By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
With the coming of the fall season and its attendant weather, oyster lovers begin preparing for festivities that dot the calendar throughout October, November and December. Oysters are a traditional food of celebration and serve well to lead off any special meal be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years. To get in practice for holiday shucking, better get a few Kumamotos and try them with some of these additional favorite oyster wines.
I continue to recommend Taylor Shellfish Farms for their tasty Kumos and other delectable bivalves.
Winemaker Aryn Morell spent five years working in the Napa Valley before returning home to his native Washington to craft wines from locally-grown grapes. Tenor Wines has a commitment to releasing only world-class wines, declassifying vintages of particular varietals that don't meet their stringent criteria. This Chardonnay will impress many experienced wine lovers as being Chablis-like, with earthy and mineral notes mingling with honey and stone fruits, evolving into a crisp yet rich palate of myriad flavors - each finding companionship with oysters and mussels.
L'Ecole No 41
Grapes for this wine came from the Schmitt and Oasis Vineyards in the Yakima Valley and the Evergreen Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. The cooler Yakima Valley fruit provides tropical fruit character while the fruit from the warmer Wahluke Slope adds crisp acidity and minerality. This popular Chardonnay style is appealing for round and creamy aromas and flavors, showing pear and guava accented by citrus and mineral. My tasters preferred it as an accompaniment to delicious steamed mussels.
''When Jay (Somers) first produced this fresh, clean Chardonnay with no oak or malolactic fermentation, some called him a lunatic. But its popularity proves that he wasn't so crazy after all.'' Indeed, Cuvee Lunatique Chardonnay has been a favorite with my oyster and mussel wine tasters in previous tastings. Look for aromas and flavors of green apple, white peach, chalky mineral and notes of citrus and herbs.
House of Independent Producers
Christophe Hedges produces these wines at the family estate on Red Mountain where the extended family carries the banner for the Red Mountain AVA throughout the world. The grapes for this wine, however, come primarily from grapes grown at the Dionysus Vineyard at Sagemoor Farms north of Pasco, Washington. Since the wine sees no oak during production, it exhibits the fresh terroir of the vineyard and offers bright aromas of apple and pear with notes of tropical fruits and spice. The palate is crisp with flavors of apple and Bosc pear.
Jarrod Boyle crafted this 2012 Chardonnay from grapes grown at his Destiny Ridge Vineyards in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills AVA. My tasters enjoyed this wine especially with steamed mussels, pairing the flavors of crisp green apple, stone fruits and lemon zest with rich mussels and savory broth. For sipping, serve the wine slightly chilled to appreciate the complex aromas of pear and lemon with earthy sur lie character and a spicy vanilla finish.
Torii Mor Winery
This complex-yet-crisp Chardonnay was crafted from grapes grown at Todd Vineyard south of Monmouth, Oregon in the Willamette Valley AVA. Winemaker Jacque Tardy barrel fermented the wine in neutral French and Hungarian oak and aged the wine sur lie after it completed malolactic fermentation. Look for forward aromas of lemon and white flowers with hints of spice and beeswax. The palate is bright with citrus flavors and crisp minerality on the finish - a very nice complement to oysters.
Snoqualmie ''Eco'' wines are made from 100% organically-grown grapes from USDA-certified organic vineyards in the Columbia Valley. These vineyards also utilize cover crops of native grasses and cereal grains to reduce soil erosion and to provide habitat to attract beneficial insects-and the wine's pretty good, too! Look for ripe Chardonnay character of apple and pear (no oak and no ML) with crisp notes of lemon and hints of spice.
The Mercer Family is now into its fourth generation of farming in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills. From the arrival of William Mercer in 1886 to the planting of wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills by Don and Linda Mercer in 1972 to the creation of Mercer Estates winery in 2005, Mercer family members have been stewards to the land and leaders of the agriculture community. Their refreshing Pinot Gris from the 2012 vintage offers aromas of melon, orchard blossom and pear with a crisp palate of pear and tropical fruits.
The Jacob-Hart Vineyard lies in Oregon's Chehalem Mountains AVA and is named in honor of the founders of Rex Hill Winery, Paul Hart and Jan Jacobsen. The vineyard's unique soils and warm southeast-facing slope produce excellent fruit for Rex Hill wines. This is one of Oregon's finest Pinot Gris. The nose expands with breathing to offer citrus and floral components followed by wet stone and talc, and resolves to pear and stone fruits. On the palate, juicy flavors of white peach and melon contrast with racy acidity and tingly minerality - it helps the oyster find its own sense of place in the culinary universe.
Joel Gott began his winemaking journey in the 1990s in the northern California wine country, seeking to fill the need for quality, affordable wines. Beginning with a small lot of single vineyard Zinfandel, the Gott line has expanded to include a variety of red and whites, including this flavorful Pinot Gris from Oregon's Willamette Valley. Look for aromas and flavors of white flowers and honeysuckle, white peach and citrus, and notes of tropical fruits.
This brand from Precept Wines offers an attractive Pinot Gris that pairs well with shellfish, and for a bargain price. Look for bright aromas of pear and citrus with flavors of tropical orange, apple and a hint of spice on the finish.
Lewis Vineyard is a prime source of grapes for Dunham Cellars. It is located in the foothills of the Rattlesnake Ridge at the east end of the Yakima Valley. The vineyard is at 1,200 feet elevation and produces superb fruit by careful vineyard management and low crop levels. When looking just at the numbers for this Riesling, Crocodile Dundee might say, " Crikey, Mate! It's a Ripper! " referring to the high acidity level (pH: 2.99). But thanks to some residual sugar, you get a balanced palate to complement the inviting nose of orchard blossom, melon and apple. Flavors of apple, mineral and citrus complement both oysters and mussels.
Lazy River Vineyard
The Lumpkin Family's Lazy River Vineyard lies three and one half miles from Yamhill, Oregon in the state's coast range foothills. The vineyard was planted beginning in 2000 and now comprises 146 acres of vines. Lazy River Riesling is always bone dry (it has yet to be released, so it may be drier still when it is finally available), but it has impeccable Riesling varietal character and Teutonic charm. Look for aromas and flavors of white peach, melon, dried herbs, mineral and a hint of petrol on the finish.
Wines from other areas:
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Freestone Vineyards in western Sonoma County was planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by Joseph Phelps, beginning in 1999 to produce outstanding wines from these varietals using biodynamic farming practices. The Freestone Vineyards Guest Center now welcomes visiting wine lovers to introduce them to Phelps' Sonoma Coast wines and the Freestone community. The winery's Freestone Chardonnay is among the finest produced anywhere in the world with impeccable balance and structure highlighted by complex aromas and flavors of pear, honeysuckle, flinty mineral, Meyer lemon, melon, creamy vanilla and notes of citrus zest.
Grgich Hills Estate
A hallmark of the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay is that is does not undergo malolactic fermentation as part of the vinification process. This gives the wine a unique twist of flavor and balance, offering structure for both near-term enjoyment and longer-term aging potential. Not coincidentally, this also creates a superb food wine, capable of pairing with anything from oysters to mussels to poultry to pork. Look for aromas of crisp apple and peach with notes of toasty oak leading to flavors of tropical citrus, melon and guava.
Chardonnay is the world's most popular white wine. Semillon is virtually unknown, but to those who know, it offers intrigue, complexity and food friendliness. Combine the two at a value price and you introduce consumers to a remarkable experience. This bright and aromatic blend offers aromas and flavors of nectarine and peach with notes of citrus and a bit of sweetness - an overall good value in a seafood wine.
Hawkes Bay is located on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. This picturesque seaside community is the wine lover's gateway to over 80 wineries and 100 vineyards. Esk Valley Estate is just above the ocean with a terraced vineyard, winery and tasting room. It is part of the 240 mile New Zealand wine trail leading from Marlborough south to Hawkes Bay - wow! No budget for a trip down under? Try Esk Valley Chardonnay at home with your shrimp from the bar-b or your oysters on the half shell. Look for peach and melon with notes of grapefruit and creamy vanilla" also good with mussels.
Trefethen Family Vineyards
This particular wine came to my attention when it was selected for an oyster award at this year's Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. As I mentioned in part one of this series, I have been tasting in this competition since its beginning, and this is the first Riesling to pass muster with the esteemed judges. It will tingle your Kumamoto with aromas and flavors of orchard blossom, tropical citrus, apple and grapefruit.
Dry Creek Vineyard
"Chenin Blanc is summertime in a bottle!." To some, this promotional saw might seem trite, but many folks are getting on the Chenin Blanc bandwagon to revive the popularity of this varietal. The Clarksburg AVA is near Sacramento, spanning portions of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano counties. The area is cooled by breezes from San Francisco Bay, allowing white varieties to maintain acidity and freshness. Another Oyster Award winner in past years, DCV Dry Chenin offers aromas and flavors of stone fruits, melon and citrus with crisp acidity and notes of talc and grapefruit on the finish.