Chardonnay from Oregon is crazy good

Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me total access to the Willamette Valley wine country and after living here for over a year, I can say I've visited… twice. Yes, tis sad. I blame it on my travel, my husband's travel and a baby (who is now a toddler). It just has not happened near as often as I'd like. Luckily, a colleague's visit last week was the impetus to get us out the door and down to some wineries. Instead of dragging you through each visit and what we tasted, I'm going to do what I like to call the tasting takeaway – in other words, Oregon Chardonnay rocks.

We visited Adelsheim, where we tasted through the lineup in their lovely new tasting room (best bathrooms ever!). Though I have always been a fan of their Pinot Gris and Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir, I came away loving their Chardonnay, too. Though I know many dislike this comparison, it really was Burgundian in style – luscious and round, yet crisp and light on the palate. Made with 100% Dijon clone and no malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was mineral-driven yet textured. Duly impressed.

At this point I'm liking Chardonnay, but not swooning. Till I reach Shea Vineyard. Hands down, my favorite wine was their Chardonnay. And to be honest, we tasted some pretty amazing wines out of barrel that day. But I could not help going back to the Chardonnay – it was the best Oregon Chardonnay I'd ever tasted, and one of the best Chardonnays from anywhere I'd tasted (in a while at least). I've also loved the offerings from Argyle (Nuthouse Chardonnay is excellent) and Domaine Drouhin, but it's been a while since I've tasted those and I just see so much more Oregon Pinot Gris.

Why aren't more people talking about Oregon Chardonnay? Maybe the are and I'm missing it. Yes, Pinot Gris can be delicious, but when you think of Oregon's climate and it's ability to create amazing Pinot Noir, why do we so often also think of Pinot Gris instead of Chardonnay? Burgundy, Carneros, Russian River – most great Pinot Noir growing regions make great Chardonnay as well. Like every great region, there will be some Chardonnay not worth the effort, but the potential here I think is stellar.

So when it comes to white wine from Oregon, what do you gravitate towards and why?

Cork vs. Screw Cap debate goes environmental

This week’s wine news delivered news related to the $22 million marketing campaign by the cork industry.  The first, a press release from 100%Cork.org, boasted the sharp rise of fans on their Facebook page – over 15,000 – confirming their preference for natural
cork.

Second story I read, from the Telegraph in the UK, touted the end of cork forests and the destruction of the Iberian Lynx due to consumers’ use of screw cap (and plastic closures) over natural cork. They also claimed that the consumer’s desire for convenience has led to the rise of screw caps and plastic closures rather than the fact that cork can be a faulty closure (more on that later). 

I was a bit surprised to read these as I figured when the cork industry decided to fight back, they would herald new industry practices to reduce the occurance of cork taint. Yet neither talked about that as a reason to prefer cork… instead they told consumers to demand natural cork in order to save the Iberian lynx… wait, what? 

The first article, from the UK’s Telegraph, is titled: “Screw cap wine blamed for loss of forest in new campaign to revive traditional cork,” with a sub-heading claiming “The fashion for screw cap wines among the middle classes is destroying forests and could lead the to the extinction of one of the world’s rarest wildcats, ecologists claim.” Um, can you say scare tactic? I am all in favor of preserving the environment, and I would be happy to continue to purchase wines with corks (which I do when I have to), but I’m certainly not going to demand the closure until something is done to fix the problem of cork taint.

I know that corks are take less energy to produce, are much easier to recycle, are biodegradable and are much more earth friendly. I am also aware that cork forests are integral to natural wildlife and I have no wish contribute to their destruction. But being told that buying a bottle of wine in a screw cap is in fact doing just that… well, it’s just plain dumb. Dr. Vino’s blog yesterday pointed out this fact in a much more amusing way…

The emergence of screw caps on quality wine was a result of poor quality corks and the prevalence of TCA, or cork taint. Some say that the movement to screw caps started in Australia and New Zealand because, as the newer wine regions, they were getting the bottom-of-the-barrel corks and had more issues with TCA. Whatever the reason, the screw cap was widely adopted by winemakers wishing to preserve their wine, and has increasingly been embraced by the consumer. And I seriously doubt, as the UK article claims, that they embraced it only for convenience sake. 

If you look at the numbers, the cork industry claims TCA is in 1-2 percent of all corks, while other estimates range from 1 to 15 percent. Percentages are hard to garner, too, since individual thresholds for TCA vary. My husband and I are very sensitive to cork taint and sadly find that about one out of every 12 bottles we open is corked. That’s one bottle per case. Not all consumers find this, often because they are unable to detect a corked wine – cork taint is a continuum, and at its lowest, the wine can just be muted rather than smelly, and customers may just think they are drinking a mediocre bottle of wine. Winemakers and wineries fed up with the consumer not receiving the product they had put in the bottle turned to alternative closures.

Now, I am NOT a fan of synthetic corks. And I know screw caps have their own issues, but what other industry do you know that allows an average 5% (and I’m figuring low here in my experience) failure in its products? When you purchase your wine, you should be assured that what you are getting is what the winemaker or winery intends for you to have. I realize that wine is a living thing and it evolves and changes in the bottle. But changes that come from a cork do not always improve the wine. Sometimes they destroy it.

I am a supporter of being green and doing our part to protect the environment and wildlife, but am disappointed at the cork industry’s method of promoting their product. Instead of warning consumers that they are destroying an ecosystem when choosing wines not finished in natural cork, how about telling us what strides they’ve made in fixing the TCA problem. Work on that first. Then we can move on to save the earth.

Learning to drink pink

It was perhaps the wettest June on record in the Pacific Northwest. Well thank goodness it was a record, because if this was normal I'd be moving back to California in a heartbeat. But summer did finally decide to show up and we even had a heatwave!

One of the reasons I missed this hot weather was because of my rose. I look forward to rose wine every summer, because while it tastes good anytime of the year, I find it very seasonal and it is one of my quintessential summer wines. And when temperatures are in the 80s it's all I want to sip – somehow it is not as appealing when it's 50 degrees and raining.

Consumers have come around for the most part in accepting pink wine as a quality beverage. Though rose has been made for decades – centuries actually – most Americans associate it with the sweet blush White Zinfandels that became so popular in the 1980s. Well, DRY rose is back on people's table. Thank goodness! And as we enter another high-temperature weekend, here are some fun rose facts – dry vs. sweet.

Dry Rose:
The traditional rosé method (for dry rose), saignée, creates a pink wine by pressing red grapes and allowing the juice only a brief period of contact the skins, retaining a bit of color, but lacking the heavy influence of tannins.

France is the only country to have a region whose production is restricted to rosé. One of the oldest appellations in France, Tavel is a pink only Appellation Controllée.

Dry rose is crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but with a touch of red characteristics in fruit flavor and texture.

Sweet Rose:
White Zinfandel is made with Zinfandel grapes, but with a faster process and added sugar. It's almost always sweet.

White Zinfandel hit its peak in the 1980s. Sutter Home White Zinfandel production went from 25,000 cases in 1981 to 2.9 million cases in 1989.

In 1991, White Zinfandel accounted for 34% of wine sales nationally. Today, it still accounts for 10% of wine sales in the U.S.

  

 

Patriotic Bottles

The Fourth of July weekend is upon us again, and as a history major, I love to ponder our founding fathers around this time. As a University of Virginia graduate, I am quite partial to all fun facts and notes about Thomas Jefferson. Though I don’t agree with everything he did as a politician or even a person, there is no denying his inventive mind and complex character. Plus the fact that he is what many like to call the first ‘wine connoisseur’ of our nation – or at least, the most well known.

But he’s not the only one who enjoyed wine – and other potent potables. During colonial times, alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine and spirits, were considered more healthy than drinking water. Water contained bacteria and could be more dangerous to one’s health than alcohol. So when that is the case, best to find a signature drink! Here are some favorite tipples of a few founding fathers.

George Washington: Madeira is said to be his favorite drink, and it was in fact one of the most available beverages in the colonies (and states), as it was hard to ship European wine overseas without spoilage. But Washington also ran a distillery on his property at Mount Vernon. In fact, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country in the 18th century. Granted, it was constructed in 1797, but it was able to claim that title!

John Adams: Again, Madeira was a favorite for this second president, but he also enjoyed cider and beer. Hard cider, that is. As an ambassador to France, he also had is fair share of wine, but was not known to indulge quite as much as Benjamin Franklin when hew as in the position.

Thomas Jefferson: Wine, of course! Not only did he collect wine from the famous Bordeaux chateaux, he also tried planting European grapes on his Virginia estate. Though that experiment did not take off back then, it certainly is growing now and the VA wine industry is improving every year. A few of his favorite chateaux in Bordeaux included Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau d’Yquem. He was a man with expensive tastes…

I’d love to know what Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry liked to drink most, but can’t seem to find much research out there on it. What do you know about our other founding fathers and their drinks?


This summer, you should drink more…. Riesling!

Most wine aficionados reach for a bottle of Riesling when temperatures rise (and many other times for that matter), and when I ask the favorite grape for summer, those who know the grape happily respond – Riesling. Unfortunately, that is only the answer from those familiar with the variety. Poor grape. It's so often misunderstood!

Riesling can conjure up images of sickly sweet, low quality wine, yet Riesling is a noble grape variety and has been making wine for centuries. It's one of the only white wine varieties that can make extremely age worthy wines, as well as some of the most highly sought after sweet wines. Perhaps that's why sweet and Riesling are too often deemed a pair. But what many don't realize is that most Rieslings are actually dry.

Riesling has high aromatics and high acidity – two perfect attributes for summer drinking, as well as for food pairing.
Which wines should you try that will help introduce you to the delicious world of Rieslings? Here are some suggestions.

You like dry, mineral-driven wines, like New Zealand or Chile Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio
Try Australian Rieslings – these wines display intense aromatics of lime, mineral notes and stone fruit. Very crisp, very dry. We love the Pewsey Vale (on sale for $9.99 right now at WineShopper) as it is a great value that displays all these characteristics. Look for the excellent Riesling examples from Clare Valley and Eden Valley.

You like fruity white wines and blends like Conundrum or Evolution
Try Washington State Rieslings. These wines have the same steely acidity, but with a bit rounder, riper fruit and occasionally a touch of residual sugar, though usually with a very tangy finish. We love the Eroica (even served it at my wedding!) and the Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard (made with biodynamnic farming practices). Eroica has a bit more residual sugar, while the Pacific Rim has a touch of petrol (this is a GOOD thing) in the nose that makes it vibrant and a bit tangy. As I taste more Rieslings from the Pacific Northwest, I learn how perfect the region is for this grape. And Washignton State – as well as Oregon – are making some stellar Riesling.

You like sweet wine
One of the reason's Riesling is so good as a sweet wine is because of its excellent acidity. German Rieslings are probably the way to go on the sweet side, although Austria and Alsace are other excellent regions. Look for terms like Spatlese and Auslese on the label, which indicates a bit more residual sugar (usually). Maximin Grunhauser and JJ Prum are fantastic producers. There are plenty others though, so do some research.

For more, read Alma's take on reading a Riesling label! It's definitely helpful.

So this summer, try a Riesling. It's a diverse grape and there are sure to be some that fit your style!
And please do share your favorites.

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