Monday, July 26, 2010

Our Oregon trip: wine tasting at the Ponzi Wine Bar

If you're looking for a quick bite and a good introduction to the wines of Oregon, Ponzi Vineyards' wine bar in downtown Dundee is the place to go. You'll find different wine flights and wines by the glass on the menu showcasing over 70 Oregon vintners, as well as various cheese and salumi plates to accompany them.

Ponzi Vineyards is one of Oregon's oldest wineries. It was founded in 1970 at a time when Oregon was not a well-known wine region and when making Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley was rather risky. Nowadays, Ponzi has become a successful winery dedicated to sustainable viticultural and enological practices. It is was one of the first Oregon property to get the LIVE Winery Certification. A new eco-friendly winemaking facility was completed for the 2008 harvest. Built atop one of the Chehalem Mountains slopes, it uses several green features including gravity-flow processing, temperature control, energy efficient lights, natural ventilation, water retention, and recycling.

It was a hot day and we wanted to start with something fresh and crisp, so following the advice of Sales Associate Kendra Wells, we ordered a flight of mostly white wines. Here are my notes:

• 2008 Ponzi Chardonnay Willamette Valley: produced from old vine Chardonnay, the wine was hand sorted, whole cluster pressed and fermented in 100% stainless steel. My notes: stone fruit and butterscotch aromas on the nose, crisp, light to medium-bodied on the palate, fresh and lively on the finish.

• 2009 Ponzi Arneis Willamette Valley: Arneis is a white wine varietal from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. Ponzi Vineyards is one of very few U.S. producers of Arneis and the only producer in Oregon. The wine was fermented at very low temperatures in stainless steel with a portion in neutral oak. My notes: floral aromas on the palate, fizzy and light on the palate, good acidity, light finish.

• 2009 Ponzi Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley: Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir and produces full-bodied white wines in Alsace, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Oregon, it is known as the real thing because Oregon's cuttings came originally from Alsace, whereas in California, the certified Pinot Blanc rootstock from University of California at Davis turned out to be Melon de Bourgogne, a grape from the Loire Valley used in Muscadet. The wine was fermented 75% in stainless steel tanks, 25% in neutral oak barrels with partial malolactic fermentation. My notes: aromatic nose, floral notes, rather dry, crisp, mineral finish.

• 2009 Ponzi Pinot Gris Willamette Valley: Pinot Gris is a clone of Pinot Noir with a different skin color that was caused by a genetic mutation. It is known to be Oregon's Signature White Wine. It was David Lett from The Eyrie Vineyards that planted the first Pinot Gris vines in Oregon in 1966. At Ponzi, Pinot Gris plantings started in 1978. My notes: attractive nose of white peach, medium body, spicy, mineral finish. Drier than most of the Oregon Pinot Gris wines that we have tasted so far.

We also tasted a flight of two “guest” (non Ponzi) wines:

• 2008 Patricia Green Pinot Noir Whistling Ridge: Patricia Green Cellars is located in the Ribbon Ridge district of Yamhill County. Whistling Ridge Vineyard is a small, 15-year old vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge appellation, located just behind Patricia Green Cellars and Beaux Frères Vineyards. My notes: funny chemical on the nose, notes of tar, butterscotch. Not our favorite.

• 2008 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard: founded in in 1998 by winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash and her husband Ron, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars is located on the eastern edge of the Yamhill-Carlton District. Owned by Dick and Deidra Shea, Shea Vineyard was one of the early planted vineyards in Yamhill County. It is a 200-acre property with 135 planted to Pinot Noir and 5 acres planted to Chardonnay. While the Shea family keeps 25% of the Pinot Noir for their own bottling, the rest is sold to various wineries in Oregon and California. My notes: nose of sweet berries with notes of green pepper, earthy on the palate with a hint of caramelized pear on the finish.

While we were tasting, Kendra recommended going to Beaux Frères and she even called the tasting room for us. I remembered buying two bottles of their Pinot Noir some time ago but I hadn't tried them yet, so it was time to move on and discover the wines of Beaux Frères.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Touring the wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley

We just spent five days in Oregon, visiting Portland, the Willamette Valley around the town of Newberg in Yamhill County, as well as the beach resort of Cannon Beach on the Pacific Coast.

While touring the Willamette Valley, we found ourselves welcomed by a laid-back and bucolic lifestyle, meeting warm and frienfly people, always happy to share their stories. There were many highlights in our trip and in my next posts, I'll write about our lunch at the Ponzi Wine Bar in Dundee, wine tastings at Beaux Frères, J.K. Carriere Wines, Brick House Vineyards, and The Eyrie Vineyards. We also had a wonderful dinner at The Painted Lady Restaurant in Newberg.

Vineyard in the Dundee Hills

So stay tuned for my next post with a review of the Ponzi Wine Bar.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A bright orange soup and a Spanish wine for the World Cup Final

Sunday was the Spain-Netherlands World Cup Final and we were invited to a potluck party to watch the match. For the occasion I made a chilled Carrot Ginger Soup that I served in small glasses garnished with a drop of cream and snipped parsley. With fresh ginger and a pinch of curry, the soup is spicy but very refreshing and it works wonderfully well with a Spanish Albariño like the 2008 Burgans Albariño Rias Baixas that I also brought to the party.

The Rias Baixas region (the name means low estuaries) is located on the Galician coast, between the city of Santiago de Compostela and the Portuguese border. It is renowned for its white wines (over 90% of the wine production) primarily made from the Albariño grape variety.

Albariño produces aromatic wines with high acidity. The name means the white from the Rhine as it was thought to be a Riesling clone brought from Alsace in the twelfth century. It may actually be related to Petit Manseng, a grape grown in the southwest of France. In Portugal, it is called Alvarinho and is commonly used in the blend of Vinho Verde wines.

The 2008 Burgan had a light yellow color and a citrus nose with white peach and mineral notes. On the palate, the wine was dry and bright, clean and zappy, just like a skilled and precise Spanish pass.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

How we tried to rescue a corked 1st growth Bordeaux and failed!

The bottle was a 1995 Château Haut-Brion, stored in our friend's wine cabinet in Chicago, patiently waiting for our visit.

We arrived in Chicago on a Thursday night and it was decided that we would taste the wine the following evening. As the wine was from a great vintage and highly rated, we were expecting a memorable moment.

“This wine has been brilliant on every occasion I have tasted it”, said Parker on the 1995. “More accessible and forward than the 1996, it possesses a saturated ruby/purple color, as well as a beautiful, knock-out set of aromatics, consisting of black fruits, vanillin, spice, and wood-fire smoke. Multidimensional and rich, with layers of ripe fruit, and beautifully integrated tannin and acidity, this medium to full-bodied wine is a graceful, seamless, exceptional Haut-Brion that should drink surprisingly well young.”

But as soon as we popped the cork, the bad news jumped at our nose: the wine was corked! We took a small sip to confirm the verdict and it was unmistakably bad. Sad, sad, sad!

But then I remembered a New York Times article that suggested a way to rescue a corked wine:

Mr. Waterhouse said that the obnoxious, dank flavor of a “corked” wine, which usually renders it unusable even in cooking, can be removed by pouring the wine into a bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.

“It's kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes,” he said. The culprit molecule in infected corks, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic.

The experiment was worth trying, what could we lose? We took a large bowl, lined it with plastic wrap, and poured a small amount of the wine into the bowl. Then, after 5 minutes or so, we compared the wine from the bowl with the wine from the bottle. You could definitively detect some differences between the two. The bad chemical taste was somewhat smoothed out in the wine from the bowl, but sadly, it didn't make the wine more drinkable. Maybe the plastic wrap was able to catch some of the molecules but not all of them. And maybe we should try that experiment again but only with a wine that is marginally flawed.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tasting the Slovenian wines of Santomas at Albona with Winemaker Tamara Glavina

As most Soccer fans have learned, Slovenia is barely the size of Houston and was the smallest of the 32 nations that participated in the 2010 World Cup tournament. Nonetheless, its wine industry is one of the most advanced of the former Yugoslav republics. So I felt very lucky when I got invited by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar of Blue Danube Wine to a Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of the Slovenian winery Santomas at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco.

The Santomas winery is located in the coastal town of Kopler, on the Slovenian side of the Istrian peninsula. The Glavina family has been cultivated vines and olives for 200 years and over time, has expanded the estate to almost 50 acres of vineyards and 7,5 acres of olive orchards. Nowadays, the winery consists of a modern wine cellar, a tasting room, and a wine laboratory.

The current production is 70% Refošk or Refosco, a local varietal that also grows in Italy and Croatia and can produce tannic and powerful wines, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 10% Malvasia, an ancient grape of Greek origin that is found throughout the Mediterranean.

The winemaker dinner was at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach district, the only Istrian restaurant on the West Coast. The Istrian cuisine has been uniquely influenced by Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Slavs, Spaniards, French, Jews, Greeks, and Turks and thus combines classic Italian dishes with ingredients like cumin, sauerkraut, and strudels.

For the occasion, owner Michael Bruno had assembled a 4 course menu showcasing Istria's flavorful cuisine, and paired with 4 wines presented by Santomas Winemaker Tamara Glavina.

1st Course: Minestre de asparaghi (Puree of asparagus soup thickened with Yukon Gold potatoes)

The asparagus soup was paired with a 2008 Santomas Malvasia: the Malvasia vines grow on white soils that are hard to work on and thus require a lot of manual work. The harvest is manual. About 10% of the wine was aged in oak and rested on lees for additional body. My notes: golden color, aromatic nose of acacia blossom and citrus, fresh and slightly oily on the palate, dried herbs on the finish. The soup was really delicious and I loved the wine too!

2nd Course: Chifeleti de mia nona con sugo de carne al cumin (Grandmother's specialty: pan-fried potato gnocchi in a brown sirloin sauce laced with cumin)

The gnocchi dish was paired with a 2008 Santomas Cabernet Sauvignon: manual harvest, made with no oak. My notes: attractive raspberry nose, smooth mouthfeel, soft tannins, spicy on the palate, good acidity, worked very well with the meaty sauce and the subtle notes of cumin.

3rd Course: Involtin de porco con capuzi garbi e prosuto (Pork loin stuffed with sauerkraut, apples, and plums served with red cabbage sauté)

With the pork loin, we tasted the 2003 Santomas Big Red Grande Cuvée: the Grande Cuvée is Santomas's age-worthy premium blend made primarily from Refosco. Refosco is difficult to grow and historically vines were trained in a pergola style to optimize yields. Santomas moved to a guyot vine training system to reduce yields to 3000 l/ha. The wine is unfiltered, unfined. My notes: dark color, rich aromas, spicy, peppery on the palate, notes of garrigue on the finish. An excellent match for the apples, plums, and sauerkraut filling.

Dessert: Sorbetto (Housemade raspberry sorbet)

With the sorbet we were served a glass of 2007 Santomas Late Harvest Malvasia Invasia. Sadly, 2007 was the last year the winery produced a Late Harvest Malvasia. My notes: light golden color, fresh floral nose, with sweet apple aromas, light-bodied, semi-sweet on the palate, expressive, not cloying at all.

Winemaker Tamara Glavina introducing the 2007 Late Harvest Malvasia

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