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Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 Leave a comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

August 18, 2022 Leave a comment

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

Another grape holiday is upon us. This time we celebrate none less than Pinot Noir.

None less, huh? Is Pinot Noir so unique and special? Well, you be the judge.

Pinot Noir is the grape behind the world’s most expensive wines. While there are 10 or so major red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo), the ultimate supremacy crown can only be decided between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, it is bad to use money as a measure of influence, but it is one of the “objective” characteristics of wine in the free market. According to the Wine-Searcher lists of most expensive wines (by the way, there is a new feature on this blog – a new page Most Expensive Wines allows you to see always current list of most expensive wines for a select number of grapes and regions), red Burgundies (made out of 100% Pinot Noir) on average are 12 times (!) more expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon wines

Pinot Noir might be the most versatile red grape out there. Unlike most other red grapes, it produces a full range of wine styles. Let’s see.
White wine? Check. Pinot Noir Blanc is increasingly popular in Oregon and not only. Remember, the juice of Pinot Noir is clear, so it is not a problem to produce white Pinot Noir.
Sparkling wine? Triple check, I guess. Champagne Blanc de Noir is very often made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and needs to introduction to wine lovers.
Rosé? Check. An increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of any Pinot Noir producer, in Oregon, California, and beyond.
Red wine? Well, duh. No check needed – first and foremost, Pinot Noir is a king of red wines.
Sweet/dessert? This is the only category that is still more an exception than the norm, but if you will look, you will have no problems finding late harvest Pinot Noir wines or Port-style Pinot Noir wines.

See – the whole range of wine styles. You can easily pair a whole dinner, from oysters to fish to steak and then dessert with Pinot Noir wines – try that with Cabernet.

One more unique fact about Pinot Noir is that it is practically never blended with any other grapes, with the exception of Champagne/sparkling wines. There can be lots of Pinot Noir clones mixed together – some of the producers grow 20 clones and more – but still, those are just clones. Of course, there are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines out there, but this is far from being the norm.

Pinot Noir is featured frequently on this very blog. As I was preparing this post, I decided to look at some statistics. It appears that Pinot Noir is the second most frequently mentioned red grape on the blog, with 356 posts related to the Pinot Noir (Cabernet Sauvignon is mentioned in 445 posts). It is interesting that Chardonnay is mentioned in the 357 posts, literally identical to Pinot Noir.

But it is not just the mentions – there are many memories associated with Pinot Noir.

I love saying that blind tasting is the best arbiter of the wines – in a blind tasting, it is just you and the liquid in the glass, nothing else influences your impression of the wine. It seems that our Pinot Noir blind tasting took place only yesterday – I was literally shocked to see that this post is 12 years old – the tasting took place in August of 2010. Who couldn’ve thought that 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa would be our group’s favorite wine, beating grand cru Burgundy and cult Californian Pinot? I still have a bottle of that wine and I’m looking forward to experiencing the 12 years of evolution.

Another favorite Pinot Noir memory is the 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir – an accidental $25 buy that ended up being a transcendental experience tasting the 48 years old wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon producer who is absolutely not known for the Pinot Noir wines.

And then there are lots and lots of memories of not only the wines but also of the people, passionate Pinot Noir winemakers, acquired through the work on the Stories of Passion and Pinot, an ongoing series of posts dedicated to Oregon Pinot Noir producers and Oregon Pinot Noir wines.

Did I prove my point? Is Pinot Noir the true King of Grapes? I don’t know. But for sure it is a grape worth celebrating. Cheers!

Stories and Passion and Pinot: Shane Moore of Gran Moraine

May 25, 2022 Leave a comment

Gran Moraine prides itself on producing experiential art in the form of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines made to express the exquisite terroir of our Yamhill-Carlton Estate Vineyards.”

Experiential Art.

Not a bad way to introduce the winery, what do you think? Wine is art, all wine lovers can sign under such a statement, so “experiential art” sounds very near and dear to any wine lover’s heart.

Gran Moraine vineyard was planted in 2004 by Premier Pacific Vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton district of Willamette Valley in Oregon, with 200 acres of hillside vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard took its name from moraines, glacial sediment left after the glacier movements in the last ice age. In 2013, the Gran Moraine Vineyard was acquired by Jackson Family and it is one of the 4 major properties owned by the Jackson Family in Oregon Willamette Valley.

I visited Gran Moraine last August and had an opportunity to taste a number of the wines and have a quick chat with the winemaker, Shane Moore. Then I followed up with the usual, virtual “conversation” and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: Was there a pivotal wine in your life? 

{SM]: I’ve had plenty of wines that have possibly changed my life’s trajectory.  However, I feel like the most pivotal wines in my existence have been those that seem to stop time. These wines provide my most fond wine moments and provide me with the most inspiration.

[TaV]: Is there a winemaker you would call your mentor? Someone you learned the most from as a winemaker?

[SM]: I think if I gave any specific shoutouts I’d be doing a disservice to so many of the amazingly talented and thoughtful winemakers I have had the pleasure to have worked with.  Over my time I worked with and under at least 40 winemakers – I for sure learned a great deal from all of them.  Another great group I both learned a lot and derived much inspiration from are the seasonal cellar workers we hire each year. With that I’m proud to say many have went on to become winemakers themselves.

[TaV]: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are all about blocks and clones. How many clones of Pinot Noir and how many clones of Chardonnay do you grow? How many individual blocks do you identify for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?

[SM]: At the Gran Moraine Vineyard, there are 6 different clones of Pinot Noir and only 2 of Chardonnay.  Every block is harvested and vinified separately. At any given time, there are around 100-120 different lots of wines. There are approximately 80 blocks – I don’t bring them all in – it’s too big of a vineyard for that – I bring in what I think of as around the top 30% of the acres.

[TaV]: Following up on the previous question – what is your approach to the blending of the final wines, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? Do you ever produce single block or single clone wines, and if you don’t do it now, do you have a plan to start producing such wines in the future?

[SM]: Blending final wines starts with having an abstract notion of the experience which you would like to have said “wine endue.” Then you purposely work within the parameters of the vineyard, the growing season and your production capabilities to craft something with that end goal in mind.

We will sometimes produce single clone or block wines when the wine is so profound that it would be a disservice to humanity to blend it away.

[TaV]: You already produce a few of the sparkling wines. What is your approach to harvesting the grapes for those wines – do you have specific plots which you designate for sparkling wines, or do you take an early pass through the vineyard prior to general harvest to get the grapes for the sparkling wine production?

[SM]: You know when you eat something so acidic that it makes your ears ring? I like to pick the fruit for sparkling wine when it’s just a little riper than that. We use specific blocks for the sparkling wine that are purposely farmed. Generally, these blocks are some of the most marginal sites on the vineyard; for example, north facing and heavier soils.

[TaV]: How much focus the sparkling wines program gets at Gran Moraine? Do you expect to produce more sparkling wines in the future, or you expect to stay at the level where you are at?

[SM]: Sparkling wine is currently about 15% of our production.  I can see it growing some, it seems to be very popular.

[TaV]: Gran Moraine is a ~200 acres vineyard. If I understand it correctly, it is all planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Do you plan to plant any other grapes – Pinot Gris, for example, or will it stay strictly as it is right now?

[SM]: The suitable acres on the piece of land are pretty much planted out.  I don’t think we’ll be grafting any of the Chardonnay or Pinot Noir over to anything else anytime soon.

[TaV]: When you make Gran Moraine Chardonnay, is there a specific style you are trying to achieve?

[SM]: I want the Chardonnay to have umami, electricity and tension.  Of course, I also want it to be delicious.

[TaV]: Same question for the Gran Moraine Pinot Noir?

[SM]: With the Pinot I try to focus on it being beautiful and sleek creating power and complexity daftly by DJing with great music and surrounding it with happy people.

[TaV]: What are your favorite producers in Oregon? In the USA? In the world?

[SM]: Oregon: Adelsheim, Antica Terra, Antiquim Farm, Alexana, Belle Ponte, Brickhouse, Beaux Freres, Bethel Heights…..that’s just getting to the B’s!  Too many really to mention – I’m always trading wine with people. I’m totally in love with Oregon wine.

USA:  I’d have to go to CA and say some of my favorites there are Ridge, Drew, Papapietro Perry, Navarro, Hartford.

[TaV]: Is there a winemaker you would love to work with? A dream winemaker so to speak?

[SM]: Jean-Herve and Laurent Chiquet of Jacquesson.  I hope they are listening.  I’ve got ideas.

[TaV]: What’s ahead for Gran Moraine? Where do you see it in 10 years?

[SM]: We’ll probably be doing the same thing but hopefully with even more intention and weirder.

[TaV]: Is there a dream wine you always wanted to make? What would that be?

[SM]: A great New World Nebbiolo.

Here are the tasting notes for a few of the Gran Moraine wines I had an opportunity to taste during the visit:

Gran Moraine Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine Yamhill-Carlton (58% Pinot Noir, 41% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Meunier)
Toasted notes on the nose
toasted bread, a touch of yeast, good acidity, crisp, clean
8, delicious

2018 Gran Moraine Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton
A touch of honey notes, vanilla
Good acidity, good acidity, needs time
7+

2018 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir Estate
Brilliant fresh cherry notes, sage
Crisp, restrained, tart cherries and earthy notes, fresh tannins
7+

2017 Gran Moraine Upland Pinot Noir
Restrained nose, a touch of funk, cherries
Light palate, fresh, bright, cherries and cranberries
8-

Here you go, my friends. Another winery, another story of Passion and Pinot. Until the next time – cheers!

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Californian Stars, Italian Flair

January 10, 2022 1 comment

Californian stars.

Of course, we are talking about wines and grapes. What would those be?

I recently called California Cabernet Sauvignon a king. We can safely designate Chardonnay as a queen. But who would you call a prince? Capricious, spiky, moody royalty? Whatever grape you think of, the correct answer is Pinot Noir, because this is the grape I mostly would like to talk about today. And tell me if you think Pinot Noir is not qualified for the role of the royal prince – finicky, demanding, and unpredictable.

Okay, we got our stars for the day. Now, the Italian flair. How would you add the Italian flair to the Californian grapes?

There are a few options. For example, you can call your sparkling wine a Spumante. Or you can call your winery Castello, and build it in the form of a medieval Italian castle. You can also make wines out of Sangiovese – but this we will discuss later. Anyway, as you can see, you got options.

Vittorio Sattui, an Italian immigrant, founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. The business had to be closed due to the prohibition in 1920, but the Sattui family continued living at the winery. In 1975, Dario Sattui, great-grandson of Vittorio, restarted the family business by opening V. Sattui winery in St. Helena.

After finishing college, Dario traveled around Europe and became obsessed with medieval castles, monasteries, farmhouses. In 1993, Dario found the next home for his future winery – 171 acres parcel near Calistoga. In 1994, the construction began initially for the 8,500 sq. ft building without cellars. That slowly morphed into a 121,000 sq. ft. 13th-century Tuscan castle with 107 rooms, drawbridge, five towers, high defensive ramparts, courtyards and loggias, a chapel, stables, an armory, and even a torture chamber. Lots of bricks and artifacts were delivered directly from Europe to ensure the full authenticity of the castle. Castello de Amorosa (Castle of Love) opened its doors to visitors in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Castello di Amorosa in 2017 as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017 in Santa Rosa, so I can share (inundate is a better word, of course) my first-hand impressions:

 

 

Thinking about misbehaving? Might not be recommended:

Touring the cellars:

The ceiling of the room where we had our tasting in 2017:

A bit of education – Napa Valley Regions:

Castello di Amorosa works with 14 vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma, out of which 6 are estate vineyards. The focus of winemaking is on showcasing each individual terroir and on the small-batch production.

I had an opportunity to taste a range of Pinot Noir expressions from Castello di Amorosa, and I have to honestly say that I was very much impressed with what I found in my glass.

First, two sparkling wines, both produced using the classic method.

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 73% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir)
Light Golden, fine bubbles
Toasted bread, apples, gunflint
Toasted bread, Granny Smith apples, more gunflint, great minerality, a touch of sweetness, bigger body than typical champagne.
8, excellent,

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $49, 100% Pinot Noir)
Salmon pink, fine mousse
Steely strawberries, a hint of toast
Dry, crisp, strawberries, clean acidity, good minerality
8, excellent

Next up, Rosé. The grapes for this wine come from the Green Valley area in the Russian River Valley AVA, and the wine is partially aged in concrete egg. I had an opportunity to taste both 2019 and 2020 vintages over a few months timeframe, and you can see that my tasting notes are almost identical for both wines. Somehow I missed including this wine into my 2021 top wines list, which makes me upset – this was one of the best Rosé wines and wines overall that I tasted during 2021.

2019 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (13.6% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh ripe sweet strawberries, good intensity, inviting
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9-/9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow.

2020 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of herbs, crisp, inviting, and invigorating
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow. Superb.

Last up – Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. This vineyard was purchased in 2015 from Burt Williams, founder of the iconic William Selyem Winery. The 12-acre vineyard is in a very cool microclimate and divided into 9 blocks of Pinot Noir planted with DRC, 115, 777, Rochioli, 23, and 828 clones. All the blocks and clones give quite a bit of room to experiment to the winemaking team.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.1% ABV, $75, 11 months in Burgundian oak barrels)
Dark ruby
Somewhat unexpressive on the first day, a hint of fruit
Closed up, concentrated, dark fruit, not amazing
Classic Pinot on the second day – iodine, violets, underbrush
Beautifully elegant on the palate – good acidity, smoke, tobacco, fresh berries, cherries, firm structure combined with medium body, medium-long finish.
8+ second day, super-enjoyable.

Here you go, my friends – a little Italian oasis – scratch that – a large Italian Castle in the middle of Napa Valley, producing magnificent California wines. Castello di Amorosa is definitely a unique travel destination and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.

Passion and Pinot Updates: Bells Up Winery

January 6, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived at “micro-boutique, un-domaine” Bells Up Winery, our final stop of the Oregon wine country touring.

Out of 13 wineries profiled in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Bells Up is the youngest one, having been founded in 2013, with the first vineyard plantings of Pinot Noir going into the ground in 2014. Despite being a young winery, Dave (the winemaker) and Sara (the Boss) Specter have a clear vision as to where they are going with their distinctly un-domaine wine – if you are curious why I keep saying “un-domaine”, I would like to direct you to the (virtual) interview I did with Dave in 2019 – he explains the concept of un-domaine very well.

Everything is distinctly un-domaine (see, you need to read that interview) at Bells Up. The vineyard with a gentle slope, the winery right in the middle of the vineyard, a simple but elegantly appointed tasting room with lots of fresh flowers and beautiful views of the vineyards. Here you go – pictures, pictures, pictures:

 

 

After admiring all the views we proceeded with lunch and tasting. Our lunch was prepared by Sara and while it was somewhat of a simplistic summer chicken salad, the amazing part was that this salad perfectly paired with the majority of wines we tasted – if you ever tried pairing the salad with wine, you would have to agree that achieving great pairing is very far from easy.

As I mentioned, Dave and Sara have a clear vision of the future direction for Bells Up. While Bells Up estate vineyard will be mostly planted with Pinot Noir, and by 2022 Bells Up plans to be at 100% estate fruit for all Pinot Noir bottlings, they have a clear plan for making Bells Up unique and different – growing and producing Pinot Blanc instead of the more commonly available Pinot Gris; being first in Willamette Valley with Seyval Blanc plantings; planting (out of all grapes!) a little known Italian grape Scioppettino; already offering Syrah and adding Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2020 vintage. “Unique and different” is a good description, in my opinion.

 

Before we talk about wines I would like to mention that none of the wine names you will see below are random. All the names have connections to the classical music pieces under the same name, and every choice of the name has an explanation as to why the particular piece was selected to connect with a given wine. If you are interested, there is even a Spotify playlist that includes all of the relevant music pieces – you can find that list directly on the Bells Up Our Wines page.

We started our tasting with Pinot Blanc:

2020 Bells Up Rhapsody Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley ($32)
Great complexity, lemon, gunflint
Great acidity, lemon, clean, crisp, refreshing
Perfect pairing with summer chicken salad
8, Excellent

We almost had to beg Dave to let us Seyval Blanc which was practically sold out. As a curiously interesting fact, Seyval Blanc plantings had to be protected by the net, as it happened that birds loved the grapes too.

2020 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($40)
Gunflint, minerality,
Clean fruit, Meyer lemon, good acidity, good creaminess
Great with summer chicken salad.
8

Next up was Pinot Noir Rosé, the first Pinot Noir wine entirely produced from the estate fruit:

2020 Bells Up Prelude Pinot Noir Rosé Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($28)
Strawberries, nice minerality
Strawberries, bigger body than Provence, good acidity, perfect balance.
8-

We followed up with the selection of Bells Up Pinot Noir wines:

2018 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($44)
Plums, violets, sandalwood
Crisp, clean, crunchy cranberry profile, a hint of cranberries, good acidity on the finish.
8-

2019 Bells Up Candide Pinot Noir Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA ($54, 12 months in French oak)
Floral, nutmeg, warm spices
Cherries, cut through acidity, black pepper, perfect balance, delicious
8

2019 Bells Up Villanelle Pinot Noire Reserve Tonnelier Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58, 12 months in French oak, final vintage)
Blackberry/raspberry, Marionberry
Cassis leaves, light crunchy cherries, well-integrated tannins, good acidity on the finish, delicious.
8

2019 Bells Up Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA ($48, 12 months in French Oak)
Underbrush, summer forest, cherries, a touch of tobacco
Crunchy cherries, clean, fresh, delicious
8

While this is not a video, here is Dave talking about Bells Up wines:

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Bells Up Syrah was served with an amazing seedless grape pie. As Sara explained, everyone gives wines as presents in Willamette Valley, but tasty grape pie is almost equivalent to the hard currency when exchanging gifts with neighbors. As I said, the pie was superb, and to think that sweet pie would pair with Walla Walla Syrah? I really wouldn’t – and I would be mistaken.

2019 Bells Up Firebird Syrah Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($52, 12 months in French oak)
Blueberries and blackberries on the nose
Berries all the way, nicely balanced
8, Amazing pairing with seedless grape pie with cardamom

Again, we almost had to twist Dave’s arm to let us taste the future release of Cabernet Sauvignon:

2020 Bells Up New World Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($68, 12 months in French oak, barrel sample)
A hint of green bell pepper
Cassis, a hint of black pepper on the finish, good, round, smoky undertones.
8-

Here you have the summary of our “un-domaine” experience – an excellent set of wines and super-friendly hosts. If you will find yourself touring Willamette Valley, add Bells Up winery to your “must visit” list.

This is the last update in the Passion and Pinot series. For now, that is.

Until next time…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

Passion and Pinot Updates: Utopia Vineyard

January 3, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived in Utopia.

When your destination is called Utopia Vineyard, poking some fun is irresistible, isn’t it?

Upon our arrival to Utopia Vineyard in Ribbon Ridge AVA, we were warmly greeted by Dan Warnshuis, proprietor and winemaker, who poured us a glass of Utopia Pinot Noir Blanc (yep, a white wine made out of Pinot Noir) and took us on the tour of the vineyard, glass in hand. After speaking with Dan virtually about a year ago, it was definitely a pleasure to shake hands and move from the virtual to the real world where things can be touched and smelled.

Utopia Vineyard looks different from Le Cadeau and Lenné – no fighting with the rocks here. Gentle slope elevation of only 20 feet from top to bottom makes it easier to tend for grapes. Utopia Vineyard is farmed using Sustainable Organic practices and was L.I.V.E. certified in 2008. Dan practices dry farming and uses cover crops every second row – in normal conditions though. Summer 2021 was so dry and hot that by the second week in August when we visited, all of the cover crops were removed so it will not compete with vines for access to water. The grapes looked perfectly healthy and beautiful despite the hot weather – you can see it for yourself in the pictures below.

I don’t know how the actual utopia should look like, but I find these vineyard views pretty compelling:



There are 12 clones of Pinot Noir growing at Utopia Vineyard – one of the wines we tasted was made out of all 12 clones. There are also 3 clones of Chardonnay growing there, planted in 2010. Talking about “fashionable wines”, Utopia Vineyard doesn’t produce sparkling wines, but Dan makes Pinot Noir Blanc, a white wine from the red grapes, which we tasted upon arrival, and also had the pleasure of tasting it directly from the barrel (all notes below).

In 2018, Dan acquired additional 35 acres of land not far from Utopia Vineyard’s original location. That parcel of land also had a 5,500 sq. ft building which by the time of our arrival 3 years after the acquisition was fully converted into a state-of-the-art winery. We stopped by the winery a few times during our visit, and what was the most mind-boggling to me was that Dan was pretty much operating everything at the winery just by himself – moving barrels, emptying tanks, and so on. His son-in-law comes to help during the harvest, but otherwise, Dan is a one-man operation.

This additional property also hosts a freshly constructed log cabin which is called exactly that – Utopia Vineyard Log Cabin, which offers beautiful accommodations and spectacular views:






We visited Utopia Vineyard over two evenings and had some delicious food and tasted through a substantial range of Utopia Vineyard wines. I also learned about an interesting berry I never heard of before – Marionberry, which is a type of blackberry, which we tasted in the form of delicious pie – I wish this is something I can find here on the East coast. Marionberry takes its name from Marion County in Oregon, where it was selected in 1956 as a cross between Chehalem and Olallie blackberries.

Time to talk about wines – here are my notes:

2018 Utopia Bliss Pinot Noir Blanc Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
The nose of the buckwheat, yellow plums
Plums on the palate, good balance, good acidity, asks for food
8-

2015 Utopia Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
Nice, delicate, a hint of vanilla
A touch of vanilla, Golden delicious apples, good acidity
7+/8-

I mentioned before that we had an opportunity to taste some wines directly from the barrel.

2020 Chardonnay was outstanding, fresh apples and lemon, clean acidity, perfectly clean, vibrant, and balanced. If I would have an opportunity, I would drink this wine just like that.

2020 Pinot Noir Blanc from the barrel was even more exciting – a touch of toasted bread, a touch of fresh fruit, perfect minerality, vibrant, clean, full of energy. Again, I would love to drink this wine just like that.

2015 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55) – all 12 clones are used
Plums, cherries, a touch of iodine
Clean, crisp, plums, cherries and cranberries, good acidity
8, excellent

2014 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
A touch of sapidity, mushrooms,
Plums, round, soft, clean
8-

2013 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
Mushrooms, forest floor, underbrush
Earthy, restrained, plums, clean, round
8-

2017 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($48)
Sweet plums, violets
Raspberries, red berries, round.
7+

2015 Utopia Vineyard Pinot Noir Clone 777 Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($65)
Violets, sweet plums, iodine
7+

2016 Utopia Paradise Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($75)
Original 2002 plantings.
Mushrooms, underbrush, violets
Clean, ripe cherries, pepper, medium body,
8, excellent

I was also excited to try a late harvest Riesling which was absolutely delicious:

2016 Utopia Late Harvest Riesling Chateau Bianca Vineyard Willamette Valley AVA ($40)
Beautiful apricots, a touch of honey, clean acidity, good balance. Delicious.
8

Talking to Dan we learned that 99 percent of the sales at the winery are direct to consumers, via the wine club and visitors. Dan also has a few customers who like to take his wines as a private label. Dan is very much involved with philanthropy, supporting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, The Hampton Opera center in Portland, OR, making wine donations, offering cabin stays, and more.

Utopia Vineyard offers something for everyone – if you will find yourself visiting Portland, you might want to take a 30 minutes trip southwest of Portland and find your utopia there. Or better yet, just stay in the cabin – everything else might be optional.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Lenné Estate

December 30, 2021 5 comments

Out of the 13 Oregon wineries profiled to the date in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Lenné Estate stands aside. I had my first encounter with Steve Lutz and Lenné Estate in 2014, two years before the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born, when Steve participated in the #WineChat event on Twitter. This is when I heard for the first time about Peavine soils, a mixture of clay and rocks, and Steve’s relentless, passionate pursuit of Pinot Noir winemaking in the place where it seems no vine can ever grow – read this original post to see what I mean. This passion I learned about while “listening” to Steve for the first time, the passion for the finicky grape became the reason for the name of the series.

When I spoke (virtually) to Steve in 2016 (you can find this conversation here), I learned a lot more about all the hard work establishing the vineyard, about Kill Hill, and about the wines which Steve produces, so when we arrived at Lenné Estate with Carl Giavanti, I felt like I knew Steve for a long time, and almost felt at home in the vineyard.

It is one thing to listen to someone talking about the soil, and it is totally different when you look at it (you can touch it too if you want) and think “how anything, really anything can grow in this soil”? Dry farming, no irrigation, and then you look at the soil – and you look at the grapes which it perfectly produces, and you can only say “wow”. I can tell you that out of the number of vineyards we already visited during the trip, the grapes at Lenné looked the best – tight bunches, beautiful colors of veraison, just a pleasure to look at.

More grapes:

We took a walk to the top of Kill Hill, and I can tell you that it was one steep walk. But the views from the vineyard were nothing short of spectacular.






Yes, it is steep!

We talked about winemaking, and Steve mentioned that he typically prefers using commercial yeasts, because they produce more reliable and predictable results – however, he is not foreign to the idea of indigenous yeast, as we tasted in one of the wines. When we spoke back in 2016, Steve was not very big on producing white wines – I was happy to see that he changed his mind and now offers Lenné Estate Chardonnay. However, more as an exception to the rule at this point, Steve is still not ready to produce sparkling wines – however, I hope that this will change at some point – we will have to see.

After the walk, we went back to the tasting room, where Steve set up a full tasting, including the charcuterie and cheese boards.

View from the tasting room

We started tasting with the Chardonnay, which was excellent

2019 Lenné Estate Scarlett’s Reserve Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58)
A touch of honey, herbs, restrained
Crisp acidity, fresh, bright, Granny Smith apples, a touch of vanilla, creamy, excellent
8

Next, of course, we moved to the Pinot Noirs, where we tasted the whole range – here are tasting notes for the wines including some additional comments regarding the vintage and winemaking:

2017 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Hot vintage with a big fruit set
Beautiful nose of sweet cherries and raspberries
Wow, red fruit all the way, cut through acidity, perfect balance
9-, superb

2016 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Early vintage, cool August, harvest done by mid-September
Cherries, sage, floral notes
Clean, tart cherries, warm notes, good acidity,
8-

2018 Lenné Estate Sad Jack 777 Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Indigenous yeast, spontaneous malolactic
Tart cherries, a hint of cherry pie, savory note
Tart cherries, clean, balanced, crisp, superb
8+

2018 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($60)
Commercial yeast and forced malolactic
Cherry, cherry pie, sweet oak
Tart cherries, dark fruit, good balance, well integrated tannins
8

The last wine was a culmination point of the tasting. “Cinq Élus” means “five chosen”, which in the case of this wine means five best barrels and 5 clones. The wine was simply superb:

2018 Lenné Estate Cinq Élus Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($85)
5 best barrels from the vintage, 5 clones
The succulent nose of red and black berries, distant hint of gunflint, herbs, great complexity
Restrained, cherries, layered, complex, perfectly integrated, tannins come through on the finish, superb
9-

While we were tasting the wines, we also talked about blind tasting events which Steve runs at the winery, where attendees get an opportunity, for example, to compare Oregon Pinot Noir with the Burgundy, or Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir with Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and so on – here you can see what blind tastings are offered. Steve also leads European wine cruises where everything revolves around food and wine, as you can imagine – here you can find information about those.

On the Lenné Estate website, there is also an interesting section called Vintage Charts. Here you can find general information regarding the suggested drinking window for Oregon Pinot Noir in general, as well as particular recommendations specifically pertaining to the Lenné Estate wines.

There you are, my friends. If you are looking for mature, confident, and simply delicious Oregon Pinot Noir, you don’t need to look further than Lenné Estate.

But we are not done here yet. More Passion and Pinot updates are coming – stay tuned…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Youngberg Hill Vineyard

December 29, 2021 2 comments

I virtually met with Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards in September of 2016. Now, 5 years later, I was able to actually shake his hand, listen to the stories face to face and taste the latest wines.

We arrived at the winery in the morning and went on to meet Wayne at the winery building, which also serves as Bed and Breakfast. The views from the terrace of that building were simply incredible – I walked around trying to snap as many pictures as I could.





After meeting Wayne, we went on a tour of the estate. Actually, we drove around the vineyards in the baggie which Wayne was driving. Again, more of the beautiful views all around. We also got to meet a few of the cute animals which call Youngberg Hill home.

At the Youngberg Hill estate, it is all about the Bailey family – Wayne, his wife Nicolette, and daughters Natasha, Jordan, and Aspen. The Youngberg Hill vineyards were first planted in 1989 when the estate was founded, 12 acres of Pinot Noir vines. These 12 acres are divided into two blocks – 7 acres of Natasha block at the altitude of 600 feet on marine sediment soils, and 5 acres of Jordan block on volcanic soils at the altitude of 800 feet. There is 2 degrees difference in average temperatures between these two blocks, and as the Jordan block is a little bit cooler, the grapes usually ripen later than the ones on Natasha Block, with about 10 days difference in pick time.

Aspen block was first planted in 2006 with 5 acres of Pinot Gris. In 2014, half of the block (2.5 acres) was grafted over to Chardonnay. In 2008, Bailey’s block was planted with 3 acres of Pinot Noir, at 700 feet altitude and predominantly volcanic soils.

When we spoke back in 2016, 20 acres of vineyards were planted on the 50 acres estate. I asked Wayne if he has any plans to add additional plantings, and got a simple “no” answer. Well, I guess the old adage of “never say never” is perfectly at play here, as in 2018, 3 acres of Wayne’s World block was planted with two more clones of Pinot Noir, bringing a total to 5 clones, if I’m not mistaken. This block was planted mostly on marine sediment soils at an altitude between 500 and 600 feet.

Here you can see a sample of the soils at Youngberg Hill Vineyards.

After we finished the tour, it was time to taste the wines.

I was happy that we started our tasting with the sparkling wine – this is almost something you now expect from Oregon wineries. Similar to the sparkling wine we had at Le Cadeau, this wine was also made with first-pass grapes. The wine spent 2.5 years on the lees, so it is called the Extended Tirage sparkling.

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Extended Tirage Sparkling Eola-Amity AVA (12.5% ABV, $55)
A touch of apple and vanilla
Crisp apple notes, fresh, good acidity, good body, delicious. Lingering acidity on the finish
8, excellent

Next, again to my delight, we had a couple of Chardonnays:

2019 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Aspen Chardonnay McMinnville AVA (12% ABV, $45)
Beautiful nose of apples, vanilla, and a touch of honey
Crisp, clean, great acidity, wow.
8, it would be amazing with age

Another change at the Youngberg Hill Vineyards since we last spoke was the new wine label introduced in 2019 – Bailey Family Wines. Bailey Family wines comprise a selection of the best plots and barrels. In addition to sparkling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, the Bailey Family wines range also includes Grenache sourced from the Rogue Valley. We tasted the latest vintage of Bailey Family Chardonnay which was superb:

2018 Bailey Family Chardonnay McMinnville AVA Willamette Valley (13.4% ABV, $85)
Herbal notes, a touch of butter, honey, minerality
Great complexity, mouthwatering acidity, lean, green apples, a touch of sage. Perfect balance
8/8+

Next, we had the pleasure of going through the selection of the Pinot Noir wines, both current vintages from Natasha and Jordan blocks, as well as reserve wine, Nicolette’s Select:

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Natasha Block Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, $60)
Ripe cherries and cranberries
Restrained, tart cherries, firm structure, dusty palate, excellent balance.
8+

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Jordan’s Block Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (13.8% ABV, $60)
Cherries and violets
Bright popping ripe cherries, good acidity, perfect balance.
Both [Natasha Block and Jordan Block] are built for the long haul.
8+

2015 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Nicolette’s Select Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (14.1% ABV, $85)
Great bouquet on the nose, cherries, pencil shavings, underbrush
Wow, an interplay of cherries, cranberries, mushrooms, dusty palate, layered, balanced
9-, superb.

I keep going back to our 2016 conversation with Wayne. While preparing the interview questions I learned that Youngberg Hill produces a really unique wine – Pinot Port, as it was called – a Port-style wine made out of Pinot Noir grapes, something which I never heard of before. So now, being at the winery, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to taste the Pinot Port. Wayne was somewhat hesitant about it, as I don’t believe he is making this wine anymore, but I had my wish granted and had a sip of this delicious beverage:

NV Youngberg Hill Vineyards Pinot Port (19% ABV, $NA, 25 cases produced)
Nicely aged wine, dried fruit, good balance, very pleasant

There you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot, with the Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay, and bubbles) of truly a world-class, and in its own, Oregon style. These wines are worth seeking, and if you want to spend a few days in the wine country, surrounded by incredible views and delicious wines, that Inn at the Youngberg Hill sounds really, really attractive.

I got more of the Passion and Pinot updates to share with you, so until the next time…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

American Pleasures #5: Burgundy in California, or the Wonders of Pop’n’Pour

December 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines, that were the delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all of those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

Burgundy in California. Nonsense, right? Burgundy is located in France, and the last thing you want to hear is a review of Hearty Burgundy, proudly produced by Gallo (believe it or not, but you can still buy this wine at about $9 for 1.5L – a great deal, huh?). Rest assured – Gallo is the last wine I want to ever discuss on this blog. I would like, however, to talk about Burgundy’s star grape varieties, which are also working amazingly well in California – yes, you got it – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

California produces a lot of wine (#4 in the world, with 248 million cases in 2018), using a lot of different grapes – no matter where those grapes are typically from – from Clairette Blanc to Viura to Nebbiolo to Grenache to Tempranillo, you should expect to find them all in Californian wines. Aside from all of the abundance, there are some grapes that can be called California superstars.

With the white grapes, it is easy – Chardonnay clearly steals the show. California made Chardonnay its own way back, with Chateau Montelena already proving its prowess to the whole world by winning Judgement of Paris in 1976. Chardonnay’s style changed and changed again since those early days of success, and when you are opening a bottle of California Chardonnay today, very often you don’t know what to expect – too much butter, too little butter, too much oak, no oak. Most importantly, you have no guarantees that you will enjoy that bottle.

Speaking about red grapes, ask a wine lover to name the most famous California red grape, and I’m sure 9 out of 10 will say Cabernet Sauvignon. I love California Cabernet Sauvignon as much as every one of those 9 out of 10 people. But based on my experience, the majority of the California Cabernet Sauvignon need time and time again to mellow down, to transform, to become truly enjoyable, and not just “drink the label and keep smiling” type of beverages. California Pinot Noir typically give you a lot more hope for finding the delicious Pop’n’Pour wines. And don’t forget – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay – it is the pleasure we are looking for here, so “pop, pour, drink, and ask for a second glass” is a sequence of events we are hoping for in here.

Here is a collection of the well-known wines I had the pleasure of enjoying – and have been blown away by the Pop’n’Pour quality, truly.

Domaine Anderson takes its roots from 1981, when Jean-Claude Rouzaud, patriarch of the Louis Roederer family came across Anderson Valley along the Mendocino coast in California, in search of the perfect spot to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Today, Domaine Anderson continues to be run by the Roederer family, farming organically and biodynamically 50 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards. Here are 3 wines I had an opportunity to taste which were all just a perfection from the moment they were poured into the glass:

2017 Domaine Anderson Chardonnay (13.5% ABV, $30)
Light golden
Touch of honey, a hint of smoke, minerality
Clean acidity, tart lemon, a touch of smoke, texturally present, medium-plus body, earthy underpinning.
8/8+, this wine screams Chablis to me. Superb.

2015 Domain Anderson Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.8% ABV, $39.99, 15 months in French oak barrels, 19% new)
Dark ruby
Smoke, violets, earthy notes
Nicely restrained, good minerality, a touch of tart cherries
8, delicious

2017 Domaine Anderson Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.6% ABV, $45, 15 months in French oak barrels, 8% new)
Dark Ruby
Stewed plums, smoke, earthy undertones
Plums, cherries, lavender, tar, smoke, sweet tobacco, crisp, fresh, clean acidity, excellent balance
8, nicely restrained Pinot Noir, not over the board.

Merry Edwards Winery needs no introduction to wine lovers. Bright and noticeable labels always stand out on the shelf, it is hard to miss them. Merry Edwards’s sole focus is on the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which was first produced in 1999 (vintage 1997) – but she is also well known for her Sauvignon Blanc which was first produced in 2001. In addition to the passionate pursuit of Pinot Noir, Merry Edwards is also very passionate about sustainability, which is fully embraced at the winery and in the vineyards – you can read more about sustainability philosophy here.

2017 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate Russian River Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $68)
Dark Garnet
Sage, tar, coffee, eucalyptus, freshly crushed dark berries
Tart, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, bright, invigorating
8, very uncalifornian, more Italian than anything else.

Considering how widely available La Crema wines are, I always made an effort to avoid them as “mass-produced”. After I tasted the wine, I completely changed my opinion – the wines might be produced in large quantities, but these are well-made wines. Also, the winery website has lots of good and well-presented information.

2017 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (13.5% ABV, $25)
Dark intense Ruby
Plums, fresh herbs, mineral undertones
Ripe fresh plums, mint, a touch of stewed strawberries, good acidity, good balance. Interestingly spicy finish.
8-, nice

Landmark Vineyards was founded in 1974 by a group of people that included Damaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere. In 1991, Damaris Deere Ford, now a sole proprietor of the Landmark Vineyards, focused exclusively on the production of Chardonnay and released the first vintage of the flagship Overlook Chardonnay. In 1993, Helen Turley started working as a consulting winemaker helping to create the Landmark’s signature style. Two years later, Landmark released the first vintage of its Pinot Noir under the name of Great Detour. In 2016, Landmark Vineyards extended into the Russian River Valley via the acquisition of the Hop Kiln Estate – and this was one of the wines I had an opportunity to taste.

2018 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County (14.3% ABV, $27)
Light golden
Vanilla, apple, lemon
Vanilla, a touch of butter, golden delicious apples, citrus profile, roll-off-your-tongue round, excellent balance, delicious
8/8+, excellent

2017 Landmark Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands (14.3% ABV, $45, 14 months in French oak, 35% new)
Dark ruby
Plums, dirt, forest floor
Plums, cherries, tobacco, iodine, short finish, good acidity, good balance.
8-, excellent and classic

2017 Landmark Vineyards Pinot Noir Hop Kiln Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.5% ABV, $40, aged in 40% new French oak)
Intense ruby
Cherries, underbrush, the nose says Oregon with dark intensity
Tart cherries, dark chocolate, tobacco, complex bouquet
8/8+, superb.

Here are you – a collection of delicious Pop’n’Pour American Pleasures. And don’t worry, I have a lot more wines to share with you. Cheers!

Made With Organic Grapes: Find Your Ritual

June 9, 2021 1 comment

The world of wine is full of eternal questions. Here is one of the most prolific ones: where is the wine made – in the vineyard or at the winery?

Many would argue that, of course, the wine is made in the vineyard. To make good wine you have to start with good grapes. You need good, healthy, properly ripened grapes to make good wine. “Good grapes” might seem obvious as a concept, but it actually entails a lot of hard work, love, and care, from the moment the first bud will appear on the vine (and even before that) until the moment when harvested grapes are reaching the winery. “Good grapes” are not defined by the taste alone – it is important how the grapes were growing, were any pesticides used, were all the methods organic, or better yet, sustainable? “Good grapes” for sure means a lot of work.

Then some might argue that no matter how good the grapes are if the winemaker will not take good care of the grapes from the moment grapes arrived at the winery, the good grapes will not result in good wine. How the grapes were manipulated from the very beginning – sorting, cleaning, de-stemming, pressing, fermenting, aging, storing – each of these steps has to be performed properly, as even the very best grapes will not convert themselves into the good wine.

Source: Ritual Winery

Source: Ritual Winery

The folks at Ritual winery in Chile clearly don’t want to answer this eternal question. Or rather their answer is “both”. Estate vineyards in the eastern part of the Casablanca Valley in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean are surrounded by 6,000 acres of the native forest, creating a unique biome. All the vineyards are certified organic. Estate uses its own compost, made out of the pomace and manure of the local animals. Sheep help mow the grass and fertilize the vines.

The grapes are hand-harvested early in the cool morning at the first sunlight. After sorting, the grapes are fermented in the open-top tanks, using basket press and native yeast. To achieve desired characteristics, 4 different vessels are used for the aging of the wines: Oak Barrels to enhance the structure, Concrete eggs for the texture, Stainless steel Drums elevate freshness, and Stainless steel Tanks help with aromatics.

Below are my tasting notes, where you can also see all the different vessels used to produce particular wines:

2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, 8 months in stainless steel, concrete eggs and neutral barrels)
Light golden
Very complex, white stone fruit, good minerality, fresh herbs
Round and velvety, creamy texture, a hint of vanilla, even butter, nice lemon core, clean and crisp finish
8+/9-, outstanding. A different and delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Borderline a Chardonnay experience.

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, fermented and aged for 8 months in concrete eggs, neutral oak, and stainless steel)
Light golden color
The nose is not very expressive, minerality, a hint of whitestone fruit
On the palate, a full spectrum, changing as the wine warms up – starting from steely Muscadet-like acidity, adding a bit of the creaminess after a few minutes in the glass, and then showing Chardonnay-like fuller-bodied notes and expressive minerality.
8/8+, Delicious

2018 Ritual Chardonnay Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, aged in concrete eggs and French oak barrels)
Light Golden
Characteristic touch of vanilla and apple on the palate, a whiff of honey
Vanilla, apple, a hint of butter in the palate, perfect balance, crisp acidity, wow, a superb rendition of Chardonnay. Give it 5–10 years, and it will rival the white burgundy.
8, Outstanding

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $21.99, aged 11 months in French oak barrels)
Dark Ruby
The dusty nose of fresh plums with a touch of vanilla
Plums, violets, a touch of mocha, good acidity, fresh, excellent balance
8+, delicious from the get-go

Tasting Ritual wines will not help us to find an answer to our eternal question – these wines are clearly made both in the vineyard and at the winery. Have you tried any of these wines? If you did, I guess you already found your Ritual, if not – well, here is your chance.

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