Tasting Room Stories

A Tale Of Two Cities…er, Pinot Regions - Oregon vs. New Zealand

Monday, January 26th, 2009 | Tasting Room Stories, Wine Tasting Notes, wine | 1 Comment

A constant battle is going on in the wine world - the fight to be the BEST when it comes to who produces the greatest Pinot Noir. Currently, in the fight, I can think of two very well-known regions of the world. We’ve all known that France was the original contender in the ring. Some of the best wines are from the Burgundy region. (Shh… one word of caution, don’t call it pinot there). They’re classic, poetic, delightful, but part of the old world of wine.

I’m over the old; time to look to the new! So here we go, Round 2:

Willamette Valley, Oregon vs. Marlborough, New Zealand

Why did I pick these 2 regions? Apart from my personal taste, they are ramping up the sections at your favorite wine store, folks are not looking to Pinot out of California like they used to, and guess what? The French are even in on it! They are buying land plots in those areas to grow their own grapes. Why? Because they know how amazing the flavors and characters of the wines can become at full fruition. Take Domaine Drouhin, for example. What started out as one of the most well-known in their industry in France, now takes up a large plot of vineyard soil in Dundee Hills / Willamette Valley, Oregon. The clones of grapes they produce there continue to be some of the best in the world.

So, my wine pick from the pacific northwest (for the time being, because i can’t just leave it at that) would have to be 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir.

Tasting Notes:

At the heart of it all, there is one thing that separates these two regions clearly for me. It always come down to the soil; the terroir. Out of Oregon, my nose almost always picks up the earthy fruit of the soils: strawberries, elderberries, raspberry and blackberries, sometimes blueberries. But behind that lies an earthiness and musk that can only be compared to a rich and aged goat cheese. Usually the oak is there, but lightly balanced in the background with just subtle notes coming out from sip to sip. A delicate dance on my taste-buds. ($20-$23/btl)

On the other hand we have New Zealand. Not too many of my friends are drinking wine from that region, and neither was I. Until, one day, a gentleman walked into Hopkins and we started the conversation of where are favorite Pinots came from. I quickly said Oregon, but he had a look on his face of wonderment. I asked him about his, and he said New Zealand. Really? New Zealand? Don’t they only make Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays? Apparently not. I asked him what they were like and he told me just that they were amazing and that if I hadn’t tried one, that I need to find one. So I did.

My pick for New Zealand: 2005 Clos Henri Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

Tasting Notes:

Unlike Oregon and its subtle fruit, New Zealand brings all of that forward on the palette. As soon as I took my first sip, there was only one thing that came to mind - Kim’s mothers’ strawberry jam. Now, oddly enough, her mother lived in Virginia and the land there is not so unlike Marlborough. Warm weather, wonderful floral aromas in the summertime, and bright, ripe, rich fruit! The body of the wine was quite smooth and a little more concentrated than the pinots I’ve had from Willamette Valley. The oak was a blend of French barrels, old and new. Some spice was indicative of Asian spice, like cloves, cinnamon and ginger. ($23-$25/btl.)

Well, the man was right. I am now in love with New Zealand Pinot Noirs, but I will never waiver from my beloved Oregon wine. I think they’ll live happily ever after together in my wine cellar. Cheers!

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For The Love Of Wine!

Friday, January 2nd, 2009 | Hopkins, Tasting Room Stories, Wine Stories | 3 Comments

“I really don’t like wine, but I WANT to! How do I learn to love it?”

Do you know how often I hear that question? It’s the strangest thing. I would be in the tasting room at Hopkins pouring wine for someone who has really only ever drank beer or hard liquor, and then they are in front of me tasting something they conceivably don’t even like. But they WANT to!

I guess the most obvious idea would be to figure out what it is they do or do not like about it in the first place. Kind of reminds me of my love / hate relationship with broccoli-rabe. For the longest time I really despised the stuff; I usually love ALL vegetables. But every time I had it, it was bitter and tart and just not pleasing to my palate. That was until one fine evening I decided to cook it MY way: lots of garlic, butter, lemon and sautee for EVER. I tried cooking the tartness right out of those dastardly stalks. And it worked. I now have an appreciated love for the plant. Plus, it’s amazing with Italian sausage, almost a perfect pair, and freshly shaved Parmesan! But I digress……

Ok, so wine. Where does one start? I would say from the majority of folks I talked to about their ‘hate’ of wine, when you really got down to the truth of the matter, they didn’t hate ALL wines. They seemed to like the sweet ones at least, or the semi-sweets. I myself, in my earlier wine days, could not appreciate red wine in all the world, but I liked the whites. I personally really got into Spanish Albarinos mostly because that was what was available to me at the restaurant where I hosted. It was easy, light, not too much crazy flavor going on, good with most vegetable dishes and any and all fish entrees.

I’d say the most important thing to keep in mind is that your palate is kind of like an instrument. You can’t just pick up a violin or sit at a piano and start playing from day one and know how to read the notes. Your tastebuds may or may not like flavor shocks and the brain can’t comprehend all it’s experiencing in some wines. It needs a little easing and understanding about what’s going on. It’s a learned skill, something that can be finely tuned, but can also handle some broad notes. The broad notes in the wine tasting world would be your big 6: Pinot Gris or Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonney, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I usually find that a fellow taster will always find at least ONE of the big grape varietals to suit him or her. Next, start buying that kind of wine from all different regions, like France, Chile, Spain, Australia, California, Italy. You’ll really start getting a sense of flavors, sweetness, dryness, foods you like to go with it. Some wines even act like fragrances that conjure up memories of a past experience or a person or a place. Those are my favorite because you can always remember the wine by how you feel.

After you feel like you’ve tackled a wine or varietal of grape, then move on. You’ll get bored if you stick to the same thing forever. And believe me, there is a VAST SEA of wines out there to experience. Sometimes the best wines are those you stumble upon by accident. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little wine journal handy to jot a few notes down. “Love it”  “Hate it”  “Great with Lobster” “Too sweet” “Tastes Like horse leather” (it’s been known to happen) whatever.  You get the idea. Here’s a form you can download to have around the house for your next tasting experience or with friends.

If you are curious to know what my favorite wines are, send me an email. I’ll have to make a list one of these days as that seems to be the other constant question I get all the time. Until next time…… Cheers!

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‘A Sense Of Place’

Monday, May 12th, 2008 | Hopkins, Tasting Room Stories, wine educator | 2 Comments


My second weekend at the winery has proved to be no less entertaining and crazy from the first. Albeit, a lot less random activity. This time I was blessed with the crowds and layers of tasters from about 2pm until almost close. I had to start tasting the wines all over again about half way through just to remember what I was talking about. Does the Chardonnay really taste that dry? Was the Cabernet Franc really spicy or more fruity? And what the heck happened to the Red Barn Red?? It made my mouth pucker so much I thought my head would just about implode! But they tell me there’s more oak on it……. sure. My palette said otherwise.The newest observation of the weekend proved to be another question. Does everyone look up a topic of the day before they come to the winery from the same place? Maybe it’s something in the wine that prompts all the tasters to ask me the same thing all day. But whatever it was, all I kept hearing all day was, “So, just how DO they get that fruity flavor into the wine?”. If you’re not listening, please come closer……ready?

It’s made from grapes! I know, it’s kind of crazy, but that CAN add to the fruit factor. and no, they didn’t pump any apple or peach or raspberry juice into the barrels before they bottled it (with exception of the peach and cider wine of course….). But this of course led me into the inevitable conversation of ‘Terroir’ with all my fellow tasting students of the day. What is it, you ask? Well let me divulge: according to any reference books, or Wikipedia for that matter, Terroir is “the assumption that the land from the which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that region”. Huh?

The best way to describe it is not to talk about it, but to go outside, take a look around you, close your eyes, smell the air, the flowers, the soil, feel how the wind blows. Is it chilly? Is it humid? What kind of fruit can you go pick out in the fields? Apples? Strawberries? Raspberries? Is the soil around you rocky? Does it have minerals? Or is it just dirt? Dark or ashy? Crumbly or smooth? Did you smell honeysuckles as a child? Remember those pretty purple flowers that grow in the spring that gave off such a hypnotic scent? Can you smell the grasses growing around you? Ok, now go back inside, taste your wine and tell me what you get. If you’re tasting a locally grown vintage, you might understand. Or, maybe one day you’ll be in another area of the country, with a different environment. You’ll open up that bottle that you’re so used to drinking, but all of a sudden, you feel back at home. Like if you close your eyes, it’s all there. That so amazingly recognizable scent of your backyard. That’s terroir.

I didn’t understand any of that until I came back from California wine tasting in Napa for 3 days straight. I went to open a bottle of red Napa cabernet, and i closed my eyes, and there it was! I could smell the air, taste the ashiness of the St.Helena soil, smell the fragrant bouquets of all the flora and fauna around me those few days. And that’s when I realized for the first time how those flavors got into my glass. But that’s just my experience. The most wonderful thing about wine drinking is that the experience will always be different for each person. Appreciated or not. I hope I was able to enlighten a few this weekend on the subject without sounding like a recording of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Best moment of the day: An overly zealous woman, who loved each and every sip, couldn’t help but jump at each glass I poured her. Especially when we moved onto the Cider wine and I had just poured water in her glass to rinse. She grabbed it and notes ‘This is sooo light! The Cider is WONDERFUL!’ I smiled and said, ‘That’s actually a non-alcoholic beverage called H2O, but here’s the Cider. I think you’ll really like this one!’ ;)

On a wine side note, if you can get your hands on one, please make sure you pick up a bottle of Domaine du Viking, Vouvray 2005, Gaultier L’Homme. Runs around $18 - $20 and worth every penny. Sip it slowly. Savor the layers.

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