Discovering the Willamette Valley

blog_thursOregon’s Willamette Valley is best known for producing the same wine variety for which France’s Burgundy appellation is revered: Pinot Noir.

But should you happen to run into a Willamette Valley vintner at his wine estate or a tasting event, it would be best not to try to compliment his or her wine by describing it as “Burgundian.”

Jason Lett’s father is responsible for introducing Pinot Noir to the Willamette Valley in 1965, and back then, such praise was accepted with open arms — if for no other reason than to help the valley garner some attention.

But wine is a product of its surroundings and the climate — what the French refer to as “terroir” — and the Willamette Valley’s terroir could not be more different than that of Burgundy.

“When I hear the comment, ‘Your wines are so Burgundian,’ I usually wave it off as gently as possible,” Lett said in this Forbes magazine article. “The reason we grow Pinot Noir is that it is a completely faithful translator of climate, site and soil. If my wine tastes like a Burgundy, that means I’m making wines that do not respect my site — which is actually a bit of an insult. However, I understand that the person making the remark is trying to be flattering, so I try to receive the remark in the spirit it was given. But it does sandpaper my soul a bit.”

What Lett and other Willamette Valley vintners wish for today is that their wines be embraced as outstanding examples of their site. After all, they are consistently enticing wines in terms of aroma, flavor, texture and finish, and deserve to have their own identity.

The Willamette Valley, located between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and Coast Range, generally is thought of simply as “south of Portland.” But it actually is more than 100 miles long and spans 60 miles at its widest point. It’s a 50-mile drive from McMinnville, a hub of Pinot Noir-making and home to numerous wine-focused restaurants, to the Pacific Ocean at Lincoln City.

At last count, there were 719 vineyards planted within the valley’s 3.4 million acres of land, along with 554 wineries — a vast majority of which craft Pinot Noir as their star variety.

Although every wine and every vintage is different, Oregon Pinot Noir is generally known for its low acidity (which contributes to its engaging “gulpability”), its lush texture, and its engaging fruit flavors.

Red Burgundy, on the other hand, can be higher in acid, tightly wound (requiring years of cellaring to open up), and in some cases a bit green.

There is a place and a palate for both styles, but the vintners of the Willamette Valley would prefer that you judge their wines on their own merits, and not “compliment” them by comparing them to Burgundy.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

The 411 on Storing Wine: Does It Ever Expire?

blog_tuesWhen you’re shopping for milk, what’s the first thing you check on the container?

The expiration date — right?

Same thing with a container of yogurt, or a loaf of bread, or a package of meat, or a can of soup. Almost every item we buy in a supermarket comes with a “use-by date” stamped on it.

So why not wine?

It’s a good question, and the answer is somewhat complicated. That’s because people think of “use-by dates” in different ways.

For some, that date is almost written in stone, meaning that they won’t take a sip of milk that’s even one day older than the date stamped on its container. Others use the date more as a “suggestion,” a reminder that an item needs to be consumed sooner rather than later. They may organize their pantries, in part, by the dates on the packages.

But developing a universally agreed upon “use-by date” for wine is next to impossible because there are so many variables involved. The factors include:

* The variety. Each grape variety is chemically unique, and that means it will age at its own pace — in some cases gracefully, in some cases quickly.

* The vintage. No two growing seasons are the same, and while the differences may not be extreme, they can have an impact on how long the resulting wine will age.

* Storage conditions. This factor has perhaps the greatest impact on a wine’s potential life span. A wine aged in a temperature-controlled, humidity-controlled and light-limited area will enjoy a longer shelf life than one subjected to heat, too much humidity and sunlight.

Just as a “use-by date” is meaningful for milk or yogurt only if they’re properly stored in a refrigerator, such a date for wine would be useful only if the bottle is protected from heat, humidity and light.

Even then, there are so many other variables that developing a universally accepted system for dating wines is next to impossible. That’s why we depend on the experience of winemakers who have numerous harvests under their belts to suggest time frames for the wines they craft.

And that’s why you’ll find a “When to Drink” line included with every Tasting Note on every wine from Vinesse.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Know Your Cheeses — Why It Matters When It Comes to Wine

People have been serving wine and cheese together for generations. But are they gettingFotolia_90680079_XS the most out of the experience?

We can probably all agree that not every cheese pairs well with every wine — just as you wouldn’t serve an ultra-dry wine like Cabernet Sauvignon with an ultra-sweet dessert like blueberry cream pie.

So how does one pick the “right” wine to pair with the “right” cheese? Here are a few general — but not written-in-stone — rules:

  1. White wines pair better with many cheeses than red wines.
  2. The best red wines to serve with cheese are those that are light and fruity.
  3. Salty cheeses pair best with wines that are high in acidity.
  4. When the cheese is high in acidity, a sweet wine works best.
  5.  Follow the “When in Rome Rule”: Pair cheeses and wines that hail from the same region.

Now, here are some popular cheese-and-wine pairings for you to try. Remember, every palate is different, so use this as a guide, not a set of rules.

  • Bleu Cheese — This actually is a category of cheese, not s specific cheese. But the suggested wine pairing works with Roquefort (made from sheep’s milk), Gorgonzola (made from cow’s milk) or Stilton (specifically Blue Stilton from England). It’s often served with crackers, pear slices, raisins and walnuts.

Wine Match: Port.

  • Brie — A soft cheese named after the French region of the same name. Often buttery and sometimes runny, it’s considered one of the great dessert cheeses.

Wine Match: Pinot Noir.

  • Cheddar (aged) — The most widely purchased and eaten cheese in the world, Cheddar is always made from cow’s milk. Creamy and sharp, the sharpness intensifies with aging.

Wine Match: Malbec.

  • Feta — To create traditional feta, 30 percent goat’s milk is mixed with sheep’s milk of animals grazing on pastures in the specific Greece appellation of origin. Styles and flavors can vary, but the flavors are fairly consistent.

Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc.

  • Gouda (aged) — A Dutch cheese named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands, Gouda is one of the most popular cheeses in the world, accounting for 50 to 60 percent of the world’s cheese consumption. Aging brings out more complex flavors.

Wine Match: Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • Gruyere — Named after a Swiss village, it’s traditionally creamy, unpasteurized and semi-soft.

Wine Match: Chardonnay.

  • Manchego — Produced in Spain’s La Mancha region, it’s made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. Different versions are aged for three months (Semi Curado), six months (Curado), or a year (Viejo).

Wine Matches: Sauvignon Blanc for Semi Curado, or Tempranillo for Curado and Viejo.

  • Monterey Jack — Commonly used in Mexican and Spanish cuisine, as it’s mild in flavor and melts well. It’s similar in flavor and texture to Colby and Cheddar.

Wine Matches: Merlot and Malbec.

  • Mozzarella — Unlike most cheeses, Mozzarella is not aged; it’s intended to be eaten fresh.

Wine Match: Pinot Grigio.

  • Parmesan — Considered one of the top cheeses by cheese connoisseurs, it has a hard, gritty texture and is fruity and nutty in flavor.

Wine Match: Prosecco.

  • Ricotta — An Italian cheese made from the whey part of sheep’s milk, which is pressed, salted and aged for at least 90 days. It has a firm texture and salty taste.

Wine Match: Riesling (dry or off dry)

 

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine Buzz, Wine in the Glass

The Best Wine Books to Read

Summer is the seasonwinebook for reading. In addition to novels and biographies, wine books can make excellent choices for drifting away with the written word — especially with a glass of your favorite wine at hand. Here are five wine books that will keep those interested in wine — from beginners to experts — engaged for hours.

  1. The Wine Bible

It may seem pretentious to include the word “Bible” in the name of any tome other than “the good book,” but just like “that other book,” Karen MacNeil’s vinous opus has stood the test of time.

Thoroughly researched, deftly organized and lavishly illustrated, The Wine Bible leaves no vineyard pebble unturned as it provides readers with both fascinating and useful information on the various varieties of wine and the world’s wine regions.

While the breadth of information is impressive, it is MacNeil’s writing that will keep you riveted. For example, after describing Cabernet Sauvignon as the preeminent classic red grape,” MacNeil writes: “More than any other, cabernet has vast ranges of quality, of structure, and of maturity. It is astounding that a wine so often a bit angular and introverted when young can metamorphose into a satiny, rich, and complex wine with several years’ aging. Cabernet can be like the awkward, seemingly unremarkable kid who grows up to be a Fullbright Scholar and sexy to boot.”

2. Vineyard Sonoma County

In his younger days, George Rose photographed many of the world’s most famous rock-and-roll stars. More recently, he has focused his lens(es) on the beauty of California wine country. This book presents the stunning vineyards and landscapes of Sonoma County — Napa Valley’s less famous but no-less-beautiful neighbor to the west. It’s a true feast for the eyes.

  1. What to Drink With What You Eat

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page authored a true “Page turner” for foodies and wine lovers — two groups of people whose interests often overlap. It has been asserted that pouring the “right” wine alongside the “right” dish is the key to culinary nirvana, and this book provides plenty of wise advice. But it doesn’t stop with wine; it also delves into beer, spirits, coffee, tea and even water as potential pairing partners for various dishes.

  1. Wine Folly 

Forget the “For Dummies” series. This book, written by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack, is the ultimate resource for newcomers to wine. If you have a friend who is just getting into the wonderful world of wine, Wine Folly would make a great gift.

  1. The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Washington Post calls this “the greatest wine book ever published.” First released in 1994 and now in its fourth edition, Jancis Robinson’s life work certainly could be considered the most “scholarly” of books about wine. It features an “A-to-Z” format, which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for — if you know what you’re looking for.

Each of these books has its own purpose and its own style. Select one that sounds good to you, and supplement your summer reading with some captivating wine wisdom.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

The World’s Best Restaurant Wine Lists

thursday.jpgWine Spectator magazine has done much to promote fine wine through the years, and one of its greatest contributions involves compiling an annual list of the world’s finest restaurant wine lists.

You can find links to its list of 3,700 award winners and 91 Grand Award winners for 2018 here.

Wine Spectator has its own criteria for selecting its honorees, including the number of wines offered and the depth of the selections. To qualify for its highest honor, the Grand Award, the “wine lists typically feature 1,000 or more selections, and deliver serious breadth of top producers, outstanding depth in mature vintages, a selection of large-format bottles, excellent harmony with the menu, and superior presentation. These restaurants offer the highest level of wine service.”

Details about the three award levels can be found here.

I pretty much agree with the Spectator’s criteria for its awards, although I also believe a restaurant can have a great wine list with far fewer than 90 selections. How? Here is my criteria:

  1. A nice mix of red wines, white wines, sparkling wines and rosé wines. It’s important to include several varieties in order to meet the expectations of as many diners as possible.
  2. Wines that pair nicely with the various entrees on the menu. And to make it easy for the diner, the restaurant should recommend a specific wine or two for each entrée on the menu, and better still, print those recommendations on the menu.
  3. Offer as many wines as possible by the glass. This may require an investment in a wine preservation system, but it provides a convenience for single diners.
  4. Offer wine flights. This gives diners an opportunity to try three or four different types of wine, and learn which ones they really enjoy with various types of food.
  5. Include one or two nice Port wines on the dessert menu. It’s a great way to conclude a meal.

I believe that wine is better with food, and that food is better with wine. That’s why I appreciate restaurants that invest the time and effort in developing a well-selected wine list — regardless of the size.

By the way, in addition to Wine Spectator’s annual rankings, The World of Fine Wine publishes an annual list of top restaurant wine lists, and it even includes a handy search-by-city feature. You can check that out here.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

International Albariño Day Celebrates an Underappreciated Variety

albarinoA little longer than 11 years ago in this blog, we asked the question, “Will Albariño be the next big thing in wine?”

It had been a big thing in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in Spain for generations. There, bordered on two sides by the Atlantic Ocean, the conditions are cool and temperate — never too hot and never too cold.

The climate is quite similar to that of California’s San Luis Obispo County, where the Niven family decided to embrace the varietal by planting 55 acres of it in the renowned Paragon Vineyard. All of the research and science indicated Albariño would fare well there — but only time would tell.

Well, it turns out the family’s “informed hunch” was correct. From its first vintage, Tangent’s Albariño has been a hit with wine drinkers, and several other wineries subsequently embraced the varietal as well.

Seven years ago, a trade organization for another varietal, Tempranillo, declared the first International Albariño Day. This year, the celebration has been expanded to five days — August 1-5 — to coincide with the Fiesta del Albariño in the coastal town of Cambados in Spain. There, concerts, theater presentations and parades are part of the schedule.

Closer to home, the aforementioned trade group — the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS) — is encouraging  producers and others to shine the spotlight on Albariño during the upcoming week. You can read about the Albariño Wine Stroll in Winters, Calif., here.

I typically order a glass (or a bottle, depending on the size of our party) of Sauvignon Blanc when eating fish, especially shellfish. But that’s only because there aren’t a lot of restaurants that stock Albariño. If it were on the wine list, it would be my first choice every time.

Why? It’s extremely refreshing, floral and fruitful, and typically has a salty brine element.

I’ve always believed that it makes sense to drink wine with dishes of the same region. That’s why Albariño — especially from Rias Baixas in Spain and San Luis Obispo County in California — is my No. 1 pick choice for drinking with seafood.

That’s also why it’s worthy of not only one special day, but five.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

A Toast to the Toast

toastI attended the wedding of my lovely goddaughter last month, and there were a number of toasts proposed at the reception.

A week earlier, I’d attended an awards banquet. There, too, toasts were in abundance.

Each New Year’s Eve, we drink coffee until 11:45 p.m., at which point we pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly, pour it into our glasses, and wait until midnight to toast the new year. (After two glasses of sparkling wine, the effect of all that coffee has been negated, and we are able to fall asleep fairly quickly. I am guessing age, more than science, has something to do with that phenomenon.)

Many theories have been offered about the origin of the toasting ritual. But theories are all we have, because nobody can say with certainty when what we think of as a toast — raising a glass of wine and speaking a few heartfelt words — first took place.

So, I refer you to the International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture, which says toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words, ‘Long life!’ or, ‘To your health!’”

Another theory traces the practice to the reign of Charles II (1660-1684), and you can read more about that here.

The presumed origins may not be all that romantic, but the toasting practice in the modern world can be very romantic. It also can be motivational, or even humorous. Sometimes we even toast the wine we are about to drink.

Here are five of my favorites, in no particular order and for no particular reason…

  1. To the holidays — all 365 of them.

Note: That’s a good one to use for any occasion when you’re sharing a great bottle of wine with friends.

  1. May you live as long as you like, and have all you like as long as you live.

Note: Ideal for those big moments in life — college graduations, weddings, special anniversaries, retirements.

  1. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow ye diet.

Note: Perfect for Thanksgiving.

  1. Out with the old, in with the new, cheers to the future and all that we do.

Note: Ideal for New Year’s Eve and easy to remember — important on that particular night — because of the rhyming.

  1. To wine! It improves with age — the older I get, the more I like it.

Note: That certainly has been the case for me. Here’s hoping it’s true for you, too.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Biodynamic Wines: Earthly-Friendly Alternatives

redwinetoastIt’s one of those “buzz words” in the world of wine that simultaneously creates a lot of excitement and a certain degree of controversy.

The word: Biodynamic.

The excitement stems from the idea that Biodynamic wines are made in a manner that is extremely friendly to the Earth, which means that the vineyards producing the grapes have the opportunity to exist for generations.

The controversy stems from the fact that the federal government, which regulates the wine industry, provides no legal definition for “Biodynamic.” So, the definition is left to certification organizations, and a good deal of self-regulation takes place.

One term that is regulated by the government is “organic,” which basically means that the grapes used to make the wine were grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or additives. For a wine to be labeled as an “organic wine,” the regulations extend to the cellar, where the addition of sulfites is prohibited.

It could be said that all Biodynamic wines are organic wines, but the thinking and processes define the vineyard as its own ecosystem. Furthermore, they restrict otherwise common processes in the cellar, including the use of various yeasts to slow, speed or otherwise manipulate the fermentation process, as well as adjusting acidity levels.

Some farmers even add natural soil supplements on specific dates as indicated by astronomical configurations. Today’s grape growers have taken the work and vision of Rudolf Steiner — who studied agriculture in the early 20th century — and embraced the most relevant principles. Included in Steiner’s teachings were both mystical and spiritual perspectives.

Basically, with a Biodynamic wine, what you see is what you get. It’s a product produced by Mother Nature with hardly any human intervention.

Most wineries that embrace Biodynamic farming follow the practices outlined by Demeter International, which has done great work not only for the wine industry, but for agriculture in general. The organization has helped many countries improve their agricultural practices so that they can feed their people today while ensuring they’ll also be able to feed their people in the future.

Many of the wines featured in the Earth-Friendly Wine Club are certified Biodynamic, and provide delicious opportunities to enjoy wine while being friendly to the only planet that’s presently welcoming to us humans.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment, Wine Buzz

How to Get Those Red Wine Stains Out

redwineIf you drink enough red wine, it is pretty much inevitable: At some point in time, you will spill some on a piece of clothing.

And if what happens to you is like what happened to me, that piece of clothing won’t be an old T-shirt destined to one day become a garage rag. No, it will be one of your favorite shirts or tops or pairs of pants or skirts.

So… what to do?

First, don’t panic. One’s initial reaction might be to grab a towel, perhaps moisten it, and start rubbing the area of the spill. That would be the worst thing one could do, as it actually would serve to rub the stain into the clothing material, making it much more difficult or possibly impossible to remove.

Instead, grab a white cotton cloth. (Note: If you drink a lot of red wine, it’s a good idea to have a few of these readily available, perhaps stashed in your wine cellar or closet, or next to your wine rack.) You’ll also need a bowl (such as a mixing bowl), some table salt and, at the end of the process, some boiling water.

Start by using your dampened white cotton cloth to dab at the stain. The goal here is to absorb any of the excess wine.

Next, pull the fabric taut, and slide a bowl (such as a mixing bowl) under it, securing the fabric with a rubber band. You want to center the stain over the bowl.

As quickly as possible, cover the stain with a good coating of salt. The salt will need to sit for at least five minutes, so if you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to start boiling water.

Once the salt has had a chance to absorb the wine-and-water mix on the fabric, hold the pot of boiling water about 8 inches above the stain. With care, start pouring it slowly over the stain. The height of the pot and the pace of the pour should enable you to flush out the stain.

Finally, if guidelines from the manufacturer allow, launder the fabric using your washing machine’s hottest water setting. If hot water is not suggested, simply launder as you normally would, but do not transfer the garment to the dryer until the stain is completely removed. Hang drying is the better way to go.

Will this system work for all garments in all cases? I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. Especially when a wine is deeply hued, stains can be truly challenging to remove. But following the steps we’ve outlined here will give you the best shot at removing a stain and saving the garment from a fate as a garage rag.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Wineries Where Man’s Best Friend Are Welcome

winedogWhen I mention Winery Dogs, I’m not taking about the classic-rockish “super group” of the same name, which is due to release its third album on August 4.

No, I’m talking about actual dogs at actual wineries — in some cases dogs that reside on the estates and serve as the winemaker’s best friend, and in other cases dogs that guests bring to wineries for a visit.

For twenty years, Australians Susan Elliott and Craig McGill have done a fabulous job of photographing winery dogs in impossibly cute poses. Thanks to a book on Down Under canines and their stories being so successful, their Wine Dogs company has become a full-fledged publisher of multiple books, calendars, greeting cards and other products — all devoted to the love of wine and dogs.

But what about your dog? Will it be welcome as you zig-zag between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail in California’s Napa Valley?

While many wineries are welcoming to dogs, others are not. That means you need to know before you go, especially during the summer months when the valley heat can make it dangerous and cruel to leave pets in cars.

A great resource is the Rover.com website, which lists the “Top 8 Dog-Friendly Wineries in Napa Valley”.

In addition to the list, the blog includes some useful information on each winery. As an example, it notes that Honig Vineyard & Winery “is not only dog-friendly, but uses ‘sniffer’ dogs to identify female mealybug pheromones. This allows Honig to remove infested vines and avoid the use of pesticides.”

Most folks who have dogs already know how to identify pet-friendly hotels and motels. Now, with a little advance planning, you’ll also know at which wineries your best friend will be welcomed.

 

 

 

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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