November 22, 2006

Kermit Lynch Tasting

I went to a terrific event at Liner & Elsen wine shop last week, a tasting of three French producers imported by Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, CA.

There are many importers of French wine, many good ones. Yet Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant is, to me, the best. I grew up in wine through KLWM selections, and even with occasional doubts through the years, they keep coming through.

Case in point, the wines of Reuilly, Robert-Denogent, and Tempier.

From the Loire, Denis Jamain of Domaine de Reuilly poured wines and showed a nice rock from his vineyard filled with fossilized sea shells, His 2005 Reuilly Sauvignon is crisp, clean middle Loire sauvignon. The 2005 Pinot Gris Rosé is light and delicate, more inoffensive than graceful, with a beautiful light copper color. Then the 2005 Reuilly Pinot Noir, fresh and lively ruby red wine, simple and in the words of Jamain, easy to drink. I’d say that and delightful.

Next came Jean Jacques Robert of Domaine Robert-Denogent in the Maconais. These wines really impressed, with all of them more than satisfactory and a couple that were truly outstanding. At $20-$35, these are great value in high quality white Burgundy.

The 2004 Macon-Fuissé “Les Taches” is nice clean chardonnay with great balance, simple but still very nice. The 2004 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Croix” is similar in frame but with more mineral intensity.

Then, at another level, the 2004 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Reisses” that’s simply gorgeous. Rich but precise aroma, full and long flavor, this is pick of a nice line up. The 2004 Pouilly-Fuissé “Cuvée Claude Denogent” that’s named for Jean Jacques Robert’s grandfather is a bit wild and less clear than the Reisses, but no less delicious. These wines show some oak influence, but also have such nice fruit and minerality to balance things.

And finally the 2000 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Carrons” for contrast. It was a bit mature at first, but opened quickly with mint and fennel aromas, a bit lean on the palate though I think this just needed more time to unfold in the glass.

I’ve been on a white Burgundy kick lately, and wines like these only make me more interested. If you think white Burgs are too expensive, too rich, too boring, too oaky, too whatever, give these a try. They aren't cheap by most standards, but they're worth the extra money. And if you're loaded, drink this stuff anyway.

Then to Provence. Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier was on hand to pour the 2004s and other things, and chat candidly about his technique and the domaine in general.

First, the 2005 Bandol Rosé is a mineral and structured rosé, good but a bit lost for me tonight if you can believe it. Daniel said it’s 50% grapes macerated one night, which gave more color than they hoped, so another 35% of the grapes were pressed right away without maceration. The cuvee also includes about 15% saignee from the reds. Daniel says that he wants to be careful not to bleed too much from the red wine so as to not imbalance it. This wine is fermented with added yeast, unlike the reds.

Then reds. The 2004 Bandol “Classique” is dark colored, full bodied and fruity but still cleanly earthy too, fairly forward and drinkable though I’m sure it would last some time. This is more modern than I remember Tempier, but still it’s authentic wine, not candied.

The 2004 Bandol “La Migoua” – pronounced Mee-gua for those of us who wonder about about things – is a step up. 50% mourvedre with syrah, carignan, and others in the mix, it has a sappy richness that’s a bit tight right now, but this is good if hefty wine.

The 2004 Bandol “La Tourtine” smells just like I remember Tourtine, which isn’t something I usually say about a wine. But this just smells like other bottles from this vineyard, good bottles I should add, have smelled. Yet it’s very ripe for Tempier and more forward than the Migoua while still clearly structured and a bit furry as mourvedre can be. It’s nice but again big wine. Daniel suggests it’s in the 15% range, which might come as a surprise to some people.

Finally, the 2000 Bandol “La Tourtine” that’s still young, as you would expect. Daniel jokes that they might have missed a racking on this one, his first year at Tempier. Stinky, reduced right out of the nearly fresh bottle, but with some minutes it clears up some. If you have this wine, decant it, which is probably a good idea with most Bandol. This is good Bandol, a minerally cherry wine that really wants food to smell and taste its best.

In sum, a terrific event that was like a little slice of Lynch’s classic book Adventures on the Wine Route. Both leave you thirsty for more.

Visits to Evesham Wood and Bethel Heights

Last Saturday, we ventured down the interstate to visit Evesham Wood in the southern Eola Hills just outside of Salem.

Instead of working all of Thanksgiving weekend, Russ and Mary Raney hold their fall open house one week earlier. When we arrived, there was a nice crowd in the dim but cramped cellar.
How nice to return to where I worked last year, the whole operation noticeably smaller than Belle Pente, the cellar below the family home just as you’d expect in Europe, just as I remembered it.

I was hoping to taste a barrel sample or two from 2005, but Russ only poured bottled wine. Most were from 2004, and all were red now that the whites from these short years are mostly sold.

We started with the 2005 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, which was more together than a couple months ago right after bottling. Terrific wine for $15.

Then the 2004 Pinot Noir, all medium red at most with generally soft textures and ripe flavors. First the Le Puits Sec estate bottling, the most oak marked in a spicy, toasty way. Cherries, strawberries, winey but broad and fleshy.

Then the Cuvee J, an equal blend of estate and Seven Springs fruit. This wine showed a balance of the softer estate fruit and the deeper, more structured Seven Spings fruit. A hint of mint and loam with nice length, very good wine.

Finally the Seven Springs, back on form after what I thought was an overly alcoholic 2003. This was the most compelling wine here, deeper and fully in every way, approachable now as are all these wines but more structured to age. Still, in this ripe vintage, none of these wines is shy and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that alcohols aren’t much lower than ’03. But these wines didn’t show it today.

But wait, one more bottle, a....2005 Willamette Valley Tempranillo. Yes, Evesham Wood has gone round the bend and made a tempranillo. Russ loves Spanish reds and found tempranillo in a vineyard that provides the base of the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. So he got a small amount to play with. Half the wine was apparently bottled for a local restaurant, and half on sale at the winery. How’s the wine? Dark in color and needing oxygen to get rid of some bottle stink. Underneath it smells like blackberries and earth but tastes tannic and tight. These grapes weren’t super ripe, but they made a nice wine. I had thought Russ would age it longer before bottling, but perhaps there wasn’t quite the depth for that.

Having enjoyed ouselves, we set out for another winery without quite the crowd. To Bethel Heights, a bit north in the Eola Hills with a nice tasting room, no tasting fee, and no crowd. Did I mention the tables where you can spread out and stay a while? This was a nice stop.

First the 2005 Pinot Gris, a mix of fruit from around Oregon in a clean, screw-capped bottle. This was quite nice, fresh and lively with a light sweetness that didn’t get tiresome. We bought one of these. Then the more barrel-marked 2003 Chardonnay Estate, which seemed clumsy at first but changed to show very nicely, not unlike a good Macon white without quite the precision.

To reds and the 2005 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills, designated properly after the new American Viticultural Area for this region. Again, I initially didn’t like this but it grew on me. Sweet fruit and ash aromas at first, but then more complex spice and wine notes, not confected. Tastes simple and clean, not bad but more standard, I enjoyed this and wonder if it won’t evolve a little bit yet.

A step up was the 2004 Pinot Noir Flat Block Reserve, again lighter like the 2004s at Evesham Wood though not alarmingly so. Pretty aromas with a sense of layering, soft and full on the palate without heaviness. Very nice wine, I have sometimes found the reserves from Bethel Heights too wood-marked, but this is very nice wine and good value for higher end Oregon wine.

November 21, 2006

Harvest Dinner at Belle Pente

To celebrate the end of havest nearly a month ago now, Brian and Jill O’Donnell hosted a wonderful harvest dinner at their home literally in the Belle Pente estate vineyard.

The harvest crew, friends, and neighbors were all there, and a former employee with serious chops in the kitchen cooked an outstanding meal.

The meal itself mirrored the harvest experience. The Belle Pente approach to farming and winemaking is highly traditional, and with the harvest dinner we shared another tradition of marking the season’s end. It’s difficult to describe, but this was a special experience.

The wines of course were top notch. Brian poured sparklers to begin, with the clean but simple 1997 Argyle Oregon Brut from magnum showing well enough next to a more mature NV Tattinger Champagne Brut. More impressive was the NV Bruno Palliard Champagne Brut, with terrific focus, freshness, and complexity.

Brian then paired wines to the multiple food courses, beginning with two from Alsace. The 2000 Rolly Gassman Riesling was good, lightly sweet with nice flavors, but not at the level of the 2002 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Munchberg Grand Cru. This was rich with some sweetness, but such terrific acidity, length, and mix of scents and flavors. I’ve heard some mixed things about Ostertag wines but never tried much. This was absolutely gorgeous with mixed greens and cigars of fig, hazelnut, and gorgonzola wrapped in prosciotto.

Next, two Belle Pente Chardonnay, the 2002 Estate Reserve and the 2004 Estate. Both showed well, not especially oaky but pretty. I think they suffered a little after the Rieslings, but still paired nicely with fish.

Then there was the main course, with nicely grilled flatiron strips, twice truffled potatoes, and braised carrots. What else to drink but a mix of red Burgundy and Belle Pente Pinot Noir, which held up well.

We began with the 1995 Roty Gevrey Chambertin Champs Chenys, tight and primary with five or ten years to go before maturity. Then the 1998 Leroy Pommard Les Vignots, which I thought was the class of the night. Backward and reduced at first, it blossomed into something beautiful. There’s nicely ripe fruit here, and also the finesse and complexity of nice Burgundy. It’s not overly tannic either, as the vintage reputation goes. This is village wine? Wow.

With these, we tried the 1996 Belle Pente Reserve, their first commercial vintage and produced from six barrels of Murto Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills. I’ve enjoyed a bunch of ‘96s from Oregon in the last few years, and this was another good one. Mature with some sous bois in the aroma and silky in the mouth, this is more than ready now but quite good. We also tried the 2001 Belle Pente Estate Reserve, which Brian likes for current drinking but I found it needing time to shed its remaining primary character. There’s also seemed to be a slight bitterness to the finish, but I think the wine just needs to rest still.

For dessert, nothing for me topped the 2001 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Furstentum SGN, a honeyed but beautifully balanced, rich and exotic wine. Coming close was the 1993 Diszokno Tokaji Essencia, stunning in its own way. A full bottle of 2002 Belle Pente Pinot Gris VT was less impressive to me than recent half bottles, perhaps a touch volatile but still quite good dessert wine.

There were more wines still, and happily I had a bed down the hill at the harvest crew’s quarters. This was the night before my last work day, and falling asleep that night was especially sweet.

November 12, 2006

End of Harvest

The end of harvest at Belle Pente in Carlton, OR, meant more wine dinners and shorter work days. Shorter being 10 or 11 hours, not the 13+ hour hauls of weeks ago.

It felt right to see the season end when it did. The green was long gone from the vineyard and the branches showed in the spot that weeks ago offered only the first yellowing. The mornings frosted, the ground hardening, it was time for the seasonal worker to move on.

I learned a great deal this year, and I come away knowing that it’s time to make my own wine. Of course I’m doing that already. But this year I turned a corner so that from now on, I’m making wine, not just learning to make wine. There’s a big difference.

I also came away with a longer list of to do items than I had going in, which stands to reason if the more we learn, the more we discover questions. There’s no shortage of things to learn about winery operations, forklifts in particular, and the dreaded winery finance and accounting. Not to mention where I’m going to put next year’s wine, much less afford the grapes.

Oh yeah, where am I going to get grapes?

So there’s lots to do, but it’s the season for thinking and reading and researching so I have much to look forward to. Winter rains have returned, happily after all the grapes are long in. Fermentation interests turn from wine to bread and perhaps beer in this season, so there will be plenty to eat and drink along the way. The fervor of harvest is past, the new wines in bed and I’m enjoying the quiet of long fall nights.

But...does anybody know if it’s possible to bond your garage as a winery?