Thursday, May 6, 2010

Small World Wine Tasting

On Monday, May 2nd, I attended a wine tasting sponsored by Small World Wine Company. Small World’s goal is to promote and distribute wines produced here in the central/southern Willamette Valley, and all but three of the wineries represented at the tasting were from our area. The company is owned and managed by Matt and Tabitha Compton of Spindrift Cellars along with her father, Norm Galvin.

Nearly 50 wines were available for tasting, and it took me close to three hours to try them all. For those of you who’ve never attended a tasting like this, be advised that you need to make use of the spit buckets or you’ll not be leaving on your feet. Most of those in attendance were local retailers and restauranteurs.

Spindrift’s own offerings included the NV White, a Pinot Gris/Chardonnay blend that offered pear, apple, apricot and pineapple notes, low acidity and a smooth presence on the palate (probable retail price around $13). The 2009 Pinot Blanc (probably about $15) had a subtle nose of lemon and herbs, and, again, was very smooth. The 2009 Pinot Gris ($14) was similar, perhaps more generically fruity. Reds included the 2008 Pinot Noir, which has aromas of strawberry and raspberry and though being a bit tart on the palate, is a good value at the suggested retail of $20. The 2007 Syrah, produced from fruit sourced from Seven Hills Vineyard (Walla Walla district of the Columbia Valley, Oregon side), is reminiscent of a northern Rhone, having a floral, fruity nose and red cherry flavors (my first thought upon tasting it was this is a Syrah for Pinot Noir lovers). Suggested retail is $32.

I next visited the table manned by John Jarboe, winemaker at Territorial Vineyards. John was offering both wines from Territorial as well as several under his own label, Opine. The Territorial whites included the 2008 Pinot Gris ($15) which has been out for a while (I know we’ve already gone through a bottle or two). In addition to the typical pear and apple aromas that one gets with most Oregon Pinot Gris, there’s a bit of apricot as well. It’s a bit tangy on the palate, a characteristic that the winery’s web site describes as “a bright natural acidity”. Also offered was the 2006 Riesling ($15) which had a classic Riesling nose (floral and fruity) with that hint of diesel fuel that many Rieslings (both German and American) often have. From the warm 2006 vintage, it’s 2% residual sugar and thus a little sweet, and would be a refreshing sipper on a warm summer afternoon. Moving toward the red end of the spectrum took me next to the 2009 Rose of Pinot Noir ($13). Aromas and flavors of strawberry and watermelon are accompanied by a surprisingly brisk acidity. Not as fruity as our all-time-favorite RoPN (the 2006 Benton Lane), but still a nice wine. The reds were a pair of Pinot Noir bottlings. The first, the 2008 “Stone’s Throw” ($30), has a rich aroma of black cherry with hints of raspberry. On the palate it’s not as rich as the nose would lead you to expect, but is smooth, medium bodied and has just a little tannin on the finish (might benefit from another year of bottle age). The 2006 “Capital T Reserve” ($39) offers aromas of red and black cherry, and on the palate is well blanced, rich and chewy, with a hint of licorice.

John had three wines under his Opine label. The 2009 Viognier (I’m guessing around $20) has apricot and apple aromas and was a bit more acidic than I'm used to in a Viognier. His reds consisted of two Syrahs; the first being a non-vintage bottling ($25-30?). This had a spicy nose, with a trace of cocoa, was nicely balanced, with a slightly metallic mineral element upfront and some tannin on the finish. The other was the 2005 Chukar Ridge Vineyard ($30-35?), a similar wine but perhaps a little less tannic.

The next table offered wines from several wineries. Apolloni Vineyards, from Forest Grove (west of Portland) offered three. I first tried the 2009 Pinot Blanc (estimated retail $15), a medium-bodied wine with a distinct nose of pear and flowers. The 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir (estimated $40) was outstanding, with wonderful aromas of raspberry, blackberry and strawberry and a very refined presence on the palate. Their third offering was a dessert wine, the 2007 “Dolce Vino” Viognier, ($22?), which featured a signature Viognier nose of apricot and pear. It was not particularly complex, but was smooth and sweet, though not as sweet as one might expect from the “ice wine” designation. Also at this table were two selections from Spencer Creek Cellars near Eugene. The 2006 Pinot Gris (probably about $21) was a good example of the type, adding a peach element to the usual pear and apple, and was medium in both body and acidity. The 2005 Pinot Noir ($27?) was excellent, with red and black cherry and raspberry, good balance and soft tannins. The third winery at this table was another out-of-area one, Shea Wine Cellars. Their 2007 Chardonnay (perhaps $35) was excellent, offering an immediately recognizable varietal nose with honeysuckle and pear notes, a bit of Burgundy minerality and a touch of oak (15% is aged in new oak). The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir ($40-45) was characterized more by black fruits (blackberry and black cherry) than by red ones, and though this is not my favorite style of PN (I like lots of strawberry and raspberry), it was unquestionably a well-crafted wine and one of the best examples I’ve had from the difficult 2007 vintage.

Two wineries were at the next table, the first being 720 Wine Cellars (Philomath). The 2007 Pinot Gris ($17) had a light pear nose and seemed a little acidic. It also did not seem particularly fruity, but in all honesty by this time I was starting to suffer from PGF (Pinot Gris Fatigue). The three Pinot Noir bottlings were more interesting, the first being the 2006 Willamette Valley ($25). This had a rather subtle nose of strawberry and raspberry and a light-to-medium body. The 2005 Croft Vineyard ($35) was more intense, adding cherry to the raspberry and strawberry, and featured an earthy minerality on the palate. The 2006 Croft Vineyard (also estimated at $35) was similar, but with a lighter nose and a bit more acidity. Also at this table was another out-of-area winery, Remy Wines of McMinnville. Their first offering was a 2007 Syrah ($27) using fruit sourced from Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Though a pleasing wine, I would characterize the aromas and flavors as “generic dark fruit”, as it took some effort to pick out elements of plum, blackberry and black cherry. More interesting was the non-vintage “Three Wives” blend (probably around $18), made from 34% Barbera, 38% Lagrein and 28% Syrah. The first two are northern Italian varietals, with the Barbera being from Washington vineyards and the other two from Oregon. The Syrah dominates the nose with its distinctive peppery black cherry character, and this smooth, medium-bodied wine finishes with soft, muted tannins.

Shuffling my way to the last table, I met Dai Crisp, manager of Temperance Hill Vineyard (fruit from which finds its way into numerous quality Oregon wines) and owner of Lumos Wines (headquartered in Philomath but the winery itself is in McMinnville). He had two 2009 Pinot Gris, one from Rudolfo Vineyard and one from Temperance Hill (estimated retail about $18 and $21 respectively). Again, these were typical Willamette PGs, with pear/apple and medium body and acidity (I think the Temperance Hill was the slightly more acidic of the two). The 2009 Temperance Hill Gewürztraminer ($20?) was a welcome antidote for my now-advanced state of PGF, with its spicy, citrusy nose and crisp acidity. Jerry Larson of Wineopolis joined me at the Lumos station, and trying the Gewürz expressed the opinion that it would “really come together” in about six months. Crisp’s two Pinot Noir bottlings were the 2007 Five Blocks ($26) which offered strawberry and raspberry aromas, adding red cherry to these when it reaches the palate, and the 2006 Temperance Hill ($32), the nose of which is dominated by red cherry. A big, rich, tannic Pinot Noir, it’s one for the cellar.

Last but definitely not least was Mystic Wines near Salem. Producing exclusively reds, the house style is one of smooth, polished refinement. The 2006 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir ($24) has that strawberry/raspberry nose I so love, and excellent balance. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28; McDuffe vineyard near The Dalles) is very nice, but seems to lack the signature cassis and bell pepper elements that one normally associates with CS. The 2007 Syrah ($22, also from Columbia Valley) features peppery black cherry and is a bit tannic (give it two years). The 2005 Zinfandel ($20, from Hillside Vineyard on the Oregon side of The Dalles) is an intriguing example of its type, with more of a raspberry character (as opposed to the blackberry of a typical California Zin) and soft, well-integrated tannins making it a great choice for current drinking. Finally, their 2006 Barbera (around $28) definitely got my attention. Kathy and I have long been fans of Italian Barbera (we went through an entire case of the 1998 Brero). We’ve tried a number of domestic examples but never found any that particularly impressed. The Mystic bottling seems more in the Italian style, with red cherry and blackberry and a slightly acidic character that should make it a good dinner wine.

Overall, the quality of the wines was good; nonetheless, there were a number of standouts, all of which I plan to purchase when I get the chance. These achieved this status for a number of reasons, these being Quality/Price Ratio (Spindrift 2009 Pinot Blanc, 2009 Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir, Territorial 2008 Pinot Gris, 2006 Riesling and 2009 Rose of Pinot Noir, the Remy NV “Three Wives”, and the Mystic 2006 Pinot Noir, 2005 Zinfandel and 2007 Syrah), an unusual and/or distinctive example of type (Spindrift 2007 Syrah, the Remy “Three Wives” again, and the Mystic 2006 Barbera and, again, 2005 Zinfandel) or simply an excellent example of type (the Apolloni 2005 Pinot Noir, the Spencer Creek 2005 Pinot Noir, the Shea 2007 Chardonnay and 2007 Pinot Noir, and the Lumos 2009 Gewürztraminer).

Small World Wines is definitely offering a good portfolio of wineries, and I'm hoping they'll add more good ones in the months and years to come.

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