Stimulating New Releases from Willamette Valley’s Bells Up Winery

Tasting Notes

2021 Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir:  The sparkling light-to-medium ruby hue shows off brilliant clarity, and the wine kicks off with an alluring spiced cherry nose. Juicy, bright and well balanced on the palate as Sweetheart cherries, red raspberries and savory berry compote notes are joined by brisk acidity. Hints of mandarin orange linger on the energetic finish.

2021 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc:  This floral scented gem gets your motor running at first whiff. The entry leads off with creamy pears and citrus blossom, and the wine broadens as it hits mid-palate with juicy McIntosh apples, gentle spice, and blanched almonds melding in harmony. Lovely textural qualities and fine balance carry the wine to a spirited finale.

2020 Jupiter Pinot Noir:  The fragrance of a bowlful of red and black fruits, and hints of earthiness provide a perfect segue to the elegant wine that follows. Smooth and mouthfilling as flavors of fresh picked Lapin cherries, black raspberry coulis, anise seed, mushrooms, and well managed oak notes create a finely tuned melody on the palate. Silky tannins and bracing acidity keep the wine in ideal balance. And the finish, well it just keeps on delivering, long after the last sip!

Bells Up Winery is located in Newberg, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Tastings can be booked by calling the winery at 503 537 1328. Winemaker/owner Dave Specter, and his wife Sara Specter, marketing expert/co-owner, look forward to welcoming you. Visit their site at www.bellsupwinery.com for further information.

Russian River Valley’s Bricoleur Vineyards

Tasting Notes

Russian River Valley’s Bricoleur Vineyards has been a Sonoma County favorite of mine for years, and I am not alone, many consumers and professionals agree. Those of you who frequent this stunning property know the wines crafted by Bricoleur showcase purity, precision and varietal typicity. And their food and wine pairings are not to be missed!

The unique events at Bricoleur Vineyards are also very impressive. Take for example the Chef Paulée Dinner held here in September. Thanks go out to Bricoleur’s chef Evan, renowned James Beard Award winning chefs Charlie Palmer and Nate Appleman, and additional local chefs for this fabulous dining experience. To kick off the beautiful evening, guests were warmly welcomed by Bricoleur owners Mark and Elizabeth Hanson, daughter Sarah, and their competent staff with a glass of Bricoleur’s sparkling wine. It’s a perfect sipper for any time of the day or night. Fresh, bright and yeasty with engaging notes of citrus blossom, honeysuckle, McIntosh apple, Bartlett pear and a thread of minerality dazzling the palate. Guests meandered through the picturesque landscape while tasting delicious pre-dinner bites and sips from several nearby Russian River Valley vintners. Other delightful sips at the reception included:

Medlock Ames 2018 Chardonnay ($48):  This rich and stylish Chardonnay opens with aromas of baked apples and subtle oak. Filling the palate are layers of citrus blossom, warm apple cobbler, a snip of lemon verbena, creamy pears, and well-integrated oak. Crisp acidity balances the deep fruit, and the wine sails to a magnificent finish.

Merriam Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay ($45):  Stone fruit and hints of earth on the nose remain consistent on the palate, joining minerality, pear chutney, and lively citrus accents. The texture is silky smooth, and the bursting flavors traversing the palate linger nicely through the long-lasting close.

Landmark 2017 Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay ($55):  This multilayered Chardonnay boasts an expressive aroma. Colorful layers of Honeycrisp apples, hints of butterscotch, lemon bars, and a gentle suggestion of fresh cut herbs coat the palate. Bright acidity keeps it finely balanced and energetic as the wine traverses to a memorable finale.

Gamba Vineyards and Winery 2019 Family Ranches Zinfandel ($40):  This deep dark and delicious wine screams Zinfandel with its concentrated black fruit aroma. The rich texture and flavors intensify on the palate as wild raspberries, savory spice, boysenberry jam, and black plums interlace with vanilla bean and hints of cocoa, and the lip-smacking finish is lively.

DRNK Wines 2019 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50):  A bowlful of cherries and berries and hints of earth on the nose are engaging and the entry is silky smooth. Succulent cherries join underlying spice, black raspberries, anise, and forest floor notes swirling across the palate. Well balanced and juicy with plenty of depth and length.

Additional impressive wines offered by Bricoleur include:

2020 Kick Ranch Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($32):  Highly aromatic, this Sauv Blanc kicks off with a tantalizing aroma of citrus blossom and fresh cut limes. The vivacious palate unveils green apples, grapefruit, gooseberries and lemon verbena interlacing with a thread of minerality and lively acidity. This wine is well defined and sophisticated with a lovely mouthfeel and zesty finish.

2020 Flying By the Seat of Our Pants Sauvignon Blanc ($32):  The bright citrusy, lemongrass aroma speaks clearly of the variety, there is no question what is in this glass! Nectarines, passion fruit, lemon meringue pie and a hint of salinity entwine with subtle fresh chopped herbs. Perfect balancing acidity keeps the wine refreshing from first sip to the last, lingering drop.

2020 Unoaked Chardonnay ($32):  A heavenly aroma of fragrant freesia flowers leads to a tangy entry of sweet Meyer lemon and tree fruits. Broadening on the palate are layers of Granny Smith apples, minerally notes, citrus peel, understated gingered pineapple, and lemon tarragon. This gem is streamlined with brisk acidity carrying the wine to a vibrant long-lasting close.

2018 Special Selection Kick Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($110):  This complex Cabernet Sauvignon is tightly wound and multi-layered. Decanting will give it time to further open up if popping the cork now; with aeration it soars! The classic Cab Sauv characteristics of sweet tobacco, black currants, fresh earth, dark plums, savory elements, and spicy barrel nuances (aged 28 months in 50% new/50% neutral oak) are captivating. Intense fruit, deep structure and firm tannins suggest a long life ahead, your patience will be rewarded.

Check out their website at www.bricoleurvineyards.com, where you can book tastings, food pairings, winemaker dinners and other special events online. They are open Thursday through Monday from 11 am to 5 pm. The picturesque property offers both indoor and outdoor tasting venues. Having tasted their complete lineup, I feel confident you’ll find a wine suited to every palate at Bricoleur Vineyards.

The Rogue Valley AVA’s Biodynamic and Organic Certified UPPER FIVE VINEYARD

Great Northwest, Tasting Notes

Upper Five Vineyard, located in the Rogue Valley AVA in southern Oregon, is perched at an elevation of 1,920 feet. The vineyard is both Demeter Biodynamic Certified (since 2018) and Organic Certified (since 2005), and their wines are pure and impressive.

In was in 1999 that Owner, Grapegrower and Vineyard Manager Terry Sullivan and co-owner, grapegrower Molly Morison purchased the upper five acres of the historic Bagley pear orchard in southern Oregon. In 2003 Terry and Molly planted grapevines in the Rogue Valley AVA. Each came from a scientific background. Terry secured his MS in Ocean Engineering, and Molly earned her MS in Botany/Plant Biology. Terry spent years in the business and remains a consultant in the oceanography industry today, and Molly has worked as a botanist for several years. They became serious about the wine world in the 90’s which led them to acquiring the property. Their passion for organic farming and biodynamics is almost palpable, and their diligence is clearly evident.

Upper Five’s panoramic 3.5-acre vineyard is planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache. Sullivan and Morison have been organic minded from the onset of establishing Upper Five Vineyard. Theirs was the first vineyard to be certified organic in southern Oregon. Their motto, “The best fertilizer is a farmer’s footsteps, and wine is made in the vineyard,” portrays Upper Five Vineyard’s biodynamic farming and natural winemaking way of life.

 At Upper Five Vineyard, fully engaging in biodynamic practices while employing a minimal manipulation, natural winemaking philosophy is paramount. They strive to achieve honest expression of their fruit and unique site in their wine and fully embrace each vintage. Some of my favorite Upper Five Vineyard wines include:

2019 Grenache:   Rose petals and forest berries on the nose are inviting. It speaks true to variety on all fronts. Layers of raspberries, hints of savory herbs, wild berries, and red plums backed by lively acidity exhilarate the palate.  The texture is silky, and it finishes with brightness and elegance. SRP:   $26.50

2020 Sauvignon Blanc:  An expressive nose leads to a mouthful of passion fruit sorbet, lemon curd, jasmine green tea, and hints of fresh cut herbs. Beautiful textural qualities and crisp acids transport the wine to a vivid, fresh lime-scented finish. SRP:  $20

2017 Tempranillo:  The brilliant ruby hue and warm berry pie aroma sets the stage for olallieberries, Black Beauty plums, a minerally edge, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and savoriness filling the mouth. Elegant and pure with refined tannins and a lingering finish. SRP: $28

2017 Syrah:  The engaging floral nose with hints of spice awakens the senses. Deep, dark, delicious layers of blackberries, blueberry compote, roasted meat, subtle oak (from neutral barrel aging), and fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns flow seamlessly across the palate. Pure and brilliantly balanced with a finish that never gives up. SRP:  $28

Walking the property is a delight. You’ll feel immersed in eco-friendly living while surrounded by the vineyard, pear and apple trees, diverse gardens, birds overhead, praying mantis and other insects, their sweet pup Bud, and other animals gracing the property. It’s a breath of fresh air, and their practices offer significant benefits not only to our environment today, but that of future generations.

Visits (by appointment only) are held in their charming outdoor setting at the vineyard (located at 1125 Morey Road, Talent OR 97540). To schedule, visit their website, www.upperfivevineyard.com, click on contact and visit, complete and submit their simple form, and they will be in touch.

Willamette Valley’s Et Fille Wines in the Limelight

Tasting Notes

The Et Fille (French for “and daughter”) Wines story is a heartwarming one, about the Willamette Valley father and daughter winemaking team Howard Mozeico and Jessica Mozeico.  Howard’s winemaking began as a hobby in his garage in 1984.  Jessica enjoyed helping her dad with his hobby, which led them to developing a joint passion for the world of wine.  In 2003 they launched their winery, Et Fille Wines, and their first vintage from that same year was released.  The family sources grapes from L.I.V.E. Certified sustainable vineyards in multiple Willamette Valley sub-appellations including Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill Carlton, Dundee Hills, and Chehalem Mountains. 

The father-daughter co-winemaking pair worked side by side running the winery, and Jessica gained tremendous knowledge and valuable skills from her father until Howard’s passing in 2017.  Today, Jessica carries on her dad’s legacy with honor. She continues to build the business for her young daughter, who Jessica hopes one day will hold the torch in her hands, to keep alive the dream, passion and hard work of her mother and grandfather. 

The wines are expressive and well crafted:

Et Fille 2019 Deaux Vert Vineyard Viognier ($28), Willamette Valley, OR:  At first whiff, the fresh stone fruit and tropical aroma drives you into the glass.  This 100% stainless steel fermented wine is silky smooth in texture and perfectly balanced with a nice structure, and it oozes purity of the variety.  Fresh cut summer peaches and nectarines, star fruit, hints of Meyer lemon, and a suggestion of crushed herbs join tingling acidity that transports the wine to a vivacious and persistent finish. 

Et Fille 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($28), Willamette Valley, OR:  The luminous pinkish-salmon hue catches the eye, and the aroma of a fresh-picked summer bouquet engages the senses.  Vivid fruit-focused flavors of Rainer cherries, tangerines, a touch of lemon verbena, and tiny wild strawberries meld in harmony as the wine floats across the palate with ease. Delicate and well-balanced with crisp acidity, it is refreshing and vitalizing all the way through.

Et Fille 2018 Pinot Noir ($28), Willamette Valley, OR:  This zesty and elegant Pinot Noir greets the nose with a cherry blossom aroma.  The texture is satin-like, and brisk acidity enlivens the palate as notes of fresh red raspberries, cherry cola, subtle herbs, berry tisane, and savory spice interlace, while hints of understated French oak add further dimension. Fresh and brightly flavored as it heads gracefully to an upbeat finale.

Et Fille 2018 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir ($54), Yamhill Carlton, Willamette Valley, OR:  Crafted of Pommard and Wädenswil clones, this deeply hued Pinot Noir is irresistible.  The black fruit and fresh-turned earth aromas captivate the senses.  Full bodied and lush on the palate, where layers of juicy plums, black raspberries, exotic spice, wild mushrooms, Bing cherries and underlying toasty French oak (from 11-month aging in new and one year French barrels) unfold and lead to a memorable finish.

The winery, located at 718 E. First Street in Newberg Oregon is open by appointment Friday thru Sunday 12 noon to 6 pm. A tasting of five wines at $20 per person is waived for club members, or with a minimum purchase for other visitors. You can book online at www.etfillewines.com or call the winery at 503 538 2900 to schedule your visit.

Shimmering Gems from Willamette Valley’s Bells Up Winery

Tasting Notes

It was back in 2019 (prior to the onset of the Covid shelter-in place edict) that I first met with Sara and Dave Specter at their Willamette Valley property in Newberg, Oregon.  My visit was most enjoyable, and at the end of my visit I planned to get back to their charming property to taste newly released wines in 2020.  Although the pandemic got in the way of traveling, Sara and Dave shipped samples of their latest releases for me to taste. And I am glad they did; the wines are very well crafted. Here’s a preview:

Bells Up Winery 2020 Estate Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR  ($24):  This bright, electric-pink hued Rosé broadcasts a mouthwatering aroma.  Cherries and red berries on the nose lead to a refreshing mouthful of crisp watermelon, Sweetheart cherries, fresh squeezed Valencia orange juice, strawberry roll-ups, and fresh red raspberries. The juicy fruit wraps around a lively core of acidity, keeping the wine balanced from start to sunny finish.  

Bells Up Winery 2018 Estate Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR ($40):   A brilliant shade of ruby sets the stage for the alluring aroma of forest floor and fresh berries, putting you squarely in Pinot Noir land.  It is bright and elegant on the palate with layers of raspberry sauce, black cherries, allspice, a hint of flat-leaf parsley, strawberry rhubarb pie, and cherry cola.  Elegant and well balanced, it floats seamlessly across the palate, and the spice-accented finish lingers forever.

Bells Up Winery 2019 Firebird Syrah, Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, WA ($48):   An enticing black fruit and spice aroma wafts from the glass as this velvety smooth Syrah approaches the nose.  Well-structured with deep layers of blackberry, earthiness, cassis, grilled meat, plum, and savory elements entwining.  It displays complexity, good balancing acidity, and a backbone of chalky tannins, and melted chocolate notes add dimension to the long-lasting finish, leaving you wanting more.

Dave and Sara look forward to welcoming new and repeat customers to their scenic property, where you will be provided a delightful, tasty experience.  Springtime is a lovely time to visit! To schedule your appointment, simply give them a call at 503 537 1328.  The tasting fee is $30 per person (waived with a $75 wine purchase for each individual). For further information about Bells Up Winery, check out their website at www.bellsupwinery.com

Russian River Valley’s Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Tasting Notes

Russian River Valley has been one of my favorite regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ever since I developed a passion for wine. Recently I had the opportunity to taste several Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery’s vintage 2017 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines (they also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel), and I am impressed. Talented Theresa Heredia has been the winemaker here for almost a decade, and the vineyard designate, small lot wines she crafts are outstanding. The wines show purity, varietal correctness, beautiful balance, depth, and fine expression of Russian River Valley terroir.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay ($60):  Tropical fruit and hints of oak on the nose segue to a luscious mouthcoating elixir gratifying the palate.  Layers of fresh cut pineapple, spice-tinged peach and nectarine compote, butterscotch, lemon curd, and toasty barrel nuances interlace with bright balancing acidity.  This nicely weighted wine remains vivacious through the finish, which seems to go on forever.

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay ($45):   The honeysuckle, citrus-kissed nectarine fragrance is mouthwatering, you can hardly wait for the wine to meet your lips.  The stone fruit theme continues as fresh summer peaches and honey-drizzled apricots entwine with lemongrass, Bartlett pears, subtle spice, and finely managed oak. Refreshing acidity keeps it brilliantly balanced through the tantalizing finish.

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay ($65):  Wow, the expressive stone fruit aroma is irresistible. It drives you into the glass, where you will find a complex, polished wine.  Fresh summer peaches, nectarines, crisp Gala apples, roasted almonds, and a thread of minerality sashay deliciously across the palate, while well-managed oak sits ideally in the background.  The compelling finale peaks with a vitalizing note of lemon zest. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70):  The dusty earth and wild berry aroma of this sophisticated Pinot Noir is seductive.  On the smoothly textured palate, flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, earthiness, raspberry hard candy, black licorice, underlying oak, and fresh crushed herbs are supported by lively acidity and refined tannins.  Complex and beautifully structured, and the finish of this gem is heavenly.

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65):  This full bodied, richly flavored Pinot Noir opens with an earthy, dark cherry aroma that clearly shouts out Pinot Noir. The entry is lush and vivid with notes of Bing cherries, black raspberries, shades of earth, spice box notes, licorice drops, and huckleberries, framed by silky tannins and a fine structure.  It’s immaculately balanced and vivacious through the long finish.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55):  Exotic spices wafting from the glass draw you right in, and this provocative wine keeps the senses engaged from start to close.  Damp forest floor, wild mushrooms, olallieberries, a dash of nutmeg, black raspberry jam, and piquant olive tapenade flavors wrap around a beautiful spine of acidity that keeps the wine ideally balanced.  Sophisticated with refined tannins, and the finish is persistent. 

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65):  A fresh floral aroma leaps from the glass with this compelling Pinot Noir. The entry shines with red fruit and forest floor notes, and flavors broaden on the palate as raspberries, spicy accents, fresh truffles, strawberry rhubarb pie, and anise entwine.  Elegant, silky in texture, and well balanced with refined tannins, and the savory finish keeps on delivering long after the last sip.

The winery, located at 10701 Westside Road in Healdsburg, is open for tastings by appointment. Schedule time for a visit and tasting at Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery via their website, www.garyfarrellwinery.com or call the winery at 707 473 2909.

2021 McMinnville Wine Classic Competition

Oregon, Tasting Notes

The 2021 McMinnville Wine Classic was executed beautifully. Kudos to Wine Competition Manager Rolland Toevs, Carl Giavanti (PR & Media Relations Consultant) and their competent and efficient backroom staff. It flowed very smoothly with Covid-19 protocols in place, and the judges found it to be a delicious and enjoyable experience. Wines from wineries throughout the state of Oregon were entered this year.

Wines I found extraordinary on my judging panel (earning Gold or Double Gold medals) included:

40:31 Wines 2017 Blanc de Noir ($40), Willamette Valley: This engaging sparkling wine (crafted in the traditional method) delivers an aroma of stone fruit and fresh baked bread. Tantalizing the palate are layers of nectarines, lemon sorbet, peaches and cream, Honeycrisp apples, and brioche. It is brilliantly balance and full of personality, with an active tiny bead escorting the wine to a vibrant finish. (GG)

Lady Hill Winery 2019 Chardonnay ($28), Columbia Gorge: Highly aromatic, you will want to linger over a glass of this captivating wine a while before sipping; the aroma will have you salivating. Juicy Red Delicious apples, a touch of ginger, crisp Bartlett pears, honeysuckle, citrusy elements, and a pinch of herbs flood the palate. Nicely textured and balanced from the first swallow through the lively finish. (G)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Tempranillo ($29), Umpqua Valley: This irresistible Tempranillo broadcasts dark berries and mocha notes on the nose. Shades of black cherry, semi-sweet chocolate, plum preserves, hints of fresh turned earth, roasted marshmallow, and spice box elements coat the palate. It is velvety in texture with refined tannins, and the lengthy finish is memorable. (GG)

Parrett Mountain Cellars 2018 Barbera ($44), Willamette Valley: Violets on the nose draw you right into this deep, dense, delectable Barbera. Black Splendor plums, melted chocolate, ripe boysenberries, baking spices, and toasty notes fill every nook and cranny in the mouth. It is rich and jammy while maintaining fine balance, with hints of vanilla on the persistent finish. (GG)

Utopia Vineyards 2017 Estate Pinot Noir ($48), Ribbon Ridge: This highly expressive Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley’s tiniest AVA is oh so elegant. Aromas of fragrant flowers, and flavors of Sweetheart cherries, forest floor, fresh raspberries, pomegranate seeds, underlying barrel spice, and a touch of anise meld seamlessly. Stylish and complex, and the wine shows off great length, too. (G)

Youngberg Hill 2017 Cuvee Pinot Noir ($35), Willamette Valley: This finely structured Pinot Noir opens with juicy red fruits on the nose. Broadening on the palate are layers of Montmorency cherries, cranberry sauce, cherry-cola, a touch of cinnamon stick, hints of earth, and oak nuances sitting nicely in the background. It is pure and captivating through the lively final sip. (G)

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2018 Bench Lands Pinot Noir ($24), Umpqua Valley: Aromas of spice and cherries rise from the glass with this polished Pinot Noir. Santa Rosa plums, black cherries, and tayberries intermingle with exotic spice, sandalwood, and earthiness, creating a brilliant medley of flavors on the palate. Elegant and deeply flavored with a finish that is long and mouthwatering. (GG)

Résolu Cellars 2017 Cabernet Franc ($38), Columbia Valley: From this boutique winery in Beaverton, Oregon comes a dynamite Cab Franc. Perfumed aromas waft from the glass. Classic notes of roasted bell peppers, plum chutney, black licorice drops, cassis, fresh ground peppercorns and a drop of vanilla extract weave a colorful tapestry through the lingering finish. (G)

And finally, the Best of Show wine:

South Stage Cellars 2019 Romeo & Juliet ($30), Rogue Valley: This magical white blend is crafted of 51% Roussanne, 44% Marsanne and 5% Viognier. The gorgeous floral nose is heavenly. It’s scintillating as it traverses the palate, where star fruit, lemon-lime, juicy summer peaches, a trace of earthiness, and a thread of minerality intertwine. Simply stunning through the never-ending finale. (GG/BOS)

Click on the link below for further details and a full list of results from this year’s McMinnville Wine Classic. And CONGRATULATIONS to all the award-winning grapegrowers, winemakers and vintners!

 McMinnville Wine Classic Competition

Engaging Sips from Idaho

Tasting Notes

Exploring wine regions in Idaho continues to be enlightening. There are noteworthy wines produced in all three AVA’s in Idaho–Snake River Valley, Eagle Foothills, and Lewis-Clark Valley. Passionate grapegrowers, winemakers, and vintners have made great strides over the past ten years in farming, vineyard management and winemaking practices, and the quality of wines produced there today deserves recognition on the global stage.

To whet your appetite, here are a few I highly recommend:

Ste. Chapelle Winery Gewurztraminer ($20), Snake River Valley: The engaging fragrance of a delicate floral bouquet is heavenly. Decorating the palate are classic layers of lychee, juicy guava, hints of spice, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Precisely balanced with a vivid personality that stays bright and focused as it heads to a lingering close.

Ste. Chapelle Winery 2019 Open Air Muscat Blanc ($20), Snake River Valley: This exhilarating Muscat Blanc from Skyline Vineyard shines brightly with its white fruit and floral aroma. A sunny burst of lemon-splashed white peaches interlaces with honeysuckle, mandarin orange, and delicate herbs stimulating the taste buds. Graceful and mouthfilling, and the brisk level of balancing acidity persists through the zesty finish.

Huston Vineyards 2019 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($29), Snake River Valley: Here’s a melding of new-world and old-world style Chardonnay with its forward fruit harmonizing with underlying earthy elements. Aromas and flavors of crunchy apples, Bosc pears, tropical fruit, vanilla bean, earthiness and minerality entwine. Spicy oak elements from 30% new French and American oak aging add depth and dimension.

Huston Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah ($45), Snake River Valley: Intense and firmly structured, these two powerhouse varieties interlace exquisitely on the palate with precise balance and gracefulness. Firm tannins frame Bing cherries, black currants, spiced plum preserves, leather and shades of oak flowing seamlessly across the palate. It is approachable now, while promising years of life ahead.

Fujishin Family Cellars 2018 Tempranillo ($25.95), Snake River Valley: This bold and well-defined Tempranillo offers up deep, dark fruit and a touch of earth on the nose. Flavors of boysenberries, black plums, earthiness, licorice and a dusting of herbs interlace in harmony. It is complex and full bodied, while also displaying elegance and freshness. There is an ethereal quality through the long-lasting finish.

Fujishin Family Cellars 2017 Petit Verdot ($25.95), Snake River Valley: The gorgeous, perfumed aroma of violets and forest berries sends you into the glass. On the palate it is rich and complex with dark plums, wild blackberries, black currants, crushed herbs, and fresh turned earth, supported by a firm backbone of tannins. The finish is intense, smooth and persistent. It is among the best single variety Petit Verdot bottlings I have tasted.

Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Dry Moscato ($20), Snake River Valley: Here is a striking, floral-fragranced wine crafted of fruit from Hat Ranch Winery’s estate Muscat Ottonel vineyard. Brimming with juicy pineapple, dried mango, mandarin orange fruit, and a touch of savoriness, it boasts an expansive mouthfeel, impressive depth, and immaculate balance. This stylish bone-dry white wine delivers a hint of sage flowers extending through the long finish.

Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Private Reserve Wild Poppy Malbec ($34), Snake River Valley: This enlivening Malbec opens with an aroma of fresh summer black and red berries. Dense and concentrated in the mouth, it unveils blackberries, marionberries, huckleberries, and earthiness linking with accents of subtle oak and a sprinkling of spice. This deeply flavored and well-balanced wine delivers a finish that extends beyond the final sip.

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2016 Single Vineyard Syrah ($40); Eagle Foothills: This treasure unleashes an alluring dark fruit aroma; a theme that carries all the way through the dramatic finish. Layers of blackberries, black cherries, savory herbs, cassis, saddle leather, purple plums, and spice-encrusted roast beef coat the palate. It is elegant and well balanced with velvety tannins, and the finale is long and memorable.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Coco’s Reserve Selway ($45): The winery and estate vineyard are within Idaho’s Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. Fruit is also sourced from nearby Washington, as is the case with this delectable blend (45% Carmenere, 28% Petite Sirah,16% Malbec, 6% Cab Sauv, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Merlot). Complex and multilayered with ripe blackberries, black currants, and juicy plum fruit accented by savory spice and sweet oak nuances. Impressively balanced with well-integrated tannins, and the lingering finish seems endless.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Umiker Vineyard Merlot ($28), Lewis-Clark Valley: This extraordinary estate Merlot showcases an expressive nose of forest berries and spice. Well defined and pure with blueberries, Satsuma plums, boysenberry jam, vanilla bean, red currants, pipe tobacco, and well-integrated oak flowing across the palate. Smooth, lush and well-structured, it maintains pristine balance through the engaging, persistent finish.

Now is the time to venture out to the gem state of Idaho, and uncover your favorite liquid gems.

BARRA of Mendocino in the Spotlight

Mendocino, Tasting Notes

The Barra Family has deep roots in Mendocino County, and they continue to be a respected and valued contributor to the wine world there today.  From the first time I was introduced to Martha and (the late) Charlie Barra and tasted their wines a decade ago, I knew they were onto something special, and I have been impressed ever since.  

Charlie has often been noted as the godfather of Mendocino grape growing. He was born to Italian immigrants in 1926 in Capella (Mendocino County), California.   From the time he was a young boy, he worked side by side with his grandfather and father, gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience in the deep red soils of the Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley (which later, in 1997, became a designated appellation).    

Charlie passed away a year and a half ago at age 92, months after he completed his 73rd harvest.   Today, his wife Martha, her daughter Shelley, and son Shawn carry on Charlie’s legacy at their Redwood Valley winery, which has been family owned and farmed since 1955.  Their Barra of Mendocino brand was founded in 1997, and the Girasole Vineyards label followed in 2003.  Total production annually is 25,000 cases.  All their wines are crafted from estate fruit, and their vineyards are organic certified. 

Another one of my memorable experiences with Charlie and Martha happened back in 2012, when I participated in the SOMM Journal’s Terroir Experience.  It was an enlightening trip for our group of sommeliers, who gathered to explore the Mendocino County wine country.  I was completely enthralled with their 2006 Sangiovese; elegant, precise, impeccably balanced, and true to variety.  It was among the top new world Sangiovese wines I had ever tasted.  Here is what I wrote about that wine:  Barra of Mendocino 2006 Sangiovese is a beautiful wine crafted from the estate grown, organic-certified vineyards of Charlie and Martha Barra.  The expressive floral and earthy aromas clearly identify the variety.  On the palate, focused cherry and raspberry fruit marries nicely with earthiness, nutmeg and clove spices.  Well-structured and balanced with perfect offsetting acidity, and a long finish. 

I just tasted a few more recent releases of Barra of Mendocino wines, and highly recommend them:

Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Blanc:  This delicious rendition of Pinot Blanc opens with delicate white flowers on the nose.  Blossoming on the palate are layers of honeysuckle, fresh cut Honeydew melon, crisp Pink Lady apples, waves of minerality, and hints of pineapple.   It is smoothly textured with beautiful balancing acidity, and a nice tinge of spice adds depth to the lingering final sip.   SRP:  $14

Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Noir:  Forest floor and cherry aromas shout out Pinot Noir, and this example is silky and ethereal.  Red Sweetheart cherries, exotic spice, pomegranate seeds, wild mushrooms, orange zest, gentle oak notes, and savory berry compote flow vibrantly across the palate.  Purity abounds, the wine is nicely balanced and elegant with a divine finish, and what an incredible value, too.   SRP:  $16

Barra of Mendocino 2017 Petite Sirah:  Wow, intensely built with berries and fresh ground black pepper on the nose.   Huckleberries, juicy blackberries, hints of earthiness, vanilla bean, strawberry rhubarb notes, and chocolate covered cherries swirl deliciously on the palate.  Rich and mouthfilling, with a velvety texture.   Approachable now if you can’t wait to pop the cork, however the chalky tannins, deep fruit, and precise balance promise years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $22

I look forward to visiting and tasting their additional wine offerings, including current releases of Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Muscat Canelli, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and CORO of Mendocino red blend (composed of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon). 

The winery is located at 7051 N. State Street, Redwood Valley, California.  You, too, can schedule a reservation for a minimal contact, outdoor tasting experience at their picturesque property, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322.  The tasting cost of $10 per person is refunded with a wine purchase, and I feel confident you will find wines to please any palate during your visit.   For additional info, visit their website, www.barraofmendocino.com

Spit Take: Breaking the Tie

Tasting Notes

“Gold, Gold, Silver, Silver—let’s discuss!”  This is a typical around-the-table call out on a panel of four professional judges at a wine competition. The tie must be broken. What happens next can change the fortunes of an unheralded winemaker, or end a hot streak for a top-end winery. Wines awarded Gold or Double Gold (unanimous Gold from all judges on that panel), not only gain kudos and shiny medals to display, but can provide vintners a direct route to increased exposure, publicity, and sales.

A good judge will have given each wine thoughtful consideration—each wine on its own merits, regardless of the judge’s personal variety or style preference.   A good judge, who may taste 50-125 wines that day, will have been spitting—the first step to maintaining a clear head and palate—and being invited back to judge. And a good judge will be ready to explain and debate their case when ties occur. Communication is key. The most important element of the tie breaker is about to begin: it’s time to lobby. Each judge presents a case for his or her rating.  The judges who called out Gold hope to talk up one, or both of the judges who ranked it Silver, to a Gold rating.  A consensus must be reached before the panel moves on to the next flight of wines.

I appreciate wine competition directors who, when assigning flights of wines, take into consideration judges’ expertise with certain varieties.  It allows judges with particular expertise to share knowledge about lesser known varieties during the discussion portion of the judging.  This gives those who may not have much (if any) experience judging that variety a better idea of what to expect.  Take for example, Gruner Veltliner, a wine I understand very well. In a recent competition, I provided in-depth information to judges who lacked experience with that variety and who under-rated the wine on its true varietal merits. After further discussion and retasting the wine, a Silver medal was elevated to Gold.  

Breaking the tie is one of the most exciting parts of any competition. It presents a fun opportunity to share perspectives and knowledge, and become a better judge and co-panelist by understanding what other judges experience in the wines. As I often say, every palate is unique. The discussion that follows—during which passions can show—is part of what has energized my interest in wine, and judging over the past 19 years across vastly different competitions. There is always more to learn…and plenty of wine and conversation to fuel a passionate judge on the way to deciding which wines deserve “Gold!”

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