November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend in the northern Willamette Valley

I managed to visit some wineries yesterday in McMinnville, Carlton and then up on Ribbon Ridge. The day couldn't have been more beautiful, and the wines and beer at each stop were excellent. This was one of those really good days in wine country.

I started with the long drive to "Mac" to visit the Eyrie Vineyards in the wine ghetto near downtown McMinnville. What's this? There's a sign for Westrey Wine Company just before I get to Eyrie. I've never visited here but like the wines, so in a go for a quick taste. The whites are lovely, with fresh pinot gris and toasty chardonnay that's still elegant. The '07 pinot noirs are lovely, with the '07 Pinot Noir Reserve reminding me of the '07 Oracle Vineyard. The newly released '08s are the highlight. The '08 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is nicely intense with grippy tannin. The '08 Justice Vineyard is darker fruited and structured. The '08 Oracle the pick here, with great perfume, high toned with great intensity. I'm coming to love this vineyard.

Quickly I move to the Eyrie Vineyards, this being my first visit to the holy grail of Oregon pinot noir. This old  dairy processing plant has thick concrete walls so the barrel cellar is nicely dank and humid. I start with the '08 Muscat Ottonel that's dry, floral and crisp. Then the '08 Pinot Blanc that's lemony and pure. I have a bottle of the '07 in my fridge that I'm excited to try. Then the '07 Pinot Gris, so smokey and pure. I love this.

Moving to the next station, I try the 2008 Chardonnay that's lovely and subtle, with just a hint of oak and great purity. Then the 2007 Chardonnay Original Vines Reserve from the old block, with lots of toasty notes, hazelnuts and young chard fruit. I prefer the 2008 right now, but the 2007 is for keeping.

Then the reds in the main tasting room. The 2008 Pinot Meunier is fresh and peppery, almost like gamay. The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is lovely, ripe and pure, and should age nicely I imagine. Then the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir that's earthy and a little animal with great length. Finally, the 2003 Reserve Pinot Noir that's also earthy but nicely fresh and not at all "hot year" in character. Should I admit I recently passed up a chance to buy two bottles of this at $25 each, thinking 2003 just wasn't a very good year? When will I learn. Buy producers, not vintages.

I'm due to meet up with a group of friends, but what's this? Heater-Allen Brewing right down the street? I can't pass it up. So I taste through the Dunkel, Pils, Sandy Paws and Schwartz beers and buy a six pack of 22oz. bottles, mostly the Sandy Paws. I love Heater-Allen beers, so honest in the Germanic tradition but clearly local and "Oregon." Seek out this beer. It's that good.

So, up to Carlton to meet up with friends at Cana's Feast, where I'm friends with the winemaker Patrick Taylor, so consider that if you're worried about subjectivity. Readers know that I'm not a huge fan of big, new world wines, and Cana's Feast makes some pretty big, new world wines. But exceptions abound, and I really appreciate what's going on in this cellar. The '06 Nebbiolo is a little toasty, but authentically ruby in color with terrific structure. I really like this. The '06 Reserve Sangiovese is pretty toasty, but nicely varietal with great bitter almond and cherry fruit flavors. I may prefer the regular Sangiovese for the lower oak profile, but that's a matter of taste. The '06 Syrah is big and rich, but was indeed a nice match with the chicken liver pate as the pourer suggested. Speaking of food, the spread at Cana's Feast is the best this day by far. Pork loin, sections of huge wheels of Italian cheese, that pate, foccacia, and so on. My group of friends really like this stop and I'm glad to meet up with them and not miss out.

Then to Ribbon Ridge to close the day at Brick House Vineyards. The crowd at Cana's Feast is big, and the town of Carlton is absolutely hopping with tasters. Then out at Brick House there are cars everywhere. We head in to the crowded cellar and get a taste of the 2007 Chardonnay, not short of oak toast but really nicely rich, balanced and long. The first pinot noir is the 2008 Select, not as dark as other '08s I've tried elsewhere and softer in structure, but delicious all the same. Finally, two 2007s that provide a great counterpoint for the vintage. First the '07 Pinot Noir Les Dijonnais, all Dijon clones and my preference, so fragrant and lacy in the mouth, this is really good 2007 pinot noir. The '07 Cuvee du Tonnelier is only less in comparison. It's all Pommard clone, something I usually prefer but here it's not quite as graceful and complete. I like it well, but Les Dijonnais is exceptional. To close, I tasted some lovely honies from Andrew the Bee Man and then goat cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie out of Dayton, WA. I buy some unsalted fresh cheve with herbs and a small round called Larzac that's ripe and lucious.

Then outside to say goodbye to friends at dusk and head back to Portland, my head clear from spitting (mostly) and taking my time over this excellent day. Ah, Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon. Few things are better.

November 22, 2009

Post harvest dinner, with wine

A bunch of us affiliated with the winery got together last night for perhaps the best pot luck I've ever attended. Homemade pickles, butternut squash and cheve tarts, provencal beef stew, cous cous with butternut squash, farro with chantrelles and spicey delicata squash rounds, asparagus with garlic and parmasean, homemade tart tatain and chocolate tart. I'm feel full just remembering all the goodness.

Of course, there were wines involved, pretty much all excellent but different in style, some more pleasing to me than others. For whites, a 1996 Amity Rieling Willamette Valley with petrol aromas and tangy, fresh flavors. A 2003 Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Blanc "Mule Blanche" that showed the heat of the vintage with lovely, round apple and honey flavors. It perhaps could use some acid, but it was delicious.

For reds, a bevy. The 2006 Thomas Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, restrained for the hot vintage, pretty cherry and slight animal notes. Young and delicous. The 2006 August West Pinot Noir Graham Family Russian River Valley was spicy and fragrant but very lush and broad in the mouth, maybe too much soo. The 2002 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Wind Hill was mature, perhaps a bit early but still delicious and one of my favorites of the night. Then a 1989 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir that was still rich and a bit woody but lovely, with time to go if you happen to have any (not likely I'm guessing).

Moving away from pinot noir and Oregon, the 2002 Domaine Tempier Bandol classic was predictably young, a little bretty, but so lovely, peppery and raspberries, animal but nicely balanced. The 2006 Unti Grenache Dry Creek Valley was so California, spicy and woodsy smelling but so lush and rich on the palate, good but not my style. Then a 2003 Tedeschi Amarone that wasn't as huge as the hot 2003 vintage would suggest. I love this producer and this basic bottling is always more authentic to my taste than the Monte Olmi "cru" bottling. No barrique here, or at least you can't tell. Certainly raisiny, but that's Amarone. Nicely fresh and lithe, I like this.

Finally, one couple brought their homemade Nocento walnut liqueur that was dark brown, intense and simply wonderful. One of the couple is a terrific winemaker, so it's not surprise, and I want to try more of this. Wow.

All told, a great dinner and evening. Happily I was modest on my wine tastes, but not on the food intake. Talk about food hangovers. Yikes.

November 19, 2009

I don't have a lot of rules in life, but one is that any reference to Cinderella in pop music is strictly forbidden. The whole concept of Cinderella makes me a little ill. Just seeing the name makes my stomach turn a bit. Apologies if that's true for you.

Nevertheless, wine internet king Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library in New Jersey is behind a site launched last month called The idea is that one ridiculous value in wine will be offered per day. Why that awful name? The deal ends at midnight, east coast time anyway. Maybe a little earlier it turns out. For us on the west coast, each evening there's a new deal to consider. Read more about the site on Wine Berserkers.

What's tonight's deal? How about Guiseppe Mascarello's 2003 Barolo Monprivato for a little less than $39? Not cheap wine, but for a cru Barolo of that level, that price is a giveaway. Buy three and you get free ground shipping. All that I can't resist.

Yes, it's 2003, the notorious hot vintage all over Europe. But I've been more pleased with 2003s from Italy's Piedmont region than just about anywhere else in Europe. Call me naive for tolerating ripe nebbiolo. I don't care. I'm sure this is terrific wine. Remember, buy producers, not vintages...even in 2003. Well, sometimes. Guiseppe, I'm in your hands.

So, if you're like me, be careful if you check each night. Sickening name, but there are absolutely sick deals.

edit - I see now that when a "Cindy" wine sells out, it turns into a pumpkin. Really? A pumpkin? That should be banned.

November 18, 2009

2007 Badia Alle Corti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

What's the best cheap red wine I've had in months, possibly this whole year? The 2007 Badia Alle Corti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, hands down. This might even be better than my longtime favorite from this DOC, the basic bottling from Masciarelli.

There's nice freshness here, with a deep perfume that's typcial for this region and good, savory and sweet and surprisingly complex for such inexpensive wine. The cherry fruit flavors have the classic leather, meat and roast almond notes that make this much more interesting than simply fruity wine, so nice with a warm plate of pasta or lasagna.

Some people might find this "dry," but to me the rich savory notes and bright acidity are like bacon compared to the simple pork chop of so many domestic red wines in this category. There's a place for pork chops, but bacon is the stuff of life. Here, the depth and savor of a wine with cured flavors like this one make for much more interesting drinking and pairing with food than simple oaky, fruity wine so common to our store shelves. Locally, this goes for as little as $8. That's absurd value, if you want it.

November 17, 2009

Elevage and Thanksgiving

In my recent post wrapping up the 2009 Vincent Cellars harvest, I wrote that elevage had begun. Elevage is what winemakers call the time from the end of primary fermentation at harvest through to bottling. In the case of pinot noir, that's typically one or two years where the new wine cures into a finished beverage.

During elevage, red wine is typically in wood barrels, occasionally being moved from barrel to barrel to aerate the wine and draw it off its sediment. In some situations, red wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in tank before barrel aging. Otherwise, during elevage the only time wine is usually not in barrel is when barrels are combined and wine held in tank to mix properly mixing prior to bottling.

Malolactic fermentation tends to happen pretty quickly after new wine has been fermented. "ML" fermentation is the natural process where sharp malic acidity in new wine ferments into softer, creamy lactic acid. Before ML, red wine usually tastes sharp and raw. After, the wine tastes more finished and rounded, adding more roundness and polish through further barrel aging.

A few weeks now from harvest, my new wines in barrel are beginning their ML fermentation, which should be done in a month or two. ML is helped by warmer than usual cellar temperatures, so the barrel room is kept near room temperature until ML is finished. Then things are cooled down, the new wines sulfured and left to age quietly in a chilly cellar.

Each barrel is topped up every couple of weeks, to account for evaporation that slowly takes place during elevage. The first topping just happened, and it was significant as the newly filled barrels quickly soaked up about a liter of wine each. Topping regularly is key to keeping the wine from turning to vinegar, and happily the amount of wine needed to top your barrels each isn't nearly so much as here at the beginning of elevage.

Tasting the barrels is also essential as you go through harvest. A key thing we're looking for at this point is reduction, which is a fancy way to say "stink." You know how some things, like a sleeping bag, need to be aired out every once in a while, to somehow magically get rid of stinky aromas and otherwise freshen things up? Wine's like that. Wines in barrel sometimes start to smell funky, and usually moving the wine from its barrel into another fresh barrel and help air it out and let some funky, "reduced" smells air out and go away. Sometimes things get more complicated, but that's more complicated than we need to get into here. We don't wash the wine, but like you would wash a really stinky sleeping bag, there are things to do in the winery to help a really stinky wine regain its freshness.

All in all, it's a great time for winemakers. Harvest is done, and it was a great harvest at that. Everyone I talk to is legitimately excited about the quantity and quality of the 2009 harvest here in the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon. No marketing shtick there. Just honest passion about a successful year.

Now everyone's getting ready for Thanksgiving open houses, the traditional time for Oregon wineries to open their doors and host crowds of happy tasters. Blends are being assembled for wines soon to be bottled. Open house crews are being scheduled. Those who aren't already living it up on holiday in France (ehem, Scott Wright!) are planning their travels. Winter pruning crews are probably sharpening their tools but waiting until the new year to get to work.

And I'm collecting names for my mailing list and looking at a ton of tasks to complete before spring, all exciting and just what I want to be doing. None the least of which is planning for harvest 2010. It's never too early.

November 15, 2009

2001 Loosen Riesling Auslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr

Talking with a friend recently about German riesling, I was reminded about the great 2001 vintage. For me, 2001 was the revelatory year for me regarding the riesling of Germany's Mosel Valley and beyond.

In particular, I remember a trade tasting in spring of 2002 that I was able to attend at the warehouse of then-importer Ewald Moseler, featuring newly bottled 2001 rieslings from several Mosel producers in Ewald's deep portfolio. Among them were the wines of Ernie Loosen, head of legendary producer Dr. Loosen.

Those 2001s were in general exceptional. My only complaint was that most Kabinett bottlings were a bit heavy and sweet, instead of light and lean. I remember Ewald telling me how many of them were havested at Auslese ripeness levels, which seems good in theory but not as good in practice. Such ripe year Kabinett seem to lack the acidic cut of "real" Auslese in those vintages.

Thinking again about 2001, I got out a half bottle of 2001 Dr. Loosen Riesling Auslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Wow, what gorgeous riesling that's still young but already showing some signs of maturity. Light gold in color with a strong pineapple and mineral, then green apple and some emerging petrol aromas. This smells sweet and ripe, but not dessert sweet. Then the flavors, ripe and rich green and golden apples, pineapple and simply excellent acidity that those Kabinett seemed to lack. There's great length and purity, I love this and am glad to have a little more waiting down in the basement.

Aging beer: Abyss vs. Top Sail, and more

Though I'm mostly interested in wine, there's a place for serious beer in this blog. Last night I attended an annual winter beer and cheese gathering hosted by my friend and blog reader Dudley. The event attracts local brewers, vintners and regular folk like me, though I guess I've moved into vintner category.

When I arrived the crowd was packed around a dining room table full of mostly west coast U.S. beers and domestic cheeses. My contributions were 22oz bottles of 2007 Deschutes Abyss and the 2008 Top Sail Reserve from Full Sail Brewing. I paired them with an Oregon produced Perrydale cheese, recommended by Steve's Cheese in NW Portland.

I was curious to see how the Abyss ages, and how it compares to another oak aged beer in the Top Sail. I've heard the the Abyss, for all its youthful intensity, might not necessarily improve with age. Sure enough, I found the roasted coffee and chocolate tones in the 2007 Abyss to be a bit muddled with age, especially compared to a 2009 edition of the Abyss at the tasting that showed better to my taste. The 2007 was no slouch. It's still very enjoyable. I'm just not sure it requires or rewards aging. It think it's better to enjoy these bottlings in their exuberant youth.

In comparison, the 2008 Top Sail -- purchased nearly two years ago on release in early 2008 -- showed beautifully. There was much more nuance in the aromas and flavors, without the heavy roasted notes of the Abyss. Instead, lots of sweet bourbon caramel and spice, thanks to aging in bourbon casks. I thought this might make the beer a little vulgar and obvious, but there was no denying the delicious flavors and long finish. Matched with the slightly fruity and caramel sweet Perrydale, which the Abyss trounced, the Top Sail was excellent. I think you could hold this beer longer still, but it's already in a great place. I'll look forward to the 2010 release that I imagine should be out around the new year.

Otherwise, the gathering was an excellent chance to taste intense beers and sample a wide range of impressive domestic cheeses. Another great match with the Perrydale was a 2008 (I believe) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout from Chicago. It was black as night, roasty and rich, but impeccably balanced. I would think the Perrydale wouldn't have stood up, but the pairing worked.

Finally, someone brought a magnum of the 2003 Anchor Christmas Ale, but it seemed a little tired to me, especially compared to a delicious 2009 edition. This is another beer I find not so great with more than a year of age. Thanks Dudley for another great event.

November 11, 2009

Cowan Cellars and "Florida" Jim Cowan

There are several stories of internet wine geeks making the leap into commercial production. The common one, if anything like this is really common, is a younger guy following his passion for wine, leaving the day job and, with significant help from contacts made in the online wine community, committing himself fulltime to learning the craft of winemaking on the job and starting his own business. The best known examples include Andrew Vignello of A.P. Vin, Jamie Kutch of Kutch and Jeff Ames of Rudius, all Calfornia-based producers.

I've written about the exceptional story of Ray Walker, who's taking things a step further by moving to Burgundy to produce his Maison Ilan wines from the Cote d'Or. I'm hesitant to include myself among such characters because I'm not leaving the day job anytime soon. But it's clear that without the online wine world fueling my interest and providing lots of great industry contacts, I don't know how I would be doing what I'm doing in launching my own wine label Vincent.

Then there's Flordia Jim Cowan, an online wine legend whom I've only had the pleasure of meeting once several years ago here in Portland. Florida Jim first came to my attention in the 1990s on the original incarnation of the Wine Spectator discussion forums. Along with a merry band of travelers from all over the country who came together for Russell Bevan-led "Bacchus Wine Tours" in Napa and Sonoma counties, Jim developed into a serious wine geek known for frequently posting modest but nuanced accounts of the wines he drank and food that accompanied them.

Somewhere around the late '90s Jim experienced a palate shift away from the most lumbering of California wines to more lithe and perfumed wines of France, Austria and elsewhere in Europe, wines that often cost a fraction of what he previously preferred. What a great thing, no? Actually, there was some surprising backlash in the online community. Was Jim under the spell of geeky wine snobs who disdain overoaked wines with erudite condesention? These world class bargains Jim wrote about - would he turn his back on them a year from now as he appeared to do with wines he previously favored?

Of course, the suspicions were as unfounded as they were off base. Jim's an independent thinker and that wasn't changing. He called them as he saw them, and it made sense that his evolving taste in wine might marry with another aspect of himself that we knew well online -- his writing. So gone were the notes of Napa cabernet, and in came reports of cru Beaujolais and Austrian gruner veltliner that I, for one, found deliciously inviting with their nuance and delicacy.

Years passed and Jim's reports of wine and food and life with wife Diane as they traveled between homes in  Florida and western North Carolina became internet favorites. I met Jim on one of his well documented road trips with Col. Bob Couzzi across the U.S., visiting online wine friends and sharing wines from all over the world. Jim's travels often led back to California, and as his old friend Russell Bevan himself made the leap from internet wine geek to serious wine producer, Jim began working harvest and learning the craft himself. Jim also connected with Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, whose atypical California wines because Florida Jim favorites. You can't learn from a better source than Steve Edmunds.

Back to present day and the lastest post from Florida Jim on life after his latest harvest in northern California. This is classic Florida Jim, and if you find it interesting, dig around the archives of that or several other internet wine forums for more. Or try this link. Today's post inspired me to document here what I know, or think I know, of Jim's journey in wine. Jim has a way of simply conveying the essence of his experience, what's important and meaningful to him, without much fluff. His Cowan Cellars wines -- syrah and sauvignon blanc from the Dry Stack vineyard in the cool Sonoma country AVA of Bennett Valley -- sound reflective of their maker. I've yet to try them, but look forward to an opportunity. Maybe you too?

November 09, 2009

Odds and ends

Nothing so pressing for a full post, so let's hit it three dot style...

There's another train wreck over on the Robert Parker bulletin board today with unspecified allegations of additives in zinfandel and unreported blending in pinot noir. Of course these things happen, but it gets tiring seeing insinuations that such things are common, without proof, then endlessly beat to a pulp in an alleged defense of one's character. Have the proof but don't feel comfortable divluging online? Don't bring it up online. Especially if you don't want to risk your brand. You can really help yourself by being online, but here's an example of a pretty classic pitfall you need to watch out for...

Found a crazy sale at a local Whole Foods (NE Fremont) this past weekend. Single vineyard Produttori Barbaresco from 1999 and 2001 for $25, half bottles of Dom Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blancs and Rose for $19, even a few bottles of 1999 Grange for $150, which is ridiculoulsy cheap for that label. I don't play at that level, but the Produttori is gone and most of the Ruinart too. Lots of other things but nothing quite so interesting to my mind, but it's all still there if you're in the area...

Dumpster diving continued...the local Hollywood Grocery Outlet has some Cameron Hughes bottlings for $5 or so. Hughes buys bulk wine around California and bottles them by "Lot" to sell at Costco and the like for $10-$15 usually. People seem to love the wines. The 2006 Cameron Hughes Lodi Petite Sirah Lot 70 wasn't bad, especially for marinating steaks. Typical oak and fruit profile, but for party wine this could be a hit. Then there's the 2002 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz "Cliff Edge" from Victoria, Australia, for $8. Not bad, not bad at all for a budget wine from a storied producer. White pepper aromas and mature syrah notes, pretty full bodied and chunky flavors. Call if plonk because it's at the G.O., but bargain hunters should love it...

Finally, do 15% alcohol on the label and Louis/Dressner Imports go together? Apparently so, on the 2000 Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras "Lao Muse" from the southern Rhone. This $50 luxury cuvee (Dressner? really???) from an all organic producer is aging nicely, with broad ripe aromas and flavors, lovely earth and red fruit flavors and some sweet notes of maturity. With the price and ridiculously oversized bottle, I expected the wine to be inky black and over the top, probably sporting lots of new oak. But Dressner doesn't let you down. He picks good stuff and this is translucent and, though aged in barrique, very nicely integrated and "real" tasting. Not sure what happened to this bottling or if Dressner even carries this producer still. But Lao Muse is the real deal...

November 06, 2009

2006 Crowley Chardonnay Maresh Vineyard

After tasting the oh my god good 2007 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard, I came home to homemade butternut squash soup, wheat levain and apple, gruyere and walnut salad for dinner. With that Dundee Hills inspiration, what else to try but the 2006 Crowley Chardonnay from the same Maresh Vineyard (pronounced Marsh).

Tyson Crowley's a friend, but I'll still recommend his wine because it's that good. 2006 was a warm year, and this wine is large scaled compared to the more taut 2007. Still, this is fresh and delicious Oregon chardonnay, with sweet cream and golden delicious apple aromas, a soft texture and bright apple, mineral and subtle oak flavors. I loved this one with dinner and on its own afterward. The 2007 is in the Portland market still. For around $20, it's a bargain in top quality Oregon chard.

November 02, 2009

Southern Oregon Wineries Tasting last night at the Governor

Where was everybody? I went to the Southern Oregon Wineries tasting last night and didn't see anyone there I know, aside from a couple of producers. There was a good crowd though. Lots of happy tasters, some totally blitzed.

The event featured more than two dozen producers from the Umpqua valley and south to the Rogue and Applegate valleys. There was some pinot and chardonnay, but the typical line up was some mix of viognier, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo and red blends. Overall the wines were hit and miss, with some unexciting but perfectly decent wines amid some pretty exciting, very well made wines. I'll hit the highlights here as I saw them. I didn't try everything, by any means, so if I don't mention producers who were there, it's not necessarily because I didn't like the wine.

From Abacela, the 2008 Albarino was nervy and fresh and the 2006 Tempranillo Estate was nicely structured if a little alcoholic. I can see why this winery has such a cult following. The wines have personality and are generally very true to their varieties, many of which they painstakingly pioneered here in Oregon.

I'd never heard of Folin Cellars out of Gold Hill, but I enjoyed all three wines they poured. First, the 2007 Estate Viognier was true to the variety and fresh. The 2006 Estate Syrah was nicely varietal with meat and gum notes. The best wine for me was the 2006 Estate Tempranillo, nicely varietal with tobacco and berry notes. None of these wines showed excessive oak and seemed relatively restrained. Definitely check these people out and see if I'm crazy or on to something.

Girardet's 2008 Baco Noir was my first example of this grape, I think. It wasn't stellar but a lovely drinking wine with nice acidity and balance. I'd definitely try this again.

Quady North is doing some great things out of Jacksonville. The 2007 Viognier was nice and floral, though this variety can be a little over the top for me outside of the northern Rhone. The 2007 Syrah 4,2-A was my favorite, a low oak, gamy syrah that I've tried before and liked just as much. The 2006 Arsenal (Cabernet Franc) was California huge, and very good in that idiom. By the way, the name comes from guns, not the Gunners of north London. Chelsea fans rest easy. Finally, I had a special syrah bottling that I didn't get the name of. Like the Arsenal, it's not my style, but very nice in the big, rich idiom. Herb Quady manages a bunch of vineyards down south and he's obviously got a nice touch in the cellar too.

Another new name for me was Rocky Knoll out of Medford. I really liked their 2005 Rocky Knoll Claret, with good structure and coil, this wine had a cool profile and seemed nicely balanced and worth cellaring a bit. So many southern Oregon reds can be a bit too softly structured for me, but this was a bit more taut and upright. Apparently from vines planted in the 1970s with fruit that was sold until 2005.

I'd never tried wines from Spangler in the Umpqua Valley, but the Petite Sirah is a nice example of the variety. Dark and dense, perhaps a bit monolithic but you don't drink petite for nuance. This is authoritative, robuse petite sirah and quite good.

Trium has a great label, but again I'd never had a chance to try any wines until now. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was nicely textured with fine tannin and good cassis and mineral flavors, not too soft, just right. Good wine.

Finally, Troon Vineyard from Grants Pass had a bunch of wines and a big crowd. I tried only the 2005 Old Vine Meritage and it was big and rich but obviously well made and without too much polish for my tastes. Some of the cabernet blends at this tasting were just ho hum, a little soft, sort of herbal, but this was serious stuff. Sure enough, Herb Quady of Quady North (yes, part of the Quady family of CA Central Valley wine fame) is the winemaker. Herb seems like the real deal and a terrific guy. I'll have to check out more of these wines.

Events like these always have a downside, especially late in the event hours when I was there. At one table, an obviously drunk, overly made up person came up, poured out a glass into the water pitcher and haltingly asked for "your highest...end wine." The expensive stuff gets you messed up just as easily as the cheap stuff, it seems. I backed away from the table and hoped the producer could cut her off without creating too much of a scene. Talk about a no win situation. Overall, this was a fun event and it looked like there were lots of wine buyers, which had to make the drive home a little better for the producers.