Back momentarily from a lot of travel, with a busy autumn coming up, but thought I'd report on some tasting from the Willamette Valley and sundry other things from the last six weeks.
We started our travels in Portland, where a branch of my family has recently moved; after settling in at the Avalon Hotel, on the river just south of downtown (thank you, Hotwire!), we grabbed a cab over to clarklewis, a very popular place across the river from downtown, in a converted warehouse, that I'd discovered a couple of years ago just weeks after it opened. It's as good now as then, if not better; we started with glasses of Az. Agr. Provenza 2005 Garda Classico Chiaretto and liked it so much we ordered a bottle. Light-medium salmon color, rich fruit with a strong mineral-herb streak, dry, assertive and concentrated flavor (for a rosato). May be my favorite pink wine of 2006.
In the Willamette Valley [WV] we made a pilgramage to the
Joel Palmer House, renowned for its use of locally foraged wild mushrooms. A mixed success: my advice would be NOT to order the mushroom tasting menu, which had a few excellent dishes (the amuse risotto and the mushroom tart in particular), but also some filler (portabello "pizzas" with gruyere?); and the very spicy gazpacho, while delicious, didn't exactly go well with EIEIO 2004 WV Pinot Noir, Meredith Mitchell Vineyard. Black cherry and light wood spice; the wood withdraws with air and the wine shows some floral components and a little earth. Develops very nicely over the course of a long meal and seems decently restrained and balanced. We don't drink tons of OR Pinot, so we described our tastes to the sommellier and let him pick for us, and this was a nice way to dive in.
After some time in forests and on beaches, we did a day of tasting, mostly avoiding the big names and busy roads. First stop was the place closest to our B&B, Anne Amie, formerly Chateau Benoit, which has a terrific vista and nice staff; the wines were consistently very good but rarely compelling. The 2005 Pinot Gris was spicy, nicely acidic, a little floral and a little mineral; this is one I'd buy occasionally if I had ready access to it locally. The 2003 Chardonnay, from southern Oregon grapes, had the virtue of being decently structured and unslutty, but stood out to me more for what it wasn't than for what it was. The 2005 Estate Riesling, off-dry, had a lovely peach-blossom scent, a little spice and minerality; I'd have preferred a little more acid, but I found it pleasantly surprising--no, I mean surprisingly pleasant--when compared to the occasional Rieslings I've tasted from California. The 2003 Winemaker's Selection Pinot Noir showed a fair bit of berry fruit and wood, with a rosemary streak; quite ripe, and shows the effects of the warm year. The 2003 Yamhill Springs Pinot Noir was the best of the tasting. Concentrated but balanced, the fruit seems mostly dried-cherry; much brighter than the Winemarker's Selection, with some spice and vanilla notes, but not overdone. Seems likely to age interestingly in the short-to-medium term.
Stopped in to Scott Paul Wines in Carlton; Scott Paul Wright is both a winemaker and an importer of Burgundy, and somewhat unsurprisingly for us our purchases here were more French than American. A Philippe Chavy 2004 Meursault Narvaux tasted of spiced, caramelized pineapple, with a little nuttiness and a very bright fruit finish; the length and the persistence of the acidity into the finish counterbalanced the rich attack well. Delicious. Next came the <b>Domaine Huber-Verdereau 2004 Bourgogne</b> [I'm *pretty* sure we tasted the Bourgogne and not the village Volnay]. Rich ried cherry and slightly medicinal pinesap on the nose, bright and acidic in the mouth. Interesting and excellent value for $14. This was followed by a <b>Pascal and Réyane Bouley 2003 Pommard</b>, very earthy and velvety-smooth, with bright red berry fruit. Clearly a hot-vintage wine but survived with reasonable grace. Finally, from the man himself, a <b>Scott Paul 2004 WV Pinot Noir La Paulée.</b> Delicious: roses and white pepper on the nose, smoked strawberries in the mouth, well-structured.
Down the road at the <b>Carlton Winemakers' Studio</b> I was a bit put off by the pricing structure, and the inability to taste through a series of wines by a single maker, but we made do. <b>Domaine Meriwether NV Discovery Cuvee Brut</b>, 58% Pinot: ripe tropical fruit turning redder and ethereal on the finish. Not bad. <b>Bryce 2005 WV Viognier, Deux Vert Vineyard</b>: smells woody and underripe, opens up to show some tropical fruit. A bit fat, and a little sweet on the finish. We'd been advised to try the <b>Andrew Rich Sauvignon Blanc</b>, which someone had described to us as "the closest thing to Sancerre." In 2005, however, the wine seems to have been made with a surprising amount of RS, which wasn't unpleasant but did generate a little palate whiplash. Bright tropical green nose (I was spitting, but my notes start getting a little, shall we say, avant-garde around this time), interesting but odd. <b>2002 Domaine Meriwether WV Pinot Noir</b>: flavor profile reminiscent of Russian River Valley Pinot; black cherry, some wood spice, a solidly made, basic, fruit-forward Pinot. <b>Hamacher 2001 WV Pinot Noir</b>: showing a little age; balanced, earthy with herbs and dried fruit, a very long finish. Nice; this is a style I enjoy. The same wine from <b>2002</b> seems woodier, riper, more concentrated, and brighter; both are very appealing. Finally we tried two syrahs, one <b>Andrew Rich 2003 Syrah</b>, from the the warmer Columbia River area, and one <b>Bryce 2004 Syrah</b> from the Willamette Valley; assuming other things were equal, which they certainly weren't, this would be an instructive comparison: the Rich was good but didn't seem especially typical; the Bryce was pepperier and had a distinctive floral nose that made my mouth water.
Up the hill to <b>Penner-Ash</b>, where we started with a <b>2005 Roséo</b>, a rosé made from Oregon Pinot. Spicy raspberry fruit, a bit brambly, nicely balanced but a little big for slurping at 14.5%. Next, a <b>2004 WV Pinot Noir</b>, blended from eight vineyards. Big, rich purple fruit with wood-spice, some earthiness, surprisingly balanced for its size. Well-made but not really my style? Then, <b>2003 WV Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard.</b> This was our first encounter with Seven Springs, and even at this point the distinctiveness of the wine (which I later concluded must be the distinctiveness of the vineyard) lept out at us: here, the fruit is red and bright and bookended by rosewater and moist earth; gives a completely different impression and, to me, tasted like what I had been looking for. Any Northwesterners care to fill me in on Seven Springs? Finally <b>2004 Oregon Syrah</b>, from Columbia Valley and the Rogue River Valley. ("It's too cool to ripen Syrah in the Willamette Valley," we were told. Hm.) 1% Viognier. Very, very ripe but maintains a nicely typical floral element. Big (14.8%). I suspect I would enjoy this in small quantities but would find it a little tiresome over the course of a bottle; your mileage may vary, and if you like 'em bigger, this seems like a promising one.
Just to annoy our rental car company, we then proceeded over hill and dale along rocky dirt roads to <b>Torii Mor</b>. The busiest place we visited, and also the least consistent. The <b>2005 Pinot Gris</b> and <b>2004 Chardonnay [Columbia Valley]</b> were nice, straightforward, typical wines; the <b>2005 Pinot Blanc</b> was so plain as to seem a little dead; the Pinots ranged from straightforward and solidly done (<b>2004 WV</b>) to hot and overwooded (<b>2004 Deux Vertes Reserve</b>) to prematurely faded (<b>2004 Olson Estate Vineyard</b>) to unusual and compelling (<b>2004 Seven Springs Vineyard</b>, which was funky, with notes of ripe strawberry, tobacco, and redwood). By no means a winery to write off, but a difficult one to predict, if this sampling is representative.
Finally, back in Carlton, we stopped in at The Tasting Room, Jay Macdonald's place (hence EIEIO). After the bottle we'd had at the Joel Palmer House, we wanted to try a few others, and we weren't disappointed. (Be forewarned: tastes are 10% of bottle price, but given the limited quantities of what they're pouring, I'm not prepared to object.) The <b>EIEIO 2004 WV Pinot Noir, Wind Hill Vineyard</b> shows tobacco on the nose along with medium-toasty oak; the fruit is closer to blackberry than anything else and seems either a little faded or a little overwhelmed by the treatment. The <b>EIEIO 2004 WV Pinot Noir, Canary Hill Old Block</b>, shows black cherry, blackberry, and violets; there's a little vanilla on the finish, and the wine is nicely balanced for its size; the alcohol's listed as 14%. Finally, the <b>EIEIO 2004 WV Pinot Noir, Broadley Vineyard</b>, has big dark strapping black fruit, pepper, and a dried-fruit bottom note; it's very well structured and complex, and (along with the Meredith Mitchell) is one of the two EIEIO wines we buy. I tend to prefer delicacy to size, but there's something about these wines that seems to let me have both, and so I found myself seduced.
Two final notes -- well, more like shout-outs -- for wines we had on other parts of this trip that were especially compelling: <b>François Chidaine 2004 Montouis "Les Tuffeaux"</b> [my only note: holy shit, where can I buy this?] and <b>Albert Boxler 2004 Alsace Chasselas</b>: if this grape makes wine this good, why don't I drink it more?