By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Gray skies and drizzle have returned to the Pacific Northwest, and with the cooler weather, we are reminded of the cold waters of Puget Sound and the tempting bivalves that dwell within.
Pinot Gris continues to take a leading role as a favorite oyster wine. Distinct from the grassy and herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc, in Pinot Gris one finds pear, citrus and mineral aromas and flavors. Its sister is the slightly richer and herbaceous Pinot Blanc, a delicious accompaniment to both mussels and oysters. Today we discuss these varietals plus a few similar and more unusual bottlings that have come our way.
We again slurped delectable Kumamoto oysters from Taylor Shellfish - modest-sized morsels that provide a taste of the sea and dance with dry white wines on the palate. Also served were Chef Ted's wine-steamed Mediterranean mussels. For oysters and mussels to accompany your fall festivities, visit www.taylorshellfish.com.
Grapes for this tasty wine came from Adelsheim's Bryan Creek Vineyard located just across the street from the original Adelsheim vineyard on Quarter Mile Lane. The Pinot Blanc part of the vineyard is planted to French clones INRA 159 and INRA 161. These clones are now part of the ENTAV-INRA program in France that certifies authentic clonal material for export. The ''rich but racy'' profile of Pinot Blanc shows here with notes of Meyer lemon and green apple playing off rich notes of herbs and earth. Tasters favored its affinity for both oysters and mussels with a number one ranking.
Wines by Joe
Joe Dobbes' Wines by Joe brand exclaims ''really good wine without attitude.'' Of course, it depends on what you mean by ''attitude.'' My tasters found plenty of ''attitude'' in the form of fruit-forward aromas and flavors showing peach and citrus with rich background notes of fennel and lanolin. Add in some mineral notes of flint and talc and a refreshing palate feel that invites another sip, and you immediately crave another oyster for pairing.
Arcane Cellars is located in the Eola Hills AVA of the northern Willamette Valley and nearly adjacent to the historic Wheatland Ferry. For wine tourists looking for a scenic route back to I-5, this is a not-to-be-missed maritime experience. This Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc offers aromas of earthy spice, grapefruit and mineral notes with corresponding flavors of tropical citrus, peach and herbs. The finish offers a note of sweetness on the palate.
Winemaker Kim Kramer crafts her wines at the family winery located near Gaston, Oregon on the west side of the northern Willamette Valley. Celebrating 30 years of winegrowing in the same location, Kramer Vineyards has recently opened a new tasting room in nearby Carlton. This wine was crafted from grapes grown at nearby Kelly's Vineyard - the second vintage of Pinot Blanc using this source. Aromas of citrus and apple mingle with notes of orchard blossoms, leading to a soft palate showing flavors of peach, citrus and flinty mineral.
Torii Mor 2011 Pinot Blanc came from the Winkler Vineyard west of the town of Yamhill in the rolling foothills of Oregon's Coast Range. Veteran winemaker Jacques Tardy fermented most of the wine in stainless steel with three oak puncheons used to isolate separate yeast strain fermentations to accentuate ripe fruit flavors and provide richness of mouth feel. The wine shows bright floral aromas with notes of citrus and herbs, and the palate offers mineral and apple flavors with hints of tangerine and herbs - a very nice accompaniment to oysters and mussels.
Youngberg Hill Farm
Wayne and Nicolette Bailey are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their purchase of Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn near McMinnville, Oregon. This destination for wine country weddings and other elegant affairs has been theirs to renovate and improve since 2003, and the vineyards and winemaking have kept pace with the posh country inn. The 2012 Pinot Blanc offers aromas and flavors of grapefruit, Asian pear and dusty mineral with hints of orange blossom and herbs. It pairs well with oysters on the half shell.
Veteran Oregon winemaker Gary Horner crafts this fresh and friendly Pinot Gris at the historic winery founded by Dick Erath in the late 1970s. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates purchased the winery in 2006 to carry the brand into the future as part of Oregon's winegrowing heritage. The wine pairs equally well with mussels and oysters, offering aromas of delicate rose petal, tropical fruits and talc. The palate gently caresses delicate shellfish with flavors of melon, lychee and grapefruit.
After a couple of record-breaking cool vintages, 2012 in Oregon turned out to be decidedly warmer. With fruit at a high level of ripeness, the grapes were whole-cluster pressed to minimize oxidation and juice contact with the skins. A cool fermentation in stainless steel retained the fresh fruit aromas and flavors that make Pinot Gris so appealing. Bright aromas of pear, melon and honeysuckle.
to Z Wineworks
The winemakers at A to Z used fruit from 26 different Oregon vineyards to craft their 2012 Pinot Gris. Individual components were fermented separately to enhance complexity and to highlight particular attributes for aromatics, flavors or textural qualities depending on the vineyard. First harvested were vineyards in the Rogue Valley and the Columbia Gorge, followed by Willamette Valley vineyards in October. Look for ripe aromas of tropical fruit, white flowers and citrus with notes of baking spice and apple. The palate offers crisp acidity and forward flavors of pear, guava and hints of earthy mineral.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
The winemakers at Chateau Ste. Michelle included 5% Viognier in this vintage of Pinot Gris to ''contribute texture and an attractive floral character.'' Crafted from fruit grown throughout the Columbia Valley, fruit for this wine was picked at night to preserve the variety's bright juicy style. Aromas and flavors of pear, melon and citrus mingle with notes of spice and mineral to create a very enjoyable sipping wine or a fine pairing for oysters and mussels.
Duck Pond Cellars
Duck Pond Cellars has become a landmark as you enter the Oregon wine town of Dundee just south of Newberg. The winery offers wine tasting and wine-related gifts and food products for the thousands of eager wine lovers that come through each year. The Fries family now owns five vineyards in the Willamette Valley as well as their new Coles Valley Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley and the Desert Wind Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope in Washington. The 2012 Pinot Gris offers ripe notes of lemon, grapefruit and white peach as well as tropical fruits and flinty mineral - a tasty pairing with oysters and mussels.
Hawks View Cellars
Grapes for this wine were grown at the Hawks View Estate Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA with select lots hand selected. Different lots were fermented with different yeast strains, and the wine was aged sur lie in tank to give the wine more body and texture. The wine offers aromas and flavors of ripe pear, peach, orange peel and vanilla/marzipan and serves as a deliciously soft sipping wine or as a pairing for mussels for those who enjoy the style.
Castillo de Feliciana
Castillo de Feliciana is named after the great aunt of the owner of the winery, honoring the Spanish heritage of the family. The winery estate is located just south of the Oregon border near Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. The 2012 Vino Verano (summer wine) is a Pinot Gris with just a hint of blush from 20 hours of skin contact prior to fermentation. Both nose and palate offer grapefruit and stone fruits with a refreshing acidity and notes of tropical fruits on the finish. The winery has a satellite tasting room in Woodinville Wine Country, just north of Hollywood corner on 148th Ave.
The Rainstorm wine brand celebrates the temperamental weather of the Pacific Northwest and produces an affordable Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from grapes grown in the verdant Willamette Valley. The wine has a hint of residual sugar balancing a bright base of acidity with aromas and flavors of pear and honeysuckle with notes of tropical fruits.
Other Northwest Whites
You won't find Auxerrois on many wine lists or in the vineyards of very many wineries in the U.S. This variety is a cross between Pinot Noir and an ignoble variety called Gouais blanc. We taste it each year with oysters and mussels and it always places high on the scorecard. The Adelsheim planting dates to 2002 and the winery is excited with additional character and complexity gained with each successive vintage. Look for fresh herbs mingling with pear, earthy flint and orchard blossom leading to a fresh palate that superbly complements Kumamoto oysters.
Of the Albariño wines tasted, the classic selection from Abacela in Roseburg, Oregon was the favorite. The wine offers the unique Albariño profile of racy acidity, fruity aroma and palate, and the savory note that identifies the variety. If one is inclined to enjoy this variety, then this is the perfect oyster wine. This wine was preferred even to the two examples of Albariño from the grape's birthplace in the Rias Baixas region of Spain.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
This is the first vintage of Albariño produced by Jarrod Boyle of Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser, Washington. Only the very best fruit was hand harvested from Crawford Vineyard in the Columbia Valley. This Albariño offers the taster a little more of the tropical side of the varietal with peach, honeydew and Asian pear mingling with kiwi and lemongrass. The wine complements steamed mussels perhaps a little better than half-shell oysters, but adds another dimension of being a complex sipping wine that will please a wide universe of wine lovers.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
Shepherd's Mark refers to small stone cairns that sheep herders used in the Horse Heaven Hills to mark routes and territories. Much of the area now occupied by ANC's Destiny Ridge Vineyard was grazing land during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The grapes for this white-Rhone blend come from this vineyard. The 2012 vintage is stylishly ripe and soft with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, peach and apricot.
Wines from other areas
It seems that Riesling has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years and this style of wine could well be part of the reason. The wine is a fine pairing for both oysters and mussels and shows great varietal character. Aromas of citrus, orchard blossom and grapefruit are complemented by hints of vanilla, wet stone, and - a Riesling hallmark - faint notes of petrol. The palate carries the Riesling theme with apple, citrus and mineral flavors.
Bodegas Fillaboa is one of the only wineries in the Rias Baixas D.O.
that produces wine solely from estate-owned fruit. The winery has
done extensive research on the Albariño variety, since it is the only
grape used in all of their wines. They say that Albariño is
considered to be most closely related to Riesling, hence the name Alba
(white) Rino (Rhine). The 2011 vintage offers classic mineral and
citrus components with superb racy acidity, and additional aromas and
flavors of green apple, tropical fruits and orange blossom.
The name Martin Codax comes from the 13th century Galician minstrel whose poems evoke a gallant love and passion for the sea. The ''Martin Codax'' canticles are the oldest of all the Galician-Portuguese poems to preserve their original music. From seaside vineyards along the rocky coast, this wine is 100% Albariño from the Rias Baixas D.O. Bright aromas of wet stone, pear and citrus lead to flavors of green apple, grapefruit and mineral that make a superb pairing for half shell oysters.
Although Malbec and Mendoza are the best known names in Argentine winemaking, Torrontes is taking center stage a few hundred miles to the northwest in the Cafayate region of Salta. It is believed that Argentina's flagship white varietal was brought to the country by Spanish Jesuits in the 18th century. Torrontes is found in the world's highest vineyards at 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level in the Andes foothills of Argentina. This vintage from Alamos is full bore Torrontes with big, juicy character of orange and jasmine blossom with notes of bubblegum and citrus - a tasty sipper and food wine for fans of the varietal.
Dona Paula Estate
Also coming from the Valle de Cafayate in the Salta region of Argentina, Dona Paula Torrontes is picked at three different intervals in the springtime season. The first early picking in February achieves good acidity and freshness. Later, in early March, grapes are picked to acquire floral notes. The final picking in early April seeks to add tropical fruit aromas. Indeed, all those components come to bear in appreciating this delicious wine. Look for aromas of guava, jasmine and Muscat following with ripe flavors of peach, pineapple and juicy citrus on the palate. The wine pairs well with oysters or mussels for those who prefer this richly fruity style.
Box wine is an attractive green alternative to bottled wine since energy and money are saved all along the way - packaging, shipping, recycling and disposal. But it wouldn't work at all if the wine inside the box weren't pretty darn good. Bota Box Pinot Grigio makes a great go-to sip for weeknight meals, picnics or even tasting with oysters and mussels. Look for bright aromas of nectarine, lime and white flowers with a medium-bodied palate featuring flavors of peach and lemon with notes of mineral.