Archive for the ‘review Oregon wine’ Category

More Fun in the Nuthouse from Argyle Winery

Rollin Soles, owner and winemaker at award-winning Argyle Winery

We’re all pretty darn quick to chirp, “2006 was a bad vintage,” or “2008 was a good vintage.”

The truth is, Mother Nature sometimes gives winemakers better conditions to work with, but no individual winery has a “good vintage” unless the winemaker does a good job.

Take the 2008 vintage in Oregon. The word went out very early that it was one of the better vintages in several years, and wine drinkers got their palates set to enjoy some really good stuff from their favorite wineries.

But 2008 was not an easy growing season. Nature through all kinds of stuff at Oregon vintners, including cool spring temperatures that delayed flowering, higher-than-normal summer rainfall, and early October frost. Vineyard managers and winemakers had to make some tough decisions, including how much to thin the crop in order to produce the best quality fruit.

Here’s how Rollin Soles put it: “So, it is an important balancing act to get the crop not too low, and not too high, to ensure proper ripening before the rain starts and doesn’t stop until next July!”

Here’s my point: Rollin made some great wine that year (which I know because I just tasted one), and not everyone else did.

Rollin is the winemaker and owner of Argyle Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He’s got some perspective on good and bad vintages, because he’s been growing and making wine in Oregon since 1987. And he hasn’t just been goofing around. His winery has earned all kinds of 90+ ratings from the big-name wine reviewers; his wines have made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list more often than any other Oregon winery; and Spectator named Argyle “Oregon’s Premier Winery” in 2000.

So yeah, the guy knows how to make great wine, even in a not-so-good vintage. Of course, he’s got some good tools to work with, like the Lone Star Vineyard that produces the fruit for Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008.  The Lone Star Vineyard is in the Eola-Amity Hills appellation, but it sits at a relatively low elevation and its orientation is such that it’s drenched with sunshine from the moment “the first light of day peaks over the Cascade range” until late in the day.

What does this extra radiant heat do? It produces more intense black fruit flavors and good structure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Raptor Ridge Winery


Raptor Ridge Winemaker Scott Shull

We met Annie Shull yesterday. She was standing behind the wine bar in a very nice Scottsdale retail shop, pouring wine and talking to the customers who wandered up. She does this a lot, as do the sales and marketing people from other up-and-coming wineries. The mission is to take their wine to the people — to pour their vintages down the throats of willing wine drinkers, thus building, one wine drinker at a time, a devoted following for their wines and winery.

Annie’s winery has jump-started that process. Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, Oregon has gotten such great press, almost from the very beginning, that they’ve happily sold out many of their vintages well before the next year’s release. All the name publications — Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits, which has named them a Winery of the Year — have awarded them many 90+ ratings. And that’s a very good thing.

Raptor Ridge’s winemaker is Scott Shull, Annie”s husband, who launched their venture in 1995 like many small producers: in his garage and on his kitchen table. His focus is Pinot Noir, and he sourced grapes from vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. His winemaking focus is on allowing each vineyard to shine. He ferments and barrel ages each vineyard lot separately, and then produces each cuvee (there do about eight Pinot Noirs and a Pinot Gris) by tasting and blending just before bottling. This winemaking is as hands-on as you can get, from the vineyard right through to the bottling line.

The results speak for themselves. I tasted four of their wines, and was impressed with each for different reasons.

The Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris 2009 is a fabulous example of this varietal, which has become Oregon’s signature white grape. The nose is aromatic with peach and citrus notes and a suggestion of sweetness, but the palate is laser-beam clean, with tangy tangerine fruit and very crisp acid. The finish is anything but cloying, finishing rich but dry. I see why this vintage of Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris earned top ratings.

And speaking of vintages, I asked Annie whether there was truth to the now-commonly-held belief that 2007 was a crummy vintage in Oregon, while 2008 was the best ever. She pointed out that it was the wine press who fed us this theory, and that it wasn’t necessarily borne out across the board. In fact, her wines suggest the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

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Food and Wine: An Appetizer/Chardonnay Pairing


Take this dish and add avocado slices

I told you the other day that a bunch of us got together to taste Oregon Chardonnay. I wanted to pair the wine with a food that would bring out its best, but I hem’ed and haw’ed  because I knew these would be un-oaked or very lightly oaked Chardonnays. I couldn’t fall back on my usual appetizers: things with caramelized onions, creamy cheeses, sauteed sweet peppers and the like. Those foods match the richer, oakier Chardonnays I often serve.

So what’s a girl to do?

Why, make something up, of course.

I started with Seared Scallops. They don’t have a heck of a lot of flavor by themselves, but if you sear them nicely in butter the caramelizing adds a nice punch. Then I chose some avocado slices for the contrasting color and flavor — but not just “naked.” After I sliced them I splashed them with fresh-squeezed lime juice and some coarse sea salt. I let them sit for a while, too, so the lime and salt could work their magic. The citrus juice keeps them from oxidizing, or turning brown. It also cuts that overly-rich flavor that plain avocado has.avocado

When I plated it (TV chefs put a lot of emphasis on “plating” things), I placed some greens under the whole thing, just for presentation points. And if my garden chives hadn’t succumbed to the frost, I’d have stuck a few sprigs in there somewhere.

So here’s what I had: the delicate flavor of the scallops with a hint of smoke and caramel, contrasted with the richness of the avocado cut by a hint of citrus. And it worked! It complemented the Oregon Chardonnays (A to Z 2008 and Rex Hill Willamette 2007) without overpowering the wines.

I had a lot of fun creating this pairing, and I’ll be offering more food and wine suggestions soon. In the meantime, be sure to fill me in on any great ideas you have on this subject.


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Oregon Chardonnay: The Food-Friendly Chard

rex hill

The big barn on Rex Hill was once a fruit and nut drying facility, pig farm and commune.

The news that 2008 was a near-perfect vintage in Oregon gave me a great excuse to explore their wines. I wrote about A to Z Wineworks, which is a very cool collaboration between several  highly regarded Oregon wine veterans. Then I discovered Rex Hill Vineyards, another award-winning Oregon producer that was purchased by the A to Z folks when the original owners retired. So what better way to learn about Oregon Chardonnay than to taste each of their Chards, side by side.

First, let’s talk about Oregon Chardonnays. I’d noticed that almost without exception they were lightly oaked or not oaked at all. You might say, “What’s the matter with these Oregonians: don’t they want all that rich vanilla and butter?” Well, it turns out they don’t. The Chardonnay clone they grow ripens more slowly in the cool climate, but that’s a good thing. The more slowly they ripen, the more chance the grapes have to develop the “phenolics,” the complex flavor compounds that mature after the sugar levels have peaked. Their fruit has more intense and complex flavors than warm-climate Chardonnay, so the winemakers don’t want to cover it up with heavy oak or malolactic fermentation (which turns the crisp natural acids into that “buttery” texture). They emulate Burgundy, not California, and are proud of it. (By the way, all of this is a direct steal from a very good article on A to Z’s website. Click here to get it from the horse’s mouth.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Everything from A to Z: Good Oregon Wine

a to zTo me, “Oregon” used to mean “expensive Pinot from the Willamette Valley.” The Oregon wine people used to tell us, (again and again) that they were on the same latitude as Burgundy, which justified the $40, $50 or $60 price tags on their Pinot Noir. But many of us weren’t so sure…

Then along came this rather iconoclastic group of wine people who had passed through many of Oregon’s best wineries. The founding members of A to Z Wineworks had roots in Domaine Drouhin, Chehalem, Archery Summit, Eyrie, Burgundy and New Zealand. Not to mention a celebrity basketball coach (Gregg Popovich) who happened to be a huge wine fan and collector. Their stated aim was to make “Aristocratic Wines at Democratic Prices.”

So instead of buying land and planting acres of vineyards in the Willamette Valley, this group of wine professionals made contracts with some of the best growers in Oregon to buy their grapes and blend them into great wines that they could sell at great prices.  That’s where the whole “democratic” thing comes in… Read the rest of this entry »

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Quiet Power & Elegance: Rex Hill Pinot Noir

rex hill

Sustainable farming: this little ladybug keeps pests away without using chemical pesticides.

I love family-owned wineries. That’s a broad statement, but I’m not afraid to make it. It seems that every sip of their wine speaks to me of   commitment, passion, and a love for wine-making.

Enter Rex Hill, a family-owned winery that’s been crafting wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since the “good old days” (read “1982,” when the first owners shoveled out a former pig farm and started planting Pinot Noir). They also started farming “sustainably”, which is a commitment to produce better fruit through organic growing practices and to leave the land in better shape than when they got it.

Organic and sustainable practices may have contributed to the really knock-out Pinot I tasted recently, but Oregon’s wonderful 2008 vintage put it over the top. Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 was the product of the “near perfect” 2008 harvest. Warm weather in the final weeks before picking contributed to smaller yields and more intense flavors in the grapes. The result is a fragrant nose of bing cheeries, raspberries and violets, and a rich palate brimming with intense red berry fruit and spice. Most noticeable, though, is the full body, well-integrated tannins and bright acid that balance the opulent fruit.

To me, this Pinot was like Oregon on steroids. I’ve never tasted this kind of elegance and power in a Willamette Pinot at this price. Did I mention it retails for around $26? It’s a steal at that price, and you should rush out and…steal some. (Well, not really, but do go buy some).

I’ll be on the look-out for more good 2008 Oregon Pinot’s, so stay tuned for future reviews. For now, grill up some salmon, pop the cork on a bottle of Rex Hill, and enjoy!

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