I still remember when I set eyes on Oregon’s wine country, Willamette Valley. It smelled of perfumey Pinot Noir… wafting up through the vineyards, wineries and through my hotel window. It was harvest of 2007 and I fell in love. With Oregon Pinot Noir. The love continues to this day. Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) Valley is the main grape-growing area and one of the first wine regions (AVA) established in Oregon. It’s about an hour south of Portland, straddling the mountainous coastline. A major reason for Willamette’s success is the vast temperature fluctuations during the spring and summer growing season, allowing the fruit to develop acids — a crucial element in creating complexity in wine, especially Pinot. Over the years, distinct winegrowing regions have emerged and now the state has 17 AVAs that wineries often indicate on the bottle to educate customers. But many keep Willamette Valley on the label because they’re likely blends of several AVAs.
Read more: Impressive Oregon Pinot Noir
For me, Cab Sauv isn’t a sipping wine. Not made for the patio or the party, but more for the dinner party. Its hefty tannins and deep, dark flavors are a challenge to my palate without the fattiness of food to protect it. But a well-made Cab begs to be recognized as such – celebrated for having achieved a balance of acid and tannins, fruit and oak, and an elegance worthy of any meal. Honig Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley makes this cut.
Read more: Cold weather wine: 2012 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Chile has been a happening place for several years now. With a Mediterranean climate much like northern California, the grapes bask in sunshine and enjoy rain during the winter mostly. Even the landscape, with mountain valleys and slopes, resembles California. And, like California, the resultant wines are consistently high quality. But there’s one big difference: Price. Wines from Chile astound with a price to quality ratio that most wine regions would love. I dare say few wine regions can top the number of excellent wines under $20 that Chile does.
Read more: Wine review: Montes Alpha 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
It strikes most wine drinkers at some point in their wine paths: Pinot passion. The multi-dimensional, seductiveaspects of this finicky, oft-loved grape are difficult to avoid. And, when it happens, all you can do is succumb to its wiles and enjoy the comfort it brings. Mendocino County, a wine region rich with redwoods, coastal climate and definitely Pinot Noir, has birthed three disparate yet dedicated wineries, proudly wearing their Pinot passion like a badge of honor. And created some gorgeous wine.
Read more: Celebrating three small, passionate Pinot Noir producers in Mendocino County
Discovered during a blind tasting, I mistook this stellar red Burgundy for a Chambolle Musigny, a Côtes de Nuits wine region up the road which can be twice the price. This Bruno Clair hails from Marsannay, a newer, French village-level appellation (established in 1987) which is no slouch Burgundy wine region. The Pinot Noir grapes, from which this gorgeous wine is made, are aptly worshiped in this area of the world. It shows.
Read more: French wine review: Domaine Bruno Clair 2010 Marsannay “Les Vaudenelles”
Temperatures are hitting the eighties here in Sonoma County and my hands are reaching for some chilled white wines (and rosés, but that’s another column). They seem to go down smoother and easier than the lonely, almost dusty Cabernets and Syrahs in the wine rack. And with more and more thirsty folks branching out from their normal white wine routine, I thought it appropriate to introduce a couple of other soft, aromatic, mouth-watering whites: Tablas Creek 2011 Cotes de Tablas and David Hill 2011 Pinot Gris.
Read more: Sippin’ and chillin’ white wines for spring: Tablas Creek & David Hill
I will admit I’m not much of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan. Appreciation flows from so many other places, I rarely see the need to fawn. Often, it’s a wine with so much tannin that it begs for food to balm its harsh edges and I’m kind of a wine-for-all-purposes kind of girl (before, during and after dinner). But sometimes, just sometimes, one drops in at a blind tasting that woos me. This happened one night when the Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon showed up.
Read more: Wine review: Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
The 2011 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are simply spectacular. Loaded with tart acidity, peaches and grapefruit, you can be assured that any bottle of 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris you grab from the shelves will be worthy of passing your lips. But if you can find this one, you’re golden. The Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris has refreshingly crisp acids, resulting from the cooler climate experienced throughout the state during that vintage year. Fragrant citrus fruit on the nose leads into a light-bodied white with flavors of pink grapefruit (but smoother than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc), lime zest and green apples. This grog is sassy and simply easy to drink on a warm day.
Read more: Wine review: Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (Oregon)
I’ve wondered whether the lack of mass success of the Viognier grape is because of the tongue-twisting name(pronounced VEE oh NYAY”) or some other reason. With its luscious, aromatic fruit, slight sweetness and sip-ability, you’d think it would be a girlie girl’s dream and be as popular with the chicks as Moscatos are now (more on that later). But, unlike Moscato/Muscat it’s tough to make Viognier well. Pick it too early in the growing season, you won’t get the pretty aromas and rounded flavors; pick it too late and you’ll get a wine that’s syrupy, flabby or has no acid at all. Some wineries get it just right though — Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County is one of them.
Read more: Wine review: Bonterra 2010 Viognier Mendocino County