Oct 06 2009

Wines of the Pacific Northwest at Just Grapes

By Raquel Scianna

Here at Just Grapes, we pride ourselves in having our fingers firmly affixed to the pulse of all that’s hot and happening in the world of wine making. on September 24–with a little help from our trusty Cream Wine Company rep, Shane Salois–we dug a little deeper into an up-and-coming region with our “Wines of the Pacific Northwest ” class.

An Oregon vineyard in the fall.

An Oregon vineyard in the fall.

Focusing on wine from Oregon and Washington, Shane explored the Pacific Northwest with eight wines and maps detailing the region’s various vineyards and important growing regions.  One thing is certain; both the Evergreen and the Beaver state have some prime grape-growing conditions that produce top-notch juice.

Having spent a few years  living in Seattle, Shane noted that the relatively new wine-making region pays close attention to the global wine market, which influences what they make and attempt to make. Our first wine of the evening, 2007 St. Innocent Vitae Springs Pinot Gris from Oregon, was made in an Alsacian style, with textual complexity lasting through to the finish. With vineyards located five miles south of Salem, these vines are grown at the southeast corner of the Eola Hills, right in the middle of Willamette Valley. Mark Vlossak, who founded St. Innocent in 1988, picked these grapes late, not rushing the wine out. Harvesting at full ripeness allowed a deliberate spiciness to the nose and palate. Combined with all that texture, the overall experience is quite refreshing.

Full of helpful hints to help wine drinkers of all levels of expertise, Shane pointed out that the shape of the bottle will hint at the flavor inside. With slimmer bottles–like this Pinot Gris’–the longer, leaner neck alludes to the longer, leaner, more mineral flavors of its wine.

Next up was 2007 Lumos Temperance Hill Pinot Noir. The Lumos Wine Co. is the first winemaker to address sustainability holistically; all of the grapes in their Temperance Hill and Wren vineyards are grown with organic-based fertilizers, certified organic fungicides and mechanical cultivation instead of herbicides. But don’t let it’s organic status fool you; this is no wimpy, unshaven, tree-hugging Pinot Noir. Big and spicy with ripe red fruit, this Pinot Noir is more like the built, vegan yoga instructor who will get you into downward-facing dog if it’s the last thing you do.

My personal favorite of the night, 2008 L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc from “Walla Voila,” Washington, blew me away (and not just because it’s Shane’s mom’s favorite white wine, though that tidbit may have been a factor). The apples, the pears–is that a little peach?–oh, my! Delicate, refreshing and just sweet enough, that Jean and Baker Ferguson (founders of L’Ecole) certainly have their Chenin Blanc down pat.

2007 Murphy’s Law White Blend from Washington was up next. This white blend is a delicious Frankenstein’s monster of the following: 48% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Chardonnay, 11% Gewurztraminer, 11% Pinot Gris, 6% Semillon, 4% Pinot Blanc, 3% Riesling. The Sauvignon Blanc provides the perfect base for…and allows the Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Riesling to really shine. Juicy and sweet on its own, this blend would also love to be friends with some spicy Asian cuisine.

Then there was 2006 Charles Smith Wines “Chateau Smith” Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley, Washington. It’s big and manly, woody and spicy, and at first sip, I was strangely reminded of the opening riff of Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power.”

Finally, Shane ended with 2007 Seven Hills Merlot and 2006 Seven Hills Malbec from Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley, respectively, in Washington. Seven Hills, one of the oldest wineries in the region, The Merlot is slightly spicy with soft tannins, and the Malbec is out-of-this-world and lushly ripe, but structured.

Shane ended the class with some sage advice: 2006 was a warm year for Oregon, and they produced some great, muscular Pinot Noir (like Lumos!), so get it before it’s gone. Washington, on the other hand, has a higher level of consistency because of the tiny amount (less than a foot a year) of rain in the cascade range, so vintage is less of a factor when considering Washington wines.

Be sure to check out our upcoming wine classes, including Wines of Chile on the 22nd.

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