Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

If you have ever traveled on Interstate 5 south of Portland, Ore., you have passed Willamette Valley Vineyards. Its beautiful tasting room towers over the freeway, surrounded by sloping hillsides of grape vines and pine trees. It’s hard to miss, but for years I drove past it and didn’t take the time to stop. wvv 3

In August 2012, I righted that wrong while on a tasting trip with the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. The winery is even more beautiful up close. And bigger! There are 50 acres of vines on the Estate Vineyard, and the winery imports from non-estate vineyards to round out its production.

Did I mention that it’s sustainably grown too? You can read about the soil, climate and elevation here, and I’ll move on to the taste!

Tonight I opened a 2009 Pinot Noir, a fantastic example of why Oregon is wvv 1known for its pinots! The color is a ruby-jewel color, clear and crystalline and almost pink during the pour. The aroma is black pepper, green pepper, tobacco and plum.

The aroma is mirrored in the taste — peppery, plummy, and just a touch of smoke. This is something I love about good pinots – deceptively complex flavors in a seemingly thin wine.

There are a great many pinot noirs that are just watery and hardly worth the effort to drink them. But the ones I like to drink — like this Willamette Valley selection — are spicy like a good zinfandel but light and in feel and aftertaste.

Bonus points to Willamette Valley Vineyards for an abundance of info on thewvv 2 label. I have never seen a label that includes the grape clone names, soil type, date of harvest, and best dates to drink it. This wine is best consumed between 2011 and 2013, so I feel quite confident in what I’m tasting now in 2013.

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Crushing on the Dreaming Tree

Is there anything smoother than Dave Matthews on a warm summer evening? How about wine from Dave Matthews on a warm summer evening? Yep, the musical master is lending his golden touch to wine with the creation of Dreaming Tree Wines.

I found The Dreaming Tree Crush (North Coast red blend, 2009) on sale at Safeway for about $9, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Winemaker Steve Reeder paired up with Matthews to make wine as accessible as music, something everyone can enjoy on any night of the week. As Reeder describes it: “I make wines for people to drink. I don’t make wines for people to put in their cellar.” (Dreaming Tree website)

Indeed, the Crush blend is about as drinkable as you’ll ever find – it’s like crushed velvet, as smooth as the real thing without the restrictive weight. Hell, I tasted it with a veggie stir-fry tonight, and I think I’ll pair it with hamburgers tomorrow.

The tannins are present without being oppressive. There are hints of coffee and tobacco (love!) but you won’t feel the need to rinse with water after a swig. Crush is a wine you’d want to take on a picnic and savor while lying in the grass under a big willow tree, listening to the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the trickle of a stream nearby. You might watch the clouds pass overhead while you unwittingly hum “Satellite.”

Your memories of that day will be of the breeze and the clouds and the absence of time, and you’ll remember that delicious red wine that paired as perfectly with your deli sandwich as it did with your chocolate-chip cookies. So you’ll pick up another bottle for the Friday night dinner with friends, and probably another bottle to sip with your partner by the fire pit on your patio.

The wine will become a welcome guest in your home, but never the centerpiece. It’s not meant to steal the show, but its presence would be missed should you forget to invite it.

And The Dreaming Tree has a certain personality trait that ensures it a permanent place in my wine rack: sustainability. This line of three wines – Crush (red blend), Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon – is produced with sustainable practices, from the lightweight glass to the recycled paper for its labels and its sustainable natural corks. And the winery even partnered with The Wilderness Society, working to conserve public lands.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab your most broken-in Levis, round up some friends to meet you at the beach, and bring  a bottle of Crush to complement your spread of artisan cheeses. And enjoy the night.

Tonight’s homework: Enjoy!

I’m stumped tonight. I opened a Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon with every intention of reviewing it. But I just don’t have it in me. (Well, I suppose I can at least say that it has a slightly mocha flavor with soft tannins, a perfect match to my dessert of chocolate chips.)

Yes, you read that right. Chocolate chips for dessert. It’s the only chocolate I could find in the house, and I even raided my daughters’ nearly year-old Easter candy. I almost wish I were pregnant so I could send my husband to the store for ice cream and he’d have to say yes. But then I’d be pregnant, and craving chocolate ice cream, and not able to drink the open bottle of cab in front of me.

But I digress. I’ve spent quite a bit of time tasting and reviewing wines for this blog, which I love to do. But I haven’t spent much time writing about why I like tasting wine. I have great dreams of writing something truly significant about wine. Something that winemakers, tasters, writers and housewives will read and say, “Wow, that Beth chick just GETS it!” (you’re an eloquent bunch, aren’t you!)

But sometimes, the wine just needs to be about the experience, not the taste. Some wines pair perfectly with an aged steak, a seared tuna or a even a bowl of chocolate chips. And some wines pair perfectly with a lazy Saturday night. With settling into the couch, feet up and toes snuggly under a warm afghan. With turning on a classic Cary Grant flick, popping a bowl of popcorn and appreciating the sub-freezing weather outside because I’m warm and happy inside.

Yes, tonight’s Beringer is one of those wines. On another night I might comment on its peppery bouquet and smooth, coffee finish. I’d remark that it’s quite a steal, on sale this week for only $8.99 at Smith’s/Kroger. But not tonight. Tonight I am going to join my husband on the couch and see what’s on Netflix. I’m going to sip my wine and appreciate its tingly warmth and the slight grogginess it will bring as I near my bedtime.

Enjoying a Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, cozy in my homemade afghan.

So with that, I bid you goodnight. Turn off your computer, pour a glass of your favorite wine, and dig out that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Enjoy the purely hedonistic quality of the wine without nary a thought to bouquets, aromas or mouthfeels. For goddsake, don’t even think the words “fruit forward”! (If you want to decant before you pour, though, go ahead. That’s just good taste.) Cheers!

Bond… Double Bond

A good friend invited me over to try a new wine today. Enter Double Bond. She poured a glass of what I expected to be  just another good red wine. I was wrong. This was a great red wine!

The 2009 Pinot Noir is fantastic. It’s so smooth, light silk rather than heavy velvet. I asked her what it sells for and she said “$45 or so.” And I have no doubt that it does. It tastes like $45. It’s no wonder I fell in love at first sip.

It’s a dark cherry color, not watery as so many pinot noirs can be. The aroma is a blend of fruit, clove and vanilla. Lest you be fooled into thinking this smooth drink is weak, let me argue that it’s complex in its simplicity. This is the Harry Connick Jr. of  red wines – disarmingly charming, full of finesse, yet obviously deeper and more complex than just a pretty face (and a voice like butter). You could drink the entire bottle without giving it a second thought, or you could spend an entire night studying its nuances and tones.

The winery sources its grapes from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo in California. The whole Central Coast region is known to produce excellent pinot noir, thanks to the cool nights.

Double Bond gets its name from chemistry – the state of molecules forming two bonds rather than one, creating a stronger, more complex bond. The winery and winemaker pride themselves on marrying biology and art, creating the best wine based on both the science of vinification and the non-science of good taste. Quoting the website: “Science and art; both are required to make fine wines and they define our connection to the craft.”

While this wine is certainly out of my usual $10 budget, I thought it worthwhile to mention because it is a reliable pick for a special occasion (unless $45 is your everyday price point, in which case, bottoms up!). And let’s be honest, since “Sideways,” every Central Coast pinot noir purports to be The Best. But this is one I’ve tasted and can say it truly is a fantastic wine.

Follow what the winery is up to or to find out where to get it through its Facebook page or on Twitter @DoubleBondWine. It’s available in most well-stocked wine stores. Get shopping!

Cline Cellars and Nevada ghosts

In August, I had the pleasure of attending the grand re-opening of the historic Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nev. That beautiful old lady has changed hands many times over the last few decades, and now it is in the keep of Fred and Nancy Cline, who happen to own the eponymous Cline Cellars in Sonoma, Calif.

Historic sites, haunted hotels and wine — my dream come true!

The Clines welcomed their first guests with a bottle of their 2009 zinfandel, appropriately labeled “Lady in Red” in honor of the Mizpah’s resident spirit. (I didn’t see the ghost while I was there, but I heard some good ghost stories from friends who stayed an extra night after the opening when the rest of the hotel was nearly empty.)

Nancy Cline has family roots in Nevada, and her desire to revive the Mizpah and bring her back to her former glory is immediately evident when meeting her. The hotel is as much a labor of love as it is a business investment.

And the Clines know a thing or two about business, which bodes well for the old Mizpah. Aside from the vineyards that bear their name, Fred Cline also owns Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma. The array of cool-climate wines that they have not only attempted but perfected is testament to their dedication to success.

Tonight I decided to finally test my bottle of Lady in Red, and the Clines did not let me down. Cline Cellars’ expertise with zins is evident from the first waft of vanilla and spice on the nose to the hint of coffee and cherry aftertaste. It’s deceptively light on the tongue but leaves nothing to be desired in taste. The earthy flavors are neither weak nor heavy, but perfectly balanced with equally weighted currant and cherry.

The Lady in Red would be proud the wine bottled in her honor for the unveiling of her haunted home is as ethereal and fleetingly present as she is.

This wine isn’t available with the commemorative label, but the 2009 Sonoma Zinfandel is available on the website for $26 ($20 for club members!). Judging by the tasting notes of that wine, I think it’s the same.

I challenge the truly adventurous to visit the winery in Sonoma and pick up a bottle or four, then head east toward Tonopah. Book a room at the Mizpah, wait until dark, then take your wine out into the desert to take advantage of the inky dark sky (thanks to almost NO light pollution). You’ll see stars like you’ve never seen before, and if you drink enough wine, you might just catch a glimpse of the Lady in Red upon your return to the hotel.

Chardonnay and stroganoff

“Which white are you drinking tonight?” my husband asked oh so innocently.

“Huh? I’m not drinking white,” I replied, not so nicely. (hey, it’s been a long day and I’m cranky and CLEARLY the wine in my glass is not white)

“Yes you are, because I need some for my sauce, so which one do you want to open tonight?”

Oh dear. Now THAT’S a good question.

You see, opening a bottle for both cooking and drinking is not as easy as it seems. I use cheap wine in cooking, but no one wants to drink cheap wine. (Readers, I know you know the difference between cheap and inexpensive.) So that rules out my cooking-only wines. And if I were to give my husband a pinot grigio that I don’t especially like, then I’m left with a half-bottle of wine I don’t really like. (basic logic here, folks)

This warm evening calls for a glass of refreshing sauvingnon blanc, but that’s much too fruity and tangy to use in a stroganoff sauce. That leaves me with chardonnay. But chardonnays can be very oaky and buttery and I’m not sure I want to pair that with a heavy cream sauce and beef.

What to do? What to do? (Hey, this is serious business!)

I decided to open a Hayton 2009 Family Reserve Chardonnay* from Cannery Row Cellars. It was part of a Wine Insiders shipment (currently $14.99 on the website) I recently received and not a wine I was familiar with. I took a gamble, knowing it could turn out to be oaky and heavy, so I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth and light it was.

The flavor is mostly apple and lime but it not biting or tangy. The acidity is perfectly balanced to be smooth yet refreshing. This chardonnay made an incredible stroganoff sauce and was a delicious wine to pair with the dish. And since it didn’t start out too tart, I feel like I can drink a glass and  put the rest in the fridge until tomorrow without running the danger of it turning into vinegar.

Moral of the story: Take a chance on cooking wines – you might be surprised. Bonus lesson: Don’t worry about cooking wines – your HUSBAND is COOKING after all!

* The 2009 is not on the Wine Insiders website right now, so the link is to the 2008.

Pinot grigio with a side of humility

Mental association is an incredible thing. Just think about it a minute: You love the name Daniel, but your husband was beat up in high school by a kid with that name. Guess Junior won’t be called Danny Boy. Or you used to love dishes spiced with cumin… until someone mentioned that it smells like sweaty feet. Next thing you know, Mexican food is ruined for you.

That’s how it is for me with pinot grigio. It was a gateway wine for me — a fruity, sweet wine, perfect for my novice palate… a decade ago. Now when I think of pinot grigio, I think “amateur,” “beginner,” “wimp.” What self-respecting wino drinks pinot grigio? My mom, a non-drinker, loves the stuff! Then Ramona Singer went and drove the nail in the grigio coffin. After watching Ramona slosh through four seasons of “The Real Housewives of NYC” with a bottle of pinot grigio in hand (watch out if you don’t have it at the ready!), I just can’t drink it without feeling the hit to my IQ. (or is the four seasons of “Real Housewives” that does that?)

But a recent Groupon delivery of $10-or-less wines from Wine Insiders included a bottle of pinot grigio, so tonight I decided to swallow my pride, so to speak. The pick was a Twin Bridges 2009 Pinot Grigio (San Martin, Calif.), and I thought it would go well with the peppery rub on my barbecued pork chop.

The aroma made me hesitate – is that grapefruit and honey I smell? Whoo boy, this is gonna be rough! (For those who are new to my blog, I hate overly sweet drinks. I drink my iced tea with lemon, my coffee black and my wine dry.)

But you know, life is about second chances and having an open mind. And in this case, it paid off. The blend of citrus and honey is refreshing, not heavy. Its mouthfeel is light and fleeting, and there’s an intriguing floral note in the taste, not at all syrupy. And yes, it went perfectly with the pork rub!

One of my biggest complaints with white wines is the pucker factor. So many whites — sauvignon blancs being the biggest culprit — are too tart. They make my mouth pucker. And that is NOT a good look on me. The Twin Bridges pinot grigio is totally sans a pucker factor. And it’s my new best friend… at least while the temperature is topping 90. Once it cools down, I’ll return to my beloved reds. Until then, I do believe I’ll refill my glass and channel my inner Ramona. How much are flights to the Hamptons?

Torrontes surprise

I’m a big fan of Alamos red wines, so you can imagine how my review of the Alamos Torrontes white wine will go. Yum. There, review done!

Ok, I’ll give you a little more substance if you really want it. But for those of you on a tight schedule, you can stop reading. It’s yum.

Torrontes is an Argentinian white grape, THE white grape in that country, according to this guy, who also says that it’s “aromatic and perfumed” like a viognier or muscat. This is all true, but I think that comparing it to a muscat is a disservice because muscat is so often sweet. This torrontes tastes florally sweet (is florally a word? Sure, why not?). If we’re going to attribute sweet to it, it’s like mashed-up dandelions, not like syrupy over-ripe grapes.

There’s a nice balance of vegetative tastes in this wine, actually. Dandelion, some bitter green beans, and a sunny splash of citrus. I’m admittedly ambivalent toward white wine, and when I tasted this fun find, I actually said, “Oooh, this is good!” (high praise, believe me!) The wine also has a fizzy feel on the tongue, a nice surprise for a Tuesday night! (um, yeah, not sure how I feel about that statement)

You can pick this up in the $13 range, but I’ve seen it on sale for under $10. I paired it with a very mild fettuccine alfredo with breaded chicken and steamed broccoli. The strong flavor of the broccoli worked very well with the wine, but I think a stronger pasta — maybe spicy sausage rather than chicken — would have complemented the torrontes better.

Clif Climber hits a home run… again

I’ve been saving my 2009 Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc for a special occasion. With two kids and a full-time job, special occasions are hard to come by. So when my husband brought home some fresh Ahi tuna that a custpomer gave him, I decided that was special enough. (Hey, fresh sushi-grade tuna IS a  big deal!) He took care of the cooking and I took care of chilling the wine.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc with seared Ahi

Clif (yes, as in the health bars) has become one of my favorite wineries for its green practices (read about that here, in last year’s review) and reasonable price tag. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $14 and is worth every penny.

The wine is nearly clear, which is a good hint at the taste. It’s fresh and light and a little tart in a palate-cleansing way (as opposed to the lemon-sucking way). There’s a nice presence of pear, but what makes this wine great is that no single flavor jumps forward; it’s just mellow and tasty. Not overly intrusive with any fruit. And that’s why it was perfect with tonight’s “special occasion” meal.

Tonight my husband marinated the Ahi in soy sauce, wasabi, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and sesame oil, then lightly crusted in sesame seeds. He seared it perfectly and paired it with stir-fried veggies (sauteed with a little Hoisin sauce) and teriyaki Rice-a-Roni (hey, we had to make something our kids would eat!). The tuna was so light and fresh, the veggies were so light and fresh, so it made sense that the wine be light and fresh too. The meal would have been destroyed with a heavy, dominant wine; it needed something to brighten up the sesame but not be so tart and fruity that it overpowered the tuna.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that will be your best friend at dinner time because it will complement just about anything. However, it’s also drinkable on its own (as I’m finding out at this very second!) because it won’t make you pucker after two sips. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of white wines, so I have a bias against sauvignon blancs. This one makes me look forward to my next bottle (and next Ahi filet!), and that’s big in my book.

2009 Climber Red

I saved my 2009 Clif Climber Red and Climber Sauvignon Blanc for Thanksgiving to go with my quasi-sustainable meal. I won’t repeat all my reasons for why the Climbers were a great fit for the meal, all the reasons like how the winery sources its grapes from local, organic growers, and how the winery is activly reducing its carbon footprint. You can read all about that on the Clif website, but now let’s get to the to fun part — tasting the wine!

I know that white wines go best with turkey, but I’m such a sucker for reds. So I gave hearty thanks for the folks at Clif Winery, and I twisted open the Climber Red. The aroma is fruity and slightly peppery. The blend is primarily zinfandel, then cabernet, rounded out with syrah, merlot and petite sirah. The flavor is a nice, round berry — not jammy or sweet, but perfectly tart, fresh and mild — with a smoky finish. The smoke isn’t quite as prominent as in the 2008 blend; rather than making a strong statement, it is now a barely-there nuance in a very complex wine.

Clif hasn’t let me down yet, so I will surely continue to seek their every release with excitement. At $14.99, it’s a wine I’ll proudly serve to guests — guests who know their wine and guests who just want something that tastes good. It’s a sure-bet wine, and this busy mom can’t afford to waste time on anything less.