What to Drink with Easter Dinner (or, Why Pinot Noir Is Your Answer to Everything)

The Easter holiday is fast approaching, and so is the pressure to go shopping and pick out the perfect wine to go with your feast. As if the rest of the to-do list weren’t enough! Trying to match the right wine to your meal can cause so much stress it makes you want to dive head first into the Peeps and jelly beans! If you’re putting out the wine S.O.S. signal, I see you, and I’m here to help. Deep breaths, ahhhh.

First of all, banish the word perfect from your wine vocabulary, and replace it with great. Trying to find the perfect wine pairing sounds like too much pressure and highly unrealistic. But a great pairing, that is doable!

If you’re doing something traditional along the lines of ham, lamb, or salmon, you need to set your sights on delightful, drinkable Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is one red wine that will go beautifully with all three of these proteins. While no two Pinots are exactly the same, in general this is what you will get from a glass of Pinot Noir and why it is a consummate pairing wine for so many foods:

  • Light to medium body, although some verge on medium to hinting at full-bodied, depending on things like climate, weather, region, etc. The body of a wine should match the “weight” or heaviness, of a food in your mouth.
  • Subtle, integrated, elegant tannins that don’t clash or compete with the texture of the food.
  • Moderate acidity. A wine needs to be more acidic than the food at hand, so this is a great option for pairing that won’t get lost in your mouth.

Fair warning: I prefer my Pinots to have more heft, fullness, and richness than some, so if you err on the side of super light-bodied Pinots with ultra-delicate aromas and flavors, these might not be up your alley. When I drink wine, I want to taste wine, not fruity water, right?

Anyway, here are two Pinot Noirs (one from Washington and one from Oregon) that I really admire and that deserve a spot on your Easter table. The Washingtonian clocks in at $27/bottle and the Oregonian at $35/bottle. Both are delicious wines and excellent values for their quality tiers.

Pike Road Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pike Road Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir. Photo courtesy Pike Road Wines.

For the Oregon selection: I tasted the Pike Road 2019 Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir at the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic this past month. It is $35/bottle and utterly delicious! The grapes are from the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and the Corrine Vineyard was planted in 1989 at the intersection of marine and volcanic soils. The vineyard is a “warmer site for Pinot Noir, producing intense fruit, heady aromatics, and lots of structure.” Yum! You can “expect wines with a big ripe core of concentrated fruit and a bright, fresh profile” with red fruit, spice, and floral tones. Sounds lovely.

For the Washington selection: who else but Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery? All of their Pinot Noir is estate grown and produced. I have tried the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages, all side by side, and all are completely different wines. I love each one for different reasons. Right now I’m drawn to the 2017 Pinot Noir, with its “red fruit, rose hips, forest floor and spice rack components, framed by raspberry tea tannins and lemon oil.” We will most likely be opening this up Easter night.

Skagit Crest Pinot Noir 2017

Skagit Crest Pinot Noir 2017

I asked Owner and Winemaker Chuck Jackson what he would recommend, and while he said either vintage would go well with any of the meats, he would opt for the 2017 Pinot Noir with darker meats & heavier seasonings and the 2018 Pinot Noir with lighter meats & less intense seasonings. He would definitely choose the 2018 Pinot Noir for lamb. This beauty has elegant, subtle fruit and spice in the vein of Burgundian Pinot Noir, and is drinking round and balanced right now.

There are tons of great wines out there – so dang many. Don’t get hung up on finding the ultimate “perfect” pairing for your particular food, because there is definitely more than one wine that will work with your food. Some may be more wonderful than others, but it’s a fun chance to learn.

Obviously you can pair more than just Pinot Noir with these foods, but I hope you see the broad appeal and versatility of this grape, and why it can work so well with so many foods.

What wines have you enjoyed pairing with ham, lamb, or salmon? Tell me about it in the comments. One can never have too many good food and wine pairing ideas!

Happy Easter!

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McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023: A Review

On Friday, March 10th, I got up early and hit the road to make the journey down to McMinnville, Oregon, where the 30th Annual McMinnville Wine + Food Classic was taking place. I had not been since 2019, so the absence had definitely compounded my excitement.

This event goes for three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, and is a fundraiser for St. James School in McMinnville, OR. You can purchase tickets for as many days as you like. They even offer shuttle service from downtown McMinnville to the Museum.

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

There are tons of wineries, but also distilleries, cideries, meaderies, breweries (all the eez). There is obviously food, and a handful of artisans and crafters. You can peruse all of the 2023 participating vendors here.

I tried numerous pours of wine. I would have loved to have tried some other alcoholic products but stuck to my original plan (maybe next year).

Your ticket purchase includes two tasting tokens. At most places, one token is equal to one pour, but for certain specialty and library wines, two or even three tokens might be required. I wound up purchasing 15 additional tokens, and that was MORE than enough. Having an additional day or two to try more wines would be ideal but I could only attend one day.

Tasting tokens for the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

Tasting tokens for the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

I obviously was not able to try every single wine and winery at the festival, but out of the ones I did, here are five wineries and their wines that stood out to me, and that you would not be remiss in checking out. Please note that at some of these vendors I only tried one pour, so this is based on the limited amount I tried that day. I also would have loved to have purchased more bottles but, alas, budgets. 🙂

  1. Denison Cellars 2019 Björnson Vineyard Pinot Noir: This wine really captivated me. Their Pinot was elegant, complex, expressive, beautiful. I sure wish I could have tasted their full line-up but I was trying to spread my tasting tokens out to try more wineries. Time to plan a private tasting at their vineyard in Salem! From the tasting notes: “The resulting wine is deep ruby in color and displays aromas of black cherry, pomegranate, and cranberry. With hints of cola and all-spice, the ripe, velvety tannins provide structure for rich, mouth-filling volume. Flavors of dark red fruit persist into a lingering finish.” $48/bottle. *Of special note for Oregonians: FREE LOCAL DELIVERY for those in Yamhill County, Salem, and Portland with any 3+ bottle purchase. I cannot wait to return and taste more of their wines.
  2. Patton Valley Wines 2018 Lange Vineyard Pinot Noir: Patton Valley has been a brand for over 25 years, but at the moment they are a nomadic winery with no permanent tasting room. I think that’s cool because I’m sure it allows them to save a ton of money and put that towards great winemaking; plus it’s a chance to get creative and have some fun, different tasting options. This was a delicious Pinot Noir I decided to take home as well. $55/bottle. According to the tasting notes, it has a “lush red fruited nose” and a “broad and silky palate.” This is a winery whose offerings you must try if you’re into specific Pinot Noir clones from particular Willamette Valley area vineyards. Visit their website to order wines and to learn where they are pouring.
  3. Domaine de Broglie 2019 Clone 777 Pinot Noir: Established in 2019, Domaine de Broglie is a more recent newcomer to the Dundee Hills AVA. This estate is owned by Francis Ford Coppola and was previously Vista Hills Vineyard. At the 2023 McMinnville Wine Competition, this showstopper wine took home Best of Show, Best Red Wine, and Double Gold! Uh-huh. Here are the tasting notes, you’ll see why: “Aromas of mushrooms, cedar, and forest floor mingle with sweeter aromas of vanilla coffee. A savory, well rounded palate counterpointed with notes of strawberries, red fruit, and salted caramel. An outstanding wine, showcasing the range of expression found in Oregon Pinot Noir.” $62/bottle, 100% Pinot Noir. This wine is music in a glass! This is the indulgence bottle. I did take this beauty home. (I also recall a tried a very enchanting Chardonnay).
  4. Rue Cler 2019 Rocks Syrah: Oh, wow! This is one I will be buying in the future, so intriguing and delicious. $48/bottle, sourced from Noble Rock Vineyard in Milton-Freewater, OR. From the tasting notes: “Black fruit takes a backseat to savory meats, crushed violets and brine…. Huckleberries and wet stone give great acid that lingers on the finish…. Decant to discover layers of earth and umami in your glass.” If you like wines with savory flavors and plenty going on, you’ll love this! Side note: I did not try their Walla Walla Syrah, but one of my tasting companions did and she kept going back for more sips. 🙂
  5. Siltstone 2021 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: What I especially enjoyed about Siltstone Wines was they make a very good, very drinkable Pinot Noir for $24/bottle. You’re greeted with aromas of cherry, red fruit, and vanilla spice on the nose, and flavors of cherry cola and plum on the palate. The wine is medium-bodied with balanced tannins and a soft smoky finish. As much as I love ultra-fine, premium Pinot Noirs, I just can’t afford them all the time, and I’ll bet you can’t, either. And while $24 for a bottle of wine is a lot for many people (especially right now), when you look at overall pricing for good quality Pinot Noir, you’ll see that it’s very difficult to find GOOD stuff like this in this price range. This is a bargain for lovely Pinot Noir. I also would love to try more of their wines someday.

This event is a great way to get acquainted with a variety of fantastic Willamette Valley wineries all under one roof, and a great excuse to do something fun with your friends.

Have you been to the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic? If so, what did you try and like there? Comment below!

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

Definitely the best dressed guest! Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

Three Noble Reds, One Outstanding Blend: Skagit Crest Railroad Red

Railroad Red Marries Three Noble Reds Together in One Outstanding Blend

March is Washington Wine Month, a month celebrating the state’s abundant delicious wine and a not so subtle way of trying to get you the consumer to buy more coveted grape juice. 😉

As I sit here reflecting on what I love most about Washington wine, two things come to mind: outstanding quality for the value and uniqueness of place. For Washington Wine Month, although I have plenty of great recommendations to share, I want to introduce you to a unique, truly outstanding Washington wine that encapsulates these values.

Like many people, I enjoy certain value wines at the grocery store (there is a time and a place for everything), but there is not always a distinct sense of place in some of those wines, as many are blended from where ever the winemaker could get decent grapes, and many times they are highly modified and manipulated to cover up poor quality grapes or simply to keep a consistent product.

Every once in a while, it’s good to get up and challenge our palates with something on a different level – to go digging for some true Washington treasure.

Ready for something fun? Here you go!

Skagit Crest Vineyard and Winery is one of my all-time favorite Washington wineries, owned and run by Chuck and Donna Jackson in the Puget Sound AVA. They grow and vint Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and a Rosé of Pinot Noir, on their estate in Sedro Woolley, Washington. They also have a tasting room in La Conner, about a half an hour or so away. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of their wines, and I will definitely be posting on more in the future.

They have a red blend consisting of a rather unusual cast of characters that are not typically cast all together: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. These are noble grape varieties, meaning they are among the most popular and widely planted grapes around the world and still largely retain their character even in different growing regions and treatment by winemakers. That’s why a Cabernet Sauvignon from France and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington will still both share a lot in common, even though there are various differences in the final product.

If you’re an oenophile (lover of wine) or a Francophile (lover of France) or both (Francoenophile? Ah, how about vin-ophile?), you have probably heard of these famous places. These are three of France’s top winegrowing regions:

  • Bordeaux (famed for blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.)
  • Rhone (famed for blends of Syrah, Grenache, MourvĂ©dre, etc.)
  • Burgundy (famed for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, etc.)

These regions have been growing these particular grapes for centuries, and each region is known for being the absolute best place to grow certain specific varieties. Basically, winemakers from these regions are allowed to make wine only from approved grapes grown in that place and never blend from other regions. French wine laws tend to be very strict in that regard, in order to protect the reputation of their unique wines.

But that’s France, this is America. We go about our winemaking in ways similar and vastly different from France, in part because we are not bound by as many rules and regulations.

Leave it to winemaker Chuck Jackson to shrug at the traditional rulebook on red blends and throw three wonderful reds together in his signature Railroad Red Blend.

I asked Chuck what originally inspired him to create this blend, and this was what he told me:

“In the early planning days of the winery I wanted to offer a Bordeaux blend (likely Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc) and/or a Rhone style blend (likely Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre) to our eventual line up of wines both of which I really love. After our first harvest from our vineyard it quickly became apparent that was a bit of a pipe dream. Making our own wines and adding Cabernet and Syrah from Eastern Washington was logistically a challenge enough. Adding the other varietals would have meant up to 4 more trips over the hill for grapes and stress our winery for space to make and store the wines for aging. So that dream died.

There was still a desire to have a red blend and I puzzled over just how to do that without stretching us too thin. It finally dawned on me that a potential blend was right in front of us. With three red wines in hand, why not try it. Thus with the 2017 reds we put together our “red blend”, one barrel worth. It was delicious and Railroad Red was born.

The name was Donna’s inspiration given we have a Burlington Northern railroad line running by the west side of our property and vineyard going north to Sumas at the Canadian border. I was subsequently tempted to rename it Trifecta being a blend of Burgundy,  Bordeaux and the Rhone wines. Donna was stuck on Railroad Red so it stands.”

Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah both require a different growing climate (lots of warmth and sunshine), so the Syrah is sourced from the Yakima Valley AVA (specifically Crawford Vineyard near Prosser) and the Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA (specifically Martinez Vineyard right across the street from the famed Champoux Vineyards). The Pinot Noir is from their own estate grapes (the Puget Sound AVA). Those of you in the know are aware that Pinot Noir is challenging to grow and make into wine (I call it the “picky princess of the grape family”) and the fact that Chuck can create superb Pinot Noir in Western Washington is a testament to his high knowledge and skill.

Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery Railroad Red

Railroad Red: a genius blend of Washington reds.

So let’s take a closer look at the  Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery 2019 Railroad Red. Three distinctly delicious Washington wines from three different locales, happily carousing in one blend:

  • $30/bottle
  • 13.5% ABV
  • 2019 Blend is 50% Pinot Noir/30% Syrah/20% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Deep ruby color, full body, dry
  • Well-integrated gripping tannins
  • High, mouth-watering acidity
  • Aromas/flavors: cherry, strawberry, dusty plum, red flower (hibiscus or geranium?), vanilla, touch of chocolate, baking spice, earth (clay or rocks)
  • Finish/length: bright finish, but long, warm, complex, unfolding, lovely

The wine description reads, “Bright berry and cherry aromas with light hints of oak. Cherry and plum on the front to mid-palate. Peppery tones with gravelly earthy flavors in the back palate, lingering bright finish.”

The photo above is of the 2018 label. I love the 2018 blend and also enjoyed the 2019 blend, although they are very different. The 2018 was very round and plush and juicy, but still with that great structure and overall balance I love. That year’s blend consisted of 50% Pinot Noir, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Syrah.

The 2019 blend is wonderful. Because of the high acidity, the 2019 could age a few more years and become really interesting and “gentler” but it’s great to drink now, too. Give your bottle a day or so after opening and that will soften the acid a bit and open up more flavors.

I cannot recommend this blend enough. Make haste and visit their tasting room in La Conner or arrange for a private tasting and tour at their Sedro Woolley Vineyard and Winery (available by appointment only). I’ve done both and suggest you do the same!

Hint hint! April is the month of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival – so make your plans now to see the gorgeous tulips and sip the gorgeous Skagit Crest wines.

Cheers! 🙂

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival bloom

You have to see it to believe it. A bloom I snapped at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in 2022.

A special thank you to Chuck and Donna Jackson for answering my questions. 🙂 

Charcuterie with my Cuties and Wine for Valentine’s Night

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope however you are celebrating today that you are feeling the love. ❀

If you are thinking “I’d like to make this day a little extra Valentine-y” but don’t want to go down the usual routes; if you need inspiration for a dinner that is delicious, interesting, fun, and relatively inexpensive (it’s utterly flexible), and is also something slightly fancy for the love holiday, look no further. It also does not require a reservation, parking, dressing up, and the like. It’s great for one person, for a couple, or for as large or small a group as you desire. So if that’s you this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got you covered.

One of the great things about wine is the special company it keeps with food. And the illustrious charcuterie board (a.k.a. Lunchables for Grown-Ups) has become the golden standard for enjoying with wine. In case you need enlightening, a charcuterie board is simply several types of prepared meats served with various cheeses, crackers, breads, nuts, olives, fruit, assorted condiments like mustard, jam, etc. all presented together on a large serving platter.

During the pandemic, when we were not eating out because restaurants were only offering to-go, I decided to throw together an epic smorgasbord with anything and everything charcuterie-related: several types of cheese and crackers, a couple salamis or other meats, sliced pears, berries, grapes, nuts, etc. I also bought several bottles of wine to pair specifically with the cheeses I had selected. We dined al fresco.

The kids LOVED it, because they got to eat cheese, crackers, and salami for dinner, and put what they wanted on their plates. I loved it for obvious reasons and also for the rare praises instead of moans and complaints from the picky eater cohort.

We did this a couple times and since it’s been a while, I decided it would be fun to do it again for Valentine’s night.

I slaved so hard in the kitchen… opening up packaged stuff and putting it on a platter, I’m exhausted… 😉

I’ve got a cheese collection from Costco (the Kirkland Signature Cheese Flight they sell around the winter holidays) which features the following cheeses: cow’s milk cheese from Belgium, aged cow’s milk cheddar from England, goat’s milk cheese with honey from Spain, sheep’s milk pecorino cheese with truffles from Italy, and cow’s milk cheese with tomatoes, onions, and spices from the USA.

When you make a charcuterie board, you can use whatever cheeses you like, but to keep it interesting, aim for:

– three to four (or more!) different cheeses
– a mix of soft, semi-soft, and hard cheeses
– a mix of different types of milk (e.g. sheep, cow, goat)

For wine, I went with a black pinot and a white pinot (literally Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc) from different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas – unique designated wine grape growing areas) in Washington and Oregon. According to Erin Doman, all Pinots (Noir, Gris, Blanc, Meunier, etc.) are mutations of the same variety.

We’re drinking Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery Pinot Blanc from Washington (specifically the Puget Sound AVA) and River’s Edge Winery Barrel Select Pinot Noir from Oregon (specifically the Elkton AVA, one of Oregon’s newer AVAs). You can pair almost any wine with various cheeses (more on that later), but for this article’s sake I am just focusing on these two elegant beauties.

Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grapes both make lighter bodied wines with moderately strong acidity (makes your mouth pucker) so they work especially well when paired with creamy cheeses. Some wines are great on their own and some are meant to be drunk with food. These wines are delightful each on their own and they shine bright with the cheeses.

The River’s Edge Pinot is bursting with juicy, plush aromas of dark cherry, blueberry, spices, and something woody. My favorite cheese match with the Pinot Noir is the Italian pecorino with truffles. The truffle notes in the cheese really complement the mushroom notes in the Pinot Noir. So earthy and complex, I love it! This is a great Pinot Noir for wine drinkers who like full flavors and good substance (like me, ha ha). 🙂

Skagit Crest’s Pinot Blanc is an exceptional companion to cheese! It is like smelling a springtime wedding: flowers hugged by some robust honeycomb, lime, grapefruit, and a little gravel. On the palate there is excellent acidity with no astringency or harshness, moderate alcohol and flavors of stone and citrus fruits. It’s very similar to Pinot Gris/Grigio (same grape, just French and Italian names), but I love this subtly different and refreshing change from typical Pinot Gris. For cheese partners, the Belgian cheese and the Spanish honey goat cheese were both great with this wine.

I am hoping to do more food and wine pairing recommendations in the future, but for now would highly encourage you to seek out these particular wines and enjoy them with some cheese. Bon appétit!

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

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!

Oregon, You’ve Been Upstaged!

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….

A Primer on Pinot Noir (And A Couple to Get You Going)

Ah, Pinot Noir! In the wine world, saying you’re a fan of Pinot Noir tends to signify you’ve made it to the wine big leagues. Pinot Noir is an enigma; classy, mysterious, shapeshifting. It has soared in popularity since the film Sideways came out, which in large part contributed to killing off Merlot production in California. (Just you wait, Merlot’s comeback is just around the corner
 if shoulder pads can come back, certainly Merlot can – and to me, Merlot never went out of style in the first place).

At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of Pinot Noir. The first glass I intentionally ordered tasted like fruity water (it wasn’t a good wine – otherwise I would have liked it – and I think it had been open too long, too). But with so many friends claiming it as their favorite wine of all time, I knew I couldn’t throw in the towel just yet.

So, you’re asking, what is all the hype about Pinot Noir and WHO will explain it to me? First of all, a quick quasi-science lesson: Pinot Noir is the picky princess of the grape family, so she demands a very specific climate, weather, sun/rain mixture, careful, painstaking tending, and the list of demands goes on as long as J-Lo’s artist rider. But this lavish TLC pays off royally and can lead to some truly awesome, world-class wines. Once you taste a great Pinot Noir, you appreciate its refined qualities and everything it represents in terms of excellent winemaking craft. It also explains the sticker shock you might experience when surveying fine Pinots in your favorite wine shop.

Fear not! If you’re new to Pinot Noir, let me give you a couple of easy-going, easy-drinking Pinots that are at or under $10 a bottle. While they may not be superstar arena rock concert material, they are still the equivalent of a surprisingly good coffee shop open mic night.

Whole Foods Market has a section of very good affordable wines, and very knowledgeable wine stewards, so always chat them up for their best recommendations. Redtree Pinot Noir is from California and is around or under $10 a bottle. From the tastings notes: “Our 2010 Pinot Noir displays aromas of fresh fruits and strawberries, with a hint of oak in the background. This lighter-bodied wine provides cherry flavors on the palate and more red fruits, finishing with soft tannins.” Not bad, actually. Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir is from Oregon, $10 at Whole Foods Market, and is also quite tasty. From the tasting notes: “The Underwood Pinot Noir exhibits aromas [of] cranberries, red raspberries, with notes of smoke and spice. The palate is filled with sweet raspberry fruit intertwined with warm cinnamon tones. The wine’s bright acidity and fine tannins come together in a fruit laden finish.”

Even if you love red wine, you don’t always want a 10 on the Richter scale of a bold, dark, intense red wine. Be surprised by these light and delicious Pinot Noirs. Let me know how you liked them!