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So, there was this fish…

In one of those serendipitous shopping moments, I walked up to the fish counter just as they were putting out wild caught salmon. The color caught my eye immediately. I picked out a filet and bought about twice as much as we needed for dinner, knowing that it doesn’t get better than this—at least in a store. You’d have to catch it yourself.

Simple preparation, roasting in a white wine butter sauce with onions and herbs, which I learned at Bellini’s and have used for years. This time, though, a lot more butter than white wine. Decadence. Just pour a little in the bottom of the pan, lay in the fish (skin side up) and pour more over the top. Bake 20 minutes.

I had some peppers that were heading south, so I tossed them in the last of the sauce and threw them in the last eight minutes or so; an afterthought. Jai doesn’t like the skin, so I peeled it off before serving. (I’ll crisp it up later and roll it up in sushi. Nothing goes to waste!)

The spicy nose I liked so well before was still there, and made instant friends with the herbs I’d used in the sauce. Raspberry and cherry flavors were more defined than before. It’s an opulent yet elegant, refined wine with a luscious, silky mouth feel. There’s a…purity? A clarity, of flavors, that strikes my taste buds with the same significance that Johnny Marr’s guitar tone strikes my ears. I’m sure it will continue to age beautifully for a few more years—but I can’t imagine waiting any longer to enjoy it.

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We’re #1!

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Perfect Combination: Boedecker Cellars and Swan Sovereign at Portland Center Stage

There are wine tastings, and then there are tasting experiences. Sometimes the wine line up is astonishing on its own, sometimes it’s a great event, like IPNC, sometimes it’s good friends. Anytime I can pair music with wine, it’s a good day, but last night’s Boedecker Cellars tasting was quite the event.

It was First Thursday in the Pearl District and I was pouring wine at Portland Center Stage. The front doors were open, musical guests Swan Sovereign were making magic and pulling people in off the street. Great music, and that might have been enough. But the Boedecker Oregon Pinot Noir, an entry level wine, was showing far beyond its station in life—better than any wine imprisoned in a little plastic picnic cup could ever hope. I’m guessing it was the rain and lower barometric pressure. Whatever it was, the cherry pie spice in the nose was YYUUUGE. (Couldn’t resist.) Cherry and raspberry flavors were where they should be, but I wasn’t expecting a nose at all.

Photo by Julianna Tobón

Photo by Julianna Tobón

And the music was lovely. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen these lovely ladies play. Years, in fact, since they were still billed as Dirty Martini at the time. Lara Michell was playing a single pickup Fender—an Esquire?—which has a tone I’ve always liked. Domino was recorded with one of those. 

Over two hundred people came through! Great response from a very receptive audience. The band loved the wine, which made it all the better. An old friend walked through the door and I handed her a glass, and so my work was complete.
 

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Hello, Old Friends...

Hello, old friends, I silently said to the barrels and equipment I would be working with today.

Back to the winery and I’ve been working in the cellar. It’s been awhile but things came back to me pretty quickly. Setting up the Gamma Jet, the power washer, clinking clamps together (getting better at that) cleaning barrels, cleaning up the messes you make cleaning other thing, listening to Bitches Brew...

For the last few days, I’ve been stirring lees in the barrels, for the 2015s. Particularly gratifying, since it was the first harvest I worked start to finish: a bit like being the godfather attending college graduation. Stirring barrels is important but repetitive. As usual, I figured out my own system for maximum efficiency, timed my performance and started setting goals to keep up the pace. I played Johnny Marr's Adrenaline Baby--twice--and saved 30 seconds per barrel. (I counted 358 barrels. Do the math.) Some people think this is work.

Monday we racked wine from barrels to holding tanks, getting 2014s ready for bottling. Always up for learning something new, I’d never done that before so I was excited. Cleaning tartrate crystals out of the white wine tanks was a little less thrilling and a little more work. But it breaks apart in sheets and shards, which is fun to watch.

I’d sorted and punched down some of those grapes, maybe most of them, but I wasn’t as intimate with them as 2015 when I was there almost every day. My own handwriting is on a lot of those barrels, which I see every time I go in when I stir them—which stirs its own feelings. I’m looking forward to seeing those through—out of the barrels and all the way into my glass.

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Best Wines of 2015’s Travels

A few hundred miles driven, twenty wineries visited, several dozen wines tasted, and suddenly 2015 is at an end. Going back through the tasting notes, there were some pretty good ones, and a handful of exceptional ones—many of which we bought and took home. This is the best of all of them, gauged not only by the tasting notes and memory, but also later tastings over some very nice dinners.

2013 Wildstock Pinot Noir by Scott Paul
Yummy briars and spice on the nose. The acidity is high and bright, with tart, dusty fruit flavors; raspberries and cherries. The fruit comes from three small vineyards in Amity, an appellation I’m becoming increasingly fond of, and will continue to explore.

2004 Panther Creek Cellars Reserve
When the tasting room manager poured a sample, she smelled it and shook her head. “Funky,” she said. Earthy was an understatement. But we were all in agreement the wine was good, with no taint or flaws. The “funk” was an intense horse barn and compost smell with a dash of dill. Hours after decanting, the “funk” had gone down and a spicy nose of white pepper, sage and cherry blossoms came up, for a remarkable experience.

2013 Colene Clemons Margo
A luscious, spicy nose full of dill, briars, tobacco and strawberries, followed by ripe cherries and cherry pie, raspberries and strawberries. My notes say, “A glorious wine for the price.” Jai and I got back in the car with a nagging feeling that it was a mistake to have only bought one. It was—it’s all gone now.

2013 Bergström Sigrid Chardonnay
Bergström presents their Sigrid Chardonnay in a Reidel Vinum Extreme Chardonnay glass—with Sigrid’s name on it—in a completely separate pour from their tasting flights. On the nose, a touch of butter—not overpowering—with apples, pears, and, surprisingly, pineapple. After that was a mouthful of pineapple, kiwi and ripe pears. There was an exquisite, long finish with mineral flavors at the end. There’s weight to this wine—although gravitas might be a better word. It’s certainly a powerful tribute to Josh Bergström’s grandmother.

2011 Alloro Riservata
Dark, intense, ripe black cherry and black currant on the nose. Ripe cherry (that elusive Chehalem cherry), raspberry on the palate. Earthy and briary, with a long finish. I shivered when I tasted this one.

2014 Brooks Reisling, and 2014 Sweet P
At a recent tasting, Brooks blew us away with their Rieslings like they always do. I’ve enjoyed them for years but I’d never before tasted their Estate Reisling next to the Sweet P. The wines are from the same vineyard, all farmed the same way. The only difference is that fermentation is arrested on the Sweet P, leaving residual sugar. An eye opening comparison of two fantastic wines that are immensely different from each other. It’s hard to pick one over the other—but why would you want to?

2012 Westry Cuvée 20
I was distracted from discussing vinyl reissues of the King Crimson catalog when winemaker/record lover David Autrey floored me with this gem. Enjoy a bottle with a new, 200 gram copy of In the Court of the Crimson King… now there’s an event.

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OWL’s Holiday Wish List

When trying to explain to someone how or why a wine... well, no. There's not a way around this. Subjectivity isn't an adequate word. Serendipity is closer but not quite, and synchronicity is too firm. Convergence seems about right. These bottles each tell their own story, and then we've added our own, as well.

1) A matched set of 2005 Stewart and Athena—there’s a running joke I have with Athena Pappas when she asks what bottle she should open next. “Have you got an ’05 Stew?” One time she did, and that turned out to be Jai’s Wine Epiphany. It’s true that I  already have this particular horizontal set, but if I open it I won’t, anymore. So I need another. Just to be sure.

2) 2012 Twentieth Cuvée by Westry—tasted during a great chat with winemaker David Autrey while we talked about King Crimson. I asked and followed his advice on the best reissue pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King, was glad I did, and can’t wait to listen to an album that rearranged my world thirty years ago with this great wine.

3) 2012 Boedecker Cellars Cuvée Y-C—there are only two places to get this dark celebration of ripe and yummy fruit: at the winery, or at Portland’s most exclusive restaurant, El Gaucho (dinner at which is another great holiday gift). There’s not much left.

4) 2010 Cristom Sommers Reserve—Many people I know would argue that winemaker Steve Doerner’s work ages better than anything else in the Valley, and we at Oregon Wine Lovers heartily agree. As we go into 2016, this one might be approaching its peak, which it will hold for several years. It's my favorite of several great vintages.

5) 2013 Colene Clemons Margo—It was a fit of misplaced frugality that made us think  we shouldn’t blow our budget entirely in the Colene Clemons tasting room. Jai and I got back in the car with a nagging feeling that it was a mistake, and sure enough, three wineries later we wished we’d bought more. In the Spirit of Christmas Future, you’ve been warned.

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Every Bottle Tells a Story

One of my trainers told me a long time ago that people remember wine differently from other beverages. They may have a great, classic or artisan cocktail before dinner or they may order a beer, but they won’t talk about it to their friends later—if at all—like they do wine; positively or negatively. People ponder wine like nothing else they put in their mouths. Wine engages too many senses to be ignored. Wine is about people, friends, relationships, memories and stories. As one winegrower put it, where there are vines, there is culture. It takes time for those plants to grow to maturity and whole generations of people grow up around them. That’s a big deal.

Which is what Oregon Wine Lovers is all about. I tell stories with words, Jai tells stories with pictures. Together, we share tales about Oregon wines, the people who make them, people surrounding them and who bring them to you. (With the occasional detour—hey, you can’t drink wine from just one place.) There are some doozies, as well as a few sagas, cliffhangers and, of course, romances. Every bottle of wine has a story. We’re here to tell it.

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Oregon Wine Lovers' Top Five Host Gifts for Holiday Parties

The time honored tradition of presenting a gift to the host of a party can sometimes be challenging. A proper host/hostess gift is for them and them alone, not a bottle set on the table among the other plonk (that's a "contribution"). But restocking your host with cellar buffers is a right and proper action to take, and doesn't have to break you. Here's our list of standards. 

The vintages don’t matter. These wines represent consistent quality blended with eminent guzzlability—and availability for last minute holiday cheer. In a hurry, in a pinch, on a whim, or by the case for full social calendar, these wines always deliver a smile at a price that won’t make you grimace.

1) Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvée or Boedecker Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir—two well priced Oregon Pinot Noirs at $18-20.

2) Louis Latour Valmoisine—I’ve written wine lists for three different restaurants and been consulted for wine at high end parties. This was my go to. Beautiful, elegant and inexpensive at $15.

3) Borsao—In 2001 I moved to Portland and brought two cases each of wines I was afraid I might never see again. The first was a Petite Sirah from Kempton Clark and since it was an R.H. Phillips product it was, indeed, the last time I saw it. The other was an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha/Tempranillo called Borsao. It was good with stews, pastas and leftover pizza—the sort of things you eat after a dinner party. You can buy one for the host and one for yourself at just $9.

4) Vielle Fermes Cotes du Rhone—plenty of bang for the buck in a $9 wine. A 3L box for under $30 translates to $7.50/a bottle. Yes, I said box—keep a couple of clean bottles to serve it and your guests will never know.

5) Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé—for that hostess with the mostest, it’s the highest price wine on this list at a whopping $25 retail. It’s a steal. And who doesn’t love bubbles for breakfast the morning after a party?  

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Happy Birthday to Me, Part II

November 15th 

Put simply, the Superfriends Tasting at Aria Gin’s new Portland tasting room was a joy. These weren’t just industry people. They were industry people who had known and worked with each other for years, in many different capacities. It wasn’t lost on me how many had kids about the same age, who play together on a regular basis, who swirl milk in their glasses like adults do wine, and who have already learned the art of selling wine:

“If you don’t buy a bottle of Riesling, I won’t get a birthday present this year,” giggled the curly haired Grape Princess.

Actually, this was my birthday, and Love and Squallor’s curly haired Grape Princess learned her high pressure sales tactic from Jai. 

Not that Love and Squalor needs help to sell their Rieslings—they’re fantastic. I first met Matt Berson when he tasted the staff on them at The Heathman, and have kept track of him since. The 2011 Antsy Pants Pinot Noir stood out to me, though, because after all this time, I’d still never tried a Love and Squalor red. Great stuff. Good times, and more to come as we tasted wines from Brooks, Westrey, Walter Scott, Goodfellow Family Cellars, Angela Estate, and more—as well as a gin cocktail from Aria. 

The cocktail was one of the highlights, for two reasons: 1) it was damn good, especially because, 2) I don’t like gin at all. Our friends the Boedeckers were there and as gin enthusiasts, gave it an exuberant five stars and two thumbs up. Bunk Sandwiches had pulled one of their trucks up to the loading dock and offered a selection of bites, including their famous Pork Belly Cubano. Pork belly is another thing I generally avoided, until today. Bunk may have made a believer of me. 

Bellies full of pork, we moved on to Brooks, who blew us away with their Rieslings like they always do. Still, for all that went before, I’d never tasted their Estate Riesling next to the Sweet P. The wines are from the same vineyard, all farmed the same way. The only difference is that fermentation is arrested on the Sweet P, so it remains sweet. Phenomenal quality, an eye opening comparison, immensely different from each other, hard to pick one over the other—and why would you want to?

After that, I got three great Chardonnays in a row from Goodfellow Family Cellars, Walter Scott and Westrey. Goodfellow’s Durant Vineyard Chardonnay was a winner because it’s Durant Vineyard fruit—I’m predisposed to like it, anyway, and they didn’t let me down. Walter Scott didn’t either, with a stoniness I like a lot, melons, and a touch of toast. David Autrey poured his 2014 Westrey Dundee Hills Chardonnay, wrote tasting notes about “pears, apples and toast—” and then we started talking about records.

While I frantically scribbled notes about the 2012 Oracle Pinot Noir (13 year old Dijon clone vines...ripe fruit…raspberries…black fruits…currants? Good as always.*), David mentioned his preference for King Crimson on vinyl and I began to see a Vine+Vinyl on the horizon after he poured his 2012 Cuvée 20… Just in case anyone might care, I noted it commemorates Westrey’s 20th vintage and David’s 25th year of winemaking—while he waxed poetic about King Crimson and gave me crucial information about the best available pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King (even after sampling wine and gin, they were my most legible notes of the day). With that valuable nugget, my birthday was all but complete. We bid our farewells, Jai bought a bottle of Aria’s spectacular gin and we sauntered out looking for Happy Hour. After a weekend of tasting some of the best, I was ready to dive into a new Vine+Vinyl…


*My tasting notes look more like 13 D—jN Rp_- F RAZ blk f--- c—t g— alw--- and do most days. By contrast, the penmanship on the King Crimson notes is impeccable. 

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Happy Birthday to Me

When you’re in the wine industry in any function, at any level, people come at you left and right with glasses and the instruction, “Here, try this.” Birthdays are interesting because most of the greetings admonish you to drink copious amounts of wine, presumably on someone else’s tab. The number of times I heard, “Happy Birthday! Drink some wine!” were innumerable. I certainly did everything I could.

Although it’s more likely that the proximity of Thanksgiving and it’s potential for wine sales in the near future was the reason for so many wine tastings last weekend, I prefer to think they were planned for my own edification. Let the birthday weekend begin.

Saturday the 14th

Vino wine shop hosted a half dozen winemakers who brought a total of 33 wines for four lovely hours in the afternoon. I rode my bike across town and of course needed a beer after that. (Pinot Noir is NOT thirst quenching immediately after exercise.) So I stopped at a food cart pod down the street for a characteristically Portland experience: beer served from the side of an old camper trailer called the Captured Beer Bus, next to picnic tables and a smoky fire in a brazier, on a rainy afternoon. Bliss.

Since it wasn’t a “trade tasting,” there was a lot less spitting and a lot more drinking. I wiggled my way through the small spaces between the display wines and the full house. Tasting notes were a challenge because people kept bumping into me, but I’m a trooper. My favorite usual suspects were there: John Grochau, Marcus Goodfellow and Cameron. I was introduced to Cameron when I worked at Portland City Grill a dozen years ago. We had the Clos Electrique Blanc on the winelist and I had the pleasure of explaining the name meant, “Electric Fence” a number of times. (However inelegant, it kept the deer out.) The joke never gets old and the wine doesn’t either; always great.

I’m always looking for an up and comer, and I found one: Joe Swick was there showing the fruits of his 800 case operation. His unfiltered blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris was an approachable, quaffable wine that may never win an award but it will definitely win an audience. I thought was just plain fun.  After tasting his scrumptiously spicy Pinot Noir (50% Medici/Cancilla fruit—big guns, those), I asked for another splash.

After that, a post-wine-tasting slice of pizza and a beer at the previously mentioned food carts, and a little bit of record hunting up and down the street.


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Grochau at the Hop

Certainly the best parts of working in the Oregon wine industry—any industry, really—are the friends you meet along the way and watching their stars rise. Such has been the case with John Grochau, whom I met on a sunny spring afternoon in 2007 at a street side table in Downtown Portland. I was tasting wines for my restaurant and John stopped by with his—on his way to work at Higgins restaurant. Such is the knitting of this place.

A couple of years after that we were "room mates" at the tasting room of the Portland Wine Project, which was the home of Grochau Cellars and Boedecker Cellars wineries. Less than a year after that, both parties had outgrown the space for two and John moved his operation to McMinnville. Three years after that, he’s taken over the former digs of Brooks, soon to be reviewed for American Winery Guide.

Jai and I caught up to him at recently at The Hop & Vine, on North Killingsworth, where he was pouring some of his wares; both previous and current releases. We were a little cold and wet when we walked in, so being greeted with his 2013 Gamay Noir put us in the Thanksgiving spirit. John ferments this one with 30% whole clusters, then ages in mostly neutral—and no new—oak, to get a dusty, briary berry nose. The acid was a little high but certainly not a “winking” level, and that’s going to settle down a little more through the holidays. It’s a very food-ready wine, full of raspberry and strawberry flavors. Beaujolais Nouveau comes out around Thanksgiving and I always look forward to it. But when we can have this, there seems little room for it on our table.

One of my favorite Oregon vintages is 2010 and Grochau Cellars Cuvée des Amis was showing beautifully that night. There was an intense dried fruit nose, bright red raspberry and cherry flavors. Still plenty of food friendly acid to make a meal with it. This wine could finally win over your in-laws.

Last in the flight was the 2012 Tinto, a Spanish style blend of Syrah and Tempranillo. I’ve always enjoyed the rich, intense, dark fruit flavors and aromatics of this wine. This one seemed softer than I remembered it, but that’s probably because he’d always poured it for me pre-release. The black cherry, black plum and currant flavors are really ripe and luscious. I found myself looking forward to winter and cozy evenings with this wine… and was jolted out of my reverie when John asked if I wanted to revisit any of them. I went back for the Gamay, my favorite of the night. It’s that balance of a fooder with a slant toward a cocktail wine that makes for a great dinner party. And it’s a good value for your money, so you won’t feel bad about buying two or three.

Good times, good friends, and great wine. Of course, it runs even deeper than that: we’ve run into each other at Bob Mould concerts for years. But that’s another story that needs a glass of wine and a record for the telling.

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Fermenter obssession

There’s fruit on the road, on its way to the winery. Stewart says, “We need eight fermenters today. Twelve tomorrow.” I thought we had three but we only have one. “That’s great,” he says, “I thought we had none.” Dustin and I go to work on eight at one time. Dustin’s a bartender, doesn’t like to waste steps and he’s going to be called away for another task in short order, so he rolls quickly with my strategy, blasts with a pressure washer and sets me up to take a big bite out of the problem. Today’s covered and we’re one ahead. Awesome. Next round, I knock out four more. “How long till Eric gets here with the fruit?” About forty minutes. If I get two more done, we’ll have seven on hand and tomorrow’s task will be just over an hour instead of just shy of two. You only need that extra few minutes when you don’t have it, and the Restaurant Guy imagines that one ten minute delay that turns into a twenty minute delay that causes the operation to grind to a halt for two hours. Eric's late and I have time to get them all done. Suddenly, I’m the guy who obsesses over fermenters…

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