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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Black Ankle Winery - Maryland Wine Trail

Black Ankle Tasting Room
A visit to Black Ankle Winery provides a view of what many wineries are striving to become in terms of the facilities and the sustainability. The winery is devoted to being "green" as well as self-sufficient in terms of grapes used in their wines. We laud and appreciate these ideals--so long as they result in great wines and an enjoyable experience. 
Pressed Grapevine Wine Bar in Foreground

The tasting room is beautiful and well designed. And it is green! The construction is unique to the area. We were impressed by the pressed grapevine wine bar. It has to be seen to be appreciated. 

The vineyard consists of 42.5 acres planted with 12 varieties of grapes.  The varietals are fairly standard for the region with the exception of the Gruner Veltliner. We were very interested in this grape and wine, but it was not available for tasting on the day we visited except by wine club members.

The winery has many outdoors seating areas and places for picnicking and presents a very enjoyable atmosphere for family activities. On the day we visited, there were a lot of families 

The tasting fee is $10, and on the day we visited during late June, only 5 wines were being tasted. The winery is devoted to Italian-style wines. The best tasting wine the day we visited was the 2013 Rose, which at $24 was a good buy. It was a dry Rose composed of a six wine blend consisting of Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The 2011 Rolling Hills, $32, sporting a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was a very light bodied wine and would be a good all around table wine suitable for daily use. With 1088 cases produced, it is the highest production wine at the winery. 

The 2011 Leaf-Stone Syrah, $52, was very light bodied and not spicy and did not exhibit the classic Syrah characteristics. 
Black Ankle Tasting Room

The Terra Dulce III, $45, port-style wine was exceptionally good. We found it enjoyable and complex with a nice blend of flavors. We thought the price point to be a bit high, however.

The Passeggiata VII, $28, had nice tones of strawberry and was delicious with a nice blending of spiciness. 

There were two other very interesting wines on the tasting list; however, they were only available for tasting or purchase by wine club members and when we inquired we found the wine club to be currently closed for new members. We felt they should not advertise the wines if first time visitors cannot enjoy them, especially if they represent the best the winery has to offer.
Green Bird House at Black Ankle

We was disappointed in the overall tasting experience. While the facility is fabulous and beautiful as well as inviting, the server was unfamiliar with the composition of the wines, the types of grapes grown by the vineyard, and many other basic facts. The tasting was strictly a tasting without the additional information about the wines, the harvest, and the winery that we are accustomed to receiving. A good tasting should strive to make a connection between the winery and the taster by explaining the process, the grapes, the methods, and selling the wine a bit. This tasting was strictly a tasting--"Here is the wine, what do you think?"

RECOMMENDATION. While the tasting experience was less than optimal, there are a lot of positives to enjoy about this winery. The open architecture, the seating areas, and the atmosphere are very nice and inviting. The dedication to going green is laudable. Be sure to check the website for tasting hours, the are generally open on weekends, but this is subject to change. This winery is worth a visit as it is one of the premier wineries in Maryland.

-- Bob and Chris Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, June 30, 2014

Serpent Ridge Vineyard - Maryland Vineyards

Serpent Ridge Vineyard Tasting Room
Nestled into the forest along a scenic Carroll County, Maryland, road we happened upon a jewel of a vineyard which epitomizes a dream becoming reality. Serpent Ridge Vineyard is admittedly small, with only four acres of vines, but it is significant in the quality of the wines produced and the friendly welcoming atmosphere.

We were met as we entered the tasting room by Janell, who exhibited enthusiasm about the wines and also in depth knowledge of the vineyard. She expertly took us through the tasting and answered my myriad of questions. Most of the wines are produced from grapes grown on the estate. 
Serpent Ridge Vineyards

The day we visited, six wines were being tasted. They represent a good mix of white and reds. The vineyard uses a unique closing system for the bottles--a zork resealable wine closure. They are the only winery that we have visited using this system and I like this much better than screwtop bottles, although I do remain a cork-o-phile. The zork does have many advantages including potential use on other bottles after the wine bottle is came on is long empty.

The tasting room is nicely situated providing a beautiful setting for sipping good wine, relaxing and enjoying a summer afternoon. As we sat talking over wine, cheese and crackers; Karen Smith, one of the owners, came and spent some time taking about the history of the vineyard and their plans for the future. I was impressed with her realistic vision and approach to winemaking. She recognizes that there are opportunities for winemakers and is definitely looking to fill a niche which will attract others to Maryland wines.

The wines were tasting very well and we were especially impressed with the 2011 Albarino and the 2011 Cab Franc Rose. The dessert wine, appropriately named Slither, was also very nice.

The 2011 Albarino was crisp with some minerality. It had nice fruit on the nose and hints of peaches and pears. The nose was full and enticing. This is a good sipping around the pool wine and was our favorite of the day.

The 2011 Cab Franc Rose was especially interesting because the nose and the taste seemed to be very different from each other. The bouquet was full of jammy fruit, but the tastes were of light strawberry in a very dry interpretation. I enjoyed alternating between enjoying the bouquet and then finding the flavors as I sipped the wine. This wine definitely needs to be served chilled.

Slither, the dessert wine, is one of those wines that needs to be in everybody's cellar. It is a very well done combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. With its 5 percent residual sugar and 19 percent alcohol, this wine is meant to be enjoyed very slowly and we could think of many ways to enjoy it, from over ice cream, to even on its own in a glass as a dessert on its own--chilled, of course.

The vineyard has a solid schedule of events planned throughout the summer--to further attract people. Check out their events calendar. There is ample parking and the tasting room is spacious and pleasant, as is the on lawn seating for the enjoying the summer evenings ahead. 

RECOMMENDATION: Check this vineyard out. We found Serpent Ridge to be a very enjoyable foray into Maryland wines and winemaking and the setting provides a great way to spend a summer afternoon. Be sure to check the website for hours of operation.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Home Wine Cellar, Part 2: Storage

Why did the size of our wine cellar increase beyond 18 bottles, which was sufficient to meet our daily needs? 

Well, frankly, it was not a conscious decision. It just happened! As we became more familiar with wine and the impact that aging can have on better wines, we began to buy multiple bottles of wines. One to enjoy now and more to enjoy later.

A great conundrum is realizing that the wine being tasted today may not be available tomorrow and trying to decide how many bottles to buy to be able to continue to enjoy the wines.

One of my personal rules of wine shopping is never buy a single bottle of wine. Buy wine in pairs. If it is good enough to buy today, I will want to enjoy it again. Buying wine like this naturally increases the number of bottles that are maintained. A really great wine at a really great price point may mean that a case needs to be purchased to lay down and to have for later. 
No, This isn't my Wine Cellar

It have to admit that for good wines, it is a lot of fun to watch a wine develop. And, it is educational. We are watching a wine that we helped develop mature in the bottle. It is a 2009 vintage from Virginia and it has changed significantly from when it was first bottled and sold.

Changing the way wine is purchased means that wine holdings just naturally begin to increase, incrementally over time and then, suddenly, there are cases of wine crammed into closets. Ultimately, I would love to have a real wine cellar like the one in the image--but I have neither the space nor the money for such an ornate cellar. Something, however,  has to be done or good money will be wasted on wine that will go bad in the bottle.
Small wine Refrigerator

Three words:

Storage, storage, storage.

Start small. Buy an inexpensive wine refrigerator that holds 50 or more bottles. That will provide two of the most important aspects of managing a small collection: darkness and consistent temperature. 

Light and fluctuating temperatures are known enemies of wine. A small wine refrigerator allows the wine collection to be maintained, even near the kitchen or on the main level of a house, where temperatures fluctuate and sunlight is present.

As enjoyment of wine increases, we have found that having a selection our favorites on hand is always preferred to running out to the wine shop for something fast. Having a modest cellar has increased our wine enjoyment immeasurably because we always have something on hand suitable for everyone's personal tastes.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Perigeaux Vineyards & Winery

Sitting above the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland, on a scenic plot with eight acres of vineyards, we found a charming and enjoyable winery: Perigeaux Vineyards & Winery. It was a spur of the moment day trip to wineries within about an hour and a half of the house and we were not disappointed. All of the wines which carry the Perigeaux label are estate grown--which is no small feat considering the size of the vineyard.
Perigeaux Tasting Room

It was a beautiful, late-May afternoon and our visit to the winery was thoroughly enjoyable. We were met as soon as we walked  into the tasting room by Katie who demonstrated a deep knowledge of the winery and wines produced. Varieties grown on the estate include: Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, and Zinfandel. 

I learned something really interesting while in the tasting room. One of the pairings they proposed for their 2011 Chardonnay was with quiche! Yup--quiche. Wine is not just for dinner anymore and can rival the cheap sparkling wines used to make breakfast mimosa's. 

The winery is most proud of its dry red offerings, but we also found a unique interpretation of Chardonnay. 

The 2011 Chardonnay was very impressive and found an excellent balance between the steel tank and oak barrel fermented Chardonnays. This Chardonnay is held in oak barrels for just a few weeks--and this imparts soft tones into the wine without becoming overpowering oaky or buttery. 

The 2012 Pinot Gris Reserve was also very nice and definitely worth the taste.

The reds, however, were truly the hit of the visit.

We were able to sample some of the double gold winning 2011 Montepulciano and it was every bit as good as a double gold winning wine should be. Sadly, there were only a few bottles of this wine left.
Gift Area in the Tasting Room

But, there were some other great reds to be sampled. The 2011 Cabernet Franc was very nice and surprisingly full bodied, while the 2011 Mackall Road Cabernet Sauvignon was similar to a Washington State interpretation with a very light body and almost no tannins.

It was a perfect day to visit the Winery and Vineyard and I recommend it as a must do stop on Maryland's Patuxent Wine Trail

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Home Wine Cellar, Part 1

I was thinking the other day about how we transitioned from a few bottles to having a no kidding wine cellar that needs to be managed.

It was easy, because we really didn't think about it.

We used to have a few bottles, less than four, on hand to compliment dinner and share with friends. Mostly, I would have to stop on my way home to get wine to support our evening plans. Over time, we developed a true, but small wine cellar which can support almost any occasion at a moments notice. How did that happen? And why?

First and foremost, a couple of rules:

1. Never store wine in the kitchen!

2. If in doubt, see Rule 1.

Seriously, the kitchen is the worst place in the house to store wine unless it is in a climate controlled environment (I mean a wine fridge). The temperature swings from cooking to rest take a toll on wine. Many kitchens come complete with nice built in wine racks--but the life of wine is greatly shortened in the kitchen. 

My recommendation, find a 12 or 18 bottle wine rack and plan to use that to begin your wine collection.

What are the considerations for buying wine?

1. What do you like? Buy what you like first and foremost.

2. What does your spouse or significant other like? Gotta keep the rest of the house happy!

3. What do your friends like? You don't want to have to run out on a moments notice when friends drop by.

4. What is popular and in vogue? Popular wines are just that for a reason--try them and see if you like them. It is likely that someone who drops by will be impressed that you at least know what is in vogue in the wine world.

I recommend starting with about 12 to 18 bottles. In my experience, a 12 bottle case should consist of 8 whites and four reds. The whites should be muscat, rieslings, vioginier, and pinot gris/grigot. The reds should be merlots, pinot noirs, and maybe a syrah/shiraz. Don't forget a sparkling wine for special occasions.

Twelve bottles is a good start and will begin to provide some flexibility. 

Cost? Start modest. Find good tasting wines in the $10-$20 range to begin with. Yes, there are good wines for less than $10 and there are great wines for more than $20--but most people will be impressed with the bottles prices in the teens--so start there.

Next, I'll write about what to do when18 bottles on hand is just not enough.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wine Barrel Furniture

OK, maybe I've gone a bit too far. I've always wanted a wine barrel, although I could not figure out a good reason to buy one. Ideally, I wanted one full of wine to drink or blend into a future fine wine.

Wine barrels are big and bulky. What can you really do with a full sized wine barrel? Sitting it in the yard to watch it deteriorate from the weather does not seem a fitting end for such a well constructed item.

Enter the wine barrel table. We discovered the wine barrel table while at the Maryland Home and Garden Show during March. We ordered the table at the show and received a really good discount as compared with the stated price through Wine Enthusiast. Two months later, it was delivered, perfectly, as ordered. 

The table was constructed by Wine Barrel Designs from Elmer, New Jersey. They were great to work with and interactive on delivery day to minimize my time away from work. This table includes storage for 24 bottles of wine, four authentic wine barrel chairs, and a lazy susan on top. I envision many evenings sitting at the table and enjoying a glass of wine. They have other designs and options--but I always seem to need more places to store wine.

We have needed the perfect accessory for our wine room for some time. And that the chairs are made from wine barrel staves and have three legs so that they don't rock.

I am very impressed with the workmanship that Wine Barrel Designs took in creating the table and chairs. It looks exactly like we envisioned it would. I was told that this barrel was made of French Oak and I was impressed that the staves used to make the stools still smell like wine--authentic.

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for a unique piece of wine furniture, check out Wine Barrel Designs, you'll be happy you did. They delivered to the door, placed the wine barrel table where I wanted it and made sure I was happy with my purchase. 

So the next wine barrel I buy will be full of wine!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD