Friday, September 12, 2008

Walla Walla Wine Woman Does the Willamette

Ahhh...Willamette, Oregon Wine Country - - the home of Pinot Noir. To be honest? I've never been a fan of Pinot Noir. However, I have noticed that lovers of Pinot Noir are passionate about this grape and possibly more passionate wine drinkers than any other wine. If made well, it is fragrant, silky and a elegant wine, but for some reason it's Cabernet Sauvignon that caught and kept my attention all these years.

Pinot Noir is the greatest challenge to winemakers and also the greatest challenge in a vineyard, but this Burgundian grape has found it’s place in Oregon. I can’t tell you how many times when I was working behind the tasting room bar, wine customers would ask, "When is Walla Walla going to get on the bandwagon and start producing lots of Pinot Noir?" My answer, "Why should we when the Willamette Valley is doing such a terrific job?"

I often wondered if these comments had something to do with the movie, "Sideways" as the main character Miles hated Merlot, but loved Pinot Noir. And of course, after the movie the craze of Pinot Noir sparked new-wine-consumer America, where ultimately a lot of bad Pinot Noir was sold and a lot of great Merlot was ignored.

In April, I had an opportunity to taste a lot of pinot noir while judging for the Northwest Wine Summit held at Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, OR and I even found a couple I liked, so my interest was peaked to taste more. So last month, Steve and I did some wine tasting in the Willamette, but of course we first had to make a stop in Portland to relax and dine at one of my favorite restaurants, Pazzo Ristorante. Yummy martinis and brick oven pizzas! We stayed at the historic Hotel Vintage Plaza and do they ever know how to start your visit! We were greeted with a hosted wine tasting in the lobby. A couple of glasses of wine, after the four hour drive, were welcomed (Pazzo Ristorante is also in the same building). After we settled into our room, we went for a walk to check out the city and wouldn’t you know, right across the street was a wine bar tucked into one of my favorite shopping areas at Morgan’s Alley. Oregon Wines on Broadway is where we did the flight of Pinot Noir (see Raise Your Glass to the Pinot Noir Glass) and discovered how the right glass can make a difference in the taste of a wine.

Our original destination was the Oregon coast for a couple of days, but on the way to the coast and back to Walla Walla, we visited the wineries of Stoller Vineyards, Anne Amie Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin, Carlton Wine Studio and WillaKenzie We tasted several wines, mostly Pinot Noirs. Coming home from the coast, Steve and I discussed which wines we liked and which ones we didn't. We both agreed that we enjoyed the wines from Stoller Vineyards, WillaKenzie and the chardonnay, "Arthur" from Domaine Drouhin. "Arthur" was a classic white burgundy in style, as it should be, considering Domaine Drouhin's background. Their two pinot noirs, Willamette Valley and "Laurene" were very good, but we thought the Laurene's price tag, $65 per 750 ml bottle, was a bit high, in comparison to Stoller's SV (Senior Vines) elegant and silky Pinot Noir at just $40 a bottle.

It was no surprise to us that we liked everything we tasted at Stoller Vineyards, since Steve was already a club member and we had experienced the Stoller wines before. We sampled a beautiful rose' of pinot noir, two chardonnays, the JV Pinot Noir, besides the SV Estate Pinot Noir. We discovered two days later, over looking the sun sinking into the ocean, how wonderful the chilled rose' of Pinot Noir paired with fresh smoked salmon, croissants and an assortment of Tillamook Oregon coast cheese.

The wines we had at the Carlton Wine Studio, which is just outside the charming little burg of Carlton, we chose a flight of two syrahs including a red blend, and a flight of two pinots. We liked the Ribbon Ridge pinot a lot (its fragrant, beautiful nose especially), the other (Lazy River) not so much. We also liked the house-label red blend. The syrahs were from Washington fruit, (Andrew Rich and Dominio IV) and they just weren't typical of Washington made syrahs that we are so spoiled on, we thought.

WillaKenzie makes two whites, a pinot blanc and a pinot gris, that were both highlights and real deals at $18 each. They also make about a thousand vineyard-designated pinot noirs (six, actually) and one blend. All of these wines are beautifully crafted -- you can tell that real expertise went into each of them. Of all of their pinot noirs the "Aliette" was a very noticable wine for me. It was very elegant, yet full bodied wine. We also noticed indeed the difference between drinking Oregon Pinots in regular Chardonnay style glasses vs the new Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses.

Unfortunately, the wines of Anne Amie Vineyards were all forgettable, as was our tasting-room experience there. The less said, the better. However, our tasting-room experiences at Stoller, Drouhin and WillaKenzie, especially, were wonderful. Stoller might win by a hair in the friendliness competition, WillaKenzie in the scenery department and for as big and as crowded Drouhin was, it wins for patience and professionalism in spite of the limosine that showed up at closing time - - but wow, all of them were very memorable and there isn't any doubt we will buy more bottles from all of them in the future.


Unknown said...

Hi Catie! Great post and I'm rather jealous as I would LOVE to visit OR for their Pinot and other wines.
I just had a great Ribbon Ridge PN from Patricia Green Cellars.
I can shoot you the link, if you'd like! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post Catie. I agree with your notes. I love the Willlakenzie wines and think that Pinot Blanc is a steal! Come back soon!

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Dr Xeno and Craig, thank you both for your comments.

Dr Xeno,
I have heard great things from Patricia Green and I will put it on my list. And I most definitely recommend a trip to Oregon. Thank you.

Indeed we are going to come back, as I have always loved the Willamette Valley even before they had such great wines. And thanks for agreeing with my notes. That is a really kind compliment coming from you, especially with your Willamette wine background. Thanks again.


Thad W. said...

Catie, thanks for sharing your experiences visiting wineries in the Willamette Valley. I am definitely going to add WillaKenzie and Stoller to the list of places to visit on my next trip.

By the way, have you checked out WillaKenzie's web site? Their homepage is amazing in terms of connecting visitors to the grapes they grow and the wines they produce (just blogged about this last week).

And I am glad you included an experience that was less than satisfying, as folks need to know the good as well as the bad when it comes to wine.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Thad,

Thanks for checking in. Yes, I do recommend a trip to WillaKenzie and Stoller and I think Domaine Drouhin is a worthy visit, as well.

Yes, I am familiar with WillaKenzie's website and they also have a lot of the same charts in their tasting room. It's pretty amazing.

I find telling about less than satisfactory experiences difficult. On a f2f basis, I have no problem. Via blog, I often say nothing because I feel everyone will have an "off" day once in awhile, but in this particular experience, it was more than just having an "off" day.


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