magical town, but my only memories were of a small town that was the destination for field trips and basketball tournaments.  Red wine came into the picture, and the rest, they say, is history.  Since then, I've made a point of hitting the "WW" every year or two and have a blast every time.

The first day of our trip was winery free due to travel, however, that didn't keep us from enjoying the local bounty.  Sweet Basil Pizzeria was the perfect setting for a low-key dinner, a few pitchers of beer, and a bottle of wine as we all caught up with each other and noshed on some mad grub.  Pizza, that is.  Awesome pizza.  And breadsticks.  We followed dinner with a bottle or two at The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and retired to the house for the evening for a rousing game of Uno with some more wine.  We dove into winery land the next day, an awesome day that Rick is going to chronicle in a coming attraction on the blog.  If you bat your eyelashes seductively, you might even convince him to talk about our awesome dinner at Brasserie Four.  What I'm going to focus on is what I lovingly refer to as "day 3", also known as Sunday or Woodward Canyon day.

I'll be honest, Sunday started a little slow for me.  Well, not really.  I woke up with a spring in my step and a gleam in my eye, made coffee, cooked pancakes for everyone, ate said pancakes, and promptly started to feel like crap.  You see, as legend holds, Rick and I were matching everyone else on the wine 2 to 1 the night before.  Given that Rick has a solid 10 pounds on me, I took the brunt of the damage.  It was the dreaded delayed hangover.  Ugh.  Well, virtually nothing was going to make me miss the day so while the ladies were buying us pie and Gatorade, I took care of business and was ready to rally and hit the wine trail.  We started the tasting at Cougar Crest Winery, ALWAYS a winner (pssst, I hear they're looking at a Woodinville tasting room), and progressed to L'Ecole 41.  Both were awesome, but the highlight of the day was a tasting we had scheduled at a local favorite, Woodward Canyon Winery.

Located in an 1870's farmhouse in Lowden, Washington, Woodward Canyon Winery was founded in 1981 by pillars of the Walla Walla wine industry Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small.  When I say pillars, I mean that Rick is currently the Chairman of the Washington Wine Commission and Darcey was one of the authors of the original petition for the Walla Walla AVA. That kind of pillar.  Our group was quickly greeted by Tasting Room Associate Taylor Oswald, who led us into the reserve house for what was to be a transformative tasting for our group.  As we entered the reserve house, we were greeted with a table set with customized tasting menus for us.  That's right, our own pour list.

An aside on the reserve about a gorgeous facility!  A literal conference room of wine, this building in the backyard of the winery also holds the owners offices, a full catering production kitchen, and the Woodward private wine cellar.  Taylor had pre-poured a selection of four reds for us and poured 2 whites on demand.  This particular day we tasted through a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, NV Red Wine, Barbera, Red Reserve. and Artist Series Cabernet.  Throughout the tasting, we playfully bantered with Taylor and basked in both his knowledge of wine and the winery, and the quality of the juice in our glasses.  At the end of the day, there were two unanimous favorites that emerged:

  • 2009 Washington State Chardonnay:  I'm pretty sure this is the best darn Chardonnay on the market right now in the state of Washington.  Based on what I heard at Taste Washington, I'm not alone in this opinion.  I'm not a white guy and I'm still salivating thinking about this one.  Crisp and clean with a nice balance of acidity, this wine integrates the oak in a very refreshing way.  Simply put, it's a must have even at the $44 price point.
  • 2008 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon:  The clear winner for the big red fans of the group, the Artist Series Cab is balanced with 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Syrah.  Primarily sourced from Champoux Vineyard, this cab has some nice earthy notes and has a fine portfolio of tannins.  Fruit forward with a finish of cocoa and chocolate, it's worth every penny of the $49 and I'm still trying to figure out how to convince Rick to open the bottle he purchased next time I visit.
So...great wine, great company, great staff...what more could we ask for?  Well, a trip the cellar hit the spot.  Described as the owner's private collection, the Woodward cellar reminded us of the Airfield "batcave" experience we had last February.  I was speechless in awe as we were lead down into the room with a small, intimate table, large chandelier, and thousands of bottles of wine dating back to the early '80's.  In fact, it appeared there was representation from every vintage Woodward has produced in this room. I tried to talk them out of a 1981, the year of my birth, but none of that was to be had.  We were incredibly lucky to see this special place.

Next time you're headed to Walla Walla, stop in Lowden and say hi to the nice folks at Woodward Canyon. Taylor and Marlene will take great care of you...and the wine speaks for itself.  If you run across the Chardonnay, you'd be silly to not pick it up.

From Willamette's East Valley; Hanson Vineyards

Hanson Vineyards is one of 16 wineries that make up the East Valley, a Willamette Valley wine producing region that lies east of the I-5 corridor. While the area is a relatively new wine destination, some of the families have been farming that side of the valley for a good long while. Hanson Vineyards is one such long-standing winery and has been growing Niagara and Concord grapes since the 1920s. The wine making got serious in 2000 when Clark Hanson started to plant vinifera root stocks.

The Hanson family, Clark and his son, Jason, are looking to make a wine accentuated by their terroir. The vineyards are planted along the cool water Cascadia creeks, which elements add a unique character to their wine. Clark and Jason are currently making four wines: a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Blanc, and a Riesling. Though they generally agree on how the wines should be made, they disagree on Riesling, as Clark prefers a sweeter Riesling while Jason likes them really dry. As a compromise they change the style every year, alternating between about 2% residual sugar and a bone dry Riesling.

Hanson Vineyards is a small winery and they plan to stay that way, with designs on maybe making a few hundred cases of each varietal. In addition to being small, Hanson does their own thing, not pressured to follow any particular formula or style that may have become fashionable in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Hanson Vineyards makes the wine that their vineyards give them, not pursuing in your face, inkier Pinots. The Pinot Noir that's coming out of Hanson Vineyards is lighter in color and body.

I found the Hanson wines were certainly lighter than some Oregon Pinot. While they didn't have the dark fruit or earthen characteristics often associated with Pinot, the wines communicate lighter fruit and herbal notes. The nose on the Pinot Noir was very classically Burgundian and the wine was lighter to medium bodied and had very little oak influence. The Chardonnay was a fine example of what Oregon can do: lighter fruit and some herbaceous notes. France would have been proud of both of these varietals from the New World.

Hanson Vineyards gives Oregon Pinot and Chardonnay fans the opportunity to see the versatility that the Willamette Valley offers in the form of a small family operation that has no designs on overthrowing the giants of Willamette Valley or converting Pinot drinkers to their more Old World style. The Hanson family is happy to be able to create the wines their vines give them and Jason and Clark have agreed that the wines they're producing are as they are intended.