Those Beaune Wines are Bon!

The Beaune region of France in the Cote d’Or in the northern part of Burgundy is known mainly for its white wine, Chardonnay. That’s because eight of the Grand Cru of Burgundy are in Beaune, and they are almost all, with the exception of Corton, known for their Chardonnay. But just because Beaune produces mainly Chardonnay doesn’t mean that great Pinot Noir can’t be found there. If one is searching for a beautiful red Burgundy that is affordable, the outlying areas of Beaune are a great place to look.

Pinot Noir can be bold and ripe like she is in California. Or she can be tart and a little earthy with layers of interesting things to say, but she says them all in a quiet subtle voice. That’s the Pinot Noir of Beaune.

imageChristophe Buisson’s Saint-Romain just southwest of Pommard and the city of Beaune takes a little time to get to know. She opens up slowly and evolves in the glass like a quiet beauty full of character. She has the red fruit of Pinot, cherry, dried cranberries with notes of purple flowers, hints of rosemary and a splash of wet earth. But the aromas come out slowly and carefully, well positioned on the firm structure of acidity and subtle tannin. She is lovely.

Just northeast of the city of Beaune is Chorey-Les-Beaune. Here Machard de Gramont mimageakes a beautiful red burgundy. The structure is perfectly balanced between acid, tannin and alcohol. On that structure lay the beautiful aromas
of red fruit,
purple flowers, and forest floor. She also opens up slowly. But it is definitely worth the time it takes to get to know this tart, elegant beauty.

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.

Jory and Willakenzie

Spindrift Cellars2Who are Jory and Willakenzie? They are in part responsible for the world-renowned quality of Oregon Pinot Noirs. Neither vintners, nor grape growers, Jory and Willakenzie are not people at all. They are two soils found in Willamette. According to Cole Danehower, author of the book, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, Jory is a volcanic soil that gives its Pinot Noir red fruit aromas, silky texture and a hint of minerality. It is found mainly in the valley vineyards. Willakenzie is a sedimentary soil made up of marine sandstone and silt. It gives its Pinot Noir dark fruit aromas, along with aromas of earth and herb. This soil is found at higher elevations.

Willamette Valley is where 75% of Oregon’s vineyards are located. It is part of the cool region of Oregon. The grapes for which this region is best known are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The warm regions of Oregon are found to the south, in Rogue and Umpqua Valleys as well as to the northeast in Walla Walla. These regions are known for warm climate grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo.

Matthew Compton moved from New Jersey to Willamette Valley Oregon, originally to manage vineyards. He moved into wine production a little over 10 years ago. Spindrift Cellars in Philomath Oregon is certified sustainable. Compton’s focus is mainly on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, though he does produce some Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Syrah as well. He sources from both valley and hill vineyards using grapes with both Jory and Willakensie influence.

Spindrift Pinot Gris, 2013 Aromas of apple, citrus, grapefruit with a crisp, refreshing finish.

Spindrift Rosé, 2013 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Gris Aroma of watermelon with a Southern France minerality on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Blanc, 2013 Tropical fruit aromas with a hint of oak

Spindrift Pinot Noir Croft Vineyard, 2011 Aromas of spicy cherries, oak and smoke. Light body, organically grown grapes. 12 months in oak, 25% new.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, 2012 Sourced from five different vineyards, all Willamette. Aromas of sweet cherry, almond, tang with some bittters on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, Lewisburg Vineyard, 2010 Medium bodied. Earthy, dark fruit with spice and minerality.

Spindrift 7 Hills Syrah, 2010 Sourced from Walla Walla in Northeast Oregon. Sustainable. Aromas of bacon, pepper, dark fruit.

Matthew Compton’s wines have garnered high point ratings from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, especially his Pinot Noirs often rating in the 90’s. It is the Spindrift Pinot Noirs that so beautifully reflect the soils of Willamette Valley.Spindrift Cellars1

Stress; It’s a Matter of Perspective

A little stress on a vine can be a good thing. The more a vine has to struggle to get food, the lower its yield, but the more flavorful and intense its grapes will be. That is why the best vineyards are planted in nutrient-poor soil. Stressing the vine ultimately creates a better wine. But some types of grape vines can endure more stress than others. For different types of vines, stress is relative.

My husband came out of his office after talking on the phone with a co-worker who was having some work trouble. ‘Poor Ron,’ my husband started. I was in the midst of reading an email from a friend who is working overseas as what I would call a citizen soldier, though he calls it, ‘a dirty, rotten contractor.’ Before my husband could finish his thought, I said, ‘Poor Hugh,’ and began to read the contents of the email, ‘We’re expecting a few days of rockets since Ramadan ends tomorrow. One hit our hangar recently. It was a direct hit on a helicopter full of fuel, so it torched the entire building. I had just landed, and saw it hit. Fortunately, everyone was at lunch, so no injuries.’ When I finished reading, I realized that I had interrupted my husband, ‘I’m sorry. What’s wrong with poor Ron?’ ‘Nothing,’ my husband responded, ‘Nothing at all.’

Cabernet Sauvignon is very thick-skinned. It is a sturdy vine that can do well all over the world in many types of climates and soils. Cabernet Sauvignon can endure a lot of stress, and still maintain its flavor typicity and character. Pinot Noir, also known as ‘the heartbreak grape,’ is thinned-skinned, and quite delicate as its nickname implies. Some stress will improve the quality of the grapes, but the genetically unstable vine is pretty particular when it comes to climate. She is a bit of a diva that will wilt or mutate fairly easily when faced with too much stress in her environment.

There are not many grapes that can endure the stress that the brave Cabernet Sauvignon can endure and still maintain its taste and character. It is truly a noble grape

Narnia Gone Rogue

On the Way to Corvallis

On the Way to Corvallis

Willamette Valley in Oregon is on the same latitude as Burgundy and has a similar climate. So, it is not surprising that 75% of the grapes grown here are the red grape of Burgundy, Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir is softer-bodied and less tannic than Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon, it has just as great aging potential. Some age will enhance it, and it can hold quite a bit of age. With a good Pinot Noir, knowing when it is ready is key.

“It looks like Narnia.” It is when he says things like this that I realize my 18 year old son is still between childhood and adulthood. It wasn’t that long ago that he got lost in fairy tale movies like that. Now, he is choosing his college, his first major decision that will send repercussions rippling through the rest of his adult life. It is a decision he will have to make himself.

Domaine Serene Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2009

Domaine Serene Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2009

Domaine Serene has been producing wine since the late 1980’s. They are a large, well-established winery in the Willamette Valley that has been earning accolades from wine reviewers such as Robert Parker, Wine and Spirits and Wine Spectator since the 1990’s. It is no wonder. Their Pinot Noirs express the perfect Willamette terroir with bright red fruits and earthy aromas in a silky texture. As in Burgundy, the wines are aged in oak for just a hint of vanilla and cedar aromas. The 2011 and earlier are ready now, but will continue to improve over the next several years.

My son and I made the 9 hour drive to Corvallis, Oregon yesterday. The scenery was glorious. No one ever told me Oregon was so stunning. “Oregon has one of the lowest rates of tourism of any state in the union.” Sometimes on his way to adulthood, Bob channels Cliff Clavin. I haven’t fact-checked him on this tidbit, but I had to wonder why that would be true as we crossed first the Rogue, then the Umpqua, and finally the Willamette River. Oh, yes, friends, we are in the heart and soul of Oregon wine country. He applied to Oregon State University because he was impressed with their engineering program. When they offered him a scholarship, OSU made his short list. We had to visit to make sure it could be a place he’d feel at home in over the next few years. So far, he seems a bit enamored with the pine-covered mountains. For selfish reasons, mainly wine related, I hope he chooses Corvallis. I am excited for him to take that big step away from home. I know he’ll embrace it. At the same time, of course I will miss him terribly. He has been a bright, cheerful and funny buddy over the past 18 years. But, I also wonder if he’s ready, caught as he is somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Like the winemakers of this region, I have done my part. Just as the winemakers know when to release the wine it is time for me to stop counting to ten, and say, ‘Ready or not, world, here he comes!’

Of Oenologists and Choreographers and the Cleverness of the Craft

Merry Edwards WineryMeredith Edwards was the first formally educated female oenologist earning her degree from UC Davis. She worked as a vineyard manager until 1997 when she established her own winery, Merry Edwards, in the Russian River AVA of Sonoma. She is known for her beautiful Pinot Noir wines. The Russian River blend is lush, bright cherry with a chocolate finish. The Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir has blueberry and blackberry aromas, but still with a crisp structure. The Meredith Pinot Noir is earthy with aromas of dark fruit and spice, the most tannic of the three. All her Pinot Noirs are beautifully crafted and express the crispness one would expect from this cooler region of Sonoma.

I was talking to my daughter the other day about the different choreographers at her dance studio. They are all talented, each having his or her own style. But there is one choreographer in particular whose dances stand out above the others. We were trying to identify what made his work so notable, and the only word that expressed what we both perceived in his work was ‘clever.’ His choreography plays off the music and with the music in a way that is not quite expected, but not so different that it is unrecognizable. When we watch his dances, there is a moment of surprise and then a moment of, ‘oh, I see.’ It is this same cleverness that often makes many art forms appealing, writing, music, the visual arts, humor. When one is able to make a new observation that speaks a ‘not yet thought of’ truth as in, ‘I didn’t see that coming, but now that you mention it…,’ that is cleverness in art.

The Russian River AVA, while it grows many grapes, is known in particular for two, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are two grapes that do very well in this cooler climate. Though firmly established in the Russian River AVA, Merry Edwards does not offer a Chardonnay as her white wine. Instead, she makes a Sauvignon Blanc, a grape more often found in warmer climates such as Bordeaux. Her Sauvignon Blanc is aged in 3 to 5-year-old oak barrels. The lees are stirred twice a week. The wine is aged for 6 months. And what she has crafted from this slightly out-of-place grape is a guava/pineapple flavored white wine with an absolutely sparkling acidity. It is lush and crisp and a little unexpected. The first sip is surprising and gets your attention. With the second sip you think to yourself, ‘Ah, now I get it,’ and by the third, it all makes perfect sense. Merry Edwards is able to take the Bordeaux grape, Sauvignon Blanc and play it off the Burgundian climate of Russian River in a very clever way.

A Private Conversation About Meiomi with Multi-Discipline Descriptors

Meiomi Pinot Noir, 2012A blend of Pinot Noir grapes from three different counties, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma, Meiomi, 2012 is a deep garnet red color with aromas of blackberry, earth, sage and wood. It is savory and silky with its smooth tannins and long, elegant finish. This is all true, but do these words seem old and stale? Jeff, the Drunken Cyclist, in his passing comment that there aren’t enough descriptors available in the wine world, has inspired me to look to other disciplines for some lexicon enhancing. Let me try again…like the key of D Major, not common like the C scale, but without many sharps and absolutely no flats Meiomi flows elegantly with structured intervals. Perhaps, that’s not very informative. Let me try something else…With tannins as smoothly fibrous as a corpus callosum, this wine does a beautiful job of integrating the art and science of both hemispheres. Maybe not.

Wine reviews, like song lyrics, are unspoken conversations. So are blogs for that matter. Talking to ourselves on line, thinking out loud, we’re the bag ladies of the internet, only, hopefully, more coherent. Does it matter whether or not anyone is listening? Would it change what we write? Does Dave Matthews write lyrics for his fans, or is he having a private conversation with someone from his past; a conversation that was never spoken out loud? And why do we want to listen in? Is it a conversation we could have had at some point in time? Is all writing giving voice to feelings in silence, the solitude of a half dialog that can be superimposed onto and replayed into different lives at different points in time?

These aren’t questions that are meant to be answered definitively; they’re just some things to thing about, perhaps exchange one-sided conversations on. Now, if anyone has suggestions for a source of new, useful wine descriptors, please let me know.

Monotonous Stimulation Pairs Well with Pinot Noir

Corvallis, 2009 Pinot Noir

I’ve been waiting for a warm summer night to make ceviche and open a Tavel. But the weather hasn’t been cooperating. We’ve been experiencing a wonderfully long spring. Last week we had highs in the 50’s, definitely not pink-wine weather. So, I made a coffee-rubbed roast and opened a Pinot Noir. I went to Willamette Valley for my Pinot, Corvallis, 2009. The color was garnet red. The aroma was cherry with some citrus, maybe orange. The flavor had red cherry with a hint of some nutmeg, and a little thyme. It was lovely and crisp with great balance.
Pinot Noir is known for being difficult to grow. It’s a thin-skinned berry that is especially vulnerable to the elements. Too much of any element can hurt the grapes, and thus the wine. Too much rain just before harvest will saturate the grapes and leave the wine flavorless. Too much wind will damage the vines. Even too much sun will cook the grapes and give the wine a stewed or herbal flavor.
Monotonous Stimulation is an intriguing psychological phenomenon. If someone is exposed to the same stimulus repeatedly for a long period of time, his or her brain waves go from active alpha waves  to meditative beta waves. Things like a slow water drip, perpetual rain, or chanting will physically affect our brains. When we are exposed to a stimulus so often that it’s no longer stimulating our brains experience this mind shift. The beta waves can put us into a in a profound state of ennui such as we experience on a long, monotonous bus ride or a very predictable sit com. It can, also put us into a spiritual state of mind such as we experience in meditation or prayer.
Too much of any element is nothing but bad for grape growing. For the human mind,however,  monotonous stimulation can take us somewhere quite profound.

Noble Grapes

While there are hundreds of types of grapes from which wine can be made, there are only seven ‘noble’ grapes. They are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah for reds and in the whites Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. These are considered the higher quality grapes, otherwise known as noble.

The qualities on which a wine is judged is its acidity, sweetness, alcohol, and with red wine, tannins. It’s not just important to have each of those qualities, but they must be in balance with each other to make a good wine.

Marketta Formeaux of Chateau Potelle says that, “I like to compare making wine to raising children, because both are long-term procedures where you make decisions on a daily basis. And the sum of those decisions makes the final product.” When we raise our children, we want them to be lively, kind, warm, and have strong character. We also want our children to be well-balanced.

Last Sunday, our Pastor led the service even though he had recently lost his father, and had just been to the memorial service the day before. My friend’s son, Ryan, stepped up to be worship leader. He had just graduated from high school the day before, and so was functioning on very little sleep having been up late with friends. During the prayer, our Pastor choked up a bit and paused to collect himself. Without hesitating, Ryan walked over to the pastor, and put his hand on his shoulder, and stood with him.

We’re so proud of our kids when they accomplish things like graduating from high school or earning their PhD from Seminary. At the front of the church last Sunday I saw two sons, one meeting his obligations even though he was so newly mourning. One comforting the other without hesitating. I don’t think either one could have done anything to make his parents more proud of him then these simple acts that expressed for each his noble character.