Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Top 100 Best Buys 2014

We love this time of year. Not only are the grapes being harvested to create the wines of the new year, but the annual top 100 wine lists are published.

We subscribe to Wine Enthusiast and the magazine publishes multiple top 100 wine lists annually. 

The first one was published this week and it is the Top 100 Best Buys of 2014

While wine is intensely personal, lists like this give us the opportunity to expand our tasting into new wines based upon reviews. We don't have to agree with the rankings--but they provide a great place to find new wines.

The Top 100 Best Buys of 2014 is, in our mind, one of the best lists because it focuses on widely available wines with moderate prices. Seriously--the top 10 are composed of wines priced between $7-$14. Now those are really best buys.

This particular list is proof positive that solid, enjoyable wines do not have to cost over $20. We were also encouraged by how many Finger Lakes region wines were on the list and by how many of the vineyards that we have visited were represented on the list. 

Check it out and head off to your local wine retailer to expand your wine experience.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wine Dinner Excellence

We attended a wine dinner in Frederick, Maryland, the other evening which brought together a beautiful venue and very enjoyable wines. Together, it was the perfect combination for a fantastic wine dinner. 

The dinner was hosted by the Ayse Meze Lounge in Frederick Maryland. The food and the wines were paired beautifully. It was advertised as a five course dinner, but two of the courses had seconds--so it was really a five plus course dinner. With the weather being incredibly mild that evening, we were able to eat outside and enjoy the late-Summer coolness in a beautiful setting.

The wines were from the Willamette Valley Vineyard in Oregon. Yes, we've been there, but we really appreciate the wines they produce. Jim Bernau, the founder and CEO, was on hand to introduce the wines for each course of the dinner. Jim was in great form at the top of his game.  Every time we listen to Jim tell the story of Oregon wines and the vineyard, we learn something new and gain a better appreciation for the complicated process it takes to transform a dream into the glass of wine in my hand. 
Halibut first course

So why go to a wine dinner, especially when we already appreciate the wines? Simple. Wine dinners showcase gourmet cooking paired with exactly the right wine to create a perfect dining experience. The elegance and the chance to enjoy a delicious meal with friends is something that must be experienced.  After the meal there is the opportunity to purchase the showcased wines, usually at a discount, and more importantly--the opportunity to meet and talk with the wine producers is something that must not be missed. Being serious about wine, we want to know more and more about the process--the weather, the soil and the choice of grapes for a particular climate. There is a lot of detailed information out there and it cannot be absorbed in one sitting.

The wines served were during the evening were:

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyard Riesling
2013 Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Gris
2011 Willamette Valley Vineyard Dijon Clone Chardonnay
2013 Willamette Valley Vineyard Founders Reserve Pinot Noir
2012 Willamette Valley Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir

Each of the wines represented very well.  We were familiar with all of them, but it was nice to enjoy them paired with gourmet food. 

RECOMMENDATION: Find a local wine dinner and attend it--just for fun. Our experience has been that the service is fantastic and the wines are well paired with the food offerings. Wine dinners provide an opportunity to make new friends and enjoy wine.

Our thanks go out to:

Ayse Meze Lounge for hosting the event. The lounge is definitely on our list for a return visit. The service was awesome and the venue beautiful.

Willamette Valley Vineyards which produce some of the best Pinot Noir wines in the world and continue to be a first class operation committed to all around quality. A big thanks to Jim Bernau for not only making the wine, but for making the trip across the country to share his love of wine with all of us.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Glasses Really Do Make a Difference

Riedel XL Pinot Noir glass
We bought some special Pinot Noir glasses while we were in Oregon. They are made by the famous wine glass makers, Riedel. 

Originally, the story goes, they were designed as Oregon Pinot Noir glasses, but marketing them as that met some obstacles. They are now known as Riedel XL Pinot Noir wine glasses--but they are Pinot noir glasses. 

I did a test the other day with some friends.

I poured Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir into the glasses. I also poured the same wine into some regular wine glasses--unbeknownst to those drinking the wine.

The Test
I asked them to compare the wines.

Wow--three people were involved. All three were convinced that I had poured different wines into the glasses. All agreed that the wine in the Pinot Noir glasses was superior to the wine in the straight wineglass. It was difficult to convince them that the same wine was in both glasses.

Amazing confirmation. 

Glasses really do make a difference. The right glass enhances the smell and, therefore, the taste of a wine.

If you have ever had to drink wine from a plastic glass--like on an airplane, you understand what a travesty it really is. Even a great wine will not show to its potential in a plastic airline glass.

To fully enjoy great wines, take the time and spend the money to get stemware, glasses, that compliment the wines being served.

Do the test yourself--you will be amazed.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, September 5, 2014

Willamette Valley Vineyards -- Oregon Trail

Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards
We have been slow to write a review of Willamette Valley Vineyards, one of the wineries we visited during on our trip to Oregon's Willamette Valley for wine tasting, primarily because this winery and vineyard was the greatest stop on the journey. It is a big, but friendly, winery that offers so many views of grapes, wine, wine production and retailing that trying to write a review of our visit there seemed overwhelming. 
Wines for Tasting

We had the pleasure of staying on the vineyard for three nights and as a result we saw the in-depth side of winery operations. Walking through the vineyards in the morning before the world was fully awake was truly a highlight of our visit--but, then, so was sitting on the veranda outside of the guest rooms watching the sun set over the coastal mountains of Oregon, sipping some of the well balanced wines produced by the vineyard and enjoying the conversation with friends as the darkness fell ending another exciting day of adventure. 
Willamette Valley Vineyards Tasting
Room player piano

The vineyard is easy to find, being right off Interstate 5 south of Salem, Oregon, at The Enchanted Forest exit. It is kind of funny to think about the exit offering excitement for kids of all ages. Even though it sounds like a long way from the Portland airport, the drive was easy and fun.
View Across the Willamette Valley

The newly constructed tasting room must be seen to be appreciated.  Sitting up the hill, it provides a commanding overlook of the Willamette Valley south of Salem. The tasting room is the nicest and most welcoming tasting room of all the ones we experienced in the region. 

And then, and this is not an afterthought, there are the wines. The vineyards possesses a great assortment of wines to please almost every oenophile. 

Pinot Noir is king at Willamette Valley Vineyards and that is as it should be in this region. Ten different Pinot Noir wines were available for sale during our visit. We were able to participate in our first ever horizontal Sub-AVA tasting consisting of Pinot Noir wines from five different sub-AVAs within the Willamette Valley. The tasting helped us to understand the differences of the different regions. But the tastings did not stop there. Willamette Valley Vineyards also provides a dynamic Pinot Gris--which we felt was one of the best Pinot Gris offerings we have ever experienced along with Riesling, Chardonnay, a sparkling Muscat, and Viognier offerings. The winery also has a second label, Griffin Creek, which offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Viognier, and Malbec wines.

Although the choices seem overwhelming--there are definitely some "best buys!"

Bob and Chris's Willamette Valley Vineyards Best Buys:

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, $22. It is hard to beat this wine as a great go to wine that will please nearly everyone. Although promoted as "liquid fruit salad in a glass"--we found it to be a great wine suitable for many occasions, especially sitting around the pool after a long hot day. 

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Reisling, $14. A semi-sweet wine with fruit and a touch of effervescence that refreshes.

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, $16. Fabulous! We are not primarily white wine drinkers, but if all white were like this one, we might convert. The balance, minerality, flavors, and acidity of this wine are unsurpassed. 

2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Bernau Block, $55. This is a great Pinot Noir and we were happy to be able to secure a few bottles for our collection. It is the signature wine of the founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards. During our stay we were able to walk around the vineyards block from which the grapes for this wine are sourced. 

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyard AVA Series Wines, $50. If you want to experience the variations and differences among the Willamette Valley sub-AVAs, get these wines. They each provide a flavor the the valley and the regions from which they come.

RECOMMENDATION: This winery should be at the top of every Pinot Noir drinkers bucket list. 

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD
#wvv #wine4yourlife

Monday, August 18, 2014

St Innocent Winery - Oregon Trail


Driving the highway near Salem, Oregon, we made our way to St Innocent Winery, which had been recommended to us, late one afternoon. It was a great find not just for the wine, but for the art, the atmosphere and a bonus, the chance to talk to the owners.

Oregon wine tasting provides the opportunity to experience a wide variety of wines and we believe that St Innocent is providing some of the highest quality wines at a great price point in the Willamette Valley. This is one of those wineries that while it seems to be just a bit off the beaten path, it screams for recognition because Mark and Vickianne Vlossak have created a world class winery that we believe has a very bright future. The wines are focused and complex.

St Innocent Winery Barrel Room

The day we visited the tasting room, St Innocent was tasting 10 wines which provided a good representation of the winery. We found something special and interesting in each of the wines. 

We were very impressed with the 2012 Pinot Gris, Vitae Springs Vineyard. At $26, this was a very nice wine that we felt was in the upper tier of the Willamette Valley Pinot Gris offerings. Done in an Alsatian style in stainless, the wine was spicy with complex fruit notes.

The 2012 Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill, $36, had just been released and had a great nose. The cherry and spices in the nose and on the palate hold up well with grilled dishes. It competed well with offerings we sampled at other vineyards in the $45-65 range.
Poster in the Barrel Room
Note the Reflection in the Corner

One of the highlights of the winery is the  tasting room. It is decorated with intriguing poster art. The art adorning the facility must be experienced and, as we discovered, it is all through the tasting room and into the barrel room. Mark provided us with an impromptu tour and we were not disappointed. It was clear that in every area they are committed to creating and offering high quality wines.

RECOMMENDATION: St Innocent is a must stop on an Oregon Willamette Valley       wine tasting excursion.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Left Coast Cellars - Oregon Trail

Driving across the Willamette Valley on a beautiful July day we arrived at Left Coast Cellars  in Rickreall, Oregon, to enjoy some great wine tasting. 

We were greeted on our arrival by Suzanne, one of the owners, who welcomed us to her cellars and vineyard. She is rightfully proud of the vineyard and the operation.  This winery is a showplace--adorned with flowers and bees, and 130 acres of vineyards surrounding a great tasting room and outgoing friendly people. And great wines--did I mention the wines?
Left Coast Cellars Tasting Room

This is one of those not to be missed wineries in the Willamette Valley. The atmosphere is enjoyable, the diversity of the wines is solid, and the quality is superior. Jen guided us through our tasting and she was very knowledgeable about the wines and the operation of the vineyard. She was able to answer my myriad of questions while also presenting the wines in the best possible manner. I appreciated her enthusiasm and love of the wines produced. While we were there the vineyard manager, Luke, also stopped by for a visit and a chat. He is rightfully proud of the wines produced by Left Coast Cellars. 

The day we visited, six wines were being tasted. We felt that the 2013 Orchards Pinot Gris, $18, was an especially good buy. It had a nice fruity nose of peach and pear with bright flavors and good acidity and minerality. 

Another good buy was the 2013 White Pinot Noir, $20, which we found to be unique and smooth with tropical fruit, peach and pear. It was a very enjoyable wine which should be very good with a wide variety of foods and cheeses. A nice summer time wine.

One other wine, which was not on the scheduled tasting, but which we were able to taste was the 2012 Cali's Cuvee Pinot Noir, $24. This wine was a real treat with lots of cherries and plums with hints of floral flavors and good acidity to make a very nice wine. 
Flowers at Left Coast Cellars

There is more to this winery than just the wines. There is a kitchen which offers a variety of sandwiches and some very nice chocolate candies. There is an outside seating area to purchase a bottle of wine and enjoy a sandwich. The vineyards are very scenic with walking paths and trees. This may be one of the most scenic vineyards that we visited during out visit to the Willamette Valley to enjoy Oregon wine tasting. 

RECOMMENDATION: Do not miss this winery during a Willamette Valley wine tasting tour. The wines all have great price points and the beauty of the winery and surrounding area must be experienced. 

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, July 21, 2014

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar - Oregon Trail

We went looking for an established winery in McMinnville, Oregon, which had been recommended to us and in doing so we discovered a new brand that is truly a gem among the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wine producers. 

We drove to the address we were given for Panther Creek Cellars and found Elizabeth Chambers Cellar. We were not disappointed. This newly branded winery was actually and literally putting its name up on the door and preparing for its grand opening as we arrived. We were a little confused, but were greeted with open arms even while the staff was preparing for the huge celebration scheduled to occur on the next day.
Elizabeth Chambers Cellars Tasting Room

What did we find? Natalie met us at the tasting bar and guided us through a tasting of five Willamette Valley wines, one 2013 Pinot Gris and four 2011 Pinot Noir. She is not only enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the wines and wine production, but her ability to explain the geology of the region and the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced is superior. 
Barrel Room Reflecting the Outside

We had the opportunity to chat with Michael Stevenson, the Winemaker, about the wines and his view of winemaking. He  is excited about the opportunity to use his creative license to develop cutting edge wines and he is also very excited about the newly renovated facility. His approach to winemaking is direct and effective--make good wines that people appreciate. We believe that, in his these offerings of Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, he has met his goal.


Each of the five wines we tasted presented something special and was representative of the region and the exceptionally fine wines produced here. 

Starting off the tasting with the 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, $18, we were immediately immersed into a wine full of citrus with hints of grapefruit and orange, nice acidity, and tropical fruits. We found this to be a noteworthy Pinot Gris that stands out from so many others in its unique character highlighted by complex flavors and just the right amount of brightness.

Then the tasting quickly turned to the Pinot Noir offerings, which truly are the stars of the wine tasting experience. 

Leading the tasting was the 2011 Winemakers Cuvee Pinot Noir, $32, which was rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast in their August 2014 edition. And it is! This is a highlight wine that I initially felt should be the last one tasted rather than the first--because I truly felt that it would be hard to top this wine. The price point makes this wine a very good buy. 
Tasting Room

Each of the remaining three 2011 Pinot Noir wines: Shea Vineyard, Freedom Hill, and Lazy River (each $45) provide a integrated and complex interpretation of Pinot Noir highlighting the regions or vineyards from which the grapes were sourced.  I especially enjoyed the Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir for its dark, smoky, and brooding tones.  

The tasting experience was extremely enjoyable and the facility has been extensively renovated transforming it into a creative space for producing high quality wines. What could be better? Well, how about going back the next day to enjoy the grand opening celebration? How many times do we really get the opportunity to be at the public opening of a winery?
Elizabeth Chambers Grand Opening
Looking into the Barrel Room


At the celebration we did a barrel tasting of the 2012 Lazy River Vineyard Pinot Noir. Although not scheduled to be bottled for some months yet, this wine is complex and balanced with a nice deep color and an enticing nose. This is going to be a great wine when it is released.

RECOMMENDATION: Find the wines from this winery and enjoy them. They are of the highest quality with a great price point.  If you are fortunate enough to be visiting McMinnville, Oregon, stopping by Elizabeth Chambers Cellar is a must. 

-- Bob and Chris Doan, writing from Carlton, Oregon