Saturday, May 29, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

I don’t know if you remembered or not, but this week is our anniversary together. Two years ago in June George Murdock and Skip Nichols from the East Oregonian sat down with Maryl Featherstone from Graybeal Distributing and yours truly. Our plan was to conquer Eastern Oregon one bottle and 550 words at a time!

Our thought was that Eastern Oregon needed an “occasional” column to talk about wine and wine related events going on in the region. Even though the majority of drinking age people in the region prefer Pendleton Whiskey, Keystone Light or Natural Light beers, we knew that there were a lot of people with growing interest in wines.

Personally, I thought I’d write a few articles and then the space would get filled with something else. Honestly, I figured that I’d run out of hot air before too many weeks, and had even asked a few other people to help me in the endeavor. I really didn’t think that I could write this much, this often, or this “intelligently”. The article would be one of those quickly forgotten things that happened and then disappeared until a few years later when someone would come up with the idea again.

Well, to my surprise I am still writing this column every Friday morning and emailing it off before 6 a.m.. Every Thursday I look around my office and ask myself what the heck I’m going to write about this week. And, surprisingly enough there is always something to write about. Each and every week the wine world changes and grows in so many ways. It really is shocking to me that I still have things to write about, and yet just as shocking is that I don’t have enough space to write about everything.

A few things have changed over the past two years. The largest factor, and one that has greatly affected both my own drinking style as well as the industry as a whole, has been the economy.

The great recession has definitely “moved the cheese” for most people in the industry. Where you used to be able to open a winery, build a beautiful building, and produce oak-heavy, half-cooked wines for thirty plus dollars a bottle is definitely a thing of the past.

Wineries won’t admit it straight out, but they are hurting badly from having a glut of wine that isn’t moving due to price point issues. Vintners that produce overpriced and undervalued products are now closing or selling out. We are drinking wines I never thought would be less than twenty dollars for under ten every day.

Another thing that has happened to wine in the last two years is social network marketing. Twitter and blogging are specifically is changing the way we drink wine. There are thousands of bloggers all over the world, and their network of choice is Twitter. As a wine enthusiast I can read the daily thoughts of Paul Gregutt, Gary Vaynerchuck, or most of the other famous wine writers throughout the industry. My own blog, , which started a year ago as a way of archiving this article has hundreds of readers every day. If you are interested in any particular wine you can Google it and know just about anything you want or need to know in just a few seconds.

So, I guess we’re in this for the long run folks. I look forward to many more years with you. Happy Anniversary, and see you again next week!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Earth, Wind, Air, Fire, and Wine

Ok, for those of you who always tell me you would love to join me at a wine event, I am excited to announce that there’s a big one coming up that you’re going to love!

My Friend Brian VonEggers from the Wildhorse Plateau contacted me several months ago and asked me what I thought about doing a big gala event at the Plateau. My response was nothing but pure excitement.

For those of you who are familiar with the Plateau, you know that Brian and his staff have created a fantastic menu, brilliant wine list, and nothing short of incredible service that makes you want to keep coming back. For those of you who don’t know about Wildhorse Resort’s fine dining, all I can say is you are missing out.

A few weeks ago my cell phone rang as I was walking around Prosser’s Wine Village with friends. Brian wanted to know my opinion on a 9 course meal with famed winemakers Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows, and Marie-Eve Gilla from Forgeron Cellars. All I could think was “This is going to be incredible”.

I’ve written quite extensively about Forgeron wines in the past, however I honestly haven’t spent much time focused on the wines of Long Shadows. Why? Because they frankly aren’t easy to acquire. Long Shadows is a consortium of world class micro wineries developed by wine industry leader Allen Shoup. Each wine produced by Long Shadows is independently grown, pressed, and blended by a single winemaker of world renown.

Gilles Nicault is one of those renowned winemakers at Long Shadows. His wine, the Chester-Kidder Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, is consistently rated over 90 points by all of the industry wine magazines year after year.

Gilles and Marie-Eve are both passionate about wines, each, other, and about this region. The couple were classically trained at the University of Avignon, and worked in Cotes-du-Rhone and Champagne before moving to Washington to produce some of the world’s best wines.

The menu, based on the elements Earth, Wind, Air, and Fire will showcase artisan cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and meats grown locally. Here are just a few samplings from the menu that I received:

From the Earth Element comes a salad of Pea Shoots, Joe Daugherty Porcini Mushrooms, Locati Farms Asparagus, and raspberries, served with Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling.

The Earth and Water Element is combined to create a soup make from Finely Farms Roasted Carrot Ginger, Caramelized Pearl Onion, Monteillett Fromagerie Cheve, served with Long Shadows Sequel Syrah.

The Water Element offers a seafood course of fruits of the sea carpaccio, deconstructed puttenesca, served with Forgeron Zinfandel.

The Air Element will be a poultry course of honey glazed squab, roasted corn risotto, tarragon peas, served with Forgeron Roussane.

The entrée course will combine the Earth and Fire elements with an apple wood grilled buffalo ribeye, rosemary root vegetables from Finely Farms, Double Demi, Shaved Pecorrino served with Long Shadows Chester Kidder Cabernet Sauvignon Blend.

As I mentioned, the meal is a total of nine courses, complete with perfected wine pairings. If you are interested in attending the event, I strongly suggest calling the Plateau right away for available seating at 541-966-1610 . The dinner will be held on Sunday June 6th, starting at 4 p.m..

I look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

When All Else Fails – Large Wineries That Make Good Every Time

The other day for lunch I headed to a busy little bistro in my neighborhood, but with my busy schedule and looming deadlines I decided to go to McDonalds for the first time in months. Looking across the street at Starbucks, I realized that I don’t frequent places like this often.

Actually, with the great options that we have in our area, I usually prefer to eat and get my coffee at local establishments. Being in an artistic business myself, I guess I have an affinity towards buying from other artisans. What chain food burger could compare to sitting down to a perfectly made sandwich at Farmer’s Kitchen in Hermiston? What single-tall latte from a coffee chain could ever compare to a handcrafted crema from Great Pacific in Pendleton? Of course, the answer is none.

However, even though I do tend to be a bit of a “foodie”, (a term I hate), I still have complete appreciation for the chain establishments as well. When you consider it, the one thing you are pretty much guaranteed is that a double tall caramel macchiato from the Starbucks in Pendleton tastes exactly like the one on Waikiki Beach. I know this because I’ve tried it. You can’t just go into any coffee shop in Indianapolis and expect the same thing you get at Great Pacific.

What I’m talking about here is the power of replication. Whereas you might be into artisan things, you can’t always find exactly what you want just anywhere. I have been all over, and when it comes to wine selection I have been horribly disappointed by the local options at times.

That is when you can fall back on the big wineries to perform. They are widely distributed everywhere wine is sold. Honestly, they aren’t ever going to Score 100 points from Robert Parker, but you can rely on them to always taste reasonably good in any setting.

Sterling Vintners Label - Located in Calistoga in the Napa Valley, Sterling Vineyards offers a full compliment of vintages from Riesling to Syrah in it’s Vintner’s label. Priced between the 10 to 15 dollar range, the wines are quite drinkable. Probably my favorite Sterling vintage to grab is their Chardonnay. Gently oaked, with a nice balance of fruit and butter on the palate and nose.

Columbia Crest Twin Vines Label – Of course, our own local option right here in our own back yard. The Twin Vines label is Columbia Crest’s least expensive, however it is ever consistently drinkable. My favorite Twin Vines grabs are their Sauvignon Blanc, and their Merlot-Cabernet blend. The Mer-Cab is very jammy and filled with warm fruit and baking spices. Surprisingly good year after year, and for under 10 dollars per bottle it is a must have for serving to large groups.

Clos Du Bois – A few months ago I did a complete write up on this winery, but I think it definitely deserves mention here. Their Merlot is spot on every time regardless of vintage year.

Gallo Sonoma Label - Last, I must mention a winery that turns up a lot of people’s noses, but they consistently produce delicious wine year after year. My favorite label of this brand is their Cabernet Sauvignon. A rich nose and flavors of dark plums, leather, and pepper. You can pair this with a steak or burger in any pinch. At under $15 per bottle it is guaranteed good.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Find The Perfect Wine For Your Mom

While I was sprinting through the gift shop looking for gifts for my mom and wife this week, I realized that it was indeed Mother’s Day again. This year, I thought I would celebrate our mothers with a review of some of my favorite womanly wines. The list of woman oriented wines extends forever, although I thought that it would be fun to list some that match the motherly women in my life.

First, I thought I would start off with a wonderful story of a woman who passed away at the ripe age of 100. Standing at 4’8”, Mary was passionate, loving, caring, strong, and loved Lawrence Welk.

Her memory has gone on to create one of the strongest red blends in the entire Northwest. Her winemaker grandson, Charlie Hoppes, honors Mary with every bottle of M100 Red Blend. The wine is a beautiful blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 12% Syrah, and 7% Malbec. The M100 wine opens with nice raspberry and strawberry jam flavors. The finish is a nice balance of cocoa, spice, and velvety tannins.

Another motherly personality that I’ve been touched by in my life reminds me of Kiona Winery’s Vivacious Vicky labels. Vivacious Vicky is named after Vicky Williams, wife of winemaker Scott Williams. Her vivacious personality in spite of 25 years of long hours, endless dinner guests, and fruit flies that are ever present in the wine business, makes this label remind me of several women in my life.

There are four Vivacious Vicky labels. A White, Red, Rose’, and their Nice Legs Merlot. The Red, White, and Rose are very approachable in both price and flavor. The Merlot is a premium vintage, with a mouthful of rich berries, vanilla, and baking spices.

Next, to a wine that has created both positive and negative vibes for me over the past few years. Charles Smith of K Wines developed Kung Fu Girl Riesling about 3 years ago. The current vintage of this wine is good for the price, with approximately 1.5% residual sugar, it is a semi-dry done in the Mosel style. A little bubbly in the glass when you swirl it, it tastes of young peaches and spice. The reason why I choose this wine for this column is simply for the label. It’s caption that says “Girls Kick Ass” really speaks to so many powerful women in my life.

Next, I just have to bring up Mad Housewife Wines. These wines I know have broken some sales records down at Dave’s Chevron in Pendleton. The labels are just plain funny, with a 50’s style lady on the front who looks completely “June Cleaver” gone mad. This reminds me of many of the mothers in my life. Things may be completely bonkers around them, but as long as there is a glass of wine with dinner everything works out.

Last, I need to bring up a wine that I know offended my wife when I walked in the door with it. But, I know these wines are catching on like wildfire. Bitch wines out of Australia, come with a pretty, pink label with hearts and daggers on it.

Bitch originally offered just Grenache, which was full of berries, and buttery tannins. Now they are offering a Bitch Bubbly, which is a Grenache Rose’ Sparkling. This wine hits the tongue with a burst of ripe strawberries, lingering citrus flavors, and tight bubbles. For the price, this is good stuff. I’ll let you guess who this reminds me of!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cleansing The Palate For Extended Wine Enjoyment

I know that I’m not exactly “normal” when it comes to my wine drinking. For that matter, I’m not too normal on anything. However, I do know that when I have to drink or taste a substantial amount of wine over a long period of time, I get pretty ripped up. No!! I’m not talking about getting drunk. I’m talking about when your mouth gets so sore from the astringency of the wine that you just can’t take another sip.

A recent wine experience got me to thinking about this. I took some friends around the region tasting. I was the Designated Driver, so rather than drinking anything I was destined to spit all day.

While not getting any alcohol, I could taste things that I hadn’t had in a while, and participate to some level with the rest of the group. Just as expected, after not too many winery stops my mouth was on fire! Too many heavily oaked barrels and unripe vintages had me not even wanting to look at another glass.

This got me to thinking about palate cleansing. What is the best method for cleansing the palate so the astringency in my favorite wines doesn’t make my mouth so sore?

I did some research. What I found was that the French have been cleansing their palates for centuries, often as a mid-course in a meal. Usually the cleanser is a citrusy sorbet, parsely, or some other item that neutralizes the flavors and cleanses the mouth.

Further, I looked into research that has been done specifically on cleansing and wine. I found that the most commonly used are crackers, cheeses, vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers, and water. Most research indicates that water is the best for removing astringents from the palate.

My friend Laura Miller is somewhat of a water expert. She owns a company called Ion Ways, which distributes special water filtration machines. These machines are used mostly for taking the acidity out of water and balancing the Ph for health reasons. My brother-in-law, and many other people I know believe in the healing waters of these machines. Her website is

I scored a bottle of water from Laura then went home to do full-on research. I grabbed a bottle of pretty astringent cab/syrah blend that I don’t recommend, a bottle of Dasani water, Laura’s ionized water, citrus sorbet, ginger beer, carrot sticks, and the ever popular plain oyster crackers.

I took a swig of the wine, and fully macerated it in my mouth. My mouth felt adequately full of sandpaper. I followed that with the crackers, which moderately cleansed my palate. I repeated with the wine, and followed with the sorbet. Still pretty good, but not completely taken care of. This process was repeated over and again with each of the products.

Overall, my findings were that water was probably the most effective. I’m convinced that the Ionized water did the trick the best for me. But, when I did this experiment with my wife she felt that the crackers were the best method. The nice thing is that both the crackers and the water were portable. The sorbet melts in your pocket.

On another note. In all my research I found yet another company that has a water product that is specifically bottled for this purpose called SanTasti. I ordered some samples for further research. You can try it yourself by going to .