Saturday, February 27, 2010

Delightful Or Discounted, Fortified Wines Take Wide Berth

Just when I think I know it all, I’m reminded of how much more I need to learn.

The other day I tasted a 2004 Red Mountain Fortified by Hedges Cellars. It was delightful to say the least. In a few moments I’ll share my tasting notes with you. But, First I need to tell you about my faux paux.

I told Patrick Jaynes, my contact at the winery, how much I enjoyed the “Port”. Immediately I knew from the silence that I had just royally screwed up. Patrick, being the ever patient and kind host, explained to me that at Hedges they don’t call it “Port” because they adhere to the “Wine Place and Origin” philosophy.

The “Wine Place & Origin” philosophy is something that was started in 2005 by the regions Champagne, Jerez, Napa Valley, Oregon, Washington State, Porto, and Walla Walla. Since then there have been several other regions that have also added their names to the agreement. Now there is even a website that you can go to learn more about this agreement, and even add your own name to the petition. The website is .

While I agree with this whole philosophy of correctly naming a product by its place of origin to ensure quality, I’m also now a little stymied. How do I tell you that I enjoyed a style of wine and have it not confused with many other styles of the same name.

“Fortified” is a term used for wine product where alcohol has been added in order to enhance flavor, kill off bad bugs, or give the wine a little kick. There are basically six types of fortified wines: Port, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala, Vermouth, and Low-End Fortified wines.

Most of us are quite familiar with Low-End Fortified brands Thunderbird, Night Train, and Mogen David 20/20. Developed during the Great Depression, vintners were able to produce these very affordable, sweet wines that still remain highly popular for their low cost and high test.

On the other hand Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Marsala are centuries old winemaking methods that are steeped in culture and history. I’ve been privileged to taste Ports and Sherries that were in the $300 per bottle range. Vermouth also comes from a long history, and is a required ingredient in some of the most affluent mixed drinks.

I hope that this explains my situation.

So, when I explain to you that I enjoyed a bottle of this Hedges 2004 Red Mountain Fortified, please understand that I am not talking here of a three dollar bottle of Banana Red. I’m talking here of a bottle that will run you the cost of a really good steak dinner.

This wine is 56% Souzau, 25% Touriga, and 19% Tinta Cao. All three varietals are very rare for this region, however are common in Portugal, where Port is made. The wine is so dark and rich it is nearly a blue-black color. The nose is full of dark fruits, orange zest, tobacco, herbs, and violets. The flavors of the sweet brandy hit your tongue first, followed by orange, chocolate, and cherries. At 21.6% alcohol, and 5.6% residual sugar, this is pretty smooth stuff.

Anyone wishing to try this fantastic “fortified” wine should reach out to the winery by going to their website at .


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Independent Grocers Rock My World

It was a gorgeous week to be outside. Sunshine and love filled my heart as I pulled away from my studio and made a road trip through Umatilla County to do some research just for you.

A little bit of information at my first stop led me to make other stops along the route. Each step taking me closer to finding out the real story. Now, I’d like to consider myself some sort of super-sluth, but honestly I’m more of a Barney Fife than a Sherlock Holmes.

A few weeks ago I wrote a rather scathing article about a local establishment that served grocery store wine. I guess that this hit home in more establishments than I thought it would. While eating lunch I was told by the proprietor that they were struggling to keep up their wine list so that they wouldn’t have store level wines on the shelves. However, they shared with me that there were stores now in the area carrying high-end wines on their shelves “at good prices”.

Leaving there, I drove to one establishment or store after another. In each of those seven instances of my stopping, I met someone that I knew from my wine business work in the area. Each of those persons independently, and I swear, without prompting, told me that they were totally impressed with the wine selection at one particular store.

Eventually, I just had to stop and see for myself. Well…I drove up to Fiesta Grocery in Hermiston, and I thought I had gone to the circus or something! The place is bright. I mean really bright! Colors so vivid on the walls that there was no way I was going to miss it.

I’m not new to this Grocery Store. We have a sister store in Pasco, where I love to shop for produce and meat. They also have a fantastic Mexican deli and fresh baked goods that are always a hit.

Today, I wasn’t shopping for any of those things. However, it was really hard to walk past the big jar of fresh Horchata. I made a straight bee-line for the wine shelf. All the while thinking that the world was upside down, because… I’m headed for a wine shelf in a Mexican grocery store!

When I did get to the wine isle, I was amazed, surprised, shocked, and even awed! I couldn’t believe the selection of wines that the store had to offer. No, there isn’t a huge number of wines. What you’ll find is that the wines are of high quality and of very high value.

Wine selections ranged from Woodward Canyon Nelms Road to Forgeron. And the prices were amazing. Gascon Malbec for under $12 was a perfect example of the dozens of bottle prices that were shockingly low.

So, what is the moral of the story? It is that independent grocers are awesome! They have the ability to sell and merchandise items at the prices that they choose at a store level. Someone in “Hucksterville” Minnesota isn’t forcing down prices and store set decisions in Pendleton or Hermiston. Store level decision makers create a consumer friendly environment where you can get what you want for an exceptional price.

I want to end with a big thank you to the independent grocers of the region. Thank you to Fiesta, the Red Apple in Umatilla, and Keglers in Boardman for your willingness to carry local wines made right here at home. Keep up the good work!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Give Your Lover Red Wine and Chocolate This Valentines

I’ve decided that just about anything can either cure you or kill you in certain amounts. Valentines Day is one of those annual celebrations where I think that moderation can be a handy thing. A little Eros for the soul just days before the beginning of the Lenten season where we purge ourselves is a good thing. After all, one day of frolicking with your lover, eating rich foods, and drinking good wine can’t hurt you. Can it?

My thinking on this has been upset in a positive way this past few years. I personally believe it is a part of the feminist movement or something, but I’m not going to complain. Now, research is conclusively finding in repeated studies that both red wine, and chocolate will cure everything from cancer to the common cold.

Just kidding! But, seriously, there is a lot of really interesting research coming out that is showing that both cocoa solids, and certain antioxidants found in red wine will reduce cancer risk and heart disease. My immediate reaction was to go out and fill the hot tub with Cabernet Sauvignon and fudge sauce and go on a backyard diving expedition. Thank God my wife stopped me just short of putting on my Speedo.

It seems that about a ½ a glass of wine, and a piece or two of extra dark chocolate are all it takes to create a successful health scenario in the average adult in most medical studies. So, my conclusion is that this Valentines Day is a great day to catch up on the lack of chocolate and wine that you’ve been missing over these past years, and to make up for any that you miss in the next few weeks during your Lenten devotion.

With that, I want to make a few suggestions, if I may, for making this Valentines Day a truly red wine and chocolate holiday. First, find some really good chocolate. Not Hershey bars, or some cheap chocolate in a heart shaped box.

No…I’d suggest going to the specialty chocolate section of the grocery store or the other stores in town that offer really nice truffles or other confections. There are several in the area. If you can, I’d suggest getting chocolate with a rating of 70% or higher cocoa. I’ve recently seen several confectioners providing chocolate samplers from different regions in the world.

Second, I’d head over to the wine section. Just like with the chocolate I would stay away from the labels that say Boones Farm or Mogen David. Those aren’t real red wines even if they look that way through the glass. I would purchase a dark red such as a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, a spicy red such as a Sangiovese or Zinfandel, and a light red such as a Pinot Noir.

Now for the romance! Pour a little of each wine into separate glasses. Lay out the chocolate pieces on a platter or trays. Be sure to keep the bottles and the wrappers handy so you can identify what it is you are eating and drinking. Be sure to swirl the wines, and breathe deeply to experience the esters in both the wines and the chocolates. For a really romantic experience blindfold your lover and feed them the different samples. Clothing is optional based on your own imagination.

Happy Valentines Day!!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

O Wines Creates Opportunities For Young Women

It never ceases to amaze me the power that a woman can hold when she is educated and determined. It also never ceases to amaze me how wine brings educated and determined women together to create a better world to live in.

Stacy Lill and Kathy Johanson are a perfect example of what I’m talking about here. Their dream is to stop the cycle of abuse of women who were not afforded the privilege of higher education due to their economic circumstances. The way that they are doing this is through providing scholarships to underprivileged girls, and eventually to build an academy where motivated young women can realize their goals for higher education.

How are the scholarships funded? Through the sales of the O brand of wine. Yes…they are selling a product that demographically is most purchased by educated females to produce financial resources to make more educated females. Nothing short of brilliant!!

So, instantly my thoughts were that these wines were going to be run-of-the-mill, medium grade wines made from overflow juice from some winery. Not true in the least. If you do some research on Stacy Lill, you realize that she is the wife of Greg Lill from DeLille Cellars. DeLille Cellars is the only winery in Washington State to ever receive top 100 ratings from three publications: the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and the Robb Report. Suffice it to say, these folks are not new to the wine industry.

O Wines are currently produced in a Chardonnay and a newly released Red Blend. I was able to sample the Chardonnay and found it very pleasing. It offers up nice fleshy melon and citrus zest on the nose. The flavors are melon, peaches, and a crisp citrus zest, followed by a round creaminess and buttery flavor. Most of the fermentation was definitely done in stainless with some oak time to give it nicely rounded flavors. It is the kind of wine that encourages just sitting and visiting, or you could have it with seafood such as scampi prawns as a fantastic pairing.

In my initial look at the O Wines website led me to believe that the scholarship fund was limited to young women in Washington State only. However, as of July of 2009 Stacy and Kathy signed on to be partners with the Oregon State University SMILE Program. Their agreement is to fund 5 scholarships for the next 5 years. This will allow 25 young women from Oregon to have the opportunity to receive funding through this program.

The SMILE Program at OSU provides a “pipeline” that takes students from 4th – 12th grade, and ultimately on to some kind of post-secondary education. Most of the funding is directed toward rural communities in the state.

As for criteria for young ladies to be eligible for the O Wines scholarship, there are a few rules. The girl must be 1) a US citizen, 2) must maintain a 2.75 or higher GPA, 3) must accept a mentor through the education process, 4) no pregnancies, 5) no drugs or problems in school (if the problems are educational they offer tutoring), 6) the family must meet financial nee guidelines. Girls may apply for the program as young as 11 years old.

There is not a need for commitment to a 4 year degree program. Girls who are in need of 2 year degree programs or trade school education are also encouraged to apply. You can find out more about O Wines at .