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


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