There is a belief among wine cognoscenti that grape vines must suffer before they can produce great wines. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, not only does that happen, but everyone in the wine business undergoes an annual pain called, “The Harvest.” Is Mother Nature going to be good to us, or will we be left to our own devices and suffer unruly weather? Unlike other regions in the world, such as Australia and the Napa Valley in California, the Willamette Valley proves unpredictable, and provides vintners with unhappy grapes from difficult vintages. While all wine growing regions suffer good and bad years, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just like the varietal in Burgundy, paints a picture of extreme variance.
Why do it? Just like writers, photographers and chefs, it is because of the challenge. Many of the greatest wine growers and winemakers aim their sights at the Holy Grail and pursue Pinot Noir with unrelenting faith because when Pinot Noir is great, there is nothing better. This is where the geekiest of wine folks live. It is an on-the-edge behavior that puts them in another realm. Two recent vintages in the Willamette Valley underscore this theme. 2011, which was a cool year, yielded many ungenerous wines that most “normal” wine drinkers may not enjoy. Yes, they may pretend to like it at a party, but it lacks the big, ripe fruit characteristic of say, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012’s were a much different animal, and produced a wine that everyone would drink happily. For the most part, the 2012 wines are rich, rounded and juicy as can be. I already know a few purists who are scoffing at the wines for their uber-enticing style and seemingly early drinkability. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, wine geeks often like wines that are crisp, high in acid, great with food and have potential to age over decade’s time. I am okay with both, I would just have to change my food pairing choices.
Pinot Noir is always a challenge. The wine is one of fussiest on the planet. The wine folks in the Willamette Valley are used to being on the outskirts of life and have come to love all their vintages for what they are. One fact is undeniable – unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, it cannot hide. Vintners cannot use oak, sugar or other varietals to make it better. It is what makes us love it or hate it. Here are a pair of favorites from my notebook. The classic and red-fruited 2013 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, the fine and complex 2012 WillaKenzie Aliette and the cool vintage 2011 WillaKenzie Pierre Leon. Give them a try and you too will discover how nifty the Willamette Valley vintners are!
So it seems that when one counts all of the numbers, and sees the dollars that flow in, it is still red (as in red wine) that drives the numbers and brings home the bacon. It seems the higher in the food chain wine drinkers go, the more they go to Cabernet Sauvignon, especially that valley along highway 29 called Napa. While Pinot Noir is still the Holy Grail, Cabernet is and will always be king. But must we only bleed red? While I will rarely turn down a chance at a fine Oakville or Rutherford Cab, I would never like to be remembered as a “one trick pony” wine lover.
Where does my pink wine experience begin? Not so gloriously. I have to admit, my first pink was not even the first straw colored, “dry” Sutter Home, but must have been a Carlo Rossi Pink Chablis (out of a four-liter jug) at a party in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Though possible it was a syrupy sweet Ripple Pagan Pink. Memories that began my wine journey, kind of on the yuck side, but one that I had to take. They often say that one never makes it to the top unless one knows what the bottom is like.
Years later when I found “sophistication,” I discovered Rosé Champagne and learned how incredible that can be. While a lot of American wine drinkers did not understand the category, I learned over time that one should never turn down a glass of Dom Pérignon Rosé, ever! But the road to rosé credibility failed to materialize in the world of dry rose; these wines were left in the hands of a minuscule number of wine geeks. In the mid to late 1970’s, the category called blush took the market by storm. The industry pushed and succeeded to make a kind of kool-aid wine that they hoped would transform generations of cola drinkers into wine drinkers. It worked, but it also sent mixed messages about the color pink (orange, salmon, eye of the partridge, etc.). True students of wine struggled with this phenomenon because it devalued highly prized wines such as Tavel from the Rhone, Clairette from Bordeaux and of course, the aforementioned Champagne Rosé. The wine world created a mixed category that lumped the dry rosé with the more popular sweet blush, and the view most sophisticated wine drinkers had was rosé =sweet. So where are we today?
Rosé is now a legitimate fine wine category. Producers have globally begun to craft superior wines that pair incredibly well with food. Over the last two decades, countries from below the equator (where the seasons are opposite from the northern hemisphere) have begun to supply the global market with some of the world’s best rosés and ensuring that this category’s pipeline never runs dry (of dry super premium wines so to speak). Among my recent favorites: the brisk, bright minerally 2014 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the charming and aromatic 2014 Belle Glos Oeil de Perdrix (eye of the partridge) from Sonoma County and the 2013 Sierra Cantribria from Rioja, Spain. Take it from one who loves wine, there has never been a better time than now to step into the world of pink wines, your palate will be happily satisfied and your soul will gain insights into the world of rosé!
For 50 years, the wine industry has been bringing Sauvignon Blanc to the world as one of the best food wines one can serve. A very distinctive varietal, with historical roots that go deep into the Bordeaux and Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc was always meant to go with food. Oysters, mussels, crab and other joys for the sea are just so much better when this match is brought out to the dining room. What makes this wine so enjoyable?
While other varietals are often served due to their easy-drinking style, Sauvignon Blanc demands food service. Why? One word: acidity. Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic variety. It is also high in acid. What does acid do? Makes our mouth water of course. Therefore, matching that acidity with food is the most ideal way to bring out the undertones and other nuances of Sauvignon Blanc. The meal does not have be fancy, it just as to be good. Classic matches such as linguine with clams, raw oysters on the half-shell and grilled mussels are always a hit with most anyone who enjoys food and wine together. Over the past 2 decades, Sauvignon Blanc has taken center stage, and no where has claimed the grape so uniquely as New Zealand. Grapefruit and grass, gooseberry and green pepper, an array of aromatics jump out of your glass.
Over the last decade, I have found a treasure trove of pleasure that the Kiwis have happily sent into the marketplace and now drink these wines on a daily basis. While I still long for Sauvignon Blanc from France, Chile and the USA, I am incredibly grateful that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are so available to wine lovers everywhere. One of my current favorites is the 2014 Cloudy Bay; it is a super standout!
So pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc today, on #SauvignonBlancDay and enjoy!
Did I find God in the vineyards? That must have happened because I can’t even explain it normal terms. On January 16, 2012, in a little town called La Consulta, my colleagues (Thane, Neil, Peter, Brett) and I tasted something magical. We flew in from the US on a Tour de Argentina and Chile to meet with some of those countries’ superstar winemakers. But no moment of this trip was greater than the time with we spent with Karim Mussi Saffie, Proprietor and Winemaker of Altocedro in La Consulta, Mendoza. The plan was to check out the winery, the vineyards, taste wines, eat food and drink, but what transpired was more than we had expected.
It began innocently enough, I had already spent many quality moments with Karim in previous (both in the United States and in Argentina) we even rode horses together once in the Andes. Now we were here. At one moment, Karim was looking at me with his intricate and sometimes devilish grin. I had no idea what he was up to but knew he was super excited to pour this wine for me. I was just taking notes and photographing everything in sight. Then he served it: The 2009 Altocedro Gran Reserva Malbec. My brain spun into another space and time. I found myself in a corridor of Bordeaux varieties. Where was I? In the Médoc, the Napa Valley, Walla Walla Washington? The wine’s intense dark fruits and sweet earth took Malbec to another level. When I came back, I just saw Karim grinning from ear to ear. This is only an example of where a good Malbec can take you.
Where is Malbec going? For decades it was known mostly as the grape from Cahors. More learned wine folks also knew the grape from the Southwest of France, where it is called, Côt. But as the world spins, most consumers saw Malbec as that “value” red wine from Argentina. If one just needed a Cabernet-like wine in the $10 to $20 range, Argentina Malbec was the answer. But somewhere in the night the grape was screaming, “There is more to my existence than being the wine at cocktail parties and barbecues.” Yes, in addition to being a great value red wine, Malbec has scaled the mountain to become one of the world’s great varietals. It takes the Bordeaux blends from the region to a new level, producing wine that is complex and balanced. Age-worthy? Definitely – just check out an older vintage from Catena. Malbec has spoken. Enjoy it’s possibilities and most definitely taste the 2013 Altocedro Año Cero Malbec and get a glimpse of the Mussi magic!
Yeah, yeah, I know a few Bordeaux and Burgundy producers as well as somms and bloggers who will take issue with what I am about to say, but this is so true. I have tasted nearly every vintage of Silver Oak since the winery was founded in 1972 to be honest, I have not loved everything that they have done. I had to work through their formative decade in the ‘70’s as they, along with the rest of the wine world, attempted to grow beyond their respective neighborhoods. Now as we have reached the 10th vintage of the current decade, there is no question that Silver Oak Cellars has taken center stage on the prestigious platform of most important wines in the world.
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 7th, the winery is celebrating “Silver Oak 2010 Napa Valley Release Day.” Wine lovers worldwide have been looking forward and will not even be deterred by the rainfall that has been predicted. It will be a day of incredible fun that rivals Super Bowl Sunday for football fans. Incredible ambiance, some of the country’s best chefs and the main event- the 2010 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – will all be on stage for the wine world to experience.
You may be wondering, how did this happen? From the beginning, Silver Oak Cellar focused on perfecting Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the wine world’s most magnificent wine grapes. From that focus, they have turned into an industry icon. This was a process, like any business project. Target, focus and execution are the key elements that brought them to this pinnacle. The family knew the formula of producing the perfect depiction of an Alexander Valley and a Napa Valley Cabernet and they understood what the vineyards could produce and the flavors that would best represent those respected AVA’s. This is not to say that they have arrived for no one survives in the long term by resting on their laurels. When I meet with the Silver Oak team, I never get the feeling that they are satisfied. There is a reason why the winery’s annual Napa Valley Release Day is always sold out. Silver Oak Cellars may have mastery within the wine universe, but they continue to get better.
The 2010 Silver Oak Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet is rock solid. Shows elements of red and black fruit, with an accent of dried herbs and dust, at this youthful stage the oak is in the forefront. In time, this wine will settle down and be a really fine and classic drinking Cabernet. The wine world is full of opinions, but I defy anyone to say that they don’t enjoy a Silver Oak Cabernet. Silver Oak Cellars by any measurement is one of the world’s greatest Cabernet producers!