Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A week of Ontario wine…day 4

Day four of tastings found the combination of Thirteenth Street Winery and Huff Estates together at the Fine Wine Reserve. With all of the previous tastings, we had done one winery and then moved on to the second winery but the staff from these two wineries decided to take a tag team approach so that we could try all of the wines in the order they would be served if you were doing a wine dinner for example. In the previous blog entries I had been listing the wines according to price but, in keeping with the manner I tasted these wines, I am going to list the outstanding wines in the order they should be consumed. Enjoy…

13th Street Winery 2006 Cuvee 13 Rose
$25.00 per bottle
This is a 55/45 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively which is a traditional blend for pink bubbly in France and around the world. The colour on this is this slightly orangey peachy colour and what looks like a million bubbles rising in the glass. There is a faint whiff of citrus in a mostly toasty nose accompanying a very pleasant palate. Bubbly is one of those types of wines that is very hard to distinguish flavours and aromas in but this one has perfect balance, not a lot of acidity, and some decent toasty, almond flavours.

Huff Estates 2007 South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay
$29.95 per bottle
This has a very powerful nose with major pear and apple aromas. There is just a kiss of oak in the palate, the apple and pear translated into the palate but there is also a tropical fruit component to the flavours which is a pleasant surprise. That slight kiss of oak in the front palate translates into a hint of caramel in the finish. Yummy.

Huff Estates 2008 South Bay Vineyard Rose
$16.95 per bottle
A blending of three different red grapes – 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. The aromatics on this wine are stellar – berry fruit and this interesting little kick of citrus which is not typical for an all red grape rose. The palate is great – it is crisp, has perfect acidity and an almost effervescent feel to this bone dry wine with a lingering finish. I have had several vintages of Huff Estate’s Rose in the past and this does not disappoint.

13th Street Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
$28.00 per bottle
There is a small amount of Merlot blended into this wine to give it some extra diversity but it is very hard to detect as the major aromas and flavours are typical Cabernet Sauvignon. The major aromas are tar and cigars – it reminds me of my boyfriend’s cigars on the patio in the summer heat – with some vegetal and berry components to round it out. There is a small hint of kalamata olives in the aromas which translate seamlessly onto the palate which is silky smooth, has a hint of mint and almost barely detectable tannins.

If you want to order any of these wines, feel free to check out their websites for ordering information:

13th Street Winery
Local Phone: (905) 984-8463
Facsimile: (905) 562-8766

Huff Estates
Telephone: (613) 393-5802
Facsimile: (613) 393-2428

A week of Ontario wine…day 3

The third day of wine tastings featuring Ontario wineries saw a new type of winery and the furthest south winery in Prince Edward County meeting in one room. Nyarai Cellars (pronounced na-rye) is a virtual winery – they do not have a tasting room and all of their sales come from their online store through their website. Long Dog Winery, in Prince Edward County, is the furthest south in the County making some great wines with interesting names.

Nyarai Cellars 2007 Chardonnay
$16.20 per bottle
This was the first wine Nyarai Cellars produced and unlike most Chardonnay’s it has a very quiet yet pleasant aroma. It is mostly tropical fruit but there is an apple component to it underlying the predominant banana aroma. There is a slight creaminess to the flavour mixing in with apple and a toffee caramel finish. A very pleasant alternative to typical Chardonnay’s coming from Ontario wineries.

Nyarai Cellars 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$18.20 per bottle
Nyarai Cellars is gaining a name for their Sauvignon Blanc and it is easy to see why. Already an award winner, you can see the real potential this wine has to become one of the best Sauvignon Blanc’s being produced by an Ontario winery. There are great aromatics on this wine – tons of tropical fruit but with a hint of citrus. The flavours are not too strong but definitely not weak either. Loads of honey and roasted fruit with a slightly lingering finish. All around, this is a very pleasant, easy drinking wine and it shows the real potential this winery has over the years to come.

Long Dog Winery “Tumbling Stone” Gamay/Pinot Noir
$22 per bottle
This wine is technically a non-vintage due to the fact that it is a combination of the 2007 Gamay Noir and the 2006 Pinot Noir from Long Dog Winery. What intrigued me the most from this wine is the really intense colour – it is almost a tourmaline pink. The aromatics are barely there but when they come through they are interesting – spice, herbal and very faint fruit are the main components. When you take your first sip, you can tell that this is a very, very quiet wine – the flavours are barely there. Where it hits is your mid palate where the main flavours are vegetal and spicy. This is definitely one of those wines that will improve with age – say 2-3 years.

Long Dog Winery “Francesca” 2007 Pinot Gris
$34 per bottle
This is possibly one of the most unique Pinot Gris wines I have tasted from an Ontario winery. They tell me that it had extended skin contact which may account for the lovely aromatics going on in this glass. The aromas are a combination of peach, nectarine, lemon, lime and slight orange. The flavours sneak up on you – it is watery first but then major minerality and lemony crispness jump up and bite you soon after that first sip. There is a hint of spice on the finish which is long and lingering.

Long Dog Winery “Otto” 2007 Pinot Noir
$50 per bottle
This is Long Dog’s signature wine and with what I just tasted it is not much of a surprise that it is. There is an absolutely gorgeous dark purple colour in this glass and wonderful aromatics pouring out. Mostly vegetal and herbal in nature but with some floral all of which continue on to the palate where you also find a spicy backbone from the time the wine spent in oak barrels. The palate is silky smooth, has a good backbone and a lingering finish. I do not normally describe a Pinot Noir as yummy – normally that would be a Shiraz or Zinfandel – but this wine definitely fits into the yummy category.

If you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, please contact the wineries using the ordering information below:

Nyarai Cellars
Phone: (905) 562-5214
Fax: (905) 562-3999

Long Dog Winery
Phone: (613) 476-4140

A week of Ontario wine…day 2

Okay, now for day two of tastings featuring great Ontario wines. Today – Monday – featured Closson Chase Vineyards from Prince Edward County and The Organized Crime Winery from Beamsville in the Niagara Peninsula. Whenever anyone hears the name Organized Crime Winery, it almost immediately conjures up visions of Mafia and other organized crime entities but that is not even remotely the case with this winery. With The Organized Crime Winery, it is not Mafia but Mennonite who are behind the story of how this winery got its name. Straight from their website, here is the story behind the winery’s name…

Sometime in the early to mid 1900's there were two quarreling Mennonite congregations who disagreed about the acquisition of a pipe organ.
The feud resulted in one congregation breaking into the other church, stealing the organ, and then tossing it down an embankment. Hence the Organized Crime Winery name.

Before we get into the main tasting, I need to make one honourable mention. Winemaker, Andrzej Lipinski, has done something intriguing with Cabernet Franc. Normally he just says the wine has been oaked in Eastern European oak but due to the general conversation at the table that day, Andrzej indicated to me that the oak for the barrels he used came specifically from Poland. I do believe this is the first time I have ever heard of a Canadian winery using Polish oak. I was not even aware that Polish oak existed in winemaking circles but it certainly made for an interesting and intriguing wine. Unfortunately, for me and for those of you reading this, others have discovered how great this wine is and Krystyna, owner of the winery, informs me that the 2007 vintage is currently sold out. Hopefully the 2008 vintage will be available soon and we will be able to get our hands on it now that we are aware of its existence.

Now onto some amazing wines that really impressed me at the tasting…

The Organized Crime Winery 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
$15.00 per bottle
This wine spent six months in new barrels developing some major tropical fruit aromas and a slight smokiness in the flavours. There is not much to say about this wine except that it has great complexity and a long, lingering finish. Absolutely yummy would be the way I describe this wine…

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$16.00 per bottle
Sauvignon Blanc is generally a fairly clear coloured wine but in this particular case, it is so clear it could be mistaken for water. However, that is the furthest one could ever imagine this as being water because one smell of this wine and one taste from this glass makes it very clear that this is Sauvignon Blanc. It has the typical aromas of gooseberry and lemongrass and a rather tart tasting palate. While it is very in your face at the beginning it almost immediately mellows out with some lovely, fruity undertones. This is definitely an EXTREME Sauvignon Blanc and one not to be missed.

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Viognier
$16.00 per bottle
Like most Viognier, this wine has a very aromatic nose – figs, honey and some lemon make up the majority of the aromas. The palate has a major fruit component – tropical and stone fruit mostly – with a base of tartness to give it complexity. Although most Viognier go with a variety of fish and seafood dishes, if you want to pair this particular example with fish or seafood I recommend you go with a heavier fish or spicier version to make a good pairing.

The Organized Crime Winery 2007 Pinot Noir
$22.00 per bottle
This wine spent thirteen months in the barrel and has developed a great set of aromatics. There is a large fruit component to those aromas – berry, black cherry and a bit of earthiness to round it out. The palate has almost perfect balance between the earthy and vegetal flavours and the smooth tannins making this a bottle of wine that is ready to be drunk in the next year.

The Organized Crime Winery 2007 Download
$25.00 per bottle
Their version of a Bordeaux blend, this wine contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot, which gives the wine some added complexity that most Ontario Bordeaux blends do not contain. The aromas are mostly cherry, plums and other black fruits and the palate is just amazing. There is great complexity in the flavours which is mostly the same as what is in the aromas with an intermingling of spice working its way through the wine. It is silky smooth, has slight tannins and a great backbone making the aging potential on this wine anywhere from one to four years.

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Riesling Reserve
$28.00 per bottle
Personally, I love really aromatic, flavourful Rieslings and this is definitely one to add to that list. The aromatics encompass honey, figs, citrus and tropical fruit while the palate just fills up your mouth with similar flavours. It is seamless, with just a little bit of residual sweetness and it is a very food friendly wine. It is definitely one of the best wines to finish the day with.

Having completed the wines from The Organized Crime Winery, we now move on to the wines from Closson Chase Vineyards.

Closson Chase Vineyards 2007 County Pinot Noir
$38 per bottle
The aromas on this wine do not really do justice to the wonderful flavours you find when you take that first sip of this wine. Some minerality with fruity undertones and slight hint of barnyard are the main aromas here but the flavours elevate this wine to a new level. The tannins are firm and there is a good fruit base to this wine. This wine definitely still needs some time to develop but it should really be shaping up in the next 2-3 years.

Closson Chase Vineyards 2007 CCV South Clos Chardonnay
$39.75 per bottle
To make this wine, Deborah Paskus selected ten barrels that held wine from the south side of Closson Road. The result was a wine that had wonderful aromatics of fruit, toastiness, cedar and a slight hint of taffy. There is a slight thread of spice in the backbone of this wine, a slight hit of creaminess and a slight minerality which comes from these vines being deep in County soil for the last ten years.

That brings this blog to a close…stay tuned for more entries on the other great Ontario wines I tasted this week. If you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, please see below for ordering information:

The Organized Crime Winery
(905) 563-9802

Closson Chase Vineyards
(613) 399-1418

A week of Ontario wine…day 1

Have you heard the radio commercials or seen the TV commercials lately promoting the wines of Ontario? This is the Government of Ontario’s attempt to promote the wineries of Ontario as we head into our very busy harvest season. There is just one problem with their attempt…less than one quarter of the wineries in Ontario are receiving promotion time as a part of their attempt.
Now, the goal of my blog and of my business interests is to promote all Ontario wineries so I would be remiss if I did not go to all of the wine tastings that were featuring Ontario wineries. I did manage to go to most of them – I missed one due to a scheduling conflict – but this blog is going to be dedicated to the various outstanding wines I had a chance to try from all of these tastings. The first day of tastings featured Tawse Winery from the Beamsville Bench and Rosehall Run Vineyard of Prince Edward County.

Tawse Winery 2008 Foxcroft Block (Wismer Vineyard) Riesling
$22.00 per bottle
The aromatics on this particular wine are not strong but they are pleasantly there. Strong minerality and stone fruit make up the aromas of this particular wine with a good concentration of flavours on the palate. Mostly stone fruit with a slight hint of lemon on the palate, the finish has some substance to it…not quite long but definitely medium in length.

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2007 Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay
$29.75 per bottle
Dan used mostly new barrels to make this barrel fermented Chardonnay and you can tell from its powerful nose and creamy texture. Stone fruit, pears and a hint of lemon make up the aromas and flavours with just a slight hint of butterscotch in the creamy palate. This wine is still developing in the bottle so what you taste one week could be enhanced a couple of weeks later. A pleasant, lingering finish makes this one of the most appealing Chardonnay’s I have tasted in recent months. Well done Dan.

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Cold Creek
$29.75 per bottle
The aromas one this wine can only be described as WOW! Almost pure berry but with a thread of cedar weaving throughout, this wine is filled with equally powerful flavours. Raspberry, Cherry, Cedar smoke are just a few of the key players in your mouth when you sip this wine. The tannins are smoothed out making this a very enjoyable wine to drink now but, if you have the patience, there is no reason why you cannot age it for a year or so.

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2007 Rosehall Vineyard Pinot Noir
$37.75 per bottle
This wine is just very powerful – it’s the only way it can be described. Prince Edward County has become known for making phenomenal Pinot Noir in recent years and this is definitely one to add to the list of great examples using the Heartbreak Grape. This wine is an absolute medley of flavours and aromas – violets, cherries and cedar are the predominant notes but there is also the presence of kirsch, more floral and mineral.

Tawse Winery 2007 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay
$42.00 per bottle
This wine was made spending six months in tank and then twelve months in oak. The oak was all French oak and twenty percent of the barrels were new. The twenty percent new oak translates into a wine that has a slightly creamy palate but it does not have that strong, over powering, licking the side of a barrel, over oaking that Chardonnays of the past became known for. This is more of a kiss of oak with some smoky complexity along with apple and pear flavours. Although I have never been a huge fan of Chardonnay, this is one of the few Chardonnay’s from Niagara that I have always enjoyed. The current vintage definitely does not disappoint and I highly recommend picking up a bottle or two of it.

Now, in order to not make these blog entries too massive, because there were a number of outstanding wines tried this week and the next, I am dividing the entries up to the days that the wines were tasted. If you are interested in ordering any of these wines, please visit the wineries’ websites for ordering information.

Rosehall Run Vineyards
(613) 399-1183
Visit the tasting room and retail shop at 1243 Greer Road, Wellington

Tawse Winery
Phone: 905 562 9500
Fax: 905 562 9600
Email: info@tawsewinery.ca

The state of Syrah, its ideal food matches, and a short list of inspiring American producers

Since the beginning of the year (2009) I’ve made no less than four extended passes through the West Coast, and one of the most significant things that I have found is this: the West Coast makes kick-butt Syrah. I mean, not just a handful of significant Syrahs, but an entire Sgt. Pepper’s bandwagon of them. Gloriously rich, complex, inspiring, soaring Syrahs – everything a wine lover, any wine lover, would want.

Yet, in how many places are you hearing people say, with palpitating enthusiasm, that American grown Syrahs have reached exalted levels – which they most certainly have – in the same way Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons did in the wake of the Judgement of Paris way back when, before our kids were born, or Pinot Noirs in the days before and after “that movie?”

It’s such a shame: that the dramatically ascendant quality of California, Washington and (especially) Oregon Syrahs has been met with a collective yawn.

Invariably, this brings up talk of sales. It’s being said that American Syrah, as an ultra-premium wine category, has been stuck in the doldrums. I can see why: most certainly during the past year, the action has been in the $10-$25 retail price range, and consumers still buying in the $25 and up categories (where the highest quality Syrahs reside) have a huge number of extraordinary wines to choose from, made from every grape imaginable, coming from every part of the world.

When times are tough, and people are buying less, it only makes sense that they stick mostly to what they like: Bordeaux and Cabernet drinkers who cling to their favorite châteaux and Cabernets, Pinot Noir lovers gravitating to their Pinots of choice, Spanish wine junkies to their increasingly growing choice of exceptional Spanish wines, and so forth. Needless to say, there are almost no regional or grape categories (apart from the price points) seeing notable growth at the moment, and so even the finest Syrahs are in pretty much the same boat.

One of the silliest, yet strangely the best, assessments I’ve heard about the grape’s current market indolence is the observation that “consumers simply don’t know what to expect” from a bottle of Syrah, according to one recent online report filed by a Wine & Spirits correspondent. Will the wine “be a spice box – peppercorns and lavender, anise and mocha? A butcher’s banquet – scents of organ meats and bacon fat and beef bones? A food fight at the jam factory – heady gobs of blueberries lobbed into the glass, textures as squishy as a pachyderm’s tush?”

In fact, these questions are so well worded that it slices directly to the heart of the matter: Syrah in America is not just an intense, multifaceted wine, it comes in a fascinating variety of styles and choices. Hey, wait a sec: isn’t that what we love about, say, French and Italian wines, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignons, or Burgundy and Pinot Noirs from around the world? Since when is sensory diversity a prob? As a wine aficionado, what wets your whistle more: perfect sameness, or unexpected surprise (or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, when you come to a fork in a road, do you take it)?

Here’s my assessment, based upon thirty-plus years in the trenches (buying, selling, and reporting on wines, from Hawai`i to New York): America’s Syrah producers are doing the right thing, growing their category and making more exciting wines than ever, even if the market hasn’t quite caught up with them yet. It’s only a matter of time, and circumstances. It took, for instance, some twenty years for the market to catch up with Pinot Noir producers toiling in cold pockets of Oregon and California. It had taken over a century for the rest of the world to “discover” the fertile founts of Priorat, Bandol, Lodi, Mendoza, etc. The wine world once consumed German Rieslings like water; yet as we speak, we’re still waiting to it come back around to appreciating the rarified qualitatswein of the Rhine and Moselle.


Top notch Syrah can do several things at once: knock you off the proverbial feet, yet entice and seduce you with fine delineations of fruit, spice and textures. Like Pinot Noir without the delicacy, or Cabernet Sauvignon without the testosterone.

As such, the finest Syrahs make terrific food matches; but like all other great wines, they have their ideal time and place. For instance, I have one well travelled friend – a gourmet, intellectual and bon vivant – who swears by Syrah as the single best wine for the cuisines of China. While extremely varied, few would argue that Chinese cuisines are probably the most complex in the world; not just because they incorporate every foodstuff in the world, but also because they tend to touch every part of the tongue and olfactory, like well ordered cacophonies of sensations. Syrah has not only the complexity, but the stuffing to fit in places few other wines can.

When cooking for Syrah, some thoughts and guidelines:
  • Syrah is a quintessential “big red” calling for red fleshed foods – from beef and lamb to tuna, goose and game, or else fattier cuts of pork
  • It pays to play up to Syrah’s spice (suggestive of black pepper and smoky incense), a complexity that is more subtle that often assumed; and this can be done with use of aromatics like garlic and alliums, peppercorns and peppers (bells as well as chiles), cinnamon and clove, all mushrooms, mustards, ginger, bay, basil, mints, parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme
  • The violet and floral qualities of Syrah can be highlighted with the use of plum, berries and cherries (fresh or dried)
  • Grilling and roasting are always good ideas, but bringing out the sweetly scented berry or plum qualities of Syrah by first marinating any number of ways is also good. We’ve had luck with soy sauces infused with ginger, garlic, scallions, star anise, lemon grass, and even chili pastes, balanced by sweeteners like palm sugar (i.e. the Chinese or Asian-Fusion friendly elements of Syrah).
  • Any variation of American barbecue marinades -- especially meatier beef ribs or chewy tips in vinegar (as in the Carolinas) or mustard laced sauces -- will play off the flowery fruit, peppery spice (connects with restrained chili spices, often with electrical results), and underlying acidity of classically complete Syrahs.
  • There is enough of a sweetly fruit forward quality in top drawer Syrah to be successful with stews and braises; classically in seasoned natural stocks (especially with quatre-epices), and innovatingly in Japanese, Chinese or Korean inspired stocks
And a few of our favorite culinary blasts from the past, incorporating the grape from around the world:
  • Twice cooked duck and mesclun salad with confit of garlic in a Syrah reduced balsamic vinaigrette with Chave’s sprightly, smoky, slightly gamey and smoothly rounded Saint-Joseph Offerus
  • Cracked peppercorn crusted tuna in a garlic thyme Syrah syrup with a moderately tannic, black peppery perfumed Bonny Doon Sir Rah Syrah.
  • Grilled quail and wild mushroom terrine in a spicy roasted red bell pepper sauce with a round and fruit driven Qupe Central Coast Syrah
  • Cassoulet of lamb, oxtail and pig’s ear with a classically huge, muscular Cornas by Allemand
  • Australian free-range lamb chop in a wild cherry Shiraz reduction with a powerfully sculpted, sinewy, scented Penfolds Grange-Hermitage
  • Hoisin marinated tenderloin of lamb in a tamarind plum ginger glaze with wasabi mash, matched by a massive yet sweetly concentrated Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
  • Most recently, a roasted ribeye of veal with hedgehog mushrooms and rosemary/oregano tinged mornay with a lush yet muscular, resiny herb spiced Shenandoah Valley Syrah by C.G. Di Arie.
Kris Curran


Here’s a short list of recently tasted Syrahs that, if you truly dig the grape, you really need to sit up and pay attention to:


Alban Vineyards, Reva Syrah 2005 (Alban Estate, Edna Valley) - Goodness gracious, can Syrah from anywhere in the world can any more intense, sleek and balanced as this? Black-purplish ruby, followed by nose of smoked bacon and oak, and sweetly scented, concentrated, violet and framboise/berry aromas. Thick, full, unctuous impact; the luscious flavors unfolding in textured layers across the palate.

Curran, Black Oak Vineyard Reserve Syrah 2005 (Los Alamos) – Winemaker/proprietor Kris Curran’s credentials are impeccable (formerly of Cambria, Koehler, and Sea Smoke, and currently directing winemaking operations for Foley Estates Vineyard); plus, born, raised and schooled on the Central Coast, it’s safe to say that few vintners know the region as intimately as her. This bottling is masterful: black ruby; sweet, dense, thickly fruited nose exuding rosemary, smoke and pepper spices; rich, chewy, yet fleshy, expansive flavors of teasing, intertwining smoke, spice and fruit that hit the palate with a jolt, before finishing with a phenomenal length of long, lively, sweetly balanced sensations.

Baker Lane, Estate Vineyard Syrah 2007 (Sonoma Coast) - Shiny new star producer; the wines made by Steven Canter (who also works full-time for Quivira), and this wine co-fermented with 5% Viognier. Nose is violet/floral scented, with backdrop of smoked meats and crushed berries; juicy, round, thick and full-bodied on the palate; the crushed berry flavors mingling with dark roasted coffee and charred oak underpinnings.

Stolpman Vineyards, Estate Grown Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley) - Glass staining purplish ruby releasing a varietal perfume of sweet violet, lavender and blackberry; big, thick, densely layered body compacted by sturdy tannin, filled to the brim with meaty Syrah fruit sweetened by a glycerol viscosity, powering through the smoke and tannin.

Stolpman Vineyards, Estate Grown Syrah 2006 (Santa Ynez Valley) – Here, the ultra-luxurious, bright, flowery, sweet berry nose is tinged with lavender as well as vivid, exotic spices (dried herbs, black and red pepper); super-full, dense, muscular feel, encasing fleshy fruit of high viscosity and finely polished, thick textures.

Beckmen, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Black purple extraction; intense, wild blackberry concentration with a floral, violet-like perfume and smoky, chocolaty suggestions; on the palate, a gushy, almost sweet fruit-bomb character, notwithstanding a thick, muscular feel; the thick tannins and oak toast playing second fiddle to the plump, youthful fruitiness.

Beckmen, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Santa Ynez Valley) - This vintage is filled with ripe, sweet blackberry aromas, fleshed out with more of a raw cacao complexity and sprigs of herby mint; thick, dense, full body, buttressed by muscular tannin overlain with the sweet, chocolaty fruit sensations.

Paul Lato, Il Padrino Syrah 2007 (Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley) – A tiny producer well worth the time and trouble to find: stunningly intense nose of sweet berries, violets, brown (cinnamon), black (peppercorn), and exotic (ginger) spices; the spiced fruit of immense concentration on the palate; big body and tannin smoothed over by silken, sweet sensations.

Paul Lato, Cinematique Syrah 2007 (Larner Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley) - Compared to Lato’s Il Padrino, even more fragrant (violet, lavender and musk spices) and earthy (rosemary/raw meat) in the nose, specked with blackpepper; rounder, more finely finished, silken mouth-feel, with moderate tannin running beneath the sweet/spicy flavors.

Skylark, Rodgers Creek Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Sonoma Coast) - By the sommelier/winemaker team of John Lancaster and Robert Perkins (both still active at Boulevard in San Francisco). Black/purplish ruby; sweetly intense perfumes of crushed berries, dark roasted coffee, cracked pepper and pine needles. Big, thick, plush qualities of the same on the palate; an aggressive, let-it-all-hang-out approach to Syrah.

Larry Brooks

Tolosa, 1772 Syrah 2006 (Edna Valley) – Tolosa’s long respected winemaker, Larry Brooks (an architect of the wines of Acacia and the Chalone Group during their glory years), picks the cream of Tolosa's Central Coast Vineyard Team (i.e. CCVT) sustainable vineyards to make his “ultimate” Syrah, which for him means an “abundance of aromatics,” of which he is “obsessed with.” A purple tinged crimson color leads to Brooks’ idolatrous nose: exotic, fragrant spices of sandalwood, faintly of smoky incense, mingling with meaty berry flavors on a palate built on round yet muscular tannin, a little fruity baby fat, and velvet textured finish.

Morgan, Double L Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Santa Lucia Highlands) – There already is plenty of evidence, like this CCOF certified organic bottling, that the most complex, elegant Syrahs in the U.S. are bound to come from the colder climate regions such as the wind scrubbed slopes towards the north end of Santa Lucia Highlands. Vivid black/purplish color indicates concentrated extraction, but there’s nothing over-the-top about this finesseful wine: sweet violet-like varietal fragrance, compacted with peppery and roasted coffee-like spices, underscored by a mild, animal-like meatiness; thick, dense feel on the palate, enlivened by snappy acidity and unencumbered by heavy alcohol, finishing with focus on the smoky, luscious, violet perfumed notes.

Paraiso Vineyards, Wedding Hill Syrah 2004 (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Another top-notch, CCVT sustainable SLH growth, redolent of uplifted, flowery scented, sweet spiced Syrah fruit, coated in slightly aggressive, smoky/toasty oak (nothing wrong with that as long as the fruit rings true). The body is full, round, dense and velvety; and the smoked flavors, bright, sweet, almost chocolaty thick. Not a shy reading of the grape, but an immensely satisfying one.

Justin Vineyards, Savant 2006 (Paso Robles; 59% Syrah/41% Cabernet Sauvignon) - Not a pure Syrah, but dominated enough by the grape to bear mention: multi-faceted nose of sweet herbs (rosemary and pine needles), violets, hard spices (clove and star anise), and roasted meats; velvety entry leading to big, round, fleshy body, filled with the sweetly spiced flavors.

Justin Vineyards, Syrah 2007 (Paso Robles) – Fragrant floral nose underscored by soft leather glove and burnt leafy spices and oak nuances; gentle yet full on the palate, the rounded flavors sweetened by vanillin oak accentuated by the smoky spices.

C.G. Di Arie, Southern Exposure Syrah 2005 (Shenandoah Valley) – High quality Amador County Syrah has been long time coming. Certainly, the ingredients (2000 ft. elevations, and poor, porous, crushed granitic hillsides) have always been there, and new, quality focused wineries like C.G. Di Arie are turning things around. Adventurous Syrah lovers, take note: black purplish color followed by an intensely varietal nose of crushed violets and concentrated, baked berries, along with smoked bacon and distinctively wild, resiny rosemary bush-like spices. On the palate, firming muscular tannin wrapped around big, sweet flavors, finishing with a smack of leather and meat.

Perry Creek Altitude: 2401, Dark Forest Syrah 2006 (Fairplay) – Gloss over this boutique sized El Dorado County winery at your own peril, because they’re making a Syrah as massively concentrated as any in the world, yet without that sense of alcoholic weight or overripe sweetness that (frankly) is more common than not in top drawer Californians. The luscious dark berry nose is tinged with floral fragrance and stony earth tones; thick tannins layered over by the juicy fruit and velvet texture.

Miraflores, Syrah 2005 (El Dorado) – Consulting winemaker Marco Cappelli escaped from Napa Valley (Swanson winemaker for sixteen years) to move to his own little paradise on an El Dorado hilltop, and he’s exerting elegant composures to the high elevation wines of the region: here, well defined violet, blue and black berry scented varietal aromas filling out a moderately full, densely structured body, impacting the palate with a rounded stoniness along with chocolaty rich fruit qualities, adding up to a Syrah with both guts and surprising restraint.

Klinker Brick, Farrah Syrah 2005 (Lodi) – Lodi produces underrated Syrahs in a style, while submerged in sweetly ripened fruit, is invitingly round and lush. The varietal character in the old-vine sourced Klinker Bricks takes on blueberry tones, with sweet, smoky French oak and bacon-like notes adding nuance; and on the palate, the full bodied flavors are plump, round and succulent.


Tyrus Evan, Del Rio Vineyards Syrah 2006 (Rogue Valley) – Oregon Pinot Noir god, Ken Wright, crafts this hummer carrying the names of his sons, sourced from a spectacular hillside site steeped in what he calls a “rockpile soil.” The results are truly special in the bottle as well: beginning with a nose of wild, earthy, almost animal-like (n.b. no hint of brett), organic aromas – lavender, violet, wild berries, dried kitchen herbs, and wood charred meats – and evolving into a full yet rounded, deftly scaled body braced by thickening tannin, and filled to the top with the dense, viscously textured fruit and spices. World class.

Tyrus Evan, Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley) - Seven Hills is known to many aficionados of Walla Walla Valley wines, although what’s often overlooked is that the vineyard lies at the south end of the AVA, in Oregon rather than in Washington St. Ken Wright's transparent approach to the grape is all over this wine, all but containing the explosively ripe, floral, blue and black berry nuanced Syrah perfume; big, thick, yet round and velvety on the palate.

Del Rio Vineyards, Syrah 2006 (Rogue Valley) – Super purplish color signaling a lusciously concentrated nose of the floral varietal fragrance, assiduous blueberry/framboise-like fruit, and smoky, scrubby notes of French oak merged with the kitchen herb spice of the grape. On the palate, a velvet texture wrapped around the concentrated fruit and sturdy tannin, taking on a sweet meatiness as it rounds off into a long, juicy finish. Textbook rendition of the emerging Southern Oregon style.

Spangler Vineyards, Sage’s Hill Estate Syrah 2007 (Southern Oregon) – I don’t know how this Umpqua Valley winery does it, but it’s there in spades: an intense pepper grinder spiciness, pervading the sweetly concentrated nose and thick, dense, sinewy textures and roped licorice flavors; yet both a faintly tart aged acidity and restrained alcohol (only 12.6%) definitely keep the wine from coming across as fat or heavy, as the peppery fruit rides into a long, zesty finish.

Spangler Vineyards, Syrah 2006 (Southern Oregon) – Winemaker/proprietor Pat Spangler says this is his “Barossa Valley style” Syrah, and in terms of structure – a big, round burliness – it is. But it also carries a cracked pepper grinder spice and floral Syrah perfume seldom found in Aussie Shiraz (where ultra-ripe fruitiness tends to bury varietal nuances). The palate sensations are thick and muscular, while avoiding that teetering high alcohol feel, allowing the spiced fruit qualities to predominate.

Penner-Ash, Syrah 2006 (Oregon) - Blending fruit from Rogue Valley's Del Rio Vineyard and the Lewis Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, Penner-Ash exacts an exceedingly elegant demeanor to Oregon Syrah: purplish ruby followed by sweet raspberry liqueur-like fruit fragrance with wisps of smoke and white pepper; the spiced berries flowing in thick, surging layers, forged with finely finished textures.

Quady North, The Flagship Syrah 2007 (Applegate Valley) – Fashioned by Herb Quady (a former Bonny Doon cellar rat, and son of California fortified wine specialist, Andrew Quady), who also is the full-time winemaker of the Applegate Valley’s Troon Vineyard. The nose here is sweet, floral, and studded with almost equal doses dried plum, lavendery dried herbs and cracked peppercorn spice. Fully, round and fleshy on the palate; the fat fruitiness hardened just beneath the outer core by solidly packed tannin. This is big, serious stuff, even if, like a tree falling in the woods, you aren’t yet cognizant of what’s going on in this rarely covered part of the West Coast.

Quady North, 4-2, A Syrah 2006 (Rogue Valley) – A sweet berry liqueur aroma is enhanced by bacon fat and white peppery floral fragrances; and while big, tight and steely with tannin, the sweetly spiced flavors penetrate the palate, even as it works it way through a somewhat awkward adolescent stage.

Quady North, 4-2, A Syrah 2007 (Rogue Valley) – You never want to say this, but I find the lot of top drawer Southern Oregon Syrahs to have delineated qualities that are more strikingly reminiscent of what you find on slopes of the Northern Rhône rather than in Washington or California. Here, the floral varietal perfume is embroidered with anise/licorice-like spice, gunflint and the smoke of oak; these organic qualities carrying through into a sturdy medium-full body, its plump qualities filled out by rounded tannins tucked into the effusive fruitiness.

Weisinger’s, Syrah 2005 (Rogue Valley) – Like that of other Southern Oregon Syrahs, an unerringly varietal violet and lavendery perfume, embellished with smoky oak and wild berry qualities; big, thick, sturdy structure, brimming with the floral fruit running unimpeded by even the full throttled tannin.

Washington State:

Amavi, Les Collines Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley) – One of Washington’s current cream of the crop for this grape: black purplish color unveils a powerful, plummy, violet scented nose nuanced with gunflint black tea, garrigue-like rosemary, and smoked meat aromas; big and round on the palate, the thick tannins smoothed over by the delicious preponderance of varietal fruit.

Long Shadows, Sequel Syrah 2006 (Columbia Valley) – A collaboration of Long Shadows founder Allen Shoup (former longtime Chateau Ste. Michelle exec) and consulting winemaker/partner John Duval (famed for his years at the helm of Australia’s Penfolds, crafting wines like the famous Grange), as executed by Long Shadows winemaker Gilles Nicault. While you would expect an Aussiefied taste, the Sequel actually ends up more of a typical Washington style Syrah: a big, vivid, smoky, broad, unsubtle fruit-bomb of a wine, loaded with toasty, charred oak, with the slightly overripe, sweet berry qualities embedded in thick, dense, tannin thickened textures. Yet, there are finesseful highlights in this wine; particularly in the layering of the oak upon the fruit, transluscent enough to let the sweetness and chewing tobacco-like spice to shine through and make for a nimble, polished finish.

Sleight of Hand, Levitation Syrah 2007 (Columbia Valley) – Winemaker/proprietor Trey Busch might be a new kid on the block (2006 was the winery’s first vintage), but he is already showing a (shall we say) magical touch with Washington’s intense, oft-times severely tannin laden fruit. Nothing like that here: bright, beautiful strawberry nose, veering towards framboise-like richness; on the palate, a moderately scaled body loaded with lush, fruit forward qualities, yet as densely textured as any of these blockbusters from the Northwest.

Saviah Cellars, Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley) – Winemaker/proprietor Rich Funk represents a new breed of Washington winemakers, intensely attuned to both contemporary tastes and the nuances of his surrounding terroir: out of a haze purple color, blackberry liqueur and cloved cherry compote aromas condensed into compact nose; on the palate, a dense, tannin lined, vanilla laced fruitiness with youthful, primary qualities – piquant, chewy, sweet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Still crazy good after all these years: Oregon's Cristom Pinot Noirs

When I asked winemaker Steve Doerner how his approach to winemaking has evolved over the past twenty years when I visited him at Cristom Vineyards this past August, he confessed, “I’m almost embarrassed to say that I haven’t changed much at all. I guess you can say I’ve grown comfortable with my ways.”

From most vintners, that statement might set off alarms (lord knows, I’ve been in enough wineries of long standing, chatting with vintners left sadly behind the times). But from Doerner, this was actually music to my ears. You see, we first met in 1989, towards the end of his fourteen year stint as winemaker for Calera Wine Company in San Benito, working with ultra-ripened pinot noir and chardonnay grown by Josh Jensen.

While Calera’s wines may never have been to my taste (I’ve always found them overly alcoholic and ponderous – a byproduct of a warm climate terroir, not any winemaker’s doing), I distinctly remember being astounded by what Doerner was doing there: applying 100% natural yeast and whole cluster fermentation, wines pressed and going “dirty” directly into barrel, zero filtration, and at all times, bare minimal handling – techniques considered not just brazen, but downright foolhardy by the convention of those days, even among the more cutting-edged producers (like Merry Edwards, David Ramey, and Chalone’s late Richard Graff) of the time.

Doerner was doing then what many winemakers today still haven’t caught up with.

Cristom pinot noir at veraison

And by gosh, last month I heard Doerner repeat the same thing I heard him say way back when: “Never try to do anything to pinot noir that you aren’t sure won’t work.” Then, as now, Doerner professed faith in time honored methods of Burgundy –plenty enough empirical evidence even for him (Doerner’s degree at U.C. Davis was in biochemistry). But of even Old and New World “innovations,” like pre-fermentation cold soak and post-fermentation maceration, Doerner has never felt a need. Then, as now, he repeats, “with only wild yeasts to do the work, whole clusters take a little more time to get started, and fermentation within individual berries takes even longer. So in a way, there is extended contact because of the sheer length of fermentation (between 14 and 21 days), with the different yeast strains working at their own pace.”

Now, you may have heard in some quarters that this whole thing about native yeast fermentation is mostly marketing hokum because wineries who do this usually have a history of commercial yeast usage (therefore, most “wild yeast” fermentations are probably the work of cultured yeasts, since all previously used yeast strains tend to remain in the air and on the surfaces of every winery).

So it was with great interest, in 1992, when I read about Doerner taking the job as winemaker for the newly founded Cristom Vineyards in Willamette Valley. You can bet, in November of 1993, that I beat a path to the door of Doerner’s new home, my ears stinging by the onslaught of Oregon winter. So many questions, especially:

  • How does a winemaker, basically trained in California, adjust to Oregon grapes, and much cooler Oregon terroirs?

  • What would be the effect of Doerner’s previous methodolgy (i.e. natural yeasts, whole cluster, minimal handling and zero filtration) on Oregon grown pinot noir, or would he be forced to make changes?

In 1993, as now, I was pleasantly surprised to find Doerner not only applying the same principles as before, but making wines of greater power and focus than ever; only, with the finesseful attributes of Oregon grown fruit. Regarding native yeast fermentation: no problem. “Stuck” fermentations, green “stemmy” tannins or other related issues? Obviously nada, as Doerner tasted me on barrel after barrel of Cristom’s first wines: clean, young, sturdily structured yet lush, supple pinots. Ergo: the veracity of natural yeasts is not, after all, a myth hoisted upon us by the French. Given the chance, the yeast strains that appear naturally on grape skins out in the field do just fine in the winery, and by vignerons like Doerner; especially when you begin with whole clusters (at Cristom, generally about 50% of the fermentation vats in warm, ripe years like ’06 and ‘03, and closer to 30% in cooler years like the ’07 and ‘05).

But as always, it doesn’t matter what a winery does, or doesn’t do, if the results in the bottle aren’t worth their salt. In Cristom’s case, I think they’re better than ever. In past vintages, tasted five-ten years back, I confess to not being 100% enthusiastic about every one of Cristom’s pinots; finding some bottlings hard, or unforgiving, in tannin and toughness. But in recent years, I’ve come back to being almost always mightily impressed: pinots of strength and sinew, but also languorous, sultry textures and perfumes – like Audrey Hepburns in black silk, pearls, and wispy smoke from the long platinum cigarette holder.

General impressions after tasting through barrels of ’08 (overall: bright, beautifully scented, crisp and finely structured pinots) with Doerner last month, followed by newly released bottlings of ’07.

Cristom (red roof) from above; Jessie, the reverse-Idaho shaped block to left;
Marjorie, straight up, just above tree break

Now here are some things to write home about:

Cristom, Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills) – Cristom now identifies six different sites (or “Ladies”) on its 65 acre estate; yet never prone to hyperbole, Doerner says that “terroir exists, but we need more data points.” Even so, the Marjorie is Cristom’s oldest section (planted in 1982), with the highest percentage of Jory type soil (the mineral rich, red toned volcanic soil, also associated with Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA), given to a decidedly feminine structure and perfume, scented with the redder berry characteristics of the grape. In the ’07, these qualities comes across as thickly textured, with a good bottom grip of tannin, while dancing, zesty acidity brightens the profile, finishing with sweet sensations of red berries and cinnamoned rose petal nuances.

Cristom, Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills) - From Cristom's steepest, rockiest site with multiple exposures and shallow soil, primarily composed of the brownish volcanic clay in the Nikea series. In this slightly more stressed medium the pinot ripens variably, resulting in a generally darker complexity of red fruit; and what's more, in rich concentrations. The nose in the'07 is jammy sweet, bright, richly oaked, almost wild with blackberry, raspberry and dried cherry skin; the flavors electrified on the palate by the sheer intensity of the fruit, bursint out of the sturdy, fleshy structure thickened by the polished oak.

Cristom, Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley) - The Sommers are generally blends of “favorite” lots selected for extended barrel aging from the Eola-Amity Hills estate, with smaller proportions of coastal and Dundee Hills cuvées, resulting in artful distillations of the multi-faceted house style: in the ’07, masculine, meaty, and well muscled, centered around round, fleshy qualities steeped in sweetly floral, predominantly dark fruits, backed by polished oak, draped in velvet textures.

Cristom, Signature Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley) In this crème de la crème bottling: the full, strapping masculinity that is invariably found in a Cristom is all here, in spades; beginning with a dense, round, buffed body gripped by sinewy tannin, fleshed out to overflowing with concentrated, velvet lined fruit, perfumed by wild blackberry, raspberry and cherry cola, deepened by smoky oak, peppermint spice, and organic nuances of crushed brown leaves. Only the third vintage (after ’98 and ’04) of a Signature pinot produced by Cristom since its inception in 1992.


HARVEST IN THE (UNION) SQUARE is an event not to miss.
Imagine eating the cuisine of NYC's 'hottest' restaurants sreved by and cooked by celeberity chefs from Union Square's 'Best Restaurants' including: Todd English's OLIVES; UNION SQUARE CAFE; TOCQUEVILLE; TAMARIND; BLUE SMOKE; PRIMEHOUSE; ILILI;
The twist is all of the chef's will be using Union Square's 'GREENMARKET Produce' in their signature dish.
This is the 14th year for the HARVEST IN THE SQUARE (West side of Union Square).
As in the past, this is a night to remember. Music, food and and beverages from New York's premier wine and beer makers highlight the evening. SOUTHERN Wine and Spirits is a sponsor. Some of the wines for this event include: WOLFFER ESTATE; PECONIC BAY; MILLBROOK VINEYARDS; DR.KONSTANTINE FRANK (my favorite); MIONETTO PROSECCO and CHANNING DAUGHTERS. If wine is not enough, HEARTLAND BREWERY will be pouring their exceptional beer.
Be sure to buy your tickets online: http://www.harvestinthesquare.org/ or at the door.
Where: WEST PLAZA of Union Square
When: 6pm VIP 7:30pm General Admission
September 24th Thursday
This is an event to attend. It is all about New York City, the Greenmarket and sustainable living.
Support the Union Square Partnership (non-profit) by attending.
You never know who you may run into...many celeberities live in the neighborhood...and rumor has it that Mayor Bloomberg will attend, with pizza in hand.

Philip S. Kampe

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Austria is emerging as the new 'Australia' in the wine world.
Within the past year, Austrian wines have become the talk of the wine trade. Much of this is due to the diligent work of Ms.Stephanie Artner of the Austrian Trade Commisssion, who has sponsored numerous events focusing on the wines and foods of Austria.
Both trade and Press have been delighted with a new face on the scene. A few years ago Australia enmerged, then New Zealand and finally, Chile.
Now is the time for Austria to dominate America's sophisticated palate. The amazing wines may cost a little bit more than their predecessors, but the reward is in their structure.
Even with the worlds economic problems, Austrian wine sales have increased 10% for the first six months of 2009. That is a very positive number. The number means that the world has caught on to this trend and supports its existence.
Austria has four different wine regions. The largest is NIEDEROSTERREICH (Lower Austria) , which has rare varietals, as well as known ones, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The region is well known for Gruner Veltliner, as well.
BURENLAND is next in size and is well known for great whites, full bodied reds and sweet wines. The first designation of origin red wine was made Burgenland.
STEIRMARK (Styria) is the third wine growing region. It consists of three regions, each known for specific types of wine, ranging from volcanic terror to a tannin rich Wildbacher red.
WIEN (Vienna) is not only the capital, but grow some of the countries greatest wines.
The 51,000 hectacres represent 22 white wine varietals and 13 red varietals. 70% of the wines are white and 30% are red.
The Austrian wine cap carries the Official Banderole ( red and white) seal of Austrian quality wine (Qualitatswein). The red and white seal is brilliant, as one automatically identifies with Austrian wines visually.
Austria consumes 73% of the 2.5 million hectoliter production. 27% of the Qualitatswein wines are for export.
Purchasing Austrian wines should be easy, as most of the wines, red, white , sparkling or sweet will exceed expectations.
This is a list of some of my favorites:

Zweiglt 07' Weingut Elfenhof>family estate since 1642-deightful cherry aroma -biter and sweet

Imperial Red 06' Schloss Halbturn > 14% alcohol-blend of Cab/Melot/Cab Franc/Blaufrankisch
complex bouquet-elegant-oak-cherry-dark chocolate

Beerenauslese Weingut Hopler GMBH >cool climate sweet wine-11% alcohol-noble rot
concentrated sweet blend of 50% Saemling; 30% Chardonnay;20% Gruener Veltliner

Styrian Schilcher Sparkling Wine Brut 07' spicy,dry flavor-vineyard established in 1849

Hirsch 07' Gruner Veltliner Lamm (Kamptal) wonderful white wine with lots of depth

Berger Blauer Zweigelt 06' Leithen Vineyard (Kremstal) one of the best Zweigelt values

Brundlmayer 04' Cecile (Kamptal) Pinot Noir unusually delicious special Pinot Noir

Riesling Domaine Wachau 01' Smaragd Singerriedel Vineyard best Austrian Riesling available

All of the wines are a treat and the future of the next revolution in wine making.
Consider making Austrian wines a part of your life. Your guests and you will be pleased!!

Philip S. Kampe


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The green wars part 2 (organic, Biodynamic® & sustainable tasting notes)

Here’s the lowdown on some of the more notable – if not fantastic – organic, Biodynamic®, and sustainably grown wines tasted during (and just after) my most recent jaunt (August 2009) through the West Coast. For an explication of the green delineations, please refer to previous pieces on The War Between the Greens and A Consumer’s Precise Guide to Going Green:


Seven Springs Vineyard, Celebration Gamay 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Employing nouveau vinification, but a far cry from the usual: vivid purplish ruby followed by teems of sweet blackberry (like the gushy wild fruit we were picking off the sides of the road during our entire two weeks in Oregon) and raspberry aromas; round, luscious, drippy in a zesty center; the sensations soft, yet dense enough with mild tannin to give a little bit of grip on the palate.

Seven Springs' Isabelle Meunier

Seven Springs Vineyard, Les Gamine 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Passetoutgrains inspired blend of authentic gamay (60%) and pinot noir; but again, because of the sheer, gorgeous intensity of this vineyard, more like a passetoutgrains of your dreams: vividly defined rouge on noir berry perfumes in complex, nuanced nose; marvelous interplay of zesty edge and silk/velvet textures, the luscious berry fruitiness emanating brightly on the palate. Utterly unique, compelling.

Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills; noncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Oregon pinot noir lovers have been enthralled by this vineyard for years; and although, since being purchased by Evening Land Vineyards, its grapes are no longer going out to artisanals like Penner-Ash, Cristom and St. Innocent, rest assured that in the hands of French born winemaker Isabelle Meunier and über-consultant Dominique Lafon, Seven Springs pinots will be better than ever. The proof is already in the bottle: beautiful, luscious, fragrant array of rose petal, anisey spice, wild red berries, and blueberry jam in the nose. Velvety smooth entry leading to long, sweet flavors, anchored by sturdy tannin, solidifying the fruit once past the mouth-watering middle.

Maysara, Delara Pinot Noir 2006 (McMinnville; Biodynamic® grapes) - Given its unique locale at the furthest western, coastal edge of the Willamette Valley – strongly influenced by cooling winds pushing through the nearby Van Duzer Corridor – the McMinnville AVA is already associated with pinot noir of exhilarating breadth, more steely structured with acidity and tannin than pinots from the rest of Oregon. Delara is perhaps the most terroir driven of Maysara’s cuvées: its dense, fullsome body elevated by lively acidity, while amplified by its luscious, pungent fruitiness – sweet raspberry and strawberry jam infused with peppermint, pepper, and anise/licorice nuances.

Maysara winemaker, Tahmiene Momtazi

Maysara, Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008 (McMinnville; Biodynamic® grapes) - Slated for fall 2009 release, this cuvée shows the fully ripened, sweet fruit, silk texture, zesty edge, and moderated alcohol typical of this vineyard, as well as the bright qualities of this cool yet trouble-free vintage. Unfettered, wild strawberry in the nose, expressed in vibrant, fruit forward sensations on the palate, gliding clear through firmly defined tannins.

Stoller Vineyards, SV Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; LIVE sustainable grapes) - This is one of the deeper toned pinot noirs coming out of this AVA, associated as it is with reddish fruit forward pinot profiles, and an outstanding one at that. Here, the red berry perfume is laced with brown spices and faint, composted earth qualities; on the palate, a fine, long, feminine body underlain by sinewy tannin, giving savory, nuanced flavors, suggesting raspberry tea, smoky spices, and caramelized oak.

Cristom, Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Geez, can Oregon Pinot get any richer? The nose is jammy sweet, bright, richly oaked, almost wild with blackberry, raspberry and dried cherry skin; the flavors electrified on the palate by sheer intensity of the fruit, bursting out of the sturdy, fleshy structure thickened by the polished oak.

Cristom, Signature Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; uncertified sustainable grapes) - Winemaker Steve Doerner has stuck to his guns over the past twenty years – applying 100% natural yeast, whole cluster (50% in riper years, closer to 30% in cooler years like` ‘07) fermentation, zero filtration, and minimalist handling – and has honed it to perfection. The full, strapping masculinity that is invariably produced is all here in a dense, round, buffed body gripped by sinewy tannin; fleshed to overflowing with concentrated, velvet lined fruit, perfumed by wild blackberry, raspberry and cherry cola, darkened by smoky oak, peppermint spice, and organic nuances of crushed brown leaves. Only the third vintage (after '98 and '04) of a Signature pinot produced by Cristom since its inception in 1992.

Bergström, Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; Biodynamic® wine) - Quintessential Dundee Hills style, redolent of sweet red berries, flowery and lacy over the rim; but it’s on the palate that this wine really shows its stuff – a plump, soft entry transitioning into a velvety, lush, round, medium-full middle, the red berry sensations fleshy, supple, pliant to the touch.

Bergström, de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Chehalem Mountains; Biodynamic® wine) - Vivid violet-ruby color, nearly just as deep at the rim; the nose mixing wild blackberry and cherry, less floral than its brethren bottling from the Dundee Hills, but given a dense, gripping, substantive feel on the palate, under an artistically delineated layer of softly sweet fruit.

Beaux Frères, Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Of this meticulously farmed jewel crowning the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the most significant thing I can report is that it is no longer laden with the tannic heft associated with max-extraction, nor with the aggressively toasted, lumbering oakiness that once gave the brand its swaggering edge. Instead, it’s metamorphosed into a sumptuous, gracefully rounded epitome of the grape. Sure, there still is a perceptively smoky oak nuance embellishing the lush nose of strawberry and wild berries; but on the palate, the feel is crisp, silky and refined rather than thick and chewy. Big Bad Bill is Sweet William now.

Beaux Frères, Upper Terrace Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - One of the discernible differences biodynamic practices have wrought on recent Beaux Frères vintages, according to vigneron Mike Etzel, is redder as opposed to blacker fruit profiles. Physiological ripeness comes at lower sugars (hence, lower alcohol and less raisiny-ripe, root beerish notes; and in response, Etzel has been exerting less punch-down, and more gentle pump-overs, to coax rather than extricate complexity. Juicy strawberry leaps from the glass of this Upper Terrace, the fruit aroma tinged with smoky spice. A round, fleshy body comes across as soft and silky; the red fruit flavors, fresh, lively, elegantly poised against this polished, yet sturdy, veneer.

Brick House's Doug Tunnell

Brick House, Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir 2007 (Ribbon Ridge; Biodynamic® grapes) - Bright transparent ruby signaling the delicacy and lacy silkiness found in the glass; the red berry perfume, singular yet fragrant, penetrating; the fruit qualities on the palate, while fine and sweet, in taut balance with mouth-watering acidity and moderated tannin against a faint backdrop of brown spiced oak, finishing long and lively.

Brick House, Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir 2007 (Ribbon Ridge; Biodynamic® grapes) - Here the femininity of the house style reaches an extreme, with fragrances of candied red berries tinged with brown spices (suggesting cinnamon and allspice); sleek, slender, light-medium body enlivened by tingling acidity and soft, unobtrusive tannin.

Chehalem, Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; LIVE certified grapes) - Lovely rendering of this classic Dundee growth; nose of sweetly concentrated dried plum and red berries, with sachet-like mix of dried rose petal, star anise and Chinese five spice perfumes; long, refined, silken medium body, intricately layered with sweet berries, polished oak, exotic spices and gently tugging tannins.

Chehalem, Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 (Oregon; LIVE certified grapes) - Decidedly masculine style: deep, bright burgundy red followed by intense black cherry aroma; juicy, fleshy fruit-bomb qualities couched in an emphatic, viscous, full body, tightened by muscular tannin.

RR, Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Chehalem’s upper crust, reserve quality label, culled from older sections of Ridgecrest Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA (hence, the “RR”). The ’05 is a vinous orgy: roasted bacon/meat mixed with concentrations of cherry and dried plum in the nose; huge (for a pinot), fleshy, dense and velvety on impact, becoming dense, almost ponderous, yet perfectly round and seamless in the mid-palate; the meaty, plummy, cherry bomb fruit compacted, and oozing from the center like a Whitman’s chocolate.

Domaine Serene, Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Who doesn’t think of this growth as an apotheosis of Dundee Hills? It’s been consistent enough, and finer with each passing vintage. The classic, pretty red berry perfume in the ‘06 is deftly harmonized with rich, toasty oak. The handsome oak, full body and weight adding tannin do not keep the wine from being balanced and buoyant; the fragrant fruit fleshing out the middle, rolling into a sweet finish.

Cooper Mountain's Barbara Gross & Gilles Antoine de Domingo

Cooper Mountain Vineyards, 5 Elements Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® wine) - Bright, purplish ruby; luscious, fruit focused nose of black cherry and plums, with bare whiffs of vanilla; good size – medium-full on the pinot scale – shaped by dense, round, thick, slightly viscous sensations; again, the flavors focused on deliciously unfettered fruit, as opposed to feminine or finesseful aspects of the mythical varietal profile.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Life Pinot Noir 2008 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® grapes; TILTH organic wine) - This is Cooper Mountain’s pure, unsulfured cuvée; in a way, experimental (only 100 cases produced), but a 100% success as far as I’m concerned. Winemaker Gilles Antoine de Domingo quips that this is for the “OCD palate,” in reference to the fruit focus incurred from minimal oak aging, resulting in the fresh, lively, mildly spiced, totally clean and bright varietal fruitiness (cranberry/cherry), couched on a bed of soft tannin. As good as it gets for unsulfured pinot.

2006 Domaine Drouhin, Laurène Pinot Noir (Oregon; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Here and there you hear references to the “Dundee spice,” and whether it exists or is just a figment in an overenthusiastic collective imagination, there is a sweet, brown kitchen spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc.) lending interest to the otherwise singular red berry (veering towards black) fragrance of this Dundee Hills estate bottling. The entry is soft, fine, silky; becoming tight with tannin in the middle of a medium-full body, but finishing sweet between the hardening textures.

Pali, Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Pali is housed in the “Wine Ghetto” of Santa Barbara’s Lompoc, but they do too good a job with Maysara’s McMinnville, Oregon grapes not to mention here: a sweet, lush, vibrantly aromatic, smoky spice tinged mix of red and black berries backed up in the mouth with sturdy tannins; the feel is full and dominant, yet the texturing, soft, plump, pliant

King Estate, Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2007 (Oregon; LIVE sustainable & TILTH organic grapes) - Bright, flowery, juicy strawberry/wild cherry nose tinged with light peppermint spice; accessibly soft, forward fruit flavors of the same following up in a compact, medium body with easy going tannin, finishing as softly fruity as it starts.

Ken Wright's McCrone Vineyard planting just past veraison

Ken Wright, Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic grapes) - Since high demand pinot noirs are often allocated or pre-sold, it’s a good idea to get a handle on the upcoming 2008s. According to, Ken Wright, ‘08 was very cool, almost bleak, especially after a “significant rain the first week of October.” But this was followed by “twenty-two gloriously warm days that gave the grapes the opportunity to assemble everything… tremendous structure, and very agreeable, complex, delineated flavors.” The ’08 Carter is a good indicator: displaying ringingly bright, concentrated wild berry fruit tucked into densely layered textures, begging for more time in the bottle than usual for Oregon. Wright advises us to expect 2008 to be “not be as fleshy as ’06, ’02, or ’94,” but punctuated by an energetic acidity that “reminds me of ’88.”

Alma Rosa, La Encantada Pinot Noir 2007 (Sta. Rita Hills; CCOF organic grapes) - More aggressive California style nose – sun dried blackberry, caramelized oak, and brown spices – yet refined, moderately weighted on the palate despite sinewy tannin and the smoke of oak, lending chewy tobacco-like qualities to the pinot fruit.

Porter-Bass Estate, Pinot Noir 2007 (Russian River Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - Luscious fruitiness of all the strawberries in the world, scented and layered between velvet textures, piquant acidity and soft, finesseful tannins.

Porter-Bass, Zinfandel 2005 (Russian River Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - More of a pinot-like perfume, rather than a typical ultra-ripe zinfandel jamminess, in the nose of this uniquely fashioned wine: a pristinely fresh burst of wild raspberry, strawberry and cherry, spiced with cinnamon, clove and green peppercorn; on the palate, the juicy, briar laced fruitiness couched in a fine, medium body punctuated by prickling acidity and just mild tannin.

Amavi, Les Collines Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; IOBC sustainable grapes) - Black purplish color unveils a powerful, plummy, violet scented nose nuanced with gunflint black tea, garrigue-like rosemary, and smoked meat aromas; big and round on the palate, the thick tannins smoothed over by the preponderance of varietal fruit.

Tyrus Evan, Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Seven Hills is known to many aficionados of Walla Walla Valley wines, although what’s often overlooked is that the vineyard lies at the south end of the AVA, in Oregon rather than in Washington St. (hence, its Oregon LIVE certification). Ken Wright lends his polished style to his Tyrus Evan label, all but containing the explosively ripe, floral, blue and black berry nuanced Syrah perfume; big, thick, yet round and velvety on the palate.

Saviah Cellars, Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; LIVE & IOBC sustainable grapes) - Here’s a whippersnapper: out of a purple haze, blackberry liqueur and cloved cherry compote aromas condensed into compact nose; on the palate, a dense, tannin lined, vanilla laced fruitiness with youthful, primary qualities – piquant, chewy, sweet.

Va Piano, Bruno’s Blend V (Columbia Valley; VINEA sustainable grapes) - An artfully crafted, multi-vintage blend of syrah (67%), cabernet sauvignon (19%) and merlot (14%) that hits an exact, crowd pleasing bull’s eye of lush, ripe, sweet toned, mildly spiced fruit, suggesting dried cherry and blueberry, with smoky oak and minty/herbal flourishes. While densely textured on the palate, the feel is round and plump, letting fruit wrap around its modicum of tannin to give friendly, toothsome sensations.

Beckmen, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Black purple extraction; intense, wild blackberry concentration with a floral, violet-like perfume and smoky, chocolaty suggestions; on the palate, a gushy, almost sweet fruit-bomb character, notwithstanding a thick, muscular feel; the thick tannins and oak toast playing second fiddle to the plump, youthful fruitiness.

Stolpman Vineyards, Estate Grown Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - Glass staining purplish ruby releasing a varietal perfume of sweet violet, lavender and blackberry; big, thick, densely layered body compacted by sturdy tannin, filled to the brim with meaty syrah fruit sweetened by a glycerol viscosity, powering through the smoke and tannin.

Doonster, Randall Grahm in San Juan Bautista

Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Volant 2005 (California; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - 50% grenache/24% mourvèdre/22% syrah/3% carignane/1% cinsault. Randall Grahm’s eponymous red Cigare never really went away; it just floats in and out of our consciousness with the same plump, toothsome spirit that it has the past two decades, only now with more organic (i.e. more immediacy of fruit, wrapped in soft leather) feel. The earthen brett notes thinly wrap around sweet cherry/kirsch-like fruit in the nose; on the palate, coming across with a nice, notably acidic zest, a lusciously rounded, fleshy middling weight, with soft, leather glovey tannins seeping through the layers.

Quintessa 2006 (Rutherford/Napa Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - Lush, chocolate coated blueberry and red berry aroma; the fruit draped in velvet and layered over muscular tannin, wrapped in rich, toasty oak with scrubby, organic underpinnings, expanding its medium-full body.

Neal Family, Wykoff Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Rutherford/Napa Valley; CCOF organic grapes) - Sweetly scented nose of shriveled blackcurrant and cassis; elegantly composed medium-full body giving velvety, soft leather qualities to the sweetly concentrated fruit.


Ken Wright, Pinot Blanc 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - This wine is so breathtakingly good, it makes you both laugh and cry to think of how underappreciated this grape can be. Then again, Wright does have a rarified touch; but either way, this bottling is a killer: from the Meredith Mitchell Vineyard in the coastal foothills southwest of McMinnville; exuding sweet, juicy perfumes of pear, nectarine and Santa Rosa plum; on the palate, scintillatingly crisp, fresh acidity lifts the fruit to further, liquid heights, overflowing its silky fine, long, slender, light-medium body.

Chehalem, 3 Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - The finest Oregon pinot gris I’ve experienced in years; spectacularly intense tropical perfume, throwing out honeyed pear/apricot/veering-on-pineapple aromas, with notes of stony minerality. On the palate, totally exhilarating, lively, juicy fruit qualities embedded in slightly viscous, silky textures; yet just light-medium bodied on the palate, finishing with a crisp, mouth-watering exclamation.

Chehalem, Riesling Reserve 2008 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Don’t know what exactly is going on here, but winemaker/proprietor Harry Peterson-Nedry and his team are really hitting home runs these days. The nose here is properly floral, while exuding exotic, almost stunningly unique aromas of kiwi, frangipani and mango nectar. Zesty, glittering fruitiness underlined by a whisper of sweetness (at 4% residual sugar, more of a suggestion prompted by the fruit intensity); the flavors filling the mouth, yet finishing light and refreshing.

Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source Chardonnay (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Oregon grown chardonnay is rarely something to write home about; but when it’s good, it’s spectacular from the perspective of uncommon balance (crisp, harmonizing acidity) and texture (tautly wound). Here, a sweet cream, subtle oak veil is draped over a honeyed pear/apple aroma, almost tropical in perfume; on the palate, silk and cream sensations are merged with lemony crisp textural qualities, unleashing sensations of buttery apples, with a bananas Foster-like caramelized intensity. Finishes long, with an amazing, almost sleight of hand levity (just 12.8% alcohol).

Stolpman's vigneron, Sashi Moorman

Cowhorn Vineyard, Viognier 2008 (Applegate Valley; Biodynamic® wine) - This is a promisingly new Southern Oregon estate, first planted in ’05 with the help of Biodynamic® guru Alan York. Sitting in a cooler section of the Applegate AVA, the wines are probably never destined to be blockbusters except in the definition of its grapes; as evidenced by this viognier, which sings loud and clear with perfumed fragrances, suggesting sweet apple and pear with a mango-like lushness; the wine framed in a crisp, silky, medium-full body, smartly smoothed over by creamy barrel fermented texturing.

Stolpman Vineyards, L’Avion 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - 90% roussanne/10% viognier: golden straw, followed by hugely exotic nose, suggesting waves on tropical shores (mango, ginger, honeysuckle, pineapple); high glycerol gives a fleshy, almost slippery quality to the full body, jam packed by the big, buoyant, aroma driven fruit flavors.

Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Blanc 2007 (Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco; Biodynamic® wine) - 64.3% roussanne/35.7% grenache blanc. Straw gold, followed by multi-faceted nose of wet stone/mineral, creamy marzipan, slivers of pear and toasted, honeyed nuts and a drop of vanilla. Full, round, fleshy feel on the palate; dense texture giving full body filled nearly to top with juicy pear and stony sensations. Winery suggests “molecular gastronomic dishes found at über-restaurants” like “Alinea, wd-50 or El Bulli”… yeah, right (thanks, guys). More plebian matches like paper wrapped boudin blanc, saffroned bouillabaisse or mussels in tarragon and/or fennel laced broth will probably do just fine.


Pacific Rim, Organic Riesling 2008 (Columbia Valley; WSDA organic grapes) - Not to be confused with the much larger (up to about 40,000 cases), ubiquitous, sushi associated, multi-national sourced “Pacific Rim Riesling” bottling, this is a product of hand crafting from Randall Grahm’s new facility outside of Washington’s Tri-Cities, representing a fulfillment of the Doonster’s Teutonic dreams. Coming out of one of the coolest vintages in the state (resulting in beautifully high acidities), picked at an amazingly low, yet fully ripened, 20° Brix, and vinified to 3.8% residual sugar and 10.5% alcohol, this is also one of the most Germanic medium-sweet rieslings you’ll ever find this side of the Rhine. The nose is white flowery and peachy fresh, with lemon peel nuances; the peach flavors are fleshy and viscous, tasting just slightly sweet, almost dry (amazingly) in its soft, smooth finish.

Ca’ del Solo, Muscat 2008 (Monterey; Biodynamic® wine) - Exceptional, mouth-watering acidity tilts the residual sugar towards just lightly sweet or “off-dry” (although I always thought that expression was contradictory) fruitiness. Nose is flowery fresh and only faintly musky, with peaches and cream aromas infused with whiffs of minerality; lithe, easy, crisply balanced on the palate. From the rare clonal variation, moscato giallo (or “gold” muscat) of Alto-Adige.

The beautiful Columbia from Pacific Rim's Wallula Vineyard

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