Greetings and Salutations! After a few fits and starts and several near misses with the best of intentions, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth was finally able to engineer an escape from the ungodly heat of Texas in August in favor of the beauty and cooler climes of Willamette Valley, Oregon. For those not familiar with Oregon, this picturesque valley is pronounced “Will-AM-It, DAMN-It.” Or so I was told.
While taking in the amazing countryside, I was also able to sample some pretty amazing local Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and, best of all, Pinot Noir. Organized by a great friend who is a former resident of Portland, our merry travel squad literally drunk in the breathtaking sights, refreshing sounds, remarkable local fare and word-class adult beverages of Oregon. You talk about your timely getaway!
What we discovered in northern Oregon is beautiful green fields, gentle rolling hills, friendly and laid back residents and a respect for the beautiful land south of Portland, particularly in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. One quick stop in a modest Carlton lunch cafe to secure a quick carry out picnic lunch to share on a winery patio morphed into an hour-long exchange of background tales, political views and some delicious fare…the opposite of fast food. Choosing the quiet hamlet of Newberg as our base, we identified six wineries within a 20 mile radius of Newberg to visit; some were familiar to one or more of our crew, while some were new to all. Clearly we showed remarkable restraint by limiting ourselves to just 3 wineries per day! And through some clever planning by our group leader, we managed to sneak in a couple of amazing dinners in McMinnville at Thistle (new American fare featuring locally sourced ingredients) and Maison Bistro (classic French fare from a world-class French chef) among the stellar local restaurants after our thirsts were quenched from tasting the local wines.
Day 1 of our Willamette Valley tour started with a visit to Anne Amie, located just south of Carlton. Anne Amie had some pleasing sparklers, along with the anticipated Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and definitely featured one of the finest hilltop views in the entire valley. The Anne Amie Pinots were noteworthy for their reasonable pricing and good quality for the price point. The tasting room was picturesque and the staff was warm and inviting. All in all, Anne Amie was a great launching pad for our Willamette Valley tastings and a terrific place to have lunch overlooking the valley.
Next up was Dobbes Family Estate, which was conveniently located in downtown Dundee, just a short drive from Carlton. Our trip organizer thought that Dobbes would be a great stop for our group (and, thoughtfully, for this blog!) due to not only the high quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays painstakingly produced under the Dobbes Family label, but also the larger production value label Wine by Joe. As in Joe Dobbes, the proprietor of both. While visiting the tasting room our merry group was treated to an audience with Joe Dobbes, who kindly expanded our tasting to include additional Dobbes Family wines as well as three Wine by Joe samples. I found several of the Dobbes Family Pinot Noirs to be terrific, particularly the 2013 Griffin’s Cuvee (a Gold Medal winner at the 2016 Oregon Wine Awards), but I was also quite impressed with the 2013 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir. (See more detail on this one in the month’s Value Wine No. 1 below). All in all, Joe Dobbes, his lovely wife Patricia (who ably manned the tasting room) and their guest staff were warm and welcoming and their wines terrific. They have earned a new fan in your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth!
We ended Day 1 at Argyle’s architectural wonder tasting room and production facility in Dundee. I had previously tasted a fair number of Argyle Pinot Noirs and found them to be good values in the universe of Oregon Pinots, but in all honesty the bar was being raised since we were in one of the epicenters of American Pinot and Chard country. Even good basic wines could get easily overlooked in Willamette Valley. Although our group enjoyed the Argyle Pinot samples that we were served in the tasting room, it was actually a tasty sparkler that, well, sparkled at our Argyle tasting: The Argyle Blanc de Blanc NV. Clean, crisp and refreshing with this Argyle effort drinking more like a classic Chard-based Champagne than a typical domestic sparkling wine. At this point our hearty group confessed that a bit of palate fatigue was kicking in, so we called it a day in favor of a tasty dinner after purchasing a Blanc de Blanc to take with us.
After a good night’s rest and a brisk walk through Newberg, Day 2 started at a remarkably picturesque, spanking new tasting room at Fairsing, located in the hills overlooking the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Fairsing kindly reserved a patio table for an al fresco lunch paired with its notable Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. I really enjoyed Fairsing’s Pinots, one from each side of its steep hill, but the Fairsing 2013 Chardonnay really stood out. Its style was Burgundian in style and finish (not overly oaked or buttery) but the fruit was remarkable–peaches, Granny Smith apples and a bit of honeydew melon. My mouth is watering just thinking about that Chard. Fortunately, I brought a few bottles back! Fairsing also has a bit of a Texas connection–its owners Mike and Mary Ann McNally are former Dallas residents who headed for the Oregon Hills following his retirement. Put this new winery on your list–you will be happy you did so. The stunning view from the Fairsing terrace graces this month’s Chapter. You are welcome!
Elk Cove was next. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire Cunningham, Elk Cove’s national sales manager, at a local event in Dallas, and I was intrigued by their balanced, nuanced Pinot Noirs. After a winding, lovely drive up to the winery in Gaston, Elk Cove’s inviting tasting room beckoned. The Elk Cove Pinots did not disappoint. Although there were several I really enjoyed, among them the decorated 2014 Clay Court and 2014 La Bohemme, the absolute star of the trip was the Elk Cove Goodrich 2014 Pinot Noir. Layered, polished, lengthy and enticing, this Oregon wine make my mouth come alive. No less an authority than Wine Spectator thought similarly, bestowing a stout 94 rating on the 2014 Goodrich Pinot. Somewhere my late mother, whose family name on her mother’s side was Goodrich, is flashing her trademark grin on this selection, no doubt.
Finally, we ended the day at Stoller. In direct contrast the hilltop vineyards of Fairsing and Elk Cove, Stoller’s vineyard was in a beautiful valley that looked up at the hills rather than the other way around, just in time for a quiet tasting on Stoller’s patio before sunset. All four of us enjoyed Stoller’s entry level 2014 Pinot Noir, so much that we purchased a couple of bottles to pair with our French bistro dinner. Mission Accomplished! In most wineries we visited, a cuvee of multiple vineyards was offered along with the pricier single-vineyard varietals. In Stoller’s case, the cuvee was more balanced and the best tasting to our collective palate. Stoller had a festive, local flavor to its tasting room at the end of a Friday afternoon, and it was the perfect location to say goodbye to Willamette Valley. The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth will be back!
And now, without further ado, on to this month’s Value Wines and Worth a Splurge Wine!
Value Wine No. 1: 2014 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir.
As your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth is ever vigilant and on the lookout for value Pinot Noir that actually resemble high quality Pinots and Burgundies, the Wine by Joe project suggested by a good friend had me intrigued. I recently had the opportunity to meet Joe Dobbes, the proprietor of both the Wine by Joe value label and the more prestigious Dobbes Family Estate label (Pinot Noirs and Chards produced under this label frequently garner 90+ ratings, and deservedly so!). Joe’s passion for both projects was obvious, and he was justifiably proud of the Wine by Joe wines. My personal favorite was the 2014 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir. Sourced from Pinot growers throughout the state of Oregon, the 2014 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir was a balanced, elegant offering that would fool some Pinot fans who taste it in a blind tasting alongside much more decorated wines. An enticing nose and tastes of cherry, strawberry, pomegranate and a hint of vanilla, with light tannins and refreshing acidity combine to add up to a terrific Pinot for your personal collection. Although the 2014 Wine by Joe Pinot has not yet been rated, past vintages have been awarded strong 89 ratings by both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. At a suggested retail of $19 and its pedigree and sourcing of Oregon grapes, this represents a remarkable bang for the buck. Also tasted and enjoyed were the Wine by Joe 2015 Chardonnay and 2015 Pinot Blanc, each retailing for $14. Without a doubt these Wine by Joe offerings offer incredible bang for the buck and truly terrific value wine. Wine sleuths, what are you waiting for? If you can’t find them at your local wine purveyor, then check out their website: http://dobbesfamilyestate.com.
Value Wine No. 2: Bodega Norton Malbec Mendoza Reserva 2014.
A friend recently shared with my her preference for good Argentinian Malbecs, and she reminded me how much I enjoy both the quality and price of a thoughtfully chosen Malbec. Well, this recent omission has been rectified with this month’s Value Wine No. 2, the Bodega Norton Malbec Mendoza Reserva 2014. Retailing for a modest $19, this Big Red is a world class, refined beauty, packing all of the power of a good Malbec while offering more polish than most at this price point. The experts at Wine Spectator had the following to say about the 2014 Mendoza Reserva: “This has a silky mouthfeel, with rich, plush flavors of boysenberry, dark currant and black olive that carry plenty of creamy accents. Features dark chocolate and Asian spice on the finely textured finish. Drink now through 2020.” The same publication bestowed an impressive 90 rating on this value wine. The Norton Mendoza Reserva 2014 is widely distributed, with 125,000 cases imported. This Malbec is great pairing with a grilled ribeye, BBQ or even a hearty buffalo burger. Grab several bottles for your cellar and try to resist drinking them. I dare you.
Worth a Splurge Wine: Adobe Road 2012 Redline.
I was at a bit of a quandry to decide where to list this remarkable wine this month. Its suggested retail price point of $28 was a bit higher than our typical Value Wines, but it seems like a light tariff to pay for a Splurge Wine. In any event, the Adobe Road 2012 Redline red blend is well worth your consideration, whatever designation you place on the delicious blend. The 2012 Redline is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend (53%), with significant helpings of Zinfandel (21%), Syrah (17%) and Petit Sirah (9%). Think of it as a blend of terrific grapes from the already-legendary 2012 vintage in Sonoma County that drinks well by itself or paired with spicy pizza, lasagna, burgers or BBQ ribs. Possessing a compelling nose, the 2012 Redline displays hints of blueberries, raspberries, currants and baking spices, with fine tannins to provide structure. I would successfully blind taste test the Adobe Road 2012 Redline against better known red blends from Napa or Sonoma all day long–it’s just flat that good. Check out the Adobe Road website at www.adoberoadwines.com if your local wine shop does not yet carry Redline. (Disclaimer: My family recently made a modest investment in Adobe Road Winery, but that fact has nothing to do with my views of this great Red Blend!)
Wine Thought of the Day: Not Your Father’s Wine Quotes, Part II.
“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”
― John Keats
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine.”
Until next month– Cheers!
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