It’s not just for Pinot anymore !

Minimus, Natural? No7, 2013

Region: Applegate Valley, Oregon, USA

Grape: Syrah

Price: 26$

When you say Oregon wine you think Pinot Noir, and so do I. I mean, I spent a long weekend sampling Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir and enjoying myself immensely. That’s why I was surprised when a waiter recommended an Oregon Syrah to go with our dinner. Syrah? Really? The Rhone Valley staple variety grows in the middle of Pinot Noir country? Apparently so, the Southern part of the state, especially away from the ocean, tends to be dryer and more suited to Syrah. Ok then, Syrah from Oregon it is.

Interesting fact, the Minimus winery wines are labelled as “experiments”. For instance, the No1 is called “43 days” and was an attempt at extend the length of time for skin contact when producing a Sauvignon Blanc. No2 is called “Copigmentation” and uses white grape skins during the fermentation of red grapes (Tempranillo). The Number 7 experiment that I tasted is called “Natural?” and is of course a natural wine.

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Eye: Deep purple

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Blackberry, olives and bit of spice

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, long velvety finish. Lots of fruit (blackberry) with some underlying pepper and herbs (rosemary)

OK, you can make tasty Syrah in Oregon. It was really good, smooth, balanced with a lot of fruit. I definitely enjoyed it beyond the simple novelty of trying a Syrah from Oregon.

Food pairings: It’s a fairly straight up Syrah, so the traditional pairings will work well, bold foods, meats, anything cooked with herbs…

Overall opinion: Hard to find, only 48 cases were produced but if you can find it, go for it. It’s not too expensive and the quality is great

Grade: 8.5/10

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Willamette Valley Wine Tour

After the city, and a quick presentation of the region, let’s do a quick overview of the three wineries we visited in the Willamette Valley.

First up was Rex Hill, just outside of Newberg. I have to say, it was the winery that impressed me the least. It’s a lovely building, an old hazelnut drying house, and they have a nice terrace and an aroma display that I thought was a very nice touch: you could sample a few different common wine aromas, a nice idea.

The aroma wheel

The aroma wheel

 

The issue was that the wines didn’t really make an impression. We tried a few of their pinot noirs and Chardonnays but the Pinots especially where underwhelming, too harsh for my taste. It was our first stop and I was worried. Fortunately, things improved quite a bit when we got to the next winery.

Winters Hills, deep into the Red Hills of Dundee did a lot to alleviate my worries, all the wines were very quaffable : Pinot Grigio (of which I’m usually not a fan), Pinot Blanc (not something you see often), rose from Pinot Noir (very interesting). All of these were more than decent and are great summer wines if you can get them. The rose in particular was bright and fruity with a bit of smoke, I highly recommend it.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

 

Then we moved on to the Pinot Noirs. First up the basic Pinot Noir 2009, a solid, affordable ($15) offering, then the Cuvee du Vigneron 2009, fuller, more complex and serious, with ageing potential, and finally, the 2008 Reserve, smooth with aromas that go way beyond the basic red berries. We’re talking cedarwood, cola, spices… Great wine, definitely could age more.

The tour concluded at the lovely Stoller Estate. Definitely the most impressive building of the three. The view is fantastic, and the building is brand new, built to be sustainable and ecofriendly (solar panels, natural materials…). The tasting room opens up to a great view of the Dundee Hills, it’s spacious, airy, and it looks damn cool.

View from the tasting room

View from the tasting room

The wines themselves were decent, nothing to write home about, but very solid if uninspiring to me. This place gave out a pretentious vibe to me, like trying too hard, and maybe that prevented me from enjoying myself, I don’t know, I’ll give Stoller an incomplete!

There it is, the three parts tale of my Oregon trip. Let’s week we will resume our regular programming of wine reviews, enjoy the weekend!

 

Meet the Willamette Valley

After exploring Portland and its wonders, it was time to make our way to the Willamette Valley for some wine tasting action. Conveniently, wine country is about 20 minutes outside of Portland, it made the whole thing a short trip. The Willamette Valley AVA is the biggest and most famous of Oregon’s wine growing region. It follows the Willamette Valley and is sheltered by two mountain ranges, the Coastal Range to the West and the Cascade Range to the East. This situation shelters the region and provides mild winters, cool and cloudy summers and damp autumns, sounds like good Pinot Noir Country.

The AVA is pretty big, as I mentioned, and there are even a few sub-appellations. Our wine tour actually took us to two of these smaller AVAs: Chehalem Mountains, centered on the town of Newberg which is really the heart of the Willamette wine country, and Dundee Hills, famous for its red soils and admittedly the top ranked sub-appellation.

The red Hills from the bottom

The red Hills from the bottom

Winemaking in Oregon is a recent development. The first modern attempts were made in the late sixties by rogue UC Davis students and they didn’t realize the potential for Pinot Noir until the mid-seventies. Once it happened though, it happened fast with the number of vineyards growing exponentially. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that exploitations tend to be on the smaller side, just like in the other Pinot Noir paradise, Burgundy.

Another Oregon-Burgundy connection is the Drouhin family, from Beaune, who decided to buy a vineyard in the Dundee Hills (we actually passed the vineyard during the trip). The legend says that it was the performance of Oregon Pinots in the 1979 Paris Wine Olympics (where an Oregon Pinot took second place) that prompted the interest of the Drouhins in the region. Whatever the cause was, the result is that they are there now, and that their wines are top notch.

The Red Hills from the top

The Red Hills from the top

That’s it for the region, next week I’ll finally talk about the wines and the three stops we made during our tour. A lot of wine was tasted and a lovely picnic was had on those famous Red Hills.

 

A visit to Portlandia : part 1, the City

At the beginning of summer, I spent a weekend in Portland, Maine with my sidekick. For Labor Day weekend, we decided to make things symmetrical by spending 4 days in Portland, Oregon. This one is further away from Boston, but it’s got a sizable advantage, it’s right outside of Oregon wine country. Of we went then. This is our story, a story of red eye flights, food trucks, runs along the Willamette River, street art, Subaru Outbacks, ironic facial hair, craft beer, thigh tattoos, plaid shirts and pinot noir. This is the story of a long weekend, in a few parts. First up, the city itself.

He's real !

He’s real !

Portland is named after Portland. I mean Portland, Oregon is named after Portland Maine. The two founders of the city were from New England, from Portland and Boston to be precise. They both wanted to name their new city after their old cities. How did they settle this? How did they chose between Portland and Boston? They flipped a coin. Of course they did. Best out of three and Portland it was. You can actually see the penny they used at the Portland Historical Society.

This is a happy BBQ pig

This is a happy BBQ pig

The city is parted by the Willamette Valley that runs North to South and is crisscrossed by bridges (Nickname alert: City of Bridges). It’s the most populous city in Oregon, but then again, Oregon has less than 4 million people. The main thing about Portland is that it’s weird. Intentionally weird even, the unofficial motto is “Keep Portland weird”, and portlandites do a good job of it. My vaguely preppy, non-descript appearance shouted out my non-portlandism to the world. Neither before have I felt such need for a weird mustache, a plaid shirt and a beanie. The city is the hipster capital of the US, and it shows.

Even the stores are plaid

Even the stores are plaid

The hipster/hippy/granola thing is actually a good thing. First of all, it’s fun, there are a million little details that will make you chuckle as you walk around, from quirky, to cute, to funny, to just what the hell was that. Second, the food scene is fantastic! Insistence on fresh, organic, locally grown means farmers markets, gourmet grocery shops and fancy restaurants. We actually visited 3 or 4 grocery shops. I swear, they are like temples to the God of good food. Another illustration is the food truck thing. Now, many cities have those trucks, even Paris got in on that recently, but Portland is the hub. They actually have little pods, tiny villages of those trucks, with tables and all. I had an awesome wood fire pizza at one of them. It haunts me.

The food trucks pod

The food trucks pod

Last, but not least, Portland, or PDX as the local call it everywhere, has the highest number of microbreweries of any city in the US. We sampled a few, Burnside (excellent), Deschutes (decent). Rogue (very good) and Cascade (original, because the brew almost exclusively sour beers). We went for the beer flights at all of these and there was much rejoicing.

Beer flight at the Burnside Brewery

Beer flight at the Burnside Brewery

That’s it for the city, next time, we dive into the Willamette Valley wine country.