Monday, March 30, 2009

Good People & Good Wine At McKinley Springs

In general, what I like most about the wine business is the people. It is inevitable that when you are out tasting you will run into old friends, and make a few new ones along the way. Last night I met a couple of new friends in Doug and Sandy Rowell, the owners of McKinley Springs Winery.

Doug and Sandy have been in the wine business for many years, beginning as grape growers for some of the most prestigious wineries in the region since 1980. Their considerable 1800 acres of vineyards, located south of Prosser in the Alder Ridge area, supplies juice for Bookwalter, Northstar, Columbia Crest, Waving Tree, and many others.

In 2002, like many other growers, Doug decided to take the difficult trail toward starting his own winery. With Sandy by his side, Doug started producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They have since branched off into producing Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and are working on many other varietals and blends.

The 2006 Viognier opens up with a nose of honeysuckle and spring flowers. It features flavors of peaches, pears, and a wonderful dry minerality which gives it a slight sparkle. The finish is quite acidic, which paired with the mineral clears the palate but leaves a nice lingering finish. My immediate thoughts were to pair this with grilled Tilapia and a nice spicy mango salsa.

I next tasted the 2005 Syrah. Doug produces his Syrah in the traditional Cote Rotie style by blending in a little more than three percent of whole Viognier grapes during the initial fermentation. This method produces a famously meaty, dark, rich Syrah that you can really sink your teeth into, while providing a beautiful elegant nose. A wonderfully balanced wine with a long tannic finish.

After the Syrah we went on to try the 2005 Malbec. As you already know, I’m a pretty ardent Malbec fan, and drink a considerable amount of the stuff. So, let’s say I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Right away I was impressed with the dark, rich nose of blueberry pie and the nearly black colors in the glass. This wine opens up with dark cherries, blueberries, vanilla, and finishes with the lingering rainforest flavor that I love. I’ll tell you now, that this is among the best being produced in this region.

Last, we tasted the 2006 Petit Verdot. Usually used as a mixing grape with other varietals, I am usually hesitant to just reach out and grab a bottle at my favorite wine shop. Doug has, however, done a nice job of tackling this very difficult grape. The Petit Verdot opens with dark colors and flavors of stone fruit. It fills the mouth with espresso, cinnamon, and fresh black pepper. Serve this with a smoked ribeye and you’ll be in love.

In closing, I want to mention that you can’t get these wines in Eastern Oregon at this time. However, if you want a reason to visit the winery they are planning several Barbeque events when things warm up this year. The one to not miss is their BBQ Showdown & Benefit on June 13th. The cost is $25 per person over 19. 18 and under are free. This includes wine for those over 21, soft drinks, food, and a lot of fun. The proceeds go to feed returning troops at Ft. Lewis. To find out more about McKinley Springs go to . Enjoy!

Why Can't I Get That Wine Here

I’ve heard it so many times lately that I swear my ears are bleeding. I’m standing in a grocery wine isle, or in a restaurant and someone behind me exclaims: “These guys just don’t carry a good selection of wine here”. I look down the massive isle, or the wine list and my thoughts are quite the opposite. I’m thinking, “Wow, if you can’t find something to drink here then you just don’t know what you’re looking for”.

Today as I was walking through the wine isle in a large store in Spokane, I was accosted by a lady wondering if I worked there. I wasn’t wearing the apron or the name tag that would indicate my employment. But, being the mild mannered young man that I am, I offered to give her a hand anyway. After all, grocery wine shelves are all the same.

Now, the store was quite large and they had a rather impressive selection. So, when this lovely older woman hit me with the above statement, I was taken aback.

She was looking for an authentic Spatlese from Germany. For those who don’t know, Spatlese is a semi-sweet white wine, much like a Riesling. My immediate response was “No problem”. However, after several runs through the shelves I finally found one label that met her specifics. It was a hefty $42 bottle.

After muffled gasps from both of us, I told her that we’d find something that would work just great, and meet her budget as well. We finally settled on Ste. Michelle Winery’s “St. M.”. This wine was produced by the famed Dr. Loosen in conjunction with Ste Michelle.

St. M is a wonderfully semi-dry Riesling, with a great level of acidity and flavors of peaches, and apricots, with a slight minerality that makes it really good with food. It isn’t a Spatlese, but close enough to taste good at just under $12 a bottle.

After she walked away I looked back down the wine isle and thought about how many people probably walk down this isle every day and say the same phrase. It got me to thinking that people have a specific thing in their mind. In this lady’s case, she had toured Germany with her late husband, and was looking to rekindle those memories.

The problem is that hand made wine is not normally sold outside of normal channels of distribution without a great cost. Sure, you can pick up a Trocken Aslace, or an Opus Cabernet Sauvignon on special order from a local wine shop, but you better know that it is going to cost a little to get it. You might get that same wine in downtown Seattle for a few dollars cheaper, but you’re going to have to cover the gas and hotel.

The truth is that there are absolutely amazing wines available throughout the Northwest, including right here in Eastern Oregon. Most are actually produced within 100 miles of Pendleton. My suggestion is that if you don’t find what you are looking for, just ask one of the distributors or store personnel at one of the local shops. They will likely be able to find something much like it at a price that you will really enjoy.

As always, enjoy!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Does A Good Pinot Noir Taste Like?

Lately it seems like nary a week goes by that I am caught in a conversation about two different Northwest wines gaining a lot of steam. The first is Malbec. You’ve heard me blab on about Malbec now at least a hundred times, so I’m going to spare you.

The second wine of frequent conversation, especially of late, is Pinot Noir. The Willamette Valley, just to the east of Portland, has been a great Pinot Noir region for many years. It wasn’t until a few years ago when the movie Sideways came out that people rushed to Sonoma and to the Willamette Valley to try this sophisticated wine.

As the Pinot grape has grown in popularity, the Northwest wine industry has been expanding its use. Now you can find Pinot Noir grapes being grown in several different AVAs throughout the region, and the first vintages are coming out of the bottle.

The argument that has ensued, is whether Pinot from the Wahluke Slope, or Columbia Valley is nearly as “good” as Pinot from one of the traditional regions. The answer I’m coming up with is that wine from different regions is different. That doesn’t mean that it is good or bad. It’s just different.

The frustration that I have is with winemakers, the wine industry and customers alike. Why is it that everything has to taste like a California Cabernet Sauvignon? I love a good Cab, but there is a reason why there are different varietals and different AVAs. After all, the root of varietal is variety. Not all good wine comes from California, and not all wines are Cabernet Sauvignon. If a Pinot Noir has Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics, it isn’t a good Pinot Noir.

My suggestion is to taste some of the region’s best standards before giving your opinion. One of the best wineries in the region for understanding the flavors of good Pinot Noir is Eyrie. The late David Lett started Eyrie Vineyards in 1965. His vineyards gained world renown, and put Oregon on the map as a Pinot Noir region in 1975.

Now crafted by David’s grandson Jason, the 2006 Eyrie Pinot Noir shows excellent characteristics of a fine Pinot Noir from any region. A brilliant bright red in the glass, with a nose of bright cherry and fresh earth, the wine opens on the palate with fresh fruit, tannin and acid perfectly balanced. The flavor and the finish are long and complex, with overtones of earth, Portobello mushrooms, cherries, currant, and elegant smoky flavors.

Another regional vintner that produces truly amazing Pinot Noir is Domaine Drouhin. With vineyards and facilities in both Beune, France, and Dayton, Oregon, the Drouhin family is in their 4th generation of making Pinot Noir.

The 2006 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir is filled with a nose and flavors of bright cherry, fresh berries, and spice. It has a very elegant, long, smoky finish, with a silky mouthfeel that makes you want just a little more.

Once you’ve found a baseline for flavor, I suggest that you try different versions of Pinot Noir from our region. I think you will find many that meet your palate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Vintages Rolling Out Of Area Wineries

Hooray! We are now in one of my very favorite times of the year. The bulbs are breaking through the soil. The days guarantee sunshine broken every few moments by torrential rains or even wet snow. Everything is just on the edge of coming out of winter hibernation. Most important to me is that the region’s wineries are releasing their new vintages and retiring the old ones.

At Terra Blanca, Keith & Renee Pilgrim just held their annual Onyx release weekend. If you haven’t ever attended this annual gala, I can truly tell you that you are missing out. Keith & Renee pull out all of the stops, sharing their wine with the public. This includes even their special library wines at unbelievable prices.

My wife and I had a wonderful time at the winery’s Onyx dinner. The entire meal, catered by Leo’s Blue Moon, was entirely paired with red wines, which I considered brilliant!

I was very impressed with the 2005 Onyx. Keith makes every other vintage immediately drinkable, opposed to a vintage that must lay down a few years. This year’s Onyx is a little tight in the bottle, but with a little swirling of the glass opened up beautifully with plenty of stone fruit and spice, slight tones of lavender, leather, and a wonderful balance of tannin.

Charlie Hoppes has also released his newest vintage of Fidelitas M100 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. I ran into Charlie the other night at a tasting, and enjoyed several wines from his portfolio from his Semillon to his 2004 Malbec.

The 2007 Fidelitas M100 is named after Hoppe’s Grandmother Mary who was honored with the label on her 100th birthday a few years ago. Mary’s name lives on with this amazing Bordeaux blend. Filled with beautiful, jammy plum and dark fruit flavors, laced lightly with cedar and smoke. This new vintage is every bit as drinkable as it is affordable.

The Fidelitas 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is another of Hoppe’s amazingly artistic treats. His steadfast dedication to Bordeaux wines is clearly evident by the way he continues to make really good Cab. Like the 2005, I was impressed with the flavors of black cherry, blackberries, and licorice. It has a long, lingering finish with a beautiful balance of fruit and tannin.

Fidelitas 2006 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon fills the nose with blackberries and herbs. This dark, rich wine shows all of the best of the LaTour and Windrow vineyards that the grapes were sourced from. I especially enjoyed the long finish and silky mouthfeel.

The great thing about both of these wineries and their wines is that they are readily available throughout Eastern Oregon. You can find any of these vintages at local wine shops and establishments.