Archive for ‘Oregon Wine’

November 22, 2010

Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Shea Wine Cellars 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir


Selecting the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner means picking more than one wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and after that it is a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. Try and keep the number of varietals served down to four: sparkling wine, red wine, white wine and desert wine. Also consider keeping the same wine for each varietal so you don’t introduce further chaos to your taste buds. That said; don’t be afraid of selecting too many bottles to have at the ready. Lots of alcohol can be good should you encounter:

Mom: “Do you remember when you were six and you recreated the first Thanksgiving using tooth picks and gum drops? So clever.”

You: “Yeah, you told that story 10 minutes ago. And last year. And the year before that. It wasn’t all that clever. We all learned it in kindergarten art class.”

Mom: “You were so bright. You had so much potential. I suppose if you hadn’t married beneath you, things may have turned out differently.”

Don’t let that dominate the evening. It’s your responsibility as host to keep the conversation flowing in a genial and entertaining way. It’s no secret that alcohol is the key to unlocking the creative story telling generator in your brain. Use it wisely.

A complex menu like what you’ll serve at Thanksgiving calls for a versatile wine. Pinot Noir fits the bill as it pairs well with so many different types of food. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair with red or white meats, and just about any dish you can think of. It is a complicated and sensitive varietal. Don’t be surprised if you find a bottle of your favorite Pinot nestled away in a darkened bedroom, smoking cloves cigarettes, wearing a velvet robe, listening to Passion Pit and reading Anna Karenina by candlelight.

There are only two regions in the world that produce worthy Pinot Noir. Yes, I’m biased. Deal with it. The revered Burgundy region of France produces the standard-bearer wines and for that, they command a king’s ransom for the prestige. The second region is the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Talented winemakers have been producing brilliant Pinot’s in the hills and valleys of Oregon for more than 40 years. The Willamette Valley shares several ties with Burgundy. The both lie at the same latitude, Oregon wine makers select Burgundian Pinot root stock clones and several French houses have set up operations in Oregon.

Many award winning wines from producers such as Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, Bergstrom, Penner Ash, and Raptor Ridge made from grapes grown in the Shea Vineyards typify the Oregon Pinot Noir; bold, spicy and rich with fruit. This has become one of the region’s premier vineyards under the direction of Dick Shea. That’s true for the vineyard’s namesake Shea Wine Cellars, founded in 1996. Not only do the Shea’s have exacting control over the fruit, but they also have a unique method for creating the wine. Rather than using stainless steel, Shea Wine Cellars uses of neutral wooden fermenters, which smooths out the tannins for a longer finish. Wine made in wooden fermenter is rounder and softer than wine fermented in stainless steel.

For Thanksgiving, you have to bust out the 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This is Shea Vineyards signature clone. It is a blend of wines made from grapes grown in three blocks of the Shea Vineyards. After the wine is fermented in wood, it is aged 10 months in mix of new and old Burgundian oak barrels. Just enough time to impart a toastiness, but not so much as to overpower the delicious fruit.

Look The envy of a brandy-braised cranberry sauce. If only it could look as rich, deep and dazzling as a Willamette Valley Pinot in full resplendence.
Smell Don’t worry about the glorious smell of roast turkey overcoming this wine. It has an intensity that can take on the most fragrant dish on your Thanksgiving table. As complex as your meal, it has scents of the Oregon hills, lavender, spice, black coffee, molasses and black cherry.
Taste The 2006 Wadenswil is as complex as your Thanksgiving dinner. The first course is an orgy of black cherry, blackberries and plum entwined in lusty embrace with clove, cinnamon and spicy cedar smoke. The second course is the creamy, velvety round mouth feel. And the third course lingers for an incredibly long finish of soft tannins and dark chocolate.
Price $52

Like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head, this wine will wedge itself deep in the folds of your cerebral cortex. You’ll never know what will trigger it, but sooner or later this wine will come back and grab you. The next time you smell the woody earth of wild mushrooms sautéing in Irish butter, you will get a phantom taste of blackberries and spice that could only be the Wadenswil. You’ve been warned. Drink it with your Thanksgiving dinner, and dream about it the rest of the year.

What are you drinking?

July 21, 2010

What a difference a year makes


Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in a different year? Would you have the same convictions, vote for the same party, hold the same religious beliefs and like the same kinds of foods if you were born in a different decade? Would you be more conservative like Richie Cunningham in the TV show Happy Days if you had been born in the 1950s instead of the 1970s? Do you think it would matter if you were born only one year earlier or later?

I like to think my birth year had an effect on me. 1969. What a momentous year. Led Zeppelin released their first album and Hendrix played Woodstock. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Stonewall riots in New York City ushered in the gay rights era. The Concorde was the first supersonic plane to break the sound barrier. The Summer of Love. All of that and the yin and yang of ‘69 was amplified by my star sign, pieces. It left an indelible mark on my world view.

It goes without saying that wine is also impacted by the year in which it was born. Why else would we fuss so much about the vintage. “Oh man ’96 was a great year for California Cabs.” “I’ll take a ’05 Bordeaux over that any day.” Its loads of fun to experience the difference a year can make by conducting a vertical tasting. Grab a few friends, pick your favorite wine by producer and by four or five sequential years and compare them side by side. Nothing beats it.

Beautiful Wife and I decided to do a micro-vertical with one of our favorite wines, Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir. We selected the ‘06 and ‘07 for our little tasting. Both of these wines are a little young, but we’re an impatient sort, so we went forth. Argyle viticulturist, Allen Holstein, does a brilliant job of selecting the grape clones and managing the Lone Star and Knudsen Vineyards where Nuthouse Pinot grapes are grown to get the best berries year after year. Winemaker, Rollin Soles, deftly combines chemistry and artistry to make those grapes into wine that makes me euphoric. So what did these guys have to work with in ’06 and ’07?

The Oregon Willamette Valley had an excellent year in 2006 with a warm summer that persuaded the fruit flavors to burst forth and a little rain right before harvest kept the alcohol levels in check. The 2007 season started with a warm spring and rolled into a moderate summer, ideal for abundant amounts of fruit to mature. However rain deluged the wine region in September and October making for a challenging harvest.

Comparing the two wines side-by-side it was obvious that they are siblings. They both had a bright disposition and grounded in the land from where they came. They aren’t twins though. Their birth years made their mark.

2006 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Playful, with translucent eyes and a broad smile of ruby-red lips.
Smell Saucy and earthen as a ripe blueberry Violet Beauregarde after she rolled in the Oregon soil.
Taste Boarding school charm with a penchant for a smoke after class. The ‘06 began with blackberry and dried cherry which hung around for a long time to be joined by cocoa, cinnamon and puckering tannins. Its velvety smooth with good acidity and a polite acknowledgement of alcohol.
Price $60

 2007 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Fresh-faced with rosy, cranberry cheeks.
Smell Forthright and confident Hermione Granger with a strawberry and graphite mist issued from her wand.
Taste The younger sister emerges from the Nuthouse with the same fruit forward posture, but less of an attitude. She has a clean, bright cherry introduction that smoothly rounds into a smoky, lingering finish.
Price $60ish (I think)  

 I went back and forth trying to decide which one I liked better. Was it the more complex, darker ‘06 or the more innocent, fruitier ‘07? I think I’ll have to do this test again to really decide. Why don’t you try it and tell me what you think? I’d love to hear it.

Full disclosure: I had the wonderful fortune to work part-time at Argyle Winery, during which time I developed a fondness for the people and the wine. This is a completely biased review.