Friday, May 31, 2019

Pinot Noir with Copper River Salmon - Part 2

Little Tidbits about Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a hard grape to grow, and it is a hard wine to make well. It is often too “weak” for Cabernet lovers to enjoy with their steaks, but it rewards subtle foods and preparations with complexity, good acidity and balance. It is the favorite red wine of mature and experienced wine tasters – especially with salmon!

So you have pulled the cork on a Pinot Noir, and it smells like latex gloves or has hints of sulfury funk. This variety is prone to a condition called “reduction” which occurs when a wine is kept from oxygen contact during aging. Usually you can just decant the wine with aeration (splashing) and the funk will breathe off. In severe cases it won’t.

When winemakers try to please Cabernet lovers with their Pinot Noir bad things can happen. Wines labeled “Reserve” are often overripe and have been exposed to excessive new oak aging. True Pinot Noir lovers eschew such wines and would rather have a more delicate and complex bottling.

Pinot Noir also has a seemingly magical quality to change hue (light to dark or vice versa), or to evolve in the bottle during aging to show lighter or heavier character. The color thing is related to pH (hydrogen ion concentration) and is best left to physicists to explain. The change in taste character is just a quirk of the variety – just accept it as one of the miracles of nature.

Now that I’m done whining about Pinot Noir’s little idiosyncrasies, let’s pull some corks, bring on the salmon and enjoy!

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir, Whole Cluster, WV - $24

Whole cluster fermentation of Pinot Noir has become quite popular with many wineries, leading to bright and juicy wines that are enjoyable at a young age. Willamette Valley Vineyards has been using this technique longer than most and my tasters always find this wine a first class pairing with salmon.  You’ll enjoy the aromas and flavors of cherry, juicy plum, cocoa and vanilla.

Brooks Wines 2016 Pinot Noir, Janus, Willamette Valley - $40

Named after the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and doorways, the two faced god is often associated with balance.  This reserve style wine (see notes above on decanting for aeration) benefits greatly from breathing and demonstrates many of the Pinot Noir principles discussed today.  Once the wine has opened up, you discover aromas and flavors of ripe black cherry and plum with notes of mineral and earth with a finish of cedar, vanilla, cherry candy and barrel spice.

Daffodil 2015 Pinot Noir, Eola Amity Hills, Daffodil Hill Vineyard - $40

This Pinot Noir from the volcanic soils of the Eola Hills comes from the Daffodil Hill Vineyard northeast of Rickreall in the heart of the appellation. The vineyard is dry farmed giving the wine an ultimate expression of terroir. Whole berry fermentation and aging in neutral French oak create dark berry and spicy plum flavors with hints of citrus and mineral.

Panther Creek Cellars 2015 Pinot Noir, Kalita Vineyard - $50

This wine was made from grapes grown at Kalita Vineyard in the heart of Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton District. The vineyard is planted exclusively to Pinot Noir including Pommard clone and three Dijon clones, all on resistant rootstock. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe black cherry, pomegranate and spice with notes of violets and orchard blossom, good balance and impeccable structure make this a hit with salmon from the grill.

Archery Summit 2015 Pinot Noir, Arcus Vineyard, Dundee Hills - $125

This more powerful and intense Pinot Noir was crafted from grapes grown at Archery Summit’s Arcus Vineyard. Deep fruit aromas and flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and cranberry mingle with hints of floral perfume and spice. The wine was aged in French oak – 40% new -  and thus carries notes of caramel, toast and cocoa in the finish.

Sokol Blosser 2016 Pinot Noir, Estate, Dundee Hills - $40

This pioneer winery of Oregon’s Dundee Hills wine region evokes fond memories in old timer wine buffs throughout the Northwest. A taste of this wine brings back the aromas and flavors of the heady days when Oregon’s wine industry was new and excitement accompanied every visit to the wine country. Look for aromas and flavors of dark cherry and raspberry with notes of earthy mineral, baking spices and hints of citrus and toasty oak.

La Crema 2016 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley - $40

La Crema Winery has dedicated more than 30 years to exploring the depth and breadth of varietal expression of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in many of California’s cool-climate vineyards.   The 2016 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County offers aromas of red cherries, raspberry and vanilla with notes of black tea and mineral.  The palate expands to show cherry, cola and spice with hints of earth and chocolate.

Broadley Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir, Estate, WV - $35

Of all the winery and vineyard success stories in Oregon, I remain most impressed with Broadley Vineyards. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery has successfully transitioned winemaking and management to the next generation, son Morgan Broadley and his wife Jessica. Dedication to quality and consistency is the order of the day. Enjoy this perfectly balanced Pinot Noir with salmon – just the right intensity of cherry and berry with hints of oak and earthy mineral.

Panther Creek Cellars 2017 Pinot Noir, Winemakers Cuvee - $25

This entry level Pinot Noir is a blend of wines from some of Panther Creek’s famous single vineyard sources. Winemaker Tony Rynders aged the cuvee in French oak – 39% new – to create a toasty structure surrounding fruit components of strawberry, dark cherry and black currant with notes of tobacco and coffee on the finish.  The winery tasting room – once located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – now offers its wines for tasting in Woodinville, Washington at the Hollywood Corner neighborhood wine village.

Brandborg Winery 2017 Pinot Noir, Bench Lands, Umpqua Valley - $22

Terry Brandborg’s Bench Lands Pinot Noir from vineyard sites in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley is always enjoyed by my tasting panel. Classic Pinot Noir aromas of red cherry, blueberry and cranberry mingle with herbs and floral perfume. On the palate red berries and cherries lead to notes of citrus, cocoa and tobacco – a delightful Pinot and a good value.

Youngberg Hill 2015 Pinot Noir, Natasha, WV - $50

Wayne and Nicolette Bailey purchased Youngberg Hill Winery in 2003, and undertook extensive renovations in all areas of winegrowing, winemaking and hospitality. This selection is from the 6.6 acre Natasha block planted own-root to 60% Pommard and 40% Wadenswil clones – now 28 years old. Enjoy aromas and flavors of cassis and dark cherry with notes of cranberry, plum, lime zest and floral perfume.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Pinot Noir and Copper River Salmon - Part 1

Pinot Noir: What Food Lovers Need in a Red Wine

Many people express the opinion that Cabernet Sauvignon is the “King” of red wines. For food pairing, gourmets often look to Pinot Noir for subtle, complex character that pairs more elegantly with a wider range of foods. In recent decades, Cabernet Sauvignon wines have become bigger, more alcoholic and more oaky. These characteristics are not conducive to enjoying complex, subtle foods with flavor nuances and delicious sauces.

Since the 1980s, the Pacific Northwest has seen a movement to matching Pinot Noir with Alaskan wild salmon. Certainly the fish is rich enough to accommodate the wine (especially when grilled to add subtle smoky flavors) and most Northwest Pinot Noir wines are not made with excessive oak character or an overripe flavor profile.

As a varietal wine, Pinot Noir offers a spectrum of aromas and flavors derived from the warmth of the growing season. Most wines – even from cool climate Oregon and Coastal California – approach or exceed 14 percent alcohol. You will probably find Pinot Noir wines to have dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors with toasty-spicy nuances from oak aging.

Brandborg Winery 2014 Pinot Noir, Ferris Wheel Vineyard, Umpqua Valley - $38

Terry and Sue Brandborg farm Pinot Noir and other varietals in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and invite you to visit their tasting room in Elkton. My tasters were thrilled to taste Terry’s 2014 Pinot Noir from their estate Ferris Wheel Vineyard. The wine has aged into a complex, nearly perfect example of what Oregon Pinot Noir can be. Harmonious aromas and flavors include black cherry, earthy/woodsy mineral, tangy red cherry on the palate with balancing acidity that pairs beautifully with the salmon. www.brandborgwine. com

Left Coast Cellars 2015 Pinot Noir, Estate, Latitude 45 - $38

As Left Coast Cellars celebrates its fifteen-year anniversary, the winery continues its streak of quality wines and its stewardship of their estate near Rickreall, Oregon.  Meticulously cultivated gardens and vineyards greet the visitor to the tasting room located four miles north of Highway 22 on Pacific Highway 99W.  Their estate Pinot Noir is named Latitiude 45 for the winery’s location on that parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Enjoy aromas and flavors of candied dark cherry, sweet oak, flinty mineral and hints of citrus and forest floor.

Kendall Jackson 2017 Pinot Noir, Jackson Estate, Petaluma Gap - $40

Jackson Estate wines showcase the company’s cherished vineyard estate properties located in the prime growing areas of California. The Petaluma Gap AVA is east of the town of the same name and refers to a gap in the Coast Range that allows cooling ocean breezes to moderate the warm summer California days. The wine offers ripe Pinot Noir aromas and flavors of dark cherry and pomegranate with ample toasty oak, caramel and vanilla to please modern palates.

King Estate 2017 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $29

Oregon’s largest winery, King Estate was founded in 1991 and continues to fine tune their wine offerings – concentrating more on smaller production wines - and create new opportunities for visiting wine tourists.  The winery restaurant, tasting room and touring staff accommodate the many eager visitors who come to taste wines and admire the 1,000+ acre estate and French style chateau winery. Enjoy the 2017 signature Pinot Noir for ripe cherry and jammy strawberry mingling with mineral and toasty oak.

Iris Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $24

Iris Vineyards is nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range mountains 20 minutes southwest of Eugene, Oregon. Their Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a great bargain offering fruit-forward aromas and flavors touting dark cherry, plum and citrus to invite further enjoyment of superb balance and food-friendly acidity.

Elk Cove 2017 Pinot Noir, Mount Richmond, Yamhill-Carlton AVA - $60

Elk Cove winery has always been revered for their vineyard-designated bottlings of Pinot Noir. Founded in 1974, Elk Cove is the Oregon success story of Pat and Joe Campbell and their family, local wine pioneers who transformed their Coast Range foothills property into one of the state’s most prized wine estates – worth a visit! Enjoy their Mount Richmond Pinot Noir for rich black cherry, plum and earthy mineral flavors that pair perfectly with salmon from the grill.

Stoller Family Estate 2017 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills - $30

The Stoller Family has farmed their estate since 1943, with the vineyard planted 50 years later. The 400-acre property is the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. From pruning to bottling, every step in winemaking is controlled by the wine estate. Made exclusively from estate fruit, this Pinot Noir offers aromas and flavors of red fruits, baking spice and cola with silky tannins and a long finish.

Talbott 2017 Pinot Noir, Kali Hart Estate, Monterey - $21

This wine is named for owner Robb Talbott’s younger daughter and comes from the Monterey County AVA. Aromas of red cherry and cranberry mingle with hints of vanilla and toasty oak, leading to a palate of bright red fruits with excellent acidity for pairing with your favorite summer meats or salmon from the grill.

WillaKenzie 2016 Pinot Noir, Estate. Willamette Valley - $30

WillaKenzie Estate is named for the sedimentary soil on which the estate is planted which in turn is a tribute to the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers of western Oregon. The winery is a popular tourist stop for wine lovers keen to enjoy fine Pinot Noir, a picnic or even a game of Pétanque! Look for ripe strawberry and raspberry on the nose with hints of blood orange and forest floor. The juicy palate offers good balance and acidity for pairing with salmon from the grill.

David Hill Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir, Estate, WV - $24

This historic estate near Forest Grove, Oregon has a long and colorful history of grape growing and wine making. Vines were planted here c. 1883 on the Reuter family homestead – wines were made and lauded for quality. Prohibition saw the removal of vines, but vineyards were replanted by Charles Coury in the late 1960s.  The 2016 estate Pinot Noir offers red cherry and pomegranate with notes of spice and caramel – nice acid balance to pair with salmon.

Tyee Wine Cellars 2016 Pinot Noir, Estate, WV - $28

I have known the Buchanan family and their Tyee Wine Cellars near Corvallis for over 30 years since the founding of the winery in 1985. Daughter Merrilee Buchanan Benson crafted this wine from a combination of all of the Pinot Noir in Tyee’s Estate Vineyard including vines from 42 to 16 years old. Look for red cherry and strawberry fruit with notes of raspberry candy and mineral.

Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Pinot Noir Rosé, Estate - $22

Pinot Noir fruit for Elk Cove Rosé  is hand-harvested very ripe and whole cluster pressed with limited skin crushing to reduce color extraction and  phenolics. The wine is cool fermented in stainless steel and is finished completely dry. Aromas and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and tropical citrus mingle with floral notes. The balance and structure of the wine make it a perfect pairing with salmon from the grill.

Iris Vineyards 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Oregon - $18

Winemakers at Iris Vineyards allowed approximately 15 hours of skin contact before pressing this cuvee to tank. Fermentation took place in a combination of stainless steel and French oak barrels. The rich salmon pink color of the wine invites a sniff and a sip revealing a nose of strawberry, floral perfume and watermelon. On the palate the watermelon and strawberry is  joined by bright citrus notes of grapefruit and blood orange.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Versatile Chardonnay - Part 4

Reserve Chardonnays

It’s hard to tell these days if a wine labeled ‘Reserve’ is actually something special or whether it is just a part of the producer’s marketing gambit. There are no laws or regulations concerning the use of ‘reserve’ in a wine name, so it is difficult to tell if it really means something by glancing at the label. Fortunately, the winery usually tells you if it means something and, if so, what it signifies.

For Chardonnays, reserve usually means better fruit sources (single vineyard perhaps) and barrel fermentation with aging in (some) new oak barrels. Wines of this type most often have aromas of oak, butter and vanilla, hopefully wafting among rich and complex tropical fruits scents. Similarly, the palate will offer ripe fruit flavors with rich buttery vanilla and oak notes.  The best Reserve Chardonnays will also have balancing acidity and notes of mineral on the finish.

Since new barrels cost money and extra aging time costs money, you will discover that truly “Reserve” Chardonnays top $30 or more in price. Most experienced wine lovers find this added expense acceptable IF the wine is balanced, complex and food friendly.

Chehalem 2016 Chardonnay, Ian’s Reserve - $40

The winemakers at Chehalem/Stoller crafted this wine from grapes grown at the Stoller Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA. The wine was fermented in 100% French oak and aged in French oak barrels, 44% new. From an early and warm vintage, the wine offers aromas of lemon curd, brioche and citrusy vanilla. On the palate one finds flavors of tropical citrus and stone fruits with ample toasty oak and a nice mineral/acid finish.

Mercer 2016 Reserve Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills - $30

From the Zephyr Ridge Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA, this wine was fermented in French oak and aged in 50% new French oak (see a pattern developing here?). Barrels were inoculated for ML (malolactic fermentation) to help create a creamy mouth feel. Look for aromas and flavors of baked apple, creamy citrus and ample butterscotch and notes of toasty oak.


Browne Family Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay - $25

Browne Family Vineyards was “inspired by the greatness of one man: William Bitner Browne, grandfather of proprietor Andrew Browne.” Integrity and excellence are also Andrew’s keys to success as owner of Precept Brands. This reserve-style Chardonnay bursts with tropical fruits and oodles of toasty vanilla, coconut and a finish of mineral and citrus zest.

Beringer 2017 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll - $39

Sourced from Beringer’s Big Ranch Vineyard in the southern (cooler) Napa Valley, production of this wine followed many of the same techniques described above, though the wine was specifically kept from malolactic fermentation (the hope being that more food friendly acidity will be preserved). On both the nose and palate the wine is lively and fresh, offering citrus and orchard blossom to mingle with nectarine, butterscotch, pear and baking spice.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2017 Chardonnay - $34

The cool Russian River Valley has become a go-to location for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Sonoma County. A warm growing season brought in an early harvest for Dry Creek’s Estate Block 10 with slightly lower yields, but very high quality. Look for baked pear and apple with butterscotch on the nose and a mouth-filling palate adding baking spice and hints of stone fruits.

Three Rivers Winery 2017 Reserve Chardonnay - $29

Three Rivers Winery is a popular destination for wine touring as you enter the Walla Walla Valley. The winery grounds offer visitors an opportunity for picnicking and yard games, and the tasting room has a wide variety of tasting options. Three Rivers Reserve Chardonnay has been a favorite of my tasters for many years offering aromas and flavors of creamy brioche, pear, tropical fruits and zesty mineral.

Steele 2017 Chardonnay, Durell Vineyard, Carneros - $38

Durell Vineyard is in a warmer location in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains at the northern boundary of the Carneros Appellation. Chardonnays from this site show citrus, pear and mango flavors combined with ripe stone fruits, vanilla, toasty oak and crisp mineral on the finish.

Emblem 2017 Chardonnay - $35

This wine hails from the Petaluma Gap AVA, a part of Sonoma County where a break in the coast range mountains permits cooling fog and wind to moderate the summer heat, allowing grapes to retain natural acidity and gain complexity during a longer ripening period. Though ‘reserve’ doesn’t appear on the label, the wine has both pedigree of place and care in production for inclusion in the category. Look for fragrant aromas of Fuji and Honeycrisp apples with hints of mineral and vanilla. The palate offers baked apple, toasty vanilla and crisp citrus notes on the finish.

Other Chardonnay Selections

Matanzas Creek 2017 Chardonnay, Alexander Valley - $26

This wine – crafted from five clones of Chardonnay – offers complex fruit flavors accented by character from fermentation and aging in French oak barrels. Look for ripe nectarine and peach with lemon and mineral. Notes of vanilla cookie, almond and toasted walnuts add to a creamy finish.

Lafond Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills - $24

Lafond offers wine country visitors a choice of two experiences: the winery and vineyard is in the Santa Rita Hills as a reward for a longish, beautiful drive. The winery tasting room in Santa Barbara is in the popular “Funk Zone” right by the beach. Enjoy Lafond Chardonnay for aromas and flavors of ripe pear and tropical fruits with a layer of vanilla and a kiss of zesty mineral.

Eberle Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Estate, Paso Robles - $24

Eberle Chardonnay combines the bright fruit character of the Paso Robles coastal area with complex buttery oak to please aficionados of each component.  Look for crisp green apple, zesty Meyer lemon, and tropical pineapple with a finish of toasty oak. The winery suggests pairing with grilled salmon or chicken piccata.

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