Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover Wine You Won’t Want to Pass Over

Passover’s here, and in addition to signaling the onset of Spring it also offers a great opportunity to break from tradition. Don’t worry; I’m not talking about giving up the matzoh ball soup. But, if you’ve ever been to a Jewish Seder you might be familiar with Maneshevitz wine and if so, you can probably understand how a break from some customs might be a good thing.

I’m reminded of the many Seders I participated in while growing up, pouring the sweet, thick Manashevitz Concord Grape wine into my youthful body. One of the most significant memories I have of the entire lengthy service was how it was the wine, which got me through it. Even at twelve-years-old, an opportunity to drink (a considerable amount of) wine at the family table was like a carrot dangling before me. What? It’s time to pour the fourth glass? Cool! Jewish holidays kinda ROCK!

While grapes are inherently Kosher, the winemaking process is not. In order for a wine to be Kosher, it must be produced entirely by men (sorry Feminists) and under the supervision of a Rabbi. Kosher for Passover wines additionally made with yeasts not grown on bread and exclude all preservatives.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Kosher wine was not exactly popular and choices were limited. Tradition dictated and custom claimed victory as my family emptied bottles of Maneshevitz year after year. Today, a whole array of Kosher for Passover wines exist so the wine lover no longer has to cringe while sipping something that's labeled wine, but more resembles berry-flavored cough syrup.

This year, don’t let the words 'Kosher for Passover' frighten you. Open your minds and open your glass, I know I will. But rest assured, that customary bottle of Maneshevitz will always have a rightful place at my table, (it makes a mean haroseth) but if it’s poured in a glass, you can be certain I’ll be passing that one to Elijah. So, what wine do you pour at your ceremonial meal? We enjoyed the following tonight (along with a non-Kosher for Passover Oregon Pinot Noir from Oak Knoll—as if I could resist). Until we sip again…


2007 Psagot Edom (Israel): A full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. The barrels are aged in the Judean Hills winery cave dating back to the era of the second Temple. Cherries, currant and vanilla was abundant with a silky mouth and spicy finish. The earthy notes additionally complimented one of my favorite holiday recipes:

Mom’s Potato and Mushroom Croquettes 
(Vegetarian & Vegan)

1½ lbs of potatoes - peeled and chopped
5 cups of water
1 onion - peeled and diced
¼ lb of mushrooms – diced
1 tsp of vegetable oil
1 tbsp of water
1 cup matzoh meal
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Boil potatoes in water until tender, then drain and mash.
  2. In separate pan, sauté onion and mushrooms in oil and water for three minutes.
  3. In large bowl, mix mashed potatoes, onion and mushrooms, matzoh meal and salt and pepper.
  4. Form 10 croquettes and fry in oil for eight minutes on each side over medium heat until golden brown. Drain on paper.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ten Oregon Wineries Make One Small Change

Inspired both by my dear friend Rachel’s blog, 6512 and Growing, about making “One Small Change” and Willamette Valley Vineyards tweet about their cork-recycling program on Twitter, I decided to take a closer look at the one thing ten Oregon wineries are doing to make a difference in the environment (and the world). Here’s what I uncovered:
  1. Willamette Valley Vineyards - The first winery in the world to use cork certified through the Rainforest Alliance’s Forest Stewardship Council standards and to offer an in-house cork recycling program.
  2. Maysara (Momtazi Vineyards) – Over 250 acres of some of the most well respected certified biodynamic vineyards in Oregon.
  3. Duck Pond Cellars – Plants a tree in a Northwest fire-ravaged forest for every bottle sold in Oregon and Washington during March and April, 2010.
  4. Ponzi Vineyards – Switched to green” glass, which is both lighter and more eco-friendly.
  5. Illahe Vineyards and Winery – In addition to solar panels and rainwater collection systems, during harvest (instead of tractors) you’ll find horses and donkeys pulling grape-loden carts (not only are they bio-fuel propelled, but they produce compost along the way)! 
  6. Belle Pente – Practices Integrated Farming by planting grasses and utilizing sheep and goats for vineyard maintenance and manure mix.
  7. Stoller Vineyards – LEED gold-certified winery with solar power and wastewater reclamation (not to mention a sweet little disc golf course).
  8. Winderlea Winery – Features a charging station in their parking lot for electric cars.
  9. Amity Vineyards - Producer of Eco-Wine, Oregon's first organic and sulfite-free Pinot noir.
  10. Sokol Blosser – In addition to eco-glass, solar power, organic vineyards, biodiesel operated equipment, the first U.S. LEED certified winery, Susan Sokol Blosser continues to set the bar high with her commitment to the environment. So, what’s she doing now? She’s trying to protect and preserve Oregon’s agriculture and economy from the inside by making a political run for Legislature. Good luck Susan!
My inspiration for this post, Rachel, is one of those people who just makes me want to be a better person and a proper steward of my environment. She lives very simply yet meaningfully, is abundantly resourceful and somehow manages to produce a substantial amount of the family’s food supply, which absolutely blows my mind. Her husband Dan hunts elk and deer each year, which they butcher themselves, family-style. Meaning everyone pitches in, even the toddlers help grind and wrap… it’s an amazing sight (click on the link and see for yourself!). Having tasted the fruits of their labor, I can attest to the beauty of the process, but I’m in awe of their abilities as I think this is so beyond what I could do. So, I can’t hunt and butcher my meat myself, I have no sun for a garden (and I wouldn’t think about making my own wine, yet), but I can do something more to make my own small change. I’m already dedicated to buying local as much as humanly possible and I purchase almost all organic products, but when it comes down to it, I’m still just being a consumer… a drain on resources; I don’t actually produce anything (except the words on this page). So, in honor of Rachel and the Oregon wineries committed to being forward thinkers, my one small change is to stop buying one thing each month—be it bread, tortillas, pickles or ricotta cheese—and start making it myself instead. Hopefully I’ll make enough to share… that is, if you’re nice! Until we sip again…


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Men are Red Wine… Women are White

Like hailing from two completely different planets, wine (and genders) can often be something of polar opposites. While this might be a bit of an overgeneralization, there is still an undeniable element of truth running through. So, let’s use our creative palates and take it one step further and say Men are Red Wine and Women are White Wine; substitute the wine for the gender and see what I mean:

Men are always running at least 10 degrees warmer.
Women feel like they’re living in a refrigerator.

Men are smooth, forward, bold, dark, brooding, spicy, intriguing and, well… just a little bit dirty.
Women are the life of the party—bright, zesty, flirty and sometimes giggly or even bubbly.

Men are happiest to sit down with a big, juicy steak.
Women love finger food.

Men proudly display their bigger package.
Women’s shapes are dainty and slender.

Men think they get better with age.
Some women get old and flat, but there are a few who know the secret.

Men think they’re the best.
Women know better – the most expensive drinkable bottle of wine in the United States (according to is a 1978 Montrachet from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti… um, that would be a white wine.

In all seriousness, white and red wines can be as different as night and day—just like the people who drink them. But, if I were to try and turn a white wine lover onto red wine, well, that one’s easy; I would select a fucking Merlot.

While I am loyal to my luscious and most favorite Pinot noir, I wouldn’t recommend this wine for the novice. A Pinot noir is a black diamond ski run, not suitable for a beginner. A Pinot’s delicacy and intricacy would be lost on someone who’s never enjoyed red wine and the high acidity might possibly even burn their mouth. Merlot is light, approachable and easy-drinking. While some (older-vine) Merlot can be bigger, bolder and spicier, it’s generally a soft, supple, not overly tannic and very fruit-forward quaffable wine sure to lure that white lover over to the dark side.

I chose a Ravenswood Winery 2006 Merlot ($18) from Sonoma County, California, well balanced with friendly plum, cherry and vanilla flavors and an irresistible and delightful chocolate finish; who wouldn’t like that? Until we sip again…


This post was written in response to this month’s Wine Blog Wednesday #67, hosted by Joe Roberts at 1 Wine Dude, who challenged us to “pick a red wine you would use to introduce a white wine drinker to red wines for the first time.” This is actually my first contribution, thanks for hosting Joe!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tri-fectas and Cabernet… in Oregon

The first day of Spring brought with it cornflower blue skies and temperatures pushing 70 degrees… not exactly Portland weather, but welcome like a long lost friend. I arrived at Solena Grand Cru Estate Winery eager to taste their vertical of Cabernets (vintages 2003-2006). I’d previously tasted at Solena’s downtown Carlton location, but since then, they’ve opened their brand new estate winery, located on 80 acres in Yamhill, Oregon. The desire to visit their new location, a special tasting of Cabernets in the vast land of Pinot noir and getting out to enjoy the amazing weather made for an irresistible tri-fecta.

Emily Stoller-Smith (wife of Dundee Bistro Executive Chef extraoridinaire Jason Stoller-Smith) had an unexpectedly large turn-out for their Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tasting, but she handled it with grace, wit and style when she asked if any guests had their OLCC card and invited them behind the counter to pour. I felt inclined to do so… for a fleeting moment. Then I remembered I already work for nothing (except the pleasure writing my blog and hope that I’m entertaining my readers) and decided one unpaid job was quite enough.

Emily started off my tasting with a 2008 Pinot Gris. I took my glass outside to the peaceful deck overlooking the young vines and solar panels because nothing invites a glass of good white wine like the warmth of the sun’s rays. The day was a perfect pairing with my wine, which was almost equally perfect. The Pinot Gris was bone dry with intense aromatics of Asian pear, white flowers, starfruit and a delightful minerality, which added both body and character. I sat alone on the deck, tasting my wine while quietly absorbing my surroundings. To be completely honest, all I really wanted to do was buy a bottle, grab my sweetie and hold up with a picnic and some witty conversation while we lied in each other's arms soaking up the dreamy sunshine.

I returned to the company of the bar to start my Cabernet tasting and was slightly disappointed when one glass of 2003 was set out before me. I know it’s an obscene amount of glassware, but if you’re going to offer a tasting of four consecutive vintages, you should be able to revisit the wines for comparison of color, clarity, viscosity, and taste them all side by side; just my opinion. Here’s my impression of the wine (which by the way were being offered for sale as a collection for less than $100—screaming deal):

2003 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon — A sweet and fragrant nose of blackberries, root beer, violets, tobacco and mint. The distinctive peppery finish was long and smooth. Well structured with a nice, dark garnet color and medium-heavy weight viscosity.

2004 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon — Same black fruit core and same white peppery finish as the 2003, with firmer tannins, a big bite of dusty earth, licorice and savory cured meat.

2005 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon — My favorite of the line-up, and probably because it was the most Pinot-like. It was silky and well balanced with a full nose of blackberry, mocha, violet and licorice that carried through on in the palate. I thought this wine was so good I even brought a bottle to take to dinner at my friend Todd's (who's also a fellow blogger and Pinot connoisseur). I hope it's as good as I remember!

2006 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon — Still young tasting and very fruit-forward, thrusting wild raspberries in your face (compared with the black fruit core of the three prior vintages). The nose was soft, the tannins light and I just didn’t see a whole lot of complexity in this wine.

I was slightly amused when I sat down to take some notes and glanced at the guestbook next to me; the first name was Kevin Bacon with his email address, followed by George Clooney, of course. I think someone had a little too much Cabernet that day.

Witnessing me take notes with an old-fashioned pen and notepad, a conversation with a guest ensued about his helpful iPhone application for tasting notes. The world continues to get more high-tech and I struggle to keep up, yet I rest assured knowing there will at least never be an app for making wine. That’s one thing that will thankfully remain a form of art—an individual, beautiful and creative expression of fruit. Until we sip again…


Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Glimpse at Lost Loves… or a Really Bad Wine List?

My passionate love affair with Pinot noir continues, yet each time after she’s gone, I wonder if I’ll ever see her again. Why does she torture me so? Lying there alone, savoring what we just shared, I still taste her exquisite beauty on my lips and feel her warmth in my body. I’m brusquely awakened from my intoxicated state of euphoria by sudden flashes of past loves appearing before my eyes; I realize it’s more like a glimpse at a really bad wine list.

You might call me a lush; yes, over the years, I’ve sipped from a few ‘bad’ bottles. Back in high school, if you really must know, it was always about quantity over quality. I probably shouldn’t share my dirty little secret with you, but my first time was actually a threesome… me, Bartles and James. The three of us played drinking games long into the night, getting into all kinds of mischief (not to mention the ritual hanging our heads together over the porcelain bowl of disgrace). We were completely shameless, doing it in public places, sometimes even with a crowd around us. Our cheap and taudry affair lasted too long… until college, when I met my first (real?) love.

While my peers were guzzling beer from the keg, I was chasing after this frilly pink label that caught my eye. She was racy, flirty and they called her White Zinfandel. We had a lot of fun and sometimes, when I added bubbles to the party, she’d get really crazy! We were inseparable and she somehow kept me interested for a time. I soon realized she mostly just gave me a headache. No, she wasn’t the one for me, so I wrote her a Dear Zin letter and went in search of something more genuine.

One day, when I least expected it, there he was staring at me from across the red and white checkerboard tablecloth, Mr. Genuine himself… Sangiovese. By the glow of the candlelight he looked magnificent… all rustic and Old-World. Our conversation flowed easy as a bottle of fine wine and the two of us were comfortable, enjoying each other’s company as if time no longer existed. But you know those Italians, he was a bit of a heartbreaker and we inevitably parted ways. We’re still great friends though and even see each other from time to time over a big hearty bowl of pasta.

After a few months of chocolate and self-indulgence, I briefly opened myself up to Tempranillo, but quickly realized he was just a rebound guy (his woodsy style just wasn’t a match for me either and we both knew I was meant to explore other loves). That’s when I met Chardonnay. We dated for a bit, but the chemistry just wasn’t there either—I guess blondes don’t really do it for me, and besides, she was really only fun with dinner. So there I was, alone again.

One day, I finally let my friend Kathleen set me up — she swore we’d hit it off, and she was right. That night, over take-out pizza, Merlot and I made a deep connection. He was smooth and easy and we seemed to have an immediate and unspoken understanding. We went along happy for many years… that is, until I moved to Oregon and discovered Pinot noir.

Pinot noir and I really became intimate while I was working in the wine industry; one look was all it took, and it was if no other wine had ever existed before. Sounds a bit corny, like lust at first sight, but sometimes you just know these things. I knew there was something special about this wine and I just couldn’t and didn’t want to ignore it. I let her seduce me, which she did so many times and on so many levels—filling all five of my senses with her essence. Our affair began with an incomparable intensity; I couldn’t get enough of her. Some things are just meant to be continued. But she remains elusive and, at best, minimal indulgence is all I’ve enjoyed so far. And while my feelings for Pinot noir may be hot and heavy today, I imagine the day may soon come when that spell is broken. Perhaps I’ll finally tire of the pursuit. With so many great wines flaunting themselves at me daily, it’s quite frankly hard to resist all the temptations. And who knows, perhaps it’s time to start exploring the wine shelf again and see if another varietal sparks my attention the way my sexy little Pinot did. Until we sip again…


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Superheroes, World Domination and Oregon Wine

When the Gaston Six gather together in one spot to pimp their goods, it’s surely an event you don’t want to miss. Like local Superheroes, picture an opportunity to taste wines made by true independent winemakers—ADEA, Biggio Hamina, Bishop Creek, Cancilla Cellars, Matello and Twelve—and you begin to wrap your head around the rare and unique artisan wines I sampled that day.

Showing respect for the house, I started first with the host, ADEA Wine Company. Founders, Dean and Ann Fisher produced their first three vintages (starting in 1995) under a different name, and in 1998 they changed their name to ADEA incorporating the first letter of each family member’s name (Ann, Dean, Erica and Adam). Their earliest vintages were crafted at Medici and later at Lemelson, but ADEA now proudly has their own winery (which additionally houses a collection of boutique indie winemakers) and a tasting room open on weekends.

I was poured a delightful 2005 Rose, crisp and tart with rhubarb and strawberries, and the perfect beginning to the wine journey dubbed Pinot Passion. I also truly enjoyed ADEA’s 2006 Momtazi Pinot Noir—deep, dark and brooding, with black cherries and pie spice finish… reminiscent of a late night diner after a rock concert.

Taking two steps to the left, I easily located Biggio Hamina, where I chatted with owner Todd Hamina who just turned out his 14th vintage. He told me how the name is a combination of his last name and his wife’s maiden name (are we seeing a trend developing?). While I was savoring the incredible aromatics on his wine, he humbly stated how “making a good Pinot Noir is akin to bragging about being the tallest midget.” Well, Todd, I don’t know about that midget thing, but you certainly have something to boast about. The 2007 Deux Vert Pinot Noir had a beautifully light and almost translucent color, a floral nose with lush red cherries and a hint of underlying earthiness; it was every bit balanced with fruit, lively acids and velvety tannins… flawless.

At Bishop Creek Cellars, the wines and vines are managed by one person, Jeremy Saville. The 60-acre site (originally planted in 1988) is located in a cooler micro-climate than many Willamette Valley vineyards, which Jeremy thinks results in later ripening fruit that gives the wine its distinctive and intense flavors while retaining the natural acidity. I admired Jeremy’s approach and his wines seemed to truly reflect his philosophy. Bishop Creek produces only estate-grown wines from their 13-acres of Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc. With Syrah, Arneis and Gruner Veltliner planted to vine in 2008, I’d keep my eye on what they’re turning out in the next few years.

Jeremy was pouring the best white in the house that day (IMVHO)—a 2007 Pinot Gris, 100% stainless-steel fermented and 100% true-to-varietal flavor. It had depth and character with an intense nose of Anjou pear and green apple, a delightful nuttiness (probably resulting from ripe grape seeds) and energetic acids that filled my mouth. The 2007 Barrel Selection Pinot Noir also spoke volumes to me. It was a delicate, light ruby color, yet incredibly complex and well integrated with layers of cranberry, pomegranate and rose (and at $22, it’s a very reasonable indulgence and one I would like to have speak to me again).

Next in the procession was Matello winemaker (or Masseur du Raisins as he whimsically calls himself) Marcus Goodfellow pouring his wine of choice… a 2007 Pinot Noir Souris. This cuvee (barrel blend), though not my favorite, was an excellent and very thought-provoking wine; it was acid-driven with red cherries, strawberries, rose petals, cured beef and spice. As I chatted with Marcus, the wine continued to open up showing how marvelously multifaceted it really was. By contrast, the 2008 Pinot Noir Hommage a’A&D was tight and grippy, but I think it was just in a shut-down phase (this sometimes occurs after bottling). With more time in bottle, this wine could turn out to be a gem and would be an interesting wine to revisit in the future. My favorite of Marcus’s wines was the 2008 Winter’s Hill… it was fruit-forward with silky tannins and hints of smoke and tobacco. When I asked Marcus about his label, he first explained the name Matello comes from the Italian for little fool. He chose the Court Jester graphic because in the old days, the jesters were the only person who could really speak their mind. I think he just might be something of a jokester himself, identifying with their playful nature. Matello is producing less than 1,600 cases per year, and as a testament to their “indie” ways, does not even have a website. (Need some help with that? I know some great peeps!)

Moving on down the line: Ken Cancilla escaped from the East Coast and the Telecommunication world to grow grapes in Oregon. Nine vintages later and he’s still living the dream; Ken has 23 acres planted in Gaston (22 to Pinot Noir and 1 to Chardonnay) and crafts his wines using only his estate fruit. Cancilla Cellar’s 2007 Chardonnay displayed bright citrus, soap and a minerality much like steeliness (despite being aged in neutral oak). It was racy, zippy and surely got my attention. The 2006 Pinot Noir showed a lot of red fruit like raspberries, strawberries, red cherries, as well as earth and some sweet, hot (almost port-like) cassis.

My last stop on my tour of the Gaston Six brought me to Twelve. Twelve is a family-owned 13-acre vineyard located four-miles west of Carlton. When I asked owner John Lenyo about the choice of name, he said it came from the movie Spinal Tap (I believe it’s a quote from Nigel Tufnel where he asks, “Will this one go to eleven?”). Twelve’s labels are always changing, but one thing remains consistent about them; they’re all beautiful examples of modern art. John was smart about engaging his consumer and making them think before he even gets a drop of wine into their glass. I might brand the term “intelligent seduction”; clever marketing that draws you in with its mystery. What does Twelve mean? What is this label? Why 144? The 2007 Reserve 144 refers not to a specific clone, but is in fact, their name (12) to the power of 12. And their second label (lower price point wine) is called Second Floor. Got something against thirteen? Whoa, too many numbers for me—I’m outta here!

I casually, and more in jest, refer to these artisan producers as Superheroes. Okay, calling them Superheroes might be a bit of stretch, they’re not fighting evil villains plotting world domination. But they are putting themselves out there every day battling the forces of nature, the environment, the economy, government and big business… all for the sake of wine. That’s dedication. So next time you’re pouring yourself a glass at the end of a long day, take a moment to think about what kind of passionate individual (hero) it took to get that wine there and make a quiet toast to them. Until we sip again…


Thursday, March 11, 2010

If I'm Pinot Noir, What Wine Are You?

“So, I was wondering, what Pinot Noir am I?” recently asked a friend. I told him first and foremost, he couldn’t possibly be Pinot Noir, because I am. But if you know anything about me by now, you know this conversation got the rusty old wheels turning. So, if I’m Pinot Noir (click here to see Pinot Noir’s qualities from my last post), what varietal of wine are you?

Do you have a knack for levity and tendency to lighten the moment with your witty presence? Why you must be Chardonnay!

Perhaps you’re Cabernet Franc… strong, masculine and most likely smelling like a combination of an old fogies’ stogie, moss and a leather armchair.

Sangiovese, you little Earth mama you. Expect to see this lass laden down with a rustic basket full of sun-ripened fruit and savory spices. She’s a bit hippy-like and often smells of campfire. Sometimes people call her crunchy, savory, or even acidic.

Riesling, you could be named Sybil, Eve (or Gewurztraminer for that matter), there are so many facets to you. One minute you’re sweet as honey and the next, you’re bone dry… no one will ever figure you out (but that won’t stop them from trying). You’re genuine, expressive, full of lively personality and you play well with food (wink, wink).

Oh yes, you have a reputation Pinot Grigio, but people just don’t know the real you. They misjudge you—think you lack character and backbone. Don’t worry my sweet; there are many who see your inner beauty.

If you see yourself as sharp, with an etched profile and would categorize yourself as “green”… you might be Sauvignon Blanc. If you enjoy casual hikes in the stone-filled, countryside or through tall, warm grasses while chewing on sprigs of herbs… you just might be Sauvignon Blanc.

Ever been called a wolf in sheep's clothing? Well, that would mean you’re Zinfandel. You look simple, but most of time, you’re just downright hot.

You’re easy-going, sometimes a bit soft but an all-around nice person. You may have been a bit of a wallflower growing up. When your mom described you, it was always how you were not like someone else (“Oh that Merlot, she’s definitely no Pinot or Syrah.”).

Speaking of Syrah: Syrahs are excellent muti-taskers; they work hard to show how diverse they can be. A bit like liquid incense… they’re exotic, heady and anything but one-dimensional. They love Autumn with its dried leaves and fruits and live for stews, slow-simmered braised meats and long walks in the rain.

People wouldn’t know it to look at you, but you really pack a punch. Yes, you may look like a poodle, but you’re all boxer. You have a wicked streak and sometimes come across to others as bitter… but you’re getting better with age. Your name is Nebiolo.

Viognier, with your Botticelli-like figure… you’re pure hedonism, lying there in pools of musk and honey, decadently feeding your lovers overly ripe apricots, guava, mango and passion fruit all day.

Oh, Muscat, you’re just a mimbo (male bimbo). You have a maturity about you but take pleasure in seducing all the old ladies with your predictably sweet perfumes.

Ahhhhhh, then there’s Cabernet Sauvignon—powerful, structured and intelligent, yet opulent, sensual and downright provocative—worth holding on to. You and your mysterious aura—with your mischievously spicy side—if only I could really get to know you. You’re utterly luscious and possess a profoundly captivating persona—mmmmmm, intoxicating. Oh baby, where have you been all my life?

Or maybe you’re just more of a mutt after all. A mixture of many different varietals… a blend, a cuvee, like Bordeaux. You’re classic, sophisticated and savvy, yet fun and always full of surprises.

I’ve taken the liberty of exploring a few wine personality types, but with an alphabet full of varieties, I could go on forever (I’ll spare you). If you haven’t identified with one of these, tell me what I’ve missed and which wine you are. In the end, take to heart the real beauty lies in attraction. Just like people, every once in a while you meet a wine so appealing and so mind-boggling, it quite possible changes your life forever. Until we sip again…


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Date With Pinot Noir… and a Little Role-Play Fun

Beware: May cause elevated blood pressure, erratic breathing and possible engorgement. Not for the faint of heart. Read at your own risk.

You greet me, your package sleek, sexy and so attractive. I know what lies inside… it’s wet, sweet and waiting to grant me immeasurable pleasure. Eager and excited, I slowly and carefully undress you, releasing just a hint at what lay in store for us both. Before I allow you to touch my lips, I breathe you in long and deep letting you fill my senses with your captivating aroma. You stand naked before me quivering with anticipation, teasing me and luring me in as I do things to you that open you up, allowing you to release even more of your provocative and sensual self. Our first kiss reveals so much— you fill my mouth with seductive and tantalizing flavors I’ve never known before; you’re so full of passion you make my head spin and my heart race. My mouth waits to explore you again.

Oh, my beautiful, I know it’s going to take time… you are not a quickie to be rushed through in an hour. You’re at your best and truly deserve to be savored over an elegant dinner and a long romantic evening where I can revel in your exquisite presence. I know this about you. You’re a class act, complex and deep, but there’s this exciting racy side to you too that’s utterly entrancing. Sometimes my insatiable desire gets the better of me and I gulp you down too quickly. And then you’re gone. I look back at the precious time we had together and know I didn’t really get to see enough of the splendor you had to offer me. If I could only make it last all night.

Quick or drawn-out, these treasured moments of bliss we share together must always come to an end. But you know I’m smitten with you, so I’ll be there waiting, thinking about what that next date with my beloved Pinot Noir will bring. Oh baby, until we sip again…


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finding Freedom in Oregon Wine Country Tour

On the day I set out to meet newlywed friends Becky and Zack at Willamette Valley Vineyards, the countryside was both covered and quieted with fog thick as a shroud. Becky arrived ready for Oregon rain fully decked out in her trendy yellow galoshes free to splash in puddles as her heart so desired (missed photo opp number one).

Willamette Valley Vineyards is all about location, location, location. Just south of Salem, and ideally situated directly off I5, its sloping vineyards and watchtower facility regularly lure travelers from their destinations. Founded by visionary Jim Bernau in 1983, Willamette Valley Vineyards lies on a 50-acre estate of red Jory soil, where originally a plum orchard, blackberry bramble and scotch broom blanketing the land. The winery was built in 1989—that and the underground cellar were carved into an ancient volcanic flow (also part of what makes the soil so rich). Now owning more than 300 acres, Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown to become one of Oregon’s largest and most recognizable brands.

The winery offers public tours every day at 1:00 pm, but we were a bit early so we passed on the tour and stayed to taste—though I bet the tour would have been great and really feel like I missed something (if you plan to visit, keep this in mind)! Willamette Valley Vineyards is extremely focused on wine education and they’ve also built a new Wine Center in McMinnville complete with maps and information about the regional soils.

Katie, one of the friendly tasting room staff, greeted us with a pour of their 2006 Griffin Creek Viognier first and then their Chardonnay along with the classic story about how guests always say they don’t like Chardonnay until they try this Chardonnay… hmmmm, haven’t heard that one before. One thing about tasting with friends is you get honest feedback. I was tasting something unpalatable and indefinable in their Chardonnay which my friend Becky accurately termed “funk.” This is why I love tasting with friends. They not only tell you like it is, they even give you the words to accurately describe it—thank you Becky! Clearly not my favorite (or Katie’s, as she actually honestly admitted to us before our tasting – go Katie!!). My preferred wine was their 2007 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir, smooth yet luscious, beginning with a huge nose of black cherry, blackberries and vanilla and following with a mouthful of strawberries, cranberries, smoke, graham and spice.

When it was time to leave, I followed my friends for a change, as they were endowed/armed with internet and GPS. Driving along washboard dirt roads, my Jeep was smiling as she was getting splattered with mud, feeling at home again after years of city driving. Zack was enjoying his German automobile a bit too much and I was struggling to keep up with him, but he eventually led us directly to Ankeny Cellars and the all the glorious surprises in store for us there, thanks Zack.

If you’re ever in the market for a winery “experience” go to Ankeny Cellars. This time of year (winterish), the outdoor ambiance is more imagined, but located next to Ankeny Wildlife Refuge, one could envision sitting on their deck sipping wine while watching predatory and migratory birds flying overhead. In the dead of winter and pre-dawn of spring, it was still just a graveyard of trellis and vine beholding all the promise of the coming season.

Kathy “The Wine Duchess,” as she’s been nicknamed by Ankeny’s winemaker Andy Thomas, graciously poured for us. Planted in 1982 by Joe Olexa (who has four college degrees, none of which have anything to do with growing wine), the vineyard is located on the southernmost slopes of the Salem hills producing roughly 2,000 cases annually all from estate fruit (they also sell grapes to Kings Estate, Redhawk and Brooks). As Kathy poured us the 2006 Hershey’s Red Pinot Noir, she told us how Hershey the dog has sadly been missing since November 2009. A beautiful tribute to Hershey though, and at $15/bottle, this wine with cherry and tobacco flavors was a tremendous value.

Another wine easy on the wallet and of particular interest was the 2006 Ankeny Crimson. With its strong Port nose, this Marechal Foch-Pinot Noir blend was inky and heavy with dark fruit. It was truly an unexpected combination, and in the words of Kathy our host, “it’s like two wines in one” … fascinating, and at $12.00 bottle, not a real risky investment either. I didn’t particularly care for it, but my companions thought it was good. We all have different palates.

Kathy told us we could take a hike—up the hill that is, past the grapevines, goats, cows, llamas and emus, to a one-acre clearing of 85 marked and 12 unmarked graves comprising Cox Pioneer Cemetery. I later learned that the cemetery was founded by Thomas Cox, Salem’s first storekeeper, and that his wife Martha was the first person buried there in 1949. An old barn from 1851 still stands on the property today, which I didn’t see and am still remiss about that lost photo opp too… another time, perhaps when the weather is fairer.

My friends and I parted ways as they continued to explore some regional favorites while I had the sweet wines of Honeywood Winery on my radar. I ventured back into the Salem hills once again GPS-free and flying by my own instincts and the seat of my pants. Quite miraculously, and without so much as a wrong turn, I arrived at Honeywood’s Salem winery.

Honeywood Winery officially opened the day after prohibition ended making it the oldest continually operating winery in Oregon. Founded in 1933 by Ron Honeyman and John Wood, it was originally called Columbia Distilleries (producing brandies, cordials and liquors), and though they objected to the merging of their names, somehow—and naturally—Honeywood stuck.

The winery offered an enormous selection of wines (18 different varietals!), above and beyond the mead and 34 fruit wines they’re famous for. When you’re handed a list with over 50 wines and told to select five, even the experienced taster is overwhelmed. I had no idea what I wanted to taste, I’ve never been there before—I really wanted to taste it all… or most of it. Well, actually I really don’t want to taste 34 different fruit wines (how many ways can you spell berry, ugh?), but five wines really didn’t give me enough of a chance to taste what the winery has to offer either. Of what I did taste, I enjoyed a non-vintage Muller Thurgau tart with lime and a touch of warm anise. As I drove away, I started thinking about those fruit wines and how I bet they’d be great for cooking—sauces, syrups, dressings and marinades of the most memorable kind! Hmmm, great thought… too bad it was moments too late.

I also thought more on tasting in the southern Willamette Valley. In addition to enjoying some great Oregon wines, you won’t break the bank and you’ll also find educational tours, history, hikes and beautiful settings to enjoy it all. I always treasure my drives through wine country; the roads are open and long and even with the windows closed, there’s this sense of having the wind in your hair—I guess it’s a feeling of freedom. I saw a huge Red Tail Hawk on a fence post right off the road, so I pulled over to try and capture his magnificent image on digital film. He sat still while I changed lenses on my camera and he sat still while I slowly and casually approached him. And as soon as I got close enough and brought my camera up towards my face, he was off with the swiftness of a glider, the grace of a ballerina and the sheer power of an airplane. I pouted a bit thinking the day’s theme seemed to be about missed opportunities, but as I saw the hawk flying off into the distance, I realized it was really about the glorious gift of freedom instead. Until we sip again…


Monday, March 1, 2010

Ten Things Make Ten Smiles

Kind of like the new version of the chain letter, a few days ago, my dear friend Rachel tagged me in her wonderful blog 6512 and Growing. Rachel usually moves me to tears with her words, so her challenge to list ten things that make me smile was ever more fitting. While the list is hard to keep at 10, these images popped into my head and just thinking about them made the corners of my mouth turn upwards. So, thanks for tagging me and here's my smiles in reverse order!

10. Beautiful gifts from nature.

9. Skinnydipping.
(Did you really think I would post a photo?)

8. Diving through waves in a warm ocean.

7. Dreaming about endless possibilities.

6. Skiing through soft powder.

5. The warm sun on my aching body.
4. My adorable kitties snuggling up together.
3. Shayden being Shayden.
2. My sweet husband making me dinner.
And finally, the thing about to put a big smile on my face right now:
1. A glass of good wine at the end of a busy day.

I'm opting out and choosing not to tag anyone. Does that mean I'll have seven years of bad luck? I sincerely hope not, I've certainly had my share… but if so, bring it on. I'd really love to hear what makes you smile, so please leave a comment before you go. Until we sip again…