Honor in Southern Oregon

Southern OregonWhile Oregon is known for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, southern Oregon excels in Bordeaux and Rhone Valley varieties as well as in Spain’s Tempranillo. Rogue Valley’s warmer temperatures are the key factor to the success of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Tempranillo.

RoxyAnn Winery was founded in 2002 in Medford, Oregon on 20 acres of limestone and clay soil terroir. Formerly Hillcrest Orchard, tastings are held in the Honor Barn, a 1917 remnant of that orchard.  The structure was given its name while the property was still operating as an orchard.  Customers would take their fresh fruit and leave payment in an honor box.  During my visit the tasting room was fully staffed.RoxyAnn Tasting Room

RoxyAnn is a small production winery with about 15,000 cases per year. But that small production garners some high point ratings including a 90 point from Wine Spectator Tempranillo.

The 2012 Viognier has tropical fruit aromas with soft acidity and a musky heat. The tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and banana linger on the finish of this full, round white wine.

RoxyAnn 2011 TempranilloThe award winning 2011 Tempranillo has leather and oak aromas with undertones of cherry and blueberry. Full bodied and well balanced, it is a rich and satisfying wine.

The 2010 Syrah as deep, dark cherry and mocha aromas with a hint of pepper and iron. It is smooth, dark and juicy.

Roxyann is located at 3285 Hillcrest Road in Medford, Oregon.  Their web address is www.roxyann.com    The Honor Barn is open daily for tastings from 11 am to 6 pm.

Saved from Arsenic by the King; Adventures in Drinking Locally

Last week-end I was staying in Corvallis, Oregon, and stopped by the hotel bar for a glass of wine at the end of the day. As I perused the list, something struck me as familiar. Seaglass, Menage a Trois, Concannon, Beringer, Sutter Home. ‘Where have I seen this list before?’ Then it dawned on me. Every wine on their list was on the much publicized ‘Arsenic List,’ wines that supposedly have dangerously high levels of arsenic in them.

‘Excuse me, bar keep, do you have anything a little less arsenic-y?’

She took my question in stride as she reached under the bar. ‘Well, I do have a local wine.’

Let me remind you, I’m in Corvallis, Oregon. ‘Go on,’ I said with anticipation.

‘It’s a Pinot Noir,’ she continued.

Again, Corvallis, Oregon. ‘Bar keep, set me up.’

King Estate is in Eugene, Oregon just south of Corvallis. Like many wineries in Oregon, they practice organic and sustainable farming. They have the largest organic vineyard in the world. By any standards, but especially by Oregon standards,  King is a large producer with an annual production of around 125,000 cases. They are known for their Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. I had the former.  It presented earthy coffee aromas with tangy, spicy, red berry flavors, and a lovely finish, to the wine and to the day.

Even if I hadn’t seen the article about the alleged high levels of arsenic in wines, I would not have wanted any of the wines on the list. None of them is particularly interesting. But, more importantly, when given a choice, drinking locally is always preferable in Oregon.

Finding Trends and Lesser Known Wines on the Iberian Peninsula

Iberian Peninsula WinesThere are aspects of the wine industry that are nothing short of staid. The 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines has had only one change made to it in the last 160 years. France, Italy and Spain have been the three top producers of wine for as long as wine production has been tracked and recorded. Yet, as old and steady as the wine industry is, there is an undercurrent of restless trendiness.

Many trends in wine come from the new world, such as Australian Shiraz of the 1990’s, Argentinian Torrentés and Malbec of the early 2000’s, and California red Moscoto that’s poised to trend for the second decade of this millennium unless we can stop it.

But trends don’t just come from the new world of wine. The old world has some old varietals with a new following. One need look no further than the Iberian Peninsula to find some old, but trendy wines.

The Minho region of Portugal has been a designated wine region for over 100 years, and has been producing wine since Roman times. But Vinho Verde, which translates to ‘green wine’ meaning the grapes are picked very early, while still green and acidic, is becoming a stylish wine in the new world.

Caiu a Noite Vinho Verde, 2013 ($9), typical of wines from this region is a blend of Loureiro and Trajadura, both indigenous grapes. It is a very crisp wine with a grapefruit peel flavor and a frizzanté texture that is creamy on the finish. Light and refreshing, it is very stylish served with a twist of lime and paired with ceviche or fried calamari.

A popular white wine of Spain is Verdejo from the Rueda region. Palma Real makes one that is 100% Verdejo ($12), with pear, banana and floral aromas. It is light bodied with a slight minerality and pairs well with shell fish.

Spain’s other white is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Another light white, Val Do Sosego ($15) makes one with aromas of citrus, tart apple and peach. It pairs well with grilled fish served with a fruit salsa.

Not all lesser known grapes of the Iberian Peninsula will become trends. But most are worth exploring. While Rioja is well known for its Tempranillo, the Ribera del Duero region just southwest of Rioja, also makes wines using the Tempranillo grape. Senorio del Tallar’s ($18) wine has leather, dark berries, mineral, and spice aromas. It is aged in American Oak which adds vanilla and coconut flavor to the wine, a wine that is perfect with grilled beef.

In the northeast corner of Spain is the region of Montsant that is known for its red blends. Baronia del Montsant Flor d’Englora Roure ($15) is a blend of primarily Garnacha and Carignan. It has aromas of strawberry jam and plums with ripe tannins and a savory quality. Full bodied and flavorful, Flor d’Englora Roure would stand up to any cut of beef served with a fruit sauce.

From the Douro region of Portugal where the famous Port wines are made, come some beautiful still reds, often made with the same grapes that go into making Ports. Quinta das Carvalhas Reserva Douro ($20) is 60% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, and 20% Tinta Roriz. Any student of Port wines will recognize all three of those grape names. Carvalhas sources from 100 year old vines. It is the old vines that give the wine its richness and depth. With aromas of smoky dark cherry, blackberry, plum, coffee grounds and raisins this is an intense, big flavored wine with ripe, rich tannins and a long finish. It is divine with ham in a raisin sauce.

In the southeast corner of Spain is the region Bullas, known for its use of Rhone Valley grapes. Tesoro de Bullas Monastrell ($18) is 75% Monastrell, known in France as Mouvedre and 25% Syrah. With aromas of blueberry, lavender, and spice, this blend has an earthiness that adds to its intensity. It pairs well with venison.

Rioja, a region in the north central area of Spain is known for Tempranillo. Valserrano Rioja Monteviejo ($42) is a big, full-bodied wine with aromas of dark, spicy fruit, roses, oak and vanilla. After seven years of aging, the 2008 has not yet peaked, and probably won’t for a few more years. It pairs well with grilled pork.

In the south of Spain lies the Sherry Triangle. While there are many styles of Sherry, one of the easiest to love is PX, Pedro Ximenez. Made entirely of the grape of the same name, Osborne Pedro Ximenez ($25) is a rich, lush, sweet dessert wine with aromas of raisin, nuts, figs, dark fruit and chocolate. Serve it with ginger chocolate cake, pumpkin mousse or vanilla ice cream.

From light and trendy to rich and traditional, there are a lot of wines to explore on the Iberian Peninsula.

First Generation of Women in Wine Talk About Their Challenges, Experiences

Last week’s annual Women in Wine event put on by the Women for Winesense Napa/Sonoma chapter was held on Thursday evening, March 5th at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. The event included a raffle and silent auction through which $1600 toward the scholarship fund was raised. The highlight of the evening, however, was an informative and lively panel discussion featuring eight women wine professionals.

The first hour and a half was devoted to wine tastings including the wines of the featured winemaker panel guests. Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines was pouring her unoaked Chardonnay, a pure, fresh expression of fruit with enough balance to round off the finish. Jillian Johnson DeLeon of Onesta Wines offered a Cinsault rosé made from grapes from 130 year old vines. The wine had tart cranberry and strawberry aromas with a sloe gin finish. Penny Gadd-Coster of Rack and Riddle was pouring a North Coast sparkling wine that had tropical fruit aromas, fine bubbles and a smooth finish. Two other winemakers, also on the panel, Sara Fowler of Peju and Rebecca Jenkins of Clarbec Wines were available during the social hour as were Karen MacNeil, wine writer and author of The Wine Bible and Theresa Dorr, CMO of Active Consulting.

The panel discussion portion of the event was held in the auditorium. Moderated by Jeff Davis, host of ‘On the Wine Road,’ the panel touched on how the wine industry has changed in the past 30 years. “A lot has changed since we were all getting into the business,” stated Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director of A16 and SPQR in San Francisco. Karen MacNeil described the wine world of the 1970’s as “owned by five men in New York. Everyone who produced wine in the world would come and do tastings for just these five men. There were no women in the wine business in New York City.” Sara Fowler said of becoming a winemaker in the 1980’s, “One of the challenges was being female and being taken seriously.” Though all on the panel agreed with Shelley Lindgren that, “The wine industry has changed so much. It’s constantly evolving just like wine evolves.” A big part of the change is the number of women professionals in the wine industry today.

The panelists talked about their personal wine journeys, both the hard work and the rewards. Karen MacNeil noted “It takes a really long time to learn how to write well. It takes a long time to learn to teach well, and , of course, as we all know, it takes a long time to learn wine at least moderately well.” When talking about her job, Cynthia Cosco said, “I don’t think people really realize how much work is involved in making wine. It really never stops.” But, when it comes to the people in the wine industry, Jillian Johnson DeLeon said, “You meet some amazing people along the way.” It is people who have guided and continue to guide these wine professionals. As Penny Gadd-Coster noted, “I keep learning from all my customers.”

When it came to giving advice to women who are just getting into the wine industry, the theme was courage. Karen MacNeil advised, “Don’t start out with a question. Start out with a declarative statement, ‘I can do this.’” Theresa Dorr advised, “Don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Don’t be afraid to ask.” Rebecca Jenkins, CEO of Clarbec Wines and CFO of Madrone Vineyard Management said, “You have to stand up for yourself.”

The panelists shared their experiences and advice generously. As their individual stories unfolded during the panel discussion, it became very clear that, as Cynthia Cosco noted, “Women in this industry are very gracious.”

Wine Writer Karen MacNeil

Karen MacNeil is the creator and Chairman of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley.  She is also President of Karen MacNeil and Company which plans corporate and consumer wine events.

She has worked as a wine correspondent for The Today Show and as host of the PBS television series , “Wine, Food and Friends with Karen MacNeil.”  But most of us know her as a fantastic wine writer with published articles in The New York Times, USA Today, and Food and Wine to name just a few.

The Moses of the wine world, Karen MacNeil brought wine knowledge down from the mountaintop in her book, “The Wine Bible,” a book that has become revered as law by all students of wine.  Her intimate writing style draws her readers in, and makes us feel as if she is sitting beside us explaining wine to us in her imaginative and enthusiastic language.

Her wildly creative descriptions are pin-point perfect in their precision.  In a recent live-tasting on twitter, Karen MacNeil described syrah as “a cowboy wearing a tuxedo.” Though she didn’t use any of these words, her description told us that syrah is ‘rugged’ and ‘strong’ while at the same time ‘elegant’ and ‘plush.’ She described the Bonny Doon syrah as “pure Sex in the City – sweaty, appealing and not ‘confected,’”  and the Chamisal Vineyard syrah was “dark and bacony, like Don Johnson with a 5 o’clock shadow.”  But her descriptions have more than spot-on popular culture references.

She also describes wines in terms of movement. “I love the choreography of the Foxen Winery syrah. It blossoms, dips, rises again, and leads to a long, fantastic finish.”  “The Relentless is restless and wild, and man, what power.” Her wine writing is dynamic and playful. Her descriptions give so much personality to the wines, the wines themselves become characters on the page beckoning us to them.

How fun would it be to actually be in the room with Karen MacNeil as she talks about wine?  Lucky for us, we can be! On March 5th from 6 to 9 pm Women for Winesense is hosting a panel discussion event, Women in Wine, at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center.  Come hear what Karen MacNeil and our other panelists including wine writers, winemakers, wine consultants and wine directors, (who will each be introduced over the next week on this blog), have to say about the world of wine and women’s roles in that world. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite. Proceeds from the event’s Silent Auction benefit the Women for Winesense Scholarship Fund.

Loire Valley Wines

“When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink.”  -Francois Rabelais, Loire Valley writer, born 1483

When you think of Loire Valley wines, what comes to mind?  Does your mind go immediately to Chenin Blanc, or Sauvignon Blanc or Gamay or Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier? Are you as surprised as I was to learn that Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are not just blended in Champagne? They’re blended in the Noble Joué region of Touraine along with Pinot Gris to produce gray wine. Does Loire conjure images of rosés or lush sweet wines or sparkling wines or bone dry whites or rich reds? Loire Valley produces all of these wines and more. The one word that can describe the wines of Loire Valley is ‘diverse.’ Along this 300 mile stretch of river, the Loire Valley has over 60 appellations and produces many styles of wine.

Loire can be divided into four distinct sections, each with different climates and soils, and each producing different wines from different grapes. Along the Atlantic Ocean is the Pays Nantais region. Producing wines since Roman times, the main grape of this region is Melon de Bourgogne. No longer aptly named, this ‘Melon of Burgundy’ grape was brought to Pays Nantais in the early part of the 18th century where it flourished in the maritime climate. Melon de Bourgogne has so whole-heartedly been adopted by its new home, it is often called ‘Muscadet,’ the major wine region of Pays Nantais. Light, fruity and crisp, Muscadet wine goes beautifully with light white fish and shellfish.

Central Loire is where the diversity begins. The two major regions, Anjou and Touraine, both have continental climates. Closer to the ocean, Anjou benefits from the fog, allowing for some beautiful botrytised dessert wines, made from the most notable grape of Loire, Chenin Blanc. The region of Savennieres in Anjou makes a stunning dry white from Chenin Blanc. And Saumur is known for its sparkling wines. Anjou, also produces rosé wines from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Touraine is, also known for Chenin Blanc. Vouvray is the largest white wine producing appellation in the Central Loire. Chinon is famous for its Cabernet Franc. Like Anjou, Touraine, also produces sparkling wines and rosés.

The soils of Central Loire, like the wines, are quite diverse. They range from schist, granite, sand, alluvial, limestone, clay, chalk, and gravel. The Chenin Blanc wines have aromas of apricot, white flowers, mineral and lanolin with a very crisp acidity. They pair well with grilled seafood. The Cabernet Franc wines of Central Loire have aromas of red fruit and violets with soft tannins. They pair well with beef and stuffed mushrooms.

In Upper Loire, the diversity continues. Here is grown Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gamay all in varying soils from chalk to sand to flint and even Kimmeridgian as is found in Chablis. Upper Loire has been growing grapes for 2000 years and is home to Quincy, the second oldest appellation in France, second only to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Upper Loire is, also believed to be the original home of Sauvignon Blanc, which is at its most elegant in the region of Sancerre. The Sauvignon Blanc wines of Upper Loire have aromas of citrus fruit, grass and minerals. They pair well with shellfish and goat cheese. The Pinot Noir wines of Upper Loire have soft tannins and aromas of red and bramble fruits. They pair well with Salmon and mushrooms. Upper Loire produces not just dry reds and whites, but, also rosés. Made from Pinot Noir and Gamay, the rosés of Upper Loire have aromas of strawberries and herbs with a bright acidity. They pair well with grilled seafood.

With so much diversity in grapes and wine styles, it is impossible to define the Loire Valley through a single wine or even a single type of wine. But it may be possible to understand this diverse valley a little better through some of its most famous wines. A balanced exploration of Loire Valley wines would have to include Muscadet from Pays Nantais, made from the Melon de Bourgogne. Traveling to Anjou, the most important wines to try would be a botrytised Chenin Blanc, a sparkling Chenin Blanc a dry Chenin Blanc from Savennieres and a rosé made from either Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon or perhaps both. While in Touraine one must try a Vouvray either sec or tendre made from Chenin Blanc, and a Chinon made from Cabernet Franc. The Upper Loire can be studied through a glass of Sancerre, the dry, elegant Sauvignon Blanc and a glass of Pinot Noir from Reuilly.

There are so many beautiful and diverse wines to try from this beautiful and diverse region of France. The variety of wines that the Loire Valley produces is what makes this such an interesting area to explore.

To learn more about the wines of the Loire Valley, visit the Loire Valley Wine Bureau website. To taste some of the delicious wines of the Loire Valley, attend our next event, Wines of the Loire Valley, on February 12th from 5:30 to 7:30 at Backroom Wines in Napa.

Wine and Context

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz,2012Yesterday, I had a conversation with my brother that was both mundane and fantastic. He asked me how the kids are doing. I asked him how his Thanksgiving was. I reminded him that he used to beat me up when we were kids. “That’s what big brothers are for!” he responded. As conversations go this one was quite ordinary, yet, it was the best conversation that I’ve had with him in decades.

There is a lot of talk about wine in context. The theory goes that the whole experience of wine is more than just the elements in the wine. Our perceptions are colored by our environment, the ambiance of the room, the people we are with, our mood at the time, the memories that we will link with that particular wine. All of this will go into our perception and evaluation of the wine. Though I have read this many times, I have been a holdout as believers go. I’d like to believe that there is an objective, factual, perhaps even measurable element to evaluating wine. And there is, yet these outside elements that have nothing to do with the wine itself will color our perception even of the factual and measurable.

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz is from Clare Valley Australia. The 2012 still has its purple hue, with earthy dark fruit aromas and flavors of black cherry and spice. This is a big bodied wine with a tangy acidity. Well made and delicious by itself, it was even more delicious over the holiday week-end. There were environmental elements that had nothing to do with the wine, but greatly enhanced the experience of the wine. My son was home from college. I spent two days doing nothing but baking, cooking and eating. Those factors made a really good glass of wine truly great and memorable.

It has been over 30 years since the day I drove my brother home from the hospital. We were both still teenagers. He was arguing with me, trying to convince me, but more probably trying to convince himself of all the reasons why he didn’t have to take his medicine. Out of frustration I said without thinking, ‘You are a paranoid schizophrenic. You have to take your medicine!’ What followed was a devastating silence as the thought slowing entered my mind, ‘he hasn’t heard his diagnosis, yet.’ And idiot that I am, I had just blurted it out. Well, there it was. I couldn’t take it back. After a few more moments of neither one of us saying anything my brother turned to me and said, ‘But, I’m a happy paranoid schizophrenic.’

Over the decades my brother has been in some very dark places where he couldn’t be reached. Even the times when he was able to look me in the eyes and talk to me, I could tell part of his mind was somewhere else. I have wondered many times where the personality that was my brother had gone.

Yesterday I spoke to my brother for the first time in decades. He was there in the conversation with me 100%. Maybe he is experiencing a spontaneous recovery as some schizophrenics do in middle age. Maybe he is on the right combination of medicine. Maybe he was just having a good day. I don’t know, and won’t know until sometime in the future. All I know right now is that yesterday I had what would by its elements be evaluated as a very ordinary conversation with my brother. It was the best conversation that we’ve had in over 30 years.