after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

The Oregon Trail: Wine

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t says:  So, we already went through some of our trip, but now we get down to the wine … after all – the whole point of the trip was to take on Oregon Wine Country (or at least, the Willamette Valley).  We didn’t take a ton of pictures, but we’ll mention who had great views, great wines, etc. (and I promise pictures on our next post about FOOD).  But let me warn you right now: this post is going to be INCREDIBLY boring for those with no interest in wine.  But if you’re a “wino”, then maybe you might make it through without falling asleep (maybe).  Furthermore, if you’re planning a trip to OR, then this might be a helpful post, as we wish someone would have told us all of this beforehand.  At the very least, g and I can look back on this post and remember which places to revisit and which places to avoid on our next OR trip …

Day 1:

Argyle Tasting Room:  Right across the street from where we lunched (Red Hills Market – more coming soon), Argyle is known for producing some of Oregon’s best bubblies.  Because of this, we decided to make Argyle our first OR tasting as it would be a fun way to celebrate being in Oregon.  So how was it?  “Meh” is probably most accurate.  g, the bubbly expert of the two of us, felt that the sparkling wines in her flight were “ok”, but not particularly spectacular – kind of a letdown if these were Oregon’s best bubblies.  I tackled Argyle’s pinot noir offerings and found that although potable, they, too, were mediocre at best.  Oh well, at least its location didn’t really make us go out of our way to get to it.  Grade: C

Ponzi Wine Bar:  We did NOT go to this wine bar, however, it’s right across from Red Hills Market and actually connected to Dundee Bistro, so it would have been even closer than the Argyle Tasting Room (e.g. we walked to the Argyle Tasting room, we could have crawled to Ponzi’s using only the strength of our eyelids).  Ponzi’s wine bar wouldn’t have had bubbles, and I can’t vouch for Ponzi wines, however, the bar does offer tastings of other reputable, non-Ponzi wines that we gradually become familiar with throughout our Oregon Trail – so that would have been a far better option than Argyle … just sayin’ …  Grade: ??? (likely far greater than C)

Erath Winery:  We first had Erath pinot noir off the winelist at Talula’s Garden and found it to be delicious and inexpensive (i.e. when you buy it by the bottle at a wine store).  Having been let down by Argyle, g suggested that we give Erath a try on Day 1, even though it wasn’t on our itinerary (k and cm know about my “itineraries”).  The tasting room at the winery was well-appointed, and there are some impressive views to be had.  The wines weren’t too shabby, either, as the tasting covered a variety of price-points and production levels, ranging from the sub-$20 pinot noir and pinot gris you can find in nearly any store (and pretty good for the money, too!) to above-$50 rare-beyond-the-winery options.  The most surprisingly delicious wine was a still white wine made from pinot noir grapes, which I had never tasted before (although I have since found this to be a common wine style in Lombardy and Germany).  Erath’s version had this excellent mix of stone fruit and tart apple and vegetal zip all on a creamy vanilla background – like a peculiar cross between a California Chardonnay and a German Riesling.  (g says:  It tastes like what a great bubbly would taste like … without the bubbles! … which is great so now t can have some!).  You’ll be seeing this bottle in the next post …  Ultimately, we felt that Erath was a darned good “Intro to Oregon Wines” tasting … but pass it if you’re already familiar with OR wines.  Grade: B+

Day 2:

Adelsheim:  Adelsheim’s kind of pricey.  The tour is pricey.  The wines are pricey.  However, the tour was particularly nice and rather complete from grape to cellar (it’s especially well-suited for those who’ve never seen a winery before), and the wines were pretty solid (a good way to taste multiple expressions of pinot noir).  (g interjects: “Solid”?  Stop being so critical!  They were delicious!  I would have been happy taking home 3 of the 5 we tasted!)  Ok.  Scratch “solid” – make it “good” … but that’s as far as I’m going.  Grade: B+ (“better” wines than Erath, but a higher price-tag.)

Carlton Winemakers Studio: Welcome to a wine snob’s heaven.  This place is a collection of winemakers who all use a single facility to craft their wines – so there’s a lot of “up-and-coming” pinot-making talent by people who are just getting started and don’t yet have the facilities to make their wines at their own vineyards.  Every wine-experienced person we ran into suggested we go here – so we did.  The tasting room in Carlton (so it’s just a wine bar you’re visiting, not a winery) was helmed by the “wine director” on the day we went; he had a lot of knowledge, but he also had a healthy dose of wine snobbery and was not afraid to express his opinions (g admits: He was an “acquired” taste.).  His opinions included things like:
“Your state’s liquor laws are stupid. I think they’re just plain wrong, so I ship there all the time anyways because I don’t care.”  (Whoa there spanky … don’t let the PLCB catch wind of this …)
“Yea, I said this wine was ‘pretty’, but I actually don’t like it.  Actually, I recommend that you buy that other one instead because this one is ‘so pretty’ that it’s kind of boring.  Actually, it’s my least favorite bottle on the entire list.”  (WHAT the crap?  The sad truth is that I was somehow suckered by this logic and avoided the “too pretty” wine!  WHAT?  How did that happen?  g still doesn’t understand why he even bothers to sell that wine at all.  Whatever.)
However I felt about the guy behind the counter, and even though the wines featured here are more expensive than those at Adelsheim, the Studio does a brilliant job showing how different vineyards/winemakers can take pinot into a various directions that differ so wildly from each other – it was actually very cool.  We’d go back for a tasting in a heart-beat.  Grade: B+ (would have been an A- had a nicer person been there)

Rex Hill / AtoZ Wineworks:  While Rex Hill is probably the first winery that anyone traveling to Willamette Valley from Portland will see … but it was the worst tasting we had.  The winery’s not pretty.  The wines at best are “meh” at best.  The dude behind the bar could use a shot of enthusiasm/salesmanship/showmanship/life.  Grade: D- (Why not an “F”?  Their saving grace is that it’s really close to “The Sweetest Thing” Cupcakes.  While no Kara’s, they’re pretty tasty, as you’ll see, and do a great job making up for Rex Hill’s lackluster wines.)

Tyrus Evans Tasting Room:  They offer Ken Wright pinot tastings, which is pretty bawler.  However, they only sell Ken Wright pinots by the six-pack, which is WAY expensive.  We decided against the pinot tasting because we didn’t want to be tempted by something that we could never afford.  They also offer Tyrus Evans tastings, which are non-pinot wines crafted by Ken Wright – that intrigued us so we did it.  Conclusion: Ken Wright should stick to pinots.  (g chimes in:  Actually, this is the one tasting I regret – we should have done the Ken Wright pinots just to do ’em.  Who cares if we can’t afford them – what other chance would we have had to have tasted them all?)  Other than that, there really is nothing remarkable about this location, as its just a random building in a sparsely populated town.  Do it if you’re there, but we don’t think it’s worth going out of your way for it.  Grade: C (B if you go for the Ken Wright pinots)

Day 3:

Domaine Drouhin:  If you absolutely want to do a winery tour but do NOT want to pay Adelsheim’s cost (and want a better view), then this is the place to go ($25pp).  Yes, this is one of the “big” Oregon wineries, so everyone-and-their-mother goes there … but they do a nice job!  They even let you do a comparative tasting of Oregon pinots vs. French Burgundies (you need to call ahead for the “Drouhin Experience”)!  The people are nice.  The facilities are large and spotless.  The view is impressive.  And, of course, the wines are pretty tasty, even if they are a little commonplace.  They get bonus points, however, for starting us off with a glass of rose for the tour – now THAT’s what I like to see.  I’m happy we went!  This place is good for a tour or even just for a tasting.  Grade: A- (Is it snobby of me that I’m docking them points for not having rarer or more exclusive wines?  Probably.)

Domaine Serene:  This was the biggest let-down of the Oregon trip.  The tour/tastings are NOT cheap.  And for how much people hyped the new facilities, we have to say that we weren’t impressed, as it’s clear that they cheesed it up with their beaucoup bucks instead of having true style (e.g. it’s not that Domaine Serene is “ugly” – it’s not at all – but it’s like they’re trying oh-so-hard to make you feel like you’ve been transported to some sort of grand chateau … meanwhile, for example, Quintessa in California is a far more beautiful winery with superior design/functionality).  But it didn’t stop there – for me, the biggest disappointment was the wines.  After reading so much about Domaine Serene and all of their pinot success, I expected to walk out of their with several bottles and a depleted bank account.  But no!  The wines were shockingly boring (topping out at “good” for the ’08 Evenstad) – even the ones that got rave reviews from wine critics!  Gasp!  Ultimately, I understand that Domaine Serene draws a big crowd (people fall for the marketing), however, I say that if you absolutely must go, then just show up, enjoy the view (the view is pretty – similar to Domaine Drouhin), have a tasting at the wine bar (i.e. skip the tour), mark it on your checklist as “done”, and save your money for other wineries.  Grade: D+ (B if all you’re going for is a view and tasting).

Alexana Winery:  We were told about this place by John at Abbey Road Farms; given his lifetime of wine-related experiences, we took his recommendation seriously.  The story behind the winery is interesting: an Indian cardiologist somehow accrues/spends a whole lot of money on top-notch vineyards/wineries in Oregon, California, and Argentina and then proceeds to employ some very famous winemakers to create what he believes are “the best possible wines” from his land.  I don’t know how he does it, but man, this guy seems like he spared no expense.  Now I know that this kind of strategy might turn a lot of people off, as he’s basically a very wealthy person who is enthusiastic/obsessive about wine, and not technically a farmer/oenologist, himself.  I, too, had my doubts, because I’d prefer it if wine was made from love, not money.  But let me tell you that after tasting these wines, I no longer cared about who was making the wine, because they were fantastic!  I’ll be keeping my eye on this winery, for sure.  On top of that, the views were great (and we could see Abbey Road Farms from the tasting room!) and the facilities were brand new (still undergoing construction).  Sure, the wines do creep up in price, matching those of Domaine Serene and Adelsheim, but if I had to splurge on a bottle of wine, it’d be from here (actually we did splurge … on several bottles …).  Grade: A (could have been an A+ if the wines were a bit cheaper … that and if they got rid of the rather cheesy promotional materials that use the caduceus – those were pretty lame <I’m sure g would be happy to design a far superior logo/label if they’d pay her in Riesling and Pinot Noir>).

So where would we go on a second trip?  Or where would we recommend wine snobs go on a first trip?
We’d do Alexana, Carlton Winemakers Studio, Tyrus Evans Tasting Room (the Ken Wright that got away …), and we’d branch out to others like Penner-ash and Winderlea (the winemaker Robert Brittan has quite a reputation for great wines).  We’d also check out a winery or two at the Gorge (e.g. Syncline).

Where would recommend for non-snob first-timers?
–If visiting one place: Domaine Drouhin (yea, it’s none-too-exclusive, but I can’t fault them for doing a good job – and book the “Drouhin Experience” if you want a private tasting – it’s fun!)
–If visiting two places: Erath and Alexana (they’re close to one another and run the range from cheap to expensive)
–If you really want to see what Miles was blabbering about about pinot noir in the movie Sideways: add on Carlton Winemakers Studio

Ok … the next post … FOOD … it’ll be more interesting – I promise!

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