Microwineries: Serving Up Macro Wines

A lovely Petit Verdot leaf.

A fabulous trend I’m a glutton for is the “micro” trend. Not microwaves, microfiber, microfiche, or Microsoft even, but microwineries… limited production facilities where the wine is high quality because it benefits from the extra love and attention of the winemaker, like an illustrious private school for grapes. Also, the grapes can be from prized, small lot vineyards. Microwineries (and breweries, for that matter) are concentrated havens of artisanal artistry and craftsmanship. Fortunately, micro is no trend du jour; it is a permanent fixture on our gourmet food and beverage landscape. Has the espresso-to-go trend died yet? Nope, and neither will this! We humans love our high-quality handcrafted beverages, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get our hands on them.

As we get less and less handy in modern American society and purchase more of our needed items pre-made, do you think there is a correlation to our desire and propensity for all things “hand-crafted?” Discuss.

A particular wine from a particular microwinery I’m quite fond of and that I encourage you to try is the Andrew Rich Vintner 2008 Columbia Valley Petit Verdot Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. This treasure was found on one of our Willamette Valley wine trips.

First of all, who is this winemaker, Andrew Rich? From the winery website: “Named one of Wine & Spirits magazine’s top 100 wineries of 2009, Andrew Rich Wines has been crafting distinctive wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since 1995. Along with Pinot Noir, Rhône Valley varietals from the Columbia Valley–including Syrah, Roussanne, Grenache, and Mourvèdre–take pride of place, though the winery is equally well known for its seductive Gewürztraminer dessert wine. Production averages 5,000 cases per year.” (www.andrewrichwines.com).

Andrew Rich crafts his premium wines in the state-of-the-art Carlton Winemakers Studio, the nation’s first “green” cooperative winemaking facility. An “environmentally friendly facility,” the Studio is home to several wineries that seek to produce wines of the highest caliber. My husband and I showed up there five minutes to close, but the gal in the tasting room was kind enough to let us do a quick tasting and we loved the Petit Verdot and wound up taking a bottle home.

On a side note, what should you call someone who works in a tasting room? Might I suggest something colorful, like Bar-ista, Grape Goddess, Sip-erintendent… stop me now!

What is Petit Verdot? Single varietal Petit Verdot wine is like black ink in a glass. Petit Verdot is typically used in small quantities in Bordeaux blends to lend tannic structures and flavors. Just remember, if red wine grapes are on a spectrum of darkness/thickness/intensity, petit verdot is as far away from the light as you can get… a dark, inky black wine with dynamic flavor and complexity. It is more successfully cultivated as a single varietal wine in the New World as opposed to the Old World (aka the cradles of civilization where wine was first made, e.g. France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, etc.). How did “A Whole New World” get stuck in my head? Great, moving on….

Now, about the Ciel du Cheval vineyard. Those of you possessed of Washington Wine Wherewithal know that the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard is equivalent to a Gucci or Prada handbag. It is one of the best vineyards in the USA, and arguably the world. According to Cole Danehower at Northwest-Wine.com, “Famed for the elegance and complexity of the wines it produces, Ciel du Cheval and its owner Jim Holmes have become near-legendary exemplars of what Washington wine is all about. The desirability of fruit from Ciel du Cheval can be seen in the names of the wineries that produce wine from the vineyard. Culling through a client list that includes 25 producers in Washington and Oregon reveals some of the Northwest’s most prestigious labels: Fidelitas, Mark Ryan, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, McCrea Cellars, Cadence, Betz Family . . . among others.”

I will review some of these wines in later posts (hold your chevals!). 🙂

Andrew Rich’s tasting notes sum up this wine perfectly:

“Long-time club members know that I’m not able to get this fruit every year (there was an ’07; there’s none in ’09). This vintage continues the tradition of massive fruit, tannin, and acidity seamlessly sewn into a pitch-black cloak of mystery. What the heck does that mean? Taste and ye shall see.”

Perfect in time for Halloween: a dark, mysterious red wine! Hop on board the microwinery train with this Petit Verdot!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Say Oui (Wee!) to Pinot Gris

Gorgeous Pinot Gris grapes. Photo by Andrew Fogg.

Chateau Faire Le Pont Milbrandt Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009

I should just come out and say it: Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is perhaps my least favorite wine. It’s like a limp handshake; it’s perplexing and doesn’t really do anything for you. Boring, disappointing, and uninspiring are all words that come to mind when I think of pinot gris. Why, you ask? Well, we’re all entitled to our preferences, and while I’ve gone into tastings with an open mind I still
don’t quite get pinot gris. It’s so light you can sometimes barely taste the flavors, or else it tastes like grass clippings, and not the pleasant variety. This is why I would tend to opt for just about any other white.

First of all, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio… the only difference is in the name. Pinot Gris is the French term and Pinot Grigio the Italian. It is a white grape that is a mutation of the red Pinot Noir grape. Don’t worry, they are not trying to confuse you on purpose.

So, as a Pinot Gris agnostic, imagine my surprise when I try a Pinot Gris I actually like! Sacre bleu, such a thing really exists?

It does!

Chateau Faire Le Pont, one of my favorite Wenatchee wineries, makes a knockout Pinot Gris. It has a body and focus with depth and persuasion — more like a French kiss than a limp handshake! Oooh la la, now we’re talkin’!

From the tasting notes: “Floral with just a hint of sweetness, our 2009 Pinot Gris exhibits intense peach, melon, apple, honey and almond flavors that sail on and on throughout the long, lingering finish.” Doesn’t this just transport you to the French Riviera? Note the rich fruit flavors, hint of sweetness, and mouth feel; these qualities give the wine more depth, dimension, and deliciousness than a typical pinot gris. Pinot Gris’ ancestral turf is the Alsace region of France, where the grape has been cultivated to exhibit more fruity and floral flavors than the dryer, more minerally Italian Pinot Grigio grapes. No reminders of cow cud with this wine!

Now if only I could drink this while actually lounging aboard a sailboat on the
Mediterranean, I think Pinot Gris could become my favorite wine ever! In the mean time, I can sip it on my deck in the sunshine, close my eyes, and drift away.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oregon Strikes Back with A Creme De La Creme of Pinot Noirs

The battle rages on! Who will win, they’re both so good? Photo courtesy of http://www.nwsportsbeat.com

Hello, friends! I’ve been vacationing, drinking wine, cooking delicious things, soaking up summer sun and neglecting the blog… you might call it conducting research. Summer is a grand season for recreating and relaxing, and my view is the more we can peel ourselves away from technology when it’s lovely out (smart phones included!) the better off we’ll be. But I can’t keep you all chomping at the bit, can I? The last wine I wrote about we were in the midst of a fierce interstate rivalry, so now let’s pick back up where we left off. Commence Part Deux of the Battle of Pinot Noirs: Oregon vs. Washington! Draw your wineglasses!

What is the point of living life without a few extravagant indulgences? A life of perfect discipline and piety might be beneficial, but is it natural to maintain or joyful to live out? If you sense the spirit moving, it’s time to take a road trip to the Willamette Valley and purchase a decadent wine. While you’re there, don’t miss De Ponte Cellars. It’s one of the better wineries I’ve tried so far.

De Ponte Cellars Estate 2008 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills shows Washington why Oregon dominates the realm of superb Pinot Noir. It’s on the spendier side, but once you taste it, you’ll understand why.

This is easily the BEST Pinot I have had to date that hits all my requirements for a good Pinot; medium to full body for most expression, deep color in glass, aromas of fruit and smoke/ash (thanks to the volcanic Jory dust of the Dundee Hills AVA) and overall balance (everything works together in harmony in your mouth). Trust me, it is very well worth the price.

Pinot Noir is now my husband’s favorite wine. Pinot Noir is one of the more intriguing grapes out there; very finicky, mysterious, hard to control, but super expressive and
fascinating once you hit a good one that pleases your palate. As I’ve mentioned
before, this is also a factor in Pinot’s generally higher prices and tasting fees (or maybe Oregon is just resting on its laurels a little too much? Hmm, another thought for another day.).

And now, the tasting notes from the back of the bottle: “Nurtured by our rich Jory soil and our cool Oregon climate, our wines are handcrafted with uncompromising quality. Our goal is to produce memorable Old-World style Pinot Noir. It is our mission, our focus and our passion. This is a special limited bottling to showcase De Ponte’s unique terroir in the Dundee Hills. From some of our most prized blocks of the De Ponte Vineyard, this wine is a softer and more delicate expression of our traditional style. Floral with subtle aromas of raspberry, dark cherry and notes of vanilla. The ‘08 Estate has harmonious and silky texture while the tannins are soft and perfectly integrated giving this wine an elegant and graceful frame. The finish is long and fresh, full of red fruit and spices. Very approachable now though will develop much more complexity during bottle aging. It is the perfect example of the delicate nuances of the Dundee Hills.”

So, what is my conclusion, you ask? Which is better, Oregon or Washington Pinot Noir? Oregon’s climates tend to favor Pinot Noir, and thus they produce a lot of it and very well. Washington, while not sharing exactly the same climate as Oregon, may not be able to produce the same STYLES of Pinot Noir, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce some very good ones that are distinct in their differences from their Oregonian counterparts. My conclusion is to treat each bottle of wine, be it from Washington or Oregon, with an open mind and an open mouth!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oregon, You’ve Been Upstaged!

Anything you can do I can do better… can Washington rival Oregon at making excellent Pinot Noir? Photo courtesy of http://www.nwsportsbeat.com.

Fact: Oregon’s Willamette Valley region is an ideal climate for growing world-class Pinot Noir: it is cool and at the same latitude as Burgundy, France, where Pinot Noir has been cultivated for ages. Fact: Washington’s AVAs (winegrowing regions) such as Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, etc. tend to favor bold, earthy reds, such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Different vines flourish in different climes, and this is the magic of biology and terroir! Like East Coast versus West Coast swing or rap, both are distinct art forms in their own right; both calculatingly sizing up their opponent, abiding side by side, careful not to step on each other’s toes or get cacked by a hater. No puns intended, of course.

So what happens when a Washington Pinot Noir sidles up to an Oregon Pinot Noir (gasp!)? When an ambitious “newbie” contender enters the competitive ring of primo Pinot Noir? Does it even stand a chance? Can the shepherd’s stone even graze, let alone slay, a giant?

Chateau Faire Le Pont Milbrandt Vineyards Pinot Noir (90% Pinot Noir, 10%
Syrah) is a Washington Pinot Noir that upsets the apple cart… or the grape bin,
choose your fruit metaphor. We purchased this wine this past summer 2011 while visiting Leavenworth and then dilly-dallying into Wenatchee (a juicy wine destination you must visit!). Chateau Faire Le Pont is one of my favorite wineries because every wine you try is pure awesomeness brimming with wow factor. Though stepping onto long-hallowed “exclusive” Oregon turf, this winery proves it can pull off a remarkably delicious Pinot Noir made from Washington grapes that can compete with the best of them.

After having tasted a number of Oregon Pinots now, I have to admit I like this
Washingtonian better than many of its Oregonian counterparts, perhaps due to
the generous 10% Syrah that gives it a bit more tartness and dimension. See my previous post about AVAs for more deets on the Wahluke Slope and Milbrandt Vineyards, where these stellar grapes hail from.

This Pinot will not disappoint and will surprise many Oregon Pinot fans. It
could not have been pulled off without the talented winemakers of Chateau Faire
Le Pont. From the back label: “… our 2007 Pinot Noir was created in a more
graceful, enjoyable medium-to-full-bodied style. Refreshing and extremely well
balanced, rose petal and violet aromas intertwine seamlessly with raspberries,
strawberries, chocolate covered cherries and delicate tannins throughout the
smooth, lingering finish.”

Take a sip, sit back and experience psychedelic visions of chocolate covered
fruits and flower petals swirling and waltzing around in your head! (Red wine
is so much safer than LSD).

Oregon, you’ve been upstaged!

To be continued….

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Matter of Trust

Leo, master of the phrase “Do you trust me?” (I think Kate is relaxed only because she’s monkeyed  up… and Celine Dion is cooing romantically in the background.)

Trust Cabernet Sauvignon

Trust me: one of those phrases that is easy to ask of another yet difficult to do when you yourself are asked. Trust is a word that carries with it a lot of weighted implications… who or what you put your trust in reveals who or what you deem worthy of trust. Trusting too easily can signify a naivete or intentionally turning a blind eye to foibles, while failing to trust reputable, good, honorable people and things will mean you’ll go through life without taking risks and developing little faith. Without getting into further philosophical babbling, let me be bold enough to ask you to trust me (no, no teetering on ship balconies involved, you can relax) on this wine recommendation: this wine is dynamite. It is pure, delicious indulgence, and people will grow to trust your wine recommendations when you tell them about Trust Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is a wine that begs to be decanted. Only when you let it breathe will you be completely overwhelmed by its sheer power and finesse. The first time I tried it my in-laws were gracious enough to bring some over to our house for dinner, and it instantly became one of my new favorite wines. Then, when my dear friend bought me a decanter, we had a bottle that we poured in, let it decant a couple hours, and wow! This wine unfolded like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Let it stretch its gorgeous, stunning wings. It has all the right stuff of a top-notch Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfection!

As the tasting notes gush, “We are greeted here with a nose full of cherry cordials: high-cacao chocolate, Kirsch, and a pie cherry in the middle. The fruit here (cassis, plum, and black cherry) has purity and focus, and it is framed by fresh notes of eucalyptus and green tea. This is balanced, elegant, food-friendly Cabernet: moderate in body, acid, tannin, and alcohol.” The 2007 blend is currently sold out, according to the website. Seattle Magazine has voted Trust Cellars “Best Washington Wine” for 2011.

Wine can bring us together around its delicious self, and, perhaps in a very small way, help us to understand each other better and work on our trust. I’m not advocating for drunken debauchery, of course, but strangers or friends enjoying a glass of fine wine together is a deliberate act of peacekeeping. Wine can’t save us from ourselves or save the world, but it can at least help smooth the way.

Puget Sounders, make it a point to visit their Woodinville, WA tasting room. When I went there I experienced fantastic wines, friendly service, and excellent education on their wines. Their Riesling is also lovely, pick that up, too!

May we all embrace the gift of trust.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.