Browse Tag

sauvignon blanc

TN: New Zealand (BWE notes)

[vineyard]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

Rockburn 2005 Riesling (Central Otago) – Slate/quartz dominated, with clean lemon and green apple. It’s long, concentrated and very intense. A terrific wine. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Riesling (Marlborough) – Good and intense, with apples and rocky quartz. A fine value. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Golden fig, melon and spice with a leafy finish. It’s ripe, but there’s a worrisome Styrofoam note on the midpalate. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Stone fruit, grapefruit and clementine with a touch of cream on the nose. It’s better than the sauvignon blanc, but only just. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Crisp and clean, showing melon, pineapple and pine nuts. Ripe and very scrubbed. Simple, fruit-forward chardonnay with no rough edges. (2/07)

Dog Point 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Incredibly intense, with green, white and red pepper (a little like the Italian flag, I suppose). Vivacious, with striking minerality. This wine continues to show the constraints under which so many formulaic Marlborough sauvignons operate, yet it remains unmistakably Marlborough. (2/07)

Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Round, showing grapefruit and pineapple in a sugar wash. The person pouring this wine makes pretentious and somewhat obnoxious noise about Grove Mill’s status as the only carbon-neutral winery in New Zealand. Well, that’s great, and I’m happy for them, but how about a little less residual sugar in this overly goopy sauvignon blanc, rather than appealing to the basest of sugar-loving palates? That’s the sort of neutrality I’d be more interested in. (2/07)

Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – From magnum, though for what reason I can’t imagine. Slightly sulfurous (is it reduction?) with melon, grapefruit and grass. Boring and quite sweet. Dull, dull, dull. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Mild and simple, with grass and some vague hints of ripeness. Overall, however, this is quite dilute, and a step down from previous years. (2/07)

[vineyard]Mana 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry and pineapple with green, underripe notes. In other words, fairly classic. But I’m over this style. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and metallic, with a short finish. Different enough to be interesting, but there’s some things missing here. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Filmy raspberry sauce with acrid, slightly bitter medicinal notes. Crisp but underripe. (2/07)

Dog Point 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry, plum, ripe blood orange and golden beet. Balanced, and almost approaching something one might call “elegant”…but in context, because it is fruity. Call it a fruit firecracker, rather than a fruit bomb. (2/07)

Mana 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Burnt leaves and nasty, charred red cherry. Very underripe and shockingly tart. (2/07)

Rockburn 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Beet soup nose, turning to blended fat berries and plums. Soft but full-bodied, though it finishes somewhat stringy. It’s cleanly made, but it already shows signs that it might wear down under the ravages of age, so drink it soon. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry and red cherry. Simple and pleasant, with light lemon verbena accents. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Herbal medicine and dirt with blueberry and blackberry, finishing with a barky texture. Dissolute. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2004 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy herbs, blueberry and wood bark. Firm enough, but not very good despite some hand-waving in the direction of structure. (2/07)

Crossroads 2002 “RGF” (Hawke’s Bay) – Sophisticated black fruit and dark leather over stones. Good acid. Balanced and surprisingly polished. (2/07)

TN: South Africa (BWE notes)

[vineyard]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

Louisvale 2006 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Western Cape) – Clean apple, clementine and tangerine. Decent. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Chenin Blanc (Paarl) – Concentrated red cherry, blood orange with slightly noticeable residual sugar. Quite intense, with good acidity. Flavorful New World-style chenin. (2/07)

Springfontein 2006 Chenin Blanc (Walker Bay) – Green peach and white linen. Simple and soft. (2/07)

BWC 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Gooseberry and thyme with a grassy undertone. Simple, fair. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Rosé (Coastal) – Clean strawberry & raspberry leaves. Simple & fun. (2/07)

Amira 2004 Syrah (Coastal) – Bitter blueberry, dirt, and stems. No good. (2/07)

Vriesenhof 2003 “Enthopio” (Stellenbosch) – Rich, roasted frut and burnt soil with spice and crispness. Mostly pinotage. Both good and interesting. (2/07)

Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, cappuccino, black cherry, blackberry, and soft greenness. Low-tier potential at best, but it’s probably at its best now. It’s unquestionably better after a few hours of air. (2/07)

[view]Muratie 2003 Shiraz (Stellenbosch) – Cassis, black cherry and strawberry. A big-fruited, simple-minded wine. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Red cherry and raspberry with pine tar and a great acidic tingle. Ripe and quite good. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 “Estate Reserve” (Walker Bay) – Herbs (mostly thyme), underripe but boisterous fruit, light tannin, and a soupy texture. Bleah. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 “Ulumbaza” Shiraz (Walker Bay) – Big blueberry fruit, light spice, mild tannin and good acid. Everything’s front-loaded here, but it’s good in that idiom. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Cabernet Franc (Paarl) – Rosemary, rough black earth, blueberry and pointy acidity. Eh. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Pinotage (Paarl) – Soft, with big strawberry, apple, and medium-ripe plum with some tannin on the finish. Moderately OK. (2/07)

TN: Whites in triplicate

[label]St. Innocent 2005 Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill (Willamette Valley) – Striking green grape and zingy, underripe apricot with fresh-cut grass and spiky acidity. It’s got a nice, clean, pure appeal, but it carries too much alcoholic heat, and as a result loses most of its claim to freshness and approachability. (12/06)

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Green fruit and herbal sodas with a shattered crystalline minerality, dustings of sea salt, and a lot of exciting, almost frothy complexity along a sharp, clean finish. This is fantastic sauvignon blanc, individualistic and nervy, with structure to spare. (12/06)

[label]Hendry 2005 Chardonnay “Unoaked” (Napa Valley) – Friendly peach, grapefruit, ripe lemon curd and apple. Deliciously appealing, and there’s plenty of bright, balancing acidity as well. Despite a well-justified fear of aging any unoaked chardonnay that isn’t from Chablis, I’d consider holding on to this just to see what happens…but then again, it’s awfully nice now. (12/06)

TN: Wines on the wing (New Zealand, pt. 34)

[Peregrine winery](The original version, with many more photos, is here.)

Architecture aloft

The roof takes flight, curving against the breeze and rising gracefully skyward. Its strong lines are reflected in a nearby pool as it soars and swoops over the vines that cover the valley floor, tracing a graceful curve along its length that runs from sun to shadow, and then back again.

Or rather, it would do all those things if it weren’t bolted to the structure underneath.

There’s been much architectural hoo-hah over the new winemaking and visitors’ facility at Peregrine, and on both first and last view the chatter is richly deserved; this is a dramatic and original statement. It works in this otherwise wholly natural setting for three reasons: 1) it is, frankly, a beautiful structure, 2) it’s both low enough to the ground and set back far enough from the road, behind a protective veil of trees and low slopes, that it doesn’t overtly intrude on the surrounding landscape, and 3) it is of a piece with the carefully restructured grounds (which incorporate a pond, a more rustic and traditional banquet facility, and walkways), showing sensitivity to the harmonies and rhythms of nature. Plus, the peregrine falcons on which the wing-like roof structure is based do indeed visit the vineyards from time to time.

The curved steel and Duralite canopy shades a two-level concrete facility that accommodates the needs of both arriving grapes and inquisitive tourists, and it’s to the latter that I walk, gaping and marveling at the surroundings. But the tasting room itself cannot be ignored, either; a shadowy chamber that nonetheless seems partially constructed of light, with a thick wall of glass separating tasters from a precise and martial array of barrels in the winery’s aging facility. It’s no less beautiful than the exterior, and I begin to worry that – as with so many California wineries – more attention is being paid to the visuals and externalities than to the wine that provides the alleged raison d’être for all this man-made beauty.

Another source of worry: Peregrine has not experienced much winemaking continuity in its relatively brief history, having built their name under one regime, then experiencing a minor explosion in notoriety under the brief tenure of the very high-profile Michelle Richardson (ex-Villa Maria), a talented and fiery personality who has since left for her own venture. I’ve tasted, and liked, a few Peregrine wines in the States, but I approach their current lineup with a measure of trepidation, wondering if their obvious pretensions toward quality will be maintained by the wines, given the discontinuities in the cellar and all the money represented by its physical presence. (Co-founder Greg Hay is the principal constant, having remained attached to the project since its beginnings as yet another cooperative growers’ venture.)

Peregrine offers wine under three different labels: the main-line estate products (Peregrine), a lineup of “second” wines called Saddleback, (that carry neither the reduced quality nor, frankly, the usual price reduction of a typical secondary label), and a premium cuvée called Wentworth, which hearkens back to the original name for the winery.

Quicker than a glass of light

Rather remarkably, Peregrine offers nearly everything they have in stock for tasting, for free and to all comers. I’m not sure this is economically sustainable given the winery’s proximity to bustling Queenstown, but it’s a fine gesture…especially as it puts a good deal of what turns out to be quite high-quality wine into the glasses of a lot of previously-unsuspecting people. This is an unquestioned good.

My tasting experience is guided by a friendly young man (who also turns out to be a freelance photographer) that shows signs of being scatterbrained and inefficient when I first arrive, but easily rises to the occasion as more and more visitors populate the glowing bar behind which he stands. He’s able to answer all my (admittedly not particularly technical) questions with ease, and leads me through the wines as quickly as can be expected given a multitude of other customers.

Peregrine 2003 Riesling (Central Otago) – Intense, showing steel, grapefruit and lime leaves with an almost electric intensity on the midpalate. Finishes extremely dry and long. Marvelous riesling, with a good future ahead of it.

Peregrine 2004 “Rastasburn” Riesling (Central Otago) – Despite the geographic name, Rastasburn is here meant to indicate a stylistic shift towards the off-dry. Which it is, showing lime, mixed apples and a lush, shattered minerality that pulses towards the full-bodied, then retreats to permit a crisp, dry and tingly finish. It’s a bit shorter than the regular ’03 riesling, but very nice nonetheless.

Peregrine 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – This is usually sourced from Central Otago fruit, but in 2004 the quality…and more importantly, the quantity…just wasn’t there, and so alternate sources had to be found. I regret not being able to taste the wine in its typical form, but this is hardly a chore: gooseberry and grass, yes, but also a mineral-driven liquidity on the midpalate and finish…something not often found in fruit-focused Marlborough. The only flaw is a somewhat sticky texture, but it’s forgivable. A nice wine.

Peregrine 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Pinot gris is, in many ways, the chardonnay of New Zealand: mindlessly planted everywhere and producing wines of endless and anonymous tedium, almost without exception. Thankfully, “almost” is the correct term (though it would do no harm to the New Zealand wine industry to grub up 75% of the nation’s pinot gris vines), and this is one of the exceptions. Yeasty and thickly-textured (while the wine is matured in 100% stainless steel, lees stirring adds weight and complexity), but brightened with zingy acidity, showing grapefruit rind and pear with a long, dry finish that shows hints of further complexities to come. A marvelous wine with medium-term aging potential.

Peregrine 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Lychee and cashew oil form a fully ripe and quite phenolic nose, with a lovely, elegant complexity on the palate. It’s very light for gewürztraminer (those desiring more weight will want to look to the North Island’s Gisborne region), but nice in that idiom.

Saddleback 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 100% malolactic fermentation, 30% matured in French oak. Intense stone fruit (mostly apricot), fig, nut oil and nutmeg with a light touch of wood and a smooth, balanced aspect. A pleasant, good-quality chardonnay with a bit of aging potential but of no particularly unique distinction…which is, after, the persistent problem with this grape from anything other than the most remarkable terroirs. This, though, is a subjective complaint; the wine is perfectly nice.

Saddleback 2004 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – As with the sauvignon blanc, acceptable fruit for this wine was simply not available locally. The nose is tighter, flatter and leafier than the ’03, with banana skin and a long, growing intensity on the palate and a zippy, sorbet-like finish braced with fine acidity. This is more structured and probably longer-aging than the ’03, and certainly less overtly marked by oak, but objectively it’s probably less pleasurable. People will choose based on their perceptions of what constitutes quality in a chardonnay.

Peregrine 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – A pink pinot (not saignée), juicy and off-dry with simplistic strawberry and floral components. Just…eh.

Saddleback 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Light plum, strawberry blossom and red cherry, with sweeter plum notes emerging on the finish. Almost nice, but slightly stemmy, unfinished and underripe. This should be better.

Peregrine 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Earth, dark plum and strawberry – a big-fruited wine with just a touch of syrup on the midpalate – given heft and direction by a brooding (yet crisp) structure so well-integrated that it almost escapes notice. Everything expands towards a beautiful finish; this is a lovely wine, with elegance and polish, and fine aging potential (though it will be very hard to avoid in the interim).

The swirling afterglow

These are, despite my initial misgivings, mostly extraordinary wines that show intensity, elegance and vision…not to mention high-quality fruit, handled well and relatively unobtrusively. There’s power here, but also class and maturity, something achieved by few other wineries in the Central Otago. This is an exciting winery, and one to watch very closely, for it is already the unquestioned star of the Gibbston sub-region. And after all, nothing flies higher than a star.

TN: New tricks

Dog Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Cooked white and green asparagus, pink grapefruit, passionfruit, limestone and dry leaves on the finish. It presents itself as Yet Another™ Marlborough savvy, yet carries depth and some mineralistic complexity for those interesting in looking past the obvious fun. (11/06)

TN: Springvale forward (New Zealand, pt. 33)

[Kawarau water](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

The road pointlessly taken

According to my at-hand references, only three wineries in the entire Clyde/Alexandra area are open for drop-in tasting. Having just left the best-known of the triad, full of unresolved gewürztraminer must and wacky theories about Otago cabernet, I leave the eroding forests of rock formations behind and travel a long, straight dirt road across a flat plain to number two: William Hill.

Make that two wineries open for drop-in tasting, for William Hill is – despite its quite clear exterior signage to the contrary – closed to visitors. There’s even a short bus full of disappointed wine tourists pulling out of the driveway as I arrive, and only the shouts of a vineyard worker alert me to the fact that the locked and darkened tasting room is not that way by accident. He has no explanation to offer, either, aside from a bewildered shrug. I return his shrug in kind, and move on.

Woodless and fancy free

Springvale Estate (Dunstan Rd., Alexandra), just a short distance away, is most definitely open, and the expansive tasting room is surrounded by gardens and tables currently undergoing a pre-lunch setup. I arrive just early enough to get the attention I need before lunching tourists (and, by appearances, quite a few locals) arrive in force, because the staff is unquestionably spread a bit thin once that occurs. Nonetheless, my welcome is friendly, and I’m offered a table and an organized flight of wines to study at my leisure, rather than fighting the growing crowds at the tasting bar/lunch counter.

Springvale Estate 2001 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Strong apricot – and perhaps very slightly botrytized? – aromas with white plum and peach. There’s a nice core of fruit here, and while the wine is perhaps a touch sweet, it’s got good structure, length and balance. Pretty and fun…and, it turns out, the best wine I’ll taste.

Springvale Estate 2001 “Oaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – A touch of charred lemon and apple shrinks from intrusive oak on the nose. The effect of the wood on the palate, however, is tactile rather than organoleptic, as it flattens out the spectrum, hides the spiced (and dried) orange fruit, and abrades the finish to something tannic and dull. It’s long, but things are neither as integrated nor as pleasant as they should be, and the oak ultimately damages the wine more than it adds to its complexity.

Springvale Estate 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – A shy nose, with green pepper and grass on the palate, and a tart, green finish: all the unwelcome signs of underripe sauvignon. I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again: Otago sauvignon may not be the best idea…which is not to say that it can’t be done well (as, for instance, at Carrick), only that the chances seem slimmer than normal. Not everyone in New Zealand is honor-bound to produce sauvignon blanc, a fact that sometimes seems to be lost on certain bottom line-focused wineries.

Springvale Estate 2003 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Light rose petal, lychee skin, dried apricot pit and almond form an enticing nose that falls completely away on the palate and that provide absolutely no finish whatsoever. Initially pleasant, but ultimately disappointing.

Springvale Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Gentle plum and baked strawberry turn quickly bizarre, with bark, green olive sourness, and a sandy texture. This wine is light to the point of being watery, both insubstantial and insufficiently aromatic, and is shot through with a nasty green streak. No good.

Springvale Estate 2001 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dirty plum, raspberry, rotten strawberry and more of that green olive note, with tarry tannins and a syrupy texture that adds to an impression that the remaining fruit in this wine is starting to turn to liqueur. This is “better” than the 2002 only in the academic sense, and I’d avoid either version.

Like Mt. Difficulty, this is a cooperative venture between vineyard owners. But to an even greater extent than that Bannockburn winery, it seems that grape quality is an issue…which makes me wonder how an equal partnership between otherwise competing growers can effectively encourage viticultural improvements. It’s not as if the threat to turn to other grape sources would be an effective one. Also of concern, or at least questionable: the age of these wines. Tasted in March of 2005, only the sauvignon and gewürztraminer are of what other wineries would call the current vintage, and it’s not as if the remaining products are Fromm-like and in need of extra aging to shed their youthful ferocity. One wonders about the reasons for this delayed presentation, because it certainly doesn’t appear to benefit the wines.

Ultimately, Springvale Estate is a pleasant place to visit and lunch (though I can’t vouch for the food, which I do not try), and their unoaked chardonnay would appear to have the qualities necessary for a nice picnic wine, but there’s a lot of work to do here…mostly in the vineyard, but perhaps also in the cellar.

Driving the friendly skies

The drive back to Cromwell, and then towards Queenstown, is done during some sort of midday lull, and as traffic is virtually nonexistent, I speed homeward at an unforeseen pace. Thus, I’ve got a little extra time before I’m scheduled to meet Theresa, so I endeavor to sneak in a little bonus tasting back in the Gibbston Valley. A tasting where I am, quite literally, taken under someone’s wing.

Disclosure: tasting fee is waived.

TN: Tying the knot (New Zealand, pt. 28)

(The original post is here.)

As wineries ‘round the world have proved over and over, money does not solve all problems. On our last visit to New Zealand, we’d stopped in at Carrick on the recommendation of an acquaintance. It was, apart from a pleasantly drinkable pinot, a complete waste of time and taste buds. And this despite the painfully obvious scale of the funds being thrown at everything in sight…mostly including a then-unfinished tasting room and restaurant facility.

However, in the interim the buzz had spread a bit…just enough to lead to my taking a chance on a bottle at Dunedin’s Bell Pepper Blues. The difference that money cannot necessarily make, time and money can; the wine, a 2002 Pinot Noir, was very nearly extraordinary. A closer investigation was required.

At any given mealtime, the parking lot at Carrick is likely to be full. Rather than hungry tourists stocking up on picnic wine, the draw is the (allegedly; I haven’t eaten there) fine restaurant on the facility, about which there is growing regional and national hype. There’s also a little action at the long tasting bar (which shares a vaulted room with the restaurant), but things seem busier than they are because the tasting counter staff is also responsible for covering the restaurant floor. They do a remarkable job considering the circumstances, but one wonders if – especially at lunch – the promotion of the winery itself might not be better-served by separate staffs.

Carrick 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – Ripe gooseberry, lime and white spice; a nicely juicy wine that almost makes me recant my dire warnings about Central Otago sauvignon. But I fear it may instead be the proverbial exception that proves the rule.

Carrick 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 50% of this wine spends twelve months in French oak, and handles it fairly well. There’s spicy clove and fig jam, with plenty of ripe, juicy oranges and a balanced finish. Chardonnay’s still not my thing, but this is a good one.

Carrick 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – Like most pinks from this region, this is made from pinot noir; I don’t get the opportunity to ask if it’s vat-bled or from secondary fruit. It shows very light spiced peach (more white than yellow), to such an extent that it tastes more like a dark-skinned white wine (complete with a touch of tannin; think Alsatian pinot gris) than a true rosé. It’s strange, and I’m not sure I like it even on its own merits.

Carrick 2003 “Unravelled” Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Yes, that’s how they spell it; the term is a play on the regular label’s depiction of a Carrick Bend knot, which here is…literally…unraveled. Or “unravelled.” Whatever. Anyway, this is intended to be a fresh, upfront, early-drinking pinot sold at a lower price, and it succeeds in those goals (though I wouldn’t necessarily call mid-twenties in Kiwi dollars cheap, either). The fruit – mostly strawberry, plum and the persistent Central Otago orange rind characteristic – is very ripe, with nuts and light earth tones introducing themselves and then quickly stepping back to allow the fruit to feature itself. It’s pure, fruity fun, but more complex than I think most would expect. A nice wine, indeed.

Carrick 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dark plum and somewhat bulky tannin dominate this tight, concentrated wine. The balance is discernibly terrific, and there’s wonderful length, with crisp and acid-enhanced floral esters on the finish…but the wine is very balled-up right now. Give it the necessary aging.

Carrick 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Another stab at the bottling tasted in Dunedin, apparently opened (from an available stock) in response to my enthusiasm for my previous encounter with the wine. This, thanks to the extra year of development, presents as a much richer wine than the ’03, showing generous plum and black cherry with hints of chocolate on the finish. As with my previous encounter with the ‘02, the niggling flaw is a very slightly bitter tannic bite; one wonders if the seemingly more balanced ’03 might, eventually, turn out to be the better wine. But this, too, really needs age to show its true qualities.

This is a winery still on the ascent, with across-the-board improvement in their wines and newer, differently-cloned vineyards working their long, hard slog towards maturity. Despite this, their next two vintages are potentially problematic (which is mostly beyond their control), so one hopes that their obvious strides forward will not stall while they wait for a more reliable vintage. Nonetheless, I will be completely unsurprised to see even greater things from this winery in the future.

And maybe I’ll give the restaurant a try, too.

TN: White paint (Oregon, pt. 11 & the end)

(The original version, with bigger photos, is here.)

[grapes]15 July 2006 – Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon Sauvignon Blanc Cartel – While tasting at Bella Vida, we’re handed a card announcing this most unlikely event: a sauvignon blanc tasting at Patricia Green Cellars (normally closed to the public). Sauvignon blanc from Oregon? This we have to taste for ourselves.

The drive, which crosses the hills on a small country road winding through trees and vineyards, is a beautiful one, but we take it a bit faster than caution might indicate, as we’re short on time. In Green’s busy winemaking shed, three wineries are represented: Andrew Rich, J. Christopher, and Patricia Green Cellars, and not everything on offer is made from sauvignon blanc. We grab glasses, push through the dwindling late-afternoon crowd, and dive in.

Andrew Rich 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Willamette Valley) – Grassy, with big lime, green apple and grapefruit bursting forth on the nose and palate. It become riper and more focused on the finish, with gooseberry, lime, lemon and lemon curd dominating, yet the wine is obviously a bit of a fruit salad. And there’s an intrusive Styrofoam note throughout, the memory of which the delicious finish can’t quite obliterate. Admirable but worrisome.

Andrew Rich 2005 Gewurztraminer “Les Vigneaux” (69.5% Washington, 30.5% Oregon) – A “freezer wine” that apes true ice wine as made in Germany and Canada. There’s much varietal truth here, with lychees and peaches in play, and though the wine is a little on the silly side, it’s got a great balance between acid, sugar and fruit. Fun.

Patricia Green 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Oregon) – Citrus rind, Bosc pear, green apple and fetid armpit notes – not all that unusual for sauvignon blanc, though I don’t know that it’s ever actually welcome – with an exceedingly dry, flat finish. Not very interesting.

Patricia Green 2005 Chardonnay “Four Winds” (Yamhill County) – Restrained with terrific acidity, showing melon, grass and lemon over a firm bedrock of limestone. The finish, though seemingly dominated by malic acid, is incredibly persistent. A terrific wine that almost mimics unoaked Chablis (not in taste, but in overall structure)…and it’s hard to believe that it’s from the U.S. I don’t know that it will age, but it’s awfully nice right now.

[Mt. Hood]J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Dominated by majestic quartz-like minerality, with grass, dried lemon, and apple skin. Acid and a tannic dryness compete with fine-grained minerals on the finish. Just terrific, and probably the best domestic sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted.

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Oregon) – It’s interesting to compare this with the Andrew Rich wine from the same vineyard…though I note they use different appellations. A blending issue, perhaps? This is harder-edged than both the Maresh and the Rich version of the Croft, with green apple about all that’s discernable amidst a biting wave of acidity. It probably needs some time to settle down and develop aromatics, but it is a much more uncompromising interpretation that either of its cohorts.

Ponzi Wine Bar – Part of a larger complex of restaurant, wine bar, and (as of our visit) empty space awaiting a client, this is a very pleasant spot that desperately needs a better exterior view. Nonetheless, it does well, presenting both Ponzi and other Oregon wines by the glass and bottle. The staff, almost inevitably, is almost exclusively comprised of attractive young people…though unlike so many other similar venues, they appear to know their stuff.

Ponzi 2005 Arneis (Willamette Valley) – Floral, showing honeysuckle, ripe apricot and mango with a spicy texture. Yet despite all these yummy descriptors, the wine comes of as simple. Pleasant, to be sure, but simplistically so.

Ponzi 2004 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Very closed at first, with burnt cherries and a bit of jam underneath a heavy, palate-deadening weight. With air, a Port-like character emerges, with jam a significant player as well. A decidedly fruit-dominated, somewhat behemoth wine that’s not to my taste, but that’s executed pretty well for those that appreciate this style. And I suppose it will age…though my previous experiences with old Ponzi pinot suggest that “last” is a better term.

[vineyard]The Painted Lady – Like Red Hills and the Joel Palmer House before it, this is a converted residence. And as with the Joel Palmer House, we barely see the interior, preferring an outdoor table on the restaurant’s tiny terrace to one of the over-conditioned rooms. (A word of advice: there are serious issues with glare and heat from the setting evening sun on the few outdoor tables, so if you eat early, be prepared to play a positioning game until after sunset…or sit inside. After the sun goes below the rooftop horizon, however, the outdoor tables are well worth their previous inconvenience.)

With a passionate, knowledgeable owner and (mostly) excellent service, plus a true purity to the cuisine, this ends up being the most complete dining experience of our stay. While it’s not as memorable at our fungal fiesta at the Joel Palmer House, it does everything just a shade better.

Theresa starts with fried razor clams, their panko-encrusted texture and form a surprising and worthy variation on an old standard, while I nibble on flawless sweetbreads in a shallow pool of chopped corn and porcini cream, the earthier aspects of each combining for a glorious whole. Proximity to source improves an impeccably roasted filet of wild King salmon, while halibut over corn succotash and fried green tomatoes is no less perfectly presented. The most outstanding dish, however, is a simply-prepared 10 oz. cut of Strawberry Hill beef that brings out every beautiful essence of rare steak, served with pillowy potato gnocchi and a few asparagus spears drizzled with olive oil. It sounds unexciting to the jaded diner, but each bite proves otherwise.

Willakenzie 1998 Pinot Noir Aliette (Willamette Valley) – Shy at first, though it builds and improves throughout the evening, showing gentle baked cherries and leaves over a flowing stream of gravel and crushed granite. Soft-textured, this pinot embraces the tongue, getting longer and longer with each sip. A lovely wine, though I don’t know if I’d hold it much longer.

The only lapse in the restaurant’s perfection comes at the end of the meal, when we’re offered a “small plate of local cheeses” and, after much delay but no explanation, presented with a single, razor-thin wedge of a cheese…from Washington. Well, OK, I guess it could easily be “local,” but somehow this seems to subvert the premise. Or at least the plural.

Toro Albalá “Don PX” 1971 Pedro Ximénez “Gran Reserva” (Montilla-Moriles) – Prune motor oil that’s still amazingly primary (though I’m led to believe that this isn’t exactly 100% 1971 wine, but rather more of a solera), yet with beauty and elegance as the wine lingers…and lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Old PX is the longest-finishing wine I’ve ever encountered, which I guess means that one should studiously avoid bad examples. Thankfully, this isn’t one.

And thus is our brief Oregon visit brought to a satisfying close. The drive to the airport, through otherwise depressing strip malls and chain shopping complexes on the southern outskirts of Portland, is overwhelmed by the beauty of a dark purple sky, in which the snowy peak of Mt. Hood and the smoking crater of Mount St. Helens gleam as pinnacles of light and dark; metaphoric representations of good and evil made manifest. (Or perhaps that’s just the wine talking.) We’ll remember the books, the wines, and the mushrooms, but most of all we’ll remember the gentle beauty of a region to which we’ll soon find a reason to return.

TN: Arena number two

[Muga]Muga 2002 Rioja Reserva “Selección Especial” (Center-North) – Coconut-infused wood. There’s very little else. Just the wood, and the coconut. (9/06)

70% tempranillo, 20% garnacha, 10% mazuelo and graciano. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Jorge Ordoñez. Web:

[DDC]Domaine de Chevalier 1988 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux) – A gorgeous nose of cedar, thyme and graphite with little dustings of black cherry and cassis builds to…absolutely nothing. Other than a tart core of acidity, this wine is virtually void of palate or finish. It’s a perplexing thing, but maybe the best option is to smell and dump, rather than drink. (9/06)

65% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 5% cabernet franc. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Wildman. Web:

[Fèlsina]Fèlsina “Berardenga” 1997 Chianti Classico “Vin Santo” (Tuscany) – Sweet strawberry, lime, mostarda, cider and pomegranate in a wine that, despite its heady richness, comes across as delightfully light and breezy. Yet there’s plenty of seriousness and complexity underneath. What really makes this work, however, is its exquisitely beautiful balance. (9/06)

80% malvasia & trebbiano, 20% sangiovese. Alcohol: 15%. Closure: cork. Importer: Domaine Select. Web:

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2005 Touraine Sauvignon “No. 2” (Loire) – As usual, more Touraine than sauvignon blanc, showing chalky, aspirin-like minerality with wet limestone and flecks of the driest citrus wine. However, there’s a slightly oppressive weight, albeit a flavorless one, that renders everything a little sticky and comes to dominate the finish. I’m unsure about this; it may be legendary, or it may be too much for itself. Time will tell, I guess…or not, because the closure won’t allow reliable aging past two or three years. Still, that might be enough time to tell the tale. (9/06)

Alcohol: 13%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Minervois]Julien “Château Villerambert Julien” 2005 Minervois Rosé (Languedoc) – Slightly muted raspberry and lead, with a gauze-like texture. I think this may be very mildly corked, but in any case it’s not performing as it should. (9/06)

40% syrah, 30% grenache, 20% carignan, 10% mourvèdre. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web:

[Dashe]Dashe 2002 Zinfandel Big River (Alexander Valley) – Big and slightly fierce, showing thoroughly untamed wild berries – dark and angry – with concentrated blackness somewhere in the realm between grilled meat and tar. There’s spice and structure to spare, and the wine grows more deliciously aromatic with aeration, yet its clenched fists never quite relax. Terrific, balanced, muscular zinfandel still in the hormonal rages of its rebellious youth. (9/06)

Alcohol: 14.9%. Closure: cork. Web:

Ceuso 2004 “Scurati” (Sicily) – Dusty, fire-blackened blackberries, black pepper and asphalt-like rigidity that takes a jarring turn towards the sour on the palate; the acid and the black tannin then combine to dry out the finish. I want to like this unoaked nero d’avola for it’s relatively unspoofulated nature, but I just can’t. It’s as if these grapes have been pushed far past their endurance, only to collapse in exhaustion in the bottle. Proving, I guess, that over-oaking isn’t the only way to ruin nero d’avola. (9/06)

100% nero d’avola. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vias. Web:

Arena 2001 Muscat du Cap Corse (Corsica) – Sap-exuding conifers, crushed pine needles and windswept maquis with gorgeous, crystalline, high-toned minerality in a steady rain of aromatic white flowers. Lovely acidity balances the succulent sweetness here. This is a fantastic, unique vin doux naturel from a grape that all too often renders its vinous products asymptotically indistinguishable. (9/06)

Alcohol: 16%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

Koehly 2004 Riesling Saint Hippolyte (Alsace) – Freshly-crushed stones, amidst which are sprouting delicate little alpine flowers; the latter eventually grow in proportion to all else. There’s a very slight hint of spicy sweetness, but juicy acidity brings the wine back to something that tastes no more than barely off-dry. Unfortunately, the finish is nonexistent. Koehly usually does better work than this. Perhaps cork failure or taint of some sort? (9/06)

Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Rosenthal.

TN: Wineries in glass houses (Oregon, pt. 9)

15 July 2006 – Willamette Valley, Oregon

[McMinnville Turkey Rama dancing]McMinnville Turkey Rama – Some things cannot be described, but simply must be experienced. This is one. It must be said, however, that there appears to be a general undersupply of turkeys.

Van Duzer – Once upon a time, I had great affection for this winery as a commercial but solid producer of nice pinot noir, plus eminently drinkable pinot gris and bubbly. So, despite it being a really, really long way from just about everything else, we make the long drive from Dundee to the extreme south of the winemaking Willamette Valley to check up on things.

And so it is with dismay that I must report a significant downturn in quality. I don’t know where to place the blame – some sort of change in vineyard or winery practice, ownership, or the inconsistencies of my palate – but this is a very disappointing lineup of wines. What’s not exceedingly commercial is disjointed and unbalanced, the newer wines are decidedly worse than the older versions, and there seems to be a rather disheartening wandering of the winery’s attention towards other labels and regions.

Van Duzer “Stone’s Throw” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County) – Slightly fetid grass and pink grapefruit with gooseberries on the finish. The wine has a strange texture that turns gummy as it rests in the mouth. Disturbing.

Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley) – Tart pear and grapefruit. Big and fruity, this tastes more like freshly-crushed grapes than wine. It’s not bad, just uninspiring.

Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Noir Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Raspberry bubblegum and tart green beans wrapped in plastic. Odd, and very acidic.

[Van Duzer]Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Noir “Vintner’s Cuvée” (Willamette Valley) – Smoky plum and juicy blueberry with Juicy Fruit Gum™, jam and canned peas. Red apple and raspberry emerge on the finish, but the vegetal thing is a deal-breaker.

Van Duzer 2004 Pinot Noir “Estate” (Willamette Valley) – Big spiced blueberry and blackberry with anise liqueur. There’s some structure, but heat will always be the wine’s dominant feature.

Van Duzer 2003 Pinot Noir Homestead Block (Willamette Valley) – Roasted cashew, dark plum and moody blackberry with leathery black earth underneath. This, at least, shows remnants of the quality I remember from this winery. The fruit edges towards liqueur (kirsch or mure, perhaps?), but there’s structure and aging potential here.

Van Duzer “Stone’s Throw” 1999 “Skipping Rock Red” (Mendocino) – A blend of syrah and zinfandel, still full-bodied and fat despite seven years of age, showing wild blueberry and leather with a smooth, creamy texture. It’s all quite enticing, until one realizes that the wine is absolutely formless, as if its skeleton had simply been removed.

Van Duzer “Windfall” Port (Oregon) – This is, to my knowledge, the first “port” of pinot noir that I’ve tasted. It’s big and strong, with strawberry and red cherry cough syrup sweetened by milk chocolate. It nods, briefly, towards balance, but soon slips into unstructured flabbiness. Plus: cough syrup. Blech.