July 31, 2009


It was smoking hot this week in Portland, OR. Near all-time record temperatures, including two 106F (41C) days in a row. Ouch. Annoyingly hot.

Happily, Thursday night was tasting group in the assertively air conditioned confines of a local wine establishment. I was tempted to show up "early" Tuesday AND Wednesday just for an extra taste of that cool, but couldn't motivate.

Our theme this month? Rosé. How fitting. I didn't take notes, but this was an interesting line up and worth writing about.

First the 2008 Denis Jamain Reuilly Rosé of Pinot Gris, pale salmon colored and deliciously fragrant and mineral, with just a touch of tannin from the skin contact. I've loved pretty much every example of this I've tried. Here's another winner.

Then the 2007 Crochet Sancerre Rosé of Pinot Noir, wooly and lanolin smelling like Loire chenin, not at all about fruit but something crying out for goat cheese or other food. Very good but not something for casual sipping on a hot day.

So too with the 2005 Roty Marsannay Rosé, a Burgundian rosé of pinot noir that's barrel aged and released late. This had scents of pine resin and slightly unripe peaches, and was all about texture in the mouth. Loverly broad mouthfeel with good freshness, cherries, soil, again I wouldn't pour this on the deck but with the right food it's probably stunning. More tannin here, for sure.

Then the 2008 Ott Selection Les Domaniers de Puits Mouret Cotes de Provence Rosé. This regional wine from Domaines Ott of Bandol paled in comparison to the last two wines on first blush (oh, the puns...sorry), but tonight I have the rest of the bottle and it's quite nice if a bit alcoholic. Pale color with melon and strawberry aromas, some alcohol in there too. The flavors are round and ripe with floral, strawberry, faint pepper and rock notes and appropriately Mediterrean alcohol levels, present but not objectionable. I don't mind a bit of tangy heat in my Provencal rosé. This I would guzzle on a back porch in July.

We tried a few others in this line up, but these were my favorites. So I'll leave it at that.

July 26, 2009

Wines for Crab and Steak

With my vegetarian wife away for nearly a week and the kids over at friends for a movie and pizza night, I took the unusual opportunity to dine alone. Why not eat and drink well? One the menu, dungeness crab, T-bone steak, salad and a baguette, and an old copy of The Big Lebowski. Hold the Caucasians.

With the crab, a big glass of the 2002 Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru. It's pale gold with a striking aroma of terroir and variety. Lots of seashells and chalk along with lemon and apple fruit, lightly honied with age but still fresh and bright. In the mouth it's minerally with lemon and honey flavors, austere minerals and a long, dry finish that scream Chablis and chardonnay. Perfect with crab. Let's hope it holds up in the fridge because I left most of the bottle for later.

After an interval with salad and sparkling water, the main course of rare T-bone, warmed bread and Lebowski, paired with 2000 Ch. D'Oupia Minervois Les Barons. This higher end cuvee, all of $10 on discount, is barrique aged. Typically dark, only slightly maturing color. Plummy, peppery and toasty aromas, with a (believe it or not) pleasing sense of decomposing fruit and vegetable matter. The flavors follow, with slightly drying wood tannins on the finish, nothing the steak couldn't manage. This was good enough to drink through dessert of a chocolate brownie and the uncanny humor of Lebowski, man.

July 23, 2009

Steamboat Pinot Noir

Just back from Steamboat, on the north fork of Oregon's Umpqua River and home to the annual Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference. The four day event is dedicated to pinot noir, attacting winemakers from Oregon, California, British Columbia, France and even Chile to taste through barrel samples of the most recent vintage, mostly challenged wines that can benefit from the group's collective intelligence.

This isn't a consumer event, and isn't open to media so most of what went on at Steamboat will stay at Steamboat. I was there as someone making wine who someday would love to be able to present his own sample for review. For now, I tasted, listened and contributed where I could, mostly asking questions rather than giving answers. I came away with several thoughts, a few worth relating here.

First, readers of this site should know that I'm launching my own wine label by making my first commercial pinot noir this fall. I've labeled my home made wine after myself, Vincent, in honor of my uncle and grandfather after whom I'm named, and of course the patron saint of winegrowers. How can you have Vin in your name and not use it on your label? Well, turns out I'm not going to. Too many labels out there include Vincent somewhere in their name. I'm not concerned about name confusion. Rather, trademark issues. I got some great advice all during the conference on this subject, and I came away figuring the smart move is to find another name. Any ideas?

Second, there is so much winemaking technology out there that it makes my head spin. I suppose drawing a purist's line would mean doing nothing but pick grapes, allow the wine to happen, age the wine, and bottle it, with no additives. Some people out in the world do that, but that's not my interest. I don't have a problem with sulfur, much less other time tested techniques for . Nevertheless, I hope to limit my use of winemaking techniques to preserving quality or fixing issues such as reduction, but stay away from quality "enhancers" that seem mostly to distort the attributes of a wine rather than improve things. In practice, maybe that's a vague and even wishywashy approach, but intention is important. I want to leave well enough as much as I can, not approach wine as something to control and sculpt. Steamboat gave me the opportunity and space to reflect on how I want to approach my wine, while appreciating the differences some others take to this craft.

Third, if you can, stay at the Steamboat Inn for any reason whatsoever. I actually camped out down the road, but mostly I was hanging around this old fishing lodge that's quite comfortable while being pretty nicely isolated. You're right on the Umpqua River, with steams and areas to swim, hike, fish (world class fishing here), bike, whatever. The rock formations along the river are amazing and great for scrambling. Crater Lake is a good hour's drive up the road. Or you can do nothing but watch the river go by. I can't recommend this area and this particular inn highly enough. I can't wait to go back.

July 16, 2009

2005 Evesham Wood Chardonnay Les Puits Sec

On this sweltering summer day in Portland, it's comforting to think back to an icy weekend in early 2005. I'd recently concluded a futile job search, figuring out that what I really wanted to do was make wine. I'd been experimenting with small lots of grapes at home, but I realized that I needed to begin working harvest at local wineries to really learn to make wine professionally.

Stuck at home one icy Saturday morning, I figured Russ Raney at Evesham Wood might also be stuck at home. So I looked up his phone number and called him. He didn't know me, and thinking back on it, I can't imagine what I really expected. Sure enough, he answered and I introduced myself, told him about how much I appreciated his wine and asked if I could work the 2005 harvest to learn more about what he does.

Russ is a super nice guy, and he seemed genuinely interested in me. He mentioned there might just be some room for me, that some Europeans who he thought were coming for harvest couldn't make it, but he'd figure out for sure over the next month. Sure enough, I got the job and worked several weeks during September and October 2005.

Looking back, I know I was even luckier than I realized at the time. I didn't work full time and my role in harvest ended a bit sooner than I was hoping, but I learned a ton. Mostly that Russ indeed makes excellent wine, that he treats everything the same whether it's the basic pinot noir up to his most expensive bottling and that he rolled with things no matter what happened, cool and collected. That's crucial for making good wine.

What did I do? I cleaned stuff. I sorted fruit. I did pump overs and punchdowns on fermenting wine. I loaded the press and cleaned it out. I washed barrels and filled a few with new wine. I cleaned everything again and again. It was pretty great.

What did I learn? That I could handle the work. That I enjoyed even the most mundane tasks, mostly. That I wanted to do it again, but somewhere else to learn how others make wine. That I was incredibly fortunate to call on that frozen day and essentially get my wish granted.

Now I have a variety of 2005 wines from Evesham Wood in the cellar. Let's be clear. I didn't do too much to help make these wines. I take a little extra pleasure having some slim connection to them. Really, I'm curious to see how what happened to the fruit and fermenting juice I .

Take this 2005 Evesham Wood Chardonnay Les Puit Sec, from the estate in the Eola-Amity Hills. I remember these grapes being clean and sweet, the juice golden and the wine fermenting in french oak barrels toasty smelling. The finished wine, having spent a couple of years in bottle, is light gold in color with a pungent aroma of pears, lemon candy, toasted nuts and nutmeg. This is nice Oregon chardonnay. The flavors are similar, with a soft and broad texture, ripe and rich but nicely balanced if not particularly edgy. The finish in long and soft, the wine still young and fresh but maybe not something I'd hold to too long given the structure.

Some people tell me they find Evesham Wood chardonnay too oaky. This does show some wood, but I think it's very appropriate for this Burgundy styled wine. Personally, I think this estate chardonnay is a completely underrated wine locally. It's inexpensive relative to the quality, and even in the hot 2003 vintage I thought it was excellent. Contrary to rumor, I haven't heard anything about these vines being replaced with pinot noir. Hope that's true.

July 13, 2009

2005 Gauthier Chirobles Chatenay

I've neglected Beaujolais of late. It was nothing personal. Simply my own failing. How can any reasonable person neglect Beaujolais?

I was reminded of this while reading Wine Berserkers today, which included some discussion of the 2007 Lapierre Morgon. I have a bottle of that in the cellar, but it was upside down, full of sediment and not ready for drinking.

So on to another upside bottle, this one mysteriously without any sediment. It's the 2005 Domaine Laurent Gauthier Chiroubles Chatenay Vieilles Vignes. Should be perfect with chicken roasting in the oven.

And it is. Dark, fresh ruby color, with a sweet cherry and light soil aroma. It's quite ripe but nicely so, with a fine balance of savory and sweet. The flavors are tangy, with fine tannin and a clean, somewhat long finish. Nothing complex, but oh so delicious with the chicken dinner with a vegetable gratin and garden salad. This is terrific cru Beaujolais, one of the few Chiroubles I've ever tried.

Searching for information on the wine, I see that I've unknowingly tried it before. Here's my note from a blind tasting of 2005 Beaujolais, posted on this blog more than two years ago:
Then another dark, cleanly earth smelling wine with deep rich black fruit. In the mouth, this one has softer acid, fine tannins like the others, some gummy fruit like the first wine, in the words of our host, “big and lucious.” This was the [2005] Laurent Gauthier “Chatenay” Chiroubles V.V.
I remember it now, so fruity and plush I thought it had a little shiraz blended in. A couple of years have lightened the wine so it's classic (to my taste) Beaujolais, substantial but not top heavy or overdone. I liked it fine back then, but I see in this bottle that some age can allow a wine to stretch out without losing freshness, growing into itself after seeming a bit too babyfat on release.


July 10, 2009

Oregon wine from Matello

I've long heard about the Matello wines of Marcus Goodfellow. That last name is apt. Marcus is known all around the Oregon wine community as a terrific guy, and I would agree having met him a few times recently.

He and I have a little bit in common, making wine being one thing and working with Russ Raney at Evesham Wood being another. It stands to reason that someone who excels at making wine, as Marcus clearly does, and who sees Russ as a role model probably makes wine I would love. What took me so long to figure it out?

A month or two back, I tried a recent release Pinot Gris from Matello that was really nice. Minerally and focused, with nice cut and no cloying sweetness that too much local gris seems to have. That made me notice.

Then earlier tonight I stopped by Michael Alberty's Storyteller Wine Company in SW Portland to see Marcus and taste a line up of his wines. I was impressed, starting off with the 2007 Matello Chardonnay Willamette Valley. This old oak aged wine (18 months in barrel) is exceptional Willamette Valley chard sourced from the Autumn Wind vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. Crisp apples and sweet cream notes with lovely focus and intensity. This is a steal at $17.

I didn't pay too much attention to the rose (pinot noir I presume) but it was nice for a hot day like today. Moving on, the 2007 Matello Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a great example of this pretty vintage. Nice perfume, medium weight with nice length and delicate, nuanced flavors. This is drinking very nicely right now.

In comparison, the 2007 Matello Pinot Noir Souris was a bit tight, with very juicy acid that I expect needs time. Marcus admitted it shows better on day two or even day three. I'm noticing this with some other 2007 Oregon pinot noir. Don't be afraid to decant them a while, or leave them while you drink things like the regular Matello Willamette Valley bottling.

Finally we tried the 2003 Matello Pinot Noir Hommage a A&D, apparently named for Amy Wesselman and David Autry of Westry, mentors to Marcus. (By the way, Westry also make terrific, under the radar wine.) This wine was a whole different story. As Marcus put it, 2003 saw about as much heat as a summer and fall could give here in Oregon. I liken this wine to zinot noir, a mix of zinfandel and pinot flavors. Tasty and lush, holding together pretty well for this early drinking vintage, but definitely not showing the grace and perfume I look for in pinot noir.

But so what! How generous for Marcus to open this, and what excellent wines he's making. Matello wines aren't widely available, but they are among the better wines produced locally, and even better values given their low pricing. Again, wines worth searching for.

July 09, 2009

Two whites from Washington

In the last year, I've discovered the wines of Washington state. Not literally, of course. Washington's long had a reputation for excellent wine. It's just that nothing much had really connected with me.

Part of that was that I didn't taste as much as I should. Part was that what I did taste never much excited me. And part is certainly that the wines are getting better and better. Mix that together and you're ripe for a sense of discovery when you finally get it that Washington state really does produce delicious wine.

Of course, Washington's best known for big red wines, something I'm not usually fond of. It stands to reason then that I'm more interested in things off the beaten path. Such as, white wines.

First, something fairly mainstream but delicious in the 2005 vintage. I'd tried the Ch. Ste. Michelle riesling collaboration with Ernest Loosen of Mosel wine fame, but I never thought much of it. A bottle of the 2005 Ch. Ste. Michelle Riesling Eroica the other night, however, was exceptional. Young and fresh looking with lightly sweet lemon cream and petrol aromas, it had such focused and clear flavors that I was taken aback. Could this be so good? I tried more and understood at last this wine's reputation. Not sugary, not so petrol as to be vulgar, not fat and wan in the mouth. This was excellent and something I wish I had a few more bottles of. This isn't a new release so it might be hard to find these days.

Then with dessert we had a half bottle of 2008 The Curtain Call Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. This wine comes from Trey Busch, formerly of Basel Cellars and now on his own under the Sleight of Hand label. What a terrific wine. Very pale in color, it smells pure, honied and varietal but not too much so. Sometime gewurz can be so floral and aromatic it lacks nuance. The flavors are nicely sweet but again not too much so, with pure gewurz flavors but just a hint of balancing bitterness that sometimes overwhelms this grape. Think the white pith of grapefruit. The finish is long and again pure. What a nice effort. I just bought this new release wine, so if you're interested, look for it locally. I imagine there isn't much, but it's worth a search.

July 07, 2009

2001 Edmunds St. John Los Robles Viejos Red Wine

It shouldn't be a surprise, but I'm astonished by how Gigondas-like the 2001 Edmunds St. John Los Robles Viejos red wine smelled and tasted over the past two nights.

This southern Rhone blend from the Rozet vineyard in the Paso Robles area of central California is classic Edmunds St. John -- uniquely Californian, but with a savor and earthiness that you just don't see much in wines from the golden state.

Initially the wine isn't very aromatic, but with about 20 minutes it seemed to wake up and gently fill the air with a dark, earthy and perfectly herbal fragrance that reminded me of some Domaine Cayron Gigondas. There's a bit of age showing, with a leathery sweetness but no loss of fruit or freshness.

The flavors are similarly dark, stoney and just a bit herbal, with smoothed out tannin and a long finish. Perhaps the acid is a bit high to make this an easy sipper without food, but with roasted vegetables one night and pizza the next night I loved it. So complex, so interesting, so delicious.

I would have guessed this was simply dark fruited grenache. I see it's half mourvedre with the balance being grenache, syrah and counoise, and that makes sense. The slightly hard acid, the earthy, undergrowth quality, that's classic mourvedre. If you have this and you think you like Edmunds St. John wine, definitely try one now. Just give it a little time to blossom in the glass. Excellent.

July 06, 2009

Terrific new Burgs from Pernot and Rapet

Recently I had the chance to taste through current releases from two excellent Burgundy producers. First, I sampled whites from Domaine Paul Pernot. Then (mostly) reds from Domaine Rapet Pere et Fils. What terrific wines across the board. I have enjoyed Pernot wines going back about a decade, but this was my first chance to taste through a variety of Rapet wines. Exciting stuff on both counts, what good Burgundy is all about.

First, Pernot. The 2007 Bourgogne Blanc showed nice straightforward chardonnay character, pure white Burgundy aromas with maybe a touch of figgy botrytis? Good white Burgundy flavors, harmonious, low oak, just lovely stuff. Next the 2007 Puligny Montrachet, with a similar aroma but a more lactic/creamy in the mouth, in a good way. There’s definitely a step up here in quality with the fatter texture and good flavors with acid in harmony.

Then the 2007 Puligny Montrachet Folatieres 1er cru, which showed more yeasty, beery notes at first, then nicely integrated with some subtle oak notes with sweet cream and apple fruit notes. There’s more barrel influence here, perhaps a bit sour edged at this point but it’s so mineral and tight, I think the nice balance of elements portend nice ageability.

Finally the 2007 Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru. What another step up, with green apple aromas and some barrel notes but just pure finesse and great balance of elements. Better length here, just a touch sweet/sour, with a notable burst of flavor on the finish, very nice wine.

For a nice comparison, check out Brooklynguy’s write up of similar bottlings from 2005.

Then on to Rapet. First a white wine, the 2007 Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Blanc 1er cru, with a nicely stoney, bright and perfumed aroma. The flavors are delicious with lively green apples and a sense of richness. Things are a bit compact but this is clearly young, high quality wine.

Next came the 2006 Pernand Vergelesses Les Belles Filles, a red wine that’s fragrant with a pretty red cherry pit aroma. In the mouth it’s nice with a lighter intensity but everything in its place. Stylish, feminine village level Burgundy.

Then the 2006 Pernand Vergelesses Rouge 1er cru. Was this Les Vergelesses? I thought so but my notes don’t say. Anyway, reminds me of others from this vineyard, slightly herbal smelling but with a subtle richness than you don’t find in the Belles Filles. Nice soil and stalk notes with a bit of a furry texture to the lovely red fruit flavors. All these Rapet red wines are lighter colored but have intensity that creeps up on you. Very nice.

Next came the 2006 Beaune Champs Pimont 1er cru, with a very transparent aroma, more of that subtle fruit richness, turned soil, cherries, really nice in the mouth with great harmony and verve. There’s more ripeness than you think but this is nicely restrained wine, classic red Burgundy that tastes like no other place.

Next the 2006 Beaunes Greves 1er cru, again with beautiful balance of richness and finesse, with a worsted texture and just more depth than the others so far. I love these Rapet wines. Absolutely stellar burgs.

Finally the 2006 Corton Pougets Grand Cru, ok, not my favorite. It’s a bit vulgar with a warm, roasted aroma and fat, rich but less finessed flavor. Not tight and tannic like Corton tends to be, but otherwise a bit obvious as I think is typical of this appellation. This isn’t a favorite, but what can I say? It’s still very good. I’m going to make an effort to try more Rapet wines.