Gems in My Glass . . . March 2020

Tasting Notes

Gems in My Glass . . . March 2020

First, my heart goes out to all who have been battling the coronavirus. What we are experiencing with this pandemic is far from life as normal. My hopes and prayers are for those affected to return to good health, and that everyone continues taking precautions to assist in remaining healthy and preventing further spread of this disease.

Secondly, wishing everyone tasty sips to get through our current shelter in period. If need be, ordering online is a good way to ensure you don’t run out!  Many wineries are generously offering specials to have wines shipped to your doorstep.

Wines in this post include some noteworthy selections from Napa Valley, and impressive wines from Sonoma County.

Ehlers Estate 2018 Sauvignon Blanc; St. Helena, Napa Valley: Delightful white flowers and lemon verbena  on the nose welcome you into the glass.  On entry this Sauv Blanc  is crisp, glistening and citrus focused.  Creamy in texture as it expands on the palate with flavors of lemon gelato, a sprinkling of crushed herbs, fresh star fruit, and juicy Oro Blanco grapefruit. Refreshing and easy to quaff all the way through the gratifying finish. SRP: $32 www.ehlersestate.com

St. Helena Winery, 2015 Sympa Cabernet Sauvignon; St. Helena, Napa Valley: This extraordinary Cab Sauv broadcasts a glorious aroma of forest berries and spice. Multi-layered and full bodied, it fills the mouth with dark plums, fresh tobacco, black currant, olive tapenade and savory spiciness.  Aging 22 months in 70% new French oak contributes underlying toasty notes that are well integrated. The firm backbone of tannins, brilliant acids and deep core of fruit promise many years of enjoyment ahead. Finishes long, strong and memorably. SRP: $140 www.sthelenawinery.com

Flora Springs 2017 Trilogy; St. Helena, Napa Valley: This complex Bordeaux blend is composed of 80% Cab Sauv, 17% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec from vineyards in the Rutherford, Oakville, and St. Helena. Expressive aroma of cassis and new leather open to mouth coating flavors of black currant, plum chutney, Bing cherry, and toasty oak nuances from 22 months of aging in 92% French oak and 8% American oak barrels. Fine grained tannins and ideal balance support the dark fruit; ageworthy. SRP: $85 www.florasprings.com

Carol Shelton Wines 2014 Mancini Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel; Russian River Valley, Sonoma County:  Inviting and intensely aromatic with dark berries and spice wafting from the glass.  Richly fruited from start to finish, with a perfect level of acidity keeping it vibrant and well balanced.  Juicy, jammy flavors of boysenberries, huckleberry preserves, purple plums, and black cherries interlace with fresh ground black pepper and underlying oak.  Hints of vanilla bean add depth as the wine makes its way to a long-lasting finish.  SRP:  $38 www.carolshelton.com

Carol Shelton Wines 2016 Peaceland Vineyard Zinfandel; Fountain Grove District, Sonoma County:  This deep, dark, scrumptious wine engages the senses at first whiff, clearly broadcasting Zinfandel!  Bright and spirited as layers of sun-ripened wild blackberries, Chinese Five Spice, sweet black raspberries, a pinch of herbs, and chocolate covered blueberries meld with toasty oak nuances.  Beautiful purity of fruit and rounded tannins prevail through the mouthwatering finale.  SRP:  $35 www.carolshelton.com

Miro Cellars 2017 Hogan’s Run Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, Sonoma County:  Aromas of a delicate floral bouquet start the party with this savory Pinot Noir.  Rich and precisely balanced with black cherries, a tinge of anise, cranberry-raspberry juice, hints of earth, strawberries and baking spice.  Toasted oak nuances from 14-month aging in 35% new French oak adds dimension, while sitting perfectly in the background. Refined and vivacious with an elegant finish.   SRP:  $27  www.mirocellars.com

Miro Cellars 2017 Pine Mountain Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Sonoma County:  The tantalizing aroma is all about Cab Sauv, with cassis and earthy notes.  Coating the mouth are blackberries, cloves, black currants, fresh pipe tobacco, and subtle earthy notes.  Aging 18 months in 33% new French oak, 67% neutral oak barrels give the wine a well-integrated toasty element.   Powerful yet graceful with a velvety smooth texture, deep fruit, and firm yet approachable tannins.  SRP:  $38 www.mirocellars.com

In Tune with Bells Up Winery

Tasting Notes

In Tune with Bells Up Winery                                                                                               

“Bells up” refers to a memorable moment in classical music when French horn players raise the bells of their instruments up to the heavens for a bright, brassy, dramatic projection. Former French horn player and winemaker/owner David Specter, along with his wife, co-owner/marketing maven Sara Specter, found that a fitting metaphor for their aspirations when naming their bucolic winery perched in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, at the northern part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 

Dave was a corporate attorney in Cincinnati for more than a decade when he traded in the corporate world to join the wine industry full time. Bells Up Winery, along with their 9-acre estate vineyard—born from rich Jory soil that previously encompassed a Christmas tree farm and wild blackberries—was established in 2013. The energy and passion that Sara and Dave exude is palpable, while daughter Naomi and Cupcake (their 6-year-old Pomeranian winery mascot) provide enthusiastic support. The Specters currently produce about 500 cases a year.

Sitting at an elevation ranging from 420 to 630 feet, the dry farmed vineyard today produces Pinot Noir clones 667 and Pommard, initially planted in 2014, followed by the Willamette Valley’s first planting of French hybrid Seyval Blanc, planted in 2015, and Pinot Noir clones Wädenswil, 113 and 943, planted in 2016.

Why Seyval Blanc? As a home winemaker in Cincinnati, Dave made a Seyval Blanc that earned a Gold Medal, and the couple has been drawn to the variety ever since. Additionally, David and Sara liked the idea of planting a distinctive crisp, white variety that was not yet grown in the Willamette Valley. After researching where the grape thrives, they felt confident that their site would be a perfect contender. And the Seyval Blanc they have crafted convincingly indicates that it is.

Annual production now includes estate Seyval Blanc and Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc from Willamette Valley’s Plum Hill Vineyard, Pinot Noirs from their estate vineyard, as well as from one micro grower in the Chehalem Mountains and a second in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, and a Syrah from Summit View Vineyard in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA. On each of their labels: a French horn logo and the name of classical music pieces that prominently feature the instrument.

2019 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc, Plum Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley ($28): This vibrant Pinot Blanc was aged sur lie in stainless steel for six months, giving it a rich texture. The nose offers up sun-ripened stone fruit that leads to minerally notes and a tapestry of peach, summer melon and apricot flavors. Crackling acidity keeps it well balanced.

2019 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley ($28): Snappy and fresh, this wine captures the essence of this French hybrid. Planted in volcanic Jory soil and aged sur lie, the wine opens with leesy, tropical fruit notes. Bright and focused as crisp acidity and harmonious layers of star fruit, gooseberry, and candied lemon traverse the palate with ease.

2019 Prelude Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains ($22): Brimming with vibrancy, this dry Rosé was aged 6 months in neutral French oak, giving it a pretty softness on the palate, while brisk acids keep it nicely balanced. Strawberry, pomegranate, and red raspberry fruits entwine with a touch of spice, and a twist of orange pops on the refreshing finish.

2017 Titan Pinot Noir ($40): A blend of Pommard, 777 and 115 clones from the Chehalem Mountains and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs, this lively Pinot Noir was aged twelve months in 32% new French oak. Cherry, plum, floral notes and a dusting of herbs interlace with a hint of licorice and sandalwood spice. Decant if imbibing now, or hold for future enjoyment.

2017 Candide Pinot Noir ($54): From the Loess soils of Nemarniki Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA comes this spirited Pinot Noir. Exhibiting aromas of black raspberry jam, this zesty PN was aged 12 months in 44% new French oak. Broad and mouthfilling on the palate with sweet red cherry, raspberries, cola, underlying oak and exotic spices capping the finish.

2017 Villanelle Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley ($54): Sourced from the 4-acre Tonnelier Vineyard, enticing aromas of forest berries and rose petals rise from the glass. Silky in texture and palate pleasing as black cherry, wild berry, anise, savoriness, hints of earth, and crushed herbs entwine. Aging 12 months on 40% new French oak gives the wine a toasty note, and the long finale is elegant. 

2018 Firebird Syrah, Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley ($48): Beautifully expressive on the nose, here is a deep and delicious Syrah. From Ellisforde silt loam soils, it is well structured, with firm yet approachable tannins. Plum, Bing cherry and spice join accents of cured meats, and the flavors linger through the rich and pronounced finish.

Bells Up Winery is open year-round, and the Specters provide a warm and personalized welcome to visitors. Their charming tasting room is a renovated pole barn that served as a basketball court for the previous owners. Visits are scheduled by appointment. You can reach Sara and Dave via their website at bellsupwinery.com, email at info@bellsupwinery.com or phone at 503-537-1328.

Napa Valley’s Peju Province Winery in the Limelight

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Napa, Tasting Notes

Napa Valley’s Peju Province Winery in the Limelight

It’s been a few years since my last visit to Peju Province Winery, which was quite delightful.  I’ve been a fan of Peju wines for more than a decade.  The current releases I recently tasted confirm the family owned winery clearly remains on track, with talented VP of Winemaking and Operations Sara Fowler, their certified organic Rutherford Estate Vineyard, and sustainably farmed Persephone and Tess vineyards in Pope Valley, and the Wappo Vineyard in Calistoga.  

Peju 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley:  The tropical aroma knocks your socks off.  Pure and varietally spot on, the grapefruit, fresh spring herbs, pineapple, guava and lime zest flavors intertwine, exhilarating the palate.   It remains bright and snappy with bracing acidity and a focused edge of minerality throughout, and the zesty finish lingers on and on. SRP:  $25

Peju 2016 Merlot, Napa Valley:  Fragrant forest berries and subtle floral notes engage the nose.  Composed of 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petite Sirah, it shows elegant structure and fine balance.  Layers of blueberry, blackberry, savory notes, well-integrated oak and a hint of cherry vanilla cola unfold in the mouth.  Velvety smooth from first sip through the cinnamon-laced memorable finish. SRP:  $48

Peju 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley:  Deep, dark black fruits and savory spice at first whiff speak clearly of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cassis, bittersweet chocolate, fresh olallieberries, black plums, a touch of tobacco and star anise entwine with skillfully managed toasty oak.  Complex with a solid backbone of tannins and balancing acidity, and the velvety texture is divine.  Decant if opening now, or hold; this gem promises years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $60

Peju 2015 “The Farm” red wine, Napa Valley:  This spirited blend of  80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Sangiovese offers up vivid blackberry and cherry aromas and flavors.  Light on its feet and charismatic, it boasts black currant, Bing cherry, hints of dusty earth, savory notes, and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.  Easy to quaff with good depth and balance, and the finish is long, bright and fresh.  SRP:  $80

Peju 2013 Petit Trois Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley:  Wildly expressive, fresh picked cherries and crushed herbs on the nose drive you into the glass.  Vivacious and lively on the palate, where delectable layers of black raspberries, Satsuma plums, cranberries, pomegranate, graphite, and spice elements meld in harmony.  Precisely balanced and silky smooth all the way through. A delicious example of stand-alone Cabernet Franc.   SRP:  $75

Peju 2017 The Experiment Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley:  This tightly wound Cab Sauv is complex and deeply layered.  Aerate to release the aroma more fully if opening now, or exercise patience, this is an ageworthy wine.   Cassis, black plum, blackberry fruits at the core are accented by anise, fresh tobacco, a suggestion of leather, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and toasty nuances from aging in French, American and Hungarian new oak.  Intensely built with firm tannins and immaculate balance, and the finish is everlasting. Extraordinary, and one for the cellar!  SRP :  $110

These beautifully crafted wines give me compelling reason to visit Peju (along with sister winery Calmére Estate) and taste the additional wines offered, and you may want to include them on your “must visit” list as well.   

Cheers, and Happy New Year to all!   

Wine Press Northwest 20th Annual Platinum Judging, Part 2

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Tasting Notes

Red wines from regions across the Great Northwest judged by my panel in the 20th annual Platinum Judging included the following Platinum (P) and Double Platinum (PP) winners:

Bluebird Hill Cellars 2016 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR ($32):  Feminine and elegant is this well-balanced Pinot Noir, that awakens the senses with a eucalyptus and earth driven aroma.  Savory cranberry sauce, shitake mushrooms, wild red raspberries and exotic spices engage the taste buds through the lengthy finish. (PP)

Melrose Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, OR ($28):  A delicate, light ruby hue catches the eye, and this gem blooms in the mouth.  Strawberry preserves, pomegranate seeds, earthy tones, red cherry soda entwine gently, and a touch of caramel graces the finish. (PP)

Carlton Cellars 2015 Roads End Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, OR ($45):   Violet aromas segue to a bowlful of fresh strawberries on entry.  Nicely complex, it builds gracefully on the palate with black raspberry and cherry fruit, earthiness and licorice drops, and finishes with a note of sassafras. (P)

Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, OR ($50):  Forest floor and a whiff of dried flowers on the nose.  Red raspberries, chai tea, damp earth and wild mushrooms are framed by silky tannins and precise balancing acidity.  Finishes with verve. (P)

Cathedral Ridge Cellars 2016 Dampier Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve, Columbia Gorge, OR ($48):  The fragrant lavender aroma of this intense yet lithe wine is intoxicating.  Red berries with subtle herbs, cherry candy, spice box nuances and the essence of earth mingle deliciously. (P)

Cubanisimo Vineyards 2016 Rumba Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, OR ($25):  The black truffle aroma entices you into the glass.  Satin smooth with a rich mouthfeel, black tea, Bing cherries, and a hint of soy swirl on the palate.  Finishes with a touch of vanilla.  (P)

Left Coast Estate 2016 Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR ($24):  Berries and cherries on the nose are echoed on the palate with this fruit focused Pinot Noir.  Deep and fully flavored with juicy purple plums, sweet black cherries and a pinch of spice.  (PP)

Northwest Cellars 2014 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($24):  High-toned fruit shows forth on the aroma and entry.  Rich, layered and full bodied on the palate with plum, blueberry, spice box and licorice notes.  Well balanced with bright acidity and plenty of depth; a Cab lover’s Merlot. (P)

Finn Hill Winery 2015 Merveille Merlot, Columbia Valley, WA ($30): Highly aromatic, this fruit driven Merlot bursts with concentrated black fruits. A melding of forest berries, roasted green bell peppers, and mocha tantalize the palate, and the kiss of oak finishes it off in style. (P)

Milbrandt 2016 Merlot, Wahluke Slope, WA ($27):  Wow, the perfumed nose completely captivates!  Finely grained tannins support juicy blackberries and spiced blueberry preserves interlacing elegantly with accents of cocoa powder and tobacco.  Finishes with elegance.  (PP)

Market Vineyards 2012 Acquisition Cab Sauv, Red Mountain, WA ($55):  Deep, dark fruit and saddle leather on the nose engage the senses.  Intense and beautifully balanced with bright fruit, it unveils black currant, juicy plums, a hint of caramel, pipe tobacco, and underlying oak wrapped around refined tannins. 

Andrew Januik Wines 2016 Lady Hawk Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($50):  The beckoning scent of earth and fresh picked berries draws you in.  Cassis, blackberry, blueberry, and black raspberry fruits meld with savory elements, tobacco, and understated oak.   Finishes long with a twist of orange. (P)

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery 2015 King’s Ransom Cab Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, BC ($96):  Scents of fresh turned earth and ripe fruits will have you lingering over the glass.  Black raspberries, cassis, fresh tobacco leaf, black cherry and cocoa powder weave a fine tapestry of flavors. Complex with finely structured tannins and extended length; cellar worthy.  (P)

Woodward Canyon Winery Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State ($99): The intense, all-about-Cab nose is simply irresistible.  Cassis, fresh tobacco, spice tinged black plum chutney, hints of cedar, anise, black cherry, olive tapenade and well managed oak wow the palate.  Immaculately balanced, and the tannins are firm and taut through the lifted finish; ageworthy.  (PP)

Maryhill Winery 2016 Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, WA ($46):  The heady aromatic fills the senses with dark fruit and spice.  Delivers consistent qualities on the palate, as boysenberries, huckleberries and black currants, herbs de Provence and oak spices fill the mouth. Well-structured and balanced, with a persistent finish. (P)                                                                                            

Coyote Canyon Winery 2016 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Big John Cab Sauv, Horse Heaven Hills, WA  ($42): Tightly wound and full bodied, decant this gem for fuller enjoyment now, or hold for future rewards.  Cassis, touches of earth and graphite, wild forest berries and chopped herbs align with full on tannins and good acid structure, and the oak adds toasty spice. (P)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Louis Delsol Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis Clark Valley, ID ($32):  Purity of fruit that shines at first whiff, and continues to impress through the palate.  Black currant, dark-skinned plums, savory olive paste, dusty earthiness and crushed tobacco leaves blend harmoniously, and the bright finish sings.  (P)

Antolin Cellars 2015 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley WA ($30):  The fruit dominant aroma presents concentrated sweet berry cobbler.   Deeply fruited in the mouth as well, with cassis liqueur and spicy  boysenberry jam filling the palate concluding with a showy finish.  (P)

Westport Winery Garden Resort 2016 “Swimmer” Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, WA ($31):  This broad shouldered Petite Sirah captures a rich red and black fruit aroma, which is echoed on the palate. Multilayers of red raspberries, savory notes, blackberry reduction sauce, and juicy blood orange combine in harmony.  (P)

Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, WA ($60):  Wildly aromatic with tantalizing mint and spice notes.  Beautifully integrated tannins, fine balance support the dense berry and plum goodness at the core, and the oak sits neatly in the background.  Bold and strong while preserving elegance and purity. (P)

Valcan Cellars 2015 Syrah, Willamette Valley, OR ($30):  Earthy notes and wild berries lead to a brilliant palate that brims with Bing cherries, red and purple huckleberries, and freshly crushed herbs.  Roasted meat notes add complexity on the lingering finale. (P)

Vanessa Vineyard 2015 Syrah, Similkameen Valley BC ($45):  Charcuterie meats on the nose join brambleberries, black plums, cinnamon spice and roasted coffee beans unraveling onto the palate.  Savory qualities continue to deliver through the satisfying finish.   (P)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2016 Estate Cuvée Syrah, Umpqua Valley, OR ($32):  Pure and deeply flavored, this Syrah opens with an inviting aroma.  Blackberries, grilled meat, well-integrated oak, a trace of smoke, and black pepper entwine, extending beyond the lifted finish. (P)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah; Umpqua Valley, OR ($42):  Full bodied and complex, this Syrah is tightly wound.  With aeration, layers of dark berries, black cherry, roasted meat with savory herbs begin to unwind.  Smooth as silk with a firm backbone of tannins. (P)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2017 Skookumchuck Reserve Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley, ID ($25):  This intensely built Syrah starts off with aromas of sliced, cured meats.  Lithe and nicely balanced with juicy plums, chocolaty tones, oak spice and a pinch of herbs adding complexity. (P)

Maryhill Winery 2016 Cab Franc, Columbia Valley, WA ($27):  Aromas of fresh plums and tobacco leaf on the nose.  In the mouth, pencil shavings, Damson plum preserves, espresso, cassis and spiced oak nuances are supported by approachable tannins and fine balance. (P)

Orenda Winery 2016 Cab Franc, Columbia Valley, WA ($37):  Wafting from the glass are fragranced aromas of nutmeg and cinnamon.  Raspberries, strawberry jam, pie spice, olallieberries, hints of graphite and fresh cut herbs join firm tannins and nice underlying oak through the persistent finish. (P)

Weisinger Family Winery 2016 Malbec, Rogue Valley, OR ($32):  Deep, dark and delicious is this well-structured and elegant Malbec.  Blackberry, and black cherry fruit at the core meld in harmony with accents of dark chocolate and spice.  Balanced and pure all the way through. (P)

Zerba Cellars 2016 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, WA ($45): Aromas of dark fruit and hints of toast lead the way to boysenberry jam, nutmeg spice, raspberries, and a smoky  oak underlay.  Supple and mouth coating as it heads to a smooth finish. (P) 

Rocky Pond Winery 2016 Malbec, Columbia Valley, WA ($42):  Fruit dominant from the fragrant berry aroma to the opulent blueberry, blackberry, plum flavors saturating the palate.  Nicely integrated oak, brown sugar, and a dusting of sweet herbs completes the lovely package.

Isenhower Cellars 2016 À Bloc Malbec, Columbia Valley, WA ($38):  Forest berries on the nose are mirrored on the palate.  Velvety smooth and round in the mouth, with brambleberries, tayberries and olallieberries accented by vanilla extract and fresh ground black peppercorns.  Elegance in a glass! (P)             

Structure Cellars 2017 Foundation Mourvedre, Snipes Mountain, WA ($35):  The plummy, berry aroma is engaging.  Entwining flavors of black raspberry, wild strawberry, savoriness, and a pretty smoky note delight the palate. Lush, well balanced and refined, with good length.  (P)

Cooper Ridge Vineyard 2015 Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley ($36):  Reminiscent of an old-world Rioja up front, with its earth driven nose.  The earthy elements join classic new world juicy black fruit on the palate.  Boysenberry, plum preserves, moist earth and hints of vanilla prevail all the way through the long-lasting finish. (P)

Stone River Vineyards & Winery 2015 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon ($28):  Irresistible floral and berry aromas lead to burst of flavors dancing across the palate.  Juicy dark-fleshed plum, fig jam, dried herbs, and a touch of vanilla meld in harmony.  (P)

Schmidt Family Vineyards 2016 Estate Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($36):  Rich, dark-fruited aromas lift from the glass with this deeply flavored Tempranillo.  Black currant, boysenberry and fruitcake notes at the core, with a thread of exotic spice from bright start to lingering finish.  (P) 

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2016 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley ($42):  Old world meets new world with this precisely balanced, refined wine. Rubyqueen plums, blackberry,  black currant, earthiness and tobacco join spice accents and nicely integrated oak, and the finish simply sings.  (P)

Maryhill Winery 2016 Pained Hills Tempranillo, Yakima Valley ($38):  Provocative floral aromatics guide you straight into the glass.   Expressive and bright, with layers of blackberry, marionberry, and huckleberry fruit, hints of toast and leather, and savory spice.  Elegant through the long finish.  (PP)

Dumas Station Wines 2016 Cow Catcher Red, Walla Walla Valley, WA ($24):  The aroma of a bowlful of fresh berries is engaging.  On the palate, spiced berry compote, blueberry pie, milk chocolate, black raspberries and hints of pipe tobacco coat the palate.  Fresh and lively throughout. (P)

Spangler Vineyards 2016 Claret, Southern Oregon ($28):   Fresh picked wild berry aromas and flavors on the nose and entry are bright and tasty.  Layers of huckleberry, tayberry,  graphite, and toffee flow seamlessly across the palate.  Finishes with a pinch of orange zest. (P)

Cellardoor Winery 2015 Aurora, American ($32):  This deeply structured Syrah dominant blend boasts an irresistible aroma.  A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauv and Cabernet Franc, the layers of black cherry, cassis, and black raspberry are accented by vanilla bean, allspice, and hints of warm maple bars.  Finishes on a long and savory note. (PP)

Belle Fiore Winery 2015 Estate Icon Souspire, Rogue Valley, Oregon ($37):  This firmly structured, black-fruited Syrah-dominant blend is rich while being elegant at the same time.  Lush and smooth with blackberry and  black cherry fruit joining notes of toast, black licorice drops, and hints of earth; delectable.  (P)

Brian Carter Cellars 2015 Takahashi Red Wine, Columbia Valley, WA ($38):  Here’s a sophisticated Bordeaux-style blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Subtle eucalyptus notes on the nose pave the way for gorgeous flavors of black currant, Bing cherry, blueberry jam, nutmeg spice, a subtle roasted red pepper note, and underlying cocoa powder, well built. (PP)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2016 Renaissance Red, Lewis-Clark Valley, ID ($23):  This blend of Malbec, Cab Franc, Syrah, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot is loaded with personality.   Intense and alluring on the nose, it kicks off with a dark berry, meaty nose.  Black cherry, blackberry, spice-scented blueberry sauce,  caramel, and toasty oak nuances meld in harmony, a delicious quaff. (P)

INTRINSIC Wine Company 2017 Red Blend, Columbia Valley, WA ($22):  This well-balanced Malbec blend weaves aromas and flavors of dark plum and black cherry compote, spice box accents, raspberry jam and crushed herbs.  Round and full with supple tannins and balancing acidity, and a drop of vanilla extract shows through on the finishing sip.  

Thurston Wolfe Winery 2014 The Geologist Red Wine, Columbia Valley, WA ($50):   This Cab Sauv based  red blend engages with its perfumed nose of violets and spice followed by a generous berry entry.  Raspberries, marionberries, hints of cocoa, a whisper of campfire smoke, and savory spice parade across the palate. Full bodied with firm tannins and a lingering finish. (P)

Cathedral Ridge Winery 2015 Rusty Red Reserve, Columbia Valley, WA ($44):  Juicy plums fill the senses with this confident red blend.  Black currant, spearmint, plum jam, a twist of mixed peppercorns, and  earthiness abound.  Firm, well defined, and smooth  through the powerful finish. (P)

Hightower Cellars 2015 Red Mountain Estate, Red Mountain, WA ($45):  Wild berries and a suggestion of flint rise as this dry red blend approaches the nose.  Dense yet lithe with berries and plums melding with savory olive tapenade and warm toast notes.  Well balanced with a trace of orange peel on the finish. (P)

Eternal Wines 2015 Eternal Passion Red Wine, Columbia Valley, WA ($69):  Heavenly aromas open to dark berries and allspice with this 50/50 blend of Red Mountain Cab Sauv and Walla Walla Valley Syrah.  Blackberry and blueberry fruit and grilled meat join tobacco,  vanilla custard, and baking spice accents.  Complex and smooth with firm tannins and good acids; approachable now and ageworthy.  (P)

Dunham Cellars 2016 Trutina, Columbia Valley, WA ($29):  Here’s an elegant red blend composed of 45% Cab Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 3% Cab Franc.  Blueberry, black currant, and black cherry fruit at the core are framed by approachable tannins and balancing acids.   Hints of smoke and teriyaki-marinated meat notes peek through on the finish.  (P)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2016 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Quarry Butte Red Wine; Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($26):  A deep blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot is intensely flavored and elegant.  Blackberry, huckleberry, cherry cola, pipe tobacco, and spiced fig compote create a colorful palate of flavors from start to lifted finish.  (P)

Hood Crest Winery 2016 Super Tuscan, Columbia Valley, WA ($48):  Bold aromas jump from the glass with the savory Sangiovese dominant red blend.  Layers of red cherries,  raspberries, black currants, and fresh turned earth meld harmoniously.  A fine backbone of tannins and acids support the dense fruit, and the texture is velvety smooth as it reaches an elegant finale.  (P)

Davenport Cellars 2013 Petit Verdot, Red Mountain, WA ($30):  Alluring nose of dark fruits and herbs sets the stage for this savory Petit Verdot.  Black plum and huckleberry fruit, fresh chopped herbs and nice oak integration glide across the palate, and the finish ends with a trace of orange zest. (P)

Spangler Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot, Oregon ($35):  Aromas of black and purple berries on the nose.  Intensely built with dense purple plum, blackberry and sweet blueberry notes cascading upon the palate.  Well balanced and full bodied, with a nice backbone of chalky tannins. (P)

Mercer Estate Winery 2015 Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($30):  Bright and sassy is this rich and smooth Petit Verdot.  Brimming with boysenberry and huckleberry fruits, hints of vanilla, tobacco and dried herbs in the mouth. Precisely balanced and juicy, with blood orange accents lifting the finish.  (P)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Phinny Hill Vineyard Carmenere, Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($32):   Boysenberry pie on the nose fully engages the senses.  Bright and lively with raspberries, crushed boysenberries, strawberry sorbet, and fresh chopped herbs.  Precisely balance and pure through the long-lasting finish. (P)

Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging Unveils the Best of the Best in the Great Northwest, Part 1

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Northwest, Tasting Notes

Wine Press Northwest magazine’s Platinum Judging wine competition stimulates the palates of professional wine judges year after year.  Wines achieving Gold and higher awards within the prior year vie for Platinum honors.

Favorite White and Rosé wines from my panel in this 20th annual Platinum Judging included the following Platinum (P) and Double Platinum (PP) winners: 

Trella Vineyards 2016 Gewurztraminer, Southern Oregon ($24):  Fragrant florals on the nose.  Vivid layers of lychee, spiced tisane, honeysuckle nectar and orange zest are transported across the palate with brisk acidity and underlying notes of salinity.  A bright clementine note pops on the finish. (P)

50th Parallel Estate Winery 2018 Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada ($20):   This zesty Gewurz offer up kiwi and lemon on the nose.  A colorful display of tart and sweet lemon drops, kiwi, lychee jelly, fruit cocktail, and candied pastilles unfold and remain bright and vivid through the close. (P)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Green Lizard Gruner Veltliner, Umpqua Valley, OR ($32):  Wildly aromatic with a lively entry, this vivacious Gruner is classic.  Elements of stone fruit, white pepper, fresh harvested snap peas, lemon grass, and chamomile paint a brilliant explosion of aromas and flavors on the palate.  Finely balanced and the finish is long and exhilarating. (P)

Trella Vineyards 2018 Gruner Veltliner, Southern Oregon ($29):    Expressive stone fruit and citrus aromas speak clearly to the variety, and the entry is vibrant and fresh.  Flavors of nectarine, apple skin, Ruby grapefruit, citrus blossom, and a hint of white pepper are well defined, and the lingering finish is uplifting.  (P)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Estate Cuvee Hefeabzug Gruner Veltliner, Umpqua Valley, OR ($26):  Minerally notes at first whiff stay present through the silky palate.  Granny Smith apple, white pepper, star fruit and lemon verbena notes are enlivening, and lead to a finish that keeps on delivering long after the last sip.  (P)

Carlton Cellars 2017 Auxerrois, Yamhill Carlton ($22):  This exuberant Auxerrois is refreshing and full of flavor.  Juicy summer sweet nectarines, lemon-lime soda, apple blossom and oyster shell salinity merge gracefully on the palate.  Lovely acidity and a satin-like texture carry it to a bright finish. (P)

Gehringer Brothers Estate 2018 Old Vines Auxerrois, Golden Mile Bench, BC Canada ($14):   This crisp and mouthwatering Auxerrois shows a touch of florals on the nose.  The entry is vivacious, and the wine builds on the palate as citrus fruits, white peach, a touch of lemon verbena, and a thread of minerality meld in harmony all the way through. (P)

Gehringer Brothers Estate 2018 Ehrenfelser, Okanagan Valley, BC Canada ($14):  The expressive, fragrant aroma of this white wine (a grape of German origin) drives you into the glass.  Juicy, bright and fresh with flavors of crisp pear, lime sorbet, star fruit, and lemon LifeSavers invigorating the palate. Finishes with verve.  (P)

Iris Vineyards 2015 Chalice Estate Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, OR ($25):  The brilliant hue is eye opening, and a stone fruit aroma lead to notes of fresh pear, kiwi and buttered toast.   Herbs and lemon curd complement the pear notes on the palate, and citrus highlights lift the long finish. (P)

Cougar Crest Estate 2017 Albariño, Walla Walla Valley, WA ($24):  Shimmering with electricity this wine really lights up the palate.  Steely and bright with tropical fruit, lime zest and bracing acidity, and a thread of minerality holds through the vivacious finish. (P)

Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard 2018 Signature Series Albariño, Red Mountain, WA ($28): Hints of minerality join white fruits engaging the nose up front. Star fruit, key lime pie, fresh apricots and mandarin orange interlace and lead to a finale that is long and lifted. (P)

Thurston Wolfe Winery 2018 Crawford Vineyard Albariño, Yakima Valley, WA ($18):  Juicy and full of energy from the fresh cut apple aroma, to the sweet Meyer lemon, Macintosh apples, hints of lychee and brilliant acidity decorating the palate, to the perky finish. (P)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2018 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Albariño, Horse Heaven Hills, WA ($20):   Fresh and very aromatic with florals and citrus on the nose.  Sun-kissed crushed pineapple, chopped herbs, lemon sorbet, and poached pear join brisk acidity, and the wine concludes with a refreshing tangy note. (P)

Intrigue Wines 2018 “Social Sparkling” Okanagan Valley, BC ($17):  The perfumed nose of rose petals gets the party started.  Crisp apple, honeysuckle, pear and candied orange peel align with racy acidity, tickling the taste buds through the lively last sip. (P)

Cooper Ridge Vineyard NV Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Riesling, Umpqua Valley, OR ($29):  Inviting peaches and white flowers on the nose.  A lively bead carries peach sorbet, summer fresh nectarines, citrus accents and lovely minerality across the palate.  Refreshing and well balanced with extended length. (P)

Cave B Estate Winery 2018 Cave B Vineyard Cuvée Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, WA ($27):  Striking citrus and tree fruit aromas engage the senses with this Sauv Blanc dominant blend.  Crisp and bright with interlinking layers of pear, grapefruit, fresh chopped herbs and orange zest.  Rocking acidity keeps it vibrant through the last drop.  (PP)

Cliff Creek Cellars 2018 White White Wine, Southern OR ($22):  Aromas of stone fruit rise from the glass with this Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier blend.  Vivid flavors of peaches and nectarines on entry meld with apple skin and minerality mid palate, and the balancing acidity rocks.  Citrus notes peek through on the refreshing finish.  (P)

Martinez & Martinez 2017 Viognier, Yakima Valley, WA ($18):  Hints of peach tantalize the nose, and a burst of citrus explodes with vibrancy when this gem greets the lips.  Layers of pomelo, pink grapefruit, white peach and a sprinkle of fresh herbs are carried by crisp acidity.  The finish is tangy and bright. (P)

Westport Winery Garden Resort 2017 “Lighthouse” Riesling, Yakima Valley, WA ($27):  Tropical fruits with a touch of wet stone engage the nose.  Fresh peaches, guava, lime zest, a light touch of tarragon, and a clear thread of minerality flow across the palate with bracing acidity.  Bright and enlivening all the way through.  (P)

Ancestry Cellars 2017 Reminiscence Riesling, Columbia Gorge, OR ($20):  Wet stone on the nose speaks vociferously to varietal correctness, and the flavor profile lines up equally well.  Petrol, grilled peaches, sugared lime peel, green apples and minerally tones create a brilliant kaleidoscope of flavors on the palate.  Finishes with impressive length and energy. (PP)

Whidbey Island Winery 2018 Rosato, Yakima Valley, WA ($15):  This well-balanced dry rosé crafted of Sangiovese and other Italian varieties shows off a beautifully expressive rose garden aroma.  Juicy and bright on the palate as peach, strawberry and melon flavors interlace with lively acidity. (P)

Puffin Wines 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR ($22): A crystal clear rosy pink hue captures the eye, and the aroma is alluring.  Sweetheart cherry, raspberry sorbet, and watermelon flavors are accented by bright citrusy notes. Well balanced with a snappy and refreshing finish. (P)

Locus Wines 2018 vintage 7 Mile Rosé, Rattlesnake Hills, WA ($15):  This sunny blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault opens with a dusty berry aroma.  Multi-layered and vivacious as raspberries, rambutan, orange blossom and lemon verbena flavors harmonize through the finish. (P)

Gems in My Glass . . . September 2019

Northwest, Tasting Notes

Townshend Cellar, located just north of Spokane, Washington was founded in 1998 by Don Townshend.  Sons Michael and Brendon lead the operations there now, following in Don’s footsteps.  Grapes for all their wines are sourced from vineyards planted within the expansive Columbia Valley AVA.  Their wines are fruit driven, easy to drink, and good values across the board, too.

NV Brut Sparkling:  This easy to quaff sparkling wine (made in the traditional method) opens with a leesy, fruity aroma.  Crafted of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, it showcases creamy Rainier cherries, citrus blossom, fresh pie crust, lemon-splashed Honeycrisp apples, and a tiny stream of bubbles.  Lively and well balanced through the tingling finish.  SRP:  $14

2018 Chardonnay:  The pleasing aroma clearly speaks Chardonnay with its orchard fruits.  That theme continues through the palate, with flavors of creamy Comice pears and crunchy green apples joining lemon-lime notes, a trace of toast, and hints of honeysuckle.  Supple and well balanced through the lifted finish.  SRP:  $12

2017 Pinot Gris:  This refreshing and beautifully textured Pinot Gris opens with a tantalizing aroma.  Flavors of juicy fresh peaches, poached pears, minerally notes, and Meyer lemon ice unfold brightly on the palate.  Smooth and focused with lively acidity, it will have you reaching for more when the last vibrant drops glide to the long, heavenly finish.   SRP:  $12

2018 Sauvignon Blanc:  Citrus notes on the nose lead to Granny Smith apple, fresh squeezed grapefruit, and oyster shell salinity unfolding onto the palate.  Hints of hay and melon join in on the back palate, and a good level of acidity prevails.   Lean and straightforward with a punch of lemon zest on the finish.  SRP:  $12

NV Red Table Wine:  Here is a very appealing red wine crafted of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Bursting with sun-ripened fruit on the nose and entry, the generous fruit continues to deliver satisfying flavors throughout.  Layers of purple plums, Bing cherries and boysenberries accented by vanilla bean and toasted oak notes flow to a round, juicy finish.  SRP:  $12

NV Vortex Red:  Forest berry notes rise from the glass with this expressive and well-balanced blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc.  Deeply fruited, it broadcasts aromas and flavors of plump blueberries, olallieberries, raspberries, and spiced plum jam, with a touch of crushed herbs adding dimension.  Gentle tannins and a velvety smooth texture lead to a finish that lingers.  SRP:  $16

NV T3 Red:  Also a blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc, T3  leads off with black-fruited scents and a rich entry.  Succulent on the palate with plums, black currants, and blackberries, hints of pencil shavings, and savory spice.   Thirty months of barrel aging adds complementary toasty notes.  Balanced and smooth with cranberry and baking chocolate on the persistent finish.  SRP:  $20

2009 Cabernet Franc:  Supporting my outlook that Cab Franc shines in the Great Northwest, here is a nice example.  Dark, dense and delicious, it engages at first whiff with violets and berries.  Cassis, brambleberries, black raspberries, graphite, a twist of mixed peppercorns and hints of earthiness entwine, wrapped in approachable tannins.  The balance is fine-tuned, and flavors remain vivid through the long finish.  SRP:  $22

2009 Ice Riesling:  Aromas of orange blossom honey arouse the senses.  On the palate this gem is rich yet precisely balanced with a fine level of acidity.  Flavors of peach sherbet, roasted almonds, caramel, lemon custard, and butterscotch taffy create a delectable explosion of flavors on the palate.  The finish is zesty and extended, with a pop of candied orange peel; a delicious nightcap!  SRP:  $30

Greg in the tasting room provides a warm welcome.  He is professional, competent, knowledgeable and pleasant, with a positive attitude.  Visit Townshend Cellar’s tasting room Friday to Sunday, 12 noon to 5 pm.

Gems in My Glass . . . August 2019

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Oregon, Tasting Notes

While judging the beautifully executed Oregon Wine Experience wine competition, one of our excursions was an exhilirating Hellgate Jetboat ride on the Rogue River.  During our delicious lunch on the bank of the river we had the opportunity to taste a variety of additional Oregon wines.  Here are some excellent whites we tasted that I highly recommend:

Schmidt Family Vineyards 2017 Albarino; Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon ($24):  The engaging aroma of fresh citrus captures the nose.  Bright and minerally up front, this gem explodes with flavor.  Melon, lemon grass, juicy nectarine, citrus blossom and subtle salinity light up the palate.  Striking acidity pulls it all together through the lively finish. www.sfvineyards.com

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Umpqua Valley ($20):  Here’s a gloriously expressive Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of fresh summer grasses.  Tropical fruit, a suggestion of hay, and lemon-lime accents enliven the palate.  The contribution of neutral French oak gives it a fuller mouthfeel, and the bracing acids keep it lively and well balanced.  www.brandborgwine.com

Stave & Stone Wine Estates 2017 Broken Boulder Vineyards Pinot Noir Blanc; Columbia Gorge ($32):  Aromas of fresh tree fruits and a hint of spice is engaging at first whiff. Crisp and juicy with flavors of Asian pear, citrus blossom, Rainier cherries and subtle ginger notes harmonizing on the palate.  Smoothly textured and well balanced all the way through.   www.staveandstone.com

Quady North 2017 Pistoleta; Southern Oregon ($20):   Aromas of a bowlful of fresh-sliced stone fruits wafts from the glass, fully engaging the senses.  Vivacious flavors of nectarine, peach, lime soda, and star fruit burst onto the palate, supported by rocking acidity and a solid thread of minerality.  The zesty finish is uplifting and long-lasting.    www.quadynorth.com

Carlton Cellars 2017  Auxerrois; Yamhill-Carlton ($18):  This jazzy dry white wine is full of flavor and personality.  Scents of a summer floral bouquet lead to layers of Oro Blanco grapefruit, Bartlett pear, almond paste, lemon tisane, quince, and minerally notes melding in harmony on the palate.  Focused and finely balanced with a persistent finish.  www.carltoncellars.com

AWEN Winecraft 2017 Grenache Blanc; Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon ($30):   Notes homemade applesauce greet the nose with this full-bodied dry white wine.  Coating the mouth are focused flavors of Granny Smith apple, tropical melon, mandarin orange, a hint of toast, minerality, and a subtle anise note.  Nicely balanced with a silky texture, and plenty of length.   www.awenwinecraft.com

Cheers!

Gems in My Glass: Rombauer Vineyards, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, and Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards

Napa, Sonoma, Tasting Notes

Stunning gems from Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyards, Smith Madrone in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Sonoma County graced my palate recently.  It’s not the first experience I’ve enjoyed with these vintners, and it was a pleasure to gain an up-to-date perspective of wines they have recently released.

K.R Rombauer III (Proprietor/Board of Directors), Alan Cannon (Director of Distributor Relations) and I are often partnered together for the annual Vintners’ Holidays event at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and they never disappoint!  It’s always engaging to moderate for the Rombauer team, and discover new gems they are crafting.  Most known through the years for their distinctive Chardonnay, you may have discovered several additional varieties that Director of Winemaking Richie Allen crafts, which deserve accolades as well.  Founded by the late Koerner and Joan Rombauer, the family legacy lives on with son KR Rombauer III, daughter Sheana, and granddaughter, Reagan Blackwood.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery was one of my first Napa “wow” wine experiences.  I visited them in my early years of wine study and appreciation while traversing Napa Valley with colleagues and savvy wine collector friends. It was an enlightening afternoon there, and the wines showed incredibly well, impressing the knowledgeable group assembled.  Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the vineyards are situated at the top of Spring Mountain, on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,000 feet.  All their wines come from fruit rooted among their estate dry-farmed vineyards.  Today, brothers Stu and Charlie, and Stu’s son Sam, manage the property and tend to the winemaking, and they remain at the top of their game.

My first peek at Sonoma-Cutrer occurred years ago when my husband and I donned our whites and hats to attend a fabulous croquet and wine event there; it was memorable.  Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter gained a wealth of knowledge in his home country of Australia (at Kaiser Stuhl Winery and Penfolds Winery in the Barossa Valley) prior to heading to northern California’s wine country.  Mick spent 17 years at Geyser Peak Winery (VP of Winemaking) prior to taking on his current post as Winemaking Director at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in 2010.  More recently I’ve judged with Mick Schroeter and Sonoma Cutrer’s Hospitality Manager, Mark Elcombe at wine competitions in Sonoma County, and visited their picturesque site to discover their current vintages of vineyard designate Pinot Noir, and finely crafted Chardonnay.

Current releases I tasted from each of these vintners left a lasting impression:

Rombauer Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley:  Aromas of black currant preserves, and piquant spices engage the senses with this complex and finely balanced Cab Sauv.  Rich layers of Bing cherry, black plum, fresh tobacco, blackberries and savory spice fill the palate.  Velvety smooth with firm yet approachable tannins, drink now or hold for years of enjoyment ahead.   The intense and  long-lived finish will have you reaching for more, now and later!  SRP:  $65  www.rombauer.com

Rombauer Vineyards 2018 Sauvignon Blanc; Napa Valley: The mouthwatering tropical fruit aroma of this jazzy Sauvignon Blanc drives you joyfully into the glass, wow.  A refreshing well-balanced gem, it’s just the ticket for a picnic or a warm summer evening’s repast.  Fresh sliced pineapple, sweet Honeydew melon, a pinch of lemon verbena, hints of fresh grass, and lime zest unfold in harmony, and lead to a bright and energetic finale.  SRP:  $24    www.rombauer.com

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  A brilliant hue captures the eye, and scents of lemon-splashed stone fruit awaken the nose as this sophisticated Chardonnay is poured from the bottle.  Peach flavors are mirrored on the palate, melding with Honeycrisp apple, citrus, herbal accents, and beautiful oak spice nuances.  Rich and mouth-filling, with perfect acidity offsetting the juicy fruit through the long memorable finish.  SRP:  $40  www.smithmadrone.com

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Riesling; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  The classic petrol and citrus blossom aromas simple scream what is in this glass—a beautifully crafted, irresistible dry Riesling.  Unwinding with enchantment are layers of sun-ripened peaches, lemon basil, nectarines, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a solid thread of minerality creating a kaleidoscope of vibrant flavors on the palate.  Vitalizing and elegant with immaculate balance, and the finish soars.  SRP: $34  www.smithmadrone.com

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Vine Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  Here is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir that engages at first whiff with an expressive berry aroma.  Lush while being bright and focused, it displays layers of raspberry preserves, fresh picked cherries, strawberry-rhubarb pie, a pinch of herbs and well-managed oak.  Brisk acidity, a firm structure, and refined tannins provide perfect framework, and the lingering finish extends well beyond the final sip.  SRP:  $46  www.sonomacutrer.com

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Founders Reserve Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  This magnificently textured Pinot Noir with a seductive black cherry and forest floor aroma knocks it out of the park.  Multilayered and complex, with flavors of cocoa-dusted Bing cherries, boysenberries, exotic spice, licorice drops, a subtle hint of black tea, and underlying oak nuances flowing seamlessly across the palate. Polished and immaculately balanced with silky tannins; a cellar worthy selection.     SRP:  $65 www.sonomacutrer.com

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  Here is a great value priced Chardonnay that broadcasts tree fruits and hints of buttered toast on the nose.  In the mouth, roasted almonds, spicy elements, and honeysuckle accent the succulent core of Gala apples and ripe summer peaches.  Nicely integrated oak adds dimension without being over the top; and the finish is lip-smacking delicious.  SRP:  $23  www.sonomacutrer.com

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Les Pierres Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  This classy and complex Chardonnay displays an upbeat nose of citrus, melon and flinty notes.  Fresh and pure on entry, it broadens fully on the palate.  Layers of crisp apple, peach skin, Crenshaw melon, cloves, nutmeg, well-integrated oak, wrap around a minerally backbone.  Beautifully nuanced and structured with a finish that goes on forever!   SRP:  $42 www.sonomacutrer.com

Visit their websites to order, or plan a visit to experience these properties and taste the wines for yourself, before these gems are sold out.  It’s not too early to think about wines for the holidays, which will be here before you know it; cheers!

New Discoveries in the Willamette Valley

Oregon, Tasting Notes

Looking for new wine discoveries in the Great Northwest?   Bells Up Winery (in northern Willamette Valley) and Iris Vineyards (at the southern end) are two of my latest noteworthy finds within the Willamette Valley AVA.  Each one broadens my positive impression of this significant and ever-expanding wine region.

Bells Up Winery

After years of exploring wine regions and delving into home winemaking in their spare time (while Dave was a corporate attorney), Dave and Sara Specter felt a change of career was in order.  They had become infatuated with the Willamette Valley, and that lead them to establishing Bells Up Winery in Newberg, Oregon in 2013.  The name Bells Up stems from their location on Bell Road, and Dave’s two-decades of playing the French horn.  “Bells Up” in a music piece calls for the horn to be positioned with the bell up, which results in a more dramatic and striking level of sound.  And now they are on their way to building a loyal following with the striking and dramatic wines they are crafting.

The Specter’s 9-acre estate vineyard, located within the Chehalem Mountains sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley, is being planted in phases.  It began in 2014 with three acres of Pommard and 667 Pinot Noir clones, followed by half an acre of Seyval Blanc in 2014, and in 2016 Pinot Noir clones Wädenswil, 113 and 943 were planted.

Dave, with his award-winning home winemaking experience behind him, is the winemaker.  He and Sara opened their tasting room in the spring of 2015 with the release of their first wine.  The first estate wines came from their 2017 harvest of Pinot Noir.  In the Spring of 2018, their 2017 vintage Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir was released.  This year brings the release of their 2018 Helios Seyval Blanc (Willamette Valley’s first release of this variety). Their boutique winery is now producing about 500 cases of wine per year.   Dave and Sara have captured something very special here.  Wines currently available include:

2018 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley:  This gorgeous Pinot Blanc sourced from Plum Hill Vineyard opens with inviting scents of tropical fruit.  Blossoming on the palate are focused flavors of Bartlett pear, pineapple, Melogold grapefruit and fresh kiwi, with lime zest accents.  Sur lie aging contributes to the complexity and rich mouthfeel, and the finish is persistent.  SRP:  $28

2018 Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley:   This elegant, bone dry Rosé boasts an engaging floral aroma.  Elegant and multi-layered on the palate with watermelon, citrusy elements, cranberry, and Rainer cherry flavors intermingling with delicate herbal notes.  Fresh and crisp with nice balancing acidity, it remains bright through the last sip.  SRP:  $22

2016 Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: This expressive Pinot Noir combines florals with a touch of earth on the nose.  Wild cherry, loganberry jam, red raspberry, a hint of earth, savory herbs, sweet tangerine notes, and a touch of candied cherries unravel seamlessly onto the palate.  Well-balanced and ethereal with fine grained tannins and a satin-like texture, it flows harmoniously to a long and gratifying finish.  SRP:  $40

For additional information check out their website at www.bellsupwinery.com, or give them a call at 503 537 1328 to schedule a visit and/or purchase wine.   You can also reach them via email at info@bellsupwinery.com.

 

Iris Vineyards

Richard Boyles and Pamela Frye share a passion for fine food and wine.  Together they spent time experiencing wineries throughout Oregon and Washington, before a career move sent them to Europe.  After spending a few years in France, Germany and Switzerland, and learning more about wine regions while they were there, Richard and Pamela returned to the Northwest.  That move lead them to choosing a prime site to root vines.  Their 870-acre southern Willamette Valley property, Iris Vineyards, sits southwest of Eugene, Oregon. Upon the property sits their Chalice Estate Vineyard (50 planted acres) along with hundreds of acres of forest, a large garden, and their residence. The first vines were planted in 1996, and 2001 marked their first vintage.  At present, they produce 14,000 cases a year.

Richard’s draw to wine dates back to making wine with his grandmother, from grapes grown at their home on the Umpqua River in Roseburg, Oregon.   The grapes were pressed with a wood press Richard’s father made as a high school woodworking project.  He recalls memorable meals paired with wine at family gatherings over the years.

Winemaker Aaron Lieberman began making wines for Iris Vineyards in 2008, bringing with him 12 years of previous experience gained at wineries in the Willamette Valley, including Amity Vineyards, De Ponte Cellars, and Owen Roe.  The wines he crafts have earned Iris Vineyards multiple top tier medals at prestigious wine competitions around the country, and the current vintages that I recently tasted were impressive as well:

2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley:  Exquisitely layered and wildly aromatic, this Rosé from their Chalice Estate Vineyard is stylish.  Scents of forest berries and exotic spices lead the way.  Well defined on the palate as a core of pomegranate, red cherry, and Sunkist orange entwine with berry-herbal tisane and a trace of lemon verbena.  Aging in 43% stainless steel and 57% French oak barrels prior to final aging in stainless adds deeper textural qualities, and the wine finishes with verve.  Their 2017 Rosé took a Double Gold medal at the New Orleans International Wine Awards competition.   SRP:  $17.99

2017 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley:  Fragrant aromas and delightfully rich with nice balancing acidity, this finely tuned Pinot Gris comes from Chalice Estate and Confluence vineyards fruit.  Grilled pineapple, homemade Golden Delicious applesauce, savory tones, and lemon-lime citrus accents enliven the palate.  Zesty on the finish, with a subtle note of crushed pink peppercorns.  Their 2016 Pinot Gris scored a Double Gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition.   SRP:  $15.99

2016 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley:  Forest floor aromas awaken the senses with this enticing and easy to quaff Pinot Noir.   Silky smooth on the palate, where red cherries, wild mushrooms, black and red raspberries, a tinge of spice and a suggestion of vanilla bean wrap around supple tannins.  Nicely integrated oak nuances (from 98% French oak [15% new], and 2% American oak aging) add further dimension.  Their 2015 Pinot Noir earned a Double Gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition.  SRP:  $21.99

Seek out the Iris Vineyards website, www.irisvineyards.com, for further details or give them a call (tasting room 541 242 6588, or winery 541 942 5993).  You are welcome to pop into their tasting room, overlooking Chalice Estate Vineyards in the Oregon Coast Mountain Range, which is open daily from 12 noon to 6 pm, too.

Additional Gems from the Finger Lakes

New York, Tasting Notes

Visiting New York’s Finger Lakes AVA this spring gave me the opportunity to taste many wines from properties in this bucolic wine region.  Perhaps you are familiar with fine examples of Finger Lakes Riesling (two of which are noted below), as there are many Rieslings made here.  Several other varieties are being crafted in the Finger Lakes that deserve accolades too:

Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  Earthiness and citrus notes greet the nose with this well-crafted Gruner.   Minerality, a touch of herbs, and crunchy Granny Smith apples are joined by lemon-lime accents and zingy acidity from the alluring start, through mid-palate, to the lasting finish.  Brilliantly balanced and sleek with promise of age-worthiness.   SRP:  $27 www.wiemer.com

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Silvan Riesling:  This stunning, minerally driven wine is everything I reach for in a well-made Riesling.  Engaging aromatics with a classic touch of petrol lead to an exhilarating mouthful of white peach, wet stone minerality, crushed herbs, and citrus elements.  Fermenting in small oak barrels contributes a lovely textural quality, and additional depth.  Pristinely balanced, smooth, and pure, with a long, refreshing finish; wow!  SRP: $25 www.foxrunvineyards.com

Anthony Road Wine Company 2018 Cabernet Franc Lemberger:  This lush, glossy wine is a blend of 52% Cab Franc and 48% Lemberger.  It displays plenty of personality, beginning with an entrancing earthiness on the nose.  On the palate, blackberry, ginger-scented plum sauce, tarragon, and understated elements of sautéed sweet red peppers come alive.  A pretty citrus overlay adds a nice pop of flavor through the persistent finish.   SRP:  $20 www.anthonyroadwine.com

Dr. Frank Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  The shimmering hue and beautiful floral aromas are captivating at first swirl.   Bursting with citrus on the nose, the wine unravels deliciously on the palate, with layers of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, lemon-splashed crisp apples, and finely chopped herbs entwining.  Well balanced and vivacious, and the zesty finish is bright and lifted.  SRP:  $14.99 www.drfrankwines.com

Zugibe Vineyards 2106 “4 Freds”  Red:  This spirited red blend, honoring four generations of Freds, is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Lemberger and Merlot.  Nicely dry and juicy, it showcases an enticing aroma of fresh picked berries and spice.  Filling the mouth are flavors of cassis, boysenberries, blueberries, milk chocolate and hints of nutmeg.  Spiced oak tones add depth through the satisfying finish.  SRP: $21.99   www.zugibevineyards.com

Fulkerson Winery 2016 Gruner Veltliner:  This sassy Gruner starts off with lemon-lime and stone fruit aromas waking up the senses. Sun-ripened peaches, a suggestion of white peppercorns, blanched almonds, minerality, and lemon curd flow with ease on the palate. Crisp and vivid, it is enlivening all the way through.  SRP:  $14  www.fulkersonwinery.com

Penguin Bay 2017 Riesling; Tropical fruit aromas pave the way for a juicy mouth full of sweet summer peaches, refreshing lime sherbet, mango, and a touch of herbs.  The texture is creamy, and a nice level of balancing acidity keeps it bright and buoyant, a delightful summer afternoon sipper.  SRP:  $14.99  www.penguinbaywinery.com

Inspire Moore Rhythm 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  This classic Gruner gleams with citrus blossom up front, fully engaging the senses.  Enchanting the palate are layers of chamomile, succulent white nectarines, Asian pears, and a pinch of white pepper melding in harmony.  Finely balanced and well-integrated with a minerally streak from first energetic sip to the extended last one.  $18.99 www.inspiremoorewinery.com

Heron Hill Winery 2017 Eclipse White:  This easy to quaff white wine, a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, opens with pleasing fruit-driven aromas.  Layers of white peach,  Honeycrisp apples, minerally notes, and a twist of lemon peel soar with vibrancy on the palate.  Elegant and fully flavored with a satin-like texture, and it finishes with verve.  SRP:  $18.99  www.heronhill.com

Hosmer Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  Broadcasting pleasing scents of tree fruits and a touch of eucalyptus, this Gruner is lively and expansive in the mouth.  The bright entry gains momentum as it traverses the palate, from the savory sage and Meyer lemon entry, to the lime-accented green apple mid-palate, through the finish that seems endless!  The mouthfeel is silky, and the exacting balance keeps it vitalizing.  SRP:  $16   www.hosmerwinery.com

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards NV Solera Sherry:  Gloriously rich with beautiful offsetting acidity, here is a scrumptious dessert in a glass. Honeyed fresh figs, candied pecans, sweet mandarin orange segments, and creamy caramel apple flavors unravel delectably, coating every nook and cranny of the palate, and the lip-smacking finish is dream inducing!  SRP:  $21 (500ml)   www.hazlitt1852.com

 

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