Ode to a Dessert Wine — Especially When Sick

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Select ports from across Oregon

I have been suffering from a bad cold for the last week. As such, I have not felt much like enjoying any sort of wine.

But then a friend reminded me today that port can be an excellent way to help clear up cold symptoms — or at least not care about them anymore.

Ports, of course, are generally considered red dessert wines. They are made from a red wine and fortified with distilled liquor, generally brandy. And, in my opinion, brandy isn’t far off from what ends up in many over-the-counter liquid cold medicines. After all, in Oregon, a checker has to verify your age when you buy a bottle of cold medicine, just like when you buy alcohol.

In Oregon, the wines are generally either termed “port,” “dessert wine” or even “fortified wine.” Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only wines that originate from Portugal can be called ports. Essentially, all of these names mean the same thing — the wines tend to be a bit sweeter and are best at the end of a meal or a night.

There are many types of dessert wines out there to choose from. Across Oregon alone, you can find dessert wines made from a variety of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon (example: NV Klipsun Cabernet “Port” from R. Stuart & Co.), Tempranillo (example: 2007 Folin Cellars Tempranillo Dessert Wine) and Pinot Noir (example: Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Style Port).

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Of course, Oregon is also home to several places that make dessert wines from other fruit. Hood River Vineyards is well known for its range of dessert wines, sherries and ports that include black cherry, Rainier cherry, marionberry, raspberry and pear. H.V. Cellars, which frequents Oregon’s wine tasting events, is well known for its traditional wines, but also for its dessert wines made from cranberry, pomegranate and wild blackberry. These types of dessert wines are generally great as an “adult” topping for ice cream or pancakes.

As always, it’s important to always try before you buy because not only will the wines taste different between different wineries, but they can also taste different from year to year. the 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Port, for example, is an entirely different experience than the 2009. One is light and bright while the other is heavier and closer to what you would expect from a traditional port.

One of the advantages of dessert wines is that — unlike most wine — is that it can be opened and stored for several months without going bad. That way, you can have your own adult cold remedy on hand when you need it.

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View in front of Hood River Vineyards

New Tasting Room for a Familiar Vineyard

BlacksleeI always love finding a new tasting room I have never heard of before. In the case of Blackslee Vineyard Estate, the reason I had never heard of it was simple — it didn’t exist until just recently.

Blackslee Vineyard Estate is located just outside of Sherwood, Oregon, in the Chehalem Mountains. The picturesque vineyard is owned by Bill and Sheila Blakeslee, who acquired the former Quail Hill Vineyard property in 2005. The property has produced top quality Pinot Noir grapes since the late 1990s. For many of those years, the grapes were sold to other winemakers. In fact, in 1998, grapes from the estate were used by winemaker Patricia Green of Torii Mor Winery to produce Oregon’s first bottle of $100 Pinot Noir.

When the Blackslees acquired the estate, they planned to manage it and sell the grapes to other winemakers. But, as often happens, their plans didn’t go quite as they expected and they produced their first vintage  in 2006 as a result of a trade with another winery of fruit for bottled wine.

Wine lovers will be happy that they did.

The vineyard makes a number of different wines, including Chardonnay, Riesling, and of course, Pinot Noir.

During a recent trip to the newly opened tasting room, which will hold its grand opening the weekend of May 17, 2013, I had the chance to taste the 2009 Yamhill Carlton Chardonnay. It was an interesting wine with a hint of effervescence that disappears about an hour after the bottle is opened. The wine has a delightful toasty flavor to it with vanilla overtones, and is distinct among Oregon wines.

I also had the chance to enjoy the 2011 Willamette Valley Riesling. The wine smells of honey and tastes of apricots. With only 1.3 percent residual sugar, the wine smells sweeter than it actually tastes and would be the perfect pairing with spicy food that needs to be balanced out.

Of course, a tasting at Blackslee would not be complete without trying the Pinot Noir. While the 2008 was nice (as most 2008 Oregon Pinots are), I was drawn to the 2009 Pinots. The 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was a soft, easy-to-drink red that burst with the taste of cherries. The 2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, by contrast, was a complex, and yet soft, wine that tasted of blackberry, blueberry, orange and a hint of leather. Both would pair well with food, but I think the latter would be great by itself, as well.

But the pièce de résistance was the 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir. While it won’t officially be released until May 17, 2013, I had the chance to preview the wine. The rosé smells of strawberries and tastes of an incredible mix of raspberries and watermelon, of all things. As with most rosés, it has just a hint of sweetness, but it is well balanced and avoids being cloying. The result is an incredible summer wine that can be enjoyed all by itself while sitting on the patio on a hot summer’s day.

On top of it, Blackslee is a beautiful vineyard that is nice just to visit. It’s definitely a must on any wine-tasting tour.

To Spit or Not to Spit

OK, it may sound crass, but it’s an honest consideration a person must take when entering a tasting room.

Every tasting room has at least one spit — or dump — bucket. I have to admit that the first time I ever really knew about these (long before I tasted wine on a regular basis) was when I read the book, “Sideways.” In it, Miles (the character that practically made Paul Giamatti‘s career), upon being told that he could have no more wine in a tasting room, proceeded to drink the entire contents of the dump bucket — mixes of discarded wines, spit and whatever else had been discarded within.

While it made for dramatic — and disgusting — reading, it made light of the importance roll the dump bucket plays in a tasting room. Having the chance to dump or spit saves your taste buds, your judgement, and could even save a life.

Consider for a moment that most wine tastings include about an ounce of wine for every wine you try. That is meant to give you enough to taste and enjoy, but not overwhelm your senses. It is believed that you need at least three sips of a wine to really taste it: the first to clear the palate; the second to give you your first taste, enjoy the combination of taste and aroma, and understand how it feels in your mouth; and the final to help you learn how the wine will evolve on your palate.

An ounce is not much, but many tasting rooms pour four to five wines in a tasting, which means you are drinking four to five ounces in a room. If you visit two to three rooms in an afternoon, that can be a considerable amount of wine. The reality is, the more wine you drink, the less likely you are able to taste it properly — both because your taste buds stop tasting it properly and because the alcohol in the wine can cloud your judgement.

And, of course, getting behind the wheel when you’ve both tasted and swallowed your wine is dangerous for everyone.

While it might seem strange, spitting is well accepted at most tasting rooms. If you want to try it, you can always ask for a spit cup. That way, you don’t have to feel like the center of attention as you spit into the communal bucket. Many people also find it easier to hold a little cup than a bucket.

Whatever you decide to do, know that the decision is entirely up to you. The dump bucket is there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to use it. I recently took some friends wine tasting and poured out more than half of what I tasted — not because I didn’t enjoy it (although, in some cases, I didn’t), but because I wanted to keep my senses about me.

Start Planning Now for Your Wine Weekend

IMG_1111It may seem an odd time of year to think about it, but now is the perfect time to plan your next trip to wine country. Many of the wineries come out with their newest wines in the weeks approaching Memorial Day weekend.

Why?

In part, because the wines are ready, and in part, because Memorial Day marks the start of wine tasting season for many. The longer days and better weather leaves many people seeking out a great bottle of wine on the way to the coast or to Central Oregon. The season unofficially runs through Thanksgiving weekend, when a lot of people seek out the perfect wine for Christmas dinner and the ideal bubbly to ring in the New Year. In between is Labor Day – the last of the holiday wine tasting trifecta.

During these three holiday weekends, many wineries hold special events, complete with wine pairings and live music. Some wineries that are almost never open for visitors, such as Patricia Green Cellars in Newberg, Ore., will throw open their doors and offer tastes of their most select wines.

For the pleasure of the tasting, you generally pay higher tasting fees (generally between $10-$20, whereas regular tastings run between $5-$15) and you have to fight the crowds for time at the tasting table.

If you don’t want to fight the crowds, plan early and try to go during off weekends. If there is a place you absolutely want to taste and it’s only open during one of the major holiday tasting weekends, then plan to be there when the winery first opens, so that you can avoid the rush.

Caves of Luxurious Wine

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Tucked in the hills around Dayton, Ore., is home to Archery Summit, a high-end purveyor of quality Pinot Noirs. The winery owns five vineyards totaling more than 120 acres of fine Pinot grapes that allow the female (yes, I said female — rare, I know!) winemakers to craft some of the most luxurious wines the area has to offer.

AS 2The winery, founded in 1993, is built into the side of a hill overlooking the valley. The main building leads right into the Archery Summit caves, which are carved into the volcanic hillside. The caves, located 40 feet underground, provide insulated storage for the wine, which is allowed to age at naturally constant temperatures in French oak barrels.

The end result is a complement of extraordinary Pinot Noirs that allow the grapes — and the elements that can impact their taste — shine through in each bottle.

For example, the 2010 Renegade Ridge Estate Pinot Noir comes from the Renegade Ridge vineyard, which is in Jory soil (a red clay found in the Willamette Valley) on the winery’s only east-facing slope. The grapes grow in morning sun, but aren’t subjected to the intensity of the afternoon heat. This allows the grapes to retain more acidity and minerality than the winery’s other vineyards, which results in a smooth and fresh Pinot that is earthy, spicy with a hint of raspberries.

By comparison, the 2010 Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir is from a mature vineyard that is AS 3planted volcanic soil that forces the vines to work hard to grow and thrive. The resulting wine is also earthy, but it tastes of brown sugar and nutmeg with a soft finish. The wine is so lush that it would pair well with a pork dish.

One of my favorite Archery Summit wines, though, is the 2010 Premier Cuvée Pinot Noir, which is a blend of grapes from all five vineyards The resulting wine is gentle and earthy, bursting with the taste of cherries, pomegranate and boysenberries. The wine can easily stand alone as a before-dinner drink or could easily pair with almost any meat.

AS eggBut Archery Summit isn’t known just for its Pinot Noirs. It also produces an amazing rosé that sells out year after year. Produced from Pinot Noir grapes, the Vireton Rosé is light and crisp and a perfect complement to a dinner in which turkey or other poultry dish is the main attraction.  The next release of Vireton Rosé is expected on May 18, 2013, when the winery will also release its Pinot Gris. The difference is that the rosé is available to the general public. The Pinot Gris, produced each year in an egg-shaped concrete structure, is made in such small quantities that it is only available to wine club members.

 

Rex Hill: Of Pinots and Chardonnay

I have a confession: I don’t tend to like Oregon Chardonnay.

There have been a select few I have recommended, but by and large, I don’t like the Oregon-grown variety. I like Chardonnay, in general, so I was surprised when I discovered that I didn’t like most grown in Oregon. They taste like blue cheese to me. And while some might like the taste of blue cheese, I doubt very many would find a wine that tastes of blue cheese to be all that appealing.

While my taste buds might have a unique interpretation of local Chardonnays, there may be a very good reason for the wines to taste a little off to me. Most of the limited Chardonnay cultivated in the state are actually from California stock. Because it is a warmer climate, California-sourced vines can have a hard time fully developing in Oregon, which can affect the taste.

Rex Hill

But in certain, warm years, the Chardonnay can fully develop and ripen, allowing for a fully developed and robust wine.

2009 was one such year. And it just happened to be the final year Rex Hill, a vineyard and winery located just outside Newberg, Ore., harvested its old Chardonnay vines before  they were pulled to make room for cool-climate Chardonnay vines selected specifically for Oregon.

All I can say is the resulting wine is one heck of a send off.

The 2009 Rex Hill Chardonnay is light, bright and well-balanced. It is succulent and deep, bringing hints of lime and peaches to the palate. Unlike a lot of California wines, it is neither buttery nor oakey. It is simply a crisp, full and fruity wine that could easily be enjoyed while watching the sunset from the front porch or with a light dinner.

The downside with the wine is the price point — at $78 a bottle, it is a stretch to imagine enjoying it as just an everyday wine. Instead, it’s one that most people would want to hold onto for a special occasion. Thankfully, the wine can be stored and enjoyed through 2017, so there is plenty of time to find that perfect celebration to pop the cork.

If $78 a bottle is too steep to consider, even for a celebration, you can always opt for the A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay, sold at many stores around the state. In 2007, A to Z Wineworks purchased Rex Hill, strengthening both brands. The 2011 Chardonnay from A to Z is similar in characteristics — light and approachable, tasting of citrus and tangerine — but without quite the same level of complexity. But at about $14 a bottle, it is definitely easier on the wallet.

Of course, Rex Hills isn’t known just for its Chardonnay. It also has several Pinot Noirs to enjoy. One of my favorites is the 2010 Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The wine’s first aroma is earthy with hints of tobacco and coffee, but it tastes of cherries and pomegranate. The wine is still young, but very drinkable. It will taste even better, though, if you are willing to hold onto it for another year or two.

And while many vintages often taste completely different from one year to the next, the 2011 Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is just starting to be released, is just as promising as the 2010. The wine is already showing a complexity that is unusual for such a young wine and it tastes of cherry, as well as a hint of blueberry.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rex Hill Pinots. To try these and more, visit the tasting room just east of Newberg, Ore.

Purple Cow — A Remarkable Name for a Remarkable Wine

Purple Cow

The prolific marketing and leadership writer Seth Godin once wrote a book called Purple Cow, Transforming Your Business by Being Remarkable. In it, Godin makes the point that to really stand out in a crowded marketplace, you have to be remarkable. And what could be more remarkable than a purple cow in a field of boring brown cows?

Because I know this, anytime I run into a brand that calls itself a Purple Cow, I am automatically skeptical.

When I found Purple Cow Vineyards, my skepticism was thrown right out the window.

I ran into the winery at The Sip, McMinnville (Oregon) Wine and Food Classic. Wine festivals are great for learning about wineries that you have never experienced before, and I take full advantage of them whenever I can attend one.

At The Sip, the booth for Purple Cow Vineyards was tucked in the back of the festival, near the food booths. It might have been easy to overlook had it not been for the large purple cow print banner hanging behind it. Come to find out, Purple Cow Vineyards is a winery dedicated to bold wines. Their lineup included Tempranillo and a Lemburger blend and a new one I had never heard of before — a Teroldego.

The tasting started with the 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé. The off-dry wine has only a hint of residual sugar that is perfectly offset by a crisp acidity that cleanses the palate while still boasting a smoothness that is appealing. The wine bursts of fruitiness, making it a wonderful wine for a hot, summer day.

From there, we transitioned to the deeper wines. Among my favorite was the 2008 Gabriela, a blend of 67 percent Lemburger, 14 percent Petite Syrah, 14 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Tempranillo. With such as mix, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but the wine was medium in body, thanks to the large percentage of Lemburger in the final mix. The wine was light and approachable for even those new to reds, but well structured enough to pair well with a hearty spaghetti dish. The smooth wine tastes of black cherries and spent 22 months in barrel, which likely lends to the drinkability of the wine.

We also tried the 2009 Teroldego Reserve. Teroldego (don’t even ask me how to pronounce it properly — I butchered the name several times) is an Italian varietal that is rarely grown outside of its home country. The deep red wine was a jammy mix of mulberry and black raspberry. It was rich and structured with light tannins and bright acidity.

But my absolute favorite of the tasting was the 2008 Tempranillo Reserve. Tempranillos tend to be spicy, savory and bold wines, but sometimes they can taste a bit green or dusty, like the grapes were picked too early or the production was rushed. Purple Cow clearly takes its time with the wine — and the hard work shows. Aged 28 months in the barrel, the Tempranillo was smooth and subtle, offering layer upon layer of flavors that tasted of blackberries and plums and brought me back for more. And it ensured that I will return to the winery again and again.

Room Temperature?

Wine Storage

How not to store wine.
Photo by favouritethings

For as long as I can remember, I have heard that white wine is to be refrigerated and red wines are to be served at room temperature.

This overly simplistic rule couldn’t be further from the truth.

The rule originated back in the days when people lived in castles and had wine cellars. The wine cellars, which were generally below ground, remained a relatively constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The castle itself wasn’t much warmer, holding in the low 60s. So white wines were served straight from the wine cellar and reds were served at room temperature — room temperature for a castle, that is.

That means that, in modern society, we are actually drinking wines at exactly the wrong temperature to truly enjoy them. Many fridges are kept below 40 degrees, ensuring that the whites are far too cold, and standard room temperature in the U.S. is somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees, making reds far too warm.

Why does this matter?

Wines served at the right temperature open up. It brings out the fruit, downplays the tannins and adds to the complexity. Wines that are too cold can flatten out, leaving you wondering why you were drinking it in the first place.

So, what are the right temperatures at which to serve wine? Below is a general rule of thumb to help you enjoy your wine even more:

  • 45-50 degrees — Champagne, sparkling wine, light-bodied whites and rosés
  • 51-55 degrees — Medium- and full-bodied whites and most dessert wines
  • 56-60 degrees — Light- and medium-bodied reds
  • 61-65 — Full-bodied reds and ports

And what constitutes a full-bodied from a medium-bodied red? Some will be a matter of taste. Many people will say that Pinot Noirs are full-bodied reds, but I have had several that I would put in the medium-bodied category. When in doubt, experiment with a wine at different temperatures to see what tastes best to you.

The Variety of Laurel Ridge

IMG_1892Laurel Ridge Winery is a quaint vineyard outside of Carlton, Ore., hidden among the rolling farmland. While it’s not the largest or best-known vineyard in the area, the picturesque winery offers a surprising selection of wines. As Susan E. Teppola, Laurel Ridge president, explains it, the winery’s goal is to offer a wine for every taster – whether a novice tasting for the first time or an expert who understands the nuances of the finest wines available.

And Laurel Ridge delivers.

While the winery has multiple wines on the current tasting menu, among my favorite are:

2011 Laurel Ridge Pinot Gris – A light-colored and light-bodied wine that smells and tastes of the tropics with a mix of citrus and pineapple. Unlike some Pinot Gris, the wine doesn’t have the sharp bite that is typical of the wine. It is gentle on the palate and would make an amazing summer wine.

2009 Laurel Rosé – An orange-rose wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes. The dry wine is well-developed and carries an initial taste of roasted red peppers, but finishes with a hint of vanilla. It would pair well with simple fair, such as a light sandwich or salad.

2009 Zinfandel — The deep-colored wine is soft and acidic, offering the taste of blackberry and pepper. The wine is robust and hearty, and easily one of my favorite among the lot.

2009 Tempranillo – Like most Tempranillos, the wine from Laurel Ridge is peppery and boasts berry and plum flavors. The grapes are sourced from Walla Walla, Wash., and Teppola said the well-formed, balanced taste is the result of allowing the grapes to hang on the vine until they reach full ripeness rather than harvesting too early.

2003 Laurel Ridge Pinot Noir Port — As with most ports, the sweet wine would pair well with chocolate. But the port, which tastes of dark berries and chocolate, also offers a smokey flavor that would go well with a cigar (if you are so inclined).

Bubbly Personality

Recently, a friend asked me how wineries made wines that were only semi-effervescent rather than full-blown bubbly. One of her favorite wines is the Tualatin Estate Semi-Sparkling Muscat-Frizzanté from Willamette Valley Vineyards, so she had a reason to ask.

Semi-sparkling wines are actually made in much the same way as a true sparkling wine (technically, sparkling wines can only be called “Champagne” if they are produced in the Champagne region of France). All wines go through a primary fermentation process, in which the grape juice is combined with yeast. The yeast interacts with the sugars in the juice to turn a fruity kid’s drink into alcohol. It also produces carbon dioxide, which generally dissipates.

To make either a sparkling or semi-sparkling wine, the liquid then goes through a secondary fermentation step. During this step, the wine is combined with a mixture of yeast and sugar for the specific purpose of producing the carbon dioxide, which is what creates the bubbles when the wine hits the glass. The difference between a sparkling or semi-sparkling wine is the amount of sugar added in the secondary fermentation. Less sugar equals fewer bubbles.

Of course, the yeast-sugar method isn’t the only way to make a sparkling wine. In some cases, wine bottles are injected with carbon dioxide gas to produce bubbles. The bubbles tend to be larger in size and dissipate faster than in traditionally made wine. For this reason, the method — while easier — is generally only found in lower-quality, less-expensive wines.

There is a third type of effervescent wine you can find that isn’t labeled as either sparkling or semi-sparkling — bottles with a bit of subtle spritz to them. While once considered a bad thing in still wines, I find more and more wineries employing this with select wines to balance sweetness or acidity or offer a new mouthfeel for a wine.

To create the subtle fizziness, winemakers often bottle in cold temperatures to capture more dissolved carbon dioxide that will result in a slightly fizzy wine when served at room temperature. In some select cases, a winemaker may bottle a wine with a bit of residual sugar that will continue to ferment and produce the subtle spritz.

The latter method is rarely employed because it results in sediment building up in the bottom of the bottle. Also, it is often considered a sign that a bottle has gone bad through a process called refermentation. For this reason, it’s always important to ask whether the effervescence is intended if the wine is not labeled as such.